Disclaimer: I’ve been debating posting this since Saturday, just so I could think and re-think and word as carefully as possible. I’ve decided that truth, spoken in as much love as I can muster, is better than fake smiles and pretending everything is ok.
So…Saturday, I had the unfortunate experience of seeing a lot of people from a church I used to attend, in fairly rapid succession. My little family decided to do some shopping in a town we normally avoid when we know lots of these people will be there, because it’s awkward for everyone. This time, we got our schedule wrong, and so yeah – we saw a lot of them.
When I say “a lot”, it’s important to clarify – at any given time, 1/3 to 1/2 of the people in the small town I live in are members of this one huge-for-our-rural-area “church”.
My husband grew up attending there, and while he was never completely sold on it, we thought at the time that any church attendance was better than none, so I decided to do my best to go along with it. From the time we got engaged until the time we left was around 1.5 years, maybe a tidge more.
I can honestly say it was pretty much the most miserable time in my life, which is pretty crazy – I mean, that whole first year of marriage was wasted in the stress of it. It did let me know quickly, though, that my marriage could withstand anything, and that I had indeed married the wonderful type of man I thought I had.
In the beginning, it was the little things. Like the dozens of pairs of shoes I threw out, because it was “worldly” to show titillating bits like my toes or heels, and to wear any heel higher than 2″. Apparently, someone at the church went around watching all the womens backsides to see which heel height made them look feminine but not sway too provocatively, and then that became encoded in the mandatory dress rules.
Things like having to throw out any shirts that showed my elbows (ah, the wasted years when hordes of men followed me around drooling over my exquisite elbows! Wait, oh, yeah – that didn’t actually happen. But according to their rules, it was sure to.)
And let’s not forget the dreaded (whispers) clingy shirts. I mean, Heaven forbid a guy see the shape of a woman’s form. Button down cotton shirts only, please.
And covering my neckline – I’m not particularly enamored of my own neck, nor do I think necks are a particularly erotic part of the body. But boy howdy, anything more than two finger-widths below the collarbone was considered the next thing to a streetwalker.
And denim! I mean, only *worldly, FASHIONABLE* women wear ankle-length denim skirts, right? So out went my Pentecostal substitute for the jeans that I wasn’t allowed to wear.
Because yes, pants for women are on the forbidden list too. That’s actually a pretty standard item for many Pentecostal churches, so I didn’t have any to throw out.
And hosiery – if it’s black, put it back. If it’s white, awful sight. Jesus only likes taupe pantyhose. Yes, taupe. That was one that I just HAD to ask about – and according to the leader’s wife, back in the 40’s and 50’s when Jesus laid down a new, June-Cleaver-looks-Holy dress code, taupe was the only color hosiery available without those bewitching, seductive seams. Obviously that meant that henceforth and forever, taupe was it.
My hair – my crowning glory, my never-cut-since-birth hair, of course had to be worn up off the neck and furthermore, had to be covered for church. Didn’t you all know that uncut hair is seductive? I was supposed to only save it for my husband’s eyes, and all my protests that no, I’d never actually seduced anyone with my hair were in vain.
Why cover it at church? Why, to prove that I was “subject to my husband’s authority” of course. I mean, in the genetic rock paper scissors toss, I had lost – no external genitalia, doomed to be a second class citizen forever.
Then we got into the forbidden colors – nothing with too much red, because whores wear red. Not a lot of purples or really bright prints, either. As a matter of fact, Jesus really has a thing for neutrals, mmmkay?
That goes for shoes, too – any shoes that survived the criteria for heel height and proper foot coverage had to be reduced to only black, navy, or Jesus’ favorite taupe.
And skirt length – at the time, my wardrobe was full of ankle-length skirts. They failed on two counts – they were straight (remember, a woman’s very form is evil and seductive) – and they were long.
Yes, long. Despite everything you’ve heard about most Pentecostal churches, this one said 8″ off the floor, when wearing 2″ heels, was the proper length. Yes, I attended a ladies’ night at church where a measuring tape was produced. Apparently Jesus liked to see some leg – I mean, must have been Jesus, right? Because none of this was pastoral preference, because then it could be questioned. No, this was the word of Jeeee-zusss.
Are you getting exhausted/frustrated/mad reading this yet? It certainly inspires all of those emotions to write about it, and believe it or not, that’s only a PARTIAL list of the rules.
I won’t get too deeply into the monetary requirements, other than to say that anything less than 15% of the gross income was unacceptable, and no, you may not ask why the Pastor drives an expensive vehicle paid for by the church when people there are struggling to afford gas money to drive their 10 year old car to church 3 to 5 times a week. We didn’t have a child there, thankfully, so we never had to try to come up with the extra financial burdens for the mandatory church school attendance.
And the doctrine – leaving out all the extra-Biblical stuff I’ve mentioned already, there was a lot of …. interesting … doctrinal teaching. I can’t remember any of it that revolved around Grace, although I do remember a lot of “you’re a bunch of barely saved reprobates” and calling out of specific individuals for perceived misbehavior. Given that it’s such a small town, it was inevitable that one would notice that the same behavior would merit disciplinary behavior, or not, depending upon the “faithfulness” to “The Church” (aka, the Catholics were evil with the medieval system of indulgences…but Praise the Lord, brother, don’t worry about your son, boys will be boys, thank you for your donation to the Work of the Lord.)
I could write a book about it all, and perhaps one day I will. I’ve just barely scratched the surface with this.
And I live in the same small town with these people, and those who are permitted on the internet may very well read what I’ve written. But here’s why I’m writing it…
Saturday, when we saw all those people? The glares, the barely-there rigid nods, the pretending they didn’t see us, the turning and going down another aisle to avoid us, all the behavior they have exhibited to my family since we “left The Church”? None of that made me want to go back. None of that made me crave their presence.
It broke my heart. My heart literally aches to see people in that much bondage. These are people who are smart, who could be and do great things…and they are terrified of an amazingly Zeus-like “god” who is just waiting, and watching, and hoping to have the chance to hurl fire at them from the pulpit…ooops, I mean “heaven”.
These are people who, if they see us when they know that no one else will see them talking to us, will be genuinely nice. But the groupthink and the pressure to not upset the powers that be is so strong, it prevents them from having any semblance of a normal life.
My wonderfully observant son sums it up this way: “Wow, those people say they love Jesus, but they sure don’t act to us like they do!” He’s 6. He sees it. Why can’t they?
I wish I could hug every single one of them – yes, men included, since I don’t believe that “touch” equates “falling into sin” – and get them to truly understand how simple this whole thing should be!
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8