45 reasons why the culture behind #ChurchToo fails to understand consent

Candles surrounding the cross in Norwich Cathedral

With the recent trending of the hashtag #ChurchToo, people are sharing their experiences of abuse in the church. Meanwhile, others are asking questions about whether it’s just ‘a few bad apples’ or a systemic problem.

It’s a systemic problem.

Sure, it’s easy to say it’s a matter of “bad theology” or that people who abuse aren’t “true Christians”. But that doesn’t remove responsibility from the wider church to acknowledge the structural and theological problems within the church, name them as such, and work to address them. As a practising Christian, I fervently believe that the church can be, and will be, a powerful mediator of God’s transforming power in the world. But until we name these things as wrong, or at the very least as distortions and glib practices missapplied to their context, we will not have the impetus to change them.

And we must change them if we are to fulfil our calling.

So, here’s a list of 45 practices I associate with the church and the problems they lead to when it comes to consent. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list. And I don’t mean to suggest that consent is the only issue worth talking about. But it’s what I blog about.

I’ve categorised the list into issues relating to authority, sex, marriage, sin and gender.  Continue reading 45 reasons why the culture behind #ChurchToo fails to understand consent

I think I need to grieve – what one year in a DV charity does to you

Grief and lament spring from the deepest parts of our soul because, however bitter the herbs and fruits they seem to bear, their real root is Love and I believe that it is Love who made the world and made us who we are.
– Malcolm Guite

So, the last year I’ve spent an afternoon a week helping women who are experiencing domestic abuse of one form or another. When I first saw the advert, I jumped at the chance. I wanted that frontline experience in a structured context, where I’d be supervised and trained; where I’d be able to reach far more people than I would on my own – and provide much more effective help.

I was asked to put in a year’s commitment. I had no problem with that. Things were generally static and stable at both work and home, so I had the capacity.

Thing is, over the last few weeks, all I’ve wanted to do more than anything else is finish my one year stint, take my reference and go. Next week will be my last session.

CONTENT NOTE: This posts lists a lot of abusive behaviours seen in domestic violence.
Continue reading I think I need to grieve – what one year in a DV charity does to you

Always reforming: 95 statements on hope, sexuality and consent

It is 500 years to the day (well, sort of, if we don’t worry about the shift to the Gregorian calendar) since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses onto the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenburg, on 31 October 1517. His actions kicked off the reformation – a movement during which the protestant denominations split away from the Roman Catholic church.

Coming from a protestant background, this seems a fitting time for me to write 95 short statements on the themes of this blog. Of course, they don’t cover everything! But you’ll find in them thoughts and theologies that either have been, or will be, very much an integral part of my writing. (And when I’m cribbing someone else’s work, I’ve put their name in brackets.) I’ve split them into ten categories:

  • personhood
  • abuse
  • God
  • sex
  • consent
  • Christian witness
  • the Bible
  • hope
  • purity
  • and me.

Continue reading Always reforming: 95 statements on hope, sexuality and consent

Inside the mental chaos of calling out abuse

One of the classic things about abuse is that when you’re going through it, you often don’t realise it’s abuse. Even when you do, there are so many conflicting forces over your life it’s hard to discern which way to go. The other day, I heard a domestic violence worker use the word “chaotic” to describe the thoughts inside a survivor’s head.

I went away and pondered this and wrote the following stream of words to try and capture this chaos. I’ve written it in general terms, so people from different experiences can relate to it. It doesn’t say whether the person is experiencing domestic abuse (whether from an intimate partner, or from a family member), or whether it’s a church context, or a work context. Nor does it go into the nature of the abuse.

Instead it churns over the chaos of the person’s mind as their coping mechanisms fail. (Notice how long it takes for them to realise that they are the one being harmed.) It ends with someone offering them an exit from the abuse. Again, we don’t know who that person is and though the exit is real, much remains unresolved. Continue reading Inside the mental chaos of calling out abuse

Beast and Christian Grey: monsters or lovers? (Part 5: Hope and love)

Dan Stevens and Emma Watson dancing with lyrics from 'Evermore'

My greatest criticisms of both Fifty Shades and the 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast come down to how they frame hope.

In Fifty Shades, Christian’s hope is vested in Ana, and the fear of losing her drives him to control her. In the 2017 Beauty and the Beast, Beast fares a bit better; he vests his hope in Belle’s intangible presence, which means he’s less controlling. But in the 1991 version we see something fundamentally different: Belle is Beast’s symbol of hope. When Beast surrenders to uncertainty he dies inwardly, only to be reborn into a new hope when Belle returns.

