Finding My Voice

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

An Update on BJU

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

Help Bring Accountability and Change

Samantha over at Defeating the Dragons is working on a piece about sexual abuse and Pensacola Christian College (PCC) – read it here. In light of what has happened at BJU, I am not surprised to see more and more stories popping up from all over the fundamentalist education world. If you have any relevant information or stories to share with Samantha, please do! These institutions cannot be held accountable – and nothing will change – without the honest truth coming out.

BJU Scandal: Do Right ’til the Stars Fall

Bob Jones University (BJU) has made the news recently, after firing the group (GRACE) they hired to conduct an investigation into the school’s handling of sexual abuse.  To get up to speed on what led up to this investigation, please read this very thorough article:


The investigation began in January of 2013. One of the tools used was an online survey, as outlined here. GRACE posted an update on the investigation in November of 2013. At that point things were going well, students had responded, and some 80 in-person interviews had been conducted. GRACE’s final report was scheduled for sometime in March of 2014. Then, on January 27th, 2014, BJU backed out of the contract and sent GRACE this message. On February 6th GRACE publicly announced the situation (much to BJU’s chagrin, judging from the response given by BJU) in this update:

With a very heavy heart, GRACE announces that on January 27th, 2014, we received a ‘Notice of Termination’ from Bob Jones University.
This ‘Notice’ took GRACE by complete surprise as there had been no prior indications from BJU that termination was even being considered. Furthermore, this termination occurred days before GRACE was to conduct the last interviews of this 13-month investigation and begin drafting the final report scheduled for publication in March.
Despite repeated requests, GRACE has not been informed of why the agreement was terminated.However, due to the fact that GRACE certainly wishes to keep all options on the table in order to complete what has been started, we have spent the last week in communication with BJU and we remain open to continued dialogue.
At this point, we are most concerned about the potential impact of this termination on those who participated in the investigation and are waiting for the final report. We grieve with those whose hopes will be crushed should this independent process remain incomplete. Please know that we heard your voice and it was not spoken in vain. GRACE offers its assurance that we will do our utmost to protect your confidences in the interviews and surveys from unauthorized use or disclosure. You have honored us with your courage and trust. We are privileged to have sat with each of you.
GRACE will post updates should the current situation change. Above all, we continue to have hope in the One who makes all things new and never lets us go.
The GRACE Team
February 6, 2014

BJU had this to say in reply:

… Over the last several months, we grew concerned about how GRACE was pursuing our objectives, and on Jan. 27, 2014, BJU terminated its contract with GRACE. …
BJU sincerely appreciates all current and former students who participated in this initiative thus far, and the University regrets any delay BJU’s cancellation of its agreement with GRACE may have on this important project.
We grieve with those who have suffered abuse in their past, and we desire to minister the grace of Christ to them. Our prayer for the abused is that God will be their refuge and strength.

The situation has received outside attention from both local media and the not-so-local Washington Post. Bloggers, activist groups, and people who have previous connections to BJU (or similar groups) have used social media to spread the word, even starting a petition demanding BJU reinstate GRACE. Since learning about BJU’s termination with GRACE, I also learned about another Christian organization that had also terminated with GRACE in the past. The Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE) canceled its contract with GRACE two years into the investigation. ABWE’s reasons for terminating are listed here. GRACE’s response is found here. Blogger Tamara Rice – who was personally involved in the sex abuse scandal at ABWE – wrote about GRACE, ABWE, and the BJU termination in her post: The Realist Speaks: 5 Reasons the BJU Scandal Will Go Away.

On February 7th, BJU’s current president Stephen Jones gave this speech to students and staff at BJU.
Here are some important quotes from the speech (thank you John Shore for taking the time to type up these quotes):

We grew concerned that in the process GRACE had begun going beyond the original outlined intentions. And so we wanted to sit down and talk about them, because it had gone askew. And so we terminated our agreement with GRACE … . Since the termination we have intended to immediately negotiate a new contract with GRACE that would enable them to complete the review to achieve our objectives.
. . .  We have not shared the reasons for our termination … with GRACE or with anybody else, because that needs to happen at the table, so that we can fully explain it, and they can have the opportunity to hear it there the first time. … [Grace] is our partner in this.
We are committed to achieving our original objectives. …
I’m most greatly concerned today for the people who’ve been interviewed in the process. Which is one of the reasons we wanted to deal with GRACE … because there were people who shared horrific personal stories of abuse with GRACE. … GRACE has done a great job at making those people feel at home, and secure, and free to share those stories. … I just want to reiterate that we are committed to identifying and reaching out to those individuals.

