Today I find myself in two situations where who I am religiously causes me to feel very much like an “other,” that is, like I don’t quite belong and am viewed as strange. The first of these is within the faith itself. I hadn’t realized how (apparently) weird my church background is. It is an evangelical church founded on the belief that formal church membership is divisive and that from its inception included women and minorities in all areas of leadership. Growing up I believed that no one denomination had a monopoly on truth, but I’m finding that my own denomination (or movement, as we like to call it) has greatly informed my doctrinal views. I strongly believe all positions within the church should be open to women, and I don’t believe in formal church membership. I also feel pretty strongly that hymns should be a part of worship since they’re much better written both musically and lyrically than modern praise choruses, but this is less a doctrinal belief and more a result of being raised by people whose worship veers more toward the intellectual than the emotional.
My religious instruction was always Bible based. It didn’t matter what was popular in the Christian sub-culture, it didn’t matter what the pastor said, it didn’t matter if “that’s the way we’ve always done it;” everything was tested by Scripture. I was taught at a young age to take notes during the sermon and check it against scripture. This, I’ve since learned, is weird. Most people don’t even bring their Bible to church anymore, let alone engage intellectually. Molding my beliefs based on scripture and honestly caring what Jesus would do has led me to develop some political beliefs that many evangelicals disagree with. So I have an evangelical and somewhat old school approach to church (I don’t go in for high church services, nor do I care if the church has a coffee bar or the praise team has an album. In fact, I prefer that they don’t.), but the kind of church service I am attracted to often has an attending population whose interpretation of scripture differs greatly from mine.
For three years, I attended a Southern Baptist church here. They don’t allow women to preach, and they have formal church membership. If I’d had a family, I wouldn’t have attended because I don’t want my children raised in a church that isn’t egalitarian, but since it’s just me, and I know what I believe on the matter (and it’s not going to change), I went since it’s geographically close, and I generally appreciated that they had adult Sunday school I could be vocal in. The vast majority of those attending were conservative Republicans, and, more often than not, I left each Sunday feeling like an outsider.
You can imagine, for example, how I felt when one of them told me that my great-grandmothers who were preachers probably meant well but were misguided. Or how I was received when I asserted that, considering Romans 13 and other scriptures, one couldn’t justify the American Revolution from a Christian standpoint. I stayed as long as I did because I wondered if maybe there were people there who shared my views but were too afraid to speak them, or if there were people there who would at least think about what I was saying and consider it, and because in general I feel called to reformation more than evangelism. But it got to be a bit much, and I found that when I was absent for a few weeks on a road trip, I didn’t miss it.
The final straw was when I answered an email soliciting help in substitute teaching one week for our Sunday school class. I was upfront about the fact that I wasn’t an official church member because I understand that churches that have membership usually only let members volunteer for things like that. And I understood when I was turned down because of it. It was a bit of a relief, actually, not to have the added thing on my plate. I assumed they found a member to teach it and headed merrily to church that Sunday. But they hadn’t found someone to teach it. They made us join another class. Ultimately, the church (not the immediate pastor of young adults whom I like and respect, but his supervisor) when given the following options
Have someone who isn’t an official
member (but who has been attending
regularly for 3 years and is trusted by or cancel the class
the pastor for young adults and who has
a background in preaching and teaching)
teach the class this one time
decided it was better not to have the class that week. I see that as caring more about bylaws than the Spirit, and it’s a set of values I can’t get behind. My parents and some friends from back home marveled that I had attended as long as I did, but I take church seriously and don’t hop around over frivolous complaints. I don’t think you should leave church every week feeling lonelier than when you came, though. No one from the church followed up with me after my disappearance.
So I am once again immersed in the hell (pun intended) that is church searching. Looking for a church like the one back in Michigan is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. Most churches are patriarchal. And many that aren’t are too theologically liberal for me. With each church visit where I discover no women in leadership or no people my age or sermons that are light on scripture, it is a reminder of my outsider status.
The fact that I care about any of this leads to the second area where my faith makes me an outsider: dating. I’m back on some online dating sites, and it’s low key depressing. Most people in this area list ‘non-religious’ on their profiles, and when people do list Christian, it often doesn’t really mean anything. It’s the default for people who have a tree in their house in December. Usually when someone messages me concerning my faith, it’s out of curiosity or to start a debate. Here’s an exchange I had last week.
Interesting, feminist and Christian in the same sentence. To me that's like mentioning republican and feminist in the same semtence.
Is it? I know many feminist Christians. And I hope you're not conflating Christian and Republican.
Well, I may be generalizing, but typically the Christian denominations that I come across are pretty partriarchical. Which typically means there is no room for feminism in the Church.
