As I was watching some of the Kaleif Browder documentary this morning (I can only watch a little bit at a time because it’s so very difficult) I was thinking about how I would definitely add it to my List Of Material To Help You Open Your Heart To Systemic Racism. I thought those exact words and it hit me: I used to talk like that after I had been dunked/baptized into a Southern Baptist Church.
If you didn’t know about that part of my life, know that is was VERY VERY SHORT-LIVED.
I was struggling with my own past choices and mistakes made and I was in a marriage I should not have been in and I was trying to pretend like it was working when it was not and I was 20? 21? In college with a small child and poor and trying to find my way in the world and I went to a Revival at a friend’s church. A friend who I really loved and wanted her approval. I was kinda swept up in the talk of salvation and forgiveness and love and the talk of filling holes in hearts and soothing pain and I answered the alter call at the end of the service and was dunked/baptized a week or two later. That church and those words soothed the pain I was in and made me feel loved. So, for a few weeks I was reading the bible and going to bible studies and talking about how my Heart Had Been Opened to the saving power of Jesus’ love and for a few short weeks the pain subsided and I felt like I had purpose and direction.
But nothing built on pain can last and I quickly realized there was more to this world I had submersed myself into, and there was a lot of negative mixed in with the love and prayer. And I started being truly honest with myself and seeing I was only there and only participating because I wanted that feeling of love from my friend and her church. And that love was given to a person I had to fake being and that took too much energy and the holes in my heart were still there and the pain was still there and I was still truly lost so I quit bothering. I did still continue my quest for a church – as I spent a good portion of my early 20s thinking that if I just found the right church everything would fall into place. But I never went back to that church or anything like it again.
It was a very short span of my life, but I reflect on it often as I do truly understand the appeal to those type of churches. You can easily get wrapped up in the community and the love and the service and the prayer and the music and just silence the part of you that questions certain dogma you may not actually believe. Kinda like how I was so faithful in the Catholic church, and just ignored the voices in my head that were constantly questioning the value of a dogma that made my wonderful Father feel like he wasn’t worthy to receive Communion because he had been divorced. If the majority of what you feel gives you joy and love, you can easily silence the questioning voices that say, “But don’t these people feel like your gay family member is going to Hell?”
If you’ve never been absorbed by the positivity of a church community you may not understand how you can ignore that negative aspects of it, but I understand. I also understand – as I felt this way for awhile about the Catholic church – how you can love a church so much you want to be part of the change. That you think, I love this church and I want to be part of the wave that pushes acceptance of LGBTQ families so that they can love this church as I do. Big changes in churches don’t happen overnight, so I totally understand and even admire my friends in the Catholic and LDS churches who use their good standing in the church to preach love and support for LGBTQ people.
I don’t regret any of my religious journeys or the religious paths I traveled down. I don’t regret trying to connect with a Buddhist Sangha in Tennessee, I don’t regret being baptized into a Southern Baptist mega-church, I don’t regret my decades as a Catholic because all of these experiences help me truly understand religion and not feel hatred toward it like many of my political counterparts do.
And I often find myself reflecting on my openness to all of those religions is also what has allowed me to be open to other kinds of learning and change. I didn’t stand fast when someone explained that using the word “retarded” casually was offensive. I didn’t fight (too long) to understand the prevalence of systemic racism in our society. I didn’t resist learning the real history of race in our country and how we gain power on the backs of people of color. The openness of my heart that made me receive religion time and time again, has also helped me receive all sorts of cultural and political understanding that I have seen others resist.