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stay-at-home-daughters are raised to be imprisoned

I may have mentioned, in passing, that I’ve been looking into attending seminary. There’s a few possible obstacles that have made finding the right seminary a difficult process, but one of the biggest is my unaccredited undergraduate degree. Because I can’t relocate for seminary, I have to find one that supports an online program, and most of the ones I’ve found have been either too conservative to admit me (as a woman and/or as an LGBT person); the ones that aren’t that conservative still won’t consider me because I don’t have an accredited degree. For several places, even if I were to complete the foreign language requirement at Liberty it still wouldn’t help me, because they only look at the undergraduate degree.

It looks like I may have found a place to apply (United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities), but I had to have a long conversation with their head of admissions to fully explain my background and why, even though my educational history looks super sketchy, I’m actually quite qualified for seminary. A big part of that story was the fact that I went to PCC because I was raised in the stay-at-home-daughter movement; attending a backwater fundamentalist Christian college was the only way I could go to any college anywhere.

The way I was raised, the movement I was brought up in, continues to limit my options. I imagine there will be ramifications of that ideology throughout my life. For example, I’m dreading my someday children coming home from school and needing help with their algebra homework. I was a woman in a Christian fundamentalist cult– I don’t know anything about math beyond arithmetic.

A little while ago I read Paulette Perhach’s “A Story of a Fuck Off Fund.” If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend you do so because it paints a vivid picture of what it’s like to be a woman with limited financial options. Which, let’s face it, is an awful lot of us. As I read it, though, my background informed my reaction to it, and I realized that one of the many ways the stay-at-home-daughter movement is abusive is this one: it purposely and intentionally makes damn well sure that women cannot leave abusive situations.

I’m sure most of the parents who decided to raise their daughters this way didn’t cackle to themselves “yes! Now, if she marries someone who throws her down the stairs, she won’t be able to divorce him! Bwa-ha-ha!” However, one of the reasons I was given by multiple leaders in the movement was that if a woman feels like she has the ability to leave her marriage, she might be tempted to consider it when she shouldn’t. Being totally dependent on a husband– having no college education, no marketable skills– was given as an argument for being a stay-at-home daughter. This idea was frequently put in contrast to the “feminist” idea of a “career woman,” which for us was basically a byword for Jezebel.

The stay-at-home-daughter movement, while not fringe, is not exactly mainstream, but I think there’s echoes of the ideology in broader movements. Complementarianism frequently comes with a heaping side dish of keeper at home, and while most of modern America has probably never even heard the term complementarianism, the ramifications can still be felt. Women are frequently the ones who stay at home with children, and loose out on career opportunities. Women are the ones frequently forced into the position of primary caregiver for elderly parents.

Women are the ones consistently expected to make financial sacrifices, therefore becoming more dependent on their husband’s income. For many of us that’s not a problem. I’m completely and totally dependent on my partner’s income and health insurance. I don’t foresee that to be a problem, but financial dependence is one of the reasons why, when a woman says something like “oh, the first time he ever hit me I’d dump his ass so fast!” my response is usually a hard and blunt “No. No, you wouldn’t.”

There’s a lot of reasons why I react that way: abusive relationships aren’t always physically violent, the abuser usually makes sure their victim is isolated and dependent before they escalate to violence, the victim has already been gaslighted and had her self-confidence destroyed … etc.

All of the above is why I’m writing a book explaining why complementarianism sets up abusive environments. It encourages toxic masculinity, it sets up abusive relationship dynamics as the ideal, and it especially limits a woman’s options when her relationship is abusive. Not only is divorce considered anathema in these circles (John Piper straight-up said women should “endure being smacked around” rather than immediately pursue separation and divorce), but complementarianism as a system practically ensures that women won’t be able to leave unhealthy environments. They’ll be constrained by their belief system, first of all, but they’d also be constrained by realistic concerns like food and shelter.

Photo by Jason Devaun
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
Social Issues

I was a grammar nazi, and I was wrong

My first year in graduate school was … enlightening. As I’ve learned since then, being informed of how terribly wrong you are about basically everything is not a fun experience, although I am thankful for it. When I enrolled at Liberty, I expected it to be a bit like my experience at Pensacola Christian, and in many ways I wasn’t too far off. Liberty and PCC have a lot more in common than I think the administrations of either place would care to admit.

However, one of the downsides of that assumption was that I thought the people who surrounded me held similar ideologies as the people I’d left behind at PCC– after all, I was still at a conservative Christian college, it couldn’t be that different, right?

I was disabused of that notion in various ways, but I don’t think any experience I had was quite as humiliating as the day I tried to argue that using correct grammar was a Christian moral imperative, that being lackadaisical about grammar was a sin. I will never forget the look on a colleague’s face as he bounced up out of his cubicle with a startled “you have got to be kidding me!” He tore into my argument like the tissue paper it absolutely was, and I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me. I have never had an argument eviscerated like that– not before, not since.

