|Cartoon provided by Erin|
Despite a degree in religious studies and office management, Erin is a SEO and online marketing consultant, and married to a future MD. Together they have two children, one dog, and toys all over the floor most of the time. She blogs at naturallyerin.com
What do you consider your current worldview/religious beliefs to be?
After much study and consideration, I follow the Jesus of the Bible who taught that love for others is one of the greatest gifts you can offer the world.
How did you become involved with Christian Fundamentalism?
I perhaps have a unique situation in that I was not raised in fundamentalism. I grew up in a very sincere non-fundamental home attending a Bible / Christian Missionary Alliance Church with my parents. Growing up in churches like that, it was demonstrated to me that God is good and loving and that He extends grace freely to everyone. Church attendees, pastors and staff were all equal and on first-name basis with each other. I never remember thinking that the pastor or anyone else held any higher position than another.
When I was 17, the pastor of the Alliance church we attended left, and due to the influence of close family friends who were members of an IFB* church, my parents were persuaded to visit and later joined their church.
Up until that time, fundamentalism and independent Baptists had been completely foreign to our family. Our initial high-level view was that the pastor was held in high esteem, and that members seemed to have a unique bond, demonstrated by addressing each other as “brother” and “sister” and never by first names. Women assumed a position of meekness and wore long dresses or skirts.
To us, It was strange and other- worldly. And yet compelling at the same time. We were slowly drawn into the force of following rules to please the pastor. We adopted the use of the KJV*, not wearing pants, and even took up issues such as CCM*, not dating, and other hobby horses of the IFB.
It was always a game of how to “gain rank” and be the better “Christian” (hypocrite really).
I ended up attending (and graduating) from an IFB college since that was, of course, a definite item on the checklist.
Oddly enough, it was during my freshman year while sitting in a required class on the history of the KJV that I sort of snapped to my senses and realized that what the teacher was saying made no sense at all. It was not possible that there was only one reliable translation of the Bible when churches all over the world were established and grown based on many different versions. Strange as it seems, the class meant to indoctrinate me solidly on KJVism forever helped me start thinking on my own.
Even then, if would still be several more years before the IFB convinced me that their purpose was to harm, not love.
How did Christian Fundamentalism affect your home life (relationship between parents, relationship between parents and children, relationship between siblings, discipline methods, lifestyle choices, etc.)?
Our family was in the IFB for about 10 years. Before that, as I mentioned, we were nothing even close to fundamentalism. However, during those ten years, fundamentalism divided us as a family (and I mean my parents, and siblings, my siblings family, and I). Each one of us had different “standards” and we all looked down on the rest of the family for not going along with whatever we at that moment thought represented godliness.
It was a constant struggle between all of us and was something we had really never experienced before. It was not until the last us our family finally made the break from IBC that our unity has been restored. To this day, we talk about our foray into a cult. It’s embarrassing, but at the same time an experience that has made us all stronger.
11. Do you notice areas of your life where fundamentalism is still impacting you?
The most noticeable area is that of criticism and sizing others up so to speak. Of course, the IFB freely distributes criticism and it’s a tough habit to break.
In more significant areas, I struggle with men in leadership positions. Most of the time I’m fine, but if something triggers a memory, I mentally head right back down a path where I was six or seven years ago. I’m not sure I will ever be able to trust male leadership. Then again, I probably shouldn’t.
I really don’t think that anyone can be involved in a cult of any type and expect to emerge on the other side unharmed and unaffected in any way. Healing is a process. For me, the progress has been measured in years (six so far). I’m not sure I will ever be fully away from the indelible ink that cult involvement has imprinted on me. But I’m not sure that’s negative. Hopefully I can use the wisdom and insight I have gained to help to train my own children and to help others gain freedom as well.
Did you ever feel abused* by any aspect of or adherent to Christian Fundamentalism?
What do you think Christian Fundamentalism gets wrong? What do you think it gets right?
I’m not sure what they “get right.” They’ve ruined the lives of many people. I could never begin to express the many areas that they are in error. Perhaps the one that stands out to be most vividly is that they say they believe in the God of the Bible, but it’s not the God I have come to know. The God of the IFB is angry and ever-seeking to bring swift punishment on the one who makes a mistake or even deliberately chooses to do wrong.
How do you think fundamentalism has impacted the world’s view of Christianity? Should Christians be trying to change that view? If so, how do you think they can?
I have a very different view of fundamentalism than those who grew up in it. Neither of my parents or any of my extended family on either side were involved in or had heard of fundamentalism prior to our tenure with it. I believe that on the scale of things, fundamentalism is a very tiny dot on the religious or Christian map. No doubt it’s done more than its fair share of damage to the Christian reputation (but I think it’s somewhat regional, just as Mormonism).
I think that judging Christianity by fundamentalism is similar to judging Muslims by the behavior typical of radical Islam. Radical Islam represents a very narrow aspect of Islam and adherents to the Muslim faith should never be presumed to be a member of that sect. Unfortunately Muslims as a whole have taken a bad rap because of the behavior of their more outrageous members. So too with fundamentalism.
Fundamentalists are obviously telling everyone that they are Christians so unfortunately that lands them squarely in our side of the religious field. I believe that demonstrating what true Christianity is will go farther than trying to explain away or apologize for the errors of fundamentalists.
Every religion has a side that the “other side” wishes didn’t exist. Fighting with a side I disagree with merely validates their arguments (to them). For the ten years I was in the IFB, I was taught to fight all who opposed the IFB view. That was part of the reason I left. I don’t plant to fight anyone again.
What would you say to someone who is considering joining Christian fundamentalism?
I think this is an interesting point to bring up because I have noticed that the IFB actually have very few converts other than the children that grow up within its ranks. Fortunately, there is little about their appearance and practices that entice the average thinking individual searching for a church or faith-based experience.
At least in my region of the country, IFB churches are very small, with old facilities, and antiquated styles of services. Their habit of door-to-door recruitment casts them in the same negative light as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons.
What would you say to someone who is considering leaving Christian fundamentalism?
I have talked with many people as they walked through the process of leaving fundamentalism. And it is a process. You can’t expect to turn completely 180 degrees overnight. In fact, I don’t think that it is wise.
Leaving a cult is somewhat like experiencing a death of a close relative or friend: everything that you believed, trusted, and loved is gone. You will experience a range of so many emotions as you try to sort through exactly what truth is (or if there remains any truth at all).
I think the first step to leaving is doubting. You have to be honest with yourself and ask, “Is the IFB truly equal to my needs?”
When it comes down to it, the most important thing in life is to find something that will hold you and be a constant presence in whatever life gives you, good or bad. Many people (myself included) find the IFB unsatisfactory for what life has given you to deal with. I needed something real. Something more than rules, the praise of men, or even a feeling of peace.
*IFB stands for Independent Fundamental Baptist.
*KJV stands for King James Version of the Bible
*CCM stands for Contemporary Christian Music
*Definition of abuse: “Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure or wound someone” (source: The National Domestic Violence Hotline ). Abuse may have taken place in the home, church, religious school, etc. or could have stemmed from specific teachings and self-imposed adherence to such teachings.
Thank you Erin for sharing your story with us! Please check out her wonderful blog to learn more about her.