Written: 17 September, 1999

My family was not religious, so growing up I wasn't sure what to say when the other kids would ask me what "denomination" my family was. We never went to a church, so I had no idea. I assume that I asked my mom at around age 10 what denomination we were, and I believe she said we were Presbyterians. I say "I think" and "I assume" because I don't remember such a conversation but I know that for some reason I grew up thinking that we were Presbyterians. Or, at least, that's the answer I gave whenever someone asked me what denomination I was. It was better than saying "I don't have one" and getting dragged into a subject that I knew nothing about. I viewed some of my friends' religious rituals (cathechism, or whatever it is) as something that I knew nothing about and didn't want to know about -- something that I was glad to not have to go through. When other kids complained about having to be dragged to church, I was glad that I had parents who didn't force a religion upon their unwilling children.

In a post some weeks (or has it been months?) ago, I mentioned how, in 1991, I had been walking around my town, feeling lonely, and passed a church and thought, "Gee, if I went in there, I'd suddenly have a lot of friends." But then I felt that I'd have to believe what they did, and I couldn't do that. So,I kept walking. (Of course, it never occured to me to just go in and get some info. It's not like I wasn't sympathetic to Christianity. But since I had no prior experience of having gone in a church before, the idea was unthinkable. I recently mentioned to a friend that I felt a little intimidated at the idea of going to a church, who had been dragged to church in his youth, though no longer a believer apparently, and my friend seemed not to understand my feeling of intimidation.) The church that I walked past in 1991, it turns out, was a Presbyterian church. I think now that perhaps the fact that it was a Presbyterian church was why I even noticed it. I must have seen the word "Presbyterian" on the sign and thought, "Hey, isn't that what denomination I always said I was?"

There is an attractive-looking Lutheran (Missouri-Synod) church near where I live now. I remember one time, a year or two ago, they had little white crosses on the grass, as a temporary reminder of aborted fetuses (or, as they saw it, murdered babies). It's right next to the field of an elementary school, and it looks really pleasant from the outside. For about a week or two, I thought about going into that church and seeing if I could pick up some pamphlets or something to learn more about it. But like I said, I was intimidated. But 2 days ago, I had some free time before work, so I decided to go get some pamphlets there. I walked past the church once, being a coward. Then after a bit I decided to turn around and see if I had nerve enough to go inside on the return pass. After all, I'd never been inside a church before by myself. I had no idea what it might be like inside, except for what I have seen in movies and TV. In the back of my mind, I was thinking that maybe I didn't need a church and that I would just be better off continuing to read my Bible by myself or praying to God in the park. (Yes, the park across the street has been the place where I'll occasionally go and sit on a picnic table and look at the trees and just "be still" and think to God. It's really too bad that the park is so UGLY, probably the ugliest park I've ever seen, with the ground all kind of ripped up for some reason with big patches where grass won't grow. One time, after praying for myself and others, I noticed that ugly ground and prayed that God could give the park some more grass! Yesterday I went there -- sitting at the picnic table, trying to ignore the obscene graffiti on it -- where I finished reading "Luke.")

So, I went in the Lutheran church, and was surprised that there was a big corridor upon entering and nobody around, not even at the desk. There were sounds of kids playing somewhere, since there is an elementary school at the church. There were lots of pamphlets near the door and around the desk at the end of the corridor. A lady walked by and went into a room that looked like a bookstore. There was a map of the church there, and I was surprised to see phrases like "Computer Room," "Music Room," "Library," "Gym." Nobody said anything to me, so I left with some pamphlets and walked home with a different attitude, thinking that I had been missing out by being afraid, and that it seemed kinda fun there. I wondered why I hadn't gone in there before!

