Making faith your own? Wrestling with evangelical upbringing
August 1, 2018 5:11 PM   Subscribe

Complicated feelings and thoughts and confusion around Christian religion specifically. Mid 20s woman (other factors below fold) who is trying to figure out Christianity and faith after being raised and growing up in it. How exactly do I deal with guilt? How do I make my faith my own and not someone else's while sorting through the exhausting confusion? Personal stories appreciated.

There have been quite a few asks about being liberal but evangelical, or asking if there was a bible for liberals, or the most reputable sources for biblical scholars. So I've got those things available now.

I'm not interested in hearing "Jesus was a liberal!" or "Jesus was a socialist!" because that never helped me, but made me feel more conflicted. I think I'm getting caught up in the labels.

I'm a mid 20s woman who was raised in a Christian household in the deep south, went to a Christian middle and high school, and went to a college that ranks as one of the most conservative campuses (but is a big public state school.) I am also:

-a PoC (and part of the black community and it is hard to find black folks that are not some flavor of evangelical Christian. Even my queer black friends are also deeply ingrained in their family's church. It's our community and an expectation.)
-really quite liberal (it has taken me years to admit that.)
-bisexual/pansexual (still figuring out. it has also taken me years to admit this to myself.) I do not plan on coming out to my family anytime in the near future.
-find Christianity to really stick to me probably because I was so deeply rooted in it and in my community, but also I find comfort in church and spirituality (I am not interested in losing my religion.)

Up until college, I was markedly evangelical, I was against queerness, I had signed a purity pledge, joined the prayer team, etc. But I was constantly bullied at school for being the only person of color and the church my family attended and the one that ran our school preached a lot of "Everyone else is the enemy! They're all going to hell! You will go to hell if you X!" On the other hand, the church also showed us a lot of support and love in times of familial need. When I got to college, I felt very ready to expand my circle and my point of view.

And that I did! You probably know the story, but I was really happy with how I was able to expand my horizons and become friends with people that were outside of my bubble and experiment with my life. I explored other religions but kept coming back to Christianity. I still joined a bible study through a college ministry because I wanted to stay connected to my faith, and because my high school friends and my family encouraged and expected it. They didn't know of my double life.

College is also where I broke my purity pledge.
I confessed to my bible study women's group because we had to keep each other accountable.
They kicked me out (but would still pray for me and interacted with me.) I am still very casual friends with them to this day but I still feel a lot of guilt.

Fast forward to today. Racial issues and justice is very near and dear to my heart. I went into public health and equality and equity is near and dear as well. I identify as queer and have many queer friends. I have a partner whom I love and live together with. I joined a church in the city that's a reconciliation church, admonishes systemic racism and the church's wrongdoings, and has women pastors and gay pastors.

But I am having panic attacks over my religion. Every SINGLE SUNDAY I go to church, I can hear my family's voice, my friends from high school, whispering that this is all blasphemous, that they're picking and choosing verses from the bible, that the pastor has tattoos and don't you know Leviticus says that's a sin? (I too have tattoos now so that's I even brought my most conservative childhood friend to this church and (not surprisingly) she hated that it had a rainbow flag up front and she questioned if their doctrine was sound. "How do you know you're not in the presence of heretics? You have to go back to the bible! Question it all!" I guess I was just hoping she would see that I enjoyed it and the love the church exuded that maybe she would pat me on the back with a "job well done, you've found yourself a good church."

I'm frozen with fear. If I dive into the Bible, how do I even understand it now? Are they all just picking and choosing verses? I'm afraid I'll open the bible and truly confirm that my entire continuous existence is a sin. I'm afraid to ask my queer pastor any questions because I don't know where to start and I'm afraid of looking like a complete faithless idiot. I am DEFINITELY not going to my parent's and asking them for advice on this either, though they are strong in their very different Christian faith. I think they would tell me to rebuke Satan, pray harder, and be better. But that's it.

In my current church, I meet women who are living peacefully. They're queer, or they're married but their husband doesn't identify as a Christian, they're talking about feminist theology. It's so very different than what I'm used to. And I am truly envious at how they don't seem to wrestle with their faith and the thought that they might be a heretic. That's how I feel, and I'm scared to admit to anyone at the church that my faith is wavering, I'm very confused, I'm shacking up with my boyfriend and I feel like this means I am most definitely going to hell. I cannot be a true believer if I do all these things, my old pastor would say. I'm afraid I'm going to get kicked out of my family, my old friends, and my current church because I am waffling about.

