Legalism, Lies, & Liberty

Well these ideas have been kicking around in my soul for some time now so I decided to put them down “on paper” to get them out in the open & off of my chest.

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Historically speaking, I’ve wrestled significantly with legalism in certain aspects of Christianity to which I was mightily exposed in my younger years (5th grade through Grad School) & whose tentacles I’ve been attempting to dislodge ever since.

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Fifth Grade was a pivotal year in my life for that was when my family, at my father’s insistence, following “God’s leading” left our long-time Methodist church to attend what was then called Bethesda Missionary Temple (now known as Bethesda Christian Church).  There were/are many good things about Bethesda overall, but here I am addressing a huge negative–legalism.

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So these are obviously my own opinions and are not based on researching this topic necessarily, just sharing from my experiences.  Back in the 70’s Bethesda appeared to exert an inordinate amount of control over their members’ lives–& my dad took to heart every one of the dictates & imposed them outside of church in our family’s life too.  Here are some of the mandates that fall outside of scriptural authority in my opinion:

  • No drinking of alcohol (scripture allows moderation & no drunkenness)
  • No dancing (except married couples in the privacy of their own home)
  • No card playing
  • Women must wear dresses/skirts (my dad made Mom & I do so outside of church)
  • No rated-R movies

Anyway, those are the major “rules” I remember & some of them had a Very negative impact on my life for years.  I’m guessing that some of these “mandates” grew out of the “holiness movement” that may have in part birthed Bethesda in the early 20th century.  It’s also possible (likely probable) that other “Bethesdans” didn’t as strictly enforce such “rules” in their private lives as did my dad so my experiences may not necessarily be reflective of others there.

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The forced dress/skirt-wearing went on for me during 5th & 6th grade & for my mom perhaps a year longer.  It was difficult/impossible to explain to classmates/peers when someone who never wore anything but pants to school for years suddenly only & ever wore dresses/skirts for nearly 2 years.  This “dress code” continued at the college/grad school I attended (ORU) so further plagued me directly for another 6 years of early adulthood…At Bethesda, if a woman did come to church in pants she would be seated by ushers in the back & under the balcony.  Many years later Bethesda ultimately lightened up on this restriction, but those damaging aspects had already invaded my soul…

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The other biggie that impacted my earlier years was the “no dancing” mandate.  I didn’t personally see a scriptural prohibition that applied, though a loose interpretation of “do not cause your brother to stumble” could perhaps underpin this & the drinking & card prohibitions…I was an overt Christian from a very young age & attended public school K-12 so was already on the “rejection track” for my faith.  The artificial, imo, no dancing mandate further & unnecessarily alienated me from peers & prevented me from experiencing certain cultural rites of passage like Prom or Homecoming.  I did attend the 6th grade square dance, which was apparently “allowed” by the church, & danced but only with other girls because no boys asked me & when I asked one on “girl’s choice” he practically screamed “No Way!  Gross!” & told me to go dance with one of my girlfriends…I also attended my 9th Grade Dinner Dance but never danced except secretly before a mirror in the ladies room, sometimes with tears running down my face…

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The legalism imposed on my life intensified when I was heading off to college to ORU–a place my parents wanted me to attend much more than my own desire to hopefully go to the University of Michigan.  Anyway, ORU made students sign an “honor code” every year that listed the many rules imposed.  If you were caught in an honor code violation you could be subject to discipline even if you were out of state on a break from school & supposedly ORU had spies everywhere keeping tabs on the potentially wayward students!  Before heading out to OK for ORU my dad “forced” me to join Bethesda, something I really didn’t want to do, but was too weak to prevent.  This added a layer of legalism on top of what ORU imposed in that now I was “honor” bound to keep the BMT rules even if those actions weren’t forbidden by my campus.  This presented a real dilemma for me in restraining myself from “harmless” activities, like card playing with friends, not for conscience’s sake but for the sake of “my word” given to an organization I was “forced” to pledge some degree of obedience to…

