Browsing Tag

Christian fundamentalism

Social Issues

"Gilmore Girls" and child abuse

Two of the many things I missed out on during my we-didn’t-have-TV childhood were Friends and Gilmore Girls. I’m in the process of rectifying it– thank you very much Netflix– and so far it’s been pretty fun. I really enjoy the way the characters interact with each other, especially how much Lorelai really is almost exactly like her mother … if her mother had pink-furry-telephone taste. I’m also enjoying Rachel’s sudden introduction to paying taxes.

Every single time I see Mrs. Kim in an episode of Gilmore Girls, though, my stomach sinks. There’s the obvious negative stereotypes about Asian “tiger mothers,” and the way it’s obviously meant to play off as humorous reads as racist to me, mostly because her character is incredibly flat (at least so far, but after reading quite a bit of material about her, I don’t think they develop her into a truly nuanced, complex character).

However, that’s not my biggest problem with Mrs. Kim. My biggest problem is that she’s an abusive mother– and that her abuse is accepted as normal, as her “right” to behave as Lane’s parent. In an early episode, Lorelai approaches Mrs. Kim to give her some advice about not smothering Lane, but she premises it with the idea that Mrs. Kim has every right as Lane’s mother to parent her in whatever way she sees fit.

And it’s not just the characters in the show that think what Mrs. Kim does is ok:

It’s also important to note that Mrs. Kim’s choices as a parent were never shamed or undermined … Lane was largely respectful of her mother’s decisions and rules for her life—and so, too, was the narrative of the show.

I want to be very clear that I think it is entirely possible for parents to be very ambitious for their children, to set very high goals for their children, and to do and say many of the things that Mrs. Kim says and does to Lane, and not be abusive.

However, what Mrs. Kim does crosses the line from “ambitious” to controlling, manipulative, coercive, and abusive. Every single last second in her daughter’s life is under the iron fist of her mother, and Lane is given no space to be her own person. I look at the life that Lane is living and in it, I see reflections of the expectations I lived under in a fundamentalist cult. Somehow Lane goes to public school and manages to hide rock music and rouge under the floor boards of her bedroom, but she is terrified of her mother ever finding out about who she actually is.

This is one of the things that fundamentalist parenting techniques don’t explain: there is a whole-wide-world of difference between love and acceptance. Mrs. Kim might love Lane, but she does not accept Lane. If she knew anything about who Lane wanted to be or the things that Lane loves, she would flip out and ground her for weeks on end– and frequently does.

The thing that finally got me was the episode when Lane finally tells her mother about Henry Cho, the conservative-Christian-wants-to-be-a-doctor-Korean-boy. At the end of the episode, Lane calls Rory on a pay phone and tells her that her mother has convinced her teachers that she will be “homeschooled” for two weeks. In reality, she’s not being homeschooled, she’s being punished.

Mrs. Kim uses lax homeschooling regulations in order to isolate her daughter.

There are plenty of amazing reasons to homeschool; because you don’t think they’ll receive a good enough education, because they’re being bullied … however, “homeschooling” is not something you can take advantage of as a punitive measure in order to dominate and control your children. Homeschooling is not there to be used by parents who don’t like something their child has done and wants to take ‘grounding’ to terrifying levels.

That the show laughs at all of this is nauseating. I wish I could explain all the millions of tiny little things that make my hair stand on end; but any women who grew up in Christian fundamentalism, with marriage being the only end goal allowed and parents that scream at you every time you do something that shows how you are a person different from them … we know.

We see Lane and we see flickers of ourselves.

Photo belongs to Warner Bros.

fundamentalism and the emotional spectrum

[content note for discussions of depression, anxiety]

You may have noticed that posts have been a little sporadic over the past few weeks. Part of that has been holiday traveling, but the biggest reason is that I’ve been depressed. It took me a while to fully admit that to myself, so here I am, saying it out loud, in front of all of you.

I’ve mentioned before on my blog that I haven’t often struggled with depression, but at the moment I’m wondering how true that claim is. After years of putting it off, I finally made an appointment with a psychologist and have been able to go a couple of times, and one of the things that has come up is how emotionally stunting my experience with Christian fundamentalism was. In the specific culture I was raised in, any emotion that couldn’t be described using the words “happy,” “joyful,” or “content” wasn’t allowed  (with the exceptions of shame and guilt). Melancholy, sadness, anger, rage, fear — none of those could be expressed by a good and faithful Christian. Christians rejoice in the Lord always. Christians are not given a spirit of fear, but of love and a sound mind.

Because of that, as well as my ISTJ discomfort with emotional expression, I have deeply set problems with handling, responding to, expressing, and processing emotions. That is a statement that doesn’t make a lot of sense to people who know me superficially, as I can come across as wildly emotional and passionate; however, if I’m expressing an emotion in front of people, chances are I’m not feeling it as much as I’m expressing it. I’ve learned a sort of mimicry where I know that people are supposed to react a certain way, but I don’t allow myself to truly experience the emotion that’s on my face. Anytime I actually start to feel something? POOF. I shut down or disappear.

Today I was journaling through some of these thoughts, and I articulated something to myself that feels very, very true: if I was depressed as a child, as a teenager, as a young adult, I probably would have felt like I’d finally managed to achieve the Christian fundamentalist’s ideal emotional state for a woman. When I watched The Stepford Wives, one of the things that resonated with me was how completely blank the women were. Sure, they were apparently smiling and cheerful, but we the audience knew it wasn’t real— that they didn’t actually feel anything and had only plastered a programmed smile onto their face. That was the image I had inside of my head of a “good godly Christian woman.” That was what she was like: emotionally empty.

