Saturday, February 16, 2013

Q&A with Lana of My Musing Corner

I had the opportunity this week to interview Lana of the blog My Musing Corner. Lana is a blogger, a cult survivor who left the Bill Gothard branch of the Independent Fundamental Baptist organization, and a missionary in Southeast Asia.

I asked her about her childhood, and about her experiences and life now as a missionary.

1. First of all, can you explain to my readers who Bill Gothard is and his beliefs? Some readers may not be familiar with him.

Bill Gothard is an evangelical leader in the  fundamental Christian homeschool community. He teaches that couples should not use birth control and have many children. He also teaches what he calls the “umbrella of authority” where women and children must submit to their father/husband, and girls must wear only dresses and not cut their hair. He teaches that rock music is evil because it came from pagan Africa. For this reason, the only type of music allowed in the home was classical music.

Everything is about outward appearance. A big emphasis in his teaching is character, such as first time obedience and cheerfulness. Gothard also teaches that we should carry out Old Testament laws, including no pork, and the Old Testament’s rules about when a couple cannot have sex (during a woman’s period, 40 days after giving birth to a son and 80 days after giving birth to a daughter). 

2.  You have talked about on your blog about when your family first joined ATI when you were 6 years old. What attracted your family to Bill Gothard’s teachings? Were your parents Christians before they joined? If so, what denominations/groups were they a part of before? 

My parents both grew up Southern Baptist. Bill Gothard has a seminar called the Institute of Basic Life Principles. This seminar is for any conservative families, not just people apart of ATI. My parents never intended to get involved in the legalism; they attended the seminar because it promised to give them tools on how to raise a godly family and taught anger management. We showed up to our first seminar in pants, and my parents had to go buy us dresses the next day.  Anyway, we slowly got into the legalism from there. It was not overnight. 

3. In a past post on sheltering and the way fundamentalists homeschool their children, you said that you didn't know homosexuals existed until you were 16 years old. 

What did you mean by that? Had you never even heard of homosexuality until that time, or had you simply never met a gay person until you were 16? 

I had no idea that some people are attracted to those of the same gender, and never even considered that possibility.  Everyone in my life was straight, traditional families, and we never talked about people who were different. I also grew up in the South, so the homosexual community was behind doors. The first time I found out about homosexuality was when my mom mentioned that someone in our homeschool group was dating a girl whose mom was a lesbian. I assumed lesbian meant a prostitute, but later looked up the word in the dictionary.

4. It is often hard to adjust to the outside world after growing up in fundamentalism. You have talked about living in the aftermath of this. Have you noticed, like me, a big cultural disconnect with other people? (When you are back in the US). Do references to movies, common children’s toys, etc during the time you grew up make you feel lost? 

Like you, I am still culturally disconnected. I spent 18 years of my life living apart from mainstream culture. Recently friends were talking about the 20 year reunion of Ninja Turtle. I never saw that show. As a kid I never saw Barney (until I babysat as a teenager), so I could never laugh at Barney jokes. I never watched the Disney channel. I did not go to the movie theater. I never played with barbies.

 I still remember my first pair of store bought shoes. My grandmother bought them for me when I was 16, so I could take a driver’s ed class without looking like I was from the 1800's. I never went on a date, never talked to people with a different religion, and never went to school. Anyway, yes, there are still so many conversations I can’t join in on.  I compare it to life overseas. Overtime I've learned the culture in Asia more, and I feel more at ease there, but I will never be Asian simply because I didn't immerse in it as a kid.  It’s the same way with mainstream American culture. I have learned it overtime, but because I didn't immerse in it as a kid, it still feels like it’s not mine. It still feels somewhat foreign. 

5. I have noticed that many former fundamentalist bloggers are now atheist/agnostics (like myself), what convinced you to stay in Christianity despite all you went through in Bill Gothard’s organization? Was there ever a time you seriously considered giving up Christianity altogether?

Great question. I have doubted, but it started long before I rejected fundamentalism. The first time I doubted God’s existence was when I was nine. At that time, my mother told me we know God exists because we, as creatures, must have a creator. I asked mom who created God, and she had no answer other than “he always existed.” If we needed a creator, I thought God should have one.  So for a time, I pondered the idea that perhaps I was like a doll and some kind of figment of a divine imagination. I would tap myself repeatedly to see if I was real.

