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Santiago interviews Erika Miller, an ex-SDA teacher, mom, and survivor of abuse. As a young child, Erika was abused by a deacon's son at her home church. She shares her amazing story of resilience, attending Newbold College in the UK, and eventually leaving the Adventist church.
The Netflix show linked above is not about Erika's story, but it's linked here as we briefly discussed Erika’s desire to go into law (timecode 44:32). She was discouraged by her parents, who said the legal profession isn't suitable for a Christian woman. I mentioned the show because it’s based on a true story of a serial rapist who got away with his crimes in part by committing them in different cities or counties, and the police departments didn’t share any information with each other.
The show centers on a woman who was the most recent victim and spoke to the police, but the two male detectives who questioned her didn’t believe her and ultimately gaslit her into recanting her testimony. It wasn’t until a female detective began noticing a pattern and believed the victim that they finally were able to put the pieces together and catch the rapist.
The show is relevant because it illustrates how discouraging women from entering certain professions has put us at a disadvantage, and why listening to victims is incredibly important.
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Credits: Music: Hall of the Mountain King Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) • Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
Haystacks & Hell Intro
[00:00:00] Santiago: Welcome to Haystacks and Hell, an ex-Adventist podcast where we tell stories about growing up Seventh-day Adventist, leaving faith behind, and building new, fulfilling lives.
Meet Erika Miller
[00:00:16] Santiago: Hey everyone, welcome back to Haystacks and Hell. I'm your host Santiago and today, I'm very excited to start Season Two of the show. If this is your first time listening, I highly encourage you to go back and listen to Season One as well. You'll get to hear my story, my brother's story, and from many other former Adventists, including Matthew Vollmer, the nephew of the current General Conference President, Ted Wilson.
[00:00:42] For our first episode this season, I'm very honored to speak with Erika Miller. Erika grew up in the United States and was raised as a Seventh-day Adventist in the seventies and eighties. Her father was an Adventist school teacher and she attended SDA schools from elementary through college, graduating from Newbold College in the United Kingdom.
[00:01:04] Erika later earned a master's degree in humanities with a focus in secondary education. She was baptized at 16, but eight years before that, she experienced something horrific. Erika was sexually abused by the son of a deacon at her church, who was twice her age.
[00:01:23] When she eventually spoke to an Adventist teacher that she trusted, she was told to keep quiet and was even warned that this could negatively affect her father's teaching job at their local SDA school. What followed was a coverup by local church and conference leaders, despite her parents' multiple attempts to address the issue. To to this day, nobody has been held accountable.
[00:01:49] This is such an important conversation for us to have, and I want to emphasize that there's also much more to Erika's story than this. She's worked as a teacher and has a daughter, and has written at length about her story, which she plans to publish someday. Erika's goal is to help other survivors of abuse and at the end of this episode, she will share some of the things that have helped her, including journaling and therapy.
[00:02:15] This episode contains brief mentions of sexual abuse, rape, and suicidal thoughts, but there are no graphic descriptions. Erika, welcome, thank you so much for your work, and thanks for sharing your story.
[00:02:29] Erika: Sure, you're welcome.
[00:02:30] Santiago: So I want to start out by asking you how far back does the Adventist faith go in your family?
[00:02:36] Erika: I'm second or third generation. My grandparents on both sides of my family converted to Adventism when my parents were very young, and then my parents were raised as Adventists. And then my sister and I were obviously raised in the church as well, so three generations.
[00:02:55] Santiago: Yeah, so definitely some roots there. I want to ask you what you remember about Sabbath school as a kid.
[00:03:02] Erika: What I remember about Sabbath school was, at first it was a lot of fun when I was, you know, young, under the age of eight. Pictures and songs and stories and activities, they were great. Of course I didn't realize that I was being indoctrinated, because you don't when you're a child, you don't know anything about it.
[00:03:20] And as as I grew older and got into especially the early teen type Sabbath school, I began to start to question some of the things that we were being taught. And then the focus turned toward baptism, hardcore toward baptism. And anybody who was over the age of eight was getting pressured to be baptized.
[00:03:42] And a lot of the younger kids that I went to Sabbath school with did indeed get baptized before they were 13 years old. I held out until I was 16, but the pressure was very, very severe. And I think that that was where I began to not want to go to Sabbath school anymore, that I didn't enjoy Sabbath school anymore. And I didn't feel like I had any choices at all as a, just as a person any longer.
[00:04:09] Santiago: Hmm. You've written a little bit about having like a strong Type A personality growing up.
[00:04:16] Erika: Very much.
[00:04:17] Santiago: Yeah, so I'm wondering what that looked like for you and how that was received by your family and community.
[00:04:24] Erika: My family, of course, they grew up with it. So they, they knew that I was very strong personality. I had very strong opinions on just about everything, still do. But as far as growing up, I had no problem speaking out or speaking up. And what that resulted in for me was bullying, um, both by teachers, but a lot by Sabbath school leaders, other kids who may have bought into the whole SDA thing a little bit more than I did.
[00:04:56] It took the form of being told I wasn't going to heaven, that I was naughty, that I was a willful child, that I was bringing shame upon my family. I mean, weirdly enough, in my baptism class when I was 16, I began to question some of Ellen White's writings. And I was told basically by the baptismal leaders, it was an elder of the church, he said to me, very frankly, he said, "Your job is to learn, not to ask questions."
[00:05:25] Santiago: Wow.
[00:05:26] Erika: Yeah, and so I said, "Well, what do you mean? I'm here to ask questions and I'm telling you." And he says, "You, you need to read more closely what I'm giving you to read and don't ask these questions. You need to know this stuff." And I, you know, I kept firing back and I almost got kicked out.
[00:05:43] And then basically he said, "You're bringing shame upon your father. And, you know, the school may not look as favorably upon his employment as a teacher, if he has a daughter who's so willful and so headstrong, who's hardening their heart against God, because, you know, you need to know this stuff." And of course, everybody in the baptismal class is looking at me like, you know, "Shut up, come on, shut up."
[00:06:04] Both: [Laughing]
[00:06:06] Santiago: Oh, man, that is wild to me. You're trying to understand this, you're trying to process this. You're in what's supposed to be a class, and yet you're being told "You're not reading it right, read it again." You're not — in other words, you weren't taking away the interpretation that they wanted you to take away, is what it sounds like.
[00:06:24] Erika: I wasn't licking the spoon they were shoving at me. Well, and it was kind of funny too, because I had been, I'd just been trained as a lifeguard and my mom was a nurse. So we had been studying head injuries.
[00:06:34] And so one of the things that I had mentioned during baptismal class, I was like, "Look, Ellen White got hit in the head with a damn rock." I mean, I've just discovered what, you know, long term effects of head injuries can happen. I mean, and I said, you know, "Was this woman catatonic? Was she, you know, did it scramble her, her brains?" And so, oh man, that wasn't good.
[00:06:51] Santiago: Yeah, I can imagine. So, within that class, or just generally as you grew up, did you feel like you experienced a relationship with Jesus? Was that talked about? Or any moments that felt spiritual or supernatural?
[00:07:07] Erika: You know, I think it was talked about for sure. There were a few week of prayer speakers that we had come to the, to the boarding school where my dad was a teacher. And there were a couple of them that I actually felt they were very biblical based. They didn't take, they didn't take the, you know, exit stage Ellen G White right, sort of a thing.
[00:07:22] They, they really stuck to the Bible. And I think that that helped some, but I think by that time with me, it was almost too late because I had already, I guess hardened myself against the SDA church because, you know, I'd been sitting here listening to these people threaten my father's job.
[00:07:38] And my father was about the most kind, gentle man ever. And I felt very protective of him, but I'd also heard him flatten me a few times. And there was never any, any effort made on their part to try and get me gently. You know, to talk to me about being supportive or, you know, "Hey, you know, we, we understand you're struggling with this. Let's focus on God instead of on, you know, the whole 27 or 28 doctrines." There was none of that. It was just, "You will, you will, you will, you will, you will." And of course I fire back, "I won't, I won't, I won't," so...
[00:08:15] Both: [Laughing]
[00:08:16] Santiago: Yeah. Mixed in with all of that, do you remember what you were taught about the end times? And if you had any anxiety about death or the afterlife?
[00:08:25] Erika: Tons, so we were taught very young, and I mean, and I remember in the young Sabbath school, like even cradle — I don't know about cradle roll, but the regular Sabbath school and then juniors and early teens, for sure. We were shown pictures of people that were being left behind, people that were burning, people that were not being saved.
[00:08:47] We were told over and over again that if we didn't behave a certain way, that we would not be saved and that our families would go to heaven without us and that they would miss us and they would cry. And it would be a very sad time for them in heaven, but very soon after they got there, they would forget us.
[00:09:02] So they would forget that we existed altogether because God would erase us from their memories. Just, um, yeah, I mean, BS. And basically, any time that I fired back, this is, this was reminded, "You are not going to be saved." And then every single time that you do something or have a bad thought, God writes it down in his little book, or his big ol' fat book, you know, whatever it is.
[00:09:27] I mean, his tome on me is probably pretty wide. And so I'm always sitting there, every single thing I say, "Well, you know, God just heard that he wrote that down in his book and you're going to have to answer to that." And then this whole Investigative Judgment. "You're going to have to be, you know, you're going to be investigated. You're going to be called on the carpet."
[00:09:44] I lived in fear and, and that's, and I know that I wasn't the only one. Many of us lived in fear that, you know, you basically were afraid to, to do anything that wasn't already given you explicit permission from the, from the church governing bodies or whatever the case may be as "this is an approved activity." You know, you, you are scared to death. I knew a lot of people that had nightmares. I did at one point when I was in my early teens, I used to have nightmares about this stuff.
[00:10:12] Santiago: Hmm.
[00:10:12] Erika: And of course my parents were like, "Well, you know, that's what the church teaches." And so they were, they were getting a lot of direction from the church as well on how they should be raised and a fair bit of direction, I think, on how to raise a well strung, very headstrong daughter.
[00:10:28] Santiago: I could be wrong, but it sounded to me just now like maybe your parents had some views that didn't always align with the church, but then they felt like they had to align themselves with it. Would you say that's fair?
