My father is an active member of an IFB church in northern Illinois. He goes to Sunday school and Sunday morning services, leads the youth group, and even went on a missions trip to South Dakota this past summer. Active member.
When I left the IFB church but was still Christian, I made the decision to still attend services at my dad's church when I was visiting him over a weekend. I disagreed with the teachings of the denomination, but was still Christian and found value in the services. In addition, I didn't want to start conflict with my dad (or extended family) by drawing that line in the sand and not attending services.
Even after I came out as gay, I attended IFB services when I was at my dad's house. I know what my dad's preacher thinks about homosexuality, but out of respect for my father, I attended services.
When I believed in a god, I could set aside the IFB position on certain issues (homosexuality, gender equality, etc.) and apply my own interpretations to the crux of the message for my own life. I could ignore what made me angry for my dad.
Now, as an atheist, I won't do it anymore.
I still have respect for my father because he is my father. However, I think that, in this case, silence is complicity. Regardless of what I'm thinking while sitting in a pew at that church, or how I really feel, I believe that by even attending services, I'm sending the message that I condone the teachings, even if I don't agree with them.
One thing I learned many, many years ago in Sunday school that has stuck with me is that "your walk talks louder than your talk talks."
I can say I'm an atheist and an advocate for equal rights, but I believe that the action of attending services at a church that goes directly against what I say I stand for is more powerful. How can I claim to be an advocate for equal rights and support (through attendance) a church that is known for preaching inequality?
In Christianity, people are taught that your faith comes before all else, and that you should never be afraid to stand up for your beliefs regardless of what other people around you say or think or believe. Don't bow to peer pressure and stand for what you know to be right.
Well, as an atheist and supporter of universal equality, I believe the same thing. I will stand for what I believe in regardless of what the people around me--including family--believe or say or do. I won't pretend that I believe in a god or that I support IFB teachings even if I have family members who would disown me over it. And by not standing up against it, I am telling people--including family--that I think what they believe is okay or fine or even good. I can't do that.
For far too long, I let my fear of making waves keep me from taking a stand for things I know to be right. I've made myself miserable and, in some cases, sick because of it.
Maybe it's because my eyes have been truly opened to religion (and Christianity in particular), but I just can't bring myself to go into that church anymore.* I can't pretend that what the preacher proclaims as big-T-truth is acceptable, especially when there is so, so much hypocrisy in that particular brand of Christianity.
I don't know what will happen when/if my father finds out I'm an atheist. He could disown me. (Part of me expected that to happen when I came out to him.) After all, in his world, atheism is defiance to God and the worst of offenses. Sins can be forgiven, but atheism is a permanent separation from God.
But, just as my dad would be willing to let go of friends and family in order to stand for his beliefs, I am willing to let go of friends and family in order to stand for what I believe. I can keep my relationship with my dad separate from any relationship with a higher power. I hope he can, too.
*Although, my sister and I discussed it, and we decided that if I do ever go back to my dad's church for a service, I should wear a men's suit and rainbow tie.