How Religion Tore My Family Apart

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family at the church

Organized religion has its faults, and I got to see them firsthand growing up. I went to church every week with my dad and sister, and we would just sit in the uncomfortable pews listening to the pastor prattle on and on about money, the LGBTQ+ community, etc.

Basically, the church was our pastor’s time to rant about some of the most controversial subjects in the world to a group of people who (supposedly) all agreed with him. At least, that’s how it felt when I was younger.

My family wasn’t as religious as some of the other families I knew. We would devote our Sunday morning to God but then come home for French toast and cartoons right after. Besides that weekly sermon, our lives were virtually religion-free.

However, a lot can happen during church hours.

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Soon, I started noticing my sister becoming more and more reluctant to go to church. I didn’t really understand why. But she’d start protesting and arguing with my dad, the only person who’d been wanting her to go.

When my dad did get her to church, she would refuse to stand for the hymns, keep her eyes open during prayer, and doodle on the program while the pastor was talking.

I’ll admit, I did these things, too, but I didn’t do them as a form of protest like she did. I was just bored.

My dad would get furious, ask us to quiet down if we’d started giggling, or motion for us to stand with him during the songs. We never really listened, though. I followed in my sister’s footsteps, and, when I got a little older, she shared some secrets with me.

She told me that the pastor had seen her and another boy from the church holding hands one day after service. He asked them to stop and said it was inappropriate to be holding hands when you’re so young. She was in 8th grade, and that was the only form of PDA she’d ever displayed in the church.

Needless to say, she distanced herself even more from the church and religion after that. And I became more suspicious of the church’s message.

She also told me that our dad had been donating A LOT of money to the church. This secret, I put to the test.

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Every other week or so, ushers would pass baskets down the pews and ask for donations. I knew we gave money, but I didn’t actually care to see how much money until after my sister mentioned that. When I caught a glance at the check my dad put in the basket, I got mad. It was a lot.

I think I would have been fine with the large donation had it not affected our ability to pay for some things that we needed.

Like, my dad began prioritizing tithing over helping me pay for my school and medical bills.

And that wasn’t the end of my family’s struggles with religion. It took my sister walking out of church service during a sermon for my dad to realize that he couldn’t force us to go to church anymore. At least, not that church. But he kept going. In fact, he seemed to spend more time at the church than ever before.

With his duties to the church and his work, my dad didn’t have much time left for his family anymore. I mean, he’d still try to impose some of his beliefs on me in his spare time, but I kind of stopped listening to him after he informed me that all of my friends were going to Hell (they were Hindu).

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My mom and dad divorced after all of this transpired, and my dad poured his life into the church and his church family.

Me, my mom and my sister were a bit dumbfounded, but we managed to keep it together.

I don’t think my dad or the people at my old church are bad people, but I do think that they needed to realize how their actions were affecting others around them. I still found my way to God, but I’ll never forget how religion tore my family apart.

This happens more often than it should. Religion affects our relationships with ourselves and others and can make or break families, friends, and partners. As more and more people from different cultural backgrounds immigrate to the U.S., interfaith relationships and families are becoming more commonplace. According to the Chicago Tribune, the interfaith marriage rate in 2010 was a whopping 42 percent.

People seem to underestimate the role religion plays in their relationships, which can cause tension and disagreements later on, but healthy relationships can develop between individuals of different faiths.

Still, religion should be a topic of open conversation in relationships to encourage differing opinions. Just never ignore the effects that religion has on you and your family.

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Lilly Jones is a writer who covers religion, pop culture, and relationships.