A Battle Weary Man

Yesterday, I spent the bulk of the day reading “Leaving the Fold.” I couldn’t put the book down. It has been an eye opening emotional roller coaster. I didn’t realize just how much Fundamentalism RUINED my life and squelched my true self. More importantly, it destroyed my relationship with God.

Castelluccio, la pineta "Italia"

This post is authored by John Wood. John is a survivor of fundamentalism and now runs the community “Homeless Faith.” This is a good community for those who still feel connected to a Higher Power but don’t have a structured home to practice. You can find his online community at https://www.facebook.com/homelessfaithhomepage.

In Christian society, your “testimony” is like a spiritual resume: telling those in your fold of your conversion experience, allowing them the chance to critique you, and to decide if you were really a “true” Christian. My testimony is different. It is the story of how Fundamentalism almost destroyed my soul. Most of these details I have never shared with anyone before, only those in my Facebook group “I Survived Fundamentalism.” I have agonized for almost a week about posting it publicly. But, I have to. There may be one of you going through this same turmoil and I want you to know you aren’t alone.

Yesterday, I spent the bulk of the day reading “Leaving the Fold.” I couldn’t put the book down. It has been an eye opening emotional roller coaster. I didn’t realize just how much Fundamentalism RUINED my life and squelched my true self. More importantly, it destroyed my relationship with God.

I realized just how much of my life was wasted trying to conform to a standard that was impossible to measure up to. I realized just how contradictory the Bible is. I realized that I was both created in the image of God and an abomination in His eyes for who he created me to be. I realized that this loving God was capable of killing us all in an instant, if we weren’t satisfactory in His eyes.

I so desperately spent my youth trying to fit in. Trying to fit into mainstream society as a homosexual, only to be shunned, made fun of, tormented and cast aside. Trying to fit in to “Christian Society” as a sinner with a secret to hide, only to believe that I would NEVER get into heaven. Time and again, I walked down the aisle, “Just As I Am,” desperate to secure my place in Heaven, only to fail once again.

I want that 8 year old boy back. The one who had the shit scared out of him at Bible Summer Camp by a red-faced screaming man, telling me my 8 year old Matchbox car playing sinning soul was headed straight to hell. Yet, the next day, the “counselor” who was there to save our souls, drove me to the beach in his brown Pontiac Bonneville only to molest me on the sands, telling me how much God loved me and how much he loved me.

I want the 16 year old boy back. The one who desperately sought someone to love, someone to talk to, someone who he could be himself with. The one who threw himself into church to make himself worthy of God, yet always fell short. The one who hid his secret from the world, terrified of exposure.

I want the 24 year old man back. The one who was told by his mother that he would be considered dead if he “chose” this life. The one who had no self-esteem and sought approval by sleeping with anyone that would have him. The one who felt he was so unworthy that he had to buy love. The one who felt so guilty after every sexual encounter that he would strip the bed sheets and bleach the sin out of them. The one who lost 40 lbs from colitis from the stress of life.

I want the 32 year old man back. The man whose sin had enveloped him into a life from where redemption was not possible. The man who still sought approval through his sexual currency. The man from who love always escaped.

I want the 40 year old man back. The one who bargained with God to save his mother, the good Christian lady who did all the right things, only to be shit upon by life. The lady who’s husband was taken from her at age 33. The lady who felt her back problems were caused by God punishing her for keeping a clean house The lady who was convinced her death was because she didn’t live right and that God was once again punishing her. The 40 year old man was desperate to save the good Christian lady, so once again he became a weak and laughable character, diving in to Christian culture in a desperate attempt to be good enough to ask for a favor from God. All semblance of self reliance gone, the prayers were sent up daily, the donations sent to Joyce Meyer and the like, the library filling up with books such as “Battlefield of the Mind” and “Being Christian.” Obviously, this didn’t work since she died.

As the 40 year old man plodded along, he was punished for not being Christian enough. Panic attacks set in… you know, those attacks from the enemy. To him, fear meant you weren’t strong enough in your faith.

So, now, here stands the nearly 48 year old man. He is battle weary. He may have some cracks in his soul, but he is not broken. He is wiser. He wants the 8 year old boy, the 16 year old boy, the 24 year old man, the 32 year old man and the 40 year old man to know that they are loved by him. The 48 year old man will take care of them. He will protect them. And he promises them that they will never be subjected to that kind of a god again. He isn’t really sure where he is going at this time but, in another 8 years when we check in with the 56 year old man, he will be a much better adjusted person, with a deep connection to the God that loves us all, the God that rises above all doctrine and dogma.

Master’s Commission Reject- Part 2

This is part two of Jackie’s account of her MC experience. Read the first post here

Graduation finally came. It was about two weeks before graduation when I, along with others, were making plans to come back the following year or stay over the summer and help out. I really thought I was a shoo-in for leadership training. After all, I really needed it. I felt that I had proven myself and deserved the invitation. So, when it came time to read the list of who was accepted back and my name was nowhere on the list tears started to well up in my eyes and I was really confused. The only thing that was said to me was, “You aren’t a leader. We can’t accept you back.” I felt like I was thrown out like a piece of trash. It seemed like there were so many people who got accepted back that I knew were full of shit. I was mad at myself and felt that I should have been more charismatic.  The truth is, I should have bs’d my way through but I have more integrity than that. I held my head high and made it through graduation.

