Growing up as a preacher’s kid had its own special set of problems, as well as privileges. While other kids in the church made it clear to me they were jealous of the fact that I got to be around preachers’ families, (some of them good looking boys), there were also quite a few problematic issues.
For starters, my parents were not my own. I shared my parents with the entire congregation, and all the other kids. At one point during my teenage years, I felt very ignored by my parents. This was likely just my perception as a teenage girl, but it did not help that they spent hours upon hours counseling with my best friend. Because by this time I had decided to obey all the rules, and was a “good girl”, I did not require as much attention. At the time I did not know why… I just felt ignored.
Another issue with being the preacher’s daughter was that, when people got mad at my dad, they would often take it out on me or my sister. They couldn’t really take it out on the “man of God”, so they would use us to get to him. This seemed more safe, perhaps because of the scripture “touch not my anointed”. We were not the anointed in this context as seen through the glasses of the cult mindset. Our dad was the “anointed”. So, because they couldn’t touch him, they would go for us. My sister had it a lot worse than I did, because her personality was much like my father’s. We were just kids. We didn’t choose who to be born to…and we didn’t understand what was going on. It was hard.
On top of all that, our dad and mother expected us to be “examples”. This meant that, even though we were children, we were expected to act at a higher level of obedience and be an example to the other kids in the church. This had to do with our attitudes, the way we dressed, the things we did, and the words coming out of our mouths.
We were taught to be conscious of certain people in the church who liked to gossip, and to be very careful what we said around any of the church people. We were taught to keep things that we knew to ourselves, because we did know a lot about what was going on with the pastor’s counseling with saints. We had to be careful that we dressed a little more modestly, and that we did not show our temper, no matter what was done or said to us.
Because I was the one with the milder nature, it was easier for me to comply to all of these things. My sister had a difficult time with the behavior part of it. She had ADHD, (of course undiagnosed), but her impulses were hard to control, especially the words that popped out of her mouth. I think she got a spanking every single day of her life, or close to it.
I can remember other kids and teenagers asking me before church, “what is your dad going to preach tonight?” I had no idea what my dad was going to preach! It made me angry that they would ask me such questions. I just wanted to be a kid blending in with everybody else, but that was never possible.
On the other hand, I did get to hear all the preacher talk when we had visiting ministers. I did get to stay up late when we were in revival and meet other preachers’ kids. I did get to go on a lot of trips across the country to go to special meetings. I got opportunities to see different parts of the country that they never saw.
Still, the positive and negative of every lifestyle blends together to make us who we are. Although I am an adult well-versed in the geography of our nation, as well as being aware of many different cultures, there are some scars as well.
I remember at 14 years old when all the young people in the church turned their backs on me and wanted nothing to do with me. It all started with jealousy towards me because we were at an age to be interested in the opposite sex, and I was getting to “fellowship” with more people of the opposite sex than they were, because of visiting ministers bringing their sons. What they didn’t realize was that I was so shy, I rarely even spoke to any of those people, even sitting across the table from them.
On the other hand, I was trying so hard to fit in with the other young people in our church, and being homeschooled, it was the only peer group I had. I would go with them anywhere they invited me, and do my best to participate in whatever was going on. However, being teenagers, they got involved in some things that were against the rules. They were listening to Carmen, music that was Christian, but had been forbidden by my father. Then there was the watching TV for a few minutes in the mall. That of course was appalling!
I wanted so much to be a part of the group! While we were at the mall, they went to Spencer’s Gifts, just to read the “nasty cards”. I didn’t even know what the cards meant. I just knew we were not supposed to be doing that. However, there is no way that I would disagree openly with them, or say anything to my family.
After that, it grew into listening to “light rock”, or easy listening music. I had my own stereo in my room, which had been given to me so I could listen to Christian music. Southern gospel was what was “OK”, so that’s what I usually listened to. Now I started turning on the radio very low to listen to “I just called to say I love you”, by Stevie Wonder. The other songs were as innocuous as that one was, in retrospect. I would turn it down very low and put my head up to the speaker so my parents wouldn’t find out. However, I felt guilty because I knew that I was not supposed to be listening to this music.
