Born-again pagan recalls past servitude to long haired man named Jesus Christ
by Monica Cruz
Sunday schools classes, weekend retreats, and worship team practices made me who I am today: a liberal, bisexual, pro-choice feminist. I lived most of my childhood within the confines of the born-again Christian church and thought, clinging to every word my pastor preached from the pulpit each Sunday. The pursuit of Biblical knowledge and spiritual closeness to God became my passion. Attending service Sunday mornings and nights, participating in Bible study groups every Wednesday, and singing worship songs with my friends at youth group every Friday night wasn’t enough. I yearned for more from God, from myself, from my religion.
The week felt like an eternity during my middle and early high school years when all I looked forward to was youth group on Friday nights. Our awesome praise music blasting, preformed live by a group of my peers (including myself who occasionally sang on the ‘worship team’) made us want to sing and dance, in the name of Jesus, of course. “Jesus we’re living for your name, we’ll never be ashamed of you, woah oh oh” were the lyrics of one of my favorite worship songs. We were young, impressionable and beyond excited to live out our beliefs, especially in school where our peers were partying and having sex, things we believed were sins and ungodly. We loved being “different” from everyone else; we saw ourselves as revolutionaries standing for a cause literally as big as life and death.
As someone who has struggled with severe insecurity and the constant feeling that I don’t belong, I was so happy to discover a group of people that shared my beliefs and passion, and accepted me whole-heartedly. I had a great group of friends: four other girls who listened to the same “Christian rock”(insert eye roll here) I did, dressed like me and loved God as much as I did. We had some great times and I still think of them fondly. Even when I began to stray from the church and realize the Christian lifestyle just wasn’t for me, they were always there and never judged me for a second. I was lucky.
My feelings for the church started to change drastically when I hit 15; I realized that I was interested in both guys and girls sexually. It made me sad when I heard my pastors, who I admired and respected, condemn homosexuality. Being told that the community I was a part of was heading to hell in a hand basket hurt. I began to call bullshit on the idea that my sexual identity was wrong. For months I struggled to reconcile my faith and my sexuality, bargaining with God, begging Him to understand I still loved Him and wanted Him to be in my life. I still read the Bible, sang in the worship team and committed myself to various church activities with passion and sincerity. I was a good Christian, and I didn’t understand why my sexuality had to affect that.
As well, Biblical teachings value women and men differently and that pissed me off. I didn’t get why all the leaders in my church were men. I didn’t get why the girls my age, many of them so intelligent and talented, would only discuss how excited they were to marry and have kids when we talked about the future. And I surely didn’t get why “modesty” was something our youth group leaders stressed so much to us girls, telling us that we should watch how we dress so we don’t “tempt our brothers” into thinking lustful thoughts. Way to slut-shame 13-year-olds into thinking they are the cause of some horny teenage guys’ “sins”!
By my junior year of high school, I was over the church. My youth pastor, who I was very close to and sincerely loved like a father figure, left our youth group for another church. I felt hurt and betrayed, considering I had begun to speak to him about to coming to terms with my sexuality and he had been so kind and understanding. Then I realized I needed to stop relying so much on other people to make myself feel better. My friends, my pastor, God; of course everyone needs another person to depend on when things get tough, but I had begun to forget myself. I already knew who I was and I didn’t need anyone else to help me figure it out. I only continued to attend church because my mother made me, but I went every Sunday ignoring what was said about my community and I left feeling empowered, knowing what they said and what they believed would not change who I was.
Despite my current thoughts on Christianity, and the institution of religion as a whole, the passion I had for my faith was a thing of beauty. The church helped me discover and foster many of my talents and interests. I used to compete in an annual Christian arts festival for high school students, where I discovered my passion for writing and speechmaking. I actually wrote and preached several sermons, one of which made it to the second round of the competition. My church had many incredibly talented people, and being in such a cultured and artsy environment helped me develop a love for the arts and a critical eye.
Learning to value my beliefs so highly also taught me to value who I am and stand for myself. Even today people tell me they admire how sure I am of my opinions and who I am as person, and I credit this to the years of having such a fiery passion for a religion I believed in so much. In the end, my years as a self-proclaimed Jesus freak brought so much laughter, happiness and many precious memories. Though now we may disagree on many issues, I met so many truly wonderful and inspiring people who taught me so much and gave me wisdom I still hold on to today. Though I no longer associate myself with Christianity or religion of any kind, I wouldn’t be who I am today without it, and for that I’m thankful.