Browsing Tag



the commandment with promise


One of my best friends during my college years was abused by her parents.

I helped them.

Lizzie* is one of the most amazing people I have ever known. She completed an incredibly difficult course load (20 credits every semester, with winter and summer classes squeezed in around the edges) and maintained a 4.0., all while also assisting in freshman chemistry courses and tutoring anyone who asked– including me, when I needed help to study for my GRE.

She is a fierce, strong, independent, and courageous woman. She’s faced challenges I can’t even bear thinking of– she is eshet chayil: a woman of valor. Of the numerous trials she endured, some of the most severe were dealt out to her by her parents. To many of the people who saw glimpses of her life, all they probably saw were helicopter parents— a bit controlling and demanding, maybe, but not abusive.

I knew better.

I watched her starve herself every day because she didn’t have time to eat– she constantly skipped meals in order to work on her assignments. I begged her to come with me to breakfast, lunch, dinner– but she couldn’t. If she got anything less than an A in all of her courses, her parents would be enraged. I knew. I saw it happen, once.

I listened to her mother scream at her on nearly a daily basis that she was ugly, revolting, unlovable, and undesirable. Her education was her only shot, her mother told her, because no man would ever want to marry her.

I sat with her when she cried because she’d just found out her parents had left another church because of her father’s lack of propriety toward teenage girls.

I kept my phone next to my bed at night during the weeks I knew her father was threatening her family with committing suicide, praying that his ‘hunger strike’ against his children’s supposed ‘misbehavior’ would end.

I massaged her shoulders, arms, and wrists when the stress and intensity of her life caused her so much pain she could barely move.

I gave her all my phone credits because her parents demanded that she call them every Sunday afternoon regardless of whether or not she had the time.

I held her when she broke down after her parents had violently and forcefully ended not one, but two relationships with amazing young men who were deemed “worthless pigs” by her parents, even though they refused to even speak with either of them.

I listened to her worry about what her younger siblings were going through, watched her desperately try to distract her parents, to show her younger siblings how to avoid her parent’s wrath and fury.

I could go on, and on, and on. These are just the tip of the iceberg– the trauma and damage she suffered at the hands of her “godly, loving, Christian” parents could fill a book. She was emotionally crippled by them– rendered almost incapable of expressing or even having emotions in any normal, healthy way. She struggled to find outlets– poetry, music, stories, but she found it impossible to let anything truly affect her. Numbness and detachment were the only ways she had of coping.

And even thought I bore witness to nearly every single thing they put her through in college, the only encouragement I was allowed to offer was no encouragement at all. The only thing I was allowed to say to her was obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right, and honor your father and mother.

I spent years in college wondering what I could do to help Lizzie. I sat with her on every Sunday afternoon, watched her take a deep breath and steel herself every time she called home, tried to help her get through what I now know are panic attacks every time a phone call ended. I knew to the very core of me that what her parents was doing was wrong. Not just wrong– vile. I wanted to tell her nearly every day that she didn’t have to deal with this– that she could walk away, that she didn’t have to listen to their threats and slurs. I wanted to tell her that her parents were liars.

But, every time I tried to say the words, honor your father and mother would stop me.

Somehow, I was aware that Ephesians 6:4 is coupled with the admonition for children to honor their parents: that fathers are explicitly instructed to “not provoke your children to anger,” but I was not able to see verses three and four as connected, and inter-dependent. Because of what we had both been taught about how to read the Bible, verses like Ephesians 6:3 are treated the same way as Ephesians 5:22. In both of these instances, the command for children to honor and women to submit are independent of the commands for fathers to not provoke and husbands to love. In this frame, it does not matter if fathers or husbands are abusive and unloving– the commands to honor, obey, and submit still stand.

This method of application results in consequences so horribly disastrous and horrifying that the only thing left to say is that this application must be grossly inaccurate.

Women cannot be required to submit to abusive husbands.

Children cannot be required to obey abusive parents.

