I belong to me: learning agency & consent outside Christianity.

I belong to me: learning agency & consent outside Christianity.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concepts of agency<sup><a href=“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agency_(sociology)” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>1</a></sup> and autonomy, how necessary they are for a fulfilling life…and how impossible they are when consent is ignored. I’ve been realizing with a growing sense of anger and frustration that I had no grasp of those concepts as a Christian. Really, as I came to understand what basic respect, prioritizing consent, and honoring the autonomy of my fellow humanity looked like, I realized that Christianity as I knew it had no place for those things…and therefore had no place for me. Don’t get me wrong. There were many things that played into my deconversion — this wasn’t the only thing. But it was certainly an eye-​opening discovery. You see, I grew up with the knowledge that I wasn’t my own person. Oh, no. I belonged to <i>many</i> people. <b>I belonged to God</b>, because He made me.<sup><a href=“http://rickwarren.org/devotional/english/god-made-you-and-you-belong-to-him” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>2</a></sup> In fact, I belonged to Him <i>even more</i> because He saved me and I was a Christian.<sup><a href=“https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+6%3A19-20&amp;version=KJV” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>3</a></sup> <b>I belonged to my parents</b> (who thankfully were good, wonderful, trustworthy parents who loved me with all their hearts and took great care of me). But in my culture, I <i>belonged </i>to them and was expected to forfeit my autonomy in favor of submission to their authority in my life, up until the moment my dad gave me away to my spouse on my wedding day.<sup><a href=“http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2013/08/under-her-fathers-authority.html” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>4</a></sup> <b>I belonged to my husband</b>,<sup><a href=“https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+7%3A4&amp;version=NASB” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>5</a></sup> whether I was currently married to him or not.<sup><a href=“https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=proverbs+31%3A10-12&amp;version=NASB” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>6</a></sup> What I wanted or needed, physically or emotionally, was irrelevant, because my purpose was to serve him. <b>It never occurred to me to investigate this claim that I didn’t belong to myself.</b> None of these things were ever a question for me. It never occurred to me that I could do things because I wanted to do them. The thought was always, “Is what I’m doing going to glorify God, fall in line with my parents, and honor my future husband?” After all, I could’t forget the acronym for joy and what it meant.<sup><a href=“http://thoughts-about-god.com/blog/2013/08/17/ml_jesus-others-you/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>7</a></sup> As a girl growing up into a woman within the Plymouth Brethren movement<sup><a href=“http://plymouthbrethrendropout.wordpress.com/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>8</a></sup>, not only did I not belong to myself, I also had lots of people to answer to. Lots of authorities who could offer input into my life whenever they pleased. Lots of people to submit myself to: all the elders at my church,<sup><a href=“https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=hebrews+13%3A17&amp;version=NASB” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>9</a></sup> all older Christians,<sup><a href=“https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+peter+5%3A5&amp;version=NIV” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>10</a></sup> all men.<sup><a href=“https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+corinthians+11%3A3&amp;version=NKJV” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>11</a></sup> Even peers were encouraged to “exhort” me to better, more Christ-​like behavior.<sup><a href=“https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Timothy+5%3A1‑2&amp;version=NKJV” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>12</a></sup> We assembly folk were an extremely biblically literalist<sup><a href=“http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Biblical_literalism” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>13</a></sup> bunch. While higher education in theological or biblical matters was generally frowned upon (you only need the Holy Spirit and a group of like-​minded believers, don’t you know),<sup><a href=“http://www.plymouthbrethren.org/article/3779” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>14</a></sup> we prided ourselves on our ability to think clearly, comprehend and apply the truths of Scripture to our lives, and make sure that our emotions never, ever ran away with us. After all, emotions are fleeting and untrustworthy, but the Word of the Lord is forever. Words were often redefined, like love and joy and peace. Love was a choice, never a feeling, because feelings could change but love wasn’t allowed to.<sup><a href=“http://www.patheos.com/blogs/phoenixandolivebranch/2012/08/fundamentalist-christian-paradox-love-is-an-action-not-a-feeling-vs-hate-the-sin-love-the-sinner/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>15</a></sup> Joy was similarly not based on circumstances like its shallower sister, Happiness, but was to be found in the knowledge of God.