“I fear that the surviving remnant of Southern culture-religion is the enemy of real Christian discipleship and any kind of healthy church.” — @dpgushee
In this video Benjamin Ady talks about a “list of people who made it possible for me to imagine myself a Christian.” I’ve thought about this quite a bit over the last few months. Since I’ve never really “de-converted,” I think my list is more “People who made it possible for me to not run away from Christianity.”
The more I thought about this list, the more one person came to mind: Miss Ila.
Miss Ila was my first and second grade Sunday school teacher in the rural Arkansas church where I grew up. Miss Ila was always old in my mind, maybe in her sixties when I was young, and never married. She was a wonderful Sunday school teacher, always well prepared and always very organized, but that was not what made her the first on my list.
Miss Ila also taught the Wednesday night girl’s mission class, GA’s (or Girls in Action). It was here that my world was expanded. Each week, we would hear stories about missionaries in far off places telling people about Jesus. We heard about people who devoted their lives to being a doctor in a place that had few or no doctors, people who trekked through mountains to give people Bibles and started schools so that they could read them. I heard story after story after story about people who were doing things bigger than me, bigger than my experience.
I think this is what saved me. Always in the back of my mind, I knew that God was bigger than the confines of our narrow church. When I was older and told my pastor that I wanted to be involved in ministry, he said, “You won’t be a pastor of course.” But I had heard the stories, of God using women to do amazing and wonderful things and I was not deterred.
I too am a recovering fundamentalist. I vividly remember a sermon preached in my home church, immediately following the invasion of Iraq, when my pastor (who died this fall as well…not a good period for fundamentalists) said that this invasion was justified. Jesus himself turned over the tables in the temples. And, we need to go get those “rag-heads.” And, I thought, “Wow, I don’t think we have the same Jesus in mind.”
—excerpt from email from a friend, used with permission
I think the definition of fundamentalism is putting rules before love.
“There were a couple months in college when I started walking down the fundamentalist path. Then I said, what the hell am I doing? And I stopped.”
A week ago I got a couple of cryptic texts from my mom—the kind that generally mean something bad has happened. I called to see what was going on, only to find both my parents bewildered by the news that the pastor of their church had died while preaching a funeral sermon. He was 55 years old.
This news set off a chain reaction of emotions. This man had been my pastor from the time I was two years old until I was in college. He is the person that I prayed with to accept Christ. I had spent years seeking his approval. He could be kind, but was more often very dogmatic. One of his favorite phrases was “straight from the pits of hell.” Many things were straight from the pits of hell: too many piercings, tattoos, abortion, homosexuality, certain music, people who said things that he disagreed with, voting for the wrong person and the list goes on. It’s been more than a decade since I’ve regularly listened to his sermons, so I’ve (actively) forgotten a lot.
Since I’ve moved away, I haven’t visited the church very often—only once or twice in the last four years. Despite the fact that there are many people there who are very dear to me, I was afraid that I was no longer welcome, that everyone would be able to tell that I occasionally drank alcohol, that I no longer believed in the rapture or that my Bible was not KJV. I did not want to take my daughters to a place where such rules abounded and one false move could mean you slipped out of fellowship. Biting my tongue through Sunday school and the sermon was hard and painful. Last month, I was there with my two daughters. I used twitter to help me through:*
Crap. I just realized I didn’t bring a Bible with me. This is not going to go well.
There’s a God and country rally this week. I wonder of we can make that.
Wow. Pits of hell mentioned before 3 min into sermon.“whoever said you shouldn’t discuss religion and politics was straight from the pits of hell.”Just noticed an Israeli flag on the organ.I’m sitting in the same pew I sat in for the first 18 years of my life, listening to the same pastor, feeling very different.“We need to verify the legitimacy of need before we help some body.”“Cesspool World” is a point on the outline.“We live in a world where people are being killed. Repetitively.”I survived. And I have the recording!!
And now this man, on whom I have blamed most of my PFSD, is dead. I’m really sad. In an effort to sort through my thoughts and emotions, I’ve been talking to my high school church friends. The first friend I called, I tentatively asked a couple of questions. The 30 minute conversation we had was completely freeing. As I started to express my complicated grief, she answered with things that I was thinking. All of the sudden I realized that I was not isolated in my thoughts and feelings toward this church.
It didn’t take me long to get from there to here. I started this website as a place so others with similar experiences could find that they are not alone. I hope that other people will find this as helpful as I have.
*Yes, I felt guilt for tweeting during church, but not enough to not do it.
*I asked my friend Haven for some of her thoughts on growing up in a fundamentalist church and how she escaped with her faith still intact. This is what she said:
I think this will be good for me…to actually put into written word my “issues” and how Jesus alone has/is changing my bitterness and distrust into something else. Hopefully my heart will get to the place of consistent forgiveness and at least attempted understanding of why people cling to the rules. It’s sin and it’s sad, so I don’t like to think about it. But, I have to. If for no other reason than keeping myself in check. I have to make sure I remember that the things I do or don’t do, or how I look or don’t look is NOT what makes me a “good Christian”.
So some of the things that have made an impact on me are as follows:
-preaching opinions, and crazy opinions at that, instead of biblical truth from the pulpit. ie:
-if you drink alcohol you are not a Christian.
-If you wear Abercrombie and Fitch clothing you will go to Hell.
-If you have a tongue bar or tattoo it is a major sin so apparently you are not a good enough Christian to work with children or teenagers.
-You are getting a divorce. well then, you are no longer welcome here and all these people who have been your friends for 12 years will now look at you like you are a piece of trash and not talk to you in public. Because we “good christians” cannot be friends with people who are not also “good christians”. They influence us away from Christ.
-We should not be unequally yoked. That means you cannot ever consider being friends with someone who has a different skin color. And if you you date or marry someone with a different skin color then, well…you’ve heard it before.
How this affected me:
-Taught me how to be good at faking my faith (bad)
-Gave me a bitterness toward and distrust of people in pastoring roles. (bad)
-Taught me to compare all opinions on christian things to actual, in context, scripture. (good)
-I think of some people as “crazy” and have a less than loving feeling towards some people or groups of people. This is essentially prejudice I have acquired. (bad…I know, and the Holy Spirit is working on my heart here, right at this very moment.)
-I don’t value tradition and in my heart I am a bit of a rebel although the way my life looks/appears you probably wouldn’t know that. (Not sure if that’s good or bad. Probably a little of both.)
-Gave me a desire to try and be like Jesus and show love to people. Even if, God forbid, they are not just like me. That last sentence should be read with much sarcasm (GOOD)
So, you asked how I experienced or saw others experience these things within the church and still come out with my faith in tact. And it comes down to this. I looked at Jesus. And now, today, I look at Jesus. The ideas above so blatantly fly in the face of everything Jesus said and did. I was being lied to from the pulpit and in my church and just reading the scripture that these ideas were twisted from, and reading them in context. even as a child I could see the truth. This was God protecting me and the Holy Spirit showing me truth. I learned not to blindly trust my pastor and teachers. I question everything said as opinion within the church and as a music person I get a lot of this. People have ideas about how music should be and give criticism of music in churches a lot. I am learning to kind of ignore it unless the opinion/criticism is backed up with scripture.
I was always pretty good at falling into line with being who people wanted me to be if that makes any sense. I still have to keep a close eye on this tendency in myself. But the more I fall in love with Jesus and see how He does things,
the more I want to be who He wants me to be. And the funny thing is that this ends up being exactly right for me. Or maybe that’s not so funny. Maybe that’s just right.