Here’s the deal. I grew up in the Pentecostal Church. I’m talking I was forced to go to church some weeks up to five times in a week. Wednesday night service. Friday night service. Saturday night youth group. Sunday morning – Sunday school at 7am then service sometimes until 2pm. I have multiple family members in the Pentecostal Church. I asked a lot of questions as a child that could never get a solid answer. One that truly disturbed me came when I was thirteen. I was told over and over again if a person “has sin in their heart and they die, they go to Hell because God doesn’t let anyone into Heaven that has sin in their heart.” This confused me. I challenged this concept by asking, “what happens if you have Jesus in your heart but you tell a lie. Then you get in a car and have an accident and die. Are you saying that person will go to Hell even if they had been saved?” To which the answer was, “yes, if the person has sin in his or her heart.” What the what?! What’s the point in asking Jesus into your heart, may I ask? This means living your entire life in fear of committing a sin of any kind. This didn’t make any sense to me. The other common answer was, “God works in mysterious ways.” NOT a solid answer for an inquisitive child.
Fast forward to my teen years, I was drawn to an alternative spiritual path – paganism. Wicca, to be exact. Here was a religion that believed in balance – light and dark. Male and female divinity. Here was a religion that didn’t judge anyone for their lifestyles, their race, their gender, their age, etc. Here was a religion that extended love, self-empowerment, and encouraged people to ask questions and experience the Divine for themselves. I found I had come home. Since then, I’ve been a practicing pagan for seventeen years. Throughout this entire time, I’ve experienced much persecution from various people because of my beliefs. Because they are unorthodox to typical American society. Because they are different and because they aren’t strictly Christian beliefs.
In high school rumors flew around about me being a “witch”, and a boy made a comment that he refused to sit near me in class because I might turn him into a frog. He should’ve only been so lucky. But stupid comments like this can be laughed off. The comments that can’t be laughed off are the ones that come from immediate family. People I truly love and accept for all of their beliefs (even though deep down I think their beliefs are crazy) that do not reciprocate the same respect to me. I’ve been called “NUTS” and I’ve also been told by someone very close in blood that we would never be close because I didn’t believe exactly what they believe…which is Pentecostalism. I make that specification because trust me, if I even decided to be Catholic that would still not be good enough. They’d still think of me as a heathen and going to Hell. YES. Believe it. That’s how some of these people act.
From behind the pulpit, I’ve heard multiple sermons on how other forms of Christianity are going to Hell. Anyone different from this one branch of Christianity is WRONG. Anyone who doesn’t speak in tongues is WRONG. Anyone who listens to secular music is WRONG and going to HELL. Anyone who drinks is WRONG. Sin. Sin. Sin. There was so much focus on the negative, you sort of lost the positive messages in the din of Hellfire and Brimstone. So you can imagine what they think of me as a nature-loving, magick-believing, reiki-practicing, herbal-healing Pagan. They don’t like it very much…to say the least.
As a kid, six or seven years old, my family members took me to a Christian play performed in a fairly large theater. The play was about people dying and going to the gates of Heaven. God looked up their names in the Book of Life, and what do you know? Some of these individuals’ names were nowhere to be found. So what happened then? In the play, these people were “cast into the fiery pits of Hell” for an eternity. They literally had these actors walk across the stage and join a crowd of people in red light, moaning and screaming as if they were in excruciating pain. To say this terrified me is putting it lightly. This traumatized me as a child. Literally. For years I was scared to die. I laid awake at night (many many nights) thinking and worrying about it.
I have just one wish. Just ONE thing that would ease some of the pain and trauma these family members have put me through during my fragile childhood. I wish that the tolerance I give to them be reciprocated. My belief is that every religious and spiritual path is a valid and good one, as long as it promotes the improvement of a person holistically and does no harm. I have not received the same in return. And unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll ever get it.
The fearful child in me sometimes wants to run and hide all of my beliefs from those who would shame me for them. But the wolf in me says to suck it up, be who I am, and if they can’t accept it and love me than they’re not worth my time in this life. I’m not one to turn my back on people because of their beliefs, but if they do so to me, I can’t help but wonder why I’m still trying to get close to them. Even if it is a close blood relative.