Saturday, June 5, 2010

Brand Free Religion

I finally took the kids to see one of our oldest family friends, a conservative, Republican, Southern Baptist family we met in Campfire Scouts - the first scouting organization in the US that welcomed gay and lesbian families, by the way. Our friends from scouting moved two years ago, down to Virginia and the gorgeous Shennendoah Valley, and after two years they are still searching for a church home.

Now I thought a conservative family would find it easy moving to Virginia, home of Jerry Falwell, fox hunting, and a recent election wherein the Governor declared the entire northern part of the state "unvirginian." But no.

Of course, family friends of mine have to be somewhat, um, inclusive, to put up with my alternative family and life. Even more, the two home schooled girls in the family both plan careers in science - marine biology and microbiology/archaeology respectively. As home schoolers, they can indeed plug right into the right wing Christian home school groups in Virginia, but, given their goals, they don't want to. Christian kids planning science careers, outside of Liberty University or Bob Jones University, need a grounding in modern science including evolution. So these kids and their parents found themselves shut out of right wing Christian home school culture. (Not to mention my wonderful friend's rant to the group for declaring women's role in marriage to be one of obedience and assistance to the hubby. You go girl!)

So during our visit, mom and dad and both girls talked with all of us about finding a church home. With their eldest in Iraq, they need some place for spiritual support, and were thinking about investigating some churches outside the Southern Baptist world.

And I encouraged them to do so as well. And I advised them to forget about brand.

At some point, church is about a specific community that can support you and your needs. For this family, they need support for a planned adoption, support for their daughter's career goals, and support for being a feminist family with strong daughters (and one strong mom). In addition, they need a place to feel connected with the holy, to feel accepted for their views on baptism and faith, and a place where they can be accepted for home schooling.

It is impossible to pull these things from any denominational hat. Whatever doctrinal messages a denomination posits, each congregation has its own culture, and you can't find a supportive faith by looking at faith statement alone. So I encouraged my friends to ignore pesky things like denominational label, and to visit churches until they found one they felt matched their needs.

In many ways, this is comparable to shopping in a store. Name brand labels at Costco can help one find a good product, but not always. Generic labels can be good, too. Trying a new brand can be a good thing.

Religion in America is much the same. Over the years I have attended Unitarian Universalist churches (no longer possible for my multiracial family, given the overall white supremacy of UU churches), the Society of Friends (again a very white choice, that is no longer an option with my kids), the Methodist church, and now happily attend a wonderful Presbyterian home.

On the pagan side, I've been to Dianic covens, mixed race Wicce groups, neo-Celtic groups, African American voodoo groups, and shamanic groups. Of late, thanks to this blog, I've been asked to some wonderful druid and Celtic Christian groups as well. All have had their plus and minus sides, and so far not one has been a group that fits my whole family. I know of few local groups with a weekly pagan children's program, for example.

So I keep shopping around.

Because after all, whatever the religious brand, it is the people who make a church or group. Unitarian Universalists talk about tolerance, but I don't think they would happily welcome my Southern Baptist friends! Dianic groups, likewise, have objected pretty vocally to my dating men. I know other pagan groups who have been unhappy when I date women. Sigh. Obviously Christian groups weigh in on the affectional orientation stuff, too.

If you, like I, have a multiracial family, you then add another layer of spiritual needs. I attend churches that have adults of color in leadership positions, a must for my children. My Southern Baptist friends don't need a multiracial church, but they do need one comfortable and aware of adoption issues. (It is so annoying to send one's child to Sunday School, and have them talk to the children about their "real parents" as being "birth parents." Yet it happens all the time.) My Southern Baptist friends need acceptance for home schooling, as well.

My advice to everyone is to visit around. Churches, covens, synagogues, spiritual support groups, temples, mosques and the like all depend upon the people who attend them to shape their culture. Worship times, adult and children's programs, political activism, acceptance of diversity, heck, even something like accessibility for a wheelchair are all going to determine if a religious group meets your needs. Name brand alone won't identify any of those needs, and only visiting will.

My Southern Baptist friends, actually, were fairly aware where they wanted to worship and find community: "Do you think we can go to a Catholic church?" was a question almost all asked me at one time or another. That may seem a surprising choice for Southern Baptists, but for this family it made sense. The Catholic church in their area had devout Christianity, plus an open view of learning science and evolution. That may be the only choice my friends find. As the mom pointed out to me, she can still keep their family views on baptism in all of their hearts, and still find worship and community in a different doctrinal package. And why not?

I encourage people to go to church/coven/synagogue/mosque/temple/cove/group. Building concrete religious structure is necessary if anyone is going to go seeking and find those faiths you hold dear. Sometime you may need that same group when you have a child in Iraq, are adopting a child, going through a crisis, needing a group in your faith search. Just as you need, for your own spiritual growth, to do the same supporting for others.

But brand doesn't have to define your group. I know pagans attending church all across 3 continents, and I know Christians attending pagan groups on 2 continents. I have Jewish friends attending church and Christian friends attending synagogue. And of course I do, since I like my religious happily mixed up in a doctrinal stew.

But if you are searching for a religious home, that is my bottom line advice. Find giving people and go attend there.

The best religious brand is a loving one.

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