I’ve known for a long time that I’m bitter about the Church. The last church I went to consistently went through a lot of big changes very quickly and left me feeling abandoned and betrayed. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was a bunch of little things. I was disappointed in the direction (or lack of direction) I felt the church had. There was a lot of division about things like worship, prayer, and leadership. People left. People got hurt. In the end, it just became a building.
It isn’t just the one church I’ve been heartbroken by. It’s the Church. I’ve always had trouble with the Christian community and feeling like I fit in. Youth groups and Sunday school were agonizing for me on a social level. I never felt spiritually challenged or like issues that I was facing (like depression and anxiety) were being addressed at all. It seemed like curriculum for teens was based on gender stereotypes and the idea that young people have no attention spans or interest in depth. It didn’t really change as I got older; so many small groups for women met during the day and centered around motherhood or crafting. There’s nothing wrong with that, don’t get me wrong, but it is limiting. It just serves to confirm my long-held anxieties about not fitting in.
Those anxieties have gotten worse. Politics has been the defining battleground between me and the Church. I’ve discussed this a lot on my blog, about how religion and politics become one and the same, about how I’ve been personally attacked by people I trusted just because I don’t agree with their ideologies. These are fellow Christians. These are fellow Christians who do not see a problem with either directly or indirectly questioning my devotion to the faith based on my political beliefs. I may disagree strongly with conservative Republican ideas and question why people agree with them, but I would never- and have never – judged someone’s Christianity based on those ideas. It is a repulsive attack. I know I’m bitter about it. I know that holding on to bitterness hurts me, but I’m not holding on to it intentionally. It has become sort of this weird shield against getting too close to being disappointed by the Church again. If I expect people in the Church to judge me, I won’t be surprised. I don’t know how to find the balance between not getting hurt and not being bitter.
I’ve also been heartbroken by all the people in the Church who don’t say anything about the attacks against people who have different political beliefs. These are the people who don’t stand up against ostracization and subtle segregation. These are the people who think that ignoring someone’s beliefs is the same as accepting them. For me, my political beliefs are directly influenced by my faith, and I want people to know why and still respect me and see the value of our differences. I’m practically desperate for that acceptance. I think it’s why I’m so insistent on still dealing with people who have shown they aren’t going to open themselves to new ideas, who see my beliefs as dangerous or ungodly. I still want a church family, after everything that’s happened, but I’m terrified. I can’t tell who is going to be responsive to my beliefs or who will shut me out, either because they think I’ve strayed from the faith or because they just don’t want to deal with the conflicts of iron sharpening iron. There is no defining characteristic of that sort of thing. And in my experience, churches are more likely to be filled with the kind of people who would attack me, so is it any wonder I’m really cautious?
But I’m also really lonely. I thought it was possible to stay strong spiritually without any help from other Christians, but I was wrong. God help me.