How To Be Truly Happy (It’s Not What You Think)

Note: I had started writing this post before the Christian Aid Ministries sex scandal broke. This subject is very timely, as you shall see.

(For those of you who have been living in a cave for the past week or so, CAM sent a known (allegedly repentant) pedophile down to "minister" in Haiti. They hid the truth from everyone, including the pedophile's supervisor, and put him (the pedophile) in charge of their school program. Predictably, rampant molestation ensued for about ten years, until eventually, it all came out, and now people are very angry about it.

Nevertheless, CAM still refuses to do the right thing, beginning with resignations of everyone in any administrative capacity who had prior knowledge of Jeriah's misdeeds. There are other things they could do, but let's start with that.)

Our journey with Dear Princess is nearing its end. I estimate that there are, at most, two or three posts coming from the book after this one. I realize that we have not tapped into nearly half of the outrageous material in the book, but we have hit the high points. After this, there is a wealth of other wonderful material to explore, from Christian Example to gospel tracts.

But don't cry because it's almost over. Smile because it happened, right? (And I'm talking about our covering of Dear Princess, obviously. Not Dear Princess. No one should be smiling that that happened.)

Today, we're talking about a favorite subject in Dear Princess, specifically, and conservative Anabaptism in general.
But before we get to that, let's take a moment to discuss exactly what we mean by conservative Anabaptism. A discussion on Facebook helped me to realize that that's a term that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

To paint with a broad brush, "conservative Anabaptism," as we use the term on this blog, is anything Anabaptist that is more conservative than BMA (Biblical Mennonite Alliance.) We do not consider BMA to be part of conservative Anabaptism. True conservative Mennonites would laugh mirthlessly, or stare at you in catatonic shock at the suggestion.

In the conservative setting I recently left, "going BMA" meant that you had probably completely lost out spiritually, and would probably soon be divorced and remarried.

And there's probably wedding rings involved.

Making certain alterations in your clothing, or questioning certain standards was a cause for concern, because that could lead to you eventually "going BMA."

"Going BMA" was the sad end of some of the cautionary tales that warned of the grave dangers of leaving the strait and narrow.

So, no. We are not talking about BMA or anyone more liberal than that. (Although, from what I've heard, it's not really possible to get liberaler than that.)

Obviously, if you are from BMA, and this blog resonates with your experiences, enjoy! But you are not in the cross-hairs. Probably.

To put a finer point on it, our target is, in the words of one commenter, "the Rod & Staff/Christian Light Publications/"radical authoritarian conservatism" bunch." And I think those last three words sum up the soul of what we here at By Thy Words are opposing and spotlighting: radical authoritarian conservatism.

But we digress.

Today, we are talking about a favorite subject of conservative Anabaptists: shutting up and doing what you're told. Doubly so, if you are female.

"I get so tired of someone always telling me what to do," Agnes complained to her sister. "I think I am getting old enough to decide some things for myself." 

This is the first paragraph of Chapter 30, entitled "The Happiest Place" and if you can't tell where this story is going, then you did not grow up reading these books, and I have no idea how you found this blog, but I hope you like it.

Of course, the rest of us know that Agnes is wrong. Completely and totally wrong. Because A) she's a girl, and girls don't get to decide things for themselves because of something about divinely ordained headship order, and B) anyone who thinks that they should be able to make decisions is individualistic and we all know how bad that is.

In MennoSpeak, "individualism" means "not susceptible to cult-like mind control."

Well, we can't let statements like that go unchallenged, and Agnes' sister rises to the occasion.

"It may seem that way," her sister returned, "but I don't know if that day will ever come."

You know, I've been reading this stuff my whole life, and sometimes I still come across something that I can't believe I'm reading.

Yes, this book really says that the day may never come that this girl is able to decide things for herself. And that's the first shot in a salvo of insanity. (To be fair, Agnes may be suffering from a terminal illness which the writer has yet to reveal. But, given the rest of the conversation, that seems unlikely.)

"It will come for me," Agnes stated firmly. "I will make it come."

"I was just thinking of some girls that I know and how they have felt about deciding things for themselves," Iris replied.

"Do you remember Mildred Gehman? I heard her tell Mother how she dreaded the day when she became of age and had to decide things for herself."

