Eleanor Skelton blogs at eleanorskelton.com, is the news editor of the UCCS student newspaper, and is majoring in English and Chemistry. The following was originally published as “The Underground Railroad: Intro” on Eleanor’s blog on March 5, 2015, and is reprinted with permission.
< Part One
Continued from Being an angel with a shotgun.
“Eleanor, does your church teach the doctrine of pastoral authority?” my friend Racquel asked.
She was waiting with me in the classroom for my Organic Chemistry review session to start.
“What is that exactly?”
Racquel attended an apostolic Pentecostal church in Colorado Springs that taught a person wasn’t saved unless they had been baptized and spoken in tongues at that particular church, not another Pentecostal church in the area.
A long list of offenses such as watching movies and television or wearing short skirts and jewelry could grieve the Holy Spirit, and then you’d lose your salvation and have to “pray through at the altar” again.
“Pastoral authority means that Brother Burgess prays and decides if it’s God’s will for us to talk to a guy in the church, date him, get engaged, or marry. And whether or not we can move out of town and attend another apostolic church,” she explained.
“Other apostolic churches allow social media and let their young people listen to CCM [contemporary Christian music], but our pastor has decided it’s not spiritually good for our congregation.”
Racquel didn’t see the harm in what her church banned, but believed her pastor had good intentions.
“I can tell my pastor cares about the people in the church, the way he walks around and prays for us during the service.”
I hadn’t moved out of my parents’ house or begun dealing with the unhealthy cycles in my own life, but I knew something wasn’t right. A church should support my friend, not make her miserable.
Over the next few months, Racquel and I had many theological discussions, and I argued that Jesus was about freedom and grace, not rules. I said her church had the tendencies of a cult. But she couldn’t see it yet.
I’d started texting Racquel’s best friend Ashley. She’d just gotten permission from her parents to own a cellphone and drive the car again, even though she was nearly 20 years old and attending massage therapy school full time as well as a part time job.
I had moved out in August 2012, and felt even more strongly that Ashley’s family situation was toxic since my escape from fundamentalism.
In January 2013, I lost contact with Ashley when her parents and Brother and Sister Burgess discovered she and Racquel had watched movies again and listened to rock music, including Skillet. Brother Burgess declared Skillet was demonic after listening to their song “Monster.” Ashley finally bought her own iPhone with parental and pastoral permission eight months later.
Now it was late October. Ashley and I were meeting for coffee that evening. She taught me Search for Truth Bible study lessons, intended for potential converts, as an excuse so her parents would allow us to hang out.
I was driving down south towards Starbucks when I got a text message from her.
“I’m sorry, Eleanor. I can’t come meet u. My parents are now not letting me use their car for anything.”
“Stay calm, see if I can pick you up in a bit,” I replied.
“I’ll try. Don’t know if I can last that long. Cya.”
“You can make it. I believe in you. You still ok?”
“No I’m not. I’m done Eleanor, I’m sick and tired of this. I can’t do it anymore. I’m too tired and can’t keep this facade up. I’ve fought for 13 years against this and am too tired to continue fighting this. I have no control and no choice. I’m fed up and there’s no way out. I realize that now. I just don’t know what to do now.”
“Do you want out? Do you want to make the jump?”
“Yes I do. But I can’t.”
The church and Brother and Sister Burgess trapped both girls in an awful double bind, using manipulation and lies. I knew they needed out.
I organized a network of friends to be prepared when they asked for help. We informally called ourselves the Underground Railroad, in honor of the Civil War stories most homeschooled kids read over and over.
But when would they be ready?
As Cynthia Jeub wrote in The Trouble with Freeing People that fall on the Huffington Post, describing Ashley’s situation, I couldn’t force them to leave.
“Helping her feel ready to take freedom for herself is the only way to make her free,” Cynthia wrote.
Only they could decide.