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Posts Tagged ‘fundamentalism’

As a national organisation, TeenPact felt it necessary to maintain certain public standards. Whether their slogan was “Turning Students Into Statesmen” or “Changing Lives to Change the World,” one of the end goals of these standards was to set TeenPacters apart from the rest of the world. What they failed to grasp, however, was the concept of equality in standards across the board.

 

In addition to their routine at the statehouse, TeenPact turned its attention toward the courtroom with its alumni class, TeenPact Judicial. Associated previously with Regent University and Alliance Defense Fund, it now opens its doors at Liberty University. I attended the program – geared toward educating teens about the legal system in a “law school boot camp” style – twice, whilst it was divided into East and West. I first attended TPJ East at Regent, and the following year I attended TPJ West with the ADF.

 

The concept of “TPA” prevailed at each, but also brought with it new and different standards, with no clear explanations. Take the dress code: professional dress was required for the state classes, and pants or slacks, even as part of a suit, were expressly prohibited for the ladies. At Judicial, however, pantsuits and dress slacks were considered perfectly acceptable attire. I even asked a staffer about this during my first Judicial experience, and was told that “[T]hese were the rules.” No further explanation was offered, and when I attempted to press the issue, I was rewarded with the cold shoulder.

 

The response provoked questions and doubts as I attended my state class afterward, and had to give up the pants in the name of professional dress.  Even at fifteen, I could not grasp how TeenPact reconciled itself between one standard and another. With the answers I received to my questions, I doubted whether TeenPact knew how to reconcile the differences. Curiosity begs the questions of how and why such a discrepancy occurred, and was allowed to continue. Even so, the dress code was not the only area claiming a double standard.

 

My second trip to TeenPact Judicial, this time in Arizona, proved more difficult. TeenPact itself almost didn’t let me attend that class, as the boy I was courting at the time was also going to attend. TeenPact was fond of talking about how they loved SR’s – Special Relationships (what they called courtship or dating) – but how they did not want or allow “purple” at events. Pink and blue – girls and boys – were acceptable, but could not mix. To ensure that all acted in accordance with TPA standards, guys and girls had to be in groups in order to associate with one another. I found this problematic at every event I attended, simply because I got along better with the men.

 

Certain people at events such as National Convention were able to get away with breaking those rules, at least to the untrained eye. Those of us on a lower totem in the TeenPact hierarchy were required to ensure that we had at least three or four people in our group, and never an even split of guys and girls. One did not need to be in a relationship – or even heading in that direction – to risk the scrutiny of the TeenPact staff. As for anyone who was in a relationship, TeenPact always knew about it, and increased their observation of the couple in question whilst at events.

 

In my case, it took several conversations with a variety of staff members, including a couple we already knew, and multiple promises that we would not act like we were in an SR for the entirety of the event, in order for them to relent and allow me to go. Once there, I spent the entire week being watched like a hawk. For several meals, I refused to eat at the same table as he, lest I get into trouble. Yet, in between all the sessions on legal matters, the staff pounded the idea that all godly men and women should marry and have babies to save the nation.

 

Looking back, I wonder at what we were supposed to take away. SRs had no place in TeenPact, aside from Mr. Echols – the founder – telling us he was happy to officiate our weddings, but, in the meantime, any semblance of “purple” was not considered TPA. After this talk, usually from the program director of whichever event, the group would be divided by sex. The girls were told how it was their fault if the boys stumbled and lusted after them. Whispers told us those who pushed the line were in need of a change of heart and lots of prayer. We were brought back together and learned how it was important to go forth and multiply. After all, if we all trusted God to choose the size of our families, we would soon overrun the liberals by sheer numbers. We would, of course, send our children to TeenPact, as well, and then they, too, would follow in our footsteps. Taking back America was well within our grasp. It was practically sinful to turn your back on it.

 

Whether it concerned how a woman clothed the lower portion of her body, or what she did with the lower portion of her body, TeenPact was fond of making rules. Despite their reassurances that they were put in place to protect us, and inspire us to a godlier standard of living, those creating the rules couldn’t seem to agree on what exactly that standard was. In the end, it didn’t matter what you did or what you wore, as long as a staffer slapped “TPA” across it.

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I remember it clearly. Like a scene from a movie

I remember the exact moment I began to breakaway from the TeenPact message.

And what is funny is that the reason it started to crumble had nothing to do with the misogyny, the hypocritical modesty standards or corrupt election rigging. Instead, it was a young person who dared to speak their opinion; an opinion that the powers-that-be did not share.

First some background.

In March 2002, Alabama Legislation was locked in an intense debate over reforming the Alabama constitution. At the same time, the 2002 Alabama TeenPact Session was conveying. They thought it would be the ideal time to introduce us to government in action (and rightfully so).

