Tag Archive | abuse

A Moving Target

By ange Embuldeniya from Somewhere… (Stop Cyber Bullying Day Uploaded by Doktory), via Wikimedia Commons

Warning: This post may be triggering for people who have grown up in abusive homes or churches, particularly when there were unclear expectations, or for those who have been harassed/bullied (online or off).  Also, it’s long and kind of ranty.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to write today.  I’m feeling a little burned out.  I still love writing, and I still love talking about things that need to change in American evangelical Christianity.  But right now, being part of the blogging community doesn’t feel like a hopeful pursuit.  I’m not going to leave, as I believe I still own my words and have things to say.  But it’s hard to put my feelings into words these days, especially when I’m seeing online friends experience bullying by other bloggers.

I’ve been complicit in this because I haven’t wanted to be victimized myself.  This is probably understandable, given my long history with bullying.  When one has the appearance of having made it to the cool kids’ table, who wants to go back to being the outcast?  I was horrified when I realized that I was doing the very thing I’d experienced for years.  I stopped, and the repercussions were immediate; I lamented that blogging can feel like middle school all over again.  Some of my fellow writers, who happen to have encouraging online blogging personalities, really helped me feel better, and I started thinking about the power dynamics.

Have you ever been in a relationship where the rules keep changing?  Years ago, I was in a friendship like that.  The other person–I’ll call her Lulu–had a long list of expectations.  Disagreeing with her was never a simple matter of saying, “I disagree.”  She wanted me (and others) to use specific words and phrases.  If we made a mistake in our language, she would refuse to respond to our concerns until we rephrased things “properly.”  It could even result in weeks (or, in one situation, years) of being ignored or complained about.  This would have been annoying on its own, but what made it worse was that the line kept moving.  She would change her mind about what she wanted or how she wanted it on a regular basis, or she would add rules on top of rules.

It took me a long time to extract myself from that friendship.  I kept telling myself that it was me–I wasn’t a good enough friend; I was overreacting; her abuse wasn’t that bad; I would have the same issues in any relationship.  When I finally left, I discovered that there are people out there who like me for me, not for what I can do for them.  Friendship means being allowed to receive as well as give.

I experienced similar situations at home and at school growing up.  I never actually considered my home abusive, but my mother was highly unpredictable and could be volatile under certain circumstances.  When it came to peer relationships, the ones that always left me devastated weren’t the kids nasty from day one but the friends-turned-bullies.  The worst part was the inconsistency–the unpredictable nature of the abusers.  Which version would I have that day?  The kind, gentle loving person or the monster?  The friend who invited me to sleep over or the one who turned around the next day and told everyone that she made me eat candy she’d put down her underpants?  The mom who baked ten kinds of Christmas cookies or the one who spent the entire holiday raging and crying, holed up in her room?

That is how I feel about the online world.  Sometimes I feel like I’ve hit the bulls-eye.  I receive praise and encouragement from fellow writers.  Other times, I feel like I can’t keep up with the shifting expectations.  Every time I turn around, there’s a new thing I’m supposed to say differently in order to demonstrate that I’ve properly heard and understood something.  Just when I think I’ve gotten it, the target moves again.  For example, I thought I was doing pretty well as a parent, particularly in how I speak of my children on my blog.  Then along came some new rules:  Don’t say you’re proud of your kids because it takes away their autonomy.  Don’t talk about your kids’ issues because you’re speaking for them.  Actually, don’t write about them at all without their express permission, which of course you can’t get in writing because they’re not of legal age.  Also, don’t have any feelings about their needs at all because it’s not about you, despite the fact that you’re the one who has spent years learning to care for kids who have challenges or don’t fit in with societal expectations.

Seriously?

You know what?  I am proud of my kids, dammit.  And I do have feelings about raising kids with learning and behavioral needs–it can be emotionally and physically draining.  I will write about them because other than my husband, they are the two people I love most in this world.  The most common complaint I’ve heard is that if I think it’s hard to parent a neurodiverse child, I should try being one.  Know what I say to that?  Up yours.  Why the hell do you think it’s so hard to parent a child whose needs exceed his or her peers?  One reason is that we do know how hard it is for them, and all we do all day long is try to help it be less hard.  My kids tell me they feel loved, so I’m pretty sure I’m not screwing them up for life.

