politics, religion

Some churches are silly… and some are just so sick!

This morning, as I was looking at my Facebook memories, I remembered that six years ago, Jan Crouch, wife of the late televangelist Paul Crouch, died. Paul and Jan Crouch, you might recall, founded Trinity Broadcasting Network, a religious channel that appears on a lot of cable networks around the world. Back when Bill and I first got married, we were pretty broke, and I used to watch TBN for fun. There was some really crazy stuff on that network. That was also where I first encountered Paula White, who later became famous for being Donald Trump’s “spiritual advisor”, and current wife of Journey songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Jonathan Cain. Paula White is pretty extra, but so were the Crouches, who often made me laugh.

Stir it up right now… in the name of JESUS.
Jesus is COMING.
God is BIG.

In the above two videos, beneath Paula White’s “queen bee dance”, Jan Crouch is dancing and whacking the tambourine with the late Roger McDuff, who always reminded me of a Q-Tip. But even if I find Christian faux country numbers creepy, I have to admit that at least his songs made me laugh. And so did Paul Crouch, as he spoke of “doctrinal doo doo” and “shooting people” who get in God’s way.

Paul Crouch talks about doctrinal doo doo and then tells everyone that he IS a little God.

A lot of people say and do a bad things in the name of religion. Whether it’s doing a ridiculous queen bee dance, singing a song about Jesus “coming”, or claiming to be a “little God”, these folks who appeared on TBN and preached to shut ins and bored housewives like me were spreading some stuff that really stunk to high heaven. However, as messed up as this stuff is, it doesn’t compare to the Preacher Boys podcast I watched yesterday, in which the host, Eric Skwarczynski, talked about a preacher at a church who got up and confessed to committing “adultery”.

Pastor John Lowe says he committed adultery… but actually, he committed rape.

The pastor’s victim, now a woman approaching middle age, bravely got up (at 9:33) and confronted the pastor. She reminded him that he “took her virginity”, and did abusive things to her. But here he was, “confessing to adultery”, minutes after the “flock” applauded when he introduced himself. And instead of comforting the victim, the people in the congregation are quick to “forgive” Pastor John Lowe. The woman who was his victim left the church with only one or two people comforting her. What gives? These people are Christians? Why don’t they care about the woman who was this man’s victim, when she was just a teenager? Why are they falling for the “pastor’s” line about how he’s a “victim”? In his mind, the teenager was a temptress, and it’s her fault he raped her… but he doesn’t admit to rape. He calls it an “affair”.

As the woman is trying to confront the pastor, people are telling her to sit down and be quiet. And other men are yelling that they need to hear from their pastor. Then we hear a woman yell about how the woman was sixteen, and was complicit. Amazingly, they then yell, “We love you, pastor,” as the woman walks out, almost alone, while people gather around the pastor and “forgive” him.

This is coming in the wake of Josh Duggar’s sentencing. There are still people who claim Josh was “framed”, even though there is overwhelming evidence that he’s a sick predator. Why are religious people in certain evangelical sects so quick to forgive the sins of the pervy men in their midsts?

This morning, as I was eating breakfast with Bill, I ran across a Twitter feed posted by a guy named Nathan Ryan, who related the story of going to an evangelical church camp during the summer of 2002. That was just after 9/11, right around the time when Al Qaeda and ISIS were ramping up in the United States. This dude tweeted about how, as an object lesson, he and fellow campers did an activity in which they were accosted by men in ski masks, holding fake guns, and forcing them to choose between loving Jesus Christ and dying, or denouncing Christ and “living”.

The first of a shocking series of tweets by Nathan Ryan about his experience at a evangelical church camp… click the link to read the whole thing.

This is insane.

So here, we have a belief system where children are taught that they will either be violently killed for their religious beliefs, or they will eventually go to Hell. And we have a faith system where men who rape teenagers are given a pass, while their victims are told that they must forgive, be silent, and cover themselves up, so that their brothers in Christ don’t “fall” to temptation.

