When I was younger, my sister and I used to go to church on a Sunday school bus. Every Sunday our mother would dress us in our Sunday’s best and stand at the front door while we boarded the red and white bus to Salisbury Baptist Temple. My mother, although raised a devout Baptist, did not accompany us to church, but she made sure we were on the bus faithfully. In retrospect, I can imagine she needed the time to herself. Nonetheless, as we got older, we didn’t need her supervision, we simply did it on our own. It was expected and we had actually grown to like it. Well, when I was about 12 I finally graduated to the “big” service. The “big” service had all the bells and whistles of a traditional Baptist service, well, an all-white Baptist service that is.
During my first “big” service, the charismatic preacher was preaching about how important it was to be saved and that being saved was an important step in order to enter into heaven. According to him, only when one accepted Christ as their personal Lord and savior were they guaranteed a spot behind those pearly gates. Well, I wanted to go to heaven! I didn’t know how I was going to manage this since I was experiencing extreme guilt over the sexual abuse I was suffering. Like most kids, I thought it was my fault and that I was a bad, bad kid. I thought in some way I was asking for those experiences. Anyway, by the time I started attending the adult service I had suffered 7 years of abuse and had pretty much adopted it as a way of life. So imagine how horrible I felt and how internally tortured I had become by this time. I even remember trying to reason with one of my molesters by reciting some of the things I learned in Sunday school. It didn’t work. But I thought, now, if I can just get saved…it’ll all be ok. I’ll be forgiven. God will love me again. So when the charismatic preacher had an altar call, I went straight up. I didn’t hesitate. In fact, I was the first one to the altar. They prayed with me and gave me the blessing that I just knew would change my life. I felt good! After church, I went over my grandmother’s for dinner and was later abused by my uncle. So I thought…well, I’m going straight to hell for sure. I honestly thought that had erased the whole getting saved thing. So the next Sunday, I went back up to the altar. I was determined to get to heaven. The preacher looked at me and asked, “Darlin, did you come up here last week?” I told him no. So not only did I do bad things last Sunday, but I also lied. I REALLY needed to get saved again. But I couldn’t tell the preacher why I was getting saved again, so I had to lie. So I got re-saved and I felt good…again. Anyway, same thing happened all over again. And the following Sunday, I went back up to the altar call. Yes, my third altars call. This time the preacher definitely recognized me. He told me I only needed to do it once. I told him the last one “didn’t take” so I needed to have it done again. Lol! I think he understood that something must have happened so he had a group of people take me in a back room and pray with me. I left church that day feeling pretty dissatisfied, very unprotected and scared to death. As far as I was concerned, I was a pretty bad kid who was trying to do the right thing, but just couldn’t. I felt hopeless.
You see, I thought that being saved would stop the abuse, save my soul, and make me a good kid. I was expecting it to work a miracle. But I was always afraid. Always scared that everything I did, that was bad and wrong, was taking me to hell. And some things were just out of my control. Why did I have to go to hell because of what others did? Yes, I had it all wrong.
As I’ve gotten older and more educated, I’ve learned more serious things that were done, out of fear, in the name of religion. Wars that have been started, enslavement of groups of people, the conquering of lands and the annihilation of entire cultures, were all done in the name of religion. And I realized that if that’s what religion stands for, if that’s what people actually use religion for, I want no part of it. All I want, all I ever wanted was to love and be loved. And I know that there are those that say that people have done hurtful things in the name of love as well. But we all know that is not love. Love never hurts. Love is never unkind. Love is steady and unconditional. It’s accepting and tolerant. It’s beautiful. That’s what religion is supposed to be. But somehow, man has stopped operating from the heart and allows the mind to distort what God’s messengers originally intended. To me, being saved meant the unconditional love of God. Well, I know now that I had that all along. I didn’t have to be “saved” in order to receive that love. So, Love is my religion. And it’s not practiced just when I’m in a church; it is my way of life. It governs how I live everyday and the decisions I make. I don’t need to read a book or fear God in order to practice it. There’s no fear of hell or any promise of heaven and I still practice it faithfully. Now, how different would the world be if we all allowed Love to be our religion?