Sunday, April 16, 2006
Big Church vs. Little Church -- One wants to stone me, the other wants to set me up with their single nephews
There's a huge difference between the Church proper and the church in reality. (Otherwise known as the people in the Church.) I grew up in a very Fundamentalist Southern Baptist church. For me, it was a damaging, horrifying experience that has taken me years and years to recover from. I'm still not fully recovered, but I'm functional. My family, on the other hand, find that belief system a perfect fit. Does that make me, or them, somehow flawed or twisted or is one of us better than the other? I don't think so. We're just different. Because, really, the only difference between us is how we concieve of the Divine. Our morality, for the most part, is the same. The basics, anyway. No killing, no stealing, avoid lying when you can, treat people the way you want to be treated -- even when you think they don't deserve it, let people make their own decisions so long as what they're doing isn't hurting you -- those are pretty basic values. Those I learned from my family. And my family derives those values from their faith. But their faith, and my faith, are not the same. And yet, on one level, they are.
While the Church was a very damaging place for me to grow up, the people in the Church were some of the kindest, most generous people I've known. If my family needed anything, we knew they'd be there for us. No one in our Church was going to go hungry, no one was going to go without shelter if they lost a job or had a fire or some tragedy befell them, no one was going to have to deal with death or illness alone. The Church was very much a family and, believe it or not, was very welcoming of outsiders. The problem was, while the people on an individual level were, for the most part, welcoming and kind, the Church as a whole was not. It taught (and continues to teach) things that can seriously fuck up people. (Something I cannot get my family to understand to this day, so we just don't talk about it.) And, here's the thing a lot of people don't seem to understand, there are many people within the Fundamentalist Church who DISAGREE with many of their teachings. I know fundamentalists who are opposed to the Church's teachings about homosexuals or abortion or war or the death penalty. The idea that you can paint all Fundamentalists with a single brush bothers me.
When I hear people talk about Fundamentalists in disparaging tones, I'm torn. On one hand, I agree with them. I know from personal experience just how dangerous the teachings of the Church can be. I know what being told you're not good enough, or worthy enough, that you're a disappointment to GOD, that you're damned and can never change (so why bother trying, right?) can do to a person. I was horribly suicidal for most of my teenage years. It's a miracle I'm still alive. (And I am actually serious about that. My father had guns all over the house, unlocked, with bullets just lying around. Plus, there were sleeping pills and other very lethal prescription meds in the cabinet I could have taken. I was openly suicidal and no one was listening, because to admit I was sick, and not just lost and in need of prayer, would have upset their belief system. That took lots of therapy to let go of, too.)
I suppose I'm trying to find a way to make sense of two very different truths here. On the one hand, I believe that the Fundamentalist Church is evil. It may not have started out that way, I don't know. But I believe now, in it's present incarnation, it is truly, wholy evil. The people in it, however, are not evil. Oh, some of them may be. But for the most part, the people in the pews are just looking for some way to make sense of the world. They're motivated, in many cases, by fear. The world can be very scary and the Church offers them a sense of safety and protection. That's a very alluring thing and it's hard to walk away from if you're not being traumatized by it. Honestly, I can't say I'd have ever left if I hadn't been so badly hurt. If I was the sort of person who could just tune out the parts I didn't like? Who knows? Maybe I'd still be there. I like to think not, but I don't know.
I like to think this restlessness I have, this inability to tune out the bad parts is actually a gift. That it's not just being stubborn, as my mother likes to think. I like to think it's a blessing, even if it did get left out of the Beatitudes :)