Browsing Tag

child abuse

Social Issues

Living in the Loopholes: Home Education and Abuse

As y’all know, I spent this past weekend in Raleigh, NC presenting at The Courage Conference with my friend and colleague Carmen Green. Preparing for that took a lot more out of me than I thought it would– we both wanted to emphasize story telling instead of getting deep into the weeds on the facts and legalities, so I spent the bulk of last week digging through the Homeschooling’s Invisible Children database looking for stories that illustrated each type of abuse we wanted to talk about. That took a toll, and then the conference was also emotionally draining. It was a good experience and I’m very glad I went, but the focus was on abuse and two days of that is just going to be hard.

I was looking forward to meeting Boz Tchividjian, who founded Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) and whose work I’ve talked a lot about. He was as incredible in person as I thought he’d be, and it was comforting to meet an older white man who actually gives a shit and is actively doing something to fight abuse in Christian culture. I also got to meet Linda Kay Klein, who is as impressive in person as she sounds on paper. She has a book on purity culture coming out next year (Man-Made Girls) and I’m now desperate to read it. The second I have a copy, I will be posting a review. Her talk on the modesty doctrine was funny and insightful and tender and beautiful, and I was definitely impressed with her.

You can still actually “attend” The Courage Conference if you’d like to– you can buy online tickets to see video recordings of the main speakers, and I think it’s worth the $20. Also, in coordination with The Courage Conference, I’ve made it possible for you to see the workshop Carmen and I did. If you make at least a $5 donation to my Patreon this month, I will contact you with a password to view the video after Patreon processes everyone’s transactions.

Also, here’s the PowerPoint presentation if you’d like to take a look at it.

Many thanks to everyone here who made presenting at this conference possible. Your readership and support over the years is why I continue doing this sort of work. The workshop we gave seemed to make a really big impact with the people who came– many said they’d learned a ton that they could instantly put to practical use to fight abuse. You made it possible for us to do that, so thank you.

Social Issues

The Courage Conference: Homeschooling & Abuse

I mentioned this in passing a bit ago, but wanted to take some time to really give this the attention it deserves. I will be presenting at The Courage Conference in Raleigh, NC on October 20-21. Here’s the description of the conference from the website:

The Courage Conference is a non-denominational event that will offer a judgement-free place for survivors of abuse (and those who love them) to gather and hear inspiring stories from other survivors about moving forward in boldness and healing. The event will also educate pastors and church leaders on the topic of abuse and introduce them to safe practices and resources for their faith community. The Courage Conference offers a unique opportunity to hear from advocates and trained professionals through inspiring keynotes talks, Q&A sessions and workshops in addition to connecting attendees with local and national resources, so you don’t have to do this alone.

I’m excited about the lineup of speakers, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to talk about a topic I think is not well understood. Abuse in homeschooling environments can be so headline-grabbing (children locked in closets and starved to death, chopped up and stored in freezers for years, beaten to death) that most news outlets seem to get pretty myopic. While all of those happen and definitely deserve to be addressed as the atrocities they are, the focus on what are, in actuality, a handful of cases out of millions of homeschooled children lets homeschoolers who are abusive in much more mundane ways escape notice. People can say “we’re nothing like that” or “I don’t know anyone like that” and then dismiss the need to examine their communities for the ways it might enable abuse.

These communities end up fighting any kind of oversight and frequently use the sometimes-myopic treatment of the press as a way to cry persecution. Why should they be punished with regulations and oversight because someone somewhere did something unspeakably awful? It happens again and again in the conversations I find myself in about homeschooling and the need for oversight. We end up talking past each other– they think I’m thinking of Lydia Schatz when I’m talking about my own experience and how every single child I knew in my homeschooling communities were physically abused. Not locked in closets, not starved, not murdered, but still very much abused. They feel comfortable with “self-regulation” because no one they know is an axe-wielding child murderer, and they get to ignore the other forms of abuse that may not be obvious to them.

My presentation, which I’ll be giving with Carmen Green who’s founded the Center for Home Education Policy and who you can read about here (I was background research for that article, btw), will be going over all of that for about an hour. What does abuse in homeschools actually tend to look like, and what can we do about it?

Anyway, if you can make it to Raleigh, NC in two weeks I hope to see you there. If you know of anyone who might be interested, please pass along the website. The conference still needs some funding, too. I appreciate that the organizers are trying to make this as affordable as possible, so maybe if you think educating religious leaders on abuse, trauma, and how to help is important, throw a few dollars their way?

Social Issues

what Anne Shirley means to me, and surviving trauma

When I first heard about the Anne with an E adaptation, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. I was introduced to L.M. Montgomery’s Anne books when I was around nine years old, and I inhaled them all, re-reading them all through my childhood and adolescence. I watched the beloved Megan Follows CBC adaption probably as many times as I read the books– that series was sleepover gold for girls my age. In college at PCC, Anne of Green Gables was one of the few things in the library worth watching. I re-read the books for the first time as an adult almost two years ago, and was surprised at how well they stood up to the passage of time. I thought as an adult I wouldn’t connect with them as much, but that wasn’t true. They were just as absorbing and lovely as the first time I read them. I think it’s possible I enjoyed them more– both aesthetically and empathetically.

Since Anne with an E hit Netflix, though, the internet’s exploded a bit with some pretty intense feelings on whether or not this adaptation is “good.” Vanity Fair calls it “bleak,” TVGuide described it as traumatizing, and one review at the Huffington Post says it’s “relentlessly grim.” Individual reactions on Twitter have been just as negative– I’ve seen people calling it a “desecration” more than once. I’ve seen many people argue all over Facebook that they don’t like Anne with an E because it took “happy” and “positive” books and made it all gritty and dark. That seems to be the general consensus for people who didn’t enjoy it, but loved the previous adaptation and the books: to them, Anne with an E appears to be taking a hackneyed grimdark approach for ratings or something.

This is where they lose me. For full disclosure, I haven’t seen it yet although I’m planning to watch it this weekend. However, I just want to focus on the reaction to Montgomery’s books, since that’s what is really bothering me. Everyone is going to have different opinions on film adaptations, and that’s fine and I’m not really here to debate anyone’s response to the show. What is bothering me though is the apparently fairly common perception that the Anne books were rosy and light and sweet and happy and positive.

I apparently did not read the same books.

Granted, I’d describe the writing style as lovely, dreamlike, beautiful … there’s an elegance to the prose and I find the reading experience delightful. However, style is not the substance of the book: the narrative and content are anything but rosy or light. Anne of Green Gables opens with an orphan who has been bought and sold for child labor multiple times, and when describing some of the more traumatic moments of her childhood I got the sense Anne was describing dissociation. The sheer desperation in the opening chapters, which are capped off by the fact that Anne is bullied by an adult … the Anne books resonated with me as much as they did because Montgomery didn’t anesthetize the pain.

How anyone can read through the scene when Rachel Lynde objectifies Anne and is oblivious to her humanity– who without any empathy or compassion calls a child “ugly” not even to her face, but as if she wasn’t a person who could feel the insult … how can someone read through this and not experience the horror and violence? I’ve had adults do that to me. I’ve had adults mock me, belittle me, and dismiss me as if I weren’t recognizably human. Anne’s fury and hurt were my fury and hurt, and I choke as much as Anne does when she’s forced by culture and society– personified by Marilla– to “apologize” to her elder, her “superior.”

