Working my way from fundamentalism to freedom (without losing my mind)


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IMAGE BY DANI KELLEY

IMAGE BY DANI KELLEY

Back in February, Sen. Marco Rubio explained why he opposed the Violence Against Women Act:

I could not support the final, entire legislation that contains new provisions that could have potentially adverse consequences. Specifically, this bill would mandate the diversion of a portion of funding from domestic violence programs to sexual assault programs.

Rubio has this idea, apparently, that different types of abuse have nothing to do with one another. Not a surprising conclusion in a world that’s determined to paint all abuse as isolated incidences committed by monsters, but that’s not reality. Often, sexual abuse is present in violent relationships.

No one wants to talk about the fact that different types of abuse are connected because that means challenging the very society–ripe with hierarchies that enforce themselves with violence–that we live in.

Today, I’m discussing spiritual abuse as part of a Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week that some fellow bloggers are hosting. Also this week, Rachel Held Evans will be hosting a more general discussion of abuse (which I will be guest posting for) and Elora NIcole will be sharing the anonymous stories of survivors.

With all these thoughts of abuse in general going through my head, I think about how ridiculous statements like Rubio’s sound. As if we can end violence against women without ending sexual assault.

Truth is, the violences that women (and other oppressed groups) face often stem from the same root–a deeper violence that questions the legitimacy of their very humanity.

I don’t want us to miss this point while we talk about the different types of abuse that people face, inside and outside of the church. Abuse happens, and society either ignores or accepts it because there is an assault on humanity that says certain bodies are objects, or are public property. An assault that paints some bodies as worthless, gross, weird, animal-like, sinful, collateral, too sexual, needing to be taught a lesson, etc. 

Religion is far from the only institution that perpetuates this kind of abuse, but spiritual abuse can be a powerful tool for painting some groups as less important than others and therefore “deserving” of violence.

This happens in obvious cases such as the Southern Baptist Church supporting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or in the many church groups that advocate hitting children who misbehave.

It also happens more subtly in ways that I don’t think most leaders (though when you hear stories like Jack Schaap’s, you wonder…) or church members intend.

Here’s where my own story comes in. I grew up in church and grew up learning many things about myself and about my body and about the way the world is. I also ended up in an abusive relationship when I was 16.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I was physically, verbally, and sexually abused in that relationship, but little thinking about how I was spiritually abused. My ex-boyfriend used my own deeply-held religious beliefs to make me think that what he did to me was okay. It was easy for him to convince me, too, because I had been absorbing abusive ideas from the churches I’d attended my whole life.

I will be writing in more detail about how my idea of who God was affected what I accepted as love. But my churches growing up also fed me dangerous ideas about who was, what my body was, and what my place in the world was.

I was a woman, the church told me, so I had to be passive, meek, submissive, caring and nurturing, and endlessly patient and forgiving. A man, on the other hand, was just naturally aggressive, out-of-control, and sexual. These were God-given traits.

My abuser, knowing this, played on those, even sometimes calling my relationship with God into question when I didn’t live up to my role.

My church also taught me that I was worthless. From the sermons the pastors preached to the books that my youth pastors recommended. Because I was not a virgin I was what the Christian dating book, Dateable, would call “dollar store leftovers.” 

My abuser, knowing this, told me constantly that no one else would want me so I had better stay with him. That I was already impure and couldn’t be fixed so I might as well let him do whatever he wanted with my body.

My church taught me that I was responsible for men’s actions. That dressing immodestly could make men lust after me.

My abuser, knowing this, blamed me when he sexually assaulted me. He told me it was my fault for being too sexy, even in the Baptist school-approved outfit I was wearing.

All violence is connected.

I’m positive that the churches I grew up in did not want their teachings to be used by abusers to support abuse.

Too bad. That’s not how it works.

Those teachings were violence in and of themselves. They did violence to my humanity. And in doing that violence to my humanity, they sent the message to abusers that I did not have to be treated as human.

