How I Broke Free From Religion and Embraced My Sexuality

Excerpted from 'God and Boobs: Balancing Faith and Sexuality.'

There's a seemingly holy trinity in my family: Grandfather, father and brother, all with the name Robert Schuller. They were the face of The Crystal Cathedral's "Hour of Power" broadcast, preaching sermons televised around the world. "Hour of Power" was the most watched religious program in the world from 1972 until 2008. The popularity of "Hour of Power" made celebrities of my grandfather and his protégé, my father. They promoted The Crystal Cathedral mantra of Possibility Thinking (how faith in God creates a mindset that leads to successful living) to sold-out stadium crowds. They appeared live on news broadcasts, offering religious commentary in reaction to world events. Adoring fans still stop them at the grocery store seeking a prayer, a blessing and an autograph.

And so it was, I grew up a Schuller, the oldest child and grandchild of my generation. Though heir to this masculine dynasty, I'm of another fabric. Not only do I have a different first name, I also have boobs. That's the real dividing line: my gender. While I love the men in my life, we're designed differently. Femininity is the canvas upon which I experience faith. I learned the hard way, through trial and error, how to break free from religious constrains and embrace my sexuality.

As a child, I thought Possibility Thinking meant that God's biggest goal was for me to be successful. I feared that I could not please God unless, like the men in my life, I was famous and living the American Dream. I was in middle school when my grandfather released his book, "If It's Going to Be, It's Up to Me." He insisted that I repeat the title back to him with his signature intonation, enunciating each syllable with vibrato. In compliance, I mimicked my grandfather's diction, but I lacked his compelling spirit. He said, "No, Angie, like you mean it!" But I just couldn't do it; I couldn't be like my grandfather.

By college, I was trapped in an emotional and mental tug-of-war. My passion for serving God was met by a desire to be a sexy, strong and self-aware woman. In my mind, these ideals could not co-exist.

And then, something incredible happened. I started meeting young women whose internal conflict mirrored my own. Two separate college friends told me their youth pastor sexually abused them, and yet the senior pastor did nothing to help when confronted with the truth. Other young women said they were afraid to have sex because they thought it was dirty. Some said they felt ashamed of their large breasts. They thought that their body type had caused men to lust, and so sin against God. These stories differ from my own, but the core message is the same. Like me, the women I met loved God, but felt shameful about their sexuality.

Hearing other women's struggles gave me a renewed sense of confidence in my calling. I thought that if I persevered in ministry, despite any obstacles, then I could become a beacon for other women to find their greatest potential too.

Rather than play down my femininity and finagle my way into the boys' club, I forged my own path in ministry. I wanted to build my career without nepotism, so I refused to work for the family business. Instead, I studied undergraduate theology and completed a master's degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. It's inelegant to say, but my main motive for earning a counseling degree was this: I didn't want to screw people up. By that point, I had seen far too many ministers seriously miss the mark when trying to help people. With counseling skills, I hoped I could avoid making the same harmful mistakes.

After college, I worked as the spiritual director of a Christian university. This position had always been reserved for a man -- typically one in his mid-40s, with a wife and kids. I was a single woman, which was two strikes against me. And by my late 20s, I was an associate pastor at one of the fastest growing mega-churches in the country. You don't have to be a Christian to understand that I've done well as a modern woman in a male-dominated industry.

I have felt marginalized by religion in my life. As a child, my family passed the pulpit from father to son. As an adult, I struggled to climb ministry's version of a corporate ladder. Men are more frequently hired for ministry positions. As in corporate America, the men are paid higher salaries. Despite feeling excluded, I found my way. And if I can stand at the heart of Christianity, with my background and experience, and still feel isolated, how must women feel who stand at the outskirts of faith?