Thank heavens I had the appropriate reaction. I had been rather bluntly forced to acknowledge that I didn’t actually know anything about grammar, and I needed to rectify that. I went straight to the professor who taught the advanced grammar classes at Liberty and asked if I could sit in the back. He, very graciously, said yes.

The first day he was teaching diagramming, although it was completely unlike anything I’d ever seen before. I was used to this:

diagramming sentences

But what he had up on the board that day looked like this:

sentence diagramming 2

And that was the day when I realized that linguistics isn’t of the devil.


Through my high school and undergraduate days, all of my grammar education came through A Beka, which is published by Pensacola Christian. I can’t speak authoritatively for other curriculum, but from what I’ve gathered through my peers, what other Christian homeschool curriculum and fundamentalist Christian colleges teach isn’t substantively different.

I was taught that there is a moral difference between prescriptivist and descriptivist grammar. The problem all started with “post-modern ideologies” that affected the way people see language and communication, and it all came to a head with Merriam-Webster’s Third Edition. Dictionaries are supposed to tell you the “correct” spelling for a word, but the Third went and changed it all by refusing to say whether or not a spelling was correct. Over time “correct” and “incorrect” have been replaced by “preferred” or “standard formal.”

This is a huge problem, according to conservative Christians, and the rationale goes something like this:

  • Christians are “people of the book,” as our Gospel was delivered to us through the medium of language.
  • Evangelization depends on clear and effective communication.
  • Clear and effective communication is best maintained by teaching “correct” grammar and syntax.
  • Therefore, failure to teach grammar is detrimental to the Gospel.

PCC’s favorite example of this was the “Old Deluder Act” of 1647, which is the legislation that created public schooling in the Massachusetts colony. According to the stated intention of the law, children needed to learn to read so that they could read the Bible as Satan would be able to use their lack of education to keep them from the Scriptures.

Same thing, PCC said, only now it’s Satan trying to confuse us all by getting rid of good grammar. Because, y’know, Satan is totally the one responsible for “confusing the languages.”


It’s probably not surprising to my long-term readers that I thrived in that environment. There are a million infinitesimal rules about grammar? Yes, please! I’m assigned a project (that includes instructions down to the last excruciating detail) on evaluating ten different dictionaries and grammar handbooks? Can I do it again? Can I do more than ten? I was good at being a grammar nazi at PCC, and I expected that skill to translate well in other environments.

Except it didn’t. It actually hurt me.

If there is any more ironic than people who call themselves “grammar nazis,” I’d like to know what it is, because there are few things more racist and classist than the insistence on “correct” grammar. Putting such a harsh divide between “good” and “bad” grammar means placing upper-class educated white language as “superior” to  other dialects like AAVE.

It results in things like dismissing people like Rachel Jeantel as credible witnesses because they sound different than what upper-class educated white people think of as “good English.” I’ve listened to Rachel’s statements, and they made perfect, coherent sense. I was more than fully capable of understanding her, but the American public responded to her perfectly legitimate testimony by calling her a “thug.” Because she speaks a different dialect than upper-class white people.

Aside from all of that, I’m actually pretty upset about the fact that learning about flat adverbs or copula deletion would have been verboten. Grammar is a fascinating thing that isn’t limited to learning the parts of speech and how to diagram a sentence, but that’s about all I got out of it. Oh, I could tell you all about retained objects and nominative case, but what is that when compared to the beautiful, growing, organic, and interconnective wonder that is the English language?

Christian fundamentalism does a lot of things, but one of the worst things it does is put us all into tiny intellectual boxes with no room to expand.

Photo by Jon Fife


learning to respect my body

I’ve mentioned a few times that I deal with a few chronic pain conditions that, when coupled with my depression and anxiety, make life … well, interesting. Take this week, for example. There wasn’t a post on Wednesday for a few reasons. The first reason was that I’d been dealing with the people who always come crawling out of the woodwork anytime PCC gets famous on the internet for fifteen minutes, like it did this week with that Cracked article. That particular set of people is exhausting.

The other reason was that I had gone to the Cherry Blossom Festival and did not listen to my body.

I walked around the tidal basin, went out to the Jefferson Memorial, and at that point my body was saying we’re done we’re so done. Done. Tired. Go home now. Done. But … we had committed to meeting friends, friends who were from out of town and who we don’t get to see that often. I sternly took myself in hand and told myself that I was not going to flake out, that I would do what I said I would, and that was that. So I walked from the Jefferson Memorial to Pennsylvania Avenue. And then I stood around for the next two hours. By the time I had to walk back to the metro, ride the metro for half an hour, ride a trolley and then sit in a car for two hours … Aish. That was not a fun evening, and I am just now, five days later, getting back to something resembling a normal pain level for me.

If I’d listened to what my body was trying to tell me when I lay down in the grass behind the Jefferson, I would have told our friends “I’m sorry, but I really can’t do more today. We’ll see you when we come to town this summer,” and then I would have gone home. It still would have taken me a bit to recuperate, but it wouldn’t have been five days of my hips and back screaming at me.

