(Real) Love Conquers All

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fundamentalist Christianity And Self Injury

I saw something tonight that took my breath away. This:

 

This was a trigger for me – it triggered past pains, memories, smells… bad stuff. I personally know seven people who used self injury at some point in their lives. All of them were/are fundamentalist Christians. At least four of those people harmed themselves for reasons almost identical to those reasons listed above with the picture: feeling worthless, guilty, and in need of punishment. Those feelings (and self injury) are certainly not unique to fundamentalism… but fundamentalism creates the perfect environment for them to thrive. Fundamentalism is a world fraught with rules, judgements, punishments, rules, expectations, hierarchy, and did I mention rules? 
For the person who went all the way – attended church, went to the church school, the summer camps, fundie college – the amount of judgement and negativity that was faced is astounding. 
  • In church – hearing terrifying messages about Hell and all the people who would be going there (what child wouldn’t want to pray a prayer to get away from that?); that we deserve punishment, fiery death, and pain because we aren’t good enough for God (without Jesus); hearing Sunday School lessons about those terrible little children who mocked God’s prophet and were then mauled and eaten by bears, or of the many people God told the children of Israel to slaughter simply because they weren’t Israelites and worshiped the wrong god(s); women must behave differently and be submissive to men because Eve screwed up in the garden, not Adam; repeatedly hearing that we can do nothing good as humans because we are nothing, and all that we do is filthy rags because we are vile, “dirty rotten sinners” “but for the grace of God.” 
  • In church school – further ingraining of the teachings from church; teachers, preachers, special speakers railing at you about the evils of things as stupid as women wearing pants; getting a terrifying sermon on sexual sins as a sixth grader who didn’t even know what sex was; struggling with fight-or-flight through the messages of special speakers in chapel as the screamed and yelled and acted like angry devils. 
  • In camp – God is powerful, we are weak, so stop trying to do anything out of your own strength because you don’t have any; wait for God’s will, because your life will be terrible if you miss out on it; don’t let yourself have romantic feelings for many people because your heart is like a bag of Skittles (if you keep giving pieces away there won’t be anything left for your future spouse); guys/men are dirty-minded, lustful animals and us girls have to take every precaution possible to keep the guys from having any trouble at all with their minds.
  • In fundie college – further ingraining of all the previous messages listed above; the people in authority matter more than the people beneath them; us young adults are actually very immature fifteen year old kids who need our hands held and someone constantly telling us what to do, where to live, who we can and can’t date, etc.; that people who fall outside the box of acceptability must be crushed and broken, with no regard for their personal well-being (all in the name of love and turning someone back to Christ).

And I could go on and on… but that’s enough. Anyone see a few things that might lead to depression, feelings of guilt, or a sense of worthlessness? Anyone see why women in particular might come out of all this feeling broken and insecure? 

I began this post by saying that the image about self injury was a trigger. Cutting is the form of self injury I’m most familiar with because six of the seven self-injurers I know cut themselves. One cutter was a close friend of mine in college. I still remember the day I found out she had literally carved the word love into her arm – I felt sick and cut a class because I needed the time to process what had happened. I told her to come to me in the future if she felt like cutting, because I thought that maybe I could help save her from the pain. Other friends I made while in college struggled with cutting as well, and I jumped into trying to help them with their struggles as well. Not the smartest thing I could have done, but I was naive and thought that I could “do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Instead of saving people, I found myself completely overwhelmed by this new world where people weren’t always happy and everyone didn’t have a happy ending. Then my health crumbled in the face of an unknown illness (eventually diagnosed with fibromyalgia and lots more) and I found myself in a black hole of depression. I wanted to try cutting, but a promise made to a friend held me back. I found other ways to hurt or punish myself, though, and it felt good. In a world where I was suddenly in control of nothing, I found a way to control something. At one point I discovered I could get a high off of not eating, and since it was my body that made me so sick I thought it could use some punishment. Then I started hearing and seeing  death and suicide in things around me, and I prayed for God to kill me. I wrote a poem around that time that illustrates a lot of things:

It is cold, terribly cold.
I am tired, no strength left.
I must push on.
I must fight through.
I must prevail.
It is always with me.
Escape has been forgotten.
I embrace it when I awake.
I tuck it in at night when I sleep.
It is my constant companion.
The battle is long.
I am weary and worn.
Is there an end?
I fight on.
But what?
The enemy is cold.
The enemy is weariness.
The enemy is pain.
The enemy is without name.
The enemy is within me.
 
