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 was raised an Evangelical Baptist in the “Bible Belt.” In high school and college I went through a questioning and discovery period, eventually becoming Conservative Catholic towards the end of my senior year of college. As a young adult my questioning continued, and although I still consider myself Catholic, faith I no longer hold orthodox beliefs or participate in the Church sacraments.
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?
My church and my mom identified strongly as “Baptist.” The church we attended was affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT). It was more moderate than the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), but there were members in the church who were more conservative in their theology. It was a mega-Church and the culture can be described as Evangelical.
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 mom grew up Baptist. She looks up to her mom for passing down her faith to her children, and this identity is very important to her. My dad grew up Catholic, but he left the Catholic church while in college. My dad rarely went to church with us, except for a brief period when he became a religious fanatic in a more fundamentalist church. I was in high school at the time, and his church attendance coincided with his mental breakdown. When his brain chemistry balanced out, he said that he had become “messed up on religion.”
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?
I grew up in a large Baptist Church. There was a pastor, associate-pastor, children’s minister, youth minister, young adults minister, senior adults minister, and music minister. These were the top leadership positions, but there were also unpaid deacons and leadership positions as well. It was a large church with a lot of influence in the denomination (BGCT) and the community where I lived. The pastor’s primary role was to preach on Sundays, provide counseling throughout the week, and serve on the church board, which planned activities for the church.
Our church had programs and ministries which were divided up by peer group. I went to Sunday School on Sundays. These classes were divided by grade level until junior high and high school, when the classes were split according to grade level and gender. I also went on Wednesday nights for Mission Friends as a child, Girls in Action (G.A.s) in middle school (The boys had a separate program), and Acteens and youth group as a teenager. I also participated in children’s choir and youth choir, Vacation Bible School in the summers and went on mission trips with my church as a teenager.
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?
I was officially saved and Baptized when I was 10 years old. My sister, who was 7 at the time, had been having nightmares that involved Hell. My mom decided that it was time to schedule an appointment with the Children’s Minister to talk about salvation. I remember being bored during this meeting, which was mostly about my sister’s dreams. Then the Children’s Minister led us in a prayer, repeating her words, to ask Jesus into our hearts. We were Baptized a few weeks later after walking down the isle during an alter call at the end of the worship service.
I always tried to have a relationship with Jesus, but I was confused about how the relationship was supposed to work. I questioned my salvation experience constantly, and was re-baptized in high school after a youth minister at a church rally told me that my faith difficulties were a result of being baptized before I really believed. I did everything my church community recommended to have a relationship with Jesus. I read my Bible in a 15 minute private devotional time, I was heavily involved at church, and I went on mission trips. I prayed often and tried to hear the voice of God, but I always heard silence. There was always a disconnect between what I was told I should feel about loving Jesus and what I actually felt. It took a lot of psychological effort to conjure up the proper religious emotions emphasized by the church community.
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?
My family never formally read the Bible together outside of church. As children, my mother read us picture books of Bible stories and we watched Bible story cartoons. We were encouraged to memorize weekly Bible verses at Church each week, and my mom helped us memorize the verses. Thanks to her efforts, my sister and I were recognized as some of the top Bible students in our Sunday School classes. In high school I would do a 15 minute Bible devotional by myself because our youth group leaders encouraged this. Biblical interpretations came from sermons, but at the same time we were encouraged to read the Bible for ourselves. Our church heavily emphasized the priesthood of the believer and reading the Bible for oneself. If your interpretation was something different, you were free to bring a question to a church leader. There wasn’t any overt pressure to agree with the leadership on Biblical interpretation, but there was social pressure.
Question 4: What role did race play in your church? Were there any black or Hispanic families? Were they treated differently?
There were very few minority families in our church, which was made up of primary upper middle-class whites. There was a “Building Bridges” committee, which connected to a local African-American Baptist church. Every year the pastor and choir from their church would host a service at our church during the Sunday nigh evening worship service. I especially enjoyed the music during these shared-services. Our church would also perform a service at their church once a year, but my family never attended.
