by Cindy Kunsman cross posted from her blog Under Much Grace
Leaving a “worldview” like the high demand end of Christian homeschooling usually happens in stages because we’re trained to defend our Sacred Science at all costs. Sometimes we get stuck. And sometimes, we don’t realize that we’re only half way out.
Some of the elements of the belief system, that worldview’s sacred cows, are easy to give up. Some lead to our disillusionment. Some created pain for us while living fully according to the worldview. Those are easy to give up. We’re usually relieved. When we learn about thought reform and that the sacred cows that trampled over us like a bull in a china shop, we feel validated. We might even feel vindicated when we come to understand that we were forced to accept and even laud these sacred cows because they were part of the sacred science.
But the ones we like? Sometimes we try to keep them.
The Process of Letting Go
When I left a “New Covenant” church, the Shepherding Discipleship church, I wanted to get rid of every piece of literature that we had with “covenant” written on it. My husband thought I was overreacting. But he didn’t have the same ill feelings that he’d associated with the term.
Not everything about a cultic or high demand group causes of pain, and there were things about the movement that I liked. Some things benefit us and create pleasure and a sense of personal power for us. As I wrote recently at Spiritual Sounding Board, I once loved old Victorian era art. I collected pictures of angels – old lithographs and silver paper prints. I loved the Pre-Raphaelite paintings that homeschooling moms tend to love. I didn’t like them because of the movement. I think it was more of part of my growing up and the popularity of certain styles of the day. I also had a small collection of cameos from the 1928 brand, costume jewelry that I wore with blouses with leg-o-mutton sleeves.
When I started to see the same kind of art and jewelry used to market the idyllic fantasy of the quiverfull package, I grew weary of them, but it took much longer for me to move on from them. About ten years after I left the movement, I saw how Doug Phillips perverted one of those paintings. I took it the painting down off my wall. It also took a very long time before I could enjoy that artist’s work again. When I gave up on the fantasy, it became easy to part with all of those old prints and old pictures. In and of themselves, these things were not wrong to have around, but they were part of the package of the mindset that I had. Angels in particular were a strong part of my own religious worldview as well, going back to when I was a child. However, before I moved away from that life, I would have never parted with them.
The same is true of our ideology. Our belief systems change so dramatically for us when we exit a group, I don’t think that it’s possible to work through everything at once. We go through the stages of grief on many levels. On top of beliefs that we invested in, we also have to grieve the loss of the beloved friends that we leave behind because they remain a part of the group. Then, we have the symbols of those things that we must think about, too.
The Analogy of Losing a Loved One
A couple of years ago, I ended up talking with someone about how I could help people move through the process to get all of the way out of high demand homeschooling. I had an experience with someone who I believed was on their way out of the high demand end of homeschooling – someone who was associated with some of the same cultic groups with which I’d been involved. But, one day, it happened. I kicked over one of the sacred cows that this person wanted desperately to keep. And then, I kicked over another. And another. It became too much for them, and they withdrew. I saw it as a personal failure, and I sought out some advice to put things into perspective. Many people run at first to get away from the pain, but they begin to slow down before they are fully out of their groups. Or I see them clinging to ideas that they’re just not ready to abandon.
I ended up speaking with an experienced exit counselor who recently lost her husband. As we talked, she smiled and said that in my desire to see people get all the way out of the past to move forward, I had not taken the power of grief into account. She used an analogy that was bitter sweet for us both, and I marveled at how well she was healing from her own personal loss. She asked me if I remembered the sweaters that her husband always wore. I did quite well, and my husband even said something to me about it when we met him the first time. My husband often wore those same kinds of sweaters, and this man seemed to share some common traits with him, too.
She told me about how she felt when she set about the task of packing up her late husband’s clothing. She gathered everything up, going through all of his things, figuring out what to do with each item. But then, she talked about those sweaters. She did well with the other items, but she found that she just could not part with everything. She wasn’t yet ready to get rid of those sweaters. She knew that she would be in time, but that day had not arrived for her. Her husband had been gone for almost three years at that point, and she told me that she still had the sweaters, set aside and out of the way. She’d just been thinking about parting with them, not long before we spoke together.
Leaving beliefs like this – the ones that were such an integral part of the Christian worldview for a person in the homeschooling movement – is a process. We must walk through grief, and many of us don’t even know how to grieve. We may never have been permitted to be sad or angry – only ever happy as an “overcomer in Christ.” I remember asking a family member how often they thought about someone who was important to us both – someone who died the previous year. This person said to me, “I get sad when I think about it, so I just don’t think about it.” She was silent when I said, that if you love someone very much, you then have to grieve that much more for them. As deep as your love goes, that is how deep your grief goes. But in grieving, we are really celebrating that love and the person we lost.
Not everything about a high demand group is negative, and we may not want to relinquish the elements that did not prove to be painful.
Not everyone makes it all of the way out of a group. Not everyone ends up seeing all of the sacred cows as problematic. As Christians, we are called to die daily to our sins, but we don’t always mortify the flesh like we should. It’s painful. Sometimes, we cling to those things that we like and resist letting them go. They feel good to us, and they meet a need for us. Some people decide to keep a cow or two. Some people continue to cling to many and have no intention of giving them up. It becomes a problem when those elements still demand the devotion and still remain a Sacred Science for that member who is on the way out. I’ve heard some of these former devotees of the patriarchy movement referred to as “patriarchy lite.” They have one foot in and one foot out. And they stop moving forward.
Lewis Wells recently wrote about this very phenomenon on his blog this week in a post that he calledThe Disease. (Actually, he’s written about this topic many times. He mentions some of them in his post, but I recall two of them that he didn’t mention. One was about the Halfway House, and another he called The Outhouse.) In his latest post, he notes what happens for many who decide to stay forever in these substations, giving up on the freedom that awaits them on the outside of the belief system – a freedom that they decide not to realize.
When you hear that last one [fear of losing their “freedoms”], well, you pretty much know what you’re dealing with – people who purposefully confuse religion with education, and in reality their homeschooling choice is all about them (not their children) and their desire to breed and equip SuperChristians who share all of their personal thoughts, opinions, prejudices, and political leanings. It’s their duty, don’t ya know?
They’re easy marks for those who peddle fear. Too easy. I’d dare say the next wave of godliness sharks are already sharpening the edges of the godliness formulas they’ll peddle, and while their formulas won’t look exactly like Patriarchy, Quiverfull, Courtship, the Purity Culture, et cetera, chances are they won’t be all that different, either. They can’t be, because the culture needs controlling and those things served to do so in various capacities. If they can’t control the culture, the culture will dissolve, and they have too much invested in their cultural and political fears to just give it away so easily. They should let it dissolve. They’ll likely just accept the same symptoms with new names instead.
[. . .]
Those two men [the patriarchy movement magnates Phillips and Gothard] are just symptoms.
The culture is the disease.
~ ~ ~
What sacred cows have you kept from something that you sought to move out of – either a relationship or a high demand group? What “vision” did you serve, and are you holding on to parts of it that are hindering your growth today? Hannah Thomas has referred to these matters with me in my own life as “residue” of a toxic time. Mine tend to be old habits that die hard.
Do you have any residue that you could clean up to help you make a place for new and better things in your life? Are you stuck, or perhaps happily stagnant, in an unhealthy place? Have decided that the Halfway House or perhaps the Outhouse seems like a pretty good place? Consider that you can always take stock of where you are, and you can always begin to move forward again.
Cynthia Mullen Kunsman, RN, BSN, MMin , ND
www.UnderMuchGrace.com (Discussing the phenomenon of Spiritual Abuse in Evangelical Churches)