The Abused are Being Silenced and It Breaks My Heart

the_tree_of_life_2011_1224x679_9800981{ trigger warning: rape, rape apologia }

 

 Last week I was contacted by an alumnus of Bob Jones University. She wanted to discuss what’s really going on there.

I’ve spent the past weekend reading testimonials from former students. The extent of the cover-up is worse than has so far been reported in much of the mainstream media. The leadership of this allegedly Christian organization has systemically ignored, shamed, shunned, slandered, and demonized those who have been abused and the people who speak on their behalf.

Here’s what you need to know about the developing sexual abuse scandal at BJU: Continue reading

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The Night We Were Persecuted

the_tree_of_life_movie_04“The body of Christ on this campus is under assault tonight,” said Tyler Deaton. “And I’ve called on God to summon a legion of angels, but I also know that the most effective prayers come from God’s people in unity.”

November 2008. It was almost the end of my last semester at Southwestern. Within a few weeks Tyler and Bethany and I would be graduating.

We were three of the key leaders in the prayer group that God had started on campus the year before, and right now the big question on each of our minds was whether this group would survive once we had left. No one doubted the zeal and sincerity of the twenty-five students who met every night in the Chapel for prayer and worship; but as the semester sped towards its ghastly conclusion, our ministry was under attack like never before. Continue reading

The World I Dream Of

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[ Cross posted on No Longer Quivering, a member of the Spiritual Abuse Survivor’s Network ]

I dream of a world…

– where women are not shamed because of their bodies, where men can take responsibility for their own sins rather than trying to oppress and control others.

– where those who are bravely trying to expose abuse and injustice within an organization are no longer accused of slander and publicly shamed by those who claim to speak on behalf of God.

where the protection of people is a greater priority than the protection of a ministry.

– where “spiritual leaders” can no longer cloak their hatred and arrogance in biblical language, so that everyone thinks them to be great men of God.

– where victims of spiritual, emotional, and sexual abuse are celebrated for their bravery in coming forward rather than being told that what happened to them was their own fault.

where no one ever says, “If you speak up about this, you are aiding the enemies of God and dividing Christ’s body in two.”

– where the Bible is not used to try to force abuse victims into confronting their abusers in private, where no one has to protest injustice within limits set by the oppressor, where “that which was spoken in the inner room is proclaimed upon the housetop.”

where whole communities don’t rush to support the perpetrators of abuse as victims who need to be protected from the people they’ve abused.

– where victims don’t encounter the second betrayal of disbelief and character assassination, where the community doesn’t believe them to be crazy or wicked or deceitful or malicious just because someone standing in a pulpit, carrying a Bible, says they are.

– where the oppressors are not shielded by a coterie of rich and powerful friends who continue to support them just because it would be financially or politically inconvenient to do otherwise.

– where the “tone” of a person’s words is not used as a way of invalidating everything they have to say, where victims are not more condemned for the way they respond to abuse than their abusers are for abusing them.

– where the prophetic resisters who are grieved, broken and, yes, angry about a culture of systemic violence and oppression are not told to “calm down,” “just quit being angry,” “forgive and move on” when there are wrongs to be righted and thousands of people cry out in the darkness with no one to plead on their behalf.

A world where church is a refuge rather than a manufacturer of nightmares.

A world that is safe.

A world where people are loved and supported.

This is the world that I dream of.

Jesus & J. K. Rowling: Imperfect Matchmakers

640Well, it finally happened. Fans have speculated for years over the actual suitability of the series’ main characters for one another, but today Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling affirmed the contentious musings of Harry / Hermione shippers when she allegedly told Emma Watson, in a forthcoming issue of Wonderland Magazine, that the famous boy wizard should have married his best friend. Continue reading

25 Lies My Church Told Me

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[ Cross posted at No Longer Quivering, a member of the Spiritual Abuse Survivor’s Network ]

Last month in the week leading up to Christmas I and some of my friends on Twitter started our own hashtag trend, #LiesMyChurchToldMe. For two and a half days people tweeted the bewildering, puzzling, hilarious, and occasionally disturbing things that had been presented to them in church as the “plain teaching of Scripture.”

Tonight I’ve collected twenty-five of the best ones for your enjoyment. Thank you to everyone who participated, and please share your own in the comments! There’s real power and deliverance in naming lies.

“Only Christians are truly, deeply, genuinely happy. Everyone else is missing out.” (@PearlBLawrence)

“Your worth as a woman is whether you’re married and having children. God doesn’t have other plans for you.” (@TerynOBrien)

“Early twentieth-century white straight American middle-class culture is the only biblical culture.” (@TentativeCynic)

“If a lizard lived to be 900 years old, it might turn into a dinosaur.”

