Editorial Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Eleanor Skelton’s blog. It was originally published on January 15, 2015.


Source: Eleanor Skelton

The biggest question that surfaced during this week’s series was: “What do you mean when you say you left fundamentalism?”

I’m mostly referring to the definition that Homeschoolers Anonymous used in their 2014 alumni survey:

Christian Fundamentalism includes, but is not limited to, the following ideologies: Christian legalism, Quiverfull, young earth creationism, anti-LGBT rights, Christian Patriarchy, modesty and purity culture, betrothal and/or courtship, stay-at-home daughter movement, Dominionism, and Christian Reconstructionism. It is not limited to Protestantism and can also be seen in Catholic, Mormon, and other subcultures.

Does it mean I stopped believing core doctrines of the faith? No.

Have I wrestled with what to believe now? Yes.

I actually wrote a post on it called help my unbelief.

But many of the fundamentalist ideologies listed above are recent inventions, reacting against the hippie movement and supporting the conservative boom of the Reagan administration.

These are not central tenets of the faith, at least traditionally. My Catholic and Orthodox friends have showed me as much.

The trouble is that we mean different things when we use terms like fundamentalism. Or legalism. My sister told me her freshman seminar at Bob Jones University discussed how to avoid legalism. But from my perspective, the BJU student handbook is legalistic (check out the dress codes) and doesn’t allow college students to formulate opinions.

Why did I leave fundamentalism? Because those belief systems taught me to fear the outside, helped me to think that only people who believed the exact same set of things I did were safe to associate with.

This is why I refer to it as “the box.”

I realized purity culture can make women feel like their virginity determines their worth, and I stopped wearing my purity ring. I replaced it with different rings, rings that matched a new understanding of my worth.

I stopped believing in courtship because I realized my dad may never approve who I would want to marry.

I sold my copy of the Botkins sisters’ book So Much More during freshman year of college, because well. The Botkins said girls were more easily tainted by the college experience and should not seek out higher education.

Rebecca Davis wrote about why being a stay-at-home daughter is not a Biblical mandate in her post For Shame, Beautiful Botkins. She defends single female missionaries the Botkins condemned.

I read about how many were hurt by Bill Gothard’s teachings and abuse at Recovering Grace.

One of my chemistry professors reminded me that I didn’t have to believe in young earth creationism because “it’s not a salvation issue.” Now my answer is simply: I don’t know. I don’t care whether the universe came about in 6 days or 6 billion years. It’s a beautiful place to live, and I like to think someone awesome created it somehow.

Oddly, the Pearls’ articles against patriarchy in 2011 convinced me that my family was unhealthy: Cloistered Homeschool Syndrome and Patriarchal Dysfunctional Families, Part 2. Although their child rearing methods advocate breaking childrens’ spirits and enable abuse.

In my teen years, I knew several Quiverfull families, although my family only had us three. I loved hanging out with the family with 13 kids we knew in Dallas, and the Jeub kids made me feel almost one of them at their birthday bash in 2013. But I always wondered if they were really happy or if they hid their problems.

I read books like The Children Are Free arguing that Christianity and LGBT lifestyles aren’t incompatible. And my friend Cynthia Jeub wrote a defense of equal marriage rights, based on her own interpretation of the Bible.

I now support making all marital unions contract-based, with a divorce clause built in so breakups could be more amicable. Then religious organizations wouldn’t be forced to perform ceremonies, and my LGBT friends would have equality with any other couple.

My parents didn’t believe all of the fundamental philosophies I’ve described here. Many of them I found in Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse or Brio magazines and devotional / Christian living books I received for Christmas or birthdays.

Other ideas seeped in through guilt and fear-based devotionals like Leslie Ludy’s Set Apart Thot YouTube videos, which argue that “even the good things in our life [example: Starbucks] can become idols” and “the only true beauty comes from a life totally surrendered to Jesus Christ.”

For those who believe Christian theology, valuing anything to the point of worship would be idolatry. I believe that I give over my darkness and am healed by the light, and for me, I think it comes from Jesus. But videos and sermons like Ludy’s seem to encourage excessive self-denial and an obsession with sacrifice.

This is the problem with words like fundamentalism.

And other church buzzwords like surrender or take up your cross. (I took that last one literally in my self-harm.)

For one person, the words capture a beautiful release or fulfillment. For another, the same words trigger being crushed by guilt and self-hatred.

In leaving fundamentalism, I left behind a cult-like system of beliefs that caged me.

My friend Rebecca M. sent me an article last fall on recovery from religious abuse, which recommends: “Take a breather from organized religion for about three to nine months, at least.  Deal with your questions about religion, ethics, and philosophy in an honest and challenging manner.”

This is why I only attend church services and events sporadically. Many familiar things are still painful. Rachel Held Evans described this in her post this week Post-Evangelicals and Why We Can’t Just Get Over It.

This is why it’s taken me over two years to hope I can find welcome in a church again.

This is what I left.

Read Part One, Two, Three and Four.