A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Consent is Everything by Christopher Jones – a reblog

We think that our readers, especially those who are victim/survivors of abuse, will find this article very encouraging!  Christian men so rarely say what Christopher Jones says in his article Consent is Everything, which can be found at Christopher’s website, partial flow. Thank you Christopher for giving permission to reblog your article!

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This post contains language that could be triggering for people who have suffered sexual violence.

If you were a pastor, and a member of your congregation told you that their spouse had secretly filmed them having sex, would you consider it abuse? If one of a christian couple physically restrained their partner to have sex with them against their will, would you call that rape? What if they didn’t physically restrain them, but they did manipulate and threaten them? I suppose the answer depends on whether or not these things occur while you are a member of an OPC or a PCA church. Yes, it turns out that while “The World” seems perfectly clear about these things, actual pastors in the OPC and PCA who found themselves confronted with these exact situations in their churches told the victims that they hadn’t been abused at all. Their reason? According to them, consent is irrelevant to a Christian sexual ethic.

My gut reaction on encountering this information was that these pastors should be defrocked and the sessions disciplined. By refusing to address abuse, they are complicit in it. By manipulating or bullying victims into not reporting abuse, they become perpetrators of abuse themselves. Such men are wolves, no matter how pretty their pulpit words may be. You don’t need to know the details of those cases to agree with me here. The issue is that before the details of the case can come to adjudication, their refusal to consider the consent of the abused relevant to the case already determines the outcome. That this happens among us belies how deeply and shamefully confused we are about the issue of consent.

Let’s also put out there that any time we talk about these issues publicly, we do so in the hearing of people who have or are actively undergoing abuse. So what we say about consent, however rational the arguments may be, needs to be pastoral, and needs to be tailored to protecting and nurturing the vulnerable Christians in our care. As I write this, I myself am conscious that among those reading it are people who need to hear clearly and often that they can say no to sex, even if it’s their husband or wife asking. They can say yes, and it’s OK to change their minds later. They can say yes to one kind of touch, and no to another. And if they are deprived of the opportunity to give or deny consent, then it’s abuse.

I understand some of the reasons for our confusion. As many see it, the church’s “worldview” differs from “The World’s”, and we feel defensive about this. Our ideology makes us suspicious that the world tells insidious lies about pretty much everything, and we should maintain constant vigilance against its deception. Of the insidious lies we think “The World” tells, one is that I own myself. And so many conservative Christians suspect that talk of one’s well being, one’s feelings, one’s self determination, and yes, their consent to sexual intimacy even within the marriage bond, encodes their ‘wretched grasping after autonomy,’ the very sin that Eve gave into in the garden. Being good Christians, steeped in the language of scripture, we counter that our bodies are not our own, and that the marriage bond is built on mutual submission, sacrifice, and selflessness.

An array of pastors and seminary professors, and assorted Christian pundits tell us that consent is what “The World” writes on their banners, seeking to justify all manner of “perversions,” including attacks on marriage, letting trans folk into the bathroom of their choice, and, if they were really honest, allowing incest and pedophilia. So the story goes: if we open the gates to consent, and let that play a determinative role in our sexual ethics, then we may drag in the world’s pitiable, sulfur-stinking worldview with it. No, surely our sexual ethics has no place for consent. Women don’t get to say no. Thus we avoid women using the promise or denial of sex as leverage in relationships, and we protect men who can’t control their sexual urges from retreating to pornography or to the arms of some other woman, by providing them with on-demand access to an approved source of gratification.

For those of you who feel incredulous that leaders in our church would offer such arguments, let me assure you that it really does happen. It happens a lot. It happens with enough frequency and is defended with enough vigor, that for those of us who are paying attention it becomes increasingly impossible to hear it as merely some isolated ideological excess. To be sure, when someone is abused, and when that person is denied basic protection and disciplinary recourse by their local ecclesiastical authorities, this itself is a matter of discipline to be handled by the church’s courts. But as long as we continue to treat these issues quietly, as isolated and exceptional disciplinary events, we will continue to miss the much larger problems that speak to the fundamentals of our life as a community of Christ. This is theological in the deepest and most vital sense of the word.

So what would a theology of consent look like? I’m the first to admit that the issues are complex. Being prone to philosophizing, I’m usually glad to take a mental meander through the analysis of subjectivity, of agency, and so on. And as an armchair theologian, I’d find it fascinating to pick apart the trinitarian heterodoxies and christologies that animate today’s debates about complementarianism. But as satisfying as those sentences would be to me, and to other like-minded folks, I fear that indulging our impulses to argumentation would obscure our vision of the bright light of any Christian ethic, sexual or otherwise: Jesus, the God-man, incarnate Lord, the heart of our faith.

From Him there resounds a “yes” so compelling and penetrating that it echos in our hearts, expressing itself in our own “yes” to what Jesus has accomplished in us, through history. Our yes emanates from beyond mere acquiescence or submission, arising not from need but from the fullness of union with the risen and glorified Christ. The yes of Christ joins the being of one to the being of another. Do you desire a union with others who are joined in the same way to their savior, that echoes your union with Him? Do you desire it with your wife or with your husband? Then why would you settle for anything less than their “yes” in that expression of intimacy that is yours alone to share? And how does your entire being not rebel at the wickedness of extracting that intimacy to the sound of their “no”?

