I was raised Christian. My parents weren’t religious, and they’re still not, but they wanted good things for us, and this included feeling like a part of something bigger. Plus, a requirement for getting into the best schools in the area was immaculate church attendance.
Mom was all about us going to the weekly clubs, coffee mornings, and Bible summer school. There are worse hobbies than belonging to the church marching band. I can’t tell you what those worse hobbies are right now, but I'm sure they exist.
My siblings had stopped attending church long before going to college, but all my friends went to Bible study and Friday-night youth group. I was locked in and got pretty into the evangelical lifestyle.
I had even tried to get baptized when I was 15, but the minister at my church told me I wasn’t ready. He wanted me to take a course first, and then come back to him when I could better explain my Jesus feelings. Looking back, this was the first roadblock involving a man I encountered at church. And it was the first of many.
But I’m not a quitter. I hate giving up on anything, so much so that I belonged to the Girls’ Brigade until I was 18, even though, if I’m honest, I wanted to leave years earlier. I was always afraid that if I quit something, I'd regret it later.
So when I moved away to college, I kept going to church. My boyfriend at the time was super-religious, and we’d go to church together. A Sunday morning lie-in was not an option. He was pretty into Jesus, so much so that he wouldn’t kiss me with the door closed. His idea of a romantic gesture was committing to read the Bible in a year with me, which ,for some people, would be total love, right?
But I just wanted someone’s tongue in my mouth. I was 20 and horny.
We broke up, but I stayed in church. It was a part of my identity, and I didn’t fancy hell much. I dated this other guy, also religious, who said that he didn’t believe in touching my breasts before marriage, which I thought was a weird distinction to make, but you’ve got to respect a person’s boundaries.
The trouble was, I’d have been fine with a little under-the-clothes action. Although I wouldn’t have been able to vocalize it at the time, with my mind very much indoctrinated in godly ways, I really just needed to get laid. Even though I didn’t believe in sex before marriage.
I was a total paradox; extremely sexually frustrated while saving myself for marriage. Either way, a make-out session would’ve been nice.
I watched the other women at church flirt like hell with their youth group leaders and offer to make the after-church coffee purely to get closer to godly men. I wondered why I wasn’t charming or appealing to Christian guys, and I also felt like a fraud.
My brain kept telling me I didn’t know God the way I should, and that maybe if I was a better Christian, I’d find a man. After all, church teachings often dictate that if you pray for a husband, wife or partner, God will bestow one upon you when it’s meant to happen.
But literally nothing was happening for me, while everyone else seemed to be meeting the loves of their lives over post-sermon biscuits.
Sex also complicates the timeline of the church relationship. My best bet was meeting a man and convincing him to marry me ASAP. Otherwise, the only thing I’d have to look forward to was a million more years of sexual frustration in dating hell.
Reaching my peak point of desperation, I declared my love to this guy I'd gotten obsessed with in the congregation, hoping he’d want to marry me. He didn’t, obviously. And after that awkward exchange, he didn’t want to be my friend much either.
Going to church was mighty awkward following his rebuttal.
I sound like a major heathen, but my priorities had shifted, and I was starting to question my involvement with all the church groups I was a member of. Was I really so fickle that I only went to church to meet men?
Dating wasn’t my only problem with church. It concerned me that all the important roles in the church I attended were taken by men. Women weren’t allowed to be pastors or elders or give talks to the congregation in this particular domination, and that oppression started to weigh on me heavily.
One of my friends said, “Don’t lose sight of the important issue: the love of Jesus is your salvation.” But what’s more important than equality?
What’s more, church is a veritable graveyard for women over a certain age. In the churches I’ve been to, men often dated way younger (we’re talking 20-something youth group leaders dating their teenage mentees), so once a woman hit 30, that was pretty much it for her. This brand of sexism isn’t exclusive to the church, by any means, but the idea of being closed for business forever was depressing.
I was sexually frustrated throughout my early 20s and thought it was normal for a boyfriend to not want to touch me. This has impacted most of my relationships to date, and it’s only now that I’m in my 30s and no longer attending church that I finally know that a romantic relationship can have copious amounts of sex if you want it to, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
I mean no disrespect towards those who wait for marriage. I believe everyone should have the chance to follow the religion of their choosing. But since I quit Christianity, I feel like I’ve been living a completely different life. It’s strange leaving behind such a long list of rules you’ve had your whole life, and untangling the guilt involved with every thought you have and action you carry out.
Quitting Christianity is obviously about much bigger things than whether I could get a man to date me, but that, along with the gender inequality in the church, was ultimately a dealbreaker for me. If that makes me a heathen, so be it.