An Education

Today, I found out I had a doppleganger: an unfamiliar Twitter account with my face and name, posting things I’d never said. A surreal and even terrifying moment, even for this child of the digital age. The source of ire for the account’s creator? My support for the parody I mentioned in my last blog post: EmergentDudeBro. Inspired by Tony Jones, the account’s creator takes specific and devastatingly witty aim at public hypocrisy, whether it’s Tony Jones’ refusal to understand the meaning of white privilege or Brian McLaren’s latest fundraising campaign. I do not run this parody. I wish I ran this parody. I am actually flattered that people think I run it because I find it hilarious and also accurate. Regardless, I am not EmergentDudeBro and EmergentDudeBro is not me, though I suspect we’ve got some experiences in common.

I have repeatedly stated that I’m not EmergentDudeBro’s creator, in public and in private to figures like Jay Bakker, but that didn’t satisfy either Bakker or the creator of the account, and so someone decided to impersonate me. I don’t know who decided to do this. Based on Bakker’s earlier conviction that I’m behind EmergentDudeBro, I suspected him, but he denies it and that’s that. Tony Jones has refused to condemn this act of cyberbullying and given his own history of cyber harassment, my money’s on him. To date, he still insists that I’m a ‘meanie,’ according to his Twitter account. Apparently, applying postcolonial theory to his statements about Pentecostal Christianity in the developing world is mean.

And that brings me to my next point, or points. Let’s examine my experiences with writing about Christianity.

Age 15-16: as a student at a Christian high school, I wrote a poem about religious hypocrisy. The poem wasn’t directed at anyone or any church in particular. The school, however, refused to publish it in its literary magazine, despite having gladly published all of my previous contributions. I’m later expelled, sans any demerits, for being a ‘disturbing influence.’

Age 18: entered Cedarville University and began writing Facebook notes about gender and sexuality. Got labelled a radical. Cue four years of abuse and harassment from classmates, faculty and staff online and in person, which included hate mail and the vandalization of my property.

Age 20-21: began writing for the student newspaper. I reported on local poverty and wrote critical editorials about gender and modesty. A faction of the Board of Trustees, led by Paige Patterson (you might know him as the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) decided my writing is dangerous, and directly requested that our faculty sponsor remove me from staff. That’s right. The president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary felt threatened by a feminist editorial from a 21 year old student journalist. In protest of this and other attempts at censorship, we pulled publication. A year later, the university resumed publication of the paper–without an opinion section.

Age 21: Left the church. Quietly.

Age 22: found myself in an abusive relationship with the son of a high profile Cedarville staff member. My ex was given a job on campus and when I reported certain aspects of the abuse (not the actual sexual assault, because the school wasn’t in compliance with Title IX and therefore had no process for reporting sexual assaults, and because I was terrified), my ex kept his job and was granted a front row seat at my graduation. Decided I was probably right to forget this Christianity business.

Age 23: Finished my degree. Moved to London to pursue graduate studies in postcolonial theory–and a life free of religious abuse.

Age 24: My Christian alma mater begins systematically removing faculty deemed liberal. Graduated from Goldsmiths, University of London without having experienced a single incident of censorship, harassment or abuse.

Age 25: Finally came forward about my experience with sexual assault. Cedarville began an investigation but since it still didn’t comply with Title IX, I filed an official complaint with the Civil Rights Office of the Department of Education. Continued to blog about American religion, from a postcolonial and feminist perspective. My tiny blog and its tiny following somehow earn me the ire of Tony Jones, who decides that I’m mean and refuses to engage my critique or the even more valid critiques offered by women of color. Offered my support for a parody account with maybe one third of Tony Jones’ following and found myself the subject of unrelenting harassment that escalated until someone decided to steal my identity.

The object of this timeline isn’t to incur sympathy. I know people, outside the church and within it, with experiences far worse than my own. Nor do I think of myself as a martyr. I’m not a public figure and I don’t particularly seek to be one; I have other priorities, like pursuing a civil rights complaint against my hypocritical mess of an alma mater. I write because I love to write and I write about the things I write about because I feel that they’re important. If you’re a public figure and you publish racially insensitive comments in the name of Christ, of course I’m going to write about that. Unless I engage in ad hominem attacks, I’m not being mean. I’m using my brain in public. Just like you did.