Writing about my kids is just one example.  There are rules for everything, including what words we should use (I’m not talking about proper terms for things or not using slurs or insulting phrases).  Today, one thing will be considered appropriate phraseology; tomorrow, another.  And through it all, the real problem isn’t so much the changing expectations but the fact that there are segments of the blogging world that have unpredictable reactions to the use of yesterday’s terminology–often on behalf of others rather than themselves.

That’s the thing I can’t do anymore.  I can’t follow all the rules, and I’m not going to try.  If someone wants to be pissy that I talk about what it’s like to parent a kid with ADHD (or even that I mentioned having one with ADHD), so what?  Be pissy, then.  Don’t like how I apologize when someone has told me I’ve hurt them?  Fine–go make amends your own way.  Think I’m not the perfect [whatever kind of] ally?  Then what you want is a robot, not another human being (and honestly, I’ve never heard this from people I’m being an ally to–only from other allies).

I know why I’ve spent so much time trying to fit in.  I desperately want to be accepted, and part of that is trying to offend as few people as possible–or at least those who seem like the cool, popular ones or the influential ones.  Today, I realized that I view everyone I meet in these terms–when will they stop liking me and start behaving erratically?  I’m done.  I refuse to try to contort myself for the sake of someone else’s unpredictability.  I can’t live like that.  I wasn’t able to maintain a friendship like that long-term, and I can’t maintain online relationships that way either.

None of this means that I will stop working for change or pointing out where we can improve.  But I don’t want to be part of an unhealthy system.  I did that growing up, I did that in my former friendship, and I did that at church.  At this point, I need to protect myself from further harm, and that includes not allowing myself to be influenced by my need to fit in.  This thing called life is hard enough without feeling like if I so much as twitch it might be taken the wrong way and I’ll get an earful of how I’m defending some terrible injustice even when that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Maybe one day, I won’t feel the need to be on the inside anymore.

Stop hate-watching the survivors

This post happened last week (trigger warning for policing how people heal from abuse.)  Dianna Anderson has a good response regarding healing and recovery.  From that angle, her post is a must-read.  I want to approach Richard Clark’s post from a different perspective.

I absolutely agree with Dianna that it’s wrong to tell people how they should heal–what form that should take or what the time frame must be.  Doing the work of a survivor is good and important work, and some might even call it holy.  Clark doesn’t really have any business policing that.  But there’s something else that he’s missing, and I think it’s related to tone-policing.

First, one of his biggest mistakes is assuming that the people who are (as he calls it) “hate-watching” and/or “mocking” the church are Christians–or religious at all, for that matter.  Quoting Scripture and talking about when and how Jesus used mockery are irrelevant to people who don’t believe the Bible to be a sacred text.  Just because someone used to be part of a church doesn’t mean that person was ever a Christian, is one now, or ever will be one.  There are many possibilities there, none of which Clark bothers to acknowledge.  Telling people outside the church how they should write, speak, or behave and putting it in Christian terms is like trying to apply U.S. federal laws to Canada.

Second, Clark fails to see that this isn’t like someone getting bad service in a restaurant and venting about it afterward.  It’s not just a casual visit to a church, deciding it wasn’t a good fit, and looking elsewhere.  We’re talking about long-term abusive teachings and behaviors, many of which were perpetrated on underage people for years.  Damage done in childhood takes a lot to overcome, and it’s pretty disturbing how many people have had similar experiences at the hands of pastors and teachers within the church.

Third, there’s more at stake here than individual people’s recovery.  This is about the ways in which the church has, as an institution, continued to wound people deeply.  If you see a house on fire or someone committing a crime or a person in need of immediate medical attention, don’t you have an obligation to at minimum call emergency services?  That’s what so many of us have been doing in our own ways–we’ve been writing, teaching, and speaking about this problem and working actively in our day-to-day lives to help end the abuses at the hands of religious leaders and institutions.

