The Subtle Side of #metoo

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I was a sexually naive, college age, camp counselor. He was a 50-something volunteer. I didn’t know enough to be uncomfortable. He flattered me, told me how pretty I was, how amazing, how gifted, etc. Then the long, tight, full frontal hugs started. A hello hug, a good-bye hug, etc. Maybe he just liked me? One day he pulled me in close for a spontaneous dance.

And that’s as far as it went. Was it actually sexual harassment? I didn’t know enough then to complain…

It went on for a few summers.

Then I got married. As a now-sexually-aware woman, I looked back on those interactions and cringed. They disgusted me. I talked to my husband who had been at camp with me back when we were single. He acknowledged that at the time it made him uncomfortable. I talked to one of the full-time camp staff.  He also admitted that it seemed weird to him.

The question is, why didn’t these men step in? Why didn’t they say something to me? To the volunteer?

Our paths crossed again a few years ago. My “admirer” tried to start up the frontal hugs. He always wanted to touch me and put his arm around my shoulders. It was all supposed to be friendly and fatherly.

This time I stopped it.

I looked him in the eyes and told him that he made me uncomfortable. I told him that I didn’t want him to touch me any more. He blustered and made excuses, but I stood my ground. It was awkward, but it was worth it!

***

For every horrific story of abuse and harassment that has come out because of the #metoo campaign, hundreds of these subtle, uncomfortable stories simmer beneath the surface. It’s not just in the secular world. Horrific stories and subtle stories abound within the Christian community: within churches, and camps, and organizations. It’s not okay! 

  • It’s not okay that Christians keep young people so sexually naive that they don’t know when something crosses the line. Because I’m not the only one.
  • It’s not okay that Christians sweep things under the rug to “protect the name of God” or to “keep unity” or to “prevent the world from mocking us” or whatever other dumb excuse they conjure up. Stop hiding and deal with it!
  • It’s not okay that Christians choose to blame women for men’s actions.
  • It’s not okay that Christian men don’t stand up for women being harassed and/or assaulted.
  • It’s not okay that Christian women are terrified to tell the truth because of the shame and blame they know will come if they are honest.

The Christian community should be a place of safety. A place where women are valued, heard, and protected. We are equally made in God’s image. Sin is sin. Light is supposed to expose darkness. There shouldn’t be any excuses just because you are a man.

That’s not how Jesus acted. He valued women. He protected and supported them.

So, what do we do?

  • Stop making excuses.
  • Call sin what it is, SIN.
  • Stop sweeping things under the rug.
  • Blame the perpetrator and not the victims.
  • Teach people to stand up for themselves.
  • Stop avoiding hard topics.
  • Start acting like Jesus.

I know that me sharing this story is just scraping the very tip of the iceberg. Many of you have similar stories and worse stories. I am sorry! It’s not okay! You are loved, valued, and forgiven. It’s not your fault. Feel free to contact me if you want!

 

 

Shhh! Don’t Talk About the Can’t Talk Rule.

As I continue my way through “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” I am recognizing more and more that the extreme circumstances I faced as a teen and young adult are just a tiny piece of a larger problem. It is making me rethink the focus of my blog and the book I want to write. It’s easy to get tunnel vision looking at your own experiences. It’s easy to judge people who grew up like I did and left Christianity. But I’m realizing they have very valid reasons…

“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11 ESV).

There is a lie spread throughout Christianity and it really bothers me. I’ve experienced it firsthand both in my Christian cult days and in “normal” settings since then, seen it expressed on social media, and read it in articles.

This lie allows people in Christian leadership to cover up serious problems. It allows abusive situations to continue, and it keeps hurts and issues buried.

Let’s talk about the “Can’t Talk Rule.”

Although, it can be stated (or left unstated) in a variety of ways, the core lie goes something like this: We must ignore, hide, or cover up sin (including unethical behavior and abuse) for the sake of Christ, to protect God’s name, for the sake of unity, or something similar…

Please hear me. I am not advocating gossip. But there are times when the truth needs to be told. Talking about a problem does not make you the problem. It is not okay for Christians to use fear, intimidation, or twisted biblical ideas to shut people up!

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Consider this:

If God really believes in sweeping people’s sin issues under the rug to protect His name, wouldn’t He have left certain stories out of the Bible…David & Bathsheba…Samson & Delilah?

If God really feels that it is vitally important to hide issues for the sake of Christ, why did He publicly kill Ananias and Saphhira?

The “Can’t Talk Rule” is a lie. The only people who benefit from it are the perpetrators.

