My church back home met in a stadium we rented out every week. It was roomy and dirty and kind of like a maze, but it felt like home. Starting in middle school, I developed a group of friends that were dorky and kind and saw the world the same way I did. It was around this time that I started journaling, writing about the conflicts in my small world and the endless faith that I had. This church reached out to kids, did community outreach, hosted a musical and huge summer camp every year, and created a huge impact in Houston. Along with my campus, there were five others that followed one pastor’s lead. We were a mega church, though small for Texas standards. It was big and a little bit loud but it was home.
I went into high school with a faith that could move mountains. I had so much hope and sincere belief that made the bad days not feel too terrible. I tried my very best to be kind and selfless, but I wasn’t very good about doing it for the right reasons. I took a little too much pride in my reputation, and saw my value as the amount of friends I had invited to church. I still had a strong connection to God, a feeling and knowledge that gave me hope and peace. But I started to realize what I might be doing wrong.
This sort of awakening came with my dirty descent into liberalism. My opinions broadened, and I started asking more questions about what my parents believed and why. I realized that I lived in a sort of echo chamber where I wasn’t hearing a lot of perspectives. I heard from people who lived in nice neighborhoods and went to church every weekend and went on mission trips to Haiti and Belize and China. I looked up to them, but I started to realize how small my worldview was. I couldn’t imagine someone being content without having a relationship with God, or even someone cool with blatantly breaking the Bible’s rules. With my sort of feminist journey, I started to see the different perspectives around me. There were people who had been hurt by churches, even my church specifically, and I started finding friends willing to talk and question my beliefs. I was interested in the change, but it did come as a sort of challenge. If my perspective was widening, was I betraying the person I wanted to be?
The easy answer is of course not. Seeing how other people see things, how others deal with faith and conflict and confusion, was so intriguing to me. I started getting hit with new trials. I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety and saw my friends around me struggling in school and life in general. It was so hard to continue the sort of blissful feel-good outlook I had before. I still had my faith but it was harder to uphold.
With that change came my sort of liberal struggle. I would bring my best friend to church and realize that this place, my home, was not without flaws. Their teaching methods started to grate on me, and the endless appeal to young people in a very outdated way stopped being endearing.
The final step back was at camp, where I was a counselor for six middle school girls. I was a senior, and I had really planted myself in a worldview about education, equality and acceptance. The very first message of camp took place in a huge room with a stage in the center. They had a cool band, and games, and the energy level was high. The head pastor started teaching and the crowd was silent, the first time 600 middle schoolers could be tamed in millennia. I listened to the man that had taught me since I was the age of the kids with me, and fell into his smooth southern drawl. His lesson was about sin, how everyone does it, but he offered the solution of forgiveness through Christ. The problem was what he presented as sin. In a room full of young, impressionable kids, he put lying and bullying on the same plane as “gender confusion” and self harm. Instead of offering help, or a discussion about how to speak to God about these things, he just told them they were wrong. Of course, they could be saved, there was hope, but only if they could erase their sexuality or mental illness.
We went back to the room afterwards and I had a sick feeling in my stomach, not sure what I could say to these girls without ranting against the pastor I was supposed to respect. Funnily enough, one of the girls brought it up. She was a little confused, so we talked about what he meant and how maybe, this man didn’t know everything after all. We talked about trusting God, and prayer and being kind to others, tackled racism and being kind to LGBTQ people, and had the most constructive conversation I could remember.
In that time of what felt like loss of a home, I found hope. I realized that of my love for God was non negotiable for me, but I could find a new home. These kids, despite hateful messages, were kind and listened to new perspectives already. I could be like them.
I’m going to a new church now where I feel more comfortable being myself. I see hope in the new pastor, in my recent journal entries, and in my new bible study. Past me, who was closed-minded and definitely not a feminist, probably wouldn’t love where I ended up. She is an important part of me, and so is my faith, but I’ve realized that I can still grow and change and live a liberal and progressive life while still loving God.
Graphic Designer, What the F Magazine