This brave, honest and articulate post comes from my favourite sister, who inspires me, challenges me and makes me laugh (both with and at her).
When I was about 12, I came home from my first ever ‘Christian Adventure Camp’.
Don’t get me wrong, at the time I thought it was one of the best weeks of my life. I made great new friends, I tried new things and I learnt lots about the Bible and church. But when I got home, my mum asked me what I learnt and I responded, “Well, I didn’t know that being gay was wrong!”
I didn’t realise at the time how horrendous that comment was, how ignorant I had been to accept that fact without thinking it through myself and the gravity of the expression of horror on my mums face.
Credit to her, she calmly explained to me that it wasn’t true, and that she didn’t want me to ever think less of anyone because they were gay.
(When I later realised she was gay, the real gravity of how horrified she must have felt really hit home.)
I was told many things at that camp, and at my home church growing up, that now I would argue against defiantly and with passion:
I was taught that homosexuality was wrong – or that maybe it was okay as long as you definitely didn’t have sex, ever, in your entire life with someone you really loved.
I was taught that I should cover up because it’s distracting to boys.
I was taught that if you ever had sex, or even lay down next to someone of the opposite sex (yes, really), you were incomplete, not whole, you had lost part of yourself to that person.
I saw men lead the church, do the talks, and women teach me in Sunday school and serve tea and biscuits.
I am lucky, because I grew up with a family that taught me that it is great to ask your own questions, to treat every single person I meet with love and respect no matter what or who they are. I am lucky, because I met a boy who, despite growing up with even more traditional values, had an open mind and the kindest heart.
I learnt to question the things I had been taught, and I was blessed with a leader at this same camp who loved that I had so many questions about the Bible, about what was being said, and about what was right and what was wrong. I started to argue back with the other leaders – I shouldn’t date? I should just meet the man I’m going to marry and marry him? How will I know he’s right? When am I supposed to learn all the things you learn from tried and failed relationships? I became quite a feisty fourteen year old.
God gave me the gift to question. He gave me the thought to realise that I never, ever, want to do something just because someone tells me to, without thinking ‘but why?’ first.
He led me to my own beliefs about pre-marital sex, about homosexuality, about what is right and what is wrong.
I believe that if Jesus was here now, he might well also be having a lie in on a Sunday morning because going to church just felt hypocritical and that he might not be accepted there. He might also be struggling to have a personal relationship with his Heavenly father because he doesn’t have the great support and love that church can bring, because he never really felt comfortable there. I don’t know, I don’t know Jesus that well.
I’m a church kid that went bad – who stopped believing everything I was told, and had to find the strength to believe that if there is a God out there, he loves me, just as I am, church or no church.
He gave me the gift to fight, to argue back, to ask my own questions. He loves all of us, as imperfect as we are, he loves us because of our imperfections, not despite them. And one thing I am sure of is that he never sees our ability to love – no matter who we love – as anything less than perfect.
So when I’m a bit older, and I have children of my own, I really want to take them to church. I want them to see the God that I know, I want them to know how fully and entirely loved they are. I want them to have the great experiences that I had growing up in church. But I’ll be scared, that they might be told to be ashamed of who they are, of who they love. That they might be told they are incomplete because they slept with that person they’re head over heels in love with.
I want them to find a church of love, not of shame.
Sophie is a second year psychology student who also manages to find time to pull pints at the SU bar, and work as photo editor for the university newspaper.
She is a big fan of hot chocolate and her cats, Adam and Steve.