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My Fundie Sister


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Okay, I've been a regular here for a while, and I've had a few blogs published, but this is my first topic. It might seem like a gossipy rant, but I'd like some advice, if you're up to it. 

 

Here's the story: I'm the 3rd of 4 female children from a very conservative family. My oldest sister (I will call her Ann) is super fundamentalist Christian. You know what I mean. She has three children and a VERY bible-literalist fundamentalist Christian husband, and she and they post the scariest extreme stuff on FB. I have an older sister in between us (I will call her Beth), who is a really awesome person. She's a progressive Christian (totally pro gay rights, gay marriage, women equality, doesn't believe in hell, studying to become a minister) who is one of the smartest, kindest people I know. Like a lot of Christians from our background in a red state, Beth went to a Christian undergrad college and got married at age 19 to a guy who seemed great at first... until he became a raging alcoholic. And I mean raging. 

 

So my awesome cool sister Beth found herself married to a guy who transformed into a monster when he started drinking, and she got a divorce at age 28 after 9 years of marriage (no kids). He was scary abusive at the end. He destroyed her things, and at the very end, he even had her pinned down, hands around her throat, threatening to strangle her. Yeah. Scary stuff. 

 

So the divorce happened, my parents were surprisingly supportive of Beth, and she hasn't had contact with her abusive ex since. 

 

Fast forward more than a decade, and I'm looking at Ann's FB page and her daughter (who is a young teenager) has posted a link to Beth's ex-husband with this message: "My uncle is so cool!" 

 

And it hit me like a punch to the gut. There's his picture, this man who almost killed Beth, endorsed by Ann's daughter, and I couldn't breathe. 

 

You have to understand, after that terrible incident, I was with Beth constantly, helping her pack up her belongings, always making sure she was never alone again with the guy who almost strangled her, and now I'm seeing our niece link to him like he's an awesome hero of hers, and I feel like I'm going to throw up. 

 

So I send Ann an email and basically say, "Oh my goodness, what on earth have you told your daughter about this man? I mean, they were divorced before your daughter was even born so he isn't even her uncle. Don't you even remember WHY they got a divorce? Why are you still FB friends with him? He almost KILLED OUR SISTER. PLEASE take that down before Beth sees it. Please." 

 

No reply. Two weeks later, it's still up, and I email Ann again, this time just asking her to please email or call me. Nothing, and Ann doesn't return my calls either. I leave several voice mail messages.

 

So... we all live in different states, but we've always been able to email or call each other, but Ann hasn't returned any of my phone calls or emails in 7 months. Same with Beth, no response to her phone calls to Ann either. 

 

So I talked to Beth last Friday on the phone, and she was telling me how she can't get through to Ann either, and she's very concerned. Because Ann is executor of our parents' will, and if Ann won't even communicate with us... Beth's worried Ann will be like, "Well, I WOULD give you mom and dad's inheritance, but they SO wouldn't approve of your beliefs, so we're going to withhold it. Put it in a trust until / unless you start going to church, etc."

 

Now, I don't think Ann would be super weird about it, but honestly, I don't know. I don't care that much about it, because my parents are healthy and fine, and to me that isn't the issue, but I get Beth's point. Our oldest sister Ann is cutting us off, communication-wise, so what's to say she wouldn't do the same with an inheritance? 

 

I think I know why: Ann's 3 kids are growing up, and she doesn't want our less-than-super-fundie-Christian influence on her kids. Whatever. But Beth is like, "I need to make Ann say it. I need to hear her at least be honest and say why she's refusing to communicate with us. I have to get honesty from everyone. Just have the guts to put it on the table and admit it."

 

Now, I sympathize with Beth, but I don't need any family validation or explanation. However, I dearly love Beth, and I get why she cares. I also know my younger sister (let's call her Cary) has found these FB posts offensive and has also not been able to talk about it with Ann. Cary was actually the first person to tell me about the FB posts while we were talking on the phone, and I had to see it for myself to believe it was actually true. (I pretty much only go on FB to see our parents' vacation pictures and stuff.)

 

So what are our next steps? Beth has talked to our parents about it, and while they were initially like, no big deal, they are now understanding why it bothers her, but I don't think they understand the full gravity of Ann cutting off all communication with us. 

 

So. Okay. I know this is a pretty long story. But any advice would be welcome. Thanks in advance just for reading and being emotionally supportive. This website has meant a great deal to me, and I'm so grateful that you all make it what it is. 

 

Family issues are tricky and tough to navigate. I'd love to hear how you navigate issues like this and any advice you have for this particular situation. 

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One more thing I should also add about Beth: She is the glue of our family. When I became an atheist and moved to NYC, I was ready, willing, and able to just cut my entire family off and be like, "That's that." But Beth kept being the communication between me and our super Christian parents. She said, "You have family for a reason. You might not agree on things, but they love you and you love them, and they're you're family. Don't you dare cut them off. They WERE good to us. They did the best with what they had and what they knew, and I will not let you walk off into the sunset." 