Yes, we should be careful who we tell and why we tell it. Yes, we need to avoid gossip. But without accountability, Christian authorities have unlimited freedom. This is dangerous. Even as Christians, we are still broken sinners who are capable of incredible evil when left to ourselves.

 “Leaders are more accountable because of their position of authority – not less accountable. Why? Because if you are a leader people are following you, behaving the way you do” The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, pg. 69.

Sadly, there are a lot of wrong things that secretly happen within Christian churches and ministries. And because of the Can’t Talk Rule, people who talk are considered the problem instead of addressing the real issues.

Countless, precious individuals, made in God’s image, are being injured by Christians and are walking away from the church deeply wounded.

If that’s you, I’m SO sorry! Please know that the Can’t Talk Rule is not Biblical. It’s not from God. That’s not how He feels. People can misuse Bible verses and twist them to make you think this is truth, but God is never on the side of the abuser. Never!

Fellow Jesus followers, we have GOT to stand up for the victims of abuse, including spiritual abuse.

  • We cannot continue to turn a blind eye, or allow things to be swept under the rug.
  • We cannot blame victims.
  • We must humbly recognize our own lack of perfection and desperate need of grace.
  • We need to be aware of how Christianese terms and ideas may reinjure these precious, hurting people.
  • We need to evaluate our own beliefs against the Word of God. Just because we were taught something in church doesn’t make it truth. Ouch.
  • We must be like Jesus…full of love, grace, and acceptance.

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How has the Can’t Talk Rule affected you? Have you felt the pressure to stay quiet? Have you become the problem because you talked? I really think that much of the hurt behind this rules comes from a misunderstanding of grace. But we will talk about that next time. 🙂

 

Just a note: The words libel and slander can be used as threats, but you should know that in the United States legal system, things are only considered libel or slander if they CAN’T be proven true!

“An Impostor Jesus” – The Introduction

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I wish I looked this cool when I write!

Last week, I gave you the first paragraph of my book. In honor of the fact that I am going to The Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in less than a week, I have decided to give you more. 🙂 Pray for my journey! Pray that I will listen to the Holy Spirit, that I will be humble and available, that I will be bold and courageous, and that most of all God’s will is accomplished!

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***

“I’ve been brainwashed. The unexpected thought tugged at my mind. We were a sleepy bunch of teen girls, dragged from our beds after midnight to be lectured by an adult chaperone. Clumped together on a couple of ratty old couches, we yawned and tried to listen. I was all too aware that my alarm was going off in less than six hours. Prayer meeting started at 6:30am and if you cared at all about giving off a spiritual vibe, you would be there. Which meant getting up even earlier to shower, and blow dry and curl your hair, because for some reason curly hair was also a sign of spirituality.

Mrs. W droned on and on about cliques, and friendship, and I felt myself drifting off. Then she said it, the real reason this meeting had been called.

“It just grieved my heart, to look out the window today and see you all playing in the snow. I couldn’t tell who the boys were and who the girls were since you were all wearing snow pants.” Her voice dripped of judgmental disappointment.

Yes, at this winter youth retreat, we were all wearing snow pants to play in the snow. Shock! Horror! What?

In previous years, most of us, at least the “godly” ones, had worn skirts or culottes over our snow pants.

How do I explain culottes? They are kind of like gauchos only much, much uglier. The first ones I wore as a young teen were homemade and looked like an intensely gathered skirt with a waistband. However, unlike a skirt, if you grabbed the voluminous sides and pulled, voila, there were two sections of fabric, one for each leg. Over the years, our culottes eventually shrank down to a slightly larger version of the more familiar gaucho. We wore them when a skirt was a health hazard, such as swimming, horseback riding, or downhill skiing. However, it should be noted that downhill skiing in culottes, even skinnier ones, feels a bit like skiing with two flags attached to your legs flapping wildly in the wind.

The ridiculousness of it all began to sink in. We had been dragged from our warm beds in the middle of the night to be lectured about modesty and femininity because we had failed to put another layer of clothing over top of our already poofy snow pants.

I rested my head on the shoulder of the girl next to me and stared skeptically at the woman lecturing us. An increasingly familiar feeling of rebellion crept over me. I had always been a “good girl”, one of the “godly” ones, but that was about to change. Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t rock music, or blue jeans, or college that was turning me into a rebel (like we’d been warned about). It was Jesus.

If you are at all familiar with TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting” show and have seen the Duggar family, then you have an idea of how I grew up. Only, don’t think of the “stylish” Duggars we all know now. Do me a favor and Google the 2004 version of the Duggar family. Yup, that was me: long hair, awkward bangs, homemade jumpers and all.