Men, you hold the place of privilege and power in your conservative evangelical churches. Your physical, ecclesiastical, and familial dominance put you in a dangerous and fragile position. If you do not take pains to get her yes every time and at every stage of your intimacy, or if you extract it by coercion or manipulation, then you turn a blessing into a curse. Sex is like everything else in marriage. It takes work to learn how to communicate about what’s working and what isn’t. Communication isn’t always verbal. After fifteen years, I certainly know enough about my wife’s signals that I don’t always need words to ask or to be asked. But even couples who have been together for many years find their needs and wants changing, and therefore need to recalibrate and retune to one another.

Pastors, elders, seminary professors, if you do not take every opportunity to affirm the centrality of consent in a Christian sexual ethic, then you fail us in your duty to defend the innocent and avenge the powerless, who far too often find themselves bullied into silence and self doubt, who are told they must return to domestic situations that threaten their physical and their spiritual well being in the name of moral uniformity. No doubt, the world is full of people confused about consent. They may deploy it in the service of a contrary agenda, inimical to the interests of the church. But on they understand what rape is. They understand what abuse is. If we who have the light of the gospel, the substance of the great yes that echoes in each of us with every act of love and intimacy shown to another human being, can’t understand something so basic, then truly, we have lost ourselves and Him. I can only pray that He finds us to lead us back.

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November 5, 2016: Christopher Jones added this postscript to his original blog.  We are it here as well.

Postscript
Since I originally wrote this piece it’s been aggregated or re-blogged a few times. In each instance, someone took exception to the title, “Consent is Everything,” citing that consent isn’t enough when someone feels they are obligated to give their consent. In other words, consent can be manipulated. I glossed over this toward the end of my piece because I wanted to keep the message simple. I still want to keep it simple, so I’ll just take this opportunity to clarify that yes, someone can say “yes” and mean no. Or they can say yes, and think they mean yes, even when they aren’t in a position to know their own minds, as in the case of people who are the victims of long term trauma, or who are at the mercy of a manipulative abuser. Consent is complicated. There’s lots of literature about this that the interested and thoughtful person can find on their own. What I want to say here is twofold:

To my detractors, who believe that our views on consent are too subjective, or two wishy washy, this is not an attempt to trap you. You don’t need to be defensive. You do need to be humble. In my marriage, I have done and said things that I now believe were abusive. I have sat down with my wife and explained to her what I think I did, and how I think it may have hurt her. She heard me, and she forgave me.

To everyone, healthy relationships are all about failure and forgiveness. Did your wife consent to something in bed and later tell you that she felt pressured, and now she regrets giving her consent? She can do that, and you can hear it without feeling accused. Just talk about it. Take that opportunity to get better at communication. Your willingness to do so precisely is what makes you not an abuser. Your failure to hear her, your anger when she tells you, or your gas lighting arguments absolutely do make you an abuser. Don’t be an abuser.

Thanks to everyone who has written in or commented. Keep it coming!

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Further Reading

Saying no to sex with one’s spouse

Sermon explaining that Scripture prohibits sexual abuse in marriage

Sexual abuse in marriage — What should a Christian wife do?

Do you tell others about the sexual abuse? 

40 Comments

  1. Rebecca Davis

    This is awesome! I love it! I’ve known women who were in each of these scenarios you talk about — husbands who videotaped them (for what purpose, well, I’ll leave that to your imagination), husbands who tied all four limbs to the four bedposts. And other things that I won’t go into here. These wives thought they had no choice because of the Scripture “Marriage is honorable in all and the bed undefiled” that had been twisted to mean “Whatever your husband does to you in bed is honorable since you’re married, so shut up.” So, if the husband murders his wife in bed, then that’s ok too because the marriage bed is undefiled?

    If we who have the light of the gospel, the substance of the great yes that echoes in each of us with every act of love and intimacy shown to another human being, can’t understand something so basic, then truly, we have lost ourselves and Him. I can only pray that He finds us to lead us back.

    Yes!

  2. Amy

    Great comments. I was divorced for two years before I even understood that I should define many of the sexual encounters I had with my husband as rape. When some caring souls finally helped me realize that, it was as if the cover had been lifted from my eyes and I could finally find healing. I didn’t realize that I was a rape victim. The church does a very poor job of helping victims truly recover from trauma, especially when the trauma comes at the hands of a spouse or family member.

  3. Rebecca Davis

    I have one more thought. I wouldn’t say that consent is *everything,* because I know of too many cases where the woman “consented” because she thought she didn’t have any other choice. Sometimes her consent comes from a childhood of abuse so great that she thinks the abuse the husband is giving is actually normal or possibly even better than what she grew up with or experienced regularly at the hands of neighbor boys. The husband may think that their BDSM relationship is “consensual” because his wife has never voiced a complaint, when the real reason is that she simply didn’t know there was anything better.

    A woman from this background might ask, “How much intentional pain is normal in an intimate relationship” and you would say,”None,” and she would be completely floored by that answer and not even know how to process it. These are some of the women who are giving “consent” to wrong relationships in the marriage bed. So I think “consent” isn’t everything–it’s only part of the picture.

    • Ng

      Amen.

      Many a woman has been conditioned from her youth to give in to the demands of men, in order to feel loved and valued. Just because someone ‘consents’ to abuse, that does not make it any more righteous.

