Plus a giveaway!
“The very people who dare see God’s will to power in presidents, but not in the courage of a rape victim risking everything to protect the next child, do not embody love. Their faith causes damage. Their ‘gospel,’ it isn’t good news.” —Disobedient Women, Sarah Stankorb
2018. The year before my father stopped talking to me, before I had gone “too far” in what I was sharing online, before I was interviewed for the first time. I was heading into my last semester of college, still trying to figure out what had happened to me as I wrote pieces of my story into my creative writing thesis. And then I saw this headline:
“The Daughters’ Great Escape”
There was an article in Marie Claire about people like me… former stay-at-home daughters who had left their families of origin to face the world on their own. I almost couldn’t believe it. I knew there were others out there, but this just confirmed for me that what we had gone through was real, that it was a story worthy of attention. Maybe people will pay attention now.
There is something so validating (yet painful) in seeing your experience, your cult, in the news or in mainstream media. It was real. It happened. And not just to me.
That was the first time I was introduced to Sarah Stankorb’s work as a journalist and advocate. For years, Sarah has persisted in bringing the stories of people marginalized and harmed by Christian patriarchy to the rest of the world, not for entertainment, but to expose abuse and amplify the voices of survivors.
When I heard Sarah was working on a book, I was thrilled. Nothing gives me more comfort, more healing than reading. It’s how I process the past and dream about the future. So to have a book filled with the stories of those who stood up against abusive religious leaders? Incredible.
I read Disobedient Women: How a Small Group of Faithful Women Exposed Abuse, Brought Down Powerful Pastors, and Ignited an Evangelical Reckoning in about two days. In some ways, I’ve been waiting for this book for two decades. From the time I was shamed for being female, for having emotions, for being too loud or too expressive, or for taking up too much space. From the time I was told my mind was not my own, my body was not my own, that I was a useful vessel for a man to use at will.
This book is a well-researched deep dive into Christian patriarchy and abuse within the evangelical church, as well as a lifting up of the people who have spoken up for years about systemic abuse in the church—it’s a lot to take in. But Stankorb has connected the threads to show how everything does connect in ways that matter, for us and for broader society. She also shares pieces of her own life and experience with abuse and with Christianity in a way that helps readers understand who she is and why these stories are so important.
Disobedient Women starts off with the Quiverfull movement, and covers a wide range of issues from the Southern Baptist Convention, to Sovereign Grace Ministries, to Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho. Stankorb does not shy away from clearly and unequivocally telling the truth, with evidence to back it up (the extensive notes in the back of the book will lead you down many a deep rabbit hole). She calls out the harm without apology.
Importantly, Stankorb emphasizes the integral roles that survivors have played in bringing the abuse to light. She highlights the blogs and online forums that survivors created to share their stories with each other. Over the years, even before the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements took off, these voices rang clear and strong against harm done within the church. These blogs were the places of light that helped me through the hardest times of my life. They helped me process the abuse, understand what teaching led to the abuse being justified, and connect with others who had similar experiences.
The internet has been a powerful opportunity for many of us in our pursuit of liberation after abuse. An anonymous advocate told Sarah, “The internet is the great leveler. It’s changed everything for victims. It’s given victims a way to have agency and a voice.”
Disobedient Women is the story of those who have fought for justice in an unjust and unsafe church. As you read, you will learn of those who have tirelessly advocated for and supported other survivors. Voices like Christa Brown, Julie Anne Smith, Dee Parsons, Jules Woodson, R. L. Stollar, and so many others. Through writing and advocacy work, these incredible people helped me and countless others dig our way out of the mire into a world where we could find healing. I’m forever grateful for all of them and Sarah for doing this exhausting yet important work.
We are here. Our stories matter. And there are others who need help. This story isn’t over.
For my readers, I hope this message resonates loud and clear:
Any theology that teaches women were created to serve men, that women must be sexually available at all times for their husband, that women need to put up with any kind of abuse and harm as a way to “submit”—this teaching attracts abusers and grooms enablers to stay silent, while victims suffer alone. This teaching is toxic.
It is no surprise to me that a vast number of abuse survivors have been coming forward out of Vision Forum, the IBLP, Christ Church, SGM, the SBC, and broader evangelicalism. Take a theology that shames you into believing you’re deserving of nothing but God’s wrath, add to that a hierarchy of gender oppression, and you’ve got an environment that breeds abuse, that fails to prevent harm, protect the vulnerable, or hold abusers accountable.
This is not of God.
If saying this places me on “the road to apostasy” as my former pastor told me, then so be it. I will never again voluntarily be part of an institution that thrives on oppression and inequality. My soul cannot bear it.
Disobedient Women Book Giveaway
I loved this book so much that I’m giving a copy away! I’ll be picking a random winner for a hardcover copy after the giveaway ends on August 27, so if you haven’t bought the book yet, this is your chance to get it for free. You can sign up for your chance to win at the link below:
My Blue Peninsula is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
While you’re waiting for a chance to read Disobedient Women, listen to this interview with Sarah Stankorb on Straight White American Jesus:
Three Things to Remember for International Self-Care Day
I wrote this post on Tears of Eden for International Self-Care Day, but I’m thinking I want to remember these practices all year round.
Whatever self-care looks like for you, I hope you remember that you matter and your needs matter. It isn’t selfish to take care of yourself or do the things that you enjoy for no other reason than “just because.” Spiritual abuse told us that we didn’t matter, that we deserved suffering, but that’s a lie. You don’t have to listen to the voices that caused you harm. Let’s find our ways back to our internal voice, listen to our bodies, and give ourselves the time we need to heal, rest, and grow.
Read the rest on Tears of Eden!
Laugh Again RetreatCon and Story Jam
Speaking of Tears of Eden, have you signed up for the first ever RetreatCon?
October 20-22, 2023 in St. Louis, MO.
Tears of Eden, a nonprofit supporting Survivors of Spiritual Abuse from evangelical communities and home of the Uncertain podcast, is hosting its first in-person RetreatCon October 20-22. This RetreatCon will have the intimacy of a retreat with the intentionality of a conference.
Through art, conversation, and multiple optional events around the city, the RetreatCon is designed to provide survivors and their allies with opportunities to engage with one another and find friendship through shared experience.
Our theme for the RetreatCon is Laugh Again. Many of us can't imagine laughing again after all we have been through. Many of us are surprised that we are still able to access laughter in the aftermath of abuse. Some of us seek laughter as a way to survive and cope.
You can be sure there will be plenty of opportunities for fun and laughter at this first ever, in person RetreatCon focused just on survivors of Spiritual Abuse.
Wherever you are at on your journey with laughter, we hope you'll come hang out with us in October.
We’re also partnering with #IGotOut to have a Story Jam on that Saturday evening, October 21. I’ll be performing as well as a group of other #igotout survivors.
Be they cults, high-demand groups, organizations or companies, spiritually abusive churches or families, or high-control schools or programs, our stories can shed light on the dynamics that held us captive.
If you have been involved in a “power over” abusive environment and are willing to listen to cautionary tales and miraculous misadventures (miraculous because we got out and survived!), we hope you’ll join us for an intimate evening of creative performances by fellow cult survivors and advocates!