An Open Letter to the Church I Grew Up In

Part 1: Leadership Hierarchies and Identity Erasure

Jasmine Johnston
6 min readSep 27, 2020


Image via Unsplash - Keith Hardy
Image via Unsplash — Keith Hardy

Hi church,

It’s been a while since we last spoke.
It’s been a while since I even considered you, I’ll be honest. I’ve grown and changed and evolved so much, dug deeper into my self, thought deeply about spirituality, and I just haven’t had a moment to give you.

But, it’s time.

Its time I wrote to you.
Its time I brought some things to light.
Its time I asked you to do better.

It’s well past the time for you to do better, church.

This is the first open letter of a few I have prepared, where I will bring to light some areas you need to do better on, specifically around the damaging nature of leadership hierarchies, purity culture, control, and identity. Buckle up, because it’s a ride.

I’m giving myself space to tell the stories I was never allowed to tell.

I remember when I first came through your doors. It was a youth olympics night on the 8th of August, 2007. People were doing egg and spoon races across the concrete. I don’t remember doing much except sitting on the stairs and gossiping with my best friend and saying happy birthday to the guy I had a crush on in school. All in all, it was much of a non event. Towards the end of the night, though, a bunch of the girls sat around in chairs with blankets shared. I don’t know what it was about the sharing of a blanket, but it stirred something in my independent “go-it-alone” heart.

After that night, I told everybody for years about the “overwhelming love” I felt there, in that space. Honestly, though, church. Can I tell you something? I was fourteen. Overwhelming love and adult attention were kind of, well, much the same.

I got a taste and you taught me to want more.

This night, these people, gave me something to aspire to. These people with all their shit supposedly together and their smiles and their intentionality and their perfect fucking faces… From the get go, my god, I wanted you to love me, church. I wanted to make it. Like, really make it. As our time together progressed, I found I wanted to be on that damn pulpit, I wanted to have that leadership role, because getting to those places might mean that my life, my struggle to make it in your eyes, the sweat and tears and sacrifice, it would all be worth it. Because in our relationship, church, you taught me to aspire to be a specific type of person. You taught me I had to sacrifice everything to be that person. It was the only way, you said. So I did.

I sacrificed my desire.
I sacrificed my delight.
I sacrificed my sexuality.
I sacrificed my identity.
I sacrificed my very fucking self at the altar of your version of your god, so that I could be the pleasing and appealing and necessary version of myself for you.

Church, before you get all “but babe that’s your experience and it’s not what we intended”, let me stop you. This identity erasure, this aspiration to positions and being a type of person… It is what you taught. It is what you celebrated.

And I think it was from you that I learned that you cultivate what you celebrate.

You celebrated those who ascended to new positions.
You celebrated those who sacrificed themselves.
You celebrated those who joined the group, who fit the mould.
You celebrated those you approved of.
You ignored those you didn’t.

Church, I didn’t want to be someone you ignored. I didn’t want to be forgotten. My young enneagram 4w3 self just wanted to be seen.

I wonder how many teenagers are the same.
I wonder how many people are the same.
I wonder how many people are standing in your building, or have names on your database, who are right now thinking, my god, I wish they saw me. The real me. Not their version.

Church, please, do better.

The culture you set around leadership and hierarchy is damaging. Real people are hurt and real damage is done through a combination of inexperienced/untrained leaders (which honestly is all of them) and hierarchies that protect the leader and ignore the victims of spiritual, sexual, or emotional abuse. The stories of religious trauma are extensive, and so many stories of peoples traumatic experiences in church spaces is due to the nature of your leadership hierarchies.

  • Pastors and leaders are not held accountable for the advice they give, despite their lack of qualification to give that advice at all.
  • Pastors and leaders are not held accountable for the culture they create, despite the ways that it traumatises and damages people.
  • Pastors and leaders are not held accountable for the way they erase individual identities in order to form a collective sense of safety, a collective “we are like this, and this is what is okay”, their own definition of “good”.
  • Pastors and leaders are not held accountable for the build up of stress and burnout that occurs when they force individuals into volunteering roles, leadership roles, week-in-week-out, because it serves them and their vision.
  • Pastors and leaders are not held accountable for their relationship advice, which often ignores serious issues in marriages and relationships and encourages people to “just pray” as though this will solve deep trauma or situations of abuse.

I put my trust in an organisation that erased my identity, took pleasure in it — that took my formative years and made me what they wanted. This is the reality of many.

I watched as leaders forced me to burnout while I was volunteering tens of hours a week and working full time. I was expected to still volunteer all day Sunday, and multiple nights a week, because even though I worked full time that wasn’t “the lords work”. My life outside of the church was not considered important. This is the reality of many.

I watched as pastors gave me god-awful relationship advice that made me feel like I was the one in the wrong, despite being in a situation of assault and abusive behaviour patterns. I was shoved out of the office with a simple “yeah just talk to “X” about it”. Coming to pastors after my last relationship fell apart, I was told “didn’t you have faith?” I had told them a shallow version of the situation that included neglectful and abusive patterns, and I was told that I didn’t have enough faith the fix it. Victim blaming, am I right?

I woke up. I am waking up. A collective of people across the world are realising the destructive nature of what you do. Since I’ve left, I’ve heard so many stories about how people felt like they couldn’t be themselves, how people had to pretend, how leaders and pastors abused their power — and its time you did better.

It’s time to do better. We are humans, individuals, and we are not meant to fit a one-fit-all mould. We are not made for the four walls you box us into. We embody the divine, for gods sake.

I don’t want a single person to have to walk through your doors, believing they have to sacrifice themselves to exist in your space. I don’t want to see a generation of teenagers growing up to fit your mould. It is not right that we would sacrifice ourselves in this way, it is not okay that you encourage the loss of desire and delight and sexuality and identity all so that you can control us. I guess that’s for part 2.

Right now, I am here, giving my story words and language, because I’ve decided it’s time.

Its time I wrote to you.
Its time I brought some things to light.
Its time I asked you to do better.



Jasmine Johnston

I write about love, being human, and deconstruction. Advocate for self-love & embodiment. Hype gal for creatives. @existingwithjasmine on the gram.