I want to begin by saying I have nothing but sympathy for this woman. If she told me her story in real life, I'd spend no time engaging in theological discussion with her, I'd simply tell her how bad the whole thing is and be present with her. If she wanted to curse Jesus I'd be fine with it. "A despairing man should have the love of his friends, even if he forsake the fear of God" (Job 6:14). The proper response to abuse like this, which is all too common in religion and in the Christian church in particular, is love and repentance.
But the story has been put out on a public forum and so constitutes a position statement. It has been made a part of 'the dialogue' and so I want to address the issues contained within. It is just too rich to not be used as grist for the theological mill. But understand I take this action by abstracting from the person writing. I have nothing but love for her.
[Whenever I talk about my escape from the Quiverfull movement, Christians immediately dismiss my experience by saying, “Your problem was not with Jesus or Christianity. Your problem was that you were following an extreme, legalistic cult. Let me tell you about my personal relationship with Jesus.” It can be extremely frustrating. I was in a close, personal relationship with Jesus for over 25 years. But rather than telling you about the beginning of my relationship with this man, I am going to spare you the long story and skip straight to the break up.]
No one should respond to her situation with this kind of response. God doesn't need defending. However, in abstraction, her statement here is simply question begging. It is completely right to ask whether the God with which she related is the God of Jesus Christ. Consider this statement from Alfred N Whitehead: "Accordingly, what should emerge from religion is individual worth of character. But worth is positive or negative, good or bad. Religion is by no means necessarily good. It may be very evil. The fact of evil, interwoven with the texture of the world, shows that in the nature of things there remains effectiveness for degradation. In your religious experience the God with whom you have made terms may be the God of destruction, the God who leaves in his wake the loss of the greater reality."
Reinhold Niebuhr writes about this extensively in the chapter of BEYOND TRAGEDY entitled "The Ark and The Temple". Satan can pretend to be God. And that is the problem. The entire POINT of the Gospels, as I read them, is to pit a God of vulnerable love against a god of coercive control and to ask which is truly God. Yes, Christians transform Christ into the form of Caesar. That is Satan's most terrible trick.
[We had studied the Bible carefully, and knew so much about “Biblical Family Values,”]
This is the crux of the problem with the woman's overall article, as I read it. It seems to pretend that the Bible has one single, over-arching message about issues, in this case on the issue of 'family values'. But, anyone who has read my book CONVERSATIONAL THEOLOGY or my blog often enough, should know that this is simply not true. For why we should think it is not true, see here: http://ljtsg.blogspot.com/2013/04/one-more-time-with-feeling-bible-says.html
For an example of an attack on what Christians today are likely to identify as 'family values' (including the ones she lists on her blog), see here:
The simple fact of the matter is the same Bible that 'says' all the things she lists, also has places that contradict exactly what she says. Let's take the issue of mankind's dignity or lack thereof. Here is something from my book CONVERSATIONAL THEOLOGY that sums up both sides of this Biblical argument:
...the beginnings of the conversations around the image are more implied rather than explicit. What you have is disparate reflections with little relationship to one another about the nature of mankind. It is not until the New Testament and the early church that these lines of thought are put in real dialogue with one another and the conversation starts to get going (Paul’s writings). Some of the issues that are touched upon vaguely in the Old Testament include the question of where in the human psyche we find ourselves most like God: in the rational faculties, or in the passions, or somewhere else (wisdom and learning are virtuous parts of the human soul in the Proverbs, that part of the human condition closest to God, whereas passages like Isaiah 44:25 put a suspicious eye on the learning of the wise). Other undercurrents point to issues concerning whether the image of God is still operative in human beings, or whether we are no longer anything like God at all (Palm 8:3-9 indicates the former is true, where as passages like Jeremiah's lament that the human heart is desperately wicked beyond belief in Jeremiah 17:9, indicate nothing good is left within the human soul). It is important to remember here that what we have at best are suggestions and implications, and whatever else is true; the issue of the "image of God" never sparks a major set of 'conversations' in the Old Testament.
The writer here picks out one particular passage from scripture and makes that the Biblical position, ignoring the entire breadth of the Biblical record. Scripture, when studied as a complete unit, reveals itself to be a conversation around the issue of human nature. She quotes Jeremiah, I'd quote Psalm 8. That is just one example, I could take every passage she cites and find many more that contradict just about all of them.
The point of all this is, that for all her claims of escape from fundamentalism, she still seems trapped by the greatest intellectual weapon fundamentalism uses: all or nothing thinking. The key to a free mind is right thinking. That is why I love logic, and philosophy, so much. It frees you up to think straight. One of the most common fallacies when it comes to religion, and this in my experience applies equally to scientism and fundamentalism, is all or nothing thinking. But that is a fallacy of bifurcation, plain and simple. There is no reason to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Nor is there any reason to pigeonhole a collection of texts that spans 1500+ years by pointing out select passages.
The Bible contains a text that tells us to honor our father and mother. It also contains a text telling us to hate the same. The Bible contains a text that tells Jews to discriminate against Moabite women. It also contains an entire Book telling us not to do that. The Bible has a text that says women shouldn't speak in Church. It has another text praising a female deacon. The question is HOW DO WE APPROACH THE TEXT. I suggest to you that a conversational approach, grounded in the human experience of God (nowhere better explored than in the books MYSTERY WITHOUT MAGIC by Russell Pregeant and A RUMOR OF ANGELS by Peter Berger, books everyone needs to read), gives us the ability to use the Bible as a route to encountering God, and yes I think that encountered is centered around Jesus Christ, without shackling ourselves to bad ideas, bad theology, and bad moral teachings.
Consider this from my unpublished book on the Holy Spirit:
The simple fact of the matter is that the OVERARCHING theme of the New Testament is the transvaluation of human values. The making of the lowest the greatest, and the weakest the strongest. The raising up of those who are oppressed or 'not in control' as the leader's in God's Kingdom are the strongest reasons to reject the kind of system that this woman was subjected to. Values have to be grounded out in something OUTSIDE of the human mind or social structure or they ultimately end up being self-refuting. That God moves the world in the direction of raising up the vulnerable and the weak says something important about vulnerability and about coercive power. That such a departure from the way humans normally work didn't take hold easily or simply come to us all at once isn't surprising. Against and alongside the overarching view of New Testament transvaluation is the same old human obsession with power. It is there, and it is easily exploited.
But the vision of Revelation 5, or of the solitary man on the cross, these are the"great religious conceptions which haunt the imaginations of civilized mankind" (Whitehead). The problem is that Jesus and Paul both thought that the final culmination of this new value system, the final turning upside down of the world's fortunes, was going to take place very soon. The expected the End of Days in their own lifetimes. When this didn't materialize, the church was stuck trying to figure out how to take their end-times ethical systems and adapt them to an ongoing world. (For more on this see here: http://ljtsg.blogspot.com/2014/02/an-apocalyptic-shift-or-why-church.html)
It was very EASY to take those power relationship images that still persisted in the Bible and make them THE persisting ethical stance over against the greater thrust that I for one see in the New Testament. The hard part is to do the other thing. The hard part is to make the power of vulnerability and the persuasive force of love your guiding light. That is why the same Paul who began by proclaiming all are One in Christ, wound up acquiescing to cultural norms of his day, and why his followers pushed this even further.
But I digress (which is my right on my blog), the real point here, is that this woman was hurt by life, and by Christianity. And we should all be mindful of her words. But the ultimate damage done to her, by my lights, was that a wall was erected between her and the truth. A wall that will not easily come down. And one we can only make worse by trying.