September 19, 2020

Mike Bell: How My Parents Broke the Mold

Jim and Ruth Bell - Engaged!

By Michael Bell

Quick, think of a stereotypical Evangelical. What attributes come to mind?

Here are some that you might have come up with.

  • Anti-Union
  • No Movies
  • Lack of concern for the environment
  • Driven by consumerism
  • Homogeneous
  • Complimentarian
  • King James Version only (for some)
  • Dispensational
  • Young Earthers
  • No Alcohol

I used the word stereotypical, because, for many Evangelicals this list is not true at all. It is certainly not true of my parents. I put the list above in the order that I did, because it reflects a sequence of events in my parents life through which I learned that as an Evangelical there were alternatives to these beliefs. This weekend we celebrated my parents’ fifty years of life together. As I have reflected upon my life with them, I have been amazed at how much I have learned from them, as they have broken through so many of the Evangelical stereotypes.

My great-grandfather on my father’s side of the family died when my grandfather was a young boy. As a result my grandfather and great-aunt had to work in a linen mill. My grandfather was twelve at the time, and his sister was eight. She was so small that she had to stand on a box in order to reach the work table. This family history certainly had an impact on my father, and many years later, when I was criticizing a particular union action, my Dad reminded me that, “If it wasn’t for unions, we would still have kids working in the factories.”

In order to escape that life my great-grandmother started to manage a movie theatre, for which she was condemned by the church. As the church did not offer any alternatives she persisted with her new position. It is not surprising then that my parents did not take the hard stand against movies that some evangelicals did.

Our family has had a sense of Adventure. My grandfather on my dad’s side of the family traveled the world with the Royal Navy. While born in Northern Ireland, he met his wife in Barbados, before they moved to South Africa, Zambia, England and finally Canada. On my mother’s side my grandfather trekked great distances across Africa on bicycle. After marrying my grandmother they lived for a number of years in a very remote corner of Zambia. While Evangelicals have never been known as being great stewards of the environment, my parents’ experiences in Africa helped to install a love for the great outdoors in me from a very early age. They had both lived in fairly wild areas of Africa, and appreciated the great areas of wilderness in Canada that was so close to our home. My first wilderness canoe trip was at age three, and I have so many good memories of time spent together canoeing, camping, swimming, hiking, or picnicking in some of Canada’s open spaces. Forty-five years later I still enjoy taking my kids up to the area, and passing the teaching on to them.

When I was eleven my parents moved from Canada back to Africa where we lived for a number of years. We didn’t have a lot of money, and never bought into consumerism that is so so prevalent in North America. My parents felt that giving their children different cultural experiences was more important that have nice things. While they might be considered conservatives in Canada, in Africa they were definitely considered liberal both politically and theologically. Their willingness to cross racial barriers created a basis for me to do so even more so as I entered adulthood.

Four years later we moved back to Canada, and my mother returned to the part-time job that she had held four years before. After a period of being assigned lousy shifts, and facing the prospects of even worse shifts, she decided to return to school, taking Business and Computers. After graduation, my parents broke the mold yet again when they moved to another community where my mother had been offered a good job. Again the tongues were wagging, as moving because of the “wife’s job” was unheard of in our church community. Decisions like that made it much easier for me to be egalitarian in my own marriage relationship.

Jim and Ruth Bell - 50th Anniversary

My grandfather on my mother’s side of the family finished his career as a Bible translator. He typed through the Bible seven times on a manual typewriter, while translating it into Chibemba, one of the main languages of Zambia. His favourite English version was the Revised Standard Version. As I was growing up my parents always had a variety of translations at home, and never bought into the King James only idea.

Our church however was not only very conservative with a strong emphasis on the King James Version, but it was also very dispensational, with what seemed to be an obsession with the idea of a pre-tribulation rapture. My parents did not hold these views and they took a lot of flack for having a contrary position. At another church it was a similar conflict, but this time over young earth creationism. I learned from them the value of independent thought, that scriptural interpretation wasn’t always black and white, and that I shouldn’t be afraid to challenge what I was taught.

When it came to some of the “vices” which were on the evangelical watch list, my parents were moderate conservatives. As mentioned above, we enjoyed a lot of different movies, and my parents had a very occasional glass of wine. I asked them why they drank so little, and remember my mom responding, “We have never really found any wine that we really like. We do like the taste of communion wine, but the Elders wouldn’t tell us what type it is!”

