What do you see as the difference between religion that causes trauma and religion that doesn’t?
Winell: Religion causes trauma when it is highly controlling and prevents people from thinking for themselves and trusting their own feelings. Groups that demand obedience and conformity produce fear, not love and growth. With constant judgment of self and others, people become alienated from themselves, each other, and the world. Religion in its worst forms causes separation. Source
That paragraph describes my experience in my church when I was in high school and the first year of college.
Even down to the smallest things — that we were not allowed to go on single dates, that we had to have roommates, and not just like, housemate-roommates, but like, two young women sharing a bedroom. That I was allegedly so untrustworthy — when I was at the height of my “good behavior” no less — that I couldn’t be left to make decisions on my own. I wasn’t even allowed to play after school soccer at my high school because it was mostly guys and none of them went to my church. The leadership felt like it was not a good situation to spend so much unsupervised time with non-christians, especially non-christian guys.
Pair it with the ever-present judgment of the “worldly” people around me and the intense desire to separate ourselves from the “rest” — we used to have own PROM PARTIES — and I don’t mean like “prom after parties where everybody hooked up.” I mean, we’d buy tickets to our high school’s prom, go for an hour, dance to one or two songs, take pictures and then LEAVE AND GO TO A CHURCH SPONSORED PROM-STYLE PARTY AT A HOTEL BALLROOM. Complete with radio-edited music from a church member DJ and teen “workers” who were there chaperoning things… When I was SEVENTEEN YEARS OLD.
I remember one Congregational Sunday at the World Congress Center, Steve Sapp was on stage and said, “If you are not a member of the International Church of Christ, you are going to hell.” And we all cheered. Like, thunderous applause. I remember feeling a sense of pride in my inclusion to such an exclusive order.
I remember doing things out of fear of being rebuked, not because they were things I wanted to do, but because I was SO desperate to be “sharp” and I wanted to be noticed for doing great things so that I could be someone that the boys liked or so that I could stand out as a “leader” or something… These things included pressuring my genuine friends (Lynn! Sheri! ugh!) — people who liked me for who I was — to come to MY church and study the bible with ME. I remember feeling like such a failure because I never personally was “fruitful” and never was able to baptize someone myself.
It was drilled into us that the ultimate goal, as a young woman, was to be sharp so that we could marry sharp men and lead ministries together. Like, the ultimate level of success for a young christian woman at my church was to be in a relationship with a man who was a great ministry leader — nobody talked to me about pursuing my own dreams. I remember saying to people, when they’d ask what I was going to major in at college, “It doesn’t matter. I just want to get married and have babies.” I SAID THAT. Multiple times, even!
I remember having to say yes to dates with “brothers” at church that I was not interested in, that I did not like, that I had nothing in common with… All in the name of “encouraging” them — but when I think about how fucked up it is to basically strong arm young women into the arms of young men based on where their religious affiliation is situated… It makes me sick. Looking back, I realize that I wasn’t bad at picking partners through my twenties. This is a DIRECT result of not learning, as a teenager, how to say no. How to be selective. How to be choosy.
It’s bananas, when I look back, and really start to inspect things, how terribly, terribly wrong they had it when I was a teenager.