“We don’t need to recover from the Bible.”
I heard these words spoken from behind the pulpit at a presbytery meeting on Saturday. The chair of the ad hoc committee was referring to the title of my book, giving his own commentary. He was supposed to be explaining the committee report’s recommendation regarding charges filed against most of my session of elders and my pastor before the presbyters voted on whether they were in order. There was also supposed to be a vote after that, hearing from another committee report regarding an appeal made by a disciplined elder in my church. Both are related. It is a long, painful story. One I have not shared publicly. But both the local church stuff that I’ve kept more private and the public stuff I’ve been writing about are very much related. And the local is becoming more public, as I am now talked about openly at this presbytery meeting.
I was at this meeting of our Presbytery of the Mid Atlantic to support my elders and pastor. And I also wanted my presence to make a statement that I am an actual real person whom they defended. It was a very small church hosting the meeting. There we were all together. The chair was standing behind the pulpit in a posture to speak authoritatively on behalf of the committee. But he added commentary like this one referring to the title of my book to his recommendations on proper order and such. Yes, a complete contradiction to the process and proper order. But that’s okay, I’ve learned, if you’re the right person.
You don’t have to like the title of my book. This comment was made in reference to breaking the ninth commandment, distinguishing something that my (then) elder had written in an unsolicited email to our entire congregation. He wrote, among many other things, that all the elders had the same concerns about my book as Genevan Commons (GC). But this is not what my pastor testified to saying in this elder’s trial. He testified that he did not have the same concerns as GC. Not at the same level at all. And when asked under oath what his concerns were, he said, for example, he didn’t like the title. I can live with that. It’s not for everyone. But what I can’t accept is this extra commentary given in a presbytery meeting where I have no voice to defend my work. I wasn’t the one they were supposed to be talking about. I had no agency to speak. And most importantly, I never assert that we need to recover from the Bible. Not even close. You don’t have to like the title, but it is there to say that this teaching is not biblical, but a contemporary evangelical movement. Biblicism is not necessarily biblical. How is it okay for this presbyter to add his authoritative voice to misrepresenting my work and poisoning the well to the whole presbytery and I cannot defend it? How is that in order?
One of the charges against the members of my session was for signing the Open Letter from Concerned Ministers and Elders in the OPC regarding the reviling behavior on GC against me. Again, this chair of the ad hoc committee adds some commentary. He says he’s not supportive of this Open Letter. He goes on with the problems he sees with open letters. Then he equivocates the signers of the Open Letter with the men in Genevan Commons. He calls it “online back and forth.” He comments that one group says you are disrupting the peace of the church, the other says we are upholding the purity of the church, and besides, it isn’t us but this lady who is disrupting the peace.
This lady. That’s me. I was sitting right there. I was referred to as “this lady” twice.
I do have a name. I am a real person. I thought my presence made that clear. Apparently not. But he continues. Talking about “the online back and forth,” he jokingly recommends that all parties get off the internet and take a walk. He gets laughter. While I sat there—the real person sitting in the room who has been harmed significantly by one of these groups. It’s like I’m invisible the whole time. The moderator doesn’t call anything out of precious order. If I spoke, I’d be out of order. I should have spoken. My husband sits there not knowing if he will make things worse for me or for our session if he speaks his mind. Even though he really doesn’t care if he’s out of order. No one spoke. Just the laughs. We both regret not speaking out of order now. At the time, it seemed so unbelievable. And then he just went on.
There’s so much more to say about this. So very much. It’s has been one year since Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released. And in this reflection the message that I received all year reverberates: You don’t belong here. A parachurch organization may decide this and let me go. They aren’t the church. But I continued to receive this message from my own denomination throughout the year—both from church officers in it and in the language from multiple presbytery committee reports, meetings, and rulings. Why all the backhanded corporate acts instead of just pressing charges?
My title has proved itself all the more as it’s aged. It’s like some sort of black light turned on that spotlights the yellow wallpaper. The title activated the yellow wallpaper to reveal itself. And like I have been saying, it isn’t only a few bad apples—it’s the system. I saw first-hand in my own presbytery how Biblicist fundamentalism can be clothed in credal and confessional garb, as one friend put it. You can have many good men existing inside it still, but in the words of John Mayer, they are slow dancing in a burning room.
And with the accounts that I am hearing from other victims, and the way I see the proceedings work, I am understanding more and more Charlotte Perkins Gillman’s description of seeing the woman (women) stuck inside the wallpaper.
I see you.
It’s all so strange. I keep getting remarks from some who want to engage with me, saying something like, “Well, you should expect this kind of stuff if you write about something so controversial.” You know, this kind of dehumanizing stuff from church officers. Same argument as that joke. Take a walk—it’s your fault for being on the silly internet. It’s victim blaming.
But what is this controversial teaching that has led to losing a job, losing friends, and abuse in the church by those in spiritual authority? It is writing about how women should be invested in and have agency as disciples, sisters in God’s church. Or, that men and women should treat one another as more than possible affairs, but as holistic, unique human beings whom we are responsible to help promote in holiness. And even though my work and myself are called ungodly, satanic, Jezebel, and many other lovelies; even though officers in my denomination plot together to call ahead of my speaking engagements to warn churches to guard their families from me while my own shepherding elder left me exposed and uninformed; even though they also collectively strategize to sabotage my Amazon page; even though I am reviled against on a presbytery floor during a trial without rebuke, called a ruthless wolf, among other accusations—the ad hoc committee for my own presbytery in my own denomination reduces it all in their recommendation report regarding the appeal from my former elder as “coarse critique” from a “reformed website.” Legitimizes it. And I am portrayed in the trope of the unsatisfiable woman. Do you see the yellow wallpaper?
Yes, it is time for recovery.
I’ve debated about whether to bring more of this to light. More of the same of what I’ve heard all year. I know it won’t help me. Quite the opposite. I saw with my very own eyes how the Book of Discipline can be debated for three hours, without any care for the people, the church, or the leaders. I saw disdain anytime real victims were mentioned—or those who defend them. I was given no dignity as a person and member of the OPC. I was other, “this lady.” And it all proceeded without any reference to Scripture, Christ, or the gospel. And then, time’s up—no time to get to that appeal. That will have to be an additional meeting, which means it will not reach this year’s General Assembly for oversight if desired. That will take over another year. How is a church supposed to continue ministry under this ugliness? The process clobbers the sheep. And only the men in power benefit from my silence. I’m writing as an act of resistance. I’m peeling the wallpaper. I’m writing for the women. And the church.
Women, you are disciples of Christ. This is dangerous business. Count the cost.
But here is the gain—you do belong. You belong to the triune God. Is there a better verse in the Bible than the bride herself saying, “I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me”? (Song 7:10). And this frees us. What does it free us to? Not to try and be in the same boat of power lust. Not to protect some new system. It frees us to give our whole selves in love to him. We are free to serve him. And we really are a gift to Christ, from the Father, in all eternity. We have that dignity of being joyfully received. He gave his life to do so. He is our unremitting advocate at the right hand of the Father, right now.
There is freedom in belonging. Freedom to love. Freedom to give. Freedom to not be ensnared in these cages of devaluing and dismissal. They don’t stick. We know our value. And our presence is celebrated by our beloved.
He calls us to speak:
My dove, in the clefts of the rock,
in the crevices of the cliff,
let me see your face,
let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet,
and your face is lovely.
Perspective is everything.