I didn’t grow up in church.
I do feel that my parents failed me in this way, not having a church community or knowledge of religion while living in the Bible belt.
I was taught to recite a simple children’s dinner blessing and bedtime prayer. I attended church with school acquaintances occasionally and my paternal grandma twice a year.
I remember being invited to and attending AWANA once for that “bring a friend night requirement to earn a jewel in the crown button.” It was a horrifying experience for me. I didn’t know any Bible verses. I didn’t know anything about church or religion. It was loud and I was anxious and I felt very out of place. I didn’t know the script or what was expected of me. I felt lost and alone.
I remember embarrassing myself and my Jehovah’s Witness friend and everyone else listening at our lunch table in 6th grade when I announced that God was dead and lived up in heaven.
I really didn’t know any better.
I remember in my Georgia public high school, being accosted in the hallway between classes by Christian classmates:
“Are you saved?” demanded a preppy white boy holding up a thick black KJV Bible, gesturing with it, like a weapon.
“From what?” I countered. I really wanted to know what he would say, but I was offended and offensive.
He stumbled and stuttered because he had no real answers for me beyond his script that he learned at his Baptist church and youth group rallies. He’d never been questioned or been taught critical thinking. All throughout high school, I could never get any real answers that satisfied me about church or God or Christians from anyone.
I remember attending a youth group meeting when I was sixteen because it was one way I could socialize that my strict parents approved of and didn’t ask questions. The youth pastor (24-year-old son of the head pastor) taught a lesson about doing everything for Christ. It was probably based on Colossians 3:17, but I didn’t know the Bible very well then. I had no reference point for this sermon. I do remember being very confused by his analogy that we should play football for Jesus. I wondered how Jesus could really care about football. We were told to keep Jesus in everything. The message was completely lost on me. And the line in the CCM song about a “big, big yard where we can play football” always makes me think of that night and I remember my confusion and I am still thinking that Pastor Beau failed to make his point.
I went to college and grad school. I taught English in both private Christian and secular public schools. I am smart and educated and was told I could do and be anything. But Southern society, my parents, family, friends, acquaintances, the media, and my schooling sent me so many mixed messages. The Christian-proscribed gender roles permeate every aspect of North American society.
As an adult, I look back on all the lost years when I desperately tried to fit into church culture, Christian culture. The things I didn’t understand then and was just encouraged to accept, never questioning, has me regret not listening to my gut feelings more.
The charm and flattery of abusive leaders makes it difficult to trust. The Christian celebrities don’t interest me as I read about their egregious fall from too much pride and power and money every day.
My first experience of regular church attendance was with my first husband’s family. It was the Pentecostal church – Church of God, complete with Prosperity Gospel. I was shut down when I tried to ask questions.
After two failed marriages amid so many visits to Christian therapists who told me such lovely things as being available – ready and willing – for sex anytime, being more submissive, more forgiving of his porn addiction, less angry, doing better with housekeeping and meal planning – even while working full-time, keeping the baby quiet, not discussing my income or job details so as not to make my non-college-educated or out-of-work husband feel inferior, to be more cheerful and not rock the boat or nag.
Unhealthy enmeshment makes wives feel like their husband’s porn use has something to do with them. It does not.Kimberly Stover
I was desperate to do the right things. I thought I was the problem and if I could just find the right formula, all would be well. Then I would be happy.
I wanted to raise my children with more than I had, but I thought religion was what we were missing. Our society and the church teaches that there can be no morality or goodness without Christian teachings.
I was taught that everything I loved was sinful and wrong – books, movies, music, art.
What do unbelievers do for the glory of God? Nothing. Therefore, everything they do is sinful.John Piper
I married a third time. We began homeschooling my eldest daughter and I was pregnant back to back with my middle two kids.
I researched and thought I was doing the right things, but I was very easily swayed into almost cult-like evangelical Christian homeschool circles. The Christian science curricula is dumbed down and we struggled with finding any good alternatives. Many Christians don’t learn or teach real science in all its nuances because they don’t encourage curiosity or questions and can’t handle subtleties. Also, I was constantly criticized for our literature material and the freedom I wanted my kids to have. I had to constantly monitor my language and vocabulary. Obviously, no cussing, but I had to censor words like luck and charm and learn to replaces those with Christianese words.
My kids remind me of this time of our lives when I became so strict and legalistic. We only listened to Christian hymns. I was in agony and so lost. I hated myself. They were scared of me.
