Christmas is coming and I am dwelling on spiritual matters. Not least as I have just had some interaction with a member of my husband’s family who professes Christianity, yet makes members of my mother’s family look good – suffice to say this person looks ‘nice’ on the inside, says all the right things (in church anyway; not to me), projects a caring persona (as long as you agree with everything this person and spouse espouse from their pulpit; plays in the church band etc., but is ugly on the inside. This person is married to a ‘leader’ in the Pentecostal Church – a church I once attended in a school building in London. In Christianity, as in many institutions, what you ‘see’ is not what you get, but it took me a long time to come to terms with this – 15 odd, yes very odd, years. I should say from the outset that I have also met some wonderful, sacrificial, genuinely wonderful people inside (as well as outside) the 4 walls of the church that I am slightly in awe of given how much they put their money where there mouths are, so suffice to say, my experience is mixed – heck humanity is mixed.
Though I came ‘out of the church’ as in stopped being a member of a church that met in a building, in 2015, I believe in God. I try to follow Jesus. I fail a lot. I swear; I rant; I get things wrong. Often. I don’t call myself a Christian, because I find it hard to identify with the plethora of meanings that the word throws up. I don’t attend church because having been through the Catholic Church as a child, numerous Pentecostal and ‘house’ type churches, and through the Anglican Church, I have come to the conclusion that I do not belong in the walls of a church. However, for those of us who believe in the (to secularists) quaint notion of God and in the bible, our belief is that the spirit of God resides in us (you have to invite him in – I won’t try to explain the theology of incarnation here; you can look it up if you’re interested,) and therefore we, and not a building are the church.
I ‘became a Christian’ in 2001. My parents and sister were members of a house church (it was a cult frankly). There was a cult leader and a sidekick – one of my siblings married the cult leader as a teenager. I was a teenager at the time too. I had recently left home and was travelling the country and the world modelling. The cult members in my family spent a fair time trying to terrify me into Christianity. It partly worked. The notion of hell petrified me. I had a sense that ghastly as it was to contemplate, it might be a real place. I was in the fashion business. I had lots of gay friends. I knew they weren’t welcome in the church, so I was pretty wound up and ranty on their behalf. I began studying world religions and esoteric things – for which I seemed to have a knack – the Jesus thing kept coming back. Eventually I succumbed in 2001 and that in itself is a saga that I will relate but not now.
Back to #MeToo. Not only did I come out of the church in the summer of 2105, I also came out of my (mother’s) abusive family in the winter of 2015. My mother’s semi-final (cutting me out of her will was her grand finale) act of cruelty proved to be my tipping point. My experience of organised religion is that it is often (and consistently in my experience) and abusive structure (with some good elements within it) that is disconnected from the world. I knew when I made the decision to leave church and family, that God was in it. I sensed very clearly in my spirit that God was against all abuse and that we were going to enter into a time when these institutional abuses would no longer be tolerated by society. I told one of my key abusers this when I met with him so that he could crow over what he and other abusers had achieved with my mother’s will. Soon afterwards #MeToo broke out. The God I believe in is in that movement. The God I believe in does not live in the 4 walls of a church. Like Jesus he is down with the people, out there, in the world.
When I came out of the (in my experience) abusive settings of church and family, I was able to recapture my true identity that I had been required to leave at the door of both. I am not just over the third anniversary of my mother’s act that led me to say that I would never again go back to my mother’s family for punishment – my being there enabled and sanctioned it. The previous summer, I had done the same with the church. The three years since, I would hate to repeat; I have needed extensive treatment to heal. I am now mentally stronger and despite being treated with chemotherapy for the cancer that was, thankfully, cut out, I can honestly say, I’ve never been stronger. I am free.