 

It's because of Beth I have a good, healthy relationship with my family members. She is THAT awesome. She is the one who is the intercessor between all of us. Seeing her at her wits end is the thing that gets to me. She's tried so hard to make sure we all communicate, stay in touch, get along, and to see her struggling just... hurts. She doesn't deserve to be cut off. After all, she's in her last year of divinity school, and why on earth would even a super conservative cut her off??? yes, Ann doesn't think a woman should be a minister (that's only for men. ugh.)  But surely someone who feels that God is the center of her life shouldn't be cut off from communication, right? 

 

I mean... I told Beth, Look, if you want to get in a car, come pick me up, I'll knock on her door with you and we'll force her to talk in person. I don't need to do that, but I would 100% go along with you for support. (We live in 3 different states, hours apart.) But I want to help her, because she's helped me. 

 

I wouldn't have a relationship with my family if not for her. I initially felt resentful trying to stay in touch with anyone who thinks I'm going to hell when I die. She helped me keep those feelings in perspective, and I'm grateful now that my anger is so completely gone. My parents truly believed they were doing the best for me. They didn't know the trauma they caused me with their beliefs. It's okay. But back when I was super emotional during my de-conversion, I could have lost them all. Beth made sure I didn't. That was over a decade ago. I'd like to make sure I'm there for her during this. 

 

Anyway. I'll shut up now. Advice welcome. 

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Are your parents aware that the executor/trustee of their estate has cut off communication with you? You might want to mention to your parents that if it is their wish to include or exclude you as an heir that of course is up to them but you would like to know which it is since your sister no longer communicates with you. And at the very least if their will is on file at an attorney's office, who is that attorney. The main thing is to let your parents know that their final wishes might be ignored by their appointed executor. Suggest to them a 3rd party like an attorney to handle their estate so things are fair.

 

Your parents might tell you to pound sand but at least they will know that their trustee might be getting an attack of the greedys. :-)

 

Also, talk to a lawyer. You may have some rights you don't know about regarding viewing their will or other related stuff.

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Check the probate laws of the state your parents live in.  I know here in Florida you can file something called a Caveat. This is a document noticing the court that you are asking for copies of any documents filed in the future pertaining to an estate.  The court keeps it on record so that if something is filed in that court, you will see a copy of it.It doesn't matter if the executor is communicating with you or not. If you do find out something has been filed after your parents are deceased, you should consult with an attorney.

 

Believe me, its tough for an executor to get by with mismanagement of an estate if you have an attorney reviewing the documents.

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I'd definitely look into getting a lawyer. 

 

It's weird that Ann has suddenly cut you off out of the blue and what the hell HAS she been telling her kids about the man that nearly killed your sister? Was Ann close to this man when they were related through marriage? Something seems awfully sketch about it. 

 

Talking to your parents might be a good idea, too. Have any of the three of you brought up to your parents that you're concerned that you haven't heard from Ann and she hasn't been responding to any of your phone calls? It sounds like your relationship might have gotten rocky at some point but it sounds like Beth has maintained a good relationship and Carey, being the baby, is probably at least one of your parents' favorite. I would bring it up with your parents and just express that concern that Ann is suddenly cutting the three of you out of her life with no explanation at all.  I highly doubt she ever wanted y'all to see that facebook post or expected her daughter to even post it and now she realizes she has a lot of explaining to do.  Even most extreme fundie Christians get that domestic abuse to the point someone is almost killed is not acceptable. This daughter shouldn't even really be aware who this man is, she hadn't even been born yet when her aunt got divorced from him.  I can see why Beth would be worked up over this. This guy that nearly killed her has access to her nieces and family and through that, still has access to her. Unfortunately, you can't control who family members see, but that's awfully insensitive of Ann. I'd be trying to not to KILL someone that tried to kill one of my sisters and I sure wouldn't have my kids knowing who he is. 

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Thanks for the good advice. 

 

I want to save the lawyer thing as a last resort (again, my parents are in their mid-60s, so not that old and in good health) so I'd like to see if there's a way to resolve it without further alienating Ann. 

 

Kolaida, I think you're right that Ann knows she has some explaining to do, and she's just trying to avoid that. But Ann can't be oblivious to the fact that Beth's husband got abusive and scary at the end. 

 

But yes, the abusive ex was friends with Ann and her husband--they all got married the same summer, and he was our brother-in-law for 9 years. But Ann and her husband were living in another state when things got really bad for Beth, and even though they heard about it, I think it doesn't sink in the same way. They might even doubt it was really that bad. They are super fundamentalist Christians who seem to think prayer can fix anything and divorce is always a sin. (The rest of us were super relieved when she got divorced, even our parents.) Maybe they even think they're being a good witness to him or something. 

