I’ve had people ask me to clip my own wings in the name of Christian doctrine, in order to ease their discomfort, and I refuse.

-Sherronda J. Brown

I keep having to come out as “nothing.” To family, friends, coworkers, and anyone else who might make assumptions about my religious identity and affiliations.

By “nothing” I mean that I do not subscribe to any organized religion or form of spirituality. Neither do I identify as atheist or agnostic. This is a point that seems to cause confusion and discomfort for those around me, perhaps even more so than the various times that I have come out as being on the asexual and aromantic spectrums.

I think it causes such anxiety because people don’t know what box to put me in. To some, that inability to label me is frightening. If I would just identify myself as something, anything, even atheist or agnostic, it would put them at ease. But I am fine with being “nothing.”

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I was raised in a traditional southern Black Christian household, and I suppose that there are times when I venture into a sort of “cultural Christianity” because it is easier to use familiar cultural terms in order to express myself to others.

There are many reasons that I have become more and more disillusioned with religion as I have gotten older, the most profound of which is the trauma that I have associated with Christianity and the things surrounding it.

Much of religious doctrine, especially the form of Christianity that I was taught and continue to witness, goes directly against my fundamental belief system, which is that every living being deserves the right to exist free from violence and oppression. And I will not compromise these beliefs for anything.

When a religion is used to justify and commit slavery, human trafficking, pedophilia, environmental racism, femicide, and more violences, I will not embrace it. When a religion supports and encourages anti-Blackness, homophobia, transphobia, queerphobia, misogyny, and more forms of oppression, I will not respect it.

I’ve watched Christians damn-near fetishize the apocalypse and rapture so that they can justify ignoring the injustices of the world because “Jesus is coming back soon anyway.”

I’ve watched Black women shrink themselves in order to satisfy sexist and misogynistic religious standards, denying themselves pleasure, joy, autonomy, and humanity, and many have tried to direct me down the same path.

I’ve witnessed Black children be abused and that abuse be excused and encouraged by “spare the rod, spoil the child,” teaching them from an early age that violence is normal and expected from loved ones.

I’ve had people ask me to clip my own wings in the name of Christian doctrine, in order to ease their discomfort with my boldness of opinion, and I refuse. I’ve had men ask me to fold in on myself and fashion myself into something less challenging, demanding that I “submit” so that they might feel more dominant and in control, and I fucking refuse.

The church taught me that my depression was my own fault, and that my anxiety was an evil spirit to be prayed away. 2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV), “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind,” is an invalidating, gaslighting, and frankly, ableist Bible verse that was thrown in my face growing up more times than I can count. This was done either to silence me when I had a right to speak or force me to speak when I had a right to silence.

Even as a child, I knew that my mind was unsound, and a “spirit of fear” was a constant presence in the form of anxiety. It still is. I now know that this does not make me unworthy.

The church taught me how to be a docile victim, to always forgive those who hurt me, because forgiving them was supposed to somehow create my healing. It taught me to be forgiving of the people in my life who abused and bullied me, or allowed it happen, and of others who commit unspeakable violences.

But, now, to the likes of Dylann Roof who specifically targeted a historical Black church to enact his white supremacist violence, I say: I don’t believe in forgiveness. To those who have taken advantage of me, manipulated me, coerced me, shamed me, hit me, used me, violated me, broke me. To them, I say: I cannot heal from something that never stops hurting me.

The church taught me lies and discouraged me from learning about the very world in which I exist. The sun is not a static object in the sky. Everything in the universe is in constant motion. We are all made from stardust and our connectedness is undeniable. Science is real and useful and freeing, not lies to undermine Genesis.

Now, I find such solace and joy among the stars that I was once discouraged from exploring, and it pains me to think that I might never have found this solace if I had simply resigned to the “truth” of the church.

I have never breathed easier than I did when I left the church. I felt as if so much weight had been lifted from me. So much guilt. So much shame. So much fear.

I often wonder if my position on religion might be different if I had not been born of stolen people, on stolen land, and had instead been brought up under the West African sun, learning of the Orishas rather than a vengeful and jealous white God who regularly destroys his creations.

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The church stifled me in so many ways, far more than those I have discussed here in this essay. I did not truly begin to grow until I left it behind, and I know that I would not be doing the work that I am now if I had stayed.

Church is healing for some, but it is traumatizing for others. Our experiences are not universal. It almost cost me my peace, and that is a price that I am no longer willing to pay. I would rather be “nothing” than what the church tried to make me into.

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