(Real) Love Conquers All

I suppose there a lot of other things I could be blogging about right now – like Doug Phillips being sued for molesting his children’s nanny, or my current perspective on Easter – but tonight I write about love.

 

I’ve written some about my first marriage and how IFB shaped my view of love here, here, and here. My first marriage tanked pretty quickly. I had no prior experience with an actual relationship, thought you were supposed to marry your first love, and believed that there would never be another person who would tell me he loved me and wanted to take care of me. I went into the relationship with a very low level of self-worth, which turned into me letting my then-boyfriend-and-eventually-husband push me into things I wasn’t comfortable with as well as letting him run me down and treat me like a child (not that children should be treated that way). I had gotten myself into an abusive relationship with a racist, misogynistic, mentally ill guy who believed the world was run by lizard aliens called the Illuminati. Yeah…. He was an expert liar and I was blinded by love, only to be blindsided by the craziness after we were married. After a few months of abuse, an opportunity to get out came, and I chose to leave. As hard as it was at the time, I’ve never regretted my decision and am so thankful to have my life back. Other ex-fundies have talked about experiences like this and refer to marriages like mine as “starter marriages,” because so many ex-fundies lack the real-world knowledge and experience to start in healthy relationships.

When I left my first marriage I was terrified of my ex, had even lower self-esteem than before, and was struggling with depression. Love had betrayed me. Marriage was supposed to be an ultimate goal that, once obtained, meant you were safe for life, but my marriage had dissolved due to things I had never dreamed possible. I lost a lot of things in that relationship, but the experience I gained changed my life for the better. I knew I would never marry someone without living with them first – no more prudish views about what I once considered a pretend marriage. No more promises made about abstaining from sex before marriage – sex was great and even sacred, and it didn’t make sense for me to hold back that part of a relationship until after I had married someone. The legality of marriage was huge and scary – something I didn’t fully grasp until my name was legally bound with the name of someone else whom I needed to divorce. For awhile I toyed with the idea of never entering into a legally-binding marriage again. A couple’s commitment to each other was sufficient for me, so why add the hassle of getting married? What was so important about this marriage thing anyway? Was it outdated and unnecessary? 

Then I was swept off my feet by someone else (also an ex-fundie). The origins of our relationship are complicated and tangled, but that’s not relevant to this post. We went through the gaga-eyed honeymoon phase like every couple, but on the other side of that phase we were still happy and very much in love. We had our issues, like learning how to communicate with each other effectively, but instead of him shutting me out or me burying my concerns, we figured it out and our relationship grew stronger. He has built me up, piece by piece, until I’ve reached the point I’m at now. I’m finding my independence and am becoming confident in who I am, what I can do, and how much I’m worth simply because I’m a person. I have built him up as well and helped him find balance in life. We truly function as a team, which means so much to me. We have found the meaning of love and are living it out one ordinary day at a time.

He and I were married this past weekend through a beautiful (and legal) Celtic handfasting ceremony. We debated whether marriage was relevant to us (he had been married once before as well). We decided the positives outweighed the negatives and began to plan our wedding. Along the way we added to our family (he has a son we are raising) and announced to the world that we were expecting a baby (it’s a boy!). Pretty much everything about our wedding was non-traditional, from the ceremony to my baby bump that made me feel like a goddess at the wedding. Neither my husband nor I went into the ceremony expecting it to change our relationship. We’d lived together for over a year already, so why would a ceremony change anything? Saying our vows in front of a carefully-selected group of people, surrounded by symbols of love and support, we both found ourselves forever changed. It was a beautiful experience and has added to the bond we share. My faith in the concept of marriage has been renewed, and I’ll probably write further on the this topic in the future.

A thought that has come to mind in recent days is this:
My heart is not a bag of Skittles that is capable of being emptied. My heart is capable of an infinite amount of love.

The bag of Skittles analogy is one I picked up at a fundie camp during my teen years. It was a lie, but I didn’t know that then. It was only after I hit rock bottom and then found love again that I realized how amazing my ability to love is. Love grows and changes and can be spread out across your whole life. I love my parents and many people from my past. I love my husband. I love his son. I love the son that is growing within me right now. I’m growing to love people in our new community. All this love and no worries about an empty Skittles bag.
Love conquers all.

BJU Scandal: Do Right ’til the Stars Fall

Bob Jones University (BJU) has made the news recently, after firing the group (GRACE) they hired to conduct an investigation into the school’s handling of sexual abuse.  To get up to speed on what led up to this investigation, please read this very thorough article:


The investigation began in January of 2013. One of the tools used was an online survey, as outlined here. GRACE posted an update on the investigation in November of 2013. At that point things were going well, students had responded, and some 80 in-person interviews had been conducted. GRACE’s final report was scheduled for sometime in March of 2014. Then, on January 27th, 2014, BJU backed out of the contract and sent GRACE this message. On February 6th GRACE publicly announced the situation (much to BJU’s chagrin, judging from the response given by BJU) in this update:

