Through the Account and Countenance Series, I'll be featuring (via guest posts) the stories of various people and the images of God their churches left with them. Today's post comes from Sarah Moon. Sarah is a Women's and Gender Studies student and she blogs at Sarah Over The Moon. ___________
[Trigger warning: domestic violence, verbal abuse]
I’ve heard Christians say before that Jesus was just “God with sandals.” If this is true, then Jesus, for me in 2006, was an 18 year old, 6’4” football player who could bench press about 250. The Jesus of the Bible didn’t exactly line up with the God I had been raised to worship in my fundamentalist churches. Don (not his real name), on the other hand, did.
Don loved me, and he loved me like God did.
In God’s eyes, I was a worthless sinner. Any good I might do was nothing more than filthy rags to God. God’s spokesmen (Baptist church pastors, of course) were constantly reminding me of this. If I were truly humble, I’d realize the wickedness of my own heart and stop trusting myself, my emotions, my thoughts. I’d stop trying to be independent and I’d put my future in God’s loving hands.
But that God was so great, He loved me despite my worthlessness. As long as I stayed close to Him, I could have value—not in who I was, but in who He was.
Don thought the same of me. Much like God, Don saw all my sin as alike, so my tiny sins like taking a shower when Don asked me not to, or accidently drawing the attention of other men to myself were enough to make him want to spew me out of his mouth. He told me so, constantly. He told me what a whore I was, how stupid I was, how worthless, how helpless…
But Don was great. He loved me anyway. He reminded me of how grateful I should be for that—how I should never question his goodness because I deserved far worse. But if I stayed with him, I could have value.
Both had ultimate control over my life. If God (through his spokesmen) told me to do or not to do something, I didn’t get to ask why. My money, my property, my time and even my life belonged to Him. The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away.
Don too. He took the little bit of money that I made teaching piano lessons because I was his property and therefore it was his money too. He threw my makeup bag out of his car window when I told him I didn’t want to stop wearing the eyeliner that he thought made me look “too sexy.” He kept me on the phone for hours, even when I begged him to let me go so I could do my homework. I was his property and anything I had was his, too.
The wrath of one could send horrible diseases, car wrecks, natural disasters, and school shootings. The wrath of the other just a storm of angry words and hand-shaped bruises in places where clothes would always cover them.
One told me “Love me, or I’ll send you to be tortured for all of eternity.” The other told me “Love me, or I’ll blackmail you, yell at you, hurt you, kill you.”
This was my God and Don was just God in Reeboks.
Don was abusive. It took me several months to break up with him and several more years to fully admit the extent of the abuse.
Why was it so hard for me to admit that such an obvious case of domestic terrorism was abuse and not love?
Maybe it’s because admitting that Don was abusive and unloving meant admitting that the God I worshipped was abusive too.
I look around me, years later, and I see a Church that is terrified to look its theology in the face. I see a Church that is somehow okay with having two drastically different definitions of love—one for humans and one for God. I see a Church that holds God to a different standard than they hold human beings.
I see a Church that thinks it can do this and still speak out against abuse and to me, it will never make sense. I can no longer listen to a pastor call abusers evil and then turn around and sing a hymn to the wrathful, jealous God who can save even a helpless, hopeless, worthless wretch like me.
These dueling definitions of love have to end. God doesn’t get God’s own definition. God doesn’t get to do whatever God wants and call it love.
Reading All About Love by bell hooks has helped me expose the lie of a God (or a human) that can be both loving and abusive. In this book, hooks states that “love and abuse cannot coexist. Abuse and neglect are, by definition, the opposites of [love].” Hooks goes on to say that many of us are afraid to embrace a definition of love that does not allow abusive behavior, because confronting lovelessness is too painful.
Is that why the Church is afraid to examine the ways that our theologies let God get away with abuse? Have we so entwined love and abuse that we cannot imagine the implications of separating them? Are we afraid that holding God to the same standard of love that we would hold a human partner to will kill our faith?
Coming to a place where I admitted that the God I worshiped wasn’t a loving God was painful. Maybe even more painful than coming to a place where I admitted to myself that Don never loved me, either.
But in admitting the absence of love I’ve learned (and am still learning) to recognize true love wherever it exists.
If the Church wants to know a God who is love, the Church cannot continue to worship a God who abuses. An image of God that looks just like the Dons of the world can never teach us to love, can never be love.
Let us echo the words of bell hooks over, and over, and over as we seek the God of love.
“Love and abuse cannot coexist.”