I walked away from my religion when my dad came out 6 years ago, at the age of almost 50. I was in my late-20s and married with my first child. It didn’t shock me, but I needed time to adjust. The news came shortly after my parents announced their mutual and amicable divorce. The first few years that followed the news were tough for all of us. We had a whole new life to get used to.
My dad married his wonderful husband a couple years ago, giving my kids an extra grandfather that they love more than life. My mom has hit her stride in her life as a single woman.
A lot has changed, but our new normal is happier than the old one. We are all content here.
I am still struggling with one thing, though.
My parents raised me in a Christian household. For most of my childhood, our family’s beliefs leaned very conservative. My parents voted Republican. They worked for Christian companies. We only listened to Christian music. We attended church at least once a week, and I attended small, private Christian schools. Mainstream conservative Christianity was my whole life. I met my husband in church. It was all I knew until I was in my early twenties.
In my twenties, my views began to shift. It started with my disillusionment with purity culture, but I quickly began questioning everything. As my world expanded and I met new people, I realized that my upbringing didn’t prepare me to love people the way they deserved to be loved. My religion was too exclusive. I stopped feeling comfortable pushing people aside because they didn’t believe like me. People became more important to me than a set of rules.
I opened my eyes to the rampant discrimination in the church at large. Many churches don’t treat women as equals. I have seen fat people barred from ministry because of their size. Gay people are rarely allowed to be out and in ministry in most mainstream Christian circles. Once I realized how truly screwed up all of that was, I couldn’t stop the avalanche of change that followed.
I no longer felt comfortable voting pro-life. I could still have my own personal views on abortion for me, but I couldn’t vote to remove that choice from other women. Not only did I finally see the far-reaching effects of removing safe abortion options from women, but I realized the potentially catastrophic outcome of cutting funding to places like Planned Parenthood.
I couldn’t see calling myself a follower of Jesus and still voting to exclude LGBTQ people from basic rights like marriage and legal protection from discrimination. The plight of immigrants and refugees became clear to me. I started to see the problems with gun violence, police brutality and racial disparity in our country.
I grew up and realized the world outside my tiny circle needed more than thoughts and prayers.
The more diverse my circle became, the less I agreed with the religion of my youth. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to leave. Instead of throwing away the whole thing, I started looking for places where I could worship without excluding people I loved. I was afraid to leave the church entirely, wondering what my life would look like, post-religion.
Then my dad came out, and that was the final straw. I couldn’t risk the way religion might hurt my children. My sons would be confused and terrified the first time someone told them that gay people were bound for hell. They needed to hear the truth from me so many times that no other message could hurt their hearts. I couldn’t imagine letting my innocent children go to Sunday school for weeks and weeks to learn their little Christmas songs — then asking my own father to come watch my babies sing about the birth of a Savior whose love many believe wasn’t meant for him.
I tried to stay in church for a while, but when I sang the worship songs with the congregation, it felt like I was just singing to the ceiling. I felt like sermons were meant for someone else. Even in the somewhat progressive, hipster-filled megachurches that are abundant in Nashville, I could no longer ignore that many people there would be kind to my father’s face while believing his loving marriage was his ticket to hell. They’d allow him to pass out programs or set up chairs, but he couldn’t teach from the pulpit or work with the children. Acceptance was not full-inclusion, and it stopped feeling like enough.
I knew many followers of my religion would feel justified in openly discriminating against my own father.
What in the world was keeping me tied to them?
God and church started to feel more and more like two totally different things to me. I still wanted to follow God, but I didn’t want to do it in an institution that saw my Dads as unrepentant sinners, destined for eternal damnation. When I rejected that portion of the doctrine, remaining in the organized church started to feel a little ridiculous. What was I getting out of this religion? What was I teaching my babies?
Couldn’t I love people the way my heart told me to love them and believe in my God at the same time? I felt like I could, but I would have to walk the path without a church, at least for a while.
All I knew for sure is that I needed time away, so I took it. I’m still in that “time away” period right now.
But it’s hard. I miss the community of church so badly. I think about going back a lot. It was nice to belong somewhere, and I’ve felt lonely many times since we walked away.
For a short time, my family attended a church with my dad and his husband that teaches full LGBTQ inclusion. There are gay and trans members in leadership and everyone is welcome. The kids learn about kindness and citizenship and taking care of each other. I felt more comfortable there, but we slowly stopped going because I just wasn’t ready. I want to go back, but I need more time.
I’m still too unsure. I don’t want to fake it. A few years ago, when I was first starting to wrestle with all of this, someone shared the Thomas Merton Prayer with me. It resonated so clearly. The whole idea is that maybe I’m getting it all wrong, but I’m doing my best. I’m choosing love because I think that’s what a loving God would want. That’s as much religion as I can muster right now.
In the end, I just have to hope that my desire to get it right is enough.