10/6/02                                                                                       View Comments

Minister's Daughter

by Kirsten

I never expected to be a minister's daughter. Until I was in 10th grade, my father taught college music, something I found unbelievably cool. (It's what I hope to do eventually.) He seemed to be fairly liberal despite his Mennonite Brethren upbringing, and in retrospect he actually still is. Note: the MB conference does indeed allow electricity, cars, normal clothes, etc., and in most respects is just the typical fundamentalist church.

Dad's final college job was a huge emotional strain, and so he decided to return to his roots, where he felt comfortable. When he found a job as minister of music at a large Atlantic Coast Conference Mennonite church in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania--quite possibly the most frighteningly conservative American locale outside of Texas--I think it was a bit like his finding the Holy Grail.

Problem #1. As the socially awkward oldest child, I was just beginning to find myself, develop friendships, learn to flirt, fall in love with hippie counterculture, and realize inconsistencies in Christianity. By the time we moved, I was as angry at the church as I was at Hitler, Pol Pot, and Stalin.

Problem #2. The church we had been attending up until then was non-Mennonite and liberal, one of the more respectable love-everybody-type places in the big scheme of Christianity. The youth group was made up of fellow professors' kids, intelligent, quirky, and more comfortable laughing at fundamentalists than evangelizing. I enjoyed them and their low-key opinions. However, the church Dad decided to work for (and still does) was off the deep end on the other side of the scale. Youth group became torture rather than a stimulating part of my social life.

Problem #3. Dad really wanted me to be Christian, and so he decided (independenly of anything my mother had to say, as I've later discovered)that twice-a-week youth group would not be optional, never mind Sunday services.

Problem #4. Lancaster, PA is home to a bizarre clash of fanatic religious and inner-city slum cultures. As I don't enjoy either, I couldn't find friends.

Problem #5. Dad's new church managed to put the fear of hell into me, but not the love of God. I don't think I need to overemphasize the fact that this is not a great combination.

So. Severe loneliness and isolation, desparation for a more liberal climate, and fear of eternal retribution for the sin of preferring sex and rock 'n' roll to a straightjacket. Faced with this, I spent a lot of time crying and writing angst poetry that never took away the pain. I had left the church, but it wouldn't leave me alone. Still forced to attend youth group meetings, I found myself more and more confident that I and all my friends from back home were going to hell.

Fast forward to the emotional space I'm in now. I talk about those two years the way my best friends now talk about former sexual abuse. In the same sense that kids on the news were raped by Catholic priests, I was raped by fundamentalist Christian doctrine. As I was at the point of deciding I didn't want it and I wasn't prepared to handle it, Christianity shoved itself into places in my brain and body where I felt decidedly uncomfortable entertaining it.

Every once in a while, the hellfire and brimstone argument still haunts me. I took a year to get past the bizarre sexual guilt and hangups that I never would have developed had it not been for those two years in purgatory.

Please note that I harbor no anger toward my father; for the most part, he had no idea any of this was going on, since I was terrified that he would disown me if he found out I didn't Believe. This was my fault entirely, as he's never insinuated anything to that effect. He loves me unconditionally, and aside from his Christianity, he's not a bad guy. My anger is reserved for the church community he works in and their bigoted, classist, evangelist, literalist/revisionist world views.

I've worked through a lot of shit. By shit, I mean the kind of stuff nobody should have to work through, the fear that becomes so intense that hell almost seems like it would be less phsically and emotionally stressful. I wish I was naive enough to believe in Christianity or disciplined enough to think I could ever abide by its laws. Still, the fact remains that I'm not. And life is sure a lot more rewarding now that sex does not equal sin and my university environment entertains the idea that my homosexual friends are decent, normal people.

I was born in Christianity
I Ceased being a Chrisitan at about 15-16
I am a gal from Lancaster, PA & Toronto, ON, Canada
My past label was Mennonite (though not Old Order)
My label now is Agnostic
Why I Left? Agnosticism makes sense