Saturday, September 6, 2014
They way I was raised, I understood things as how they were supposed to be because my parents told me so. What I did not understand or know at the time was that these beliefs they had followed had a prescribed pattern. Some of the beliefs I slowly began to untangle, but others took reading blogs by other Spiritual abuse survivor's to see and understand. I think the reason is that the type of Evangelical Christian ideology my family followed was supposed to be more modern but the rigid traditional fundamentalism was hid beneath the surface. It wasn't straightforward, it was subtle. However when you look at some Evangelical's that are Quiverfull the beliefs are very straightforward and seem to be in plain view. They don't hide that they prescribe to a very traditional fundamentalist type of Evangelical Christianity. It is becoming more apparent to me that much of what I grew up with was Fundamentalist Christianity in sheep's clothing. I think this is why institutions like Focus on The Family embrace those such as the Duggar family, because at the root the beliefs are very similar. They are just dressed up, hidden and packaged with modern flair.
Reading the blogs of other spiritual abuse survivors I was in awe. I had thought I was raised with more modern Christian philosophies, but here were all these connections between fundamentalist christian beliefs and my own experiences. I saw that although I was raised Evangelical Christian I never understood what that meant outside of just being a Christian. It took reading Libby Anne's blog Love Joy Feminism to begin to see Evangelical Christianity from a new perspective and what exactly it is. I think part of the reason for my lack of understanding aside from my parents forgoing a solid education on spirituality; is that in today's world of Christianity education about spirituality, discussion, research and other things that would raise young people to better understand their religion are almost non existent. Sure you are taught everything you are supposed to believe and all the bible stories and sermons on Sunday, but it is usually one dimensional and you are supposed to embrace it as truth. Even in bible studies "understanding scripture" is not really in depth or created to really ask hard questions. I have always felt that it was a surface study meant to solidify all the other teachings you were supposed to take at face value.
I have always wondered where is the type of place that Jesus would have gone to, where he debated scripture and truths with the priests, where asking questions was encouraged and part of the faith? And most especially where is this type of place for women and girls? There are many women who are theology scholars and I am immensely thrilled at that, but education costs money and we are faced with an issue of only those with money or power are able to really educate themselves about their beliefs. That tends to lend itself to only a few controlling information in an academic bubble. In a way it is the same problem as with Christianity of the dark ages; where no one could read or write so they believed whatever the spiritual leaders told them.
In the Evangelical Christian community I grew up in, it was like living in a cube. Except you didn't know you were in a cube because there was a virtual reality in place around you that gave you the illusion of being a somewhat free and independent modern individual. The only time you would realize that you were in the cube is if you began to question how things were or push the boundaries; only to find that you were contained by four walls. I was allowed to wear pants and be creatively fashionable. I had modern Christian music and even pop music that was deemed to be not morally bankrupt (And I somehow managed a Madonna Album). However self ownership did not go much farther than that. I was still owned by my parents, in particular by the head of the house Other Parent. Other Parent did not want me dating, or seeing boys. Vaarsuvius had gotten me I Kissed Dating Goodbye. The abuse was mixed in with the traditional Christianity, but in Other Parent's treatment of Vaarsuvius, Other Child and Myself as a "harem" they owned was not just abuse, or sexual abuse, it was a very Christian philosophy. Certainly many Christians would say that they would never think or do that, or that they respect and honor women but at its roots that is a basic tenant of Christianity which is a patriarchal model. The illusion that women are not treated as "owned" objects is like my cube illustration. Only this time those that uphold the rules are lying to themselves about it and the benefits they receive from it.
Despite supposedly being a thoroughly modern Christian girl, Other Parent would make jokes about marrying me off and getting a dowry from me. And if I did ever want to get married I would have to ask their permission and by all rights could be refused. They somewhat paraded me about for their friends as their object, and jokes were made by these church friends about how pretty I was getting and that Other Parent would have to watch out. One of these friends was a child molester themselves. If you think that this kind of behavior is only of that of truly evil people and not Christians then you have to go back and examine some of those basic beliefs.
