I shared my perspective of Hannah's story in the most popular blog post, In Honor of Hannah. What's interesting is that our former pastor has obviously included Hannah in the phrase "Julie Anne and those with her," because she was part of the $500,000 defamation lawsuit. Hannah had no interest in the dealings of the church after leaving, of waging war with God, the church, with families as has been said. She's been too busy working full-time and going to school full-time getting her degree trying to survive on her small income.
I texted Hannah earlier today and she knows I am posting her story and gave permission to post this picture taken of us at her graduation (might as well finally post a decent picture considering all of the funky media pictures out there of us - lol - proud mama moment right there!). She said she will probably add more to the story when she gets home from work today because this was written months ago before we won the lawsuit, so you can check back later for any additions.
We started attending BGBC shortly after I celebrated my homeschool high-school graduation with a few other homeschoolers from our old church where I had been a part of most of my middle and high-school years. With many of my friends then going off to other college campuses, my family wanted to find a church that was going a different direction, namely more towards evangelism by door-to-door knocking and conversations with strangers wherever we could find them.
At first, I enjoyed it. I had been passionate about my beliefs for much of my life, I had taught bible classes in Pioneer Girls and Awanas, been on a couple of overseas missions trips to Honduras and Portugal, and thought that God was calling me to be a missionary to Muslims overseas. My father and I had always had a strong connection with regards to spiritual matters, we went to evangelism and creation seminars together whenever we could. In my growing up years, my mother and I seemed to have a strained relationship, even though we always ended up talking through the issues. I seemed to be generally in and out of trouble, little things constantly. I pushed her buttons, but all in all, I don’t think I was a “bad” child. I was the oldest, and I liked to do my own thing.
Skip forward a couple of years, I had never formally joined BGBC as a member. I was taking classes at the local community college where I met a guy. He challenged me to re-think everything I knew and believed in. He didn’t want me to leave Christianity (he actually still considers me a Christian even though I no longer profess a belief). But through discussions with him, I started to look at my life and realized that I was living in a bubble. That bubble was basically white, middle-class, Christian, homeschooling families. It was a small segment of a much bigger world. I wanted to explore life and see what it meant to me without feeling pressure from anything or anyone else.
So here I was almost 21, working 4 part-time nanny jobs so I could put myself through a full-time school load to finish my degree (and I didn’t have a car due to my finances and wanting to complete school as fast as I could, so I biked or bused my commutes). When I added up the time I was at BGBC, which alone was about 20 hours a week including Friday night evangelizing on the street or at malls. Christianity was such an ingrained part of my family’s life that there was no way that I’d be allowed to live at home and not go to church. Plus I’d still have my family responsibilities and chores. I was honestly suffering burn-out with all the activities I had to do. I loved my family, adored my siblings, and respected my parents, but I knew and they knew that I couldn’t do what I wanted and live with them at the same time.
So I told my parents that I was doubting my faith and I wanted to move out so I could explore my possibilities and figure myself out. I think that tore both of my parents’ hearts in two. We were a close family, we did everything together. I still think I have the best brothers in the world, and how many sisters say that? I have a sister who I adore, and while we had our moments, she was my best friend, and I spoiled her as much as I could.
Even if my parents had agreed that I didn’t have to go to church and could stay home to be with the family, I still think I would have moved out. I wanted a clean break from everything. I would still have had to work around seeing my Christian friends who would have felt compelled to try to “bring me back”. I would still have had those awkward run-ins at the grocery store. I didn’t want my parents to have to give an answer for my actions if I had been seen drinking an alcoholic beverage, or wearing clothes that didn’t fit the BGBC “dress code”. I wasn’t planning on being irresponsible with my life or my body. I didn’t move out so I could get drunk, go to parties, try drugs, or act like a crazy college girl. I wanted to do it the right way as much as possible, which I think I succeeded. Moving across town was very helpful and aided my healing since I was able to be myself and not have to look over my shoulder to make sure someone I used to know hadn’t seen me drink that beer. (Note, my parents don’t have anything against alcohol, but anyone at the church could have spun it a wrong way.)
My father, in utter disbelief that I could denounce my faith (he was a Calvinist so this was unthinkable and practically an impossibility in his mind) and Chuck arranged a “meeting” with me that truthfully was really coerced. I did not want to be there. They sat me down in his office and read verse after verse and got me to feel sorry and repentant by pointing out that I respected my elders and so should do what they said.
Pastor Chuck’s best idea for getting me to “come back to the faith” was to take away my cell phones (I had two, the contract was in my name, that I entirely paid for), forbid me from going on the internet, told me to stop taking classes in a “worldly” school, as well as leave my various jobs, and that I was to stay home all day and basically only leave it to go to church.