In these respects, I’d say Fifty Shades presents a hope that is Mormon, the 2017 Beauty and the Beast presents a hope that is Platonist, but the 1991 Beauty and the Beast presents a hope that is consistent with traditional Christianity.

Now you might say that’s over-analysing, but hey – I’m coming to the end of twenty-six blog posts that look into Beauty and the Beast in some form, so I think I’ve kind of already opened myself up to that accusation. I may as well keep going until I’ve said everything that I think is worth saying.

This is a long post, even by my standards (4,000 words), but if reading the above whets your appetite – keep going.

This is your spoiler warning. Continue reading Beast and Christian Grey: monsters or lovers? (Part 5: Hope and love)

#ThatsHarassment: David Schwimmer makes six short videos showing sexual consent violations

With so much noise coming through my Twitter feed, and just the general busyness of life, it’s not uncommon for me to scroll past good articles and links without reading. But wow! When I saw the story about David Schwimmer (yes, Ross from Friends) making six short videos about sexual harassment, I’m so glad I didn’t miss it. They are brilliantly made, directed by Israeli-American director Sigal Avin, and achingly, shockingly real.

In the space of less than five minutes, each one illustrates a perpetrator preparing their victim for the consent violation, the violation itself, and then their tactics afterwards to rationalise their actions and prevent subsequent disclosure. They are all in a context of power imbalance. And yet, they are also all different. What’s more, they show abuse outside the obvious examples that people think of when they think of sexual abuse. In all but one, the victim is fully clothed; in all but another, the perpetrator is fully clothed. None of them involve a man forcibly grabbing a woman. None of them include one person touching another’s genitals. All of them are more subtle than that.

These are so well acted and scripted, I’m half tempted to present them without any commentary at all. However, one of the insidious things about abuse is its deceitfulness; I’ve therefore shared some of my thoughts in the hope that other people will feel more able to articulate theirs. It does mean this post is rather long, especially if you watch all six, so make a bookmark or come back when you’ve got the time. These reward close attention.

CONTENT NOTE: There are six videos here, all of which show sexual consent violations, and I discuss the coercive behaviours in detail. I’ve put notes above each video so that (if you want to) you can consider each one before you watch it, but needless to say – you might still find them difficult viewing. Continue reading #ThatsHarassment: David Schwimmer makes six short videos showing sexual consent violations

Beast and Christian Grey: monsters or lovers? (Part 2: Control)

So here’s the thing: you do not protect someone by faulting their behaviour and then trying to control them so as to limit it.

It took me a while to click this and I don’t have it entirely straight in my head yet, but the way I see it, if a person is vulnerable to making unhealthy choices, you protect them by limiting their surroundings, not by limiting them.

To give an example: you protect children by keeping sharp objects out of reach; you don’t protect them by telling them they must never reach, and certainly not by punishing them for trying to reach. (Though sometimes you let them discover wisdom for themselves – like when my parents let me serve myself a heaped spoonful of mustard because I kept demanding it.)

Meanwhile, as anyone who has studied domestic violence will tell you, entitlement and desire for control are the root of abuse. I’ll be the first to say that faithfulness is bigger than consent, but faithfulness is not about control – and it’s definitely not about retributive punishment.

Welcome to part 2 of comparing Fifty Shades with both the animated and live action versions of Beauty and the Beast. CONTENT NOTE: Consider this your spoiler warning. I will be talking about plot details of the live action Beauty and the Beast. I also include a few of the creepier quotes from Fifty Shades. Continue reading Beast and Christian Grey: monsters or lovers? (Part 2: Control)

Beast and Christian Grey: monsters or lovers? (Part 1: Coercion)

How does Christian Grey compare with Dan Stevens’ Beast?

I’ve already blogged at length about Beast in the 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast, but now we have a live-action version, it’s worth asking the question again.

I won’t drag this out into an 18 part series like I did last time, but I want to look at the characters of Beast and Christian, from five different angles. In particular, I want to look at how Fifty Shades and both versions of Beauty and the Beast frame the following:

  • Coercion and manipulation
  • Control and faithfulness
  • Questions of guilt and shame
  • Change and transformation
  • Hope and love.

