A Culture of Abuse

I listened to this yesterday and how wish everyone else would too. It isn’t easy to listen to, but this presentation by Sheila Wray Gregoire, an author and researcher on sexual abuse offers some critical information for us to understand the culture of abuse that permeates Christianity. According to her research, much of evangelical teaching on marriage and sexuality actually creates a climate of abuse not only within a marriage, but within the body of Christ as well.

According to her, the unspoken conclusion of many evangelical books about marriage encourage the idea that “men are entitled to women’s bodies; (they) cannot be expected to act honorably or even safely. So, when men do harm it’s because some woman, somewhere hasn’t done her job.”

I hope that turns your stomach as much as it did mine when I heard it yesterday morning. According to the podcast description, “Sheila and her team  analyzed many popular Christian books on sex. Many teach that men are incapable of not objectifying women. And instead of training men to control their urges, these books teach that women must save these men. If a husband struggles with porn, for example, it’s his wife’s job to give him more sex so he can go cold turkey. If a husband is abusive to his wife, it’s his wife’s job to pray the abuse away. And if you’re a single woman, it’s your job to dress in such a way that your body never “intoxicates” a man. With messages like these, is it any wonder that abuse victims often feel like it’s their fault if someone hurts them? Is it any wonder that pastors like John MacArthur can convince wives that it’s her duty to stay with a man who abuses her and their children?”

So, when you read that another Christian pastor, speaker or author has been exposed for abusing women, on their staff, in their congregation, among twenty-somethings attending there schools and seminars, or even children in their care, don’t be shocked. That’s the environment we’ve created by thinking men are too weak to resist temptation and that women are responsible to prevent them. Just this past week a popular pastor and author from the Dallas area was exposed for molesting a twelve-year old girl in her bedroom and that it continued for five years. He was in his twenties at the time, but the church eldership knew about it in 2005, and let him continue to lead the congregation until it became public last week. The list of popular leaders, authors, prophets, and speakers who have taught things about Jesus while being abusing women grows even longer. When will we care enough to end the view of women that allows this abuse to persist?

Until we break the environment that allows this abuse to hide in the shadows of religion, it will continue to disfigure the image of God in the world.  What is it about our perception of the Gospel that allows men and women to teach about it, without his presence actually penetrating their hearts? Why is it that so many “gifted leaders” feel entitled to take whatever they want from women for their own amusement? I’m also curious why do we not see the darkness in charismatically-gifted personalities until their sexual sins are exposed? Before those come to light their lack of transformation in Jesus almost always shows up in the arrogance, anger, excess and manipulation of others around them.

We’ve got to rid ourselves of the notion that these are just men committing “indiscretions.” These are men who take decades of wholeness from young women for their own pleasure. Their actions cause traumatic reactions that can last for decades. I see the effects of sexual trauma every day in Sara’s courageous battle to overcome what her relatives did to her at a very young age. Yes, God loves these perpetrators and wants to redeem them, but before we get there, let’s not minimize the damage they done. If they had experienced a real engagement with Jesus, they wouldn’t see women as prey and when they turn from their sin they would offer to do whatever they could, including pay for therapy all the therapy their victim might need to help mitigate the grave damage they have caused. The fact that we show more compassion for the abuser than we do the victim in these cases, is because we don’t understand the horrific damage sexual abuse causes.

Please listen to her podcast, and see how you can change the environment in which women are exploited among the family of God. Abuse is not just a problem of a few weak men; it is a systemic problem that permeates evangelical culture as much as it does in the world.

These things ought not to be, and talking openly about it is the first step to unraveling the false teachings that harm women.

10 thoughts on “A Culture of Abuse”

  1. Pingback: A Culture of Abuse | Lifestream – The Faith Herald

  2. “…it is a systemic problem that permeates evangelical culture”
    and next ‘systemic problem” is hierarchical system – as it was said “but not so shall it be among you”.

  3. Wayne, this is the conversation I’ve been waiting for. I do believe there’s a reason – perhaps too many reasons to count – why the brand of Christianity in the United States has an outsized emphasis on power over love. From my perspective of having had a heavy-handed upbringing in this kind of dehumanization, the silencing of women is one of the main reasons. I would venture to guess that Ms Wray’s findings have had an enormous impact on Sara’s experience as well. Sara among countless legions of women, myself among them. What is terrifying me right now is this American brand of Christianity has so thoroughly distanced itself from Jesus and aligned itself with power, political power specifically. All attempts at brotherliness gone, they are trying to force women, people of color, and people on the margins further back into the margins, into silence, into an unchosen service.
    So looking with God at the world, bearing the sorrow with him? It is a difficult thing to do with tranquility, especially when one has daughters. The dream is that they can find their path to wholehearted living. The challenge is, under what conditions?

