I’m Not Third (Anymore)


Back in the late 90’s the silicone bracelets were making their debut as the “it” thing, post-WWJD lanyards.  They started with the large causes, but then filtered down to the church, not only as the WWJD style wording but the latest lingo; “I’m Third.”

The “I’m Third” movement started as a way to make sure that people were cognizant of the keeping god and service in the center of our lives, before considerations of self.  The idea was “God First, Others Second, I’m Third.”

God First: Looking back, this fits perfectly into the expectations the church had of us.  We were expected to put god at the center of all we did.  Of course, what god wanted us to do was often filtered through the mind and voice of our pastor.  We were youth, and thus rather new to the idea of religion, and our minds were suggestive.  We had such high standards as to what we should be shooting for, nothing short of perfection.

Read our bible for hours a week, pray more, and attend as many church events as possible.  This was the formula for putting god first.  This formula also was prescribed whenever there was a struggle in our lives.  We either needed to do “all the things” more, or we haven’t done “all the things” enough.  Either way, our failure was the common denominator. However, complications arose as we were also told that we were broken, and born in sin. A man had to come and literally die for us, because we are born in sin.  God had to be first because we didn’t deserve any of his love anyway. (And we were reminded of that frequently.)

On top of this, we were to use our gifts to serve the church (meeting goals 1 & 2) but somehow do so without calling attention to ourselves.  If we had a talent for music (in my case) we had to dance a fine line between “guiding people to the Lord” and performing from the “self.”

Others Second: The idea of subservience was implanted through service, thinking of others before ourselves.  This fed the church as well, having many people who thought that service was a requirement, like some sort of punch card to heavenly admittance. We served by being ushers, youth leaders, prayer team people, and doing all the grunt work of the ministerial staff.  This was seen as a way to continue to validate god’s desires for the church.

As women/girls, we were being groomed to be wives.  This was the ultimate goal of the girls, to find a godly man, marry, and have babies.  Of equal importance was the idea that men were “over” woman, as we were to be submissive to our husbands. Other’s second also set up a dangerous precedent for an unhealthy marriage.  Women especially were taught to please their husband, over their own desires.  In the worst cases, this led to abusive relationships, and even marital rape.  Biblically, women were to submit to sex whenever their husband desired it, regardless of their own desires.

Again, we were an after-thought, after men.

I’m Third: In an environment where self-care was “self-ish,” it’s no wonder there were so many tired, broken people.  We (especially women) spent all our time trying to earn our god credit (putting him first by DOING), and our relationship credit (sacrificing self for others, our husbands and children) that we lost our souls in the process.

I recall that self-care (though this buzz phrase was not specifically used) as defined by the church was explained as a way to call attention to self.  To feed one’s soul first was to miss the point completely.  If you were doing the formula right, you wouldn’t need to do anything else to be happy.  Happiness came from serving god and others.  To expect more was to be selfish and egotistical, or because one just wasn’t “doing it right.”

Adventures in Missing the Point: Though I no longer consider myself to be part of the church, I do feel as though I extend myself into the spiritual often.  I see a perfect blue sky, I hear an amazing piece of music, I fellowship with people I love.

As time has gone by, I processed the “I’m Third” framework and realized how backward it is. I spend time paying attention to my feelings and responding in practical ways to them.  I work on my soul and historical references in therapy.  I meet the needs of my chemical imbalance with antidepressants.  I do things that make my soul happy like being in a hammock in the sunshine on a Saturday.  I sleep in on Sunday mornings and feel more connected with a higher power than I ever did.  I spend time with my friends when I want to, and say no when I don’t.  I refuse sex from my husband when I don’t want it.  I take nights away from my family and go out for sushi and margaritas, and leave my husband to parent (read: not “watch” or “babysit”) our son.

The more I feed my soul, the more I care for myself, the more I have to give.  It goes back to the cheesy (but true) adage, “fill your cup first so you can give the overflow to others.”

I am learning how to not be third anymore.

I deserve to be first in my own life. 

Sexual Assault

When Vengence Eclipses Justice

Today, while Nassar went through another round of sentencing, a father of three abused daughters (two of which were standing next to him in court with tears in their eyes) Randall Margraves begged for just 5 minutes of time with the offender in a room.  He pled with the judge, and after being obviously refused, Margraves decided to take vengeance into his own hands and bolted towards the disgraced abuser.  He was forcefully taken down by court police and cuffed.

