Content Warning: Sexual abuse is described in this post. This is also written through the lens of my Christian faith. But this can be critiqued going further back than Jesus and Mary.
I am going to weigh in on Christianity Today magazine ignoring sexual misconduct. This story broke on the heels of the Texas Supreme Court halting the lawsuit of the oppressive and cruel anti-abortion law that has passed. Few will make the connection between these two events. It is inconvenient and will charge us with reevaluating how we do theology. We must (I do not say must unless it really is a must) go back to the beginning—go back to Jesus and Mother Mary.
First, I want to emphasize that Christianity Today is a known complementarian-affirming evangelical institution. After the death Rachel Held Evans, they published an article critiquing her theology. We were mourning and that article felt like an assault. Blame the author all you want, but this got past people in the system and made it to publishing. And herein lies the problem, the villain is not the individual person that we like to have—that is too easy—the villain is the community that sees what is happening and lets it go unchallenged, or excused because the person who has caused harm is beloved or makes the system a lot of money. I have an example.
Last night I watched Evan Rachel Wood’s documentary Phoenix Rising. I listened to her speak on Trevor Noah’s show and so much of what she said resonated with me. Her story is far more extreme, but it is weird how experiencing any kind of abuse will land you in the same place. She and I, both, are doing what it takes to heal and use whatever platform we have to stop the cycle of abuse. Her platform is much larger than mine, but again, not comparing. We are being faithful with what we have been given. Our brain also does not know levels of abuse when it experiences abuse. What has happened to Evan Rachel Wood, while extreme, is all too common in our society and it needs to be known. We are often the ones watching, and the ones doing nothing about it.
Evan Rachel Wood has been abused and brutally tortured by Marilyn Manson—real name Brian Hugh Warner. It has been a lot of painful work, and years of it, for Evan Rachel Wood to get to where she is now. She has not been able to maintain even healthy relationships at this time because abuse makes it hard to trust again. Healing work has to take place. She also gets victim-blamed, even by people who believe her, because it is so normal in our culture to do that. We have placed so much responsibility on the people who experienced abuse instead of the abuser. Regarding the abuser, we usually hear things like this: “don’t cancel them”; “don’t destroy them”; “they did not mean it that way”; “boys will be boys.” This is a cycle that needs to stop. It destroys the one who abuses too. Yes, they are deeply hurt people, and they get where they are because either help does not come for them or they refuse help. Narcissists like Manson and Trump will refuse help. And the system does not require them to heal when they serve the system well. Marilyn Manson made the industry millions. People watched him rape her on set and get violent with her after a show. She thought the handlers would step in. No one did. Even one she thought was a friend closed the door on a night he was publicly and openly violent with her. He knew and shook his head and closed the door. No one stopped it! They watched. Who is the villain in this story? This happens all the time. It is what MLK Jr is talking about when he calling out the silent white moderates who KNOW!
Rachel Evan Wood said that when she finally found a place that received her story and believed her within minutes—she did not have to convince them—what a relief that was to her soul. Same. When I got to my current church and shared my pain, and I did not even know I was sharing my pain because I had been crying out for so long and hearing silence, I was shocked when someone said: “thank you for sharing your heart with me. I will do my best to be worthy of it.” Oh my gosh! Talk about a life-changing moment. I thought what I said did not matter. I found a place that said it did. It changed me forever. And like Evan, even though I was in a healthy relationship, I had a lot of work to do to heal. And it is happening now. I am feeling whole and finding out who I have been this whole time. This is not a new me. This is the me that has always existed but was hiding because she was scared. A community that is safe can make this possible.
Communities build up and communities destroy. The community often determines if someone heals or is destroyed. Now, this does not mean when someone refuses help—like Marilyn Manson—the community is responsible for that. In the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans, “By no means!” What I am saying is the community is responsible if they give them power to keep going as they are in the community without intervention on behalf of those who lie in their wake.
