Browsing Tag

abuse

Feminism

Redeeming Love: Family Love

And now, after a long hiatus, we’re digging back in to the Redeeming Love review. If you want to catch up with the review series, you can find the other entries here; there are plot summaries at the top of each post.

[content note for discussions of emotional abuse and trauma]

Plot Summary:

  • The Altmans move into Michael’s cabin.
  • Angel begins liking them, even growing to love some of the children.
  • She becomes convinced Miriam, the sixteen year old, is a better partner for Michael.
  • The Altmans’ buy a section of Michael’s land a build a cabin.
  • Francine reveals that Angel committed incest in order to punish her birth father.
  • Michael and Angel have sex again after she tells him all of that.
  • Then she disappears.

***

At this point in the narrative, Michael stops his physical and verbal violence. He’s not dragging her around, literally kicking and screaming, he’s not abducting her, he’s not telling her how much he’d love to kill her, and every other horrific thing we’ve seen him do up to this point. No: now, we start getting much subtler emotional abuse from him. This isn’t usually how abusers operate; usually it’s the reverse with emotional abuse escalating into physical violence (and abusers may never use physical violence at all). However, despite the order Francine has written, this is where we start seeing the abuse take its toll on Angel.

It’s interesting to me that Francine would most likely be quite horrified at the idea that she’s written a nearly textbook example of an abuser in Michael Hosea, and yet Angel still responds to him in the way a victim responds to abuse. Like here:

Watching John, Angel was reminded of all those weeks Michael had cared for her after Magowan’s beating. She remembered his tender care and consideration. He had tolerated her worst insults with quiet patience. (244)

This is about the halfway point of Redeeming Love, and up until now Angel has maintained that Michael took her somewhere she did not want to be, and was keeping her there against her will. Every attempt at escaping him was met with violence or threats of murder. She was firm in herself, firm in what she wanted, and very firm of her idea of Michael: really no different than every other man she’d known who believed they could take and control anything they wanted, including her body. She’s never been an autonomous person and Michael is just another roadblock to the independence she craves. Remember, Francine has set up this desire for autonomy as literally a temptation from Satan himself.

But now her framing of what happened when he abducted her is shifting. He didn’t force a marriage onto her while she was delirious and then drag her out to the middle of nowhere: he was tender, caring, considerate. She was actually the one with the problem.

Or here:

Tirzah. His desire for her was in that name. Angel felt a tingling warmth run down into her belly when he said it. Tirzah. (261)

Before when he called her anything that wasn’t her name, she would assert herself and correct him. Now, though? Now she’s accepting it. She’s accepting his gradual over-writing of herself and her identity. She’s adopting what he thinks she is and should be. “She didn’t even belong to herself anymore” (252), and the resistance is slowly being beaten out of her.

This couldn’t get any more textbook. Abusers need victims to identify themselves as the problem: a problem that is fixed by subverting our identities and desires in favor of what the abuser wants. Angel is slowly capitulating to Michael’s assault on the very core of who she is as a person, and learning to accept his view of their relationship: he the tender lover, she the stubborn fool.

We can also see another abusive dynamic here:

He wants children, she thought … What if he knew she couldn’t have them? Would his love for her die then? (247)

This is not an unreasonable question, although Francine expects her reader to answer the question with “of course not!” Except Angel knows what all victims know: an abuser’s love is conditional. It’s extremely common for male abusers to be extremely reactive concerning a female victim’s reproduction, too—whether they became pregnant when their abuser did not desire it, or aren’t becoming pregnant when their abuser wants them to.

The other characters also participate in normalizing everything Angel’s been subjected to, even though they don’t know Michael abducted her and married her when she was barely conscious, or that he’s taken to calling her whatever he feels like. In one scene, a younger child calls her “Mandy” (they all think her name is Amanda), and then the eldest child, Miriam, says “I think I’ll call you Miss Priss” (251). No one is allowing Angel her name or identity. Later, Miriam declares “I love you whether you like it or not” (235).

The relationship between Angel and the Altmans display the same relationship style that Francine wants to emphasize: God’s love is irresistible, unending, unyielding, relentless. The Altmans’ relentlessly “love” Angel in a not-romantic analog to Michael’s treatment of her. In the narrative, this slowly wins Angel over just like she’s slowly being absorbed by Michael’s vision for her. They give her gifts she doesn’t want and scream insults at her when she says she doesn’t want them (“idiotic child” 252), they do everything around the farm even when she begins to feel useless, and every time she says something about herself she’s contradicted by who they think she is.

Anytime she tries to assert herself, (“Angel,” she said under her breath. “My name’s Angel.”) it’s portrayed as either resentment or bitterness. Through these chapters we start to get another heavy-handed helping of Francine’s evangelical Christian view of bitterness. Miriam accuses Angel of purposely carrying around baggage with her that she could voluntarily set down, and on the next page makes it clear that the “baggage” she’s talking about is “bitterness” (254-55). Later, when she emotionally withdraws some from the group, Miriam complains to Michael that “she’s hurting herself” (271).

Angel’s reactions are all extremely typical of abuse victims. Keep in mind that Angel was raped constantly and physically abused beginning at age 8 and that experience has continued pretty much non-stop for over a decade. When she responds a way anyone with trauma would, however, it’s not portrayed as reasonable or something a compassionate person should accommodate. Instead, her behavior is universally condemned by the other characters in the book.

Angel has flashbacks and triggers, and after experiencing an episode is anxious and irritable, a nearly classic example of PTSD. Other symptoms of PTSD: avoiding crowds, wanting to keep busy, avoiding relationships, viewing the world as harsh and dangerous … Whenever Angel displays one of these, however, someone comments that she’s only hurting herself or she’s bitterly clinging to the past.

This is a pretty common view of PTSD among American evangelical Christians. Their solution is as simple as Miriam’s: just stop carrying the baggage. But when Angel tells her it’s not that easy and a lot more complicated than that, Francine makes it clear that Angel’s view is the wrong one and it’s just her sinful nature and Satan whispering in her ear that makes her think so.