I had no voices of reason and no religious background to realize the red flags waving in front of me for years. My husband didn’t realize how insidious these conservative homeschoolers are or how close we came to falling into their clutches. There was always a small part of me that rebelled.
We barely escaped the abuse of Christian fundamentalism and extremism. We certainly were scarred by many of their teachings that I allowed to infiltrate our worldview.
So many people completely miss the point of it all. I missed the point for many years and it has taken more years to heal myself and my kids.
I read the works of many authors of other faiths. I read a lot about liberation theology. I educate myself. I have gone back around to being an intellectual, proud and not worried about being wrong or sinful. I can be happy and comforted that I won’t go to a hell I don’t believe in.
I now laugh at Pinterest recipes for “Christ-centered cupcakes.” What even is that? Christian contemporary music with lyrics about positivity and prosperity and Jesus being compared to a boyfriend is trying desperately to merge pop culture, pseudo-psychology, and religion.
I shared a joke on social media and hurt someone’s feelings. I then had to admit to myself and others that I am anti-church. I want and expect more from church than they’re willing to offer.
I am enraged that the church told me I had to purge all my books and DVDs that were “inappropriate.” We didn’t celebrate Halloween one year and I threw out all my vintage decorations and I just sick about that. I am saddened that my husband didn’t stop me or say anything at all about it. He didn’t realize the loss. He didn’t care. I gave up so many books – like my Anne Rice collection, with many signed copies, and I stopped reading her new works. I cherished those books and the memory of meeting her at the book signing and how she said she liked my ruffled jacket cuffs. I wish I had them back. I got rid of so many DVDs that had erotic content or sex scenes or vulgar language, but told a human story in all its realness and rawness. I was told that anything rated R was evil and if I couldn’t view something with my three-year-old child then I shouldn’t be watching it.
The church really does want its people infantilized, especially women. We are told that our entire purpose is to serve husband and children, no matter what else we do with our lives – careers, hobbies, interests. Those should take backstage or be obliterated completely. This is why reproductive rights are being fought about in our country. Men feel they can control women more effectively if women can’t choose when or if to be pregnant. Gender roles are strictly enforced within the church, sometimes by social conditioning, but we attended one church that actually had brochures with Bible verse citations, in the lobby, written by the pastor about how women and men should dress. I was admonished by many mentor ladies how to plan ahead in case I ever got sick, so as to never be unprepared and have to leave my husband or kids to fend for themselves.
This is brainwashing. I am embarrassed I let it go on as long as I did. I continue to unteach and reteach my kids about what’s ok and what should not have happened. I am slowly acquiring many of the books and movies and decorations I sold or threw away during our darkest times.
I experienced such cognitive dissonance trying to reconcile my intellectual curious mind with trying to learn church history and doctrine while homeschooling and teaching my children. I regret that I was horribly mean and abusive to my three young kids at the behest of the church, trying to control them and demand blind perfect obedience. Interestingly, most schools and American homes buy into this abusive obedience concept in spite of being secular. And we wonder why so many of us are mentally ill – depressed and anxious?
Church perpetuates abuse. It encourages parents to break the wills of children. It encourages women to stay unseen and unheard. It discourages questions because that is a threat to authority.
I realized recently how deeply ingrained the western church is with racism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and sexism. While so many churches say “all are welcome, ” and “come as you are,” very few are affirming or inclusive. These are just popular catch phrases to get people in the door. Enough stay and find their community, I guess.
Without these hateful ideologies, the church cannot maintain control it so desperately needs over a fearful people. The American Christian church just wants to control and it does so by preaching about Others, a duality, Us vs. Them. Whether or not a church agrees or aligns with all or some of Calvinism, those ideas are permeating churches.
White American evangelicalism teaches that western culture is what Jesus is all about. That is incorrect. We have seen so much imagery and realized so many conservatives are actually leading the country towards a theocracy. We have a big problem when churches have national flags and guns and pray for a political agenda instead of spiritual reconciliation.
I tried several denominations and churches and we moved around a lot – Georgia, Texas, Hawaii, Utah, Germany, and Ohio. We tried churches on military bases. We tried churches all over the cities near where we lived. It was exceedingly difficult to find community in a nonjudgmental and welcoming church. And it was hard feeling like we could fit in, knowing we would move in a few short years.
I’m tired of being blamed for being a bad and sinful parent because I don’t force my kids into a church that hates them and wants to change them “in the name of Jesus.” I can’t look the other way anymore as they preach about exclusivity, nationalism, white supremacy, prosperity, sexism, homophobia, transphobia – no matter how veiled and carefully so they seem to be loving and admonishing.