I have wept for this enemy.
I have bled for this enemy.
Sweetness has been lost.
Sharpness has been gained.
Perspective has changed.
Where was I in the beginning?
Where have I been?
Where am I now?
Where am I going?
Where will the battle end?
Will the battle end?
Will I push on?
Will I fight through?
Will I prevail?
Will I win?
The cold enshrouds me.
The weariness encloses me.
The pain envelopes me.
A veil lies over my face.
Who can see me through this veil?
 
Who can see past the pall over my visage?
Who sees through to the hidden man?
Who will melt the ice seeking to encase my soul?
Who will lead me through this valley?
Who?
God is light.
God is love.
God is strength.
God is all knowing.
God is.
God will take my hand and lead me.
God will thaw the ice and warm my heart.
God will see what I hide from the world.
God will see the truth through it all.
God will.
God sees where I have been.
God sees where I am.
God sees where I am going.
God sees what I have lost and gained.
God sees.
God knows my enemy.
God knows my weakness.
God knows I have fought.
God knows the outcome.
God knows.
The cold still grips.
The weariness weighs heavy.
The pain gnaws and bites.
My enemy remains nameless.
But God is, sees, and knows all.
That is enough.
I will push on.
I will fight through.
I will prevail.
God will grant me victory (even through death).

I wrote that December 31, 2010. At that point in time I was still clinging to the concept that only God could save me and fix any of my problems. Everything and everyone else had failed me at this point, so I thought God was my only hope. A few months later I began to discover that what I needed lay within myself. People weren’t the answer. People with fancy letters attached to their names and lots of schooling weren’t the answer. Not even the God of the Bible was the answer. I had to learn that happiness, strength, and so many other things I needed were inside me all along. Had I been instilled with that mindset (at church, school, camp, and college), instead of being bombarded by my supposed worthlessness and inherent evil, I don’t think I would have ended up in that hole in the first place. How many of my friends who have struggled with self injury would have found themselves in a different place if their churches, schools, and families had not broken them?

For all the fundie folks (formerly or current) out there who have struggled with any form of self injury… know that you have inherent worth, you have immeasurable strength, you have unlimited potential for good, and that you can be happy. What you need lies within you.

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.

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. 

Interview with an Ex-Fundie: Meet Anne

Meet Anne, a Bible-believing Christian who was raised in fundamentalism.

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

It was basically a fundamentalist mega church. It had its own school, and it easily developed into its own culture. (You see the same people six days a week—five days in school and at least once on Sunday. They see all your choices, everything you wear, every word you say.)

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? 

Fundamentalism has a sickeningly low view of women: Congratulations, you have a womb. I understand that, however much we like to think of equality, this is still very much a man’s world; but I am strongly against fundamentalism’s subpar view of women. Yes, patriarchy was very strong in my church and relationships. It made me feel inferior, which was utterly ridiculous considering the people I was being subjected to. I was an above average student in high school and college, but yet I was supposed to be “under” people whose intellects were inferior to mine. It was very disappointing. I also recall one time in college when I presented a plea to do a fundraiser for a project I was working on, and I got turned down rather unceremoniously. As a last resort, I had a guy in my group go talk to the administration; he got it cleared the first time he asked. Also on a humorous note, I worked in a department during college, and a guest visited our office, which was made up of mostly men. When I walked in, the ultra conservative guest had his back to the door and was going on about how good it was to see an office full of men.
When he turned around, he saw me, was flustered when my supervisor told him what a good worker I was, and told me to “learn from all these men here.” I know I said it was a humorous anecdote, but now that I think about it, it’s been four years since that happened. And I can still remember his words. I don’t question my worth now, but I can only imagine the damage that would do to someone younger, more impressionable. 


