We’re still reeling from the Duggar sex abuse scandal, but on the heels of it comes another involving Christian leaders totally misreading a child-abuse situation and handling it in the poorest, most insensitive way possible. Another day, another fundagelical scandal involving sex abuse. I know–weird, isn’t it? The group claiming a monopoly on morality and so busy trying to paint gay people as pedophiles eager to prey upon children seems to have a real problem with sheltering the sex abusers and attackers in their very own midst who are preying upon children. It’s just sooooo baffling!
“For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light. (Luke 8:17)
A few days ago, a Christian woman attending a Dallas megachurch called The Village Church (TVC, which is a Southern Baptist group though they seem to be downplaying that like a lot of SBC churches are nowadays) discovered that her very very Christian husband was way into child pornography. And shockingly, that discovery was only the start of an unimaginable ordeal for her.
When she realized what her husband was doing, Karen Hinkley immediately applied for an annulment of the marriage–not a divorce, mind you; an annulment means that the marriage wasn’t actually valid in the first place. Even Catholic leaders are okay with annulments. The result of an annulment is that it’s as if the marriage never happened at all, and both parties are left as if they’d never married in the first place. That means any children born during the fraudulent union might suddenly find themselves illegitimate–which was the big problem for Catherine of Aragon when Henry VIII wanted an annulment from her; she didn’t want her daughter Mary to become a bastard–but otherwise it’s a pretty definitive statement about the original validity of a particular marriage contract.
There are “tens of thousands” of annulments granted in the United States every year according to the Catholic church’s folks, a number further clarified as 60,000 per year by this other site. That sounds like a lot, but there are almost a million divorces granted a year here, so annulments are comparatively rare–even vanishingly so–in this country. Given the legal fussing that must be done to get one, I can see why; divorces can happen whenever, but annulments are very specific. Each state has its own rules about who can get one, when, and why–like Idaho here, which says that annulments can be granted if:
* Either party was underage at the time of the wedding;
* A former marriage was still in legal force for either spouse in the current marriage;
* Either party was of “unsound mind” at the time of the ceremony;
* Consent to the wedding was obtained fraudulently or by force; or if
* The marriage could not be physically consummated either at the time of the ceremony or anytime afterward.
So you can see that annulments don’t apply to most marriages anyway. (Also notice that annulments aren’t granted for sterility in and of itself–uh oh for Christian bigots! Guess that’s another problem for their already-nutty arguments against equal marriage.) In this case, Ms. Hinkley argued that her husband had entered into the marriage contract fraudulently, since he’d been way into child pornography since well before their marriage and had thus misrepresented himself to her in order to reel her in, and that would have definitely been something she’d have wanted to know before marrying the guy. As she explains, the law in her state meant that she actually couldn’t try to reconcile with her husband if she wanted to go for the annulment. If she’d tried to reconcile, that would have been interpreted as being okay with the misrepresentation, and her option at that point if reconciliation failed would have been divorce and that’s it. She didn’t want to risk that, and I can’t blame her; a divorce means you’re tied to your ex forever in a weird way, while an annulment means the tie never even existed.
But her church was one of those obnoxious Acts 29 churches that gets way into controlling its congregants. You might know that label from Mark Driscoll’s old Mars Hill organization. It’s the name of an umbrella group of people who really like and are good at “church planting”–starting new churches. Its leaders are extremely charismatic and gregarious, and its churches seem to grow quickly into mega status thanks to careful planning and marketing. So her church was into that “church discipline” bullshit and demanded its new folks sign really restrictive contracts before being allowed to be full members.
A lot of charity organizations ask members and volunteers to sign contracts–that’s one thing. Non-disclosure agreements and the like are what you expect in groups like that. But this contract wasn’t like anything you’d find reasonable. If it was like the ones Wartburg Watch has observed, then it sharply limits its members’ civil rights as Americans. Among other things, it protects the church from lawsuits if they should harm anybody and demands that members submit to certain punishments and disciplines at the church leadership’s discretion and whim. The one Ms. Hinkley signed forbade her from two notable (and in my opinion absolutely necessary) rights: the right to divorce if she wished without consulting anybody else first, and the right to leave their organization any time she liked and join another if she wished.
