The Internet and the end of the evangelical bubble (again)

First, a creepy bit of personal testimony from Joy Bennett in a post called “Shame Is a Prison, and I’m Breaking Out.” She tells of being summoned with her husband to a meeting in the pastor’s office at her local church:

He opened a manilla file folder and slid out a few sheets of paper. I spotted my name on the folder, Facebook-blue across the top of one page, and my blog header on another. My mind raced as I tried to process. The pastor has a file on me. My gut was right. They don’t like who I am.

… “Someone has brought your blogs and Facebook posts to my attention.” He pointed to the print-out of my Facebook wall and a couple of blog posts, peppered with underlines and notes.

“You shared a post on Facebook that supports egalitarian views of men and women, in direct opposition to our church’s teachings. You know that we believe men are to lead and women are to submit. We are asking you to stop sharing things that disagree with the teachings of our church.”

The whole story is disturbing, and I can’t begin to catalog all the ways in which this skeevy pastor’s behavior here is just wrong.

What I want to highlight is the way this little boy of the cloth holds in his hands the evidence of his undoing, and he doesn’t even seem to realize it.

He’s upset about something on the Internet, so he had the church secretary print it out. The print out was then placed in a file folder, which was carefully labeled and tucked away in the proper drawer.

This is how he handles information, how he keeps control of it. And this has been how he handles people and keeps control of them.

That used to work pretty well for him.

But this little pastor has probably dimly begun to notice that it doesn’t seem to be working quite as well anymore. The information seems to be getting out of his control.

And thus so are the people. They seem to be escaping from his folders.

Rachel Held Evans notes this same story from Joy Bennett as an example of how “the world is hearing the voices of women in a way it hasn’t before”:

Women are able to connect with one another, share their stories, build platforms, and garner followings — with or without the permission of the power structures that would otherwise regulate their voices.  No longer must a woman sit frightened and silent through a sermon that demeans her; now she can connect with women from around the world who understand and who are beginning to speak up.

Dan often encourages me with this reminder: I may be forbidden from speaking at the church down the street because of my gender, but through the blog, I often speak to more people in a day than pass through that church in a year.

The problem with that church down the street is not, as Joy Bennett’s former pastor put it, that there are some people who “disagree with the teachings of our church.” The problem is that such churches have no answer — no convincing argument with which to respond to those disagreements. In the past, controlling information worked so well that these churches have gotten out of the habit of even trying to respond. They were so good at avoiding and suppressing questions that they’ve forgotten how to answer them.

Pastors like that little man with his little folders seem to still think that the Internet is nothing more than a few sheets of paper that can be filed away and controlled. They think drawers can be shut and information can be locked away.

That’s not how the Internet works.

Those churches whose teachings depend on keeping their followers from ever hearing any alternative views — keeping everyone safely inside the evangelical bubble — won’t be able to survive unless they adapt and change. Either their views must change, or they must find a way to defend those views in a world in which alternative perspectives are never more than a click away.

See earlier:

 

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Postcards from the culture war (12.1.16)
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The unjust piety of 'safe evangelical environments,' from Oney Judge to Larycia Hawkins
Concordance-ism backfires for anti-gay preacher
  • Morilore

    “Binders full of women” indeed.

  • Veylon

    I continue to find it baffling that “egalitarian” can have a negative connotation. In my life, it’s always been the cornerstone philosophy to such an extent that any other philosophy has to be in line with it in order to be considered good. Seeing someone accused of it, as though this is some bad thing, is downright alien. I never imagined that was a real thing that could really happen these days until I started coming to this blog.

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    Well, it seems clear that this clear this pastor is against egalitarianism because he enjoys lecturing down to fellow adults, women in particular, as if they were his own toddling children, and is neither psychotic or self-aware enough to be able to do so without some pretense of moral rationale. 

    Of course he has no power over the fact that the stigma against leaving a particular church or religion altogether is nowhere near what it used to be, and it may be the awareness of that leads to an authoritarian doubling down among the die-hards. 

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    “You shared a post on Facebook that supports egalitarian views of men and women, in direct opposition to our church’s teachings. You know that we believe men are to lead and women are to submit. We are asking you to stop sharing things that disagree with the teachings of our church.”

    Is… is that pastor asking for a beatdown?  Because I read that and I read a chauvinistic pissant asking a woman to reach over his desk, grab his collar with one hand, and drive her knuckles into his face with the other.  

    I mean, talk about offensive… 

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Because I read that and I read a chauvinistic pissant asking a woman to reach over his desk, grab his collar with one hand, and drive her knuckles into his face with the other.

    Please cut it out.

  • Nicanthiel

    Well… I wasn’t expecting that trigger…

    Joy’s story is quite similar to something that happened to me as a closeted teenager. I had had a private (but still publicly viewable, in those old days of Blogger) blog that I never shared with anyone, where I voiced my struggles with attraction and religion. Somehow, someone discovered it and brought it to the pastor’s attention. He then called me and my parents into his office and had a very similar conversation to the one above.

    It was one of the first salvos in the long, drawn-out war between my church/parents and my self-identity that almost resulted in expulsion (from a Christian school that viewed Fred’s alma mater as dangerously close to being “liberal”) and abandonment, and did result in conversion therapy.

