We are addressing this Pence situation all wrong


I know I’m terribly late to the conversation on this one, and honestly, I wasn’t even going to weigh in. Mike Pence admitting recently that he would never meet with another woman without a third person present, or consume alcohol in public without his wife at his side has opened the floodgates for a conversation about gender roles, lust, and the blaming of women for the actions of men. There’s a lot to say on the topic, but I have really only one thought to share today.

Every article, tweet, and news story I have read on the subject asks the question “how does Pence’s personal standard affect the women who need to work with him?” 

I think this is entirely the wrong question. I think we all need to ask: why did Mike Pence apply for and accept a job he cannot fully perform without compromising his personal beliefs?

We all know where Mike Pence stands on issues like abortion or homosexuality, so it probably goes without saying that he would never accept a job at an Planned Parenthood or a support home for LGBT youth who have been abandoned by their parents for being gay. I don’t think it would be a reach to assume that he would think either of those positions went too far against his religious beliefs for him to engage as an effective or responsible employee.

Why then would he apply for the job of second in command of the United States of America, if there is an entire gender of people with whom he cannot interact in a private setting? Why would he take a role that could one day put him in the highest seat in the land, if he couldn’t accept classified or closed door briefings from female advisers?

On a superficial level, this may seem like a non-problem, but what if one day Pence does become POTUS? Are meetings with female ambassadors, female foreign dignitaries, female security council members, female cabinet members, or female United Nations representatives to only be scheduled when another person with equal security clearance is able to be present? What happens when a female member of the joint chiefs needs to disclose important security information for POTUS’ ears only? Is Pence planning to give a random aide the highest security clearance possible so that he will have someone on-hand to be a third-party in every single meeting?

What happens when a female foreign dignitary needs to meet with him in a private setting to discuss extremely sensitive matters between our two countries? A refusal to have such a meeting would be, at best, embarrassing, and at worst, flat-out hostile.

During a job interview, potential employers will often ask what, if any, the potential employee needs with regard to reasonable accommodations. It is understood that if you want a job you must be able to perform the basic functions of the job. If you are unable to perform the job, you won’t be hired. So why then would Pence apply for and accept a job he potentially cannot perform to the fullest extent of the position?

I have a number of married male friends who have implemented the Billy Graham Rule in their marriages. I applaud them for this. I think setting in place boundaries to protect your relationship is valliant and beautiful. But the same men have declined to go into certain fields (such as psychiatry or medicine) that may put them in a situation where, in order to properly perform their job, they would have to interact with a woman in a one-on-one private setting. They understand that with this personal standard they cannot properly fulfill the functions of such a position, and they act accordingly.

Going forward, Mike Pence needs to very seriously consider whether or not he is able or willing to perform all of the functions of every job he seeks. And, if the rumors are true and he has his sights set on the oval for 2020, he should be willing to be honest and admit that he is not capable of upholding his personal religious standard and doing whatever is necessary to perform the responsibilities of POTUS to the fullest extent. To fail to do so is extremely misleading.

For as long as our high-level government positions have the potential for necessary private meetings between two people of opposite genders, and for as long as Mike Pence refuses to participate in such meetings, it’s not unreasonable to say that our VPOTUS needs to find himself a different line of work.

Lies Christians told me to keep me in the Republican Party

Trigger warning: in this article, I am not nice to Christian Republicans, and if my anger is likely to hurt your feelings, you may not want to read this.

I have made no apologies about leaving Christianity in recent months, and I have no intention of going back. I know for a fact that there are good Christians in the world, (and by “good” I mean people who aren’t soaking in luxurious bubble baths while eating bonbons and laughing “let them eat cake” at the parade of impoverished children crossing their television screens). But let’s face it, given the performance of the “moral majority” in recent days, the bar for “decent Christian” is set pretty goddamn low.

I have been stunned as I have begun to distance myself from the toxic and harmful beliefs of people that I truly do care about, and how many lies and falsehoods I was fed as a Christian, which seemed so reasonable at the time, encased in my safe little bubble of religious arrogance.

But one by one, as I have re-engaged my brain, I have come to discover how many of these are not only false, but pretty reprehensible in the light of Jesus’ teachings. Here are a handful.