When I’ve experienced depression as an adult (something I only allowed myself to recognize once I could be honest about the trauma I’d experienced. After all, it’s typical for trauma victims to be depressed), my ability to connect to the entire emotional spectrum is broken, and I usually end up defaulting to a numb sort of apathy, a numb sort of sadness, and an impotent form of rage. I feel sad, but it’s sort of … fuzzy and ambiguous. I feel anger, but it doesn’t feel directed at anything or purposeful.

Growing up, all I knew about the emotional spectrum was that women are supposed to be meek, quiet, complacent, and submissive, and I think that, to me, I probably conflated being depressed with being meek. Considering that I constantly struggled with conforming to fundamentalist expectations about being “ladylike,” the fact that I was probably able to achieve it if I was depressed probably got written up as “finally, success!” in my brain.

I am, and always have been, rambunctious and rowdy and sassy, but … not right now. Right now, I do a lot of sitting with my cat. I could be blogging, or playing Skyrim, or doing laundry, or tidying my room, or organizing my closet, or sending out pitches, or working on the article that’s due in January, but … I’m not. And, looking back, there were times when I was a teenager when I could not bring myself to do anything except sit and pretend like I was paying attention to the conversation.

Was I depressed? I’m honestly not sure. My memories aren’t sharp enough to really say. But I think it’s possible.

What I have discovered is that I definitely have struggled with anxiety my entire life. A few weeks ago I was scrolling through tumblr, and I ran across a poem that described the author’s childhood experiences with anxiety, and it hit me like a load of bricks. My brain sputtered, then stopped and just sort of … stared. Wait … what? was all I could think. Feeling like that isn’t normal? I started doing research, and so much of what I read was so true. I didn’t have a name for panic attacks until graduate school, but I realized that I’ve struggled with them my entire life, and suddenly my childhood made so much more sense.

As a teenager, my brain would freak out in the middle of the night and all of a sudden the only thing I could think was oh my God I’m going to die right now. I’m going to die. I’m going to have an aneurysm and die. My throat is closing up– I’m going to die. I must be inexplicably allergic to the detergent on these sheets because I’m going to die. I’m dying. Right now. If I fall asleep I won’t wake up in the morning because I’ll be dead.

Apparently, that’s not something everyone goes through a couple times a week. Who knew.

But, I was so very good at hiding it. I learned how to function even when my brain was wigging out– I covered up the restlessness with cleaning and dusting and vacuuming and, when no was around, with pacing. And when I was going through it I would berate myself. Samantha, stop it this instant. You have not been given the spirit of fear but of a sound mind.

I didn’t know how to tell the difference between worry and anxiety and fear. All I knew was that every single pastor I’d ever heard put worry and anxiety right next to each other in a sentence and said that both were sin. And, because I thought that anxiety was worry and whatever you called it, it was a choice, I never had the opportunity to learn about things like triggers. I never gave myself the chance to understand that extremely intense movies and scenes (especially violent ones) are triggers, or that caffeine is a bad idea because it makes my heart race and that starts me thinking that I’m going to die, or … it goes on. I couldn’t separate out an emotional experience like fear and what I experienced with anxiety.

Compound all of that with the typical condemnation of all mental illnesses as “spiritual sin” and you’ve got yourself an interesting environment for a little girl growing up with something she doesn’t know how to identify or control.

Photo by Ryan Melaugh
Social Issues

the books I didn’t read

It’s Banned Books Week, and surprisingly it’s made me feel things. I’ve been to the library and Politics & Prose, and both have had huge displays of banned books, encouraging patrons to take one of these books home. Growing up as a homeschooler, conversations surrounding things like banning books from public school libraries didn’t really concern me. I wasn’t exactly happy about that form of censorship, but it felt like it wasn’t my concern– and I also probably agreed with the people who didn’t want their children having access to Harry Potter.

I didn’t think any of it affected me.

But it did.

Because my family was eyeballs deep in cultish fundamentalism when I was old enough to read books more challenging than Nancy Drew and Little House on the Prairie, I wasn’t able to experience a lot of the common touchstones for people my age. As much as my partner hates Catcher in the Rye, at least he read it. When I think about the literature I read in high school, I want to cry.

For ninth grade I read several Charles Dickens and Jane Austen novels (Mansfield Park, Oliver Twist, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and A Christmas Carol) and a family friend gave me a set of Reader’s Digest Condensed. For tenth grade we used BJUPress’ Elements of Literature and I read The Scarlet Letter and Moby Dick that year. Eleventh grade gave me Call of the Wild and Sea Wolf as well as A Beka’s American Literature. Twelfth was English Literature and more Jane Austen. I didn’t read anything written after 1904 all the way through high school, and my mother was apprehensive about me reading something by Jack London, who she knew was an atheist and socialist.

Through college it was more of the same, even in my “British Novel” class which should have included Virginia Woolf and Aldous Huxley, but didn’t. It wasn’t until I’d graduated until I’d read a significant piece of literature written more recently than WWI.

I was so clueless about what I’d missed that it took me going through an entire graduate program in literature for me to really get it, and it wasn’t until I’d taken classes in post-modern and utopian/dystopian literature that I’d start to understand. Up until that point– up until my last semester– I’d focused on Enlightenment and Romantic-era literature, primarily British, although I made an exception for Poe. I had a number of conversations with several different professors in which I professed that “new stuff” (which, in context, meant post-1900) just “wasn’t for me.” I just didn’t enjoy modern literature the way I really wanted to dig into Shakespeare and Tennyson and Mary Shelley.

