By Ty H. Phillips
In April of 1976 a small, scared teen with long dark brown hair skimming her low back, was driving to an abortion clinic at the behest of her already abusive boyfriend.
“Get rid of it” he told her. He had no intention of helping her through it, paying for it or taking care of a child if it was born. On the way there, she changed her mind. She said God had spoken to her, but it is more likely that she had convictions that led her down another path.
Instead, her parents arranged a shotgun wedding and a very visibly pregnant young woman of 17 married a man who bordered (at best) on the psychopathic spectrum.
In October of 1976 this child was born. His home was one of chaos, screams, abuse and eventually religious terror. The young woman who bounced between uncovering her husband’s affairs with literally hundreds of women and being beaten into sobbing, bloody submission for being nosey, eventually turned to Evangelical Christianity.
During the 1980’s, this brand of religion was particularly virulent. It preached a doctrine of immanent return, rapture and torment for those left behind. Faith healings and tent revivals were a mainstay, exorcisms happened on a regular basis to children and adults for the whole congregation to see and revel in, and the gifts of the spirit were forced upon the uncertain—lest they be scolded for being under demonic persecution and in rebellion of the Most High.
That child was me, and this is my story.
It is a far cry from the likes of A Child Called It, but my formative years all the way through my early teens left psychological scars that haunt me to this day, only months before my 40th birthday.
Before I begin, I have to admit that more often than not, I have wished that my mother had gone through with my father’s plans for me. I have been hospitalized twice for severe depression and crippling anxiety, and diagnosed with acute morbid anxiety, panic disorder and severe depression.
It has been a lifetime struggle of coming to terms with the things that I was told throughout my entire childhood were the cause of my unwillingness to accept a personal relationship with Jesus—the same Jesus who my mother cried and screamed and sobbed to save her while she was locked in the bathroom, bruised and bloody. And the only person who was there for her was me—a scared child who could find comfort in neither God nor man.
My father wasn’t around often, and when he was, it never ended well. A month or two would go by, he would yell and scream at us, calling us stupid, a burden, a waste of life and space and eventually beat her in front of me or behind a closed door where I was spared only the sight but never the sounds and sobs.
And then he would be gone.
During the long months of his absences, my mother would drag me from church to church looking for healing. I would hear of Satanists and witches who bred babies to be killed on farms and of human and animal sacrifice that happened all around us, and of course the demons who were everywhere, always trying to tempt me and lure me away from God in order to take my scared and depressed soul to Hell.
I was never encouraged to be what I wanted, but instead was encouraged to embrace a life of ministry and picketing, where I would be persecuted for the Lord and His name’s sake. I was told always that what I wanted was a clear sign of my rebellion and that for me to be truly righteous and ensure my salvation, I had to remove myself from the larger society and embrace being separate and holy, one of the chosen few.
By the time I was 7 years old, I had witnessed hundreds of faith healings, spiritual revivals, exorcisms and my mother being slain in the spirit. I would sit on the pew, feet up and knees drawn into my chest, scared, crying, alone and uncertain of what was happening yet always told this was God’s work, His house—the way of the righteous.
Things came to a boil that year when I was told to give my allowance to the church in order to receive a larger blessing from God. We were poor so the 20 dollars that I had been saving took me years to collect; it was all I had but I was assured, that God would repay me tenfold. I handed the lady my money and she prayed in tongues over me. Her voice grew in pitch and fervor, the congregation shouted encouragement, “Yes, Lord! Hallelujah, Lord! Yes, Jesus! Get him, Lord!” Her hand on my sweaty forehead trying to push me backwards to be slain.
It didn’t work.
I started crying. I was terrified. I wanted my mom to make me feel better. I wanted to leave and go home. Instead, she shook her head and told me I embarrassed her. The group of church elders surrounded me and started praying with an intensity that seemed orgasmic, if not entirely disturbing. It sounded like sweaty fat people bastardizing supercallafragalisticexpialidotious as they “spoke in tongues” in order to baptize me in the spirit.
When they were done aglalala’ing, they asked if I had been touched by the spirit and if I was ready to receive the gifts of the Lord and speak in tongues. I stood there, falling into myself, shaking my head no and cried again.
My exorcism followed immediately.
I am asked often, why I am so angry with religion. Why do I speak out against something that isn’t hurting anyone. I am one of millions. My life is a frail testament to what happens to millions of people every day, all over the world.
I was one child crying next to dozens of others. I was one boy who stood offering comfort to an abused mother while she steeled herself away from me and instead pleaded for Jesus to come save her.
I speak out because religion is the product of fear and hate, abuse and escapism. If one wants to find Jesus or Allah, he should look into the eyes of the child that is being abused. He should look more closely at the child she is truly escaping from, neglecting and forcing into the patterns of fear and hate, and that is where God will be found.
The ideology of selfless love and reward is in the eyes of that child. We only have to reach out to them. Unlock the bathroom door and put down that holy writ. Pick up and love your holy child.
Because this religion was your choice, not his. He only asked to be loved.
Editor: Dana Gornall