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?

·  NO sex before marriage. And after marriage, you just do it as often as your husband wants. After all, “children are an heritage from the Lord”! Because of that mindset, fundamentalism bullies women into dressing in ways that hides their shape and cause them to be unattractive, rather than celebrating the differences between a man and a woman.

· I’ve never been in a serious relationship, and I’m not sure I want one. I’m not sure I could handle it, because I sure as hell don’t want kids. Not even sure I want to have sex. Not sure I want to bare the body I’ve been taught to hide, not sure I could. And that’s pathetic. 

· Funny you should ask. I’m a size 0-2, on rare occasion a 4. I have a nice hourglass figure. My stylist says I have beautiful, shiny hair; my optometrist says my eyes are intriguing. I get stopped by strangers who want to meet or ask for my number; I get lots of things “on the house” or discounted. And I’m ridiculously insecure. I just can’t shake off the years of hearing that my body (even just baring my shoulders in a sleeveless top) is for my husband’s eyes only. I look in the mirror and I don’t see what other people can see. Yes, I walk with confidence in my step, but it’s an affected confidence. Because deep down, I still question if I’m good enough and if I’ll ever be pretty.

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

It was a process, as is everything. I questioned slowly, changing slowly the summer after high school. But it wasn’t till college that I truly revolted against fundamentalism. I questioned; those in authority decided I needed to be “broken,” and so my hell began. 


Do you notice areas of your life where fundamentalism is still impacting you? 

Relationships, mainly. I don’t want to go through life alone, but, honestly, I’m afraid to date if anybody ever decided I was worth dating. 


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

This . . . this is where it hurts. I never classified it as abuse; I considered it bullying. But I guess you can call them one and the same. 

In college, I did the unthinkable: I questioned my salvation. I told two faculty members on the one condition that we keep it between the three of us, and they agreed. They instructed me not to tell my friends, but I did, because I wanted my friends’ prayers and help. Next thing I knew, I was meeting with the Bitch of Women (excuse me Dean of Women . . . stupid autocorrect), my dorm supervisor, and the faculty members I had trusted to keep my troubles secret. They said they betrayed my secret because they needed to consult someone who better knew how to help me. Interestingly, they never consulted a pastor. In the end, they decided to allow me to return for my last semester of college, but I was required to do a weekly Bible study. The administration decided that I needed to be “broken,” so they tried to keep me from seeing my friends, and they had some meetings with the roommate I lived with. I was watched all the time, and that gets to your head after a while. And then I learned that unless I professed to be a Christian, I would not be allowed to graduate. 

I panicked. What was I going to tell my parents? I had spent seven semesters, thousands of dollars, and now was carrying a student loan—all for nothing? All because I just wanted to make sure I was truly saved, that Christianity was truly the right answer to life’s problems? 

I got sick. I was so upset I couldn’t hold anything down except a few crackers for a meal, which prompted health problems. And, honestly, who can think logically when you’re not healthy and being watched? I was hurting, and there was no outlet for my hurt. There’s only so long a person can live like that before they make some really bad calls. Thing about bad decisions—they usually lead to more of the same kind. And when I looked at the inevitable train wreck, I wondered, ‘How did I get here?’ Well, I got there because I got on the train, and the only reason I got on the train is that I didn’t know where it was going. Because if I’d known where this was going, I never would have asked those faculty members for help. 

In the end, I made a grand and glorious conversion, believing I had truly become a Christian. The people at college told me it was “God’s will” to stay up there and “grow,” but the only jobs available were ones for which I was severely overqualified—working at a bakery, waiting tablets, etc. I accepted a position waiting tables, but about this time, I caved and told the story to the people I trust most. Their hearts broke for me and asked me to return to my home state. They pointed out that it’s seldom God’s will to not provide for my needs: these jobs weren’t going to pay my basic rent. 

