Everyday Examples of Christian Rape Culture

The Rape of Tamar, by Eustache Le Sueur (c. 1640), public domain.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Shaney Irene’s blog. It was originally published on October 13, 2015.

Today, a friend shared a post on Facebook from Everyday Feminism, titled 25 Everyday Examples of Rape Culture. The author, Shannon Ridgway, discusses what rape culture is before giving a list of examples in everyday culture, from chants allowed at universities to the prevelance of street harassment.

(I recommend you click the link and read the explanation of what rape culture is in that post before you continue.)

I was glad to see a list of clear examples that I could share with my friends, but I found myself running into one problem: most of my friends who deny the existence of rape culture are Christians. They would look at Ridgway’s list and declare the problem to be “the world.” They wouldn’t recognize similar examples of rape culture in their churches, small groups, books, blog posts, etc.

So with the help of some friends who also grew up in conservative Christianity, I’ve put together a list of examples of rape culture within Christian culture. If the church is going to be a safe place for women, for children, for vulnerable populations, for survivors of abuse, we must confront the ways in which Christianity is unsafe, say “enough,” and root out the attitudes and beliefs that lead to rape culture.

1. Christian rape culture is equating education about consent with “risk reduction” while calling abstinence education “risk avoidance.” 

This is a form of blaming the victim, because the underlying assumption is that if one avoids sexual activity, one will avoid the risk of assault, STDs, pregnancy, etc. One may still experience these things whether or not one chooses abstinence.

2. Christian rape culture is refusing to teach about consent because it might encourage kids to have sex. 

This erases consent as a necessary component of sexual morality.

3. Christian rape culture is when wives are told they must always be sexually available to their husbands. 

This not only ignores, but condones marital rape.

4. Christian rape culture is when pregnancies that result from rape are called “God’s will.”

What the victim hears is that their rape was God’s will, too.

5. Christian rape culture is when the false idea that pregnancy rarely happens from rape is perpetuated in Christian circles.

This opens the door for people to accuse people pregnant from rape as “wanting it,” since otherwise they would have been “too stressed out” to become pregnant.

6. Christian rape culture is when churches don’t do background checks on children’s/nursery ministry volunteers because “We know these people and they would never do that.”

Actually, most sexual assault is perpetrated by people close to and trusted by the victim. Perpetrators are experts at making people like them.

7. The way the church teaches “modesty” is rape culture.

It’s never okay to say that what a person wears determines how someone else will view them. Lust and objectification are choices someone else makes, not something that is caused by what a person wears.

8. Christian rape culture happens when prominent Christians publicly defend abusers.

Doing so sends the message to other survivors that the church will choose abusers over them.

9. Christian rape culture is when pastors and other spiritual leaders are believed over their victims, just because of their position of spiritual leadership.

Pastors are not immune to committing crimes, and statistics show the vast majority of reported sexual assault to be true.

10. Christian rape culture is any teaching that either explicitly or implicitly teaches male superiority.

Teaching that God is male, that men are spiritually stronger than women, that God gave men gifts he did not give women, etc.

11. Christian rape culture is teaching that woman was created to help and serve man.

This positions woman as a servant of man, including sexually.

12. Christian rape culture is when Christians argue for the removal of women from certain spaces (for example, the military) in order to keep sexual assault from happening.

13. Christian rape culture is when children are forced to give hugs or shake hands when they don’t want to

This primes children to assume that adults get access to their body when they want it, instead of teaching them that they have bodily autonomy and adults can’t just touch them because they want to.

14. Christian rape culture is when language like “colonize” and “conquer” are used to describe sex, and then the author of those words continues to be hosted on popular Christian websites. 

15. Christian rape culture is when words like “broken” and “diseased” are used to describe abuse victims. 

16. Christian rape culture is when we suggest that victims might be “at fault” for their abuse.  

The linked article has examples from workbooks from ATI, Bill Gothard’s ministry, which were used by the Duggars and have been used for a long time in homeschooling circles. This is just one extreme example, there are many more subtle examples, like suggesting that what a person was wearing, where they were, who they were friend with, etc. contributed to the abuse.

17. Christian rape culture is when abuse is called a “mistake” and people make excuses for it. 

See: Josh Duggar.

18. Christian rape culture is looking at these examples and blaming it on “those other Christians.” 

If you are a Christian and you are not speaking up when you see this happen, you’re part of the problem. Even if your church doesn’t teach these things, you probably have friends who love to watch the Duggars on TLC, or push modesty culture on their children, or…

You get the point. With stories of sexual abuse in the church coming out again and again, it’s time for all Christians of all stripes to start confronting Christian rape culture.

What examples of Christian rape culture have you seen? What ways have you found effective in confronting it? 

Sexual Coercion as Redemptive: Nancy Wilson on a Wife’s Sexual Duties

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Content warning: discussion of child sexual abuse and marital abuse and rape.

