I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about religion, especially as this past Sunday was Easter. I was born into a Christian family. My mother prayed with my brother and me every night, she explained our religion and gave us children’s Bibles, we prayed before every meal, and we celebrated Christmas and Easter with gusto. We did not go to church on a weekly basis, though. We moved almost every summer as my dad was in the Army (I went to nine different schools from kindergarten to twelfth grade), so finding churches where we were comfortable was difficult. Add to the fact that my father, though a pronounced Presbyterian, did not feel an obligation to attend church. He said we can worship anywhere, and although this is true, my mother always felt awkward attending church without her husband. Although my mother has always been an excellent teacher, the fundamentals behind the Christian faith were always a bit muddy and questions would arise in my mind that didn’t always have an easy answer. I even lost my little-girl faith for over a year when I was told the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus were not real. If they weren’t real, then how could someone as powerful and magical as Christ be real?
I gained my “faith” back, however, and prayed whenever things didn’t go my way or I desperately wanted an outcome. It wasn’t until I moved to Atlanta in 2007, met a great friend who introduced me to a mega-church around the Buckhead area, and started attending and building relationships at the church that I got the meaning and foundation needed to support such a grand idea of Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit. My questions were getting answered through a one-on-one class I took with a woman who worked at the church. I joined a great Bible study group to explore the Bible more fully, and they found my ignorance of most of the Bible charming as it allowed them to see the stories through fresh eyes. I found a great group of friends despite the fact that the church had numerous cliques. I was hungry, so I was consuming everything they fed me.
Things were going great with only a few minor hiccups in my faith and love of the church. That is until I met Hans at a friend’s house to watch a Nazi zombie movie and realized life was about to change. Hans and I started chatting via Facebook, went to another group event to see Zombieland (thank goodness we shared a love of zombies!), and we started to date. We were open books to one another about our pasts and our beliefs. We had a similar vision of what we wanted our future to look like. Needless to say, I was hooked. The only caveat was that Hans was an atheist (for various reasons that are part of his own story). I was troubled by this as I was told constantly that Christians should only marry like-minded Christians. However, I felt this pull to Hans that I had never experienced with another man. We clicked in a way that I began to feel he was my other half, the half that cared for others more deeply and could help make me a better person. We were two halves of one whole, and I felt God working within our relationship even if Hans did not.
I confided in my Bible study group that I had been dating an atheist, and silence filled the room. The tension was so thick it was impossible for my friends to see me clearly. I knew the ladies were not pleased, and some began to see me in a different way after that night. I talked to my “believer” friends about the relationship. Some were supportive and prayed for it; others thought it was a big mistake and began distancing themselves from me. I decided to keep pursuing the relationship and to actively seek God’s wisdom within it. I was worried I was getting carried away with the feeling of falling in love, so I made lists of what was right and what was wrong with this relationship. The only wrong turned out to be our differing beliefs. Throughout this searching, I confided in Hans, and he was patient and supportive. He went to church with me whenever I wanted, he prayed with me before each meal, he listened to me when I talked about what my faith meant to me, and he was respectful and was not judgmental of my religious views. We got engaged, and he even agreed to pre-marital counseling with the church. I asked around about whom to talk to about counseling and was given the name of the counselor. I emailed him, explaining the situation while being positive about how open my fiancé was. I got a prompt response. The counselor said he could counsel us if I really wanted to go through with this marriage but could really offer no hope for our marriage.
I was crushed. I was getting judgment from one of the leaders of the church. I felt shame. I was confused even more. I didn’t know what to do. Church was no longer a safe place for me. I started to see the holes in the scaffolding that once held this church so prominently in my mind. Hans was still attending church with me every Sunday and on Wednesday occasionally. We both started to get uncomfortable, though, as we began to see how political the church was. Republican Party candidates would be guest preachers occasionally, and Wednesday night prayer was full of prayers against President Obama. Regardless of what one’s political views are, I believe politics should be left out of the church. I believe we should pray for our president so that God may grant him wisdom in his decisions no matter if you agree with him or not. What better way to seek wisdom for the President and to help change things than through prayer? Prayers against anyone, however, lost the very definition of what a prayer was supposed to be. I then found out how the church was openly against homosexuality, even having programs to help homosexuals either squelch their desires and/or turn them into heterosexuals. Things were stacking up that I did not condone, and my broken heart over being ostracized by some of the church members was continuing to weep.
I lost my faith through all this. Not my faith in Christ, though there were questions. I lost my faith in the church and in the leaders of churches. I gained a cloak of reality, made partly of cynicism and intelligence to question things around oneself, and I used this cloak to cover my heart. I prayed constantly, looking for answers. Hans supported me in everything, but this experience with that church did nothing to kindle any spark of faith in my atheist fiancé. Instead of feeling welcomed by the church, Hans felt rejected. How could followers of Christ stray so far from His own teachings? He saw the church as a place of hypocrisy and associated this with the religion as a whole.
We made it through that difficult time, and I am thankful for it. I am happy to say that Hans and I will celebrate our fourth anniversary in July, and I’ve never doubted my decision to marry this wonderful man. Through this experience, Christ was teaching me to be strong when affronted with questions. He was teaching me to cling to Him when I was confused and hurt. He was showing me that faith is stronger when it is questioned, looked at under a microscope, and inspected thoroughly. Hans and I tried other churches, but after the burn I got from the first church I called home, I was too wary to trust any church. My faith persists, however, and my relationship with Christ is strong. I embrace science as a means to explain a lot of the world. I encourage questions about my faith and encourage different ways of looking at things and challenges to how I view my faith. These make me stronger as a spiritual Christian. I may never feel at home in a church again, but I know others do. There is nothing wrong with many churches, and perhaps once my wound is only an old scar I can call a church my home once again. Until then, I shall listen to various sermons on podcast, I will continue to commune with Christ, and I shall accept those around me. Tolerance is not the answer; acceptance is the key. I shall look for this in a future church to call my own.
“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” Romans 14: 1-4.
“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Luke 6: 42.
Read the blog post entitled “Easter Sunday” that got me thinking about my own religion at Fundamentally Speaking.