I don’t blame him for having a visceral reaction to Nassar.  I can’t imagine the pain Margraves is having, knowing that Nassar abused his daughters.  The people who were supposed to protect me either shamed or discarded me after my assault, so I don’t have a direct frame of reference, but if someone had hurt my child in this way, I likely would have the same desire to set that person straight.  Perhaps with my fists.

But when I watched this tape for the second time, my focus changed.  I could hear his daughters, who had been standing next to him during his impact statement.  They were distressed, and crying in shock as the person they loved was suddenly overcome with anger and subsequently arrested for his courtroom outburst.  Their sounds were those of scared women, scared of losing their person.  The one who is standing there speaking up against the person who abused them.

The internet is calling him a hero.  Likely because Margraves did what we all wanted to do.  Serve a quick punch to the face of justice.  The build-up of pain was a timebomb waiting to happen in the Nassar case.  With so much restraint and elegance among the women, there had to be a breaking point.

And I hear you.  I really do.

AND.  The cycle of violence MUST be broken.  Power was abused over these girls (now women) as they were sexually molested over and over by Nassar.  POWER is what we are talking about here.  Nassar had it and used it in unfathomable ways.  Margraves also was attempting to use his power to assault.

I still stand with the women.  The women in the Nassar case were exceedingly eloquent and powerful in their strength and testimony. But in this case, the women that Margraves supports were in terror of their father’s behavior, as evidenced by the sounds of anguish as he was taken to the ground.

Part two of “I don’t wish rape on my rapist.”



Authenticity, Vulnerability

Calling People “In”, The Antithesis of Shame and Blame

Last week was hard, friends.  I faced a difficult moment of truth about myself, and I’d like to share it with you.

Black and white thinking is safe feeling to me. Things are either right, or wrong.  Often this thinking helps protect me from the grey of life, people doing wrong things with right intentions (or no intentions at all), or being able to vilify an entire population like “the church.”  This way of thinking seems so clear.

Therapy has been such a battle for me, as I unpack “big T” traumas (like sexual assault, or abuse), I find that there are more and more “little t” traumas, like how people reacted to my disclosure of abuse, or spiritual teachings gone awry in the church.  It’s been so easy to look at the church as either good, or bad, the people in it are “good or bad”, helpful or abusive.  This has been a protection from me needing to humanize the people involved in my story.

For example, it’s been comfortable for me to look at my former religious life (the church, the pastors, the teachings) as a whole.  It’s all bad, they had poor intentions, etc.  But there is so much more to it.  There is nuance.  Perhaps my pastors give teachings in love, but were misguided.  My hurt is real, but intent may not have been present.  (Or the intent was to guide, rather than to shame.) *Side note, there are people out there who directly intended to hurt others, an example being my rapist, this is not in reference to those who committed crimes nor to people who had true intention to harm others.

When it comes to my pastor, there were several things he did wrong, and many things he should have done better.  When I disclosed my rape on church property to him, the first words he said to me were “well, why were you over there?”  (I was going to a restroom that wasn’t often used, for context.)  When I contemplate his intent, it’s easy to see this as victim blaming, and shaming.  (And it is.)  The choices then become, what do I do with this question and how do I feel?

I will be meeting with him in the near future to ask him about this question, which he likely will not remember.  Which brings me to point two.

As I move into preparing my statement for my former pastor, I am starting to reassess my beliefs regarding his response to one of the biggest “Big T” traumas.  Maybe he asked me the question of the location in order to know more about what had happened.  Perhaps he was wondering what had prevented me from using a restroom that someone could have hurt the assault happening in (close to the youth group room). What if he was feeling guilt and wanted to know how far his responsibility went towards how he could have prevented this crime.  Hopefully he wasn’t asking this to question the validity of my experience.  The fact is, I don’t know what his motive was.  It’s easy to assume that he was victim blaming.  (And this has been a huge part of my story.)

This brings me to last week, where I stepped in it.  I had read a post about using handclaps in social media posts (as in one clap in between each word) and how it was seen as cultural appropriation.  I read more about it, and was very interested that it was seen that way, and recognized the connection of the emoji to the culture of a population that I intrinsically don’t belong to (I’m caucasian, and it refers to the handclaps as being appropriated from black culture.)

