A message from my Christian hometown
Recently, I received an online message from someone I was good friends with back in high school. It motivated me to write this article, after thinking about how biased religious beliefs (in Christianity specifically) can draw people away from each other.
To explain it, I have to explain my background: I grew up in a very small town in Southern Manitoba, where hypocrisy and hatred held a strong presence. There is a very clearly defined social hierarchy there, and at the top was the class of white, cisgender, straight, Christian men. It became very apparent that the “traditional Christian values” that my town held were really just a nice way of those men saying: “if you’re not like me, you don’t belong here.” Growing up in this town as an atheist, a woman, and someone very passionate about equality and social justice, I faced my fair share of challenges as I didn’t “belong” or “fit in” with the traditional Christian values the town so proudly stands by.
I spent many years watching my peers – adults, teachers, community representatives, etc. – spread homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic, racist, and classist messages. For years I turned a blind eye, because I wanted to fit in. This meant attending morning prayer in the school gym, but it also meant not standing up when I saw someone being bullied for the colour of their skin or their assumed sexual orientation – and for that I am ashamed. Yet, as I got older, I realized that I had to refuse to allow that awful, hateful behaviour continue. I became an ally and advocate for those who had been silenced by the “good Christian values” that were displayed in every store, school, and square inch of the town.
Being an atheist in a predominantly Christian town, I received so many invitations to youth groups and texts from people trying to “save me.” I experienced being cornered in a bathroom from someone who was determined to show me “who God really is.” These were hard moments for me because it showed me that everyone around me saw me as lesser and damaged.
I was told that I have no morals, and must be a bad person because I don’t have a “god” to guide me – when in reality, I have always been proud of the person I am, proud of the fact that I didn’t need a guide or god to decipher right from wrong. These messages still hurt me because I felt so misunderstood and isolated, as though I had to mute certain parts of myself just to be seen or liked.
Then, during my senior year of high school, I became close to a certain individual, whom I will refer to as X. X is a Christian, yet they were (note that I switched to past tense here) what I would deem progressive. X was a feminist, an advocate for the LGBTQ* community, actively anti-racist, and so much more. That is why the friendship worked. We shared a love and passion for people – the fact that they prayed and I didn’t was never an issue, because we had respect for each other as human beings.
With that context, we move into the present day. I had not spoken to X much since we graduated in June of 2019, but in my mind, there were no hard feelings. When you move thousands of kilometers away from each other the spark of the friendship is likely to dim.
That was until I received a message from them. I will quote it now, removing any personal details:
“Looking back,” X said, “it is clear for me to see that I was not necessarily looking for the wrong things, but I was looking for them in the wrong place, which ended up destroying me in the end.” They were referring finding love and happiness within our friendship, rather than turning to God to help them through a very hard time in their life. This is very hard for me to fathom, because it shows that kids who grow up being taught that God has all the answers also grow up to believe that relationships with people standing right in front of them are meaningless, leading them to feel guilty for finding healthy outlets and mental health supports.
“I no longer support the LGBTQ community,” said X; “I chose my own happiness over honour and respect.” This is the most upsetting part to me, as this person spent so much time learning to support and love 2S and LGBTQ+ people and became an active advocate and ally. “I chose my own happiness over honour and respect” — I had to sit with this for a long time in order to truly understand what it meant. I concluded that my old friend felt they were “disrespecting God” by being an ally. The religious ideas this person chooses to follow oppress and breed fear and hatred towards other humans. This is heartbreaking, as it means 2S and LGBTQ+ children growing up with that mindset grow up to believe that they are sinners just for being who they are. That idea can lead to a lifetime of struggle. Every person should be accepted and loved by all, regardless of who they are or who they love – religion should help further that message, not pose a barrier.
As I previously mentioned, I am a passionate advocate and ally to marginalized communities. I made the decision to go to university and work towards becoming a human rights lawyer, so I can continue to fight against injustices and support those who are not given a fair and just walk through life.
But my ex-friend said, “[i]f it is freedom you are fighting for and justice you are searching for, you are looking in all the wrong places.” They says that getting an education and learning from the stories and lived experience of other people is wrong, and that I should be looking towards God for all the answers. Again, this is difficult to hear, as it invalidates the lives and challenges of others.
I love and respect each and every person, regardless of their religious affiliation or anything else. Yet, I do not respect when someone uses their religious beliefs to be hateful or discriminatory towards others. I want to acknowledge that I am in no way saying all Christians are the same as this individual, but there are many who are, and it can burn a lot of bridges like this one.
If you are a person who is struggling with religious beliefs that seem to conflict with who you are, I love you, I see you, I support you. And I will end this in saying to everyone: be kind to one another.