Part One: Holy Daze
Hey, how are ya?
I know people don’t usually start articles or essays this way, but this isn’t really either of those. This is a very personal story that is still in the midst of intense struggle. There isn’t a happy ending, and the lessons learned are not lessons anyone would ever want to learn. As a child, I was told by my adopted conservative evangelical Christian mother that the world was engulfed in a spiritual battle. As an adult, I struggle to I doubt the validity of the allegation.
Adopted into a proud community, I was raised by a firmly middle-class couple. Though we were surrounded by the upper crust, and my education was as close to a private education as one could get without the price tag. I had been given everything an orphan from Colombia could ever want, except the bill.
If you were ever to meet the people who adopted me, you would think them to be the nicest people next to the Flanders. The male who adopted me is a veteran of the Second Indochina War, and the eldest child of a womanizing drunk farmer. Stoic, guilt-ridden, and docile until disturbed. The female was a school teacher, who also directed the children’s church choir. Beneath the veneer lay a world of hurt and loneliness, for which I was to be the cure.
What has become troubling to see are the patterns of behavior I experienced as a child, and continue to receive, be taken and reflected by others outside of evangelical community. When I attempt to dissect my experiences, I have great difficulty separating what is a problem with evangelical Christianity from what is problematic about Christianity. This being the first step in a stairway that ends with the question: what is wrong with our world? It all seems to be the perversion of universal human values
The sentiments that governed my upbringing were a quiet combination of racism, eroticism and white supremacy. I was loved, but under the condition that I continue to act as expected. For the first 15 years of my life, I followed these decrees. The result being that now in my early thirties, I haven’t attended a “family” holiday or event in the past 13 years, nor do I have the intention of ever attending another.
In the remaining paragraphs, I will try to set the stage for Parts Two and Three, where we’ll look into specific experiences, and what survival has looked like, respectively. There is so much to say, and the hardest part of starting is discerning where to begin. So I wanted to start by saying hello, because underneath it all we are all humans being, just trying to comprehend ourselves and each other.
When we talk about brown babies being given to white families, I am a contemporary product. Before me were other children —native, indigenous, brown children— stripped of our culture and mocked for any association, or affinity for it. I survived, and there is a reason you are reading this article, and not my name in a headline for exacting an all-too-typical revenge.
The 7th Step: Freedom, Coming Out of the Fog
In Maggie Schauer and Thomas Elbert’s paper “Disassociation Following Traumatic Stress”, the stages of trauma are referenced as “the six F’s.”
At each point, the source of the trauma is either resolved or the severity of response escalated. Typically, words such as “trauma” are connected with more commonly thought of forms of abuse, physical and/or sexual. What I posit is that for children of almost any age, being taken from their parents is an inescapably traumatic experience. Compound that with being forced to live with people disconnected from (and biased against) their culture, and we have an environment ripe for abuse.
One is expected to accept discrimination as affection. The standards you are being held to are for your own good, is what you are told. They are the expectations we all have to live up to, if we want to live civilized, well-financed, happy, lives.
Repeatedly, you find yourself fainting and waking to the same scene. Like Groundhog Day, with white supremacy and Jesus. New experiences are merely variations on the same theme: white is right, but we just love your brown skin. While it is rarely as direct as that, the message remains.
“Your brown skin really makes those colors jump!”
“That is the coolest drug lord name I’ve ever heard”, said a middle school teacher.
“I never thought of you as a person of color,” second cousin.
“Is he having another one of his episodes?” one aunt.
“Why don’t you play a song for us?” other aunt.
These are the phrases I remember, including a few others. Each adoptee has their own individual experience, and one could never speak for all. There remain similar themes, and as a community have been able to support each other in ways others, without experience as adoptees, have difficulty validating. One theme has been of memory loss and dissociation.
i was the “good child” but it stopped when i slipped into depression at 17…. my therapist thought it was interesting that i couldn’t recollect a lot of memories, only happy ones. it seems i was repressing moments where i felt any angry/hateful motion towards others
— dαni ? (@starlightyoongi) August 13, 2018
A phrase that has been used is “coming out of the fog.” Though not every adoptee makes it through this experience. A 2013 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found that the odds of a reported suicide attempt were 4.23 times greater in adoptees than non-adoptees. This number was reduced to 3.70 upon adjustment for factors associated with suicidal behavior. A 2002 study in Sweden of international adoptees found that adoptees were approximately 3.60 times more likely to die by suicide than non-adoptees.
My own travels through therapy began in the church. I can’t remember how that worked out exactly. (The church had a psychologist on hand ?!? Or a therapist?), Nonetheless, a step before meeting with the grand pastor directly. This happened around the age of 12 to 14. My purchasing family was unable to get a stable diagnosis for me as ADD or ADHD, but something had to be wrong with me.