“You can never, ever trust your instincts, because the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked.” (@danileekelley)

“Friendships with non-Christians cannot be genuine.” (@amyunchained)

“God redeemed your spirit and made it righteous, but your body is still gross.”

Hell1“Hell is at the center of the earth and new damned souls keep crowding out the lava, causing volcanoes. You can hear the screams as you get closer to the center. The Russians did it.” (@TentativeCynic, @fieryskulldiary)

“Why are you wasting time planning for the future / building anything of value when Jesus is coming soon?” (@Sara_Tinous)

“We’re not to love the world because Jesus did not love the world.”

“*True* Christian history began 500 years ago, with the Reformation.” (@afreshmind)

“All sin is equal. Telling a white lie is just as bad as murder in God’s eyes.” (@danileekelley)

“Men have one less rib today because of the one taken from Adam.” (@kate_schell)

“Reason will mislead you. The only thing you can depend on is the voice of God.”

“Women are more easily deceived and more likely to deceive, because of Eve in the garden. We can’t be trusted to lead.” (@danileekelley)

“God hates everything about you that isn’t Christ.” (@TentativeCynic)

“Catholics are doomed idolaters.” (@kate_schell)

“There’s only one prince of peace, and that’s the Antichrist.”

“Girls, your body belongs to your future husband. Guys, don’t hurt bros by messin’ with their future wives.” (@merryfaith)

“Don’t talk about this publicly. You will only shame the church and God.” (@shadeardent)

“If you don’t tell people they’re headed for hell, you hate them.” (@TentativeCynic)

“Even the good things you do are worthless in the sight of a holy God.”

“The eternal, perfect, praiseworthy, immaculate, saving Word of God sent to redeem humanity is not a Person… it’s a book.” (@afreshmind).

“If a girl’s clothing frames her body, God hates what she is wearing.” (@TentativeCynic)

“You deserve everything bad that happens to you. You deserve worse. This is grace, this is mercy. Be grateful.” (@shadeardent)

“Love & Death in the House of Prayer” (a Rolling Stone Expose)

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[ Cross posted on No Longer Quivering, a member of the Spiritual Abuse Survivor’s Network ]

Hello, everyone. I’m back from a month-long blogging break.

The big story of the day is this investigative piece by Jeff Tietz for Rolling Stone Magazine about the cult I was in and the loss of my best friend. He does an excellent job of explaining how the group formed and how it all went wrong, and paints a beautiful picture of Bethany as she was known to those who truly loved her.

Today I wrote this meditation on her death and the grand illusions that led the two of us to such a dangerous place. Tonight I wanted to share it. Here it is:

“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.” Bethany was both. Creatively gifted and unceasingly generous, she nourished me and so many other lost souls with her warmth, wisdom, and practicality.

We got into a fight shortly after we met because I viewed myself as the hero of some epic fantasy adventure. “Don’t make reality out to be a book, dear fellow,” she warned me, with a professorial air. “Books merely reflect life; they do not determine it. They have only power to show us in fresh ways what reality looks like.”

At the time I was furious, of course. How could she not know that we were both at the center of a great drama?

But over the next five years I saw a whole group of friends get pulled into a whirlpool of self-heroic narcissism. I witnessed at close quarters the devastating consequences of thinking that we can defy the natural laws of age and death. We were going to do what so many Christians before us had failed to do, because we were truly special. Bullets would bounce off of us; the devil would flee at our approach. A new world was about to begin, bathed in the glorious light of a cosmic revolution.

But in the midst of the hell that our leader created around us, amid the endless punishments and end-times training sessions, I remembered the words that Bethany had spoken six years earlier. And I realized that she had been right: I wasn’t a hero. I wasn’t special. I was just me. We, all of us, we had created this elaborate role-playing fantasy to escape the suffocating boredom of suburban life.

I got out. I left the group and learned how to be ordinary. And I truly believe that, given enough time, Bethany would have gotten out, too. I’m so sorry that the opportunity was stolen from her. I wish I could tell her how much her words and spirit have affected me, how I wish I had listened to her years before. All I can do now is to live in honor of her memory and hope that in time others will appreciate the astonishing legacy of her life and come to understand how it was cut so short.

The Secret of Good Fantasy is to Write Honestly

ainePhoto Credit: Aine McVey

One of my goals for this year is to journal every day, which means I’ll probably be doing a lot more free-writing.

            I spent most of my Christmas break rewriting the first chapter of my book, just because I wanted to have a truly stunning first chapter. I finished it yesterday and sent it to three different people, seeking their opinions. It may need some revisions, but for the most part I actually really like it.

