For years whenever I’d haunt the shelfs at my local public library I’d seen Carlene Cross’ 2006 memoir Fleeing Fundamentalism: A Minister’s Wife Examines Faith sitting on the shelf, but never borrowed it despite how promising it looked. Finally, one day at the library my curiosity got the better of me. While grabbing books right and left I added hers to the growing stack of books clutched in my arms and headed to the check-out desk. It was a wise move because Fleeing Fundamentalism is an outstanding memoir.
In her 2006 memoir, she recalls her life beginning with her childhood in rural Montana, college days at an unaccredited Bible college, an evangelical minister’s wife, implosion of her troubled marriage, successful attempts to obtain a degree from a bona fide university while raising a household of young children, and finally her departure from the evangelical fold.
As a former evangelical myself, much of what she wrote resonated with me. Just like me, she wasn’t raised in a fundamentalist Christian household but embraced the faith as a young child one summer in a Vacation Bible School (VBS). (On one hand one wonders if it’s ethical for religious groups to proselytize among children. On the other hand, as a civil liberation I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the state prohibiting groups from doing so.) Later, as a young adult just like Cross I also experienced the religious zeal exhibited by many youthful converts. (Besides attending Bible college in Montana, she also spent a summer in Europe ministering to her co-religionists behind the then Iron Curtain.) Finally, perhaps more than anything it was our college experiences, academic and otherwise that were instrumental in guiding us away from evangelical Christianity.
Like so many other lives, one wonders to what degree a fateful decision here or there would have profoundly changed her life, For example, had she not attended VBS one summer, would she still have embraced fundamentalist Christianity? If she did not date and later marry her boyfriend from Bible college, would she have married a stable, loving yet Christian man instead of the troubled, self-destructive one who years later she needed to divorce and prompting her to obtain a quality education in order to support her family?
Fleeing Fundamentalism is more than one of those “I left the faith” books I’m so fond of reading. She’s a superb writer and once I started her memoir I couldn’t put it down. Just like the subject of my previous post Devil’s Game, Fleeing Fundamentalism is a surprisingly good book, so good it could end up making my year-end Best Nonfiction list. Therefore, I can recommend this fine memoir without hesitation.