Leaving was hard.  I wasn’t sure if I’d see any of my friends ever again. Actually, I didn’t. All of the people that I thought I was friends with never returned my phone calls or emails so that was depressing in itself. I seriously didn’t mean shit to anyone.I thought these people were my friends for life. It really went to show how fucking fake every person was. It still pisses me off and it’s been over a decade. Some might say that I’m just bitter and I didn’t let Jesus in my heart but the damage went further than just my emotions and spirit. By the time I left I had lost a bunch of weight (I was overweight so not a real big deal) and my hair was dead and falling out. I pretty much lived off of ramen and grapefruit and the occasional burrito. We got $50 a week to buy groceries for 4 people. Since my mom wasn’t sending me the money, I went hungry on several occasions. I ended up being very dehydrated and suffered from hypoglycemia and malnourishment. To this day I still have food issues. I have a problem of fearing low-blood sugar attacks if I don’t eat. It’s totally mental.

Close to the end of summer I got a phone call from a couple that left the Phoenix MC the year before I went and hey were starting up their own. I still was at a point that I believed MC hadn’t done anything wrong. Maybe this was God’s will and I just couldn’t see it before. They wanted me to come do my 2nd year in Springfield, MO and help them start up. So, I went. I couldn’t stay at home much longer without blowing my brains out. I was already battling severe depression and regaining my health but I had to do something. This MC wasn’t any better. One of the staff members dated a 1st year student most of the year and lied to our faces when we confronted her about it. She married him a couple of months after graduation. They would also preach holy excellence, but yet flip each other off, talk bad about the pastor of the church and the members, and cuss, etc.  All the things that would be seriously frowned upon anyone that claims to be a disciple of the most-high God.  Blah, blah, blah.

It’s over. It has been for a while- twelve years actually. The Missouri folks didn’t even talk to me about coming back. It wasn’t even an option. Once again, any friends that I made wanted nothing to do with me. I had nothing special to offer them. I stayed in Springfield anyway because I wanted to get away from my crazy family. I regret not going to college when I was younger. I am 33 now and finally starting. I am happily married and have two kids. I have also left he confines of Christianity and deities. NOT having a relationship with Jesus has been the best thing for me. I can think for myself and decide what standard I want to live my life by. I still have a lot of anger toward Master’s Commission not because of what I went through while I was there, but because of the tactics they use to “rope” in young minds. It’s brainwashing at it’s finest. It’s sad and unacceptable. These types of programs need to be shut down. I do not feel that they better society. Young people need legitimate educations so they can function in society. People that have trouble with addiction don’t need to replace it with Jesus just as victims of abuse can’t just pray it away… they need help.

Master’s Commission Reject- Part 1

Meet Jackie. She was a student of Master’s Commission in Phoenix ’98-’99 and in Springfield, MO ’99-2000 for her 2nd year. MC has a tendency to suck in vulnerable teenagers, right out of high-school with high hopes of travel, ministry and some “college” that can get them a license to minister. Unfortunately, most programs  charge more for the “college” part and it’s hardly a sufficient education. Most students are better off attending an actual college or university. Passage

   I got saved when I was 17 after my parents were hit with sickness that left my step-dad unemployed. Through a series of unfortunate events, my mom decided to turn to a church up the street for help. We started going out of gratitude for their help even though we were only nominal Christians. After we had been there a few months and I had gotten saved, the church hired a new youth pastor. He was an on-fire fella.  He was also a hard core proponent for Master’s Commission and claimed to be a personal friend of Lloyd Ziegler.  He eventually got a team to come to our church.  I fell in love with them immediately.  I idolized them.  How amazing would it be to ditch college and go serve God instead?!  Keep in mind that I was a very new Christian on top of being seriously damaged as it was.  My mom was very emotionally and verbally abusive and my step-father sexually abused me for years. I was one fucked up little girl looking for an escape. If I went to college, I would be stuck at home in an abusive situation because I would probably have to stay close to home due to finances. I wanted to get as far away as possible but at the same time, a program that would allow me to grow closer to God sounded like a win-win.  I talked to my youth pastor, then my mom. Everybody agreed it would be a great opportunity for me. My parents and I didn’t have the $5000 for tuition.  So, the my church raised money for me.  They raised about half my tuition and the church planned on giving me $150 a month in living expenses. I could pay the other half of tuition later in the year so we planned on more fund raising. Sounded great, right?  Well, I never got the monthly $150 because they gave it to my mom who never sent it to me.  I also went without a car, which royally sucked. Of all the things I will mention about Master’s Commission, nothing sucked more than not having a car.  So, off to Phoenix I went. The first day was so exhilarating.  I had no idea how big the church was.  I came from a 150 member church so 10,000 people was huge! Master’s Commission kids were like celebrities there.  This was exciting.  I always wanted to do theater but wasn’t good enough for high school- maybe I would be good enough here.  I couldn’t sing either but I could be in the choir.  The thing that excited me the most was the travel.  I had never been outside the state of Oklahoma after the age of 2 so getting to travel to other states and countries was a bonus!

After about a couple of months I realized there were cliques just like in high-school. I thought I had left that behind me.  I then realized that not being a part of these cliques was damaging any chance I had of what I’ll call “moving up”.  Basically, if you don’t get into the inner circle you pretty much don’t mean shit to the leaders no matter how hard you try.  “Jackie who?” I heard someone day… in the middle of the year! I found myself hanging out with the group that was considered outcasts.  Fine with me.  I was all about being “real”… just like everyone else.

