lies women believe

“Lies Women Believe” review: 63-90

Fair warning: today’s post is a little long. Because of that, I’ve decided to break today’s review up into the same sections that Nancy divides this chapter– “Lies Women Believe About Themselves”.

Eve’s Diary

These diary entries are supposed to reflect in some way the similarities between this fictional Eve and modern women, especially concerning the “lies we believe,” so I wondered if Nancy was ever going to address one particular statement Eve makes in this entry:

I don’t know if [Adam will] ever trust me again. In a way, I can’t blame him. I’ve really wrecked his life. I feel so stupid. Adam just doesn’t understand the effect that Serpent had on me. (63)

But nope … she never does. This idea that Eve, and by extension pretty much any woman, is capable of wrecking a man’s life with the smallest of decisions, is a fairly common one in evangelicalism, and it has always infuriated me, even when I was a fundamentalist. Adam was standing right there (Gen. 3:6 says “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her“); according to the story, Eve might have made the initial decision, but Adam made it right along with her after hearing the exact same speech.

Men are adults. They are capable of making their own decisions. They’re not mindless, unthinking automatons that can be nudged into the path of a wrecking ball with the barest hint from their wives. However, it’s not exactly unusual for men to do horrendous things and then for women to be blamed for them– see any time a rape victim opens her mouth, ever.

“I’m not worth anything”

This is one of those times when I agree with Nancy about the existence of a lie, but completely disagree with the reasons for it and how to go about solving it. In the case of this one– feeling worthless– Nancy does what most conservative Christians seem to do and flip cause and effect. The clearest example of this is when she gives us this “testimony”:

For the longest time I thought I was not worth anything. Even after I was saved, I thought I was equal to pond scum. This threw me into depression. (67)

A lot of the stories in this section have the same thread woven through them, with feelings of worthlessness being connected to depression, but the way these women and Nancy frame it, the depression is caused by feeling worthless, which is caused by letting yourself believe a lie. To illustrate the “letting yourself believe a lie” point, she chose the story of a six year old girl who was told she “should never have been born.” This six year old failed to “counter the lie with the Truth,” and this allowed her to grow up believing she was worthless, according to Nancy, who seems unable to grasp simple concepts like children are impressionable.

Also, this happened:

For example, a playmate may accurately observe to a six-year-old girl, “You’re fat!” That little girl will one day find herself in bondage if she grows up drawing conclusions based on that comment. (66)

If you’re getting the feeling that Nancy is not a very kind person, I agree.

“I need to learn to love myself”

This section is extremely unoriginal– just more of the evangelical nonsense about how we all really love ourselves because our default state is selfish, self-motivated, and self-interested. Therefore, according to them, worrying about “self-esteem” is absolutely pointless and wrong-headed. What bothers me the most about this section is here:

To the contrary, Jesus taught that it is in losing our lives that we find our lives. The message of self-love puts people on a lonely, one-way path to misery. …

If I didn’t “love myself,” I would ignore the [toothache]. But when someone else has a toothache, it is easy to be indifferent to his need–that’s his problem. We naturally love ourselves; we do not naturally love others. (70)

I call bullshit. First, because self-esteem and empathy are not mutually exclusive. It is entirely possible to experience both at the same time, and just because I am confident and think of myself as valuable does not mean that I’m rendered incapable of caring about other people.

Also, I strongly disagree with the idea that we do not “naturally” love others. Empathy, compassion, kindness– these are almost universal concepts, they cross many cultural lines. How we act on these things may differ according to time and place, but many people have studied the existence of things like altruism from the earliest days of mankind. Caring for each other is in our blood.

I think she’s also twisted Matthew 16’s “whoever will lose his life shall find it” beyond recognition, completely ripped it out of context and obliterated any significant meaning; she’s reduced Jesus’ teaching that following him will require sacrifice to don’t worry about having self-esteem you’ve got enough of that already.

“I can’t help the way I am”

To a certain extent, I can kinda sorta agree with this one, but not in the way Nancy frames it. Some rely on excuses to justify their behavior, and I don’t think that’s acceptable. I’m sure we’ve all done this, probably repeatedly, and it can be a very convenient– and depending on situation– a very damaging lie. For example, the excuses of “boys will be boys” or “I’m a man, I’m visual, I can’t help but stare at you” are imbecilically wrong.

However, Nancy takes it too far when she chooses some supposed “excuses” people tell themselves:

I’m so exhausted, I just can’t function.
My parents never affirmed me, and I’ve never been able to feel loved.
I had an abusive childhood; I’ve never been able to trust people.
My ex-husband constantly put me down [read: verbal abuse]; he destroyed my self-esteem. (72)

There are others, but these were the worst offenders. I’d like to point out that many of these statements are not descriptions of a person’s identity, or “who they are,” but are means of expressing emotions, states of mind, and responses to situations and relationships.

I grew up with the line “excuses are just lies wrapped up in pretty paper,” usually handed to me, ultimatum-style, when I was trying to explain my rationalization for something I’d done, or offer a reason for why I hadn’t done something. It took me years to undo this programming and realize that our experiences are a part of who we become, that different situations and contexts place limitations on us.

I’m an introvert that grew up in a family of extroverts. To many people in my family, desperately needing to just get away and have some peace and quiet for a bit means something is wrong– I’m upset or something, and it’s a problem they have to solve in order to get me to rejoin The Activity. Needless to say, this was not conducive to me enjoying family visits.

My introvertedness doesn’t automatically excuse my behavior with my family if I get snippy or grumpy, but it is a limitation I need to accept about myself in order to function well and maintain my emotional equilibrium. I cannot help that I’m an introvert, and that part of my identity requires certain actions from me at times.

“I have my rights”

You can imagine how I feel about this section. I started chanting burn it. Burn it with fire as I read.