[00:10:41] Erika: I think that that's very fair. So my, my father was raised in World War II Germany. He was German, um, came to the United States when he was in his mid twenties. I remember hearing many times, uh, speculation from church members as to whether my father was a Nazi sympathizer.
[00:10:55] Absolutely not true, but, my dad was never treated the same as some of the other staff. He was always a little bit distrusted. And I think that bothered him, even though he taught at that school for over 40 years, there was always a little distrust there. And my mom, she is, um, she went to college, she became a nurse. And so she wasn't working in the Adventist system.
[00:11:19] She wasn't working in an Adventist hospital or an Adventist school. And I think that there was part of that where it wasn't that they didn't trust her, it's just that she wasn't around as, as much as some of the other, other Adventist people that worked for the Adventist church. But, you know, definitely I feel like they treated my father differently. And, my sister and I differently as well, because of it.
[00:11:41] Santiago: I think I remember you also wrote a little bit about views on race and interracial relationships. Do you want to share a little bit about that within your own family dynamic, but also things that you heard from people at church?
[00:11:56] Erika: Sure, my family was very, they're pretty open. I mean, they, they're very accepting of, of other people. I mean, my, my dad was German, you know, so even coming out of World War II, even in the sixties when he started teaching at that school and then seventies and eighties, of course, there was still a little bit of that anti-German feeling because of Hitler.
[00:12:15] But my parents were never retaliatory, they always accepted people. They let me have friends that were of other races. However, I was told several times, I can't remember who it was. It was in either a Pathfinder group or in a Sabbath school group, where there were allusions made to the fact that "African Americans are of a subhuman race."
[00:12:36] Santiago: Wow.
[00:12:36] Erika: And I remember hearing many times that as a white girl, I should never marry anybody outside of my race because it is only going to lead to unhappiness. And that I need to stay with those that are like me, that are of my religion and that have my, that are of my color. And, you know, it went against what I was learning at home, you know, where my parents were saying, you know, we're all, we're all equal. We're all created equal, we're all, you know, children of God or whatever the case may be.
[00:13:07] And so I'm getting this mixed message saying, "Don't date somebody or don't marry somebody who isn't of your race." And you know, that always bothered me because when I did go to Newbold College later on, the diversity in the amount of different countries that were represented at that college from all over the world was one of the things that attracted me the most.
[00:13:33] And, you know, to have, to have been taught prior to going there that, you know, I had to be very careful about who I associated with, because if they were out of my race, I was going to have problems the rest of my life. It took some time to get over it. But, you know, I was thankful that at least at home my parents had had felt differently. So yeah, it was, it was very weird.
[00:13:58] Santiago: That's so interesting because growing up on the West Coast, growing up within a multicultural church, that was definitely something that I, as a millennial Adventist, didn't grow up with. But I'm thankful that folks like you and others have been willing to speak up about that.
[00:14:16] Abby and Ami have spoken about hearing essentially what you talked about, very racist and very xenophobic ideas about Black people and people, you know, who were non-white or from other countries. And I remember being shocked at the first time I heard this. I think it was on Abby and Ami's original podcast, where they talk about this quote from Ellen White about amalgamation of man and beast. Was that quote ever used to justify these arguments?
[00:14:48] Erika: Absolutely, yes it was. It was very strange and, and I don't, again, it's been many, many years, so I don't remember exactly who had said it to me, but I do remember hearing something about the fact that there was this amalgamation between man and beast, but that the Africans in Africa were not that far removed.
[00:15:07] And so "They're heathens, they're cannibals." They're, you know, use any adjective that you want to, that's not positive. And so that was, you know, don't, don't ever marry. "Our job is to be a missionary and try and turn them to God. Our job is not to mix with them." And it was very much that "You are much above these people."
[00:15:27] Santiago: Yeah, a very colonialist mindset.
[00:15:31] Erika: Very much, I hated that. And, you know, they, they took that to strengthen the argument that we should not mix with other races.
[00:15:38] Santiago: Wow. So you're hearing conversations from people at church about this, about relationships. I'm wondering at any point, did you have "the talk" with your parents or get any sort of formal sex education?
[00:15:53] Erika: God, no [laughing]. You know, um, we had, I think our school decided to take a half assed stab at it one time when, when I was, I want to say I was a sophomore or a junior. And so they had this gal, unmarried, you know, and that was, they couldn't have picked anybody worse to teach this.
[00:16:15] This woman has never been married, she's trying to have this awkward conversation. She's got a banana. She's got condoms. She has no idea what she's doing with these things. You know, we got one kid in the class that's standing up being like, "All right, you know what, let me, let me show you this." And "No, you shouldn't even know what these things are!"
[00:16:30] Oh yeah, it was, it was a mess. And I just remember my best friend sitting in the back of the class with me. We're just dying because they're laughing so hard. She was getting so upset. And after that, it was that one year they, they stopped doing it. I, you know, just happened to have the unlucky misfortune of being in that class.
[00:16:47] But, um, yeah, I learned from the farm animals. You know, we, we had, we had around, and so in conversations from people that were older than me. And it was weird because here we are in an Adventist school. I'm at an Adventist boarding school. We're out in the middle of blinking nowhere in Southern Oregon. And there's a local high school that has just about the same number of student bodies. And we had more unplanned pregnancies at our Adventist school than that, that local high school did.
[00:17:17] Santiago: Go figure.
[00:17:18] Erika: Yeah, because they never teach you anything. So what are you going to do? They just tell you, "Don't do it, it's absolutely bad, you're not going to go to heaven if you do." So what are you going to do? You're going to experiment. Hello?
[00:17:27] Santiago: Even though it obviously didn't go as planned, I'm at least somewhat glad to know that they at least thought to bring in condoms at one point.
[00:17:37] Erika: Yeah, it was, it was an absolute circus.
[00:17:41] Santiago: Oh man, I can imagine. So, you know, speaking of this, this, this all, a lot of the things that you've written about and that we've just touched on right now, tie into purity culture. And I know that term may not have existed or have been widely used at that time, but what did purity culture look like for you and how do you think it affected you and your peers?
[00:18:05] Erika: Well, purity culture for, for us, I mean, it was, very much talked about that you are to remain pure. You are not to engage in, you know, even anything beyond handholding. And even that was discouraged. You know, we were always told "You're not going to be saved, people that sleep around, they're whores."
[00:18:24] And obviously the girls were cautioned much more widely than the boys were. And I was, you know, we were told very blatantly that we had most of the power and that if a man, if a man sinned in a sexual way, it was the fault of the woman for getting him there in the first place.
[00:18:43] So at that point, you know, it's sitting there like, you know, obviously "Guys are too stupid to say no." And "Girls are nothing but temptations." And so we had, of course, a strict policy against any sort of touching, or, you know, if you're dating somebody, you need to be non, there's no PDA whatsoever.
[00:19:07] Which, you know, I can kind of guess, makes sense when you got a bunch of randy teenagers running around, but, um, at the same time, they were very much cautioning us, "Don't, don't do it." You know, "If you hug somebody, it's going to lead to kissing." "Kissing leads to sex, sex leads to being pregnant, then you're not going to heaven." You know, there was that stuff.
[00:19:25] And, you know, I was sexually assaulted by a church member's son when I was young. It was a deacon's son, when I was eight. And so for me, this purity culture was they were telling us, if you don't marry as a virgin, you can't be saved, or your husband's not going to want you. So if he ever finds out that you've done these things, you're not going to be wanted.
[00:19:46] You're seen as unclean and so, you know, for me, as I was getting older, I thought to myself many times, "Well, you know, I didn't do this by choice, you know? But does that mean that my husband's not going to want me? Am I going to have to disclose this?" And they kept telling us, "They'll know, they'll know if you've done this before or not."
[00:20:05] And so, that tortured me for years, trying to grow up and say, you know, "Am I ever going to be able to be wanted because even though this wasn't my choice, I'm not considered pure anymore," you know, as such. I asked that question to the lady that I had disclosed this to at one point, and she said she didn't have the answer to that.
[00:20:27] And you know, when, when you have a kid who's 15, 16 years old, that's talking to you about this, what you need to say is, "Honey, that wasn't your choice." Of course you're, you know, you're still pure or whatever the case may be. It wasn't your choice.
[00:20:40] But on the flip side, I was, remember I was eight years old. I was told by this woman, and obviously after she had talked to some of the church members, that I had to be partially at fault for tempting the guy in the first place.
[00:20:53] Santiago: Oh my goodness.
[00:20:55] Erika: So I was eight years old. You know, this guy was 16 or 17.
[00:20:59] Santiago: Wow.
[00:21:00] Erika: So, you know, how can an eight year old be provocative? I was a little hick girl, so I was running around in jeans and a t-shirt, you know, and it was, and I didn't know anything about it. I mean, I was completely innocent at that age.
[00:21:13] Santiago: Yeah, well yeah, obviously. And even if you were a bit older, like the idea that someone who is older than you, stronger than you, would force themselves on you and that it's somehow your fault. That is incredibly, just, I don't understand how people can, like full grown adults, can, can rationalize and think that way.
[00:21:38] I've talked before about how the sex education I got, the sex education my brother got at home from our parents, we never, ever heard the word "consent," and I'm wondering if you remember ever hearing that or the concept of something similar to that.
[00:21:54] Erika: Absolutely not. In fact, the opposite. I was told that when I got married, it was my duty to give myself whenever my husband wanted it.
[00:22:00] Santiago: Wow. Wow, that's, yeah, I think, I think everything you've just touched on calls back to this idea that the Abrahamic religions are ultimately very patriarchal religions.
[00:22:15] Erika: Yes, they very much are.
[00:22:17] Santiago: Yeah, wow. Wow, there's so much to unpack here. First, I want to ask you, given everything we just talked about, do you feel like purity culture made you and others a target for predators? And do you think that it also maybe even created predators?
[00:22:35] Erika: Absolutely. I think that when a predator knows what you've been raised at, and I mean the, the, the guy that sexually assaulted me, he was raised in the same, he was raised in the same thing I was, you know? He was raised in the church as well, but obviously he was a predator. And so he used that because one of the things that he would say to me, and this didn't just happen once, it happened multiple times over the course of a year. One of the things he would say to me is, "If you don't do this, I will tell your parents."