Since I didn’t have a car, I failed the discipleship portion. It’s the part where you have to “save” and “disciple” 2 or 3 people (preferably youths).  I was required to bring this person to church and church functions. I did get a girl saved. I’m pretty sure she had a mental disability, though. I didn’t like this portion one bit.  MC’s idea of getting people saved is pretty much a sales pitch. First of all I was not fond of talking to complete strangers let alone telling said strangers that they were going to hell if they didn’t believe this set of doctrines and perform a “sinner’s prayer.” If that would have ever have happened to me, I would have kicked that person’s ass, especially if I was a Christian of another denomination.  We were made to believe that even other Christians like Catholics and Baptists were going to hell because they were not filled with the spirit and the followed “religion” and didn’t have a “relationship”. Needless to say, I got this person to church one time. I tried to tell my leaders that this wasn’t working for me and I needed some advice. Their advice? I could make a little money here and there cleaning the church and save up money for a car. I swear, either these people were fucking with me or just plain clueless! The church did have a bus that went through town picking up random people to come to church so that was another option. I was smarter than that. The church picked up homeless people and people from really bad parts of town. I’m from the suburbs. That just sounded really unsafe for me to ride on alone and/ or with a 14 year old girl also alone. Back to working for a car:  First of all, we weren’t allowed to hold a job so I would only be able to clean the church around special events, which was maybe once a month. We normally only got paid $5 and hour and were there for about 2-3 hours. Since my mom wasn’t sending me my money, I really had to use this to pay for toothpaste and the tampons my roommates stole. My last option was to pray about it.  Yeah, I did that all year. I saw person after person get “blessed” financially. I realized quickly how this happened. They begged for it! They whined and bitched until someone felt “called by God” to provide for them. All I asked for was one of my 3 roommates (who all had cars) to help me out.  They all had better things to do and refused to help. Now, my neighbor was a sweetheart, but she really did fill her car with kids and had no room for me. I didn’t get blessed with nice roommates. That spring they had a festival/outreach event. I ended up being part of the team that sought out donations and I alone did about half the work out of a team of six. I also took responsibility for the production part and organized the lighting team.That’s when I realized that I wasn’t really cut out for the stage but I was definitely cut out for organizing. I received zero credit. Not even a “nice job!” (This all played a big part of my disappointment at being rejected at the end of the year) Now, I understood that this would happen because a good Christian would not expect recognition or credit.  But, people were getting credit all the time… where it wasn’t due.

One of my favorite moments in Phoenix was at retreat.  They split the girls and guys up like 5th graders for a sex talk. One of the leaders got up during a very emotional time and claimed that God was speaking to her. Now, don’t fall off your chair when you read this but she claimed that God himself, told her that someone was masturbating. (Obviously not there, but on their own time) It took everything within me to not either crack up laughing or run out of the building crying. I was guilty… just like every other human being. We needed to be cut some slack. Really, a young hormonal human can only have so much restraint against what comes naturally. So, now began a complete guilt trip over everything sexual. I already had issues from being molested so the last thing I needed was someone telling me my own body was evil. I was so filled with anger and guilt. I don’t remember anyone talking about that discussion. My other fave moment was when one of the 2nd year students led the morning prayer with a short sermon. He flat out told the students that if they weren’t jumping up and down and acting like a crazy person when they prayed that they didn’t love Jesus and God wouldn’t hear their prayers. We were like dumb sheep and listened to every word that dripped from leadership’s lips. We looked up to these people like they were next to being demi gods. We counted on them to mold us and guide us. Not one person in the staff stopped this idiot’s rampage nor did they follow up with a “this is what he believes, but you may believe differently and that’s OK.” Nope, none of that. This was brainwashing at it’s finest!

Jimmy Swaggart And Me

When I was younger I worked for an air freight contractor. I was on a job, when Jimmy Swaggart comes over to me, and starts telling me what a disgraceful woman I am, not wearing a skirt, lesbian hair and, worst of all, I’m taking a job away from a MAN! And then he attempts to tell me this is all why I need Jesus.

Jimmy Swaggart Crying

 

Image Credit: Matt Dobbins/Corbis Images

This is a guest post from Calulu, a blogger and admin for the No Longer Quivering Network. 

When I was younger I worked for an air freight contractor that had contracts with several major air freight lines that didn’t have official offices in Baton Rouge or New Orleans. It was a good job back in those ancient days when three bucks an hour was minimum wage. As a contractor I made a steady thirteen bucks an hour. I was licensed, bonded, and I carried a pistol. I knew how to use that gun too, as long as I didn’t have to shoot too far.

I was done each day no later than 2 pm, so I took afternoon classes at Louisiana State University. The pay was enough that if I lived frugally I could also afford to pay for my education. I’d get up at five am and call the 800 number to find out the arrival time of whatever shipment I was scheduled to pick up and deliver that day. I could be going out to the New Orleans airport to pick up freight or over to the Baton Rouge airport and making deliveries anywhere from Geismar all the way out to the prison in Angola. In those days airport security was a joke. At both airports I could pull up to a side gate leading onto the tarmac, pop the always unlocked lock and cruise right on in. The plane would arrive and we’d unload the cargo onto the tarmac, sort it all, and load it into the backs of our trucks before going out to make our deliveries. You’d pull an on-call weekend and Friday night duty once every eight weeks, for which you would receive blessed overtime! It was a good job, except for one thing: assclowns like Jimmy Swaggart.

Late one Friday afternoon I got a call telling me to head out to the airport, pick up three large packages and deliver them to a certain address off Bluebonnet Lane. Now, in those days there was no Mall of Louisiana or anything of any interest out on Bluebonnet. It was acres and acres of empty land, the one exception being the first building of Jimmy Swaggart’s organization, church, and Bible college. I remember it being a long nondescript concrete gray building. I pulled up outside and saw there was no delivery area. Hell, there was barely a parking lot. But there was a hellacious sea of mud, everywhere.