But that sentence– “I’m sorry, I can’t– I know I said I would, but I can’t” is so damn hard.

It’s hard because I want to be reliable, consistent, dependable. I want to be the sort of person who keeps her promises, who lives up to her commitments. I hate “flaking out” on people, even though it’s because I’m in so much pain I can’t keep putting one foot in front of the other or even stand upright.

It’s hard because I don’t want to let the pain control my life. I don’t want to give in to it, to let it dictate what I can and cannot do. Part of me is frightened that if I start listening to the pain that eventually I won’t do anything. There will never be a day when I feel good the way other people feel good. There will never be a day when something doesn’t ache or throb or burn or stab. There will never be a day when I’m not getting a headache, or I don’t have muscle spasms. And if I give in to all of that? I’m afraid I’ll turn into a hermit.

But it’s also hard because there’s a message in our culture– in Christian culture, especially– that ignoring pain is moral. That ignoring the needs of your body is good. That saying “it’s all right, I can do it” even when your body is screaming at you to stop is godly. There’s something of martyrdom to it, even. We are supposed to crucify our flesh, after all. There’s all that talk of Paul having a “thorn in his side” and managing to do what God asked of him, anyway.

All those things together are a hard thing to ignore, even when the pain is mounting. When you combine the “Christian” concept of “dying to self” and being “self-sacrificing” with the other “Christian” concept that we are all disgusting worms worthy of nothing better than eternal conscious torment it’s going to be seriously difficult to tell yourself “I deserve to respect my body’s needs” and have it sound at all convincing.

My mother has many of the same health problems I do, and because I grew up watching my mother struggle with fibromyalgia among other things, I’ve also been given a glimpse into a side of the way Christian culture works. They would never have breathed a word of this to my mother, but it was common place for me to hear things like “your mother is so irresponsible, Samantha, no one can ever count on her.” It made me want to scream, because these people had no fucking clue what life was like in our home. They didn’t see what it took for my mother to be at church every Sunday morning, every Sunday night, every Wednesday night, every Thursday night, with tons of other commitments besides. When I look back at what my mother was doing when she was my age– after having half a dozen surgeries, even– it is incredible. I can’t even imagine doing all of that while dragging two small children everywhere. My mother is magnificent.

No one sees that when they see the results of chronic pain, however. They see all the times we back out, all the times we don’t show up, all the times we cancel, all the times when we do show up but then have to leave halfway through. They see that and they judge us.

All of that has made it next to impossible for me to see the magnificence in myself. I don’t look at all the times when I claw my way out of bed and write a post and make dinner and clean my house a little as success– I see all the things I wish I’d done and the word failure starts spinning around inside my skull. I see my slightly unorganized desk, and my slightly untidy living room and the things that need to be dusted and the shower that needs to be scrubbed and I can’t help but think that I should be able to do these things and it’s only laziness and a lack of good moral character that stops me.

Except, I am magnificent. I am not lazy. I do not lack character. My house does not have to look like I followed Martha Stewart’s weekly cleaning chart. I do not have to push myself to the point where it takes me a week to recover just to prove that I’m “healthy.” Just because I am not able to do what people without fibromyalgia can do does not mean I am less. Whatever I can do inside the boundaries my body places on me is acceptable, and respecting those boundaries is good.

Photo by Alonis
Social Issues

5 Good Reasons Not to Attend Pensacola Christian College

Last year, I wrote a piece that condemned Pensacola Christian College for its habit of expelling rape victims for being “fornicators” or “liars.” It went viral, and now I consistently get people writing to me for advice. Some are from teenagers wanting to know how deep the problems go, some are from parents who are wondering if they should send their children there, some are from people trying to convince their loved ones not to go.

My answers have been consistent: I tell each of these people to ignore a lot of what they’ve heard about PCC, even from my own blog. Yes, the rules are completely and totally jacked. Some of the rules seem insane. Yes, it’s an extremely legalistic place. Yes, the administration has a well-deserved reputation for treating their students terribly.

However, none of those things are the real problem with PCC. The real problem is that you will not receive even a passably adequate education– and since that’s the primary reason for shelling out thousands of dollars for college, that should be the way to evaluate an institution of higher education.

1) They are accredited. Sort of. But not in the way you think.

When I attended, PCC had no accreditation, and they were extremely proud of that fact. They had no interest in accreditation, because they refused to be held accountable by any outside body that could bully them into giving up their “standards.” This meant that no student could get FAFSA, and many other places that offer student financial aid wouldn’t qualify you. It also meant that no one qualified for educational tax credits.

Most of that hasn’t changed. PCC is technically accredited now, but by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. If you look at the list of colleges that they’ve accredited, it becomes obvious fairly quickly that TRACS is a joke. They’re a rubber-stamping agency for conservative and fundamentalist Christian colleges that want to say they’re “accredited” but still go right on with business as usual. I know some of the people who go around “evaluating” these institutions for TRACS, and, trust me, they’re all in bed together.