Blogger John Shore‘s response to this speech sums it up pretty well:

In other words:
“We hired GRACE to look into allegations of sexual abuse at BJU. Just as GRACE was concluding its 13-month investigation, we decided that we were dissatisfied with them. We wanted to talk with GRACE about our unhappiness with them, but instead decided to say nothing to them before suddenly firing them. But we still very much want to work with GRACE. We fired GRACE so that we could immediately rehire GRACE. We have no idea why they would have a problem with that.
“We’re going to find out from GRACE who they talked to, and what those people said. Because we care.”

Now to the opinion part of my post.

BJU screwed up… majorly. Everything I’ve seen thus far from BJU has made me more suspicious of the school and its motives for canceling a sex abuse investigation weeks before its finding were to go public. I find this quote from the February 7th speech particularly damning (words in bold highlighted by me):

We grew concerned that in the process GRACE had begun going beyond the original outlined intentions. And so we wanted to sit down and talk about them, because it had gone askew. And so we terminated our agreement with GRACE … . Since the termination we have intended to immediately negotiate a new contract with GRACE that would enable them to complete the review to achieve our objectives.

What do I take away from this (and the whole speech)? BJU had very specific ideas of what they wanted GRACE to look at and/or find through an investigation. As soon as the investigation started to uncover things that didn’t fit with “our objectives,” BJU pulled the plug. Now, unless GRACE agrees to do only what BJU says it can, the investigation will have been for naught and the results will never see the light of day. The point of hiring a third party to look into the situation is to get an independent opinion that will not be controlled by the parties involved. What else does that speech tell me? It tells me that BJU will not publicly entertain the notion that sexual abuse was happening on its campus. The only reason BJU hired GRACE to conduct an investigation was to assess how the school handled students who had been abused elsewhere, usually at some previous point in their lives. Given the Baptist/religious/fundamentalist tendency to sweep such thing under the rug, no matter how old or new the accusations are, this investigation is important at all levels.

To those who point to ABWE’s concerns about GRACE as a way to defend BJU’s decision/actions… it’s not working for me. I’ve read ABWE’s accusations and I’ve read the other side’s opinion, and I find ABWE’s accusations far-fetched and fantastic in description.When sexual abuse is involved – particularly in religious, male-dominated organizations – I doubly question the concept of trying to prevent a “flawed report” from going public. Also, GRACE spent months getting the trust of the students – not something to be taken lightly. Survivors of sexual abuse will have trust issues, especially if they’re worried about potential backlash from administration. There is no way students will be as ready to trust a new attempt at an investigation after having their hopes dashed in this manner. Were I a college student at BJU (or any other similar institution) who had suffered sexual abuse, I would certainly be worried about how things would be handled and would fear I wouldn’t be allowed to remain a student if I were to speak out about the abuse.In light of my personal experiences, the experiences of people around me, and what I’ve read and heard, I have a hard time trusting any large fundamentalist organization to do the right thing rather save face. A college friend told me her sexual abuse story – it ended with the religious leaders involved sweeping it under the rug and telling her to keep quiet and get over it. Another friend was severely mistreated by the administration of the Baptist college she was attending – read the story here. So many more stories out there, all terrible and impossible to believe… but they’re true.

I don’t know how this story will end, but I doubt the full truth will ever come to light. BJU committed PR suicide with its handling of this event – I hope this has been big enough that people will not forget it. I hope that GRACE’s full report is allowed to be made public and BJU will not try to censor the truth to save face. I also hope that the victims of sexual abuse who are involved will get the support and help they need so they that they can find healing.

