Why I Stopped Going To Church

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a life revealing #deep post.

This has been in my head for a long time but I never wrote it because I was hoping for something to change.

I stopped going to church about a year ago. I never wanted to be the person who stopped going to church and I still miss it and I feel guilty about not going. I was hoping I could have the energy to maintain who I am and still be a part of that community and be an agitator for chance, but I’m exhausted and beaten.

I’ve had the same conversation with 5 priests, and have walked away feeling rejected and unsatisfied. They tell me that as a woman, I am a complement to a man. But I’m not. I’m a complete person on my own and I have my own thoughts, characteristics, and traits that I’ve developed all by myself. I’m not a nurturer, or at least anymore than a man my age is. I’m not passive, I have a desire to lead and speak for myself. I don’t want a family, and I haven’t wanted one since I found out that it was not mandatory for women to have children (which I definitely did think.) If I were ever to change my mind, I don’t think it would be because my “feminine instincts” kicked in, but rather a well thought out choice that I planned with my partner.

I’m got so tired of being told to act against my own nature. I got tired of being told my only fulfillment would be to become a wife and mother. I was sick of being voiceless, of my polite protestations being disregarded with a “you’ll change your mind when you find the right person.” When I went to youth group in middle school, I was told that I would be damaged goods to whoever ended up with me. That I wouldn’t find a “good man” if I didn’t present him with my intact hymen upon marriage. No one ever mentioned that a man who only values my virginity is not a man worth having. The message was clear: if I had sex before I was married, I was unworthy of God and of love. I was 11. Furthermore, when they separated us into boy groups and girl groups they were teaching the girls to stay virgins to stay “pure” while the boys were being taught to remain virgins for their own purity, but to protect the “purity” and “honor” of the woman. This double standard taught me that while men were given the responsibility of dictating and policing virtue; that they were valued by having this responsibility and that it was their job to make sure women stay virgins; and that their value lies in this responsibility. The girls were taught that their value lies only in their virginity, that their value is diminished when they have sex. In other words, men will always be celebrated for having masculine traits and have nothing to lose, but women are tied only to their bodies and that their value is irreparably damaged if they choose to have sex.

And I do understand where the church is coming from and that according to catechism and tradition, that’s how it goes. But no church should ever tell any kid that they will go to hell for having sex and pressuring them into a purity pledge before they even really know what sex is. You can’t tell girls that their worth is between their legs while telling boys that their worth is in their behavior. Abstinence is and important thing to the church and it should be a shared message to young adults who might be struggling with that responsibility, not middle school kids. I wonder how different my faith education might have been if I had learned self confidence, if I learned empathy and kindness, if I had learned to value myself for my qualities as an individual, rather than being taught that my physical body was priority over my spiritual one.

I got tired of going to mass in college and being told that listening to secular music was a distraction from God and a sin. That, in fact, pretty much everything that a “distraction” was a sin. I could not (can not) understand a God that is so sensitive that listening to Katy Perry would piss them off. If God is a parental figure, I’d imagine them to be more like my own parents who encouraged me to experience as much of the world as possible, to try new things, to chase my sense of adventure and experience wonder. My parents didn’t helicopter me, if I needed to do my homework they would let me decide to do it or not, and let me handle the consequences if I didn’t. So the God they were telling me about at that mass wasn’t my kind mother or my loving father, it was a cold policing stranger. I hated feeling like my choices were limited, because the point is to choose God because it’s what your heart wants. Not out of fear of hell or judgment. I think God would be like my parents and encourage me to find myself through experience and in doing so, find God. God encourages me to make my own choices and certainly hopes that I’ll end up where I’m supposed to be, but will not interfere. I felt that the messages I was receiving were wholly contradictory to my understanding, and therefore I rebelled.

I couldn’t listen to people in church telling me that transgender people are mistaken, and that they aren’t the governors of their own bodies. The hate and misunderstanding I was hearing broke my heart. When I came across a Catholic men’s blog that condemned trans people to hell, I couldn’t believe how dark and bitter they were. They were not acting on behalf of Christ, they were serving their own masculinity and egos. They were attempting to preach without understanding. I believe that understanding is foundational to Christianity, and that Christians are meant to be listeners rather than speakers, to concede the floor for others rather than preach to an unwilling audience. That humility, patience, and kindness were supposed to flow from Christian communities like a flood. But I haven’t seen any of that. I will maybe see a well meaning person asking her facebook friends to pray for transgender people because they are confused, but not because they are worthy of prayer by their virtue as people. When I went to mass with this guy I was dating, the sermon was about homosexuality and the priest legitimately compared a gay relationship to a kid eating too much Halloween candy. His message was about self control and refraining from the bad. The guy I was with walked out and I couldn’t blame him. How can a person compare love between two people to a kid who wants candy?

When I began to struggle with these feelings in college, I went to a women’s bible study which turned out to be another 101 course on staying a virgin, how to find the right husband, and how to be a model Christian wife. I asked for resources on how women could be leaders within the church and was answered with a bulletin referring me to the parish housekeeping team.

The church broke my heart. I might be coming across as a self-serving feminist who wanted the ancient church to change to accommodate me, but what I really wanted was to be seen for who I am as an individual. Not as a woman, not as a girl, but to teach me the values that are essential beyond my sexuality. I wanted the church to be as gloriously happy as they claim to be, and that every church creates an environment where people feel completely uninhibited and welcome. That’s the church they’re called to be, but so often it falls so short.

I still have my bible and I still read it. Jesus is the model by whom I want to live my life. But I will not find that model by sitting through a flat sermon every Sunday. I’m never going to feel valued as an equal member of the church while women are routinely silenced. I can’t be with people who say that love is limitless but mean that love has very strict rules and that if you don’t abide by them you’re out.

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