< willowashmaple.xyz

By Willow (willowashmaple.xyz)

33 years ago

March 31, 2024 (Originally published on Substack)

Last Sunday, March 24, held a special meaning to me. It was not my birthday. Most people around me do not know about this.

Thirty-three years ago, on the morning of Sunday, March 24, 1991, I was baptized at an independent fundamental Baptist church in Nagoya, Japan, where I spent my middle school years. As middle schools in Japan run from 7th to 9th grades (unlike in the United States, where it is from 6th to 8th) and their school year from April 2 to the following April 1, it took place a few weeks after I was done with the middle school.

My interest in Christianity began when I was 12 years old, especially after my parents sent me off that summer to Camp Quinipet, a United Methodist camp in Shelter Island, N.Y. (without really knowing that it was a Christian camp). My parents were mostly hostile to religion in general, for two different reasons: my mother was a card-carrying communist, and my father a businessman with a purely materialistic worldview focused on money (I do not know how they stayed married for 17 years, but I give them credit for putting off the divorce until I was old enough, thus sparing me a lot of drama).

I began attending a Christian Reformed Church (CRC) congregation when I was 13, after I came across the Far Eastern Broadcasting (FEBC) radio broadcast by happenstance, and listening to programs produced by CRC's radio ministries (now known as ReFrame Ministries).

Yet, after several months, I felt like CRC was "too liberal" because the pastor would overly intellectualize the Bible and explain the scriptures as "allegories." Also, I did not fit into (what I felt at the time as) the rigid and boring worship services of the Reformed tradition.

Soon, I began attending a JW congregation after I read one of their books and thought the JWs take the Bible literally and seriously. But I lasted for maybe four or five months before I began questioning the JW doctrines of soul, death, and resurrection. You see, the Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in the existence of the soul as separate from one's body, and therefore, one's existence and consciousness fully cease when one dies. So their ultimate hope, bodily resurrection, and eternal life in the paradise on Earth made no sense to me: If I were dead, I'd no longer exist. If I were a good, loyal JW all my life, then Jehovah would remember me and resurrect me in paradise. But, since there will be no continuity between my present life and the resurrected "me," whatever would exist in paradise will be a replica, an exact copy of me, that looks and talks and smells like me, living somewhere in paradise forever. That was really creepy. I asked one of the elders this question, and he could not answer, and I was told I was no longer welcome there (since I was not baptized yet, there was no need for a formal disfellowshipping).

For several following months, I read the Bible by myself but I did not attend any church. Soon later, I wrote a radio ministry (TWR, not FEBC) asking for a church recommendation. The Sunday before Christmas in 1990, I first stepped into the Baptist church.

By the end of January 1991, I wanted to get baptized. Since I was leaving Nagoya at the end of March, the Associate Pastor arranged for a special, accelerated pre-Baptismal class that met nearly daily between my middle school graduation and March 24.

March 24 came and it was a surreal day. Like a typical fundamental Baptist church, the baptismal pool was on the stage behind the pulpit. The water cooled the air inside the sanctuary so it felt strange. The Senior Pastor, an elderly man who had been ministering since the 1950s, prayed for me and prophesied that I would dedicate my life to Christ and spread the Gospel wherever I go. Then I was dunked into a stainless steel tub filled with cold water. It felt like time stopped underwater.

The following Sunday, March 31, was Easter, just like this year. (This year is the third time when this has occurred since then; the next time Easter will fall on March 31 is 2035, and after that, 2046, 2057, and 2068.) It has been 33 years and in a sense, I have come a full circle in my Christian walk. Yet, it is not a circle, but maybe a turn in a spiral, reaching a similar point but on a different level.

My first learning about Christianity came through CRC. Now I am studying at Christian Leaders Institute, a school with some connections to CRC. I am preparing for ministry, albeit 33 years late to the game. Thirty-three years was the lifespan of Jesus Christ on Earth. Even though most of what he accomplished took place during the last three years, he made a major impact on human history. But have I, during the last 33 years?

For most of the 33 years, I behaved like an atheist. Even as I was good at "playing" religion, I was devoid of spiritual life. While I was curious and inquiring, faith always seemed like an intellectual exercise disconnected from my heart. I mostly chalked it off as part of my autistic traits; in fact, I used to pride myself in being part of the "religious not spiritual" counterculture amidst the age of woo-woo spirituality.

Lately, I have questioned my motives for becoming a Christian as a teenager. It is easy to explain this away on my youthfulness or immaturity, but deep inside, I know that I was using Christianity as a weapon to be antisocial, and as an excuse to be an asshole. It was convenient for a teenager in the rebellious phase: I could give my parents and teachers a hard time while justifying my own actions as "holiness" and claim "persecution" whenever I was called out for immature and unacceptable behaviors. Uninformed adults who did not have to directly deal with me thought I was a mature and good kid because I became a Christian. (That is, outside the church, in school, and at home; I behaved so well in the church to the point where many adults considered me a model Christian and a positive influence on their children, who were begrudgingly attending services and Sunday School only because they're forced to.)

Church also gave me a social outlet that wasn't school or home -- a kind of "third place" -- where I found respite from school bullies, indifferent teachers who saw me as a failure, and abusive parents. At church, I was at least somebody, and I was often praised for being "on fire for the Lord." I felt special whenever I participated in soulwinning or mission activities.

In a sense, I joined the church for the same reasons why some troubled and marginalized teenagers join gangs. Except that I did not go to jail for being a fundamental Baptist thanks to the constitutional guarantee of the freedom of religion.

