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.