***

Also relevant: the entire Altman clan thinks Michael is just so perfect and wonderful and godly and loving. Gee it’s great that most Christians don’t view abusers this way. It’s not like we put them up on pedestals or elect them President or something.

Feminism

abusers and the good times

I bought Adele’s 21 album spontaneously. A few of her songs were coming up somewhat regularly on the Pandora station I listened to at work, so when I spotted her album standing in line at Starbucks while on a road trip up to New Jersey I couldn’t help myself. That afternoon was the first time I heard “Someone Like You” and I did not understand it. At all. Later, some colleagues were talking about their favorite breakup songs and after sharing mine– “King of Anything” by Sara Bareilles–  someone said “Someone Like You” was theirs. I snatched at the opportunity to understand what the hell “Someone Like You” is about and why it’s not really really creepy. The conversation didn’t really help, but the last thing they offered has stuck with me:

“Sam, you probably don’t get it because you’ve never broken up with someone you were still in love with.”

I wanted to argue– but I couldn’t. I was still in love with my ex at the time he broke our engagement, but the heartbreak only lasted about a month and then I was nothing but pissed at him. Since those days I’ve come to appreciate the blinding fury that propelled me through the early months of escaping an abusive relationship. For me, there wasn’t any redeeming quality to that relationship. There was nothing worth holding on to, nothing I could remember fondly. He was an abuser, a rapist, and that was all there was to him and our “relationship.”

***

One of the most common statements I hear from people recovering from abusive relationships is something along these lines:

It would be easier if they’d been horrible 100% of the time, but they weren’t. Sometimes, they could be so sweet and caring. It makes me second-guess whether or not it was abuse– how could they be an abuser and be so gentle and loving sometimes?

Here’s the thing I want every abuse victim and survivor to understand: your abuser was horrible all of the time. Yes. Even when they brought you soup when you were sick, or bought you flowers for no reason.

Being “nice” is part of the abuse.

I think we all understand this intellectually. Lenore Walker created the “Cycle of Abuse” model all the way back in 1979, and the pattern she identified hasn’t changed in the decades since she wrote The Battered Woman Syndrome. Most of us are familiar with the three phases: tension building, event/episode, and the honeymoon period. On one level, we probably all know that the times when our abuser is being nice to us is the honeymoon. I bring this up every single time someone asks “why did you stay?” Abusive relationships are not actively violent every single second of every single day, 100% of the time. If it was unremitting agony, no one would stay. Abusers are absolutely dependent on the honeymoon phase — however brief or long it is– to keep their victims with them.

However, there’s more to it than that. Yes, abusers have to be “nice” sometimes or we’d quickly realize there’s nothing to keep us in a relationship. Why Does He Do That? isn’t a perfect book (for one, it relies on gender essentialism for significant parts of its argument) but one thing I do agree with Bancroft on is that if there’s a universal quality in abusers, it’s entitlement. Whatever abusive tactics they use, the goal is to guarantee their victims give them what they feel entitled to. The reason why we can identify similarities and patterns in abusive situations is that abusers are only doing what’s the most effective at getting another human being to cooperate with their entitlement.

On top of guaranteeing cooperation, abusers use “niceness” in the same exact way they use emotional or physical pain. There is not a single shred of genuine care about you and what your needs are. They are not bringing you soup because they were motivated by compassion during your illness. An abuser, by being nice, is getting what they want from you the same way hitting you or demeaning you gets them what they want. Sometimes they want you cowering in fear, but sometimes they want to be worshiped.

Something all survivors understand is that abuse resets your expectations. What you consider acceptable changes to accommodate the escalating abuse, and after a while the constant anxiety and hypervigilance becomes our baseline. When we get any relief from that, or any glimpse of kindness from an abuser, there’s a tendency to fall to our mental knees in gratitude. We’re used to violence and disparagement, and suddenly we’re offered a ray of hope.

Abusers know this.

They’re looking for it. They feel entitled to that gratitude; they crave it. Victims, like anyone else when they’re offered what looks like kindness, express their thanks in one way or another. Except that thankfulness is heightened because we’ve been trained not to expect it, and the end result is that an abuser does something “nice” in order to bask in our gratitude for their mercy. They’re doing it because it allows them to feel magnanimous and noble– look at them, doing something good for the miserable little worm they live with. Their victim certainly doesn’t deserve their kindness, but aren’t they just the most good and loving person for bestowing it?

A second side-effect of all of this is that abusers have to go barely out of their way at all to “earn” a worshipful reaction from their victim. In conversations I’ve had over the last eight years I’ve heard so many people talk about all the good things their abuser did for them like those infinitesimally small acts were fireworks in the park. Oh, but one day they did the laundry when I was so ill I couldn’t get out of bed! They cooked dinner that one time! They thought of me when I was giving an important presentation and sent me an encouraging text!

The abuse makes us lose sight of what an above-and-beyond act really is. The “nice” things abusers do are almost always things that any basically decent human being would do for someone they care about. I had to be married to Handsome for literally years before I understood this. Yes, I appreciate all the things he does and tell him so. But him doing the dishes? Not a spectacular thing. I cooked us dinner, he does the dishes. It’s not that he’s so awesome for doing the dishes, it’s that he’d be kind of a jerk if he never contributed.

So, yes. Even the good times were bad.

I understand clinging to the scant good memories we have– some days in the midst of the abuse it’s all we have to go on. Most of the “grandest” gestures my abuser made came during the darkest days, and I was just so awestruck at the time. I’d exclaim about how wonderful he was to all my friends and they’d look at me sideways because I was going on and on about a note he’d written on a 3×5 card. Just … Christ. That was not that great, but I’d learned to expect otherwise.

Them being “nice” to you sometimes shouldn’t make you question whether or not it was abuse. The tricks an abuser uses to keep you trapped or to bask in your gratitude aren’t niceness. It’s just more of the abuse.

Photo by Roman Pfeiffer
Feminism

why aren’t Christians outraged by sexual abuse?

