This is exactly how my stepdad, Jon, has felt about many of the conflicting, unhealthy spiritual influences that have played a role in his life. Having had prior unhealthy Baptist and UPC experience was bad enough, but to have had people pushing these beliefs on him all at once made things even worse for a time.
I had previously written about how Jon’s adoptive mother, Laverne, was very pushy about her particular beliefs to the extent that she thought she could dictate where he went to church and what he had to do to express his commitment to Christ. Her constant harping on him to start attending an “approved” church every Sunday lead to him being very put off on the idea of attendance that persisted even after he accepted a job transfer out to Houston.
The whole time his job kept him in Houston, he refused to attend any church and was fervently believing that every single one, without exception, was a cult. During this time, his daughter and son-in-law got caught up in the UPC with their family. The combination of his mother’s constant nagging whenever she got him on the phone and his daughter’s new-found enthusiasm for the UPC were like throwing gasoline on a fire.
After he was terminated from his job in Houston after developing health issues, a move back to Odessa where he still had a house was necessary. Jon’s mother had offered him help with his expenses, but only if he and my mom came back to Odessa, instead of getting new jobs in Houston. Her “help” with considerable strings attached was very typical of how she did things.
The family members of Jon’s that were in the UPC made life very difficult for him for awhile. Get-togethers were often a bit of a trial because they simply couldn’t refrain from interjecting their preaching at every chance. When Jon’s younger son got caught up in it for awhile, it was a question of whether he or Jon’s son-in-law was worse with bashing other groups and trying to usurp Jon’s position as head of the household whenever they were invited over.
Another unhealthy influence was Jon’s stepfather’s younger sister, who is close to him in age and was like a sister to him as a kid. Even though she lives in the Houston area, she would visit Odessa from time to see family or friends still living here, and her visits would always include heavy pressure to attend a UPC service with her. Unfortunately, at this point, he hadn’t gotten to where he would just politely decline.
Things with the UPC members in his family finally came to a head after Jon’s adoptive mother died. When he was having to deal with arranging the funeral, clearing out her house, and dealing with some other bad things going on at the same time, his aunt did something downright hurtful – she told him that if he didn’t join the UPC, she would have nothing further to do with him.
Ironically, after all the turmoil he went through with his kids over their UPC involvement, they ended up leaving the group of their own choice. He has no contact with them due to some non-related issues that arose afterwards. Jon would finally start taking some “baby steps” towards recovery from spiritual abuse, but it’s been a long time coming. There will be more on that in the next post.
I think, in retrospect, a lot of Jon’s conflicts over religion with family members had to do with a lack of boundaries. His mother never respected anyone’s boundaries, and tried to find ways around them when they were set. His kids and son-in-law, likewise, also had no respect for boundaries.
When religious differences are sharp, boundaries that you enforce are essential. If you won’t attend their church under any circumstances, they need to hear a polite but firm “No”. No waffling, no non-committal, vague answers. When discussions of religion become a problem, they must know that that subject is off the table.
While boundaries don’t always fix things, they can help make a world of difference for your own peace of mind.