That is one of the earliest scenes in the book, and Montgomery doesn’t let up. Anne’s humiliated at school, bullied, ignored; so she decides she’s going to dedicate herself to academic success because she knows it’s her only route to acceptance. She throws herself into school in a way only someone who’s been abused her entire life can really recognize or appreciate, I think. Reading through it as an adult who finally had her lifelong anxiety disorder diagnosed, I was astounded at the ways Montgomery writes Anne dealing with all types of nerves, especially social anxiety. Anne’s coping mechanisms are my coping mechanisms, and part of me wonders if I learned to cope with anxiety and depression by reading these books.

Anne through the rest of the series is drawn to hurting, suffering people. Marilla and Matthew hurt in their own private, silent way. She befriends Aunt Jo, who is grieving the loss of her lifetime companion (read: lesbian lover). She convinces Rachel and Marilla to take in the Twins, whose life had certainly not been a rose garden. Then there’s Lavender, the older woman filled with regret and pain and loss, and who Anne manages to bring some happiness. This pattern is echoed in each of the books– Elizabeth Grayson and Katherine Brooke in Anne of Windy Poplars, my favorite, and Leslie in Anne’s House of Dreams, and then her own children follow the same pattern of reaching out to hurting, lonely people in Rainbow Valley.

All through the books, Anne struggles with self-doubt, anxiety, depression, and the leftover ramifications trauma and abuse leave behind, regardless of how happy her life with Gilbert becomes. There’s always the sense that she’s not quite accepted, not quite loved, that she always has something to do, to prove, to become, in order to be seen as valuable and wanted. She has wonderful people in her life who affirm her and love her, but they’re never quite able to overcome the voice inside her own head.

What bothers me about the reaction to Montgomery’s work is that we’re all doing what society always does: we don’t listen to children. We don’t believe them. We dismiss them. Anne declares in the opening pages of Green Gables that she is feeling despair, and our reaction is usually to read that as histrionics. Except look at what’s happening: she’s been sold off as child labor to horrible, abusive people for eleven years and this is the first glimmer of hope she’s ever held in her hands– and then Marilla announces she’s not wanted, that she has to go back … Despair is the only possible reaction to this situation. But Anne is a child, and so we treat her like her feelings aren’t real, that she’s not actually entitled to them. We’re just like everyone else in Avonlea constantly telling her to pipe down and stop being so melodramatic.

Most of the bullying I experienced as a child were for similar reasons. I was smart, articulate, outgoing, vivacious. The more I spoke up, the more I tried to be myself, the more I was rebuked and rejected– and not always by my peers, but by adults who should have known better. But society sided with them when they belittled me in public and my anger wasn’t acceptable. Like in Anne’s life, I’ve always had good people around me loving me and valuing me, telling me I’m good and worthy of love– my mother even adopted Cornelia Bryant’s phrase about “knowing Joseph” from House of Dreams. “They just don’t know Joseph, Samantha, ignore them.” I still comfort myself with that phrase today. To me and my mother it means that there are just some people in this world who don’t understand us and won’t like us, and that’s alright. Not everyone is going to, but the people who do “get” us are blessed by who we are, just like we’re blessed by our friends.

I’m looking forward to a show that takes all of the things I loved about Anne seriously, that doesn’t flinch away from what her life was actually like. What I’d like us all to remember that lovely and true can go together; the books can be delightful and rapturous and make us long to live on Prince Edward Island and they can show us what it could look like to blossom and thrive in a world full of pain.

Artwork by James Hill
Social Issues

"How to Win Over Depression" review: 212-241

To be honest, if Tim had stopped writing the chapter on how to help your depressed child at page 216, I wouldn’t have a single problem with anything he says in this single, solitary chapter. His first bits of advice are:

  1. Give your children a lot of love and affection.
  2. Accept them.
  3. Avoid anger in the home.

Those are things I can absolutely get behind, and I’m actually surprised that Tim included “accept your children” here– acceptance isn’t something conservative Christians usually talk about in regards to raising children. But then he does a complete about face with the rest of his advice, which is focused on “discipline,” which he makes clear is “the rod.” He says that “The Bible makes it very clear that if you spare the rod, you will spoil the child” (217), and I’d like to take this moment to point out that this isn’t actually a Bible verse. It’s a quote from a satirical poem by Samuel Butler that mockingly suggests that spanking your romantic interest will make them love you.

Also, for an alternative interpretation on all those “rod” passages in Proverbs, I recommend reading this. Many Christians believe that those metaphors in Proverbs are supposed to be taken literally as a command to physically abuse their children, but I, and many other Christians, believe that is a grossly inaccurate interpretation.

Tim also takes the time to make sure his reader knows not to discipline his children “in anger,” and I want sit on that for a moment. A recent study revealed that the way my parents were taught to spank me– be calm during, and then be extremely affectionate and warm after– can actually make anxiety worse. The lead researcher suggests this might be because it’s “simply too confusing and unnerving for a child to be hit hard and loved warmly all in the same home.”

There’s also evidence linking the sort of spanking that Tim advocates to depression, anxiety, other mood disorders, and substance abuse later in the child’s life, which completely unravels his argument that children need to be physically abused in order to have the depression literally beat out of them. Other studies suggest that spanking can cause cognitive impairment and increase aggression. Couple that with the fact that many parents are likely to underestimate how hard they are hitting their child as well as how often they spank, it should be obvious to all of us that spanking is actively harmful, ineffectual, and not something even the most loving parent can practice responsibly.

Tim claims that spanking “assures the child of his parent’s love” (218), but I can think of few claims more preposterous. How in the world is hitting a child supposed to communicate “I love you”? I believed that spanking was a moral imperative for most of my life, and I never connected it to how much my parent’s loved me. I believed it was necessary, but that was completely separate from how much my parents loved me. The closest word to describe what I felt after a beating would be rage. It was humiliating and excruciating, and having to look at my parent and mumble something about loving them made me so angry I could choke.