They did make a few slight changes. They told PCC that forbidding their students from using Facebook and Twitter was a bit overboard. It’s also important to note that PCC makes it clear that they are not licensed by the state of Florida, nor do they wish to be.

2) They do not allow any form of open, reasoned discourse.

This is most obvious in that it is absolutely forbidden for students to either hold any form of public demonstration or create or sign a petition. Those two things are some of the gravest infractions any students can commit. There is a “student government,” but the officers that students elect do nothing more than put together skits that they perform in front of the student body a few times a semester– skits that are vetted extremely carefully by people in the administration. Dale Fincher was Student Body President, and he has some harrowing stories about the brutal questioning he was put through by doing his best to simply be encouraging.

3) Questioning any of the school’s ideologies could get you fired or expelled.

I’ll just share two examples: one of my professors was fired after a student asked him a question in class and he answered it honestly. The question: “What does Calvinism teach?” The answer: a brief summary of TULIP. After that happened, I approached a professor of mine about the nature of the grammar in the Gospel of Mark, and it didn’t take me long to realize that I’d just asked a question that could get him fired if he was honest.

For an Old Testament Survey class, we were required to read and “write a critique of” a dissertation on why the King James Bible is the Only True Bible that Christians Should Read: All Other Versions are Evil. I was pro-King James-only at the time, and was familiar with the arguments– and I thought that the argument was incredibly weak and filled with shoddy scholarship and lies. Since the homework assignment was to write a critique, I wrote one, taking the dissertation to task for presenting such a poor argument when many other better ones could be made.

I was called up to Student Life– the disciplinary branch of the administration– and interrogated and lectured. Even after I explained that I agreed with them, they continued to bludgeon me. About a homework assignment where I disagreed with something the school required its students to read.

4) Students are not taught critical or independent thinking.

While I was there I never experienced –not once in four and a half years– a “classroom discussion.” Every class I took, every day, for nine semesters, was lecture-based. We came, we sat in chairs, we took notes, and we left. Lather, rinse, repeat. There was never anything else. I was an Secondary Education major, so I even got the rationale for this: a classroom discussion made the learning environment too “student-centered,” and that was not to be countenanced. “Student-centered” or “student-directed” anything is of the devil.

I didn’t even realize this was a problem until I was in graduate school. Granted, graduate school is different from undergrad, and there’s a different dynamic between professor and student. However, I went to grad school at Liberty University and my peers were all very shocked to learn that a teacher had never once even asked for my opinion on something. I was to essentially find and then read aloud some notes I’d taken in previous lectures (or simply recall them from memory), but I never had the experience of a professors asking an open-ended question where the words hadn’t already been handed to me.

Students learning to think for themselves? To reason, and then articulate their own opinions? The horror.

5) They are simply not qualified to be an institute of higher education.

Out of almost 120 full-time faculty members, fifteen have terminal degrees in their field of study. Many of those MFAs and PhDs were granted by Pensacola Christian College. At a time when PCC was accredited by nothing. They literally made up their own degrees– licensed and accredited by no one– and are now using those “degrees” to pretend as if they have a semblance of respectability.

This next thing makes me laugh– the textbooks used in many of the required general education courses are the same ones they use in their high school. The book I bought for HI 101 and 102? The same one I’d used as a homeschooler in tenth grade. The anthologies we used for American and English Literature? Hardcover versions of the books I’d used in 11th and 12th grade with some of the artwork removed.

When I began graduate study, I realized that I had not been equipped to handle to rigors of my program. At all. On any level whatsoever. And I wasn’t even at some prestigious university– I was at another conservative Christian college, for crying out loud. I was so upset I called the Dean of English at PCC to ask why they hadn’t bothered preparing me for grad school in any basic, fundamental way. Why had I never even been shown– once— how to write following MLA guidelines? Why did they never even breathe the words literary theory? Why had I never even heard of Jacques Derrida? Why had not a single literature class I’d ever taken required me to read anything written by someone born after 1857? His answer: they felt that none of that was necessary– in fact, they saw those things as actively harmful and “detrimental to the program.”


In conclusion, Pensacola Christian College does not care about education. They are there to indoctrinate, and absolutely nothing more.

Photo by Moyan Brenn

which book should I review next? your pick!

I have a small-ish library in my office, with four filled-to-bursting bookcases (English major, what can I say?). One of those bookcases has what my partner refers to as the “caution tape shelf.” It’s the shelf I set aside for all the books I’ve amassed that are anything from mildly irritating to absolutely horrific. I don’t want their bookjackets contaminating all my other lovely books, after all.

I’m sitting here looking at it, and was attempting to decide which book I should choose next for my Monday review series. Eventually I gave up and decided to ask all of you. It’s a a slightly different list than the last time I did this– not all of them are in the “marriage-advice” category this time around. Each of them, however, is a well-read book in evangelical circles and all have some pretty serious problems.

[edit 3.29.15: I’ve narrowed the poll to the three most popular choices]

If you’re not familiar with these books, here’s a short break-down:

How to Win Over Depression is, in my opinion, one of the worst books written. Ever. I’m having a hard time trying to come up with a worse book. It’s one of the books that started the “you can pray away your mental illness!” approach to “biblical counseling” back in the 70s. This book has killed people.

