WE’RE ALL VISUAL CREATURES

I received an email from Craig Gross at XXX Church the other day.  I had not signed up for emails from them.  This is because XXX Church and Craig Gross purchase email address lists to be able to market to the people on them.  Find out more about that HERE.

 

This uninvited email was telling women how to deal with their husbands’ viewing pornography.  I was horrified and angered by the content that was in the email and took to Twitter to communicate that to Craig Gross.  I shall be spending this blog articulating WHY his email was so dangerous and will by referring t the email, the blog that the email is an excerpt from and my Twitter interaction with him.

 

Being pseudonymous on Twitter and when blogging is intentional.  I have felt compelled to make my communications about the issues I am passionate, not about who I am professionally.  I value the Twitter community as friends and never want to veer into seeing my Twitter account as a “platform to build” or a place to “promote myself”.  This generally works fine.  However, it does mean that in cases like this, the people I am critical of are unaware of the credibility of my perspective.

 

I am an international campaigner, media voice, trainer, writer, consultant and adviser on issues of gender justice.  I am a specialist in responding to and preventing male violence against women and my specialisms include; domestic abuse, child sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation, pornographies, equal platform representation, gender reconciliation, right use of power, working with young people and Christian feminism amongst other things.  I have contributed chapters to a number of books and offer consultancy services to many organisations.

 

Craig Gross’ (and his wife’s) words are in red throughout this.

 

Hey Friend,

 

It’s Craig Gross and wanted to share with you something that I get asked a TON. I asked my wife this question.

 

At no point during the email does Craig Gross mention is wife’s name.  Though he states that his wife has given this information, it is his photograph, signature and name that is on the bottom of the email.  The entire content is clearly endorsed and delivered by Craig Gross.  There is no distinguishing between what Craig is saying and what his wife has said, no delineation.  That leads to an email that for all intents and purposes is a man communicating to women about what they should do about their husband’s choices to use pornography.

 

“What would you do if you caught your husband looking at adult content?”

 

The first mention of pornography within this email uses the euphemistic term “looking at adult content”.  I’ve written about the issue with euphemising pornography HERE.  By characterising the issue as “looking at adult content” this makes what follows more palatable.

 

A couple of ways to phrase this question that are not euphemistic:

 

What would you do if you walked into a room to find your husband masturbating to images of young women been sexually violated and degraded?

 

What would you do if you discovered your husband’s internet search history included “slave farm Asian” “teen models” “nubile cum” ”mistress pegging”  “wants you to cum” “ebony double penetration” “brutal fuck” “lick cum from stomach”?

 

[These are actual search terms from www.pornmd.com/live-search which shows current search terms that are being typed for pornography sites]

 

I thought it would be good to hear from a women’s perspective not a guy’s. I thought it would be great for you to hear from my wife who has witnessed this again and again in people’s lives over the last 15 years.

 

He doesn’t mention his wife’s name (I know I’ve said this before, but I find this incredulous).  As far as we know, his wife has no qualifications to offer advice on this except her personal experiences of witnessing women finding out their husband’s are using pornography.  And as much as personal experience is valuable, it needs to be coupled with expertise and knowledge.  We don’t even know her name, never mind her qualification levels to offer this advice.

 

So, here it goes.

 

Your husband just confided in you that he looked at adult content. I know it must bring up a lot of emotions:

 

– Betrayal … because he didn’t stay faithful to you.

– Mistrust … because how can you trust him in the small or big things if he couldn’t be trusted not to look.

– Self-doubt … because you think it may have to do with you not being pretty enough or satisfying enough in the bedroom.

– Anger … because he didn’t put you above himself and think about how his actions could affect you.

 

Firstly, that’s not how this situation has been framed.  It is framed as “What would you do if you caught your husband looking at adult content?”  Suddenly, this has shifted to your husband “confiding in you”.  They are not the same situations, and conflating them is both unhelpful and confusing.  Are we talking about a situation where a man has been caught?  Or a situation where he has volunteered information?

 

The tone of this is unhelpful.  Telling someone who is hurting that “I know” is not helpful.

 

These are just a few emotions that may have surfaced for you, and these are normal feelings.

 

I can agree with this statement.

 

What you do from this point with those emotions will set the tone for the rest of your marriage. Good, Christ-filled men are trying to do what is right when it comes to lust and their visual nature.

 

I cannot agree with anything in these two sentences.  The tone has already been set for the marriage BY THE HUSBAND who has been masturbating while watching images of women being objectified and sexually degraded.  The woman’s feelings and emotions should be validated, grappled with and held as true for her.  Let’s not immediately put them aside.  All that invites is denial and emotional suppression.

 

Immediately, the subject has shifted from experience and pain of the woman to the man.  The man who is described as “good” and “Christ-filled”.  At no point is the woman described as good or Christ-filled.

 

Biblically, what is “right when it comes to lust” is “if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell” (Mark 9:47).  Also “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  (Matthew 5:28).  And “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”  (Romans 8:13)

 

Right, let’s get this VISUAL NATURE nonsense.

 

Cordelia Fine’s book “Delusions of Gender” is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the basics of neurobiology.  NOTHING IS HARDWIRED IN THE BRAIN.  The last ten years has seen neuroscience reject the idea of hardwiring in the brain.  The most recent science states that NEUROPLASTICITY (http://www.whatisneuroplasticity.com) is how the brain works.  The frontal cortex of the brain (the bit which deals with cognition) only really begins to develop after birth.  This means that almost everything brain based is malleable according to context and socialisation.

 

It is not in men’s “nature” to be visual, it is in their socialisation.

 

Your husband wants to honor you, but God has wired his brain so differently from a woman’s that it is a constant struggle.

 

God has not wired men’s brains.  The Christian faith is founded upon FREE WILL. Humans are designed, wired and created with the capacity to make decisions and choices.  Men are not robots, wired to respond to stimuli (naked women) in a certain way.  And the nature of neuroplasticity means that the differences between men and women have been proven to be socialised more than any neurological difference.

 

Talking about men and women as homogenous groups is dangerous and unhelpful.  Women are also visual.  We have eyes.  We may not be socialised to understand or own this.  But women are sexually aroused by visual stimuli.  I am not making this up.  It is an actual real thing.

 

Is God so short sighted in creating humans that he made one half of them sexually stimulated by visual stimuli and the other half stimulated by something different?  Did God create man thinking “I want to create human beings with free will, but I think I’ll ensure half of them are unable to function properly.  They’ll be affected by certain visual stimuli in such a way that it will override that free will and make them a slave to their penis.”  No, He did not.

 

Men and women’s brains are not that different.  If you were to look at a brain scan, you would not be able to tell whether it was a male or female brain without further investigation.

 

Please take heart that he actually came to you before getting caught — he is trying to honor you and make things right.

 

See the point above about the conflicting statements in the email.

 

Admitting to having done something is not necessarily motivated by honour.  This email has been sent out to (potentially) THOUSANDS of women.  How can they make any assumptions about men’s motives for admitting they are watching images of women being sexually degraded and masturbating to them?

 

Maybe they knew they were going to get caught?  Maybe they are admitting it to manipulate the situation for their own benefit?  Maybe they genuinely want to change things?  Maybe they are abusive and they are going to use the confession as an opportunity to bully, shame or sexually abuse their wife?

 

Sending this content in an email is so dangerous.  There will be women who receive this email who are currently being subjected to abuse by their husband.  There will be women who see this email as a sign from God that they should do what the email says.  And for women whose husband’s are currently abusing them, this email may cause them to continue to be abused.  This email may be a tool for an abuser to further abuse their wife.

 

Even if this is the case for one abuser, that is one abuser too many.  We must consider that with every blog/article/bulk email we write there will be people reading who are currently being subjected to abuse.  As Jesus instructed us, we must prioritise the needs of the broken hearted, the wounded, the captives.  And if our communications provide ammunition for abusers; we have certainly failed.

 

By using pornography, a husband has already dishonoured his wife and every woman or girl he has masturbated to.  Even if his motives in owning up are good, celebrating his honour without acknowledging that is not helpful.

 

Your job is NOT to withhold sex from him, to question his integrity in all areas of his life, to play detective or police his every move, to not forgive him and always punish him, to shut down and put up a wall, to think it’s your fault.

 

We can infer from this statement that a wife’s job (after discovering her husband has been masturbating to images of women being sexually violated and degraded) is to:

 

·      Provide sex

·      Assume his integrity in the rest of his life is intact

·      Not check up on him

·      Not have any trust issues

·      Forgive him

·      Place no consequences in place

·      Stay fully vulnerable

·      But at the same time, blame him for what he has done

 

A woman has found out her husband has been viewing images of women and/or girls (most online pornography is of teenage girls) being sexually degraded and violated.  Penetrated by multiple men (sometimes in one orifice), ejaculated over their faces and bodies and generally used as objects by men.  He has been doing this while masturbating.  He has been doing this secretly.  What that woman does to deal with her husband’s infidelity is entirely her choice.

 

Telling her what to do is not acceptable.  Telling her what not to do is unacceptable.

 

In February I organised a Gender Reconciliation Workshop in the UK (it was brilliant and I’ll write about it at some point…).

 

Within the workshop we learned about the Cycle of Reconciliation…

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Finding out about this betrayal requires the Cycle of Reconciliation to be implemented.  This email sent by Craig Gross in no way explores the necessary steps for reconciliation to take place.

 

Once the injury has taken place, the woman needs to be able to withdraw.  To withdraw without being judged or shamed or told she cannot.  Once withdrawn she needs to work out how to reclaim her identity.  Finding this out about her husband will have caused great damage to her and that has to be grappled with.  Working out if/how she can reclaim her identity while staying married.  She may work out that she can, equally she may work out that she can’t and that the marriage has to end.  Either way, she needs the space and confidence that her choices and needs will be valued and respected.

 

If she discovers that her identity can be reclaimed while staying married, the next step is to make an internal commitment to reconciliation.  At not until this point.

 

Once that internal commitment has been made, there is a need to restore the potential for harm to be done again.  Again, she may decide that the risk of her husband doing this to her again is too much and she may need to end the marriage.  Something she has the right to do (both Biblically and in every other sense).

 

If she does feel able to restore the risk then there needs to be a negotiation of needs.  She needs to lay out what her needs are and how they will be met.  She may need to insist that her husband no longer has a smart phone, no longer uses the internet when she isn’t present, that he doesn’t delete his internet history or that she checks his devices every day.  He may not be willing to do that.  In which case the negotiation results in the marriage ending.  Or he is willing to and the negotiations moves towards reconnecting.

 

This same process should be enacted each time the husband uses pornography.  Because a new injury has taken place.

 

This email reduces the deep and profound process of reconciliation to dictating what and how women should respond to injury, ironically this is something they are telling women they have no right to do to their husbands.  Their husbands being the ones who have made the choice to masturbate, to turn the computer/device on, to search for the images and to continue to watch them and lie about it.  While the wives have not done anything wrong in relation to this.

 

Those things might make sense emotionally, but they won’t help you or him.

Instead, your job IS to understand his visual nature and encourage him to have accountability with trusted people who will call him out on things, to extend him grace and realize that we all screw up and are selfish, to seek out counseling with him or by yourself, to pray for him, to pray for your marriage, to welcome honest conversations.

 

See above regarding the nonsense of visual nature.

 

Some of these suggestions are helpful, but not within the context of the wider messages in the email.  The woman is being told to be gracious and giving.  Which is a theme that runs across the oppression of women across history.  Sadly, this defiles the profound power of grace and of selflessness and reduces them to yet another painful and heavy yoke for women.

 

If you can openly talk about how hurt you are that he looked at that stuff, about things in both of you that need work, about what triggers him to look at adult materials, about taking steps to improve the issues that come up, then you can push through the hard conversations and come out on the other side stronger.

 

“Things you both need to work on”.  What does this mean?  Her husband has been watching images of women being sexually degraded while masturbating.  This idea that there’s “things you both need to work on” suggest the problem is not the man’s.  Which they’ve spent the rest of the email saying it is.  His “visual nature” and all that.

 

This is one of the few times where the woman’s hurt is acknowledged, but it is less than one sentence.

 

There is very little compassion for the woman within this whole email.  It is all about how the woman can meet the needs of the man, of his visual nature, of his triggers.

 

This email reduces women to objects whose sole role is to service men.  It dehumanises women and dictates to women how they should feel and act.  Which is exactly what pornography does.

 

You both love each other and want to work through these things, which is a good thing.

 

But his love it tainted by him masturbating while viewing images of women being sexually violated.  And so that changes everything.

 

Divorce is not an option, and it never should cross your mind.

 

Divorce is an option, as mentioned above.  The woman needs to know she has choices.  If divorce isn’t an option, then the woman is not choosing to stay in the marriage, she is being forced to.  If she is given the time and space to consider divorce and she chooses not to, then she has chosen to stay married.  If she chooses divorce then that’s valid.  Jesus’ teaching allows for marriage in cases of adultery, and if that’s how the woman experiences what her husband has done, that must be validated and supported.

 

This email is not sent into a context where Christian women are divorcing their husbands’ willy nilly (no pun intended!).  There are Christian women who have endured decades of their husband’s abuse, rape and violence because they church taught them divorce wasn’t an option.  Women rarely opt to be single parents or divorced.  There is much pain and trauma from being a divorced woman in the church, I know, I was one.  I endured rape, emotional terrorism, my ex-husband’s affairs because I thought divorce was not an option.

 

Women don’t need to be told divorce is not an option.  It’s what they’re always being told.

 

Women whose husbands have been using pornography need our compassion.  They need us to weep with them.  To hug them and tell them that we’ll support them whatever they do.  Sadly, many women won’t talk to anyone when they find out about their husband’s pornography use because there’s so much shame and fear attached to it.

 

This email speaks into a context where women are made to feel terrible about themselves.  The UK beauty industry is worth £17 billion.  An industry selling luxury products nobody needs is worth so much because it drags women’s self value out of them and sells it back to them for a large profit.  Every image of women that we see if digital manipulated, every shop manikin is 4 sizes thinner than the average woman.

 

Consumerism thrives on making women hate themselves.  Patriarchy thrives on blaming women and ensuring they are men’s caretakers.

 

Craig Gross’ brand of church views men as the primary leaders, of churches, homes and organisations.  Yet he believes that men’s visual nature makes them incapable of not masturbating while watching images of women being sexually violated.  Those two views are utterly incompatible.  Either men are competent human beings or they’re not.

 

If being a visual creature is the problem, it seems Jesus’ solution may be the one we should look to.  Blinding.  Each man should gouge out his own eyes to solve this.  As Jesus said, it is preferable to lust.

 

Yet, Jesus’ teaching was allegorical and “mystical”.  He was not advocating self mutilation.  He was pointing out the futility of blaming the eyes for an issue that is rooted in the heart.  This is a heart issue.  And while Craig Gross (and his wife) advocate this “visual nature”, they are speaking counter to the message of Jesus and are colluding with bad science and the excuses of men watching pornography.

 

Even if this time seems desperate and that it will never pass, divorce is much harder and more painful than this one experience in your relationship.

 

This is not “one experience in your relationship” this is (likely) a pattern of behaviour that the husband is choosing which involves secrecy, masturbation and images of women being sexually violated.  I have been divorced.  It was painful.  But I can assure you, not anywhere near as painful as staying married to a man who watched pornography and then made me enact those scenes (amongst many other painful abuses).

 

That’s not to say that a husband’s use of pornography is impossible to overcome.  That divorce could be more painful?  Of course!  But sending out a bulk email with these sorts of absolutes is dangerous to the most vulnerable and damaged amongst us and as such should not be written.  There is no “one size fits all” solution to the huge problems of pornography use among men, and any solution is not going to focus on what the man’s wife should, or should not be doing.

 

You and your husband can get through this and wind up even stronger than you were before. We’ve seen it over and over in the couples we’ve worked with through our ministry.

 

It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

 

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It’s great that they’ve had success.  But see above, this is not a “one size fits all” solution.  This is a ministry.  It is a not a scientifically robust understanding of pornography.  It is great that they are committed to ensuring men stop watching images of women being sexually violated which masturbating.  However, if the methods with which this is done echo those within pornography, objectifying women and reducing them to how they serve men.  Then they need a new model.

 

You can read my tweets about this email in the Storify I have done HERE.  As you will see towards the end of the Storify, Craig Gross responds to my Tweets.  I will offer some views on this too:

 

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Telling me to “settle down” immediately shapes his response as patronising and rather than engaging with the content of my criticisms, he focuses on the tone with which I sent them.  He assumes I hadn’t read the whole blog, which I had.  His use of “woman” with quote marks is odd.  And as already mentioned, the fact he says this is his wife’s comments does not help his argument at all, given that he doesn’t mention her name and signs the email from himself.  He states that it is for “if [the] husband confesses” even though the email is responding to the question “What would you do if you caught your husband looking at adult content?”

 

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Shaunti Feldhahn is the co-author of Craig Gross’ most recent book “Men Are Visual”.   Her background is in economics and she has no qualifications in neuroscience or psychology.   HERE (http://www.shaunti.com/2016/02/women-three-phrases-to-never-say-to-your-husband/ ) she tells women they should never say to men:

 

·      “What were you thinking?

·      “You didn’t do a good job at…”

·      Sigh in exasperation

 

She essentially trades in gender stereotypes, neurosexism and Christianese to fix relationship problems and sell books.

 

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Admittedly, he doesn’t know from my Twitter profile than I am not clueless, however assuming that is problematic, given that I’m not.  He infers that my tweets suggest I am clueless and unwilling to understand about men.  Neither of these things are true.  I am an expert in my filed and I spend a whole lot of time reflecting on and engaging with toxic masculinity (something he is promoting).  I organised a Gender Reconciliation Workshop because I strongly believe in the need for men to engage with the toxic and damaging effects of patriarchy, something the pornography is a part of.

 

My anger is righteous.  I wasn’t ranting on Twitter because I don’t have a clue, but because I do.  I know the damage the messages in his email cause women and men and it makes me angry that he is choosing to use his platform to spout nonsense.

 

Men are not wired differently to women.  If people are interested in a different perspective to Craig’s on the idea that people are wired to want pornography, read THIS blog by Glen Scrivener.

 

I shall spend the rest of my day reflecting with hope on Matthew 5:6

 

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

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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!

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

Questioning “A Theology of Maleness”

After being told about Andrew Wilson’s talk “A Theology of Maleness” in January, it’s taken me a while to get around to watching the whole thing.  But I have now watched the it and will offer some (rather extensive) views on it.

If you don’t know who Andrew Wilson, he is an elder at Kings Church in Eastbourne and is a well known complementarian.  He has an MA and is doing a PhD in theology.

Before I start my thoughts on his talk, I should make clear that he says towards the end of his talk that it’s content he would not deliver to women, so if any men would like to watch the 45 minute talk, and offer their thoughts, please do!  Mr GLW’s response, listening in to the last 20 minutes of it was intermittent OH PLEASES so I don’t think that being female precludes my ability to critique what he says.

So here goes…

He starts by apologising for the “theological” nature of his talk, taking it out of the realms of opinion and into the realms of factual, or perhaps the academic, however rarely within the talk does he say anything that I would consider on an academic level.  I’m sure he didn’t intend for it to be a communication device, but the effect of saying it is “theological”, is that people immediately assume a level of robust research and fact within the forthcoming content.

He uses the John Piper quote, “The question you have to be able to answer is, “What are you going to do when your son says to you, “Dad what does it mean to be a boy rather than a girl?  Or to be a man rather than a woman?””

Personally if my son was to ask me this, I would reframe the question and say, “Well, Joshua, what does it mean to be you?  What does it mean to be Joshua?  Because God made you unique and different to everyone else in the whole world, and there are so many different ways to be a boy or a man that we need to be working out what it means to be who God made you to be and being a boy is only one part of that.”

However, Andrew’s approach is different.  He acknowledges that we need a strong theology of identity, before then choosing to not focus on the macro of identity but rather on the micro of gender.  He talks about the differences between absolute and generalised statements about men and women and says that “we need to be able to generalise about gender in order to articulate what the Bible says.”

He immediately makes generalised statements that women are more sensitive and men are more decisive, explaining that people get upset about statements like this.  “It’s not absolutely true, but is generally true that women are more sensitive and men are more decisive”.  He goes on to evidence that men are more decisive because within academia there are trends which show men get further in academia that women.  He does mention that privilege could come into this; that men might have more opportunities than women, but says he thinks it’s probably more about Christendom and that white men were involved in the rise of Christendom.  He also says that historically women were in the home and men had more muscles so worked as farmers.  Which led to men having more time to do academia.Andrew doesn’t detail how that meant men had more time.  Just that they did.  I would suggest that if men had the muscles to do the farming, women would have been much better suited to academia, what with having less muscles, but anyway…

This section really seems like a response to feminist critique as he begins to talk about  privilege, I definitely felt he was engaging with the issues I would raise in a conversation with him.  However, his conclusion about privilege is that it’s “not necessarily true” that white men are privileged but that it is about taking responsibility and good stewardship of what’s been given to them.

He states the usual complementarian line, that men and women are “equal in dignity but not in function” and uses playing the bass as an example of this.  He says the left and right hand are used in the bass for different things.  The left hand plays the notes while the right hand plucks the strings.  He suggests that the left and right hands are equal in dignity, but their function is different; just like women and men.

As an analogy it is deeply flawed.  People play the bass that way round because that is the way they have been taught to play the bass, not because the left and right hand have been innately designed to pluck strings/play notes specifically.  And the existence of the left handed bass suggests some people still play it the other way round.

He says that men should be talking about FGM, domestic abuse and rape, that these issues are injustices and should be challenged.  That they’re not the same as what he see as inequality of function, i.e. the roles men and women should have are different to violence against women.

Except that every expert in understanding and ending violence against women will tell you that gender inequality is the foundation of violence against women.  That the privilege he has just denied as a real thing is the reason men abuse 25% of women in the UK.  That the position of men as the power-holders and gatekeepers leads to women’s oppression.  These things cannot be separated into “real injustice” and “a God intended injustice  plan”.

He goes onto say something that I actually fully agree with (I know, it’s a shock.  Have a pause before continuing if you need to…).  He says that within the church, the rhetoric about “real men” and (to a lesser extent) “real women” is about what people “ought to” be doing, not who they are.  So, by being a man or a woman, you are “real”.  The existence of your body being male or female makes you male/female, not the need to perform a certain type of masculinity/femininity.

