Raised Evangelical: Jenn’s Story

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.

My name is Jenn and I am 40 years old and married with no children.

I was raised in what I considered a very religious family.  My parents converted from Baptist to Evangelical not long after I was born and I was the only child brought up wholly Evangelical.  I was very dedicated to my faith and intended to become a missionary when I grew up.  I was accepted into Bible school for college, but my parents did not want me to go to school away from home, so I attended a public university near our home, which was just supposed to be “for a year”.

While in college I met a man who was not Christian and eventually we got engaged.  From there I questioned my beliefs and followed the path that I find many Evangelicals do when they leave the faith, from Fundamentalist to not believing the Bible is inerrant to believing in God, but not necessarily salvation to spirituality (belief in something more than can be explained, but not Christianity) to agnosticism to atheism.

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 family self-identified as Evangelical, Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Fundamentalist.

Evangelical to me was the belief that the gospel should be shared, spread across the world, and I should seek to lead every person I encountered to salvation.

Pentecostal to me was the belief in baptism in the Holy Spirit, glossolalia (speaking in tongues), prophecy, divine healing, and eschatology (or the second coming of Christ, rapture, and tribulation).  I was dispensationalist (pre-milliannialist).

Charismatic to me was the belief that all Christians had been given gifts and talents to serve God.  Not using one’s God-given talents or gifts was considered a sin and a rejection of God.  Of course the definition of that talent or gift and what the person was supposed to do with it was largely defined by church leaders, and usually not by an individual.

Fundamentalism to me was the belief in the divine inspiration of the Bible and its inerrancy.  The Bible was the word of God given to use directly.  Even though the Bible was written by different people, they were writing what God was telling them to write through divine inspiration.

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 both were brought up Baptist.  My grandfather on my Dad’s side became a Baptist preacher later in life, but I believe that he was a farmer most of his life.  He was very strict about the role of women (subordinate) and that women should not wear makeup, pants, or short skirts (and especially not shorts).  That carried over to us, but my mother often fought to change those rules because it wasn’t the way she was raised.  She didn’t believe pants were men’s clothes or that women should have to be shapeless to preserve modesty.

My mom was brought up in a Baptist household, but her parents were not very devout when she was growing up.  Her father was an alcoholic.  As my grandmother got older she became more serious about her faith.  She alienated my uncle by telling him over and over that he was going to hell because he was Catholic.  She alienated most of the family by being very judgmental over every aspect of our lives.

My dad had a lot of old fashioned beliefs when he and my mom got married.  I think my mom was more progressive, although I don’t know if I’d ever consider her a feminist.  She still believed that the wife should submit to the husband, but she didn’t think that women should give up their independence completely.  The husband may have the last word, but the wife was capable of making decisions and running the household and her own affairs without checking on every little thing.

I think I got some of my feminist tendencies from my mom.  I rebelled against the idea that I should be treated differently than my brothers.  And I couldn’t accept the idea that God would make me less than.  I struggled often with the literal text of the Bible and my own sense of justice.

I don’t know how my parents became Evangelicals.  I think it was through television evangelism programs, but I was too young to remember that time and we never talked about it.  In 1978 my parents moved to Charlotte, NC to be closer to Jim Bakker’s outreach, PTL.

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 started attending small Evangelical churches sometime after I was born, but before I was 5.  I was “saved” at the age of 5 and baptized in the Holy Spirit when I was 7 (as well as baptized in water).  I believed in the speaking of tongues and being slain in the spirit, but I wasn’t sure why it never happened to me or why it scared me to try.  Much later in my life I realized I was faking a lot of what I was supposed to believe.  I was trying to act through faith, but in reality I was doing things just so I wouldn’t be different than the other people in my church.

We attended small churches after moving to NC that had words like Grace, Victory, and Word (of God) in their titles.  We started out meeting in the homes of a member and eventually rented space in convention hotels or office buildings.  We stayed at one church long enough for them to build an actual church building on property they purchased.  A lot of our departures from these churches were due to scandals or schisms within the church.  The pastor got a divorce or the worship leader had a disagreement with the pastor and left, taking half the congregation.  Or a church leader was involved in something he shouldn’t have (some sort of scandal) and was dismissed.

Even now my parents prefer to attend small churches that meet at someone’s house or are what you’d call a storefront church, meeting in a small commercial space.