If you just need the questions:

- How do I shape my faith and overcome the fear of diving into the bible or asking for help from the church I attend?

- What's the best way to read through the bible when you're used to conservative, evangelical messages (and will pretty much zero in on those when reading, and then convince yourself that you are dirt) but you want to stay neutral and open even though you very much identify as progressive?

- How do I reconcile the fact that (while still loved, luckily) I am seen as both a black sheep and blasphemous to family I am very attached to, and old friends and colleagues (I am less attached to that are still in my orbiting community) and that I want to dive deeper in this progressive Christianity?

- I don't really feel convicted over living together with my partner before marriage (I was adamant about doing this before marrying), but I do keep it secret from some because again, I'm afraid I will be shunned like before. I keep telling myself I cannot be a real Christian and continue with this, but I think it's a lot of guilt from my upbringing. I'm not seen as pure anymore. Can I even be in this faith if I continue with this?

- Do you have any similar stories and have you gotten to a place of peace with your faith?

This is a lot, sorry. I'm just looking for kind strangers to connect over this.

Oh, and I am in therapy.
posted by buttonedup to Religion & Philosophy (22 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I had a very different experience from yours—I didn't find that I disagreed with my evangelical upbringing so much as I found that it was emotionally/intellectually unintelligible to me—but what helped me was to move from a low-church setting to something with a liturgy.

I ended up reverting to Catholicism (my family's all lapsed Catholics), but maybe a very high-church, progressive Episcopal church would be right for you, both culturally and as something that will be so different aesthetically/experientially that it won't send you hurtling back to your past all the time. (Note: I'm a bad reader—right before I clicked send I noticed the part about your current church. I'll leave this stuff here in case it's useful at all.)

Re: Reading the Bible, what has helped me—as someone who was alienated in a different way and probably believes different things—is to accept that the Bible (and the will of God more generally) is impossible to flatten into a legible, secular political or social program. It is very weird and while some people are much wronger than others, not only is your old church guilty of simplifying and misreading it to serve its own ends, your new church probably is too, and so is mine. This is, for me, comforting—if you or me or my priest, humans bound by human experience, can explain the ramifications of God coming down to earth, dying as a man, and promising a new kingdom and a bodily resurrection... well, that would just feel more like a human story to me, and less like a religious one.

That said, we have access to the Bible and the teachings of the early church, and it is extremely valuable and rewarding to wade into it and allow your brain to be melted by it. I don't want to sound like I'm suggesting you throw up your hands and shrug—just that it was important to me to recognize that my limitations are shared by everyone else who has ever studied the material, including a bunch of geniuses and saints, and were not in any way disqualifying.
posted by Polycarp at 5:40 PM on August 1, 2018 [5 favorites]

My heart really goes out to you. I haven't had exactly the same experience but I also grew up a super-conservative Christian and am now a liberal atheist and go to a very liberal (UU) church. I used to believe just about everyone else was going to hell. It was a horrible feeling and a lot of pressure. I still have some conflict but I have a much greater sense of peace now.

1. Go ahead and talk to your pastor. The stuff you are struggling with is not going to bother them and like most ministers they probably have tons of conversations with their congregants about their individual journeys. A couple of things that might help you overcome your fear: Call your minister and schedule a time to talk. Send them this link if you think you will have trouble expressing your situation in person. They should be very equipped to handle this graciously and kindly and should be able to offer you some resources. I grew up fearing my minster but the progressive and liberal ministers I have now are very kind and patient about everything I've discussed with them.

2. It really helped me to learn about how the bible as we know it was really put together, how decisions were made about what to put in and leave out. So I'd say go ahead and read the Bible along with some other books about its history. Biblical Criticism is a philosophical approach to the bible that might be of interest to you.

3. It's okay to love people from your past and also love people from your present. Loving people does not mean you have to agree with them.

Anthony Pinn is a notable African American atheist - I once had the pleasure of hearing him speak. His talks and writings might be of interest to you.