This was my second year to attend TeenPact. The first year, my involvement was fairly basic. I went to my state class. I learned a lot and really enjoyed socializing with so many people so decided to go to an alumni event: Leadership Summit.

It was there that I bought into the whole TeenPact ideal. The TPA dress code, how to interact with guys, how to keep “sweet” and be acceptable (which I never quite could do). But the biggest thing I learned was the idea of servant leadership. To the TeenPact organization, sacrificing yourself is the only way to be a servant leader. Which is true, in part. However, they failed to emphasis that it doesn’t mean becoming a doormat, an enabler or codependent. Telling impressionable young people…especially young women that to be God-like you must take anger, taunts and other abuse  without providing guidance on assertiveness and boundaries is dangerous. But I bought it. I bought it all.

And it damaged me.

To this day, I am prone to accept abuse from toxic individuals because I feel like I deserve it. I do not establish appropriate boundaries because I don’t feel I deserve them. If I want to be a good Christian, I will want to be abused and mistreated. This has caused a lot of problems in establishing friendships and even in my prior relationships with men (before my husband).

Back to my TeenPact story, though…

After Leadership Summit, I was hooked. I went and worked for two weeks at the National Offices, I staffed a one-day class, and was so ready for my alumni state class!

It was at this week-long class, that I, along with the Alabama TeenPacters, sat and observed the Alabama legislation debate the reforming of the state constitution. My father was a county official and I was very familiar with the state constitution reforming bill. Reforming the constitution would be beneficial for every county and would also alter the language to remove racist terms. I didn’t see a problem with allowing the state to do so. It was thousands of pages longs and the way it had been created was not intuitive to the 21st century. I, however, was in the minority. The rest of the TeenPacters were in a fever that the Democrats (said with all fear and loathing) would add all kinds of liberal propaganda. Like, gasp, the horror, LOTTERY! Even at that age, I didn’t see the big deal in having a lottery. Sure it was stupid and I didn’t want to waste my money on it but so what if it was added to the constitution; if it would improve efficiency and remove racist language, who cared.

While I sat there with my other TeenPacters, a newscaster came along and tapped me and my friend on the shoulder:

“Are ya’ll here to watch the debate?” she asked. “Do you support constitutional reform?”

I said naively, “I do!”

She took me out of chambers and did an interview with me. I was glowing because I was actually expressing my views on an important matter, one that could affect my state!

After the interview and the Senate dispersed (not ever deciding on anything, of course), I walked back with the rest of the group. The Program Director walked up to me and said “I see you were getting interviewed. What about?”

At this time, I had a huge crush on this Program Director and was convinced that we would have one of those love stories that I read about in all my courtship books.

I said proudly, “I told her how I was pro-constitution reform. And I gave her an interview!”

His face went blank. He was shocked. At that moment, I realized I had gone against the TPA code of conduct by disagreeing with them on a policy matter. It should have been obvious to me that constitution reform was something we were supposed to be AGAINST since being pro-constitution reform was a “liberal” thing.  To his credit, the Program Director (who I did NOT marry, thank God) didn’t chastise me or report me to the TeenPact Dad for the week (please, someone, write about the TeenPact parents).

It was at that moment the first seed of doubt appeared about TeenPact. I might not have been aware of it but it was then that I started to realize I was “different.” I didn’t follow the party line exactly. In hindsight, I wish that I had questioned “the look” more.

Looking back, I think I know what was in that look from the Program Director. It was astonishment that someone would think differently. It was confusion that a girl would speak out.  It was suspicion over my ability to critically analyze a problem and come to a pretty good conclusion. All qualities that TeenPact supposedly promotes in theory but in action they are just as harsh on free thought as any other religious or political fanatic.




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To any TeenPacter, there are three words that represent ultimate ruling at any event – Teen Pact Appropriate. Oft abbreviated to the acronym TPA, it was bandied about concerning clothing, actions, and topics of discussion. It was the vague final standard that floated over attendees, replacing a popular evangelical choice of WWJD with, “Is that TPA?”

It was easy to tout it as well as ay other… during my first year. TPA was presented as hip, cool, and in to a sect of the population who often made their friends and had the most socialisation at TeenPact. I saw no problem deeming ankle length skirts and blouses a size or two too large as professional attire to wear to the capitol when I started out. I listened intently to the “girl talk” about causing en to lust. I very carefully kept any talk of Lord of the Rings or other such subjects to nothing more than hushed whispers.

