Guest post by Ian
Growing up in Fundamentalist churches, I knew that divorce was a wicked thing, and could never be forgotten or erased — unlike something such as murder. The reason was because divorce was a state in which one was continually living. Murder was a one-time act. Adultery could have an end. Even a child out of wedlock was the error of a few minutes. Once those acts were over, it was done, forgiven, time to move on. Divorce was something that couldn’t be undone, and it was never over.
Enter the poor kid whose dad had been divorced. Twice. That was me.
Sermon after sermon, I heard pastors preach against divorce. I heard how divorce kept you from pastoring a church; how divorce marked you as a second-class Christian; how God couldn’t fully use you because of this permanent stain on your life. I cringed when this subject would come up. My dad, who was a faithful Christian, would swallow that shit and agree with it. It must have hurt him horribly, but he accepted this as Biblical truth. It didn’t matter why he had been divorced, he just had. End of story.
I went to a Christian school for several years that helped reinforce this shame. My biological mother lived in the same city, and I would visit her every other weekend. When people would ask what I did on the weekends I visited her, I would say I went to a friend’s house. I couldn’t face the shame of having divorced parents.
When I got kicked out of the Christian school and attended a public school, I still had that shame. My biological mom wanted to take me on a school-sponsored ski trip, so she filled out the paperwork so I could go. When school officials saw her address, they told me I was in the wrong school zone. Instead of telling them the truth, I made up a BS story about how she worked in a different city, and that’s why she had the post office box listed as her address.
I don’t blame my dad for his divorces. They happened, and there’s nothing that can change that. Whatever the reasons for the divorces — right or wrong — I was collateral damage. In the 70s and 80s, Evangelical churches were so much different from what they are today on the matter of divorce. They still clung to the belief that divorce caused irreparable harm and that divorcees were second-class citizens. It wasn’t fair, nor was it right.
Those “loving” churches made a little boy feel shame over his dad’s past actions, and shame for having two moms; shame over something I didn’t do or have any control over. Is it any wonder that I left Christianity behind?
Wow. Brilliant summary of the damage evangelicalism and xianity brings….my heart bleeds for you.
My parents divorced when I was 10yo. They weren’t xians. I became a Xian a few years later. Then became rabid Calvinist. I married under a Fundy Calvinistic Presbyterian regime when I was 19yo. Was totally grounded in biblical literacy.
Now at 61yo… Divorced. Have given up the ‘faith’ in my late fifties…. I feel for my adult children. Xianity has a lot to answer for.???
Ian, you are correct, fundamentalist evangelical churches in the 70s and 80s weren’t kind to the divorced. My mom was twice divorced too. Her 1st was to a guy she dropped out of college to marry, ending in divorce a year later. Then she married my father who was verbally and emotionally abusive and who cheated on her. She left him and moved us in with her parents in 1975 when I was 5. Lonely and depressed, she tried making friends at the Southern Baptist church, but most women were standoffish, afraid the divorced woman would try to take their man. Thanks to the high standing of my grandparents in the church she wasn’t thrown our or overtly shunned. She married again in 1981 which gave her and her divorced husband some semblance of respectability. The pastor wouldn’t marry them in front of the altar – it was to the side because of their divorces. My stepdad was never considered for deacon position. Heck, a great guy who had married a divorcee wasn’t allowed to become a deacon either.
At my Christian school, I think there were only 2 of us from divorced families. Other than being embarrassed that my mom and I had different surnames I tried not to let it bother me much. I told her she didn’t have to go to parent teacher nights. She didn’t want to go anyway so it worked out. I stayed away from father-daughter events too and pretended it didn’t bother me. I coukd have taken my grandfather but didn’t. I just focused on getting stellar grades – I saw education as my way out of fundamentalism and out of a small town where everyone knew my back story. My mom was pretty traumatised by her divorced. She told my brother and me she hoped to never live to see either of us get divorced.
Thanks for sharing that experience, Ian. One thing the church does very well is fulfill its design to harm us. We are evil creatures born of lust and depravity. The church knows and helps us to punish ourselves and one another. When God put his son on the Cross, he was displaying how utterly depraved we people are…. Guilt is victory! Feel the pain and attend church regularly (with your wallet in hand.)
Divorce is such a horror to kids and all of them adopt authorship for the harm done between their caregivers. I am very sorry you had your misery compounded by church. Your writing has reminded me of how much shame-and -blame still goes on for Jesus’ sake.
(Ha! Just recalled how as a sexton working for the Anglican church, the priest had a church warden speak to me about having my then girlfriend, later my wife, as an overnight guest. At the same time the priest was getting his kicks in the church office with a young teen boy from a troubled past. Guess who got away with it, so to speak? I left the employ of the church and the priest carried on abusing the teen for too long before it became public knowledge. I went quietly by the way and was not able to ‘out’ the bastard, just run away with shame and guilt chasing me.)
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