That's Me in the Spotlight, Losing My Religion

[At the risk of offending essentially everyone, I present my SecThurs post for this week.]

I was raised Southern Baptist.

I want everyone to stop, and read that again. Please understand: I was raised Southern Baptist. I was brought up on a steady diet of personal relationships with Jesus, Bible stories, and priesthood of the believer. Scots-Irish to the end, I grew up believing in God and also believing that no one had the right to tell me what to believe about God.

I also was brought up knowing that Jimmy Carter was a Southern Baptist. Insult just about everyone else in the world and I'll let it slide, but don't insult Jimmy Carter in front of me.

It wouldn't too be strong a word to say that I felt increasingly betrayed as the '90s proceeded. "Christian Right"? "Religious Right"? But... I was a Christian. I didn't agree with them. In fact, I disagreed with them. Who were they to define what a "Christian" was or was not?

Then the Southern Baptists made their conversion to radicals complete. We were supposed to boycott Disney? The very next Sunday, the pastor at my then-church and the music minister both wore Mickey Mouse ties. Our associate pastor was a woman. I felt safer, again. Sure, the leadership was apparently going crazy, but they weren't every Southern Baptist. Priesthood of the believer! Personal relationship! They couldn't tell me what to believe!

Except, of course, that it was a sham. My church was one of the last oases to be found, I now believe. And increasingly, I've become so disenchanted with those who supposedly share my faith that I no longer claim their religion.

I hate the labels of "Christian Content," because they too often assume that all Christians must think alike, in lockstep. If I don't agree, then I cannot be a Christian. I dislike the churches that preach on politics. If I don't vote Republican, then I cannot be a Christian. I believe in human rights for all, including the right to legal protection for all partnerships (I think the government shouldn't grant marriages, just unions, to everyone). If I don't vote against gay marriage, though, then I must not be a Christian. Evolution is my favorite scientific theory (I think it's tops, better than gravity!). Evolution, though, means you must not be a Christian, so I cannot be a Christian by that definition. If I don't agree with the interpretation of the Bible that leads to submission by women, then I must not be a Christian.

The list goes on and on.

So, eventually, it wears you down. If they don't want me, then fine. I will not claim the label. My relationship with God is just that - mine. And if they want to take the label of Christian and turn it into a litmus test, then so be it. I'll label myself something else when a label is necessary. I know what I believe and I feel more secure in my faith as the years pass. I pray. I study theological issues, the Bible, and early church history. Yet, I won't call myself just a Christian. Do I have mixed feelings about it? Certainly.

There's the crux of the issue. I have mixed feelings about it. I've lost my religion, but never my own (particularly quirky) faith. I can't categorize my faith and would possibly resent being asked to do so. I've been known to label myself as a "really liberal Christian," a "Christopagan," a "strange hybrid Christopagan Deist," and other odd combinations of words. Notice that there's a variation of "Christian" in all of them, though. "Jesus" doesn't combine into words so neatly, and that's the thing. I've never stopped thinking Jesus was the cat's pajamas. Awesomesauce. The bee's knees. Et cetera. For as long as I hold that opinion, I'm going to feel a little put out. A little left out. A little bit curious as to when it became so bad to be an evolutionarily-thinking non-submissive female Christian.


Cara said...

OMG I could of written this post. Love it!

Daisy said...

While you *know* we see things differently, I deeply admire your honesty.

You'll get no lecture and you gave no offense.

Sarah said...

ILU:) While I don't apply the label Christian to myself anymore - or Christo anything - the reason I'm no longer Christian have more to do with what you said. I was always doing it wrong, anyway, so why not find something I can do right;)

Gretchen said...

I grew up a mish mash of Catholic and Baptist. It was a very long process to figure out how to separate the Jesus from the fundamentalism. Anne Lamott helped. Had I stayed in grad school, my dissertation would likely have been a further working out of my feelings about evangelicalism, fundamentalism, Jesus, Southern culture, Southern literature, country music (I'm still bummed I never got to write my chapter on Willie Nelson), and how they all interact for better and for worse. I could write a dissertation about it right here in your blog! Instead, I'll note that I've been frustrated with progressive protestant churches in the South. My experience in Boston was that they were not afraid to genuinely get excited about their faith, whereas here they often are so careful to set themselves apart from fundamentalism, that they wind up treating religion as an intellectual exercise (which I'm sometimes guilty of, too, but that's why I need a church to help break me out of that).

Kash said...

Gretchen, that is a perfect summation of my experience as well (though I've always lived in the South). I have a friend in Providence, RI who attends a UU church there, and her descriptions of services sound more excited about Christianity than nominally Christian ones here! (Out of curiosity , what churches have you tried around here?)

Have you read Born Fighting? It's not explicitly about religion, but I found it synthesized a lot of observations I already had about the South and Southern culture.