[00:23:02] So it definitely created fear in me. He would even say the same thing as the leaders would say. "If you — I'll tell your parents and then you won't ever be able to get married, you'll never have anybody that loves you." And you know, an eight year old, you don't have the psyche to fight back. You don't have the physical or the mental abilities to fight back.
[00:23:19] And I think that growing up, there were girls on our campus that were in high school with me that were preyed upon by predators. We had some non-Adventist people that were renting property from the school, and one of these guys raped one of the girls. And what their answer was, was to kick her out of school, send her home, and blame her.
[00:23:43] Santiago: Wow.
[00:23:44] Erika: And, you know, she didn't know how to protect herself. She didn't know to tell anybody. She finally had told a friend, and the friend had said, "Well, you better tell somebody." And of course she knew exactly what would happen is the minute she told somebody, she'd be on the first bus out. And that's exactly what happened.
[00:24:01] And you know, what it did for her is it not, it did nothing for her as far as supporting her, getting her counseling, or anything like that. It was just, "Well, this happened on our campus. We don't want to deal with it, we're going to go ahead and cover the problem up." And there were so many predators. In fact, there were several staff member predators on campus.
[00:24:20] They had a lumber mill there, and these lumber workers would come in that were Adventist and they would prey on the teenage girls. And the school's answer to them was to move them off campus to a different campus. So they'd send them to another school.
[00:24:36] We had a dean that was molesting the boys, sent her to another school. "Let's just, let's just, let's just get rid of them. Let's, we don't have to worry about it anymore." So yes, it absolutely created a victim culture. And it's, it's never been the predator that was blamed, it was always the person who was preyed upon. You know, we were seen to be tempting. I was called Jezebel so many times, I can't even remember.
[00:25:00] Santiago: Oh my goodness. Wow.
[00:25:03] Erika: And then they wonder why we leave.
[00:25:05] Santiago: Yeah, right? Yeah, such a mystery. You wrote that at around the age of 15, you caught the man who had first molested you. He's now in his early 20s. You caught him alone with another girl who was around 9 or 10. Can you describe that scene and what went through your mind when you first spotted them?
[00:25:28] Erika: Sure. Kind of back it up just a tad, he was caught with me. A staff member of the school caught him with me, reported it to my parents. The school did nothing about it. And so what they finally did is the kid went off to college, and he came back for a summer break.
[00:25:45] I'm out horseback riding because I was, you know, big into horses. So I'm out horseback riding and I find him up in the woods up on one of the trails that I used to ride on, with this young girl. And you know, there's this, there's this part of you that's torn because I want nothing to do with him. I don't want to see him. I don't want to know about him.
[00:26:02] But I also looking at this young girl, she looked absolutely miserable. I don't know if he had molested her at all, I didn't want to ask. But I knew that if, you know, if he hadn't done it, he probably was going to. He'd never had to answer for any of the stuff that he had done to me. So I figured, you know, he had continued to this behavior for as long as he figured he could get away with it.
[00:26:22] So, you know, I got off my horse and put the girl on my horse and said, "Hey, do you want to ride my horse?" And I walked along with her and talked to her and tried to ignore him. And he kept trying to engage me in conversation. And I just, I wouldn't engage. I'd give, you know, monosyllabic answers and then I would just keep talking to the girl. And once we got down out of the woods, I took her home. I didn't ask her if he had molested her because honestly, I didn't want to know the answer.
[00:26:48] Santiago: Hmm.
[00:26:48] Erika: I, I was already sick to my stomach and, and just being around that guy was already, uh, you know, you felt like you need a shower and a scrub afterwards. But you know, weirdly enough since then, like in the last year or two, I've actually learned of several more that have said, "Oh yeah, he, he got ahold of me too."
[00:27:06] Santiago: Wow. Even at 15, you were able to recognize that this man was a serial predator. And you mentioned, you know, that you got the courage to speak to an Adventist teacher. Can you describe a little bit more about how that conversation went with her?
[00:27:23] Erika: When I spoke with an Adventist teacher, at first it looked like she believed me, but the more I got into it and as I began to name drop who this guy was, um, she very, very quickly began to lose interest, is what it appeared, that she'd lose interest. And the first thing that she said to me was, you know, "I'm sorry that happened to you," which, you know, you would expect.
[00:27:44] But secondly was, "Please don't tell anybody about this." And, you know, I said, "Well, it's not something that I go around and talk about all the time, obviously, not everybody knows." And she, "Well, who knows? Who knows?" And I said, "Well, you know, now, and my best friend knows." And, "Don't tell anybody else."
[00:28:02] And so she went, I, I don't know for a fact, but it reading between the lines, she went to church leadership and she told them about it and they told her that she needed to make sure that I was silenced, that I would not speak about it, that I wouldn't talk about it with anybody.
[00:28:19] And she did come back to me and she said, "Look, you know, it's your word against his word. There's no way that they're ever going to, you know, that the school doesn't really want to look into it. And this is not something that, you know, we really want to drag out in the open because it's going to make life very uncomfortable for you. And, you know, you'd be better off just not talking about it anymore because you don't really want the whole entire school to know that you're bringing these accusations against this person."
[00:28:49] And so, I said, uh, well, you know, "I am talking about it because it's wrong. And I've just caught this guy with another girl. So he's obviously not stopped." And that she kept mentioning, you know, "Anytime that you bring something that casts a negative light or that causes drama," or something like that, I think she used the word drama, "causes drama, it can cast negative light on your father and his position at the school." And so basically reading between the lines is, "Your father's job is going to be in jeopardy if you talk about this anymore." So I didn't. I mean, I love my dad deeply. I stopped talking.
[00:29:27] Santiago: Wow, and this teacher, was this one of his coworkers?
[00:29:31] Erika: Yes.
[00:29:31] Santiago: Okay, wow. And this entire time, if I'm remembering correctly, you hadn't talked to your parents about what happened, is that correct?
[00:29:42] Erika: Not at all, I was told that if I talked to my parents about it, they would probably disown me.
[00:29:46] Santiago: Did this teacher tell you that, or...
[00:29:48] Erika: No, the the predator did.
[00:29:50] Santiago: Okay, wow.
[00:29:53] Erika: So I'd been carrying that since I was eight.
[00:29:55] Santiago: For anyone who can't, 'cause sometimes we hear people hear stories like this and their response is, "Well, why didn't you say anything?" "Why didn't you talk?" And so for anyone who can't empathize, can you describe, at eight years old and then, you know, even all these years later, why you felt like you couldn't speak to them?
[00:30:17] Erika: Sure. At eight years old, I was being threatened by the predator to not say anything. I mean, I was told, and I'd heard enough in Sabbath school and in school and just, you know, being around other Adventists that this purity was so important. And so I didn't talk because I was trying to figure out, you know, "How am I, how am I going to earn my way back into heaven because I'm not pure anymore?"
[00:30:44] And that was very, very, very hard for me. And so my thought then was, "If I don't say anything, maybe it'll go away." Cause that's, you know, that's your eight year old mentality. "Maybe if I don't say anything, you know, it'll go away." And so I'd find myself asking God for forgiveness for something that was not my fault. You know, "Please forgive me for, for having sex with this guy" when of course, nothing was my choice.
[00:31:14] And then as you grow older, there's also the shame. You know, you're, you're ashamed when you're 13, you're like, "Why didn't I, you know, kick him in the balls and run away?" Well, nobody had ever told me how to defend myself. I was never taught that.
[00:31:27] And then it was, why do you, "Why did you wait so long to talk about it?" Because it's hard to talk about something like that. It really is, because you, you want to say, you know, "I was a kid, I didn't know any better."
[00:31:40] But then as you're a teenager, and then as an adult, it's "Well, you know, it's been so long ago, is it really even relevant, you know that this happened to me, however long ago? It's not really a relevant conversation anymore." And I think even now, people say, well, you know, "That's an uncomfortable conversation to have. You know, that should be a private conversation. Nobody should be speaking out about those things because, you know, that guy should have been in jail."
[00:32:05] Well, hell yeah, he should have been in jail, but you know, he was, that was the thing. He was caught. He was caught. He was caught when I was eight years old by a staff member who told my parents. And they went to the school about it, and they went to the church about it, and they were silenced. They were told to keep it quiet. My dad's job was brought into question.
[00:32:28] And I found this out years afterwards. My mom told me, she said she kept pushing. She called the conference, you know, and tried, tried to, to get this guy at least removed from the campus or some type of justice. And the conference told my father,
[00:32:44] "You need, you need to tell your wife to back off. We'll take care of this." They never did a damn thing about it. So, you know, I've now grown up realizing that if I do say anything, nothing's going to happen. Nobody's going to do anything. I'm not going to be given any support. I'm not going to be heard, at all.
[00:33:04] And that this, this school and these church leaders were full, fully aware of it. Fully aware of it. But they chose not to do anything. So why, why talk about it? And I think that there are a lot of victims out there that feel that same way, whether it be from an Adventist system or, or not. Is, you know, "Why, why do I say anything? I have to take this to court. I have to look this person in the eye, and I have to say they did this." "Well, where's your witnesses?" Well, you know, they make sure there aren't any.
[00:33:36] Santiago: Mmhmm.
[00:33:37] Erika: You know, so now you're stuck in a "he said, she said." There's a lot of reasons people don't report this.
[00:33:41] Santiago: Yeah, absolutely. It's, I think you said it really well that they make sure that there's no one around to be able to witness it. But then on top of that, the whole going back to purity culture, going back to the theology and the things you were taught...
[00:33:56] Erika: Mmhmm.
[00:33:57] Santiago: Even if somebody wants to believe or if somebody wants to help, there is this pressure that they have gotten just from the culture around them, that it's something that's embarrassing, that is uncomfortable, like you said. People just don't want to talk about it.
[00:34:15] Erika: Well, and the church doesn't like to have any negativity cast over them. You know, and that's why I called my writing Skeletons and Closets because, you know, there are so many things that that church needs to answer for because, but they've stuffed them all in their closet. And, you know, I, and I'm sitting here thinking to myself, you know, I'm not the only person that this has happened to. And I'm sitting there on Reddit looking, and I'm watching people. "I was abused by an elder." "I was abused by a pastor." "I was in an" — it, it's sick, you know, that they keep stuffing it into a closet.
