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.
Hi, my name is Julie. I’m twenty years old. I was brought up with a mixture of evangelical and fundamentalist beliefs. I am the middle child in a family of ten kids, though we were not Quiverfull, my dad just wanted a large family. I was a Christian until I was eighteen and then I drifted towards agnosticism. I am now an atheist.
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?
We always identified simply as “Christian.” We were taught that labels weren’t the important thing and that what mattered was our belief in Jesus as our personal savior. However, this did not necessarily apply to Catholics. We were very much Protestant. We didn’t necessarily think that Catholics weren’t Christians, but we definitely thought they were the wrong types of Christians. I would always call myself Christian, and if anyone was confused, I would specify that I was Protestant.
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 were both raised fundamentalist. My mom grew up in rural Indiana, so I’m sure everyone nearby was fundamentalist. My dad grew up in the Chicago suburbs, so his friends were probably Christian, but not fundamentalist.
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 attended many churches growing up, partly because we moved a few times and partly because my dad was picky about the music and wanted to attend a church where he could play keyboard for worship services. In total, there were seven different churches we attended regularly in a span of eighteen years. They were all very similar, though. Most had between one to three hundred people. The pastors were usually kind, down-to-earth people. They had programs for people of all ages. All these churches were Protestant churches, like Baptist, Bible churches, or Evangelical Free churches. We went to church every Sunday unless we were sick. Even when our car broke down and it was -40 outside (I lived in Alaska for ten years) we would call a cab. I also attended AWANA (a kids program) once a week and then went to youth group once a week through middle school and high school.
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 saved for the first time when I was four. I don’t remember it, but based on what happened with my other siblings, my mom probably talked to me about Jesus and heaven and asked if I wanted Jesus as my savior and of course I said yes. The next time, I was seven and I was at Vacation Bible School. A woman asked us to raise our hands if we wanted to accept Jesus into our hearts. My friend raised her hand so I did too and some lady prayed with us. There was never any response from the church community. I’m sure if my parents ever told anyone, they probably reacted happily, but the church was full of children who were Christian because of their parents, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. It was always just assumed that we were Christians because we didn’t even know how to be anything else.
I started my relationship with Jesus when I was about ten years old. I would pray to him all the time and talk to him in my head throughout the day. It started pretty simply but it grew stronger over the years. It was especially strong when my family moved during the middle of my eighth grade year and I had pretty much no friends to talk to, so I was always alone and living inside my head. I would constantly go in and out of just thinking things to myself and then talking to God. I would drift back and forth so easily that it was hard to remember who I was talking to. God mainly acted as an emotional support for me, but I rarely went to him for advice. I would ask for things, but I knew that it was pretty much chance whether or not I’d get them. I just figured it was part of his plan if I didn’t.
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 inerrant word of God. I knew when we were in Sunday school that if our teacher asked, “If your house was on fire and you could save one thing, what would it be?” the correct answer was “The Bible!” I was taught tons of Bible stories growing up and I was convinced that I knew the Bible back to front. I figured that the Bible was filled with good stories, moral and encouraging passages, and the parts I didn’t read were probably just genealogies. I was given verses to memorize when I was young or chapters to read for Bible studies when I was older. Sometimes I would try to be good and read the Bible, so I’d either start at Genesis and give up a few chapters later or I’d go to a section that I already knew was good, like Job or Psalms. I never knew what existed in Leviticus or Judges because no one ever suggested that I read it.
We were always guided how to interpret what we read. We were to assume first that God is perfect, and then interpret what we were reading based off of that. It was encouraged that if we came to something we didn’t understand, we should pray about it and tell God that we know he is sovereign and holy, and request that he grant us understanding. We could also ask parents or leaders in the church to explain what was meant by a certain passage. We were technically free to form our own opinions, but those opinions had to be about minor issues. We would definitely be told we were wrong and we needed to pray more if it was a major complaint about the Bible.
Question 4: What role did race play in your church? Were there any black or Hispanic families? Were they treated differently?
The vast majority of people at the churches I attended were white. We did have some native Alaskans at our churches in Alaska, and at all of my churches there were usually a few people of different races, but it was usually just a few families, never a significant number. I don’t remember there ever being any racial problems or any racist views expressed by the members. Once church in particular made a big effort to bring people in from the local Hispanic population and even tried to have VBS in Spanish, even though we had very few Spanish speakers.