    • Well said, Rebecca.

      Consent is the Yes you say when you are free to say No.
      And as you pointed out, some people don’t feel free to say No because they’ve been so oppressed and controlled. Freedom to say no, freedom to even feel displeasure and distaste for something without also feeling a crushing weight of guilt for DISliking what the person in power wants you to do, has never been allowed to them.

      • Rebecca Davis

        Yes, and some people have never in their lives had the opportunity to experience that kind of freedom, so they don’t even know what it’s like.

    • This has come up a few times in responses to my post. I completely agree, and I did try to gesture at the complexity of consent. I’ve just written a postscript that may add some of that missing detail in. I’d appreciate if you’d check it out and see if you think it helps.

    • Charis

      This was me. I didn’t think I had a choice. Stemming from a childhood where “no” was not respected by parents (particularly my mother) and boundaries were consistently invaded on every level (physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological). I didn’t learn until relatively recently that “no” could be as respected and should be as freely accepted as “yes.”

      When it came to my exh, I stalled and made excuses. I pleaded. I cried when things went too far and begged for him to stop. To no avail.

      It was the tracks laid down by my childhood and reinforced by poor Christian rhetoric that nothing is “off limits” in the marriage bed that silenced my “no.”

      Today, I am teaching my son that consent is important – and what consent looks like. We also spend a great deal of time working on respecting “no” just as much as we respect and accept each other’s “yes.” That is a two-way street. Freely given and freely accepted. Someone’s “no” is not a personal attack or rejection it is simply a choice. All our choices come with consequences, some we like and some we don’t. And our responses to those consequences are also our choice. We own our emotions (home is a safe space for expressing feelings). All of them.

      • Yes, exactly. You’ve spoken this so eloquently.

  4. Still Struggling

    Thank you for reblogging this and also for tne trigger warning. I decided to read it anyway. That first paragraph was difficult to handle but also validating. There are people in the church who do “get it.” It’s encouraging to see another pastor speak out.

    If only all pastors and church people could trade places with us they would understand, but I wouldn’t wish this abuse on anyone. It crushes our spirit and soul to be forced, intimidated, pressured, guilted and shamed to meet the selfish demands of someone who is supposed to love us , who promised before God and our friends and family to honor and cherish us. IF they understood then they would not heap blame on us for wanting to escape.

    • Gothard Survivor

      Do you believe that? I think even if they were told what we have endured they would say that no one has a perfect relationship or that consent is mandatory or that we should be martyrs for the Lord. This is the very issue that made me doubt God’s love for me. Why would God give others earthly blessings and me rape?

      • This is the kind of question that causes me to cry out to God (I was going to say wail and rail, but I’m trying to sound relatively self-contained). And I’ve heard it so many times. I know He’s a good God and He doesn’t give the rape — that’s the evil of men. Knowing that He’s in control and He’s good while seeing that really bad people do really, really bad things . . . . well, that’s what a lot of the psalms are about.

  5. standsfortruth

    Love this,
    My gut reaction on encountering this information was that these pastors should be defrocked and the sessions disciplined. By refusing to address abuse, they are complicit in it. By manipulating or bullying victims into not reporting abuse, they become perpetrators of abuse themselves. Such men are wolves, no matter how pretty their pulpit words may be. You don’t need to know the details of those cases to agree with me here. The issue is that before the details of the case can come to adjudication, their refusal to consider the consent of the abused relevant to the case already determines the outcome. That this happens among us belies how deeply and shamefully confused we are about the issue of consent.
    AMEN!
    Coming from one who was told for decades that I could have no voice when my husband wanted sex, I am elated hearing this come from a True Christian man.
    It is high time this issue comes to light.
    Otherwise an abuser could covertly and overtly abuse his christian target all day, and demand sex at night. Thats just messed up.

    And yes my ex abuser used to secretly film while I was unaware and violated many boundries.

  6. God Fearing Mom

    The bad interpretation is from 1 Corinthians 7:4 “The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband.” {If you only read the first half of that verse and ignore the rest} “…In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.” That’s where things get messed up. A pastor with a patriarchal and pornographic world view can easily eisegete that verse to promote his ideals stamping it as God’s mandate for wives to contentedly endure sadism and ignore a husband’s Biblical mandate to treat his woman with gentleness, kindness, as a weaker vessel, right, so that his prayers won’t be hindered.

    I remember being duped and I’m so happy when God showed me the Truth and gave me strength to speak up about everything my husband respected my boundaries.

    I’m sad that not all husband’s respect boundaries and I pray for them to face reality that they have a warped world view that is going to bite them hard in the end.

    • Yes GFM — and the post linked at the bottom of this post, Saying No To Sex With One’s Spouse, addresses 1 Corinthians 7:4 in depth. 🙂

      • God Fearing Mom

        Thanks Barb, I know that sometimes when women have been abused from childhood in a religious home they sometimes unconsciously filter out a balanced interpretation that promotes equality. Because of trauma certain verses trigger and stand out more than the others.

    • Due to scripture twisting that has gone on for centuries, christian women and girls have been unjustly “conditioned” to accept being objectified for men who wrongly want to assume male privilege and control.

      A honest man of God would not want to “hoodwink” a woman into this self denial position.