    Thankfully, I made it through. But that night… that was hard.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Been through something like that. 

    Back in junior high, when I first confessed to my then best friend that I had feelings for her, I ended up in a meeting with the youth pastor, the main pastor of the church, my grandparents and her/her parents. 

    My grandparents ended up leaving the church out of shame. And my home life went to hell quick. The results of that night started my exit out of Christianity. 

  • Holden Pattern

    I would have suggested to my wife that we walk out right then (though I would never have set foot in that place to begin with).  

    If that church thinks (a) that women ought to be subservient to men, (b) it’s appropriate for the pastor to scold an adult woman like she was a five year old, and (c) that somehow I’m supposed to be involved in the scolding of my wife (in any way other than telling him “what she said”), well, any one of those things is enough for me to be done with them, but all 3?

  • stardreamer42

    This is the sort of thing that’s easy to say when you’re starting out from the position of already being free. From what I could see in the blog post:

    1) Both she and her husband had voluntarily agreed to be under the authority of this church, this pastor. Apparently they had been for some time, since the pastor said that they were “influential in the church” — that’s not a newcomer.

    2) It is not at all certain that her husband did have her back when push came to shove in this confrontation. She says that he sat several feet away from her, too far for physical contact… as though he was symbolically distancing himself from his “troublemaker” wife.

    3) I also don’t know how large a town this was. Would openly rebelling against the pastor’s authority have gotten them shunned by people beyond their immediate social circle? These things don’t happen in a vacuum.

    I’m not sure standing up and walking out right then was genuinely an option for either of them at that point, and although my reaction is exactly the same as yours, I can see a lot of reasons why they might have reacted differently.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    1) Both she and her husband had voluntarily agreed to be under the authority of this church, this pastor. Apparently they had been for some time, since the pastor said that they were “influential in the church” — that’s not a newcomer.

    The article explicitly stated they had only been members of the church for a few months. How long you must attend services prior to being a member varies from church to church; I’ve seen as little as one month to as much as six months, but none more than that. 

    When the pastor said they were “influential in the church”, that read to me as more of an attempt at manipulation and guilt than a neutral admission of fact. The entire meeting reeked of deliberate, planned attempts at emotional manipulation and coercion. 

    2) It is not at all certain that her husband did have her back when push came to shove in this confrontation. She says that he sat several feet away from her, too far for physical contact… as though he was symbolically distancing himself from his “troublemaker” wife.

    The article stated this meeting took place in the pastor’s office, which means the physical arrangement of things like chairs would be set by the pastor. Which means it was the pastor who set the two chairs more than three feet apart, the pastor who isolated the husband from his wife. 

    I’m not sure standing up and walking out right then was genuinely an option for either of them at that point.

    I agree, but for different reasons. The entire scene was built around power and authority on one side, isolation and shame on the other. 

    The couple enter the private office of the pastor; his space. It’s filled with trappings of authority: the large desk, the books, the framed diploma/certificate/etc. The couple are directed to sit, in two leather chairs with armrests, placed more than three feet apart from each other. The pastor isn’t talking yet. He takes a sip of water, brings out a labeled folder, and lets the couple get a hint of the contents, but still doesn’t start talking. Instead, he pauses for a brief prayer and takes another sip of water to draw out the silence. Then the pastor of their new church, in his office, wearing the collar, talks first about the church’s views (women should submit to men), talks about how it’s wrong for a woman to question this publicly, and concludes by asking her to submit to his request! If she does anything at all except agree to the pastor’s demand, she is “failing to submit”. 

    It’s pretty straightforward manipulation and intimidation, it’s just disheartening to see it employed by a spiritual leader against members of his congregation.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    How long you must attend services prior to being a member varies from
    church to church; I’ve seen as little as one month to as much as six
    months, but none more than that.

    I went to my church for two years before becoming a member. My boyfriend, who has now been there for over six years, still keeps saying vaguely “Oh yeah… I really should become a member…”

    It’s not always a matter of qualifying; sometimes it’s just about getting around to it.

  • http://www.metagalacticllamas.com/ Triplanetary

    He opened a manilla file folder and slid out a few sheets of paper. I
    spotted my name on the folder, Facebook-blue across the top of one page,
    and my blog header on another. My mind raced as I tried to process. The
    pastor has a file on me. My gut was right. They don’t like who I am.

    *shudder* So creepy. Authoritarians like this asshole, who only has a tiny bit of nominal power, but desperately wants, needs, it to be more, are pathetic. But they’re dangerous when they’re put in roles of like pastor, school administrator or teacher, police officer, etc. We as a society really need to make a more concerted effort to keep them out of those roles. Let them drink themselves to death in their homes while they rage against the world for not appreciating what amazing and morally superior people they are. Just as long as they’re not hurting anyone but themselves.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Who are the brain police? This pastor, apparently.
    Seriously, whatever your occupation, if you ever find yourself doing it in the style of the Stasi, it’s time to rethink your life choices.

