Lost and Found: A Friendship, a Shunning, and an Apology

While I talk a lot about my background here on the blog, I generally maintain some level of distance. Today I want to narrow that distance by sharing an email from a young woman who was a good friend of mine growing up. We’ll call her Kate. Her email reduced me to tears and reveals a lot about just how this sort of culture functions—and about how and why shunning occurs.

Kate was a good bit younger than I but was one of my closest friends during my high school years. She was homeschooled like me, and was growing up in a similar family. When I was in college I started questioning the beliefs I’d been raised with, and as a result, things fell apart between my family and I, and by extension between myself and everyone I had known growing up, both friends and parents. I knew that I couldn’t involve Kate in any of this. She was still in high school and I didn’t want to cause trouble for her with her family, who had before seen me as a good influence on her but would no longer. So I just sort of let Kate fall out of my life. I didn’t see any other way.

Several years after all of this I emailed Kate to apologize, and explained why I’d distanced myself from her. She accepted the apology, and said she understood, but volunteered little else. Time went by, and Kate headed off to college herself. Then suddenly she emailed me out of the blue, taking me by complete surprise. I’ve gotten her permission to share this email because I think there is much to learn from it. People don’t just wake up one day and decide to shun those who step out of line. Instead, they get caught up in an all inclusive culture and lose sight of how things can be different.

Hey Libby Anne,

I have been wanting to write you lately . . . mostly because I have started to understand some things I didn’t realize before and reevaluate things. I don’t know if this will really mean anything to you, but I want to apologize. Let me explain . . .

I hope this doesn’t bring up stuff too painful . . . but I feel that I need to tell you. I’m sorry for treating you the way I did and the way I have. Long ago, you were kind of the older sister I never had, and I looked up to you immensely. Everyone did, I think. When you started questioning things you had believed and embraced (and helped me embrace as well), I couldn’t understand why you didn’t want your parents’ advice.

In the sheltered homeschooling community, where marrying without parental approval or questioning your beliefs was yes, a sin (ugh), I didn’t understand why you were doing what you were doing.

I know you didn’t want to involve me in the whole mess, but the thing is, even if you had tried to include me in your new life, I wouldn’t have because I was a judgmental, sheltered, homeschool kid. In fact, I’m not sure my parents would have allowed it either because of being afraid of being “supportive.” This really, really irks me now.

I look back with deep, deep regret with this whole time. I’m sorry for letting adherence to rules get in the way of love. And if I had to do it all over again . . . if I had been older, if I had had a voice, if I had understood what was going on . . . I would have said that practically disowning you, shunning you as a community, and treating you as the black sheep was and is wrong. The fact is, you were making a choice, and whether or not I or others agreed with it wasn’t the point. I should have loved you anyways.

I am sorry that I failed to show love to you when you needed it most. I am sorry that I was so stuck in a system that mandated obedience of doctrine over people. I am sorry that I let my disagreements with you carry out into failing to love you as a person.

You might say that it’s not my fault, and I was so young at the time anyways. At the time, I really had no understanding of what was happening, and I can’t apologize for others, but can only control how I act. So I’m trying to make up for it now, even though I should have done this years ago when I knew it was wrong.

I’m sorry I haven’t apologized sooner. I’m sorry that I’ve judged rather than loved and shown grace. I’m sorry that I left you out of my life because I thought you “deserved it” because I disagreed with you. It was wrong. I am still learning what it is to love and extend grace, so I don’t claim to have it all done . . . but will you please forgive me for treating you so wrongfully?

Kate

When your friends are all the children of your parents’ friends and your entire community is fairly homogeneous and monolithic, the door simply shuts behind you when you step outside, with everyone you ever knew still inside. Some combination of the decision to just step away on my side and the decision to shun and reject on their side meant that I lost everyone I had grown up with.

Because I was in college away from home at the time, I was able to fairly seamlessly form new friendships and engage in a new community. I later married and moved with my new husband to a new town, had two children and made new connections. But still, there was a gap there, an ache. Everyone I’d grown up with was gone from my life. But now, this is no longer true. I have Kate back.

