Spiritual Abuse

This Week, In One Article

Hey everyone, can we have a family meeting?

It’s been a really rough week, and it’s only Thursday.  I’m full of rage.  If I were still a church-going gal, I’d call it a righteous rage, but since I’m not, I’m going with “channeling my anger.”  I have some things I’d like to talk about.

TAMPONS

Yeah, I’m going to talk about menstrual blood, y’all.  I think you should read this.  ESPECIALLY if you are male identifying.  Those who have vaginas generally bleed every cycle for 3-7 days.  We need a certain amount of pads/tampons/liners to remain sanitary, clean, comfortable.

Over the years, I’ve become aware that people who are underhoused or who live outside often go without because people do not donate these items to banks.  I’ve done several successful drives to raise these items for those who bleed.

It has come to my attention that within the prison system hygiene products are NOT freely given to those who need them in several states, most notably in Arizona where inmates are only given 12 products to start and up to 24 more, causing inmates to cut them, or use them far beyond the safe time potentially leading to infections and toxic shock syndrome.  If they need more than the 36 free products, they must purchase them.

When we think of the less than… the “undesirables” in our populations, the people we “look away from”, when it comes to women, it’s homeless, and the incarcerated.  We have to take care of those who bleed.  This is a natural function, and dignity is a basic human right, whether people live outside, or on the “inside.”  We have to do better.

FOOD BOXES 

45 has a new found passion for moving SNAP to food boxes to save money. (And reduce the ALARMING 1.5% fraud rate.)  This would move the ability to pay for groceries from a debit card system to pre-made boxes.  I didn’t know this before, but Indian reservations (the original owners of the land we usurped and then we shoved them onto small parcels after some wicked genocide, while we were illegal immigrants, but that’s something we can ignore forever) already employ food boxes.

Food boxes take choices away from families and force them to eat exactly what the government decides is proper (shelf stable and processed/canned foods.)  Choice = dignity.  There is also an idea that the poor are ducktale-style swimming in gold coins and eating lobster tails on the government dime while we sit over here living it up in our luxuries, like HEAT, FOOD, and TAMPONS.

This is also coming from people who look down their noses as the “poor” purchase food that the rich don’t feel they should.  “How dare people in section 8 purchase a Snickers bar? THE OUTRAGE! When they swiped their SNAP Card, I SAW THEIR MANICURED HANDS!!!  ZOMG.”

As someone who grew up in poverty, I’d like to address several points.
1.  Once in a while, we needed to feel like we were human.  We already dealt with feeling “less than” in so many sectors.  To be able to provide your kids with a treat now and again helps them to feel like (for once) they are “just a kid” like all the others.
2.  adults work jobs.  They need to feel that they are presentable.  This may include a manicure.  They may have scrimped and saved for that.  They MAY NOT HAVE.  They may have done that for their own ever-loving self-care.  They may work three jobs and this is the one thing that makes them feel human when they go home and burn their furniture to stay warm.  (Taken from an actual experience.)
3.  Food Boxes will reduce access to fresh produce. There’s not much more I need to say on this topic. By not giving families access to money to purchase goods at their local markets, they will be unable to purchase fresh goods. It’s not rocket science.

Guys.  No.

FLORIDA (ET ALL)

Florida. I burst into tears today. Guns need to go. Like every other civilized country who doesn’t have mass shootings. I watched a video with children sitting on the ground of their classroom SCREAMING as shots rang out from a gun that was so loud it hurt MY ears across the country. WHEN WILL ENOUGH BE ENOUGH? WHEN WILL CHILDREN BE MORE IMPORTANT THAN GUNS?? We need to talk about this. They just need to go. I have a kid in school and I’ll be damned if he dies because some kid who was expelled has access to his parent’s AK-15. Nobody needs an AK-15. This isn’t the time to politicize this? Yes. Yes it is. Because there is a mass shooting almost every day. There isn’t a day NOT to politicize this, BECAUSE THERE AREN’T ENOUGH DAYS.

PASTORS HARBORING ABUSERS

Churches need to stop shielding abusers. I don’t have much more to say to that. I let fly on a long post about that yesterday. I’d love for you to read it. I’m angry that there are some pastors that seem to have a problem with this idea. 

This is my typical platform, and I will get back to #churchtoo, and #metoo on my next blogs.  Stay tuned.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT- #METOO

Women are not to be harassed if they do not respond how you wish.

