Tuesday, August 20, 2013

on being raised in the church

It's been my experience lately that somewhere along the road, our culture shifted. It went from being a high point in Christian circles to say you've been raised in the church to having a negative connotation associated with it. In fact, our pastor recently made a jab in one of his sermons about how, "...if you were raised in the church, I'm sorry. We have counseling available for you." Elaborating on some issues we've been having with our church is an entirely different post for a separate occasion, but this line is completely applicable to what I'm writing now. This post was fueled somewhat by this blog post.

Hi. My name is Danielle, and I was raised in the church.

Related: I am not irreparably scarred by my experiences. I embrace science and modern medicine. I believe it is perfectly normal and acceptable to explore different religions or not-religions in the quest to determine one's beliefs. I believe churches are run by imperfect humans that often make mistakes in what they teach and how they treat those around them. I believe a lot of the same mistakes are made generation after generation thanks to the way Christianity has become institutionalized. That being said, there is no excuse, no reason why church-goers shouldn't strive to change the way they are if the way they are is unloving and therefore deflective from the heart of Jesus (you guys, He mingled with prostitutes, tax collectors, and invalids). There is also nothing shameful about having been raised in Christianity (or Islam, or Judaism, or any other form of religion). The statement of being raised in the church does not define me as a person. It does not tell you that I lived a perfect, sinless life and think anyone who hasn't is somehow worth less than me. That's baseless speculation without knowing my story.

I 'accepted' Jesus at such an early age I don't remember doing so. I use the single quote because I am positive I had no understanding of my statement of faith at the time. I grew up at church camp. As I grew, I questioned everything I was taught, everything I believed. I researched other religions. I believed in science. I stopped going to church, much to my parent's dismay. I was deeply loved and supported by my religious parents, no matter the mistakes or choices I made. At the end of the day, they just wanted what was best for me, what made me happy--which, depending on one's perspective--could very well be Christianity. I experienced extreme depression and was very briefly institutionalized as the result of a misunderstanding in middle school. And there on the porch steps leading into the kitchen late one summer night, Jesus grabbed hold of me, wrapped me in His grace and love, and I never once doubted what I believed again. Sure, there are many times I don't understand where He fits in or why He continues to allow things to happen, people to hurt; but I no longer doubt His redemption. His love. His grace.

So yes, I was raised in the church. But I came into my own along the way. I had to find God on my own. I was fortunate to be guided by intelligent parents who had also experienced imperfect lives and figured out when to back off and let me find my path independently, who told me there would be no mistake I could make (see also: the dreaded unwed pregnancy oft feared in Christian communities) bigger than their love for me (and yes, I was a virgin on my wedding night).

Please don't read into my history in the church and jump to conclusions about me. I am a critical thinker. I don't take challenging sermons without researching and talking to those wiser than me. I have experienced several aspects of life--college in Chicago (which yes, involved consuming alcohol and making some poor decisions), not believing in anything, making countless mistakes along the way. The church isn't perfect, but I have not been shamed for being a working mom. My marriage is far from perfect and I pride myself about being transparent on most of our issues in this space. I have been hurt by those in the church, but also those not in the church. I'm sure I've done my fair share of hurting others in both spheres as well. I am imperfect.

As parents, Jon and I have already begun discussing how we can raise Elden to be the best he can be while simultaneously pointing him towards God yet giving him the freedom to independently determine his beliefs. We will start by making sure we are in a church with leadership that will teach Elden according to our beliefs should he choose to attend youth group. We will explain to him our stories, why we believe what we do and how we came to our conclusions. One thing we will teach him is that while we would prefer he wait until he gets married to have sex he is worth more to us and God than his virginity. We will let him make the decision about whether he would like to join us for church when he is old enough to understand the choice. We will not shame him for asking questions or raising doubts about what we believe. We will teach him that God made every person and loves each one of them passionately, regardless of lifestyles or sexuality or religious beliefs, and that if he really wants to make us proud, he will exemplify that love with every single person he comes into contact with. We will encourage him to advocate for those who have less, those that are persecuted or being bullied. To stand up when his heart feels funny about something he's witnessing. That is our responsibility as his parents and we cannot rely solely on the church to instill specific beliefs in his precious mind. In fact, that would be reckless.

I know my frustration with this post is feeling as though others projected their experiences onto everyone, so I fully acknowledge that many have indeed experienced what the author of the blog I linked to did. If you were raised in or interacted with a church that made you feel subpar, didn't advocate for you when you were wronged, or otherwise physically, sexually, spiritually, or emotionally harmed you, please let me issue an apology on their behalf. I am so, so sorry. It isn't right. It isn't just. It isn't the loving Jesus I know.


  1. me too, D. the broken, beautiful Church has some good in her yet:)

    1. with you as the giver, this is one of the highest compliments that can be paid :) i always adore reading your perspective - so fresh, raw and vulnerable. it's inspiring!