  • Antigone10

    When I discovered that I didn’t really believe in Christianity back in my teenage years, I told my parents I was not going back to church.   I explained that the culture was oppressive to me, especially how much they maligned women, popular culture, science, and my burgeoning liberal political beliefs. They of course, respectfully allowed me to keep my faith in whatever fashion I found appropriate, but expressed disappointment in my current choices.  And I responded by coming to church on Easter and Christmas and maturely not arguing over their deeply held beliefs.  Or at least, they would have and I did in a parallel universe that I would have much preferred to live.

    What actually happened was my mom burst into tears talking about how I was going to hell and she had failed me.  My dad took the more direct, “You’re under my roof so you will obey my rules” approach.  I took the stubborn “I don’t believe that crap, and you can’t make me”.  They took they approach of “Yes we can make you” and forced me into the car while I was still in my pajamas to go to church (they were hoping for shaming me into compliance).  After I did the entire church service in uncombed hair, Walmart pajamas, and not a hint of embarrassment  they upped the ante by having a “private meeting with the pastor”.

    So this post resonated with me on a level that was sympathetic and a little uncomfortable.  I was confident about my (lack of) beliefs at home, and I was quite defiant in the back of the church well armed with the knowledge that this was far more embarrassing for my parents than it was for me (like my fellow teenagers cared about what I was wearing- they were not my friends, and if anything, this merely boosted my reputation).  But then I was put in front of the pastor, with his dark oak desk and looming bookshelves, and suddenly I wished for a three-piece suit and a 20-page written report.  It was intimidating- and worse, I knew that it was two adults against bed-raggled, teenage me.  I’d like to think that I held my own in that religious “debate” (I remember clearly not backing down in the whole “I don’t believe in god” part) but I probably sounded like a whispering, whiny, no-nothing child.   And, I strongly suspect, that if I were ever in that circumstance again, sitting in the pastor’s office with my mom next to me, I would probably default to that same behavior again, despite having more than another decade of life since then.  

    I can’t imagine what it would have felt like to be pulled in because I disagreed on something like “Harry Potter books are evil.*  To still believe in 90% of everything they said, but because I wasn’t towing the party line on one aspect I was as bad as not in the group.  I only could handle it because I was throwing out the whole kit-and-caboodle, so there was nothing drawing me back in.  It would be hard to stick to your guns at the prospect of meaningful isolation.

    *My church did in fact burn Harry Potter books, and I did disagree with them.  That, however, never came up.  My mom decided they were not, in fact, evil, so we just quietly read them at home and didn’t bring it up in church.

  • Kahlan

    Stories like this make me feel so fortunate that I’m a non-believer in spite of all the bigotry we face. I simply cannot get into the mindset of being sick worry about what a pastor thinks. To me a pastor is a slimy snake oil salesman you laugh at, and the only way a pastor would get my heart in my throat is by being around my kids unsupervised.

    It’s all very well to state that women no longer have to suffer in silence through misogynistic sermons. That’s good. I feel so happy that I don’t have to suffer through them at all.

    I’m honestly very grateful to have read this post. I make me feel free and liberated and literally lightens my heart in a way that I cannot even express.

    The next time I face religious bigotry from the good, kind, moral religious folks, I shall think of this post and realize that having a free mind is worth the cost.

    So thank you. I really cannot tell you how much you have freed me today.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    It’s a bit weird to read in light of the ever-more-popular memes of “the evils of secular society” and “internet atheists.” 

    Seriously, this is what the churches do to their own, but atheists and “secularists”* are the real enemies?

    *I’ve been listening to LaHaye’s new book lately–can you tell?

  • Ben English

    Secularists, no. They’re only a threat in the warped minds of the LaHayes and the O’Reillys.

    “Internet Atheists” aren’t an enemy so much as an annoyance. They don’t just not believe: they’re hostile to people of faith, they think their intellects are superior, but typically their atheism is based on arguments or emotional appeals shallow enough to make Richard Dawkins side-eye them. They also tend to be pretty damned misogynist.

    In other words, they do what Fred calls evangelical tribalism, only their tribe is straight white nonbeliever males.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Thank you for reminding me why I always try to put the term “internet atheist” in quotation marks.  I hate the term. 

    And thank you for helping me prove my point.

  • Ben English

     What point would that be?

    And if you have a better term for the likes of The Amazing Atheist and his ilk, feel free to use it. Internet Atheist is obviously a problematic term because it’s easy to mistake it as a dismissal of any atheist one happens to meet on the internet.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    The point of the popularity of the “internet atheist” meme.  So angry!  So mean!  Just Like The RTCS!!!  Also Richard Dawkins!!!!!

    That point.

    Internet Atheist is obviously a problematic term because it’s easy to mistake it as a dismissal of any atheist one happens to meet on the internet.

    Yes.

  • Jenny Islander

     Real True Atheist, perhaps?  I knew one IRL.  He took great pleasure in explaining the religious conspiracies and madnesses of crowds that were dragging American down and how much clearer and more pleasant life was without the God delusion.  It was like listening to a devout IFB member discuss the latest theory about the identity of the Antichrist combined with personal testimony.  But he was a nice person otherwise, didn’t call us names or roll his eyes when we mentioned a church social event or what have you, and he was one of the most devoted, conscientious dog owners I have ever met.