Lies Women Believe I read when I was a student at PCC, and my memories of it are that it was vaguely encouraging. It would be interesting to go through this one an re-experience it now. I imagine it would be a bit like how some of you responded to going through Captivating again. Helpful at the time … but not so helpful now.

Redeeming Love is slightly different because it’s fiction, but it’s equally as horrible as all the rest. Rape? Check. Misogyny? Check. Horrible theology? Check. Thank you, Francine Rivers, for taking Hosea and Gomer and making that story worse.

Anyway, let me know which one you’d like to see me rip to shreds!

Photo by Ginny
Social Issues

thoughts on conservative Christian colleges from a Liberty graduate

There’s a bit of a hubbub happening this week over a certain announcement made during Liberty University’s convocation on Monday. If you don’t travel in the circles who are all abuzz about it, here’s the gist: Ted Cruz is the first Republican to formally announce his candidacy for the 2016 election, and he did it at Liberty, in front of an audience of thousands of college students. That’s not the newsworthy part, though– what has caught everyone’s attention is that this audience was a literally captive one. Liberty students who live in the on-campus dormitories are required to attend convocation (Liberty’s word for “chapel”), or they are fined. And some were not happy about being forced to attend a political rally.

I’ve never hidden the fact that I attended Liberty University for graduate school. In fact, on the whole, I believe my experience was a positive one, although I feel that way with certain caveats. I attended graduate school there, and therefore my experience was vastly different from anyone earning a bachelor’s. The English graduate department is, I believe, filled with highly competent professors and the academic environment is open to discussing anything (although I can only speak for the English department). While, if I had the opportunity to retcon my life I would never attend Pensacola Christian College or Liberty University, I do very much feel that Liberty was an excellent stepping stone in my life. It was good for me for where I was at the time– I was in an environment where my fundamentalist-indoctrinated brain/heart felt safe, but I was encouraged by my professors at every turn to get outside of that box.

However, there are some aspects about being a Liberty graduate that are … difficult. I’ve encountered HR professionals who claim that any resumé with “Liberty University” on it will go straight into the garbage– I’ve been personally turned down for things because of the colleges I have to list on mine. I’ve seriously considered paying for another graduate degree from a more respectable university and just removing PCC or LU from anything professional.

Because that’s the problem. Liberty University just isn’t respectable in most places, and they’re not doing graduates like me any favors when they invite people like Ted Cruz to speak during a mandatory event. It’s still very much Jerry Falwell’s school. I have been yelled at– actually yelled at– for daring to criticize some of Jerry’s more bigoted and hateful statements (like blaming the LGBTQ community for 9/11). I didn’t even say the words “bigoted” and “hateful”– I said they were “ridiculous” and got yelled at. By a professor. Not a professor I ever studied under, but still.

However, this whole situation is not entirely Liberty’s fault. Liberty is a conservative Christian college. It just is, and I don’t have a problem with the existence of conservative Christian higher education. They fill a certain niche desire, and I’m not going to fault conservative Christian parents or students for wanting to find a place that fits their ideology– after all, many people from all walks of life at least partly evaluate colleges and whether or not they want to attend based on questions like “does this institution align with my values?” The prioritization may change depending on the individual, but I know I look at places like the University of Michigan and think I want to go to there because of their reputation for student activism and an anti-military/industrial stance.

What does anger me are people who say things like “if I see a Liberty university graduate’s resumé, I won’t even consider them.” I went to Liberty University, and guess what? I’m a liberal, pro-choice feminist with socialist-considering-Marxism political tendencies. I think the Democratic party isn’t liberal enough. I’m almost of the opinion that capitalism (at least in its current cis-hetero-white-supremacist-patriarchal incarnation) is evil. Most conservative Christians would point at pretty much any thing I think about God, the Bible, and Jesus and start screaming “heretic!” and “burn her!”

I went to Liberty because of the circumstances of my life at the time. I enjoyed my experience there, and I, personally, learned a lot. It’s where I became a feminist, it’s where I started questioning biblical literalism. It’s where I took a class in dystopian literature and realized that books written by non-white dudes are spectacularly awesome. It’s where my Romantic literature professor asked me to read Frankenstein through a post-modern lens. It’s where another professor got so happy he cried when I was the first student he’d ever had to truly get the effect that Derrida had on Christian theology (we can thank fundamentalism for that one. I read Derrida like an Enlightenment-educated person would have in the 60s).

So for every person who mocks and dismisses and belittles anyone who graduates from a conservative Christian college, you can take your ignorance and condescension and shove it.

 Photo by Taber Bain

addressing accusations that I'm a liar

I don’t know how to describe how I’m feeling right now. I’m shaken, and angry. Deeply disappointed, shocked … and horrified.

Someone who is claiming to have been “close” with me when I was at Pensacola Christian College is accusing me of being a liar and of ripping all of my stories off of her from the brief time when we were roommates in college.

