I’m on a roll on post ideas, thanks to long conversations with Jori during my visit with her. She gave me permission to tell a story of hers here, for the benefit of anyone else who has perhaps been in a similar position. She says, “Maybe it’ll keep someone from having a similar experience, or maybe a parent will think of it years later and react differently when a daughter comes to them with something like [this].”

Trigger warning: rape, victim blaming.

I think I was 17 when it happened.

I knew it would happen sometime, being a female. But I was surprised it hadn’t happened to me sooner. Before it happened, I had wondered what it would be like when it happened, what I would say, how I would react, who I would tell. If I would cry, if I would know how to respond.

When it happened, it felt surreal, like it was happening to someone else in a cliche movie scene. But it was real life and it was happening.

We were sitting in our favorite coffee shop in Midlothian, the golden morning sunlight painting the wood floor in patches and warming the leather chairs we sat in, both of us with our legs curled up and my shoes were on the floor.  It was the first time we’d seen each other in 6 months, after her family moved to South Carolina. She was holding her cup of coffee in both hands under her chin, her fingers pressing into the ceramic as she held onto it for safety. I was nibbling at my very favorite steaming-hot chocolate chip scone. She didn’t look at me when she started telling me the story.

“So, I met this guy online.”

I froze, transfixed, suspended from reality. It was it. I could feel it.

“We met up at a library while my mom was running errands.”

“He took me to his car. And he wanted to have sex. And I didn’t.”

“And he raped me.”

She was shaking. Her coffee cup was trembling. Her eyes were bright and tearless and wide open, and now she looked at me. “I haven’t told anyone else yet.”

I didn’t know what to say, whether to hug her or hold her hand or to act horrified or shocked. I sat very still. “Oh Jordan,” I said. And I think I picked up my coffee again and sipped it, trying to think.

In retrospect, I think we handled it well, the two of us. She was honest with herself about what happened. I asked her if she had been hurt, if she had taken a pregnancy test. If she was comfortable reporting. That she should go to a doctor to get checked out and I’d go with her if she needed it. Had she told her parents.

She didn’t cry. She was composed, articulate, but shaken and very, very sobered.

We talked for a long time. She made plans to tell her parents, to tell the police, to go to a doctor. I gave her a long, awkward hug, and we parted ways.

I came home quiet, dazed. I went to my mom and said that I needed to talk to her alone, now. I told her the story. She was stunned. “Do you think she’s telling the truth?”

“Well, she wasn’t crying, but I think she was just still in shock. I’m pretty sure she was telling the truth. Why would she lie about something like that?”

“Yeah, I suppose so.”

“Mom, you should call her mom and make sure they get her to a doctor and get checked to be sure she’s okay.” [my mom is an RN and frequently provided a reality check for our anti-doctor homeschooling friends]

“Yeah,” she said. “I’ll do that. Just let me know when she’s told them so I can.”

“She’s planning on telling them tonight, I think. So call them tomorrow morning, I guess.”

“Okay, I will.”

***

54% of rapes are never reported to the police.

97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.

And only 2-8% of rapes claims are “unfounded” (e.g. the authorities didn’t have enough evidence, decided the girl didn’t resist “enough” for it to be “legitimate,” or were patently false.)

***

[two weeks ago, in FL]

Another coffeeshop, catching up after too much time apart. Another pause, another sip, another heart-spill.

“There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you. Remember how when you came back from SC to visit, you told me that you’d been raped. And how after you told me, your parents took you to the police station and you signed a statement saying it was all a lie, and then your parents made you come over the next day to apologize to me and my parents for lying about it?”

She laughed. “Yeah, that was awful.”

“What really happened? I kind of assumed it was real but your parents didn’t want to believe it, but…? All I remember is that the next morning your mom called my mom and told her that you made it all up, and that you guys were coming over so you could apologize for lying to get attention.”

She sighed. “Yeah, and they made me come over and we all sat on your couches and it was so serious. Dad told me what to say – that it was all a lie to get attention and none of it was true, and I was sorry for being so proud and selfish.”

“Yeah, it felt really strange,” I said.

“You were really quiet that whole time,” she said. “I always wondered what you thought, since your parents kind of did all the talking for you.”

“It was really awkward. I didn’t know what to say. I think I still mostly believed you, but didn’t know what to think. They made you apologize to that other friend you told, too, didn’t they?”

“Yeah, we went over to her house after yours and did the same thing there. I wonder what she thought of it, too.”

***

As we rehashed what happened that night after she first told me about being raped, a whole new story emerged, one that should shock and horrify any compassionate human, but one that doesn’t surprise me at all, given the culture of the church we grew up in.

I haven’t named this church much before, but it was KingsWay Community Church in Midlothian, Virginia. But I think it’s worth telling you what church it was, and give you the context. This story is one of many like it and it needs to be told. We both attended KingsWay for approximately 10 years, and her dad had been a pastor there for a year or two before they moved to SC.

This story exists partly because of SGM church culture, a subset of that fundamental/evangelical church culture which unintentionally protects abusers and silences anyone who questions patriarchy or misogyny or abuse. SGM is currently facing a lawsuit alleging that the leaders protected abusers and looked the other way when children were molested.

Jori’s rape didn’t occur on the property of a SGM church or at an SGM church event. The rapist was not an SGM church member. But her parents’ response (being a former SGM pastor and his wife) to her story was a response that is very much in keeping with how SGM pastors have historically responded to congregants who were abused. And, for anyone wondering: lots of churches are leaving SGM over the lawsuit, but KingsWay hasn’t left and does not appear to have plans to disassociate itself with SGM.

Jori’s experience was somewhat amplified due to some quirks of her family unique culture. Her family, when we were close, tended to take things to a somewhat dramatic level to prove a point or just because they could. [This was often a really fun thing — they were the best for creative party games and building things and bringing hilarity to life. But it had a darker side, as Jori discovered.]

Her parents were, like mine, adherents to that school of Christian parenting thought where “first time obedience” is paramount to how godly children relate to their parents. This teaching is authoritarian and usually Calvinist, saying that children are born in rebellion to God and so the parents must “shepherd” and “train” them to be obedient and therefore godly and God-loving. Infants are often spanked for “rebellious” crying, children are punished for interrupting their parents even if the cause is an emergency, and if you tell your parent “just a minute” when they tell you to come, you’re in rebellion and need to be spanked/punished.

This mindset functionally trains children to have no ability to reject adult authority if they’re uncomfortable with something, to have no sense of personal space, privacy, or healthy boundaries, and saps any will in children to stand up for themselves. If they do say no to someone or something they’re uncomfortable with, their “training” has conditioned them to feel overwhelming guilt for being “rebellious” or “disrespectful.”

KingsWay taught these parenting techniques and carried parenting books on this method in its bookstore, promoted them for care group studies, parenting classes, and gifts at baby dedications. Jori’s parents adhered to it all back then, given their time in the SGM Pastor’s College and on the KingsWay leadership team.

