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:
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:
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.