Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Hello. I'm glad you're here.

This blog is a resource for those who have been bruised by legalism, spiritual abuse and Christian patriarchy, and are finding their way to freedom and healing.

If you have been burned by Christian fundamentalism, you may feel disillusioned. The foundations of your whole belief system may be crumbling.

You might feel like you want nothing to do with any form of organised religion again.

You might feel like you do not want to give up on Jesus and the Bible - but surely, surely, he is not really like the "teachers of the law" say he is?

You might be in a state of mind where you feel 'allergic' to the Bible. Or can't listen to what used to be your favourite worship music. What you're going through is not unusual. It could be you are experiencing a form of PTSD and these things are triggering you.

You may be in a place in which your hurt and yearning for freedom is leading you to question the doctrines you have been taught, but there is still a part of you wondering, "Is it me? Maybe I do have an 'independent spirit'. Maybe I am rebellious. Perhaps I am a 'Jezebel'."

Wherever you are at, you are welcome here. This is a safe place. You can say what you really think, how you really feel. I am posting anonymously, and you can too, if you wish. You can share, or not share, your story and gain encouragement and validation from others.

Thousands of people in the USA are fleeing the doctrine of 'Biblical Patriarchy' being widely taught in parts of the country. This doctrine has filtered through to Australia and New Zealand and impacted churches here. There are a host of sites in the USA popping up to support those exiting extreme doctrines there. This blog is particularly (but not exclusively) for people Down Under, in Australia and New Zealand, who have been affected by the far-reaching effects of the various forms of this doctrine.

When I am ready, I'll share my story. When you are ready, you can, too.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Shame Is A Liar 

by Mara Clements

            The smell of crayons and apple juice fill the room as I squirm anxiously in my plastic chair under that familiar paneled ceiling with fluorescent lights. Our Sunday School teacher finishes up her flannel graph on the story of Adam and Eve as we polish off our snacks and toss our paper napkins in the trash. Activity time begins and I watch the helper pass out a leather string and some colored beads to each child.

            “The black bead is your heart filled with sin,” our teacher informs us as she holds up the dark plastic pendant, reminding us that we are all born sinners. She goes on to explain that the gold bead represents God’s holiness, and how our sin makes God angry and separates us from him. “The red bead represents Jesus’s blood that washed our sins away so we can spend eternity with God in heaven.” She talks about how God sent his son Jesus to stand in the gap between us, and how God loves us because he sees Jesus when he looks at us.

            She continues explaining the craft as our chubby fingers clumsily begin to thread our beads and wrap our heads around this concept of sin we’ve been taught since we could crawl to an electric outlet or reach the stereo settings. She is sharing a piece of the Gospel with us but, without realizing it, she is also painting a portrait of our worth, like our parents do at home. I absorb her perspective of the Gospel like a sponge and my 5 year old minds begins to expand with a love for this Jesus, but at the same time invite in this subtle concept of shame that tells me I am inherently bad.

            I know our SundaySchool teacher’s intent was to share the message of salvation through Christ, but shame has a way of seeping through even the greatest news and the best of intentions because it also speaks directly to our identity and worth. Our teacher was supposed to give us an explanation for our behavior and a way out of the guilt, but the subtle message I carried away with me into my subsequent lessons was that I was not good, that I was shameful, that God couldn’t stand to look at me and that’s why Jesus had to die.

            My own journey to break out of shame and into wholeheartedness and freedom was impeded by more than just my religious upbringing. Another roadblock was the Purity Culture that was so popular as an adolescent growing up in the evangelical church. The Purity Culture was characterized by female modesty, courtship instead of dating, and saving sex for marriage. The shame attached to this philosophy was the isolation and the spiritual consequences we were warned we’d experienced if we failed to meet these specific standards of sexual purity.

            In all fairness, I think the Purity Culture was intended to protect us from the harsh realities that come from unplanned pregnancies, STDs, and emotional distress due to promiscuity. Unfortunately, the conviction also perpetuated body shame, unhealthy expectations for marriage, and a myriad of lies about holding responsibility for other peoples’ behaviors. We moved on from Gospel bracelets and flannel graphs to Purity rings and books that told us to kiss dating goodbye. The unhealthy messages entangled in the healthy ones created a skewed view of reality that we took as truth. For one thing, virginity was something you lost, which spoke shame to anyone who had already had sex (willingly or unwillingly) and made it hard, for those who were able to wait, to actually celebrate sex when they finally did get married.