Jori later realized that the parenting methods her parents used essentially conditioned her to be both a victim of non-consensual sex (you can’t actively resist an authority figure who wants you to please them and pressures you with guilt trips) and a victim of soft brainwashing — your experience is invalid if it contradicts what the authorities say it should be.

***

When Jori got home that evening after telling me and one other friend about her rape, she felt good about telling her parents, ready to open up to them after receiving affirming and kind responses from her friends. They’d listen, they’d help her report, they’d take her to a doctor and get a pregnancy test and STI testing.

The response she got could not have been more different.

Instead of believing her, they accused her of lying, of having consensual sex and then regretting it, and making up the rape story to cover for her actions.

“This sort of thing doesn’t happen to godly girls,” they told her. “You put yourself in a situation for this sort of thing to happen.”

Their reason for not believing her? She seemed too composed. She wasn’t disheveled and in tears, and she hadn’t come to them with the story right after it happened. She was too articulate and detailed with her story — it couldn’t be true because she didn’t seem utterly devastated.

Jori is a very smart person, and after such strict parenting and high pressure in our church to have your emotions under control all the time, she became highly skilled at playing social roles that were expected of her. But when something traumatic happened to her, she wasn’t able to connect with her emotions to display them for an audience on command — she was too far gone into trained disassociation with her own feelings.

Angry that their daughter was shameless enough to have sex for fun and then make up a story like this to cover it, and still refuse to admit that she was lying, her parents decided to drive her to the police station for questioning.

When they got there, her dad told the officers that she was saying she’d been raped, that they knew it was a lie, and they needed help finding the loophole in her story.

The officers began questioning her, and again, her lack of tears worked against her. She told me, “I didn’t react the right way — I didn’t burst out crying. And the rest of the night they tried to prove that I was lying.”

For several hours they questioned her, and she didn’t give in. Her story became more clear and detailed as time went on, and these small adjustments caused them to doubt her even further.

At last she decided it wouldn’t be worth it to keep fighting their accusations.

As she told me that morning a few weeks ago:

“‘Okay, it’s not true,’ I said, because it was going nowhere and was so humiliating. I just wanted to leave. They made me sign a statement saying that I had been lying and closed the case, and then lectured me, saying ‘You could have gone to jail for lying about this.'”

The next day her parents showed up at my house and made her apologize to me for lying.

And for the next several years, Jori shut down her memories of the event, telling herself that it must have been consensual sex that she, like the terrible person she was, had gone looking for behind her parents’ backs and then lied about.

Today, she says:

“[my parents’ reaction was] very damaging to me, and I was depressed, scared, and utterly confused for years as a result. But, I’ve moved on from it. I moved on from the actual rape years and years before I moved on from the terrible reaction to it, but it’s old history now.”

***

There are two things going on here.

The first is: fundamentalist Christian parenting methods train children to not resist sexual predators and to not be able to identify it if they’re molested, raped, or harassed. [this is why the Church remains an unintentional haven for sexual predators, and why reporting sexual abuse in the church to authorities is still a question for debate, not an assumed course of action to protect victims.]

The second is: our culture doesn’t like to believe rape victims when they have the courage to speak up, and the negative response they get often leaves them feeling like they must have made it up, that they’re terrible people for thinking that they were really raped, and that they shouldn’t have said anything in the first place.

These assumptions remain for a variety of unfathomably inhumane reasons, assumptions coming from privilege and class hierarchy, assumptions coming from residual patriarchy, assumptions coming from female inability to identify their sexuality apart from the male gaze. [these reasons are why third wave feminism is really necessary.]

Of course, there’s a lot more to it than just these things. But this is a starting place. Jori’s story didn’t happen because her parents are terrible people. It happened in a Christian cultural context that didn’t have space in its ideological framework for a woman to be calm and collected when reporting a rape, for a woman to not be raped in a dark alley by a stranger, and for a woman to have any sort of sexual autonomy outside of the parent-led-courtship-and-abstinence relationship model.

Telling about being raped should never, ever be more traumatic than the rape itself.

***

If you or someone you know is in need of help, start here:
(this list is stolen from Dianna Anderson)


Trigger warning: spanking.

There are two things I’m afraid to write about, for myself. The first is music, and my relationship to it. The second is anger and my fear of myself when angry.

SGM taught that anger is a sin. I remember my mom coming home from care group and telling me that it made so much sense now that she had been enlightened to see it: anger is a sin and it grieves God.

And so I fought my anger for years, like I fought against desire. It’s absurdly obvious, now, how interrelated those two were with the levels of stress in my life at the time. I was angry a lot. I was horny and masturbated a lot. And I really, really hated myself. I was so afraid of who I was becoming and I didn’t know what I could do to change. I prayed all the time, I only listened to Christian music and sang worship songs, I read my Bible every day, I journaled. And I cut out reading any mystery or fantasy, in hopes that I would get my spiritual life in order so I could overcome my two deadly vices.

I still don’t quite know what to make of anger. I’m reading a book that talks about how some kinds of anger are healthy and good, piercing facades to motivate change and wholeness. How some, bad forms of anger are only out to consume and devour. I’m not sure what to think of this.

Anger is really lonely. Anger, for me, was/is usually driven by fear — of not being good enough, of being misunderstood and thus rejected, of being abandoned or neglected.

Today I read two articles. One was a HuffPo piece on Post-Partum Depression and how it causes rage. And I read it and I suddenly was back to last year, when I was on a BC that didn’t work well with my body, which caused mood swings and made me so afraid of being alone. Something would trigger it, and I’d get intensely afraid, and my ex wouldn’t hear my fear, but only anger, and he’d need space and walk out the front door, and then it would become anger. And I’d angry cry myself to sleep and have nightmares of being abandoned.

And I’d remember, when I was crying that when I was a kid, I only every cried when I was angry. I remember telling people this as a sleepover trivia game piece. “I never cry. Only when I’m angry because they don’t understand.”

You have no idea how fearful it is in a legalistic home, with an authority who practices that smoldering, quiet anger, to be misunderstood as the one at fault. You’re brought into the bathroom and you plead and beg and say that there was a mistake, you were loud because the other sibling did x, it wasn’t you’re fault, and you get told to pull your pants down.

And you take it. Because you’re the kid who plays at being orphans, and you read The Whipping Boy and Anne and Little House and you want to be bold and brave and so you don’t cry or wince. Five or six smacks with a strip of tarred conveyor belt, and it’s over. Your face is hot and you look the parent in the eye, and they lean in and put their hands on your shoulders. And oh, they have bad breath from lunch. And they look at you and tell you they love you, but you need to learn x, and you maybe fuss back a little, but in the end you’re apologizing and they’re prompting your apology speech for the sibling who’s waiting outside the bathroom door with a smug look of the one who got away with it.

