Where is the Love?

Much of the New Testament focuses on the concept that Jesus is love. In all the accounts written about him he was exemplifying love and mercy to those around him (perhaps with the exception of chasing out the money changers in the temple). Jesus’ ministry focused on healing the sick, blessing children, and befriending the outcasts. If Christians are followers of Christ, then Christianity at it’s most basic level = doing what Jesus did… right? Why, then do so many of my friends and even family who claim to follow Christ live lives so opposite of how Christ lived?

My Facebook feed is filled with stories and posts about the evils of public assistance and how most people are just out to milk the system. The loudest refrain I hear is that people must work, work, work – if you are on public assistance you must not be working hard enough. The assumption seems to be that poor people are lazy and should simply work harder. Those Americans fortunate enough to not be in that position should not have to help out those less fortunate than themselves. Given that a large percentage of people who hold to those ideas claim Christianity, I question their understanding of the Bible. What about this attitude is Christian? Where in the Bible did Jesus tell people to work harder and stop looking for help? How many beggars did Jesus use as an example of what happens to lazy people? How many sick people did Jesus turn away because they couldn’t pay for his services? Can you envision Jesus turning away children or leaving them to go hungry? Would he have prided himself in making lots of money and living in luxury while those around him suffered, struggled, and starved? No. Those are all current American ways of thinking and living. Jesus wasn’t American. Granted, there are more than just Americans who think and act this way. I suppose what I mean more specifically is that many people who claim Christianity have confused what it means to be Christian with what it means (to some) to be American.

The story that really got me thinking about this was how some Americans have responded to the immigrant children that have recently flooded our borders. These children have risked life and limb to reach America, because they believed that they would have a chance at happy, hopeful lives here. These children are fleeing violence, rape, enslavement, and abject poverty in their homelands. Why is this a crime? Why are children spat upon as if they were criminals intent on destroying America? This is America – we have a statue who stands as an emblem of hope in New York, and upon that statue are these words:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 

~ Emma Lazarus

 I find it ironic that many people I know who are so staunchly opposed to immigrants and programs that provide aid to people sing a song in church that talks about Lady Liberty and how proud they are to be Americans. I guess they’re so stuck on the “liberty for you and me” part that they’ve forgotten about everyone else, particularly the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Lady Liberty’s poem seems like it should be a mantra Christians would be happy to live by. Indeed, there are many who do… but rarely do they carry the title Fundamentalist or Baptist.

If you are a Christian, please take away this: don’t be so busy squabbling over who’s right and who’s wrong that you neglect to behave as followers of Christ. Jesus set a beautiful example for all of humanity, and the core of his ministry was showing love to people. If you don’t want to love others, stop using Christ’s name to describe yourselves.

Further reading:

The One About God, the Church, and Modern Religion

Here’s How You Can Help Unaccompanied Border Kids Without Giving to Glenn Beck

Child Migrants Have Been Coming to America Alone Since Ellis Island

 Matthew 18:1-6, 19:14,21 6:24; Luke 14: 13-14, 18:16-17; Acts 2: 44-45, 4:32-37; Romans 13:1-7 and pretty much everything Jesus said or did

Finding My Voice

I pulled out of the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement (and Christianity as a whole) in the fall of 2011 – that’s roughly thirty one months ago. My beliefs have changed so much during that time frame. Who I am has changed, and I’m very thankful for that fact. I’m happier. I’m healthier. I’m more confident. My spirituality is more fulfilling. I’ve found my voice and am no longer afraid to use it. Life is better.

Christian fundamentalism greatly stunted my personal growth. I’ve only recently realized how greatly it stunted my ability to use my voice. For starters, fundamentalism did its best to prevent me from developing my individuality. Self-aware individuals don’t conform to rigid rules and certainly don’t do well with one-size-fits-all doctrine. Individuals realize the world doesn’t fit into a box. Individuals use their voice to ask questions. Questions are dangerous if they remain unchecked. A child may except pat answers, but when that child grows up, his questions will not so easily be set aside. Fundamentalism prides itself in having the answer to everything, even if that answer is “God’s ways are not man’s ways” or “God knows best.” Receiving an answer like that was very unsatisfying, but it usually was enough to shut me up because I didn’t want to appear to be questioning God or the authority of the person whom I’d asked. Asking too many questions got you in trouble or, at the least, caused people to find you annoying and troublesome. I asked too many questions anyway, though, and didn’t get enough answers.

