Saturday, January 18, 2014

My Baptist school vs. the movie Saved

When I heard that a movie was being made with Mandy Moore about a Christian evangelical school, I was fascinated. As someone who went to a Southern Baptist school from K-5 through 12th grade, I could do my own movie if I wanted to. So naturally when the movie came out on DVD, my fellow survivors and I settled in with pizza and beer to see how "realistic" it was.

The movie Saved is a satire, sometimes good, sometimes
awkward, about evangelical Christian
Nowhere are those wings considered cool
subculture. And that subculture is ripe for satire. We're talking about bookstores that sell "Testamints" for crying out loud. Unfortunately, Saved is more of an outsider's perspective looking in, and as such lacks bite. The movie forgot that Christian students are still teenagers - if they want to gossip about someone's sexual orientation, that gossip will look very similar to viscous gossip at a public school. My very Christian peers didn't need a prayer group to rip someone's reputation apart. Mandy Moore's character rang particularly false to me, and some of her lines grated on the ears due to their sheer unreality. The well-meaning but clueless Pastor Skip, on the other hand, was brilliantly drawn and acted. The "cool and a little rebellious pastor's kid" is a stereotype but a realistic one, and his embarrassment at his father's attempts to be "hip" was hilarious. And who can forget the antics of Pastor Skip during his "G-o-d is in the house" intro to the school's chapel service? The movie was at its best when skewering the fact that Baby Boomer style "Christian rock" and the like are about as hip as Precious Moments.

As we watched the movie I kept noting things that seemed completely inauthentic to my experience of evangelical subculture. "They would have a picture of Reagan, not Bush," I told my husband (then fiance). And we all laughed at the idea of "Christian yoga." With few exceptions, the people we grew up with thought yoga was a New Age cult, not an exercise form that could be Christianized.

"But you didn't grow up in an evangelical subculture," my fiance reminded me. "You grew up in a  fundamentalist subculture."

I was a little taken aback by that (a big part of my identity was that I emphatically was not fundamentalist). One can argue all day long about what Christian fundamentalism is, but he had a point. The school I attended, while affiliated strongly with the Southern Baptist convention, had shades of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist running through it, not to mention fundamentalism in a broader sense. The evangelicalism in Saved is a different animal.

Where I went to school we used KJV (King James Version) only until I was in middle school - then we progressed to the New King James. I count it a point of pride that I managed (with everyone else in my 3rd grade Bible class) to memorize Hebrews 11 in the King James Version with all the thees and thous. (Look it up - the chapter is massive and has a lot of names. To this day I have no idea why we had to memorize the whole thing).

Our curriculum was either Bob Jones University Press or Pensacola Christian (A Beka). Both are flagship fundamentalist Baptist institutions, and both have a history of spiritual abuse of their students. I'll do a post later on how Pensacola "science" textbooks handicapped us in that area, because it's worth its own post. It wasn't just Creation science though: the vitriol infested everything. Our grammar sentences to diagram were things like "Liberal Christians are like modern-day Saducees because they deny the resurrection." Among other things, we learned that:

A+ in brainwashing
- Jesus drank grape juice, not real wine- Catholics were not really Christian
- For that matter, only a tiny percentage of Christians were really Christian
- Baptism only counts if it's immersion of someone who can make a "believer's baptism."
- True Christians believe that God created the world in literal 24 hour days. We never thought to wonder why Genesis has two creation stories, or what it might mean poetically.
- When Jesus came back, those who "believed" would be raptured, while those who did not would suffer for 7 years in the tribulation. During that time, the Holy Spirit would be removed from the Earth, yet somehow new Christians would be born again. That mechanism was never explained.
- There is nothing we can learn from "false religions" because Jesus is the only way to the Father. There was no understanding that other people groups could discover truth unless white people (um, I mean missionaries) taught them.

