Your hunch is right. Something is off in Christian Fundamentalist circles.
High-control religion is not only reshaping our families. They’re also changing our politics, laws, and elections. And what many don’t realize is that Christian fundamentalists want to govern our country the way they govern their homes. No one knows that as well as the wives and children of the patriarchs––but these citizens of fundamentalism aren’t allowed to speak.
- watched your loved ones sink further into high-control religion and felt powerless to help them?
- had experiences at church that feel traumatic?
- felt triggered by headlines and cultural news but can’t understand why?
- felt distressed at the changes happening in America and wondered how are we going backward?
I believe knowledge is power. And I can tell you what the patriarchs don’t want you to know.
Because I was one of them, once. When I was excommunicated and shunned, and then escaped the violence with my life and my children, I made myself a promise:
I’d tell my story one day. I’d tell as many who would listen what it’s really like to live in fundamentalism.
Because stories like mine offer insight into where America is heading.
The fundamentalist mindset includes dominion, unattainable idealism, and shame. But it offers simple answers to life’s complicated questions and America is enchanted with the aesthetic and eternal hope the formulas promise.
When I lived in fundamentalism, no one called it that. We called ourselves Christians. The faithful. A remnant. There were rules for living and serving God––rules that were supposed to result in our happiness on earth and in heaven. Where there was suffering, it was due to sin––ours and others’––and our calling was to suffer well. To suffer was to be like Christ.
I was a 20-year-old new mom then, in shock but smiling on the outside. I felt like I was dying on the inside. My marriage hurt. Despite what I’d been taught about staying sexually pure for marriage and choosing God’s best, my new husband was erratic, often violent, and frequently depressed. No matter how closely I followed the formula, nothing worked. I was miserable, failing, and desperate for someone to save me.
A woman at church said she could help.
She’d mentor me the way the Bible said––Let the older women teach the younger ones to love their husbands. She could help me learn to submit, “die to self,” and earn God’s favor. She and other older women at church introduced me to materials produced by Bill Gothard, Gary Ezzo, John McArthur, and Michael Pearl. Growing up groomed to be a submissive wife wasn’t enough. Now it was time to put those teachings into practice.
I learned there’s no endpoint to submission. Christian women submit themselves to nonexistence. And as long as dinner is served, the children are cared for, and sex happens, the patriarchs are happy. When none of that happens but she’s silent, they’re still pretty happy. If she “acts out”, there’s discipline. If she fails, they’ll replace her with a new one.
This wasn’t a fringe cult. This was life in the Christian mainstream. I grew up in the Southern Baptist Convention. I attended churches pastored and mentored by names you’d recognize in the news.
I reveal what’s inside.
It takes an insider to recognize subtle signs, affiliations, and tangled code. Outside researchers and reporters don’t pick up on the clues.
Take, for example, Doug Wilson and spanking. Vice recently published an expose of Wilson––a highly influential author, pastor, and publisher in Moscow, Idaho, popular with IBLP devotees, but loosely affiliated with Gothard in public. Only an insider would know that if you’re buying a Gothard Advanced Training Institute (ATI) red textbook, you’ll also want Wilson’s books on Federal marriage (the belief that the husband is responsible to discipline the wife.)
The Vice reporter worked with 12 survivors and their stories to bring readers into the “Church That Preaches Wives Need To Be Led With a Firm Hand.” But the Vice piece contains the story within a fringe cult. What most readers don’t realize is that Wilson and his Federal marriage practices have bled into the mainstream. And they don’t know how to connect the dots from Gothard’s stadium events in the early 80s to wife-spanking congregations by 2005 and to mainline denominations by 2016.
The Duggars themselves tried to show us how fundamentalism works because their show and books were meant for evangelism. The horrors of blanket training (switching infants with a rod of correction), malnourishment, deliberate under-education, sibling molestation (like what Josh Duggar was caught doing before Jim Bob Duggar signed his first TLC contract), and home-church isolation were shined up as cooperation, frugality, character-based training, debt-free homes, and sheltered community. They didn’t tell America what it was really like––and people like you want to know.
Along with books like Dissent: The Radicalization of the Republican Party, cult-exposing content is popular. Bestsellers like Jesus and John Wayne, Cultish, Educated and The Making of Biblical Womanhood; cult documentaries like The Cult Next Door, The Way Down, Join Us, and Lula Rich; movies like Jesus Camp, and the startling near-future of The Handmaid’s Tale, are giving American audiences pause about what kind of Christians live next door.
I open that door. My book and work show readers what it’s like inside a fundy home––reality without TLC’s cheerful narrator and gaslighting editor. My memoir reads like a novel and I’m a face you can connect to the story. Connection is how we smash the patriarchy.
Your story matters to me.
It’s agonizing to watch a loved one descend into a cult. To see our country restrict hard-fought freedoms and move backward in time. But that’s by design.