Feel free to memail me. I've been there and I've felt just .. completely trapped between two sides. It took some time and a lot of reading and thinking, but I did get through it to a much better place.
posted by bunderful at 6:09 PM on August 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

As a straight person, albeit one who left a very pious family behind for atheism, I wouldn't presume to advise you on the emotional issues, but, when it comes to Biblical interpretation, I'm confused by the fact that you don't mention your church's adult education programs. Have you tried them and not liked them?
posted by praemunire at 6:20 PM on August 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

i can only speak to the interpretation part--i think the only way out is through. you do have to dive in to the bible.

i grew up in the south but my family went to the episcopal church. i remember going to church with my evangelical or southern baptist friends and thinking, as the pastor talked about how the lord hated lukewarm christians, backsliders, etc, "wtf, you are just choosing the most narrow interpretation of cherry-picked bible verses!"

you might find this liberating: the bible is a text. it was written by humans who lived in a specific time and place. scholars disagree about what things mean. we all interpret texts differently.

the very books of the bible--what got included and what didnt--that's due to politicking. a bunch of dudes met up and decided what should be in, what should be out. a lot of stuff was left out, deemed heretical.

i think you'd find biblical scholarship really helpful, so you can see where these different interpretations of the bible are coming from.

ie, here's a blurb about "the gnostic gospels"

In The Gnostic Gospels, author Elaine Pagels suggests that Christianity could have developed quite differently if Gnostic texts had become part of the Christian canon. Without a doubt: Gnosticism celebrates God as both Mother and Father, shows a very human Jesus's relationship to Mary Magdalene, suggests the Resurrection is better understood symbolically, and speaks to self-knowledge as the route to union with God. Pagels argues that Christian orthodoxy grew out of the political considerations of the day, serving to legitimize and consolidate early church leadership. Her contrast of that developing orthodoxy with Gnostic teachings presents an intriguing trajectory on a world faith as it "might have become." The Gnostic Gospels provides engaging reading for those seeking a broader perspective on the early development of Christianity.

maybe you could also read, in addition to biblical scholarship, accounts of other christian writers/thinkers on doubt.

i hope this was helpful, good luck!
posted by iahtl at 6:20 PM on August 1, 2018 [10 favorites]

(I am not religious, so take all this for what it's worth)

With regard to how to read the Bible, I'd recommend studying it as, among other things, a historical document: what social, cultural, and political concerns was this new religious movement responding to, what did it change, what were the interactions between the new religion and the religion(s) and religious authorities it sought to replace? This means not only reading the Bible, which presents its own narrative, but also reading the historical literature about it, which can place that narrative in context. I'd also recommend reading about the historical development of Christianity: of all the different branches and splinters, and of the internal evolution of each. There has always been picking and choosing, and what is chosen and ignored at any given point often evolves in response to social, cultural, and political developments.

I forget who said this originally, but it is interesting and kind of odd that most of us bear such a firm conviction that the religion we were raised in is the one true religion, despite the arbitrariness of our having been born into it and despite the fact that, had we been born to a family practicing a different religion, we would probably be just as deeply convinced of that religion's truth.

(On preview, I agree with the comments above)
posted by trig at 6:22 PM on August 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

I went through an extreme fundamentalist phase in high school. One thing I felt I had to unlearn was the idea that the Bible was the word of God that had to be taken literally. The book Christ Actually, by a former Catholic priest who is still Catholic, was really helpful to me in understanding how the Gospels were written to address the world that existed when they were written, which was, by the way, so long after Jesus died that they could not have been written by people who knew him.

Re “picking and choosing,” literally every Christian in the world does this. People just pick and choose different things. How many Christians do you know who, if someone asks for their coat, hands over their coat and their cloak, as Jesus said to do? People who complain about picking and choosing are usually adhering to the rules about sex. Well, read what Jesus said about money and material things. Anyone who lives anything like a normal American life is not completely following the Bible. These people are, to use the Biblical metaphor, pointing out the speck in your eye while they have beams in their own. The tricky part is trying not to judge them for it - not judging, of course, is another thing Jesus said to do that is routinely ignored.
posted by FencingGal at 6:46 PM on August 1, 2018 [11 favorites]

I'm an atheist these days, but I spent a long time sitting with doubt. I was lucky because doubt was very much part of my faith tradition. This tradition taught me that faith in God isn't an emotional or intellectual certainty but a commitment to a relationship. As in any relationship, there are times when you feel disoriented or consider leaving. Avoiding those negative feelings, both in human relationships and in faith, gets in the way of an authentic connection.

