Friday, December 4, 2009

My Two Faiths

I grew up in a Bible-based faith healing cult led by my grandmother, Carol Balizet, who I know as "Giggy." As I got older and started attending more liberal Christian churches, I struggled to rectify my beliefs in an almighty god with the tenants of grace and atonement and freewill. Today I'd like to take on both my faiths: the name-it-and-claim-it teachings of my childhood, and the liberal Christian beliefs of my teen years.

If I mentioned that we lived in a trailer park, Gig would correct me and say that it was a "mobile home community," but when she was being falsely modest, she would describe herself as "a little old woman living in a trailer park." All words were her domain, and at her discretion.

We were never allowed to admit to being afraid. Gig taught us and her followers that fear was a sin, and that it was an attack from the Devil. "The Bible says in 365 places, 'Fear not,'" she told us. "Are you really going to go against that?" So we learned to talk about fear in different ways. I could admit to being "startled" by something, or "worried" (though even that was treacherous ground, since we were supposed to live our lives in total faith.)

In her book on home birth, Carol Balizet, self-proclaimed spiritual midwife, would never describe the birth mothers as being in "pain." Instead, she would talk about them experiencing "some discomfort." Any woman who's had a baby naturally should recognize that "discomfort" hardly describes the experience of live birth, especially when no epidural or other pain medication is used. Yet Carol promised painless births, and what's more the experience of having your baby at home, under her supervision and with God's endorsement (according to her) would strengthen your marriage, and give the Lord an opportunity to tell you what else he wanted to fix in your life.

Gig despised people who complained - about fear or pain or her terrible spending habits. (No matter how much money came in, she spent just over it.) So much of her teaching was centered on never admitting things were wrong, and on avoiding "negative confessions." I remember being taught that wearing a medical alert bracelet was just inviting demons in to attack you with illness, and that getting a diagnosis from a doctor was some form of witchcraft or sorcery that actually gave you the disease. In her theology, Christians were supposed to be exempt from disease, and it was only in areas where we aren't in alignment with God's will that we could be made ill by demons.

The one negative criticism of my grandmother that I read while still working for the cult was "The Zion Birth Heresy" written by a Christian homebirth advocate named Jill Barrett. I remember how offended I was, and how hurt. Then I read the same article, years later, at the dissolution of my faith. It's long and it centers primarily on how Carol Balizet's teachings are heretical (which I've come to believe mostly means "Not what MY church believes.") Here are some of the best parts, which I think pretty accurately describe the religious tenants I grew up with.
Like [Kenneth] Copeland, she teaches that our words have inherent spiritual power. Not only everything in heaven and on earth, but even God Himself is a slave to our words. Our positive confessions force God to move in our favor, and our negative confessions render Him powerless to help us. Balizet is constantly praising the power of God, but the god who emerges from her book is all but powerless-- hemmed in on every side by faithless Christians, the wrong kinds of prayers, sin, and most of all, Satan.
Pretty much. Words were.. vital. "There is power and death in the tongue," my grandmother used to tell us*. I think one of the reasons words were so important was becase there were something she excelled it. Perfect grammar was considered practically a cardinal virtue for us, and my grandmother was an effective writer and speaker. She sounded good, especially if you didn't think too much about what she was saying.
Balizet's deity is not sovereign. He is only in control of what Christians forcibly wrest from Satan and his minions. Limits are "imposed [on him] by our unbelief or by our failure to ask" (97). He is also limited by our sin (32). He does as much in childbirth as "He is allowed to do" (156). His will and power "are ESTABLISHED [sic] by our prayer" (102). "God is honorable never to breach the sovereignty of a human will" (43). Indeed, Balizet's "God" wants to bless us. It is "not His will" for us to suffer complications, problems, and pain (130). But the sin in our lives just won't let him take our pain and problems from us. Everywhere there is sin, which Balizet calls "leaven," Satan has a "ground" and "legal right" (38) to make bad things happen to us.
If we do not take control of a situation--if we do not move by "our choice" from "the flesh realm into the realm of the spirit" (151) and onto "miracle territory" (32)--then Satan has control by default. God hopes that Balizet and other spirit-filled warriors will take sovereignty from Satan, but at no time is He Himself sovereign over anything or anybody. Christian will and faith duke it out with demons, and "God" sits in the stands cheering for the Christians... Balizet does not worship an Almighty God. Satan is almighty in Balizet's theology, unless she decides to be almighty instead.
Would it be wrong to say ROFL? Of course, Barrett has it right. It's amazing how clearly she saw my grandmother for what she was - a shyster, conwoman, and dangerous as hell, when nobody in my family could. (Also? I'm mildly perturbed that "conman" is a word and "conwoman" triggers my spell check.)