 

But that's the thing--Beth got divorced before any of Ann's kids were born, so this guy isn't even their uncle. It's just so weird. Besides, Ann's kids are old enough to understand what a divorce is and mature enough to hear the whole story. The oldest is a teenager in high school (she's the one who posted the link) and I can't believe Ann hasn't told her anything about what he did to Beth... or why she even told her about him at all. The rest of us have had zero contact with him. I had no idea Ann's family was still in FB contact--or ANY contact--with him. 

 

Beth is thinking she wants to visit our parents and just explain everything to them and see if they can talk some sense into Ann. Beth already told them about the FB post, but although they agreed it was weird, they didn't seem to think it was a huge deal. But now that Ann isn't talking to any of us, that might get their attention. Maybe. I don't know.

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Your parents' wills are "ambulatory", which means they can change or modify them (as long as they are legally competent to do so) until they die.

 

The executor of a will must act within strict fiduciary standards.

 

A person who convinces another to change their will could be found to have used undue influence.  If the person who changed their will is elderly, that undue influence can escalate into "elder abuse" (in many states).

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I am a retired lawyer. Get a lawyer! No body can properly advise you in this forum because even if we had the expertise, we don't have the documents, We don't really know if we are dealing with a will or a trust or some other animal. There are all kinds of different legal instruments that could be involved other than just a will. 

 

A will has no effect until the death of the testator (the one whole will it is). But other documents, such as a trust, may go into effect before death.  If your sister were a trustee of such a trust, she already might have powers over your parents property or some of it. So you need a lawyer now, not later.  You three sisters can divide the fees, unless there is a conflict of interest. 

The attorney will tell you that.

 

I can't tell you how many times I've seen people wait too long to get an attorney to save a few bucks, only to have to pay much more to deal with a problem that could have been easily solved earlier.   Good luck.    bill

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My concern is the girl or young woman who is in contact with this crazy uncle. According to your post, it sounds like he's a man with the ability to kill. Your niece needs to know that. In my opinion, if her mother won't tell her, one of her aunts must. It may well destroy any remaining family relationships but what are relationships if a kid gets killed by a crazy uncle?

 

Lawyers can deal with inheritance issues but they cannot resurrect dead nieces.

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Thanks again to all who are giving advice. My parents have a will, they've showed it to all of us, and it's pretty clear. Basically, if one parent dies before the other, the other inherits. Once they both pass, the will says equal money and possessions go to each of their children. I know how medical bills and nursing home costs can rack up, and I'm honestly not expecting or hoping for an inheritance. I couldn't care less about that. My husband and I are doing great and we don't need it. 

 

Mostly I want advice on how to talk sensitively with Ann. I want to see if there's a way to get her to communicate with us again. Do we go there in person and tell her we love her and want to have contact? Do we talk to our parents and let them make our case? 

 

I don't care about the money. I don't even care about the sentimental stuff they own. I really don't. I care about Ann and her bubble she's raising her kids in, and her slowly but surely cutting us off. I want to find a sensitive way of getting in touch with her and talking to her. A sort of intervention. 

 

Once again, I don't care about the stuff. Beth brought it up as a sort of, you know our parents are super in contact with Ann and trust her, and yet we aren't apparently on speaking terms any more. What should we do to get her attention? So that's my question really. What do we do to get her attention?

 

Look, I admit that mostly I only talk to her on the phone about 3 or 4 times a year, stayed in touch by FB, and see her on holidays at my parents' house. Not close, but not cut off either. But it's always us reaching out to her--she doesn't call or email us unless we call or email her and we catch her picking up the phone. That's the thing, she's slowly over the years communicated with us less and less, and now... 7 months of nothing for me. About 5 months of nothing with Beth. Probably about the same with Cary. So here we are. We need to tell our parents, but we also don't want to make a big issue of it and alienate her with accusations. We just want our sister back. She's married to a super conservative guy, and I suspect it's all him influencing her. But still. We WERE close growing up, and we never had any sort of falling out. She just communicates less and less, and now we're all realizing none of us have had strong contact with her. (I think we all thought it was just us, but now we know she isn't talking to any of us.) So how do we press the point to her and tell her we're concerned? Do we go there in person and knock on her door? Keep sending emails? Call and leave more urgent messages? I just don't know about the next step we should take. 

 

I love Ann, and I feel for her. She wasn't like this before she married this super conservative guy who seems to want to shield the family from any corrupting influences. He works for a very conservative lobby group ever since he got out of college, and he was home schooled and they send their kids to a tiny church school. Very sheltered environment. His sheltering wasn't focused on us before, but I think he's getting more protective of his family now that their kids are getting older. Honestly, I feel like my sister Ann is in a cult, because that's how sheltered and paranoid she's acting. How can I reach her? 

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I really don't know. If you don't think your niece is in physical danger, perhaps all you need to do is send your sister the occasional email for birthdays and holidays such as Christmas to let her know you are there for her and love her. If she's married to such a super conservative guy and if he is isolating her, the day may come that she really needs to reach out to family. It may be years down the road but in the mean time if you keep the lines open she may feel better able to reach out to family for help when she needs it. If you force yourself on her, and she's not ready, things may backfire.

