Let Go and Let Grow: Why I Left the Church
(Cover image via @nasirfleming)
“No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow. ” Alice Walker
Just after a break up, I sat silently in my sparsely furnished apartment. Here I was at 22 years old thinking I was living my best life. I was a student in culinary school, I had my own apartment and I was dating frequently. I had no one to telling me what to do with my life. Yet every morning and night, I knelt down in silence to pray to the God of my youth for direction and advice. I was taught that prayer is something we do to connect to God. I had also been taught that we do not question Him and “God works in mysterious ways”.
Yet every time I knelt down, I felt nothing.
It lead me to believe that God had grown tired of me. Maybe God really didn’t answer my prayers and it was all my fault.
To understand my way of thinking we must venture back into my childhood and adolescent relationship with God. I never chose to believe in the Abrahamic religious view of God. I never asked to attend church or say prayer before meals. Like many African American households, this was just the way it was. You could do all you want all week long, but come Sunday you had to be dressed in your best and praise The Lord!
If you’ve ever attended a Southern Baptist church, you understand how lengthy of a process this is! If not, here is a brief idea of the program: 8 AM Sunday School, 9 AM Worship (including the sermon, announcements, choir songs and Bible readings), 1 PM we took a break and hungrily dived into the church dinners for sale, 3 PM we were back in our seats for afternoon worship. By 6 PM, we were happily home. It was an all day affair!
Throughout the many years of preforming this Sunday ritual I had learned a few things about myself. As an adolescent, I had come to terms with my blossoming sexuality. I understood that I was different from the other girls. I had not yet come to terms with my transgender identity, I simply thought I was a lesbian (and I was fine with that at the time). However, I also learned that the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob had no time for such things.
In fact he was angry at queer people and wanted them to burn in hell, from what I could gather at church meetings. Many times I sat there while they quoted “man shall not lie down with man” (Leviticus 18:22, King James Version) and told the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). Then they talked of a loving God and his son who wanted to save us all, unless you were a homosexual. I have even heard of homosexuality being lumped together with murderers (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). It often made me question myself and doubt my truest essence.
It seemed to me that God that didn’t care for me if I expressed my most genuine feelings of love and attraction to those in the queer community. It was so ingrained in me that I had to make a choice. Little did I know that choosing the Christian idea of God would send me into a place swirling with deep depression, anger and lack of confidence. Being unable to express my love outwardly weighed heavily on me but it would all be okay if God loved me. Except this didn’t feel like love. Love was suppose to feel free, happy and light. I was everything but that. I was terrified of God and of myself.
I learned in order to gain God’s approval, I must tone myself down and do everything God says, according to the Bible, in order maintain His love. No one ever taught me it was ok to love myself too. Constant reiteration of God’s dislike for the queer lifestyle lead me to disown myself. In disowning myself, I tried to strip away all physical appearances of homosexuality. I dated and sexualized myself to appeal to straight men. I prayed more. Never did I ask God why I was gay. I simply decided to ask God to take away what made me so bad.
Throughout this time, I engaged in lesbian relationships in secret. They were pure torture. There was nothing inherently wrong with the women I chose, there was always just a tape recorder in the back of my mind saying “God doesn’t love you” accompanied by a continuous loop of scriptures confirming it. The recording made it especially hard to be intimate. With every kiss I thought “you’re going to hell”. It made me feel disgusted with myself.
Going back and forth between what was suppose to be “God’s love” for me and my desire to define my person-hood put me in excruciating emotional pain. One day I decided that I had enough. I was going to believe in the Christian idea of God and give it my best efforts. I started dating a man. I decided in order to gain God’s love I would steep myself so far in religion that I would never come out of it.
I aligned myself with an overly devout religious group. They laid out the roles of women and men according to the Bible. They told me God’s view of marriage, and assured me that anything “wrong” with me could be prayed away. I could gain God’s salvation through constant prayer and preaching to others about how good He is. I was relieved, I thought I finally had a place that I could “let go and let God” as is the popular Christian rhetoric. Yet, the only thing I let go of was myself.
Being so enthusiastic about gaining God’s love and finally making things right with Him, I decided against my better judgement to marry the man I was dating. Surely this is what God wanted for me. I prayed feverishly multiple times a day for God to grant me strength against the temptations of the devil, what I was taught homosexuality was.
This religion taught me that I must stay away from homosexual people and not even think “gay thoughts”. In an effort to remove myself from the LGBTQ+ community, I began bashing my beloved community. When I would meet them in my proselytizing work, I would explain to them why God didn’t agree with homosexuality. I would tell them that they could not practice homosexuality and be members of the church. I would read countless stories of men and women that supposedly were “cured” of homosexuality through strong faith and I wanted in. Except I received the exact opposite.
The more I prayed and preached, the deeper my lust for women became. No matter what I did, I could not shake the queerness out of me. Once again I became deeply depressed and withdrawn. I continued living in denial and turned to alcohol to self-medicate. I continued to cling to the idea that God would give me salvation and I would be his beloved child again. That is not what happened.
The scales weighed unevenly. I was in such a pit of despair and I felt I had to choose between God or myself.
It never occurred to me that this wasn’t an issue of myself vs. God. It was an issue of the Christian church against my identity.
From the moment I realized that this issue was far bigger than me and my sexuality, I decided to never deny myself again. I realized that while I didn’t choose to be queer, I could choose to accept that this was my life. I could chose if I would let a religious institution narrowly define me. I could chose if I wanted to live free or die in vain.
I chose to live freely, and freedom comes with a price. I have “religious” family members that refuse to be involved with me. I have people from the church that I considered friends no longer speak to me, because I don’t identify with the way they portray God. What I have gained is far more important to me.
I have gained the freedom to live my truth.