Nancy Wilson is an advocate of Christian Patriarchy, an ideology popular within the Christian Homeschool Movement as well as the broader Reformed Fundamentalist culture out of which that movement sprang. Nancy is married to Doug Wilson, one of the founders of New Saint Andrews College, Greyfriars Hall (a ministerial training program), and the Association of Classical and Christian Schools and pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho. (Note: for the sake of clarity, future references to Doug Wilson will simply be Doug and future references to Nancy will be either Nancy or Wilson.) Doug’s 1991 book Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning is considered one of the seminal texts of the Classical Christian Education movement. Some would argue his book launched that movement, though that claim is historically myopic and ignores other seminal texts like Dorothy Sayers’s The Lost Tools of Learning. Both Doug and Nancy Wilson do, however, hold significant influence within the Classical Christian Education movement. Furthermore, even though the Wilsons prefer private Classical Christian schools to homeschooling, their teachings about both Classical Christian Education as well as Christian Patriarchy (and its subsequent traditional gender roles) have been popular and significant within the Christian Homeschool Movement.

Over the last few days, Doug and Christ Church have received mounting attention and criticism over the cases of Steven Sitler and Jamin C. Wight. Sitler is a homeschool alumnus who attended New Saint Andrews College as a student and Christ Church as a parishioner. Wight is also a homeschool alumnus who attended Greyfriars Hall. Both are convicted child molesters who molested children in Doug’s various academic and religious communities. (You can read a comprehensive timeline of events and evidential documentation of Sitler’s case here, though be warned that the court documents contain detailed descriptions of child sexual abuse.) And during both of their trials, Doug chose to sit on their sides of the courtroom rather than on the sides of their victims and the victims’ families. Furthermore, despite Sitler’s crimes, Doug — who served as Sitler’s counselor and petitioned Sitler’s judge for “measured and limited” civil penalties — continued to welcome Sitler in his church after his sentencing. And in spite of Doug becoming aware of Sitler’s history of sexual predation in March 2005 and Wight’s history of sexual predation in August 2005, it was not until December that Doug informed the families of Christ Church in general.

In response to the mounting attention and criticism, Doug wrote an open letter on behalf of himself and his fellow elders at Christ Church. His letter, which contained 1,853 words, was focused entirely on defending and justifying his and his church’s actions as well as dismissing detractors as promoting “false allegations” that “are simply slander.” Wilson positions himself and his church as martyrs in line with Jesus because they are being criticized for extending “grace” to Sitler, saying, “To be vilified for standing for grace is itself a grace.” Not a single sentence in the open letter was dedicated to expressing concern for, anguish or compassion over, empathy towards, or protection of the victims and their families. This is telling, “for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matthew 12:34).

In her 1997 book "The Fruit of Her Hands: Respect and the Christian Woman," Nancy Wilson articulates her and her husband's philosophy of marriage and sexuality as it pertains to Christian women.
In her 1997 book “The Fruit of Her Hands: Respect and the Christian Woman,” Nancy Wilson articulates her and her husband’s philosophy of marriage and sexuality as it pertains to Christian women.

In light of Doug’s open letter, it seems important and helpful to place that letter within the larger context of the Wilsons’ belief system concerning sexuality and sexual responsibilities within a Christian marriage. To that end we shall turn to Nancy Wilson’s 1997 book The Fruit of Her Hands: Respect and the Christian Woman. In this book Wilson articulates her and her husband’s philosophy of marriage and sexuality as it pertains to Christian women. Though the book is written entirely by Wilson herself, Doug wrote the book’s Foreword and in that he makes clear he fully endorses his wife’s ideas, saying, “As Christian women consider how they might stand as godly helpers to their husbands in this high calling, I can do nothing better than commend this book to them.” Furthermore, Doug admires that Nancy “has been writing on marriage and family for a number of years, and in reading her I have never had to wonder at hypocrisy. There has been none” (p. 11) Nancy Wilson practices what she preaches to others, and what she preaches to others is laid out in The Fruit of Her Hands.

Wilson begins her book with a dire proclamation. Quoting 2 Timothy 3:1, that “in the last days perilous times will come,” Wilson declares that American women have been “captivated by the lies promulgated by the modern world and have succumbed in many ways to the humanistic mindset” (13). “What are some of the lies she [American women] has been told?” Wilson asks. She then provides a list stereotypical for Christian Patriarchy adherents: couples do not want giant families, women act too much like men, and of course the belief system Christian Patriarchy most seethes against: feminism. But the two most relevant “lies” on Wilson’s list are: 1. “Marriage is partnership.” And 2. “The most important thing is to have a healthy self-image and to have your deepest needs met” (14). In other words, Wilson believes women are under captivity when they believe their marriage is a partnership rather than a dictatorship and when they believe a healthy and fulfilled sense of self is most important to having a successful marriage.

