Blog recommendation: Homeschoolers Anonymous (To visit the site, click image or here; For a related post, click here http://christiannightmares.tumblr.com/post/49989227216/the-dark-side-of-christian-homeschooling-former)
A young Christian boy thinks he’s damned to hell after joking about a Hitler ’stache in church
Wherefore I say unto you, all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. – Matthew 12:31-32
I was told point blank at seven-years-old that if I ever spoke against a member of God’s kingdom, I would suffer eternally in hell’s fiery pit. I was told, when I was barely coming to the age of understanding, that I only got one shot at this—there’s no redemption for this unforgivable sin. God forgives and God forgets, and whatever evil you may have caused in your life can be wiped away so long as you repent. But not this. You’re damned forever if this thought so much as grazes across your mind—you’re castigated from paradise for thought crime.
But I was a child and didn’t pay it any attention. None of us did. We just went about filling out our worksheets and waiting for the Sunday school bell to ring, and then we shuffled off to the big church and sat in the pews to hear the sermon. My friends and I sat about three rows from the front. The children filled the first five rows in ascending order according to age, and the rest of the congregation sat behind us.
One Sunday, the guest speaker looked a little like Hitler—he had the little ‘stache and everything. So me and my friends cracked a joke, and quietly giggled to ourselves. But I laughed the loudest, and the pastor looked me right in the eyes. He didn’t stop his sermon but he glared right at all of us as he expounded his words, and instantly I felt my soul shatter. The whole lesson about the “unforgivable sin” came rushing back and I was filled with remorse and shame. I’d spoken against a vessel of the Holy Spirit, and I would never make it to Heaven. I believed wholeheartedly at the age of seven that I was damned. There was no way around it.
That’s the point when I never felt God’s grace again. It started with that moment, and it took the better part of a decade to finally shake off all the fear and guilt placed on me after years of attending services. I always felt the pastor’s glare when he scanned a crowd, and I knew I didn’t belong anymore. Every time there was a “prophet” visiting and he’d proclaim there was evil in the room, I always felt he was singling me out for what I had done. He knew I had done the unforgivable. – Rex Rivers
An online group helps a young gay man escape from his abusive Christian family
Matthew Gorzik, an 18-year-old man from Missouri, got in touch with me about a month ago wanting to share his story, which is equal parts sad, frustrating, courageous, and triumphant. We decided the best way to tell it was through a Q&A. Here it is.
(CN) How and why did you end up going to an online Christian school?
(MG) I have been going to Alpha Omega Academy since kindergarten. My family was extremely overprotective and they didn’t really trust the schools/kids where I lived. To them, they were simply trying to protect me from the evils of the outside world.
What is FSTDT and how did you become involved with its community?
FSTDT is an acronym for “Fundies Say The Darndest Things.” It’s a site/forum that was created to document crazy/hilarious/bizarre quotes from fundamentalists/racists/conspiracy theorists of all sorts across the internet. I got involved personally at the urging of my boyfriend, who saw some of my schoolwork one day and thought it would be perfect for the main page of the site. This whole thing started with me asking the forums about posting my schoolwork.
Can you tell us about the incident between you and your father, and about how your siblings abused you physically and emotionally?
I used to be on St. John’s Wort, and one day, my father told me that he wouldn’t be able to get me another bottle due to lack of funds. He felt the money was better spent on food. The reason sounded good enough, and I trusted him. He then came home the next day with a tablet computer that cost at least $200. To fully explain the behavior of my parents would require another entire story unto itself.
As for my siblings, my three sisters were basically allowed to do whatever they wanted to me without consequence. If I annoyed them, they were allowed to physically attack me however much they wanted. If I defended myself, I was forced to apologize. Some specific examples: I have bent fingers due to an incident where my sisters thought I had stolen something from them. They slammed my fingers into a door hinge because I told them I didn’t know where their possession was. My sisters also constantly berated me for never having friends, and made sure to remind me at every turn that people in the real world would never like me because of who I am.
What was the reaction of the FSTDT community?
When I first mentioned the incident with my father, they were angry. Their reaction was to ask whether or not things like this had happened in the past. They were not amused when the answer was “yes.” The reaction basically went from curiosity, to anger, to complete rage and concern over the things that my family had put me through.
How did the plan for your escape come together, and who organized the fundraiser?
