Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Story of Libby Exline, Installment 2 - System Immersion Must Be Good


In Installment 1, Libby Exline detailed the rules of the Allegheny Wesleyan Methodist Church and what they meant to her.  Installment 2 will begin her story of complete immersion in this abusive church.

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At first, it was normal.  Ok, not as abnormal as it would become.  When I was very young, while my parents were very into the church, we had a semblance of a life outside it.  They still did want us to be Bible (Church) oriented, and that showed up in some weird ways.  I remember listening to a tape called “The Adventures of Luju", a story about a boy in Africa who disobeyed his parents’ order to not light a candle.  The result of this was Luju's little friend was killed in the fire he started.  Do you know how scared I was to disobey my parents after this?!?  I was just 4 when Luju's adventures were introduced to us.  Not only could disobedience result in death, but obviously, enlightened (white, American) children would know enough to not disobey.  Disobedience was no doubt the result of witch-craft, or whatever Africans were practicing.  Racist much?

One more thing that you should know, before I really get into my story, is that abuse was rampant in my house.  Not because the church dictated it, but because my father was a monster.  My older brother was beaten regularly.  I was raped regularly.  My twin, who is mentally retarded, escaped most of the physical abuse, but was subject to emotional stuff just as scarring.  I think these details are important to my story because it helps to explain why I was so willing to drink the Kool-Aid and, in fact, mix batches of my own.  I was damaged to my soul, ripe for the picking when it came to having a formula that would cause god to hate me less than he was already inclined to.

It also must be said that in the church, there were degrees of how “into the rules” the pastors were.  While the rules were the rules were the rules, and everyone considered them good rules, there were differences in how important they were. Maybe the difference was how some pastors taught the rules, or how much mercy they showed to their congregations.  I'm not sure, because as luck would have it, as I was growing up, we had a rather sadistic pastor.  The other thing I need to explain was that in our house, the pastor was infallible, God's second son, as it were. Just as important as Jesus, if not more so.

Somewhere between 3rd and 6th grades, we got the sadistic pastor.  Every year, the church voted on whether or not to keep the current one.  I don't know if the one we had got voted out or retired, or what.  Up until now, church was what happened on Thursdays and Sundays.  We had moved to the country, and I was busy playing and being a kid (as much as the dynamics of my family allowed, at any rate).  Terrible things were still happening, but not yet in the name of God.  As a child, I didn't need to worry about my eternal soul.  Life was as good as it could get in my family.

That changed the summer before 6th grade.  We got the new pastor, and gee wow!, the change was drastic.  The church had its own school about half an hour away from where we lived.  I don't know when it was started, or why it wasn't even considered for us kids at first.  My mother had a couple teaching degrees, and taught in the public schools for years before we were born.  She taught mostly special ed classes, which makes the irony of what is coming even more ironic.  So from K-5, my siblings and I went to public schools.  Sometime after 3rd grade, after we got our new pastor, the pastor's wife began pressing our parents into enrolling us in the church school.  I mentioned that my twin is mentally retarded, and the pastor and his wife used that as a reason for us to switch. 

The church school used the ACE system.  As an educational tool, it is laughable.  Kids teach themselves out of workbooks, and move at their own pace.  (I've had, in my whole school career, Algebra I).  My twin was struggling in public schools, and the pastor's wife was vehement about the church school.  My mom wanted to put my brother in special ed.  My dad, however, was afraid he couldn't handle that. Told you it was ironic!  So, against (I want to think) my mother's wishes, in the 6th grade, we enrolled in the church school. 

The school was K-12, and grades were split K-1 in one room, 2-6 in another, and 7-12 in another.  We worked in cubicles called offices, and did the workbooks.  We had supervisors, who answered questions about our schoolwork, and monitors, who gave us permission to get out of our seats as needed.  It's funny to me now, but then, there was no questioning allowed, and so I didn't.  Even in the secret places of my own mind, I obeyed the rules – for now, anyway.

I want to take a minute to say all things good about the principal.  He was a gentle, loving man who just loved kids.  His love helped me survive a lot of what was going on at home.  The unfortunate thing was he'd drunk the Kool-Aid.  I don't blame him. (Ya kinda had to drink it if you wanted to go to heaven, after all).  He also was answerable to the board of the school, and ultimately, the president of the church conference, so there were certain things required of him.  While he never had to discipline me, beyond the occasional demerit, I saw his disciplining of the older, “rebellious” kids.  He had, after all, been trusted to help kids make it to heaven! Because we were in the same room, it was impossible to miss.

The church believed in corporal punishment.  Extreme corporal punishment for stupid things.  So now, fear of breaking the rules entered my life in a real way.  There were rules that the breaking of didn't warrant corporal punishment.  Things like not pushing a chair in got us a demerit (to this day, I push chairs in!).  Three demerits meant you got detention.  That was the punishment for non-spiritual rules.  Broken spiritual rules were met with swift and painful punishment.  And spiritual to them was...If a boy didn't wear a tie during the revival meetings, he was warned at the beginning of the week.  If by the end, he still wasn't wearing one, he got paddled.  Anything at all that could be construed as rebellion was met with the paddle.  Girls, too, were paddled, but the vast majority of the paddlings went to the boys.

I don't remember specifically when it went off the tracks for me.  I was ripe for the picking, I know that.  I was being abused at home, I'd entered naturally turbulent adolescence, and now the importance of the rules and the keeping of them were in my face every day.

Installment 3 will detail the speeding up of my life’s downhill slide.

5 comments:

  1. Oh my word! I remember the Christian school I went to from K-2 also paddled and I made very sure never to warrant that punishment. I heard a couple boys being paddled and that was enough for me. However, the school wasn't part of any creepy cult that I remember.

    It breaks my heart, as a mama, to hear that you had such an awful childhood.

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  2. Thanks, EM-SM! It was bad, but I'm good now.

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  3. No child should be put through that -- and to claim to do it in God's name is just heinous!

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  4. Libby, so Sorry you went through this. I was an Allegheny preacher at one time, left in 1990 never looked back. I was an agnostic for awhile, and understand spiritual doubts, though i am now a Christian, and a Hospice Chaplain. I, too attended an ACE School, however,I had good staff and do not fault the system, actually I was 4 yrs behind from 8 yrs of the public school that kept pushing me through, and 1 yr at another abusive christian school. The staff at my school helped me excel, and I was more preared than most for grad school. One of my kids about flunked out of public achool, but did well on his own eith Cyber school, did far better. Just saying be careful about painting with a borad brush about that type of system.

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  5. I totally remember the adventures of luju!!!! That story was super frightening as a child!! But so was the threat of hellfire at church every week! :/

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