Because I wrote an article for Relevant a while ago (“What Christians Get Wrong about Sexual Abuse“), every so often I get e-mails from their editors asking for pitches on specific topics. This week, they asked for an article titled “Why Aren’t More Christians Outraged by Sexual Harassment Scandals?”, referencing the recent firing of Bill O’Reilly for sexually harassing women at Fox News. I pitched them something, and they published it yesterday.

You can read the whole thing here. I’m a little annoyed at Relevant‘s habit of sanitizing my writing. They removed me quoting Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” line, as well as the word rapacious and various other things. But … considering my first draft included the line “women are just supposed to be animated sex dolls that occasionally do the dishes” (which I cut in later drafts, upon reflection) I may be just a little out of touch with what an evangelical audience can tolerate. Possibly. Have I mentioned lately how much I love you all for reading me even when I’m horrifyingly honest?

The comments so far have been, ehm, interesting. There’s lots of lovely people saying surprisingly lovely things, and a few people who are … goddess bless them they’re just so clueless.

The semester is really close to wrapping up– my last item is due May 5, and then I have the summer off. Sticky notes for post ideas are piling up on my desk, and I’m excited to get back to that. For now, I’m going to enjoy a lone day off and play some Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited.

Feminism

Redeeming Love Review: Non-consensual Marriage

Plot summary:

  • Michael gives in to “God,” goes back to Pair-a-Dice for Angel.
  • He discovers that she’s been beaten.
  • Marries her while she’s nearly unconscious and delirious.
  • Then he takes her back to the farm, where she recuperates.
  • Angel tries to learn how to cook and lay a fire, but fails.
  • She tries to seduce him, but he refuses.

***

I’m going to skip most of chapter six, which is mostly just Francine getting Michael back to Pair-a-Dice and the Palace to “get” Angel, where he finds her beaten and nearly unconscious. This firms up his belief that he’s been ordered by God to take her away, but he decides they have to get married before they leave town.

Right now I’m wondering why on earth Francine thinks they have to get married right then. The next few chapters reveals that he’s not intending to have sex with her until she’s not doing it as a “chore,” so there’s no motivation to marry her for that reason. Everyone knows she’s a prostitute, so it’s not to “protect her reputation” (like what frequently happens in other Christian romance novels). So why marry her right this instant, when it’s absolutely clear that she’s in no state to consent to being married and he knows that she wants nothing to do with him?

I don’t want to be so cynical to assume that Francine has these two get married at this point so that Angel is trapped in a marriage she doesn’t want, but there’s no other narrative reason I can see that makes sense. It’s possible she has them get married so that she doesn’t offend the delicate sensibilities of the modern conservative evangelical reader, but as far as story telling goes this is pretty horrible. It’s especially horrible considering the fact that laws of coverture where still in place. By marrying her, knowing that if she knew what was going on she never would have even said “why not?” (note there: she doesn’t say “yes,” and Michael is such an abominable monster where that is good enough for him), he now actually, literally, legally owns a woman he knows doesn’t want to be married to him.

And that’s how this whole situation starts.

There’s one significant issue being woven into these chapters that needs to be highlighted. At several points, Francine gives us something like this:

Angel couldn’t tell whether her sarcasm had gotten to him or not. It occurred to her belatedly that she might anger him and this wasn’t the best time to do so. She swallowed more soup and tried not to show her fear. (105)

and this:

What did he want from her? And why did she sense he was more dangerous than all the other men she had ever known? (110)

Angel’s backstory has made it clear that she’s experienced a lifetime of abuse, and people like me see Angel’s reactions to Michael’s every facial expression and vocal tone as hypervigilance, but frustratingly that’s not an interpretation we can take for granted in Redeeming Love. People like Francine aren’t entirely ignorant about what some of the consequences of abuse might be, it’s just that they look at something like hypervigilance and see bitterness instead. In this story, the reader “understands” that Michael is nothing like the abusive men Angel’s experienced. We’re supposed to take him at his word when he says he’ll never hurt her, that he loves her. Instead, we’re supposed to look at Angel’s mental commentary as a sign that she is bitter, and her own understanding of the situation isn’t to be trusted. She’s over-reacting.

The reality is that the opposite of this is true. In my experience, many Christians, especially those who ascribe to “nouthetic” or “biblical” counseling, take Francine’s point of view: trauma can result in bitterness, and that bitterness can poison a victim’s entire way of thinking … but they couldn’t be more wrong. In reality, victims are usually more capable of spotting abuse than people who haven’t been traumatized. Couple this over-writing of how victimhood is typically experienced with the fact that this section is called “Defiant” and she starts these chapters with quotations like “I am dying of thirst by the side of a fountain,” it’s clear that the reader is supposed to see Angel as stubborn, bitter, and inherently untrustworthy as a narrator.

What makes it worse is that Michael is doing things that are abusive.

“By the way. My name isn’t Mara. It’s Angel. …”
“The name Mara comes from the Bible,” he said, “It’s in the book of Ruth.”
“And being a Bible-reading man, you figure Angel is too good a name for me.”
“Good’s got nothing to do with it. Angel isn’t your real name.”
“Angel is who I am.”
His face hardened. “Angel was a prostitute in Pair-a-Dice, and she doesn’t exist anymore.” (105)

One of the first things an abuser has to do is erase their victim’s innate sense of personhood and their right to their own sense of self. They intentionally strip their victim of their own identity, and replace it with what they want their victim to be.

Then this happens:

“Look,” she said tightly, “I want to start getting up and about on my own. With something on.”
“I’ll provide what you need when you need it.”
“I need it now.” (113)

He does give her clothes to wear in this scene, but it’s brutally clear that he did it because he decided she needed them, not because she said she needed them. Another thing abusers have to do is make sure their victims are dependent on them. Sometimes this takes the form of financial abuse, sometimes they make their victims feel that they’re incapable and incompetent, but it’s all about making sure they can’t leave you. This particular scene is troubling because it’s one of the ones that connects Michael’s character to God’s: a common Christian concept is that God provides us exactly what we need when They decide we need it, and not a second earlier.