When it’s over, you carry on like nothing happened, because you don’t want to make a scene and you have to set an example for the younger kids, because if you fought a spanking and they saw, all hell would break loose.

You live like that because it’s right, it keeps order, and avoiding crisis is what surviving in a big family looks like.

But there’s another part of it, too. I read Elizabeth Esther’s post about being spanked and spanking and turning off emotions to break someone, and oh. Her story, her talk about the anger and the cold and the spanking–that is why I am afraid to have kids. My ex would tell me he wanted 10 kids and it’d be great and he’d be a stay-at-home dad and homeschool and I could still work…and I would know, yes, he’d be a great father. Yes, that could work. But I couldn’t escape the chill in my soul at the thought of being a mom.

My parents didn’t use the Pearls’ methods. My mom was a bad authoritarian, thankfully. My dad was a very businesslike authoritarian.

But I still learned to turn off my emotions when I was in a fight with someone “below” me in the family pecking order. If I was an authority, I could become a sociopath to get my way. And I ended up babysitting my siblings a lot. When that happened, they’d push my buttons and I’d snap. I could feel it. I suddenly stopped empathizing. Controlling the situation was all that mattered.

And what made it worse, is that I’d babysit for other people also, all the time. When I did, I’d be fine. All feeling and kindness and firm structure. I could do it. I really enjoyed it, actually. But with my siblings, the boundaries were set differently, and I would be so frightened of myself when I got cold. It’d be an out-of-body experience, watching myself get angry from a distance. We’d get into full-out wrestling matches over who had the ability to phone mom and dad, who had to do the dishes, who had to change the baby. It was ugly. Those evenings, when I was babysitting and things would get out of control and I couldn’t fix it and I got angry? Those are the worst memories of my childhood. It was so wrong. And I’m so appalled by it — even then, I was horrified by it. I didn’t know how to be different. And it scared me.

Just some late-night ramblings on the memories stirred up by those articles, but also: I don’t plan to spank my kids, if I ever have kids. And this is why. This is why I try the best I can to be thoughtful about respecting other people’s bodies, comfort zones, rights. Because I know who I can be. It’s ugly shit. I can be better than that.

(And I don’t think it was just total depravity that made me capable of that.)


Day 3 : Why should those who haven’t been hurt care about this issue? What do you wish you could tell those who want to help but weren’t close enough to know or see your situation? What do you wish every pastor knew before starting ministry? What would make the church a safe space for you?

Image by Dani Kelley, http://danileekelley.wordpress.com/

Image by Dani Kelley, http://danileekelley.wordpress.com/

I write here is because it’s my way of processing, owning my story. I write so that other people’s narratives don’t drown out my own. One of my coping mechanisms with stress is to block out emotions after something’s happened, so accessing the memory becomes just actions and no feelings. So writing my story and writing how it’s affected me emotionally and spiritually has been a huge part of reclaiming it for myself as my experience, not just something I was there for but allowed others to narrate for me.

This has become a place of healing for me. It may always be necessary, but it shouldn’t.

Pastors, you bear a heavy burden of responsibility. You have good intentions.

Parents, you bear a more intimately heavy burden of responsibility. You have the best of intentions.

But we’re still writing. Spiritual abuse is still something that we need to raise awareness about. We still have to forge for ourselves emotional permission to speak up about how we hurt.

This past week has been all about that. Giving ourselves permission to tell our stories. In a way, we’ve been writing with ourselves as the audience.

But we’re writing for you, too. We started Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week to try to open the discussion about what we’ve lived through in a way that doesn’t frighten those who haven’t been hurt. Reading about spiritual abuse is scary for those who haven’t lived it or seen it. It scares you into second-guessing your church and your parenting: could this be us? no, it couldn’t–could it?

The unfortunate truth — and one thing that I really hope you will remember — is that it could. It could be you. It could be your church. It could be anyone. The best intentions and good doctrine don’t necessarily protect us against our own human impulses to control and dominate others.

Here’s some basic things I’d encourage parents and pastors to try to be aware of in hope of ending this cycle:

  1. Study the Shepherding Movement and how they used religious guilt and shame to control people. American Evangelicals have pretty much all been influenced by this movement in one way or another.
  2. Watch your legalism. Being right and being “good” never, ever, ever trumps Jesus’s love for his own, exactly as they are. No one is your personal project. If you ever feel that way, back off now.
  3. Watch your Gnosticism. Separating feelings/body from the mind/spiritual is dangerous and heretical. Don’t push people to act one way in hopes their feelings will follow.
  4. Create and respect safe places. Boundaries are good. Intimate community is good, but it’s protected by healthy boundaries and respecting each other’s limits.

***

Thanks to everyone who participated! If you wrote for this week and didn’t get to link up, please connect me to your post(s) in the comments! 

Elora and I have been discussing making a free ebook available with a collection of all the posts — this would serve as a resource and a reference tool for those writing about this or interested in learning how spiritual abuse works and how to prevent it. It would also help educate the Church about the needs of survivors. If you have a strong preference either way, please let us know. We’ll be in touch with those who have posted to solicit permission to use the materials. If you have something you’d like to submit to this in the spirit of this past week’s synchroblog, feel free to get in touch with either of us to discuss that option further. Thank you!

***

Resources:

Day 1 link-up
Day 2 link-up
Day 3 link-up

The Rebel Diaries

Rachel Held Evans’ “Into the light” series

A post I wrote before in a similar vein is here: When you haven’t been hurt (how to relate to those hurt by spiritual abuse).


Hi. I’m tardy. But that’s okay, right? We’re all messy here.

You wouldn’t believe this week. But I’m going to rest this weekend. It’s so needed. 

Tonight I offer you my post for SAAW day 2! I’m going to write this SAAW response now, and then write the day 3 response tomorrow, if I can. There might be naps or Buffy in between.

***

Day 2 (March 20) is hosted by Joy Bennett of Joy In This Journey

Day 2: Your journey and consequences of spiritual abuse

How has your experience affected you? What has it done to you emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually, etc.? What has your journey been like? How have you gotten where you are today? Do you feel you’ve healed? What do you still struggle with?

Image by Dani Kelley, http://danileekelley.wordpress.com/

Image by Dani Kelley, http://danileekelley.wordpress.com/

On Wednesday, I was returning to the office after running downstairs to Illy for coffee (it has been such a sleep-deprived week. You have no idea.) and I got into one of the six elevators and pressed the button for the 5th floor like I always do. The elevator creaked and sighed its way up and then hovered and rested softly at the landing. The doors shuddered, then stayed shut. I was trapped. I pushed the “door open” button several times, then the button for the floor, and then I realized it wasn’t going to open.

I paused, sipped my coffee, and eyed the emergency call button. I took another sip. Then I began hitting buttons again, but nothing happened. I wondered about what it would be like if the elevator dropped, and tried one more time before making the emergency call.