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I’m not saying that I managed those challenges well, for there was a pretty deep well of anger built up over years of perceived religious & familial “abuses” of my God-given right to have my actions dictated by my own conscience, in keeping with scriptural truth, not institutional non-scriptural behavior codes.  I have always fully assented to God’s right to impose a behavioral code & though certainly have never fully lived up to His standards, I surrender my will freely to Him & seek to follow Christ with my whole heart & don’t try to weasel my way out from clear-cut scriptural truth regarding behaviors (ie no drunkenness & sex only belongs within marriage, etc.)…

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Anyway, going from Bethesda to ORU was in some ways out of the frying pan & into the fire as far as legalism went.  Here were some of the mandates from ORU:

  • No drinking
  • No smoking
  • No sex outside of marriage
  • Females must wear a dress/skirt M-F to class, chapel, & cafeteria
  • Males must be clean-shaven with only certain smaller mustaches allowed
  • Girls will have a curfew imposed on them for the entirety of their ORU experience
  • Guys will have a curfew Only their first semester as freshman
  • Girls (legal adults) cannot sleep away from campus without written permission from their parents
  • Single-sex dorms with only brief open houses allowing the opposite sex to visit under very controlled circumstances

I actually can’t remember if ORU also had a no dancing rule but since there were no dances ever on campus that topic might be rather moot.

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One tidbit of ORU life was the propaganda value of a series of paintings of the “12 Disciples of Jesus”.  Only Judas, of the 12, was shown with a beard!  As if men from Israel during Christ’s ministry always shaved their faces fully, unless they were His betrayer!

The lies that were told were subtle at times in that by imposing certain restrictions there were implications that the rules were biblically based when at least some of them were surely just the impositions of men.  A blatant lie encountered impacted one of my grad school classmates directly.  She was a single mom, divorced or widowed, who came to Tulsa from Tennessee.  She had been heavily recruited by ORU’s grad school which had made specific promises to the point that she agreed to leave behind her TN life, sell most of her possessions & come to ORU as some type of promised land situation.  She had been told that Everything would be provided for her & her children, housing, furniture, etc.  When she got to Tulsa many of the promises made fell through & she was in a desperate state trying to get herself & her family situated.  She never would have crossed the country if she would have known in advance the reality of what she would have to face…

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Another aspect of the “lie” was the mass marketing campaign that brought periodic pilgrims to the Oral Roberts Campus.  One of my friends observed 2 elderly ladies pulling the exact same “personal letter” from their purses.  The literally both believed that Oral Roberts wrote to them Personally to request them to become Prayer Partners & to “plant seeds” financially in his ministry.  Some people were rumored to send all of their limited income to Oral believing that his prayers would mean they would receive back “30, 60, or 100 fold” (or times) what they had given.  It was heart-breaking to see someone flash a “letter from Oral” with an outline of a hand on it–where they were to place their hand so that Oral could personally pray for them & their needs….anyway this isn’t a post about potentially “fleecing the flock” & I’m not necessarily judging Oral’s or any other person’s “ministry” but these things were, and still are frankly, quite disturbing.

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Another “lie” I encountered directly while in Oklahoma happened when I worked at the Oral Roberts hospital complex called the City of Faith (it’s now one of the Cancer Care Centers of America, I believe, in Tulsa).  Anyway I worked with adult psychiatric patients many of whom came specifically to the City of Faith because they believed that Oral would come & lay hands on them & they would be healed of their afflictions (though I don’t believe any such promises were made so these were likely personal assumptions on their part).  Anyway, one day while working there we received word that Richard Roberts, Oral’s son, was going to be coming to our unit within an hour so we were to assemble the patients in the day room (I worked on the locked unit so these were the patients with the most severe & debilitating psychological issues).  Anyway hours went by so we finally fed the patients & eventually news trickled up to our unit that Richard wasn’t coming after all.  This caused major set-backs for most if not all of our fragile patients.  It was such a brutal blow to their pointlessly raised hopes & could have been avoided entirely by not telling patients of RR’s allegedly pending visit until he was actually (if ever) on his way.  This was horribly cruel to people who were already reeling from the various traumas of their lives & an infliction of needless, thoughtless pain.

