where we came from

This is the first post in a small progression to get to “where we are now.” “Where we came from” is probably covered in a composite of many posts here, but I don’t think is summed up in one place. This is a bit rambling, so please bear with the length.

The church we used to attend is a conservative, evangelical, charismatic church. A part of a denomination of sorts in reality, though it doesn’t call itself that. The organization is also characterized by a relatively high degree of authoritarian leadership. The pastors are accountable to others at their level and higher in the organization, but not to the congregation in any degree.

Some other characteristics…

Patriarchy, but the group calls it  “complentarian.” Meaning the roles of men and women are different, but “complementary” to each other. Which is a reaction to feminism and egalitarianism. Normal for conservative evangelicalism, but elevated to an exceedingly high level of importance.

Biblical literalism/inerrancy: Par for the course in conservative evangelical theology, and little different from fundamentalism in this regard.

Reformed theology: aka “Calvinism,” with a heavy emphasis on “penal substitutionary atonement”.

Charismatic: A belief in gifts from God exhibited among Christians; prophesy, tongues, healing, words of knowledge, etc. The group claims the distinctive of combining reformed theology with charismatic beliefs. Though the group over time has placed far more emphasis on “reformed,” to the point where “charismatic” is largely in the background.

We stopped going to the church in 2008. At that time I stopped agreeing with the doctrines, having questions in a place where there was no room for questions. It was harder for my wife, who had to deal with both the strains of my changes in belief and the potential for strains with her relationships with people she cared for (and cares for) deeply. To the degree that I questioned the churches system, I was seen as a danger to my wife holding the “right” beliefs. Any significant divergence from the church’s doctrines was seen as dangerous, and my wife was encouraged to “hold fast” to those doctrines. Needless to say, it strained our marriage, and I don’t know what things would have looked like if we had stayed there longer.

I have come to see many aspects of the church as cult-like. There may be a fine line between “cult-like” and a cult, but I don’t think it matters that much. How many cult-like behaviors does a group need to exhibit in order to be considered a cult? I asked my wife at some point if she ever wondered if we were in a cult. She didn’t think so at the time, understandably, and the question itself caused her concern.

The organization had enough problems that a couple of “survivor” blogs were created, where people who felt hurt by their experiences could interact. I was shocked when I read them, finding some validation in the idea that, “I’m not crazy, other people think this way too!” My wife was initially concerned with them being frequented by people who had some bitterness, partaking in gossip. Which to a degree is true, though I felt it was outweighed by the benefit of bringing things to light.

But something strange happened a year or two later. There was a crisis of leadership in the organization, and a whole lot of bad stuff was revealed. Which from an entirely selfish point of view was good for our marriage, because it supported some of my concerns about our involvement with the group, which were still issues between us even though we had already left. It enabled us to be on the same page more, rather than me coming across as only critical (which granted I can be), and her often being on the defensive.

I won’t link directly to the blogs or the organization, but here is a link to a post by a blogging friend who was at the same church I was, though we didn’t know each other at the time. He describes some of the cultish behavior in better detail. “Christianagnostic” on, How Smart People Get Sucked into Cults

So we left, and are glad to have left, and the emotional ties to our experiences there, both good and bad, are fading, and we are in a much better place, both figuratively and literally.

July 7, 2012 at 2:55 pm 9 comments

hi again

HI! For a while I have been meaning to write something here, to explain why I am not writing anything here. I am still alive and doing well. I just got really busy, and it has been difficult to overcome inertia to get started here again. We’ll see what happens over the summer. Thank you very much for stopping by.

attr

June 26, 2012 at 11:39 am 14 comments

christians and pagans christmas song

I posted this song quite a while ago, and wished I had posted it at Christmas time. It is funny and lively, and I find it hopeful, and it tugs at my heart strings. Happy Christmas everyone!

December 24, 2010 at 11:15 am 9 comments

too many bibles?