Because this person is a part of the post-fundamentalist survivor community, and because she’s claiming to have known me well, I’m going to address her accusations and claims one by one.

True, we’ve “known” each other for years. We met, officially, when we were roommates for a little while when we were both taking extra courses after the semester had ended. Because there were so few people left on campus and my normal circle of friends were all at home, she took me under her wing and I got to hang out with her friend group, which I very much appreciated. The next semester however, things went back to normal and we went back to our own friend groups. So yes, we “knew” each other, but our relationship was fairly … superficial. She was not what I would call a “close friend,” and never was.

However, she claims that she “knows everything about me,” which is just … laughably ridiculous. We were roommates for two weeks, and did not move in the same social circles– although those circles occasionally peripherally touched through one of my best friends (who, for the record, doesn’t think I’m lying and actually knows everything about me).

She claims that my parents “catered to my every whim,” that they paid my way through college, that I never had to work a day in my life, “not in undergrad, at least,” all of which is completely false.

I worked for housekeeping, cleaning the MacKenzie building bathrooms and lobby while I was a student. Later, I got a job working at Kohl’s as a cashier, intending for it to be a summer job, but I got permission from the administration to start working in March, because I was in “training” (this was a highly unusual decision. I’m still surprised they let me do any of this). I would leave after my copy writing class, usually, driving 1 1/2 to get there,work until 11 or midnight, then drive 20 minutes to get home, sleep, then wake up in time to make the hour-long drive back to campus in time for my 8 am class.

Before I attended PCC, when I decided I wanted to go to college my senior year, my piano teacher started placing me in a lot of competitions where you could win money or scholarships. Through my dedication and extreme amount of work, I put together enough scholarship money to cover 1/4 of my college tuition and room and board. My parents paid the rest, which I have never once claimed that they didn’t. In the article that I wrote for RHE, I even explicitly stated that my parents had been supportive of my undergrad degree. I supported myself through graduate school, paying my own bills and rent and buying my own groceries. I had to go into debt in order to buy groceries.

My family– as I have stated repeatedly— did not enter the heavy Christian fundamentalism until I was 10 years old. As I have stated before, we didn’t start following the strict “modesty” standards until that point. So yes, in a way I “grew up wearing jeans” if you count up until I was 10. After that point, I was never allowed to wear anything that wasn’t extremely, extremely “modest.” Everyone in my church wore the Hyles-Anderson culotte pattern with the gigantic yolk and massive pleats (which I have posted photographic evidence of on my blog) until my sophomore year in college. At that point, my parents had left the crazy church-cult and one of my best friends dragged me to the mall to buy me a pair of jeans– an experience I have written about. It was my first pair of jeans in 11 years. I have been forthcoming and straightforward about all of this.

I’m not exactly sure how watching “How I Met Your Mother” is relevant to all of her accusations that I’m a liar, except that I had never seen an episode until graduate school. My parents didn’t even have cable for a long time– our next door neighbor would record Star Trek: Voyager for us every week. I remember dashing over to their house if we got home from church early enough so that we could watch it that night. I introduced my mother to HIMYM, who was initially a little disturbed that every joke was about sex until she decided it was hysterically funny. I still haven’t seen the last season, so please no spoilers!

As for “Really, the worst thing that ever happened to her was some of the more peripheral horribleness occasionally had a vague effect on her,” …. that … all I can say is wow do you not know anything about my life at all. Our church experience was so bad that my mother was suicidal. I have had entire messages preached against me– just me– from the pulpit. It has taken me so many years trying to process and overcome my experience because of that horrible church, and I’m still trying to do so. I am utterly blown away that a woman who barely knows anything about me thinks she can assert something like this.

I’ve never shared enough detail about my rape on my blog, or on facebook, or with any of my friends that she could possibly make a claim that my details are “constantly shifting.” We went to a funeral, then we went out to look at the chapel we were getting married in, then we drove to his home, then he raped me. She claims that my assertion that “I didn’t know I was raped until two years later” is false because I apparently screamed “rape!” while he was raping me– which, I have no idea where she got that from. I have said– repeatedly– that I begged him to stop, that I told him “no” over and over again, and I did not know that meant that he was raping me. I was utterly convinced because of all the messages I got from purity culture that I must have done something to lead him on, that I must be to blame somehow, even though I said no, and that has been my consistent message the entire time I’ve been blogging.

As for this notion that I’ve ripped stories off of her? Well… ok, we both had our fair share of experiences in extremely conservative fundamentalism, and I honestly don’t remember that much of her story, except that it was utterly heartbreaking. We talked some about her experiences with ATI– which I had never heard of until she started talking about it, although now that I’m more familiar with Gothard it’s obvious my ‘pastor’ was– while we were roommates. It seems entirely possible that we’d have extremely similar experiences at some points.

So… yeah. I’m really sick that someone would claim to know me so well when so many of her accusations are demonstrably, provably false. It’s insane to me that she’s claiming to know much more than she actually does in order to accuse me of being a liar.

