“I Love Christ, But Fundamentalist Christians Destroyed My Life”

(This just in. I think it’s safe to say Christianity did not play a positive role in this poor woman’s life. There’s much in this letter for us to explore and consider, but first I thought I’d just share it with you [which, as always, I do with the author's permission.] )

Dear John,

I’m one of your ‘likers’ on Facebook and I read your blog often. This whole business of forgiveness has really got me down to the point that I don’t even want to think about it, it’s so depressing.

I was raised United Pentecostal, and thus never given the option of having my own opinions or standing up for myself. Couldn’t go to movies, bowling, ‘mixed’ bathing (swimming with both girls and boys in the same pool! EGAD!), cut or color my hair, pierce my ears, go to dances, or visit another church — among other things. This led to an early marriage that turned into 16 years of hell –  black eyes, a broken arm, a concussion, and being raped — because, as a Pentecostal woman, I was to be married to the same person for life. I finally grasped my freedom once and for all when I realized God loved me too much to expect me to live that life.

Thought I was okay for about 19 years; that’s what denial will do for ya. Couldn’t hold a job longer than a year, alienated friends, family, and coworkers because of the fight-or-flight reactions I had to anyone who presented a challenge or seemed, in my warped psyche, to be a threat. Love and pain were the same to me.

I quit working altogether when my blood pressure skyrocketed one morning, and my doctor told me I had to rethink the rest of my life. I entered college for the first time, late in life, and while maintaining a 4.0 GPA, I wrote a research paper on domestic violence for an English class. At Christmastime that year, I had the first of two flashbacks that would happen before the new year.

There’s so much more — continuing PTSD syptoms, agoraphobia, and the steady decline of my physical health — but the bottom line is that I despise fundamentalist Christians. I pride myself in having none as close friends. If it were just my own experiences, it might be different, but I’ve seen ghastly things happen to people as a result of fundamentalists’ willful ignorance. One of the stories, I know, would curl your toenails.

I’ve been in therapy for a few years now, and although I was finally able to forgive myself for not being able to be my own person and stand up for myself growing up, I still can’t find a shred of forgiveness for people who seem to have left their brains in a basket at the church door.

I’m glad for the people who are learning how to forgive as a result of your blog, but I don’t know if I’ll ever get there. Right-wing evangelicals are the bane of our country’s existence, and I worry a lot about what my granddaughter will have to deal with if things keep going the way they are. I’m living with congestive heart failure and on oxygen, so at some point not too far down the road I know the Lord will take me home. But that granddaughter’s well-being…

I’ve got to read all your blogs about your father. Maybe reading more about your own hell on earth will soften my heart, but I’m not counting on it. I still want to start buying your books as I can afford it, one at a time. But in my wildest dreams, I can’t see myself ever having any room in my heart and life for fundamentalists — Baptists, Pentecostals, whatever. I feel nothing but evil in them. Mental illness is a bitch, I guess, but I think it’s more than that in my case when it comes to Fundicans.

You don’t have to answer this email. It’s probably too depressing, even for you. I just felt the need to present the viewpoint of someone who finds it anathema to even think about cutting those people some slack. At least I don’t blame God, like some do. I know in my heart He’s the reason I’m still alive.

Thank you for doing what you do. It takes an exceptional person to reach out like that. God bless and keep you, John.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • http://blueberrypancakesfordinner.wordpress.com/ erika

    oh sweet heart>

    ((((hugs)))))

    you are a wonderful brave fabulous woman, i am on facebook

    http://facebook.com/blueberrypancakesfordinner

    just let me know you are from here.

  • john

    I tend to think that forgiveness is more for our own sake than the persons we should forgive. That being said I’m glad God is a lot smarter than me. He is nothing like the people who use His name to hurt others. Whether or not you are ever able to make it to a place of forgiving the fundie assholes who treated you with such disregard, God who is in His very essence love, loves you very much.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Just in case: this “John” isn’t me. But great comment!

  • Don Rappe

    John is right. Your letter presents evils which our harbored within the community which calls itself Christian and puts them in bold relief. Your feelings toward legalistic Christians are a scar tissue which your soul has grown to protect itself (you) from further injury. It should be respected. You came by it honestly. You do indeed have PTSD and these people represent to you the cause of the trauma you have endured and survived. I pray that you will find some joy in this last period of your life.I know you have an angel who stands forever before God and looks into his face. This angel knows in a way we cannot, what is the purpose of all your suffering. Your granddaughter also has such an angel. I pray that God will protect her.