“Jesus’ teachings applied to individuals, not to bodies of government”

This one is a favorite of certain members of my family, who, when confronted with the reality that Jesus taught socialist principles, feel they are safe in arguing that those principles only apply to individuals interacting with individuals, and not to systems of government. Because our government is made up of robots, apparently? 

Either way, I know the Bible pretty well, and I certainly couldn’t name for you a place where Jesus said “feed the poor, clothe the naked, shelter those who seek refuge, and love your neighbor – which, by the way is everybody – EXCEPT in situations where the government is MAKING you do these things. Then you’re off the hook.”

“Jesus would have condemned taxation on this level as theft”

Another important point to my very conservative friends and family members is how completely unfair it is that the government has the right to take money out of their paychecks to pay for things they don’t want. Honestly, I feel that unfairness too. I’m pretty sick of huge chunks of my paycheck going toward wars that we should not be participating in, and government bailouts for giant corporations who refuse to pay their workers a living wage and live like fat cats in the meantime.

But arguing that pennypinching your tax dollars, which go to things like feeding poor children, is the moral thing to do because Jesus would have called it theft is pretty low, even for the GOP.

“Caring for the poor is the responsibility of the church, not of the government”

This one is not necessarily a lie in and of itself, so much as a glaring logical fallacy. Sure, the church was commanded in the Bible to take care of the poor, but nowhere was it instructed to do so to the exclusion of any other organization also helping the poor. And furthermore, the logical fallacy comes when you realize that without government intervention, many Christians just won’t do it.

The implication that if the government would just get out of the church’s way and put money back in Christians’ pockets than they could zoom about like busy little bees doing the good work themselves is just flat false. I don’t know a single far-right Republican who has plans to set aside portions of their income, should their taxes be lowered, in order to funnel toward people who need it. You want your taxes lower so you can keep more of your money for yourself. It’s that simple. 

“Abortion at any stage in geststation is always murder.”

Again, not necessarily a lie (though also not true) so much as dishonest in its framing. I believe that it is okay to believe that life begins at conception. I do not think it’s cool to teach children something that is basically a religious belief as though it was scientific fact. 

Here are some scientific facts: the parts of your brain responsible for making you a person – basically, setting you apart from any other clump of organic matter – do not develop until about halfway through a pregnancy. So if you want to believe that life begins at conception, go for it. But don’t teach your children that this is a fact when in reality it is part of your religious belief system.

“It is moral to use the poor treatment of American veterans as an excuse to not help other demographics”

This one makes me extremely angry, because the way that our country treats veterans is not only appalling but abhorrent. So when I see memes going around on Facebook arguing against raising the minimum-wage because “people flipping burgers should not make more than our service people do” I kind of want to scream. 

Reality check for you: Liberals have been trying to get your party to flow more money into veteran services for very long time, and just because your party isn’t interested in paying service people better doesn’t mean that our party is bad for wanting to be sure children don’t starve. The two are not mutually exclusive.

“If people really want to make a living, they will find a way to do it.”

Even I was guilty of spreading this ridiculous falsehood when I was a Republican Christian. Then I became a single mother, and now hearing people I care about echo this lie just breaks my heart.

The implication that a woman like me, raising a daughter, working two jobs just to pay rent, trying to put myself through school so that my child can have a future outside of this low income hell, should just “find a way” to make the money necessary to pay for health insurance I can’t afford without government help, is disgusting.

The sheer lack of compassion coming from the conservative side of the aisle makes me ill. Your party doesn’t want me to make a living wage working 40 hours a week, wants me to have to go tens of thousands of dollars into debt to continue my education and better my future, isn’t interested in offering me childcare services so that I can draw from a broader pool of employment, and expects me to somehow find time for a third job to pay for my child’s health insurance?

“The United States should stop taking in refugees because it needs to focus on its own people first.”

But. You. Don’t.

You don’t care for your own people first. You don’t work to pull hardworking people out of poverty. You don’t care about senior citizens, about young children, about the disabled. You pretend they don’t exist and slam their caretakers for not doing enough to provide for them. 

And at the end of the day, we see right through you. We see how your racism and xenophobia is fueling this fight, and how your own fears are ruling your head and destroying any hope of kindness or generosity. If you were hoping to emulate Jesus, you could not have gone further in the wrong direction.

