My Faithful HERITAGE (Part 2)
by Daniel Banks
May 23rd 2005
As I sit here and remember these times, I am almost afraid of what might have been should I have chosen a different path. It's not the bad things that may have happened that frighten me most, but rather the missed opportunities. Who would I be today and how much farther along in life could I be? These are questions that continuously haunt me during my quiet moments. I am married and now a father--a two-month-old father--and have vowed not to expose my son to the dead-end path of organized religion. And perhaps the rest of my story will clear up any questions as to why.
The turning point of my life came when I picked up the phone to ask to be readmitted to the Christian school. I had to jump through hoops and prove that I was worthy of such a request. Now, I was an active member of the church and had by this time figured out how to gain acceptance by my peers. I merely molded myself into the perfect clone of what they most desired. I helped my mother teach junior church. I got up early Sunday mornings and helped on the bus. I went soul-winning every Wednesday night, spreading the word-- something I now deeply regret--not because the word necessarily is bad, but rather those who preached it. Many lives were affected by my single knock on their door and for that I am sorry. So back to the school.
They accepted my request and I was once again part of the inner flock. I idolized or rather made a father figure out of Mr. Stine. I hung on his every word and wanted to please him in every way I could. I could not have chosen a worse example to do this. He gained my trust and my friendship--despite his earlier neglect and verbal and emotional abuse. After all, I was the child and he was the adult so it had to have been me who had the problem. So, I believed this and as all good Christians do--confessed my shortcomings and moved on.
There is no particular moment to which I can point that affected me more than another--it was a general atmosphere of exclusiveness and emotional manipulation. Some call it the carrot and stick method--I call it brainwashing. Reward those who follow the leader and punish those who don't. Prepare an environment in which only choice is presented and all other choices pushed aside or demonized and what you have is a good old fashioned cult. And that is what it was. Men and women and children all blindly following an adulterous leader who supposedly was the chosen servant of God. Same old story--different place, right?
Two years in and I was expelled yet again--this time for telling Mr. Stine off, who was now my principal. A student was having an affair with a teacher and I had written a little parody of this situation. The teacher did not find the assignment funny and had given me an 'incomplete', which would affect my grade point average. I took this issue to the principal as any student would and rather than investigating the issue, he threw out my assignment and followed me into the hall as I walked away. At which point, I was upset.
Now supposedly this man was my friend and father figure. He grabbed my face and told me that I had a problem with authority--and I did: his authority and the authority of the hypocrisy of the school. I told him his authority stunk and walked out. He expelled me on the spot. In fact, he even followed me into the bathroom--because I had to change--and threatened to call the police if I did not vacate the premises. I did not have a gun--I don't even think that I was all that upset. One side note to this moment--I had preached in chapel that very morning--on of all topics--I think respecting your elders. (Which is the only reason I shared this part of my story.) So there you have it, once again expelled and faced with the PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM (pretend that that was a booming voice.) Have you guessed what happened next? That's right--I apologized and ended up only serving a suspension--not because as my friend and principal said I had done anything wrong--but rather because his "image of authority" would be compromised if he didn't do anything.
I am sure that you have either fallen asleep by now or probably had some remark about the utter stupidity of my story--I am sure that you are not alone in that thought. But I am going to continue anyway because it is my story and I need to tell it.
Does God like individuals who think for themselves? Apparently not. I had come across the Calvinistic way of thinking and had some extensive research into exactly where in scripture one could come to those conclusions. I found that it only made sense that God being who he is would know the outcome of any decision before it was made and therefore it was impossible to do other than what God already knew. So although--and I paraphrase Alford's Greek New Testament--in our current finite state it is impossible to understand the infiniteness of God--we still are what God has us to be.
Well, we had a pastor who was our English teacher who also was a so-called friend. We often spent lunch together studying the Bible and discussing theory. One day he decided to have me share my Calvinistic thinking with the class. He asked me to stand up and explain what I thought--a trap even more obvious than that of the coyote for the roadrunner. Never being the shy one I stepped into it head first and proceeded to explain my take on God's omniscience. My teacher's response "So you believe babies go to hell, then?" You can only imagine the reaction and the ridicule that followed from my classmates. I could quite honestly fill volumes of experiences just like this. But to spare you the melodrama, I will move on.
Now not everything was bad. I had discovered to at least partial acceptance. Become a preacher. And become I preacher I did. Still in high school, I preached in church a couple of times and did special speaking for our chapel services. I had turned it into a form of art. I was able to dissect and explain scriptural principles in a way that made people think that I was born or rather chosen to do this with my life. Truth is, I just knew what words to say and how to say them. There wasn't much going on on the inside. It actually became more like a part in a play rather than my reality.
Flash forward to my senior year and the decision of where to go to college. Having felt the "call of God" on my life or rather the incredible pressure of both teachers and pastors, I chose a small Bible college in Ankeny, Iowa. Which would not have been the choice of those seeking "God's will for my life." It was the closest to rebelling against them that I came. So off I went--to the non-King James, Dispensational, GARB associated college. You would have thought that I was going straight to hell by the reactions of my so-called advisors and mentors. And things did not get much better, there. It's funny wherever a religious influence has existed; the people have been unusually mean to me. It's almost as if they hate themselves so much that they need to exercise that hate on someone who differs just a little from their understanding of life. Having had enough of the hypocrisy, I left the college after only one semester to return home to what I thought would be the safety of comfort of my friends and family.
It's funny how quickly things can change and how sometimes they never change. Well things did change and so did my perspective on God, religion and anything associated with either. I have already mentioned that the pastor had admitted to an "inappropriate relationship" with another woman during his "reign" in the pulpit. Those were the exact words he used too--it was like listening to Bill Clinton. Soon after settling back into my role at the church--this bombshell was dropped and like the atomic bomb it destroyed lives, many lives, including that of my mother who had devoted herself to both the church and school for many years.
And that is kind of where this part of my life ends. I have not shared every story just key ones that still keep me up at night. There were a couple of others that I do not yet feel comfortable publishing and at some point maybe I will. I know that I am not alone in my confusion and the feeling of being completely and utterly lost. I am now as I said, 28 years old and am still deeply affected by what took place during those formative years. Needless to say, I do not attend church and even question the existence of God. I know that he does, but in what way and how that relates to everything--I don't know and I don't know if I care to know--especially if in anyway there is any relation to those who claimed to be his representative.
The Christian school movement is an interesting one to study. How they came about and how they have been the quiet hiding places of some of the most shocking scandals. As I alluded to earlier, there were several sexual scandals that took place all within this small little church/school. Rumors of child abuse, drugs, extramarital affairs, and student-teacher escapades--all of them part of an underlying atmosphere of lies, bigotry and manipulation and neatly swept under the rug that led straight to the pulpit.
I would love to get your feedback and hear your story if you feel so inclined. Please email me at Daniel_banks@sbcglobal.net. Thank you for listening.