With a very heavy heart, GRACE announces that on January 27th, 2014, we received a ‘Notice of Termination’ from Bob Jones University.
This ‘Notice’ took GRACE by complete surprise as there had been no prior indications from BJU that termination was even being considered. Furthermore, this termination occurred days before GRACE was to conduct the last interviews of this 13-month investigation and begin drafting the final report scheduled for publication in March.
Despite repeated requests, GRACE has not been informed of why the agreement was terminated.However, due to the fact that GRACE certainly wishes to keep all options on the table in order to complete what has been started, we have spent the last week in communication with BJU and we remain open to continued dialogue.
At this point, we are most concerned about the potential impact of this termination on those who participated in the investigation and are waiting for the final report. We grieve with those whose hopes will be crushed should this independent process remain incomplete. Please know that we heard your voice and it was not spoken in vain. GRACE offers its assurance that we will do our utmost to protect your confidences in the interviews and surveys from unauthorized use or disclosure. You have honored us with your courage and trust. We are privileged to have sat with each of you.
GRACE will post updates should the current situation change. Above all, we continue to have hope in the One who makes all things new and never lets us go.
The GRACE Team
February 6, 2014

BJU had this to say in reply:

… Over the last several months, we grew concerned about how GRACE was pursuing our objectives, and on Jan. 27, 2014, BJU terminated its contract with GRACE. …
BJU sincerely appreciates all current and former students who participated in this initiative thus far, and the University regrets any delay BJU’s cancellation of its agreement with GRACE may have on this important project.
We grieve with those who have suffered abuse in their past, and we desire to minister the grace of Christ to them. Our prayer for the abused is that God will be their refuge and strength.

The situation has received outside attention from both local media and the not-so-local Washington Post. Bloggers, activist groups, and people who have previous connections to BJU (or similar groups) have used social media to spread the word, even starting a petition demanding BJU reinstate GRACE. Since learning about BJU’s termination with GRACE, I also learned about another Christian organization that had also terminated with GRACE in the past. The Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE) canceled its contract with GRACE two years into the investigation. ABWE’s reasons for terminating are listed here. GRACE’s response is found here. Blogger Tamara Rice – who was personally involved in the sex abuse scandal at ABWE – wrote about GRACE, ABWE, and the BJU termination in her post: The Realist Speaks: 5 Reasons the BJU Scandal Will Go Away.

On February 7th, BJU’s current president Stephen Jones gave this speech to students and staff at BJU.
Here are some important quotes from the speech (thank you John Shore for taking the time to type up these quotes):

We grew concerned that in the process GRACE had begun going beyond the original outlined intentions. And so we wanted to sit down and talk about them, because it had gone askew. And so we terminated our agreement with GRACE … . Since the termination we have intended to immediately negotiate a new contract with GRACE that would enable them to complete the review to achieve our objectives.
. . .  We have not shared the reasons for our termination … with GRACE or with anybody else, because that needs to happen at the table, so that we can fully explain it, and they can have the opportunity to hear it there the first time. … [Grace] is our partner in this.
We are committed to achieving our original objectives. …
I’m most greatly concerned today for the people who’ve been interviewed in the process. Which is one of the reasons we wanted to deal with GRACE … because there were people who shared horrific personal stories of abuse with GRACE. … GRACE has done a great job at making those people feel at home, and secure, and free to share those stories. … I just want to reiterate that we are committed to identifying and reaching out to those individuals.

Blogger John Shore‘s response to this speech sums it up pretty well:

In other words:
“We hired GRACE to look into allegations of sexual abuse at BJU. Just as GRACE was concluding its 13-month investigation, we decided that we were dissatisfied with them. We wanted to talk with GRACE about our unhappiness with them, but instead decided to say nothing to them before suddenly firing them. But we still very much want to work with GRACE. We fired GRACE so that we could immediately rehire GRACE. We have no idea why they would have a problem with that.
“We’re going to find out from GRACE who they talked to, and what those people said. Because we care.”

Now to the opinion part of my post.

BJU screwed up… majorly. Everything I’ve seen thus far from BJU has made me more suspicious of the school and its motives for canceling a sex abuse investigation weeks before its finding were to go public. I find this quote from the February 7th speech particularly damning (words in bold highlighted by me):

We grew concerned that in the process GRACE had begun going beyond the original outlined intentions. And so we wanted to sit down and talk about them, because it had gone askew. And so we terminated our agreement with GRACE … . Since the termination we have intended to immediately negotiate a new contract with GRACE that would enable them to complete the review to achieve our objectives.

What do I take away from this (and the whole speech)? BJU had very specific ideas of what they wanted GRACE to look at and/or find through an investigation. As soon as the investigation started to uncover things that didn’t fit with “our objectives,” BJU pulled the plug. Now, unless GRACE agrees to do only what BJU says it can, the investigation will have been for naught and the results will never see the light of day. The point of hiring a third party to look into the situation is to get an independent opinion that will not be controlled by the parties involved. What else does that speech tell me? It tells me that BJU will not publicly entertain the notion that sexual abuse was happening on its campus. The only reason BJU hired GRACE to conduct an investigation was to assess how the school handled students who had been abused elsewhere, usually at some previous point in their lives. Given the Baptist/religious/fundamentalist tendency to sweep such thing under the rug, no matter how old or new the accusations are, this investigation is important at all levels.

