Abuse, church, I kissed dating goodbye, Religious Trauma Syndrome, Spiritual Abuse

Balderdash Indeed.

Recently I’ve been drawn to the topic of #churchtoo.  The prolific outpouring of #metoo stories that are coming from survivors that have either been abused by members or staff of churches OR have disclosed their abuse to staff at the church and have been ignored, shunned, shamed, dismissed, or “dealt with in “biblical ways” (small nods of penance/prayer etc.)  I am a survivor, so #metoo & #churchtoo applies to my story directly, leading to my passion on this topic, as well as my strong empathy for the outpouring of the stories from these strong women.

I blogged EXTENSIVELY about the story of Jules, a young lady from Texas who was sexually assaulted by her youth pastor forcing her to have oral sex with him on a dirt road.  She then disclosed her rape, later on, the pastor was only dismissed from the church in an internal justice thing, as she was asked to keep this quiet (despite the fact that a crime had been committed).  The pastor then, later on, was hired by another church in Tennessee.  Jules then shared her story publically, and the pastor was forced to share in front of his congregation what he had done.  Instead of the shock and awe, he should have faced for the criminal act he had done, the man received a standing ovation.  After the public backlash, the pastor went on leave.  Remember this was a CRIME he got away with, that was covered up by the church.  For a long post on this, please refer to this post.

This is just one example of the #churchtoo stories that are coming to light.  Women are starting to become emboldened to speak their truth, in a patriarchal system that previously silenced them.

Now, before #churchtoo, there was #metoo.  We had permutations that came from that and one of them was #yesallmen.  #Yesallmen brought about huge backlash from the XY community, who knee-jerked into the “but wait, I’m not all men!  I am not a rapist, I don’t sexually assault women!  I don’t do these things!”  However, ALL MEN have been involved at one point in the catcalling, in the group that has made fun of a woman, etc.  All men have been bystanders while something has been said or done to a woman. So #yesallmen.  But before we get too hopped up on that broad term, let’s get a bit more specific.

I recently signed up for Twitter.  I’ve been dreading the form of social media for some reason, I didn’t really find myself connected to it, but I did come across an amazing woman who tweets fantastic content.  Amazingly, she linked a blog from Pastor Russ at Twin Oaks Presbyterian Church in Missouri, I’d thrilled to dialogue with him in person, because I’m about to break-down his entire post piece by piece and would be happy to put a face to his words. My hopes are he is woefully misguided and just had a moment of feeling wounded.  “But my church isn’t like that, please don’t write us all off” perhaps is where he was coming from.  I don’t know.  I’d be happy to have a Skype conversation.  You know how to reach me.)

You can read their entire post in sequence here. (Assuming he doesn’t have the proper sense to take it down.  (Though I’ve saved it in a cache and a word doc for posterity.)

I will be writing his words in quote boxes and mine below for the rest of this post.

Maybe you’ve read the articles. The world accuses the Church of fostering a culture of sexual abuse.

Balderdash.

Millions of Christians worldwide daily pursue justice and mercy, goodness and truth, and love for neighbor within their marriages, in their parenting, at work, in church, in their neighborhoods, and in charities and social organizations, quietly modeling the character of Christ day in and day out. Their conduct never makes the news. Christ-like behavior is not nearly as sexy as one Christian whose conduct denies his profession of faith. Scandal sells.

  1.  The world-  This is church-speak for “christians vs. non christians.”  We outside of the church proper are the world, for reference.  He is taking a perspective that this is a church v. non-religious stance, rather than the sexual abusers (and those who empower/harbor/excuse them) vs those who want to make sure they are… not doing that.
  2. Millions pursue justice and mercy etc etc etc.  Sure.  Yes.  Millions of people don’t do the wrong thing. Bravo. It’s kind of like when you serve a sandwich that doesn’t have a hair in it.  That’s kind of the minimum of the sandwich artist, right?  To serve a sandwich without a remnant of the server in it?  I’m not going to cheer that my sandwich did not have a curly purple hair in it.
  3. Scandal sells.  Now at this moment, he jumps the shark. I wasn’t angry about what he said before this very moment.  I was annoyed, maybe?  I was like “yeah, I remember this gaslighting message from before, the smooth-talking “world v. us” mentality” but, Scandal sells?  Seriously?  That’s where you want to go with this?    Survivors are not a story to be monetized.  Scandal sells?  We are talking about sexual abuse, rape etc.  This is a crime in which women (and men) have DEEP DEEP shame.  This is a story that often never gets told because of that shame.  The #Metoo movement has finally brought women to the point where they feel that there are enough survivors out there that there is a safety net of numbers so they feel that they can safely be heard and supported, or they would still be in the shadows.  There is nothing to be gained by stepping out and sharing a story about their rape, their victimization, ESPECIALLY if it happened in the very communities that they share a deep connection like their faith, their friends, their pastors, their religion.

Every day faithful churches deal carefully and biblically with cases of abuse, cooperating with law enforcement, caring for victims, and pursuing justice and accountability, quietly and faithfully. But that’s not newsworthy. Scandal scintillates.

  1. Here, let me fix that for you: “Faithful churches deal carefully and biblically with cases of CRIME, sweeping things under the run, shaming victims (like I’m doing in this post,) hiring would be felons, having no accountability, keeping things quiet (I totally agree with that one, buddy).  And that is newsworthy because that’s what we have been doing for so long and it’s finally coming out, and we are all nervous. Scandal scintillates.  And I’m scared that it might come out about my church, too.”
    Whew, much better.  See how that flows?
  2. Broad swaths of churches are not handling abuse, and the large amounts of disclosures that are happening from victims well.*

For two thousand years the Church of Jesus Christ has inculcated the virtue of self-control (Titus 2:11-12), the importance of love for neighbors (Matthew 22:36-40), and the necessity that men treat women as sisters in Christ (1 Timothy 5:1-2). The Church has been teaching men and women to conduct themselves with sexual integrity since the days of Moses. But that’s just a killjoy. Scandal is so much more intriguing than obedience.

