Confessions of a Christian School Ex-Clone

Crossphoto © 2004 Phil Whitehouse | more info (via: Wylio)
One of the coolest things about Twitter is that I’ve made some great new friends, people I never otherwise would have met. But I’ve also connected with old friends. One such person is Nean Burkholder, a girl I met at Messiah College. When she sent me this post, I knew it would be one that you guys would enjoy.

I recently watched the movie “Saved!” with a friend. While he laughed at the ridiculous portrayal on the screen and couldn’t really imagine it as anything but fiction, I sat there in fascinated horror as my high school was depicted on the screen. This surreal caricature was funny to me too, but very differently – in the way that one grows up, looks back on one’s life, and is “embarrassed” by silly things that once seemed “normal.”

I’ve seen those kids, taught those kids, and I was one of those kids. Deluded into making choices based on arbitrary rules and not on reasoning skills. Censored and sheltered from anything that contradicts the established religious philosophies and values.

In a society with harsh consequences to anyone who doesn’t stay inside the lines, I became an expert clone. I learned the language. I went to every prayer group or outreach, even when it meant giving up my lunch or weekend social time. I led worship in chapel. I was terrified of allowing my humanity to slip and become one of the ostracized or condemned rebels.

I learned to mask my depression, because it was a “sign of sin in my life,” and a symptom of not trusting “the joy of the Lord as my strength.” I learned how to gossip by “sharing prayer requests” and how to condemn and judge someone by “expecting accountability through loving confrontation.” Moral superiority is, of course, far easier than confronting any sort of hard truth, and I became a master of avoiding confrontation, and never expressed any of my concerns or doubts. It’s hard to argue with “God says…” or “Jesus is THE way.”

My faith was real, and I really was a “good, Christian kid,” but the truth is things just weren’t fitting in the little boxes they were supposed to and it all started to look like hypocrisy to me. So, I learned that too. I stayed involved in all the things I needed to in order to prove my “worthiness,” and even helped plan our senior class mission trip. And I was master of deception for a while.

But the “silent rebel” could only stay silent for so long. When my high school bible teacher dubbed me “Miss Attitude ‘93,” because I dared to have a thought of my own and voice it in contradiction to his opinion, I claimed that title with pride and it was the beginning of my “fall from grace.” I stopped caring what the church and its leaders had to say. I turned my back on organized religion and its rules for how to talk to God.

I hit the point that a lot of people do, I got mad at God. I kept acting the part, but inside I was screaming. This was really all God was? A list of rules, boring meetings, and endless “sacrifice of your own desires” that’s never enough?

I’ve grown. I’ve changed. I can look back on my Christian education and see all the benefits; I’m truly grateful for my basis of faith and bible knowledge. I can appreciate my parents’ sacrifice, and the difficult responsibility that was given to my teachers. I’ve seen how things look from their sides too. And I can’t fault any of them for making choices based on what they believe. And that may be the most important thing I learned and incorporated from my time in Christian schools: the necessity of personalizing and owning what I believe.

I’m not mad at God anymore. I learned how to reconcile my love for him and my frustration with and semi-rejection of organized religion. I’m still involved in Christian churches, but if my high school teacher only knew what he started. If he could see me now: Mystic Christo-Pagan with flavor from nearly every major world religion… Oh… wait… I think we’re Facebook friends. I guess my cover is long blown.

Nean is a stay at home mom of two and a writer in between. We met at a Christian college, sharing a few classes discussing how to be a “Christian” writer. She met her husband at said Christian college and acknowledges that if she had to do it all over, she’d still choose that school. She’s spent the last decade evaluating every facet of her faith, leading worship in genuine relationship with God, exploring world religions and adapting practices and beliefs that resonate with who she is. She still wears the badge of “Miss Attitude” with pride.

Check out her blog HERE

Did you grow up attending a Christian school? How did it influence the person you have become?

17 Replies to “Confessions of a Christian School Ex-Clone”

  1. Oh, do I know what you mean. I had the exact same feeling watching Saved!…Christian schools were a plague upon education when I was in school. I’m sure there’s one good one somewhere, but there can’t be two.

    1. Everyone’s experience with Christian school is different. This was mine. This is what I see happening to a large percentage of CS students. This is not to say there aren’t benefits to that atmosphere. ~Nean

  2. Its interesting. I was a public school kid at Messiah (Class of ’92!) who expected to fall into the arms of a warm and loving Christian community that would be mercifully free of the pettiness and cruelties of high school. In my naivete I WANTED the ‘Saved’ experience, only real. Moreover, I expected to become a better Christian simply by immersion in a community of so many people of faith.


    I learned everything I know about drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, kleptomania, and hospitalization-worthy mental illness at Messiah. (In some cases, from my roommates.) I found out that even at a Christian college people will say ugly things to you if you are fat. I found out that not everyone who was there wanted to be there. That being there didn’t magically create some sort of benevolent neutrality in which people didn’t behave the way they do in the ‘real world’. The real world was very much present, just better camouflaged.

