help! my parents are duped!

martin luther

A few years ago, I started avidly reading everything Boundless.org published. I had a few favorite writers, including Candace Watters who wrote “Learning from Ruth.” At the time, I was thrilled that anyone was saying anything about the Christian dating environment and telling women it was ok to step up and ask a guy out. So, I “liked” their facebook page . . . and then never unfollowed it. I probably should– since, as you all know, I’ve become a stark-raving liberal feminist universalist errantist . . . apparently. Anyway, about a quarter of the time I read their posts just for shits and giggles– but, most of the time, what they post is either boring or annoying. But, occasionally, like this morning, they’re infuriating.

One of the the things that Boundless does is answer letters from readers, giving them advice about life and such. I’ve covered one such letter before (and by “cover” I really mean “rage-stomped-all-over”). They put up another letter this morning and titled the post “How can I convince my parents to find a new church?” I knew that I was being ridiculous to hope that the letter-writer was worried about his parent’s crazy-conservative/fundamentalist church, but I was intrigued by the title anyway, so I clicked it.


I’m a college student, and the church my parents attend back home is not biblically-based. It has worsened in recent years, allowing female pastors and preaching sermons on how to be a good person rather than explaining Gospel truth. My mother recently told me that the Bible study she is attending taught her that the creation story as given in the Bible isn’t true, but it’s a myth to explain an underlying truth that God is in control.

How do I share truth lovingly with my parents without usurping their authority? I want them to flee from this church and find one that preaches the Gospel, but they don’t want to leave the community behind and have been duped into believing that what the church is teaching is good. My heart breaks over my family. I’m praying for them, which I know is paramount. Is there a good way to lovingly convince them they need to find a new church home?

First of all:





I wouldn’t know what to do if my church was open to thinking of parts of Scripture (such as Genesis 1-11 cough) not as something that has to be literally, factually true, but something that we can read to discover larger, more valuable lessons. Like, oh, I don’t know, highlighting the fact that the Genesis creation narrative is orderly and intentional and completely unlike most other creation myths that involve the world being created by gods who were fighting with each other and went oops we made a planet. Personally, I find that particular truth a lot more valuable than “you must believe that days were 24 hours before there was even a sun that the earth revolved around!”

Also female pastors? Thank you I’ll take that. The church I’m attending on-and-off recently named a female pastor: the woman who was previously in charge of the children’s ministry . . . and is now in charge of the children’s ministry. Yay. Granted, this is a huge step forward. I’ve whined quite a bit about how it’s unfair that most churches have women serving a role that if a man was filling it would be called “pastor of _____,” so the fact that this church actually acknowledged that she was already being a pastor and recognized that she deserved respect and the title is a huge deal, and I’m not begrudging them that. This is, however, in the same church where women aren’t allowed to serve on the elder board, so . . . baby steps, I suppose.

But the biggest problem I have with this letter writer is that this young person believes that his or her parents have been duped and something absolutely must be done about this right now. “Duped,” to me, says a lot about what this person believes about people who could think that woman can and should be pastors and are open to thinking of the Bible in different ways.

And, it stung, even though he or she wasn’t talking about me and doesn’t know I exist, because it’s the reaction I’ve gotten from friends and family. I’ve been duped. I’m only thinking this way because I’m young, and someday I’ll look back on all this feminist ridiculousness and laugh. I’ll come around, once age and maturity have convinced me I need to be a Tea Party Republican Complementarian again. I’ve had people tell me that they don’t want to be publicly associated with me. When I try to talk to some, conversations quickly dive into “you’re denying what the Bible clearly teaches” territory pretty fast. If we’re talking about something political, the “you’re just saying that because you heard some famous liberal person say it” card occasionally gets played. And I just want to start tearing my hair out at that point because under neath it all is “you’re wrong, and I can’t believe how stupid you must be to believe any of this.”

Anyway, the Boundless writer that responded was, once again, Scott Croft (“of “you’re right, you deserve to feel upset because no one’s a virgin anymore” fame). I don’t really have a problem with the advice he gave. A lot of it is probably good advice to follow any time you actually have to confront someone and you expect the conversation to be unpleasant. It was just a little disheartening that he totally agreed with everything the letter writer has a problem with (for example, telling him or her to “focus” on how the “church may not believe the Bible is literally true”).

The only part of the advice I have a serious problem with appears here:

Start with questions. Rather than beginning with a frontal assault of challenge, maybe spend some time asking your parents what they believe about major doctrines of the faith. Once you carefully listen to their answers (without attacking them), you’ll know better what you’re dealing with and may be in a position to ask whether their church believes or teaches the same things.

