In You Are Your Own author Jamie Lee Finch describes herself growing up as an anxious and serious young girl. That was me I thought as I listened to her voice reading her book. I was that serious child, fearing the world around me, believing I didn’t fit in, afraid for my hell-bound peers, the responsibility weighing heavily on me.
Could it be that I’m not this girl at all?
This was my story. I’m this serious girl who’s afraid of the devils out in the world. It wasn’t until I listened to Finch’s audio book that it struck me that I might be a product of the fundamentalist Evangelical movement’s ideas that were so popular in the eighties as she explains.
Could it be that I’m not this girl at all? Is it possible that the story I was convinced was mine isn’t really who I am at my core?
Finch speaks about the pressure and guilt she felt around converting people. I cringe with the memory of my telling the Jesus-died-for-you-on-the-cross story to one of my disabled friends in my bedroom after school, hoping and praying Jesus would take care of the rest.
A topic in the book is purity culture and how the implementation of this was a calculated response of Evangelical leaders to the sexual revolution in the sixties. I don’t remember the term “purity culture” being used in The Netherlands but I know the sexual education of the Evangelical and Orthodox Christian youth was that of abstinence before marriage. Finch writes about the guilt and shame when it comes to sexual desires and the devastating effects this had on her health and body image. She speaks of becoming disconnected from her feelings to the point of not knowing what she herself liked. This too rings true for me.
In an environment in which you were taught that your own thoughts and feelings could be inspired by the devil, how can you trust yourself? How do you learn to know what your intuition is? How do you know what you yourself like?
In an environment in which you were taught that your own thoughts and feelings could be inspired by the devil, how can you trust yourself?
People sometimes ask me what my sexuality is. Am I straight, gay, bisexual? I still haven’t given myself permission to know, really know and feel who I am and what I like. I know what love is. I don’t need to answer other people’s curiosities. I’ve come to believe that most people are fluid when you come right down to it. However, I know now that I missed an important part in my development: a healthy sexual image and development in which I could explore safely without shame and guilt. This has had damaging consequences for me personally that I struggle with to this day.
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you are bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). No, You Are Your Own Jamie Lee aptly titles her book. She writes about religious trauma rooted in Evangelical Christianity using scholarly research. Since I’ve experienced both Evangelical and Orthodox Christian communities, I am confident this book will resonate with the latter group as well.
What is my story if I wasn’t that fearful serious young girl? I look at my daughter now, who is twenty-four years old. Even though I still held rigid black and white beliefs inside me, I knew I couldn’t impose them upon my children. I wanted them to move in the world freely and with confidence. And she does and she has.
It’s time for a new story.
In "Deconstructing My Religion" CBS tells the stories of Ex-Evangelicals: a diverse group of people who left the Evangelical faith of their youth.
Before I watched the special, I had read about it. Mostly positive feedback; people in my community of ex-fundamentalist Christians are happy to see more recognition about the issues we are experiencing in and out of the church when leaving.
I’d read one negative article written by Julia Duin. She called the CBS special a “tiresome diatribe on sex and evangelicals.” Her main criticism of the show was that the special appeared to be one-sided: only people who’d left the evangelical background were interviewed. I thought she had a point and decided to watch the show with an open mind. After all, I believe in fair and objective journalism.
Watching the special it occurred to me that this show was purely about people leaving the Evangelical church, the why of it and the trauma involved. This didn’t require the views of people still in the Evangelical church, as it wasn’t about the people who stayed. The topic was about deconstruction of religion.
Julia Duin comes across as defensive of Evangelicals. She says she didn’t encounter the purity culture (a movement to pledge in sustaining from sex until marriage) in the ’90s even though she covered religion. That makes one wonder. I lived in The Netherlands, even though purity rings were not a thing in my religious community, the purity mentality was preached in evangelical circles across the nation. Ten years ago, my daughter’s friend in Texas was given a purity ring by her brother.
Duin speaks of the movie “A Thief in the Night,” the ’72 movie about the Rapture that terrified young children. She finds it hard to believe that this movie is still being shown in churches today. Well, you better believe it. If it’s not this movie, there are a whole series of new "Left Behind" movies to show to youth groups.
Duin expresses her judgment when she says of Linda Kay Klein, writer of the memoir ‘Pure’: “More than one-third of the show was her complaining about how her rigid upbringing constrained her ability to sleep around later in life.”
Well, I saw the show, and I can tell everyone that Klein was not speaking of “sleeping around,” but even if she did, that would be her prerogative and it sounds like Duin missed the message here.
Duin has a case of plain envy, which she freely admits to: “Of course I am very envious of how Klein got a free 26-minute book trailer on prime time. Guess it’s who you know (and who you want to attack).”
“As I watched, I kept on wondering: What is the purpose of this show?” Duin asks.
Well, since you’re asking…
Chris Stroop, creator of the Twitter hashtag #EmptyThePews said it well: “Making it easier for others to leave and find community.”
Broadcasts such as these bring to the forefront issues that are still very much present in fundamentalist Christian and Evangelical religious communities. People who leave, do so with difficulty and pain. They pick up their lives, find new communities, but still carry the weight of traumatic messages.