I can recall puzzling through matters of theology as a college student. Homework assignments designed to help me better understand my faith only made it more puzzling. One particular event stands out in my mind. I had been studying the arguments for and against predestination and free will and thought I’d had a breakthrough moment of understanding. I wanted to share my discovery with other people so I did my best to put it into words (which was long and complicated to do) and then put in Facebook. Immediately I got backlash from fundamentalist friends who disagreed; ultimately I chose to take down what I’d written. I saw then and there that a hole-proof, Biblical argument that reconciled predestination and free will didn’t exist. That was one of many things that I realized was not as hole-proof as fundamentalism declared/needed it to be. My faith was crumbling,
not being strengthened, and I began to realize why hyper-conservative fundamentalists declared higher education to be a “tool of Satan” used to pull young people away from their faith. I was not involved with Satan, though, and had only studied at conservative Christian educational institutions. My fundamentalist faith was not holding up to the thoughts inside my own head, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Eventually I had to start telling the people around me that I was no longer a believer. My voice was a squeaky whisper as I fearfully undertook the task of breaking people’s hearts. I put on a brave face, tried to protect myself by putting up a wall of defense, but nothing helped. I could no longer believe, could not live a lie to please people, but couldn’t bear to cause the people I loved so much pain and confusion. The year during/after my exit was messy and painful for all involved. I felt desperate for independence and a chance to discover the rest of the world, and in my desperation I made some bad decisions (my first marriage being one of them). Mistakes added to the pain and confusion, but through it all I began to find my footing and realized how strong I was – not how strong a deity or religion could make me. I found a place where I could blossom, a partner who supported me, and a faith community that was safe and nourishing (Unitarian Universalism). Finding love and support has given me the confidence I need to start using my voice.

I recall one conversation with my mother sometime after I had left fundamentalism: she asked me not to become an activist. Turns out the term activist made her think of 70’s era feminists like Jane Fonda. I know very little about Jane Fonda, but I’m aware that some of the activism of days gone by left a bad taste in many people’s mouths. Feminism and environmentalism both got a bad rap in IFB circles, and since those are two of the most well known areas of activism, I guess many fundamentalists assume activism is crazy, despite their very active attempts at proselytization and protecting themselves from what they considered to be infringements on their religious rights. IFB told me to speak out about salvation so the world would not all die and go to hell, but it cared very little about the worldly state of humanity and the Earth. Humanitarian efforts were seen as secondary (at best) to missionary work that resulted in conversions. I was always troubled by this, and wanted to involve myself in something that sought to help others at whatever level they needed help – not just their souls.

I guess I’ve always been an activist at heart. I don’t like sitting idly by when I see something that is needed, but years of doing just that must be overcome. I’m finding my voice and have lots I want to say. I don’t have the courage to speak very loudly, and the thought of public speaking still terrifies me, but I’m finding ways to use my voice. This blog is really what got me started; I needed to tell my story, and in the absence of an existing audience I made the web my audience. There are other things I’m passionate about, and I’ve been able to use the web to help me speak out about those things as well. Now that I’m a member at my local UU church, I think I will quickly find new ways to speak about what is important to me. I don’t have a special story, but I do have my story. I don’t have great ideas or even unique ideas, but if I don’t speak my thoughts I remain part of the silent majority. I want to bring about change, not remain silent while the world dies around me.

Happy Easter!

picture is the property of funnyfacejess

I love Easter. I looked forward to it as a child and I still look forward to it now. Easter has always represented hope, rebirth, happiness, and life. In the past I tied those things to the Christian narrative of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Now that I’m no longer a Christian, how do I observe Easter?

This year I attended church for an Easter service – probably my first Easter service in three years. Since leaving Christianity I’ve had no desire to hear the gruesome details of a crucified Christ, nor have I had any desire to hear how the blood of Jesus is responsible for securing my place in heaven. At the Unitarian Universalist church I now attend with my family, none of those things came up. Jesus was mentioned, but in a way that was beautiful and healing to me. Everyone at church was excited about all the new beginnings occurring this Easter – new members were welcomed (including me!), a new baby and his parents were blessed, and Spring finally decided to show up. I was reminded of the cycle of life and found myself touched by this season of birth. The way my pregnancy coincides with the change of the seasons has helped me feel even more keenly the power of changing seasons (literally and symbolically).