Update: News story posted by the NY Times on Febuary 11th. Abusers allege they were told by BJU counselors to keep their stories private because going to the authorities would hurt the cause of Christ.
Update as of 2/27/2014: GRACE reinstated by BJU

Trying to Get Out of the Mud of IFB

The road to recovery out of fundamentalism is long and painful. Sometimes I feel the pain more keenly and I wonder how people who didn’t start as fundamentalists became fundamentalists. Why did my parents, for example, pick IFB as the place to get involved and raise a family? They both have alluded to troubled pasts, particularly during their college years, and seem to carry continued guilt from whatever went on; I think perhaps fundamentalism offered them a way to absolve their sins and feel forgiven. Once we kids came along, I’m sure they thought that they were doing us a great service by raising us in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord,” because we wouldn’t be exposed to all the stuff they were exposed to in the past. They probably hoped our lives wouldn’t get screwed up because we would be raised in church, in the Bible, etc. I understand wanting to do the best you can for your kids, so I won’t fault them for their good intentions, but I must say that things didn’t work out as well as they’d hoped.

I am 100% certain that being raised/heavily involved in the world of IFB screwed me up in numerous ways. Many of the things that I struggle with today or have struggled with in the past I can easily trace back to something I was taught or influenced on by a particular teacher or pastor within the IFB. Here are a few things that come to mind:

  • Constant preaching about the end times, the rapture, and how terrible the current state of the world was = anxiety about the future and an impending sense of doom, distrust of humanity, “whatever will be will be” attitude towards the condition of the Earth, our government, and all global affairs.
  • Vilifying of self, self-awareness, meditation, personal experience, any spiritual experience considered Pentecostal = hatred and distrust of self, anxiety and depression, sense of disconnect and confusion, inability to relax and simply experience, need to control/fear of losing control.
  • Rigid rules and strict discipline for not adhering to the rules, rules for everything, persons in authority often needed to assert authority in heavy-handed ways = control issues, fear and suspicion of authority figures in general, and a constant need to defend myself/stay on the defensive.
  • The state of childhood viewed as a lesser state of being, children as willful brats deserving of punishment (even hellfire), adults put so far above children as to allow for easy abuse of power, children should always be obedient, happy, and controllable = I viewed the jump to adulthood as important and sought to reach it ASAP, I internalized the negativity towards and treatment of children as the right way to do things, I have a hard time not thinking I am obligated to control the behavior of children simply because I’m an adult and they aren’t.

Between the rules, the teachers, and how authority was or wasn’t used, the atmosphere of the church school I attended (all the way through) was hardly one of love and Christlikeness. Church/Christian schools don’t have very good reputations, though. Kids can be so awful to each other, as can teachers to kids. I think it was within the realms of school that I learned to keep up a constant defense. I worked hard to control myself and my surroundings to keep myself from messing up and becoming the subject of ridicule. I was an A student, so teachers rarely had reason to ridicule me; it was the other students who seemed to thrive off the misfortune of others. Leaving yourself open, relaxing, just enjoying life and who you really were was a recipe for being torn apart by the other kids. So, I closed up and learned how to put up walls. By the time I hit fourth grade I discovered the pain of betrayal, ridicule, and being left out; I graduated from that school still feeling those some things. How might I have turned out differently if I’d gotten my education in a different setting – one where religion and hellfire weren’t mingled with rules and expectations?

The part of myself I’ve lost that I mourn the most is my ability to let loose and open myself up to whatever I choose. We start that way as children, and then along the way we learn to avoid pain and shut ourselves up – perhaps more so when religious fundamentalism is involved. I never considered myself a control freak, but I’ve discovered that I do in fact have trouble with needing to control things. In highschool and college (and sometimes even now) I always wanted to know things, have the right answer, be right because it made me feel like I had worth. I went from a carefree child to an anxious, somewhat controlling adult. Why? Someone who struggled with a similar problem recently helped me a shine a light on at least one angle of things:

“My ‘need to be right’ and ‘have control’ was very much linked to the ‘God-Pleasing’ of the IFB as well as the concept that ‘If you are not right, you are wrong and God can’t bless you.’ We control because we fear the future. Wow!!! The whole fundy thing is about being terrified of God and who controls the future?? God does! So….they try to control God!! We controllers try to control in order to please God and earn His blessings for the future. This is actually Greek and Roman belief — not Judeo-Christian.