Section 3: Gender and Family
Question 1: What did your church teach about gender roles, the family, and marriage?
My church didn’t spend a lot of time emphasizing gender roles. There were a lot of working moms at our church and women in certain leadership positions. There were also Sunday School leaders who were divorced and divorced and re-married. Family in general was emphasized, and this was understood as a nuclear family. Looking back, although family structures and gender roles were not discussed, they were modeled. Women could not be deacons, be pastors, or serve on the main church board. The children’s minister and assistant music minister were both female. Women could lead Sunday school classes, but most of the women who did this were married to influential men in the church and greater community. They didn’t work outside the home.
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?
Oddly enough, my family was more matriarchal. This was out of practicality more than anything because my dad battled a mental illness and had difficulty holding a steady job. My mom listened to Christian radio, and I learned about complementarianism from listening to Focus on the Family. In high school, the girls’ Sunday School class placed a lot of emphasis on finding a godly husband and becoming godly women to attract a godly husband.
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?
I only had a sister, so I have nothing to compare this to. In 4th grade, my friend (also female) and I wanted to try out for little league football at school. Her dad let her play football, but my mom refused and had me try out for cheerleading instead. As far as I could tell, this was purely a gender decision on her part.
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?
My mom always encouraged my sister and I to get an education and figure out what we wanted to be when we grew up. My mom was the primary wage-earner in our family. She worked hard and often came home tired and stressed out. The women who taught Sunday School at our church were wives of wealthy businessmen in the community. My dad’s mental instability was hidden from our church community, and I had a sense that my family was different.
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?
We went to the public school. My parents chose a house in a neighborhood that had a good public school system. This decision was made before I was born, so they always planned to send us there.
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?
Religion wasn’t really an issue at my public school, perhaps because I lived in a smallish city in the Bible Belt. I was taught about evolution in the 8th grade, but my teacher was open to us about being an active member in her church. She told the class that we needed to learn the information for her class, but if we had concerns we should ask our parents. Learning about evolution didn’t bother me. Looking back, I think I compartmentalized evolutionary theory, taught to me at school, and the creation story being taught at church. My mother would often mention that she believed in six day creationism, but she never used videos or books to really indoctrinate me on this.
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?
Christianity was the “cool” religion at my public school. All the popular kids were Christian or at least went to church. I was a bit of a nerd, which necessarily meant my friend group was more diverse–Christian friends but also atheist and agnostic friends, and a Jewish friend. Although I went to church regularly, by the time I attended high school I wasn’t really friends with anyone at my church due to my social status in the high school hierarchy.
Question 4: Did you attended Sunday school, youth group, Bible club, or church camp? Please describe your experiences.
All of the above. As a child I enjoyed going to Sunday School, which usually involved a craft and a Bible story. I also enjoyed going to children’s’ summer camp, and I have fond memories of swimming in the lake, working a ropes coarse, doing crafts, and singing Bible songs. I continued to participate in Sunday School as a teenager, but I didn’t enjoy it as much because I didn’t have very many friends at church. I often felt left out and lonely. The few years I went to youth camp, I stayed indoors a lot reading books because I felt intimidated by all the popular kids who went to my church.
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?
There was a lot of emphasis placed on purity in my church youth group. When I was 15 we had a “True Love Waits” campaign, in which we signed virginity pledge cards. My mom also took me to the Christian bookstore to pick out a pledge ring to wear on my wedding ring finger. Modesty was never really mentioned at my church, except at youth summer camps and on mission trips. The rule was “no short shorts,” but nothing was really enforced. There were also a lot of lessons in the girls’ Sunday School class about saving yourself for a godly husband.
The sex education program at my public school was somewhat vague. Girls and boys were separated into different classrooms, where w learned the difference between male and female reproductive systems. We didn’t really learn about STDs or prevention methods until Health class, taken sometime in high school. Almost everyone at my church went to public school, so they would have received the same education.
