This blog has been many things since I started it. It was, for a time, a way to promote my novel. It’s been for fact-checking, for political informing and for random musing. And lately it’s been about religion and it’s impact on the world at large.
Recently I’ve been thinking about the part that religion has played in my life. I was raised by parents who claimed Mormonism as their own but who rarely attended a service. When I was eight, I was baptized into the Mormon church by my paternal grandfather. After my baptism a group of missionaries from our local temple began coming to the house to do studies with my sisters and I. They would teach us out of the Book of Mormon, take us to church and talk about what it meant to be a Mormon. I learned few things from them that stuck with me over the years but that was my first real experience with religion.
Many years later – when I was still in high school – I met and started dating the man who would become my husband. He was raised in a strict fundamentalist Southern Baptist family and, when we became serious, it was just assumed that I would renounce my Mormon upbringing and join their faith. I did it without a single look back.
In hindsight I realize that so many of the things that I was taught during the 11 years I was married to my ex-husband were harmful to my spiritual health. In the church we attended for the first several years we were married, women weren’t allowed to pray out loud. They weren’t allowed to hold high position in the church. Children were expected to be seen, not heard and there was Hell to pay if you were a child and acted up in church. In our personal lives, my ex-husband would get angry if I expressed strong opinions (women were supposed to be quiet and bow down to their husband’s wishes and opinions). He strongly believed that it was a woman’s place to take care of the kids and the house and that a man’s sole purpose in the family unit was to be the financial provider.
I was taught by the church that gays, unbelievers and anyone who wasn’t Baptist were going to Hell and that the only way to get to Heaven was to pray constantly, read your Bible and attend church three times a week. Works didn’t mean as much to these people as how many Bible quotes you could memorize. Men were revered, women were invisible, children were to obey, completely and without question.
My ex-husband and I separated four years ago and, for the first time, I found myself able to make my own spiritual choices. It was overwhelming and I found myself faced with a crisis of faith. I knew that the things I’d been taught my whole life didn’t sit well with me. I knew that I didn’t believe that only Mormons or only Baptists were going to Heaven. I didn’t believe that all non-believers were going to Hell or that being gay is an abomination. There weren’t things I’d been taught. They were things I knew, deep down in my heart, weren’t right. And so I floundered around for awhile, trying to find my own faith. Trying to discover what it meant to me to be a Christian.
A couple of months after my husband left, I heard a sermon by Bishop John Shelby Spong on youtube. Listening to his words, hearing him speak, it was like he was looking into my heart and speaking the words that I hadn’t even figured out how to speak to myself and that sermon set me on the path to finding my faith.
I realized that I don’t believe any one specific religion had all the answers. I don’t believe that any one specific religion had dibs on Heaven, that Heaven is an exclusive club that only certain people can get into. I believe that the way you treat others is more important to God than the way you pray, or the holy book you read or how many verses you have memorized. I believe that God is bigger than any dogma, any religion, any belief system can comprehend and that we need to look to every faith to find the truth because every faith contains a kernel of that truth. I don’t believe that being gay is a one-way ticket to Hell because God is love and love is beautiful, no matter what skin it wears. I don’t believe that you have to go to church and sit in a pew and listen to a man preach for an hour in order to be a good Christian and that fellowship means much more than going to that brick building on Wednesdays and Sundays and being with people who think the same way you do.
I believe that in order for us to grow in our faith, we have to reach out to those who don’t believe the same way we do. We have to be willing to look for the answers, to look for God, everywhere, in every face, in every faith and in everyone, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or background. We all have a place in the kingdom of Heaven and nobody is more worthy of that grace than anyone else.
If I have to label myself as something, I will label myself as a progressive Christian but separating myself from organized religion has opened me up to a whole new world of spirituality that transcends labels. Religion, to me, has become a way to get to know my fellow man – and through them, my God – in a way that I never have before. I now look at God as my friend more than a benevolent being that I can’t begin to understand. I see God as someone that I go to for advice, someone that I know will listen to me in my joy and my sorrow, in my good times and my bad.
I’ve been many things, spiritually, over the years and I’ve done much exploring of my faith. That exploration has led me here and here I have finally found my peace. It’s been a long journey and one that I’m grateful for because it has helped to shape me into the faithful person I am today. Hate has no place in faith. Neither does bigotry or exclusion. We are all children of God and we all have a place with our creator. We just have to cast off the chains that bind us and open ourselves up to God, no matter what form he may take in your life.