Casting off

For those who reject the strict religion of their childhood, it’s not cutting ties with the church that’s hardest. It’s breaking away from their devout parents.

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Published in United Church Observer in June 2011

Even as a young boy, Peter Scott* knew he was out of place in the Pentecostal church he grew up in. “While everyone else was speaking in tongues and having visions and being filled with the Spirit, I’d be sitting there waiting for God’s glory to fall on me and it never happened,” says the 43-year-old Vancouver man.

“At the time I figured it was because I was such a sinner. I definitely felt like something was wrong with me because I didn’t have these experiences.”

Something was terribly wrong in Scott’s life, but it wasn’t his inability - or unwillingness - to speak in tongues. It was the fact that his father, an elder in the church, would regularly whip his back with a leather belt from the time he was a young boy until he hit his early teens.

Scott found the courage to broach the subject of his father’s violence with his church pastor, who gave him a religious book to read and then proceeded to avoid him.

It wasn’t until Scott got therapy in his early 20s that the trauma of his childhood sank in. “I came to see the negative impact that my parents and my religion had on me,” he says. He knew the oppression and control had to end.

For those indoctrinated in an authoritarian religion, leaving the fold can be a harrowing experience. They may be shunned by a community that once embraced them, subjected to threats of eternal damnation and even harassed by church elders.

While some may find a new church home in more liberal denominations like the United Church, others reject religion altogether. But often the most wrenching part of the experience is breaking away from parents whose extreme dogmatism makes any kind of relationship untenable.

Exiled from their mother and father, they may feel like a black sheep - alone in the world, unloved, misunderstood and punished for having independent views about faith and religion.

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