While I don’t use them in my posts, I knew of a close friend who did.  Knowing her, I knew she never wants to offend anyone, as she is a social justice warrior herself.  Then, I jumped the shark.  I messaged her the article and said “I’d imagine you’d like to know, the handclap between words thing is a cultural appropriation issue.”

I left no room for connection.

The way I said it came across as accusatory, and as if I was the end all and be all of the issue.  I called her out, instead of attempting to connect with her as a fellow human being and “call her in” to conversation about what she thought.  And as one would guess, she responded in frustration and anger about what I had sent, rather than wanting to explore the issue further.  I found a week later that she was upset, and when I explored what might have been wrong, by looking at my messages to her, my comment was glaring.  This way of stating my feelings has been consistent in my communication, and I’ve been called out on it more than once.  I tend to try to be direct, but it often is (or comes across as) harsh.  I needed to find a better way.

This week I finally dove into “Braving the Wilderness” by Brene Brown.  I tend to really love hate her books, and the margins are always peppered with curse words as she calls me out to be better, more vulnerable and seek connection with others, especially over challenging issues.  Anytime I read Brene, she speaks right to my soul.  This week I was on chapter 5 “Speak Truth to Bullshit.”

Brene speaks of several instances where people called her out, rather than calls her in, and her response to the person.  She describes how when people make black or white statements, or accusations (as I had done with my friend) it bounces her soul right into the reminder of the “if you are not with me, you’re my enemy” thinking.

It’s not that she says “don’t challenge the status quo” or even “keep your opinions to yourself”, but rather to take a moment to process your statement and thread civility into it.  By remembering that most people act from a place of good, learning more about their motivations can help you both get to a place of openness and connection about even the most challenging issues.

I will continue to talk a bit about her approach, with this caveat, my friend’s statement to me was not bullshit, nor was her use of handclaps.  This is important to note, as Brene describes issues of difference (as it pertains to not embracing change or desiring to self-reflect) as “bullshit.”  This needs to be really clear.

When an issue of conflict in belief comes about, Brene talks about…

Avoiding creating an environment where there are two sides.

  • Setting up a black or white response framework cuts off the ability for understanding and the nuances of why the person believes what they do.
  • Perhaps they just don’t know (but why would they admit it, if doing so would make them look like an asshole because you are accusatory?)
  • Perhaps they do believe a variation of what you are asking about, but have reasons behind it. (But why would they explain that if you leave no room for conversation?)
  • Perhaps what you THINK they believe is actually not even the case (or only some parts are true).  (Why would they take the time to explain it, if you are accusing them of being one way?)
  • *Side note: there ARE black or white issues.  This is speaking more about the nuanced belief systems. But, even those issue have nuances of reasonings and explanations that we could learn more about.

What could I do better to not “call her out” but “call her in” (to conversation)?

  1. I could have mentioned this article I read in a WAY better way.
  2. I could have asked her about her feelings about the article, rather than implying “dude, I see you do this, knock that shit off”, “this article is true” and “what are you going to do about it?”

Looking back, I would bring this issue up like this:
“Hi friend!  I read this article the other day, and was curious what you thought about it?  I notice you use handclaps in your statuses frequently, can you tell me what that means to you? I’d really like to talk more about this with someone who utilizes this tool in their communication to learn more about it!” 

The tone is SO different.  Instead of learning about her feelings in a way where she felt she needed to be understandably defensive, we could have had a good conversation about the article and come to conclusions about its implications.  I deeply care about my friend, and the way that I approached this issue with her was totally not valuing her as the strong, thoughtful, and aware woman I know her to be.

This is Brene’s second point, Speak the truth to bullshit, but BE CIVIL. Rarely is a good conversation where both people are heard, respected and learning started with such direct and pointed conversation.  She brings up the acronym BRAVING again in this chapter. (Brene’s words in italic.)

B- Boundaries- What’s okay in a discussion, and what’s not?  How to you set a boundary when you realize you’re knee deep in bullshit (either from them, or from you?)

R- Reliability- Bullshitting is the abandonment of reliability.  It’s hard to trust or be trusted when we BS too much.  (I take this as both people involved!)

