I recently had the privilege of connecting with Stephanie Drury (of Stuff Christian Culture Likes) through an online community we both belong to. I’ve long appreciated what she has to say because even though I don’t agree 100% with everything she says, she’s one of the people who comes closest to expressing more or less where my own faith is right now. I don’t have the history of spiritual (and other) abuse she’s endured; my stay in the conservative evangelical world was comparatively short and uneventful. My leaving was mostly for the sake of my children. I saw enough to know that even in the best-intentioned evangelical spheres, abuse is a natural outflow of certain teachings. It wasn’t something I wanted my children to have long-term exposure to. Trust me when I say I’d have been happy to foot the therapy bill knowing I could have prevented the damage and didn’t.
That said, yesterday, I read Stephanie’s post, hugo schwyzer’s suicide attempt, the feminist response, and the tension of holding horrible things alongside possiblity. While again, I don’t agree 100% with everything she says, it resonated with me. Bear with me as I attempt to explain why, keeping two things in mind:
- Stephanie writes from a place of having been harmed. No one should accuse her of failing to understand what it’s like to be victimized.
- I am not writing from that place. I’m writing from the place of one who has both done the harm and seen the harm.
A lot of people were pretty angry about what Stephanie said in her post. I understand that. There was a time when I would have readily jumped on that train. I have my own experiences with being told to forgive someone who had wronged me–to the point of not being able to express my anger because both Christianity and “psychology” told me that the burden was on me to “own” my reactions. I wasn’t supposed to hold past misdeeds against people who continued to hurt me. All of those things are lies; it’s not on me to do anything, and a person’s history does inform his or her present actions. So believe me when I say I get it that some of what Stephanie said could trigger a lot of feelings.
On the other hand, her post did make me consider two things that are very important for me. I emphasize that last part because I recognize myself to be pretty near the top of the privilege food chain. I’m white, I’m cisgender, and I’m straight. I’m a married stay-at-home-mom (to me, that’s like the height of economic privilege, that I can choose to do what I want). I’ve never been spiritually abused, though I have a long history of other forms of bullying, and there were certainly abuses in my family. What Stephanie’s post made me think about wasn’t how I treat those who have wronged me but how I, as a person who has wronged others, have had my own redemption story.
First, I have to really, truly, deeply own my history of fundamentalist ideas. When I was 15 or 16, I was in the car with a couple of family members. I cheerfully told them that “sin is sin,” a line I was repeating from church. They already knew that my church had taught me that gay = sin. The conversation went like this:
Me: Sin is sin. One sin is no better or worse than any other.
Family member 1: So, lying and murder are equal.
Family member 2: You believe it’s wrong to be gay.
Family member 1: So, being gay is as bad as being a rapist.
Me [now very uncomfortable]: Yeah, I guess, but it’s just because all sin keeps us from God.
Family member 2: So I’m as bad as a rapist.
Me: I don’t know. I guess so.
And that’s the most mild and printable of the ways I hurt this person.
Ten years. It took me ten years to get to a point where I didn’t still believe that. I have no idea how that particular family member stuck it out with me. All I can say is that from the time I was old enough to remember, she’s been one of my favorite people in the whole world. She’s been one of my biggest advocates. Because she (and other family members, who have also been wonderful) loved me and waited patiently for me, we made it past all that. I changed.
It’s that belief that people can–and do–change that keeps me blogging. It keeps me searching for new ways to be an ally and it keeps me reading on Twitter to see where my privilege is showing and what I can do to make it right. It keeps me searching for justice and my part in it. It keeps me pointing to the voices of others and asking people to listen. I express all that in different ways. Sometimes I’m angry and bold; sometimes I use Scripture; sometimes I write about how deeply I love the people in my life. I keep going, though, because someone, somewhere may be reading and might just find the spark to change.
The second thing that occurred to me is that I’m a harsh critic of people. I don’t actually like people very much. Perhaps that’s the result of my history with peers at school or with some of my family. It could be because I’m pretty introverted. I don’t really know. The problem is that I often have trouble separating what people say and do from who they are. This is particularly true when those people are public figures.
I have little difficulty accepting and loving ordinary people, even when they aren’t perfect. The real people in my everyday life get the benefit of my ongoing forgiveness. My two closest friends (other than my husband) are very different women, but I love them both so, so much. Have we ever hurt each other? Sure. Do we do things the others think are probably bad ideas? Of course. But there is a lot of good history that none of us are willing to throw away. We make things right and we move on.
That can’t be done with these big-name “celebrity” bloggers, pastors, and speakers. I’m not at all condoning what any of them say or do. We need to keep calling them out on their behavior because they are doing these big, public things and using their fame to gain followers who will then turn around and do the same things. We need to stop them. We need to be angry, we need to be pushy, we need to be bold. We also need to be gentle and persuasive and kind–not because that’s the “best” way to do it but because our natural personalities make us respond in our own ways. I cannot imagine some of my fellow bloggers being polite about Mark Driscoll or Hugo Schwyzer’s latest pile of poo. On the other hand, there are many bloggers I can’t imagine writing a scathingly funny take-down or an angry rant; they normally write very differently than that.
Where we may be able to agree is that we can say what a person is actually doing without assigning motive or making assumptions about who that person is or whether there is any hope for change. We can say with certainty that Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Hugo Schwyzer, and others have said and continue to say terrible things. We can worry about their families. We can tell anyone who will listen in whatever way we need to that their words are damaging. What we can’t do is know why they do those things or whether they will ever change.
I also feel uncomfortable with name-calling, as that speaks to who or what we think someone is at their core. I admit to having done this; I imagine that I learned to do it as a child. My mother used to call me names when she was angry, and I was bullied mostly with name-calling for years. Whether or not anyone else agrees, I believe no matter what abuse someone has committed or appears to have committed, it is, in fact, bullying to call people steaming piles of shit or assholes or fucktards or douchebags. I don’t really care that you think it’s not hurting them because they hurt you first or that you’re just expressing your anger. It’s still not right. They are humans, not poo or body parts–regardless of the evil things they’ve done.*
There is one place where I strongly disagree with Stephanie (and I hope this does not hurt her, in the same way that I hope not to have hurt others with my words above). In the specific case of Hugo Schwyzer, his past is applicable. He may have apologized for what he did, but the fact that he keeps on doing it says volumes more than his apology. Perhaps he wouldn’t try to kill an intimate partner now, but he isn’t demonstrating respect for women. This is the same man who penned an article (which I will not link to) about removing a tampon from his soon-to-be ex-wife. If that’s not a violation of her privacy and her womanhood, I don’t know what is. If he wants people to stop bringing up his past, then he needs to stop behaving that way in the present.
I know this post is already too long; I hope you’ve stuck with me. I honestly don’t want to hurt anyone with my words. As I said near the beginning, this was mostly about the things I believe I’ve done wrong and now wish to amend. It won’t change the fact that I’m going to continue to use my words to fight injustice. It does mean that I want to be careful not to conflate actions with unknown motives or words with people.
I’d love to know what you think; leave me a comment and tell me what’s on your mind.
*I maintain that name-calling can be ok for institutions (which are not thinking/feeling beings) or in certain humorous contexts, such as the post I linked in my News last Friday about being a better douchebag (it wasn’t connected with a specific individual).