To those who point to ABWE’s concerns about GRACE as a way to defend BJU’s decision/actions… it’s not working for me. I’ve read ABWE’s accusations and I’ve read the other side’s opinion, and I find ABWE’s accusations far-fetched and fantastic in description.When sexual abuse is involved – particularly in religious, male-dominated organizations – I doubly question the concept of trying to prevent a “flawed report” from going public. Also, GRACE spent months getting the trust of the students – not something to be taken lightly. Survivors of sexual abuse will have trust issues, especially if they’re worried about potential backlash from administration. There is no way students will be as ready to trust a new attempt at an investigation after having their hopes dashed in this manner. Were I a college student at BJU (or any other similar institution) who had suffered sexual abuse, I would certainly be worried about how things would be handled and would fear I wouldn’t be allowed to remain a student if I were to speak out about the abuse.In light of my personal experiences, the experiences of people around me, and what I’ve read and heard, I have a hard time trusting any large fundamentalist organization to do the right thing rather save face. A college friend told me her sexual abuse story – it ended with the religious leaders involved sweeping it under the rug and telling her to keep quiet and get over it. Another friend was severely mistreated by the administration of the Baptist college she was attending – read the story here. So many more stories out there, all terrible and impossible to believe… but they’re true.

I don’t know how this story will end, but I doubt the full truth will ever come to light. BJU committed PR suicide with its handling of this event – I hope this has been big enough that people will not forget it. I hope that GRACE’s full report is allowed to be made public and BJU will not try to censor the truth to save face. I also hope that the victims of sexual abuse who are involved will get the support and help they need so they that they can find healing.

Update: News story posted by the NY Times on Febuary 11th. Abusers allege they were told by BJU counselors to keep their stories private because going to the authorities would hurt the cause of Christ.
Update as of 2/27/2014: GRACE reinstated by BJU

Trying to Get Out of the Mud of IFB

The road to recovery out of fundamentalism is long and painful. Sometimes I feel the pain more keenly and I wonder how people who didn’t start as fundamentalists became fundamentalists. Why did my parents, for example, pick IFB as the place to get involved and raise a family? They both have alluded to troubled pasts, particularly during their college years, and seem to carry continued guilt from whatever went on; I think perhaps fundamentalism offered them a way to absolve their sins and feel forgiven. Once we kids came along, I’m sure they thought that they were doing us a great service by raising us in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord,” because we wouldn’t be exposed to all the stuff they were exposed to in the past. They probably hoped our lives wouldn’t get screwed up because we would be raised in church, in the Bible, etc. I understand wanting to do the best you can for your kids, so I won’t fault them for their good intentions, but I must say that things didn’t work out as well as they’d hoped.

I am 100% certain that being raised/heavily involved in the world of IFB screwed me up in numerous ways. Many of the things that I struggle with today or have struggled with in the past I can easily trace back to something I was taught or influenced on by a particular teacher or pastor within the IFB. Here are a few things that come to mind:

  • Constant preaching about the end times, the rapture, and how terrible the current state of the world was = anxiety about the future and an impending sense of doom, distrust of humanity, “whatever will be will be” attitude towards the condition of the Earth, our government, and all global affairs.
  • Vilifying of self, self-awareness, meditation, personal experience, any spiritual experience considered Pentecostal = hatred and distrust of self, anxiety and depression, sense of disconnect and confusion, inability to relax and simply experience, need to control/fear of losing control.
  • Rigid rules and strict discipline for not adhering to the rules, rules for everything, persons in authority often needed to assert authority in heavy-handed ways = control issues, fear and suspicion of authority figures in general, and a constant need to defend myself/stay on the defensive.
  • The state of childhood viewed as a lesser state of being, children as willful brats deserving of punishment (even hellfire), adults put so far above children as to allow for easy abuse of power, children should always be obedient, happy, and controllable = I viewed the jump to adulthood as important and sought to reach it ASAP, I internalized the negativity towards and treatment of children as the right way to do things, I have a hard time not thinking I am obligated to control the behavior of children simply because I’m an adult and they aren’t.

Between the rules, the teachers, and how authority was or wasn’t used, the atmosphere of the church school I attended (all the way through) was hardly one of love and Christlikeness. Church/Christian schools don’t have very good reputations, though. Kids can be so awful to each other, as can teachers to kids. I think it was within the realms of school that I learned to keep up a constant defense. I worked hard to control myself and my surroundings to keep myself from messing up and becoming the subject of ridicule. I was an A student, so teachers rarely had reason to ridicule me; it was the other students who seemed to thrive off the misfortune of others. Leaving yourself open, relaxing, just enjoying life and who you really were was a recipe for being torn apart by the other kids. So, I closed up and learned how to put up walls. By the time I hit fourth grade I discovered the pain of betrayal, ridicule, and being left out; I graduated from that school still feeling those some things. How might I have turned out differently if I’d gotten my education in a different setting – one where religion and hellfire weren’t mingled with rules and expectations?

The part of myself I’ve lost that I mourn the most is my ability to let loose and open myself up to whatever I choose. We start that way as children, and then along the way we learn to avoid pain and shut ourselves up – perhaps more so when religious fundamentalism is involved. I never considered myself a control freak, but I’ve discovered that I do in fact have trouble with needing to control things. In highschool and college (and sometimes even now) I always wanted to know things, have the right answer, be right because it made me feel like I had worth. I went from a carefree child to an anxious, somewhat controlling adult. Why? Someone who struggled with a similar problem recently helped me a shine a light on at least one angle of things:

“My ‘need to be right’ and ‘have control’ was very much linked to the ‘God-Pleasing’ of the IFB as well as the concept that ‘If you are not right, you are wrong and God can’t bless you.’ We control because we fear the future. Wow!!! The whole fundy thing is about being terrified of God and who controls the future?? God does! So….they try to control God!! We controllers try to control in order to please God and earn His blessings for the future. This is actually Greek and Roman belief — not Judeo-Christian.

