At this point in my life, I’m what my childhood church would call a “cultural Christian.” Which is really more of a “nothing with a Christian background.” I’ve written about my religious journey a lot here, but the rundown in that I grew up in a Baptist church every Sunday, and was a practicing Christian in high school. But I associated Christianity with a lot of guilt and left the church in college, acknowledging that I might go back someday. When my husband and I were looking for a marriage counselor before our wedding, we ended up doing a Christianity/marriage counseling combo and have been flirting with churches ever since.
To be clear, as of right now I believe the basic tenets of Christianity, the Jesus story. I have my issues with Paul, who wrote the majority of the New Testament, and with the way the entire Bible is interpreted today. But Jesus has always intrigued me, so I’ve never been able to fully let go of the religion I was brought up in.
After we got married, my husband and I visited the Baptist church where my parents met and married. We went for a few weeks and it was okay. But the pastor made one too many sexist jokes from the pulpit, and it annoyed me enough that we never made it to the “looking for a small group” stage.
After that, we landed on a larger church. It was also Baptist, but the congregation was a lot younger and we fit in much better. Plus, there were no sexist jokes from the pulpit. We made it to the “trying out small groups” stage at that church, but struggled to find a fit. Once we bought our house and moved, the drive turned into almost an hour and we quit making the trek. Now, of course, COVID is a thing, so our church shopping has halted completely.
Even while we were still going, though, I was starting to get disenchanted with Baptists in particular. The refusal to allow women as pastors bothers me. Baptists seem to be all about ministries and outreach, much of which is run by and marketed to women. Women are allowed to do everything except lead a mixed-gender church service. It doesn’t make sense to me. What would the church even be without women?
The dichotomy of international missions bothers me, too. In Tennessee, Baptist churches have a huge emphasis on that. I don’t think all international programs are evil, obviously. But from what I’ve seen, the very same people who donate hundreds of dollars towards missions programs in Cambodia and India will then turn around and vote against pay raises for teachers and social programs in our own city. It doesn’t make sense.
Through my job, I met a woman who is a United Methodist reverend. When I met her, I didn’t even know United Methodists allowed women reverends, so I was already impressed. But the more I’ve learned about her and the UM denomination, the more I like what they have to say. I don’t know if all UM churches are, but this woman’s church is LGBTQ affirming, which I love to see. They are also less focused on international missions and more focused on how they can serve their community right here. Learning all that has made me realize that there is a place in the Christian church for me; I just need to find it.
My husband and I have discussed my issues with Baptists several times. At first, he said that he thinks your politics shouldn’t determine what kind of church you go to. But for me, I think it has to. My politics have developed out of my moral values, and that’s kind of what religion is at its core – a set of shared community values. I just can’t go to a church that doesn’t share my basic moral values. I admit I live in a somewhat liberal bubble online. But in my limited church shopping experience, it seems like Jesus’ values have been replaced by conservative ones in too many Baptist churches.