Control: A Black Woman’s Response To The GC2 Summit
When I first heard that people like Ed Stetzer and Beth Moore were hosting the GC2 Summit, a conference about sexual assault in the church, my first thought was “They’ve got a lot of fucking nerve”. Ed, Beth, and a lot of the conference organizers have a well documented history of upholding the patriarchal, misogynist system that protects abusers and shames victims. On top of that, the conference title originally had the #ChurchToo hashtag in it with no mention of the the hashtag creators, Emily Joy and Hannah Paasch. I was angry but not surprised; this conference is evangelical culture’s way of trying to appropriate and control a narrative that makes them look bad, and there was no way they were going to allow two women, queer women who reject their oppression, make them look like the bad guys.
I was born and raised in the Assemblies of God, an evangelical Pentecostal denomination that has millions of adherents worldwide. Like most evangelical churches, purity culture was a cornerstone of any teaching related to sexuality. When I was 12 years old, my youth group completed the True Love Waits program and we were each given purity rings in a pseudo-wedding ceremony where the girls were told to wear white. From that moment on, I was indoctrinated with shameful, victim blaming rhetoric that disproportionately affects women: sex before marriage is a sin and will ruin your chances of having a godly marriage. Dress modestly in order to not tempt men, and if you do tempt them, it’s your fault. Once you’re married, you owe your husband sex no matter what (women always had husbands, because being gay is bad). Sex was a necessary duty to be provided to the husband for the purpose of having children, and depending on how conservative your church was, sexual pleasure was either secondary, unnecessary, or outright sinful:“Have sex, but don’t actually enjoy it.” Masturbation was forbidden. Any sexual thought or feeling you have before heterosexual marriage was a sin against God and considered cheating on your future spouse. After marriage, your spouse is your only source for emotional and relational fulfillment. Marriage for the evangelical Christian woman is complete dominance and dependence on a man, ‘till death do you part.
I wasn’t taught anything about consent, sexual ethics, or how to safely explore or express my sexuality. I didn’t even know much about my own anatomy. I was sent out into the world as a very repressed individual with very little understanding of who I was as a sexual being or how to identify red flags and inappropriate behavior. This left me vulnerable to becoming a victim of sexual assault with no support and no way to obtain justice. When sexual assault and abuse did happen to me, it took me years to recognize it because I had no idea what it looked like. It took about 8 years for me to realize I had been groomed and assaulted while attending my evangelical Christian university. Just this year, with the help of my therapist, I concluded that I had been sexually assaulted about 6–7 years ago while attending my previous church. Along with these incidents I had spent a lifetime being abused by my father, the majority of his behavior flying under the radar because the church encouraged and enabled it.
When a woman in evangelical culture steps forward and says they were assaulted, not only is there is no path for recourse, we’re shamed and rejected. We’re accused of lying, of “ruining the church’s witness”. We’re interrogated about where we were, what we were wearing, and what we were doing. We’re forced to forgive our abusers, especially if they were a pastor or anyone in a position of authority. Everything is swept under the rug while the victim is silenced; a man’s power, his ego, and his connection to God are always more important than the lives of his victims.
Sometimes the victim will be taken seriously, but only if they fit into the church’s idea of what a victim looks like: white and female. Thin and conventionally attractive. Straight. If they’re single they must be a virgin. And most importantly, they must apologize for their role in the abuse, pray for healing, and never hold the abuser accountable. Purity culture grooms women to be victims, tells them they’re complicit in their own abuse, and convinces them it would be in their best interest to give up control of their narrative in order to protect the abusers and the church. It’s coerced forgiveness, which isn’t really forgiveness at all. It’s gaslighting.
Now, let me take everything I’ve laid out here and apply the lens of my blackness. In our racist culture, black women’s bodies are hypersexualized, no matter what we’re wearing or doing. Purity culture seeks to control women’s sexuality, and its racism doubles down that control on black women. We are less likely to be believed or taken seriously when coming forward about abuse and assault: an excellent example of this is how R. Kelly continued to have a career despite allegations of rape and abuse becoming public knowledge in the early 2000s. The media portrays young black girls as adults and erases their inability to consent. Victim blaming comes in the form of being told they were acting “too grown” or “fast”.
The imagery of me, a young black girl, being taught by older white men how to act, how to dress, and how to enact my sexuality is fraught with all kind of oppression and power imbalances. Because evangelical theology is white supremacist theology, the burden of being a woman in purity culture was supplemented with misogynoir, a term that literally means “hatred of black women”. There’s authoritarianism because I was never allowed to question God or the people in charge. There’s grooming because I was being shaped by older men into their preferred image of what a woman should be. After coming out as bisexual last year I realized how much homophobia and biphobia I had internalized via the evangelical church’s teachings about sexuality. Even my fatness played a role: fat bodies are viewed as being “out of control” and need to be contained (read: made thinner). I was told to dress modestly not just to avoid tempting men, but also to make myself smaller and more acceptable. This set me up for failure: no matter how much I covered my gluttonous self, I’d always be considered immodest because my body is too big.
Majority of the #ChurchToo stories I’ve read have been from women who fit the “acceptable victim” narrative. White, thin, conventionally pretty, straight; essentially the opposite of what I am. According to evangelical culture, they have performed their femininity correctly. Yet, when they come forward, they are abused, harassed, and gaslit. When Jules Woodson stepped up and discussed her assault, her abuser, Andy Savage, was given a standing ovation after sharing a tearful non-apology with his congregation. Moments like that are one of the things that keep me from coming forward with details about my assaults. If that’s how someone like Jules is treated, then how they’ll treat me, a queer black woman, would be much worse. I remember thinking to myself “If they won’t listen to a white woman, there’s no way they’ll listen to me.” Moments like that silence other victims, which I guess is the point.
The fact that the GC2 Summit exists is a sign that the evangelical establishment is rattled by #ChurchToo and the visibility of church abuse victims. They tried ignoring us at first, brushing it under the rug and hoping it would go away. But the survivors’ insistence on being heard has kickstarted evangelical culture’s desire to control the narrative. Now they’re creating the appearance of handling the problem, and after that’s done they’ll pat themselves on the back and go right back to upholding their abusive theology while profiting off of the silence and pain of victims.
This conference is meant to give the illusion that they care about survivors and fixing the problem; in reality they only care about protecting themselves and their privilege. Just yesterday, Ed Stetzer wrote an article in Christianity Today where he said “Some will say that evangelical beliefs are the problem, and we particularly understand that may come from some who have been hurt by evangelical churches.” Portraying anyone who disagrees with evangelical theology as “hurt” or “bitter” is a common tactic meant to discredit our ideas and experiences.
Until people like Ed and Beth admit their complicity and begin dismantling purity culture, white supremacy, homophobia, and other oppressions that are inherent in the evangelical church, change will never happen and the cycle of abuse will continue. The evangelical church is uninterested in and incapable of cleaning up the mess they made or providing restorative justice for the people they hurt, and the GC2 Summit is just the latest example of their lack of integrity.