Searching for Community… Again

Last year I found a wonderful church community in a local Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregation. My empty spots that needed spiritual community and the sharing of spiritual experiences found what they needed. I wasn’t able to attend frequently, but I enjoyed it when I could and was glad to interact with church members through social media. Our family joined the church and we were even married there. I was hopeful that we’d found our spiritual home. I really, really like the people we met at the church. They are very genuine and full of love and have shown me a whole new side of what religion and church can be. This summer the interim minister I loved moved on; the new minister, whom I really like, will begin her ministry in September. Lots of changes and exciting times are in store for the church, I’m sure, but I’m not sure we’ll be a big part of it. 

My idea of what “church” looks like or is meant to accomplish has changed greatly from my days as a Baptist. I like sermons about love, peace, religions of the world, and even how the church can be an active force in the community. The church we found seems to put more emphasis on being an active force in the community than anything else. That is what the majority of the congregation has chosen, so it only makes sense that the church would steer that direction. This emphasis on social activism is a bit much for me, though. Today I learned that the Religious Education (RE) curriculum for the fall would be about racial justice and social activism. One of the things that drew me to UU in the first place was the RE program for children – I love the concept! Religious education, from a progressive, open-minded perspective, that introduces children to many ways of thinking is a wonderful idea and something I’m totally on board with. I’m perplexed by this church’s choice of RE emphasis for the fall, though, because I do not see how a curriculum about racial justice and social activism fits the concept of RE. Naturally, this is just my own perception of what Religious Education stands for – the majority of the church feels differently and that’s fine.  Continue reading

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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.

(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.

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.

Spiritual Experiences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously.

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

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

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

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

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

A Disturbing Picture of Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.