The rest of his talk is about equipping men to know more about what being a man looks like.  Which doesn’t sound that contradictory when he says it, but actually is.

He mentions the feminisation of the church, without giving any examples or citations of how the church has ben feminised and states that some Christian conversations/resources/ideas about manhood have been an “overreaction” to this non-evidenced feminisation of the church.

He says that we should be looking to Jesus for how to be a man, and also for how to be a human being.  Which is weird, because his whole talk is about theological differences between men and women, but he’s saying Jesus is the model for being human.  Which really He can’t be, if there’s particular ways that men are meant to be.  Because either Jesus conformed to the theological way of being a man (therefore not being a model for women) or He was a model for being human (therefore not conforming to the theological way of being a man, which would suggest it might not be all that theological if Jesus didn’t do it).

He explains that since the sexual revolution men are being “infantilised” by society and that even though women have progressed in lots of ways, that they are “not happier”.  He doesn’t provide any evidence that states women aren’t happier, or really explain how society is infantilising men, he just states it as a fact.

He then pitches “very feminist”  and chauvinist as a polarised positions, the two extremes and says people mainly sit in the middle.  This is deeply problematic.  Last time I checked a chauvinist was “a person displaying excessive or prejudiced support for their own cause, group, or sex” whereas a feminist is a person working for “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.”  I’m not sure how those two things can be polarised.  A chauvinist is excessively prejudiced, a feminist is working towards equality.  Hmm…

However, polarising those two terms works to the benefit of Andrew’s points.  That being in middle, being a moderate means not being a chauvinist, but also not being a feminist.  Now, I know I’m biased as a feminist, but I would say feminism is the middle ground between hatred of women and hatred of men.  The portrayal of feminists as “man hating” is not from evidence of the feminist movements, but a mischaracterisation by people against the cause.  Chauvinism and misogyny however is evidenced in language and actions.  Men rape women and kill women, men tweet about raping and killing women.  There’s no similar action from feminists towards men.  Women are not as a collective or on a large scale killing or raping men.  It simply does not happen.

Andrew then moves into his 7 points about what a Theology of Maleness looks like.  He explains that as it originates in Genesis and is “bound up with marriage” but is applicable to single people too.  However, he doesn’t at any point during the talk expand upon the implications for single people or how it is practically worked out in the lives of single people. Here are his 7 points, and my thoughts on them:

1. Men = Tohu. Women = Vohu (Genesis 1:2)

The earth as formless (tohu) and void (vohu).  Andrew explains that Tohu refers to men; men bring form to the earth and that vohu refers to women; women fill the earth.  It’s interesting that this verse is mentioned long before men and women are created and that it’s just an idea that he (and perhaps others) have come up with.  It suggests that women’s role in the world really involves birthing children, which creates great problems for single women and women who can’t have children.

It places men as subjecting the earth, being agents in the world; the ones who shape what the world looks like, while women act within the constrains of what men decide.  This leaves me wondering, why did God give so many women gifts of leadership.  Surely, they are anomalies within a world of men who were created to shape?

2. Men = Subdue and Dominion. Women = Multiply and be fruitful (Genesis 1:28)

It’s interesting because this verse is said to woman and man together.  There is no mention within the text that these commands are gender specific.  It is only after The Fall that gender differences are mentioned at all.

He talks about penis and vagina (which obviously I was pleased about, given my goal of making vagina a more acceptable word across society).  He explains that women’s reproductive organs are internal.  Men’s reproductive organs are external.  This mean’s that men are “externally focussed agencies there to protect”.  That seems like a rather large leap in theory to me, but then I may not be theological enough…

He states that men’s “involvement in child birth and child rearing is relatively short.”  As Christians we believe that women and men are equally called to be parents, the biological reality is not the one which dictates how we behave as parents, otherwise men would generally just, “shoot and leave”.  Instead, we hope for integrated family structures, seeking after “the important things of justice and love”.

He mentions the book “Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps” saying he has “no idea idea whether it’s true or not”. It is not true. The book is based on ridiculously bad neuroscience.  Andrew’s mention of this book allows him to example the differences between men and women, without having to stand by the conclusions of the book as true.

He talks about how until relatively recently men went to war because women were the one’s bearing children.  He fails to mention that those creating the wars were also men. He says that God could have created us to be fertilised like plants or as asexual, but instead, “God did something and in doing so made a statement about how women and men are meant to function.”  All mammals function and reproduce in the same way; so rather than God choosing a specifically unique way for human’s to reproduce (to infer all the special things Andrew wants it to show) it’s actually the way all mammals reproduce (including whales).  Unless we’re saying male whales are uniquely purposed as “externally focussed agencies there to protect” it’s not really going to work.

After this he references a shooting in Colorado in which three men died after having laying over women to protect them from a gunman in a cinema.  He said the men were in no way connected to the women they chose to protect.  In fact (according to Wikipedia) the three men who died were protecting their girlfriends.  Andrew’s point is that men are wired to protect women. That it’s somehow an innate characteristic of men.  He failed to mention in his talk that the person who shot dead 12 people and injured another 70 was also a man.

This section of Andrew’s talk left me crying.

We live in a world where male violence is at epidemic proportions.  Rape, murder, torture, emotional abuse, street harassment, female genital mutilation, female infanticide, sexual abuse; all perpetrated by men in every community and society of the world.  We don’t live in a world where there’s an epidemic of men protecting women, but rather, hurting women.  We don’t live in a society where a woman sees a man in a dark alley and thinks “Oh he’s going to protect me”.  That’s not what our world looks like.

I have argued before with people that I don’t want to be offered a seat or have a door held open for me by a man if they’re only doing it because I’m female.  If they always offer their seat to women and men or they always open the door for women and men, then that’s fine.  But the assumption with those things is that I am weaker, but let’s face it, I am not more in need of a seat than a man.

The belief in women as weaker is what lays at the roots of male violence.  I delivered an assembly to a group of 240 13-14 year old students.  One boy said, “The thing is I think girls are emotionally weaker than boys, that’s why they get upset more.”  Afterwards a teacher explained that this same boy had been abusive to all his girlfriends.

Although Andrew says women aren’t defective or impotent, but instead inherently “precious”, the reality is that if women are weaker, especially when it comes to “dominion” then they should be less trusted than men in relation to those things.

His example of the men who died in the Colorado shooting was used to say that “men immediately knew” women should be protected, but across the world men don’t immediately know that, how do we know those men’s responses didn’t come from how they’ve been raised?  Andrew excluded the information that the women were the men’s girlfriends and at least four of the people murdered in the Colorado shooting were women, not all of the women had men “immediately” knowing how precious they were and jumping in front of a bullet.

3. Man = Guard. Woman = Helper (Genesis 2:15 and 18)

Verse 15: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (ESV)

Verse 18: “Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.””

Andrew introduces both of these verses and explains that although nowhere in verse 15 does it actually say “guard” he is going to use it interchangeably with “keep it”but doesn’t explain his rationale for doing so.  It’s interesting that at this point in the story there were no threats to human beings, so there wasn’t actually any need to “guard” the garden from anything.  Other versions use the word “take care of…” which definitely doesn’t sound like a “guard” type role.  He does say the word is related to that of the priest role in the Old Testament, however the guards in the tribes of Israel were not the Levites.  In fact the Levites didn’t go to war, their role was to enable the community to worship God.