At the time, I couldn’t see how I was still being affected by the culture I was raised in. I had a perception of what I thought modern and post-modern literature was, but that perception had been given to me by conspiratorial self-righteous Christians. I thought I didn’t want to read modern literature because I thought it was all hopeless and dead and cynical and dark and full of doomsday rhetoric. Granted, some of it is, but I had no idea that I’d read Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano or Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and feel so deeply altered and enriched and challenged and uplifted.

It took me until graduate school to have the experience that most Americans have in high school– sitting in a room, talking together about the questions and challenges posed by an important work of modern literature. Everything I’d grown up reading was usually two hundred, three hundred years old– and that sort of distance made it easy to feel wholly removed from anything the book might have been trying to ask me. It was easy to read Pride and Prejudice and walk away from it comfortable and content in how I’d be able to marry for love– and completely miss any criticism about classism or sexism that Austen might have been trying to make.

I was reading old books, reading them with the thought that they did not speak to my life, and I was reading them alone. Simply saying “I’ve read the collected works of Jane Austen” was enough to impress people, but neither of us understood how profound my ignorance was.

If I’d read Farenheit 451 or 1984 or Lord of the Flies or To Kill a Mockingbird or Things Fall Apart I might have been able to see and understand some things about my life. I don’t think I could have walked away from Scout’s story and see what the racist leaders of my community wanted me to see. I don’t think I could have read 1984 and not realized how my church was using its own version of Newspeak. Lord of the Flies would have challenged the way I saw my community. Things Fall Apart would have upended everything I thought I knew about missionaries and nationalism.

Instead, I read a lot of Lori Wick and Love Inspired. I read the books that the adults in my life were comfortable with me reading– books that wouldn’t challenge any of their (or my own) ideas, books that didn’t ask any hard questions they might not have been able to answer. Safe books. Easy books. Antiquated and archaic and adorable and aristocratic books– only books that enforced the perceptions we already had.

Photo by Mike
Social Issues, Theology

the straight and narrow

straight and narrow

Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

If I had to guess, I think I’ve heard that verse preached on more than any other verse from the entire Bible, and since this verse only had one possible interpretation for Christian fundamentalists, I’ve heard that particular sermon a lot. This verse, in the communities I grew up in, was meant for us, because we were the only ones who had it figured out. The “straight and narrow way” equaled the fundamentalist lifestyle, being “separated from the world,” the “salt of the earth”– in short, we were of bunch of judgmental legalistic assholes.

But, we were convinced that we weren’t legalists because we wanted to follow the rules– all of which we got from the Bible, anyway!– because they were our personal convictions. And we weren’t judgmental– we were just right, and how can we help it if people were convicted by our modesty and our “upright conversation” (conversation here in the archaic sense).

We thought this verse applied to Christian fundamentalism for a few reasons: first, we thought of ourselves as a persecuted minority, so the “few there be” part was literally true (I thought at the time. I now have serious doubts about how much of a “minority” fundamentalists actually are). Second, we were extremely proud of ourselves for being one of the precious few who were truly committed to living a holy, righteous life. Any supposed “Christian” who didn’t look, talk, and act like us was on the “broad way that leads to destruction,” the sorry bunch of liberals.

Now that I’m one of those liberals, I’ve had to re-think this verse, but I’ve had to be careful. A huge part of me wants to keep the same exact idea, but instead of applying it to fundamentalists I’d claim it for the liberals; I could so easily take the “straight and narrow way” and make it mean “be a Democratic anti-capitalist yuppie,” thereby rendering people like me the “few there be who found it.”

I’ve been thinking about what “the straight and narrow” could possibly be over the last week. I’ve been driving the same four-hour route a couple times this week, and I’ve passed a church with “Straightway” in its name each time. I also just finished reading 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker (the first thing I’ve read by her, and I really liked it. Enjoyable but challenging, too), and she raises the point that if Christians were truly following some of Christ’s simplest commands, so much of what is desperately wrong with the world would disappear (for example, there are 4o Southern Baptists for every child in the American foster system).

So, what in the world is Jesus talking about in Matthew 7?

Well, it’s part of the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount, for one– a passage I’ve wrestled with more now that my viewpoint has shifted so drastically over the last few years. Judging, fasting, giving generously and sacrificially, loving your enemies, trusting God, the Golden Rule, bearing good fruit . . . it’s all there: The Teachings of Jesus: Condensed Version.

Interestingly, my ESV groups this “straight and narrow” bit with the Golden Rule:

So whatever you wish that others would do to you,
do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Enter by the narrow gate.
For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction,
and those who enter by it are many.
For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life,
and those who find it are few.

And as I’ve been mulling this over this week, something occurred to me– maybe I should be reading this passage just a little more literally, especially because of its context. Whose “destruction” is Jesus talking about? What does “life” mean here? And I’m wondering if Jesus might be talking about our world, our communities, as a whole. If we’re not making sure the needs of those around us are met, if we’re spending all of our time pursuing wealth, if we’re petty and vindictive to each other . . . are we not destroying our communities– literally?

Could it be that what Jesus meant by saying that “few there be” who find the “straight and narrow” was simply a statement of fact about the destitution of our world? That there is far more suffering and pain and death and sickness and poverty– destruction– than there is life? Isn’t part of the whole point of the Sermon on the Mount to instruct his followers in what it looks like to be a Christian in the day-to-day? That we must be the life-bringers, the merciful, the meek, the peacemakers?

