Raised Evangelical: Veronica’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 Veronica. I’m currently 35 years old. I was raised by my parents as an Evangelical Christian, and took part in church life all my youth. Today I define myself as a Secular Humanist, which I have for the past 4-5 years. Before that I considered myself an agnostic. My transition from Christian to agnostic took place between 10 and 5 years ago. It was somewhat gradual. I have not identified as religious for the past 7 years at least.

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?

The church I grew up in from the age of 9 when we moved town is a Pentecostal church. My parents were raised Lutheran but converted. All my grandparents remained Lutheran. Many people in my church proudly identified as fundamentalists, and many were so both in words and actions. My dad was never really a fundamentalist, he would mostly just go along with whatever was going on. My mother is a very strong and fundamentalist believer. To the point where I even as a Christian so frequently disagreed with her that we generally never discussed Christian subjects when I visited my mother. My parents divorced about 14 years ago.

Question 3: How did your parents become evangelicals or fundamentalists? Did they grow up in evangelical or fundamentalist families, or did they convert later?

Both my parents come from relatively fundamentalist homes. Lutheran fundamentalism as is quite common where I grew up in Western Norway. When in their 30s, when I was a child, they weren’t very active in church. We went occasionally, and they sent me and my sister to Sunday school and other activities for children. After we moved when I was 9, we started attending another church, a Pentecostal church close to our new house. 6 years later the whole family re-baptised into that church. Not all my grandparents approved.

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?

The church I grew up in had a member base of somewhere between 200 and 300 active people. Varying over time. The youth group was at one point at over 100, but many were from families not belonging to that church. We had leadership problems during those years, mostly the 90s. We went through several pastors and youth pastors.

As mentioned, the church is Pentecostal. They offered a bible study programme for 8th graders to replace the confirmation school and ritual that the Lutheran church offers. There were also a youth choir and a lot of activity around it. We had Sunday school, and church services every Saturday and Sunday. Between the age of 15 and 23 I was very active and were there whenever there was something going on. We also had prayer groups during the week.

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 never “saved”, I was raised Christian, and more or less just absorbed into it. I re-baptised into the Pentecostal church at the age of 15, but was also baptised Lutheran as an infant. I didn’t become active in my church until I was 15 anyway. That is the same age we had our replacement of the Lutheran confirmation ceremony. They weren’t personally significant events, just something I was expected to do. I didn’t become a strong self-identifying Christian until a few years later. We were always encouraged to have a “strong relationship with Jesus” and even though everybody talked about it, it was hard to figure out what that actually meant. I figured it meant reading the Bible, being pushy and preachy in school and around others, and praying into thin air at night. Yes, praying always felt like talking into thin air to me, but I tried to make myself feel something about it, but I think I was mostly lying to people about that to fit in.

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 viewed as the unshakable and infallible word of God by both my church and my mother. I was always a reader, and started reading it when I got one as a Christmas gift at the age of 10 or 11. My parents didn’t read to us, nor did I ever get the impression they studied the Bible very closely either. I would often as a kid bring up topics I had read, and they wouldn’t know anything about it unless it was a typical sermon-text.

Sermons in my church were nearly always scripture based teachings. They varied a lot in theology though, and every now and then there would be debates. As an adult, with a lot of Bible reading under my belt, I frequently disagreed with the messages, so did several of my friends. The younger people in the church tended to become more liberal in their views, something that led to conflicts between the leadership and the youth pastor, resulting in him leaving. After that, the attendance by youth declined. This was around when I left for bible college where I studied for 2 years.

Question 4: What role did race play in your church? Were there any black or Hispanic families? Were they treated differently?

The part of the world I grew up in differs greatly from the US, so the questions doesn’t really apply. There were only two-three black people in my town, and none belonged to any church.

Section 3: Gender and Family

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

My church taught a strict abstinence only policy, and also taught that the man was the head of the household. Aside from that, women weren’t excluded from leadership and from preaching. The one man one woman family model was the only one acceptable, and the church didn’t marry people if any of them had been married before.

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 family had great internal problems that isn’t relevant to this, but basically my mother kept everything up and running. My parents divorced when I was around 20. They both believed in a patriarchal family model, but only if it came to a final veto on a subject. But then again, we weren’t a normal family.

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?

No, my parents never enforced any gender roles. We played however we wanted to play, and dressed in the clothes we liked.

