In my book, Religion’s Cell, I talk about how the teachings in this Baptist cult affect the children in the home. I warn readers that these teachings are destructive for children and can cause anger, bitterness and resentment. When I came across Leigh’s story of physical abuse, it was heart-wrenching and eye-opening at the same time. Her story revealed how these teachings affect parents’ behavior when it comes to discipline. It also reminded me of how often I would spank my oldest as he was growing up because the church taught that we were supposed to spank consistently and for every infraction. I cried as I read this story because it made me look in the mirror at myself and see the ugly, but real truth about Fundamentalism and how it affected me too. I didn’t go to this extreme with my child, but I know I certainly gave him many a spanking. What really hit me hard was the fact that Leigh’s parents abused them emotionally and verbally and, showed no mercy. It is hard for me to fathom this, because as I see it, it is no different than torture. How can a religion teach attitudes and tactics that cause so much destruction and damage to God’s innocent ‘little ones’?. Sadly, her story is not an isolated one within this cult.
LEIGH’S STORY OF ABUSE
I was raised in First Baptist Church, Hammond, Indiana, and attended their Christian schools. One of the most prominent memories I have as a young child is that of the “spankings ” my brothers and I received almost daily. I would have to strip from the waist down every time, lay across my parent’s bed, and get whipped with a leather belt. There was no quota for the amount of lashes, so it would last until my parents’ anger had subsided. This only worsened as we grew older. It was so extreme that when it was time for a spanking, all the windows would be closed, the CD player blaring, and our faces stuffed into a pillow and held there by my Mom or Dad’s arm or knee. They would beat us with that belt until we were black and blue and often bleeding from the welts. They showed no mercy. Often, I received two spankings for the same infraction because they said I stopped crying too quickly. I really didn’t know why I was in trouble most of the time. My mother would often misplace something, and if we didn’t locate it for her, then we received a spanking. By the time I was a teenager, these spankings were a daily occurrence. We were beaten on our backs and legs, the places where people couldn’t see the bruises and cuts.
I am the oldest of three kids. When I was seven, my Mom started leaving me and my two brothers at home with no babysitter a couple of nights a week. My Dad worked second shift and wouldn’t get home until 12:30 a.m. My brothers were five and three. We had no phone at the time. By the time I was nine, she was going out every night with her friend, leaving as soon as she brought us home from school and didn’t return till at least 11 p.m. She was usually out until right before or after my Dad got home. By this time we did have a phone, but I did not know any number to reach my Mom at, nor was I allowed to call anyone.
I had my first panic attack when I was ten, but my Mother and her friend decided I was trying to control them, so I was beaten severely. I would go to sleep every night only to wake up later in a panic because my Mom wasn’t home. Twice, I called a teacher or staff member from the school. They called my Mother and I received the beatings of my life. So I just learned to deal silently with the constant anxiety and panic.
When I was 11, I had a very bad panic attack while my Dad was working and my Mom was out with her friend one Saturday night. The next Monday, my Mother spanked me for about 30 minutes in the usual way. After she was done belting me, I stood there (I hurt so bad I couldn’t sit) as she proceeded to tell me that, “I wasn’t saved because God had given her a special feeling about me.” That may not sound like a big deal, but it heightened my anxiety that much more. So every single day for the next 17 years I would beg Jesus to save me and lived in constant terror that I would go to hell. My Mom would often tell me awful things about me that she said other people saw in me. As a result, I had very few friends and, avoided adults as much as possible for fear that they too would see some deep evil in me that I wasn’t aware of.
One of my brothers reacted to our home life with extreme anger. He was very violent to the extent of physical and verbal abuse, as well as threatening my youngest brother and I with knives. He would also get out my Dad’s gun and threaten to kill himself. All this would take place when we were alone. I remember crying every day after school because I was going to go home and my Mother was going to leave. Often we were not picked up after school until 5 or 6 because my Mom was doing something with her friend and forgot about us. I made the dinners for myself and my brothers almost every night. My Mother’s friend did not like me, and led my Mother to believe that I did not respect her, so, my Mother let me know when I was in high school that she couldn’t stand me. So up until about 6 months ago, my sole purpose was to make Mother happy and maybe like me. But nothing I could do ever made that happen.
As a teenager, my Mother constantly compared me to the Pastor’s grand-daughter. She daily informed me that I could never be as pretty or as talented or as friendly or as neat or as perfect as this other girl apparently was. In High school, one of my teachers tried to get real close to me. He was tutoring me a couple of days every week after school. He seemed genuinely concerned about my grades, and my parents couldn’t have cared less, so I took his tutoring offer. He began to write me very personal letters and bought me several gifts which I promptly buried at the bottom of my locker. He was very close and personal and “touchy” during tutoring, so I made up an excuse to get out of the class, but it didn’t slow him down. By my senior year, I went to great lengths to avoid being seen by him. I didn’t even tell my best friend about all this as I thought that it was somehow my fault. I lived in great fear of someone finding out about it and I would be sent to some school for rebellious girls. The physical abuse stopped my senior year of high school when one of my brothers threatened to call the police if my parents ever spanked us again, but the emotional and verbal abuse continued until recently when my husband moved our family far away from my parents. They still claim to have raised us in the greatest church and schools in the whole world. But we all know better than that.
My heart aches for these children and what they have endured. My prayer is that somehow, God can heal their broken and wounded spirits quickly. Physical, emotional and spiritual abuse has far reaching tentacles. The trauma can last for many years as they try to find a way to cope with all the awful memories, triggers, flashbacks, panic attacks and more. Let’s work to expose the abuses that are hidden under the “mantle of righteous” that religion cloaks itself in and shed light on the reality that unimaginable abuses are lurking under that mantle.