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Enough is Enough

I have followed and read almost every story, comment, and response following the release of the video capturing the toxic culture of sexual assault, misogyny, and violence against women that plagues our society. I have written why we don’t share out stories in the midst of the this peak into the justification and defense of participating in this culture. I have written and wrestled with the truth that spiritual abuse lives and thrives in our communities of faith because we are afraid to talk about sexuality and sexual assault in our communities of faith.

I have cried and mourned that my reality as a girl who grew up in a fundamentalist community of faith may also be my daughters’ reality. I have hoped and prayed that the allegations and spread of this video would ignite a fervor, a revelation, a revival among those who are fighting for the equality of women only to be disappointed and disheartened by the defense and endorsement of the pastors, ministers, and fellow women of this behavior. And in my disappointment, I have fallen into the same mindset of fear and shame over who I am and moved to the shadows of silence and oppression because it is where I am comfortable and what is most familiar.

And then I listened to Michelle Obama voicing her hurt, her outrage, and her commitment to keep fighting. I listened and was reminded of the women who are standing strong and standing up, even though they are being criticizes, intimidated, and condemned by those whose power is threatened because their shadow lives and beliefs are being brought to the light. I listened and quieted the monsters of shame and vulnerability that told me to disengage from conversation because my voice didn’t matter and wouldn’t make a difference.

Michelle is right, enough is enough.

If you think the follow up to this video’s release that the system is rigged is not carefully, calculated political divergence, it’s time to open your eyes. The system is rigged, but not because it is exposing powerful men who use their power against women. The system is rigged because a conversation about sexual assault, sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, and violence against women is way overdue and because women who venture to stand up and speak out are still met with skepticism, intimidation, and mansplaining. If you don’t think these responses aren’t carefully thought out to keep power in the hands of the powerful because there is a viable threat to that power being overturned, it’s time to open your eyes.

I know the pain and humiliation that comes from opening your eyes to the realization that you have been played, manipulated, and tricked. I know it causes you to doubt yourself, your instincts, and the very core of who are, but it’s time to get over ourselves, our own insecurities, our own self-doubt in order to create something more for our children.

Our oldest just turned nine.

I remember turning nine.

There is no way I want her to remember this.

Let’s keep fighting.

Why We Don’t Share Our Stories

The release of the video on Friday that reveals the rape culture in America and the reason there are so many women who have stories of sexual assault, sexual violence, and rape was appalling to many. And in light of this video, there were many, many brave women who shared their stories. Stories of being raped, of being groped, and of being intimidated, threatened, and bullied by men. But there are many more women who haven’t shared their stories. Women who can’t share their stories because the abuse they experienced were in churches, were by deacons, were by ministers. These women who experienced not only sexual abuse, but spiritual abuse were forced to sign clauses and agreements that prevent them from sharing their stories in order to preserve a facade of holiness and righteousness that doesn’t exist. These women were shamed into this silence in order to preserve the institution of church and the hierarchy of power that excludes and oppresses them. These women were told that if their stories got out the church would split, contributions would drop, and it would be their fault.

What the evangelical response to this video has revealed is that they have contributed to this rape culture, this spiritual abuse and in standing by someone who has participated in this culture and has risen to the power and influence of being a presidential candidate, they hope that their secrets and positions are protected and preserved.

If these stories can’t be shared because of threats and bullying, then it up to us as the people of God to create space for healing and hope for those who have not only experienced sexual abuse, but had spiritual abuse heaped on top of those experiences. We have to be willing to ask tough questions of our leaders and practices. We have to be willing to say no to religious leaders who have histories and pasts of sexual assault, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment. We have to be willing to be brave for those who can’t share their stories.

Thanks be to God for those who are already standing up for the oppressed, the silenced, and the abused.