 

I take it your family gets together occasionally throughout the year. Attend those gatherings but don't force closer communication with her than she feels comfortable with. Like in many families, something seems to have changed between you since you were little. Be gentle about it and let her decide when and how to get back in touch. You've let her know you want a relationship and she has made it quite clear that she will not return the gesture for whatever reason. If you have reason to think she is in real danger, by all means go knock on her door, get the police to break in if necessary. Otherwise, you will probably do all of you a favour to back off and let her decide when to come back, if ever.

 

I don't quite understand why you don't warn your niece, given that you think she is in contact with a killer. That is a civil and moral responsibility. Frankly, the fact that you are more concerned about getting your sister to return your calls than you are to protect your niece makes you look self-centred. Maybe I'm missing something really important.

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Sounds to me, you need to round up your other 2 sisters and make a road trip to Ann's house, and make it clear you are not leaving until she answers the door and talks to you. Also, I agree with above poster, you NEED to warn your niece! If you think there is a potential threat, it's your MORAL RESPONSIBILITY!

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Get a lawyer. Today would be good.

 

Good luck.

 

This do it  now don't wait call in the next hour.

 

You WILL NEED A LAWYER before this is over. If your parents live make sure you talk to them about their will this week.

 

Just because you have blood with someone does not NOT NOT make them your "family". I know believe me. I was there I suffered for it not accepting this at the time and have since found ways to exist with them as myself without having to conform to frankly the ignorance and stupidity about how others should live.

 

If she uses her beliefs to hold all of you hostage tell her that if she ever talks to you again. Or don't and just count on making your way as you see fit. You don't need her and I would suggest you spend more time talking with your other sisters about this and show them they don't either. You also don't need your parents money no matter what you need to do what is right not profitable but if she is using it as leverage you need to fuck her over frankly for your good and fuck her good. She is already taking that stance with all of you by the way.

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I am a retired lawyer. Get a lawyer! No body can properly advise you in this forum because even if we had the expertise, we don't have the documents, We don't really know if we are dealing with a will or a trust or some other animal. There are all kinds of different legal instruments that could be involved other than just a will. 

 

A will has no effect until the death of the testator (the one whole will it is). But other documents, such as a trust, may go into effect before death.  If your sister were a trustee of such a trust, she already might have powers over your parents property or some of it. So you need a lawyer now, not later.  You three sisters can divide the fees, unless there is a conflict of interest. 

The attorney will tell you that.

 

I can't tell you how many times I've seen people wait too long to get an attorney to save a few bucks, only to have to pay much more to deal with a problem that could have been easily solved earlier.   Good luck.    bill

 

seriously do this don't wait you have at least three people giving you good advice here I promise in the end you will be glad if you do get one now and explain all this in detail to him/her.

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RaLeah: I don't want to belabor the point, because it is your decision after all. But you need to know that just because your parents have wills does not mean they don't have a trust. A will ,at least in Florida, is usually prepared along with an inter vivos trust. So it is not a question of either or. OK I'll shut up now.   bill

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Thanks, all. I will get some more information from my parents and then get some proper legal advice. 

 

Ann's family doesn't live anywhere near Beth's ex. I don't think my niece has ever met him in person. (I'm not sure how I'm supposed to "warn" my niece if my sister won't return calls and let me talk to her.)

 

Beth's ex got scary and threatening at the end of their relationship, but he isn't an actual murderer and he has no reason to drive 10 hours to get to my niece and physically threaten her, so really, that isn't the issue. I don't see any reason why Ann would have told her about this man at all. Now that she has, Ann is going to have to give her the whole story or I'm afraid we'll have this rift in our family for a long time. 

 

I think for right now I'm going to leave this to Beth--she's going to be visiting my parents soon and she'll talk to them about it and see if they can intervene with Ann. I'll report back how it goes when I find out. 

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Thanks, all. I will get some more information from my parents and then get some proper legal advice. 

 

Ann's family doesn't live anywhere near Beth's ex. I don't think my niece has ever met him in person. (I'm not sure how I'm supposed to "warn" my niece if my sister won't return calls and let me talk to her.)

 

Beth's ex got scary and threatening at the end of their relationship, but he isn't an actual murderer and he has no reason to drive 10 hours to get to my niece and physically threaten her, so really, that isn't the issue. I don't see any reason why Ann would have told her about this man at all. Now that she has, Ann is going to have to give her the whole story or I'm afraid we'll have this rift in our family for a long time. 

 

I think for right now I'm going to leave this to Beth--she's going to be visiting my parents soon and she'll talk to them about it and see if they can intervene with Ann. I'll report back how it goes when I find out. 

 

RaLeah, a worldly wise person knows that these days a ten hour drive does not prevent a young woman from meeting an "awesome" guy. Or the guy from getting to her.