And there’s another lesson here, too, and that is the power of the blogosphere. Kate told me that when the first doubt descended on her, the first question and concern, she started googling. Ultimately, that googling brought her to my blog, and to other similar blogs, and she has now been reading this blogging community for over a year. Kate recognized my story and followed my blog knowing who I was. Little by little, gradually, she thought, processed, and explored. Each post I wrote, unbeknownst to me, was read by her. It’s hard to describe how humbling that is.

What we do here, fellow bloggers, matters.

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.

  • http://lapalma-island.com Sheila Crosby

    Oh I’m so glad that you and Kate are back together. And I wish her the best of luck on her journey. (And to all the other readers who are questioning and exploring.)

  • Charlesbartley

    This story, along with the PrplFox story over at Fincke’s CwH site, hit me really hard. Deconversion is such a painful process, made all the more so by the loneliness and separation from family and friends. The news about Rick Warren’s son also hits me hard. I couldn’t reconcile my ex’s suicidal depressions with my faith. I wonder how he can. I still struggle with the fallout of that identity shift daily.

    I keep hoping that someday I can talk with those who were closest to me about things that matter to me, but somehow I don’t think I will ever be able to do that. I am building a new family (baby due in 8 weeks!) but I miss the family that I was born into and my childhood friends.

  • ScottInOH

    That is very powerful, Kate and Libby Anne. Thank you for sharing.

    And let me give another plug for the importance of the internet and blogging. I know it’s got its problems, but the ability to wander–fairly safely–into new communities and explore ideas you don’t think you can share with people around you can be revolutionary, at least on a personal level.

    • Rosie

      Yes.

    • Alice

      Definitely. About six months ago, I started reading blogs that critiqued home-schooling because it was so comforting to no longer be the only one and to understand myself better. I was impressed by the honesty and openness since I had always seen doubts about home-schooling immediately silenced without discussion. I quickly realized from reading that the problems with home-schooling are almost identical to the problems with fundamentalism, and that many of the fundamentalist teachings make no sense and are very harmful. This sparked my interest in studying gender issues, Christian patriarchy, the GBLT community, abortion, evolution, Biblical criticism, positive parenting, the list goes on. I was already uncomfortable with fundamentalist beliefs on many of these subjects, but hadn’t thought or researched much about them before. As I’ve read blogs and books, my mind has grown a lot. I am not an atheist or agnostic, but I’ve found that I enjoy reading atheist authors because you tend to be more rational, honest, original, and supportive of people who are suffering. I don’t want to stereotype, but that’s been my experience.

      It is refreshing to embrace ideas, facts, and debate instead of cowering in fear of being proven wrong or “led astray” by arguments that are actually rational. It is refreshing that I’ve become more compassionate instead of becoming more paranoid and seeing everyone as the enemy. It is refreshing to think for myself instead of blindly following my fundamentalist parents and moderately conservative Christian university. The core of my faith is still solid, but I am starting over at the foundations and trying to find a healthy, balanced, spirituality that will contribute positively to the world instead of causing more pain and destruction. In a few weeks, I will start looking for a progressive church. They seem to be hard to find in the Bible Belt.

      It’s so nice to have a safe space, because I have often tried to have conversations with my family, church members, and peers at my Christian college, but I have to be so careful about what I say and the conversation usually doesn’t go well.

  • http://strangesally.wordpress.com SallyStrange

    Blogging is communication. Communication is literally the crux of our evolutionary success. Never underestimate the importance of simple communication.

    Thanks for this story.

  • maribelle1963

    Beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it.

  • http://jivinjehoshaphat.blogspot.com JivinJ

    I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been to basically leave all your family/friendships behind.

    Did your questioning lead to the falling out? From previous entries, you made it seem like your father’s rejection of your then boyfriend/current husband was the leading cause of your fallout with the family (correct me if I’m wrong).

    Am I getting something out of order or do you consider the decision to stay with your boyfriend/current husband against your father’s wishes to be part of that questioning? I’d be interested in knowing what parts of your worldview you were questioning before your father rejected your husband? And then what parts did you question and change after the fallout?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      JivinJ—Believe me, I wouldn’t have left my family and friendships behind if I hadn’t found that I had to choose between them on the one hand, and my physical, intellectual, and spiritual freedom on the other hand.