I had anger issues, it was obvious.
There are few additional statistics I wish to share that provide more illumination of our particular Christian scenario. A 2016 study by the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development found that 58% of pastors surveyed “feel they do not have any good true friends,” and 52% reported that “they can’t meet their church’s unrealistic expectations”. The saving grace being that “79% of Evangelical and Reformed pastors are happier personally” and “90% feel honored to be a pastor.” So put that in your Xmas stocking this year!
Sarcasm aside, the most startling statistic, a 2015 LifeWay phone survey found that among Evangelicals, 44% thought suicide was selfish compared to 36% nationally. And a 2013 study found “that 48 percent of self-identified evangelical, fundamentalist, or born-again Christians believe prayer and Bible study alone can overcome mental illness.” While these studies may have small sample sizes, they were conducted by organizations biased towards evangelical Christianity. To my logic, their access on these topics, to these demographics, is likely better than others without religious affiliation, and the security in-group status provides.
Viewing statistics indicating increased suicidal tendencies among adoptees in a culture that is biased towards thinking the act is selfish, should be alarming. Furthermore, that this community has a tendency to believe these struggles can be overcome through prayer and Bible study.
Placing the star atop the Tannenbaum, looking at the leaders to whom these broken toys are brought, over half don’t feel like they have any true friends, nor that they can meet their congregations “unrealistic expectations.” This is a remarkable a reflection of adoptee experiences of isolation and inadequacy. White supremacy has us dreaming that these to “polar opposites” could be the best of friends. And the idea makes me want to puke.
We live in a culture that expects 90% of adoptees to feel grateful for being adopted.
‘There’s a Bible Verse for That, Doncha Know?’
The structure which sustains these delusions is where I struggle to differentiate between what to attribute to Caesar and what to give to God. Before I can attempt to relate detailed experiences, I feel the need to lay the foundation of expectations upon which they all occur. The following paragraphs outline four ingredients and how I think they enforce, and provide for, almost any disturbance to the evangelical dream.
Evangelical violence is the epitome of anti-climactic narrative, others shed blood for them. They just have to vote, shop and work. And it is this insulation from experiencing the consequences of their actions that has allowed what we’ve seen to transpire. Their expectations are foisted onto others, though with the caveat, other Christians aren’t sinners. It is this dangerous nuance has allowed their ideations to be built around core Christian values, consequently becoming inseparable from the religion at-large.
“The Natives of the Country now Possessed by the New-Englanders, had been forlorn and wretched Heathen ever since their first herding there; and tho’ we know not When or How those Indians first became Inhabitants of this mighty Continent, yet we may guess that probably the Devil decoy’d those miserable Salvages hither, in hopes that the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ would never come here to destroy or disturb his Absolute Empire over them.” — Reverend Doctor Cotton Mathers, Magnalia Christi Americana (The New English History), Book III, p. 190 (1702)
“And that claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.” – John O’Sullivan, December 27, 1845 New York Morning News
“Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.” — Apostle Paul, The Book of Romans Chapter 1 Verse 5, New International Version
Providence is the first of our ingredients needed to create the life-sustaining delusion of evangelicals as victims persevering the devil’s world. This all being a part of God’s destiny—America is a part of God’s prophecy. It is this fantastic narrative that propelled the Left Behind series of books to sell over 80 million copies, spin-off four movies (one with Nicholas Cage), and a video game.
It is able to operate on a daily basis, in part, through the manipulation of four daily rituals. Prayer before meals and a prayer before going to bed. The prayer reminds one that:
- They are working for God.
- They are sorry for whatever sins they may have committed, and are forgiven.
The void to which these sentiments are sent is able to reflect back whatever they wish to hear. Primarily, it affirms their humility, their discipline and their love for their creator. It is in this transaction of sentiment that their actions find absolution and their heart, mind and soul are cleansed.
Anchored by the fact that the root intent of these actions are not without merit, they become what is needed—evidence of intent. As the words become a ritual, their meaning becomes lost in the rote repetition of the act, yet the memory of the intent remains. And it is this memory that screams persecution upon criticism of subsequent actions taken in-between prayers.
But God prophesied this persecution, and all he asked for was our faith.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” — Jesus Christ, English Standard Version (Matthew 5:38-42)
Following this logic, one is never asked to consider why they were slapped in the first place. The remainder of the verse is able to be ignored, because the focal point is that we are not to resist evil. Two assumptions being implied, we as Christians are not evil AND slapping us on the cheek is something evil does.
Did not our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ die upon the Cross for us? The least we can do is withstand such abuse for OUR love of OUR lord! Oh ye of little faith.