  • Carstonio

    Maybe more than a dismissal. Has anyone ever seen the term used like “uppity” was used against educated blacks, as a defense of religious privilege? I could have experienced too many First Amendment debates where one side falsely claims that only atheists would have a problem with mentioning a sectarian deity in the Pledge. I favor the alternate term “anti-theist” for the folks who regularly bash religion on the Internet. But even that sounds dismissive of other, more reasoned critics of theology and of institutional misdeeds.

  • Ben English

    And yet the term was still clear enough to catch on among internet users of all faiths and non-faiths. It’s kind of like what Fred is talking about in the post after this one: NALT Atheists can protest that ‘we’re not all like that’ but it’s the assholes that need to hear it, not the people noticing the problem.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Yes, how strange that an unpopular minority would have a derogatory name that would catch on.  And just like other insulting nicknames, I’m sure it is entirely justified.

  • Ben English

    Correct. Assholes who think being an atheist makes them superior to those who aren’t is in fact, a perfectly decent justification for a ‘derogatory’ nickname.

    And calling someone an internet atheist for being an asshole in regards to their atheism on the internet is exactly equivalent to using a racist or homophobic slur.

  • Baby_Raptor

    The person who originally showed me The Amazing Atheist referred to him as “The Amazing Trollhole.” (Her personal lingo for troll asshole.)

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    There was a brief period when I watched some of The Amazing Atheist’s stuff. I think it’s a bit ironic that I wrote him off for being just a general asshole long before I came to any of his stuff where he was being an asshole about his atheism. (Religion just didn’t happen to come up in the stuff I watched. But a healthy streak of misogyny did)

  • Ben English

     Incidentally, Amazing Atheist briefly had a show on the nerd portal ThatGuyWithTheGlasses, which is how I first encountered him. Apparently he just up and stopped making content and then tried to demand MORE pay from the site owners despite the entire business model being that creators only profit from their videos with site ads going to support the site.

  • LouisDoench

    It is a problematic term because the vast bulk of atheist organizing and activism in the past decade has happened “on the internet”. The internet is where our community primarily resides. Using “Internet Atheist” as a pejorative lumps pretty much the entire modern atheist/secularist/skeptic movement in with assholes like The Amazing Atheist or Justin Vacula. 

    And you cannot avoid the privilege dimension here.  Yes there are some vocal members of the Asshole Atheist community out there.  And we are working very hard to police our own in that respect.  But the majority doesn’t get to define the minority here. If an atheist tells you they don’t like the term,  maybe listen?

  • Jenny Islander

    Every once in a while I run into a post like this that really brings home to me that what mainstream culture thinks of when they say “Christianity’ is nothing like my “mainstream” church.  We’re not loud enough or passionate enough or something.  But the idea of keeping files on people was completely off the radar in the Lutheran congregation I was raised in and is unthinkable at the Episcopal church I now attend.  There is one file with parishioners’ names in it.  It’s the church directory!

  • Ursula L

    But the idea of keeping files on people was completely off the radar in the Lutheran congregation I was raised in and is unthinkable at the Episcopal church I now attend.  

    “Keeping files on people” isn’t inherently bad.

    For any congregation of more than a dozen or so people, there are too many people for the pastor to keep track of all of their needs in the pastor’s mind.  So a system of organization is needed.  

    If someone in the congregation asks for a meeting, it makes sense for the pastor to have a file for that person, with notes on previous private meetings, who their family members are, and any concerns or needs they have expressed in their past.  The same way that doctors keep files on each individual patient, so that the effort to meet their needs is not limited by what details the care-provider can personally remember and keep distinct from the needs of others they care for.  

    A church should also be keeping files on its members for things like financial donations, in order to be able to provide records of those donations, as needed, for tax purposes.  

    And if an adult member has young children, then records need to be kept about those children, particularly if there are any allegations of the parent/guardian abusing the child, so that complaints can be properly reported, and evidence is available to help protect the child if needed. (e.g., a Sunday school teacher notices strange bruises on the child.)  Also records of when the child is in the care of the church, such as in the nursery or Sunday school while the parents are at the church service, so that if there are concerns about problems in the nursery or Sunday school, the church knows what children were in their care, and when.  And also notes in the files of the adults running the nursery and Sunday school of what programs they were involved with on what days and times. 

    Individual files on who is involved with the church are essential to the responsible function of a church.  

    The breach of responsibility, to me, seems to be a pastor looking up someone’s Facebook profile or blog without that person’s previous permission.  (Or without a specific complaint of harm from another person, such as someone in the congregation complaining that someone else in the congregation is cyber-stalking them.)  

    The files need to be about what is happening within the church, not about what church members are doing outside of church.

  • ReverendRef

     For any congregation of more than a dozen or so people, there are too
    many people for the pastor to keep track of all of their needs in the
    pastor’s mind.  So a system of organization is needed.

    By all rights, I should be so organized.  Who’s ill and when . . . hospitalizations and visits made . . . life events both good and bad . . .

    But good gawd . . . nothing like this guy has.  I’ve got people in my parish who believe all kinds of goofy things (like a Romney regime would be pro-women), but I certainly don’t call call them into the office and say, “Now, hey there . . . you need to get right with God here.”

    There’s a big difference between files of concern and files of the J. Edgar Hoover type.