Oh, it temporarily “fixed” my behavior. I usually managed to slap on the “thankful attitude” that Tim thinks parents should spank their children into (221), but it was a lie. It was something I pretended out of some sort of survival mechanism. Spanking “works” because of fear, not love.

~~~~~~~~~

“How to Help a Depressed Friend” wasn’t too terrible; his only real piece of advice in this chapter is not to be “too cheerful,” mostly because he thinks that depressed people find it annoying. That’s not true in my experience– I find overly cheery people annoying all of the time. Tim’s obliviousness also comes out a little bit with “Even the depressed will rarely refuse prayer, which they usually recognize as their last hope” (226). I have desperately wanted to say “oh my god, no” many times when someone has offered to pray with me, and the only thing that keeps from me vocalizing it is the fact that would generally be considered fairly rude.

The last two chapters were troubling, since he mostly focuses on biblical figured to communicate the message that depression is a sin. What troubles me is that he chose examples like Jeremiah and his Lamentations. I think it’s a truth (almost) universally acknowledges that white middle-class American Christians have lost the ability to lament. A google search of “Christians need lament” turned up articles from pretty much every significant American Christian movement, from The Gospel Coalition to the Emergents.

One of the things that deeply bothers me about Christian culture is this whole “happy happy joy joy,” “Rejoice in the Lord Always, and again I say rejoice” attitude toward faith and worship is that it ignores reality. Living on planet earth is a catastrophic nightmare sometimes, and if we are robbed of our ability to grieve and lament, then we’ve lost a connection to our humanity. Christianity is not about being happy, but sometimes I get the feeling that’s what it’s been reduced to. Our theology needs room for shit just happens, and “Rejoice in the Lord!” doesn’t cover it.

All the way through this book, Tim has advocated a position that being thankful for everything, including the awful, terrible, no-good stuff, is the only way to avoid depression, but I think all that really does is turn us into Stepford-level automatons. We’re people, and part of being human means being sad.

In the end, that’s the biggest mistake Tim has made in How to Win Over Depression. He doesn’t understand what depression actually is– he confuses it with sadness, with grief (227), and then tells all of us that experiencing those emotions is sinful. He robs us all of our humanity.

Feminism, Theology

victims and abusers, and why church is not safe

my fair lady
[trigger warning for abuse]

If you follow me on twitter, you might have noticed that I watched My Fair Lady this past weekend, one of my favorite movies from when I was younger, but a movie I haven’t seen in years. And while I enjoyed the nostalgia and singing all the songs again, it was not an entirely pleasant experience and I probably won’t watch it again. Watching Professor Higgins, listening to him sing “Let a Woman in Your Life,” realizing that he never uses Eliza’s name and instead prefers to call her wretch, insect, and baggage, and understanding for the first time that Professor Higgins is an abuser . . . it was rough. The scene when the maids are ripping Eliza’s clothes off her body and you can hear her screaming, begging them to stop, pleading with them not to touch her– I had to bury my face in Handsome’s arm and try not to cry.

Our culture– our movies, our books, our television shows– is filled with abusers. It seems like everywhere we go, we can see an abuser being presented as a regular person. Many times, these abusive characters are written to be sympathetic. These abusers are given story arches that tug at our heartstrings, and all their abuses are ignored. Look at him, the writers ask us, look at how sad he is. Don’t you just want to help him get better so he’ll stop being so mean to people? The problem is, that is exactly the method John* used against me to convince me to stay with him. Don’t go I need you he’d say, so I wouldn’t. I would stay with him, accepting his abuse and believing that I could help him get better.

This attitude that abusers are just regular people who can be jerks sometimes appears in evangelical contexts, too, but with another concept tacked on: because every human being is wicked, perverse, and evil, we are all equally awful people. “There but for the grace of God go I,” they say in pulpits and podiums all over the country, and the people listening to these sermons hear about how “aren’t we all capable of doing things to hurt each other?” and somehow what happens is that everyone is a victim, and everyone is an abuser, and the ability to stop and say no what that person is doing is evil and I need to get away from them disappears.

Recently I heard a lesson based on Psalm 52. PerfectNumber, who blogs at Tell me Why the World is Weird, has been going through the Psalms, re-examining them, and has been showing me a picture of a God who cares about justice and seeks out the poor and oppressed, and seeing the Psalms in that light has been incredibly restorative to me. I can read some of the Psalms now and see a God of Justice who hates it when abusers hurt people, when the poor are ignored or taken advantage of, a God who comforts good people when they’re hurting. That is beautiful, to me, and is one of the reasons why I still think the Bible is valuable even though I have questions about it.

But, in this lesson, a couple things happened. First, Psalm 52 is about Doeg, from I Samuel 21 and 22. Doeg sees David at Nob, and at some point when he thinks that the information is valuable, he tells Saul– and Saul orders to have the priest Ahimelech, who gave David the holy bread, executed. When Saul’s guards refuse to kill the priests, Doeg is willing, and he kills Ahimelech, 85 other priests, and then slaughters every single last person and animal in Nob.

In short, Doeg is evil. He is only interested in using whatever he can for his own advantage, and is perfectly willing to kill priests and slaughter an entire village. That is what Psalm 52 is about– David is describing a man who “boasts of evil” and “plots destruction.” David is talking about an abuser– and that God will bring justice, and that people will “laugh at him.” In my experience, the worst possible thing that could ever happen to a narcissistic abuser is to be laughed at.

However, while the teacher talked a little bit about that, the main focus of the lesson was “how should we respond to problem people? How should we react to troublemakers?”

Problem people.

Troublemakers.

The abuses, the violence, the narcissism, the obvious self-interest, the willingness to slaughter innocents just to get ahead completely disappeared. Doeg was a “problem person” for David. The teacher spent some time asking us to envision the “problem people” in our lives, emphasizing how we probably have tons of people who cause problems for us because they’re selfish. But, we need to examine ourselves, he said, because we could very easily be someone else’s “problem person,” and we shouldn’t forget that. We could be someone’s Doeg. And, if we have a Doeg, a “problem person,” in our life, we should just trust the lord to take care of him or her.

I wanted to scream.

Because there is so much wrong with that. If we have a Doeg, who is not a problem person but is in fact an abuser, in our life– we should absolutely do something! Being in a relationship with an abuser is incredibly difficult to escape, and when the Church seems to constantly be sending the message that abusers are just problem people and we could be just as bad, too, it makes it that much harder for victims to get out. Victims don’t need more reasons to stay in an abusive relationship– they already have reasons. What they need is for a pastor or teacher to love them, to look them in the eye and say abuse is wrong and if you’re being hurt you don’t deserve it and I’ll do whatever I can to help you get out. Saying “oh, that abuser who is perfectly willing to use violence? He’s just a “problem person” and we’re all “problem people!” is … well, it is evil in its own way.

There’s another way abuse is ignored and downplayed, another twist on the “we’re all equally evil” theme. A while ago I heard a sermon that was about how much Jesus cares about us and how no matter what we’re going through he’s there for us and can help us with whatever’s going on. At the beginning of his sermon, the preacher spent a lot of time describing a bunch of different scenarios we could find ourselves in– except almost every single example was connected to “poor decision making” in some way. The only time he mentioned abuse was so vague and non-specific it could have meant anything from “your friend gossiped about you behind your back” to “your father raped you”– and it was at the end of a very long list on all the ways people are capable of getting themselves into terrible situations. He never, not once, during the entire sermon made a distinction between situations you are responsible for creating and situations where it is happening to you and none of it is your fault. In fact, he did the exact opposite– he conflated poor decision making with abuse not once, but six times.

Abuse is not normal.

Abusers are not normal.

They are not “problem people.” Not everyone is capable of abuse. We’re human, so we’re capable of doing hurtful things, selfish things, but that is different from abuse, and we desperately need to recognize that they are not the same.

Abuse is evil and the church needs to stand up and say something about it. Pastors need to look into the eyes of 20% of the married people in his church who are probably being abused and say the words abuse is wrong and you don’t have to stay there, you don’t have to live with them. Youth leaders need to sit down with their teenagers and say you have the right to determine what happens to your body. Sunday school teachers need to listen to the children in their classroom with the awareness that 1 in 4 girls  and 1 in 6 boys are being sexually assaulted or raped by a relative or family friend.

But, in my experience, churches tend to be silent. Pastors don’t talk about it. Teachers use softened language. No one wants to look this bleak reality in the face. And because we are silent, because we refuse to look victims and survivors in the eye, because we are blind and deaf, because we tell each other that abusers don’t really exist and we’re all equally capable of doing hurtful things we don’t have the right to say “this is wrong, this is evil, and it must stop.” We ignore the victims and survivors in our churches when what we should be doing is shouting from every single rooftop that the church is a safe place, that we will love, and we will help.

Social Issues

learning the words: abuse

into the light
Tamara Rice is an editor and write and a frequently loud-mouthed advocate for victims of abuse within the church who blogs at Hopefully Known. “Learning the Words” is a series on the words many of us didn’t have in fundamentalism or overly conservative evangelicalism– and how we got them back. If you would like to be a part of this series, you can find my contact information at the top.

trigger warning for child abuse, sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse

Where I come from abuse was a term reserved for vicious violence. I’m not really sure why or how this protection around the word came to be, but I know that great care was taken to distinguish between parents who were abusive and parents who were merely … very bad parents. Between sexual boundaries being crossed in a way that was sexually abusive and in a way that was more … molestation. Between spiritual authority being misused in an evil way that was spiritually abusive and in a way that was simply … unfortunate. Abuse, in short, was reserved for what I now might put in the category of sadistic torment—the stuff they make horror films about.

Under these narrow definitions, abuse was rarely encountered in my growing up years (or so we thought), and maybe that was the whole point. Defined as such, abuse was kept at arm’s length, out of our circles. Abuse happened to people on the news and in salacious Stephen King novels, it didn’t happen to us, it didn’t happen in our fundamentalist Baptist church, it didn’t happen in the missionary community we were part of overseas.