The truth is, no church contract can really take most of those rights away from anybody. These contracts don’t seem like they actually have any serious legal standing for the most part, any more than those BDSM “slave contracts” do (except maybe the parts demanding arbitration instead of letting people sue if they think that’s necessary). But Mars Hill used their contract to seriously harass former members who left without permission or who didn’t kowtow adequately to their leaders, and it’s hard to imagine Jesus stopping TVC from doing similarly given that it sprouted from the same sick soil that Mars Hill did.
I’ll be totally up-front here: if I found out that a voluntary social group I wanted to join wanted me to sign a contract like that, like if an online roleplaying game made that kind of demand, I’d be out of there so fast my own head would spin. I guess Ms. Hinkley didn’t even think about what this contract might entail for her, because she couldn’t imagine breaking up with her husband. Nobody in a best-case scenario ever seems to consider what a worst-case might look like. We never want to think about things going bad. One can hardly blame her for being human and trusting her church leaders not to be complete douchenozzles. Christians especially are raised to trust people that way.
At the time she discovered what he was doing, they were in Asia doing missions stuff. She probably expected her church to emotionally support her in her huge time of crisis, to protect any children her husband might have harmed, to alert the congregation and their mission field to the danger he might have posed to their kids, and to at the very least be totally on board with her dumping the motherfucker already (DTMFA).
She didn’t expect TVC to gloss over Jordan’s exact misdeeds or to try to hush up the whole matter. She certainly didn’t expect her church to take his side, to refuse to publicize the danger he might have posed to ensure he hadn’t acted on his dark desires, or to get mad at her for moving to annul her marriage. But as Matthew Paul Turner has noted, their inherent misogyny and hothouse-fragile male egos couldn’t handle the idea of a woman–A WOMAN! OMG!–not doing exactly what they commanded all the time in every little particular, and so they cracked down hard on her for getting a “divorce” without checking with them first.
Now, you saw that thing we talked about up there about annulments, right? They aren’t divorces because in the law’s eyes, the marriage didn’t exist to begin with. But TVC reveals its staggering ignorance by constantly referring to her annulment as “a divorce” when it wasn’t. They do that even after she takes pains to correct them and inform them of the difference. But as far as her church knew or cared, it was a full-blown divorce and she was totally in the wrong for not having asked Daddy’s permission first.
When she refused to bow under, TVC put her under “discipline,” which meant they were really mad at her now and trying to tell her what to do extra lots. She correctly saw that they were far more angry with her for not obeying their almighty penises than they were with Jordan for jacking it to child porn, and that they were totally protecting him at her expense and that of the organization’s children’s safety. So she left the church–and as she tells it, she wasn’t actually even under church discipline at the time she left.
Indeed, her resignation letter is dated and effective almost two weeks earlier than their attempt to “discipline” her. She wasn’t asking for their permission to handle her affairs, and she certainly wasn’t asking their permission to quit their church, given that she’d already seen them come down solidly on the side of the guy who liked kiddie porn, saying among other things that there was “no condemnation” for him and lauding how sincerely he appeared to be jumping through their hoops while privately attacking her for not submitting to Daddy by saying they were simply “perplexed” that she’d done all this stuff without Daddy’s permission. She clearly didn’t think they were in the least qualified to lead her spiritually anymore, and I would have to agree. She asked them not to bother her or her friends any further, but yeah, AS IF those sanctimonious, power-mad, holier-than-thou hypocrites would even care what one of their victims thought.