My churches usually offered Sunday school for children and a youth group.  Usual services on Sunday morning were started with praise and worship (singing) for an hour.  After that the children were dismissed to Sunday school and the adults stayed for the sermon.  Sunday school was usually a sermon that was targeted towards a particular age level.  We were divided into preschool (more like daycare), young children, and young adult.

We also had service on Sunday evenings and Wednesday evenings.  I went to service with my parents most Sundays and Wednesdays.  My siblings were out of the house by this time and I liked church, which was my main social outlet, so instead of resisting going to church, I encouraged my parents to take me.

On Monday nights at my last church growing up we had youth group, where the teenagers would get together for Bible study and we would often play games and do things that were fun too. We also planned events like witnessing to people in the inner city or Bible camp in the summers.

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 at a Vacation Bible School when I was 5 years old when being “saved” was explained to me.  My parents weren’t in my class and didn’t know until the teacher told them later.  My mom was very excited.  I had a relationship with Jesus, but I always felt like it was pretty one sided.  I never heard his voice, just acted on what I thought I should do based on what I was taught.  That was following God’s word according to my pastors.

I was baptized in the Holy Spirit when I was 7.  My parents were away on a tour of the “holy land” at the time.  My mom complained that she was never there when these big events happened.  And I still have a picture taken when I was 7 being baptized in the swimming pool of the hotel where we held our church services.

These three milestones weren’t very formal, other than there was a call for it at the start of service, but they were very important milestones in our spiritual lives.  They showed acceptance and maturity in our 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?

The Bible was the divinely inspired word of God (being that God told people what to write).  I was taught that it was unchanged from its original form since it was first written.  I knew the books were written at different times, but I was not taught about how text was copied over time and changed due to unintentional or intentional copying mistakes.  I was told that God kept his words the same over that time.

I also only had a small understanding of how the New Testament became the text it is through a conference of church leaders.  While I was always taught to respect church leaders I was also taught that man was fallible and everyone was subject to making mistakes (a conflict with the divine inspiration in writing the Bible).  But I was familiar with the Council of Nicaea in my history studies (A Beka Books), but had little idea of the transition of Biblical ideas even up to the 20th century. I was taught everything I believed was as the apostles believed.

For graduation my youth pastor gave me a Strong’s Concordance to use along with reading scripture to understand the Greek translation better, so of course I knew the New Testament had originally been written in Greek and was not the King James version, but I thought Biblical scholars were resolute in their understanding of the Bible and the translations.

Most church services were about specific passages of the Bible.  One verse or chapter was taken and the pastor would spend the service talking about the words and the significance and how it should impact our lives as Christians.  There was some leeway for interpretation, unless it conflicted with the fundamental theology of Christianity.  The way to salvation, the divinity of God, the inerrancy of the Bible, and the second coming of Christ are all examples of theology that was not to be questioned because it was the basis of faith.  But beliefs that weren’t as fundamental to the faith like whether or not women should be able to speak in church were open to debate.  Maybe it was okay for a woman to speak out during prophecy if she felt inspired by God.  She was after all only acting as a vessel.  But to lead the service and teach, that might be a different matter depending on how the epistles were interpreted.

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 black families and I don’t remember any Hispanic families.  This was during the 70’s and 80’s, so Hispanic families weren’t as common in the community.  I don’t remember black families being treated differently.  I had friends in the church and in my Christian schools that were black and didn’t think of them any differently.  But, understanding the bias within our culture better, I am sure there was bias.  Because our congregation was usually white and middle to upper middle class I’m sure that homogeny lead to bias.  Being different was a big deal when it came to perceived piety or chastity, so I’m sure it was also a big deal when it came to other differences.

Section 3: Gender and Family

Question 1: What did your church teach about gender roles, the family, and marriage?

There wasn’t as much of an emphasis about marriage being between one man and one woman as it is today in many Evangelical churches because there wasn’t any concept of marriage between anyone else in the mainstream at the time I was growing up.  It just wasn’t something that was even discussed.  Normal depictions of a family were white with a mother, father, and children.  The children were gender segregated.  Duties in the household were often gender segregated.  Women and girls were always shown wearing dresses.  It was very “Leave It to Beaver.”

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?

I never heard of the word comlementarian when I was growing up, but that was probably the closest to our belief.  Women were to submit to their husbands.  Women and men served different roles, roles defined by God, within the family and within marriage.  Our churches were probably more liberal than my parents.  My father came from a family that was openly patriarchal.  Back when my grandparents got married a woman could be beaten for not obeying her husband and it was justified as the right of the husband.  These ideas didn’t sit well with my mother though so over the years she softened my father.