~~~~~~~~~~

By the time I reached my 30s I had very little to do with the faith community of my childhood. I had married a man in ministry and had gone on to be part of churches and religious organizations where legalism was rare and the kind of fundamentalism I’d grown up with was rarer still. I got it out of my system and left it behind. And then in 2011, I got sucked back in.

I began to fight alongside several old friends to bring justice for the victims of a missionary from our childhood and to call into account the Baptist mission board who had been mishandling the pedophile’s exposure for over twenty years.

Even now, it’s hard to put this story into a few brief words. The pain is still thick at the back of my throat and the journey isn’t over. But from the moment I stepped back into that fundamentalist world, the term abuse grew to encompass so much more than violence. I grew to understand it in its fullness, as it was meant to be understood–as I wish I had understood it from a very young age.

abuse defined

The justice endeavor began as an effort to bring healing to a friend and her family who had been deeply wounded by the pedophile and mission board, but over time it became very clear that I suffered sexual abuse myself—something I had long pushed back and denied and reasoned away, despite it explaining decades of emotional instability. New information made it undeniable, and I had to face the things my mind had hidden. Then, as I fought for justice, I became the victim of spiritual and emotional abuse as well.

First came the e-mails and blog comments from total strangers calling me a tool of Satan and an enemy of the gospel. Verses were thrown at me—at us—and we, the victims,were admonished not to touch “God’s anointed.” The vile things that self-proclaimed Christians will say in anonymity is appalling. If self-righteous curses of “shame on you, you whore of Satan” could kill, I’d be dead from the anonymous e-mails of vitriol and hate I have read.

The harder we pushed for justice, the closer the abusers came. Now it wasn’t just strangers dishing out spiritual and emotional abuse on the internet, it was people we had called “aunts” and “uncles” in our youth. Verses, again, were thrown at us. We were reminded to forgive, reminded of the supposedly innocent family members who were embarrassed and hurt by the pedophile’s public exposure, but who—let’s face it—probably knew a certain amount but lived in denial all along. “What about them?” the emails would say. “You’re being evil and cruel. They don’t deserve this.” And they, the family, didn’t deserve it. That’s true. But neither did we, and neither did any other child.

False familial titles (the cult-like “aunt”/“uncle” monikers) and childhood nicknames were doled out in long e-mails, phone calls and voicemail messages from those whose were rightly being questioned. I stopped taking the calls, stopped listening to the messages, but not before a few left their mark. “This is your ‘Aunt’ ______. We’re hurting so much over all these accusations. We looove you, Tammy,” she said, her voice thick with emotion I couldn’t understand given we’d hardly known each other, hadn’t seen each other since I was fifteen, and she was using a name no one outside my family had called me in over two decades.

It was a poorly disguised attempt to guilt me into silence over a leadership “mistake” her husband had made. Her husband should have be shouting from the rooftops that he’d been wrong, done something criminal under the mandated reporting laws, done something morally shameful. But instead the wife was sent to sway me, to spare her and their grown children this sadness.

Her voicemail haunted me for weeks, not because she got to me, because she didn’t. It was because she had tried. Because she had invoked love and false familiarity and spiritual obligation in her desperation to silence me. I was shocked—utterly shocked—at the subtle insidiousness of it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The misplaced resentment against us, against me, personally, grew to epic proportions when a friend exposed a second pedophile a few years later—and by misplaced resentment I mean more spiritual and emotional abuse. I mean using scripture wrongly and improperly, using relationships and pasts and church authority wrongly and improperly, I mean hurting and injuring by maltreatment, I mean the continuation of corrupt practices and customs, I mean language that condemns and vilifies unjustly and intemperately. I mean all of those things above that Webster’s and Farlex tell us are the definition of abuse. I suffered these things publicly and privately from the mission board, from people I barely knew, and from people I knew well.

At one point, a man who grew up on the same mission field as I did launched a Facebook page vilifying me. His page banner labeled me a fascist, but the reality was he didn’t even know me well enough to use my married name of almost twenty years. One by one, I watched as adults and former friends of my formative years overseas “liked” his page, all because they didn’t like men they admired being exposed for the havoc they had wreaked in the lives of young women who were now middle-aged and grown and no longer being silent.

It wouldn’t have been so bad, really, except that then this Facebook group started in on my faith, mocking me, using my words against me, twisting who I was. Knowing I shouldn’t read their bitter words that came from a narrow view of faith I didn’t even subscribe to, I read anyway, sickened that I had become the target of hate and abuse when there were pedophiles sleeping as free men.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The spiritual and emotional abuse of these years, and the time I spent coming to terms with my sexual abuse—it’s all left me battered.

I retreated for quite a while after the Facebook incident, and I’ve never made a full comeback to that particular justice effort. I wish so much that I could tell you that justice and truth won out. That doing the right thing and exposing sin (no, make that crimes) paid off. But it didn’t and it hasn’t. It has been the most painful exercise in futility of my life.

My consolation, however, is this: I know what abuse is now. Sexual. Spiritual. Emotional. And because I’ve learned the word I can call it what it is. I can give it a name. I can see it when it happens to me or in front of me. And I can cry and grieve and hurt, but then I can get up and walk away and find healing in a safer place. Because the word has lost its power now that my vocabulary has grown.

Feminism

ravening sheep: child abuse in the church

sheep

[serious trigger warning for sexual abuse, child abuse, spiritual abuse]

If there’s a metaphor I dislike for Christians, or for the church in general, it’s probably sheep. This is probably due to a variety of reasons, including the cultural reference that when a person is a “sheep,” it’s because they are somehow the worst form of a conformist. Not only is this person conforming to whatever is around them, they’re doing it without thinking about it, or analyzing it, or making sure that what they’re conforming to is good.