I’ve written about this attitude before— how evangelicals are trained practically all of their lives not to actually listen to people who don’t agree with you but to listen for the express purpose of finding out “what you’re dealing with” so you’ll know better how to tear their argument to shreds, evangelical-style. The whole point of this paragraph is in the last sentence: you only listen to your parents not to understand their perspective better, or to love them for the human beings they are, but so that you’ll “be in a position” to convince them how they– or in this instance, their church– is really, really wrong.

Scott just assumes that the parents will eventually realize how messed up, and not “biblically-based” their church is. Oh, they’re not going to “run screaming right away,” he says, but they’ll come around– eventually. They’ll see the light, as long as you just keep on praying for them little buddy.

And I’m frustrated, because this letter is just a written-out example of how a lot of conservative evangelical Christians treat people who are more progressive, more liberal– or just people who struggle with doubts and questions. Patience oozes from every word, all the while they’re fighting the urge to roll their eyes so far back into their skull they get stuck there. It’s a frustrating feeling, knowing that you’re not actually being listened to, but that the person you’re talking to is sitting on the edge of their seat just waiting for you to stop talking so they can stab your argument with a brilliant sound bite about what the Bible clearly says.

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  • Awesome post. Years ago when I was leaving fundamentalism and looking for a new church, I was told that the only reason I was attending an Episcopal church was because [snark] “they ordain women!” [/snark]. My reply: “No, they’re just *on the list* because they ordain women.” I’ve been a happy Episcopalian for 20 years now.

  • If I hear about how the Bible “clearly teaches xyz” one more time I’m going to kick something.

  • Hannah

    If you’re looking for churches that a) ordain women, b) believe in The Bible as the living, inspired word of God (rather than explicitly literal), c) a history of tradition and order that some people (like myself) find comforting in worship, d) a church that admits we might not fully understand God’s will and rejects that our practice of the faith is the ONLY correct one – I would suggest the PCUSA in addition to Janet’s suggestion of the Episcopal Church. However, I have some pretty awesome Lutheran friends too.

    • The United Methodists would fit most of that criteria, as well.

      • I was considering UMC until this last week. Thought they were LGBTQ-affirming. Apparently not.

        • I recently joined a UMC church, and yeah, I thought they were down with LGBTQ issues. My particular church is very welcoming and affirming. The Book of Discipline is the issue. Apparently it’s very difficult to get changes through (I’m so new, I’m not sure exactly how it works!). For example, my pastors were very disappointed about a Creationism issue that they thought was dead and buried that came roaring back at the last conclave. I have a Reformed background, though, so I am giving the UMC the benefit of the doubt because so many of the pastors and congregations are working toward changes in the Book of Discipline, and by comparison with my last church, they are very progressive.

        • We’re mixed up. 🙁 We allow LGBT folks to become full members of the Church and every part of the church experience is open to them…except marriage by a UMC clergy person and inclusion in the clergy itself. I know that my local congregation has two lesbian couples who’ve been attending for a couple of months now. We’re not very big (perhaps 100 members total) and it’s just…not a thing. Our pastor is one of dozens from our local area who’ve signed on in protest of those restrictions.

          It’s not perfect. It’s…slow. It’s not good. But I would encourage you to still give your local congregation a shot. They might not be right for you, and if not, that’s OK. But from a lot of what you said, I think you might be able to find a home there. And God knows we could use more voices like yours.

        • Sadly, there is a schism. But a HUGE number of United Methodists support gay rights. My home church took a vote in support of our (female) pastor marrying LGBT church members a couple of years ago.

    • Koko

      I second the PCUSA suggestion. I grew up IFB, and despite attending more progressive-leaning churches (Baptist, Bible, non-denom, Episcopal), I kept running into the same triggers.

      I’m currently attending a PCUSA church that has a husband-wife team (both ordained) as ministers. There are equal numbers of men & women on the boards, & also in visible leadership roles.

      In addition, PCUSA is pro-choice & LGBT+ affirming – a HUGE deal to me, since I also used to be QF (which was incredibly damaging to my physical & mental well-being) & also recently came out as bisexual.

      I actually feel safe there. Never, ever, ever thought I could feel safe in church, but I do. Even my kids have noticed a difference in how the youth workers treat them.

      It might not be the perfect fit for you that it is for me, but it could be worth checking out.

  • Chris

    I echo Jason’s comments. The Bible always, always, ALWAYS requires interpretation. A good way to combat the reckless prooftexting or “clear teaching” dogma is to ask how the verse/teaching is used in context. I’m not kidding when I say 98% of those in the church won’t be able to answer. The church has long gotten away with the horrible habit of divorcing verses from a multitude of contexts and they are ill-prepared to defend their positions from further scrutiny as a result. Not saying we shouldn’t still try to learn from them, keeping an open mind and all, but this is a good way to keep their arguments honest.