The modern-day feminist movement was birthed and has been sustained by persuading women to march and clamor for “rights”: the right to vote, the right to be free from the shackles of housework [read: unpaid labor]; the right to equal employment opportunities; the right to equal wages, the right to control our own bodies … the right to be free from every other form of “male domination.” (74)

The only thing you need to know about this section is that Nancy has put women’s suffrage in scare quotes, calls the Civil Rights Movement “turmoil and rebellion” (74) and then compares women wanting to be paid the same as men and black people demanding their right to vote to Jonah. As in, “His insistence on his rights caused him to be emotionally unstable, isolated, and estranged from God” (75).

“Physical beauty matters more than inner beauty”

Like with Stasi Elredge’s Captivating, it is supremely ironic to me that with one side of her mouth Nancy condemsn feminism wholesale and then goes on to say that beauty standards are ridiculous. Guess who’s fighting for women to be appreciated based on our worth as human beings, to place more emphasis on our character. Oh right. Feminists.

And, like every other evangelical I’ve ever heard on the subject, Nancy can’t help but go back on her point:

There is a growing aversion in our culture to neatness, orderliness, and attractiveness in dress and physical appearance.  I sometimes find myself wanting to say to Christian women: “Do you know who you are? God made you a woman. Accept His gift. Don’t be afraid to be feminine and to add physical and spiritual loveliness to the setting where He has placed you …

We as Christians should seek to reflect the beauty, order, excellence, and grace of God through both our outward and inward person. (80)

C’mon, Nancy. Either physical attractiveness matters or it doesn’t. Also, your opinion that our culture has a “growing aversion” to anything you consider “attractive” is based on nothing more than you acquired your fashion sense when women wore hose and you haven’t gotten used to a world without shoulderpads.

The last lie, about “unfulfilled longings” is a bunch of unintelligible nonsense. No, we’re not going to get every single last thing we want all of the time, but nobody but the most greedy and supercilious of billionaires actually thinks that’s possible.

Anyway, I apologize for the length, but this chapter was more than frustrating and I just wanted to get it done with after putting it off on Monday. So far, each progressive chapter has gotten worse. I hope that pattern doesn’t hold.

lies women believe

“Lies Women Believe” review: 45-62

This chapter of Lies Women Believe (lies we believe “About God”) illustrates rather perfectly what I was talking about in my last post– how Christians taught me that my own heart can’t be trusted because it’s hell-bent on deceiving me. Nancy spends a lot of time laying the groundwork for the rest of the book, which is primarily the idea that your life experience cannot be trusted.

But, before we get to that, let’s begin with something I agree with her on:

I have chosen to start by dealing with lies that women believe about God because there is nothing more crucial than what we believe about God. (47)

I say this sort of thing rather often– what we think about God affects what we think about ourselves and about each other. It’s a two-fold reality, I think: if we are created in the imago dei, then who we are as people is a reflection of the nature of God; and if we believe that God is full of wrath and fury and eager to rain brimstone down on us, then that is going to affect our relationships and our views of ourselves. Instead of basking in their love, we’ll spend our days walking around terrified that God is going to crush us for some misdeed.

However, after that, Nancy and I part ways.

The first lie she tackles is “God is not really good.”

In her personal anecdote, she describes God’s goodness not being readily apparent to her when her father died suddenly when she was twenty-one (49). I haven’t experienced that, so I don’t know what it’s like, and I am positive she suffered while she was grieving that sudden loss.

However, losing a parent, while incredibly heartbreaking, is not really on par with a lot of other suffering that exists. It will eventually happen to all of us. Y’know what doesn’t happen to middle-class white-picket-fence-childhood women like Nancy? Dying of starvation. Being forced to marry someone when you’re 16 and he rapes you every day (and yes, that happens in America). Being beaten and tortured by the people supposedly put on this planet to protect you.

This planet is full of so many cruelties, and yes, I do have a hard time with this “God is good” concept most days. The amount of evil so many of us experience every day is … incomprehensible. And I am heartily sick of people like Nancy spouting off on how good God is when they’ve been sheltered from a lot of that evil. Christian culture is extremely insulated– have a physical condition that bars you from going to church regularly? NOT A REAL CHRISTIAN. Have a background that makes you seem “angry” and “bitter” because you just will not shut up about being abused and raped? NOPE.

This ugly reality means that the people we most frequently see at our conferences, on our stages, and behind our pulpits are all sort of cookie-cutter, with a fairly limited set of experiences to draw on.

Event this book enforces those notions. She gives the following in a list of problems we run into:

… a loveless marriage, rejection by an ex-mate, grown children who won’t call home, approaching forty, and not a suitor in sight … (50)

I’m sorry, those things aren’t fun, but they just seem so petty. Really, Nancy? This is your standard for talking about the possible reasons why women might feel that God doesn’t love them?

The biggest problem with this chapter, though, is how she goes about completely redefining the words goodness, love, and need. Her opening salvo is this:

The Truth is, God is good. Whether or not His choices seem good to us, He is good. Whether or not we feel it, He is good. Whether or not it seems true in my life or yours, He is still good. (49)

And quoting from Hannah Whitall Smith:

But faith sits down before mysteries such as these, and says, “The Lord is good, therefore all that He does must be good no matter how it looks. I can wait for His explanations.” (49)

In other words: your personal experience is immaterial. The evidence does not matter at all. Whatever your own eyes tell you, ignore that. This definition reduces faith down to self-delusion. In my life, “how it looked” was a lot like physical abuse, rape, and spiritual trauma so deep I have PTSD from it. But yeah. That’s totally God being so good to me. I just can’t wait to hear them explain it.