It also gave me a lot of comfort when I realized that God's existence, or non-existence, was not contingent on my believing in him. I felt somehow responsible for God, as if doubt would cause him to stop existing. Letting go of that weight was incredibly freeing.

All this is to say that you should absolutely talk to your queer pastor. I guarantee that they have had an experience similar to yours, and hopefully they can help you navigate the really hard parts of this journey (your family and friends, and the fear of punishment).
posted by toastedcheese at 7:14 PM on August 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

I am one of those 16 years of Roman Catholic education guys who has spent the rest of his life trying to come to terms with what I do and don't believe. Granted, that's not the same situation as yours, but then again some consider the RC church to be a cult (though I don't).

I agree with FencingGal about the Bible. I would even go further and ask where Jesus asked people to write the New Testament? I think he expected (and if you believe who He was) knew that it would be written, but I think he stridently aimed to make clear by his actions and symbols exactly what he wanted his followers to do and where their hearts should be. In my mind it's like seeing a clear danger symbol and standing around arguing about the caption beneath it. Don't do what he hated, and show love to everyone, and forgive. Granted, easier said than done.

Just in case you didn't notice this AskMeFi thread in your research, I would encourage you to read it. It seems relevant.

You might also find C. S. Lewis' theology books interesting (Mere Christianity, Miracles, Screwtape Letters).

I have also been very impressed by this Reverse Rapture article by Peter Rollins.

And don't get me started on Christians who practice shunning, which I gather you were the object of.

Also, for a view from someone closer to your situation, have you read the book Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber?

And yes, I agree with others that it sounds like (?) your pastor would be a good resource.

May the Spirit of God guide you and may you find the peace He wished for all his followers.
posted by forthright at 7:36 PM on August 1, 2018

Just to give you my background, I'm a progressive, feminist cis white woman who was raised Catholic, quit in my teen years because I was piiiiiiiiiiiiissed at the Church and its conservatism, and gradually returned as my questions/demands/pissed-ness got answered. I ended up majoring in theology at a Catholic university and then going to grad school for a masters in theological studies at a Southern Protestant divinity school. So I don't share your specific background, but I'm pretty familiar with where you're coming from because a lot of my divinity school classmates DO share your background, and I've been through a somewhat similar journey although the specifics are quite different.

"I'm frozen with fear. If I dive into the Bible, how do I even understand it now? Are they all just picking and choosing verses? I'm afraid I'll open the bible and truly confirm that my entire continuous existence is a sin."

Of COURSE they're just picking and choosing verses! It's a ginormous book with many different authors and agendas written over more than 2500 years, THERE'S A LOT GOING ON. As I'm sure you've been told, even the Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. (from Shakespeare, not the Bible.) What they're mostly doing is prooftexting, or searching the Bible for specific verses to support their proposition, rather than looking for a real meaning. And it's part of a larger interpretive strategy called eisegesis, or "reading in" to the text -- beginning with an idea and going to the Bible looking to prove it. Contrasted to what scholars try to do, and more honest pastors try to do, which is exegesis -- reading OUT OF the text, approaching the text and trying to engage honestly with it to see what can be learned from it, taking things OUT OF it. Not coming to it with a preconceived notion and reading INTO it.

I can recommend a few books to get you started. First, get yourself a nice copy of the New Oxford Annotated New Revised Standard Version. (Spring for the hardback, the paperbacks fall apart with hard reading!) It's well-translated and the annotations are very thorough, on meaning, on traditional interpretations and modern glosses, and super-thorough on translation. You probably won't pay a lot of attention to the translation notes, but if you need to, it's there, and they show ALL their work. Alternatively, I also like the Catholic Study Bible edition of the New American Catholic Bible, a bit better on commentaries (I think), a bit less good on translation and translation notes.

Then I want you to get this amazing Commentary on the Torah by Richard Friedman. It's intended for Jews, but you're going to love it. (I'd say get it at your library via interlibrary loan if necessary -- or if you buy, the kindle edition is bad, but used paperback copies are cheap.) This guy's a top-notch Torah scholar, and the book has the Hebrew Torah (first five books) and his own English translation according to the best modern scholarship, but the vast bulk of it is his commentary on it, informed by millennia of Jewish tradition and the very best of modern scholarship and it's AMAZING. And it might be an easier entry point for you because he's writing for Jews, so it doesn't directly dive into many Christian debates. But it's AMAZING. It will give you an entry point to how modern, educated religious people are wrestling with the Bible and its centuries of history and commentary, how they're struggling with its difficult passages, how they're interpreting its moral demands, and so on. It's really different than most Christian Bible scholarship you will have read -- it's very much in the Talmudic tradition -- but it's GLORIOUS. (I buy it for every Bar and Bat Mitzvah I know, and routinely push it on Christians who are getting into the Bible.)