  1. Self control- YES. See, that’s what could keep you from getting in this mess.  The church slut-shame girls and women by telling them how to act, dress, and to keep themselves all prim and proper (Hi, one-piece suits for girls but topless boys,  double standard! I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl, I’m looking at you too!), rather than teaching men to keep it in their pants,  control their minds, and not martially rape their wives.
    When we are taught to be submissive, not to be valued; when we are trained, like dogs; when the biggest value we have is hospitality, to be a mother, and a wife, not a member of society, to go to college,  to get an amazing job, to contribute passionately to the world, not our minds, wit, and spirit…
  2. This sexual integrity you speak of is totally not of this church world.  When the church teaches about sexual integrity in the terms of passing around a rose and by the time it gets to the end of the youth group is all smudged and broken and we are told that is what we are when we give part of our heart/spirit away like we are objects… or a piece of paper that gets ripped in half each time we like a boy until there is just this tiiiiiiny piece for the person we marry… see how we are objectified?  This is what the church teaches.  Mind you also, this is ALWAYS DIRECTED TO THE GIRLS.  We are fine china and any chip in the china and we are damaged goods.  Wonder why we don’t disclose abuse and rape? When all of that is shattered when our “purity” is taken from us, and we are disempowered by the very church that tells us it’s ultimate value, that is the power the church has.
  3. “Mansplaining” what it’s like to be in a survivor’s shoes, by this point in your blog is getting offensive.  You’ve started to lace in sexual purity and self-control to the narrative as if the #metoo or #churchtoo movement has to do with a lack of self-control.  RAPE AND SEXUAL ABUSE IS NOT ABOUT SELF CONTROL ON THE PART OF THE SURVIVOR.  IT IS ON THE PART OF THE AGGRESSOR/ABUSER.

The world expects, nay, it demands, that the Church share its outrage against sexual sin, which is the sin de jour. If a church instead chooses simply to live in fidelity to the truth and in sexual integrity, rather than to make showy, toothless, public proclamations, then that church is—according to the world—complicit. Phrases like “silence is consent” bandy about as the world shames the Church. But if the Church does rebuke sin, and if that sin is not the sin de jour—or if it is a sin that society refuses to call sin—then the world denounces the Church as hateful or racist or misogynistic or any number of other derogatory labels of contempt.

  1. Violence.pngRAPE IS NOT SEXUAL SIN ALONE.  RAPE IS A CRIME. RAPE IS A FELONY IN MOST, IF NOT ALL, STATES.  IT IS NOT THE “SIN DE JOUR”.  IT IS THE “CRIME DE OMG WHY HAS THIS NOT BEEN ON THE FOREFRONT OF ALL CHURCHES ALWAYS WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL THE TIME AND WHY AM I EVEN HAVING TO SPELL THIS OUT FOR YOU?”
  2. Are you really saying that the world would have an issue with you going “the church will have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to sexual abuse, assault and rape?”  Is this really even something I’m saying?
  3. We ARE shaming the church.  When the church has unprecedented access to vulnerable populations (children, homeless, women, survivors, etc), you ARE held to a high standard of behavior.  There is story after story coming out of staff who are known predators who were hired with known criminal records.  This is UNACCEPTABLE.  This point cannot be argued.

And now you go into your affirmations.  I recall these.  In the church we used to say stuff and just because we said it, it made it true.  We had a gal who had cystic fibrosis (a genetic condition, where the pastor told her that she still had it because of unconfessed sin, but that’s for another time), we spoke it out that she no longer had CF and waited for Jesus to heal her, because anything claimed in his name became true.  She died before she turned 30.  But let’s go into this pastor’s affirmations.  These might go over better.

I affirm that individual professing Christians have been guilty of sin and abuse. I reject the idea that an entire institution is guilty for the sin of an individual.

Onboard.

I affirm that individual churches have mishandled abuse cases, and in so doing have wounded the abused. I reject the idea that every church stands guilty for the sin of one church.

Abuse was an actual CRIME, but okay.

I affirm that entire denominations have failed to speak or have actively covered up sexual sin. I reject the notion that every denomination is thus a nursery for abuse.

When there are posts like this pastor’s, shunning the speaking up of victims of abuse (you can bet that no one from his flock will because HOLY SHIT, #nothischurch), and being in a system that is male-dominated, and where victims often are told that the abuse will be handled internally, rather than to be encouraged to speak to police, the Church (Big C, meaning any/all) will not be a safe place to disclose abuse.  But don’t just take my word for it.

I affirm that the Church must balance justice and mercy, giving appropriate weight to each when dealing with sin and abuse. I reject the intimation that world knows best how the Church should deal with sin.

There is a whole justice system set up to deal with crimes.  Which is what we are talking about here.  If the church wants to help out with the spiritual side of an abuser, carry on, warriors, but justice and criminal repercussions are handled in the courts.

The world understands neither justice nor mercy, and it certainly knows nothing of how justice and mercy meet in the reconciling work of Jesus Christ.

Eyeroll.  Just no.

I reject the hubris of the world in presuming to tell the Church what it should or should not do and say.

Here, let me help you out.

  1.  We the church will not hire, abet, encourage, employ or affirm abusers.
  2.  We firmly stand with, affirm, believe, encourage and stand up for the victims of sexual assault, abuse, and rape.
  3. We will IMMEDIATELY contact law enforcement if we become aware of any information that breaks ANY laws regarding sexual crimes involving children.  We will immediately encourage any women to report sexually based crimes to law enforcement.  We will support them FULLY through that process.
  4. We believe in the autonomy of both women and men, and the absolute value of both sexes.