Spiritual Abuse and Name Calling in the Purity Culture

I didn’t know I grew up in the Purity Culture. I didn’t realize that my age corresponded to a growing movement called True Love Waits that reached national attention right as I entered a conservative, evangelical youth group. I didn’t realize that for years and years the church governed mostly by men had been determining and deciding what was best for women’s bodies. I didn’t understand that the message of the Purity Culture often led to women who were guilty and ashamed and prime targets for rape.

All I knew is I didn’t want to be called any names.

I didn’t want to be called “whore,” “slut,” or “easy:” all names that heaped shame on the head of girls in my youth group who were considered to be “on the wrong path” and “unequally yoked” to bad influences. More than anything I didn’t want to be one of the girls who fell into this category. I’m not sure I knew what any of those names meant, but I knew what they implied: a girl who was living for herself and not living for God.

This is spiritual abuse.

This fear of being labeled of being shamed has been difficult to overcome. It’s why hearing a presidential nominee use name calling and guilt and shame as motivators to action sounds a little too familiar. But the labeling in the Purity Culture and in evangelical circles is so important to eliciting the type of behavior desired from congregants that is hard for many spiritual leaders to rid themselves of this practice, even spiritual leaders who wish to engage in healthy and whole practices of ministry.

The implementation of the Purity Culture is inundated with spiritual abuse practices like name calling that distract and defer from the message and intent of the gospel. These practices and the Purity Culture have left many, many millennials who were raised in the midst of the rise of the Purity Culture lost, shamed, and broken after years and years of faithful attendance to church.

The future of the church is in the midst of this brokenness. This brokenness caused by the institution of church. This brokenness caused by good intentions and failed implementation. This brokenness that has left scars and bruises in the next generation of church goers.

To minister now is to minister in the midst of this hurt and brokenness. It will take minister who are vulnerable. Ministers who openly and honestly address their privilege. Ministers who have advisory teams to determine whether they are engaging in spiritual abuse. Ministers who meet people where they are.

And ministers who are mobile because these who have been hurt and broken are going to have trouble returning to the place where they were abused, shamed, and broken.

Spiritual Abuse and Purity Culture

I grew up in a faith community that strongly emphasized a purity culture. That emphasis resulted in a lot of shaming that still lingers in my heart and mind. Shame for wanting to express my innate sexuality that isn’t about just a physical act, but rather about stepping wholly and fully into who I was created to be.

This journey to wholeness isn’t easy because of the way purity culture weaved sexuality and God intricately together. Sexuality and faith are so closely tied in my mind that’s it has been difficult to separate out what God believes about me as a sexual being and what the church believes about sexuality. If I wanted to please God as a young woman, it meant silencing and repressing a very part of who I was with the idea that all of those repressed feelings where magically supposed to manifest into a healthy, intimate, sexual relationship once you found “the one.”

This is spiritual abuse.

This is spiritual abuse that has caused so many women and men to feel broken, beat up, disappointed, and rejected by God. This is spiritual abuse that has triggered depression, anxiety, guilt and shame, and entitlement. This is spiritual abuse that has excluded so many from a community of faith because of “sexual misconduct,” leaving them lonely, afraid, and hopeless.

In order for that brokenness to heal, we have to talk to others who have been on the same journey we have. We have to be open about the negative impact this spiritual abuse has caused us personally and in our relationships. We have to talk about this, so that this spiritual abuse cannot continue. We have to talk about sex and sexuality with our children differently.

We have to talk about this because the gospel message is not one of shame and guilt. The gospel is hope, healing, and wholeness.

The Importance of Naming Spiritual Abuse

As I hear more and more stories of spiritual abuse, I am discovering that many people who are victims of spiritual abuse shy away from saying they experienced spiritual abuse. I understand their sentiments because to name yourself as someone who has experienced spiritual abuse is to identify a community of faith as a place where spiritual abuse has taken place. If you have experienced spiritual abuse, then you know the consequences of questioning this type of power.