Section 3: Gender and Family
Question 1: What did your church teach about gender roles, the family, and marriage?
My churches were somewhat relaxed when it came to gender roles. Since it can be a controversial topic, my churches avoided preaching about it or making it a core issue. There was a general attitude that whatever you decide about gender roles within the marriage or the family was your own family’s business. People typically left each other alone about it.
My churches allowed women to speak in church and allowed women to be elders, but they would not allow a woman to become a pastor because women are not fit for that type of leadership. This was an issue that came up when a woman was being considered for “Minister of Evangelism.” She wasn’t being considered for the head position, but since she would technically be a minister, it upset a lot of people.
Question 2: Describe your parents’ marriage. Was it complementarian (i.e. “soft” patriarchy), or more openly patriarchal, or in practice egalitarian? Did your family or church use any of these terms?
My parents’ marriage was very patriarchal, both because of their personalities and because of what they believed. My dad was very authoritarian and stubborn and my mom was quiet and submissive. I think early on this must have proved to my dad that this was how marriage and gender roles should work. Since my mom was submissive and emotional, that proved to him that women are all submissive and emotional, and he would tell us this all the time. He even told us that women should not be allowed to vote because they’ll be emotionally manipulated or they’ll vote for the most attractive candidate.
My dad would go to work and my mom stayed at home, having and taking care of the children. As long as I could remember, she was always either pregnant or nursing. My dad would come home and watch TV or play computer games. I don’t remember him ever helping out with chores, unless it involved lifting something heavy. He would stay up late at night playing his computer games. It never occurred to me when I was younger, but looking back, it makes me feel so sorry for my mom knowing that most nights she would go to sleep alone.
I don’t remember my churches every using any of those terms, but they typically promoted a complementarian marriage. If anyone ever mentioned egalitarian, it was probably just to laugh at it.
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?
Thankfully, all of us kids were very active and playful and it was encouraged. I have very fond memories of playing in the mud, climbing trees, and exploring with all my siblings.
When we got older, modesty became a big issue for my parents. I think my dad expected us to be just as modest as our mother. She wore pants, so we were allowed to wear pants. But she didn’t wear makeup, nail polish, or have her ears pierced, so we weren’t allowed to. We weren’t allowed to show any cleavage and our shirts couldn’t be too tight. Our brothers, on the other hand, were allowed to go around completely shirtless and they did all the time.
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?
There were never any strict rules about what we could do with our education or career, but there was always some sort of encouragement to take the path my parents took. In every talk I’ve had with my mom about my future, she always mentions the importance of staying at home with my future kids and having a job that allows me to do that. It was always assumed that each of us would get married, start a family, and the father would provide while the mother raises the kids, and maybe has a job on the side. There was never anything wrong if we didn’t choose exactly this path, but it was promoted as the best idea.
My mother didn’t work and that was perfectly normal within our church, though many of the other women had jobs or careers.
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?
My parents started out by homeschooling us. They didn’t want us to be exposed to too much secularism and they also felt that we would receive a better education if we were learning one-on-one. With more and more children being added to the family, my parents eventually put us in public school. It was too overwhelming for them to teach all of us and some of us were falling way behind. We started public school when I was in third grade.
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?
I remember homeschool being very disorganized because my mom had so much to do. I know that the Bible was taught as part of our curriculum. Even if she didn’t have time to teach all of us on any given day, she still made sure that we all sat down for some inspirational Christian story after breakfast. She would give us a documentary to watch and then sigh when it mentioned evolution. She would always stop to explain that this is something scientists believed that contradicted the word of God.
I don’t remember understanding much science at that age, but I know that I definitely knew that evolution was wrong before I went to public school. My parents never had to go over what I had learned because I would bring it up and laugh about it to them. As for sex education, I think my mom was mostly just relieved that she didn’t have to talk to me about it. She was always incredibly shy on the subject and I never got any of the talks. But if it was ever mentioned, we were just told that sex before marriage was very, very wrong.
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?
I was very shy when I was younger because I had started out homeschooled. If I had remained homeschooled, I don’t think I would have ever gotten out of my shell.
The strange thing about public school was that my parents had me convinced that Christians were hated in this country. I thought that most people were probably not Christians, so it was strange that when I’d ask my friends, the vast majority of them were Christians too. During my middle school and high school years, it became clear that I took my beliefs much more seriously than other people did. From my perspective most of these people weren’t really Christians; they just said they were. I was very judgmental of them, though I would never voice my judgments.