Agnes's mouth opened in surprise as she dropped the peach she had peeled into the large bowl and reached for another. "Why? I surely don't feel that way about it. I count the years..."

Oh, you poor, dear, benighted child! You're either going to end up "going BMA," or getting your soul crushed and mutilated in the jaws of authoritarian religion.

It's better that you put these thoughts away, and learn to submit now, and dull your mind and senses, so that it doesn't hurt so much later.

I say these things for your good.

"Then there was Phyllis Hartman," Iris continued. "She said the same thing. She got married when she was twenty-one and she told me afterward that she always hoped she would soon be married after she was of age so she would not have to decide things for herself. She didn't want the responsibility."

Yes. Getting older and coming of age is scary, because "I don't want the responsibility."

Somehow, I hardly think Jesus is impressed with this, considering that He told a story about a man who buried his talent because he didn't want the responsibility of managing it. (Spoiler alert: It didn't end well for the man.)

What we have here is the glorification of irresponsibility.

And the author actually encourages this way of thinking.

This is the codependency that is at the heart of Conservative Anabaptism.

There are two kinds of people: the Controllers and the Controlled. And they both need each other.

The Controllers seek power over others, and the Controlled seek security. So they both provide what the other needs. And people who are Neither get mutilated in the process.

If you are a Neither, you get it from both sides. The Controllers are furious, and the Controlled are hurt and mystified.

Agnes's face wore a perplexed expression. "Phyllis said that?" Agnes had always admired the consistent and stable Christian character of Phyllis. "It would be my opinion that she would be one of the most dependable in making right decisions. Why should she have dreaded it?"

One of the joys of reading Dear Princess is the writing quality, both in the lifelike portrayal of its characters, and in the believable dialogue.

Agnes is using exactly the phrases and expressions as one would expect a teenage girl to use, if that person lived in a cave on a distant planet, and had, as his only source of information on humanity, a dog-earred grammar book written for immigrants in the 1820s.

"It was the responsibility that she dreaded," Iris told her. "When we simply do what someone else in authority over us tells us to do, we are not carrying the responsibility for the decision. But when we make the decision, then whatever comes of it, we must bear the blame and responsibility for."

I have heard that Christian Aid Ministries hired Morgan Freeman to record Dear Princess as an audiobook.

Listening to this passage on endless repeat, I am told, is the only way that the CAM administrators can sleep at night.(1) 

(As "men under authority," none of them is going to stand before God one day, and answer for the blood of countless little Haitian boys, right? Right?)

"we are not carrying the responsibility for the decision..."
"we are not carrying the responsibility for the decision..."
"we are not carrying the responsibility for the decision..."
"we are not carrying the responsibility for the decision..."

In this one passage, you can see the sickness of the entire conservative Anabaptist way of life. It is a hideous attempt to escape the responsibility of your actions, by blaming them on the orders of someone up the authority food chain.

The disaster that we are watching unfold today began decades ago, with perverted teaching like this.

"Just do what those above you say, and you aren't responsible." 
And that's "The Happiest Place."

Let us rather heed the words of the Apostles, "We ought to obey God rather than men."

Till next time...

1. This is just a joke. Morgan Freeman did NOT record Dear Princess as an audiobook. (As far as I know.) Also, I know nothing about the sleeping patterns of CAM administrators. Please do not sue me. With that D.C. lawyer you hired. (back to post)

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3 thoughts on “How To Be Truly Happy (It’s Not What You Think)

  1. Rachel says:

    This is so spot on I have no words. It’s a post that will make you laugh and go sobbing broken tears at the same time. Especially if you were one of those who was not able to be controlled so you got crushed in those Jaws…

  2. Kathy says:

    One of the main things I regret about my 27 yrs in the conservative Mennonite church is dulling my ear to hear the Holy Spirit. When I became a Christian I had no church and relied wholly on the Spirits leading. Once I was in the Mennonite church I was told that everything needs to go through the brethren. I didn’t even realize how bad it was until I was out of the church and wanting that earlier leading of the Spirit. Lord forgive me for giving your place of leadership in my life to men. When my time comes to stand before the Lord those people will not be there to say “Oh we told her she could or could not….” It will be me and the Lord.

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