Have you ever been in a situation that didn’t have a way out?
Today we are talking with Andrew Pledger; his story of leaving the religion he grew up in will make you see the faith differently. Andrew has found power in his story and in sharing other stories for people to share their stories of abuse and religious Trauma in various religions..
We dive into the hot issues he has walked through, the enemies he has created, and how he focuses on his healing journey, all while continuing to walk the road to getting better.
For help, resources, and community support, please join the Causepods Facebook Group if you are already producing podcasts for a cause or are thinking about launching one.
And if you would like to be a guest on Causepods, please fill out this form and schedule your chat here.
Speaker 1 (00:02)
Hi, and welcome to Cause Bods. I’m your host, Mathew Passy. Here at Cosbas, we have one simple mission to highlight the amazing folks who are using podcasts as a way to raise awareness for good causes and make the world is a better place, whether it’s in their own local community or they’re taking on global issues. Please visit firstname.lastname@example.org where you can learn about our guest show, their favorite charitable cause. Join our Facebook group with resources for Cause based podcast, me, anything. A link where you yourself could be a guest here on Causepods. Again, that’s email@example.com. All right, we’re going to take you.
Speaker 2 (00:41)
Down to South Carolina, and today we are chatting with Andrew Pledger. He is the host and creator of the Speaking Up with Andrew Pledger Podcast. It is a show that offers a platform for people to share their stories of abuse and religious trauma in various forms. Andrew, thank you so much for joining us here on Cause Pods today.
Speaker 3 (01:01)
Yeah, thank you so much for having me on, Mathew.
Speaker 2 (01:03)
So, Andrew, this is a very specific platform that you are providing for people, giving them a chance to talk about their trauma and abuse and other things that might have happened as a result of cultural, religious, societal pressures. Where does this come from? What was the impetus for you to want to create this platform for people?
Speaker 3 (01:27)
Originally, why I wanted to start this is because I realized the power of a survivor sharing their story and the impact that it have, I think is very empowering to them and validate their experience. And I think, too, telling your story verbally really helps people also process a lot of trauma that they go through. And I think it’s just so empowering to feel heard. And originally, it started really with an experience that I had where someone gave me the opportunity to share my story. And this happened back in January of 2022. I was interviewed by the author Joshua Harris, who wrote the book I Kiss Stating Goodbye. It was really big in the evangelical movement with purity culture, and he had a lot of backlash for the book. And then he retracted the book, and then he claimed or came out and said he left Christianity. So it was a whole big thing that happened. So after he did that, he really became dedicated to helping, I guess, get forgiveness for all the harm he did and help those who are in the deconstruction process. And one of the things he did was provide a platform on Instagram for people to share their stories.
Speaker 3 (02:46)
And it was called Every Story Matters. And so every week, he would have someone tell their story of the religion they were in, the experiences they had, and how that influenced the work they do now. And so I was on the show back in January, and I told my story of surviving religious trauma and growing up in fundamentalist Christianity that was the first time for me to publicly share my story and it really impacted me in a very positive way to be able to do that and to be able to reach his audience through that who will relate to the story. So when that happened, that interview caused me to actually be expelled from a private Christian university called Bob Jones. And since I was expelled or excommunicated out of that environment because I had been stuck in toxic religion really my whole life, it gave me the opportunity to use my voice and platform to spread awareness to religious trauma and give people a voice. So once I realized that there would be no more consequences, at least after that instance, and that I could use my voice and not be afraid, I use social media to bring awareness to religious trauma.
Speaker 3 (04:05)
And once I realized the power of people sharing stories originally I Bryan doing an Instagram live show, but there were so many technical issues, I decided to transfer it into a podcast. So that’s how my podcast was created, through that vision.
Speaker 2 (04:27)
Do you mind if I ask what was your trauma like? What exactly happened that led to all the issues that you faced?
