Accidental Feminist

feminist theology Dismantling patriarchal (male dominated) religion is an important focus of feminism.  But, it’s not just feminism that suffers from a patriarchal religion.  It’s painful for anyone who has suffered abuse from a father or father-figure.  And that’s a lot of us.

I’m an amateur theologian, so I’m not sure when God was first characterized as a male parent figure.  But, in my recollection of the stories of Abraham and Moses, God was God – like no other.  Moses even asked God “whom shall I say that you are?” and God replied “I am that I am.”  Somewhere along the way, God became Father in a lot of religious circles.

It’s not to say that there aren’t abusive matriarchal households too.  But statistically, most abuse is perpetrated by males in power.  If you were raised in an abusive household, you likely spent your formative years hearing a male voice telling you what to do, what to think and what to say.  And, you were likely taught that you were flawed, defective, expendable and/or worthless. Is it any wonder, then, that you feel uncomfortable with corporate prayer in church, telling what to believe, and that you are flawed, defective and/or worthless without God?

Some Christian churches  actually glorify sacrificial physical abuse.  Rather than preach about Christ’s life, message and ministry, they define salvation through the humiliation, physical beating, and even death of an innocent…orchestrated by his Father.  Is it any wonder, then, that an abused child in that church feels that they should not object to, speak out about, or even question what happened to them?  Is it any wonder that glorifying a body being broken and blood being shed, while at the same time asking your Father for forgiveness might be a destructive ritual, rather than a redemptive act for someone whose body has been broken by his/her father, grandfather, minister, teacher, or priest?

Did you ever think it was just you? – unable to sit in church, reading a pre-prepared confession, chanting along with a man in power up front, asking for forgiveness, – without becoming more angry by the second?  Have you ever cringed at the message that religion is basically made up of a set of rules created by your Heavenly Father?  It is not just you.  It is me too, and it continues to be thousands of others.  And, it was not your sin that needed to be forgiven.

Changing to non-parental images of God (or at least offering them) , including alternative voices in worship, and offering communion as a celebration of life and ministry are lifelines for survivors of abuse.  Much of these ideas have been demanded by Feminist Theology.  Maybe it’s time Survivors take it a step further and demand new conversations in our churches, mosques and synagogues about making worship a healing place for survivors, instead of place of glorification of abuse.

My God is a Messy God

This post is the first in a series exploring religion in the context of being a survivor of sexual abuse.  Jackie and I are very interested in this topic and have seen how conservative religious dogma has historically been demeaning to survivors.  Rather than walk away from religion, we would like to face it head-on and demand change.

messy  god

“Perhaps real wisdom lies in not seeking answers at all. Any answer we find will not be true for long. An answer is a place where we can fall asleep as life moves past us to its next question. After all these years I have begun to wonder if the secret of living well is not in having all the answers but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.”
Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather’s Blessings : Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging

“My Grandfather’s Blessings” is the only book I have read multiple times.  Usually, when I finish a book, I give it away and start on a new one.  But this book is like a comfy blanket that makes me feel all wonderful inside.  It’s full of stories of hope and healing.

Rachel also writes in this book that Meaning is the language of the soul.  I believe this.  I think we all search for meaning.  I also think that far too many religious people have instead settled for explanations.  I have even heard religious people say that if you can’t rely on specific “truths” in the Bible, then religion is meaningless.  I could not disagree with this more.

It’s not that I don’t believe in truth.  I do.  I believe in meaningful truth, not explanational truth.  The best example of settling for an explanation vs. searching for meaning is found in the overused phrase “It’s all in God’s plan.”  No.  No, no, no.  God has a Desire for all of creation.  God’s desire gives meaning to everything in life.  But saying “God has a Plan” that will someday be revealed in the face of senseless, horrible experiences is a cop-out for trying to explain the unexplainable.

Saying “God has a Plan” heaps more damage on an already-wounded person who has survived sexual abuse.  No-one planned the abuse that happened to you, other than the abuser.  Certainly God didn’t!  What message do we send to a victim of abuse with this theology???  “You’re an expendable part of a greater plan.”

I have found it very helpful to apply a Third World Test to religious belief.  Because God is also the God of people who live and die every day with famine, genocide and violence, a valid religious belief should be one that you could defend while looking a third world person in the eye.  It may sound comforting to explain our troubles with a Grand Design, or a lesson orchestrated or imposed by God, but you know that famine and pestilence don’t work in this paradigm.

Another theological phrase that doesn’t pass the Third World Test is, “there’s a reason for everything”.  Nope, Sorry.  Many things happen randomly, with no reason.  As spiritual beings, we can seek (not necessarily find) meaning in everything that happens to us.  And where there is no meaning, we can either create one by moving forward and working for change, or walk away from it without requiring an explanation.  We don’t need to attribute luck to God in order to be faithful.  It’s not that neat and tidy.

My God is a messy God, an omnipresent God, a loving God.  My God is an awe-some God.  My God does not need all the answers to be God.  And my God doesn’t require us to be certain in order to be faithful.

If you are a survivor of sexual abuse and you have been turned off by religion, please know that there are faithful believers who struggle with you.  Religion doesn’t need to be reduced to trite catch-phrases that dishonor the pain you have endured or try to make you responsible for finding an explanation for the random, senseless violence that was perpetrated on you.

There are several resources for exploring a questioning faith, including a few of my favorites: Living the Questions, Progressive Christian Theology, Kissing FishNALT (Not All Like That), and “My Grandfather’s Blessings.”  These are all mainly Judeo-Christian resources.  I’m sure there are similar meaningful resources in all religions.  Just keep pursuing unanswerable questions and you will find yourself in good company.

What religious teachings don’t pass your test?


Even if…

I once got pick-pocketed and thanked the thief who robbed me! Seriously. Who does that?? A kind-hearted person, who was preyed upon by a criminal – that’s who. I used to be really embarrassed that I actually thanked a robber until I realized that I had nothing to be ashamed of.

I was traveling in a foreign country. I was in the company of a native, whom I knew and trusted. A few years earlier, my husband and I had hosted a foreign exchange student. We were riding the subway in downtown Madrid with our former exchange-student when it happened. I was wearing a fanny pack with my driver’s license, some cash and a credit card. The subway was very crowded, so we were all standing very close to one another. A man tapped me on the shoulder, and pointed out to me that there was something really gross on my right shoulder. He started “helping me” get it off, making quite a production of it. This little drama allowed his partner to unzip my pack and remove its contents easily while I was distracted. When the train doors opened at the next stop, the object finally came lose and the man who was “helping me” got off the train. As he left, I smiled and waved, telling him “Gracias!”

A few minutes later, when I realized what had happened, I felt more violated by the fact that I had thanked him than I did about the loss of my card and license.

If you listen to rape culture, and apply its thinking, I wasn’t really robbed. After all, I am a generous person, so I might have given him the money if I were asked, and I knowingly went into a risky environment, wearing my valuables in plain sight. And, then there’s the fact that I not only didn’t object, I thanked him. No one is that naïve, right?

The minister who raped me at 15 also robbed me. He robbed me of my innocence and my virginity. And just because I didn’t object, and even though I worshiped him and thought he loved me, it was still rape. Once I realized the crime that was committed on me, I was very ashamed and embarrassed that I was used and abused in this way and so naïve…until I realized that I have nothing to be ashamed of.  I was a kind-hearted person who was preyed upon by a criminal.

Almost everyone who is sexually abused is somehow made to think that they were at least partially to blame, but that is a lie. Please, don’t believe it. Even if you didn’t object. Even if you thanked him. Even if…