You can make what you will of her accusations if you’ve heard them. I can’t control who believes me, and I’ve been accused of being a liar before. But what hurts me the most is that she’s accusing me of exploiting rape victims in order to be famous. That cuts so deeply, because I have never wanted to be “famous.” If you actually knew me, you’d know that I’ve stayed up at night, panicking, because I’d gotten 500 hits on my blog that day, crying while my partner held me because I was so freaked out that people were reading my blog. I’ve had a lot of opportunities since I’ve started blogging, and every single last one of them has been terrifying. I want to help victims of sexual violence because I am one, and I know what it’s like to have no one believe you.

Waking up to this this morning has been … beyond words. But I had to address this because this person is claiming to be “close to me,” to have access to details and information she’s never had. If any of you saw her post making any of these accusations, I hope you’ll take what I have to say here into account. I apologize if this sounds a little scattered, but this was a difficult thing to wake up to and I’m having a hard time dealing with it.


I'm a feminist because of men

holding hands

During my sophomore year, my male piano instructor announced he was leaving Pensacola Christian College, and I asked him why. One of the reasons he gave stuck with me, especially over the next few years as he was proven right many times. He claimed that PCC’s administration did not treat women with dignity— which at first I completely dismissed. But my junior year, a job opening became available for the Campus Church’s orchestra director, and they hired a man who was obviously not as qualified as the woman who applied for it. Later that year, they gave the College Choir to another man, even though another, more qualified woman wanted to direct it– but she was denied. They were both told “no” for no other reason than they were women and the position would require them to demonstrate leadership inside of a church building.

When I was in graduate school, a male colleague told me that I should watch Mad Men because “I would be one of the few people who actually get it.” I watched all three seasons during spring break that semester, and came back asking how he’d known the show would click with me that well. “Because you lived that life,” matter-of-factly. “You know what it’s like to be a woman in an environment like that.” Over the next few months we talked about Joan, and Peggy, and Betty, and parsed out how each woman could only try to make a good life for themselves based on the tools they’d been given. We talked about Joan earning her partnership, about Peggy learning to live with being a “humorless bitch,” and about Betty trying to use what she saw as her one and only asset– being a pretty and submissive woman.

I met my partner, and we started e-mailing back and forth, covering a ridiculously wide range of topics. He told me he’d gotten into an intense debate about whether or not women could hold leadership positions in church, and asked me what I thought. When my answer was “I don’t know,” he bought Women in Ministry for us to read, and became an egalitarian before I did.

When I told him that my father was expecting him to ask permission to date me, his gut reaction was “aren’t you offended by that? You’re an adult– that means you get to make your own decisions.” I told my father I was dating (and kissing) a week later, and stood my ground through the few weeks of fallout that followed.

After I got married I started reading blogs, and found #FemFest through Preston Yancey; reading his post was the final catalyst I need to finally, finally claim feminism for myself.

But . . . I realized I had always been a feminist.

I was a feminist when a boy I’d never spoken to said he was “breaking up with me” in order to impress the girl he actually liked and I called him on it in front of all of his friends.

I was a feminist when bullies were throwing rocks at a black boy and I shouted at them to stop– and when I hid with him under the playground equipment until they went away.

I was a feminist when three boys told me to “pick one of them,” because “they wouldn’t fight over me” and I said “you’re all gross, go away.”

I was a feminist when boys tried to manipulate me with physical threats and I would not be cowed by them.

I was a feminist when I defied the leadership of my church and went to college anyway.

I was a feminist when I stared my rapist straight in the eyes and refused to allow him to take my future away from me.

I didn’t openly start calling myself a feminist until February last year, and although it’s just a label, it’s an idea that felt like coming home. I’m a feminist, I could say and make the world make just a tiny bit more sense.

But it was some very good men who helped get me here.


my abusive relationship was typical

while a student at PCC
[in PCC’s Student Commons, taken during the relationship]
{content note: abuse, sexual violence}

Last week, I wrote an article for xoJane and I shared some things about my past that I haven’t shared on the internet before. I don’t enjoy talking about my abusive relationship at all, and I especially avoid thinking about my last semester at PCC, which was nightmarish with exceedingly few good memories. I was extremely vulnerable in that piece, knowing that there would be people around the internet that would shit on it.

And shit on it they did. Thankfully xoJane actually moderates their comment section and they don’t allow rape apologia, so most of the truly horrific comments have been removed. However, several people expressed confusion about the events I had related in the story, and I was slapped in the face, again, with how much people just don’t know about what abusers do and how abuse functions in relationships. Most of them thought that the events, as I related them, falsified my story in some way and opened the door to some “other side” that could offer an alternate explanation.

Before I start talking about what these people don’t understand, I’m going to share a brief timeline so that the basic facts are clear.

