Thursday, March 13, 2014

Lenten Project: Day Eight

Much of my questioning of Fundamentalist theology and practice came to a head in Singapore in early 2000.  I'd been punished for going to the cinema, chastised for not-so-secretly liking CCM (my Avalon CD was confiscated), shamed for enjoying American teen tv shows (which I only knew about through the influence of other MKs), and generally had all privacy invaded and subsequently stripped away when my diary was read and taken.

I bought this album three times in the space of a couple years because, though it kept getting taken away and destroyed, I kept returning to my sin like a dog returns to vomit.

One day, after more, "Why can't you just be good, Hannah?  Why do you have to question everything?" I finally snapped.  I stomped to my room (which was shared with another sister), gathered up all my Bibles (every good Fundie has at least three) and Bible study books, and threw them into the dining room.

Only I didn't throw them, because I imagined that God would kill me, literally, right that moment, if I disrespected His book like that.  So I stacked them neatly outside my door instead.

I said, "If that's what being a Christian means, I don't want to be one anymore!"  And sat on my bed, contemplating this new-found agnosticism.  I liked it.  A lot.

The idea that I did not have to be just like my parents, that I could be different and unique (and not unique in the sense that I was the only one wearing a headcovering full-time), really grabbed a hold of me. For the first time, I honestly considered what it could be like if I rejected Christianity. I had no concept that there was anything other to the Christian faith than what I had been taught in Fundamentalism. All other "Christian" denominations, I was told, weren't really Christian, so I'd have to give up Jesus completely to leave Fundamentalism, I believed. What would it be like to be openly worldly?

Questioning the faith was never allowed. We had to all be fine, godly young women because we were the examples to the people we were trying to reach for Christ.  The show windows.  The attractive lure. People were supposed to be able to look at us and say, "you're different!  I want what you have," and thus be converted.  So there was never to be any doubt or dissent.  And what I was doing was both.

I wasn't allowed to meditate on agnosticism for very long.  My sister Mary came in to reason with me.  She warned me that Dad and Mom were discussing sending me away to someplace like Hephzibah House if I didn't conform.  I'd grown up regularly listening to the Hephzibah House radio program, and, though I didn't yet know about the severe abuse that goes on there still to this day, it still scared me that my parents were talking about sending me away, exiling me from the family.

My blood runs cold now at even the threat that I could have been sent to this house of horrors.

Mary said it was either send me away or give up the ministry and leave the mission field, because the Bible says a spiritual leader like Dad must rule his children well.  Since I was rebelling, it reflected badly on him (all about image again!), so I had the choice to conform or destroy my father's ministry.

That was really hard for me to hear.  Obviously, there wasn't really a choice.  I couldn't be the reason my parents left the mission field in disgrace! I couldn't let it happen. But in order to conform, I basically had to give up my brain and quit asking questions, quit believing things I knew from experience were true. It would have to be all in or nothing.

But I still wondered.  Would God punish me if I was the cause of their being forced to leave the mission field? And what would it look like, for them to move us all to the States?  Would I really be incarcerated in a reform school?  I knew Mary had been sent in by my parents to tell me all that. Mary has always been the peacemaker in our family, the one with the most tender of hearts, but for her to be able to tell me details like my parents plotting to send me to HH, they had to have either told her to relay the threat, or influenced her indirectly by openly discussing it in front of my siblings. I didn't understand why neither of them talked to me directly.

That night, as I was lying in bed, pretending to be asleep, my dad came into the room and kneeled beside my bed.  I stayed still, because I really didn't want to talk to him, since I believed he'd give me that ultimatum. I wanted to delay the choice making as long as possible. I'd only been given a few hours to contemplate the fact that I might be the destruction of our family's ministry. I still wasn't certain I could sacrifice my intellect, give up my hopes, and and live a submissive life, all for the sake of the ministry.

He didn't try to wake me up.  Instead, he started praying.  And weeping.

Now, I have never in all my life, before or since that night, ever seen my dad cry.  Not when people he'd respected and trusted were cruel and spread lies about him during an ugly, nationwide KJV-Only fight in Grenada.  Not at any of our weddings.  Not with us or for us during the normal trials of growing up.  Just never.

It scared me.  Then he started praying verses over me.  Things like how I deserved to be stoned to death.  How I was bringing shame upon my father's head.  How my disobedience was probably going to cause God to kill me with an early death and that grieved my father very much.  A lot of, "Oh, Lord, what am I to do with this, my wayward daughter who prefers wickedness to the joy of salvation."  And so on.

After a good bit of this, he finally stopped and left the room.

Now, here's the thing.  He may not have known I was awake, and was honestly praying over me while believing me to be asleep.  OR, more likely, he knew I was listening (because it was no mumbled prayer--he was really loud), and was choosing his words with care in order to hit me the hardest.

Basically telling your daughter she deserves to die (something he is an expert at) is a very manipulative way of getting her to capitulate and conform, fast!  Heaping on the guilt and shame certainly works.  It's also a great way to devalue a person.  Lots of MKs feel secondary to their parents' ministries, and I was no exception, despite being involved in that ministry.  I understood that preaching and teaching God's Word would always come first, before family.  Sure, missionaries love their kids.  But they love God more, right?  I believed that, if I were on the altar of sacrifice, there would be no hesitation.

In the morning I passed on the word that I'd decided to be a good little daughter and be a Fundamentalist again, so there would be no need to either call Ron Williams or buy plane tickets to move to the States.

Not rebellious anymore

And that was that. I was poised to begin my freshman year at Bob Jones University as a tried and confirmed Fundamentalist, one who refused to let herself question, refused to doubt, and who was intent on having higher standards than anyone else.  Because image is everything.