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Forward Freethought winner — Kaylin Nelson

By Kaylin Nelson

 was raised in a Christian household, with a minister father and a devoutly religious mother. I am not sure if I ever believed in God, or if I simply followed the beliefs of my parents because I was too young to form my own opinions. 

At 6 years old, I was sexually assaulted on the grounds of my church. My abuser was a family friend — a 20-year-old man, whose mother and father held positions similar to my own parents in the church. The assault occurred as I waited outside of the church building where youth choir practice took place, with adults standing just inside the doors. After my assault, I remained an active member of the church. I returned to the location of my assault a week later for choir practice, and continued to return for the next 11 years. 

I was baptized at 9 years old. My mother cried as the pastor pressed his hands to my chest and held me beneath the water, washing me of my sins. Being washed of my sins, according to my mother, was also supposed to wash me of any hatred, or ill will that I felt towards others. Even if she never said it, I knew she spoke of my abuser. It was my duty to move on — to forgive and forget. Time was supposed to have healed all wounds. 

My wounds refused to heal. They were picked at each time I saw my abuser at church, where he had been welcomed back with open arms. The idea of stepping foot on the grounds of my church made me ill, and still does. The behavior of my church, and the ease with which they accepted my abuser back into the fold pushed me away from religion. I could not, and would not, subscribe to a doctrine that ignored my pain, and called for forgiveness, even before healing could take place. 

I didn’t see a therapist until I was 15. For nine years, the only solution I was presented with was prayer. I was told to run back into the arms of the God, who had already allowed me to be broken. My sexual assault drove me away from church and opened my eyes to the flaws of religion. 

God has been used to spread hatred, to protect abusers and to shame victims. I no longer see church as a place of worship, but rather as a breeding ground for future abusers and abuse apologists. As someone of intersecting identities — a queer, Black woman — I have witnessed religion being used against people who share identities with me, to both actively oppress them or to excuse their mistreatment. This, along with greed and rampant sexual assault, are just some of the issues that I have encountered at my church. 

Kaylin, 17, attends University of Central Florida.