Evangelical trauma Do’s and Don’ts

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Recently, I posted about the culture of fear within the evangelical community and how it has left me deeply scarred. I had many people who voiced their support for me as I continue to recover from this trauma. Others, while perhaps well-intentioned, were less than supportive. This trend is something I’ve noticed throughout my life, and especially within the past few years on social media. Rather than listening and validating someone’s experience, there is a tendency to turn it around and make it about you and what you’ve done wrong.

As I’m sure any trained trauma specialist would tell you, that’s not the way to go about helping someone heal. Since evangelical culture doesn’t seem to get that, I thought I’d provide a list of do’s and don’ts for anyone involved with someone who has been traumatized by evangelical culture.

Don’t perceive this as an attack on you. The pain evangelical culture causes is a result of systemic dysfunction, perpetuated by those at the top on down.

Do try to understand the problems your RE (recovering evangelical) has with evangelical culture. Even if you don’t agree, try to see where they’re coming from. If you were directly part of the problem, acknowledge that, apologize and ask for forgiveness for the pain you’ve caused.

Don’t victim blame.
Too often, evangelicals will try to show a RE “their part” in the trauma they experienced. One person suggested that I had fear and kept feeling the need to rededicate my life to Christ because I wasn’t really a Christian.

Do understand that this is something that happened TO them. Just like any other victim of abuse, they are not at fault for what happened.

Don’t quote Bible verses.
Evangelicals always seem to have “clobber verses” at the ready, meant to show the RE how wrong they are and reinforce how right the evangelical is because Biblical authority. It’s as if they are bombs dropped on someone with PTSD and the evangelical doesn’t understand how that wasn’t helpful.

Do be loving.
Somehow, evangelicals have interpreted “loving” to mean showing the RE the error of their ways in the most condescending tone possible. In reality, nothing could make a RE run away faster. You can be loving by understanding that the RE’s experience was real, listening to them, and doing what you can to support them in their recovery.

Don’t be incredulous.
It’s one thing to be surprised. It’s quite another to tell someone that what they’re saying can’t possibly be true.

Do validate the RE’s story and their pain. Just because you did not experience or perceive what the RE did does not mean that it isn’t true.

Don’t feel like you have to save a RE.
A RE is on a journey. That journey may include leaving evangelicalism. It may mean having a different view than you on what being a Christian means and looks like. It may mean leaving Christianity altogether. Just know that it’s their journey and it is not up to you to dictate which direction their path takes. And for Godsake, don’t presume/tell someone they’re going to hell. Remember, if you believe that a person’s journey with God can only look a certain way, you have a very limited view of God.

Do ask how a RE is doing.
Do not presume to understand how a RE is feeling and what their journey with God is like. Engage with them. Listen to them. Believe them. Support them. Love them.

The fear that passes all understanding

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If you were to die tonight, are you sure that you’d go to heaven?

I heard these words so often growing up. Ever concerned with our eternal salvation, pastors and speakers would pose this question to its captive audience in an effort to jolt us with a dose of reality. Time was running out! What if we did die in a car crash on the way home? What if the rapture happened before the morning dawn broke through the dark, night sky? After all, it could happen at any time, so you should always be prepared and vigilant! Inevitably, someone would be scared into an alter call or raising their hand while everyone else’s eyes were closed in prayer. The speaker wanted to know who had made “the decision”.
I was in constant turmoil over that state of my soul. I was usually one to “re-dedicate” my life to Christ, just to make sure my bases were covered. You see, we were always told that once we accepted Jesus into our hearts, we no longer needed to have fear because we knew we were heaven-bound. The problem was, I never felt that “peace that passes all understanding”. Clearly, I was doing something wrong, otherwise I would have felt this esoteric peace. I spent my childhood in fear because of my faith. With a framework of what I would call “hellfire and brimstone-light”, it’s pretty easy to see how that could be.

-There were puppet shows with a Satan puppet, dancing around/fighting with the good guys to “Sinbusters”. Yes. They defiled Ghostbusters. It’s probably also why puppets freak me the fuck out.
-We sang songs with lyrics like,

Now, Satan is an evil charmer,
He’s hungry for a soul to hurt.
And without your Holy armor,
He will eat you for dessert.

-We were told stories of demon possession and exorcisms.
-I remember a specific story about a biker in Hell’s Angels or something who claimed Satan grabbed him while he was in bed. (I think he was also tripping when it happened, so…)
-I read books like Josh McDowell’s “Love Killer”, where demons actively try to get a good Christian girl and her atheist boyfriend to bang. No…seriously. Spoiler alert: They don’t bang, but he does get AIDS.

-Then there’s this gem; the ultimate showdown between Jesus and Satan. It was performed by a pantomime group, all in costume, at a youth convention. For some reason, it scared the shit out of me. I think because of the voices. I was brainwashed. Shut up!

-Then there was the spiritual warfare. Vans before trips would break down because Satan was throwing up road blocks.

Yeah. Mike, who grew up Lutheran and did not have any do this stuff shoved down his throat, once exclaimed after hearing one of these stories, No wonder you were so fucked up.
And fucked up I was.

