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Author Topic: Moving back to the Bible Belt's Bible Belt.  (Read 499 times)

Beloved

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Moving back to the Bible Belt's Bible Belt.
« on: June 14, 2019, 02:12:25 pm »
I grew up in a deeply fundamentalist Christian area of the south. I'm talking the kind of people that even thought Christian rock and roll was too worldly and Harry Potter was just plain demonic. I left for college and never looked back, until now. Work has recently relocated me to a town about half an hour from where I grew up. In many ways, this is a positive, as I have many old friendships and family in the area. The job is great, cost of living is low, and it's a great place to raise a family, religion not withstanding.

But the timing is terrible. A several year long crisis in my Christian faith has me now taking a break from Christianity and exploring paganism. I currently do not attend Christian services, have put away my Bibles, and am giving myself full permission to explore other faiths.

I am in no way ready to turn my back on my Christian faith forever, but any future in Christianity for me certainly won't look anything like it does in this area of the world. I also admit the possibility that paganism in general is a better fit for me, and my future path may not include Christianity at all. I simply don't know where this is going to end up for me.

In the meantime, this puts in me in an awkward position. I am now surrounded by family and old friends who knew me as an outspoken faithful Christian. I'm embarrassed now by how obnoxious I was as a teenager "on fire for God" but that was the norm here. It seems the vast majority of my connections in the area have remained fairly conservative Christians. Christian rock is now allowed, Harry Potter still is not.  ;)

I'm astonished by how much pressure people are putting on me to go to church with them. If I won't commit to going with them, they begin pressuring me to visit other churches they approve of, or offering to take my kids to church with them. I'm not just talking about family members either, I'm talking about everyone. It comes up in every conversation I've had. I've had random strangers witnessing to me in parking lots. Everyone is claiming to know God's will for my life, and telling me that things that went terribly wrong in my life were all apart of God's plan. People have corrected my children for watching Disney shows with witches and spells, or for listening to non-Christian music.

I can count on one hand the number of secular conversations I've had here. 90% of conversations are all brought back to God and church in some way.

These are all people I care about, and I know that this is how they show their own love, as misguided as it may be. I do not want to hurt any feelings, burn any bridges, or make anyone unduly worried about me. But I need a way to handle all of this without feeling dishonest. I don't want to pretend to be something I'm not. But I am not at all comfortable being honest at this point either. Frankly, I'm concerned about what people might start praying over me if they knew! It is not unheard of for people down here to pray for disasters to happen in order to "bring people back to the fold." I don't want that energy directed toward me or my family. 

Any advice?


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Re: Moving back to the Bible Belt's Bible Belt.
« Reply #1 on: June 14, 2019, 02:24:09 pm »
I grew up in a deeply fundamentalist Christian area of the south. I'm talking the kind of people that even thought Christian rock and roll was too worldly and Harry Potter was just plain demonic.

When they try to get you to go to church tell them you would rather watch on TV at home? You are still trying to decide which denomination you want to attend? You have found that doing your own study and reading has had a much more profound effect on you?

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Re: Moving back to the Bible Belt's Bible Belt.
« Reply #2 on: June 14, 2019, 03:27:13 pm »
I grew up in a deeply fundamentalist Christian area of the south. I'm talking the kind of people that even thought Christian rock and roll was too worldly and Harry Potter was just plain demonic. I left for college and never looked back, until now. Work has recently relocated me to a town about half an hour from where I grew up. In many ways, this is a positive, as I have many old friendships and family in the area. The job is great, cost of living is low, and it's a great place to raise a family, religion not withstanding.

But the timing is terrible. A several year long crisis in my Christian faith has me now taking a break from Christianity and exploring paganism. I currently do not attend Christian services, have put away my Bibles, and am giving myself full permission to explore other faiths.

I am in no way ready to turn my back on my Christian faith forever, but any future in Christianity for me certainly won't look anything like it does in this area of the world. I also admit the possibility that paganism in general is a better fit for me, and my future path may not include Christianity at all. I simply don't know where this is going to end up for me.