Other suggestions:
Understanding the Bible, Stephen L. Harris -- really commonly used as a textbook for intro theology classes for majors. Harris himself is an atheist (who loves the shit out of the Bible), so very committed to a scholarly approach, and an interesting and entertaining writer. As it's intended as an introductory textbook for theology majors, it's totally accessible to the intelligent layperson. Buy used one edition out of date, it'll be fine, and much cheaper.

One Bible, Many Voices is a little bit out of date (1998), but it's an introduction to the many authors of the Bible and their different goals/agendas, and the many readers of the Bible and their goals and agendas. It's kind-of poetic. It does a really nice job situating the practice of faith within the historical tradition of the Bible and the modern scholarship of it, and she does a neat super-in-depth reading of a Psalm to show how modern scholarship works.

Then I feel like you're going to be SUPER fired up to read the actual Bible -- and I can tell you're going to love it because the Bible is full of crazy-ass shit, and you strike me as a person who is going to adore the crazy-ass shit. But if not, I recommend starting with Amos and Micah -- both very short, both very resonant with modern progressives -- and with the Gospel of Mark, which is some weird-ass shit (and you have to stop at 16:8, everything after 16:8 is later editors trying to make Mark less weird and upsetting). When you read Mark, who is the earliest gospel writer, probably in about AD 66-69ish, keep in mind that he speaks only the barest Greek, and he's trying to express incredibly complex ideas and emotions and events in a language he's not very fluent with. We think he's a Jew who probably spoke market -- not literary -- Greek, and wrote the first Gospel with his half-literate Greek for a gentile audience, and you need to slow down and actually read what he writes, not what you've heard in "preacher moan" for the last several decades, because Mark is WEIRD. He's got weird stuff to say, and he puts it in a weird fashion because he's not all that literate in the language he's writing in. Mark is very strange! Mark's Jesus is VERY STRANGE! People get used to hearing it all in a boring church moan and don't realize that this is some fucked-up shit. One of my professors in seminary's constant refrain was READ THE TEXT! READ THE TEXT! He'd be like, "how do we know Paul went to wherever?" and we'd all be like "well Luther said that Paul did blah blah blah" and he'd be like READ THE TEXT! IT'S LITERALLY RIGHT THERE! Even M.Div. students are so used to boring preacher moan that they forget to read what the damn text actually says! (And then you should read Mark from 16:9 to the end, knowing that's the later additions to make him less-weird and more theologically acceptable, and contemplate what that means about the rest of Mark and what very early Christians found kinda upsetting about Mark. And, like, contemplate that fucking ending on Mark! 16:8: "Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid." WHAT AN ENDING! Everybody's freaked out and nobody knows what happened and they totally fail to go evangelize anybody!)

And then for a brief, fun detour, read Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. It's silly AND YET every theology person and minister I know loves it.

"I'm afraid to ask my queer pastor any questions because I don't know where to start and I'm afraid of looking like a complete faithless idiot. "

This. Will make. Your pastor's. Month. They go to divinity school dreaming of counseling people having crises of the faith, wrestling with hard questions of theology, journeying with the lost and the hurting from pain to peace, and then their actual jobs are mostly mediating disputes about whether the organist is playing the hymns too slow or whether there's favoritism in potato salad placement at the church picnic and Mrs. So-and-so things her potato salad is being pushed to the back because Mrs. Such-and-such donates more to the church. Coming to your pastor with these kinds of questions? Wanting to have these hard discussions? THEY WILL FAINT WITH JOY. You are doing them a FAVOR if you come to them with these kinds of questions! They will be so secretly happy! They will brag about it (in suitably anonymized and generalized terms, of course!) at the minister pub meetup! You will be, like, helping them fulfill their dreams of what they HOPED ministry would be like, and giving them an awesome intellectual challenge they will be salivating over! Ministers are NERDS, and you are asking them to nerd out about their favorite thing. NO SHAME! This is literally the reason they became ministers!