It’s really that simple.  IT’S.NOT. THAT. HARD.

The Church of Jesus Christ—with all her warts, flaws, sins, shortcomings, baggage, failings, and weaknesses—is still the beautiful Bride of Christ whom He will deliver blameless on the last day. The Church still binds and looses, opening and shutting the Kingdom of God through her preaching of Good News. To the Church Jesus has given the oracles and ordinances for the gathering and perfecting of the saints. With the Church He is battering down the gates of hell.

The world is in no position to bad talk the Bride of Christ.

In fact, the world might find that the Church’s husband has been keeping score, and He is jealous for His Bride.

Is that… a threat? Keeping Score?  If I’m keeping score on the bride of christ, you have a chance to do better.

I’m available via skype, OP.  I’d love a dialogue.  I’m a survivor, of a rape that happened IN my church.

The church has an opportunity to call survivors in by acknowledgment of organizational failures (if not singular church failure), rather than call the world out for pointing the finger at the clergy at Large for harboring.

HOW WILL YOU USE IT? 

TRY AGAIN, PASTOR RUSS.

 

* I’m adding this edit: I realize that this pastor is one of the first to come out and attempt a dialogue.  This is hard work.  It’s hard to be male and attempt a dialogue about sexual assault, being that the voices that should be out there should be the victims.  Victims need to be the ones talking, but it takes a lot of emotional labor to be always educating on this issue.

I spent a lot of time on this article, and I also spoke with many people as I wrote it, including quite a few who are in the church themselves to ground my anger with the faith-based responses to the #churchtoo movement.  I do understand that likely this pastor is working to try to understand how the church can meet people where they are.  I imagine there are people in his church that have experienced rape, and I hope that he can find a way to hear their stories without judgment.  Victims deserve to have their perpetrators face justice within the justice system and to have support systems in place to encourage them to speak to authorities if they so choose.

Rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse is not only a sin, it is a crime.  Pastoral staff need to take a stand against this crime and stand with women who are starting to be able to find their voices and boldly step into the light.

 

 

church, Religious Trauma Syndrome, Sexual Assault, Spiritual Abuse

#ChurchToo

When pastors can get up in front of their congregation and get a standing ovation for admitting that they sexually assaulted a minor, we are CLEARLY missing the mark.

This month, Tennessee Pastor Andy Savage spoke to his church admitting to a “sexual incident” with a 17-year-old girl. This “incident”  involved pressuring this girl to perform oral sex on him. For the rest of this post, I will refer to this “incident” as sexual assault, as that is the correct term.

Previously mentioned in past posts, I find the vast access of clergy to be very problematic in the incidents of sexual assaults because of the implicit trust placed in their hands.

Christianity Today’s Editor, Kately Beaty hits the nail on the head with this response: 

“In these cases, you have a very vertical understanding of forgiveness, something that happens between the perpetrator and God. But we lack a horizontal understanding. There really has to be a reckoning with the wrong done to this woman.”

Let’s call a spade a spade.  Using your spiritual and male privilege to convince a youth to perform oral sex on you, is sexual assault.  It’s not an “incident.”  Until we are able to be direct and blunt about responsibility (the onus is on the person in power of the sexual situation) we will not be able to move forward as a culture, a church, and a movement.

There must be frameworks and expectations put in place, and followed up with by outside agencies when it comes to crimes on church property, or with the clergy.

Churches have an obligation to be a safe haven for people to go.  A place for them to be safe, and to make sure that they are taken care of.  As a young person, this church failed me.

Subsequently to the #metoo movement, I’ve found the #churchtoo hashtag.  This is a bold statement of women and girls to say that the church has been abusive by either being the abuser or enabling abuse to occur on the property or at sponsored events.

Just recently, I asked to meet with my former youth pastor.  I disclosed to him in the early 2000’s about my rape on church property during a youth group night event.  (Side note:  When I disclosed my rape, (which occurred next to a bathroom that was further away from the youth event, but still within the building,) the first thing he said was “well, why were you over there?”  Not, “I’m so sorry.” or “That’s horrible, how can we, the church support you?”) Immediately, (via FB messenger) he avoided my request to meet, even invoking his wife as a reason, stating that he doesn’t meet with women alone.  I responded that if she needed to attend our meeting, I’d be fine with that, giving him no other excuse.

When he further pushed as to the reason of my meeting, I answered that I wanted more information about the reporting he did upon learning of the sexual assault that happened on the property.  He then told me that it happened so long ago, that he didn’t really remember anything.  I pressed him to meet with me for “closure” and my healing, and he told me he’d “pray about it” and get back to me after the holidays.  This was over a year ago, before Christmas 2016.

Just tonight, January 2018, he told me that he wasn’t comfortable with the meeting, to which I let him know that I would be going to the media with my story.  He then suddenly remembered that he had gone to the church leadership and they had “reported” the crime, and I should take up any media attention and direct it at the church itself (with his implication that he shouldn’t be involved.)

Since the police never approached me with the information about the rape, it’s clear that my rape was never actually reported to the authorities.

There are many major issues here.

