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July 5, 2019

My Church offered Shame & Dressed it as Forgiveness. ~ Ryan K. Russell


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I was not born into a religious family.

It was just my mother and I when I was younger and religion didn’t pay the bills, not in my house.

My mother worked two jobs and went to school while I was always trying to do what I could to help around the house. Sundays were for football and in Dallas, Texas—that was religion enough. It wasn’t until I was in high school one Thursday after a light practice before the big game the next day, did my brother ask me to come to church.

This was my adopted brother and technically we had only known each other for a little over a year but I was sure he wasn’t big into the church. He played football on Sundays same as me, he played violent video games same as me, he tried not to curse but he still did same as me. I was wondering the catch.

Curiosity was my driving force to go, that and my brother said they would have as much pizza as you could eat. Religion didn’t pay the bills but maybe it would help put food in my stomach. As I devoured my third slice of pepperoni pizza, I was brought to tears by the sermon. A pastor who was also a teacher at my high school gave a compelling sermon about the how the heavenly father is the only father you really need.

He talked about all the promises of God, how he would love me unconditionally, how he would never leave me—two things my biological father couldn’t do for me.

A hot meal and the father I had always longed for, I was a Christian. Afterward, I attended as consistently as my schedule allowed, I got baptized, and I ate more pizza that year than I had in my entire life. I wasn’t the perfect Christian, I know now that no one is, but I tried hard.

I was often saying the wrong things, still hanging with the wrong crowds, and on church trips or functions I was often found entertaining female company. God forgave me, but he might have been the only one. The staff at the church saw me differently. I was called hopeless, a sinner, heathen, womanizer, I was called in front of the church and humiliated time and time again. I realized I could not repent with mortal men, but I wanted to.

I wanted my pastor’s approval the same way I wanted my biological father’s. Once again, I was fighting for the love and affections of a man who held none for me.

Where were the promises that got me to stay? And was the pastor so high and mighty, so above reproach? I saw the way he looked at the younger girls as they knelt down to pray. I heard the words he mumbled under his breath.

This poem is about how my church offered shame and dressed it as forgiveness.


Is this Church Built with Wood from the Cross

One of the pastors greeted me.
I forgive you, he said. He didn’t
Really, but I believed him,
And a terrible new thought
Danced around my head,
Like a drug induced rave
With flashing lights. I forgive you,
I forgive you, as he continued
Looking down at me from his podium,
Each word hammering me
To my shames on top a hill.

I forgive you, throughout
The service, in every
Pew, every prayer.
I forgive you upon the wooden
Cross and rusted nail.
The blood and plasma
Separating as they dragged
Across our rib cage.

I forgive you in front of the gates,
The pearly white gates,
Where they told me angels
Would sing and past family would
Welcome me home.

No one is here. I forgive you,
The devil tempts me
Clawing at my throat
Digging his talons into my hips
Kissing me, no wait,
Eating my tongue.

Is this my shame?
To love and hurt?
To sin and beg?
Is this the forgiveness you promised me?


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author: Ryan K. Russell

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