Tag: Abuse


Sadness Concentrate

I wanted to write something upbeat and entertaining this afternoon—maybe a holiday gift guide (though there are already plenty floating around the ‘net) or a weekend anecdote. However, I can’t seem to shake a concentrated sadness, so I’m sitting down with a steaming mug of chai to hear it out and send it gently on its way.

A couple of my grade school friends had their first babies within the last year and have formed a moms’ support group based largely on the teachings of Michael & Debi Pearl. These teachings mandate that a wife acknowledge her husband as her lord (yes, really) and submit unquestioningly to his desires and opinions; if her hobbies, relationships, or spiritual life prevent her from meeting her husband’s every need, she must give them up (and obviously, a career is out of the question). These teachings also instruct parents to dominate their children through manipulation and violence in order to produce automatic obedience and have already resulted in at least two brutal deaths. Unbelievably, many parents are willing to accept this call to cruelty because it touts itself as godly.

I recently saw a glowing article in a conservative magazine of how my old friends get together regularly to read this poisonous ideology and discuss how to implement it within their growing families, and it sends my stomach into a tailspin. If my friends are devoutly following the Pearls’ teaching, then their infants already know the sting of a stick against their tender skin. I can’t help thinking about those sweet babies this afternoon, about how innocent they are to the fact that their mothers are studying up on how best to “break their wills.”

The subject of child abuse gives me an itchy trigger finger, but a diatribe from me isn’t going to set anything right, and it would only mask my authentic reaction… which is heartbreaking empathy. I know something about what those little ones are going to endure, and I have an idea of the regret my friends will experience when (if) they let themselves realize what horror they were willing to perpetrate simply because an author claimed it was God’s will. I can only imagine what my friends will go through as well in giving up their individuality in order to stroke their husbands’ egos until death do them part. There is so much pain in store for those families, but I’m in no position to convince them of it. All I can do is sit here with my sadness sipping chai before I send it off in search of stray miracles.


Injustice, Double-Scooped

Here’s my problem with grace.

Terrorists attack New York City, killing thousands of people, and a conservative public figure follows an illogical accusation of feminists, gays, and pagans by saying that the people who died probably deserved it.

Forest fires ravage parts of southern California, and a famous radio and television host tells its victims they had it coming for hating America.

Young men die overseas, and a Baptist pastor brings his extended family to their funerals with signs saying “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “God Hates Cripple Soldiers.”

A hurricane takes a tremendous number of lives and livelihoods along the Gulf of Mexico, and the founder of a Christian organization blames the destruction on New Orleans’ wickedness.

An earthquake destroys much of the poorest country in the Americas, and a prominent televangelist tells them they brought it on themselves by making a pact with the devil.

A seven-year-old girl is beaten to death by her parents who are steadfastly following a parenting movement, and the author of that movement laughs in response.

A college student subjected to a cruel invasion of privacy ends his life, and it’s only a matter of time before someone issues the first official “good riddance” statement.

There are many, many Christians doing immeasurable good in the world, but it seems like the ones who get the most attention are the ones spewing prejudice, judgment, paranoia, and calls to violence. It makes me so furious I can’t see straight, their bitterness blurring my vision and reflected back at them. I don’t hear a trace of Jesus in what they say, but I’m afraid that their victims do, and the injustice eats me alive.

Enter my problem: The Jesus I know—the one who taught compassion and wonder and unfailing love, who healed heathens and hung out with society’s rejects, who befriended prostitutes, who famously wept at a funeral, whose words still inspire incredible acts of kindness—came to bring a double scoop of grace to people tied up in laws and traditions. He showed that all the religious regulations people tried to follow were tyrants and insatiable ones at that. He came, despite the murderous impulses of near-sighted men, to demonstrate the spacious love just beyond their line of vision.

Which means there is compassion for the Jerry Falwells and the Pat Robertsons of the world too. While the injustice of indiscriminate grace gnaws at me almost as much as Christian hate-rhetoric does, it’s also the main difference between the God they know and the God I am growing to know… and that one difference makes all the difference to me.