The doors slid open, and I stepped out with a deep breath and headed back to my desk. I didn’t feel panicked and I should have called maintenance about it, but I didn’t. It should have been scary, but it wasn’t.

Spiritual abuse combined with my intense childhood years in a big family leaves me a bit odd. I am numb or too okay in situations where I should be experiencing an emotional reaction, yet other things which should be fine and easy are instead crippling and laced with fear.

I won’t freak out in a scary situation where I’m alone or feel like I’m responsible for someone. That has been drummed out of me–I’m the oldest, I’m the responsible one, I fix things, don’t make it worse. But if I’m with a male I subconsciously see as an authority figure? FREAK OUT. I let myself be “weak” out of habit, almost as if I’m trying to manipulate him into taking charge. I may be a functional egalitarian, but my subconscious sometimes won’t let me shake off the hierarchy of complementarian gender roles.

Because I had a particularly bad instance of translation in the NASB used against me in a damaging way, I find myself really struggling to not snark or react strongly to the use of that translation.

When the ESV is used, I hear the voice of the senior pastor at my old church, reading Ephesians, Galatians, Nehemiah, Jeremiah. And I can’t hear the beauty of those books without the layers of legalism and sin-obsessed guilt he laid upon those passages as he preached his way through them, while I took scrupulous notes.

The phrase “do unto others” makes me feel suffocated. It’s a good truth, but we heard it so often in our family that it became a tool to guilt each other into compliance.

“She’s such a/you’re such a blessing,” “by the grace of God,” “thank God,” “I just feel a check in my spirit,” “I felt the Spirit leading me to,” “thank you for serving” — all these phrases make me cringe. I deliberately avoid these phrases (although sometimes, like on Sunday night, I really am led by the Spirit to do something and then my language gets flustered), because these are the things said in SGM to frame discussions, decisions, and limit the scope of reasoning to a simplistic universe. These phrases are stifling, and lack descriptive inspiration, and I refuse their loaded SGM meanings any place in my world.

When I meet a gregarious, smart, thoughtful man in authority, I have to check myself against either completely distrusting him or completely accepting him, because of the pastors I was under and the loyalty they demanded.

When someone is 100% happy with choices and ideologies that would have perpetuated the spiritually abusive patterns I lived under, I have to hold myself back to keep from judging them or feeling like they’re fake. What may have been damaging for me might not be damaging for them, and if it is in fact damaging, they may not be able to recognize that yet, and I can’t fix them or rush them to change. It’s not my place. It’s not my decision.

I get impatient and uncomfortable with “contemporary worship music”–it feels like a performance of “worship” and it drags me back to when how you behaved during the Sunday morning song set in church was a performance for those you hoped would notice and think you humble and godly. And similarly, long sermons with any theologically questionable roots (or a too self-assured pastoral tone) make me really twitchy.

The worst though, are sermons about things like the prodigal son, about God’s unconditional fatherly love for us, his constant love and acceptance and grace. These are the best sermons, but the worst days. If I can’t sit through it, I usually end up crying in the hallway somewhere until I can see straight and go back in time for communion.

These are my scars, the ones most obvious to me. I am healing. I am strong. But these have become part of me, too.

This is part of a series on spiritual abuse. The post from day 1 is here, and the link up for day 2 is here.


When Brian contacted me on Monday offering to guest post, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I was in for a treat and so are you. Brian’s a good storyteller and doesn’t have his own blog, so I’m delighted to be able to share his testimony of surviving spiritual abuse. We need more men willing to speak up, and it’s encouraging to find some who are giving voice to their experiences. 

Also, my apologies for not posting yesterday — I’ll lump the two posts together on Friday, but sometimes shit happens and there’s not much you can do about it. Tomorrow’s link-up will be hosted by Shaney!

What is your story?  Share your experience – showing the details without going into specifics about places or people involved. What made the environment spiritually abusive?  Was it language, unspoken social codes, beliefs, assumptions, expectations? How did these factors enable the abuse? How did you eventually leave, and why?

When I was in college, God saved me in my freshman year on Halloween in 2004 – no joke!  The first church I went to was a great Bible-believing church; but when I attended another church before the end of freshman year, there was something irresistible about it.  I concluded that God was calling me to be a part of that local church to grow, thrive, and disciple.  During college breaks, I would attend another church that took an hour to get to – yes, that was the closest church.  Members admired my sacrifice to attend their church and hear God’s word preached.

Upon arriving back during my sophomore year in college, one of my friends on campus continued to disciple me, and I greatly benefitted from his investment and example.  I continued attending the church I started going to at the end of my freshman year and there was a specific unspoken expectation of having to attend every church service and small group meeting regardless of any legitimate excuse; otherwise you would be in sin.  Because of giving my life to the church, of course other members at the church appreciated that!  I was so drunk on the Kool Aid.  Then I noticed that some of my friends there haven’t been keeping in contact with me; consequently, I would call them out in the name of fellowship and use Hebrews 3:12-13 as a rod and beat them over the head with it.  Since I had to confess my sin, they must do likewise.  It was also a time of when I was personally walking through some times of doubt, but couldn’t mention doubt because it was sinful to doubt.  Regardless, I was holding prominent positions at my pharmacy school’s campus ministry and felt hypocritical because of these doubts.  Eventually, the doubts subsided and God re-established my grounding in Christ.  After graduating from college, I moved up to Altoona, PA for my first post-grad position and I noticed the bad and ugly of churches.

I attended one church there and noticed that the demographics were very polarized – either parents or kids; no college-aged students or young adults.  As a single man desiring to get married, that was a problem!  Additionally, the environment was so inclusive; outsiders were forbidden to enter their circle unless if they would drink the Kool Aid.   In order to compensate, I went to Penn State Altoona’s campus ministry and there met my eventual wife.  Shortly after we met, we started dating without jumping through any of their “courtship hoops” and abiding by their regulations.  The pastor there had a problem with that and specifically hated my girlfriend because she was an independent, rational, educated thinker.  The small group meetings were so awkward; it was the same pastor and we learned nothing from there.

Fast forward a few months into our relationship.  We hit some relational problems, and the pastor wanted me to see him to “discuss some matters”.  I wanted to voice our interest in membership, but he rebuked me for not leading and going through the hoops of how to conduct a courtship.  He also wanted me to pass on some information to her and I was thinking, “Why can’t you tell her directly?”  Oh well…

So the whole “courtship” paradigm presented was (and is!) utterly stupid, controlling; in a word – unhealthy.