<sup><a href=“http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/discerning-between-joy-and-happiness/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>16</a></sup> Peace, whether it was truly felt or not, was ours because God promised to give us the peace that passes understanding.<sup><a href=“http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/seeking-the-peace-of-christ-christianity-and-peacemaking/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>17</a></sup> Even doubts were explained away as <i>unreliable feelings</i>, because we had <i>God’s Truth</i> so there could <i>never</i> be doubt if we were claiming the Truth for ourselves. Intentionally or not, the result of growing up in a system that taught such things was that I constantly undermined my own emotions and feelings, seeing them as less than, as an enemy I had to squelch. After all, if my experiences didn’t line up with what the Bible said, it was me and my experiences that were wrong. Always. All correction from any number of people, no matter their relationship to me, was to be accepted without complaint. All perceived punishment, born with the knowledge that I deserved it. All trauma, experienced with a joyful heart that I got to suffer for the Lord and an understanding that pain wasn’t a big deal compared to the glory awaiting me in heaven. <b>No matter what happened, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that my thoughts, my wants, my needs were of no consequence. <i>I</i> didn’t matter.</b> Only God and those He put in authority over me mattered, and there was no boundary I was allowed to set that would allow me any amount of autonomy. Like when “godly” peers and authorities alike proved themselves to be untrustworthy, manipulative, even predatory, and my friends and I had no recourse because we instinctively knew their authority meant our comfort didn’t matter.<sup><a href=“http://plymouthbrethrendropout.wordpress.com/2014/05/26/yesallwomen/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>18</a></sup> Or when I told a friend about being sexually assaulted in college and he replied, “Praise the Lord!” because like me he was taught suffering for God was the greatest thing that could happen to us as Christians<i>.</i> Or when I was forced to sign a statement saying I agreed with all 80 pages of the BJU rulebook under penalty of expulsion<sup><a href=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/lessons-learned-at-bju-part‑3/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>19</a></sup> (and when that forced agreement was brought up as proof that I’d consented then broken my “contract” with them when I was expelled). Even when I became suicidal after having sex with my boyfriend,<sup><a href=“http://diannaeanderson.net/blog/2013/3/guest-post-the-ever-changing-faces-of-god” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>20</a></sup> because I was so ashamed that <i>a healthy, healing consensual sexual experience</i> somehow meant I dishonored God, my parents, and my future husband. My enthustiasic consent meant nothing, because <i>those people not involved in the situation at all didn’t want me to.</i> To drive this point home, a friend at the time said I’d proven I could no longer be trusted to make my own decisions so she and another friend would be making them for me. Then there’s the time when I finally talked about my sexual assault,<sup><a href=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/all-i-can-do-is-keep-breathing/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>21</a></sup> depression,<sup><a href=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/fighting-the-sadness/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>22</a></sup> and PTSD<sup><a href=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/for-better-or-for-worse/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>23</a></sup> publicly for the first time and Christians seemed to privately rush to tell me to be quiet, that talking about such things or dwelling on them was displeasing to God and damaging to others. And of course when I finally deconverted and told my Christian friends that I understood their pain and confusion but asked them to respect me and my beliefs by neither scolding me nor trying to convert me,<sup><a href=“https://www.fat-girl-living.com/strange-and-unprepared/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>24</a></sup> and those requests were ignored <i>en masse</i> to the point that I had to delete an entire toxic, hateful thread and block people who took to private messages to lambast me for daring to have a public opinion in such opposition to the one I was <i>supposed</i> to have. <b>This isn’t something that’s particular to my former brand of Christianity, either.</b> By and large, Christianity as a system in the Western world teaches people to run roughshod over the boundaries of those within and without their camps under the guise of love.<sup><a href=“http://www.patheos.com/blogs/godlessindixie/2014/10/15/your-love-is-toxic/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>25</a></sup> The consent of its members and non-​members alike isn’t required, as clearly demonstrated by the past almost 28 years of my existence. And that’s a <i>massive</i> problem, enabling (and at times <i>commanding</i>) the manipulation, mistreatment, and abuse of countless people. <b>In fact, I’d say one of the defining characteristics of Christianity today is that it has a consent problem.