Someone wants to hear your story

The headline of this post is true for all of us, actually, even when it doesn’t seem like it. Someone wants to hear your story.

But the point of this post is a bit more specific with regard to the someone and the you here.

The someone in this case is Margot Starbuck, who’s an insightful writer (author of, among other things: Unsqueezed and The Girl in the Orange Dress).

And the you may or may not be you, in particular.

Bruce Reyes-Chow points us to Starbuck’s “Special Sinners Project,” in which she wants to hear the stories of people who’ve been judged, condemned, rejected, hurt or otherwise mistreated by Christians. Yes, she’s working on a book. Starbuck thinks that Christians need to hear these stories, to come to terms with them, and to …

Actually, it’s probably better if I let her explain it:

If the church has ever judged you to be a special sort of “sinner,” I want to hear from you.

The church really needs to hear your story and there’s no way we can know this stuff without hearing your voice. (And I do understand that sharing yourself with an anonymous stranger who wants to listen probably either strikes you as horribly wrong or potentially lifegiving.) If this weird thing has got your name on it, please email your three quickie answers to the questions, below, to: SinnersSpeak (at)

1. Because of a behavior others decided was “sinful,” were you treated poorly by Christians? How?

2. Who loved you well? How?

3.Was there an unexpected someone who loved you well? How?

She adds:

Though I’m clearly looking for ideas to build up the church, our correspondence is entirely confidential. So your bright idea might one day find voice in my writing, but never your identity. Fair?

This is a delicate, tricky thing. There’s no getting around the awkward, unpleasant presumptuousness of asking people who have been hurt by Christians to share their stories in order to help Christians — even when the point is to teach Christians to stop hurting people the way they hurt you.

It’s a bit like encountering someone hurtful from your past and finding out that they’ve arrived at the Ninth Step. Their deep need to make amends may be suddenly in conflict with your deep need to never, ever, ever see them again. If that’s how Starbuck’s search for stories sounds to you, then please ignore it.

But if “this weird thing has got your name on it,” then someone wants to hear your story.

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  • Persephone

    I’ve already explained to the Christians who matter — my family — how they have hurt me for being lesbian. They were, to put it charitably, unapologetic. The other Christians can go fuck themselves, because I’m sure some other GLBT person who they have shunned has already explained to them how they were hurt in the exact same way.

  • Pmpope68

    Christians have been known to shoot their own.  I’m sure there are just as many disenfranchised/disenchanted Christians who were wounded in a church as there are seekers who have not yet embraced the faith who were hurt.  If we won’t treat our own well, what hope is there for the outsider?

  • Helena

    The way for people for Christians to stop hurting people because of their belief is for them to stop being Christians, to become people who are able to reflect on and examine their morality rather than simply obeying the arbitrary dictates of Paul or the pseudepigraphic authors of the five books of Moses. Fred would counter that he is prejudiced to wards gays on the basis of those authors, but that just reflects the degree to which he has stopped being a Christian without realizing it.

  • Guest

    Good, Fred. Your strategic goal here is to reduce the total amount of harm inflicted by Christians, and the principal objective is educating Christians in ways that their conduct could have inadvertently (or advertently) caused harm so that they may later avoid it.

  • Lori

    Helena, stop making the rest of us aethists look bad with your assholish crap. You are no better than Christians who troll aethist boards spouting off that all the posters are going to hell. The fact that you seem to think you are better just makes you that much worse.

    In short, put a sock in it.

  • Heartfout

     Helena, shut up.

    On topic, just sent an email to the project. Not sure if it exactly what she wanted, since most of the aspects of myself that would normally put me down for special sinnerhood (Gender issues ect) are either not known enough about me to get me judged, or else promote confusion rather than condemnation (Asexuality: confusing people with it’s mere concept since…well, a while), so I kind of spoke on some things that I have observed, such as the tendency to claim that as a Christian, they are being loving by default, and as such can’t be called out on their behaviour.

  • Emcee, cubed

    What Lori said. Utterly and Completely.

    But let’s address another issue. (And rather proof that being an idiot isn’t strictly limited to Christians.)

    Fred would counter that he is prejudiced to wards[sic] gays on the basis of these authors…

    This comment proves you are an idiot, a Poe, or a liar (I lean towards the last one. This has the hallmarks of being a Conservative Christian who plays being an atheist on the internet to get a rise out of Liberal Christians.)

    Fred (and the majority of the people here) are not prejudiced towards gays. If that were true, he would be giving preferential treatment to gay people, putting down others because of their heterosexuality, and possibly calling for people to be fired from their jobs if they were found to be in a heterosexual relationship (even if it was strictly monogamous). He would assume that gay people were better than heterosexuals, and treat them accordingly.

