Former IFB still in recovery…
I don’t talk much about my short stint in Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) Land but the scars are still there. So much that I feel compelled to write a book (fiction) about it. I don’t know if there’s a Christian publisher out there crazy enough to publish it but I see it as a story that needs to be told. (I like to think Matthew Paul Turner‘s publisher might be a good place to start…)
For the first 16 years of my life, I grew up Roman Catholic. I went to Catholic schools throughout my entire primary and secondary education. I was baptized into the Catholic Church, received communion, and was even confirmed. (My confirmation name was Kateri Tekawitha.)
My uncle and aunt on my dad’s side began attending a church on the border of Queens and Nassau County, Long Island and soon my father began to go to church with them. I later joined my father and was immediately introduced to born-again Christianity. The first time I heard of hellfire and brimstone was the very day that I raised my hand and went forward during the altar call hoping I could avoid eternal damnation. I don’t think I became a “believer” that very day but it was a turning point for me in my Christian spirituality.
As a Catholic, I found that the one thing keeping me from committing suicide was the teaching that if I killed myself, I’d be plunged into an eternal hell. As a born-again Christian, I found the one thing that kept me alive was the teaching that Jesus loved me so much and died in my place to keep me out of hell. Perhaps this is why I gladly left the Roman Catholic Church for a Protestant one. (Although IFB preachers shun the term “Protestant.”)
The main character and protagonist of my novel, Ms. Montez, is based off of me. I’m careful not to make her exactly like me but the similarities are evident and many of the events affecting her and surrounding her are based on my personal experiences.
Ms. Montez is a 16-year-old Hispanic female who suffers from depression and frequently sees suicide as a viable option after struggling with being teased at school, the abandonment of her older brother, and the absence of real-life friends. But just like most people who attempt suicide, Ms. Montez does not want to necessarily die—she wants to be freed from the pain of depression; Ms. Montez is on a quest for inner peace.
When Ms. Montez visits an IFB church that her aunt goes to, she expresses an interest in knowing more about Jesus. She is drawn in and “sold” on born-again Christianity when it sounds as though she is promised freedom from depression, loneliness, and suicide through the cross of Jesus Christ.
There is more to the story but the book goes on to address issues that are common not just in IFB churches but in many Christian churches today: mental health, hypocrisy, greed, gossip, adultery, and legalism. If taken the wrong way, I firmly believe the book could be read as a condemnation on Christian churches, but it is not meant to be so. The book is about a young girl’s struggle to find and maintain a relationship with God in the midst of this messy, broken-down world of sin—the church not excluded.
So many people have been hurt and burned by Christians in churches. My personal experience has been with the IFB world, and as such, the book centers around that. The book is not a commentary on all IFB churches but rather, undesirable characteristics that are frequently found within them.
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Many of the events in the book are based on mine or other people’s real-life experiences:
- The white youth pastor from the Midwest who showed up to an inner city youth group meeting in blackface
- The church that virtually worshiped the pastor and ended up with cult-like features
- The married youth pastor who had an affair with a teenage girl
- The pastor who guilts his congregation into attending every church activity
- The Christian who has been burned one too many times by other church members and feels he can no longer trust anyone in “the church”
- The greedy pastor who laid a heavy burden on his congregants to tithe but bilked much of the money from the church
- The pastor who preached against gossiping from the pulpit but would divulge personal matters of members’ lives to other people
- The pastor who chewed a woman out at church for catching her wearing pants at the mall instead of a long skirt
- The well-meaning yet holier-than-thou church member who tells a person struggling with mental illness that they need to pray more, read the Bible more, have more faith, or repent of sin in his or her life
It is in the midst of all of these things (and more) that my protagonist must seek to rely on God. It seems like an impossible feat. And in so many ways, it is. But with God, all things are possible. Ms. Montez manages to do it, which reminds me that I can too.
I created a Facebook page called I Am A Recovering Independent Fundamental King James Only Baptist. A few friends mentioned to me that they wanted to join the group but didn’t want to make family members still entrenched in IFB churches mad. I could only help but smile: my book will probably manage to do that and more to family and friends. But on the other hand, I think my book might also allow family and friends to identify with some painful experiences—much more valuable than a Facebook fan page, for sure.