An Update on BJU

BJU and GRACE are back together again. Read more here.
Most importantly, GRACE announced this through social media: “greatly encouraged this morning to be notified by B.J.U. of its decision to accept our offer to reinstate the original agreement with no changes.”
Had BJU reinstated GRACE with new terms, we would all be left wondering what was potentially lost. Thankfully, everything will stay the same. I’ve read mixed reactions from people across the web – some feel it was a publicity stunt by BJU, others feel BJU caved after all the public outcry. Whatever the case, the whole world is now waiting to hear the results of GRACE’s investigation. May the truth be told.

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

New Life

At the end of December my partner and I confirmed that we were expecting a baby; we were both overjoyed! Now, 11 weeks into the pregnancy, I’m finally emerging from the awful symptoms of the first trimester. I don’t feel like I’m in survival mode all the time now, which is wonderful. I’ve been able to enjoy reading and thinking during the past week or so, so hopefully my creativity is returning and I’ll be able to write more. The reading and the thinking has certainly taken a new direction due to the fact that I’m pregnant.

I’m assuming that my parents as well as my partner’s parents are hoping that this new addition will magically transform our hearts and we’ll come running back to the fold. The thought of getting involved at a local progressive Christian church has briefly crossed my mind, actually. Not because I want to be involved in Christianity, but because of the community and support such a church would bring. We’re far away from all family and friends of the past, and our lack of community is scary to me as I imagine life with a new baby. There’s a great UU church we’ve attended a few times… but we haven’t been able to attend very frequentlye. We keep missing services due to sickness, morning sickness, weather, my partner’s work schedule, etc. I sincerely hope that things will improve as we draw closer to Spring. Speaking of Spring, it’s fun to think about how the baby will be growing inside me right along with the growth of Spring, and then be delivered towards the end of the growing season in August.

So yeah… a new baby definitely has me thinking about my community, my home, my family, our spirituality, what the future looks like… so many things. I know this pregnancy will be life changing. One way it is already changing me is by reshaping my spirituality and refueling my desire to learn more and grow. I think I know where I’m headed – to a point – but my IFB background is holding me back. It’s so hard to let go, let loose, and simply feel and do things… because of fear. The IFB instilled within me many fears, one of the chiefest being to fear what other people think. My interactions with other Baptist kids (school, camp, and college) taught me to fear how I look and whether or not what I’m doing will seem stupid or silly. Now I still battle with fearing what others think, how they’ll see me. I also battle with a fear of not being in control, which is heavily tied in with my fears about how other see me. Early on I did my best to hide all tears, possibly even all emotion, in public because it opened me up to ridicule and pain. I never liked being asked to do things out of my comfort zone because I feared failure, feared how I would look. I missed out on a lot of opportunities thanks to all this; it’s only been since I left Christianity that I began finding the freedom to loosen up and have fun. I look forward to being further changed by the experiences of this pregnancy, giving birth, and holding my baby.

Sunday Morning Musings

Sunday was supposed to be a day of rest for Christians, but for most of my 20 some years as a Christian, Sunday was far from restful. The day started out with my family scrambling to all get showered, dressed, and out the door in time for Sunday School (at 9:45). Three out of four of us were not morning people. My mom tried to have a special breakfast for us on Sunday mornings plus she needed to prepare the lunch we would eat after church, so she had added burdens that required more time and less sleep. Getting out the door was incredibly stressful and hardly helped at least me to be in the right frame of mind for spiritual things. The Sunday events at my home church consisted of 9:45am Sunday School, an 11am service, 4pm teen meeting (for the few years we had that), 5pm choir practice, and a 6 pm evening service. The 11 service often ran until 12:20pm or later, but we didn’t get home until close to 1pm because we socialized with friends. By the time lunch was made and eaten, there really wasn’t much time left in the afternoon. We made the best of it, though, by taking walks, playing games, or watching something together. As we kids got older we discovered the joys of Sunday afternoon naps. Some families didn’t allow any activities on Sunday (based on Old Testament principles); I was very thankful my family wasn’t that hardcore. When I reached college I did begin to question spending time on non-spiritual things on the Lord’s day, but quickly abandoned my questions.

