One Man's Apostolic Experience
My experience growing up in a UPC-like church nearly drove me to suicide; it was such a detriment to my morale that it took many years of soul searching and spiritual discovery to recover.
The church I grew up in was not UPC; but only in a technical sense. It had been UPC decades earlier, but had left the organization in a church split during the sixties due to a disagreement with the then-District Superintendent of Texas. However, the church never left the identifiable doctrines, attitudes, dress-codes, or the Apostolic Faith that it had when it was in the organization; many of us had UPC friends, went to nearby revivals in other UPC churches, etc.
It would seem from reading other experiences, and looking back at my own, that many that have left the faith (and there have been a great number that have done just that) voluntarily, and often otherwise, weren't necessarily the "hypocrites" or the "rebels" in the church; in many cases -especially in mine- we are often the ones that believe the doctrine the most.
Growing up in church in the 70s and 80s, I was the poster child for Apostolic Pentecostalism. No cigarette nor alcoholic beverage ever touched my lips; I refused to curse, use the Lord's name in vain, or do anything else slightly construed as being sinful; even when the peer pressure from other church boys (in the absence of parents or chaperones) seemed too great to bear. It was just too big a risk for me to do anything that would send me - or so I thought at the time - straight to hell. Often though, the most worrisome thing to me at the time was not the sin in the world that occurred, but those in the church that could seemingly do what they want, then speak in tongues on Sunday, and everything was A-okay.
My refusal to participate in such activities, plus my aversion to sports, and great love of music, did nothing to make me popular in my peer group at church and the church school. As I grew older, teasing escalated to beating, name calling, anything that could be done to publicly humiliate me - all of this, of course, taking place in a "Christian" environment. All of this was written off by the adults that were around as "boys just bein' boys," but little did anyone know the toll that was being made on my mind, body, and spirit. I spent nights up crying and begging God to change whatever was in me that provoked such negative attention; and focused my energies on church activities.
After taking piano lessons, I quickly became one of my church's primary pianists, and was the choir director prior to leaving my church for good in my early twenties. As a teenager, though, my increasing visibility in church only made things worse for me, and I tried to ignore things as much as I could. Looking back, I realize that a lot of it had to do with my meek nature, and me growing up in a lumber-mill town; but at the time, it was very personal, and very painful.
I will heavily edit myself in this paragraph, but any adult should be able to read between the lines. My adolescent years in church were extremely rough. I had absolutely no self-esteem due to the continual mockery I had endured for as long as I could remember. As my body changed, I was awaken to things about myself that were especially disturbing, especially due to the fact that much of the harassment aimed at me was of a sexual nature. I thought perhaps that since the theme of much of it was related to one's orientation, that perhaps their negative assertions had "cursed" me somehow. My emerging adult "leanings" were increasingly and terrifyingly in line with the accusations I had heard since childhood. I feared the worst -- demon possession.
But, how could this be? I wondered. I went to church every Sunday, did what I was supposed to do; was moved in the Spirit every time His Spirit hovered over our services. It was impossible; I had never engaged in anything mildly related to the occult, and as far as "that" was concerned, had never engaged in any sort of related activities (though many in my peer group were already sewing their oats). I prayed even harder to be healed, for deliverance from this "plague" of my mind, and it never happened. I could suppress it, but never for very long. I denied it, and denied it, but it never left, and hopelessness sat in on this Third-Generation Pentecostal who had never smoked a cigarette, or been in a movie theater.
Around the age of sixteen, it seemed the only solution to my problem was my own death. I knew what the preacher said about the eternal reward for suicide, but it seemed it would have been a touch of cool water compared to the spiritual torment I was facing each day. No one knew, I confessed it to no one. I felt that the shame of such an utterance would have been worse than even my own death. To me at the time, it was better to die than for anyone to ever know. At least in hell, I supposed, I would have known what to expect. . .
Fortunately, I never had the courage to go through with it. Through the next few years, I began to slowly abandon my faith. The fact that there were evil, un-Christian people in my church led me to the knowledge that God couldn't be there. In fact, in retrospect, the last few years I went there, it seemed as if there actually was an evil spirit in the church that had it in it's grip; you could feel it simply by walking in to our building -- it was a palpable presence, you could almost hear it breathe.
Entering college, and hearing a whole new mind-set of ideas and ways of dealing with things, I began to abandon the Christian faith altogether and learned to deal with my problems in rational, healthy ways, and not to resort to looking for a pill bottle every time I had a rotten day. I learned to accept myself the way I was made on this earth, and not to hate every ounce of my being. Unfortunately, at the time, my reaction to my upbringing turned me into an atheist, but at the time, that was what I needed to recover.
Years later, after the church and the bitterness and anger it had left in my heart were no longer important to me, I began to rediscover my spirit, and slowly realized that God did not make a mistake with me, and that I was his creature as are all of his creations. I remembered the good times in my past, the Presence of the Holy Spirit that I had felt in many services before, and discovered that God was bigger than the Apostolic description of Him. As I let Him back into my life again, I once again experienced His all-compassing love, and the joy and peace it alone can bring. I realized that He had never really left me; that He had been there all the time, "waiting patiently in line," protecting me from the evil of humanity, and from my own despair. I learned that although -- for a time -- I had stopped believing in Him, that He had never once stopped believing in me. His love is greater than any church or denomination of man, and I thank Him every day that I am alive and able to bask in His Love.
I believe it would be courageous for the webmaster to post this testimony; though I would understand if it didn't happen. If so, and there is anyone with similar experiences that would like to e-mail me personally for any reason, please feel free to do so. Whatever happens, just don't do anything desperate based on situations created by this religion. There is a way out of your despair, and suicide is never the answer. God bless!
Posted March 2, 2002
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August 23, 1997
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