Easter is Spring, the season of birth and new life. People have been celebrating this season for a very, very long time. Even the word Easter originates from ancient pre-Christian times,
when the marking of the seasons was the norm and abundant fertility was cause for celebration. The story of Jesus even resembles ancient stories where a god is born, dies a sacrificial death, and is then restored to life miraculously. It’s a beautiful story, regardless of who the protagonist is, and I find myself unable to feel disdain for the story of Jesus. I too can sense the wonder that comes with the story of his miraculous life, particularly the great hope surrounding his resurrection after defeating death. I feel no joy at the message of sin and salvation, though, so I will probably never choose to attend a Christian Easter service again. In the future I look forward to telling stories from all the mythologies of the world that are appropriate for Easter, not just the story of Jesus.

I’m thankful that my parents never bought into demonizing Easter eggs or Easter baskets. Our annual Easter egg hunt still holds a special place in my heart. 🙂 I was excited to find out that my UU church has an Easter egg hunt for the children every year. There are many ways to celebrate this beautiful day, and I’m saddened by Christians who withhold Easter fun from their children. The nicest people I’ve ever met all have this in common – they don’t let their religion get in the way of life. Enjoy life and celebrate it every chance you get – lighten up!

Happy Easter!

Pairs Figure Skating… Sermon Illustration?

This article, which was shared with me by a friend, began to pop up in my twitter feed today: An Olympic Lesson for Husbands and Wives.

 Rachel Held Evans replies:

Dianne Anderson replies:

I love reading Dianne Anderson’s twitter posts. Kudos on her blog post too. When I first read John Ensor’s post, I thought it was a joke. My friend had the same reaction. Watching my partner’s face as he read it was priceless. In short, this article is hilarious… except someone wrote this in seriousness and people somewhere will agree with him and pass this on as good advice. Future sermon illustration? *shudder*

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!

Article from Elizabeth Esther and My Experience with Fundamentalist Christian Camp

The false, glittering promise of Christian conferences by Elizabeth Esther

I know exactly what she’s talking about, and I’ve never been to a Christian conference (unless a ladies’ retreat counts as a conference). The Christian camp I attended and worked at for several years created the same environment Elizabeth described. Everyone was on some kind of high by the end of a camp week, and as a worker you hit high after high throughout the summer, only to pack up and go back to reality in August. So many people I knew – both campers and staff – went home after their time at camp and crashed. They had made friends, made decisions, felt the rush of spiritual experience… and then when they went home it was gone. They eagerly came back the next year, hoping to regain the spiritual ground they had lost and yet again strengthen their resolve to do better. The term “camp decisions” exists for a reason….

Christian camps seem uniquely geared towards creating this phenomenon: campers/staff are completely bubbled in from the rest of the world, repeated doses of indoctrination through devotions and services, and everyone is tightly bound by strict rules and expectations that further the sense of being in a bubble (like the military, you always have someone to tell you what to do and where you can and can’t be, etc.).

Now that I think back, I know a lot of fun was had at camp, and it helped me grow as a person in many ways, but the world of fundie Christian camps is not a healthy one.
As far as fundie Christian camps go, the one I was involved in was pretty lax. The insidious ideology of fundamentalism still held sway, though. It was at camp that I first learned the Skittle analogy (don’t give out pieces of your heart because eventually you won’t have anything left to give to your spouse). It was at camp that I first witnessed how unhealthy and manipulative Christian romantic relationships could be – sadly what I witnessed turned out to be very normal amongst fundie Christians. Camp heavily reinforced the concept that men were lustful animals and couldn’t control themselves, so as a female I had a duty to watch out for them. Camp also instilled the burden of winning lost souls to Christ and a serious interest in missions work. At least once a week a salvation message was preached, sometimes complete with hell and brimstone imagery and fear. Staff was told to pray for the souls of the campers and we were often required to pray together out loud to that end. Praying aloud was not very comfortable for me, but I quickly learned that fundie Christian ministry didn’t care about what you were or weren’t comfortable with – you were supposed to want to do it all and if you didn’t, you probably weren’t right with God and were being selfish. Another thing that stands out to me was the spirit towards working hard. If we weren’t always ready to do more and more, whenever or whatever, we were treated poorly and shamed. I’ve always been a hard worker (all my former employers will attest to this), but sometimes things were asked of me that were inappropriate for my age, maturity, skill, or physical strength and if I questioned anything or brought up my concerns I was shut up. I saw it happen very frequently with other staff members too. The man who was most guilty of treating the staff (and even campers) this way turned out to be patriarchal, hierarchical, narcissistic, controlling, and had obvious anger issues. Now, none of that is necessarily unique to fundie Christianity, but I lay the blame there anyway because this man made things out to be spiritual matters, where he was right because of his position with God and others were wrong because they were in lesser positions or out of line with the Bible, etc. It’s very demoralizing when the staff all knows their boss sees them as inferior and will always treat them as such and even go so far as to belittle them.