My Sundays in college were rarely restful. I chose to attend churches that were at least an hour away all four of my semesters. The first two of those semesters were spent at a church where I did what I could to help the pastor by teaching a Sunday School class, knocking on doors (even in the snow), and working on whatever odd projects came up. The next two semesters I attended a different church, largely so I could be with some new friends that I had made. We spent our afternoons crashed at the pastor’s house, at a nearby mall, or otherwise having adventures together. It was during this time that I began to question how conducive to a day of rest the model of church I was used to actually was. My friends brought this up and I found myself in agreement; if one of us was sick or just feeling wiped out we chose to come back early or, rarely, skip church altogether. The college would have never approved of what we did, but to an over-tired (and very ill, as I was experiencing a mystery illness that would turn out to be fibromyalgia) college student, it hardly seemed important. My body, mind, and spirit needed rest; God had commanded that we observe a day of rest, so I rested.

After I left college I returned home to be with my family. My illness kept me miserable 24/7, so I missed a lot of church, particularly Sunday mornings (mornings are the worst). My parents couldn’t understand and gave me a very hard time about how much church I missed. It became a source of stress and pain in my life and put a kink in our relationship. I spent the time sleeping (I suffered from killer insomnia at the time), doing personal devotions, or listening to the church service being broadcasted online. I discovered that I felt more spiritually refreshed when I had the time by myself than if I attended the Sunday morning services. One Sunday morning in particular stands out to me. By that point in time I preferred to use the ESV translation (my background was militant KJV only). I sat outside in the sunshine with my Bible, a journal, and a cat to keep me company. I read the beautiful words from my ESV Bible and then wrote in my journal. I encountered the Divine that day in ways I’ve rarely felt in a church setting. It was so perfect and healing to my soul. I tried to tell my father about it, but he did not share in my excitement because he felt I should be in church on Sundays. A few months after this experience I left my Baptist beliefs and Christianity as I knew it.

I still attended church as I was able, at least for awhile. I grew up in that church and its school, so it was a huge part of my life. I remember the Sunday my father told me I needed to leave the choir because it was hypocritical to be up there when I didn’t believe what I was singing about. I knew he was right, but I hated to leave because singing in the choir brought me such great joy. Church services became fuel for what I wrote on this blog; what I heard brought me to anger and disgust. The awkwardness of being an unbeliever amongst fervent believers also made it hard to enjoy church. Very few people knew my lack of belief at that point, and I was deathly afraid of how they would react to me if they did know, so did my best to smile and nod and maintain my secret.

When I moved away from home and was no longer pressured to attend church, I found great relief in spending my Sundays as I saw fit. There was no rush or bustle, no need to dress up, no shouting preacher… it was nice. I did try to keep the principle of a day of rest because I thought it necessary for maintaining good health. I toyed with the idea of a low-tech or no-tech day. I spent time outside when I could; Nature has always felt like a spiritual place to me. I also spent time exploring new ways of viewing spirituality through a variety of books. I never wanted to attend church again – I was tired of oppression and embracing my freedom wholeheartedly. I discovered and claimed the title spiritual but not religious; I was definitely still spiritual but wanted nothing to do with organized religion and churches. Things went south with my then-husband, I moved back home for a time, and I was again thrust into the world of busy, Baptist Sundays.

When I left home the next time, I remained content with church-less Sundays for several months. I didn’t spend much time looking for the Divine at that point, but eventually found myself on the path of searching once again. I found spiritual connections in discussions with other people, time spent outside, books and the internet, and within myself. I found the Divine in everything if I took the time to look for it. I also found spiritual healing. With healing I found I was ready to give church another try and began looking for an acceptable church. I became familiar with Unitarian Universalism (UU) many months ago, but never had the courage to attend; I was also afraid of the concept of church and what it might entail. A few weeks ago I found a local UU congregation that fit what I was looking for and found the courage to attend. It was wonderful! I’ll have to dedicate another post to tell you about it. Anyway. I was missing the community that comes with church, the experience of group singing, and hearing words of inspiration. I have found these things again, but they are better than they were in my Baptist church back home because there is no judgement present. There is no pressure, no negativity, no guilt-tripping about lost souls going to Hell. There is support, love, and acceptance. I didn’t attend the service this morning because I needed the rest, and that’s totally fine – nobody will get on my case. My spirituality is my own, and the UU church respects that. I am pleased to be reclaiming my Sundays, church and all.

