Written by Anna Murphy.
Art by Holly Ann Buck.
God used to be the most important person in my life. As a child and young teen, I cared more about the judgment of my invisible father in the sky than that of my family, friends, romantic partners, or self. Now that I have left the church and my former faith, I can see how unhealthy this prioritization of an unseen being over the people in my life really was. I valued purity over intimacy, rules over relationships, self-punishment over self-love, faith over friendships, and fear over freedom. It deeply saddens me to look back upon the shame and self-loathing that plagued me as a child. My religion, which was supposed to be my saving grace, turned out to be toxic.
I was raised in the church of Christ, a particularly conservative, legalistic non-denominational sect of Christianity. I was never the “perfect” Christian, but I was your prototypical, run of the mill goody-goody girl who kept her spirits high and her knees shut. Well, at least, until I turned 15.
Everything started to change when I turned 15 in May 2016. I had just faced an extremely traumatic accident in which my youth minister nearly drowned two months prior. I was depressed, traumatized, and highly volatile. In August, I started dating my best friend. Our relationship was a hormonal frenzy of lingering kisses, groping hands, and really corny T.V. shows. My boyfriend wasn’t a Christian, but he went with me to my church’s youth group. I attended church every chance I had, even though I had begun to doubt things. If anything my doubts made me attend more frequently.
Isn’t that how these things always seem to begin? With someone on their knees, tears streaming down their face, questioning how God could allow bad things to happen.
My religious uncertainty came after the accident. I was angry with God and wondered how this could happen to someone like my youth minister. Someone so faithful and Godly. Isn’t that how these things always seem to begin? With someone on their knees, tears streaming down their face, questioning how God could allow bad things to happen. I also had doubts about other things. Hell (how could a loving God send his creation to burn eternally?) and purity (how could a loving God condemn me for fornicating with my boyfriend?). It was a difficult age anyway, made infinitely more difficult by a mix of trauma from the accident and shame for doubting my belief in God.
By the time that I had been with my boyfriend for six months, we had already crossed nearly every sexual boundary that I had set. Every time we would cross a new boundary I would retreat. I would have a panic attack, consider breaking up, consider suicide, and then cross another boundary a week later. Now I know that sex is perfectly healthy and normal, but back then I thought that I was a disgusting sinner who was probably going to hell ( if such a place did, in fact, exist).
When we had been together for seven months, we finally decided — with much deliberation and Biblical study — that we wanted to have sex. *GASP* I loved him, he loved me; it just felt right.
I stayed because the Bible told me to. I stayed because my belief in God outweighed any semblance of self-respect, self-worth, or self-love that I had.
I had heard so many horror stories about premarital sex. I had given up my most precious and important gift (or so I’d been taught). No man would ever want me again. I would have to marry my boyfriend. This mindset allowed me to suffer for two and a half years in a relationship that eventually turned rotten. Sometime in the months after I lost my virginity, my relationship began to change. He eventually became withdrawn, angry, and – on rare occasions – verbally abusive. I became depressed, needy, and co-dependent. I stayed because the Bible told me to. I stayed because my belief in God outweighed any semblance of self-respect, self-worth, or self-love that I had.
I had a very difficult next couple of years. Every time he lashed out, I felt this surge of fear. I couldn’t leave. God wanted me to stay in my unhappy relationship because I was sexually active with my boyfriend. In retrospect, this idea seems absolutely ludicrous, but it is unfortunately not rare within the church of Christ. Sex is a binding, suffocating contract within the church of Christ. Sex is an inescapable prison.
My love for myself and others is more important than my fear of punishment. My pursuit of equality, pleasure, compassion, love, friendship, confidence, and knowledge are all more important than my fear of punishment.
Through studying, researching, and reading my emotional doubts about church transformed into logical beliefs. However, even after I left the church, I didn’t leave my boyfriend. The idea that I had to marry him was so deeply ingrained into my brain, that it outlasted all of my other Christian beliefs.
When I realized I was bisexual, I felt the cold fingers of shame grip me once again. I felt an indescribable sense of disgust and dirtiness. My Grandpa, the preacher of our church of Christ church, didn’t exactly make his feelings about the LGBTQ+ community unknown. I met up with him on multiple occasions to try and change his mind. It was no use and he ended up preaching a sermon series based on my family and our various sins. We have since had a falling out due to my Grandparents’ inability to accept us.
I finally left my unhealthy relationship two years ago. I also began to work through my guilt about my sexuality during that time. Now I know that my self-worth is more important than my fear of punishment. My love for myself and others is more important than my fear of punishment. My pursuit of equality, pleasure, compassion, love, friendship, confidence, and knowledge are all more important than my fear of punishment. I am human and as a human, I enjoy sex, food, comfort, friends, family, beautiful women, love, corny T.V. shows, and everything else that life has to offer. I am proudly Agnostic and I am no longer afraid of the heteropatriarchal, conservative Christian version of God. Breaking up with my toxic church liberated me from a life built on fear and shame.
About The Author
Anna is a Portland State University student studying sociology. She is an up-and-coming writer with a particular interest in the areas of LGBTQ+ representation, the fat experience, and chronic illness and disability. Her life-long dream is to utilize her own intersecting identities and life experiences to connect with other people and cultivate relationships and community. Anna is also extremely passionate about social justice and equality.
Follow on IG: @annalinnmurphy