In middle school (7th or 8th grade) our new neighbors the Gibsons started holding a youth group at their house. My friend Bridget from school went and that plus the fact that it was across the street convinced me to attend. There were lots of new friends to be met there, and the games and refreshments and people were a whole lot of fun. It didn't matter to me that the lessons made me a little uncomfortable, I just went for the friends. I continued to go and eventually had to start attending the high school version, which was held half an hour away in Machipongo. Again, it was the games and fun stuff (and cute boys that I would crush on) that brought me back every week.
A preface: I was raised Methodist. So that meant I considered myself Christian; however, Methodism is a far cry from evangelical Christianity. This youth group termed itself 'nondenominational' so I didn't see it for what it was, nor did my parents. It was only once I started telling my parents what they were teaching in the lessons that they got a little uneasy about me going. But they didn't stop me, because I did have a lot of friends there.
I found myself, however, believing what they told me, mostly I think to fit in. That the Bible is unfailingly true and mostly literal, that homosexuality is wrong, and that I should try to witness to my friends, among other things. I became for the most part an evangelical Christian myself, though not without a heavy dose of doubt and a bit of squirming on many of the social issues. For instance it was during this time that I met my first gay friend. I refused to believe that he was destined for hell based solely on the fact that he was different. And so there were parts of me that didn't fully embrace what I thought I believed.
I met my first and second boyfriends through the youth group. After the first one I really started questioning most of the things I had been taught in this youth group. It wasn't too long after that that the youth group began meeting at a Baptist church. I had pretended nondenominational meant whatever I believed, but I couldn't pretend I agreed with Baptist teachings. And the leaders of the youth group began belittling Methodists specifically, saying they weren't really Christians and that they were liars. Did they not know I was in their midst (as well as my brother)? I should have stood up to them. I should have said something. But I simply stopped going.
I rejected everything about organized religion, and felt a great amount of shame at who it had made me - that girl who tries to ask you if you're saved instead of being a good friend. I couldn't understand how it came over me. I rebelled against the possibility of a God, and basically just shut down any thoughts about religion or spirituality, until college. In college religion was a hot topic for intellectual conversations. But I still had little to say, mostly because then I would have to think about it.
Then I read Kevin Roose's book. Roose was a student at Brown who spent a semester at Liberty and wrote about it. He describes how easy it was and how tempting to adopt these radical beliefs. It's because you're made to feel a part of something, like a big family, and you want to belong, because the people in this family are often genuinely good people. But to belong you have to talk like them, and think like them. They'll let you in if you're different (to some extent) but you have to change to stay in. The fact that Roose struggled just as I once had made me realize that there isn't anything wrong with me. I shouldn't be ashamed that I fell into evangelism, or even too surprised. I can finally now set aside the hang-ups I had about that period in my life. And I can finally think about religion again, and realize that it's really okay that I believe in God. It doesn't have to mean I still have those poisonous ways of thinking deep in me. I know I don't think like that anymore, and so I'm allowed to have parts of that world back - I just don't ever want the whole thing.