    This is not the case. He (at least tries) to treat everyone equally and fairly. He doesn’t say that a gay person’s word is more likely to be true than a heterosexual’s (unless it happens to be about the issue of the gay experience). Treating a gay person like a human being isn’t about being prejudiced towards them. Your comment is no better than the Religious Right claiming that saying gays are asking for “special rights” to be treated equally under the law.

    As has already been stated, put a sock in it.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Telling any religionist to just stop being that religion is exactly as effective as them telling you to just stop being an atheist. I mean, if arguing (and fighting and killing) over one ideology or the other, theistic and nontheistic alike, hasn’t worked in, oh, forever, why would issuing demands over the internet? My best friend (a mystical Christian with Campbellian overtones) and I (an anarcho-dada-syndicalist-utilo-pan-nihiltheist) have been arguing religion and philosophy for 11 years now and haven’t altered our core beliefs about anything. We’re just lucky that both of us hold simple kindness and basic human decency (of the Golden Rule variety) as being core to our beliefs and use different rationalizations to justify them.

    As far as I can tell, people don’t hold one ideology over another because one is more or less reasonable, but because it makes them feel good about who, what, and where they already are.

  • This is an interesting thing she asks for Fred.  I’m… honestly very unsure.

    Part of me wants to jump in enthusiastically – for whatever reason I do find it useful to talk about my past.  On the other hand… I’ve talked about it a great deal here; I’m more at-peace now than I’ve been in a long time.  I’m not saying things are great, but part of me is afraid to dredge it all back up since I’m already doing better.

    I admit I’m also… doubtful of any impact.  Those who care that they’ve hurt people have already endeavored to change, or will come to it.  Those that don’t care, or worse *delight* in hurting people, would at-best be indifferent, and I think the sadists would frankly revel knowing they’ve managed to so damage people.

    I don’t know.

    I’d like to believe it could make a difference, but it’s one thing to open up to people who’ve proved themselves wonderful and receptive, it’s another to (even identity expunged) open up to the world.

    It’s something I’ll think about though.

  • I admit I’m also… doubtful of any impact.  Those who care that they’ve hurt people have already endeavored to change, or will come to it.  Those that don’t care, or worse *delight* in hurting people, would at-best be indifferent, and I think the sadists would frankly revel knowing they’ve managed to so damage people.

    Think of it as being a little like witnessing.  Maybe they do not want to hear your message.  They are not required to listen to it if they do not.  However, it is important that the message be out there, for those who want to seek it.  

    In some senses, it is a little like the “It Gets Better” campaign.  There are a lot of people who are raised in the culture of the church, who take it to heart, but at the same time certain parts of it disagree with them on a fundamental level, and they end up internalizing that pain, twisting the knife in their own heart, so to speak.  

    This book is not to educate the bigots, though it would be nice if it did.  Rather, this book is to give hope to those who might have been hurting others without realizing that was what they were doing, or hurting themselves in the process. Those people who can wake up from the bubble, and see the world from a new perspective.  

    Those are the people who will be reached by these stories.  

  • FangsFirst

    I’d like to believe it could make a difference, but it’s one thing to
    open up to people who’ve proved themselves wonderful and receptive, it’s
    another to (even identity expunged) open up to the world.

    It’s something I’ll think about though.

    Considering it and hesitating on perfectly reasonable grounds, and weighing it in a thoroughly reasonable way (especially the “They probably already want to change/did change if they ever will/would want to.”) is meeting the full requirements for above and beyond if you ask me. I mean, not that I have some amazingly valuable opinion, but, you know. Good on you. Seriously. Crazy admirable. For what it’s worth.

  • As far as I can tell, people don’t hold one ideology over another because one is more or less reasonable, but because it makes them feel good about who, what, and where they already are.

    This has not been my observation.  My observation has been that people don’t have control over their core beliefs.  They can be convinced of things, beliefs can certainly change, but it’s not about what makes the people feel good.

    This may be personal bias.  I could no more change my belief about the existence of god than I could make myself believe the unclouded noonday sky is usually purple.  This is not to say that the belief can’t change.  I was not always as I am and I may not always be so, but I* can’t change it.  Whether I’m feeling good or bad, I don’t have the power to change it.

    I’ve also heard some heartbreaking stories about people being raised in a strong faith tradition (generally fundamentalist Christianity) who desperately wanted to believe in God, but couldn’t.  They simply didn’t believe it, and they felt horrible about not believing it, but they lacked the power to change their beliefs.