Article: 15 Things Not to Say to a Recovering Fundamentalist

Defeating the Dragons has written another post that I must share; read it here.

I have been told most, if not all, of the things she lists; I find them equally as infuriating as she does. Perhaps the most infuriating phrase on her list is, “You were never really a Christian.” To have someone else decide  your personal beliefs weren’t sincere enough or real is very insulting. Most Baptists I know have no trouble saying that to/about anyone who left the faith. Another phrase that stood out was, “If you are truly seeking God in this time, he will lead you to the Truth.” The assumption that Christianity, particularly the fundamentalist version of Christianity, is absolute Truth (to the exclusion of everything outside of it) fuels so many un-Christian thoughts and actions. I’m so thankful I no longer hold to a belief that is so exclusive.

13. “Be careful you don’t lose your faith.” — Hännah

People are genuinely concerned about us, and just want to make sure that we’re ok. However, the concept that we could be “ok” without religion, without Christianity– it’s a little bit too far outside the box for a lot of Christians. To a lot of the people I know, living without their faith would be pretty unthinkable. Thoughts like “I don’t know how people survive without Jesus” (which is a modern remix of “you can do all things through Christ”) are pretty common among Christians– and they mean it. To be honest, I’ve said that sort of thing on more than one occasion. But, let me assure you: we are just fine. For a lot of us, “losing our faith” was the best– and hardest– thing that ever happened to us.

It’s certainly been one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Meditation

Meditation used to be something I misunderstood and viewed with a mixture of skepticism and awe. Some Baptists/Christians say meditation is too New Agey and invites the Devil in… or something silly like that. I think they say such things because they don’t actually understand what meditation is. See the definition here and/or allow me to sum it up for you.
To meditate is to focus on something, particularly something spiritual.
Prayer is meditation. Thinking about Scripture (as commanded in the Bible) is meditation. Mary meditated as she “pondered these things in her heart” after she found Jesus in the temple speaking as a learned adult rather than the child he appeared to be. Quoting passages like The Lord’s Prayer or the Twenty Third Psalm is meditation. Meditation is Biblical.
Anyway. Growing up I viewed meditation as some weird thing Asian monks did. Pastors and teachers warned against the evils of meditation, yoga, and anything else “New Age” so I saw these things as negative. Negative and mysterious. Fast forward to my post-Christian days as I explore forbidden fruits and discover the truth about them. In looking for ways to help myself heal from and cope with chronic illness, I read a lot about meditation and guided imagery. What was this nebulous thing called mediation? How did people sit and think about nothing for hours upon end? Was it just craziness? I looked into it some, but it wasn’t until a few months ago that I came to understand meditation.

I first tried meditation as an aid to help me fall asleep. Then I sought to use it as a balm for the stress of life. It was quite helpful, but I found it difficult to calm my effectively. Life got busier and I forgot about meditation. I needed its calming influence in my life, though, and reinstated it in my life recently. In lieu of focusing on “nothing” (clearing my mind is hard!), I began using guided imagery. Guided imagery (or guided mediation) has worked so much better for me! Having someone else guide me – via a recording or in person – is easier than guiding myself, but I think guiding myself is good exercise for my brain. I try to meditate daily, even if it’s only for a few moments. The more I meditate the more calm and stress-free I feel. Meditation feels spiritual to me. It nourishes my spirit and helps me find balance.
I find a quiet spot where I can be alone. Peaceful place outdoors are especially nice. If I’m indoors I like to light a candle or some incense to help me relax. I find a comfortable way to sit or lay down and then begin by counting backwards from 10, inserting the names of colors between each number. Focusing on that task successfully guides me into a state of meditation. If I’m in pain or feeling tense, I find it helpful to focus on relaxing each part of my body until my body feels soft and heavy. This feeling is remarkably peaceful. Then I may turn my focus on any specific things that need my attention – problems, concerns, etc. When I used to pray as a Christian I often discovered answers/solutions as I focused on what was going on in my life – I experience the same thing now, which is not surprising since I was meditating before. If I am struggling with guilt or other negative emotions I remind myself of positive things through stating affirmations. Affirmations have been very helpful! In the past I found comfort in affirmations such as “I am a child of God,” “my sins are washed away,” or any number of other things Christians tend to say. My affirmations may have changed since then, but the power of positive thinking has not! Sometimes as I meditate, I do end up thinking about nothing other than the fact that I’m breathing, and it is quite nice. It’s all quite nice and is something I look forward to every day.
Many, and perhaps all, religious traditions call for or incorporate meditation into their practices. I see it as a universally-held spiritual practice that is of benefit to everyone. I’m very glad that my hyper-conservative, fundie background did not ultimately prevent me from enjoying this peaceful practice.

