In Church, I Was “Special”

Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash

By Marlana

In the church, I was ‘special.’

We all were. We are the Chosen Ones. The ones that the Lord deemed worthy to impart His spirit. 

I read my Bible daily. 

I prayed all the time. 

And sometimes, I felt close to Jesus. 

I loved Jesus. 

He was all about love, helping the poor, healing the sick, welcoming individuals from all walks of life. 

I remember once, sitting in church and listening to the pastor, red-faced and sweat-ridden, bluster through a sermon. Whatever he was speaking about, the sin of the world, the corruption of humanity, our imminent demise, the gays, the liberals, it was the same. Always the same.

And I thought:

This is not the Jesus I know.

It was a crystal clear thought. 

As I listened, I felt dirty; I shrank from the hatred, I shrank from the God the pastor was describing. The God he put into an echo chamber of his prejudices. 

This is not the Jesus I know. 

In another service, I remember the pastor saying: 

“We aren’t here to feed the hungry; leave that to the false religions, the Catholics.” 

 (Catholics, always, were the worst comparison — those false-idol worshipping heathens!).

We evangelicals are here to bear witness of the Truth to people. To save their souls! 

I remember cringing.  

This is not the Jesus I know. 

I attended a dedication ceremony at a Catholic church once for my young cousin. The side of my family that wasn’t fundamentalist. The organ swept me. And the Latin chants. The holiness of the space. I thought perhaps God must be here also; how else to explain the squeeze in my throat and the prickling in my eyes? 

Catholics had their grand edifices and solemn chants, but we were special because we had the Truth. Because we understood what those Catholic heretics did not: there is no trinity. Jesus is God, not the son of God, and soon, the Lord Jesus would come to rapture us away from this dirty, sinful world. 

“Mommy, but what about those tribes in the jungles that never hear about Jesus? Will they go to hell?” I asked. 

I had been reading old National Geographics, and I was very concerned. 

I was nine years old. 

“That’s what the Bible says.” She said.  

That day, I decided to become a missionary. 

I dreamed of leading people in faraway places to the holy spirit and saving their souls. 

White Savior dreams. 

And another time.

I was reading an article in my Grandmother’s hidden stash of Esquire magazines. It was about the school shooter that asked each person before he shot them, “do you believe in Jesus?”. 

If they answered yes, the shooter killed them. 

“Mommy, did they go to hell if they were not Pentecostal?”

“If they didn’t believe like us, yes,” Mom said. 

Her responses made me inexpressibly furious. How could God be so cruel? 

This whole thing seemed so futile. You had to be special enough to hear about the one Truth and convert, or eternal hellfire is your future: the protestants, the Catholics, the Quakers, the Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses. 

None of them had a chance. 

We were the only ones with the Truth. 

What a crushing responsibility. 

I marveled that other people didn’t seem as concerned. 

Why didn’t we spend every waking hour trying to convert people? I wondered. It’s a matter of eternal life and death. As I grew older and accepted this fact, I became tortured by the thought. 

How could one go to the grocery store, out to eat, pass someone on the street without gripping them by the arms and begging them to see the error of their ways?

How could we tip our waitress and go our way without informing her of the excruciating future she faced? How could we ignore her as we leaned over the table, gossiping about this and that? Yes, we were safe. But she wasn’t. 

We had to do something. 

Maybe we were her only hope. 

It was excruciating, this responsibility. 

And I didn’t understand why other church folks seemed less concerned. 

Every single person outside of the church would soon be in eternal torment. 

How dare we do anything in this life but try to convert people? 

I was afraid for myself, yes. 

But also for everyone around me. 

It was the fear and obsession that made me more radical as I got older.

Annoying even, as some youth slipped away to watch movies in theaters (against the rules) or kiss their secret boyfriends or girlfriends (very much against the rules). 

I steadfastly refused. 

The Lord could come back at any moment. I didn’t dare displease him. 

I began to teach Bible studies. 

And Sunday school. 

I begged people to come to church with me. 

Please, I care so deeply that neither of us burns for eternity. 

Do you not comprehend the mortal danger you are facing?

*Love this essay? Buy me a coffee. It’s like a tip jar for our writers.*

Marlana (Mar) is a student, writer, and professional. She left the evangelical community ten years ago, after her mother’s death, and is committed to the lifelong process of deconstruction. Marlana is currently writing a memoir, All the Little Demons, a series of essays about deconstruction and moving away from Evangelical culture. The essays cover a range of topics from purity culture and queerness to mental health and suicidal ideation. The goal of the memoir is to make everyone feel a little less alone and to let folks know that there is a life after leaving. To contact or get on her book interest list, you can reach out at mar.at.allthelittledemons@gmail.com

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