    (Such case should, by the way, be all the refutation needed for claims atheists believe in God but deny it out of spite.  They aren’t, as evidence by the continuation of such claims, but they should be.)

    So, anyway, in my observation what people believe with respect to religion includes at least some beliefs that they have no control over regardless of whether or not it makes them feel good about who, what, and where they are.

    * For a given definition of “I”.  If we’re including parts of me I have no conscious control over, then maybe I could change it.  Just like I am responsible for my belief in the color of the sky if we count my ability to see color create memories as one of the things I can take responsibility for.

  • I admit I’m also… doubtful of any impact.  Those who care that they’ve
    hurt people have already endeavored to change, or will come to it. 
    Those that don’t care, or worse *delight* in hurting people, would
    at-best be indifferent, and I think the sadists would frankly revel
    knowing they’ve managed to so damage people.

    *raises hand*

    I’m friends with a whole bunch of QUILTBAG people, and a big supporter of marriage equality. But it took a long time for me to be either – and most of the reason I began to change was from books doing exactly this.

    It won’t impact everyone, but believe me, it will definitely impact someone.

  • I admit I’m also… doubtful of any impact.

    I think it has a definite potential to make a difference.  I’m not saying you should do it because you know your situation better than I do and as such I think you’ll make a better decision for you than I ever could, but I think the possibility is there.

    I think there are multiple fronts on which it has the potential to make a difference.  One is that people might be thinking about the hurt being caused and feel uneasy about it, but see it only in abstract terms.  Hearing actual people’s stories could crystallize it for them and change their position from being uneasy to being opposed.

    For people already trying to change it could be an important reminder of why they need to change.  Especially if they’re feeling fallout from their attempts to change.  Trying to stop hurting people can get you hurt by those who think hurting people is right.  This could be family and friends, if could be people with power over an individual.  When faced with that I imagine it’s tempting to just go back to what one was doing before.  Personal stories of those who were hurt could be an invaluable reminder of why that isn’t a legitimate option.

    For people trying to make the argument, “You are hurting people,” the personal stories of those who have been hurt could strengthen their case and thus possibly help them convince people they might otherwise have failed to sway.  Failing that, it should at least remind them why the argument needs to be made.

    And then there’s also the possibility that things like this might function like paradigm shift.  Sometimes strongly held beliefs can be changed by one giant thing, but I think that more generally when strongly held beliefs are overturned it’s because they’re undermined over time.  Examples appear that don’t fit within a person’s worldview, at first they’re ignored or identified as oddities or exceptions, but as more and more appear the worldview struggles under the weight of all the contradictory evidence until finally if collapses to be replaced with something that takes those examples into account.  No one thing can be identified as causing the change in the person’s thinking, because by the time change did occur it was almost inevitable.

    If that’s the case then what’s important isn’t the difference that any one project makes, but instead that there are as many projects as possible each doing their part to chip away at the worldview that is hurting people.  Maybe this wouldn’t change person X’s mind, but would move person X that much closer to being changed.

    Or, this could just be an example of me failing to live up to my name, and the project could be entirely useless.

  • Thanks everyone – both for the support and the understanding; not just today but over the entire time I’ve been here.  I’ve been having a rough holiday for a few reasons I won’t go into, but this helps make it a little more bearable.

    I think what I’ll do is try writing up my story and leave it on my hard-drive, if after all is said and done I feel it’s worth contributing/feel comfortable doing so, I’ll send it on; and if not well, I have a lot of stuff I’ve written that no one will ever see, what’s one more?

  • It may be valuable to remember that christianity is not a religion whose adherents are, whatever the resident troll says, primarily bigots. It is a religion whose adherents include a small number of bigots who will not be swayed, and a great thrust of people who give the bigots tacit acceptance largely because they have never been put in a position to examine their position on equality.

    The target for a project like this is not the bigots. It’s the great thrust of people who need to be reminded that there is a choice other than “Just keep quiet and let the bigots run the show”

  • Elizabby

    I think it is a good idea, even if it is of limited impact – some is better than none. I would like to feel that there were people in the wider church who had some understanding of the issues in my life and how not to casually hurt me on a daily/weekly basis (outside groups specifically set up to support people in my situation which I have found to be a bit introspective and navel gazing).

    Sent her an email – will be interested to see what comes out of it.

  • Lori

    You really never do know what’s going to cause the lightbulb to come on for some people. I recently saw a quote from rapper A$AP Rocky that makes this oddly clear:

    used to be homophobic, but that’s fucked up. I had to look in the mirror and
    say, ‘All the designers I’m wearing are gay.

