The first thing you should know about me is that I wasn’t born into a Christian family.
Both my parents are Buddhist. At home, we have this tall, huge wooden Chinese altar with a Guanyin Bodhisattva statue sitting inside.
When I was little, I would accompany my parents to Chinese temples at least once or twice a week. Usually it’s for simple prayers and offerings. At times, it’s to consult the mediums there — especially when there was a special occasion like birthday, or an important examination was around the corner (ugh Asian parents). Sometimes we would go to the medium instead of the doctor’s when I fell sick.
I was introduced to Christianity when I was 13. That was back in the early 2000s, when we were all still using Nokia phones, myspace and Friendster. Lexi, my classmate and good friend at that time, had invited me to her church; she was a new convert herself. It was my first time attending a church service, but Lexi reassured that her church’s “super fun, not like the traditional kind, and there would be lots of youths like ourselves from many other schools.” The thought of meeting and making new friends made me excited, but nervous at the same time. Nonetheless, I was open to the idea.
It was a Saturday afternoon. When we arrived at the church, I was surprised to see so many other teenagers like myself. As we made our way in, Lexi called out to different people and quickly introduced me to them. Her friends were so friendly and warm towards me, I was overwhelmed. They welcomed me like I was one of their own. They seemed genuinely interested in everything about me. The amount of attention showered on me the newcomer made me feel, for the first time in my life, important, and special in a good way.
Occupying a single floor in a washed-up building inside a secluded industrial park, Lexi’s church’s definitely not your usual kind. The service was held in a very plain looking office-space-turned-seminar-room which could sit around 60–80 people. Without any windows, the rectangular room with its perfectly white walls felt a tad claustrophobic. Oddly, I didn’t see any crucifix or portrait of Jesus Christ around.
Like neat waves, black plastic chairs lined up in rows facing the stage, which was a grey carpeted platform no more than a few inches off the ground. A narrow aisle wide enough for a two-way human traffic ran through the middle of the sea of chairs, parting it in two equal halves.
One thing that quickly caught my eye was the full drum set on the stage. And then the bass guitar, the electric guitar, the mic stands, and the keyboard. A live band? This’ a church? I thought to myself. No big pipe organ, no wooden benches, no stained glass windows? Well, Lexi said it was a “cool” church, but I didn’t expect it to be this cool. It was definitely not the church I had imagined it to be, though I was more surprised than turned off.
We were seated on the second row from the front, which made me feel like a sore thumb, exposed and vulnerable. “I know I am like VIP, but this is a little too to the front?” I commented. Then, I was this incredibly shy and awkward teenage boy. Going to church was a big step for me. It was completely out of my comfort zone. Not to forget, I was doing it behind my parents’ back — it was an act of defiance against them. Lexi smiled and said nothing back to reassure me.
The service started with what they called Praise and Worship, which I expected to be some hymn singing session, except that the lights went off, spotlight shone onto the stage, the lead singer shouted into the mic, “IS ANYONE READY TO PRAISE GOD!!!” and then the drummer hit the drums real hard. Suddenly I was transposed to a mini rock concert.
The heavy bass from the stereo sound system electrified the entire atmosphere. The congregation clapped to the beat. Some were raising their hands, some were even on their feet jumping. I can still remember the song. It goes, How awesome is this place, Angels descend here… How awesome is this place, Blind men can see here… There was a huge screen where the song lyrics were projected on. People were singing in union, loud and proud. I was blown away.
Slowly, I joined in. My hands started clapping along, my lips started to sing. I thought it would be less awkward to just imitate what people were doing, than to do nothing at all and stand out like a noob. In retrospect, it was a significant moment and decision for me: I had made myself a part of them, instead of apart from them.
I enjoyed the sermon a lot, though I can’t remember what it was about now. I remember that I was incredibly moved, and deeply emotional. During the altar call, I responded. I went to the front of the stage and said that I would give my life to Jesus. I told Him to save me. To wash away my sins and make me brand new. Amen. And then the worship song played again and I sobbed in my repentance. I didn’t really understand my great emotional outpour. I didn’t know I had so much in me. Perhaps it’s the peer pressure I was facing at school, the bullying, the loneliness, and all those teenage hormones added together.
The pastor told me, It’s God touching your heart. Jesus has entered into your life and He’s going to change you from inside out. Well whatever it was, I felt relief. In fact, I felt really, really great after. (You see, crying does help sometimes.) And when the others around me held and encouraged me as I wiped my tears, I felt even better about my decision.
I had found my people.
The second thing you should know about me is that I’m gay.