Regardless of who had what beliefs and when, I think she makes some excellent points that I had never considered before. I particularly like the part where she says, “We controllers try to control in order to please God and earn His blessings for the future.” As a Baptist I felt huge pressure to be perfect, to do a million different things to better myself or others, to find God’s will and do it, etc. Trying to do everything that was deemed good and even necessary was impossible. So you better get control of your life and your time and make sure you can give a good account for it one day to God, lest he call you a bad steward of his gifts. Huge pressure to do everything, and to do it right… very easy to get burnt out and stressed. I still struggle with feeling like I should be doing something productive all the time, must be multitasking, otherwise I’m wasting time and being lazy. 

I have goals I’m working toward. I have spiritual paths that call to me. I have so many ideas and hopes, but until I can relearn to relax, let loose and let go, I will stay stuck in the mud of the past. Through introspection and writing posts like this one, I feel I can begin digging myself out and moving forward. In fact, I hereby make letting loose and letting go my main goal for the coming months. Onward!

How IFB Has Shaped My Life: Part One

My IFB background has shaped every aspect of my life thus far. I used to accept fundamentalism’s dictation of my actions without question. Those days are long gone, of course, but fundamentalism is still doing its best to shape my life. Being raised in a lifestyle that involved attending church three times a week (and more if there were revival services), attending church-school five days a week (K-4 through 12th grade), and being heavily involved in the church and school as a family did an excellent job of instilling IFB principles into my very person. I attended and then worked at a summer camp run by Baptists; I then went on to a Baptist college where IFB principles were further entrenched into my thinking. When I made the decision to leave IFB and Christianity as a whole, I did not fully understand how much my former beliefs would continue to impact me in the future. Perhaps the largest way it has impacted me is in the areas of relationships, love, and marriage.

Conservative Christians focus on keeping themselves pure, which usually means no sex before marriage. My seventh grade Sunday School teacher had us (all girls) sign slips of paper promising to keep ourselves pure before marriage. At some point during my teen years my Dad took me out to a special dinner and then had a brief, awkward conversation with me about keeping  myself pure before marriage. I promised him that I would and he presented me with a purity ring. Camp speakers and staff spoke extensively about young people keeping themselves pure, lest we give ourselves away piece by piece until there’s nothing left for our future spouse. I took this phrase to heart and prided myself in the fact that I had not dated a long string of guys. I wanted to wait for the right one and date only him and then get married and live happily ever after. Doing things correctly was supposed to guarantee a blissful marriage, after all. Prior to leaving IFB, I had assumed I would meet a wonderful, Christ-centered man and then we’d embark on some dating/courtship hybrid that would end in sappy vows at the altar. My own parents had both dated and done things the “normal” way, but I knew that Dad hoped I would choose the courtship route. He bought into the concept of a father is responsible for daughter until he hands that responsibility off to her husband at the alter. I didn’t like or accept that at all, though, and he didn’t really push it. I think he’s too awesome of a guy to truly buy into male headship/ownership of females. He certainly never treated my mother like he owned her. Anyway.

In college I spent a lot of time reading and praying about godly standards for relationship. Sermons, chapel messages, classroom discussions, dorm discussions, and dorm devotions were full of thoughts and mandates about purity, dating, marriage, etc. In that sort of atmosphere there was no escaping the fact that most people are or will be in relationships; if they aren’t presently in a relationship, they probably wish they were. I was no exception and sincerely wished for a relationship. When I voiced those thoughts to friends I was told that I should be making the most of my singleness by serving God. “Serving God” meant focusing on prayers, reading my Bible, and working in a ministry of some sort (so I wouldn’t get discontent and go off on my own and find a suitable partner instead of waiting for God). Whole books and special studies are dedicated to using your single years for God’s glory while you wait for God to bring you a spouse or, heaven-forbid, learn to accept that you’re meant to focus on God rather than a husband. One pamphlet floating around amongst Baptists is particularly disturbing – Stay in the Castle. It tells the story of a King (God) who had a daughter (you). The daughter was told that her knight in shining armor (your husband) would come on a special, unknown day and seek her hand in marriage – she just had to be patient and wait. Well, the daughter, like any curious young woman tired of being locked up in a castle, slips off to the village one night and falls in love with the excitement going on there. The commoners aren’t so bad – she even meets a nice boy. She and the boy fall in love and decide to be married, despite her father’s sad disapproval of her defiant choice. Some months later, as her back aches because of the child she is carrying in her womb, she sees a glowing knight ride up to the castle, only to be sent away because his princess didn’t wait for him. Talk about emotional manipulation! Do what your father (earthly and heavenly) tells you so you don’t end up married to a poor drunk, lest you bemoan carrying his child and missing out on the life of luxury you should have had. Christian literature on relationships is pretty awful, in my experience, and any claims of Christian psychology should be viewed with great skepticism. Anyway. These things illustrate some of the major influences on my understanding of/views on relationships.