My denomination has always opened all of its leadership positions to women since it started in the late 1800's. Two of my great-grandmothers were preachers. I've preached too. I know there are plenty of denominations that are different, but for me, feminism and Christianity go hand in hand.
Well that's very intriguing...What's your denomination?
Church of God. The one headquartered in Anderson, IN, not the one from Tennessee.
That doesn't sound bad actually. At least judging from what Wikipedia has to say. It has Wesleyan roots, and I actually like Charles and John. Charles is actually my middle name, and this one time on St. Simons Island, Ga I came across a Charles Wesley statue there commemorating his time there prior to going back to Europe to found the Methodist Church. I've always felt some kind of connection to that moment, but, spiritually speaking, all of my experiences up till this point have been coincidental. I feel like if my greater purpose were supposed to happen, it would have happened at this point. I'm on the fence with religion.
So, when you list Catholic on your profile, that's more of a cultural identity?
If you like the Wesleys, you might like this http://www.wesleybros.com/
Precisely, I kind of view being Catholic as like being Jewish...lol...When I have actually attended Church it has been a UU Church. That's been the only Church to align up my beliefs and allows for a personal seeking of our own truth's that we find our own spiritual journeys...I actually like that website.
Funny how this conversation started off with religion because I was actually really interested in all the other stuff that was on your profile. Maybe I didn't think you would respond and that's why I threw the religion at you...It looks like it worked, yay..haha.
Religion's an integral part of who I am and informs my worldview. So, to be upfront, I don't date people who don't share my faith. I'm not opposed to chatting about similar interests, but I understand if you don't want to, knowing that it wouldn't lead to anything romantic.
I don't understand that about some Christians, and that's what I like about the Unitarian Universalist Church, and that is they don't discriminate against anyone and all faiths and denominations are welcome. They even welcome LGBTQ...
There's a difference between accepting someone into fellowship and deciding you want to commit to a lifelong partnership with them. Marriage is hard enough when two people are on the same page about faith, but if they're not, it affects everything else like how do you raise the kids, how do you handle the finances, etc. Maybe it would be helpful to think of it like being a vegan. Sure you would have friends who weren't vegan but could you really be married to someone who didn't share that value? If you really believed that consuming any animal products was immoral, could you share a home and life with someone who ate steak across from you at the dinner table and liked their car to have a new leather smell?
Well, I can see your point, however, coming from my side that's the beauty of being an American and I probably follow that creed more then any. Which for me is the acceptance and welcoming of diversity, and the contrast of difference is actually what makes life fun. At least In my view, a different perspective is something we can learn from, I'm actually more concerned about chemistry and a connection, because the reality is without those it doesn't really matter what one may have in common with another. Raising one's kids with only one religious view is actually pretty unfair to the child in my opinion. You are basically predetermining what your child may believe without giving him/her much choice.
By your reasoning, every parent predetermines what their child believes. Even parents who aren't religious still have a set of values they teach their kids. Otherwise, you just let your kids go feral with no guidance or boundaries. In my opinion if you believe something to be true, it is unfair to your child not to teach them it. There's a difference between not exposing your kids to other beliefs at all and simply teaching them which of those beliefs you think is true. Besides, ultimately everyone gets to an age where they make their own choice regardless of what they were taught. Plenty of people adopt beliefs that differ from those of their parents.
As for diversity, it is something I seek out and enjoy. It's part of what I love about the school where I teach. And certainly a part of why I travel.
I haven’t heard back from Random Dude, and I’m okay with that. You’ll notice that he was surprised by my description of myself as a Christian feminist. He’s not the first to message me with questions about that or my history of preaching. Being a Christian feminist seems to make me a bit of a novelty, and it’s annoying for a couple reasons. First, every Christian should be a feminist, so it shouldn’t be surprising when one says they are. Second, I didn’t sign up to these sites to educate the masses on egalitarianism (or debate anything, really). I’m trying to find a life partner. Being treated like a novelty just highlights my otherness and feeds my fears that I am too different to successfully find a partner.
The question then becomes, what does someone in my situation do? On the church front, the only thing to do is to continue my search with the understanding that while some churches are better than others, no church is perfect. I’ll end up somewhere, and it will be good enough. In the meantime, I think visiting a variety of churches will help remind me of the diversity within the Christian faith and help me to better articulate my own views. As for dating, there must be someone out there who is down with Jesus, up for adventure, and capable of keeping pace with me, right? Right? In the meantime, I’m enjoying the fact that I can leave dirty dishes in the sink for a few days without anyone judging me or complaining.