This is a long post, but it’s something I’ve been working on for awhile. In some ways this is more for me than anything–it’s helpful and encouraging to look back on how I started to leave the beliefs I grew up with and see how much I’ve changed. These are just a few of the many little moments that added up to a massive change in who I was.
Click, click, click, I went from one blog post to the next, captivated. It was one in the morning. I’d been reading stories on the internet for hours. And I was overwhelmed with what I was uncovering.
Stories of people talking about homeschooling, patriarchy, and using terms like spiritual abuse, brainwashing, and cult.
It was horrendous, and at the same time a relief, like finding my people. The puzzle pieces were falling into place. I wasn’t alone. There were stories and stories of heartbreak, abuse, manipulation—stories that made my life look normal in comparison.
I wasn’t the only one bothered and affected by this culture, by these beliefs.
It had started simply enough— brainstorming a list of topics for my high school research paper. I was tired of the typical topics that my peers chose. No, I didn’t want to do homosexuality. No, I didn’t want to do global warming. No, I didn’t want to do creationism/evolution. I wanted to research something I was actually really curious about.
I’d been thinking a lot about my experience with Gothard’s* teachings, and I couldn’t ignore the feeling inside that felt so repulsed by it. I really just wanted an excuse to sit on the internet and try to dig up dirt on Gothard to validate how I felt about IBLP. But I didn’t think I’d find enough information on Gothard, so I turned to a slightly wider topic—the courtship movement.
(*my experience with Gothard’s teachings will be a seperate post)
I clicked to the next blog to read her story. As I read, it started to sound vaguely familiar. Like I knew this person. No, it couldn’t be. Could Libby Anne be…?
When I first stumbled upon Libby Anne’s blog, I was shocked. I had thought she was a Catholic (which in my mind, was not equivalent with Christian), but now I was reading her saying things like she supported abortion.
This was one of my best friends growing up, and I hadn’t had any contact with her in years, so I was pretty shocked to find out what she really believed.
Obviously, like any good evangelical, I wanted to save her immediately. But what could I say, what could I do?
I thought about it more, and I began to realize I simply couldn’t paint her as the rebellious prodigal anymore—the story her parents had told me. She had tried to do things “right.” She had tried to cling to her faith. She simply hadn’t abandoned it all to spite her parents or because she wanted to live a sinful, heathen lifestyle.
Maybe she wasn’t this big, evil, rebellious daughter—the boogeyman of our homeschool circle—her family had made her out to be. Maybe she had reasons, a story. And I started to wonder why everyone I knew had cut off all contact with her—held her at an arm’s length.
Was that right, I wondered?
I called my brother. We always talked about these kinds of things, him and I. I was trying to process the entire blackhole that had just opened in my imagination. The questions that had begun pouring in. Questions about the bible, questions about Christianity, questions about God.
Somehow the conversation came around to evolution. “But how can you believe that the Bible is true if the creation story isn’t literal?” I said, aghast.
“Surely, Kate,” he replied, “you’re not basing your faith on the story having to be a literal 6 day creation, are you? If anything, it’s much more beautiful and complex than that.”
I was stunned. Up until that point, I had never separated the two. I didn’t know that they could be separated. What was my good, Christian brother saying?!
“That dichotomy doesn’t have to exist, Kate.” He reassured.
I was silent, forced to confront myself. I had been basing my faith in Jesus on the fact of the creation story being literal.
I had never been presented a different option.
I soon realized that courtship was way too vague for the amount of information I was uncovering. One topic led to another. Gothard. Recovering Grace. Stories of people whose parents had tried to destroy their children’s relationship through micromanaging. Stories of homeschoolers who had received no education. Whole blogs critiquing Vision Forum and tearing apart purity doctrine . Articles critiquing modesty teachings and tying them to rape culture. Stories of homeschool children who’d been abused. Ruptures of people saying Harris had damaged their ability to have normal relationships. Whole discussions about emotional purity. And everything seemed to come back to Gothard. Then Christians critiquing patriarchy and calling for change. Then people called Christian feminists. Then people who called themselves Christian universalists. Then exploring orthodox Christianity and progressive Christians and Catholicism and Buddhism.