Yes Other Parent and the friend were child molesters, however their treatment of their children as objects in particular girls is ingrained in that set of beliefs. Parading me about as sexual object or good Christian parent parading about a child whom they have supreme ownership of, mind, body and soul really leaves only some distinction- the act of psychical violation. The complete ownership of another person is slavery and abuse; add biblical reasoning to sanctify it and you have spiritual abuse. This might seem like an extreme example and I know the comparison I am making is harsh. However christian parents are deemed to have supreme authority over their children in every facet. Those basic tenants are already there, and parents like Other Parent take it to another level.
Other parents behavior was never questioned, part of this was because much of the abuse was behind closed doors but the other reason was the way our Christianity functioned. Other primary parents had an unspoken club they belonged to, one in which they respected the function of role as primary parent and authority in their individual families. Part of that respect meant never questioning each others supreme authority over their families or the decisions made. It was seriously wink, wink, nod, nod.
I will never forget a day trip with another family (another abuser friend of Other Parent). This Primary Parent was engaged in a game of tag with their children and Other Child and I were about to join in, but Other Parent pulled us back to the sideline because we were part of their "unit" and not the other family so therefore we were not to engage in an activity that the other primary parent initiated. It was somehow this "respect" policy playing out over something minute. Other Parent was like "these over here are mine and those are yours, I respect your ownership". That is the only way I can describe what happened, and it sounds insane but that is exactly how it was. You could also add in the element of control and that it was not just respect but territorial. How could Other Parent herd us about and control our actions if we were running about playing tag with the other family? And while they respected the club code they didn't want their stock mixing with another "owner". Your seeing the cattle metaphors right? No they are not an exaggeration.
Let's go back to the cube, and running into the walls. This did not just happen over things like freedom but also what to believe. Children are to be seen, not heard and they are certainly not to question the families religious beliefs. I ran squarely into this wall when I was a teenager. I was tired of the problems with our small church and I no longer wanted to go to church. This was met with the full force of Other Parent, who was not going to have it. I was to obey and love God, respect my family and attend church as part of the family unit. Oddly Vaarsuvius in one of their moments of clarity intervened and I stayed home. Not all the time of course, and I eventually got them to let me go to another church with friends. That ended when our two churches merged. I later would still try attending another local church to escape but it was toward the end of my parent's marriage. Other Parent would have never permitted the whole family to switch churches. This control over where you could worship is a continuation of spiritual abuse as is being told what to believe, what that belief must look like, and fear as a weapon to enforce belief.
This fear to "enforce belief" was how Vaarsuvius understood our faith. I was told I must be either hot or cold for God or he would "spit me out", I would be exiled. This terrified me as a child, how did I know I would be safe from this exile and eventual decent into hell that would await me? I didn't and in some ways I felt myself giving up, I thought I would never be good enough or believe hard enough to escape that fate. I did try even though part of me felt resigned, and I any time I felt like I was headed straight for hell I would say the "saved prayer" to myself, over and over. So many times. It never felt like it was enough, but not doing it could mean getting scorched. Even though this felt terrible I was taught that it was the only way, and the only definition of God and grace. Not being given any other options is being walled in, and living in a cube. Even though you are supposedly being give choices it is either to believe in the God defined by your parents and live in good faith while in the cube, or step outside those four walls into hell. I never understood how this was a choice? I never understood God supposedly defining these as true choices.
The fear as enforcement tool was not just simply for whether or not I was saved (which was already really hard to define, because what really equals saved?) but in what manner I was saved. In other words baptism. I have always been shy in some regards about personal things like my faith and sharing it. So I loathed that in order to be a true Christian you would have to be willing to give testimony and worse yet get baptized in front of God and everyone. I did not want to, for me it felt like a circus of embarrassment. This made Vaarsuvius angry and frustrated. They themselves were poached by the Navigators in college. A wispy kid with no self esteem suddenly had found their path and they took to it determinedly. They felt our faith was black and white, it was absolute. They believed that there was only one way to do things and so when their child did not want to get baptized they not only felt my soul was in peril but they couldn't understand why I felt the way I did. They thought I showed a stubborn unwillingness to submit to God and obey him, by doing what he supposedly prescribed. They thought something must have been wrong with me, they didn't think I was really saved and what did it say about them that their child did not want to get baptized? A family friend finally intervened with a second opinion that baptism was optional and did not mean I would go to hell if I didn't do it. But for the longest while this was a huge battle, and Vaarsuvius took it very personally. It wasn't about my faith, it was about theirs and their interpretation of what is right.
