Leaving Christian Science: 10 Stories of New Faith in Jesus Christ, Interview with Lauren Hunter

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.

I never received childhood vaccinations.

By ExCS group contributor Jodi B. This is part of a series of first hand stories about vaccinations and Christian Science.

I never received childhood vaccination. I was religiously exempted by an easily obtained form in the Commonwealth of Virginia. I was protected by herd immunity my whole life and mistakenly thought it was my parents’ prayer (and later, mine), keeping me safe from measles and polio and such “out there.”

At the age of 16, I was away at Cedars Camps in Lebanon, Missouri, and there was a measles outbreak there. The State of Missouri kicked in and said “all those campers need to either be quarantined or go home and be quarantined there at home.”

I wanted to take my stand about staying proud of never having been given a shot. I wanted to go home. My parents wouldn’t let me.

The Missouri Health people came in and gave those of us who stayed, shots for the Measles. Another counselor friend of mine told me “it’s just ‘water in, water out,’ and for some reason, that helped me with my prayers on my fear of getting a measles shot.

I was so afraid I then had the actual measles and I told one of my older campers. She was probably 15 at the time. I didn’t want her to sit by me at dinner lest she get the measles from me. She was so disappointed that I would dare think she wasn’t spiritual enough to resist getting the measles.

I felt sad that I had made her feel disappointed. She sat with me anyway, in an awkward dinner. She never got the measles. I didn’t, either.

5 years later, I was about to graduate from Principia College. It was 1994. A few weeks before graduation. Word came around campus that 3 seniors might have the measles. They had never had the measles shot. There was a measles epidemic on campus. Everyone who had been vaccinated could leave campus – come and go freely. Anyone who had not been vaccinated needed to either go home and be quarantined or be quarantined on campus.

A lot of us had been vaccinated at Cedars Camps. Maybe 30 of us on a campus of maybe 600 students. Principia wrote to Cedars and obtained our vaccination records, because none of us had our own records.

I felt so proud that I could come and go off campus. So I did it just because I could, though I rarely left campus at any other time. I think my friend who had traveled to Korea and had all of her vaccinations and I drove to the store to buy donuts. Just because we could and she had a truck.

The 3 seniors were quarantined in a beautiful, well kept old house on campus that had since been needlessly neglected and then condemned, never got the measles. I was so glad those 3 students didn’t get the measles. We all graduated on time.

After becoming a mom of two elementary school boys, I subsequently left Christian Science due to mounting issues increasing in severity that were most decidedly NOT being healed in Christian Science.

We got one of my kids tested. He was found to be on the autism spectrum.

One of my sisters-in-law is a medical nurse and had a newborn son. I was scared of vaccinating my elementary school boys. She assured me that her newborn was vaccinated and would be given all shots on schedule.

She also taught me that term “herd immunity.” I had been protected by herd immunity and never by prayer.

I got my sons and me vaccinated using an alternative vaccination schedule. My boys’ schedule was set up by their brand new pediatrician. Mine was set up by the Department of Health in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

We have also gotten the flu shot every year too. We all used to get the flu every single year. We haven’t gotten it since starting to get the flu shot (except for this past year when the flu was particularly aggressive, but the shot kept people from dying even if they still got the flu after getting the shot).

I have gotten and continue to get professional help so I can be a better parent to my son on the spectrum. He is thriving now as a person unlike the traumas he was going through while on the spectrum, and attending Christian science Sunday school.

The vaccination had zero affect on either of my boys in regards to autism. And I am so grateful all 3 of us have our complete vaccinations now.

Yule: Silent Night, Longest Night

By Jodi, an Ex-Christian Scientist group contributor.

When I left Christian Science, I realized I didn’t know what my spiritual beliefs were any more. I decided to give myself time and figure out what I actually believe in. I remember reading books about environmental issues in grade school, and reading an environmental book some time in high school. I pushed my family to start recycling and once I became a mom, my family and I started planting trees.

Taking care of our planet is incredibly important to me. I am working hard to make my yard friendly to bees, and I try to be conscious of my purchasing habits to have less of an impact on the planet. We have done so many things in our everyday lives over the years to try to lessen our environmental footprint. This has just been important to me for as long as I can remember.

When I walked away from Christian Science, I knew what I was walking away from. But I didn’t know what I was walking toward. I gave myself time to examine what I believe in. I have realized I believe in Mother Nature. I love looking at the sky, no matter what the weather and no matter what time of day. I love naming constellations and charting the planets. So I have realized I also believe in Father Sky.

I asked myself for a while if I believe that Jesus was a real person. I don’t actually know any more if Jesus was actually a real person who walked on this planet and “healed” people. I am particularly interested, though, that he apparently told people not to pay attention to the healings so much, but instead listen to the teachings.

I used to be a Sunday School teacher, and I would push my students to know that “Christmas is celebrating Jesus’ birthday.” I felt that was important for kids to know. (I was continually shocked by how many kids didn’t know this basic fact.) I was someone who absolutely loved the phrase, “Keep the Christ in Christmas.” And I hated the “Merry X-Mas” thinking. Now that Jesus isn’t so important to me, I have decided Christmas isn’t, either.

It makes me sad to notice how disconnected recent generations are from our natural world. I think more and more of us as a culture are starting to notice the disconnect, and we are turning towards a more nature based spirituality, instead of a “god” based spirituality.

My mom has basically always pushed Christmas with intensity, as far as I am concerned. A big fancy meal that takes all day to cook, a lot of homemade Christmas cookies, decorating the house despite not wanting to. I have never understood the mentality of making something that is supposed to be beautiful and fun, into a stress filled month with too many expenses and too many obligations. It becomes exhausting instead of spiritual.