 

You know where your niece lives. You can "friend" her on Facebook and send her a pm. You can contact her school. You claim to have a university degree. You're smart enough to figure out a way to warn her if you want to.

 

You insist you want advice but you reject everything, even the word of experts.

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Thanks, all. I will get some more information from my parents and then get some proper legal advice. 

 

Ann's family doesn't live anywhere near Beth's ex. I don't think my niece has ever met him in person. (I'm not sure how I'm supposed to "warn" my niece if my sister won't return calls and let me talk to her.)

 

Beth's ex got scary and threatening at the end of their relationship, but he isn't an actual murderer and he has no reason to drive 10 hours to get to my niece and physically threaten her, so really, that isn't the issue. I don't see any reason why Ann would have told her about this man at all. Now that she has, Ann is going to have to give her the whole story or I'm afraid we'll have this rift in our family for a long time. 

 

I think for right now I'm going to leave this to Beth--she's going to be visiting my parents soon and she'll talk to them about it and see if they can intervene with Ann. I'll report back how it goes when I find out. 

 

 

That's good Beth is visiting.  Even though I know Beth's ex is NOT a murderer, he only is not because he did not successfully kill your sister in a fit of rage (most crimes are ones of passion and not serial killer sensationalized like tv shows). My top concern is why would anybody want to be in contact with him, much less some of your own young family members initiating contact. And, as said, a 10 hour drive is really not that long if two people are determined to meet. Your niece is still young and probably VERY naive due to her upbringing and this guy has some serious issues. He MAY have gotten better but he can be better around OTHER people's families and leave the past in the past. HE was the one who lost control. 

 

Even though you stated that the probability of the inheritance might be low due to nursing home costs, if your parents took the time to write something out, then they are probably expecting to leave something. I would still look into legal matters.  I've seen a few co-workers get into fights with siblings or their siblings initiate fights with them or other siblings over matters that no one really thought of before their parents died. I've heard one woman simply state while she was appreciative of the thought, she wished her parents hadn't left them anything because it created such huge family drama and drove a wedge between them (five kids in this case).  And really it couldn't have been THAT much because she wasn't exactly well off.  A lot of it was just over stuff from the house. 

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I'm sorry, but what kind of advice were you expecting/hoping for? Don't do anything and hope for the best?

 

Good luck, and let us know how it's going. I hope everyone comes out of it alright.

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You don't have to contact Ann to get through to your niece since she is on FB. You don't even have to directly contact your niece. Post something on your account that you know she will see. "Hey, look what I found while cleaning out my file cabinet: a copy of the restraining order against Beth's ex! Wow, what a painful trip down memory lane." or "I just discovered public records online, and I found this old police report about Beth's ex and their incident. Crazy what the internet can do these days!" or "I was going through my own journals [you can make this part up] and re-read the time when I had to help protect Beth from her crazy ex. Wow, I need to throw this one away so I never have to be reminded of that dark period again." Catch my drift?

 

As for Ann, I agree with you that she is falling into a cult-like pit. You are right to want to intervene, because you are family outside of that box she's in. Chances are, her friends and acquaintances there are part of it and see no issue with it. I bet she is being spiritually and emotionally abused, but does not realize it. Hell... I happily submitted to spiritual abuse at the hands of my church, all in the name of God and church community. It's so hard to see when you're in it. If you google "is my church a cult" you will see that alienation from outside family members is a giant warning flag. Can you save her from it? Not until she is ready. All you can do is maybe plant a seed so she starts to notice what is happening to her, and give her a soft place to land if she ever snaps out of it.

 

I would have a real conversation with Beth about the cult stuff. Yes, someone needs to visit Ann and meet her in a neutral place, preferably not her house. Beth needs to know what to look for when she talks to her. Is Ann over-extended and exhausted with church stuff and family obligations? Is she obsessed with being the perfect wife with perfect kids? Is she questioning her own salvation, the poor miserable sinner that she is? Is she obsessed with sin and being good enough? Any signs of depression (and denial of it) from this?

 

If you are brave enough, I would point all of this out to your parents too, and plant a seed with them that maybe they need to use their phone time with Ann to dig for this evidence. They may think this is all normal, but if you point out that this is a large problem acknowledged by professionals, they may start to see the problem and try to help.

 

I would recommend having Beth and your parents do this individually at first. If you all do it together, she may feel ganged up on, and that can put up a wall even higher and thicker. Her husband may go crazy over it too, and then who knows how far he will go with the isolation and control.