How do women become ensnared in these lies? Wilson argues that “this sort of thinking creep[s] into our households” for a number of reasons. The most notable are first, because “the media indoctrinate us daily”; and second, “by way of the latest feel-good psycho-babble,” and by this Wilson means counseling, psychology, and therapy. Wilson says that these resources are detrimental to a Christian wife for the following reasons: “Here she can talk about all of her needs and frustrations. Here she can learn how to cope with lack of fulfillment. Here she can learn how to get back on speaking terms with her husband and children” (15). In other words, when Christian wives have a separate, safe place apart from their husbands to privately process their needs and frustrations, to learn how to protect their inner selves, and to learn communication skills to heal relationships with their husbands and children — then women fall under captivity. This is because, to Wilson, having a separate, safe place apart from one’s husband to privately process matters ensnares women into thinking lies — namely, that their marriage is a partnership rather than a dictatorship and that a healthy and fulfilled sense of self is most important to having a successful marriage.

In contrast to the “humanistic mindset” that teaches women that marriage is a partnership and that a healthy and fulfilled sense of self is important, Wilson sets forth what she believes is the biblical mindset. This mindset is, of course, Christian Patriarchy, in which women are to submit to their husbands, show deference to their husbands’ decisions, and work hard to please their husbands emotionally and sexually. While the entire book is worth analyzing, this post will focus specifically on Wilson’s messages to women concerning their sexual relationship with their husbands. These messages are found in Chapter 7 of the book, “Lovemaking.”

Wilson commences with the declaration that sexuality within marriage is “a protection against sexual immorality” (87). Taking literally the Song of Solomon’s metaphor of the bride as a garden (Song of Solomon 4:12: “You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride”), Wilson then compares a wife, her body, and her sexuality to a garden (and the wife’s husband to a “gardener”). Using a metaphor of a garden, Wilson’s language and images range from abstract to explicit to troubling. “The garden is a private place for only the husband and wife,” she writes. “It has a high wall around it called the marriage covenant” (89). A wife’s husband “is the garden tender, and the wife becomes a source of great joy and delight to the husband as he spends time in the garden he faithfully tends.”

While encouraging women to think of themselves as gardens, Wilson begins to guilt them. Women need to “take a more eager interest in making it a lovely garden that her husband delights to spend time in.” She warns women that untended gardens tend to not be enjoyed by visitors, whereas lovely gardens make visitors feel welcome. Wilson says wives must be like the latter: “You want your husband to feel that way when he visits you.” Thus a wife should not “resent her husband’s sexual advances as intrusive.”

Wilson then takes a turn towards the troubling. Using the garden metaphor for a woman and her body, Wilson strips away the agency of that woman and dismisses enthusiastic consent as important to relationships. Women who find their husband’s sexual advances as intrusive are “hanging a sign out on the garden wall that reads in large letters, ‘No trespassing.'” But, and this is the troubling part, “But of course a husband is never trespassing in his garden, though he can be made to feel as though he is an intruder” (89, emphasis added). With this one sentence Wilson completely disregards as possible the concept of marital rape. A husband can never be intruding on his wife’s body, because his wife’s body is his. Wilson then shifts blame on a wife who is being coerced into sex with her husband: while the husband’s sexual coercion is not sinful, the woman’s reluctance — which makes her husband “feel as though he is an intruder” — is sinful.

Wilson next considers legitimate reasons for a wife saying “No” to sex and dismisses them as illegitimate. For example, if a wife has no sexual desire: Wilson does not suggest that the woman learn about her body and her sexuality and find out how to communicate to her husband how he can better please her or help her feel sexually open with him. Rather, Wilson dismisses women as incapable of understanding their own bodies: “Our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made. Who can understand them? Certainly we cannot understand ourselves very well” (93-4). So women just need to buck up and not “consult your feelings” as to do so is selfish. “Does your husband always ‘feel’ in the mood for a heart-to-heart chat?” she manipulatively reminds women.

Another legitimate reason for a wife saying “No” to sex that Wilson dismisses as illegitimate is a past history of sexual abuse. Women who “have had bad sexual experiences” and “have suffered at the hands of others sexually” need to simply (a) realize their own sinful role in their own abuse and (b) get over the abuse already and forgive their abusers:

“We are not to drag our past around like a ball and chain. We have been delivered from our past sins… If you have suffered at the hands of others sexually, you must extend forgiveness… Forgive those people in your past who wronged you sexually and do not allow their sin to ruin your life… How many times did Jesus say we should forgive those who sin against us? Countless times” (94).

Wilson rubs the final dash of salt into the wound by saying the following to these women who suffered abuse: “Don’t make your husband suffer for wrongs others committed” (95).

