It’s a memory that has been locked in the back of my mind for a while now, the church my father used to go to. Faith Christian Fellowship, FCF, a large church on the outside of the county line that was a trek every Sunday to go to. We were one of the few black families in a predominately white church and the earliest memories I have of it was that it was radically different from the Catholic church I went to with my grandfather and aunts. It was always loud and rambunctious but personable and welcoming. It didn’t feel like the clinical ritual of the Catholic church but something expressive and bright. I thought things were fine and I was mostly just glad that it also gave my mother; sick with kidney, heart and lung failure something to do and have faith in.
That was the beginning.
Sunday school there was different. We said a pledge not just to the flag of the United States but also to the Christian flag. We only took communion every other service as they said catholics ruined it by taking communion so often. The children there didn’t play video games and didn’t watch TV like I did. They didn’t read the books I did or even lived like I did. They were sheltered and that was coming from a kid who was already excessively sheltered. I made friends, sure, but all the friendships felt surface level, even as a child.
Dad blended in perfectly into the community of mostly older white men, something most black men simply didn’t do. Mom was welcomed in with open arms as as a unit we were accepted but I wasn’t accepted. I was quirky and strange thanks to unseen turbulent home life and due to the restrictive nature of children around me. I liked all the things they were told not to like but that friction didn’t stay in place for long.
Faith Christian Fellowship was an anti-science church. They thrived off of faith healing and creationism and showed videos that explained that Genesis was a real factual account of how the world began and that dinosaurs and humans existed at the same time and had “proof” of it in the form of footprints and ammonites and pseudo-science and it was there that I began to fall in line. I was a lover of dinosaurs and paleontology and a naturally curious child so being able to see this as a giant puzzle that was some secret conspiracy that others did not want us to know was tantalizing to my little mind. I was able to make friends that way though I never gave up Pokemon and Harry Potter.
I was willing to tell my Catholic aunts that they were wrong and that they took communion too often and I found my the church that I was baptized in and received my sacraments in boring and stuffy and wanted the cheap thrills of Christan Rock and pseudoscience and speaking in tongues and people just falling out after being touched by The Holy Spirit. I rejected Catholicism with my mother and we fell deeper and deeper into the church.
Tithing was also incredibly important to the congregation as was just general monetary support. Pastors Force sold CDs, books, Bibles, all kinds of things and 10% of a tithe was the bare minimum accepted. We were told that the more we gave, the more we’d receive and as Pastor Force flaunted nice suits and nice watches and nice shoes my parents ignored bills and medicine to keep up with the Joneses and continue to pay the church. Pastor Force always made it sound like the church was one dollar away from closing despite the fancy earthly pleasures he had and that was enough to keep my parents engrossed and giving along with the rest of the congregation.
There was a dove hunt one year that I never understood. I am still shocked by how many evangelical churches that have dove hunts. Aren’t doves God’s messengers? Why are they being shot, wrapped in bacon and grilled for the congregation to eat?
I spent many a formative Sunday at Faith Christian Fellowship with my parents learning and unlearning things and one thing that actually popped into my mind not too long ago: a latent memory that made me realize something that I had known all along but dared not to say.
My father was in a cult.
Rapture Drills. There were Rapture Drills. We were preparing for the Rapture. You know, the event where God just decides He’s done with it all and yoinks up all the humans on Earth that are good and leaves those that are bad on Earth to suffer. Think the Left Behind series but somehow worse. We would prepare for the Rapture by praying and climbing under a chair for safety.
That is what was meant to protect us from Divine Intervention and Rapture. A chair.
I’m not sure why we needed protection from the Rapture; in theory, we were supposed to go up to Heaven, too. I think it was meant to protect us from earthly debris but we regularly held these drills. They were at random, of course, because we never knew when this would happen and they happened often enough to form a memory of them that remained locked in my mind for over a decade.
My father died while we were at that church and the church quickly flocked around me and my mom. The church supported my mother even as she gave up her child, dated a drug dealer and told me that I was to be obedient to my mother even though she was willing to risk her safety and mine for the sake of tainted love.
The church did eventually abandon my mother as she fell away from really all organized religion as her agoraphobia grew. I had also fallen out of love with most organized religion, mostly burned from the experience in my father’s cult and still disillusioned from what I knew about Catholicism. I made a choice to bury my mother Catholic as she was baptized, married and had her other sacraments within the Catholic church. I found much more solace and peace burying her within the church she was married in than I ever did at even the thought of dragging my family into FCF.
I don’t think I’m a cult survivor or anything grand; it actually didn’t take long for me to either bury the memories of this place with maladaptive means and frankly just suppressed those memories. It wasn’t until recently that they started to become unlocked that I realized the gravity of the situation I was in. And to be clear I’m not some kind of anti-religious person; I don’t think Christianity or even Evangelical faiths are inherently cultish; just saying that if it acts like a duck and quacks like a duck and flies like a duck; you may be in a cult.