She basically repeats herself in explaining why God actually does love us despite any evidence we might have to the contrary, saying it’s inconsequential “whether or not we feel loved” (51). The problem is, that does matter. In my marriage– which conservative Christians keep trying to tell me is a symbol of Christ and his relationship with the church– I can approach my husband and say “I don’t feel loved” and his reaction has to be more than “well, I do, and how you feel about it doesn’t matter.” In a healthy relationship, his response should be something like “oh, what can I do to show you how I feel?”

Except that’s not how conservative Christians are told to interact with God about this. Instead, in this “marriage” we’re supposed to just reassure ourselves that God really does love us even when our lives seem to prove they couldn’t give a damn. Gregory Boyd spends a while talking about this problem in Benefit of the Doubt, arguing that God does want to see us come to them with this. He talks about how Jacob wrestled with God, demanding answers, and how God rebukes Job’s friends for trying to tell him what Nancy’s trying to tell us. Job questions God, doubts God, flings his problems into their face, and God responds.

But, she takes the cake in the next section, on the lie “God is just like my father.”

First, she doesn’t do anything to point out that God is genderless, instead reinforcing an image of a masculinized God that doesn’t reflect the full breadth of Scripture (one of the names for God is “the god with breasts“). But then we get to this:

The God of the Bible is a compassionate, tender, merciful Father … It doesn’t meant He never allows us to suffer pain– in fact, at times, He actually inflicts pain and hardship upon us. Why? Because he loves us. Because he cares about us. (53)

Just … back the truck up.

This is completely nonsensical! This is not love. If you want to inflict pain on the people you supposedly love, you are not loving them. You love some version of them that doesn’t exist and are trying to force them through torture and coercion into being that made-up version. You love yourself in that scenario, and no one else.

It is possible to do something that hurts a person we love, but generally we consider those things to be wrong. They’re mistakes. They happen because we were angry or tired or hurting, and they damage our relationship. The things we do that hurt each other require reconciliation and healing.

Except for God, apparently. They can do whatever they want, they can intentionally hurt us, and it’s all good. That’s what it looks like when God loves us, and please ignore that it flies in the face of common human decency. If we don’t think that’s love, it’s just because their ways are just too “great” for us, too far outside our “comprehension.” When God hurts us, it’s love.

That is the cornerstone of every abusive relationship I’ve ever experienced or witnessed. In order for the victim to stay, they have to be absolutely convinced that the abuse is just a sign of how much they are loved. He flies into jealous rages because he just loves me that much. She starts screaming at me that I’m a disgusting worthless piece of shit because she knows that I’m capable of being so much more and she’s just trying to help me realize my potential.

Nancy is right– what we believe about God matters. It’s just that she believes in an abusive God.

Social Issues

Christians taught me I can’t trust my deceitful heart

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
Jeremiah 17:9

That verse got quoted at me … well, a lot. Looking back, it seems to be one of the most common refrains of my childhood, right along with “foolishness is bound in the heart of a child.” Looking back, I’m unsure how these concepts got tied to things like honor your father and mother and in the multitude of councilors there is wisdom and your word is a lamp unto my feet but somehow, they did.

The end result, though, was that I grew up absolutely convinced that I couldn’t trust my own understanding of myself. That anything I thought about my needs, wants, desires or even my identity was suspect. If I thought something might be a good idea, I couldn’t trust it at all– it had to be subjected to a thorough and exhausting review by parents, councilors, pastors, and a conservative interpretation of Scripture. I couldn’t take the chance that my corrupted sense of self was leading me astray, lying to me about what I thought was “good.”

Most of the time I didn’t dwell on this. Most of the time I’d ask my parents or other people I respected about should I do such-and-such a thing or does my character have such-and-such problem, and they’d agree with what I wanted to do or how I saw some personality or character trait. I was a good little fundamentalist girl, so it was rare for me to come into conflict with authority figures, the people put in place above me to illuminate my deceitful heart.

It wasn’t until I became an adult and started going through individuation at a much later age than is typical that I started having problems with this collected bag of teachings. The first real time I diverged from my authority figures’ expectations, it knocked me for a loop.

I’d decided I wanted to go to Liberty for grad school, and it threw everyone I knew into an uproar. My childhood Sunday school teacher chastised me for even considering going to a “party school,” my friends said they’d “pray that God would show me his will,” and the administration at PCC let me know in no uncertain terms that I was making a mistake, that my heart was deceiving me and that attending Liberty would ruin my Christian walk. Even my parents cautioned me against going, and when I declared that I was going regardless of what they thought, I got a speech about how I couldn’t let my heart trick me into going against my parents.

Eventually my parents came around and I tuned out all the other naysayers, but it was the first time I’d ever trusted myself and my own decision-making process and it was terrifying. I stuck to my guns, but the entire time there was this splinter prying at me with are you sure? How can you possibly trust yourself?

This indoctrination hasn’t just affected my ability to make decisions– the most drastic way it’s affected me is that I still can’t trust my opinion of myself. I can ask myself am I a decent person? and the only thing that echoes back at me is I don’t know. All my life I knew that my heart was wicked, corrupted, sick, and incapable of being honest. If I had the thought “I think I’m a nice person,” I had to run it by someone in order to confirm it– and most of the time, they wouldn’t, because, after all, we’re all disgusting, lowly worms deserving of nothing but hell.

It worked because of JerkBrain. JerkBrain tells me I’m worthless, and fundamentalism agreed with it– erasing any possibility of gaining self-esteem or self-respect. What other people think of me is still, to this day, far more important than what I think of myself. If someone doesn’t like me, it’s not because of personality differences or something equally insignificant and ordinary, it’s because I’m unlikable. If someone– anyone, even trolls on the internet– says I’m a “bitch” or “mean” or “disgusting,” the indoctrination kicks in and I have to fight with myself not to believe it.