Speaker 3 (04:36)
Yeah, so like religious trauma, it is a broader term and for people who aren’t familiar with it, religious trauma is basically trauma that is experienced in a religious context. And religious trauma is synonymous with complex PTSD. So it is a very complicated thing and so there’s so many complexities to what I experienced. But I’ll just generalize it because I know we have a short amount of time. For me personally, what causepods a lot of the religious trauma really was a lot of fear, shame and guilt was used to control me from such a young age in church. And so I was really told horrific stories of hell and demons growing up by the adults around me. So I struggled a lot with nightmares and struggling with insomnia as a child scared of going to hell and just having these awful nightmares. That’s really how it started in the church I grew up in. They would teach a specific way for you basically to be saved, which just means that you have a ticket or a way to go to heaven. And so that’s how they keep those fears down. But they really manipulate you by trying to make you doubt that you’re even going to heaven and that’s how they keep you in the church.
Speaker 3 (05:56)
So you’re always fed this constant doubt. And that’s what I experienced a lot as a kid and I think even just constantly also basically being taught to not trust yourself and to really loathe yourself. You’re really taught a lot of self hatred and self annihilation in fundamentalist churches. And that’s really what I grew up in. I grew up in a fundamentalist church. They have very extreme teachings like very strict gender roles and just very strict rules in general. Like, I grew up in a church where the King James version of the Bible was the only legitimate word of God that they claimed, and anything outside of it was heresy. Like, women weren’t allowed to have any leadership roles in the church. Women could not wear pants. It’s very strict, awful religious rules, basically, in his church. And so also part of the trauma, too, was just experiencing just internalized homophobia from all the hateful sermons that they would have on that subject. And I think also, I was homeschooled my entire life for the purpose of being indoctrinated into fundamentalist Christianity. So every aspect of my life constantly had these very negative hateful messaging that really I think it impeded my intellectual, emotional, and psychological growth as a person and caused so much developmental trauma and just trauma from religion in general.
Speaker 2 (07:36)
I’m sorry you went through all of that and were raised in such an environment. Having escaped the church, I guess. What else did you lose in that transition?
Speaker 3 (07:50)
Basically, I was manipulated into attending a Christian university. My parents, they tried to make me think that I had a choice, but it was really I think it’s what they call a double bind. It’s where you have two choices, but neither choice is desirable at all. So it’s not really a choice, but the choice was either to stay home or to go away to a Christian college at 18. And neither of those situations was great at all. So I guess for me, I felt that I needed somehow to get away out of the environment and I would have to figure out how to navigate a Christian university. And I attended Bob Jones University for three and a half years. And once I got there, it was a difficult adjustment, but I learned how to play the system and break rules and try to survive Emblem in and deal with that environment. But I was expelled my last semester of my senior year. I was supposed to graduate back in May. I was expelled back in January. So that was really emotionally tough to be so close to graduation and then being expelled. And so that was hard.
Speaker 3 (09:04)
And I think, too, it was hard navigating the relationship with my parents after that because I had to explain to them why I got kicked out and how I deconverted or left the religion. That was a lot for them to handle. But thankfully, I’ve been able to move in with a family in Greenville, and I’ve been in therapy since January working through that religious trauma. And thankfully, I recently got a job. Actually, I work for the Indoctrination Podcast, which is hosted by Rachel Bernstein, and I think she’s been on here before.
Speaker 2 (09:42)
It was fantastic.
Speaker 3 (09:43)
Yeah, I love her. So, yeah, she saw the work that I was doing on social media, and surely my content and her staff reached out to me in April and asked if I was interested in working for the podcast and I was like, oh yes. So I definitely jumped to the opportunity. And it’s been great really having a job that also aligns with my purpose. And I think really that’s why she wanted to work with me, because she saw how driven I was and how the purpose emissions that we had were very similar. And I was on her show back in February, so she did get to know me through that interview too, and my experiences. So a lot of change has happened this year, some negative, but a lot of positive things have thankfully come out of that hard situation.
Speaker 2 (10:36)
Yeah, I can’t even begin to imagine some of the things you faced. What was it exactly that led you to be expelled?
Speaker 3 (10:46)
Yeah, it was the interview that I did with Joshua Harris and the university didn’t like some of the things that I said in it about basically of me questioning these doctrines that we are basically told to accept at this college and even like talking about the toxicities of fundamentalist Christianity because the foundation of Bob Jones University, it was started as a fundamentalist Christian college. So they did not like that I challenged the authority of that or questioned it. And even just the fact that I said I was deconstructing such, I guess, a danger to them. Basically when I was expelled, they told me that because I wasn’t a believer anymore, that’s why I was expelled.
