"You need to pray more." That was the response my mother received from our pastor after she told him she was being physically abused by her husband. I was in high school at the time, sulking in a corner of our massive church, almost more embarrassed than desperate at his words. After a particularly bad physical altercation, my mom met with the head of our local non-denominational congregation for advice. She needed help, hopeful that a "man of god" would aid her and her children. But he did not. He told her she needed to pray, then left her with nothing but a route that led back into violence. Like that particular pastor failed my mother, I believe my Christianity has failed me, and that it's also failed the United States. As a mom to a little boy, I won't let it fail my son.
I grew up in a Baptist church for most of my childhood until my parents made the switch to a more non-denominational setting mid-way through my high school career. A choir replaced with a band; a sanctuary replaced with a large multi-purpose room; a sense of "tradition" replaced by a more "modern feel." However, the core message remained — one of conditional tolerance and consistent self-improvement via devout repentance — and my parents felt the "cool Christian" environment had a higher chance of sinking into their teenagers' psyche.
I paid attention, read scripture, memorized verses, and sometimes raised my hands during "worship" because damn, those songs can be sinfully satisfying. I agreed with the basic principles of Christianity as they were taught to me: treat others as you would like to be treated, God always forgives and so should you, you must believe in Jesus Christ to go to heaven, etc. Others, I couldn't align my views with: gay people are "unnatural," dancing is evil, and premarital sex is a sin (just for starters). I've shared beds with gay friends and teammates on the varsity basketball team and, I can tell you, they snore as naturally as I do. I danced at parties and in high school gymnasiums and it was a blast. I was having sex as a clueless (but safe) 16 year old, so I didn't see anything wrong with using my god-given body to feel consensually incredible with someone else's.
However, the sprinkling of holy water on my darling son's head was, to me, a family obligation; much like wearing that one sweater your grandmother buys you for your birthday. It's itchy and it doesn't fit right, but you love your grandmother and you know that fashion-backwards atrocity means something to her.
Then my pastor turned his back on my mother in the name of "religion," and what little was keeping me tethered to the Christian church was severed. In that moment, a veil had been lifted, and I felt as though I could see Christianity more clearly, more objectively, more dutifully. Instead of following what I'd been taught since I was a young child, I started asking questions and uncovering hypocrisies. I could no longer call myself a Christian and feel as though I was morally sound and true to who I was (and am) as a free-thinking individual.
Of course, this isn't to say "all Christians." My mother is a Christian, as is the majority if not almost all of my family members. Some of my dearest friends are devout Christians, and while we disagree on a wide variety of subjects, from reproductive rights to marriage equality, we love one another. My son, as a 4-month-old baby, was baptized in the same church as my mother, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother. However, the sprinkling of holy water on my darling son's head was, to me, a family obligation; much like wearing that one sweater your grandmother buys you for your birthday. It's itchy and it doesn't fit right, but you love your grandmother and you know that fashion-backwards atrocity means something to her.
In questioning Christianity, I realized that what it asks of its followers it does not allow others to ask of it. In church, sitting on an uncomfortable pew or in a folded chair, I was instructed to question the "world" and "man's laws." I was told to think critically of my non-Christian friends and what their choices said about each of them as individuals. Yet I couldn't do the same of Christianity or my Christian friends without it being categorized as an "attack." I'd been labeled a "doubter," a "non-believer." I'd equated the mistakes of a few Christians — like the lazy pastor who dismissed my mother by enabling my father — to all Christianity. And us Americans know, labeling an entire religion "dangerous" because of a few radicalized individuals is "wrong." I didn't have any "faith." I wasn't being "fair." I was judging Christianity, when I should have been judging just a few specific people.
Every time I questioned a Christian and their beliefs in an effort to answer the question that hung in the air between us — But why? — my fellow Christians made me feel as if I'd somehow done wrong. Most behaved as if Christianity in and of itself was beyond reproach and, by proxy, so were Christians.
If I dared question the predominantly Christian "pro-life stance," even though 32 percent of self-identified Christians favor the death penalty, it was because I didn't value the sanctity of human life. If I questioned why pro-life advocates weren't automatically advocates for programs aiding children in poverty, children of color, and children in other countries (as most Christian conservatives do not back federally funded programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the SNAP program, more commonly known as “food stamps”), it was because I wanted to "start a fight." If I questioned why parts of the Old Testament could be used to argue against marriage equality but other parts have been completely disregarded (like the scripture that bans someone touching the skin of a dead pig, planting crops side by side, or working on The Sabbath), it was because I had "missed the point." Every time I questioned a Christian and their beliefs in an effort to answer the question that hung in the air between us — But why? — my fellow Christians made me feel as if I'd somehow done wrong. Most behaved as if Christianity in and of itself was beyond reproach and, by proxy, so were Christians.
