Last week, I finished reading Deborah Feldman’s memoir, Unorthodox, about her time as a Hasidic Jew in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and how she came to leave the community. I absolutely loved the book. It was extremely brave and reflective. I felt as if any of us could have been Feldman, born into a culture where she didn’t relate or belong.
I was raised in an oppressive Evangelical culture, very similar to what featured in the documentary, Jesus Camp. When I was 10, my parents told me we were leaving the Methodist church I’d loved and been a part of as long as I remembered. It was a sad day for me, I didn’t understand why we were leaving. Nothing had changed. My parents explained that they no longer felt the pastor was “following the Bible” the same as they believed.
My parents, my little brother and I began attending a church where they felt it was appropriate to tell middle school aged children that if someone puts a machine gun in your face, you have the power because you can tell that person about Christ. And if he shoots you, you’ll go to heaven.
We were told that we were soldiers in a war against the rest of the world. Being taught this at 11 and 12 was detrimental to my mental health. I was convinced every move I made was going to send me to hell. I obsessively prayed for my young, damned soul. I was never, ever convinced that I was “saved.” I repeated the words over and over again and never felt like it went through to God. There was so much chance for error, I didn’t know how anyone was sure he or she was “saved.” I cried in panic at every tent revival my parents took me to. But still, they took me.
Much like Feldman was obsessed with being a “good girl,” I found myself considering my every thought and a action, trying to figure out if I was sinning or influencing others to sin. I was constantly overwhelmed with anxiety over if I was doing enough to tell those around me, in my secular school, to tell people about Christ.
I sat in lecture after lecture where I was told I was bad if I wore tank tops, shorts, skirts above the knee and the like. It was my job to keep men from temptation by looking at me. We were also taught that drinking and dancing were sinning. While my parents didn’t abide by this rule, I was surrounded by thousands of people who did.
My upbringing wasn’t as stringent or oppressive as Feldman’s but I related so much. I hope some other little girls feeling alone and anxious will find hope and peace in knowing they are not alone. Her book touched my heart. I hope you read it and let it touch yours.