A few years ago I was trying to explain how I identified with Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory and how he has social protocols he follows– he’s not good at the people/relationship/interaction thing, but he tries to observe what he’s supposed to do. I frequently joke that my automatic reaction to a friend’s distress is “tea?” not necessarily because I think tea will actually help but “it is customary to offer a hot beverage” is a social protocol I know for that situation.

The person I was speaking to responded with it’s “not that I don’t understand social interactions well, it’s because I’m mean and I simply don’t care.” If I cared enough, this wouldn’t be a problem– I’d just be able to magically respond appropriately. It wasn’t a lack of information, it was that I had an inherent deficiency in kindness.

It took me years to quit believing that. For a long time, because it came from a person I trusted, I thought that I am a mean person who doesn’t care about people. And, frustratingly, I stopped believing it not because I came to the opposite conclusion on my own, but because Handsome told me it was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard, that it directly contradicted everything he’s ever learned about me. He had to repeat, consistently, that I actually do care about people and that I am kind and that I’m not mean in order for me to overcome this belief.

Self-awareness is not something I’m good at not for lack of trying. I try to say things like “I am a decent person” and then do my best to ignore the instant barrage of JerkBrain using the heart is deceitful above all things as ammunition.

Photo by Cory Harrup
lies women believe

“Lies Women Believe” review: 27-44

This chapter introduces us to the methodology that Nancy will be using through the rest of Lies Women Believe. If you’ve read the book before you’re probably familiar with “Eve’s diary,” where Nancy fictionalizes an autobiographical telling of Eve’s life, starting with the day she’s exiled from the Garden. The first time I read this in college, I actually skipped these sections because I found them boring– Nancy’s strength isn’t narrative writing.

Today, though, what jumped out to me in this diary entry was this:

Then he offered me some things I had never had before– things I’d never thought I needed. Independence–from God and from Adam. Position– I had always looked up to God and Adam; this creature said they would look up to me. (28)

Nancy’s extrapolation of Eve’s experience includes her never being looked up to by Adam. In our culture “looked up to” is synonymous with words like appreciate and respect. Nancy believes that Eve had never felt respected, had never thought she needed to feel respected by her husband, and intrinsically ties this to the single worst thing that has ever happened in the course of human history (according to evangelicals): Original Sin.

A woman feeling the need to be respected caused the Fall. Women wanting to be respected is a Lie. We’ll see this become glaringly apparent later on, but before we get to that, I want to take the time to point out a common misunderstanding about Genesis 3.

Many conservatives point to the order of events in order to bolster their position that women are “created to be more vulnerable to deception,” that we are “inherently more temptable” (33), because the serpent chose to target Eve first. There must have been some strategy on the serpent’s part, some reason. What they are blithely ignoring is that Genesis, like other ancient texts like Beowulf, is a recorded version of an Oral Tradition.

I don’t know of a culture that didn’t create storytelling in some form. Before writing, stories were preserved by some mnemonic trick– a rythm, poetry, a pattern of some kind. In this particular segment of Genesis, this pattern is called a chiastic structure, our best examples of which come from Homer and the Bible. These structures allow oral storytellers to easily remember all the events and characters of story– and that structure was preserved here. “Eve was deceived first” is a result of this structure and doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the serpent’s motives.

If you haven’t read Man and Woman, One in Christ by Philip Payne, I highly recommend it– he goes into depth on the faulty conservative renderings of Genesis 3 from the perspective of someone who believes in the inerrancy of Scripture, and lays out the chiastic structure clearly here.

All of Nancy’s talk about how the serpent deceived Eve reminded me of a question I’ve had since I was a child:

The Serpent further deceived Eve by lying to her about the consequences of choosing to disobey God. God had said, “When you eat of it you will surely die.” Satan countered: “You will not surely die.” He flatly contradicted what God had already said. (31)

This has always bothered me because the serpent was right. They didn’t die. This passage is usually accompanied by some mumbo-jumbo about how God meant a spiritual death and how Adam and Eve were immortal but at that moment they started aging yada yada … but the question that always niggled at me was that it seemed that God hadn’t been particularly forthcoming or straightforward. At the very least it seems obvious to me that Eve took God at their word: if she ate it, she’d be dead. As in dead. Not spiritually dead, but the six-feet-under-pushing-up-daisies sort of dead.

I know this means I’m “judging God,” which is a big evangelical no-no, but I can’t help it. It seems purposely obtuse to tell Adam and Eve “eat that and you’ll die” if you mean something else entirely. The blasphemous, sacrilegious parts of me go on to wonder if Eve didn’t deeply regret this decision (36), but shouted “No regrets, you lying, manipulative asshole!” as the angels with the big flaming swords tossed them out of Paradise. I mean, if Eve literally existed, which I doubt.

However, the most horrifying part of this chapter isn’t Nancy’s interpretation of Genesis 3, linking women to being inherently morally inferior to men, or arguing that a desire to be respected led to Original Sin. It’s her list of “Lies”:

Their teachings help justify

  • anger (“healthy expression of your feelings”)
  • selfishness (“You’ve got to place boundaries between you and demanding people”)
  • irresponsibility (“You are dysfunctional because you have been deeply wounded by others”)

At the same time, they make “the righteous” feel “sad” or guilty

  • for taking personal responsibility (“You’re codependent”)
  • for demonstrating a servant’s heart (“You shouldn’t let others take advantage of you”)
  • for being faithful to their vows (“God does not expect you to stay in that marriage”) (34-35)

Remember how I said earlier that “Nancy doesn’t think women deserve respect” will become apparent? Well, here it is. This made me so angry I could choke. If I came to this book vulnerable, trusting, and looking to Nancy for guidance or counsel … I know I say this practically whenever a conservative Christian opens their mouth on mental wellness, but I could literally be dead now. That’s not an exaggeration. If I had continued believing these filthy lies that feeling angry because I was raped is a Sin, or that I needed to “admit the part I played” in being raped, or that my PTSD and triggers and are a result of being “irresponsible,” or that being a “righteous person” meant being treated like a doormat, I think it’s likely I would have killed myself.