[00:34:51] Santiago: Yeah. They don't seem to be as, as frequent as some of the larger denominations or denominations with a larger presence in the US. But even today, there are still some headlines. I think a couple years ago, another boarding school in the US was shut down. And there's this lawsuit with Weimar that came out last year. So it sounds like in some cases, authorities are aware and get involved, but it just makes you wonder how many of those were never reported because of all of the reasons you just shared.
[00:35:28] Erika: I know a lot of them weren't reported because, um, you know, if you're thinking about today's culture, we're much more aware of it and, and, and that's a good thing. People are not afraid now to bring these things forward and, and smack the church upside the head with it and say, "Hey, you know, you've got, you've got a problem here."
[00:35:46] But back in the 1980s, that was a completely different culture back then. And they, they didn't deal with it. Absolutely didn't deal with it. Now, with the internet and a lot of this knowledge that's out there, now they don't have a choice.
[00:36:02] Santiago: Yeah, no, agreed. I think, I think independent media and social media and again, like you mentioned, a change in culture as well. I think all of those things are coming together to put pressure on change, for change to happen.
[00:36:19] Erika: And it needs to, and you know, and that's, that is a good thing to see. I also think that it's part of the reason that people are getting out of that church faster than they can get in. You know, there's, there's a lot of people that are realizing that, you know, this is a big ol steamin pile of BS that I don't want to have anything to do with, you know?
[00:36:38] Santiago: Yeah, yeah. I think for some of us, it took longer to realize that. And then for, for some, the questions were there from the beginning.
[00:36:47] Erika: Yeah.
[00:36:48] Santiago: I'm in the camp where I didn't really question too much growing up. I had maybe, you know, some questions here and there, but nothing really foundational until I became an adult. And then since leaving, hearing stories like yours, and then learning of other stories that happen at churches within the area I grew up in, and even within my own church, just absolutely blown away at some of the things that have happened.
[00:37:18] So this whole time that you are experiencing this, you are being pressured to get baptized into this church that had covered up what happened to you. So I'm wondering, what went through your mind when people would bring up baptism?
[00:37:36] Erika: Basically, you know, "Why do I want," and I, and I even said it I believe in my baptismal class, you know, "I have problems with this church." I didn't say what. I you know, I was 16 and I was strictly under that gag order at that point in time. And I was just told "Well, you know, you're being, you're hardening your heart and you need to just listen and learn and, you know, God forgives you for all these little sins that you've committed up until now. You just got to ask him."
[00:38:05] The biggest thing that was going through my mind though, I have to say it was my dad and his job at the church. You know, I had all the respect and love in the world for my father, and he's since passed away. I knew these people well enough to know that if push came to shove, they would go after my dad.
[00:38:24] And so out of respect and love for him, I was like, you know what, "What's going to make it easier for him? When I go to college or when I'm an adult, when I'm on my own, I can always ask for my membership to be terminated." So I, so I did it basically to keep the peace, I guess is, is the easiest way to say it.
[00:38:41] Santiago: Yeah, no, that's, that's definitely understandable. And given everything you've shared about your dad so far, I can understand why you would want to do that for him.
[00:38:51] Erika: Mmhmm.
[00:38:53] Santiago: You've written about how after experiencing all of this, you had this need to know if you were quote unquote "normal" and whether you could have a healthy sexual relationship with somebody. So you actually decided to have consensual sex with a guy friend of yours. I'm wondering if you can talk about that experience and how that impacted your life afterward.
[00:39:20] Erika: This was a friend of mine and I mean, he knew the bits and pieces. He didn't know the whole story. I mean, he did know that I had been molested, he knew that part of it. I'd gotten to the point where I was very open about it. He had even asked the question, he says, "Well, how do you know that you can have a normal sexual relationship?" And I was like, "I don't, you want to try and, you know, you want to find out with me?" And of course he's like, "Sure!" [Laughing] You know, typical guy.
[00:39:43] And, you know, and he's been, he was very discreet about it. And we, we, you know, we, we did what we needed to do. And I found out, yes, I could. You know, could have without freaking out or, you know. And I even warned him. I say, 'If I freak out," and he's like, "Don't worry, I'll back off." And I trusted him. And, you know, we're still friends to this day. We don't even speak about it anymore, but, uh, you know, he knows I know, and that's just kind of our, our little secret.
[00:40:05] But it did let me know that it was possible for me, you know, to, to have a normal sexual relationship. But it was also very interesting because my thought process going into this was, was twofold. First of all, "Can I have a normal sexual relationship or sexual experience and not freak out?" And B, "Well, if I'm not pure anyway, I might as well experiment."
[00:40:25] Santiago: Hmm.
[00:40:27] Erika: You know, so that was, it was twofold. And that actually did give me some peace of mind, honestly. He and I were, were never a couple. We were never together, but you know, we, like I said, we've been friends forever. Very interesting.
[00:40:41] Santiago: Yeah. By that point, do you think you had heard the word "consent" or had that concept? Because I mean, it sounds like, at least in your mind, you knew that this was something that you both were willing and agreeing to do, right?
[00:40:56] Erika: No, I don't think so. Um, I was never told "consent," except maybe around that time my mother had said, "Don't let a boy touch you."
[00:41:07] Santiago: Hmm.
[00:41:07] Erika: You know, and so I, I don't know whether that's just "Don't ever let a boy touch you," or, "Don't let a boy touch you without your permission." But I think that I learned a lot about this from my public school friends. Because some of them had said, "Hey, you know, my boyfriend knows that if I tell him, 'No, you better back off, or I'm going to,'" you know, kick him in the nuts.
[00:41:26] And, you know, that was, that was like the first concept I had of, "Wait, I don't have to do what I'm told by a man." You know, I could, "I have a choice in this matter." And I think that that, that actually made a little bit of a difference, but I'd never heard about it from the people who should have been talking to me about it.
[00:41:42] Santiago: Hmm, wow, okay.
[00:41:44] Erika: And it wasn't until I got into, into college, where I was confident in, in, you know, deciding if I wanted to do that or not do that. And that was good because, you know, in college you have a lot of, you have a lot of opportunity to do things you probably shouldn't. And, and, you know, and I knew by that time that I, I could just say "No," you know, "Not interested." But up until then, no, not really.
[00:42:09] Santiago: You've also written about dating an Adventist guy during your senior year of high school and that he was trying to pressure you into having sex. And you talked about how some of the adults at your school found out that you had decided to break up with him. So can you talk a little bit about that experience?
[00:42:29] Erika: Yeah, so I was dating an Adventist guy and he had, um, I guess the best, the easiest word to say is emotional issues. He was very attached to me and he began to make me feel more and more pressured, and more and more uncomfortable. And so I had asked him, you know, "This, this isn't what I want to do with you. And, you know, let's, let's wait, let's just wait."
[00:42:52] Well, then his next thing is, "Well, let's get married." I'm already headed off to college, you know, I'm no, not a chance. So I ended up, I ended the relationship. And so he went to one of the staff members at the school and he said, "I want to marry her, she broke up with me."
[00:43:10] You know "I want to have sex." I don't remember if he told her that we had had sex or that he wanted, or that we'd wanted to, or something like that. But there was some, some comment about it. So then she calls me into her office two or three days later and she says, "You know, this guy's feeling suicidal and he really loves you, and you should think about marrying him."
[00:43:28] Santiago: Wow.
[00:43:29] Erika: And that was probably one of the only times that I realized I could, I could and push, I could and did push back. And I told her, I said, "I'm not, I'm not interested at all in marrying this guy. I'm certainly not interested in having sex with this guy. I broke up with him because I'm tired of being pressured."
[00:43:47] And she really lit into me, you know, that I was a tease and that you know, I had I had led him to believe that there was something more than there was. And I ended up having to go get my father. Which you know, I hated to do that because my father already had the spotlight on him because I was so headstrong. But he ended up talking to this lady and he said, "You're not to talk to her again without my presence."
[00:44:09] And then, of course, my dad is like, "Can you please stop causing problems?" It's like, "Good God, Erika." [Laughing] But, um, you know, but again, and so I, I decided at that point, I didn't need to be dating anybody at all. You know, just finish out the school year, go to college quietly, as quietly as possible.
[00:44:32] Santiago: Yeah, I don't blame you. Speaking of going to college, you've written about how you had a goal of eventually becoming a judge or a criminal profiler, but that that line of work wasn't necessarily something that fit in with Adventist perceptions of what an Adventist woman should do. So can you talk a little bit about that and how you ended up going to Newbold?
[00:44:59] Erika: I had asked my parents multiple times to, to go to a state university, because I did want to go into law. And my, my mother was very young when she married my father. So she, she bought all this Adventist crap hook, line and sinker. And basically my options were teacher or nurse. And the school, of course, lauded that very much. You know, that's, that's a good, that's a good career for a woman.
[00:45:25] You know, you got to be a teacher or a nurse or, you know, a pastor's wife, and we all knew that wasn't going to work well. And so my, my parents, especially my mom, but then my, some of my teachers as well, they said "Going into law is not a suitable profession for a young lady, for a young Christian lady."
[00:45:45] "Why don't you go, you know, go overseas, take a few classes at Newbold, you know, and, and just kind of have a good experience over there, but you need to, you need to decide between, you know, an approved profession list." And that wasn't on it. So I, I did. I went over there and realized that being a nurse wasn't going to be my, my lot in life. So I, I became a teacher. I, I took that route.
[00:46:10] So instead of staying at Newbold for a year, I stayed five and did my entire undergraduate over there. And, um, I've always regretted it just a little bit that, not Newbold, it was great, but that I never got to follow the profession I wanted to. It's bugged me a little bit less now than it used to, but it was definitely hard to be reined in. You know, to be, to be actually told "You're not going to do these jobs because they're not approved."
[00:46:41] Santiago: Right. There's a series on Netflix, based on a true story, called "Unbelievable." It's about a story of a, of a teen who reports being raped, but then she's interviewed by, I think it's two male detectives. They basically gaslight her into believing that it didn't really happen, or they convince her to give testimony that it didn't really happen.