    1. Thanks for your comments and concern, Anne. It is uas tragic as it is unbelievable that so many of our brothers and sisters are so deluded by darkness that their “savior” for American society is a bully who lies every time he opens his mouth. I’m convinced many so-called Christians would vote for the anti-Christ if he just had the right words to promise them what they think they want. Where is the character of Christ among his followers?

      1. Wow. I so agree. But I also know that God is on the throne. It’s amazing the level of betrayal (in my case, marital) that He will use to open our eyes to Him, the true Him, Jesus. I’m so grateful that he opened mine. Everything He puts us through, all while being with us, truly is for our good and His glory. I’m so grateful for every trial.
        That’s how I now look at what is going on with these deluded people. God will open their eyes and hearts through pain and suffering. All to bring them truly to His feet.

        1. Thank you, Donna, for your comment. It is true that God is with us and will walk us through stuff to the degree the we let him. I wouldn’t say, however, that God “puts us through” these trials. They come because of human frailty and evil in the world. They are not his doing. But he is in them, as you say, to bring us to his freedom and love.

  4. A man with no name

    “When will we care enough to end the view of women that allows this abuse to persist?”

    Who are “we”, what’s the plan? Or is this a venting rant? Realistically I hope this is a venting rant, as there is nothing “we” can do to stop systemic ways of thinking, leading to actions. (Maybe we should pray about it, seems to have worked well on global hunger issues. “Whatever you ask for in my name…”) However, “I” might be able to change my ways if “I” can turn off all the noise around me to know life by and in Spirit, which loves strong men who put their power under control and elevates the strength in and of others naturally in the “meek condition”. Unfortunately, can’t be taught or screamed into existence. And unfortunately we do not live in a culture conducive to Spiritual connectedness. Most want predictable, instant, comfortable, and knowledge, which puffs us up and closes off Spirit interaction.

    “Until we break the environment that allows this abuse to hide in the shadows of religion, it will continue to disfigure the image of God in the world.”
    “Break the environment?” Now you’re starting to sound like Trudeau, lol. Who’s allowing what? What is “allowing”? And in case no one noticed, the image of God in the world has been masked by theory and doctrine…forever. That’s why Jesus came. And what did the “evangelicals” do? They turned it into a religious structure. If you might be so powerful as to topple evangelicalism today, another form of religion run by man would take its place. Is that not the definition of what 666 is? Jesus said, put no man on that religious throne, call no man father, teacher, pastor, etc, yet guys like us sat on that throne, some longer than others, most love it.
    Some of us realized our error and removed ourselves, hit the wilderness, and found who we are for the first time. We got to see our root of ugly below the surface and layers of things we wanted to be and for others to see. Layers of masks and justifications, among many others. Only ONE will topple the system of man. Until then, it be best to find an environment to look into the Spiritual mirror.

    I was sexually “toyed with” as a child by an older female. I say toyed with and not abused because at that time it did not feel like abuse, “my eyes were opened”, and they would never forget. I was captivated by the female body and touch, absolutely incredible…sure made school seem boring. But what did that do to me? What did that do to how I viewed females? My entire perspective would be clouded, and they were now primarily sexual objects. When I got older, I dated a lot. I touched a lot, and I broke a lot of hearts, until one day, from an internal Source, I said, “no more, the next one I date I marry”. Two years later I married the next one I dated, I was cured lol. Or so I thought. Let me make a short story longer and just say, I wasn’t cured. Promise Keepers and accountability didn’t help one iota, just made me better at hiding. I may never be totally cured, but now I see and I see myself truly, and because I see, I can fight, and I can keep Spirit in the battle with an honest me, and that changes everything. In Spirit and in Truth. In truth is the only way to Spirit and whatever that truth is, Spirit welcomes the friendship/relationship.

    I’ve never spoken of this ever to anyone before. I felt no need for myself. It is what it is, I blame no one. No one made me what I am, and I am not defined by these things. I am a free man, and I have a great friend in Spirit who builds strength in me to accomplish anything in this life. The old is past, the new has come, I press into what is ahead and do not dwell on what has passed by. It is over, it is done, my present is what I make it as Spirit accompanies.

