Leaving Church Because Of the Creed
People often tell me this part of their faith story tentatively, as if wondering whether it is a safe thing to tell. They seem to think I might be surprised or shocked; they seem wary, as if I might be willing and able to call down the Inquisition on them. Few people seem aware of how common a story it is. When I realize I’m hearing that story again, I want to say, “Yes, yes, I went through that, and so have many others! Welcome to the club!” But I try to suppress the urge, and let them finish telling it in their own way. And the details differ, but the broad outline is pretty widely shared among people on the margins of Christianity. It’s the story of how we left a church because of the creed.
Sometimes it’s the Apostles’ Creed; sometimes it’s the Nicene Creed. In the church of my childhood, we used both on different occasions, saying them in unison as part of the Sunday service. The Nicene Creed still comes to my memory almost as easily as the Lord’s Prayer. It starts out, “I believe in one God” – and if it had ended there, I might still be an Episcopalian. (Least said, soonest mended.)
As a child, I said the whole thing along with everybody else. But as a teenager I found that I just couldn’t keep doing it. I started to feel that I was lying, lying out loud in church, right there in front of God and everybody. I was saying “I believe X” for a variety of things X that I did not believe. So I started to skip the parts I couldn’t honestly say, first a few passages, then a few more. But the more I skipped, the more uncomfortable I felt. The other people in church all seemed to be saying it. And it seemed to be an important part of their identity as a group—important enough to need saying out loud in unison every week.
In the end, I stopped going to that church, and my problem with the creeds was a big part of the reason. Saying them made me feel dishonest; not saying them made me feel unwelcome.