When I made the tumultuous decisions to leave Christianity, one of the first things I did was stop “waiting for God” and start to actively seek out a relationship. I met a man – who was not a Christian – and we began dating. He seemed to be everything I thought I wanted in a partner – smart, funny, kind, ambitious, confidant, etc. He was also my first real boyfriend, so I had little-to-no previous experience with a dating relationship. I knew that the relationship standards I had been raised with were not the norm for other people. What was the norm for “the world” ???? I had no idea. My new boyfriend  expected hand-holding, hugs, and kissing from the start. I was reluctant and taken aback by his expectations, but wasn’t sure if they were truly unreasonable or if I was just a prude. I looked to my Dad for guidance here, but he seemed to be of the opinion that my boyfriend’s way of thinking was not cause for alarm (which really surprised me and still seems odd to me now). I tried to ease up and relax some, but I did maintain certain boundaries. The boyfriend wasn’t particularly thrilled but agreed to respect my decisions. The way he treated me was far from respectful, but at the time I didn’t see it. He pushed and pushed to break down any barriers I set up. If I wasn’t as cuddly as he wanted me to be he’d pout and lash out at me verbally, telling me how things should be. If I became upset and later felt bad (which was often), I would apologize for being such a prude and then he would comment about how benevolent he was to put up with me. “Most guys would have already raped me,” he said, “but I’m was glad I’m not that kind of guy.” Being talked to like this made me feel like I was beholding to him for being so nice. I figured that, if other “normal” guys were like what he described, I must certainly have a good boyfriend. He was good at manipulating me, obviously, and was very clever with his words. Too clever, actually – he was/is a habitual liar and told me fantastic lies from the start. I was surprised when I discovered some of the lies he told, but the reasoning he gave for telling those lies seemed acceptable so I pushed it off as something normal people must do. He said and did a LOT of things that I pushed off as normal because he was very good at presenting himself as a relatively normal guy… and because I didn’t know what normal really was. He wasn’t normal, though, at any level. I would not discover just how abnormal he was until after we were married.

Looking back, I wish I had dated around in high school and in college so that I could experience what it was like to be in a relationship long before it actually was important (think marriage-important). Granted, my opportunities for dating were pretty much non-existent and guys didn’t seem interested in me. I didn’t even have great friendships with guys once I started to “grow up,” because friendships with guys were taboo. Being able to be friends with a guy is tough for me to this day. I was raised to think that if a guy was being more than polite it meant he was interested in you, romantically, and if you were more than polite to a guy you were showing your interest and being a bit forward. I had a few male friendships in college, but they were all with fundamentalists so that did little to help me gauge what was normal and acceptable in any sort of relationship. At least one of those male friendships was of a very close nature, and should have been helpful to me. It was very hurtful, though, to my understanding of the dynamic between a man and a woman, particularly between marriage partners, because of how he treated his wife (who was also my close friend). Verbal abuse and manipulation were very prominent in his relationships with other people – doubly so with those who were close to him; it was those very things that finally ended our friendship. But I didn’t learn from that experience, I guess, because I jumped right into a romantic relationship that was fraught with the same verbal abuse and manipulation I had previously escaped.

Interview with an Ex-Fundie: Meet Ashlee

Meet Ashlee, a young woman who is an ex-fundie, happily married, and a Christian. Thank you for sharing your story, Ashlee!
_____________________________________________________

What do you consider your current worldview/religious beliefs to be?

Christian – Having a relationship with God and not the church. Politically, I would consider myself moderate.

How did you become involved with Christian Fundamentalism?

I was born into it. Until I moved out of my parent’s house I had no choice with what I wanted to do. My parent’s controlled everything.

What sort of church(es) did you attend while in fundamentalism?

IFB – very conservative

How did Christian Fundamentalism affect your home life (relationship between parents, relationship between parents and children, relationship between siblings, discipline methods, lifestyle choices, etc.)?

I think it caused tension between my parents and me because I was always afraid of getting in trouble. Being a PK I always had to play the part of being the good Christian girl. I didn’t have the same thinking as my parents. I felt like I couldn’t be true to myself. I felt more like a fraud. Moving out of their house I feel like now I can be authentic. With the control they had over me I couldn’t think for myself. It was either the Bible way or the highway with them.
Was patriarchy (male headship) present in your home, church, or relationships with other people? If so, how did it make you feel at the time? How do you feel about patriarchy now?

My dad was head of the home and also the church, so I got strictness in both the home and church. I do not agree with males feeling like they can dominate the female. Being brought up in the IFB the men teach you that they have control over you. 

What were you taught about sex before marriage or sex in general? How has that affected your relationships (dating, marriage, or otherwise)? How have the teachings affected your opinion of your own body?

Growing up in a strict conservative Christian home the topic of sex was not brought up. I know in some Christian homes it was an open topic, and in others it was a very closed never talked about topic. I grew up with the subject never being brought into conversation. Why my parents chose that option is beyond me. Maybe they hoped if they kept their children “innocent” and naïve they would never have to worry about one of their daughters becoming pregnant. Being much younger than my oldest sisters I don’t know if my parents at some point had the intimate “sex talk” with them. Perhaps my mother was the one who gave that talk, and maybe waited until their wedding day, assuming they were both virgins. I learned from looking at porn and reading about sex and talking to certain friends. I think you should be allowed to do whatever you are comfortable with doing with your body. 
My mother was a funny individual who didn’t even give me the talk about girls getting their period. The first time not having a clue what was going on with my body I felt as if something seriously wrong was happening to my body.

