Yes, abuse happens in churches

My latest critic took it upon himself to write a long and accusatory comment denying that a certain kind of abuse happens in churches across America: that of making sexual abuse victims feel worse by teaching a purity doctrine that compares them to worthless used chewing gum (or other disgusting things). To him, and anyone else who denies that some groups that call themselves Christian sometimes can and do teach harmful things like that:

Yes, this abuse happens in churches.

No, I am not saying it happens in all denominations, or by all leaders, as your comment seems to accuse. Does everything apply to everyone, all the time? When someone points out that a certain teaching is being taught and is harmful, does that mean that they’re saying that EVERY leader teaches that? Of course not. Not unless they clearly state that. Don’t assume they mean what you expect them to mean. Slow down and actually read what is there. In the last 35 years or so, I have run into some real pieces of work who are called “church leaders.” They have taught some extreme and incorrect things, harmful things, specifically purity doctrine and other disempowering notions. Their denominations run a pretty wide spectrum, too:

  • Mormon
  • Baptist (Southern, American, and Independent)
  • Free Methodist
  • Assembly of God
  • Nondenominational Christian
  • Orthodox Christian

I want to be clear, one more time: not all Christian groups, and not all Christians in those groups do the harmful things I might talk about in some of my posts. Just because I say some people in Group A teach a certain off-the-wall and harmful thing, it does not necessarily mean that everyone in that group teaches that and harms people with it.

But some do. And some = too many.

Disrespect, discount, dismiss

This is my experience, and when it comes to the topic mentioned in the post in question (about purity doctrine), it’s also that of many others. If you’ve never seen these kinds of things happening, that’s great. In fact, I would love it if no one ever saw those kinds of things happen ever again. But don’t you dare discount my experience—or that of countless others—just because YOU don’t think you’ve heard these harmful messages in your church. Maybe you haven’t heard them. Maybe they haven’t been sent in your church. I hope it’s true. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t been sent or heard in thousands of other churches. When you attack my writing using words like “everyone” and “never” and other all-inclusive and incorrect terms… When you tell me that everyone who reads it questions my motives for writing it… When you tell me not to speak these truths and accuse me of striking at the Church of Christ… It doesn’t send me cowering into a corner. It only shows that my post hit close to home and that you’re overstating the things you’re saying. “Always,” “never,” and “everyone” are usually lies. Is it possible that you don’t want the truth uncovered? If you are not perpetuating those harmful teachings, then what do you have to get defensive about? The Church is not harmed by shining the light of truth in the dark corners. It is made healthier by rooting out the evil being done.

Playing God

You played God with your statements, acting as if you could judge the hearts of other people, that you could know what each and every person who reads it thinks/will think of it. God’s shoes are some pretty big shoes to fill. You don’t know me. You don’t know my motives, or what I know and what I don’t. And you sure don’t know what’s going on in churches across America every week. That is, unless you’re present everywhere at once and you can witness what they’re teaching, and unless you’re inside every young person who hears those teachings and can tell what message they receive and what it does to them.

What kind of abuse happens in churches?

Abuse happens in churches sometimes. More than one kind of abuse happens. Financial abuse happens. Sexual abuse happens. Spiritual abuse happens, where people throw their weight around and try to control things that are none of their business. Young girls and women are made to feel less than human because of the chauvinism that still exists in many churches. And, when taught purity doctrine, (many? most?) sexual abuse victims receive the message that they are worthless now. Many Christian books have these teachings in them, so to tell me that I made it up, and just recently, too, is laughable. As of May 27, 2014, Google shows 7,580,000 search results for purity doctrine, and 3,000 for it in this specific context. If I “just made up that term,” as you claim, then I could take credit for all of those search results, but alas, I can only claim two so far. The rest of those webpages were created by other people—many other people. Many, many people have had this same experience, have received this same message, and thousands have written about it. I didn’t “make it up.” It’s real.

Your comment has many incorrect assumptions about me and attacks on me that I think are, to use your own words again, “decidedly unhelpful to anyone.” As if you get to decide for others what is or is not helpful to them.