Well, I looked over some of the info and noticed that there was some stuff about Communion and rituals that I don't really know much about. They had a "Worship Service" and then a "Worship Service w/Communion," and only people who had been baptised and some other things could participate. They also said that people who wanted to become members had to take some various classes that they offered. I went to the Lutheran website to find out some more info about what Lutherans believe. Here is a page I found listing their beliefs about various social issues. The entry for the death penalty, for example, shows that they believe that government has a God-given right to take human lives, although they acknowledge that "Individuals within the LCMS may, for various valid reasons, object to the usefulness and fairness of the death penalty as it is being used...." As someone who does not, has not, and will never drink alchoholic beverages, I was interested to note in one of the pamphlets that they offered the choice of drinking a non-alcoholic wine "for those who are under a physician's care or are allergic to alcohol." (No mention of not wanting to consume alcohol for moral reasons.) On the denomination's website, their complete statement on the subject is "The Bible nowhere condemns the proper and responsible use (consumption) of alcoholic beverages, and neither does The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. Scripture does warn strongly and repeatedly against the abuse, misuse and excessive use of alcoholic beverages, and the Missouri Synod has also repeatedly warned against such dangers."

On the subject of abortion, they believe it is immoral except in cases where it is necessary to save the woman's life. Judging by this page, Lutherans have been active in the pro-life movement. A 1992 LCMS Resoultion states that members should "seek out all opportunities for extending the fullest protection of law for all human life from the time of conception until natural death." Personally, I am not passionate about the subject of abortion, but I don't believe in overturning Roe V. Wade.

On the plus side, I noted with approval the page where they say that the answer is "Maybe" as to whether animals will be in heaven.

I know what someone might say to all this: "Hey, you make it sound like these things are more important to you than finding God. Is gay rights [which I'm in favor of] more important than salvation through Jesus?" [to which I answer, no, I agree, salvation is more important] or "I don't agree with some positions my denomination takes, but I stick with that denomination because I believe in it overall." (Which I can understand. On NPR some weeks back, I recall hearing an interview with a Catholic priest, or something like that -- I have no idea what the difference is between a priest, pastor, Father, or Reverend, by the way... Cei-U was right to call me ignorant -- who had been working with gay people and apparently wasn't being hard-line enough with him for the Catholic church and they told him to stop, and so he did so. Even though he believed the church was wrong on that matter, he believed strongly overall in the Catholic church.

Well, my answer is that right now my only reason for even looking into going to a church is that I think it might help my relationship with God. (That, and everything I've read said that one of the 3 or 4 things one must do upon accepting Christ is find a church and attend it regularly.) Can I really be a Christian without having a church? I think so. But I want to see what it's about anyway.

I think that if I disagree with the official positions of the denomination, I'm not gonna be happy. It's not gonna feel like me. It'll feel like... like going to be with the shallow middle-class phonies that I thought were the only ones who went to church anyway. (Insert image here of hypocritical parent dragging their kid to church.) I think that it should feel a little bit like me, shouldn't it? And when I thought about that, I couldn't imagine myself being a "Lutheran," just like I could never imagine myself as a "Catholic," or a "Baptist," or whatever. Those don't sound like me. What sounds like me?

And then I remembered that I had said all my life, if anyone asked, that I was a Presbyterian. Sure, I had no idea what being a Presbyterian means...and only know a little more after viewing a webpage for the Presbyterian (US). I looked to see what they thought about drinking alcohol. They explained that their denomination is "a union of several predecessor denominations" with "different histories on the issue of alcohol use." One of those denominations was "a temperance church--advocating total abstinence." In 1986, the Presbyterian (US) General Assembly said that "Abstention [from drinking] in all situations should be supported and encouraged. Moderate drinking in low-risk situations should not be opposed." The first statement is one that I very much agree with.

On the subject of abortion, I was amazed to learn that the Presbyterian church does not believe abortion should be illegal. In 1970 the church stated that "the artificial or induced termination of pregnancy is a matter of the careful ethical decision of the patient, . . . and therefore should not be restricted by law." In 1992, the church recognized that there was diverse opinion about the matter among its members, and felt that abortion should be the option of last resort, but that "No law or administrative decision should provide for a complete ban on abortion. No law or administrative decision should (1) limit access to abortions; (2) limit information and counseling concerning abortions; or (3) limit or prohibit public funding for necessary abortions for the socially and economically disadvantaged." Wow! Reading that page about the church's position on abortion, I was amazed to see that I agreed completely with it. And yet, for the past 10 years, I've been under the impression that Christians are supposed to be "pro-lifers." In fact, it seemed like a basic assumption...if one were a "true Christian," one must be right-wing and "pro-life." In fact, that was one of the main reasons that Christianity wasn't attractive to me. And yet, now I read that the Presbyterian church (US) (not sure how other Presbyterians are....such as Presbyterians of America) is pro-choice, and has been pro-choice since 1970, the year of my birth!