And my consistent experience with using my brain around Christians, especially Christian men? See above. I have not once spoken from a position of power. I have never enjoyed a large public platform. Yet I am consistently dismissed and harassed and silenced by people in power, people to whom I pose no actual threat.

That, Tony Jones, is ‘mean.’ That is privilege in action. That is what is like to be a woman in the church (or outside it) with opinions about the men who lead it. It’s not satirical to steal the identity of a woman with a fraction of your online following and appropriate her voice. That’s actually abusive behavior. It’s about power and retaining dominance. It’s behavior I’d expect from my abusive ex-boyfriend, not from men who expect people to seriously consider them as public leaders and thinkers. If this is your response to criticism, and to satire–a satire that I didn’t even start–then that tells me all I really need to know about you and the  movement you represent: it is not for me. There is no spiritual home for me there. And you do not offer an alternative to the fundamentalist environments I described earlier in this post. You offer me more of the same.

Thanks, but no thanks. It’s safer in the wilderness.


8 thoughts on “An Education

  1. Wow, Sarah, if Tony is behind the parady, I would be so disappointed. I would expect more. Emergent “theology” saved me in do many ways which I won’t go into here. But I found the conversation to be limited. Never felt theological or philosophical enough to participate in the conversations or blogs. I had to pull out my philosophy notes from Cedarville (35 years ago…) just to understand what anyone was saying. And it was/is dismissive of women. I’m not a stupid woman. Am a professional and successful woman. But I felt stupid and not relevant. I still try to live the life I believe Jesus modeled, not because I think I will go to hell if I don’t or heaven if I do. Don’t believe in either. I just believe its a better way. Love you, Sarah, for your courage and using your voice for what you believe.

    • He’s got a history of really hostile behavior, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s him. And he’s still refused to condemn whoever did it. In fact, he has me blocked on Twitter.

      And I see a lot of arrogance in the Emergent movement. If you dissent, you’re just not educated enough to understand the original point. Or you’ve deliberately misconstrued the sentiment. I see no willingness to step forward and simply admit to wrongdoing. That’s frustrating. I used to empathize with the Emergent movement, but at this point I don’t see much of value in it any longer.

      Thanks for being such a consistent voice of support 🙂

  2. so much of your experience resonated with me. thank you for sharing and for writing and putting yourself out there and not giving up.
    whoever is impersonating you, it seems, would love to silence you. I hope they get a wake up call… life is so much bigger than this; love is much more important than winning an argument, and there’s no love in stealing someone’s identity and attempting to silence them.

    • Thank you so much for the support! Tony Jones et al really don’t seem to believe there’s a difference between a.) a satire account, clearly labelled as satire, directed at a movement and b.) the deliberate theft of someone’s identity. Which is disturbing.

  3. Like Becca said, so much of what you said resonates with my experience of moving away from evangelical Christianity…yet I did so with all the privilege that my gender provides. I certainly felt unsafe and unwelcome at times, but never to the extent that you did. No doubt that our genders played a major role in the ways that people treated us, despite similar views and actions. Thank you for this, as this post was a bit of a re-education for me as well.

    I still think that the emergent movement is really helpful to get many people to a certain point…but it’s got some serious walls and glass ceilings that its current gatekeepers appear clueless as to how to navigate.

    I hate that you’ve had to go through this recent crap, but I’m glad it has pointed me to your blog and twitter feed!

  4. I can sympathize with the last line ‘it’s safer in the wilderness’.
    I expected that a more liberal Christianity would provide the answers and the love and grace I was looking for but there seemed to be a lot more of the same us/them, exclusivity and lack of welcoming grace. And the recent glitter-tits kerfluffle reinforced that for me.
    I wrote vaguely about my thoughts on leaving the church here, your line about the wilderness reminded me of my ending (and as a writer, I was rather proud of the ending to this one 😉 )

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