I discussed some of my personal experiences growing up as an Evangelical christian with a close friend recently. We both have come to different points in our lives in regards to faith and Christianity. However we both work to respect those differences in one another and respect the history and experiences that brought us to where we are today.
This is not a privilege I have had with everyone. My family could tolerate at best any divergence of thought with my faith. Other Child would tolerate my questioning things but I could end up in lengthy and sometimes heated debates with them about spirituality. I think they were always willing to let me question and debate things with me because they believed they were right and could challenge me in discussion and bring me around to the truth. Why not discuss or argue when you know you can't lose?
I have experienced that safety net and comfort zone with spirituality that comes with a sense of absolute and resolute rightness in friends, family and church. It's a really interesting how it is interpreted and used among various believers within Christianity. In Other Child's case it was used in a way that made them comfortable to engage with me even though we differed greatly in opinions and beliefs. Then there is those such as the Duggar's that use it to make themselves comfortable, and to justify their decisions. But with the Duggar beliefs there seems to be a feeling of tentativeness about their comfort safety net. Even though they believe they are right and resolute there feels like there is often fear underlying that sense of rightness.
Other Child feels comfortable and confident taking on discourse about faith because they believe they are right, but with the Duggar's it feels like they might be unsure on some deeper level (unconscious). If they engage with others about their beliefs, especially with those who have different ones from theirs, there is a feeling of defensiveness. The communication/debate/discussion style they use is meant to defend and shut down real discussion. But why? If you are correct in your beliefs, if you have enough faith and confidence about your choice of beliefs (whether or not it's correct) why can't there be discussion and debate about those beliefs? Why dose the result of discussion feel like if they are challenged or do not end up being not 100% correct they seem to believe they will have to throw the baby out with the bathwater!? It feels like all or nothing.
This is really frustrating when you want to engage with some believers especially if you go into the conversation respecting that they draw meaning and personal value from their faith. They should be able to separate out their own beliefs from others and be able to talk about how they have found things within the structure of Christianity that has helped them develop into a good human being, at the same time recognizing that the structure isn't perfect. They should be able to challenge other believers who's interpretations are harmful and limiting. Why does it happen instead that when those like the Duggar's have their beliefs critiqued- the response from other believers is #Not all Christians? Why do they feel that the whole structure is under attack and could dissolve because aspects of it are being critiqued? I have experienced the response as one that blames the individual and their interpretation of Christianity instead of acknowledging that they may have interpreted it correctly and the blame lies with aspects of Christianity and its structure.
People are quick to point out that it's not all Christians who behave like the Duggar's, that they are not representative of healthy Christianity. And while that is true in some ways- those beliefs are still connected to Christianity's core structure. And even if it is true that it isn't "All Christians" that doesn't negate the need for discussion about the flaws within the structure or calling out those who say they are Christian but who's interpretations are destructive.
I was able to discuss some of these thoughts with the close friend I mentioned. While I heard them agreeing that there are those like the Duggar's who's interpretations of Christianity are not Christ like; they did feel that my experience with Evangelical Christianity was an isolated case. With their belief that my experience was isolated- it felt it somehow meant I had not developed a well rounded view of Christianity. I took away from our conversation that they thought I have not had any normal experiences with Christianity and therefore don't understand that what I went through in regards to faith and spiritual abuse was not normal. They seemed to think that I don't know what most normal churches or Christians are like. This was hard to hear from someone I care about. Even though I know them, and that they would never intend be to be hurtful; our conversation lead to my feeling invalidated once again by the idea/response "not all Christians". The response that its not all Christians felt like my experience was not valid in their opinion; that it didn't necessitate a thoughtful discussion about elements within Christianity. Saying that it is not all Christians or that my case is isolated feels like a dismissal and a means to ignore what I'm saying. I think that response comes in part because what I have to say makes them uncomfortable.
However if the idea that my experience is not isolated, and causes someone of Christian faith to feel uncomfortable- they need to ask themselves why? What is it about this discussion that makes them feel they need to label my experience as unique? Shouldn't they be able to draw on a sense of confidence in their faith, and be able to engage in critical discussion without feeling threatened? Maybe this is an issue and uncomfortable because questioning faith is scary. Perhaps it is because we are so often told not to question it, and that we have to defend our faith against outside attacks. This mandate to defend actually seems to imply that the structure is incredibly vulnerable.
I have gone to several other churches aside from the one I grew up in. I have known Christians who were not at all like the Duggar's or those from my childhood. When I had a difficult time with my first church I stood up for myself and asked to stop attending, and then to be allowed to attend another church with friends. All of these other churches were representative of the Modern Church a as a whole. Even my first church had all the trappings of modern Evangelical Christianity. It was what was hidden underneath that was flawed, and these flaws were not isolated. They were and are connected to flaws in the overall man interpreted/created structure of Christianity. And you know what? That's okay. With human interpretation and creation there are bound to be flaws! It doesn't mean that one can't believe in God while being aware of the flawed nature of the human condition or the sometimes flawed structures we create.
My experience was not isolated.
Suzanne Calulu in an recent NLQ post said:
"Obviously the tabloid press still thinks that the Duggars are a one-of, instead of a lifestyle embraced by thousands of people. Glaring ignorance of what they’re reporting on."
The Duggar's are not one of a kind, there are many others who share their beliefs. My experience within Evangelical Christianity was not one of a kind, or even something that was shocking. I know this because I am not flabbergasted when scandals and issues erupt from Evangelical or Quiverfull Christianity. I may be angry or upset but I am never surprised. I have known of far to many similar experiences to mine (individuals I know personally) as well as being aware of the collective of experiences within the spiritual abuse survivor community and NLQ.
I am not an anomaly!