In the meantime, this puts in me in an awkward position. I am now surrounded by family and old friends who knew me as an outspoken faithful Christian. I'm embarrassed now by how obnoxious I was as a teenager "on fire for God" but that was the norm here. It seems the vast majority of my connections in the area have remained fairly conservative Christians. Christian rock is now allowed, Harry Potter still is not.  ;)

I'm astonished by how much pressure people are putting on me to go to church with them. If I won't commit to going with them, they begin pressuring me to visit other churches they approve of, or offering to take my kids to church with them. I'm not just talking about family members either, I'm talking about everyone. It comes up in every conversation I've had. I've had random strangers witnessing to me in parking lots. Everyone is claiming to know God's will for my life, and telling me that things that went terribly wrong in my life were all apart of God's plan. People have corrected my children for watching Disney shows with witches and spells, or for listening to non-Christian music.

I can count on one hand the number of secular conversations I've had here. 90% of conversations are all brought back to God and church in some way.

These are all people I care about, and I know that this is how they show their own love, as misguided as it may be. I do not want to hurt any feelings, burn any bridges, or make anyone unduly worried about me. But I need a way to handle all of this without feeling dishonest. I don't want to pretend to be something I'm not. But I am not at all comfortable being honest at this point either. Frankly, I'm concerned about what people might start praying over me if they knew! It is not unheard of for people down here to pray for disasters to happen in order to "bring people back to the fold." I don't want that energy directed toward me or my family. 

Any advice?

I am also living in the Bible belt, although in my area it's not as extreme as what you are describing, and thankfully the missionaries tend to avoid me for some reason or other, other than the Mormons, but I always have interesting conversations with them.

I don't know how helpful my advice will be, but I'll give it a shot.

My father's family is extremely religious and conservative, and I still have a close relationship with my great grandfather who has been a Oneness Pentecostal minister for over 70 years.  He converted as a very young man from a Wesleyan background.  Even at 91 years of age he still preaches from time to time.  That has been his life.

I am in a unique situation in that my path still involves Christ, and I can "speak Christian" with my grandfather well enough, at least on certain topics, that I can share common ground with him without lying, but also without revealing my full theological context, and I find this works well.  We share interesting conversations and insights, I accept him for where he is in his journey notwithstanding our differences, and he doesn't seem to worry about my soul too much.

My great grandparents have been much more accepting of me than the rest of the family, my grandmother going as far as to tell me when she was still alive, once she had an inkling that I was gay, that God had once sent a gay man into her life who was an angel from heaven, and she did always call me her angel and comfort me when the rest of the family said nasty things about people who are gay.

The rest of my father's family loves me, though they aren't as accepting as my great grandfather and grandmother.  I think they're more horrified that I'm not a Republican than that I'm gay.  Their politics are as deeply intertwined with their religion as their racism.  I'm not throwing shade at my family.  This is just the truth of the matter.  They believe that dark skin is the result of the Mark of Cain.

After all the peril and trauma I've been through, I still find it very difficult at times to avoid trying to gain the approval of other people.  It can be a hard lesson to learn.  But sometimes we just have to know who we are and be comfortable with that whatever other people may think.

I know this is not easy in the Bible belt.  That said, you don't have to tell everyone everything.  I've found my safe niches in which I can freely express my views, and that has worked for me.  I did have to come out as gay to my family, though.  I couldn't go on hiding everything.  And they found out various other things about my worldview that I'm sure they're not happy about, though they don't know the extent of it.  I put my foot down on the issue of racism.  I refuse to tolerate their efforts to indoctrinate me into racism.  They've tried, I can assure you.  Other issues, I just let go, and try to ignore them without arguing with them too much.  Not every battle is worth it.

You seem like a kind and sensitive person, and that you care for these well meaning if misguided people.  Although you don't have to reveal everything to them, they will probably sense that you are different after some time if they don't already.  They will certainly ascertain that you are not like your teenage self.  Just go on being your kind and caring self, and don't forget to shower yourself with your own kindness.  Soothe yourself when you need to.

They may not understand everything about you, but they will know if you care about them whatever your differences may be, and if they're worth keeping around at all, they will find their own way to tolerate where you are in your life even if they're not sure how to square it with their religion intellectually.  At least, my great grandfather did that for me, and if he can, I have hope that others can, too.