By now it was around 6:00 pm on a Friday evening. I had to pound on the front door to get someone to answer since everything was locked up tighter than the offering after church. Some man in a suit answers the door. I tell him, “Hey, I’m here with the delivery.” He fusses and frets because it’s just him and a few other guys in suits there. The part of the building where they need the computers delivered hasn’t had a concrete pad or drive poured there yet. He wants me to pull my truck up through the mud towards the back door and carry the boxes into the building.

When I had picked those three large crates up, the nice guy at the Delta air freight terminal had loaded them onto my truck with a forklift. They were HEAVY, they were HUGE! I’d called from Delta when I was loading to get my boss to call down to tell the recipients that they needed a forklift or a pile of strong men to get them off the truck. The boxes were all marked “Fragile computer equipment inside – Handle with care”. So I call my boss and tell him that I am at the delivery destination and that there’s only a handful of people around, no fork lift, not even real access to the back door since there was no way in hell I was driving my heavy truck in the mud. So he calls them up, some nasty words are exchanged and finally I am told to pull my truck into the parking lot as close to the back door as possible and then the guys there would hand carry the boxes in. And they do, sweating and straining, ruining some fancy suits and leather dress shoes in the muck and mud. They get box number one, they get box number two and as I’m behind box number three and I start pushing it forward I hear this voice, a voice that’s not unfamiliar to me. It takes me a moment to place the voice, but it’s Brother Jimmy Swaggart himself. I peek around and he’s huddled with the guys, no one is paying any attention to the fact that I’ve shoved the final bit to the very end of the truck. I come out and ask the guys if they are ready for the last box.

There I am, standing in my uniform of gray pants, and a gray button shirt with my name and company name stitched bravely in whites and reds on the breast. Swaggart comes over to me, takes one look at me in my uniform with my short punk rock hair with the spikes on top and launches into a lecture to end all. He starts telling me what a disgraceful woman I am, looking like that, not wearing a skirt, lesbian hair and, worst of all, I’m taking a job away from a MAN! For shame, for shame! And then he attempts to tell me this is all why I need Jesus.

By this time I had had enough. I shoved the heavy crate forward, running on pure adrenaline. It landed with a big old plop right into the deep Louisiana mud, splattering Jimmy and his sycophants with mud. I said, “Fuck you Jimmy Swaggart!” Then, I jumped in my truck and I burned rubber out of there so fast. No, I didn’t get in trouble for this when someone from the ministry called to complain. Ha! I still laugh thinking about the looks on those stuffed-shirts faces, particularly after I told Jimmy to fuck off.

Through the years I saw how he and his folks acted in Baton Rouge and it was with something less than honorable. My father told me for many moons before he was exposed as a prostitution aficionado that he’d see Jimmy in this high end restaurant or that with expensive hookers, out for a meal. When all of that went down with Swaggart crying from his pulpit about his sins he lost so much money that he just about killed two banks in Baton Rouge. He lived just down the street from my in laws so we’d see him and his around and about. Truly evil guy.

This was originally posted here and was used with the author’s permission.

About the author: Calulu lives near Washington DC , was raised Catholic in South Louisiana before falling in with a bunch of fallen Catholics whom had formed their own part Fundamentalist, part Evangelical church. After fifteen uncomfortable years drinking that Kool-Aid she left nearly 6 years ago. Now she is the admin at No Longer Quivering –http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nolongerquivering/. Her blogs are Calulu – Roadkill on the Internet Superhighway and The Burqa Experience.

Real Connections: What We Deserve

 
192/365 - Help, I'm Alive, My Heart Keeps Beating Like A Hammer
This is a guest post by a reader who wishes to remain anonymous. 
Recently I had a friend tell me something to the effect of, “you’re my friend only because we have this one thing in common.”
I feel as if a lot of people like to put themselves and others in boxes. I get it.  I do it.  It makes sense. It makes sense to have people fit into nice neat areas.  When you need a laugh, call person A.  When you need some wise advice, call person B. You always know who will give you what you need in a given situation. You have control. There’s order in a life that might seem otherwise chaotic.
But I’ve realized something. Putting someone in a box is not fair to them or me.  When I choose to see only certain qualities in a person I am, in a way, saying that no matter how much else they have to offer, they are only good for that one thing. So when I have that friend that I am only friends with because they are good looking, smart, funny, or whatever key quality I decide they have, I sell them short.  What if friend A, who I thought was only good looking was also good looking AND funny?  Or the friend I thought was only a good study partner actually shared a bunch of similar interests with me?  I miss out on so much when I only see people based on the neat confines I’ve placed them in.
I think we (and by “we” I mean “I”) do this because we are afraid.  It’s easier to be able to have that control over the people in our lives and to know what to expect from them and when.  It’s easier to shut everything down that doesn’t jive with our preconceived notions of what needs to happen. It’s easier to slap a label on someone so that we know who fits where. It’s neat and tidy and under control. We can do that to ourselves too- where we give ourselves permission to act only in a certain way, the way that fits our own idea of who we are. By keeping ourselves and those around us under control we can protect ourselves.
Sometimes people fall through when we need them most. That hurts.
Sometimes that person we so desperately want to connect with rejects us. That hurts.
Sometimes our attempts at authenticity are met with misunderstanding. That hurts.
We don’t want to be hurt. I don’t want to be hurt. Being hurt fucking sucks.
BUT it’s only by risking the possibility of being hurt that we will ever experience true love.
It’s by letting people see ME, not just in the dirty laundry sense, but ME, my authentic, vibrant, intelligent, gorgeous, amazing self and by opening my heart to others and letting them experience all that awesomeness. Because when I let others see me, I will begin to see me too.
It’s by knowing that I really do deserve love and connection. We are all wired to desire love and connection, yet it’s so easy to convince ourselves that it’s not for us, that we’re not good enough.  But even in our imperfections, even though we don’t have the answers, even when we make asshole moves, we deserve it. If nothing else we deserve it.
It’s by daring greatly and by living with courage and from the heart. It’s by loving even when there’s no guarantee of being loved in return.
That’s what vulnerability is. It’s throwing away the boxes and letting yourself just be. It’s daring greatly if for no other reason but to dare greatly. It’s allowing yourself to experience wholehearted love and connection and to love yourself and let others love you.
It’s hard.  But so totally worth it.“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”  Teddy Roosevelt

