How I Left Christianity, Part Two: Family

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.

How I Left Christianity: Introduction

It has been several years since I left Christianity. It’s been a long journey–and an incremental one. After all, the church had been a very large part of my life for a very long time, socially and psychologically. Naturally, it wouldn’t be something that I could leave behind all at once.

Like I said before, the church was a very big part of my life. How big? Well, I began attending this church around the age of five. It encompassed the vast majority of my social life–most of my friends and mentors attended. I spent a great deal of my time there–several days a week, in addition to outside-of-church socializing and outings with members of the church. It influenced my development–I learned many skills while there, as well as it having a huge influence on my morals and ethics. Church taught me a lot of things about the outside world–framing current events into a Christian worldview, influencing how I’d react and process the world for years.

There were many events, learning, and people who contributed to my decision to leave Christianity. I didn’t meet these people, learn these things, and experience everything all at once. As each of these things happened, it moved me one step further away from the church. Like I said, it was a long journey, and it’s one I want to share. But it’s far too long of a story to put into one post, so I’ll be sharing, but one experience, one piece of knowledge, one person at a time.

Some quick background:

The church was small–less than a hundred members. My parents had been married by the pastor, and my aunt, uncle, and cousin attended this church. The church community was pretty tightly woven–it was a close community, but there were power differentials–wealthy members, deacons, members with many relatives attending, and influential community members had much more influence and authority than those without those things.

This church’s chosen methods of recruitment and fundraising *cough* was through musical productions, and Vacation Bible School (VBS) for children. Also, food. This was a Southern Baptist church, you see, and Southern Baptists will have food at every possible church activity. People jokingly tossed around the phrase “Baptists eat like Catholics drink.” I find it a rather apt and useful descriptor here. Eating was the main social activity, or “fellowship” at this particular church.

In the next post I’ll write about the events that started it all.