Earlier this year, I asked my social media followers to submit questions about what it was like to “grow up” conservative and also what it was like to choose to remain in the conservative Christian community as an adult. This series will be in two parts. Part I will address growing up conservative. Part II will address what it’s like to be an adult woman/mother/wife in a conservative Christian community.
First, I have to make an important disclaimer. Due to a new job that will begin later this month, I have to abstain from political activity. I will be deactivating and locking down my social media accounts in the upcoming months. I will keep my blog up. Therefore, I avoided, as much as possible, any questions with a political undertone.
Before answering the questions, I think it’s important to lay basic foundations.
Who are we?
We are a group of adult women who identify as “conservative Christians.” Our Christian backgrounds are different: some of us grew up in non-denominational churches, others as independent Baptists. Our educational and career backgrounds are different. Some of us attended public school, private school, Christian church-based school, home-school, or a mix of all four.
Similarly, the “secondary” teachings we received varied. Growing up, some of us wore skirts, others wore pants; some were taught courtships were the only way to find a husband, while others were allowed to “date” (although it was still “dating with a purpose” and wasn’t “casual” by any means). Despite these difference, we all still identify as conservative Christians.
Why do this blog post?
There’s a lot of misconceptions about what “we” believe as women who identify as Conservative Christians. We’ve seen ourselves portrayed incorrectly in the media and a lot of falsity about what we believe and why. So we wanted to speak out and share our experiences and opinions.
These are OUR opinions. They are not meant to represent anyone other than us. They are not to represent any other person and we do not claim to speak for any other person or experience.
So, what does it mean to be a Conservative Christian?
We all agree that being a “conservative” Christian means:
- Recognizing the Bible as the actual, authoritative, inspired word of God. What it says goes. We recognize that parts of the Bible have been (and potentially continues to be, there is debate about this among us) misunderstood by humans. This misunderstanding does not mean that the Bible is wrong, but that we have misunderstood it. For example, at times the Bible was used to justify that the Earth was flat. (See Isaiah 11: 12 KJV: “And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” emphasis added). This doesn’t mean that the Bible is wrong, it just means we misunderstood this.
- Humans were created in the image of God. This makes human different and unique from the rest of living beings in the universe.
- God, as the Creator and Ruler of the universe, has created laws. These laws all relate to the underlying concept that we must love God and love our neighbor. Actions and thoughts that break these laws are known as sin. This sin separates us from God, who is perfect. However, we can be reconciled to God. When Jesus died on the cross he was temporarily separated from God and took the punishment we deserve. Because our punishment has been paid, we can be reconciled to God by asking God to forgive our sins, and accepting that Christ has paid our punishment. This reconciliation is known as “getting saved.” This reconciliation allows us to have a personal relationship with God. Only a relationship with Christ can allow us to be with God after we die
- A belief that family is the bedrock of society and must be a priority in an individual’s life.
- A desire to live a life that honors God and to flee from activities that displease God (called sin). This desire causes us to do things like abstain from getting drunk, not engage in sexual behavior until marriage, and dress modestly.
Now that we have established that foundation and you know the perspective we are coming from, I’ve included your questions and our answers below.
How The Questions and Answers Work
My friends and I worked hard to create a “collective voice” in our answers to preserve anonymity. However, if one of us disagreed strongly with the others or had a different experience, then that answer is separate. Friend “A” is not the same “Friend A” in every question. The A and B designation is just to distinguish between different answers.
I. Upbringing / Childhood
Q: What benefits were the to growing up in a Conservative culture?
A: Many followers who submitted questions seemed to believe that we were “disadvantaged” by having a Conservative upbringing. For the most part, we disagree. We believe some of the advantages to the way we were raised include:
- Conservative convictions require lifestyle choices, not simply going to Church.
An important focus of Conservative churches is that our actions, both public and private, matter. What we are like on Saturday night is just important as the kind of person we are on Sunday morning. This requires commitment and is not for the faint of heart. This level of commitment weeds out people who only attend for the theatrics of the service or because their parents attended.
As an adult, it’s valuable to know that actions matter. The sermons we listened to growing up talked about the importance of character qualities, like honesty, integrity, and chastity. Developing these qualities takes time and effort. But, we know that actions turn into habits, and habits turn into character (The famous Greek philosopher, Aristotle, teaches that, too). So although lying one time may not seem like a big deal, we know that if we lie once it can quickly turn into a lifestyle. We were warned again and again growing up to not “hide secret sin.” That is, if we lied about something, we needed to tell. Because although it was just one lie, we could quickly become habitual liars.