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The discrimination against females was something that weighed very heavily upon me while at ORU.  I heard tales of a student who got pregnant & was kicked out of school while her boyfriend was allowed to stay–the hypocrisy.  I experienced this disparate treatment directly during my Senior Year.  I lived in Graduate Housing, an apartment, as a Senior but the Curfew System was imposed on women even there.  Once I had my boyfriend over, also a student, after curfew & we were caught because I kept the light on!  Anyway I was penalized, I think 50 hours of “community service” in one of the campus offices while he experienced no restrictions.

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In later years we found ourselves attending a small CMA church (Christian Missionary Alliance) that was part of the Great Lakes District.  Apparently, at least this district, (if not the entire CMA) restricts women in ministry in the US!  These same women can serve overseas on an equivalent footing, I believe, to men & be paid accordingly but once they are stateside they are placed in some type of subordinate role.  In fact our recent pastor & his wife had equivalent graduate level training but he can be “ordained” but she cannot due to being female.  This is, at least to me, hypocrisy of the highest order and not in keeping with scriptural truth as I understand it.

Ironically, my view of women in ministry has likely been impacted by my Bethesda background for that church was founded and pastored by a woman for many years.  And many years after her death her granddaughter filled the role of senior pastor for a season after her own father, the founder’s son, stepped down in that dynastic-style ministry…hmm…

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Well, getting from legalism & lies to liberty is a long-term, ongoing process.  I cannot say that I have fully arrived.  Nor can I claim that my pathway was exemplary.  Here are some things I did to try to address the legalism, not all healthy:

  • Wear shorts under dresses as a kid to increase playground freedom
  • Wear tennis shoes with dresses in college to increase freedom of movement
  • Forge my parent’s signature on an overnight permission form to babysit for a local family heading out of town
  • Drank a free margarita while on break from school while in California
  • Speak to the Dean of Women to discussion my sex discrimination concerns
  • Allow myself to play cards on campus
  • Grant myself permission to let go of bondage-based rules gradually
  • Dance at a wedding & a couple of social events
  • Watch movies of my choosing
  • Purpose to Not needlessly burden my kids with non-biblical mandates
  • Walk away from various churches whose policies & practices were wounding
  • Speak with friends & help them cope with personal fallout of lies/legalism
  • Pray with & for a disabled student who was abandoned/ignored at the prayer altar by nationally known “healing ministry” figures
  • Continue to “work out my salvation with fear & trembling” in these arenas
  • Minimize contact with those still trapped in bondage who don’t desire to be set free but more seem to want to drag me back into the morass
  • Purpose to be open & direct with my kids on the pitfalls of spiritual abuse

God has been very good to me & I am quite thankful for a relatively healthy grounding in biblical truth, much of which can be attributed to Bethesda’s strengths.  My relationship with the Lord is foundational for my life & was begun at a very early age & has permeated all seasons of my life.  I am blessed in many ways & God is in the process of healing some of the wounds of my heart in various domains.  We all remain works in process as long as we live on the planet.

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I’m so thankful for certain key scriptures that point toward freedom & liberty in Christ.  These are a comfort to me and a spiritual antidote for the poisonous lies & legalism that were imposed on my life for so many years.  Praise the Lord that he has ultimately gotten  (& is getting) the victory!

Also, here a few posts on one of my other blogs that might bless you if this post has touched you at all:

May God Bless & Keep you.  May He heal us all of our wounds & set us free to serve him wholeheartedly unencumbered by the burdens of baggage imposed by men!  In Christ’s Love, Valerie

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Bethesda Missionary Temple, located on Van Dyke & Nevada (6 1/2 Mile Road) in Detroit became the second church attended during my childhood.  I joined the church under pressure from my parents, my father in particular, before heading off to college in the early ’80’s, even though I had a number of concerns/issues about some of their perspectives & control of the lives of their members.  My parents still attend, are very active, and involved in leadership at the latest iteration of Bethesda, now called Bethesda Christian Church, located on Metropolitan Parkway in Sterling Heights, Michigan and adjacent to Freedom Hill (formerly Pine Knob, I believe).  I’ve only been on the campus of  “new” Bethesda a handful of times over the past twenty some years.