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. 

Again… Really? (5-22-2012)

Here we go again! North Carolina has yet again made it into the public eye through the actions of a Baptist pastor. Pastor Charles L. Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, NC spoke out rather forcefully about the Biblical wrongness of homosexuality and has warranted the attention of national media. Here are two links to the story: http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2012/05/21/pastors-anti-gay-anti-obama-sermon/?hpt=ac_bn2 and http://www.wtsp.com/news/national/article/256113/81/Pastor-wants-to-isolate-gays-until-they-die-out 

After reading the lengthy quotes from this pastor’s sermon, I am appalled at his ideology.
I am also appalled because I used to be a part of churches who took similar stands on issues like homosexuality. Not all Christians or even Baptists would endorse putting homosexuals into concentration camp settings just to prove that homosexuals cannot reproduce, or if you take it to the logical end, to watch the so-called blot of homosexuality die out. Sadly, I know several people who would probably be fine with that scenario playing out. The Bible, mostly in the Old Testament, does refer to homosexuality as a gross sin, and labels it as a stoning offence (Leviticus 20:13). The Bible also says that Christians are to love their neighbors and be peaceful people (mostly in the New Testament). Christians have a hard time balancing out those two ideas, often being on one extreme side or the other. It’s issues like this that have led me to make the observation that the God of the OT is not the same God of the NT, despite Biblical claims to that end. The OT is full of harsh, brutal, intolerant and unloving acts that were commanded or committed because of what God supposedly said. The NT, particularly the teachings of Jesus, speak of love, equality (or close to it compared to the OT) and peaceful living. When I was a Christian, I read my Bible and became confused at the apparent contradictions I saw. I understood that it was the NT I was supposed to follow, since Jesus had essentially nullified the former requirement of following the law, but I also read that Jesus and God were the same person and did not “change.” Looking at the change in the message of the OT and NT from a historic perspective, it certainly shows that ideologies can progress towards tolerance and love over time, as humanity becomes more “civilized.” Modern Christianity seems to be proof of that, as it tends to focus on the message of love and peace that Christ did preach, while often ignoring other messages in the Bible that disagree. Those who try to embrace the ENTIRE Bible all at once, and not only follow it to the letter but also force their beliefs on everyone else – they are the ones who end up making the news. 

The pastor may have been trying to prove something when he mentioned that homosexuals don’t reproduce, but his logic is faulty. There are many heterosexual couples who cannot or do not reproduce either. Sex is pleasurable, for both the heterosexual and the homosexual. It seems that the Bible’s biggest beef with homosexuality is the inability to reproduce, and of course the idea that one of the men has to take “the role of the woman.” Oh wait, then how does this apply to lesbians too? Why is it not such a big issue if it’s women with women? I can only recall one passage in the Bible that specifically references lesbians, whereas several come to mind that specifically refer to gay men. The root issue here is not the pleasure of sex without reproduction so much as it is an issue with women and men being equal. It’s no secret that inequality was the norm during Biblical times, particularly the OT. “Leaving the natural use of the woman” is a phrase used in reference to men choosing to sexually love other men rather than women (Romans 1:27). I am a woman, and I do not see my womanhood as being a “natural use” for a man to please himself sexually. That phrasing seems to take the female side of things rather lightly, placing the importance on the male. If this is a translation issue, great, but most people who still hold to this view of sex and women are stuck on the KJV translation as being “God-breathed.” 

