For the first time in my life I am actively not attending church. This is very odd for me. Going to church has been an important habit my entire life. It has sometimes been the highlight of my week, especially when I was a teen and would get to see my weird youth group friends. However, over the past couple of years I have run into some issues with the American church and have grown more uncomfortable attending services.
The more time I’ve spent in church the more I find I am critically listening to whatever the pastor says. This has been a valuable habit that I have been trying to improve. I don’t want to blindly listen to what a pastor says. I have found that I often leave church questioning if what I really heard was truly Biblical or just one man’s opinion, a sign of American church bias.
For example, many of the churches I’ve attended, especially recently, regularly demonstrate their privileges and biases. It is difficult to attend a church that encourages people to give to the poor and disabled, but then will mock someone with an invisible or mental illness. For a while I attended a church where I felt like people with disabilities were treated as equals. We even had a pastor that was willing to publicly admit his mistakes. But then there were some changes in the church and I started to notice ableist and sexist language. For example, there was one time they showed a video that mocked a man with depression. It basically asked how he could possibly be feeling sad, how can he be struggling, when so much of his life was so good? I felt deeply uncomfortable watching the video. I also felt ashamed when I heard some people laughing at the language the actor used, language that I have often said myself when my struggles with depression were at it’s worst. It took me almost a year to realize that the man had depression and was being mocked for it. The video also upset me because it showed the man walking to work and said how happy he should be that he can walk around, obviously without any pain. I immediately knew why I was unhappy with that. As someone with chronic pain, I can walk just fine and without anyone thinking anything is wrong. But, like many others who suffer from an invisible illness, I am in pain when I walk.
I also started to notice sexist language and examples more and more. For example, I don’t remember a single time the pastoral staff addressed women in the audience but they often addressed men and “men’s issues”. All the examples being pointed towards men was starting to drive me crazy. The staff would talk about so called “men’s hobbies” and frame subjects in a masculine way. When videos were used to make a point, it was usually men being featured. Specific problems like sexuality were brought up as men’s issues. Women simply weren’t addressed or seen in leadership roles; they didn’t have a voice. It’s like being male was the default, even though statistically more women attend church than men do.
Eventually, I started to feel like an outsider because I am disabled. I couldn’t volunteer or give like I wanted to and I felt like I wasn’t a true member of the church. I felt like being healthy and being male was the default. Since I wasn’t that default, I didn’t belong. Then when I couldn’t attend church because I was having a flare up, I was overcome with guilt and would often end up crying on the couch instead of using that time for prayer or study.
Of course, I’ve met some wonderful and understanding people at church. There was the woman who listened to me after I had a miscarriage and encouraged me to get professional help. There was the man who gave me communion even though I was sitting outside the sanctuary because the worship music was too loud and I had a migraine.
I miss going to church and try to make it when I can. My husband and I have a list of local churches to try when we are ready. But I’m doing what I can to find a supportive community while we discover what we are looking for. When my health isn’t so bad, we try to spend time with friends and family members who are spiritually encouraging.. My husband and I are committed to reading the Bible and praying more together.
The guilt I feel for not going to church every Sunday hasn’t subsided and I’m not sure if it ever will. But I’m grateful that I have friends and a husband who can spiritually encourage me and that God understands why I don’t always attend.