October 1, 2021 Wayne Northey

They Went to Bible College to Deepen Their Faith.

Then They Were Assaulted—and Blamed for It.

September 30, 2021

photo above: yelp.com

WN: The article highlighted below begins with Megan Wohlers telling her story of abuse, and ends with these understated words from her:

And that’s not how Jesus would have acted.

Esther my partner, works with MCCBC End Abuse in support of women in abusive relationships. A majority of them are from conservative evangelical churches in the Fraser Valley, British Columbia. The Program follows a curriculum, and workers are trained by one of the authors of: When Love Hurts. That author is Karen McAndless-Davis. Esther and I are privileged also to facilitate the Home Improvement Program that works with men perpetrating the harm. There is much hopefulness in both programs.

That said, what is in the article highlighted below is sick and disgusting. But it is no surprise. In my post, Evangelicals, Let’s Talk About Violence Against Women, the author of the highlighted article, Kristin Kobes du Mez writes:

In part, evangelical political identity coalesced around opposition to feminism (among other things). When feminists championed legislation to curb violence against women, evangelicals’ first instinct was to oppose it. But there was more to their resistance than knee-jerk reactionary politics. Evangelical identity was (and is) based in a gender system that makes violence against women easier to dismiss, excuse, and deny.

Bushnell1 and Southard2, however, remained minority voices. The majority of evangelicals in the twentieth century preferred to uphold a patriarchal gender order, defend it as God’s will, and even situate it as a nonnegotiable requirement of the Christian faith. This explains why, in the midst of the recent deluge of abuse allegations sweeping through evangelical communities, someone like John Piper could confidently blame the abuse of women on an “egalitarian myth,” not on the unequal power relations evangelicals have imposed on women and men. For evangelicals like Piper, complementarianism—which enshrines male authority over women in church, home, and society—is the solution, not the problem (emphasis added).

It’s worth noting that evangelicals are not speaking with one voice on this topic. Forty-eight percent of white evangelicals support an unrepentant perpetrator of sexual assault, but 36% find this unacceptable. Women like Beth Moore, Jen Pollock Michel, and Karen Swallow Prior (and many men, too) are speaking out in defense of sexual assault victims. Initially cautious when it came to the Kavanaugh allegations, Pollock Michel was stirred by what she heard at the hearing: “I don’t know how you hear that as a woman without feeling the complete horror and panic of that moment,” she explained to the Washington Post, referring to Ford’s account of the alleged assault. “As evangelical Christians, we say that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. I think it really is a moment for us to be asking ourselves as Christians about our own kind of hunger for righteousness.”

As in the past, this view seems to be the minority view.

Please see my Book Review of: Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by the same author of the article above, Kristin Kobes du Mez.

She makes clear again in the final chapter that

. . . evangelicalism must be seen as a cultural and political movement rather than as a community defined chiefly by its theology (p. 298).

For all Billy Graham’s iconic thundering “The Bible Says! . . .” fifty years ago, indeed fully 70 plus years earlier, “Frankly Scarlet (and Franklin—and a vast array of others of your ilk), white American evangelicals don’t give a damn! . . .” Theirs is a studied footnote, exception clause (“except our enemies”) theology in response to John 3:16 that à la W.C. Fields has ever sought and come up with “the loopholes.” Seek and ye shall find, indeed.3

One might say of evangelicals collectively: “The [movement] doth protest too much, methinks.“–WN

Du Mez comments near the book’s end:

For many evangelicals, the masculine values of men like John Wayne, William Wallace, Ronald Reagan, Rush Limbaugh, Jordan Peterson and Donald Trump embody have come to define evangelicalism itself (p. 301).

The author ends on a hopeful though tenuous note:

What was once done might also be undone (p. 304).

Also mentioned in my post about the review is Beth Allison Moore’s recent book: The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth. It too is outstanding.

