Helen's Assembly of God Experience
Having grown up in a irreligious family, I first heard of Jesus when I was eight years old. I became intensely and passionately dedicated to all things Christian. My first involvement with church was with the Assemblies of God. My life revolved around Christianity, and I was seen as a religious nut by my classmates. My family felt I was extremist and discouraged church attendance. I, on the other hand, wanted nothing more than to grow up and become an AOG missionary.
When I went to college, I dove in as deep as I could go. The local AOG was not intense enough for me, so I joined a non-denominational charismatic church and campus fellowship, and lived with its members. I spent about 20 hours a week on church related activities. When I went to graduate school, I found an Assemblies of God campus ministry that became my whole life. This group was very organized and made me feel useful and needed. This time, I spent close to 40 hours a week in prayer, Bible reading, Bible studies, discipleship classes, church, witnessing, and other religious activities. In the third year, we started a female "fellowship house" so we could live together. I felt a high from the sense of belonging that I had never felt before.
At around this time, I met a campus minister from another university at a retreat. He lived five hours away, so we had a long distance relationship. After a few months of correspondence, phone calls, and one road trip we took together, he suddenly proposed. After discerning a "yes" in prayer, I told him I accepted his proposal a couple of weeks later. My campus fellowship were a bit cautious, but gave us their full support.
I then noticed my new fiance seemed somewhat uneasy around me. Shortly afterwards, he called me and said he needed to see me urgently. He was about three hours late to the appointment, in which he told me that though he loved me, God was telling him he needed to break the engagement.
I felt devastated. It wasn't so much the break up, but the questioning of how I could have been so wrong in "hearing" God's will for for such an important decision. Because of the uneasiness I had sensed, I also felt that he was dishonest in blaming God for the break up, when it was he who became uncomfortable with the relationship. I felt betrayed by the meaninglessness of the confirmation I heard from God to marry this man and the words of this fellow Christian, both of which I completely trusted. I started thinking that words were cheap, and I could only trust actions from then on.
This led to my looking at other faiths. None of the correct Christian "words" were professed, but the actions and lives of their people were often every bit as noble and graceful as those of Christians. I started reading some Catholic teachings in which they believed God could judge someone to be "Christian" at heart, even if they did not profess Christianity ("baptism of desire").
A few months after my breakup, I met a Catholic graduate student who had started a campus club for playing Dungeons & Dragons. I was supposed to explain to him why D&D was an occultic game, but he ended up convincing me that it was not any different than chess. We spent four months arguing intensely about theology and spirituality. At the end, we became very close friends and romantically interested in each other.
At this point, my AOG campus group told me that I had to stop seeing this man. He was not a Christian, and I could not possibly date him. I told them that my idea of what was "Christian" had changed quite a bit, and that I believed he was every bit as Christian as I was. I also added that I was exploring ideas that one may not even have to profess Christianity to be acknowledged by God to be faithful--that He looked at the fruits and maybe words didn't even matter. I announced that whether they liked it or not, I would be dating him.
This threw them into a frenzy. The pastor and his wife quizzed me about my new "beliefs" one-on-one. They had all the fellowship leaders sit in a circle around me and quiz me about my beliefs. They said that if I would agree to not speak of these beliefs publicly, they could wait for me to sort it out. I replied that I would not volunteer these ideas to anyone, but if someone asked me a direct question about them, I would not be censored and would answer honestly. Sure enough, word got around and one of my roommates asked me what the hoopla was about. I told her about how I was questioning my faith and that I believed there was more to Christianity than the traditional definitions.
Two months after they told me to stop seeing the D&D-playing Catholic, he proposed to me, and I accepted.
The pastor called a meeting of the entire campus fellowship at the AOG church. He told me I was allowed to attend, but not allowed to speak. At the meeting, he passed out a handout listing my heretical beliefs. The handout listed a confusing mass of statements that either were patently incorrect or twisted what I had told them. He said that I had sinned, and by Matthew 18:15-17, I had been confronted one-on-one, by a group, and now by a church. Since I refused to repent, he had no choice but to disfellowship me. I was "gangrene in the Body of Christ," and had to be cut off before I "infected the rest of the Body." From now on, no one was allowed to speak to me except to ask me to repent. In addition, the pastor told lies about my future husband in his speech to the fellowship. When I stood up to refute them, he became furious and ordered me to be silent.
After this meeting, the D&D-playing Catholic confronted this pastor about those lies he told. The pastor acknowledged that he "bore false witness" against him, and apologized. I asked the pastor what my "sin" was, that I had been told to repent from three times, because I didn't know. He thought about it for a minute, then replied, "I'd have to say it was teaching heresy." Interestingly, I had had two confrontations (supposedly to repent), before I had even committed the "sin of teaching heresy" to that one person who asked. Then after confronting me three times, he still had to think about it before identifying this sin I refused to repent from. On top of all that, he actually told me that he hoped I would get a divorce.
So what was really going on? They were angry that I dated and decided to marry a man they sorely disapproved of, someone who was a "pawn of Satan" in their view and had "evil, magical powers." Instead of honestly admitting that they had to approve of who I dated and married, they moved the argument to theological grounds, using my one instance of talking about my ideas as my unrepenting sin. That is why the pastor told lies about my future husband, and why he hoped I would get divorced.
Only two people from the church defied orders and came to my wedding. Two, out of dozens of "brothers and sisters" who hugged me and told me how much they loved me almost everyday. What they meant of course, was they loved me as long as I believed as they did and dated who they wanted me to. Overnight, the world I ate, slept, played, and worked in was completely ripped to shreds, as those people I lived with pretended I didn't exist anymore.
It has now been 13 years since I got kicked out of the AOG. Looking back, they did me a favor by forcing me out, because it would have been extremely difficult for me to move out of the lifetime devotion to that culture by myself. Still, it was one of the most painful experiences of my life. Though I converted to Catholicism a year later, I have never been able to go back to church. Every time someone at church smiles at me, I remember how conditional that smile can be. Every time I go to church enough to be recognized, I remember how easily such recognition is lost and I stop going again. My relationship with God has shifted too, though I feel closer to Him than ever before in many ways.
My marriage of 13 years has been a happy one, and my husband has always been a loving best friend and spiritual partner for me. Marrying him was probably the best decision I have ever made.
Posted March 13, 2003
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August 23, 1997
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