More Thoughts on Church

I grew up in the church. I was nurtured by the anchoring habits of rhythm and the ritual; the security of absolute unquestionable truths; and the support of a like minded community. It was comforting to me – until it wasn’t. Then, like a switch flipped on the wall I saw the light, and the light exposed all these ugly and untrue accoutrements that came along with it all. Ironically this switch flipping phenomenon was roughly congruent with my ordination as a minister. Yep, I realized what I was standing in right when I was stepping hip-deep into it all.

It confuses me – as I’m sure it does you – how I can so deeply love Jesus and be so genuinely grateful for my Christian roots, and at the same time be so clearly scarred by the experience of religious indoctrination. I suppose this is because cult and faith cannot easily be balanced. Because Christianity is a social movement and all social movements eventually metastasize and bulge away from their original intent. Because, in my opinion, “Jesus got ‘jacked.”

When I think back over my religious upbringing there are a string of damaging thoughts that got grafted into my being which came purely from attending church, Sunday school, and youth group. Among the long list are these 7 most-damaging messages:

Any impulse you have towards physical intimacy is naughty. (Result: A lifetime of distrusting one’s body and seeing one’s physical self as the great betrayer.)
You should only date someone to get married. (The worst possible message you can give a fifteen year old)
You are not good enough, but God puts up with you anyway. (Result: A life-long feeling of inadequacy and a lack of self-love.)
Everything you love must be given as a “sacrifice” to God. (Thereby making you feel guilty for anything you feel passionately about that cannot be turned into “church work.”)
There is no wisdom/love/spiritual truth/devotion/generosity outside of Christianity. (Result: A really unattractive and utterly false sense of spiritual/moral/political superiority.)
The devil lurks around every corner waiting to attack. (Instilling a constant sense of anxiety and fear.)
God is only male, therefore women are bad because they are not like God and because they brought sin into the world. (Results: such a plethora of damaging crap I cannot even BEGIN to list it all here.)

These messages, these draining repetitive tapes that I still struggle to rid myself of, prevent me from taking my children to church. As much as I want them to have the beauty of growing up in church – community, religious ritual, music – there is too much ….crap…that comes with the package. I can’t allow my girls to be damaged by this as I was. As much as I’d like to think I can counter these messages with parental chats and at- home lessons, I don’t think I can. After all, my parents never taught me any of these deadly messages. I got those all on my own. From church.

Ideally, I could move out of the evangelical branch of Christianity and avoid these things. But really, it’s not true. No matter where I go—and I’ve gone to a LOT of churches—there are still things that keep me from resting easy: exclusively male pronouns for God; one person holding all of the wisdom in the pulpit; patriarchal models of hierarchy and decision making; and the ongoing staggeringly depressing truth that Sunday morning is still the most racially segregated hour of the week. Being a part of these things from a young age shapes you, moulds you, into a certain kind of be-ing. In spite of the changes many of my ministerial friends are chipping out in this old institution, I still have to take a time out. I still have to protect my children in all their malleable young glory. And I guess, above all, I still need time to be …sad.

May it not always be so. May those with the passion and drive to make changes have the strength to continue the work. May healing come, may truth return. Next year, Jerusalem!

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Elaine July 4, 2007 at 7:53 pm

Thank you for this. I just wrote about a local Christian group who makes me want to throw things on my site (the long story here: http://www.wannabehippie.com/2007/07/moral_outrage.php) so it was rather timely to read this from you. I struggle with this as well, wanting my children to get the community that Church provides, but not at the expense of their self esteem. My husband is so anti-Church (not being raised in one and only being insulted by them his whole childhood will do that to a person) that I don’t even know how to give them the balance.

Sigh.

Again, thank you for this. It was needed.

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aola July 5, 2007 at 12:12 pm

me too, Rachelle, me too!

It is such an issue in my life. The switch flipped for me about 7 years ago, we have been away from any kind of church setting for that long until recently when our 13 year old asked us to take him to church. So, we are. It is all I can do to sit thru a Sunday morning service – this week I told my husband that it makes me feel like a horrible person because I hate it so. I love the people, I love God, but I just hate the whole system that uses and manipulates people who just want to please God with fear and condemnation.
I go back and forth in my mind about letting my son find his own path with God and feeling like I have to protect him from “church” and all its bullshit.

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amy July 5, 2007 at 7:39 pm

thank you for expressing perfectly the sort of struggle so many of us deal with. i couldn’t say this better myself.

thanks.

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Jennifer/The Word Cellar July 8, 2007 at 9:35 pm

It’s like I always say: I love Jesus, I just don’t like church. I’m desperate for a sense of community, but haven’t been able to bring myself to invest in church. It’s comforting to know that there’s a community of like-minded people out there, even if I’ll only “know” them through the Internet. Still, I keep searching for that circle of community *in* my community. Sigh…

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titration July 21, 2007 at 12:30 pm

Yes.

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Mystical Seeker July 30, 2007 at 8:52 am

I understand your frustration, and I agree that those seven messages that you described are all harmful.

And yet, I do think that it is easy to be pessimistic about finding pockets of Christianity that can offer most of what you are looking for. Here where I live in San Francisco, for example, I have researched and investigated a lot of churches. I recently found a progressive church that comes pretty close to what I’ve been searching for. Non-sexist language is used in church services there (including a gender-neutral Lord’s Prayer), and it seems to be very much a joint effort by the congregation to work towards developing progressive theology and practices.

And if you object to sexism and hierarchy and wisdom coming just from the pulpit, there are always the unprogrammed Quakers, who have taken the idea of democratizing the pulpit to its ultimate conclusion by making everyone a minister in a meeting for worship.

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Professor Zero August 2, 2007 at 8:08 pm

This is a great list. The funny thing is: those would be the 7 most damaging messages I was brought up with, too, although I’d have to rephrase some to turn them into a more secular version since I wasn’t brought up Christian. It’s as though they were the 7 tenets of misogyny or something…

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Rebecca Dallin September 4, 2008 at 6:06 pm

And now where can I go? I still want to do the art thing, the dialogue thing, the spiritual thing, and where can I go?

I wish I were a priestess, and I could bring people to my place for spiritual tea and cookies and collaging and solstice parades, but I don’t have that kind of charisma. I miss my home at the abbey.

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