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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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Trigger Warning for intimate partner violence/verbal abuse and spiritual abuse

I’m on a guest-posting streak apparently, because today I’m over at Dianna Anderson’s blog talking  about images of God for her Account and Countenance series.

I look around me, years later, and I see a Church that is terrified to look its theology in the face. I see a Church that is somehow okay with having two drastically different definitions of love—one for humans and one for God. I see a Church that holds God to a different standard than they hold human beings.

I see a Church that thinks it can do this and still speak out against abuse and to me, it will never make sense. I can no longer listen to a pastor call abusers evil and then turn around and sing a hymn to the wrathful, jealous God who can save even a helpless, hopeless, worthless wretch like me.

These dueling definitions of love have to end. God doesn’t get God’s own definition. God doesn’t get to do whatever God wants and call it love.

Read the rest here! 


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Best of the week!

I didn’t have time to do a “best of the week” post last week, so some of these are from last week too. Enjoy these great thoughts!

Libby Anne talks about salvation anxiety over at Love, Joy, Feminism. 

And Amy Mitchell from Unchained Faith, along with Suzannah Paul from The Smitten Word have some insightful, bold opinions about emerging Christianity. 

Shay Kearns from Anarchist Reverend (a great blog that you should be reading) was ordained as an Old Catholic priest yesterday! Very excited for him. You can read his story here.

Abraham Kobylanski has some interesting thoughts on food and community. 

My friend Heather Harris sent me this piece by Amanda Taub on a new approach to sexual assault prevention. 

I’ve read this over and over since Elizabeth Esther published it a couple of weeks ago. On what not to say to someone who’s been through spiritual abuse. 

This YouTube video is my favorite cover of a Sex Pistol’s song ever and maybe my favorite thing ever. 


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John Shore on IFB survivors and my journey toward healing

Image via David Hayward

This piece at John Shore’s blog just awakened all kinds of emotions for me:

In surviving the worst survivors of IFB have become the best. The writings that I’ve read from former IFBs are some of the strongest testimonies to the strength and decency of the human spirit that I’ve ever come across. I appreciate being asked to offer you guys a word of support, but you should be offering support to me and anyone else lucky enough to hear what you have to say. You’re the power. You’re the strength. It’s you who are singing the songs that need to be heard.

He talks specifically here about survivors of Independent Fundamental Baptist churches (though I think this paragraph can apply to all survivors of abuse). When I read that paragraph all I could say was “thank you.”

I don’t always get praise like that when I talk about my past as a fundamental Christian. Christians in my life, even those who were not raised fundamental, accuse me of being bitter.

They tell me I have to forgive and love my old churches no matter how badly they’ve hurt me.

They tell me, “You’ve strayed so far from our precious Saviour (words I literally got recently).”

They tell me that I’m sinning when I can’t go to church on Sunday morning because the thought of sitting in a pew makes me physically sick much of the time.

They tell me that I’m selfish, focused only on my own healing, and that I can’t serve God outside of a church family (the kind that meets under a steeple on Sundays, of course. Friends from ex-fundy support groups on Facebook don’t count apparently).

Quite frankly though, to the Christians who say such things, you remind me of the people who told me to stay with my abusive ex. Or the boy who, after I broke up with that abusive ex, tried to take advantage of my “vulnerability.” I know that you’re trying to control me.

You might not even know that you’re trying to control me, and that’s because someone else is successfully controlling you (newsflash: that someone controlling you? It’s not God). So I’ll forgive you. You know not what you do. But I won’t give in to your expectations for me. I’m healing how I need to, thanks.

Others take a different angle and try to convert me to Atheism. It’s fair. I mean, I’ve tried to convert Atheists before so I probably deserve it. But I just want my Atheist friends to understand that, for me personally, spirituality is something I value deeply. Giving it up would be letting my abusers take away a part of my identity, a part of who I am. I can’t let them have that. 

I’m so glad for all the people who have healed from spiritual abuse by finding solace in Atheism or Agnosticism, but that’s not my path. I’d be lying to myself if I took it. I’m finding strength in the new, unorthodox religious communities that I’ve found and in feminist liberation theology and I’m honestly very happy with where I’m headed spiritually. If I’m hurting, it’s not because of my faith but because of the people all around me who are telling me that my faith isn’t right because it doesn’t line up with their abusive, violent, fear-driven theologies. 

So friends, let’s affirm one another with John Shore’s words. If you’ve survived abuse from the IFB, whether you’re still in an IFB church not ready or able to leave, whether you’ve become an Atheist or an Agnostic or a Buddhist or a Pagan, or whether you’re like me and you’re trying to pick up the pieces of your crumbled prison and make a home out of it…

You’re strong, you’re brave, and we need to hear your stories.