Additionally, a commitment to remain pure (not engage in sexual activities until marriage), be sober, and “flee evil” (not watch or listen to evil things) often requires sacrifice. It means not dating certain people or hanging out with certain friends to avoid these activities. It’s nice to be with other people who take their convictions as seriously as we do. To actually live out these “character principles” requires commitment, they mean making entire lifestyle choices. It’s encouraging to be part of a community who are mostly authentic people, making sacrifices and choices to follow similar beliefs and convictions as you.
- There are clear, set expectations on behavior.
It was also nice to have clear, set expectations on behavior. We knew what words we could or could not say, how we had to interact with grown-ups, and how we were to dress. As a child, and even as a grown-up, having clear expectations is good and feels safe.
- We were taught the importance of having a solid and involved father.
America has a dad problem, really. This year, there were news stories in Dallas and Atlanta about hundreds of men stepping up to be mentors for young men that had absent fathers. These men, 600 men just in Atlanta, had to step up to the plate and mentor young men because their fathers were absent. Or, even if you watch NBC’s hit drama “This Is Us,” you’ll see that families begin to hurt when the father or male role model is absent. An absence of strong, loving, kind, male role models and father figures is hurting our country.
In our communities, men are taught from the time they are young adults that, if they choose to get married and have a family, they will have an invaluable role in their child’s life. A father is to encourage his wife and children, play with his children, and literally be the representation of Jesus in the home. This is a big responsibility. We have all seen absent fathers in the families of our non-Conservative friends, and emotionally absent fathers in our circles, too. Although there can be absent dads in conservative circles, at least being a leader, protector, and provider is stressed and encouraged.
Many of us did not realize how important the role of our father was until we were older. For many of us, our dad was the epitome of a kind, strong, and loving man. Therefore, when we were old enough to get married, we knew what to look for in a guy.
Person A: I didn’t have this growing up but I envied this kind of father figure. Thankfully, several families have taken me under their wing and, through these families, I have seen what a Godly man looks like. There have been boys that have come along throughout the years that I could have dated and maybe even married. However, because I had such great role models, I didn’t settle.
- Children are taught respect.
There is a strong emphasis on children respecting adults. We were all disciplined differently. Some of us were spanked, others only had timeouts, and others had other “privileges” taken away. Regardless, from a young age, kids are taught discipline. Discipline does not mean getting punished. It means teaching a child that they, and they alone, are responsible for their actions. This includes how they act and how they react. Although one doesn’t need to be a conservative Christian to be taught this, we all feel we benefited from this.
- Children are taught that the world does not revolve around them.
Similarly, to the above point, children are taught from a young age that the world does not revolve around them. Although their thoughts, feelings, and opinions are valid and should be respected, they are not the center of the universe. They are part of a team. Having this kind of mindset has all helped us tremendously in adulthood.
6. Marriage is valued, respected and taken seriously.
From a young age, we were all taught that marriage is serious, holy, and sacred. At every wedding, the Pastor charges the couple before the vows about the seriousness of marriage. It is for life. Although at most weddings, even at weddings of non-Christians, couples make a “for life” commitment, many marriages fall apart. Although there are divorces in the Christian community, too, it’s far fewer.
Dating/courtship becomes more serious when you know you’re choosing a partner for life. When you get married, you’re saying to that person, “I am choosing you to be my partner at the absolute worst moments of my life, and I’m willingly choosing to be with you at your worst moments. We’re a team. No matter what, we’re a team.” There’s a lot of freedom in this and a lot of sacrifices. Therefore, it’s critical to choose this partner carefully. This is why dating is taken so seriously and families are often involved. When a person is infatuated or in puppy love with another person, it’s important to have a family to point out that person’s flaws or how you may not make a great team.
On that note, as we’ve already mentioned, character qualities matter. Abusive patterns don’t develop overnight (usually, absent severe trauma or other extenuating circumstance); beliefs about how to spend money, don’t change (again, absent extenuating circumstance); and your character qualities don’t change. Although you can’t foresee every problem, we believe that if you put in a lot of time getting to know someone’s character and taking the time to see them in other circumstances, you can feel confident in your marriage choice.
Disclaimer: On that note, none of us have been taught that a spouse must allow themselves to be abused. For example, if there was abuse, a spouse should absolutely be removed from that situation to be safe, although the church should encourage the abusing spouse to get professional help, and the marriage should be restored if possible.
Q: How would you define conservative or growing up conservative?