A- Accountability- How do we hold ourselves and others accountable for less BS and more honest debate?  Less off-loading of emotion and more civility? (Again, from both sides.  For me, it was “how could I have promoted a valuable conversation, rather than hurt my friend?”)

V- Vault- Civility honors confidentiality. BS ignores truth and opens the door to violations of confidentiality.  

I- Integrity- How do we stay in our integrity when confronted with BS and how do we stop in the midst of our own emotional moment to say “you know what, I’m not sure this conversation is productive” or “I need to learn more about this issue”?  (We couldn’t even get to a place of conversation, because I had shoved the door open and pulled her inside, rather than gently inviting her in.)

N- Nonjudgment- How do we stay out of judgment toward ourselves when the right thing to do is say “I actually don’t know much about this.  Tell me what you know and why it’s important to you.” How do we not go into “winner/loser” mode and instead see an opportunity for connection when someone says to us “I don’t know anything about that issue?” (In this case, what I knew was I read an article.  I knew my friend used them.  The jump I made was launching right into the issue with a “this isn’t right”, rather than seeking understanding and connection with someone I cared about.)

G- Generosity-  What’s the most generous assumption we can make about the people around us?  What boundaries have to be in place for us to be kinder and more tolerant?  (Though I made the assumption that my friend wasn’t using handclaps to be offensive, I equally assumed that she was wrong. The former was not even implied in my message to her, but certainly my view of “you are wrong” came across strongly.  Though my intent was not to call her out, I did.)

I read this section of the book today and though I had already apologized to her for how I approached this, Brene really “called me in” to do much better.

I’m sorry, dear friend.DFwOGZFVoAAdIPG.jpg



Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound

I recall the time that I found so much hope in the church, like there are people who will finally take care of me, and I can relax into my authentic self.  Growing up in a family where I was the primary caretaker of myself, having a place to go several times a week where I was given clear instruction on how to better my life was relieving.

That saved a wretch like me.  

We were told that we were broken, and only God could help restore us.  The more broken people were the closer to God they became.  As a girl who viewed herself as broken, this framework worked well for me.  This worked in reverse as well, the church continued to remind us youth how broken we were and how far from perfection we were.

I once was lost, but now I’m found.

If we followed a certain guide, whatever the leadership laid out, we could find salvation.  Especially if we gave all our time, all our energy to spiritual things.  But be careful, because if you gave too much, you could be calling attention to yourself.  That’s “soulful.” (Being led by your flesh.)

Once blind, but now I see.

I’m just coming out of this view, starting to see the church and its leadership as the abusive, misguided people they were.  Warping the goodness of others to serve their interests.

church, Religious Trauma Syndrome, Sexual Assault, Spiritual Abuse


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


Sexual Assault

This rape survivor doesn’t wish rape on her rapist… An article on Larry Nassar.

A huge win for rape and sexual assault survivors happened this week with the conviction and significant sentencing of Larry Nassar, a doctor for MSU and for the national gymnastics team. Nassar, previously sentenced to 60 years for child pornography, received stunning 40 to 175 years for the violations against a multitude of women during his two-decade tenure, some as young as six years old (and including much of the 2016 Olympic Team.)

As a survivor myself, I watched as the judge who presided over the case gave unprecedented access for survivors to detail to the court the impact Nassar had through the decades he violated these girls.  More than 150 women and girls came forward to tell their stories, while Nassar complained of mental trauma for being required to be in court the entire time. His statement of the complaint via letter to the judge said “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” brought gasps from the people in the court. By not allowing Nassar to avoid hearing each story, this judge gave a powerful message to survivors.  “You are heard, your story matters.”

From the moment Nassar appeared in court, the judge made her wishes known, she would allow other people to sexually assault Nassar in response to the horrible things he had done to women and girls.

“Our Constitution does not allow for cruel and unusual punishment,” she said. “If it did, I have to say, I might allow what he did to all of these beautiful souls ― these young women in their childhood ― I would allow some or many people to do to him what he did to others.”

~ Judge Rosemarie Aquilina

I truly understand this kneejerk reaction.  I really do.

Nassar inflicted pain on others, long-lasting (and often life-long trauma). However, I was shocked to see the cascade of “he will be in jail, and hopefully be raped over and over” responses to his sentencing.

