When Mennonite Stories Are Your Only Literature: Sean-Allen Parfitt’s Story
Sean-Allen Parfitt is a a gay software engineer, who dabbles in creative writing, music composition, and fashion design. He lives with his boyfriend Paul in Schenectady, NY. Follow Sean-Allen’s blog at Of Pen and Heart, or on Twitter: @AlDoug. The following post was originally published on Of Pen and Heart on August 9, 2013 and is reprinted with the author’s permission.
HA note: The following is the first of a three-part series by Sean-Allen that we will be posting. This post explores the negative aspects of his homeschooling experiences; the other two posts will explore the positive aspects and will be included in next week’s positives series.
Recently I wrote about how the church keeps us in, because we don’t know any better. This is a concept I call Control Through Ignorance (CTI). Today I’m going to approach it with more detail from a different perspective: homeschooling.
I am the eldest of 8 children, all who have been or are still being taught at home by my mother.
Our parents decided to teach me at home before I was in first grade, so I never went to public school. Everything I came in contact with was carefully selected for my growth and benefit. There are several areas I would like to address. These are places in my life where my access to outside influence was restricted or completely cut off.
The first area was social interaction. Just about the only friends I had were from our church, and that’s the only time I saw them. I never made any friends who had a radically different upbringing that I did. I never met Muslims, Jews, Hindus, or atheists. I never went over to my friends’ houses for sleepovers. We were often reminded why certain things my friends did were wrong. We were very much kept in the shelter of our own home and my parent’s rules.
Because of this, we actually learned to believe that almost everyone in the world was wrong about something. We were the only ones who had it all right.
Why would we spend time with people who might influence us to back-slide into some sort of sin?
Another way in which we were tightly controlled was through the prohibition of any kind of entertainment except that which my parents approved. Basically, this meant that we were allowed to read Mennonite stories.
Here is a list of story elements which were particularly banned, with examples.
- Animals that talk/wear clothes
- Winnie the Pooh
- The Little Red Hen
- Any sort of magic
- Lord of the Rings
- Harry Potter
- Any Fairy Tails
- Anything violent
- Oliver Twist
- Anything non-Christian
- The Bobbsey Twins
- Sherlock Holmes
- Good Night Moon
There were a very few exceptions to the last rule, such as Children of the New Forest. Generally, though, the only reading material we had were story books published or sold by the conservative Mennonite publishing house Rod and Staff. I generally enjoyed them, but there was a very religious/indoctrinating theme in many of them.
In the last few years I lived at home, I saw the Mennonite teachings from these books make a serious impact on my mother and brothers.
When we lived in England,we studied British history as part of our home school curriculum. However, the books we used were all published before 1980, because our parents didn’t want us to be influenced by modern thinking and interpretation of the facts of history. Thus, we learned very little about the last few decades of history.
We were not allowed to watch TV or movies, either. We watched a few Christian movies till about 2003, when our TV/VCR broke. If we were at a friend’s house, or at a party with the cousins, we were forbidden to stay in a room with the TV or a movie playing. We were not allowed to play video games, because they supposedly teach violence, besides wasting time. Any time on the computer was closely monitored. When I was 24 and still living at home, I had to have my computer set up on a table in the living area, so that I could not visit any site that was not appropriate for school, work, or little children.
As you can see, we were very much isolated from everything around us. I did occasionally wish I went to school, but mostly because I wanted to play video games. We thought we were right and nobody else, so we even judged other conservative families at church.
Ours was one of the most conservative and uptight families.
I am so glad that I’m out of that now, but I ache for my siblings. They are still stuck in that environment, in which they have no opportunity to learn about who I am, that I’m not an evil person! That’s the hardest thing about this. I didn’t know that I was OK. What if one of my siblings is gay or lesbian? What if one is transgender? What about my siblings who want to go to college, but can’t because Mom won’t let them?
And I can’t go back and show them these things.
Because I no longer fit into the category of acceptance. Thus I am excluded from my family.
And that really hurts.
With its insistence on complete control of its members by shunning if any of them think and act for themselves, the Mennonite religion is just as much a cult as the Amish, Haredi Jews, fundamentalist Christians, Scientology and the Taliban. Get out of that situation as fas as you can and don’t look back. Your new-found freedom will at least help heal your grief about losing loved ones.
The closed information system he describes is a truly insidious means of controlling people.
I do believe though that the controllers, in this case my mom, truly thought she was doing the right thing,
My main writing partner is a burned-out country preacher in a part of the country with a Mennonite population and Amish country nearby. He describes the relationships between the groups as follows:
1) Anabaptist (like himself).
2) Mennonite — specific type of/one step beyond Anabaptist.
3) Old Order Mennonite — one step beyond Mennonite.
4) Amish — one step beyond Old Order Mennonite.
This is a pretty good representation,a s I understand it. Though we were not in that list, I believe we were one step above Anabaptist. In fact, one of my brothers I believe now identifies with Anabaptist Brethren.
I am so glad I’m out of there!
I feel like maybe I should mention, just since no one else did, that there are a lot of modern, liberal Mennonites out there. If anyone wonders who I mean they could try googling Goshen College for example. I don’t doubt you all’s description of the old-school, ultraconservative Mennonites at all (and I’m truly sorry for the heavy control you experienced, Sean-Allen, and for what you are still experiencing). So, I’m really not trying to invalidate that in any way. I just wanted to mention to people that if you hear someone say they grew up Mennonite they might or might not mean that type. The other type share some history and some distinctives such as pacifism, but the control is not present, and they are very politically liberal (sometimes theologically as well, depending) and progressive. It’s a strange contrast really. Ironically they do tend to have a lot of respect for the Amish… I get the feeling many people don’t understand the level of control that goes on in that community as well.
Good clarification, Pauline. Thanks for pointing that out.
Animals that talk/wear clothes
Winnie the Pooh
The Little Red Hen
Any sort of magic
Lord of the Rings
Any Fairy Tails
Dude, you were deprived BAD. I’m a Furry, a Brony, and an old SF/Fantasy litfan. All the above are walking tours through places of wonder and imagination, and you were forbidden even a taste of that wonder and imagination. Instead of these wonders, you were force-fed (as James Michener put it in Hawaii) “The hard, grim, grey, joyless path of Salvation.”
I agree. When I started college, the first thing I did (after class) was go to the library and find the Narnia series. I fell in love. To this day I actually believe that Narnia is real. I wish I had experienced that wonder and belief as a child.
Reblogged this on The Road and commented:
Child abuse, plain and simple
The thing is that we had no idea we were enduring any types of abuse regarding our lack of exposure. It even took me a while after leaving home to realize that I had been done a disservice.
I’m a conservative menonite, and none of the above are forbiden. In fact, some of them are endorsed. Harry Potter dose tend to be frowned upon but, for some reason I can’t understand, many less conservative christians have a problem with it too. If you a chrystian, and are interested in learning what was taught after the apostles died, I would sugest that you go to http://www.scrollpublishing.com/store/cds-wecb.html. If you don’t trust links, just go to scrollpublishing.com, teaching CDs, what the early christians believed. If not, I hope I’m not bothering you too much
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