 

As for her kids in their bubble... I think you will find by reading this site (and elsewhere online) that kids who grow up the most fundy often make the best atheists later. LOL! You may one day be the person they come to for help in getting out and healing their scars. You can be the cool and interesting aunt they keep in the back of their mind. As for preventing those scars... In the meantime, you need to keep open even a tiny means of communication with them. Let them see a "normal" person, free to enjoy the world. Don't be shy about posting pics on FB about trips you have taken or artwork you have created. More directly, encourage them in non-Christian activities, if they have any. If not, get together with your other sisters and offer to send them to a fun, secular summer camp, such as a science camp at a local university. Or pay for six months of weekly guitar lessons from someone in the music department of a local university. Or search for and pay for Saturday art classes at the local arts center. You can give these as Christmas, birthday, or back-to-school gifts (now is the time!). Don't even think about it as buying their love... you are offering them a furlough from the prison they are in. If they have contact with a local secular university or community college, they will be exposed to (gasp!) liberal thinking, even if it is just a tiny thing.

 

Those are my suggestions so far. I hope you find something that sparks your imagination. You're a good sister, a good aunt, and a good person. Best of luck to you, my dear!

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Florduh, I understand why you're asking what kind of advice I was even seeking. I was feeling pretty emotional when I posted, and I wasn't even sure what sort of advice I was seeking here. I think I just wanted some commiseration. I've had to sort through this and ask myself that. Alone. You're close in your guess: I'm not sure I SHOULD feel compelled to do anything. I'm still trying to sort out what to do. I FEEL upset, but this might not be MY fight. 

 

I recognize that this is a delicate situation. Mostly, Ann and I have drifted apart over the years as she's gotten more and more conservative in her beliefs and I've gotten more progressive and then de-converted entirely. Obviously, that means her kids are being indoctrinated in the most strict version of Christianity too. For a long time, it's been hard for me to have rational one-on-one conversations with Ann, because EVERYTHING she does revolves around church and god and the bible. My sister Beth is the glue who holds us all together--she's a liberal progressive Christian who can see things from all of our points of view, and she sort of translates for us and keeps us informed about what's going on in general with each other--she usually talks on the phone more frequently to all of us than we do with each other. If Ann is cutting off Beth, she's cutting us all off in a way. That might be okay with me. I think I'm more concerned about Beth and her feelings, because I'm closest to her (and I think she is to me.) 

 

I think I'm just trying to process it all and figure out what I even want to happen and whether or not the ball is in my court, or if this should be between Ann and Beth. Since I'm not that close with Ann anyway, and I suspect she doesn't really want to be close to me, then is it even my place to intervene this time for Beth? She's intervened for me, so I think I feel obligated to help in any way I can, but I'm thinking I've already told Ann by email I think having contact with Beth's ex is wrong (and why)... and maybe this isn't my fight. Plus, Beth is closer to her than I am. 

 

The background to this is, when I became an atheist, I was prepared to lose my whole family. Beth was the glue that kept me from doing that. I'm grateful now (my parents love me and enjoy having contact with me as I do with them) and I'm happy Beth didn't let me just write them all off when I was about 23 (I'm 38 now.) But my oldest sister has always been the most conservative of all of us. She says mean nasty hateful things about liberals, non-Christians, Democrats, the President, etc. to the point that I quit FB entirely because I couldn't read her rants and snarky sarcastic FB comments anymore, but just cutting her off looked too suspicious, so I just cut the whole thing. (I was only on FB anyway to see family vacation pix, not really any other purpose. I just told my family I didn't want strangers' friend requests and I couldn't keep up w/ it, so I quit it.)

 

So... I feel for Ann's kids, but she moved away from home to go to college when I was in middle school, and that was 25 years ago. We weren't even super close growing up (I shared a bedroom with Beth, not Ann--Ann and Cary shared a bedroom) so we didn't really talk a lot or play together as kids. Beth insists we're family and that should mean something and Ann and I should try harder to stay close. I'm not so sure. I don't know if I SHOULD interfere with anything. Sure, I don't like how Ann is raising her kids in the Christian bubble, but we (her kids and I) have never lived in the same state, and I don't have a lot of influence w/ them regardless. (Her kids do love me--every time we get together for holidays, they run and hug me and play with me and adore me, and I adore them.) But I'm not their parents. I care about what they're being told and that they aren't getting the whole truth about the world and stuff... but is it my place to in any way undermine whatever their parents want to tell them?

 

Wow. This is turning into a bigger question, but context is everything. I DO try to keep a connection with Ann's kids, but she made me promise a long time ago that I wouldn't contradict her authority and the belief system she wanted them to have--or else she'd cut off contact. I was appalled, and I said of course I wouldn't do that. (Okay, I was in my 20s when I said that and I mean it, but I still don't think I should do that until / unless they are adults and ask me. It doesn't seem my place to undermine her authority. After all, she and her husband are the ones feeding, clothing, sheltering, educating them, and I'm not paying for that.)

 

But I guess I'm thinking... at what point do you say, sure, we were born to the same parents, and we're family. But we're nothing alike, you're close minded and can be outright cruel and thoughtless to anyone who is different than you, you shut me out whenever you disagree with me, and I can keep trying to reach out and be loving to you and your family... but at what point do I say, Okay. I'll send you an email or leave a voice mail on your birthday and send your kids cards and stuff. But if you don't wanna talk, you don't wanna talk. And I'll accept that. 

