My name is Cassandra and I am a recovering fundamentalist. I have been free from my former IFB group for two months, two weeks and three days.
You may be thinking, “I think she is on the wrong site” or “Get real. Recovering fundamentalist ?” because this probably sounds more like something you’d hear at a group therapy session for individuals suffering from a more serious form of addiction, not from a former “church” member. Sadly, I must admit that while I used to be a part of an IFB group, I was also a religious addict. While there may not be any yellow page listings for clinics or groups available to help individuals such as my self, religious addiction is a very serious matter. And it wasn’t until my departure that I was able to self-diagnose and begin down the road of recovery. Let me first start by saying that I have no personal vendetta against my former group which is why names will not be mentioned. Nor do I think that all IFB groups are evil or on a secret mission to corrupt mankind (or dehumanize womankind for that matter). What I do know is that what I experienced in my former IFB group has shown me the devastating effects of an authoritarian system when one individual has control, completely and unchecked. While this type of control is not isolated to IFB groups, the potential is greater for a totalitarian system to emerge due to some of the main facets and doctrines that govern most IFB groups. Nine years of experiences can in no way be condensed in a few short paragraphs. So what I offer is IFB life: the abridged version. Think for a moment 1611 KJV in pocket sized Cliff’s Notes form. Exactly.
The story begins over nine years ago, before the wedding and before the four kiddies. No regrets there. My then boyfriend and I joined the group with the hopes of finding a place where we could grow spiritually together and receive sound doctrine that would equip us to raise the family we desired to start. We were married shortly after joining the group, our family began to grow and all of our children except our oldest was practically transported from the hospital right to the church nursery. Faithfully we served in our group Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday evenings and any other day that the “doors of the church were open.” Little time was made for non-group activities. All of our “friendships” were isolated to those we met in the group. Any “free time” meant any moment we could find that didn’t involve a group activity. Sometimes we were rebellious enough to, shhh, take a vacation. Through sickness and health, good weather or bad weather, gas in the tank or riding on “E” we made the trek to be involved in every service time possible. Month after month, year after year we continued believing somehow that we were “giving our best to God” not realizing at the time we were slowly, dangerously becoming addicted to religion.
It’s easy to be convinced that your actions are noble, even righteous when a charismatic leader can quote scripture after scripture, give you the Greek and Hebrew definition of each word thereby providing a “biblical defense” for the ritualism know as Christian service. Most of the time the actions that we took and commitments we made to Christian service were really an inward sense of dread wondering what others, mainly our leader would think if we were not present and actively participating. This inner turmoil would only arise at the thought of what would happen if, God forbid, we didn’t show up. It was not until I began to be involved in a prominent leadership position that the addictive ways reached a pinnacle. Somehow the very same religious activities that were supposed to bring joy knowing that it was “for God” were the things that were draining me spiritually and placing a strain on my family. As with most addictions, there is a justification as to why that thing is essential to your everyday life. For me, the rigorous forms of religion were no different. Convinced that God was pleased by all of my efforts, I labored tirelessly through physical, mental and spiritual fatigue. One man’s ideologies, philosophies, mandates and desires had become the basis of my religious life for over nine years. As a staff member if the CEO-Pastor was happy, everything was great. But in any performance-based organization there is always a push and continued striving to a false, idyllic sense of perfection where good can always be greater and great can always be best. It was never enough.
The Breaking Point
Over the last few years of being with the group, there were many times I wanted to run away. I had begun to feel that my individuality was somehow being shaped by the dynamics of the group. I have always considered myself outgoing and a very critical thinker, but the ability to analyze and question things that took place in the group had been diminished because of this unnatural allegiance that had been given to one man. As mentioned previously, not all IFB groups are the same, however, when there is a leader that is already controlling by nature, the IFB is the perfect place for a controlling leader to set up shop and rule his people. Time went on and many situations arose that caused great concern for my husband and I. We now realize that we broke the cardinal rule of questioning the leadership. As long as we were going along with the program and blindly following our leader without question everything was fine. While our emotional breaking points had occurred several times prior to our departure, we finally were able to gather the courage to say it was our time to move on and break away from the group. No matter how much we did to make sure that we left in an amicable way, at that moment were branded by our leader as outsiders and defectors.
Freedom in Christ
Since my family has been away from our former group we have experienced a freedom in Christ that is not constrained by the legalism and religiously addictive ways of our former group. We have learned to truly experience the grace and love of God that comes whether we are hitting on all cylinders spiritually or failing miserably in our spiritual walk. I would like to say that after we left our group that everyone still embraced us and we maintained the same relationships. Sadly we were cut off, almost instantly by the same people that we had worshiped with, prayed with, cried with, laughed with and loved for over nine years. I have had days of complete elation at the thought that we are no longer there yet moments later I feel a rage rising up within me at the thought of how we were treated. Our family has grown stronger because we HAD to stand together. Our faith has grown because we have learned to know God for ourselves and not the God that is manufactured around one person’s ideologies and faulty doctrine. We have been able to experience the joy of truly serving God out of desire and not out of compulsion. I’m glad that God opened our eyes before we became the casualties of an authoritarian religious system and I’m glad that God’s grace lifted me from sinking into spiritual despair.
I am not an independent, I am not a fundamentalist, and I am not a baptist. My name is Cassandra and I am a Christian.