So, in a nutshell, really quickly, here is my short list of reasons why I have abandoned the Republican Party and will never look back:

– I believe that every parent who is willing to work 40 hours a week should be able to pay their bills on what they make.

– I believe that the lack of a stay-at-home parent in a household should not prevent a low-income person from finding employment.

– I believe that someone who has just found out their child has cancer should be able to survive the ordeal without going bankrupt in the process.

– I believe that the wealthiest 1% in our country should be expected to pull their weight and pour back into the system that allowed them to acquire their wealth in the first place.

– I believe that compassion should always trump fear, and that while our country has the resources to do so, it should keep its borders open to any human being fleeing terror and violence.

– I believe decisions about womens bodies should be made by women. Full stop.

– I do not have a problem, even as someone who scrapes by at the end of every month, contributing my taxes to be sure someone else’s children have food and healthcare. And I cannot fathom how you do not feel the same.

Gaslighting, isolation, and assault: my story of narcissistic abuse.

Content warnings: sexual assualt, rape, isolation abuse, financial abuse

I was married for six years to a man I had been with for two years prior to our wedding. That marriage had a ton of issues, created a ton of trauma, and involved a lot of damage. For reasons that I will save for another post, my ex-husband and I were basically set up for failure, and while leaving that relationship was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do, it was also one of the most necessary.

But the next man to walk into my life following my divorce would manage to do more damage in one year than my previous relationship had done in eight.

This is the story, not of my broken marriage, but of the devastating relationship that immediately followed it.

Serial abusers have a pattern to how they acquire their new victims. Each new relationship is generally preceded by a dramatic life overhaul on the part of the abuser, which involves burning any bridges of people who know them “too well,” isolating the new victim, and conditioning them to 1. never interact with anyone who could give them an unflattering perspective on the abuser, and 2. feed them enough lies about those people that if the current victim and the previous one ever had the option to interact, the current victim would truly believe the previous victim to be crazy, evil, or some combination of the two.

The setup was textbook. My abuser built our relationship upon a number of factors: the number of years we have been out of contact and out of each other’s lives following our initial meeting a decade before, and the loyalty that came from our newly reestablished friendship, the fact that both of our marriages imploded at roughly the same time, the reality that I was a brand-new mother, sleep deprived and overwhelmed, and the financial and physical dependence I had on him and members of his family. I was fragile from new motherhood (my daughter was only three weeks old when we left my ex-husband), broken from my divorce, and isolated from friends and family. The only support I had I met through him – again, specifically chosen people he knew would only speak positively about him.

He told me what I would later discover to be outlandish lies about his ex-wife, and, at the same time, lied to her about me, to be sure we were thoroughly pitted against each other and kept apart. Even now, as I have had the privilege of reconnecting with her and sorting through our mutual manipulation, it is devastating to realize the extent to which he deceived us in order to preserve his facade. 

I struggled during that time to determine what I wanted from my faith, and engaged with the church community that he had been a part of for many years. The people there welcomed me, offered me love, financial support, and relationship, but they neglected to warn me about the ugly facts of this man’s past. Mark (a name I have deliberately chosen to avoid giving him any notoriety or future ammunition against me), had committed multiple acts of sexual violence in his previous marriage, and thoroughly manipulated, controlled, and abused his wife until she had no choice but to flee. The handful of the new friends I had in this church community knew the reality of the situation. They had heard confessions of this abuse directly from Mark’s own mouth. 

But the Christian teachings of unconditional acceptance and forgiveness were manipulated by this man, who knew exactly what to say and how to present himself in order to seem remorseful and changed. In the spirit of forgiveness, they welcomed him with open arms, offering him shelter under their roofs and places among their families. They trusted him, and I felt that if they trusted him, there was no reason for me not to.

There were people who might have been willing to tell the truth about what they knew of him, but Mark went well out of his way to be sure that I thought so little of those people that I would never take them seriously should their opinions find their way to me. In the time that we were together, he turned me into a weapon against his ex, selling me his version of an evil, manipulative woman who would do anything to hurt him, and then using my loyalty as a tool to hurt her. She was the enemy, and since she had fled to the opposite end of the state, unable to share her story, I had little reason to believe otherwise. I took up arms on his behalf, and he had no need to personally defame her while he had such a willing foot soldier who would do that dirty work for him. It makes me sick to think about the dishonest gossip I spread about a woman who has not only been gracious to me in our reconciliation, but did in fact try to warn me ahead of time about what he was capable of doing.