Person A: Basically, the only way I’d describe it is doctrinal. Like, I was told that “X” was the right belief, and pretty much if other “Christians” didn’t go to our church or believe X then they aren’t Christians. I didn’t understand that, though, because I’ve always thought you can go to a church that’s not IBLP or IFB and still be Christian.
Person B: I was not part of IBLP/IFB growing up. However, I agree with my friend that it’s more of a “doctrinal” belief. The fundamental aspect being taught and believing that the Bible is the absolute word of God, or as it says in 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”
Q: Did you feel your childhood was different than your non-conservative friends?
Person A: Not really, I could watch movies. My parents had some restrictions like technically I couldn’t watch Disney channel. But my parents would often let me, so I wasn’t that sheltered. My parents watched some movies that could be questionable sometimes and I could listen to secular music. One of my parent’s family isn’t Christian, so I saw stuff with them, too, that I really probably shouldn’t have seen.
Person B: No. However, most of my friends growing up attended the same church as me so we were all similar. I would say my parents were stricter when I was little. For example, they would watch movies before I could. However, once I was a teenager they pretty much let me do what I wanted, but I never had a desire to watch dirty movies (just to be clear, by dirty I mean like dirty R-rated, not Beauty and the Beast because there was supposedly a “homosexual” scene…I watched BATB it was great).
Person C: My immediate family wasn’t very conservative so I could watch and listen to just about whatever I wanted. In high school, I started to notice a difference, like I couldn’t go to boy-girl sleepovers. When certain movies came out, people at church would tell us not to watch movies. I remember when the Cat and the Hat movie came out, for example, we (my Sunday school class) made a promise not to watch it because it was “inappropriate.” Something I noticed is that for those of us who grew up with a “more sensitive conscience” we kept this as we grew up. Now, I can technically watch whatever I want, but I still have no desire to watch movies with dirty humor or overly sexualized scenes.
Q: Did you feel forced to believe in God? Was it more of a habit than a choice? Were you shunned if you didn’t believe?
A: Were we forced to believe? No, how could you force someone to believe something? But all of us, at some point, felt our faith was a habit. But all people of any faith go through that.
Despite what the questions asked, we do not know of “shunning” and we were not taught to practice “shunning.” If someone leaves the church and engages in harmful and destructive behavior we probably wouldn’t hang around them as much because we don’t want to be around that behavior. However, we wouldn’t pretend they never existed. Therefore, the threat of shunning was never used to force us to go through the motions of our faith.
We think this idea of “shunning” comes from Matthew 18: ““If another believer sins against you,[e] go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. 16 But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. 17 If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.” However, we don’t know that this was practiced against anyone.
Person A: I know a guy in my church, growing up, who slept around a lot. Like had sex with several different girls. And the man was a professing Christian, so the church tried to talk to him about this sin. I think the key difference is if you identify as Christian or not. If you don’t profess to be a Christian, then I think the church would try help you become a Christian first. Becuase that’s the main concern. However, it’s different if you claim to be a Christian, but are choosing to do stuff that is explicitly wrong. Then I would say it’s the churches role to step in and try to help you stop harmful behavior. If you’re going to blatantly do sin, and things that the church is wrong, why would you choose to be part of that church?
Person B: I’ve found that adults who fundamentally disagree with the teaching of a church don’t stay there. We were part of a church growing up that had a “doctrine shift” I guess you could call it. We were taught growing up that women had to wear skirts to be modest. Some families came out and said they didn’t believe that anymore, so those families just left the church. My parents are still friendly with the parents who left, they’re not shunned. The just don’t attend our church because they disagree about that. I wouldn’t call that shunning.
Person C: Sometimes I think the things I have been taught can cause a person to slip into habits. For example, say you have to go to church every time the door is open, or you have to read your Bible this many times a day at this time of day. That’s a habit that I got into.
Q: Have you taken into account that what you may have been taught is a trend?
Person A: Yes. I like history and research it a lot, and see that the church and society have moved in trends. I’m a big believer in having your own relationship with God, so you need to personally know what you believe and why.
Person B: Most people live off of their parents’ faith and beliefs. There should be no fear in going out and finding out for yourself. I’ve noticed that the circles I grew up in, IFB, think there’s one way to live your life. Like you have to make these exact choices. When it comes time to choose your career there’s only one way you can choose: ministry. But I think God leads us all individually.