</b> When God’s love is offered freely to everyone…unless they reject Him, at which point He’ll subject them to violent, painful, and — oh yeah — <i>eternal </i>punishment, <i>Christianity has a consent problem.</i> When generations are taught they don’t belong to themselves because God made them<sup><a href=“http://rickwarren.org/devotional/english/god-made-you-and-you-belong-to-him” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>2</a></sup> <i>and paid for them</i> by killing His Son<sup><a href=“https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+6%3A19-20&amp;version=KJV” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>3</a></sup> so now they’re literally His slaves,<sup><a href=“https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=romans+6%3A22&amp;version=NASB” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>26</a></sup> <i>Christianity has a consent problem.</i> When it’s taught that believers are dead and thus no longer alive, but Christ lives through them now<sup><a href=“https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians+2:20&amp;version=NASB” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>27</a></sup> so they literally no longer exist and everything they do must align with the desires of a being other than themselves, <i>Christianity has a consent problem.</i> When people are constantly<sup><a href=“https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+79%3A13&amp;version=NASB” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>28</a></sup> compared<sup><a href=“https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+95:7&amp;version=NASB” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>29</a></sup> to<sup><a href=“https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+119:176&amp;version=NASB” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>30</a></sup> mindless<sup><a href=“https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+53:6&amp;version=NASB” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>31</a></sup> sheep<sup><a href=“https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+9:36&amp;version=NASB” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>32</a></sup> who need a shepherd<sup><a href=“https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hebrews+13:20&amp;version=NASB” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>33</a></sup> because on their own they can’t survive, <i>Christianity has a consent problem.</i> <iframe src=“//www.youtube.com/embed/fi8kYcl2Y38?rel=0” width=“560” height=“315” frameborder=“0” allowfullscreen=“allowfullscreen”></iframe> <i>Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure</i> Tangled <i>is one giant metaphor for deconverting from Christianity and escaping the abusive control of a manipulative authority figure.</i> When Christians constantly evangelize those who want to be left alone because of course they know better than those poor hell-​bound sinners,<sup><a href=“http://www2.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/docs/Berlin66/audu.htm” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>34</a></sup> <i>Christianity has a consent problem.</i> When Christians want to be free to live however they please,<sup><a href=“http://www.hslda.org/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>35</a></sup> but also want to use the government to force the country to live under “biblical” laws,<sup><a href=“http://internationalcopsforchrist.com/blog/?page_id=78” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>36</a></sup> <i>Christianity has a consent problem.</i> When believers pry into each other’s lives and shame each other for perceived moral failings that tend to be absolutely no one’s business under the guise of exhorting each other,<sup><a href=“https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Timothy+5%3A1‑2&amp;version=NKJV” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>11</a></sup> <i>Christianity has a consent problem.</i> When women are expected to give men a chance whether they want to or not,<sup><a href=“http://www.hannahettinger.com/ir-analyzing-god-told-me-you-were-the-one/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>37</a></sup> because men have more godly authority than women so we ought to trust them, <i>Christianity has a consent problem.</i> When people, married or not, are taught they don’t have authority over their own bodies<sup><a href=“https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+6%3A19-20&amp;version=KJV” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>3</a></sup> because they belong to their their father (if unmarried)<sup><a href=“http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2013/08/under-her-fathers-authority.html” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>4</a></sup> or their spouse<sup><a href=“https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+7%3A4&amp;version=NASB” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>5</a></sup> (and <i>of course</i> ultimately with God), <i>Christianity has a consent problem.</i> When divorce is forbidden<sup><a href=“https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+7%3A10-11&amp;version=NASB” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>38</a></sup> even in emotionally, physically, or sexually abusive circumstances,<sup><a href=“http://arewomenhuman.me/2010/08/08/john-piper-wives-should-endure-abuse-for-a-season/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>39</a></sup> <i>Christianity has a consent problem.