I happen to know that my great grandfather had a conversation with my brother on the topic of my sexuality.  My grandfather still doesn't know how to reconcile that with his religion intellectually.  But I know he told my brother that I would find a place in heaven nonetheless, and that I bear charity in my heart toward the Divine and neighbor.  I suppose what I mean to convey by this, is that no matter how misguided fundamentalist religion may seem, these are still people, and people are complicated creatures.  Their religion may not make much room for nuance, and yet you'll still find that many people do have nuance when it comes to someone they really love.

The strangers you can probably just brush off, but this is my advice concerning your family and friends.  Just be who you are.  Show them understanding and kindness, and don't forget to include yourself in that.  That is the way forward.
My personal moral code:

Love wisely, and do what thou wilt.

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Re: Moving back to the Bible Belt's Bible Belt.
« Reply #3 on: June 14, 2019, 04:03:09 pm »
Any advice?

I don't have a great deal of advice for you I'm afraid - the situation sounds like one which would stifle me to an incredible degree, but also one which I'm lucky enough I'm never likely to have to face.

But one phrase you used caught my attention:

I know that this is how they show their own love

I don't exactly know how you'd finish the sentence :-\, but that phrase seemed like it could make a useful beginning...
"If I get on, Susan thought, it'll all start again.  I'll be out of the light and into the world beyond this one.  I'll fall off the tightrope.
But a voice inside her said, You want to, though...don't you...?
Ten seconds later, there was only the snow."
(Terry Pratchett's Hogfather)

Beloved

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Re: Moving back to the Bible Belt's Bible Belt.
« Reply #4 on: June 14, 2019, 06:00:34 pm »
When they try to get you to go to church tell them you would rather watch on TV at home? You are still trying to decide which denomination you want to attend? You have found that doing your own study and reading has had a much more profound effect on you?

I've actually used all three of these. So far, they just keep pushing. I think they genuinely believe that if I would just visit their churches I would fall in love. In this community, even exploring other denominations is considered dangerous believe it or not. I've tested the waters by mentioning to a few that I had visited some more liberal denominations and all it did was make them push harder to get me in a "real church!"

Beloved

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Re: Moving back to the Bible Belt's Bible Belt.
« Reply #5 on: June 14, 2019, 06:04:08 pm »
The strangers you can probably just brush off, but this is my advice concerning your family and friends.  Just be who you are.  Show them understanding and kindness, and don't forget to include yourself in that.  That is the way forward.

I hope you are right that they will all end up having more nuance than it seems at this point. I am trying hard to show them that while I'm obviously not a part of church ministry like I used to be, I am still a good person. Sometimes I feel like there is so much pressure to be perfect because I don't want to be a bad poster child for someone outside the fold! But maybe that is where kindness to myself comes in too.

Beloved

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Re: Moving back to the Bible Belt's Bible Belt.
« Reply #6 on: June 14, 2019, 06:04:56 pm »
I don't have a great deal of advice for you I'm afraid - the situation sounds like one which would stifle me to an incredible degree, but also one which I'm lucky enough I'm never likely to have to face.

But one phrase you used caught my attention:

I don't exactly know how you'd finish the sentence :-\, but that phrase seemed like it could make a useful beginning...

This is a good point.

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Re: Moving back to the Bible Belt's Bible Belt.
« Reply #7 on: June 14, 2019, 06:30:35 pm »
I've actually used all three of these. So far, they just keep pushing. I think they genuinely believe that if I would just visit their churches I would fall in love. In this community, even exploring other denominations is considered dangerous believe it or not. I've tested the waters by mentioning to a few that I had visited some more liberal denominations and all it did was make them push harder to get me in a "real church!"

At that point, you could just say something like, "I'm happy with my current religious path, thanks." (or "relationship with God," or whatever the local parlance is).

Klaw

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Re: Moving back to the Bible Belt's Bible Belt.
« Reply #8 on: June 14, 2019, 08:26:34 pm »
I've actually used all three of these. So far, they just keep pushing. I think they genuinely believe that if I would just visit their churches I would fall in love.