In her book Suburban Warriors, Lisa McGirr provides a chronology of events leading to the birth of the mainstream conservative movement. This partially begins in the 1950’s, when a large number of Midwestern Americans were brought to war in Vietnam and given a technical skill, or the opportunity to pursue one. On their return to the United States, many did not return to the Midwest
Gregory Farthum distills some necessary information from McGirr’s book for us as follows: “Generally speaking, there were two camps melded together: the religious conservatives and the anti-statist libertarians.” Religious conservatives provided the divine mandate anti-statist libertarians needed to support their self-righteousness. While religious conservatives needed libertarian’s narcissistic arrogance to maintain the delusion that they had a divine mandate to pursue global colonization. Anyone who doubts or criticizes them was only evidence of someone who lacked faith. The Book of Revelations has provided us all with the last chapter of God’s great opus, and every moment, every breath, is a step upon that path.
In effect, these are admirable traits being segregated, siloed and manipulated for self-aggrandizing defensiveness. This is necessary in order to maintain the delusion. It is what enables the nebulous entity of faith to be a glue holding it all together.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 New International Version (NIV)
Love is a servant sword. It already being a word vested with a great and ambiguous power. Love is able to be the reason for doing whatever needs to be done, which often coincides with whatever is most convenient. Kicking your son out of the house for the suspicion of smoking marijuana when he just got a job at the hometown Subway as an early-twenties estranged father, subsequently forcing him to find a $50/week room with some musicians in a squat across town, thus making him drive near 20 miles, when he could have just walked to work.
A more accurate paraphrasing of the previous passage might be:
Love is patient with sinners, it is kind when dismissing them. It does not delight in criticism, but rejoices in praise. It always hopes for more, and will persevere until it gets more, or kills the source.
The daily ritual of prayer instills the evangelical idea of having a personal relationship with God. This personal relationship becomes the foundation for our understanding of what love is meant to be. Unquestioning and uncritical. Anything not on this leash is not love. The simplicity of this infallible logic breeds a possessiveness that can easily suffocate the object of their affection, albeit with love.
The above ideals are given the weight of “reality” by the level of financial security many evangelicals have been able to derive from the U.S.A’s economic advance. The chart below shows the U.S. GDP growth rate since 1871 to 2009 and indicates an upward trend that doesn’t seem to stop.
Some may raise the idea that evangelicals and other Christians are large charitable givers. Though we must remember that churches fall under the umbrella of charitable giving and so their donations to their churches are often apart of the quoted sum of their giving. While the organizations beyond their churches are usually within their religious in-group as evangelical-affiliated charities. This further perpetuates the delusion of these dedicated zealots as healthy members of our global community.
Abstinence-only sex miseducation, gay conversation, “intelligent-design,” and more programs are all a part of the evangelical machine. “In God We Trust” is an affirmation that we are a Christian nation. These warriors for Christ are obligated, just as are the jihadists we are told about around the world, to make the world in their image. And if not them, then through God’s Armageddon, a new world, will be born.
The Pew Center’s findings from 2016 support the thesis that evangelicals have been beneficiaries of the U.S. economic rise. Though to evangelicals, however, these results are merely confirmation of God’s Providence and blessings for His Chosen People.
Tragically, most anything in their world can be manipulated to serve this narrative. If times are difficult, God asks for faith and work. In times of plenty, God blesses those who make the “right” choices, and we are each responsible only for our own actions. For those who have made the “wrong” choice, there are evangelical organizations that people in need can go to if they actually want help. Money becomes a metric to measure human value. If you have it, your earned it. If not, it is a reflection of your ethic.
The mind of an evangelical is a Fantasyland of silly mirrors, chutes and broken ladders, where anything is possible. Everything is relative to convenience as they are God’s Chosen People. Prayer reminds them of this Providence daily, while invoking Faith and Love are both offensive and defensive maneuvers. Money, and the police, are able to resolve any other glaring insecurities or inconsistencies. It is a wonderful life for those able to maintain the neurosis.
I was not able to.
For over 15 years, I acted in the church’s plays, and operated by rules out of a fear instilled as an infant. It was not overt, the implementation of White Supremacist expectations. It wasn’t even conscious. It is just how things are.
In Part Two, I will begin to explore these ideas. Over the past 30 years, I tried a multitude of approaches to gain stable entry into a community and family. I have had little more than complete failure. Though these attempts retain lessons, and it is these I will try to uncover through personal narrative.
Thank you for taking the time to read my words. I hope you’ve been able to find some value in them. I mean not to be harsh, and would wish to not be so. Though some of the experiences I have had are unforgettable and their scars irremovable. While daily I see so many similar patterns replayed, all to the detriment of our children’s future.
Though I digress for now.
May light and laughter find you always
Peace, passion and power.
Read Part Two here.
CultureClap is the moniker for someone who has had many names in their life and is still trying to figure out which ones are real. He tweets @CultureClap and more information can be found at CultureClap.com