Person C: Doesn’t everyone? No matter your faith or lack of faith, at some point every person questions what they taught. So, the short answer, for all of us, is yes. Some of us have had questions about certain beliefs and others have walked away and then come back. Krista, for example, is open about walking away from the church during her first 2 years of college and has written blog posts about that time in her life. For the most part, though, we feel all of our families did a good job of pressing the importance of us developing our faith and our relationship with God. We’re all thankful that, again, for the most part, we weren’t told “accept this belief” but were instead told the reasons behind certain customs (like dressing modestly). This made it seem like less of a trend.
Q: As a child, how were people with different beliefs presented to you? Did you have any contact with them?
A: This was different for all of us.
Person A: I actually had a really good experience. During my 5th grade Sunday School class, and again at a discipleship program as a teenager, we learned about all of the world religions. We were given a sheet that listed that religion’s belief in comparison to Christian beliefs on key issues (creation, soul, relationship with God, salvation, afterlife, ect). It was really beneficial, I think, to see how Christianity compared to other beliefs.
Person B: Yes. My parent’s family was from a different faith background. I was also allowed to attend different denominations of churches, but when I got home my parents would say why that denomination was wrong compared to ours.
Q: How was abortion explained to you, and at what age were you exposed to that theme for the first time?
*Person A: My experience is different than that of my friends. I, too, knew about abortion for as long as I can remember. It wasn’t until I was a pre-teen that I knew what abortion actually was, but I always knew to some extent that an abortion involved women choosing to no longer be pregnant. To kill her baby. And as I look back on this now I think about how weird that part was. And I wonder why more people didn’t question that, or at the very least ask why. If all children, regardless of how they were conceived or what their perceived abilities are are a gift, then why wouldn’t a woman want a baby? As I’ve gotten older and talked to women that have had abortions, I realized it’s because something really awful had happened. No woman grows up wanting to have an abortion. They have it because they feel like they have no other choice, or that it somehow is the best choice under a horrible set of circumstances. I can only speak for myself and my experiences, but at least in my church, I don’t think even the most staunch pro-lifer would call a woman who had an abortion evil. I think they honestly (from my experience) feel bad for the woman. However, what I wish my church would do that I haven’t experienced, is focus on the reason why the woman is getting an abortion in the first place. Obviously, she had sex and got pregnant (maybe it was consensual, maybe she was married. 1/3 of women get abortions in the US so it’s tough to paint a stereotype). Many women get abortions because they feel like it’s the best choice under a horrible set of circumstances. The church needs to focus more on what these circumstances are. Poverty? Lack of access to education? I wish the church would equally address these problems, the root problems. Sure, if the women hadn’t gotten pregnant she wouldn’t be seeking an abortion, but if she wasn’t stuck in poverty she probably wouldn’t be seeking an abortion, either. So, although I didn’t have this kind of teaching growing up I wish this is a teaching the church would adopt. That you can say abortion is evil and oppose it, but this isn’t enough. They must also seek to get rid of the root causes of women seeking an abortion. I think some are afraid this is too liberal. But I know there’s at least more and more people my age who are open to this approach. There just has to be a conversation about it first.
Person B: The first time I really remember realizing what abortion was I was about 14. However, the term or the general concept wasn’t foreign to me because “Pro-Life” people spoke a lot at my church and groups from my church participated in pro-life events.
Person C: I vividly remember the first time I realized what abortion was. I was in elementary school, maybe 10, and somehow my Sunday School teacher brought up the fact that some women don’t want their babies and they go to the doctor and the doctor rips the baby’s brains out. I think that’s when I became pro-life.
Q: Are you encouraged to learn other languages?
Becuase missions is stressed, learning languages is important. You can’t be a missionary if you can’t communicate with people or speak their language.
Q: Are there disadvantages to growing up in a Conservative community?
There are advantages and disadvantages to growing up in any environment, period. However, collectively we came up with two “disadvantages” if we have to call them that.
1. A general skepticism about the information presented from non-Christians and non-Christian sources. Because we’re taught to be very careful about what information we put into our brains there is a general skepticism about information from non-Christians, and perhaps too much trust on information from Christians. This causes Christians sometime to miss out on certain information or be misled in others. It’s important to have a healthy skepticism about all information and to dig deeper.
2. It can be difficult to step away from potentially unhealthy relationships, especially if that person is an authority figure. Because the importance of family and community is stressed it can be difficult to step away from relationships that are unhealthy. Not necessarily abusive, but just not good. It would be easier, for example, not avoid Aunt Suzy who always criticizes her if you only had to see her once a year, than if you have to see her every week.
Q: Do you feel you missed out on any opportunities being homeschooled?
Person A: I was not homeschooled my entire education. But as far as homeschool, yes and no. That’s a hard question, though. Because it not only has to do with being homeschool because it also had to do with how I was raised. I didn’t know if I could leave for college right after high school so that changed how I viewed my education.