They were right. I returned to my home state and promptly got a job in my field. But I was far from okay, so the people who I trusted helped me pick up the pieces. They listened to me. They cried with me. They loved on me. They gave me space. They gave me time. They brought me back to life and showed me that I had been pressured into doing things that I’d never intended to do, to say things I’d never believed, that I had been used. 

It took about a full year to recover, but I’ve changed— 

· I’m more serious now. I still joke, but my natural disposition is to be serious. This was highly disconcerting to people who knew me as a bubbly, vivacious person, but I’m more comfortable with a solemn demeanor. 

· I only wear black, gray, and white. I don’t feel comfortable in colors; I like to blend in, to fly under the radar, to observe and not be observed. I’ve been told that’s sad; I know it bothers people. But colors look too bright on me; they’re uncomfortable. 

· I’m skeptical. I believe people want to hurt you until they can prove their intentions otherwise. Even if they prove they just want to be friendly, I harbor suspicions about their motives. I guess once you’ve been betrayed by someone you trusted, you start to wonder who’ll do it next. 

· I guard personal information. That’s what got me in trouble the first time: I gave away information, I told them I doubted. Now I don’t even give my real name in coffee shops or restaurants; I took down all my pictures on social media for a while. There were days I just stared at people instead of answering simple questions. I couldn’t afford to let anything slip, I thought. 

· I don’t volunteer anything. Ask me my birthday, and, if I know you, I’ll tell you. Otherwise, I’ll never volunteer it, and I’m perfectly okay with that. Spew your opinions my way, but I’ll never mention mine unless you specifically ask for it. Want advice? Sure, ask away, but I’ll never bring it up unless you ask. Casual conversation, yeah, I’ll do it; but anything personal, forget it. 

· I don’t care what you think. I really don’t. Aside from a few select people, I don’t give a flip what you think. It’ll go in one ear and out the other, although I may make a note of where you stand on an issue just so I know not to bring it again. You can say whatever you want, and I’ll shrug and go do my own thing. I. Don’t. Care.

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

· Oh, that’s easy. Christian fundamentalism goes wrong when it strays from the Bible. Christianity by its very nature follows the writings of Scripture, so when men impose their wills on their followers, rather than the teachings of the Bible, bad things are bound to happen. (Does that mean that everything in the Bible should be mimicked today? No, I don’t think so. Many aspects of the Bible were cultural to that era.)

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? 
· Unfortunately, yes. Churches like Westboro drag the name of Christianity through the mud. When people ask me what I believe, I don’t reply with a label. The world, at least in America, sees Christianity as a bunch of angry, sign waving chauvinists, but that perception isn’t true of all Christians. In fact, I would argue that such behavior is not something a true Christian would be doing. 

· Yes, they should! But the only way to change that perception is to stop making that perception a reality. People think churchgoers/Christians just like to judge you. How do we change that perception? Well, we stop judging everyone who walks through our doors! We drop the us-versus-them mentality. We stop pointing fingers at those who aren’t like us. We put down the signs. We start listening to people when they speak. We begin answering their questions in love. We start loving like Jesus loved—and He loved everyone, the hurt, the abused, the outcasts, the unwanted. No ifs. No buts. No exceptions. 

· And how does that happen? How do we love more, judge less? That can only happen when we reset our worldview, when we stop playing God. Christian fundamentalism claims to serve God, but with the rules they inflict (with rules born out of their preferences, and not God’s commands), they have begun to play God. We say we serve a God who is the Great Physician (a metaphor meaning that He is capable of healing any wound—physical, emotional, mental). But too often Christian fundamentalists take it upon themselves to try to “heal” or “mend” someone in whatever way they see fit, often times only further harming the person. In order to stop judging, fundamentalists must realize that they are in no place to judge, that this isn’t their call. They are not the Great Physician; they are the orderlies. It is their job to bring people to God, so He can help them. What arrogance it takes to think that they know better than God, that they have the right to judge!