CONTENT NOTE: Consider this your spoiler warning. I will be talking about plot details of the live action Beauty and the Beast. I also include a few of the creepier quotes from Fifty Shades. Continue reading Beast and Christian Grey: monsters or lovers? (Part 1: Coercion)

I dated Christian Grey… and I don’t care to see him again

Woman standing arms folded in from of Christian Grey picture from 50 Fifty Shades Darker.

With the launch of Fifty Shades Darker in cinemas, this guest post is just as relevant as it was when it was originally written two years ago. Ruthie Hird looks back on her experience of a toxic boyfriend (whom she met on a church retreat) and draws striking parallels with Christian Grey. I found it compelling when I first read it and she kindly agreed for me to re-blog it here.


So, there’s this book/movie that has come out recently: it’s called Fifty Shades of Grey, perhaps you’ve heard of it? Well, I sure have, and I’ve seen the throngs of mommy (and non-mommy) squee-ing over the very idea of a dark, mysterious man sweeping girls off of their feet and having incredible sex with them. Oh, if only Mr Grey really existed! I hear women sigh longingly.

Well, ladies, guess what: he does exist.

I should know: I dated him.

And so have about 4 million women in North America in one year alone.

Here’s the thing: Mr Grey in my world was not a high powered businessman, in fact he wasn’t rich at all. He was actually a twenty-six year old, blonde haired, blue eyed, church-going construction worker. He wore a cowboy hat, drove a pick up truck, and I had no idea what I was in for when he asked me out.

CONTENT NOTE: References to rape, coercive control and non-consensual BDSM perpetrated against the author – as well as similar behaviours in Fifty Shades. Continue reading I dated Christian Grey… and I don’t care to see him again

Sex and consent: everything I didn’t know when I married

Essay on consent; red text is what I didn't know when I married

I recently had the privilege of being able to guest post on the blog of Ashley Easter. She asked me to write about how I understand consent – what it is and what it isn’t. Over 5,500 words later (and more hours than I counted) the essay was complete. I hadn’t meant for it to be that long, but it roughly breaks down into three segments:

  • Understanding sex and consent in context
  • Giving and receiving consent
  • Bad consent and withdrawing consent

I will repost the contents of it on this blog in a few months time, but meanwhile I wanted to post this picture. It’s a zoomed-out version of the full essay and everything highlighted in red is something my husband and I didn’t know when we married. Seriously!

The full post is on Ashley’s blog here: Sex and consent: How does that work in marriage?

Don’t be misled by the title, I haven’t written just about consent in marriage, though I do acknowledge that as the context from which I’m writing.

A summary of how redemption in BATB compares with 50 Shades

Books of the Fifty Shades trilogy with a DVD of Beauty and the Beast

When I started blogging through the plot and themes of Beauty and the Beast, making comparisons with Fifty Shades, and how they did and didn’t speak about redemption, I didn’t expect it would last for eighteen posts. But hey, it did, and if it’s too much like hard work to read all of them, here’s your too-long-didn’t-read, sparks notes, summary of the key points from each. Continue reading A summary of how redemption in BATB compares with 50 Shades

Gaston vs Jack Hyde: Monsters, mirrors and mercy

Books of the Fifty Shades trilogy with a DVD of Beauty and the Beast

Jack’s eyes flash the darkest blue, and he sneers as he casts a leering look down my body.
Fear chokes me. What is this? What does he want?
Fifty Shades Darker, p367

Let’s talk about villains.

Gaston

Handsome, popular, and successful at everything he does (except proposing to Belle), Gaston is also rude, vain and conceited. He wants only the best and thinks he deserves it. “Best” is defined by outward appearance so Gaston directs his possessiveness towards Belle. He has mood swings when he doesn’t get his own way. When Belle refuses Gaston a second time, Gaston imprisons her and sets out to kill Beast.

Jack Hyde

Editor at a publishing company and the one who hires Ana to work there. Hyde is not as successful as Christian Grey is, but feels he’s entitled to be because they were both in foster care together as boys. Hyde controls and sexually harasses all the women he works with and is possessive towards Ana. He’s secretly filmed himself having rough sex with his secretaries and uses the footage as leverage over them. He has mood swings when he doesn’t get his own way. When Christian takes over his company and he is fired, he sabotages Christian’s helicopter in an attempt to kill him. He kidnaps Christian’s sister for a $5m ransom. Continue reading Gaston vs Jack Hyde: Monsters, mirrors and mercy

Beast vs Christian: Control or change? Fixation or surrender?