My second year, I ran for governor of TeenPact Maine on the slogan “Vote AJK, She’s TPA.” Even so, there were tendrils of doubt forming in my mind. There were rebukes given to women who dared hold the door open instead of waiting–or letting–a man do it. I wondered what really happened during the “guy talk,” and why all the responsibility for men’s lust was being placed on the women. I had spent more time at the capitol between the two state classes, and didn’t understand why pantsuits for women were not allowed — something that came up again later in my TeenPact history. Then, of course, came the comments that shook my faith in my gubernatorial victory: the number of people who remarked that they didn’t know how I could have won, when they all voted for the other candidate. I tried not to worry about it, but, for an organisation that promotes integrity above all else, there should never needbe any doubt.

I tried not to let my concerns shake my faith in the organisation, and proud of my newfound determination to prove the equality of women, I set off for my second National Convention on the presidential campaign trail. The historical inauguration of the first female governor of TeenPact Maine was fresh in my memory, and I was determined to make TeenPact history once more. My running mate and I knew we had our work cut out for us as the first girl/girl team, but, we were more than willing to embrace it.

What I was not prepared for ere the incredulous looks on the faces of boys and girls as they stopped by our campaign booth. Riding in a van with Mr. Echols on the way to a church service was not the first time, nor the last, that a fellow TeenPacter asked me how a girl running for president was TPA. After all, women should never be in positions of leadership over men! The first time I was asked if it was TPA, I was flabbergasted. Still, my answer did not change. If Deborah could do it, so could I. Besides, I was just as capable as every other guy there, at the very least – why shouldn’t I run? In the end, though, I was the one with questions. The popular vote recorded for my state did not match the number of votes from my supporters. I wasn’t the only one with doubts that election, but, who were we running against? Popular vote doesn’t matter when determining whether someone is TPA enough.

That same year I had an interview for staffing state classes the following year. I was very excited about the chance to do it, and was counting down the time until my interview. Things seemed to go well, up until my interviewer put her pencil down and looked me straight in the face. “How do you reconcile the TeenPact statement of faith with being Orthodox?” I blinked. I wasn’t sure if she was concerned because I had been running for president, or she just didn’t know what being an Orthodox Christian meant. The result of the interview was that I could staff the one-day class for 8-13 year olds, but that they weren’t comfortable with me staffing the four-day class.

From there, however, I turned to another side of TeenPact, and the hypocrisy therein: TeenPact Judicial…

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Crossposted from Kiery’s blog Bridging The Gap

TeenPact is a christian conservative/evangelical organization that organizes government and civics classes and camps throughout the country. Their goal is to raise a generation of christian leaders (teens) to go and bring the country back “for christ” by encouraging activism and male leadership.

When I think about TeenPact and my time there, I don’t feel anger – like I do with most of my other past experiences. I feel confusion. Because I have so many good memories and experiences that are entrenched in environments that perpetuated the lies that enabled an abusive environment to thrive.

The thing about organizations like TeenPact and NCFCA is that their goal is to raise a new generation of leaders – thinkers, even – to do one specific thing: Take the nation back (for god!). What they don’t count on, is that by giving us the tools and resources to think critically, we’ll actually, you know, think critically and carry that on throughout our adulthood. Which is awesome and I’m really happy that I was allowed to learn that, because it’s served me well and enabled me to become the person I am today. Funny thing though, our parents and the people who head up these organizations get extremely grumpy and upset when we do what they taught us to do (or at least you know, the thinking part of that) without doing the rest of what they wanted us to do.

They teach us how to think, but then, they don’t actually want us to think, they want us to do their bidding.

And this, in a nutshell, is my beef with TeenPact. I’m going to be splitting this into parts instead of writing a book of a blogpost – because some things need to be fleshed out more, so for today, I’m going to concentrate on one particular event that happened while I was staffing.

I staffed one of the GA State classes in 2007. As staff, I helped oversee the voting process – a process which is designed to teach students about how elections work (assuming everyone is honest). The votes were tallied and my friend was a clear winner. I was pleased with this, and a little proud because he had really gone out of his comfort zone to even run. I was appalled, confused, and maybe a little angry when in that back room the Program Director turned to us and said, well, I don’t think he’d make a good governor, we should choose someone else. The founder was there and the high ranking staff wanted to impress him (by discarding the process?) and decided that my friend wouldn’t do it.

So in that back room, the Program Director, and the higher ranking staff decided to choose someone else from the 3 candidates to be governor and told us to be quiet about it. I was 15 (2 weeks before my birthday) and I had no idea how to respond – I was too shocked to say anything and too surprised to complain or dissent, so I stood there quietly, feeling as though my mouth was gaping. When we left the room with the new results, and with the Program Director deciding that his vote overruled all, I was full of shame and guilt. We announced who won and there were many questions – because in the other room, everyone tells everyone who they voted for, so everyone actually knows who won. People asked me questions and I couldn’t respond, my friend asked me and I was crushed and had to give him the same line I had given everyone else “it’s just what the votes were”.