Now, don’t just assume that my sexual orientation is the reason why I quit Christianity. It’s not.
And the fact is, I still believe in God. I still believe in the divine and the supernatural, and the possibility of miracles in everyday life. So no, it’s not that I have fallen to the other side and become a godless atheist.
I knew that I was gay when I was 15. Though I have always known and felt that I was different from the other kids from as young as eight or nine. Back in school, I hung out with mostly girls. I had always felt awkward and uncomfortable being around the other boys, whether the rowdy bunch or the geeky sorts. Though, there was this guy in class whom I idolised. He’s tall, smart, athletic and most importantly, friendly and approachable. He was like my Aaron Samuels. However, unlike Cady in Mean Girls, I did not take any action on my feelings because I knew it’s just never gonna work.
Back in church, boy-girl-relationship aka BGR was not only discouraged by the leaders, it was looked down upon as a selfish choice. They’d tell you, If you’re in a BGR, your heart is not with God. We’re supposed to be serving God with ALL our heart. If you’re in a BGR, you’re unfit to be a youth leader, because if you’re in a BGR, how are you going to tell your sheep to not have BGR? True story.
Well, I did see where the church’s coming from, but some people didn’t. One of my close friends in church got found out by her leader that she had a boyfriend in school. She was made to choose between keeping her youth leader position in church or her boyfriend. So she left church and Christianity altogether.
Surprising — or not — nothing much was said about boy-boy or girl-girl relationship. And since nobody said nothing about it, it was as though same-sex love didn’t exist in the church at all. Having said so, youth leaders were told to sieve out the possibly gay or confused individuals. Not to chase them out of church, thankfully, but to provide with extra coaching and care. “To steer them in the right direction in Christ.”
Of course, I didn’t come out to anybody in church, definitely not my leader. Firstly I wasn’t even sure about my sexual orientation, and secondly I was terribly afraid. I felt alone. No one else in church was openly out of the closet, or at least comfortable with talking about their feelings on the issue.
Then it came one weekend when my church invited Sy Rogers, an ex-gay pastor from America, over to talk to us about “sexual brokenness” and receiving healing from God. Rogers first shared with us his very personal story of being gay and possibly transgender. He painted a picture of him being a promiscuous young man drowning in confusion and homosexual sin. He attributed it to his broken childhood — his absentee father, his alcoholic mother, his sexual abuse experiences, bullying in school and etc. He described himself as “dirty, unloved and unwanted.” Then one day, he had a connection with God, and asked God to make him clean again. And since, he had abandoned his homosexual ways and become a voice for God. He even got married and had a kid.
It was the perfect story of redemption, going from “the worst imaginable” to the most ideal: Gay-Shameful-and-Alone to Normal-Proud-and-Married! As the impressionable teen, I was entranced by his life-altering story of transformation. I thought, If God can change him, He can definitely change me too.
At the altar call, Pastor Rogers called out for those who needed to be prayed for. Fearfully, I went forth to receive “my healing.” Well, come to think of it, that moment’s essentially my first coming-out experience!? Though, I wasn’t exactly coming out of the closet gay and proud. Instead, I had turned my back on the closet, and on myself, and rebuked it all in the name of God. Sure I felt exposed, but at the same time, I felt relieved too. Like homosexuality was a disease, and my confession and my desperate call to God was the cure.
But we all know that that’s not how it works. After a week or so, I slipped back to feeling those “sinful” urges. My same-sex attraction didn’t just go away in the name of God. There ain’t no miracle. I felt dirty about myself again.
“Am I healed? Why haven’t I been healed? Haven’t I been touched by God? God can’t be wrong, right?”
The third thing you should know about me is that I used to be a fervent evangelist before I became a backslider.
For those of you who don’t know what backslide means:
Backsliding, also known as falling away, is a term used within Christianity to describe a process by which an individual who has converted to Christianity reverts to pre-conversion habits and/or lapses or falls into sin, when a person turns from God to pursue their own desire.
The word backslide was such an ugly word back in the days in church. The mere mention of it would make one cringe in disgust or frown in disapproval. It was literally, THE WORST.
In fact, backsliding is akin to committing a real crime and given a life sentence for it. The “backslider” will forever carry that record with them. Even if you were to go back to church, you’re still marked as “the one who left,” “the one who wasn’t strong enough,” “the one who might just leave again anyway.” (And you’d thought that the outside world is harsh in their judgment.)
“Oh, have you heard? Lexi left church! She’s not coming back.”
“What!? She’s a church leader! She has sheeps under her. She backslided? What happened!”