However, homeschool really helped me figure out what I liked and what academic interests I had. I could pursue topics I was interested in. However, I live in a more rural area and there weren’t opportunities to pursue the arts, which I’m interested in, in a way I would want to. I think if I lived in a more populated area I could have pursued these better. So the lack of opportunity was based more on my location than my being homeschooled.
Person B: I think it depends on the parents. Both of my parents really valued education and chose to homeschool me because they thought I could learn better at home than in a public school setting. I began taking community college classes in high school, which many of my friends and the public school couldn’t do. But my great experience was based on my parents being involved.
Person C: Like my friends said, it depends. My parents homeschooled me because they believed it was their job, as parents, to raise me and teach me. That includes my education. I think they did a great job and I find that I know just much as my public school friends. The only difference would be that my family used a faith-based curriculum, like Sonlight and Abeka. I also liked that everything was tailored to me. Like I was further ahead in math so I would do like fifth-grade math, but I was only at a fourth-grade reading level. I moved at my pace not the pace of my peers, which I feel really helped.
Q: Have you felt unsupported in your desire to pursue higher education?
Person A: No, not really. My parents want me to do something useful, and I do, too. When I was 16 I started taking dual enrollment courses at my local community college. That was actually encouraged by my parents. College is expensive, and I didn’t want to burden my family with the costs. Going to community college allowed me to explore different options. I ended up choosing not to go to a 4-year college but that was because I didn’t want to, and I ended up working. Not because I wasn’t allowed to or because my parents didn’t want me too.
Person B: I wouldn’t say they discouraged me but it was never pushed. I chose to pursue other opportunities, paid opportunities so yes I had a real job instead of going to college. However, my younger sister is at a real accredited college now and it’s a good fit for her.
Person C: Yes. I feel women in my circles, IFB kids, are typically encouraged to go to an IFB college and pursue ministry type things like pastoral studies, missionary training, and then be a church secretary or pianist. So, my experience has been that the focus is on the church and ministry only.
I don’t think God calls everyone to be a pastor. Or a foreign missionary. There’s the great commission that we’re all supposed to be missionaries but that shouldn’t limit our college options.
When I talk to my parents about college they seem turned off by it unless it involves an IFB college. They won’t let me talk about anything else, not even Missionary Baptist. I think my parents think you go to college to find a spouse, and they fear that if I go to a non-IFB college I may marry outside of the faith.
*Person D: I’ve been thinking about this a lot. It’s not that I was told not to go to college, it’s that my parents left it completely up to me. I took some classes at the public school and did some classes through a homeschool curriculum. In high school, my parents gave me the choice to go to public school. Honestly after homeschooled several kids I think they were just ready to be done and they knew I was responsible and wouldn’t fall to peer pressure. They also realized I probably wouldn’t be influenced too much during a 90-minute lecture class. So I took a class there but I didn’t like it. I’m an independent learner and I really didn’t like being in a class with 20 other kids and moving at their pace. It felt silly to be in a 90-minute class 5 days a week when I could get the same material done on my own at home for the week in 3 hours. But that’s beside the point. When I was at school during the last 2 years, many of my classmates were facing a lot of pressure to not only go to college but to go to certain colleges or do certain things. One classmate imparticular was considering one university, but his dad got all upset because that university was the rival of his alma mater. So then I’d go home and my parents left it completely up to me. They didn’t care either way, as long I was productive after I graduated. Other than a few professionals in our church like doctors and lawyers, everyone owned businesses. Since family is the most important thing, people don’t want to have a career that would cause them to miss out on family time and opportunities. So, this lack of pressure actually made things tough for me.
I ended up going to an in-state college and lived at home and commuted. I really didn’t like it. I mean I guess I liked what I was learning but it felt like it was a waste of time. I know there’s an intellectual value but I’ve never been an intellectual that liked to talk about things. I’m practical. While I was paying to sit in class, my friends were starting businesses or getting married. Ironically my parents did care when I told them I wanted to quit and my dad got mad because he told me before I started college that if I started it I had to finish. So I ended up switching to an online platform and did some hybrid classes and am in the process of finishing. Doing it online also allows me to work and spend time with my family.
*Person E: Liberty offers a program where you can combine your high school and associates degree so I just did this. That way I had an associate if I wanted to continue on with my education. My parents always wanted to leave doors open, so no, I don’t think I was unsupported.
Q: Are kids taught sex education? If so at what age and in what context?