As Julie Ingersoll, PhD. says in the special: “Voices critical of the movement deserve to be heard.”
Stroop, Ingersoll and Blake Chastain, host of the Exvangelical podcast, agree that people who left can be seen as stakeholders as they know the Evangelical movement from the inside out.
Ingersoll points out that we are in a critical point in our nation. Ex-Evangelicals are calling our attention to authoritarian threats and outdated concepts that are problematic to democracy.
What hurts me about Duin’s article is her lack of recognizing the trauma people have experienced in churches and the long-lasting effects thereof.
Linda Kay Klein speaks of PTSD symptoms when she talks about shame and the recovery from purity culture. Duin hears “sleeping around.”
Stroop and Chastain speak of watching Rapture movies. They recall stories of kids coming home from school thinking they were “left behind” when their parents weren’t there.
Duin dismisses this “I find it hard to believe churches were still showing that film two decades later, much less that there were huge swaths of evangelical youth who were harmed by it.”
I get it, Julia Duin, you choose not to see the weekly or daily indoctrination that youth across the nation and world are subjected to. You choose to dismiss the psychological effects this has on developing brains. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
In Fact, a new documentary is in the make. Former Evangelical Pastor Andy Herndon is telling the story of the Exvangelical community in “The eXvangelicals.”
More and more of our stories are coming out. They are stories of how we overcame feelings of shame and guilt. They are stories of how we are finding new communities and are redefining ourselves. They are stories of abuse, trauma and anxiety. They are stories of rejection, of loosing faith and finding faith.
There was a time in my life in which I thought I was alone. I thought no-one could possibly understand my fears. I hardly understood them myself. In the last couple of years, I have come to know a community of people who came from different religious backgrounds. As I opened up to them I noticed the similar fears and traumas we had in common. I can’t express how valuable it’s been to me to have gained an understanding of myself through the greater Exvangelical community.
Yes, I’m late in the game. I full well realize this. It was a conscious decision for me not to watch Hulu’s popular show The Handmaid’s Tale. The reason you see was that I am trying to avoid movies and TV-programs that might trigger me into panic attacks. Once my body is in panic mode it takes some time to process what took me there.
Why - you might ask - could the dystopian Handmaid’s Tale, based on Margaret Atwood’s novel, be a trigger for me? Well, I wasn’t sure myself – but in my Life After God community I had concluded that it potentially could be. The setting is a Christian fundamentalist community in which the value of women is reduced to property. The few fertile women left live a life in sexual servitude justified by texts from the Bible. Resisting people are beaten down harshly. I didn’t want to take my chances watching the series and be confronted with upsetting materials – especially with violence against women in an oppressing Christian setting.
We hear how rights that have been fought hard for may vanish from under our eyes.
One afternoon last week I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed and saw another reference to The Handmaid’s Tale. I say ‘another’ as it wasn’t the first one I had seen these last couple of weeks. As Trump is about to announce his pick for a judge for the Supreme Court we read stories about the possibility of Roe vs Wade being overturned. We hear how rights that have been fought hard for may vanish from under our eyes.
“I think I’m ready to see The Handmaid’s Tale now” I said to my girlfriend. That same evening we started the show and we’ve seen a couple of episodes since. One night, before I fell into a restless sleep, the image of a hanging woman kept haunting me. She had been condemned of having a same-sex relationship. I may not see the whole series. For now, the show seems oddly relevant, or in my girlfriend’s words “Trumpian.”
the image of a hanging woman kept haunting me
In a recent article in the Daily Mail it is mentioned that one of Trump’s potential picks for the Supreme Court vacancy is Amy Coney Barrett. Coincidentally, Amy Barret is a member of the Christian group People of Praise, which is a highly controversial group that served as an inspiration for Margaret Atwood’s book. Atwood waited three years before publishing The Handmaid’s tale as she thought her book was just too out there. But then she realized that certain things in her book were happening. In some religious communities the term ‘handmaids’ were used for women. Women were encouraged to be silent and to be submissive to their husbands.
“But why can’t women speak in church?” I asked the question for the ‘-th’ time. My mother responds with the verse in which apostle Paul writes to the early Christians in Corinth. It tells how women need to remain silent, be in submission as the law requires. It is there, black on white, in the Bible – the word of God. I can, and will, ask again. I may get a verse from Timothy or Peter, but it will boil down to the same answer. There may be a picture even; Jesus above man, man above woman. There may be some explanation of how women testify through their obedience and how they watch over the children.
In The TV-series there are several moments when the question is presented “how did we let this happen?” The answer seems to be that there was a takeover that happened in stages; The House, The Senate, The Supreme Court.
Their ideal world is a nightmare for others.
Yes, The Handmaid’s Tale is fiction. But with fiction come insights. The Christian right have gone to great lengths to justify immoral behaviors to vote in a candidate that would back up their agenda. They continue this trend and tell themselves that their God is in control. This to me already sounds like a dystopian story. Their ideal world is a nightmare for others.
Therefore, I started watching The Handmaid’s Tale, a potentially triggering show. I want to learn and not be complacent. We can’t afford it.