The more time I spend reading about Jesus and hearing his words for what feels like the first time, the more I think I understand about what it means to be a Christian, and it is so far removed from the ridiculous pettiness of the Christianity I was raised in, where we were obsessed with “practicing our righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.”


pro-life fictions: Frank Peretti's "Prophet"


Today’s book review is from a guest writer, who has asked for his name to be withheld because his family is still staunchly pro-life.

In 1992, Peretti published Prophet, a novel about a mostly-agnostic news anchor who receives prophetic powers passed on from his fundamentalist religious father. The novel attempts to address a dizzying host of the usual conservative evangelical issues, such as environmentalism, gay rights, liberal media bias, consumerism, public education, medical malpractice, academic dishonesty, and even rock music. It’s also subtly racist. But the primary focus of the book is an assault on women’s rights in general, particularly abortion.

The protagonist, John Barrett, is a successful lead news anchor whose father embarrassingly insists on holding public protests against abortion. The story centers around the re-election campaign of pro-choice, pro-environmentalism, pro-education, pro-gay governor Hiram Slater, whose secret corruption and ties to unsavory characters make it clear that he is The Bad Guy. Following his father’s murder by the governor’s hencemen, Barrett receives his father’s prophetic gift and begins seeing visions and hearing voices.

As the story unfolds, it is revealed that multiple teenage girls have died from botched abortions at an “assembly-line” abortion clinic, and that numerous individuals are complicit in a wide cover-up. Barrett’s liberal supervisor tries to keep the story from breaking, but the truth comes out: Governor Slater’s own daughter Hillary was killed by the abortion clinic.

Gay rights advocates deface and vandalize a Catholic church, then hold a protest of the Church’s position on condom use the next day. The liberal media refuses to cover the vandalism, but happily covers the protest. The protesters are presumably “shown up” when Barrett receives a prophetic revelation that the leader of the gay rights group has hundreds of sexual partners and doesn’t use a condom… which apparently means that all criticisms of the Catholic position are baseless. It’s an appalling strawman of gay rights that fits very well with the extreme fundamentalism view: gay men are sex-obsessed, hypocritical, and willing to engage in violence in order to punish those who disapprove of their life choices.

The book constantly also goes to great lengths in trying to paint the media as corrupt, biased, and misleading. Inexplicably, Peretti devotes several large sections to arguing that basic broadcasting techniques like scripted questions, green screens, planned establishing shots, and talking into a teleprompter are somehow “liberal” and dishonest. Nearly every chapter contains a detailed description of one of Governor Slater’s re-election ads, painting liberal campaign advertising as manipulative and controlling. The television station receives revenue from the campaign ads and therefore skews its reporting in favor of Slater. It’s heavily implied that journalistic neutrality is impossible: that journalists are either “on the side of the truth” or otherwise liberal and biased and complicit in fraud.

But most egregious of all is the book’s portrayal of women’s health services. Pro-choice advocates are consistently shown taking every sort of immoral, unethical, and illegal steps in defense of their ideology. They pay off, intimidate, and threaten witnesses, provide tip offs to give other advocates the chance to destroy medical records, badger parents, obtain interviews under false pretenses, falsify records, start fights in order to smear pro-life protesters, and even hire hit men. They manipulate the facts and stonewall investigations. People searching for the truth are arrested, maligned, fired, and attacked. It is implied that women who have had abortions either find “forgiveness” and become fiercely pro-life, or they are consumed with guilt and shame and will go to any lengths to defend abortion from criticism.

The abortion clinics themselves are painted as dark, foreboding, unsavory places focused only on fast profit. Early in the story, a clinic worker lies to a patient and tells her that her pregnancy test came back positive in order to pressure her into having an abortion. Girls are badgered into signing consent forms they haven’t read and pushed through the process against their protests. Everyone who talks about the clinics mentions the screaming of terrified girls and the shouting of impatient doctors. It is stated repeatedly that the clinics try to do as many off-books abortions as possible to evade taxation and reporting requirements. Anyone who has had an abortion talks about how pressured they felt, how angry and bitter the staff seemed, and how much pain the procedure left them in. Clinic staff members are portrayed as uninformed, uncompassionate zealots who are only concerned with completing as many procedures as possible.

The following quotation, given by the “expert” Doctor Matthews who performed the autopsy on the governor’s daughter Hillary, very clearly demonstrates the book’s overall portrayal of abortion clinics.

You have to realize, abortion clinics aren’t like your typical family practice. They’re under tremendous pressure from two sources: money and fear.

On the one hand, abortions are lucrative; you can bring in a lot of money in a short time with minimum effort. The more abortions you do, the more money you make, so the natural inclination is to do them as quickly as possible and cut corners if you can. You get the procedure down to just a few minutes, you get an assembly line going, and you don’t hire RNs to help in the back rooms because they get too pick about procedure, sterilizing the equipment, sanitation. All that stuff takes time, and you can have some thirty girls waiting in line …

On the other hand, you’ve got the intense political pressure over this whole issue, which makes you circle the wagons all the tighter to protect yourself from intrusion, discovery, regulation, standardization. If you slip up, the last thing you want is for anyone to know about it, least of all your peers. There’s also an unwritten code out there: you don’t snitch—you don’t make trouble.

That’s the pro-life view of abortion clinics, of abortion doctors, of women’s health workers, and of women who get abortions.

I first read Prophet several years ago, and I believed all of this.

It’s easy to understand why rank-and-file members of the pro-life movement are so opposed to abortions when these fictions are taught and accepted as fact. Re-reading now, and recognizing what I’ve learned about women’s health in the past few years, I was incredibly appalled. More than that, I was saddened. All these lies provide the foundation for “conservative values” in the evangelical community. The amount of misinformation is staggering. It’s just a shame.

