15 May 2013

An Apology (of sorts)

Trigger warning: Religion (Christianity specifically), fundamentalist Christianity, Evangelical Christianity, Pentecostal Christianity, spiritual abuse, proselytizing and conversion (as a topic)


I was raised for as long as I can remember in the Assemblies of God church.

If you're not familiar with the name, the Assemblies of God fall under the Pentecostal/charismatic umbrella, and were founded in the early twentieth century. AG is one of several denominational groups associated with dominionist theology, the Christian Right, and fundamentalist Christianity. It's also the young earth creationism teaching church affiliated with the camp portrayed in Jesus Camp, the abusive residential treatment center/troubled teen industry placement Teen Challenge, and the anti-gay, heterosexist organization Focus on the Family.

I was christened as a baby in the Assemblies of God.

I was baptized by water immersion at thirteen years old in the Assemblies of God.

I was part of the Missionettes program, the AG alternative to the secular Girl Scouts, from kindergarten through seventh grade.

I've always owned a Bible and it was always natural to me that we went to church every Sunday, tried to encourage our friends to come with us, and talked about everything and everyone in terms of God's will.

I am a Christian. My faith is important to me and is central to my work as an activist and a scholar. But I've come to learn over the last several years that the Christian faith as the Assemblies of God understands and demands it is not the same as the Christian faith as I have come to understand it.

And after reading some articles and essays that I'd somehow never stumbled across earlier, I've realized that I still have a lot to apologize for, because there's still a lot that I've taken for granted and a lot that I've never quite owned up to.

To the Buddhist in my second grade class whom I told believed in "a false religion" and "a false god" and should turn to Jesus instead, I'm sorry for so brazenly de-legitimizing and attacking your own beliefs and religious heritage while demanding that you convert to mine, and I'm sorry that so many Christians essentially believe and teach young children that it is their duty to see their friends and acquaintances as conversion projects.

To the first openly Gay person I ever met, I'm sorry for immediately thinking of you as essentially a project to be developed into some type of pious Christian even though I never believed people could suddenly become not gay, and I'm sorry that so many Christians believe and teach their children to believe that you can't be gay and Christian, that gays are damned to hell forever, that being gay is wrong, and that being gay is something you can be "healed" of through enough prayer and self-hatred.

To every Muslim in the entire world ever, I'm sorry for wanting to go into the field of Islamic Studies with the hope of finding some kind of mystical "connection" between your faith and mine so that I could claim at least some of you as Christians in some unconventional and certainly appropriative and condescending way, and I'm sorry that so many Christians believe and teach their children to believe that you are all following a "perverted" religion, that you are going to hell, and that you can only be saved if you convert to Christianity.

I don't know if I'm a religious pluralist in the sense of believing that everyone or most people will attain the spiritual "goal" or telos of my faith -- in layman's terms, in the sense of believing that belief in a specific religion isn't how you "get to heaven." On the one hand, it seems incredibly exclusionary and judgmental (in the sense of acting as though one is God and can judge another person's character) to claim that only people of a particular faith (including, by inference, people who've done pretty horrible, awful things) will "go to heaven." On the other hand, it seems almost appropriative or irrational to claim that anyone can "go to heaven," particularly when the notion of "heaven," however argued or conceptualized, is often specific to a particular religion's understanding of "heaven," and is not even the end goal for many religions.

But I do believe in the right to absolute bodily, spiritual, and mental autonomy, and to the absolute right of freedom to worship (or not), and it deeply saddens me to realize that essentially my entire childhood consisted of constant indoctrination to see everyone around me as either "in" the community or "outside" and therefore a prospect for conversion. This is astounding.

It is tantamount to child abuse to inculcate a sense of absolute fear of disobedience or disrespect, however ill-defined, toward church authority either in tangible form (such as church leaders) or abstract form (the concept of the church as an authority itself). If children are not taught to be inquisitive, to question, to criticize, to reason, to understand, then their supposed Christian education amounts to brainwashing. And training children to believe that their goal in all of their relationships, if any, with non-Christians ought to be for the ultimate purpose of conversion, no matter how beautified or justified the language, is not only abusive to that child themself but also preparing that child to enact spiritual violence against people with whom they might have wanted some kind of meaningful relationship that will now forever be damaged if it exists at all.

How would you feel if you found out that someone had befriended you solely to slowly wear you down into agreeing to attend religious services with them and ultimately to convince you to convert to their religion? (Unless you for whatever reason made an emotional and spiritual conversion to that religion, and even then, not necessarily) I doubt you'd feel grateful or comforted or reassured or satisfied. I'd bet you'd feel used and deceived and objectified in the most gross sense of the term.