The first time he assaulted me, we were in the middle of an intimate encounter when he decided to ask me for something specific. I told him no – that act made me emotionally uncomfortable and caused me physical pain. He used the dramatic difference in our sizes to his advantage and forced me to perform it anyway.

The second time, we began an evening of hanging out with me stating clearly to him that I did not want to be physically intimate. Within an hour he had manipulated and coerced me into “changing my mind” by using his own sadness and needs to make me feel guilty for saying no.

Following both of these encounters, he apologized, putting on a very convincing show of remorse and shame, admitting that what he had done was wrong and disgusting, and asking for my forgiveness.

But in between the acts of physical violence, there was a much more subtle abuse taking place.

Mark had dramatic financial issues, often running himself into a huge amount of debt over frivolous purchases. He was the classic cautionary tale of retail therapy gone wrong. But even in instances of generosity, he had convinced me that gifts were the only language his heart understood.

During this time I was in job training, and had no regular income of my own. I could not reciprocate the lavish gifts he would bestow upon me after he had done something that hurt me. One evening, he made a terribly cutting remark and left me in tears, and I was so terrified of losing him by “reacting badly” to verbal abuse he had committed against me that I actually spent a ridiculous amount of money from my tax return on a gift for him as an apology.

Apologizing and feeling guilty for things that were done to me became a regular occurrence. If I stood up for myself, he would compare me to his ex-wife, who he claimed was “vindictive and emotionally manipulative.” I would apologize. If I called him out on abusive behavior, he would tell me that I was being “unforgiving and unchristian.” I would apologize. If I expressed fear that he was harming me or using me in any way, he would act betrayed by the insinuation, and blame my previous marriage for trauma that he claimed I was “projecting onto him.” I would apologize.

We quickly and easily fell into a pattern that was dramatically one-sided: me running to keep up and anticipate his every whim, making him food, bringing him coffee at work, doing his laundry, bending over backwards to make him happy and walking on eggshells to prevent him from being unsatisfied with me. Him using every fear I had against me in order to keep me in line and trotting along at his heels.

And all the while, we lied.

My church community knew that I had some major issues with the Bible and its rules, and that certain things commonly accepted in Christianity – like extramarital sex being a sin, for example – were not moral hangups for me. They knew we disagreed on those topics, but they loved and accepted me anyway.

Mark, on the other hand, went to great pains to hide where his opinions differed from those of his church. He reframed this dishonesty in terms of “privacy.” I would try to communicate how uncomfortable it made me that I felt like I was being hidden. Privately, beyond closed doors he would tell me that he loved me, that he intended to marry me and be with me forever, that he hoped one day to adopt my daughter. Publicly, he asserted that we were “just friends” and, I would later discover, that I was unstable and attention-seeking, and his friendship with me was one of pity.

For six months we carried out this ruse, him hiding the reality of his life from his church, me dutifully and loyally protecting his reputation and his privacy. It would ruin his life, he said to me, if people in the church knew that we had been sleeping together. He claimed his ex-wife would maliciously use it against him and find ways to punish him if she knew the truth. He claimed his church would tell him he could no longer lead worship or participate in the small groups if they thought he was sinning. His entire life, he insisted, hung on me keeping his privacy intact.

And so I did. Of course I did.

I wouldn’t see until much, much later how this disguise of our “friendship” actually enabled him to play the field behind my back. He once made the mistake of allowing me to see his phone being messaged over and over by a girl from his gym who he had never mentioned to me. When I pressed him, he insisted that they were only friends, but upon further questioning he admitted that they had gone on a date the week before and he had intentionally hidden that fact from me. Months later I would discover they had been sleeping together behind my back. To this day I honestly don’t even know if she realized he was in a relationship.

