Browsing Tag



love, and how it saved me

After my family left our fundamentalist cult, and my life turned upside down –many of the things I’d been told were “true” started unraveling. I started seeing patches of my life, of the way I had been taught to think, were hideously wrong, and I began asking questions. That’s when I also realized that the people I knew were incapable of answering them.

So, I started reading apologetic works, and they were helpful. They told me that the answers existed, that someone could believe in God and still be a rational creature, but they weren’t filling my new craving for more. I set aside all the apologetic authors I was familiar with and struck out for new territory. I wanted to know more than just what Christians thought, I wanted to see if Christian rationalizations could stand up to harsher critiques. One of the first books I picked up was Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, and I read this:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

The thought flitted through my head, as I was reading, that I was supposed to be horribly offended by this description. But, I wasn’t, because in a searing moment of understanding, I knew that this description fit the god I’d been taught to know perfectly.

The claim that Christian fundamentalists tend to be a hateful bunch is not new. We all know the nonsense that Westboro gets up to. John McTernan, founder of Defend the Faith ministries, blamed Sandy on Obama’s re-election. Jerry Falwell, known for his Moral Majority, blamed 9/11 on feminists and the ACLU. I grew up quite certain that Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed for homosexuality—when Ezekiel teaches that the sin of Sodom was greed and ignoring the needy. Pat Robertson called the Northridge earthquake, a disaster that killed 60 people, a “blessing in disguise” and blamed it on abortion.

The god I knew growing up was, above all else, wrathful. He rains down fire and torment on the wicked. He destroys anyone who opposes him. He punishes us for our sin. He is not to be mocked, and our sin will “find us out.” I heard more sermons preached on Jesus’ “righteous anger” (a phrase never found in Scripture) than on his tenderness and compassion.

I’ve read and heard that if God loved those who “don’t love him back,” then that would be a “dysfunctional relationship.” That a “God of love” is “completely alien to the Father.” I’ve heard evangelists claim that a “God of love” is the “greatest single Satanic doctrine infecting the Church.” Every time I heard someone say the words “God is love,” they were instantly followed by “but he is holy and righteous.”

God’s love, to a fundamentalist, must always be a “but” statement.

Our relationship with God, to a fundamentalist, is not based on love—it is solely based on fear. The fear of the lord is the beginning of wisdom. We are to come before God with fear and trembling. If I approached God in prayer without quaking in my boots, I was not practicing humility before a terrible and mighty God. Everything I knew of God was related to his power—he could strike me down, just for lying, like Ananias and Sapphira. He could, and he would, destroy me for rebelling against my authority, which is “as the sin of witchcraft.” The God I knew did not love me. He sent his only begotten Son to earth not because he loved me, but because God had promised in the Protoevangelium (Gen. 3:15) that he would, and God cannot break his promises.

Why? Why do fundamentalists chose fear over love?

The answer, I believe, is that men and women who are afraid are men and women who can be controlled. Fear separates us from the world. Fear prevents us from seeking help. Fear keeps us trapped and ensnared in what we’ve been taught is “true.” Someone who is free to love God, who can have a real relationship with him, is a person whose ultimate authority is not the pastor, but her independent, unique experiences with her Father.

A few weeks ago, I was up until five in the morning, clinging feebly to calm and peace of mind. Hysteria and panic crept closer as the hours went by; I felt cornered and alone. I was wrestling with Deuteronomy 22:24, where it says that a rape victim should be put to death for “not crying out” even though she was “in the city.” I had always known this passage existed, but I had never dwelled on it. I read it as a child and barely remembered it was there. But events earlier that day had brought it to the very front of my attention, and I could ignore it no longer.

And when I tried to wrestle with it, I found that I was completely lacking the ability to face it. The single thought that God’s Old Testament law condemned me to death—because I had never “cried out,” because I had waited two years to tell anyone about what had happened to me—spun around my head endlessly. A merry-go-round of shame, guilt, and terror took over. I felt, in my marrow, in the corners of my heart, in the depths of my stomach, that I repulsed God. That God could not possibly love me—me, a woman who had not cried out.

My fundamentalist indoctrination condemned me, and in those hours, I felt like I was groping in the dark. My husband held me as I rocked and cried and begged God to show me a way out of the darkness of that night. But, the only things I knew about God were his wrath, his righteousness that cannot let sin go unpunished, his might, and his terrible power.

