Raised Evangelical: Rebekka’s Story

Raised Evangelical: Rebekka’s Story October 22, 2012

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 Rebekka, I’m in my mid-twenties, and from Denmark. I grew up in an evangelical family, started questioning Christianity at 15. Islam gave an answer to many of my issues with Christianity, so I converted to Islam at 21. After 1½ years as Muslim new issues arose. I continued to question my beliefs in an attempt to get closer to the omniscient all-loving God I had been taught about, but the more I searched the more everything fell apart. Over the following year I went through a brief period of Unitarian Universalism (truth in all religions), agnosticism and today I identify as 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?

My family and their community identified as evangelicals/charismatic. The Bible was to be taken literally.

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 dad grew up in an evangelical (Pentecostal) church, but had 10-15 years away from it, when he was young. During that time-frame he worked as a sailor and developed an alcohol problem. He got help in a Christian rehab facility, which worked with the Apostolic church my mum belonged to.

My mum grew up in a family that belonged to Indre Mission (Inner Mission), a strict, pietist revival movement within the Lutheran church. When she left home she converted to an Apostolic church instead, which was extremely upsetting to her parents, they no longer considered her a “proper” Christian.

After my parents marriage they both changed to a Pentecostal (charismatic) evangelical church, although they were also often members of smaller house churches.

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 belonged to a larger Pentecostal church an hour away, with about a thousand members, which had programs for children, teenagers, adults, seniors etc.

We also participated in a home church which was only 15 minutes away, with a total of maybe 30 members (including children). It had weekly services and bible study and prayer groups.

I attended church once or twice most weeks, and for extended periods of time also children programs.

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?

My earliest memory is from the age of 3, when I was sitting in the hallway on a mattress, praying.

I remember being “saved” by “asking Jesus into my heart” several times throughout my childhood, usually during yearly Bible camps. There was a huge emphasis on having a “personal relationship with Jesus”, which was greatly encouraged by my community.

At the age of 12 I chose to be baptized, which in my church meant “bearing witness” in front of the congregation, and then a full body under water baptism.

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 to be taken literally and read often. When I was very young my mum would read a passage from a Children’s Bible after dinner every day, once I got older it would be a passage from the “normal” Bible.

I was given my first “real” Bible at the age of 7, as I had many nightmares (I was told demons were real and everywhere around me, and to close my hands and pray to Jesus to protect me). I finished reading the Bible in its entirety by the age of 12.

If I had questions about things I had difficulty understanding (mainly in terms of violence in the Bible), I was told that God had his own ways and to just have faith. Basically I was taught to ignore the parts I didn’t like, that God’s wisdom was above our own.

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

Denmark is very homogenous, only about 10% are of a different ethnicity. I remember there being some Iranian Christian families (refugees) in the big church we belonged to, but I have no idea whether they were treated differently, although I don’t think so, the church had a rather large emphasis on missionary work.

Section 3: Gender and Family

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

Denmark in general is very egalitarian, and although there was some complementarian teachings, we were generally taught we could be and do whatever we wanted. In practice however, it was mainly men in leading roles. As for the more sexist passages of the Bible, they were glossed over.

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 were mainly complementarian, although I didn’t hear it justified through Christian terms, I did see a lot of Christian books on marriage which propagated complementarian theology.

Question 3: In what ways were boys and girls in your family expected to dress or act differently from each other? Were there certain things it was appropriate for girls to do but not boys, and vice versa?

I only have sisters, so I’m not sure how things would’ve been different.

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?

Again, I only have sisters so I’m not sure how we were raised differently. My mum worked, as does the vast majority of women in Denmark, that was never an issue.

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?

Mainly a Christian school, but also a few years in public school where I was teased for being a Christian. Secondary and tertiary school was all public.

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 was taught that sex was for marriage only, but thankfully I’m also in a country that makes sex education mandatory so I did learn about safe sex practices. I wasn’t taught about other religions, and I wasn’t taught about evolution during my time at the Christian school.

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 teased for being a Christian while I went to public school (Denmark is a rather secular country and I was different). Most of my friends were religious, and my best friend when I was a child belonged to the same home church. I was also rather close to two of my female cousins whose family belonged to the Indre Mission (Inner Mission, strict movement within the Lutheran church).

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

All of the above. Most of the experiences were pleasant enough, but I was also taught not to question, to leave my doubts to God. Rather than being taught to act upon my problems I was taught to ‘leave it all to God’.

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 that having sex with someone meant you gave a part of yourself/your soul to that person, so if you had sex with more than one person you wouldn’ t be able to give yourself completely. I was taught that sex was beautiful, but it was only meant to be within marriage. Sex-education was left to the school, but I read a lot of books myself.

My parents were okay with me dating, but no sleep-overs.