    • (In passing, again.) Reading is interpretation. All language is interpreted by the reader or listener. There is no way, in human thought, to avoid interpretation. To deny the need for interpretation is to make your own errors of thought into the word of god.

      • Chris

        No doubt. To rephrase: Initial interpretations and assumptions can (and in my belief, most often should) be ditched for a more contextual interpretation. The “clear teaching” dogma gussies up an initial interpretation knee-jerk as a universally-understood precept where none exists.

        • I’ve been thinking a lot about where this “Bible clearly says” stuff comes from, and I’m wondering if it was an inevitable consequence of sola scriptura. I mean, if you believe that all laypeople should read the Bible for themselves, doesn’t that necessitate some sort of “plain meaning of the text” thinking? If understanding the Bible takes an advanced education, awareness of ancient cultures, some familiarity with Greek and Hebrew linguistic structures . . . that kinda blows “ordinary people can totally understand this all by themselves!” out of the water.

          • Chris

            In my opinion, this is the dirty little (but widely understood by academics) secret of hermeneutics and bible study: the uneducated cannot understand what the book is saying without the tools you mentioned. Sounds terribly pretentious and haughty, but the fact remains that without additional study most people cannot put the words into proper context.

            The most accurate definition of Sola Scriptura I’ve heard is in relation to salvation, i.e. everything for salvation is plainly laid out. Other stuff? Not so much, no matter what literalists and “clear teaching” dogmatists may say.

          • I am worried about the inherent classism of this. It’s frustrating to me, because I would really like for everyone to be able to read the Bible and not have to have the money/time/ability to become a Bible scholar. That’s just ridiculous, really. And saying “ordinary people shouldn’t read the Bible because you’ll mess it up because you’re not EDUCATED LIKE ME” seems to be just as bad.

          • Chris

            It depends on one’s view of inerrancy, or a lack thereof. In my personal opinion, inerrantists have the harder time explaining the application of every jot and tittle to the lives of modern audiences. On the other hand, those who reject inerrancy to varying degrees attempt to show how the more veiled passages aren’t necessarily for us anyway. I think this can go a long way toward keeping the NT clear(ish) and accessible.

            The doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration is a claim about the NT that the NT doesn’t necessarily make about itself. In that vein, trying to superimpose the whole of the NT into the modern world is a task best suited to those who claim to understand and respect VP inspiration in the first place, i.e. theologians. The infrastructure of theological rhetoric is self-supporting toward an elitist interpretation. Again, just my opinion.

            A thought: Maybe if we could chuck VP out the window and say, “Hey, this book was written by flawed men over two millenia ago and not all of it may be applicable to us,” then we could put easier tools of interpretation back into the hands of the average Christian?

          • Alice

            Yes, there’s a big difference between seeing the Bible as primarily literature or primarily a technical manual.

            Given enough patience and literacy, anyone can read most works of literature and get something out of it, even if they don’t know about different types of literary theory, the historical context, the literary references, etc.

            Anyone can read a technical manual, but if they don’t really understand the directions and try to follow them, a lot of bad things could happen.

  • The one thing I know for sure after the last couple of years is that the bible does not “clearly” teach anything.

    I know there are denominations that are more liberal but I don’t think I know any of them by name. (Because I was raised Assemblies of God. We do ordain women but they are children’s pastors and worship leaders. Definitely not senior pastors.) But your best bet is probably a non-denominational church because they don’t have to stick to anyone “interpretation”.

    Oh, but watch out. Many non-denoms are Word of Faith and they are wacko.

    Awesome post btw.

    • The church I’ve been attending for a while is non-denominational, and they do have a lot of the things that I’m looking for. They’re very intentional about racial diversity, and they’ve succeeded in a lot of ways. They’re not concerned with making sure everyone has the right dogma, and some other things I like.

      There’s also some problems that are huge red flags for me, too. Some mornings are harder than others.

    • May I suggest that you try an Episcopalian Church.

  • Ugh I agree with what you’re saying about how so many evangelicals don’t /listen/. They have no interest in actually understanding your side because they already know you’re wrong. They just want to try to find some sort of opening to tell you how wrong you are. And usually, they are quick to make all manner of assumptions about how you came to hold your opinions without for a second actually listening to your reasons. And they will tell you, too.

