Open Letter: Why One Alberta Mom Thinks Funding Private Christian Schools Isn’t Just Wrong…It’s Dangerous

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When an SOS Alberta supporter read this article on our Facebook page (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/two-private-schools-won-t-comply-with-alberta-lgbtq-policy-says-pastor-1.3740138), she took the time to write us about her experience growing up in a similar school environment.  We admire the courage it took to write this piece.  We found it enlightening and moving. With her permission, we are sharing her open letter:

Dear Albertans,

This morning I woke up and read the most unsurprising news of my life. In a world where water is wet and blue mixed with red makes purple, the chair of two Christian schools announced that they would not comply with guidelines designed to protect the human rights and dignity of LGBTQA2S+ students. The only thing shocking to me about this news is that it took until the thirtieth of August for media to hear about it, because in the world that I grew up in, this one is just a no-brainer.  

I was raised in a lifestyle that I like to refer to as “fundagelical”: fundamentalist evangelical. The intricate subtleties of fundagelical culture would fill tomes, and we just don’t have that kind of time here. What I do have time to tell you is this: fundagelicals speak a different language than everyone else. The reason you’ve never noticed this is because this language is entirely comprised of words that also exist in English. So when I say something like, “I want what’s best for my children”, what I mean is exactly what you think I mean, that my intentions and actions are guided by a desire to see my children benefit from having their emotional, mental, and physical well being prioritized. When a fundagelical says, “I want what’s best for my children”, they mean something slightly different.

You see, in their culture “what’s best for children” can be summed up this way: to be raised in, devoted to, and reflective of the glory of their god, and eventually saved by his grace in order to enter the kingdom of heaven; henceforth referred to as “The Prime Directive”. Now, just to clarify, I am not suggesting that fundagelical parents do not care about the physical, emotional, and mental health of their children. What I am saying is that those things don’t fall under the category of what they mean when they say “what is best for my children”. The bottom line is that, given a conflict between those things and the Prime Directive, the Prime Directive will win. Almost every time. If you don’t believe me, go ahead and check out the mission statements on one of the aforementioned schools, and the one I attended as a child:

http://www.meadowsbaptist.ca/#!about-us/c1se http://rockychristian.wrsd.ca/

When I was five years old, my mother helped me pack a lunch and drove me to my first day of Kindergarten. I remember the blocks stacked against the wall by the entrance and the circle corner on the opposite side of the room. I remember my teacher Miss P. (that’s a whole other letter). We prayed to start the day. We heard Bible stories and memorized Bible verses. We prayed to end the day. None of this was odd to me; I grew up in this culture after all. In truth, I can’t recall when it was I finally figured out that our school wasn’t like other schools. Maybe around grade five is when we started whispering behind our hands to each other about the other kids on our busses who had to go to schools where they learned Evolution. What was Evolution? The EVIL idea that we all came from monkeys. We all knew this was ridiculous of course. Anyone with half a brain knew that God made man from dirt and woman from his rib.

It’s hard to recall, exactly, when I first heard about gay people (that’s when boys marry boys and girls marry girls). “Ewwwwwwww” we all said, as if we actually understood why the adults around us would find it gross. Transgender people were not even on our radar, although to this day, I am convinced there was at least one very close in age to me. Occasionally, I’ll think of them, and hope so fervently that they made it.

I’m a little ways into adulthood now. The biggest thing I’ve learned so far is that I truly do not understand the scope of my own lack of knowledge. But I’d like to think that I’ve gained a relatively good perspective about my time spent in fundagelical culture. After all, few things are more humbling than realizing that you’re wrong about almost everything.

Looking back on myself as a young teenager, I’ve no doubt I was an unpleasant one. A strong, stubborn personality combined with a childhood focused on holiness instead of personal development, topped off with an environment steeped in authoritarianism and indoctrination. Mix all that up with the raging hormones of puberty and the fact I’d been surrounded by the same thirty odd peers for eight years, it’s no surprise I was friendless at school. And believe me when I tell you, in an institution like that, there is no better target than the smart-mouthed loner. When the other students don’t like you and the teachers think you need to be put in your place, the only place you can turn is your parents……except when you can’t………because……..Prime Directive.

I am not gay or bi or transgender. Cis-hetero privilege right here folks! But I know what it feels like to want to die rather than go to school. I write with no exaggeration that my former fear of hell is the only reason I am still alive. There were so many nights when I wondered if I could swallow enough pills from the medicine cabinet, wait until I was on the brink of passing out, repent to God by telling my parents before I died but too late to get me to the ER, and still manage to pull it off so I could go to heaven. Because being fourteen with no sanctuary at home or school is the worst hell I know.

IT IS THE WORST HELL THAT I KNOW.

