Theology

Christian kindness as gaslighting

I think that at this point it’s pretty obvious I’m a “liberal” or “progressive” Christian. I’m still not entirely sure what those terms might mean (does anybody?), but I’m excluded from a variety of Christian spaces because of my beliefs. Sometimes I think that’s weird, considering I still affirm the ancient creeds of the Christian faith so I feel that when it comes down to the brass tacks of it all there’s more we can agree on than stuff we’ve can’t, but I’m learning not to let it bother me.

I want to be a part of Christian community. I meet with other Christians every week to talk about living our faith and that meets an important spiritual need for me, but I also want to be involved in the wider religious context. As much as I find Christian culture alienating and as often as I criticize it, I’m not of the mind to abandon it– not entirely.

Because of that, I’ve spent the last few years interacting with Christians that … well, we tend not to agree. In the conversations I’ve been having for the past three years, I’ve noticed a few patterns. Almost all of these interactions happen online, so of course that’s a dynamic all its own, and means that my experiences might be less nuanced than in-person encounters would allow.

Conversation Type #1: Hostile

It’s not always obvious from the beginning of the conversation that it’s going to rapidly deteriorate into verbal abuse, but it frequently starts out argumentative. The people who want to argue come to me with many assumptions about my positions, or have clearly already decided what they think about my any argument I could make. I’m not treated as a reasonable person with a credible thought process from the outset, so there’s usually no point in engaging with this type of person. If I respond at all, it’s to point them in the direction of what I think is a good post on the subject and then block them if need be.

Example: a few weeks ago I had this interaction on my blog’s Facebook wall:

Jeff Fink: Can someone provide “FACTS” to go along with the accusations?
Me: There are plenty of sources cited in the article itself.
Jeff: Child rape? Death threat? Do you have police reports, court documents, something of that nature? Thanks for checking.
Me: Like I said, there are sources cited in the article.
Jeff: So Samantha are you a true benevolent Nortic creature of peace and truth? Or are you a reptilian of the forbidden fruit?

A reptilian of the forbidden fruit? I had a good laugh and moved on.

Conversation Type #2: Open

These are my absolute favorite, and I’ve had two good experiences with this type even just this week. Today, even. A friend of mine made a remark about finding Martin Freeman attractive, and someone she knows asked for clarification on sexual objectification and the difference between commenting on a man’s appearance vs. a woman’s. The conversation went well and everyone stayed civil and kind. I’ve gotten a few comments recently on this post that I think are wonderful– here and here.

I like questions that are genuinely asking for my thoughts. We may not come out on the other side agreeing, but I think it’s important that we do our best to understand each other. I try to have compassion and charity in my heart when I approach my comment section, although that’s not always possible for reasons that might not have anything to do with the comments themselves.

Conversation Type #3: “Nice”

This is the type that prompted this whole post. This type I am done having, and while Christians aren’t the only ones who do this sort of thing in general, it takes on a whole new color when it’s a Christian doing it. Last week, Katelyn Beaty, managing editor of Christianity Today, said something incredibly dismissive, and a few of us called her on it. She responded to us, and I and Emily and Elizabeth took some time to try to explain to her why what she said was wrong. I even wrote an entire post.

But all of her responses had something in them that I’ve seen hundreds of times over the past few years:

A “teachable spirit.”

Humility.

Graciousness.

All of it false.

***

In the aftermath of that conversation, a few of us who’d participated in it or watched it happen came to a realization: we were being triggered by it. It was deeply upsetting us even though Katelyn stayed perfectly cordial for the entire discussion. Conversations with someone who isn’t being ridiculous and awful don’t usually make you want to smash everything, but that one did.

That’s when we figured it out: this type of “Nice” conversation is a form of gaslighting. In that conversation, Katelyn was attempting to subvert our observations of the interaction. Her initial comment was awful, and given all our history, obviously demonstrates that she has not listened to people like me or Elizabeth when we’ve talked to her about it in the past. She took what we had to say and tossed it right out the window … but then had the audacity to claim that she “had no idea” that there was a connection between purity culture and rape culture, that she was “sorry if she was dismissive,” that she’d “love to hear more.”

She was responding specifically to #IKDGstories and #stillpurityculture– she had already heard “more,” she just didn’t give a flying fart in space.

That’s what makes this gaslighting. She was trying to pretend that what we knew as true– that she’d seen all of us sharing how I Kissed Dating Goodbye kept us in abusive relationships and all the rest– never happened, even though her own damn tweet showed she was well aware. But, instead of getting aggressive and angry like my rapist used to, she did it all with sugar and sweetness and using our first names like she was our friend. She expected us to treat her like she meant it, like she was being honest, even though we had all the proof in the world that she couldn’t care less.