My siblings and I were homeschooled before homeschooling was a thing. We were educated at home back in the day when kids like us were afraid of the yellow school bus (there were occasional conflicts with a local school district). Back when grocery store clerks had to scrape their chins off the floor when we told them why we weren’t in school. “Is that even legal?” was a commonly heard question.

Obviously, not all homeschoolers are Duggar-ish. How did I end up at a youth retreat getting lectured about snow pants at midnight? The short answer is that my parents joined a cult…

I’m skipping this section because you can read it on my blog. Just follow the link above.

“Once I “got out” I chose to close the door on my past. After being chased through Cedar Point by a former friend so that they could yell at me about my new cartilage piercing, I just needed to be done. We were no longer attending the cultic church, so I moved on and started college. (I might have still worn homemade jumpers and had waist-length hair my first year, but hey, it was a step in the right direction.) I told new friends that I had been homeschooled in a conservative Christian home and that was all. My husband didn’t even learn the truth about my past until we had been married for over five years.

A few years ago, I started to get connected with former ATI students and people who had been influenced by Bill Gothard’s teachings. Many of them were no longer Christians. Having been burned by the version of Christianity they experienced, they wanted nothing to do with God, Jesus, or church. I didn’t blame them, but it made me wonder. Why was I still a Christian? Why hadn’t I run away? I started to go back and process for the first time in over a decade. As I worked my way through memories and former ways of thinking, I came to a simple conclusion. I met Jesus. He became so real to me, even while I was in the cult, that I couldn’t leave Him behind. I left the legalism and lies, but I couldn’t leave Jesus. After all, He was the one who showed me I’d been brainwashed.

One afternoon, after an online interaction with some of my former “cult-mates”, I found myself in my basement doing laundry and talking to Jesus. It broke my heart to hear from people who had such misconceptions of God and who didn’t want to give Jesus another chance. I got it, but I hurt for them. Sitting on my basement floor, with tears rolling down my cheeks, I whispered “I just want to represent You well.” And the Holy Spirit whispered back to my heart, “Write. Tell your story.” So, here I am.

It’s not just people raised in a Christian cult who are walking out on the church and Christianity. Many “normal” people raised in good, “normal” churches are leaving their former faith as well. Recognizing this growing trend, I started to wonder if there was a common thread. What if people across the board are leaving the religion and tradition of Christianity because they have never met Jesus? I think this common thread is what makes my rather extreme story universal.

Think of me as the Samaritan woman at the well, in John chapter four. I met this amazing, radical, mind-blowing man named Jesus. He changed my life, and I want you to meet Him too. It is my prayer that as you read this book and hear some crazy stories, you will consider lies you might be believing, and question your own view of God and Christianity. By the end, I pray you will be able to say with the people of Samaria, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” John 4:42.”

I hope you enjoyed that sneak peak! Thank you for your prayers as I take the next scary but exciting step forward. 🙂

“The Cult Next Door” A Documentary

Does your voice sound strange to you when you hear it on a recording? Tell me I’m not the only one! I always think, “Oh gosh, do I really sound like that?” No one else seems to notice because, yes, I really sound like that and everyone is used to it. It’s even worse to watch myself on tape. Yikes!

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I’ve done two on-camera interviews over the years, and both times were…unique. The first interview was for the Bible school we went to after we got married. We were supposed to answer the questions with scripted answers put into our own words. I couldn’t get my lines right and it felt silly, so in the finished project, my husband does most of the talking and I just look like I’m about to burst into giggles at any moment.

Our second interview was a couple of years ago in Israel. We were supposed to talk about the tour we were on but had no script. We were on top of a building having lunch. I’m squinting in the sun trying to come up with something to say. Awkward!

I’m not overly comfortable on camera. So what am I doing in this picture, obviously being interviewed? 

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Photo courtesy of Youngman Films

In November, I was contacted by a gentleman, Jake Youngman, who was working on an investigative documentary focused on my old cult leader, Bill Gothard, and his organization, The Institute in Basic Life Principles.

I am more passionate about exposing the truth than I am uncomfortable being on camera. And so, Jake and I talked on the phone and then met twice to do interviews. Even though it was sometimes awkward, in the end, I’m very happy to have been a part of this project!

The documentary, “The Cult Next Door” was released online last night and I am excited to be able to share it with you.

Bill Gothard has had more influence on Evangelical Christianity in the past fifty years than we may ever know. Hundreds of thousands of Christian men and women attended his seminars and were influenced by his faulty belief system and blatant lies. Many of them never went farther into his cult, never joined his homeschool program, or believed he was a “messenger from God”. Many attendees probably never recognized how Gothard’s teachings skewed their view of God or His “principles”, and yet they carried those subtle lies into their churches, seminaries, ministries, and homes. They in turn influenced many others.