The plan for my escape came from the manager of the forums at that time. He’s also the one who started the fundraiser. It was started in secret, originally, and the plan was really thought up as he went along. I wouldn’t say it even really came together until maybe a week before the end of the operation, which was called Operation Miles. The simple fact that we raised $1,000 for my escape is absolutely breathtaking, in all honesty.
How did you prepare for your escape?
Most of the preparation was mental, really. It’s really strange to look around at your home and your family and think, “In a few months, I’m never going to see any of these people again.” There was always a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that, at some point, my friends from FSTDT would arrive at my front door and I’d have to gather my things and go as fast as I could. All I could do was try my hardest to steel myself for when that day came.
How did the escape go down? Who picked you up? And where did you go?
The day came on July 4th of last year. I hadn’t slept the entire night. My things were all gathered in bags and boxes scattered across my room. I even stole my birth certificate and my social security card from a lockbox my parents had (despite the fact that I’m 18, my parents exercised control over my personal documents).
At 9:00am that morning, everything was set. I was even able to set my computer, my clothes, and several of my other personal belongings outside on the porch without my parents even noticing. I was sitting in the living room trying to relax when they arrived. I felt my stomach drop when they did, as I feared my parents would notice. However, my dad was in the shower, and my mother smoking in the basement. They didn’t realize a thing until we had loaded everything into the car and I was 20 miles away. We drove for three days straight to Salem, Oregon.
Getting into that SUV with my two friends from the internet and saying goodbye to the life I had was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. I think about it almost all the time to this day.
How did your family react when they found out?
My family did not react well, in all honesty. They still call me to this day and try to convince me to come home. I don’t really know what to say beyond that, sadly.
Did your boyfriend go with you?
My boyfriend did not come with me, but that’s primarily because he lives in Massachusetts. I’ve still yet to meet him in real life due to my parents and my distance from him in Missouri, but we’re trying to figure out a way to work something out.
How has it been adjusting to your new life?
I’ve become far more confident in myself since leaving, and I’m still learning more about how life as an adult works as time goes by. Of course, my current roommate still gives me grief from time to time over the fact that I used to ask for permission to do anything. There’s still a lot of damage to be undone, but in these nine months, I’ve made a lot of progress.
What are you up to/how are you doing now?
I’m currently working on getting a GED and then an associates degree. It’s a bit overwhelming at times, but in all honesty, I’m happier than I thought I ever could be. I actually have pride in myself now, and I feel like there’s a reason to look forward to my future.
An abuse victim turns to a Pentecostal preacher for help, gets blamed instead
Three years ago, I was homeless and an active member of a Pentecostal church. My only means of shelter came from a male church member who often paid for my stay at a cheap hotel. A few months after, he became homeless as well and we shared the room together.
The church knew of our dilemma and often helped sustain us. They donated food and one man paid for an entire week at the hotel for us upfront. They weren’t proud of us for sharing the same bed, but didn’t shame us for our circumstances right away.
The guy I shared a room with started to want compensation for his good deeds. At the time, I was unemployed, so he wanted sex instead of money. I told him no, I didn’t feel comfortable using my body as payment. Over a period of a couple weeks, he went from harassing me to physically hurting me.
One night, we had an argument that ended with him snatching me by my hair and pinning me down with enough pressure that his fingernails drew blood. The next day, I counseled with our preacher and begged her for help. I feared for my safety if I stayed with him, but I was also afraid to sleep under a bridge since our town has no shelters.
Her advice to me? Women are supposed to honor and serve their men. That guy and I had a dating history and he obviously still loved me if he was spending so much money keeping me afloat. Maybe if I had done what he wanted me to do, and we made it right in the eyes of the Lord, then he wouldn’t have hurt me.
Needless to say, that was the last time I ever went to church. – Name withheld by request
Preach to the choir or else: Backlash over a liberal speaker at a conservative Christian retreat
Every year for about five years now, I have volunteered at a Christian youth event that attracts about 2,000 people from around southern Ontario. Two years ago, they invited a liberal theologian to speak for the weekend—much different than the conservative people they usually get.
I should clarify a few things: I am not a Christian. I used to be though. I had all the Jesus t-shirts, I prayed every night, went on mission trips, all of that. I haven’t considered myself a Christian for a long time, but I continue to volunteer at this event because many of my friends are still Christians, and I still care for so many people from that part of my life. But most of them don’t know I’m not a Christian now.