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?

The women in my family were only required to wear skirts when we visited my dad’s parents.  They did not approve of the way my parents raised us kids.  We had gender specific toys and all the trappings of the culture of our time minus the worldliness of secular music and movies.  It was the sort of gender bias that dictated that girls play with dolls and boys play with cars.

I remember being angry because there was a different set of standards for my brothers than for me.  I wasn’t allowed to do certain things alone because it wasn’t safe for a girl, where it would be for a boy.

Our chores in the household weren’t segregated. We all had to do dishes and clean up the kitchen on a schedule after the family meal.  My sister mowed the yard as often as my brothers.  But even so there were gender expectations.  Although my dad was great with young children and would take care of them just as my mom would, there was still the idea that a mother took care of the children while a father provided for the family.

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 mother worked most of the time after I was born.  I think she stayed at home early in her married life and when she had young children.  I was the youngest of 4 and the gap between me and my next oldest sibling was as wide as it was between the oldest and third child.  By the time I was 12 everyone was out of the house except for me.

My father controlled the family through money and my mother sought independence through having her own income.  So she started working part time by the time I went to school.

My father really valued education though.  And I was good in school.  He encouraged me to do anything I wanted to do.  I was drawn to science and history and my parents both encouraged me to pursue studies that would lead to a career that would allow me to support myself.

There were still gender biases in the roles women and men should fill within the work place, but I was encouraged to make the most of my learning and go as far as I could go in a career.

I think it’s surprising to both my parents that I didn’t have children.  I think it’s surprising that they only have three grandchildren. My brother (third child) also never had children.  My parents love children and my dad told me that they would have had more children, but they stopped at 4 because that was all they could afford at the time.  Self-reliance was important to my dad and he would have never been able to take charity.  He took pride in supporting his family himself.

Section 4: Education

Question 1: What sort of education did you have: public school, Christian school, or home school? What reasons did your parents give for choosing the method of education for you that they chose?

I went to Christian school in kindergarten (4 year & half of 5 year), 1st grade, and 3rd – 9th grade.  We moved halfway through kindergarten and I was placed in public school after the move.  I went to school at PTL in 1st grade, Bible Baptist in 3rd and half of 4th, First Assembly half of 4th through 8th, back to PTL for 9th, and then public school for 10th and 11th.  I graduated early because I had enough credits.  Counting that up I went to 8 different schools through 13 years of education.

I think the Mathematics was probably good, but all the other subjects were mainly memorization and regurgitation.  I completely felt robbed of an education when I finally realized what I missed in science, history, and English literature years later after I’d graduated.
I was afraid of public school.  I was told there were stabbings (no guns, just knives at the time) and rapes at public school.  It was unsafe and the teachers didn’t care about education.  I was always told my Christian school curriculum was years ahead of public school curriculum.  When I finally went back to public school in 10th grade it was only after my parents moved to a small town in South Carolina.  My class size went from 12 students in 10th grade to 167 in 11th.  Although it was a small school it felt huge to me.

Question 2: Briefly describe the academic aspect of your educational experience (public school, Christian school, or home school), 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?

I was in Christian schools for the majority of my education.  My education was mostly through A Beka Books curriculum. My brother and sister went through PACE, which was a horrible, teach yourself at your own pace education system.   Classes were not led by teaches.  Students had to stay quiet in their cubicles and put up a flag when they had a question as they worked through workbooks.  It was not learning.

A Beka was mostly memorization.  Science was probably the worst of all of the subjects because all we did was memorize “facts” rather than learn any kind of critical thinking.  We memorized the scientific method, but never applied it.  History was a close second because the historical narrative was extremely biased and outright wrong at times.

I wrote a series of blog posts about my Christian education on my old blog. Here’s an excerpt:

I remember one example of extreme jingoism in a story that I read in fourth grade. It was about an immigrant attending an American school. During her first week of class she became fascinated with the American flag due to all of the wonderful things that she learned about being an American. When the school caught on fire and the children were evacuated, she realized the flag was still in the building. She rushed back into the building to rescue the flag. After she dropped the flag from an upper story window, she fainted from smoke inhalation. She was rescued by firefighters and became a hero at the school.

