A post in the Raised Evangelical series.
Section 1: Introduction
Question 1: Please introduce yourself before we get started, providing a brief snapshot of your background an overview of your beliefs today.
I grew up in Australia, going to a Baptist church. These days, I’m still a Christian – but my beliefs are much less conservative, much more inclusive, and much less immersed in “Christian culture”. I go to an Anglican church, and disagree with about a quarter of what they say.
Question 2: How did your family and religious community self identify? As evangelicals? As fundamentalists? Or as something else? What did these terms mean to your parents and religious community?
In my country, those terms aren’t really used. However, had we been in America, both my family and my church would have called themselves “evangelicals”. We listened to Christian music, read James Dobson, wore WWJD bracelets, and were very focused on “having a personal relationship with Jesus” – although we never really got round to defining what that meant.
Question 3: How did your parents become evangelicals or fundamentalists? Did they grow up in evangelical or fundamentalist families, or did they convert later?
My parents grew up evangelical, and stayed that way. I don’t think it would have occurred to them to do anything else. My uncle is a fundamentalist (attending an IFB church), and has cut himself off from the rest of his “heathen” family. Because of this, my parents have a very negative view of fundamentalism, and try to avoid any religious extremism.
Section 2: Theology
Question 1: Briefly describe the church your family attended while you were growing up. What role did the pastor play? How large was it? What sort of programs did it offer? What denomination was it? How many times a week did you attend church? How about Bible study or Bible club?
We went to a large Baptist church with about 6 pastors. (Nowadays they have 11.) It had three Sunday services – I regularly went to two of them – and a large Sunday School and youth group. For anyone teenaged or older, there were also weekly “small groups”, who would meet for Bible study.
Every week, I would go to two church services, help teach Sunday School, spend Wednesday night at small group, and Friday night at youth group.
Question 2: When and how were you “saved”? How did your parents and church community respond? Did you have a “relationship with Jesus”? If so, at what age did you form this relationship? Please describe what all it entailed. Or, if you attended a church that was more liturgical and did not emphasize the specific moment of salvation or having a personal relationship with Jesus, what were considered to be most important milestones of a religious upbringing (i.e. confirmation, etc.) and how did you experience them?
It was assumed that I’d probably “prayed the prayer” at some point. (I did – at least eight times.) Because I’d grown up in the church, being “saved” wasn’t considered a big deal; but if I’d been dragged along to church by a friend, people would have been much more interested in my “moment of salvation”.
The main milestone my church was interested in was my baptism. There wasn’t a specific time that we were pushed to do this – once we were teenagers, we could ask to attend a “baptism class” and then be baptised, but we had to decide to do it by ourselves for it to be “real”.
I considered myself as always having had a relationship with Jesus. I got baptised when I was thirteen – which was very young compared to most of the church.
Question 3: How did your family and church view the Bible, and what role did it play in your life growing up and in the life of your family and church? How often did you, your siblings, and your parents read the Bible? Were you guided by your parents or pastors in how to interpret the Bible, especially certain passages, or were you generally free to form your own ideas about what the Bible said?
The Bible was considered very important, but no-one ever told me whether I was supposed to consider it infallible, inspired, or anything else. Everyone assumed that it should be taken literally – but no-one ever actually said so.
My family didn’t read the Bible together, but we expected to do our own individual “quiet time” (Bible study and prayer) every day. My mum gave us Bible study guides – which would tell us which passage to read that day, and give a few paragraphs of age-appropriate discussion on the Bible passage. I gathered that my parents agreed with what the study guides said, but we never really discussed it.
Question 4: What role did race play in your church? Were there any black or Hispanic families? Were they treated differently?
Being in Australia, “black and Hispanic” isn’t really applicable; our equivalent would be “Asian, Greek/Italian, and Aboriginal”. We had a racial mix almost identical to the surrounding suburbs – so, mainly Anglo-Celtics and Asians. There wasn’t any noticeable difference in treatment.
When I was 14, our church got a “Chinese pastor” (his official job title) who was born in China, and ran Mandarin-speaking services on Sunday afternoons. A lot of the older Asians started attending those services – but the younger Asians preferred the English-speaking services.
Section 3: Gender and Family
Question 1: What did your church teach about gender roles, the family, and marriage?
My church was divided on the subject of women preaching. Half the congregation thought women shouldn’t be in leadership roles or speaking in church. But the other half thought they could – and, eventually, my church ended up employing two female pastors, who preached on a regular basis. No-one complained, although some people still thought it was problematic.
