At an Evangelical school, religious lessons bleed into every subject. In AP Bio, we were presented with
|Jeff Goldblum thinks you're lying about dinosaurs|
While many disparaging comments were made about Catholics during my education, none was quite as facepalmy as Mr. M’s claiming that Mother Teresa (yes, THAT Mother Teresa) might not be going to heaven. You see, some evangelicals throw shade in the Catholic direction because they believe the denomination to be “works based,” meaning you earn your way into heaven with Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s, which is, of course, an extremely reductive, offensive way to categorize someone’s belief system. To an outsider, the divisive attitudes between denominations like Roman Catholic and Baptist may seem silly or nitpicky. And on some level, they are.
|Y'all, if she ain't getting in, I give up.|
When I was a young junior higher growing out her bangs and only possessing enough courage to pluck one of her eyebrows, a Baptist friend (with mad eyebrow game) hurried over to me one day and in a blind panic said, “We have to talk to Justin*, he believes you can lose your salvation.” Because our school was Baptist (Calvinist theology), the majority of my classmates believed in eternal security, or “Once saved, always saved,” and explained those who had fallen away from the church as “Never saved to begin with.” But a handful of people at my Baptist school attended a Nazarene (Arminian theology) church which meant they believed a person could “backslide.” In other words, they were once a Christian but later on decided not to be, essentially nullifying their “Get into Heaven, No Questions Asked” contract and backsliding (butt first, I'm assuming) into the fiery mouth of Hades.
Being unaware of what the big damn deal was, I answered my frantic friend, “Why do we care? You can’t know until you’re dead. Now loan me a quarter so I can get a Frosted Honey Bun from the vending machine.”
This continues to be my answer nearly 20 years later for many of these underwear-bunching concepts
|A bowl of diabetes|
|In my defense, most youth group guys'|
defining trait was "translucent"
The next day, I talked to my friend... “X-Box Outback Steakhouse” and said that I had a big crush on Peach Jelly Baby. She broke the news that Peach Jelly Baby went to a different kind of church called “Apostolic” and that he was only allowed to date fellow Apostolic ladies. Now, I’m not sure if this is true or not, and I’m too lazy to fact check, but at the time this news did not only break my heart. No, it also ENRAGED ME. I had spent the entirety of late elementary and middle school sitting on the floors of gyms listening to youth pastors telling me about keeping my standards high. Listening to how I should only ever think about dating SERIOUS Christians…“Real Christians.” So at this point in my life, I was more than prepared to turn down all the offers I was going to receive from studly dudes if they weren’t Spiritually Minded enough for my awesome Christian-ness. BUT THIS JACK-WAGON’S CHURCH THOUGHT THAT I WASN’T CHRISTIAN ENOUGH?! THAT I WASN’T A “REAL CHRISTIAN.” Damn, that felt cold.
Alas, that would not be my last time running into the concept of not being Christian enough; in fact, it has gotten much worse with time. Despite Christianity being a huge part of my identity, cultural upbringing and values, I know a lot of people don’t think I make the cut of “real Christian.” I won’t get into the specifics, but I know this because when people make a point of drawing a line and describing “real Christians,” they usually don’t describe qualities or beliefs I possess or even want to possess. It’s a lonely feeling. Not going to church much over the past few years* has helped in some ways but also makes me feel even more set apart in others.
The “Real Christian” concept came up again a couple of weeks ago. A friend and I were asked to present at a small church group. The group was unhappy with their church's stance on LGBT church members (there was a statement about not condoning the ‘practice of homosexuality’) and the group wanted my friend and me to talk about how the language in the church’s stance could be harmful to LGBT individuals. Unfortunately, there is a ton of data about how harmful the exclusion, othering and discrimination of LGBT individuals can be, so my friend and I had a lot to present to the group. At one point during our talk, I was explaining the concept of a minority identity and asked the group if they identified as Christian and if they had ever been the only Christian in a group and felt uncomfortable. One woman in her mid-70s called out, “Well, I think I’m a Christian, but I know a lot of people in this building wouldn’t think I am.” The whole group laughed in agreement, and it was clear they knew exactly what she meant. I knew exactly what she meant
|Bald Eagles are Real Christians|
*Some of my high school and college friends certainly just did a spit take if they’re reading this, because they had no idea it was possible for me to attend church LESS than I had before.