One might wonder why Wilson places such a high value on a wife being always ready to satisfy her husband sexually. This is because, as Wilson first established regarding sexuality within marriage, it is “a protection against sexual immorality” (87). Wives and their sexuality are a “potent instrument in God’s hand” (97). When a woman’s husband is “an unbeliever or a disobedient believer” — for example, if one finds one’s self married to, say, child molester Steven Sitler — Wilson encourages women that their being constantly submissive to their husband’s sexual demands, their being constantly submissive to their husbands’ sexual coercion, is something God uses to bring that unbeliever to conversion or that disobedient believer to repentance. Wilson writes,

“If you are married to an unbeliever or a disobedient believer, you must determine before God that you are going to attempt as best you can to fulfill all your obligations as a wife in a godly fashion. This means you must apply all the Word’s teachings on sex whether your husband does or not. Esther won over the king and was greatly used as a result… God can use the sexual relationship as one of the means of winning him back to obedience or winning him to Christ” (97).

In his open letter concerning Steven Sitler, Doug objects to certain detractors, saying, “We do not believe that marriage is an automatic ‘fix’ for the temptations to molest children” (emphasis in the original). This is true, but only in a limited sense. The Wilsons have never claimed that “godly” sexuality is a cure for a sexual disorder like nepiophilia or pedophilia or a protection against criminal activity like child molestation. However, they have claimed — as we just saw — that “godly” sexuality can be a productive tool in bringing a disobedient believer back to obedience to God. Doug reiterated this in a new blog post today:

“Do I think that marriage is an ‘automatic’ cure for the temptations of pedophilia? Of course not. Marriage is not an automatic cure for anything. But the apostle Paul does teach that marriage, approached rightly, is given by God as one of His assigned helps against immorality (1 Cor. 7:2)” (emphasis added).

Thus insofar as the Wilsons believe nepiophilia, pedophilia, and child molestation to be manifestations of disobedience to God, they do believe that Sitler’s wife’s sexuality can be “one of the means of winning him back to obedience or winning him to Christ” — which, in Sitler’s case, would take the specific form of forsaking nepophilia, pedophilia, and child molestation. Doug’s objection, therefore, is so deflective and hairsplitting it is insipid.

These messages that Nancy Wilson has taught and continues to teach — messages that her husband Doug endorses and also teaches — shed an important light on the developments arising out of Christ Church, New Saint Andrews College, and Greyfriars Hall. Though we may find the messages troubling, they help us better understand why Doug, Nancy, and the other members of their academic and religious communities in Moscow, Idaho seemed to have little to no problem with marrying a young, vulnerable woman off to a serial child molester after only their second date. In the Wilsons’ minds, giving Steven Sitler an outlet for his sexuality — giving him a woman who is taught that she cannot say no to her “gardener” who has full rights to her bodily “garden” — could begin a spiritually redemptive process that could bring the serial child molester into repentance and obedience to God. Even if that involved sexual coercion (what we would all consider marital abuse and rape), to the Wilsons that is not a problem. To the Wilsons there is no such thing as sexual coercion; there is only the sexual submission of a wife to her husband. This is the broader context in which to understand Doug’s infamous statement that, “The sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.”

To the Wilsons, marriage is not a partnership but a dictatorship. The husband, or patriarch, is the sexual dictator. That sexual dictatorship is divinely ordained and a woman’s body is ordained by God to serve as an instrument of redemption, her bodily rights sacrificed for a greater spiritual good.

And you know what’s even more troubling than the theology itself?

The fact that so many young women are being raised and taught in their homeschools around the U.S. to think that this is what God actually wants for them.

Gothard’s Sex Rules: Marital Consent? What’s That?

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on May 13, 2014.

My family never attended one of Bill Gothard’s seminars, and we didn’t use Gothard’s curriculum. We children were, instead, raised on the outskirts of Gothardism. We knew people who were followers of Bill Gothard, and we imbibed a few of his teachings (umbrella of authority, anyone?), but that was the extent of it. As things began to snowball over the past months and Gothard was exposed as a sexual predator and ultimately relieved of his leadership position, I wanted to learn more about what Gothard actually taught, in his own words. So I purchased Gothard’s “Advanced Seminar Textbook,” which was published in 1986 and can be found used on Amazon. I’m not going to blog through it page by page, but I do plan to write some posts on various sections. Today I offer my first of these posts.

In his textbook, Gothard covers his rules for periodic abstinence during marriage, which centers on a woman’s menstrual cycle (pages 175—185). Of all of Gothard’s teachings, this may be the one I’m most unfamiliar with, as it is foreign to anything taught in the evangelical church my family attended. In this post, I will cover the first pages of this section and then finish with a letter Gothard received from a follower.

To start out, here are the rules Gothard lays out as “God’s laws on abstinence”:

What Are God’s Guidelines for Times of Abstinence? 

  1. During the menstrual cycle—Ezekiel 18:5-6
  2. Seven days after the menstrual cycle—Leviticus 15:28
  3. 40 days after the birth of a son—Leviticus 12:2-4
  4. 80 days after the birth of a daughter—Leviticus 12:5

Gothard’s critics tend to do two things: they call him a “legalist” and argue that his teachings in this area come from the Old Testament and are therefore invalid, as the Old Testament is superseded by the New Testament. Here, on the first page of this section, Gothard directly counters both of these arguments.