I seriously had my plan for what I needed to do if Satan ever appeared to me as an angel of light so I could make sure I wasn’t being tricked. I had trouble going to sleep at night because I was terrified that demons were torturing me. They circled my room in the shadows, plotting and scheming. I prayed with every fiber of my being and sang praise songs in my head, pleading with God to protect me and my mind. But, of course, the more one clings to God, the more Satan tortures a person dontchaknow.
I used to have recurring dreams where I was being chased by demons and Satan. There was also the one where I die. I stand before an elevator which will shuttle me to heaven or hell. But I don’t know where I’m going until the elevator opens. If the color inside is blue, I’m going to heaven. If it’s red, hell. Most of the time, it was red.

It wasn’t until just a few years ago, when I stopped believing that there were any such things as a devil, demons, or physical hell, that my fear of such things disappeared completely. Before, no matter how hard I prayed or begged for help, I never received peace or comfort.
While my belief in all things demonic no longer exists, the scars of a lifetime of fear remain. It was actually my therapist who pointed this out to me. I told her that I want to work on managing my anxiety and panic attacks. In the course of conversation, my evangelical upbringing came up. My therapist mentioned that it seemed that there was a lot there that would cause my constant fear and anxiety. I had never connected the dots before. Perhaps so much of the anxiety that I experience today is an offshoot of seeds that were sown so many years ago. Perhaps I would have been an anxious person anyway. In fact, I’m sure I would have been. I’ve honestly wondered if evangelical culture could be a cause for my fibromyalgia. Enduring the actual torture that was all that evangelical nonsense certainly did not help.

Love fail

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I want to begin this post with an apology. I know that, along the way, I must have said or done things that were hurtful to people in my life who are gay or have gay loved ones. If you happen to read this, I want you to know how deeply sorry I am. I may have been ignorant and never intended any harm, but I know that doesn’t erase that pain I caused. And if I continue to say or do things that offend, please tell me. The last thing I want to do is cause even more pain than I’ve already caused.

Did you know that being gay is a choice? At least, that’s what I was taught for years. Within the evangelical community, gay people were deviants choosing to live in sin. Or they had some kind of trauma as a child, like sexual abuse or an absent parent of the same sex. As a coping mechanism, they chose to be within a same-sex relationship. Did you also know that lesbian relationships are extremely abusive? We received all of this information from groups like Exodus Ministries, the Family Research Council, and Dr. James Dobson, so we knew it was credible.

Clearly, I don’t believe any of this garbage anymore. But for a long time, I truly believed that gay people were simply mentally ill and just needed help, just like those with depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder. I don’t know that I ever felt what I would call hatred, but I was definitely homophobic. They were different. The thought of gay sex grossed me out. I didn’t understand what I believed to be the gay lifestyle which, to me, was exemplified in gay pride parades where mostly naked men with washboard abs gyrated in Speedos atop parade floats or stout women with short, spiky haircuts wearing plaid shirts and clunky shoes.

So what changed? How did I go from a brainwashed homophobe to someone who believes that gay marriage should be legal and simply called marriage. Or someone who is still filled with rage and sorrow over what happened this past week with World Vision?
I changed. It took time, and I’m sure there are still plenty of rough edges that need to be rounded out. My heart and mind opened up as I met people along the way who cast out my fear and prejudices. People like a guy in high school who didn’t know me, but took the time to help me with my choir audition. People like my friend, A, who came out to me and it changed nothing. She was still my friend, who called me on my shit when I did something homophobic. People like former co-workers, who were told they were going to burn in hell by their “friends” because of who they were attracted to. People like Justin Lee, whose story and work revealed to me just how deeply entrenched the lies about the LGBT community are. People I have known, dated, worked with, or just met in passing who have the same hopes, dreams, lives, and love that I, and everyone else, have. These people and these stories showed me just how wrong I had been and just how insidious the lies I had been fed were.

But you know what? Even if the lies I was told growing up were 100% true, it still wouldn’t give evangelicals or anyone else the right to treat the LGBT community the way they have been treated. It doesn’t give The Family Research Council cause to equate a gay person with a terrorist or a pedophile. It doesn’t give churches the authority to say who is and isn’t allowed to worship God. It doesn’t make it okay to treat people as second class citizens. It doesn’t give a country, nor its citizens, the right to rape, imprison, or execute its gay citizens, (nor to help craft such laws and attitudes.) It doesn’t give you leave to feel superior as you say idiotic things like, I love the sinner, but hate the sin or Gay lifestyle. (And a side note: everyone knows that “gay lifestyle” is simply evangelical for sex. If someone can clearly define for me what a “straight lifestyle” is, without the use of any terms that relate to sex, gender, and genatalia, then you’re clearly full of shit. And I have no fucking clue why evangelicals are so fucking obsessed with, well….fucking.)

The LGBT community has been a casualty of the culture wars for so long. I’m proud to say that I have defected, and will do what I can to stand up for the rights and lives of my fellow human beings. I beg the evangelical community to dispense with the lies and let go of your bigotry. I know thems fightin’ words, but it’s the truth. I refuse to dance around it and try to make what is happening more palatable. And I can say for certain that that is what is happening because I’ve been there. And no matter how you try to phrase it or hide behind what you interpret the Bible to say, you do not come across as loving. Because it isn’t loving. Love doesn’t hold selfishness and fear. (And when it comes down to it, this is about you and your comfort and understanding.) Love casts those things out. It lays down ones own rights for those of another. And while you and I may continue to fail, love never will.

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