This week, Rachel Held Evans is hosting a series on sex abuse in the Evangelical church. The first two entries in her series are available now. A trigger warning applies to all entries. In addition, a week-long series on spiritual abuse (again, this may or may not include sexual abuse by clergy) is also ongoing.
I’ve documented my own experiences with spiritual abuse fairly extensively, on this blog and for outlets like Feministing.com. My story is, I think, fairly typical for women raised in conservative Evangelical churches, particularly those exposed to domestic violence. Even as a child I understood that this male-dominated system did not recognize the authority of my experiences and so I kept silent for many years. Later, as a college student, I saw this system at its worst. Cedarville University cared so little for the subject of abuse that it neglected to comply with Title IX legislation on rape reporting policies. As far as students knew, no policy existed. If it did exist, the university did not publicize it. And so again, many of us endured in silence, convinced justice would remain out of our reach.
It’s difficult to fight when you believe your efforts are predestined to fail. It is an exhausting thing to oppose the hierarchy that dominates Christian churches and schools in the United States. It is especially draining when it is all you know, and opposing it means risking your status in the only community you’ve ever really known. And it seems impossible, too, to translate this experience to the secular world. What place is there for those of us who need to criticize the church for its failures if we wish to avoid a different sort of a fundamentalism, manifest in the rigidity of secularists like Richard Dawkins? I have one foot in the church still, and another in the secular world, and I can tell you that neither listens very well.
It is my hope that the stories that emerge from the series I’ve linked to in this post will challenge members of both communities and result in a radically healthier dialogue. Religious women who experience abuse are often doubly ostracized, first by their communities, and second by a world that characterizes their sincerely held beliefs as archaic, or even attributes abuse to those beliefs. As the backlash to Zerlina Maxwell demonstrates, the failure to respond adequately to abuse is not restricted to the church. I believe we can combine discussions, and unite across cultural divides to oppose rape culture at church, at home, at school, on the Internet. In fact, I believe that’s the only way we’ll ever successfully defeat rape culture.
I look forward to the rest of this week’s entries.