Richard Clark and others don’t appear to be heeding our words.  At least, when they write about “hate-watching,” it’s a little hard to tell that they’ve heard us.  We don’t want just to vent about the abuses at Mars Hill or John Piper’s teachings or Westboro Baptist’s protests or tweets about children being deeply broken.  We’re not using the Internet as an electronic therapist.  We don’t merely want to be heard and acknowledged.  We want it to stop.

I’m exhausted from those within the institution telling me I’m doing it wrong or I’m “hurting my cause” or I’m “hate-watching,” because we’ve tried every possible way to say the same things and not one of them has ended these abuses.  We’ve tried the quiet polite way; the humorous way; the angry, ranty way; the sarcastic mocking way; the pleading way.  We’ve written, shouted, set it to music, and created artwork about it.  We’ve asked for those directly hurt to be heard and we’ve asked for the allies to be heard.  And yet it continues.  What the hell else do you want us to do?

I’m tired of hearing about how we’re all just seeing oppression everywhere (and implying it doesn’t really exist), even in the face of solid evidence that it does.  The primary problem isn’t the score-keeping of who is more oppressed or whether sometimes the same person who holds privilege in one situation lacks it in another.  For example, I’ve lately seen statistics floating about on the percentage of college-educated women and women’s earning power.  That’s great, but it doesn’t erase institutionalized sexism–particularly within the church.  It certainly doesn’t give anyone a free pass to ignore misogyny when they see it.  The problem isn’t whether a given church has made a commitment to battling oppression but that church as an institution still perpetuates it.

I’m weary of being told that people/churches are imperfect, because that’s just an excuse for ignoring those who have been hurt.  Of course churches are imperfect and people are imperfect.  But why shouldn’t people and churches work toward being better?  Why should any form of bullying, abuse, or oppression be allowed to continue?  We have a responsibility to tell people that these abuses are occurring, and the church as an institution has a responsibility to put an end to the damage.

When these well-known pastors stop hurting people with their teaching; when the church begins to care more about children living in poverty than about the “pre-born”; when more money is spent on those in need than on our buildings and programs; when helping the sick, hungry, and homeless becomes a priority; when justice for victims trumps policing what women put on their bodies; and when all the institutionalized oppression ends, we will surely have no more need to use our words to express our outrage.  Until then, we will use any method we can to get people’s attention.

Richard Clark, you’re trying to fix the wrong problem.  Stop hate-watching those of us who criticize the church and help us do something to end these abuses.

About that homeschooling thing…

By Jason Kasper from Harrisburg, USA (Modified version of 100_4456) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I don’t talk about homeschooling very often.  Part of the reason is my kids–I prefer not to discuss them without their permission.  Since homeschooling is, by nature, about my daughter, I tend not to write much.  When something general comes up, however, I find myself wanting to respond.

The latest is a series of posts written by former homescholars.  I don’t begrudge them needing their space to talk about the frightening world from which they came; I believe safe space is vital.  My problem is not with Homeschoolers Anonymous, or even with some of what they’ve written.  My problem is with the response it has generated.

Before I begin, let me go on the record saying that as a homeschooling parent, I do not feel like an oppressed minority.  I may be in the actual minority, but that doesn’t make me oppressed.  We love our school district (our son is a public school student, and our daughter will likely be one eventually).  We have a great working relationship with them.  We’ve borrowed materials, including text books, and the teachers are always more than willing to give us suggestions.  Later this morning, I will be dropping off my daughter’s third quarter report and staying a few minutes to chat with the security guard who accepts it for transit to the office.  I can’t stress enough how much we appreciate what they’ve done for us.  Keeping that relationship good is what enables us to enjoy homeschooling our daughter.

