Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Virtuous Women

Last Friday night, I was proud to be a woman.
On April 8, ABC aired a 20/20 Investigation by Elizabeth Vargas of a Christian denomination called the Independent Fundamentalist Baptists (IFB).  Not to be confused with American Baptists or even Southern Baptists, the IFB claims that they aren’t connected to one another, though all of their pastors train at the same colleges and universities here in America and are taught the same doctrines.
But that hardly matters.  What does matter is that there are women speaking out against physical and sexual abuse that they allege happened with the full knowledge of the IFB. 
It took one woman to start asking questions, and, because of her bravery, thousands of women and men are coming forward to tell their stories.  Abusers are being called to account, and this rigid denomination is on notice.
I love Jesus for a lot of reasons.  I love him mainly because he took down a religious establishment who claimed to have all of the answers.  The Pharisees taught that God is only pleased when you follow a series of rules.  And, as luck would have it, only this particular sect of Judaism knew exactly the right way to keep these rules. 
It was all pretty convenient for the Pharisees.  It kept money in the coffers, it kept the people in line, and it made the leaders feel, well, important.
It wasn’t very convenient for a woman who had been hemorrhaging for years. 
The rules stated that if you were on your period, you couldn’t have contact with the rest of the camp.  To be fair, Moses instituted this rule, I believe, to give women a break one a month so that they could rest.  Remember, this was an ancient culture where women had no rights at all, so it could be argued that Moses was a bit of a feminist.
But over time, the rule became a demand for holiness.  A ‘thou shalt stay away from people during your cycle’ or, well, God won’t forgive your sins and embrace you.
And if you bleed too much, well, your faith is called into question.  And as such, a woman who bled a lot wasn’t allowed into her faith community.  And since the Pharisees had a monopoly on how to follow God perfectly and correctly, she was barred from any kind of contact with God.

She was considered to be a sinner.
The woman I am referring to is recorded in the gospel according to St. Luke.  For me, it is the most powerful story in the entirety of the New Testament. 
This poor gal had consulted doctors for over twelve years and likely had tried every remedy offered.  I can imagine that in the ancient world, the remedies might have been worse than the bleeding.  Why?  Well, I am sure that she wanted to stop bleeding for better physical comfort, but I suspect that twelve years of being ostracized by those who claimed to know God had taken its toll as well.
So she hears of this Jesus character, and she has a dilemma.  She heard that he heals people, but she can’t touch him because that would make him unclean.  She doesn’t want to hurt him because she believes that the teaching of the Pharisees was accurate.
So she sneaks around, and one day she sees Jesus, surrounded by his usual crowds (they didn’t have television or the Internet).  He’s in a hurry.  He’s off to heal a very sick child.  His handlers are moving him through the crowd.
He has no time for her.
She decides to risk it.
She covers herself with a blanket so as not to touch the rest of the crowd, and she gets as close to him as she dares.  “If I can only touch his robe,” she says, “I just know I’ll be well.”
He walks past her, and she reaches out and touches his hem.  Sighing, she is thankful she wasn’t noticed.
But she was noticed.  He wheels around and asks, “Who touched me?”
The men around him are trying to hustle Jesus off to more important, pressing matters.  A little girl is about to die.  The crowd is impatient.  They want to see a miracle.

But Jesus waits for this quivering woman, shaking before the entire crowd, believing that she had done something horribly, horribly wrong.
I thought about this woman when I heard Tina Anderson tell her story on 20/20.  She had been raped as a teenager by a man in her church…twice.  The rape resulted in a pregnancy.  She told no one, until she was four months pregnant.
She was forced to stand in front of the entire congregation to confess her sin.  By her pastor. 
She isn’t the only woman to have stood in front of a congregation to confess a sin, real or imagined.   

The only thing here is that Tina never sinned.  But she was ostracized by her community of faith anyway.  They told her that as a fifteen year old, she could consent to sex.  They told her that she had seduced this rapist.  The pastor locked her in an apartment at his house and then moved her out of state.
There was never a prosecution of the rapist.  Just a casting of invisible stones at an innocent young girl who felt every strike.
No matter how a pastor or sect attempts to spin this story, what happened to Tina Anderson was wrong. She was forced to confess a sin that doesn't exist.  It was not loving.  It was not helpful.  It was not of Jesus. 
What did Jesus do?  
In Luke’s gospel, instead of shunning this suffering woman, he elevated her.  He called her ‘daughter.’  He made her family.  He told her that she was healed.  And he told her to go in peace. 
And by doing so, he told the entire community that was shunning her that they were wrong.
In writing the script for the film Paradise Recovered, I talked to over 100 women and men from eighteen different cult groups, and I read hundreds of online testimonials, books, and chat room posts, alleging abuse and cover up by those who label themselves as Christian.  What happened to them and what happened to Tina was anything but Christ-like.
In an update to the 20/20 Special, Elizabeth Vargas announced that Jocelyn Zichterman, one of the women who served as a whistleblower to a number of these scandals in the IFB, including her own, had received over 12,000 emails from people alleging stories similar to Tina’s.
Tina isn’t alone.  By coming forward, she has been crucified online by those more interested in protecting their denomination and doctrine than giving grace and comfort and seeking justice for the oppressed.
Tina and Jocelyn and the other women in the 20/20 piece are my personal heroes in the faith.  They have exemplified virtue and character by standing up alone to combat a system that is neither loving nor Christian.  They have created a community of people in need of healing and understanding, and I join them in their cause.
As to their decision to take down a faith community who claims to have all of the answers and be above the questions?  I know someone else who did the same thing, and it is my honor and privilege to call him Lord.


  1. Standing with you and all those who are standing up too. And standing in the front line to protect the weaker who are still's ok to be afraid.. they aren't alone.

  2. Wow Andie,
    I like the way you write, Of course these situations where religious institutions become criminal organisations are rare, it is hard to account for their long history of criminal abuse, because they rarely hurt anyone, NOT!

    What you so sensibly expose for us is the damnable insensitivity of this group and if there is one group like this you know darn well there are more. The Pharisees are alive and well and setting up shop in the local church.


  3. I so agree with ifgodis4u!! I grew up in an IFB church and have struggled with depression, guilt, not being good enough, etc. Nobody understood when I told them the background I came from so I felt so alone!! When I saw the 20/20 special I just got so angry and went straight to the FB page and finally found people who understand!! Let the healing begin!! Thank you Jesus for your faithfulness!!

  4. I just read your blog page again Andie... Thank you so much for standing up for those on the front lines. I personally appreciate all you've done and am looking forward to "Paradise Recovered" playing near the Cleveland area so I can see it!

    I believe God is more grieved by these things done in His name than He is by all the sins of the rest of the world put together. But, that's just an opinion.