Of course, it’s not just evangelicals who do this stuff. I’ve written a lot about things in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that I don’t like. One woman on Twitter, responding to Nathan Ryan’s tweets, posted this about the Mormons and her experience being raised LDS…

All of this stuff is mind blowing to me. I grew up in the mainstream Presbyterian USA Church. The worst things that happened to me at church was being bullied by some of my mean spirited classmates from school, and being bored as hell during church services. No one ever tried to scare me with stories about being blown up by Muslims, nor was I ever asked any questions about my sexual habits. I was never shamed about the way I dressed or told that I was “tempting” members of the opposite sex. And, although the creepy neighbor who used to show me men’s magazines did attend our church, that abusive habit had nothing to do with religion. Religion wasn’t used to abuse me, unless you count my being forced to attend church.

But now, we have evangelicals in bed with our government leaders. And they have managed to indoctrinate a lot of people into thinking that submitting to these abusive churches is the only way to “save” America. Have a look at the tweet that followed these stories…

Seriously?

Here’s another tweet from someone who was abused during church camp in the 1990s.

Wow.

I actually worked at a Presbyterian church camp during the summers of 1993 and 1994. None of this weird shit went on where I worked. Kids played games like “Capture the Flag” and “Barnyard”; they went on hikes, bike trips, and canoe trips; they sang songs and attended devotions and vespers; and they made S’mores or homemade ice cream. It was a lot of wholesome fun in a truly beautiful setting. I’m still good friends with a number of people who worked with me during that time. I feel fortunate that I never had the toxic and abusive experiences some of these folks on Twitter have had.

I don’t have any need for church anymore. It doesn’t mean I’m an atheist. I do believe in God. But I don’t believe in going to churches, because there are too many that have turned abusive and sick. What I mostly took away from church is basic understanding of the Bible and exposure to a lot of church music, mainly because my mom was an organist, and my dad was in the choir. I think if I had a child and they experienced church the way some of these people have, it would absolutely mortify me. That goes double if I ever exposed an innocent child to the likes of Greg Locke, who is an absolutely vile person and a totally fake representation of a “pastor”.

You CANNOT BE A DEMOCRAT AND A CHRISTIAN!”, according to dipshit “pastor” Greg Locke. He needs to be arrested.

This is what we have in America now. This is what some people regard as “religion”. A lot of it is really sick and perverted. Greg Locke hates Democrats and calls them “baby butchers”. But he doesn’t have a thing to say about the gun toting conservatives who scream about their Second Amendment rights, as more kids die in their classrooms. These folks care about money and controlling women, people of color, and the poor. And one way to do that is to force women to give birth, which keeps them occupied and impoverished. Greg Locke is the same man who cheated on his ex wife with her former best friend, then cried about it on Facebook.

I think that if being a Christian means that I have to associate with people like Greg Locke, I’d rather not be a Christian. But, for the record, the Christ I learned of in my church going days, embraced the poor, the sick, and the disenfranchised, and operated for peace, compassion, and love. More and more often, these days, we’re seeing some churches turn very toxic and abusive, which leads people down a path away from Jesus Christ. What a shame that is.

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book reviews, Duggars, education, religion

A review of Lovingly Abused: A true story of overcoming cults, gaslighting, and legal educational neglect, by Heather Grace Heath

ETA: December 30, 2021- Heather Heath has reached out to me in the comments and explained that she was not actually interviewed by the Preacher Boys. My apologies! I often get sucked into videos about fundies and obviously got confused. Anyway, Heather was NOT interviewed by The Preacher Boys, and I still can’t find the video I watched that introduced me to Heather Heath’s story. It might have been Dr. Oz whose video I saw. Heather did tell me that he interviewed her. And now, I’ve seen Dr. Oz’s clip, and I think it was his show that I watched.

Interesting video, and you can hear Heather Heath’s interview. It’s too bad they focused on Josh instead of her book.

A few weeks ago, I was watching YouTube videos when I came across the Preacher Boys podcast, hosted by Eric Skwarczynski. I have watched the Preacher Boys’ channel a few times. It mostly focuses on videos about fundamentalist Christians and the abuses that come from that belief system. There’s a treasure trove of information about abuse within the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement on the Preacher Boys’ podcasts, so I highly recommend that channel to those who want to learn more about it. I am probably just moderately interested in fundies, so I only watch that channel when the mood strikes or when I am especially bored. I originally thought The Preacher Boys interviewed Heather Heath, but it turns out I’m mistaken.