Like this novel.


seeing old stories in a new light

light through trees

I suffer from mild insomnia, and since it takes me so long to even approach something resembling “sleepy,” I usually putter around on my phone– I jot down blog ideas, play CandyCrush, and catch up on my blog reading. About this time last year I was scrolling through blogs in my WordPress app and something I read leaped out at me.

I wish I could remember the name of the blog or enough of the post to find it again so I could share it, but what I noticed had less to do with the topic of the post and more with something that they did. In the last ten years, I’ve gotten used to sort of skimming over Bible passages in books, articles, posts . . . reading the first line is enough for me to recall the entire passage and so I usually just skip it. This time, though, they referenced a passage that I’d read a thousand times before, but what they were applying it to was . . . radically different.

Growing up, going to church, going to Bible college, one of the ideas you hear thrown around quite a bit of evangelical America is how amazing it is for Christians to read the Bible– they can read the same passage over and over again, and every time get something new out of it. It’s one of the things that makes the Bible special, and, of course, they’ll mention the gift of the Holy Spirit as an afterthought. I heard that in my fundamentalist church, as well, but I never really understood it. They talked about it like coming to the Bible each time was something new, fresh, exciting . . . but I had to work at seeing the same passage in different ways.

In fundamentalism, even though they might pay lip-service to that idea of seeing the same verses anew each time you read it, what I experienced was that each passage had a specific interpretation and application– there was a correct way to understand it, to “rightly divide the word of truth.”

We also had a lot — a lot— of passages that were only ever about “The World” or “Carnal Christians.” One of those was Matthew 25:31-46, The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. The way it was taught to me, the sheep in this passage were “true Christians” and the goats were carnal people who professed salvation but in actuality were not saved; so, pretty much anyone who wasn’t an Independent Fundamental Baptist. Every time I would read this passage as I was “reading my Bible through in a year,” that was how I interpreted it. There were many people who were professing Christians that Jesus would send to Hell, and those people were probably liberals.

Then I read it again, as a progressive-Pelagianist-errantist, and it about bowled me over:

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we seek you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these . . . you did for me.”

There are some Sheep who don’t know that they’re Sheep.

What the.

It took me a little while to wrap my head around it, but it was the passage that was the push I needed to start looking into Inclusivism. I’m still not entirely sure where I’ll fall on the Universalist-Inclusivist-Annihilationist spectrum, but wherever I am I’m far away from the understanding I was taught as a child.

But, every time I read this passage now, I’m a little boggled as to how something so obvious was something I completely missed. I know that cognitive dissonance is a powerful influence on us, but wow. Every time I encounter something that makes me think how in the world have I never noticed this before I’m usually simultaneously overjoyed and frustrated, because I wasn’t reading these passages on my own. I had books and preachers and sermon tapes and radio shows all shouting the same things into my head. I didn’t come up with these interpretations on my own– and they were the only interpretations I was allowed inside fundamentalism. Now that I’m out, it’s like my life has turned into a Jimmy Cliff song.

There’s a lot of passages now that have opened up for me– verses I’d once believed only applied to non-fundamentalist Christians I’ve flipped around to apply to fundamentalist Christians and spiritual abusers. Turns out, the Bible actually has a lot to say about how we treat the oppressed, the abused, and the marginalized, and very little input about being a white, cisgender, heterosexual, male, middle-class, college-educated American.


the Bible and my house of cards

house of cards

I was in seventh grade when I read the book Things that are Different are Not the Same as part of my school curriculum, and that was when I was formally introduced to the “King James Only” argument, although I’d known for years that was the only version my family and my church used. Over the years, through high school and college, as I was instructed in bibliology, I was given a lot of arguments about the Bible in general, and not just the King James version.

Christian fundamentalism and its sister evangelicalism have something in common that is largely absent from other faith traditions: they tend to see the Bible almost as the ThirdFourth member of the Trinity. For example, I was taught that I should never set any other book on top of the Bible and never place it on the ground. It is holy, sacred, the Word of God. It is special– fundamentally and drastically different from every other book that has been or will ever be in existence. It was the basis of our faith, the only guaranteed Truth.

One of the main arguments for seeing the Bible this way was what I’ll call the “Harmonious Library Argument.”

According the Harmonious Library Argument, the Bible’s very existence is a miracle. It was written and compiled over thousands of years. It was written by men from different times, different cultures, different socioecnomic backgrounds, different professions. And yet, somehow, all of the books in the Bible are really just One Book– The Book. It promotes a single message, a single vision. It’s literally a miracle that so many men over so long a time span were able to write books and letters that agreed with each other so perfectly. It just isn’t possible for men to have achieved such a Harmonious Library on their own without divine intervention. That’s how we know the Bible is the Inspired, God-Breathed Word.

The Old Testament writers were writing about Jesus and the Atonement without knowing anything about him or even Roman crucifixion. Everything in the Law and the Prophets pointed toward Christ; the Temple, the sacrifices, the Patriarchs . . . They were telling stories about Jesus, foreshadowing him in Joseph and David and Adam. And those who wrote the Gospels and the epistles tell the story of Christ and explain his teachings with no discrepancies, with no theological disagreements.

That could not have happened without God.

Over the past couple of years, my views on the Bible have slowly shifted. When you start out believing that the Bible is completely flawless, with no discrepancy, contradiction, or error of any kind, and you start asking questions . . . it is a rude awakening. Suddenly the difference between “Judas hung himself” and “Judas fell headlong and burst open” don’t seem quite as simple and easily resolved. And the differences start building until either you completely change your definition of inerrancy or you throw the whole thing out, baby and bathwater.

