October 17, 2007
I didn’t know where to look. From first grade I’d gone to Catholic church. It was routine and boring with kneeling and standing while priests mumbled and hissed things not related to daily life. At monthly confession I felt they were snobby and unapproachable, especially when told had two sons and wasn’t married. They grilled when I wanted to baptize kids. I finally got them baptized but left church when twenty-one.
I didn’t attend services anywhere regularly for several years, and little while after marrying Robert we started attending Christian church with hundred people in congregation. They weren’t snobby but wanted to know what movies we watched, who we socialized with, what we did in leisure time, and if drank alcohol. They also pressured to come to prayer night on Wednesdays, bible study on Fridays, and fellowshipping on Saturdays well as Sunday services. That’s hard for family with young kids. I wasn’t working then and Robert wasn’t making much as truck driver. People in church knew, but wanted us to tithe. We couldn’t afford ten percent. If anything, I needed donations.
We were out of loop few years but I became desperate. I had husband’s bag packed and wanted him to leave. He called uncle, who was member of Christian church he said could help. Church looked like old schoolhouse from Little House on the Prairie. First time we went, service started at noon, and by three p.m. I asked husband what time would be over. Baby daughter was in nursery.
Robert leaned over and asked, and usher said, “It’s over when Lord says it’s over.”
Service lasted until seven p.m. There were about fifty people in congregation, most on way to heaven. I thought they were crazy. Other sisters – everyone is brother or sister – told me, “Sister Martha, you’re just baby Christian, you don’t have Holy Spirit yet.”
After service I told Robert, “I’m scared.”
“This will help marriage,” he said.
From get go they pressured to tithe. We were already giving thirty to fifty dollars a week, quite a bit, but they wanted three hundred to five hundred every month. They came to house, examined pay stubs and bills, and said, “Get rid of cable TV and caller ID, use grocery coupons, don’t eat this.” They wanted to teach to shop. And they said we should get clothes at Goodwill. They also wanted us there Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights well as Saturdays for fellowshipping and Sundays for services, but we couldn’t since Robert worked some nights and Sundays. They told him, “Get your own truck.”
Our kids thought services too long and didn’t like order to stop watching Disney. Brothers and sisters said, “If TV and music aren’t about God, they open doors to darkness.”
They gave us wooden paddle about two feet long and inch thick. It said: “Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child.” One night three church couples came over. When they saw our eleven-year-old son using video games, they said Robert needed to paddle.
“How long?” Robert asked.
“Until Lord tells you to stop.”
Women took me into kitchen to pray, and men took Robert into living room. He put son on floor and gave him minimum ten swats. It was upsetting.
I didn’t understand their morality. Sometimes they said if husband cheats – if any husband does – wife has to pray to God to help understand what husband’s going through. If women want to dye hair, they have to ask husbands.
One Sunday, after nine months at church, it was seven-thirty p.m. and we’d been sitting in hard chairs seven hours. So many people were talking in tongues I thought were having seizures. We were tired and hungry and wanted to go home. There was this new member crawling on floor. He had shaved head, pulsing veins in temple, and kept looking at husband and crying and weeping as pointed.
“What is it, Brother?” bishop asked him.
“I sense evil,” man said.
“Come on up here, Brother Robert,” said bishop. “You’re sinning. When darkness is upon us, devil will come in. Hit your knees and ask Lord for forgiveness.”
Robert got on knees and cried. He was humiliated, me too. After service he said, “That’s it. We’re never going again.”
But we went one more time and left in middle of service. And bishop told everyone, “No one is ever to socialize with them again.”
Soon afterward family gathered around fireplace in living room and burned paddle. Robert’s uncle still goes. He had house and pool business, but church convinced him to sell house to invest in pool business so could make more money for church. He lost everything. Then he took construction job and fell off roof and had to have back surgery. He almost didn’t make it. People from church only came to see once. He’s so brainwashed he ignores that.
We didn’t attend church much for five years, but Robert and I were still having problems so we recently went three times to place with huge congregation. After third service I asked about marriage counseling.
“For that you have to be frequent member,” church official said.
“How do you know who’s frequent member?” Martha asked.
“We keep track of who’s tithing.”