Around the six month mark, a dramatic shift occurred in our relationship. He pulled away suddenly, distancing himself from me emotionally, refusing to talk to me, and ignoring my pleas for any sort of communication. The only time we would interact was late at night when he would text to ask if he could come over. I would beg him for some sort of explanation, or at the very least, an ultimatum or definition of our relationship. He flat-out refused to give me either. Finally, I asked him for one thing: that when he decided he was done with me, he should say so. “Don’t just let me hang here,” I begged. “Just be direct with me when you have decided that this relationship is over. Have enough respect for me to at least break up with me.” He said he could promise that much. He couldn’t, and in the months that followed I finally grew so devastated and hurt by his neglect of me that, eventually, I was the one to break things off.

My daughter and I, since leaving my ex-husband, had been graciously and generously sheltered by Mark’s mother. She could tell a dramatic change had happened, although she didn’t at the time know the full extent of our relationship. He insisted we keep her in the dark as well, threatening that if she discovered he and I had a romantic relationship, she might evict me and my infant. This sweet woman who had become like a second mother to me and a grandmother to my daughter found me crying in the bathroom one evening. I finally confessed to her, leaving out particular details that Mark had been adamant she should never learn, that not long ago he had been making promises about forever, and now he had abandoned me with no explaination. That night she confessed to me that she knew he was a monster, and sometimes wished that he had never been born. 

Mark’s mother knew – and knows – the truth about him. Unbeknownst to me at the beginning of our relationship, she had sat across from Mark’s ex-wife and heard all the abuses that had been inflicted upon her. Like the other members of our church community, she knew that he had a history of abuse, and she knew that he and I had a close intimate friendship, but she chose to use the excuse of forgiveness not to warn me. My heart breaks when I think of how trapped and controlled she is by him.

At the end of the summer, after my daughter and I left his mother’s house and found our own apartment, I confided to a mutual friend of ours that if Mark were to knock on my door and asked to date me properly – openly, honestly, and without fascade – that I would tell him no. I had finally seen him for the sort of person he was, and I didn’t want to be with him anymore. I felt very free.

Several months later, I began to date Jordan and experience my first truly healthy relationship. All the while, Mark remained on the edges of my social circle, and we ran into each other more than once. We still engaged in the same church community, and I still kept his secrets. Periodically he would text me to “chat” about his new life, his new girlfriends, his promotion, etc. I kept a careful distance, knowing that this behavior was intended to elicit jealous or insecure reactions from me. Then in January, a little more than a year since we first got together, he texted me to ask if we could meet for coffee. Hesitantly, I agreed.

He led the conversation, as he usually does, and unsurprisingly the topic revolved around his romantic life. He wanted me to know how many women he had been with since me, how many relationships he had started and ended since we broke ties six months before. But he made a crucial error in telling his story, and accidentally admitted to me that had been with a number of these women long before our break up. All of the hurt and anger came flooding back as I realized that he had cheated on me.

After a year of suffering in silence and isolation, I finally made the decision to come clean to the leaders of our church. These dear friends, who had shown me so much love, made time in their day to allow me to tell my story and bring the deceit, manipulation, and double life Mark had led to the surface. When he was finally confronted by our pastor about his lies, he chose to abandon the community entirely, yet again burning bridges and severing ties with anyone who knew the truth about him.

The wheel turned. Nothing changed.

I carefully separated myself from him, changing my phone number, and blocking him on social media. I created a safe buffer between us, so that if he or his new significant other wanted to interact with me they would struggle to find a medium through which to do so. I created new space in my life, went back to therapy, and began to heal.

Since his departure from that community and most of the people who now know the extent of his deceit, he has created a brand-new social group. It has been more than a year since the last time I had to speak to him. He has surrounded himself with people who have little or no knowledge of his past, found a new significant other, and weaponized her against me in the exact same way he weaponized me against his previous ex. She fights his battles for him, and recently did hunt me down online to attack me for sharing (what he has undoubtedly told her are) lies about him. To my knowledge, she has no one to tell her the truth. In reality, I can’t even be angry at her. I did much the same to his ex, and if their relationship one day ends, his next victim will do the same to her.

This past Easter, nearly a year ago, he went to his mother and “told her the facts of our relationship.” To this day I have no idea what he could have said to her, but immediately following that conversation she pulled the chute, blocking me on social media, blocking my phone number, and refusing to answer any of my emails. He severed my relationship with a woman who held such an important place in my heart, and I will likely never get the opportunity to tell her my side of the story.