First, Gothard urges his readers to “distinguish between legalism and godly living” and states that: “(1) Legalism is trying to earn salvation; (2) Legalism is trying to live the Christian life with the energy of the soul; and (3) Legalism is following ‘the letter,’ not ‘the spirit.’” Gothard uses Bible verses to back all of this up, focusing especially on II Corinthians 3:6. Gothard argues that he is not teaching legalism but rather godly living.

Second, Gothard pulls up each time the New Testament references “uncleanness” and uses that to claim that the Old Testament teachings regarding a woman’s menstrual uncleanness is still valid. This is a fascinating attempt, but it does not actually work, as it’s pretty clear he’s proof texting and he comes across as being unaware that the New Testament was written in a different language from the Old Testament. Still, that he at least tried is fascinating.

Now I want to turn to the first of the “Benefits of Abstinence” Gothard lays out.

1. It builds self-control.

When sex drives are misused, they become self-consuming and can never be satisfied. Burned-out lusts call for new forms of perversion, which become even greater tyrants of unfulfillment.

Okay, so here’s the thing. If I’m overeating and I know I’m overeating, and it’s making me feel unhealthy, I can fix that by moderating what I eat. I don’t need to spend time fasting to do that. In fact, fasting in order to lose weight can easily lead to binge eating when the fast is over. I guess what I’m saying is that there are better ways to foster a healthy and balanced sex life than abstaining and then (presumably) binging.

But what’s actually going on here becomes more clear with the letter Gothard prints from one of his followers, and it’s not pretty.

How a Commitment to Abstinence Transformed a Marriage

I am writing to report what has happened in our marriage since our decision to follow God’s guidelines for abstinence. To be honest, I was waiting to see if the changes in our lives were short-lived or permanent. Now after a third of a year and five menstrual cycles, I am encouraged that our decision was correct, Biblically-based, and that the Lord is blessing our marriage more than ever before.

Let me start at the beginning. Our dating relationship was based on the physical, not on the spiritual. It ended in pregnancy and then marriage. She was sixteen, I was twenty.

Depending on the state, this might not have been legal.

After we married, our sex life became a shambles. My physical drives were impossible for her to satisfy, and even with a daily physical relationship, I became involved in pornography and other impure habits.

If you’re having sex daily and yet you’re not sexually satisfying, it’s probably worth seeing a doctor or a therapist.

After ten years of marriage we attended our first Basic Youth Seminar. When you went over the consequences of defrauding in dating, I suddenly realized my problem and our marriage problem.

And exactly how do we explain all of the couples who had sex before marriage and are currently in healthy, sexually fulfilling relationships?

I asked God to forgive me for defrauding her before marriage, and for the first time in my life, I began exercising self-control.

Also for the first time in ten years of married life, we began to experience true sexual intimacy. Our relationship continued to improve, but my wife still felt forced to submit to me, and she worried daily about whether or not she would have to ‘make love’ that night.

Wait. Wait wait wait. So the whole time this guy was having sex daily, his wife was only participating because she believed her role, as his wife, was to submit to him and be sexually available. You know, the fact that she felt she had to have sex with him whether she wanted to or not might just play some part in why their sexual relationship wasn’t fully satisfying him.

I began having difficulty exercising self-control.

I really want to know what this means. Was he raping her?

Then we attended your Corporate Leaders Seminar and learned about abstinence during the menstrual period and for seven days after the period. I knew immediately that this is what God wanted me to commit to, and it scared me to death! I couldn’t picture myself being committed to anything like that!

However, God gave me the strength and encouragement to talk to my wife. We discussed it and that day, with her permission, I made a commitment to follow that principle.

Now he’s concerned about getting his wife’s permission?

The relief within my wife was almost visible. The “fear” is gone from our marriage.

Well of course her relief was almost visible! His poor wife knew she would have have two weeks of blessed relief from her husband’s constant (and unreciprocated) sexual demands!

We now have a freedom we never experienced before. We are blessed to the point that we almost feel guilty when we are around our Christian friends who are completely loaded down with problems. Our lives have been transformed by applying this and other principles from God’s Word.

You replaced consent with biblically-mandated periodic abstinence, you asshole.

A Confirming Report from the Wife

I cannot tell you how much the material on abstinence has meant to me and our marriage. I have never experienced what has been happening in our marriage since we began following the principle of abstinence.

It is indeed a miracle!!!! Through the power of the Holy Spirit, my husband has exercised real self-control in the area of our sex life. I feel so loved, cherished, and protected! I have been able to respond to him as seldom before. The difference in our relationship is difficult to describe, but very wonderful to experience. Thank you again for motivating us to choose God’s best.

Someone tell this poor wife about consent and marital rape.