Helping others who have been hurt

Get to know me a bit and you’ll find out that the purpose of everything I do is to help people. Almost everyone who invests any time in getting to know me comes to that conclusion. Granted, I don’t always help people with a sugary tone. Sometimes helping someone doesn’t mean giving them what they want, but instead speaking some painful truth. Sometimes I fail, but I don’t let that keep me from doing what I can, when I can. I help people directly, one-on-one and in groups, and I help others in other ways, such as through blog posts that might help them realize that they are valuable and loved, no matter what happened to them. Sometimes helping people means quietly holding someone’s hand and letting them work through it. Sometimes helping people means standing up and saying “Hey, this is wrong, and it needs to stop.” As long as I’m able to, I’ll keep at it. I hope you further the cause of Christ as well, in whatever way(s) you’re equipped.

Purity doctrine says sexual assault makes you worthless

A friend shared with me a statement by Elizabeth Smart. When Elizabeth says that we’re taught that our life is worthless and has no value once we’ve been used sexually, she nails it. She was talking about abstinence education, but it applies to the entire “purity doctrine” message females receive. Purity doctrine says sexual assault makes you worthless.

Just to be clear: I fully support parents teaching their children that waiting until marriage is the right thing to do. I fully support young people making that decision to wait. This is NOT to say that abstaining from sex until marriage is a bad thing. I teach my own children that God designed sex to be for a married couple, that it is a way to grow their family and to grow closer to each other and to Him. Also, some churches get it right. They are not the problem.

Sexual abuse ruins everything

Sexual abuse strips you of all dignity, all control. It harms you all by itself. Hearing abstinence/purity doctrines makes it worse because it teaches you that sexual abuse strips you of your value as a woman. I have never heard male victims be told this (though I am aware of their feelings of deep shame associated with being abused), but I’m not saying it’s not possible for them to be given the same message. If you’re a male victim and did get that message, please let me know.

Purity doctrine says sexual assault makes you worthless. People who hold to purity doctrine teach that a female’s value resides between her legs, and there are only three possibilities.

  1. If she’s unmarried and not a virgin—whether she voluntarily had sex or was raped—she is worthless and no one will ever want her.
  2. If she’s unmarried and still a virgin, she still has her “value.” As if she’s a piece of property that could rise or fall in worth.
  3. If she’s married, her sexual purity belongs to her husband (again, as if she’s a piece of property) and all she’s good for is giving her husband sex, babies, and home-cooked meals in the house she cleans.

Damaged goods

No matter how much the fundamentalists who subscribe to this way of thinking protest and say they do not think that assault makes a young woman less desirable, it is obvious that they do. I’ve seen proof of it for over 30 years now. It underlies what they say. You’re a chewed piece of gum if you have sex before marriage.

That makes us feel even worse, to be told that we deserve to be thrown away by everyone who loves us, including God, told that we deserve to be rejected by any man we might love and that we are less worthy because we are not virgins.

A young man rejected me as “wife material” because he knew my history, and he had been taught by his church that any woman who wasn’t a virgin when she got married was “damaged goods” and “not worthy” of him. He had played around with innumerable women, several at a time, but he was still technically a virgin, so that made him okay and made me garbage.

Sexual assault and depression

If a girl who is raised in purity culture is assaulted prior to marriage, she will feel even more nugatory than other victims do after being attacked. That feeling alone is enough to lead to suicide, even in someone who was not raised with purity doctrine. How much more depressed and despondent would a person be if they were raised with it? Purity doctrine says sexual assault makes you worthless.

I was molested from the time I was an infant until adulthood. Moreover, my own mother and stepfather held me as a sex slave for years. Different church leaders—in several different denominations—my whole life have told me (some indirectly, some just flat-out) that I was worth nothing, that no one would ever want to marry me, and that I was not allowed to do certain things because I was “not pure.” As if I would infect the other girls! Needless to say, I was depressed!

Female oppression

Some groups teach that a woman is only good for taking care of her husband (sex daily and waiting on him hand and foot), her children, and her home. Christian women in these groups are told that they must service their husbands every time he has a “need.” Entire books have been written on it (see Debbi Pearl for just one example).

For abuse survivors, it’s a miracle if they are ever able to get married or are ever able to stand sex at all. The message, “This is all you’re good for” retraumatizes sex abuse survivors every time they hear it, not to mention that it’s wrong and should not be taught to anyone, even if it is packaged in a pretty bow and labeled “a woman’s highest calling.” Actually, especially if it is packaged that way, because that’s dishonest. At least call it what it is: male domination and female oppression in the name of God. Something tells me He doesn’t like that one bit. And according to every priest and monk I’ve spoken to about it, that is not Orthodoxy.

Abuse survivors need love and acceptance

Anyone who’s been assaulted should have tons of love, acceptance, gentleness, and consideration. They should never be made to feel like they are less than human, that their value depends on their state of virginity, or that God and their family members should love them less now that they have been “defiled.”