  • Rebecca

    You deserved so, so much better. I’m sorry the people who should have taken care of and protected you, and taught you to be independent so you could be able to protect yourself later on, completely dropped the ball. *big hugs* You’re not alone, and you’re on the way toward healing and peace. Keep walking…you’ll get there.

    Rebecca

  • Sara

    I had to chuckle at your statement about not having any fundies for friends. I joke that I have a very ecclectic circle of friends – wiccan, pagan, atheist, Buddhists, and EVEN a few Baptists!

    I grew up Fundie too. There’s much I can relate to in your letter, and I’m so sorry you suffered such a horror. For me, it was first my dad (much physical abuse) then my husband (26 yrs of emotional and mental abuse), then last of all my brother (spiritual abuse).

    As John above mentioned, I eventually came to the understanding that forgiveness was about healing *me* rather than for the benefit of the ones who hurt me. I developed congestive heart failure in my early 40′s, and started losing my hearing from the stress of clinging to my internal pain.

    A book that helped me a lot was “He Began With Eve” by Joyce Landorf. Perhaps the Grace and healing I found there will also help you heal. Turning a corner a few years back, I realized I no longer hated my dad nor my exhusband, and in fact had released them to God. When that happened, my heart physically healed to where I no longer need oxygen or meds at 55. (Divorcing my 1st husband helped immensely too!!!)

    Right now that forgiveness seems far away, impossible, even frightening. It’s easier to hold tight to our memories, fears and pain, than to release it to God. Releasing it means learning to trust again, and someone with PTSD, who has been abused by those who should have protected her, will find it very very difficult to trust. Someday, you’ll understand that holding on to that poison hurts you most of all – and THEY WIN. Releasing it, means you can live free again. The best revenge is living well!

    I will remember you and your granddaughter in my prayers. I too have a granddaughter who is so precious. If you can, print out John Shore’s letter to young girls and plan on sharing it with her soon. He has a wealth of wisdom in that letter.

    • Anonymous Author

      Thanks for your insight.

      A few years ago, notices started apprearing in our weekly newspaper about Bible studies on ‘rightly dividng the word of truth.’ That’s a UPC catchphrase, and sure enough, they set up a ‘church’ here in our town of 2500 people. I actually asked the Lord, out loud, why He kept insinuating them into any part of my life. But of course, it’s not the Lord’s doing; it’s theirs.

      I read Joyce Landorf’s ‘Irregular People’ a number of years ago and it helped me identify and put in their proper place the irregular people in my life (and readers, it has nothing to do with bodily functions…), but those people I knew personally. The disgust I feel toward an the entire fundamentlist juggernaut is altogether different. I don’t know if ‘He Began With Eve’ could address this.

      • Sara

        Yes, the book I have has both “He Began With Eve” and “Irregular People” in it. They both helped me SO much.

        My daughter is one of those pesky “Irregular People”. I love her til my heart is broken, and had to learn the hard way to keep her at arm’s length. Otherwise, it’s just not healthy for either of us. It used to tear me up sometimes that we will never have the relationship that I see other mothers and daughters enjoy. I gave it to God some time ago, and it’s gotten better since then.

        “He Began With Eve” addresses forgiveness singly and in plurality….injuries as small as my dad’s fists, and as huge as the Holocaust. I hope it will help you as much as it did me.

  • Jack

    Dear soul, this is what happens when people confuse social norms and taboos with Christianity, and reduce the Gospel of Christ to “touch not, taste not, handle not,”–and may I add, “drink not, smoke not, dance not, watch not, swim not, wear not……”?

    I could point out that classical fundamentalists won’t touch Pentecostals–especial UPC–with a 10 foot pole, but this is an entirely different subject.

    • Anonymous Author

      Yes, I understand the UPC is considered a cult, and I agree with that wholeheartedly. However, other fundament churches are also guilty of oppression under the cover of Christianity. They seem to have skipped right over Luke 18:10-14, what with their ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ inanity. And then there’s that little issue in Isaiah 64:6. about righteousness and filthy rags. They deny the encompassing reach of Grace.

    • Christy

      [I've cut Christy's comment from here because I'm going to use it as a blog post. Like, now.]

      • Anonymous Author

        Amen. You’ve nailed it. Thank you for laying it all out there. I know God will continue to keep you in His care.