    Real-life example: “You are going to that church because you feel like you need people around you telling you that your beliefs are truthful. I know it must feel good but that won’t really fulfill you!” It sometimes stuns me when people do this sort of thing to me and I realize… they just completely made up a fictional reason for why I’m doing something and then argued against this fictional reason and now expect me to say “HOLY SHIT you’re right! I had no idea what my motivations were, but now that you’ve told me, I realize that you knew my mind better than I did! And your rebuttal of these motivations that I never realized I had is completely convincing! Thank you for helping me see that I actually had no idea of my own motivations and feelings on this matter! You undoubtedly would know better than I!” It’s maddening.

  • ” Like, oh, I don’t know, highlighting the fact that the Genesis creation narrative is orderly and intentional and completely unlike most other creation myths that involve the world being created by gods who were fighting with each other and went oops we made a planet.”

    My Pastor and I had not this exact conversation (ours was about the Tower of Babel and Noah and the Ark) but one very similar, about how even if the Bible is not factual it can still be True and teach us about God and what he wants from us over lunch on Monday.

    I’m not sure where in the country you live, but you seem like you’d fit right in as a United Methodist. We’ve still got a ways to go on same sex marriage, and we still don’t ordain gay ministers, but the bishop of the Northern Alabama conference is female, so the whole women pastors thing is pretty much a non-issue for us. I don’t know if you’re looking for a church, but if you are, the UMC might be a good fit (obviously, more than just doctrine and theology goes into picking a local church).

  • Ugh. I get this sort of thing, too. Well, not so much anymore since I’m apparently beyond hope as an agnostic. But as a liberal Christian, it amazed me the people who would come out of the woodwork to ask leading, condescending questions and explain ever-so-patiently how I was wrong on every single solitary point of view I held.

    You know what sucks, though? The countless conversations I had with people in my own denomination as a teen and early 20-something about how my friends weren’t Plymouth Brethren, and then even worse my IN-LAWS were BAPTISTS and HOW DO I CONVINCE THEM OF THE TRUUUTH. I never saw these questions and concerns as inherently disrespectful. I just KNEW that I was right and they were wrong and if I could just explain my argument from the Bible well enough they would come to my side — whether it was my more liberal friends, or my rigidly-conservative in-laws. The thought of actually listening and hearing what people had to say didn’t occur to me…well, that’s not quite true. I thought I was listening and hearing them, when really I was listening for an “aha!” moment where I could interject (lovingly) and tell them about The Right Way. I didn’t learn how to listen until I spent a lot of time having “fallen” and not being listened to and being judged and argued with. I’m sure that doesn’t have to happen for everyone, but that’s how I learned to really listen when people talk about their experiences and the things they notice.

    But man. Yeah. That letter writer’s parents’ church? I’d consider going there. Seriously.

    • If there’s one thing that’s been helpful coming out of this, it’s that I’ve discovered how incredibly mind-blowing it is to actually listen to other people and try to really understand them, and not being worried about proving them wrong.

      I don’t have to prove anybody wrong. That used to be what consumed most of my time, and now I don’t have to give a damn. It’s pretty cool.

  • Alice

    OMG, that church is teaching its audience how to be good people! Oh the horror! Clearly they’re possessed. LOL.

    I was saying “Yes!” to this whole post. Especially the part where family members assume I will “grow out of” stuff.

    Boundless’ blog is the worst with all the misogynistic and nasty comments. The moderators don’t give a damn. There are polite and reasonable commenters but they are drowned out too often.

  • Yes! Thank you for explaining to me WHY it is so difficult to be “listened to” by some people. So uncomfortable, and I’ve never been able to pin down why. Others just … beg for more story because they really care about what I think, and why … but some … yes … they just want to know how to tear me apart. (Now to be careful not to do this to people, myself!)

  • I kind of have the opposite problem. My very elderly parents are followers of Fundamentalist doctrine. So, when I visit them, I have to remember the lingo and the buzz words, and phrase my comments in a way that won’t offend or upset them. After all, at age 85, they will never change. Nor do I wish to be pounced upon for my own very different views. It’s a way to keep the peace. It’s also emotionally exhausting.

  • Most mainstream Christian churches are not literalist; the Roman Catholic Church hasn’t been for something like 1600 years.

    You might want to consider the United Church of Christ, if you’re seriously looking.

    • I’ve considered churches like the UCC or PCUSA for a long time . . . but I’m uncomfortable with the Reformed theology and tradition you typically find in these denominations. I think there’s a lot of beauty in Reformed theology in many, many ways, but as a borderline-Pelagian/universalist/free-will person, there are many areas in Reformed theology that I have difficulties with.

      • I see what you mean. The UCC churches I know of (full disclosure: I am not a believer) are quite mellow, but any theology rooted in Calvinism unsettles me, too.