In any case, I swear I saw an interview done with Heather Grace Heath, who, along with her editor, Lorna Oppedisano, just published the book Lovingly Abused: A true story of overcoming cults, gaslighting, and legal educational neglect. I see on Amazon.com, it first became available on October 21, 2021, so it’s a brand new book. I just looked for the interview I watched about this book, but I can’t find it. Otherwise, I would post it here for your perusal.

Anyway, it’s too bad I can’t find the video I watched, because it did influence me to buy and read Heather’s book. I do think it’s a book worth reading if you’re at all interested in what it’s like to grow up in a religious cult. And since Josh Duggar, a famous Gothardite, is currently on trial, this topic is very timely. As you can see from my recent posts, I’ve been thinking and writing about fundie Christians a lot lately.

As I was reading Heather’s story on the Kindle app, I found myself doing something that I don’t often do. I made a lot notes, mainly so I that I could refer back to certain passages in this review. I also shared some passages with my friends on social media, again so I could easily find them. I’ve read a lot of books about people– especially women– who have left religious cults. I’ve read some very shocking things. It’s not even so much that Heather’s anecdotes are necessarily more shocking than other people’s anecdotes are. It’s just that she has a real knack for describing what she’s gone through in a way that is relatable and compelling. A number of my female friends who are interested in religion– particularly the ex Mormons– were responding to the passages I posted. I suspect Heather might get a few sales from them, too.

So… what is Heather Grace Heath’s story?

Heather Grace Heath is a thirtysomething cisgender woman* from Connecticut who grew up in Bill Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute (ATI) homeschool cult. Bill Gothard is an eightysomething American Christian minister whose teachings are very conservative. Gothard founded the Institute in Basic Life Principles. He encourages his followers to have many children and homeschool them. His focus is on teaching children to respect authority, memorize Bible passages, and adhere to strict gender roles. They are to stay under the “umbrella of protection”, pictured below.

A screenshot of a familiar diagram that explains the “umbrella of protection”. As we know, not all women have the personality for such a plan…

Under Gothard’s rules, women are to dress modestly, always wearing dresses or skirts and clothes that emphasize the “countenance” rather than the figure. Men are to aspire to be ministers or missionaries. Both men and women are to get married young, eschewing any beliefs that aren’t Biblical. It doesn’t seem to matter too much whether or not the couples are compatible, only that they are Bible believing Christians who follow Gothard’s strict rules.

*In her book, Heather writes that she doesn’t feel comfortable being called a “woman”. She refers to herself as a “girl” who is cisgendered and uses feminine pronouns. But, for the sake of simplicity, I’m going to refer to her as a woman and hope it doesn’t offend.

Heather explains that her mother grew up in a pretty screwed up family system. Her mother’s mom was the youngest in a very large family and she had a half brother who was also one of her cousins. Heather’s grandmother’s father was abusive. Consequently, Heather’s grandmother married an abusive man, and her mother also grew up in a “fucked up” situation. That was what had led her to Gothard’s cult.

Heather’s paternal grandfather died young. Her paternal grandmother was a first grade teacher who was horrified that Heather and her sister, Hope, were homeschooled. But Heather’s father was all in to Gothard’s teachings. Heather grew up being taught that there were certain things that girls weren’t supposed to do. She was taught that she would remain under her father’s care until she got married. And then she was expected to be a housewife, help meet, and mom to many children.

If this sounds familiar, it should, as this is the very same cult the Duggar family is in. Heather explains that not all people in the ATI belief system are Baptists, but they all subscribe to Bill Gothard’s ideas on how people should live, and children should be raised. In fact, Heather alludes to her mother running into Jim Bob Duggar before he was the stalwart Gothard poster child he is today.

They were at an Advanced Training Institute conference and Jim Bob complimented Heather’s mother on how well “blanket trained” Heather’s little sister was. Heather writes that her mom didn’t actually blanket train her two daughters; Heather’s sister just happened to like playing on her blanket. If you want to know what blanket training is, click here. I shared the passage below on Facebook and at least one person wanted to know what blanket training is, and was horrified when he read up about it.