  1.  The youth pastor likely did not report the rape that occurred during a youth sponsored event, after I disclosed my assault.  If he had,  he would have told me a year ago when I asked in December 2016.
  2. The youth pastor stated that he disclosed my rape to the “leadership” (of which he still has not named) at the church, (this information was “recalled” during a FB message 1/25/2018) who also did not report the rape that happened at a church-sponsored event.  If he cannot name who he spoke to, it makes it sound like he buried it himself, and he’s trying to cover his tracks. There is a pending question of who he spoke to in “leadership” that has been seen, but so far unresponded to, leading me to further believe that he is attempting to cover his tracks.*
  3. If he had been open and reported the crime, why is he elusive about answering basic questions about a life-threatening assault that happened?  Did the church protect one of its own with the hopes that my experience would not come out?  What are the long-reaching implications of this policy, and how many other people over the years have been harmed by this church?
  4. He would be open and honest about who he spoke to, if his intent and interest is doing what is right, not doing what is best for himself or the church.

I’ve yet to come out and name this church or pastor(s) publically, except to a few local people in common with the church and friends.  My intent is NOT to smear the name of the church, but rather to call to account the person(s) involved with keeping a violent crime “in the family” rather than reporting it to authorities, and/or offering me support. (Or I’d name the church right now.)

The Sr. Pastor of the church I was assaulted with is no longer in ministry and has entered the corporate world.  This youth pastor that I’ve interacted with is still in ministry and is a local Sr. Pastor of a church (that he “planted”).  I have deep concerns for any/all youth and young people who are within the church, as they will not be protected or supported by this pastor.

Where do we go from here?  How do we protect our youth and young adults from (1) predators, and (2) an insulated hierarchy of clergy?  Should we not expect transparency from persons in spiritual (and typically male) positions of power?

 

 

*Update: after my last “who did you report it to” question, he finally agreed to a meeting.  I will update after this meeting, but likely no new information will be revealed.

 

#metoo #silenceisnotspiritual #justiceforjules

 

church, Process, Spiritual Abuse, Vulnerability

When Being Human Feels Like Imposter Syndrome

For me, nothing feels more vulnerable than not being able to perform at the level I’m used to.  I find solace in the idea that if anything I prove my worth by doing ALL THE THINGS.   Over the past few months, my health has taken a weird turn, requiring me to really pare down how much I am “doing” throughout the day.  I’m consistently tired, thus needing to pass some of the workloads I’ve previously owned, to my husband.

At the same time, I’ve been in therapy with Jessica for over three years now.  I’ve been working through years and years of trauma and abuse, while simultaneously trying to {adult/wife/mother}.

I have a lovely husband, an amazing child, and a great life.  But my trauma keeps me from enjoying it the way I should.  I feel like an imposter in this life, as if I can’t play all the parts I should to deserve it all. I sit in therapy and spin in circles about the human I am, who I was supposed to be, and the complex factors that created who I am today.

Despite her not giving me a single reason to, I’ve consistently challenged Jessica’s dedication to me as a client by calling her out on various things she says that trigger me.  (Interestingly enough, she probably finds this totally helpful and empowering for me to do.)  Every few months I seem to hit this Wall of “OMG WHY AM I NOT “BETTER” YET?”  Today she mentioned in response to the Wall, that therapy for complex trauma survivors can take 10 years + to move through.

I was dumbfounded.  Then she drops this:

“When you’ve grown up in persistent and systemic abuse, with incident after incident, complex trauma, therapy is a process of totally rebuilding a new human being.

Of course it’s going to take a long time.

Not only that, but it’s expected and okay.”

I left shaken, and in tears of both shame {for feeling this way} and relief {maybe I’m not broken?} I turned on a podcast and started listening to my weekly “geek-out” of Psychology in Seattle about Imposter Syndrome.

The podcast got me thinking.  I feel like just existing is imposter syndrome for me.  I consistently question my own reality because of the spiritual abuse I experienced.  The church shunned facing trauma head-on and working through it.  I recall ministries that would have you bring your trauma to a weekend retreat and be expected to let god heal it all {read: never need to worry about, deal with, or mention said trauma again}.  If you did struggle with that trauma afterward it was because of {a lack of faith, a lack of reading your bible enough, a lack of prayer, unconfessed sin in your life}.

Perhaps this is why the formerly religious struggle so much with trauma.  Without a forum to safely express feelings, doubts, and struggles,  how is trauma to be resolved? {Or maybe not even resolved, but integrated into our lives.} When lack of healing is connected with lack of faith, there is little motivation to explore struggle with past trauma.

When I was in the church, I was basically cattle.  I was being raised to fulfill certain duties {youth leader/wife/worship leader} and to not stray beyond that.  Purity was of the utmost importance, and the appearance of being unblemished was critical for those roles.  The girls, specifically, were raised with a goal of a marriage and children.  There was little room in there for humanity or cracks in our perfect porcelain plates.  In order to have a great match, endorsed by the pastors, we needed to have an appearance of perfection, and a lack of struggle to be holy.

Upon exiting the church, I felt everything I was and formed myself to be was called into question.  I was wandering among the world we were taught to not be of, with huge gashes from childhood and young adult complex trauma, with no support system.  I felt so vulnerable because the part I was groomed to play was suddenly taken away from me.  An arranged marriage to a member of the ministry, all my friends, my musical self {worship team}, and even my family.  My sense of self was systemically taken from me {or never allowed to develop}, piece by piece during my childhood through to my young adult days along with countless others.  {Some of whom are still deeply involved in the church life to this day, and now a cog in the spiritual abuse wheel.}

Thankfully, I’m a member of several FB groups where deconstructing religious experiences and spiritual trauma is an everyday discussion.  I feel less alone when I see similar stories of spiritual abuse, and how their experiences in the church have cause people significant and ongoing harm.  It hurts me to know that a group of people can hurt people so badly, and even after a person leaves there is significant, ongoing wounds that pop up.

On the flip side, at times a topic will be brought up that turns my world on end again.  This goes along the lines of “know better, do better.”  I will suddenly have a realization that something I experienced wasn’t normal, or was downright abusive, which puts me back in the trenches of needing to deconstruct my long-held beliefs.