I’ve settled into a more comfortable understanding of the Bible, one that admits to . . . well, reality. It was a book written by humans, and this is a good, good thing. God, I suppose, could have done what he has supposedly done before– he wrote the Ten Commandments and gave them to Moses already completed. He took his finger and wrote on the wall of a king’s palace. According to the Bible, there’s nothing stopping God from giving us a book already finished.

But, for whatever reason, he didn’t. And so, we have a book written by people. Blessedly fallen, so very human people. This is good because of the differences that creates. We don’t have our written religious tradition delivered to us by only one man. We have a variety of perspectives and beliefs and arguments. We have people like Peter and Paul writing letters while disagreeing with each other, sometimes so intensely it resulted in shouting matches. We have both Romans and James, Amos and Hosea. No one person got to control the destiny of Christianity or Judaism.

That’s where I still am, although my perspective is undergoing another shift.

I picked up Jesus, Interrupted by Bart Ehrman at a library book sale. I hadn’t read anything written by Ehrman before this, and the only thing I knew about him were things I’d read or heard from fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals. Those things mostly included things like “hates God” and “heretic.” Since I started moving in more progressive religious circles, though, I’d heard his name mentioned with respect, and I was curious.

It was . . . challenging to read. I have a lot of questions, and most of the margins have notes. I don’t think all of the arguments he makes are effective, and I got the feeling that he was occasionally leaving something out. However, he pointed some things out that made me do a double-take and think holy hell how did I never notice that wow that’s . . . so obvious.

The differences between various books in the New Testament are a little more significant than I’d previously thought, and I’m not entirely sure what to do about it now. It isn’t quite the paradigm-altering revelation I’ve experienced before, but now I have to ask some serious questions about the Gospels, especially when it comes to questions like what were the authors trying to argue? What did they believe about Jesus that they wanted other people to believe? I started asking those questions months ago, but not quite as seriously as I am now. Before, I asked those sorts of questions out of a literary curiosity. Now, I’m looking for whether or not Jesus in fact claimed to be God Himself on Earth.

My Harmonious Library understanding of the Bible– really, only a house of cards– has completely collapsed. It couldn’t bear up to an honest examination, and initially I thought I had to replace it with something else right away right now.

It took me a little while to realize that the only reason why I felt that way was that I was still stuck in the fundamentalist understanding of the Bible– as my only source of faith and practice. I simply couldn’t imagine being a Christian without a divinely-ordered Bible. Believing in the Bible as “inspired” was what made me a Christian, and this was as recently as last month. I think I’m starting to figure out that being a Christian has a lot more to do with my life and actions than it has to do with a book and what I believe about it.


discovering the will of God


The bell rang, and I heaved a sigh of relief. My first day of attending classes was over, and I hadn’t made any major mistakes. Maybe being in a classroom won’t be as hard as I thought, and, feeling brave, I turned to look at the young man I’d recognized from auditions earlier in the week. We were in the same program, and he seemed nice– in a sudden fit I asked if he’d like to come to dinner with some of my friends.

I was shocked at myself. I’d just asked a guy to dinner. After I’d just officially met him an hour ago. After not even being on campus for a week. Samantha what were you thinking but I managed to keep a pleasant expression plastered on my face. He thought about my invitation for a second, then said “sure, where and when?”

“6 at the Four Winds? Meet outside?”

He nodded, then we gathered up our bags and left.

At dinner that night, as we introduced each other and made small talk, I realized that one of the “getting to know you” questions spelled trouble for me. Hometown, major, age– I had all those covered. But I quickly learned to dread the “so how did you know God wanted you to come to PCC” question.

I didn’t have an answer. At least, not an answer that I could give.


I started thinking about where I might want to go to college when I was a sophomore in high school, and at the time, I thought I only had three options. All through high school, I only ever really considered three schools: Patrick Henry College, Bob Jones University, and Pensacola Christian College. I’m not sure exactly why I never bothered looking into other schools like Maranatha or Cedarville or Liberty, but it probably had something to do with me thinking that they were all too liberal. Considering the response I got from my fundamentalist friends when I announced I was going to Liberty, it was probably the “liberal” thing.

The summer after my sophomore year I went to PCC’s “Summer Music Academy,” and I absolutely loved it. The environment was much more lax than what I’d grown up with, and I loved the music faculty.

When it finally came time for me to start applying to colleges, I took a more careful look at BJU and PHC– talked to people who’d gone to each, got their informational packets . . . but, in the end, I realized that attending PCC would mean that I would be closer to home, it was cheaper, and because I was already familiar with the campus and how the school operated I figured I wouldn’t be as nervous. Also, I’d made a lot of friends at the summer program who were going, and that seemed like a huge plus. So, I sent out one application. In the fall, I packed my bags, made the one-hour drive to Pensacola, and never really looked back.

However, when I started staring down the question how did the Lord reveal his Will to you? over and over and over again . . . I started wondering if I’d made a mistake. There was entire sermons and chapel services to the concept of “discovering the will of God for your life,” and some of the people around me were agonizing over decisions that I had never thought needed to be agonized over.

How did you to decide to be a music major? Uhm . . . I like playing the piano? (Corollary: it was a degree a woman was allowed to get.)

Did the Lord call you to education? Not exactly. I just don’t like the classes I’d have to take if I were in the ministry major, and the performance major was too much work.

And, the biggie: do you know what the Lord’s plan is for your life? No. Idea.