I was 21, a legal adult. I could move out and find the answers to my questions if I wanted. As my mother has explained so eloquently before, this was not an easy decision. I had to be willing to give up my family, my siblings, my friends (since they were all Christians), my jobs, and temporarily suspend my college classes. My father (under influence I believe of Chuck) had told me that they weren’t going to help me in any way. I didn’t want them to help. I was going to sink or swim, and damn if I wasn’t going to do it all by myself (which is the story of my life, my mother will tell you). I hoped that they would soften up. I didn’t want to lose my family, but I knew I had to get out or I would go crazy. If nothing else, I would work my hardest so that my siblings would have a place to go if they decided they needed to get out as well. It was definitely going to be harder since I wouldn’t have my home-cooked meals, or even a bed at that time. I would have to work to provide everything I needed, but I could do it. I was determined.
I did leave, about two weeks after my 21st birthday. I remember it well. December 31st, 2008. I went to church one last time, said a quick goodbye to my friends (most of whom only found out that I was leaving at that time), called an LDS lady I had connected with on craigslist and she and her boyfriend picked up me and my belongings. I thought it fitting that I left on Sunday, after church, and that the first day of the new year was the first day of my new life. From that point on, I never referred to myself as a Christian. I don’t hold any judgment on those that do, but I’m tired of the endless debates that go on between and within any type of believer, be it pagan, atheist, mormon, baptist, etc. I’ve realized that we all have our beliefs, and trying to persuade someone who is convinced otherwise is a waste of my valuable time.
With regards to me and my family and particularly my parents. I honestly believe we were in a cult. It’s like a gas that has no smell or taste, you can’t sense it until you are under its effects. Once you are out of its grasp, you can look back and realize that you were under its influence, I’ve heard people say that hindsight is 20/20 vision, I think that is true. I don’t fault my parents for how they reacted to my declaration. They believed and acted in the way they thought best at that time. I can look back and see that they acted differently in the few years they were at BGBC than they had ever acted in the 18 years prior. Since then, we have spent countless hours talking, going over what happened, apologizing to each other, etc. My mother never stopped talking me me, seeking to rebuild a stronger relationship on a foundation of communication and openness. The current bond between my mother and I is stronger than it has ever been in the past. I’m not going to hold what happened in the past over her head, I don’t think like that. It happened, she has felt horrible about it, I could have moved out in a more gracious way, but dwelling on it doesn’t help. Would my parents and I have done it differently at the time if we knew then what we know now? Of course. There were failures and stumbles on both sides.
But in the end, my parents had raised me right. They had given me the tools to be a productive independent adult. I was able to stand on my own two feet, think for myself, live my life, and make friends. I had a found a job near my apartment within a month, and have been employed ever since, even able to occasionally tutor high schoolers in math. I saved my hard-earned money to buy my first car and paid it off in 5 months. I worked a full-time job and attended school full-time at University of Phoenix to attain my Bachelor’s Degree in Business, attending school during the summer and skipping possible vacations so I could do it by taking as few student loans as possible. I am still to this day involved in various volunteer opportunities. My parents had succeeded with me.
Speed up to last December. My mother had said that she had written a review on BGBC’s website and it wasn’t there anymore. We had already noticed the church members’ tactics of burying the negative google reviews under their positive ones by slightly tweaking their reviews so they’d stay consistently on top. When she said that, I thought that I’d write a review, partly as a way to defend my mother, as well as a way to tell my own story. That church had hurt me. It had caused a rift between me and my parents. So I wrote my review, and it was buried, but it stayed there.
And now here we are today. I don’t think Chuck’s lawsuit was aimed at me, it’s aimed at my mother. I was fuel to add to the fire. Chuck never tried to contact me after I left the church. I never knew if I was shunned or excommunicated, as I didn’t talk or associate with anyone at that church unless they initiated the conversation. I lived a good 45 minutes away on the other side of town purposely so I wouldn’t accidentally run into people I knew from my “old” life. Honestly, I was busy just living my life, finishing up my Bachelor’s degree, building my career, finding new friends. But now I’m involved in a half-a-million dollar lawsuit. Life has a strange way of working. But I’m glad I’m in this . I will stand by my mother every step of the way. It’s her blog, but she, and I, and the other defendants, and EVERYONE has a right to their opinion, especially if they believe it’s the truth. The best defense against defamation is just that - the truth. And the truth is what my mother wrote, and truth is what I wrote.