"In The Gnostic Gospels, author Elaine Pagels suggests that Christianity could have developed quite differently if Gnostic texts had become part of the Christian canon. Without a doubt: Gnosticism celebrates God as both Mother and Father, shows a very human Jesus's relationship to Mary Magdalene, suggests the Resurrection is better understood symbolically, and speaks to self-knowledge as the route to union with God."

I give this a "yes, but." (And I say this as a fan of Pagels and her pop theology books.) There IS a lot of this in the Gnostic Gospels. But there's ALSO a shit-ton of clearly abusive cult stuff, where random dudes are like "I clearly have serious mental problems that allow me to speak with Jesus and what he keeps telling me is that everyone needs to remain chaste except me, and all the ladies of this community who need to have lots of sex with me and only me." Some of the Gnostic Gospels are WILDLY misogynistic (way more than the regular Gospels) and a lot of their "self-knowledge is the route to God" is "secret self-knowledge that only I have and you have to be in good with me and I excommunicate people for petty reasons."

The Gnostic Gospels are fascinating and totally everyone should read them just because they're fascinating, but Pagels oversells their modern, feminists attitudes by rather a lot, and many of them are pretty horrifying to the modern reader. Like, there's one where Jesus is six and keeps striking everyone dead when they don't play the games he wants to play properly, he is very sulky and badly behaved.

Also the regular Bible celebrates God as Father and Mother (She's a midwife, She's a hen), that was totally part of my masters' thesis.

Oh and of COURSE memail me! It'll make my week!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:41 PM on August 1, 2018 [52 favorites]

One last one! I want you to read this beautiful essay (published as an op-ed in the local paper) by Jehan Gordon-Booth, who is a friend of mine, a young black female Illinois state legislator, Christian and profoundly influenced by the black Christian church, who voted in favor of same-sex marriage in Illinois, and wrote an editorial explaining her decision to the community but particularly directed to black Christians she'd known her whole life, who'd cared for her after her mother's death, whose ethics had formed and shaped her, and many of whom objected to same sex marriage. It's a beautiful apologia, and very brave at the time when she was one of the few black Christians with an official voice to speak up in favor of same-sex marriage and to announce in advance how she was going to vote. And because she is my friend I can tell you she prayed over this and agonized over this but her conscience and her Christianity told her this was the right thing, and she took a very courageous stand against many of the leaders of her community, and I'm so proud of her for writing such an astonishing essay (for an elected official!) locating same-sex marriage within the struggle for civil rights, for a general audience in a small local newspaper, with such honesty and exposing her ethical thinking so thoroughly. Politicians don't usually do that!

I want you to read it because it may resonate with you as a black queer Christian woman who's religious but struggling with her community. I know how hard it was for Jehan to write it, and I just think it's so beautiful and forthright and honest (especially for a politician!) and is such a lovely look at the interior process of a Christian whose faith leads them to a conclusion that's contrary to what many of their co-religionists believe.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:13 PM on August 1, 2018 [15 favorites]

Searching for Sunday will probably speak directly to you. Rachel Held Evans grew up evangelical and questioned a lot. I liked this book a lot, although her journey was so different to mine, because her questions were very similar.

And - besides your ministers who ABSOLUTELY will love to talk to you about this and can tell you books and answer questions etc - ask them about other women in the church who may be willing to talk with you. Because I bet you are not the only woman attending what sounds like a beautiful community who has difficulties talking to evangelical family members and have walked that path already.

Audiobook of the bible. I really like Word of Promise, almost every library will have a copy. It is much much easier to listen to the bible somehow and hear it as a story than to read it as a text and 'study' it. Just listen again. Another thing that helps when I'm struggling with sexism in the church (not Christianity, but the church) is an audiobook of the Psalms translated anew by a poet Pamela Greenberg. Hearing them read by a woman, translated by a woman - there's something that speaks directly there.

You don't have to prove your church is correct or biblically ineffable. If this is the church where you are home in your heart, where you are learning to listen to God and understanding, then - it's not a test or a competition. Even if you could 'win' whatever test your family threw at you about the church, what difference would it make? And you still would not change who YOU are, and that's I think the bigger question. If they can't accept your wonderful church, how can they accept you? But that is a red herring because they don't really know your church except as a symbol of change, while you, they already know and love deeply.