A: Like any family, it all depends on the family and the child. Some of us grew up in farm environments so we knew about the “birds and the bees” from a younger age. Others of us were generally taught that boys and girls are different, but that was it until adolescence. It just depended on the family.
Person A: I think I was like technically 16 or 17 when we had “the talk.” But I didn’t feel I had much to learn. I had non-Christian family members that were open about everything, so I knew as much as my non-Christian friends did.
Q: Why do most women in the conservative community choose not to work or further their education?
A: Women don’t have to go to college because they don’t have to have careers. In a way, we have more choices than most women. We can stay and live at home as long as we want. We don’t have to leave. So we can choose between staying at home or going to college, where in non-Christian families you get kicked out so you have to go to college or go live on your own and have to fend for yourself. While in Conservative communities we really get the choice.
Person A: My family has offered to pay for me to go take college courses. However, it’s not something I’m interested in right now because if I have a question, I can watch Youtube video series or buy used textbooks used at the local colleges. I’m just not paying to take a course.
Person B: I actually really like to learn. To learn everything I want I’d have to major in literally everything. So I just buy used college textbooks and self-study about things that I’m interested in. I don’t desire a career in something that requires a degree, like a doctor or a lawyer, so I don’t need to go to college. I’m still reading the same textbooks as kids taking those classes.
*Person C: I think it’s because the most important thing to us is our families. If you have a career, no matter how you try to frame it, there will come a time where you have to choose between your family and someway in your career. Like you either after go to your child’s event or the meeting. I think you have to be really passionate and called to a career to do this. And I just don’t know many people that are so passionate about something that they’d be willing to do that. I’m single so I don’t have this dilemma. I’m taking business courses and running my own business. I’d like to continue to do this because if I ever do get married I can be my own boss.
III. Health and Mental Well-Being
Q: Do you feel health issues are dealt with in an appropriate way?
A: We all had different experiences with this. Ultimately, it depends on the family and the church. But that’s like literally every other community.
Person A: I actually came from what many people would describe as a very conservative family. At one point the women even wore head coverings. But, my family always saw mental illness as an illness. When I began to struggle with depression as a teenager, they took me to the doctors and I was put on anti-depressants that really helped. But they also prayed with me, too. Just like they would pray with me if I was sick. My family thinks there are physical and spiritual sides to all illnesses.
Person B: I was taught, through ILBP, that mental health issues stem from unconfessed sin. In some ways, I think that it can. Like, I think if you really wronged someone and tried to keep it a secret, you could enter a depression. But, I don’t think this is the predominant teaching anymore. As knowledge has grown, and families in my church had children who suffered from anxiety and depression disorders, it became quite clear that not all mental health is a result of sin. In fact, my pastor compared it to lung cancer. Sometimes, you can do sin (like smoking) and it will lead to lung cancer. Other times, you do everything right eat healthily, and don’t smoke, and you can still get lung cancer. But at the end of the day, you still have a serious illness. Depression and mental illness is the same. Sometimes you can do sins that lead to mental illness, and other times you don’t do anything wrong. But at the end of the day, you still have an illness that needs to be treated. It took my pastor a long time to come to this point, but it’s a big deal that he recognizes this now, and I think there’s a big shift happening in my church. Which is good.
Person C: No, because many people in my church don’t believe that it [mental health problems] exists. Like, my church believes it’s more of a sin problem than a health issue. They try to over-spiritualize it, for lack of better words.
Person D*: As far as talking about feelings and problems I think it’s getting better. I think generally people are nervous about getting non-Christian advice at the most vulnerable point of their life. If you’re depressed or your marriage is struggling you’re in a vulnerable place. I was always taught that when we’re in these vulnerable places we need to be extra careful and not let our guard down. So I think this is why some people might be a skeptic of outside help. But I think there has been an increased awareness lately of licensed professional Christian counselors. Many Christian colleges are now offering masters programs. I think it can be tougher to establish trust in conservative communities. I think recommendations are incredibly important. There’s a counseling practice near me run by a Christian married couple. One family in my church saw them and now other people in my church, including my family on occasion, have seen them. I think there’s a belief that these kinds of family matters should be handled within the church. But after one family goes to a counselor and it helps more are willing to go.
Q: If a child has a disability such as autism or mental health issues how in your experience is it treated in the conservative Christian community?
We’re taught that all children are gifts, and therefore, all children are wanted. We don’t believe a child having a disability is a “punishment” or anything like that, they’re still a gift. Like any family, a family would seek help how they feel is best appropriate.