He mentions how women are called to be men’s helpers, and does reference that helper is used as a word in the Bible to describe God bringing help to His people.  Andrew doesn’t mention that it is a word used to describe God on 15 occasions, he also doesn’t explain how God helping His people differs from what he says as men’s role of “guarding”.  To me they sound quite similar…

Andrew talks of how men will always get up to check for a burglar if there’s a noise in the middle of the night.  That men’s role as guard is “why men protect their families.”  That men would always ensure they were first to deal with suspicious noises in the middle of the night.  He didn’t offer any research to back this point up.  Just his assumption that men always protect their families.

Except men don’t always protect their families.  In fact women and children are much much more likely to be at risk in the middles of the night from men they know than from burglars.  Children sexually assaulted by their father or step-father while their mother sleeps unaware.  Women awakening to find their husband raping them or perhaps not allowed to go to sleep because their husband’s abusive tactic is to force them to stay awake all night.  If we’re going to use collective male behaviour to decide that something is innately built into men, it seems violence and abuse is something we should be talking about.

He also doesn’t explain how single women are supposed to protect themselves.  Without a man are single women sitting ducks for burglars?

Also he seems to think protection is solely a physical thing.  I may not be physically strong enough to protect my husband physically (though some women are).  However, if someone was being verbally hurtful towards him, I would be the first to stand up and say something.  If someone was going to try and take advantage of his kindness or support, I would be the first to challenge that.  Perhaps, as women and men we are supposed to protect each other, based on our gifts, rather than some assumption of difference from a word that doesn’t actually appear in the verse being talked about?

Andrew states, “The role of guarding and protecting is always something God has said, “Men I want you to do.” I could be wrong, but I don’t think this is actually a verse found anywhere in the Bible:  “And then God said, “Men! Guarding and protecting is always your job!”

God likens Himself to a mother bear protecting her cubs.  Jesus likens Himself to a chicken gathering chicks under her wings.  Unless I’m mistaken, those are female images of God protecting and guarding.  In fact, mothers are well known for protecting their children.  There are many anecdotal stories of women having “Hysterical Strength”, lifting a car off their father or fighting a polar bear to save their children.  1 Corinthians 13:7 tells us that love “always protects”.  Protecting isn’t limited to men, it’s a characteristic of love.

4. Men = Beloved.  Women = Beloved (Genesis 2:23)

“The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman”, for she was taken out of man.’”

Andrew says that Adam “Initiates the relationship” and Eve responds.  He explains, “That’s why a man asks the father’s permission” to marry a woman.  And states, “That’s the way civilisation has worked ever since.”

Where to start with this..?  The reason a man asks the father’s permission is because historically the woman/girl belonged to her father, and the marriage contract enabled the husband to buy the woman so she goes from being her father’s possession to becoming owned by her husband.  That’s not okay.

When Mr GLW and I decided to get married, God told us we should marry each other.  So we had a conversation about it and decided to get married.  Perhaps Andrew thinks this is unBiblical, but that’s how God worked out our marriage and it is no less valid because Mr GLW didn’t initiate the relationship.  In fact, I think the model of having a grown up conversation about marriage, rather than a romantic proposal, might be more useful for lots of people…

He goes on to say that it’s obvious what this means “in a marriage context, but with implications for single people as well.”  He does elaborate further, leading me to wonder how exactly this works for single people.  Men should initiate all things?  Women should stay silent?  I’m not really sure how this works out in the lives of single people even if Andrew is.

5. Man = Christ. Woman = Church

Andrew says that “Christ leads the church” and that the “church responds and submits to him” and that should be the “same with husbands and wives…this is very obvious.”

Setting aside the content issue.  He has used a communication device here (perhaps unintentionally) which says that what he’s just said is “obvious”.  Basically everybody should get this, everybody should agree with it.  The fact that there are many scholars, theologians and others who don’t accept this is what the Bible says, or that it’s actually quite offensive to say that one gender is more like Christ than the other is neither here nor there when you say something is “very obvious”.

He goes on to liken the spectrum of masculinity to having various points on it.  It looks like this:

<—Servant leadership—Apathetic—Controlling—Domineering/abusive—>

He says that Christian men should be at the servant leadership end of the spectrum .  That is what Christ is like.  Though it would seem women shouldn’t even exist on this spectrum, we’re somewhere else, on the “submission spectrum” no doubt.  He explains that his life hasn’t required him to stand in front of a bullet for his wife, but usually involves him having to get up earlier.  He doesn’t really explain why getting up earlier makes him a servant leader, but anyway.

We are all called to “prefer each other’s needs”, as Christians.  Personally, I don’t want Mr GLW getting up early for me every day, I want us to exist in mutuality, where if he’s tired he can have a lie in, if I’m tired I can.  We submit ourselves to God and each other, in full partnership.  It’s not our gender that dictates how much we offer, or how we offer it, but our love for God and for each other and the gifts God has given us.

6. Man = Representative. Woman = Beneficiary (Genesis 3:9)

“But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?””

Andrew explains that even though Eve was the first to eat the fruit, it was Adam who God addressed the question to.  He doesn’t mention that in verse 13 God asks Eve, “What is this you have done?”  But anyway…

He likens this to a civil servant and a Government Minister.  When the civil servant makes a mistake, it is the Minister who is held accountable for it, because they are the representative of the department.  After using this analogy he then says that “boss isn’t the right language to use” when talking about headship, which is problematic when that’s the exact analogy he has used to explain the whole “man is the representative” thing.

It’s interesting that there is actually a verse about being a representative in the Bible, “Therefore, we are the Messiah’s representatives, as though God were pleading through us…” (2 Corinthians 5:20 ISV)  So we see that actually, all of us, men and women are Jesus’ representatives and when I get to heaven my husband won’t have to make account for my behaviour, I will.

He says that he sees headship as who the woman is identified by.  For example when he sees other men in the room he recognises them by their head, not their shoulders or body.  In the same way, he explains, the husband/father is the representative of the woman.  He goes on, “That’s what still happens in many cultures, even now.  The father speaks for the family…he carries the can…he gives the family their name.”

Andrew may not be aware, but male violence against women is also directly correlated to the level of autonomy and control women have over their own lives.  The less autonomy women have (like in the cultures he’s mentioned) the more instances of violence against women.  Because where women and girls are seen as possessions and as less than equal to the men, they are treated and discarded like possessions.

7. Man = ground.  Woman = Womb. (Genesis 2:16-19)

Andrew mentions the curse on Adam and Eve; childbearing pain for women and the ground being cursed for men.  He explains that this is what he sees as men’s and women’s “spheres of responsibility”.

He omits the part of the verse which says, “Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.”  This is an interesting section to omit, given his previous mention that men should be talking about FGM, rape and domestic violence more.  Every society in the world is blighted by male violence.  And yet the Biblical basis for male violence and domination isn’t referenced at all in his talk.

What is referenced however as evidence of men’s sphere being different to women’s is the Man Drawer, specifically Michael McIntyre’s portrayal of the Man Drawer.  Yes, this is a theological talk that references the Man Drawer as irrefutable evidence of men’s sphere of responsibility being different to women’s.

Towards the end of the talk he explains he would not be present teaching about gender in the same way to women as it wouldn’t be helpful, especially not for single women as “marriage changes a woman’s life an impacts a woman more than a man.”  He didn’t explain how/why it impacts women more.  I’m not sure it does actually.  Surely if he believes that men are supposed to be the servant leader, getting up early and being the representative in the relationship, it should probably be more difficult for men than women, but as it is, I’m really not sure how women are affected in a greater way than men…

Personally, when I do talks or write blogs, I hope everything is as useful to men as it is to women.  It’s interesting Andrew’s view is that his message to men can’t be delivered with the same content to women.  Maybe that’s because, like me, women see the implications of his message on them, or can see that it doesn’t make sense.