I frequently doubt my ability to reconstruct a whole human being from the broken parts I’ve gathered over the years.  I feel a sense of obligation to be further along in my process than just 3 years.  When I struggle to be the perfect wife, mother or friend, I have little sympathy for myself, or grace.  I am keenly aware this is a result of the unbending black/white thinking I grew up in, but cutting myself the slack to know that I’m not going to break my child by reacting a certain way when I’m triggered… my husband isn’t going to leave me because I need to rest and not unload the dishwasher… I’m not failing at life because I sit in therapy every week spinning on the same issues over and over… is difficult.

 

 

church, Spiritual Abuse

Responsibility of the Religious

How do we hold the powerful accountable?

In the current climate of sexual assault revelations, one particular story caught my eye.  Danny Ray Johnson, a pastor and a legislator from Kentucky died by suicide when allegations of sexual assault became public from 2012.

Following up with the post I wrote (I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye), a recent FB post came across my feed that also got me thinking. The question was:

In the midst of sexual harassment allegations, and listening to the women who spoke up about feeling obligated to comply because of the status of the male figure, I can’t help but feel like perhaps mary felt the same way.
What higher status of “man” is there than the god we literally believe in?
Do we worship a god of rape?

The final sentence blew my mind.  My answer is yes, and here’s why.

The power differential between a young girl and an all-powerful god is extreme.  No matter what, I’d imagine that Mary couldn’t say no if she wanted to.

Picture this, the object of your worship comes down in some form and says “Mary, I need to have a baby.  Would you be the mother of that baby?”  I’m imagining this as a human now.  If I found out that, as a young girl, there was an omnipotent being who could take my life in an instant with his smiting wand, and he came down to me in a booming voice and asked me to conceive his child, damn right I’d say yes.

Let’s bring this to practical terms.  In many churches, the pastor IS the voice of god.  (Especially to young people.)  I recall the churches I was a part of, and I recall this perceived spiritual distance and prestige that the leadership had.  They could do no wrong, and whatever they told us to do, we would.  Our parents would also back them up.

So, here comes this 17-year-old girl, in 2012, and her pastor.  The pastor, during a sleepover at the church, molested this girl.  The victim states that she thought of her pastor as a “second dad,” giving him emotional access to her.  She brought a case against the pastor, which was later closed (under shady circumstances). Recently the abuse came out in the media, and the pastor subsequently shot himself after an incredibly odd sing-along presser.

This “pastor” called himself Pope, and also had odd statements that conflicted with reality (he created a morgue, as a private citizen at the twin towers on 9-11, for which he got some compensation from PTSD developed from this incident.)

What does this boil down to, and why are Male Pastors so dangerous?

 

They are generally male, and placed in a “father” role.

Female senior pastors are still rare (though becoming more common every day, listed at 9% of positions in the clergy) and thus males continue to hold senior responsibilities and roles in the church body.  Consider the population of church-goers as well.  The pastor is the “head of the church” and men are “head of the family.”  It’s not a big jump to say that pastors are then placed as a father figure to many, especially for the vulnerable and the young.

Take Johnson, again.  This man gained access to this girl by befriending her, and subsequently took advantage at a church sleepover.  Some may ask, “Well, where are the parents?”  To which I’d answer “What sounds safer than a sleepover at a church?”

They often have illusions of grandeur.

Pastors are “set apart” from their congregants in many ways.  They stand in front of their parishioners weekly and interpret the bible for people to listen to.  Often this is the ONLY exposure people will have to the bible, and many take a clergy member’s view as fact.  Imagine if you were perceived to be the sole person in charge of a group’s spiritual well-being.  This gives you a lot of power and control.  As seen in the case of Johnson, he actually took the title of “Pope” (otherwise referred to as “His Holiness.”)

They are not held accountable for their actions, even if they are wrong.  

Putting aside the current rape-apologist culture we live in, Pastors are rarely called to task for mistakes (regardless of severity.) In this example, the Johnson continued to “serve” as the church head for more than 5 years after the assault occurred.  At the presser Johnson held, he literally was sung to by faithful congregants.  The Governor of Kentucky said Johnson was “an embarrassment” but would not call for his resignation from Congress.

Their power is often unchecked, and has no bounds.  In some cases, they are “overseen” by a board of some form, but again, these boards are mostly male as well.  As a result, sexual crimes are not taken seriously.

Cover-ups from the church come from a feeling of shame and guilt.  The embarrassment of having a pastor who isn’t following the law, or the moral obligations he speaks to weekly is too much to bear. Thus, any “indiscretions” are swept under the rug with the hopes they are not found out. In some extreme cases, pastors resign amidst controversy if the rug gets too bumpy from all the dust bunnies the pastors put there.  Rarely are formal charges filed for crimes.

 

Bringing this back to Johnson:

The “pope” dies. If you look on the FB pages that are linked to the press releases, there is a LOT of victim blaming going on.

First, the 17-year-old is listed as a woman.  (Now, she is CURRENTLY of age, but at the time of the assault, was a girl.)  This diminishes the power of the crime he was accused of.  Rape is awful, no matter what (I say this as a survivor myself), but underage abuse and assault is another layer of awful.

Second, there is a LOT of support for the pastor in this situation, and not as much for the sexual assault victim.  The suicide is linked directly to the recent publication of the sexual assault, placing the onus of his death squarely on her shoulders.  100% of sexual assaults are caused by the assaulters.  Subsequent actions as a result of guilt must also be placed squarely on the shoulders of the abuser, not on the person who spoke up.  His death is 100% NOT.HER.FAULT.  However, the outcry of support for him is dauntingly loud.