So, thank you, to those readers who have shared their stories with me. It has made me feel like I am not alone, but more importantly, you have done powerful work for those who are in the midst of spiritual abuse because you have named their experience as something real. By naming and claiming your experience as spiritual abuse, you have given life to the truth that spiritual abuse happens and is happening in communities of faith.

When God asked Adam to name the creation in the Genesis 2, it was a demonstration that Adam held dominion over these creatures, dominion that Creator God had entrusted to Adam. In the same way, those who lead God’s people have been given called to name what God is telling God’s people about themselves. When ministers and spiritual leaders, name one of God’s creations as unworthy or excluded the process of naming becomes labeling. Instead of this act of naming being life-giving, it is life-draining.

Using God’s calling as a minister to promote some as more worthy and more important is spiritual abuse. Naming this act of spiritual abuse, reveals the misuse of dominion and how easily naming can become name calling.

To you who have been called names by religious leaders and followers of Christ, hear now the word of the Lord:

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

You Cannot Serve

I remember in seminary, discussing a case study in which someone was asking to become a member of Baptist church. In the case study, the person had been baptized as an infant and did not want to be rebaptized. This was rich fodder for us as future ministers because many of us were serving in Baptist congregation who had similar membership requirements. The discussion was important because membership in the case study, and in many of our ministry contexts, was tied to the ability to volunteer or become a deacon. In the case of the person in the case study, the church refused to offer this person membership as many of my classmates concluded would happen in their own ministry contexts.

In other words, the church gets to decide who is in and who is out. Is it a wonder why there is a stark decline in membership? Every year 2.7 million church members fall into inactivity. Not only are people not becoming members of congregations, but those who are members aren’t involved anymore. If you can make it through the membership hoops that many congregations require, you still might be told you cannot serve based on your gender or your sexual orientation. For many communities of faith, wanting to volunteer to serve is dependent on fitting biblical interpretation that excludes and discriminates against women and members of the LGTBQ community.

If you have never been told because of your gender or because of your sexual orientation that you cannot serve as a volunteer at a church, then you have a privilege many people don’t. If you have never doubted that you would be able to be involved in church activities included leading Sunday School, chaperoning youth trips, and serving as a deacon, you have a privilege many people don’t. If you have never been told, you cannot serve based on who you are, you have a privilege many don’t. There is too much to do and too much need for churches to be deciding who can and cannot serve God and help those in need. This is spiritual abuse.

If you find yourself as one of the many who churches have told you cannot serve because of who you are, join us at ministrieslab.



The Ugly Truth of Spiritual Abuse

BNG posted an article this week recounting the story of CJ Mahaney being asked to preach at a preaching conference called Together for the Gospel. Mahaney’s focus for his Sunday sermon was on how churches should support their pastors and not question them. The reason his sermon was so controversial was because Mahaney has been accused of multiple accounts of child abuse since the 1980s and using the leadership of his church to cover up this abuse. Should this man be allowed into the pulpit to preach with these allegations?Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard about spiritual leaders engaged in child molestation or abuse. The Catholic Church has been brought to task for this very same issue.

The vast majority of cases where this church leaders are convicted of sexual abuse and molestation of children are in patriarchal systems of religion. This isn’t coincidence. Patriarchal theological teaching, interpretation, and doctrine are the breeding ground for spiritual abuse i.e. the use of spiritual or biblical interpretation in order to justify sexually molesting, abusing, or raping another person.

When we as members of congregants deny that sexual abuse, molestation, and rape are possibilities in our congregation, we deny that 1 in 6 women have been the victims of rape or attempted rape in their lifetimes. Perhaps the reason we are seeing a decline in church attendance and spiritual affiliation, is because of the rampant spiritual abuse that is taking places in our churches (yes, is taking place) with multiple church employees and congregants involved in coverups.

This is an ugly truth. We don’t want to admit that our churches are the places inflicting pain and hurt on people. We want to believe our churches are places of hope and healing.

Church can be that, but not until we bring to light the ugly truth of spiritual abuse.

