In this series: Part One | Part Two | Conclusion
Mars Hill Church – 3 years
Mars Hill Church, though a cult, was my gateway drug to separating myself from IBLP and OPC. The act of attending a church with different beliefs was radical in and of itself.
Though not openly stated in so many words, the foundation of Mark Driscoll’s leadership in MHC was based on misogyny, over-emphasized masculinity, and a severe need for control. Because of the size of the church, there was some buffer between Driscoll and his church members in the form of hundreds of pastors, elders, deacons, small group leaders, and volunteers.
The following is a direct quote from Driscoll, part of his rant that set off a cascade of criticism that was the ultimate demise of MHC.
“Scrap all you want. Hurl insults. Throw your petty theological darts. Have a good cry. Whatever. But do not lose sight of the issue. At some point you will all learn that I don’t give a crap about how you “feel.” Why, because I am not talking about your right to your feelings. That is the result of feminism, psychology, and atheism which says we are all good and need to have freedom to express our goodness and receive goodness in kind. If you are a man I want to teach you a new word. Duty….My feelings and rights turn me into an idol of self-worship that mitigates against Him. I am screaming at you to do likewise. And yes I am screaming, why, because listen to all the noise we’ve got to cut through. Even from “Christian” men who are basically practical queers that freak out when a man shows up because it becomes obvious that they are completely pussified.” – Mark Driscoll, on men
During the time I was involved, I was fairly unscathed by the church, in contrast to the experiences of thousands of other MHC members. I joined a study group led by an elder that worked with Driscoll from the church’s infancy, and openly disagreed with some of his teaching. This study group had the most genuine and loving people I had encountered up to this point, many of whom I’m still in touch with. I embarked on another stage of my healing, simply by learning that there were good souls in the world.
The last two weeks I’ve mostly been very emotional, crying through a lot of stuff. But the moment I arrived and the service started, I relaxed and it all faded away. As much of a hassle it is to get to church I’m always glad I came. – Journal entry
While a member at MHC, I became deeply involved in their individual and group counseling. It was helpful to a point, learning to speak honestly about myself, especially since I couldn’t afford the financial and emotional toll of seeing a professional counselor.
Everything just hurts. I feel like I’m lying to everyone when I talk about dad being abusive. It’s such a heavy word. Was he really? What about all the good things? Does it matter how often one of us got hurt? I hate remembering everything. I hate rewriting my perspective constantly. – Journal entry
Unfortunately, I found myself entrenched in a bad relationship with my counselor.
There was a good deal of control that, thankfully, I was eventually able to identify and cut myself off from.
My small group leader was, and still is, supportive of me and my decision to leave the church.
After moving out of my parent’s house, I intentionally kept contact on good terms with my family for the sake of my siblings. I feared if I told anyone about what went on in that house, things could go horribly wrong. So I waited, careful not to talk to mandatory reporters, and made sure my siblings could contact me if there was an emergency.
Several years passed, and I ran across an article about a homeschooling fundamentalist leader being involved in a sex scandal. From this story I found and connected with Homeschoolers Anonymous, Recovering Grace, Mars Hill Refuge, and other groups. Even at the time I knew this would be a turning point in my life.
One month before finding this community, I penned the following:
I say my past doesn’t matter that much, that I love my family and that’s all that matters. I want it to be true, but it has directed my whole life. I never want to feel like that again. I suppose that leaves me here, believing that no one on this earth will love me more than my daddy does. Desperately holding onto it. And so so lost in the reality of the life that we had.
But. As long as nothing else is better. As long every other relationship I have is worse, as long as no one measures up, I can keep believing it. I don’t have to let go. I don’t have to acknowledge, truly to myself, that it’s not all in my head. That I’m not just misinformed, that it’s not my skewed perspective. This is where the lines become so clouded that I have no idea what’s even close to true. One is so ingrained that I think (I know) I’m lying to myself to say anything else.
On the Homeschoolers Anonymous website, I poured over dozens of stories from other homeschooled kids that were carbon copies of my family, I could have written them myself. Recovering Grace detailed the dangers of IBLP, and shared stories from others that were involved in the cult. I consumed everything I could find.
“I’m not the only one. I’m not crazy.”