 As a middle schooler and high schooler, I wish I could say it was the good news of God’s grace and love that motivated me to protect myself from the consequences of promiscuity, but instead I was motivated by fear. While I was told that my good works didn’t get me to heaven, I never felt free to make mistakes. The dichotomy between what was said and what was acted out around me left me afraid and unsure. I didn’t understand the fullness of God’s grace, so I believed that getting things right was what made me acceptable. I thought that as long as I was striving to be good, I would stay in God’s favor, and that’s a lot of pressure to feel as a teenager. I doubted God’s unconditional love for me, so while I searched for love and meaning from other people, especially the opposite sex, it was fear of judgement that kept me from taking our physical relationships very far. I kept my struggles to myself and a couple of close friends because asking questions and practicing vulnerability would have opened me up for rejection. Shame told me I was wrong if I did something wrong, so I learned to separate my body from my mind and my spirit to add another layer of protection. There were many times I pretended to be someone I was not in order to safeguard myself from isolation.

            On top of everything, we were told that girls were responsible for mens’ reactions to their bodies, so another burden too heavy for us to carry was added to our modestly covered shoulders. Instead of calling up life and wisdom in boys and men, we enabled their struggle with self-control and respect by shifting blame onto young girls and women for their behavior. I never felt free to love my body because it was always suspect, never celebrated. I was implicitly taught that it was merely an object that could cause people to lust or cheat or rape if I wasn’t careful.       

Since we saw ourselves as the source of all these terrifying things, we covered our figures out of fear of degradation, dressing modestly so people wouldn’t accuse us of causing men to stumble, not because our bodies were worth honor and respect. These ideas implied that men were either weak or animalistic because they couldn't be trusted to own their struggles and work toward controlling their urges by practicing healthy boundaries.

            By the time I started packing for college, freedom and the abundant life were only dreams. All the striving for spiritual growth through perfectionism and all the shame attached to my mistakes had left me feeling trapped and alone. I had perpetuated the very thing I had feared because I did not feel like I had permission to be myself, to take risks, to mess up, and to find grace and unconditional love waiting for me on the other side. Thankfully, by God’s grace, my university experience provided me with the very things I was searching for. I was given a chance to start from scratch and discover what was important to me when it came to faith. I was challenged by a number of brilliant professors to explore my beliefs and watch my view of God and sin evolve through each new year. I was encouraged to ask questions, express my doubts and share my perspectives without the fear of shame. And while my eyes were still not opened to the fullness of God’s grace, I can see how God was revealing Godself to me as I look back on my time there.

            My pursuit of truth (and my need to get things right) led me to study Greek New Testament translation, biblical hermeneutics, the history of the Church, philosophy, and anything else that would lend itself to a fuller understanding of my faith experiences and my Christian beliefs. Countless hours of reading, studying, researching and writing allowed me to walk away with a degree in biblical studies, but more importantly gifted me with an informed worldview and a more open mind.

            After graduation, I moved to a new state with my future husband and expected to find a church family that would appreciate my desire to learn, utilize my gifts, and cultivate a safe and exciting environment for me to grow in as a Christian. Unfortunately, I blindly walked back into a religious atmosphere that operated subtly out of fear and control instead of freedom and life.

            It was a new church environment, but it had the same fundamental beliefs and legalistic tendencies I had grown up with. I joined because it was familiar and comfortable. The pastor preached biblically-based sermons without apology and I’d regularly walk out of service with a Christian to-do list that appeased the first-born perfectionist in me. When the Gospel was taught, it was outlined as the ABC’s to Christianity, like it had been in my Sunday School classes growing up. Things were black and white, clear-cut and formulaic. There was an answer for everything and nothing was open for debate. Sermons were prepared years in advance and there could only ever be one right way to interpret any scripture.   
            As empowering as it felt to be in control of my own spiritual progress, it left very little room for questions and faith, which put me right back into a cage devoid of true spiritual growth and freedom without me even realizing it. Here again my femininity was stifled, this time intellectually because I was told only men were fit to teach and preach, and only husbands could make the final decisions for their families. My interest in biblical interpretation, my passion for truth, and my desire to question and share what I was learning were squelched under the concept of male headship.

            Whether or not their interpretation of Scripture was accurate or their motives pure, these traditions were under-girded with shame and enslaved each of us in specific gender roles. Men who had no training or experience were free to teach women and mixed groups, but when it came to females, teaching anyone other than women and children was a sinful and appalling suggestion, no matter how qualified we were. Instead of spurring all of us on to mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21) and servanthood (John 13), men alone were expected to be the spiritual leaders of the home and the church, which included having the last say in family decisions and especially in congregational matters. Subconsciously, I was again becoming convinced that my gender was of lesser value, and each time my ideas or opinions got shut down by a pastor or teacher, it confirmed the lie and led me to doubt the very Spirit of God within me.

