Michael Bones, a former Pentecostal Christian, is using social media to encourage others to share their personal stories of the trauma they experienced in religion and of walking away from their faith.
In recent weeks, the musician’s TikTok videos exploring harmful religious beliefs and practices have been attracting thousands of views.
He is now advocating a new campaign called #ReligionShouldntHurt to encourage ex-religious Aussies and people of faith to speak out about their experiences in religious fundamentalism and what it is like to walk away.
#ReligionShouldntHurt is a hashtag that began trending in the United States earlier this year.
Michael has received the support of that campaign’s founder, Troy Moore-Heart, to use the same hashtag and spread the message to the rapidly growing ‘ex-vangelical’ network in Australia.
“A lot of Christians are talking about ‘dismantling’ or ‘pulling apart’ their faith. I did that very intently in my early 20s when I realised that other people had thought about big questions, too, outside of religion, and that it’s okay to question and have doubts,” he told the Rationalist Society of Australia.
“I think the first thing is talking about it because, in a way, identifying as not a Christian is like identifying as not straight. There’s a coming out to your community where it’s quite scary and it’s still quite stigmatised within these groups.”
One of Michael’s TikTok videos about abuse and mistreatment within Hillsong has more than 125,000 views.
Another video in which he talks about the sexual repression that he experienced growing up in purity culture has attracted more than 120,000 views.
“[The response to my videos] has been pretty overwhelming. I’ve had hundreds of thousands of views and thousands of comments from people in Australia and in America who are really resonating with some of the stories I’ve been telling,” he said.
In a video to launch the #ReligionShouldntHurt campaign, Michael said he considered himself as being “one of the lucky ones” for having overcome much of the trauma that he experienced.
“As a young adult at Jesus Camp, me and my friends were sexually shamed in small groups before being whipped into a frenzy of guilt and self-loathing until we cried literal tears of repentance.
“I was taught that sex outside of marriage was sinful, that desire itself was sinful, and that masturbation was a one-way ticket to hell.”
Michael has set up the website www.rsh.org.au for people to find information on how to share their stories and sign up to support the growing movement.
Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman