Growing up in a Rule Following, Fundamentalist, Exact World
Perry’s roots began in a conservative church in Lincoln, Nebraska where his dad became the pastor of a church led by a man named Mr G when he was 10 years old. His dad’s pastoral work was perfectly aligned with the long lineage of church work within his family. From his:
- Grandfather: Baptist Minister
- Uncle: Missionary and worked for Trans World Radio
- Uncle: Worked for Christian Radio
- Brother in Law: Ran Children’s Relief International
- And the list goes on…
Only two years after joining Mr G’s church a medical crisis struck the family creating a year and a half wreckage between the family and the church. Perry’s mom, Betty went Bipolar.
This disease led to constant fighting at home. While the churches questioning of his mother’s rebellion and anger put Perry’s dad, Bob into a contradicting battle of trying to be a pastor while having control over his home.
Finally his dad took his mom to see a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with bipolar and mild schizophrenia then prescribing her an antipsychotic drug. Luckily once his mom went on the drug she was more level headed and immediately started acting differently.
Unfortunately the Board of Elders at the church were not in alignment with psychiatry work. In Mr G’s Church Psychiatry was viewed as a secular religion and would not be tolerated…
Upon learning that Bob had taken Betty to a Psychiatrist the Board of Elders came to the Marshall house and explained that because Perry’s mom was out of control and she had gone to a psychiatrist, Bob would need to step down from his pastoral role into an administrative position. All the while, when Perry’s sister brought up the unthinkable things that Mr. G’s daughter was doing at nighttime, He responded…”Robin we are here to talk about your family tonight and not mine”. As if that was not bad enough Mr. G announced to the entire congregation that due to family problems Bob would be stepping down from his role as pastor.
While Bob had to step down, Betty’s condition got much better and it was obvious that the issues were a medical problem and not some spiritual rebellion.
Following this event Perry’s relatives were very vocal that they had gotten screwed and needed to get out of the church. Yet Bob believed that he needed to vindicate himself. It was extremely uncommon to challenge Mr. G but Perry’s dad did. He told Mr. G that he made a wrong judgement. That this was a medical issue and that Mr. G owed his wife, family and himself an apology. Mr. G relented and Bob got his job back. However even though Mr. G wrote a letter of apology to his mother she was still terrified of this man the rest of her life.
Havoc strikes again…
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A month after his reinstatement Perry’s dad was diagnosed with cancer. He had his kidney removed and the Cancer was gone and then BOOM it came back a year and a half later. This time the church was extremely supportive of science and His dad’s cancer treatments.
- People stepped up and paid for plane tickets
- Bought food
- Helped with childcare
And… 3 months before his father’s death when it became clear the treatments were not working the church who knew it was a dream of Bob’s to visit California held a fundraiser and raised $10k for Perry’s family. His family celebrated for 5 weeks hitting every state between NE and CA, also visiting Hawaii and Alaska.
Post his father’s death a successful entrepreneur in the church would call his mother every month to ask how much short she was for the month and he would write her a check for what Perry believes was about $800 a month. This happened for a couple of years.
Not long after his father’s death it was war on the counseling department with Mr G. He believed that psychology was a secular religion. Mr. G fired the head of counseling and the entire church split. At 19 years old Perry went to Mr. G. He made the connection that Mr. G’s church had a radio and TV ministry but St. Paul Church did not. However Mr. G said that since St. Paul Church doesn’t have Psychology that they will not either. When Perry questioned this contradiction, Mr. G’s response was, “I am the boss and I don’t like Psychology”.
Drawing 19 Year Old Conclusions…
At 19 Perry went home and realized that Mr. G was trying to be a biblical purist while Verge, the counselor, wanted to filter psychology through the bible and Christian beliefs. Perry knew if he only worked within the framework of the Bible he would never question his own assumptions. Mr. G’s church was a very exacting and abusive church but if you were in good graces then everyone took care of you. However, as Perry thought about it he knew that something was not right with this exactest world. He could see that the whole belief system was very brittle. If you started messing with one assumption the whole thing fell apart and couldn’t work.
The Contradiction Between Science and Time
Around the age of 14, John Whitcomb a Young Earth Creationist came to Perry’s church every night for a week to speak advocating a flood geology (an attempt to reconcile geological features of the earth in accordance to a literal belief of the flood in Genesis 6-8). Coming from a background where it took 5 years to get through the book of Romans, Perry thought it was better than the norm and bought into this belief system. It worked since Perry was a science geek all his life and John Whitcomb brought a new perspective that incorporated science. He just wasn’t sure how it all fit together.
Later life threw contradiction…
During Perry’s early working years he was challenged by a co-worker who said…”you are not one of those people who is going to tell me the earth is 6,000 years old are you, because I will not accept that”. In that moment Perry realized he was not equipped to answer his co-workers question. That question led him to the sciences…As an electrical engineer Perry knew how intrinsically bound up the speed of light is with all of physics. It’s a constant.
E = MC^2 (Energy = Matter x (the Speed of Light)^2)
It is a statement about the relationship between matter and energy…It tells you how much energy is for how much matter and you combine that with conservation of matter and energy. It also speaks to a fixed amount of energy in the universe. There are all sorts of physics and engineering problems where you take those two things and figure stuff out. You figure how much energy came out of a chemical reaction and the thing is, it’s all right. It is all true. Physics itself fits beautifully like a clock with gears that all work perfectly. So Perry knew because of the precision of the Laws of Physics and from measuring the speed of light in a lab in college that even things like a USB cable are measured based on the speed of light. With all these things he knew that the earth must be old. If one said that the earth was made to look old but it was not actually old that would lead to the fact that astrology is an illusion.
Later on Perry encountered a man named Hugh Ross, an Old Earth Creationist, Astronomer, and Astrophysicist who made perfect sense of all this stuff. Hugh explained the Big Bang Theory and this amazing fine tuning of the universe.
He learned that if the expansion rate of the Big Bang Theory had been less or more to the 120th decimal place you wouldn’t even have stars because they would have never formed. They would have sprayed out like a missle and never formed matter. Or it would have all collapsed on itself.
Through Perry’s continued learning and experiences he also discovered cosmology and astrology and it didn’t take him long to realize the earth was old! The earth’s age is a period of time and not 24 hours. Perry concluded that the proposition that the earth was young had no support as far as he was concerned.
Running Towards Ambiguity
Prior to Perry’s discovery that the earth was old he had a beloved professor in college who taught English Literature named Dr. Knoll. He made a correlation Perry’s Junior year that strengthened the transition he would make later on in life from Young Earth Creationist to his new beliefs. Dr. Knoll explained how progression is going from exact answers to dealing with ambiguity. He explained how a lot of kids will start out with science and math and then the older they get the more comfortable they become with ambiguity. As you grow up you move from an exact answer world to an ambiguous world. He said…
…”If you want to spend the rest of your life searching for exact answers you can go to Mr. G’s church.”
This statement shook Perry to the core and he spent the entire afternoon walking around in a daze. Finally realizing that he didn’t go to that church anymore and that he had realized that the exact answers had become so excruciating that they were driving people out. At 19, he had realized that Mr. G’s church was turning into a tyranny and the people were unable to question anything. What Perry realized is that if you take any field and filter it through the bible…every time you will learn more about the bible and more about that other field; psychology, science, etc..each shed immense light on each other. It’s like if you have never been out of America you don’t know what it’s like to be an American.
Perry believes the bible is a huge story of ambiguity. Stories of situations where there is almost no perfect way to handle things. Dr. Knoll was telling him that he was growing up and he was headed in the right direction….Dr. Knoll was the confirmation that allowed Perry to really start processing what had happened at Mr. G’s church after he moved to Chicago at the age of 23 and started attending Willow Creek Church. Willow Creek was such an extreme difference from Mr. G that it was like a sex change operation.
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