The devastating reality of this story is that it is not an original one, and while the signs are clear and textbook, it is almost impossible to see them while you are in the maelstrom. My hope is that by sharing this tale, I will shed light on the common abusive practices of isolation, forced silence, casual assault, and dramatically lopsided relationship that defines abuse. I know Mark would rather this story never be told. I know his significant other has been conditioned to disbelieve it, and I know the people who are still loyal to him have a desire to discredit it. But I will not be bullied into hiding my story. After a year of psychological, physical, and emotional abuse, he does not have the power to control me anymore.

Things to know when supporting a victim of spiritual abuse


I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to say that few clergypeople, ministers, or spiritual leaders intentionally inflict spiritual abuse on people in their community (or, at the very least, they believe what they are doing is loving, even if from the outside it is objectively abusive.) But despite best intentions, abuse does happen, and it happens in ways that are sometimes very hard to identify from the inside. 

As both a former victim of this type of abuse, and as someone who hopes to help to stop these cycles in faith communities, here are a few things I have learned about supporting someone who has experienced harm in and by their religion: 

Victims may be likely to jump ship.

It’s not uncommon for victims of spiritual abuse to flee their faith communities, and burn their bridges along the way. The trauma and desperation that results from being harmed by people you trusted with the most intimate parts of your soul can cause a person to want to run far away and never look back.

For some people, this means ghosting – vanishing from the faith community entirely, cutting off connections to people in that community, etc. This tactic can happen overnight and leave supporters baffled and saddened.

In other cases, this exit can be a gradual process, wherein victims slowly retreat from their community, removing themselves from one relationship at a time as they discover which relationships make them feel safe and which seem to only compound the hurt.

How you can show support:

If you have had a close relationship with the victim in the past, this can be very painful. Trying not to take this distance personally can feel impossible. What results in a loss of community for the victim can also result in a loss of friendship for people in the support system.

Keeping an open hand with regard to relationships can be invaluable for victims of this type of abuse. Try to communicate to the person you wish to support that you are willing to give them the distance they need, but that you will still be there for them if and when they return. 

Some of the worst damage that is done in the aftermath of spiritual abuse comes as a result of the support system abandoning the victim they claim to love. It’s not easy, but hang in there. The initial implosion doesn’t last forever.

Victims of spiritual abuse often lash out.

This is a tough one to address, because no amount of abuse is excuse for bad behavior. Just because someone has been the victim of spiritual abuse does not give them license to turn around and abuse others. 

That being said, victims of spiritual abuse often feel understandably angry at the systems that contributed to their pain. Expressing anger towards those institutions is a natural reaction. Unfortunately, what is meant as an attack on systemic issues might feel very personal to those still in the faith community. As the saying goes “the personal is political.” 

Victims who express anger or distress toward an organization can unintentionally target their frustrations at the people within the system. This is part of the nature of religion: spiritual beliefs are inextricably tied to personhood and identity, and it can be very difficult for victims to name their abuse without causing those who subscribe to the offending religion to feel personally attacked.

How you can show support:

As with the last point, not taking it personally is a good first step. Communicating when you feel personally targeted is important as well. If the person you are trying to support is attacking you directly, say so. Draw attention to ways in which you feel like their anger may be misdirected. 

Sadly, some victims cannot – or should not – reconcile with individuals inside an organization that has caused that much harm. If you find this to be the case, taking a step back from the relationship may be a good option for both of you.

Sorting out the difference between systemic failure in religion and the individuals that are perceived as promoting that failure is a very tricky and often painful business, both for victims and for their supporters. Have patience with yourselves and each other through this process.

Victims of spiritual abuse may never return to their former faith communities.

This can be a difficult reality for many advocates and supporters. If you have a healthy relationship with your faith, it is very natural for you to want to direct victims to the aspects of that faith that bring you comfort, healing, and safety. 

However, a return to a culture that has caused harm may be an unrealistic hope that only causes further damage between you and the person you wish to support.

How you can show support:

Put your evangelistic tendencies on the back burner as much as you possibly can. Particularly in the early stages, it is very easy for victims of spiritual abuse to develop a Stockholm Syndrome-like reaction to evangelism. 