Andrew finished by talking about the Gospel and reminding all the men present that in relation to Jesus they are the “female”; the Helper, the Beloved, the Beneficiary.  It’s confusing how this works out for women though.  Are women the Helper to their husband and then Jesus?  Or Jesus and then their husband?

He said that “in the Gospel we [men] play the part of the wife, we respond with submission and obedience…we are recipients, not agents of…”  Which gets to the crux of the matter.  He seems to see men as agents, women as recipients, which doesn’t look so different to the rest of society.  This TED Talk by Caroline Heldman explains powerfully and clearly the ways the media ensure men are the subjects and women are the objects.  Men act, women respond.  This is not good for men or women.

God implanted free will within all of us.  As male and female beings we are called to make choices and we will have to account for those choices.  No distinction is made between men and women in Jesus saving us and to do so, especially within Andrew’s restrictive terms is not enabling us to be more Christlike, or more deeply rooted in God, but rather to find our identity in our genitals and tenuous links to The Man Drawer.

Petitioning Hillsong: Unfair or Justified?

Last week I set up a petition to ask Hillsong to remove Mark Driscoll from their platform at their Europe conference.  His contribution has been downgraded from “MAINSTAGE SPEAKER” to “Interview Guest” alongside his wife Grace.  Driscoll was on the programme for Hillsong before he resigned and his behaviour within Mars Hill and beyond had been made as public as it is now.

I did not create the petition because I’m slow to forgive.  I did not create the petition because I am “shouty and ranty” or because I’m “emotive” or because I’m not very “Christlike”.  I did it because I believe it is unjust for Mark Driscoll to be given one of the biggest Christian platforms in Europe while those he hurt are still trying to rebuild their lives.

Stories have been told of how Driscoll encouraged people to give up their jobs and lives to move and work with Mars Hill, to then fire them.  The destruction and damage caused to those families?  Horrendous.  Stories of him asking church leaders’ wives inappropriately sexual questions, of him spending church tithes on getting his book into bestseller lists, of him plagiarising other people’s work; stealing their ideas and words and calling them his own.

He has not publicly repented, no matter what Charisma News tell you…  HERE is a blog I wrote about the PR apology he offered when resigning from Mars Hill.

Mark Driscoll used power in a dangerous and damaging way.  Just as an alcoholic uses alcohol in a way that is hurtful, to their own body, to their family and to others.  Or as a workaholic uses work in a way that damages themselves and others, Mark is a “Poweraholic” (Yes, I made that word up.  You are welcome…)  It is not that leadership is wrong or inherently damaging.  But it does come with risks (like drinking).  That’s why Jesus gave us a specific model for leadership, “The leaders of the world dominate, IT SHALL NOT BE LIKE THAT AMONG YOU.” (Matthew 20:26)

It is intensely unloving to provide Mark Driscoll with a platform.  Firstly to the many, many people broken by Mark’s actions and those around him who colluded with and enabled him to continue as a poweraholic.    Secondly, to his family and friends.  Poweraholics are like alcoholics, their need to maintain and increase power damages all those around them.  Thirdly, to Mark himself.  Poweraholics are not loved and cared for by giving them more power.  Just as loving an alcoholic involves enabling them to avoid alcohol, loving a poweraholic means enabling them to avoid power.

Mark DeMoss, Hillsong’s spokesperson has responded directly to the petition, and the mention within it that it would be a form of “cheap grace” to give Driscoll their platform; “I don’t think that is ‘cheap grace,’ but rather, a thoughtful approach to challenging circumstances. I think it would be fair for the petitioners to judge this appearance after it takes place, but advance judgment seems premature and a bit unfair, in my view.”

I would suggest what is slightly more unfair is that Mark DeMoss is the same person who did the PR management for Mark Driscoll’s resignation.  So, we have the person who equipped Mark Driscoll to do his slick PR apology (referenced above) now telling us that Hillsong is right to keep Mark Driscoll on the programme.  Isn’t that interesting?

Even within DeMoss’ statement he describes Mark Driscoll’s choice to damage hundreds, if not thousands, of people as “challenging circumstances”.  I think that suggests what is to come in the interview.  There’s no acknowledgement of the pain Driscoll has caused.  And as Donald Miller tweeted:

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 09.33.19

It is fair to offer advance judgement when there is no acknowledgement of the broken, vulnerable and hurting.   It is fair to offer a chance for people to be heard.  There are ex-members of Mars Hill signing, like this person who says:

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 09.37.12

Conveniently for a PR person, not offering “judgement” until after the event, allows Mark Driscoll’s career to be relaunched on one of the biggest Christian platforms in Europe.  And afterwards, the voice of (perhaps) the majority of people will be silenced by the swathe of media reports coming out of Hillsong, rewriting Mark Driscoll’s choices as “challenging circumstances” and his PR apology as Full Repentance.  And before I’m labelled as cynical, in advance of Mars Hill church being dissolved, Driscoll had already launched a new website, complete with opportunity to give to his ministry.

I will continue with the petition, and as I told Warren Throckmorton, am considering organising a peaceful protest at the Hillsong Conference because, when I finally have the opportunity to stand before Jesus and account for my actions, I can say that I stood with the broken and hurting and created space for their voices.  I did not walk by on the other side or as has been suggested, simply “vote with my feet”.

For another useful and important perspective, have a read of Jem Bloomfield’s blog: “The Punishment of Mark Driscoll”

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.

Craig Gross, Fifty Shades and Understanding Abuse

I received an email, along with the rest of the XXX Church mailing list from Craig Gross this afternoon.  It was his response to having watched the Fifty Shades of Grey film.

Much of the content within the email concerned me and I contacted Craig via Twitter to ask whether I could communicate with him about the email.  He responded in this way:

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I was hoping to dialogue with him directly, but it seems he would rather I publicly respond, hence this blog…

Firstly, many of you will only know me as Mrs GLW or @God_loves_wome on Twitter.  Though I am vaguely pseudonymous, I should probably explain that I am an expert in preventing and responding to domestic abuse.  I have worked with hundreds of women who have suffered abuse from a partner or ex, trained hundreds of people in understanding domestic abuse, trained over 180 practitioners to work with young people to prevent them perpetrating or experiencing abuse, co-facilitated a perpetrator programme, written resources on child sexual exploitation, identity, recovering from the trauma of an abusive partner, parenting after abuse and equipping churches to respond to domestic abuse.  I have contributed to various books on gender and domestic abuse.  I have delivered keynote speeches at national and international events in Canada, Bulgaria and across the UK, including speaking alongside the Under Secretary to the United Nations and three Archbishops.  Two and a half years ago I set up the “50 Shades is Domestic Abuse” campaign to raise awareness of the abuse within the series and to endeavour to change the shape of the conversation around the social phenomenon that is Fifty Shades.  Within the last 3 weeks that has included organising a protest at the premiere of the film and doing interviews of TV, and across much online and some printed media.

I find that writing as “God Loves Women” means that people can think that I come to the conversation without any expertise.  I choose to not use my Twitter account to advertise what I do because I’m not interested in building a platform or promoting myself, however, in order to effectively respond to Craig Gross’ email I felt it would be worth making it clear that I write this as an expert in the field of domestic abuse.

Okay so, Craig’s piece is written in full below, with my comments added.

I don’t read fiction. Ever. I haven’t since high school, and even in high school, I opted for the Cliff’s Notes. When Fifty Shades of Grey came out, I heard about it (and have even commented on it over the years) but never opened the book. I never even skimmed it. I have friends who have and have filled me in.

