God’s Ex-Girlfriend: A Memoir about Loving and Leaving the Evangelical Jesus by Gloria Beth Amodeo

IG Publishing

By Walter Cummins

The title, God’s Ex-Girlfriend, suggests a Dear John letter to explain why the author broke up with the Campus Crusade for Christ and its evangelical belief system. But I find that choice revelatory in clarifying what brought Beth Amodeo to join and then abandon what she ultimately judged a trap: “It took me seven years to realize that I had fallen into what was more or less a common American cult, and I spent four years running from it until I was able to start telling my story.”

Did a repressed sex drive impel her to an immersion in religion? As the book opens, she admits having been a lonely adolescent, desperate for acceptance and approval by the in-crowd in junior high. As the memoir continues, she confesses to viewing pornography that she integrates into her sexual fantasies and masturbation.

When, in college, through the urging of her one close friend she joins an evangelical movement dedicated to converting non-believers, one that stresses sexual denial through an insistence on no sex till marriage—the Campus Crusade for Christ (now officially known as just Cru). That gives Amodeo a cover for her abstinence. Her sexless life can be explained as the result of faith and not rejection. But it’s finally losing her virginity and becoming sexually active in her twenties that results in a major religious reorientation, from initial questioning to eventual separation.

While writing about other members of Cru in the book, Amodeo does not probe their motives for having joined, not attempting to distinguish how much was spiritual and how much psychological. In her case, the emotional need clearly dominated.

But one basic strategy Amodeo learned as a conversion strategy was knowing which other students to approach, for example, not the lacrosse team, but rather “Leverage the traumatic pasts of your convertees”:

This is the essential sweet spot of all evangelical ministry. It’s a spot you’ll have to work hard for, as most people bury their trauma, but that’s why God created friendship—to give you emotional shovels! Get in there and start digging, past all the facades, past all the semblances of happiness they’ve created to cover their pain. Expose their inner illnesses and show them they need a doctor […] Present Jesus as the best doctor for the depths of their agony, an antidote they can access through one simple payment, i.e., their soul.

College students, the target group for Cru are—it seems—an increasingly tougher sell. Scientific American reported in 2017, “The number of college students with no religious affiliation has tripled in the last 30 years, from 10 percent in 1986 to 31 percent in 2016, according to data from the CIRP Freshman Survey. Over the same period, the number who attended religious services dropped from 85 percent to 69 percent.” And many who do may be sitting in pews out of habit.

But Amodeo’s primary target for conversion turns out to be herself. While her doubts grew, she kept trying to maintain some version of faith, if not the rigid version of her college years. At one point, she attended a church group of women struggling with “how messed up this all felt.” By that time, she had given up the Prozac prescribed by her Christian psychologist and then learned half the women in the group were on antidepressants. And she was the only one still a virgin, who “hadn’t partaken in sex.”

When she finally did, it was painful, a burning between her legs that led her to seek advice on how to have intercourse. She eventually found sex normal and pleasurable, just part of her life, not the worse of sins: “I decided to have sex if I wanted, on the first date or on the third, because sex, I learned, didn’t have to be a big deal. It didn’t have to be forever.”

Leaving evangelicalism for Amodeo wasn’t a simple matter of turning off a switch: “It took several years not to feel like I was missing, like the world was passing by without me in it. Not to look at social media posts and wonder why they seemed to be from a society that had evolved beyond me, a time I wasn’t living in. It took me that long to feel that I was living a real life.”

Crucial to that real life was the love of a man, Jason. Their mutual declaration of love for each other closes the book, and Amodeo’s final words are the statement that became her title. She has chosen love of a man over love of God, which may have been what she wanted and needed all along, actually becoming a real person’s girlfriend.

While evangelical ministry assumes most potential converts suppress their trauma, Amodeo finally does not. She explores crucial years of her own life, revealing all, refusing to hold back, and admitting how much she was messed up.