Isn't Christ's love wondrous?

Sent in by SG

I was brought up in what most in this country would consider a fundamentalist Christian church called the Apostolic Christian Church in the conservative Midwest whose members were predominately poorly educated farmers and local small-businessmen. It was actually a safe environment from a physical threat kid-perspective. In my teen years (late 70's – early 80s) everyone around our country home left their doors unlocked and their keys in the ignition. There was no gangs, no violence, no theft… just ignorance, bigotry, and prejudice. It was an extremely insular social environment where children were carefully indoctrinated and guided into the faith. Many houses (ours included) had no television set since it was considered evil. Church families didn't go to the movie theaters, sporting events (even your own kid's school sports) or other raucous events. Even the local annual street fair and 4-H fairs were viewed with suspicion. Apostolics are like Amish, except with cars and electricity.

Apostolics are unique in the way they view those in their church and accept membership into their ranks. You are only considered an Apostolic church member after a lengthy vetting process. The “Convert” experiences guilt/fear (typically in their teens) and subsequently chooses to participate in a 3-12 month process marked by disassociation with existing friends/habits, immersion in bible studies and group-think sessions, and a pathological vehement rejection of your past self.

However, prior to this process of converting to this church, attendees are considered to be non-members with few moral obligations or pretensions. As a result, if you are not a member, and you are not in the process of converting to be a member, there is no compulsion or desire to project yourself as a Christian…because you aren't. As a result, some of the biggest hell raisers I knew (myself included) were un-converted Apostolic teens. After sowing their wild oats, most kids eventually joined the Church.

I never took the bait. Nearly all of my friends did. I was "left behind." The traumatic effect on those left behind is comparable to a death of a loved one. This jarring experience typically goes down like this. Say my close friend is my confidant and I spend a lot of time together going to the movies, ballgames, parties, etc. Suddenly, one day, he comes over with a starry gaze in his eyes and says he's Converting to be in the church. He says his heart was "heavy" the night before. It's not much of a discussion, maybe only a few minutes. He seems happy, he's already met with the minister late the night before and committed to his new path. His parents are ecstatic. It will be announced to the whole church on Sunday. He's made them proud. And then it's over. The conversation and the friendship…is over—but it gets worse….

I don't do anything with that friend ever again. He now has a whole new army of friends who anxiously keep him away from me—lest I derail his fragile path towards the faith. On rare occasions, our paths cross. I might be tempted to recollect my fond memories of our shared past—perhaps some mischievous deed that evokes laughter in me. He seems indignant, restrained, ashamed…downplaying the incident or loftily looks away as if he's painfully searching his memory. He's been reprogrammed now. They're told not to relish the memories of past "sin" as part of their indoctrination process. I've lost him, and a part of me. It's as if our shared experiences in life didn't happen. This continues through my teen years, with most of my church friends evaporating into the faith-ether--that smug, halo-haze obscuring that self-righteous den of dogmatic iniquity called the Apostolic Church.

I never felt compelled or tempted to take the plunge. The whole enterprise seemed sinister... manipulative to me. Perhaps because it was! So I never did "leave" Christianity because I never really was a full-blooded Christian to begin with. But I wanted to submit this story to point out that it is difficult simply leaving your Christian roots.

I basically drifted as an un-aware agnostic for a long time after college. Then, in my late 30's, I would take up the gauntlet to determine to my satisfaction what to believe based on the evidence, not dogma. Only then did I understand the full measure of negative influence that church had on me. At 40 years old, as an out-of-the-closet atheist, I'm still trying to shed the bitterness, animosity, fear and guilt implanted into me years ago. Sigh... isn't Christ's love wondrous?

I told my mom several years ago that I'm an atheist. She paused, looked quizzically at me for a moment, and without skipping a beat, proclaimed that she didn't believe that I was REALLY an atheist. It was kinda like saying to me that I didn't know what I was talking about. I waited for a moment, then looked her in the eye, and in a hushed manner said, "I've never really thought you were a true Christian." After a good 10 seconds of awkward silence, I said, "It doesn't feel good does it?"

7 comments:

xrayman said...
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xrayman said...