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Mark Driscoll, spiritual abuse, and fluffy bunnies…

We’re going to talk about Mark Driscoll today on the blog.

I know that, for many, the mere mention of that name brings up feelings of anger and overall  yucky-ness. So, I’m going to help you get through it. Inspired by the “Bunnies to Replace Mark Driscoll” movement, every time your brain imagines this…:

…I want you to mentally replace that image with this:

Got it? Okay, now for the post!

If I wrote a response about everything awful or stupid Pastor Mark Driscoll (hereafter known as VoldeMark, courtesy of Dianna Anderson) said/did, I would have enough material to write about him everyday. My little brain and heart cannot handle that. Also, I know I could easily fall into the trap of hating on VoldeMark just because he’s easy to hate on. Sure my blog views would go up, but my happiness would go down.

So, I pick my battles.

When I read Matthew Paul Turner’s recent posts (found here and here) about church discipline in VoldeMark’s church, though, I knew it was time to pick up my magic wand.

These posts talk about a man named Andrew, who, while in attendance at Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church, make a terrible mistake and, realizing his mistake, repentantly sought help from the leaders of the church.  You can read the full story on Matthew Paul Turner’s site, but long story short, the leaders of the church presented Andrew with some ridiculous, controlling and voyeuristic conditions  that he had to agree to (in the form of a contract that he had to sign) before they would accept his repentance. When Andrew refused to sign the contract, and instead decided to leave the church, his sin was made public (completely ignoring the fact that he had repented and sought help) to the rest of the church, and the rest of the church were forbidden from spending time with Andrew unless it was to address his sin.

Go read the rest of the story if you want to know the details and see the documentation. Then, come back here for a fluffy bunny break. You’re gonna need it:

Image via thingsthatmakeyougoaahh.com

Sometimes I see stories about Mars Hill and VoldeMark as an over-the-top parody of all the things that are wrong with the church. Many churches handle situations like Andrew’s terribly, but in a much more subtle manner. Mars Hill, however, throws all subtlety out the window in an almost terrifying manner.

But this abuse of power and manipulation doesn’t just take place at Mars Hill.

In fact, my reaction to this story was not one of shock, but one of familiarity.

I’m familiar with Andrew’s story because I’ve seen it take place many times, albeit on a much less obvious/well documented level, especially at the Christian schools I’ve attended.

It’s called spiritual abuse.

Leaders in church settings, be they pastors or Sunday School teachers or Christian school administrators/teachers, are often thought of as beacons of light. People often feel safe with these leaders–like they can go to these leaders for advice, tell them anything, and receive encouragement and counseling.

But sometimes those in power abuse this perception.  Sometimes these leaders take advantage of people’s comfortability with them. Sometimes these leaders set out the bait of a “safe space,” and people take this bait, only to find themselves caught in a trap set by power-hungry authoritarians.

I recall my Christian highschool, which had no counseling program. Just teachers and an administration who felt that everything from self-injury to sexual sin was grounds for punishment. Who abused their power to drag confessions out of people. Who felt that the school’s reputation was more important than the well-being of the students who attended there. Who turned away those most in need of help. Who, though much less obviously than Mars Hill’s leaders, encouraged those of us in good-standing to avoid close friendships with those who had “turned away.”

And not only were there no “safe-spaces” among the administration, but many of the leaders expanded their desire for control to the personal lives of the students–expelling students for things that they posted on their social networking sites (I remember the administration calling people down to the office, and asking students to sign in to their own private Myspace pages so that the administration could look at them), and even confiscating their phones and reading their text messages. Chapel sermons sometimes stressed the importance of telling on your friends, “for their own good,” so not even private conversations with your best friend really felt safe.

Phew. I need another bunny break, don’t you?:

I survived my highschool years by withdrawing from the world. By pretending to be the perfect Christian. By covering my self-injury scars rather than asking for help. By staying with my abusive ex-boyfriend who had manipulated me into sleeping with him, rather than asking for support when I tried to leave him.

I just acted perfect.

And because I’d been so brainwashed, I thought that was normal. I thought that’s what we were supposed to do. Forget confessing our sins to one another. Forget bearing one another’s burdens.

Flush your own shit.

Wash your dirty laundry in secret.

Stay in the closet.

Hide, hide, hide.

Brothers and sisters, these things ought not so to be.

I’m not sure how to end this on a positive note. Perhaps I’ll think of something tomorrow. But here’s one last fluffy bunny: