• Baylee

What Growing Up Fundie Tried to Teach Me About My Role in Life- and What I Learned In Spite of It

"You shouldn't even want to go to college. Women who go to college don't trust their future husbands to provide for them. And if you don't trust your husband to provide for you and your kids, then you don't trust God's will for your life. Do you?"

I was 16 and wanted to be a "muckraking" investigative journalist, like Ida Tarbell or Nellie Bly. I loved business and economics and spent a lot of my free time diving down rabbit holes: tracing the beginning of a company all the way through it's demise, or logging different opinions on a current economic crisis. My copy of Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell was worn and highlighted like a... well, like a Bible.

I was so excited that I'd found something I loved.

Actually, not even that I'd "found it," but more that I could put it into words and make a career path out if it, which we all know can be rare for 16 year olds. I was chattering on about the degree I was interested in with a handful of girls at church when my small group leader said this:

"You shouldn't even want to go to college. Women who go to college don't trust their future husbands to provide for them. And if you don't trust your husband to provide for you and your kids, then you don't trust God's will for your life. Do you?"

For those who don't know, a "small group" at most churches is a form of discipleship. If you join a youth group as a teenager with small groups, you'll typically be assigned your "group" for the rest of the year. The group leader (usually an adult volunteer) is responsible for leading meetings where you pray, read the Bible, and generally enjoy each other's company (fellowship). They are supposed to be as much of a spiritual leader as they can be for the teenagers. (I know no one is perfect!)

The worst part about my experience with my small group leader was that I wasn't even shocked or surprised. I remember it so vividly because I felt guilty. It was like the time when I was 5 or 6 and my parents gave me a few dollars to put in the offering plate. When the offering plate came by, I socked it away to buy a pen at the church gift shop instead. I felt guilty for taking something that wasn't mine: both the few dollars that belonged to the offering plate when I was 6 and the career that belonged to a man- not me- when I was 16.

It wasn't the first time I'd been told I shouldn't want to go to college simply because I was a woman. I was told the same thing in different words at other "fundie" churches growing up.

What my small group leader said was just one example of the culture I grew up in as a girl who fell in and out of Christian Fundamentalism. A culture where a simple desire to pursue something I LOVED and was naturally good at immediately called into question the 3 authorities in my life.

"So you're going to enter your marriage with student loans? How is that fair to your husband?"

Of course, I didn't hear anyone make the same argument to the boys my age that taking on student loan debt was "unfair" to their future wives.

"There's no point in getting a college degree just to stay home with the kids."

I would argue that it's still worthwhile in itself- if that's what you prefer. Because life isn't all about utility.

"That kind of career would take up way too much time away from your family."

Again: this was only a problem for the women in fundie churches. Because women- even 16 year olds- already had an assigned job, which was to be the housekeeper of their future family.

What my small group leader said was just one example of the culture I grew up in as a girl who fell in and out of Christian Fundamentalism. A culture where a simple desire to pursue something I LOVED and was naturally good at immediately called into question the 3 authorities in my life:

1) the "future husband" that I was already committed to.

2) the "future kids" I was already responsible for.

3) the God they told me I'd be disappointing by living life on my own terms.

What is a "fundie"?

(Disclaimer: I can only go off of my own experiences, and since there are estimated to be over 200 distinct denominations of Christianity in the US and potentially 45,000 globally, I'm sure there will be many people who disagree with me. However, I always try to speak in good faith, and if you feel that something I say doesn't give a topic justice, please feel free to reach out to me and I'll look into it further.)

"Fundie" is a colloquial term for Christian Fundamentalism. Christian Fundamentalists, at their core, believe that the Bible is the literal, inerrant Word of God (see the Wiki to learn more)

I grew up going to Independent Fundamental Baptist churches, which tend to believe that:

- The New Testament of the Bible is the literal, inerrant authority in everything.

- The local church is autonomous, answering to God alone.

- Believers alone make up the holy priesthood.

- The "church" is the body of Christ, not a physical building or gathering.

- The church is completely separate from the state.

small white church
A small town church

Because one of the defining characteristics of these churches is the "independent" portion, it can be hard to generalize what they believe in. But from my personal experience, I would say that "fundies" are marked by the following:

1) Being "IN the world but not OF it".

Here's an excellent article on what that means. Fundies, however, take this one step further by insisting that believers (Christians) should be physically distinctive from the rest of the world. In other words, "non-believers" should be able to tell that you're "set apart" from the world simply by what you're wearing. This is one of the biggest reasons why women have strict dress codes that are marked by long skirts and sleeved shirts.

At one of my churches, believers also couldn't go to the movie theater at all for fear that non-believers would think we were seeing a bad movie. Likewise, going out to eat was generally looked down on if the restaurant played "worldly" music, thereby exposing you to evil.

2) The King James Version of the Bible is the only literal, inerrant Word of God.