She doesn’t mention Boob by name, but I think we all know who she’s referring to in this passage.

Heather Grace Heath explains some of the rules of the ATI and how people within it are supposed to behave. Young people growing up in the ATI cult are expected to be involved in certain gender specific activities. The boys go to the ALERT Academy (Air Land Emergency Resource Team), which is a program in which boys are taught rescue and medical techniques in a military style. The Duggar boys all attend ALERT, as it’s considered a rite of passage. Girls attend EXCEL, where they were expected to learn how to be godly women and make crafts. Heather was much more interested in what the boys were doing; she was, and still is, very attracted to medical and rescue work. But, because she was a girl, she was not allowed to attend ALERT. I suspect that might have been the first chink in the armor when it came to her decision to leave the cult.

A good example of the mind control that went on in the ATI.

Heather includes some pretty shocking details about her experiences in one of ATI’s training centers. The center she attended at age 17 was in Oklahoma City. She writes that the Oklahoma City center was supposedly one of the less oppressive of the ATI training centers, which was why she chose it. The actual center had once been a hotel, so it was somewhat “nice”, besides being more lenient. Nevertheless, Heather was repeatedly given “heart checks”, which meant she was locked in her room with just water and a Bible. A staff member would be posted outside her door to prevent her escape. This was so she would have time to think about her behavior and examine her heart for the sources of “sinful behavior”.

What’s an example of a behavior that would earn a “heart check”? Heather writes that the girls were all on the eighth floor of the former hotel. Boys were on the third floor. This was done deliberately, so that there would be no reason for boys to pass the girls’ floor or go to a higher level in the building. Heather got a “heart check” because she allowed males to share the elevator with her. She also got a “heart check” when staff members discovered that she had tampons, which were considered “Satan’s fingers”. She was ordered to repent for any enjoyment she got from removing them– (ugh, I can’t even imagine). She got another “heart check” for knowing lyrics to a Broadway song. There are other examples.

As Heather got older, she realized that she was very attracted to the healthcare profession. But working in healthcare went against Bill Gothard’s teachings for girls. Instead, Heather was encouraged to pursue more womanly pursuits– jobs in which she could wear skirts and dresses and be subservient to men. It was pretty clear to me as I read this book that Heather Heath does not have a particularly submissive personality. She’s very bright, naturally assertive (although Gothardites would probably call her rebellious), and courageous. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to overcome cult programming. She also had the misfortune of being homeschooled in a way that left her incredibly underschooled. I was impressed when Heather wrote about the experience of homeschooling her twins last year, because the pandemic required it. She wrote she was shocked by things that she didn’t know that little kids who went to school knew. Not surprisingly, that left her with what seems to be some pretty serious resentment.

The frustration of growing up in the Gothard cult, wanting something the system told her she could never have, left Heather with some pretty serious psychological problems. She also suffered from some “female” physical issues that made her miserable. She did attempt suicide a couple of times, and was at one point, hospitalized. Her father tried to dictate her care. Heather found the courage to tell her medical providers that she would not be able to give them honest answers while her dad was around…

She was definitely starting to find her way out of the cult.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking part of the book for me is when Heather writes about her decision to marry her first husband. Heather had sort of come out of the ATI cult stuff at that point, as she was working as an emergency medical technician and had been a “candy striper” at a local hospital. She had a crush on a guy she met when they were both “candy stripers” at a local hospital (though they aren’t called candy stripers anymore), and then they both became EMTs and worked together at an EMS company. Because of her upbringing, Heather had some difficulty being trained as a medic, even though she clearly had the talent and aptitude. She would answer questions with Biblical responses. So she had to overcome that, but she also had this crush on this guy… and she didn’t really know him before she married him at age 24. The marriage lasted a very short time and he decided to divorce her.

Because she was raised in a cult, she was brought up to believe that now, she was doomed to spend the rest of her life alone, or else be labeled an adulterer. To people who follow Gothard, being an adulterer is considered to be just as “sinful” as engaging in homosexuality (not that I, personally, think either is sinful). Still, even though Heather Heath was taught these things, she exhibits a delightful pluckiness in the passage below…

I loved this!

