Submission: I’m a Liberal, Feminist, Sex-Positive, and I Want a Church Full Of Loving People
I believe my parents enrolled us in Catholic religion classes as a formality. Neither of them were very religious, but had been confirmed and had fairly religious parents. It was clear from the beginning, however, that religion would not be forced upon us. We didn’t have to enjoy the classes nor continue them past communion.
On contrary to my siblings who abhorred the classes and mass (though continued to confirmation), I rather enjoyed them. There was something comforting about the candles we lit in class and the way the priest spoke in church. As a child I was deeply anxious about a great deal of things and would often stay up all night worrying. Reciting the rosary helped me manage my anxiety and relax. When I was in eighth grade I began singing in a small choir with just two other girls and grew to love rehearsals where we’d turn off the lights and sing in the dark or when the elderly monsignor would thump down the aisle with his cane, singing back to us in a deep, booming voice. Rehearsals and the teen masses we sang at were laid back and the priest would often talk about silly things like the football game that was on or a movie that just came out. I felt safe and at home in church because I felt like I could always confide in someone there whether it be God or a priest or one of the girls I sang with.
However, something always seemed off to me.
My parents are staunchly liberal and pro-choice. I still remember the way my mom rolled her eyes when I brought home a pro-life bracelet from religion class (it was gone the next day). I remember how I ran home one day after elementary school to tell my mom in a hushed voice that a girl in gym class had told me that she was going to Washington D.C. to protest killing “babies when they’re still in their mother’s bellies.” I remember how my mom told me that that girl was lying (I called that same girl a liar the next day and she cried). My parents made it clear from a young age that they didn’t believe in some of the church’s teachings but continued to haul us to our classes and to mass so we could decide for ourselves what to believe.
In religion class, surrounded by pro-life teachers, I was confused. Who do I believe? My parents or my teachers? My parents or the priest, both whom I trusted? As I grew older, I began to understand the issue more as I grew aware of what abortion was. I tried to compensate my beliefs by taking a standoffish view towards abortion: it’s a horrible thing that people do and those people are sinners and I’d never do it, but I’ll never restrict someone from this. I thought this was a perfectly good way of viewing the issue. I tried to ignore pressures from other opposing views that the church had as well such as LGBTQ+ rights and the role of women while they made me uneasy. I thought if I just ignored them I’d finally learn to live happily in the church. Then, my class went on a retreat before our confirmations.
Our teacher at the retreat was loud, challenging and overwhelming. He publicly shamed anyone who looked remotely uninterested in what he was saying (which was about 75% of the class as we were eighth graders on a weekend) and seemed to look down on us. At one point, he made us look behind us at the empty chairs in the back of the room. This was when he said, “Those are the seats for our brothers and sisters who didn’t make it. They were murdered by their parents.” He continued on by urging us to pray for those who had been aborted and then started to shame people who have gotten abortions. Things started to come crashing down around me. I remembered earlier in the night how my friend had cried. He had been doing the same thing, but instead shaming LGBTQ+ people. She had raised her hand and inquired about her sister who was gay. In a tiny voice, she asked, “Is she going to hell?”
His response shocked me: yes, unless she gives up her sinful ways and turned back to the church. I remember my indignation. Being gay isn’t a choice. That much I knew. Being gay wasn’t something you could give up.
That’s when I realized that an abortion IS a choice. And that sometimes people have to choose it. That this man had no right to shame someone whose circumstances he wasn’t aware of. Like my friend’s sister whose circumstances he had no idea about (if he was insisting that she could give them up), he had no idea under what circumstances someone chose an abortion. I went home that night, fuming, and when I told my mom, we spent hours discussing abortion and how it’s someone’s personal choice and they have a right to it. I asked her if it makes you a bad person and she told me no. She told me about her grandmother who, in a drunken state, had confided in her about a time when she was 17 and had “made a baby go away.” She was not a bad person. She had gone on to live a full life with four children. She was not a bad person because she had made the decision not to deliver a child at 17. My mother explained to me that she had made the decision that was best for her and had she not made that decision her life would’ve been completely different in a way that she might not have enjoyed.
I did decide to get confirmed, but afterwards I resigned from church choir and have not willingly entered a church since then. After that retreat, I felt all the uncomfortable pressures come crashing down upon me. I saw the way women are treated, the way virginity is coveted, the way non-heterosexual people are rejected, and the overwhelming pressures and ignorance of a pro-life attitude. “Quitting church” allowed me to explore feminism, sexuality and choice. Now, at 18 years old, I’m sex-positive, liberal, a feminist and pro-choice. I’m in a committed, loving and sexual relationship where we’ve decided that if our multiple methods ever did fail we’d abort because now is not the time for a baby. I’m planning on working in Planned Parenthood during my college years. I’m also considering minoring in Women’s Studies along with my Political Science major which I intend to use to go into a political field where I will push for comprehensive sexual education, removal of abortion restrictions and more funding towards sexual healthcare.
I think about the church sometimes. On one hand, I believe that if I hadn’t left I would have been less likely to explore all that I love now: sexual education, feminism and politics. However, on the other hand, not having religion leaves an empty void in my life. Something less to hang onto when I lie awake at night. I plan on trying to find religion again in college. However, I’m looking for a Catholic religion that will support me if I ever need an abortion, that will not shame me for my lack of virginity, that will break down gender stereotypes, that will help me in encouraging my future children to engage in safe sexual conduct, and will accept my future children with love if they’re gay. I want a church that will stand by the belief that God will always love me and will always forgive me without the usual exceptions (“except if you’re gay…or want an abortion…”) I want a church full of loving people who follow the Lord’s teachings, not a church that uses them to hate and reject. I know that this is out there. I just haven’t found it yet.