I am not strongly opposed to capital punishment, but I'm not exactly in favor of it either. I'd always noted that when enlightened, futuristic societies were portrayed in fiction, they were likely to have done away with the death penalty. (Superman's planet Krypton, for example, used the Phantom Zone instead of murdering criminals.) It's like we know which way we ought to be, if this were a utopia, but that we are too weak to practice the enlightened way that we somehow know is right. The Presbyterian page on the death penalty shows that the church has opposed it since 1959, and has worked to prevent future use of the death penalty through state and federal laws. On the matter of gun control, the church has supported it for 30 years, and in 1998 stated that Presbyterians should "work toward removing handguns and assault weapons from our homes and our communities." Wow, sanity!! I wonder how other denominations feel about the subject of gun control, particularly in light of the sickening gun violence against believers this year?

Finally, there is the matter of gay rights. I feared the church was going to let me down on this one. Well, they didn't. Although they don't allow same-sex marriages in the church, and that "self-affirming, practicing homosexual persons may not be ordained as ministers of the Word and Sacrament, elders, or deacons," I was nonetheless pleased to see that the church seemed to respect gay people more than what I'm used to hearing from Christians. Regarding the church's preventing practicing gays from being ministers, the page says, "there have been regular attempts to 'soften' or remove this wording ...These attempts have been met with requests to continue discussion and dialogue, rather than forcing a confrontation." A page here shows that there was honest debate about the matter in the church, not the close-mindedness that I imagined there would be.

The church also states that "there is no legal, social, or moral justification for denying homosexual persons access to the basic requirements of human social existence" and called "for the elimination of laws governing the private sexual behavior between consenting adults [and the passage] of laws forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, and public accommodations."

Further, the church stated "Persons who manifest homosexual behavior must be treated with the profound respect and pastoral tenderness due all people of God. There can be no place within the Christian faith for the response to homosexual persons of mingled contempt, hatred, and fear that is called homophobia. Homosexual persons are encompassed by the searching love of Christ. The church must turn from its fear and hatred to move toward the homosexual community in love and to welcome homosexual inquirers to its congregations. It should free them to be candid about their identity and convictions, and it should also share honestly and humbly with them in seeking the vision of God's intention for the sexual dimensions of their lives." Amen!!

It's kinda funny that I should really feel so right about the things I read on that Presbyterian U.S. webpage. Because, like I said, I couldn't imagine myself being any Christian denomination -- except for Presbyterian because I'd grown up having said I was one. It feels right. There is apparently a Presbyterian U.S. church a mile or two from where I live. I plan on checking it out next week -- at least, getting some pamphlets and see what it's like. I feel that this time around, I won't be so intimidated, and I trust and hope that I'll be able to walk right into the place and not chicken out... because the denomination feels right to me, and since I found that my intimidation was reduced after having gone into the Lutheran church.

I'm not really sure on what the worshipping is like there, though. Reading the Lutheran materials, it almost sounded like the Catholic church to me (what little I know about it, which is next to nothing other than I've heard there's a lot of ritual involved) what with the Communion thing and the "confessing" thing (whatever that's about). The Lutheran site I linked at the top had a page about the immorality of masturbation....Is that the kind of thing someone would have to confess to a church official?? Yeesh!! (Or, as my sister put it, "Doesn't God give somebody a zone of privacy, like when they use the bathroom?")

Ah well, it will be interesting to see how this all turns out. I don't know what denomination I am really. A year ago, I wouldn't have thought I'd be a Christian today, and it feels natural to me now, so who can say. (Or as Miss Angie sings, "You don't know which way the wind blows, so how can you plan tomorrow?")