Although my church thought that men should “lead” the marriage, in practice they were more interested in talking about marriage as a partnership.
Question 2: Describe your parents’ marriage. Was it complementarian (i.e. “soft” patriarchy), or more openly patriarchal, or in practice egalitarian? Did your family or church use any of these terms?
My parents’ marriage was egalitarian – if not slightly matriarchal. I didn’t ever hear the terms “complementarian” or “egalitarian” until I started using the internet…
Question 3: In what ways were boys and girls in your family expected to dress or act differently from each other? Were there certain things it was appropriate for girls to do but not boys, and vice versa?
My family had no boys (apart from my father), but I know my mother sees no reason for girls and boys to behave differently. My sisters and I regularly climbed trees, skateboarded down the street, and played cops and robbers; no-one cared.
Question 4: In what ways were boys and girls in your family raised differently vocationally? Were the girls expected to be stay at home mothers or to hold jobs? Did your mother work, and if so, how was that viewed by your family and church?
Women were expected to be stay-at-home mothers until their kids started school – after that, it was assumed that they’d go back to part-time work.
No-one really talked about there being jobs that women should or shouldn’t do.
Section 4: Education
Question 1: What sort of education did you have: public school, Christian school, or homeschool? What reasons did your parents give for choosing the method of education for you that they chose?
I went to a private school, which was nominally Anglican. My parents liked the fact that it was technically a Christian school – because they could excuse me from Sunday activities that would conflict with church, and write letters complaining that “this is not what we’d expect from a Christian school” if they were upset about something – but religion definitely wasn’t a big aspect of my schooling.
Question 2: Briefly describe the academic aspect of your educational experience (public school, Christian school, or homeschool), focusing on the role played by religion. If you were public schooled, did your parents try to counteract anything you were learning at school with different teachings at home (i.e. sex education, evolution)? Or, did the public schools in your area find ways to include things like creationism or abstinence only sex education?
Not really. My sex education was scientific and informative. It focused on the biological aspects of how sex works, and said nothing about whether we should or shouldn’t have sex. From my parents and my church, I learned that sex should be kept for marriage.
My parents didn’t have a problem with evolution – although my church did – so they didn’t care if my school taught me about it.
Question 3: Briefly describe the social aspect of your upbringing, especially as influenced by religion. How did your educational experience (public school, Christian school, or homeschool) affect your socialization? Was your friend group religiously diverse or more homogeneous? If you were public schooled, did your religious background cause you any social problems in school?
My school friends were almost all atheists. The main differences I noticed were that I wasn’t allowed to say “oh my god”, wasn’t allowed to skip church on Sundays, and wasn’t allowed to go to any Halloween parties. Apart from looking slightly weird, my background didn’t cause any social problems.
Question 4: Did you attended Sunday school, youth group, Bible club, or church camp? Please describe your experiences.
All of the above! I went to (and later ran) Sunday School, youth group, holiday Bible clubs, Christian camps, and church camps. The pre-teen ones were very Bible-story focused; the teenage ones were more interested in Bible study, prayer, and my “personal relationship with Jesus”.
Section 5: Purity
Question 1: What were you taught about physical and emotional purity, and also about modesty? What did your family believe about dating and/or courtship? How was sex education handled?
I was taught that sex outside of marriage was bad – as was just about anything more intense than kissing. Emotional purity was also important, and I was told to guard my heart against serious relationships until I was older. (Specifically: “boys, guard your eyes – girls, guard your hearts”.)
Masturbation was bad. Looking too “sexy” was bad. Wearing low-cut tops or short skirts was bad – but mostly you could get away with it, as long as you weren’t “trying” to come across as sexy. (Girls who did try to come across as sexy were given the benefit of the doubt, since they clearly had bad upbringings and didn’t know any better.)
My family was fine with dating – but when I was 14 Joshua Harris’s book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” came out, and purity culture swept through Christian teens, including me. A lot of people at my youth group were interested in courtship – at least briefly – and I was firmly convinced that I shouldn’t kiss anyone until my wedding day.
Question 2: How did the things you were taught about purity, modesty, and dating/courtship work out for you in practice? Did you date, and at what age? Did you have sex before marriage, and if you did, did you experience guilt? In essence, explain how belief met practice and with what results.
My first boyfriend was a big Joshua Harris fan – and decided that, as long as we were planning to get married, being a couple was okay. I broke up with him after he lent me “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and I discovered the full lunacy of what he was thinking.