    While I did struggle with and ultimately re-define my faith at college, and in many ways grew to understand it more fully, I ended up moving away from the definitions of myself and my faith that I thought would absolutely never change. (In my case, I raised the total student population of Roman Catholics from five (5) to six (6). ) I stopped having a separate set of expectations for people who called themselves Christians and I embrace people who some Christians would consider ‘outside the community of faith’. (In some cases, waaay outside. Because to me that is the ONE thing we suck at. And its the ONE THING that matters.)
    I’ll stop rambling. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Kim, Thanks for sharing. A lot of my Messiah friends have shared similar experiences. Sad how unloving a “Christian” community can be. ~Nean

  3. Great post. I think you hit the nail on the head with this statement “the necessity of personalizing and owning what I believe.” We might be placed in setting where it should be ideal to live our our faith but until we personalize it and make it real, we are often guilty of just going through the motions.

    My 7 yr old attends a Christian school BUT they can’t teach him to have a relationship with Christ. My son has to LEARN what that means.

    1. Very true, Eileen. My son when to Christian preschool and kindergarten and my daughter will attend there next year. It’s about choosing which educational environment is best suited to the family needs and to the child’s needs. And our job as parents needs to be to guide them into finding the path that is best for them. ~Nean

  4. I went to Christian school for elementary school and public school for high school. I don’t know if, given the chance, I’d do it differently. But in high school, I lived two very different lives – one at school and the other at church. I was a very practiced hypocrite.

    When I got to college (also at Messiah), I had no idea who I was (much like just about every other college freshman). I spent 4 years trying to figure out how I felt about God and what I had been taught about Him. Did I believe He was the angry man upstairs, the loving, benevolent grandfather or something in between? I also tried to figure out what worship looked like. I met Christians from denominations I grew up believing weren’t “real” Christians. I saw people worshipping in ways I was taught were “too emotional to be genuine”. In the end, my relationship with God completely changed and became “mine” instead of the kind of relationship I grew up believing I was supposed to have.

    Today, I can look back at my early years and see the legalism I was being fed. But I also see the importance of allowing God to enter every aspect of my life, and that is a lesson I’m grateful to have learned in my Christian school.

    1. Amen AymieJoi. I am very grateful for the things that I did learn about God and the foundation for faith that I received at my school. ~Nean

  5. a. Good story
    b. If you learned to except all religions than you learned the only thing Messiah exports.
    c. Kim, you are correct – factions are the biggest problem with true Christianity (see Second Great Awakening). Although there are basic things in the Bible that I think you have to believe (still looking for Joseph Smith and Magic Rocks).
    d. I wonder what life would have been like at another school? Getting to be at school with believers is a pretty nice opportunity.
    e. I am sorry about your bad experience. It was not that bad for all of us.

    1. a. thank you
      b. To clarify, this story was not about Messiah college. This was about my high school, which shall remain nameless here. And I learned far more than tolerance for other religions at both schools. :)
      c. I will agree on factions being anti-Christ. but that’s another blog for another time and place. It would, however, depend on what faith you choose to find as your own how much credence the Bible’s teachings have on your life.
      d & e. I can speak only from my experience at the school I attended. Not all of it was bad. And not all of the many Christian schools were the same.

      Thanks so much for your comments. :)

  6. ” She’s spent the last decade evaluating every facet of her faith, leading worship in genuine relationship with God, exploring world religions and adapting practices and beliefs that resonate with who she is.”
    I hope I am not misinterpreting this. I really hope she explores world religions and adapts practices and beliefs that resonate with who God is. I don’t mean to make fun of her pain. I am glad I did not have to go through all of that stuff (though I did go through some).

    1. I have indeed adapted practices and beliefs that resonate with who God is. My worship is wholly genuine and reflects a very real and true relationship with the God who created me to be a unique and beautiful woman. :)

  7. Kim, I was a public school kid from a Methodist family who attended a Roman Catholic university. Talk of being a stranger in a strange land!

    I’ve said – referring to even the best of Lancaster County’s schools – that a community with third-rate schools can’t afford a second-rate library, but the fact is, even a community with first-rate schools can’t afford a second-rate library, because no matter how good a school is, it has a point of view, and you really need to be exposed to MANY points of view in order to be educated.

    Ohio has taxing districts for libraries, and voters can vote taxes up or down. Cities, fire districts, schools, sewer districts, etc., all have some levies pass and some levies fail, but I can’t remember a library levy ever failing. Ohioans love their libraries, and think them a bargain – and apparently as a result of their tax policies, have better-funded and better libraries than Indiana, Wisconsin, Kentucky or Pennsylvania, the other states where I’ve lived. Pennsylvania needs to let voters decide on support for libraries.

    1. Harl,

      While I appreciate your comments and feel very strongly about both libraries and state-funded educational resources as well, I’m not sure this is the place to get into that. Perhaps that is another blog post? ;)


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