They are not marrying material, and if you think they are, and you don’t know them, aren’t in a relationship with them, and don’t have a ring, bringing that up (especially in a catcalling way is outrageous and offensive).  Yelling “Marry me!” and then being offended when we are less than impressed… and yelling “C*UNT” at us, escalates the situations really really quickly to a safety issue.

If you do not like the way she’s getting her chips out of the vending machine, keep it to your damn self. You think she’s being aggressive getting those chips? Maybe give her a wide berth and avoid eye contact. This is NOT THE TIME TO POINT THIS OUT.

SHUT YOUR MOUTHS MEN. WE DO NOT NEED YOUR COMMENTS ABOUT HOW WE BEHAVE.

also: Do NOT put woman in a situation where she does not have an immediate way out. This causes us extreme anxiety.

Do not circle us with all your dudebros.

Do not block us from exits.

Do not push us against walls.

DON’T BE A DOUCHECANOE.

GENDER IS FLUID AND SO ARE COLORS!

BLUE IS FOR GIRLS AND PINK IS FOR BOYS. FUCK IT, ALL COLORS FOR ALL GENDERS EVERYWHERE ON THE SPECTRUM, YOU GET A COLOR, YOU GET A COLOR, EVERY.BODY.GETS.A.COLOR!

 

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.

 

 

Religious Trauma Syndrome, Spiritual Abuse

Trauma Bonding- The Church and the People

When one unpacks RTS, abuse is central to the conversation.  Spiritual trauma is insipid because the abuse involves so many facets of the person.  Let’s start a conversation about the aspects of abuse that the church is a part of.

  1. Psychological Abuse– Church leaders depend on dependence.  By letting people know how little they matter (we are born in sin and need a man to save us over and over all day long) we become reliant on hearing how we can somehow be saved.  Spoiler alert: churches depend on us being broken and being aware of it.

    Coming from the framework of a youth, we also became dependant on our youth leaders to tell us how to behave and think.  Our pastor was the mouth of god, and though he was the age I am now, he was considered the end all and be all of what was acceptable for us.

    Most leaders of the Evangelical church are male (and white, let’s be honest).  They tend to also be narcissistic, and power hungry.  They lead droves of “broken” people, being the voice of god.  As the leaders of the church, they also often go unchecked.

    I would be remiss if I did not bring up mental illness in this section.  Mental illness is so poorly dealt with within the church, it is shocking.  Depression is considered the work of the devil.  I recall people saying that those who were depressed had “a spirit of xyz” that was affecting them.  Taking anti-depressants or other mental health supports were frowned upon at best, mocked and shunned at worst.  I was suicidal throughout much of my church-going days, and I was told that I had a “spirit of death.”  I was surrounded by church leaders who would scream at me in tongues and lay hands on me to deliver me from this evil.

    “Counseling” often came in the form of deliverance meetings where the leadership would pray over the affected person to the point where they might have a panic attack (seen as the devil coming out of them) and an emotional break.  This was seen as positive progress and the person was sent on their way.  That person was then expected to be healed, which frequently meant that the person would just hide their struggles from others.

  2. Emotional Abuse- I categorize this in another section from psychological abuse for several reasons.

    First, services are constructed to create an emotional experience (and in some cases, an emotional frenzy) for the participant.  As the church-goer becomes more reliant on the cortisol of the high-stress build up, and dopamine release,  they become addicted to the framework of church.

    Second, parishioners are often given trite explanations for their ailments.  To solve the largest or smallest of problems the formula almost always involved:
    – Reading your Bible more
    – Praying more
    – Attend church more
    – Speaking about unconfessed sin
    Having these simple answer to the world’s complex problems causes feelings of hopelessness and feelings of inadequacy. We become dependant on the church to “fix” us, but we are going through the washing machine of brokenness over and over.

    In addition, putting the onus on the church-goer to put in enough “god-credit” to cause ‘him’ to change your life situation places undue stress and responsibility on that person.

  3. Spiritual Abuse- Church leaders pick and choose what information is dispensed to the church.  Often, the only information about god that is heard is from the mouths of the clergy.