Now I realize that stories are often fanciful at that age and I don’t expect realism, but I think stories like this are dangerous. To encourage any child to enter a burning building to rescue a flag or to imply that an immigrant can gain acceptance through putting his or her life in extreme danger isn’t advisable.

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 home school) 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?

I had friends in my neighborhood.  We lived on a cul-de-sac and there were at least 5 other children my age on the street.  Since I didn’t go to school with them and since my family was also very religious I often didn’t feel a part of that social group.  My best friend lived in the neighborhood, but we became distant as we entered adolescence and the differences between us more pronounced.

I had a social group at school and one at church, which overlapped to some extent as some of my friends from school also attended my church.  So, my group of friends was very religiously homogeneous.  Even the children in my neighborhood were all white and Christian, if not as religious as my family.

My religious background did not cause any social problems at school – public or private.

Question 4: Did you attend Sunday school, youth group, Bible club, or church camp? Please describe your experiences.

Yes, yes, yes, yes.

I attended Sunday school at church most Sunday mornings.  The classes were similar age appropriate lessons.

I attended youth group from the age of 12 until 17, when I started college and my parents stopped going to the church we’d been attending for 10 years.  They started attending a new church and I pretty much dropped out of going to church.

I attended a couple of Bible clubs, but never for very long.  They were aimed for children younger than me and I often found myself bored with the gatherings.

I went to camp once with the church group affiliated with my school.  It was the closest to real camp I think I ever got.  We had activities, just like I’d imagine a non-religious summer camp, but we also had at least one Bible class per day as well.

I also went to the beach with my youth group every summer for 4 or 5 years.  We were segregated into dorms of girls and boys.  We spent most of the day out on the beach, but would have worship services in the evenings that often went late into the night.  And yes, everyone wore bathing suits, although I believe bikinis were not allowed.

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?

Modesty was always an issue because there was the struggle between the way my father was raised and the way my mother was raised.  My sister wore skimpy shorts to rebel, which led my dad to institute a dress code of no shorts on me.  I wore corduroy jeans in the summer and it was hot.

I was taught that I should be pure sexually, as in a virgin, until my wedding day and that was the greatest gift I could give my future husband.  The rule was that I could date at age 16 with my parent’s approval.  My mom told me once that any physical intimacy was wrong before marriage and that maybe the day before my wedding I could kiss my fiancé.  She indicated that was how she and my dad had been before marriage, but I realized later that it probably wasn’t true.

Modesty and purity were about perception.  It didn’t matter whether it made sense or not.  My parents never seemed bothered if they told me something that wasn’t true, as long as they were providing what they thought was the proper example to me.
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.

In practice I was an awkward enough kid that I didn’t have my first boyfriend until high school.  I had my first kiss at 15, but that was sort of a fluke.  I did eventually date under my parent’s permission.

I was one of the last in my peer group to have sex, but I did have sex before marriage.  On and off I experienced guilt about it.  Later I had guilt about having more than one, then two, then three sexual partners.  It’s as if the more people I had sex with the more ashamed I was supposed to be.  I let that go eventually after examining my feelings.  I don’t think it matters how many sexual partners a person has.  No one should feel guilt about having sex.

My father told me how disappointed he was in me and often lectured me about giving the milk away for free, even up into my 30s, even with my current husband before we were married.  I teased my husband about dating a cow.  He felt insulted that my dad would think he was just using me.  I felt insulted because I wasn’t bargaining for marriage.  I was in a committed relationship with a man I loved.   Whether the contract was state or church sanctioned had no meaning to me.

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 completely reject my family and church’s purity and modesty teachings today.  I think sex is a wonderful thing and people shouldn’t be made to feel guilty or embarrassed about it.  Morals are more about being truthful to the person I’m having sex with about our relationship, the person I am, and my feelings.  Baggage around sex itself only drives people to be untruthful and feel bad about themselves.

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?

Yes, purity and modesty will have a lasting impact on my life.  It caused me a lot of insecurity and to put importance on things that really didn’t matter.   It caused me to bottle up parts of myself because my sexuality was too dangerous.  Maybe in another 30 years it really won’t matter, but the idea that I, as a woman, was the source of evil had a lasting impact.  I keep finding new places where that idea still influences me even after I’ve rejected the teaching.

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?