Oh, and then this:

Michael studied her with patience. She was small and weak but possesed and iron will. It shone from her defiant blue eyes and the rigid way she was holding herself. She thought she had enough to overcome him. She was wrong. He was doing God’s will, and he had plans of his own, plans that kept growing, but he had said all he was going to say for a while. Let her think on it.

“You’re right,” he said. “I don’t own you, but you’re not running away from this.”

He’s saying he doesn’t own her, but he does feel entitled to her. He explains his “plans” in a bit– additions to the house, watching their children grow up– but at this moment there’s something missing from his statement: she’s not running away because he won’t let her. If you’ve read Redeeming Love before, you know that the implied threat there is ultimately carried out.

This is what makes me say that Michael is an abuser: his overwhelming sense of entitlement. That is the single biggest problem that all abusers share. Universally, abusers feel entitled to their victim. They believe that they have the absolute right to marry a woman who’s been beaten into delirium and rename her and threaten her and tell her she’s going to have his kids while she is vocally objecting the entire time. Can you even picture a man who you barely know sitting across from you on a coffee date telling you that you’re going to marry him and have his children and oh, by the way, you keep saying you want to leave but I’m not going to let you?

The fact that Francine and a vast majority of the people who read Redeeming Love think that Michael is an excellent stand-in for God is detestable and horrifying.

Feminism

what hast thou wrought: Christians and Trump

I’ve read a lot of articles about Donald Trump. If you look at my last “stuff I’ve been into” post, there’s about a half-dozen articles on him that represents the best-of-the-best of my reading on the subject. I’ve got a lot of angry-and/or-panicking friends on social media, so I’m inundated with quite a bit of material that represent a gamut of positions. My friends range from hard right, center-right, center-left, and hard-hard-hard-hard-left, and one of the biggest conversation topics shared among all these groups is this question:

How can Christians be voting for him?

I’ve already explained why I think Christians shouldn’t be voting for Trump, but now I’d like to take a stab at why Christians– namely white evangelicals– are supporting him in even greater numbers than they supported Romney. There’s been multitudes of ink spilled attempting to answer this, and the obvious answer is white supremacy. Evangelicals exist as a voting bloc because of racism. Trump with all of his flagrant racism is calling to one of the most basic motivations of the evangelical movement, and we ignore this to our detriment. Another obvious answer is misogyny. He embodies everything wrong with masculinity in American culture– braggadocio, chauvinism, narcissism, anger, insecurity– but it’s appealing to those among us who see powerful women and feminism as an innate threat to their manhood or their sense of social order.

The internet is filled to the brim with articles covering all those reasons, as well as plenty of articles pointing out all the ways that Trump’s actions, history, and proposed policies are antithetical to everything Christians have been saying they expect in a presidential candidate for decades. Like having family values. Or being a Christian. So, a lot of my friends are confused: how is this possible? On top of the fore-mentioned white supremacy and misogyny that are integral to evangelical culture, I’d like to highlight two more elements that make supporting Trump a foregone conclusion for so many evangelicals.

Abortion

Yes, this is also obvious. Wayne Grudem even included Trump’s supposed pro-life platform as a part of his argument for why Trump is a “morally good choice.” What’s been confusing to many of my friends is that Trump’s “pro-life” position is recent and possibly a lie, so how can evangelicals be staking an election on something they can’t possibly be sure of?

The answer is simple: Hillary Clinton is pro-choice, and will appoint pro-choice judges to the Supreme Court. Trump, while perhaps not personally pro-life, will most likely appoint pro-life judges to the Supreme Court.

They have to take that chance. They have to because being anti-abortion is all they’ve got. Modern evangelicals and other conservative Christians aren’t, by and large, holistically pro-life in the sense that they consider human life sacred and inestimably valuable. They’re pro-war, pro-death penalty, anti-healthcare, against policies that could end starvation and hunger, anti-gun control, and many even believe that parents should have the right to murder their children once they’re not, y’know, fetuses. They’re not pro-life in any meaningful way, but they are anti-abortion and pro-birth, and holding onto that position makes them incredibly powerful.

With their stance of being a single-issue voter in their back pocket, they control elections. They get to say who stays and who goes, who gets power and who doesn’t, all through this one platform: overturning Roe v. Wade. It’s the Southern Strategy reborn, and there’s no way in hell that they’re going to let go of this, no matter how deep into the muck and slime and mire they have to go to justify it. They’ve staked their soul on this ground. This is the line in the sand they’ve drawn.

Granted, there are plenty of anti-abortion Christians who aren’t being cynical and hypocritical about this. Their theological system simply cannot let them back down from this political position, because if they were to accept the concept that private faith and public life aren’t necessarily eternally bonded concepts, a lot of other things start unraveling. Or, if they were to shift their thinking about abortion from a biblical perspective, the whole house of cards might come crashing down. They can’t afford to question this, because questioning their stance on abortion means questioning everything. It means reassessing their identity, their character, their morality. It means re-examining almost everything they’ve ever done and said to women, to children, to their LGBT brothers and sisters … to orphans and widows and prisoners.

I’ve done it. It’s painful. Too painful, possibly, for many.

Redemption

The one element that I haven’t seen anyone talking about is the redemption narrative intrinsic to the evangelical faith system. To many of my friends and colleagues, it’s inconceivable that Christians could look at Trump– a man who sexually abused his wife, who raped a child, who harasses women with impunity, who sent Hillary Clinton a death threat— and think yes, this man represents my Christian values. How could James Dobson say he’s “tender to things of the spirit” or Jerry Falwell claim that he “lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment,” much less do so with a straight face? This man is an abominable monster, and yet Christians are flocking to him. How can this be?

The answer is in two parts. First, “Creation, Fall, Redemption” is essential to understanding the evangelical viewpoint. Mankind fell into sin in the Garden, but Jesus promises us redemption and ultimately resurrection. To them, this narrative is woven into Scripture from beginning to end, and our lives reflect this pattern, this Truth about reality. We are born Fallen but can be Redeemed no matter what, no matter when.

