Brock Turner and Whitewashed Tombs

Last week two letters have gone viral across the internet.  The subject of both is the rapist, Brock Turner.  Firstly, the profound and deeply moving victim statement was published.  In the 12-page letter, the woman Brock Turner raped shares some of the many ways he hurt her and has forever changed her life in immeasurable, painful ways. “My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me,” the woman says. “You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.”  She talks about the impact of the criminal justice system and courageously stands with all women who have been subjected to rape and sexual abuse.

 

The second letter was from Dan Turner, Brock Turner’s father.  It is as angry-making as the other letter is heart wrenching.  Dan Turner describes his son’s choice to rape a woman as “twenty minutes of action” and laments his son’s lack interest in pretzels and steak as evidence that his son should not be punished harshly.  The judge chose to go against all guidance and give Brock Turner an extremely light sentence with only six months in county jail (rather than the recommended 6 years in prison).  Even as much of the Western world is outraged by Dan Turner’s letter, it seems the judge was taking Turner’s sentiments into consideration in sentencing Brock Turner.

 

As Christians, how should we respond to this case?  What should be our interaction with it?  Should we focus on mothering and Jesus as the only answer, as Ann Voskamp has?  Or is there more to it?

 

Perhaps we should start by acknowledging that there are experts who are responding to sexual violence in a Western context and Christians are rarely the experts.  Christians claiming expertise are currently describing the choice of men to sexually assault as women “fall victim to sexual violence” and most efforts in the Christian world to address male violence against women doesn’t name the agent for fear of appearing “anti-men”.

 

Guess what people?  Men are the majority perpetrators of sexual violence.  This is a fact.  It is not anti-men.

 

The reason men are the perpetrators of sexual violence is not because men are innately bad.  As Christians we understand that the Fall has resulted in sin coming into the world.  This means that each person has the capacity to choose great evil, but also this means they have the ability to do great good.  Not only did the Fall result in personal sin becoming a reality for human existence.  It also ushered in the principalities and powers of evil in the unseen world.

 

The consequences of sin are listed in Genesis 3.  Pain in child birth; women will be dominated by men; men will struggle with the pressures of trying to provide in a world that makes it almost impossible.  Yet eventually, the serpent’s head will be crushed.  These are not God’s best plan for humanity, we already messed that up.  They are the consequences of sin.

 

Patriarchy is one of the powers and principalities that we must be fighting against.  This is perhaps where Christians could start.  Rather than leaping to the conclusion that we must end sexual violence, perhaps we could start by acknowledging and dealing with our own complicity in sexual violence.

 

When one of the most shared Christian response about Brock Turner’s choice to rape infers that it is a mother’s responsibility to act in ways that stop a boy becoming a rapist, we have a problem.  Yes, Jesus models a different way, but asserting that Christianity has the answer when many women and men who have rejected Jesus because patriarchy has so deeply infected the church that we are the staunchest purveyors of it?  In their rejection of the patriarchal-Jesus aren’t they more effectively seeking to end sexual violence than the many Christians who promote the toxic blend of purity culture and restrictive gender roles?

 

How do we declare Jesus as the answer to sexual violence when so many who bear his name are contributing to the problem?

 

Make the link 1

This image from Make the Link explains how sexual violence exists in a pyramid propped up by sexism, the objectification of women, traditional gender roles and rigid stereotypes for women and men:

 

 

Christians, this is where we start.  Not at the top of the pyramid, but at the bottom.  We must examine how our own lives and choices are contributing to a society where a man’s disinterest in pretzels is of more concern than the all-pervasive damage he has done to a woman.  It is easier to issue the rallying cry “fight sexual violence” at Christian summer festivals than it is to examine the ways those festivals continue to promote purity culture, sexual shame and a lack of women on the platform.  It is easier to be horrified at the crimes “out there” than to recognise that a patriarchal God is still the dominant God worshipped by many of our brothers and sisters.

 

Let us start at the bottom of the pyramid and recognise we are not the experts.  Let us begin supporting experts like Rape Crisis, NAPAC, Object, Women’s Aid, Refuge, Nia, AVA.  Because until then Jesus may be saying to us, “Woe to you Christianity.  You are like whitewashed tombs which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of bones of the dead and everything unclean.”

Advertisements

The Mark Driscoll Interview

I have watched Brian Houston interview Mark and Grace Driscoll. As you may imagine, I have thoughts on it.

There are various ways language has been used to minimise and avoid responsibility for Mark Driscoll’s choices, both from Brian Houston and Mark Driscoll. I previously wrote a post called “Translating Mark Driscoll” after his resignation. It feels that this video also needs some level of translating.

Before you start though, have a read through the sheet I hadn’t out at the Hillsong one-woman protest I did.  You can access it by clicking HERE.

Avoiding Responsibility:

Mark says, “I made a lot of mistakes.”

One of the big issues in Christian culture is this affirming of mistakes instead of insisting on responsibility. Creating a church that one Mars Hill elder described as “without a doubt, the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with” is not a mistake. Abuse and coercion is intentional. It’s not like falling over. It’s a pattern of behaviour that creates a certain response from those around us. Abuse and coercion is used because it results in the abuser getting their own way.

Brian talks about it having been “a turbulent year for you both…”

Rather than use language that infers responsibility, this makes it sound like a storm that happened to them, rather than the result of choices Mark Driscoll has made. This is the consequence of years of abusive behaviour.

Mark says, ““My contributions and my faults and my sins.  I don’t want the kids embittered against me.”

When responding to Houston’s questions about the effects on their children (which I’ll come back to later), the language Driscoll uses isn’t “my choices and actions”. By using the word “contributions” it infers that there are other contributions to the situation. That he isn’t the only person with faults and sins.

Mark says, “There’s no way to say I’ve always acted with grace or with appropriateness.  There’s been anger.”

This response isn’t, “I acted angrily and without grace.” Though people might hear that, it’s not what he says. Rather than categorically stating how he has behaved, he reverses it. “I haven’t always acted with grace etc…” The reality is, no person can say they’ve always acted with grace or appropriateness. So rather than owning his extreme behaviour, he brings it back to something that anyone could say. He also doesn’t own his actions and say, “I was angry.” He removes it from himself and makes it something separate to himself, “There’s been anger”.

Mark says, “Some people see me as…harmful, angry, careless with words.” 

Though this sounds like he’s saying, “I was harmful, angry and careless with words”, that’s not what he’s actually saying. He places the responsibility for this onto the people who have seen him in this way. Rather than owning his behaviour and actions, he makes it about other people’s perceptions.

When describing some of the impact of his behaviour Mark says: “What that does is it drives your team and it makes them feel unloved and uncared for” 

This doesn’t say, “I behaved in ways that were unloving and uncaring towards my team.” It infers that it is his teams feelings that are the problem. The non-apology of saying, “I’m sorry you FEEL that way” is a classic tactic for placing the responsibility onto the person who has been hurt. This is no different.

Brian Houston asks, “So would the word bully have been an accurate description do you think?” Mark responds by saying, “I think for sure on occasions yeah. I think, um, I think on occasions sometimes, um, strong leaders there’s a line…”

Mark doesn’t say, “Yes I was a bully.” He again removes the description from himself and makes it about “strong leaders”. There is no owning of his behaviours or his bullying. Brian Houston’s questioning doesn’t help here. He could have asked, “Were you a bully?” But he didn’t. They both distance themselves from Driscoll being a bully or even acting in a bullying manner. It becomes a “description”.