And right now, what Pastor Coldwell and the rest of the people and parents involved in the “religious freedom” and “parents’ rights” crusade are trying to do is make sure that kids with no sanctuary at home also find none at school. Because while they may be concerned about the LGBTQA2S+ student’s well being, they’re more concerned with the Prime Directive. They’re using words that make you feel like you can get behind them, but THEY ARE SPEAKING A DIFFERENT LANGUAGE!

Did you hear me? THEY ARE SPEAKING A DIFFERENT LANGUAGE!

Stop agreeing with them without understanding what they are actually saying.

Recently, a friend of mine (also raised in a fundagelical household) told a story: As a child, after learning the story of Abraham and Isaac (http://www.gospelweb.net/YouthItems/abrahamandisaac.htm), he asked his father “if God told you to sacrifice me, would you do it?”.  His father answered, “I hope I’d have the strength”.  Make no mistake, this is the standard answer in fundagelical culture. The ability to throw children onto the altar of their god is a point of righteousness within their community.

There is one more cultural quirk I’d like to talk about before bringing this epic to a close. I want to talk about the word “bitter”. When those in fundagelical culture use the word “bitter”, they are not referring to someone who is resentful. They are using that distinction as a way of dismissing a narrative that is troubling to their culture. In fundagelical communities, forgiveness is very much a power play. The parable of the Unforgiving Servant (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_Unforgiving_Servant) is frequently used as a bludgeon to force victims to forgive the perpetrators who have wronged them. It’s an easy way of maintaining the status quo without having to do any actual internal reflection. As long as the perpetrator behaves with some contrition, the victim is required to forgive them, lest they be labeled as “bitter”.

If this open letter reaches any significant portion of Alberta, there are going to be pastors and principals, teachers and parents who claim that I am bitter. My own mother has called me bitter to my face more times than I could ever count. She said it to me on the nights I thought about that medicine cabinet. She said it to me after my children were born, when I knew what it was to be a mother and to have a deep and primal instinct to protect my children. Those people are speaking their language. They are not trying to convince you that I am “resentful”. They are trying to convince their own that I am unforgiving. That I am the Unforgiving Servant, so that what I have told you today can be dismissed.

There are going to be those who do dismiss my words right away. I’m not writing this for them. I’m writing this for people who have misinterpreted the language of the fundagelicals. They are defrauding you and they are doing it by appealing to your basic instincts as parents. But they don’t mean what you think they mean when they say things like: “Love! Freedom! Parents’ Choice!”. They mean something different.

I am asking you to look into the eyes of your children and see the people that they really are. They are so beautiful. And they shouldn’t have to flounder through their pre-adult years alone. I was unpleasant, but I was beautiful. The transgender person in my school was beautiful. The gay students I knew, but never knew were gay, were beautiful. And we all deserved so much more than the Prime Directive.

Please, stop the funding. Just stop it.

And for anyone, queer or straight, who is reading this while trapped in one of these places, you need to know that there are people out here who can see you. We know that you’re there and if you can make it out, we will be here to catch you. So just hold on. I don’t believe in hell anymore, but I’m still glad I made it. There’s a beautiful life waiting for you on this side. I know because I’m living it.

M.D.

 

37 thoughts on “Open Letter: Why One Alberta Mom Thinks Funding Private Christian Schools Isn’t Just Wrong…It’s Dangerous”

  1. Religious indoctrination of children is nothing less than abuse, and ought not to be allowed let alone publicly funded.

    1. Except that, broadly speaking, there is no way to raise a child without “religious” indoctrination. “Religious” meaning–being based on unverifiable truth claims. a-religious education, according to this definition, is impossible. Some train children in belief in animism, others poly-theism, others mono-theism, others in atheism. All are beliefs–religious if you will.

        1. In some sense, atheism is not a religion–if religion is defined simply as rituals and believing in something spiritual. But in one very important sense, atheism is religious. The term religion can also be defined as something that offers answers to ultimate questions: These include questions about, God, the purpose of human beings, the nature of universe, etc. If we consider religion the offering of answers to these questions, then atheism is a religion. Animists say gods are in all things. Polytheists say god is many. Monotheists, that he/she is one. Atheists believe that there is not god. All these are answers, accepted on faith, to one of the ultimate questions. They are accepted on faith because the answers to these questions cannot be based entirely on reason.

          One may chose not to use the term religion to describe this category, but it doesn’t get atheism out of the category, whatever you call it. John Nielson, even though he meant only to talk about rituals and spiritual beliefs, invoked this category when he said “religious indoctrination . . . is abuse.” There is no way we can have an a-religious education, and so, the government will always be funding religious education. The question now remains, which ones?

