Obedience Mandatory, Questions Unwelcome (The Opposite of Love is Shame: Part 15)

Lauren Drain, in her book Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church describes what continually happened to me no matter which church I found myself in. “My name was already associated with words like tension, strife and contention. Church members liked to say that I stirred up strife. They thought I was trying to change the rules, that I was up to no good, and that I was trying to find loopholes. I was not intentionally trying to be contrary or malicious.” (2013, p. 191).

The pastor of the church I was in had assigned two women to counsel me into falling in line with the church. In that counseling, it came out that I had trouble with food, only eating four grapes for breakfast, and then going to throw up. The ladies doing the counseling told me that I was sinning because this meant that I was trying to grab control of my life off of God, and that if I would simply give control of my life back to God, I would not struggle. I did not know anything about eating disorders at the time and certainly didn’t know that they required professional treatment. I just worked hard to try to give control of my life over to God, but I never really gave it up, and so I was rebellious, just like King Ahab’s wife Jezebel, and God would eventually destroy me to rebuild me.

It was during this time that the pastor decided to preach a sermon on giving God control of your life, and he used me as a sermon illustration. Although he did not name names, everyone knew he was talking about and they kept looking at me while I tried to make myself invisible. He had spoken about how one of the teenage girls in the congregation was refusing to eat in order to steal control of her life from God. I felt betrayed, because that was something that I had told the two women counseling me in confidence. It took me a long time to realize that I felt betrayed because I was betrayed, and that I needed to learn to listen to my feelings and emotions.

When I was nineteen, I started to see that all was not well in fundamentalist churches, and that there were many problems in mine, and I chafed under the authority of the church. When I began asking questions, I was shut down. Obedience was mandatory, questions were unwelcome. The only way that I knew of to get away from this church, particularly because those in neighboring towns also had me labeled as a jezebel trying to cause strife and division, was to move.

Although I only had a month remaining on my traineeship that would give me a certification to get a good office job, I hightailed it out of Cairns and moved to Mackay where I immersed myself in the fundamentalist world there. On the eve of my departure, I was ambushed by my best friend and several male church members. They informed me that I was contentious and was merely trying to destroy the church, and that I was formally in a discipline process with the church. They said they had called the pastor of the new church to tell him all about me and the trouble that I was likely to cause for him.

I was betrayed by my best friend who said that she would be unable to communicate with me after I moved because of my refusal to reunite with the church. While that hurt me greatly, I had already packed up my things and was ready to leave early in the morning. I was simply trying to get away from a bad situation and all I learned was that if I stood up for myself and tried to get out of an abusive situation, I would lose everything. This, as well as my tendency to run away from things, became a common theme in my dealings with fundamentalism. When I eventually completely left fundamentalism, I lost every single friend, including one who I thought was stronger than that who informed me that she didn’t think she could be friends with someone that didn’t attend her church.

The church in Mackay was a very small fundamentalist church, and at first, they seemed so much more reasonable than the one I had moved to a city an eight-hour drive away to avoid. While I believe that the pastor there was genuine, it was a case of same shit different location. I kept blaming myself for the way that adults mistreated me. I was not godly enough. I was bitter. I was rebellious.

References:

Drain, Lauren. Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church, 2013: Grand Central Publishing.

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