    That’s just frightening.

  • Ursula L

    By all rights, I should be so organized.  Who’s ill and when . . . hospitalizations and visits made . . . life events both good and bad . . .But good gawd . . . nothing like this guy has.  I’ve got people in my parish who believe all kinds of goofy things (like a Romney regime would be pro-women), but I certainly don’t call call them into the office and say, “Now, hey there . . . you need to get right with God here.”
    There’s a big difference between files of concern and files of the J. Edgar Hoover type.
    That’s just frightening.

    Of course!

    I hope the remainder of my post made it clear what sorts of files were necessary, and what were inappropriate. 

    A church needs records of the needs that members have brought to the church (to be sure the needs are met), the money,goods and services that members have donated to the church (for tax purposes, and to give credit where credit is due, and to direct resources provided to identified needs), and the well-being of any children associated with the church (because children need special attention and protection.) 

    A church doesn’t need records of what church members are doing outside of church, unless those activities are those which are both illegal and which fall under the concept of “mandatory reporting” such as if a pastor finds out that a church member who is a public school teacher is abusing children who are their students, even if the children in question are not directly connected to the church.  

    If you are a member of a church, the church needs to have a file on you. 

    If the current pastor drops dead, the replacement needs to know what has happened before, to pick up somewhere close to where the last pastor left off.  If you’ve asked for help, that needs to be recorded, and there needs to be a record that the church has actually addressed that need, for the sake of the church being sure that it is doing what it should be doing.  If someone had misbehaved while doing the church’s business, the church needs records so that the misbehavior can be stopped and rectified, and so that the misbehavior can be addressed in civil and criminal court as appropriate.  

    And that is all very different from the pastor punishing members for what is on their Facebook pages, unless what is on their page is illegal or abusive, in which case the pastor’s duty is not to confront the church member but to act to protect their victim.  

  • ReverendRef

     Oh yes, you were very clear.  And everything you mentioned is certainly appropriate.  And you reminded me at just how woefully inadequate I’ve been in that department. 

    Two years into my current gig and I still feel like I’m swimming upstream.  Ish.

    On the plus side, I don’t have any inappropriate files on people either.

  • Ursula L

     Oh yes, you were very clear.  And everything you mentioned is certainly appropriate.  And you reminded me at just how woefully inadequate I’ve been in that department. 
    Two years into my current gig and I still feel like I’m swimming upstream.  Ish.
    On the plus side, I don’t have any inappropriate files on people either.

    Do they teach bookkeeping in seminary?  If they don’t, they should.  And it might be worth looking at local community colleges and business schools for a class on the subject.

    In my undergrad days, I was treasurer of one of my college’s professional fraternities.  And that involved double-entry bookkeeping.

    The basics of this was that I had one book which was essentially a bank register for the organization’s accounts.  What came in, what went out.

    I had a second book that had a section for each individual member, which recorded what each member paid, and what was owed by them.  

    If I needed to know the general status of the organization, I went to the main ledger.  If I needed to know things like dues owed by a particular member, or a service owed to that member that required money from the treasury  I went to that individual member’s record.  

    This concept should translate nicely to running a church.  Both for a strictly financial set of records, and for a second set of records keeping track of non-financial things.  

    If you’ve been there for two years, and don’t have good records, it may make sense just to start new, accurate records from scratch, rather than struggling to fill in what you’ve missed, and what previous pastors have missed, at least for non-financial stuff.  

    When it comes to financial stuff, if you don’t have good records, you may need an accountant or lawyer to sort things out, because you don’t want to mess up the tax status of your church members, or the tax status of your church, and that’s legal stuff.  

  • Dash1

     

    The breach of responsibility, to me, seems to be a pastor looking up
    someone’s Facebook profile or blog without that person’s previous
    permission.

    I’m not sure what the situation is with Facebook, but I’m pretty sure with blogs that aren’t locked that anything that’s public is . . . public. Anyone who can look at it without hacking in is entitled to do so.

    Doesn’t mean the pastor is entitled to tell her what opinions she may and may not express.

  • stardreamer42

    Facebook’s approach to online privacy has, shall we say, undergone significant mutation over time.  It used to be that only the people you had designated as “friends” could see anything you had posted, or view any of your personal information. Those days are long gone, as Mark Zuckerman found he could make tons of money by selling that information to anyone who was willing to pay. Now the default is that everything you put on it is public information unless you specifically go in and change the access levels. Three years ago was just about when that change was starting to occur.

    This gives us two possible scenarios: (1) someone on Joy’s friendslist made those printouts and gave them to the pastor; (2) things that Joy thought were not public (and which may not have been when she posted them) had recently become visible to anyone.

    Very few other blogging systems have any way of marking a post as “limited” or “private”. The only two I can think of which do are LiveJournal and DreamWidth. So her Blogger blog would have been publicly visible anyhow.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Twitter can lock all a person’s tweets to that person and the people they permit to see their tweets. But I’m not sure microblogs count as blogs, and it’s not possible to lock some tweets and not others without tweeting them from different accounts.

  • http://dragoness-e.livejournal.com/ Dragoness Eclectic

     Me, too. If I’d had a pastor make a demand like that, I think my first reaction would be flabbergasted silence, followed by a suggestion that he stop drinking so much or smoking whatever the hell he was using that gave him the notion he could regulate my opinions and personal life.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I think the drug in question is ‘religion’, honestly, because religious leaders who don’t feel themselves obligated to control their flock’s opinions and personal life seem to be vastly outnumbered by religious leaders who do.

    (I’m sure atheists have authoritarian types too, in fact I’d be astonished if we didn’t, but we don’t have the structure that lets those types take the reins.)

  • http://dragoness-e.livejournal.com/ Dragoness Eclectic

     I suspect rather that we don’t hear about the pastors in religious denominations that quietly go about their business of counseling fellow congregation members and leading services (or hold Mass, if you’re Catholic). It’s the authoritarian jerks that get talked about on the Internet.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Fair point.

  • Ben English

    Man, I thought it was weird enough when my 8th grade teacher at the parochial Southern Baptist church-school I attended pulled everyone in the ‘graduating’ class aside and asked point blank something like “Are you sure you’re going to heaven?”

    But spying on Facebook? Keeping files? That’s just nuts. That sounds more like cult behavior than anything my still really damn conservative church did. Hell, I mentioned that Al Mohler was an idiot for a position he took on Yoga (as in just the exercise, not the spiritual aspects), and my Pastor respond “I agree with Mohler” but that was the extent of the discussion.

    Then again, I guess my Church is about as liberal as SBC churches get.

  • Ursula L

    I have a quibble with you calling this “her local church.”

    “Her local church” is a definition based on geography.  The closest church to her home, one that is local.

    But this isn’t just her local church, the church that happens to meet close to her home.

    This is her church.  The church she has chosen.  Maybe close to her home, maybe not.  The pastor has no authority to summon her, if she has not chosen.  

    Even if there is a place of worship closer to her home, a church, a synagogue, a mosque, a gurdwara, a temple, she would not respond to a summons by the leader of those organizations in this way.  

    There is agency involved, far beyond the coincidence of geography.  

    And if she chooses to attend this sort of church, she is both its victim and a perpetrator of its horribleness, to the extent that her donations and work allow this horrible institution to continue to exist.  

    And that is one of the more awful aspects of misogynistic patriarchy  that it can make its women victims perpetrators of the violence against them. 

  • http://www.joyinthisjourney.com Joy in this Journey

    Hi Ursula, you are right that by staying in this sort of church, I was both victim and perpetrator. It’s a huge regret I have, but I also have to remember where I was personally at the time. I wrote a little about that context here. Basically my point is one that you probably already know – abusive authorities prey on the weak. And at the time, I was weak. 

    http://joyinthisjourney.com/2012/12/why-i-stayed-in-the-cycle-of-shame/

  • Dash1

    Solidly in Ursula L’s corner here. My first reaction to Bennett’s story was, “So why are you in this church at all? Did you really not know that the pastor’s position was unacceptable?” On the other hand, there may be young girls and women in that church who need to know that there are alternatives to what they’re being taught by the authorities in the church.

    And maybe her attitude is the same as that of those Catholics who remain in the Roman Catholic church: “the hierarchy doesn’t own the church; it’s ours, and we’re not leaving.”

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    And maybe her attitude is the same as that of those Catholics who remain
    in the Roman Catholic church: “the hierarchy doesn’t own the church;
    it’s ours, and we’re not leaving.”

    For the Catholic church, that makes a lot of sense. For the mainstream protestant churches, it also makes sense.

    But I’m not sure how much sense it makes with the sort of “independent” churches that you tend to find in fundamentalist christianity.  There’s a certain sense of “The Church is its own entity with an independent existence from this particular house and this particular church leader and his rules” that’s present with the traditional churches (Catholics especially) that I’m not sure is really there with the more independent churches, a lot of which more or less are “Shop around until you find a tribe whose signifiers you like the best”

  • GeniusLemur

    The problem with conservatives and answers is they don’t have any. They just have their vision of the way things are supposed to be, with nothing to back it up, other than “everybody knows.” And then they force the world to go along as best they can.

    “Everybody knows” women are inferior to men, but we still need to hold them down. “Everybody knows” blacks are inherently stupid and lazy, but we still need to keep them out of colleges.
    “Everybody knews” sex is dirty and disgusting, but we can’t let people see it.

    The moment someone asks “why?” the conservative’s already lost.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Why? Because Bible! That’s why? What?!? You’re still here? Because America! Tradition! Family values! Huh? Now see here! Because Edmund Burke! Social decay! Kids these days! Christian nation! Now go away, kid, you’re bothering me.

  • Carstonio

    I wonder if a larger version of this phenomenon had was partly responsible for the age divide between Obama voters and Romney voters. Internet use among seniors still lags behind that of younger people, although the gap is narrowing, and I suspect that the difference is greater for social media specifically. More of the older Internet users might still think of the medium as top-down control somewhat like traditional media, with people like the pastor in Bennett’s story as publishers and editors. It may sound utopian to suggest that the connections Fred describe might lessen xenophobia and entitlement, where the information exchange leads people to question long-held beliefs and dogmas.

  • pharoute

    I think that pastor will one day discover that the internet never forgets.