Of course, in that link with her pastor’s letter to her, Matt Younger states that he simply cannot fathom how she could get better care than his church could give her–if he did say so himself–and, almost two weeks after getting her resignation, insisting on “disciplining” her as if she were still a member of his church as if he’d never even seen her resignation, or–more likely–as if he was pretending it never happened. Even a month later in late March, amid her continued requests for TVC to quit harassing her, TVC’s leaders were still talking about how to “push her under our care”, phrasing I find deeply concerning. They ended up shunning her “Puritan-style,” as the Daily Beast put it.
By late May, the story had broken and TVC now had a public-relations catastrophe on its hands. I can see the concern, considering the Duggar scandal that had broken just before and that a similar overstepping of boundaries had destroyed Mars Hill just the previous year. The pastor finally offered a not-pology for being “too domineering” in some cases. Seriously. His not-pology was for not communicating the church’s policies effectively enough, not for destroying Ms. Hinkley’s life, harassing her, trying to inappropriately control her, misunderstanding her annulment as a divorce in the first place, or taking the side of a child pornography addict against her. Oh, and they finally released her from membership–as if it was their right in the first place to do so. The not-pology is PR smoke-and-mirrors clearly intended to cover the pastor’s ass and protect his reputation (and income), and I agree with this blogger in that I don’t think he would have done even that little unless he’d felt absolutely compelled.
Ms. Hinkley has written an eloquent blog post about her experiences and it’d make a stone weep to see how outraged she clearly still is that the church she trusted took her husband’s side over hers and refused to do anything tangible about the threat he posed to children until it couldn’t be avoided. Justifiably so, I’d say. She sounds like a very reasonable person to me and I don’t think I’d have done anything different. Her priorities were always to ensure children’s safety and call attention to TVC’s egregious boundary violations–including, the Watchkeep reveals, sending harassing texts to her demanding that she meet with the elders–long after she had resigned from their church and in the face of her constant (and increasingly frustrated-sounding) requests for TVC to leave her alone.
So now what? Well, Jordan Root’s still a TVC member in good standing and still being coddled and loved-all-up by his church elders, though at least the church has alerted its flock to the situation and is taking measures to ensure he’s never around children without serious supervision, which I’m sure is a huge relief to the parents attending there (NOT) because of course Jesus has healed him but not really but they forgive and there’s no condemnation except even they know the outrage that’d explode if they didn’t take some measures (oh my gosh I’m so glad to be away from that mindfuckery). Ms. Hinkley is very likely free of their clutches at last, and likely a lot more wary about church leaders and “covenant” contracts. The world knows about yet another sex abuse scandal erupting out of a church claiming to be a moral authority and to have divine inspiration and guidance in their behavior and thoughts.
And maybe, just maybe, some more folks will start seriously second-guessing why they’re associating with a religion that produces so many people like the hypocritical leaders of TVC. I don’t know about you, but stuff like this just reminds me of why I would never even halfway consider going back to that yellow cesspool, and why I’m glad I’m out.
I’m telling you about this stuff for a reason. If all I wanted to do was just highlight Christian scandals, that’s the most low-hanging of all fruit in religion blogging. I don’t want to just say “oh lookie here another goddamned Christian hypocrite.” Because I totally could. I could do that every single day and twice on Sundays. I’d wear out my keyboard before I ever came close to running out of post topics. I’m talking about these scandals because there’s something there that is very important for us to know, something very important to see, and very important to highlight. These scandals are why Christianity is failing. They are a statement about the validity of this religion as both a philosophy and a device for communicating moral instruction to human beings.
Next time we’re going to talk about what this particular scandal tells us about Christianity. I’d do it now, but this post was getting disgracefully long even by my standards! See you next time. Oh, and Saturday I’m doing a semi-drunken review of the newest Left Behind (I had to just roll dice, in the end–tons of awesome suggestions, and we might have to make this a monthly thing to cover them all). We’ve still got more Duggar shit to slog through as well–I haven’t forgotten about that scandal either, and there’ve been some simply fascinating new developments on that front. Hope to see you here!
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* Speaking out. Why groups seem so eager to demonize those calling out their flaws.