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

· Question. A defining trait of true Christianity is that Christians guide their lives by the Bible. When you hear something from the pulpit, from a teacher, from whoever, question it immediately. Ask yourself, “Does this line up with the Bible’s teachings?” “Is this a Biblical command, or is it this person’s preference?” If you find that the beliefs you’re being taught are a collection of the leader’s preferences, then you’re looking at a cult, not Christianity. 

· Be extremely careful who you question. If you find yourself realizing that you’re looking at a cult and not the religion you thought you signed up for, be extremely careful who you voice your concerns to. Many leaders in fundamentalism claim to have an open-door policy, but the moment you genuinely question, they see you as a dissident to be crushed or “broken,” rather than helped. 

· Don’t be fooled. Every religion and organization has its dark side, because every organization and religion has people. Christianity is no exception. Don’t let the white-washed buildings, the plastic smiles fool you. Because people in this day and age, given the chance, will hurt you. 


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

· Be brave. You will be judged, despised, and possibly threatened. There will be days when it will suck, because you’re choosing to leave everyone you know, everything you’ve been taught. In the eyes of those you leave behind, you’re betraying them. But you aren’t. You’re choosing to live a different lifestyle than what they prefer, and that doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you different, and they have been taught, as were you, that anyone different is bad. Give them time. They may see things your way; they may elect to “agree to disagree”; they may never want anything to do with you again. 

· Remember what’s happened to you while you were in fundamentalism—not because you wish them harm, but to remind yourself, on the days you vacillate, why you chose to leave. 

· Take things one step at a time. Don’t go out, get a tattoo, a few piercings, dye your hair, and get wasted the first night you leave: give yourself time to find out who you want to be, not simply react to who you don’t want to be anymore. 

Know that you are not alone. Countless others have embarked on this same journey. Find other people like you and make new friends.

*“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. 

Interview with an Ex-Fundie: Meet Erin



Cartoon provided by Erin

Meet Erin:
Despite a degree in religious studies and office management, Erin is a SEO and online marketing consultant, and married to a future MD.  Together they have two children, one dog, and toys all over the floor most of the time.  She blogs at naturallyerin.com

What do you consider your current worldview/religious beliefs to be?
After much study and consideration, I follow the Jesus of the Bible who taught that love for others is one of the greatest gifts you can offer the world.

How did you become involved with Christian Fundamentalism?
I perhaps have a unique situation in that I was not raised in fundamentalism.  I grew up in a very sincere non-fundamental home attending a Bible / Christian Missionary Alliance Church with my parents.  Growing up in churches like that, it was demonstrated to me that God is good and loving and that He extends grace freely to everyone.  Church attendees, pastors and staff were all equal and on first-name basis with each other.  I never remember thinking that the pastor or anyone else held any higher position than another.

When I was 17, the pastor of the Alliance church we attended left, and due to the influence of close family friends who were members of an IFB* church, my parents were persuaded to visit and later joined their church.

Up until that time, fundamentalism and independent Baptists had been completely foreign to our family.  Our initial high-level view was that the pastor was held in high esteem, and that members seemed to have a unique bond, demonstrated by addressing each other as “brother” and “sister” and never by first names.  Women assumed a position of meekness and wore long dresses or skirts.

To us, It was strange and other- worldly. And yet compelling at the same time.  We were slowly drawn into the force of following rules to please the pastor.  We adopted the use of the KJV*, not wearing pants, and even took up issues such as CCM*, not dating, and other hobby horses of the IFB.

It was always a game of how to “gain rank” and be the better “Christian” (hypocrite really).
I ended up attending (and graduating) from an IFB college since that was, of course, a definite item on the checklist. 

Oddly enough, it was during my freshman year while sitting in a required class on the history of the KJV that I sort of snapped to my senses and realized that what the teacher was saying made no sense at all.  It was not possible that there was only one reliable translation of the Bible when churches all over the world were established and grown based on many different versions.  Strange as it seems, the class meant to indoctrinate me solidly on KJVism forever helped me start thinking on my own. 