Marriage / Romantic Relationships
Q: Would you ever date a non-Christian person?
No. Why would we? Our faith is very important to us and governs everything we do. It would be nearly impossible to be married to someone who didn’t share the same convictions. It wouldn’t be fun for him and it wouldn’t be fun for us.
Q: Why is being married young toted as a great thing?
A: We didn’t see it that way. We think it just happens because most kids don’t go to college or go off to join careers. So they don’t have obstacles that would make it difficult for them to get married. If you find the right person, and you can afford it, why wait? Getting married is the point of life sometimes if you’re running in those circles.
Q: How much do you have to put up with before you divorce?
As talked about earlier, marriage is serious and sacred. You shouldn’t get married unless you’re ready for the seriousness of a lifelong commitment that’s for better or for worse. The Bible is pretty clear about when you can get a divorced, however, if you get a divorced you can’t get remarried while that spouse is still alive. None of us were ever taught that we need to physically remain in the home of an unsafe marriage. However, all help would be encouraged restore the marriage. There are licensed, professional Christian counselors, for example. And the nice thing about being in a close community is that a lot of people are willing to help. Unfortunately, people still get divorced, and what that point is for everyone is different, and may not be Biblical.
Q: How would men react if a woman wanted to be independent and work outside of the home?
Like everything in life, it would depend on the guy. We know non-Christians who don’t want their wives to work. But all of us were encouraged in some way work outside of the home, like running our own business. You can also make way more money running your own business and it’s more comfortable. In most of our families, you don’t have to get a job. Working isn’t looked down upon it’s just that you don’t have to. Your parents pay for things, you contribute in other ways. So it’s not that we can’t it’s that we don’t need to or want to.
Q: Have you ever felt frustrated with the gender-based limitations you face in a conservative Christian community? Has there been something you were interested in but unable to due because of enforced gender roles and the expected place for women in your community?
Person A: Despite what the media may say, I honestly don’t feel like I was treated that much different than boys. Really, I don’t. I guess you could say that there were “traditional” gender roles by the fact that the women in my family wore skirts, but in non-Chrisitan families little gifts often wear pink. I was never told I couldn’t go to college or I couldn’t work. I was encouraged to start my own business just like my brothers were. My brothers were interested in cars and I had other interests. We were both allowed to pursue our interests. How is that a burden just because I like things traditionally associated with “women”?
Person B: Not really. I guess the only “burden” would be that I didn’t know many adult women who had jobs outside. I guess the burden would be that if I chose to get married then there would be this unsaid expectation that I’d be a stay at home mom. But people always have expectations about everything and that’s why it’s important to find someone that has the same goals as you. I think ultimately my parents just want me to be happy. And they found a lot of happiness being married so they think I’d be happily married, too.
Q: Are tampons frowned upon?
A: This made us all laugh. We were never told we can’t use them. None of us had the desire to.
Q: Do you think a woman in a conservative community can be more than just a woman who dresses in skirts and dresses only and her only job is to have babies? Do you think a woman can find a way to be an individual with her own set of beliefs in a conservative community without having to break rules or ultimate having to leave the community?
Obviously. We’re all different and we all have different beliefs, talents, and interests. Some of us are artists (like actual artists, not just paint by number from a Wal-Mart kit kind of artists), some of us are business owners, Krista is in law school, and others are pursuing degrees through different college options. We’re all different.
Q: How much individuality and independence do you genuinely have in making decisions, lifestyle choices, fashion choices, employment decisions, etc.? Or are they really actually made by your male “leader” (dad, husband)?
A: We all feel we were given freedom to make our own choices. It would be really creepy if our dads bought our clothes for us, and we’d look awful. Most of us still live at home, and it makes sense to respect the wishes of our parents. If they’re letting us live in their house rent-free, the least we can do is respect certain wishes they have. But once we’re out of the house, either because we went to college (yes, we go to college) or get married, we are no longer under our parent’s roofs, and we don’t need to give the same deference to our parent’s wishes.
We think something unique to conservative communities is that, as a whole, children, even adult children, really seek out the wisdom from our parents. Therefore, it’s not that we can’t do something, it’s that we choose not to. Some of us have done things our parents disagreed with while we lived at home. None of us were kicked out or shunned. There may have been a social pressure or we may have felt like we disappointed our parents, but our parents didn’t lock us in our room and not let us out for wearing pants, or a certain brand of clothing, or cutting our hair, or deciding we want to do something.
Also, we know young adult women who moved out because they didn’t want to live by the standards their parents had, and their relationship with their parents improved as a result. They weren’t shunned or anything. But it’s fair that if you’re going to live rent-free in your parent’s home that you respect their wishes.
