Over the years since I walked out of the last church I attended, I’ve contemplated writing a blog about my experience with “organized religion.” I’ve resisted for a long time; I didn’t want to stir the waters with a bitter stick. Recent events have reminded me of all the reasons I had for walking away, and I think I can, at long last, explain my aversion to the brick-and-mortar establishments of religion with a minimum of rancor and snark.
First I should state that my children mean the world to me. They aren’t perfect; they make mistakes. They smart off, they’re often disobedient, and they’re sometimes lazy. But they’re mine. And I’m a mama grizzly when someone attacks them.
Do you know the bitter pain of being snubbed? How no one comes to talk to you as you sit alone? How people turn and go in another direction when you approach? I know. My kids know. Finally I couldn’t bear to see La Princessa sit there, tense and prickly, just daring someone to come slight her to her face. I couldn’t bear to see WonderBoy’s heart, always pinned to his sleeve, breaking before my eyes.
Church—that supposed sanctuary of acceptance and grace—had turned into a living hell. This was the example of God’s love? This was fellowship? Paul exhorted us to keep in fellowship with our Christian brethren, and I railed bitterly against him for a long time, wondering why he thought my family deserved this.
Someone at church had started a rumor. That statement reminds me so much of the Bee Gee’s song “I Started a Joke.” We all know how that poor guy’s tale ends. (Yeah, the Bee Gee’s. Don’t ask me how I know this song. Osmosis.)
Anyway, someone started a rumor about my son in which they called him perverted. This rumor spread through the church throughout the parents of the kids he’d virtually grown up with. Suddenly, one of his friends wasn’t allowed to come over. He was always “busy” or some other excuse. When I tried to talk to his mother, she would walk quickly in the opposite direction to avoid me. This woman had been my friend for years—or so I thought. I was crushed, but I kept trying. I tried for a year, because I wanted to make things right for WonderBoy.
Then it spread to another friend, and another. By the time we realized there was something seriously amiss, WonderBoy was down to one friend who could hang out with him. One. Friend.
It took three years, but I finally wrested the truth from one of WonderBoy’s friends on a rare occasion he was allowed over at our house. I learned about the rumor. To this day, I don’t know who started it or why. Here is where I should also mention that never once did ANY of these kids parents EVER come and talk to me and Long-Suffering Spouse about any concerns they might have had about my son. My BFF/sister was completely perplexed because she knows WonderBoy really well and can’t imagine anyone ever thinking something so terrible about him.
I’ve had my own problems with this church. I don’t like the “corporation” mentality of the modern church. I want my tithe dollars to stay here in my own city, not shipped to a corporate office. I believe the pastor being on the Board of Directors is a conflict of interest. I don’t like how the Board is always stacked with “yes men” sycophants who kowtow to the leadership. I don’t like being treated by the leadership in a manner that suggests I am a lesser person than they are.
There were a whole host of other problems I won’t bore you with. Suffice to say, I saw this church heading down a dark and dangerous path, but because I am—er—shall we say, a bit outspoken with very little (no) tact, voicing my opinion was a bit like shouting fire in a room full of deaf people. Because I was less than refined, I “wasn’t Christian enough” for these people to lend me any credence.
One Sunday, I woke up with such dread of attending church that it made me nauseous. I told Long-Suffering Spouse that I wasn’t going anymore; I’d finally reached the end of my endurance. La Princessa cheered. WonderBoy nearly wept in relief. I had to sacrifice relationships that meant a lot to me; I rarely see some of these people anymore. It was really hard. Growing up, I’d gone to a Mormon church that was a less than pleasant experience in many ways, so it took a LONG time for me to decide to ever attend another church again. God had led me to this new church, and it turned out to be a pit of vipers, rife with politics, riddled with cliques, strangled by gossip and backstabbing.
I fully admit I was angry with God for a while. I never stopped talking to Him, but oh, was I angry. It took a long time for me to get over that burning resentment. I still hold a measure of disgust for this establishment. I wish I could say this church is only one of a few in which these kinds of things happen, but sadly, it isn’t so.
I know some of my Christian friends and family worry about the state of my soul. Let me just say it’s secure in the arms of God. I have no problem with God. I am on great terms with Jesus. But I just can’t put on a Sunday face and pretend to be something I’m not. I can’t do the whole Christian-speak bit. I can’t condone behaviors from the leadership that I feel are malignant and not Godly. I can’t rub elbows with people who shake with one hand and hold a knife behind their backs with the other, just waiting for my back to turn.
I feel church shouldn’t be someone standing at the podium telling me what to believe; it should be a small group of people discussing their relationship with Christ. It shouldn’t be how big your building is or how nicely it’s decorated; it should be a small group meeting in someone’s home, or in a restaurant, or in some other venue that invites comfort and sharing. It shouldn’t be how big a check you can present for tithe; it should be what you give of yourself to the community, not for your own glory but for His.
I can’t condone a church that drives out the people they don’t want there, who closes the doors of their ministries to the laypeople, who is so caught up in appearances and not in the desperate needs of its members, whose leadership tells you that you can leave any time you want when you tell them they’re on a path that is not Godly, who gives condemnation instead of grace, and judgment instead of love.
I am sorry if my version of Christianity doesn’t meet with your approval because I am unwilling to conform to the modern-day ideal of what a good little Christian is. The fact of the matter is, simply, I don’t care what anyone thinks. My relationship with God is so personal now, and that’s how it’s supposed to be.
Lenny Bruce said, “Every day people are straying away from church and going back to God.” I really can’t say how Mr. Bruce meant that; I choose to assign my own meaning: I’m cutting the crap and getting back to the basics: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
I don’t need brick-and-mortar on Sunday for that.