[00:47:08] And it's not until a female detective hears about multiple cases in different departments across, I think, a couple of different counties, or maybe a couple of different states, that they start putting the pieces together. And I think in some cases, that's really all it takes, is for somebody to actually listen and be willing to believe for a moment and pull on those threads to find out what the truth is.
[00:47:36] Erika: Yeah, and I think that that was one of the hardest thing is, is that, you know, you're told "You will not be believed."
[00:47:43] Santiago: Yeah.
[00:47:43] Erika: "You're not going to be believed, period." So why even bring it up? "Nobody believes an eight year old. Nobody believes, you know, even a 16 year old. So why do you, why do you, so it's better you just don't talk about it." I'll have to watch that though, it sounds good.
[00:47:59] Santiago: Yeah, definitely recommend it. So, while you were at Newbold, you've written about getting called into the pastor's office multiple times, and, uh, I'm wondering if there's any stories that you want to share. But one in particular I'm thinking of is you've written about the time you were called a Jezebel, and being threatened with being disfellowshipped. So what do you remember about that?
[00:48:24] Erika: Oh man, yeah. So weirdly enough, and maybe against my better judgment, I was dating the pastor's son not long after I, I got to college. And the relationship ended, not great, either. It was fairly traumatic and, uh, he dumped me. And that was after my first year there. So then he told me, "Don't come back. It's going to be really hard for me to see you around campus." "Well, you dumped me, dumbass, you know, I'll do what I want." So I came back. And immediately realized that, you know, most of my friends who I thought were my friends, had been his friends. And so I set about making new friends.
[00:49:03] The friend group that I happened to have was a group of, there was a couple of gals in the group, but mostly boys. And there was nothing going on. We were all just friends. I mean, just, just buddies. And he spread the rumor, he told his dad that I was sleeping with all of them. And he, so then, you know, I get called into the pastor's office to defend myself, so to speak. And I didn't know anything about it.
[00:49:34] And so I'd asked the pastor straight up, I said, "Where the hell are you hearing this from?" And he says, "Well, a concerned person." And I knew exactly who he was talking about. I was like, "Oh, okay, so your, your son's flapping his gums." I yelled at the pastor and told him, you know, "You can't, you can't call me this, you know, Jezebel, you don't know what I've done. You can't, you don't, you don't have any judgment here. I haven't done these things that you're saying that I've done."
[00:49:57] And he said, "Well, you know, we'll talk about it at another time. And so then he said, "I'm going to I set an appointment, talk to you about it when you're less amped up." 'Cause I was pissed. And so the next time I went in there, there's two or three elders sitting there too. And so I was, you know, "Oh boy, this is going to be interesting."
[00:50:14] So, they started off with saying, you know, "It has come to our attention that you're having sex with three or four of the boys in the dorm. And it's these boys that you're friends with." And I started laughing because it was absolutely ludicrous. There was absolutely no way that I was sleeping with anybody, especially my friends. Good way to mess up a good friendship, you know.
[00:50:33] So I told them, "No, I'm, I'm not doing this," but they said, you know, "You are a Jezebel and if you continue in this line of activities, you're going to be disfellowshipped." So I basically told them, I said, "Look, if you feel like, you know, you're not believing me, then you can go ahead and take my membership and shove it up your ass." And I said it like that. "If you want to disfellowship me, you go for it."
[00:50:59] And so the one guy tells me to calm down and I started screaming at him. I pounded both fists into the desk and you know, and I said, "This whole church sucks and you know, you can shove it up your ass." And of course now the teachers down the hall are hearing this. And so the head of the English department, she comes out of her office. And I'm, I'm walking out the door of the pastor's office with both middle fingers up. And she calls me into her office.
[00:51:23] You know, British answer for everything, gives me a cup of tea, sits me down. And, and she and I talk about it. And I'm in tears, you know, just bawling to her. And she's like, you know, "Erika, I believe you." You know, I, you know, "I want you to know first and foremost, I believe you. I know that these are just your friends and I know that you're not doing anything."
[00:51:40] And she says, "But I have a question for you." She says, "Did the pastor's son, when you were dating him, ever pressure you to have sex with him?" And I said, "Which time are you talking about? At multiple times." You know, but I, I had said "No." And she says, 'Well, do you think that that might be part of the problem?" You know, is that maybe the reason that he's gone to his dad and he's trying to crucify you?
[00:51:59] And, you know, I told her, I was like, "I don't know and honestly, I don't, don't really care. They need, he needs to, you know, they all need to just leave me alone." So a little bit later, I needed a community service hour. So I figured out they were going to go Ingathering. So I thought to myself, well, you know, it's not really something I want to do because Ingathering is always miserable, but you know, it's an hour of my time. I need a community service hour, I'll suck it up. So I go in there and there's these two ministerial students.
[00:52:28] So they're probably in their junior or senior year of, you know, studying theology to be a pastor. And they're in charge of this Ingathering. So they — a friend and I are standing there and they give me this little can and they say, "Hey, you know, we're going to go knock on some doors and see if we can give, you know, give people a Steps to Christ and see whether we can, you know, get some money for the church and get people interested in coming to the church."
[00:52:51] And then he looks at both of us. He goes, "You know, you guys are kind of attractive. If you go down to the pubs, down to the bar and you stand outside, maybe, you know, put a shorter skirt on, I imagine all the drunks will give you money."
[00:53:01] Santiago: Wow.
[00:53:02] Erika: Well now, I've just been called a Jezebel. So I'm already being thought of as, you know, the loose Jezebel, whatever you want to call it. So of course, you know, I chucked my can down on the floor and I start yelling, you know, "I will never prostitute myself for the church or anybody else. And there's absolutely no way you can ask me to do this." And of course, I'm yelling and kicking this rattling can across the lobby of the school building.
[00:53:27] And so now here, of course, classroom doors are opening again. I get, you know, so I get called into a teacher's office and she calms me down. And it was probably less than a week later, the pastor calls me back in and, you know, to sit down and discuss my behavior in the lobby. And, and I basically told him at that point, I said, "You know, I'm done. I, I want to be, I want to be free of this church. I don't, I don't consider myself Adventist anymore. There's nothing salvageable about this church that I can see in any way, shape or form. And I want to be done."
[00:54:01] So I asked for my membership to be canceled or removed, however you want to, whatever you want to call it. But he actually sent my membership back to my home church with a letter saying, "Here, you deal with it, she's trying to leave."
[00:54:14] Santiago: Oh, wow. So by that point your membership had been transferred to this church in the UK.
[00:54:19] Erika: I had transferred it over there when I, when I left high school, with the intent that it would make a whole lot less noise if I jerked my membership over there than if I removed it at the church that my father went to.
[00:54:30] Santiago: Ah, and then instead of that, without your permission or request, he transferred it back to the US.
[00:54:37] Erika: With a note to my home pastor saying, "She's trying to leave, you deal with it, she'll be home for the summer." So I get home for the summer and that's what I get hit with.
[00:54:44] Santiago: Wow. I'm noticing a pattern of just absolute disregard for people's wishes. Because in my interview with Melissa, she talks about how she told her home church, I think it was then pastored by Dwight Nelson, who just recently retired, by the way. She requested multiple times and would keep getting back letters saying,
[00:55:11] "Oh, hey, we hope to see you back," but never acknowledging the request or never taking, you know, never acting upon it. Which if I'm not mistaken, goes directly against the church manual for whatever that's worth.
[00:55:25] Erika: It does. And in fact, um, I've never had my membership canceled. They, they won't, they won't let me go. You know, so I guess theoretically I may be still a member, but you know, do I consider myself that? Absolutely not. And you know, now, of course, I know it's sitting at the home church and I know that they know because I keep getting the, what is it? The Adventist Review and the Gleaner, like on a regular basis. And of course they just go straight into the recycling bin.
[00:55:50] My mom is now volunteering on that high school campus that I went to school. And so now I'm kind of like, well, shoot, if I, if I really make a deal about it, are they going to take punitive damage against my mom? Because again, that's their pattern. I've talked to my mom about it a little bit and I've told her, I said, you know, "Mom, I, I don't consider myself part of this church anymore. And I really want to have my membership taken away."
[00:56:15] And she knows all of my story. I mean, she's, I've been very, very forthright, very open with her about everything that I've experienced. And she's actually encouraged me to do it. And she says, "I'll deal with the school. If they come after me, I'll deal with them." She says, I want, you know, "If this is what you want, I want you to be free of them." And she says, "And I understand a hundred percent why you don't want anything to do with the church anymore."
[00:56:37] Santiago: Yeah.
[00:56:38] Erika: So, you know, at some point, but they, they did tell me it would take an act of the conference to do it, which doesn't sound right to me.
[00:56:46] Santiago: No, that, yeah, that doesn't sound right to me either.
[00:56:49] Erika: Well, you know, they get finance, they get financial support based on membership.
[00:56:53] Santiago: Yep.
[00:56:54] Erika: So there's a reason why they keep our memberships.
[00:56:56] Santiago: Definitely, yeah I haven't gone through that process. I've talked about how one of these days, um, I plan to, but kind of like you mentioned, it's our parents, our, our connections that are still in the church that are still active and want to be active, that in some cases keep us from maybe speaking up or, or doing things like revoking our membership.
[00:57:21] Erika: I used to feel that way more. I feel that way less and less now. The only person I really worry about is my mom. I mean, I have friends that I know that are still in the church and, you know, bully for them. If that's what blows their dress up, you know, go for it. But I've been very open with them, you know, "We haven't seen you in church" and I was like, "No, I'm not going to church. Pews will catch on fire if I walk in there to start with, you know, and secondly, I have absolutely no respect, no interest in ever being part of that church again."
[00:57:49] And I also feel that if people decide that I'm not worth their time because of my decision to not be SDA anymore, then they're not truly my friend anyway. Because now they're, now they're liking me more for my association or a connection that we have in common. And when I break that connection, if that means that they can't associate with me anymore, then that's okay.
[00:58:09] Santiago: Right. I've definitely thought about that, how there were people that I got along with very well at church. You know, I don't know how it was in your community, but where I grew up, we would refer to them as auntie and uncle, and it's kind of this idea that they're your extended family. It's your church family.