That said, it makes me angry when I feel like I’m getting crap from both ends.  Many of my fellow homeschooling parents have been critical of the fact that we are working so closely with the district–they believe we’ve somehow given up our “rights.”  Others find it distasteful that we don’t use a specific, prepackaged curriculum.  A few even turn up their noses at our lack of “faith-based” instruction.  And among those who don’t care about any of those things, we’ve taken heat for not living a more “organic” lifestyle to go along with our homeschooling.  It hurts, but as a result, we’ve never found a homeschool group that felt like home.  We’ve stuck with individual friendships (I’m so beyond blessed that one of my best friends also homeschools her daughter) and have enrolled our daughter in other activities.  She’s a Girl Scout, takes two dance classes, and participates in other activities as we find time.

On the flip side, there are the Angry Ex-Homescholars.  Again, I don’t want to take away from their very real pain.  But comments about how people can “spot a homeschooled kid a mile away” and rants about how it’s “damaging” to the kids make me unbelievably angry.  What makes me angry is not so much that people think those things but that a certain subset of the population has given them reason to think them.

When I hear about the way the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (the legal activists) have put pressure on families to refuse to comply with social workers or the way that some parents have used homeschooling as a tool of abuse, I want to scream.  I want to cry when I hear from adults who were homeschooled that they never learned proper math or that their parents, for religious reasons, refused to teach them about human sexuality.  I want to punch something when I see some of the crap that passes for science in “Christian” homeschool materials.  The fact that a web site like Homeschoolers Anonymous even exists–out of necessity–cuts me deeply.

When we began our journey more than five years ago, we had a purpose in mind.  Our son, who came out of the womb with the energy of a lightning storm, was reading at a third grade level at age four and a half.  The combination, we knew, would be lethal in a classroom.  The original plan was to keep him home until middle school.  When first grade rolled around, we had already discovered that he didn’t fit in well with other homeschooled kids (he was bullied, believe it or not, for being a dancer).  As a family, we’re pretty different from most.  On top of that, he needed to be around other people almost constantly–he’s the definition of an extrovert.  So we sent him off to a great public school, where he has continued to thrive.

We offer our daughter the option every year.  So far, she has chosen to remain at home.  I have maintained my drive to ensure that she develops high-level skill in reading and math (so far, so good) and that she finds ways to pursue her passions.  I refuse to use Christian materials, because they are long on religion and short on actual science.  I have a girl who is interested in keeping our natural world and our animal friends safe–if I want to draw her back to her faith, what better way to do it than to help her understand that God made all these beautiful things?  We don’t need Bob Jones or A Bekka to help us do that.

We can’t afford private school full-time, and the only schools offering a la carte classes are the Christian schools–which for us is a big NO.  I won’t allow my daughter to be taught science by a teacher who denies evolution, believes in a literal 6-day creation, and insists that humans and dinosaurs must have co-existed.  So if my daughter decides to stay home longer than middle school, we will be searching for ways to supplement what I can do so that she isn’t behind in any way come graduation.

There are several things I need people to understand about homeschooling:

  1. We are not all families that believe a woman’s place is barefoot and pregnant.
  2. We are not all like the HSLDA folks.
  3. Not all of us weave religion into every aspect of our day.
  4. Many of us want our kids–especially our girls, who may or may not experience this even in public school–to study math and science.
  5. Our children are not all easily recognizable as homeschooled kids.  People are constantly surprised to learn that my daughter is homeschooled.  I guess they don’t expect her to be socially or academically competent, or perhaps they think she doesn’t fit their stereotype of “weird.”
  6. Not all of us think education is one size fits all.  Being a half-n-half family works well for us; it’s different for other families.
  7. When anti-homeschooling people and HSLDA members alike fight over this, it hurts everyone.  Many of us don’t want to be civilian casualties in your war; please don’t use us as pawns.

I write often on this blog about how we need to get to know the people we are judging.  Please don’t make assumptions about me or my family without knowing us.  When you make sweeping statements about what homeschooling families are like (or about what public schooling families are like), you are causing pain to those who don’t share that view.  Work to make it safer for all kids; work to get legislation in place so that abuse can’t be covered (including among public- and private-schooled kids).  But don’t do it by saying nasty things about what you think we’re up to in our household.  Chances are, you will be wrong.

Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week: After-Image

Graphic by the amazing Dani Kelley

I wasn’t able to participate in the first day of Spiritual Abuse Awareness week due to other demands on my time.  I wasn’t sure I was going to write anything today, either.  My experiences are mild compared to the horrific things friends and fellow bloggers have shared, and I believe those people who have survived need safe space to heal.  That sometimes includes people like me, who only feel it like the residual tremors of an earthquake, remaining quiet and letting others tell their stories.  But I had an experience that reminded me that everything has consequences, even if we don’t realize it at the time.  So here is my story about the aftermath of dealing with spiritually abusive people and how deep it can make us bleed.

Last Sunday, the pastor asked to speak to us about our son.

I was on my way in alone; I was playing my violin during the service and had arrived early to practice with the choir.  My husband and children were driving separately.  The pastor stopped me on my way up to the choir loft and said,

I’d like to talk to you for a few minutes in my office after church, about your son.

I must have looked surprised, because she added that it was about his baptism, which is scheduled for the Sunday after Easter.  I nodded and told her that was no problem.  But inside, I was panicking.

That’s not really a healthy response to a conversation with a pastor.

I need to say here that our pastor is a lovely woman.  She is kind and gentle and delivers fantastic sermons.  She has been nothing but loving and warm towards our family, our children in particular.  My daughter warmed to her immediately, which is fairly miraculous–she has discriminating taste in people.  So there are no circumstances under which I should feel threatened or intimidated by this pastor.  Even if I had committed some grave error, I suspect she would handle it with grace.

And yet.

My immediate reaction to anyone in spiritual authority asking to speak to me has become one of fear.  I have learned to expect rebukes rather than positive conversations.  When I realized what had happened, that my response was out of proportion with reality, I was puzzled.  Where in the world did such feelings come from?

I knew that it wasn’t really the result of my experiences as a teenager.  I was a little afraid of the pastor of that church, but I don’t believe that I thought of him as genuinely in authority over me.  I had no sense of church politics or hierarchy; I was in a bubble of Christian youth culture (as much as there actually was back in the late ’80s/early ’90s).  And it certainly didn’t come from the ten years my husband and I spent at our first church as a married couple.  That pastor and his family were like an extension of our own.  We were close, and we remain in touch to this day despite the 3000 miles separating us.

I’m sure you can guess where this is going.  I am not going to sit here and say that I was spiritually abused by our church or the leadership*.  That would be lying, and it would be hurtful to those who are still involved.  But I will tell you this: There were people in authority there who absolutely, unquestionably used intimidation tactics on me and on others.  I was spoken to multiple occasions about my writing, particularly in regard to my feminism and my unwavering stance as an LGBT ally (and once or twice about my parenting).  I was never told I shouldn’t blog or use social media, but I received subtle threats about it more than once.  Additionally, there were a few adults who used my children for the purpose of coercion and “correction.”  (Nothing makes me go all Mama Bear faster than church people using my kids as weapons.)

None of that may sound particularly bad; and perhaps it isn’t.  But taken as a whole, it damaged my sense that pastors and leaders are safe people.  They may not overtly threaten or shun or shout from the pulpit, but they hold power over the people–in large part because they (or the church structure) dictates that they do.  When leaders wield their authority inappropriately, it undermines people’s faith that they can trust them.

This is exactly what happened to me.  I believe that over time, I can–and will–regain my ability to trust, because it wasn’t damaged beyond repair.  But there are others for whom the same cannot be said.  This is unacceptable–not because it’s unacceptable to be non-religious or non-churchgoing, but because the reason for being non-religious or non-churchgoing should never, ever be because it was literally or figuratively beaten out of you.

By the way, the reason the pastor wanted to talk to us was so she could set a time to come to our house to speak to our son about what will happen when he’s baptized, physically and spiritually.  We met last night, and it was good–exactly as I should have expected.

I hope you will read the other stories about spiritual abuse this week.  There are some remarkable survivors out there.  Take the time to get to know them through their words.  And if you have been spiritually abused, please read this excellent post by Caleigh on self-care.  Meanwhile, I’m going to spend some time praying for the strength to trust again.

