People keep asking me about the personal reasons behind my “anti-church” statements. What happened in my life to lead up to these beliefs? I really appreciate this interest, especially while others have unfriended me over this issue. Although I never really thought about the connections, perhaps my past might explain why I might come across so offensive at times.
It all began, for me at least, in 1969 when I was born in a town called Laguna Beach of Orange County, California. After my mom left my dad for my step-dad, we moved a little south to an orange and avocado growing type of town called Vista in north San Diego county. It was about a 15 minute drive to the beach. This is where I grew up.
When I was very young, my parents met some Christian friends who told them about God and my parents “got saved”. So we started going to church. We went to a “non-denominational” church called Calvary Chapel and my parents became close friends with the pastor and his wife.
I also went to public school. My church taught me that church and school were very different worlds, and that I should not associate with Non-christians at my school because they might influence me to do wrong and destructive things. Most of my friends at school did not go to church, but I kept this fact well hidden, living two very different lives. I was so involved at church that some of the pastors on staff there called me “the Calvary Chapel princess” but at the same time, I was getting into trouble at school with my friends, mostly by ditching classes.
When I was in high school, I had a Christian boyfriend. I tried to confide in my mom one day by telling her that I wanted to do more than just kiss him and hold his hand. My mom began to panic when she found out that we had kissed each other, and she told me that I needed to break up with him if I wanted to be a Christian. Since we were so in love, I argued with her about it. So she set up an appointment for me with the pastor of our church, who told me that I needed to obey my mom if I wanted to be a Christian. I cried for days and I finally broke up with my boyfriend, shattering his heart too. I thought that God had required me to make some very difficult and unhappy decisions.
After graduating from high school, I became a youth group counselor at my church. One night I went out with some of my friends from high school to a dance club. A “back-slidden” youth group student saw me there and the next day, she happened to mention it to another youth group counselor, who mentioned it to the youth pastor. He called me into his church office and explained that I could not be a Christian and go out dancing. I told him that I wanted to be a Christian but that dancing is fun and he became angry with me and told me I had an inferiority complex. I left his church office in tears. Finally, I made the decision to stop being friends with anyone who did not go to church so that I could be a Christian and also be a youth group counselor at my church. I think that this hurt my Non-christian friends very deeply.
After a while, I couldn’t stand the pressure of living up to the high standards of being a Christian so I moved away from home to go to college in Santa Cruz, California. I made all new friends who were not Christians and I lived with my new boyfriend for a while and went to parties and had fun. Then there was a 7.0 on the Richter Scale earthquake and it killed some people in the downtown area of Santa Cruz, where I had been shopping 15 minutes before it hit. It was the World Series Earthquake in 1989. This scared me and I was afraid of God so I decided to start going to church again. The church I attended gained about 30 new members that week and I was one of them.
I felt that I should stop hanging around my friends who didn’t go to church. I broke up with my boyfriend and found a roommate other than my boyfriend. These relationships did not end on good terms, and I never spoke to any of these friends again. I imagine I must have left some sort of scar in the pasts of these friends by abandoning them so abruptly.
But I made all new friends and I became very involved in church once again. Then I started to miss my family and my church back in southern California, so I moved home. My family was a mess. My parents were getting divorced after 17 years and it shocked everyone. My mom said that she never loved my step-dad because he never made any money and all he wanted to do was hang out at the beach and surf. My mom had a falling out with the pastor’s wife and my family had stopped going to church; my mom seemed to have become a very bitter person. She had a boyfriend and then she married someone else. Then she divorced that man and married another. She then divorced that man too, and currently she is single but wishes she was married.
I had to disassociate myself from my family because I wanted to be involved in church; my family members were now considered sinners who had turned away from God. I think my cold shoulder especially hurt one of my sisters who wanted to be a part of my life, but I would only associate with her if she went to church with me and I got mad at her if she didn’t want to go. Finally, she stopped going to church completely and I feel horrible for treating her this way since we never had a chance to really get to know each other.
I went to Bible college, and I got a job working in administration at my church. I had always wanted to be a missionary and then the opportunity arose. I was very close with some friends, a couple, who were moving to eastern Europe to plant another Calvary Chapel church. They had another close friend, a guy, who also wanted to go with them to be part of their mission’s team. This guy and I became friends, started dating, and after 2 weeks of a very up and down, emotional dating experience, we decided to get married. Even though we were not in love, I thought this was “God’s will” for me. I realize that not every church-going Christian makes these kinds of senseless decisions, but from my deep involvement in church, this is the way I personally understood God. And many people told me they thought of me as a godly, spiritual person.
After a 6 week engagement and a simple but traditional church wedding, my husband and I walked off a plane in Hungary. A month later I was pregnant and a month after that we moved across the country to plant our own church. This church grew rapidly and my husband planted another church about an hour away. I became pregnant with our second baby and all seemed well except that my husband and I were having terrible marriage problems that we were able to keep hidden from people in our church and also from our American missionary friends and acquaintances (for the most part). I think I even fooled myself into thinking that everything was okay, even though we got into some awful fights, often finding myself in a puddle of tears while sitting very alone on a cold bathroom floor.
I felt that I needed to uphold the high standards of Christianity for our family, especially since we were paid missionaries, living off the support of quite a few different churches back in the States. I took our responsibility very seriously and I could not approve of certain issues in my husband. These were issues that I found out after we were married and I did not know how to deal with them, except by doing what I had always done with “sinners” – detaching myself from them.