Another reason why I don’t like calling Christians sheep is that anytime I’ve heard this metaphor in church, it’s to call me stupid. I’m a sheep. I’m not smart enough to make my own decisions. I’m incapable of coming to any conclusion on my own– I need help from God’s appointed shepherd. It’s my duty to follow the shepherd, even when I don’t understand what he’s doing. The problem is that this “shepherd” was not Jesus– or anyone resembling Jesus. It was usually a pastor who stood up in front of his congregation, disparagingly called them his “flock,” and told them that God had chosen him to be their shepherd here on earth. He was not the Great Shepherd– but the Great Shepherd’s stand-in.

But there’s an image that’s been haunting me the past few weeks. I read a short post on sheep and wolves that struck me deeply, and part of what resonated with me was the idea of earthly shepherds allowing wolves into their flock– but what if there weren’t any wolves? What if the only thing in the fold was each other– our “fellow brothers and sisters”?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It’s dusk. The earth is starting to settle down for the night, and nocturnal creatures are beginning to peek out from their nests and burrows. The sun has set, and the flushes of pink and violet and crimson have faded down to a silvery gray.

A shepherd carries a lamb so small and frail and fragile into the fold, a lamb so exhausted she’s trembling. He finds a place for her to settle in for the night– a soft, plush bed of grass, and gently lays her down. He strokes her head, then begins moving more of the other sheep into the fold for the night. They settle down, and the shepherd takes up his usual post at the entrance, idly watching the surrounding countryside be swallowed up by nighttime velvet.

One of the sheep– one that all of the other sheep likes or respects, one that’s been there for as long as any of them can remember– begins making his usual rounds. He’s helped the shepherd corral them all into the fold at night, he’s let the shepherd know when one of the other sheep begins wandering off. So none of the sheep think anything of it when he approaches the fragile, exhausted little lamb. The lamb looks up, expecting a friendly little baaah of goodnight, knowing that this sheep is trustworthy. He’s a leader. He’s respected.

And suddenly, so suddenly that any of the other sheep couldn’t have predicted what was happening, this sheep begins attacking the lamb. He tears into the little lamb’s face– tearing at her ears. His jaw clamps down around her throat, sinking his teeth in, and he mounts her. The other sheep can hear the terrified lamb bleating desperately for help. After he’s done everything he wants to do to the lamb, he starts kicking her. He kicks her, again and again, over and over, until there is nothing left except a macerated bloody pulp of blood and wool. There’s one last weak, pleading bleat, and then everything is silent.

The other sheep in the fold stare at the bleeding remains. They look into the eyes of the lamb, and they see a terror so deep, so profound. They watch as the lamb’s body starts to convulse because of the agonizing pain, they watch her struggle to even breathe. She can’t even cry out for help anymore, her body is so bloodied and beaten and ragged.

And they turn away.

They find their spots in their fold, the places they all usually settle in for the night, and they go to sleep.

In the morning, the shepherd begins waking the sheep up and prodding them out of the fold. When they are all outside in the pasture, contentedly munching on the thick, luscious grass, he begins to count. But wait, one is missing. Where is the little lamb?

He goes to where the lamb has laid all night, shivering in anguish. The blood is dried and caked, mixed in with the sand and grass to become mud. Gingerly, he picks up the lamb, and the lamb is overjoyed. Finally, someone will help. Finally, someone she can trust to take care of her. He carries her out into the pasture, far, far away from all the other sheep. With a rising horror the lamb realizes where the shepherd is taking her. He’s taking her to the place where all the sheep know there are wolves. They know not to go there, because it’s dangerous.

And again, he sets her down on a bed of grass. “It’ll be ok. I just can’t let you inside the fold anymore. You’ll cause more harm to my flock, and I just can’t let that happen.”

He leaves her there. Leaves her where there is no place to run, or hide, or seek safety. Leaves her where she can’t even crawl away. He goes back to his flock, and he spots the sheep covered in blood. There are flakes of blood in his teeth, spattering his wool. His hooves are caked in blood, and the lamb’s wool has gotten caught in his teeth and in his hooves. The shepherd leads him to the stream, and there he tenderly washes it, cooing over him. He tells him that everything will be ok, that no one has to know, that the little lamb has forgiven him and there’s nothing to worry about or be afraid of. The sheep nuzzles the shepherd happily, and looks over at another little lamb in the flock.

It’s hours later, and the lamb is choking now, gasping for breath. Her heart is beating so violently she can feel it pounding, like it’s going to explode. She knows she’s going to die. This is the end. There’s nothing she can do, nowhere she can go. She can’t even go back to the flock or the fold. Everything she thought she knew was safe and trusthworthy has been obliterated, annihilated, destroyed. There’s nothing left.

There’s a rustling in the grass, but she can’t even turn her head to look at it, to figure out what it is, but she knows it’s a wolf, and suddenly, she’s thankful. Grateful for the death that is about to come swiftly.

But what touches her isn’t sharp teeth, gouging claws. It’s a pair of hands, and she tries to jerk away. Terror seizes her, tells her that she has to run, to hide, to get away. It’s the shepherd come back, and she doesn’t know what he’s going to do. But she can’t even move, there’s so much pain. So much hurt.

The hands gather her up, pull her close to a chest. And it’s a familiar feeling– oh it’s so familiar. She wants to give in to it, but she can’t. She can’t. She tenses when a hand touches her head. The shepherd used to do that. Used to hold her like this, stroke her head, her ears.

Everything is quiet and still for the space of what feels like a few heartbeats. But then… she hears crying. And the crying becomes sobbing, and the sobbing becomes wailing. And the hands pull her tighter to the chest, and the warmth feels good, but… she doesn’t know what to do, or what to think. The body that holds her begins to rock back and forth, and groan, and weep.

“Oh, my lamb.” A voice says. “My precious, darling, wonderful lamb. Oh, my lamb. My lamb.”

It’s a voice she’s heard before, somewhere, but it carries that sense that she’s heard it before in a dream. It’s deep, and wonderful, and there’s so much love. More tears fall into her wool, onto her face.

And the pain fades. It’s still there, aching and devastating, but it’s muted somehow. Finally she’s able to look at the body that’s holding her, and the face she sees is tanned from years in the wilderness, and gaunt from sleeping by roadsides, and scarred so horrifically and so beautifully it almost can’t be borne. She looks into his eyes, and they are overflowing with tears and with love, and he smiles at her, his lips trembling and tears pouring down his scarred, weathered face.

“I’ve got you,” He says. “I’ve got you.”

Feminism

cloistered fruit: (not) an open letter to the Pearls

napa valley

So, a friend of mine sent me this post by Michael and Debi Pearl the other day. I encourage you to go read it, just so that you have some context for the following rant and can follow along. There’s a bunch of stuff that’s wrong with this article, and I’m just going to unload both barrels here. Also, in case I get something wrong, because that is totally possible. I’m ranting, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want clarity or cogency or accuracy. If you think that I’ve blown something out of proportion, and you would like to point out a subtlety or nuance, feel free. Or, you can get up here on my soapbox and rant with me. That’s cool, too.

Every family emits its own light. After viewing a family for just five seconds, I know so much about them. After being introduced to each member of the family, they are an open book.

This is from Michael, and all I have to say is No. Just– no. Five seconds? Really? Everyone is just an open book to you? I shouldn’t be shocked anymore at the unbelievable arrogance and condescension Michael Pearl emits, but somehow, every time, it’s like someone slapped me in the face with a fish. Yes, some people are perceptive, and are capable of accurate first impressions– but this claim goes right along with Micheal’s exalted view of himself as a self-proclaimed “prophet.”