Fear of being isolated, of losing one’s community, or of being ostracized can lead victims to false or forced engagement in faith communities. This is counterproductive to healing, and ultimately drives even bigger wedges between victims and their communities. 

Allow victims of spiritual abuse to be honest when they need distance from their former faith. Assure them that you are willing to walk alongside them without expecting any sort of conversion or compliance with your religious beliefs. If their journey leads them back to their former faith, great. If it doesn’t, your respect and unconditional friendship will make a big difference in their healing process.

At the end of the day, victims of spiritual abuse need what victims of any type of abuse need: unconditional love, respect, and patience. If you have chosen to engage with someone who has been harmed by religion, you can be either their biggest support or their worst nightmare. Choosing respect is the most important thing you could possibly do for a person who needs your support.

How I can be pro-choice and still love my daughter


“How can you be pro-choice if you are a mother?” 

I understand the emotion behind this question. I have heard women ask this question with tears in their eyes, in the middle of infertility struggles, or recovering from miscarriages. I have heard this question asked with anger in their voices they try and wrap their heads around the fact that I love my child and would fight for the rights of other women to, from their perspective, abort their own. There is a lot of pain in this question. And a lot of confusion.

But there is an answer too.

Most of the people who ask this question belong to the Christian community in which I live and relate. They believe that life begins when a heart starts to beat, or even earlier, at the point of conception. The problem I have with this theory is that it reduces my daughter to her heartbeat. But my daughter’s personhood is not contingent on her biological systems. 

Her personhood is in her humor, her tenacity, her ability to learn and grow and interact with the world around her. Her personhood is defined and demonstrated by her ability to feel pain and experience beauty, her brain’s ability to create and recall memories. Those are the things that make her my Molly. And these are all things, science tells us, that her tiny brain was not capable of until close to 25 weeks into gestation.

So before that 25-week-mark, I believe – based on my layman’s understanding of the scientific research I have been able to read – my daughter was not a person.

This is the point that causes so much pain and confusion. This is the point that invokes the tears. And if I end my narrative there, it leaves out what is possibly the most important aspect of my beliefs regarding personhood.

Namely, that long before my daughter was a person, I was her mother.

Long before her little synapsis began to fire, creating humanity inside a grouping of fetal cells, I loved her. I gave her a name. I made a place for her in my heart, and in my future, and in my home. I bought her a bed, clothing, food. I built for her a family, designating those around me as “grandma” grandpa”, “aunt” and “uncle.” I wrapped her in a blanket of tertiary personhood, woven of my love for her, until she was able to develop her own.

Mothers are the true creators in this world, not just because our biology allows us to create more autonomous biology, but because our hearts have the capability to bestow personhood on someone who does not yet exist. 

Ask my friend who adopted from overseas, and she will tell you that she loved her son with all her heart long before she knew that he was hers. Ask another who endured the horrors of a miscarriage very early in her pregnancy, and she will tell you that she still feels love for the child that never developed far enough to attain independent personhood. That child is still hers. That child is still real. That child is still deeply loved.

A mother’s love is a powerful force that transcends time and biology. It moves across oceans and creates life and personhood long before our biological systems do. My daughter’s heart beat did not give her life and humanity. I did.

I loved my Molly when she was an unfertilized egg resting deep inside my reproductive system. I loved her long before she implanted in my uterine wall, long before my hormones began to signal that my body was developing a fetus, long before I could watch that development happen on an ultrasound. She was a person to me, and I was her mother, long before her heart began to beat.

But not every woman who houses a fertilized egg is that fetus’ mother.

Just as women across the world use birth control to prevent natural processes in their bodies from initiating pregnancy, similarly, some women choose to abort the process of pregnancy before the developing fetus achieves its own personhood – before that tiny brain ever lights up at all.

They could bestow personhood on that fetus, but they choose not to do so. This is their right. The creator has the right to choose not to create.

I do love my daughter with every fiber of my being. I have loved her since long before she existed. I chose to create her as a person long before her physical form developed, long before her brain begin to function, long before she gained her own personhood. 

And I stand for the rights of women who choose, for their own personal, important, often private reasons, not to create. I can stand for these women, not despite my status as a mother, but because of it.

Because my daughter is so much more than her heartbeat.

Post-Evangelical Feminists: you are not crazy.