True Love Waits and Gets a Dinky Ring

De todo corazón - With my heartAfter being baptized Roman Catholic and growing up with a Spiritualist
mother, Betty Crux spent 10 years in the world of “evangelical/born-again”
Christianity. Several years removed, Betty uses writing as tool, both
therapeutic and informational, to sort through the experiences as well as
call into question the potential long-term effects of such a belief system.
Currently without religious affiliation, Betty is working on compiling her
experiences and observations into a book and blog. She also enjoys baking,
painting, photography, tattoos and other “worldly” endeavors.

***

 If there is anything I have very, very vivid memories of, it’s youth group at either church we attended.

I was a loser, no getting around it.  I wasn’t good looking, and my parents weren’t helping that fact. I had big ears, gapped teeth, and a gangly frame. Being Italian, I also was rocking a pretty serious uni-brow and some hairy legs and arms, not to mention more manly sideburns than my dad. I wasn’t allowed to shave, so that compounded with my already goofy face and ultra conservative dress code, I was an easy target for the Abercrombie wearing “cool kids” at my public school…some were the same kids who attended my youth group.  I never really wanted to go; it was like school all over again. If I did want to go, it was only to escape the unrest at my house or babysitting my siblings. But, no matter my attitude about it that day, off to youth group I went.

At both churches, it was held in the basement, decked out almost like a hip teen underworld beneath the stuffy adult church above. Jars of Clay and other Christian music posters papered the walls, in addition to ones bearing bible verses in bright colors and crazy fonts.  The sofas were big and plush, facing a stage where the praise band played.

I’d like to preface the rest of this story by saying that the youth leader was a nice younger man, who to this day I still feel to be very well-intentioned and kind hearted.  He was a good friend of my family and was very compassionate to me. I feel the things we were taught (and he probably still teaches) are, in his mind and heart, the will of God and in the best interest of the kids in his charge.

Occasionally I’d try striking up a conversation with someone (usually and adult) but would typically decide isolating myself was a better choice.  After sitting down, we opened with prayer and a praise song or two.  We then began a talk on modesty and “waiting until marriage.”

In my house, the “sex talk” consisted of my dad telling me if he ever caught me having sex he’d kill me where I stood. While I didn’t know the exact mechanics, I knew it was best avoided.  The youth pastor went on to tell us about how every time we had sex with, kissed, or even had impure thoughts about someone of the opposite sex, we were committing adultery in the eyes of God and were giving away pieces of our heart we could never get back.  He went on to say that if you were to commit such indiscretion, you would be setting your marriage up for failure in the future. God had intended your virginity for your spouse and if you waited until your wedding night it would be blessed and be pretty much magical and perfect.

I looked skeptically at the kids around me all nodding along angelically.  I may not have had any friends but in our small school I was pretty aware of who was doing what (or whom) and I knew there were many regular offenders sitting around me.  His words must have “touched” some of them, as I noticed a few heads start to look to their laps.  I figured I was free and clear, seeing as how no one spoke to me, much less sought me out for sin.

The pastor, continuing his lesson, then went on to tell us how it was our (the girls’) job, as sisters in Christ, to keep our brothers from stumbling.  Flirting or dressing impurely would cause the boys to sin and we would have to answer to that before God. My 14-year old head immediately called “bullshit,” but I continued to listen intently since I wanted to avoid God’s wrath at all costs. At the end of his lesson, we were told a woman would be coming to speak to us about impurity the next week.  “Great,” I thought, “Because this round has been such a joy.” He also mentioned something about a silver ring but I had mentally checked out around the warning about leading boys astray, so I missed it.

Fast-forward one week and I was back on the same couch (this time arranged in a circle) with a good-looking, middle aged woman seated in the middle.  She introduced herself and told us she was there to give her “testimony”.  It was all downhill from there: pretty much from the onset, she was getting emotional.  She had sex with a few guys in high school and college, one instance resulting in a pregnancy that she had an abortion to terminate.  Crying heavily, she told us how she went on to become a model and struggled with some addiction issues before finding God and a wonderful, compassionate husband who could love her despite her past sexual encounters. By the time she was done, many of the girls were sobbing right along with her and wanting to be prayed for.  The entire thing was thoroughly disturbing and I wondered why it wasn’t having the same effect on me. I just wanted to get the hell out of there.  Before we left we were told we would be attending Silver Ring Thing in the coming weeks.  Something about “purity” and “Christian bands” and “making a pledge.”

