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By the time I was 20 years old, I thought:
• That I had to obey my parents in every way, or suffer attacks from Satan too strong for me to withstand.
• That it was possible to disobey my parents without realizing it.
• That each “rock” song I ever listened to had ceded a bit of “ground” in my heart to Satan, and I had to take back all that ground or I’d leave myself vulnerable to his attacks.
• That it was a sin to date anyone.
• That it was my calling in life to get married and have lots of children.
• That if I married a divorced man, it would “destroy” me.
• That I shouldn’t marry a man younger than myself, because God created Adam before He created Eve.
• That I’d have all those children at home, because hospitals were dirty and dangerous.
• That my husband’s preferences overruled my convictions.
• That God would take away whatever I most loved so that I would learn to love Him instead.
• That I would always be under a man’s authority, whether my father, husband, brother, or even son.
What kind of parents would fence their young adult in with so many fiddly rules? How could they overlook my personality, giftings, and talents and simply declare that God created me to be only a wife and mother, the end, amen? Why would they show me a capricious God who punished even accidental disobedience?
The answer is: they didn’t. Most of those ideas weren’t ones that my parents came up with. A lot of them they hadn’t actually heard, at least not in the form I did. I learned all those concepts directly from IBLP and ATI.
It wasn’t my family that went wrong.
I grew up in a small Southern town in a family of five kids. My father died when I was three years old. Four years later, my mom remarried, and my stepbrother joined the family. As the four older kids entered the teen years, the household was often chaotic. My parents didn’t find much practical help from the local churches, and struggled to deal with anger, drinking, sneaking out, smoking, and finally a teenage pregnancy.
When I was fourteen, my parents discovered the Basic Seminar. Here was the help they’d been looking for! For the first time they heard the Bible taught as a practical, understandable solution to their problems. Now they knew how to protect me and my younger sister from the mistakes they’d made with the older kids.
We enrolled in ATIA in 1991. (It became ATII a couple of years later, and then everybody gave up trying to decide what that last letter should be.) My parents were very enthusiastic about the teachings. They embraced new insights about diet, dress, Biblical interpretation, and character qualities. The teaching on authority simply made sense to them; it explained so much, so well.
But the authority didn’t go to their heads. They didn’t make us do things simply because they had the power to do so. Granted, my stepfather’s approach was as gentle and understanding as a rampaging elephant; but he didn’t lord it over me simply for the satisfaction of being in control, but because he wanted to do right. The four of us–my mom, stepdad, sister, and I–became immersed in the ATI way of life, but we never really lost touch with the community around us.
Where I incurred most of the spiritually damaging ideas wasn’t at home, but when I went away to training centers and “apprenticeship opportunities.” It was there that I learned how easy it is to fall under God’s wrath–simply talking to a rebellious person could endanger me! I “committed” never to marry a divorced man, or a man younger than myself, and worried for my mother, who had done both. I was taught that my worth as a woman was directly tied to how many children I had. But before I could have children, I had to go through a pure, spiritual, emotionally-controlled courtship with a young man who would spend more time talking to my father than to me.
I didn’t discuss any of these ideas in depth with my parents. I assumed they knew and approved of everything I was hearing. I certainly didn’t mention anything negative about ATI, because that revealed a spirit of rebelliousness.
My life changed at age 20, when my stepfather died of liver cancer. Within the next four years, I courted, got married, and had two kids.
All those “non-optional” principles of my younger years turned out to have very little use in my adult life. For one thing, I hadn’t had a good relationship with my stepfather, which I’d been told would doom me to a bad marriage. It didn’t. I listened to music with a rock beat, and didn’t suffer. My husband didn’t expect “obedience” from me, and I couldn’t find all that many opportunities to “obey” him anyway. I gave birth in hospitals, and came home with healthy children. I discovered that two babies in seventeen months was too much of a good thing for my body, and took a break from my high calling of childbearing for a while.
Best of all, God began to break through all those fiddly rules and dark fears, and teach me that He is a merciful, gracious God whose intent is to love me, not punish me.
In the end, I still have my family. We have our pleasures and our problems, but we’re a fairly normal, functional family. It’s ATI that’s fallen by the wayside, and with it–thank God–many of those damaging ideas peddled as God’s word to hungry parents.
It wasn’t my family that went wrong. It was the teachings themselves that were faulty.