The parent of an autistic young woman in another Evangelical family once told me that they had heard from the Holy Spirit that she would be "healed" of her autism soon. Other autistics have been subjected to exorcisms under the premise that autism, like other mental  disabilities, is caused by demonic forces. At least one young man died several years ago during such an exorcism.

I'm sorry for every time I nodded with implied assent because I was afraid that if I spoke up, I would be quickly and definitively silenced.

I'm sorry for all of the collective and individual abuse on so many levels of oppression that so many Christian churches and Christians themselves perpetuate.

I'm sorry for not speaking loudly enough against the hate spewed so loudly and powerfully in politics, culture, and society by members of my faith.

I'm sorry for whatever hurt and pain I've caused to others in my oblivion to your wounds and to my essentially rubbing salt in them.

I didn't always know.

I wasn't always sorry.

But I'm aware now. I'm so very aware.

And I want to do whatever I can to make up for all of it, because no one deserves to be used, either to convert other individuals or to bolster church attendance numbers, either to hurt other people or to suffer pain for the sake of someone else's agenda. That's not the kind of world I want to be part of, and I believe strongly that that's not the kind of "religion" that any just or loving god(ess) would ever want.


  1. Beautifully written. You are truly wise for your age. Many people go to their graves still believing that their belief system is the only way. Your awakening is a rare thing indeed :)

  2. Growing up I was always somewhat troubled by the notion that one should constantly encourage everyone he or she knows (regardless of one's relationship with or feelings towards these other people) to attend religious services and while some reasons for my discomfort were always obvious, some eluded me but I nonetheless felt them. This piece does a great job of encapsulating a lot of what made me uncomfortable about this project and it's very similar to what is wrong with the notion that non-disabled people need to be tasked with the job of "befriending" disabled people in phoney ways. It perverts the genuineness of a relationship and uses people as a means to an end. Thanks for writing and posting.

  3. Thank you for this, Lydia. It's a large part of why my activism has led me toward church/state issues alongside fighting ableism. The problem is not the spiritual belief system--it's the material authoritarianism that so often comes with it.

    On my own journey to understand my morality and my place in the world, I've come to a similar conclusion to yours--what I value is autonomy, full autonomy, for everyone. I think that if we can get people working toward that as a goal, and toward the recognition that the appropriation/violation of another person's autonomy is the root of all evil, that is the goal.

  4. The power of believing that *we* are right and *you* are wrong is insidious, not the least because the more deeply we believe it, the better we do in our performance on "objective" measures.

    And the more that *you* feel the shame of being wrong, of being viewed as inferior, the more poorly you do in your performance on those same ostensibly objective measures.

    It is very hard as an individual to give up such an inner strength, let alone doing so in a group that is inclined to reinforce the power-view.

    I had a roommate during my sophomore year of high school who spent the entire school year trying to covert me or, at least, to make sure that I knew where I was going and that I was doomed. He (inadvertently) helped clarify for me what I believed in terms of treating other people, if not exactly what I believed in terms of a deity. I just knew we did not worship the same one and would not, even if I were to start worshiping one at all.

    His fervor, though, stays with me still. The conviction that what he was doing and that anybody getting in the way was committing a sin permitted him to overcome any number of obstacles in his efforts to fulfill what he perceived to be God's purpose.

    And therein lies the problem in our advocacy for whichever causes we adopt. We become so clear in our own heads exactly how the world should be that it permits us/drives us forward, but it blinds us to the flaws in our perspective.

    I wish for you good fortune as you continue to work to find balance between the surety of your beliefs (regardless of topic) and your work with/respect for other people, many of whom do not share those beliefs. And I thank you for offering a window into those struggles, that others may learn from them, not just from your conclusions.

  5. Thank you for posting this, that sounds like a bad church. I am an Orthodox Christian, and I hate it when people think autistic people are demon possessed! We're NOT!!! One of the many things I don't like about Protestant theology.