Speaker 2 (11:32)
You get out of the situation, you are taken in, you start to go through therapy, and then you decide you want to give others this platform partially because it was helping you, but also to give other folks a way to talk about what’s going on, maybe bring to light this trauma that could be happening, bring awareness to it. What were some of those first interviews like for you? Kind of having to address all this? That was clearly a big shake up in your world.
Speaker 3 (12:09)
And I think for me, what made the transition easier was that before I left, really, I’ve been deconstructing since I was 17 and I’m 22 now, so it’s been several years I’m doing that. But a year before I was kicked out was when I really started digging into psychology and into my trauma and journaling and using psychology to label different things that I went through and helped process that. And doing that was really, I guess, validating and really helped me understand a lot of things. And I knew that doing the healing on my own, I knew wasn’t enough, that I did need to go to therapy. And I suggest for anyone who’s experienced trauma to go to therapy as soon as you can. And so that helped me process a lot of it. And the reason I went on Joshua Harris’s show was really to talk about a photo series I did on religious trauma. And it was a project I did in college because I was a photo major. And so I processed the trauma through creating that series and I talked about it on his show because I wanted that platform to share that with people because I knew his audience would definitely relate to that.
Speaker 3 (13:22)
By the time it was kicked out, yes, it was still a big adjustment, but I had already deconstructed a lot and processed. I still have so much to process, but I have processed or at least understood what I went through and how it affected me. And it was emotionally hard to have those interviews in the beginning with people. But I think it has been very helpful for me hearing other people’s stories and just thinking through my own too and thinking of things I might have missed or forgotten. But in the very beginning when I did it on Instagram, I knew that I wanted to not just interview people from Christianity, but from all religious backgrounds because religious trauma is something that can happen in any religion. And so I guess I would also want to make people realize that this can happen in any religion and it’s not just one religion. And I didn’t want to seem like I was just going after Christianity because this is an issue that is very widespread in these environments. But I think the first person I interviewed was Isabelle FAM. She survived a Buddhist cult and it was very interesting to hear her story.
Speaker 3 (14:37)
And I think the powerful thing of interviewing these different people from different backgrounds is seeing the connections in all these religions and the manipulation tactics that these people use. Because when you’re stuck in this environment, like it has this very us versus them mindset, so anyone outside of it you see as like bad or evil or an unbeliever or falling away from the truth. But when you get out of it and you hear these stories, you realize that every group is really like that. They all think they’re right. Anyone on the outside is bad and you’re on the right path, you can’t socialize outside of it. And those are just beginning signs of honestly occultic environment, really.
Speaker 2 (15:19)
I have to imagine that given the current state of the world that we are in today, that one, we’re going to see a lot more people who are feeling the need to remove themselves from these situations. But I also suspect that you are probably also seeing an empowering of these groups to think that they have a right to you and your mind and your life and your soul and all these different things. And I wonder how you reconcile those two things right now.
Speaker 3 (16:01)
I guess you would say finding that independence from that and becoming my own person. Is that what you mean?
Speaker 2 (16:07)
It’s not just finding your independence and becoming your own person, but I have to suspect that right now, given what we have seen in recent news cycles, supreme Court rulings, things like that. The religious power feels more powerful, feels more entitled, feels more emboldened, and may even feel more a desire for retribution from those who have wronged them. And so I wonder how you take on this important mission of helping those who have dealt with trauma or who have felt abused by these institutions, while at the same time those institutions are feeling more empowered to go after people who disagree with them.
Speaker 3 (16:55)
I’ve definitely made a lot of enemies since telling my story, especially a lot at Bob Jones University, just for being honest about my story and what I experienced. And even recently with the SBC report, with all the sexual abuse that was covered up, they don’t want to examine themselves. And like I said, they have this us versus them mindset. So anyone that doesn’t go along or conform, they’re just the enemy or pond of Satan. So you see these terrible responses to these abuse allegations because leaders are like, no, you’re a part of Satan, you’re hurting the gospel. Just shut up, deal with it. So they’re very minimizing. And to them, to them, all this abuse doesn’t really matter, honestly. Which is really sad because they think of things in eternity. They think like, okay, well, so what you’re abuse, well, if you’re going to heaven forever, for eternity, this life is not a big deal.