      • DR

        I held my breath through this entire thing. Man.

  • melissa

    You are not along. Healing is hard work, and brings so much peace and health in a very anxious life. I am sorry you have been abused, and even more sorry that it was by those that were supposed to be loving you. May you find it in yourself to love yourself as you deserve. I am on facebook as well…Melissa Striegel Chamberlin

  • Don Whitt

    Dear Letter Writer,

    Wow. Just simply wow. What a brilliant, enlightened soul you have. Thank you for sharing it with the rest of us. How generous and loving and wise of you to do this.

  • Mary

    I truly feel for you, and will keep you in my prayers.

    One of the most profound things I’ve ever read was in Marianne Williamson’s book A Return to Love. You will never have healing until you have forgiveness. This was reinforced for me by one of the monks that educated me.

    Until you can get to the point where you pray for those that have hurt you, you will never be healed. Praying for our enemies and forgiving them is one of the most difficult things that Christ has asked of us. I struggle with it every day.

    At least give it a try. It will transform not only those for whom you pray, but you as well.

  • Linda B

    Dear One,

    Even though my story is not any where as tradject as yours I relate. I think what is the most hard is to realize after a certain point that we as “adults” should have known better than to let these sorts of things happen to us. It causes us ot mistrust ourselvs in a big way. I have had to work through that too. I had allot of ideas about god and the chrisiian life that just were wrong and when life litterally evaporated for me I was truly left with nothing. An unstuffed scarecrow. But when I realized that I did not deserve any of the unloving treetment by the other people who hurt me and then I was able to start healing. No i don’t want any fundies in my close social circle, but I do want t community of faith to discuss my thoughts with. So hang in there and don’t worry about forgiving the others right now just make sure you can love and value yourself.

  • Denise

    My heart goes out to you. I just wanted to observe that there a story of forgiveness at the heart of the New Testament. Saul of Tarsus persecuted Christians, but when he had a conversion experience, Christians took him into the fold, forgave him, and ultimately allowed him to become one of their leaders. The people who persecuted you did not have a change of heart, and so you are right to keep a safe distance from them and their ilk, but I hope you believe in a God that could forgive them.

  • http://skerrib.blogspot.com skerrib

    Thanks for sharing your story. I’m so glad you got out, and yet I grieve for the damage that was done. Nasty stuff, that spiritual abuse. Since a couple books were mentioned, I’ll mention “Principles of Spiritual Abuse,” by Johnson & VanVonderen. I’ve liked everything I’ve read by VanVonderen.

    People who genuinely love Jesus and are not out to control you, are out there. Freedom in Christ is real and valid, and for YOU.

  • Mindy

    Your bravery – in escaping, in sharing – is enormous. My heart goes out to you. Emotional abuse, whether it be by a parent, a church or a random bully, is all about control. The abusers gain control over their victims by breaking them, infusing them with self-doubt and self-loathing. I have long believed that too many use fundamental religion for just that – and you are obviously an example of the great harm that results.

    Don’t lose your strength. Revel in the joy of your granddaughter, and teach her all you can about listening to her own heart. I wish you the best.

  • Anonymous Author

    John, I don’t feel like fundamentalists destroyed my life, but that the ignorant, out-of-touch practices and strictures of fundamentalism smothered the person I might have been and, in the end, ruined both my physical and mental health. I’ve learned a lot about what NOT to do as a result, and welcoming them into my life is one of those things.

    • Anonymous Author

      OK, I lied; I guess I do despise them. Gotta be honest, in the end. They choose to remain ignorant. That’s the crux of the problem and the reason they’re able do so much damage.

      • Don Rappe

        If I don’t despise all fundamentalists, it’s because I know they include many other people like yourself. I do despise what you have called the “juggernaut” of false teachings which finally crowd out the “good news” that God is in charge of things and has set his Christ to rule over and judge, and not the leaders of any sect. One of the most destructive of the fundamentals is the false teaching of inerrancy. It is usually interpreted so as to tell us: “Ignore the first commandment and its instruction to rely on your critical reason to understand the holy.” With our critical reason we can identify the false gods, But the fundamentalist will say: “I know what’s right. Whatever pops into my head when I first read the words is absolutely correct. Do you think God lies to me?” With this self righteous arrogance. he falls into the hands of the beast, the Antichrist.

        • http://leap-of-fate.com/ Christy

          Don, would you characterize this as a distinction between fundamentalists and fundamentalism?