The man was about fifty, certainly not a looker.

Now we’re in one of Debi’s sections, and all this does is remind me of Debi’s rather extensive story about the “one ugly hillbilly” woman in Created to be his Help Meet. This observation has absolutely no bearing on the story she’s about to relate– except as possibly to judge the “Old Dude” (what a demeaning way to refer to someone) for not conforming to her physical standards, and to judge the young woman who appears later for having an emotional connection with someone who isn’t a “looker.” There’s no logical explanation for this– it’s just more of Debi’s self-righteous judgment spilling out of her. Both Michael and Debi have demonstrated, throughout the sum total of their careers, an astonishing lack of compassion and simple human empathy.

Right here, at our church, among all these righteous families! I stood amazed at the audacity of the human race.

In other words, how dare people with actual real-life problems dare show themselves in our church! How dare someone who doesn’t conform to our little universe of perfection! How dare you come in here, and violate our incomprehensibly narrow view of the world!

I tried to ask the girl questions to ascertain the cause of this odd arrangement, but he answered as if the questions were directed to him, and the young lady deferred to him as if he were her voice of conscience. I thought that unless her father had truly been abusive, she should return to her family, but I was making no progress engaging her to consider her options.

Back to Michael. This is where I agree with him– this interaction shows that something about their relationship is off. The married man (I refuse to refer to him as “Old Dude”) is forbidding this young woman to even speak, and that seems to be something that is the standard for them. Either because of the married man in this situation, or because of her abusive home, she’s been silenced. She’s literally voiceless here. But this is the only time anyone even mentions this. It stands out to them as a little odd, but not that odd. Because women are expected to let men “lead.” If you’re going to be a “good Christian woman,” silence is expressly demanded by people like the Pearls. So it’s only a little weird, instead of the gigantic flaming red flag it should have been.

And this is one of the places where Michael builds on a long-standing understanding in these types of circles, and you can see it in the words “truly abusive.” This is so incredibly loaded. Because, to Michael, who endorses extreme physical punishment that borders on the sociopathic, “true abuse” would have to be on the level of breaking bones before he was convinced. Emotional and psychological trauma– don’t even exist. Because the ramifications of emotional abuse are just “bitterness” and “un-forgiveness” to the Pearls. Michael would voluntarily send an adult woman back into an abusive situation in order for her to be “under her father’s protection” than ever admit that a “Christian father” is capable of abusing his children. Psychological trauma– just spiritual and heart issues. And her “options”? This girl doesn’t have options. She’s not even allowed to speak for herself– which could indicate that she’s being manipulated into believing she doesn’t have options. When a woman can’t even talk how can she make an actual decision?

At this point in the story, Debi has burst in with an unexplained prophecy, declaring that she’d heard from God, and was speaking with his authority. She gives no context, and disappears as quickly as she came. Then, she sits down the woman for a talk. She does seem to give the married couple and the abused woman some benefit of the doubt– at first.

Undoubtedly his relationship with his wife was already barren before the girl came along, but the old wife had now become the second woman.

What the. Crap on a cracker. Debi– seriously?! You hear this from God, too? A voice come booming out of heaven to tell you that their marriage was “undoubtedly barren”? Which, if you’ve read Debi’s book is without exception always the woman’s fault. If this married man is developing a emotionally intimate connection, it’s obviously because his wife doesn’t smile enough, or doesn’t know how to put her makeup on. Clearly.

I had to try to help Little Miss see the error of her ways.

To most young brides the husband appears clumsy and unfeeling. But as the wife continues to obey and reverence her young husband, he will grow in appreciation for her soul, and in time learn to care for her emotional and spiritual needs.

I explained to Little Miss that having even a small part of this “mysterious relationship” with another woman’s husband, especially in her own home, in front of her, is exceedingly cruel and evil.

Already touching her spirit, I knew what the answer would be, but I wanted the girl to understand she was indeed not innocent.

If there was ever going to be any change to this situation then she had to understand the full ugliness of her actions, so I drove home how depraved and self-centered she was to do such a thing as to interfere with the sacredness of marriage.

Being cloistered might have been bad for her, but now she was party to damaging the sacred.

Girlie, it will come to you soon enough, and you will need a place to flee. Don’t come here. The invitation for a place to stay is closed. I would not trust a ‘regret’ girl around this ministry.”

This should speak for itself.

Debi doesn’t care about the abuse this woman has experienced. It doesn’t even matter– it only enters as a “but” statement. The fact that the married man in this situation talks about being “highly skilled in the art of caressing souls” straight to Micheal’s face doesn’t matter. They’re not even capable of picking up on the GIGANTIC BILLBOARD-SIZED RED FLAGS that should tell them that the man in this situation is taking advantage of a tender, fragile, desperate and abused young woman.

Because it’s the wife’s fault for not reverencing her husband, or not fulfilling him, or not having sex with him enough, or not keeping herself pretty enough. And then it’s the abused woman’s fault. Her fragility, the fact that this married man deliberately chose a woman sheltered enough to not understand exactly how he was going to “caress her soul.” He’s vulnerable because of his wife, and the abused woman is preying on his vulnerability. No, he’s not emotionally manipulative, or taking advantage of this situation at all. It’s all the woman’s fault, because being abused by her parents and then manipulated by another man (which she’s probably been taught since infancy is a legitimate authority over her, simply because he’s a man) doesn’t make a lick of difference.

And then comes the hammer. Debi tells her that she will absolutely not help an abused woman when this woman eventually realizes that she traded the frying pan for the fire. Because she’s responsible for the married man manipulating her. She’s cruel, evil, depraved, and self-centered. She’s not hurting, she’s not lost, she’s not desperate for someone to realize that she’s a person, and that she needs help.

Michael and Debi Pearl– YOU are cruel, evil, depraved, and self-centered. You’ve been blinded by the power you’ve wrested from innocent people by being false prophets. You are completely and desperately lacking of any form of common sense or sound judgment.

The article goes on (with Michael inserting an insignificant caveat about how holy and righteous he was, and how men should stay away from women, because, well, women will seduce them away from God), but the story is over. They switch into analysis mode, and I just . . . can’t.

If you are a young woman in a cloistered situation, beware of jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Staying in the frying pan is much to be preferred, for you can always jump when a clean alternative shows itself.

Samantha hits her head on her desk repeatedly at the sheer idiocy and ignorance.

Do they never even stop and listen to themselves? Are they so blind to reality that they’re incapable of understanding how ridiculous a statement like this is? When you’ve grown up in a “cloistered” home– by their definition, a family so sheltered they can’t tell “right from wrong,” how the hell do you think an infantalized woman (or man, for that matter) is capable of being aware of the difference between “clean” and supposedly “unclean” alternatives? They’ve been purposely and deliberately shielded from having that kind of power.

Micheal and Debi Pearl are dangerous.

People listen to them, people respect them, people make excuses for them when their teachings are responsible for the slaughter of innocent children. Their loyal followers say that reactions like mine are exaggerated, that I’m just not giving the benefit of the doubt. If I’d really read all of their books, if I’d actually paid attention to what they advocate, I’d be fine with them. I’m just not understanding their true message, which is obviously of love and directly from God.

No.

I have read their books– I’ve read every single last one of their books multiple times. I idolized them as a child. They were just so brazenly honest, so overwhelmingly clear– how could Michael be anything but a prophet sent from God to teach the fundamentalists how to raise their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?