I think the argument that Christians are hypocritical in that we accept different standards (pick and choose what to follow) is disingenuous - that's cultural, not religious. The interpretations range, but we're called to love God and be loving, not to follow Judaic law, including the Ten Commandments. You'll be able to find people who argue persuasively that an interest-charging credit card is a greater sin than living together with a fiancé. The theology is not the same as the social pressure. Sorting out in your own heart what you (and not your family/friends) believe is called for, what is sinful, what needs forgiveness - that sounds like it would help you a lot.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:32 AM on August 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Something must be in the air....there was another AskMe about faith recently that I commented in, offering that people could memail me for book recs, and someone else in the thread did so (I literally just checked whether it was you, actually).

To Eyebrows McGee's excellent list above, I would add:

The web site of the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. This started as a grass-roots web site put together by a group of people to be a one-stop shopping sort of reference for "what EXACTLY do [blahs] believe about [blah] and why?" for EVERY religion. They have articles laying out factual information on everything from "here is what Buddhists believe about this ethical issue and why" to "here is information about the Jewish traditions for keeping Kosher" to "here is a comparison between what Lutherans and Catholics think about salvation". In your case I think it would be helpful because they have a big section on Christianity, and do a deep dive into various ethical issues and "here is what the different denominations believe and why," but they also get into "here is what the Bible ACTUALLY says about these issues", and occasionally get into "well, this is how this particular word is usually translated but back in the day the translation was wrong so that's what some people still think" or stuff like that.

There was also a PBS special some years back that did a deep dive into the book of Genesis - Bill Moyers picked about ten different stories from Genesis and invited scholars from all of the Abrahamic religions - priests, rabbis, imams - to have group discussions on these stories, and those conversations were the episodes of this series. I have the book tie-in and actually found it moving.

And I also have to point out that your faith seems to be going in a very different direction than it was when you were younger, and wonder if maybe this means that you may have to break with some people. I know that sounds hard, but it sounds like a lot of your discomfort isn't coming from your faith so much as it's coming from how people from your previous life are dealing with your faith. I'm sorry if this sound cruel - I know how hard it is to let friendships go - but look, if your high school friends aren't accepting who you are,'s time to put distance between you and them for a while. Maybe start making friends with the people at your current church and seeing if they have a Bible study group. Or start something on Meetup that brings in a huge range of people (the Genesis book I recommend above would be a great jumping-off point for that).

You're in a difficult part of your faith journey now; you're moving towards a different understanding of your own relationship with God. It may not be possible to bring along the people who were with you further back on that journey, and trying to do so may be making that journey more difficult for you.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:43 AM on August 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I am not a person of color or a person of faith. I learned a lot about what a struggle it can be to be non-hetero-normative in the black church-going community from Season 2 Episode 1 of the Queer Eye reboot, and from Season 10 Episode 13 of RuPaul's Drag Race (“You can’t be black and gay! You just can’t!”). Monique Heart's struggle, particularly, is somber but inspiring.

Also for what it's worth I was shocked when I learned that Mother Teresa struggled with her faith and felt like a hypocrite for the final FORTY YEARS of her life, according to her letters.

You are not alone and I hope you find peace.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 5:10 AM on August 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't have answers to many of your questions, but I also grew up in a church that I eventually found didn't mesh with my ideals. I started going to Quaker meetings instead; Quakers are Christian (mostly), and really emphasize that religion is personal, and that no intermediary can tell you what to believe or interfere wth your personal relationship with God. They are also progressive and activist and their beliefs match my own values (they were very early abolitionists, for example.). It might be something for you to explore.
posted by heavenknows at 5:56 AM on August 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

So in an a compassionate and inclusive UU-type church you don't get the same kind of fierce in-group support that you mention getting from your previous church. I imagine that you're noticed this already, since you actually mentioned it, I just wanted to note that I think that's a feature, and likely common to all broad-minded groups.
posted by turkeybrain at 7:24 AM on August 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also, good luck. I came out of the Irish Catholic tradition, and it's really easy to break it off with them when you hit the age of reason.
posted by turkeybrain at 7:26 AM on August 2, 2018

