I feel like I need to preface this article with a disclaimer. I have nothing against Christians; these are just my experiences and not many of them are positive. I’ve grown up with two moms and being queer myself, in the Midwestern United States. I have religious trauma that I work every day to recover from. I’ll also be talking about my experience in a cult, which will remain nameless for the sake of the people still trapped in it. There is a trigger warning for talking about religion and mild mentions of abuse. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into this.
I’m extremely pleased with where I am spiritually, but it hasn’t always been that way. I hopped from church to church to try and be satisfied in a faith that hated my very existence. Growing up in a religiously saturated midwestern town gave me a fair bit of religious trauma that I won't go into detail about because I have just come to terms with it myself.
I started in a small nondenominational church in Nebraska. I stayed here for five years until I moved to Oklahoma. While at the surface level it seemed to be a very positive environment, I only saw it that way because I was a small child. One day in Sunday school we were forced to walk around the basement carrying multiple chairs on our backs, with the justification that this is what our sins were like. Please remember that the majority of us were four to eight years old. This was one of the many times I've realized something that happened was wrong, but this is the one I've chosen to share.
Then I joined a cult. Well, it was more my Grandma joined and I got dragged along. It was disguised as a small family church run out of an abandoned gas station. It seemed innocent at first, though that was due to the way it was run. The leaders would slowly phase you up until you were either brainwashed or realized it was a cult. I was in their youth program considering the fact I was 7-10 years old. When we misbehaved or questioned what they told us, we were sent to our “spiritual guide”, who would most of the time punish us physically. That is as far as I’m willing to go into my experience there. I’m still trying to reconnect with the child I was before that experience. I left after I was told to wear a skirt and “boycott” pants or go to Hell.
My grandma is extremely spiritual and was desperate to find another church, so after a while, we found ourselves in a Catholic Mass. I was ushered into the youth group, where I started crying asking to not be taken to the guide because I was in pants. The youth pastor then looked at me with a puzzled expression, whispered something to her assistant, and I was ushered off as sobs racked my body and I had my first ever panic attack. I was dragged to a separate room where I was told to step into the small pool, and I was forcefully baptized to “get rid of my demons”. We went to that church for about a year where I was baptized a total of ten times because my mental illness and trauma were seen as demons trying to possess me. I was 11.
After the constant torment, I was done with religion. I was an atheist for a good two years, with pent up anger and trauma. But then one of my friends invited me to her church, and I sucked in a breath as I saw a gas station up ahead and we turned into it. It was the cult. Her mom parked the car and I tried to say something, but nothing came out. What was said to me that night was unforgettable and traumatic.
I cut her out of my life and I never went back there; in fact, I moved right after that happened and was dragged to another church. This was a megachurch, and I’m sure anyone from Oklahoma can guess which one it was. I went for a year until I broke down to my mom, who is agnostic, unlike my grandmother who is ultra-Christian. I was told I was a sin for existing because my mom had me out of wedlock, and their homophobia and transphobia had become apparent. That was the last time I stepped into a church or looked towards the Christian faith. I’m happily a Pagan witch and I’m healing from what organized religion has done to me. So here’s a list of signs I’ve compiled of when a church/religion is becoming toxic:
As for leaving your parent’s religion, there are a few things to consider. If your safety will be in danger, don’t do it until you are independent. By independent, I mean financially withdrawn from them, moved out into a place you rent or own, and fully prepared to cut them out of your life. If you won’t be in danger, start with excuses to miss religious services and break them in slowly. If you are accepted then feel free to practice your new religion freely.
Please remember that these are just my experiences. If you are happy in any of these religions, please don’t take offense to this, it’s just my experience. Religion means a lot to many groups of people, which means it is one of the easiest ways to be manipulated. Be safe and love yourself no matter what and you’ll be fine.