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Ex-Pentecostal Recounts Spiritual Journey

First, thank you for your wonderful website. I'm looking forward to seeing it progress and grow.

I grew up in a small rural Pentecostal Church of God in southeast Missouri, where the members were primarily related by blood or marriage. For many years I've told a revisionist history about my reasons for leaving not only that church, but Christianity as a whole. As an adult I claimed that I never really believed in the things I was told, but the truth is that I carried a shame of having come from this background.

I vividly remember being a small child and attending services where I curled up in fetal position under the pews because of my fear of seeing my close family being "slain in the spirit" or speaking in tongues. Even though it frightened me, I believed that speaking in tongues was "proof" of salvation, and up into my pre-teens worried that I was going to hell because I had not spoken in tongues.

It finally happened at an Assembly of God summer camp, though in hindsight I can see this experience was anything but divine. I went through the entire week of camp hearing stories from other children who had not only spoken in tongues, but claimed to see incredible miracles such as missing limbs regenerating and the dead returning to life. Of course, everyone was surprised that I had not spoken in tongues and even though it was never blatantly said, there was always the suggestion that since tongues were proof of being filled with the Holy Sprit, it was also proof of salvation. The last night of camp featured an awards ceremony (cleanest camper, nicest camper, etc.) and a revival. Though I was frantic about not having spoke in tongues, I was too shy to go up to the altar during "altar call". A few of my cabin mates and counselors pulled me to the altar and started shouting and screaming at me, and shaking me by the shoulders, begging God to rid me of whatever demon was holding onto my tongue and preventing me from speaking in tongues. All I remember is seeing the room go black, and then I woke up looking at a circle of faces looking down on me as I lay on the floor. Everyone told me I had spoken in tongues. I was elated, but wished I could have at least remembered it.

It never happened again, though later I met a few people who said, "Sometimes you have to encourage it by saying Praise Jesus over and over, as fast as you can." I was told I was too inhibited. Looking back, I honestly believe I had a nervous breakdown at camp that night. I think the fear and anxiety I had, coupled with being an impressionable child, resulted in that experience.

Many things led to my leaving the church as a teenager. I began wondering how anyone could think God loved us unconditionally when He would send someone to Hell for eternity for, at most, 80 or so years of living in sin? How could God love us equally when He allowed so much disparity in our individual lives? Dealing with my own suffering, I began taking offense to people who tried to tell me that "God had a great plan for me" while they were off enjoying their wonderful little lives. I think my realization that speaking in tongues was more of a symptom of mass hysteria, rather than a divine encounter, was what made it easier for me to jump ship.

The problem, which I never fully appreciated until visiting Ex-Pentecostal, was that those years had seriously affected my intellect. For years I jumped in and out of other religions, looking for something that offered easy answers for everything...just like fundamentalist Christianity. I looked for a religion that could explain the Universe from beginning to end. I ended up running from a lot of cults--and gradually learned that most religious groups that claim to have the monopoly on truth tend to also be spiritually abusive cults. I never realized that I was doubting my own experiences, and always felt the need to be told what to believe. I never completely comprehended how damaged my self- esteem was, and how I was still living with a "black and white" mentality that haunted me even as I became spiritually liberal. Even my immediate family, although they no longer attend a church, are still clinging to negative attitudes about themselves, their lives, and the world around them.

I've been a member of the Unitarian Universalist church for a few years now, though only recently have I realized how appreciative I am for this place where I can use reason and personal experience as my guide along my spiritual journey. It's amazing how something can be so obvious, yet so hard to grasp. That's what I had been doing in denying my history. My shame and denial of coming from an environment of superstition, hysteria and ignorance prevented me from dealing with the emotions and thoughts that have kept me miserable. Thank you for helping me to help myself.
 

D Politte

 


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