I felt helpless because everyone who I would have talked to about it, was in that room and made that decision. They didn’t expect dissent – honestly, I don’t even think dissent is allowed, though it’s never directly stated – it’s a very homogenous group and anyone who does dissent is instantly cast as weird/strange/anything you don’t really want to associate with.

The staff did what they did because they didn’t want to get in trouble with Mr. Echols. I don’t know what the staff meetings are like, but I imagine that choosing a good face was enough of a requirement to strike fear into the hearts of the interns.

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by Starfury

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There are few words that can stir conservatives and liberals alike to the extent of “abortion.” Each side tries desperately to fit their view on abortion into a black and white mentality. The liberals focus on the woman. The conservatives focus on the child. Each claim a blanket answer to every situation. Each touts the moral high ground.

Neither embrace reality.

It is one thing to tell a woman what she can or cannot choose.

It is an entirely different thing to be that woman.

There is nothing glamorous about abortion. There is nothing about it to make someone joyous at the occasion of requiring one. There is nothing supportive about those who would say they support you, whilst they tout you as an example of a woman exercising her right to choose. There is nothing supportive about those who claim to love you whilst protesting your right to choose.

If you have not been in those shoes, you cannot understand.

Society tells us that women should be overjoyed when they see the little coloured line(s) on a pregnancy test. Society implies guilt when a woman reacts with screams, tears, and abject terror. Society raises us to congratulate a woman upon finding out she’s pregnant. Society doesn’t tell you that your congratulations could cause a breakdown.

We are raised to believe that you’re supposed to want a child. You wrap your belly with your hands in a gesture of comfort and safety and promise, even when there is no obvious sign of pregnancy. You feel a connection to a being that is not yet fully formed.

Except… you don’t always. There can be a disconnect. There can be horror. There can be disgust.

Society likes to tell us that if you wait until you’re financially prepared to have a child, you will never have one. They are correct. A more important measure is whether you are mentally or emotionally prepared, or even able.

And if a woman is not? Do we tell her, have it any way, we care not for your mental and emotional state? If you’re physically capable, that’s good enough. You made the choice to get pregnant.

We fail to remember that not everyone does! Some people try to use birth control. It’s not perfect. Or maybe a condom broke.

Don’t judge the woman entering the abortion clinic. Don’t view her as a check on a ballot, against one box or another. Don’t presume you know what she is thinking or how she is feeling. Don’t cast her as a woman proud to exercise her choice or as a champion of life.

Love her.

She needs it the most, when she’s faced with an unexpected pregnancy. She needs it when her body’s hormones have turned on their head and she knows she’s not functioning as she might otherwise. She needs it when she realises there is the potentiality for life within her, and it is up to her to try and help it survive, or to end it, for her own good. It is up to her to wrestle with her conscience and decide what is an acceptable choice.

It doesn’t have to be the same two year down the road, as it is now. It doesn’t have to be the same as yours, or your neighbour’s, or your friend down the road’s. It just has to be hers.

It has to be mine.

I don’t need your shouting at me when I leave the clinic. You don’t know what my decision was. It shouldn’t affect how you treat me.

Even so, I need your love in the aftermath of my abortion, just as another girl needs your love throughout her pregnancy.

It’s not black and white.

It’s not about you.

It’s not something you can ever understand until you walk in my shoes. Until you see the pregnancy test that you weren’t expecting. I need the choice, but only I can make it, and only when it is set before me. The decision is never easy, even if there is no doubt as to what it will be.

Trust me.

I tried. I tried saying I would never get one, even though I supported the right to choose.

You know nothing until you are faced with it. Hope that you never are faced with it.

Love and cherish those who are.

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Two of the most common fears are being alone and failure. There’s a great big world out there, and it can be a scary place, even for those who didn’t grow up in a sheltered environment. Combine the unknown with a lifetime of black and white standards, and it’s no wonder that transitioning out of a fundamentalist worldview can be one of the hardest experiences one faces.

 

It is sometimes difficult for those who have not encountered similar situations to relate. Often, questions are asked as to why someone would stay, why they would put up with it, how they could have lived like that for so long. It can be hard for those who have lived it to explain.

 

It’s not easy.

 

We won’t pretend it is.

 

But, knowing that you’re not alone can help. It’s good to have a support group built up, especially when you’re slowly discovering all the colours (and grey-ness) of the world.

 

This is for you, to tell your story. To share your hopes and your dreams, and to bring all those who are hurting, and those who want to support, together. After all, when Willow told Tara she couldn’t do this, Tara’s response was “We can do this.” We’re strong like Amazons after all… it just sometimes takes some sifting to find that inner strength.

 

 

Let’s move past the black and the white.

 

We’re rooting for you.

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