Driscoll also says, “on occasions”. Bullying some of the time makes someone a bully all of the time. The bullying infects every aspect of a person’s relationships. People fear the bully all the time, not “on occasions”. It seems “on occasions” is closely related to “occasionally”. Yet Mark Driscoll was not a bully occasionally. He created a culture of bullying and abuse.

Bullies act in the ways they do to get what they want. It’s not an accidental thing that all strong leaders have a tendency towards. The actions are intentional for someone to a) get their own way and b) maintain control. And the reality is, it often works.

Mark says, “so that there wasn’t anger or hurt or defensiveness that was driving some of my motivation.”

Driscoll doesn’t say “I was angry, hurt, defensive.” And within this sentence it’s only driving “some of” his motivation. It has not consumed him or anyone else, it’s just part of what drives him. Throughout the entire interview Driscoll avoids statements that start with “I was…” or “I am…” And until he starts to use statements which own his behaviour, it’s impossible to fully change that behaviour.

When asked what he would have done differently, one of the things Driscoll says is, “I would have had more mature people…in my oversight or governance.”  

Whether intentional or not, this suggests that a) there were not any mature people in Mars Hill who worked with him or had eldership in the church and b) the fault wasn’t entirely Mark Driscoll’s, it was the lack of eldership. My understanding is that anyone who did try to challenge him, those who were in eldership, were sacked and/or abused. He talks about all these kind people who’ve looked after them since the impact of his behaviour started to hit him. But what about all the people who loved him enough to challenge him in the midst of his all-powerful status? They aren’t honoured within this interview. In fact, it seems they are erased.

Brian Houston states: “…there’s been a huge fallout from some of the mistakes you have made.”

We are back to the language of “mistakes” and added to that is the euphemism of “huge fallout”. He doesn’t use the language of choice; Driscoll’s choices to behave in ways that have hurt others and (for a long time) benefitted him. Instead he talks of mistakes; accidents that have happened. It is not a mistake to systematically bully and damage people. That is a choice. (I’ll come back to the “huge fallout” later…)

Mark says, “Having gone through this very complicated season…”

Again with the euphemisms. This isn’t a “complicated season”. This is dealing with the consequences of choices made over a prolonged period of time. The term “season”, while legitimate “Christian speak”, infers something external to Driscoll. Something that has been done to him; similar to the mistake, the season is a thing that happens to a person.

Brian Houston asks, “Do you personally take accountability for the break up of Mars Hill church?” Mark Driscoll responds with, “Yes I think as the leader I have to bear the lion’s share of responsibility for that.”

Leaving aside the fact that Brian uses the word accountability when he should have said “responsibility”, there is significant avoidance of responsibility in this statement. Though this sounds like Mark Driscoll is taking responsibility, what he’s actually doing is saying, “because I was in charge, it’s my fault.” He has not said, “Because I was an abusive bully, of course it is my responsibility, my fault.”

Brian Houston suggests Driscoll’s views on women were a “red rag to the bull to the secular media”. Mark responds by saying, “The fact I can’t even come see you in Australia, you are onto something…”

It wasn’t solely the “secular media” who have a problem with Driscoll’s misogynistic language. There were many Christians who were horrified by his views and thoughts.

Driscoll’s response is telling. Rather than acknowledging his actions have led to him being uninvited from the conference, he sees that it was the media response that meant he was prevented from attending. He doesn’t see this as a legitimate consequence of his behaviour, but rather as something separate to it.

Mark responds to Brian’s questions about his views on women “Some of the misperception is entirely my fault. Some of the things I did were ungodly, unwise and unhelpful.”

As before, when he talked about other people’s feelings, this again makes the problem not what he has said or done, but  how other people have “perceived it”. I’m not sure how he expects people to rightly perceive his historical comments about women as penis homes or his views that women shouldn’t work or that men can’t be stay at home parents.  He does acknowledge that he did things that were ungodly, unwise and unhelpful”. But saying that straight after talking about “misperceptions” leaves it slightly hollow.

When asked specifically about calling women penis homes, Mark states, “What I said is not representative of what I think or how I feel.  Looking back on that, that was not a healthy person working from a healthy place. And so I would have a hard time explaining it.  I wouldn’t even make an effort to defend it.”

 What Mark does not say is, “Yes I did think like that and I’ve realised that is wrong and hateful”. Those words are blamed on being an unhealthy person in an unhealthy place. The term “unhealthy” doesn’t really infer responsibility, rather than “I made bad choices, I said terrible things about women” it’s the language of “not being representative”. He sees it as something to “not defend”, rather than something to describe as abhorrent and misogynistic.

Brian Houston asks him, “Were you ever a misogynist?” Mark Driscoll answers, “No, but because of things I have said foolishly, that impression is entirely my fault…I’ve allowed that to become the impression”

After talking about being unhealthy and saying things from an unhealthy place, he now does not accept that what he said was misogynistic. That’s some high level cognitive dissonance, right there.  The term “foolishly” is the same device as “mistake”.  It’s something whimsical, accidental.  Whereas his ministry was (in part) defined by his ongoing views of women as inferior.  That’s not “foolishness”, that’s intention and choice.

On at least two occasions in the interview Brian Houston infers that Driscoll’s age a) when starting Mars Hill and b) when he wrote the majority of his most misogynistic stuff are relevant to the actions he took. Mark was 25 when he started the church and in his late twenties when he wrote about women being “penis homes” etc.

There is no excuse for Mark Driscoll’s behaviour. I am 31 and at 29 I was quite able to see that calling women penis homes was a problem. Mary was around 14 years old when she had Jesus, the apostle Timothy was criticised for being so young.   Being young does not give anyone a free pass for making abusive or bullying choices. Brian’s inference that his age is a mitigating factor only serves to absolve Driscoll of some responsibility.

Grace Driscoll, who remains quiet throughout much of the interview says that: “I’ve never seen him as a misogynist.  There were methods that were wrong.”

It is clear that some of what Mark Driscoll has said is categorically misogynistic, and denying it isn’t going to change that.

 

Who Has Been Hurt?

Throughout the interview we hear about some of those who have been hurt, namely Mark and Grace Driscoll, their children, the pastors Mark Driscoll was publicly critical of, but throughout the entire hour interview we don’t hear about the many people who were thrown under the “Mars Hill bus”. We don’t hear the names or stories of any of them.

Here are some of the ways Mark Driscoll’s many victims are erased…

After asking the Driscolls how they got into ministry Brian Houston asks, “How are you both doing?” 

This invites a very emotional response from the Driscolls. It makes this about their pain, which although not irrelevant, is not actually why the interview is taking place. Mark Driscoll is not the victim of some tragedy that he had no control over. He made choices and benefitted for many years from bullying and abusing other people.

By starting the interview in this way, we are invited to see Mark Driscoll as a vulnerable, emotional person, miles away from the abusive choices he made.

Within his response to Brian’s question Mark Driscoll says, “watching the kids and the pain that they’ve had, to experience in the grieving process.”

