When most people inquire who my first love was, I’m reluctant to give an honest answer. At times, I just uttered the first boy’s name that would come to mind. As I matured and developed into a confident young adult, I decided to provide a more honest answer. “My first love was God. Jesus. You know, the Trinity.” I would receive puzzled looks, quizzical faces, and frazzled exits. Given the multitude of embarrassing responses, I began to rephrase my answer in a way that prompted them to further question my response. “I fell in love with God as I grew up in a charismatic, Pentecostal religious community. During my college years I left Pentecostalism, my family unit, and the community.” Responses were drastically different with this answer. Many people desired to know more about my transition and how I found the inner strength to embark on an alternative path. I quickly realized I didn’t have all the answers. Although my B.A. in Psychology aided me in understanding aspects of the psychological implications of my departure from the religious institution and a family that identified as Pentecostal, there was still much to uncover.
Pentecostalism is a booming religious movement, interrelated with globalization and socio-economics, and it continues to spread to geographical areas entrenched in political and economic struggles. I took my first women’s studies course during my undergrad and I gradually experienced what Sue Monk Kidd terms as an ‘awakening’ in her book Dance of the Dissident Daughter. This piece of literature transformed my understanding of my seemingly grandiose decision. I knew this was the beginning of my transition as I was exposed to truths only recognized in my unconscious. The curiosity became addictive, and like an addict, I incessantly pursued answers. My intellectual pursuits placed me at the London School of Economics and Political Science researching Gender, Media and Culture Studies. Acquiring my master’s degree within this specialized area advanced my understanding of social injustice, institutional power, and subjectivities. Adopting a feminist framework, I began to slowly piece together the puzzle of my first love.
As the veil lifted higher, I began to notice inequalities and injustices within the religious institution. Examples ranged from male-dominated discourse and rhetoric during sermons and worship services to women’s bible study sessions where young women were educated on their designated roles. I remember one female mentor stating, “As a Christian woman, you transition from being under the authority of your father to being under the authority of your husband.” I inquired why we must be under the authority of any male figures in the first place. Why couldn’t women just be regarded as autonomous beings? With her eyes wide, she said I shouldn’t think of it as a militant authority and left it at that. I recall attending a sexual purity conference where a female speaker preached that proper Christian ladies should wait for a man to initiate any romantic gesture, as he is the appointed leader of the relationship through God. During these realizations, the words of Sue Monk Kidd permeated my mind, “The truth may set you free, but first it will shatter the safe, sweet way you live.”
Whilst I understood my decision on a psychological level, I didn’t fully comprehend it within a sociological framework. I began to explore the institutional power dynamics of religious structures, and how they related to charismatic leadership. I learned that my emotive, charismatic experiences within Pentecostalism could be explained by clinical research within the fields of psychology, sociology, and medical anthropology. In the church, I was taught that ‘speaking in tongues’ was a gift from the holy spirit in order to bring people closer to God. In the paper, Features associated with speaking in tongues (glossolalia), Grady and Loewenthal describe glossolalia as, “Speech is rhythmic, usually contains few or no recognizable words or semantic content, apart from biblical words and phrases. Glossolalia may occur in non-Christian religions” (as cited in May, 1956). This further shattered me, as I once believed this was a gift of God, and I was never exposed to an alternative meaning.
Literature also proposed that the meditative trance states I participated in could be forms of psychopathology. As these truths unceremoniously unraveled, I began to experience what I’ve coined as cognitive heartbreak. I ephemerally longed to revert to my ignorance as reality felt too painful to grasp. However, I couldn’t cease my compulsion for clarity and understanding. On a personal level, I formulated an understanding around the ‘why.’ On an institutional level, I felt betrayed. As with any institution, there are power relations in place that uphold its hierarchical existence. In another blog post, I shall examine the historical significance of Pentecostalism and how it relates to the marketization of the church and patriarchal standards.
The increased popularity of Pentecostalism has motivated researchers and scholars to continue exploring this social and religious phenomenon. My subjective experience within Pentecostalism is one that requires lifetime speculation, and I plan on continuing to share my knowledge through analysis, writing, and education. Currently, I am writing my memoir on my transition from Pentecostalism, focusing on socialization, institutional power, and subjective experience. Please share your thoughts and experiences along the way. Stay updated on the latest developments of my memoir on my blog Progressive Thinking.
Andreea Nica is a freelance writer, scholar, egalitarian, and yogi. She holds a M.S. from the London School of Economics and Political Science in Gender, Media, and Culture Studies. Andreea also holds a B.A. in Psychology from Northern Arizona University. Currently, she is writing her memoir on transitioning from Pentecostalism, focusing on institutional power, subjectivities, and socialization. She is the Founder of OrganiCommunications, empowering startups and social enterprises in strategic and digital communication ventures. Andreea plans on pursuing doctoral study within Sociology, focusing on Gender and Sexuality Studies. She is the author of 2 blogs: OrganiCommunications and Progressive Thinking. You can find her in Seattle, WA. with her partner and kitty, probably doing yoga. @convergingearth @integratedcom