We took the church vans to Silver Ring Thing- a caravan of exuberant Jesus Freaks.  The event was held in a large arena setting, complete with lights and pyrotechnics.  The hip speakers did skits and the Christian bands had the teens on their feet, hands in the air, praising Jesus. The lessons from the previous weeks youth group meetings were re-iterated, this time hitting on the subject of abortion and adding that if we broke the purity pledge we would be making that night, we might as well “flush it down the toilet” because that’s what we had done with our promise to God. After taking the public pledge to essentially be asexual until Yahweh plopped a spouse in our laps, the unsaved were offered a chance to accept Jesus into their hearts, as was standard anytime two or more evangelicals are gathered in one place.  I had done this a million times before, but did it once more just to be safe. On our way out, we signed away our sexuality at a folding table and were handed a dinky, sterling silver ring with a bible verse on it.

I was kind of ready to flush it already.

As you may know

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Honor Academy Nightmare

Kate is a former intern with Teen Mania Ministries Honor Academy. She shares her story here.

212/365 - Don't cry princess, it was only a dream.

This is Kate’s story. Her “testimony” was originally posted at the Recovering Alumni site. Kate is a survivor or the Teen Mania/Honor Academy program. Honor Academy is an internship program tied to Teen Mania Ministries and founded by Ron Luce. You can read more stories like Kate’s at www.recoveringalumni.com. To date there are 70 stories much like Kate’s where they tell of spiritual abuse and the very dangerous doctrine used to exploit young people.

Before Honor Academy:

I, like so many others, was introduced to Teen Mania at an Acquire the Fire event. I went on my first mission trip the following summer to Russia (’93) when I was 12. For the first time I felt like I had a place where I just fit in. In many ways Teen Mania became my family.  I loved the honor and integrity that I felt was core to this ministry. I really took those qualities to heart and did my best to live up to that standard. I was drinking the “Kool-aid” and then I was hooked. I went on several more missions trips with them (Russia ’94, Albania ’95).

In Albania, Dave Hasz was the project director (PD) and he was going to take over as director of the Honor Academy that August. Needless to say, there was a BIG push on joining Honor Academy that summer. I know of at least 5 people who joined the program after that trip out of about 80 missionaries.  I decided to graduate 1 year early to begin the internship.

While visiting a girlfriend I had met on one of my summer trips, I heard a sermon that changed everything for me. When done with “respect” and an “honest desire to learn and grow,” it was okay to question your leaders so that you may fully understand their intentions/heart/direction, etc. I realize now that this was the beginning of the end of my relationship with Teen Mania. Anything that I didn’t understand (or sound biblical to me) I questioned. I know now that anything other than complete obedience equaled rebellion in Teen Mania’s eyes.

 

The summer of ’96 I went to El Salvador. It was the worst trip ever. Instead of going as a regular missionary, I signed up as a nanny, and in interest of space I will give you the short version. When my ‘family’ contacted me regarding being their nanny (after being told whose kid’s I’d be taking care of) the only question I remember asking is if everyone was potty trained. They had two girls, ages 5 and 2 ½. I was assured that everyone was potty trained. That phone call lasted about 20 minutes and was my one and only call from my ‘family.’ It now seems strange to me that parents would be okay leaving their two small children with a 17 year old stranger for up to 15 hours a day…while in another country.

Fast forward to Miami. Once I got to Miami and met my family for the month, it was revealed that: 1) The parents (who were Team Leader’s) were on their first trip ever and were BFF’s (‘best friends forever’) with the PD’s (Jeremy and Candy, their last name escapes me after all this time), 2) This would be the 1st time either child had EVER spent the night outside of their home, 3) The 2 1/2 year old was not potty trained, 4) The 2 1/2 year old was born with a heart defect, had two previous open heart surgeries to try to correct the issues and as a result had life threatening asthma, which was controlled by a nebulizer, 5) Due to the health issues, discipline and structure was very lax. Basically, whatever the kids wanted, they got.

When I brought up that I had concerns about being in a 3rd world country with a child that had serious medical issues, where I didn’t speak the language and had the medical training of applying a Snoopy Band-aid and a hug (not to mention that neither kid had ever even spent the night with Grandma or Grandpa, “Don’t you think foreign country is a big step?”), the reply to my concerns was “Phhss, it’ll be fine! Plus, you know the kid only has asthma attacks when she throws a tantrum.” (HELLO! Have you heard of the terrible two’s!). “If the toddler has an attack, her sister knows how to use the nebulizer.” What I got from that statement was “Hey, if a 5 year old can handle this why can’t you?”

Things did not go fine. I was cooped up in a hotel room for 10-16 hours a day with two kids that were pissed to not be at home. They viewed me as the reason that they were not at home with their parents. The kids were bored because there was nothing for them to do other than the few coloring books I had brought (their parents didn’t think to bring toys or games). I felt that asking two little kids to give up everything that was normal for them for five weeks (let’s face it, a life time for a child) was insane. They didn’t have their bed, toys, or food they were use to. The icing on the cake was that Mom and Dad weren’t around and they were told that they couldn’t see them. I couldn’t really blame them for being pissed.

To top all this off, the youngest one’s health was always an issue. The nebulizer they brought for her asthma didn’t have the right voltage converter, so it was basically useless. The result: any normal temper tantrum could go from being frustrating to a serious medical emergency at a moments notice.  My entire team could see that I was in a tough spot. When not out preforming dramas, most of the team was there to help out while Mom and Dad where of doing Team Leader things.  After about 10 days in the country with cranky and bored kids bouncing off the walls and going stir crazy, I asked for help from the parents at first, then the PD’s. I needed reinforcements or I’d have a mini mutiny on my hands. Also, the hotel was pretty fed up with the kids running around screaming. The general response I got was, “Just pray and God will help you/ this is what you signed up for/ you should just know what to do with out asking us (ie. You’re supposed to be perfect!).”