I had never been taught of God’s unending love. Of his compassion, his tenderness. I had never been taught that Jesus had friends that he cared about deeply. I had never been shown how God’s love is the single most important truth woven into Scripture. My indoctrination even actively prevented me from seeing these things when I read the Bible on my own. I was purposely blinded from ever discovering how much God loved me.

When my husband left for work after staying up with me all night, he handed me my Bible and told me to read the gospels—to find every encounter Jesus ever had with a woman. To see who Jesus really was. And, for the first time, as I read, I could see a pattern. Jesus spent his time with people who were broken. He reached out to the oppressed and the marginalized. He refused to engage with the stereotypes of his culture, the ones that told him who he couldn’t be seen with. He acknowledged, over and over again, the humanity and identity of women in the midst of a society that treated women as property. Nearly every single one of his interactions in the gospels was with someone who had been abused, who was hurting. And the truth came on like a dawn.

Jesus loves me. God loves me.

And I wept.

Photo by Charles Clegg
Social Issues

I didn’t stand up for my gay friend. I still regret it.

I met Michael* when I was fifteen, at a summer music camp. We didn’t become best buds, but we did become friends, and that friendship stayed in place when we went to the same college three years later. We were in the same degree program, and had nearly every core class together. We never became “tight,” but we did help each other out. We’d take over for each other when a particular soloist we accompanied had become just too much, and we always made sure to give each other a boost in the sea of criticism that could be the music program at times. We had eachother’s back.

I knew Michael was gay from the day I met him, but it didn’t matter. He was my friend. He didn’t come out to me until a few years ago, but I’ve always treasured his friendship, and the day he came out to me, I treasured his honesty for the gift it was.


Four years ago today, I remember the whispers.

My college campus was small– around 4,500 students, total, so it wasn’t that difficult to at least recognize everyone even if you didn’t know him or her. I knew the names of everyone in my major– and I knew the names of most of those who were studying speech, art, or music. It was a small, tight-nit community. We were hard on each other, as the competition could get intense. When two sopranos go for the same lead in a musical… that’s not something you want to witness. But, we were close. Friendly, even, when there weren’t any auditions.

Our tight-nit community, however, was a strangely public one. We were the performers on campus. The college had a bazillion required activities, and most of them were Arts related. There were vespers, where the speech and music major would put on an hour-long religious spectacle. There was the once-a-semester Gilbert and Sullivan extravaganza.

Then, there was church.

Attending the college’s church was mandatory. You could “check in sick” and skip church, but you’d be required to attend a video recording of it the next Saturday, so most people rarely “checked in” on Sunday. They put up with the monotonous, televised, rote-like-clockwork service and then took a nap. However, music majors were required to perform at least once, sometimes twice, in church– for a grade. A few of us got “famous” that way. There was the impressively deep bass singer who became famous for singing “Mary, Did you Know?” There was the spectacularly talented young man that everyone knew, and simply being a peripheral friend made you popular by association.

It was eleven weeks before we were all supposed to graduate. We were working on our shows and our recitals like deranged maniacs whose life depended on this single, solitary event (it rather did). We were all losing our minds in one way or another, and trying to get each other through this grueling process.

So when two of my friends in the music program were “kicked out,” many of the music majors were left feeling bereft. These two young men had been two of the most supportive people in the program. In an environment where backbiting and maliciousness can sometimes run amok, losing the positive influence of these two. . . it wasn’t devastating, but they were missed.

Over my years at this college, I’d known a lot of people who got “kicked out.” Some reasons “made sense,” after a fashion. Sometimes that person “obviously deserved it” because they’d committed some heinous violation that was quite obviously against the rules you just don’t go around breaking– like my roommates who persisted in having some strange version of threesome phonesex on speaker while I was in the room (getting them kicked out hadn’t been my goal– I’d just wanted a new room, ‘cuz that was uncomfortable. However, I’d had to explain why I wanted a new room, so...) Sometimes the reason was absolutely ridiculous– like the young man who got kicked out for “disturbing a public gathering”– he threw a paper airplane before a church service started. Sometimes the reason was absolutely insane– like one girl who got kicked out for kissing her boyfriend over the summer when she was not on campus, leaving a love letter in her boyfriend’s mailbox, and the boyfriend’s ex going through his mail and then turning the new girlfriend in. The ex-girlfriend was rewarded for her faithfulness to the school, even though she’d committed a felony to do it.

