I started this letter off as a letter to my parents, but I couldn’t find the words. I thought I was ready to tell them I’ve decided I don’t believe in God and I don’t want to be a part of the church any more. Now it’s just for whoever wants to listen. Maybe I’ll figure out what to say to them after I get it all out of my system, but maybe I’ll just keep lying to them about my reality, like I always have.
My parents are very Christian, my dad’s a pastor. And growing up in their household as the oldest of four kids, I was expected to be the role model for my siblings, attend church with joy every single week, make the “Godly” choices. Respect my parents, and obey. Essentially, be perfect, but don’t worry you can’t, because Jesus is the only one who is perfect, but here’s some unrealistic expectations for you now anyways because that’s just how it is. I left home right after I graduated high school, and never thought about moving back. At 18 years old, I wanted to travel the world, save the world. I had nothing but adventure and helping those less fortunate than I was in me. I was still pretty gung-ho about the whole Jesus thing, but I think that my heart was in the right place at the time. Even though there were some secrets I’d been keeping from my parents (and myself) about my sexuality, I think that at the time, my heart was open to pretty much anything the world could give me. So I joined a year long volunteer service, starting in the fall of the year I graduated high school (2013) and on my very first day of work at my assignment, I got the most devastating news of my life.
Sydnee. Sydnee, my beloved best friend from early teenage years, had died in a car accident the night before. I felt as though I had fallen into a pit, landed flat on my back, the wind knocked out of me. I spent the next months, years, poring over why. Why did this happen, why would God LET this happen? She was brilliant, beautiful, and a deer ran in front of her car. She swerved to not hit it, and hit a tractor trailer head on instead, and she died. She probably would have died either way, but it was a freak accident, and if God were as powerful and as loving and as merciful as they said he was, then he could have stopped it. But he chose not to, and I was still supposed to trust him with every aspect of my life anyways?? I was just supposed to lay down everything I had, and trust him with everything, even if I had seen my best friend do the same, and he chose to just not protect her from death, at 18 years old. It was a Sunday night, she was driving home from an evening church service, and he just decided to let her die on the spot, tear apart a family, a church, so many other lives. That doesn’t sound like some perfect all-knowing being to me. So much of my church’s emphasis on its lessons was working on your relationship with Christ, and teachers would compare your relationship with God to those of other people in your life. They would say, you know, “if you went for several months without talking to your best friend to let them know what was going on with you, do you think they would still want to be your best friend? No, they wouldn’t. The same way is with God, he wants to hear everything from you, your joy, your pain, your fears, your suffering, your everything. Just hand everything to God, and he’ll take care of it.” Except that really is total bullshit, because why would anyone want to be besties with a being that would willingly let you suffer through your entire life? And for what? So you could spend “eternity” with him? Sounds like some overly possessive insecure-ass dickhead to me. Abusive, really.
My discovering that I felt this way was a long and gradual process. It started with Syndee’s death, but was helped to form during my two years at a small Christian liberal arts school, where I was required to take a Bible and a theology class over my first two semesters. Here I was able to learn a lot about how the Bible came to be, and then how I chose to interpret it. It slowly and then quickly evolved, through some sort of process.. It’s hard to put into words.
First revelation in Bible class: not everything written in the Bible was intended to be interpreted as literal truth, which lead to a lot of rethinking. How much of it was written as tall tales and legends, and then how much of it was an actual godly miracle that the entire faith is based on? This created a lot of grey area, which eventually turned black.
I got hung up on really specific questions for periods of time, like “Do we really believe that God is a man?” or “Why does the church ignore scientific evidence and facts if the Bible says something contrary?” “Why do we have to believe in the literal Biblical 7-Day Creation story? And why can’t we believe in evolution?” “Why do some Christians hate members of LGBTQ communities, and why does this have to divide our churches today?” Shit like this, and I would ask my pastor at the time for answers, and he didn’t even really try to address them with honesty or consideration. He was always just like, “Ummm I don’t know. You can ask God when you get to heaven.” Fuck that, Kevin. You call yourself a pastor, a leader, a teacher, and you don’t even try to address people’s actual concerns??? And you wonder why young people are leaving the church in waves.
Through all the questioning, I think I still called myself a Christian, despite my real frustration that was everything in church. However I can remember one really specific church service early this year when Kevin wasn’t there one Sunday, and one of our elders, Dick was speaking in his place. Dick was one of those crazy super evangelical pentecostal guys that would talk matter-of-factly about “spiritual warfare” and demons and angels, and needing to pray and bless buildings so that the demons couldn’t get in and reek evil on all of God’s perfect little people. This Sunday he was talking about belief and faith. And multiple times during his sermon, he would ask, “Do you believe that you believe that you believe in Jesus Christ our savior?” and I think that he had his best intentions to do the exact opposite of what actually happened to me, but all of a sudden I realized that I didn’t. Believe. I just didn’t. And that was the first time I put that together. I realized I didn’t believe what other Christians believe, and maybe before, that just made me a bad Christian, but now I’m just a non-believer. I didn’t even go to the step of calling myself an atheist out loud until months later, but I did. And I am.
I still don’t really know what to do with myself, now that I have this new information about me. As I said before, religion is everything to my family. It’s who they are, how they spend their lives, why they get up in the morning. And I don’t know how to tell them. I feel physically sick and panicky any time I think about telling them my truth.
Don’t get me wrong, I am insanely happy about my new self. Happier and more free than I ever thought I could feel. As a Christian I felt guilty and ashamed about the things that brought me joy, for example having sex with the love of my life, Ethan. Ethan has been my everything for almost eight years now, and we’ve had a physical relationship for most of that time. But we weren’t married until 3 years ago, so much of our relationship would have been considered “sinful.” And I hated that. I hated that banging with my favorite person in the world before we were married was considered wrong in the eyes of the church and our families, and “God.” What the hell is so wrong with love?? I couldn’t understand why it was so wrong to them. I felt guilty about that for awhile, but eventually the guilt was too much and along the way somewhere I must have rationalized it to the point where I didn’t think “God” cared or thought it was a sin, (because it really was actions of love!) and I let go of the guilt and shame, and felt so much better about it!
I guess that there’s a lot more of this kind of thing in my life that I could go on about, but either it’s not as important to mention right now, or I’m still working on reconciling it within myself. (“Reconciling”… that seems like such a Christianese word. Do non-Christians use this word regularly? Ugh. Still so much retraining of my brain to do. It really has been fuckingdrilled into me since birth.) Thanks for reading my little bit of my story and how I discovered my true, joyful, unashamedly me, me. I’d appreciate some feedback and some “hell yeahs!” from the choir (excuse the metaphor. see? i’m still figuring it out.). Thanks!