Even then, if would still be several more years before the IFB convinced me that their purpose was to harm, not love.

How did Christian Fundamentalism affect your home life (relationship between parents, relationship between parents and children, relationship between siblings, discipline methods, lifestyle choices, etc.)? 
Our family was in the IFB for about 10 years.  Before that, as I mentioned, we were nothing even close to fundamentalism.  However, during those ten years, fundamentalism divided us as a family (and I mean my parents, and siblings, my siblings family, and I).  Each one of us had different “standards” and we all looked down on the rest of the family for not going along with whatever we at that moment thought represented godliness.

 It was a constant struggle between all of us and was something we had really never experienced before.  It was not until the last us our family finally made the break from IBC that our unity has been restored.  To this day, we talk about our foray into a cult.  It’s embarrassing, but at the same time an experience that has made us all stronger.

11.  Do you notice areas of your life where fundamentalism is still impacting you?
The most noticeable area is that of criticism and sizing others up so to speak.  Of course, the IFB freely distributes criticism and it’s a tough habit to break. 

In more significant areas, I struggle with men in leadership positions.  Most of the time I’m fine, but if something triggers a memory, I mentally head right back down a path where I was six or seven years ago.  I’m not sure I will ever be able to trust male leadership.  Then again, I probably shouldn’t.

I really don’t think that anyone can be involved in a cult of any type and expect to emerge on the other side unharmed and unaffected in any way.  Healing is a process.  For me, the progress has been measured in years (six so far).  I’m not sure I will ever be fully away from the indelible ink that cult involvement has imprinted on me.  But I’m not sure that’s negative.  Hopefully I can use the wisdom and insight I have gained to help to train my own children and to help others gain freedom as well.

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

What do you think Christian Fundamentalism gets wrong? What do you think it gets right?
I’m not sure what they “get right.”  They’ve ruined the lives of many people.  I could never begin to express the many areas that they are in error.  Perhaps the one that stands out to be most vividly is that they say they believe in the God of the Bible, but it’s not the God I have come to know.  The God of the IFB is angry and ever-seeking to bring swift punishment on the one who makes a mistake or even deliberately chooses to do wrong. 

How do you think fundamentalism has impacted the world’s view of Christianity? Should Christians be trying to change that view? If so, how do you think they can?
I have a very different view of fundamentalism than those who grew up in it.  Neither of my parents or any of my extended family on either side were involved in or had heard of fundamentalism prior to our tenure with it.  I believe that on the scale of things, fundamentalism is a very tiny dot on the religious or Christian map.  No doubt it’s done more than its fair share of damage to the Christian reputation (but I think it’s somewhat regional, just as Mormonism).

I think that judging Christianity by fundamentalism is similar to judging Muslims by the behavior typical of radical Islam.  Radical Islam represents a very narrow aspect of Islam and adherents to the Muslim faith should never be presumed to be a member of that sect.  Unfortunately Muslims as a whole have taken a bad rap because of the behavior of their more outrageous members.  So too with fundamentalism.

 Fundamentalists are obviously telling everyone that they are Christians so unfortunately that lands them squarely in our side of the religious field.  I believe that demonstrating what true Christianity is will go farther than trying to explain away or apologize for the errors of fundamentalists. 

Every religion has a side that the “other side” wishes didn’t exist.  Fighting with a side I disagree with merely validates their arguments (to them). For the ten years I was in the IFB, I was taught to fight all who opposed the IFB view. That was part of the reason I left.  I don’t plant to fight anyone again.

What would you say to someone who is considering joining Christian fundamentalism?
I think this is an interesting point to bring up because I have noticed that the IFB actually have very few converts other than the children that grow up within its ranks.  Fortunately, there is little about their appearance and practices that entice the average thinking individual searching for a church or faith-based experience. 

At least in my region of the country, IFB churches are very small, with old facilities, and antiquated styles of services.  Their habit of door-to-door recruitment casts them in the same negative light as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons.

