1 John 4:16 – And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and those that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in them.
As a child, I spent most of my summers in vacation bible school learning everything from Christian sing-alongs to bible scriptures. While as a child I thought I missed out on a lot, in hindsight, I’m grateful for my upbringing. Because of it, I became an advocate of God’s love. My foundation in the church, both good and bad, has contributed to the person I am today. I was taught the basic fundamentals: listen to your parents, do the right thing, and homosexuality is wrong. I’d later realize the church were the wrong ones.
Attending private Christian schools most of my life left me ignorant to the world around me. Identities other than man or woman were unheard of and relationships outside of heterosexual ones were forbidden. After grade school, I moved to Oak Park where I was introduced to a host of possibilities — many of which were detested by the church. I was surrounded by various members of the LGBTQIA+ community throughout high school, and I couldn’t understand what was so bad about them. Over time, I formed relationships with various members of the community and quite frankly…they seemed normal to me.
Then, I went to college. It was there that I became aware of the unfounded hate people had for the LGBTQIA+ community. It was loud, it was in your face, and it was just disgusting. From hate speech on the quad to discriminatory slurs on the bathroom stall door, I was repulsed by the people around me; and all it did was remind me of the one place I had grown up in — the church. Some of my closest friends were apart of the LGBTQIA+ community and it hurt me to see the discrimination they faced, specifically from black counterparts that knew exactly what that hate felt like. Not to mention, it hurt to see leaders of the church further perpetuate this hate when it seemed like their job was to do quite the opposite. I realized the church had lost its power; the church had lost God.
Soon, I began to question everything I knew. I found a strange hypocrisy in its teachings of love and acceptance from God, yet their strong judgement of the LGTBQIA+ community. It just didn’t add up. How could you proudly prosecute someone for being themselves? The concept seemed so far gone from the parts of Christianity I loved the most. My God did not exclude or shame others. My God is love.
Aside from this, I also had personal beef with the church. Being scolded for wearing make-up or nail polish was a battle I fought often. “It represented the ways of the world,” I was told. You telling me covering up my dark marks or putting on some lip gloss will send me to hell? Spare me the dramatics. I could think of 10 worse things that should land someone a spot in hell. My virginity was also a common point of contention in the church. There was an intense push of purity in women that mad me feel guilty about living, this was misogyny at its finest. Soon, it started to feel like nothing I did was acceptable in the church’s eyes, despite the very essence of my character being modeled after most of its teachings.
Eventually, I grew a strong disdain for this aspect of the church: the hypocrisy, the misogyny, and the obvious self-righteous attitudes that lingered. Nevertheless, my love for God grew stronger. Because in God I did trust. Leaders of the church may have been clouded, but God to me, was still worth my adherence. I was praying more, increasing my weekly devotionals, and it felt like I had gained more from my self-guided journey with God than I had ever done sitting on the church pew.
To me, God is simple; there are no conditions to God’s love. Who am I to judge someone? Who am I to say what’s normal or acceptable? If God can accept me, why couldn’t he accept my gay best friend or my queer boss. God did not teach me to hate, the church did.
Make no mistake, the church has had a positive influence on my life in so many ways. It taught me all the fundamentals of love and compassion that I know and share with the people around me. It has made me an advocate of acceptance and a fighter against hate. To be real, the church has a true war on their hands and it is not against the LGBTQIA+ community or the purity of a woman; it’s the battle against mental health, against violence, against affliction. The church doors need to be unhinged and transformed into a place of deliverance. The church must breed restoration: opening its arms and ears to all who come. It should not be a place of hate or segregation. It should not turn anyone away. I chose love all of these years because God is a lover of all, and it’s in God I trust.
Tymmarah Anderson is a contributing writer for the Pedestal Project, LLC.