"Was church just silly to you?"
Of all the comments I have received on this blog, this is one that really stuck out to me. There is an assumption here, that by me having issues with the church, Christians, Christianity, or the Bible, that church was somehow just a game to me. That I never took it seriously. It straddles the fence of heading towards a 'No-True-Scotsman' fallacy, where the questioner wonders if you were ever very serious about it. Because if you weren't, then that would explain your lack of faith.
For the record, church, Christianity, and God were my life for a very long time. As a child I attended church three days a week (more if there was a revival on), went to a private Christian school, volunteered, helped my parents with children's church, sang on the children's choir, and in the church theater group. I had no friends who weren't Christians. The only people I knew who weren't were relatives who we prayed for every single evening at the dinner table. My family also did a daily devotional at dinner time and we were expected to pray at night when we went to bed and in the morning when we sent my dad off to work. On the regular my mother anointed our house with oil. We listened to only Christian radio and music and didn't own a television. I didn't like the no television bit, but I understood it all. And I took all of it very seriously and believed in all of it too.
As a teenager I attended not one but two youth groups. I continued to volunteer at a local soup kitchen with my church and started going on short-term mission trips. I graduated as an 'Honor Star' after a rigorous program and then did another program right after so that I could teach at my church. I taught my first Sunday School class at sixteen. I witnessed to people, attended protests, and was quite fearful of wordly outside influences. My parents discouraged anything in the STEM field because they didn't believe Christians could be scientists and still have their faith intact by the end. At seventeen I left my parents church because I wanted to be taken more seriously and treated as an adult. Within a year I was on the intercessory prayer group before church and was teaching a children's Sunday School class. I took this responsibility and devotion to God very seriously.
In my early twenties I moved churches because I was lonely. All the people my age were gone, there were no small groups, no young person's group, and the pastor kept forgetting my name...even though his daughter was in my class. So I moved short-term to a big friendly church in a converted warehouse. This church taught me that flashing lights and fancy chairs don't make up for a pastor with no seminary training and people who were more worried about appearing holy than being loving. Luckily that church was short-lived as I moved far away to Boston. There I sought out what I thought a church should be: diverse, community-oriented, generous, with trained pastors, and full of people who want to deal with some of the hard stuff of life. I found a wonderful church that met all of that. Despite going to school full-time and working full-time, I still found time to volunteer, help with sound on Sundays, and join a small group. I made some wonderful lasting friendships and visit with those people even now. I took all of this very seriously.
When I returned to the south after graduating, I was dismayed to find that my church in Boston was rather unique. I could find churches with trained pastors, but no outreach. Churches that focused on outreach, but weren't diverse. At all. Churches that were generous, but never tackled the hard stuff. Community-oriented, but without trained pastors. I settled for a church that said they were interested in getting into missions and outreach, even though they weren't currently doing so. I joined both teams and help organize a mission trip to the Dominican Republic as well as serving food to the homeless. This ministry still exists and my mother now volunteers with them every Monday. These things mattered to me. I spent a lot of time and effort helping form these groups and leading these groups. Oh and money, don't forget the money. No, this was very serious to me.
In my late-twenties, I moved to another city. Time to church shop again. I found a little church that partnered with people in the community, the pastor was trained, and the people were generous. No missions trips, but I was okay with that. I was starting to have some mixed feelings about short-term missions anyway. I sang on the worship team, was in two small groups, and when I met my husband, began dragging him to small groups too. One of my small group leaders wrote our reference for our adoption paperwork. It was here that I began to really investigate and confront my doubts. It wasn't because of the church that I had these doubts either, although I certainly began examining the sermons in a way I never had before. As I have stated before, despite all my issues with the church, my problem had to do with the Bible itself. And here's the thing, even when I finally admitted to myself that I no longer believed, I continued to go to that church for several more months because of the commitments that I had made. Because I took it seriously.
Church for me, was never silly. It was a place where I could be silly, but the institution itself never was. The church was where I made friends, how I volunteered, where I sought recharges to my faith, a source of enlightenment and soul-searching. I have spent a great deal of time within the walls of a church, believing in what was being taught and bettering myself within a community of believers. One of the hardest things about not being in the church now is that I am having to learn how to make friends. Before, my friends were people in the various groups I was a part of. Many were friends of convenience, but I enjoyed spending time with them. Now, I have to find friends in places that feel rather unnatural. Talking to a stranger at a friend's birthday party, at a community event, at a writing group. To most people who weren't so wrapped up in the church, this may be a duh, but for me, it's a whole different world.
And I still think the church is a pretty serious place. I take them seriously, because they seem to have a lot of sway over people. More and more they are having a sway on our government. I attended a lot of churches that told people to love out of one side of their mouths, while degrading divorcees, feminists, the promiscuous, homosexuals, and anything or anyone else they deemed sinful. One of my good friends still attends a church that states that only a chosen elect will get into to heaven, even amongst Christians. Another posts quotes from her pastor that state that the end times are coming and has quite literally begun a stockpile of canned goods for her heathen neighbors for after the rapture, because they are going to need it. Another believes her mental illness was magically cured by a weekend retreat, because the woman at the retreat told her she was healed. I DO have some issues with the church, but I had these issues with the church even when I was a believer. These issues didn't appear when I started to doubt, nor did they bring on the doubt.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.