Churches don’t have to be as cult-like and controlling as Driscoll’s Mars Hill or First Baptist Church of Hammond to be abusive. By using language about groups–whether it’s women, children, LGBT people, or people of different colors, cultures, countries, or religions–that does violence to their humanity, they commit spiritual abuse. And spiritual abuse won’t confine itself to the pulpit. Those abusive words and teachings and ideas leave the church in the hearts and minds and Moleskine notebooks of every church member and are spread throughout society like an infectious disease. 

The church is not the only source of this disease, again, but it is a powerful one because battling it means battling ideas and perceptions about God (something I will discuss more in my guest post for Rachel Held Evans later this week).

A church that claims to worship a man whose purpose was “to set the oppressed free” should be horrified to learn that its teachings are being used by abusers to support abuse.

Is it though? Are our churches concerned about how their messages are received? Are our churches concerned about abuse survivors? Or are they more focused on so-called sound doctrine and on giving “grace” to abusers?


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Must reads!

Lots of posts that I want to share this week. I hope you’ll check them out, as they are all important! They discuss a wide variety of topics, from God, to rape culture, to The Wizard of Oz, to racism/homophobia, to the dangers of fraternizing with bears.

“For most of my Christian experience, I’ve only ever heard God described in verbs. Very busy verbs.”

“If you want to know why we need to educate men not to be sexually aggressive, look no further than what happened when Zerlina Maxwell went on television to say that we need to educate men how not to be sexually aggressive.”

“But one can’t help feeling that ‘Great and Powerful’ is two steps back from the feminist bent Baum proudly and freely lent his work, and in a day and age when there wasn’t even a label for it.”

To be a victim does not mean that you lack agency as part of your essence; it means that someone attempted to deny your agency in inflicting harm, in rendering you less powerful or even essentially powerless.”

“And right then I knew that I was tired of good people, that I had had all the good people I could take.”

“Though I grieve I cannot ever go back. The steak is a lie.”

“The combination of patriarchal gender roles, purity culture, and authoritarian clergy that characterizes Sovereign Grace’s teachings on parenting, marriage, and sexuality creates an environment where women and children—especially girls—are uniquely vulnerable to abuse.

A gay, black mayoral candidate killed last week in Mississippi was beaten, dragged and set on fire before his body was dumped near a river.”

“I was unmarried, pregnant and they took away my livelihood. San Diego Christian College did not show any mercy or grace towards me.

“A church in which a woman’s voice is not welcomed is a church with incredibly limited mobility in the kingdom of God. It can limp, at best, but it will never run.”

“This attempt to anthropomorphize and humanize bears strikes at the heart of everything the gospel teaches about bears.

Damsel’d women are being acted upon, most often being reduced to a prize to be won, a treasure to be found, or a goal to be achieved.

Here's a cat that rocks. (picture taken by my sister, Sam Moon)

Here’s a cat that rocks. (picture taken by my sister, Sam Moon)


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Must Reads!

Here are some posts from the past week or so that you simply must read.

[Note: Several of these have a trigger warning]

Maybe I’m not outraged. I’m exhausted and open and exposed and a lot of other people are too because we are wounds that get picked at and picked at and picked at one day, there won’t be anything left to heal.

When we blame women for the reactions of men – whether it is to their art, to their clothing, to their “unladylike” behavior like riding public transit after dark – we reinforce rape culture. 
I was going to have a girl. I had named her. When I started bleeding I begged. I cried. I asked. I told the guards at the detention center I was pregnant. They said it was not important because I was going to be deported anyway. I was left to bleed and cry.
A Sunday school teacher once encouraged the gathered group of girls that if we ever got home one day, and our feet were dying to get out of our shoes, that…we should leave our shoes on and not sit down for another thirty minutes, at least– so we can make our bodies “submit” to us.
And, maybe our first action in response to injustice should be learning about the causes of the problem in the first place, and refusing to ignore, simplify, and whitewash them further. 
When I was gearing up for my ordination I contacted the press. In one of the articles someone left a comment that said, “Our Catholic community ordained a transgender [side note problematic language was the commenter’s] in 19XX but we didn’t go out looking for press over it.” And I thought, that’s the problem! 
 
