I was brought up in a liberal Christian family. Not fundamental, but definitely Christian. When I was a child my family spent several years working overseas with a religious service organization. We prayed as a family before every meal. Prayer was also part of my parents tucking me in to bed at night. My Church placed a strong focus on peace, love, service and forgiveness. Music and singing were a big part of worship, although I always was by far the least musically talented person in my family. Greed, lust and violence were the corrupting sins that I was warned about.
I was in urban public schools for all twelve grades, so I was exposed to many people from other cultures and religions. Although almost all of my closest school friends were self-identified “CNE Christians” (non-practicing Christians who only go to church on Christmas and Easter).
When asked about my faith by my school friends. I would always tell them what I believed. There was never any doubt in my mind about what I would say, but it was always excruciatingly awkward trying to say “Yeah, I believe in Jesus.” As soon as the words were out of my mouth I could feel the air getting sucked out of the room and eyes turning towards me. On the inside I would desperately pray to God that everyone would just let it go so I wouldn’t have to talk about that anymore.
I never tried to convince anyone I knew to be a Christian, probably because it seemed hopeless. Actively promoting my faith (outside of Church) was never part of who I was, but I feel that I was consistently honest with anyone that ever asked about it. I knew life would have been easier if I had at least played down my Christianity some of the time. But I just couldn’t bring myself to be less than 100% honest about my faith, even though that probably would have helped with my shaky social life at school. I was pretty sure that God was listening to everything I ever said. Being less than honest about the fact that I went to church every week, prayed and genuinely loved Jesus with all my heart would be denying Jesus. And that would have made me a bad Christian.
I went to several different summer camps throughout childhood. All were Christian, and some were more evangelical than others. At camp I experienced the warm fuzzies of sensing God when I was in nature and singing around a campfire. It also encouraged my faith – in the same way my Church did – by exposing me to more Christian adults. It normalized Christianity for me. In the same way that high school made me feel that Christianity was weird and sometimes isolating.
Sometimes I was a stubborn hardass of a Christian and for some reason more conservative than my parents. I didn’t necessarily show these things on the outside very much, although I did explore them thoroughly in my head and with some close friends. The two key topics where this conservative part of me came out were homosexuality and evangelism. During my teen years my church started to deal with homosexuality. I’ll skip over the details, but basically after some processing most people in my church were ready to accept homosexuality within our church. I was not.
I’m not really sure what influences I may have had that made me so different from the close church community around me. Maybe it was just my way of being a counter-cultural teenager. My reasoning was basically that (1) there is a lot of biblical evidence that God did not want us to be homosexuals and (2) God made man and woman to be together and make children (a basic biological and anatomical argument). The argument in support of homosexuality that I found most frustrating was “who are we to judge” (if gay people love each other and Jesus, how can that be wrong?). This made sense in a way, except that we didn’t seem to accept that non-judgemental attitude in other cases. If two people loved each other and loved Jesus and just wanted to screw around and smoke pot, we did not accept that very well. I thought that homosexuality was like any other bodily desires we have (such as lust or greed). They were feelings of our bodies that we’re all born with and are tasked by God to control.
Evangelism was another topic on which I seemed to disagree with almost everyone else I knew. To me it was clear that according to the Bible we were supposed to evangelize and spread the word of God. It was crystal clear that Jesus wanted all Christians to tell all non-Christians about God because Jesus told us in no uncertain terms that “I am the way the truth and the life, no comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). But with evangelism, as with a conservatice stance on homosexuality, I kind of felt that my fellow church goers just sort of chickened out and decided that evangelism was hard and awkward and destroyed friendships. The approach that we usually ended up taking was to show everyone we are Christians by our love (John 13:35), and be inclusive at all costs.
Getting into heaven was pretty important to me. So how could you love someone without telling them how to get into heaven? Who cares if they’re Muslim or Hindu or Atheist? There is only one God and one way to “come to the Father”, so let’s go tell everyone that because we love them! I did not accept that creating community and welcoming others into our Church was all the evangelism that we were called to do. I was worried about my soul and the souls of those I loved. And if we loved someone how could we not tell them about Jesus to help them get to heaven?
Alas, this was not how my church operated. It was frustrating for me, but at the same time I also understood the obvious fact that by accepting homosexuals and not evangelizing we were friendlier and more welcoming, and everyone was happier. But I had a strong nagging feeling that we were disobeying God and taking shortcuts.
In retrospect, I look back on these two points and think it so glaringly clear that our Church was primarily making decisions based on how our actions affected other people, and then secondarily using the Bible as needed to support our choices. The underlying systems of making decisions were utilitarianism, humanism and consequentialism. My Church described this process as “uncovering the will of God” and “letting the spirit reveal itself to us”. Now that I’ve left the church I agree very much with these methods of making decisions (utilitarianism, humanism and consequentialism). Over time these non-religious methods of decision making would became more and more important to me.