Hi and welcome back! Last week, we talked about anger. Then, a few days ago, we touched on how evangelicals treat women’s anger completely differently. Indeed, evangelicals have a whole word that pertains almost solely to the anger of women: bitter. Today, I’ll show you the tribe’s quirky definition of this word — and how they use bitterness against women with serious complaints about how the tribe operates.
(Previous posts in this series: A Hidden Scandal for Evangelical Men; The Visualization Process that Doesn’t Heal Men’s Anger; Learning to Control Anger; The Anger of Evangelical Women.)
Bitter: Evangelicals’ Special Word for Women’s Anger.
Any time you hear a Christian deploy the word bitter in public, you may be assured of three things:
- The judging Christian is an authoritarian evangelical.
- Their target is almost certainly female.
- Most importantly: The judging Christian doesn’t think this woman’s anger is valid. It’s lasted too long, or the judge thinks it’s too intense for the offense (or even that the offense doesn’t merit any ill-feelings at all), or it’s against the wrong person/people/tribal policies.
Indeed, evangelicals think there’s a huge difference between the states of anger and bitterness. Anger can be considered righteous, especially if men express it and the tribe can see it as mirroring Jesus somehow. But “bitter” feelings are always off-limits in evangelicalism.
And once deployed, accusations of bitterness instantly silence women.
Once evangelicals assess a woman as being bitter, they may now completely ignore anything else she might say. She’s just being bitter, after all. Worse, they may now accuse her of sinfulness. (A sin is an offense against Yahweh, often simply a thoughtcrime.)
Once that judgment gets laid down, the assessed-as-bitter woman is not only ignored but vilified. She’ll need to simper extra-hard to be allowed back into the tribe’s good graces, and her complaint will still never be addressed.
She’ll just need to swallow back her anger over whatever happened. Again.
(Poorly) Defining Bitter Feelings.
Interestingly, evangelicals rarely discuss exactly what bitter feelings even are. You’ll find few definitions of it. But they do know what it looks like. Sorta.
“Bitterness blows out the candle of joy and leaves the soul in darkness.” (Source.)
“The anger grew and grew and grew within my heart and mind. I had become a bitter woman.” (Source.)
“Bitterness in the heart is not unlike poison; it slowly corrupts its host and is a direct result of what you have fed yourself in your thought life.” (Source.)
“Bitterness starts out small. An offense burrows its way into our hearts. We replay it in our minds, creating deep ruts that will be hard to build back up.” (Source.)
Evangelical women themselves have largely internalized their tribe’s teachings about anger. They themselves know exactly what causes bitter feelings, as we see from this 2016 post from a woman writing for The Gospel Coalition:
This was a new kind of hurt for me, the kind that tempted me to drink deeply of bitterness.
Here is what I wanted during that time: I wanted my adversary to be brought to justice. I wanted my side of the story to be heard and my hurt to be acknowledged. I wanted vindication in front of those who’d heard my integrity questioned—not tomorrow or next year—today. (Source.)
See how this writer’s anger fits in perfectly with the definition above? Her anger lasted too long and was directed toward the wrong target. It has become bitterness. And now, she must Jesus her way out of it.
Her tribe possesses no real tools for anger management besides Jesus-ing their way out of it.
‘The Bitter Card’ as a Silencing Tactic.
As I mentioned, once an evangelical lobs the B-word at a woman, whatever her complaint was gets ignored from then on. She’s just bitter, so nobody has to listen to her. She’s sinful, so her evaluation of that situation cannot be trusted or considered at all.
Here’s how one pastor describes the “the ‘bitter’ card'”:
The “Bitter Card” has trump power. Pop that baby out and you can dismiss the criticism. It’s played this way: person A has a grievance that he/she does not feel is being understood. Eventually Person A vents too often, too emotionally, or even sinfully, or gets too close to unsettling the happy delusion of the establishment and consequently in danger of getting too much influence. At this point, play the “Bitter Card.” This puts them on the defensive and in the minds of the clueless guts their argument, plus it has the added benefit in that you can say that their defensiveness is proof of the truth of your claim.
This is exactly what I’ve seen in evangelicalism. When evangelicals can’t really address a woman’s anger — when it gets too close to their idolized -isms, or can’t be resolved without dismantling their idolized power structures, or speaks to the fundamental unfairness of their entire idolized authoritarian system, then they just dismiss it all with “the bitter card.”