What would you say to someone who is considering leaving Christian fundamentalism?
I have talked with many people as they walked through the process of leaving fundamentalism. And it is a process.  You can’t expect to turn completely 180 degrees overnight.  In fact, I don’t think that it is wise. 

Leaving a cult is somewhat like experiencing a death of a close relative or friend:  everything that you believed, trusted, and loved is gone.  You will experience a range of so many emotions as you try to sort through exactly what truth is (or if there remains any truth at all). 

I think the first step to leaving is doubting. You have to be honest with yourself and ask, “Is the IFB truly equal to my needs?”

 When it comes down to it, the most important thing in life is to find something that will hold you and be a constant presence in whatever life gives you, good or bad.  Many people (myself included) find the IFB unsatisfactory for what life has given you to deal with.   I needed something real.  Something more than rules, the praise of men, or even a feeling of peace.

*IFB stands for Independent Fundamental Baptist.

*KJV stands for King James Version of the Bible

*CCM stands for Contemporary Christian Music 

*Definition of abuse: “Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure or wound someone” (source: The National Domestic Violence Hotline ). Abuse may have taken place in the home, church, religious school, etc. or could have stemmed from specific teachings and self-imposed adherence to such teachings.


Thank you Erin for sharing your story with us! Please check out her wonderful blog to learn more about her.


Ex-Fundies, Identity, & Finding Balance

I keep up with several ex-fundie blogs, many of which can be found on my blogroll. Most of these blogs are written by women who have left their backgrounds in Christian fundamentalism and embraced new ways of living. Many have left religion altogether; others have moved to more mainstream realms of Christianity where they focus on love instead of rules. I enjoy reading each person’s story and seeing how their lives have changed (for the better) since making the fateful decision to leave fundamentalism. Some of them have moved on more easily than others, and it shows in their writing.

It isn’t hard to spot who is still flaming mad. Vendettas and bitterness show through as they address their past (this isn’t surprising, since many of their pasts are quite horrible). The term ex-fundie is an integral part of their identity. Their writing is predominantly angry and/or negative, and they tend to lump the people who disagree with them into one bad lump. Sadly, I think their anger blinds them to many things and leads them to say and do things that are more harmful than helpful. If you’ve kept up with my blog in the past, you may feel I just described myself. It’s a fair point to make, and I won’t deny that I went through the flaming-mad phase for quite awhile (as addressed here).

In contrast, some of the authors make it clear that they have cooled off.
They still get mad and still have negative things to say, but they’ve found balance in their writing. Well, more accurately, they’ve found balance in their lives and it shines out in what they write. They address the past without dwelling on it.  The term ex-fundie helps them show where they’ve been on the map of life but their identity as a person is not built around it. They offer hope in addition to the horror their stories may contain. They don’t go about slinging mud and tearing down the people who have hurt them. They are thoughtful, kind, and wise. I sincerely hope to become more like these writers. It is their writing that is truly inspiring to me.

The first time I realized that there were more ex-fundies out in the blogosphere, I began reading as many of their blogs as I could. I devoured their stories, their thoughts, their new world views, and was relieved to know that I wasn’t alone. My personal story with fundamentalism was not horrific like many of their’s were (with many forms of abuse and sub-human living), but knowing other people had also been burned and also saw the problems with fundamentalism helped me move forward in my own life. I enjoy seeing others address things that once were a big part of my life – things that I was concerned about as a fundie. But, over time I have tired of the profuse amounts of spouting common to the more flaming-mad blogs. I grew tired of it when I was writing it on my own blog, haha! Perpetually dwelling in the negative is unhealthy and unhelpful in the long run. It also shows a lack of maturity and wisdom, in my opinion.

I’ve tried to keep this blog from being a predominantly negative place, starting with Rachel Held Evans “Ask A” series. Wow! She’s posted a lot of new material since the last time I shared it on the blog! I will do my best to post more positive things in the future, if for no other reason than to present a more balanced approach to viewing fundamentalism and religion. I have big plans for conducting some interviews of my own in the near future. Looking forward to that experience and being able to share it with you.