Trump can’t be excepted from this narrative. He’s a fallen sinner, just like the rest of us, and God can redeem him, too. The fact that he’s converting to conservative Christian-style politics is a checkmark in his favor– in a culture where religion and nationalism are horribly mixed, Trump’s promises for “Christians to be powerful again” ring true in their ears. In this only-Republicans-are-really-Christians climate, it’s the only “spiritual fruit” they need. To those who believe that We Are a Christian Nation, Trump’s “Make American Great Again” speaks to their dominionist, theocratic vision for their country.

Secondly… I’m surprised that anyone is surprised.

Yes, Trump is a child rapist. Yes, Trump abused his wife, making her feel “violated.” Yes, Trump has harassed and attacked multiple women. Yes, yes, yes. But if you look around Christian culture, it’s populated by people exactly like him.

Joshua Duggar attacks his sisters and girls from his church, and it’s written off as “normal.” Bill Gothard sexually abuses teenage girls for decades and he’s still the head of a thriving ministry. Pope Francis has participated in a horrific and disgusting cover-up of child sexual abuse, and he even lands a cover on the AdvocatePastors, youth pastors, evangelists, missionaries, priests– they can rape women, men, children, and it doesn’t matter. They’re protected, even given positions of power. They can rape children, be convicted and sent to prison, and still get to write feature articles for Christian leadership magazines. Their churches and missionary boards will cover it up and shelter them.

Christian culture is a haven for abusers.

It’s a shelter for rapists and molesters because of the redemption narrative they cling to. If a rapist or abuser says “I’m sorry, I’ve repented,” anyone who questions that is harshly censored. If a woman wants to divorce her husband because he enjoyed watching people rape children, she’s censored by her church and shunned. Or if your husband “repents” of sexually abusing a child for years, you’ll be the one seen as “breaking your marriage vows” if you decide to leave him. Even if he’s abusing you, according to John Piper you’re just supposed to stick it out. After all, if you listen to Debi Pearl, maybe if he beats you long enough you’ll bring him to a saving knowledge of Christ. Or, maybe Debi Pearl’s too extreme for you– how about Lori Wick, one of the most popular Christian fiction authors?

This is why Trump is succeeding so well among evangelical voters. He’s an abuser, but now he’s converted to their nationalistic, dominionist, theocratic, white supremacist and misogynistic faith, and through that has been Redeemed.

He fits right in.

Photo by Gage Skidmore
Feminism

a new normal: the aftermath of recovery

[content note: trauma, recovery, PTSD]

I’m almost twenty-nine years old. For fourteen years, around half my life, I experienced abuse in various ways. I was physically abused as a child and teenager. I spent my teen years in a spiritually abusive church where I was emotionally, verbally, and spiritually abused by almost every significant adult in my life. I was sexually assaulted twice as a teenager. As an adult I was in an abusive intimate relationship– the emotional and verbal abuse was intensified, and sexual assault and rape became the backdrop to my life. I went to a fundamentalist Christian “college,” where the spiritual abuse continued.

I didn’t escape abusive environments or relationships until I was twenty-three. I’ve been out for almost six years, but didn’t really start attempting to work through everything until four years ago, and I didn’t start making any real progress until two years ago. The healing process is slow, and sometimes excruciating. One of the counselors I went to a few times– the one who told me I was a “poisoned well” and I shouldn’t consider dating Handsome— said that healing would be like “unkinking a hose,” and a more understated metaphor I’ve yet to find.

Over the past few years, I’ve met a lot of people with stories like mine. For many of my friends, peers, and colleagues, we spend a lot of time looking for help, looking for things to help our lives make sense. In that search, I’ve frequently bumped into books, lectures, seminars, tapes, YouTube videos, blog posts, etc, that all talk about healing from abuse and trauma. The problem I’ve encountered is that many of those things aren’t honest about what this process looks like.

They’re not deceptive, by and large, but they do tend to leave one with the impression that healing is a gradual slope upward, and that it leads to peace and recovery. They paint a hopeful picture filled with grace, compassion, and love– and to be perfectly honest, I think those sorts of resources are needful.

But, when I’m looking in the eyes of one of my dearest friends who feels utterly lost and confused because “hasn’t it been long enough? Shouldn’t I be better than this?”– or other women who are beating themselves up one side and down the other because they “don’t want to be a victim,” and they want to “move on” … I have to look at them and say that

I don’t think better looks like other people’s “normal.” I don’t think you can move on.

Better looks like me cleaning out my bathtub. A fleck of mold got on my hand, and I started screaming. Handsome came into the bathroom to find me curled up in the fetal position with my hand stretched out as far away as I could get it. He carried me out of the bathroom and washed my hand for me in our kitchen sink while I sobbed, then tucked me into bed and cuddled with me for an hour before I could even talk.

Better looks like me washing my hair before every road trip and packing dry shampoo. It looks like me standing in the shower at a hotel, shaking and trying not to scream when the shower curtain touches me, while Handsome washes my body and I keep my eyes screwed tight trying to pretend that we’re at home.

Better looks like Handsome and I getting ready for bed, and he takes off his belt and folds it in half to he can hang it up– and I jump away from him and cringe. I don’t know what, but something about his hand movements has my body convinced that I’m about to be hit. He’s never even remotely done anything that could make me think he’d ever hurt me– not with his words, not with his hands. But it doesn’t matter. I jump away from belts.

Better looks like me turning off the subwoofer during Jurassic World because the throbbing bass makes my chest hurt and my anxiety spike.

Better looks like me searching all over my house desperately searching for my cat during my Fourth of July barbecue because as much as I know that she’s afraid of the outdoors and wouldn’t have run away while the door was open, I also know that I won’t be able to convince JerkBrain that she’s ok and still home until I see her for myself.