But as I got older, I started realizing, with a mounting horror, just how clearly evil their teachings are. What they advocate fosters and nurtures abusive homes. They explicitly encourage women to stay with physically abusive husbands and utterly dismiss the existence of marital rape and don’t even acknowledge that men emotionally and verbally abuse their wives.

Debi repeatedly tells women that if their husbands are abusing them, it’s clearly their fault. They’re just not reverencing their husbands enough. Reverence your husband, and he won’t yell. Reverence your husband, and he won’t beat you. Reverence your husband, and ignore the fact that he’s raping you when you don’t want to have sex– because you’re not even allowed to say no. If you say no, he’ll just go sleep with someone else.

And Michael– spank your child until he obeys. Spank your child with an ever-increasing-in-size pipe until he instantaneously submits to your every uttered command. Spank your children until they are cowed. Spank your children until they would never even think of disobeying you. Because that’s what’s going to teach them about how to obey God.

The only language the Pearls are capable of speaking is a language of violence and abuse.

Feminism

choices and being allowed to make them, part three

child abuse

I realize the claims I’m about to make here are going to upset some. Many of you are going to violently disagree with me, and I’m anticipating that. I’m not accusing the parents who hold to these ideas as abusers– they have no idea that the system they so fervently believe in as “biblical” is abusive. I’m making some very big, very broad claims, and I’m making them without nuance or complexity simply because of time constraints. There is a Polemical nature to what I’m saying, and I’m aware of that.

Shortly before I married Handsome, I was in his childhood home, kicking around with his younger brother. We’d just finished watching a movie, and we’d been discussing all sorts of interesting things– the merits of a Confederacy over a Republic, for example, and the meanings of oligarchy and aristocracy. Smart kid, right? Well, Handsome came downstairs, and I’m not sure how we got around to this, but we started talking about some of their mutual childhood memories; namely, how they were taught to respect their mother. Handsome and his brother started reminiscing about how their mother would “count” in order to get their attention.

When I say “count,” I’m talking about what we see in the grocery store every day: “I’m going to count to three,” and the child has the opportunity to respond within that time frame, or, well, consequences. That is not how their mother practiced it– she used it only as a means of getting attention, with no threat of consequences implied — but that’s the typical perception of “counting,” I think. Hopefully you agree.

When they started talking about this idea, I scoffed. Probably rolled my eyes, too. “We’re not doing that with our children,” I pronounced, quite firmly.

Handsome turned to me, genuinely confused by my obvious hostility to the idea. “Why not?”

“It’s just teaching them that they can disobey however they want to. That I don’t really mean it when I call them.”

He stared at me, clearly not following. “Huh?”

“Children need to obey their parents. They don’t get to define how and when they obey– we do.”

What followed was a rather intense discussion that, in retrospect on my part, didn’t make any sense. I started trying to argue that “counting” was inherently a threat, and I didn’t want to threaten my children, but somehow completely missed that the kind of authoritarian, totalitarian, dictator-style approach to parenting I was advocating was based on threats.

During our conversation, I started feeling very triggered, and I could feel a panic attack coming on, which perplexed me. Why was I reacting this way? Why was I spiraling out of control? I could feel myself start to tremble all over, and I knew I had to leave. I went up to my room, curled up on my bed and cried, completely not understanding why I was panicking, or even what had triggered me. What was going on? What had caused this? Why was I so upset, when Handsome had not done anything remotely triggering?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

At the time I attributed it to stress- it was a week before our wedding, and it had been a somewhat intense, although still friendly and open, conversation.

I know what it is now, although thinking about it is still very muddled. But, it is linked to the idea of instant, cheerful obedience that was advocated by nearly everyone I knew as a child and teenager. All the books we read taught it, and it was practiced by everyone in the community. Every child I knew had been taught since they were infants that they were to obey instantaneously and without question– and not just their parent. All children were required to obey all adults, and we could be punished by any adult immediately and with the direct approval by our parents.

My supposed “pastor”-‘s wife used to summon her children by whistling. She whistled through her teeth, and the sound was distinct, unmistakable, and loud. You could hear it from anywhere inside Wal-Mart, practically. Anytime she whistled, all of her children responded immediately— and in the sense of “immediately” that is the result of programming. Their response was so ingrained, so automatic, when they heard a whistle it was like watching Pavlov’s dogs. For all their talk about the evils of psychology, conservative religious disciplinarians sure jumped on board the behavioral modification and classical conditioning bandwagons.

Personally, I was taught to respond with a cheerful, respectful “yes ma’am,” to any demand, with the rationalization that it’s impossible for a child to say “yes ma’am” and try to fake respect if they’re not actually feeling it. I was required to drop anything I was doing the second I was summoned, because the summons was always more important than anything I was doing.

This continued into adulthood– I was still living with my parents, and had gotten home from an exhausting shift at work. All I wanted to do was curl up on the couch and watch the movie I’d rented when my mother called me into the office.

“Why?” I responded, believing it to be a reasonable response. I didn’t want to move. I was tired. I wanted to watch my movie and then go to bed.

“Just come here!”

“But why? I’m busy.”

“No, you’re not. Come here. I want to show you something.”

“What is it?”

“Just come here!” The frustration in her tone was escalating.

I realized at that point that if I was ever going to watch my movie I’d have to do whatever it was my mother wanted. When it turns out she wanted to show me a map because I’d gotten lost the day before, all I wanted to do was leave. Maps are completely useless to me– they make no sense, and unless I am actually driving on the road with one, all those little lines, squiggly and straight, mean absolutely nothing to me. My sense of direction is abysmal, and yes, it takes me a little while to figure out where I’m going and how to get there. But maps– they are worse than useless. But, they work really well for my mother. And, she was convinced, despite my protestations to the contrary, that if I just stared long and hard enough at the squiggly lines I wouldn’t get lost again.

She was the parent.

I was the child.

What I wanted to do didn’t matter. That I was tired didn’t matter. That I knew myself, my own capabilities and limits, didn’t matter. She knew how to help me, and she wanted to help me right now, no matter if I told her it was a waste of time or I was busy. I didn’t even get to define for myself if I was busy– that was determined by her. I don’t know what’s good for me, but because I’m her child, she does.

This is one of the biggest problems of the “Instant Obedience Doctrine.” No one grows out of it. Not parents, not children. And the children, fed since birth this dogma of absolute, unending, cheerful, complaint obedience to all authority, are implicitly indoctrinated against every outgrowing it.

This is why I believe that the Instant Obedience Doctrine (my term) is inherently abusive.

My parents didn’t abuse me with this doctrine. Our relationship is fine, although we’re having our problems adjusting to me being an independent, autonomous, free-thinking adult. It’s rough, but we’re doing it one day at a time.

The problem with the Instant Obedience Doctrine is that it grooms children to be abused. This is inescapable. Not every child brought up in this doctrine is being abused or will be abused, but it creates an entire system where abuse will be allowed to go unchecked, mainly because the child will have absolutely no concept of abuse. They will not have the ability to think of themselves as autonomous, as free agents, as having rights over their own bodies and what they get to do with them– because this idea is explicitly disavowed. Children do not have any ability to choose in this system– that ability is systematically taken away from them as part of “biblical child-rearing.” We have been taught since infancy that we are never, ever allowed to say “no” to an authority.