As I discussed music with the other young people, I discovered that one of them was listening to “I want your sex”, on a date with a young man from another UPC church in the area. (This was the same girl that had earlier been molested when she was 14 by a thirty-something year old man. In retrospect, her untreated trauma likely led her into some sexual relationships as a teenager.) Although the knowledge of this song being played on a date bothered me, I still said nothing to my father.
Eventually though, a “hell-fire and brimstone message” was preached at church. I became very “convicted” that I knew about this, and that I was listening to music that I should not be involved in. I did not want to go to hell over listening to music that was “ungodly”. Not only did I repent of my “sinfulness”, I felt that I needed to go and confess my sin to my dad, as he was my pastor and “watching out for my soul.” In my confession, I also told him about the girl on her date and what song had been listened to.
In his great “wisdom”, he got up in the pulpit preaching, and in one of his sermons, actually said “you don’t need to be listening to “I want your sex” when you’re out on a date with someone. He went on to elaborate about why that was not appropriate, and there were a lot of emphatic “amens” backing him up. I was horrified, because I knew they would know that I was the one that had told him. However, it was “suffering for the kingdom.” I was helping him “watch out for their souls”.
Sure enough, for over year I was excluded from every event when the youth got together. They would not talk to me, and if I walked up when they were talking to each other, they would quickly close their mouths and turn away. It was a miserable, lonely place. It was devastating to me as a teenager. I think I grew up more in that year than any other time in my adolescence.
At the end of that year, my dad had acquired a youth leader. He worked really hard to bring unity to the youth. This meant that he actually had conversations with the rest of the youth individually about how they were treating me. It was obvious to him, looking on from the outside. My dad never said anything to him about it.
At that point, things gradually got better, but still it never went back to what it was like before. They accepted me, and they invited me to things, but they were careful around me, as if it had been my parents there. I learned to keep my mouth shut about the little things that I noticed. And I didn’t feel quite as lonely. But, every moment I was always aware that I was “different”, and I worked hard to be an example to them. I was already learning about the separation between the “ministry” and the “saints”.
Because I was a preacher’s daughter, I went first through every line at every fellowship after services. They always had the preachers families go first. They often had “preachers tables” or “preachers families tables”. There was a lot of separation, and I was a part of it.
It became my comfort zone, and I didn’t know how to fit in anywhere else. Unfortunately, that is only a tiny part of life. Even though it was my whole life, and it served me well as a preacher’s wife, it caused much more grief for me when I was no longer a preacher’s wife.
That separation that was ingrained in me as a child made me feel that the ministry was somehow “superior”. It was a special group to which I belonged by birth, and later by marriage. When I no longer had that distinction, and I was “just a saint”, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had lost my identity, and I know longer knew what to say, how to act, or how to fit in. I was a ship who had lost my sail.
Not only do I now view this separation as very UN-Christlike, but I also see it as very damaging, not only for the lay people in the church, but for the families of the preachers themselves. Although I was taught that spiritual things and church was the most important thing in life, and my entire life revolved around it, reality is much different. Church is simply a small part of life. A person is ill prepared for life when they stick their head in the sand and feel that they can live in a spiritual bubble.
As an adult I still had much difficulty feeling like I could “fit in” anywhere. Eventually, I found out that people who had never been in these kind of environments seemed to accept me much better. I found that I fit in best with other people who grew up in some sort of dysfunction, even though it may have been very different than my own.
I have never learned how to fit in with saints in any church. I simply do not know how to communicate without holding back that one part of myself and maintaining that separation. It’s hard to make friends in that way, so, my best friends do not go to church.
My best friends are people who have been abused as children or adults. They are people who have been hurt and wounded. The people that I fit in with are those who have been abandoned and struggled to survive.
I realize now that there is nothing wrong with me. I’ve gained a new identity. I am broken, healing, a work in progress, and happy to be honest about it all. I am learning to be authentic, something that is almost impossible as a part of the preachers family in a cult environment. Now I am free. I can just be me, and realize that me is a pretty cool person to be.