My girlfriend and I continued discussing other issues within the church. Besides the environment full of everyone forced into the same mold, the preaching was nearly the exact same every week; something to the effect of a 5 minute presentation of the gospel, and “God’s grace is amazing” peppered throughout the message.  Boring… Also, with their talk about evangelism – there really wasn’t a whole lot of that going on.  I personally had a significant struggle with that, considering that the pastor’s main focus was to concentrate efforts on children’s and youth ministries (considering college ministry wasn’t there besides my girlfriend and me!).  I remember him berating me about a Facebook status I genuinely posted about how to continue investing in a church with skewed demographics but also being able to fellowship with other college-aged/young adult Christians.  It was disturbing and we finally had a last chance to either hop on board with them or leave.  He even said, “You’re free to go!  But be careful out there…”.  Bullshit.  Next morning, we found another Bible-believing church in the area that all age groups were well represented, Christ was exalted, and (gasp again!), they held outreach events and maintained solid partnerships with other solid churches throughout the region!

Shortly after my girlfriend and I got engaged, I landed a position 3 hours east of Altoona, thus requiring me to move to the Hershey region while she finished up her semester at Altoona (while planning a wedding!).  With the recent damage inflicted upon us at Altoona, we were very cautious about joining a specific church in the Hershey area.  Same problem: inclusive environment, little evangelism taking place, everyone was the same (e.g. true statistic from the pastor: 95% of the families homeschool their kids).  Since we were different and not following the prescribed “gender role” marriage (i.e. husbands must lead and wives must submit unconditionally), on the fringes we were.  Months later, the pastor there mentioned that a 40-page document about their organization’s former leader was “long” and twisted the report to “guard” us from uncorrupt speech and relationships.  Again – awkward…

With one of the pastors being forced to step down and other bad experiences we had, we left and joined another church just outside of Harrisburg.  Christ is exalted from this church with members from 22 different countries – a very unique treat and gift from God indeed!

How has your experience affected you? What has it done to you emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually, etc.? What has your journey been like? How have you gotten where you are today? Do you feel you’ve healed? What do you still struggle with?

I’ve been more raw and brash in my communication.  Spiritually, I sometimes feel burned out.  Disinterested in Christ, no desire to read the Bible, still feel disconnected.  Relationally, I lost some meaningful friendships in the process and struggle with loneliness, even as a married man.  As far as close friends go, I can count with my fingers the numbers of friends I have left.  Simultaneously, our marriage has never been better.  I still struggle with bitterness, anger, and fear, and have been seeking professional biblical counseling for that.  I am still taking medication for depression and anxiety to enable me to better handle my emotions biblically.  Somehow, I know God is using this for good, but am not sure how just yet; heck, I probably won’t find out until after death or Christ’s return.

Why should those who haven’t been hurt care about this issue? What do you wish you could tell those who want to help but weren’t close enough to know or see your situation? What do you wish every pastor knew before starting ministry? What would make the church a safe space for you?

For those who haven’t been hurt, you’re fortunate and I wish I could be in your shoes. Alas, God works in wondrous ways.  Let me address the men and women as individual groups.

Men, don’t be ashamed to share your hurts and struggles.  Sure, it may make you feel more masculine, but there’s a way to take your thoughts and feelings captive to the obedience of Christ.  Example: Psalm 42.  “Why are you downcast?… Hope in God.”  Nothing sinful about acknowledging feeling downcast, but it’s how the psalmist responds to feeling crestfallen.  Hope in God.  If you’re married, you better allow your wife to fully express her perspective on issues.  She’s called a helpmate for obvious reasons; sometimes it’s to deflate your ego as “the leader” and let God control the marriage instead of you.

Women, you’re much more than glorified incubators.  Being a stay-at-home-mom and homeschooling your kids is not all God has for you.  He’s given you a mind to use, analyze, think, and apply.  As a husband, there’s no greater disservice you can do to your husband (if you are married) than to unconditionally support him. Sure, that may boost his ego, but your input is so vital in making sure he guides you both as a team.

For those who want to help, I’m very appreciative.  It’s okay that you haven’t experienced the same hurts we have.  If someone is sharing their story and is still walking through their pain, you don’t even need to say anything initially.  While reading Job, I’ve often wondered how the book of Job would have been written if his friends just sat there with Job and sympathized with him instead of attempting to rationalize the cause of his suffering.  Like in Pilgrim’s Progress, every Christian needs a Faithful and Hopeful.  Point them to who they truly are in the Lord Jesus.  That’s what has been helping me when joining a men’s group.  Nothing else is more efficacious than to realize the worth a human being has in Christ.

 ***

Born in New Jersey, adopted into Virginia, transplanted to Pennsylvania, and am en route to move back to the greater DC region. Majored in Pharmacy, active member of the Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association, and patient advocate. God saved me when I was 18 and has been molding me into the image of Christ for the past 8 and a half years. Happily married for the past 15 months and am expecting to adopt a foster dog by the end of this April.

In short, the message I would like to communicate to every believer is from a modern day holy homey, Trip Lee: Trip Lee – Robot – typography (@triplee116 @rapzilla). “The good life is living by faith in a good God.”


Just a reminder that tomorrow we’ll be continuing the Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week over at Joy Bennett’s blog. Here’s the prompt:

Your journey and consequences of spiritual abuse

How has your experience affected you? What has it done to you emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually, etc.? What has your journey been like? How have you gotten where you are today? Do you feel you’ve healed? What do you still struggle with?

Image by Dani Kelley, http://danileekelley.wordpress.com/

Image by Dani Kelley, http://danileekelley.wordpress.com/

And until midnight tonight I’ll still be taking your stories from the Day 1 prompt.

So moved by and thankful for all those who’ve linked up and shared their stories already. Check out Elora’s blog for more, anonymous survivor stories.


Church Survivors

Image by Dani Kelley, http://danileekelley.wordpress.com/

SPIRITUAL ABUSE AWARENESS WEEK, DAY 1: My story

I can’t find a way to make this a short post.

I’ve been a little loath to answer this specific question since I started blogging. I prefer to tell vignettes and talk about the big picture of spiritual abuse in the church and use my story in bits and pieces to show examples of how certain authoritarian or legalistic ideas trickle down to affect people in real life.

The reason I’ve been hesitant to tell my story is because it’s not just “I was in this one church for 10 years and it was really messed up” – my whole life has been touched by spiritual abuse and I’m only now in a place where I can begin to feel safe.

I started blogging under a pseudonym because my dad felt like I was slandering him online. My “disclaimer” post happened because my mom got a call from an old friend saying: “how do you feel about being smeared on your daughter’s blog?” and that was both inappropriate and upsetting.

Here’s the thing: my parents are just as much survivors of spiritual abuse as I am. Their active engagement with certain parenting theories, their church choices, and their reasons for homeschooling altogether made us as a family incredibly vulnerable to spiritual abuse. They are still dealing with the aftermath just as much as I am.

The point is: it’s not their fault. As their child, I am stuck in the tension between talking about what spiritual abuse looked for me and being honest about that and being mature and compassionate toward my parents as well-intentioned, kind people who didn’t know what they were getting into, even though their choices directly caused me to grow up the way I did.