These last two weeks… well, I’m not easily finding the words to describe them. Finding out so suddenly that I’m neither alone nor a [complete] nut-job has flipped my perception of life on its head, and I’m still trying to sort up from down. Coming out of a culture specifically designed to make its victims its staunchest defendants, I feel a bit star-struck around other escapees; I had no idea until two weeks ago that there were others. The conversations I’ve been having and articles I’ve been reading have been a form of intense psychoanalysis for me. Oh, so that’s why I can’t decide so much as what socks to wear some days. You mean my discomfort around all things emotional is to be expected? So it’s not some glitch in my system that makes me revert back to a bitter misotheist every few months? My so-very-unwelcome perfectionism, paranoia, skepticism, criticism, defensiveness, insecurity, and proclivity for burnout are natural side effects of that lifestyle; who knew?

I can’t really express (see above re: emotional ineptitude) just what it does to me to realize I’m not alone in this. Up until now, I have literally felt like the only woman in the world suffering under a unique brand of memories. The unshakeable weight of shame was all the more stifling because I was the only one who knew how it felt. But now… to hear that I’m not alone? To discover that my many neuroses are not proof I’m defective but are rather the stamp of mistreatment? To peek ahead into other people’s journeys and see increasing happiness and healing? It’s making my soul feel practically weightless.

My fervent thanks to those of you who braved that hopeful darkness and brought your own painful stories to light, to those of you who wrote me and shared your hearts, to those of you who offered encouragement and love, and to those of you who simply read what I had to say. Almost right could never have inspired this kind of community, and I would love the chance to meet up with each of you face-to-face (let me know next time you’re coming through Italy!). I’ll be the star-struck one wearing seven pairs of socks.


The Outcome

Part IV
(Preface here, Part I here, Part II here, Part III here)

Since leaving home, I have struggled my way to forgiveness countless times. Each memory starts the struggle over again, so my mind has gotten pretty good at sticking its fingers in its ears and chanting “La la la, I’m not remembering this!” So why, in my effort to forgive and forget, am I bringing up the past I don’t even want to think about?

It’s for women like my mom who may not particularly want kids or have the ability to teach them well but who are being guilt-tripped into thinking that God wants them to birth and educate an unlimited procession of children.

It’s for men like my dad who take as gospel that God is giving them both the responsibility to control their children and a Get Out of Jail Free card to use whatever means necessary.

It’s for parents who think they are supposed to ignore the mental anguish of making their own babies suffer because souls are on the line.

It’s for sincere-hearted people who are told they are unworthy to interpret God’s influence on their lives and agree to let more charismatic people tell them what to believe.

It’s for children who feel in their heart of hearts that they should never have been born because that is the message imprinted every day on their bodies and minds.

I have gotten in touch with some of the other survivors to come out of the cult that influenced my childhood, and the behind-the-scenes truth could not be farther from the idyllic appearance that drew my parents in. It was much as you would expect knowing my story. There was rampant abuse perpetrated by church leaders and parents alike. Families were threatened, coerced, and manipulated into staying on the compound. People with illnesses or injuries were forbidden from seeking medical help. The families that looked so pristine at church meetings hurt each other horribly behind closed doors. The one that particularly inspired my parents recently escaped the group’s confines and fell to pieces on the other side; the parents are now divorced, the children that left with them are bitter, and the children and grandchildren that stayed behind have disowned the rest.

Another family that we had close ties with also crumbled. Their situation was not as extreme as ours, but they took the doctrine of isolation very seriously and crippled their children’s relationships outside the family. Their oldest daughter, now in her mid-twenties, is pregnant with her third child and going through her third divorce. She does not have custody of her other two children, and she wants nothing to do with her old home. One sibling has taken her side; the others look as lost in photos as her parents.

And my family? Before my parents finally abandoned their crusade against imperfection, one sibling attempted suicide multiple times. One became an expert manipulator and a bully. One acted out on friends with the same violence we encountered at home. One became an unapologetic atheist. One suffered from a compulsive stress-related disorder. A few developed learning disabilities. I had unrelenting nightmares. Holidays and special occasions were battlegrounds. To this day, we don’t discuss personal things, and we don’t bring up the past. We’re a far cry from the shiny, happy family my parents envisioned, and I understand all the more why God doesn’t use force to make us into better people: because it simply doesn’t work.

When Christians use the word “grace,” I don’t fully understand what they mean, but I know I experience it every day, both in my ability to wield it and in the gentle way God is centering my life around hope. I have to think that if my parents had encountered that kind of grace (or understood it for what it was), our family would be drastically different today… none of us condemned by impossible ideals, none of us trapped into violence, none of us terrified or broken by each other’s hands, none of us still living under the thumb of that old bully Shame. The scandalous truth is that perfection is a myth and that’s okay. I believe our capacities for kindness and understanding increase dramatically when we accept that, and it adds one more poignant hope to my list: that my family’s story is not yet finished.