I’m merely using Katelyn because she’s a conveniently recent example, but I’ve seen this same conversation style play out over and over again, and I’m so bloody tired of it happening.

I think things like being humble, patient, and engaged are considered virtues to most Christians– it’s part of how we’re supposed to “reach the lost” and all that. But instead of being humble, being teachable, they just put on a big show and slap some syrupy niceness on it. As long as they look justifiably “nice” to the people on their side of the fence, as long as they leave plenty of wiggle room in what they could have meant, it’s acceptable. When people like me say no, this is not ok, she– and those watching– get to act like our justified anger is an overreaction.

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  • Like you’d tell him if you were a Reptilian. What’s the point of shapeshifting and taking control of world governments if you have to fess up to every two bit wag who asks you?

    • Beroli

      “Nortic” seems to be an injection molding company (or it’s a misspelling and the question is horribly racist, but I’d rather believe that Mr. Fink just happens to really love injection molding).

      • I also thought it was Nordic, but that makes about as much sense as injection molding.

        • Lucy

          I think it is Nordic, which means the guy is being a flat-out racist.

          • Yeah, my only hesitance is that the Nordic white supremacist types usually aren’t big on defining themselves as benevolent creatures full of peace. But I don’t know. I don’t know what else it could be, either.

          • Til

            Ooooh, I think there’s a type of UFO sighting referred to as Nordic! Maybe the insult wasn’t that ‘was she a molding injector or was she a snake?’ Maybe his question was ‘what kind of alien are you anyway?’

          • Whoa. That actually works. Nordic aliens. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nordic_aliens

      • Kitrona ✪

        I was so very confused, because I use “Anortik” as my fake last name, when necessary; I wanted to know if it actually meant anything, rather than simply being a reversal of my username. 🙂

        • Beroli

          I’m going out on a limb here and guessing that Mr. Fink didn’t mean to ask if Sam was you.

          • Kitrona ✪

            Probably not! I just wondered if Nortic actually meant something; logically, Anortik would be the opposite of it, so I wanted to know if I was against something good or bad. 🙂

            (Especially since hardly anyone knows me, and Sam is much more well-known, deservedly. I haven’t put in the work that she has in blogging, not to mention the subjects she’s knowledgeable in; my work has been in other areas. 🙂 )

  • I’m not reptilian, but I sure as hell do a bang-up impression of an ursine transformation when my protective instincts get tripped. Not so much in regards to threats against myself, though, which is kind of sucky since I need the benefit of those instincts too.

    I haaaate false niceness. I despise it with an absolute purple passion. It’s the whole “she has such a sweet spirit” bullshit I got growing up and even *I* knew, with my absolute inability to decode coded language, that it wasn’t the sort of thing anyone said about someone who had ANY other admirable traits to speak of. *growl*

  • “But I’d love to learn more.”

    I had a conversation with that exact line recently, in which a former friend from Campus Crusade posted an extremely inflammatory and ignorant piece about the new “trans movement.” Against better judgment, and only because he was, when we lived in the same state, a good friend, I responded that I expected better from him. The piece talked about being trans as ‘sinful’ yet without much more evidence than “God made Adam and Eve,” which is really reaching (not to mention trans people are still male and female, so what does that prove?).

    I got a private message about how I was being “intolerant” (yawn) but he would “love to learn more” about the subject. I mentioned the conversation to a friend, who said “He has the whole internet available at is fingertips. If he wants to ‘learn more,’ then he will. Don’t do his homework for him.” So I didn’t. That was a few weeks ago and I haven’t heard from him since.

    • Ysolde

      Bleck! I’ve responded to one of those once explained all about my transition process and ended up with a “I feel so badly for you especially since you’ll be going to hell”……made me want to rip them apart.

      • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

        Especially since you’re going to hell. That is hilarious. I feel bad for you for many reasons, but that eternal agonizing torment thing, that is chief among my regrets.

      • There are two schools of thought when it comes to issues not in the bible. If the bible doesn’t mention it (particularly if Jesus never mentions it) then it’s okay; and if it isn’t mentioned, it’s inherently NOT okay. Whatever happened to using discernment?

        • LA Julian

          So the ones who believe the second, they stay off the internet, right?

          • phantomreader42

            No, hypocrisy IS mentioned in the bible, which makes it totally fine!

      • Rebecca

        Bleuch! Hugs.