I was simply overwhelmed with information, with how small and interrelated everything in the homeschool world seemed, and yet how large and vast Christianity—and the world— really was. And suddenly wondering whether or not courting or dating was the “correct thing” didn’t seem to matter when faced with the injustice and the problems I was finding within this environment.
Until that point I had believed that those “weird” homeschoolers, those who were fundamentalist and didn’t receive proper educations, were few and far between.
But this simply wasn’t the case.
My research paper was done, but I wasn’t done researching. There were simply so many questions. I was writing hundreds of pages of thoughts, taking notes, and reading entire blogs. It was basically my part time job. And I was fast leaving the evangelical world behind.
I read N.T. Wright. Enns. Schlemann. Nouwen. Rachel Held Evans. I read people’s stories, entire blogs.
My parents were worried about me, wanting to know what I was doing, what I reading, what I was learning that was so captivating. I didn’t want to tell them, and yet I didn’t want to exclude them entirely. Up until that point, I had believed that I was under my parent’s authority until I got married. Up until that point I had equated honor with obey.
Now I wasn’t so sure. How could I tell them that?
I brought home a book by N.T. Wright and Christian Smith’s The Bible Made Impossible. I’d wanted to get a Rob Bell book, but they hadn’t had any. I wasn’t just trying to tear apart the courtship movement anymore; I was trying to save my faith.
A silence filled the room, when my parents saw the titles of the books. I’d meant to hide them, but for whatever reason, hadn’t.
My dad became angry, “Who are these authors? Do they believe in the authority of the bible? Do they believe in God’s Word? I don’t want you reading these, you could be deceived.”
I braced myself for more. Even though I was leaving for college soon, my parents felt like I couldn’t make my own decisions about my faith. In my mind I knew what my parents were saying didn’t make any sense, but it was difficult to protect myself from their fear and lack of trust. They told me that I’d be deceived, that the only truth is in God’s Word and “bible-believing writers.”
They told me I couldn’t trust myself to find truth.
I felt sick. What was I doing? My parents were saying I couldn’t trust myself; maybe they were right. Maybe I was treading on dangerously thin ice. Another book, more ideas and I might become an atheist. Maybe I was just eroding my faith, losing all my footing, all my morals, slowly.
I shuddered. But I still couldn’t stop.
I was visiting a friend, trying to laugh and talk like normal. But it wasn’t the same, and my laughs were forced.
I felt awkward, sensitive to this environment that had once felt like home. I wanted so desperately to be honest with her, to be on the same page once again, but I knew that my dream was simply a fantasy.
I couldn’t tell her everything I was questioning, she simply wouldn’t understand. How do you summarize a year and a half’s worth of questions, and reading, and thinking? How do you start a conversation to confess that you’re no longer the same person? That you’re not really satisfied with the brand of faith your friend is subscribed to? How do you say that you don’t see life in black and white anymore?
I wasn’t ready for the rejection, for the disappointment. So I said nothing, thinking maybe ignorance is better.
I hated myself for lying about who I was.
I realized my faith had changed drastically when I heard the pastor say “I still believe in hell!” and people applauded. I felt sick. As if celebrating people’s demise and punishment was something to be cheered for. Were they cheering for justice? I’m not sure.
But how could justice be attained by making people, even enemies, suffer eternally and consciously in hell? Is that really justice?
I used to have frequent panic attacks about my salvation, but now….I wasn’t even sure if I believed in hell.
God, I prayed, God, I’m so lost right now.
I kneeled in the quiet church trying so desperately to cling to my faith, to make sense of all the questions and chaos in my life. I’d never felt so confused; I’d never wanted so many answers. But they weren’t the kinds of questions that someone can answer and make you feel better about. They were the kind of questions you simply have to live through, have to experience.