My husband then became interested in Calvinism and started talking about reformed theology. This only drove a greater wedge between us since I could not agree with that hard-lined theology which seemed to remove all human involvement in a relationship with God. Our sending church, Calvary Chapel could not agree with it either (at the time) and so we were told to leave Hungary and were no longer able to be a part of any ministry that was associated with that church.
We moved back to California where my 3rd baby was born and my husband learned web developing, and started his own business which became very successful. Then we decided to move away from our roots – materialistic California and my dysfunctional family – to the beautiful Pacific Northwest area of Seattle, Washington.
After we moved back to the states, we attended one church after another, always seeming to become friends with the pastor and his wife. But never getting too involved. This semi-detachment from church was a relief for us, although it was not very kind to the people we kept getting to know, then leaving their church. We went to other Calvary Chapels, a reformed Presbyterian church and then I started attending a church called Mars Hill in Seattle led by a famous pastor named Mark Driscoll. My husband stopped going to church entirely. Never finding exactly what I was looking for, I started attending a different church every week. Every week it was a different church, even a different denomination, but every week it was the same subliminal message: Read your Bible, pray, go to church and don’t sin… and then you can be a Christian.
Backing up a little in time, my husband grew so tired of Christian ideal standards, that he decided to live a somewhat destructive lifestyle similar to mine before we were married. Although this was extremely painful for me, this began to break me of my religious legalism. I started to realize that placing demands on people only drives them away from me. Very slowly I started to understand unconditional love, but my husband and I were never able to rebuild our trust in each other and so, 3 years ago we finally separated and then divorced. Since divorce is very frowned upon within the church, I was afraid that God would punish me for the rest of my life. Still, as soon as I let myself make that decision, I knew it was the right one, and I was filled with peace and have never looked back with any regret. I think that my ex-husband would say the same.
It was a peaceful separation and somehow our kids exemplified an amazing amount of understanding. Their dad and I live in the same town and we both see our kids at least every other day. Our schedules are very flexible and we continue to work together on raising our kids, figuring out what is best for them. Some people say that we are much better friends now that we are not married and are no longer involved in church. I think that is true. We also have a greater respect for each other as well. Our relationships with each of our kids continue to grow closer and stronger as the kids get older. I have never seen a divorce like this one, where the family stays close, but I have heard that it is becoming more common.
Christians seem explain away these family dilemmas through the idea that if we stop going to church, God removes his blessings from our lives. I couldn’t disagree more. I think that religion – that independent ego within all of us – constricts us in many ways and especially in our faith. This slavery leads to rebellion which leads to more suffering, but then finally freedom. While Christianity generally views people with problems as back-sliders, God seems to say that problems are a primary means of growing and of our enlightenment.
Back to my faith, I discovered that many churches manifest a cold, insecure, demanding, wrathful god who sends people to hell if they do not comply with their pastor’s teaching. I started to question everything I have learned about God in church. I am finding some of these hold up, according to my level of understanding, even after they are placed under the test of opposing views and much scrutiny. But I believe that some indoctrination is meant primarily to maintain the power of the church institution, and its control over people’s minds.
Every institutional system exists largely for itself, although it claims to and does somewhat serve its members. The American public school system and prison system have many similarities to the religious church structure. This was something that God never meant for people, for a relationship requires personal freedom. I think that institutions have their purpose but they are not an effective means of reforming people. Only friendships can do that.
The God of the Bible is Love incarnated through individual human lives. I believe God has opened the gate to heaven as wide as the universe. As He waits, He allows life sufferings to continue drawing us to our ultimate freedom. I believe He will never give up on one lost sheep, not even in the afterlife. And I believe the Bible fully supports this truth of unconditional and unfailing mercy.
The day I stopped going to church is representative of the day I bravely let go of the stronghold of religion. I cannot explain the great wonder of being freed from the pressures of the Christian religion after more than 30 years of institutional church involvement. Maybe this is what it feels like for a bird who is released from its cage. My faith is no longer a separate subject from the rest of my life, but it is my unique, mundane, amazing, every day, beautiful life.
There are many things I still do not understand, but I have never had as much adventure, happiness and peace in my life as I have right now. I have made hundreds of new friends who are generally on the same journey. Many of these friends were discovered through The Free Believers Network on Facebook.
I am becoming closer to my dad who I did not know very well for most of my life and I am still close to my step-dad. We like to have deep, philosophical discussions and debates. I am also much closer to my family even though all of them still live in California. Sometimes, especially around the holidays, I really regret moving away from them.
I have been able to get back in touch with many of my friends from my past through Facebook. I have apologized to some of them and they have all been very forgiving and understanding. Maybe they too understand better our great need for love and close relationships. Life seems way too short to disassociate ourselves from each other over beliefs – unless communication is presently impossible, that is.
While God, heaven, and life remain even greater mysteries to me in some ways, I have learned that the Christian religion does not represent God as expressed through Christ. Instead I think that Christianity fosters an artificial religious life apart from a direct “relationship” with God through the natural, common life. But maybe, at least for me, experiencing what isn’t life, is how we discover real, eternal life.
It’s all just part of the journey.
Thank you for taking the time to read about my personal experiences. Hopefully this will give my readers a sense of my perspective behind my blog posts. I thank you for all comments and messages. I whole-heartedly believe in the freedom of personal opinion and belief. I think that our creator meant for us to grow together in our diversity. After my own unraveling, my favorite pastime is attempting to unravel truth about God with my friends.
So pull up a chair, grab a drink and feel free to stay a while….
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