One week ago I wrote an open letter to Dr. James Dobson and posted it on my blog.
Then the next day there was some kind of a rare hunter's super moon, and all the women in my care tried to go into labor at the same time. Off I went to deliver babies for several nights in a row. When I checked back on my blog, I saw it had kind of blown up- 113,000 views and over 100 comments and counting. Certainly a record for my corner of the internet, definitely indicating I hit a nerve or two. The numbers were frankly terrifying. However one thing I noticed is that at least half of the people commenting and probably also reading completely missed my point.
Some people thought I wrote my blog to (just) to rant on Trump. (I didn't.) Some people thought I was saying Clinton isn't as bad as Trump (I wasn't), and was therefore indirectly supporting her (I don't). Some people thought it was hypocritical to point out Trump's ("minor") faults and not mention any of Clinton's ("major") ones. Some people thought I didn't care about unborn babies because I didn't mention them. (I do, deeply.) That just wasn't what I was blogging about that day.
If I had been writing a political blog about Trump versus Clinton, some of this criticism might have had some merit, but I actually wasn't. I also wasn't writing to campaign for anyone.
I wrote an open letter and addressed one Christian leader directly. In so doing, I was also attempting to address more broadly Christian leaders and their attitudes toward men's moral behavior, the treatment of women, and issues of abuse and sexual assault.
Oh, you say, is that all? Dirty talk versus real politics and the fate of the nation? Get over it. Those women are all probably lying anyway.
Except it is hard to get over something all us women live with. Almost every woman alive has a story. You would be hard pressed to find a single woman on this planet who hasn't been cat-called, addressed disrespectfully, propositioned, stalked, groped, had inappropriate sexual advances made to her, or been sexually assaulted or abused in some way in her lifetime. #metoo
Along with that experience, the majority of those women have a correlating, equally devastating experience. Their sexual harassment or assault or abuse was minimized or denied. The women were told no one would believe them, or, they were accused of exaggerating, lying, or having less than pure motives in reporting what happened to them. In extreme cases they were totally shunned or excommunicated from their families as well.
Sadly, the odds of both experiences are exponentially higher if they were Christians or in a religious setting.
My first experience happened at a Christian radio station where I worked when I was 19. One night when I was by myself recording commercials, the lead Christian DJ (who was married) entered the studio, came up behind me without warning and put his hands on my breasts. I pushed him away and ran out into the foyer- he followed hastily and apologized before I left. When I asked my mom and step-dad if I should say anything to the boss, I was told it would be my word against his since there were just the two of us there, and people would probably believe him instead of me, and it would hurt my reputation. And after all, "nothing really happened," so I was advised not to tell anyone. When I tried to confront the DJ later about his behavior, he became very condescending and said the real issue in the situation seemed to be mine since I couldn't forgive him.
Abusers who know the Bible love to misuse our command from Jesus to forgive and twist it into a manipulation against truth, confrontation and consequences.
So I didn't tell anyone at the station, and put in my resignation. And for a very long time I freaked out when anyone came up behind me. Although I never deliberately tuned into that station again, it was the only Christian station in our area so I would frequently have to hear this man's voice over the air for years to come.
Fast forward many years to my marriage when my husband and I were finally in counselling after several years and I was trying to talk about abuse, my fears, and what was happening to me on a daily basis. I was told things by pastors like, "You also have issues you need to work on- there are two sides to this you know." "You are over-reacting," and "You aren't really in danger, he just needs anger management."
One night I was so scared I ran out of our apartment and went to a co-worker's home to call our pastor. The co-worker and his wife were home and let me in to use the phone...and then when my husband showed up furious looking for me, they left me there alone with him. I will never forget what my young co-worker said as he turned around and looked at me before he left. "Roxanne, I'm sorry, but your husband is my boss. I'm going to let you guys work this out." The pastor I called told me to go home and say sorry and make up with him. I eventually did. It was very a bad night.
Those are some of my stories of groping and abuse being minimized, but many other people's are much worse.
There have been many high profile sexual scandal and marital abuse issues in the media, but the ones by Christians are particularly painful. Whether it is Bill Gothard, or Josh Dugger or Doug Philips one thing you will see in common is that some public opinion almost always turns viciously against the women involved. Particularly notable is what happened when Naghmeh the wife of the high profile Iranian Christian pastor Saeed Abedini came forward at the time of his release from prison, seeking protection for herself and her children through legal separation. Under great psychological and emotional distress, Naghmeh made a simple personal statement to supporters by email and said Saeed had a pornography addiction and had abused her for years emotionally, physically and sexually. For her agonizing honesty expressed privately, she got raked publicly over the coals by the Christian community and her abuse dismissed publicly by Franklin Graham:
"Not everything that has been reported in the media is true," Franklin posted on Facebook. "While we rejoice at his new freedom, we now lift him and his wife Naghmeh to the Lord for healing in their marriage. Other than God, no one knows the details and the truth of what has happened between Saeed and Naghmeh except them. There's an old saying that there are at least two sides to every story."