For me, this is counter to the #metoo movement. The very implication that anyone should be raped is triggering for many survivors.  This sets the precedent that rape is a tool for vengeance, punishment, and retribution. There’s justice, and there’s vengeance.  Through the confines of the law, Nassar will be in jail for the rest of his life.  Short of the death penalty, this is the stiffest sentence he could receive from the courts.

Charles Gardner Geyh, a law professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law commented on this case with succinct accuracy.

Suggesting that it would be fitting for Nassar to be sexually victimized, if only the law allowed it, was “a step too far. She is the representative of the government here,” he said. “From the law’s perspective, we ought to be saying no sexual assault at all.”

~ Charles Gardner Geyh

So now what?  Where do we go from here?

As we reel from the impact of such a massive and public case, our focus must shift.  We need to move from “what a bad man Nassar is” to, “what/who contributed to this man’s ongoing abuse of girls/women” and “why did no one believe these girls as they told their stories over the years?”  Instead of spending our time giving Nassar more attention by wishing harm on him, let’s move to “how do we prevent this in the future.”

In some cases, the parents of these abused minors were in the ROOM when Nassar sexually abused them.  Take a moment and re-read that.

Changes are happening, but shockingly slowly, and in direct proportion to the publicity that Nassar’s case received.  Michigan State University’s president,  Lou Anna Simon just came down last week.

The Karolyi Ranch was recently also dismissed from the USA Gymnastics services for reported knowledge of the abuse and fostering the environment that led to concealment of the abuse by Nassar.    A lawsuit claims the Karolyis created an oppressive, abusive environment at the Ranch that included scratching children until they bled, depriving them of food and water, screaming obscenities and encouraging parents to hit their children, court records state. It alleges that environment enabled Nassar to “groom” children by sneaking them food and acting as their friend in order to sexually abuse them.

Steve Penny, the CEO of USA Gymnastics for more than 10 years, resigned in March 2017 amid the controversy.  Several coaches and other adults knew about the abuse for years and did not pursue the proper legal frameworks in place to prosecute the offenders.

Sexual abuse/assault/rape MUST be taken more seriously across the board, and I am so thankful for the giant leaps that high-profile cases are taking to pave the way for survivors to feel as though they can successfully prosecute their abusers. But, let’s not kid ourselves, there is SO far to go.  Stiffer punishments must be dealt out for people who enable, harbor or otherwise encourage sexual abuse and assault.

I challenge the world to focus on continuing to hear survivors, believe victims, and prosecute abusers, without getting bogged down in retribution.  We MUST support unbiased (AND EXTERNAL) oversight of athletic programs involving children and women.  We MUST continue to clean out places where abusers hide, especially among our most vulnerable populations.

We MUST work on ending the backlog of rape kits, where survivors have bravely faced rape exams to provide valuable biological information on their rapists. The estimate is HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of rape kits sit untested and unprocessed in the United States.  Prosecution of sexually based crimes MUST be treated with equal weight as other physical crimes like assault.

The burden MUST shift from “what was she doing to encourage or allow this assault to happen” to “she is not to blame, 100% of rapes are because of rapists.”

Try not to get bogged down in the anger, and feelings of revenge.

Believe women.  Stand with them.


Religious Trauma Syndrome, Spiritual Abuse

Let’s Talk about Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS)

Religious Trauma Syndrome is a frequently used term among ex-pats of the church. As time has moved forward, RTS became a part of my own identity post-church.  This syndrome is interchangeable with the term Post-Traumatic Church Disorder, coined by Reba Riley in the book of the same name.

When unpacking a former life in the church, those leaving have many questions and frameworks to unpack from the smaller issues of “can I take birth control” to larger issues of “is there a god?”

I will be pulling source material from HERE for this post.

Causes of Religious Trauma Syndrome:

Authoritarianism coupled with toxic theology which is received and reinforced at church, school, and home results in:

• Suppression of normal child development – cognitive, social, emotional, moral stages are arrested

• Damage to normal thinking and feeling abilities -information is limited and controlled; dysfunctional beliefs taught; independent thinking condemned; feelings condemned

• External locus of control – knowledge is revealed, not discovered; hierarchy of authority enforced; self not a reliable or good source

• Physical and sexual abuse – patriarchal power; unhealthy sexual views; punishment used as for discipline

(From the source above)

Let’s start with a few premises.