I couldn’t keep carrying the burden of believing that I was to blame for being raped, or that my PTSD was a moral failing. It was tearing me apart and destroying my life. It was taking away my ability to do anything but curl up into an extremely inebriated ball and sob. I was failing classes and unable to work. Because of how I agreed with Nancy. It wasn’t until I could say things like “my rape isn’t my fault” or “having PTSD doesn’t make me a bad, weak-willed person” that I started recovering and putting my life back together.

Right now I am grieving for every woman who’s ever believed Nancy’s lies.



old book on table

The “New” Testament: the writers and our experience

About a year ago I wrote a post talking about how calling the books that come after Matthew “the New Testament” is a bit of a misnomer. It is, after all, over 2,000 years old. In that post I said this:

And, just like I would approach any other ancient text, I have to approach the New Testament with the respect that something so old deserves. I have to admit my almost complete and total ignorance regarding the environment it was written in, and admit that just because something is a propositional statement it doesn’t mean I have any clue whatsoever what it means– because I don’t really understand the motives he or she might have had for writing it that way, and who they were writing to, and what questions they were answering and what their relationship might have been like for their audience. I don’t even understand the language.

I think it would be a huge shift in American evangelical culture if they collectively admitted to this– that our understanding of the New Testament is crippled by the fact that we are so utterly removed from it.

Earlier this week I read an article by Trillia Newbell called “Biblical Womanhood and the Problem of the Old Testament,” and it frustrated me because I’m even more convinced today that most Christians need to seriously reevaluate our perspective on what the Bible is. Regardless of whether or not you believe in Inspiration or Inerrancy, even the New Testament is an ancient text and deserves that respect.

But, Trillia’s article brought up another thought-provoking point for me when she quoted from Jesus and the Feminists, written by Margaret Köstenberger:

It is true that the historical narrative books of the Hebrew Scriptures witness to numerous abuses of this abiding principle of male headship in the Old Testament period … Scripture does not condone these behaviors and attitudes. At the same time, the New Testament does not abrogate the principle of male headship even subsequent to redemption in Christ. Thus, Paul still can call Christian wives to submit to their husbands, and Peter similarly enjoins wives even of unbelieving husbands to submit to them. (34)

The question I’m about to ask would probably be considered heretical by many people who cling to a “High View of Scripture,” but I think its an important one that I wish I’d been exposed to earlier: if Old Testament characters could be catastrophically wrong in their views, why can’t New Testament writers also be wrong?

King David, a man “after God’s own heart,” raped a woman and when confronted by Nathan was told that God would have given him “more wives” if what he already had were “too little.” Abraham, who supposedly talked with God themself on multiple occasions kept local customs and had sex with Hagar when his wife was barren– a decision that God honored by keeping their original promise. Moses, known as “a friend of God,” constantly made mistakes and misrepresented God’s will to his followers. These men, despite these grave mistakes and crimes, are all mentioned by name in the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith.”

In one sense, Margaret Köstenberger is right: Scripture doesn’t always condone the behavior of these men. According to their stories, they experienced harsh consequences. David’s family was torn apart for raping Bathsheba. Moses was never allowed to see the Promised Land. Abraham faced many consequences for what he did to Hagar. However, I think that’s a significant difference: because these are primarily stories, we see a broader, wider arch. If all we had was a letter written by Moses explaining his rationale for striking the rock at Kadesh without describing the later consequences, we’d have a very different view of what happened.

But that’s all we have when it comes to Paul and Peter talking about this supposed “male headship.” We have their letters, their rationalizations, their beliefs, their perspectives, and nothing else. If men who were “after God’s own heart” or their “friend” could be such serious fuck-ups at times, why are Peter an Paul immune? Moses and Abraham had conversations with God— why does the fact that Paul and Peter wrote these things after Jesus came matter so much?

The thing is, though, is that while Paul’s and Peter’s letters don’t have the same context as the Old Testament stories, we do have a different sort of context: we have time and history. We have the space and experience of 2,000 years to see the results of this teaching called “male headship.” It has brought suffering and sorrow. It has brought us human rights violations. It has brought us abuse and rape and murder. It might be a cliché, but power corrupts and we know it. We also can look back over the last century and see the changes: as gender parity slowly becomes more normal, things like domestic violence rates decline, among other economic and cultural benefits.

The New Testament doesn’t give us the whole story of Paul’s and Peter’s views regarding women, but history does. Like many, I believe in a four-pronged approach to Scripture commonly known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. The Bible has never existed in a vacuum, and neither have our interpretations of it. I believe we need to let our collective human experience with gender parity give us the broader context of I Timothy 2, Ephesians 5, and I Peter 3.

duggars and gothard

This is what ATI teaches families like the Duggars

A few months ago, when the news initially broke about Josh sexually abusing his sisters and others, I wrote a post that examined some of the reasons why his parents were able to cover up what he’d done so effectively: the purity culture they raised their children in blames women for their own assaults. Specifically, they used a program created by Bill Gothard, a man known for sexually harassing women and minors (Josh Duggar received his “counseling” from Gothard’s ministry). This program is known as the Advanced Training Institute (ATI).

I was able to include some of the material that laid out ATI’s approach to counseling abuse victims, and it is horrific. Well, today I’d like to share a few more pieces of information, because it lays out all the reasons why the Duggars (or anyone like them) should not be allowed within spitting distance of TLC’s upcoming documentary.

ati 1

Salient quote:

Do you know what provokes attacks?