A Realization About Spirituality

A thought struck me earlier today and I haven’t been able to shake it, so I will write about it. 
My spirituality has never been allowed to be about me.
The strict Baptist upbringing of my first two decades did not allow for anything that even hinted at selfishness. We weren’t Puritans by any stretch of the imagination, but we were taught that our lives weren’t about us because they belonged to God. We were born because God had a purpose for us. This purpose might include many things (pain, ridicule, sacrifices as huge as dying), but it ultimately culminated in bringing glory to himself. All that we said or did was supposed to please him and bring glory to his name and cause. How we worshipped, what we wore, and even the secret things we pondered late at night belonged to him. To do things because you wanted to was selfish and sinful. Rebellion was “as the sin of witchcraft,” (1 Samuel 15:23) after all. Most of the Christians I have known toss around the phrase, “it’s God’s will” or “the Holy Spirit is leading me to do this” or something similar to that to justify the decisions they make. I’ve seen those phrases used to justify some pretty terrible things, but that’s a topic for another time. 
Fundamentalism removes the individual’s self. An individual (in the sense I’m speaking about) is comfortable in their own skin and is quite happy to find his/her own way in life. An individual is empowered and free. Individuals don’t last in fundamentalism (unless they become cult leaders or the like). Fundamentalism must break down people’s sense of self, tell them it’s evil (play on past guilt, etc.), and then insert a controlling measure (strict adherence to particular teachings, lifestyle, dress, etc.). The Bible often uses the imagery of sheep needing a shepherd to illustrate humanities’ need for the Christian God. Sheep are very stupid animals, or so I’ve been told, and will get themselves into all kinds of trouble without the guidance of a shepherd. People often act like sheep; sometimes we like being told what to do rather than having to make our own decisions and then being responsible for them (and sometimes it’s necessary, to a degree). Individuals don’t fit well in flocks of sheep, though.
I’m an individual. I’ve always struggled with fitting in with the flock or going off on my own. I have many vivid memories associated with this struggle. In childhood I tried to blindly implement the rules I was taught, but kept finding them to be silly and impractical. I fought violently against the herd as I grew older, but kept being pulled back and shepherded into conformity. I earnestly believed but struggled with who I was as an individual. I worked at packing away my individuality, thinking it to be sinful, and tried to be a good little sheep. Keeping one’s self under control was prized, so I worked and worked at that. All this packing away and control did great damage to me on so many levels, though. 
  •  My ability to love and accept my body was trashed. Fleshly bodies are evil, after all, and only of this sinful world. To this day I still have a hard time separating what I look like (my weight, what I’m wearing, how sexy or frumpy I am) from who I actually am and what my worth as a human being is. I should be confident enough about my worth to not care how I appear in other people’s eyes, but I’m not. What other people think about me (must constantly worry about my testimony!) still runs me ragged at times.
  • My growth into a mature, emotionally-healthy human being was stunted. Keeping control of yourself, never letting loose was supposed to be a good thing. Instead, emotions and experiences I should have worked through as a young person (when the repercussions would have been smaller) have caused extreme pain and heartbreak now. I didn’t allow myself to be “crazy” as a young person. I thought I was really “out there” the first time I wore my Converse high tops in public, when I started listening to Josh Groban, and if I wore anything that was sleeveless. I didn’t allow myself to go through any of the phases most Americans deem normal because I wanted to be mature and Christ-like. I didn’t allow myself to process emotional pain or trauma correctly, because to do so would have involved expressing pain and needs to others, which was selfish and showed my relationship with God wasn’t strong enough.
  •  My understanding of what spirituality meant was monopolized, causing my spirituality to be shallow.    
    • My former spirituality was starving me. It was about making an invisible being happy by doing and saying the right thing. Everything was about him. I didn’t matter, and I told myself that was good and should make me happy. That sort of relationship between humans isn’t healthy and doesn’t work in the long run (I know from personal experience), but it’s exactly what many Christians teach and promote. Complete denial of self is a form of starvation, like anorexia. A strong, healthy personality doesn’t stem from an anorexic sense of self. I starved my self for many years and my personality and life suffered the side effects. Now, I’m trying to feed it and make it healthy, but it’s insanely hard. It’s easier to nibble on guilt and feelings of worthlessness than to stomach empowerment and self-worth.
    • My understanding of spirituality was so deeply tied to exclusively Christian things that I couldn’t separate spirituality from my religious beliefs. The spirituality of others was confusing to me, because they too claimed happiness and satisfaction, even if they didn’t associate with a particular religion. I was taught to discount the happiness of others and to call it blind ignorance instead. Because of that, I learned to judge others and discount the truth of what they said about themselves if it didn’t line up with what was “right.” I’ve come a long way here, but I still struggle with being judgmental and dismissive about other people’s thoughts and lives.
    • My spirituality was so bound up in Christianity, with its rules and scrutiny, that I wouldn’t let myself seriously consider other belief systems until very recently. Having the belief that everything outside of the KJV Bible is evil and a lie pounded into your head 6 days a week is incredibly effective. My Baptist upbringing also taught me that religions and spirituality were an all-or-nothing deal – everything was to be taken seriously and literally. Now, my spirituality allows me to explore, question, and piece together my own set of beliefs from whatever sources I chose. I don’t need rules or parameters.
Now that I’m free to be me, the possibilities are endless! My body is mine. My sexuality is mine. My intelligence is mine. My thoughts are mine. My life is mine. My spirituality is mine. My own! Where should I go with myself? The realization that I am my own person is deliciously freeing.

