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Archive for February, 2013

There was an article on Facebook today that made me think a lot about my religious background and about how I feel on those matters. The article was about how Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States, had renounced his membership in the Southern Baptist Conference due to, in a nutshell, their views on and treatment of women. I reposted it and cheered silently to myself that someone of that stature would have the strength to stand up to that organization at the risk of the backash that could happen. I remember the Southern Baptist position very well. I was raised in it for much of my childhood. Here are some of my memories.

When my mother married the step-monster, we went from attending the Catholic church where my mother’s family had always gone to attending a Southern Baptist (Missionary Baptist) church. We attended that particular church until I was about 12 or 13 years old. I was not quite four at the time we started, but I still remember the huge differences. Where I had been used to quiet prayer and unison responses, there was now yelling and shouting, most of the time by the preacher and sometimes from other people in the congregation. Women would sob, shriek, and walk the aisles, hands raied in the air, praising God. Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that if you’re someone who expresses joy that way, but to a small child, especially to one who’s introverted, it was a combination of terrifying and hilarious. For the record, I’ve never been comfortable with that, but to each his own. The pastor would rant and rave for hours, literlly hours, about all of the ways that we could go to Hell, and we would, if we stepped one toe out of line. “Backsliding”, it’s called. There was no real way to know if you had crossed that line, but there was always the dread fear that I wasn’t saved and would therefore wake up in Hell should I die while I slept. I remember the thought of it keeping me up for hours many a night as a small child.

The services would go on for hours at a time. Service started at 11:00 and sometimes wouldn’t get out until 3:00. Then there was evening service at 6:00 that rarely got out before 8:00, which we usually had to go to as well. Of course, if we were bad, we got spanked when we got home, even for that long time we had to sit in the hard pews. I hated Sundays for a very long time.

There were other things that kept me awake and perplexed in addition to the concept of Hell. One of those things was the position of women in church. Women were supposed to obey their husbands in all things because husbands were the head of the house. Women could not be pastors or in any position of leadership in the church. I distinctly remember sermons on that very topic. Also, that men should not dress like women (i.e., wear their hair long and have earrings) and women should not dress like men (Short hair and pants). For that particular reason, I was only allowed to wear dresses to school until third grade, when my mother had finally had enough of my complaining. Seriously, though, how are you supposed to hang upside down on the monkey bars in a dress? I remember always knowing that that couldn’t be right. Why wasn’t I as good as a boy? Why didn’t God like me as much as a boy? By then, my mother had refused to attend anymore, but we children were still forced to go with the step-monster.

The mixing of races in relationships was not to be tolerated, especially blacks and whites. All types of offensive names were used to describe ethnicities other than white. I remember the word “abomination” being used whenever a mixed-race couple was discussed. Alcohol consumption of any kind was sinful, yet there were crowds of cigarette smokers in the fellowship hall. Hypocrisy at it’s finest.

Homosexuality was a complete sin. Pure and simple. “Fags” (their words, not mine) were going to Hell. No hope for them at all.

I don’t remember hearing of kindness and love, only of sin, punishment, and retribution. My idea of God was an image of a vengeful entity, just waiting to strike me down for the slightest thought. Any other religion, even other Protestant denomnations were wrong and deceived. Ours was the ONLY denomination that was right in our way of thinking. Even more modern translations of the Bible were forbidden. It was the King James version or nothing.

Partly in order to get my mother to come back to church, the step-monster found a new one when I started high school, around age 13. It was still Southern Baptist, but not the kind I was used to. The pastor had a point to his sermons instead of simply ranting and his family was, and still is, wonderful and caring. Slowly, God seemed to take on more of a loving persona. The pastor’s wife was the music leader and you could see the emotion in her voice each and every week. They didn’t think that questions were out of line and it was during teen Bible studies that I found that it was okay to discuss what we read, even to disagree about some things. I learned how to have a real relationship with God and how to listen to Him. Now, I didn’t and still don’t agree with everything that was taught there, but I have a love and appreciation for those people who did so much for me.

Even with the love and support of that congregation, there was still a lot of me that was struggling with my faith during that time. I had been molested by the step-monster for years and had a difficult time understanding why God would allow that to happen and how He could let that man go unpunished. I still do struggle with those thoughts today, but my thoughts on other issues are much clearer.

I believe in God, fully, with all my heart. I know that I have friends who are atheists or agnostics, who think that God is a superstition, an idea used as a crutch for the weak. But with everything I’ve been through, I feel Him. He is real. I believe in a Heaven and a Hell, but that there is no “scorecard” that God keeps to determine where we go. We are asked to do one thing: believe. We are not asked to worship in a certain way, to interpret the Bible in the same way, or to agree on every religious doctrine. We are called to believe. Simple. If you believe that Jesus died for your sins, truly believe, your behavior will mirror that, with many, many imperfections, but you will use your salvation as a guide. You will feel badly about some of things that you’ve done and work to correct them. There is no magic “line” to cross. We’re not expected to act as mindless robots, but with the individual understandings that God gives to us.

I believe that women are called to be pastors and leaders, just as much as men. My pastor right now is a woman and she is incredibly knowledgable and open-minded about many things, not the least of which is faith. One of the reasons that I’ve been with the Methodists for more than five years now is their acceptance of people from all backgrounds.I don’t believe that women are subservient to men or that men are to be dominant over women. Men decided that long ago and it’s just now that the lights are coming on in the world. I am my husband’s partner, his equal, and he is mine. We have different strengths and weaknesses and love each other in spite of them. It’s not only Southern Baptists that believe that women are less than men. Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and several other religions and religious denominations have held women back for centuries. I see it every day where I live. It’s something we must continue to fight against.

I don’t believe that we should be divided on race. We are the races we are because of the conditions in which our ancestors lived. Nothing more. No one was cursed to look a certain way. We all began in the same place.

Alcohol, in moderation, is not a bad thing. Just like anything else, when taken constantly in excess or it begins to control you, it then becomes something to avoid. The making of alcoholic beverages can be akin to an art form, with all of the different beer and wine-making techniques. There’s nothing sinful about a glass of Merlot after a long week at work. It even has health benefits, which smoking does not.

I don’t believe that people choose to be gay or straight; I believe they are born that way. My brothers and I were raised in a completely anti-gay household, yet my youngest brother has always been gay. I don’t believe that one chooses to go through that agony to be judged on who they love. It is what it is. Even if you don’t agree, it’s not anyone’s business but the person involved. Butt out.

There are other things, but I’m running out of steam. I’m not a Biblical scholar and I know that not everyone will agree with my sentiments. In fact, I’m expecting some downright opposition and that’s fine. We’re all entitled to out own opinions and I don’t have all of the answers. No one does. It’s part of the beauty of having individual minds and individual thought processes. What’s true for one person won’t be true for another. This is simply a snapshot of some of my background and how differently I have come to think than from how I was raised. I’m hoping to raise my boys differently, with open, questioning minds. We’ll see how it goes.

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