  • Evaluate Dress
  • Choose friends Wisely

ati 2

Salient quote:

God has established some very strict guidelines or responsibility for a woman who is attacked. She is to cry out for help. The victim who fails to do so is equally guilty with the attacker.

I decided a long time ago that if that is who God is, I want nothing to do with them. That God is an absolute monster, but that’s the sort of God that fundamentalist families like the Duggars believes exists.

ati 4

Salient quote:

A woman was startled one night by an intruder who broke into her apartment. The attacker stated his intentions, and she replied “You’ll have to kill me first because I’ve given my body and my life to the Lord.”

In this culture it is actually preferable for a woman to die than to “lose her virginity,” even through rape.

~ ~ ~

The Duggars aren’t the only family in America to follow and believe these ideas. The ATI annual conferences see thousands of attendees, and the intersections between fundamentalist Christianity and conservative politics are numerous and influential. This isn’t something we can hold up as an example of extreme fundamentalism gone so wrong it’s easy to make fun of. This shit is serious, and important, because the people who believe these things aren’t fringe. Misogyny and victim-blaming are part of the core values of the homeschooling and Tea Party movements, and that shouldn’t be dismissed.

enjoying the view
Social Issues

Complementarianism supports Bigotry

As I’ve become more involved in the LGBT community, especially as I’ve been forming relationships and connections with affirming Christians who want to see the American church live up to Jesus’ principle that they will know us by our love, I keep running across an idea that I think is a problem. We see it in Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian, and I saw it earlier this week in a blog post by Kathy Burdock, who wrote Walking the Bridgeless Canyon.

It looks like this in Matthew’s book:

I want you to notice the close link between Philo’s views on same-sex relations and his beliefs about women. Philo called the passive male partner in same-sex relations a “man-woman counterfeiting the coin of nature.” He condemned the active partner as well, on grounds that would offend both affirming and non-affirming Christians today. Philo said the active partner was “a guide and teacher of the greatest evils, unmanliness and effeminacy.”  …

Yes, the clear denigration of women is offensive. (90-91)

And like this in Kathy’s post:

The perception and cultural response to same-sex behavior between males has intractable roots in the social and sexual status of women throughout history. Because same-sex acts placed one male in the submissive, penetrated role of a woman, one male was invariably looked upon as if he were a woman …

As women rose in status, as cities formed, and as men began to explore sexual attractions, the interaction, which had always been associated with excess, lust and the reduction of one partner to the role of a woman, came to be seen differently.

I agree with the essentials of these arguments, and I think it’s extremely important to draw attention to the reasons why ancient writers condemned sex between two men. People like Philo and Plutarch and Clement wrote against gay sex because they were deeply misogynistic and femmephobic.

However, I think Matthew and Kathy made a mistake in presenting the argument this way, because their opposition– in this context, those who argue against marriage equality based on “gender complementarity”– does not agree with this premise. They argue these things from the viewpoint that ‘we can basically all agree’ that these horrifically misogynistic attitudes are “clearly offensive” or that women’s roles are “seen differently now.”

They’re not. Not in complementarianism.

For ease of discussion, I am not referring to a style of complementarianism practiced by many Christians, what I and John Piper call “functional egalitarianism”: those who live out equality in their marriages, but with a dash of gender essentialism thrown in. I am instead working with the definition laid out in the Danvers Statement— that men and women are relegated to specific roles, and that the man’s role is defined by leadership and decision-making, while the woman’s role is defined by submission.

When it comes to sex, Douglas Wilson lays these roles out in stark terms:

In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed …

True authority and true submission are therefore an erotic necessity.

This position was hailed and supported on The Gospel Coalition website, and I believe is fully supported by complementarian theology. To those who support complementarianism, a woman’s role even in sex has not budged an inch from the time of Paul and Clement. The woman is to be “conquered,” and she is required to accept this as her only biblically-supported role.

This is why I believe Christian feminism is of central necessity to the LGBT community and to the dialog with non-affirming Christians and churches. Without feminist theology, without people arguing against misogynistic interpretations of Scripture, affirming allies and queer Christians are going to be left spinning their wheels in the mud. The argument that biblical writers condemned gay sex not because of anything inherent to gay sex but because of misogyny isn’t going to get anywhere as long as so many conservatives are running around believing that misogynistic views of women and marriage are biblical.

We can’t afford to assume that anti-LGBT theologians agree with us on this. The second they encounter people like Matthew or Kathy saying that the submissive role for women is “clearly offensive” they’re going to roll their eyes and stop listening, because complementarianism is the only construct they have for understanding male-female relationships. Not only that, but they’ll be comfortable dismissing affirming arguments as unbiblical. In order to persuade anti-LGBT Christians, we have to address their assumptions (like heteronormativity), not just the arguments surrounding a mere six passages of Scripture.

Photo by Simon Powell.
lies women believe

“Lies Women Believe” review: 11-25

If you’re not familiar with Nancy Leigh DeMoss, one of the most common criticisms I’ve seen of her work is that she is umarried, although she is getting married in November this year. Since she’s spent so many years giving people advice on their marriages (sixty pages of Lies Women Believe are dedicated to it), it does seem relevant to point out that she’s talking about something she’s never experienced.

In a different way, Nancy also feels that her not-being-married situation is relevant. On her “Acknowledgements” page, she says this:

Dr. Bruce Ware — your love for the Truth is infectious. I am grateful for the spiritual covering and protection the Lord provided through your careful, theological review and your enormously helpful input. (11)

Women in Nancy’s position use the term “spiritual covering” as a superficial rationalization of what they do for a living. As a well-known speaker, Nancy inhabits a complicated space where other complementarians want famous women to come to their platforms and pulpits, but don’t want to admit that there’s a flaw in their ecclesiology. The “solution” is to say that women like Nancy aren’t technicallyusurping a man’s authority” because they have the spiritual covering of a man. It’s interesting to me that she felt the need for this even though the book is addressed to women– usually complementarians don’t have a problem with this as long as the intended audience is women.

