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Repost: Selling church…

I was looking for some old commentary about the Duggar family yesterday when I ran across this post from August 24, 2016. It made me cackle as I read it, so I decided to preserve it for posterity’s sake. The post actually has little to do with the Duggars, but it is about religion, and how religion can screw up people’s lives on many levels. I tagged the Duggars, though, because at the time I wrote this, Jessa Seewald was pregnant with her second child, who went on to be named Henry. I commented that I hoped the second baby would have a name less obnoxious than “Spurgeon”. I guess the name Henry is less obnoxious indeed, so kudos to Jessa and Ben for that.

Every once in awhile, someone in our local Facebook group will ask about where to go to church.  Germany has many churches, of course, but most of us in the local Facebook group are English speakers.  A service conducted in German is not so useful.  Many people attend services on one of the local installations.  Not everyone has access to the installations, though.  And some people are looking for a specific type of service.

I had to giggle yesterday when a newcomer asked where she and her family could attend services.  She has three kids and wants to find an American style church that will be good for them.  Her family is not affiliated with the military, so they have no access to the installations.  And they are Methodists.  Well…  sure enough, there were quite a few folks who were willing to sell their church.

There are always folks from the two Baptist churches scouting for members.  The first time we lived here, we were invited to a Baptist church by a woman who was a lapsed Catholic.  Bill and I don’t attend church.  He’s too scarred from being Mormon and I just don’t give a shit about church that much.  I think Bill is actually a lot more spiritual and potentially religious than I am.  I’ve just never really cared too much about attending church one way or another.  I see church as a place to go for socializing and sometimes pretty music.  A good minister who isn’t too boring is a huge plus.

This is a picture of the closest thing my family has to a “family church”. My dad and his siblings were raised in this Presbyterian church in Natural Bridge, Virginia. I, too, was raised Presbyterian, but it hasn’t seemed to have stuck.

Someone also mentioned a church near one of the installations that is Pentecostal/Assemblies of God.  I knew a lot of folks who were involved in that faith when I was growing up.  I’d say it’s not much like Methodism.  Methodists are rather mainstream and moderate.  The AoG and Pentecostal folks struck me as being a lot more like holy rollers.   

One person mentioned an English speaking Anglican church.  I think if I were inclined to attend services, that’s the one I’d want to go to.  But the original poster says she’s wanting an American style church and my guess is that the Anglican church would not be very American.

And yes, sure enough, there was a plug for the local Mormon ward.  The folks who were plugging it touted the excellent youth program and said a person can be as “active as they want to be”.  It was all I could do not to comment that there is a HUGE difference between Mormonism and Methodism.  One brave soul did ask the question and I know he knew the answer:  “Is there a significant difference between your faith and the Protestant faith?” 

One of the LDS ladies selling the Mormon church advised him to visit one of the official church Web sites for information.  Right.  Because we can’t have people finding out the non whitewashed version of what Mormonism is all about, can we?  The person who advised the guy to visit or took pains to empathize that Mormons believe in Jesus Christ and is a Christian faith.  She also mentioned “instantaneous friends”.

Now…  here’s one thing that maybe the LDS apologist hasn’t considered.  Real friendships aren’t formed “instantaneously”.  Real friendships take time to develop, and must be nurtured.  “Instant friendships” are most likely going to be assigned friendships.  Assigned friendships are almost always fake.  The LDS church is pretty much rife with assigned friends.  Home visitors, visiting teachers, Relief Society, and everything else…  They will be friendly until you start asking uncomfortable questions.  Aside from that, it may be pretty damaging for young women to be told that if they engage in sexual contact before marriage, they are akin to chewed pieces of gum or shattered vases.

The apologist also emphasized that newcomers are “welcomed”.  Maybe that’s so, at least the first time a person shows up to a meeting.  But if he or she starts coming regularly, there will be pressure to be baptized.  There will be pressure for the newcomers to get on board with the status quo– look the right way, dress the right way, drink the right liquids, pay the right amount of tithing…  I highly doubt that a person who comes to meetings for the three years a typical military tour lasts will simply be encouraged to attend casually.  Mormonism requires big lifestyle changes that the entire family is pressured to embrace.

And yet…  this is what the apologist says…

“…you will find a very welcoming group of individuals and families who simply wish to share the hope and happiness they find in following this faith.

If that’s true in Stuttgart, it would be the first time I’ve seen a group of Mormons take a laid back approach to their faith.  You’d think that people who are sincere about wanting to sell their church would want to be honest and upfront about what attending would mean.  And if they have nothing to hide, then why can’t an investigator take the time to read multiple sources to help them make up their minds?  Even if there are a lot of people with axes to grind posting about Mormonism, it seems to me that a person with strong faith and conviction could easily overcome those obstacles.  Moreover, if there are a lot of people with axes to grind, maybe that should tell you something about the church itself.

I guess I can understand being a member of a church you love and feeling like everyone misunderstands it.  On the other hand, if you expect people to join your church, you should be open to allowing them to make an informed decision.  Mormonism and Methodism are not much alike.  They have different beliefs.  The newcomer looking for a new church should do her homework for her own sake, and that of her kids.  I did notice, though, that she knew something about Mormons.  She responded to the one guy who asked about “significant differences in beliefs” and told him to “Google Mormons”.  I guess she got the message.