Over and over those words played in my mind. I started realizing the truth of what my family and these groups were, and calling it for what it was.
“When you detached yourself from all the negativity in your life that’s when your spirit started to shine. You were more comfortable in your own skin; it was a beautiful transformation and I’m glad I got to be a witness to it.” – B
I was at a new job by this time, and my colleagues were my family. Every day I came to work with a new story, a new scandal that broke, something I had remembered. They walked me through the process of coming to terms with my history one day at a time.
This is from one of my coworkers at the time, remembering:
“When I met Grace, she wasn’t the Grace people know today. She was quiet, insecure, awkward, and uncertain. I have watched her transition from meek and scared to strong, independent, and free thinking. It seems surreal to see a transformation like this, the environment she was raised in suppressed her into being kind of a wounded animal. I personally watched her heal those wounds through knowledge of what was out there, that there was more out there. Once she was strong enough to leave she did, it wasn’t without pain or abandonment but now meeting her, you can see the strength and confidence; two words I would have never used to describe her a few years ago. Those wounds have since scarred over like armor, leaving her guarded and a little cold, but strong, stronger than I ever would have thought she could be.” – S
I called CPS and reported abuse of minors. I pled with my parents’ church for help. I talked to a lawyer. I made every effort to establish a point for my siblings to look back on. A time when I said that my parent’s behavior and ideology was wrong, and when I did everything I could help.
My father threatened to sue me if I talked to anyone.
My brother was scared for me, asked that I please not say anything. It was too late for me to shut up, and I certainly wasn’t about to.
I confronted my mother about what she could be doing now to get help, and to help us. To stop taking money and fighting to keep us out of school. She openly blamed us for the way they were sabotaging our lives. I cut off contact with my parents. Changed my name, job, moved away. I had taken a risk speaking up and wasn’t going to wait around to see how my father would react.
Ultimately everything I did hasn’t yet made any visible difference that I know of, beyond my own peace of mind. Life for me after getting out of it all is still hard in many ways, but it’s happy. I still deal with people I knew saying things like this:
“I want to tell you that I hope you will be happy, but I really don’t. …If you ever want to talk more about returning to the faith, please don’t hesitate to call or come over. Our home is open. May the Holy Spirit draw you to himself my dear. We love you.” – C
But I have dear friends that encourage me to fight for myself, and for kids that need someone to believe for them it’s possible to get out. To heal. To live free:
“You didn’t let your upbringing define you, or let it hold you back. You broke free, and are more yourself than 99% of the people in this world. You’re continuing to grow, and evolve and change. You’re still finding yourself, but the you that we all get to see is amazing. I wouldn’t change one thing about you. …You’re proving that you are who YOU decide to be. Not who your parents raised you to be. Spread your story girl. Hopefully some other repressed and sheltered girl (or boy) will somehow see it and get inspired to finally break out and live their life for themselves.” – J
Today I’m living more transparently, continuing to heal. Happily settled down with my partner, making good friends, writing, growing my career, involved in my community. Life is better than I could have hoped for.
_ _ _
Combing through years of my history to tell this story has been exhausting, but well worth it.
Throughout the process I felt a surreal sense of my past, the pain of my former self was so real and intense and hopeless – but I had forgotten. Life as I know it now is so far removed from that world.
“Even though my memory is messed up, the image of those big green eyes, so haunted, so sad; blossoming into a shining hope of, ‘really?’ That will never leave me.
Her name is Grace.
She is very much loved.” – A
It gets better. It gets so so much better.
Fight for it, reach for it, claw your way out to a new and better hope.
There was one phrase I repeated to myself over and over through the years of anguish, and it’s as true today as it was then:
– It can’t get better tomorrow, if you’re not here for it. –
Remarkable sharing here, so honest, so heartbreakingly human…. What is endured in cultish love families and churches is something that shreds the innocent marvel of life. It is so clear that you have not only survived intact but that you have much to say about it all. I find your expression very encouraging, thank-you so much.
Thanks so much for sharing your story. I appreciated the way it was written, showing journal entries as well as quotes from people who knew you during that time of escape. I would definitely want to be your friend! I was homeschooled and pretty isolated as well. Thanks for being brave and being your own person. Keep it up!