(Hilariously, I’ve even seen drive-by Christians attempt it on this very blog. They deploy it and then sit back, waiting for things to work here like they do in the evangelical bubble. Oops.)
So evangelical women have a real motivation to avoid being labeled as bitter. Unfortunately, their tribe doesn’t help much there.
Managing Bitter Anger, for Evangelical Women.
Evangelicals don’t know how to handle conflicts in any kind of mature, adult ways. They’re purely authoritarian, so might makes right in their world. Whatever someone in a dominant position does is the correct thing, and everyone below that person on the ladder just has to adjust to it.
But nobody wants to admit that, and the human spirit refuses to be okay with unfair or unjust treatment.
So evangelicals twist and turn within themselves trying to find a way to square the circle of authoritarianism within a system that swears it’s all about justice, mercy, and the bestest way for any group of any size to function.
Their twisting produces crazymaking talk like this, from Bible.org:
Anger that clams up and does not confront a problem, but just goes into a slow burn, turning into bitterness and hatred, is sinful because it’s acting on the basis of self, not for the purpose of seeking love and reconciliation.
They’re talking about a married couple’s arguments, incidentally. If women start feeling bitter about their mistreatment within marriage, the solution offered in that post is just give even more. Obey even harder! Endure! Because that will totally work once you sprinkle the situation with Jesus Power! Anything else is both sinful and doomed to fail.
Alas, it turns out that giving it all to Jesus and doing more of what already isn’t working doesn’t work at all. Nor do prayers, though evangelicals love pushing them as solutions for feeling “overwhelmed with grief and anger.”
Managing Anger, in the Real World.
Long, long ago, I found myself sitting across from a therapist. I’d gone there as a referral for depression, though I didn’t think I was depressed. I wasn’t. I didn’t know yet that my problem was actually a scorching case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’d been misdiagnosed as depression in a small-town Kansas hospital.
But unnervingly quickly, this therapist zeroed in on my anger.
At first, I felt quite offended by this implication. (Yes, I got angry about being accused of being an angry person.)
As she asked me questions about my anger, though, I slowly realized that yes, I had a serious problem managing my anger. Slowly, I remembered all the times I’d lost myself in rage. All the times I’d screamed at someone till my voice cracked. The years of bitterness I carried about old wounds that had never healed right.
I thought I wasn’t an angry person only because I’d done that good a job compartmentalizing away that emotion. I wasn’t angry — till I was. And then, oh boy was I ever angry. Until I re-compartmentalized again. If I wasn’t actively angry right then, then I was never angry at all.
I decided to take what good I could out of her help. She was right about the anger, so I began working on managing it.
The Message is Always Perfect, in a Broken System.
Over time, I learned new ways to deal with surges of anger. It was a struggle, too. Adding PTSD treatment to the mix, once a competent therapist finally got his hands on my case a year or so later, helped enormously to learn those new responses. In a lot of ways, I had to completely restructure how I looked at the world — and my place within it. I also had to learn proactive, constructive ways to deal with my feelings.
However, evangelicals can’t do any of that — especially not evangelical women. Their anger has perfectly valid causes, but evangelical culture can’t address any of those causes, much less fix them. So they slap the bitter label on anything that challenges things too much and call it a day.
It doesn’t matter to them if the women in their culture slowly lose their minds under this unfair, unjust treatment, as I was doing. If that happens, it’s just more PROOF YES PROOF that inadequate or incorrect Jesus-ing was these women’s problem all along.
The system is always perfect, in evangelicalism. If someone doesn’t get the promised results of that system, it’s because they messed up somehow. So evangelical women will continue to bash themselves against the brick wall of reality, and their anger will continue to rise and rise and rise — until something breaks, as it did for me.
Hopefully at that point they’ll start questioning the system at last, and then hopefully they’ll find their way out of it as I did.
It wasn’t till I deconverted that I could finally address my own anger. Evangelicalism couldn’t help me there at all. And it won’t be able to help all the other women in evangelicalism who are seething cauldrons of simmering rage and resentment.
NEXT UP: Interpreting evangelicals’ success stories — and the return of Manga Messiah! See you tomorrow!
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