        Remember the response in the Troy Perry story?

        “No, I won’t be going to hell, because I never want to be around people like you ever again!” 🙂

        Keep smiling! Ysolde of the beautiful name!

    • Grasshopper

      (This is tangential to your main point, but I’d like to point out that not all trans people are ‘still male and female’. Many are, and “God made Adam and Eve” doesn’t prove that being trans is sinful, but ‘trans’ is also used as an umbrella term to mean ‘my gender doesn’t align with the gender I was assigned at birth’.)

    • Erik K

      When in doubt, sending them a link that comes from http://lmgtfy.com/ is always a fun way to say “Oh, you want to learn about a widely discussed and easily found topic? Let me google that for you.”

    • Rebecca

      Good on you! My new phrase is, “So Google it!” And no, YOU were not the intolerant one.

  • Lucy

    This article talks about a similar phenomenon that is present among therapists for disabled people which is referred to as “Nice Lady Therapists”. These therapists are usually closer to the disabled people they work with, or rather, the disabled people are drawn closer to them, but I also get the feeling that these “Nice Lady Therapists” and other similar types constitute a large portion of the professional people who harass neurodiversity activists, using a method that is very similar to what “Nice Christians” use, only, as a rule, more secular, and usually with a lot more “psychoanalysis” thrown in – some of which completely ignores such obvious things as FAQ statements.

    http://realsocialskills.org/post/93977719432/nice-lady-therapists

    • Rebecca

      Interesting! Not had direct experience but have a funny feeling I know the sort of thing. My mother, some therapists, UK social services and my bible study group were great at using my disability this way. I’d love to talk more on this actually, Lucy

      • Lucy

        (Names of teachers have been shortened to single initials with titles where relevant, but in real life, I called them by the names the initials stood for. Some I actually called by initials in real life, but those teachers will not be mentioned here. Students are listed with two initials. American English is used because I am American, even though I pretty much identify as autistic first and American second, and even then it’s more like a specific kind of American whose culture is influenced in part by Jewishisms, because one of my parents is secular Jewish, and Jewishisms, like humor, are so deeply ingrained in Jewish culture that they readily show up in secular Jewish families)

        Miss Ament, if by any chance you are reading this, do not reveal my last name. I am leaving it off for a reason. But know this: I thank you for having treated me like an actual human being, an equal, while I was in your class. And yes, I still have a copy of the book you gave me, and I know you chose it on purpose because I could relate to the character. I mention you because it sets the stage for part of the story I am telling Rebecca in reply to her comment.

        Hold on to your seat, because I have a lot to say about my own personal experiences with Nice Ladies and other similar characters, and the lengthy accounts that follow are a fraction of what I actually dealt with.

        Personally, I did have direct experience with this, but in many cases, it paled compared to several instances of emotional abuse I received, both in elementary school and middle school, of which one of the worst displays was this: I was on a field trip to a nearby playground, just a few blocks from my school, which did not have a playground of its own. This playground was part of a larger park (I’m a city girl by birth, so it was a city park), and there was a path through the park that we walked to to get to the playground, and that path ran past the playground gate. Now, when the trip was over, I asked the teacher, Ms. H., for permission to go to the bathroom. She said the playground bathroom, which was in the playground itself, was dirty, so she walked me out to the middle of the path in front of the playground gate and made me pull my pants down and squat – in other words, she tried to make me go to the bathroom in the middle of the path. Now, I held it in due to sheer embarrassment, but if I had gone there, not only would it have been humiliating, hundreds of people would have risked stepping in my pee puddle. This was not a Nice Lady incident, but it is bad enough to eclipse a lot of memories of “lesser” incidents. that is why I mentioned this, to set the stage and explain why
        There were also three teachers who stuck out to me in elementary school as Nice Ladies, named Ms. K, Ms. J, and Ms. F. Ms. J was only there for a short while, and did one “playful” thing when I was around 7, which stuck out to me. She thought it would be funny to tell “jokes” like “If you don’t hold on to Miss J’s hand, the world will explode”. When I told her to stop doing this, she ramped up the jokes, all of which talked about the world exploding. Looking back, it was obvious she was doing this on purpose to agitate me, but back then I wasn’t sure. Ms. K was also a kind of Nice Lady, who did a lot of “playful” things that bothered me. This included repeatedly pushing me on the swing too high, making jokes about things like putting me on a leash, introducing me to the “flat tire” prank which involves stepping on a shoe from behind so it comes off (which I later learned is usually done by kid bullies), and, when a bunch of kids tackled me all at once, or at any rate in quick succession, leaving me at the bottom of a pile of kids (mostly boys), she told me it was normal and jokingly threatened to tackle me. Never mind that what those kids did was basically a dog pile, not tackling. Oh, and she also told me I was “obsessed” with bunnies because I always wanted to draw them in art class. Never mind that there are adults who will, for instance, collect multiple figurines of the same species of animal, or a ton of clocks.