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 started dating at the age of 16, and I chose to have sex at 17. I don’t regret it, but I did feel guilty. I justified it by saying I would marry him, but that wasn’t meant to be. By the time of my next relationship, I was non-practicing and I basically ignored the teachings.

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 that the teachings are harmful. People are made to feel guilty about sex, which is a natural part of being human. Instead of being told about how to deal with sex, and dating, it is ignored or made shameful.

Question 4: Do you feel that the purity, modesty, and dating/courtship teachings you were raised with still have lasting impact on your life today? If so, how? What do you feel is the most detrimental effect of purity teachings?

I still feel like people who choose to have many sexual partners are “impure”, although I logically don’t have a problem with it. I think the most detrimental effect is the guilt and shame, and the fact that many young people can’t talk to their parents about these things. I think many unwanted pregnancies could be avoided if people were taught about safe sex practices.

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 disagree with environmentalism, Denmark in general is very pro-environmentalism as was my community. We were taught we had to look after the earth God had given us. The first three I agree with completely, however. For homosexuality we were taught to “hate the sin, love the sinner”.  Abortion of course was one of the worst sins ever, and evolution was mainly ignored.

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 family and church believed in the end of times, that Christians would become increasingly persecuted and that any resistance we met in society was a sign of the end of times and a sign that we were right. Christians should continue to fight against the secularization of society although it was a battle we would lose (= i.e., the end of times).

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.

My family weren’t actively involved with politics, aside from voting for a specific Christian party.

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, anti-homosexual laws.

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.?

Evangelicalism doesn’t quite have it’s own self-contained culture in Denmark, the country is simply too small. The culture of DK in general is also somewhat different from mainstream American culture (for example, our right-wing parties would be considered left-wing in the US), so I’m not sure how to answer this country. My family was quite different from mainstream Danish culture however, as mainstream culture in Denmark is rather secular.

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

I had some bad experiences with hypocricy within the church when I was around 15 years old. Simultaneously one of my cousin was hit by a car, went into a coma and died, my grandmother and my dad both got cancer and died a year within each other. I started questioning God, the Bible, the trinity, the idea that no matter what you do you will be saved. I began having homosexual friends and I didn’t understand the obsession with judging homosexuals. The experience was frightening and liberating at the same time.

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 felt like I was losing my identity. I felt like my entire life was built on lies. I lost a huge part of my support system.

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?

My sisters have left the beliefs, my mum has softened up a bit, my father is dead. The rest of my family mostly maintain the same beliefs.

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?

At first it was ignored. We didn’t talk about it. Then I converted to Islam, but we still didn’t really talk about it, I often focused on the similarities between Islam and Christianity, because I didn’t want to hurt those I loved by openly questioning their beliefs. Once I left Islam I at first didn’t talk much about it either, but finally I was ready to say I was an atheist, and I sometimes ask a few provoking questions. But it’s hard, because I don’t want to hurt those I love, but I hate seeing them believe these things and not even questioning their beliefs – and getting upset with me for daring to question their beliefs.

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?

The friends I grew up with, I basically don’t have a friendship with them anymore. I’m very close to my siblings, but although they aren’t atheists, they are more Unitarian Universalits (truth in all religion) these days, if not agnostics. My mum and I are also close, but we basically talk around religious issues.

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?

When I converted to Islam I had a long conversation with my mum and her husband where we discussed everything. I told my sisters casually that I was an atheist, no big deal. My mum knows indirectly through Facebook, we haven’t discussed it. I get the feeling she thinks it’s worse than my being Muslim, at least then I believed in God.

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?

As previously mentioned, my siblings have left evangelicalism, but most of the rest of my family haven’t. I’m friends with them on Facebook and they can see my atheist posts, but generally speaking they ignore them, and I don’t post snarky comments on their über-Christian status updates.

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 have definitely felt different, like I didn’t fit in. There were so many shows I wasn’t allowed to watch, music I wasn’t allowed to believe in, the beliefs of my family were so different and I went to a private Christian school. My entire frame of reference has been completely different the vast majority of youth my age.

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 for a very long time didn’t take responsibility of my own life, because I was scared of “interfering” with God’s “plan”. I was told to leave all of my sorrows and problems to God, and he would take care of 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?

I believed my parents were right, although a little too strict with certain things (TV, music), but as I got older and began questioning things I started to feel like they were wrong. Today I feel like it is the biggest schism between my mum and I (again, my father died when I was 17). I feel like I would’ve been a stronger person without Christianity, if I’d been taught to take responsibility for my own life, instead of the victim mentality I was taught.

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

I wasn’t afraid to be different. I wasn’t afraid to go up against authority, e.g., I often had discussions with my biology teachers in secondary school about evolution.

My life was built on lies. The fear towards homosexuals was appalling. While I wasn’t afraid to be different, or to go up against worldly authority, I was simultaneously taught that the beliefs of the church and my family were the only correct way to interpret the Bible. I wouldn’t take responsibility for my own life.

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