However serious or ridiculous the reason was, long story short, the people on campus usually knew what it was. It’s difficult to keep secrets, and the kicking-out process in a brutalizing, time-consuming thing. By the time that person is kicked out, the Scarlet A is fixed in place.

But for my friends… no one really knew why.

So, the rumors started.

And, because they were music majors, most of the rumors had to do with their sexual orientation. The Arts already made a man “effeminate” by default, and in fundamentalism, “effeminate” is a hair’s breadth short of being “rainbow gay.”

I was in my first-hour class the first time I heard one of the rumors. Supposedly, the two men had gotten caught making out in a maintenance closet.


I was five the first time I ever stood up to a bully. There was a black boy a few doors down from me, and he was constantly getting picked on by a group of three older white boys. Looking back, I’m pretty sure one of the boy’s father was a white supremacist– but when I was five, I had no idea what racism was. All I knew was that they were picking on him, and that was mean. I stood up for him one day– and ended up with gum in my hair, spit in my eye, and sand in my underwear. I spent every day for the rest of that summer hiding underneath the playground equipment– with the boy I’d stood up for.

My tendency to bite off more than I could chew in defense of someone I cared about, or who I felt didn’t deserve it, only got stronger as I got older. I punched three separate boys at 8, 11, and 14 for daring to make fun of by baby sister. I told off Richard* who was making fun of George* because of his last name. I befriended a little girl in kindergarten who had a port wine stain and no one else would talk to her. I slapped the boy I had a crush on in first grade because he’d knocked over my block tower for being “taller than his.”

But four years at a fundamentalist Christian college had silenced me.

When that belligerent, bigoted young man started hootin’ and hollerin’ about my friends, I said nothing. I sat in my chair, kept my eyes fixed squarely on the front of the room, and remained silent.

That silence felt like it was burning me from the inside out. I desperately wanted to march to the back of that room and give him a big, loud, angry piece of my mind. I wanted to slap him for airing his bigotry. I wanted to tell every person who was laughing exactly who they were laughing at, and that no one deserved that. I wanted to tell them all that what they were doing was wrong.

I didn’t. I didn’t say anything over the next few weeks as the rumors became more flagrant.

I was afraid. Afraid of the administration coming after me for defending him. I was afraid that they would suspect that I knew Michael was gay, and that they would kick me out, too, for not turning him in years ago, like I should have– like the rules required me to. I was afraid that if I defended him, that some of the people who knew me would judge me for not “taking a stance against sin.”

I was afraid of myself.

I lived in doubt for those weeks– wasn’t I supposed to be shocked and horrified by his sin? Wasn’t I supposed to agree that the administration had done the right thing by kicking him out? Wasn’t I supposed to be happy that “the truth had found him out”?

Conflicted doesn’t begin to explain what I was feeling. I missed my friend– one of the only people who had a kind word for me after I’d survived another terrifying performance. I missed the person who agreed to usher my recital, and was there for me when I finally came offstage and instantly collapsed.

And I was ashamed for not being brave enough– to not being who I knew I’ve always been. For not defending him. For not speaking up against all the wrong.

So, today, four years later, I’m apologizing, Michael– and I promise it won’t happen again.

Photo by Hamed Parham
Social Issues

the power of "it’s only" and how privilege hides

My junior year in college, I applied to work at the brand-new Kohl’s that had opened about twenty-five minutes away from my house. On my application, I told them that my availability didn’t start until the end of the school year, in May, but there was somehow a mix-up and I had to start in early February. Kohl’s was about and hour and a half away from school– so, three or four times a week, I drove from school to work, worked until around midnight, drove home, did my homework, and then got up five hours later to make the drive back to school.

It was crazy and I about burned myself out, but working there taught me one of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learned:

I was homophobic.

Growing up, when I’d heard a conservative evangelical being accused of homophobia, the response was typically dismissal. “I’m not homophobic,” they’d say. “I just don’t agree with their lifestyle. I’m not afraid of them. I can love the sinner, hate the sin.”

Love the sinner, hate the sin.