Books of the Fifty Shades trilogy with a DVD of Beauty and the Beast

Who would have thought? I grin widely, the word progress running around my brain as I drift.
Fifty Shades Freed, p310

From the early pages of Fifty Shades of Grey, Christian displays several unsavoury characteristics, even when you completely ignore his sadism (and I will generally ignore it for the purposes of this post).

He is overly controlling of Ana, saying that he’s afraid of losing her and knows what’s best for her. He’s also very possessive of Ana, not wanting her sexuality visible to anyone else and responds aggressively to the slightest hint of male attention directed towards her.

But, as this is trying to be a redemption story, we should judge Christian more by his behaviour towards the end of the books, rather than the beginning. After all, redemption involves change on the part of the person being redeemed.

But the sad fact of the matter is that Christian doesn’t change. 

CONTENT NOTE: This post mentions some of Christian’s coercive tactics towards Ana, including sexual violence, and quotes one of his threats of violence. Continue reading Beast vs Christian: Control or change? Fixation or surrender?

Gollum vs Christian: Choice, commitment and consent (part 3)

“He has a point, Christian. You’re very wealthy, and I’m bringing nothing to our marriage but my student loans.”
Christian gazes at me, his eyes bleak. “Anastasia, if you leave me, you might as well take everything. You left me once before. I know how that feels.”
Fifty Shades Freed, p32

For context, that’s Christian Grey explaining why refuses to sign a pre-nuptial agreement with Ana. It’s another classic Fifty Shades moment which is trying to sound romantic and affectionate – but isn’t when you stop to think about it. Christian is saying his life isn’t worth living if he doesn’t have Ana.

No pressure then.

Or pedestalling.

It’s not unsurprising that Christian is able to make all manner of promises of commitment to Ana, even though he is abusive towards her. He has, after all, no intention of losing her.

This mini-series on Choice, commitment and consent has four parts:

  • Part 1 looked at how promise is important to understanding redemption.
  • Part 2 looked at Christian’s promises in the first book of the trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey.
  • Part 3 (this one!) looks at Christian’s promises in Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.
  • Part 4 will look at Ana’s promises in the trilogy.

Continue reading Gollum vs Christian: Choice, commitment and consent (part 3)

Biedermann vs Christian: Choice, commitment and consent (part 2)

Yes, I was living in Germany when the special edition came out.

Jeez, I’m a quivering, mess, and he hasn’t even touched me. I squirm in my seat and meet his dark glare.
“Why don’t you?” I challenge quietly.
“Because I’m not going to touch you, Anastasia—not until I have your written consent to do so.” His lips hint at a smile.
Fifty Shades of Grey, p74

Four pages later, we see how good Christian is to his promise:

“Oh, f*** the paperwork,” he growls. He lunges at me pushing me against the wall of the elevator.

The plot of two halves

In Choice, Commitment and Consent (Part 1), I talked about how the idea of promise is important to understanding redemption. In that post I also raised the following objection to the plot of Fifty Shades:

Redemption is about the redeemer making a single promise to the person needing redemption. In Fifty Shades it’s Christian who keeps making promises – and breaking them. He is always shifting the boundaries of the relationship by changing the terms of his promises.

It’s important to recognise that how Christian reveals his secrets to Ana (and breaks his promises to her) shifts after the end of the first book. Up to the end of Fifty Shades of Grey the focus is on him obtaining and keeping Ana on his terms, for his ends. Afterwards, however, he recognises that’s not going to work because Ana leaves him. So he begins to take steps so that the relationship is more on Ana’s terms.

In other words – and I’m not saying I agree with the following statements – there’s a case for saying that, from a redemption perspective:

  • Fifty Shades of Grey is about Christian thrashing about wretchedly in his fallen state, trying suck Ana into his darkness and failing.
  • Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed are about Christian learning to relate in healthy ways or ‘learning to love’ as the narrator in Beauty and the Beast would say. In learning, Christian eventually reaches his complete redemption – being married, monogamous, a father of one child a father-to-be of another, and still having a great sex life with Ana.

The thing is, I don’t think either of these parts of the plot speak about redemption. So in this post I’ll talk about the first part, and in the next post I’ll talk about the second.

Continue reading Biedermann vs Christian: Choice, commitment and consent (part 2)