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*That is not to say that I wasn’t exposed to abusive beliefs or teachings; I’m speaking specifically here about being directly abused, harassed, threatened, mistreated, intimidated, etc. by pastors, elders, and other leaders in the church.

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For more posts on spiritual abuse, visit these web sites:

Wine & Marble: Spiritual Abuse Day 1

Joy in this Journey: Spiritual Abuse Day 2

 

Women are not the problem

Warning: This post contains subject matter which may be triggering for some people.  Things I will mention include rape, sexual assault, harassment, abuse, molestation.  Also, I use some strong language (read: swearing).  Read at your own risk.  If you choose to comment on this post, please show respect by providing a trigger warning for sensitive topics each time you include them.  (Posts with potential triggers that don’t include a warning will be removed within 24 hours.)  Thanks!

Last night, I participated in an animated discussion on Twitter regarding the 2005 book Sex Is Not the Problem: Lust Is by Joshua Harris.  One of the people I follow is reading it for research and was live tweeting her reactions.  I won’t take up space with all of the horrifying quotes she tweeted, but I will tell you which two I found the most disturbing:

When you dress and behave in a way that is designed …to arouse sexual desire in men, you’re committing pornography with your life.

and

Ask God to help you see how selfish and uncaring it is to want to use your body to encourage your brothers to lust.

Those two statements, right there, are exactly why we have a problem with boys and men who act as though they have the right to take whatever they want from girls and women.

You may not be able to see it.  You almost surely won’t see it if you are a straight, white, cis-gender man.  You probably won’t see it if you’re a woman who buys into purity culture and have never been victimized.

But the rest of us see it.

It’s especially bad for those of us who have been harmed by it.  We’re the survivors.  We’re the ones who have had to deal with years of shame because we believed that what we suffered was our own fault.  We’re the ones who…

  • were raped by our innocent, safe boyfriends with whom we never even shared a kiss.
  • dressed in baggy clothes and pretended we didn’t have breasts because we were sure that they wouldn’t have raped us if we’d been more modest.
  • were licked, leered at, and taunted by our classmates because using sexuality was a way to make us feel small.
  • had boys write “slut” and “whore” and “bitch” on our homework, then had friends tell us we should be flattered because “he likes you!”
  • had our fathers demand chastity with our boyfriends while themselves finger-fucking us in bed at night.
  • got felt up by boys, without our permission, and then were ashamed because we kind of liked it.*
  • had boys ask to touch our bodies, and said yes because we were scared, and never told anyone because we hadn’t said no.
  • thought something was wrong with us when we felt sexually aroused, because that wasn’t supposed to happen to girls who weren’t married.
  • were virgins when we got married and endured years of painful intercourse instead of real lovemaking because the first time was so painful and scary, and no one ever taught us that it didn’t have to be—even if we’d never had sex before.
  • continue to live with shame over our non-marital intimacy because we’ve been labeled as “sluts.”

And through every single moment, we heard the message loud and clear that whatever we were doing was the cause of our misery.**

So you can sit there in your self-righteous bubble and tell us how we should dress or act so that we don’t attract the “lust” of boys and men.  Or you can choose to use your own feelings of guilt and shame to do more damage to other people.  Either way, though, you need to keep it to yourself.  You need to stop using your words to continue the cycle of blame and guilt that has been inflicted on too many women.

If I sound angry, it’s because I am.  I’m angry that we spend our energy demanding that women take responsibility for both their own and men’s sexuality, instead of doing what we should be doing: going after the actions of the people who victimize others directly, without blaming those they’ve harmed.  I’m angry that anyone gave Joshua Harris a platform for his douchey attitude toward women.  I’m angry that the message that what women wear causes uncontrollable urges in men is still being spouted in churches everywhere.  I’m angry that because this message is so prevalent in Christian culture, my children will someday hear it, even if it isn’t explicitly preached to them at church (the same message appears in music, books, devotions, and educational material for Christian teens).

I have two messages.  First, for men like Joshua Harris and other men who call themselves Christians: Shut up.  Just shut up.  We women don’t need you to tell us how we should dress or act.  And we don’t need men to “protect” or “rescue” us from the fairly uncommon random stranger that attacks women.  No, we need you men to keep your damn pants zipped and stop being the ones who rape and molest us, and then trying to blame us for being immodest.