There is an excellent review by John TurnerUnmaking Biblical Womanhood. His final words are:

That’s the power of this book. Complementarianism, even in its softer forms, isn’t just wrong theologically and biblically. It is a heresy that hurts people, practically, emotionally, and spiritually. So, as Beth says, “Stop it!” (emphasis added)

I’ve yet to do a review, though have read it.

He [the author’s pastor-father] is an unusual fundamentalist; for he believes that inerrancy extends to the teachings of Jesus. (Your Money or Your Life: A New Look at Jesus’ View of Wealth and Power, Harper, John Alexander, 1986.)

Contained in the subtitle of du Mez’ book is: “How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith     . . .” It is a startling assertion. Yet it so rings true throughout this immensely well-written and researched book.

Jesus” in this reading is reduced to a fetish that facilitates everything vile in patriarchy–which is . . . everything.

Now that is one whopping corruption of Christianity!

A full discussion of what “corruption” means on a grander canvas of Church History is in David Cayley’s (massive) 2021: Ivan Illich: An Intellectual Journey. The podcasts on the theme by Illich and Cayley, originally done on CBC Ideas, are here: The Corruption of Christianity: Ivan Illich on Gospel, Church and Society (January 2007). The transcripts are here: Part 1  |  Part 2  |  Part 3  |  Part 4 | Part 5.

A group of us is privileged to be part of a monthly discussion with David Cayley about his new book, fall 2021 and into 2022.

May we all take heed. May we all pray for complementarianism’s vast number of victims–all so tragically harmed in the name of “Jesus.”

This is taking the Lord’s name in vain on a gargantuan scale. This is indeed out-and-out heresy–a false choice or way.

Lord, have mercy . . .

excerpts:

Megan Wohlers thought she had done all she needed to do. And even if she had missed something, she thought, she was on a Christian campus, full of other believers—someone would certainly intervene.

It was the fall of 2016 when the sophomore at Moody Bible Institute, one of the country’s most prestigious evangelical colleges, started the process of getting help. She was afraid for her own safety, and the safety of those closest to her. Her ex-boyfriend seemed undeterred by her pleas for him to move on. So, she tried to be systematic: She spoke with the public safety department at the school, and she wrote a letter to her ex, demanding that he leave her, her family, and her friends alone. She gave copies of the letter to a professor, the Title IX office, and Dean of Students Timothy Arens, as well as her parents, for documentation’s sake. The dean also promised to speak separately with the boy and tell him to back off. Surely, it would be enough.

It wasn’t.

To ponder: Evangelicals are, in my opinion, the primary driving force of atheism in America. We are a very small voice attempting to counter that, but I suspect that ultimately Evangelicals and fundamentalists will prove to be house wreckers to Christianity.Archbishop Lazar Puhalo4

Now, five years later, Wohlers, the once-starry-eyed teenager who’d dreamed of going to Moody since she was 10, whose father was an alumnus, whose ambition was to go to Central Africa to spread the gospel, is one of 11 women who have decided to make public their experiences with sexual abuse at the college. “The school encourages transparency and vulnerability with each other,” Wohlers tells me, “but the truth of the matter is people don’t open up to other people about what’s going on in their lives, and then when you do open up to administration, you get shamed and blamed.”

It is time, they’ve decided, for others to witness what they see as a systemic failure to address sexual misconduct at the school that describes itself as “the world’s most influential Bible college,” the place “where God transforms the world through you.” It is time to expose the people who were tasked with protecting them—under the laws of the country, under the laws of God—who at best looked the other way, at worst blamed them for the violence perpetrated against them.

And finally, it is time, they argue, to move beyond the purity culture that has defined and infected Moody—and imperiled women on campus—for far too long. “All the responsibilities are on the girls to be pure,” says Anna Schutte, who graduated from Moody in 2020. “You know, if a guy has a porn addiction and a sex addiction, you should pray for him. But if a girl gets assaulted, it’s her fault.”

