By the time I was old enough to know a little about what religion meant, we were attending church regularly.
I remember being there when my dad and sister were baptized, in the little pool at our church. I knelt on the shaggy orange carpet in front of the pool’s glass in my nice church dress, seeing their smiles as they had the cloth placed over their faces and dipped in the water, one at a time. Not long after, my mom was baptized at a seminar, in a larger one. And not long after that, due to my urging and a lot of convincing, I went through Bible studies and was baptized myself, at six years old, younger than most people in our church had been (or had been allowed to).
In my nearly fifteen years afterward, I remember watching the baptismal vows become more strict and more detailed, including things that I never thought were wrong, such as playing board games (of all things). I remember being berated by one of the visiting pastors during his sermon because me and one of my fellow ushers were going in and out of the church (which we were supposed to, because we were ushers). I remember this same pastor being rude to my mother because she asked why we were not allowed to wear jewelry when people in the Bible did.
As I got older, I began to question the beliefs our church held that I had never found any reason to understand from a Biblical perspective. I caught up on secular music, all of the music I’d missed that I hadn’t listened to when I was younger. I wrote a paper in high school (with Biblical references) about why wearing jewelry wasn’t wrong (or even something God cares about), despite what the church taught us. I struggled with issues that should never have had a place in my home church. In college, I pierced my ears for the first time, and watched as my dad at first asked me “you did what?!” in horror but later said, “You know, those look really nice.” I wore the largest earrings I could find and what I wanted to church when I was forced to go, defiantly daring anyone to tell me not to.
Church had been something that was part of my routine, every Saturday, for fifteen years of my life, but I eventually stopped going in college. I refused to go when I was home, not wanting to visit with people who either had views that angered me to listen to, or didn’t quite accept me because of my light skin. For awhile, I only would go willingly when our pastor was speaking, the one we had who inspired me that organized religion could get better, that actually read the Bible open face on the pulpit, not picking and choosing what verses suited his own agenda.
Over my junior year of college, my parents experienced their own realization, where my dad was home all day recovering from surgery and opened the new “archaeological” Bible that my mom had given him, and read it entire chapters, entire books, and became confused and angry at the church’s teachings. Here was the book we were supposedly living from, and it disagreed with everything we’d been taught. He and my mom read through, and by the time I’d finished my junior year and I was riding home with my mom with all of my belongings in the back, she told me that they, along with my cousins, were going to leave the church for good. They had been involved more than anyone else, had given whole parts of themselves to it, and despite my own trepidations and anger, I knew I needed to be there for them on their last Sabbath there.
Over the past four years since then, I’ve felt a complete disconnect from my religious roots. I have no desire to attend church at all. I haven’t lost my faith in God – I’ve always believed in His existence and that He loves us…and that a lot of Christians don’t reflect His character at all. I find the church’s fear of doubt and questioning to be deterrent. I think all of us need to question and search and doubt to find our way to what the truth is, not by listening blindly to how others interpret teachings, the Bible, and other religious books that are sometimes given more credit than they’re due.
Could my relationship with God be better now? Of course it could. None of us are perfect. I’ve found that I find it important to love those around me despite their faults, and to fight for the people that religion tends to knock down while using the Bible as their reasoning. Loving others isn’t about judging them, or loving the sin, not the sinner. It’s about caring for and doing what’s best for them, which does not include trying to change them. If God could love us through all of the stuff we do, surely we could do even a quarter of that for those around us.
I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunity to honestly dive into what I believe about the church and about faith throughout the last few years of my life, to be able to freely question and doubt the details while still holding the most important belief, and to discuss with others what those things mean.
I’d like to hear what you think: Did you grow up religious or not? What did you believe when you were younger that ended up being challenged? Do you prefer where you are now or where you were at past times in your life? Let me know what you think, I’d love to hear it.