Conditional Community: Where Do You Go When the Church Leaves You?

Conditional Community: Where Do You Go When the Church Leaves You? April 1, 2016

There is an inescapable sense of community in a small town. Whether or not you are a willing participant, everyone knows you. My English teacher was also my Sunday School teacher. I rode to school on the bus with the same kids I sang with in church choir, which was led by my mother. My dad coached Little League. And he was a Southern Baptist preacher.

Silhouette of a young Christian woman is bowing her head in prayer, and desperation outside during sunset.
(Copyright: Christin Lola — Adobe Stock)

Tight-Knit Community

Privacy was a luxury, and anonymity didn’t exist inside or outside our home. Our house was tiny with paper-thin walls. Late at night, I’d overhear my parents pray about and discuss the secret struggles of church members in hushed tones: infidelities, addictions, afflictions, abuse, criminal behavior, family feuds, blatant discrimination, and highfalutin, self-righteous hypocrisy.

They never intended for me to hear those things, but there was an odd feeling of familiarity and security in knowing the good, the bad, and the ugly about the people around me. It made the adults relatable, gave me a firsthand lesson in Christian empathy, and left me with a feeling of solidarity that was invasive, endearing, and permanent. Like a regrettable tattoo.

For better or worse, this was the place that made me. We were all in this together.

Until we weren’t.

Facing the Unexpected

During my freshman year of college, I fell in love. It lasted a few tumultuous years and ended badly. After the breakup, I found out I was pregnant. Even in the middle of the chaos inside my head, I knew I was going to carry the pregnancy to term.

When I told my parents, I thought my father would fly off the handle and my mother would give me the silent treatment. Instead, my dad stopped talking to me, and my mom yelled things like, “What have you done?” and “WAS IT WORTH IT?” They were furious.

But it would be fine. It’s fine. Everything’s fine. Right? Not exactly.

Mom, Dad, I Need Your Support

My mother stayed seething mad. For years, it was there, roiling beneath the surface. She’d worked hard for decades to maintain appearances as a dignified and graceful preacher’s wife, and I blew it for her. She slapped me once during an argument for suggesting that she should give me points for not getting an abortion. I slapped her once for calling me a slut. It was awful. Years and a lot of therapy later, we are finally close again.

My father was more understanding and supportive and far less confrontational. He is the problem-solver to my mother’s threat-neutralizer. He went before the deacons of the church to deliver the news and “start the healing process.” They responded with a list of demands that included me publicly confessing my sin and apologizing to the church.

For my dad’s sake, I actually thought about doing it. It would have made his life much easier, at least temporarily, but here’s why I didn’t.

Expecting Rejection

Years before, at a previous church, one of the older teen girls in the youth group got pregnant. She was contrite. She did all the “right” things, including apologizing to the church. For the duration of her pregnancy, she was not allowed to participate in youth group activities or even sit with us in church. At school, she was bullied, so she dropped out.  At church, the humiliation continued until she and her family stopped coming altogether.

These Christian elitists cut her off from support. They shamed her in front of her peers, shunned her as an untouchable, and then they abandoned her. Where was she supposed to go?

Fuck that, Jesus People.

Facing an Inquisition

I compromised and spoke to the church leaders in a closed door meeting. They asked unexpected, invasive questions, but hey, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. My answers were curt and pithy.

Was I still seeing the father? No.
Do we plan to reunite or marry? Absolutely not.
Am I still engaging in premarital sex? Not at the moment.
Am I sorry for what I did? I didn’t come here to apologize.
Do I intend to give the baby up for adoption? None of your damn business.

There was tremendous pressure to choose adoption. I did not.

Betrayal

The drama continued after my daughter was born. She was premature, and more than one church member suggested that her early birth was punishment for my sins. Lovely pro-life people, those evangelicals.

Shortly after my daughter came home after months in the hospital, there was an unsuccessful movement within the church to force my father to resign. One by one, former allies became enemies, and it was heartbreaking. Eventually, my daughter’s godmother, whose husband was a deacon, also turned against my dad.

Months earlier, she hosted a beautiful baby shower for me that registered remarkably low on the pity scale. Then, she came to my place of employment to tell me that she hoped her efforts to oust my father – essentially threatening the roof over our heads – didn’t affect our relationship.

That’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works.

Rejection

The community I thought I’d built up around me over the course of a lifetime eroded away in less than a year. The kind, compassionate Christians I called friends scattered. Some of them tried to talk with me secretly, hoping to maintain contact until the situation blew over, but who needs those kinds of friends?

When my daughter turned ten, we decided to homeschool. At our very first meeting at our very first homeschool group, one of the top items on the agenda was determining how this Christian homeschool group would handle a pregnant teen in their midst. Members predictably made a lot of the same suggestions: requiring contrition, restricting activities, limiting access to peers, etc. We walked out and never came back.

Walking Away

It would be years before I left the faith, but the reaction to my pregnancy and the birth of my first child, along with the repeated mistreatment and disenfranchisement of young, single mothers, are what prompted me to finally let go of the church that left me behind.

I was fortunate to find a community of genuinely supportive free-thinkers, humanists, feminists, and heathens on my journey. I hope to be a part of that bridge for more men and women who suddenly find themselves on the outside, questioning everything from their faith to their worth.

You are not damaged goods. You are not second class. And you are not disposable.

How do you feel about the judgment and isolation that single parents often face? Have you experienced rejection from a church community for pregnancy or some other reason? Leave a comment and join the conversation!


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