“Exodus” is a series of vignettes, posted twice a week till completion, describing my experiences growing up and out of an evangelical church. All names have been changed to account for privacy.
My parents had very different upbringings, as parents sometimes do. My mother grew up subject to things that Lifetime would probably pay big money to make a heartbreaking biopic about. She was born in Chicago where she grew up on the south side of the city, one among nine children. Her skin is a shade of brown dark enough that the world pushes against her, and deep enough that you know she’s the descendant of slaves and indigenous peoples. She had two children of her own by the time she reached 25. My older brother and me. We both have her skin, and the trauma that comes built within the cell walls of melanin, but she knows desperation in a way that we never have.
My biological father is not in my life. It is, and is not, what you’re thinking—absent black father, and all of that. But that is another story, and it’s not for today, and it’s not for you. What you should know is he left me his name—Dionne.
My father, was born in a small town near Boston, Massachusetts. He grew up in a middle-class family with his sister, both parents, and at least one dog. Probably. While his childhood wouldn’t get a Lifetime movie, it could get a decent-sized publishing deal. He was splitting his time between college, work, and the Army Reserves when he was my age. His skin is white and freckled, the orange in his goatee the last hint of the red-headed child he was. I don’t have his skin, or the privileges that cover it so completely, but he knows religion in a way similar to me.
My parents met and married at the International Church of Christ (ICC), an evangelical church with ties to most major cities in the world. My father grew up in it, as I would once my mother converted to it. The ICC claims a non-denominational approach in its studies and teachings, which is to say they mean themselves to be unbiased. There’s no Catholic guilt, no Pentecostal spirits. Non-denominational evangelicals are the vegans of Christianity, adamant about their all-faith-based, no-human-by-products consumption of the Bible, and even more fierce in their belief that their diet is the only one humans were meant to have.
A lot happened in my seventeen years of attending church—some of it was great. I got to go to summer camps (that were basically spiritual retreats with some camp activities thrown in), I traveled all around the country to different gatherings where I got to meet other Christian kids from sister cities (but only from the International Church of Christ…mixing with other churches would be like adding dairy to your diet…potentially corrupting). I made friends that I still love and care for to this day. I had a community that was filled to the brim with support, and mentors that helped me grow into the headstrong woman who can sit here and write this today. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have so many genuine moments while attending church. Indeed, it would be very dishonest to say that every part of it sucked.
But truthfully, a lot of it did.
Suck, that is.
The process of growing up in church, leaving the religion, and figuring out who the hell I was without it, really fucking sucked.