Here's where I'd have to say Barrett gets it wrong (or at least, earns a new problem if she's right.) In response to my grandmother's heretical teachings, Jill writes,
No one resists His will (Rom. 9:19). His plans cannot be thwarted (Job 42:2). He does whatever He pleases (Ps. 115:3). Ho one can stay His hand (Dan. 4:35) or turn back His outstretched hand (Isa. 14:27). His mercy does not depend on any will or work of man (Rom. 9:16)... Satan had to ask God's permission to hurt Job, for God had a hedge of protection around Job (Job 1:10-12; 2:6). Satan had to ask Jesus's permission to sift Peter like wheat (Luke 22:31). Without God's say-so, Satan can do nothing!"
Okay, well than I guess that's her answer to the problem of pain: God allows it. After all, if Satan can do nothing without God's say so (which I recognize is not a universally held Christian belief), then God is ultimately responsible for anything Satan does or tempts a human to do. Either God is not omnipotent and that's why bad thing happen (my grandmother's teachings) or else God *is* omnipotent (Jill's) and he's a dick. (Why won't god heal amputees? Because he doesn't give a shit about you! But don't worry - he's all-powerful.)
There are two ways to pray, Balizet says: "You can stand on earth and pray up to heaven, asking God to do something. Or, you can take your rightful position in heaven and pray DOWN TO EARTH [sic], commanding things to happen" (163).
Born in Zion is full of folks deciding what God's will ought to be (invariably what is easiest and most pleasurable for them) and "commanding" it to happen as if they were God Himself. Why prostrate yourself before a mysterious and majestic God? Why yield; why trust? Enthrone yourself in "God"'s place and "God" will yield to you!
Well, yes and no. Yes, Gig most certainly did command God and demons to do what she wanted, but it was never what was easiest or most pleasurable for the people around her! People lost their kids because they had faith in a majestic God, not because they were so cocky they thought God would do what they wanted. Gig may have been a raging narcissist, but most of her followers were meek sheep.
But the Bible says: "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?" (Rom. 11:33-35).
Okay, Jill, then on what grounds do you deem that God is good? If he's such a mystery, and his ways aren't our ways, how do you know he's any good? (Hint: Might does not make right.)
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of *Born in Zion* is the subjective revelation--what Balizet calls a "word from the Lord," a prophecy, or a Rhema. I counted 34 claims in Born in Zion that people heard directly from God. Virtually none of these claims are verified except by another "Spirit-baptized" person agreeing with them. "God almost always confirms things in this way" [by believers agreeing together], says Balizet (88). In another instance, Balizet says that one Rhema must be valid because God would not allow it to be "brought forth" otherwise
Well, why do you think God does allow false prophecy to be brought forth? If you say "free will," then you're in agreement with my grandmother when she says God never violates the sovereignty of free will (which he totally does in the Bible, multiple times.) I have to admit, thinking that God was "good" helped me to continue believing what my grandmother taught - that God would give you what you needed, as long as you had faith in him and tried to be obedient to his word.
Now that the canon of Scripture is closed, God is not giving new, special revelation. The Word of God is the *whole* counsel of God and contains all that we need (1 Tim. 3:15-17). If God was still manifesting Himself as a little voice in our heads, the Bible would become only supplementary to what we are hearing directly from Him. The Old Holy Word given to someone else eons ago, is trumped by the New Holy Word which is specifically for you in your present situation.
Sorry, Jill, but this is just bunk. Nowhere in the Bible does God say, "Put together this book for me." (Likewise, while the Bible warns us about false prophets, it doesn't say anything about how to tell who is false and who is "really" of God.)