My goal in life is not to expose Bill Gothard, but to point people to the real Jesus.  It’s overwhelming to try to identify and correct all the many lies spread throughout Christianity. But, I know that if people begin to search for and find the real Jesus, He will show them the truth about who He is and who we are because of Him. I know that the real Jesus is fully capable of revealing truth and exposing lies. So, I will continue to talk about Him and point people to Him with every bit of my energy for the rest of my life. That is my passion.

The Cult Next Door (Official Short Film) from Youngman Films on Vimeo.

The Duggars, Bill Gothard, and Me

TLC’s favorite super-sized, conservative, homeschooling family, lately receiving less than positive attention. The founder of the Institute in Basic Life Principles, who stepped down in 2014 amid allegations of sexual harassment stemming back into the 1970s. And me, a pastor’s wife, mother of two, and blogger just trying to live a “normal” life. What could we possibly have in common? Actually, more than I want to admit.

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This is me hiking (yes, hiking!) in 2001. Look familiar at all? The Duggar girls are actually more stylish than we ever were. 😛

And here I am, also in 2001, wearing my navy and white (a requirement) while working at one of Bill Gothard’s Basic Seminars.

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The Duggars are avid followers of Bill Gothard, although they have tried to distance themselves a little bit since the allegations came out in 2014. They use his homeschool curriculum (if you can call it that), and so did my family.

If you’ve read some of my other posts, you will know that I began to question a lot of Gothard’s teachings as I grew in a relationship with the real Jesus of the real Bible. (Who you will find, if you read it in context without someone twisting everything to meet their own agenda.)

The Duggar’s first appeared on TV in 2004. I was only two years “out” at this point and their original photographs (which you can find here) practically gave me a panic attack. (Okay, honestly, they still do.) I identified with this kind of family. We went to the “crazy church” with them. I had a friend who was still stuck being Cinderella in her large family with parents who wouldn’t let her leave. It was all too familiar, including the “facade of perfection” while dysfunction reigned underneath. I couldn’t talk about the Duggars for years without getting angry and emotional. So, mostly I just ignored their existence as much as possible.

I also didn’t talk much about Bill Gothard and his cultic organization until about two years ago. I would tell people that I was raised in a conservative Christian home. In reality there was tons more to the sub-culture I lived in, but it was incredibly hard to explain without sounding insane. So, I just tried to leave it all behind.

Everything changed for me two years ago when Recovering Grace (a website run by former students of Gothard’s “curriculum”) began to expose not only an incredible number of women who accused Bill Gothard of sexually harassing them, but also began to publish information and testimonies from people back in the 1970s and 80s that showed corruption in his organization and personal life. Suddenly all my doubts and questions and hesitations seemed vindicated. I’d known for years that something was off in his teachings, but Recovering Grace put words to my feelings.

I joined a support group Recovering Grace runs for those recovering from Bill Gothard’s teachings and tried to reach out to confused and damaged people, tried to share the real Jesus and real gospel of grace that I had found. My blog happened soon after; I became passionate about sharing truth as I noticed the ways Gothard’s lies have infiltrated “normal” Christian people and churches.

So, why am blogging about my connection to the Duggars and Bill Gothard right now? Because, believe it or not, Gothard is trying to start a new “ministry”, “seminar”, whatever. It’s the same old garbage, with a new name. You can find a link to his page here. The same vague wording with grandiose promises if you follow his secret steps. He posted on Facebook about it yesterday. (Or one of his minions did; I doubt Gothard himself is on Facebook.) And a bunch of us from my support group began to ask questions and post comments. They were quickly deleted by the “moderator” of the page. Anything that was questioning or negative was deleted and only the positive, encouraging comments were left up. Here is a screen shot of my comment, which had over 10 likes in a matter of five minutes before it was taken down.

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There is something screwy when a “Christian” organization can’t deal with criticism that their teachings don’t line up with the gospel!

So, why am I writing this post? For the same reason I write this blog. I am passionate about the truth! The truth that I believe is found solely in Jesus Christ. I’m writing in the hopes that someone who is looking for truth will find this post. I’m hoping they will read some other posts I’ve written and start to question themselves. I’m hoping to point people to Recovering Grace because they have a ton of resources showing the problems with Gothard and his teachings. But most of all, I’m writing because I am obsessed with Jesus and His grace, love, and forgiveness that He freely gives to all who believe. John 3:16-18