Though it is clear that the Driscoll children have been caused pain within the choices their father has made, at no point during the interview do we hear about the children of any of those whose lives Mark Driscoll has destroyed. Whose parents are in long-term therapy because of his behaviour? Whose parents lost jobs because they challenged Mark Driscoll’s authority? Who were moved halfway across the country for the parents to work in a church that subsequently kicked them out? We don’t hear any of those children’s stories.

We also hear about Mark’s health problems. He says, Fatigue, adrenal glands, intestinal ulcers. There were times where I drove myself to a point of not being well.”


Though he acknowledges he drove himself to this point, he doesn’t acknowledge the likelihood that other people were made ill by his actions. This is one of the issues with the whole of the interview format used. The victims are erased within it. We don’t hear their stories at all.

 Mark describes some advice he was given, to “put down the binoculars and pick up the mirror.” 

Though I appreciate the sentiment, what about focusing on those hurt? One of the big issues with counselling perpetrators of abuse is that counselling “focuses on my feelings and other people’s actions” and what an abuser needs to do is “focus on other people’s feelings and my actions”. While self-reflection isn’t a bad thing, Mark needs to focus on the people he has hurt, he needs to hear their stories, feel their pain. Restorative justice programmes use that model. An abuser cannot simply change their self-perception, they must also work on their perception of “the other”.

Mark says, “What has been useful to me, older people…”

The focus is still on him. On him getting sorted and being restored. What about the hundreds, if not thousands of people who are trying to be restored after the hurt he has caused them? How different would this interview have been if he said, “I have been trying to find out what would be useful to those I have hurt and what they have said is…”

Brian Houston states: “…there’s been a huge fallout from some of the mistakes you have made.”

I quoted this above. I mention it here as this is the only time Brian references the actual people who were in Mars Hill. Except he doesn’t. He talks about the “huge fallout”. Which must be a euphemism for large scale spiritual abuse, job losses, financial irregularities, damage to women’s views of themselves, damage to men’s views of women, damage to LGBT* people, people losing faith and no longer being able to trust, along with a whole host of other issues.

When discussing the Australian media interest around Mark Driscoll’s involvement in the Hillsong conference Mark says to Brian Houston, “I apologise for putting you in that position…”

Even the impact on Brian Houston is acknowledged more than the impact on the many people who were in Mars Hill for ten years or more.

Mark says, the “people who have loved and encouraged us have been out of our tribe.”

I can’t imagine the pain these words must have caused the many people who stuck by Mark through his bullying and abuse. Who sought to help him change and who endured abuse and shaming when they challenged him. All the families who were deeply wounded and tried to stay onboard, believing God could transform the situation.

Maybe the reason the people who have “loved and encouraged” them have been from outside of the church is because they burned all their bridges to those within the tribe? Maybe it’s not the tribe’s job to love and encourage Mark Driscoll after he has chosen to be abusive for years?

Mark talks about how those who he judged (focusing on the pastors and preachers he spoke against from the platform) have offered grace and kindness that has “brought about repentance”.

Perhaps unintentionally, this seems to infer that those who have not offered grace or kindness haven’t “brought about repentance”. As if it is incumbent on the victim to behave in ways that bring about repentance, rather than on the offender to become repentant.

Brian Houston mentions that he doesn’t like people speaking against pastors…  

He doesn’t mention that he doesn’t like bullying or spiritual abuse or misuse of funds. Which is actually the main reason I set up the petition that contributed to the media in Australia pressuring Hillsong. I know that being a pastor himself, he’s probably quite uncomfortable with pastors being criticised, but actually maybe we should be more concerned with the oppressed and downtrodden. It’s not the powerful who are most wounded by Mark Driscoll. Yet Brian doesn’t really mention the wounded, just his friends who have been offended.

“And for the people.  It was a great honour to be their pastor for 18 years…There’s a lot of joy and a lot of gratitude.  For the people in the church who have been hurt.”  

This is the first we really hear about “the people”. There is no acknowledgement that maybe the way he pastored wasn’t very honourable. He also talks about the people “who have been hurt”. Yet again he distances himself from his choices and actions. He doesn’t say, “for the people I have hurt”. We’re back to the language of “mistakes”.

When talking about how God told them to resign, Mark explains that God said, “We’re released from Mars Hill.  A trap has been set, there’s no way for us to return to leadership.”

Within this he doesn’t acknowledge the additional pain this heaped on those within the church. He doesn’t explain how all the elders at Mars Hill could have been getting a different view on the situation to him. He doesn’t explain how God’s words to him and Grace fit within Jesus’ or Paul’s model for dealing with sin. It’s simply that this was right because God said. The wounded yet again are ignored.

There’s also something significant about him saying that there was “no way” for them to return to leadership while staying at Mars Hill.  Maybe that is the issue, he knew staying would result in an end to him having a platform, whereas now, he’s ready to start a new ministry less than a year later.

Towards the end of the interview Mark thanks, “…the people who were really wonderful for us.” 

This seems to be the same people who have offered kindness and grace. I’m not sure the people who attempted to hold him to account when he was in power are considered “really wonderful”. But then, I could be wrong…

Next Steps 

Throughout the interview there’s some quite mixed messages about the next steps. In parts it seems that they have no plans, but then the steps they have taken seem to be ministry based:

Mark says, “This whole season, I’ve been largely out of public ministry for about a year, with a few exceptions” 

The thing about being out of public ministry is that you actually don’t do any public ministry. I know this is quite basic, but I’m not sure he’s grasped that. His first speaking engagement involved him talking about being a “shepherd that had been struck”, that he had to forgive lots of people who had hurt him. He not only has been on the public platform, he has used it to further hurt the wounded.

Brian Houston says, “I know some of the people who have stood with you…”

I could be wrong about this, but I would suggest that most of the people Brian Houston knows are famous pastors. He could mean the woman who works on the checkout at his local supermarket, but I’m guessing not. That the Driscoll’s have likely been spending time with famous pastors kind of suggests the direction they’re hoping to go in. It also seems that this inference from Brian Houston is “hey guys, he’s in with my lot” which sounds a lot like an endorsement…

Mark explains that they have wanted to, “Meet with pastors and learn from them…”

If someone is unsure what the next steps are, why focus on one particular ministry? It seems they are convinced God wants them to continue to lead churches. Which doesn’t sound like they’ve really opened up to the million of other ways God calls people to serve Him…

Mark says, “We don’t know what is next.  I would like to teach the Bible.”

It seems odd that he doesn’t know what’s next when they’re spending a whole lot of time with pastors (possibly famous ones). That they’re moving to Phoenix to start exploring churchey things and that fact he’s just bought a load of mailing lists back from Mars Hill church is neither here nor there.

When asked about the concerns around his theology on women, Driscoll says, “In the future, for the women I pastor…”

This doesn’t sound like someone unsure of what is next. This is someone who plans to be a pastor, not solely someone who “would like to teach the Bible”.