Different book, but we had this one too

The curriculum understood that stories are one of the best means of brainwashing. I still remember a "chapter book" created by A Beka or BJU in which a little pioneer girl has to cope with her father (a widower) remarrying and their move to a new home. The book had promise, actually - the daughter clearly had a mind of her own and an independent spirit. But of course, this independence was rebellion against God. The most hysterical part of the book was where she joined a square dancing team in town. Now, fundamentalist Baptists are still anti cards, dancing, etc. But in this text they were more subtle. The girls' father and other men determined that dancing was against their Baptist faith and had it disbanded, a sort of "Footloose on the Prairie." The girl was bitter for a time, until she realized that she hadn't been doing her nightly prayers because she was so absorbed in preparing for the next dancing get-together. Quite a move, A Beka - you taught that men are natural leaders, that religion should rule the state, that dancing is wrong, and that hobbies are suspect, all in one go.

Some day I'll have to do a deconstruction of this curriculum, but I think it'd give me nightmares right now.

Our school followed suit by having "no dance" proms and homecoming "banquets," which is just as lame as it sounds. For some reason the cheerleaders were allowed to shake it; on the other hand, we couldn't play "We Will Rock You" at basketball games because it "promoted homosexuality." When my eleventh grade teacher wanted us to read The Great Gatsby, all the "bad words" had to be covered in white out. This had the opposite intended effect, since everyone would hold it to the light to read it.

So no, I didn't go to a school like Saved. That school would have been a bastion of liberalism compared to the world I lived in.


  1. It's been a long time since I watched "Saved" but I could relate to it a lot. I think I related to Blue Like Jazz even more -- -- However, I went to an ACE School (now called School of Tomorrow) and it was loosely associated with a Pentecostal Church.

    I am so glad you stopped by my blog and left a comment. I love your blog, and I think it's going to be a favorite of mine. In fact, it already is just based on the few posts I've read!

    1. Oh good now I'll have to read your piece on Blue Like Jazz! I related to it too; it was more specifically Baptist. ACE school - not sure I'm familiar with those. Sounds like you have quite a story though - I'll have to do some more digging around your blog. And that is such a sweet thing to say - thank you!

  2. ACE is the ones where you do 12 workbooks a year and it equals one credit. There are no teachers, just supervisors. Everyone is in one room, and in a traditional ACE school you raise the Christian and American flags to call on a teacher. (I believe it's the American flag if you need help and a Christian flag if you need to go to the bathroom.) There is a heavy emphasis on Bible Scripture memorization (Not including Bible quizzing I think I memorized hundreds of Bible verses my senior year of high school. YOu can't get on honor roll without memorizing that month's Scripture passage, ours was usually 10-12 verses.) Our school days consisted of starting school at 9:00, we had break at 10 for about 10 minutes, then back to workbooks until 11:30 -- except on Wednesdays when we had chapel. At 11:30 we had an hour for lunch, and then back to workbooks. We were dismissed at 2:30 on Wednesdays to give us an extra hour to get ready for church that evening, and the rest of the week there were other lessons that went on -- sometimes it was P.E. (either volleyball or running around the house the school was housed in twelve times) or the girls would have sewing lessons while the boys learned woodworking. There were 16 students in my school, grades 1-12. I graduated in a class of three. This is the last year my school will exist. I should write a blog post about it sometime. How many people my age went to a one room schoolhouse? :) You're near DC? I live in WV but went to high school in MD!

    1. Oh my. That is, wow, I don't even know what to say. My school at least had the trappings of a regular school (gym, lockers, etc). And 16 students for all 12 grades? No wonder they had you doing workbooks, how else would you teach so few students spread out over that age range? That really is like a one-room school house. Please do right a post on that!

  3. I did a quick search and found this. VERY interesting. My ACT score for Science (because it was basically rote recall) was extremely high. My other scores were high average except for math which was really low. (26 points seperating my math and science scores). I still got a small scholarship based solely on ACT scores, though. Of course, I went to and graduated from college. Was difficult at times, but I did it. :) The real story for me is not the education but going to a one room schoolhouse. When the goat named Milky Way got into the school. . . when the septic system backed up in our only bathroom. When one of the students ripped his coat and plastic feathers landed on the really hot pot bellied stove and the school filled with smoke in the dead of winter. I could go on! I do need to do some blog posts about this!