Finding room for grace

I have been struggling for many years now with Christianity. I grew up in a fundamentalist Southern Baptist family, and because I was deeply interested in religion and faith from a young age, I absorbed much of this belief system without question. As I got older and encountered other ways of viewing the world for the first time, my belief system got badly shaken as I realized that I could not in good conscience defend the beliefs of my childhood with the world as I experienced it.

My Christian faith has a hold on me in a way that no other belief system I have studied has been able to match, but the baggage I carry from my childhood views of Christianity make it difficult to be part of Christianity as it exists in America today for the most part. The discovery of progressive Christianity has helped make it possible for me to work to reclaim my faith in a way that fits my experience of life, but it is still a daily struggle when even the language of Christianity is often so tainted for me.

I have often questioned why I find it so hard to let go of this old baggage, and I think I might have found a clue today that could explain it.

I came across an article today by Dr. James F. McGrath called “Young-Earth Creationism is a Cult.” He makes a pretty good case for why this would in fact be true. While this may sound like a diversion from the question of Christianity, this hits home for me. My family is strictly young-earth creationists; I even have one immediate family member who is a trained apologist for this view of creationism, and he makes himself available to go to churches to give seminars on the topic.

Seeing this article also reminded me of another article I chanced across several months ago that argued that Bill Gothard‘s ministry is cult-like. While I no longer remember where I found that article or what it said exactly, I do have strong memories of our family attending his crusades. My parents were big believers in his teachings, and I remember the changes in our house rules after they discovered him. Any young man who wished to ask me out had to ask my step-father first. All music with drums was sinful, even “Christian rock” music. Everything was about the authority of the head male in the household. It was the beginning of my inner struggle to accept the Christianity that I had been raised with even though the outward questioning did not appear for several more years.

Now, I don’t know enough about the definition of cults to claim that either one of these is truly a cult. In all honesty, I don’t know. But I did find it enlightening to discover that there are two major streams of influence that shaped my early perception of Christianity that are thought by some—including by some other Christians—to be cults (or at least cult-like)! As McGrath points out in his article, I was raised with constant warnings about cults and the danger of them. In fact, pretty much everyone who disagreed with us was considered to either be a cult or an unbeliever or possessed by demons (anyone else grow up reading Frank Peretti with all that spiritual warfare going on all the time?) … or maybe all three.

So the idea that parts of my upbringing could be considered by some to be cult-like definitely gets my attention. And, oddly enough, it gives me room for grace to work.

From what I know of people who have been in cults, I would expect it to take time and work to undo their conditioning and fully recover from that experience. Like I said before, I don’t know whether either of these is truly a cult, but the possibility that I could have some of the same trauma gives me space to allow myself the same time and space to work out my own healing in the process of trying to reclaim a faith that I can live with in good conscience. I am following the path I am called to follow, and I will get where I need to go in the right time.

I’ve reached the point where I am more interested in following the Christ that I have come to know than in following the doctrines of any church, and part of that following (for me) means letting go of beliefs that no longer serve me on my journey of following even if they serve others well. In fact, I often have more in common with progressive practitioners of other faiths than I do with much of American Christianity (as it is expressed in its more conservative forms).  It’s struggle every day as I find my way, but I am grateful for this adjustment to my perspective on my past that gives me room to receive more grace and to be that much gentle with myself and my own healing process.

Anything that gives room for grace to work in my life is a blessing indeed.

A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a fragile and vulnerable place to be, so I am committed to keeping this a safe place for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight are not welcome here and will be deleted.

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4 thoughts on “Finding room for grace

  1. I wrote a big long response, because this just upsets me so. But it was too much, so I’m starting over. Maybe I’ll post it on my blog, I don’t know.

    Basically, I think we have to focus our eyes on Christ. It saddens me so, so much, to see what damage so-called Christians have done in this world. Christ said to love God first and foremost, and to love your neighbor only second to that. Those are the two most important things you should do. Full stop. He didn’t go down the list to what kind of music to listen to or clothing to wear or anything else like that. But humans have been inserting their own agendas into their religious practices and beliefs since the dawn of man. We can see where that’s gotten us.

    I am a Christian. My faith is about my relationship with Christ. Period. I would ask you to focus on Him and develop that relationship. Clearly, you want that, you are drawn to that. He is constantly calling you and pulling you close. Focus on Him.

    • Thank you, Skippingstones. I am working my way back to a place where I hope that will be possible. The challenge is that when my childhood conditioning did such damage in the name of Christ and I am still confronted all the time with the loud Christian voices that are convinced that I am unacceptable as I am (even ignoring those that believe that their Christian faith calls them to make me criminal, mistreat me, or even kill me for being a lesbian), it is not always easy to separate Christ from the Christianity I was taught and have seen and heard. From where I stand, Christ/Christians/Christianity seems inherently unsafe. I intellectually am learning otherwise – that there are Christians who accept me and would treat me well and that what I have seen (and still see) is not all of what it means to be Christian. I also know that Christians/Christianity do not always speak for Christ. But this is still a long road for me, and it’s going to take time to sort through it all to build the kind of relationship with Christ that you have. I am indeed drawn to that, but I’m also deeply wounded and afraid of it. I’m doing my best to be open, though, and that’s all I can do for now.

      Thank you so much for you kindness and your encouragement!

      • I agree – we do the best we can do. One thing to clarify for me, though, is that it’s not all easy with me, even. Following Christ is so, so hard. I am very often shaken and confused by what I see and hear, by what people tell me I should and shouldn’t be doing – you’re right that it’s awfully hard to drown out those voices. I am still in the process of building my relationship with him, too. I feel so strongly and my love is great, but all relationships take constant effort to maintain.

        My only suggestion is to pray. Just keep the lines of communication open between you and Jesus. I am not and have not been in your shoes, but I can imagine how hard it must be to separate him out, when probably your whole life people have clumped him in with these other negative things. You can only try, as you said, to work that out in your heart.

        But if you’re not already, then part of that effort could be just in talking to him. Ask him to help you, and talk to him as if he were standing there with you. If you can, if it’s not too painful still. If he is still clumped in with those other things, then he feels less like a being to me, like a real figure and man, and more like an idea – the idea of Christ and Christianity. It might be easier to separate him out if you visualize him as a man.

        Those are only suggestions, and maybe you’ve already tried those things. I don’t want to push, but I just want to help in any way I can.

      • Thank you! I do try to pray in my own way, but it’s often as much through my writing and in just listening. I think the idea of being open to the Holy Spirit feels a little safer right now, but I’ll give some thought to your suggestion of trying to imagine him as a man. We’ll see. I really appreciate your acknowledgement of your own struggles and your encouragement on my own journey. I’m making real progress, I think, but it still takes time. Many blessings to you on your own journey! Thanks again for the kindness of your comments.

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