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My Story: Sharon G.




I was born into an IFB pastor's home in the mid-1950s. My father was one of many who left Southern Baptist seminaries due to their "liberal teachings" and started their own version of Baptist churches. Church dominated our lives along with very strict rules: only dresses for females, no playing cards, going to movies, smoking, alcohol, swearing, dancing, secular music, or sex before marriage. There was conservative politics woven throughout. This was the height of the "red scare" from Russia, the hippies, and the Viet Nam war.


My world as a white child in the deep south was a very racist and patriarchal environment. It held females back from realizing their gifts and agency. It was full blown purity culture before that phrase existed. In the few years before I was put in Christian school, my father would go to our public elementary school's principal to complain about the teaching of evolution as well as square dancing being taught and saying I was only allowed to run the record player and could not dance. As a teen, I rebelled, sneaking out on weekends to hang out with other "Christian rebels". One summer I ran away with two teen boys from Christian school, but we were found two weeks later. I was expelled, so finished high school from home, then was sent to a small Christian college out of state. It was not quite as strict as home, and it felt good to be out from under my parents glare. I graduated and got married. He got two grad degrees and ended up on staff at that same college. I worked some part-time while having three children. When the last one went to college, he left our marriage, admitting to an affair started shortly after he resigned and started a new job in a secular institution.


Our fundy church of 1,500 people, where we raised our kids and had been very active and invested, dropped us like a hot potato as the dreaded "D" word (divorce) loomed. It was devastating and moments of cognitive dissonance about the IFB world that I felt over my lifetime, mushroomed and only continued to grow. I ended up in a very accepting PC(USA) church, then a PCA church. Being on my own was very difficult as I had been conditioned to rely on a man to "take care of me" so was not given tools that supported my agency and survival, nor was it on my radar to seek counseling since I was raised hearing that all of life's answers were found in the KJV Bible. After being single for five years I reconnected with and married someone I had known in Christian high school. I was fully gaslighted and came to realize I was married to a very unstable man who was not who had presented himself to be. After six years in a very difficult and abusive marriage, he took his own life in our home as a last "eff you" moment. Again, devastating and all the praying and church-going I faithfully did, changed nothing. With very little counseling afterwards, I soldiered on, and although I was on church admin staff at a small PC(USA) church, I no longer attended any church, and realized how freeing it was to have Sundays to do whatever I wished. Yoga became a regular practice - that and meditation opened me up spiritually and I became more grounded in my body, rather than seeing it as fearful, with a bent toward sin. I began to acknowledge my inner voice instead of mistrusting it, having heard sermons on how we cannot trust our own thoughts or emotions, but were to keep them under the obedience of Christ.


I began to dream of where I wanted to live and spend my third act. I began listening to deconstructionist podcasts and reading books, as I became enthralled with the stories of so many with similar experiences. Five years ago, I sold my home and moved across the country to California, where I live near my west coast family and am on staff of an open, progressive church. It was so empowering to be the sole decider in that relocation venture. I am not pressured to do or be anymore than I wish and it is the most free season of life I have ever known. It turns out that all along, I was the one I'd been waiting for! I am ever learning and growing as I nurture the relationship with myself. I was always a questioner and a bit of an outlier in my family, and the majority of them are still enmeshed in IFB circles, so there are many topics we do not discuss. I have some nieces and nephews who have left their faith who reach out to me for emotional support.


At the end of the day, my peace is what matters. I am worthy and I am my own. It turns out that this life is my one shot, and I am relishing every opportunity it offers. I am a survivor.


 

Note: Some of the names have been changed or altered to protect the anonymity of the author. IFB Overcomers is an online resource for those who have left Independent Fundamentalism and are looking to heal and discover themselves. With a podcast, webinars, forum, blog and resources, we hope to help retrain your heart and mind from the mindset of the IFB and help you not only survive but overcome and then thrive!

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