My parents didn’t allow me to date until I was 16. Then they encouraged me to not get into a serious relationship and to date several different boys. I think this is what they did when they were kids, and the message I heard from them contradicted the messages I heard at church and on Christian radio, which talked about dating to find a husband.
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.
I went on my first official date the day I turned 16–dinner and a movie with the boy I had been crushing on. I had a “serious” relationship with him for 9 months. We didn’t have sex, but we kissed and fondled each other. I felt guilty about this, and that’s one of the reasons we broke up.
I decided to not date anyone else until college because I switched to the look for a godly spouse mentality. I dated several guys in college, until I met who would become my future husband. We were very involved physically while date, but remained virgins until our wedding night.
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 appreciated my parents’ advice to date a lot of guys before I settled. This helped me figure out what I liked about the different men I dated. I don’t think I will encourage my children to date with marriage in mind because I believe this can strain male/female friendships and cause relationships to become too serious too soon. When they are old enough I will discuss the importance of making healthy sexual choices within the context of a serious relationship.
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?
I think these teachings have haunted my adult life more than anything else I was taught by the religious community. I converted to Catholicism in college partially for the deeper systematic theology regarding sex and the body. I was raised only hearing, “Sex is bad until you’re married. Then it’s fabulous, so have fun.” It wasn’t very deep.
I found deeper theological reasons justifying this mindset in Catholicism, specifically in Theology of the Body teachings and the literature put out by the Couple to Couple League, but it also came with more rules and an anti-birth control message. My husband and I followed these teachings, and had 2 surprise pregnancies within the first 3 years of our marriage. This changed the course of our lives and halted our career plans. I became completely afraid of sex and pregnancy. We decided to remain abstinent for a year while we worked through questions about the Catholic Church’s position on birth control. This was hard on our marriage, and we ultimately decided to abandon the Church’s teaching.
It’s been a difficult process, involving a lot of guilt and anger (at each other, the Christian community, and the Catholic Church), but since abandoning these teachings our marriage has become stronger. We are more comfortable being physically intimate in ways we both enjoy.
The most detrimental effect of this teaching was my fear of sex with my husband and fear of another unplanned pregnancy. We may have more children in future, but I want to experience the excitement of a positive pregnancy test, rather than a sense of failure at doing NFP incorrectly.
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?
These main issue discussed in my church was abortion, and the people there were very pro-life and endorced pro-life candidates. My family was also strongly against homosexuality, specifically homosexual marriage and against environmentalism. I went to high school during the early 2000s, and remember prayer in school being a big issue. There was a yearly “See You at the Pole” campaign in which churches encouraged students to pray around their school’s flagpole before school. It was also a big deal when prayer at football games was replaced with a moment of silence.
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?
There was a big emphasis placed on the end times in my church around the time that the Left Behind books were published. My mom used end time theology to take a “it doesn’t matter” approach to politics, as in, “Jesus is coming back soon, so it doesn’t matter who wins the election.”
In our church we were told that it is the Christian’s responsibility to vote because we have the privilege of living in a democratic nation. We should therefore pray about we vote for, and vote for those who are against abortion.
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.
Growing up nothing explicitly political was preached from the pulpit, other than our responsibility as citizens to vote. The pro-life message was taught in Sunday School, where we learned that abortion was a horrible evil and blight on the nation.
After I became Catholic, I heard the pro-life message preached more often from the pulpit.
I wasn’t involved in politics until after I converted to Catholicism. In college I was involved in my school’s pro-life organization, and in my young adulthood I prayed the rosary in front of Planned Parenthood with a Catholic demonstration group.
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?
The biggest issue was abotion and which candidates were pro-choice and which were pro-life. My parents were strong fiscal conservatives, so I also heard a lot of talk about “lazy people on welfare.”
My own political beliefs, up until the past 3 years or so, were shaped around the pro-life mentality. There is a picture in my scrapbook of my friend and holding up our voters’ registration cards in front of the building where we voted. The caption I wrote below reads, “Voting Pro-Life!!!”