Back then, I was taught that being a Christian is to be a soldier of Christ's Kingdom and that we were engaged in spiritual warfare and Satan would use people like one's parents, employers, and unsaved friends to persecute us. So I quickly saw my own parents as devils incarnate. My behaviors confounded them. How could a purported Christian act like this? My response was that church was not a "school of morality" and I wasn't saved because I was acting morally.

I'm bringing this up as a part confession but also as a case study of how an Evangelical mind works.

Many ask why "Christian" Nationalists can be so hateful, uncivil, and even violent, often acting contrary to what most people think are Christian behaviors and teachings of Jesus.

I was an edgelord Christian who used my faith as an excuse, a shield, a weapon, and a

mask. Evangelical Christians do not think the essence of being a Christian is to act like Christ.

Indeed, when I was a fundamental Baptist (and subsequently, a Pentecostal), I do not recall many sermons from the four Gospels; most of the Bible teachings on Sundays came from the Epistles, Acts, the Hebrew prophets, Psalms, and sometimes Revelation. Basically, Jesus was skipped. (They do not use the Revised Common Lectionary or any similar plans.)

When they speak of being filled by the Holy Spirit, they emphasize power and victory over the demonic forces and principalities, (and for Pentecostals) miracles, deliverance, and healing. Yet, they do not speak much of the fruit of the Spirit.

By the time I was in college, I bought into the whole Religious Right propaganda hook, line, and sinker. I was sending donations to the Christian Coalition and other assorted far-right groups thinking that Bill Clinton was going to ban Christianity. I was also gullible enough to be influenced by various conspiracy theories which I took as truth: from a then-popular rumor that Proctor & Gamble was owned by Satanists, to the UPC barcode being a proto-"mark of the beast" containing 666, to the American flag with gold fringes are "war flags" of an illegitimate government run under the admiralty law.

Just before the popular spread of the World Wide Web, my exposure to media was limited to TBN, a few Christian radio stations, and books I found at Christian bookstores.

Deep into the Charismatic/Pentecostal faith that taught even an innocent Halloween trick-or-treat was part of a demonic conspiracy to abduct children and animals for Satanic sacrificial rites, my mind was closed to "secular" and "liberal" materials.

Yet, I began to question all this by 1996. The first crack was a realization that all the Christians around me seemed to think that Christianity and American nationalism were inextricably connected, never mind that there are Christians outside the United States. Having become a Christian outside the U.S. in a predominantly non-Christian cultural milieu, I had a mixed feeling about this. On the one hand, I loved being in America where Christians seemed to have not only political and legal freedom but also social freedom to express their faith. I loved how there were so many Christian broadcasting stations and Christian bookstores, and even the mainstream corporate America often marketed to this segment as a valuable market. On the other hand, I felt increasingly uneasy witnessing how my fellow Christians acted as if American (that is, white, middle-class, suburban, Republican American) culture was "the" Christian culture. There were American flags in churches, and they held special services to honor the military, the veterans, and the police. In Japan, even Evangelical Christians were against the Japanese national flag and the national anthem, and they were adamant about the separation of church and state, insisting that Jesus is the Lord of all nations. There are many countries where the military and the police commit horrendous acts of violence against Christians. Is Christ for all people or not? Would they "respect the God-ordained authority" only if they were not in Communist China, North Korea, or Iran?

I was no longer sure about my faith. Increasingly I realized that what I have been taught as "biblical doctrines" were filtered through the lens of the white, conservative American Protestants and that there were other ways to look at the Bible. I looked to Judaism for what I thought to be the original and traditional understanding of the scriptures, and by 1998, I was seriously considering conversion.

I was disillusioned and explored other faiths as an adult. While I ultimately decided against converting to Judaism, the process permitted me to look beyond the Evangelical ideas of God. I spent a year in a Unitarian Universalist congregation, then a few years in progressive mainline Christian churches, with a few episodes of joining the Neo-Pagan community. But for the most part, I was going through the motions, using the church as a source of comfort and occasional social outlet. I was a sincere seeker, but I was also arrogant and full of ego. I wanted to learn everything there is to religion and spirituality so that I could construct my own personal cult and hide my insecurities and issues, including self-hatred and hatred of others. I may not be a conservative or a "Christian" nationalist, but I have been just as much of an edgelord who did not love, and who delighted in offending others and in moments of schadenfreude. I wasted 33 years like this, and only now that I realize I was wrong.

As to "Christian" nationalists, I hope that they too will eventually come to this realization and introspection. I too was a product of conservative white American Christianity, brought to me by American missionaries, U.S.-influenced churches, and U.S.-based missionary and parachurch organizations. I hope they too will find that this form of "being a Christian" hollow, shallow, and contrary to the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

Today, apparently many of them are upset that President Joe Biden issued a proclamation that tomorrow, March 31, to be the Trans Day of Visibility. The far-right talking heads falsely accuse Biden of "banning Christian symbols on the White House easter eggs" (a long-standing WH policy for the last 45 years, including during the Trump

administration) and "persecuting" Christians by making Easter a day for trans folks instead (March 31 has been TDOV for over a decade, and Easter is a movable feast day that happens to be tomorrow this year). Sorry, MAGAs, but it's not about you and it's not always about you. The world does not revolve around "Christian" nationalists, or for that matter, trans people. Persecution complex and false victimhood often become excuses for bad behaviors and un-Christlike behaviors, including hate crimes, doxxing, death threats, and even the January 6 insurrection attempt.

As a recovering edgelord Christian seeking a more Holy Spirit-centered way, take it from me: people will not glorify God for you being an asshole hiding behind the guise of

feigned godliness and "biblical" doctrines; people will, however, see Christ in and through you if you love one another (John 13:35).


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