What if in addition to the kindness you also do some volunteer work outside of the church. Something they can't have a issue with. Tell them that you can't just go to someone's church because it would upset other friends who want you to go with them. That you care so much about everyone's feeling you can't hurt them.

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Re: Moving back to the Bible Belt's Bible Belt.
« Reply #9 on: June 15, 2019, 06:38:05 am »



I am in no way ready to turn my back on my Christian faith forever, but any future in Christianity for me certainly won't look anything like it does in this area of the world. I also admit the possibility that paganism in general is a better fit for me, and my future path may not include Christianity at all. I simply don't know where this is going to end up for me.

[...]

Any advice?

As someone who does identify as a fundamental Christian, albeit with some "oddities"...have you ever considered turning directly to the Christian God in prayer and being direct and up front with the difficulties which you currently feel? My experience is that, yes, it may take several years to receive a truly satisfactory answer...but honest and direct questions posed in a respectful manner will, eventually, receive an honest and direct answer. And, in the meantime, you can truthfully tell your friends and family, "I'm praying about it!"

Sent from my STV100-1 using Tapatalk

--------Eric H. Bowen
Where's the KABOOM? There was supposed to have been an Earth-shattering KABOOM!

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Re: Moving back to the Bible Belt's Bible Belt.
« Reply #10 on: June 15, 2019, 03:36:23 pm »
These are all people I care about, and I know that this is how they show their own love, as misguided as it may be. I do not want to hurt any feelings, burn any bridges, or make anyone unduly worried about me. But I need a way to handle all of this without feeling dishonest. I don't want to pretend to be something I'm not. But I am not at all comfortable being honest at this point either. Frankly, I'm concerned about what people might start praying over me if they knew! It is not unheard of for people down here to pray for disasters to happen in order to "bring people back to the fold." I don't want that energy directed toward me or my family. 

Any advice?
I'm from South Mississippi, and I can definitely relate. I got into Paganism/atheism/etc. while I was away at a college in Alaska. After four years, I faced a grim prospect of returning and not being able to relate to any of my old friends. After all, many of my friends were people I had met in church, and it seemed like religion was the thing we bonded over. I also had to contend with my parents (bless their hearts), whom I knew would not understand.

I cannot give you advice, or anything like a blanket solution. Much depends on the individual. One of the lessons I've learned from Taoist philosophy is that you should teach people as much as they are willing to learn, and try not to overdo it or throw yourself into the crossfire of people unwilling to listen.

When I moved back to Mississippi, I did not reach out to several of my old friends. Without Christianity, I didn't think we had enough common ground to reconnect, and I didn't want to deal with them praying for my soul as soon as my back was turned. I tried not to personally diss anyone, but I maintained some secrecy and let certain friends think I was still in Alaska. At the same time, I started sharing with friends who were skeptical and had been burned by the church (although they still identified as Christians). Some of those friendships have gotten much stronger. Finally, I have a few friends whom I see so seldom that I never discuss religion with them; they don't need to know my views for us to have a good time occasionally.

As for my parents... I wrote them a letter while I was in Alaska, explaining my change of heart. They didn't take it very well. Later, when I was back home, they would occasionally blow up over things like the Ganesha statue on my dresser or the fact that I celebrate Winter Solstice. I wrote a book thoroughly debunking Christianity, and I have kept it totally secret from my parents. Hopefully they'll be able to handle it someday, but they're not ready now. On the phone last week, my mom almost had a panic attack because I connected something in my personality to my Zodiac sign. But little by little through these interactions, they do become every so slightly more open-minded.

About people praying for disasters to befall you, I would say don't watch the skies--watch your back. Jehovah doesn't have that kind of power, but Christian extremism is a serious, often ignored reality. I don't know if you're involved enough in Paganism to try protective spells, but investing in a genuine talisman or something is not a bad idea. I wear the Norse "Helm of Terror" carved on a piece of shungite.

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Re: Moving back to the Bible Belt's Bible Belt.
« Reply #11 on: June 15, 2019, 03:59:45 pm »
At that point, you could just say something like, "I'm happy with my current religious path, thanks." (or "relationship with God," or whatever the local parlance is).