And of course it wasn’t all bad. I’m not trying to paint a bleak picture of life with my family — there is a lot of sweetness and light there.

But, it’s still true that trying to become an adult with independent ideas in my family (and in any Quiverfull family, I will add) is a harrowing journey that can require the young person to either hide their new adult self, suppress their new adult self, or confront the emotional control impulses in QF parents with honesty and risk fracturing the relationship.

And that is a decision that no child should have to face.

So, if you’re a friend of my parents and you’re reading here, please, please understand me: I am not slandering my parents. Slander is telling falsehoods to attempt to smear a person’s reputation. I have no vendetta against them, I crave for them healing and freedom, not condemnation and guilt. I’m not trying to shame them or rebuke them. I’m just telling my story and please don’t tell me how I should tell it. You didn’t live it.

***

My parents chose to create their family culture around the idea that they could try to get things right where they thought their parents had failed. They saw their children as their Christian legacy, and while they never really engaged the “have more Christian kids to have more arrows in our quiver for God’s army so Christianity can reform and redeem American culture” philosophy which defines a lot of “Quiverfull” families, we were still very much a Quiverfull family.

From an early age I knew that dating was wrong because it was “practicing for divorce” and that I would court to find my husband, that grace was like if mom took my spanking for me when I deserved it instead of her, that I was responsible to behave rightly so that I wouldn’t cause my younger siblings to follow my example and sin/make bad choices, that I was homeschooled because that was the way God wanted parents to raise their kids, according to Deuteronomy. I was taught that I had to be sure I was saved, that rebelling against my parents would be as bad as practicing the sin of witchcraft (and the story of Saul was a byword for that happened if you were okay with witchcraft). I believed that people with mental health issues probably had demons, and that Jesus was coming back soon and I would be held responsible for the lives of sinners I was close with and hadn’t preached the gospel to.

I went up for altar calls three times after I initially prayed the sinner’s prayer with my parents at age 5 or so, because I knew I was often angry with my sister for being annoying, and God’s word said that if I hated my brother I couldn’t love Jesus. I was terrified that I would disqualify myself from a relationship with him because I didn’t know how to love my siblings.

Initially, my family was the only one of its sort in the churches we attended. We’d be the only homeschoolers, the only big family (that was when there were only 5 of us kids), the only ones who didn’t “believe in youth group” and didn’t watch a lot of popular movies and weren’t allowed to listen to “secular” music. But we did find likeminded people in the homeschooling community, some who were as “fundamental” as we were, some who were less strict but still passionate about raising their kids to honor God.

That’s how benign it started. These parents all just wanted to raise their children in a way that would please God and help their kids avoid making “the same mistakes we made” in their teenage and early adult years. But the difficulty with this is that it turned “pleasing God with my life” and “raising my children to honor God” into a formula. Insert One Child, separate from The World, remove Temptation and Rebellion, bake at Christian Community 24/7 for 18 years, and presto! happy Christian heritage passed on successfully to offspring.

If you read the literature my parents and their peers read—Mary Pride, the Pearls, Gregg Harris, Jonathan Lindvall, Bill Gothard, etc.—you’ll see that these people meant well. You’ll see them reacting to abstract cultural issues that disturbed them, and reacting against their own childhoods to try to do better than their parents’ generation. But you’ll also see a heck of a lot of bad handling of Scripture, straw man fallacies, fear-mongering manipulation of idealist motives, and youthful arrogance. Their teachings directly influenced my parents’ decisions and those of many others like them.

I went from a loud, imaginative, inquisitive child to an insecure, fearful teenager who forgot how to make friends or empathize with people because of the legalism embraced by my parents, church, and myself. I became a queen at legalistic self-censure and unintentionally pushed friends away with my self-righteousness in this black and white formula Christianity where I had it all figured out.

I spent a lot of lonely nights in late middle school and high school crying on the couch to my mom about how I felt so unwanted by the girls I counted as my friends, and she’d rub my back and hug me and tell me that it was their loss, and I’d be a wonderful friend.

But what I didn’t realize was that it wasn’t all just “different seasons of life” where they couldn’t relate to my busy life full of housework obligations for my family, my parents’ restrictions on curfew, getting a job out of the house, internet, movies, music, etc. It wasn’t just my academic aspirations in a peer group of wannabe stay-at-home-moms/future pastors wives. My “dry spell” with friendships was, perhaps in part, due to my stuck-up legalism that pushed people away.

If a friend told me about the boy she was crushing on I’d frown, thinking of the boy I was currently trying not to crush on (because it was wrong, duh), and offer a “correction” about how we were just 16, so we shouldn’t be thinking about boys, really.

If a church acquaintance was hanging around with guys after church and wearing a tight top, I would pull her aside and offer the “observation” that it seemed like she was flirting and to watch out for form-revealing tops that might be too “inviting” for “our brothers in Christ” and might “make them stumble.”

If my friend told me she was frustrated with her younger siblings, I would murmur empathy, and then launch into a sermon about how we’re called to serve our families, how it’s practice for our life-long roles at home as women, how we can’t love God if we’re not loving our brother, and Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do To You. I’d tell her that mom made us memorize that verse so we could remember to love each other and suggest that she memorize it, also.

Basically, I was a goody-two-shoes who didn’t observe or have compassion for how my friends felt, because I had been raised (by my parents and my churches) to believe that the kindest thing one Christian could do for another was to call each other out on their sin. That was having grace for each other—correcting each other by “speaking the truth in love.”

In reality, there was no grace, there was no concept of love, and the truth I spoke was condemnation rather than healing and hope. And I was just parroting what I saw around me, living out “the right way to do relationships” with other Christians.

If I did that to you and haven’t been able to apologize to you for treating you like that: I’m so, so sorry. Please forgive me.

You can’t love someone if you think that showing love means looking for their weaknesses and exploiting them to make them feel guilty (“pursue holiness”).

I discovered this for myself the hard way. When I started branching out intellectually and becoming an adult thinker, my dad started withdrawing his affirmation of me as his favored child and challenging my ideas. It wasn’t the sort of casual dinner table discussions of various “grey area” issues you sometimes see between thoughtful teenagers and their parents. It was more of a white-knuckled intellectual hazing—I had to defend my position to him on his terms in order to keep my place in his mind as a fellow Christian.

It started with little things. We’d agree in our discussions of how our SGM church’s polity was hurting people and setting itself up for the pastors to have too much power. But then it’d shift into other things: I’d argue for why ballroom dancing wasn’t too much temptation for me, why I thought I should be allowed to wear shorts instead of cutoffs, why I thought that I should be allowed to go to my friends’ houses on Saturdays when he thought I should stay home and help the family instead.

But then it shifted into larger issues as my world expanded through college, and we found ourselves in arguments where I defended the worth of studying Derrida and he’d accuse me of moral relativism. I’d argue that my boyfriend’s student loans weren’t a moral failing, and he’d tell me that the Bible says that those who borrow are fools.

