Once again, I’ve left a church on Sunday morning feeling angry, frustrated, and even a bit betrayed. Once again, I’ve asked myself, “Why, in the literal name of God, is it so difficult to find a church!?”
Granted, my requirements for a church may be a bit more restrictive than other people’s, but I don’t understand why, with the great number of churches in the Lake Norman area, it is this difficult to find a church home for me and my family.
The first hurdle is the fact that, as an interracial couple, my husband and I would like to find a church that has both black and white members. It is said that the most segregated time in America is 11 o’clock on Sunday mornings. This is quite true in our experience. While a church might be fine in terms of what is preached and the friendliness of the members, it’s still not fun to be only black or only white person in the congregation. Even though our children are used to being the only “tannish” people in the classroom or at parties or at Sunday school, we, as parents, like them to be around a variety of ethnic groups when possible.
So, the race variable alone eliminates a number of otherwise perfectly nice churches, leaving mostly the larger congregations up for exploration. I am wary of larger churches just because I feel like, at some point, the preacher or some other high-ranking member ends up leaving in disgrace for some ridiculously embarrassing reason or another. That doesn’t come from a scientific study on larger churches—it’s just my own impression based on the occasional splashy news article. Knowing that my irrational doubt is not the best way to make a decision, though, I have been attending more of the larger churches in this area to see how they feel.
And frankly, some of them feel quite cultish to me. Maybe it’s a byproduct of growing up in the seventies, when we heard a lot of horror stories about cults and being brainwashed, but I’m still a bit suspicious of large crowds that seem über-fervent about their beliefs. I know a church should be strong in its beliefs, but too much is simply too much.
However, the level of enthusiasm among parishioners isn’t my main concern. I have two strong points that are really the make-or-break for my church decision. One is the role of women in the church and the other is the church’s stance on all things scientific. As a woman AND a scientist, I refuse to be a part of a group that does not accept me as a fully functioning adult, capable of mature and well-reasoned decisions or a group that refuses to accept the many years of scientific knowledge and advancement that have occurred since the Bible was written and organized lo these many years ago.
Getting back to the role of women in the church, I cannot believe there are churches that still do not allow women to be part of the governing body. That boggles my mind. Isn’t this 2014?? Why are women even joining these churches that are more than happy to have them teach Sunday School and oversee the nursery (of course!), but will not allow them to help with decisions that guide the direction of the church? This is such a step backwards, I find it hard to believe how many churches like this are doing so well.
A recent explanation I heard for not allowing women in the upper circle of the church was basically that “in Jesus’ time, men ruled the church,” and that “all the churches of this type generally run this way.” Well excuse me—I guess if ALL these churches govern themselves that way, then that makes it OK! I guess the fact that society was different in Jesus’ time and that women weren’t given roles of authority pretty much anywhere makes it okay to do the same thing today. Talk about a glass ceiling! In this case, the church doesn’t even try to pretend to be inclusive. Despite all the talk about diversity and how much the church welcomes it, diversity isn’t welcome when it comes to actually governing the church. I guess it’s nice to know exactly where the line is drawn.
As a parent, we get used to a couple of common excuses from our children, neither of which is ever acceptable: One is “this is the way it’s always been done” and the other is “everyone else is doing it.” To hear a pastor of a church (and a father to boot!) using both of these phrases recently as reasons for not allowing women in the upper circle is unbelievable to me. I wonder how long he had to practice at home saying those ridiculous words with a straight face. I knew in theory that many churches believe this, but I had never before had an actual experience of being so disenfranchised so personally.
I suppose the easiest thing is to just stop worrying about church and, instead, spend Sunday mornings sleeping in and watching TV. That is a lot of fun, but I really like being part of a church family. I want my children to learn Bible stories and the tenets of Christianity that were a part of my growing up. I have thought about becoming an atheist or agnostic, but that just never felt right to me. However, joining a church with opposing beliefs definitely isn’t right, either.
So, I’ll continue my search, my children and husband will get sick of always being visitors, and I’ll hold onto the faith there’s got to be a happy medium out there somewhere.
Jennifer Montague lives in Huntersville and works as research business manager for a local oncology clinic.