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The cross and radical activism

The idea that Jesus chose, out of his own free will, to go to the cross is a favorite among abusive church leaders. What better way to get people to submit to you than to compare the God they worship to a lamb led to slaughter? Over and over and over I’ve heard Jesus’ submissiveness unto death used as an excuse to abuse or to silence those who wish to call out abuse.

I want to propose a different perspective and I want to start with a woman named Alice Paul.

In 1917, women in the United States were not allowed to vote. Alice Paul and a group of other women wanted to change that. These women boldly picketed the White House with banners that called out the hypocrisy of the man in the White House–Woodrow Wilson–who was so quick to send troops overseas to Germany to fight for “liberty,” but who was ignoring the fact that women here were not even treated as real citizens (sound familiar?).

Though their peaceful protests broke no laws, these women were arrested and sent to prison under the false charge of “obstructing traffic.”

Incarcerated without reason in the “land of the free” (a land in which she–as a woman–already lacked the rights of a full citizen), Alice Paul asserted her autonomy and her humanity by fighting back the only way she could.

A photograph of Alice Paul (c1920 by Harris & Ewing)

A photograph of Alice Paul (c1920 by Harris & Ewing)

She stopped eating. 

Alice Paul went on a hunger strike as a way to protest the unjust conditions she was facing.

The 2004 movie, Iron Jawed Angels, depicts this true story (with some obvious dramatizations of course). During one scene, Alice Paul (played by Hillary Swank) is sent to a psychiatric ward because she refuses to eat. The doctor examining her asks about her hunger strike.

Alice: The hunger strike was a tradition in old Ireland. You starve yourself on someone’s doorstep until restitution is made and justice is done.

Doctor: Doesn’t sound like a very effective method.

Alice: A stinking corpse on your doorstep? What would the neighbors say?

We live in a world of violence, of poverty, of rape and war, of oppression and abuse.

We also live in a world of willful ignorance and pride.

People are starving and dying  at our doorsteps (metaphorically speaking), but we’re great at ignoring it. Sometimes it takes radical activism (like some literally dying on our doorstep) to change things.

Alice Paul offered up her life in order to fight injustice. Though she survived the hunger strikes (not every hunger striker does), she still willingly put her body at risk. She was willing to starve on the doorstep of injustice. In doing so, she put the United States to shame, uncovering its disturbing hypocrisy (a hypocrisy that continues today).

She gave herself up willingly.

Was this an act of passive submission?

What do you think?

Those who use the story of the cross to convince oppressed or abused people to stop fighting for justice are missing the point of radical activism. Sometimes, in the face of unrelenting oppression, brave, radical activists stand up and take control of their lives and bodies…

…by giving them up.

When Alice Paul, and Hana Shalabi, and other hunger-strikers stopped eating, it was not an act of submissive, obedient defeat.

 It was a powerful assertion of bodily autonomy in a world that tried to deny their humanity.

 It was a bold act of love by people who were willing to lay down their lives for their friends, their freedom, and their people.

It was a stance that forced oppressors to open their eyes, uncover their ears, and stare into emaciated face of the injustice they had caused. 

The cross of Jesus doesn’t mean that we suffer in silence while we are abused and oppressed. It does not mean that we “turn the other cheek” when we notice others being abused and oppressed. As I wrote earlier this week, we must start to see the cross is a middle finger to the world’s oppressive power structures.

God, as symbolized in the crucifixion, is with the victims who are oppressed. God is also with those who stand up and fight oppression.

The cross is a symbol of both the evils of oppression and of the radical activism that opposes oppression.

We should not have to live in a world where the only way people can gain power and assert their humanity is through hunger strikes. We should not have to live in a world where people are detained in prisons without charge. We should not have to live in a world where people are put to death by crucifixion or lethal injection.

Jesus’ radical activism points us to a new world.

Anyone who tells you that the cross means you have to stop fighting oppression is missing the point.


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Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week: My Guest Post at Rachel Held Evans

IMAGE BY DANI KELLEY

IMAGE BY DANI KELLEY

Today I’m guest posting at Rachel Held Evans’ blog, talking about abuse and images of God.

God is love. I believe that with my whole heart.

But what is God? And what is love?

We need to ask ourselves these questions and think deeply about them before we can even begin to start solving the problem of abuse in the Christian church.

Read the rest at RachelHeldEvans.com!


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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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My body remembers

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[TRIGGER WARNINGS: Rape and Abuse]

As many of you know, in highschool I spent a year in an abusive relationship. Some of my memories of my abuse are vague and foggy. But then other memories I remember well. The ones I remember the most clearly are the ones I remember not only in my mind, but in the rest of my body as well.

As I think about my connection with my body, and I think about my commitment to reconnect with and love my body for Lent, I also have to think of the ways my body has been hurt.

And I have to take care of it.

Because my body remembers.

Somehow in my path to healing I got the idea (though I don’t remember where from) that the pain from the physical abuse I’d suffered had healed already. Therefore, it was the verbal abuse I had to worry about.

After all, one only hurt my body. The other hurt my soul, right?

So, until the past two years or so I’d avoided even thinking about it.