I shouldn’t have needed that push. But I did…I, white lady feminist, have a responsibility here and I want to meet it.
The puppy purses. I just can't with the cute of the puppy purses. (image via eonline.com)

The puppy purses. I just can’t with the cute of the puppy purses. (image via eonline.com)


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Feminisms Fest Badge

When I heard that Preston Yancey, Danielle Vermeer, and  J.R. Goudeau were hosting a three-day blog link-up discussing feminism, my first thought was “Damn this timing.” See, I was planning on dedicating these very three days to finishing the literature review for my senior research project.

So, yesterday I was too busy to contribute because I was staring at a blank Microsoft Word document thinking “Fuck it, I’m going to go watch Fullmetal Alchemist.”

Tomorrow, I’ll probably be too busy to contribute because I have stayed up all night writing my literature review to make up for the time I spent writing today (and watching anime yesterday).

But today? Today, I’ll be doing my part. Wasn’t planning on it, but I couldn’t stay away.

You see, my project is on how rape and sexual assault are handled in four different Christian dating books (spoiler alert: not very well), and so I’ve been researching cultural attitudes toward rape and rape victims.

As I studied and the facts popped out at me…

“25% and 35% of respondents (both male and female) agree with the majority of these rape myths”*

“…Although individuals are not likely to directly blame a female rape victim, 53% of college students agreed that her actions led to her assault.”*

“In a study conducted at a Christian liberal arts college, men higher in religiosity…compared to less religious men were more likely to believe that women who are promiscuous or who dress in a provocative manner deserve to be raped.”*

“Qualitative analyses demonstrated that clergy take into account the woman’s resistance, provocative behavior, decision making, marital role, and unusual behavior when assigning responsibility for rape. The results indicated that most clergy blame the victim and adhere to rape myths.”**

…I realized that all of these quotes are why we need feminism. Why I need feminism.

A common stereotype about feminists is that we hate men. Feminism causes that hatred, according to these stereotypes. And I’d like to admit something.

I used to hate men.

…before I became a feminist.

And why not?, I think to myself as I research for my project and read about the rape that occurs and the public attitude toward it. Why not hate men?

The world is not just. And, according to bell hooks, “without justice there can be no love.” 

Before I became a feminist, before I began to demand justice, in my politics, in my churches, and in my relationships, I could not love men. And the men in my life who were upholding patriarchal traditions–often without even knowing it–could not really love me.

Now, I must add that I don’t think one has to identify as a feminist in order to love or be loved. I’m simply telling my own story.

But I agree with hooks that there can be no love without justice. Where unfairness, inequality, abuse, disrespect, victim-blaming, and rape exist, there is no love.

And feminism is one movement that fights for justice for women. 

So why feminism? 

Love. That’s why. 

I wrote in my last post that a man at a Christian college that I went to believed that relationships between men and women–romantic relationships, friendships, parent-child relationships, etc.–were broken. He believed that they were broken because of women not adhering to gender roles.

I agree with this man on one thing. Relationships between men and women are broken.

But they’ve been broken for a long time. Longer than second-wave feminism. Longer than suffrage. They’ve been broken for centuries and it’s not because of gender roles.

It’s because of injustice.

I want to love men because I want to live in a loving world. I want to love my fiance, yes. But also my brother, my father, my uncles, my cousins, and my coworkers and friends.

But I cannot do this when I fear them. I cannot do this when they exercise power over me or when they disrespect me. I cannot do this when they ignore their privilege and continually hurt me–whether intentionally or on accident–because of it. I cannot do this when they believe and perpetuate rape myths. I cannot do this when they are rapists or abusers themselves.

So I need feminism. Because I need justice, and without justice there can be no love. 

Sources: 
* Edwards, Katie, Jessica Turchik, Christina M. Dardis, Nicole Reynolds, and Christine A. Gidycz. “Rape Myths: History, Individual and Institutional-Level Presence, and Implications for Change.” Sex Roles 65.11 (2011)
**Sheldon, James P., and Sandra Parent. “Clergy’s Attitudes and Attributions of Blame Toward Female Rape Victims.” Violence Against Women 8.233 (2002)


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On being a female body at a Christian college

[I wrote recently about learning to love my body for Lent. Part of that loving so far has involved some deep contemplation about where the fear and hatred come from. And I’ve realized something.

