Mercedes Allen

How Radical Christianity Destroyed My Traditional Family

Filed By Mercedes Allen | May 20, 2011 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: Christian beliefs, end times politics, fundamentalism, rapture, religion

I'll be live-tweeting the #rapture this Saturday. Or for part of the day, at least. We'll also have a house to clean, because hey, life goes on.

I do want to make clear, though, that I'm not mocking all Christians or all people of faith. I respect the person of Jesus as the ultimate altruist (and socialist, no matter how much corporate conservatives might try to turn a message of compassion and being community-conscious into "let them pay their own goddamned way"), and respect affirming and mutually-respectful people of faith who honor that one top commandment, to love one another.

What I'm mocking is a kind of elitism that takes on the air of the ultimate revenge fantasy, when the elite chosen relish the thought of cheering on their ascent into bliss and our descent into damnation. The kind of elitism that destroyed my traditional family.

Jesus first left my mom standing at the altar in 1976. Morris Cerullo had passed through Edmonton with his euphoric faith-healing traveling show. My mother and I switched from Catholicism to radical Pentecostalism that day (my dad remained Catholic), and yup, that was supposed to be the year. It was the "Spirit of '76" - an evangelist branding campaign which capitalized on the anniversary of US independence, which was somehow significant to Canadians, and also supposedly tied to the date of the rapture. Jimmy Carter was supposed to be the antichrist, and his ascent to the presidency only reaffirmed to mom that the end was near.

It always boggles my mind about how the far right talks about "traditional families" as though nothing can go wrong. I had that traditional mother and a father, my dad was the classic stoic tough guy, faith was a rigid structure in our family, nobody spared the rod, and I still turned out different. The "empty vessel" theory of childhood development failed. But at least I figured out from the earliest moments of childhood that I couldn't let on that I felt I was supposed to be a girl - I hid it well and kept telling myself that I was obviously the one in the wrong.

By 1977, it was strangely out of vogue to put a date on Jesus' return, and there was a lot of "no man knoweth the hour" to carry us through the embarrassment of being wrong about the second coming of Christ. Star Wars came out and although she hadn't realized the need to protect me from it, soon enough to keep me from seeing the movie during the first couple weeks of its release, it became clear to her that Star Wars was demonic and that all the toys were demon-possessed and couldn't be in our home. Darth Vader was supposed to be the antichrist, and the success of the movie only reaffirmed to mom that the end was near. That little puke Johnny Rotten was just an impostor.

Meanwhile, the Ex-Gay Jesus-Fix-It Perpetual Emotion Machine started into motion, 24/7, for a decade and a half. What a way to mindfuck an 8-year-old kid. If growing up trans has its risks of post-traumatic stress, this was that much worse:

Damndamndamndamndamn. It's a good thing you'll have homework this evening to try to get this calculus stuff, because you totally can't think right now. In the washroom stall, you're beating yourself on the head with your fists. Damndamndamndamndamn. "I'm the worst in the world. I'm the worst in the world." It's not some tongue-in-cheek Keith Olbermann schtick, it's the mantra of an eleven-year-old boy. Or girl.

Damndamndamndamndamn. You've never figured that part out, so you assume that what everyone tells you must be correct. All your instincts are wrong. It's a character flaw. You're wicked. You pray that God will deliver you from it. No, you beg God to deliver you from it....

1980 was the next projected date, as mom immersed herself in Hal Lindsey's The Late, Great Planet Earth and writings that evolved from that. There was a 1978 prediction of some sort involving a nuclear disaster that was supposed to precipitate a war, but it never materialized. The Ayatollah Khomeini was supposed to be the antichrist, and the Iranian hostage crisis only reaffirmed to mom that the end was near.

Mom started to think that the reason that Jesus never seemed to show up for his dates had to do with the fact that people weren't good enough. She had always been a bit obsessive-compulsive - something I ended up inheriting or learning (I'm not sure which) - and so she slipped into critical and blaming stages, pick-pick-picking at everyone around her. This wasn't right. That wasn't good enough. Mom developed some mantras designed to erode the confidence of everyone around her, all with the idea that if we could be more perfect than perfect and still feel no sense of pride about who we were and no sense of accomplishment about anything we'd done, then maybe then, Jesus would keep the next date.

Pat Robertson was on a roll leading up to 1982. He predicted a November cataclysm, and that "there will be earthquakes in diverse places" - which, of course, was true as always. Suddenly, we started taking more notice when there was a tsunami or an earthquake or a volcanic eruption, because suddenly there was some kind of personal connection. Anwar Sadat was supposed to be the antichrist, and his assassination only reaffirmed to mom that the end was near (something to do with the "deadly wound that was healed" scripture in Revelations).

In some ways, I realize I'm being unfair to my mom. But I'm communicating the way it felt at the time. The environment had become erosive; destructive. Mom tried to compensate for the fact that I started to stray from becoming the preacher she hoped I would become; to compensate for dad's Catholicism; to compensate for everything she felt she did wrong when trying to raise my sister and I. I left home, and although I still loved my family, I was bitter.

Edgar Whisenant came up with 88 reasons why the rapture would be in 1988. Then, 89 reasons why it would be in 1989. Then it was 1992. Billy Graham was supposed to be the antichrist, and the fact that he had turned soft on some issue that the preachers mom listened to didn't appreciate only reaffirmed to mom that the end was near.

Through it all, mom was at least consistent. If her tone was endlessly critical and destructive toward my sister, my dad, and myself, it was doubly so when she turned it on herself. Mom had become bitter, distrustful of everything but what her scaremongering faith leaders told her, broken, world-weary, and impoverished for the benefit of a god who would stand her up at the altar again and again. She blamed herself for what she saw as my failings. She heard abundant life teachings and came to believe that the reason she hadn't been abundantly rewarded by Jesus was because she was unworthy. The reasons aren't relevant, but she and my dad were not a good fit for each other - she blamed herself for not being able to make a bad marriage work, for wanting to leave.

Though not a sole cause, radicalized religion destroyed my traditional family.

1993 was a big year for countdowns, because the belief by then was that there would be a seven-year tribulation period culminating in the battle of Armageddon and the destruction of the world by nuclear firepower in the year 2000. Jesus was planning on rapturing away the faithful seven years prior, so 1993 was the year. Mom begged me to "get right with god," because it was almost here. Bill Clinton was supposed to be the antichrist, and his ascent to the presidency only reaffirmed to mom that the end was near.

By then, I'd attained some distance from my family, some arm's length, and began to heal. And healing is definitely the word for the years of rebuilding that followed.

By 1994, the tribulation belief remained, but the date of the rapture was reassessed. Maybe it's supposed to happen halfway through, so midway into 1996. Prince was supposed to be the antichrist, and the fact that his song 1999 was becoming popular again only reaffirmed to mom that the end was near.

It would take me several years more to finally feel secure enough to stop suffocating, to come out, and to live the life I needed to live. When I finally did, I never looked back.

1995 meant that the whole tribulation thing needed to be rethought. At that point, the Left Behind novels started coming out, part of a now-popular tradition of televangelists to release books and made-for-TV VHS dramatizations. Mom gave me a copy of one by Jack Van Impe. The fact that Bill Clinton was still the President only reaffirmed to mom that the end was near.

Ultimately, my parents (especially my deeply religious mother) weren't able to accept what was happening, and it became obvious when years had passed and their pain from and rejection of my transition had only intensified -- how the person I was "becoming" (in their eyes) was just so objectionable to them that it simply became the merciful thing to let them mourn and be done with it than to tormenting them by trying to be a part of their lives.

My mother would talk about how dad breaks into tears when he thinks about me, how my sister is petrified of the thought of ever having to tell the kids, how her heart breaks every time she sees me or worries what the neighbours would think if I came to visit.... They weren't going to change and I couldn't reshape my life just for their benefit, so this was the one thing I could give them which would provide any sense of closure from which they could move on, and heal.

If she's still alive on Saturday, Jesus will again leave mom at the altar. And I'll be live-tweeting it, because in the face of the evidence, humour is the best catharsis. But I'm sure it won't shake her faith. Barack Obama is still the president.

Crossposted to DentedBlueMercedes, img flickr

Recent Entries Filed under Living:

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

Don't question God? That's entirely Christians' prerogative.

But they absolutely need to question the people speaking for him / her.

I remember watching Jack Van Impe Presents as a kid. It would always come on tv after Saturday Night Live.

I was fascinated by it. How they could thread current events to prove that the end times were upon us. Every week, the end is near- and every week the end wouldn't come.

And his wife's giant hair. That was mesmerizing.

On Saturday at 6pm- I'll try to be outside. With the dog and the cat. Cause I'm not leaving without them. And hopefully AT&T's reception in heaven will be better than on Earth and I'll give my friends on the west coast a heads up to repent.

And let them know how the buffet is...

Ah yes, the giant hair. That was an '80s holdout.

I remember how all the girls would puff their hair up in the front, but failed to sculpt anything else. From the side, it would look like they had one of those wind deflectors that they put on the top of semi trucks to make them more aerodynamic.

Renee Thomas | May 20, 2011 10:21 AM

Brilliant, simply brilliant . . . and sad and melancholic too. While there is much concerning faith in a creator to commend it, there is so much more to learn of love, social justice and grace from the words and actions of Jesus.

So while their bags are packed in rapt anticipation of the Rapture™ the faithful could do well to consider this Rabbinic Midrash before they close the front door behind them:

There was a man who was planting an olive tree above his village at the Eastern shore of Ha Kinneret (the Hebrew word for the Sea of Galilee). As he was midway into his task his friend was heard running up the path toward him and shouting excitedly, “The Messiah has come, The Messiah as come!! Hurry, you must come and greet The Messiah!!” The man quieted his friend with a gentle gesture of his hand. Unwilling to reproach him for his demonstration of faith and hope he said simply; “first I must finish planting the tree, then I’ll come with you to greet the Messiah.”

For all the days of your lives yet to live, be blessed with love and friendship and know that there are vastly more than ten righteous yet in the world.

Thanks for writing this. It's a great read.

"Billy Graham was supposed to be the antichrist...."

Well, his son is pretty damn evil.

The fact that absolutely no one on Wall Street has been made to answer for the December 2008 financial crunch, and the fact that the same CEO's, bank officers and stockbrokers are back again already raking in their mega-millions again, while the lowly American worker continues to worry month after month about losing the house, and the fact that the five top oil companies get to keep their tax exclusions even though they are making $25 billion every three months, and the George Bush tax cuts for the rich got extended another two years, and Michelle Bachman might end up as the GOP frontrunner in 2012, only re-affirms to me that this time the end REALLY is really, really near.

Thanks for writing this, Mercedes -- as Renee said, it's brilliant.

Ah Wall Streeters. It's enough to make one wish that there was a tribulation after all.

By the way, if anyone spots any piles of clothing #LeftBehind, I'll be happy to retweet your photos with credit. :)

You mean, we have to Rapture naked?

I wonder if God could put it off for 6 months. I'm not really naked rapture ready right now.

"Have to"? My dear, I think you are mistaken. "Get to" is more like it. ;)

At first, I was hoping that on Saturday I'd see lots of Mormom boys running around in jock straps ... but then I realized they were talking about a Rapture, not a rupture.

What a story. People need to be reminded just how often this goes on just to see how it ends up affecting politics for people outside the small group who believes the world will end.

Your disclaimer at the beginning really shows how far you let yourself be bullied by religionists. Though it's not just you. All of society falls victim to that.

It's perfectly fine to criticize religion. Religion, and Christianity in particular, has done nothing that deserves respect. They don't respect anyone else, all the way thinking they ought to be respected ONLY because they believe in unproven and unprovable ideas. That's just asking for special consideration. And people fall for it.

No, it just means that I'm willing to respect those who respect others regardless of their faith.

So way go out of your way to say it? There was no need to write two whole paragraphs about it. A sentence at most would have sufficed.

It just seems like you afraid that Christians will see it as an attack on them. Which is not an unreasonable assumption given their persecution complex, but still no reason to give in to them.