Some strange things happened as I was writing it. A few paragraphs into the chapter I realized that the only way forward was to talk about the fantasy stories I was dreaming up at around the time the novel begins. (Because the two main characters in these fantasies were fictional versions of me and *Rebecca, the fantasizing provides a commentary on the very real situations I’m describing).

Previously I had always been afraid to bring my imagination into the story because I felt it would alienate readers. (And also, I think, because *Timothy and Rebecca tried to tell me that my fantasies were evil and anti-social. Only in the last year have I begun rejecting the shame they spoke over me and embracing my calling as a storyteller).

What I found, though, was that being open about how much I used to fantasize actually made the story more realistic and grounded. Because the narrator is constantly explaining how he expects things to play out, watching them unfold in a much less dramatic way than he was anticipating creates a sense of realism. For example, there’s one moment in the first chapter where Rebecca has just finished giving a long speech about how reality is not a book, and I want so much to shake her hand and thank her for saying that, but I don’t. Instead, she goes into her room and shuts the door.

In earlier drafts of the novel, I would have been tempted to try and turn that into a big scene. But somehow, because it’s NOT a big scene (no matter how much I, the narrator, want it to be), it has more of an impact.

What surprised me even more is that, as the chapter was winding down, I found myself becoming obsessed with the most boring, minute, mundane aspects of the story. Reading back over it, my favorite moments are the dozens of small and apparently insignificant details, like the way Rebecca walks through the Cove with her hands in her back pockets, or how I say, “Hey,” and she doesn’t immediately respond, or how when we finish praying together I’m suddenly depressed because I’m afraid she’s going to admire me when all I wanted to do was to help her.

And yet the two BIG paragraphs that at first I was most excited about, the most poetic and “important” paragraphs in the chapter, fill me with an unsuppressed nausea. They don’t feel “real” to me in the way the smaller passages do.

And perhaps it’s just emblematic of a bigger change going on in my life. Because I grew up on Peter Jackson’s brilliant, amazing Lord of the Rings films, because those were my reality, I thought life would be full of grand gestures and vivid, emotional flourishes. I tried to shape reality to fit my preconceptions.

But over the last few months I’ve started to realize that reality is what it is, that there IS a real battle between good and evil but it takes place at the level of our mundane interactions. People have to eat and shower and do laundry and comb their hair and get their oil changed, pack their lunch in the morning and go to work each day. And for the most part we stand around looking bored and clueless, and there’s a lot of dead air in our conversations, and we accidentally talk over each other, and sometimes we don’t say what we mean to say and have to repeat ourselves, and we all spend twelve hours a day on Facebook and Twitter, and sometimes terrible things happen to people who didn’t deserve it, and that’s how life is, even if it’s not how it should be. But somehow God is gracious and we get to be heroes anyway.

And maybe in real life, being a hero is better than how it is in the movies, better and worse, because instead of battling sorcerers and Balrogs you have to fight REAL monsters, and that takes even more courage. I think I could stand up to a dragon; but after what I’ve been through in the last four or five years, no mythical creature will ever be quite as scary again. I’ve seen the face of true evil, and I think that smile will haunt my nightmares for a long time to come.

And I’m not giving up my love for fantasy, but as I get older the stories that continue to enchant me are the true ones: either those, like the novels of Tolkien, that radiate elemental truths about the nature of reality, or those like Harry Potter that take into account how people actually talk and think and feel and behave, so that I feel like I’m reading a real story about real people. Lousy case-of-the-week dramas, cheap end-times thrillers, and overblown Hollywood epics no longer interest me because they seem to be operating on an exaggerated and romantic notion of how the world should be rather than how the world is, and when I’m watching a movie the last thing I want to feel is concern for the writers, wondering whether they’ve ever had a real experience, whether they know anything about what life is like.

In the first chapter of my book I describe how Rebecca implored me to come out of my books and really experience reality instead of just reading about it. She taught me so much about how to live life, how to feel feelings, how to interact with real people. And to the extent that I didn’t figure out how to do that while she was living, I had to learn it in the aftermath of her death when every remaining illusion I had was shattered and I had to face the bitterness of mortality. She seemed to be fading into a fantasy more and more during our last years together, but because of her encouragement and example I was able to find my way back to reality. And I think I’ve “inherited” some of the pragmatism and realism she was always trying to pour into me (without a lot of success). That’s how I intend to live my life now. And when I finally sit down and write my fantasy novels, they’ll be weird and creative and surprising, of course, because I don’t think I can help being weird, but I want them to be true more than anything else, alive with the complexity and brokenness of ordinary life. And I think now they will be.