          • Don Rappe

            Yes.

        • http://www.poesies.com Gina Cirelli

          ANY church who expects us to listen to them and not to God is breaking the first commandment, in my opinion.

  • Leslie

    John, please tell me how I can buy your books for this woman. I would like her to have them.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Hi, Leslie. It’s very kind of you to ask. You can get all the information about buying my books at the link below (which is also gettable-attable via the “T-shirt and Books” tab at the top of my blog. (If you end up buying hard copies of “Penguins” and/or “I’m OK,” I can inscribe them to her, from you, in whatever way you might like: “I know you can make it, from your friend Leslie Hayes,” or whatever we’d decide on. But something like that would be way sweet.) Please let me know if you have any questions.

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/my-books/

    • Anonymous Author

      Leslie, you have touched my heart. Thank you and God bless.

      • Leslie

        I am swamped at work this week, but I promise when I have time this weekend, I will buy all these for you. Take care of yourself!

        • Anonymous Author

          Your kindness is humbling, Leslie. ((hugs))

    • Anonymous Author

      Leslie, John says he sent me your email address, but I can’t find it in any of the messages between us. I sure hope you get back to this blog and read this message to you.

      Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reaching out to me with John’s books. What a blessing you and they are to me.

      God bless and keep you, my sister in the Lord.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

        Anonymous: I just resent you Leslie’s email address.

  • Robyn Hannah

    If there is anyway of sending my sincere sorrow and apologies for all that she has experienced at the hands of church people to this lovely lady then please do it. I did not suffer that much in comparison, but I know the religious spirit she speaks of. I have found that spirit is not the Spirit of Jesus, it masquerades as it, but it is not. Forgiveness never minimises the wrong that was done, nor does it stop the memories and the hurt immediately, but it does start the process of healing. Big HUGS indeed my sister

    • Anonymous Author

      Hugs back, Robyn. Bless you for sharing your sorrow, but as far as an apology, that’s really not yours to make. You didn’t do it. Ignorance is at the crux of it, and some prefer to maintain their ignorance. God have mercy on their souls and the souls of the people they hurt.

      • DR

        AA this may not apply to your situation which is absolutely your decision to make, but for many who have been abused by the Christian church and feel angry at those of us within it that didn’t do anything to stop those who were abusive? An apology goes a long way (in my experience). Again, you certainly have every right to speak for yourself and that may not apply to you at all. My comment is to encourage those who do feel compelled to make that gesture, it does find fruit in others.

        • Anonymous Author

          Thanks, DR. You always manage to provide a great deal of wisdom and understanding to people who frequent John’s blog and who are suffering.

  • Kay

    I find it increasingly difficult to tell people that I am a Christian with they way the Fundamentalists have, in my opinion, correlated that with hate and bigotry. I cannot begin to imagine what it does to the individual who must live this for years. My prayers to you

    • Anonymous Author

      Thanks, Kay. I’m OK with Jesus but I refuse to waste any of whatever time I have left on those who choose to remain blissfully ignorant. In their small, cloistered existence, they deny the very power of the Savior they claim to believe in.

    • http://thiswebsite Anon

      It’s not just the fundamentalists, Kay, it’s in every orginisation, but in the churches we expect them to not only be the last group to have such people we expect them to also be the first to support the victims and to uphold rights as believers in Christ. It’s a shock when they are the worst and most complacent people, the most selfish and uncaring.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=682069687 Dominique

    Anonymous Author – {{{BIG hugs}}} thank you for being brave enough to have this subject aired. My heart goes out to you, and I can empathise with the forms of abuse and the PTSD. I too have suffered much at the hands of fundies, and struggle with forgiving them.

    Don Rappes comment to you expresses much of what I want to say:

    “Your feelings toward legalistic Christians are a scar tissue which your soul has grown to protect itself (you) from further injury. It should be respected. You came by it honestly. You do indeed have PTSD and these people represent to you the cause of the trauma you have endured and survived. I pray that you will find some joy in this last period of your life.”

    Take good care of yourself and God bless you.

  • http://emergentpillage.blogspot.com/ audie

    Yes, this person claims to have had bad experiences. If we accept that what she says is true, than that is a bad thing.

    But, upon what basis is this one person’s experiences being used to condemn all evangelicals and fundamentals? The extrapolation from this one person to all Baptists and Pentacostals and other evangelicals is rather a stretch. If her own reactions may be understandable to a degree, the use of her story as propoganda is not.