 

Do you ever just... give up? She isn't a sociopath, she's just deeply brainwashed and she doesn't want to change. She apparently wants to cut us off. Probably to protect her kids from different ideas she doesn't want them exposed to. Beth wants to keep trying to reach out to Ann, to force her to talk, and I'm thinking... should we? Why? Beth says, "I need her to say it. I think she at least owes me the truth, and I want her to say it. So at least I can argue and challenge her." I don't know if I agree.

 

What do you guys do with family members who aren't evil but are super different from you? Do you try to have a relationship? Hypothetically (or not) if your parents disowned you for believing differently, would you keep trying with them to try to get them to accept you and love you regardless? Or is there ever a point where you say, okay. I get it, and I'll drop it?

 

If not for Beth and my parents I probably wouldn't even try to keep having a relationship with Ann. She's made it clear she has higher priorities than keeping contact with me. Yes, I care about her kids, but we've never lived in the same state, and they're turning into mini versions of her and her husband--saying ignorant and accidentally cruel things about others all the time on FB (again, a reason I had to quit FB--it just hurt to much to read that stuff) and why should I feel more concern about reaching out to them than to people in my own state, my own community....

 

I guess.... what are family ties all about when you're an adult in your 30s or 40s or 50s... is there an obligation to keep reaching out only to be slapped down and hurt, or do we just finally say, okay, I'll leave you in peace to keep doing what you want to do even if it's harmful? Because it's YOUR nuclear family, not mine? And why keep reaching out only to get slapped down?

 

Alright. I read over this and I'm seeing that I sound all hurt and needy and ranty. Again, this is my first forum topic, and I guess I'm just trying to process this. I've been an atheist, totally at peace with my beliefs, for about 15 years. But relating to family members who are still in the cult is tough, as I suspect it must be for at least a few other ex-Christians. I guess I was hoping for some stories of how other people here relate to their family members who are still in deep and have zero desire to change or any chance you can see of getting out. How much do you press the point to stay in close touch with those family members who'd probably prefer to disown you? Do you let it go? Do you try first? Do you finally just let go? 

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You don't have to contact Ann to get through to your niece since she is on FB. You don't even have to directly contact your niece. Post something on your account that you know she will see. "Hey, look what I found while cleaning out my file cabinet: a copy of the restraining order against Beth's ex! Wow, what a painful trip down memory lane." or "I just discovered public records online, and I found this old police report about Beth's ex and their incident. Crazy what the internet can do these days!" or "I was going through my own journals [you can make this part up] and re-read the time when I had to help protect Beth from her crazy ex. Wow, I need to throw this one away so I never have to be reminded of that dark period again." Catch my drift?

 

As for Ann, I agree with you that she is falling into a cult-like pit. You are right to want to intervene, because you are family outside of that box she's in. Chances are, her friends and acquaintances there are part of it and see no issue with it. I bet she is being spiritually and emotionally abused, but does not realize it. Hell... I happily submitted to spiritual abuse at the hands of my church, all in the name of God and church community. It's so hard to see when you're in it. If you google "is my church a cult" you will see that alienation from outside family members is a giant warning flag. Can you save her from it? Not until she is ready. All you can do is maybe plant a seed so she starts to notice what is happening to her, and give her a soft place to land if she ever snaps out of it.

 

I would have a real conversation with Beth about the cult stuff. Yes, someone needs to visit Ann and meet her in a neutral place, preferably not her house. Beth needs to know what to look for when she talks to her. Is Ann over-extended and exhausted with church stuff and family obligations? Is she obsessed with being the perfect wife with perfect kids? Is she questioning her own salvation, the poor miserable sinner that she is? Is she obsessed with sin and being good enough? Any signs of depression (and denial of it) from this?

 

If you are brave enough, I would point all of this out to your parents too, and plant a seed with them that maybe they need to use their phone time with Ann to dig for this evidence. They may think this is all normal, but if you point out that this is a large problem acknowledged by professionals, they may start to see the problem and try to help.

 

I would recommend having Beth and your parents do this individually at first. If you all do it together, she may feel ganged up on, and that can put up a wall even higher and thicker. Her husband may go crazy over it too, and then who knows how far he will go with the isolation and control.

 

As for her kids in their bubble... I think you will find by reading this site (and elsewhere online) that kids who grow up the most fundy often make the best atheists later. LOL! You may one day be the person they come to for help in getting out and healing their scars. You can be the cool and interesting aunt they keep in the back of their mind. As for preventing those scars... In the meantime, you need to keep open even a tiny means of communication with them. Let them see a "normal" person, free to enjoy the world. Don't be shy about posting pics on FB about trips you have taken or artwork you have created. More directly, encourage them in non-Christian activities, if they have any. If not, get together with your other sisters and offer to send them to a fun, secular summer camp, such as a science camp at a local university. Or pay for six months of weekly guitar lessons from someone in the music department of a local university. Or search for and pay for Saturday art classes at the local arts center. You can give these as Christmas, birthday, or back-to-school gifts (now is the time!). Don't even think about it as buying their love... you are offering them a furlough from the prison they are in. If they have contact with a local secular university or community college, they will be exposed to (gasp!) liberal thinking, even if it is just a tiny thing.