      A right relationship would be based on truth and mutual respect towards each spouse to honor their seperate identity .

  7. kind of anonymous

    Interestingly, I struggle with the whole consent thing in a totally different way. The bible doesn`t say anything about marriages in which coercion was involved to my knowledge. I did not know that I was a seriously traumatized person when I was first introduced to Christ. I was used to living in fear, being intimidated, being sexually exploited and seduced, being in wrong relationships as a young teen with the adult fathers of friends who took a liking to me. All of this warped stuff was normal to me and I was so used to be treated like an object, that it was nothing unusual. Worse, I wanted some of the attention and didn`t protest against it, for instance,. when I had a crush on the father of a friend who was paying attention to me. I did not know that this man`s attention was no compliment and he was just taking advantage of my neediness to gratify his own narcissism. My own relationship patterns were sinful as well, being that all I understood about men and what they wanted from women was highly sexualized and based on past abusive situations. So I had learned some very wrong ways of doing life.

    When I was dating my first husband, all the usual dysfunctional and sinful coping mechanisms were there on my part. And he demonstrated some clear patterns of dishonesty and narcissism, once telling me that my role in his life was to make him feel good about himself and never tell him his faults. I decided to break up with him. I had held off doing this, because in typical,, self blaming and self invalidating fashion, I figured I didn`t feel attracted to him because of my past issues. However I decided at some point that it wasn`t just that, but also that he lied and seemed to avoid being honest or self reflective, as well as being evasive when I would ask him about his passion level for God or his desires as to any sort of ministry. So one day I made the call and told him that I didn`t want to continue in the relationship. He had been pushing me to make a commitment and let him put a promise ring on my finger. I t hought he was nuts, rushing things to that degree and I felt he was rushing me to the altar, trying to bag me like a hunter bags a deer. He would call me four times a day and talk to me in this little whiny, sucky cartoon voice. I hated it and told him so but he would not stop doing it . So when I broke the news to him, he completely flipped out and starting ranting at me on the phone about how he believed God had given me to him and now he was taking me away from him, and that if that was how it was gong to be,. he didn`t want to live alone anymore etc. W hat I heard was an implied suicide threat. What happened in response was that it seemed as if a bomb was set off in my head. I felt intense terror and backed up against the wall ike he was in the room, which he wasn`t. I heard my own voice from far away, apologizing for even thinking of breaking up with him and for being so unfair as to not give him a chance. It felt like a revolving door was triggered in my mind and I heard an inrush of accusing voices and intense emotional and spiritual pressure. Things that had to do with a past incident involved family violence.

    What happened after this, is that three days later I could hardly remember the incident beyond surface details. I could remember trying to break up with him and I could remember how angry he got and that there were these mental voices but it was like trying to think through a fog bank. I was afraid to tell anyone in case I got carted off to the psych ward. I wound up feeling entrapped in the sit uation and went through with marrying him three months later. Going through all the motions and yet another me wondering how I was going to get out. I mean, I went shopping for my wedding dress like any normal bride, picked up the marriage licence, booked the caterers, on the one hand a normal bride planning her wedding and on the other hand, feeling like a hostage who didn`t really want to be there but who felt she could not escape and was somehow obligated.

    It raised issues of consent, responsibility, etc. Like any sincere believer, I wondered how God saw it. One biblical counselor told me I was guilty of defrauding because I had a great deal of trouble wanting to be intimate with this man. When I told him that I had been terrified, he said `That`s a strong word`which told me he thought I was being a bit dramatic. Biblical counselors seem to believe that upholding the doctrine of depravity means treating people like they are all Cretans, lazy brutes and liars, as a matter of course. On the one hand I thought, well, I am here now, I may as well make the best of it and try to make it work. I was really angry about the way I got entrapped, both by things in my past, what he did that caused a reaction or trigger event, and how evil seemed to have a hand in it. Some told me I was being a manipulative liar who was making stuff up to have an excuse that justified ending my marriage covenant. Others agreed that what happened was abusive but felt that now I was married, that didn`t justify a divorce.

    I myself was very confused. Did the bible even speak of marriages that were forced or at least coercive? Most of the christians I talked to if I told them anything about how it came about, seemed to regard it as a non issue now that i was married. How would God speak to this? Would He see it as a `Kenite` situation, where Israel, though deceived into making a forbidden vow, was bound because they gave their word, or would He see it as an Ezra situation, or something entirely different? Was I legitimately bound as an adult who had consented to marry regardless of how bent the reasons were or what spiritual forces were in play, or was God`s view different? I don`t think any sincerely believer would ignore that ability our hearts and flesh have to deceive us and justify a course of action that is self serving, or our ability to gild the lily and make excuses for sin. Yet there were issues here that were more than just saying yes and regretting it. My post is already long enough, but I thought I would share my experience, as it relates to the whole topic of consent and attached issues of responsibility.

    • Thanks KOA for sharing. Your story is a very good illustration of what we are talking about in this thread.