      What came first was changes in belief. For example, I found that Young Earth Creationism, which I’d been taught as scientific fact, was anything but. Things spiraled from there, because that threw into question how I viewed the Bible (since I was taught, growing up, that everything about our faith was based on Genesis being literally true, and now I had to explore my faith outside of that framework). Through all of this I stopped seeing my father as infallible, because I learned that my father could be, and sometimes was, completely and absolutely wrong on issues he saw as incredibly important. It was on this issue that my falling out with my parents began.

      As for my now husband, well, when my parents sought to control my relationship with him, I would have let them and obeyed their wishes had I not already begun questioning things. After all, I had believed my father knew what was best for me and had the right to control my guy-girl relationships. In other words, my choice to stay with my now husband even though my parents were against the relationship was part of my questioning inasmuch as it represented a formal and extremely visible rejection of the belief that I, as an unmarried adult daughter, was supposed to be under my father’s authority. This accelerated my falling out with my parents, but it didn’t start it. It also made my questioning visible to the community in which I had grown up in a way it wasn’t before.

      As for what questions came before my parents’ dislike of my now husband and what questions came after, I don’t think it’s that simple. Once I found that my parents could be wrong, and very wrong at that, about an issue they’d taught me as gospel truth, I was launched on a trajectory of rethinking the things I’d been taught and reforming my views. Some of it happened before my parents sought to control that relationship, and some came after. That process has continued up to the present, and will probably always continue. Sometimes I’ve made a change and am still at that point, other times I’ve changed a view more than once, and other times I’ve gradually moved from one position to another over years. In many ways, the order in which I rethought things was rather arbitrary. I didn’t rethink the Pearls’ discipline methods until my own daughter was almost a year old, after all, and two years ago I was still planning to homeschool my children. But it all stemmed out of realizing that my parents could be completely and totally wrong on an issue they believed as strongly as anything else, and the accompanying realization that there might be more out there than I had realized.

      • http://jivinjehoshaphat.blogspot.com JivinJ

        I always find it interesting that young earth creationist think they’re reading Genesis literally. The sun is created on the fourth day. How were the first 3 days 24 hour days when the basis for a 24 hour day (the earth revolving one turn on its axis and getting various amounts of light from the sun) when the sun didn’t exist yet?

        Maybe this is too personal but have you ever thought about what would have happened if your father hadn’t disproved of your husband? Do you think your worldview change would have been less drastic? My thought is that, for me at least, a loved one disapproving of the love of my life and then shunning me because I wouldn’t accept their authority would lead me not only to not just question everything they believed and taught me but to actively be opposed to their beliefs.

  • Niveau

    This is one of the most moving posts I’ve ever read on your blog, Libby Anne, and you have plenty that truly move me. I no longer believe in or agree with the religion I was raised in, but I’m having to leave in tiny little baby steps because shunning is strictly enforced and when I finally do come clean about my non-belief, most of the people I’ve held closest for the majority of my life won’t be allowed to talk to me any more, including my mother. I’m not holding out too much hope that any of them will realize how harmful the religion truly is, but this post gives me a little hope that one day, maybe even one of them will come to see the light and I may be able to reconnect with them. Thank you so much for posting this email, and thank you, Kate, for giving Libby Anne permission to share your words.

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  • Jerusha

    Such a beautiful story. In truth, I only really miss one or two people from my fundamentalist days. One of the few took online courses while living at home, so she will probably never leave the culture. I try to shield her as much as I can from the real me. But if she wrote something similar to me, I would probably end up in tears too.

  • Emily

    Just a couple of months ago, I reconnected with my former best friend. When she & her husband left our church, there was no formal “shunning,” but I felt very uncomfortable around her, so just quit initiating contact. Last fall, after experiencing a dramatic shift in thought & practice myself, it dawned on me that now I was FREE to be friends with her again! I wrote to her & let her know that I’m a different person now, & we’re back to having an awesome friendship again. We still believe differently – she’s an atheist & I’m a non-fundy Christian – but we respect each other’s differences & have a great friendship anyway!! I’m very glad to have her back & my life & she seems to feel the same about me. :)


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