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.?
My family was within mainstream culture for the area where I was raised, Texas, which is very red state with high church attendence. Evangelicalism does create it’s own culture, but this was the dominant culture where I grew up and where I went to college. This culture wasn’t isolated from mainstream American/pop culture, but it existed alongside it and with it.
Question 2: What first made you question evangelicalism/fundamentalism? Was this initial questioning a frightening or liberating experience?
My initial questioning began in high school when I wanted to understand why I believed the things my mom taught and the things I was being taught in Church. I started reading theology books and investigating the claims of other Christian denominations. Because my Baptist church and Baptist university encouraged reading the Bible for oneself, I saw it as my Christian duty to understand why I believed what I did.
I didn’t start questioning Christianity itself until well into my adulthood. This began when I had my own children and found an experiential disconnect between what I was feeling about motherhood and what I was told I should feel about motherhood.
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?
The hardest part about leaving evangelicalism was having my college pastor tell me why he thought I was going to hell. It was a lengthy discussion, and I left in tears because I knew I was no longer welcome around many of my college friends. This was followed by a letter of excommunication from the Presbyterian church I was attending. I missed the community.
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?
I would say that most there is about a 50% retention rate of those still within the Evangelical/Baptist community that I grew up in. Half of my peers from church are still very-much Evangelical/Baptist. Of those who have left, most no longer go to Church, but would still call themselves Christians. A few of us also spent some time in stricter sects or religions such as fundamentalist Baptist, Mormonism, or in my own case, Catholicism.
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?
My sister was very accepting and understand of my questioning. My mother gave me Baptist apologetic literature to read and took my decision to leave very personally. She stopped helping me pay for college my senior year, so I had to take out a large student loan to complete my education.
I left for college determined to continue to question my faith, so I didn’t have any childhood friends bothered by my questioning.
I lost a few friends in college when I became a Catholic, but my best friends stayed with me. These friends have continued to question their faith as well, and we keep in touch and openly discuss religious issues together.
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 parents is better, now that I have had children and have been out on my own for several years. Religion is an understood “off limits” topic between us. My relationships with my sister and childhood friends never became strained over religious differences.
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?
My status as a Christian is more complicated, and I’m not ready to completely abandon Christianity. Thankfully my husband and I have been drifting together in this area. We are “out” to his parents, who do not understand our lack of certainty and dismiss us as agnostics.
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 sister now attends a mainstream church and considers herself a universalist. Religion is not discussed with our parents, except on the most shallow level of attending church.
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 feel different having been raised Evangelical, I feel different having left Evangelicalism.
I now live in a smaller Texas town, and being Christian is the norm here. Having more accepting believes regarding people of different races, ethnicities, and sexual identities makes me feel different, especially because I’m committed to speaking out against intolerance.
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?
I learned to value family and togetherness, and I understand the mindset of my current community. I think the emphasis placed on personal belief and reading the Bible for oneself gave me a starting place to begin exploring my own beliefs, a process I feel is never really complete.
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?
As a child I thought it was a lot of fun to go to church, and I was very happy with my friends and experiences there. As a teenager, I felt out of place and resented being forced to go to church. I tried hard to be the best Christian I could be because I wanted to fit in with the popular Christian kids.
Now, I simply see those experiences as a part of my childhood. I appreciated the community I received as a child, but I’m glad I could explore other Christian communities as an adult.
Question 4: What do you think were the most beneficial things about being raised fundamentalist or evangelical? What were the most problematic things?
The most beneficial things were the emphasis on families at my church and the different age-appropriate activity levels for the kids. Because my church was large there were a lot of different activities. I found my love of singing in church choir, and I had an outlet for volunteer work in the community. Since leaving, I really miss these things.
The most problematic thing for me was feeling out of place as a working-class kid, who preferred reading books than talking about boys. I didn’t like the cliquishness. At the same time, this has helped me sympathize with misfits and become a more open-minded adult.