I have read all three books.  When I read the books, I folded down every page on which there was abuse.  This is a picture of the books:

IMG_0814

I thought it was a fantasy book about a guy with some crazy desires for some violent sex. I was blown away to learn it sold 100 million copies, and when the movie grossed $260 million worldwide this weekend, I became even more fascinated.

So I went to see the movie. I went with my wife, to the noon showing at the mall by our house. It was packed. I can’t believe how many people were seeing this movie on a Wednesday afternoon.

As part of the “50 Shades is Domestic Abuse” campaign, we have been encouraging people to boycott the film.  Not because we are pro-censorship.  Not for religious reasons.  But because the film and associated branding is making those who created the film a lot of money.  Purchasing a cinema ticket contributes to the money being made, validates that the film is something people should be watching and, in the case of Craig Gross, reinforces that the film is not bad like pornographies (which his entire ministry is based on people not watching) and therefore is the sort of thing couples should be going to see together.  

I set up the campaign, not because Fifty Shades is “pornographic” but because it depicts an abuser an ideal partner, stalking as a charming character quirk, deep power imbalances as sexy, lack of consent and rape as BDSM, and coercion, emotional abuse and minimisation, denial and blame as normal behaviour from a partner.  I’m not even going to begin on the celebration of selfish capitalism, modelling of wealth, power and “sexiness” as a measure of success or the wider issues of gender within the series.

So what’d I think?

I didn’t hate the movie.

I did hate Christian Grey.

I didn’t walk out or picket, but I watched the whole movie because I wanted to better understand why this has resonated with so many. Why is Christian Grey someone that women are cheering on and fantasizing about? Why does my own mother at 66 years old connect with this story and feel like she “missed out” on something in her sex life.

I did picket.  Because I actually already understand why Fifty Shades has resonated with so many.  It’s because it is the story we’ve been told from childhood, of a broken “beast” of a man, rescued by the love of a good woman/girl.  It maintains the comfortable dynamic of men as powerful, and women as passive (you know the main dynamic in almost ALL pornographic material…) yet allows readers to feel they’re being edgy by adding orgasms and spanking.  Within a fantasy setting the books are just that, a “let’s pretend” story.  But within the context of 72% of girls being emotionally abused by a boyfriend within the UK, the Fifty Shades brand is reinforcing to all young people that abuse is not only normal, but also desirable. 

As I write this, the movie finished two hours ago, and I’m still upset over what I just saw. Not some young woman being tied up, but Christian Grey himself. Let me explain.

Christian Grey was born to a prostitute/crack addict and put up for adoption.

Christian Grey was sexually abused by an older lady from the ages of 15 to 21.

Christian Grey was introduced to BDSM and forced to be a “submissive” for a number of years.

Christian Grey is very successful, rich, and powerful in his job.

Christian Grey has everything he needs and more, but deep down inside you can tell is not happy or fulfilled.

Christian Grey is used to getting what he wants and no one tells him no.

Christian Grey has had over 15 sexual partners that we know of.

Christian Grey does not “make love,” he “f*cks… hard.”

Christian Grey does not like to be touched.

Christian Grey gives things to get sex.

Christian Grey is abusive, controlling, dominant, and invasive. (I agree with Craig here)

Aside from his looks, money, and power, Christian Grey is the worst boyfriend imaginable.

Anastasia Steele is a virgin.

Anastasia Steele is infatuated with Christian Grey.

Anastasia Steele enjoys being pursued. (It’s not being pursued, it’s actually stalking.  Which is an actual, criminal offence)

Anastasia Steele obviously is uncomfortable with the sexual experiences Christian Grey is wanting.

Anastasia Steele is constantly pushed to give in to the sexual requests of Christian Grey

Anastasia Steele is given more things in order to submit to Christian Grey’s sexual requests.

Anastasia Steele desires a relationship but gives sex hoping to get the relationship.

So, for those who have not read the book or watched the movie, you’re up to speed so far. Christian has a “contract” he tries to get Ana to sign, a contract that explains what she will and won’t do sexually and what she is and is not allowed to do outside the bedroom. In exchange for the signing the contract, she can move into the house and get all the benefits of being with Mr. Grey.

I get from the movie that Anastasia is not interested in sex so much as she is Christian Grey, and I think that is pretty normal for most women I meet that are pursuing men. 

Ana is not interested in sex, because up until this point she has never actually had sex and hasn’t really been interested in having sex.  It has been suggested that if Ana genuinely has no sexuality before meeting Christian Grey, she probably is asexual.  The developing sexual script of human beings doesn’t begin at 21, it starts at birth and grows as we mature.  Ana’s approach to sex is NOT normal.  It is the measure of a character that has been given no depth or other dimensions, whose only purpose is to interact with the main male character.

More generally, women are socialised NOT to accept or embrace their sexuality.  Vagina is a dirty word.  There’s an assumption boys are masturbating as teenagers, there’s an assumption we don’t even need to mention masturbation to girls.  Boys are socialised as subjects within sex, girls are socialised to be objects.  (Again, something depicted across the spectrum of pornographies.)

(The famous saying, after all, is that men give love to get sex and women give sex to get love.) 

I’m not sure this is a famous saying.  And I’m not sure it’s true.

But in this movie, Christian is not willing to negotiate. He is not willing to show love or be attached. In fact, Anastasia is not even allowed to sleep in the same room or bed with him. She really is just his sex slave. She won’t sign the contract and at one point he gets so desperate he offers, “If you sign this, I will give you one night out a week as a couple. We will got out to dinner and go see a movie like boyfriends and girlfriends do.”

Enough about the movie. Here are some takeaways and things I am left not understanding.

  • Marriage only works when both sides give and both sides take, and sex is the same way. Men and women have needs and desires, and marriage and the marriage bed is a place to have those fulfilled. If you are with someone and they don’t take into consideration your needs and only demand things from you, then get the heck out of that relationship if you’re dating. If you’re married, then head to a counselor.

A wiser way of approaching this is that a relationship should be about “give and give”.  Neither person taking, but rather each person giving?  Surely that is the sacrificial love Jesus modelled? 

POINT ONE OF DEEP CONCERN.

THIS FILM DEPICTS ABUSE.   NEVER, EVER IS COUNSELLING A SAFE OR APPROPRIATE INTERVENTION FOR A PERPETRATOR OF ABUSE.  (Neither is anger management.)

The books show Christian visiting a counsellor (Dr Flynn), but the Flynn colludes with his behaviour (just as many counsellors do).

A counselling approach looks at “my feelings and other people’s action”.  What a perpetrator needs to do it look at “my actions and other people’s feelings”.  

If someone is being abused by a partner, whether they are married or not, there is a Biblical principle of leaving the relationship.  The sanctity of marriage should never be upheld in priority over emotional and physical safety.  Craig acknowledges that Christian Grey is “abusive, controlling, dominant, and invasive”.  An academic study found that within the books that Christian Grey is an extremely high risk perpetrator.  

CHURCHES, CHRISTIANS, PASTORS: IF SOMEONE IN YOUR CHURCH IS BEHAVING LIKE CHRISTIAN GREY TOWARDS THEIR PARTNER (AND ANY CHILDREN) YOU NEED TO SUPPORT THE PERSON SUFFERING ABUSE IN ACCESSING A SPECIALIST SERVICE AND BECOMING SAFE.  DO NOT SEEK THE PERPETRATOR’S SIDE OF THE STORY, DO NOT DISBELIEVE THE WOMAN.  DO NOT TALK ABOUT FORGIVENESS, THE SANCTITY OF MARRIAGE OR PRAYING FOR CHANGE.  DO NOT TAKE AT FACE VALUE ANY CHANGES THE PERPETRATOR CLAIMS TO HAVE MADE.  THIS IS POTENTIALLY A LIFE OR DEATH SITUATION.