    • NutMeg

      It’s kind of scary how close this is to my story. I didn’t feel attracted to my husband when I was dating him. So I tried to break up with him twice. He got mad at me and found a way to blame it on me both times. I was convinced I didn’t feel attracted to him because I was sinful and messed up. He guilted me into taking him back both times. And I was too afraid to say no when he proposed. At that time I knew I wasn’t attracted to him but I had been able to convince myself that my feelings didn’t matter anyway. I needed to get married because it was “God’s will”. My husband kept on telling me that he couldn’t be happy without me anyway. I always felt that I was forced into the marriage. I never knew that wasn’t a normal feeling. I just disregarded my feelings. I can’t be intimate with him without crying. And that makes me feel even more guilty. I’m not sure what to do.

      • My husband kept on telling me that he couldn’t be happy without me anyway. I always felt that I was forced into the marriage.

        He coerced you into marrying him. The ‘consent’ you gave was never real consent because it was coerced. I’m absolutely sure you have grounds for divorce right there, not to mention all the was abuse has continued to abuse you being grounds for divorce too.

        I shall pray that God will help you figure out what you want to do.

      • NutMeg

        Actually, the scariest part is that I’ve told him I felt forced into it. And that I didn’t feel comfortable talking to him. He didn’t even seem shocked at all. He gave a little apology and that was it. But he called me a mean name during a fight and used all of this information I told him to mock me. He said I spent our entire marriage making him feel unloved and unwanted. That’s not what I was trying to do! I told him how I felt he had manipulated me not to hurt him but because if we have to make this thing work I need to be 100% honest with him. But the fact he wasn’t shocked and then how he used it to hurt me in an argument has raised my suspicions. Honestly? If he or anyone else ever told me that they felt I had manipulated them into getting married I’d consider our marriage void and tell them they were completely allowed to get a divorce if they wanted to. Because I couldn’t fathom how shocked and deeply saddened I’d be realizing that I took someone’s choice away. Especially for such a huge life choice. How was he not shocked unless it was on purpose? Unless he already knew because that’s what he meant? I feel guilty for being so suspicious. But I can’t help it.

    • Seeing the Light

      Kind of Anonymous, I have contemplated these issues much myself. Have you ever read he following post, https://cryingoutforjustice.com/2014/10/22/false-vows-do-not-a-covenant-make-by-pastor-dietrich-wichmann/?

  8. I’d just like to thank everyone here who has commented. I’m ashamed that so many of you are so astonished to hear a Christian man say these things. I must not have been paying attention all these decades, because I thought abuse, and even the underlying attitudes that aid and beget it, were the exceptional, deranged misalignments of people’s hearts with their good theology. I’ve been shocked over the last few years to discover that while certainly deranged and definitely misaligned, they are not so exceptional. And also their theology isn’t good 🙂

    I don’t understand why people are so resistant to talk about consent. I mean, I know why, and it’s insanely complicated. And also it’s simple. But sometimes I just feel at a loss, and that it doesn’t matter how loudly I shout. So I told my wife when I wrote this piece that though I knew it wouldn’t change anyone’s mind, I hoped it would encourage someone who was suffering abuse but wasn’t sure they should speak out, or that it would give comfort to someone who was recovering and trying to hold on to their love of the Church and of the gospel.

    I’m glad that so many of you did find it encouraging, and I’m deeply grateful for all of your helpful comments and discussion. Thank you.

    • Thanks so much, Christopher!

    • I’ve been shocked over the last few years to discover that while certainly deranged and definitely misaligned, they are not so exceptional. And also their theology isn’t good

      What was it that brought you to that discovery, Christopher? I’m asking that to see if we can glean ideas for how to wake more men up to that discovery.

      • I suppose my impulse here is to credit my wife. She is one of the most fantastic minds and hearts I know, and I’m convinced that she’s five times the person I am. And I’m uncomfortable taking credit for any progress I’ve made in becoming more aware and more empathetic. But I realize that wouldn’t be helpful to anyone here. Because I’m sure every one of the folks commenting in this thread is an amazing person, and that they are five and ten times the person their spouse was. And yet for many of them, their spouse did not listen, and they weren’t open to change.

        One time I read an article about rape culture. It was a powerful piece, and insightful. I read it to her and then I told her that I thought I was guilty of some of the attitudes discussed in there. I explained what I wanted to change about myself, and she forgave me. Another time, we stood in our kitchen and talked about why there were certain subjects between us that just always led to defensiveness and anger. And then she said, “I realize now that you aren’t trying to abuse me, but that you are just trying to understand.” She was speaking of a certain way I had of working through arguments, which I got from Philosopy, but which she found crushing. So as she communicated that insight, it revealed to me how my conversation felt to her sometimes. After that we both made adjustments, but I continued to think with her about empathy. There’s another post on my blog, “Church of the Normal” that talks about that.

        We are like that, though. We’re both academics, and we’re both pretty edgy. I feel like many men in the Reformed evangelical church are either power hungry or they are looking for a kind of moral uniformity that commits them to impersonating domestic ideals, sometimes at the expense of the people close to them. Unfortunately, our community seems to attract this kind of person. And it isn’t always nefarious. Most men like me are just trying to live up to the expectations their community hands them, until it all goes so horribly wrong. The question then is whether they are ready and able to look past the expectations to see the real people before them. It’s incredibly difficult to give up on the safety of ideology. A friend of mine who is a former OPC pastor shared that when he went through this with his wife it was terrifying. He said, ‘I realized I couldn’t take her for granted. I realized that if she was going to be with me it was going to be because she wanted to, and not because she was bound to me by a law or a norm or anything outside of us. It meant I had to work for her.’ I felt when he said that he was taking words out of my mouth. That’s exactly what it’s like. But beyond the terror lies freedom.