I think, yes, opposition to those four things are very ingrained into the evangelical identity.  All four are considered a rejection of God based on how I was brought up.  Environmentalism is the only one I see some wiggle room on.  There wasn’t a black and white picture of it when I was growing up.  It was a good thing to take care of the earth and the inhabitants of the earth, but it was a bad thing to revere the earth.  That was bordering on worship of something other than God.

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 church believed people should be very involved in politics.  It was my duty as a Christian to make the world more Christ-like, and that included political influence and law making.  Every election year our pastor encouraged us to vote for the “right” candidate, which was usually named as the candidate that favored the religious right.

There was a belief, probably something akin to a conspiracy theory, that the anti-christ would be elected into government and lead the world to Armageddon.  Christians would be able to recognize the anti-christ and would fight to not have him elected, but that would lead to Christian persecution and the rapture.

It was odd that as a church we were looking forward to the rapture, but at the same time doing everything we could to try to avoid it through politics and lifestyle.

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.

Yes, my church community was involved in politics.  My church endorsed Jesse Helms (NC) and it was a big deal to get him elected each term.  My worship leader eventually left the church and entered politics as a state Representative.

I never picketed an abortion clinic but I was encouraged to volunteer at the Crisis Pregnancy Clinic.  I went to volunteer training and something about it bothered me so much that I never returned.  I was wholly against abortion, but I had a big problem with the coercion that I observed.  Anything was justified if it kept a woman from considering an abortion.

While I didn’t realize a lot of the material I’d been given was outright untrue, I didn’t feel right putting that kind of pressure on a woman.  Don’t get me wrong, I believed abortion was murder, but pressuring a woman into making a decision wasn’t something I thought I could do.

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 was probably the biggest issue considered when deciding who to vote for, followed by support of the Christian faith and family.  Abortion was a hot button issue when I was growing up, and it was used as a temperature gauge to measure how serious a candidate was about returning the country to God.

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.?

I wasn’t allowed to listen to secular music or watch much television or see movies.  I listened to rock music over at my neighborhood friend’s houses and some of my Christian friends were allowed to listen to rock and I would hear it there.  My sister listened to the radio at night and I remember thinking it was going to pollute our souls.  I never told on her or complained though because I didn’t think it was right to tattle on my siblings.

Yes, I frequented Christian bookstores and listened to Christian music.  My oldest brother and I would go to Christian rock concerts and it was a bonding experience for us since my other brother and sister didn’t like Christian material at all.
I missed out on a lot of pop culture growing up and references to pop culture from the 70s & 80s still throw me off.  I didn’t see E.T. until college when a friend made me see it because everyone in our generation had (according to her).

Question 2: What first made you question evangelicalism/fundamentalism? Was this initial questioning a frightening or liberating experience?

Initially it was being less than just because I was a woman. I struggled with the thought that God had made me with a greater capacity for evil.  Why would a perfect being do that?

The main reason I gave up fundamentalism was meeting people who were not fundamentalist or didn’t believe in God at all.  I realized that they weren’t evil or less good than me.  I began to reject the teachings as I experienced more of the world outside of the small box I’d grown up in and became more tolerant.

It was liberating to throw off beliefs that I struggled with, but it was worrying too.  What if I was just being tricked into believing something different, just as I had been tricked into believing evangelical/fundamentalist teachings?  Was I really being moral or was I just conforming blindly to another set of rules?

I still worry that my beliefs and morals are tinged by what society says is moral.  I know I can’t avoid it completely.  I know my judgment is imperfect and I accept that.  I try to be open to arguments against my reasoning and at times I change my mind.  It may seem tenuous, but it’s a lot better than the absolutism of being told what to believe.

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 struggled with what my parents and friends would think of me.  Rather than be honest about my doubts and face the disappointment of my parents and rejection of my friends I built barriers and put distance between myself and those I was close to.

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 don’t really know since I’ve lost contact with all of my evangelical/fundamentalist friends.  My family all still believes in God as far as I know, but my siblings have not kept an evangelical or fundamentalist lifestyle.

Before I lost contact with most of my evangelical/fundamentalist friends I was the only person who was questioning my beliefs, so I think the percentage of those who still hold those beliefs is probably high.  Then again, it could have happened later in life for them and I’ll never know now.

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?

The only response I really got from my mom was to ask me how I could be so strong in the faith and then leave it. I tried to explain to her that I couldn’t accept the beliefs I grew up with when I learned that many things I’d been told were untrue, but it was difficult because these were things she still believed in.  I ended up giving her a pretty lame response about learning about the world in and after college and finding that things just didn’t work the way I’d been taught.