I’d decided which college I was going to go to based purely on practical, real-life considerations. I had friends there. It was close to home. I liked the faculty. And while those would probably be considered “normal” reasons to non-fundamentalists, they certainly were not the reasons I was supposed to have. I was supposed to feel “called” to PCC. I was supposed to have “guidance from the Lord” when I picked a school. I was supposed to just know that this is where God wanted me.

After about a month of hearing all of that, I called bullshit.

I believe that many of the people I spoke to honestly, genuinely believed that God had led them to PCC. I also believe that there were probably just as many people who were puffing up their stories with “spirituality” in order to get some bizarre version of Christian brownie points.

I ran into the same idea again in my senior year– only this time it was graduate school, and my process was similar: I wanted to study English and I needed a school that would accept my credits so I wouldn’t have to start over. Liberty was the only school I found that had an MA program that I knew wouldn’t be a nightmare to try to get into.

When I announced that decision to friends, though, nearly everyone told me that they would be “praying” that I would “find God’s true will” for my life. To them, there was no possible way that Liberty University could be what God wanted, and that’s when it hit me:

It wasn’t really about God’s will. Not really.

“Being in the center of God’s will” actually amounted to doing what your fundamentalist community approves of. Pensacola was one of the few viable options available for most of the people I went to college with, which almost automatically made it “God’s will” for a lot of them. However, when you’re inside that framework, there’s no real way to separate “God’s will” from “what fundamentalism allows.” They are taught to us as being the same thing. Fundamentalism allows this because it’s God’s will. So the second I stepped outside of fundamentalism and went to the-still-conservative-but-not-fundamentalist Liberty, I was viewed as needing to be “brought back.” I was straying away from God, backsliding, ignoring Him to pursue what I wanted instead of what He wants.

This mentality trickles down into everything– it’s God’s will for women to be in subjection to men. It’s God’s will for women to be modest. It’s God’s will for us to be keepers at home. It’s God’s will for women to be silent in church.

In the end, discovering God’s will becomes follow all the rules.


doubting my salvation

Picasso, “The Crucifixion”

One of the phrases I heard quite a bit in the fundamentalist church I grew up in was “You need to check up on your salvation.” It usually followed a long diatribe on sin, or wordliness, or unrighteousness, and the church-cult leader would say it to make sure we all understood that real Christians feel convicted when they hear sin being preached on. Real Christians feel crushing guilt. Real Christians have the Holy Spirit pricking their conscience day in and day out. If we could get through an entire sermon on sin without feeling a single twinge? Well, then, we needed to “check up” on our salvation, because we probably weren’t saved.

Interestingly, and perhaps paradoxically, I got a completely different message about “doubting my salvation.” Real Christians didn’t doubt their salvation, because real Christians could point to a specific time, a specific place, a specific prayer; and any time the Devil assailed them with doubts (and it was always the Devil doing this), a real Christian could point to that moment and say “get thee behind me, Satan!” That moment gave us “assurance of our salvation.” That moment became our testimony.

My first “moment” was when I was five or six. It was around Halloween, and my Sunday school teacher told a horrifying story about druids going from house to house flaying little children alive and burning pieces of their skin inside of pumpkins. He finished his lesson by telling us that Jesus could protect us from the demons if we “asked him to come into our heart.” Terrified, I spent the entire night curled up in my dark bedroom begging Jesus to protect me from the demons I was positive were going to snatch me out of my bed.

Later, when I was around eight, I realized that Christians got baptized, and when I asked to be baptized the lady I spoke to at church asked me when I’d “gotten saved.” Initially I was frustrated because I didn’t know what the heck she was talking about, and it took a few weeks to communicate my confusion to my mother. When I finally understood what “getting saved” meant to a Baptist, I explained to the woman about that night when I asked Jesus to come into my heart to save me from the demons. She wasn’t entirely convinced by that story, so she led me through a “sinner’s prayer.”

When I was eleven, I was in a revival service listening to an evangelist describe the horror of the crucifixion. The next night he preached a message about the difference between “profession and possession.” He explained how people can walk around saying they’re a Christian but who aren’t “saved” at all. In a sudden burst I realized that I had never really “gotten saved,” so I decided I’d go down to the altar at the end– but wait, what if the Rapture happened before the end of the service? I’d be “given over to a reprobate mind” for not getting saved before the Rapture and go to hell!

So, I walked myself through the Roman’s Road and prayed another sinner’s prayer in the middle of the sermon.

Those were my moments. Those were the times I could point to and declare, definitively, that I was saved. I didn’t have to worry about “doubting my salvation.” I had a rock-solid testimony. Any time I felt conflicted, or unsure, or afraid of hell, I could point to that moment and tell myself there was nothing to worry about.


There are moments when I wish for the simplicity of my childhood. When I long for the comfortable black-and-white of saved and not saved— it was so quantifiable, so objective. Saved people had repented of their sin and asked Jesus to save them during a sinner’s prayer. Unsaved people had never done that. It was simple. Easy.

Now, though, that things have become far more complicated and far more gray, I find myself struggling again and again with questions.

Is God real?
Does he love me?
Was Jesus God?
What is Election?
What does the Atonement mean?

Does God send people to hell for no other reason than they’d never heard of Jesus?
Do I want to be a Christian anymore if the answer to that is yes?

And, when I’m asking these questions, you better check up on your salvation comes flitting through my head, unbidden and unwanted. I wish I could banish that phrase from my memory. I wish I’d never heard it once– let alone the countless times it was screamed at me. I wish I could get rid of it, because it makes these questions so much harder. There is a part of me– and sometimes this part of me is big, sometimes it is small– that wonders if I could possibly be a real Christian if I am plagued by these sorts of doubts. How can I call myself a Christian if I’m putting myself into the position of “judging God by human standards”? How can I call myself a Christian if I doubt his existence– or, if not his existence, then if he cares about human reality at all?

