Note: I originally expected this to be a singular blog, but I vamped so much on my religious history that it warranted its own entry.
I want to start this out with a bit of history.
For approximately a decade of my adult life, I weaved, bobbed, and caroused my way through the oft-maligned institution known as the American Evangelical Church. As a child of Presbyterianism, the daily journey to church was mandatory, but I wasn’t necessarily obligated to adhere to everything I was taught. My parents had the foresight to understand that my journey would diverge from their own; yet, deep down, they hoped I would retain some semblance of faith in something.
And that I did. In fact, in many ways my faith in the Christian structure of God increased dramatically in my college years. I took on the belief that there truly was only one pathway to eternal life - and a narrow one at that. More importantly, I barely flinched when believing that most people I encountered on a daily basis would likely be condemned to an eternity of punishment.
Dante Alighieri attempted to capture the spirit of this eternal damnation in his epic Inferno:
“Hope not ever to see Heaven. I have come to lead you to the other shore; into eternal darkness; into fire and into ice.”
So, it goes without saying that my weaving in and out of the Church centered on statements such as this. When I said I barely flinched…it doesn’t mean I didn’t flinch at all. The times when I witnessed the biggest distance between my sine curve and that of the community I called home was when I lived in cities some would brand as “Post-Christian” - a term that, surprisingly, a lot of sociologists use to describe communities that have all but abandoned the Christian worldview. Berlin was one of those cities.
Moving to one of Europe’s most vibrant towns at the ripe age of 23 - after having just left the country twice before - excited me to no end, as I knew that I’d be thrust into a far more melty melting pot than I encountered while living (at the time) in Indianapolis. And, I was particularly thrilled to encounter a small cadre of committed Christians upon arrival. They welcomed me with open arms despite the fact that the United States’ global perception in 2005 was one of the lowest in history. We broke bread together, we sang together, we lived life together - and despite living thousands of miles apart from one another, some of us still do live life together in some capacity.
Yet despite being in the company of other Christians, I noticed a distinct difference in the way they behaved toward what I had been taught to call the “non-believer”. In fact, that term itself puzzled every non-American I encountered, as if “belief” required a particular and narrow set of strictures defined by people who looked, talked, and worshipped like me.
They ate, drank, and celebrated with people unlike them in every way. Religion wasn’t the only divergence - nationality, language, family upbringing, income - this was the kaleidoscope that I had hoped to experience during my experience living in Europe. I returned to the States with a massively skewed version of what it meant to be a believer.
Fast forward twelve years. I now consider myself as generally estranged from the Evangelical church. In a Facebook post the day after the election, I finally, distinctively, dissociated from the Evangelical church.
Over the past decade, my engagement with the evangelical community has fluctuated - frankly, I had a lot of difficulty resolving both the social-moral fabric and its general opposition to what I felt to be true in my heart. It wasn’t necessarily that I found the institution deplorable, per se - I just saw a major disconnect between how I sensed my approach to faith should be lived with how I was being taught to live it.
It’s with this election result - and my general disdain with how the Evangelical churches in San Francisco approach its citizens - that my departure from the Evangelical community is solidified. It’s hard and sad to say goodbye to a community that has had such an impactful effect on my life, one that has taught me to love better, respond to injustice, and look beyond myself for hope.
Twenty-two year-old me would have probably scoffed at my backsliding and found sorrow in this statement. And why not? I was forsaking an institution that molded my first few years as an adult. It could be considered as rash as disowning a friend, leaving a spouse, or punting a kitten. (Don’t punt kittens, please.)
But then imagine if that spouse or friend held a secret - or revealed a side of themselves that caused conflict. Or, suppose you simply grew apart to a point where healing and regrowth would be actually more painful and dangerous than letting the wound stay exposed.
So, I had a choice to make: I could remain committed to the church and its community and invest in fixing things, or I could walk away. The former fit my typical pattern of behavior in conflict: stick around, fix things, take a few hits to the ego, but stay in the ring, man. And I tried - and tried. But the church fit me like a suit a little too small to take in for tailoring.
That’s the first time I’ve given up on something that meant so much to me. It was a formative, beautiful, and extremely messy period of my life that ran its course. Just like a once-beautiful relationship.
To Be Continued.