The main way my childhood affected my belief's today is that once I knew I had been lied to about what the Bible said about women and a handful of other teachings, I had a problem on my hands. I couldn't trust my parents or the church leaders. I had to study the truth for myself.  In the end, science has not been able to answer my questions about human consciousness, or the fact that I just “feel” as if I am a soul trapped in a body. Christianity does answer those questions. I do realize I accept this on faith. 

6. Since you are a Christian missionary in Asia, how do Asian Christians see American Christianity? What is their opinion of the way the faith is practiced in the US? 

Buddhists teach reincarnation. This means that if someone lives a moral and kind life, then he or she will have a high quality of life in a future life. For example, if you murder, you might be reborn in hell or as an animal; if you’re good and give your money and time to the poor, you might come back as a rich person. It all depends on the life you lead today. Buddhists believe religion helps a person in their journey. This is because religion not only encourages people to give, but religion also involves prayer and meditation, a task important to knowing oneself, one’s own flaws, and conquering the ego within. So, Buddhists do not really care what religion people practice as long as the religion encourages them to love, not hate. 

They see Christianity as admirable, and see Jesus as a great man like Buddha. The part of Christianity that Buddhists do not understand is Christians raising their hands and praising God without a statue in front of them. In Buddhism worship is not about praising a creator; instead Buddhists focus on living as the Buddha did (hence the statue symbolizes this) and ridding themselves of the ego. For this reason, Catholicism is more attractive than Evangelicalism; the Virgin Mary takes the place of the Buddha. 

7. How would you describe your spiritual beliefs now? Would you call yourself a liberal Christian?

I am an Evangelical Universalist. That means I still believe in the Orthodox teachings about Jesus’ deity, but I no longer see God as exclusive. Some people might call that liberal. I wrote about how I came to reconcile this belief with missions in my post, Missions From An Unfundamentalist Christian.

(Sheldon's note): I would like to thank Lana for participating in this Q&A session, I've been a fan of her blog, and vice versa for some time now. Check out my post, Finally, Someone Who Understands What I Am Talking About, it's a response to a long comment Lana left on the blog about ACE, the fundamentalist curriculum we both were raised with.

Also read the post that Lana links to in question 7, it's a powerful post. This line from that post is incredible:
 "I knew there was no way I could have more of a heart for humanity than God did."
That realization has lead countless people out of fundamentalism, but it has different effects on different people. For me, it led me out of Christianity altogether, for Lana, it led her to become a Christian Universalist. 

Last thought:Yes, Grundy, I did "steal" the idea for a Q&A interview from you. ;)


  1. I have found that most people when they do change faiths typically move from a more conservative faith to a liberal restrictive one. I had one friend in college who went from agnostic to Catholic, but he was mentally ill (true story).

    1. I think it's a bit of what the anti-fundamentalism/anti-cult blog, Commandments of Men calls a "halfway house" effect. Some people who leave cults don't want to give up Christianity entirely, so they go for a milder form of the faith.

  2. Excellent interview, Lana and Sheldon! I am curious, Lana, if you would characterize fundamentalism as more concerned with rank, authority, and obedience than with spiritual growth?

    1. It depends on the group. A group like the IFB, which Bill Gothard is a part of, would fall into the first category, as well as groups like Sovereign Grace Ministries.

      I think evangelical groups like Southern Baptists, Assembly of God, etc, aim to fall into the spiritual growth category, but will fall prey to wanting power and control, and it especially depends on who you have in power in that specific church or organization.

      Groups like the IFB are all about power, and I don't think it's completely inaccurate they label they sometimes receive, "the Christian Taliban".

    2. Interesting thought. Certainly Sheldon is right that ATI, Sovereing Grace, and the IFB church is more concerned with authority and obedience. ATI teaches 49 character qualities. Sadly, its all outward behavior. Instant obedience with a smile and verbal commitment to follow through with the command is stressed more than, for example, training the children to follow his or her conscious.

      Is all fundamentalism this way? I'd say all of evanglicalism definitely is not. If we use fundamentalism to mean evangelicalism, certainly that is not true for all fundamentals. But I think more of the fundamental church is concerned with rank and authority than comfortable to admit in lesser forms.

    3. Not all of evangelicalism is that way, and some that are that way are not aiming to be.

  3. Ha, I just noticed this! (I have entirely too many blogs to read) Great interview, Lana.

    And, Sheldon, you'll be hearing from my lawyers.

    1. What would be a good time for them to meet with my lawyers? ;)


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