Trigger warning: Religion (Christianity specifically), fundamentalist Christianity, Evangelical Christianity, Pentecostal Christianity, spiritual abuse, proselytizing and conversion (as a topic)
I was raised for as long as I can remember in the Assemblies of God church.
If you're not familiar with the name, the Assemblies of God fall under the Pentecostal/charismatic umbrella, and were founded in the early twentieth century. AG is one of several denominational groups associated with dominionist theology, the Christian Right, and fundamentalist Christianity. It's also the young earth creationism teaching church affiliated with the camp portrayed in Jesus Camp, the abusive residential treatment center/troubled teen industry placement Teen Challenge, and the anti-gay, heterosexist organization Focus on the Family.
I was christened as a baby in the Assemblies of God.
I was baptized by water immersion at thirteen years old in the Assemblies of God.
I was part of the Missionettes program, the AG alternative to the secular Girl Scouts, from kindergarten through seventh grade.
I've always owned a Bible and it was always natural to me that we went to church every Sunday, tried to encourage our friends to come with us, and talked about everything and everyone in terms of God's will.
I am a Christian. My faith is important to me and is central to my work as an activist and a scholar. But I've come to learn over the last several years that the Christian faith as the Assemblies of God understands and demands it is not the same as the Christian faith as I have come to understand it.
And after reading some articles and essays that I'd somehow never stumbled across earlier, I've realized that I still have a lot to apologize for, because there's still a lot that I've taken for granted and a lot that I've never quite owned up to.
To the Buddhist in my second grade class whom I told believed in "a false religion" and "a false god" and should turn to Jesus instead, I'm sorry for so brazenly de-legitimizing and attacking your own beliefs and religious heritage while demanding that you convert to mine, and I'm sorry that so many Christians essentially believe and teach young children that it is their duty to see their friends and acquaintances as conversion projects.
To the first openly Gay person I ever met, I'm sorry for immediately thinking of you as essentially a project to be developed into some type of pious Christian even though I never believed people could suddenly become not gay, and I'm sorry that so many Christians believe and teach their children to believe that you can't be gay and Christian, that gays are damned to hell forever, that being gay is wrong, and that being gay is something you can be "healed" of through enough prayer and self-hatred.
To every Muslim in the entire world ever, I'm sorry for wanting to go into the field of Islamic Studies with the hope of finding some kind of mystical "connection" between your faith and mine so that I could claim at least some of you as Christians in some unconventional and certainly appropriative and condescending way, and I'm sorry that so many Christians believe and teach their children to believe that you are all following a "perverted" religion, that you are going to hell, and that you can only be saved if you convert to Christianity.
I don't know if I'm a religious pluralist in the sense of believing that everyone or most people will attain the spiritual "goal" or telos of my faith -- in layman's terms, in the sense of believing that belief in a specific religion isn't how you "get to heaven." On the one hand, it seems incredibly exclusionary and judgmental (in the sense of acting as though one is God and can judge another person's character) to claim that only people of a particular faith (including, by inference, people who've done pretty horrible, awful things) will "go to heaven." On the other hand, it seems almost appropriative or irrational to claim that anyone can "go to heaven," particularly when the notion of "heaven," however argued or conceptualized, is often specific to a particular religion's understanding of "heaven," and is not even the end goal for many religions.
But I do believe in the right to absolute bodily, spiritual, and mental autonomy, and to the absolute right of freedom to worship (or not), and it deeply saddens me to realize that essentially my entire childhood consisted of constant indoctrination to see everyone around me as either "in" the community or "outside" and therefore a prospect for conversion. This is astounding.
It is tantamount to child abuse to inculcate a sense of absolute fear of disobedience or disrespect, however ill-defined, toward church authority either in tangible form (such as church leaders) or abstract form (the concept of the church as an authority itself). If children are not taught to be inquisitive, to question, to criticize, to reason, to understand, then their supposed Christian education amounts to brainwashing. And training children to believe that their goal in all of their relationships, if any, with non-Christians ought to be for the ultimate purpose of conversion, no matter how beautified or justified the language, is not only abusive to that child themself but also preparing that child to enact spiritual violence against people with whom they might have wanted some kind of meaningful relationship that will now forever be damaged if it exists at all.
How would you feel if you found out that someone had befriended you solely to slowly wear you down into agreeing to attend religious services with them and ultimately to convince you to convert to their religion? (Unless you for whatever reason made an emotional and spiritual conversion to that religion, and even then, not necessarily) I doubt you'd feel grateful or comforted or reassured or satisfied. I'd bet you'd feel used and deceived and objectified in the most gross sense of the term.
The parent of an autistic young woman in another Evangelical family once told me that they had heard from the Holy Spirit that she would be "healed" of her autism soon. Other autistics have been subjected to exorcisms under the premise that autism, like other mental disabilities, is caused by demonic forces. At least one young man died several years ago during such an exorcism.
I'm sorry for every time I nodded with implied assent because I was afraid that if I spoke up, I would be quickly and definitively silenced.
I'm sorry for all of the collective and individual abuse on so many levels of oppression that so many Christian churches and Christians themselves perpetuate.
I'm sorry for not speaking loudly enough against the hate spewed so loudly and powerfully in politics, culture, and society by members of my faith.
I'm sorry for whatever hurt and pain I've caused to others in my oblivion to your wounds and to my essentially rubbing salt in them.
I didn't always know.
I wasn't always sorry.
But I'm aware now. I'm so very aware.
And I want to do whatever I can to make up for all of it, because no one deserves to be used, either to convert other individuals or to bolster church attendance numbers, either to hurt other people or to suffer pain for the sake of someone else's agenda. That's not the kind of world I want to be part of, and I believe strongly that that's not the kind of "religion" that any just or loving god(ess) would ever want.