Speaker 2 (17:56)
Get over it.
Speaker 3 (17:57)
Yeah, basically it’s really sad, really awful, very emotionally, psychologically abusive, and it just breaks my heart. And if these churches really do want to help people and to make the world a better place, they would truly fix their systemic issues and help bring justice for people. Jesus never taught to condemn people like that or people who were wronged. And it’s very just interesting to see the behavior of Jesus and then the behavior of evangelicalism in America, and quite honestly, especially for us who have escaped religion, it’s been very emotionally and psychologically difficult with the Supreme Court starting to turn America really into a theocracy, honestly. And it’s something a lot of people have seen coming and knew that it would eventually try to happen. And I knew it was coming. I didn’t know it would come this quickly. So it’s been very, especially the last since Friday, it’s been very hard to just get up in the morning and to function and to realize that very soon decades and years of people fighting for rights are just suddenly going to be gone. And it’s just I recently found out too, that I might have the option to move to Canada, which I might take up, honestly, if things keep going in the direction that it is.
Speaker 3 (19:32)
Because it’s just when you’re in this controlling environment and you’re finally free, then all of a sudden to see that same environment extend itself in the government, it’s just soulcrushing, honestly, because a lot of us, we didn’t really have liberty in these environments. We didn’t have freedom. We could not really pursue happiness. We didn’t have autonomy. And it’s a wonderful thing to finally have that when you leave. But when you have the Supreme Court who literally wants to criminalize consenting adults having sex, wants to get rid of birth control once they get rid of same sex marriage and all these different things that just really want to take away people’s rights and autonomy and really right to privacy and pursuit of happiness, to me, it feels like this dark cloud that is just rolling over America, this Christian nationalism that has infiltrated our government.
Speaker 2 (20:32)
I wish I could turn to you and say, no, it’s not that bad. But it’s hard to not feel that sense when, like you said, what has happened in the world? So just for context, we’re listening, right? We are recording this just at the end of June. So it’s literally been just a few days since the Supreme Court decided to overturn legal precedents of Roe v. Wade. And even you’re seeing the watering down of the separation of church and state and another recent ruling that came, that came to happen. And so for those who are celebrating, that great, more power to you, right? You have your right to that. But what is feeling problematic for so many is that if I don’t agree with you, if I’m not part of your religious sect or just part of that religion itself, right. I feel like I am having your beliefs imposed on me and I can understand that frustration from so many people out there. So is it difficult then to get people to appear on the show? Given the landscape, given what they are trying to do? Given that so many of them probably don’t have the opportunity to, I’ll say, gently escape their community, potentially even their family?
Speaker 3 (22:12)
Yeah, most people I interview have already escaped already, so they’ve got no way to tell their stories. I mean, there are people who have messaged me who are still stuck in it and they’re like, hey, I would love to be on your show, but I really need to get out of this environment. So, yeah, I usually don’t have guests that are still stuck in that because they want to protect themselves. Which power? Two of them. They need to protect their safety. And I probably had one person who was still stuck on in religions, but they remained anonymous to protect themselves. So I allowed that if people want that to remain anonymous, I would do that for them. But yeah, so most people might show they’ve already escaped and they’re on their healing journey.
Speaker 2 (22:55)
So you said you were going to start doing this as Instagram Live, right? Is that what you said? And then you decided podcast will be easier. So what was it about podcasting that you thought was more amenable to what it was you were trying to accomplish?
Speaker 3 (23:09)
I think, well, for Instagram Live, honestly, it just couldn’t handle the long conversations we were having. And I’m like podcast, they’re usually long conversations. So I’m like, why can’t I’m so fresh here with these technical issues? So I’ll move to podcasting so that I can have these long conversations with people and not have these issues and get them a chance to use their voice. And it was a bit of a learning process and I’m still learning and managing different social medias and keeping up with the podcast and different things. But as a format too, I think too that it’s easier for people to listen. It’s harder for people, I think, to watch an Instagram live video and I think it’s easier to listen to a podcast just while you’re doing chores or you’re driving to work. It’s just more accessible, I think, for people.