Bringing this back to Mary:

So, why are these points relevant? Imagine you are Mary, an unread, simple girl who knows of god as an omnipotent being who can create and destroy at will and on a whim.  God, in whatever form, speaks to her and lets her know he’s picked HER to be the mother of his baby.  The bible expresses that she consents, and TADA a fetus is developed.

Let’s look at the verse in question:

Luke 1-26-38. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Breaking that down:

  1. Mary is shocked by the appearance of something clearly more powerful than her. (Don’t be afraid of me, Mary, God thinks you are cool.)
  2. Mary has been deemed worthy by an all-powerful being, (Woah, the creator of the universe has his eye on me, and thinks I’m awesome.)
  3. She is TOLD that she will be the incubator of god’s baby. She will name him Jesus.  (So, she is TOLD what will happen by god. See, no consent here thus far.)
  4. She replies that she is a servant of god, and acquiesces to god’s statement. (Imagine this in the context of a slave owner to a slave.  The owner has ultimate control of her fate, and thus is she ever even able to say no if she wanted to?  I would submit that any consent is suspect at a minimum, and likely not even an option.)

But could she ever actually SAY NO? It’d be like sitting with a nuclear weapon pointed at you and having someone say “hey, would you be my baby mama?” Is it really even a question, from the woman/girl’s perspective? I would humbly submit that the power differential is so extreme that we don’t even have context for it in modern concrete terms.

In concrete terms, the pastor has an incredible amount of power, being the voice and interpreter of god.  In many churches I attended, the leadership complained about the amount of responsibility they held and the inability to fail in any area of their lives.

Surely, pastors should be allowed to be human, they will make mistakes.  But, when they took the job of spiritual leader of the many, they ARE held to a higher standard of morality than the layman.  Abuse of their access and power MUST require that they be held accountable, not just within the church structure (with a public repentance, temporary leave of absence, or resignation) but with a public outcry of accountability within the community (and when appropriate, through the legal system with the full support of the congregation.)

Where does that leave us?

People in power need to use their power effectively and for good, with subsequent and appropriate oversight.

 

 

church, I kissed dating goodbye

I survived “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”

I’ve been sitting on this post for several weeks.  As the number of women who are speaking out against sexual abuse, assault and rape continue to build, so are the offensive comments and apologists.

In my formative years of early dating life, I was introduced by my pastor to the book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” (and it’s follow-up book, Boy Meets Girl.) Among many things, this book was an instruction manual for the devoted on how to properly date (or not date as it may be) and relate to the opposite sex.

Why is this appearing here, now?  Josh Harris, the author of IKDG, and BMG is currently doing the rounds of social media as he details how he might have been wrong about how the book was written.  Over time, he heard stories of how his stringent dating principles were taken like the bible across the world and how they have damaged young people’s sense of identity, sex lives, views of the opposite sex and marriage.  Since hearing these stories, he has recanted many of the rules and guidelines for appropriate relationships that he put forth in his book. (You can watch the entire 17:27 TedX talk here.)

Harris’ book placed males ahead of females, and perpetuated the patriarchal views of relationships in the most skewed sense. He wrote this manual to “appropriate dating and courtship” when he was 21, after only one actual relationship. I actually purchased this book again (much to my chagrin) in order to deconstruct some of the harmful tenants that Harris’ book (and thus the church) imposed on girls as they developed into women.

(Sidenote: Another eerie part of this book is that it had a previous owner that highlighted various passages.  This brought sadness to my heart, knowing there was another person led into this harmful way of thinking at one point.  I recall saying to my therapist that it was as though the book had a soul that my past could relate to.  I wanted to know who this was, and to let them know that this book was harmful, and not to put so much trust in one person’s view, as the book was written in the voice of “God wants you to do this.”

Let me break down some of the issues he brought to light when he wrote this book.

Serial dating/recreational romance

Harris refers to dating like recreational romance, in the sense that it is reckless and without merit.  Essentially, any dating before entering a formal “let’s see if we could get married” is cheating on your future spouse and has no use what-so-ever.

Let’s break this down.  First off, it’s difficult to know what you do and don’t want in a person without getting to know them better.  Harris would say you can do this outside of a dating relationship.  He refers to this as a brother/sister relationship.  First off, starting a relationship looking at someone as a brother squidges me out.  How I would treat and think of a sibling, and how I would think/treat a person I was interested in are totally different.  Making the switch from a pure “I couldn’t think of them that way (or shouldn’t)” to a “maybe I could pursue this person as a mate” is a violent one, and leads to a lot of boundary confusion.

Biblically, women are to be submissive to their husbands- “Here’s a man I could follow.”

(I won’t get too far into my personal beliefs about this, but suffice it to say, women are equal to men.)  Within the church, women are considered less than men.  Often women cannot speak in church (from the pulpit), and cannot teach boys past a certain age.  This is based on a scripture pull from 1 Corinthians 14:34; “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.”

I have long believed this quote is culturally based, as it was written in the time where many women could not read and thus did not know the scriptures as written in the time.  It would make sense to not have someone teaching the bible if they could not read the bible.  However, in this time, it is still used in the context that men are the only ones qualified to teach and interpret what god says in the bible for the masses (or for older boys and men.)  I clearly take a lot of issues with the idea that women could not offer lessons of value on living out faith.

This lesser-than attitude carries down to the youngest of girls who are not allowed to ask questions, or speak up in church.  They then develop a subserviant view of their role in their sex as they develop.  This view pepetuates rape culture from the beginning, placing men in the only power roles available, and women in the place to meet the needs of the men to enable them to perform their leadership duties (both in church and in marriage.)