        I did, however, also experience several incidents from Nice Ladies, one of which was this: A teacher I loved, also in elementary school, named Ms. F, took us on a field trip to a public pool. Since I was hesitant to go underwater, she grabbed me by the leg, pulled me underwater with that leg, and said “You went under! That was super!”. In other words, she ducked me like Pa Ingalls does Laura Ingalls in “On the Banks of Plum Creek” as punishment to Laura for straying too far into the swimming hole, but, unlike Pa, she treated it as though it was supposed to be a personal victory for me rather than a punishment. Incidentally, this was the same teacher who invited me and a girl, MN, for sleepovers at her house in which she, me, and MN would sleep in the same bed. I looked forward to these, and I don’t think she tried anything sexual, but I’m not so sure that was the best way, in retrospect, to start a relationship between teacher and student – this kind of thing is a classic grooming technique done by abusers.
        Speaking of the underwater ducking incident, that coupled with one time in which I was snatched by a wave and knocked out to sea on a beach field trip, led to a fear of the water that would one day lead me to disobey an instruction to swim a length of the pool at my middle school without a kick board. When I did that, I was kicked out of the pool in disgrace and docked several points (the teachers said that we don’t “lose” points, we just “don’t earn” them, but if you have a maximum number of points per day and earn below the maximum that day, that is losing points because, after all, it is that way on exams. Changing the words does not change the reality).

        I also had a few memorable Nice Lady incidents, which I will list here. I had two Ms. L’s, both therapists, one in elementary school and one in middle school. Elementary Ms. L said, one day, that she would tell us a “special name” for the kind of travel-size toy we were playing with (me and another student whose name I forget, but maybe it was MN), I perked up, and then deflated when she said the word was “portable”. Yes, I was only six or so, but I had already read that word on toy packages a gazillion times and was disappointed that she gave me that word; I expected something that did not show up on toy packages. Middle school Ms. L was similar; she often did definitional exercises in an obviously babyish tone. However, neither Ms. L did anything that had a really lasting impression on me.
        However, there was another Ms. L, also in middle school. This one was a teacher. She often conversed with me and talked about our mutual love of animals. This made her seem nice to me, and i will tell you why. Previously, at my elementary school, I had a genuinely nice teacher, teacher, Ms. Ament (yes, she totally deserves to have her full name listed here) who talked to me like I was a person. I get the feeling my elementary school normally didn’t allow this, because she had these conversations by way of journal assignments; we would write a letter in a daily journal, and she would write back. I have to say, those were some of my favorite school assignments, and I know that this was because in reality, she was talking to me as an equal, sticking her neck out by cheating within the rules of my school for teachers to do so.
        There was also another one, Rita, in middle school, who was a teacher who I now know had to be autistic, who was also nice, but in a different way. I won’t go into any more details about Rita, though, because I suspect that she was pressured to resign from my middle school shortly before I left, as was the caring principal who was there when I started. If the higher-ups at that school see too many details, I fear that those nice people may come under attack. I don’t fear for Ms. Ament’s safety, though, because my elementary school may have been often abusive to kids but was less toxic to adults than my middle school was.

        Back to grim reality with Ms. L the teacher. Now, Ms. L may have had what appeared to me to be nice conversations, but I only had had that one good teacher who talked with me so far. I did not have much experience of anyone other than my loving parents treating me like a human, and anything my parents did could just be dismissed as them being parents. Nevertheless, she did three really bad things that stuck out to me. One happened when I tried to apply for a good behavior club called Honor Code (not prefects, just Honor Code kids got to go on field trips, take bows at school ceremonies, and also Honor Code kids were decidedly not bad: I sort of thought I applied for the field trips, but I also know that I applied to that club so I could be able to not be one of the bad kids. Deep down, i believe that was more important to me than the trips. The trips were just an extra nudge). I succeeded in applying several times after getting kicked out other times for some incident or another, but I will tell you what happened the first time I remember having failed to apply. Ms. L. told me that she would not approve my application because I was “self-centered” for not accepting constructive criticism (some of which I suspect was actually subtly insulting). For years, I wracked my brains trying to figure out what made me self-centered, because I knew “self-centered” was more than that, like the prince from Beauty and the Beast who was “spoiled, selfish, and unkind”. Yes, I know the enchantress was really hard on the prince by turning him into a beast (he had to be 11 at the time), but I had not yet thought about that and I knew that selfishness was something villains did. Looking back, I really do think that Ms. L was basing that judgment solely on me not receiving constructive criticism very well. Also, when I sprained my ankle and complained about the pain, she told me “Get used to it”. She also regaled us with stories of abuse in her Catholic school, and I believe the reason she did that was implicitly to get us to not complain because she was not as bad as all that. Not to mention, in her class she had previously had the students log the points the teachers gave them. I wrote perfect point scores I did not actually get and got severely punished for that (including an essay on the importance of honesty, as if it wasn’t enough to simply write the correct scores and scold me the first time, they could have saved that for if I did it again). this leads up to another incident, in which she logged the loss of a whole point in a box that already had divisions for half-points sloppily; that is, she just put one demerit mark in the whole box, not one in each half of the box. That demerit mark seemed to cover one half of the box and accidentally spill over into the other half, so I was certain it was a mistake. I told the assistant teacher, A, as much, he told me that was not true, and I insisted that it was a mistake and she forgot to give me the half-point that should have been in the emptier half of the box. Fully believing I was right, I willingly agreed that A could check with Ms. L and confirm that she had forgot to give me a point. Instead, I got docked another point because I had supposedly lied about earning that half-point, even though she marked the point card in a very ambiguous manner. Not understanding that this is a common dynamic in special ed schools (powerful person accuses you of something you didn’t do and if you truthfully say you didn’t they accuse you of lying), I believed that this was a retroactive punishment for having previously fudged a point log, and that those things confirmed me as a dirty rotten liar.

        There was also another one who happened to be the vice principal at my middle school (She-Who-Shall-Not-be-Named). She talked about choices a lot, talked about how you should always be optimistic and not pessimistic, and virtually spat the word “cynical” every time she said it, thus making it sound like being cynical is a Really Bad Thing. She lectured me once in her office (I had started puberty and was in the middle of one of the resulting mood swings) that I should not cry because it is “not good self-control”. The context made me ultimately come to the conclusion that i should never let even a roommate see me cry because if I am caught crying, people could use that as grounds for instant firing or even being committed to a mental institution (after all, out-of-control behaviors at my school were ones that could get you sent there). And I worked my ass of to try to banish even the slightest hint of tears, yet I “couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I’ve tried” (verse courtesy of “Let it Go” from Frozen)

        In high school, there were two other Nice Ladies that I particularly remember and do not require an extensive lead-up that is not directly relevant to the way my sense of self was shaped (the other lead-ups are relevant because they significantly shaped my psyche). there are others who had a more minor effect as well, but I will not mention them as they did not have a significant effect on my psyche, at least compared to the “main players”. I promise these are the last two Nice Ladies I will mention; after that, the comment is over.

        The first one, B, was one I had a close relationship with. She was a “nice” old lady who gave me gifts such as a lucky charm, a glass angel, a snow globe, and perhaps most importantly, RealSimple and Martha Stewart magazines. These are especially important because those magazines agreed with the viewpoint I have no doubt she wanted me to agree with. She planted tomatoes and flowers with me in the school garden (I hate raw tomatoes, they make me gag, the tomatoes need to be cooked thoroughly and pureed or made into soup before I can eat them without the texture turning me off. Cooked whole tomatoes I can sort of stand, but I cannot really like them. And yes, I have gagged, flat-out gag with a heaving stomach, on a farm-fresh raw tomato from a Berkshires farmer’s market; unless the French and Italians import their soil directly from Rivendell or Tir na nOg or possibly the Garden of Eden, I seriously doubt their tomatoes are better than that. That Berkshires tomato had a really tasty flavor but the texture still made me gag. However, those were one of the available seeds)
        Enough about tomatoes.
        B had conversations with me that largely consisted of stories about her life. I will tell you two of these stories, but all her stories had the same tone, coming back to herself. One was this: she was a manager once, but she had to worry about keeping her employees in line and could not just fire them on a whim, and thus the life of a boss was “not all a roses” any more than my life was (never mind that it would still be preferable to what I was living at the time). The other was this: she saw a bit of Valrhona chocolate in a store because she really liked Valrhona but it was $7 for 4 ounces, so she asked herself “Do I need this?” and didn’t get it because it would be expensive. Not understanding the true motive of that story, and erroneously assuming that what she was doing was like an autistic special interest, I told my parents we should get B some Valrhona chocolate as a present, and we did. This says something about B’s skill for making some of her minor life problems seem at least equal in proportion to my own, if not greater. She also often scolded me by telling me things like “You are the whiniest person i have ever seen” and “You are belligerent” when I was trying my hardest to speak as reasonably as possible. Perhaps worst of all, I would speak in my very calmest voice and she would continue to say “Calm, calm”, in the same tone that people tell dogs to sit/stay. The specific tone was the one Leopold uses in the movie “Kate and Leopold” when he trains a dog. I know that movie is problematic in many ways, but it still gives a good example of the tone I am talking about. This made me feel like I could never be calm, or at the very least I had a long way to go before I could attain an acceptable level of calmness. That brings us to our last Nice Lady, R.