Better looks like reminding myself to eat even when I’m sick, even when I feel like I don’t deserve to eat. It looks like me playing Farm Heroes Super Saga while I chew and swallow the meatloaf for dinner last night while I try not to think about what I’m doing– hoping I’ll manage to clean my plate this time. It looks like taking small portions when I’m out with family so they won’t ask questions.

Better looks like a nightstand crowded with meds that I take, every day, even though every time I swallow the miracle that makes my days survivable a sliver of myself whispers that if I were a better, more consistent, more hardworking person, I wouldn’t really need them.

Better looks like getting toward the end of the day and telling Handsome “I can’t make any more decisions.” I can’t decide what I want to do, what show I want to watch, what game I want to play, what book I want to read, what snack I want to eat, what blanket I want to cover my legs … so he makes all those choices for me because he cares about me.

Better looks like being thankful for flexeril because I don’t seem to have night terrors anymore, at least not that I can remember. I can’t remember nightmares, and I’ve never been so thankful that I don’t have to relive my rapes once or twice a week any longer.

Better looks like fighting with JerkBrain every workshift because I know that my body needs me to be gentle with it, that working my fingers to the bone does not determine my value and worth as a person. It looks like reminding myself that my employer finds my contributions substantive meaningful, even though I have fibromyalgia.

Better looks like nearly jumping out of my skin every time I see someone who looks my rapist at an airport or national monument because as much as I know that the chances are vanishingly small that I’d actually bump into him anywhere, I can’t shake the idea that maybe just maybe he decided to fly somewhere at Christmas that would take him through that airport.

***

I’ve been afraid to paint this particular portrait of my life because I don’t want to be discouraging. What suffering person wants to be told some of this might be forever? I know all those studies that talk about the long-term consequences of child abuse aren’t exactly uplifting. My brain is fundamentally different because of the beatings I’ve received, because of the times he raped me, because of the hellfire sermons I had imprinted into my bones. I have PTSD, I’m an abuse and rape victim, and those realities aren’t ever going away.

This does look better though. It does. Not better looks like me drinking myself into numbness for three days straight and blaring rock music so loud I couldn’t hear myself think. Not better looks like a panic attack making me vomit in a school hallway. Not better looks like not being able to have sex with my partner. Not better looks like waking up screaming.

I am getting better. I’m not the somewhat-terrifying ball of rage I was a few years ago. Some wounds don’t bleed anymore, some scars have faded. I’m genuinely happier, more content, more at peace. But a large part of why my life is so blissful– and I do often think of it that way– is due to the accommodations I’ve made. I take medications. I play smartphone games to distract me from my anxiety and pain. I spent a ridiculous sum of money on my cat, who we nicknamed “Anxiety Sponge” because holding her makes something in my chest unlock. I walk away from my computer and my phone on the weekends and read fantasy books voraciously.

Healing, in many ways, looks like learning to cope. It means finding crutches and using them. I’ve learned, slowly and painfully, that I can’t meet an impossible standard. I’m never going to be like someone who wasn’t abused for fourteen years.

We got a little beat up by people, by life. If there’s one thing I want every survivor to know, it’s that your hurts are real, and they deserve to be treated. Maybe that means surgery, or walking with a cane, or cortisone injections, or whatever you find that works. Find what works and do it. Maybe, like me, it means smartphone games, taking Xanax with you everywhere, and packing dry shampoo so you don’t have to wash your hair in a strange place.

Whatever it is, it’s ok.

Photo by Mitya Ku
Theology

sinful hearts: the consequences of Inherited Sin

One of these days, as I keep promising, I’m going to write an in-depth article on why I’m against the concepts of Inherited and Original Sin, but today I have a migraine that I can’t shake so for now I’m just going to make an observation.

There are many good conversations out there talking about the negative consequences of teaching people that their innermost selves, that the core of who they are, is absolutely corrupt and wicked. I’ve talked about one here– that telling me that I cannot allow myself to trust my instincts caused emotional harm. When you’re utterly convinced that everyone else’s opinion of you automatically carries more weight than what you think about yourself … you’re going to be particularly vulnerable to emotional abuse and bullying.

On top of that, teaching your children to believe that they are horrible, disgusting, repulsive monsters is an inherently abusive thing to do to them. If your theology even remotely resembles the tactics that nearly every abuser relies upon, you need to evaluate your beliefs. My friend R.L. Stollar has an excellent long-form article on this subject, and even though it might take you a while to plow through it, you should. While Stollar is dealing with the way Inherited Sin appears in the fundamentalist homeschooling subculture, the same basic idea– although not taken to the same extreme– is present in the rest of Christian culture and the bulk of Christian tradition, fundamentalist or not.

I don’t need much else to convince me that teaching Inherited Sin is a woefully bad idea, but this morning I saw this come through my private facebook feed:

The truth is that the more intimately you know someone, the more clearly you’ll see their flaws. That’s just the way it is. This is why marriages fail, why children are abandoned, why friendships don’t last. You might think you love someone until you see the way they are when they’re out of money or under pressure or hungry, for goodness’ sake.

Love is something different. Love is choosing to serve someone and be with someone in spite of their filthy heart. Love is patient, love is deliberate. Love is hard. Love is pain and sacrifice, it’s seeing the darkness in another person and defying the impulse to jump ship.

I won’t deny that love is hard sometimes. Forgiveness can be difficult. Relationships can be trying. Occasionally, you’ll saw your tongue in half just to keep the peace. People can be careless, thoughtless, and sometimes you’ll find yourself staring at your reflection repeating “she didn’t mean it that way, you know she didn’t, just let it go” while you practice breathing exercises and your heart pounds with frustration and hurt. You’ll even hurt the people you care about, and you hope they have same patience with you.

However, if you are convinced that all people are born with “filthy hearts” and “darkness,” that they’re innately evil, and that it’s your job to “love them in spite of their filthiness” … you’re going to stay with an abuser, and you’re not going to be surprised when someone is horribly cruel or incomprehensibly selfish. You’ll expect it. “Love is patient, love is kind” will exist against a backdrop of believing that every person was inescapably born to be an abuser.

Becoming an abuser isn’t something that happens to people because they were born monsters. Our culture is permeated with millions of tiny little ways that enable abuse, that teach us all that abusing others is how to win, how to be successful. After all, racism and misogyny are really just abuse writ large.

However, becoming an abuser is not our default. It is not the thing we’re born with that only accepting Jesus into your heart can overcome. What happens is the opposite: only a few people become abusers, and they target specific victims. Most of us can cause harm, could even do abusive things on occasion, but the intentionality of abusers is absent from decent people. Most of us don’t want to break down another human being into a tool we can use for our own gratification. Instead, when we look around the world, we generally see people who have a right to their autonomy.

The consequence of teaching us that we are all born desperately, unimaginably evil is that we won’t be able to recognize true evil when it happens to us. All we truly know is ourselves, and systematically destroying another person’s sense of self wouldn’t occur to us– but we’re all evil, right? So if our partner spends a lot of time telling us how untrustworthy we are, how terrible we are, how we deserve having our possessions destroyed, our body beaten, our souls violated, where is the space to call this abuse in the context of Inherited Sin?

I’m not saying it’s impossible, of course. I was calling my ex an abuser and rapist long before I stopped believing in Original or Inherited Sin. But what I do know is that I told myself love is patient, love is kind when he was abusing me. I comforted myself with the understanding that we’re all Fallen, but God is doing a work in him. I just had to stick it out until Jesus overcame his “Old Man.”

Jesus gave us a tool to help us evaluate doctrine: a good tree cannot bear bad fruit. If the doctrine is good, then the natural outworking and practice of that doctrine will be beneficial, just, and life-giving.

The lived reality of Inherited Sin is none of those things.

Photo by Sophie & Cie
Feminism

surviving complementarianism

Over the past few days, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood held their annual conference, which was titled “The Beauty of Complementarity” this year. I knew it was happening sometime soon, and yesterday some of the people I follow on Twitter started using the #CBMW16 hashtag, or responding to people who were. If you’d like to read some excellent commentary, I highly suggest looking up @miheekimkort and @BroderickGreer. Yesterday, inspired by others using the #CBMW16 tag, I took the opportunity to voice a concept that I’ll probably be shouting about until complementarianism is dead and buried:

Complementarianism is abusive. Removing a woman’s right to self-determination is abuse.

I am currently writing a book that lays out my comprehensive argument on why I’m convinced that complementarianism is an abusive theological model for relationships, but something that I probably won’t cover in too much detail in the book is a pattern I’ve picked up on. If you’ve been with me for the past few years, you’ve seen me do extended reviews on Fascinating Womanhood by Helen Andelin, Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge, Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll, and Lies Women Believe by Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

As I’ve read each of these books, all of which purportedly give women advice on how to be a proper woman and/or wife, I’ve realized they all argue for the same basic relationship “style.” Helen Andelin is the most direct about it, but the same principles exist in each of these books– and I suspect they’d be present in any book on marriage written from a complementarian perspective.

In short, their advice can be summed up in this: wives are supposed to be cautious.

At some point in all of the books I’ve reviewed, Helen, Stasi, Grace, and Nancy tell women that they are not permitted to have open, honest, and direct communication with their husband. Instead, each of them deliberately tell us to be passive-agressive or manipulative. The words they’ve used for this have been “alluring” or “cunning”– there’s this understanding that we have to “handle” our husbands.

Their explanation for why we can’t just come straight out with our problems and concerns is based on how men will (supposedly) inevitably react to being confronted by a mere woman. Helen repeats all through Fascinating Womanhood that a wife should expect “rage” and “violence” if she were to ever contradict her husband or question his decision-making abilities. Stasi emphasizes how men can’t be forthrightly challenged because that would be “emasculating.” In fact, she blames a woman for her physically abusive marriage because she supposedly “emasculated” her husband by trying to communicate with him. Mark and Grace Driscoll blame Molly Wesley for John making her “black and blue” because she confronted him over what she felt were emotional affairs.

These are some of the biggest names in complementarianism and “Christian living” books. These are men and women talking about how they themselves think the typical complementarian marriage can– and should– function, and it’s plainly abusive. The advice they are giving to complementarian women are survival tactics for abusive marriages.

One of the biggest reasons why a person stays in an abusive relationship is that they’re not really aware of why their relationship is abusive. They think– because their abuser has spent a long time convincing them to think– that the abuse is their fault somehow. If only they could do what they were supposed to. If only they could figure out a way to avoid making their partner angry. If only they were more helpful, or less lazy. If only they understood their partner better, then they could understand how to stop the abuse.

Helen, Stasi, Grace, and Nancy agree with abusers. They think that a healthy marriage is attainable if only the victim could avoid making her husband angry. So they write an endless list of books and articles and blog posts, and host their annual conferences, and preach their sermons, all telling women how to try to survive their abuser. Be more submissive. Be more compliant. Be more obedient. Be more sympathetic to his needs. Be more gentle. Be more quiet. Be more accepting. Be the perfect homemaker. Be a flawless mother.

Blame yourself for the abuse.

Each of these books is, ultimately, an attempt to convince women that all men are inherently abusers. They are trying to convince us that at the core of manhood is violence and rage and a bloodthirsty need for dominance and control. If only we women can recognize that an abusive marriage is unavoidable, then we can get on with the business of shouldering the responsibility for the emotional or physical violence all of our husbands will inflict on us. But not if we do what they say. Not if we’re gentle and lovely and submissive. Not if we give up on our own thoughts and wants and dreams and sense of self.

These are all things that people in abusive relationships try to do. When I was engaged to my abuser and rapist, I did all of these things. I read books like Me, Obey Him? and Lies Women Believe and I ate it all up because it reflected what I was experiencing. He was emotionally abusing me, he was coercive, he was sexually abusing me, raping me, and over and over again he would tell me that it I was to blame, that everything he ever did was all my fault. For years I believed him, and these books all told me the same thing he did: if I did what he (and they) said, then he wouldn’t hurt me anymore. The abuse would end. Ultimately I believed I failed, because when he broke our engagement he told me it was because I “hadn’t been submissive enough.”