    “See pastor, here’s a print out of your last web history. You deleted it? Hah! Good one, nice you can keep a sense of humor about this.”

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    A few things stuck out at me:

    *The incident in question happened 3 years prior. It says a lot about the culture we’re raised in, and the conditioning we receive as a result, that the trappings of power (an office of official books, leather chairs, a large desk, a “uniform” of authority) can leave such a lasting resonance of shame and fear. That’s what the folder and the printouts were: trappings of authority, “evidence” of wrong-doing. The whole scene is based on what us “internet atheists” call an Appeal to Authority. 

    *It’s interesting what is and isn’t discussed in meetings like these. Joy Bennett disagreed with the teachings of her church. Despite professing concern for her ‘personal spiritual wellbeing’, the pastor does nothing to address these points of disagreement. He does not suggest biblical readings or study groups or classes to address these points. What he does ask is that she stop sharing and discussing her doubt. The pastor’s problem isn’t Joy’s doubts or the underlying questions about gender roles, it’s that she’s publicly talking about them! 

    *In addition to using authority to try and silence Ms. Bennett, there’s another interesting technique used by the pastor. At the start of the piece, we’re told that “(t)he first email came a few months after we formally joined the church.” So they haven’t been at this church very long; a few months as formal members, but how long does one need to attend a church before becoming members? In the meeting with the pastor, Ms. Bennett is told “You and your husband are high-profile members of this church… You have influence”. It’s not unreasonable that new members could be highly visible to the rest of the congregation, but it’s odd to describe two recently added members as “influential”, except to try and further coerce them.

    *Ms. Bennett talks about feeling ashamed when she “desecrate[s] someone’s sacred cow, wound[s] their fragile ego, or drop[s] innuendo into the wrong conversation or with the wrong person.” It’s reassuring that she isn’t embarrassed by disagreeing with her churches teachings as much as she is pained at causing her pastor distress. It’s shameful that the pastor either misread that, or sought to exploit it. 

  • LL

    And my question would be, why the hell do women continue to go to churches that treat them this way? 

  • banancat

     You don’t seem to understand how manipulation and abuse work.

  • atalex

     You seem to have meant this as an insult, but on some level, I think LL may not understand this sort of manipulation/abuse any more than I do. I truly believe that some people, whether do to upbringing, brain chemistry or both, simply have an authoritarian mindset. If you do, you will endure nearly any misery inflicted on you by your betters and no scintilla of pity will stop you from inflicting the same misery on your inferiors. If you don’t, I think it’s impossible to understand what goes on in the mind of those who do in any way other than a vague empirical sense.

    Then again, what do I know? When I was twelve years old, I didn’t know what a logical fallacy was yet, but I knew enough to roll my eyes when I heard the youth minister say something preposterous. Luckily, I also had just enough self-restraint to keep it to myself until I could move away from my parents, returning for church only on Mothers Day and Fathers Day.

  • banancat

    If this person said that in good faith, they could use Google, read the comments on older posts, or just lurk awhile. Quite frankly, I have little patience for people who frame their victim blaming as just innocent naivete. If someone is unwilling to even make the effort to learn, I have no reason to think they would genuinely try to understand any explanation I give. You are included in this, as I could very much do without your victim blaming too.

  • LL

    I should probably point out now that my mother did not grow up in the church she attends now. She started going to it in her 40s, while we were in high school. She wasn’t raised batshit crazy Baptist. Her father was Catholic (though he did later in life start going to … a Methodist church? something like that. He’s been dead for quite awhile now, so I don’t remember), but their family wasn’t super religiously observant. They probably went to church on Sundays, but this was in the 1940s and 1950s. 

    She wasn’t raised to believe most of the dumb shit she claims to believe now. In fact, through most of my childhood, she was decidedly not religious. She regrets that now, while I’m extremely grateful that I managed to get out of the house before she went all Super Funtime Christian. 

    So she doesn’t have the excuse that she was manipulated from childhood. She was a fully functioning, independent adult when she decided to embrace the crazy. She doesn’t see it as crazy, of course. And she’s not quite as bad now as she used to be, or maybe it’s because we’re all adults in our 40s and she knows if she started in with any really hardcore, frequent Jesus freak yapping, none of us would be talking to her nearly as often as we do now. My sister is a grandmother now. She doesn’t put up with any shit from my mother now. 

  • LL

    Man, I used the word “now” a lot. Sorry about that redundancy.

  • stardreamer42

    Because they’ve never gone to any other kind of church, and they think this is normal.

    Because the church treats them exactly the same way their family did, and they think this is normal.

    Because this is their primary social community, and leaving it would make them feel even more isolated.

    Because their parents and/or other extended family also attend the church, and they don’t want to have a rift.

    Because it is hard to recognize an abusive situation when you’re in the middle of it, and often harder to break free once you’ve started to realize that something ain’t right here.

    There are as many reasons, or combinations of reasons, as there are victims. These things do not happen in a vacuum.

  • LL

    My mother (my father was not involved, although I will note that he didn’t stop it either, he didn’t go to church at all) forced my pregnant, unmarried sister to go before the church my mother and siblings attended (I was in college at the time, beyond the reach of church or mother, mostly) to confess her “sin.” My mother still goes to this church. My sister doesn’t. So, great job there, ____________ Baptist. 

