Crosspost: When I Love My Neighbor More
I started this blog a few months ago to write my journey away from Calvinism and other evangelical teachings. But I soon realized that although I had left fundamentalism ten years ago, the tiny homeschool bubble that had surrounded me through all my developmental years had affected my religion to this day perhaps more profoundly than Calvinism ever did. The reason I was burned out quickly from both the intellectual-Calvinist church and the more emotional-charismatic church is because of how the spiritual abuse, authoritarianism, and hell fear tactics had worn on my soul two decades ago. I had a radar for spiritual abuse. And so this realization formed so many of the topics that have filled this blog.
My life breathes the story of spiritual and emotional abuse, and I think that is one reason my story penetrates the heart at a tender level. We all know that physical and sexual abuse (and these things definitely occur in homeschool families) is deeply evil, but how does one respond to a story of spiritual abuse?
I wrote my story to show how spiritual abuse stunts the growth of children and damages relationships. Go back 25+ years when my parents first started having children, and they were a regular family. They hurt. They had pains. But they were trying to live despite their childhood wounds. They were not physically or sexually abusive. They wanted their kids to get an education, and they wanted their home to have more peace than their childhoods. My parents wanted to create a better life for us – better than they had it. They joined the conservative movement and a fundamentalist organization out of both cluelessness and a desire to raise children better. In essence this is the story of so many homeschool families, a story of people who wanted better lives but ended up dumping religious abuse on top of the already muddy waters.
Of course, many homeschool dads are attracted to authoritarianism because they want to dominate their families. Many of the most dysfunctional people that the church appeals to get sucked into fundamental homeschooling in order hide abuse. Hidden within homeschool circles, some families hurt their kids and hurt their kids and never show remorse.
But that is not the story of my family. My parents were not selfish per se. Sure the homeschool movement became more about conforming to a group than their children in it. But they never meant for homeschooling to hurt us or leave us culturally disconnected. They never thought it would stunt our growth. They never thought what if teaching their daughters to be homemakers would leave their daughters unmarried without a career.
My parents started homeschooling for academic reasons. My mom did not want to feel different from other homeschool families. So she started conforming to the group. My dad liked homeschooling because it academically made sense to him, but as he stayed involved in his career, he did not understand my struggles or my life. He got up every day and went to work in mainstream culture while the rest of us lived in a vacuum. But I was not physically abused.
My relationship with my mom started to crumble when I became a teenager both because my mom struggled to relate to me in a healthy manner and because I became bitter over the messages I received about my stupidity as the inferior gender. Homeschooling became our living nightmare because we never braked from each other and I heard the Bill Gothard garbage over and over, the same old character traits and same old submit-to-authority lines. My mom turned to shame-based parenting tactics, not to hurt me, but as a last resort to win my heart. She bought into the lines out of a desperation. But as the years creeped by, our relationship went from damaged to all but impossible. And that’s when my dad pulled the plug on fundamentalism, when I hid in my room reading theology all day and avoiding high school academics (my dad’s way of not undermining my mom’s authority but giving me space from mom), and when I turned to Calvinism to rescue my heart from pure abandonment.
Back to my first paragraph, as I realized through blogging, because I grew up in fundamentalism, shame-based fear tactics in the church alerted me quickly. Many of the philosophical strengths in Orthodoxy itself are appealing to me (whether or not I believe in them), but it’s the fear tactics in the nitty-gritty doctrine that make my skin crawl.
I have no patience when people scare their congregations and scare children into believing something. These problems — while not as bold as in fundamentalism — are nonetheless so intertwined in evangelicalism that I could not remain in the church and love my neighbor at the same time. I could not tug my children in bed at night while the church said something bad would happen to them if they did not believe what we believe. I did not want to spend so much energy on getting girls an education only to haul them into the church who said their education had no place if they were a girl or gay. I could not love my neighbor and love my church at the same time.
I don’t blame homeschooling for this.
In fact, I thank homeschooling for burning me out. For as much as I miss stable and concrete answers that Christian evangelicalism gave me, I love my neighbor more.