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The facade of Bethesda Missionary Temple, Detroit, MI

The focus on this page is going to be more about the history of Bethesda up to the point where I no longer had much contact with that specific church.  If time permits (& the muse inspires) I May traverse various trajectories along the lines of issues/concerns I’ve had with Bethesda over the years…but that is not currently my intended main focus.

I’d like to say at the outset that BMT had a strong influence on my life once my family began attending there in the 1970’s.  I continued to attend that church with my family up to the mid ’80’s before I remained in Tulsa, Oklahoma year round, beginning the summer of my junior year of college up to the end of 1992 when my new husband & I picked up stakes & transplanted ourselves in Northern Michigan for about a half a decade.

Having started out my Christian life in the United Methodist Church I was more familiar with traditional denominational Christianity than the non-denominational style of BMT.  BMT was a much larger congregation, roughly 3,000-4,000, than was Calvary, likely less than 500.  Also, Calvary was the church of my dad’s youth & there was a lot of inter-connectivity between some of the families there.  A number of my parents’ closest friends attended Calvary & most of them seemed to have kids near my (& my brothers’) age so it was easy & familiar & comfortable extended family style camaraderie.

Given that my parents moved us to BMT when I was in 5th Grade & that upheaval fell near the other upheaval of me going through puberty it is possible that the coinciding of that developmental stage for me personally impacted some of my perceptions to some degree.  I basically attended BMT during Junior & Senior High & only in some Summers or Breaks during my early college years.

BMT was on the East Side of Detroit & therefore many of the people that attended there were also more from the East Side.  We lived on the Western side of the city, in the suburbs, so even when I could drive, if there were fellowship events outside of the church they were usually only held on the East Side.  I expect that regional distinction contributed in a small way to my sense of isolation from that church as a whole.  It also made it difficult to have church friendships outside of church time.  My closest church friends from BMT were two sisters who lived in Mount Clemens, a girl who lived a couple of miles from the church in Detroit, and a girl who lived across the border in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.  My parents were quite close with a number of couples that lived on the West Side & had been involved in a Prayer Group with them for years; some of these Prayer Group couples had kids near our age but we never really hit it off so those potential relationships pretty much never developed beyond the courtesy stage…

Here is a site that has a lot of history about Bethesda in a timeline format.  There are many things here that are familiar to me, many names/faces are ringing bells…

The post below has a good amount of information about Patricia Beall Gruits, the oldest child of M(yrtle). D(orothea). Beall founder of Bethesda & her husband Harry Lee Beall.  When I attended Bethesda I had a great admiration for “Sister Pat” & recall writing a piece in high school about who I’d like to be like & she & another Bethesdan, Virginia Moti, were who inspired me then.  They were both very strong, godly, & vocal women.  When I took Bethesda’s Catechism class, based on a book by Sister Pat, Understanding God, one of the activities we had to participate in was Footwashing.  I believe during that footwashing ceremony I actually had my feet washed by Sister Pat, as I was seated next to her.  As far as I know she never really knew who I was, as there were probably 50-100 people in that class, but it was an humbling honor to have that Great Lady on her knees before me as she washed my feet (only in the very loosest sense perhaps akin to what Peter felt as Our Lord Jesus washed his feet).