Additional reading:
Sparrows Flutter
by Hillary McFarland
Why Good People Do Bad Things Inside a Cultish Church
by Elizabeth Esther
To Those Who May Be Shocked, Disappointed, and Hurt by the News of My Apostasy
by Vyckie Garrison
Barry’s Post
by Barry Bishop
Patriarchy and Our Daughters
by Taunya
In Which I Discuss the Unthinkable
by Laurie M.
Christian Brainwashing?
by Betsy Markman
Word Games
by Lewis Wells
Christian Families on the Edge
by Rachel D. Ramer
Antidotes to Spiritual Abuse
by Eric M. Paździora
Moving On
by Darcy

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (by Jesus)


The Reality

Part II
(Preface here, Part I here)

From babyhood, I was expected to be perfect. (These are the 49 characteristics of perfection, if you’re interested.) Any mistake was evidence of rebellion in my heart, rebellion was “the sin of witchcraft,” and witchcraft could only be driven away through physical pain. If you’ve ever met a typical two-year-old, you can probably imagine how many hours a day were devoted to driving away my rebellion. It didn’t work, of course; I still hadn’t achieved perfection by age five, or eight, or twelve. I tried though. My eternal salvation was on the line every second of every day, and I was terrified of ending up in hell for failing to be polite enough or understand my math problems or keep my younger siblings from making messes.

We read long stretches of the Old Testament every morning with whipping implements nearby in case anyone squirmed, and I learned in a very tactile way about God’s violence. (I still can’t open the first two-thirds of my Bible without risking a panic attack.) I often had to copy down biblical passages that directly condemned me as additional punishment and then show up to church where my dad was a pastor and put on a show of saintliness. I would have hated God with every breath had I not been so scared.

I had plenty to fear: hell for myself, hell for my younger siblings, demons who could read my thoughts, a vengeful God who could read my thoughts, violence at home, ridicule outside our home, church staff who would fire my dad if we misbehaved, trick-or-treaters who would bring Satan to our own front door, policemen who would take us children away if they spotted us, doctors who would take us away if we ever went to the hospital, the government who would take us away if we got social security numbers, my body that could cause men to stumble, my emotions that betrayed my sinful nature, my mind that questioned what I was told, and my heart that was black with wickedness.

My parents were able to use scare tactics and violence to control my siblings and I unchecked for a few reasons. First, the isolation of homeschooling meant that my parents didn’t need to answer to anyone. They didn’t have to take us for medical check-ups or immunizations, they didn’t need our education levels checked, and we rarely had visitors. Our church could have posed some opposition, but with my dad being a pastor and my siblings and I looking for all the world like a row of docile ducklings, I think people tended to brush away misgivings. My parents had uncontested authority over us, especially my dad as the God-ordained head of the family, and absolute power without any checks or balances has the ability to turn even well-meaning people into monsters.

Second, the methods used on my siblings and I instilled in us a deep, unrelenting shame. Horrible things were done to us, and they were all our faults. We were vile creatures; God saw us as worms. Our needs were laughable. Our bodies belonged to our caretakers to treat as they saw fit. We were expected to submit willingly to abuse and then thank our abusers with joy; it was utterly humiliating. And because every bit of it was God’s will, we had no right to protest. We were silenced by religion, fear, and shame… and despite this, my parents never did feel like they had the control over us that God commanded of them.

(To be continued…)


The Net

Part I

(Preface here)

I should start by acknowledging that this will not be easy, and not just because of the subject material. The net around my childhood was woven from spiritual, physical, intellectual, and psychological components, and I still can’t identify all the hands that helped to create it. A lot of my memories have been repressed or distorted, and I have no desire to unearth every detail. However, I know for certain that in the net’s efforts to guide me, it nearly strangled me… and that my parents were the ones caught in it first.

Early in their marriage, they became involved with a religious group that could accurately be termed a cult. The leader required members to donate all their money, cut off family ties, and accept his every word as divine revelation. I would find it amazing that one man could dupe so many people into mindlessly obeying him except that I know his tactics by heart. All he had to do was quote a few Bible verses out of context—“Lean not on your own understanding,” “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,” and “Your ways are not [God’s] ways”—and top it with a few scoops of religious guilt, and sensitive souls were easily convinced that the warnings in their hearts and minds were just part of Satan’s ruse. If you’re not allowed to think for yourself or trust your own instincts, you have no option but blindly following someone who claims to have first dibs on the truth.