        Now R. was an evangelical Christian, who always spoke in a seeming tone of perfect calm and joy that I now realize was faked, a realization bolstered by reports from sources such as this site and Homeschoolers Anonymous. She was not anyone’s particular therapist, but rather a kind of emotional “dogsbody” among teachers. I don’t know for sure if that’s the correct term, but she kind of bounced around, proselytizing, giving “Christian comfort”, and supervising work experience with a tone that was always perfectly caaaalm even as she scolded people for not doing work experience tasks like this: one task was putting price stickers on goods, “pricing” them, and she said “Just…..price” the way one would say “Inhale….exhale” or something similar while leading meditation exercises. Given that she was the only evangelical at my school, few if any students took her seriously, made fun of her proselytizing, and even I sort of agreed with that sentiment. however, I also have every reason to believe she was hired as an emotional role model; that is, according to the school higher-ups, we were supposed to aspire to be as perfectly calm and emotionally even as she was, never complaining and always slightly joyful.

        Maybe your experiences are not exactly like this, but there are many that are, and I seriously think you did run into some Nice Ladies, even if they are not exactly like the ones I described. And there are many other autistics who would be happy to talk to you about that, on various blogs throughout Tumblr. Mind you, if you search there, search the #actuallyautistic tag, not the #autism tag, as the latter one is littered with “autism parents” who disparage their kids in a way that seems superficially like they care. The #actuallyautistic tag contains insight from many autistics, both professionally diagnosed and self-diagnosed, from many blogs. And I can assure you that false self-diagnosis is rare, and in most of the cases where it is false, the person is neuro-atypical in another way, like ADHD or something.

  • Stephanie Rice

    Perhaps this just fits into the hostile category, but a pattern I’ve seen time and time again is the use of statements such as “If you disagree with me on this issue, that means you’re not a real christian” or “you are deceived” to end the conversation. The person making these statements gets to feel like they’ve won and if you get upset by these statements, then they feel you’ve proven their point even more. It’s another way of being dismissive and it allows them to feel superior. It induces head bashy feelings. It totally get those feelings. “I just can’t” sounds trite, but that’s the only response I can come up with.

    • Or when people are really, really concerned about *you* and the “anger” and “hostility” and how you need to forgive them “for your own sake” because they can tell it’s just destroying you inside… as they continue to say the things that pissed you off in the first place. Because obviously if you were “right with God” and spiritually whole, you’d agree with them.

      I’ve learned the power of just saying “Wow.” without further clarification. It sends a clear signal that they’re out of line, without engaging with their arguments.

      • Stephanie Rice

        “obviously if you were ‘right with God’…you’d agree with them.” YES. Just yes.

    • If it’s an issue outside the gospel then it shouldn’t determine whether or not a person is ‘saved,’ IMO.

    • Well, you know, the Bible is pretty clear. Like when John says, “They shall know we are Christians by our doctrinal purity and the fact that everyone agrees about everything.” Or when Jesus said, “If you believe all the correct things, you are very close to the kingdom of God.” Pretty sure that’s in there, somewhere.

  • You hit the nail on the head with the “nice” conversations. There’s one particular blogger elsewhere that I just gave up engaging with because of that, and you put better words around it than I ever could.

  • Ysolde

    I’ve seen the “nice” before and in many ways I dislike them more than the people who are shouting epithets at Transgender people. The “nice” just wants to “be your friend” and only telling us for our “own good” meanwhile they support the people shouting the epithets.

    They don’t care about your experiences, or my experiences they want to pretend that these things aren’t important and that they are just friends with a kind message while in the meantime putting a dagger in our backs.

  • Til

    Two words. Dolores Umbridge.

