February 8, 2012 Leave a comment
The most common means of conversion to Christianity and subsequent membership of a church is through family. Many Christians are converted in childhood, and/or raised in the religion, and I was no exception. As I mentioned in my last post, my aunt and uncle were the conduit that drew me in to the church. Family was the foundation that begun my journey into Christianity, but it was also family that laid the foundation for me to leave.
Let me explain. My intermediate family, my parents and brothers, did not attend church. Because of this, I was free to ask questions. When I saw something at church that I didn’t find fair or right, I was able to come home and vent. I spent many an hour, in fact, in the kitchen with Momma Beemer talking about my various frustrations at church. For instance, the obsession with women’s clothing and the way that male-female interaction in the youth group was treated.
When I felt someone had gone too far, I had a reliable authority figure that would back me up, defend me, and if needed, withdraw me from the situation. Having that single source of validation meant that when I got that feeling that something was wrong, it probably was wrong. I was able to trust myself, my own internal moral compass. Unfortunately, all too often, Christians (particularly young ones) don’t have that authoritative source of validation. Rather than learning to trust their instincts, they’re shamed for questioning church doctrines, practices, or behaviors of authority figures within the church.
While my family did not attend church, my parents might have identified as Christian at the time. (I can’t know this for sure, especially in regards to my father.) Momma Beemer was very open-minded however, and extremely protective of her children. While others might have felt safer had their confidant not been a Christian in any fashion, it was enough that my mother listened to me without judgment, and backed me up when she felt someone had gone too far. My having a safe haven was absolutely necessary, looking back, for me to have been able to withdraw first from the church, and then from the religion altogether.
In a Christian church, especially fundamentalist, evangelical ones (my former church identified as both) conformity is vital, down to smallest and most insignificant of doctrines. Questioning anything was grounds for panic, which could result in counseling or ostracization, depending on status, length of membership, and your relationship to others in the church. (An important member or family could not be made to look bad by being associated with such a sinner.) The goal was to either draw you back into perfect harmony with the church, or to drive you away to prevent others from being “led astray.”
As it was, I was not completely in the fold. Having my intermediate family within the church would have ensured that I had continuous pressure to conform, to believe, to stay on the path. It would have made leaving much more difficult, because I would have had to choose between my own spiritual unhappiness or familial harmony. I might have even had to choose between my family or my spiritual freedom. But I didn’t–my intermediate family was a space for me to breathe, to question, and to nurture my own internal moral compass.
I never would have thought it at the time, but my family’s ambivalence when it came to organized religion laid the foundation for me to leave.