Do you have any memories that stand out in regards to your experience with fundamentalism (you can share as many as you’d like)?

I remember always being scared talking to friends. Even about dumb stuff just being afraid of getting in trouble with my parents. The control my parents had over me was just wrong. A parent and child relationship should be based on love and not using an intimidation tactic.

When did you start to question Christian Fundamentalism? What led up to this?

When my parents told me I was going to a strict Baptist college without me having a say in the process because they didn’t approve of a guy. Although before that I always knew my parents were strict and the way they disciplined wasn’t right.
Do you notice areas of your life where fundamentalism is still impacting you?

Not really. I’ve kind of changed.

Did you ever feel abused* by any aspect of or adherent to Christian Fundamentalism?

I believe there was a lot of emotional and psychological abuse. My dad always told us to keep stuff to ourselves and not tell anybody stuff that was said. Which kind of screws with your head. Like why so much secrecy? Also, there were a couple of times he took physical discipline too far, and caused severe bruising.

What do you think Christian Fundamentalism gets wrong? What do you think it gets right?

It gets a lot wrong. Music, dress, rules, and much more. I really don’t think they get anything right. They lack in teaching God’s agape love, and focus too much on rules. The Baptist church seems too similar to the catholic church… both are focused on works.
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 believe the Baptist church has caused people to turn away from church because of their corrupt teaching. I believe God shows His love to His children. Baptists should turn away from looking the part of the good Christian.

What would you say to someone who is considering joining Christian fundamentalism?

I would advise them not to join. It’s more of a cult/religion.
What would you say to someone who is considering leaving Christian fundamentalism?

I would try to help them as much as I can. Especially if they were having issues with the pastor giving them problems and pressuring them to stay.

* “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. 

Article: Domestic Violence in the IFB Church Movement

Please read the article here.

“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.”

This goes on in IFB circles ALL the time. I saw it go on in friends’ household when I was a child. I watched it go on at the Baptist college I attended. I watched college friends go through it. I experienced it personally in at least one major friendship in the past. People I hold very dear have gone through so much abuse at the hands of fundamentalism.

Article: Servanthood & Suffering v Equality & Justice

When a Gospel of Servanthood and Suffering Stands in the Way of Equality and Justice

When you teach people to live their lives focused on what they will get in the next life, you can lead them into doing all kinds of things. Happiness awaits in the next life, but only if they are willing to suffer greatly in this one. Why try to get ahead in life? Why try to find happiness and enjoy yourself? Nothing here on earth matters, so why bother? This is a very sad state of affairs. There is much here on earth, in the every day things we experience, that is beautiful and heavenly. The only purpose to having people stay focused on the next world is so they will more readily forget what their lives are here on earth. Makes it very easy to get good, honest people to work themselves to death for a cause, stay dirt poor and give to an institution (which may or may not use those funds for the true good of their fellow humans [I’m not speaking against charity, rather the abuse of it that has gone on for centuries in the Catholic church and others]), and submit themselves to leadership that will tell them they are filthy and worthless without Christ and should therefore gladly give all they have so they might receive rewards in the next life.

Mississippi High School Forces Fundie Messages on Students

Insanity. Read the story here.
Can I say total disregard for the law? Kidnapping teenagers was one of the stupidest things they could have done. Teenagers have cameras, phones, ipods, and who knows what else. Did they honestly think it wouldn’t get out? I suppose that the most likely scenario is that they thought the risk (jail and fines) was worth getting the name of Jesus out to the teenagers. That’s sad.

Article: Religious Trauma Syndrome

Religious Trauma Syndrome: How Some Organized Religion Leads to Mental Health Problems
Posted on March 26, 2013 by Valerie Tarico

At age sixteen I began what would be a four year struggle with bulimia. When the symptoms started, I turned in desperation to adults who knew more than I did about how to stop shameful behavior—my Bible study leader and a visiting youth minister. “If you ask anything in faith, believing,” they said. “It will be done.” I knew they were quoting the Word of God. We prayed together, and I went home confident that God had heard my prayers.

But my horrible compulsions didn’t go away. By the fall of my sophomore year in college, I was desperate and depressed enough that I made a suicide attempt. The problem wasn’t just the bulimia. I was convinced by then that I was a complete spiritual failure. My college counseling department had offered to get me real help (which they later did). But to my mind, at that point, such help couldn’t fix the core problem: I was a failure in the eyes of God. It would be years before I understood that my inability to heal bulimia through the mechanisms offered by biblical Christianity was not a function of my own spiritual deficiency but deficiencies in Evangelical religion itself.

Dr. Marlene Winell is a human development consultant in the San Francisco Area. She is also the daughter of Pentecostal missionaries. This combination has given her work an unusual focus. For the past twenty years she has counseled men and women in recovery from various forms of fundamentalist religion including the Assemblies of God denomination in which she was raised. Winell is the author of Leaving the Fold – A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving their Religion, written during her years of private practice in psychology. Over the years, Winell has provided assistance to clients whose religious experiences were even more damaging than mine. Some of them are people whose psychological symptoms weren’t just exacerbated by their religion, but actually caused by it.