This speaker’s message resounded with me though. He said it was OKAY to doubt your faith. And that what you believe in reflects directly in your actions. If, in your actions, you are supporting systems and institutions that cause oppression, this is what you believe. I was so relieved to hear this: for the very first time at a Christian event I was being told that I could doubt my faith, and it affirmed years of suspicions for me that so many churches I have seen and interacted with behaved in a way that was oppressive, self-serving, and harmful. In one fell swoop this speaker outed the hypocrisies of many of the churches in attendance, and encouraged those who are brave enough to question the system.
Naturally, this didn’t go over well for many of the people at this event. People accused this speaker of being “Un-Christian” (oh, the horror!) and went up to him and asked to pray for him to receive Jesus into his heart because clearly, he didn’t believe in God. They harassed him, walked out on his sessions, and what had always been an innocent youth retreat turned into a full-blown schism. The people who organize the retreat were in shock. I was good friends with them and suddenly I realized the difficulty of their job: these are good, sane people who wish to use their leadership to challenge people in a healthy way in regards to their faith. Yet they will be forced by conservative Christians to only invite speakers who will say what they want to hear, and do what they want to do.
This hurt me because many of the people who could not handle the message at this retreat were friends of mine—people I had gone to youth group with, or missions trips, or lived with at Bible college. This was confirmation to me that these people I cared about would not take kindly to the news that I’m not a Christian, and that these are people I could not count on for support.
After the event, people were still talking about it, and I was afraid of the flood of angry emails the directors would receive, so I wrote a note on Facebook, and sent it to the event’s website, and attempted to take on some of the angry emails. I had over 120 comments in three days, piles of emails, and people who wanted to talk to me. Many of the comments were angry and accusatory, but there were some who thanked me, who told me they resounded with the message but were too afraid to say anything. Or that they, like me, had been jaded by the bullshit they see in Christianity and for the first time in years, felt a sense of relief, like they weren’t alone.
The directors ended up having to send a letter to all the churches in attendance apologizing for inviting the speaker. The following year, the speaker they invited was conservative, and he spoke about how you should accept Jesus into your heart. And for some reason, I still continue to volunteer at this event. I don’t think I’m going to volunteer this year. – Name withheld by request
Anti-gay youth group leaders try to keep a girl from her gay dads
This incident still angers me for many reasons. My dads are gay, and when I was younger, someone at my school invited me to a youth group event. When I got there, they spent most of the time talking about how gay marriage is wrong, and it made me really uncomfortable. So I said, “I’m not feeling good, I’m going to call my dad to come and get me.” When the classmate that had invited me told everyone that I have two dads and they are gay, all hell broke loose. The youth group leaders freaked out and said that I wouldn’t be calling my dads. In fact, they did not want me to leave. They tried to get me to see that my dads were sinning, but I told them I wanted to leave and that I disagreed with what they were saying. I remember being in tears, scared and wanting to go home.
I went into the bathroom and called my dads. They were pissed and came to pick me up. My one dad called the police when they got there, as the youth group leaders would not let them get me. The police went into the church and brought me out. Charges were not pressed but I refused to go to any more of those youth group events. Thinking about it now still bothers me, I shake when I think about it. – Name withheld by request
Christian Nightmares interviewed by Randall Stephens for Religion in American History
Stephens: So much of the content has to do with shouting politicized pastors and bad children’s programming. Is that true? And, if so, I wonder what that says about what’s available on-line.
CN: I do feature a lot of that kind of content on Christian Nightmares. I’m sure it has a lot to do with the fact that that kind of stuff had so much of an affect/influence on me when I was being raised in the church. For instance, that video that I posted recently of the pastor from FBC Hammond: I had flashbacks when I watched it; it really struck a nerve. I remember our church congregation being talked to like that so much when I was growing up. And I watch something like that now and I think, “Are you kidding me!” Who in their right mind would ever think that’s OK, to be spoken to in such a disparaging, judgmental, condescending way? But when you’re raised in that, it’s normal, and that’s scary. That kind of behavior really shaped the way I perceive “authority,” and made me fascinated with the ways some people in that world attain and wield power—or maybe more accurately, how those people are given power… (To read the full interview, click here)
A serpenty-sounding priest encourages teen girls to commit suicide to preserve virginity if pursued by a rapist
Although my family was Catholic, my mother was never very interested in sending me to Sunday school. She said that I should wait until I was older “to look into it.” As far as I could tell, she just wanted to stay barefoot in her terry-cloth robe for as long as Sunday would allow and going to a class required a driver, a dressed driver.