All of those things are lies straight from the pit of hell. Stop telling those lies. People say they don’t send that message, that they actually think sexual assault is a horrible thing and that the victims should be helped, and yet they say the victims must have sex with their spouses. They are wrong. They do send that message.

One “leader” even went so far as to tell me that I had to do it at least three times a week, more if my husband wanted it, and preferably multiple times a day, every day.

Make victims feel even worse

Such harm is perpetuated on us by the people who are supposed to love us, because they put emphasis on the wrong thing. When we are used in that way, we are not choosing it. We are not defiled. We are not made dirty. We do not become impure. Our hearts belong to God still.

When we are older, IF we choose to get married, we give our hearts to our spouses. We are faithful. We are pure. The violence perpetrated on us has nothing to do with that. Teach victims that they are STILL PURE, that their assault has nothing whatsoever to do with that, if you value “sexual purity.” I never use that phrase with my kids. I hate that phrase. I teach them that sex is just for their spouse, and that assault has nothing to do with their value or holiness.

Stop degrading women

As a survivor of over 6,000 sexual assaults, at the hands of a number of people, over the course of over 20 years, and as someone who’s had years of counseling and has helped other victims, too, I think it’s pretty safe to say I know what I’m talking about here. I speak out against abuse and those who perpetuate it, especially the ones who don’t know that they are perpetuating it. They can be the most dangerous of all.

Quit telling girls that whether or not they’re a virgin at marriage has anything to do with their worth. Purity is in the heart and it has nothing to do with whether or not we were molested. We honor God with our actions—the only ones we can control: the ones WE take, the ones we take from now on, not the ones someone else takes, ever, and not the ones we took in the past. Our worth has nothing whatsoever to do with sex or sexual abuse. Nothing. Ever.

Update:

I have been asked to provide more people’s opinions and experience than just my own 30+ years of experience with it, besides the link to Elizabeth Smart’s statement at the beginning of this post. Here are a few.

Purity culture teaches women to put up with abuse.

It’s not okay to say no to sex with your husband, because his needs are all that matter. 

You will be like a cup of everyone’s spit if you are not a virgin when you get married. 

Also, someone just told me that I just invented the term “purity doctrine.” Apparently, between the time I published this post and this update (about 8 hours later), I managed to create 7,580,000 Google search results for my new, made-up term. 😉 Sorry, sir, but I didn’t invent it. It’s been around quite a while. Every woman I’ve spoken to who was raised with that teaching who was also molested or raped said that she felt doomed because of that teaching.

Game of Thrones and rape culture

Rape culture says rape is okay because she actually wants it.

Excuse me while I PUKE. Thanks. I still feel queasy, but I think I can talk now.

I just read a blog post at Patheos about Game of Thrones and rape culture, and that’s what this is about: how I felt after reading that post. It’s about rape culture, rape myths, and how media is still perpetuating those myths. I’m not writing a review of the show. I haven’t read the books it comes from and I don’t watch the show—I don’t even own a TV, though I do watch a few things online—but I can totally relate to the reaction that blogger and a lot of other people have had to the episode where Jaime rapes Cersei. First of all,

game of thrones and rape culture

should be enough to make everyone sick. But, somehow, that part seems to have been glossed over. They are siblings (twins). Am I the only one who’s totally appalled at that? Maybe viewers are used to it by now. Some are saying what happens in that scene is “not really rape.” And, get this, it’s “complicated consensual sex.” I won’t even link to the guy who said that one.

Lies.

It’s a rape myth.

There are several rape myths. The one that this episode is showing: No Really Means Yes. Rape victims really want it, even when they say no, the myth says. You just have to convince them that they want it, and by “convince,” they mean coerce, guilt-trip, wear down their resistance, and/or force them. Then the resistant ones see the light, admit that they really do want sex with you, and they agree, or even beg for it.

Game of Thrones and rape culture—is this what passes for “entertainment” now? A rape myth being perpetuated by the media should not be surprising, though it still makes me want to vomit every time I see or hear about it happening.

Complicated consensual sex

Just what is that, anyway? It means that one person starts off saying “no” but is “convinced” to say “yes.” They don’t want anything to do with it at first, but part way through, and definitely by the time it’s over, they enjoy it, they want it. When a woman says “no,” it really means “maybe” or “yes.” It means, “Convince me, you big stud.” Our culture has taught this for a long time, maybe forever.