Gretchen said...

Pretty much from the time we moved back (7 years ago) until last spring, we went to a UCC church (Central Congregational) in Atlanta. We'd been thinking of leaving for awhile because it was so far away, and then they hired a new senior pastor, and I wasn't fond of him or the changes he brought with him, so that finally pushed us out the door. Since then we've tried the UCC in Marietta and a Lutheran church on Sandy Plains (the Lutheran vote to allow openly gay pastors sort of opened Lutheranism up to me). Right now we're checking out a very small Lutheran church in Alpharetta (it's called The River). We've only gone once, but it's possible we'll end up there.

Haven't read Born Fighting...thanks for the suggestion--I've got that book a week thing going on, so I need lots of suggestions :)

Gretchen said...

by Jim Webb? Interesting. Jim Webb's an interesting guy.

Smrt Lernins said...

Gretchen, Luthernism seems to be ABS - All 'Bout the Synod - means a congregation could be very progressive or very NOT. Check out the Synod first!

Smrt Lernins said...

My mother doesn't believe that Christ is her personal savior or the sole son of God, but still considers herself Christian, despite our break with the Southern Baptist church in my early childhood (largely over women's rights issues, though partly over their witch hunt of everything "New Age"). She and I have very similar spiritual beliefs, yet I do not (and don't remember a time when I did) consider myself Christian. I used to say I ascribe to roughly Judeo-Christian values, but even that isn't true any more. What I saw during my handful of years sitting through Big Church on Sundays, and what I read in the Bible while ignoring the red-faced preacher, were enough to show me early on that those beliefs weren't something that would ever appeal to me. I think I had it figured out by 7 or 8.

It helps that we did have a formal breaking off from the church and that my mother has denounced the Southern Baptist leadership as having lead the church she once loved down a decidedly un-Christlike path.

I, too, think Jesus is pretty darn awesome. I just don't believe he was the one and only earthly son of God, nor do I see a need to deify him. If anything, it was Christ's simple *humanity* that appeals to me. Jesus as enlightened teacher, I totally can get behind.

Kash said...

@Gretchen - Yeah, there's a few parts of the book I explicitly disagree with it, but overall I found it to be a decent book, and most of it is backed easily by other (less readable, though) sources.

We have visited the Marietta UCC church periodically over the years but it just felt... I don't know. Not the right fit, anyway.

@Smrt Mama - "Christian" literally just means "follower of Christ." Take you will from that. :)

Kash said...

Also, thanks for the love, Cara & Sarah. :)

Daisy - yes, I know we disagree. :D I just wish there were more Christians like you. :)

Gretchen said...

Yeah, the Marietta UCC doesn't do it for me, either. We tried them first before we went to Central and then again a couple of months ago. I dunno. They seem nice, anyway.

SM--you mean ELCA vs. Missouri Synod? I know about that, and that,counter-intuitively, I want evangelical when it comes to Lutherans. I'm big on obsessive, stalkerish online research before I ever set foot in a church, lest I end up ambushed be people demanding to know the date when I got saved ;-). I've been reading the pastor at this new church's blog for months now, so I feel fairly safe from ambushes.

Can you tell I will talk FOREVER about religion stuff? :)

Kecia said...

this post makes me happy. especially this part:

"I've never stopped thinking Jesus was the cat's pajamas. Awesomesauce. The bee's knees. Et cetera."

Quite possibly one of my favorite quotes ever. :)

Kez said...

Thing is, though, there's no way Jesus was either conservative or fundamentalist (in the negative sense). In almost every story, he is challenging the status quo and championing equality and humanity rather than following rules and doctrines. In fact, he comes across a lot like the kind of person that fundamentalist Christians disapprove of!

heathrow said...

What a happy-making post. :) I was raised in the "Go out and do good" Presbyterian model. Be a good person, love your neighbor, and don't be a hateful person. I'm a bit naturish, I teach the children to respect the trees (hey, Dr. Seuss had really good ideas), and my relationship isn't bothered by who someone else is married to. Just that simple.

Heather said...

What a happy-making post. :) I was raised in the "Go out and do good" Presbyterian model. Be a good person, love your neighbor, and don't be a hateful person. I'm a bit naturish, I teach the children to respect the trees (hey, Dr. Seuss had really good ideas), and my relationship isn't bothered by who someone else is married to. Just that simple.

Queen Christine said...

I totally loved this post! I have found myself saying so often that I'm "culturally Seventh-Day Adventist" and not even knowing what that means other than several generations of people were good members and I grew up with it.

But, my Mom also explored a whole set of religious beliefs which meant everything from celebrating Jewish festivals to attending pentecostal churches so being exposed to so many things lead to a pretty open mind.

I always appreciate people sharing so openly about how they got where they are.

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