Furthermore, this view is brought into the bedroom.  Often the topic of sex was brought up, and I currently see many christian women talk about how they have sex when their husbands want it, regardless of whether they are “in the mood” (or even further, when they actively don’t want it.)  This IS MARITAL RAPE in the case of the latter, but the church instructs women to have sex when their partner wants it, lest the male be led to meet their sexual needs elsewhere.  This places the sole responsibility and blame on women if their men cheat.  Often the question “well, what needs were you not meeting in your marriage” is first, rather than the onus being directly on the male for the choice to cheat.  (Side note: I believe unmet needs lead to cheating. HOWEVER, the sole responsibility for extra-marital affairs cannot be placed solely on the woman not having sex with their husband “enough” as I often heard in church.

With regards to “Here’s a man I could follow” I say this:  I do not follow my husband.  I walk next to him, both figuratively and metaphorically.  When there is a power differential among partners from the get-go, I believe there is a definite probability of misuse of that power.  As I grew through my late teen years and into my twenties, I watched “biblical relationships/courtships” and even marriages where the woman was placed in a lesser-than role and always asked permission of her husband to do even the smallest of things.

Courtship: “Its a time for the couple to get to know each other without outside pressure or overly high expectations” (Page 29, IKDG)

Oh boy, where do I start?  When IKDG came out, this book became the bible of relationships.  The church picked it up and ran with it.  When we found out a couple was “entering a courtship” it was a given that they were likely to marry, and it was a BIG deal.  The announcement was basically a “pre-engagement.”  Everyone started to examine them from the outside, and watch to see what they did.  Courtship was the HIGHEST form of outside pressure and high expectations.  Period.

“Men don’t know what it means to be a man, so we lazily do whatever is easiest. Women don’t know what it means to be a woman, so they end up acting like men.” (page 104, IKDG)

Where do I start here?  First off, the author considers men to be lazy because they don’t know how to be men?  What does that even mean? Immediately following this quote is this: “Relating to the opposite sex can be confusing if you don’t know what you are opposite of.”

*Blink.*

So, breaking that down, Harris is saying that men are the opposite of women?  This is completely false.  We are different, and in some cases our skills are complementary, but I certainly don’t consider myself opposite of my husband.  Later on, he talks about men as leaders.  So, to take his view, women are followers?  When extrapolating this out into common marriage life, we cannot afford to be followers.  We have needs.  We have skills.  We are simply BETTER in some areas.  (And sure, that works to the opposite, men are better in some areas too.)  In a functional relationship, men and women are leaders in multiple areas both practically and emotionally.

Speaking to the latter part of Harris’ above-bolded quote, Women don’t know what it means to be a woman, so they end up acting like men.” Again, this is vague.  If women take the lead on something, they are acting like men?  Why can women not lead and be powerful women?  In former church life, this was a threat to power in the leadership, and thus why the women were shunned for speaking out about their needs, ideas, and stereotypical gender roles.

This played out as many women getting married and not going to college, or being forced into early motherhood.  Not only did this play out in this way, but this life was idealized.  One should aspire to marriage and children, regardless of how their goals might differ.  Young marriage in this format also led to financially dependent women, who could not leave a partnership even if they wanted to, burdened with a lack of education, skills, and several children.  The church was HAPPY to help, however, as long as the marriage stayed intact.

“If you want men to respect and cherish you as a woman, refuse to buy into our culture’s obsession with being physically beautiful and sexually alluring. This is an attitude that springs from the motives of your heart and extends to the way you dress and act around men.” (Page 117, IKDG) “Once when I told her (his courtship lady) that a particular pair of shorts were a little too short and were causing me to struggle, she quickly replaced them.” (Page 118, IKDG)

At one church I attended, there was a giant shirt we had to wear over deemed inappropriate clothes.  It said, “I did not wear the proper clothing to church today.” (And various other permutations of this idea.)  And so, the slut-shaming began*.

Harris describes a time that he felt his “courtship partner” was wearing shorts that were too short, and caused him to struggle.  (And subsequently told her to not wear them.)  This puts the early onus on women to prevent men from thinking (and eventually acting) on sexual thoughts. This is rape culture at its finest.  Men are SOLELY responsible for their actions when it comes to sexual behavior.  By having an early expectation that 1. sexual thoughts are wrong and 2. the woman is responsible for changing her behavior to keep the man from acting on that thought causes men to switch their view from “I am responsible for my actions, and need to manage my thoughts appropriately” to “that woman caused me to think/act this way.”  We can see this culture clearly with the various permutations of “she was drunk”, “she dressed slutty” “she was asking for it.”

As a survivor of sexual assault, I also would like to state that this battle continues for me.  I was raped IN a church, and am consistently deconstructing the warped perception that I was the cause of my own rape.  But outside of that, women are consistently questioned as someone who “asked for it” when unwelcome sexual actions occur.

 

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The shirt her daughter wore to school.

 

In a conversation thread on Facebook on a friend’s wall, the topic of dress codes came up.  Her daughter wore a shirt that pointed out the major flaws in dress codes, and how it perpetuates rape culture.  One commenter said: “I feel like it’s some sort of popular trend to try to be a victim in any way possible! I don’t get it….. I just don’t. It’s a dress code, a rule that kids need to follow while at school…. I wouldn’t necessarily love my daughters to see this shirt because they don’t feel like victims. I think it promotes victimhood.” 

We subsequently had a back and forth where she couldn’t see how dress-codes that are extensively directed at girls was contributing to rape culture, and placing the onus early on girls, to “protect boys” from provocative clothing.  She attempted to deflect to a future “dress code” for a job (and referring to the school as the child’s job.) To which I would respond that 1. a job (and subsequent dress code for the job) was an agreement they entered into willingly (while school is compulsory) and 2. even dress codes within employment are often written by upper management (read: males) and continue to be written to “not lead men astray” in the workplace.