This was not what I had signed up for. I was kinda pissed that I was lied to regarding their health and both children were not properly prepped for this trip. I still got nowhere. So, I started calling my parents for advice. Then they started calling the PD’s wondering why their normally level-headed 17 year old daughter was calling collect daily, freaking out, and just what the hell was going on?! Three days before we were to leave the country I was woken up at 4 am and told to pack my bags and be in the hotel lobby in 20 minutes. I was being BV’d (sent home) for a “bad attitude and rebellious spirit.” I never got to say good bye to my team (I later found out they lied to, they’d been told I left due to a family emergency). I was dropped off at the airport, with no money, handed my passport, a paper ticket to Miami, and told that I should call my parents when I got to Miami. My parents had no idea I was coming home early.

Once the trip was over, 30-35 families had complained to Teen Mania Ministries about the poor leadership on that trip. The common theme was several kids had been confronted and/or punished for the “bad attitude and rebellious spirit” when they questioned what was going on. The Kool-Aid was starting to sour.

The Honor Academy:

Honor Academy is an internship in Teen Mania Ministries. I started my internship in January 1997, just after Teen Mania move to Garden Valley, Texas. Things started out on the wrong foot from the get-go. I was under Kim Wilkerson’s supervision (IA?) and she seemed to take an instant dislike to me. I later learned that this was partly because Kim was BFF’s with my PD’s from El Salvador and I now had been pegged as “rebellious” before I ever set foot on campus.

Because of my “rebellion” I was under close supervision by everyone, and everything was all reported back to Kim, Mercer, or Dave. I would be “confronted” on a near daily bases on what I wore, what I ate, who I ate with, who I walked to and from work with, etc. My clothes were found to be improper even though they fell within the guidelines.

One example of my “rebellion” started after driving cross-country to get to Texas. My dad called to remind me I’d need an oil change. (My mechanical abilities began and ended with putting gas in the car making it go.) After Gauntlet Week, I asked a group of five or six guys if they knew where I could get an oil change. They said there was a garage on campus and they could change my oil there and show me how. So, the next time we had a night free, six guys and myself crammed into my car and drove to the garage to start “Project Oil Change.”

One of the guys pointed to a pile of work clothes and suggested that I change so I didn’t get my clothes dirty. That sounded like a good plan to me, so I dug through the pile and found jeans and a shirt that were relatively close to my size, went in to the bathroom and changed. The guys worked on changing the oil and pointed at car parts that I apparently should have known about. After the car was done I went into the bathroom and changed back into my clothes. We all went back to the dorms to hang out before curfew.

The next day I was called in to Dave Hasz’ office and was retold the events from the night before. By the time it got to him, it sounded like I had done a strip tease for the guys and that “oil change” was possibly a euphemism. I explained that I had changed in to some work clothes, in private, behind a locked door and that nothing improper happened. At this point, I thought that all this had to have been a misunderstanding and Dave was going to laugh and say “That’s all?!”

Not so much. He didn’t miss a beat. He leaned forward in his chair and said to me, “What do you think that does to a guy?! To know there is a woman undressing in the very next room!” He then went on the lecture me on how it was my job as a “woman of God” to help keep the men from thinking lustful thoughts (As if I could control someone else’s thought process!).  I pointed out that the girls’ dorm was a floor above the guys’ dorm. If this was his logic, how were they going to handle knowing there were 50 girls upstairs sleeping, showering, changing clothes, etc? This didn’t win me any favors; logic had no place here. Long story short, I left Dave’s office with a list of clothes I could and couldn’t wear (v-neck could potentially show cleavage, causing my brothers to fall, everything should be lose fitting, not too much leg, etc.), what kind of make up (no dark eyeliner!) and nail polish I should and shouldn’t wear (only red, pink or clear no blue or black…), and was assigned to dish duty for a week.

I was mortified.

All of that was frustrating and humiliating enough, but it was the isolation that killed me. About a month into it, a guy that I had a five minute conversation with at breakfast called me at work to let me know that Hasz had told him, “He should limit his time with me.” I didn’t understand where this was coming from so I called Dave Hasz for a meeting. The gist of that meeting was: yes indeed, I was a “bad seed” in a sea of “super Christians.” Hasz proceeded to list off what my character flaws were, what he felt I should do to change them, and the direction he felt my life should be going in. And oh… by the way… since we were talking about it… here’s a list of people that I should limit my time with be cause they were “bad seeds” as well. He listed off just about every friend I had made over the last 6 weeks.

The “character flaws” he listed off weren’t bad things. They were things that I really liked about myself. I liked that I was quirky, creative, and spunky but this didn’t fit into the Teen Mania mold, and therefore must be bad. I didn’t understand how Ron Luce could speak at every Acquire the Fire conference and tell kids not to be a cookie-cutter Christians, while at the Honor Academy I was being forced into a mold I didn’t fit into.

I was miserable. I felt that if I was hanging out with my friends then I was being disobedient. But the “super interns” didn’t want anything to do with me other than to report back to my IA or Hasz what the “bad seed” was up to.  I was just expected to be perfect and know everything.  If I asked what I could do to be better, all I would get was vague answers or direction then punishment for not understanding precisely what was meant or implied. It was so frustrating I felt like I was being held up to an invisible measuring stick and I was falling miserably short. It was kind of like asking “Left or right?”, then being yelled at because I went too far left or I should have understood that they really meant “slightly right.” Nothing I did was good enough. I don’t think a week went by that I wasn’t on dish duty or “campused,” or both. The main message I walked away from Teen Mania with was: leadership was right. Period. They had the option of changing their mind later but that didn’t mean that they were previously wrong.

