The year my parents stopped attending church was the year the Christmas cards stopped arriving.

For most of my teens, my parents and I were members of a Protestant Chinese church not far from our house. While the church was far from being fundamentalist, it was conservative because of the congregation's right-wing views mixed with a traditional Chinese heritage that favored modesty and moral values. My parents assimilated easily into the Mandarin-speaking congregation, led by an amiable married pastor with a boyish smile and a strong handshake.
Two years after we arrived at the church in the late nineties, my father was singing in the choir and my mother became one of the church bookkeepers. Eventually, my father also became a trustee. Meanwhile, at 14, I cautiously eased my way into youth group--50 Chinese-American teenagers who met every Friday night for worship, prayer, games, and wholesome messages, all led by an adult. Those Friday nights were moving, but also incredibly lonely. Youth group felt too much like a cliquish Christian version of high school. All the popular kids were the "deeply Christian" ones leading worship and Bible studies; they formed little groups, while the "fringe" kids were left out. Because I was shy and quiet, I became one of the "fringe" kids who wanted to be outgoing, but were often ignored. After a year in youth group, I decided to get baptized, which would make me a church member. I had always believed in Jesus and baptism seemed right, but my motive was not pure: I had seen some of the shy kids, once baptized, become fiery, new, popular Christians. By getting baptized, I would cement my faith and become a joyful, super-improved Christian. So at fifteen, on Easter Sunday, I was tipped backwards into a tank full of water to become an "official" Christian.

The Sunday offerings weren't adding up...
Read more on page 2 >>

_Related Features" border="0"> For a while, I experienced joy, and prepared myself to suddenly fall in sync with the popular, knowledgeable Christians. But it didn't happen. Perhaps because I neglected day-to-day activities (like prayer and scripture reading) that strengthen a Christian's faith, I became more withdrawn and resentful. I also became angry at what I thought was church hypocrisy. I hated the adult leaders who surrounded themselves with the popular kids, even as they advocated reaching out to the "fringe" kids. I also despised the youth group members who advocated loving everyone, but barricaded themselves in cliques and befriended only other Asians who knew how to dress, joke, flirt, and talk with self-assurance. In a way, my need to be a popular, accepted youth group member was more important than being a true Christian. I was also repulsed by the youth group's evangelizing tactics: every retreat was about force-feeding the gospel to non-Christians so they wouldn't end up in hell. Instead of being welcomed at youth group or Sunday school, the friends I brought to church were either ignored or accosted by other teens eager to pressure them into believing in Jesus.
Even though Jesus told his followers to make disciples of all nations, I don't think he ever imagined using relentless guilt tactics. Some non-Christians were never welcomed for who they were, but for who they could become; other non-Christians (if they were popular, friendly enough, and Asian) were immediately accepted. After a year or so, however, I fell into a small group of friends. We were the misfits, and we formed our own anti-clique clique. We began rebelling against the youth group in small ways--defiantly sitting down during worship while others were standing, and sending scathing (anonymous) articles to our youth group newsletter pointing out hypocrisy in others.