            As a child, I was expected to listen and obey the authorities God had placed in my life without question, but carrying this principle into adulthood had left me wide open to manipulation, oppression, and even abuse in a patriarchal system that valued control and “being right” above everything else. Questioning authority in this new church environment, especially as a woman, was considered rebellion, and we all knew the verse about rebellion being like witchcraft.

            Instead of a pathway to relationship with God, slowly and subtly Christianity was becoming a ladder to better behavior. I began to consider that the authorities in my life may be ahead of me somehow, higher up, closer to God, and that they knew better than me. I was told that God did not just allow them to be in a position of authority, but that God had ordained them specifically for those positions so they could cover and protect me like my modest sweaters did in high school. These discriminating messages of hierarchy and submission were delivered over a long period of time through sermons, small group discussions, and private conversations. Like the story of the snake in the Garden, lies wrapped in truth are the most dangerous. As I became nearly immune to the voice of the Spirit within me, I began to value what I thought was the Spirit in others ahead of me on the journey toward becoming spiritually mature.     
            But even in that cage I’ll admit I felt reasonably safe. There were certainties I could rely on. If I signed their statement of faith and didn’t ask too many hard questions, I might be invited to serve in this ministry or hang out with that group. If I behaved and didn’t rock the boat, I would be welcomed and could expect to be taken care of. I may not have felt free, but I felt protected and like I belonged. Apologetics and systematic theology were the hidden idols of that culture and I complied because I believed they provided my security. Like bars on a prison cell, they kept me safe from the philosophies of “the world”. Formulas for salvation and acceptance were the satisfying fruit on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and its branches reached easily into our enclosure. We ate from it regularly because judging others comes easier when you're constantly being judged yourself. I see now that it is a natural response to build walls and assign labels when your identity is wrapped up in being right. The lie of scarcity that tells us we’re not enough “unless”, leads us to create an “us vs. them” mentality.

            But there was always that other tree, the Tree of Life. It was present, but not as easy to get to and not as appealing as the other tree we were more familiar with. The Tree of Life was talked about less often and never really seemed to be the focus. It was shrouded in mystery and grace, two things that couldn’t be controlled. Mystery was dangerous because it left us at risk for admitting we did’t know all the answers, and grace was scary because it couldn’t be regulated.

            Not only had we built our own cages using Scripture and tradition, we had constructed one for Jesus as well. If the Tree of Life had always been the redemption we’re afforded through the cosmic Christ, we had chosen to put up a tall, white picket fence around it’s trunk with a nice sign that read: “Salvation: Please Only Enter Once”. Jesus didn’t belong outside of the gate because his job was to wait for us to bring people to him. Jesus was simply our formula for escaping hell and enjoying eternal life. But in the back of my mind I knew that Jesus was greater and more beautiful than I gave him credit for. I knew Jesus couldn’t be confined to a red bead on a Gospel bracelet or a fence we’d erected to keep him in his place. Deep down, I bet the majority of us had a suspicion that eternal life had already started and even though we were striving to follow all the rules, we were missing out on the abundant life Jesus had promised his followers would enjoy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

"When you teach your daughter, explicitly or by passive rejection, that she must ignore her outrage, that she must be kind and accepting to the point of not defending herself or other people, that she must not rock the boat for any reason, you are not strengthening her pro-social sense; you are damaging it—and the first person she will stop protecting is herself."
Martha Stout

Henri Cartier Bresson

In the FLDS, they called it "keeping sweet".

In Christian fundamentalism, it was "keeping a quiet, submissive spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight".

There's nothing wrong with being kind. Or being quiet. Or being submissive. Or being sweet. Sometimes. Men too, not *just* women.

There is something wrong with using virtue as a tool to keep women in their place. There's something wrong with socializing girls to be passive, to doubt their inner voice, to be uncomfortable wielding their own personal power, to be apologetic for taking up space on their planet, for occupying their real estate.

There is something wrong with the way that down through the generations, and *especially* in Christian fundamentalism, we send our girls the message that they need to stay under the radar, heads under the parapet, and not paint targets on themselves, by being all they really are, and by being vocal, assertive, activist and loud. Because deep in our DNA, we know what happened to women who attract notice, who stand out, who speak up, who lead the way, who make revolution, who won't be silenced, who stand strong, who engage with their inner wisdom and who employ the gifts God has bestowed on them.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

When we spend 30 years speaking out against oppression, gently trying to disentangle women from the yoke, watching with rising concern the compromises women make just to stay safe and to dodge penalty, when every gain is so hard fought, when basic equality meets resistance and dismissal at every turn ... and we see, in the halls of power, people elected, people who epitomize and endorse the very abuses and doctrines we have struggled against for decades ...