The school was founded on the Near North Side of Chicago in 1886 by D.L. Moody, a passionate evangelist who sought to educate young people in the ways of God. Over the following century, it grew in prominence as a leader among Bible schools; Moody runs a vast “network of Christian radio stations, affiliates, Internet stations, podcasts, and related programming,” according to its website, as well as a publishing house. Though the student body is small—the school’s total enrollment last year was 2,870—it’s a central training ground for future generations of evangelicals and church leaders. Jerry B. Jenkins, a co-author of the bestselling apocalyptic Left Behind series, is an alum, as are a host of influential Christian authors, pastors, and activists.

Women may have enrolled alongside men at Moody from the start, but for all intents and purposes, men—students and faculty alike—have traditionally been regarded as spiritual authorities, both inside the school and in ministry more broadly. As Moody himself said upon the institution’s founding, “I believe we have got to have gap-men to stand between the laity and the ministers; men who are trained to do city mission work. Take men that have the gifts and train them for the work of reaching the people.”

The reasons for this are both formal and informal, though all are colored by the evangelical belief in complementarianism—that men and women are different according to God’s perfect design, meaning the genders have separate strengths and weaknesses that together reflect the image of God. Many of the dozen former students I spoke with criticized the school’s teachings regarding gender. The school’s Student Life Guide puts it this way: “Moody Bible Institute believes that humanity came from the hand of God with only two sexual distinctions—male and female—both in the image of God, and emerging from one flesh with the unique physical capacity to reunite as one flesh in complementarity within a marriage.” Men are considered to have been gifted with leadership, making them the godly heads of household and the authority on scriptural teachings. Women, however, are a moral authority of hearth and home, and are often confined to ministering to other women and children rather than a broader congregation. This translates pretty clearly to the faculty: 64 percent is male. A quick spin through the faculty page shows that most women teach in communications, counseling, or music—with the exception of a single female pastoral studies professor. (Women were not even allowed to study in the pastoral studies program until 2017.)

These beliefs and dynamics, former students say, contribute to a culture in which men are given control over women, making them feel entitled to women’s bodies. And since purity culture assumes an end goal of marriage between two virgins, it makes sex into something mysterious and forbidden—yet also prized.

This, for me, is familiar terrain. I grew up in an evangelical setting, and in college I joined a campus ministry that pulled me deeper into a religion that always seemed to demand more personal sacrifice, usually because of my gender. In my research for this story, Moody struck me as a campus-wide version of that ministry. As Zygelman was telling me about the ways her clothing was policed, I flashed back to a game night at a male friend’s apartment, when his roommate came up behind me and yanked my drooping shirt back over my shoulder, admonishing me for not protecting the men in the room. I stared up at him. “Do not ever touch me without my permission again,” I said evenly. The night ended shortly thereafter. When I was ultimately assaulted in that same apartment, by a different boy, purity culture blurred my vision for years after I stopped adhering to its tenets. I could not name what had happened because I couldn’t let go of my supposed role as gatekeeper, the one who was supposed to stop it at any cost. All the women I spoke to who were survivors of sexual violence at Moody say they experienced a similar difficulty in finding the language to express what had happened, because it was impossible to see beyond the constraints imposed by Moody’s specific interpretation of Christianity. This also extends to the women I spoke with who experienced other forms of sexual misconduct; it can be hard to recognize harassment when it is at the hands of a brother or a sister in Christ.

She was desperate for some comfort or guidance from an authority figure. She confided in a professor she didn’t know well but with whom she had always felt a sort of kinship. “Oh,” she asked, “were you playing with fire?” The hope she had felt crumbled. She cautiously approached another professor: “How do you move past trauma?” she asked. He wanted to know what had happened, and she told him. He told her that she needed to take responsibility for the part she played in her own assaults.

“Every single authority figure I ever talked to completely failed me,” Wohlers says. “My department head, professors, I trusted the Title IX department, they all completely failed me. So I just kind of gave up.”