This cannot be how the Bible works. This cannot be the proper understandings of these verses. To allow this interpretation and application is to invite destruction into our lives. It’s to blithely give abusers, rapists (marital rapists or otherwise), and potential murderers the “biblical” vindication to believe that what they are doing is right and just.

There must be a place in our understanding of Scripture that allows for nuance, complexity, and grace– in order to place what seems to be dogmatic, unalterable commands in the daily-ness of our lives must mean that we make adjustments. That we see the balance presented in these passages. We must read all of Ephesians, not just handpicked verses that seem to be calling for unequivocal application. We need to see that Paul is asking us to walk in love and wisdom, to expose with our light the abusive things done in darkness and in secret.

We should recognize the whole pattern of these two chapters, that Paul was completely upending anything anyone knew about how society should function– that the life-changing part of these passages was not children, obey or servants, obey, or wives, obey, but for fathers to not do anything to provoke their children, for husbands to sacrifice themselves for their wives, for masters to stop threatening their servants and remember that everyone is equal in Heaven.

The Pharisees saw Jesus and his disciples working on the Sabbath– farming, reaping, harvesting. This, to them, seemed to be an obvious and direct violation of the commands regarding the Sabbath. It could not be clearer to them that Jesus, the man running around claiming to be the Son of God, a mere mortal who blasphemed God and claimed the ability to forgive sins, was breaking the Commandments. Scripture was very clear, very plain. There was no debate, no opportunity to even misunderstand this Command. They even had their stories about the time in the wilderness and the gift of manna, and how they were commanded to gather a double portion before the Sabbath so that they might observe the Sabbath rest.

And what did Jesus say to them? I desire mercy. He asked them to not condemn the guiltless.

Mercy, meaning divine favor or compassion.

If we are not reading and applying our Bibles with love, grace, mercy, and compassion at the very forefront of our thoughts, we are allowing the opportunity for injustice and a language of carnage to become a part of what we think is right.

Social Issues

the supposed myth of teenaged adolescence


I’ve talked a lot about the fundamentalist cult I was raised in, but something I don’t very frequently talk about here is my experience with the conservative religious homeschooling movement. For many people, the conservative religious homeschooling movement was what sucked their families into fundamentalist and cult-ish mental frameworks, but that’s not what happened for my family. My mother started homeschooling me because my kindergarten teacher held a séance in class, and the DoD school was the only educational option besides homeschooling. By the time we moved back Stateside and had more options, my mother realized that homeschooling was allowing me to excel academically in ways that other options wouldn’t– academically, that remained true through high school and college, although academic success came with its own drawbacks.

However, homeschooling was an integral part of the cult (those who didn’t homeschool received horrible condemnation), and the ideologies we embraced are consistent with a more mainstream homeschooling experience. Even for families that didn’t have children, or didn’t homeschool, the ideologies of the movement found its way into everyday interactions.

One of the popular elements of the conservative religious homeschooling movement that appeared in the church-cult was the belief that “teenage adolescence” is a modern societal construct and is a completely unnecessary stage. I can remember all the arguments for this vividly– how men and women married extremely young; in “fact,” women in early America very frequently married as soon as they got their periods at twelve or thirteen (this is false: the average age of marriage for a Puritan woman was 23, as young as 20 in South Carolina). Indentured servitude and apprenticeship were exalted as prime examples for how young men ought to behave– by learning a trade as young as 10 or 12 (and we were supposed to ignore the exploitative and abusive nature of child labor).

While teenage adolescence and the “delayed adolescence” seem to be results of our modern age, the concept that because it hasn’t been in practice since the Medieval ages makes it unhealthy . . .  bothers me, for what I hope are obvious reasons.

Being a teenager, for me, was a difficult experience. I was not an “adult,” so I was therefore not permitted to interact with or engage with adults except as an inferior child, so the other option was to interact with children– but as an adult. In my environment, this forced me to sit at the “children’s table” during social gatherings, acting as a monitor or babysitter, but neither was I permitted to act as a child in other settings. I was expected to behave as an adult, was given the responsibilities of an adult, but was not allowed to have any privileges of an adult. I was not permitted to go anywhere on my own, without my parents having explicit knowledge of exactly where I was going and when I was returning. The only time I was not with my parents I was being closely monitored by other parents.