All marriage-advice books written from a complementarian perspective tell wives the same exact things that abusers do: the abuse is your fault, and if only you abided by my ever-moving goal posts, it would stop.

Photo by Saorise Alesandro
Theology

“Lies Women Believe” review: 45-62

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

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

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

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

However, after that, Nancy and I part ways.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And quoting from Hannah Whitall Smith:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just … back the truck up.

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

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

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

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

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

Social Issues

how Josh Duggar is getting away with it

[content note for discussions of child sexual assault]

Before we get started with today’s post, I’d like y’all to read these two pieces, especially if you’re not aware of what came out yesterday:

What you Need to Know about the Josh Duggar Police Report” by Libby Anne
Josh Duggar says he’s sorry. So what?” by Kathryn Elizabeth Brightbil

Libby Anne and Kathryn address many of the things I would have said, which I’m thankful for because now I can focus on making a broader point that I think applies to conservative evangelicalism as a culture and not just the Duggars as a family.

~~~~~~~~~

A close friend of mine has spent most of her adulthood in Spanish-speaking countries. During a recent visit, she told me a story about what it’s like to make the adjustments between languages. She was working with a bus ministry at her church and had to deal with a rambunctious boy who was invading the personal space of other children, including touching them without their consent. In order to try to reign him in, she wanted to tell him to “stop bothering her,” but what came out was “stop molesting her.”

In Spanish, the word for bother is molestar.

It was an amusing anecdote, but then she made the point that English tends to soften concepts that Spanish doesn’t. As a culture, we call what Josh Duggar did to his victims child molestation; even though we understand the connotation of the phrase, it doesn’t have the clarity that child sexual assault does.

Our culture is set up in almost every conceivable way to harbor abusers.

For example: racism, sexism, and any other form of systemic bigotry is, essentially the abuse of one people group by another. Individual white people benefit from a system that abuses people of color. Certain men receive benefits from rape culture, which allows the worst among us to take advantage of everything we collectively believe about women and sex.

Another way that our culture allows abuse to flourish is that we refuse to really deal with what is actually happening. Rape is referred to as “non-consensual sex,” and Josh sexually assaulted five little girls by groping their breasts and genitalia but that’s not what the media is calling it, and it certainly isn’t what anyone connected to the Duggars is calling it. It’s not being described as child sexual assault, not as the felony it is, but as molestation. Over and over again I’ve seen Christians calling it a “mistake.” In the different announcements we’ve gotten from the Duggars, it’s been coated over with a thick layer of Christian Speak. Anna, his wife, called it an “offense,” as if the sexual assault of a five-year-old were the same thing as calling her carrots.

It’s not just the Duggars that do this. We see this every single time one of these “scandals” comes to light. Whoever was responsible “apologizes,” but they never admit to anything. Josh said he “behaved inexcusably,” which doesn’t mean anything. If Josh had gotten up in front of everyone and said the words “I committed a felony, I sexually assaulted five little girls, and I’m sorry,” it would make it obvious to every single last person on the planet that oh, I’m sorry isn’t going to cut it.

But, in our culture, abusers can “apologize,” and that becomes the headline. And, as Kathryn pointed out, it makes the victims look bad in Christian culture if they don’t immediately “forgive.” We saw this with Sovereign Grace, and we’re seeing it now.

This is why I never use softening, minimizing language. I say assault and rape and abuse. And, if it comes to light that Josh digitally penetrated his victims, I’m going to start saying Joshua Duggar is a rapist.

The words we use matter.

~~~~~~~~~~

The biggest reason why Josh will get away with sexually assaulting five girls is purity culture. If you’re a regular reader that connection should be apparent right now, as I’ve frequently talked about how my belief in “purity” kept me from talking about my rape for years.

Everything about this situation was not just mishandled, it was covered up. On purpose. That makes any mandatory reporter that knew about this a criminal (at the minimum, the church leadership and the original police officer, who did not file a report), and it makes Jim Bob and Michelle, in the words of Jesus, hypocrites and vipers. White-washed tombs, full of dead men’s bones and rotting corpses.

However, Jim Bob and Michelle and the church leadership and the police were able to cover this up because of the culture his victims belong to. They have been taught since they extremely young that women are capable of tempting the most holy man to sin, that women can provoke men into raping them, that if something bad happened they must always look for their part in the blame. The Duggars belong to an even more nightmarish subculture than I was exposed to, since they follow Bill Gothard. If you’re not familiar with ATI/IBLP, this is what Gothard teaches about sexual abuse.

Counseling_Sexual_Abuse

That is the only framework that Josh’s victims had to process their assaults. Like me, they were forced by the only things they knew to evaluate how they could be responsible for what Josh did to them. It was their responsibility to repent of “immodesty” or any “sensuousness” they may have displayed, however innocently. Then, because they contributed to their own assault, they don’t have the ability to pursue justice. They were duty-bound to “forgive” their abuser because, after all, it was their fault, too.

If his victims were to come forward, to make police reports within the limited three-year window they had to get justice, they would have been dragged through a nightmare the likes of which we can’t even begin to imagine. It is extremely likely that every single last person they knew– their family, their church– would have turned their backs and rejected them. They would hear sermons preached about them about the “spirit of bitterness” and how it can destroy a young woman. They would have been sternly reminded that Christians handle problems among themselves and don’t involve the courts.

In ATI/IBLP, if they received any “counseling” at all (which seems unlikely, considering Michelle Duggar said that Josh’s “counseling” involved helping a family friend remodel his house), it would have been laser-focused on figuring out what the victims did “wrong” so they could be shamed for it.

This is what purity culture does. More than anything else, it silences victims.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Further reading:

When my abuser is welcome at the table, I am not” by Sarah Moon
Josh Duggar and the Purity Lie” by Sarah Posner
Josh Duggar and the Problem of Easy Forgiving” by Mary DeMuth

Photo by Vincepal