    Putting aside the idea that people should do their own research, often the vulnerable populations attend church.  The young, the old, the marginalized, these amazing people are hearing what is being shared and taking it as truth.  For example, one youth in my church was sent to reparative therapy for being gay.  This “therapy” is incredibly dangerous and outrageous, to say the least.  To tell a vulnerable youth that they are not good enough because of who they love is appalling.  To do so using god as an excuse is abhorrent.

    Church leaders often told us that if we were to be able to do something (lead a group, step up in ministry, etc) god would tell them. (As if god would only speak to them.) This sets a precedent that god only speaks to certain people, and only some are worthy.

    Hinn leads a “healing ministry” where people come to mega-arenas with the hopes of being healed from a multitude of illnesses.  People come up on stage, and “fall under the power of god” as Benny shoots god-bolts through the air at them.  Do I believe that some of these people actually feel this happening?  Yes.  I really do.  The power of suggestion and reinforcement coupled with hope creates a huge experience in the mind of the participant.  What happens when they go home and their ailment is still there?

  4. Social Abuse- By social status and capital, people in the church gain, lose or maintain power.  These power structures are well defined and it’s quite difficult to break the glass ceiling.  Men are (biblically) over women, setting up a framework that will carry through to marriage relationships.  Women are to be submissive to their husbands, which carries through major decisions all the way to sexual activity in the home. Women are (more often than not) disallowed from most positions in leadership outside of music and children’s ministry.  Their voices, thus, are worthless.

    Finally, in this category are “prayer requests.”  Within the church, “would you pray for so-and-so, they are struggling with xyz” is a way to spread gossip in a holy way.  In this way, people can share what they know, under the guise of spirituality.  By manipulating disclosure, people don’t know who to trust within the system, and the leadership are often the biggest offenders.  Prayer cards were a living document where families would air their dirty laundry… not knowing how widespread the viewing of their cards were.

  5. Financial Abuse- This is a topic not brought up enough.  The church runs because of the biblical stance of tithes.  The premise is that the first 10% of your earnings go to the church.  This alone isn’t something I have qualms with*.  However, I do have issues with the way that the church asks for money.
    * Assuming you are fiscally sound, solvent, and are ABLE to do so.  Many who give this amount are already living in poverty and should be RECEIVING support, rather than giving more up.

    I’m sure we’ve all be exposed in some way to manipulative ministries.  Some ministries that could fall into this category would be the TV Evangelists (such as Pat Robertson from the 700 Club or Benny Hinn). These people THRIVE on the emotions of others.  These shows also inherently prey on the people who are vulnerable (the isolated, disabled, and the elderly) since they are on during the middle of the night and early morning.

    Robertson is known for being a particularly conservative person (and proponent of abusing your wife if they aren’t behaving. But that’s for another day.)  Not only does this hit every offensive button in my body, but he uses his show to raise money for crusades.  He will come up with random things that god has led him to pray about, preying on the people to send him money to be on his prayer list.

    I recall our summer revival services, where we would have traveling pastors come and lead tent meetings.  These were large events, where we were packed into hot churches, and whipped into a frenzy by these powerful messages of healing, revival and renewal.  The bucket would get passed, and the expectation was that everyone would contribute to pay for these pastors to come speak.

    Need after need was brought to the church, and often well-meaning people would give and give, as they were told “god would provide and bless you ten-fold” the more they gave.  Fiscal responsibility was not a topic brought to the table.  So, is it surprising when pastors embezzle money, steal it from the church, ride around in proportionally fancier cars than their parishioners?

Why do people stay in abusive churches? It’s often because of something called “trauma bonding,” where you become addicted to the hormonal rollercoaster an abuser sends you on.

Abusive churches use gaslighting, and “lovebombs” to get you hooked on the message, the people, and the building.  It FEELS great to be a part of something big, something godly, and seemingly loving.   Over time, as the attendee gets more involved, they become more exposed to the darker sides and abuse, but the dopamine release during emotional releases (like passionate worship sessions, fervant prayer times, and touching messages) helps sweep those moments under the rug (and in some cases they may not even see the abuse for what it is.)  Victim blaming keeps the church-goer dependant on the cure (the church), with the hopes that if they give/do/serve enough, they too can obtain spiritual enlightenment.

The denial within the evangelical community about the widespread abuses of power must be addressed.  Abuse is happening.  Power and Control is central the church community, and it must change.

 

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

 

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

 

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.

#metoo