Sent in by S.H.
It's hard to tell this story. The fact that one day my parents or church friends might come upon this testimonial and identify it as mine, despite the anonymity, scares me. But, as soon as I saw this site, I knew that I wanted to share.
I was "born Christian," meaning that both my parents were Christians and I was essentially raised in church. They were then, and still are, extremely active members of the Vineyard organization, a non-denominational national church group. The church has since updated it's sect to "empowered evangelical." Aside from weekly service, I went to bi-weekly Bible study and attended private school until 5th grade.
My parents imposed strict moral conditioning on me from a very young age. Not only was I supposed to go to church regularly, but I had to "experience" the Holy Spirit and be able to "talk" with God. I distinctly remember being seven years old in our dining room, crying because my parents were trying to force me to be able to speak in tongues, and I couldn't figure out how to do it (eventually I made it up so they would stop).
They were also complete believers in corporal punishment, and I was spanked on many occasions with a large wooden frat-style paddle from the time I was five. My mother in particular would get suddenly angry with me about things as small as not putting my shoes away, and she wouldn't hesitate to scream at me and hit me. She said I was disrespectful and strong-willed. One day she sat on my chest and hit me over and over again in the face. I don't remember exactly why.
Basically, anything that was a problem in our house could be solved by prayer, the Bible was a better reference than the encyclopedia, and I wasn't allowed to watch anything with over a "PG" rating. This is how things went until my last year of high school.
That year, I took some post secondary courses at a local community college where I met my boyfriend. He was a philosophy major, and as we began to get to know one another, we would spend hours discussing different theories and ideas. He was probably the first person in my life who asked me WHY I believed what I did. Up until that point, my answer was always "Well, the Bible says..." or "At church we learned..." or "My mom told me that..." I never really knew for myself what I believed, and he encouraged me to come up with my own reasons. At first these were still based on the Bible and my upbringing, but for the first time I understood why I believed things and could explain my beliefs out loud.
Eventually the two of us moved to another city to attend college. We started going to a very liberal church, discussed philosophy and other religions freely, and decided to have sex for the first time. Eventually, we moved in together and are still together today. My parents, who are supposed to love me unconditionally (regardless of church), turned on me. They developed an intense hatred for my boyfriend who they felt was leading me astray, and they denied me the right to have my 9-year-old sister come to visit me because they thought what we were doing was wrong. This reflects the teachings of their church: God only loves you if you are conformed to the church's standards. If you don't, you're screwed.
For the first time I began to see the hypocrisy of my parents and their church. I was confused as to why an "all loving God" could send people to hell just because they were different. If believing in Jesus was the key to heaven, why didn't Jesus visit ALL the areas of the world and tell ALL the people about God? Why would God force people in little tribes in Africa to go to hell even though no one had told them about Jesus? Why would God make people gay then punish them for it? I had so many questions and all of them pointed to God being this angry, vengeful being who delights in breaking apart families and sending people to hell — quite the different message from that Jesus gave. The fact that my parents were angry with me for seeking answers other than those provided by their church proved to me that Christianity was less about "love" and more about "control."
Eventually, I began to drift more and more away from Christianity all together. My boyfriend and I got involved in the BDSM lifestyle, and I became his submissive. I also eventually identified as a masochist and a bisexual, both no-nos in the church's books. I stopped going to church. We are into a lifestyle that rejoices in differences, sexuality, and freedom of choice. Being in such a suppressive environment as a church makes me feel uncomfortable. I always feel like someone is coming up over my shoulder to judge me. I know there are good Christians out there, I have even met a few, but the majority I know are so paranoid about their eventual heaven-hell outcome that they will do anything to rack up points with God. Judgmental attitude, close-mindedness, and a feeling of superiority are traits that are MUCH too common in Christians today.
Now, I often tell my friends that I am "spiritual" but not religious. I am in a strange place right now, determining my beliefs, and sorting out my own moral code. Much of it comes from Jesus' teachings, some from Buddhism, some from Paganism, some from common courtesy. But each belief that I determine for myself has a REASON behind it. I am not blindly following anymore. I know why I believe what I believe, and I want to keep it that way. If I find out at the end that I was wrong, I'll burn in hell satisfied that I lived my life with love, hurting no one. That will be enough for me.