By Laura Sliker |

I only remember the last time I went to church because it was at the Vatican. Go big or go home, right? The service was beautiful, albeit largely in Latin and Italian. The Italian I could understand; the Latin not so much. The language barrier was not the biggest problem. I felt—no, I knew that I didn’t belong there anymore.

I was raised Catholic. Very Catholic. I’m talking went-to-Catholic-school-whether-I-liked-it-or-not Catholic. Church every Sunday, and in the years I was in Catholic school, church was every Wednesday, too. I didn’t question it. I was baptized, went through the first communion and I didn’t bat an eye.

By the time I was 16 and working towards confirmation, the questions started to come whether I liked it or not.

I heard a woman in church whispering about how her son was gay, and now he had no place in their church or their family.

I learned that judgment was passed on women who divorced their abusive husbands and women who aborted children that were products of rape.

The longer I listened, the more I realized how many people were outsiders to the church, and not of their own choosing. Those in charge said it was God’s will that they are sent away from the church. I didn’t understand. Didn’t God tell us to love everyone?

I heard girls ask why they couldn’t take a bigger part in church leadership, and get some vague answer from the clergy about not being sacredly ordained by God. What did that mean, anyway?

For me, there was no earth-shattering moment when I decided to leave the church. No scandal, not even a specific breaking point. Slowly, I realized something: the church no longer represented God. Not my God, anyhow.

My God would never throw someone away because they were divorced, and certainly not when they were escaping abuse.

My God would not stop loving someone because of their love for someone of the same gender.

My God does not look at me and my fellow women and think we are worth less than men for any reason, and certainly not just because we were born female.

That’s what a lot of people are surprised about when I tell them I haven’t been to church in years: that my relationship with God is stronger than it ever was when I went to mass. I don’t worship God one-sidedly. I communicate with Him. I learn about His will through the Bible. I come to Him with my fears, hopes and confessions.

To those who, like me, are on the outside of religion, remember what they might not have told you: God loves us just the way we are. In fact, He loves us because of who we are. All of us.