I want my kids to know that I extravagantly and unequivocally love them for who they are – gay, trans, pierced, tattooed, however. It hurts me to see them get side-eye at a church that is meant to love them in the name of Jesus. Jesus is love, right?
I don’t want my kids around elders, deacons, pastors who abuse their spouses and children – calling them names and belittling them, criticizing and encouraging hitting as discipline. I don’t want to be around that either and these people don’t want to hear my opinions about it. They didn’t want my opinions about anything.
I don’t want to feel exhausted anymore as churches demand more time, more money, more effort on my part and to help plan and implement events in which I have little to no interest – for evangelism and outreach and community building and fundraising. My husband completely bought into the serving mindset and I had to explain multiple times how we were taken advantage of with our desire to serve and our love languages of gift-giving and service. There were never any thanks, no appreciation. Just more, more, more. We could never do or give enough.
I understand that the church is and should be made up of broken people. The big difference I have discovered over the years and in many different cities is that while I strive to improve and learn and truly live a good spiritual life, too many are just going through the motions while being insulated in their hatred of others while having superiority complexes and being power-hungry and controlling. Too many professing Christians are complacent and lazy in their spiritual growth.
Yes, it is unfortunate that this has been my family’s experience in every church we have ever attended. I’m tired of apologizing to strangers who surely mean well that we do not and will not attend. Yes, I know there are affirming churches out there. I follow several pastors and teachers online. We visited a UCC right before COVID, but we didn’t have time to make any connections and now everything has changed and we have moved on and my family doesn’t care to try again.
Am I thrilled that your church is different? Absolutely! I read comments all the time on my blog posts and social media #notallchurches and how I should keep trying and that I am sinful for not gathering! Please stop. You’re not helping in any way. I just feel worse and more guilty. Do you not think I have tried and tried and tried again?
The pastor’s husband of the last church we attended got so offended when I shared an article about issues in the American church that he typed on my Facebook wall “Have a nice life.”
No one ever tried to keep us around when we left these churches. There were no check-ins. They don’t miss us.
- The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation
- The Forgotten Creed: Christianity’s Original Struggle against Bigotry, Slavery, and Sexism by Stephen J. Patterson
- The Bible and Mental Health: Towards a Biblical Theology of Mental Health by Chris Cook and Isabelle Hamley
- Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne by Wilda Gafney
- A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church: Year A by Wilda C. Gafney
- The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby
- The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone
- Black Theology and Black Power by James H. Cone
- Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman
- Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the US by Lenny Duncan
- White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity by Robert P. Jones
- Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes Du Mez
- Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk by Delores S. Williams
- Black Church Empowered: Examining Our History, Securing Our Longevity by Isaiah Robertson
- #ChurchToo: How Purity Culture Upholds Abuse and How to Find Healing by Emily Joy Allison
- The #MeToo Reckoning: Facing the Church’s Complicity in Sexual Abuse and Misconduct by Ruth Everhart
- The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You’ve Been Taught and How to Recover What God Intended by Sheila Wray Gregoire
- You Are Your Own: A Reckoning with the Religious Trauma of Evangelical Christianity by Jamie Lee Finch
- Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free by Linda Kay Klein
- The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth by Beth Allison Barr
- Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by Aimee Byrd
- Shameless: A Case for Not Feeling Bad About Feeling Good (About Sex) by Nadia Bolz-WEber
- Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church by Chrissy Stroop and Lauren O’ Neal
- Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion by Marlene Winell
- Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell
- God Land: A Story of Faith, Loss, and Renewal in Middle America by Lyz Lenz
- No Longer Strangers: Transforming Evangelism with Immigrant Communities
- When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community From Emotional and Spiritual Abuse by Chuck DeGroat
- Outside the Lines: How Embracing Queerness Will Transform Your Faith by Mihee Kim-Kort
- Affirming: A Memoir of Faith, Sexuality, and Staying in the Church by Sally Gary
- Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians by Austen Hartke
- Queer Theology: Beyond Apologetics by Linn Tonstad
- Outlove: A Queer Christian Survival Story by Julie Rodgers
- Unashamed: A Coming-Out Guide for LGBTQ Christians by Amber Cantorna
- Embracing the Journey: A Christian Parents’ Blueprint to Loving Your LGBTQ Child by Greg and Lynn McDonald
- Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark?: The Bible and Modern Science and the Trouble of Making It All Fit by Janet Kellogg Ray
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- Why I Don’t Teach Purity
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