Heather also writes that she briefly considered attending Hyles-Anderson College, in Hammond, Indiana. I have written about Hyles-Anderson a few times in the blog. It’s definitely not a place for women with “pluck” and an independent spirit. She was going to study a nice “feminine” program at the school, because having been homeschooled through ATI, she would have otherwise had a terrible time attending a secular university where accreditation, grades, and test scores matter. Fortunately, officials at Hyles-Anderson had issues with Heather’s choice to work as a medic. They told her she needed to do more “feminine” work where she could be dressed like a lady (wearing skirts and dresses). So Heather wisely decided to withdraw her application…

Yeah… definitely culty!

And when a woman asked Heather to sell her on the idea of homeschooling, wanting to know all of the advantages Heather got from being taught at home through Bill Gothard’s system…

It’s hard to believe people still think this way in the 21st century. Good on Heather for setting that woman straight!

My thoughts

I took a whole lot of notes on this book, which, as I mentioned up post, I don’t do very often. I highlighted many passages, most of which I didn’t include in this review. I could have included them, but I want people to read the book for themselves. The passages in this review aren’t even necessarily the most shocking. They’re just the ones that fit the best.

In spite of her limited education, Heather Grace Heath is obviously very bright, funny, and articulate. Even with the help of an editor, I could definitely hear her authentic voice in this story. I really admired her strength, courage, and resolve to live her life on her own terms. At the same time, there were times when I could see how her education had limited her, and she often describes how she was cheated by not having access to books, qualified teachers, and broader perspectives. She uses a lot of profanity and sometimes comes across as angry, which could turn off some readers, although personally, it didn’t bother me at all. I don’t blame her for being pissed. She had no control over how she was raised, and she did endure some legitimate abuse and educational neglect that have affected her as an adult.

On the other hand, I loved this passage… It demonstrates some of the biting wit and humor Heather has– and sharp wit is a sign of raw intelligence, which it’s clear that Heather has. She clearly doesn’t belong in Bill Gothard’s cult.

Yeah… I can tell here that she was not destined to stay on the path her parents chose for her. She’s much too strong-willed and intelligent.

It may seem like I have included a lot of passages from the book in this review. But as I mentioned previously, I’ve actually only included a few passages that struck me and fit best. I imagine this book could be quite profound and even triggering to some readers. But I also think a lot of people will find it inspiring and educational. For that reason, I highly recommend Lovingly Abused to anyone who is interested in learning more about about what it’s like to grow up in Bill Gothard’s cult, or even what it’s like to be poorly homeschooled. To be sure, there are many parents who get homeschooling right and do a fantastic job. But there are a lot of other parents who should not be allowed to homeschool their kids. At the very least, there should be much more oversight as to what and how children are taught. I know the conservatives aren’t fans of that idea, since they see it as “government overreach”, but Heather Grace Heath is a living example of why undereducating children is a form of child abuse and neglect.

And… just as an aside, reading Lovingly Abused even gave me some insight into the Duggar family and the situation Anna Duggar is in right now. Anyone who wonders why Anna Keller Duggar hasn’t divorced her clearly deviant husband, Josh Duggar, yet, might have more understanding after reading Lovingly Abused. I didn’t get the sense that Heather Heath’s experiences were nearly as intense as the Duggar kids’ experiences in ATI have been.

While those of us who weren’t raised in a religious cult might think it’s obvious that Anna should leave Josh’s ass, it’s not such a cut and dried thing if you’re in a cult and have been taught that divorce is a pathway to Hell. Even though Anna has grounds for a divorce, it’s still an extremely difficult decision to make, as it makes her significantly less attractive to other men in the cult who are looking for godly helpmeets. Anna probably figures that if she divorces Josh, she will be alone. On the other hand, it’s many people’s fervent hope that Anna will be alone anyway, when a jury of his peers soon delivers a “guilty” verdict. But we shall see… sadly, it could turn out that he walks.

Anyway, below is a link to Amazon for those who want to read this book. If you purchase through the link, I will get a small commission from Amazon. Either way, I hope this review encourages some readers, and I hope someone else will interview Heather and leave up the video. She’s got a lot of important things to say.

And here’s a video by a lady on YouTube who also read the book. Sounds like she was as “triggered” as I was.

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