The late J. Peter Gruits and Patricia Doris Beall were married June 15, 1946. (Photo provided by Joy Gruits) (VC note, this photo is copied from the below site)

Sister Pat has lead a ministry to Haiti for many years.  During my adolescence my dad contemplated having our family move to the mission field of Haiti because of Sister Pat’s work there through Rhema International, I believe.  Because this possibility of going to live & work in Haiti loomed over us I chose to take four years of French in Junior & Senior High School.  The Haitians speak a form of French Creole & I’d hoped to be prepared in the event that we actually went to Haiti.  Later, when I went to college I was enrolled as a Pre-Med student, thinking that I might later become a Missionary Doctor, perhaps to Haiti.  Obviously Sister Pat had a pretty strong, though indirect, influence on my life…

Patricia Beall Gruits, from the below website

“Balanced Biblical teaching and spontaneous, anointed praise and worship have been hallmarks of church life at Bethesda…The beauty and harmony of Bethesda’s spontaneous worship has been compared to a “heavenly choir” by many that have visited the church.”

I’m not sure if the 75th Anniversary of Bethesda was the event my husband & I attended with my parents or not.  We went to the fancy dinner held at the Detroit Lions’ relatively new stadium, Ford Field, on a Summer evening, the same day that the International Fireworks were held on the Detroit River, celebrating American Independence & Canada’s Freedom (I believe)…Those fireworks were visible from Ford Field but Michael & I didn’t get the chance to fully partake of them since he had a medical situation that required us to leave early.  [My husband had had a “skin cancer” removed from his upper arm earlier & during the Bethesda Anniversary some of the stitches gave way & blood was running down his arm & we didn’t have the means to really address the situation at Ford Field–I had hoped to view the fireworks for in my 4+ decades usually in the Metro Detroit area we’d never actually seen the spectacular display & the large glass windows at Ford Field provided fairly reasonable viewing…]

Why Pioneer?

The original inspiration for this blog’s name is because I attended a school where the mascot was the Pioneer (technically a cheesy fuzz-ball creature in school colors called Reenoip–Pioneer spelled backward) & I liked my personal connection to the word & to the implied Pioneer Spirit.  Also, I am the first born child in my family so have pioneered the path of life for my siblings & myself.  Additionally, as a family historian, I am drawn to the concept & romanticism of The Pioneers.  Historically these were hearty (an accidental & fortuitous misspelling of “hardy”) & adventurous folks who were willing to brave the unknown in order to stake out a place for themselves & their posterity in a wild & untamed land.  Our physical land may be rather more tamed nowadays, but our internal world can still be unfettered, as can our insights & views be wild & free…



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from a image search for “pioneers moving west”

Within this blog I hope to pioneer the expression of my own perspectives on a number of topics.  At the beginning of this venture, I plan to provide some historical perspective on churches, schools, & communities in my personal & ancestral past.  This will perhaps include insight & analysis of certain aspects of those places, the people, & some practices associated with them either from personal experience or through the observation of others.  Some of this perspective is hoped to be therapeutic in nature, a way to gain distance from painful experiences & to understand a bit about personalities, trends, time-frames, & organizational/institutional biases that might have contributed to various conditions & challenges that may still be impacting me or my family….

I was initially inspired to blog in this direction during the process of helping my mother set up her blog,  In the course of demonstrating examples of info she might be interested in I showed her how to do an image search on, copy/paste the image elsewhere, and review the source location of the image for further info.  I chose to look up her church of more than 40 years now.  Going to the source page of a particular image provided a seemingly interesting perspective on a particular era in modern church history.  Since I’ve had a number of personal “issues” with my parents’ church over the years the concept of blogging as a form of therapy in this (& possibly other) arena(s) was conceived…

Additionally, I recently read the book The Underground Railroad for a book study group I’ve begun attending.  The coordinating librarian had asked me to look up some info related to our locality, the Underground Railroad, and the Michigan Republican Party.  The nexus of that research also inspired me to want to dig a bit deeper into this topic, first to take some degree of regional pride in certain historical heroics.  Later on, I hope to make some familial historical connections to some of that abolitionist background so that there may be a new avenue of taking historical pride in the achievements & motivations of our forbears & to inspire our coming generations to dream & live in ways that are pleasing to the Lord & to further provide for His Kingdom’s work on this earth!

I hope you enjoy what ultimately gets shared here within these posts.  I’d love to hear from you in feedback if you are so inclined…& may God bless us, every one!