Second, for those of who have been abused and assaulted, stop believing the lie that it’s your fault.  Stop believing that there is something wrong with you.  There isn’t.  And you don’t need Jesus to heal you from whatever sin caused your pain, because it wasn’t your fault at all.  You don’t need to recover from your own fall, but from the shame placed on you by other people.  You have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

This has to stop somewhere, and I’m determined that, at least in my own household, it stops with me.

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*It’s not uncommon for children who are molested or people who are sexually assaulted to feel some degree of arousal.  Those parts of our bodies are designed to respond to stimuli.  The shame comes both from the confusion that it’s simultaneously unpleasant and yet stimulating, coupled with the belief that anything sexual is bad until marriage.

**Yes, everything on that list has happened to someone (or multiple someones) that I personally know.  Yes, some of them happened to me.  No, I’m not going to tell you which ones.

Semi-radical Grace for Some

Warning: Some of the content of this post may be triggering for survivors.

If there is a phrase uttered by conservative evangelicals that I never want to hear again, it’s this: “radical grace.”  Because (let’s be honest) no one really means it.  There are a number of other things implied, though:

  • Grace, if you’ve said the magic words and promised that you’ll never do it again
  • Grace, but only for those we deem “repentant”
  • Grace for certain people, but not others
  • Grace if you’ve committed one of the sins on the “ok” list, but not one of the Big Bad Evil Sins
  • Grace for the powerful at the expense of the weak

I know that it doesn’t seem that way.  Well-meaning people will keep on insisting that the really, truly do mean grace for everyone.  But that’s not how it plays out in the real world.  It’s why we have fools spouting off about how “changed” they are, all the while continuing to victimize others, who are allowed to continue to serve in ministry—to the very people they have abused.  It’s why we have extreme punishments for people for the mistake of being human, punishments which far exceed the “crime.”  It’s why an adulterous spouse is eligible for membership and leadership, while the one who remained faithful is vilified (yes, this really happened).  It’s why boys are told they should try to control their urges, but we understand they can’t if a girl is dressed a certain way.  It’s why a thrice-divorced single parent is welcomed in, but a married gay person isn’t.  (Not trying to condemn the single parent here, just pointing out that we pick and choose which is okay and which is not.)

Those aren’t examples of this radical grace of which we speak.

This problem is two-fold.  First, we misapply grace.  There is a mistaken belief that grace means that there are no consequences.  I once listened to a mom relating a story about the wrongdoing of her teenage daughter.  She explained that rather than punishing her behavior, she chose to let it go and didn’t confront her.  This, people, is NOT grace.  Grace would have been forgoing the punishment, while explaining to the daughter that she still had done wrong and that the trust they once had in her is gone.  Grace would have been expecting that the daughter would show better judgment next time.  Grace would have been expecting the daughter to earn back her parents’ trust.  This is consistent with God’s grace.  We may be forgiven and free, but we will still be judged.

The second problem is that we misplace In a misguided attempt at keeping the peace, we fail to hold the right people accountable.  One of the worst things I heard in the last few weeks was in regard to Trayvon Martin.  One of my friends said that we can’t make a judgment about whether Zimmerman was wrong because “we don’t know the whole story.”  Well, yes, actually, we do.  We know that an adult white man shot and killed an unarmed black teenager.  (And if we’re honest, we know that had the races been reversed, or if both were black or both were white, he’d have been charged immediately.)  There are not two sides to this story.  There is one, and it’s Trayvon’s.  There are not two sides to a rape, there is one—the victim’s (no matter how she was dressed, how drunk she was, or what her profession).  There are not two sides to an adult molesting a child.  There are not two sides to spousal abuse.  When one person victimizes another, that person is always, always wrong.  Somehow, we’ve gotten the idea that we need to forgive the abuser and simply move on.  If he or she says, “I’ve repented!  I’m changed!” we’re supposed to overlook past flaws.

Which leaves no grace left for the victim.