The watershed moment when I realized our relationship had fundamentally shifted when he and my mom confronted me for kissing my boyfriend without asking their permission, almost a year after we’d started dating. It was moving too fast, they said. It was asking for us to fall into temptation, they said. I was rejecting dad’s authority over me and choosing the path of rebellion.

That morning, when they put me in the car and drove for a couple hours, locking the doors and not letting me leave until I had “confessed” to them my potentially sexually immoral relationship with my boyfriend, was when I realized that my boyfriend had been right when he said that my dad was inappropriately controlling and didn’t respect me as an adult person.

I had thought I had done everything right, that I’d figured out what was right and wrong, that my dad and I were practically best friends, that I’d never have a bad relationship with my family.

But that morning I realized that I wasn’t free, he didn’t treat me like a spiritual or moral equal, that my relationship with my parents was inappropriately codependent, that the world was muchmuchmore saturated with gradients of grey than I had ever dreamed, and that I didn’t have anything figured out.

I was morally and emotionally infantile, asymmetrically maturing in my fluency in Pharisee, successful passive-aggressive social manipulation, intellectual irrationality through simplistic logic, and unable to name for myself my own feelings, experiences, loves, fears, passions. If something about me wasn’t acceptable to the world of SGM and my parents’ approval, it didn’t exist as a valid reality.

They didn’t mean to shape me into that person. But when you create a world that is morally immature and only black and white, you stunt yourself and those under your authority and prevent the brilliant beauty of diverse humanity and the full impact of grace on human relationships from being visible.  And that short-sightedness combined with power over people is the perfect storm for spiritual abuse.

 ***

Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week, Day 1

YOUR STORY & LANGUAGE/CULTURE OF SPIRITUAL ABUSE

Prompt: What is your story? Share your experience — showing the details without going into specifics about places or people involved. What made the environment spiritually abusive? Was it language, unspoken social codes, beliefs, assumptions, expectations? How did these factors enable the abuse? How did you eventually leave, and why?

Join up and share your story! Post on your blog, then come back and link up below. Feel free to use Dani’s image on your post, and tweet your thoughts at us with the hashtag: #ChurchSurvivors



click for source

click for source

When someone is angry about bad things that happened to them in their church, their anger is not easily accepted by those who have only had positive experiences with Christianity. Before a survivor of spiritual abuse can tell his story, it has to be worked over, combed through, and made palatable for the intended audience. And even then, we don’t always get heard or believed. These stories of pain don’t seem like they’re what the Church should be like, so it’s simpler to ignore the stories when you can’t relate to them.

Even here on my blog, I find myself prefacing my story here for you, because I see the disconnect and I see hurt and misunderstanding on both sides. And all I want to do is to speak on the behalf of those like me who have been hurt, to those in the Church who haven’t been hurt. I want to offer you an invitation to my story, my experience in a church with good intentions where abuse flourished. Walk with me? It’s not going to be easy and yes, you may realize things about your church that you don’t want to know.

But when we’re dealing with stories of children who were molested in churches, stories where their abusers were allowed to remain free because good Christian people didn’t want to believe that something like that could ever happen at our church? I think it’s now a moral obligation for us as a Church to take a long look at what we’re dealing with and where it came from, even if it is uncomfortable and heart-rending, in order to protect those coming after us.

We are the grandchildren of the suburban moderns and their scientific, reasonable placelessness. We are the children of the Jesus Movement, descended from those who craved life and connection and healing from the confines of the just-so church and the hypocrisy therein. We are the Quiverfull daughters, the homeschool graduates, the creation science crusaders, the apologetics champions, the Jesus Freaks, the summer missionaries, the WWJD generation.

And a lot of us have crippling pain that makes us skittish around traditional church, nervous about trusting religious authorities or even just a mom leading a Bible study. We love Jesus so much, or we want to if only we knew how. We see lots of irrational arguments and a lot of fear-based ideas that stunted us, but we’ve grown around the boulders our parents and pastors laid in our way and we’re seeing the sky and the sun and the vast expanse of love offered by the Jesus of the gospels, and we have so, so many questions. And we want straight answers, because love is worth living out with intellectual integrity.

So please, listen to our stories. Lay aside your concerns about our bitterness or the status of our faith, and just hear us out. There’s more to our stories than you know, and we want to invite you into our safe spaces to talk about what we’ve been through and seen.

This coming week, survivors of spiritual abuse are going to link up and talk about what spiritual abuse looks like and why it happens despite good intentions.

Day 1 (March 18th) will be hosted by me, here at Wine & Marble.

Day 1: Your story & language/culture of spiritual abuse

What is your story? Share your experience — showing the details without going into specifics about places or people involved. What made the environment spiritually abusive? Was it language, unspoken social codes, beliefs, assumptions, expectations? How did these factors enable the abuse? How did you eventually leave, and why?

Day 2 (March 20) will be hosted by Joy Bennet of Joy In This Journey

Day 2: Your journey and consequences of spiritual abuse

How has your experience affected you? What has it done to you emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually, etc.? What has your journey been like? How have you gotten where you are today? Do you feel you’ve healed? What do you still struggle with?

Day 3 (March 22) will be hosted by Shaney Irene

Day 3: What others should know & moving forward

Why should those who haven’t been hurt care about this issue? What do you wish you could tell those who want to help but weren’t close enough to know or see your situation? What do you wish every pastor knew before starting ministry? What would make the church a safe space for you?

Optional, for those who didn’t do the first two days: What did you learn? What changes will you encourage in your churches, etc. in order to prevent spiritual abuse and provide healing?

and.

Every day next week, Elora Nicole will be hosting anonymous survivor stories on her blog as part of her Rebel Diaries project (submit these by March 16 to participate) for those who aren’t free to speak up publicly yet.

In addition, Rachel Held Evans is going to be highlighting spiritual abuse on her blog and there’s bound to be some fantastic discussion going down in her comments sections.

So, come, sit at the table. Lay down your assumptions and lay down your fears. This is the house of the King and we’re calling a truce. Tell your stories.

Hashtag for Twitter discussion is  #ChurchSurvivors


I’m glad this happened on my lunch break so I can say something right now while I’m angry.

Yes, angry. 

I was going to do day 3 of FemFest and do a link-up, but I think you’ll forgive me for skipping it because “someone is wrong on the internet!” Seriously, though. This is important. 

Dear Tim Challies, 

You’re using your blog platform today to

1) defend and protect abusers

2) twist the meaning of “loving one another” in a “biblical” way to silence those who have been abused by the church

3) use the SGM lawsuit to boost your traffic.

All of these things are in poor form and you should be ashamed of yourself. You can do better than this, and you know it. 

First off. You say this:

The Bible is clear that a distinguishing characteristic of Christians is to be our love for one another. John 13:35 says it plainly: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love for other Christians is the great test of our commitment to Christ and our likeness to him. This love is put to the test in a unique way in the midst of trouble and disagreement.

