Why Is There a Church On Every Block? Figuring Out How the World Works In the Bible Belt
As a child of Catholic parents, I learned to take responsibility for men’s actions at a very young age. I remember the dread I felt shopping for clothes that would follow the school dress code. Despite the boiling hot summers in Georgia, the school board had a vendetta against shorts above our knees and spaghetti straps. God forbid anyone see our bare shoulders. Even now, I still hesitate putting on shorts in fear of attracting unwanted attention from strangers. The more I questioned the school dress code, the more I knew I wanted more for my generation.
Since I was a toddler, my parents took my sister and I to church every Sunday. We wore poufy white, lacy dresses and slip-on sandals and mouthed the words to
hymns we pretended to know. Because of this, I learned to present as feminine as possible; wearing a suit to church was never presented as an option. I remember liking the dresses, though, mostly because it provided a nice breeze on hot days. What I didn’t like was the comments people would make about me to my parents, as if I weren’t in the room. Complete strangers would comment on how pretty I was and how my dad would have to fight off all the boys in my class. I was 7 years old.
My parents kept me in Sunday school until I graduated middle school. As a closeted lesbian, I kept to myself during these classes and even brought flashcards once so that I could study for an upcoming test, like all the other cool kids. The discussions the class had never stuck with me; some of them made no sense. I remember my instructor had a whole lesson on why it was a sin to say “Oh my God” explaining that we must not use the Lord’s name in vain. Reflecting on the moment years later, I now understand that my instructor oversimplified that passage. The original intent of not using the Lord’s name in vain was to prevent Christians from using the Lord’s name for their own benefit and from forcibly converting people of other religions, which is ironic if you think about it. It was from all my time with the Catholic church that I learned to question everything that others took for granted. I noticed the way that adults sexualized young children, especially girls. I noticed the way that adults fear-mongered us into following strict dating rules. I noticed the way that adults acted out of fear instead of love.
Once I stopped going to church in high school, I continued to question the world around me. Why do so many people use a faith that claims to be rooted in love to
spread so much hate? Why were so many of my Sunday school peers white? Why were there no disabled students over the 10 years that I went to Sunday school? When I took more and more Women’s Studies classes at the University of Georgia, I realized that Christianity was designed to spread hate, not love. My classmates were meant to be white and able-bodied. This curriculum opened my eyes to numerous systems of oppression that Christianity weaponized to maintain their positions of power and wealth. They used racism, ableism, and heterosexism to keep their funding and agency within white, able-bodied, straight, male communities. Sure they would do the occasionally charitable donation to the local unhoused shelter. However, this was temporary relief, and it was intentional. If the church worked with the unhoused shelter to house and employ Black, trans, and queer people, who are most likely to be unhoused, then these people would not need to rely on the church’s occasional donation to survive. These people would have the power and resources to challenge the church. So, the church gives the shelter a band-aid, and when the band-aid falls off, the church swoops in to apply another one, and the cycle continues. The church gets the praise from housed communities for doing a good deed, and they get to keep their bountiful supply of band-aids, Neosporin, and stitches.
How do we push back against and still allow for respect of a religion that has targeted the LGBTQ+ Community?
We educate each other on the history of Christianity, particular churches and religious practices that are not inclusive.
We research the original interpretations of the Bible.
We discover how and why there are so many misinterpretations of the Bible.
We encourage others to question the world around them.
Who’s included in these religious communities?
Who’s missing and why?
What narratives are spread about certain communities, such as LGBTQIA+ communities?
How are these narratives harmful?
Who benefits from these harmful narratives and how?
By asking questions and thinking critically together, we disrupt the systems of power that those in Christianity who may want to do harm to the LGBTQ+ community rely on to stay in control. We empower each other and develop a strong interdependent network that we can rely on for sustainable support. We give each other the resources that we can spare, and we take what we need. We act out of love, and only love – but this can only happen if we keep asking “why?”