Things My Church Upbringing Taught Me
Earlier today, I was listening to a podcast speech at a conference in Chicago about men, women, and friendship. The gist of the speech, which was given by a wonderfully talented blogger named Emily Maynard, is that the church is pretty darn lousy at promoting singleness as something worthwhile, and instead does an excellent job of reminding singles that where they are in life is just a stage, and that singles will become “whole” when they are married. Emily told stories about how she had been shamed into believing she was less than whole because she was single, and how there is an hierarchy in the church in which married couples are more privileged than singles.
But that’s a topic for another day. Today what I want to write about is the fact that as I listened to the first part of Emily’s speech, I was thinking…yeah, I sort of get that. I mean, no one’s ever explicitly told me that I’m not a whole woman unless I’m married, or that my life won’t begin until I’m married, but those messages are sort of in the undercurrent of my religious upbringing. Then Emily got to talking about subtlety, and how these messages are never spoken explicitly but are actually implied, or spoken with language that is softer and not so explicit, but in the grand scheme of things promotes the exact same message.
So when I talk about feeling like I’ve been “brainwashed” by my religious upbringing, and had ideas ingrained in me that are destructive, it’s ideas like these that I’m talking about. It’s ideas like these that I’m trying so hard to separate from the good things I’ve learned growing up going to a conservative church my entire life. It’s ideas like these that have made this article resonate with me so very deeply.
And now to get a little more concrete—here are a few of the ideas I’m talking about, starting with the one I mentioned above:
- If you’re a single adult, you aren’t truly a complete person until you’ve found your “other half” and gotten married.
- The Bible is an instruction manual that has the answers for every possible situation you might deal with in your life.
- There is nothing but meaninglessness in other world religions, and they cannot teach you anything of value. They are to be feared and rejected outright.
- Reading my Bible and praying daily are a measure of how close my relationship with God is.
- Trite, oversimplified answers are always preferable to the honesty of saying “I don’t know” or “you might be right about that.”
- Our society is degenerating into unabashed sinfulness, and getting worse every generation. America is well on its way to being cursed by God.
There are so many more, but if I keep going I think I’ll start to lose hope in the church altogether.
Keep in mind that all of these statements are very black-and-white. They are statements that no Christian has ever told me explicitly that they believe. Yet they are still ideas that have saturated my experiences with church culture, ideas that surface in the form of casual remarks, emphasis on certain Bible passages while others are ignored, and a general attitude of close-mindedness whenever I question any of the above statements.
Writing out these statements is, I think, a good thing for me to do as I continue to navigate this new, unfamiliar way of approaching my faith, because now that I have written them out I can learn to recognize them for what they are when they rear their subtle but ugly heads in my church, and I can react to them tentatively, considering different angles instead of jumping on board with a whole-hearted embrace of the traditional approach. And I think, having a different perspective on all these statements has been so good for me, and I’m so glad that I have learned that none of these are black and white, that each of these statements has so many different nuances, and so many different ways they could be answered that are no less wrong than the traditional answer. Because the reality is, there is a little bit of truth to each statement. But there are also a multitude of falsehoods, and recognizing those falsehoods, and bringing them into the light, is something I am determined to do.