Aubrey Haltom | May 20, 2011 12:54 PM

I have a (half-)sister (father's previous marriage) who is now a fundamental charismatic/pentecostal christian. Though I don't think she's on board with this 5/21 'trip', she is definitely a believer in the rapture, etc...
But I have mixed feelings re: her religious beliefs. Sis is one of the most fragile people I know- in ways both good and bad for her emotional/mental/spiritual well-being. Her conversion and subsequent faith have provided a grounding that is hard to deny. i.e., it's kept her off a more immediately self-destructive path.
And yet we've now grown distant, because the divide (on her side) is too hard to cross.
I get the sense, Mercedes, that the relationship with your mom has some of this component to it. It hurts to not be able to communicate with my sister, but I'm glad she's alive, and finding a way to function in this life.
I have struggled with how I can talk to someone who not only uses a different language to describe the world, but one who sees the world in such a radically different way than I do. And who can't help but see me as somehow 'bad'.
It is true that much of this type of faith is fueled and stoked by people of questionable motives (the van Impe types, Pat Robertson, etc...). Money and power become too intimately tied up with whatever faith actually exists.
But the issue isn't the charlatans and demagoues she follows. It's her decision to believe these things. But that decision has kept her alive. And kept me out of her life.
Sometimes what seems so obvious ('how incredibly mindless this type of faith can be!') has more to it than meets the eye...

That's exactly it. She creates her own hell. And probably, if I said anything to her now about this, she'd only take this as self-blame, when it's more about the B.S. fed from the pulpit, and the reverence accorded to preachers.

But she did suffer from it -- 24/7 and then some. And then she worked that much harder to save everyone else... as though that was her responsibility.

Oh baby this was precious. Not that you had to live through it all, but the way you managed to put it all together. There is a flow, and brilliance to the way you write. Plus I've seen it time and again before with other people.

The sad thing is those who suffer from profound and disabling mental illness have an endless number of reasons for the crazy things they do. For my Dad it wasn't Jesus, it was just that he was that profoundly damaged. Mind you he designed and built much of the guidance equipment for the missions to the moon, holds a number of patents, and told them years before they started cutting the glass for the Hubble that it wasn't going to work and they'd have to fix it. Told them by building a quarter scale model of the damn thing in our back yard to prove it wasn't going to work, and then fixed it to prove he could.

While it's generally accepted that "the meek shall inherit the earth" I've always wondered how much was going to be left for us to inherit. What with the pathologically insane people ruining it all first. We Luv are the red headed step children of our own lives. Not because we're red heads, or steps, or even at this point children, because clearly we are not. We are however because someone else decided we were and that as they say is that.

My father didn't want me at all. He made that endlessly clear. Because I wasn't wanted (talk about healing, I've had to heal from that) it didn't matter what he did to me or why. He was justified because I wasn't supposed to be there at all, and that was all the justification he needed. Like the Right wing meme that the poor are lazy, or you and I are defective, it doesn't have to make sense to anyone but them.

My Dad was no different. He'd fight for everyone and anyones right to be different all they wanted. Thought discrimination of any kind was horrible and should be illegal. He was "progressive" and "liberal" and believed in people and hated "the Man" and would fight and if need be die in defense of his beliefs in freedom and democracy. He believed a better world was possible, where love, freedom and rights were available to everyone. Except me.

Admittedly I screwed up by coming out at FIVE. By having intersex issues that meant his broken little freak of a child that he didn't want anyway wasn't "normal" and needed medical care. While he railed against "The Man" and preached tolerance, freedom, and love for a better world, every year he sent me to a new head doctor because I was so damaged.

Like I say, doesn't matter what it was, or why, your Mom was, like my Dad, profoundly damaged. Nothing we could have done would have made a difference. You could have been a perfect little boy child, grew up to become a perfect preacher, had a family, served God, whatever, and you still would have been wrong in her eyes.

God knows I tried everything with my father, did all the things he said I'd never be good enough to do, killed myself working hard to finally have him just hold me and tell me he loved me. I marched like a good little soldier into the cross hairs of every bit of idiocy and madness he pushed on me. Proving time and again he was wrong. Not to prove him wrong, but so that he'd not have to worry of abuse me anymore.

He's long since dead. And his oldest daughter finally knows it was NEVER about her. Not really. She was just a target of opportunity. I was just a target of opportunity. I gave up half my life to try and make him happy in one way or another and gain his love. I even married a man just like him to try and gain his love.

They are both now long since dead and I'm a young widow. So NOT what I imagined when I was 8 years old and dreaming about getting married.

Wow what a beautifully heartbreaking piece. Thanks for this.

Exceptionally well-written, and insightful! Thanks for sharing that with us: Much appreciated.