At the end of the interview Brian Houston says to him, “You’re anointed to [teach the Bible].  You’re a gifted teacher…” He goes on to pray that Mark Driscoll’s “greatest days of preaching and teaching” are yet to come… 

So after an hour long interview in which the majority of Mark Driscoll’s victims have not been focussed on, Brian Houston is essentially endorsing and blessing his new ministry. The ministry Mark Driscoll doesn’t even know is coming next. Hmm…

 

A Few Other Concerns

I know, I know, you would think I’d have had enough by now, it’s likely you probably have too. But there are a few other concerns I’d like to share…

Brian Houston self identifying 

Throughout the interview Brian Houston regularly self-identifies with Mark Driscoll. Early in the interview he shares how they both started churches their mid to late twenties. He talks of making mistakes himself and that all pastors and preachers say things they regret.

None of these things are necessarily wrong, but the issue with empathising with an abuser is that you have to be an abuser to empathise with one. Rather than likening abusive choices to “mistakes we all make”, the abusive person needs to hear that their behaviour isn’t the norm, that what they have done is totally unacceptable.

Empathy Deficits

Regularly during the interview Mark Driscoll talks about lacking empathy. That he wants to increase his empathy levels and acknowledging he has a lack of empathy. This is of great concern. He hasn’t mentioned how he is going to increase his empathy levels, and although I’m not a psychologist, I would suggest moving to set up a new ministry less than a year after abandoning a ministry where thousands of people have been damaged is not really enough time to develop the empathy skills required.

Grace Driscoll 

For a blogger called “God Loves Women” I haven’t written much about Grace Driscoll’s contribution to the interview. That’s mainly because she didn’t contribute much.  Once during the interview, Mark asked Grace to offer her view and she did say a bit within the interview, but Brian Houston didn’t ask her many questions. I was surprised that during his questions about Mark’s views on women, Houston didn’t ask for Grace’s perspective. She is obviously 100% committed to her husband and his continued ministry. My question would be, given the damage it has done to her children and their community of 17 years, whether her uncompromising support is the most helpful thing for him? Then again, with their strong complementarian theology, that’s the only available option.

There’s more I could write, but I’ll leave it there for now.

If you’re reading this as one of those Mark Driscoll has hurt, I stand with you and am so sorry for the ways Christian culture is complicit in your ongoing pain. Much love to you…

Thanks to Michael Roca-Terry for proof reading this!

Always Broken.

Content Note: This blog talks about self-harm.  

Today was difficult. It was one of those days where my brokenness presented itself to me, stark and true. Fissures in my soul, opening.

There’s been some challenges recently. My mum died in January and my grief is the sometimes realisations that comes with my mum’s terminal illness being less than four months from diagnosis to death. Personal and professional challenges collide in me, not big enough to be a crisis, not small enough to shrug off.

I’ve written before about my ex-husband; about what male violence does to the soul, about the reality of PTSD.

I hated myself. From age eight through twenty-two I was subjected to abuse. There’s specific ways men’s choice to sexually abuse destroys the soul. Shame and self-hatred reign. The feeling of being less than, of being impure and defiled drill deep into a person’s core. I began cutting my wrists when I was sixteen. I legitimised it the first time by making the shape of a cross on my skin. I’d been in church long enough to know “my body was a temple” and that cutting myself was a sin. I’d poured out my feelings on pages and in poems, yet in self-harm I found a coping mechanism that “worked”.

It’s been years since I cut myself, at first because of my children then through my experience of Jesus. Yet, no one tells you there’s no such thing as being an ex-self-harmer. When life is challenging, the desire to cut rises unbidden.

I was shaving my legs today and the razor twisted, an inch long cut, bright red blood. The need rose within me. I panicked. Alone in the house I knew it would be easy to go back to that place. I gathered the razors and rushed to lock them in the car

Out of the house. Out of harms way.

I rarely swear, but the f word forced itself out of my mouth as my brokenness rose from within me. Tears flowed. I wailed. Still broken. Always broken.

My twelve-year-old daughter and I went to the cinema to watch Pitch Perfect 2 this evening. It was wonderful. I left the cinema delighted vaginas had been mentioned, touched by the film’s primary focus on women’s relationships and lives. A scene towards the end with women of different generations singing together left me weepy. As we stood up to leave I was so pleased to have such films for my children’s generation. For me, Ten Things I Hate About You and Cruel Intentions were the most popular movies; the messages within them about gender and relationships are appalling.

My warm feeling didn’t last long. As we left the cinema, a drunk teenage boy and his friends were walking past. He asked me for a cigarette. I explained that I didn’t smoke. As I walked away, arm in arm with my precious pre-teen daughter, this young man shouted, “I bet you those two are twins. I would so bang them.”

Pitch Perfect immediately became a drop in the ocean. A momentary lapse within patriarchy. I drove home hiding the terror rising within me after witnessing one of the many ways my amazing girl is going to be objectified and diminished. In a space where boys have been raised on pornographies and girls are “banged”.

Yesterday my son’s six-year-old friend began objectifying the teenage girl who delivers papers. A little boy shouting after a teenage girl, displaying his understanding that girls are for looking good and being shouted at by boys.

It’s easy to see three isolated incidents. My personal struggles. An offensive teenage boy. A shouting little boy.

Yet the personal is political. The isolated incidents follow a pattern. I am broken because men broke me. They chose to break me. Men who started out as little boys believing that girls are for looking good and being shouted grow into young men who comment on how much they’d like to “bang” a twelve year old and her presumed sister.

Self-harm is very often a symptom of male violence. The man may not be pulling a razor across skin, but he rips her soul into so many pieces that it becomes logical to tear her skin into pieces too.

As we travelled to the cinema today, my daughter placed herself In Charge Of The Tunes. “Clean” by Taylor Swift came on. I’d never heard it before. She sang:

You’re still all over me like a wine-stained dress I can’t wear anymore

Hung my head as I lost the war, and the sky turned black like a perfect storm

Rain came pouring down when I was drowning

That’s when I could finally breathe

And by morning

Gone was any trace of you

I think I am finally clean

The Bible declares that Jesus died for our sins. That we are washed clean by His choice to give up all power, coming to earth, living a life of Truth and dying on a cross. We are “washed clean” because of Him.

This teaching has been warped by many. Responses to the Hillsong/Mark Driscoll petition have told me we should be forgiving him, not petitioning against him. Wiping the slate clean.

The Duggars talk of their son’s abuse being resolved in him finding Jesus. Wiping the slate clean.

Yoder’s sex offences are a gap between aspiration and behaviour, his important teaching is more significant than his choice to sexually abuse. He is a “well-known pacifist” despite violating over 100 women. Wiping the slate clean.

Women are not slates.

We are not slates that are wiped clean when an abuser repents, or purports to have. A woman’s healing is not linked to an abuser’s redemption. It simply does not work like that.

As I listened to the Taylor Swift lyrics I realised no amount of standing in the rain is going to make me clean. Jesus can stand with me in the brokenness, but He can’t wipe away the abuse and violation. It’s not Men In Black. There’s no zapping and the memories are gone. Women live with the consequences of men’s violence for the whole of our lives.

I’ll move beyond this day. Life will become joyous again. I will be okay. But the patriarchy continues. Little boys objectify teenage girls. Teenage men want to “bang” girls. Adult men rape, violate and decimate women in every country in the world. And the church colludes. And Jesus weeps.

Thoughts on Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Within the last year or so, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) seems to have been mentioned in various places, including the ongoing saga with Tony Jones (mentioned here).  I’ve also seen it referenced quite a lot in relation to perpetrators of abuse.  I tweeted the wonderful psychologist, Dr Kate Middleton to ask her thoughts on NPD.  She kindly emailed me some thoughts, which I then asked if I could turn into a blog.  So here is it…!

Personality disorders are quite controversial, both in their diagnosis and treatment. How and why is easiest tackled by thinking about their theoretical basis. Your personality is about how you respond to the world – the patterns of responses you have (traits) – feelings, behaviours etc. Certain traits are common patterns and thus various theories describe personality along sets of traits – some of which are well known e.g. extraversion/introversion. There are lots of theories of personality with many different traits although some (e.g. introversion/extraversion) come up in lots of theories and are more widely accepted – as well as having relatively strong biological theories supporting them.

Personality ‘disorders’ stem from an acceptance that there is a ‘normal’ – i.e. the more common, central patterns along certain traits. Beyond a point therefore we start to call some personality patterns (patterns of behaviour, feelings or emotions) ‘abnormal;’. Personality disorders in a clinical sense describe patterns which are problematic – generally because they either trigger difficult and painful emotions for the individual, or because they lead to people acting towards others in very unpleasant or upsetting ways. However the concept hangs on the acceptance of ‘normal’ verses ‘abnormal’, and of course where exactly you draw the line. For example, there have been various recent books and articles about the ‘psychopaths’ you might meet in everyday contexts like business etc – just one example where people are looking at personality characteristics in individuals who otherwise function relatively ‘normally’. There is always going to be a range across all these measures and the question is when it becomes ‘abnormal’ or something that we should view as ‘illness’ and therefore treat. And of course whether you can say someone is ‘ill’ when it doesn’t affect them – they are perfectly happy, it is just others who they hurt.

In theory personality (certainly once you reach adulthood) has a degree of ‘stability’ – although some personality disorders can worsen as people age, and some tend to improve slightly. Treatment of personality disorders aims to challenge and develop difficult patterns of behaviour, teach alternative strategies and improve awareness/insight and understanding of what these patterns are with the hope of introducing change. Sometimes drug treatment is also used, often with great effect – especially where the problem is related to emotionality (as we have some drug treatments which can reduce or moderate emotions like anxiety, depression etc). However the treatment of personality disorders is notoriously difficult and it is difficult to define ‘success’. The reality is that people with personality disorders tend to have some degree of long term difficulty, although many learn to manage their condition very well. The degree of insight – how much an individual is aware that they have this ‘problem’ and whether they view it as a problem or not – also varies a lot.

So – on to considering Narcissistic personality disorder specifically. In a nutshell this describes someone who has not moved on from the very ego-centric way of viewing the world that children have – and in fact that this has developed in a a rather unhealthy way. Someone with narcissistic personality disorder generally sees themselves as the centre of everything, and views everything from that perspective. They wish others to view them in the same way and often hold unrealistic beliefs or expectations about themselves which can even be described as illusions of grandeur. They can be very controlling and particularly emotionally manipulative as they try to make sure that everyone else maintains this illusion (for it is usually an illusion) that they are all wonderful and all powerful. Their self-belief is immense (which perhaps explains why people with elements of this personality type do extremely well in careers which require a lot of self confidence).

Thinking specifically about whether there is a link between narcissistic personality disorder and abusive behaviour, this varies a lot. In fact narcissistic personality disorder isn’t always associated with abusive behaviour – but it can be present, generally because people with narcissistic personality disorder can be so controlling and require those around them to look up to them them. This can lead them to resent anyone having other interests and sometimes be very jealous etc. One feature often linked with abusive patterns is a lack of empathy – when the individual is so persistent in only viewing things from their perspective that their awareness of the feelings of others becomes almost zero. This feature varies amongst sufferers.

A key question where personality disorders are concerned is how much we can or should ‘excuse’ bad behaviour or abusive treatment of others because of a personality disorder? It’s very hard to perceive how much insight an individual has and whether therefore these actions are a choice or something they are not able to control. A key distinction would also fall around just how marked key traits were in an individual – how far up the scale into ‘disorder’ they might be. Remember that you can see traits related to the same things we call ‘disorder’ in individuals functioning perfectly ‘normally’ in society.

Another interesting thing to consider where narcissistic personality disorder is concerned is how much it might benefit someone to show some features of this disorder at a lower level. Specifically, if you consider personality type you might need in order to be naturally drawn to be a very charismatic leader – the utter self belief and self promotion that narcissists demonstrate would certainly aid them in gaining ‘a following’. Leadership can be learned and taught – but there are clear examples of people who have naturally and instinctively been ‘drawn’ to leadership – with mixed results. Might some of those be people who would score highly on traits associated with narcissism?

In fact, on this topic it becomes really interesting to ponder how often God selected for leadership people who really didn’t want to be leaders and in that sense weren’t ‘natural’ leaders at all. Time and again God’s selected leaders disagreed and even argued with Him about their suitability for that kind of role. Might it be that some of these people were in fact such good leaders precisely because of the absence of some of these characteristics? It is my belief that when looking for leadership potential we should be careful not to only consider those who are the ‘obvious’ choices – many a successful and charismatic leader can grow out of a less clear candidate.

This subject is also interesting from a cultural perspective, when you consider how much we are encouraged to build and feed our ego and self-esteem from the modern ‘instant fix’ of social media. We’re offered such tangible and immediate ‘evidence’ of our popularity (how many likes do we get to a comment etc) – and we know that the more tangible and explicit the reward the more likely we are to pursue it. And yet God calls us to the opposite, says that if we want to be something, we should be nothing and be willing to serve. Something to pray for for our leaders who have to fight this constant tension between platform and humility.

In fact, one feature of our current culture has led some experts to question whether we might be at risk of developing a generation of people more at risk of narcissistic personality problems. As the explosion in ‘selfies’ encourages us to consider every event we experience with us at the centre, might we be learning to become more egocentric instead of less? Here’s just one example of a discussion of this question.

Ultimately in ministry (and in life in general) we must remember that there are no ‘perfect’ personalities. I am always heard saying that no personality is perfect – they all have good sides and flip sides. The key is knowing yourself well enough to know what your weak points are likely to be – the achilles heel of your own personality. It’s about understanding the push and pull of your personality – these narcissistic people will be really good at putting themselves forward, but their risk is that they will be too ego-centric, not good enough at thinking about things from other people’s perspectives etc..

So can or should we ‘excuse’ behaviour because people have a personality disorder? This is a very difficult question, but my instinct would always be to say no. Abusive behaviour is abusive behaviour and we always need to pull people up on that. However we must consider carefully the degree of insight that an individual has, and there could be situations (particularly when that person is themselves the victim of abuse etc) where some would argue that they are not – legally or ethically – responsible for their actions. This is why the aspect of treatment of personality disorders which involves improving insight – and hopefully helping people consider and take onboard the impact their behaviour has on others – is so important.

In fact for us all an essential part of growth and emotional maturity involves improved understanding and insight of both aspects – positive and negative – of our personalities, particularly the impact they might have on us or on others. This is a vital step on the journey as we work to improve ourselves, and become more like Jesus, and I applaud recent calls for leaders to work as much on their emotional maturity as they do on their spiritual life (for example, Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality). But this can only be done from a foundation of the absolute and unconditional love that we get from God. Only by realising that we are acceptable as ourselves, with all our human weaknesses and frailties, can we take the risk of admitting and accepting that aspects of who we are may not be all that great – and allow ourselves to become vulnerable as we work to change.