Fundies (a shortened nickname for “Fundamentalist”) keep women busy having and caring for babies. She’s a “keeper of the home.” If her world is small and simple, the rest of their governing goals will fall into place without her opposition. As a fundie wife, I wasn’t allowed to vote, drive, or spend without permission. I couldn’t say no, use birth control, or get a divorce. Sharing my story has proven what I never knew when I was locked inside: I was not alone.
The messages flood my inbox and social media:
“I was raised this way too. I’m the oldest of 13 and I was their second mom from the time I was 9.”
“My parents spanked me until I was eighteen.”
“My mom died when I was 16. I’ve always thought it was from exhaustion. She had 12 kids in 12 years.”
“I was horrified when TLC put the Duggars on TV. That was my life! Set to cheerful music with a gaslighting narrator!”
“I always thought there was something off with that show. You’re helping me understand why.”
“I have a close family member caught up in a church like that. You’re helping me see why they’re under so much control.”See @tialevingswriter on Instagram, Tiktok, and Facebook
Through information and connection, we can stop the spread of fundamentalism.
High-control religion manipulated my thoughts, choices, and behavior. And the hard truth is, the majority of women and children who make it out of Christian Fundamentalism are too traumatized to talk. They can’t risk severing the fragile ties they have to their remaining family relationships and they are mortified when confronting their complicity and shame.
I barely escaped, with my kids and my life, and I’ve done the therapeutic work to get to a place where I can share my experiences with you. I can decode the language that allows fundies to fly under the radar. My goal is to offer compassion and nuance, even to those who hurt me, because Fundamentalism made victims of us all––and I don’t want anyone to stay here.
It’s not too late to learn and take action.
If we want to save ourselves, our loved ones, and our country from the dangers of Dominionism and Authoritarian control, we have to look under the hood of Christian Fundamentalism.
We have to examine the way they raise their families.
We have to talk about what’s hidden behind closed doors.
We have to step away from shiny ideals and look at the rotten fruit and dark realities in the headlines.
Their culture war is intentional and strategic. Their game is long and eats women alive. But I got myself and my children out of there––I saved me. And I can tell you what it’s like inside.
I want to help you:
- understand what’s happening to your loved ones and know how best to support them.
- find support and healing as you identify the sources of your religious trauma.
- feel empowered to protect American ideals of freedom, liberty, and rights.
- find progressive solutions that emphasize compassion and inclusion without rigid, binary rules that serve only the oppressors.
We can make something beautiful from our pain. I hope my work is proof.
Early readers have called my book:
“powerful rip-the-bandaid-off truth-telling”
“brave, bold work, crisply written, innovative and compelling”
“a story I couldn’t put down”
“a look into the meta-world of fundamentalism in America.”
“What surprised me most was the sort of fundamentalism you describe in a mainstream church. That short of shit was going on right under my nose and I never saw it.”
My memoir will be published soon. I’m represented by Trinity McFadden of The Bindery Agency. In the meantime, here’s
What you can do right now:
- Find out what the insider words really mean. Grab my free, printable FUNDIE CHEATSHEET
- Connect with me on social media: my handle is @TiaLevingswriter everywhere (Instagram, Facebook, Tiktok.) I have tons of videos on what Fundie life is really like.
- Take a deeper dive and sign up for BEHIND THE CURTAIN, my exclusive newsletter. If my videos have ever left you wanting “more,” my newsletter is where you can get it. More details, more action steps, and more information on what to watch for in your community.
- Share my posts. Whether it’s an issue of my free Dear Fellow column or a video online, every share helps spread the word. I deeply appreciate you.
- Book me to speak at your event.
Together and with knowledge, we have power.
Are you healing from religious trauma and Christian Fundamentalism? Here’s a list of Religious Trauma Resources that helped me.
See my other work here.
Healing on Purpose
I recently returned to my 100 Happy Days project, the 2021 version. After a lifetime of “suffering for Jesus” and waiting for heaven in order to be happy, I now embrace my life for what it is and I live in the present. No bypassing, no wishful denial, no toxic positivity.
It turns out, dear fellow exevangelical, that life on the outside is full of ups and downs without any magic formula for happiness. Healing requires bulldog devotion and a multi-faceted strategy for trauma healing. This happy days project is just one light-hearted attempt to nurture joy within me.
There’s a highlight under my profile on Instagram of the first time I did this—a photo project to document a happy moment in each day for a hundred. My rules:
🌞use my big camera on a timer. Catch myself in the act of being happy
🌞no selfie poses or looking straight at the camera
🌞I must be in it
The last time I did this, I blew the top off my definition of happiness and what it looks like, what conditions it requires to exist, and how I’m impacted by actively waiting for “the happy moment of the day.” I discovered a new depth of gratitude. And I created a stack of some of my favorite photographs that I put in a book and regularly return to with love. This was absolutely the best time to do it again.
I completed my 100 and simply kept going. Others have joined in and it’s been a ton of fun. This idea originated with the 100 Happy Days Project. Check them out! It’s a project that will change your mind and your life.