Great Expectations: basic human decency.

This post first appeared on Dani Does Lots of Things on October 5, 2015. It has been republished below.


Last week, I went to my first therapy session since I was a teenager. (For those remembering my summer post about starting therapy, I was wrong — that was seeing a psychiatrist, not a psychologist.)

My primary care practitioner recommended the counselor who volunteers at the clinic. I’d known that the clinic had a pastoral care counselor, so I told her I was apprehensive about going to such counseling as an atheist, particularly an atheist whose mental health has been so damaged by Christianity. She assured me that despite his work on his Master of Divinity, he would be respectful and objective.

From these assurances, I assumed he must not be a biblical counselor like those I saw as a teenager, but closer to the many liberal Christian friends I have who merely want to make the world a better place through compassionate social justice work, much like my PCP is.

I also assumed that if he wasn’t licensed yet, he was working on it.

Ohhh, how wrong I was, on both counts.

While I don’t want to get distracted by the details of this session, a few things strike me as particularly notable about it. They’re themes I’ve noticed emerging from my more fundamentalist and evangelical friends alike, and it’s troubling.

On the one hand, he claimed that his office was a safe space free of judgment, much like you’d expect from a counselor.

On the other hand, he kept reiterating that he wasn’t going to stop talking about God.

Despite my repeated insistence that approaching my care with God as the focus (especially knowing that I’m an atheist) was disrespectful and made me very uncomfortable.

He disagreed, even managing to work a “God’s Plan for Salvation” speech in, all the while assuring me that’s not what he was going to do.

Don’t get me wrong. As I’ve said multiple times before, I tend to not police Christians’ talk about their faith. I accept that it’s a significant driving force in their lives, and realize if I want a relationship with them, it’s unfair for me to expect them to keep quiet about it (much like it’s unfair for them to expect me to remain silent about my beliefs, but we’re still working on that one).

This particular situation, of course, was starkly different. This counselor was not acting or talking to me as a peer. I was in his care, and he was abusing the position of power that care afforded him.

This experience highlights a couple of the many reasons I have this on-going series of conversations for well-meaning Christians. There are reasons I keep coming back to the concepts of empathy and respect and listening to people who believe differently than conservative Christians do.

One such reason is the vast divide between what Christians expect from non-Christians and what they expect of themselves in relation to non-Christians. Continue reading

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I belong to me: learning agency & consent outside Christianity.

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Image courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo. Originally posted over at dani-kelley.com

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concepts of agency1 and autonomy, how necessary they are for a fulfilling life…and how impossible they are when consent is ignored. I’ve been realizing with a growing sense of anger and frustration that I had no grasp of those concepts as a Christian. Really, as I came to understand what basic respect, prioritizing consent, and honoring the autonomy of my fellow humanity looked like, I realized that Christianity as I knew it had no place for those things…and therefore had no place for me.

Don’t get me wrong. There were many things that played into my deconversion — this wasn’t the only thing. But it was certainly an eye-opening discovery.

You see, I grew up with the knowledge that I wasn’t my own person. Oh, no. I belonged to many people.

I belonged to God, because He made me.2 In fact, I belonged to Him even more because He saved me and I was a Christian.3

I belonged to my parents (who thankfully were good, wonderful, trustworthy parents who loved me with all their hearts and took great care of me). But in my culture, I belonged to them and was expected to forfeit my autonomy in favor of submission to their authority in my lives, up until the moment my dad gave me away to my spouse on my wedding day.4

I belonged to my husband,5 whether I was currently married to him or not.6 What I wanted or needed, physically or emotionally, was irrelevant, because my purpose was to serve him.

It never occurred to me to investigate this claim that I didn’t belong to myself. Continue reading

The Dropouts: Dani Kelley

It seems only fair that I started with introducing myself and telling you a bit of my story.

I grew up at Greenwood Hills Bible Chapel in Fayetteville, PA, home of the similarly named summer camp where I also worked from 2000-2006. I also attended quite a few retreats and conferences outside of GWH (as Greenwood Hills is often abbreviated), including Brooklyn Bible Chapel’s fall youth retreats in Baltimore, West Virginia Family Bible Conferences in southern West Virginia in the summer, and the winter Myrtle Beach Bible Conferences. I even made a trip to Seabrook’s spring conference down in South Carolina one year, not to mention spending a week attending CMML’s Missionary Orientation Program in 2006.

How must people who knew me probably remember me: playing piano in the tabernacle at GWH with long hair, T-shirt, baggy pants, and sneakers.

How must people who knew me probably remember me: playing piano in the tabernacle at GWH with long hair, T-shirt, baggy pants, and sneakers.

Those who knew me during those years will probably remember that I was in no way, shape, or form a casual Christian. Nor was I casual about my adherence to assembly principles. I lived out my faith as a Christian and an assembly girl to the best of my ability and as consistently as I could. Often I even brought friends from my non-denominational Christian school with me to conferences in hopes that they would see that Christ was preeminent in the assemblies and maybe they would more seriously dedicate their lives to Christ (which would, of course, prove itself in them joining an assembly). I made sure that my faith was on constant display so I could fulfill the mandate in 1 Peter about being ready to have an answer for the hope that was in me.

Continue reading