Janelle Leegstra – Fundamental Calvinist, Homeschooled, Purity Culture, Now an Atheist
Janelle Leegstra was raised in a very specific branch of Christianity: the Reformed or Calvinist branch. Most people who think of Reformed think of Christian Reformed, which was the liberal side of the Reformed spectrum. They resided somewhere in the middle. Her family believed in a lot of fundamentalist teachings such as:
- women couldn’t lead in the church
- original sin makes everyone prone to evil
- no sex outside of marriage, etc.
However, some more conservative versions of Calvinism went steps further, and believed things like: women should always wear skirts and you could never know if you were saved (Janelle’s husband belonged to one of these). They believed they were chosen by God and must now follow his teachings. A lot of what they believed was quite conservative.
She grew up very absorbed in this tradition. She was homeschooled for 8 of her school years because they moved a lot and also due to the fact that her parents didn’t like the mainstream Christian schools because they were too liberal. Eventually, in grade 9, Janelle was enrolled in a Canadian Reformed School and graduated from there. She even went to a Christian university in Ontario for a year.
She didn’t break out of Christian circles until she came to Lethbridge, Alberta to go to a secular university. This is where Janelle finally got a glimpse of what outside ways of thinking looked like and began her journey of de-conversion. It took a couple years before she finally realized she didn’t believe it anymore, and it’s still a work-in-progress to let go of all of the inner thought processes. But, she is definitely an Atheist now, and has recently come out to her family as such. The fallout from that is very recent, and is pretty tense still. It’s been a long road with a long way to go yet, but she is very excited to see where it goes.
Janelle was definitely influenced by the misogynistic culture of her church community. There was a lot of emphasis on virginity and definitely an unequal partnership in dating and marriage. She and her dad picked out a purity ring when she got her first period and Janelle was deeply immersed in purity culture until her boyfriend (now husband) began to leave the church. Her dad was very proud of the fact that he worked hard to make sure her mom didn’t “have to” work. Janelle’s mom left university to get her “MRS degree” and never finished becoming a teacher (she would have been an amazing one). She was not an outwardly confident woman, although she was very strong and very smart. Her mother stood in her dad’s shadow and didn’t speak out for herself very often.
Growing up, Janelle witnessed the control her dad had over her mom. Their religion dictated that the man was the “head of the house” and that the final word in any major decision belonged to the man. He was never violent, but her mother had little freedom to be herself. He dictated a lot, down to even the clothes she was allowed to wear. As for Janelle, she had always been a very vocal person, and when she was young (and often still now) she would get put down for voicing her opinions too much. She still struggles with a lack of confidence in her ability to have valid ideas or opinions. She was always portrayed as “silly” and no one ever really took her seriously. Janelle’s husband was the first person to tell her that she was smart and capable, and he still is her biggest support even now.
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