Let me first be very clear. Though there have been times of disappointment and woundedness in interactions with local congregations and in watching the evolution of a denomination, I have never ceased to believe in and love God's church. The organized church has sometimes fallen short of what I wanted it to be, but the Church, the bride of Christ, has always been, and continues to be a mainstay of my very existence.
During childhood in a very small town, I remember as early as ten years old thinking that I didn't always think like those around me. I don't know why or how, but I always knew that that little town was not indeed the center of the universe, and that there was something bigger out there.
I graduated from high school in 1969, so I came of age with civil rights, Vietnam, and the feminist movement. Again, I found my inner voice questioning much of what I heard expressed around me. Sometimes I argued, but mostly I listened and kept my thoughts to myself. When I tried to voice my thoughts in church settings, I was mostly shot down, so again, I learned to keep those opinions to myself. I learned not to react outwardly to things I disagreed with. I learned to be less than authentic.
Why? Because, like any other young person (and most older people too if we are honest), I wanted the people I cared about to accept me, to think highly of me. I had seen and heard enough to know that if your opinions strayed too far from the accepted parameters, you would be ostracized to some degree. While being sometimes ostracized in social settings because of my Christian beliefs was acceptable to me, the thought of being ostracized within my church family was beyond what I was willing to risk. "What will people think?" is a very powerful club.
Life continued, and now I was an adult, still (mostly silently) questioning the veracity of much of the conservative thinking that was seemingly the only voice of power in my church. I discovered the word "liberal" and suspected that I might be one. But, you see, by now both my husband and I were in leadership roles in the church. We followed where God led, and had a wonderful time working within the church body. I believed what I taught, but I avoided teaching on topics where my thoughts would not have been acceptable, e.g., the role of women in ministry. I gradually became less and less authentic.
In our mid-40s, God led us away from our small-town life and into urban ministry. I was now in a new place where no one knew me, and affiliated with a ministry that was non-traditional to say the least. For the first time, I felt the freedom to be completely authentic. Our complete orientation to our assignment in our apartment complex was to "hang out with the people and hover around John 3:16." There were 13 years of being completely open about what I thought and felt.
Now, God has led us to a fairly small, fairly conservative suburban community. As I stumbled around and tried to adjust to the change, I found that I could not return to my Baptist roots. We found a different church where we have begun to put down roots. As I began to meet new people and participate in groups, I realized that it would be too, too easy to go back to being less than authentic, to let people assume me to be much more conservative than I am. So I am trying diligently to put myself out there, to claim all of who I am.
I am God's child, but am also a liberal, a feminist, and a democrat. And I don't see any contradiction there. It seems like such a small point, but I am 63 years old, and it is a really big deal to me to be able to voice who I am and trust that my fellow believers will love me anyway.