I’d found my way to this church, somehow. Drawn to the liturgy, the peacefulness, the reverence, the space for the spiritual and Divine. All are welcome at the table, they said. No buts.
I was terrified visiting this church. Even though I was in college, I was still trying to please my parents. I was paradigm shifting, but I was still on the fence. I tried to visit “bible-believing”churches that my parents approved of. They would call on Sundays and ask if I had gone to church, and where. I even went to a bible study that other former-homeschooled students ran that my parents knew, and I tried to make it work. But I could never escape the oppressive energy that I felt, and I never felt like I connected.
I later found out that certain “friends” at the bible study would indirectly report back to my parents if I had gone to the bible study or not, sometimes even relating questions I had voiced, thinking it was a safe space to talk the deepest questions of my heart. It was not. I had gone to college to escape from the repressive environment I grew up in, but I found myself in the exact same situation in college, and I was sick of it.
Now I was bucking the system. I was disobeying my parents by coming to this denomination. My parents had outright told me they didn’t want me to go to this church simply because it was not evangelical. It was not a “bible-believing church.”
I felt incredibly nervous walking into the church. It was so far from the tradition I had grown up in. What am I doing, I wondered. They had gay priests. Gay priests!* Maybe I was just going to be deceived, lose all my morals, and go to hell like my parents thought.
But they were kind, and open to questions, and all were welcome at the table.
(*Yes, unfortunately, I had a lot of homophobia to work through).
I went back home to visit, and people asked me if I had found a church.
“I’m still looking, I would say,” which was partly true. But the more true answer was that I didn’t want to go to church.
I didn’t have the energy to tell them that the churches I was interested were not churches they would approve of, and I didn’t have the courage to tell them that I didn’t think organized religion made a lot of sense. I couldn’t explain to them the subtle terror I felt when hanging around church people and religion, because I felt like it was all a set up, fake, and cultish.
So I stopped talking to people about it, because there weren’t people who would listen without condemning, and there weren’t people who would converse without forcing me to change.
I was paradigm shifting, not finding the answers in Christianity…not finding the healing I needed in Christianity. This just doesn’t make any sense, I often thought.
My parents only wanted to consider help from Christian counselors for my eating disorder, which ended in disaster. I finally convinced them to let me see a secular, spiritualistic, Buddhist-ish therapist. Basically the opposite of everything my parents wanted.
I learned to trust myself again, to love myself, and the importance of self-care– things that I couldn’t find in Christianity; things that were vital to my healing.
I’m forever grateful that my parents supported this, even though they were incredibly fearful, because they did care and saw how much I was improving.
And it was through this that I was learning how to have personal boundaries, to be confident in having my own opinions separate from my parents, to be comfortable in my body (comfortable enough to wear a bikini for the first time in my life!) I learned how to distance myself from all the negative, oppressive energy I felt around fundamentalists.
I was learning to be my own person, to live, to experience and not run from my emotions. I was learning how to express myself without fear for the first time. I was learning to be myself. Icebergs were melting.
I have not given up on Christianity or religion per se, entirely. I don’t know if I could sum up what I think about things now; that’d take another post. Somedays I miss the small world I lived in, because well, it was simplistic and black and white. Somedays I long for that certainty, but then again, it wasn’t real certainty. I still had a lot of salvation anxiety.
I don’t really know what I believe. But I’m tired of looking for black and white answers, and these are the questions that you have to live through, you have to experience.
But you know, I’m pretty sure I’m on the right path. For as much as uncertainty there is in giving up on certainty, it’s also reassuring and calming. And I know that overall, as hard as transitioning to life outside of the bubble can be, it’s better. There’s never been a real moment where I wanted to go back.
I mean, you should see how much I laugh these days, how much I smile, and how free I am.