Click here for Part 1.
For many years, what kept me inside the church was my core community. After I got married and moved to California, I started attending a church that I loved. I jumped in from day one, volunteering on the welcome team and eventually meeting my support system for the four years that we lived in Orange County.
At the time I joined, I loved the pastor. The church itself held basically mainstream theology as far as nondenominational churches go, but this pastor felt more progressive on many social issues. In this church, I felt safe theologically but also had the freedom to explore issues more deeply on my own. Living on the west coast gave me the benefit of a more liberal Christian culture in which I still had safe boundaries but felt a wider berth to question.
God brought into my life an amazing group of people who I shared life with over the course of three years. We formed an incredible bond and walked through weddings, births, significant health scares, new career directions, marital issues, and everything else life threw at us. At different points throughout that time, my husband and I had six different members of our small group living in our house. This group became my chosen family.
However, through the course of those three years, the pastor we loved left our church and we went through a long period of transition until finally hiring a new head pastor. For most of us in our small group, the reason we stayed at the church was each other. When the dust settled, many in our group had begun to move in different life directions. I had became a mother during that time, a change that prompted me to inspect every inch of my life and values. I looked around and saw a church filled with people who I didn’t recognize and a place that wasn’t mine anymore. This is the specific church that I non-dramatically left when I “left the church.”
After ceasing to identify with the Evangelical Church, I saw many things that I was unable to see from the inside. One of the main things I realized is that I and so many other people viewed church as a club. If you like knitting, you join the knitting club. If you like Harry Potter, you join the Harry Potter club. If you hold a certain set of beliefs about the way the world works and what’s good or evil, you join the Christian club. Here’s the problem, though—if you stop identifying with the thing that the club identifies with, you no longer belong to the club.
At the same time much of this was happening to me, I watched one of my best friends dismantle her Christian faith brick by brick. On many of the social and theological issues I felt that her view mirrored mine. We both had problems with things we had heard in church and the way that the church presented itself in the culture in general. Her questions got me thinking. What is it that separates me from her? Why do we reach the same conclusions about the issues, yet she’s abandoning it and I’m holding on for dear life? Despite differences in upbringing, personality, and location, the questions we had were the same. What are we supposed to do when we don’t believe many of the things we were always told were true? What do we do when the worldview we were working with doesn’t work for us anymore?