I didn’t expect to be this frustrated when I opened the volume to these pages, but I am. I am really, really frustrated. It appears that Gothard is using abstinence during the period and for seven days after the period as a replacement for consent within marriage. With these teachings, women who find themselves forced to submit to sex they do not want—forced by their believe that that is the wife’s biblical role—can find relief in two solid weeks of freedom from those demands.

This is sick.

Growing Kids the Abusive Way: Auriel’s Story, Part Three — Mini-Parents

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Trigger warnings: references (sometimes graphic) to emotional, physical, religious, and sexual abuse.

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Auriel” is a pseudonym. Auriel blogs at Drying My Wings.

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Also in this series: Part One: Growing Kids the Abusive Way | Part Two: Isolation and Ideology | Part Three: Mini-Parents | Part Four: The Sound of a Sewing Machine | Part Five: The Aftermath of Childhood Abuse

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Part 3: Mini-Parents

For both of my parents, I served as a surrogate spouse.

I mediated their fights, hoping they wouldn’t escalate to violence. They would come to me as their confidant. Dad would complain to me about Mom, sharing his quandaries, wondering how to deal with her.

He even consulted me as to whether he should divorce my mom when I was 14, or if he should take her to a psychiatric hospital when she was suicidal.

My mother, on the other hand, was a lonely soul. Many nights, she’d climb into my bed with me and spoon me. Then, she’d complain about my father, their sex life, how she was abused by her family and my father. At 13, my mother declared that my father raped her. My father denied it. I was so shocked and torn, not knowing who to believe. To appease her, I would sit on her bed daily, listening to hours long diatribes about her marriage problems.

She would expose her naked body to me, change in front of me, climb in the hot tub with just underwear, have me give her shoulder and feet massages, bring me into public restrooms with her, use excuses to see my body and make comments from the time I was a tot until I was 17 and more.

I had no voice, no way to say no.

She was my mother. I didn’t like it, but had no idea it was sexually abusive. I did not know females could be sexual abusers. I thought this was normal for mothers to do. I thought all girls knew what their moms looked like naked.

My mom was chronically and mentally ill, and slept most of the day, leaving us unsupervised. If she got up, it was to rage, dole out beatings, blame us for how terrible she felt, and then to sit in front of the computer screen. I’d sit with her, patiently watching her computer screen, hoping she’d appreciate me then. But normally, she’d ignore me.

So, I took over as parent and ran the house. Eventually, I was in charge of watching, caring for, and tutoring my younger siblings, cooking all family meals, picking up and cleaning our huge house, and doing dishes. I taught my youngest sibling to read, write, do math, use scissors, play, everything. At age 9, I was calling for all the appointments, hotels, stores, rides, and play dates for my family… everything an adult would do, I did. On top of this, I was my mother’s caretaker. I made her meals, checked on her hourly, and cleaned her room.

The best way to describe it is that I parented my mother and all of my siblings.

With the belief in the homeschooling community that teenagers don’t exist, my mom called me a “young adult” at 12. I was the oldest girl, the responsible one. I just wanted approval and respect, and to keep the peace as much as possible for survival. Indeed, it seems that our parent’s love was conditional on our love. Our value was tied to our obedience, to our service, to our usefulness, resourcefulness. But with so many adult pressures, so much fear of violence, and our worth conditional to reception of love, there was a terrible price to pay.

I was taught to abuse.

I was taught to beat my dogs…hit, kick, shock them with the shock collar, all while the poor dogs cowered and yelped in pain, struggling to escape. I hated it, but did not know it was wrong. If I refused, I would be in trouble. Either way, I was damned.

With my 4 siblings, I started raising them from the time I was 8. Growing up in such an isolated, violent environment, violence was one of the few ways I knew to handle problems.

Being taught Ezzo methods did not help.

Yelling or name-calling could keep them in line. If they didn’t cooperate, I would grab, push, drag, smack the back of their heads, slap them, or kick them (I always told myself it was a light kick, so it was ok). I thought all siblings did this. I thought all families acted this way. Due to my extreme isolation, I did not know I was a bully until I was 16 years old! When I found out, I cried bitter tears of guilt and shame. I apologized profusely, and made amends to them. It pains me to this day that I could not take back what I’d done.

We were trained to keep silent about the fights and abuse at home or face severe punishment.

Moreover, there was so much shame surrounding it. I made it my responsibility to be the guardian of outgoing words. Concurrently, I was my parent’s pawn. I believed them. They forced me to be an apologist for the very things I despised. Therefore, to preserve my sanity, my mind forgot the abuse. I told folks what great parents I had, and gave my parents cards saying “#1 Dad” and “Best Mother in the World!”

I stood up for spanking rights, parental rights, homeschooling rights, courtship, no kissing before marriage, and so many other things that I internally was at war with myself over.

*****

To be continued.