Still, I continued to ask questions. On my first date with my partner, I wanted to know if he considered himself religious. I asked questions when my son was born, and discussed with my partner whether or not we'd raise him in any sort of religious environment. I continue to ask questions now, in light of President Donald Trump's executive order to ban refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries. With each set of questions, regardless of the circumstances, I keep coming back to the same answer: Christianity has failed me.
Christianity failed my mother all those years ago. I feel as though it would fail my son, especially if he grew up gay (like his aunt), or trans (like one of my best friends), or divorced (like my mother), or if he decided to have a baby out of wedlock (like me).
According to The Pew Research Center, 81 percent of white Evangelical Christians voted for Trump, even though the majority of his policies are in opposition to what Jesus Christ is said to have taught and believed in. Christianity failed to elect a president who wouldn't brag about sexually assaulting women, who would welcome those who need shelter into our country, and who wouldn't make it legal to discriminate against someone in the name of "freedom of religion." Christianity failed my mother all those years ago. I feel as though it would fail my son, especially if he grew up gay (like his aunt), or trans (like one of my best friends), or divorced (like my mother), or if he decided to have a baby out of wedlock (like me). It's failing our citizens right now, as I come to terms with the overwhelming silence of so many of my Christian friends who have nothing to say about the current immigration ban.
Those who claim to be "pro-life" in Jesus' name, citing scripture as the only (or most important) reason they believe life begins at conception, are not reciting the following bible verses in defiance of this un-American Immigration ruling. Verses like the following, for example, from Leviticus 19:33-34:
When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.
Or from Matthew 25:25-36:
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
Or in Proverbs 14:31:
Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.
Or Zechariah 7:9-10:
Thus says the Lord of hosts, render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.
In the constant attempt to raise my son to be a kind and considerate human being who values the lives of all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, or religious affiliation, I cannot, in good conscious, raise him within the Christian religion. At such a vulnerable time in our nation's history, I feel the Christian faith has failed to lead by example. It's failed to stand for its principles. By positing itself and its followers as the purveyors of the moral high ground, it's allowed cowardice in the face of blatant immorality. It happened when my pastor came face to face with an abused woman. It happened when a Christian friend called me a "murderer" after I had an abortion at 23. It happens now, today, as thousands protest the immigration ban, yet so many of the Christians I know (and the Christian leaders of the GOP, including Paul Ryan and Vice President Mike Pence) remain complicit in their deafening silence.
It should be said that I don't condemn Christianity, or any organized religion for that matter. I value the beliefs of everyone, even those I don't agree with. But when a Christian man can walk into a Planned Parenthood in 2015 and kill three people, claiming he dreamt he'd be met in heaven by "aborted fetuses wanting to thank him," and months later, a 21-year-old devout Christian can walk into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, kill nine innocent black church members, and the entire religion isn't questioned the way our current political leaders are questioning the Muslim faith, we ignore the space between what Christianity teaches and the dangerous guise of "following Christianity" its followers put into action.
If that was all my mother's Christianity wanted from her, it wasn't enough.
As a mother currently teaching her wonderfully oblivious 2-year-old toddler to question everything — including authority — even when it's uncomfortable or inconvenient, I cannot cower the way I did as a child and a teen, sitting in the back of the church while my mother sought the advice of her religious teacher. My pastor made a choice that day — he asked her to do nothing beyond "pray more" — but unlike him, my mother, my brother, and I had to live in the aftermath of that choice. If that was all my mother's Christianity wanted from her, it wasn't enough.
So as a mother who wants to lead by example, who wants to show her son what it truly means to "treat others as you'd like to be treated," I've made different choices: I won't raise my son with a religion that failed me, his grandmother, his uncle, his maternal grandfather, and thousands more. I won't raise my son in a faith that knowingly leaves thousands out; that picks and chooses which lives are worth saving and which are not. I won't teach him about a faith that stays silent as our country abandons 250,000 people trapped in Aleppo, 100,000 of which are children, because our president thinks they're "bad people with bad intentions." I won't dress him for Sunday School when so many Christians "march for life" but remain inaudible when a 5-year-old boy is handcuffed and detained in an airport.
I won't ever tell my son all he needs to do is "pray more." He can have his faith whenever he chooses, but as his mom I'll do my damnedest to show him that it's action in the face of persecution that changes the course of history.