While to some degree all college campuses share blame in failing to create a safe environment for female students, schools that adhere to a religious standard have a very specific set of circumstances that complicate what should be straightforward: that sexual assault is a crime that requires consequences for the perpetrators and protection for the survivors. In July, for instance, 12 women from Liberty University, another prestigious evangelical institution, filed a lawsuit that echoes many of the claims Mother Jones has investigated at Moody, including a moral code that complicates sexual violence reporting.

The heart of the problem is that religious tenets at places like Moody and Liberty are inextricably woven into campus and academic culture, creating a fundamental conflict with Title IX’s aim to eliminate discrimination on the basis of sex. “In evangelicalism, there’s a sort of fantasy, that we would like to be just really peculiar in our ability to forgive and restore and to not look like other communities, where the forgiveness of Jesus and his demeanor and restoration would be exemplified,” the current Moody professor told me. “My sense is that we often offer that to sexual abusers. We want to be excessively, strangely forgiving…and of course the sexual abusers, these guys are predators—they know how to talk the talk.”

The law became even weaker under former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who expanded the applicability of religious exemptions to include nearly any school that decided to claim them. What’s more, DeVos made it possible for schools to invoke the carveout’s protection at any time, even after a complaint was filed. “Under the [revised] Title IX rule, the [Department of Education] made it very clear that schools don’t have to request an exemption in advance,” Patel says. “There were reports of schools being worried that they were being shamed [when it was] disclosed that they were receiving an exemption—basically stating that they wanted to be able to discriminate against certain types of people and why—and they didn’t want that to be publicly available.”

Moody didn’t become a Title IX school until 2012, when it began accepting federal funds. Among its first Title IX complaints was a case in 2016, when a female student, Coria Thornton, tried to join the pastoral studies program. She vividly recalls going to the curriculum desk, filling out the required form, and being told that was not a choice she was allowed to make. She also remembers how a group of male students simply laughed at her when she told them she wanted to be a pastor.

Then–communications professor Janay Garrick helped Thornton file a Title IX complaint, arguing that denying women the opportunity to focus on pastoral studies was discriminatory. The two women recall the Title IX administrators, namely Ward, rejecting Thornton’s complaint on a minute technicality. (Ward did not respond to requests for comment from Mother Jones.) After Garrick threatened to escalate the issue to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Moody eventually chose to open the program to women.

Garrick, who is an ordained minister and says she was clear during the hiring process about her egalitarian views, was shunned by her colleagues and administrators for helping Thornton. “I didn’t imagine the extent of what [the cultural differences] would be like,” Garrick says. By her second year as a professor at Moody, she says Dean Arens was not speaking to her. “Tim Arens is at the center of brushing all these sexual assault charges under the rug,” Garrick says. “It’s his rug.”

In 2018, Garrick filed her own lawsuit, claiming discrimination under Title IX and alleging retaliation for her advocacy for female students who wished to pursue ordination. Her complaint noted that the school had not explicitly claimed exemption status by the time the lawsuit was filed, but in 2019 a court cited the exemption carveout multiple times in a memorandum opinion. The case is ongoing.

Even as Garrick’s lawsuit has moved forward, what was happening at Moody largely escaped the notice of the general public. But then, starting last year, much more started to come to light—and it became impossible to ignore.

Wohlers managed to graduate from Moody in 2019. It was only a year later that she learned that hers was not an isolated experience. “I had no clue when I was there that anybody at Moody had ever gone through this before. And now the girls I’m talking to, I’m like, ‘Man, you were there when I was there going through this—had I known, we would have…’” she tells me, trailing off.

It started with a Facebook post. In June 2020, her alma mater had shared an image of a slender blond woman in a cap and gown, overlaid with big white letters asking alumni to “Give us your best #MBIAdvice.” Instead, Anna Heyward, a 2017 graduate, used it as a warning: “My best #MBIAdvice is to not go to MBI,” she wrote when she shared the image. “95 percent of their faculty, staff, and students are misogynistic, racist, homophobic, and trump [sic] worshippers.”