But no matter how well my physical abuse has healed, verbal abuse isn’t the only thing that sticks with me. Again, my body remembers.

There aren’t any scars except the ones I gave myself–and those are fading. But even those are part of the body that is me now.

The body that carries in it the experiences that are part of who I am.

My story.

My survival.

Most of what my body remembers can’t be seen. My face remembers the stinging pain of the one and only time he slapped me.

My arm remembers the time when I tried to walk away from him and he grabbed it so tightly that it left a hand-print-shaped bruise. The bruise is gone but sometimes I still feel that hand, gripping so tightly I wanted to cry.

Sometimes my brain tricks me into feeling his hands at my sides ready to tickle me until I couldn’t breathe and started to cry. And I think about it and start to laugh and my ribs start to scream out in pain.

My body remembers when he forced me to perform fellactio on him and how he held my head down. It remembers the taste and how it felt when I threw up afterward. And I still carry mints or cough drops everywhere because sometimes I’ll just be at school or at the store and I’ll remember and the taste will be so real and so awful that if I don’t have something to help me forget I’ll throw up again.

Sometimes I’ll just feel his body on my body, hurting me all over again. I’ll feel his hands and I’ll want to push them away so badly but they aren’t there, and so I end up looking like I just walked into a spider web.

Physical abuse, like verbal abuse, goes deeper than the scars and bruises. My body remembers tastes and smells and touches–some that my brain can no longer even attach to a specific event.

And in my attempt to separate Me from My Body, I’ve dismissed the pain I’ve felt as something in the past. I’ve let myself feel ashamed for still feeling pain that is not “real.”

But today, for Lent, I’m affirming that pain. It’s real and it’s legitimate, even if it’s just a phantom.

I can cry over it. I can hurt from it. I can carry my cough drops and use them when I need to. I can tell Abe to stop touching me if his hands are reminding my body of another set of hands.

I survived with my body and I remember with my body and somehow, I’m going to learn to heal with my body.

I can say to my body, “It’s okay to remember. It’s okay to hurt. You are a survivor too.” 


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Let me be angry.

Trigger Warning for abuse and rape: 

I’ve been tired of fighting. Been feeling like nothing is coming through. Been terrified of being dismissed as an angry feminist. But being too filled with words–bursting at the seams with them. All the words I’ve held back because of fear and good ol’ Christian niceties.

All those words can’t be contained anymore.

Because things are wrong.

Things are unfair.

People are hurting.

How can you just stand there?

And there I go again. I guess I am just an angry feminist. But how can you not be? How can you hear the abusive words that church leaders say, how can you hear about the rape and the abuse and the churches that cover it up and not be angry? 

It breaks my heart when people tell me that I don’t care about unity because I will not embrace abusive theology or those who preach it.

It breaks my heart when people say that I am mean or unChristlike because I cannot have a polite discussion about men like the man who raped me and hit me and called me a whore as he threw me against his car.

It breaks my heart that my voice and the voices of those I love are seen as a “digital grenades” when we speak out against the words of abusive pastors. The words of men that lead women to stay with abusive husbandswords that can literally kill–are not seen as the problem, and that breaks my heart.

It breaks my heart that Christians say we are all members of one body, and therefore must embrace the cancerous cells that threaten us with hell, tell us to take responsibility for being raped, compare sex to a man “conquering and colonizing…”

It breaks my heart that someone will be more upset that I compared these men to cancer cells–even though they are eating away at everything that is good and healthy in the body of Christ–than they are about the fact that people are hurting in the church.

People are hurting so badly.

I’m hurting.

Maybe you’re hurting too.

So let me flip over tables, because you shouldn’t have to hurt.

Let me use the words that are my modern-day equivalent of “brood of vipers,” because I shouldn’t have to hurt either.

Let me throw those digital grenades and let me make abusive pastors my business, and let me get riled up. Because no one should ever have to hurt.

Don’t tell me to be nice because being nice about abuse is like trying to treat a cavity with sugar.

Don’t tell me to leave it in God’s hands, because maybe God’s been doing a terrible job. Or because maybe God works through boring, ordinary, people like me. I don’t know which anymore.

Let me be angry. That’s all I ask.


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No one’s Messiah

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Image via PassionOfAGoddess.com

To Christian men and the churches they attend:

I am not your Christ.

Churches may try to put women on a cross, sacrificing them so that men may be pure and holy.

But I am not your savior.

Churches may expect women to keep silent, to hide their talents, their bodies, to sacrifice who they are to protect men from sin and shame.

But I am coming down off of that cross.

Churches may ask women to endure abuse for a season–like Christ endured crucifixion–so that abusive men might be saved.

But I am no one’s fucking Messiah.

I won’t take the beatings. I won’t bear the shame. If that makes me a bad Christian, fine. If that means I’m going to hell, show me the door.

I’ll let myself in.

Because I know what real hell is like. I’ve been there. Real hell is pretending to happily, silently endure physical, spiritual, verbal, and sexual abuse in hopes of drawing my “brethren” back to the light. Hell is having to bear the sins of Christian men in my body. Hell is hanging on a cross built by a church, dying to save abusive men.

I won’t go through that again.

I am not your Christ.