  • I started officially dating “John” in February 2008, although we’d been casually dating since September 2007.
  • He’d always used emotional manipulation and coercion, but he escalated this in March.
  • The physical and sexual abuse began during summer break.
  • He proposed in August 2008.
  • He raped me in January 2009.
  • He raped me again in July.
  • We had a rather significant fight during the first week in September, and then another. On September 14 I told him that he could not call me a “goddamn fucking bitch” anymore.
  • He ended our engagement on September 25.
  • He began calling my dorm room/cell phone repeatedly, even after I told him to stop.
  • He began physically stalking me.
  • I was assigned a chapel seat near John at mid-terms.
  • I went to Student Life in early November, requesting a seat change. They refused.
  • I stopped going to the cafeteria for meals, afraid that he would be there.
  • He stalked me for six straight hours on Thanksgiving. The last two hours was a constant barrage of “why won’t you just talk to me?!” that ended with me screaming at him.
  • I started spending most of my time in my friend’s apartment.
  • I graduated in December 2009.
  • He sent me a facebook message on New Year’s Eve, which I ignored, which led to him sending me another dozen messages saying “Sam. Sam. Sam. Sam. WHY ARE YOU IGNORING ME.”
  • He sent me another facebook message during the summer of 2011, saying “I was thinking about you, if you ever wanted to talk…” I told him to never contact me again, then blocked him (again, not sure how he became un-blocked), blocked his entire family, and blocked  any “mutual” friends we had.

To anyone who has escaped an abusive relationship, or to someone who knows how abusive relationships operate, this will all seem very familiar. There isn’t a single thing about this timeline that isn’t shared by thousands of other intimate partner abuse victims. However, to commenters on xoJane and reddit and other places, this timeline makes me seem like a liar.

He broke your engagement?
Why didn’t you break it off with him if he really raped you?
Why would you be engaged to someone like this?
Seems like you’re just a bitter bitch because he dumped you.
Why would he want to talk to you if he broke it off?

All of these comments revealed that an awful lot of people have absolutely no clue how abusers work. Which, in one sense, I suppose is a good thing. I learned first-hand, and I would never wish this experience on anyone. However, the one thing that these people desperately need to understand is that my story is typical. There is nothing unusual, or in the words of one commenter, “fishy” about it.

There’s plenty of amazing resources already written on things like the Cycle of Violence/Abuse (first written about by Lenore Walker in Battered Woman Syndome). We also know that it can be extremely difficult for people, especially women, to escape intimate partner violence– and that many women have attempted to leave their abusive relationship six or seven times. Complicate all of those factors with the ingrained belief that you are literally ruined for any other relationship and no one else will ever want you, and you have something close to approximating my situation.

Most of the commenter’s questions oriented around what happened after he ended our engagement, though– if he broke it off, why would he follow you all over campus begging to talk to you? Couldn’t it be possible that you were exaggerating how bad things really were and he’d had a change of heart? That he really did want to be with you? That he’d changed?

First of all: there’s a reason why the Cycle of Abuse is so damn effective, and that would be it. Women don’t start believing in the Cycle of Abuse because they’re in an abusive relationship– they already believe it before the abuse even begins. Every single time the abuser apologizes and they enter the “Honeymoon Phase,” that is exactly what the victims says to themselves. It’s not actually that bad. Look, see, he’s trying. I just have to make sure he doesn’t lose control again [hint: abusers don’t actually lose control]. And we believe those thoughts because they are given to us by our culture.

Second, abuse is about dominance and power. Abusers abuse because they want to control other people. Just because John had ended our engagement does not mean that he no longer wanted to control me– in fact, it was the exact opposite. When he broke it off, his justification was “I just can’t trust that you’re going to be a godly, submissive wife.” He ended our engagement because I was finally only beginning to realize that I could stand up for myself. I looked him in the eyes and said no and enforced that no. That was why he ended it– it was a tactic in order to re-assert control.

For a month, it even worked. For four miserable weeks I was eager to prove to him that I could be submissive. That I could obey. That I would be what he wanted. For those weeks he manipulated me– encouraging those thoughts, telling me that he didn’t really want our relationship to end, that he’d consider getting back together.

But then I got angry. Furious. It was like I woke up from a dream and I finally saw all of his fucking shit and I got mad. I was angry at him, angry at my parents, angry at my friends, angry at the world, but mostly I was enraged with myself. How could I have let him do that to me! I didn’t understand anything I know now– that I’d been groomed basically my entire life for an abusive relationship by complementarianism and biblical patriarchy. So, one night, when he called my dorm room at one o’clock in the morning asking if we could have a “do-over,” if we could just “erase everything that happened,” if we could just get back together like nothing ever happened

I told him no.

I said fucking hell no.

And that’s when he started stalking me.

Because he’d lost control.

He knew that I’d woken up– that I knew who he was, and he was desperate to make sure that everyone believed that he was the victim, that I was the stone-hearted bitch that wouldn’t take him back, that I was the crazy one, that he was doing everything he could, but, well, I was the problem because I didn’t “want to make it work.” I became the bad guy, and he made sure everyone knew it. He’d lost control of me, so he’d control what everyone else thought of me. He would not allow anyone to believe me.

That’s what abusers do.