Yes. I wasn’t the only one who left the church. In fact, Lexi left before I did. I wasn’t sure what’s her reason, but for me, I had two:
Firstly, I felt that the church was making use of its members, who were mostly teens.
We were literally like free labour. Well yes, nobody was forcing us to do anything that we didn’t want to. Having said so, I think we were sort of brainwashed into following whatever we were told. There was a system, a hierarchy, an order that everyone followed without questioning. No one would dare question otherwise. I guess the community spirit kind of locked us in too.
For instance, if you’re in the building maintenance team and you’re told to go wash the toilet, you don’t ask any question, you just do it. And you better be sure to do it with a smile on your face too. Because, “you’re not doing it for the church or for yourself, you’re doing it for God.”
One time I was told to get rid of the black markings on the floor of the church lobby. I was given a small plastic pail and a dirty rag. There, I got down on all fours, wrapped the rag around my right index finger, dripped it in the pail of cloudy water, and started scrapping those stubborn black rubber marks off the white floor tiles, one at a time. It was a tedious process as the markings didn’t come off easily. There, I thought, Wow I don’t even mop or vacuum the floor in my own home — my parents do that — and here I am, scrubbing floors in public with people walking by. What the hell is going on???
I knew I should feel proud of myself for showing such dedication to the church. All I wanted was to give the church my best. But after I went home that day, the more I thought about it, the more off the whole thing felt. My overzealous commitment to the church for the past three years was finally burning me out. I felt like I had been made use of, exploited even. And as I started to view the church and all its activities with a critical eye, the more I saw how questionable some things could be.
Secondly, over the years, the church had become more and more obsessed with expansion.
“We need to grow the body of Christ,” they would tell us, over and over. “There are souls to be saved. People are going to hell. We need to offer them a chance at salvation and Heaven.”
Teenagers were trained to be part-time evangelists. Every week we were “encouraged” to bring a schoolmate along for the next church service. Each of us would have a target list — those friends that we thought could be potential converts. During cell group meetings, we would pray for their willingness to open their hearts to us and the idea of coming to church. Leaders would be monitoring each sheep’s progress with their friends, and then report back to the leader above them. The leaders higher up the hierarchy would then collect all the numbers and then present the total number of “new friends” expected at the next service to the pastor.
In three years, I’d seen the church grew from under 200 people to over 800–1000. More than 300% growth — that’s how fast we were growing as a congregation. Isn’t it remarkable that most of this work was actually done by teenagers? I myself had brought more than twenty of my non-Christian friends to church, and a handful of them got converted. After a while, it had all seemed to be a big-ass race. All the cell groups were competing for growth. The pressure was on.
At some point, the church had become so goal-orientated and obsessed with bringing in new people/souls that it had forgotten about its own people. The church had used to be a safe haven for me, but as I distanced myself more and more from it, the clearer I could see things. That was when I realised that many of its teachings and beliefs are extremely myopic, uninformed and damaging as well.
For instance, my church had taught us that our God is the one true God, and that all other religions are works of Satan. Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism were described as unintelligent religions; their worship of pagan figures, animals and deities were said to be wrong, nonsensical, useless, and laughable even. The pastor had in fact described miracles in other religions as demonic.
It’s scary that young minds were indoctrinated with such disrespecting, bigoted extreme ideas. At that time, I never had any problem with those teachings though. My impressionable teenage mind was absorbing and believing whatever the pastor said without any filtering or critical thinking. I was nodding away as I listened to the pastor, taking down notes, like everybody else in the congregation.
After I finally left church in 2006, I went into the gay world.
I was 16 turning 17, and ready to explore my own sexuality. I was meeting people online and at parties. I was discovering a side of myself that I never knew existed — the part of me that’s so real yet so falsified by the church. I was happy, but only for a short while. Then, I became ridden with guilt and shame. I was fearful that I would contact some disease as a form of punishment from God. The stress of being caught in the middle, between my Christian beliefs and my true damn self, caused me to spiral into depression.
Half a year “in the world” and I was too battled to continue on my own. I knew I needed God back in my life, and so I found myself a new church and started attending service again.
For the following four years, I had good and bad times with my Christian faith. At times I was “on fire” for God — I was fasting, giving huge amounts of donations, singing in the church choir. And then there were times I was more distant.
In 2010, I entered university and started spending more time in school and less time in church. It was then when my church got embroiled in a mega fraud investigation which’s looking at $50million worth of money being misused. I was still supportive as I had faith in the pastors of the church.