To read more, check out:

The Royal College of Psychiatry notes on personality disorders.

This article looking specifically at narcissistic personality disorders.

You can tweet Kate @communik8ion and find out more about her NEW BOOK “Refuel” HERE.

Keep Going or Stop?

Rob Bell has announced an event.  It’s called “Keep Going” and is…

“for all of you who are growing and learning and changing and evolving and you’re discovering that not everyone around you is seeing what you’re seeing. Friends, family, spouses, coworkers, employers-what do you do when you’re more alive than ever, and yet all this new life is also bringing with it all kinds of disruption and grief and criticism and even loneliness? For some of you who are leaders, your growth has direct implications for your employment. For others, the new life you’re experiencing is deeply unsettling for some of your most significant relationships.”

The speakers are all white and include Vicky Beeching, Carlton Cuse, Kristin Bell and Pete Rollins.  The same Pete Rollins who only last week declared that calling out narcissism and male violence against women was “a reductionist and violent act that allows for dehumanization and lack of empathy”.

Last week I wrote a post about about Woman Hating.  And I’m back writing about it again.  I know, I know.  I keep going on about it. I’m not going to apologise, because while there’s woman hating, it needs to be brought into the light.

A few weeks ago Steve Chalke declared that serial sex offending is a “gap between aspiration and behaviour”.

Recently Pete Rollins stated that narcissism is a form of self-hatred.  It’s not.  That is one of many myths about narcissism.  He said that publicly calling a narcissist to account is “shaming” and that narcissists are basically pariahs. The fact that narcissists are generally extremely well liked and are given platforms and prestige because they fit the “charismatic leader” role seems neither here nor there to him.  His blog is essentially about rebuffing criticism of his ongoing support for Tony Jones.  Julie McMahon, Tony Jones’ ex-wife has shared her story HERE.

There’s also Mark Driscoll’s grand re-emergence at the Thrive Conference in recent weeks claiming he was the victim of injustice, regardless of the evidence he was an abusive and dangerous leader who hurt thousands.  And most people sat at the conference and applauded him at the end of his talk.

The tale of the two Mars Hills is an interesting one, with Mark Driscoll founding a church called Mars Hill which preached reformed (extremely conservative) theology at one end of the spectrum.  And Rob Bell who led a church called Mars Hill at the other end.

In recent years Rob Bell has become part of the emergent church.  He has partnered with the aforementioned Pete Rollins for this event.  Rollins practices a form of Christian atheism suggesting we all need to deconstruct religion to the point where we realise there isn’t a God anyway.  He presents this as a new and radical way to be Christian, a way which involves no god, Jesus or the Holy Spirit.  But hey!  He’s called it “pyrotheology” so that’s okay.

The two white, privileged men; Rob Bell and Mark Driscoll.  They have grown followings and created Personal Brands.  They seem to have nothing in common, at least theologically.

Yet here I am writing about the whitewashing of men’s violence and abuse, in favour of the cause, from both ends of the theological spectrum.

Perhaps Rob Bell wasn’t aware of Pete Rollins’ recent abuse apologism when he invited him to speak.  Maybe now I’ve tweeted him and written this blog, he might choose to un-invite him?  Who knows…?

Vicky Beeching is also speaking at the event.  A couple of years ago Vicky created a project dedicated to faith and feminism.  I declined to be involved in the project at the time.  It will be interesting to see how she will respond to speaking at an event with Pete Rollins, now she has been made aware of his abuse apologism…  With her feminist values, I hope the voices of women like Julie McMahon will be more important than the prestige of speaking alongside Rob Bell.  Who knows…?

I came across this quote from Susan B Anthony today:

“Cautious, careful people always casting about to preserve their reputation or social standards never can bring about reform. Those who are really in earnest are willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathies with despised ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences.” 

For me, it is not reform that drives me to be anything or nothing.  It is obedience to Jesus and His teachings that seeks first the Kingdom of God.  The one where the first will be last and the last will be first.  Where we ask, “what good is it to gain the whole world, but lose my soul?”

Publicly and privately I will speak out about woman hating within the body of Christ.  Over the last few years God’s voice has echoed through the hearts and halls of people and churches; to see women and girls liberated.  Yet with all the anti-trafficking fundraising and acceptance that feminism isn’t a sin, there is still woman hating and we’re still not talking about it.

We hear all this talk of a “voice for the voiceless”, but guess what?  They already have a voice, and they’re shouting, but the people with the power, those with the microphones and the sound systems refuse to broadcast their pleadings.

We don’t need to be a voice for the voiceless, we need to be willing to broadcast the voices no one is listening to.  They’re not voiceless.  They’re IGNORED.  Step away from the Personal Brand and make space for the Ignored People.

I want you to use your imagination for a moment.  Imagine you’re standing in front of a tree.  An enormous tree.  It’s not a beautiful tree, it’s ugly.  Planted in a graveyard.  It reaches upwards, blocking out most of the light.  The branches stretch out, gnarled and twisted.  They’ve curled themselves around gravestones, stone squeezed until it’s buckled.  Pieces of gravestone litter the scorched dry earth.  There’s no leaves.  No colour.  It looks dead.  But it’s not.  It’s moving, writhing, squirming in front of you.  Like a colourless hard wooden snake.  Despair and fear grip your insides as you realise it’s growing, inch by inch.  Defiling everything it touches.  As a branch creeps past your face you see images etched into the bark of this undead, ugly tree.  In the dull, greyness you can see the images are women, trafficked and broken.  Beyond that, on the next branch, women and girls photographed naked, the carvings move as the tree grows, women degraded for men’s pleasure.  Peering further into the tree you see other moving images chiselled into the gnarled bark.  Of girl’s genitals being cut, girl babies killed at birth, men beating women.  At the end of one branch the whittled images move, a Bible screams at a woman to STAY SILENT.  Elsewhere women’s bodies are battered by rape in war.  The terror is overwhelming.  You feel your feet being tugged, the roots below you squirm.  Your feet have sunk into the earth.  It drags you down, pulls you in.  You flail around, trying to maintain your balance, falling to the ground, shock numbing the pain.  Immediately you feel your torso dragged into the earth.  A piece of gravestone catches your eye.  The tiny letters are women’s names.  Row upon row of tiny letters, each name a human being.  Before you can read more than a couple of the names, the earth crawls up your face and into your mouth.  Swallowing you whole as it fills your mouth, throat, stomach.

This is the reality of patriarchy.  It is trafficking and female genital mutilation and pornographies.  Women’s lack of representation on the public platform and the Bible being used to silence women.  Toxic masculinity and gender stereotypes.  Everyday sexism and the gender pay gap.

People are appalled by some of the forms patriarchy takes, while they celebrate other aspects.  They donate to anti-trafficking work, completely ignorant to the woman on the pew next to them whose husband makes her stay awake at night, repeating over and over to him that she is a failure and a bad mother.  They talk of changing and evolving while hosting an abuse apologist.

People don’t see the tree even though it’s swallowing them whole.  There’s many good hearted efforts happening taking a chainsaw to one or two branches of the tree, not seeing the writhing, squirming ugliness that those branches are attached to.