Regardless of who had what beliefs and when, I think she makes some excellent points that I had never considered before. I particularly like the part where she says, “We controllers try to control in order to please God and earn His blessings for the future.” As a Baptist I felt huge pressure to be perfect, to do a million different things to better myself or others, to find God’s will and do it, etc. Trying to do everything that was deemed good and even necessary was impossible. So you better get control of your life and your time and make sure you can give a good account for it one day to God, lest he call you a bad steward of his gifts. Huge pressure to do everything, and to do it right… very easy to get burnt out and stressed. I still struggle with feeling like I should be doing something productive all the time, must be multitasking, otherwise I’m wasting time and being lazy. 

I have goals I’m working toward. I have spiritual paths that call to me. I have so many ideas and hopes, but until I can relearn to relax, let loose and let go, I will stay stuck in the mud of the past. Through introspection and writing posts like this one, I feel I can begin digging myself out and moving forward. In fact, I hereby make letting loose and letting go my main goal for the coming months. Onward!

Article from Elizabeth Esther and My Experience with Fundamentalist Christian Camp

The false, glittering promise of Christian conferences by Elizabeth Esther

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

Seriously.

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

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

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

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

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

Perpesctive

I still follow a few evangelical Christian sites/people on social media. Why? Well, for the same reason I follow some Catholics, Hindus, Pagans, etc.: I enjoy hearing things from other people’s perspectives. I certainly don’t agree with everything I see, but I understand that only listening to the people you agree with is dangerous. You can’t get the big picture from one view point. And, without the big picture, it is easy to slip into “me and mine are the only ones who matter” ideology. Religious fundamentalists tend to promote/exist in this way of thinking, which is why they are often referred to as cultists. I personally refer to such existence as living in a bubble.
I spent the first 21 years of my life living in one bubble or another – attending church and the school run by the church, working at a religious summer camp, living on-campus at a religious college. Bubbles promote circular reasoning and shun new, outside-the-bubble influences; a lot of really silly (or terrible) things continue unchecked in this sort of atmosphere. The most disturbing aspect of bubble ideology is thinking that you are the only one/ones who are right and know the truth. Many Baptists I’ve known believe they have a monopoly on true joy (joy is supposedly different than happiness, because joy only come from knowing Jesus). I held that belief as well, until I got outside the bubble and met very happy/joyful people who were not Christians. Anyway.
Today I read a post written by an evangelical Christian who was so thrilled that she had been able to witness to a Hindu man on a plane. She and the man had a nice conversation discussing the differences between their faiths and then the man asked her to pray for him. The Christian lady was so very excited over this fact because, to her, it clearly meant he was considering converting. I don’t know exactly what was said during their conversation, or why the man asked her to pray for him, but I do know this situation looks very different from another perspective. Hindus, in my limited experience, are very wonderful people who are happy to discuss their beliefs with you. They aren’t out to make converts or change the world – they just want to live good lives and be good people. Also, people of many faiths are very comfortable asking someone of another faith to pray for them. Many people hold interfaith beliefs or are at least able to accept the views of others without judgment. Most fundamentalists won’t attend the religious services of another faith, let alone ask a non-Christian to pray for them. Because of this rigidness, the fundamentalists I’ve known have always assumed any non-Christians who asked for prayer were either wanting to convert or knew that they should convert.

When I left Christianity I struggled with how to handle it when Christian friends and family told me they were praying for me. Initially, it felt like an insult because they were praying for me because they thought I was going to Hell. Now, they usually say they’ll pray for me because I’m sick or going through a period of stress. That kind of prayer doesn’t phase me anymore. Instead, I’m thankful for their prayers and believe they will do some good because the divine isn’t confined to anyone’s religious parameters.
The old illustration of six blind men and an elephant was the subject of much criticism by my Baptist college professors. Looking at it now, though, I find it to be an excellent tool for teaching that truth need not be so exclusionary, particularly religious truth.

“A group of blind men (or men in the dark) touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part, but only one part, such as the side or the tusk. They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement…. In some versions, they stop talking, start listening and collaborate to “see” the full elephant. When a sighted man walks by and sees the entire elephant all at once, they also learn they are blind. While one’s subjective experience is true, it may not be the totality of truth. If the sighted man was deaf, he would not hear the elephant bellow.” ~ Wikipedia

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.