Balizet also claims that God told her: "It is never my will to move those I love away from Life and Light and Love. It is My will to heal, to restore and to perfect. . ." (45). Whoever said this, it certainly was not the God of the Bible. Tell this balderdash to Paul, who gloried in his infirmities (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Tell it to Jeremiah the author of Lamentations. Tell it to all the saints who have been martyred for the cross: that none of their pain and suffering was ever God's will for their lives, but that their lack of faith left them at the mercy of Satan.
Right, so, your rebuttal to my grandmother's God of the Big Promises is to say that it is His will for people to suffer? Wow. I guess it's "honest" at least.
If it is dangerous to have a so-called midwife attending you in childbirth who believes that Satan is controlling your birth unless she takes control, and who believes that at any moment God could tell her to walk out on you, it is more dangerous still to have a birth attendant who believes that reality is whatever she decides it is.
It wasn't really safe to have a mother-figure who believed reality was whatever she decided, either. But people rarely seem to think about that aspect. After the births, I was still there, being exposed to her insanity day after day after day, and no one stopped it.
If Balizet is your "childbirth minister" and you suffer a complication of childbirth, she will deny it and rebuke Satan, whom she thinks is trying to manipulate her senses into believing that you are having a problem (80). She will also "rebuke the spirit of child-death" (93) if your baby is born not breathing--she has waited nearly half an hour for a newborn to begin breathing (153).
This was also the response I got for being rebellious, being bisexual, being in pain, being in terrible pain, being suicidal - She and my mother would absolutely refuse to acknowledge that there was pain going on, that our family had serious problems, and that God really wasn't meeting all of our needs.
Since Balizet worships a god who never wants anything unpleasant to happen to Christians, nothing bad *does* happen to Christians as long as they remain in the "spirit realm." But if they confess, or even secretly fear, that what they are seeing in the "sight realm" (14, 80) is real, then Satan has been empowered to make it really, really real (79)
Yes, this is how she gets to still claim her God is good (which, I suppose, isn't a necessary quality in a god for Jill Barrett.) And of course, it isn't true. My good friend and Anteater, Larry C. is writing his own memoirs now about his Zion Birth experience, and the permanent brain damage his son was left with as a result of my grandmother's medical negligence and refusal to admit that the birth was going horribly wrong.
As if all this weren't bad enough, Balizet believes that to receive any medical care whatsoever is a sin. It is yielding to the "world system" (167) and to the "arm of flesh." (84). Furthermore, taking any drug for any reason is sorcery according to Balizet (171)... Balizet believes that getting a Caesarean Section is a particularly abominable sin. All women who have had Caesareans have "the same spirit," the "spirit of Caesar," who is one and the same with "the Strong Man, the Satanic high prince over the organization and sphere of humanism" because they have "rendered their babies unto Caesar" rather than to God (48). In other words, women with Caesarean scars are idol-worshipers who are demon possessed.
The interesting thing to point out here is that Carol Balizet had 4 Caesareans with her last 4 out of 5 daughters. In fact, when she was carrying my youngest aunt, my grandmother was diagnosed with uterine cancer, and was advised to have an abortion. She tells the story that everyone but her father Papa told her to have it, but that she refused. At 7 months pregnant, my grandmother had an emergency C-section and hysterectomy. Aunt Kelly* spent her first three months of life in an incubator. My fierce love of my youngest aunt played a major role in my extreme pro-life views as a child and teen.
Balizet's superstition about who the Caesarean Section is named for does not overrule the testimony of Christ. Jesus Himself said that sick people have need of a doctor (Matt. 9:12), and women with placental problems and pelvic abnormalities are not sinning by seeing a gynecologist and having Caesarean surgery. "Woe unto them who call evil good, and good evil!" (Isa. 5:20).
You mean like calling the Bible good? Or how about that God of yours who allows Satan to do harm and who wants sickness and suffering to be part of people's lives?
Balizet is not completely true to her own beliefs in attending births, and I am grateful for that. She resorts to the "arm of flesh" and uses a bulb syringe to suction out a baby's airways after birth (66), instead of casting out the Mucus Demon or some other such foolishness.
Yes, I wish the Attleboro cult had been more aware of this before their "Zion baby" Joshua died of asphyxiation.
Should God need to audibly tell us to give physical assistance to someone who is physically suffering or in danger, when we have agreed to help that person? What is the difference between dismissing the needy with "be warmed and be filled" (James 2:16) and telling a woman having a baby that she isn't really hurting, isn't really bleeding, isn't really at risk--and that she should examine her life carefully for sin that might be keeping God from intervening in her birth? What a Job's comforter Balizet turns out to be! How uncharitable her charity!
Yes, my grandmother was callous and cruel. She was and is a monster (though now with Alzheimers, and in a nursing home.) Yet, Christian readers and Anteaters, who was the one who harmed Job the most - God or his friends? If you believe God is real, why does he let my grandmother get away with multiple deaths, and why does he allow so many women all over the globe to die in childbirth?

* Oddly enough, we had a cat named Jessie Bell (Jezebel). I've never understood why that was okay, and since I'm not talking to my mom anymore, I don't think I'm going to find out the answer anytime soon.