Victims are told (by the church!) all the time that they need to “forgive,” “show grace,” “let it go,” “move on.”  Those who have been abused and find people or situations triggering for their trauma are told that it’s their problem and they need to deal with it.  Those who have been abused and wronged by family members are nearly always told that they need to “reconcile” with the abuser because cutting off a family member is “unhealthy.”

I don’t often speak of some of the things that my father has done to hurt our family.  One reason is that this is exactly what I get.  The whole you-need-to-forgive-because-it’s-only-hurting-you pile of crap.  As a matter of fact, I have forgiven him.  But I don’t need to subject myself to ongoing abuse.  I don’t need to call him and have him harass me about who I am and attempt to frighten me into believing his bizarre conspiracy theories about how I care for my body.  My children do not need to have a relationship with a mentally unstable person.  Extending grace doesn’t mean that I return to the same foolishness over and over.  (And before even one person tries to make it sound like I’m being petty, please do not go there.  You didn’t live my life, and I haven’t given enough detail here for you to know even a fraction of this story.)

This kind of misapplied and misplaced grace only leads to further hurt.  Where is the grace in that?  I am all for forgiving people and giving them a chance to make a new life.  I’m not in favor of doing that in such a way that anyone is traumatized.  Just because someone is ready and willing to turn his or her life around does not mean that trust should be given freely.

Additionally, we need to be more aware of the difference between sinning and victimizing.  A couple engaging in premarital sex may be sinning according to the church, but no one is being abused if the sex is consensual.  A man raping his wife is one person victimizing another, even though it still involves a sex act (of sorts) and even though they are married.  There is a world of difference.  To call a man “abusive” for the first and then punish him severely is an outrage.  It’s equally outrageous for the second man to claim he’s changed and then be allowed to serve unchecked in the church because he’s “repentant.”

How can we reconcile radical grace with appropriate accountability?  I don’t have the answers.  But I know that we need to start by listening to those who have suffered.

Victimized or Attention-Seeking?

After the Epic Grammy Fail of allowing Chris Brown to “redeem” himself by performing, there was an understandable amount of backlash.  What I didn’t quite follow was why some people still wanted to blame the victim.

I saw several comments about how Rihanna is a “drama queen,” that she was milking it, and that she tends to attract this sort of thing.  My question is, does that make it okay for Chris Brown to bash her face in?  Seriously?  On what planet, regardless of a person’s propensity for the bizarre, is it okay—ever—for a significant other to send them to the hospital?  No, really, I want to know.

The worst part is, this attitude is far from being a few nutcases on the fringe.  Otherwise normal, reasonable people still want to blame the victim, especially in partner violence.  Some people think it’s their right to wonder what the victim did to provoke it, what they could have done to stop it, or what they should do in the future to prevent it.

It happens with rape, too.  I took a “violence prevention course” back in college.  I recall thinking even then that the class had the feel of blaming the victim.  If one of us had been violated, would it really have been our fault that we didn’t carry our keys in hand and remember to poo on the attacker to deter him?

If there is any question about whether or not Chris Brown is a) sorry and b) still a girlfriend-beating a-hole, then let me put it to rest.  Here are his two tweets after the controversy.  Note that neither is any attempt at remorse or apology:

HATE ALL U WANT BECUZ I GOT A GRAMMY Now! That’s the ultimate F**** OFF!

IM BACK SO WATCH MY BaCK as I walk away from all this negativity #teambreezygrammy.

Really, Chris Brown?  That’s your best shot?  How about, “I was wrong and I’m sorry.  I’m trying to be a different person.  It’s not okay to hurt others.”

Message for everyone who still thinks that Rihanna “deserved” it somehow, or at least benefited from it:  Shut up.

Message for people who have lived through abuse from a significant other:  It’s not your fault.  You didn’t deserve it.  Talking about it isn’t shameful, it helps others who are living through it too.  It’s not your fault.  People who think asking for help and sharing your story mean you love drama are not worth your time.  No, really, it’s not your fault.  You’re not a bad person if you returned to that relationship.  It’s not your fault.