Author’s Note: I am in no way, shape or form here to criticize Christians. I’m simply expressing something that happened to me in my particular instance that helped shape me into the person I am today. If anything I say offends you, I want to sincerely apologize in advance for that. Not for saying it, but for the offense that occurs.
Also, to avoid any negativity directed at the individual churches, I’m changing their names. They’ll be “Tiny Church” and “MegaChurch” for this post.
I attended a fairly small church for a few years when I was in middle school and high school that I feel compelled to talk about. At first, I was loved and adored by everyone who attended it. I felt welcome and wanted. As time progressed, there were small changes made that slowly started to make me question whether or not I was happy there, and ultimately became the reasons I left.
We were forced to participate in things like the youth choir and the youth drama productions. If we didn’t like to sing, that didn’t matter. We had to do it anyway, because that’s what the pastor of Tiny Church wanted. If we missed a single Sunday, he’d call us up to talk to him before church (in front of everyone) and demand to know why. Not only did we go Sunday mornings, but Sunday nights and Wednesday nights as well. We were expected to be at every single service. At one point, I was playing in a soccer tournament over a weekend so I mentioned that I wouldn’t be able to come that weekend, and the pastor called my mother a few days in advance (my mother didn’t even attend the church with me) to tell her that I needed to be in church, not playing soccer.
They said a lot of things that, looking back, were a little off. We weren’t supposed to associate with non-Christians, not at all. We were supposed to invite people to church, though, and weren’t allowed to ever attend church with someone else because it meant we weren’t at Tiny Church. I was a little confused as to how I was supposed to be inviting people to church without associating with non-believers, seeing as my only Christian friends already had home churches to attend themselves. But I didn’t dare ask for clarification, not if I wanted to stay in the good graces of the pastor.
The sermons at Tiny Church were hard to hear. I can’t think of a single week where I didn’t feel like I was being scolded or reprimanded for something. Not in the sense that I was sinning openly, but in a way that I was never going to be good enough. The sermons were aimed at winning sinners over, but the congregation hardly grew over my years there. Instead of bringing someone to Tiny Church to hear a message about how God loves them right where they are, we brought them to tear them down so that they’d feel guilted into asking for forgiveness. I spent more weeks than not sobbing into my pastor’s shoulder at the altar asking for forgiveness without even really knowing what I’d done this time to need it.
I was constantly thinking that there was no way God would ever love me or forgive me if I didn’t constantly ask him to do both. I was fully convinced that I was a sinner, and that I was living wrongly, despite the fact that I was actually a pretty great kid. I didn’t drink, party or smoke. I went to church regularly and was not afraid to make my Xanga URL something super religious. I did everything I could to be the best possible Christian and was torn down three times a week and made to feel like a failure who needed to repent. I went to church camp each year and spent the entire week wondering why I felt so loved and happy only to dread going home and returning to Tiny Church at the end of the week.
I thought that’s how all churches were. One day, my brother invited my mom and I to attend church with him. We did, and despite feeling a little twinge of regret for missing my church’s service, I walked into the doors of MegaChurch, the same church my pastor at Tiny Church constantly bashed. He claimed they couldn’t possibly be preaching the “hard stuff” and accused them of giving people “watered-down messages” to keep them happy. He was so very wrong.
MegaChurch doesn’t take it easy on anyone. What they do differently than Tiny Church and a lot of other churches is pretty simple: they speak in love. The things I’ve learned and heard at MegaChurch are applicable each and every week. Their mission isn’t to condemn people, to guilt them into finding Jesus or to make anyone leave with a sense of “good feelings” that comes from soft preaching. They’re just there to help build Christians up and to bring non-Christians to Christ. It’s a pretty simple concept, when you think about it, and it works.
So after yesterday’s court decision, when I saw a handful of Christians using words like “abomination” and condemning those who were granted the right to marry the ones they love, I was disgusted. I was also reminded of my time at Tiny Church. I refused to stay silent and spent most of the day defending my stance on homosexuality and marriage against Christians, all while my gay friends were watching themselves be condemned. At the end of the day, I went to bed with a full heart, knowing that I had shown love and kindness in ways that was not easy. Numerous people told me they couldn’t have handled it like I did, and that is exactly the way that God has called me to live.
I’m not the most perfect Christian. In fact, I’ve actually told God that I’m not sure I am really ready to work on our relationship right now. (Long story short, I don’t practice religion anymore, I am in a relationship with God where I can be completely open with him. After a friend of mine passed away, I told him that I needed time to figure out what I wanted. I still attend church on occasion, sometimes every week, but it’s with the understanding that I am not committing to anything more than hearing what he has to lay on my heart. If you have questions about it, feel free to ask!) But God didn’t ask me to be perfect. He didn’t ask me to live a life so completely separate from the world that I was unapproachable and distant. He just asked me to love.
All of this is to say that, when you’re defending your religion, please keep one thing in mind: John 13:25 says,
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Now, more than ever, I think it’s important that we love.