Most non-Christians would be shocked to know the great lengths that Christians have gone to insulate themselves from The World.
There really is a Christian Bubble, and we lived in it for nearly 20 years.
We were told that we were to live IN the world but not be OF the world. Christians should be separate. For that reason, everything that one could possibly need for life and a family can be found inside of this Christian bubble.
I remember telling my one non-Christian friend about something that happened at the altar when I was serving on staff at the youth group’s winter camp and she just looked at me with this blank “I have no clue what the fuck you’re talking about” look on her face. It was so weird because I was so entrenched in it that everything about Evangelicalism seemed completely normal to me. I bought into the whole package. It included all areas of life.
It was easy to get involved in church because the first thing that they do is offer you and your children instant friends. We were invited to game nights and picnics, and fun family field days at the church. We were strongly encouraged to join in and make friends right from the beginning.
Women and Men
The ladies and men of the church had many ongoing activities. I joined the Ladies’ bible study on Thursday evenings, and then the women’s accountability group on Sunday mornings. I was encouraged to volunteer in the nursery and girls’ Missionettes program (which I did do.) The men had a weekly Saturday men’s prayer breakfast, a Tuesday evening accountability group, and a Tuesday morning men’s bible study as well. They also took trips to the annual Promise Keepers conference. We ladies had an annual women’s retreat which I attended 10 of the 18 years we were involved in the church. The women also had occasional craft nights, quilting groups, and other things that were available for interested parties.
The kids’ main activities were Sunday school and weekly Missionettes (for girls) or Royal Rangers (for boys) club meetings. These groups are a bit of a cross between Girl/Boy Scouts and Awana Bible Clubs. They are the Assemblies of God’s main focus of child discipleship outside of Sunday programs. They heavily emphasize missions work and outreach to “unchurched” kids and their families. Their focus is scripture memorization and learning to live an Evangelical Christian lifestyle by following the tenets of the Bible according to the A/G.
Marriage mentorship was a big thing in our church, although we didn’t participate in much of what what offered. I guess I got lucky that my husband didn’t buy into a lot of what the church was pushing. I DID, but he didn’t. It was a source of much frustration for me, as I felt the judgement of the other ladies in my groups, knowing that they thought of him as an unbeliever.
Young couples are also encouraged to marry after short engagements. This was to prevent them from becoming tempted to give in to sexual desires prior to marriage. This often means that 19-20-21 year old couples are marrying far before they are emotionally or developmentally ready to handle the level of committment and responsibility.
Control of Externals
Outside influences, aka “The World”, were something that we were told over and over would corrupt us and our children. We had to live “set apart for Christ”, in the world but not of it. This meant that we should only listen to Christian radio, Christian music, and shop at businesses owned by Christians. If we needed a plumber, all we had to do was look in our Christian Business Directory that the church distributed to its members to find one. Contractors, attornies, florists, book stores, vacuum repair shops, even car salesmen! There was a Christian–or two– for that. We weren’t to just do it for ourselves. We were instructed to keep good firm control over all of the things that our children did, saw, and heard.
Education and Homeschooling
Christian education was the ideal at our church. We were loosely affiliated with a Christian school because they rented classroom space for a few of their grades during the week. Many families paid the steep tuition for their kids to attend. Others, like us, homeschooled. Even within the A/G we were considered a bit radical. As in many areas, homeschooling didn’t become a mainstream thing until the early 2000’s.
Although there were plenty of families who chose home education, it seemed to be most popular to encourage kids as young as 6 or 7 to go to public school as little missionaries, as if they couldn’t be corrupted just because they told their friends they loved Jesus and went to church! I never did understand the push to turn a first grader into a missionary preacher, nor did I understand why it seemed that everyone was “so proud of him/her” for doing so. The pressure that puts on a young kid, the pressure to Save their friends from going to Hell when they barely understand what it means in the first place, is just unreal.
Christmas and Easter services aside, our church, like many other Evangelical churches, considered Halloween “the devil’s holiday” and frowned on any form of celebration, including costumes. They threw a huge harvest festival each year and told all the kids to invite their friends. What they didn’t tell them is that they would make their friends feel awkward when they showed up in costumes and the church kids weren’t wearing any.
Middle and high school students were funneled into their own Sunday school classes and youth group services. There was a point in time that, for several years, our youth group ran 250-300 students every Wednesday evening. It was its own church. Kids were encouraged to bring a Bible and a friend, every week and to every special function or service that they did. There were game nights, youth group nights, worship nights, trips to DQ, volleyball games in the park, and small groups where students could connect and form relationships.
The Christian entertainment industry is massive. No matter what kind of music you enjoy, there is a Christian version of that. From contemporary Christian radio stations to concerts of small and massive proportions with anywhere from one artist to dozens, it is easy to get lost within and complete miss what is happening outside of the bubble. This was my experience. I “lost” 20 years’ worth of music, GOOD MUSIC, while we were in the church because all I listened to was Christian music. I have made new friends since we left the church, and they don’t know how to take it when I tell them that I didn’t even know who certain bands were or that I hadn’t heard this one or that. I really had no clue what was out there because what happened while I was indoctrinated was hidden from me.
For those wanting to steer clear of “inappropriate” themes but still watch popular movies, there are services that will filter movies as you watch them. It seems strange, but certain DVD players equipped with this filtering will skip sex scenes and bleep or voice over swear words. I guess the technology isn’t perfect and so it isn’t ideal, but that was an option. We never tried it, but I had heard about it. Another option is a streaming Christian movie service (whose name I won’t give here.) Several times they contacted me and tried to get me to partner with them, writing movie reviews on my homeschool blog in exchange for using their service. I declined because even when I was a Christian, I didn’t think that shutting the entire world out was a good idea and I certainly wasn’t about to encourage other parents to do it either.
And that’s not all…
In addition to Christian music and Christian movies and Christian movie services, there are Christian comedians, Christian counselors, Christian marriage conferences and retreats, Christian bookstores, and even Christian clothing lines. Christian homeschool curriculum seems to have the largest selection of publishers, although secular companies are finally getting in on the home education market. The bubble is huge, my friends,
The Whole Package
The Evangelical churches offer just about everything a family could want. There are instant friends, a support system, close relationships, and “family”. It is so easy to stay within the Christian bubble because the bubble is deep. You don’t have to go outside of it for anything.
Burst the Bubble
When we finally emerged from the bubble that was the Assemblies of God church, we were disoriented. Well, I was disoriented. My husband was never as deeply involved as I was. He was always a take it or leave it guy, but I jumped in feet first. I had to relearn a lot of things when we left. I had to figure out where to find friends and how to talk to them again. I had to examine my feelings on a number of touchy subjects that I had changed opinions on when I “accepted Jesus”, such as homosexuality and abortion. As I’m studying now, I have learned that the word for what I’m doing is deconstruction. It means taking apart and examining all of my former experiences and deciding what I believe about them, the world, and who I am now. It’s quite a process.