How can I be a Christian and doubt?

I know, most of the time, that doubt isn’t the antithesis of Christianity or faith. I know having serious questions about my religion doesn’t disqualify me from embracing it. But, I’m still, sometimes, terrified of being sent to hell– eternal conscious torment–  for my unbelief. Somehow strangely sure that not feeling constant nagging guilt means that I can’t be a real Christian. That my new-found comfort of dwelling in the gray means that I no longer “know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” I am comfortable questions, with perhaps never knowing what it means to be “saved” or “one of the Elect” and that must mean that I’m not. Because surely real Christians know that.

There is still a little girl inside of me curled up on her bed begging Jesus to protect her from the demons.


learning the words: selfish


Today’s guest post is from Cassidy, who dissects different ideas embedded in Christian fundamentalist culture at Roll to Disbelieve. “Learning the Words” is a series on the words many of us didn’t have in fundamentalism or 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.

I grew up Catholic, and there’s not a word more hated and feared in Catholicism as much as these two syllables: “selfish.” Every story I ever heard as a child drilled down on “selflessness” and “sacrifice,” especially for women. Every family value centered on sacrificing my own needs to advance the whole. I didn’t even question this virtue.

I converted to Protestantism in my teens, working my way through denominations till I reached fundamentalism, and in fundamentalism I learned entirely new reasons to hate and fear selfishness. The rigid gender roles and bizarre hierarchical system I was taught depended upon ignoring my own needs to meet the needs of those around me– especially my husband. This image of “selflessness” dominated what women in my church were taught– always, always, we were to give way to others. This was how we were told we could serve our god, and how we would build happy homes and marriages. That it felt so distinctly abusive and did not seem to be working in our home lives the way we’d been promised it would? That was our fault too. We just needed to be less selfish.

Even after leaving my husband and Christianity, “selfish” was still a word I feared. I couldn’t just want something for myself, I had to be able to justify it. I couldn’t even say “no” unless I had a really good excuse. I couldn’t just not want to have kids. I had to have some very good excuse for not wanting kids–to “purchase” my right to not have children with how much I was contributing to society and how much I really loved children deep down. I couldn’t even just not be a Christian–most Christians seem to think that ex-Christians left because of “selfishness,” and I’ve certainly been accused of it more times than I can count.

You can probably guess that even after leaving the religion, my relationships were in shambles. I lacked any concept of boundaries. As a Christian I’d been taught that couples were “one flesh,” so boundaries were considered quite selfish. That’s some hard indoctrination to lose! My next partner, who wasn’t even a Christian, quickly discovered that accusations of selfishness worked marvelously well to keep me in line.

One day I realized that these accusations of “selfishness” he was always lobbing at me were over perfectly reasonable needs. I was “selfish” to refuse to give him more drug and booze money, or to refuse to do all the housework and work full-time besides, or to demand respect and courtesy. I was so very, very selfish.

I began to look back at all the other times I’d been accused of selfishness. Without hardly any exceptions, these accusations were hurled over similar concerns. It wasn’t “selfish” to not want kids. It was what I needed to do with my life to be an authentic and happy person. It wasn’t “selfish” to want to study what I studied in school, or to get a divorce from my overbearing, stalking, abusive preacher ex-husband, or to demand my partner share equally in the housework if we were both working full-time, or to leave a religion that had proven downright toxic to my mental and emotional health.

I began to see these accusations of selfishness in a much larger context–in the context of “what makes accusers really uncomfortable with what my refusal means.” I began to realize that it was the people who lobbed these accusations that stood to gain by my acquiescence. I began to notice that these accusations often got flung in absence of what was good for me as a person, but that they were often the things that would allow the accusers to maintain their dominance. It seemed a little odd that these accusations seemed to be used in a way that strong-armed me–that once someone had said the magic S-word, all discussion stopped. But wouldn’t it seem like the folks who are getting their way are really the selfish ones in these situations? Who’s really selfish, the person being cowed and forced into line, or the person who gets to declare by fiat who is and isn’t selfish, who gets to make another person’s most private decisions?

I began to realize that the decisions they labeled “selfish” were decisions that challenged my accusers on a number of levels. Thus, I had to be silenced.

I still remember the day I realized I didn’t have to “purchase” my personal decisions or convince anybody of their validity. I didn’t have to talk someone into accepting my personal decisions. That day, I learned to separate out my needs from those of my group. I remember realizing that it was hugely suspicious that what my accusers thought was “selfish” was really just me doing or saying something that made their privilege look too obvious or too negative.

The journey began with a single step: the first “no.” The first refusal. The first insistence on boundaries… and it got easier every time. Now, it’s second nature.

I know now that “selfishness”—as defined by fundamentalists– is actually a healthy trait. I do not fear it or the accusation of it. I know that each one of us must balance our own needs with that of society and decide what we need for ourselves to be healthy and happy–and that it’s not “selfish” at all to make those sorts of decisions. I’ve learned how to separate out “stuff that impacts others and thus deserves consideration” and “stuff that doesn’t impact anybody but me and therefore it doesn’t matter what others think of my decision either way.”

I know that it’s okay to do things for myself. I know it’s fine to say “no” if acquiescing would make me feel overextended. I know that boundaries are a very healthy thing in relationships and that over-enmeshment (and the contempt that it breeds) is the real enemy. I know that sometimes we have to limit what we give of ourselves so we can maintain our sanity. If group unity depends upon me being abused or feeling over-extended or harmed, then maybe the group is the problem–not me.