This situation is unfolding before a watching world that loves nothing more than to see Christians in disunity, accusing one another, fighting one another, making a mockery of the gospel that brings peace. You and I are responsible to do well here, to be above reproach in our thoughts, words and actions. We are responsible to be marked by love whether evaluating a difficult situation or taking appropriate action. We can make the gospel look great or we can make it look insignificant.

If we’re to know Christian by our love, wouldn’t that mean rushing to protect the helpless, the abused, the hurting, the crippled sheep lagging behind? You’re bringing in a watching world, so I will too: This is why the world dislikes the American church. We’re either playing the Great White Saviors for international social justice issues, or we’re playing the Upright Snob Who Needs Proof of Hurt before you’ll get off your plushy office chair and get your hands and heart engaged in helping the messy people in your church, in your neighborhood, in your homes. You are a foolish man if you think that Jesus is going to applaud you for giving CJ the benefit of the doubt instead of jumping to ask questions and help those who have been damaged. Of course you refuse to learn more about this situation–you don’t want to be involved because it’s messy. You and Piper and Mohler and all the other big name reformed Christian leaders. Whitewashed tombs! I can’t see your love and neither can the watching world. How is this “above reproach”? Even the Gentiles love as you do.

Why that matters: because this is the exact same thinking that questions a rape victim and asks her if she “imagined it” (read that article. the similarities in how abuse is handled are appalling). This is the  same sort of thinking that tells a girl if she was wearing a miniskirt, she was asking for rape. The man who raped her is a model, leading citizen! We should assume the best, right? By participating in this logic you are helping the church be a refuge for abusers.

Secondly. By saying this:

Because I am not a part of SGM I am not forced to take a side and, therefore, will not.

You are picking sides when you say you won’t pick sides and then suggest we assume the best about CJ and SGM. By saying this, you are putting moral pressure on the victims to second-guess their pain and experiences, which is spiritually abusive behavior on your part. By saying you don’t have to get involved because CJ isn’t your pastor and you’re not in SGM, you are saying that when you’re spiritually abused by your pastor, we don’t have to care about you because you’re not in my church.

This contradicts your earlier statements about loving each other and giving a unified front to a watching world. You have to pick sides because abuse happened and SGM looked the other way and now this is on major news outlets and the watching world is talking about this and looking to Christians and thinking, “well, they protect abusers and make uneducated court appeals to get off the hook easily. I don’t want a part in that.” How is that love? How is that intellectually honest? I know you’re smarter than this.

And then, closing with this?

If it is true that I am called to love other Christians, that I am called to believe and hope all things, that I am far outside this situation, then I think I do well to learn less rather than more.

Then why the hell are you blogging about it? If you’re deliberately choosing to be ignorant about it and don’t want to take sides, then sit down and shut up. If this isn’t your story or your fight, stay out of it. Posting about this if you really believe those things is a shallow grab for traffic on your site and that’s just reprehensible.

You are showing yourself for who you are here, and I’m going to take you at your word.

—-

For those interested to learn more about this, check out these sites for good coverage:

The Tolling Bell
SGM Survivors
The Wartburg Watch


When I posted about Dannah Gresh’s concerning (and poorly composed) chapel sermon at Grove City College on Tuesday, I figured I wouldn’t get much response.

I guess I assumed that most Christian leaders are like those I grew up with — ensconced in their own success and emotionally unmovable when criticized rightly. Pastors and teachers I encountered along my path were usually those who would listen gravely to what you had to say, and then effectively smile and pat you on the head with some platitude or smooth response, and never really hear your hurt or perspective. There was no empathy or genuine concern about how they affected people. Usually, what got their attention was the threat of bad PR, not a hurting individual.

Since then, I’ve learned that there are good pastors. The pastor who cared for me during my last two years of college, the pastor who’s been praying for me as I work through hard personal things right now, the professors at Grove City who have a ministerial relationship with the students under their watch. These individuals (with their relatively small spheres of influence) have given me a lot of hope, personally.

But when it came to those with big public ministries, I retained my cynicism. From where I sit, I have observed that fame does things to people. It looks like it’s easy to be wrapped up in the numbers and the tour and the new topic or book and forget that there are real people receiving and engaging with your message. That people are sometimes basing their whole spiritual life on your ideas and what you say deeply impacts the decisions they make and the way they live. I think it’s for this reason that James reminded his audience that teachers will be judged more strictly.

So. When I posted yesterday, I didn’t know what to expect, but I certaintly didn’t expect Dannah Gresh to personally respond. And I never expected her to respond with gentleness and apology, with an attitude of “please let me make this right.” But I thought I’d at least make sure she was aware we were talking about her message, and I posed this on her Facebook fan page:

FB dannah gresh

I didn’t think she’d respond. I sort of half-assumed she’d even delete the post. But she didn’t delete it and she did respond to me.

And, oh my. This gives me hope for the Church in new ways. Here’s her comment (she posted the same comment on Shaney’s piece, though not on Dianna’s):

dannah gresh comment

Not long after the comment went up, I received an email from her with an invitation to talk over the phone and continue the conversation. We’ve corresponded briefly, and she’s for real. This isn’t a stop-the-bad-blogs-from-talking-about-me move. This is a real, heartfelt desire to avoid the rape culture elements of the Christian purity movement and a sincere attempt at engaging us here.

I’m excited to see where this goes. She still hasn’t addressed Dianna’s concerns about her use of the word Hebrew word “ahava” (which, to be fair, I’m not educated enough to seriously address the nuances of the translation) and the rape of Dinah, but I’m hopeful that she will.

The purity movement is so well-intended, but it’s strayed into legalism and modesty checklists and straw man caricatures of feminism and blaming the victim. This is not okay. But perhaps there’s some hope for addressing these issues, after all?

***

A further clarification for those who felt like her story was certainly hyperbole (which it did turn out to be) and that those criticizing her sermon were “nitpicking” — words mean things. You can’t excuse someone’s careless words on assuming the best about their intent when they have such a big public presence. If she said it in a public forum, it’s up for public discussion, and it’s her job to communicate clearly to avoid sending the wrong message about abuse.

I know we’re all Christians and it’s a good impulse to try to be nice about things, but that’s not appropriate in situations like these, where she was speaking to (guessimating based on my years attending GCC chapels) an audience of 500-700 students and is regularly publishing mainstream Christian books and leads a multi-level ministry to young people of various ages and helps run a blog about  these topics. Statistically speaking, there are those who were in her audience on Tuesday morning who are currently in abusive relationships or have experienced abuse, and without her clarification, the message they heard was “don’t be needy,” “don’t fall in love,” and “being thrown against a wall is okay if your partner really loves you.”

This is why her clarification and engagement with our concerns is so, so important and encouraging.

Thank you, Dannah. Let’s keep talking.