Having been involved with Internet Monk for several years, I have come to realize that my parents have experienced what this site calls a post-evangelical wilderness. They are evangelical at heart, but don’t fit the evangelical mold. Finding a church in which they feel at home has been difficult. I find it interesting, but not surprising, that they are currently worshiping in a church that is similar to my own, somewhere in the nether world between the evangelical and mainline traditions.

Mum and Dad, congratulations on reaching your 50th anniversary. I have learned so much from you from the nearly fifty years I have spent with you, and will continue to look to you for wisdom and guidance in the years to come.

Comments

  1. wow. amazing tribute…

    yeah…

    blessings…

  2. Michael Bell…

    That is a touching tribute to your parents. I’m sure you made your Mom and Dad happy knowing that they raised you the right way. Good post!!

  3. Mike, your parents sound wonderful! You were fortunate to be raised by such people.

  4. Beautiful, Michael–Not my experience in many ways, but similar in some.

    I am a fellow “wilderness walker” after growing up in the Southern Baptist world and spending many years on a SB staff. I came to IM about a year before Michael’s death, and am grateful to God, you, and the others who maintain the blog.

  5. textjunkie says

    Yay! For your parents. 🙂 May they have many more years together.

  6. Prodigal Daughter says

    Happy Anniversary to your parents! I enjoyed reading about their legacy to you and they are truly remarkable!

  7. As I write this, I’m in a house in the mountains along the NC/GA border with some extended family, celebrating my grandparents’ 60th anniversary. Congrats to your parents!

    I have to say, I think I missed out on a really hardcore evangelical experience growing up. My parents had none of the strictures regarding movies, alcohol, KJV, YEC, or dispensational eschatology. And even though they’re definitely very politically conservative, my dad reminds us of the time that coal miners (which was what his dad did) were paid in scrip. And I can’t even begin to remember how many times he’s said “I’m no environmentalist, but…” and then go on a tear about people cleaning up after themselves, or how ugly strip-mining is.

  8. Dan Crawford says

    Lovely tribute. Here’s to all those who have taught us to love life, it mystery and beauty, and not the strange teachings of men and women who strive mightily to make God in their own image and likeness.

  9. David Cornwell says

    Your parents are truly wonderful. May the world have more like them.

  10. Beautiful well written tribute to your parents. May they be blessed and have many many more anniversaries!

  11. You look like your Mom, Mike.

    What a handsome couple. May God continue to bless them.

    And may He continue to bless you.

  12. And Canadian, too! I almost never meet Canadians I don’t like.

    Belated Happy 1st to you. 4th on this side.

  13. “I almost never meet Canadians I don’t like.”

    Me too, Ted. Tom and I often identify more with maritime Canadians than we do with many Americans.

  14. Might I suggest that you read Third Culture Kids: Living Among Worlds by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken. Get the latest edition which speaks to cross-cultural kids. A third culture kid is someone who has lived outside his/her passport country during their developmental years. It is also a child of immigrants; children of cross-cultural marriages; adopted children of different race than the parents. I think you will find the book fascinating and I think it will help you understand your parents better and perhaps give you some personal insight. TCKs help us learn to live outside the box.

    Great tribute to your parents; you have been blessed.

  15. Bill Ferrell says

    Very nice post.

  16. Great post, great parents!

  17. MelissaTheRagamuffin says

    This could just as easily be a post about my beautiful mother who although she has always had an evangelical heart she just never would fit the mold.

  18. Linen mill…County Antrim or Down?

    My wife’s grandfather was a machinist for a mill in Edenderry.

    You’ve inherited a wonderful legacy through your parents.

    T

  19. Am I the only one who busted up laughing at, “We do like the taste of communion wine, but the Elders wouldn’t tell us what type it is!”

    I’m not sure if that was intended as a joke, but if it was…genius!

  20. One more Mike says

    Great post Mike. I always enjoy your writings and appreciate what you do here in the IMonk community.

    Congratulations to your parents, and I wish them much more happiness.

  21. Great stuff, Mike! Congratulations to your parents — God bless!