I have tried for years to say “let’s not have gifts. Let’s just have a nice meal together.” And I try to gently nudge it towards being simple instead of complex. It’s now been 3-4 years of me pushing those ideas, and I am grateful to say that my extended family is starting to come around.

Last year, at perhaps the beginning of December, I found out about the holiday, Yule. And I thought, “Well, let’s try that out. I don’t know if I really know what it is, but let’s see if it works for us.”

I did a very minimum amount of research on the tradition. I didn’t have enough time between finding out about the holiday & the date of the holiday to devote as much research as I would have liked. I wished I had more time to research then accomplish a lot with it. But it turned out to be completely perfect for my family!

My immediate family has never particularly wanted a Christmas tree. It’s just not been something we particularly felt a need for. I bought a fake one years ago, and we have put it up perhaps every other year. But it hasn’t been annual. We have fostered kittens or had our own new kittens, and it’s not always a good idea to mix kittens with Christmas trees. Two years ago, we fostered 2 kittens, and they physically broke our fake tree. They knocked it over and broke the stand and now the tree won’t stand up at all. My family is fine if we never replace it.

We also have such a small home, that a tree takes up a significant part of our living space. One year, I realized that I have a ton of green construction paper. So we hung it up on the wall. We made a recyclable tree out of construction paper! It turns out that this has been my sons’ favorite tree. We have repeated this several times now. We tape up our favorite ornaments to the tree, too.

For Yule, last year, we stuck with natural ornaments. We made some out of sticks, spices and cotton string. We did hang up some of our favorite ornaments too. But it was fun to hang things from nature on our tree. I made a star for the top of the paper tree, using sticks and string. I have always put a ribbon tied in to a bow at the top, so I was amused to have a star for the first time ever at the top of my tree, our Yule tree.

I collected a few pinecones in perhaps the beginning of December. (I have always loved pinecones. I used to collect them with my grandmother by the side of the road. She made flower arrangements with various plants and other things.) We hung a few pinecones on the tree too. We put our heavier ornaments on the ground in front of the base of the paper tree. That was fun too. A few of our ornaments were made by friends or are fairies. Some were made by my kids, and some look like gingerbread. It all had a new feel to it when it was accompanying a Yule tree instead of a Christmas tree.

My husband and my two sons and I all went out to watch the sunset on December 21. Is the longest night of the year. Our ancient civilizations had to be aware of the amount of light, and chart so many things so they could grow food. They were much more in tune with edibles and medicinal herbs in forests. We have lost so much knowledge over the years.

We stood and watched the sunset and just acknowledged that it is a cycle. The sun goes around the earth. There are shorter days and they eventually turn into longer days. It’s wonderful to see how our lives are also parallel. We have good days and bad days. It’s all a cycle. We have light and happy days, and we have darker, more difficult days. Noticing the dark helps us appreciate the light.

As we watched the sunset together, we each wrote down 2 things we wanted to get rid of from the past year. I don’t remember what any of us wrote down. It’s very possible I wrote down “I want to get rid of distraction” as one of my goals. We each folded up our papers and tucked them into our pinecones.

Then, we went inside to our fireplace, and lit a fire. We put our pinecones into the fire, and watched them burn; watched the smoke go up the chimney. It was a symbol of starting a new year, fresh. Letting go of last year, and embracing a new year. It felt peaceful and also holy.

After that, we all exchanged just a few gifts. I think I gave each of my sons 2-3 gifts, and my husband and I each received 1 gift. All of the gifts were Nature oriented in some way. I bought clay for one of my sons, and a handmade glass kaleidoscope for my other son. (Glass is made from sand.) One of my sons gave me a beautiful moonstone necklace. I wore it every day for months, and it made me remember this peaceful loving moment where we slowed down our lives and took in a sunset together.

Then, we all enjoyed a family movie together, and drank hot apple cider. It was just calm and low key and peaceful.

Last year, we celebrated both Christmas and Yule. This year, my husband and my older son and I wanted to forego Christmas altogether. But my younger son wants to still do Christmas. Our family emphasis will be on Yule this year, but we will have some Christmas things. I will still make Christmas cookies – the ones that are my family’s favorites. (Christmas cookies are a German tradition, and my grandmother made tins full of them, so I grew up with boat loads of Christmas cookies.) My boys will have stockings for Christmas morning. We will be getting together with my extended family for a Christmas gift exchange and meal. This year, the majority of gifts that I have purchased for my kids will be given on Yule, after watching the sunset. I will probably choose 2 of the gifts for each of them, to give to them on Christmas Day after they open their stockings. Yule is becoming our more prominent holiday. It’s more like a New Year, and honoring the world and universe that we live in, instead of a spiritual (imaginary) entity we can’t see or experience.

This year, I am thinking of adding in smudging during the sunset. Smudging is the cleansing of one person by another from toe to head using a smoking herb (such as: sage, rosemary or white bay leaf).  A new friend and mentor of mine knows this well and she asked me, “What does smudging mean to you?” I thought about it, and, to me, it means taking a bath of our spirit. Washing off the old, making space for the new. Washing off the previous year, and getting ready for the new year. We take a bath in water to wash off the old, and prepare for new days and new experiences. To me, smudging is about bathing our spirit. I look forward to introducing this concept to my boys this year, as we watch the sun go down on Yule.

It is fun to let go of old traditions that no longer serve me and embrace new ones with my family, and modify and shift them as we want to, and find our own sense of what’s holy and precious.

 

image Christmas with the Yule Log, Illustrated London News, 23 Dec 1848.jpg