    1. I’m sorry for the abuse you suffered, even if you didn’t think it that at the time. That’s often more confusing for boys and the abuse shows up in different ways than it often does for women, but it is abuse nonetheless. I appreciate your honesty about it and the journey you’ve found through it to a more healthy way to live and see sexuality.

      And what you share is what breaks the environment. It’s people walking away from unhealthy systems that exalt some to places of entitlement, even sexually, all because they provide us with Sunday morning entertainment that we confuse for godliness. We “allow it” when we sit in the pews of institutions that shelter abusers and condemn their victims. We “allow it” when we hide brokenness in the darkness to “protect” the reputation of Jesus. We “allow it” when we can’t recognize arrogance and anger in so many of our so-called Christian leaders and still buy their books and pay exorbitant fees for their seminars or schools. We “allow it” when we don’t comfort the abused person and instead make it feel like it was their fault. We “allow it” when we “restore” someone back to ministry who has yet taken ownership of the pain and trauma they caused their victims and look for ways to reimburse their pain.

      Yes, it is one person at a time following their conscience instead of fitting into a system that shelters great harm in the name of God.

      1. A man with no name

        Yes, thank you for your compassion. Sure I can call that abuse, but what I realize is that abuse in this life is normal, as normal as death, not pleasant. I do not excuse it or condone it, but I expect it. It’s reality, so I can wallow in it, I can complain about it, I can talk about it, but how does that help me? What is my help, who is my help? Am I equipped, do I have any strength? What is it? Where is it? And what is my solution moving forward in this reality?
        We burnt out, done with the endless words, the problem with this, the problem with them, etc, hearing all about the problem/s with all that’s around us, while none to few actually do the work to help and free themselves. This is why I speak so much of the importance of wilderness and Spirit, and how they are connected to personal transformation. The first part of transformation being the acceptance of the voice of truth that tells me WHO I AM. We can go to cute seminars, with emotion inducing language and tones, and they can tell us who we are by looking at their rehearsed notes in that sweet, gentle tone, but we haven’t heard anything until and unless we get it STRAIGHT FROM SPIRIT. This is exactly what Jesus was talking about. “COME TO ME”, alone. How did Jesus come to the Father? In the wilderness, in solitude, away from the words, and into praying in quietness, in The Spirit.
        In my evangelical hay days we talked about making changes, my group of similar minded men and wives declared us “the generals” who would lead the way to proper thinking and spiritual life lol. But then reality set in; we did a lot of group things, we did a lot of one on one things, and at the end of the day, nothing changed because as much as thought we knew about Spirit, we were not aligned with Spirit. Looking back I would now say we were the blind leading the blind. Some went deeper into pentecostal spirit movements, looking for signs and wonders and manifestations as evidence. Some learned to jibber jab some words and were convinced they were praying in the Sprit, yet no fruit, no transformation, still as emotionally fragile as robins eggs. So we (me and my abused wife) went it alone, and hit the wilderness, and our lesson and life by Spirit began. I think one of the things I really realized was how when God was speaking personal conviction, we as “leaders” automatically deflected what was personal into a teaching for others. That doesn’t happen in the wilderness, there is no deflecting, only reflecting. Now I feel the gospel has come completely to LIFE, completely outside of religion or religious language, or any language. While life can be very hard, the truth is so very complete and simple “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” And as Paul stated, “when the perfect comes, the imperfect disappears.”
        You take care amigo! We live in exciting days.

        1. I appreciate your journey through all of this, but I have a hard time normalizing abuse. Abuse is not normal in this life, in the way I’m talking about it. We all have difficult circumstances but we are not all sexually abused or abandoned at young ages that traumatizes the brain and damages the Spirit. While I agree that only the Spirit of God its a real presence and voice in our life can right the wrong and bring freedom, that is neither easy or automatic. I watch it with my wife every day since her traumatized childhood became known. Jesus is in there with her sorting through the mess that someone else left and it is beautiful to behold. But it is also incredibly costly. Talking about it helps her very much, as does venting sometimes to work through the pain. She is not wallowing in it; she is processing it alongside the Spirit to find out who she truly is and how she can live freely in that. I have others I’m walking this road with as well. It’s a lovely process as I watch it, but for them it can be excruciating and take far longer than any of us would wish. I do love how you write about your own journey and how Jesus has brought transformation to your heart. I just don’t think it is the same road for anybody. How God does it in us is what we need to look for.

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