And then, after all of this, I left for college. College had always been on of my parents’ expectation for me, and I’d never seen them as proud as they were at my homeschool graduation. With my parents’ approval, I chose a secular college because I wanted to witness to others and make a difference in the world. I had been taught that I was to be a culture changer, shouldn’t I start now? My parents approved of this choice because they believed I was finally ready, after eighteen years of being trained up in their beliefs and worldview.
Of course, I believed my role was to be a wife and mother, but no one had appeared to seek my hand and my parents, both college educated themselves, had never shaken the idea that a college degree is important. I would graduate from college, they said, and then work until someone came to my father asking for my hand, and then marry and settle down as a homemaker, wife, and mother. My plan was to find an upstanding Christian man in college and graduate with a ring on my finger. After all, I didn’t want to delay having children any more than I had to, because I knew I wanted a very large family. Until then, though, I would use my college years to witness to others and further God’s kingdom.
I found out almost immediately upon arriving at college that I did not fit in very well. I thought this was just because I had been homeschooled, but it was more than that. I wore only homemade clothing, had hair all down my back, and didn’t use makeup. I definitely stuck out! In addition to looking out of place, I had no idea how to relate to anyone I met, because none of them shared my exact beliefs or had an upbringing anything similar to mine. I was the very definition of a fish out of water.
Gradually, I began to make friends with evangelical girls I met in my dorm. The god-talk was familiar to me, but their upbringings were still largely foreign. None of my new friends had more than a couple siblings, and none of them believed in female submission the way I did. They were in college so that they could have careers; they didn’t plan to be homemakers. They were astonished when they learned that I believed I would be under my younger brother’s authority if my father died, and they found my clothing and mannerisms strange and funny. Yet they accepted me as I was, and for that I will always be grateful. Without them, my transition to college would have been a great deal more painful than it was.
College quickly taught me first that those who did not believe like I did were neither automatically miserable inside nor bad people. In fact, I found that even Catholics, gays, and agnostics could be lovely people. This confused me but it also opened my world and showed me that dividing humanity into “good” and “evil” was too simplistic.
I realized, though, that I could not witness to others very well when I stuck out like a sore thumb. I therefore bought myself a new wardrobe, cut my hair, and learned to wear makeup. My new clothes were still conservative, but at least they were not floor length homemade dresses. My new look worked, and I began to have theological and political conversations with a number of non-Christians. I worked hard to show them the perfection of the Bible, the evidence of young earth creationism, the evils of abortion, and the love of God.
Strangely, I found a surprising number of my arguments rebutted by arguments I had never heard before. I was told that there were serious problems with creationism, ethical issues with the Bible, and more affective ways to decrease abortion than banning it. I turned to my resources, my books and websites on creationism, theology, and conservative politics, and I tried again. And again. And again. But some things just didn’t add up. I paused my arguments to do some serious research, and I was astounded by what I found.
Second, as I read and researched the Bible in order to rebut the arguments I was hearing, things stuck out to me that I had glossed over before, such as God’s command that the Israelites commit genocide on neighboring tribes or the Bible’s endorsement of slavery. I also began to notice errors in the Bible, such as the statement that there were 600,000 adult male Israelites among those who left Egypt, at a time when archaeological evidence shows that there were only 50,000 people living in all of Canaan. Similarly, there was no empire-wide census in the days of Caesar Augustus. I also found contradictions between the Gospels. Did Jesus ride one donkey on Palm Sunday, or two? Was he crucified at nine o’clock, or at noon? Were Mary and Joseph from Bethlehem or Nazareth? It depends on which gospel you read. I simply couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
Finally, I found that banning abortion did not make it any less rare, but simply led to illegal abortions harmful to women. In fact, I learned that abortion is actually most rare where it is most legal – in Western Europe. Thekey todecreasing abortion, I found, was not picketing abortion clinics or banning it in the legislatures. It was widespread birth control. I was completely confused.
And suddenly, I realized something. I had been taught to be a critical thinker, but I had never questioned the beliefs my parents taught me. And I realized that if young earth creationism, the infallibility of the Bible, and the importance of banning abortion, things which my parents believed in so very strongly, were wrong, than everything else they had taught me was also suspect. I also realized that I could not view the Bible as I had before, as literal truth, but must instead see it as somehow figurative, spiritual, and metaphorical.
Yet I had a more immediate problem, and that problem centered in large part on my belief in my father’s authority over me. What was I to do now that I disagreed with my father and saw him as fallible? I thought of the things my evangelical friends had said about Jesus teaching radical female equality for his time, and delved into research on this issue. I soon found that Jesus urges people to leave their parents and follow him, and that Jesus says that his followers should not marry. Similarly, Paul says that Christians shouldn’t marry unless they have to because of lust. The emphasis on forming patriarchal families simply is not there. Furthermore, Jesus urges mutual serving, not submission for some and authority for others. None of this sounded like the Christian Patriarchy I had been taught. The only question, then, was what to do now.
For the next installment of this series, click here.