Bubbles

My fibro. was kind enough to flare, so I’ve had lots of down time lately. I’ve spent most of it reading and researching a variety of topics. Every time I feel some sense of pleasure in acquiring new knowledge, I also sense just how little I really know. There was a time when I was content to ignore anything that didn’t fit into my narrow worldview. I was taught that a great many things were evil, and those evil things were to be avoided. Always. You know, evil things like rock music, tight clothes, dancing, movie theaters, lots of makeup, kissing boys, etc. I attended the school run by my church, so I got a heaping dose of the church’s teachings six days of the week. Then I worked at a Christian camp for two consecutive summers. I was around plenty of people far more “liberal” than what I was accustomed to, and wasn’t sure if I should pray for them or embrace the less rigid mindset (this is all hilarious now). I was raised to believe that any non-King-James Bible contained some sort of heretical changes and was bad. Suddenly, I knew people who read other versions of the Bible, and they didn’t seem like heretics. Then I went off to Bible college, where I was surrounded by a variety of opinions and personalities. I still had to have all of my pants approved, to make sure they weren’t too tight, lest I cause one of my brothers to stumble and start lusting. Rock music was still preached against, and I couldn’t be alone with a guy unless I had special standing, permission, privileges, etc. Many things I once held as hard and fast beliefs began to change. Teachers asked questions, I did research for papers, and I saw that there was a much bigger world than I’d ever been allowed to see before.

Basically, my life can be summed up as living within several sets of bubbles. By bubble, I mean a controlled atmosphere that was meant to keep people “safe” from the outside world. Anything deemed harmful was censored, and we were required to live within acceptable guidelines or be kicked out/punished. Exploring other options was not encouraged. Circular reasoning  and legalism are a natural result of living in a bubble. If all you need/know is around you, then you start comparing yourself to those around you rather than remembering that there is a HUGE world out there full of people and ideas. Bubbles quickly become stale and even poisonous for lack of fresh “oxygen.” Intelligent people who normally have lots of common sense may find themselves in odd positions after living in a bubble. Why? The pressure from those around them,  the herd mentality, and the lack of outside (fresh) influence makes it easy to go down paths you might otherwise eschew.
Having left the bubbles behind, I now wholly embrace freedom of thought, personal independence, and access to any and all information. Stale air chokes and eventually kills those who breathe it – that’s a fact. Get out of the bubble.