        Does that answer your question a little? Is it helpful?

  9. kind of anonymous

    Hi Christopher; I think your desire to be like Jesus in reality and not just in theologically stated ideals is a good thing and I thank you talking about it so openly. It is indeed helpful. One thing that really twigged for me in your post is the reference to ideology: The question then is whether they are ready and able to look past the expectations to see the real people before them. It’s incredibly difficult to give up on the safety of ideology.` Safety and ideology. I think this is the root issue of phariseeism. And also why many who are in the biblical counselling movement, or who strive to be Berean, wind up being closer to the Pharisees than to Jesus.

    Jesus didn`t seem to have a problem with their theology or ideology; He told the people to do all that they told them to do. But then He said not to be LIKE them in heart and life. So perhaps what makes a Pharisee is that he or she is a believer with impeccable theology and ideology, but who has no real relationship with God and misses the point, that the whole bible points to Jesus and how to walk with Him. They miss God`s heart, His grace, mercy and love as well as His justice and seriousness about sin.

    I am guilty of this in my life. Of the whole seeing the other person in terms of ideology and correct theological ideals but without any mercy. Its weird how leaning on ideology produces a pharisaical blindness instead of walking even more righteously as we would have thought and hoped. Perhaps that is a form of leaning on our own understanding, instead of trusting in the Lord with all of our hearts. Anyway you`ve given me much to chew on as I am sure others would agree.

    • Thank you for this comment KOA.

      Jesus didn`t seem to have a problem with their theology or ideology; He told the people to do all that they told them to do. But then He said not to be LIKE them in heart and life. So perhaps what makes a Pharisee is that he or she is a believer with impeccable theology and ideology, but who has no real relationship with God and misses the point, that the whole bible points to Jesus and how to walk with Him. They miss God`s heart, His grace, mercy and love as well as His justice and seriousness about sin.

      Many of us have had pastors and fellow church goers overlook our circumstances while pushing their ideology and theology on us, when we desperately needed mercy and understanding.

      My heart was at the point of no return long before I managed to arrange a way to escape the ex-husbands evil grasp.

      If he pretended to want to understand my feelings, it was never genuine, and only gave him more information to hurt me.
      Basically becomming a set up for more abuse.

      Dealing with the church and my abuser was like battling a two headed beast.

  10. MarkQ

    Christopher, I would say that there is an interesting parallel to consent with authority. We Reformed-types portray the world as anti-authority and antinomian, and the cure for that is to swing the church to the polar opposite – authoritarianism.

    I think what’s happening is that the power-hungry in both cases are controlling the conversation such that what seems normal is completely skewed. The abusive men in the church are controlling the dialogue such that women are being groomed to be easy to oppress. Likewise, authoritarian men in these churches are controlling the dialogue about what “submission” means to ordinary members.

    These men have invaded the power structures within the churches and now seminaries are churning out abusive pastors.

    • Hi Mark Q thanks for your comment. I changed the wording just a little; hope you don’t mind.
      I changed “women are being groomed to be codependent” to “women are being groomed to be easy to oppress”. I did that because we prefer to avoid using the term codependent for victims of abuse (see this post and this one for our reasons).

  11. [I’m publishing this comment from a reader under my own gravatar.]

    I want to be sure I am not lying to myself and am taking proper responsibility where it was warranted. I am still trying to think through on this and it is hard, because there are so many variables. For instance, my dysfunctional way of doing relationship was to use sexuality as a means of drawing and keeping interest. Everything I knew about relationships was based on abusive situations or exposure to unclean things. I am not talking, mind you, of taking someone right to bed, in terms of actual intercourse, but still, rushing hands and roaming fingers are hardly pure and godly behaviour but rather are seductive, violating behaviours that rob the wedding night of its beauty, trust and purity. I behaved this way in the relationship before I tried to break up with him. As a result, I felt guilty and as though I was entrapped in the relationship because I had sinned by drawing him into wrong physical bonding.

    I have wondered, a few times, if I have something like BPD. Pushing for physical involvement is said to be typical borderline behaviour based on insecurity. My own mother displayed many borderline traits. She was manipulative, could be a bully, treated me with contempt, lied casually, disrespected boundaries, was jealous and competitive, and had problems with promiscuity. And she was also definitely married to a narcissistic abuser who was abusive because of his own issues, not because of hers, though to here him tell it, her issues caused his. My own observation would be that BPD can have both need and demand motives, hurt and fear motives and even revenge and hate motives, with a range of coping styles based on abusive and terrifying experiences. I don`t see how that justifies someone else abusing that person however.

    I was also reading something about common myths associated with public perception of BPD. One of them is that all BPDs are casual skilled liars as a matter of course. My problem in my life is the opposite; I am a compulsive truth teller. I will tell you I did it even if it means I will be in major hot water. It doesn’t mean I am never dishonest or manipulative or haven’t ever told a white lie out of fear, but it does mean I have a high intolerance for lies and deceit. One thing that is frustrating however is that I have found if I actually lied, I would be liked and believed more than if I told the truth on some occasions.