The major sticking point for this commentor was based on her not being a “victim,” with regards to women being thrust early on into a male-dominated/slut shaming/rape culture because she had not encountered it. Interestingly enough, until we examine that culture, and how we are players in it, the forces can be subtle, and sometimes imperceivable.

*I’d also like to state that I never saw a boy at church be forced to wear the slut-shaming shirt. Ever.

We should never expect the other person to be the strong one and force them to bear the weight of temptation.  (Page 150, IKDG)

This quote refers back to many of the past points.  First, we SHOULD expect the other person to be the strong one, when it comes to rape culture.  (Read: the men.)  When we look at rape statistics, most sexual assaults are committed by men, on women.  This, however, cannot be tied (and morally SHOULD NOT BE TIED) to the responsibility of women.  Men are more powerful in many cases, physically, than women.  However, my spaghetti strap shirt (or walking down the street at night, or simply being a woman) is not an invitation for a man to rape, assault, or cat-call me.  The responsibility to control one’s mind is solely in the hands of that person.  I do not “lead” men to behave inappropriately, they are 100% in charge of their actions.  100% of sexual assaults are the cause of assaulters.  Full Stop.

“God not only wants to maximize a couple’s enjoyment of sex in marriage, He also wants them to learn to trust Him together. When a Christian man and woman systematically deny their own physical desires as an expression of mutual faith and submission to Jesus Christ, they are laying a solid spiritual foundation for their marriage.  They are learning to fight sin as a team.” (Page 151, IKDG) “only selfishness and sin make two people sexually incompatible.” (Page 167, IKDG)

This sets up sex to be SO MUCH.  First off, there is a whole section about forgiving a potential courter of previous sexual/relational behavior.  I recall a very clear couple of sermons (and I think ANY long time youth group person will remember a similar less.)  This lesson starts with a piece of paper.  The pastor holds it, whole, and starts to tell a story about how Jessica (insert name here, but every time I heard this, it was a female, which will become important later) was in a relationship and kissed this boy.  They later break up. (The Pastor then rips the paper in half and says “she gave part of her heart away.)  He then goes through several other dating relationships (which usually involved her having sex with a boy, kissing them or doing other sexual things) and each time he would tear the increasingly smaller piece of paper in half.  Then, FINALLY finds “the one” and she is full of shame because she only has “this much” of her heart to give to this boy.  She has to painfully explain away all her previous exploits to this boy, with shameful tones.  (I’ve also heard this lesson as a rose that was passed around to all the youth group, starting as a perfect rose, then getting damaged by so many people touching it.)

Sex. is. not. inherantly. bad.  But, throughout life, sex is a taboo topic and (especially for girls) considered their worth.  Are you pure when you are married?  No?  You didn’t “save yourself” for your husband?

Should sexual relationships be saved for two consenting people who are at the age of reason of the consequences?  Yes.  Should exploring natural feelings be a cause for shame and a feeling of being tainted?  NO.

I recall the residue of my church upbringing as I eventually disclosed to my eventual husband the number of sexual partners I had before him.  (I did not count the rapes I experienced within my tally.)  Though I had been with more sexual partners, (and had more long-term relationships,  I could look back on those relationships as ones I learned a lot from.  Every person had something to offer that developed who I was, both positively, and in a way that showed me what I didn’t want in a life-partner.  Furthermore, I did not feel that my worth had been diminished because of those experiences. If anything, I had more to offer my husband.  I knew more about myself, and what I needed.

However, that residue of shame continued from my church days of “will he judge me or think less of me because I had more relationships that included sex than him?”  When women are brought down to a basic worth of purity and abstinence, we are forced into the framework of rape culture.  We are then an object to be spoiled, rather than a living, breathing, evolving woman.

Josh Harris and his motivations:

This post started with the recent developments and revelations of Josh Harris.  His book perpetuated rape culture, female shame, and male power differentials.

I watched his TedX talk about his evolving belief systems on these two books that he authored about courtship and relational behavior, and was rather un-impressed with his self-reflection.

First, he did not spend a significant amount of time speaking about the people who were hurt by his book.  I phrase it this way for the following reasons:

1.  The book was used as a tool by leaders in the church, pastors/males especially, to alter and influence the behavior of youth (who at the time were highly influenceable by spiritually given advice and guidance.)

2.  This book became the basis and rulebook for what a healthy (read: “godly”) relationship should look like.  The impact of this is still being felt across the world (literally), as many marriages were formed under the guidelines this book lays out. All one needs to do is google “I kissed dating goodbye” and you can read the copious amounts of stories out there written by young victims who are living in (or escaping from) horrible marriages that were not thought-out in a logical way.

3. It only took him 2 decades to start talking about how his framework MIIIIIIGHT be damaging.  This is yet another example of male-dominated rape culture in play.

4.  Josh Harris is doing this talk, SURPRISE, before a big release of a documentary.  Attention fingers are pointing at you now, right Josh? He pats himself on the back throughout the talk for talking with dissenters and placing their “testimonies” out there publically for all to see.  All the while, his book(s) continues to sell on the shelf.  If he truly felt that these books were damaging, he would pull them from circulation completely.  (And should.) Harris continues to profit from a book that damages young people.

Conclusion:

We do live in a culture where men are the perpetrators (mainly) and are not called to the carpet for 100% of their thoughts and actions.  We DO live in a culture where women’s sexual exploits, clothing, actions, and words are considered the key to whether they will be assaulted/raped.

This book is just one part of this structure, in the microsystem of a young person’s life, but for an entire church-going generation, it was a huge influence in perpetuating a dangerous precedent.  This is rape culture, and until we look at it, in all its grossness, and expose these faulty beliefs (and judicial systematic procedures), we will continue to live in a world where men cannot do wrong unless the women were leading them to do so