[00:58:27] And there's one person that I still consider a friend that I still see every now and then we get dinner. But for the most part, I think you're right. There is a sense of closeness, and I'm sure that in many cases, it's genuine. And even if some people were to leave, those connections would still be there.
[00:58:44] But for me, I've experienced that despite growing up in that church, and that was my home church forever until I left, unless if you have other things, interests, values, whatever in common, besides being Adventist, at least in my own personal experience, I've found that, yeah, those connections basically just fade.
[00:59:07] Erika: Well, and I think that that's also partially by design. We're socially inept if we've grown up in the church. And so if we do try to leave and we lose that support group, they're hoping that the sheer loneliness and awkwardness of being out in a society that we are not prepared for, is going to bring us back.
[00:59:26] And, you know, by design, ostracizing us from the outside world is creating a fear of being alone. Because they keep telling you over and over again, "People need to worship together." "People need to be together." And if they remove that family unit where we've seen this as our extended family and these people are now angry at us or disappointed in us because we've made this decision, they're, they're hoping that the shame and the, the sheer guilt and loneliness of being completely cut off from these people is going to make us rethink.
[01:00:02] And it, it is the reason that many people go back. Because they, they find that they're not equipped properly for being out in society. They, they're socially awkward. They're seen as weird. "What do you mean, you didn't play sports on Saturday like everybody else did?" You know, and so they get out there and they're like, "Whoa, you know, this is, this is not anything like I grew up with. I think I'm going to go back to where it's comfortable." And it's kind of like "the devil you know."
[01:00:30] And so I've heard of people going back for that reason. They just say, "I, there's no absolutely way. I feel naked out here in the real world. I feel like I don't have a support group. I feel sad and alone. And yeah, I didn't like the church and I didn't agree with everything that was going on in the church, but I at least, at least had people that I could talk to then."
[01:00:50] And so they, they go back and they're absolutely miserable. I went back for six months for that reason. I'd gone through a divorce, you know, and I decided I would go back and I was absolutely miserable. So I figured I was still a member, I might as well give it a try. And I think that when I, when I got back, I was not trusted because I had already been out. So anything I said was, was met with skepticism.
[01:01:21] And I had people saying to me, you know, "Do you really feel this way? Are you really trying to come back? Or are you just here to make the peace with your family?" You know, why, "Why are you here?"
[01:01:33] You know, does it matter? You know, I'm in church. I'm trying to worship or whatever the case may be. Does it matter? Apparently it did. And, and I didn't feel welcome there, either. So eventually I was, you know, I got myself back together and had no problem going out in the real world and found that I fit out there pretty well.
[01:01:52] Santiago: I want to go back a minute to where you're still in the UK, because you wrote about visiting a nearby graveyard and Anglican church and how you actually managed to find moments of peace there, and how at one point you spoke to a vicar. And I'm wondering if you can describe that conversation you had and the big takeaway you had with this idea about God and how God is related or not related to church.
[01:02:21] Erika: Sure, so it was after one of my blowups with the pastor. I needed to take a walk. And from Newbold, it was maybe a mile down the road, maybe not even quite that mile down the road. I walked down there and there was an old graveyard down there, and I love history. And so I thought, well, you know, I'll sit among the dead people and kind of marinate on all this stuff that's happened.
[01:02:43] And so I'm sitting out there and the vicar of the church, he comes out and sits down next to me and asks me who I am. And, you know, we'd start talking about the graves and, you know, he said, are you, "Are you a student?" And then he heard my accent and he says, "Oh, you're American. You must be going to, to Newbold."
[01:03:00] "Yes, I am." And the conversation then just led to one of the reasons that I was there and I said, you know, "I, I have questions about the Adventist church. I don't know that it's the right fit for me. But I, you know, I still think I believe in God, but I'm not sure because I don't want to believe in a God that is writing down every single bad thought or bad deed that I do in his book that he's gonna nail me upside the head with."
[01:03:24] And, but you know, I said, "I don't feel God when I'm in the Adventist church, I don't feel that there is even a God. I just feel like there is control and that it's miserable." And, you know, and he, and he just, he listened very well. And he finally just said, "Do you think that God is only found inside the walls of a church?"
[01:03:45] And that said a lot to me, just with that simple question. And he said, you know, "I'm not going to tell you whether it's right or wrong to leave that church." He says, "That's, that's not my decision to make." He says, I'm going to, "That's, that's your choice. It's your, it's your, you know, your thing." But he said, "Realize that God is not found in the Adventist Church, or in the Catholic Church, or in the English. God is everywhere that you want him to be."
[01:04:08] And he said, you know, "He's not this harsh person." He says, you know, why, he says, "If that was the picture that I had of God, I wouldn't be a Christian either." Because nobody wants to be around somebody who's a complete dick, you know?
[01:04:23] Santiago: Yeah.
[01:04:24] Erika: And he was very real with me and I, and I really appreciated it because it, it gave me the peace of mind that I needed that, you know, I'm not going to automatically not be saved or go to hell or whatever the case may be, by telling this Adventist church to take a hike. You know, I, I actually could maybe develop my own relationship.
[01:04:43] And I ended up going back to that church several times and finally ended up doing some of their music for them. I always liked it because he never, he never spoon fed me anything. He would just say, "Hey, have you thought about this?" And then he'd walk away and let me marinate on it, you know?
[01:05:00] And did I want to become Anglican? No, not really. At that point, I think I was done with organized religion in general. Um, no matter what, what stamp it had on it, but it did allow me to think that uh, maybe it wasn't just going to be flames and pitchforks for me so much.
[01:05:17] Santiago: [Laughing] Yeah, what a, what a concept. That's, that's such a contrast...
[01:05:25] Erika: Huge contrast.
[01:05:25] Santiago: ...to what you were raised with. So you eventually got married to an Adventist, and you've written about feeling essentially pressured into this. So I'm wondering if you can share a little bit about that.
[01:05:40] Erika: Well, I actually married in the UK. It was between my junior and senior year in college. So I'd started dating this guy. His mother was the church pastor's secretary. Yeah, there's a theme here. Anyway, [laughing] um, and he, he, really liked me and he was very attached to me.
[01:06:06] I wasn't quite as attached to him as he was to me, but the expectation from his parents and from my parents is that we needed to get married. And I did not want to disappoint him. I didn't want to disappoint my parents. And though I never loved him, I went ahead and got married. Of course, it's a recipe for absolute disaster.
[01:06:26] It was expected and it was pressured. And, you know, my mom, of course, had at this point decided I needed to have "the talk," you know? [Laughing] I'm 21 at the time. And she says, you know, "We need to sit down and talk about this." And I just started to laugh. And I said, "Mom, you know, when you go to buy a new car, what do you do?" And she says, "I test drive it." And I looked her square in the eye. And I said, "Exactly." And so...
[01:06:57] Both: [Laughing]
[01:06:57] Erika: Uh, at that point, you know, she started to say, well, you know, "You've had sex with this guy, so now you got to marry him." And his, he had told his parents, you know, they had asked and I told him if they're, "If your parents ask, don't lie." I mean, just be honest. And so of course it's, "Oh, you got to get married now."
[01:07:16] And he really wanted to get married. I did not. But again, I think this is where some of that Adventist teaching has come in. I didn't know to say no. You know, I'm, I'm being asked to do this, and we have done this, and therefore I'm done. I'm stuck.
[01:07:36] And, uh, so it lasted, well, it lasted four years. I tried to commit suicide in that marriage at least once. And fortunately it was unsuccessful. You know, but it was an absolute worst thing that either one of us could have done. And finally, you know, he and I sat down one day and we just said, look, "You're miserable, I'm miserable." It was getting so bad, my mom told him, "You have to bring her back home. You can't live over there anymore. She's, you know, she's going to be dead."
[01:08:09] The divorce, I guess it's about as amicable as you can have, you know, we just realized that neither one of us was happy and that we had been better off as friends. Probably would not have gotten married, had I had the fortitude to say "No" to the, to the proposal to begin with. But, you know, again, I'd been told "If a man asks, you have to say yes."
[01:08:33] His mother was very, very hard on us. She would walk into the house without knocking. She would dictate to me what my role as her son's wife is. And that was to, I mean, I'm, I'm a senior in college at this time. So I'm trying to write a bachelor's dissertation, thesis, you know, whatever you want to call it. And I was double majoring. And so here I am, 20, 21 credits a quarter trying to study. And this woman's telling me that I need to be cooking and cleaning and washing his... You know, and, and I finally told her, I was like, you know, "We share the household chores." "Well, he shouldn't have to," and...
[01:09:07] Santiago: Wow.
[01:09:08] Erika: Very judgmental about everything. "Why do you have this?" You know, this, this isn't, "This is a secular book." And why, "Why are you doing this?" "Well, that's what I was assigned." Why haven't you got, "Why weren't you guys in church last week? I was looking for you last week." "Well, we decided to go for a drive."
[01:09:25] "Well, why weren't, did you go to a church where you went?" "No, we went for a fricking drive." Always in the marria — I was more married to her than I was to him, I felt like. It was crazy.
[01:09:35] Santiago: Wow, yeah. It just goes to show how some of this is so deeply ingrained. I think Melissa's talked a lot about misogyny being ingrained within the church culture. I know Abby and Ami have talked about that as well. To the point where even as a, as a woman, your then mother-in-law was enforcing the standards that had been enforced on her.
[01:10:02] Erika: Yeah and it's, it's like you said earlier, it's very patriarchal. And that was another thing, you know, and I'm not one of these, that's going to yell "Women's rights" from the rooftop of being, "I just, I want to be given whatever opportunity I want to take advantage of." But, I'm also disappointed that women have been so pushed down to be second place. And it's, it's very interesting.
[01:10:23] I have a friend of mine, well, he's a former friend because he and I have nothing in common now. He had left the Adventist church and then he went trundling back. And he married a woman who... You can tell he's, he dictates how she acts, how she walks, you know, she's always in support of him. He's the one that's called, she's expected to follow.
[01:10:44] And you know, that was the other question I had had in my baptismal studies is I said, "Why can't women be pastors?" You know, why, "Why is Ellen White the only one that's not, you know, why isn't, why wasn't she an elder? Why wasn't she a pastor? If she's, you know, God-like, then why, why didn't she hold church office?"