Moving on to the foreword, which was written by Elisabeth Elliot. Obviously I’m not a fan of Elisabeth’s– Passion and Purity is awful, and she’s known for saying shit like “women should be grateful that God made them doormats for men.” That’s a paraphrase, but grateful and doormat were the words she used. So it was unsurprising that this was the first paragraph:

Nancy … has had the courage to plumb the depths of women’s illusions and delusions, of their hopes, fears, failures, and sorrows, so much of which might have been avoided were it not for lies propagated thirty or more years ago– such as “You can have it all,” “Don’t get caught in the compassion trap,” “Anything men can do we can do better,” etc. (13)

Huh. I wonder what could possibly have happened thirty years before 2001? Elisabeth seems unconcerned with facts, since “having it all” didn’t appear in the American vernacular until the 80s and comes with the baggage of Reaganomics and a reductionist and invalid criticism of second-wave feminism; I couldn’t find “compassion trap” in that order anywhere except in this book; and “anything men can do we can do better” is a reference to an Irving Berlin song from Annie Get your Gun, a musical written in 1946.

Yeah, those are all totally lies propagated by second-wave feminists in the 70s. Sure. This passage is important because it highlights what is going to be one of Nancy’s obsessions: how women have been damaged and dragged into “bondage” and “soul-sickness” by feminism (16). I’ve written on how she connects feminism with “soul sickness” before. She goes one step further in this book, accusing “feminist” lies of being the spawn of Satan (accompanied by the typical “Angel of Light” spiel, 19).

But, moving on to her Introduction. She spends some time regurgitating typical evangelical constructs about Eve (she’s ultimately to blame, and Adam went along with it to appease her), but it doesn’t take her long to jump straight into victim-blaming territory:

Many are in bondage to their past. Whether the result of their own failures or the failures of others, their pasts hang like huge weights around their necks. (17)

Most likely, you know other women who are living in bondage, though they claim to have a relationship with Christ. (18)

Bondage is another loaded term that many Christians use; it takes up a similar place as other words like bitterness and unforgiveness. Nancy doesn’t need to define it here, because when she says “bondage” her readers are picturing what she wants: a person who’s still affected by their past in a “negative” way. That I’m still affected by past trauma– that I still have triggers and panic attacks — means that I’m in “bondage.” According to her, that means I’m only claming to have a relationship with Christ. Considering most conservative Christians use “relationship with Christ” as synonymous with “salvation,” Nancy is calling my salvation into question.

I also really hate this equivocation between “our own failures and the failures of others,” especially in the context of “bondage” (which, honestly, is frequently use as a fill-in for rape trauma).

I tried to talk to my last pastor about his tendency to do this, because it is not at all ok to place “abuse victim” and “abuser” in the same sentence like this. That I and my partner were repeatedly ignored (or outright dismissed because “real attenders would understand what he was trying to say” even though my partner had been attending and serving on the sound team for two fucking years … digression) is one of the most significant reasons why I no longer attend his church. Connecting these two and then assigning blame to the victim for “carrying the huge weights” for their abuse is extremely unhelpful and damaging.

But oh, it gets worse:

I witnessed the power of Truth in another situation as I talked to a woman who had become emotionally involved with one of the pastors of her church. When I became aware of the situation, I called her at work because I did not know how much her husband knew. Since she was a receptionist for her company, I knew we might not have long to talk. After telling her who I was, I got right to the point ….

“I have to tell you that you are in a burning house, you are in grave danger. Because this is a desperate situation, I’m not going to worry about what you think of me or about hurting your feelings.” (22)

She called a complete stranger at work and had the gall to say “I don’t care about hurting your feelings.” It’s mind-boggling how she seems so utterly unaware of how inappropriate that is. But, I guess I shouldn’t expect anything different, since it’s a common relationship approach with Christians. It’s also reflective of Nancy’s beliefs:

Some of what I have to say will ruffle feathers. I have made not attempt to be “politically correct” or to merely write some nice thoughts that everyone will agree with. It is my belief that only radical surgery … will get to the root of our diseased hearts and make us whole. Sometimes the Truth hurts; it is rarely popular. But I would not be loving or kind if I failed to share with you the Truth that can set you free. (20)

Aside from the problems with equating actual love and I Need to Tell you Why I’m Right, what she’s done here is interesting in light of the reaction so many people had to her book. In the reviews I read, many people associated how bludgeon-y her writing is and how right she is. Apparently, this is an idea she gave them.

Aish. This does not bode well for the rest of this review.


new home

This is the first official day of, and I couldn’t be more excited about the move. There’s still a little more work to be done, some wrinkles to smooth, but I am so happy with the way the new site turned out.

There’s a few changes from the old blog– most notably the blogroll and ‘posts I’ve liked’ widgets. That means I’ll probably start doing a “here’s some stuff I think you might enjoy reading” post every once in a while. You also can’t follow me through the WordPress app or your WordPress accounts anymore, but you can find me in Feedly, Bloglovin’ and an RSS feed link I’ll add once I figure out how to do that. There’s also plain old-fashioned e-mail subscriptions, which you can see in the sidebar under “Mailing List.”

Anyway, I hope you’ll explore the new digs and let me know what you think!


on rape fantasies and BDSM

immortan joe
[art by Mirva Pohjonen]
[content note: discussions of sexual violence]

I grew up loving 80s sci-fi movies. From The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension to Enemy Mine, the more cheesy and outlandish the more I love it. Movies like Back to the Future and Ghostbusters were staples in our house. So, you can imagine I’ve seen the Mad Max films more than once (and yes, Beyond Thunderdome is as hilariously bad and wonderful as it sounds). When I first saw the trailer for Fury Road, though, I was all “meh” because I want my 80s sci-fi to be 80s sci-fi and it looked like they were making it all artistic and drama-y, which doesn’t really float my boat (the gender-flipped Ghostbusters, though, that looks like it is going to be awesome).