Why I Ask the Awkward Questions Others Won’t

I was recently being interviewed and in the course of our discussion, my interviewer remarked:

“Well, you have gotten the reputation of talking about hot button issues, people usually don’t want to talk about.”

I laughed, but after the interview was over I thought a little more earnestly about that statement. Why did I ask those awkward questions about hot button issues that many churches, ministers, and lay people get nervous even mentioning?

Why did I feel compelled in a recent gathering of ministers and lay people to bring to light sexist and patriarchal language? Why do I write in this space about how churches need to have the difficult conversation around inclusion of the LBGTQ community? Why can’t I appreciate the heart of a message and forget about the racist, sexist, and privileged subtexts? Why can’t I keep my mouth shut around touchy topics that make people uncomfortable?

Perhaps it is because there have been so many times I haven’t said or done anything, but instead have tacitly condoned discriminatory language, practices, and patterns through my participation and silence. Perhaps it is because I hope that by challenging men who tell me at professional gatherings that it “looks like I’ve lost all that baby weight,” I am trying to expose sexism so my daughters might not have these types of experiences as professional women. Perhaps it’s because when I do speak up, I hear voices of others who wanted to say something, but thought it was just them who felt the sexist and racist subtext of the conversations. Perhaps it is because I am beginning to understand my own privilege and how it impacts others when I make decisions haphazardly without analysis or reflection.

Unless we are willing to fight against discrimination both systemic and unintentional in our language, in our worship, and in our churches, we are perpetuating the belief that Creator God is only available to some types of people and not all people. When we allow discriminatory patterns, habits, and language to enter our sacred spaces, we miss the opportunity to hear of the power of God working in the lives of God’s people. We miss miraculous evidence that God is still transforming lives. We miss the glimpses of wholeness and hope and healing in the midst of brokenness and hurt and pain.

We miss the opportunity to bear witness to God’s work in and among us.

And I don’t want to miss that.

Looks Matter

I sat in the pew preparing for the service: marking my hymns and making sure my phone was turned off. As the organ started, I stood with the rest of the congregation glancing ahead still nervous about the liturgical-style worship. The minister lead us in the Call to Worship, we sang another hymn, and sat down.

From behind me, I heard, “Well, they didn’t pay much attention to who was up this week did they? Four gray-haired men doesn’t make us seem so welcoming and affirming.”

I looked up and noticed the person behind me was right. The church had female ministers and ordained female ministers, but you wouldn’t have known that if this was the first time visiting the church because four white, male men over fifty who occupied the four chairs on the platform.  I hadn’t noticed it because growing up in a Southern Baptist Church, there were always only men on the platform, most of them were my parents’ age or older. That was just the norm.

But this church was supposed to be a moderate or, actually, a progressive baptist church. As a young, female seminarian at the time, I wondered who was in charge of noticing not just the elements of the worship service, but how the church looked on Sunday morning.

Looks matter.

Whether we like it or not, first impressions make all the difference to people who are seeking a moderate or progressive experience. If churches claim to be moderate or progressive but don’t have women participating in the service, then their words and actions don’t match. If churches claim to be invested in developing young ministers, but don’t have young ministers participating in the service, then their words and actions don’t match.

We can say all we want to that we are moderate or progressive, open and affirming, but until we do something to include all people in our churches and in our worship services, then our words are meaningless.

Actions speak louder than words.

The Leering Look at the Stoplight

I could feel the stare before I saw the eyes in the car next door leering at me. He gave a wide-mouthed grin and then a wink.

Really? I thought to myself. He can’t even see me. 

If it wasn’t about looks, then what was the leering look about?

And then it dawned on me. He does it because he can do it…Because no one is stopping him from winking at a woman at the stoplight.

And he’ll just keep on doing it to as many women as he wants to.

The light turns green and a wait just a second before pushing the gas pedal.

I hope I’ll never see him again.