Feeling a burst of confidence and rare certainty, I recently changed my Facebook “religious views” to “Episcopalian.” For over a year, I’d left that section of my profile blank as I underwent a deconstruction period: I knew I believed in God, but I’d become rather agnostic about religion. I missed Judaism, the religion of my birth. At the same time, I’d been drawn to liturgy, continued my fascination with saints, and longed for a place of worship that supported female clergy and LGBT rights.
After spending some time with the Anglicans, I found the Episcopal Church. And I felt like I’d come home.
I wish I truly believed that labels don’t matter, but my OCD tells me otherwise. So while it’s completely unimportant in the grand scheme of things, making a public statement by listing my religion on social media was quite a big deal.
It lasted only a day. Something inside me kept going, Nope nope nope, can’t do labels, nope.
I took “Episcopalian” down, and my religious views are blank again.
Maybe the root of this is just fear. I’ve been let down by churches before – it’s akin to experiencing a breakup, and it takes a long time to recover from that kind of betrayal. Maybe I’m afraid that the comfort and sense of belonging I draw from Episcopals will fade, or the church will change, and maybe become the new face of Right Wing extremism (unlikely, but still).
It’s one thing to call yourself a Christian, which I’d done for nearly a decade. But now, more than ever, that term has become tainted with dirty politics. Not only that, but when someone tells me they are “Christian,” it actually tells me very little: are they conservative? Progressive? Does their faith excuse Donald Trump’s bigotry with “We’re all sinners and shouldn’t throw stones”? Does it excuse pastors who abuse their wives, and demand they submit rather than seek divorce? Does it enable rape culture on a larger scale by instructing women to dress modestly so their brothers in Christ don’t “stumble”?
“Epicopalian” has a specific image. I’d researched this denomination for months before deciding to try out a church. I found that their theology closely matches mine, as I best understand it. I support their political causes. The first few Sundays, I went by myself. The first time I brought my husband, the sermon was about the difference between “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter” – and the necessity of white Christians to own their faith’s history of complicity in racism.
I was instantly hooked. I never got confirmed, but I felt so right being there. At the same time, I was irrationally afraid that the church’s progressive stance could be nothing more than a trendy liberal phase, and this time next year, maybe the priest (a woman!) would be saying something different.
It’s like experiencing a bad breakup, and being unable to trust another man again – no matter how different the new partner is from the last one.
Over the course of my life, perhaps I should anticipate my community fluctuating as my theology grows. Maybe this year I’ll commune with the Episcopalians, but next year I’ll grow with the Lutherans (not likely, given how anti-semitic Martin Luther was, but just an example). Maybe I won’t stay in Colorado forever, and will find a non-denominational community that meets weekly in a coffee shop, a bar, or at somebody’s house.
Maybe the label of my faith community doesn’t matter, so much as I have one.
Photo credit: Daiga Ellaby