    And, are you so ready to publish the stories of abuses in progressive and emergent churches?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      You must be new to my blog. I would certainly publish any such a letter.

      • Kathleen

        Thank you for publishing this heartfelt account by a lady who was so brutally traumatized by the very people who profess their love of the Lord and God and His Holy word. As a survivor of rape. sexual assault and domestic violence I know her story all too well; her story and those like it need to be told and the crimes exposed for what they truly are.

        • http://thiswebsite Anon

          Agreed, Kathleen. I was raped by a pentecostal leader and the other leaders and their family, including the wives, turned their backs on me. I am having difficulties in my walk with God, I don’t understand the brutality. I honestly don’t and I am having trouble seeing who God is as God.

    • DR

      Please, point us to the stories of emergent churches who are sending the message that women are second-class citizens and being gay and christian at the same time isn’t possible.

  • MindWarp

    I also was run through the gauntlet at a local assembly. Initially the leaders welcomed me with open arms, giving me extra attention, choice seats at dinners, even gifts and special perks. I found out the reason was because the pastor’s son was trying to catch my eye. As soon as this expected match-up didn’t materialize, all the friendliness, pampering and smiles vanished. Poof! I was virtually ignored and cast out as rubbish. Since they no longer had need of me and couldn’t use me for their purposes, I was counted as dung.They now have nothing to do with me, and are happily nestled with their chosen family.

  • Gqzeee

    As someone who also grew up Oneness Pentecostal this resonates with me.  Although I still feel lingering bitterness (and side effects), too much of my family is still blinded by these organizations for me to feel too much hate.  I mostly feel sorrow and pity when seeing all of those who played an important role in who I am being mislead by something so ridiculous.

  • Harry

    For my $0.02, you’ve gone through a lot, and it seems you may have found

    the right path. The anger and pain may be there some time and you just

    may have flashbacks that raise the anger and pain from time to time when

    you get on the path of forgiveness. As I understand it, sometimes we just

    have to keep praying for power to forgive. Anyway, perhaps one great

    thing you may need insight into is that those people are locked into a

    world – but you got out. Perhaps your ministry may be teaching the

    truth as you found it about our Lord that might get someone out of the

    darkness you’ve been through or prevent them.

  • Jack

    I have been scarred by my Catholic and then fundamentalist upbringing, mostly this “burn in hell for all eternity” business. I cured myself of it by immersing myself in stories of people’s NDE’s and all the love God showed to people of all religious persuasions, even atheists. In thousands after thousands of accounts by people from every race, creed , color, etc they tell of how they were met by loving Beings who did not judge them in the slightest, just told them that their mission on earth was not over and that after they return they should love more as God loves them.

    That’s it.

    Don’t ever argue with Fundies or try to change their minds. They are dead set in their beliefs and you are wasting your time, breath and energy on them. Do what I did: put as much distance between yourself and them as you can; don’t communicate with them; don’t exchange a word with them, in person, over the phone and especially not in Internet forums. Their influence is pernicious, I have found, and I feel so much better now that I’ve cut myself off from all contact with them. My two cents.

    • Mark

      Please don’t cut yourself off from them, They need a good role model. Not arguing with them would be a great choice though. Try living this out, 1John 3:16-18. It will blow their mind!!!

  • Kathryn

    When will too many christians stop trying to elevate themselves as if they speak to & for God ? Yes you baptist church !!

  • bloomingdedalus

    One of these days people will actually understand the level of influence the CIA and other government agencies have had in shaping the incredibly abusive environments that are fundamentalist religions. At that point, you will be able to sue them for human rights violations.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

      Actually. fundamentalism religion isn’t a government construct at all. Most are born out of a sense of fear, fear of change in the world around them, fear of being left behind, fear of being done away with, fears, some real, some imagined. Most major religions have their fundamentalist factions, why they came to be almost always fits into a mindset of getting into a defensive stance, a protective measure against what is percieved to be threats.
      I suggest reading Karen Armstrong’s excellent book The Battle for God. Its lengthy and chock full of history, but she covers the rise of fundamentalism in religion quite well.

      • bloomingdedalus

        And if you read “The Family – The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power” – you’ll understand, partially, what role the United States Government spends in constructing fundamentalist religion in the United States. There’s nothing Christian about Christian Fundamentalism – it’s utterly mutated from anything you’d expect a zealous adherence to the Christian text would be.


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