Yet the longer this went on—that I was Catholic and everyone around me was Catholic, but I didn’t know a thing about being Catholic—the more unsettled I became. If I attended church, I was especially uncomfortable lingering in the pew by myself while everyone else got in line for communion. I didn’t know the words to the Profession of Faith or even shorter numbers like Our Father or Hail Mary; often I pretended to say the prayers, mumbling into my neck, and then a phrase would come that I knew like “Light from Light, True God from True God,” and I’d say this loudly, with great authority. I also had incredibly romantic ideas about confession, and I longed for my future friendship with a handsome priest, who would tell me everything I was doing was exactly right.
After years of badgering my mother, I finally started classes at our church when I was 13. My teacher had cancer of the mouth and part of his tongue had been amputated. Consequently, he had a hissing, serpenty-sounding voice, which made his rickety posture and lunatic poses all the more bizarre. He gave us one lesson on a particular kind of god that threw AIDS at gay people like confetti at a party, except in this case it was punishing. Another lecture involved suicide, which he said was the “fastest ticket” to hell. My father had jumped off a bridge only four years before and I can remember this pitiful part of me wanting to wander in the tall fields of despair while another larger part of me was like: “I wonder what time it is?”
I did mention some of this to my mother and she, in turn, went berserk. “I told you!” she said and asked me to quit.
But I wouldn’t. Perhaps I sensed the best lesson was to come.
One spring morning, our teacher decided to address the girls in the class. He wanted us to know that if we were ever pursued by a rapist, we could kill ourselves to preserve our virginity, and God would not punish us. The ticket to hell would essentially be waived.
“How would you kill yourself,” one of us asked, “if you’re already being chased by a rapist?”
He suggested we jump out a window.
A girl shrieked with giggles. “I’m not jumping out a window!”
“What if you threw the guy out the window?” another girl asked.
“What if you stabbed him?” a boy suggested.
The class began to roar with excitement. The drama! The things we might do! Other forms of self-defense were offered.
A pan, a frying pan!
Bleach. To the eyes.
Over the cacophony, our teacher explained that we could kill ourselves in this instance, but not someone else, even in self-defense. “It is a sin to kill another person,” he said gravely—probably the only authentically Catholic thing he’d said all year—and the whole throng of us, 20 thirteen-year-olds, shrieked and stomped, laughing, listing more and more weaponry, until ultimately he stormed out of the room. – Christina Fitzpatrick, author of What’s the Girl Worth? and Where We Lived
Imitating Farrah Fawcett and a close call with a pervy Christian guy
Cathy was a short, pudgy girl in class. We made each other laugh. Her mother was a hairdresser, or used to be—she didn’t seem to work. They had a car with saran wrap that covered one back window. I thought that was funny. After school sometimes we’d play Wonder Woman with our mood rings or Farrah if we had one of her mother’s blonde wigs. Her father was going blind from ingesting some sort of household chemical. It was strange. She had a younger brother, too. They all went to church. What was strange for me, being a Catholic, is that they went to church on Friday nights, and Saturdays, too—not just Sundays. She talked about church a lot and how fun it was and how I should go. And that she was “born again.” I wondered if she somehow went up inside her mother and came out again. One night after the “Our Father” and the “Hail Mary” I asked God to born me again in case I should be. Then I felt guilty in case it wasn’t a Catholic thing to do.
One day Cathy asked me if I wanted to go to church with her on a Friday night and sleep over. Sure, it sounded like fun. We went to a place near where my aunt lived. I wondered why they drove so far to church. Sometimes we drove to church but we could walk to ours. Why did they go to church at night in the dark? Her parents laughed when I asked. When we got there, there was no priest and it was like a cabin. I got a bad feeling. After the man talked, they brought me into a room with one of their family friends, Mark, and some other people, to pray with me. Mark asked me if I “wanted to be born again.” I was scared and I said yes. They told me to pray with them. Cathy and her brother were with me and I remember her brother squinting his eyes shut tight, because I peeked.
After that, Cathy and I drifted apart. In seventh grade, Cathy became too cool. She wore her hair in Farrah style for real, sort of, but always over one eye. She ran away with boys and talked about sex loudly. She pretended she didn’t know me. One thing she did talk about was how she would sleep over her friend from church’s house and how after everyone was asleep, the friend’s older brother would come in and they would “do it.” And that his “thing” was really big. The older brother was Mark. The one who asked me to pray with him. – Donna Lethal, author of Milk of Amnesia