About forty minutes into Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix standup special she addresses her difficult coming out story. Jokingly, Hannah recalls a visit with her grandmother who asks her if she is dating a special gentleman. Hannah admits the reason she hadn’t come out to her grandma all these years was because she still carried shame with her.
Hannah Gadsby grew up in Tasmania in the Bible belt even though her parents did not raise her with religion. In her teens a prickly national debate on the topic of homosexuality was a major news headline. About seventy percent of the public believed homosexuality was a sin and should be criminalized.
“When you soak a child in shame they cannot develop the neurological pathways that carry thoughts of self-worth”
By the time she was an adolescent, Hannah says, the damage was done, the homophobia from the outside had rooted itself within her.
At this point in the show Hannah captures the audience with her intense eyes, one cannot help but feel for the child in her. “When you soak a child in shame they cannot develop the neurological pathways that carry thoughts of self-worth.”
She speaks about the metaphorical closet, but I can see the young teenager in the closet so clearly; feel the shallow breaths, the small space it occupies, crouching down on the wooden planks – there is no place for her in this world.
“Self-hatred is only ever a seed planted from outside in”
Hannah continues “Self-hatred is only ever a seed planted from outside in.” I try to let the words sink in.
Hannah is on a roll and I swallow hard. “When you do that to a child, it becomes a weed so thick, and it grows so fast, the child doesn’t know any different. It becomes…as natural as gravity.”
The show continues, but I know I need to go back to this. Hannah makes the point that we need to rethink how we debate difficult topics. When I think back at my youth certain topics were immediately judged; same-sex relationships, masturbation, sex before marriage, bars, dancing, certain clothing, certain gender roles, racism. I can remember feeling shame very early on, as well as self judgement. The lasting impact of this has been detrimental.
“I need to tell my story properly"
I cried for Hannah Gadsby. I still do. I know parents are of the best intent. We, as a global society need to do better though for our children. Shaming and judging are not the way. What does it accomplish really?
Today it is Pride in Santa Fe. I am still not comfortable with the 'gay scene', so to speak. I want to be, but I am not. That is why I am not always at the dances. That is why I sometimes leave with a panic attack.
In Hannah Gadsby’s words “I need to tell my story properly.”
The scenes in the memoir Joy Unspeakable are so vividly described that at times I laughed out loud while in other moments I was holding back tears.
Joy Hopper’s moving story starts with her adoption into a fundamentalist Pentecostal family. Hopper takes the reader through her childhood and awkward teenage years and into her marriage to a controlling and abusive husband.
How did Joy manage to cope with the restrictive beliefs of her childhood? Moreover, why did she stay in a loveless marriage? Joy says her positive attitude provided her with rose-colored glasses with which she could see and explain the world. In every negative experience was surely a positive lesson God was teaching her.
“As sure as I’m standing here tonight, one of you will probably die before camp next year. Are you ready to meet Jesus?”
Joy is an engaging writer and infuses her story with humor and a refreshing candor.
As a teenager Joy decides to be baptized and she colorfully describes the experience after being submerged: “I labored off stage, sloshing and leaking and dripping all the way to the exit door, where I had to descend a very narrow flight of wooden stairs. The next thing the congregation heard was a thump, fa-thump, fa-thump, fa-thump fa-thump, fa-thump bang…. Why couldn’t God just send a sweet dove to land on my head to show his favor?”
With her story Joy addresses how fear-inducing techniques are used within a church. In one chapter she describes attending a church camp in which the youth pastor urges the youngsters to get right with the Lord. He continues to tell the kids about a former camper who hadn’t been ready to commit to Jesus and who had died the following day on his way home. “Look around!” he [the youth pastor] continued… “as sure as I’m standing here tonight, one of you will probably die before camp next year. Are you ready to meet Jesus?”
“I look back to this time with deep sadness, realizing I had been denied a basic human need in the name of pleasing an emotionally abusive god"
Being fully indoctrinated Joy wants to live in the faith and avoid hell at all cost. She writes about worrying concerning sins not yet forgiven as well as the imminent rapture. One paragraph that stood out to me was also from her teenage years. She relates how she doesn’t join in regarding a dance exercise at school because of her religion. At the time she feels she needs to stand up for her belief and that separating herself from her classmates is a small price to pay for eternal happiness (rose-colored glasses). She writes “I look back to this time with deep sadness, realizing I had been denied a basic human need in the name of pleasing an emotionally abusive god who demanded I feel humiliated and alienated as a test of my allegiance. This is toxic religion at its very core.”
It wasn’t easy to read the writer’s life with her abusive husband and as a reader I wanted to scream “run away!” Joy details through honest story telling why she stayed in the relationship. The book provides a window into the minds of fundamentalist Christian thinking and the reasons why it is difficult to get away from rigid belief systems.
once you start pulling on a loose thread of a tightly knit sweater it doesn’t take much for it to unravel
I highly recommend this memoir to anyone who is curious about fundamentalist Christianity or who grew up in a similar environment. What happened to Joy? Well, once you start pulling on a loose thread of a tightly knit sweater it doesn’t take much for it to unravel into a heap of fibers. And then – you can make it into something else entirely.
Pietje - say Peach-a!