  1.  The church should be a safe place for vulnerable populations to be. (Youth, Homeless, Women, the Abused, etc.)
  2. The word of god (in this case, the Bible) should be used as a tool to better people’s lives.
  3. The people of the church (employees, volunteers, workers) should be safe to be around and work to edify the members safely.

So, let’s unpack how RTS might occur.  I am speaking from the view of a youth/young adult, as that is where my RTS stems from.

Lack of Oversight

It frequently surprised me as a youth worker, how little involvement parents had with the youth ministry.  Many of the youth in our care were from vulnerable families (impoverished, single parent or abusive.)  They were often dropped off early, and picked up late, trusting the church to manage their care for the evening. (Which alone is not an unreasonable expectation.)  I rarely saw parental involvement regarding the teaching the pastors were giving at weekly youth nights, or on Sundays.

I have to acknowledge my own bias on this issue.  I lived in a church that had unhealthy boundaries,  unacceptable teaching practices, and shame placed on youth.  If I didn’t know what I do, I might not have the same amount of awareness of what information a church is giving to youth.  There SHOULD be a certain amount of trust given to a church, to protect, serve and help develop morally centered youth.

It brings me a large amount of shame to know that I was a part of an oppressive religious culture for youth.  I take some solace in the fact that I was subjected to brainwashing by this church from a young age and I didn’t know better.  I also was not in a position that I could question those in charge. (Especially since the men in power “spoke for god”.  One gift I gave myself was an extensive journal history that documents my feelings THEN, rather than how I have filtered my history post-church.  I did indeed wish to do well, but it’s obvious that I (along with every other youth) was subject to oppressive MALE figureheads.

Toxic Theology

As a youth leader, we were expected to be the eyes and ears of the paid leadership and the small contingent of adult youth leaders.  We reported back to the leadership when there was a youth who was “straying” from the expectations of the church. (EG: moral & sexual purity, sexual orientation, the home life that was unacceptable.)  This information was documented in books on each youth for the church leadership to review and refer to.

As I developed during my teen years, purity culture was strong.  Youth were STRONGLY encouraged to develop relationships within the framework of courtship.  Girls and boys would express their interest in “courting” a girl to our pastor.  A discussion would ensue between all of them about whether it was a good match, and to set up boundaries. (For an extensive post on this topic, click here.) Then, the girl and boy would be closely supervised by youth staff to make sure they followed the rules set up.  Much of the burden of maintaining actual and moral purity was placed on the girl.  This set up a clear precedent for slut-shaming and the patriarchal framework.  Sexual purity was often the burden of the girl (resulting in girls being “responsible” for the straying of thoughts, or hands of boys.)

Toxic Peers/Adults

One of my former pastors currently still is within the church. He took time off from being a pastor for a while (rumor mills swirl, but I don’t have a clear story on this, so I’ll leave that there) then returned to ministry.  He left his mega-church to found his own in rural PNW.

I have many qualms about his practices.  How so many youths came through his care (we were a mega-church with at least a couple hundred youth and young adults) and he was never called out on his words, is beyond me.

One very large issue was this.  A girl was raped on church property, during a youth night, and this information was brought to his attention. He did not report this as a crime occurred on the property.  When approached about the question “did you report the rape that occurred?” his response was “that was so long ago, I don’t remember.”   Clearly, this answer wasn’t hard to unpack.  He was avoiding admitting that he did not report a CRIME.  At this point, no parent should feel safe that this pastor is in charge of their care.   And this pastor is still practicing.  The amount of restraint I need to practice on a daily basis to not warn the public is huge.

We have to feel that our youth are safe when at youth events, and if the unplanned/unexpected occurs where a youth/young adult is injured or there is a crime, we should expect that will be reported to the proper authorities.  This is youth care 101.

Circling back to RTS- After the assault, I was told to give back my purity ring, because I was no longer sexually pure.

This sort of victim blaming and shaming is nothing new.  Look at the recent sexual assault allegations (and subsequent weighing of whether the woman was in the wrong) with Aziz Ansari. Here.

What must women do to make it more clear that sexually based crimes are never the responsibility of the woman?  It is always on the perpetrator. In the same vein, spiritual/religious abusers are also in charge of their manipulation.  They MUST be held accountable for harmful behavior by the adults who know about it.