    To make it even sadder (or funnier), my sister married another churchgoer several years later. Their marriage ended acrimoniously after about 10 years. 

  • LL

    And maybe the worst part (I just recalled this): My mother could have been an unwed mother. My parents were married in early July. I was born in early February, almost exactly 8 months later, and I was not born prematurely. 

    But the awesome church my mother belongs to wouldn’t care about that. All that’s important is that my sister understood that she did something wrong and couldn’t hide it by getting hastily married to the father (who I’ve never met, he wanted nothing to do with any of it, I assume). 

    It’s hard to see religion as a force for good when so much hypocrisy like this is built into the system. It’s a feature, not a bug. 

  • Jessica_R

    God that brought back unpleasant Jehovah’s Witnesses memories, “shepherding” calls aka “You’ve got a nice family, it would sure we a shame if they weren’t allowed to talk to you because you got disfellowshipped.” 

  • DStecks

    The Amazing Atheist and his ilk are the best proof that assholeishness does not discriminate by religion or lack-thereof.

  • LL

    This. I’ve never even heard of this guy, so he can’t be too influential. 

    The truth is, a lot of atheists are mostly just attention whores. They like taking what they perceive to be the “subversive” viewpoint, but mostly just because they like to argue and feel superior to people. 

    And apparently, there is a giant problem with sexism among atheist males that I wasn’t aware of (because I don’t hang out with other atheists or join any of their organizations; maybe I need to, sounds like they need somebody to tell them to stop being douchebags). It doesn’t seem to occur to them that they really don’t sound any better than the woman-hating religious nutjobs. 

    Sadly, just because a person in enlightened in one aspect of their personality doesn’t mean they will be in anything else. I don’t get it, it doesn’t make any effing sense to be a sexist atheist, really, since atheists supposedly pride themselves on valuing reason and logic, but .. there it is. People are dumb. Atheists, too. 

  • Antigone10

    Define “a lot” if you please.

  • LL

    I assume it’s the same proportion as the number of attention whores in the general population. Feel free to define it yourself if you want. 

    Just working from my own observation, which may be different from yours. That’s why I wrote “a lot” instead of “most” or “all.” It’s just vague enough to not imply that it’s a defining characteristic of atheists, but not uncommon, either. 

    I’m atheist myself (if you have not gleaned that). So it’s not a fundy assessment of the atheist community. 

  • http://jpserrano.com/ jpserrano

    I read the original post, then I read RHE replay of it.  The insight you have is top-notch. Nice job.

  • Mira

    I’m not sure who would run this meeting in my church – the single female head pastor, the female associate pastor who earned her PhD on Christian-Muslim interfaith education last year, or the female youth pastor who won’t perform legal marriages until our state doesn’t discriminate by sex. None of them really seem appropriate figures of patriarchal authority. But I suspect they all have much more important things to do than police the congregation anyway.

    Not saying this to gloat, but to say that being in Joy’s position is unimaginable to me, because having so few choices that a church like that seemed worth joining to me is unimaginable. On the other hand, there seem to be lots of people from evangelical bakgrounds who care about equality, but think joining a mainline church is unimaginable because we aren’t on fire for Jesus enough.

    This cultural divide within Christianity? So bizarre. We literally can’t put ourselves in other people’s positions, and I know almost no one on the “other side” in person. Maybe the “NALTs” should try to influence the fundamentalists from “within”, but if we never step into each other’s churches, it really feels like we’re on the outside.  People like Joy and Fred and Rachel are setting themselves up as translators, basically, which is an important role that we can’t all fill, and without which there can’t be any change, only further division.

  • Mary Kaye

    Suppose that you joined a church and it had some good people and some potentially good programs, but there were problems.  You rolled up your sleeves and worked hard–say, you revived the moribund kids’ program, and got the Friday dinners for the homeless rolling again.   And then the pastor tried to push you out.

    Sure, maybe it would be best to write all this off as sunk costs and leave.  But it’s *hard* and it can feel like letting the assholes win.

    I stayed with a dysfunctional Pagan group for quite a few years for just this reason.  I had put in a lot of work, we had done some really good things, and I didn’t want to let the assholes win.

    Honestly I think I prefer a view that says “*we* are the church, and if the pastor is an asshole we’ll try to get a new pastor” to one that says “the church belongs to the pastor, and if he’s bad we’ll find a new church.”  

  • http://dragoness-e.livejournal.com/ Dragoness Eclectic

     I vaguely recall that my reaction to meeting with one of our pastors in his office with all the books on the shelves was “Cool! Can I borrow your books on Martin Luther? Project Gutenberg doesn’t have all of them.” I walked out of there with a bunch of books, including some additional textbooks from his seminary that he recommended reading for deeper levels of study. (Part of the reason I was meeting with him was that I was finding the standard bible studies too shallow and wanted to dig deeper into background material and theology. I was not aware that my level of inquiry was pretty much seminary-level studies until the pastor started handing me his old textbooks).

    Obviously, I and the pastor weren’t in disagreement at the time. Just commenting that I don’t find a wall of books intimidating–I want to read them.