Then we can take a lesson from women, and from all people of colour, and from indigenous people, and all people through history who have ever experienced oppression and injustice, and Maya Angelou comes strongly to mind ...

and we say ...

We know this feeling. We have been here before. 

When you said, he's teasing me and they said, oh don't be silly. 

When you said, he's hurting me and they said, he just likes you. 

When you said, he harassed me and they said, you need to learn to forgive. 

When you reported the harassment and they suspended YOU from school, as well as the perpetrator, instead of just the perpetrator. 

When you were told you couldn't play on the boys team, even though you were the second best player, because you were a girl - and there was no girls team. 

When the police came, but they said, "But Mrs Pearson, what did you do to provoke him?" 

When you really thought the courts would understand, and you carefully followed your lawyer's instructions - but they found in favour of your ex. 

When you tried to articulate the abuse and its impact on you and your children, and they said, "Is that all? That's it?"

When you knew you'd get the promotion because they'd assured you all along that you had the best credentials, experience and performance, but he got it, after only a few months with the company. 

When the pastor listened compassionately, then gently counseled you to go home and work on building his self-esteem and on submitting to him in the little things. 

When your eldest goes to stay with him, and then suddenly, no longer wishes to have contact with you again, and you see the child of your heart being moulded into a replica of the man you escaped. 

When, to your horror, decades after you thought they'd stopped blaming rape victims, they actually asked your daughter what she was wearing. 

When you announced your pregnancy, and you lost your job, but they said it had nothing to do with your pregnancy.

When you reported the harassment and the outcome was, YOU got demoted or retrenched or transferred, and got branded as a "trouble-maker".

You know this feeling. The disbelief. The heaviness. The utter exhaustion. 

The feeling of being mad at yourself for resorting to resignation. 

But there is also something older, and deeper, and stronger. 

There is a resilience. There is an assurance. That the truth IS the truth even when liars have the platform, that justice will not fall in the streets forever, that there will be a dawning, a morning. 

So familiar. Old turf, on an old path. 

Still, we rise. (Thank you, Maya).

Nevertheless, we persist.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Written by Rachael. A vibrant young woman, just a few years older than my own daughters, who attended the same good Christian high school. Describing the way low-level Christian sexism, even with the very best of intentions, clips the wings of the girls God made wild at heart too. When boys get to go to Man Camp and scale cliffs and forge rivers and build go-carts, and girls go to Princess Camp and do nails and hair and cupcakes, and listen to talks on hygiene and how real beauty is from within.


I remember it like it was yesterday.  Sitting on that school bus, defeated, or at least feeling that way.  Ten years ago, a thirteen year-old changed her life on the spot. It was completely intentional, completely simple, and completely stupid.  It took both resolve and determination; that determination that she knew she had too much of, and a sad resolve that for it, she would never be likeable. 

Too loud, too wilful, too confident.  That was not how a girl was supposed to be.  A boy, maybe, but a girl with these traits, well, she was obnoxious and unpleasant.  That was not what 'girly girls' were like.  It was not the right way to be a girl. No, the girls who were liked, who were approved of, they were quieter, milder, meek.  They did not speak up in class, lest they sound too smart. They were weak in P.E lessons; playing the damsel as they'd been taught. They sat daintily, dressed fancily, spoke softly.  They humbly despised their bodies. They had the sought-after 'Spirit of Gentleness'. 

But this girl was none of these things. She was fiery and bold, strong and confident, plain and raw.  She didn't like nor dislike her body; Actually, she'd never given it much thought. She loved her friends, adored her family, and lived in awe of her God. She was sad about poverty, drug-abuse, suicide and divorce. She was learning about the world she lived in, and she wanted to make a difference. She didn't have the answers. She was only a child. But she had a future full of time; Time to love, to work, to fight, to make change where change was needed.

But high school stole that future. At least, it tried it's very best.  She realised pretty soon that a girl was better sweet than strong. That opinions and intelligence were off-putting to the boys. And so, staring out the window of that bus, she decided. She'd become more likeable. Starting now, she'd be quiet and ladylike, sweet and shy. It would be better this way. So, overnight she changed. How easy it was! Like a wild goose; wings clipped, ready to be tamed.