Part of my body hatred, and by extension part of my self hatred, comes from the fact that oppressive people have used my female body  to justifying oppressing me.

I hate my body and myself because, deep down, I blame my body (and thus myself) for the ways in which I’ve been hurt by others.

7128_173502622984_2193630_nTwo examples stick out clearly in my mind. Both from experiences at my former Christian school, Grace College.

It was the first week of my freshman year. We had a meeting for everyone in our all-women dorm to go over the basic rules. Don’t burn popcorn and set off the smoke alarm. Be in before curfew. No sex, drugs, or rock and roll (okay, maybe rock and roll was okay. Just not during quiet hours!).

During this meeting, the husband of our Residence Director came in to talk to us ladies about, you guessed it!

Modesty.

He started out by telling us to never let any Christian man blame us for their sins. Then he proceed to…well, blame us for his sins.

He told us of his own porn addiction and of the porn addictions that other men on campus have talked to them about. He was blunt, and even made subconscious hand motions while talking about masturbation.

And what was his point?

“When you wear those tight jeans, your brothers in Christ go home and masturbate to you. Your selfish clothing choices make it hard for your brothers in Christ to break their addictions. Thanks to God’s grace, it’s been weeks since I’ve looked at porn, but it hasn’t been months. And the way women on this campus dress doesn’t help.”

I talked to many women who were present in that meeting who expressed that they left feeling ashamed and dirty. I know that every time I passed that man on campus from that day on, I wanted to turn invisible. I’d tug my skirt down and pull my jacket over my chest, and I’d resist the urge to get sick to my stomach thinking about him masturbating to me, and it being my fault.

My body was shameful. It was dirty. It could ruin lives and marriages just by existing.

This is the first thing I learned about my body at Grace College.

It was the second semester of my freshman year. We were required to attend chapel three times a week, so there I was. This week we were learning about relationships between men and women, how they were often broken in this world, and how we could fix them.

We did this by learning our roles.

And we could learn our roles, not just from Scripture, but from our bodies.

The speaker told the Biblical story of King Joash (and I’m still to this day not sure why). “Joash drilled a hole into the box,” he said. “Joash femaled the box.”

According to this man and his strange desire to associate being female with having a hole drilled into you, the reason men and women can’t get along is because men and women (mostly women) are rebelling against the nature revealed to us by our bodies.

“Men are supposed to give the life-bearing seed of the gospel to all the world,” he said, while making disturbing hand motions from his crotch to the audience. “Women are supposed to receive that seed.”

The moral was that female people were trying too hard to give when they were made to receive and weren’t letting male people to what they were meant to do (which is apparently to spiritually ejaculate on everyone).

Female bodies were not built to give life (apparently child birth doesn’t count and we’re just the incubators) but to be fulfilled in receiving life.

It wasn’t patriarchy holding me back, according to this man. It was my body. This is why I could not be a pastor, or a spiritual leader in my family. This is why I could not speak my mind too loudly or be too bold. Because I had a vagina, and vaginas are not for giving.

But I fell for it for years and years. I saw myself as stuck in this body with its sinful breasts and its useless vagina.

I saw my body as a prison.

And in seeing my body as a prison, I blamed myself.

Oppression is tied to bodies. It often happens in bodies and to bodies. It often comes from other bodies. And oppressive people use the bodies of the oppressed to excuse it.

Loving my body for Lent means recognizing that it is not my body’s fault when I am treated as “less than.” Loving my body means recognizing that others have used it to tell me I am “less than.” Loving my body means recognizing that those people were lying to me about my body.

Loving my body means affirming that they don’t decide what my body means. They don’t decide what I mean.

