Monday, October 16, 2006

Complicit in Abuse

The thing that has helped me most in understanding what is happening in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion is writing about domestic violence as a reporter since the early 1970s.
In those days, police referred to its victims as “battered women.” Most district attorneys’ offices would prosecute the batterer only if the wife agreed to divorce him.
That is, if the police even bothered to arrest him. Usually one officer would walk the man around the block to “cool him off” while the other office stayed with the woman to find out what she did “to set him off” and to urge her not to do that again.
After all, if she’d just “act right,” everything would be OK.
Any of this sound familiar?
You can see why many women’s advocates felt it was important to do some educating of the police, DAs, and the public. That’s why October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In some places it’s called Domestic Violence Prevention Month.
In either case, the drive is to encourage people to get involved in domestic violence prevention efforts and to intervene if they know someone in an abusive relationship.
Episcopalians should pay close attention to these education efforts, because our church is in an abusive relationship.
Here are the warning signs:
· Abusers use emotional abuse. They put you down in many ways, make you feel bad about yourself, call you names, try to make you think you’re “crazy, play mind games, humiliate you and make you feel guilty.
· Abusers use coercion and threats. They make or carry out threats to do something to hurt you. They threaten to leave you, to commit suicide or to report you to authorities without cause. They make you drop charges. They make you do illegal things.
· Abusers use economic abuse. They take your money. They refuse to give you money. They prevent you from getting a job. They make you ask for money. They won’t let you know about the family money or let you have access to the family income.
· Abusers use gender privilege. They treat you like a servant. They make all the big decisions. They act like “master of the castle.” They define “men’s” and “women’s” roles.
· Abusers use intimidation. They make you afraid by using looks, gestures and actions. They smash things. They abuse pets. They display weapons.
· Abusers use the children. They make you feel guilty about the children. They use the children to relay messages. They use visitation to harass you. They threaten to take the children away from you.
· Abusers use isolation. They control what you do, whom you see and talk to, what you read and where you go. They limit your outside involvement. They use jealousy to justify actions.
· Abusers minimize, deny, blame. They make light of the abuse. They don’t take your concern seriously. They say the abuse didn’t happen. They shift responsibility for abusive behavior to you.
From the Texas Council on Family Violence
For national information, go to Family Violence Prevention Fund at
This list could well be a strategy memo for those conservatives who are determined to wreck the Episcopal Church and/or to replace it with their own “purified” NeoPuritan version.
One can go down the list and check it off.
Uses emotional abuse and calls you names? Try “pagan” and “revisionist” and “heretic.”
Tries to make you feel guilty? Try claiming that Christians are being killed in majority Muslim countries because TEC elected and confirmed an honestly gay man.
Plays mind games? Try claiming that Lambeth resolutions have the power of laws, or that TEC has been “kicked out of” the Anglican Communion, or that the Windsor Report is some kind of judgment from on high against us.
Uses coercion and threats? Try threats of leaving, again and again and again and again.
Uses economic abuse. Try withholding money from the national church.
Uses gender privilege. Surely I don’t have to explain this one.
You do it. Go down the list and see what you come up with.
So. Once it is determined someone is in an abusive relationship, what happens next?
The number one thing to do is GET AWAY FROM YOUR ABUSER.
Trying to placate or appease abusers never works.
What does work is separating yourself from the abuser and then using the rule of law to remove him from a position where he can abuse you, to keep him from abusing you again, and to keep safe others being hurt.

