No. 17: ⛪️🙏🏼👩🏻⚖️
You didn’t plan to stop going to church when you moved to LA. It’s just that you’re genuinely concerned for your spiritual health. You’d rather isolate the strong faith you have than let it erode by exposure to lukewarm Christians—or worse, on-fire Christians who don’t actually live lives worthy of imitation.
Your first attempt to plug into a church finds you at Oasis, a theater-turned-congregation where the “sermon” is a sales pitch for the pastor’s latest book. Jesus would’ve flipped his tables. Furthermore, the guy to your left keeps flirting with you—through notes on the bulletin! No, you are not interested in getting food after. You’re so disturbed, you can’t even bring yourself to reply.
You’re seventeen and trying to find some semblance of faith as you know it in this godforsaken city. A church with a rainbow flag? Satan in disguise. A woman pastor? She must hate the apostle Paul as much as you do, but you’re wary of her slippery slope beckoning with notions of women’s equality. Women are relegated to Sunday school teachers, admin volunteers, and occasionally prophets if they’re spiritually gifted. The only time you’ve seen women hold pastorship positions is when they’re a junior youth pastor or married to a male pastor. To have a single woman as head pastor? What else in the New Testament does she disobey?
The Christians in LA have sex outside of marriage. You’re so baffled by this, you don’t know how they can even call themselves Christians. Sexual purity is the pinnacle of a Christian lifestyle, you were taught. Paul be damned, but so are you if you ignore God-through-Paul’s words about fleeing sexual immorality. Fornication is a forgivable sin, God says, but only for the repentant. You observe no such repentance among this strange breed of non-denominationals. You thought you were non-denominational, but out here it means something totally different. It means couples live together outside of wedlock. We all have our sins, but this is a big one. Flagrant. Deliberate. Shameless. This is a lifestyle choice.
You ask a Christian costar about it when he mentions he bought a new mattress for him and his girlfriend. This man wears faith on his sleeve and you’re startled by how casually he implies their casual sex. You can’t hide your incredulity or your judgment. He welcomes your curiosity, saying something about how those verses against premarital sex are as old and irrelevant as verses saying women shouldn’t wear pants and men shouldn’t shave their beards. This sort of makes sense to you. There are verses you never followed because you bought into the idea they were outdated and “for that time and place,” as backsliders have probably justified forever. Yet you’re haunted by a thought that will never go away: If some Bible verses are now irrelevant, why aren’t all of them? Why aren’t they all outdated and “for that time and place”?
You regularly drive by a billboard for an agency called Actors, Models and Talent for Christ. You wonder if it’s a sign—literally—that God wants you to have Christian representation, to go out only for Christian movies, and to glorify His name by only doing Christian roles. What such roles would those be, you wonder. Well, you suppose, someone had to audition for all those Focus on the Family films you watched as a kid. Someone has to play the Marys of Magdalene and Nazareth in the remakes of the Christ story. Someone even has to play Delilah when Samson’s tale is told.
You wonder if the Delilahs have to kiss. How does Christian acting work? Do they show heads moving together and cut before lips meet? If the actors are married, do kissing scenes make them unfaithful to their spouses or does God give them grace knowing their hearts are pure? Maybe like your Christian costar, they’re unburdened by the books of Paul. That’s half the New Testament. What does being a Christian even mean if you’re not at least trying to follow the edicts for Christian behavior? You’re so confused.
If you’re harsh on other Christians, you’re even harsher on yourself. You read the Bible after you masturbate as penance. You snap a rubber band on your wrist when you catch yourself in a lustful thought. You still wear your purity ring and pray for your future husband daily, asking God to bless him wherever he is and, if it be His will, please bring him soon.
“When does anything happen that’s not God’s will if he’s always in control?”
Now see! It’s thoughts like this you push aside with behind-me-Satans and God-I-have-faiths.
The second time you go to church in LA is a few months later with your friend Luke. His church is the most boring you’ve ever been to with the worst band you’ve ever heard. Yet its adherence to sexual morality is almost comfortingly familiar. You and Luke are cut from the same Christian cloth. This cloth takes the words of God-through-Paul very seriously—except, of course, the parts about slave ownership because slaves were “for that time and place.”
You won’t keep going to Luke’s church, though. It’ll be a long time before you try going to church again and Luke will have everything to do with it.