This story makes me think about a Bible story in the gospel of John. See the quotes around this title as air quotes, “The Woman Caught in Adultery.” What a piss-poor name for this story, and so inaccurate too. This is a woman caught in the SIN of the system. These men brought her to Jesus to have her killed. Jesus made these men look within themselves instead. They could not act when they were challenged personally. The system made them act inhumanely and Jesus called them on it. It pissed them off, yes. This sets up the fact Jesus will be killed, but he deescalated this moment and saved this unnamed woman’s life. Jesus did this all the time. When he told her to go and sin no more, that couldn’t possibly mean her personal sin. She was caught in the middle of a male-pissing contest (got description that from a dear professor—so accurate). I even wonder if it was adultery at all now that I see how women’s abuse gets perceived—even in our own churches—and are all-too-often are victim blamed for the abuse. So much to think about in this story in light of our own reality and how we treat women. It is not the way of Jesus or Mother Mary.
Remember Mother Mary? God asked her permission to bear the word of God. God trusted a woman to do that. Why isn’t that more widely known and proclaimed in our theology? Why are Christians known more for their oppression and suppression of women? That is what looks like culture. I believe Jesus coming as a human male is extremely important. Here is a man with power equal to God and he does not exploit it. I believe Jesus is assuming the sin of men that bends towards dominance when unchecked. All the verses about power, he is talking to men. Hebrew Scriptures too (Exodus 20:17). Jesus empties himself and dies before he gives into the way of Caesar. He freed woman all along the way to continue his message after he is gone because he knew the system was going to kill him.
Back to my example now. Marilyn Manson’s real name is Brian Hugh Warner. He grew up in an unstable home and attended a private Christian school. He was severely bullied and he did not get what he needed from his community at a formative age. But he has also refused help now that help is here. His wounds turned him into the very thing that harmed him, and because he was and is so successful at making people believe this abuse is art, the system has allowed him to go unchecked. Brian is no longer with us. He died. This is part of the human condition we do not talk about enough in theology. Evan Rachel Wood said she is not out to destroy him. He is already destroyed. Sometimes the greatest act of love is saying no more and getting them stopped. That’ll preach.
All of this to say is when will Christians see our complicity in our theology as a community that supports this abuse instead of critiquing it. I read our church fathers and several sound like abusers. Trauma does something to our brain, and ERW says this too, and we know. We are finding out theologians like John Howard Yoder were sexual abusers. Ravi Zacharias, John MacArthur, Paige Patterson, John Piper, Denny Burk, Owen Strachan, and the list goes on. We have a theology that does not give any attention to the experiences of women and children and it shows. We look away all too often because we have been so influenced by these theologians that we cannot sit with the discomfort of the pain they have spread in our Christian community, and by intention. Their theology will be defended before the person who has been harmed by it will. Holding people accountable is not canceling them. It is an act of love and a chance for redemption for them to find their true selves that always existed. To find out their name is Beloved.
Christianity Today thought they did not have to repent or change their stance on the subordination of women. They are silent on the Texas laws that clearly blame women for their plight and not challenge states trying to defund public education. I have not seen an article critiquing how not pro-life this is. But I have seen plenty on abortion, when abortions have been statistically been reducing too—it makes no sense, unless you consider power. They broadcast the story of Mark Driscoll like the problem was all his. There was no reflection on their part. They centered the victims very little, and found the ones who still believed in complementarian theology when they did. Look where this is leading us. Look where it lead Christianity Today. Now they have to look at themselves. And I hope they do it holistically, but I am not banking on it.
Fellowship Southwest posted this thought on their social media sites yesterday: Maybe you were made for such a time as this. It was inspired by Purim beginning yesterday for our Jewish friends. The story of Esther is the story of this holiday. I sat with that thought as I am exhausted trying to finish this semester and wondering if my own faith is good for women. Then I read that post and remembered why I was called by God at the moment I was.