          1. “Atheists believe that there is not god.” No, atheists reject belief in god, which is very different, especially in regards to your claim that it “offers answers to ultimate questions”. Rejecting a belief in a god doesn’t answer any question except “Do you believe in a god?” There are lots of people who live their lives without any answers to ultimate questions. Just because we don’t know the correct answer doesn’t mean we’re incapable of spotting an incorrect one. People can and do reject assertions without making their own all the time. That is what atheists do, which is why they are perfectly capable of living their lives without religion, by either definition.

          2. Atheism is not a religion. It is a lack of belief in a theistic mythology, typically due to a lack of any good evidence. For example, I am atheistic with regards to Zeus, Odin, Vishnu, Ahura-Mazda, Jupiter, Jahweh, and Allah.

            On the flip-side, religion can be defined as a socio-political application of one or more supernatural-based mythologies.

  2. My concern is that underlying this article is the uncritical acceptance of the idea that “we” use clear language uninfluenced by ideas/worldviews/philosophies (“what I mean is exactly what you think I mean”), but “they” use language that is mired in the same. This is the same sort of oversimplification that SOME “fundagelicals” are guilty of. From this over-simplified position assertion, it becomes easy to draw lines between “us” and “them”–they “speak a different language than everyone else.” Until we understand that meanings are rarely clear and that dialogue is necessary to understand one another, we will be vilified and vilifying. Remember, there are five stages, ending in persecution through which societies progress: stereotyping, vilifying, marginalizing, criminalizing, persecuting. Look at any persecuted peoples throughout history. It starts with simple stereotyping–this open letter is leaning toward stage 2. With dialogue people begin to understand that the categories of “us” and “them” just don’t work. I think this used to be a Canadian virtue, I think it’s worth keeping.

  3. This is very interesting to me, and somewhat compelling, though I absolutely disagree with M.D. It’s tragic that her experience in the Christian community was so negative. I don’t doubt that it was, though I know plenty of people who have had equally horrific times in the public school system. Having grown up in a Christian home and Christian school, I understand the author’s statement about the nuances of language. Many of the words we use do have slightly different semantic range and she makes a relevant point. HOWEVER, what I find disturbing is that what M.D. has done here is exactly what she is objecting to! She is marginalizing, maligning and targeting a particular group and lobbying others to join her in opposing them and asking the policy be changed to reflect her point of view! She is using her negative experience within a particular group as ammunition. How is that any more acceptable than what she has accused the Christian schools of doing toward those who identify as LGBTQetc?

    1. You are being unfair to and hypercritical of the author. It is easy for anyone to criticise the language of the author but the fundamental mistake your criticism makes is not taking into account the context of the letter – which it provides. Without that context you would be correct but the author is not asking you to malign or target a particular group, she is asking you to try to understand where she is coming from and why she has a problem with this issue. If you think about it, how else could she have written a better letter without a degree in English Literature and/or Politics? Go on, put yourself in her shoes, like she is asking you to, and challenge yourself to write a better letter.
      Secondly, whilst you are correct that a reader could use her story to malign and attack fundagelicals that is obviously not her intent because she clearly states what her intents are! Anyway, I am not sure that I can see the term “fundagelicals” catching on can you?
      In the end, she is simply asking us to use our own intelligence and empathy to understand her objections from her personal context. That isn’t so hard is it?

      1. I beg to differ. She trying to persuade people to her side because of her own past. She is by all means very resentful of her childhood it seems. She quotes certain passages, but you can do that for most anything you are trying to defend or persecute. Same as any survey that is given. Ask it the right way to get a positive answer that you want. I am not saying we should fund private schools, never went to one. But quit demonizing. The government and schools need to let parents decide what is best for their children. It is up to us as a society to watch out for one another. Not for the government to create legislation forcing us. Many a child grew into good people in the old system. Yes many fell through the cracks, but that is still going to happen.

        1. When parents choose to let their children die of treatable illnesses rather than allow treatments that violate their religious convictions (which happens, as Albertans well know) do the parent deserve to be demonized? I have to say yes; they chose to sacrifice their child in this world on speculation of a better life in the next world, and if they’re right, they’ll get their reward. In this world, they let their child die.

          This is the Prime Directive she is talking about. It’s real and it manifests in all number of ways; preaching abstinence over sex education even though evidence proves that adolescents who understand the true risks of sex and pregnancy are less likely to take those risks is a classic example. If they really wanted the best for their kids, they would give them in information proven to promote the right choices; instead they do what the preacher tells them and their kids suffer disproportionately from STDs and teen pregnancy.

          They’re not really parents; they don’t truly put their kids first. They are a dangerous group.