    • *full body shudder*

      • Trellia

        There are some great videos of inspiration posters from Firefly. One picture shows Kaylee in her beautiful pink dress talking to ladies who are putting her down. The text reads, “Politeness is no substitute for kindness.”

        • Kaylee is AWESOME!!!

          I find myself conflicted, though… because before Firefly was even a thing I had a story I was writing with a character named Kaylie… and another character named River… except that Kaylie was a Faerie Dryad and River was an awakened, shapechanging wolf… I still have that manuscript around here somewhere. I need to finish working on it.

  • Michael

    The “niceness” thing is such a super damaging tactic to use, and I feel like gaslighting really is an accurate description. My wife and I do a critical podcast on “The Bachelor” and on our most recent episode we identified a disturbing practice among “Bachelor in Paradise” cast members when it came to conflict between partners or other cast members: people will enter a disagreement with high energy, get the other person riled up, then immediately calm down and call out the other person for being so riled up. When it happens between rivals or other folks, its unseemly, but when it happens within couples, it makes me feel really gross. I feel like I’ve watched that exact pattern play out in so many conversations about religion as well.

  • Grasshopper

    “Nice” is awful! Encountered some commenters like that on another blog recently.

  • Dave W.

    Jesus wasn’t exactly “nice” to the moneychangers in the temple, as I recall. While there’s a lot to be said for trying to keep conversations civil when possible, “nice” need not be the universal Christian response to oppressive behavior.

  • RavenOnthill

    You echo MLK’s remarks on white “moderates” and Corey Robin’s observations on “sensible” conservatives: they are of course not moderate or sensible at all; they are simply salving their consciences while defending an unjust order.

  • Kevin

    This makes me think of the quote below.

    Translation: The greatest problem in communication is that we don’t listen to UNDERSTAND; we listen to RESPOND.

    “Listen” seems to be the mantra in social justice circles; this makes me wonder whether listening is enough, whether the slogan should be modified to “Listen to understand”.

    I love your thoughts on “Open”; that’s one reason I started my own blog, as a place for people to learn from each other. Also, having grown up in an insular church environment(on the border between Evangelical and Fundamentalist) I had a hunch there’s more to things than just our hole; I really wanted to hear the other side, rather than going along with the us vs them/dismiss-them-as-of-the-devil mindset. Thank you for being gracious and sharing your story.

  • Kevin

    I read the Twitter thread; I love the whole the-pro-hitting-crowd-is-fringe — like, *seriously*! Growing up that was ubiquitous; in fact, I knew no other “biblical” way. In 2009 our pastor’s wife had an article from someone quoting a supposed apostle sounding the alarm over the Convention on The Rights of The Child. Three reasons religious conservatives have fought to make USA the last hold out against ratification is they fear the treaty will ban homeschooling and giving Reasonable(TM) spankings. (Though this was on the sheet, some of the spankings my friends received were downright abusive — some were beat with carpet straps and face triggering!) Curiously Fundamentalists also don’t like The Convention on The Rights of The Child because current interpretations don’t allow parents to take their kids out of sex education programs. Of course the treaty brings out the usual persecution complexes(and it’s from the UN, something else Fundamentalists hate, though Muslim Fundamentalists see the UN as a Judeo-Christian organization out to hurt Muslims!)

    • Beroli

      Curiously Fundamentalists also don’t like The Convention on The Rights
      of The Child because current interpretations don’t allow parents to take
      their kids out of sex education programs.

      Some of them have also–very openly and explicitly–sneered at the entire concept that children can have rights.

      • Kitrona ✪

        It’s so heartbreaking to hear that and think that at least some of them have kids.

  • Rebecca

    “I’m sorry ‘if’. Oh yes. I remember. “I’m sorry IF YOU thought BUT I was justified.” The Christian-in-law used that one. Take the blame? Goodness no. Not even when her son killed himself. At the funeral I made a fairly neutral attempt to bury the past and was met with “Yes, well, we were all fools.”
    Really open, that. Anyone else remember , “He who calls his brother a fool….”

  • snosnap

    Exactly this, yes. The Conversation #3 people I’ve met in life and have been close to, are pros at what they do. I don’t think they can turn it on or off (though I sometimes secretly wish they could wake up, join the rest of humanity, and turn it off). It’s maddening, and in a way that’s more difficult to pinpoint than almost anything else in life.

    One time I was watching someone do this whom I was close to, someone I’d known for many years, and I realized the conversation they were having – nodding their head, seeming to engage and agree, saying “yes” and “uh huh” at all the right places – had nothing to do with the real conversation at all. It had to do with projecting engagement and agreement, whether they really did or not. It turned my soul upside down, watching it play out.