Hey SG,
I can certainly relate to your story on some levels. I grew up with a bunch of non religious hell raisers. We all had drug and drinking problems. One of my oldest and dearest friends found Jesus along with his sobriety that I also found without the "Higher Power." Well we are now in our 40's and my friend will no longer speak to me despite the fact that I am a hard working sober family man. A combination of brainwashing and marraige to a crazy church memeber has caused him to see me as part of his evil past. We were best friends since we were seven and we will never speak again. Just crazy shit, so yes my friend I agree that Christ's love is so wonderful.

Drop me a line some time.
xrayman@chartermi.net

Anonymous said...

SG what a great story. It must have been very hard dealing with the sudden rejection when your friends crossed over to the other side. How can religious indoctrination erase memories and shared experiences that are real and all of a sudden, never took place for these glazed over poor souls? And your rural upbringing only further accentuates this. It happens all the time.

My question to you is: will the circle go unbroken? is this still ocurring with the youth in this rural area or has mass media and the internet paved a sane way through this baackwardness?

ryan said...

Hello SG

I grew up in the Apostolic Christian church, Francesville. My name is Ryan Pelsy. I am amazed that there are not more of us here. Shit, we should have our own site.

When I was 18, I tried that "repentance" shit. To this day, the memory of that ordeal makes me hang my head. I, a bright but troubled young man, who could quote everyone from Thoreau to Ayn Rand, went around trying to sound like a dumbass pig farmer. You know how they talk, and I tried to talk like them; act like them; think like them. Well, of course, it didn't work. They filled my head with their shit about what the lord was going to do for me, and I slowly went crazy.

You are so lucky, you son of a bitch. You never fell for it. jesus, I envy you.

I persist in thinking that there are more like us in that looney bin. People who are faking it because they are too ashamed to admit spiritual failure. We should have our own site? Hell, we should have our own bar.

Happy to read your post. Write me a few lines.....I am a hard-core atheist and proud of it.

Anonymous said...

I have misty eyes reading this. All our stories are the same with a few variations.

"At 40 years old, as an out-of-the-closet atheist, I'm still trying to shed the bitterness, animosity, fear and guilt implanted into me years ago."

Me too and I have no answer. I've got over the fear and guilt but the rest is still there.

Anonymous said...

It's good to hear from others of similar experience. I'm from horse and buggy Mennonite, very similar to the Amish. I didn't know much about the Apostolic church. I think perhaps that is the kind of church my aunt and uncle took me to visit last fall. They had a special speaker. He preached a very convincing sermon on the need to get saved. I had already committed myself to not seeking further in Christianity. I went with them for no other reason than to get to know them.

My uncle left the old church when he was young and married a woman of similar situation. Their family and our family seldom saw each other. At the time they invited me some of my immediate family was pulling back because they could not handle my deconversion. Thus, it felt really good to do something with relatives.

Had I still been seeking, the sermon I heard that night would have been torture. The preacher sounded like getting saved was the single most important issue in life. But he did not even address the One Big Question of my life i.e. How does Jesus' death benefit human souls? In other words: How does it work?

Immediately after the sermon was over, my aunt started talking theology to me. She could not have chosen a better topic. It allowed me to learn more about their beliefs and also to talk about the beliefs I had been raised with. Suddenly she said, "I think you're okay." She stopped the conversation and started chatting with friends.

That's when I understood the reason behind her questions. Not once had she asked me about my personal beliefs or position. She had only asked about the things I had been taught. I could answer those things without a problem and not say a word about my personal convictions. However, when she said "I think you are okay," I realized that she thought I had been talking about my personal beliefs--as though what I was taught and what I believed were one and the same thing!

I felt like I had lied to her. On the way home after church they chatted about many things. I felt I should confess that I was not a Christian. I couldn't do it. As I was getting out of the car at my place, they said, "We'll do this again sometime."

That's when I told them. Their friendly voices changed. They wanted to know what I believe. I left the car with warnings about a short life ringing in my ears. I am not sure what "short life" has to do with anything but that is what they said. I have not heard from them since.

These two people KNEW what it was like being ostracized by friends and family yet they treated me exactly the same. They could invite me over for supper even if we didn't go to church. They most certainly know that I did not try to convert them to or from anything.

Apostolic or whatever their church is called is very strict. I don't understand why they had to leave the old church if they want such a strict religion. I do know that I will rather be without flesh and blood relatives than go to their church.

Night_Owl said...

I am currently in an Apostolic Church But am questioning not only Apostolic teachings but the idea of God and the Christian faith as a whole

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