Dear Karen: Your Discomfort is Important
You don’t like to hear stories of abuse.
You especially don’t like it when I call something traumatic or abusive when good intentions are involved. Almost anything can be forgiven when the doer meant well.
And church? Well, that’s kind of off-limits altogether. Christians all mean well. You don’t want the institution damaged with stories of abuse and trauma. That makes you uncomfortable.
“Nobody’s perfect,” seems a good defense. “It’s all in good fun.” Falwell even used it, his pants open, drink in hand. “I’m going to try to be a good boy from here on out.”
Wait. Let’s not talk about Falwell. He’s a sensitive territory for you. He leads a very large evangelical institution, like one of the biggest. And his news headlines got a lot worse than the yacht and the nanny; that was before the pool boy.
And you’re right. If we don’t talk about it, things will quiet down, and people will move onto the next thing. That’s a well-established neuro connection for both of us.
I’ve been doing that for you a lot, actually: staying quiet until things calm down and people move onto the next thing. Remember how you didn’t know about the abuse for almost twenty years? That’s what I did for you. I knew it would make you uncomfortable, so we just didn’t go there. Too much drama, right?
Nobody likes drama. Especially when they’re in the middle of something else and didn’t see drama coming. It’s kind of like getting raped in your sleep on your wedding night.
Oh. Does that sound extreme? I thought it did too. After all, my wedding night had been much hyped-up event. I’d saved myself for marriage, remember? I stayed pure. I fended off hands and rebuffed kisses and prayed for the desire to be taken from me. And weirdly, I got an answer to my prayer, because after getting raped three times on my virginal night, the desire was taken from me.
I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to insert a traumatic memory into the conversation. Yes, I see how that’s uncomfortable. I can feel it too, actually, because that’s how it is every day for me. I’m just cruising along in a conversation or doing my work or whatever and BAM. There’s a mention of head-of-household voting at the RNC in the news, and suddenly I’m back there, getting excommunicated for being an unsubmissive wife.
Silly journalists. They’re shocked by it. They think comparisons of Gilead are still exaggerations. They don’t know how the complementarians spank their wives as if they were children. Oh? You didn’t either? Well, I’m not surprised. Most people don’t talk about it. They don’t like to talk about it because it makes people uncomfortable.
Yes, they are a bit on the fringe, the complementarians. Only… John MacArthur is a complementarian, and he was head of the Southern Baptist Convention. And Michael Pearl has been publishing books on extreme discipline for over twenty years. His books get passed around in all kinds of churches and groups. Dale Partridge is a fan, and he has over 100k followers on Twitter. He did on Instagram as well, until a podcaster named God is Grey hit his battleship. He’s reduced his personal account, his wife’s seems gone, and he redirected to his business account.
God is Grey. Brenda Marie Davies. She interviewed Stelle, formerly Savoury Jacobson, the daughter of Dale’s mentor. She has another video on Dale himself. There was some fallout from it.
What kind? Awareness, mostly. Lots of parents didn’t know the underbelly of those teachings at all. They were lured in with the shiny Insta images and hipster aesthetic. Looking good is a pretty solid gateway drug.
Yes, underbelly. Extreme child discipline is one way to put it. Child abuse is another. Kids have died due to Pearl’s methods. He advocates spanking infants with lengths of plumbing supply and refers to babies as…
Oh, I’m sorry. I’ve made you uncomfortable again. I know, I know. It’s unpleasant. “Spare the rod and spoil the child…”
No, it’s not scripture. That line isn’t anywhere in the Bible. Look, I get it. That squirmy feeling in your stomach. It’s called empathy. You were empathizing with the baby just now.
The spanked baby. I saw you cringe.
I know. You’re not a monster. Anyone would empathize with a baby, except the ones doing it. And they only get to keep doing it because so few people know about it.
You’re right! People should know about it. But that means they have to talk about it. Things will get… uncomfortable.
Oh, you’re willing? I’m glad. The discomfort that leads to empathy is what makes things change. There’s real hope when you do that.
I agree. Michael Pearl should be investigated. He should receive a cease and desist on publishing those books. Personally, I think existing copies should be burned. He’s not alone, though. There’s a whole protestant patriarchy who thinks it’s okay to put down women and deny them educations and a vote. To preach violence. To put women who get a divorce under church discipline. They preach it so well that women themselves buy-in.
Church discipline? Yes, it still happens. It happened at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville just this year. Gosh, now that you’re willing to listen, there’s so much to tell you. I haven’t even mentioned Vision Forum.
You know, it was never my intention to hurt you. I had good intentions too. I just wanted to tell you the truth, so you’d empathize and give me hope we could make it change. I don’t want anyone else to go through what I did.
I’m not trying to smear good people. I’m trying to tell the truth about the bad things that were done to me, that impacted me and our relationship. They changed my life. They made me feel small as if my story and life didn’t matter. I have friends on this journey, too — we call the process deconstruction and trauma recovery. We’re healing together. We’re a tribe. A congregation, if you will. None of us are trying to hurt anyone else. In fact, it’s the opposite.
I mean, when someone starts telling the truth about something they’ve kept hidden for a long time, the truth of the truth is what’s most important. More than tact. More than taking care of other people’s feelings. Suddenly the truthful answers are the only thing that matters. And those answers come in pieces, not always all at once. And we’re actually not trying to go through this alone, in isolation. We want a witness. We want community. We want love and acceptance.
That’s why your discomfort matters. Because if you didn’t feel uncomfortable with these truths, something would be wrong with you. You’d be one of the monsters, and I know you aren’t. I want you to understand. I want your empathy and witness. I want your love and acceptance. You’ve always been important to me, and I don’t want that to change.
But I won’t stay small to maintain it.
I won’t ignore the conflict and let it poison me from within. I won’t push down the memories and suppress the feelings to spare an institution or leadership that should be held accountable. I’m worth more than that. I deserve to take up space in the universe.
I’m going to speak. I’m going to tell. It’s what I’m here for.
I hope it makes you uncomfortable. It should. Your discomfort is important.