When I lived at home, my parents insisted on taking me to a church that my sister and I both strongly disliked. There was no youth group. There was one class for all the kids, combined. Mom taught it, and it was just basic Bible stories. There was no real doctrine taught, and no challenge at all for me, the oldest in the class (of 3-5 kids). But Mom thought the church was like the one she was raised in. One with THE Truth… as she knew it.
I wanted more than that. I wanted to go to a church where there were others my age, where I could learn, where there were activities and where others wanted to go, not just went because it was the thing to do on Sunday morning. Even my parents disliked going. Many Sundays we went to Sunday School and then went home rather than going to service. Dad skipped even Sunday School more times than I can count… and one Sunday while I was sick I discovered he preferred Tarzan to church. Or maybe he just thought his sick little girl would prefer that to cartoons.
When I got my license I was excited. I thought I might go somewhere else. Mom told me I would not be driving, that we would go to church as a family. To the church she chose. When I moved away to college, at the end of the day she handed me a phone book and told me they weren’t leaving until I chose a church to attend on Sunday. There was no discussion about trying out a few churches. Nothing about the possibility of going to chapel at the college. Just, “Here’s the phone book. We aren’t leaving til you choose a church.” And something about so many college kids quitting church entirely.
I had no intention of quitting, but I did want a better option than what I’d had growing up. A friend had told me about a visit to her grandmother’s Pentecostal church… and when I opened the phone book that day and saw that there was a Pentecostal church in town, I knew where I wanted to go.
Mom flipped. Suddenly I was informed that I needed to try several churches. It was clear they didn’t like my choice, but it was the end of the day and they had to go.
I visited one other church in town. None of the others appeared to be options for me at the time. And though I liked the other church, Pentecostal had my full attention from the first day I visited. There were others near my age. People wanted to be at church. They actually opened their Bibles at church. They could quote scripture rather than (as at my former church) taping the most familiar like the Lord’s prayer to the pulpit. There was an excitement there. So that’s where I chose to go.
My parents strongly disliked my decision. They came to visit. Dad brought me a copy of a book about why tongues was wrong. Mom argued. She told me she thought I had damned my soul by being rebaptized (a misinterpretation of “crucify the son of God afresh”). Dad tried to force me to wear pants to go to church when I was home (to cold for a skirt, looking out for my interests: “You will not leave this house!”). Dad threw fits about my new boyfriend, throwing some of the worst fits I had ever had directed at me. They argued and challenged… and everything they did only spurred me to continue going and solidified in my mind that I was right.
The fights have never stopped completely, sadly. I left two and a half years ago, but Dad still presses for where I go to church, what kind of church, and so forth. And if I ever told him it wasn’t Pentecostal? There would just be more that he would pressure me to do in that case, I’m fairly certain. Because if I’m not Pentecostal I should dress like he wants me to dress, marry who he wants me to marry, talk like he wants me to talk, do what he wants me to do. Sound familiar? Sure. Pastors insisted that I would do those things, and for years I didn’t question what they were doing, because Dad had always done the same thing. And Mom backed him, even on things that were wrong, harsh, and extremely disrespectful. “Honor thy father and mother” was quoted at me, but they never realized that ‘honor’ doesn’t mean ‘do everything they ask without question’.
We had another fight nearly a week ago. I haven’t called them since. We usually talk several times a week. But this time, with Dad blaming church and a request from the college for parents to stay away for awhile for rarely coming to visit, and then pressing and pressing-question after question: “Where do you go to church?” “What church?” “What’s the name of it?” “Where?” What church?” “Where are you going to church at?!” I finally had enough. I really don’t know what I’m going to do now. I wish they would respect me for who I am (or who they know me to be) because I don’t feel any desire to let them know who I’ve become when they continually refuse to accept who I’ve been.
They don’t even go to church themselves. Not even for the major holidays usually. Dad just within the last two years figured out that the priests who are mentioned in the New Testament weren’t Catholic priests, and that the Catholics weren’t the ones who wanted to kill Jesus. And then there’s the number of times that Dad has said that Pentecostal preachers are wrong for telling people what to wear (and do and so forth) while doing the same thing himself.
I’m conflicted. I’d like to just be myself. But no matter who I am, they have never been satisfied. At least this battle is familiar. Or was until last week. Now I’m not so certain. If I choose to stay in a hotel when I go home and not call them as much, it will hurt them. I love them and I don’t want to hurt them. But sometimes people are hurt because their own choices drive others to make decisions they won’t like. My parents may very well have done that.