(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.

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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!

New Life

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

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

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

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.

How IFB Has Shaped My Life: Part One

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

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

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

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

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

Interview with an Ex-Fundie: Meet Ashlee

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

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.

Does Belief Matter?

What makes a religion, or any other belief, good or valid?
People of all faiths can talk about their experiences, the good feeling or peace that their beliefs bring them. So, the question that always bugged me is: Are all of the experiences, emotions, whatever that people have valid, or is only set’s real? Christians claim to be the only truth in the world, and other religions make similar claims. If only one set of beliefs is the truth, then the experiences of everyone else must be invalid. To a Bible-believing Christian, the happiness of the Buddhist or Muslim is somehow fake, because the only “true” happiness is found in Christ. The followers of Christ should, by default, be the happiest people in the world. All of their problems are simply explained as happening in order to bring glory to God, right? Then Christians should welcome their every trial and tribulation as just another opportunity to bring God glory. People with chronic illnesses and debilitating conditions should just accept them with joy, since they have such a great opportunity to bring glory to their God. Their beliefs sustain them, and are the source of their happiness. Everyone else in the world has beliefs, and their beliefs also bring them happiness and fulfillment. But, only one set’s happiness and fulfillment is real… or is that just an exclusionary lie? Is the rest of the world simply faking their happiness and fulfillment? Or, horror-of-horrors, could be it be true that all beliefs are valid, in the sense of bringing the believer happiness and personal fulfillment (along with all the emotions and experiences associated with “discovering the truth”)? Is all truth set in stone, or can it be relative? History is full of people who found joy and contentment in believing what we now know to be lies. Was their joy lesser than anyone else’s?
It seems to come down to the act of believing in something, rather than what that something is or isn’t, is what brings fulfillment and joy in one’s life.