This article will take you through the different steps you need to take before you can leave the church. Please note, I will not go into any great lengths to convince you to do these things. If you decide to not follow these steps, that is entirely up to you. But if you have arrived here, my guess is that you already understand why these things are necessary.
To leave the church, we are going to follow a multi step strategy. This strategy has been designed to have you create a life that is completely separate from the Seventh Day Adventist church (and avoid suspicion in the process). You will have a separate house, a separate job and separate friends. When you leave, you will have all of the resources and support that you need without having to ever appeal to an SDA member ever again.
Disclaimer: This article is aimed at young adults and upwards. If you are a young teenager, then please read this instead. This article is also aimed at people who come from conservative Seventh Day Adventist families and applicable liberal families.
Things you need to do before you leave
When you leave the church, you will lose your SDA friends and family. Even if they try to maintain a positive relationship with you, the chances are that it will be laced with pressure to rejoin the church and it will be very awkward. You will be very lonely. You need to make non-SDA friends.
How many friends you will need to make will be up to you. Some people only need a few friends, but they want those people to be incredibly close. Others like to have a wide network of friends and don’t really mind if they aren’t that close to them. Think about what you need and be honest with yourself. Before you leave the church, you need to build up a social network of non-Adventists that meets all of your needs on its own.
You also need to account for the fact that you will lose your family, and Adventist families are usually very close (even if internally bitter). You need support that will help you overcome the immense depression you will be likely faced with when you lose your good relationship with them.
This is a huge task, especially if your family was very exclusive and you grew up in Adventist institutions. This is the biggest task of all, and it is not to be rushed. If this takes you a few years, wait a few years. People that leave without a social network risk going back to pretending to being an Adventist just to seek emotional support.
Step 3: If you have a job in a Seventh Day Adventist business/institution, leave it.
Step 4: Build up your finances
My suggestion is to build up a little “deconverting nest” of money, so that you cab completely self-sufficient. Get a car/bike/scooter so that you are not reliant on any SDA for transport. Have extra money set aside to take care of yourself; for instance, if your SDA father fixes your car for you normally for free, have enough money to be able to afford a mechanic to fix your car for you. When you leave, you don’t want to owe a Seventh Day Adventist anything. If you owe them something, they will have power over you and could easily draw you back into having to engage.
Step 5: Draw away from Adventists
Not only do you need to make non-SDA friends, but you need to start drawing away from the Adventist world. This will help prepare your SDA friends/family for your deconversion to help soften the blow a little. Start asking questions about SDA theology when you feel brave. If you were a conservative, then start becoming more and more “progressive”. Drinking caffeine like coca cola sends a good signal.
Stop going to extra SDA events throughout the week like AY’s and, importantly, don’t take on any responsibilities at church. When they come and ask you to volunteer, say no. When they treat you poorly for this, try to find he humour in it. If you need to take on a job to save face, try to take on a small job. If your SDA friendships are shallow I suggest you completely pull away from them altogether and drop them. Break as many SDA ties as you can.
Once you have all of these things in place, it is time to start planning for when you go public.
How to “come out” to your Adventist friends & family
There is no easy way to do this, but eventually you are going to have to tell your family and friends that you are no longer a Seventh Day Adventist. Yes, you will need to say the words. This strategy was one that I created that helped me, and I know that many other ex-members have done similar things.
Step 1: Publicly break the SDA rules
The easiest way to do this is to skip church, or skip some other Seventh Day Adventist meeting that you were expected to attend. Ideally, this will result in a conservation started by a SDA friend/family member where they will confront you about why you failed to attend/keep the rule. For instance, your mother may call you and ask “why weren’t you at church today?” I think that the best way to have this conversation is over the phone. I would personally consider having this conversation in-person to be overwhelming.
Step 2: Be honest with them
When they confront you, tell them the truth. “I didn’t go to church, because I don’t want to go to church anymore.” When they ask you why, you tell them “because I no longer consider myself a Seventh Day Adventist.” The result of this will probably be a very, very emotional conversation in which they will tell you some very hurtful things. Do not be afraid to stand up for yourself when it gets too much and hang up/leave. My suggestion is that when it starts to get nasty, that you leave almost immediately. When I had this conversation I was crying buckets of tears and wasn’t in a position to talk anyway, I eventually choked and hung up.
You do not need to ring anyone else and tell them about your decision. The news will spread very fast. By the end of the following Sabbath, anyone that matters will know that you are no longer an SDA.
Step 3: Immediately go to your new social support network
Now it is time to transition your social support network over to your non-SDA friends. Before step 1, have a meeting place set up where you can be surrounded by your non-SDA friends/family for support. Once your conversation in step 2 is over, go be with them and cry, vent, cry, sob, yell, shake and let them hug you and support you. Choose a meeting place that your SDA family/friends don’t know about so they can’t find you.
This is the most vulnerable you will be, and the temptation to pretend it never happened and go back will be very high. DO NOT talk to Adventists during this time. You risk going back – not because you actually believe any of it, but because it is horrific to consider how their opinion/attitude towards you is going to change, and you risk going back just to appease them and to have them like you again. This is a very bad reason to go back. I repeat, do not talk to any SDA’s for the rest of the day/night.
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Whether you think the church is a cult or not, this is very relevant.
On this note, it is good to do this either on a Friday or a Saturday, because then you have the weekend to recoup and be emotionally prepared to go back to work/class on Monday.
Step 4: Stay away from your house for a few days
Your emotions will be incredibly raw. My suggestion is to stay away from your house for a few days. For 3 days I couch surfed at my friends houses because I was afraid of going back to my house and being confronted by my family. For a few days, organize accommodation away from your house. You don’t have to couch surf; you could stay at a hotel for a few days and just let yourself recoup. During this time I suggest you continue to avoid your SDA friends/family and continue to seek emotional support from your non-SDA friends/family.
Step 5: Slowly return your life to normal, and take your place in “The World”.
What do I do after this?
I am sorry, but I am still not sure how to give advice here. I deconverted quite some time ago, and my memories are rather blurry. Here are some tips for how I managed it:
- Find a good counselor that is qualified. The counselor was helpful for me not just because it gave me someone to talk about my emotions with, but because they helped me de-program myself. I had to get rid of a lot of false ideas/illusions I had. Friends are great to talk with, but they are biased towards you. A counsellor is a neutral third-party that can tell you the honest truth.
- Leaning on non-Adventist friends/family. This is so important, you need a really strong support network, otherwise you are tempting with fate and you could end up slipping into depression.
- Try to not focus on it. You need to strike a balance. In life, it is important to talk and vent, this helps us deal with hard things. But no matter how much you talk and vent, it won’t fix the situation. It is complicated and messy. You have to learn to let things go and to focus on the positive in your life – for which there will be a LOT!
- Rebuilding your relationship with your Adventist friends/family will be a long-term endeavor, don’t rush it.
I haven’t spent a lot of time analyzing and thinking about the post de-conversion world. I lived through it but I hardly thought about it. When I deconverted, I knew I could barely comprehend it and so I didn’t even try. I let it happen as it happened, and that worked for me.
It is hard, but you will get through it. The experience will make you a much stronger person. And know that, wherever you are, I am thinking about you, and so are all of the others that have gone before you.