I was also horribly awkward in middle school. Everyone is awkward in middle school, but at least most of them don’t raise their hand in the middle of science class, thinking they can disprove evolution. I would also have debates with my friends on the bus. I was constantly trying to convert one of my atheist friends. I would debate them on evolution and abortion—my two favorite subjects. For a very long time, I was good at debating in a similar style to Kent Hovind, where I’d constantly get the science wrong, but since they didn’t have an answer right away, I knew I’d won. So it caught me off guard in high school when someone I knew actually knew what he was talking about and completely knocked me over in a debate. He still makes fun of me for that to this day.
I think even my close friends were probably really annoyed with me, though they never showed it. They could talk conversationally about religion and entertain possibilities. I could not. Christianity was fact, and that was that. They would be thinking of the “what ifs” and I would jump in and explain, “Well no. You see, it says in the Bible that…”
Question 4: Did you attended Sunday school, youth group, Bible club, or church camp? Please describe your experiences.
I attended Sunday school, youth group, and small groups. This was primarily at my most recent church. Sunday school was before the church service. It was for high schoolers and it was led by the youth pastor, Mark. We would usually focus on specific Bible passages and how to apply it to our lives. Youth group was once a week. It was similar to Sunday school, but it was more welcoming to people that didn’t regularly go to church. We would play games in the gym, sing songs, and then there would be a lesson which was biblically based, but less tedious than Sunday school. For small groups, the youth group would meet on Sunday nights and we’d usually go through a book written for young adult Christians. We would break off into assigned groups led by other youth leaders and discuss what we had read.
During the winter, our youth group attended a winter camp where there would be winter activities, a band, and a Christian motivational speaker. These were a lot of fun and typically got everyone feeling really passionate about God. The youth group would also take a summer trip to spread the word of God or to strengthen everyone’s faith. We would always come back feeling like our faith was so much more real than it was before.
Section 5: Purity
Question 1: What were you taught about physical and emotional purity, and also about modesty? What did your family believe about dating and/or courtship? How was sex education handled?
I was taught about purity mainly by my youth group. My parents didn’t like to talk about it much, but it was a very strict “Don’t have sex.” I was taught over and over again that “Guys give love to get sex. Girls give sex to get love.” I always felt too embarrassed to question that because that would imply that I wanted sex. None of the other girls questioned it and we never really talked about sex when we weren’t around the youth group leaders. I always felt alone and ashamed that I had so much desire for the physical act of sex. It never occurred to me that there might be other girls who felt the same way. The only girls that ever spoke up about sex spoke negatively about it.
None of the female youth group leaders ever corrected Mark, the youth pastor, about how women feel about sex. None of them ever told us about how they felt about sex. One of the girls in the group got pregnant and when another girl asked her how sex was, she said, “It’s not that great. It’s really just for guys.”
Modesty was a big deal too. On all the youth group trips, the girls had to wear one piece swimsuits or two pieces that covered the belly button. The guys were obviously allowed to swim shirtless. On a summer trip to Colorado, Mark decided to make it a rule that girls were not allowed to wear tank tops. He said that seeing a girl’s shoulder could be a stumbling block for the guys. We were constantly told that men are visual creatures. It didn’t matter if any of the guys dressed immodestly because girls don’t care much about sex anyways. But if a girl shows too much skin, even if it’s just her shoulder, she is causing men to sin.
Most of my church friends were allowed to date in high school. In my family, we weren’t supposed to date until we were eighteen. My sister turned eighteen but was still living at the house. When my dad found out that she had a boyfriend, she was kicked out. My dad died when I was twelve, so thankfully I didn’t have to deal with such strict policies. My mom was still uncomfortable with the idea of dating, but one of my sisters started having boyfriends, so I felt I was able to break the rule when the time came, and my mother allowed it.
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.
Modesty was really hard for me. I didn’t feel the need to dress very provocatively, but I did want to look pretty. During middle school, I was one of the last girls to start wearing makeup. I was very skinny and shapeless and didn’t know how to dress. In high school, I really wanted nothing more than to look pretty, but the modesty teachings kept getting in the way of that. I would get ready for school and feel beautiful and confident, and then I would immediately think that my beauty would be distracting, so I would change into something shabbier and wipe off some makeup. I was also getting very curvy and anything I wore looked provocative, so that no matter what I was wearing, I felt like I should be doing more to cover myself. Style usually won out in the end, and I felt like I was displeasing God for trying to look normal.
