Social Issues

learning the words: rights

we the people

Today’s guest post is from Sheldon, an agnostic who writes to expose some of the problems in the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement and fundamentalism in general at Ramblings of Sheldon. “Learning the Words” is a series on the words many of us didn’t have in fundamentalism or overly conservative evangelicalism– and how we got them back. If you would like to be a part of this series, you can find my contact information at the top.


Rights are something that you are not supposed to have as a child, teen, or even young adult in fundamentalism. You’re taught from a young age that you don’t have rights, only your parents do. You see this in the way HSLDA wants a parental rights amendment to the US Constitution, but does everything it possibly can to dismantle legal protections for children.

You see it in the way fundamentalist circles often read Ephesians six, stressing the “honor your father and mother”, but skimming over or ignoring verse four, “do not provoke your children.” I saw it in an argument a few years ago, when at 21 years old, my own mother told me that if she were to beat me, I would deserve it, failing to see the hypocrisy of how she always talked about the way her father beat her as a child as though it was the horrible crime that it is. She was shocked into silence and walked away when I pointed that out to her.

Almost anything is acceptable so long as a parent does it. Why?

Because you have no rights.

You have no rights to your own opinion: you must agree with us at all times; after all, we’re the sole determiners of what is is isn’t acceptable when it comes to anything, at anytime.

You have no rights to your own emotions: it’s not just enough to agree with us, and follow our commands, but you should follow our commands without any expression of frustration, no matter how extreme or ridiculous the commands are. You should be a mindless, happy robot all the time, never acting angry, depressed or anxious– because after all, true happiness come from serving your parents and God the way we say you should. If you do become depressed, we’ll blame you for it. We’ll say that your depression and resulting nervous breakdown was nothing more than “guilt” and “not having a right relationship with God.”

You have no rights to your own body. If we want to hit you, or get up in your face shouting, and threaten violence against you, we can. If we want to hug and you don’t want it, tough luck. Personal space means nothing to us. To this day, I still can’t stand it when people crowd in too closely near me when there’s no good reason for it (plenty of space around), or decide to stand in front of all the exits to a room.

If I sound angry, it’s because I am. Not so much for myself, for what I was put through. There’s hope for me, I have bought a house, and will be rebuilding it, and moving into it soon [editor’s note: Sheldon, due to circumstances, is required to live at home. The situation is less than ideal]. I’ll finally be able to put some distance between myself and my family and my past, but many others aren’t so fortunate.

I’m angry for the children, teens, and even young adults who are still trapped with parents like this, there are still many out there. No one should have to live in a family like this, and I want to see the abusive culture within fundamentalism end.

Everyone should have rights, everyone should be free to be themselves, and not live in fear.

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  • i read a little of your (sheldon’s) blog. i was really sad for you that you still hadn’t been able to get out of the fundamentalist environment. the change will be so freeing.
    I am upset about all the HSLDA does to keep children from having rights :/
    the victim blaming for depression is exceptionally bad – and it keeps people from getting help because they either believe they’re just bad, or that everyone will think they’re only sinful if they ask to get help.
    the mental health conference at the white house going on today is giving me hope that depression will one day be recognized as real, even in fundy circles. but that might take wayyyy too long for a lot of kids 🙁

    • I’m getting out within the next 2-3 months, I’ve already bought a house, and am going rebuild it, now the hard part is going to be to try and keep her at distance, or get her out of my life completely, she won’t change,she’s too stubborn in her ignorance.

  • Thanks, Sheldon. I’m sad because I feel like a survivor, and my friends are still stuck way in their own brainwashing. They don’t know to get out. They don’t want to get out. That’s the saddest part….when fundamentalism steals your mind, too.

    • Yeah, leaving people behind who choose to stay won’t be easy. I know I have at least three people in fundie land that will support me when I leave, people I have already come out to about my change in beliefs.

  • The discussion of attitudes and emotions really hit home for me. I never had the right to feel any other way than how I was supposed to feel. That was big for me.

    • That was a hard one, my mom was always big on scrutinizing every facial expression, every change in tone in voice for signs that I wasn’t “having the right attitude”.

      Problem was, I could never tell what facial expressions I was giving off at any given time. I have been told before by people who have thought I was autistic, I’m beginning to believe more and more that it’s a definite possibility, and in the coming months, I will talk to a psychiatrist about it, I know I need medication for the depression.

      • I got in trouble as much for a “bad attitude” as I did for any actual actions. When your emotions are forced on you, you eventually start to lose conscious control over them. You just go along with whatever and fake it. It’s still something I struggle with, honestly.

        But hey, we were my mom’s pride and joy, because we were always perfectly polite and always displayed a positive and Christlike attitude no matter what! Everyone thought we were angels!

  • I’m so sorry Sheldon. ((Sheldon)) I’ve been coming out of this for seven years myself. And as a parent, I’ve moved from authoritarian and punitive mindset to a more AP/Grace based discipline that doesn’t involve threats or hitting my children.

    I remember crying every time I read through Little Women and Marmee stuck up for Amy and wrote the teacher “What right have you to hit a child?” – and forever wishing my mom would have done the same for my siblings and I instead of following lock-step.

    • My family was the exact opposite, my mom took the typical male role in fundamentalism. Though my dad worked until I was about 14 (when he had to go on disability), and my mom stayed home, she made all the decisions for the family, and was the abusive/dominant personality.

      My dad was the one trying to interfere when her temper got out of control.

      • Same here. When the mom is the driving force behind the patristic fundamentalism, I think there’s less immediate physical danger but a greater chance of long-term problems. That’s definitely how it was for us.

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  • @physics and whiskey.

    I think so too, mothers are much better at the guilt control, and emotional abuse tactics, which do as much or more emotional damage in the long run.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Because you have no rights.

    I am reminded of a rant from a radio preacher I heard when I was listening to Christianese AM radio in the Seventies:

  • Sarah C

    I stumbled across this post while doing some research, and my heart breaks for those of you who grew up in an abusive religious system. I grew up in a fundamental Baptist home, and church, was home-schooled, and even attended some of the “cult” seminars by Bill Gothard. Thank God my family didn’t get sucked into all of that. It is not Biblical at all. It is an extra-biblical, legalistic set of rules and regulations that strip everyone but the father of their God-given rights. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that children should honor and obey their parents, but they should never be afraid of them. Wives should respectfully submit to their husbands, but not become a doormat for an abusive man. I am afraid that too often the type of families attracted to the patriarchal system are controlling parents and/or spouses who are looking for a “biblical” reason to justify their abusive behavior.
    My question is this, when faced with the hypocrisy of these fundamentalists, why is it so many people reject the truth, simply because they knew people who claimed to have the truth and were, in reality, hypocrites? It would seem to me that the answer is not rejecting the Bible (I’m not saying this is what you have done, but I know a great many who have) and but becoming a true Christian who actually follows the Bible.
    I distinctly remember being faced with the choice myself. Would I allow the hypocrisy of others to keep me from being the real thing, or would I trust God to be Who He claimed to be, and give Him complete control of my life?
    There are many people who are trapped in these type of cults, and they need our compassion and help. Leadership is imperfect, and God knew that when He inspired the words, “obey them that have the rule over you.” It is difficult to be in a situation that hurts so badly, and feel that God has asked you to remain where you are for the time being. We do not know His purposes, but He can be trusted to work everything out for our good. Those of you who are still trapped in an abusive religious system, don’t give up hope, or become bitter. There are so many people who are willing to help you when you decide to break away from a controlling system that sucks the life out of everyone in it.