There’s all these efforts for progress.  Progressive politics.  Progressive theology.  Yet as the author Arundhati Roy said, “a political struggle that does not have women at the heart of it, above it, below it, and within it is no struggle at all.”

Men are hurting women.  They are controlling, abusing and hurting women.  And as individuals and institutions we are colluding with that.  So perhaps the sentiment and title of Rob Bell’s upcoming event to “keep going” is wrong.  We need to stop and step back.  Men are hurting women and girls.  The Ignored People have been renamed “the voiceless” so we can avoid having to shut up and listen.

Perhaps God could be saying to us:

“Quit your worship charades.

I can’t stand your trivial religious games:

Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings—

meetings, meetings, meetings—I can’t stand one more!

Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them!

You’ve worn me out!

I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion,

while you go right on sinning.

When you put on your next prayer-performance,

I’ll be looking the other way.

No matter how long or loud or often you pray,

I’ll not be listening.

And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing

people to pieces, and your hands are bloody.

Go home and wash up.

Clean up your act.

Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings

so I don’t have to look at them any longer.

Say no to wrong.

Learn to do good.

Work for justice.

Help the down-and-out.

Stand up for the homeless.

Go to bat for the defenceless.”

Isaiah 1:13-17 (The Message)

Woman Hating; I pray this prayer for myself and for you also.

Over the last few years it seems that blogging and wider social media has changed enormously.  I’m not an expert in trends, but the monetising of the digital space (adverts on your Twitter timeline, bloggers gaining book deals, personalised trending lists) all have contributed to the space which was once a place of speaking truth to power, into a power source in its own right.  The radical prophets of truth have been subsumed into the power structure, the emerging church becomes, as David Haywood (@nakedpastor) calls it “submergent”.  The question is, does power corrupt, or was the tendency to desire power there all along?

I’m writing this piece partly in response to the way Julie McMahon’s voice has been silenced and ignored by people in power.  Her husband Tony Jones (a man I had never heard of until Julie, his ex-wife, began sharing her experiences of abuse online) is a well known leader within the Christian progressive movement.  She has shared some of the ways in which he hurt her and their children, alongside the ways their church colluded with him over at David Haywood’s blog.

I’m also partly writing this as a reflection a while after Steve Chalke’s continued choice to ignore criticism of the way he referenced a well documented sex offender as a “well-known pacifist”.

I’ve always been vaguely suspicious of the emerging church, where the leaders are almost exclusively white men talking mainly about themselves and their journey deconstructing religion.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve benefitted from reading Rob Bell’s books as much as the next person, but still, these two situations have solidified what was a gradual uneasiness.

Mainly men protecting those accused of being abusers.  People like Pete Rollins, a man presenting himself as liberating people from the chains of religiosity spewing nonsense about narcissism as a form of self-hatred to justify his siding with his friend; enabling Tony Jones continually hurting his wife.  Declaring holding an abuser to account for his abuse as “a reductionist and violent act that allows for dehumanization and lack of empathy”.

Steve Chalke, a leader of inclusivity, whose theological justification for the inclusion of LGBT people within the church included throwing the weight of Biblical scholarship for female leaders under the bus.  (“all those Christians who accept that women have any role, however minor, in teaching or leading, rather than simply serving in a local congregation or any wider expression of church, the Bible – the closed canon of Scripture – does not provide the final answer to the issue.“)  Steve’s inclusivity excludes justice for the 100 women Yoder abused, denying their voice in favour of the nonsense of a “gap between aspiration and behaviour”.

Mark Driscoll stood on a platform this week and declared himself a victim.  And some of the audience believed him.  And his powerful friends who invited him onto the platform applauded him.  And his many victims continue to suffer the consequences of his choices.  His family continue to suffer the consequences of his choices.

This weekend I had an amazing time with a group of wonderful women.  It was my wonderful friends’ hen night and some of our glorious group of women were lesbians.  After a lovely meal, we went to the gay friendly bar “New York New York” which describes itself as a “safe, friendly and welcoming space”.  A man performing as a drag artist spent the 20 minutes we were in the bar being horrendously misogynistic and lesbo-phobic.  He talked about “muscular dykes”, describing lesbians in many and varied disgusting terms, joked about paedophilia and anal rape and spent most of every song shouting about penises.  Myself and at least four other women complained about his behaviour, yet we were told to “f*ck off” or accused of being aggressive.  Woman hating isn’t a church based problem, it’s everywhere.  Even in so called “progressive” and “safe” places.

Isn’t it interesting that women who want equality are so often called “man hating”.  That when women say men rape, they are called man-hating.  But when men kill, rape or emotionally torture women, it’s not called woman hating?  When high profile (mainly) men defend and stand with other powerful men accused of abuse, sexual violence or emotional torture they are not called woman hating?  Isn’t that interesting?

Since the monetising of the digital space, it seems people are less willing to speak out.  Will it always be the case that when people have something to lose they stop being willing to speak out?  Is maintaining book-deals and friends in positions of power worth it?  When powerful people stand on stages or write from blogging platforms do they ever ask themselves, “And what do I benefit if I gain the whole world but lose my own soul?”

I don’t know what the way forward is. Power and platform are not the enemy, like any currency, it is in the hands of humanity that it becomes good or evil.  Money is not the problem, the love of money is.  Power is not the problem, the love of power is.

We need spaces that call out woman hating for what it is.  We need people (and some do exist!) who will speak out, who care more for the voiceless than having their own voice heard.  Because it is that which is not seen as honourable that has the most honour, and that which is last which will become first.  And the truth is, it was in giving up all power that Jesus saved anyone, and as we all know, it is the truth that sets us free.

I don’t have a plan for how we see things change.  I just know that they must.  I say it often, yet I will say it again, until women are safe, no one is safe.  And while  “progressives” hate women there will be no progress.

I was sent this song by someone today, and it spoke so deep into my soul.  I pray this prayer for myself and I pray it for you also.


(The song starts at 1:50 minutes)

Pray by Kendall Payne

I will pray for you now, for you have been my faithful friends

While the road we walk is difficult indeed

I could not ask for more than what you’ve already been

Only that you would say these prayers for me

May your heart break enough that compassion enters in

May your strength all be spent upon the weak

All the castles and crowns you build and place upon your head

May they all fall, come crashing down around your feet

May you find every step to be harder than the last

So your character grows greater every stride

May your company be of human insignificance

May your weakness be your only source of pride

What you do unto others may it all be done to you

May you meet the One who made us

And see Him smile when life is through

May your blessings be many but not what you hoped they’d be

And when you look upon the broken

May mercy show you what you could not see

May you never be sure of any plans you desire

But you’d learn to trust the plan He has for you

May your passions be tried and tested in the holy fire

May you fight with all your life for what is true

I have prayed for you now all my dear and faithful friends

But what I wish is more than I could ever speak

As the way wanders on I’ll long to see you once again

Until then, would you pray these prayers for me?

Oh, that you would pray for me

Thoughts on Steve Chalke and Yoder: until women are free, nobody is free.

When men commit violence against women it rarely impacts their credibility, status or value in society.  Someone I know who works with men in prison commented that men imprisoned for abusing children are seen as pariahs, whereas men imprisoned for abusing women are sympathised with, “it’s only because they were unlucky enough to get caught”.