Speaker 2 (24:04)
What have been the challenges of actually producing this content as a podcast? Removing of course, the obviously the bigger challenges that we’ve been talking about, which is the type of content that you’re doing, and the push back. That aside, just technically speaking, what have been some things about podcasting that you’ve learned recently?
Speaker 3 (24:26)
Yeah, so I think originally, once I finally realized that, okay, I have to transfer this to a podcast because I’m tired of these issues, I was like, how do I actually do this? And so I really had to research. And thankfully, one of the staff from the indoctrination podcast, he helped give me advice. The first issue was really money, like, how can I afford to keep this podcast going and do it cheaply, but still have at least good quality audio for people? So I know you don’t love Anchor FM, but it was free and gave that option to put it on a different platform. So that just made things easier for me. And I was thankfully able to purchase a cheaper microphone that was still useful, I think, for good audio quality. And I think too, like, managing the schedule, I’m naturally an organized person, but I think that was the original order, was like, okay, how do I organize everything? How do I book them? How do I get the portrait shots in front of them, their BIOS, different things. And so Calendly has been a wonderful resource for me that people can just put in my availability.
Speaker 3 (25:49)
People can book it and it automatically set it up where it sends out the reminders and the links that they need to upload their bio and their photos. And then zoom is integrated into calendar. So automatically create that link that I need to meet with them. Thankfully, I’ve been able to set it up where it’s very automated in that sense.
Speaker 2 (26:12)
What about in terms of producing the content itself? Again, we’re talking about something that is sensitive, that could be triggering to certain folks and something that we’ve also mentioned has enemies. How do you handle that? Or what have you done to overcome those things?
Speaker 3 (26:36)
Yes, I would say for triggering. Honestly, I think there are certain things that still trigger me and honestly, the things that trigger me the most, I guess, is when I have Christians, still Christians who come with the podcast and talk about their faith, I guess you would say, because I get those triggers because I use the language that I heard a lot in church. So it kind of brings back those memories and those triggers happen. Thankfully, I’m able to work through those things in therapy, and I’m on a couple of medications to really help me with complex PDSD and manage that. You know, there have been moments where my mental health is, like, really bad, and I’m like, oh, my gosh, I need to just take a break. Like, I’m so tired. I’m hearing all these stories and it’s just draining my energy is causing all these triggers. So I had to learn really just there are times, if I can every weekend, like, I try to take a break from social media, not look at any of the news, not look at any news with Colts going on. I try to finish my work for the week because I love working for the indoctrination podcast.
Speaker 3 (27:51)
I’m working for Rachel, but doing that has definitely taken until I’m in mental health, too, just seeing all the different cult stories on there. But I think also it does keep me motivated to keep spreading awareness. And I think also it does give me comfort to hear a lot of these stories and see how empowered these people have been. But, I mean, overall, I think the mix of therapy and medication has really helped me work through those triggers. And I think I still have a lot of processing to do. And I also think a lot of what I experience, some part of it, I think I’m disassociated from. It like, I tell people that I feel like the person who went to Bob Jones is a totally different person. And it’s really weird how or crazy how trauma survivors can kind of really disassociate and forget things. Personally, I don’t think about Bob Jones, and looking back on it, it doesn’t seem real. I know it happened, but it doesn’t seem real to me because a lot of trauma survivors will live in a constant state of disassociation. So you’re not present for anything. Your mind is just somewhere else completely.
Speaker 3 (29:09)
So you can never enjoy the present moment. And it really, I think, also causepods people to struggle to have memories of things because you’re not in your environment, really, you’re mentally spaced out. But I think hearing people’s stories and how they’ve processed things have helped me co with that. And like I said, learning to listen to my body and my nervous system and taking those breaks that I need to replenish and help my mental health.
Speaker 2 (29:37)
You’ve spoken about it a little bit as part of everyone’s appearance here on the show. We always like to encourage folks to give, to and support a cause that is important to our guests. And today we’re talking about the Traumasurvivors Foundation. You can find them at the Traumasurvivorsfoundation.com. I have a link to that as well as all of Andrew’s website, Socials, and whatnot in the Show notes here today. But tell us a little bit about the Traumas Survivors Foundation and what that means to you.