Q: Do you feel like women are treated as second-class citizens in conservative Christian communities in your experience?
A: No, we actually feel more respected. Women are described as a treasure. Men are taught to be “old-fashioned” and to offer their coats and chairs, to say “yes ma’am.” We’ve never been catcalled at a conservative event, nor have we had disgusting sexual things said about us. Since women are seen as treasures, we feel, at least through mannerisms, that women are treated better.
Older women in our churches are especially seen as wise, and it’s not uncommom for men to seek them out for their wisdom and advice.
Q: Talk about Modesty. What does it mean and why?
A: Modesty, in general, is about not drawing negative attention to yourself. Negative attention is having people notice you for the way that you look, and not because of your character. You are a mind, and a heart, and a soul. People should see this, and not see you as a piece of meat. Although you can’t control what other people think, and other people are responsible for their thoughts, you should never get dressed with the purpose of having people think sexual thoughts towards you. You don’t have to wear a tent or have no self-expression. Instead, you should have so much respect for yourself that you want people to know you. And you only want to share intimate things with someone you trust and respect and want to share your life with.
Person A: I was watching a movie about Kylie Jenner about how she is causing women to be more objectified because she only posts pictures of her body and not even her face. So this isn’t even showing that she’s a whole person. She’s just looking like a sex object. You’re not your butt or your chest or your hair. You’re a full person. I want to dress in a way that presents me as a full person.
Q: What are conservative modesty standards?
A: It varies by family but we came up with this general outline of “levels,” I guess you could call it.
Basic Modesty standards:
The purpose is to not draw negative attention to yourself. Therefore, a woman could technically wear a skirt and have really long hair, and still be immodest if she was dressing in a very flashy way for the purpose of drawing attention to her body. Or, she could also dress very modesty, but be overly flirtatious. (one girl said: there’s a lot of “fundie girls” who are very flirtatious. I know too many and they drive me crazy! And every time I’m like: you preach modesty and saving your heart and then I see you flirt with every guy who walks by you. Even at Big Sandy. It’s gross. Please stop).
Levels of modesty:
Level 1: Basic. Don’t do things to draw attention to your body. This means not wearing overly flashy make-up, tight clothing, low cut shirts, ect. If you can see every “curve and roll” it’s a problem.
Level 2: More stereotypical “modest” dress. Make sure you wear flowy clothing, everything below knee, under shirts, ect.
Level 3: Don’t draw attention to your butt area. Either wear skirts or wear pants with a long shirt that covers your bottom.
Level 4: Head coverings.
Q: Do you think the notion that women need to dress modestly in order to not cause their brothers in Christ to stumble perpetuates rape culture and places blame on the victim? Or do you think men are taught as much to be accountable for their gaze as women are taught to dress modestly?
Everyone needs to dress in a way that says, “I respect myself.” To us, that means not dressing in a way that you know will cause you to be seen as an object, and also not choosing outfits for the purpose of making guys sexually attracted to you. Obviously, this is a double sided question. Just as much as women (and men) need to dress in a respectful manner, men are responsible for their own actions. No matter how a woman dresses, a man is responsible for how he acts, including how he thinks. No matter what women wear, a man could still be sinfully attracted to her. So, women shouldn’t wear a cardboard box. But, they shouldn’t desire to dress in a way that will make men sexually attracted to them. We think that’s the conclusion: women shouldn’t wear clothes to make men sexually attracted to them, and men are equally responsible for their own thoughts and actions.
Q: Why are there some women who choose not to wear pants? What’s wrong with pants?
First, we want to say that none of us, not one, were taught that wearing pants is a sin. Some of us were taught that it’s wiser for a woman to wear a skirt, but we were never taught it was a sin. It’s a big misconception in the media that all conservative women refuse to wear pants. This isn’t true. Even in the most conservative churches, some women wear pants. Even in IBLP and ATI circles, women wear pants. Maybe not at big events because they know most women will be wearing skirts and they don’t want to stand out.
So why may a family believe it’s wiser to wear skirts? Simple, they don’t want to draw attention to that part of their body. Pants often have designs on the back pockets, or just by the way that they’re shaped draw attention to that part of the body. You don’t know who will be looking at you, and what they’ll be thinking, and they want to prevent people from thinking about that part of their body. There are loose fitting pants but, let’s be honest, these pants often aren’t the most fashionable. And it’s easier to put together a cute outfit with a tunic top or dress/skirt than a loose fitting pair of sweatpants.