Abigail Potsdam is a pseudonym.
I was born and bred in the Christian Reformed Church. My family was deeply connected to the CRC, in the USA and in Canada. The way I see it now, looking back, is that our family has always been kind of like a family of servants to the CRC. My grandfather was a pastor, my dad was a pastor and a missionary, my ex-husband and I were a pastor and missionaries. But while we spent our lives serving the CRC, it wasn’t a church that nourished us back.
Growing up, we moved around a bit. I was actually born in Nigeria, then we moved to Honduras. When I was seven, I moved back to Holland, Michigan, where my dad continued to work for the CRC.
There was a lot of sexual abuse in my childhood, from my father and from my brother. I grew up hearing puritanical messages from my mother, about how sex was forbidden until marriage and any show of sexuality was very off-limits, but at the same time, sexual things were happening to me as a young child. This led to a lot of secrecy and confusion in my life. I’m not sure how much my mother knew about the abuse, but I believe that she knew.
At the time of the abuse, the church was what was most important — more important than family, more important than anything — so there was no one for me to turn to, no one to talk about what was happening to myself, either within the church or my family.
Of course, with this childhood experience, I naturally explored many different forms of sexuality during high school and college. It was complicated for me because of how the church talks about sexuality and because of how my parents raised me to believe that talking about sex is wrong, and then there was the added element of secrecy that come with sexual abuse. Thinking about these things, or even acknowledging that part of me, has only slowly started to come out now that I’m in my fifties. It was simply a lot to untangle. I now consider myself to be bisexual, as I’ve always been very attracted to both men and women.
My faith was always very strong despite all this; I completely felt connected to the Lord. After college, I taught English as a second language for two years, then I went to seminary. I was still kind of struggling with who I was at that point. I honestly thought I was going to be single all my life because I knew I was struggling with these feelings of being more connected to women than to men. And then an unexpected thing happened: I fell in love with a man I met at seminary. We were married, and went together to work as missionaries in West Africa.
Our time as missionaries was marked both by great work and service for the church, and by traumatic events, including an armed robbery and a kidnapping. These events had an impact on our mental and emotional well-being. The trauma led to my husband going down another path, having affairs and other issues. It was only when our marriage was in trouble that support finally came from the church, and even then it was only for him and not for me or the rest of the family. When he decided to leave the CRC and started to attend a Catholic church — we were living in Michigan by then — I remained at the CRC. I didn’t leave the CRC church myself, but it certainly felt like the church had left me. When my husband and I finally did separate, it was a shock to many people who knew us. We were missionaries, and missionaries aren’t supposed to divorce.
It’s only now that I’m divorced that I am struggling to decide what it actually means to be bisexual. When I was married, it wasn’t really a factor. But now that I’m single, I have choices about who I’m going to date and how I’m going to live.
Part of being able to acknowledge my sexuality has come from my children. My children are much more open about who they are. I’ve left the CRC now, but I’m attending another church for my daughter. I purposely decided to join this church for my daughter because this is one she’s willing to go to. It’s a safe and affirming space for the LGBTQ community, and they’re very open about it. And it’s also a place where I feel like I can be a little bit more honest and where I can kind of explore who I am.
When it comes to the recent CRC human sexuality report, I’ve read it and found it very discouraging. The strictness and the black-and-whiteness of their thinking on sexuality reminds me so much of my mother. I see no grace in it, at all. Having come out of the CRC as this abused child, feeling neglected by the church I served for years, and then hearing the church self-righteously claim that they know that all these people can’t be right or loved by God because of this inner part of them, it’s tough to handle. As for myself, I don’t know if I’m bisexual because of the abuse in my past, I don’t know if this is because how God made me; I don’t know why I’m this way! But this report claims that I’m supposed to say that I am sinful, and there’s no grace, there is no love, there is no Jesus in that.
This is why I’ve had to leave the CRC. I thought perhaps that the CRC was becoming a more grace-filled church. I thought that grace was finally becoming a bandage that was wrapping over some of the puritanical tone and hyper-Calvinism of the past. I saw that process happening in my mom’s life. Just before she died, I saw grace coming into her life, and it changed her. I thought that maybe the CRC was starting to undergo the same transformation. I started to feel a little bit of hope for people like my daughter, who is also bi, that she may be able to be part of the church and hear people say, “You’re not damned; you’re not gonna go to hell. You’re loved. Christ loves you. We’re all loved.” But in this report, I don’t see that at all.