Anyway. Fundamentalist Christian camps and Christian conferences… just don’t go. The high isn’t worth the crash that will ultimately come.

Spiritual Experiences

When I discuss religion and faith with other people, I find myself most interested in why they chose their particular path. For some their decision was greatly impacted by their family and heritage. For others, it was a spiritual experience that led them to choose a particular religion and/or deity. Spiritual experiences fascinate me.

While I was a Christian I had very few spiritual experiences, perhaps because the IFB world I was raised in downplayed personal experiences and the Holy Spirit. I suppose that’s why we were fundamentalists, though, because we stuck to what we perceived to be the fundamental teachings of the Bible – people of the Book and all that jazz. I had a friend in school who was a member of a Pentecostal church, where the Holy Spirit and personal experience was emphasized more heavily. I never attended any of their services, but the stories I heard were certainly interesting! I imagine the ecstatic fervor that is a hallmark of Pentecostal services would have been scary because it was so far from what I thought was normal. I’ve been to several church services (of varying denominations) over the years that made me very uncomfortable because the church members felt comfortable enough to show honest emotions while worshiping. I’m secretly jealous of how genuine they allow themselves to be while in public.

After I left Christianity I began to study other religions more in-depth than I had previously.
I began to recognize that spirituality and spiritual experiences were universal things… and that the non-Christian forms were not evil and Satanic. Fundamentalist Christianity tends to make the horrible claim that all forms of spirituality that aren’t Christian stem from Satan and his demons. Even as a Christian, I was puzzled by such claims, because plenty of people in other religions had lovely experiences and did wonderful things. They weren’t evil and certainly didn’t act like they were being mislead by a demon! It’s very liberating to no longer feel obligated to label people’s faiths in such judgmental ways. Instead, I am coming to respect the variety that exists in the world – different doesn’t mean wrong or right, just different.

I’ve had several spiritual experiences since I left Christianity, and each has nourished my soul and made me a better person. When other people tell me of their spiritual experiences, I feel no need to discount them if they don’t line up with my brand of faith. I feel that the Divine works through all religions. My mother, who had a spiritual experience when she chose Christ and Christianity, is confident and happy in her faith. I have no desire to pull her out of her faith. I do desire that she is as accepting of my spirituality as I am of hers, though. Fundamental Christians are often quite loud about salvation experiences, because they feel that these experiences prove they have found THE path to the Divine. I take issue with that mentality, and think it’s a bit ridiculous given the fact that people all over the world have had spiritual experiences for thousands of years, regardless of their chosen faith.

So… what are my beliefs these days? I rather like Unitarian Universalism, because it embraces respectful recognition of all beliefs (including atheism and agnosticism). I believe there is a Divine presence in the universe, and that this presence manifests itself in many forms – male, female, both, genderless, etc. The Divine exists in all of us. I also believe the Divine can be reached through many paths – there is no right or wrong way. As many others before me, I too hope that interfaith love and peace will be achieved one day.

Link & Some Thoughts About Fundie-land, Romantic Ideas, & Quiverfull

And this, my friend, is what the world of fundie/Baptist/uber-conservative/homeschooling looks like, as told in Jane Austen speak.

Seriously.