I used to be a Jehovah’s Witness. I left the religion when I was 18, but was very unsettled about it for well over a decade, to the point that I was uncomfortable talking about it at all. Later, I read the Bible, in exactly the way many are suggesting in this thread. It was a wonderful, eye opening experience. It is such an interesting, weird collection of texts, in which you can observe people struggling to find context for their lives. Read it the way you would read a historical text. Who wrote this? Why? Who was the audience? Why was it preserved? How has it been understood over time? There are lots of good resources suggested above. I found Yale OCW Religious Studies courses to be enormously helpful.
posted by chrchr at 7:34 AM on August 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Have you ever listened to The Liturgists Podcast? I know everyone these days is suggesting podcast after podcast to one another, but this one speaks to everything that you're talking about. Michael Gungor (of the band Gungor, who you've likely heard at least his song "Beautiful Things" at some point in evangelical circles) and his friend "Science Mike" started a podcast to discuss the process of their evangelical deconstruction in their adulthood. The podcast discusses everything from evolution to theology to race and gender identities and the hosts are incredibly empathetic, knowledgeable dudes who had so many of the same questions that you've posed here. It's been one of the most helpful podcasts for me as I've investigated my faith over the past few years.

For what it's worth, I have a similar background to you. My grandfather was a reverend, my mother worked at the church when she first was a divorced, single mom, and basically everything I knew about myself and the world in my adolescence was filtered through the lens of being an evangelical church girl. In my adulthood, I've had some serious changes (many of which have been helped by listening to this podcast and reading some of the authors suggested above Christena Cleveland Rachel Held Evans Nadia Bolz Weber and others) and I've found a nice hybridized faith identity, which I feel confident in. I would consider myself a very faithful person, but I don't believe that my faith must be rooted in the Bible anymore or in the four walls of a church. Sometimes reading poetry in the morning is my Bible time and going on a hike is my church. And I feel content.
posted by orangesky4 at 1:40 PM on August 2, 2018

I left the Catholic Church. I loved it as a child, but not as a woman. It took about five years before I stopped wondering if I was going to go to hell. So give it time. But I knew that I had honestly searched and studied and prayed. I had done my best by my conscience and if that wasn't good enough for God then fuck God...
I also reminded myself that I could never be perfect in my understanding, but only God was my judge, not any other human being. When my friends and family start in about their beliefs I silently remind myself that we are all at different places in our spiritual lives, and don't try to defend myself but don't listen to their rants.
Listen to yourself. You know what your fundamental values are. Have faith in those values and use them as guideposts as you study. I would even recommend that you stop going to any church completely for a year, so that you can listen only to your self.
As others have mentioned, study. You might like these two video series from my church: What is the Bible? and Spiritual Trauma.
posted by SyraCarol at 1:45 PM on August 2, 2018

Somewhat similarly to SyraCarol, when I left the church behind I knew I was following my conscience and doing what I had to do not only to preserve my sanity but also to be an honest seeker of truth. If there is a god, they know this. They know how I struggled and read and prayed and what a process it was for me and how hard I have tried to do the right thing. A good and loving god could not damn me for that. And if a good and loving god wanted to steer me in a different direction they could, and I think I would know it. So even though I don't believe in god I do have a certain kind of faith.

My journey isn't over. I don't see myself becoming a believer again but a lot of people have had surprising turns in their lives. What I absolutely can't imagine is returning to a faith that made me so deeply unhappy and that I believed was cruel to others. Compassion and respect are basic tenets of my chosen path. In the past I harmed others because my beliefs were so harsh. Now my beliefs lead me to respect others and help them. I sometimes think I feel more like a christian now than I did when I was one.
posted by bunderful at 5:08 PM on August 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Re the Bible. One valuable thing my church taught me is that all humans are fallible, so no other person is truly better ( because we are all fallen, etc.). So here's a thought: the Bible did not float down from heaven on a little gold cloud one day. Even if inspired by God, it was written, translated, edited and interpreted by humans. Fallible sinful humans. Therefore it is not perfect.

I would go so far to say that what you see in many churches is a kind of idolatry; a worship of a book, not God. If the Bible vanished, God would still exist.

So focus your worship on the person of God, which you can catch glimpses of in the Bible, but also in the world around you. Take action; help the poor, the sick, those in prison, the refugee. Don't let endless bickering over an imperfect book keep you from the work waiting to be done all around you in a hurting world.
posted by emjaybee at 8:46 PM on August 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: If anyone comes back and reads this, thank you all for your lovely comments. I was overwhelmed with them (in a good way) and am going through them slowly and reading links and watching videos. I made an appointment for a meeting with my pastor! <3
posted by buttonedup at 6:12 PM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

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