Heavens could I spend three days talking about how utterly preposterous that statement is. How very wrong and misguided it is. That statement just is a justification for hate, and that’s all it can be. I know so many people who regularly use that, and these are, in general, kind and loving people. But not when it comes to the LGBT community (which, in general, evangelicals refuse to recognize, because it’s complicated. Instead, they tend to lump everyone under the heading “gay” because being “gay” is a philosophical and ideological otherness to heterosexuality). You put an IFB person next to someone who identifies as gay, or trans, or bi, and they may be able to muster up a cheerful facade of niceness, but I guarantee you they are cringing inside.

But, back to Kohl’s.

Working at Kohl’s is how I met David*. I’ve never said any of these things to David, and I wish I had.

David was kind, and fierce, and bold. He was vivacious, energetic, loving, rambunctious, fun-loving. I never heard him be frustrated with the people he worked with, and he was proud to be all who he was. Being gay was a small part of that, for him. It was just one piece of the incredibly complex puzzle that was the personhood, the identity, of David. I loved working the same shift as him, and getting to know him, because never, not once, did he make me feel inferior. He knew I was a Christian, he probably knew what that meant– that I was secretly judging him.

And I did.

At first.

Until, one day, I was talking about my wedding plans with another girl in the breakroom, and David was there. There we were, talking about dresses and flowers and cake and music, when I looked over, and what I saw on his face stopped me dead in my tracks.


The expression on his face was almost grieving. I asked him if he was ok, and his response changed my world forever:

“Y’know, I’ve been with my boyfriend for five years, and we’re probably never going to be able to get married.”

The other girl suggested that they could just have the wedding shin-dig, what does a piece of paper matter anyway?

But, instinctively and intuitively, I realized that it’s “only a piece of paper” to people who can get one. I met David’s eyes, and I knew he was thinking the same thing. That realization changed me, because, for the first time, I could put myself in the footsteps of a stranger– or an existence so far removed from my own that I’d never bothered to understand it.

I thought about what it would be like if I was constantly being told by my entire society and culture that I couldn’t get married, legally. That 31 states had decided that my existence was too strange, too uncomfortable, for them to allow in the open freely.

It was horrifying.


A few weeks later, at about six o’clock in the morning, everyone is on hand to unload the truck for the spring change. I’m working in the young men’s section when I pull out the brightest purple skinny jeans I had ever seen in my life. They were neon purple, and sparkly. Looking at them made me flinch they were so fluorescent. I double-checked the box– these looked like they belonged in the junior’s section, not the young men’s. But, no, the code on the box said they were for young men. I just shrugged and started putting them on their rack.

Two women commented on the jeans, tossing out exclamations like “who in the world do they think is going to wear these?”

Another young lady, who had gone to the local Christian high school and had made sure everyone knew about it, said:

“I bet freaking David would.” The way she said his name made it sound like a curse word.

As she said that, and as everyone laughed, I met David’s eyes over her shoulder, who had just gotten back from break. There was a flash of embarrassment, and shame, and then I saw him steel himself.

“‘Freaking’ David would do what, exactly?” He asked, in one of the best examples of courage I’ve ever seen.


That was a beginning, for me. A few years later, when one of my close friends told me he was bi, I was still struggling with my ingrained perceptions. I still do, to be honest. It’s not easy. But, I was so glad that he felt safe enough with me to show me another part of who he was– a part of himself I could have attacked.

But, it really came home to me just a few months ago, when I started identifying as a feminist, and a few things started happening to me. In IFB and conservative evangelical culture, being a feminist and being LGBT are, while not equivalent, similar— because, for many conservative evangelicals, being a feminist means rebelling against and attacking what it means to be a “woman.” Feminists are going against nature, against God’s ordained order. We’re refusing to recognize the way things are “supposed” to be. Similarly, although on a different scale, the LGBT community are also “going against nature.”

But, I also started realizing that I had experienced marginalization my entire life, even though I don’t belong to a minority. I had been told, because of who I am, because of my gender, what I simply could and couldn’t do. What I couldn’t wear, where I couldn’t go, who I couldn’t speak to, how I should speak, how I should walk, talk, dress, eat, and sleep. That I couldn’t be employed. Where my natural “area of dominion” was, and that was only at home, and only over my future children– but an area of authority that was only granted by my husband and could be superseded at any moment. That I was the property of a man, that I lacked ability, talent, and skill– because of who I am.

It’s maddening. It is the most infuriating thing I have ever encountered, and it pales in comparison to what the LGBT community goes through every single day of their lives.