Born Again is the story of a child’s indoctrination into religion and her long struggle to get out. Raised in Central Pennsylvania, Markie Hancock traces her early years of Bible memory, morning and evening devotions, Sunday morning and evening church services, Wednesday night prayer meetings and personal devotion. Through journal entries, old photographs and home movies, Hancock revisits the comfort and security that religion provides: “I really believed I was going to heaven when I died, I really believed my family was going to heaven.”
As a born-again, Hancock’s high school years were strained. School dances and proms were prohibited as were any activities that involved unchaperoned activities between boys and girls. Being a Christian, after all, meant being apart from this world. College would be different. Hancock attended her mother’s alma mater, Wheaton College outside of Chicago, Illinois. Wheaton is a strict Christian college whose alumni include the Rev. Billy Graham. While excelling at Wheaton, she also felt cloistered and became aware of inexplicable feelings of dissatisfaction. Curiosities that went beyond the permitted realms of experience as a believer created a dissonance, a questioning.
Hancock’s first act of rebellion was to attend the “liberal” Princeton Theological Seminary. While less restrained at Princeton than at Wheaton, the desire to know the world beyond the limits of the “Christian life” only grew. Hancock left Princeton to study theology in Berlin. There, finally, she was free enough to experience and explore the world even if she knew she was “living in sin”. Berlin in the 1980s was a vibrant city filled with draft dodgers, students, artists and hippies. Torn between the guilt and the pleasure of truly living “in the world”, Hancock was also completely startled to realize that she was in love with a woman. Along with the normal rites of first love and eventual heartbreak, Hancock is torn apart knowing that God and her family would not approve and would consider her life immoral.
Upon returning to the States, Hancock must choose over and over between finding her own way, her own truth and the Christian “truth” of her parents. Every life choice she makes that is based on her own happiness, her own desire not only threatens to tear her apart, but makes the rift with her family that much greater. Over time, Hancock overcomes the guilt and self-denial of living her own life while working hard to maintain what is left of the relationship to her family. She is surprised to realize that the divide that now exists in her family is mirrored throughout the country. With the advent of the religious right, she is shocked to see that her childhood beliefs have now transformed the political landscape.
Born Again is a personal story of one person’s journey in and out of a fundamentalist faith that resonates more than ever in this country and today’s world. With fundamentalism on the rise, we all must ask “why do I believe what I believe and how do I maintain ties with those who believe differently”? Through this personal exploration, we see a divided family and a divided self who, despite the odds, emerges whole.