I started dating my first boyfriend during my sophomore year in high school and I stayed with him for three years. At first, we actually did very well. We made out a lot, but we didn’t do much beyond that. After about eight months, things started getting very physical. We weren’t having sex yet, but we were doing everything up to that point. We both felt intensely guilty and we would both promise each other that it wouldn’t happen again, but it always would.
I felt terrible because I was being told that women desire the emotional intimacy, not the physical pleasure of sex, but I wanted both so much. And even worse, my boyfriend was much better at controlling himself than I was, which made me think that there was something horribly sinful about my behavior.
By the time we had sex, I was no longer a Christian, though he still was. Most of the guilt was gone and I just felt relieved to be done with the tension that it was causing us. We actually ended up breaking up about a month later. Part of what had kept us together for so long was convincing ourselves that everything would be better once we were married or once we were able to have sex, but sex didn’t solve any of our problems.
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 feel resentment for so much of what I was told. I was made to feel so miserable and ashamed about looking pretty and wanting sex. It also led to bad dating habits that I’ve seen with me and other members of the church. People get very attached to their first boyfriend or girlfriend, but since they’re not supposed to have sex, they fantasize about the moment when they finally will have sex with their boyfriend or girlfriend, a.k.a. marriage. They fall in love with their first love and they see that as God’s plan and their desire for sex translates in their mind to a desire for marriage. Then they get married young because they don’t feel like they can wait much longer for sex. I’ve seen so many people fall into this trap and I almost did too. I was so sure that I would marry my first boyfriend, but it would have been the biggest mistake in my life. Now I see my sister and my Christian friends making the same mistake, and it makes me feel so angry that this is encouraged.
I don’t really know if any of it has value. I mean, I’m sure it’s not all evil and that some of it might be useful for some people. I just think that the generalizations about men and women were terrible. I think it’s a good idea not to rush into sex, but that’s about it. It’s much more important to be mature and realistic about sex than it is to avoid sex, and in that case, I think my health class did a better job of teaching us. If I ever have kids, I want to be very open about sex. They need to know that it’s entirely normal and there’s nothing shameful about it at all, just as long as they’re careful.
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?
Fortunately for me, the guilt left very quickly after I let go of Christianity. I have bad memories about feeling guilty and bad memories about a relationship that lasted longer than it should. But now I feel so much more happy and confident than I ever could if I still believed what I was taught. I feel very free.
The worst part of purity teachings for me was the guilt. I had a strong sexual appetite that just didn’t fit with modesty. Maybe for other girls, the guilt isn’t as bad. Overall, I’d say the worst part is that young adults avoid dating and sexual experiences, so when they first fall in love, they don’t have enough experience to realize that it might not be lasting love. So they end up getting married to their first serious boyfriend or girlfriend and they get married at a young age because they can’t wait. They’re also convinced that sex is the answer to all their problems. After all, it’s a super special gift from God and it’s the ultimate way to show your love to your spouse. This makes it seem like your relationship will automatically improve after marriage. All this isn’t directly taught by the purity culture, but it’s definitely the result.
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 agree. I was always pro-life, anti- gay marriage, anti- evolution, and I didn’t believe in global warming. I think the first three are the main issues evangelicals/fundamentalists vote on. A lot of them don’t believe in global warming because God made this world just for us and only he can destroy it, but it wasn’t as big of an issue as abortion or traditional marriage though.
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 churches very rarely talked about politics. They would talk about abortion, gay marriage, and evolution. The most they ever really talked about politics was to talk about how secular the country is becoming and how important it is that God stays in schools and government.
My parents have been saying ever since I can remember that we are living in the end times. I’m not sure completely how it impacts evangelical/fundamentalists’ political views. I think that abortion and gay marriage are the biggest issues for them, so they’ll stick with that when they vote. I know that it does impact the way they act as far as the environment goes. My sister and I were talking about how scary overpopulation is and that we were rethinking whether or not we would have kids. My mom laughed it off, saying that God’s in control and he’ll bring about the end times before the population reaches its limit.
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.
We were never really involved in politics. Our pastors would teach typical Christian views about abortion or other issues, but they never specifically endorsed a candidate. Some of my relatives view republican presidents as if they were chosen by God, but fortunately my churches were a little more realistic about politics.
We never went to any rallies or anything.
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?