I was planning on eventually renting Fury Road, but when the MRA corners of the internet completely lost their shit over how feminist it was, I told my partner we had to go see it. I’m not usually one for post-apocalyptic car-chase movies, but Fury Road surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. There’s a lot of good things about it, and if movies about dystopian societies that feature flame-throwing guitars are your thing, you should watch it at some point.

There’s been a lot of interesting conversations happening on tumblr about Fury Road– like the fact that both of the main characters are disabled, or that it focuses on women saving and protecting women— and I’ve enjoyed them. However, after a bit, I started noticing a particular fandom spring up around the character of Immortan Joe.

If you don’t know anything about the movie, the following contains some insignificant spoilers:

Immortan Joe is an abusive, narcissistic, tyrannical, disgusting rapist. He created a religion where obeying him and glorifying him earn you a place in “Valhalla,” and he is completely obsessed with producing healthy offspring. He keeps a harem of slaves that he rapes anytime they are ovulating, and that’s the main plot of the movie. Furiosa is trying to get these women away from him, and they are willing to risk everything to escape. They refused to be a part of Immortan Joe’s “vision.”

The fandom centered on his character features artwork (like the one shown above) and fanfiction, which is usually (from the things I’ve seen float through my feed) dubcon or noncon one-shots that feature humiliation/degradation and brutal abuse. One story that passed through my feed featured Joe fucking a woman’s face so hard he knocks her teeth out. Many people have already gotten Immortan Joe’s brand tattooed on the back of their neck.

Needless to say, this started a bit of a ruckus. One women condemned the entire fandom as being completely fucked up and offensive to all rape victims, which, of course, brought the response that there were rape survivors in the fandom and how dare anyone tell them how to “cope with their trauma.”

I’m not entirely sure where I stand on this issue, mostly because I think this depends on the people involved and where they are in their healing. Personally, I find noncon/rape fantasy stories disturbing, but I can understand how working through those emotions in the controlled environment of writing or reading fiction can be a constructive, healing process. I think that it could be similar to combat veterans playing through video games to treat PTSD.

However, I think there needs to be a stage when a victim moves past that, and I think it needs to be something we engage in critically. If you’re enjoying a story about a rape so brutal the victim’s teeth get knocked out, I think there needs to be a moment where you sit back and ask yourself why that is.

This matters to me especially because I’m kinky, and I enjoy all sorts of BDSM things in the bedroom.

I can understand why a lot of people, feminists included, don’t think of any BDSM activity as healthy. I’d challenge them on that, especially since there’s so many kinky elements in pretty ordinary “vanilla” sex (digging your nails into his back? pinning hands above your head?), but from a superficial perspective, I get it. Any time I’ve seen BDSM porn, I walk away feeling a little sick even if I’d be willing to do some of those things with my partner. Devoid of context, removing any aspect of relationship or trust, BDSM can seem … weird, even icky.

Me and my partner have conversations about this all the time. We engage in BDSM critically, and we involve more than just the “do you think this would be fun or feel good?” in our discussions about it. For me, personally, I enjoy sensation and impact play because of my experiences with chronic pain. To me, these types of play allow me to enjoy and appreciate my body in a way that no other activity can. I am in consistent pain on a daily basis, and as anyone who deals with some kind of chronic illness can tell you, that sort of reality can make you hate your body. BDSM helps me overcome that, because in a certain context (a loving and trusting relationship with my partner), I can overcome that hatred and depression. In play, my body becomes a wonderland (to quote John Mayer).

I didn’t just realize “huh! I like being spanked during sex!” and run with it. I asked myself why. Why would I want to be hit during such a loving, intimate moment? Why do I get off on that? The answer was the above: because it doesn’t register as pain, necessarily. It is transcendent and freeing, and helps me to escape the daily drudgery of chronic illness. I love what my body is capable of doing, of experiencing.

This may not be true of every person– some people might be attracted to impact play because they have some internalized messaging about sex being “bad” and they have to be “punished” for having it. I’ve spoken with some people for who that’s true, so they decided to explore sensation and bondage play, but avoid things that are reminiscent of childhood discipline.

I’m also capable of getting off on power play. This is the “domination/submission” aspect, and is why I usually refer to myself as a bottom, not a sub. While it’s true that in a healthy, consensual BDSM scene the submissive retains complete control and power over what actually happens, on a personal level I don’t pursue that sort of dynamic in my relationship. When I asked “why am I turned on by domination?” I realized the answer wasn’t healthy– I was turned on by it because of how I react to being controlled. Domination and power play speaks to my personality, which is naturally fairly compliant with authority, and to how I was raised in an environment that demanded total obedience to men.

In short, the reason why domination would be attractive to me is that it reminds me of patriarchy, sexism, and religious totalitarianism. A therapist once told my mother that sometimes abusive dynamics can “feel like riding a bike” to survivors. Because it feels familiar and easy, we can be susceptible to further abuse without necessarily recognizing it. Domination is like that– it feels familiar, and therefore comfortable.

Which is why my partner and I agreed that it would not be a dynamic we explored. However, the same may not be true for every kinky relationship– without my particular set of baggage, domination may not be a problem for you. It could be simply another form of role play, something fun and sexy.

In the same way, the fandom surrounding Immortan Joe isn’t necessarily completely unhealthy. It could be a normal and productive part of someone’s fantasy life, but I feel that it’s important to be aware of ourselves when we’re attracted to characters like Loki or James from Twilight or Voldemort or Immortan Joe (or, for me, any villain played by Gary Oldman). We have to ask ourselves why.