I have been struggling for many years now with Christianity. I grew up in a fundamentalist Southern Baptist family, and because I was deeply interested in religion and faith from a young age, I absorbed much of this belief system without question. As I got older and encountered other ways of viewing the world for the first time, my belief system got badly shaken as I realized that I could not in good conscience defend the beliefs of my childhood with the world as I experienced it.
My Christian faith has a hold on me in a way that no other belief system I have studied has been able to match, but the baggage I carry from my childhood views of Christianity make it difficult to be part of Christianity as it exists in America today for the most part. The discovery of progressive Christianity has helped make it possible for me to work to reclaim my faith in a way that fits my experience of life, but it is still a daily struggle when even the language of Christianity is often so tainted for me.
I have often questioned why I find it so hard to let go of this old baggage, and I think I might have found a clue today that could explain it.
I came across an article today by Dr. James F. McGrath called “Young-Earth Creationism is a Cult.” He makes a pretty good case for why this would in fact be true. While this may sound like a diversion from the question of Christianity, this hits home for me. My family is strictly young-earth creationists; I even have one immediate family member who is a trained apologist for this view of creationism, and he makes himself available to go to churches to give seminars on the topic.
Seeing this article also reminded me of another article I chanced across several months ago that argued that Bill Gothard‘s ministry is cult-like. While I no longer remember where I found that article or what it said exactly, I do have strong memories of our family attending his crusades. My parents were big believers in his teachings, and I remember the changes in our house rules after they discovered him. Any young man who wished to ask me out had to ask my step-father first. All music with drums was sinful, even “Christian rock” music. Everything was about the authority of the head male in the household. It was the beginning of my inner struggle to accept the Christianity that I had been raised with even though the outward questioning did not appear for several more years.
Now, I don’t know enough about the definition of cults to claim that either one of these is truly a cult. In all honesty, I don’t know. But I did find it enlightening to discover that there are two major streams of influence that shaped my early perception of Christianity that are thought by some—including by some other Christians—to be cults (or at least cult-like)! As McGrath points out in his article, I was raised with constant warnings about cults and the danger of them. In fact, pretty much everyone who disagreed with us was considered to either be a cult or an unbeliever or possessed by demons (anyone else grow up reading Frank Peretti with all that spiritual warfare going on all the time?) … or maybe all three.
So the idea that parts of my upbringing could be considered by some to be cult-like definitely gets my attention. And, oddly enough, it gives me room for grace to work.
From what I know of people who have been in cults, I would expect it to take time and work to undo their conditioning and fully recover from that experience. Like I said before, I don’t know whether either of these is truly a cult, but the possibility that I could have some of the same trauma gives me space to allow myself the same time and space to work out my own healing in the process of trying to reclaim a faith that I can live with in good conscience. I am following the path I am called to follow, and I will get where I need to go in the right time.
I’ve reached the point where I am more interested in following the Christ that I have come to know than in following the doctrines of any church, and part of that following (for me) means letting go of beliefs that no longer serve me on my journey of following even if they serve others well. In fact, I often have more in common with progressive practitioners of other faiths than I do with much of American Christianity (as it is expressed in its more conservative forms). It’s struggle every day as I find my way, but I am grateful for this adjustment to my perspective on my past that gives me room to receive more grace and to be that much gentle with myself and my own healing process.
Anything that gives room for grace to work in my life is a blessing indeed.
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