I don’t remember when I broke up with organized religion.
It wasn’t like one big, a-ha moment. It wasn’t a cataclysmic event, or a major act of egregious affront, or a single person or a single church or a single event. No, it was something that happened over time. It was years of systemic conditioning and oppression. It was years of being okay with hypocrisy. It was years of being okay with self righteous indignation. It was a decision, over time, that I no longer wanted to prize being “right” over being compassionate, or being judgmental over being loving. It was an admission, over time, that I’d in fact gotten it very wrong. That I’d given into a system of beliefs and attitudes that were, at their core, contrary to the very God that I claimed to worship.
And the thing is, I never turned my back on my belief in God. I actually found God during this whole process, for perhaps the first time in my life.
I know that opting out of everything God-related is a common thing for many people with my background. I see it every day. People feel just like I felt: disillusioned, angry, burnt-out, betrayed… and they decide they don’t want anything to do with any of it anymore. And honestly, I can’t say as I particularly blame them. The damage runs DEEP. I have a friend who grew up in a very strict Catholic church who used to say something to the effect of, “Want to ensure your kid grows up to be an atheist? Force them to go to church every Sunday.” (By the by, she’s an adult now and is, in fact, an atheist) But for me, it was two separate issues. My beef wasn’t with God. My beef was with a deeply flawed and broken man-made construct. One of the most defining moments of my life was when I was able to say – to myself, to the people around me, to the world – “You know what? I want Jesus. I don’t want religion.”
Lest I forget why I made that decision, I have articles like this to remind me. This article, titled Worship Leaders Must Take a Stand Against Homosexuality, was proudly shared by someone from my former life. And as I read it, that little voice in me screamed, “THIS! This is why I left. This is why I’m opting out.”
Too many churches have become about turning people away. They’ve become judge, jury and executioner. They’ve become hurtful, vitriolic clubs of exclusion. Strong words? Sure. Deserved? You bet.
My mind automatically wants to fix it, to substitute other words for homosexuality. Worship Leaders Must Take a Stand Against:
You know, things that actually hurt people. But we never see those articles, because people are too busy thinking about, and writing about, and preaching about those darn homosexuals. I ask you – in all sincerity – if you nod your head in agreement with articles like that one, how does someone else’s sexual orientation harm you? The world is full of problems, to be sure, but is who someone happens to love really one of them? No one’s threatening you or the sanctity of your heterosexual relationship, I promise. Your neighbor or your co-worker or your family member who’s gay? They’re just trying to make it through the day like the rest of us. The difference is, they’re trying to make it through a day in which churches have made it their mission to ostracize them, in which churches have decided that their mere existence is so objectionable that they must write entire articles about how we must Take A Stand against them.
Instead of loving people like they’re commanded (Matthew 22:39. This is covered in Christianity 101. Or at least it should be), they’ve cherry-picked an already maligned segment of society, and they’re taking a stand.
Well I’m going to take a stand too.
I’m taking a stand against bigotry cloaked in religion. I’m taking a stand against keeping people out instead of inviting people in. I’m taking a stand against judging people instead of loving them. I’m taking a stand against discrimination, in all of its shapes, forms, and flavors. I’m taking a stand against a man-made system that does the very opposite of showing others a God that is full of grace, and love, and mercy.
And as I sit here, getting ready to hit that “publish” button, I do so knowing that this post is going to earn me unkind comments, and bible verses used as weapons, and (if the past is any indication) offers to send me books that’ll save my poor, misguided soul. I’m okay with that. Truly. Because it all serves to remind me where I came from, and why I chose to leave it behind.
I can’t control what anyone else chooses to believe, or do, or follow. This much is true. But I can control me. I can control where I stand.
If ever I’m given the option (and let’s be real for a second here: we’re always given the option) I’m standing on the side of love.
Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”