(Not) An Open Letter To The Pearls: Samantha Field’s Thoughts

Samantha Field blogs at Defeating the Dragons, and she was recently featured in a Christianity Today story entitled, “Finding Faith After Spiritual Indoctrination.” This piece was originally published on her own blog, and is reprinted with her permission. Also by Samantha on HA: “We Had To Be So Much More Amazing” and “The Supposed Myth of Teenaged Adolescence.”

So, a friend of mine sent me this post by Michael and Debi Pearl the other day. I encourage you to go read it, just so that you have some context for the following rant and can follow along. There’s a bunch of stuff that’s wrong with this article, and I’m just going to unload both barrels here. Also, in case I get something wrong, because that is totally possible. I’m ranting, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want clarity or cogency or accuracy. If you think that I’ve blown something out of proportion, and you would like to point out a subtlety or nuance, feel free. Or, you can get up here on my soapbox and rant with me. That’s cool, too.

Every family emits its own light. After viewing a family for just five seconds, I know so much about them. After being introduced to each member of the family, they are an open book.

This is from Michael, and all I have to say is No. Just — no. Five seconds? Really? Everyone is just an open book to you? I shouldn’t be shocked anymore at the unbelievable arrogance and condescension Michael Pearl emits, but somehow, every time, it’s like someone slapped me in the face with a fish. Yes, some people are perceptive, and are capable of accurate first impressions– but this claim goes right along with Micheal’s exalted view of himself as a self-proclaimed “prophet.”

The man was about fifty, certainly not a looker.

Now we’re in one of Debi’s sections, and all this does is remind me of Debi’s rather extensive story about the “one ugly hillbilly” woman in Created to be his Help Meet. This observation has absolutely no bearing on the story she’s about to relate — except as possibly to judge the “Old Dude” (what a demeaning way to refer to someone) for not conforming to her physical standards, and to judge the young woman who appears later for having an emotional connection with someone who isn’t a “looker.” There’s no logical explanation for this — it’s just more of Debi’s self-righteous judgment spilling out of her. Both Michael and Debi have demonstrated, throughout the sum total of their careers, an astonishing lack of compassion and simple human empathy.

Right here, at our church, among all these righteous families! I stood amazed at the audacity of the human race.

In other words, how dare people with actual real-life problems dare show themselves in our church! How dare someone who doesn’t conform to our little universe of perfection! How dare you come in here, and violate our incomprehensibly narrow view of the world!

I tried to ask the girl questions to ascertain the cause of this odd arrangement, but he answered as if the questions were directed to him, and the young lady deferred to him as if he were her voice of conscience. I thought that unless her father had truly been abusive, she should return to her family, but I was making no progress engaging her to consider her options.

Back to Michael. This is where I agree with him — this interaction shows that something about their relationship is off. The married man (I refuse to refer to him as “Old Dude”) is forbidding this young woman to even speak, and that seems to be something that is the standard for them. Either because of the married man in this situation, or because of her abusive home, she’s been silenced. She’s literally voiceless here. But this is the only time anyone even mentions this. It stands out to them as a little odd, but not that odd. Because women are expected to let men “lead.” If you’re going to be a “good Christian woman,” silence is expressly demanded by people like the Pearls. So it’s only a little weird, instead of the gigantic flaming red flag it should have been.

And this is one of the places where Michael builds on a long-standing understanding in these types of circles, and you can see it in the words “truly abusive.” This is so incredibly loaded. Because, to Michael, who endorses extreme physical punishment that borders on the sociopathic, “true abuse” would have to be on the level of breaking bones before he was convinced. Emotional and psychological trauma– don’t even exist. Because the ramifications of emotional abuse are just “bitterness” and “un-forgiveness” to the Pearls. Michael would voluntarily send an adult woman back into an abusive situation in order for her to be “under her father’s protection” than ever admit that a “Christian father” is capable of abusing his children. Psychological trauma– just spiritual and heart issues. And her “options”? This girl doesn’t have options. She’s not even allowed to speak for herself– which could indicate that she’s being manipulated into believing she doesn’t have options. When a woman can’t even talk how can she make an actual decision?

At this point in the story, Debi has burst in with an unexplained prophecy, declaring that she’d heard from God, and was speaking with his authority. She gives no context, and disappears as quickly as she came. Then, she sits down the woman for a talk. She does seem to give the married couple and the abused woman some benefit of the doubt– at first.

Undoubtedly his relationship with his wife was already barren before the girl came along, but the old wife had now become the second woman.

What the. Crap on a cracker. Debi– seriously?! You hear this from God, too? A voice come booming out of heaven to tell you that their marriage was “undoubtedly barren”? Which, if you’ve read Debi’s book is without exception always the woman’s fault. If this married man is developing a emotionally intimate connection, it’s obviously because his wife doesn’t smile enough, or doesn’t know how to put her makeup on. Clearly.

I had to try to help Little Miss see the error of her ways.

To most young brides the husband appears clumsy and unfeeling. But as the wife continues to obey and reverence her young husband, he will grow in appreciation for her soul, and in time learn to care for her emotional and spiritual needs.