That interpretation was applied to child rearing philosophies. With a black and white, rigid interpretation of what it meant to be a child of God was seamlessly passed onto what it meant to be child to Christian parents. There was no gray area, it was heaven or hell, obey or disobey. I do think my parent's believed that children are born inherently bad and you have to teach them to be good, and beat out the stubborn or bad. There were plenty of books on how to do this, and while I could not be certain there was not a copy of the Pearls book To Train Up A Child I am strongly suspicious there was. And if there was not, my current understanding of Dr. James Dobson and his recommended child rearing practices means that I essentially was raised with the Pearls philosophy just dressed up a bit and made to seem legitimate by his Doctoral degree. But there were other books equally concerning as far as healthy parenting advice goes, Cynthia Tobias and her books on strong willed children and, strong willed women. If Vaarsuvius was not wining a parenting battle with any of the above at their disposal they could switch to an emotional manipulation and spiritual abuse tactic such as telling me that every time I was bad I was responsible for God's feelings and making him grieve over my defiant and ill willed behavior. Other Parent was less for doling out spiritual punishment because our faith had already given them supreme authority, they had no need for the guilt trips they had a horse quirt!
One of my final encounters of running into one of those four walls was dating, and the rigid fundamentalism applied to it. I dated a Navigator missionary in training. There is not enough information out there on what the Navigators can really be like. Among its members you will hear the occasional story about leaders breaking up a dating couple because "it was not God's will they be together", or in my parents case they pushed them into getting engaged and defining the relationship so there wouldn't be anything impure. But those were just horror stories, until I experienced it firsthand.
Now the boyfriend in question turned out to be of weak character, but at the time I had not figured that out yet. He got into the relationship with me and confessed right off the bat to having slept with a married women in the local Navigator group. I figured this was past stupidity and not that he wasn't past stupidity so I went with it. I was also underage, but the relationship was sanctioned by my parents so no big deal. We were going to get married as soon as I turned eighteen. He wanted me to be the missionary wife and I quote that "when we run out of money you can nag me to go drum up support". He was broke but Vaarsuvius said we could live in our home basement. He wanted six kids, a Saturn SUV and a wife who would ride on the back of his motor bike. I happily followed along with this, after all I was essentially raised to be a traditional christian woman.
Then his past transgression caught up with him, and the Navigators essentially made him attend workshops to address and punish his behavior. He was also told to break up with me, and could not touch me, hand hold etc. We were simply to be as brother and sister in Christ during his punishment. This brought out the inner jerk in him, he started being rude and grumpy with me, as if all of this was my fault. It continued downhill from there. He was angry when I did not want to do an activity he was pushing me to do, he defended Other Parent's reprehensible behaviors, and finally he told me that I needed to start wearing skirts and covering myself up, Apparently I was too tempting for him. That was when the inner feminist in me had it. Goodbye Mr. Navigator Jr.
After that began my slow but steady revolution in how I thought about my faith, dating and everything else. I would make my escape from those four cube walls when I turned eighteen and I eventually never went back. I now question they way things are supposed to be and through reading more of others experiences I can really come to terms with my own.I can see not only the abuse, but the spiritual abuse as well. This is like a light turning on for me, and I am starting to feel more free. I can also feel really angry at the beliefs I was subjected to. I feel lucky to be on the other side now, but also feel it is important to create and engage in discussion about fundamentalism and how it can slip under the radar, and that it is not just an isolated experience of Evangelical Christianity.