I need to write this answer on my hand to remind myself that it alone should be enough!

Beloved

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Re: Moving back to the Bible Belt's Bible Belt.
« Reply #12 on: June 15, 2019, 04:04:13 pm »

As someone who does identify as a fundamental Christian, albeit with some "oddities"...have you ever considered turning directly to the Christian God in prayer and being direct and up front with the difficulties which you currently feel? My experience is that, yes, it may take several years to receive a truly satisfactory answer...but honest and direct questions posed in a respectful manner will, eventually, receive an honest and direct answer. And, in the meantime, you can truthfully tell your friends and family, "I'm praying about it!"

Sent from my STV100-1 using Tapatalk

I have, actually. I prayed to the Christian God for 7 years straight about my crisis of faith, always asking to be granted wisdom, to find truth, and to be protected from deception. The more I prayed and studied, the more my faith in Christianity fell apart. However, you are right that I can truthfully tell my friends and family that I am praying about it, and that is probably the best way to handle this! They don't need to know that I don't currently address my prayers the way I used to.

Beloved

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Re: Moving back to the Bible Belt's Bible Belt.
« Reply #13 on: June 15, 2019, 04:06:53 pm »
About people praying for disasters to befall you, I would say don't watch the skies--watch your back. Jehovah doesn't have that kind of power, but Christian extremism is a serious, often ignored reality. I don't know if you're involved enough in Paganism to try protective spells, but investing in a genuine talisman or something is not a bad idea. I wear the Norse "Helm of Terror" carved on a piece of shungite.

This is something I need to put some thought into for sure.

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Re: Moving back to the Bible Belt's Bible Belt.
« Reply #14 on: June 15, 2019, 04:15:59 pm »
These are all people I care about, and I know that this is how they show their own love, as misguided as it may be. I do not want to hurt any feelings, burn any bridges, or make anyone unduly worried about me. But I need a way to handle all of this without feeling dishonest. I don't want to pretend to be something I'm not. But I am not at all comfortable being honest at this point either. Frankly, I'm concerned about what people might start praying over me if they knew! It is not unheard of for people down here to pray for disasters to happen in order to "bring people back to the fold." I don't want that energy directed toward me or my family. 

First, I think that it will (in many cases) slow down a bit once you've been there a while: when you're new in town, and that's where the big social stuff happens, I think it's a lot more common for people to keep offering, extensively, if they want to be kind and welcoming, because that's a big part of their life, and they want to be welcoming about it. (If one is assuming they're generally kind people showing love the way they know how, which I agree is probably a good start unless you have reason to think otherwise.)

If you're comfortable participating in volunteer projects that help people (in some modestly visible form: I mean the stuff where you show up an do things with other people), that can also be a big help in underlining that you are a person who has similar values about helping others,

Second, I bet there are other people in your community in some of the same situations (maybe not quite yours, but people who are not Christian or people who moved from out of town and whose religious practices, even if they're Christian, are different.) You might keep an eye out for other kinds of social events where you could maybe meet people whose lives don't revolve around church activities. (Plus, if you have other things on your calendar, it is a lot easier to say "Oh, thanks for thinking of me, but I've got plans on Sunday already...")

The comment "Oh, thank you so much for thinking of me. I'm happy with what I'm doing now for my religious needs, but if I ever want to check out your church, I'll be sure to let you know. You're so kind!" and then changing the subject can also go a long way. It's saying you're fine, acknowledging that they care a lot about their church (and sharing their church) and you've heard that. Sometimes that "Yes, heard you!" moment goes a long way to improving things and letting you get on with other topics.

There is a book you might find useful - it's been out for a few years, so some of the specifics may need adapting, but Bronwen Forbes' The Small-Town Pagan's Survival Guide isn't specific to dealing with the Christianity part, but does have some good ideas about navigating conversations in small town settings.

I'm also going to recommend theCaptain Awkward blog for scripts for diverting conversations in new directions once someone has been pushy about a thing and you just need them to move on. (There are many many posts there: try the search bar for "church" and "Christian" and so on, and the boundaries tag has useful things you can apply.)
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