During the mid 1970s after my father left us for another woman, I can remember crying many times on Sunday morning because I wanted to go to church but could not. I can remember telling mother one Sunday morning that “America is a free country, a Christian country, but we can’t go to church. It’s just not fair.” My mother and I had become unwelcome in the churches where we were members because of my parents’ divorce. As my mother lay on her death bed, I am sure one of the things she regretted most was not being able to go to church during the last years of her life as I know she truly wanted to go to church and worship God.
I knew how the churches had mistreated mother and me when we lived in a very small town but I did not know there were names for what we had experienced. Since my graduation in 1998, I have learned that the horrible mistreatment mother and I endured in the churches and denomination in which we grew up had names. My mother and I were the victims of intolerance, “hate the sin, love the sinner”, discrimination, narrow-mindedness, and a very narrow definition of Christianity. These horrible behaviors on the part of people who professed Christianity kept my mother and me out of the church for over ten years. Yet, these people call themselves Christian, claim to “walk the walk, not just talk the talk,” consider their actions towards others to be their Christian duty, and allege they love the person toward whom their actions are directed. If this is what they call Christianity and Christian love, I have some very serious concerns and questions about it. I have asked God and myself many times if the mistreatment my mother and I suffered was Christian. The answer I get is that it was not Christian at all.
When I was 41, I found myself working for an atheist and devil worshiper. After it was discovered that I was a Christian, I was subjected to hassle and harassment on a daily basis and management would not do anything about it. I called the church where I was a member and asked if I could schedule an appointment with a pastor. This was a large church with several ministers on staff. I was in tears when I called the church and I did not state why I needed to see a pastor. However, I was told the pastors did not counsel church members. I could have been diagnosed with terminal cancer and given only a short time to live or had a death in my immediate family but the bottom line was they did not care. I could not believe that I was refused an appointment with a minister.
It is a horrible feeling being totally, absolutely, and completely alone in the world as I was at that time, with no family or anyone else to turn to in time of trouble. It was even more horrible when I turned to the one place I thought I could turn only to find out how wrong I was. I needed a church and church family that would care about me, be concerned about me, welcome me, accept me, and minister to my needs-not throw me away and reject me.
In 1995, through no fault of my own, and certainly not by choice, I had to leave the denomination in which I had been a life long member. After all, it was obvious to me that they were not going to minister to my needs or help me in any way whatsoever. They may have professed Christianity and may have claimed they loved and cared for their church members but it certainly did not feel like that to me.
It was a very difficult decision for me to leave the denomination in which I had been a life long member. Everyone in my family generation as far back as anyone can recall had always been a member of that particular denomination. I was still in graduate school and in addition to taking courses and working on my dissertation, I had to also research other denominations so I could find a new church home in another denomination.
When a person has been deeply wounded, especially by a church (any church in any denomination), they are very vulnerable and easily hurt. I needed to be ministered to but the church where I was a member refused to minister to me. I asked myself so many times “how Christian was that refusal?” The answer I kept getting was that it was not Christian at all.
During the years that I was in the churches and denomination in which I was reared, it was almost as if I were forbidden to learn about other denominations. After leaving that church and denomination, I find that I have now a great desire to learn about other denominations. Although I love the Lutheran church and love Lutheran theology, and I am very happy at the church where I am now a member, I often visit other churches. Since graduation, I have had more time to do extensive and in depth reading and research about religions, churches, denominations, and I find it very rewarding and enjoyable. Sometimes I think that if I had not been so discouraged from attending college and taking Bible, religion, and theology courses by the churches and denomination in which I grew up that my doctorate might be in religion or theology instead of education.
I know I have certainly grown, matured, developed, and changed a lot during the past several years and I believe for the better-not worst. I know many people in fundamentalist, literalist, and legalistic churches would say that I am hard headed, stubborn, a sinner in need of having my sins pointed out, my will broken, and being converted. Some might even say that I have sold out to the devil, belong to the devil, or that I have joined a cult church-which is what a friend told me in 1996 when I changed denominations-and it is completely false.
Their assessment of me would be totally inaccurate. What happened to my mother and me almost destroyed us. The unchristian way we were treated probably lead to my mother dying sooner than if we could have gone to church, had a church family, and had someone to minister to our needs. I ask God and myself so many times what kind of church could do that to anybody, especially their own church members who are Christian, and then claim that their behavior is done in the name of Christianity and Christian love? The answer I get is that it is not a church at all-and certainly not Christian love at all.
What literalism, legalism, and fundamentalism preach and teach is the kind of Christianity that wrecked and ruined my mother’s life and my life, drove us out of the church, and kept us out of the church for over ten years. These were the years when we so desperately needed the church and a church family. Over the last several years, God has helped me to know, realize, learn, and understand that the uncaring attitudes and behavior exhibited by those involved with literalism, legalism, and fundamentalism are very wrong. I also now know and understand that the way my mother and I were mistreated by the churches in the small town where we lived for most of our lives, and the first two churches I joined after moving to a larger city, was also very wrong. The way we were mistreated was certainly not Christian at all.
I cannot believe in what literalism, legalism, and fundamentalism preach and teach. I know only too well what those kinds of beliefs and practices did to my mother and me and that it was, and still is, very wrong. If that is the only kind of Christianity there is, I want no part of it. It is very wrong and definitely not true Christianity, biblical or the teachings of Jesus Christ. If the only kind of church I could ever attend were a fundamentalist, legalist, or literalist church, I would just never go to any church ever again.
Should I ever leave the Lutheran Church, it would probably be for the Episcopal or Catholic Church. I hope and pray I am never senile enough, crazy enough, or insane enough attend any legalistic, literalist, or fundamentalist church ever again to be deeply hurt and wounded over and over and driven out of church after church. How Christian is that? The answer I always get is that it is not very Christian at all.
I sometimes wonder why I had to go through some of the things I have been through in my lifetime totally and completely alone. When reflecting about the experiences I have been through, it helps me understand the pain, hurt, anger, frustration, and rejection many other people feel about churches. I just do not want anyone else to ever have to go through the things I went through. Others might turn completely away from God altogether and never give another church a chance. Whereas, because of my Christian mother and the way she reared me, I was willing to keep searching until I could find a place where I could worship and serve God-an opportunity that I had been denied in the past.
During the last several years, I have learned more about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, religions, denominations, and myself than I ever thought possible. I feel and believe I live closer to God now than ever before. Sometimes it is very interesting to think about the changes that have taken place, wonder why, for what reason, and try to understand how. I believe it was the work of God in my life-I would never have ever thought about making on my own the changes that have taken place in my life.
I think one of the biggest faults I find with organized and institutionalized Christianity is the hypocrisy of the people in the church-especially the more fundamentalist, literalist, legalistic churches and denominations. I am now a member of a Lutheran church in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ECLA). The only regret I have is that I did not leave the church and denomination in which I grew up many years ago. For the first time in my life I feel like I fit in and belong, feel accepted, and feel like I have friends.
I know only too well how the church and denomination in which I grew up mistreated my mother and me and the hurt and pain we experienced when we were rejected from those churches time after time because of my parent’s divorce. Because of the mistreatment my mother and I endured in the churches in the denomination in which we had been life long members, I believe God’s house should be open to everyone and that no one should ever be excluded from God’s house for any reason.
Lifelong educator Kathy S. Quinn earned an M.Ed. and Ed.D. from the University of South Carolina, an M.S. from the University of Maryland and an M.A. from Webster University. She is an associate professor of business administration at Allen University in Columbia, S.C.