I’ve spoken in tongues at revivals and whispered hymns during liturgical gatherings. Stood on megachurch stages and been to church services where you could fit everyone who showed up in one row. Jotted down notes about the oneness of God and nodded along as pastors explained the intricacy of the Trinity.
Put simply, I’m familiar with Christianity and the different traditions within. I can recite Bible verses and argue theology with the best of them. I’ve attended thousands of church services and visited dozens of churches. Faith was the only sure thing in my life when I was younger.
Things are more complicated now.
Rebuilding Faith Again & Again
Deconstruction is an interesting concept. I’ve never had a dramatic falling away from the faith, but I have spent a lot of time putting things back together. When I left the Pentecostalism of my youth, I had to work through what I really believed. Same for when I became disillusioned with American evangelicalism and realized I didn’t want anything to do with large, corporate-style churches.
My biggest fear used to be becoming a “cafeteria Christian,” a somewhat condescending term for believers who pick what they believe, similar to someone perusing a lunch buffet. Of course, even the most devout Christians choose what Scriptures they heed.
I fully affirm LBTQ+ rights, a staunch feminist, and uncompromisingly believe in a woman’s right to choose. (I’m not listing these things off because I think I deserve a trophy, but they are in direct contrast with the Christianity many Americans hold dear.) Does this make me a heretic? I suppose it depends on who you ask.
Perhaps the most interesting part of my journey has been thinking about how 18-year-old Ayana would feel about all of this.
There Is No Fear In Love
I used to be terrified of going to hell. If I’m being honest, I still am some days. As a kid, I heard a saying that resonated with me for years: “I’d rather live my life as if there were a hell and die to find out I was mistaken than live as if hell wasn’t real and find out on Judgment Day I was wrong.” As an adult, all I can think is this: What a sad, small view of an angry, punitive God.
I was terrified to ask questions for a long time because I was afraid I’d pull one thread and the whole thing would unravel. In retrospect, a faith that was that easy to crack wasn’t solid to begin with. I didn’t leave my fundamentalist views behind because I wanted to live a life of debauchery (although I’ll never turn down a good margarita). I realized that I was afraid of God. Terrified, really. So much of my obedience was fear about what would happen if I fell out of line.
Why be a Christian at all? Trust me, it’s a thought I’ve had a lot, especially in the last few years. I’ve experienced more racism, sexism, and emotional abuse within church walls than anywhere else. Even now, when I share my beliefs, I quickly add a caveat that I strive for an inclusive faith because of the reputation Christians in the U.S. have. I’m a skeptic by nature and tend to take alien and ghost stories with a grain of salt. But I believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus. It’s hard to square away.
At the risk of sounding overly earnest, the person and nature of Jesus are still captivating to me. There’s so much I don’t know and have accepted that I’ll never understand, but that has been enduring. I remember a quote from years ago that said, “I love God even when I don’t believe in Him,” which I think about often. And engaging with feminist, Black, and queer theologians has helped me expand my view of God and shed a lot of the notions I’ve held for a long time. Perhaps the best way to sum it up for me is found in the lyrics of one of my favorite songs from United Pursuit Band:
I can’t explain it / this sweet assurance / but I’ve never known this kind of friend