Although I had two boyfriends as a teenager, I didn’t have my first kiss until I was 25. I have since kissed three guys: one friend, one non-Christian guy who I was incredibly interested in, and my current boyfriend. I stopped making out with my friend because I felt like I was using him to make myself feel better even though I wasn’t romantically interested in him. The second guy I couldn’t go out with (because he wasn’t a Christian, and I didn’t think I should date anyone who wasn’t), but decided I could kiss anyway to make me feel better about not dating him… which was, all things considered, kinda screwed up.
All in all, I’m quite happy with my decision to not have sex before marriage – but I’m very glad I gave up on the “no kissing until the wedding day” thing, because that was ridiculous.
Question 3: How do you feel about your family and church’s purity, modesty, and dating/courtship teachings today? Do you think there are any parts of these teachings that still have value? How do you plan to handle these issues with your own children?
I think courtship is a very destructive and screwed up idea. I also think the masturbation ban is stupid and unreasonable.
While I think sex works best in a marriage relationship, I dislike the terminology of “saving sex for marriage” or “waiting” – because I’ve seen a lot of women “waiting” until they hit their mid-twenties, then concluding they’re never going to get married and racing off to have sex with the first man they find, which led them into some very screwed up relationships. I’d prefer the church to talk less about abstinence and more about healthy relationships – and if those healthy relationships end up including sex, then it’s not a big deal.
My church did teach me that I should be valued for my character rather than my body – and I’m glad for that.
Question 4: Do you feel that the purity, modesty, and dating/courtship teachings you were raised with still have lasting impact on your life today? If so, how? What do you feel is the most detrimental effect of purity teachings?
Courtship seems to infantilise people, and teach them that not having any relationship experience is a good idea. I think my experiences of screwing up relationships has been positive – because it’s helped me to make wise decisions later.
I’d prefer a bigger focus on good decision-making, healthy relationships, and communication. And I’d like to consign courtship to the rubbish dump and never hear about it again.
Section 6: Politics
Question 1: In his book Broken Words, Jonathan Dudley argues that a fourfold opposition to abortion, homosexuality, evolution, and environmentalism constitute the markers of evangelical tribal identity. What role did opposition to these four issues in your fundamentalist or evangelical upbringing, and would you agree with Dudley?
My church assumed that everyone was opposed to abortion and homosexuality, but rarely talked about them. Evolution was dismissed as nonsense – although I did encounter the occasional person saying that you could believe in evolution and still believe in God, so I didn’t really see it as a big deal either way. I’ve never really encountered any opposition to environmentalism in the church.
Question 2: What role did you, your family, or your church community believe Christians should play in politics? What did your family or church hold was the end goal of Christians’ involvement in politics? What were your family and church community’s beliefs about the end times, and how (if any) did these beliefs affect their view of Christians’ role in politics?
My family sees Christian lobbying as a good thing. They are – or were – in favour of passing “family friendly” legislation, and getting more Christians into parliament. They’re definitely more likely to vote for someone who’s a Christian, regardless of their political positions.
My parents thought the “end times” were a load of rubbish. I wish they’d told me that – a speaker at a Christian camp said that the world would almost certainly end by 2003, and that scared me for years.
Question 3: Were you, your family, or your church community involved in politics? What all did this involvement include? Did your pastor ever preach a political view from the pulpit? Did you ever picket an abortion clinic, attend a “defense of marriage” rally, or participate in any related activities? Describe your experiences.
My church was very into sending petitions to local MPs. They’d mention them during the service, and we could go and sign them afterwards. I can’t actually remember what any of the petitions were about. Possibly anti-abortion, pro-“traditional marriage”, and pro-refugee? I think?
We never picketed or anything like that.
Question 4: What political issues did you, your parents, and/or your church community see as most important in deciding who to vote for and why?
Abortion, and the economy. (More recently, marriage equality is a big one. My mother disapproves of our local candidate because she’s pro-choice and pro-marriage equality.)
Section 7: Questioning
Question 1: In what ways did the culture of your family and church differ from “mainstream” American culture? To what extent were you integrated into or isolated from “mainstream” American culture? To what extend do you feel that evangelicalism creates a sort of self-contained culture of its own, with Christian bookstores, Christian music, etc.?
Evangelicalism does NOTHING BUT create a self-contained culture of its own. I worked in a Christian bookshop, complete with Christian music, Christian t-shirts, Christian stationery, and Christian teddy bears – and the experience nearly destroyed my faith.
