This blog was originally going to be talking about handicrafts and gardening and cooking and learning to ‘homestead’ through the lens of Janeway and Chakotay finding themselves marooned on New Earth in the Delta Quadrant. I thought it was a good metaphor for my isolated life in rural Cornwall. I still hope to include those aspects – part of me longs for that ‘Good Life’.
But there are other issues which have come to the fore recently – related to my self-named status as a “progressive fundamentalist” which are forcing me to look long and hard at who I am and how I got here.
I have been speaking recently with another Star Trek RP account – Christian Janeway – and I have been amazed at how much we have in common. Conversations on Twitter, and with my children over the last week, have prompted me to recognise just how damaged and damaging I became as a member of a fundamentalist church in my youth and again as a young mother, and so I thought that, in the first instance, I would write a brief summary of what that has entailed. I wasn’t expecting to bare my soul or look deeply into difficult and painful corners, but I think it needs to be done; and as I have said elsewhere many times, my two favourite forms of therapy are Star Trek and writing. Even if nobody reads this and it helps nobody else, I hope it will help me to move on.
When I was very young (this was in the mid 70s through the mid 80s), my parents were happily attending a lively Pentecostal church in a small town north-west of London which happened to have a US ex-pat community. Somehow my parents came in to contact with American fundamentalist Baptist missionaries to England who dazzled them with personality, charisma and authoratative confidence and persuaded them to leave the Pentecostal church – which they convinced them was at best fake and at worst, probably of the devil – and start a new fundamentalist Baptist church with them. Before long there were a number of families and additional children associated with the new church.
I was mostly too young (approximately ages 6-13) to fully comprehend the depth of what was going on, what was being preached, and how my parents were more and more controlled in every area of their lives – to my conscious mind, all was good, these were the best days of my life – because we saw so much of them, because they often stayed at our house, we were practically living in community with them. Our whole week was in some way or another controlled by the church. It wasn’t just Sunday morning and evening, it was Sunday lunchtime, midweek dinners, Bible study evenings, prayer meetings, members’ meetings, social calls. It was completely engulfing.
What I didn’t realise at the time was that my parents’ mental health was suffering in different ways (my mother later had a mental breakdown, my father expressed it as physical ill health).
We eventually escaped the church in two stages – firstly, the American Missionaries went home on furlough for a year, fully expecting my father (who had been partially trained, for about three years for the pastorate with their organisation) to keep the church going in their absence. What actually happened instead was that my father rebelled and pretty much immediately after the Missionaries left, allowed the families to go to another church during that time.
I don’t know what ire this behaviour invoked when the absent Pastor found out – I’m sure my father would have been on strict instructions to contact somebody else here in the UK from the organisation for assistance rather than allowing the church to close; my father kept everything close to his chest so I don’t know his thought process or decision process. I probably don’t know the half of it. I do know that my father never really ever recovered from the damage they did to him.
When the missionaries returned, they were obviously furious about what had happened and again although I don’t know the details, I can only infer that they made my parents’ lives a little bit hellish and so stage two was to move away from the area altogether. The missionaries were never able to re-establish the church in that area, and were eventually re-located by their organisation.
Right before we moved, I had a serious bicycle accident which was probably a hit and run (my memory of it is very hazy but my bike was definitely run over), in which I sustained a head injury which has affected my health ever since. This led to my mother becoming mentally ill. Around the same time I became mentally ill myself with Anorexia. I always thought that it was linked to my head injury, which it might be, but I am beginning to suspect that it might be an after-effect of the church. I will explore that at a later date.
My parents, prior to my mother’s breakdown, embarked on a search for the perfect church. Still affected by the fundamentalist teaching they had, and despite all the damage it had done to them, the new church had to measure up in some way to the church they had left, so after rejecting several perfectly nice churches, we ended up in another strict Baptist church with its own issues. (No doubt the most serious being that the Sunday School Superintendant was ‘having an affair’ with a 13 year old child. Note it was the 80s, so that was how it was phrased at the time).
When my mum got ill, the church were pretty incredibly useless and unhelpful, not being able to deal with mental illness, so that turned out to be a blessing in disguise and we were able to leave there.
I spent some time at a very good church during my teenage years which was gently charismatic. A nice balance, not over-the-top crazy Pentecostal. (It was a Salvation Army by the way – they’re variable, and have their own issues, but I have to say that this was my happiest time and probably the healthiest church I ever attended.) The fact that it was charismatic would have bothered my parents considerably a few years earlier but by that stage they were beginning to realise that some of the fundamentalist teachings had been wrong and harmful, so they let it go. My mother even attended there for a while.
To cut a very long story short, I hastily married the first boy I slept with and promptly regretted it, and hastily got into another relationship (with Chakotay). I was pretty consumed by guilt and shame which I had learned under the teachings I had learned early on, and so when I started home educating my children (for totally non-religious reasons!) I soon *put myself* under the teachings of extremely conservative fundamentalist teaching again. Everything was so familiar that I lapped it all up – quiverfull teaching, headcovering, submission for godly wives, corporal punishment for children (which I totally disagree with and regret btw) etc. I literally could not find a physical church conservative enough for me!
Probably as a result of that irrational drive to find the most conservative form of Christianity, I started looking at the Messianic movement. I actually spent ten years in Messianic Judaism (one year of which actually involved rejecting the whole thing and seriously trying to convert to mainstream Judaism – another story, for another time), and I hope that I have taken and absorbed the best and most positive aspects. The actual physical fellowship I was involved with were absolutely lovely and kind and generous and unfundamentalist! But there is in Messianic Judaism – principally online, for me, as I’m in the UK – a very fundamentalist thread which is every bit as damaging as mainstream fundamentalism (if that’s a thing).
Unfortunately, I was under those two strains of teaching for long enough (20 years in total plus the original 6 or so) for me to perpetuate some of the abuse that was visited on me onto my children. It was totally unconscious and unintended, and I am utterly mortified at the damage I have done. Icheb, my eldest, seems to have borne the brunt of it all, while the others seem largely unaffected, thankfully.
I don’t quite remember how it happened, but something snapped at some point and I realised that I was part of something really very nasty and unhealthy that was replicating some of the exact same abuses that I had been part of as a child (being told that you must separate from every other sort of Christian, that the rest of the Church is wicked and evil and not of God etc for example).
Chakotay, who is not a religious man at all (alas, my Chakotay doesn’t even go in for spirituality) tolerated all of the above, mostly blissly ignorant of what was going on in my head, but he could see that I was getting physically and mentally ill and that was affecting the children. So he unilaterally decided to move us – hundreds of miles away from where we were, to a place so rural and isolated that there was no internet. I’m still a little bit angry with him for doing that (and I have mentioned my inability to speak up for myself earlier today). But in actual fact, it was a good call. The last six years have been long and hard and lonely and painful, but removing me from that whole social circle has enabled me to re-evaluate everything and begin to heal.
In many ways, he is my hero, and I am so grateful that he is such a gentle, kind, slow-to-wrath kind of man. He is certainly not without fault, but he has been so much more gracious and godly than so many Christians I have known.
Anyway. That is enough for now. These are some of the issues I want to work through here on this blog. I hope you will stick around and I hope it will help some people to heal too.