    2. Well, you’ve just hit the nail on the head, haven’t you? Being a member of the LGBTQ community, like skin colour, is NOT a choice. Being a Christian is. So it is within someone’s ability to change / drop a religion (in a free society such as we have in Canada) but not so much their sexual orientation. That’s why is more acceptable, Julia.

    3. When the prime directive is to follow the word of God over the rights of all other minorities in a democracy that allows big money religious back groups like the Tea a Party in the United States to be used for profit only agenda. Unfortunately Jesus said to help the poor not to exploit them so many evangelical groups fail to serve the social gospel teaching of Jesus unless they stay in their own narrow circle of friends. Quite a problem but not if you don’t acknowledge it. But that is their right too!

  4. The world flat, isn’t it? Prozac is good, right? A lobotomy heels, you bet your brain it does. As humans that live for only a short time, our insight is always off from the truth hence why “being human” is a cop out for poor decisions. Lack of insight and lack of absolute truth.

    As a believer in God and absolute truth I can say first hand it doesn’t always make sense, that’s why it’s called faith. A truth is availible and I believe if you continously pray to our loving God (who has truth and understanding) we will eventually be able to live continously loving Him and the ones around us as well. The thing is, he has no time constraints. So without faith this life is just confusing for many, until it’s not. You can doubt it if you like but it still doesn’t make it untruth and it’s surly not beneficial for you.

    We learn and grow here, Jesus taught that love is more powerful then laws, forgiveness heels and life is an opertunity, not a ending. Let the pastor manage his school how he loves. Let the public schools manage them how they love. Care for them around you and trust in God to deliver us to truth in his beautiful grace.

    1. The pastor manages his school in a way that is objectively known to be abusive.

      He has stated that LGBT children would be exposed to “counselling” with the intent of making them not LGBT.

      This is not a situation where people can live and let live. This is a situation where children’s lives are being put in danger in the name of religion. Abuse in the name of love is not love.

  5. I, too, was raised in a fundagelical denomination, but I went to public school. I left the faith as an adult. Recently I became acutely aware that people who have not been raised in fundamentalism have a hard time realizing how fundamentalists really view the world. People who are steeped in fundamentalism and think that the “hereafter” is more important than the “here and now,” literally perceive the world in a totally different way than those who have never been exposed to fundamentalism. I wish I could explain it better but I haven’t yet found a way.

    Thank you for the open letter.

  6. Hello;

    I’ve just read your article, and as one who researches the religious/political right-wing in Canada, I found your piece both instructive and frightening.
    I followed the hyperlink you provided to the Rocky Christian School, and was taken aback by what I read there. The “Biblical Foundations” section of their site is especially concerning: one might go so far as to suggest that what this “school” offers is not a sound education for future adults and citizens, but child abuse legitimized by fundamentalist nonsense and assorted, self-inflicted social pathologies, all of which will render children rather unfit for participation in civil society.
    Indeed, this “school” would not be out of place in most oppressive Bible Belt states of the USA (or indeed – at least in overall intent – in a fundamentalist madrassah).
    Would like to chat with you (by whatever mode) on your experiences and insights into this phenomenon.

  7. “…would not comply with guidelines designed to protect the human rights and dignity…” right there. That phrase alone should mean jail time. Period.

    1. I disagree. The government is operating within the capacity of government to assist in the creating of a safe learning environment for ALL students. When institutions cling to their fundamental tenets even when those tenets violate the civil rights of their youngest members, the rule of law steps up and embraces those without the power to resist by offering them a haven in law.

      If we were discussing the merits of physically beating children as a form of discipline, what would be the role of government? If we were discussing keeping women in shackles as a form of obedience, what then? We are talking about a school, a publically funded institution sanctioning a form of physiological “beating” to bring about a biological change in a child simply because it offends a man/woman created belief system. Who will step up if not government?

      1. This is not only affect the schools mentioned in this article. It affects all schools. Prove everything that you have stated and back it up with facts

          1. I don’t know if he does or doesn’t. So why. Can you prove he does not exist??? That still does not equate the question.

  8. As a father and a canadian i strongly ageee ..we need to stop funding private christian or any religious schools once and for all..this is 2016 not 1616..

      1. I personally am in favor of not funding “private” schools at all. Speaking generally, they reduce the available budgets for public education to the point that students are regularly being asked to provide items from home to supplement classroom supplies. And that’s not even discussing the amount of personal items teachers provide to fill the void left by lack of funding. My daughter is using the same outdated and wholly inaccurate Canadian history text that I did in 1985.

    1. I agree with you Don. Any school that openly promotes only a single religion violates a child’s rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It also fails to recognize the pluralistic society we have become. I would, however, support a course on world religions in our public schools, where the mandate is NOT to promote one particular religion but instead educate students on all world religions so they can make informed decisions on their own.

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