A very large portion of them see abortion as the most pressing issue. To them, it’s as if the holocaust was going on in America. Voting for a president who supports it would be unthinkable, no matter what his or her other policies are. Traditional marriage is another thing. They see it as a sign that our country is falling into ruin and it terrifies them. There were a few people I knew that voted for other reasons, but they were a minority and most of them didn’t speak up about their political beliefs.
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 was only allowed to listen to Christian music. This made it really hard to relate with my friends. I felt embarrassed every time they would sing along with their favorite song and I had never heard it. My parents were always distrustful of anything “mainstream.” Sometimes they would say no to something just because they were unsure about it, not because there was anything wrong with it. My mom wouldn’t let my sister go to a middle school dance just…because. There was never any reason given.
Other than that, I wasn’t too sheltered during my high school years. My mom tried to keep us from watching “moral filth,” but it never worked out.
Question 2: What first made you question evangelicalism/fundamentalism? Was this initial questioning a frightening or liberating experience?
In the past, any time I questioned God’s existence, I immediately felt that I had sinned and that stopped me from doubting. There was never any way to outright doubt God because I was immediately shut down. I first really started questioning when so many people from my church were against having a woman in one of the top positions because it was easier to doubt a part of Christianity than it was to outright doubt God. I was venting about the stupidity of it to my mom, but she just said, “Well, the Bible does say that women should not speak in church.”
I was shocked. I had heard of that verse before, but I had never known people actually paid attention to it. It was also just shocking to hear my mom say that in such a calm, resigned tone. I could tell that she actually believed it.
From that time on, I struggled so much with gender roles in the Bible. Reading up on it, it was pretty clear that God had given women a really rotten deal, all for eating the fruit before Adam did. I couldn’t help but notice that no matter how much my church talked about how important women like Ruth or Mary are in the Bible, the vast majority of characters are male. In any story of a miraculous or important birth, the woman always has a son. And I couldn’t accept the idea that I must be submissive. I’m not even a very assertive woman, but I believe my opinion matters, especially in a two-person relationship. I had a father and four brothers and then a boyfriend, and I saw quite clearly that there was nothing about them that deserved obedience based solely on the fact that they were male. Some guys I knew were terrible, but if a woman married him, she was supposed to listen to him, as long as he didn’t disobey God.
That didn’t make any sense.
Over the course of about six months, I realized first that any perfect, loving God could not possibly be this way. If God supposedly loved me more than anything, why would I feel so unloved when I read the Bible? After this, I realized that the Bible could not be inerrant. I believed that it was written by men with their own faults and prejudices. I still believed in God for a little while, but that belief faded away over time. I realized that if God was perfect, why would he give us an imperfect book? I had no evidence left to believe, so my belief just vanished. I couldn’t force myself to believe in something with no reason to believe it.
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 was everything. It was the fact that I had to deal with my guilt about sex, my sadness about being valued less by God as a woman, my fear about questioning my faith, and the guilt that I wasn’t growing up to be the person I was supposed to be. I had to deal with this all at once and it was overwhelming. I just felt like God had abandoned me.
Another problem was that I had once felt God, but I didn’t feel God anymore. That was very distressing. I had once relied on God at a time where I had no friends and I was made fun of at school. Now I very rarely felt God. I felt guilty because I went to my boyfriend with all of my problems and he would give me comfort and affection. I was realizing more and more that those were real feelings. What I had thought was God was just me talking to myself. I had felt comfort in the same way that anyone feels comfort in venting their feelings. I had felt loved in the same way that I feel loved when I hug a teddy bear. But compared to actual love from another person, which I had missed out on for so many years, it was nothing.
God had never answered any of my questions. He had never done anything that couldn’t be explained by chance or by my own hard work.
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?
It’s hard to tell how many are still evangelical/fundamentalist. I don’t have a lot of contact with most of my friends from church. I know of one woman who used to help out with the youth group, but she’s since come out as lesbian. Another guy I went to youth group with is gay. Other than that, it seems like most of my church friends are still very religious. Two guys I know are training to be youth pastors, and another guy is training to be a pastor. I always hope that some of them are finding their way out, but then I’ll see them post Bible verse statuses and I know they’re still stuck. If I had to guess, I’d say that anywhere between 70-90% of them have remained evangelical.
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?