    After I tried to break up with him and then found myself apologising for having even though of doing so, we continued to date. I broke up with him again, possibly trying to convince myself somehow that I was free to do so and that I was in control and doing what I was doing of my own free will, not because I’d been frightened and overpowered. Somehow I was so ashamed of being overpowered and intimidated like that, that I could not tell anyone. Yet even though I had, this time, succeeded in asking for some time and breaking up for a bit, I was mystified as to why I felt still bonded to him, bonded to the relationship, even owned by it. I thought it had something to do with having sinned sexually. Then I felt sorry for him and convinced myself to go out with him again. I guess feeling sorry for something can be a form of taking wrong responsibility for someone else’s state and in my case, that had some major roots in nor did I realise at the time, its connection to an incident of family violence in my very young past, as well as a connection to having been sexually abused. I couldn’t understand why I felt so entrapped in the relationship.

    On my wedding day, I actually cried as we said our vows. I was getting married. I looked like any beautiful bride in my flowing gown with its cathedral train fanning out behind me and flowing down the stairs up to the altar, white Cinderella shoes with sparkly toe clips. The whole thing was so beautiful outwardly and suddenly I was here, getting married, promising to build a future with a man I wasn`t sure I had wanted to marry. It was so confusing. Either I was a flaky person of incredibly poor and manipulative game playing character, or I was marrying one, or a bit of both. On his part, he was willing to marry me and overlook the coercion part. He had an agenda; he wanted to get married and have a family and I think in some ways it was a validation of his worth sort of thing and I was a necessary accessory to that agenda whether truly willing or not. The only thing that gave away that all was not well, was how ill and exhausted I felt, and how I was aware of how much tension and anxiety I was suppressing to stay in the moment. Talk about a split consciousness, duality of reality. So my dilemma was over choice and whether I was using some unpleasant facts to deny responsiblity, and had in fact, chosen to marry freely, albeit for really dysfunctional reasons, or had I truly married out of coercion. I remember a big discussion about biblical ethics once that focused on the evil of situational ethics and that postulated that God has no situational ethics. I wanted to be certain I wasn`t using that kind of rationale to lie to myself and others. May sound nuts to others but that’s how my mind works. There are times I wish I could take my head off and set it on a dresser top somewhere. Anyhow, I thank you all for tolerating my navel-gazing ruminations. If anything I hope this helps someone else be able to articulate their own struggle with such an inner battle.

    • BPD is a psychiatric diagnosis. In general at this blog, we find it less than helpful to try to figure out whether a person has a diagnosable mental disorder. And we are not qualified to do so! Neither are the vast majority of our readers!

      Having said that, I know that the label BPD is one which abusers quite often slap on their victims, and abusers’ allies may slap it on the victim too. This is irresponsible to say the least. And even if a victim of abuse DOES have a diagnosable mental disorder, what use is it to know that? If the mental health disorder is very hard to treat, there is not necessarily much use in knowing what the label is. And what I’ve gathered as a lay person (not trained to diagnose mental disorders) is that BPD is a somewhat disputed diagnosis anyway among the professionals. Judith Herman, the author of Trauma and Recovery, suggests that trauma survivors are often misdiagnosed as having BPD when in fact they actually have PTSD or complex-PTSD.

      So I would encourage anyone who is pondering whether they may have borderline traits to be aware of what I’ve said above, and to steer clear of pop-psychology websites which often present misinformation or information that is not up to date with the current thinking in psychiatry.

    • I just found this footnote in a blog post at Dr George Simon’s website: http://doctorgeorgesimon.com/drsimonsblogarchives.html

      15. “In every mental health job I have worked, the real pain in the ass clients are referred to as borderline. Borderline has now ceased to be a disorder; it’s psychobabble for ‘this client is so annoying and needy I would gladly chew off my own foot to escape’.”
      Danny

      • Ng

        I have noticed that the BPD label especially handy tool to silence passionate women – those who have truly been abused, aoppressed, and silenced for long, and trying to learn to fin their authentic voices. Sure, they are not always polished and refined.. but way too many sincere people are labeled as ‘borderline’..
        (I have had that label thrown at me too, and know to shake it off by now..)
        Although I have met manipulative and abusive men, who have behavioral patterns very fitting with what is commonly understood as the BPD.

        More important than worrying about labels is to learn how to live healthily, with God and other people – sometimes that means speaking out, no matter what the accusing label from others.

  12. Rachael

    The consent issue is difficult for me. I just had my first anniversary and am fortunate to be married to a wonderful man who won’t ask me for sex if even he even suspects that I might not be feeling well. But I have suffered sexual abuse from family and others since age nine. I honestly never really want to have sex but the thought of saying no to my husband is more scary to me than just having sex and getting it over with (plus my husband enjoys it and he is such a good man it seems cruel to deny him). I have never had control over my sexuality, it was always for someone else to use and enjoy, which is why saying no is so hard. But I don’t think that just because I haven’t found the strength to give true consent means that my husband is rapeing me all the time. I haven’t told him about it yet because I know he’ll say we should stop having sex but that’s not a good solution either. I’m not sure what to do… what kind of adult am I if I can’t say no?