When Wohlers came across the post, she immediately saw her own experience reflected back at her. Heyward wrote that, when she reported her sexual assault to the school, administrators mishandled it and “manipulated me into not telling anyone in order to graduate.” A list of similar allegations from other students followed beneath Heyward’s post. “People, I think, really realized that it wasn’t just them,” Heyward tells me. “Because it’s such a taboo subject to talk about at Moody.”

But Heyward and others say they can’t help but worry all this won’t mean much in practice. For one, the report was not made public until after the Board of Trustees met and approved the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, possibly allowing the school to use financial limitations to avoid real reform. And while many survivors felt their interviews with the investigators were reasonable and unbiased, they know the investigators are being paid by the institution they are investigating. “There’s money involved,” Heyward says. “I don’t trust anything Moody does.”

Heyward also says the group is hurt that school leadership hasn’t reached out to them directly since the report was made public; in fact, the MBI Survivors received an email from Dwight Perry, senior vice president, provost, and dean of education, explaining that the administration would no longer respond to emails from the Google account they’d set up. “This doesn’t mean anything if we don’t see policy change,” Heyward says.

There is a much bigger reason, though, to be skeptical: The investigation didn’t take on any of the underlying cultural and religious issues that enabled the abuse in the first place. Grand River Solutions does not carry any religious affiliation—a feature touted by both the firm and by Moody—though that may have been a weakness rather than a strength. In a Twitter thread, Moody alumna Emily Joy Allison—who is a co-founder of #ChurchToo, a campaign that has exposed sexual abuse within religious institutions—says that true reform cannot happen on campus without a serious reevaluation of some of the school’s beliefs with regards to gender.

Please click on: Assaulted Then Blamed

Footnotes
  1. Katharine Bushnell, the subject of my first book, put it this way: “The crime [of sexual assault] is indirectly the fruit of the theology, since if theology teaches the enslavement of woman to man inside the marriage relation; that law of sin which forbids its regulation by law at all—causes this abuse and injustice to leap the bounds which a mistaken theology would throw around it to keep it within marriage relations… Men cannot make unquestioning, obedient slaves of wives only—sooner or later the iniquity of slavery will be visited upon the head of unmarried women also; for iniquity knows not the name of restriction.”[]
  2. Madeline Southard, a Methodist preacher and women’s rights activist, pointed to the problem with defining women primarily in terms of their relationships to men, rather than as individuals in their own right.[]
  3. American evangelical historian/sociologist Douglas Frank published Less Than Conquerors: How Evangelicals Entered the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986.)  He argued that the core characteristic of dominant evangelicalism is a spirit of pharisaism; a spirit not likely easily to disappear from those who set the evangelical agenda. He yearned nonetheless for

    … a church that awakens to the Stranger, Jesus Christ, the Jesus Christ of the biblical witness; not the denatured, ideologically and morally useful Jesus Christ of evangelicalism… (p. 277).

    The Epilogue’s penultimate paragraph reads:

    Whether in auspicious or declining times, as we have seen, we display a tenacious commitment to self-deceit.  It is true that we are those who like to think we heed Jeremiah’s words, ‘Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.’  Our history, however, gives evidence of Jeremiah’s wisdom in adding these words: ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?’ (Jer. 17:7, 9).  In our very protests of trust in the Lord, we find occasion for our deepest self-deceits (p. 278).[]

  4. He adds:

    Unfortunately, the Evangelical movement has become nothing more than a pharisaic apocalyptic cult. Unfortunately, they have a great deal of political power in the United States. They really represent a “Taliban Christianity,” and they would be an unholy terror if they really gained the political position that they desire. It seems they have forgotten about the heavenly kingdom and seek to establish their kingdom in the politics of this world.[]

Wayne Northey

Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.

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