I’ve just finished reading a book about parenting that my mum gave me, parenting forward by Cindy Wang Brandt.
She warned me in passing it to me that it was written by a Christian but said she didn’t think it would be too heavily about Jesus or God that I, a ‘spiritual being’ who doesn’t believe in a God of any religion, would find offence with it.
Far from that, it’s been an eye-opening read.
It’s affirming in how I’m choosing to parent my son – allowing him to have a voice and opinion even at such an early age – and has also served as catharsis for the unspoken feelings and thoughts about my upbringing in fundamentalist religion.
The fundamental Christianity of my youth – by no means ‘fundamental’ compared to other types of churches – left its mark on me.
But I didn’t have a way to voice this until I heard my story told in that of Cindy’s.
Fundamentalism taught me to accept what was taught to me – believing was about unconditional acceptance of what I was told instead of a grappling of what was spoken about. A tidy faith, a believing faith with limited room for disagreement and only belonging, support and community if I could agree with what was taught.
Fundamentalism showed me a white, middle class faith that didn’t challenge the racial prejudices in the system. Jesus was white, he looked like me and our congregation was mostly white. We didn’t use our privilege to challenge the dominant culture, we kept safe in it. Race wasn’t discussed.
Fundamentalism taught me that women weren’t equal to men and that the feelings that so keenly came up inside me – anger, frustration, rage – were not acceptable to God or to the community I belonged to.
Fundamentalism taught me that my purity was the most important thing about me and I didn’t feel I fit once that purity was no longer ‘in tact’. As Cindy says ‘Fundamentalism failed my relationship in that I was taught to hold back even when it was good and appropriate expression of emotional connection‘.
Fundamentalism gave me no option other than a heteronormative view of sexuality and a narrow parameter with which that could be explored. And while happily married with a beautiful son, there is a ‘what if’ that I’ll always carry for the non-binary, more nuanced parts of my sexuality that never had a chance to come out of the closet.
And yet I came off pretty well all things considered – my privilege protected me as a cis-gendered, predominantly straight, white woman.
I didn’t have to suffer racial micro-aggressions or white washing of my culture. I didn’t have to hide all of me to fit in. I was resilient enough to temper myself. I came from an economically well-off family so always had more than enough to eat.
And I recognise that people in the church served me as best they could with what they had. All the above would have been (mostly) true if I hadn’t been brought up in the church – the times in which I was raised were when the inkling of sexual freedom, feminism, awareness of systemic racism and self-awareness were starting to bubble to the surface of our consciousness after being buried for several decades.
But it’s just nice to be able to read something and think ‘so it wasn’t all just me‘ – to have a story told in which I can see myself reflected.
So thank you, mum, for the book. It’s one I’d recommend to anyone who was brought up in the church and wants to be deliberate in the choices they now make, as a parent or just as an adult.
And I want to leave you with a sentence that hit home with me from the last chapter of Cindy’s book:
Children propel us into fighting for a better future because we belong to one another. We can see ourselves in the reflections of each other – our childhood in them, their future in us.