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I Grew Closer To God After I Left The Church

She called me a Jezebel. I was through.

Her Voice

I was so over church the day one of the older women in the congregation pulled me aside and basically said my tattoos and piercings made me look like a Jezebel.

No really, she called me a Jezebel. I was through.

I was raised in a church that identified as Baptist, and later went to one that identified as the Church of God in Christ (COGiC). Growing up, I liked reading scriptures and the history of the Bible. I had always been a very spiritually aware person, but one thing that used to throw me off was all of the rules and regulations that, to me, had nothing to do with the Bible. Length of clothing, wearing jewelry and makeup, hairstyles, hobbies and friendships seemed to all be regulated by men and not God.

I understood some "rules" were Biblical, given the seven sins and anecdotal stories in the Bible. Yet, as I grew older, I began to question a lot of things that happened in church that seemed to be more religiously correct motions and not practices that actually reflected a passion to please God, but more so a passion to please people. I continued to go to church, but as I began to challenge and question the religious practices, there seemed to be more and more tension between myself and fellow church-goers, especially the elders.

As I got older, I became more liberated in my way of thinking with topics such as feminism, sex, and self-expression. All of the views I possessed seemed to clash with my "religion". I had (and still have) many homosexual friends, and oftentimes I was questioned/scolded about my allegiance to the LBTQ community (even though I identify as heterosexual). Scripture after scripture and prayer after prayer were used to try to counter my argumentl and I felt that it was my duty not to judge, but love.

I began to study and embrace a feminist mentality, which led to chastising about going against the submissive way of thinking that a woman should have in the relationship with her husband. I didn't particularly think that being submissive to a man was a way to keep him, but the elders of the church thought otherwise. I'd always been fond of tattoos and piercing as forms of self-expression, and opted to utilize those methods as I got older. In return, many of my fellow church members thought the method of my expression meant that I was being sexually deviant and "loose", and that such methods took away from my femininity.

These different viewpoints and ways of thinking ultimately led me to stop going to church altogether.

I felt as though the religious space I was occupying was a space that used rules and regulations as a marker for your relationship with God or how perfect you could make that relationship seem. I didn't understand how following rules set by man could be indicative of whether or not I was following rules set by God. It seemed as though religion was more about pleasing the people you occupy religious spaces with, trying to impress them by how diligently and fervently you could follow religious doctrine and less about being accountable for how you ran your life. I knew people who followed all the rules set by the church but were seemingly breaking all rules set by God: their skirts were the appropriate length and their skin was virgin, yet they were rude, greedy, and had laid with plenty unwed.

After I left the church, I remained without a church home for some years, but continued to maintain my spiritual relationship by reading my Bible regularly, praying, and living life to my fullest by trying everyday to be kind, considerate, and honest. Even by finding my own spiritual path without a shepherd or communing weekly in a temple, I found that I was able to grow by working through my own trials and errors.

I was better able to examine my life and the mistakes I made by viewing myself through an introspective lens; not through the lens of those who were merely judging by how many rules or rituals I didn't live by.

I was better able to clearly see my life's purpose, my areas of spiritual weakness, and things I needed to work on as a member of humanity who happens to call themselves a Christian.

Yes, I did get tattoos, piercings, go out on Friday nights and break “rules" set by a church, but I realized that my true faults here things that were beyond superficial. I was able to work on my patience with others, become more open-minded and more in tune with the emotions and feelings of others. By taking a break from the church, I was able to figure myself out for myself without worrying about judgmental eyes peering over my shoulder.

Though I do miss the concept of a church family and being around people who share the same spiritual beliefs as me, right now I'm in a frame of mind where I feel as though the church I belong to needs to be a space where I can grow in my faith, instead of a place where I feel like I have to follow their rules. While I'm not currently actively searching for a new place of worship, I do hope to find a church family in the future.

Until then, I'll be very careful before aligning myself with a group that goes by "religion" and not by God's word and principles.

xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at submissions@xonecole.com.

Featured image by Shutterstock

Originally published October 12, 2017

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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