[01:11:07] And they had no answer for that. And so I, you know, and I had even said too, when I was in college, I said, "What if I wanted to be a pastor?" And they said, "Well, you could be like a youth pastor, but you'd be working under a head pastor." It's like, "Would that head pastor be a male?" "Well, yeah, that's, that's how it goes."
[01:11:27] I can't be an elder in the church because I'm female, even if I wanted to be. And, you know, so it was pretty clear to me that females really don't have any important place in church leadership. And I believe that that culture is changing a little bit now, but back then, and then at this point it was the early 90s, back then it was, no, the women, women have no place in church leadership.
[01:11:51] Santiago: Yeah, I've spoken a little bit about how I was still a very, very committed Adventist back in 2015, when the General Conference met and took a vote on that very issue. I remember I was still pretty conservative in my theology. I had started to loosen up on a couple of things, but I remember being squarely on the fence and being in between a more liberal Adventist friend of mine who wanted to become a pastor and she was a woman.
[01:12:24] And so she was in favor of that, and then I had my family and other church members and other people that I knew who were on the other side, and I was like, "I don't know." At that point, I felt like there were good faith arguments on, on both sides. [Laughing] But yeah, I don't, I don't know if that'll ever happen, especially with the direction that the church is, seems to be going in right now.
[01:12:49] Erika: It seems like they're, they're trying to get back to the more conservative roots. You know, pushing back against any type of progress, at all. And I don't know either. I had a friend of mine who did take theology and I asked her, I was like, "What do you plan to do with this?" And she says, "Well, I want to be a pastor."
[01:13:08] And I just remember sitting there thinking to myself, "Honey, it's never going to happen." And she's no longer in the church. You know, so she took, she took this theology degree and she's no longer in the church, you know, because she was denied the very thing that she had wanted to be. Because of the fact that she was a woman.
[01:13:26] Santiago: Yeah.
[01:13:26] Erika: You know, my mother, as much as I love her dearly, I mean, she had asked me one time, she said, you know, about my daughter, she's like, you know, "What does she want to be?" And I said, well, "She may want to be a CEO or she may want to be an entrepreneur, own her own business." And she says, "Well, you know, women, women in leadership roles can be, I really don't think that's such a good idea."
[01:13:49] And, you know, and I was a bit taken, this wasn't all that long ago, I was a bit taken aback and I said, "Well, why would, why would you say that?" She says, "Well, you know, we're so emotional." The woman should have seen my ex. You want to talk about somebody who's emotional? My god. So, you know, and so I said to her, "Well, you know, my daughter, if she wanted to be the President of the United States, I would fully support her in her campaign if that's what she wanted to do."
[01:14:12] "Oh, well, you know, she shouldn't. We don't need a woman president." You know, and it's, it's very interesting to see, you know, where she has been thoroughly indoctrinated. I mean, she has bitten off and I, and I even asked her, I said, "Why, why would you say that?" You know, "Do you think that, for example, me, I mean, I, I'm a department manager at work. Do you think that I shouldn't be in charge?"
[01:14:35] "Oh, well, no, you know, you've got the right personality for it, you know, but does that, but I wouldn't, I wouldn't tell you to run for president." And of course, then my boss, who's the CEO of the company, is a woman. You know, and, and a very strong willed woman as well.
[01:14:50] And so she says, "Well, you know, I guess some women are a little bit more wired like that, but I just, I wouldn't want to see a woman" — she said, "I can tell you right now, I wouldn't go to a church that had a woman pastor." I said, do you, and I, and I remember just looking at her and saying, "And yet you read ellen G White books, constantly." And I mean, and I, I said, "Mom, this isn't making any sense." She married my dad at 18 and the church has been the entire existence.
[01:15:21] Santiago: Yeah. I don't know if you ever heard this, but I remember having discussions probably around the time when we were talking about women's ordination, of how could you not have women pastors, but yet you have this co-founder and this prophetess of the church.
[01:15:37] I know I remember hearing someone say, I don't remember who it was, but I remember hearing that maybe God had originally called a man to do that, but for whatever reason it didn't work out. So then Ellen White was basically his backup plan, if you will. Did you ever hear anything like that?
[01:15:58] Erika: No, but you know, it, it doesn't surprise me. Not at all.
[01:16:02] Santiago: Hmm okay, I'm gonna have to do some digging into that to see if, if that was just kind of a one-off that I heard, or if other people did too. So speaking of your daughter and speaking about the attitudes that you have versus the attitudes that your mother and other people you knew growing up in church had, your daughter, you've written that she was born shortly after you had decided to leave the Adventist Church for good. So I'm wondering, what advice would you have for anyone who was raised Adventist and is trying to raise kids outside of the church and maybe even outside of organized religion?
[01:16:35] Erika: I think it's find your own path, is the biggest one. She's a product of my second marriage, which didn't work out either. That was also another Adventist. For people that are raising their kids, don't raise them in the church. I mean, the one thing that, [sigh] that I've learned over reading Reddit and over talking to people in the past years, is that my story is not as unique as I thought it was.
[01:17:00] And that makes me very sad and a little bit sick to think about that there are literally thousands and thousands of people out there who have had some sort of abuse, whether it be psychological, emotional, sexual abuse, at the hands of this church or members in it.
[01:17:18] And do I blame the church for that? Not necessarily. I blame the church for, for covering it up. I blame the church for not making a healthy culture for kids. For not doing background checks on leaders that are preying on these children. "Oh, well, you know, they're a member of the church, they must be a good person." No. And not being vigilant in protecting our children.
[01:17:40] And there's no way in hell that I would raise my daughter in that church. I, of course, got lots of pressure from my parents when she was born, to raise her in that church. And I very, very emphatically refused. And I mean, she's gone to Sabbath school with my mom a time or two when she was very small. But by the time she was two or three, I basically let my parents know, "She doesn't need to be going there anymore," because I didn't want him filling her head with stuff and fluff.
[01:18:07] And, and I mean, I tell people if they want to believe in God still, find a non-denominational church. If they feel like they need a congregation, find one that is strictly biblical, that doesn't have prophets, that doesn't have their weird ideas and their, you know, do some research before you go.
[01:18:25] And find a church that's not going to check up on you if you skip, you know, it should not feel like a cult. I mean, really. You know, and and I don't even consider myself now religious at all. I don't, I didn't raise my daughter religious. We're more spiritual, I guess you would say, than religious, but we don't go to church.
[01:18:42] We don't go to any church. We, you know, we have our own, we have our own belief system and, and that works for us. What works for me may not work for somebody else. Somebody else who has had different experiences and different lifestyles, whatever the case may be, they may need, they may need a church. I have gone to non-denominational churches and had, you know, decent success with them. But I've just, you know, not, just kind of gotten in the habit of just not going anymore.
[01:19:09] Santiago: Well, I think what you mentioned from your conversation in this Anglican church with this vicar, I think that really resonates with me. This idea that you can ask questions, you can talk to people about faith, but not necessarily shove it down their throats and give them the conclusions that they're supposed to come to.
[01:19:29] That's kind of the approach I've taken. I don't hide my belief or non-belief on this podcast, but I've been very clear that I recognize that some people still maintain faith, and I don't look down on people for maintaining faith. I think there are many progressive Christians that I look up to that are calling out abuse, that are calling out injustice, and I feel like they're doing a good job, and it's rooted, to some degree, in the faith that they have.
[01:20:00] I'm not able to have that faith anymore. But I view them as allies and I think, yeah, I've had conversations with people who are actively deconstructing, maybe actively deconverting, and I don't think it's my place to tell anybody "This is what you should believe or not believe."
[01:20:20] So I have pointed people to progressive Christian subreddits, to progressive Christians on social media that they can follow, to other types of theologies that I think are much healthier. Because I agree, I think, you know, we, it's not our place to tell people what they should believe. It's something that everybody has to kind of figure out for themselves.
[01:20:41] Erika: Yeah, and what's really interesting, too, is one of the arguments that I made in one of my diatribes with the, with the church leadership was, if you believe that God created us an intelligent human being, then why would you try to control the very thing that God gave me to use on my own?
[01:21:01] You know, and, and so what, what you're telling me is that you have the final authority on the decisions that I make, and as to whether those decisions are right or wrong. You know, but at the same breath, you're telling me, "Well, God created you to be an intelligent human being with the knowledge of right and wrong." So then why are you trying to do his job for him?
[01:21:22] You know, you're, you're, you're judging me. And you're, you're trying, you're, you're threatening punishment on me because I don't do or agree with what you, in your intelligent human being little brain, have decided is right or wrong. So you don't get to dictate that. "Well, Ellen G White says,"
[01:21:41] "Throw Ellen G White out of this." I said, "Ellen G White is, is, is not God. And if you want to tell me what's right or wrong, what looks right or wrong for me may look different than what's right or wrong for somebody else. You're telling me that I don't have the ability to interpret anything on my own. You have to interpret it for me." And I even mentioned, I said, you know, "This sounds a whole lot to me like a Catholic priest who has to be the, you know, intermediary between you and God." And of course, you mention Catholicism and they all immediately spin up.
[01:22:11] Santiago: [Laughing] Yeah. Speaking of all of this, how do you think your morals and ethics have changed since leaving Adventism? And what was that process like of, like you said, trying to figure it out for yourself?
[01:22:27] Erika: You know, I honestly don't think my morals have changed a lot. You know, I still believe in, in trying to do the right thing, to being a good person, you know. Not tearing people down, not to, you know, be, be a jerk to somebody, to, to raise my daughter, to know that it's not okay to steal and it's, you know, it's not okay to, to lie about others, or whatever the case may be.
[01:22:54] I think that my values have definitely changed because I don't put any value on, on organized religion. None. I think I value now the individual journey. The ability of people to use that, you know, intelligence that they have on their own, to study on their own, to learn on their own, and to not take what anybody says at value.
[01:23:15] You know, you've got to, you've got to look at it and say, "Is this really what this is about? Or is this not a fit for me?" And so I think in that case, my values have definitely changed. And I believe that I've put a little bit more emphasis on just finding out who you are and spending some quiet time with yourself.