    • Hi Rachel, it sounds like the sexual abuse you suffered prior to your marriage is still affecting you which is very understandable. Recovering from traumatic violations like that is not easy. From what I’ve read and heard from others, and from my own experience of being sexually abused in my childhood, I know that it is not easy to recover from. So the way you are responding to sex now is perfectly understandable, and it’s not your fault! Nor does it show you are not an adult 🙂 It shows you are a person who has been deeply traumatized, and that trauma has messed with your wiring so to speak, making sexual encounter with your loving husband something difficult and perhaps scary, even though he loves you and shows respect and consideration for you. Have you talked about it with him? Have you ever sought counseling from a counselor who is well trained in dealing with trauma? If not, I suggest you consider doing those things.

      I think if you just keep on with the status quo it will only get worse for you … your reluctance to be intimate with your husband will become such a difficult issue that you could become resentful of him, and of yourself, and very stuck in the judging yourself harshly which will not help, but will be likely to make it all worse.

      I encourage you to read the booklet Honouring Resistance — althought it’s about the ways victims of domestic abuse respond to being abused, and you are not being abused by your husband, you have been abused by others in the past and you can translate and apply the principle of ‘honouring the victim’s responses’ to yourself in the way that seems best for you..

      You may also find it helpful to read Mending the Soul by Steve and Celestia Tracy. You can find it on our list of recommended books. It deals mostly with sexual abuse, so you will probably find much in it to which you can relate, given what was done to you in the past. And if you can find a good trauma counselor, I think you will probably find that helpful too.

      Also, to give you hope and perhaps some ideas that you might like to use for yourself, here is my own story of how I finally got healing from the sexual abuse I’d suffered as a child.

      I was sexually abused as a child (only once, but once is enough to do massive damage).

      My first marriage was to a man who turned out to be an abuser. He blamed me for being unresponsive to sex, for not enjoying sex. Through all my late teens and twenties, before I married this man, I had blamed myself for not enjoying sex, so when this husband criticised me for being screwed up and psychologically defective, his criticism just matched my self-condemnation and I took it on board… I thought I was defective as a person and particularly defective as a woman.

      This first husband often coerced me to into sex when I didn’t want it. I quite often gave in to his coercion because I knew that if I didn’t he would be even more abusive to me later on. And when I said No, I felt terribly guilty and a failure. So to some degree I was coercing myself. That made it all the harder for me to realise that he was abusing me. But eventually, after many partial-breaks through the fog, I realised that without doubt he was an inveterate domestic abuser and I was a victim of his abuse.

      More than a decade after my final separation and eventual divorce from him, I married another man. That man eventually abused me, and I am now divorced a second time. But the first year of that marriage was good, and our sexual relationship actually brought me much healing from the sexual abuse I’d suffered as a child. (go figure!)

      How that healing happened I cannot easily put into words. It took a fairly long time, about a year, and it involved lots of times of getting triggered in the middle of intimacy and my husband then holding (JUST holding) me gently round my chest, my heart, while I wept, shuddered, or was still, all the while let the emotions and memories and images flood me until they gradually subsided.

      Every time one of these storms hit, I would pray silently, while the emotions and memories were flooding me. I knew Jesus was healing all the damaged places. During those times all I wanted was for my husband to just hold and comfort me, while Jesus did the healing.

      It took my husband a bit of a while to learn that it was not his fault when those storms hit, and that all he had to do was hold me. I had to reassure him a lot in the early stages, because when I was triggered he initially assumed he was at fault for the way I was responding or not responding to the intimacy. But when I explained to him repeatedly that my responses were not his fault, he cottoned on, and then it became wonderfully healing. I knew I could trust him not to react with mortification if I got triggered. I knew he would just hold me if I asked him to. Even if I just started to have that shudder in my breathing, he would start holding me with his loving reassuring arms, without even having to be asked. That is what a good husband should do.

      During those triggered storms, Jesus sometimes showed me some of the things he was doing inwardly in me — I felt Him reconfiguring my wiring. I’m sure this is not just words: there are nerve pathways; my wires had been all tangled, knotted, crushed and frayed by the childhood abuse, and Jesus was untangling and rewiring me. The Bible talks about renewing our mind. It was all my nerve pathways, both brain and body. But in some of the triggered episodes I wasn’t much aware of the details of what Jesus was doing in details: I knew He was doing things in me behind a veil, and that the veil was in place to protect my mind. At the end of each episode, when He had finished doing what He was doing, I knew that that episode was over. Each episode might take only a few minutes from when it first began to when it subsided, but profound rewiring was going on during those times. God is indeed the wonderful counsellor.

      Sometimes after an episode subsided I wanted to continue the sexual intimacy. Sometimes I didn’t. And my husband was okay either way.

      I look back on all that and just give glory and praise to God. God used my second husband to give me healing from sexual abuse — and the year afterwards that husband slipped back into his former alcoholism and became abusive to me!

      I know the Bible says God can work all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to His purpose. But I’m still amazed at how He did that for me!

  13. Rachael

    Thank you Barbara, I will get that book. We have gone to a counselor some months ago and that did help. My husband was also sexually abused as a child so he has a lot of fears about sex too. I also have a medical condition that often makes sex painful. The truth is that neither of us like being touched sexually and it is difficult for us to figure out something that works for both of us.

    • Wow. If you husband was sexually abused as a child too, that means you will be able to have empathy and understanding of each other as you go through the triggers and gradually gain healing. 🙂

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