Speaker 3 (30:03)
So I picked that foundation because I think it is so crucial for people to have access to mental health care because really trauma is a public health crisis that no one is really talking about and I think especially the COVID-19 pandemic really perpetuated that and caused a lot more trauma and a lot more mental health issues. So for me, whenever I see any organizations that are using like for this foundation that I’m promoting, they take on donations and they use those donations really to hire therapists and train professionals to help people work through trauma and like, it’s free of charge. And to me, we don’t have enough of that in America and we really need so much more of that because our mental health and our physical health, they’re interconnected the mind and body connection. And if we’re going to continue, if we’re going to thrive as a nation and as a world, people really have to learn to get the help they need and to work through their mental health issues. Because if they don’t, trauma is just a cycle that’s just going to keep going from generation to generation until we learn to stop it.
Speaker 3 (31:25)
And foundations like this is something that can help people work through that and to break those cycles of trauma.
Speaker 2 (31:33)
Well, we’ve certainly talked about and highlighted the importance of mental health services and care and the importance that people should be thinking about their mental health the same way they think about getting a physical every year and seeing a provider on a regular basis. And we couldn’t agree with you more. So again, it’s the Traumasurvivorsfoundation.com. Also, if you are really fascinated by what Andrew is doing, you want to support him on a personal level. We’ll have a link to his patreon where you can join one of his membership levels or access some exclusive content and connection to Andrew directly that links to that. All the Socials, his website, his show on all the different platforms of course, will be here in the Show Notes. Andrew, I know this has been a very intense conversation. I know you kind of signed up for that when you were launching your own podcast, but we appreciate you taking the time to do this. Before we let you go though, any advice that you would have for somebody else who is thinking about taking their passion, their cause, their purpose and turning it into this type of content?
Speaker 3 (32:38)
I guess I would say that for people who are kind of going and using their purpose on social media or through a podcast. Don’t focus so much on the numbers because that can really, I think, just stop people. Just focus on the people and really the people that you’re interviewing and how you’re going to impact their lives. Think of the difference that you’re going to make. And if you just focus on that, I think that really will encourage you and help you to stay consistent with your purpose and staying active on social media and with your podcast to continue promoting it. Because I think for a lot of podcasters starting out, I know it can be discouraging because you might feel like, oh, I’m not really reaching many people, but even if it’s a small amount of people, you are making a big difference in people’s lives. So I encourage whenever you’re ready or you feel like you’re ready and you’ve processed or you have a driver purpose, just take it from a stance of truly like, wanting to help people and I think you’ll be successful at whatever you do.
Speaker 2 (33:47)
Could not agree with that advice or that sentiment more. Andrew Pledger, host and creator of the Speaking Up with Andrew Pledger Podcast. You can find links to him on Apple, Google, Spotify, as well as his website, his patreon page and thetriverservicersfoundation.com in the show notes for this episode. Andrew, thank you again for taking some time to chat with us here today and joining us on Causepods.
Speaker 3 (34:10)
All right, thank you for having me.
Speaker 1 (34:11)
Thanks for listening to this episode of Causepods. If you’ve been inspired by the work of our guests, please check out the show notes to this episode in your podcasting app. Or@causepods.org there you will find links to their show, their website, their podcast, links on Apple, Google, Spotify, as well as a link to support the charity that they highlighted here in this episode. You will also firstname.lastname@example.org a way to subscribe to this show on your favorite podcasting app, how to sign up to be a guest on this show, and a link to our Facebook group which is going to have special resources just for the folks who are podcasting for a good cause. And I can tell you right now, we’ve got one great deal from our friends at Pod page, but you’re only going to learn about it and get.
Speaker 2 (34:53)
That special deal if you are a.
Speaker 1 (34:54)
Member of the Facebook group for Causepods. And before I go, I should say thank you in particular. The show is edited and produced by Ben Killoy of the military veteran Dad’s podcast and what a great job he has done. And all this is made possible because of the great support that I receive from Shannon Rojas email@example.com. Once again, if you want to learn more, go to cospods.org. Thank you so much and we will see you next time on Cospods.