I was not allowed to exercise the ability of making my own decisions about what I would wear (all clothing had to be tried on and approved by my father immediately following its purchase), how I would style my hair, if I could wear make-up, or when I would go to bed (I had a “bed time” of 9 o’clock until I was 16, and 10 o’clock until 18). I was not allowed to have a private space– my bedroom door was to remain open at all times, and I was discouraged from being in my room for extended periods. I could not “disappear” to my room when upset or hurt– it was considered a cowardly withdrawal, and I was forced to immediately control and dismiss my hurt feelings and interact with my family as if nothing had ever happened. There were many moments that I would curl into the fetal position on my bed and desperately wish that I could just get in my car and drive for an hour or two without explaining where I’d be going or when I’d be back.

Perhaps one of the most demeaning elements of my teenage experience was a nickname I earned during one of the few times I was allowed to interact with adults. We were playing cards, Phase 10, I think, and I did something that seemed “uppity” or arrogant to the adults at the table. I don’t remember what it was, but, the response of one of the adults at the table, a woman I admired greatly, was to call me “sub-adult.”

Unfortunately, this nick-name made the rounds among the other adults at church, and it continued to haunt me well into my twenties. The people who used it probably did so unthinkingly, and they had no idea how much it stung, how much it hurt, and how I had to fight back tears every time I heard it. It was used to remind me of my place– I was not an adult, but neither was I child, and neither was I allowed any of the attitudes, practices, relationships, or experiences of a teenager.

To me, being called “sub-adult” represented absolute failure because my success as an individual was measured by how “adult” I could be. I was well-behaved when I acted how an adult was expected to act. I was articulate because I could talk like an adult. I was responsible because I could shoulder the burdens of an adult. I was “good” in as much as I behaved as neither adult nor child nor teenager. I could not have angsty, emotional moments because that was what a “teenager” would do. I could not disagree with any adult, because that was perceived as “teenage rebellion.” “Teenagers” were the ones who thought they “knew better,” but they were obviously wrong. “Teenagers” made destructive decisions. Teenagers had crushes. Teenagers argued. Teenagers talked back. Teenagers disagreed. Teenagers wore outlandish clothes. Teenagers didn’t practice discernment. Teenagers were naïve. Teenagers were heedless, directionless, purposeless. Teenagers thought they were capable of being autonomous and independent. Being a “teenager” equaled being incomplete and unhealthy.

I had a childhood– a healthy, amazing childhood. My parents were, and are, amazing parents– I love them, and have a good relationship with them today. The problem is that by the time I was a teenager, we’d been in the fundamentalist cult for four years, and we had collectively bought into this idea that “being a teenager” was somehow a sub-standard way of approach to those years between twelve and twenty. I was immeasurably proud of my status in this environment– I can’t tell you how many times I parroted the line that “I already knew that my parents know more than me,” or that I’d never had a “rebellious phase.” I could take care of myself– I did all my own schoolwork with practically no supervision by highschool, I could cook, I could clean, I was amazingly dedicated to practicing piano, all with little or no pressure from my parents. But, somehow, perversely, I was also proud of the fact that I was inferior to adults and knew my place, and knew better than to question those who God had placed in authority above me. I respected the “hoary head.”

The biggest problem with all of this is that because I never practiced any sort of rebellion whatsoever, I was actively discouraging myself from developing my own thoughts and opinions about things. Oh, I would have told you that my beliefs were my own, that I knew what I believed for myself, but I would have been lying. I didn’t have individuality or autonomy. I listened to the music my parents listened to, or the music expressly approved by them. I watched the movies they watched. I held the political opinions they did. I argued what they argued. I didn’t have access to any of these things as myself, but as a “sub-adult” version of my parents.