[Note: Though I learned some harmful things at Grace College, it was also at Grace College where I began the process of loving my body. That may be a post for another day]

 


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click for source

click for source

As many of you know, I’ve been doing research on Christian dating books and their treatment of rape and sexual assault. One such book that I’ve been reading is the infamous I Kissed Dating Goodbye, by Joshua Harris.

In one section that I found interesting, Harris is explaining that “purity does not happen by accident. After telling the story of David and Bathsheba, and reminding us that protecting our purity is a constant process, Josh Harris goes on to explain the “seductive spirit of idolatry” as symbolized in the “wayward adultress” of Proverbs 7.

Harris never directly ties this “seductive spirit of idolatry” to Bathsheba, but in the context of this chapter–David, the object, being led astray by some outside force–it seems that Harris is saying the spirit of idolatry comes from Bathsheba. That she is the wayward adultress.

I’ve heard this argument before.

Once I took part in a Mother’s Day banquet at my church that involved the youth group putting on a small skit in which we acted as the mothers of famous women from the Bible.

I got to be Bathsheba’s mother. Joy.

Of course, my lines were something along the lines of “Leave some for the imagination, Bathsheba! Cover up! Don’t advertise what’s not for sale.”

When my mother saw these lines? She was furious.

Why?

Because King David might have been a rapist.

No matter how you look at it, this story is not about consensual sex between equals.

My mother ended up going on a rant about how King David was a pervert. And I ended up ad-libbing all of my lines the day of the skit and basically repeating my mom’s rant. Much to the horror of the church ladies who put the whole thing together, I’m sure.

Reading Harris’ book, and remembering that skit made me think about this. Why is Bathsheba demonized throughout much of Christianity as the embodiment of the “seductive spirit of idolatry?” This woman, who was simply washing up after her period ended, like all Jewish women did? This woman who was simply following God’s purity laws, while, unbeknownst to her, a powerful King watched from above? This woman who had…what choice when the men of a King famous for killing tens of thousands came knocking at her door?

As this fantastic article by Crystal Lewis points out, even conservative commentaries on the Bible recognize Bathsheba’s lack of agency, of options (emphasis mine):

The conservative editors wander close to the real issue when they write that Bathsheba’s refusal “could mean punishment or death”… They touch lightly on power abuse, on coercion, and on the terrible status occupied by women in scripture… But then, the editors back away from the real issues and turn this very complicated matter into something black-and-white. In their effort to determine which “sins” were committed, they target the victim. The editors found a way to assign culpability to a woman who barely spoke at all in the story.

Christians don’t like to talk about the fact that King David might have been a rapist.

That would mean admitting that being “a man after God’s own heart” doesn’t make you a good person. That would mean admitting that maybe the men that God “calls” to leadership aren’t always good people either.

That would mean admitting that maybe the women in the Bible didn’t have it so good. That would mean that, maybe “Biblical womanhood” that focuses on submission for women and ultimate power for men isn’t actually what is best for the world. 

Maybe, admitting that King David might have been a rapist would mean admitting that if God’s desire for justice rolling down like waters is to be fulfilled, we need feminists and womanists fighting for this justice. 

Yet, much of the church isn’t ready to admit any of this. So they keep the same tired old story in place. And we keep the same old stories in place for the other women of the Bible. For Esther and Ruth and Mary and the woman at the well.

So, as Jason Dye points out, power structures stay in place.

Justice is stopped up by the dams that these structures built and goes stale.

Stories that could expose gross corruption become tame morality tales that we tell our children at bed time. The Bible becomes a book of fairy tales and Christianity becomes nothing but the purchase of a one-way ticket to heaven.

We don’t talk about power. We don’t talk about oppression. And we sure as hell don’t talk about liberation (except for our ambiguous discussions of freedom from sin).

And what’s the point of that? What does that do for women? For rape victims? For the hurting and for the oppressed?

Nothing, really. And that’s the point.


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Image via JustJared

Image via JustJared

I didn’t watch the Superbowl, this year (or…any year) but conversations about Beyoncé’s halftime show caught my eye. On one hand, many felt that Beyoncé’s display of all-women power and sexuality was inspiring and empowering. David Henson even went so far as to call it prophetic (and I agree):

It was a dance of defiance.