I am only partially out to my friends and family. The friends I hang out with most were brought up in a much more relaxed setting, so they’re fine with my atheism. I told the siblings that I knew wouldn’t have a problem with it. I also have my beliefs up on my “About” page on Facebook, so anyone is free to see them. I just haven’t announced it, so I’m not sure who all knows. Some of my siblings are also atheists or agnostics, so they’re okay with it. Currently, only two out of ten of them are still evangelical, so they at least understand why I questioned religion, even if they don’t agree with my conclusion.
I have no idea how my friends from church would respond and I’m hesitant to let them find out. I think they would probably assume that I’m rebelling against God.
I don’t know if my mom knows, but if she does, she probably feels depressed. She would believe that I was going to hell and she does believe that most of her children are. It’s sad to see because she doesn’t believe it in an angry, bigoted way. She just really believes that we have rejected God and that we will spend eternity away from him.
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 mom is awkward, though it always has been. She’s not a very easy person to relate to and we never really talked much. I recently moved in with my boyfriend and I knew she feels very disappointed with me. When I was younger, I was thought to be one of the “good” ones, compared to some of my rebellious, temperamental siblings. She used to tell me that I was just like her, and I can see she’s disappointed that I’m not like her at all.
I get along with most of my siblings pretty well, but I find that some topics need to be avoided with some of them. We now have a very interesting mix of beliefs, and all of us are very opinionated. A few are atheist or agnostic. One believes in conspiracy theories. One is very spiritual, but not necessarily Christian. One is Christian Orthodox. I don’t mind their beliefs, but I get frustrated because I expect evidence for a belief, or else it’s not worth believing. They don’t see any need for evidence, and I find that baffling.
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?
I already sort of answered this. As to how they responded, my Orthodox sister had been questioning at the same time, so she wasn’t surprised that I wasn’t a Christian anymore. She did say that she had experienced too much to stop believing that God existed. My “spiritual” sister was fine with me saying I was an atheist, but she was shocked when I told her I believe we just stop existing after death. “You can’t possibly believe that!”
I’ve told a few people that I already knew had moved away from evangelicalism/fundamentalism. The typical reaction was that they were okay with it, but they were just not ready to say God didn’t exist.
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?
Yes. Only two out of ten of us are still evangelical. Some are atheist or agnostic, and some are still religious. One of my siblings is still evangelical, but he’s still very young and probably has more thinking to do. One sister is still evangelical and sticks very strongly to that. We get along just fine, but I know not to bring up abortion or evolution around her. I’ve heard her say a few things lately that hint that she might be changing her views, but for now I’ll play it safe. She has a history of lashing out at people for disagreeing with her.
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 feel like I missed out on a lot of social development. I felt like I was pressured to not conform to secular society, and it was a constant emotional battle with myself about how much I wanted to fit in and how wrong that supposedly was. I think I fit in just fine now, but if we ever start talking about religion, it feels like people start to look at me a lot differently. It feels like they’re looking at me as if I still believed all the things I’m explaining. I feel embarrassed to admit that I ever bought into any of it, even though it wasn’t my fault. I guess it’s just that if I explain that part of my past, I’m explaining a very vulnerable aspect of who I am and it makes me feel insecure.
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 makes me examine beliefs much more rigorously than most people I know. For me, if there is no evidence for something, there is absolutely no reason to believe it. It’s as simple as that. A lot of people I know disagree and will hold on to a belief just because it’s appealing or because many people believe it.
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?
When I was very young, I loved it. It just made sense to me. It was what my parents told me and it was true. As I got older, those feelings changed. Of course, I thought there was something wrong with me, not with the beliefs.
Now I see it with a mixture of anger and pity. I’m angry that I went through so much pain, feeling that it was my fault. I’m angry at my dad for being so controlling instead of loving. I’m angry that sex was seen as one of the worst sins possible when it was one of the hardest to avoid. And I feel pity for all the people who are still stuck within that culture and don’t see any way out or don’t feel the need for a way out. They’ll go on and teach it to their children.
Question 4: What do you think were the most beneficial things about being raised fundamentalist or evangelical? What were the most problematic things?
I’m trying to think of anything beneficial, but I really can’t. I’m glad that I now think a lot more about what I believe, but that’s a result of my deconversion, not a result of evangelicalism. I can’t think of anything religious I grew up with that I still hold onto today.
One major problematic issue was being taught not to trust scientists. That led me to think that my best guess was just as good as any theory scientists came up with. I was also too judgmental and stubborn and saw no reason why people should have different beliefs than I did. I would have been awkward no matter what, but being the super religious girl made matters a lot worse.