Two years ago, Winell made waves by formally labeling what she calls “Religious Trauma Syndrome” (RTS) and beginning to write and speak on the subject for professional audiences. When the British Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Psychologists published a series of articles on the topic, members of a Christian counseling association protested what they called excessive attention to a “relatively niche topic.” One commenter said, “A religion, faith or book cannot be abuse but the people interpreting can make anything abusive.”

Is toxic religion simply misinterpretation? What is religious trauma? Why does Winell believe religious trauma merits its own diagnostic label?

Let’s start this interview with the basics. What exactly is religious trauma syndrome?

Winell: Religious trauma syndrome (RTS) is a set of symptoms and characteristics that tend to go together and which are related to harmful experiences with religion. They are the result of two things: immersion in a controlling religion and the secondary impact of leaving a religious group. The RTS label provides a name and description that affected people often recognize immediately. Many other people are surprised by the idea of RTS, because in our culture it is generally assumed that religion is benign or good for you. Just like telling kids about Santa Claus and letting them work out their beliefs later, people see no harm in teaching religion to children.

But in reality, religious teachings and practices sometimes cause serious mental health damage. The public is somewhat familiar with sexual and physical abuse in a religious context. As Journalist Janet Heimlich has documented in, Breaking Their Will, Bible-based religious groups that emphasize patriarchal authority in family structure and use harsh parenting methods can be destructive.

But the problem isn’t just physical and sexual abuse. Emotional and mental treatment in authoritarian religious groups also can be damaging because of 1) toxic teachings like eternal damnation or original sin2) religious practices or mindset, such as punishment, black and white thinking, or sexual guilt, and 3) neglect that prevents a person from having the information or opportunities to develop normally.

Can you give me an example of RTS from your consulting practice?

Winell: I can give you many. One of the symptom clusters is around fear and anxiety. People indoctrinated into fundamentalist Christianity as small children sometimes have memories of being terrified by images of hell and apocalypse before their brains could begin to make sense of such ideas. Some survivors, who I prefer to call “reclaimers,” have flashbacks, panic attacks, or nightmares in adulthood even when they intellectually no longer believe the theology. One client of mine, who during the day functioned well as a professional, struggled with intense fear many nights. She said,

I was afraid I was going to hell. I was afraid I was doing something really wrong. I was completely out of control. I sometimes would wake up in the night and start screaming, thrashing my arms, trying to rid myself of what I was feeling. I’d walk around the house trying to think and calm myself down, in the middle of the night, trying to do some self-talk, but I felt like it was just something that – the fear and anxiety was taking over my life.

Or consider this comment, which refers to a film used by Evangelicals to warn about the horrors of the “end times” for nonbelievers.

I was taken to see the film “A Thief In The Night”. WOW. I am in shock to learn that many other people suffered the same traumas I lived with because of this film. A few days or weeks after the film viewing, I came into the house and mom wasn’t there. I stood there screaming in terror. When I stopped screaming, I began making my plan: Who my Christian neighbors were, who’s house to break into to get money and food. I was 12 yrs old and was preparing for Armageddon alone.

In addition to anxiety, RTS can include depression, cognitive difficulties, and problems with social functioning. In fundamentalist Christianity, the individual is considered depraved and in need of salvation. A core message is “You are bad and wrong and deserve to die.” (The wages of sin is death.) This gets taught to millions of children through organizations like Child Evangelism Fellowship and there is a group organized to oppose their incursion into public schools. I’ve had clients who remember being distraught when given a vivid bloody image of Jesus paying the ultimate price for their sins. Decades later they sit telling me that they can’t manage to find any self-worth.

After twenty-seven years of trying to live a perfect life, I failed. . . I was ashamed of myself all day long. My mind battling with itself with no relief. . . I always believed everything that I was taught but I thought that I was not approved by God. I thought that basically I, too, would die at Armageddon.

I’ve spent literally years injuring myself, cutting and burning my arms, taking overdoses and starving myself, to punish myself so that God doesn’t have to punish me. It’s taken me years to feel deserving of anything good.

Born-again Christianity and devout Catholicism tell people they are weak and dependent, calling on phrases like “lean not unto your own understanding” or “trust and obey.” People who internalize these messages can suffer from learned helplessness. I’ll give you an example from a client who had little decision-making ability after living his entire life devoted to following the “will of God.” The words here don’t convey the depth of his despair.

I have an awful time making decisions in general. Like I can’t, you know, wake up in the morning, “What am I going to do today? Like I don’t even know where to start. You know all the things I thought I might be doing are gone and I’m not sure I should even try to have a career; essentially I babysit my four-year-old all day.

Authoritarian religious groups are subcultures where conformity is required in order to belong. Thus if you dare to leave the religion, you risk losing your entire support system as well.

I lost all my friends. I lost my close ties to family. Now I’m losing my country. I’ve lost so much because of this malignant religion and I am angry and sad to my very core. . . I have tried hard to make new friends, but I have failed miserably. . . I am very lonely.

Leaving a religion, after total immersion, can cause a complete upheaval of a person’s construction of reality, including the self, other people, life, and the future. People unfamiliar with this situation, including therapists, have trouble appreciating the sheer terror it can create.

My form of religion was very strongly entrenched and anchored deeply in my heart. It is hard to describe how fully my religion informed, infused, and influenced my entire worldview. My first steps out of fundamentalism were profoundly frightening and I had frequent thoughts of suicide. Now I’m way past that but I still haven’t quite found “my place in the universe.