(click for bigger image)

Most, but not all, of the bibles in our home, rounded up together. At least one was out-of-town when the photo was taken, and one was retrieved a week later, after a year-long exile in a Quaker Meeting lost and found. There is a massive exhaustive concordance hiding under the pile, a relic I imagine in this Internet age. Readers here may recognize the cute animals front and center.

I just sold the boxed “PERSONAL SIZE GIANT PRINT BIBLE” on the left. It went for $35 in case you are wondering what you would have to shell out for one of your own. :^)

How many bibles do you have?

October 27, 2010 at 2:24 am 22 comments

a gracious van

Here is a picture I took at a stop light a couple of weeks ago. I would have liked to meet the owner of the van, with their interesting combination of bumper stickers; one from a fundamentalist university which once banned a student Democrat club, and the other showing support for the anti-christ now President Obama. I wonder what kind of looks they would receive from passers-by at an alumni weekend back in Lynchburg?

Which reminds me of the bumper sticker on my father’s car, which attended a couple of conservative evangelical church conferences with us. We would always wonder if it raised any eyebrows.

October 19, 2010 at 11:53 am 7 comments

you need Jesus!

A friend of mine told me this story, quoted verbatim below, which he witnessed first hand at a family gathering. It was a conversation between an elderly aunt and her nephew, who is gay and out of the closet to the family (but apparently not to her).

Aunt Bernice: You’re getting older, aren’t you ready to settle down and get married?
Nephew (in annoyed and firm voice): Aunt Bernice, I’m gay!
Aunt Bernice: You need Jesus!!!

End of conversation. Dramatic silence fills the room while laughter is stifled…

Though this is an extreme example, I think the same dynamic affects a lot of conversations. It is not hard for me to imagine a response like that (though maybe not so blunt) to any number of expressed or perceived problems. This is not necessarily evangelizing on the Christian’s part, it could be said with the same conviction to another Christian.

One problem is the person dispensing the advice (“You need Jesus”) is assuming they have the right answer for the other person. Would it sound differently if it were, “You need Buddha/acupuncture/Prozac/gummi bears/a smack upside the head!”? Do you really know what someone else needs?

I wrote this post on a bad day (a while back). I had lost sleep the night before, was stressed about work, got angry with one of my children, and had frozen pizza for dinner. Basically, one of those days when I had a feeling deep down inside saying, “You shouldn’t have done that.” It was a day when I did not want to be told I needed Jesus.

When I feel really bad, I usually want a little compassion, I think that is true for everyone. Sure, there are times when we need a kick in the seat of the pants to get over a bad attitude. And there can be a danger of enabling bad attitudes by offering unqualified affirmation. But sometimes, maybe a bad day is just a bad day. And we don’t need Aunt Bernice to tell us otherwise.

September 8, 2010 at 1:12 pm 17 comments

charity:water

“Most of us have never really been thirsty. We’ve never had to leave our houses and walk 5 miles to fetch water. We simply turn on the tap, and water comes out. Clean. Yet there are a billion people on the planet who don’t have clean water.”

Rachel Held Evans posted this week on a project she is a supporting, charity: water. This non-profit works to obtain clean water for people who don’t have it. If you have a moment, I recommend the video below, it’s about five minutes long. Or click here for a brief overview.

I am not an expert, but have long been interested in appropriate technologies for developing nations, and currently work in water and wastewater engineering (in one very developed nation). It seems to be an area where a little financial and logistical help can really go a long way.

From the charity: water website:

“They didn’t choose to be born into a village where the only source of water is a polluted swamp. And we didn’t choose to be born in a country where even the homeless have access to clean water and a toilet. We invite you to put yourself in their shoes. Follow them on their daily journey. Carry 80 pounds of water in yellow fuel cans. Dig with their children in sand for water. Line up at a well and wait 8 hours for a turn. Now, make a decision to help. We’re not offering grand solutions and billion dollar schemes, but instead, simple things that work. Things like freshwater wells, rainwater catchments and sand filters.”

September 5, 2010 at 7:17 am 1 comment

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