FFRF awarded Erin $400.
I wholeheartedly believe that I have been secular since birth. I was born an independent, fiery young girl in a strictly conservative, evangelical household.
As evangelical Christians, my parents believed in the literal translation of the bible — that every word in the text is written by God and therefore is the inevitable truth.
My inward battles with the church came on at a young age. I vividly remember sitting on my mother's lap during Sunday service at the age of 5, observing as the communion plates were being passed around. Only those who had openly "accepted" Christ and had been baptized could participate in communion. I watched as my father, my 8-year-old brother and my mother all took the little pieces of bread. I did not. After swallowing her piece of bread, my mother leaned closer to me as I sat in her lap, and whispered, "Andrew [my brother] accepted Christ when he was way younger than you are now."
The themes of shame and rejection continued to plague my youth. I learned quickly that as a female, through both God's and the church's eyes, I was a second-class citizen. I once inquired why there were no female pastors at our particular church and was told that "in the bible, God says that men were meant to have leadership roles to guide women to be holy."
I was told by Sunday school teachers and pastors to dress modestly to be sure not to tempt boys' thoughts with my body. Standing at 5 feet, 10 inches, it was almost impossible to find a Sunday dress that would cover my knees as I was told to do. My breaking point came when I was sexually harassed by older boys in the youth group. When my mother notified the youth pastor about the bullying, she was told it was her fault for letting her daughter "dress in that way."
Growing up in the church negatively affected my self-image and self-esteem. I saw my body as shameful, and was constantly worried about committing another sin. Religion also warped the way I viewed others. In the church, I was taught that anyone who is not a believer in Jesus is evil and needs to be saved.
Many people say they find freedom in religion, but I did not. Religion was like an abusive relationship for me. With all my being, I thought it was the right thing for me. I thought it made me a better person. But in all actuality, I lost my true self in the religious way of life.
Now, as a young adult, I have started to get my parents to accept that their beliefs are not mine. No longer am I forced to participate in church events. Nor do I purchase skirts that purposely hit me below the knee.
Finding my own identity outside of evangelicalism was a rocky path. Throughout my early teens, my parents continuously punished me for being "rebellious," when all I did was refuse to agree that the bible was law. I no longer feel ashamed of my gender or my past mistakes or actions. Without Christianity, I have found confidence in myself.
Erin McCoskey, 18, was born in Wichita, Kan., and graduated from Northeast Magnet High School as valedictorian and was named a 2016 Kansas Governor's Scholar. She will be attending Wichita State University, where she plans to study dance performance and musical theatre and hopes to attend grad school to obtain a doctorate in physical therapy.