On a different note, yesterday I listened to a very interesting discussion/interview conducted by a guy who interviewed a woman raised according to Bill Gothard’s principles.  It was quite eye opening and really put a different spin on fundamentalism.

This guy, Chris Shelton, usually talks about Scientology, but in this video he talks to a woman who was raised in the Quiverfull movement.  Crazy stuff!

Edited to add in 2021: originally, I ended this post with my comments about Jessa’s second pregnancy. But since she’s now had four kids and is living in her sex pest big brother’s old house, I figure that commentary is no longer relevant. I think I’m just glad that I don’t care about going to church. Seems like it can cause a lot of problems for people. I wonder if Josh Duggar would have turned out more normally if he had been raised in a home where he was free to talk about sex. Maybe he wouldn’t have been normal in any case, but I really don’t think fundie Christianity and its many rules and regulations, as well as its clearly misogynistic bent, helped matters at all.

book reviews

Reposted review of Carly Gelsinger’s Once You Go In: A Memoir of Radical Faith

Today’s reposted book review was written for my original blog on December 10, 2018.

 I just finished reading Carly Gelsinger’s first book, Once You Go In: A Memoir of Radical Faith.  This book was just published on October 16, 2018.  I bought it on a whim last month.  I was stocking up on new things to read, even though I already have too much to read.  I need to write this review now because I have just started a new book and if I don’t review this one, I’ll forget about it.

Carly Gelsinger, who has a master’s degree in journalism and makes her living helping other people write their stories, was just thirteen years old when she discovered Pine Canyon Assembles of God, a church on the outskirts of her small town in California.  Lonely, awkward, and desperate to belong to a group, Gelsinger gets involved with the church, even though she doesn’t come from a hyper-religious family.

The church embraces Carly, and it’s not long before she starts changing.  She speaks in tongues, covers her body in an effort to prevent temptation among boys, and stops listening to secular music.  She goes to church and listens to “Pastor Frank”, the abusive leader of Pine Canyon Assemblies of God, preach fire and brimstone.  Carly gets “lovebombed” by a young woman named Jessa, who mentors her into her new lifestyle, which sees her removing a beloved Beatles poster from her wall.  Carly’s family, somehow, allows all of this to happen with a minimum of protest.  Maybe Carly’s mom thought a church environment was healthier than some of the other environments teenagers are exposed to these days.  Carly does mention at one point that her mom isn’t happy about her conversion to fanatic pentacostalism.

Carly kind of makes it sound like her AOG church was almost a little bit Baptist fundie, except for the speaking in tongues.  Carly writes of female leaders having special signals they give to girls, letting them know they need to “cover up”.  Girls with larger bosoms get that special signal much more often than do more flat-chested girls.  Carly did start to notice that her affiliation with the church was affecting how she treated other people.  She started rejecting friends and potential boyfriends because they weren’t in her church.  She let the church dictate more and more of her thinking, even as it interfered with her relationships with other people outside of the group.  And even though Pastor Frank was saying abusive things that made her feel attacked, she turned a blind ear to it… until she couldn’t anymore.

Although I was not raised in a hyper-religious environment myself, I have been around people who were.  When I was in school, I had a number of friends who were members of the local Assemblies of God church.  That church always struck me as culty, weird, and demanding.  I remember my teenaged peers talking about Jesus all the time and wearing religious t-shirts that had “cute” sayings like “This Blood’s for You.”  I remember most everyone who went to that church seemed to hang out together.  When you’re a teenager wanting to fit in, that kind of “belonging” is very powerful.  I can’t personally relate to Carly’s experiences as a teen in a “culty” church environment, but I know what it’s like to be an awkward, lonely, teen desperately wanting to fit in.  On that level, her well-written memoir really speaks to me.

I guess I was expecting this book to be a bit “juicier” than it is, although even without salacious details, this is a story that will resonate with a lot of people.  Carly Gelsinger’s writing is intelligent, witty, and personal.  I think she’s a very good writer; her prose has style, substance, and a bare minimum of typos. 

I did wonder, though, why Carly didn’t have more of an intervention from her family.  When I first told my parents about Bill, who was a Mormon when we met, there was definitely some blowback.  It wasn’t until my parents got to know him and realized I wouldn’t be converting that they became comfortable with him.  Indeed, it wasn’t long before they really liked him… probably even more than they liked me.  Bill eventually left the church, so it was never really an issue.  I was old enough to make religious decisions for myself, anyway.

Carly Gelsinger, on the other hand, was so young when she got involved with the Assemblies of God.  It surprises me that her family didn’t get more involved in this decision… or at least learn more about what it entailed.  But, in the long run, it appears that Carly came out of her experience a bit wiser and not so bad for wear.  She doesn’t seem angry or bitter, just more evolved.  I guess that would count as a happy ending.

If you like memoirs about religion, this one might be worth your time.  I give it four stars out of five.

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