Oh, the people who teach this doctrine will pay lip-service to teaching their children about abuse. They’ll say that they’ve taught their children to tell them if someone touches them inappropriately, or if someone does something they don’t like. But the doctrine completely overrules this “stop gap” because the primary, foundational idea in this doctrine is that children are foolish, children are ignorant, and children must be corrected by authorities, usually through physical pain (corporal punishment).

This does unspeakable damage to everyone involved– the parents and the children. Because the children eventually grow up, and if they start asserting independence, like I am now, our relationships can be damaged, because the independence is sudden and unexpected. Expressing my own ideas, disagreeing with my parents can be very emotional, upsetting territory, because the point of the Instant Obedience Doctrine was to raise children who are ideological replicas of the parents. The fact that this doctrine essentially means that parents will never actually get to know who their own children are is completely lost in all the rhetoric.

And for many children brought up in this system, the biggest problem is that they have no access to any concept of being their own, independent person. That idea simply doesn’t exist. They exist to do the bidding of authorities. They are property. These narratives are internalized unconsciously by everyone involved in the process.

Again, not every child brought up in this system is physically or sexually abused by his or her parents, or even by other authority figures in their lives– but they are emotionally and psychologically abused by the fundamental notion that they do not belong to themselves, that they are incapable of making their own choices.

Feminism

choices and being allowed to make them, part two

autonomy

I’ve been struggling, hard, with this post, because, honestly, I don’t know where to begin.

I told a story yesterday from my childhood about the ability I had to make choices– to choose not eating something I disliked over eating cookies. My mother would present negotiations like this frequently, but only when the deal was an honest one. Did I want to wear this, or that? Did I want broccoli, or carrots? I could choose not to wear the wool tights if I wanted to put up with the cold. Whenever I was required to do something, like eat my vegetables or dress up for church (I hated dressing up), there was always some sort of choice involved. When my younger sister insisted that she could do it all by herself, she would wear her clothes inside out and two different socks to church. It was important to my mom that her children know the importance of making choices, and that choices have consequences.

When I was nine and we’d just moved to New Mexico, I was placed in the 5-9 year old Sunday School Class, where most of the kids were 6. I decided that I wanted to be in the 10-12 year old class, and I went to the teacher, not my mother, and told her I wanted a transfer. I explained why, and she moved me. All without even asking my mother– I had autonomy, the independence to decide what I wanted for myself and to go get it.

When we started attending our fundamentalist church-cult, much of that evaporated.

But, it didn’t really feel like I’d lost the ability to make decisions for myself, because I was taught, right along with my parents, that they had the duty, obligation, responsibility to make all my decisions for me, because I was a child and couldn’t be trusted (the fact that I was female compounded this exponentially). Verses like “foolishness is bound up into the heart of a child” and a “child left to himself brings shame to his mother” were used to bludgeon us with the concept that children are completely and totally capable of decision-making. Couple that with teachings like that infants are only lying when they cry, and children are essentially property, and you are left with a frightening vision for child-rearing.

And what we wind up with is my sister practically starving herself for two days because she refused to eat cheddar-broccoli soup and smile while she did it. Or me, as a twenty-four year old woman, curled up in a fetal position, sobbing into the carpet, having one of the worst panic attacks I’ve ever had because I wasn’t “allowed” to exit a conversation that was triggering me and go to my room. The insanity of it all was that I could have left the room– my father would never had physically restrained me. But I had been taught, since I was ten years old, that I do not have individual autonomy, free choice, or personal agency. After it was over he realized how insane it had been and apologized to me, in tears.

The problem is that we had both bought into the horrible lie that, as my parent’s child, they were the Absolute and Supreme Authority Over my Life in All Things. It never even occurred to me to think differently. When I went to the gynecologist for the first time, and she asked my mother to leave the room, I was completely baffled by the idea that I might have gone somewhere and done something my mother didn’t know about. The gynecologist was trying to tell me that it was “ok” if I was honest with her, she couldn’t tell my mother, it was against the law. I had a hard time explaining to her that I was with my parents every single waking moment of every single day, that there was absolutely nothing in my life they didn’t know about, because they were responsible for approving and being a part of everything I did.

This teaching has caused me so many problems as an adult– largely because I’ve been taught that having personal boundaries is wrong. I was taught to always nod my head and do exactly whatever any adult had told me to do, instantaneously, without complaint, and always. There was no room for “can I do it in five minutes?” There was zero tolerance for any kind of refusal, on any basis. There was never an excuse for disobeying anyone. Or even really saying “no” or “stop.” Personal feelings– feeling uncomfortable with a request, for example– were so far outside the point they didn’t bear consideration. And when, as an adult, I started establishing boundaries with people I’d never had any kind of boundary with before, the only result has been the termination of our relationship.

My parents were not abusive, let me make that clear. But, as a family, we swallowed this entire destructive system. Thankfully, for my family, the consequences were not severe. I was so thank-my-lucky-stars blessed because no one besides the pastor in my church abused me as a child or teenager (that would come later, in other relationships). But the consequences, for many, can be. Oh, the consequences can be horrendously and heart-breakingly hideous. The things that have been done to children in the name of patriarchy and “biblical” child-rearing are staggering and horrific.

Because, essentially, in this system, children do not have rights.

In this system, the only rights that matter are “parental rights,” and the organizations that seek to protect parental rights want to see Child Protective Services completely abolished, they openly campaign against the UN Rights of the Child, they call child abusers “heroes.” They openly support (and hire) men who have been convicted of sex crimes against children.

In this system, children are property. And you raise these children to literally be automatons– except, unlike Asimov’s positronic brain, there’s no Third Law— there’s no instruction to protect ourselves, only to obey.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This is where I’d like to ask for your help.

You might be aware that there is a petition for the Home School Legal Defense Association to openly acknowledge that homeschoolers can also be abusers, and to educate their members about child abuse.

I want to ask you to go, read the 300+ stories, and sign the petition. If you’re someone who is familiar with CPS conspiracy theories, or you were someone who was abused in a homeschooling environment, or you knew someone who was, please tell your story, too. There’s other outlets– like Homeschoolers Anonymous, which is attempting to collect the stories of the once-homeschooled adults. There’s Homeschooling’s Invisible Children, which is researching and collating all the documented cases of homeschooling abuse it can find. The Wartburg Watch monitors any and all of the damaging, destructive trends and teaching that appear in Christian culture.

These issues are  . . . so far beyond words. They are horrifying. They are abomination. They are anathema to anything a Christian should believe, to anything a decent human being should believe is true. The fact that there are entire organizations bent on openly supporting these concepts and then blatantly covering up the natural consequences . . . deeply grieves me. I’ve been reading these stories, and there are days where I can’t take it anymore, when I curl up on my bed and weep for all those who have been so gravely wounded– or destroyed– by these teachings.

This post is going to be a safe harbor. Ordinarily my comment policy is as open as I can make it– but not for this. I will not tolerate comments that dismiss or belittle the evil of these ideas, or attempt to justify them in any way. I will not allow that to happen here, on this post.

If you are someone who has been affected by these teachings, who has suffered abuse or trauma because of these ideas, you can speak truth here. You can tell your story– if that is something you want to do. If you want to share your story, but do not want to share it publicly, you can email me, or send my facebook page a message.

forgedimagination (at) gmail (dot) com.

facebook.com/defeatingthedragons