JESUS CAME SO THAT WE COULD HAVE LIFE, AND LIVE IT TO THE FULL.  ABUSE IS NEVER A LIFE FULLY LIVED.  

  • Most people who abuse others were abused as children. The best available research suggest that 75% or more of those who commit acts of sexual or physical abuse against others were themselves abused as children. Christian Grey was abused as a child, a horrendous act that he never got over or dealt with or talked with anyone about. This has led him to some serious walls that have gone up in his life. and the only way he knows how to deal with it is to abuse someone else. He has done this to over 15 women and will continue. I heard this story was about sex, but this story at its core is about a broken man and his inability to love and be loved. How do people reading this book or watching this movie not see this? This is not a love story. This is not even an erotic story.  This is a story of broken people continuing a cycle of dysfunction in their lives rather than dealing with their issues.

POINT TWO OF DEEP CONCERN

THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST DANGEROUS MYTHS THE BOOKS PERPETUATE.  ABUSERS DO NOT ABUSE BECAUSE OF THEIR CHILDHOOD.  THEY ABUSE BECAUSE THEY BELIEVE THEY OWN THEIR PARTNER AND THAT THEY ARE ENTITLED OVER THEIR PARTNER.  THE MAJORITY OF THOSE WHO EXPERIENCE ABUSE ARE FEMALE.  THE MAJORITY OF ABUSERS ARE MALE.  THE MATHS SIMPLY DOES NOT ADD UP.  

Lundy Bancroft is an expert in domestic abuse, his work with perpetrators has found that 50% of abusers witnessed a father or step-father abuse their mother (or step-mum).  In these cases it was not about “brokenness” or trauma, but rather role modelling and what is seen as normal.  It was about the beliefs of ownership and entitlement being taken on.  And regardless, this leaves 50% of abusers who have not experienced abuse as children.  Fifty Shades is about domestic abuse, and so any research mentioned needs to be focussed on domestic abuse.

The myth of abusers being abused in dangerous for a number of reasons:

  1. It justifies the behaviour and makes it harder for the perpetrator to take responsibility for their choices.
  2. It allows us to reduce someone’s offence because it isn’t “as bad” if they have a reason we feel makes it understandable.
  3. As has been evidenced in this article, it shifts the focus of the impact and priority onto the abuser and their feelings, and away from the victim and her pain.  Craig has not focussed on the impact of the abuse had on Ana.
  4. The first step to an abuser changing is them taking full responsibility for their choices to hurt others, as such this message disables perpetrators from changing.
  5. Many women who suffer abuse from a partner believe that their partner’s “brokenness” is the problem and stay in the relationship believing that enough love will fix things.  This is not the case and can lead to the woman suffering abuse for a much longer.
  • The Bible says I have the right to do anything, but not everything is beneficial. I am not against being playful or doing things to spice up things in your bedroom, but the question I always have is why? Why do you think you need that? If both people agree to try different things in the bedroom, I am all for that. Christian Grey, on the other hand, is dealing with his pain by inflicting pain onto someone else who is visibility uncomfortable with it. He has trouble at work one day, so he sends Anastasia to the “play room” to take out his frustrations on her. If your partner is asking you to do something or try something new in the bedroom, my advice to you would be to ask why. The reason behind the ask is the deeper issue than the act itself. In a lot of cases it might just be a fun thing – or it might be a case like Christian Grey where he wants to avoid dealing with his own pain.

This is not about Christian Grey “dealing with his pain”.  This is about Christian Grey punishing women who look like his mother (don’t get me started on the mother blaming message this sends).  The solution does not start with looking at Christian Grey’s pain, but rather in him changing his beliefs of ownership and entitlement.  In him re-humanising the women he is Othering in every possible way and developing empathy for them.

  • “Why don’t you try things my way?” Christian never wants to try things Anastasia’s way. I think that would be a better movie, but he insists she does what he wants. If you are in a relationship and your partner makes demands and pressures you to do things you don’t want to do, then say NO.

POINT THREE OF DEEP CONCERN

If only saying no were this easy.  The film shows that when Ana says no, Christian physically assaults her.  Understanding this must be in the context of the inner workings of coercion, of making someone feel guilty, of the traumatic processing attached to sexual abuse; in which saying yes is the only way someone can either keep themselves safe or psychologically cope with the abuse.  Advising someone to say no (when they are in a relationship with an abuser), rather than to find SAFETY can be very dangerous.

Many people won’t understand this, but because I’ve seen the inner workings of the adult industry, this movie didn’t turn me on – it made me mad.  The sex shown in the movie is violent and not love-making, and I don’t understand how 100 million people can read this book and think there is anything sexy about Mr. Christian Grey. If he was broke, ugly, and had a hard drive of porn instead of a “playroom” in his house, every women reading this would be freaked out enough to stay away from him forever. The books and movie have painted a sick disturbed man as a sex symbol that many, many women have gone crazy over.

Craig, I can tell you why so many people have read the books.  Because as a society we are conditioned to see abuse as romance.  Rarely will anyone identify the abuse perpetrated by their partner, because of the myths (e.g. it’s because of childhood) that are held by almost everyone.  People like these books and the films because abuse is seen as something alien, something “over there” happening to “those people” and therefore is irrelevant.

So I leave even more confused.

Why? Why does my 66-year-old mom feel she missed out? Why is this unhealthy domination held up as an ideal? Why do so many men and women still not realize the greatest sex you can possibly have is by learning how to serve one another, discovering how to give to your partner and receive from them as well?

Because of patriarchy Craig.  Because one of the consequences of the Fall is that men have ruled over women.  And even though Jesus came and gave us a beautiful Kingdom of mutuality; men still abuse women.  And people still make money from depicting men abusing women as romance.  And people give money (like you and your wife did) to go see this film; raising the ticket sales and encouraging film makers to make the next two films.

If you haven’t seen the movie or read the books, don’t.

You’ve just spend a lot of time encouraging people to think about the film.  You’ve told everyone you went to see the film with your wife, so it seems a confusing message to tell other people they shouldn’t…

Instead of wasting that time examining this unhealthy dynamic, spend those hours talking with your spouse about sex. Talk about what you desire, what you think is missing. What your history with sex was. How you missed or messed up or abused sex prior to marriage. Talk about your expectations for sex and whether they’re being met or not. Don’t know how to start those conversations? We have a course called bestsexlifenow.com; watch the first video for free, and I assure you it will lead to so many productive conversations. Maybe even fifty of them.

Perhaps it would be worth telling people how to seek help if they recognise they are being abusive to their partner.  Or maybe directing people to help if they are experiencing abuse from their partner?  Statistically at least 25% of the women who receive your email will experience abuse from a partner at some point in their lifetime, perhaps you could tell people where they can find safety?  Or support?  Perhaps prioritise women’s safety over “better sex”.  Maybe?

This is a great international resource for people who are trying to find their national service: http://www.hotpeachpages.net.  Though, if like Christian Grey, their partner tracks their phone or checks their computer, it might be worth considering accessing this somewhere other than the home computer, or a tracked mobile (cell) phone.

To learn more about abuse the best book out there is “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft.

And for Christians these books may be useful:

Is It My Fault? by Justin and Lindsay Holcomb

The Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Leslie Veronica