Taylor agreed to publish her beautiful story on the condition of anonymity. Taylor Price is a pseudonym. If you happen to know her, please respect her privacy.
I grew up in a tiny, extremely conservative Church of Christ in a small Southern town. These days, I say that I believe I grew up in a cult. From the moment I was born until I went off to college, I went to church 3x/week at least. This does not include the bible studies, singings, and meetings. When I say extremely conservative, I mean that our church looked down at other Christians for having things like musical instruments, church buses, youth groups, and vacation bible school. We were a fire and brimstone type church, so I grew up thinking that God was vengeful and that I was a sinner who would never be worthy.
When I was in first grade, I had one of my first sleepovers at a friend’s house. Her brother was out of town and they had set up his room for me. While I was trying to fall asleep, I noticed that he had Nirvana’s Nevermind album laying on his nightstand. I informed my friend’s mother that I was scared of that music and that I would not be able to go to sleep unless they removed the album from the room. I was never invited over to the house again.
Nirvana, and 90s rock in general, is some of my favorite music today, but at the time I thought that even thinking of a Nirvana song was a sin. I do not understand why my parents were “lenient” on some things, horror movies, classic rock music, cheerleading, and other things that were considered scandalous by others in our church, while completely prohibiting others, such as the “f” word (fart), South Park, and going to church with other friends. The inability to attend church at my friends’ congregations really bothered me, because while I prided myself on being a Jesus freak, I was curious about what their churches were like and what they believed. I think this refusal stemmed from The Church of Christ’s belief that any outside churches, even those that claimed themselves to be COC, were not to be trusted. My mom eventually gave in a couple of times when I was in high school and I was able to see what it was like to have a church band, put on puppet shows, and receive positive messages from the pulpit, which both intrigued and bothered me. This did not feel like church. Church was supposed to be a place of repentance and servitude, not a place for amusement.
I was baptized in 5th grade. Our church lived in this strange paradox of belief that children are without sin and you should not baptize a baby, because the child must be able to understand right or wrong prior, thus realizing that they have committed sin. There was a wave of children who were baptized when I was saved, primarily because my preacher had done a series on those who die unexpectedly and their eternal damnation. Most of those who were baptized at the same time as me were my cousins (half of the church was my family), but today, none of us are particularly religious. We will still occasionally attend church to appease our parents, but we no longer have churches that we call home.
I cannot speak for anyone else who grew up in my church, but I think my beliefs started to change in high school and completely evolved by the end of college. When I was in 8th grade, I got my first “serious” boyfriend. He was in 9th grade and lived in another city, but every other weekend our parents would allow us to go out on chaperoned dates. We dated for the better half of a year and exchanged I love you’s with each other when he told me that he was ready to have sex. It was the summer before I was to start high school and I knew that I was not ready. The church had always taught me that the only acceptable thing for young women and men to do was to abstain from sex until marriage. My boyfriend immediately broke up with me and I was devastated.
Freshman year started and I began to date pretty much the first boy that showed any interest in me. After a couple months, he also decided that he was ready to lose his virginity. I again rebuffed, but he told me that he had already told everyone that we had and coerced me into agreement. I hated myself throughout the event and after, going through a major depression that lasted years. I had always been a good, Christian girl and I had never created an image of myself outside of that identity.
Senior year I became best friends with a boy in one of my classes. I always knew that he was gay, even though he remained closeted throughout school and even dated another one of my friends. I told my mom about him and my mom actually encouraged the friendship, because she wanted me to be the person to “save” him. This began my curiosity of why the church is so obsessed with homosexuality and why we are to discourage people of the same sex from love. It took me years to come to terms that this affected me more than I was willing to admit, as I myself am bisexual. Every time I looked at gay couples showing affection and outwardly cringed, I was really just envious of their strength and ability to be themselves.
I think the moment that had the largest impact on my rejection of organized religion was my miscarriage. I was a sophomore in college and I was in a mentally abusive relationship. I had never understood sex properly, because I was never allowed an honest conversation in regards to when and how a girl can get pregnant, so that is exactly what ended up happening to me. I knew I was pregnant, but I was in denial and tried to go about my life, because I was so ashamed and scared to tell anyone, except for the father who suggested abortion. I had always been a pro-lifer due to religion, so the fact that I was even considering “killing my baby” was revolutionary. It was the worst pain, both mentally and physically, that I had ever experienced in my life and I had never felt so alone. I am surprised that I did not flunk out of school, because I did not leave my bed for a week. My parents found out, because I had to use their insurance to cover my emergency room visit, and took me to see my primary care physician, who diagnosed me with Major Depressive Disorder and sent me to see my first psychiatrist. The psychiatrist began to teach me how to think for myself and to learn my value as a person. This experience is the culmination of me deciding that I had been brainwashed my entire life into tying my self-worth into my relationship with the church.
What leaving the church has taught me is that you do not have to sit in a pew every Sunday and Wednesday to have a good moral compass. I had a lot of cognitive dissonance in getting to this point, because a lot of my beliefs and personality do not reflect my upbringing or the church’s views. I am always willing to support those who share their struggles with me and share my story, even anonymously, because I know how hard it was for me to find my truth. I hated myself growing up and at times suffered from debilitating depression to the point that I considered suicide. If I can help someone grow into the person that they are meant to be without them having to feel the way I did, I feel like all the pain I experienced was worth it.
Today I do not label myself as anything. I just try my best to live by the golden rule. It is cliché, but I no longer live my life by fear and I have never been happier.