You’re going to feel crazy. 

If you haven’t experienced already, you will. When your friends and family, who you have revered perhaps your entire life as being wise, right, and accountable for your souls, tell you that modern feminism is greedy, you will feel like a crazy person. When your fathers, who have always been the final arbiter of spirituality and morality in your homes tell you that modern feminists are immoral hypocrites, you will wonder if it’s true. 

When your sisters tell you “We don’t need feminism anymore because we can already vote,” you will wonder if you are overreacting. When the men and women who have been your spiritual leaders tell you that your beliefs stem from a hatred of men, you wonder if they’re right. You wonder if you are delusional. You will wonder if you have gone off the deep end.

You haven’t. You aren’t. Stand strong.

And remember, when the doubts start coming your way, how the religion in which you were raised didn’t see themselves as woman haters, despite the fact that their holy book taught that women should be quiet in religious gatherings, that women should not have authority over men in any fashion, that women are to be meek and submissive. 

Remember that they did not see their beliefs as misogyny when they taught you to revere and follow a text that allows for the stoning to death of rape victims who cannot prove that they resisted. 

Remember that they did not see the patriarchy in their actions when they forced underage girls to stand up in front of their congregations and apologize for the sins of grown men commuted against them.

We are not the crazy ones.

Remember how you were when you were in the thick of it. Remember how isolated you were, growing up in that culture. Think back to how few friends you had who looked different from you, who believe differently than you did. Remember what a tiny fraction of humanity you actually experience in that bubble within a bubble.

And think of how far you’ve come. Think of the friends you have met since leaving that culture. Think of the transgender people, the marginalized people of color, the bullied and threatened gay and lesbian coworkers you have found, and the things that you have experienced as a woman once you took the step outside of that tiny circle and into the real world.

Think of the long, rich history of our country and our world, built and pioneered and developed and defended by women, who were then thrust into the dark, dusty back room of our history books. Women whose names you never heard in that culture, and probably never would have.

Think of those things, and next time that Stockholm Syndrome-like fear rises in your chest, taunting you with the idea that maybe you have gone crazy, cling tight to the reality of how big your world is now.

Maybe your friends and family are not hateful people. Maybe they dearly love you. If so, offer them compassion. Offer them kindness. Remember that you were once like them, and like them, you could not see outside of yourself.

Offer them gentle love, but demand respect.

And if you start to give into the fear, message me. Because we are always stronger together.

Disrespect is Not Acceptable Tough Love: Four Anecdotes 


One day, I decided I was not going to church. I had reasons for this, and I also had the right to not explain them to anyone. On that day, a man in my life decided that I was going to church whether I wanted to or not. He came into my room, physically pulled me out of bed, yelled at me to get dressed, packed my child into her car seat, and strong-armed me into leaving the house. He justified this action by saying that I needed “tough love” to get somewhere that would be better for me. I did not feel loved.

One day, I asked a man in my life to stop evangelizing me. I told him that the tone he took when trying to convert me to Christianity was disrespectful and harsh. I told him that I wanted to have a loving, happy relationship with him, but that I could not continue to voluntarily subject myself to the harshness of his words. He told me that he would not respect my wishes, because refusing to show me the respect I requested was not “loving,” if the alternative was my soul spending eternity in hell. I did not feel loved.

One day, a man in my life called me Amanda. I laughed, and asked him to please call me Mandy. Amanda, I explained, made me feel like I was in trouble. I preferred Mandy. He laughed too. As he continued to talk to me about Jesus, and try to explain why I should return to church, he called me Amanda again. I gently reminded him that I wanted to be called Mandy, and could tell by the glint in his eyes that it had not been an accident. He continue to call me Amanda for the rest of the conversation, being more and more deliberate every time. “You ARE in trouble” was his message. “Evangelizing you is more important than respecting you.” I did not feel loved.

My mother disagrees with me on many things regarding religion and spirituality. I often think that she fears for my soul. I have expressed to her that there are certain things I don’t want to discuss. I have expressed to her that there is a certain level of respect I would like to receive. Without fail, my mother had given me this respect. She has choosen to care more for our relationship than for being right. Time after time, she has given me space, demonstrated respect for my boundaries, and reinforced my personhood. Her actions make me feel loved.