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?

Our family was a little different in that my father, due to medical reasons, stayed at home, and my mother worked. This affected the way we learned gender roles, and we all grew up as relatively independent and choosing our own path in life without interference. My church didn’t enforce any such gender roles either, at least not directly. But stay at home mothers were common.

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 all attended the public school. I only had one or two friends who attended a Christian school, but there weren’t really one in my area. You had to drive to the next city. I know there are wishes to start such a private schhol, but there simply aren’t enough kids for that.

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?

My parents never touched the sex-subject. Only made sure we knew that we couldn’t have sex until we were married. As for evolution, that was frowned upon both by my mother and by my church. There were occasionally people teaching creationism in our church too. In my school there was one teacher from my church who would illegally teach a little creationism. We also had a semi-crazy fundamentalist music teacher, also from my church, that went with the whole devil-music craze and scared a lot of kids half to death and angered a lot of parents.

After high school and after working for a couple of years, I went to Bible College to try to figure out a theological foundation for my beliefs. The more I dug into it, the less sense it made, and not very long after those two years did I start rejecting the whole thing. Reading books like The God Delusion was also influential, but I had already abandoned Christianity by then.

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 friends were mostly youth from my church, some were from the Lutheran church, and yet a couple were non-religious. A large portion of my hometown belong to one church or the other, and so did many of my teachers. Religion was a frequent enough topic in every aspect of my life.

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

Yes, all of those. Mostly it was all fun and games. Religion was the reason these things existed, and it was always t5he backdrop, but it was completely normal to us and we mostly carried on being kids and silly teens. Having to listen to a preacher was boring, and nothing they said really affected me. This of course changed drastically in my late teens and early 20s when I started taking this seriously. Being very interested ins science and a natural critical thinker, I struggled with a lot of the concepts I were taught. I often felt confused about what to believe, and was often frustrated about it changing my opinion every time I read or heard something new.

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?

Purity was essential and taught frequently, So was modesty. My country has never been big on prosperity teaching in Christian circles, so modesty in all ways replaced that. We were generally allowed to date freely. Sex education was handled by the school. All the church added was the abstinence bit.

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 never dated at all when I was a Christian. Being transgender made me shy and I generally stayed away from such activities. First time I dated was at Bible College, and it wasn’t really dating as much as hanging out in a date-like manner as the school didn’t allow dating while enrolled for the first year. My first real relationship came after I was a Christian, and that’s when I had sex for the first time. By then there were no longer any reason to feel guilty. My gender identity was what gave me guilt. Something that also abandoning Christianity helped relieving.

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 find the teachings horrible and puritanical and would never teach it to my own children. I have not planned how to handle this if I have my own children some day.

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?

No, not at all.

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?

Abortion and evolution was very strongly opposed, environmentalism was never a topic to my knowledge, and homosexuality was “unheard of” in my home town. At least as far as anyone were concerned. I know for a fact there are both gay and lesbian (myself excluded) people there today. In any case, homosexuality was, whenever the topic came up, seen as a great sin.

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?

The view was that heavy Christian influence in politics was essential for the nation to prosper. Especially were people extremely pro-Israel, to the point that pro-Israel sects started to pop up around certain charismatic individuals.

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.

Several people in church were involved in politics, and still are. But as a small town, there were no institution to be angry at, so it was mostly in words. One family member of mine did attend a demonstartion against equal marriage laws when they came in effect, but that’s all I know off.

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?

Simple. Israel politics were at the time the only important issue it seemed, absurd as it may be. I believe it is less so today, but I’m 10 years removed from the community.

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 saw nowhere specifying this was American-only, so since I've answered this much, I'll finish it]

Our culture was definitely isolated in the cultural sense. We had our own music, our own books and magazines and went to Christian concerts and festivals. In Norway as I assume is the case in the US, evangelical Christians have the option to live completely within a bubble.

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

The credibility of the Bible simply. If it was so inconsistent with itself and with the world, how could it be true? This was a long battle for me. It took several years. When I finally accepted that the Bible may not be anything other then elaborate fiction, it was incredibly liberating and nearly everything fell into place both in my beliefs and in my life in general.

The relief cannot be under-emphasised.