I felt like my family was turning their back on me because I was bad and didn’t “fit the mold.” A deep depression started setting in. I had no one to confide in. Leadership was only there to tear me down, not lift me up. I was done. Five months into it, I left the internship. During the family meeting, Hasz stated my decision to leave was “mutual” and that Teen Mania would refund me the balance of my money. This was a lie, one that my mother was witness to. My dad called Teen Mania as soon as I got home regarding this refund. He was told that Teen Mania was a non-profit and no one was entitled to a refund for any reason. Needless to say my parents were not happy. I told them that was what it was like. They say one thing but when you follow up it’s entirely a different story.

I quit drinking the Kool-Aid that day.

To this day I struggle to remember that being unique is okay. I don’t have to follow the letter of some arbitrary law. It’s far more important to be a good, kind, loving person than it is to be perfect.

Post-Honor Academy:

Once home, I received one phone call from a guy friend to see how I was doing… then nothing. It was as if I never existed to them or any of my friends. I was just left to kind of figure things out on my own. Things were not going great. I didn’t really know how to resume my place back home. I didn’t really fit in with my friends, who at the time were busy with college.

When the August interns graduated, one of the boys I had been friends with called me to say “God” told him I was “the one” and it was God’s will that we get married. I was still emotionally fragile from all that transpired at Teen Mania and I wanted so desperately to be walking in God’s plan. My line of thinking was that one of the “cream of the crop Christians,” a graduate of the Honor Academy was telling me what God’s plan for me was. I felt that I wasn’t spiritual enough (i.e., good enough) to graduate from Honor Academy, so if he was telling me this was God’s plan, it must be true. I so wish I would have hung up the phone that night laughing.

We started dating and to make a very long, painful story very brief, after dating for about three months, he came to my apartment to pick me up for church, walked into my bedroom raped me, threw clothes at me and said, “We’re going to be late to church.” Just like that. Like we had just finished watching TV or something. (That was how I lost my virginity, I’ve never told anyone that, and I’m sweating bullets right now.) Prior to that our physical relationship consisted of holding hands and a little kissing. I completely shut down emotionally, got up and went to church in this haze.

To this day I can’t go to church without having a major panic attack.

About a week later he called to say that we had to break up. I was not the woman he thought I was. I had caused him to stumble. He felt Hasz was right about me. I was a bad seed, a whore, and in general a bad Christian. In short he felt what happened was my fault and I seduced him.

I was done. I moved back home and had a serious break down. I was too ashamed to tell anyone what happened so I just went into my room and pretty much slept for year.

Then I had a dream one night.

I was on the Teen Mania Ministries campus, but it didn’t look like it did when I was there. There were new buildings and a water fountain. There were hundreds of people in the crowd and in front of us was a panel of “elders.” Sitting next to the panel was Ron Luce, Dave Hasz, and the IA’s from my year Kim Wilkerson, Caroline, Mercer and Rob Singliph. One by one our names were called to give our account of events. Everyone who got up to speak before me had only good things to say about Teen Mania and the people to the panel.  My name was called. I was terrified, these were people who had tortured me emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually during my internship. I didn’t have a lot of nice things to say. Most of what I had to say was going to sound really bad.  A kind and gentle voice on the panel spoke up and said to me, “It’s okay, just speak the truth.”

I stood up and gave my account. I recounted everything that Dave and the rest had ever poured into my life- the good, the bad, everything. I told of times I had been lied to, times that I had looked to them for guidance and in return had been looked down on and judged…I accounted for every moment. Many of the statements I made, there was a rebuttal for and for every rebuttal they were told by the panel that is was not Teen Mania’s time to judge me. My judgment would come at another time, in a different venue. It was their time of judgment.

I felt like I was talking for hours. When I was finished with my account the same gentle panelist asked the Teen Mania leaders, “When did you show her love?” Dave was silent. Kim was silent. Ron was silent. Everyone silent. It was deafening. I was allowed to step down and resume my place in the crowd and the next person was called to give their account. This continued until we all had spoken.

The panel spoke amongst themselves and then a decision was made and judgment was about to begin…then I woke up.

When I woke up 2 things happened:

1. I realized that those at Teen Mania who had hurt me would pay for the damages they did to me. Everything they poured into my life, good or bad, would be accounted for. However, there would be no apologies and they would probably never acknowledge that any of my hurt feelings or damaged psyche were real or valid.  Whatever the outcome, it would be on a grand scale. It would be bigger than I could understand now. I had to move on as best as I could.

2. I couldn’t remember most of what happened on campus anymore, just the few things mentioned above. Everything was in a fog, faces, names, memories might rise up out of the fog, but would recede into it just as fast as it rose. I remember almost nothing of the events that occurred, but have a profound sense of distrust, unworthiness, and a sense of being unwanted.

***

My Cult Life’s Note: The Recovering Alumni forums have served as a place of healing and closure for hundreds of former alumni. Even though I’m not an alumni, they graciously let me participate, tell my story, and it was here that I met Kate.

For more on the Honor Academy, or more stories from the Recovering Alumni, visit the blog or forums.

For a complete glossary of Teen Mania Ministries/Honor Academy terms, visit the Recovering Alumni Glossary page.