People ask me the same question a lot: How can you still be a Christian?
They usually aren’t asking how I could still believe in God. What they really want to know is, “How can you stand to be around Christians when they cause so much damage?”
The person who asks me this question knows my backstory. They know I can (and have) easily justified walking away from the whole mess.
I grew up in a fundamentalist, evangelical-type environment. I dealt with the normal fundamentalist stuff. Good Christian teenagers only listened to Christian music. That new Harry Potter book was a work of the devil. Don’t go out on Halloween because it’s satanic and there are secret satanic cults out there who want to abduct and sacrifice little girls.
Except, as it turned out, the only people willing to sacrifice girls were sitting in the church next to me every Sunday.
When I say Christians almost killed me, that’s not hyperbole. A man from my church stalked me and planned to murder me when I was eighteen. Our church did nothing, which is the default for most churches when faced with a predator in the pews or behind the pulpit.
That experience washed away everything I thought I knew about Christianity. I had to start over from scratch, out in the wilderness, totally on my own.
I can’t imagine how that sort of trauma wouldn’t shape my faith. I’m rougher around the edges than I was. I don’t go in for certainty. I point out toxicity when I see it, which doesn’t earn a person any popularity points. I’m not at all submissive or receptive or any other -ive based on my uterus that’s out there.
Basically, I don’t fit in.
And that brings us back to the question. How can I associate with Christians, especially when they’re the type of Christians who hurt people like me? How can I walk into a church, knowing a lot of the people sitting there don’t want someone like me hanging around? When I know so many of them are judging me for not being exactly like them? When I’m more likely to be called Jezebel than Sister?
Here’s the thing: They might think I’m a monster, but I’m a monster they created. They have to deal with me, whether they like it or not. If Christians don’t want to deal with damaged people, they should stop damaging people. They should stop enabling abuse. Our actions have consequences and Christians shouldn’t get a pass on dealing with consequences.
Hello, my name is Kristy and I’ll be your consequence tonight.
My presence in Christian spaces isn’t about me conforming to what everyone else is doing so I can hide out there and fit in. A lot of my presence in Christians spaces is about taking up my rightful space, even if I’m not always welcome.
And it is my rightful space. Jesus wants me, even if a good chunk of Christians don’t. I’m going to hold ground wherever I believe Jesus is present.
I’m not naive. I know churches and Christian circles aren’t safe places. I know I’m going to get attacked again.
I also know I belong here.
I don’t know that I can change anything. Other people have been holding the door open a crack for people like me so we could slip in. Maybe that’s the best I can do. I can stand in the doorway and wedge it open a little so it doesn’t slam all the way shut. Someone stronger than me might come along later and fling it wide open, but for now, maybe the most important thing I can do is just make sure nobody slams and locks the door before then.
It’s not for everyone. I don’t judge anyone who has to duck out for their mental health. I did that for a long time. I get it.
I understand when people ask, “How can you still be a Christian?” sometimes what they’re really asking is, “How can I still be a Christian?” I can’t answer that for anyone else.
Maybe sometimes you can’t. Maybe the wounds run too deep. I’m not in any position to judge the way other people handle their own religious trauma.
For now, I’m here. Other Christians are just going to have to deal with looking in the mirror when they look at me. They’ll have to learn to live with the discomfort my presence and my past causes for them.
Well, live with the discomfort or change. That’s up to them.
Kristy Burmeister is a former pastor’s kid, former southerner, and current inhabitant of the northern woods. She’s the author of Act Normal: Memoir of a Stumbling Block and you can follow her journey on her blog: kristyburmeister.com/. When she’s not writing, she’s either obsessively researching her family tree or “accidentally” showing up at your house, just as you’re about to serve dinner.