I must have started this post about three times before I committed to penning this. Normally, when it comes to hot button issues, I don’t hesitate. Y’all know how I get down. But this, is a little different. Religion has been a delicate issue for me since I was eleven years old. With a strict Baptist upbringing, Christian beliefs are not something that I readily criticize in the open. Even now, I have a number of good friends with close ties to the church, who may be offended by this post. While I hesitated to put this out there for months, I think now is a good time to talk about what it means to be an un-churched believer.
First off, this post is not going to be used to jump all over the recent shocking revelations of Bishop Eddie Long. There is plenty of that going on elsewhere. There are several reasons why I take issue with the church as it is. I gotta take y’all back to the early 90’s when my mother and father attended a certain church in Harlem on the east side. I wont call them out by name, because its been two decades since I set foot over there, and things have changed long since. (I hope) It was one of those small churches, ones that are particularly good for folks to get all up in your business.
The church, just like any body of people, is going to have people of different social stratas amongst their membership. Most of us had to go to church, we had no choice in the matter whatsoever. Because my parents were regular old working class folks, they didn’t quite fit in with the upwardly mobile congregants of this house of worship. I remember seeing mom and dad trying to “keep up” with the outfits, the chit chat, the various networks, etc etc. Spending Saturday afternoons looking for just that right outfit to one-up the person who dressed the flyest the Sunday before. Remembering stuff like that, I accepted it as the way it had to be back then, but now, it irritates me. In my experiences at this church, it seemed to be more about getting in a certain circle than about studying the word and self improvement. This was my first introduction to the wonderful world of classism within the Black community.
Also a major issue was the tithes and offerings. This church had an embarassing practice of making the congregants walk up in the front, even if the person had no money to drop in the basket. The humiliation of that, along with the shame that came with everyone knowing that we did not have is something that stayed with me long term. I can honestly say that church was the first place that I realized that I was a have not. I mean, it’s one thing when you are in a house of worship and are giving what you can. But it’s another thing altogether when you got folks chattering about “Oh, they are on public assistance” or “they only have but so much” and using that as a reason to look down their nose at you. Not to mention the cold stares you got should you step in there 10 minutes late. I sensed that just as I didn’t want to be there, my parents eventually got tired of keeping up appearances for these folk, and eventually we all stopped going. It was not easy, because remember this was the place I was baptized, and my father ushered there for a time as well. As a result of the mistreatment, we left, and never looked back. Even after all of that, my experience with religious institutions was far from over: My next experience would be Catholic high school.
This did nothing but further reinforced what had been drilled into me since grade school. I was so acutely aware of the denominational divides within Christianity, that on my interview for entry into high school, I hesitated when the Brother asked me if I was a Catholic or a Protestant. Deep, isn’t it?
I need to keep it 100 and say that I have had times in my life where I doubted that God existed. It was especially when I got to college that I started to see myself as an atheist, and held to that belief for years, against what I was brought up to believe. I embraced secular humanism, and it was basically a vehicle for rebellion. known For years, I thought I could rationalize how I felt by understanding the world materially, and doing away with all things spiritual? Who needs spirituality when you can understand the world and how people behave using charts, graphs, and hard data?A cold analytical, and dogmatic rationale replaced myth, superstition, and Sunday school indoctrination. I would continue on this trip, until I began to find my own way, and I started to open up my spirit to the idea of a caring, supreme being.
I haven’t joined a church since. The thing is, in between that time and now, I have had a rather limited and spotty involvement with being a part of any congregation. The last time I was involved with a group of worshippers was the early years of undergrad, but even then it wasn’t purely about learning the scriptures. Lets just say that, it was more about me getting next to a certain someone than being spiritual at that point in my life.#Justbeingreal
I nearly joined my grand uncle’s church up in the Bronx late last year, but I couldn’t go through with the Christian Experience. Even with the whole back history of Reverend James A. Polite, it still wasn’t enough to get me back into the fold. It was more about me learning the history of the Polite family, than actually finding a church home. I can admit that now, and I do apologize to the folks there for making them think I would join them, but with all that I have been through, my heart is not in the church. I know, that is the past, but it’s alot to ask to put all that behind me.
I am willing to visit churches, but I don’t know about joining anything. Ultimately, because of my past experiences, I am somewhat apprehensive about joining. Even though I know on the most basic level that in order to change something, you have to be a part of it, but at this time in my life, I don’t know if I have the patience to deal with all of the contradictions I see in the Lord’s House. I remember from my studies that we are not supposed to “forsake the fellowship” but I am dubious about immersing myself back into that world, especially considering my progressive views that often don’t jibe well with doctrinaire and antiquated stances.
In a era when you have so many people calling themselves Christians that turn around and spew venom at those of Islamic faith, that is a big issue to me. I can’t be part of that. At a time when people are rushing to cover up wrongdoings and make excuses for people just because they are in leadership positions in church, I can’t partake. After going through what I did, and being a part of church community first under parental compulsion and later under other motivations, where I go from here has to be real. Part of the reason I haven’t joined any church is because I haven’t seen anywhere that I feel like I can get that spiritual guidance I seek out. We all have our inward spiritual battles to fight, there is no such thing as a living template for human perfection.
Even though I feel some type of way staying out of church so long, guilty even at times, but not quite ready to go back. Maybe it’s because, I don’t want to be part of anybody’s “flock” Maybe it’s because I balk a little at how some pastor’s live lavish while their congregations often struggle. Or perhaps it is because I still harbor reservations from that earlier, formative period of my life. Either way, I know for certain today that I am a believer, that has yet to find a place for himself in the churches of today. Because of my experiences, I refer to myself as “An Educated Fool Under God’s Protection” Hope I didn’t offend too many of my readers with this one. If I did, then I will know why if I log on the next day and have about 7 or 8 less folks on my list. LOL! Let the chips fall where they may. Because whether in church or out of it, we all are trying to “get right”
Marc W. Polite