In a small Baptist church like the one I grew up in, the matchmaking that goes on is insane. I can’t tell you how many times a lady from church (or one of my girlfriends) came over to squeal about a young man who had started attending or was visiting, especially if he was the child of someone in ministry. The important credentials were always his education, how he was serving in ministry, what his plans were, how he was dressed (better be a suit or something nice!) etc.; if he could sing or play an instrument he got bonus points. Guys weren’t viewed as potential friends, they were viewed as potential mates. It was all very silly and unhealthy, and I can see that now, but at the time it was both thrilling and embarrassing to be involved in this world. At the time it seemed romantic, probably because of stories like Pride and Prejudice. Indeed these views of male/female interaction, courtship, love, whatever lives on through literature and films that depict patriarchal views/society as romantic, beautiful, classy, proper… you get the idea.

As a young girl I read extensively and came to love the world I found painted in stories like The Secret Garden, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Little House on the Prairie, and many other stories that were set in the 1700-1800’s. I came away with a very romantic picture of life during those time periods – beautiful women, smiling children, lovely gowns, daily tea, flower gardens, walks through countryside…. This picture stuck in my head as some sort of ideal to look back to as “better” and to try to recreate in my own life. The fundie views on homemaking as the supreme calling of all women fit right into my romantic views and personal desires. So, when I read books like Stay in the Castle and Created to Be His Helpmeet in high school and college, I was easily drawn into the mindset of the Quiverfull movement. Be a lady? Look, sound, and act beautiful? Keep a perfect house for my husband to come home to every day? Bear my husband lots of smiling, perfect little angels? Take up ‘lady-like’ arts such as sewing and needlework to ensure my family is well-clothed? Do all this in an effort to further the Kingdom of God? Count me in! Or at least that’s how I felt at the time.

Apparently the images/ideas of this romantic world also appealed to my dad (not sure about my mom), because when I was probably 16 or 17 he loaded my brother and I down with books from Vision Forum‘s catalog for Christmas. Another family in our IFB circle had fell in love with many of the Vision Forum products and had introduced us to the catalog at some point. Eventually we began getting our own catalog (as well as the No Greater Joy Ministries catalog, which enforced the same principles), which we pored through eagerly, thinking of Christmas to come. When Christmas came it brought the book about etiquette I’d always wanted, this recording about courtship and what to look for in a future husband, and some other books from Vision Forum. My brother received some manly books that were also from Vision Forum (I don’t think he ever read any of them). He seemed to like the concept of the father being responsible for the daughter’s spiritual well-being until that responsibility was passed on to a husband. He also seemed to like the concept of courtship and seemed very disappointed when I nixed that and other ‘noble’ notions of patriarchy he tried to implement. My father is not a patriarchal man at heart, though; he’s far too kind and loving to be that sort of person. For this I am thankful.

I personally am very content to live a domestic, stay-at-home-mom kind of life. Honestly, that’s all I’ve ever wanted in life. Very little in this world is more beautiful to me than a mother loving and caring for her children; I doubt that will ever change. In the past year I have become a stay-at-home mom/homemaker, and it is the most fulfilling (and challenging!) things I’ve ever done.  But… I see no reason to decree that lifestyle as the only valid, fulfilling option for girls to choose. It’s not right to do that to anyone, regardless of their gender. This conviction was one of the things that drove me away from the Quiverfull movement. Because I read a variety of books – a variety which included some modern, feminist ideas and stories – and saw through the examples of my parents and others that patriarchal notions weren’t the only way to find happiness in life, I was able to escape a very scary ideology.

Be careful what you teach your children – it will quite likely damn or save them.

A Disturbing Picture of Love

A friend posted a link to this family’s blog post. I do not know the family, but I’m a sucker for pregnancy stories so I decided to check it out. It was very sweet and exciting to read until I got to this part:

