This story was originally published in the third edition of The Lion’s Tale (December 9, 2020).
Growing up, religion was a huge part of my life. Sundays were devoted to church, summers were for VBS and Christmas was about Jesus, not Santa. My parents met through church, and all of my relatives belong to some denomination of Christianity; it’s just what I’m used to.
However, over the past few years, my immediate family and I have completely disconnected ourselves from the church as a whole and no longer attend Sunday services.
Let me back up a little- like I said, Christianity has always been a huge part of my life. I grew up in the church, and that part of my childhood has always been special to me.
Looking back on experiences that seemed “normal” at the time has affected how I view the church now.
Each year, the last day of vacation Bible school was the day where campers were given the opportunity to “accept Jesus into our hearts.” Emotional elementary-age kids would file onto the stage as the adults in charge praised them for their decision. I remember being in that crowd, confident in the decision I made a few years back, but unsure if I “believed enough” to get into heaven.
I was doubtful most of the time, seeing how others were so emotional at church or following those decisions, when I felt the same. The way pastors talked about it, I expected to feel different after, to feel the Holy Spirit in me, but I didn’t. Maybe I was too young to understand what I was supposed to be feeling, but the only real effect on me was fear. I remember not being able to sleep at night, scared that I didn’t believe enough and might go to hell.
I often felt pressured into these decisions. Sure, I believed in everything in the Bible, but it was all I’d known, so I didn’t question it at the time. But little kids (being seven or eight myself at the time) shouldn’t have to feel the weight of a decision that supposedly determines your afterlife destination.
When middle school arrived, I was a part of various youth groups. At the time, my family and I didn’t have a “home church” but I wanted to try to meet more people, so I tried a few different groups. It seemed that at every youth program, you had to have been at that church for years or have family connections to make friends or feel like a part of the group.
Even at the church we ended up staying at for around two years, half the girls in my group didn’t know my name despite the fact that I was super involved there for those two years, going to all the events and attending youth group every week.
During freshman year of high school, I considered joining a group like YoungLife to meet other kids like me. One of my friends was super involved in the group, so I asked her about joining, and was told that to get in you have to “know someone,” which rubbed me the wrong way and I never bothered going. Why would a group that supposedly wants to spread Jesus’s love be so exclusive?
That year, I started to realize that the Christianity I was raised to be a part of was nothing like what I was experiencing. It seemed that everything that I learned all those years in Sunday school wasn’t followed by many so-called Christians, including values as simple as being kind or non-judgemental.
Many of my Christian family members are a perfect representation of the hypocrisy in the church. Relatives of mine who were notorious for being extremely strict and conservative, I later found out, had committed all the “sinful” actions that they previously preached so loudly against.
This hypocrisy in the church is something that has revealed itself since the 2016 and 2020 elections. It seems that many pastors and churches push their political agendas on their congregations by disguising it as preaching against sin.
Not to mention, Chrisitans have been infamous for being openly against the LGBTQ+ community, or ridiculing women for having abortions. How could a group that preaches love and kindness be so hateful?
It was long overdue, but it’s been two years since my family and I have been regular attendees at church. I stand by the values I was raised with, to show others love and kindness the best I can, like Jesus would. I feel that the church today as a whole no longer represents those values, which is why I personally choose not to associate myself with it anymore.
Maybe to some, I’m not a true Christian because I don’t agree with or follow every Old Testament law and no longer attend services. But I believe that the most important part of being a Christian is as simple as showing love to others. By that measure, I guess I still do practice Christanity.