John Lennon, Mel Gibson, Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Chris Brown, Sean Penn, Nicholas Cage, Steven Segal, Paul Gascoigne, Christian Slater, Ike Turner, Glen Campbell, Ray Rice.  All men arrested and/or charged with choosing to hurt a woman.  All men for whom their actions and choices towards women and girls have not negatively impacted their careers.

Jean Hatchett’s tireless work to campaign against Ched Evans’ becoming re-employed after being released on license to serve the rest of his sentence for rape is likely the only reason he has not yet begun playing professional football.  Before the dawn of social media sites and online petitions, it’s almost certain Ched Evans would have returned to his old club and life would have continued for him.  As it is, he may not be working as a footballer yet, but the woman he raped is living with the horrific impact of sexual assault alongside being harassed and forced to change her identity.

Over the last week another serial offender who violated and abused what is thought to be over 100 women has been given a new platform.  Theologian John Howard Yoder features in Steve Chalke’s new book “Being Human” released last week, coinciding nicely with the Open Church Conference he was leading about how to more fully include LGBT* people within the church.

Blogger Thomas Creedy made public concerns about Chalke referencing Yoder within the book, especially where he refers to Yoder as a “theologian and ethicist, best known for his pacifism”.  I have Storified some tweets about the situation HERE.

Christian Today have done a piece giving more information about Yoder, including a response from Steve Chalke, who explained that he didn’t know about “Yoder’s personal history before referencing him in the book, but wasn’t inclined to make any changes to the book in light of the information.” 

He said of Yoder’s book “The Politics of Jesus” that he “think it’s a fantastic piece of theology,” and “acknowledged that there was a “clear gap” between “who Yoder is revealed to be and what he espoused” but added “There’s always a huge gap between our aspirations and behaviour.”

He mentioned cases from “history of leading theological figures who had morally questionable personal lives, pointing to the widespread influence of Karl Barth, despite his unconventional domestic arrangements (he lived with both his wife and his theological assistant Charlotte, to whom he declared his love in letters)” and said that “King David was hardly sweetness and light,”  

He explained that “although he appreciated Yoder’s theology, it was not a defence of the allegations against him. “Just as I consider Karl Barth an extraordinary theologian… But it’s his theology I’m reading, and I understand there’ll always be a gap between who we [say we] are and what we do.””

Although Steve Chalke knew nothing of the allegations against Yoder when referencing him, his response since is of great concern and continues that age old tradition of ignoring, minimising and silencing women who have been abused in favour of the men who abused them.  Preferring the gifts the men bring over the reality of the hurt they have caused.

One of Yoder’s victims was Sharon Detweiler.  Her story can be found HERE.  She talks of the impact of Yoder’s abuse on her, of her struggles with intimacy and trust, her inability to stay in a church for more than a few years.  Of the hurt of being ignored, even with taped evidence of Yoder’s behaviour.  What a disturbing irony!  An author who has written a book about “Being Human” not being able to see or consider Yoder’s victims, talking about a pacifist who violated 100 women.

Jimmy Saville is another man whose crimes were not made public until after his death, but my guess is, his charitable work would not be something Steve Chalke would begin applauding.  In fact those who did celebrate Jimmy Saville, before knowledge of his offences were made public, were very quick to distance themselves from him after knowing about the horrendous crimes he had committed.

In a similar way to Saville, Yoder used his position of power and authority to prey on women, using excuses of gender theology to abuse them.  He never denied the allegations against him and only ever offered a politician’s apology, “I’m sorry you misunderstood my intentions.”  Saville has had royal honours removed and all of his good work is tainted by the reality of his crimes.  Yet for Steve Chalke, Yoder’s ethic and pacifism should remain intact because the sexual offending was “personal history”.

Personal history.  It’s a nice idea isn’t it?  As is the world in which serial sex offending is similar to someone having a live-in mistress.  Yet Yoder’s “personal history” isn’t history for Sharon Detweiler is it?  She continues to live with the consequences of Yoder’s choice to abuse her, as do the other women who were hurt by him.  It’s not “personal” either.  It wasn’t something that Yoder did in isolation, on his own.  It affected 100 women directly, then indirectly affected many they know; their parents, children and partners.  Not only that, it will have impacted the churches they were part of, the people they may have influenced if (like Sharon) they left church leadership after Yoder’s offences towards them.  It’s not personal when 100 women have had to live with being hurt by Yoder.

It’s also not personal when it was not just Yoder’s choices.  Leaders across the Mennonite Church supported him, colluded with him, did not challenge him.  They knew what he had done.  And they failed the many women Yoder hurt.  It’s not “personal history” when individuals and communities protected Yoder and did not speak out.

Steve Chalke is the founder of Stop the Traffik which has at it’s core a commitment to challenging abuse of people, the vast majority of whom will be women and girls.  For him to make this statement about Yoder in light of his involvement in this cause is at the very least, deeply problematic.

Yet Steve Chalke is in esteemed company, theologian and ethicist Stanley Hauerwas dedicates all of 29 words in a 3300 word article about Yoder to his sexual offences.  He describes them as “sexual misconduct” and suggests Yoder’s integrity remained intact because he “submitted to his church’s discipline”.  That Hauerwas, a man with such insight could not see that the power structures of the church means that Yoder could submit to that authority, without ever being held to account, is staggeringly ignorant.

I’m sure I’m not the only person saddened and frustrated by these men who are so committed to Jesus and who have such valuable thoughts, yet see women’s violation and abuse as so irrelevant and small.

It would be shocking if it wasn’t the dominant reality across the world.  Even Paulo Freire, liberationary leader extraordinaire recounts a story in his seminal book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” about a peasant who beats his wife.  Within the story, the peasant is seen by Freire as one of the oppressed, not as an oppressor of his wife.  The man assault on his wife is blamed (by Freire) on the oppression experienced by the man, not on the man’s choices.

A socialist friend of mine who recently turned 60 has shared with me on numerous occasions the ways in which women were simply expected to accept their oppression sacrificially for the “cause”.  The sexual assaults on women in Occupy camps over the last few years show this is not a historical issue.

A while ago I chatted to someone whose husband had studied the leaders of the great revivals throughout history; Wesley, Wigglesworth and others.  He was hoping to find examples of how to be a good leader and a good spouse.  She explained that he couldn’t find one revival leader who had respected or honoured their wife.  Not one.

Over and over again women’s freedom, liberty and rights are discarded in favour of “the greater good”, whether that be Yoder’s theological insights, socialist utopia or Christian revival.  And at that I really weep.

My sisters are thrown in the gutter; raped, violated, dishonoured.  Their lives and stories are trampled on by those who hold the power, their silence requested, nay required, in furthering the liberation of people groups.  Yet while those who birth all the peoples of the nations are trampled on, nobody is really liberated.

It will only be as the power holders choose the voice of the powerless over the Big Thoughts of powerful men that change will happen.  As they address their blindness and the privilege of not knowing what it means to suffer as women suffer.  When as individuals and as a community we hold to account those who erase the suffering of women, no longer will power holders be able to sell books about Being Human while ignoring victims of abuse.  It’s as each of us speaks out and stands up, that change will happen.  Because until women are free, nobody is free.