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 reasoned my way out, and there were no hard parts personally. I took the time I needed, but it was difficult handling my friends and family. I didn’t radically change lifestyle over night, but soon enough it became apparent that I wasn’t a Christian. People are very non-confrontational, and I left my hometown soon after anyway and no longer have contact with most of those people.

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 honestly have no idea. As far as I know, most of them have never changed their views much at all.

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 mother was not at all happy, but my brother isn’t religious any more either, he simply couldn’t care less, my oldest sister is still very religious, but we can talk openly about it, and my youngest sister is questioning herself. Though she is still young. My old friends I don’t have any contact with any more, except maybe for one couple. The husband knows at least, but we never discuss it.

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 think I covered that in the previous question. My relationship with my family is relatively unaffected.

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?

No.

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?

Seem I already answered this too. My brother no longer care (don’t know his position) and my youngest sister is questioning.

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.

Yes and no. I am no longer in a community with Christians around, or at least they’re vastly outnumbered and thus quiet about it. I’m in an academic environment now, and my history with religion, if I choose to share it, is strange to them. It makes me feel different in the way that I have a perspective most of them don’t have.

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?

It gives me the ability to understand why people are religious and why they choose to believe. Atheists I know who have never been Christian, tend to lack that perspective, and it is very easy to see in interactions with religious people. Aside from that, my experience has taught me to detect and avoid superstition in all aspects of my life.

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 wasn’t a happy child, but that had nothing to do with religion. Too many other factors disturbing the picture. I don’t think fundamentalist upbringing is a good thing for a child. It is too restrictive and hinders natural curiosity and the will to learn without bias. These are essential parts of growing up that evangelical Christianity robs people of. That is very sad.

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 definitely beneficial. And it was also a very safe place to be. The most problematic things were the anti-intellectual and anti-science and not least anti-feminist attitudes. They are not outweighed by the positives.

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.

  • Tracy

    It’s interesting to see how fundamentalism/evangelicals work in a different culture/country. It seems to follow the same patterns. Being American, we tend to see European cultures painted as secular and non-religious.

    • Steve

      The difference is that highly religious people are mainstream in the US. In western Europe, they tend to be seen as kooks. They may be a majority in some areas, but overall they are usually a tiny minority. Even in areas where most people nominally belong to a church, they don’t necessarily take it all that seriously. It’s often more of a cultural thing than something that comes with lots of conviction. Church attendance is very low for example.

  • http://vixidragon.blogspot.com Vixi Dragon

    My wife is a transwoman. She had left her family’s church (not evangelical) years before transitioning. I know this is a personal question, but if you don’t mind my asking… did you begin your process of transitioning while you still were active in the church? And do you think the church’s position on alternate lifestyles impacted when (and how) you transitioned?
    If I can suggest it you might check out Permission to Live (also on Patheos now). Melissa and her (trans) wife both grew up within a very fundamentalist church. Her blog deals with how she found her way out and how she and her wife Haley have journeyed through Haley’s transition. (Un wrapping the onion

    • http://www.purplenoize.net Veronica

      I already follow Permission to Live, but thanks for the tip anyway :)
      Sorry for the late reply. Hope you read this. I’ve had a two week backlog in my RSS reader.

      As for your question. … I decided against transitioning for many years. First I hid being transgender for many years while I was a Christian. After that, I still kept it to myself while trying to do the whole hetero/cisnormative relationship thingy. I tried two relationships and dated actively for 5 or so years until I realised that wasn’t going to work. So I started the transition process. There’s months of preliminary stuff to go though with first getting an appointment with a medical professional and then a few months of evaluation, but I finally started hormone therapy back in May.

      It was more than religion that held me back, but it was religion that caused me to feel shame about being transgender. After abandoning religion I no longer felt the shame, but the social stigma is still there and I am not a type of person that enjoys standing out. I simply didn’t think I had what it takes. I needed first to realise I wasn’t going to be happy in any other way. As all transsexuals know, trying to ignore it makes it worse. I have no idea how this would have gone if I had stayed in my home town and in my church. I often dreamed about having the courage to transition. I would probably have been horribly depressed by now.

  • http://www.purplenoize.net Veronica

    O,o
    I had completely forgotten I sent this response way back. I typed it up in one go in the middle of the night (one of those sleepless nights) without even proof reading it. I was supposed to re-submit an updated version with less typos and bad grammar. Ah well :)


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