</i> When women are forced to carry pregnancies to term against their will,<sup><a href=“http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/20/world/europe/jury-cites-poor-medical-care-in-death-of-indian-woman-in-ireland.html?_r=0” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>40</a></sup> <i>Christianity has a consent problem.</i> When children are seen as the property of their parents and treated like show dogs to train and show off, praised when performing well and beaten (oh, excuse me, <i>spanked</i>) when they “misbehave,”<sup><a href=“http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/authoritarian-parenting” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>41</a></sup> <i>Christianity has a consent problem.</i> When children are told to respect and honor their parents, no matter what abuses were rained down upon them in the name of love or otherwise,<sup><a href=“http://www.gotquestions.org/honor-abusive-parent.html” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>42</a></sup> <i>Christianity has a consent problem.</i> When you are told to lean not on your own understanding but in <i>every possible way</i> submit to God and His authorities in your life,<sup><a href=“https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=proverbs+3%3A5‑6&amp;version=NASB” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>43</a></sup> <i>Christianity has a consent problem.</i> When core tenants of the faith dictate that your own heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked and no one can know it,<sup><a href=“https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=jeremiah+17%3A9&amp;version=NASB” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>44</a></sup> and in the next breath you’re taught spiritual authorities in your life are to be trusted more than your own intuition<sup><a href=“http://ubdavid.org/advanced/practical/practical-christian_11.html” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>45</a></sup> and obeyed even against your better judgment (because <i>of course</i> you can’t even <i>have</i> better judgment, don’t you know that your heart is deceitful and desperately wicked?), <i>Christianity has a consent problem.</i> When the liberals, atheists, non-​Christians, LGBT+ community and all others that Christianity by and large decries as sinful and reprobate are the ones who teach love, acceptance, respect, and community better than Western Christianity as a whole ever has, <i>Christianity has a consent problem</i>. <b>There are individual exceptions to this, of course.</b> Certain groups within Christianity who are different, truly respectful and loving and inclusive. I’m unendingly thankful for the Christians in my life who tirelessly work to make their religion a better, safer place. People who strive to teach that you <i>are</i> your own,<sup><a href=“http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sarahoverthemoon/you-are-not-your-own-series/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>46</a></sup> in fact, and fight against the awful lie that we’re damaged goods,<sup><a href=“http://diannaeanderson.net/damaged-goods” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>47</a></sup> and lead the charge of liberation for the oppressed.<sup><a href=“http://politicaljesus.com/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>48</a></sup> I’m equally thankful for other former Christians like me, who write about our experiences in the faith and outside the faith,<sup><a href=“http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>49</a></sup> offering solidarity to other former Christians in an overwhelming Christianized nation,<sup><a href=“http://www.patheos.com/blogs/godlessindixie/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>50</a></sup> providing valuable critique<sup><a href=“http://www.patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>51</a></sup> of the framework of Christianity and how to live as an actualized person when you’ve realized that everything you’ve ever known is no longer available to you, and fighting to make sure that the church and state remain separate for the good of all in our country.<sup><a href=“http://www.anthonybsusan.wordpress.com/” target=“_blank” rel=“noopener noreferrer”>52</a></sup> I can’t tell you how freeing it is to realize that <b>I belong to me, and no one else.</b> I get to decide what happens to my body, what kind of interactions people are allowed to have with me, and what sort of people and activities and possessions I want to have in my life. <b>I’m my own person, and I get to decide who that is.</b> And until Christianity as a whole takes a good look at its refusal to recognize or honor the boundaries of others and work to change their rampant tendency to control the lives of all they can in the name of God, consent be damned…<strong>Christianity is not a safe place for <em>anyone</em>.</strong> And more and more people like me will have to leave it to find any sort of freedom, respect, and dignity. <hr /​> <i>Thanks to Amy, Suzannah, Abi, Christina, Blair, and Josh for helping me brainstorm for this, and also to Sarah, Dianna, Jes, Lindsey, Paige, and Michael for being my extra sets of eyes.</i>

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