For 14 minutes, women were owned by no one. Instead, for those few prophetic and powerful minutes, Beyoncé and the women onstage with her owned the night.

Last night, men, misogyny, objectification, or sexism didn’t win, even though they got most of the airtime.

Rather, last night, thanks to Beyoncé, women owned Super Bowl XLVII.

Others brought up valid criticisms, saying that they did not feel empowered by the performance and questioning what displays of power are allowed in the Super Bowl. Could a woman artist get on stage and display a less overtly sexual type of power? Probably not, and I think we do need to talk about other ways that power can be expressed.

What I can’t stand, however, are people who call themselves feminists or progressives who spent the next day shaming Beyoncé, and I saw plenty of that as I watched the Twitter response pouring in. Many said that Beyoncé objectified herself because of the way she was dressed and the way she danced.

Though I think we need to have a conversation about how few images of women are presented in the music industry, right now, I just want to talk to those progressives.

Women have bodies.

No, women (like men) are bodies.

These bodies were not made for men to conquer, steal, and objectify but for women to be.

Many, if not most women have sex from time to time using our bodies. Often we are sexual with our bodies or we use our bodies to be sexy.

This does not make us objects. Objects don’t have sex.

Men are often seen as more human, as REAL men when they are sexual, while women are accused of objectifying themselves.

But I repeat: Objects don’t have sex.

Objectification does not happen when a woman like Beyoncé decides to use her sexuality to be powerful. Objectification happens when Audi commercials show a teenaged boy kissing a teenaged girl without her permission and displaying that as bravery. Objectification happens when men doing something sexual to a woman is put on the same level as a man driving an awesome car–when women are seen as nothing more than a product to be owned as a mark of manhood (note: women often objectify men and same-sex couples objectify one another. I’m speaking about the context of the Super Bowl and patriarchy, though often the situation is more complicated).

Objectification is something one person does to another person.

Objectification is treating someone as less than human, as if their body is nothing more than a thing to be claimed or conquered or bought.

Beyoncé went on stage last night and showed the world what a talented and powerful woman she was. She sang lyrics about independence and men not being ready or able to handle her body.

Did some men ignore her songs about women’s power and independence and choose to see Beyoncé as yet another object that they could conquer in their fantasies? Undoubtedly.

But I fail to see how this was Beyoncé’s fault.

She shouldn’t have been dressed like a Victoria’s Secret model.”

Her dance moves were too sexual and just made men fantasize about her.”

Feminists and progressives, do you not realize how you sound?

I’ll tell you how you sound by quoting a conservative Christian dating book that I am reading for my research project on rape and Christianity:

“If you dress like a piece of meat, you’re going to get thrown on the barbeque.”

You sound like conservative Christian dating books promoting modesty culture and enabling rape culture.

You sound like the same culture that is telling women that dressing immodestly is like waving money around asking for people to steal it. You sound like the authors who tell teenage girls that they lose their value and dignity when they have premarital sex.

I’m done with this idea that every time a woman presents her body to the world, men get to assume “that was for us.” And you’re naive or willfully ignorant if you’re going to try to claim that objectification would not have happened had Beyoncé been more “covered up.” You’re wrong if you think a different outfit would have made a difference in carrying Beyoncé’s message.

The truth there’s nothing a woman can wear under patriarchy that will prevent patriarchal men from trying to control their bodies.

Muslim women are accused of submitting to patriarchy for covering their bodies. Beyoncé is accused of submitting to patriarchy for showing hers. Even as she’s literally singing lyrics about how men wouldn’t even be able to handle her body, men think they can claim it as an object for themselves. To say that her performance is what caused men’s objectification of her is the same talk as modesty culture which says that women must dress a certain way to keep their brothers from stumbling.

Having sex is not what objectifies women. Dressing in a “sexy” way is not what objectifies women. Women are allowed to have sex and perform sexually and be sexual and be sexy. That’s not objectifying. Again, objects don’t have sex.

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