I had a friend that tried to force me to go to church with her when I visited.  I ended up not visiting her anymore.  Most of my friendships I gave up over time as we grew apart.

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?

I’m distant from my parents and siblings.

I don’t have contact with any of my friends before college.  It wasn’t really a conscious choice to not keep in contact, but we grew apart and I moved states several times after college.

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 sister knows I’m an atheist.  She found my website.  I suspect that my family knows, although no one else has attempted to approach me about it.  I don’t bring it up to my family and I don’t talk to them about religion.  It’s put a strain on our relationship, but I don’t know what I can do to change that.  I can accept them for who they are and what they believe.  But I need them to accept me too. My sister was okay with me being an atheist, but she said she still wanted to hold onto the hope for an afterlife.  I don’t think she understood how I could reject that belief.  She lost her only child 13 years ago and it’s been hard on her.  I don’t think she could accept no afterlife or ghosts or spirits and I don’t want her to if it gives her comfort.  She doesn’t push her beliefs on anyone.  If my parents were that tolerant I think I could get along with them much better.

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 parents are still very much involved in evangelicalism and fundamentalism.  I try not to bring up or talk about religion with them, but since it’s such a big part of their lives it’s difficult.  I also don’t tell them a lot about my life because I think they’d find it offensive.

My siblings are not very religious.  They don’t go to church, but probably all still believe in God or don’t really think about it.  Sometimes we talk about growing up and how oppressive it was.  Even so we all agree that my parents did a good job raising us.  I still get angry sometimes when I think about the things I missed out on.  It doesn’t bother me that I missed out on pop culture really.  What bothers me is that I was kept ignorant intentionally to keep me believing a specific way.  It was stifling and it has had a lasting effect on my life.  I can’t change that and I can’t get back the time I lost, but I can live life now taking advantage of the ability I have now to learn and question and experience new things simply because I find them interesting.  It’s given me an appreciation for inquiry that I don’t know if I would have had under other circumstances.

Section 9: Adjusting

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.

Yes, I often feel like I don’t fit in.  Even growing up in an evangelical/fundamentalist school I didn’t fit in with many of the kids.  I was called strange and eventually wore it like a badge.

I’m an introvert naturally and I find it difficult to socialize with others.  I don’t think my upbringing has helped with that.  For example, I still can’t understand the fascination with teaching children to believe in Santa Claus.  Is it really that big of a deal?  Did I miss something important and do I still miss it not being able to relate?  But at the same time I think my social problems are probably more than just environmental, possibly genetic, so I may have been an introvert and had trouble fitting in even if I grew up in an environment that was socially “normal”.  I don’t know.

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 think it’s made me more distrustful of religion than most people are.  Most people I talk to, like my husband, don’t really understand why I can’t leave the existence of God at an “I don’t know”.  That’s exactly where I leave it, but where the teachings of the church say they do know, I have to say no, that’s not right.  Those teachings place knowledge into a very small box that limits us as humans.  And I don’t agree with those limitations.

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?

Then I saw it for my best interest and for my protection.  Now I think it was detrimental to my development.  It’s true that children do need to be shielded to an extent, but it’s much better for them to see the world as it is with an explanation rather than hide it away.

Question 4: What do you think were the most beneficial things about being raised fundamentalist or evangelical? What were the most problematic things?

I can’t really think of anything that was very beneficial.  My family, despite spending a lot of time together, wasn’t particularly close when I was growing up.  There was a lot of rebellion and pushing away from the constrictions of fundamentalism.  I didn’t get a better education because of it, even though growing up I was told I was.  I see a lot of missed opportunities, which could be unfair, but without those opportunities I don’t know what I could have done.  I suppose I had a rather sheltered childhood that was mostly happy, but it’s difficult to look back on that and realize that it was mostly a lie.  And many of the biases and fallacies have caused continued harm into adulthood.

The lies were the hardest things to get over.  I realized my parents wanted the best for me, but it was difficult for me to accept that they were not telling me the truth because mistakes weren’t accepted.  It was a very authoritarian environment and they had to be right at all costs.  Without that authoritarian reinforcement the whole system fell apart.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Annika

    First time reader of this blog, and I have to say that I’m liking this series. Jenn, your story could be mine. Thank you so much for sharing it, it’s giving me a lot to think about as I process my rejection of Christianity….

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