I grew up in the “Bible Belt” of the U.S. Where Christianity and Conservative Republican ideology are almost synonymous these days. I oddly enough didn’t grow up “in the church”. I didn’t consistently go until I was 15 years old. However, I was surrounded by it and believed that ideology all my childhood.
When I attended church consistently, I ended up finally caving in after 5 or so sessions and I figured I’d go “get saved” (accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior). I do not regret this decision, but I wasn’t truly doing it for myself either. However, it was the culture that came with church that felt cold and distant from how I really felt. I was raised spiritually in a “prosperity Gospel” church. Where they teach that financial blessing is the will of God for Christians, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to Christian ministries will always increase one’s material wealth. This message can be used for good, but I’ve mainly seen it breed mega churches that have made a select few very rich. Because selling the word for a profit is exactly what Jesus wanted. Oh wait.
Anyway, it’s obvious I had much dissent. I was too afraid to express it out of my fear that I’d go off to hell. Many thoughts were in my head I knew no one wanted to answer or discuss. At least without being accused of having some Beetlejuice demon in me.
- Pastors driving a Mercedes Benz while enthusiastically telling the church congregation to give their last $10 so God can bless them. While not acknowledging the dwindling local economy. Or any other social issues that affect their congregation.
- If we are supposed to be forgiving, how come it’s stated God will send people to to eternal hellfire without any chance of redemption? He can’t be just as forgiving as He asks us to be? That’s a bit of a left turn.
- Why did the pastor encourage women to stay with their raggedy & abusive husbands; and ridiculed single women for praying for a husband?
- How come the overall vibe reprimanded the wife, but never the husband?
- Listening to my favorite Hip-Hop album was a sin, but I felt even worse forcing myself to listen to ‘Christian Hip-Hop’ that never moved me the way A Tribe Called Quest did. Was that a sin to feel that way? Am I going to hell for that?
- How can one really love our LGBT brothers and sisters yet perpetuate negative stereotypes about them, blame natural disasters on them, say they are “confused”, and overall feel like they are not complete simply because they aren’t heterosexual? How is that truly a good “belief” to keep boldly protesting about? How does that add to mankind in a positive way?
- Did slavery really happen because Africans turned “their back on God?”(I was told this a lot, by other black people). How does that warrant centuries of physical and cultural genocide? That’s horrible.
- How come the only political issues the church is interested in is shutting down “abortion clinics”, regulating birth control (that helps prevents abortions), halting LGBT rights…and not corrupt juvenile detention centers, corrupt prisons systems, lack of education funding, rape culture, or lack of access to healthcare?
So many questions ran through my head. Yet I knew merely mentioning these thoughts would be met with phrases like “spirit of confusion” or “spirit of rebellion”. The overall vibe in my upbringing is dominated by this passive nature and quietness to issues that affect us on the daily. Issues like racism, sexism, classism, etc. If one admits these things occur and affect them, they are “making excuses”. Everyone joins hands in religion and decides that talking about the “Glory of God” is much more important than talking about the rising poverty rate. Or that our young black boys and girls are being reprimanded and punished in schools at suspicious rates. Even though Jesus was very politically involved. Yet the same people display unwavering boldness to not only align themselves with the church, but Reagan era politics (that contradicts Jesus’s social beliefs).
I have a peculiar political history that surrounded me. The nationally infamous and late Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority legacy left in my town (also his hometown- Lynchburg, Va.) rests over the area like a dense fog.
Even though the 80’s was the last of the party’s media mentions my hometown is stuck in time. To speak ill of him would be almost to speak ill of God himself to many . He was an evangelist that supported Apartheid South Africa, blamed 9/11 on homosexuality, called Desmond Tutu a “phony”, and supported racist/classist/sexist politics with his money. The same money that profited him greatly and now his family gives it to their church run charities and political initiatives. He built his legacy on mobilizing the bigoted views and fears of mostly the white working class, and perpetuated it all the way until his death. Yet people who support him seem to believe social activism is something outside of “God’s Work” and it’s “of the world”. As if helping your fellow man get justice without trying to convert them to your religion and forcing him to politically bow down to your beliefs, isn’t the Lord’s work. It’s as if my religion has been used to deflect anything that suggests inequality is rampant, that oppression is real, and that doing something about it needed to be done yesterday. It’s a really disturbing kool-aid to drink.
Mental illness and abuse is rampant in the black community and I was baffled how mainly black women in church ignored their ailments. To recognize them would be to say that ‘ the devil won’. So they suffer in silence without getting professional help. We named demons, yet the only action that would be taken is prayer. If I read anything that wasn’t the bible, then I was “reading wordly books” that compelled me to sin. If I listened to Outkast instead of Mary Mary then I was choosing sin over God. Mind you, I grew up in the extremes of fundamentalism, so I acknowledge that this isn’t the only experience of the black church. Generally though, this is what I gathered:
I didn’t worship God. I worshipped White Supremacist Jesus. I worshipped a God that only loved me within certain confines. I worshipped the idea that black people were where they were solely because they didn’t band together and work hard enough. I worshipped the God that said women (especially black women) weren’t allowed to be truly happy. We have to take on the emotional burden of the non-trying husband and silently suffer. I worshipped a God that gave me a sexuality but did not want me to talk about it and keep my legs closed in shame. I worshipped a God that was able to side step all the “-isms” that affected me and make me believe that being a black woman meant being a burden to the world.
When I said these things out loud to myself something broke free. I was deeply afraid at first and then I felt free. I am on a path of Christian humanism now-The acknowledging of the humanism Jesus presented and following the social principles he presented. I have abandoned conservative politics in my faith. I realize my religion was once again hijacked by a political agenda that hurts and kills people. Through bad policy, revoking of rights, and corrupt systems.
I’m a Christian who understands the bible has been a source of control, yet I find it powerful that we can use it as a source of strength. I also acknowledge that it is not the only way someone can find peace. So if you found peace through Buddhism, I believe that can be true and just as valid as finding peace through my religion. Faith is a beautiful concept. It gives me vision for a better world.
When I think of God I no longer see a powerful angry man, ready to strike lightning and destroy the earth with fire. I see a gentle and wise mother ready to talk when I need Her. Who has lived life to the fullest and is willing to share Her knowledge. Who can chastise my heart when I do wrong and guide me to correct my actions. Many I know may deem this all nonsense and think I am the most confused Christian on the planet. That I “compromised the Word”. The term they’d use for this is that I’m “back-sliding” from God. That I let “the world” water down my faith because I am “wordly”.
I never felt more connected to God and my purpose. I feel more connected and inclined to make humanity better. I want to help build a world my kids and their peers can live together. Not being “tolerant” (which is an insulting concept in itself), but truly accepting of harmless differences. Building and not just harping about the rapture and how everyone will be left behind (great story to tell kids by the way! It’s wonderfully traumatizing!). I feel like my soul is thriving because it is no longer drifting behind me like a shadow in fear, but finally the reflection in the mirror.
* The following is a project led by a black woman and it’s about her exodus from religion, along with other black women who have found peace after converting to atheism or another religious model.