      • What is so beautiful about Reformed theology? It is basically Scripture as interpreted by a bunch of psychopaths.

        • Just a quick moderation note: I don’t think making inflammatory comments like this is helpful or productive. I like debate– but accusing Calvin et al of being “psychopaths” is not a debate question. Because of that, I’m not even going to bother defending the Reformers. Please refrain from this in the future.

          One of the things that I really appreciate about Reformed theology is the emphasis on “bringing the Kingdom of God to earth.” Reformed theology is different from mainstream evangelical theology in many ways, one way being that they have a completely different system for understanding the place of Church in history and in the future– it’s not pre-Tribulation, and it doesn’t teach the same thing about a “Thousands Year Reign of God.” Because of that, it teaches that a primary Christian duty is to seek the good of all men, and to bring peace where possible. We’re not supposed to sit on our asses waiting for God to fix everything “one day”. It’s our responsibility to fix it now. I think that’s beautiful.

    • The Catholic Church does not have women clergy. I doubt Sam would be comfortable there.

  • come to my church. today. please. 🙂

  • And thus, the feeling I get in pretty much every conversation I have with my father about anything.

  • notleia

    Oh mah Glob, yes. That’s pretty much why I’m still in the liberal closet. And I also want to know where this unicorn of a church is. I’m considering switching to a Methodist church (I think it’s UMC, don’t remember off the top of my head), and even if they don’t yet affirm gay people, it feels like a step up from my church where we have just finished a 17-Sunday-long series on the story of Joseph, treated as if it were a freakin’ biography. SEVENTEEN. SUNDAYS. It makes me want to bash my head on the pew back.

    • Koko

      Our old church did a quarter on marriage. The pastor’s rationale was “It will help the married people improve & the single people learn what to do ahead of time.”

      This, in a church where there were a lot of young singles, divorcées, & widows/widowers. I wanted to take him aside & ask if that was really the most constructive thing he could find to preach on, but previous conversations had taught me it would have no effect.

      All that to say, I understand the urge to bash my head into the pew. But I’m just bitter. 😉

  • Not only is a patently ostentatious patience oozing from the words of both the letter-writer and the responding columnist but also an arrogant sense of smug superiority. Which leads me to wonder, once again, how people who claim to have such a close relationship with Jesus can be so oblivious to His most wonderful virtue–humility.

  • “I’ve been duped. I’m only thinking this way because I’m young, and someday I’ll look back on all this feminist ridiculousness and laugh. I’ll come around, once age and maturity have convinced me I need to be a Tea Party Republican Complementarian again.”

    I know you are not worried about relapsing, but I can say that I am in my 60s: I started moving away from fundamentalism 40 years ago and abandoned inerrancy 20 years ago. I don’t see any likelihood of going back to either.

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  • Two oil men, Milton and Lyman Stewart sent for free twelve volumes called The Fundamentals to all pastors in the US in the 1920’s to combat Modernism. They founded Biola college that spawned your independent fundamentalist Bible colleges. Combined with these books, a Schofield Bible with footnotes on rapture theology and you have the mess of cloned Christians brainwashed in this garbage. Whenever I find a church where free interpretation is encouraged and discussion is open soon a family or two of the clones show up, become deacons or elders run off the preacher and bring in another clone. They’re a virus infecting all denominations. First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City for years had a wonderful open minded pastor named Hershel Hobbs and the church was a joy to worship in. When he left the pulpit the church chose one of the clones and a bright shining light of true faith was snuffed out.

    • The Scofield Bible was the worst Bible ever published. It transformed Christians into cut and paste “scholars”. My own parents still follow its footnotes, and the church in which I was raised relied on it as well. The amount of damage done to Christendom by this Bible is incalculable.

    • Patrick, a very informative–and very scary–book has been written about the process of infiltrating and taking over congregations by fundamentalist/dominionist types. It is called “Steeplejacking”. It was written by Sheldon Culver and John Dorhauer and was published in 2007. If you haven’t already read it, I highly recommend this book–forewarned is forearmed, as my mother used to say.

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  • Rose

    Oh dear. I read boundless. When I first started reading it I was still a Christian and their views were slightly to the right of mine.
    Now it just seems ridiculous.

    There’s a recent advice column where someone is upset because their 27-year-old friend and ‘accountability partner has had sex. Really? They’re horrified because a grown adult has had sex and doesn’t feel guilty about it.
    Then there was an article which discribed women as the gatekeepers of sex being a good thing. Fluffy nonsense about how women’s perogative to say no is the most powerful thing in the world. How can a ‘no’ be powerful if you’re not allowed to say ‘yes’?