[01:23:33] Doesn't have to be with God. Doesn't have to be with another, you know, type of a religion, leader, whatever the case may be, just time with yourself. There's value in just about everything. Whether it be a lesson to not to do something or whether it be something that you may want to incorporate into your own life.
[01:23:49] I don't think there is a right or wrong path. I think everybody's path and journey is going to be vastly different and you know, I've tried many, many different churches. I went pagan for a while. And so I take a little bit of every single thing that I've ever tried, and that's, that's who I am. And that's not going to be the same thing as you, or anybody else. It's my own path.
[01:24:08] But in all of that, I don't want to try and harm people. You know, I, I'd love to see the church go down in flames, I really would. But you know, as far as like the individual people, you know, people like my mom who, you know, I know that she believes this. I can't fault her for that. That's her journey. That's, that's what she holds near and dear to her. It's not my journey, it's hers. And, and I'm not going to, and I'm not going to get down on her about, it because that's her value.
[01:24:37] Santiago: Right. Yeah no, I think that's so important. I remember always hearing this being said about the Catholic Church. "It's the Catholic Church and system that we have an issue with, not the individuals." And I would say the same thing about Adventism. I definitely agree. I think the organization itself...
[01:24:57] Erika: It's broken.
[01:24:58] Santiago: ...is, yes, very much so. But there are people in there, you know, outside of my family, outside of the one friend that I still maintain, there are people that still attend there that I have respect for and that I would say I have love for. That I do not want to see hurt or harmed. But I do, yeah, I agree, the institution is another thing.
[01:25:21] Erika: The institution is just that, it's an institution. And you know the more I read into it, the more I feel it's, it's a cult. And I feel like that's why it's so difficult for some people to leave, is because of the mind control.
[01:25:36] Santiago: I want to ask you if there's anything you'd like to tell someone listening who may have experienced sexual abuse or someone who's trying to support a loved one who has.
[01:25:48] Erika: Don't be afraid to speak out. It's hard, there's absolutely no other way to put it. It's, you know, and you don't have to be ashamed. It's not your fault. Speak out, get the help, go to counseling, but tell somebody. And if that means that the church is mad at you, that's okay. You're more important than an organization.
[01:26:11] Santiago: Yeah, absolutely. And you've also written about seeing or finding a non-Adventist therapist. So I'm wondering if you can share a little bit about what your process was like for finding a therapist and what has worked for you.
[01:26:26] Erika: The first therapist I found, I didn't realize was Adventist until I began to, you know, open up this big ol' fat can of worms. I think I kind of blew his hair back a little, [laughing] a little bit. And to his credit, he remained very professional, but I think we both realized that that probably wasn't going to be the best fit.
[01:26:42] So I did, I did end up finding a non-Adventist therapist, and she was, um, shocked. She had a little knowledge of SDAs having counseled people before. And in our conversations, she told me that my situation wasn't as unique. And she said that made her sick to her stomach and sad and hurt, that I and other people that she had counseled, had had to go through this.
[01:27:10] And it's hard to come and speak about these things. You know, when I was growing up, we never were encouraged to do therapy. In fact, it was "Suck it up and deal with it." And when my parents found out that I had been sexually molested, they never were encouraged by the church to take me to counseling. And it wasn't an option, really. You know, you just didn't.
[01:27:32] And so for, for me to say, you know, "I actually need some help processing this," that's big because I had been raised that I don't. I'd been raised that, you know, you will, "You can deal with this stuff on your own." Um, "Be tough." And I'm very tough, but you know, part of being tough is realizing that I need a little help.
[01:27:53] And it, it helped, it really did just to have somebody that I can talk about. And I, I think that that is largely the reason that I'm able now today, to be so open and so transparent with everything that happened to me, because you know, I've gotten to the point where I've personally worked through a lot of those issues.
[01:28:15] And now I'm at this point where it's twofold. A, I'm pissed. I'm mad at this church, and I'm not going to lie, I'm mad at this church. But secondly, now I want to help somebody else. Because I know that there are people in various stages of some of the same situations that I went through, or maybe a different situation, or even maybe worse. That need to know that there are people out there that have had this happen, that they're not alone, that they can, they can go ahead and, and speak up and know that there are people there that are going to support them.
[01:28:49] And if I even help one person to be brave and to step forward and to be able to work through the issues that, you know, being part of this organization has caused them, the hurt, whether it be that they've been sexually abused or whether they've just, just had enough, then I feel like it's a job well done.
[01:29:10] Santiago: Yeah, absolutely. I've talked before about how I don't feel that I was particularly abused in any sort of way, but that there are so many stories out there that need to be told. And so I'm so glad that you are speaking up. And absolutely, I would say to anyone listening who is resonating with anything that Erika just said, know that you will be believed. Maybe not by everybody, maybe not by the people who should most, but you will be believed. Your pain, your anger, whatever emotions you have are valid. And there are people out there who will support you.
[01:29:52] Erika: Absolutely, a hundred percent. A lot of therapists out there, just got to find 'em.
[01:29:56] Santiago: Definitely, there, there will be some links in the show notes that I've posted before, but I'll post them again for anyone who's interested. For trauma informed therapists, religious trauma informed therapists. Definitely check those out.
[01:30:08] Erika: And I'm also, I have no problem if anybody would like to reach out to me personally. I am happy to talk with anybody about this. Like I said, I've been able to work through it fairly well. My dream is to help other people get to where I am, where they can be strong and they can talk about it, and they can heal. So I, I welcome anybody who'd like to reach out.
[01:30:28] Santiago: Amazing. How would you like people to reach out to you?
[01:30:32] Erika: They can reach out to me via my email address. So if you want to share my email address, feel free.
[01:30:37] Santiago: Thank you so much,
[01:30:38] that will be in the show notes. You've written about how writing has been part of your healing process, and I know you have, you have some writing that you hope to publish at some point, so I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about that and anything else that's been helpful on your journey of healing?
[01:30:56] Erika: I mean, I was an English major, so writing, you know, was, was a huge part of, of my education. But journaling, anything from my anger, to my feelings, to the days that I was crying in the corner because this church pissed me off so bad. It really helped just to get those down. Then I can go back, you know, a year or two later and say, "Okay, I've made progress." You know, "I'm not as angry, I'm not as hurt."
[01:31:24] But it also, sometimes we have a hard time putting things into words, a lot of us, especially when we're, when we're hurt. And it's much easier sometimes to write them. And so I've told people sometimes, you know, write it down, get mad at it, set it on fire and burn it, you know? Just, but it, it has helped me not only to journal what I'm feeling, but it has also helped me to realize the progress that I've made, and to get out what might be difficult for me to say otherwise.
[01:31:53] And in, in therapy, there were times where I would walk into therapy and I would just hand my therapist my writing. And I would sit quietly while she read it and then she'd be like, "Okay, let's talk about this." And we would go, because I didn't know how to verbalize what was going on in my head at that moment. It was very helpful. Art, I know some people have used art, you know, they'll, they'll draw and paint what they're feeling.
[01:32:17] Santiago: Yeah, I can personally say that journaling was huge for me. And for me, journaling just looked like typing on the notes app on my phone. My handwriting isn't the best and I didn't feel like having some physical paper that would be out there for somebody to find. So yeah, just as simple as writing on your phone or your computer, that definitely works.
[01:32:42] Erika: I use Penzu. It's a, it's an online journal. It's free, it's P E N Z U. And that's where a lot of, a lot of my writing that you got, that's where a lot of it is stored. I mean, I've got other copies of it as well. You know, I'm at this point where I am getting to the point where I want to publish. And I've thought a lot about that. Do I really want to lay open the church's secrets? And a part of me said "No," but I'm more and more going, "Yes."
[01:33:12] Not necessarily to be hurtful, but to bring awareness to the fact that you guys have a broken system and if you don't fix it, your entire organization is going to die and the people that go down with it are going to be the most hurt, injured people, and they're going to have a huge, huge upset in their own life. Because what they have clung to for however long, is now gone.
[01:33:39] And I think that there are people out there that need to hear it. I mean, I, I'm actually hoping someday my mom moves off of that school campus, because I am afraid that they will take action against her if I publish. And I hate to say that, you know, there's going to be people that say, "Oh, you know, that's BS." "The church would never take," you know, "be that punitive." Well, my experience is they have. And if that person that says that they, they've not had that experience, then I'm glad.
[01:34:04] Santiago: I can only try to empathize, but yeah, I agree. I think unless if you've gone through something like that yourself, you can't truly know the extent to which some people may go to protect an institution.
[01:34:17] Erika: Yeah, well, you know, and I think that a lot of these problems are starting on the boarding schools. If I look at subreddit a lot, it's boarding schools, you know, "I had this happen at a boarding school." "I had this happen at a boarding school." I'm like, "What the hell?"
[01:34:29] Santiago: Yeah. Yeah, there's, there's something about these, about the boarding schools. The last question I'd like to ask you is if any of your old Adventist friends or acquaintances happened to hear this, what would you want to say to them?
[01:34:48] Erika: Find your own journey. I will never criticize somebody for what they believe, you know, if it, if it works for them, then I'm, I'm happy for them. Be on your own journey, find your own path, study for yourself. If you feel like you need to clarify or ask questions, please contact me.
[01:35:04] If they want to call BS, that's fine. I'm telling the story as it is. If it wasn't their experience, then I'm happy for 'em. And I would just, you know, my, my biggest thing for everybody is, find your own journey. Study, look at the good and the bad. Look in the cracks, look at the closets. You might be surprised what you find in there.
[01:35:24] Santiago: Yeah, definitely. Well, Erika, it has been an absolute pleasure speaking with you. Again, thank you so much for sharing your story.
[01:35:33] Erika: You're very welcome. It's my pleasure, anytime. Again, please feel free to share my email address so that if people want to contact me, they're, they're more than welcome to.
[01:35:42] Santiago: Absolutely, will do.
Haystacks & Hell Outro
[01:35:44] Santiago: Thanks for listening. If you have a story to share about your Adventist or fundamentalist experience, we'd love to hear it. You can submit stories on our website at hell.bio — that's H E L L . B I O, or leave us a voicemail at 301-750-8648 and we might feature it in a future episode. Thanks again for listening. We'll see you on the next one!