I explained to Little Miss that having even a small part of this “mysterious relationship” with another woman’s husband, especially in her own home, in front of her, is exceedingly cruel and evil.

Already touching her spirit, I knew what the answer would be, but I wanted the girl to understand she was indeed not innocent.

If there was ever going to be any change to this situation then she had to understand the full ugliness of her actions, so I drove homehow depraved and self-centered she was to do such a thing as to interfere with the sacredness of marriage.

Being cloistered might have been bad for her, but now she was partyto damaging the sacred.

Girlie, it will come to you soon enough, and you will need a place to flee.Don’t come here. The invitation for a place to stay is closed. I would not trust a ‘regret’ girl around this ministry.”

This should speak for itself.

Debi doesn’t care about the abuse this woman has experienced. It doesn’t even matter– it only enters as a “but” statement. The fact that the married man in this situation talks about being “highly skilled in the art of caressing souls” straight to Micheal’s face doesn’t matter. They’re not even capable of picking up on the GIGANTIC BILLBOARD-SIZED RED FLAGS that should tell them that the man in this situation is taking advantage of a tender, fragile, desperate and abused young woman.

Because it’s the wife’s fault for not reverencing her husband, or not fulfilling him, or not having sex with him enough, or not keeping herself pretty enough. And then it’s the abused woman’s fault. Her fragility, the fact that this married man deliberately chose a woman sheltered enough to not understand exactly how he was going to “caress her soul.” He’s vulnerable because of his wife, and the abused woman is preying on his vulnerability. No, he’s not emotionally manipulative, or taking advantage of this situation at all. It’s all the woman’s fault, because being abused by her parents and then manipulated by another man (which she’s probably been taught since infancy is a legitimate authority over her, simply because he’s a man) doesn’t make a lick of difference.

And then comes the hammer. Debi tells her that she will absolutely not help an abused woman when this woman eventually realizes that she traded the frying pan for the fire. Because she’s responsible for the married man manipulating her. She’s cruel, evil, depraved, and self-centered. She’s not hurting, she’s not lost, she’s not desperate for someone to realize that she’s a person, and that she needs help.

Michael and Debi Pearl– YOU are cruel, evil, depraved, and self-centered. You’ve been blinded by the power you’ve wrested from innocent people by being false prophets. You are completely and desperately lacking of any form of common sense or sound judgment.

The article goes on (with Michael inserting an insignificant caveat about how holy and righteous he was, and how men should stay away from women, because, well, women will seduce them away from God), but the story is over. They switch into analysis mode, and I just . . . can’t.

If you are a young woman in a cloistered situation, beware of jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Staying in the frying pan is much to be preferred, for you can always jump when a clean alternative shows itself.

Samantha hits her head on her desk repeatedly at the sheer idiocy and ignorance.

Do they never even stop and listen to themselves? Are they so blind to reality that they’re incapable of understanding how ridiculous a statement like this is? When you’ve grown up in a “cloistered” home– by their definition, a family so sheltered they can’t tell “right from wrong,” how the hell do you think an infantalized woman (or man, for that matter) is capable of being aware of the difference between “clean” and supposedly “unclean” alternatives? They’ve been purposely and deliberately shielded from having that kind of power.

Micheal and Debi Pearl are dangerous.

People listen to them, people respect them, people make excuses for them when their teachings are responsible for the slaughter of innocent children. Their loyal followers say that reactions like mine are exaggerated, that I’m just not giving the benefit of the doubt. If I’d really read all of their books, if I’d actually paid attention to what they advocate, I’d be fine with them. I’m just not understanding their true message, which is obviously of love and directly from God.

No.

have read their books– I’ve read every single last one of their books multiple times. I idolized them as a child. They were just so brazenly honest, so overwhelmingly clear– how could Michael be anything but a prophet sent from God to teach the fundamentalists how to raise their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?

But as I got older, I started realizing, with a mounting horror, just how clearly evil their teachings are. What they advocate fosters and nurtures abusive homes. They explicitly encourage women to stay with physically abusive husbands and utterly dismiss the existence of marital rape and don’t even acknowledge that men emotionally and verbally abuse their wives.

Debi repeatedly tells women that if their husbands are abusing them, it’s clearly their fault. They’re just not reverencing their husbands enough. Reverence your husband, and he won’t yell. Reverence your husband, and he won’t beat you. Reverence your husband, and ignore the fact that he’s raping you when you don’t want to have sex– because you’re not even allowed to say no. If you say no, he’ll just go sleep with someone else.

And Michael– spank your child until he obeys. Spank your child with an ever-increasing-in-size pipe until he instantaneously submits to your every uttered command. Spank your children until they are cowed. Spank your children until they would never even think of disobeying you. Because that’s what’s going to teach them about how to obey God.

The only language the Pearls are capable of speaking is a language of violence and abuse.