Finally – The first post a series about my process of leaving the Christadelphians. I’ve referred to it for years, and have always had it simmering on the back burner. Every time I’d edit it, I’d end up adding more, or taking something away. It’s become quite massive, so it will be broken down into parts. As I’ve set a new goal to publish two blog posts per week, you will see parts 2 and 3 within the next week! Hold me to it!
I heard REM’s hit Losing my Religion for the first time when I was about 11 years old. Although I’d hear it again many times over the next decade, the Sunday in 2004 when it played as I drove to meeting for the last time, it felt as if it had been written for me.
As I wrote in growing up Christadelphian, life as a Christo hadn’t been all that bad. At least not for a little child. But over the years it soured until I just couldn’t do it anymore.
There wasn’t one exact moment that I can pinpoint and say this is why I left, although this is what everyone wanted to know. “What happened?” they’d ask, with looks of mortal concern. I toyed with the idea of inventing some dramatic scandal, but the truth is, it was many instances and realizations that accumulated over time. Like anything else in life – your experiences change your perceptions – if you let them.
The cracks began to form in my mid-teens. I got baptized, thinking that this would somehow open a mystical door to greater knowledge and spiritual growth. Instead, I felt more pressured to always be doing the right thing, keeping myself pure and avoiding worldly temptations. I was a prim 85-year-old woman in a 15-year-old body.
Not long after I was baptized, we moved to Vermont. When we first arrived, we made efforts to do Sunday morning meetings with the few other Christadelphian families in Vermont. This often meant driving an hour or more to meet in someone else’s home, or hosting those folks in our home. At first we did this pretty regularly, and as time passed and some of those people moved away, we did it less and less.
We basically lived in isolation. This was considered a very bad thing among Christadelphians, because without the constant stimulation of Sunday School, Meeting, Bible Class, CYC, etc, it would be easy for a person to get drawn into the world and fall away from the “Truth”.
I continued to be very reserved at school, and made no effort to befriend anyone there. However, the kids at my new high school were friendly and they went out of their way to interact with me. The first week there, I got a ride from one of these new friends. We stopped in a run-down section of town to pick up another friend of hers (in hindsight – he may have been her dealer) before heading back to her house. Up in her room, they immediately packed a bowl and began to pass it around. I nearly fainted dead away. My eyes must have been as wide as saucers as they passed it to me and I tried to look nonchalant as I politely declined. Welcome to Vermont!
After a few years of living in there, my parents bought a piece of land even further away from civilization and began building a house. It was then that we stopped doing anything religious on Sunday mornings. Once the house was complete, there was no mention of returning to the fold, so to speak. There wasn’t any fanfare about it or even a formal declaration, but it was pretty clear that my parents had opted out of Christadelphia by then.
I kept on with it though, mainly because it was a huge part of my social life. I met my best friend Debbie at bible school when I was 15, and we had formed a core group of friends with whom we socialized almost exclusively. Once I got old enough to drive, I would go down to Massachusetts or Connecticut for the weekends and attend meeting there. I started going to more bible schools. Once, I went to three in one summer.
I didn’t think I was falling away, but when I was at home in Vermont, I was not devoting any time to bible study. I wouldn’t even unzip my bible case, until right before I was to attend another meeting, when I would quickly move my bible reading bookmarks to the proper place so it wouldn’t be obvious I hadn’t been doing my daily readings. I felt really bad about it, though not bad enough to change my behavior. At that point, leaving the Christadelphian faith was not even on my radar. I figured things would get easier when I got older and I had found myself a devoted spiritual partner to help keep me in line.
I started dating a Christadelphian guy when I was 18. He was 24. I thought he was interested in me for my maturity and intellect (LOL!). Our relationship was short-lived and tumultuous. Yet it opened my eyes and snapped me out of my comfort zone on several levels.
It was then that my thinking really began to change. My whole life I had assumed that my Christadelphian peers were all trying as hard as I to remain obedient to the rules, and to keep sinless and pure. I even assumed that everyone else was more successful at it than me, because that’s how I felt around Debbie, who was more pious than I ever was. But my older, wiser boyfriend assured me that it wasn’t true. I soon began asking around some of my friends and found out that pretty much everyone else had been breaking all sorts of rules and getting away with it. People had been doing drugs, drinking and having sex like normal teenagers! I was so late to that party.
Another, less illicit thing that had been troubling me was divisiveness within the Christadelphians. There were actually several divisions within the Christadelphian group. The two major groups that I was aware of were the Amended and the Unamended. The titles were based on a clause in the statement of faith. My side – the Amended – had amended their statement of faith whereas the Unamended had refused to do so. If you’re curious – it’s clause #24 in the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith.
At all the meetings and bible schools I’d ever been to, they would always make an announcement that we were breaking bread under the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (aka BASF – but not the chemical company). If you weren’t a baptized and law-abiding member, you weren’t welcome to partake. Apparently some people would get into extremely heated arguments about clause 24, though I’d never been privy to these conversations. I guess, if you really believed in it, it was literally a matter of life and death. Or life, and a second death, if you want to get technical about it.
In the course of our wanderings, Debbie and I met some Unamended young people and become friends with them. We went to some of their bible weekends and to their meetings on occasion. We broke bread and drank from the cup with them. Then we’d return to our regular haunts and break bread there, feeling extremely rebellious. When I was not immediately struck by lightning for doing this, a little more of my faith waned.
Just how many rules could one get away with breaking? I wondered.