Like most Christadelphians, I was born into the community. My parents were and still are middle-of-the-road traditionalists. As I was growing up my Dad was a speaker and AB, my Mum was appropriately silent. We did the daily readings, learnt our proofs and went to Bible School in the holidays. There was no TV, no pop music, and Christmas was a guilty compromise – trees allowed, but strictly no carol-singing. We were allowed non-Christadelphian friends, but not on Sundays.
From a young age I understood that there was no greater sin than False Doctrine and that the EU was all a papal conspiracy – because the Bible told me so. I grew up in the shadow of the impending Apocalypse; we were living in the crumbling feet of Daniel’s image and the whole thing was about to come crashing down around us. The great whore rides a beast with seven heads and ten horns, and this was the age of the tenth horn. We were always, as my brother put it, just one beast metaphor away from doom.
When we were small, my parents decided that the meeting we belonged to was too liberal, so we left and joined a large meeting with the usual Christadelphian features – it’s members were mostly white, middle-class, and all related to each other. On Sundays the meeting room filled up with Sunday best outfits and big hats and the car park filled up with big-but-not-too-flashy status cars. Not many members lived in the neighbourhood – most drove in from large detached houses in the comfortably-off suburbs. The meeting was full of kids our own age, which was probably why our parents chose it, but they could be brattish, and my brother and me have some unhappy memories of our time at this meeting.
Rather unusually for a Christadelphian family, both of our parents ‘came in from outside,’ so we were not members of any CD clan. Our relationship with our secular extended family was complex. Our grandparents have all been traditional church-goers, although this didn’t stop us being indoctrinated with the commonly-held CD view that Christians are idiots who practise a shallow pseudo-religion. We did see our relatives, although we had little in common with them. Through child’s eyes my extended family seemed the epitome of worldliness – they had TVs, listened to pop music, and drank beer out of cans.
Otherwise, people ‘in the world’ were best kept at arm’s length. My Dad was especially hot on this. After all, how could anyone deny the truth of the Bible while the Holy Roman Empire re-formed before our very eyes? It must be willful blindness. My Mum has few friends outside the community, my Dad none that I am aware of.
I began asking questions almost as soon as I was baptised. I met a group of rebellious Christadelphians, who challenged the established CD views about the role of women and headcoverings. I still remember the first time I sat in the evening meeting, wondering if I had the courage to take off my headscarf. (I did)
After that, the rest came easily. I began to wonder why God had given women brains if we were not supposed to use them. And why was I being harassed for wearing trousers to the meeting? How could you reconcile the claim to be a ‘true Christian’ with the snobbery shown towards outsiders? I couldn’t see any justification for the total separation from other churches. I noticed some interesting psychology at play – when we discussed this amongst ourselves, no-one else could find any convincing reason for it either, but none of us took the logical next step. And the ‘us and them’ attitude towards people ‘in the world’ was quite ridiculous. In one group discussion, we wondered how best to approach these outsiders, if we were ever going to bring them to the Truth, so someone offered his insights: ‘You’ll find they all think the same,’ he advised us, ‘because they all watch the same things on the TV.’
I began listening to Christian music and reading Christian books. I began to identify as Christian. I broke bread with other Christians, and didn’t feel guilt. I realised that I didn’t want to marry a Christadelphian man. By this stage I had many friends who weren’t CDs, and I realised I didn’t want any of them to become one.
One summer I tried to speak openly with my grandmother about our religious differences. At first she was defensive, probably expecting another attempt to convert her. But eventually she opened up. She told me she thought we didn’t love her as much because she wasn’t a Christadelphian. We were both crying. That day I realised I’d had enough.
I severed my links six months later. I’d been going to mainstream churches, and spoke about my involvement with the Christadelphians in the past tense. I was a devout Christian by then and I fasted for two days before telling my parents, who weren’t happy.
I was furious. I felt as if the values instilled in me as a child – that to do the right thing involved the intellectual acceptance of some abstract, academic concepts, together with the arrogant rejection of almost of everyone around me – were a twisted inversion of the Christian message.
I’m no longer a practising Christian (although that’s another story). I am still technically a Christadelphian, as I’ve never resigned or been disfellowshipped. But I’ve never looked back.