Even for a person who was not so entrenched, leaving one’s religion can be a stressful and significant transition.

Many people seem to walk away from their religion easily, without really looking back. What is different about the clientele you work with?

Winell: Religious groups that are highly controlling, teach fear about the world, and keep members sheltered and ill-equipped to function in society are harder to leave easily. The difficulty seems to be greater if the person was born and raised in the religion rather than joining as an adult convert. This is because they have no frame of reference – no other “self” or way of “being in the world.” A common personality type is a person who is deeply emotional and thoughtful and who tends to throw themselves wholeheartedly into their endeavors. “True believers” who then lose their faith feel more anger and depression and grief than those who simply went to church on Sunday.

Aren’t these just people who would be depressed, anxious, or obsessive anyways?

Winell: Not at all. If my observation is correct, these are people who are intense and involved and caring. They hang on to the religion longer than those who simply “walk away” because they try to make it work even when they have doubts. Sometime this is out of fear, but often it is out of devotion. These are people for whom ethics, integrity and compassion matter a great deal. I find that when they get better and rebuild their lives, they are wonderfully creative and energetic about new things.

In your mind, how is RTS different from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Winell: RTS is a specific set of symptoms and characteristics that are connected with harmful religious experience, not just any trauma. This is crucial to understanding the condition and any kind of self-help or treatment. (More details about this can be found on my Journey Free website and discussed in my talk at the Texas Freethought Convention.)

Another difference is the social context, which is extremely different from other traumas or forms of abuse. When someone is recovering from domestic abuse, for example, other people understand and support the need to leave and recover. They don’t question it as a matter of interpretation, and they don’t send the person back for more. But this is exactly what happens to many former believers who seek counseling. If a provider doesn’t understand the source of the symptoms, he or she may send a client for pastoral counseling, or to AA, or even to another church. One reclaimer expressed her frustration this way:

Include physically-abusive parents who quote “Spare the rod and spoil the child” as literally as you can imagine and you have one fucked-up soul: an unloved, rejected, traumatized toddler in the body of an adult. I’m simply a broken spirit in an empty shell. But wait…That’s not enough!? There’s also the expectation by everyone in society that we victims should celebrate this with our perpetrators every Christmas and Easter!!

Just like disorders such as autism or bulimia, giving RTS a real name has important advantages. People who are suffering find that having a label for their experience helps them feel less alone and guilty. Some have written to me to express their relief:

There’s actually a name for it! I was brainwashed from birth and wasted 25 years of my life serving Him! I’ve since been out of my religion for several years now, but i cannot shake the haunting fear of hell and feel absolutely doomed. I’m now socially inept, unemployable, and the only way i can have sex is to pay for it.

Labeling RTS encourages professionals to study it more carefully, develop treatments, and offer training. Hopefully, we can even work on prevention.

What do you see as the difference between religion that causes trauma and religion that doesn’t?

Winell: Religion causes trauma when it is highly controlling and prevents people from thinking for themselves and trusting their own feelings. Groups that demand obedience and conformity produce fear, not love and growth. With constant judgment of self and others, people become alienated from themselves, each other, and the world. Religion in its worst forms causes separation.

Conversely, groups that connect people and promote self-knowledge and personal growth can be said to be healthy. The book, Healthy Religion, describes these traits. Such groups put high value on respecting differences, and members feel empowered as individuals. They provide social support, a place for events and rites of passage, exchange of ideas, inspiration, opportunities for service, and connection to social causes. They encourage spiritual practices that promote health like meditation or principles for living like the golden rule. More and more, nontheists are asking how they can create similar spiritual communities without the supernaturalism. An atheist congregation in London launched this year and has received over 200 inquiries from people wanting to replicate their model.

Some people say that terms like “recovery from religion” and “religious trauma syndrome” are just atheist attempts to pathologize religious belief.

Winell: Mental health professionals have enough to do without going out looking for new pathology. I never set out looking for a “niche topic,” and certainly not religious trauma syndrome. I originally wrote a paper for a conference of the American Psychological Association and thought that would be the end of it. Since then, I have tried to move on to other things several times, but this work has simply grown.

In my opinion, we are simply, as a culture, becoming aware of religious trauma. More and more people are leaving religion, as seen by polls showing that the “religiously unaffiliated” have increased in the last five years from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. It’s no wonder the internet is exploding with websites for former believers from all religions, providing forums for people to support each other. The huge population of people “leaving the fold” includes a subset at risk for RTS, and more people are talking about it and seeking help. For example, there are thousands of former Mormons, and I was asked to speak about RTS at an Exmormon Foundation conference. I facilitate an international support group online called Release and Reclaim which has monthly conference calls. An organization called Recovery from Religion, helps people start self-help meet-up groups

Saying that someone is trying to pathologize authoritarian religion is like saying someone pathologized eating disorders by naming them. Before that, they were healthy? No, before that we weren’t noticing. People were suffering, thought they were alone, and blamed themselves. Professionals had no awareness or training. This is the situation of RTS today. Authoritarian religion is already pathological, and leaving a high-control group can be traumatic. People are already suffering. They need to be recognized and helped.

—- Dr. Marlene Winell is a human development consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area and the author of Leaving the Fold – A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving their Religion. Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of http://www.WisdomCommons.org. Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.