While my parents never officially joined the group, it made a deep impression on them. They saw large families of helpful and obedient children with a refreshing disregard for what the rest of the world thought about their uncut hair and homemade jumpers. Women taught their children at home and tended sickness with natural remedies. Men worked the communal farm or crafted artisan furniture. Instead of watching TV in the evenings, everyone would gather to sing and pray. To an impressionable young couple looking in, the group was clearly following the lifestyle that God wanted for his people.

When I was still young, our family moved away from the group and settled in a fairly large city where the cult leader’s absence was filled by teachings from Bill Gothard, Bob Jones Jr., Michael Farris, Mary Pride, Gary Bauer, Jonathan Lindvall, Michael & Debi Pearl, and other Christian fundamentalists. To my parents’ credit, they embraced these teachings because they wanted to do the right thing, and I don’t think they ever once realized the insidious spiritual manipulation happening to them. If God commanded them to throw away the birth control and homeschool their ever-growing brood, who were they to argue? If God wanted them isolated from the world, how could they disobey? If God dangled their children’s souls over open flames and said the only way to save them from hell was to beat them until their wills were broken, what else could they do?

I don’t believe for a second that God really wanted any of those things from them. I’ve struggled for a very long time with how to process God’s involvement in my childhood, and the only answer that brings me peace is knowing that he is not forceful. God did not force those fundamentalist authors to stop writing their propaganda any more than he forced my parents to stop reading it. I think God tried to communicate with my parents the way he does with me now, through intuition and thought-nudges, through the emotions that help us sort out good from bad. Had my parents listened to those, they would have seen our home life for what it truly was—terrifying, heartbreaking, and fraught. However, they had been taught to dismiss both mind and heart as misleading, so my childhood was left to the mercy of religious extremists.

Perhaps I should clarify: There was no mercy.

(To be continued)


The Stuff of Brains

I’ve never considered brainwashing to be a particularly accurate term. Brainwashing implies a cleansing, the junk drawer of thoughts replaced with a sparkling fresh emptiness. In reality, though, it involves cramming someone’s mind so full of a certain perspective that no room is left for any others. It is a form of control. It is a form of abuse. And it is a significant part of my history.

I struggle frequently with how much of my past, if any, I should share on here [ed: in addition to what I already have], and there is no easy answer. The simplest solution is to keep steering clear of the topic. This doesn’t offend anyone, it doesn’t stir up the memories I least want to revisit, and it lets dark secrets continue to sleep in peace. Hiding the ugly truth was ingrained in me a long time ago as a virtue; keeping quiet feels like the right choice. Almost.

It would feel right if I didn’t know how profoundly healing honesty can be… or how damaging silence can be. A long time ago, a loved one nearly died from causes I may have been able to prevent had I just been brave enough to tell someone. Now, an alarming number of my college classmates are starting eagerly into the same lifestyle that I barely managed to limp away from, and I wonder who else is going to speak up for their children. Am I still letting myself be victimized into silence when the truth, however incriminating, could help set others free?

As I see it, my experiences are my property to do with as I please. The things other people have done to me are not their secrets; they are mine. The dubious reward to surviving a childhood like mine is that I now have full claim to it. I have both the right to reveal it and the power to destroy reputations with it.

But that is not my goal. If I decide to bring my past into the spotlight, it would be for the dual purpose of making peace with it (a daily effort for as long as I can remember) and showing others where the trap doors are hidden. I am not interested in causing more pain… but more pain would be inevitable, and it would affect more than just myself. There is nothing fair about a childhood of abuse, and the injustice seems double in adulthood as I’m faced with the minefield of what to do about it now. I never asked for the responsibility of forgiveness, much less the one of honesty, and each requires more of me than I think I have to offer.

Perhaps the only reason I’m even daring to mention this is because of writers like Elizabeth Esther and Hillary McFarland who have been brave enough to tell their stories and whose candor spreads healing and understanding. Their courage inspires a spark of recognition in me, and I begin to think I could actually do it, I could finally give myself a voice and speak up for those who don’t feel they have one. But then the years of brainwashing—or rather, braincramming—do their work and re-convince me that the simplest solution is the right one.


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