 

Those are my suggestions so far. I hope you find something that sparks your imagination. You're a good sister, a good aunt, and a good person. Best of luck to you, my dear!

Thank you. I do feel I'm playing the long game with Ann's kids. And maybe with Ann. Yes, I think she's trapped in the "perfect wife, mom, church member" cult that is her ultra-conservative church, but you're right that I can't help her until / unless she's ready to want to get out. 

 

I also can't post on FB (besides, I quit my account) about Beth's life. That's not for me to do. It would hurt Beth, and it would infuriate Ann. And possibly Beth. That's why I think... maybe this is THEIR battle, not mine. 

 

By the way, Beth never filed a police report. That was the last time she was ever alone with him (that time he had his hands around her throat) to pack up her belongings (we were with her the last two times) and she was still in the Christian mind-set back then. It was to her a personal, private dispute (which is also why I'm using code names for my sisters) and she never reported it. She came out to my parents' house (I was there that weekend because I stayed with my parents over the weekend during that year of college) and she was shaking and scared and I heard the story right after it happened. Ann wasn't there--she already lived in another state. So I think she just may not understand how bad and scary it got at the end. Even Beth sort of underplayed it later, because she isn't a drama queen and didn't want to focus on that or feel like a victim. But she totally talked him down from strangling her. (They'd been discussing how to divide up their belongings when he totally lost it and threatened her not to go after his pension. She didn't. And he later taunted her on the phone that he hid a bunch of money from her--she was like, "I don't care. Enjoy it. I never cared about money. I just wanted to be free. So have it, spend it, I'm not going to sue you, I don't care. I'm just happy I never have to talk to you again." And she didn't.)

 

But Ann wasn't there when that happened. She heard about it, but she didn't SEE it. She didn't see my strong beautiful sister Beth scared and shaking and utterly demolished that night. Beth is the strongest of all of us. That's how she's always come across. So I think by the time Ann talked to her, she figured Beth was in control of the situation, and her ex was just trying to use some sort of overly strong tactic of intimidation that worked (and it did) to keep Beth from getting her 50 / 50 share in the divorce. (She worked full time to put him through grad school, then Beth was 2/3 through grad school when they split up.) 

 

I do get what you're saying about keeping contact (however slight) with Ann's kids, and who knows? If they ever reach out to me, I'm there for them 100%. I'll try to do that. 

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Believe me, I've started some threads where I've felt hurt and needy.  I know it's good just to get stuff out of you mind and other peoples' opinions.  I like putting stuff here because sometimes IRL I STILL get the "Have faith" or "Just trust God" blah blah etc. And I want to be, "NO. That has NEVER worked." lol   You don't have to worry about that response here. 

 

 

It sounds like Beth is more interested in talking to Ann than you are and can probably relate better. It sounds like you and Ann haven't had much contact in awhile and she is super wary of you because of your beliefs.  Frankly, anyone should be able to believe anything. The fact that people are so scared one person might totally cause their kids to believe something other than what they're brainwashing them with is pretty telling.  If the situation is making you that uncomfortable, I'd leave it alone. It was Carey who saw the comment on facebook and brought it up, right? Beth is aware of it. Ann has been told how dangerous the man is. If Ann also has access to facebook, she can probably see who her kids are commenting and friending (and with how controlling of them she sounds, she probably knows exactly who they are commenting to).  You had nothing to do with the situation and have just been drawn in by your other sisters.  Be supportive of your sisters, especially Beth and Carey since they seem more willing to communicate with you.  It's unfortunate your niece is in contact with the man and hopefully nothing bad will happen from this, but Ann has been made aware of the situation. Whether she has let her kids know is debatable or how much she played it down and that is unfortunate. 

 

On another note, you can't change how someone chooses to live their lives. You lives states away and have completely different lives. Some siblings are close no matter where they live and some aren't. It's just how life happens. Do what's comfortable for you.  See them on the holidays if and when you all get together at your parents or someone else's house, mutual ground.  Send birthday cards if you wish. Ann will probably not change any time soon and there is nothing that can be done about it unless she decides to change. 

 

Also, on facebook, you can filter your friends' feed so you don't have to read their stuff. But they can still read yours. It can be kind of dangerous ground depending on who all is there. 

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How much do you press the point to stay in close touch with those family members who'd probably prefer to disown you?

 

I've found that you can't control how others feel about anything, especially irrational topics like religion. If there is someone who needs to be protected, do all you can. If someone wants to shun you, there is nothing you can do to change that other than become whom they want you to be.

 

Again, good luck.

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