This is Christian-speak for "don't believe everything his wife Naghmeh has said." There were, by the way, no other "media reports" being circulated in their case he could have been referring to.
The attitudes of Christian leaders toward the women who have been assaulted or abused remains largely the same as it does in non-religious settings, if not worse. Women are just as regularly suspected of not telling the truth, of exaggerating, or of having ulterior motives. Their experiences are often minimized and dismissed as inconsequential.
In Christian circles instead of being defended, comforted, supported and protected, if women are actually believed, they are told they "must forgive," and the abuser is often let off the hook as long as he "says sorry". Married women are encouraged to stand by their man and move on for the sake of the larger issues- "not letting the devil destroy their marriage" their children, their witness, or their ministry. Single women who are molested are often shamed and the focus goes to what they were wearing or how they were acting or if they behaved inappropriately.
I will never forget where I was when one of my male relatives asked me, "just what was it" that my husband did that I would divorce him. When I replied that he was a sexual addict, addicted to pornography, abusive, and had been cheating on me for our whole marriage, his reply was, "That's it?"
This was the attitude I was confronting in James Dobson in his support of Trump. This attitude which is widespread in the church that minimizes the moral character failings of men and the pain of the women who suffer from them. This is the attitude that looks for ways to dismiss reports of inappropriate sexual behavior by men with statements like, "It was a long time ago." "He said sorry." "He has repented." "Judge not lest you be judged." "Nobody is perfect." "After all David committed adultery and he was a man after God's own heart." "It was just talk." "She's probably lying." "You have to forgive." "Two sides to every story." "It's a conspiracy."
These are not new or unique statements from Trump supporters in this election. These are statements that Christians and others have been making, and abused and molested women have been hearing over and over for a long, long time. And when they hear those statements now defending Trump, particularly by Christians who say they stand for morals, they are wounded all over again.
This, in spite of how we are supposed to be the "moral majority" and stand up for Biblical values in our culture. But if we can't even stand up for truth and morality among ourselves in our churches, for everyone including women and yes, I haven't forgotten, our precious unborn babies too, but the women are the ones who have the babies so let's start there shall we? then how are we supposed to be the moral compass of our nation?
Standing up for morality isn't sweeping reports of abuse under the carpet, nor is it blaming the victim, nor is it "praying for the marriage" when we should be helping the woman get out of an abusive situation, nor is it ignoring or minimizing reports spousal abuse or sexual misconduct by those who are in leadership in churches.
Or in those who are running for president.
One voice among prominent conservative Christian leaders has notably stood against Trump from the beginning. Max Lucado, all the way back in February wrote a piece called "Decency for President." In it he wrote about his test for someone dating his daughter. He had to be "decent." He raised concerns about how Trump behaved toward women and made the connection- the way a man treats women says volumes about his character in other areas. And then he concluded,
"I have no inside track on the intricacies of a presidential campaign. I’m a pastor. I don’t endorse candidates or place bumper stickers on my car. But I am protective of the Christian faith...."
This is where I was coming from with my letter to Dr. Dobson. Like Max Lucado, I have no inside track on the intricacies of politics and my intent last week - believe it or not- actually wasn't to write a political blog. But I am protective of the Christian faith. I care about what goes on in the church, for we are supposed to represent Jesus. And I believe our values should be consistent with our faith. If we say we stand for character and morality, (as James Dobson spent a lifetime publicly doing) then let's consistently stand for character and morality and be that moral compass.
Christians, our first citizenship is in the Kingdom of God, and we will have that Kingdom intact in our hearts no matter who becomes president in our country of residence. So let's see that we reflect the attitudes of our King in the way we are respecting and standing up for people among ourselves first, including women and yes unborn babies, and those who report abuse and sexual assault (who I should add, are not always women). We can start by taking what they have been through seriously, and by not giving their abusers a free pass.
Let's live the values we say we believe. We have one vote on one day for this election, but then we will have 1,460 days to live until the next election. If we were as passionate about living our Christian values every one of those days...
If we love our neighbors as we love ourselves,
If we do unto others as we want them to do to us,
If we treat women - and all people- the way Jesus did, and stand up for victims,
If we stick to all these Biblical values personally and in that way hold up that standard to our culture, we win, no matter who is elected.
As for me personally, I've recently made the decision to vote for Evan McMullin. I will be posting support for him on my social media, and encouraging others to consider him as a choice. But at the end of the day, no matter who is voted president, I will commit to pray daily for that individual. Because if I say I stand for Biblical values, I have to live them, not just vote for them, although the goal is to make those two things as consistent as possible.
So the point of my original blog wasn't (only) how evil Trump was, nor was I implying he was necessarily a worse choice for president than Clinton. I was instead, attempting to be a voice for women who have been abused, and to tell you how they, we, I feel when James Dobson, or any of you defend Trump, a man who reminds many of us of our abuser.