  6. You shouldn't apologize for your intention of following the Great Commission which Jesus gave during His last sermon before His crucifixion. I will agree with you on the notion that methodology is everything and having someone who "doesn't pull any punches" (metaphorically speaking) or "says it like it is" and "reminds" people every chance they get of their 'ultimate destination' (i.e. hell) is not the right way - even the Bible says it's the LOVE of the Lord that draws people to Him.
    If I can convince you of any one thing though, it would be this - don't apologize to any Muslim for thinking a certain way or even for evangelizing to them, if they had their way and all governements of the world were run by Islam you would be killed for evangelism, while the Muslim freely goes around spreading "submission" (that's what Islam means 'submission' and Muslim is 'one that submits') Islam is the only religion that commands it's followers to kill people over what they think! and they have no problems obeying either! is chapter 4 passage 91 it talks about "unbelievers" (or one who thinks differently than you do) and says "kill them wherever you find them", they are also commanded to collect jizya - a "poll tax" from all Christians and Jews who are graciously allowed to continue in their beliefs (all other religions are supposed to be driven off the face of the earth) and while some Muslims will say this "poll tax" is protection because non-Muslims are not allowed to carry weapons (I am reminded of the "protection" the mafia charges businesses that dare operate in their territory) but the Muslim's Holy book commands that this "poll tax" be collected in a humiliating way, which the Muslim scholars have taken to mean that when the Christian and Jew comes to pay the tax that they are to be stricken on the back of the neck.
    So, never apologize to a Muslim for ANY REASON it just opens the door for more apologies like interferring with their religious duty to "beat their wives" (and don't believe the Muslim missionary that will try telling you this passage says to lightly strike them with a toothbrush on the back of the hand - that's just B.S.)

  7. rolaaus,

    I will now assume that you, with absolute reverence for the bible as the literally revealed word of God, believe that disobedient children, LGB folk, and people who mixed their crops in the same fields should be executed, since clearly everyone follows every command in their respective Scriptures literally. While you may argue that Matthew 15:10-11 invalidates the necessity for ritual purity according to the Torah, it's clear from a closer reading of Matthew 15:16-20 that this only applies to ritual purity, not to other matters of morality. This is reinforced by Matthew 5:17-20, where Christ says:

    Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

    There is only one literal interpretation of that passage: Christians must uphold Judaic purity laws. While St. Paul might have contradicted this later, these are the words of Christ, so I find it hard to believe that anyone truly believes in biblical inerrancy and literal interpretation thereof as it would essentially require conversion to Orthodox Judaism in addition to being a Christian. This simple fact is that every religion picks and chooses what to believe and what to practice because literally practicing all of it would be, if not impossible, wholly unreasonable.

    (PS, people who think that they "literally believe in the Bible need to consult an Autistic about what "literal" actually means, because, believe you me, you probably don't.)

  8. Part Two:

    Moreover, I really REALLY can't stand Baptists, Pentecostalists, and various other Protestant fundamentalists who go on about Christianity being the only way to salvation because they really just. don't. get how ridiculous and intolerant that sounds to people who aren't Christians, especially considering that there are passages from the Bible that say that you are all going Hell. First, there is the whole "Bread of Life" discourse in John 6, which culminates in verses 53-56, where Christ says, "Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them." This makes it abundantly clear that, to receive life from Christ, you must consume the Real Presence of Christ in Transubstantiated Eucharist. Now let's examine Matthew 16:18-19, where Christ tells St. Peter, "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven," which makes it quite clear that the Church with the power to administer the blessed sacraments that confer grace must be the Church of St. Peter, who has conferred his authority via the Holy Spirit via the Laying of Hands (Acts 8:17). Thus, it is clear that anyone who does not take Transubstantiated (or equivalent) Eucharist, which must be consecrated by a properly ordained (Catholic, Orthodox, maybe Anglican, or maybe Lutheran) priest is going to hell. Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, et al. are false prophets that Christ warns us about in Matthew 7:15-20 and we have recognized them by their fruits as they lead people astray from the one path of righteousness and salvation through Christ's Church and has led them to believe that they can forsake the good work that St. James has taught us that faith requires and believe that their grace can come from infecting their minds with narcotic pseudo-religious experiences once per week and studying the Scriptures while failing in doing the hard work of self-examination that true saving faith in Christ requires. The fires of hell burn hotly for you.

    Do you see how ridiculous, close-minded, and insulting it sounds when I hit you with High Church Fundamentalism? That's how you sound to non-Christians. Seriously. Now I could sugar coat it and make it sound like I'm just concerned for your well-being, but I'm still telling you that your religion is crap and that you're going to hell for not being a High Church (possibly only Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox) Christian. I'm glad Lydia has seen how wrong this is and I hope that she will work hard to open the minds of other Christians who labor under the impression that this is okay.

  9. Personally, I believe that everyone will go to Heaven based on their actions in this life, and if someone else believes differently, well that's their right. God didn't give us free will so we'd be forced to believe everything written about Him, or even in Him. For the record, I'm a Unitarian who was brought up Roman Catholic.


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