  • Anonymous

    I’m inclined to write to that lady, but I don’t think I could answer her questions without telling my story, which is rather long. And she seems to be looking for short stories. 

  • cyllan

    I waffle.  It (re)occurred to me about six or seven months ago that I have a (probably very mild) form of PTSD when it comes to fundamentalist Christanity.  I was with a friend at a shape-note singing group just to see what it was all about, and they closed with a prayer that was highly reminiscent of prayer sessions led during my high school.  I managed to make it through the prayer without hyperventilating, but the thought of going back makes me quite literally sick to my stomach.

    I fled the Christian faith pretty much at my first opportunity, but I don’t know if it was because I was a special sinner so much as it was because of all the Fundamentalist Christians that I was around had driven me out.  (Not all of the Christians around me were awful; I had two very caring pastors who mentored me through some really unpleasant bits.)

    I am a special sinner at this point —  I’m a bisexual pagan — but I’ve never had anyone give me any particular shit for it.   At this point, I’m secure enough in my beliefs and my person-hood that I have a hard time seeing how that would even happy, but I suppose it could.  Still; it’s not really likely at this point in my life.

  • Anonymous

    My problem is, most Christians don’t know about the things that would cause me to be considered “a special kind of sinner” precisely because those aspects of who I am are viewed that way.  I hide my religion and bisexuality from a lot of people as a preventative measure, otherwise I might have something to contribute.

  • *tea and biscuits*

    A cuppa?

    (I hear you on the hiding bisexuality part)

  • Anonymous

    With pleasure! :D *sips a nice orange pekoe*

  • Anonymous

    See, I don’t know if I can tell my story.  Not because it is particularly triggering* to me, but just because most of it happened while I was a teenager, so it’s me as a teenager recounting it.  And I was fairly smart, and wiser than some, but still a teenager and therefore an idiot.  And the saddest part about it is that I don’t think the people who hurt me, for the most part, had any desire to do so.  So I think that if I try to explain it it’ll just come off looking like petulant teenager-y stuff.

    Honestly, the best I could tell people if they are Christian and don’t want to hurt people is not to use god as a stand in for curse words.  I was in the south: I know when “Bless her heart” or “I’ll pray for you” or “God forgive you” is the passive-aggressive fundie way of saying “Fuck you”  Those terms themselves can be sincere: they really can mean she’s blessed, or that you feel bad about circumstances and want to give an expression of goodwill, or a reassurance.  But I had them used so many times as an expression of distaste, aggression, and as a silencing technique that I have to check myself when someone says them to me.  

    *For the most part, I’m over it.  People can tell me that I’m going to go to hell and my first inclination is to laugh at it now.  It wasn’t always that way.

  • Anna

         I honestly care and want the best for everyone.I’m not against people ofother faiths or those that don’t have any. God made us free and that is the basic part of love. Jesus Christ teaches us not to judge.We are all sinners,in His eyes “special”. I have been hurt by other Christians because I was not the “right” kind of Christian in their belief. I have also been hurt by non Christians, who automaticaly label me as some kind of freak before even getting to know me. Forgiveness of others and of oneself empowers a person to move on and grow and continue to love despite the hurts.Most of the time people don’t mean to hurt anyone.It just that life is difficult and each person has their own weakness and faults to overcome, or they really think that they are helping that person by wanting them to be what in their eyes is good by not approving of for instance: smoking or drugs or alcoholic abuse or pornography or sex addiction etc. They are being sincere,even if they might be going about it in the wrong way.
         I don’t believe in Jesus Christ because of other Christians being good or bad examples. I love Jesus as my Lord and Saviour and follow Him because of my own personal faith experience.He is real.Talk to Him about your life. He really understands us all.He really knows where we are coming from. All the pain and suffering in this short life,Jesus really makes sense of it and offers a loving embrace which heals and encourages us to face the ultimate challenge – How have we loved? God? Eachother?Ourselves?

  • cyllan

    All the pain and suffering in this short life,Jesus really makes sense
    of it and offers a loving embrace which heals and encourages us

    Oh hey! Yup; there is it. That’s one of the bits that triggers the rage and the nausea.  How lovely to encounter it here.



    I’m sure that Jesus makes your life and your suffering make sense for you, and that’s great *for you*.  It doesn’t work that way for me, and in fact, Jesus (particularly as represented by his followers, but also the whole religion itself) made my pain and suffering worse.  I didn’t really start healing from that until I dumped the Christian faith and all that went with it. 

    You’re welcome to believe.  I will even be pleased that your belief brings healing and joy to you. But do not dare attempt to tell me that all my pain and suffering would magically go away if only I were a good Christian.  Fuck that.