 LIES.

“Complicated consensual sex” is coerced sex, which is…rape.

Game of Thrones and rape culture

From what I understand, in the book it is consensual sex in that scene. As Slate says,

“Turning it into a rape [in the TV show] just turns Jaime into a monster, the kind that would rape a woman he claims to love in front of her dead son to punish her for being ‘hateful.'”

Ah, yes, forced sex (RAPE!) as punishment. Too many victims can relate to that one, too.

Getting triggered

I wonder just how many people put in an emergency call to their therapist, spiritual leader, or close friend after seeing rape scenes. It’s triggering. You might say, “Well, they could just change the channel.”

To that, I say this: it only takes a fraction of a second to trigger someone. Just one glimpse of an assault, one sound of the struggle. No one can grab the remote quickly enough  or plug their ears quickly enough to keep from hearing it. That’s why there is an entire website dedicated to listing movies and shows that might trigger sexual abuse survivors, so we can be prepared and/or avoid that movie/episode altogether. Game of Thrones and rape culture…I’d say this scene is reason enough for some to stay away from the books and TV series.

In order to stay away from any “blurred lines” of what is or is not coercion (which is rape) let’s say that anything other than an enthusiastic “Yes, I want you, too” is not consensual sex.

PS. Some of the responses on the facebook walls of the people who have shared this post so far are sickening, though I must say that many people’s comments show that they “get it.” Lord have mercy on us all until everyone does. +

Looking perfect, A tale of two vases

A story about looking perfect

Two pottery students each were tasked with creating a slab vase from clay. The first one hadn’t taken a pottery class before, but the second one had.

The first potter was quite concerned with appearances, and thought that if the outward appearance of her vase was good, then her vase would be good. So she threw the clay onto the table once, cut it into slabs, pried them up, and forced the pieces together in the shape of a vase.

She then spent most of her time focusing on smoothing out the surface of the clay, making sure there were no blemishes showing on the outside of her vase. She wanted her vase looking perfect before it went into the kiln, and it did. Other students came by and “oohed and ahhed” over the appearance of her vase. Yes, it certainly did look good. She and her vase had succeeded in looking perfect.

Build a good foundation

The other pottery student wanted a beautiful vase, too, but her approach was different. She knew that

  • the clay had to be worked to the point of pliability,
  • the air bubbles inside it needed to be removed, and
  • getting the air bubbles worked out takes time.

The clay needed to be thrown again and again and again, to remove the air bubbles. It needed to be warmed by her hands to be made pliable, and worked gently into shape or it could crack and split and need to be redone.

Better than you

During that time, things didn’t look so pretty. So while the first potter instantly had something that looked good on the outside, the second potter’s work didn’t look so beautiful at the time.

The first potter pointed at and made fun of the bumpy appearance of the second potter’s slab as she worked on it, and kept throwing it repeatedly to work out those bubbles. She said, “You should do it like I do, and make that thing look good, fast. You’re a horrible potter. Everyone can see that I’m better than you.” By the way, if you do anything like that in my class, or anywhere within earshot of me, my response will be swift. Mistreating others is not tolerated.

Ignore bad advice

The second and slightly more experienced potter knew that yes, her slab still had some blemishes, and it didn’t look as good on the surface as the other’s, but it would soon be air-bubble-free and thus structurally sound, and ready to survive the fire of the kiln.

A piece of pottery that has air bubbles in it would explode in the kiln, and while the shards might look beautiful, it wouldn’t be a whole, functioning vase. It might be able to be glued back together, but the damage would always be there, and would be pretty easy for people to see.

Beautiful but shattered

The second potter also knew that any on-the-surface problems in her vase could be smoothed over before it was fired, or sanded away after it had been fired. Either way, it could be glazed or painted and its appearance improved even more after it had been tested in the kiln.

The more important thing was to build it soundly so it would withstand the heat of the kiln. Appearance was secondary to that, and it would come in time. Appearance without correct underlying structure just gives beautiful, broken shards—shattered vases.

Quit worrying about appearance and be concerned with reality

Looking perfect has nothing to do with being good. Christ called this way of doing things being “whited sepulchers, full of dead men’s bones and all manner of filth.” It doesn’t lead to life, but to death. Is appearance important? Yes. But far more important is the underlying structure, the reality. Take care of the structure underneath before worrying about the surface. Take your time and do it right.

~An art-class lesson I gave years ago (without the reference to Christ or scripture, as it was designed for public-school classes).