Lauren Hunter grew up in a fourth generation Christian Science home but struggled to understand and implement successful physical healing. Like many who have left Christian Science, she sought out others who had also left to gain clarity. After being out of CS for nearly 20 years, she hoped to help others cross the chasm of leaving this religious cult by sharing her story, as well as the stories of nine others she interviewed. Her book, Leaving Christian Science: 10 Stories of New Faith in Jesus Christ, was released in 2020.
Hunter’s book examines stories from 10 different people who left Christian Science and started walking a Christian path, following Christ Jesus as their guide.
In the following post, Contributor Jodi interviews Lauren Hunter about her experience writing the book:
Jodi: What compelled you to write a book about various people’s stories of how they left Christian Science?
Lauren: I’ve always loved the power of story and felt that the impact of pulling away from the Christian Science faith would be stronger as told not only through my own story, but also through the stories of others who left.
When I first left Christian Science in 2001, I knew no one who was a “former Christian Scientist.” I became a member of the Fellowship of Former Christian Science (FFCS) group in 2015. Through that group, I met so many new friends with incredible stories. Each person’s tale blew me away and encouraged me. I thought, if I can compile a whole book of stories of people who left, there’s a lot of power–all in one book.
Jodi: What kind of power are you talking about here?
Lauren: It’s easy to shirk off one story of someone who left CS. Followers will often say, “they just couldn’t understand it” of someone who left. They look down on people who leave because there’s this sense of baked in narcissism–that CS is a special knowledge that only they have. I felt there was power in sharing 10 stories of people who all left. There’s no book available with this many exit stories in one place.
Jodi: How did you come up with the list of people to interview? Did you know all of the people before you approached them to write the book? Were people referred to you?
Lauren: I worked with Katherine Beim-Esche of the Fellowship of Former Christian Scientists to help me locate people who had various stories to fit the theme of each chapter. I had an idea of what themes to include, but these changed as I did my interviews. I did preliminary research, short email interviews, then long Zoom recorded interviews for each person’s chapter. It was tricky to pull out distinct themes for each story, but it all came together as I had hoped, which was great.
Jodi: How did you come up with the questions you asked them, in order for them to tell you their story?
Lauren: I really love interviewing people. Initially, I made a list of questions asking about the person’s upbringing, history in the Christian Science church, etc., and sent this in advance. When we sat down for the interview, I made sure to ask many of the same questions, but each person had such a unique story that some questions emerged as we were doing the interview. It was a wonderful process and I feel very honored that these individuals would entrust their stories to me.
Jodi: Are there thread(s) that you see each story sharing?
Lauren: Great question. I spoke about all these different threads in the recent FFCS presentation I did entitled: “My story, your story, and God’s story.” (YouTube Link Here) Some common threads are:
- Struggling with the dual reality of having to deny the physical world while living in it.
- Guilt and shame over “trying” medicine when healings didn’t happen
- Shame over imperfections in health as well as imperfections in beauty
- Dissociation from physical needs including noticing pain, anxiety, or fear
- Trouble recognizing boundaries, limits, and identifying needs
Jodi: Tell me about the ‘dear one” sections of the book, where you write a comforting letter to the readers of the book. Did that come naturally for you? Was it easy to hear their stories and come up with a comforting letter?
Lauren: In the “dear one” letters at the end of each chapter, I tried to invoke the kind of gentle and loving mother many of us wished we had growing up in CS. I am a mom, and I can’t imagine watching my kids suffer as many did in their childhoods. It’s really heartbreaking. I had more trouble processing several of the stories because they dealt with issues that hit close to home for me. I really loved writing these ‘dear one’ sections and hope that my concern and care for the reader came through.
Jodi: How long did it take for you to compile the stories? To write this book?
Lauren: It took me about two and a half years from idea to publishing. This was my first full-length nonfiction book and I was squeezing it in around running a full-time business (and raising my family). I learned so much during the process and treated it like a learning experience. My second book, due out this winter, is a step-by-step guide to help people write their own stories.
Jodi: Did any particular story stand out to you as either typical of all the stories, or different in some major way from all of the other stories? Which one? What made it different or the same?
Lauren: John Andrews’ story about struggling to let go of Mary Baker Eddy as Leader with a capital “L” was something that many people struggled with. In Christian Science, we were taught to put Eddy on a platform above God and Jesus Christ. This is something a lot of people struggled with.
This is where mind control comes in. The only way followers will do what an organization says is if they buy into the (often narcissistic) leader who proclaims they are a prophet — most of us “drank the Kool-aid,” and believed that Eddy’s words were holier than the Bible.
Dixie Baker’s story of surviving the measles epidemic at Principia College was so difficult for me to stomach. It was a completely different topic and included physical, emotional, and medical neglect–her account rocked me and was very unique that someone from within was brave enough to detail what happened while under CS nurse care.
Jodi: Is there something you would like to share with people who read our blog, who are looking for a path to leave Christian Science and are scared to do it?
Lauren: Interestingly, you use the word “scared” in your question. When I was growing up in Christian Science, I felt scared all the time because I never knew what was wrong. So much of the Christian Science belief system deals with allaying fear. Well, we wouldn’t have all been so afraid if we’d gone to the doctor to find out what was wrong! I now feel huge freedom not practicing CS. If I have a medical issue, I email my doctor, get a test done, and figure out a plan. I no longer have massive amounts of fear to deal with surrounding my body. I have to ask questions, look things up, and learn as I go–and I’ve been out of CS for 20 years! I’m just grateful that I left before having my four kids. I can’t fathom dealing with all the childhood illnesses without medical care.
So I guess my advice is to ditch the fear, allow yourself a care team that includes a good trauma-informed therapist, a former Christian Scientist who has adjusted well, and a good doctor who will listen to you and take you seriously.
Jodi: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Lauren: I’m working on a new book called Write Your Journey that will help people write their stories about their family, faith, or career. The idea came to me when people read my book and wanted to share their stories with me. Info on this book will be available at https://laurenhunter.net.
Leaving Christian Science: 10 Stories of New Faith in Jesus Christ by Lauren Hunter (Veritable Books, 2020) is available on Amazon.
If you have left Christian Science and are seeking others who have taken a Christ-centered path, we highly recommend the Fellowship of Former Christian Scientists.