Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Culture Wars or Why I Can't Be a Christian Anymore

I don't love the phrase "the culture wars." It might be that I am a pacifist and wish to avoid conflict altogether. It may have something to do with the evangelical environment in which I was raised. But mostly, I think, it has to do with the idea of there being a right and a wrong side. As if there were actually only 2 sides to an issue. As if the same outcome would be the right outcome for all people. It seems to me that only in the arenas of religion and politics do we ever make that assumption. And it doesn't bode well for any sort of resolution.

This week I've been reading a book, Torn, which spends a good amount of time discussing how the church has promoted the idea of The Gays vs. The Christians. And it has me thinking a lot about how my experience in the church has mirrored this author's experience. I was spared the awful experience of revealing my sexual orientation to all of humanity while steeped in the world of mainstream Christianity. Because really, is there any kid who wants to reveal his/her sexuality, whatever it may be? I would have fallen over dead with embarrassment if I had needed to do so, whatever the reason.

Instead I had the misfortune of being a liberal Christian. To the outside world, this sounds like a non-starter. Who would care if a person is a liberal Christian? There are so many other things to be concerned about. But for me, this was the deal breaker. I found myself, at the ripe old age of 28, in a Christian community that found me anathema. It didn't matter that my theology was carefully considered, or that I had bathed my positions on many social issues in prayer. It didn't matter that I had taken classes at a Christian college or spent time on my own learning how to do inductive bible study. What mattered to the church, in the end, was that I was not like them. I didn't fit. I was outside the lines and I was simply wrong. Very few people cared to ask me why, or even try to understand where I was coming from. And, as it turned out, it was an impossible place to live.

In the end, it just became too hard to fight against it. I was exhausted from battling the constant wind against me; if I wasn't leaning hard into it, pressing forward, it was beating me from the side, leaving me drained and worn. I just couldn't shield myself anymore. And maybe that's what the good Christians around me were hoping for, that I would cave in and see things from their side. But in truth, I was beaten down into a severe depression and wanted nothing more to do with my abusers; it was too much and I left. And the sorrow of leaving almost broke me. I loved my community and my God. I had visions of being in leadership and raising my family there. I was a true believer.

It took years of talk-therapy, prescription medication, and support from my closest friends to get me to a place where I could recognize that I do still believe in the grace and mercy of Jesus. But I never want to be called a Christian again. I can't bring myself to be associated with the very people who turned their backs on me, told me I was wrong for just being me. And it wasn't until I read this book, about a man who had the same experience because he is gay, that my experience was crystalized for me.

I don't know if this is a typically Midwestern story, or if it has more to do with Christianity as a whole, but it has shaped my life more than anything else. I wished for a long time that I could be the sort of person who sees life as black and white. (I see every shade of gray instead.) I wished for a long time that I could have a simple faith and just be like the rest of the church. (But I am too much of an empath; I see so many sides, and that just raises more questions.) Today, I have stopped wishing, and I have realized that I like who I am. I actually enjoy being me. But I have not been able to experience that same joy in the church. I don't know if I will ever be able to. I certainly don't want to raise my children there because they are free thinkers too, and I cannot in good conscience subject them to the same fate.

Perhaps one day I will see things differently, but I don't expect to. I know I will not subject myself to being part of a faith community that cannot love me as a whole person: gay, straight, rich, poor, male, female, liberal, conservative, creative, analytic, transparent, private, married, single, black or white. I believe God made me the person I am with the strengths I possess. I honor that by freely being me. And I believe that about others too. I expect to find all sorts of people welcomed into my community.

Ironically, the church taught me that I would only find true community and friendship within it's own walls; but you know what? I have found some incredible friends who are not there. And they love me and support me without needing me to hold to a certain doctrine. For that I will be forever grateful. And I will continue to keep forging my own community, because I have no other choice. I need my people, and I need to serve others. So we find one another along the way and support one another as best we can. I still believe that people are mostly good. But I am wary of those professing loudly their faith.

(By the way, I'm sure you have a great church, where you find fulfillment, love and community. Many of my friends do and I am truly happy for them. But please do not invite me to attend yours. I am bone tired of visiting churches only to realize that they will welcome me as long as I change. Perhaps one day I will announce that I am ready to try again. But today is not that day. Thanks.)


Sabrina said...

I am going to do exactly what you asked us not to do. Consider a Unitarian Universalist church (a brick and mortar or even the church of the larger fellowship which is online) UUs are far from perfect, going through major upheaval right now around issues of race, but the churches are typically filled with members whose story is similar to yours in that they wanted a community that could accept them as is. It is so sad to me that Christianity has become a dirty word, because: read your arm band folks, what your doing is NOT what Jesus would do! As always, my friend, I admire your courage and conviction to speak YOUR truth regardless of how it "fits" into other people's ideas of what you should or should not believe. Try UU or don't, but continue to love yourself and others in the way that is uniquely yours. I love you. ❤️

Alan Oscher said...

It takes a great deal of courage to place oneself "out on a branch" free oneself from the constraints of organized philosophies and embrace the human race with kindness, selflessness, and compassion. Open heart. So no matter what ones' belief system may be..... the human race needs to love and accept one another's' differences. Amy ...your heart is full! Love and respect you!