What part of this does our church leadership not understand?
Those of us in places like Fort Worth really want to know. For at least fifteen years those of us in the Diocese of Fort Worth who support the ordination of women and the full inclusion of LGBT people in the life and work of the church have been trying to get some help, or least encouragement, from the national church as our diocesan leadership moved year after year to isolate and separate us more and more from the national church. The Episcopal Women's Caucus, Integrity and Claiming the Blessing are the only organizations in the church who responded to our cries for help. Only now that the same issues we’ve been struggling with here are threatening the larger church is the national church finally paying attention.
Reminds me of the mousetrap story:
A mouse looked through the crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife opening a package containing a mousetrap. Rushing to the farmyard, the worried mouse proclaimed the warning.
"There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"
The chicken clucked and said, "Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you but it is of no consequence to me. I cannot be bothered by it."
The pig sympathized, but said, "I am so very sorry, Mr. Mouse, but there is nothing I can do about it but pray. Be assured you are in my prayers."
The cow said, "Wow, Mr. Mouse. I'm sorry for you, but it's no skin off my nose."
So, the mouse sadly returned to the house to face the farmer's mousetrap-- alone.
That very night the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey was heard throughout the house. The farmer's wife rushed to see what was caught. In the darkness, she did not see it was a venomous snake whose tail the trap had caught.
The snake bit the farmer's wife. The farmer rushed her to the hospital and she returned home with a fever. Everyone knows you treat a fever with fresh chicken soup, so the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard for the soup's main ingredient.
But his wife's sickness continued, so friends and neighbors came to sit with her around the clock. To feed them, the farmer butchered the pig.
Then the farmer's wife died. So many people came for her funeral, the farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide enough meat for all of them.
The mouse looked upon it all from his crack in the wall with great sadness.
St. Paul could have told this story. It’s about what hurts one part of the body hurts us all. When one of us is threatened, we are all at risk.
It’s time to name the abuse, use the laws to contain or punish the abusers, and to help those suffering under the abuse.
To do less is to become complicit in your own abuse.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

This is even better than your last most brilliant piece. I'm posting it on HOB/D. Bless you, Katie.


Authors Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker take on the Atonement in provacative mix of passion, intelligence and memoir/story-telling which is the signature of femininist liberation and process theology.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to know if you were actually in an abusive relationship. You write skillfully but I now understand when an African American 'fundie' (as YOUR side name-calls us) takes offense at Episcopal leadership treating the situation as if it were a civil rights issue. As someone who almost didn't survive domestic abuse (a battered wife, yes those old days) but was lucky enough to get into a shelter at exactly the right time - back in the years when we had 4 weeks to get it together and get out of the shelter and on our own - and spent years afterwards with my children in the barrio, struggling through school and minimum wage one in the Episcopal church lifted a finger even though I was a cradle Episcopalian, but the 'fundies' never lacked the support of their parishes. What's wrong with your analogy is this: it is YOUR side that is in power, it is YOUR side that has the keys to the property and can kick your 'fundies' out the door (and have done exactly that in some places). You have no idea how offensive your claims of victimization really are. It is really offensive when you belittle in this way the experience not just of people who have suffered domestic violence but even more so those who have suffered martyrdom, and then say we guilt trip you when we object to your demeaning and mocking our experience. Again, you are the ones who have the power, and generally it is those who have the power who are the abusers.

cabaldevin said...

Wow. Too many thoughts to share in a comment, and Blogger doesn't seem to use the Trackback protocol, so I'll have to invite you to read my initial impression and response at my blog Devin on Earth.

Anonymous said...

Katie -- you remain my hero. Nice work!! Well said, as always.

Thank you for continuing to share your remarkable gifts (as well as your time, your sweat, and your tears) with the Episcopal Church in spite of how badly it has treated you and others in your beleagured diocese.

Katherine Ragsdale

Thomas B. Woodward said...

Thank you for this piece, Katie. I have tried to build bridges and to hope for different kinds of reconciliation with self-styled orthodox, but have found too often that I have tolerated abusive relationships in doing so. I spent a couple of weeks of involvement with Stand Firm in Faith as they did a 5 part hatchet job on something I had written for The Episcopal Majority. My first response to that experience was that I had been dealing with a cult. That was part of the truth: the other side is that it was corporate abuse by Stand Firm.
Tom Woodward

W said...

thegreat1a minority can carry out abusive actions against a majority, but the majority is not going to be hurt very much. the actions of the pro-schismatics are disruptive to TEC, but we will get by. as a church body, we have financial and material resources to draw on, and we lack a sense of isolation because most of the church, whether conservative, moderate or liberal, doesn't want schism, and we are connected to people in other provinces who think we're doing the right thing. a better parallel would be the experience of LGBT Christians in the church (the catholic church, not just TEC). they have abusive actions perpetrated against them, but they are often isolated. they often do not have resources to draw on that would sustain them and help them escape the abuse. pray for them, and then go and act on their behalf.