Fundamentalists believe that various versions of the Bible have been watered down to become more "worldly". They're particularly concerned with versions that translate Mary as being a "young woman" rather than a "virgin", because they believe this translation calls into question the virgin birth that's central to the story of Jesus.

Keep in mind that there are over 60 versions of the Bible in English, and fundamentalists will usually not associate with other believers or churches that follow a different version (for Baptists, this is the King James Version), which causes further rifts between them and others.

At one of my churches, the youth pastor saw a girl (about 12 years old) carrying an NIV Bible and proceeded to call her to the front of the class and tell her that the version would "send her straight to Hell." As awful as it sounds, it makes sense: if you believe that every word in the Bible is the literal, inerrant Word of God, then it should be perfect!

3) The church is an independent body separate from AND superseding any government.

Whereas many Christian churches follow the "give unto Caesar what is Caesar's" approach to government, fundies typically try to stay as far away from the government as possible. Perhaps this is because their beliefs often directly contradict the status quo. For instance, there are massive crossovers between fundies and anti-vaxxers, the home school movement, the unschool movement, etc.

I have seen this "independent" mindset cause huge problems within the church, used to cover up a number of crimes. Fundies often argue that going to the government for any kind of help will compromise the divine mission- which is to spread the gospel.

4) On the other hand, though, fundie believers are very politically engaged.

When you think of the " far Christian right" what you're probably imagining is Christian Fundamentalists. They're a key demographic to target for votes and their beliefs are a deciding factor in countless political issues.

Christian Fundamentalists have:

- opposed the law banning mandatory prayer/Bible reading in public schools

- been a well known demographic of the anti-vaxx movement

- promoted teaching Creationism in schools

- opposed laws to regulate home schooling and unschooling

- opposed women's reproductive rights, including birth control and abortions

- opposed LGBTQ+ rights, including the right to marry.

post-fundie life

What did growing up Fundie teach me?

Growing up, fundies tried to teach me a lot of things: don't drink, don't smoke, don't have sex, don't dress that way, don't go to school, don't question that, don't have dark nail polish, don't vote that way, etc, etc, etc...

Each individual rule might not sound like much, but when it comes to toxic fundie teaching, the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts.

They say, "don't wear that" but what they mean is "you're responsible for the thoughts and actions of the men around you."

They say, "don't watch that show/movie/documentary" but what they mean is "don't question our beliefs."

They say, "this is the only way to get to Heaven" but what they mean is "We're the only way to get to Heaven."

What they're really teaching women is much more damaging than the million tiny rules combined. In all of their implied rules, they're really saying that what you want for your life simply does not matter. And it doesn't matter for the simple fact that you were born a woman.

"There's no use in you pursuing that education/career.... (because you're a woman.)"

"The way you dress is portraying the family poorly. Change it, or else."

"No man wants a woman who (blah blah blah)."

But there's a huge difference between...

... what someone tells you and what you actually learn from the situation. Anyone who's been in an abusive relationship will attest that when someone says "I love you" and then proceeds to hurt you prompts one of two things. Either you change your definition of "love" to be deranged and make no sense to the world around you, or you realize that just because something is said doesn't make it so.

Luckily, I fell into the latter group of people. Even though I was in and out of Christian Fundamentalism for roughly 10 years, what I wound up learning was the opposite of what they tried to teach me.

First, I realized that hellfire did NOT rain down on me if I listened to secular music in a friend's car (that's a simplification but you get the idea).

When someone important to you says that something like music is bad you believe them. But one day you might wind up listening to music or hearing it in your friend's car. And you'll think, "Wait, why is this bad again?" And your brain won't be able to come up with any objective reason not to listen to music!

After little instances like that, I couldn't help but think "why not?" about the bigger issues I was taught to believe.

Is it really okay for me to judge people for dressing less modestly than I think they should? Where are my priorities here?

Are other people's actions (like men staring at me) really my fault? And what would happen if we reversed the genders?

Does preparing for my future really mean I don't trust God to provide for me? And if it does, where do I draw the line? What's "too independent"?

The further I delved into these questions, the longer the blame-chain became. And I went from exhausted to downright sick of trying to keep track of whose "fault" everything was.

It took me a long time to reverse the toxic frame of mind that Fundamentalism gave me,

and in fact I still wouldn't say I'm completely free of it. But in a way, I'm glad I went through it. Because the frame I built in it's place has guided me through the beginning of my career and even into starting my own business. The old frame of mind was reactive: based on fear, rules, and the same judgement I was taught to extend to the "worldly" people around me. The new frame of mind asks questions. Questions like:

- Will going to grad school actually help me, or do I just want it to try to validate my intelligence?

- Will this job help me build skills and become a better person, or will it hurt my sense of self in return for a paycheck?

- Do I really have to wait until I'm 65 to retire, or is that just the status quo?

- What does it feel like I'm living for? Quality of life or work? And can I change that?

I apply the same thought process to my personal finance clients: the importance of asking "why?" as soon as possible.

Why? Because what you want for your own life matters.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” - Howard Thurman


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