Dear Itty,
The pregnancy test confirmed that I am pregnant…but probably with only one baby. We’ll never know if it is #6 or #7 who lives on within me, so we have decided to call you Itty. And today, although we are so delighted to be housing and mothering Bitty, we want to say goodbye to you.
Itty, I never had the chance to tell you in person, but there is a holy God who made you—at a level much higher than the scientists who joined sperm and egg in the lab. This God loves you very much, and He put His stamp of affection on you by creating you in His own image! His ultimate desire for every person is to be with Him, enjoying Him and worshiping around His throne (which is like a huge and fancy high chair). But we are all born into a disobedient family, even you, Itty, who will never properly be born at all. So God sent His Son Jesus to live a perfect life and be killed as a punishment for the sins of those who believe in Him by faith—making it possible for us, though we are not holy ourselves, to be together with our holy Creator God. That delightful, sunshiny presence that you now bask in—whether as an embryo or as a full-grown person I do not know—is this loving God, who has brought you near to Him by forgiveness through Jesus.
We love you because He first loved us. We wish that we could have had the chance to meet you and see you grow… Goodbye for now, Itty. We love you and miss you already.
love,
Mom and Dad

I’ll get back to this letter in moment. First, let me say this:

I’m all too familiar with the ways Christians often speak of God. People plan things and then add the statement, “if it’s the Lord’s will.” People say they are incapable of doing anything good apart from God. Literally every part of their life is dominated by their God. I myself used to think and live like that. Being able to pass off responsibility onto cosmic forces of good or evil is very easy and more comfortable than taking personal responsibility. If you do something wrong, you can blame it on your old sin nature and the Devil. If you do something right you say God helped you and praise him for it. Why? Because you know that we are all incapable of doing the right thing apart from God because we are evil and sinful and he alone is good and holy.

I now take issue with this mentality. Individuals are left powerless – incapable of doing anything themselves – and that is bad. Powerless individuals can’t take responsibility for themselves and their actions. These individuals may have trouble making decisions in the first place, because they have told they are incapable of doing anything correctly by themselves. Children raised in this atmosphere will probably have a harder time adjusting to the so-called real world, because it takes confidence in your own abilities to be able to succeed. I personally have struggled with this mentality. Women in particular are put into powerless positions in many Christian teachings/circles, so we women are hit even harder.
_____________________________________________________

Now, back to the letter I quoted above. Does anyone else find it highly disturbing that most of this letter is dedicated to informing Itty that he/she would have been born into sin and gone to Hell if not for this amazing God who had his own son die instead? This letter is like a mini-sermon to a dead fetus, whom they believe to already be with God. They want to say goodbye, but they do it by talking about God rather than all the things they would have done together as a family or how much they would have loved Itty. In regards to love, they state, “We love you because He first loved us.” That particular phrase disturbs me more than anything else they say. Why? Because the Christian concept of love being totally dependent on being saved by Jesus is so… wrong. Most of the world is unsaved. Guess what? Most parents across the world love their children.

As an IFB Christian, I was confused by the concept that we Christians had a monopoly on love. Teachers and preachers told me it was so, but all I had to do was look around me to see it wasn’t true. In fact, many people of the world seemed to have a much better grasp on love then the saved people I knew. This observation has held true, as I am now one of those people of the world. Christians tell their kids they will go to Hell if they don’t accept Jesus into their hearts; they see this as the most loving thing they could do for their children. I (and most other people) see that act as horrendous and far from loving. Tell a small child they are inherently evil and incapable of doing good? Tell a small child they will burn in a lake of fire for all of eternity if they don’t say the magic words? Sure… that’s gonna be wonderful for their little developing minds and hearts. I’m sure they’ll have wonderful self-images when they are older and faced with the stresses of life. No!

I’ve always struggled with feelings of worthlessness, insignificance, being unable to do anything right, etc. I still struggle with those feelings today, but, since leaving Christianity I have seen great progress in this area. I’m not the only ex-fundie with this experience – the web is full of their stories. There are plenty of other people with the same story that may or may not have a religious background. If a child grows up constantly hearing that he is evil, bad, or unable to do things right, it will impact how he views himself and his own worth as a human. That’s just common sense. I personally came out of IFB Christianity with a damaged perception of children. I was taught at church and school (not so much at home) that even little babies were sinning because they cried when they didn’t need anything, because we are all inherently bad from day one. I realize now that this teaching is horrible and total bull… but it is ingrained in me nonetheless. I am actively seeking to unlearn these harmful teachings and replace them with positive things.

The image of love portrayed in Christianity is disturbing and I’m glad I’m no longer a part of that world.

Previous posts that are relevant:
Article: I Love You and You Are an Abomination
Love… Or Is It?