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Does Leaving the Church Have to Mean Leaving My Family?

By Rhonda Denise Johnson ~

Because I live very far from my mother and sisters, I can go through my days without thinking about them. Yet, because we are family, there are times when we encounter one another and I realize that more than mere kilometers separate us. Every now and again, it occurs to me that Jesus (or at least those ancient authors who claimed they were recording his authentic words) was right about one thing: he came to bring a sword, to divide a house against itself, mother against daughter, brother against brother and that a man’s enemies will be those of his own household. I want to reject this and at times I have proclaimed that I would not let it happen. “I will not allow some religion to destroy my family.” But how do I have peace with people who do not want to have peace with me except on condition that I conform to a belief system that I find is untrue at best and psychologically debilitating at worst?

On more than one occasion I have seriously considered never having anything more to do with my mother. Not that I don’t love her. I do. It’s just that after biting my tongue nearly in two, I invariably require a recovery period and it’s only after I haven’t talked to her in a while that feelings of my love for her can resurface. You see, my mother is an ordained Christian evangelist who for the last thirty years has blamed me for not allowing God to heal my vision and hearing impairments. As an evangelist, she has not evinced the ability to hold a conversation with me without throwing in some comment that leaves me in a state of cognitive dissonance. As her daughter, I’ve heard everything from “You‘re lost and going to hell if you don‘t believe Jesus is Lord” to “God told me He wants to heal you. But it won‘t happen if you don‘t believe.” Sometimes I’ll foolishly offer what I think is a reasonable reply, forgetting that, when speaking to a person who was indoctrinated into the Word of Faith movement, logic and reason do not apply.

My mother is an ordained Christian evangelist who for the last thirty years has blamed me for not allowing God to heal my vision and hearing impairments.My sister is loving towards me. Her behavior—her words have that brightness that tells me she is trying to love me back into the Church. That may sound benevolent, but it’s still manipulative. Admittedly, I haven’t made a big effort to convince her that that simply isn’t going to happen. She has done all but beg me not to tell her my reasons for leaving the Church. Perhaps she thinks I am mad at God just like she was or maybe she thinks the behavior of other Christians drove me away. I’m not mad at my Creator. I don’t think going to Church has anything to do with God. When I think of God, I think of the Creator of the whole universe. But when I go to Church, I find this low-level regional manager whose creation story in the Bible bears no resemblance to the physical universe. No, the behavior of other Christians did not drive me from the Church. Would that it were that easy. But my decision to leave the Church was based on something far more fundamental than that. I left the Church because when I began to read outside the carefully selected memory verses they gave us in Sunday school, I found things in the Bible that made it impossible for me to continue thinking of it as the Word of God. I’ve never talked to my sister about these things and I’m not sure I have the right to force information on her that she is not emotionally ready to deal with. How do I know she is not emotionally ready? Because if she were then I would not have to figure out a way to talk to her about these things. She would bring them up herself. Meanwhile, she continues to smile nervously when people we run into ask what Church I go to. The situation with her is more tolerable than that with my mother. Still, I wish I could at least stop tiptoeing around the subject and have a frank conversation with her. She would have every right to disagree with me if what I told her did not resonate with her, but at least the subject would not be taboo. Her Church gave her a really nice car at a time when she was in a financial predicament. of course, if she considers what I might show her is really in the Bible and acts on it, the Church will say, “Well, give us the car back.” Like Morpheus told Neo in The Matrix, “All I have to offer is the truth.” Can truth stand up to a lie that meets a person’s emotional and financial needs?

It’s not that I want to please my family but don’t know how. On the contrary, I do know how to please them but just don’t want to. Wheat would please my mother is if I called her and said, ”You were right. I was wrong. There are no contradictions in the Bible. I‘ve prayed and asked God to forgive me for ever thinking that there were and now He has healed me and I can hear a gnat piss on cotton and see the boogahs up an ant‘s nose.” That would make my family very happy. It wouldn’t even have to be true. Just the fact that I would be making a “statement of faith” in that direction would make them all say “Praise the Lord.” But I will say no such thing. I refuse to live in co-dependence to people who are addicted to the blue pill. I refuse to go to bed every night knowing that I am living a lie. I have to live with myself. If I am not happy with myself, no one can give me what I don’t already have so doing things to win other people’s favor would be like selling my car for gas money.