    This, more than anything else, is the most insidious type of conversation. I wish we could banish it from the earth.

  • I appreciate how you put this:

    “I want to be a part of Christian community. I meet with other Christians every week to talk about living our faith and that meets an important spiritual need for me, but I also want to be involved in the wider religious context. As much as I find Christian culture alienating and as often as I criticize it, I’m not of the mind to abandon it– not entirely.”

    That’s where I’m at as well.

  • FQB

    I was once trying to work through an issue I had with a religious leader. When I confronted him about our conflict, in an attempt to let him know what he was doing that was hurtful to me and making it difficult to continue in fellowship with him, he responded with, “Oh, I forgive you, I forgive you!” What I was being forgiven for I have absolutely no idea. But he clearly was so focused on being “nice” and the “bigger man” that he didn’t hear a thing I was saying. At. All. Not surprisingly, nothing changed, and the problem persisted until I nearly had a nervous breakdown (and was finally able to leave). So great of him to be such a “nice” Christian.

    • keefanda

      This may be a very good example of just how “fleshly” certain “Christian” mindsets and behaviors actually are. Referring to Paul’s commentary in Romans on living by the Spirit rather than living by what is literally translated as the flesh (which we perhaps could broadly take to be the subset of the human psyche that is the source of what’s wrong with humanity morally): Many are caught up in certain mindsets in which they are so set on living according to the Spirit rather than the flesh, they can’t let themselves be honest – honest with themselves and others as to what they really feel. They can’t be honest because they wrongly think that if one is to live according to the Spirit rather than the flesh all the time, then one has to be “nice” all the time with a smile or something like a smile plastered on the face and “in the heart” all the time.

      This attempted explanation of this type of behavior is essentially a personal testimony – I relate to this behavior. Many years ago I lived this type of dishonesty for some number of years after I believed I was born again. I was acting agreeable and nice even though I didn’t feel agreeable and nice. (Looking back, I have seen what I believe to be this behavior in others ever since then.) Eventually I realized how dishonest I was being with myself and others with respect to what I really felt. That is, I started to grow up and become a more mature Christian, allowing myself to feel what I really felt way down deep inside. Yes, I became not so agreeable and nice all the time, but that’s OK. God not only can handle it, God would actually prefer that we be honest and let our feelings express themselves in a healthy way, and this includes not so agreeable and nice feelings.

      If there is one thing that God wants from us, it is honesty. And so living a truly honest life in the realms of both deeds and emotions must be part of what it really means to live by the Spirit and not by the so-called flesh.

  • Abby Normal

    Good grief, that woman on Twitter just comes across as so obviously *fake*. She knows full well what the issues are–they’ve just already been discussed in non-CT-approved circles so she doesn’t feel obligated to give them any credence. This “tell me more” crap is nothing but corporate-team-building-exercise mumbo-jumbo that gets taught at “leadership conferences” to help someone simulate the act of actually caring about what the other person has to say.

    • Such a shame, because I really enjoyed her new book, A Woman’s Place, on women in church leadership.

    • LA Julian

      It’s called “mimicry” in the animal kingdom, when it’s used as a hostile/aggressive behaviour — where the camouflage of something harmless or the same as another creature isn’t used as protection from getting eaten, but to allow the perpetrator to sneak past the others’ defenses and eat them instead.

  • Gwendolene

    THIS!!! So much this!

  • Gwendolene

    I was recently triggered by a friend and spent days trying to figure out why I was reacting to him the same way I had reacted to people in an old congregation, and then I realized that the common denominator was gaslighting. And now, I’m re-examining all of my religious trauma, as this puts a whole different spin on things!

  • Trevel

    There are times when I’d prefer the honest malevolence of someone who hates me and wishes me harm to the earnest care of those trying to help me against myself, ‘for my own good’.

  • The_L1985

    Um…”Jeff” was asking you if you were a Jew. “Reptilian” is a common slur, used to make the “evil Jewish banker” conspiracy theory more palatable.

    He’s a disgusting antisemite.

    • Really? I just googled that and wow. People. My mother isn’t Jewish so I’m not, but I do have family in my lineage who are.

      • The_L1985

        Yeah, it’s not common outside the world of nasty conspiracy theorists and people who keep an eye on them, so I wanted to clear up what that comment was all about.

  • LA Julian

    The old saying “Butter wouldn’t melt in his/her mouth” was coined for #3 phenomenon.