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.