The learning never stopped. Bit-by-bit, one well-meaning self-esteem workshop at a time, she discovered that she wasn't meant to like the way she looked.  Every time they split the girls and boys, she heard 'Your body...' this, and 'Your body...' that. 'You're beautiful, and gorgeous'. And 'Girl, true love is waiting'.  But the truth was, she didn't care. Or at least she hadn't until now. She'd wanted to talk about changing the world, about travelling, caring for the sick, and serving her God.  But alas, there were more pressing matters. For one, the shirts and jeans she donned each day were 'distracting' and 'immodest'. That scoop-necked tee showed too much of her pre-pubescent chest. She had dressed without a thought to how she looked. She'd dressed for practicality, and somehow, unknowingly, she'd put her brothers in harm's way. And so at school they gave her a large, bright-yellow top to wear. It may as well have said across it, 'SLUT'. For the remainder of the day, she hung her head in shame. 

She stopped trying in PE class, and she learned to quiet her opinions. She learned to hate her body, and to seek a man who'd lead. She learned to giggle, rather than laugh, tip-toe, rather than run, whisper, rather than speak. For years she kept it up. And it became her, it seemed.

But then, one day, when her report card said she ought to speak-up more, she saw her parents look at her, eyes full of confusion and surprise. In that moment, she realised what she'd done. She realised how she missed that loud, bold, daring girl.  She knew, now, she'd gone too far. But she didn't know how to go back. She cried, she grieved, she prayed. She wallowed for a while. She knew there must be more, and that she'd made a hideous mistake, but she'd lost herself, entirely.   The wild goose, now tamed, had forgotten how to fly...

There is catharsis in the re-telling of painful events, but it must be known too, that there was more to her story. There was healing, and there was hope. There was a God who never changed, and a fire that He stirred. There was a woman, who emerged, more confident than ever. There was the rising of a Jesus feminist*; strong, courageous, sure. And there is so much growth to come, of that I am convinced!

*Credit to Sarah Bessey for the term 'Jesus Feminist'. On point Sarah. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Samuel S. Martin has written an excellent resource for Christians seeking a soundly biblical basis for parenting without corporal discipline. The free e-book is available here, thanks to Samuel's generosity. Please consider donating to Samuel's on-going work which is ministering grace and mercy to many families. (He has no idea about that last bit :) )

Click here:

That above link takes you to Why Not Train a Child, a clearing house of information and Christian arguments against the teaching of the Pearls. Great place to find gentle, sane alternatives to bringing up children.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Do you sometimes feel inundated with doctrine and teachings upholding male headship and refusing to address the need for gender balance and equality in Christianity?

I stumbled across this post on Facebook this week. I am impressed! Who are these folk? (Wade and Rachelle Burleson).

Have a read and see what you think:

Male Sex Mobs Targeting Women Is the End Result of Not Knowing God

Men and women are God's image-bearers and both genders must be seen, treated and respected as equal representatives of the character of God. 

Some Christian men often see themselves as leading their families and churches like they view God leads the universe. These men see Christian women as 'helpers,' given to them by God so that the women can follow the man's authoritative reign. Sadly, this emphasis on male god-like authority has placed Christian women in a similar status to that of Islamic women. 

Therefore, men, when you seek to dominate a woman (or vice-versa), you are rebelling against God. When you use a woman as an object to fulfill your sexual desire--rather than as a person of equal personhood with whom you enter into covenant--then you break covenant with God. Whatever a man does to or against a woman, he does to or against his God.

MSN reported this morning that in the country of Egypt "...male sex mobs are targeting women because men have no fear of being caught."

Let me write a better headline that applies to the world: "Male sex mobs are targeting women because men have no fear of God when it comes to His image in women."

Men mistreat women because they don't know their God; that's true in Egypt, and that's true in America-even in our churches. I am hopeful that my five-week December series will give to Christians at Emmanuel the proper view of God and give us strength to take action when women are treated as if they are servants to men instead of image-bearers of God.

And check out some of the comments!

I'm appalled at the lack of outrage Christians express at the treatment of women worldwide. I suspect that the feminine attributes of God will be marginalized and minimized. How can one respect the feminine attributes of God while disrespecting females? The logical outcome (in view of the wide-spread "headship/authority" beliefs today is to maximize God's masculine and minimize the feminine. If that doesn't work, go with the God (boss) Jesus (servant) aspect of the trinity. If that doesn't work.... let's try the Sarah/Abraham "lord" verse. After that....

Cynical? You bet! We have "male mobs" targeting women in our churches and they attack her sexuality; they attack her psychologically, and her sense of value and worth. She is battered with scripture until she recognizes her "place" and passively learns to feign contentment as is expected of her.

Again, I'm appalled at the lack of outrage expressed among believers at the treatment of women everywhere.