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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