If you look at the top of this page, you’ll see a single line: “an ongoing journey in overcoming a fundamentalist indoctrination.” That is still a good summation of why I write here, why I write for you all. Because of that, I spend a lot of time critiquing. Criticizing. Rage-stomping. I do everything within my power to stand up for the oppressed, the abused, the silenced. However, although these are some of the reasons why I write, they’re not the only reasons why I write. I do my best to bring a more positive perspective when I can. Anger is healthy, and productive– there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being angry at the way things are some times. However, anger can’t be the end-all, be-all, or I’m going to burn myself out.
So that is what today is about. I got amazing comments yesterday— many of you left behind things you’ve heard that were infuriating, or heartbreaking. Some made me laugh and shake my head, others made me want to throw things. And that, my friends, is good for all of us.
However, there’s something that comes next. What are the things that we desperately want to hear from our friends and our family instead? We get a lot of flack, no matter where we stand as ex-fundamentalists. So, what are some things you’ve always wished people would actually say?
For me, it starts here:
That’s where it absolutely must begin, and I think most (if not all) of you would agree with me. It starts with quietness. It starts with listening. Most ex-fundamentalists have spent a lifetime–or most of it– being silenced. Being told to lock away and hide all of our feelings, all the rage at the wrongness of it all, everything. We were told, over and over again, nearly by everyone we knew, that the only option for us was our silence.
And, for many of us, when we finally did start talking, we were told, again, that we should really just remain quiet for all the reasons we talked about yesterday. One reader commented that most of the 15 things from yesterday were really just variations of “shut up,” and he was right. Being told to stay quiet–however I’m told– really makes me want to scream. What I need from you, if you care about me, is to listen. Really listen. It’s more than just hearing my words while simultaneously coming up with all the possible things you could say as either affirmation or rebuttal. At first, I don’t think I need you to say anything. Make me a cup of tea. Offer me a hug. Cuddle with me in a fuzzy blanket. Look me in my eyes. Cry with me. Do everything you can to understand that what I’m coming out of was deeply horrific. It’s left me with serious triggers. It’s left me with scars so bad that sometimes it takes everything I have not to run out of a church auditorium to go vomit.
I’m not making shit up. I’m not crazy. I’m not exaggerating.
And what I really need is for you to believe me.
Believe me when I say that I believe in Jesus– but I have trouble sometimes believing in God. Believe me when I say that I’m desperately searching for answers, but that I have no idea where they’ll take me. And this darkness, the shadows, the not-knowing, the gray, the uncertainty– it’s uncomfortable. It’s hard. It makes me curl up on my bed and weep, sometimes. I’m working through things– and I need to you enter this space with me. To leave your confidence, your unflappability, at the door, and ask the same questions. Maybe you’ll get to a different answer– and that’s ok. But the questions– the quest— is what matters.
“What things could I be looking for in my own church?”
Dear mother in heaven if there’s a question I want asked, it’s this one. Because I’ve been in a lot of churches since I’ve left my fundamentalist one behind, and if there’s one thing that’s been consistent everywhere I’ve gone, it’s that all churches have something about them that could “grow,” in Christian parlance. Maybe it’s no big deal. Maybe it’s a big, big deal. And you don’t have to mimic me– you don’t have to adopt all of my concerns, worries, the things I’m wary or suspicious of. Yesterday, I was talking to a friend and he sent me the doctrinal statement of the church he attends– and they affirm the stance of The Gospel Coalition (of #gagreflex fame, most recently). Which, personally, frightens me. I wouldn’t go anywhere near that church because of it. But, he’s comfortable there, and that’s ok. One of my best, most wonderful friends is much more conservative than I am on pretty much every measurable spectrum, but we love each other because of those differences.
I’m not asking you to be my clone. I’m asking you to take my concerns seriously.
Not every single last church is a hotbed for abusive activity or fundamentalist approaches to faith. But the attitude of “that doesn’t happen at my church“– it’s so common, and you could be wrong. It very well could be happening at your church. And, a lot of the time, it’s not glaringly obvious if it’s there. It could start out as something really small– something so insignificant a lot of people wouldn’t even bother commenting. But then . . . slowly . . . over time . . . it could get worse. The only way to make sure it doesn’t happen at your church is to be aware of what could happen if “good men do nothing.”
“Do you think there are some things in this theology that are harmful?”
This, heads up, will probably not be an easy conversation to have, but it’s a necessary one if the Church universal is going to have any chance of moving forward. My approach to theology is heavily influenced by my background in literary theory. Critical theories are essentially frameworks, ways of approaching and interacting with a text. You can do a Marxist reading of Oliver Twist, analyzing the power struggles and the class warfare in Dickens’ material. Or, you could do a feminist reading of Little Women— how did the patriarchal culture of Alcott’s time influence how she constructed her characters– was a feminist struggle the reason why she gave the principle romantic interest a feminine name? Why is the father absent?
I think there’s similarities between literary theory and systematic theologies. For a simplified example, a Reformed/Calvinist theology searches for God’s sovereignty in the text of the Bible. Because of my training, I’m capable of switching theological “caps”– I can think inside of the different frameworks with help from scholars and commentaries. And something I’ve learned through all of this is that all critical theories– literary or theological– have flaws. There are weaknesses in every argument; that doesn’t automatically make the argument wrong, but the point should be not to eliminate weaknesses but acknowledge the fact that they exist. This week is a syncroblog for queer theology (hint: check it out, it’s awesome)– and there’s other theologies, too. There’s feminist theology. And liberation theology. And all of them– even the neo-Reformed perspective, which makes me itch– have something to offer. Theology, like most things, isn’t a monolith. There isn’t one Supreme, Correct Theory of Everything about God.
And, being willing to admit that there are some things about your average evangelical/Protestant theology that can be incredibly harmful is a really good first step.
Now I’m turning it over to you. What are some things you’d like to hear?