Half a year in college, I had also found myself a boyfriend. While he’s an agnostic, I remained strong in my Christian faith. I had even tried to convert him and had brought him to my church. Well I guess old habits die hard. While I was staunch in my Christian beliefs, he’s firm in his too, and we would have arguments over our religious beliefs.
I didn’t lose my religion.
Instead, I’m creating my own.
Now at 26, I don’t go to church anymore. Because I don’t like the idea of people telling me what I should do, and how I should be doing them. I think many millennials feel the same way.
During my time in university, I’ve learned to be my own teacher when it comes to issues close to my heart. It’s about objectivity. This is why I did my own research on the subject of homosexuality. I stop letting one specific group of people dictate how I should view myself, and other gay people. I realise that what it means to be gay is really, my own business. How I want to live my life is my choice, not some other people’s. And as much as I won’t conform to heteronormative standards, I won’t let myself blindly follow the standards of the gay community too.
As with my ex-church and its whole fraud incident, I did my own research as well, and realised that the management might have indeed misused church funds, tiny part of which contributed by me. The official investigation is still ongoing, but whatever the final verdict is, my trust in big organised religions has but diminished completely. After years and years of listening to the prosperity gospel in church, I had been brainwashed into giving thousands of dollars. Perhaps deep down, I was trying to “pay my gay sins away.” II was using money to make myself feel more connected to a “Higher Being” instead of my own self. Religion had become a comfort zone for me. I suspect many closeted gay Christians out there are actually doing the same. They keep themselves busy with God and the church to avoid the need to come to terms with their true self.
I think being Christian has led me to shut my mind to
concepts and ideas that may be foreign or opposite to our beliefs. It happens to many Christians actually — they are so obsessed and over-protective of their faith that whenever another alternative point is offered, they get so defensive. They’d say, “Your mind is under attack by the devil!”
Losing my Christian beliefs has definitely helped me see more beauty in the world, especially in other religions and other people’s faiths. Back in 2013, I was studying abroad in India. Had I held on to my prejudiced Christian viewpoint, I would have been blinded to the culture, the history, and the people’s pure passion and belief in their gods. And just last year, I was traveling to Japan for the first time; I found that my openness and new attitude have led me to a deeper appreciation of the Buddhist faith. I’ve also become more respectful and understanding toward my own family’s traditional beliefs since.
Frankly, after all these years, I feel ashamed of my prejudice and judgment of other religions. So yes, after all the years of sitting on the fence, I’m finally leaving Christianity. No, the problem isn’t with Christianity. I feel that it’s more with the so-called followers of Christ, the Christians. Their outright hypocrisy that they themselves condone — “God has forgiven me and ALL my sins. Amen.” — and the hate that they harbour in their hearts towards what their ignorant (brainwashed?) minds do not understand or bother getting to know or empathise.
Dear Christians, please know that just because you think you’re right doesn’t mean that everyone else is wrong.
Just because you’re lactose-intolerant doesn’t mean others shouldn’t be allowed to drink milk. It’s the same logic. Perhaps this is why I like the Muslims better — they don’t go around telling people that eating bacon’s gonna send them to hell. They don’t shove their faith in our face. Even when they have to pray, they find themselves a secluded corner and do their devotion there — one-on-one with God. Muslims don’t go on protest or go picketing. In my opinion, the majority of the Muslim population is much more peaceful than the majority of some other religion.
Sometimes I feel that the hate coming from certain groups of Christians might be just as violent and destructive as the terrible acts by Islamic extremists. Both killed many people. Though the number of suicide deaths resulted from the hate and shaming by the Christian community might possibly exceed the number of people who had been harmed and killed by terrorists in the name of Jihad. Consider that.
Well I can’t say that I don’t mean to offend anyone with this post, but this is my story. Just because you don’t agree with my points doesn’t mean that they are invalid.
“But not all Christians are the same, not all churches are the same.” (Heard this like a thousand times.) Yes, I do agree with you. I do know Christians who are actually really nice people. They may disagree with some of my lifestyle choices, but they don’t condemn me. They still show love and compassion.
I think the best way to dissolve any conflict is to agree to disagree, and then you move on. And even though I have moved on to a different pasture (greener or not), I would like to say that the experiences that I’ve gained during my stint in the Christian world have taught me so many very valuable life lessons. I wouldn’t trade them for anything else.
Even though I no longer consider myself a Christian, I’m still keeping a space for God in my heart. I don’t believe that we humans can live and function happily without any belief or faith in something outside of the physical world we live in. We all need hope, in something bigger and more powerful than ourselves.
Though I think a lot of the time that something cannot be found from the without — not from the church, or other (more fervent) believers, or the priest, or money.
But only from within ourselves.