(More info on my Christian bookshop experiences can be found here: http://slacktivist.typepad.com/slacktivist/2011/07/faith-and-hope-20-off.html)
Question 2: What first made you question evangelicalism/fundamentalism? Was this initial questioning a frightening or liberating experience?
Going to a Pentecostal church for a few months. I went up for prayer after a service, and discovered that the prayer team lady was not at all interested in listening to what I said. All she wanted to know was whether I wanted to become a Christian or being “baptised in the Spirit”, and as soon as she discovered that I was already a Christian, she prayed a formulaic prayer for me to receive the Spirit, and told me that I’d get the gift of tongues as long as I went home and practised.
It was the first time I really realised that some aspects of Christian culture were way more concerned with following a set formula than actually dealing with real people. It was horrible.
Question 3: What did you struggle with most when you were in the midst of questioning and leaving evangelicalism/fundamentalism? What was the hardest part?
I still loved Jesus – and absolutely hated the church and everything about Christianity. Trying to figure out how to reconcile the two was difficult and scary. I was on the verge of turning my back on everything I’d ever known – because I couldn’t bear staying in the church – but at the same time, I really did love Jesus, and I didn’t want to give that up.
Question 4: Among those you grew up around who were also raised evangelical/fundamentalist, what proportion still hold those beliefs and what proportion have also left them?
Most of us are a lot more liberal than we used to be. About 30% of us still go to church somewhere.
Section 8: Relating to Family
Question 1: How did your parents and siblings respond to you questioning/rejecting evangelicalism/fundamentalism? How did the friends you grew up with respond?
Mostly they were very supportive. By the time I started rejecting the church, most of the friends I’d grown up with had already left it – so they didn’t really care. My parents just hoped I’d figure things out somehow.
Question 2: Now that you’ve questioned and left evangelicalism/fundamentalism, what is your relationship with your parents and siblings like today? What is your relationship with the friends you grew up with like?
My relationship with my family is excellent – but there are areas we don’t really discuss. My opinion on homosexuality, for instance, is wildly different from my mother’s. I’m not sure how much she’s aware of what I think about it, but we don’t talk about it, so it doesn’t really get in the way of our relationship.
Honestly, I think my family would have been way more concerned if I’d become a fundamentalist than if I’d become a non-Christian. Their experiences of fundamentalism (with my uncle, who declared that his mother was a witch and cut off contact with our whole family) are far more negative than their experiences of secular culture.
Question 3: For those who are no longer Christian, are you “out” to your parents or siblings or friends from growing up? If so, how did you do it and how did they respond?
They know I dislike a lot of Christian culture, and why. (They even mostly agree! I wish I’d known that earlier!) They don’t know some of my more liberal positions – such as my opinions on homosexuality, or heaven and hell.
Question 4: Have any of the rest of your family, including parents and siblings, left evangelicalism or fundamentalism? How do you approach the relationships with those who have not?
My family still all attend the church we grew up in. I dislike it intensely – and only go back for important family events, like my nephews’ baby dedications.
Even though I’m no longer an evangelical, I’m still a Christian, which is more important to my family than my specific beliefs. So they’re fine.
Section 9: Coping
Question 1: Does having being raised evangelical or fundamentalist has made you feel “different” from the rest of society, or like you stick out or don’t fit in in some way? Explain.
I don’t say “oh my god”, I still feel like I’m being naughty when I have a glass of wine, my grandmother doesn’t know that I watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and my mother knows, but disapproves), people assume I’m sleeping with my boyfriend and think I’m really strange when I mention I’m not, and I still feel like I’m supposed to “witness” to people around me (even though I don’t).
Question 2: What do you think is the biggest way being raised in an evangelical or fundamentalist family and church community has influenced who you are today?
Mostly by making me really dislike the majority of Christian culture. But I still love some aspects of it – and can’t quite stop seeing the good side of the church, even when it really pisses me off.
Question 3: How did you perceive your childhood and evangelical or fundamentalist religious upbringing at the time compared to how do you see it now?
I was much more sure that it was the “correct” way to do things, and absolutely for the best. These days, I’m less sure about the best was to do anything – and much happier about being unsure.
Question 4: What do you think were the most beneficial things about being raised fundamentalist or evangelical? What were the most problematic things?
The community was excellent. There was a whole network of family and friends right there, with huge amounts of support available any time you needed it. That was terrific.
The biggest problem was that looking respectable and fitting in was seen as much more important than actually being a real person and developing a good character. Evangelicalism prefers rude, hateful people who dress nicely and know the lyrics to “Shout to the Lord” to genuine, loving people who don’t fit in.