On Hugo Schwyzer and Christianity’s Open Door Policy for Abusers

On Hugo Schwyzer and Christianity’s Open Door Policy for Abusers September 6, 2013
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Trigger Warning: Abuse apologism, murder/suicide, Hugo Schwyzer

We have to talk about Hugo Schwyzer.

If you don’t spend a lot of time involved in “secular” online feminism you may not recognize that name. Fortunately, he didn’t get as much of an “in” in the Christian feminist blogging world as I’m guessing he would have liked to. Schwyzer was a self-proclaimed male feminist and Women’s Studies professor who became kind of a celebrity in online feminism for his pieces on gender issues. When the news came out that he had attempted to murder an ex-girlfriend, had slept with former students, and had “accidentally” raped women, many feminists stood by his side, asserting that he had changed, while others spoke out against the platform he was being given in feminism. Schwyzer. If you want more backstory, T.F. Charlton lays it out in detail here. 

He started writing for the Christian publications–namely The Good Woman Project and Relevant Magazine–long after his history of abuse and present mistreatment of his critics became public. And his posts for both of these publications were very popular.

When I started seeing these posts by Schwyzer everywhere, knowing his history, I became VERY uncomfortable. I assumed the publishers were unaware of his history, otherwise, why would they be letting this man write posts about women’s bodies? Why would they be allowing him this kind of a platform, without even disclosing his history so that his readers could have a heads-up before choosing to interact with him on social media?

So I started talking about it. Others, like Dianna Anderson, joined me in this. We left comments on Schwyzer’s actual post at Relevant (the post has since been deleted without explanation or apology, but if you really want proof that they published Schwyzer, you can find Schwyzer talking about the piece on his own blog. Use Google ’cause I ain’t giving that man any more pageviews than I have to), and on Relevant’s Facebook page, and we discussed the issue on Twitter.

The response was disturbing. The comments exposing Schwyzer’s past were deleted. I was blocked from commenting. Writers and representatives from Relevant told us that they knew about his past but chose to publish him anyway, because grace. Many people accused me of being unloving and ungracious. I was told that Christianity isn’t supposed to be a safe space and I was accused of trying to slander Schwyzer and bring him down for no reason.

Even then, my thoughts were, “Really? Christianity cares this little about the safety survivors and potential victims?”

But now, proof is emerging that Schwyzer’s past was never really a past. In August (that’s THIS August, as in last month), he wrote a horrific post (again, you can Google that shit yourself) in which he described in PG-13 detail the great sex he had with his ex-girlfriend before his attempt at murdering her, and in which he revealed personal details of his victim’s life without her consent. And as of last night, Schwyzer has admitted that he has been preying sexually on his students since 2008 (check out Angus Johnston’s post on the topic for details on that).

He’s been sexually preying on young women since 2008. 

He wrote for The Good Woman Project, a website aimed mostly at young women who are healing from sexism, in 2012. 

I’m okay with assigning motives to him here. Hugo Schwyzer is an abuser. Not “was.” Not a “recovered abuser.” He is an abuser. You know what abusers do? They find victims that they can get away with abusing. Abusers don’t just accidentally stumble upon random people and decide to hurt them. They look for aspects of people’s lives that they can use as a tool to manipulate.

Schwyzer did this to us, Christians. He did this to us and that ought to disturb us. 

Schwyzer saw a culture where the “redemption narrative” is worshipped. He saw supposed safe spaces set aside for Christian women to tell stories that could make them vulnerable. He saw an opportunity to gain a sense of authority, a position of power that he could use for his benefit.

He saw that and he jumped on it and we let him.  

As the responses to my criticism of Relevant Magazine’s decision to publish Schwyzer show, some Christians like to assume the best of people with a “past” (at least, when that person is a privileged white man…Women who have premarital sex don’t even get the “grace” that abusive privileged men get. And I wonder how white Christians would have reacted if Schwyzer was a man of color). We think that questioning these redemption narratives is a sign of doubt in our God.

But listen. Abusive people exist. They know about our redemption narratives and they see in them an opportunity to gain the power and respect they need in order to abuse and get away with it. They use them to get a foothold in “safe spaces” where they can prey on people who have been hurt, people who are looking for help and healing, people that they perceive to be vulnerable. 

I talk about Schwyzer not because he is some strange anomaly. Not because he is some rare boogey man who’s managed to sneak past the Church’s defenses.

I talk about Schwyzer because there are Schwyzers EVERYWHERE in our churches. I knew several growing up in church. Some were asshole teenagers who went in front of the church to “get right with God” every time they got caught sexually assaulting someone. Some were goddamn pastors.

There are Hugo Schwyzers in our churches and what are we doing about it?

Shaming those who come forward about the abuser’s history and/or present?

Silencing voices that seek to inform others of who the abuser is?

Asking people to be open and vulnerable in a community setting, but refusing to make sure that the community is a safe space?

We HAVE to do better than this, Christians. We HAVE to.


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  • typo: “he described in PG-13 detail the great sex he had with his ex-girlfriend before **murdering** her”

    • sarahoverthemoon

      Thanks. Fixed!

  • Andrea_Videographer

    Yes, yes, yes. One thousand times yes! My mother was cruel and tortuous to us as children, she got her high off of dehumanizing us and reducing us to little puppets. As soon as we all grew up and left the house what did she do? She got a nursing degree and she *preferred to work with helpless people in nursing homes. She needs to feel like a god over the helpless. These people are always looking for positions of power.

  • You know my history so I won’t repeat it here, but one of the things my abuser told me before I cut him off? “The church isn’t supposed to be a safe place.” This after I explained that I didn’t feel like he was a safe person for me anymore.

    Not only do they have an open door, they make protecting abusers a part of their goddamn THEOLOGY!

  • Peter Seckler

    Hugo has always had two core audiences- the gender-feminist one, and the “progressive” Christian one. His “gaffes” aren’t really gaffes- these are aimed specifically at the Christian audience; the problems for hugo happen when he would get crossover.

    The tale about being a reformed suicidal drug addict is a perfect example: it is aimed squarely at the christian audience- because grace, as you say. But the other audience is not like that- after hearing about the attempted murder story (which, remember, is only a peripheral detail about being a redeemed sinner), the gender feminists see it as far less forgivable. They don’t have ‘redeemed sinner’ as a role in that movement.

    What he’s doing now, I warn you, is burning the gender feminist audience in order to come back and play as a redeemed christian. There’s no going back on what he’s done in secular circles, but in Christianity, immersion in sin, and then going back and being forgiven is the entire point. It’s street cred. He’ll be writing articles about marital advice (despite 4 failed marriages of his own, and numerous, numerous affairs, often with women who were themselves married..) and he’ll be assigned as the cool youth pastor again before you know it.

    Note that after he had the “twitter meltdown”, he even changed his profile summary to “disgraced.”

    It’s important to point out that this is not all some big plan of Hugo’s. I doubt that he has a plan. What happened is, he got caught by his fourth wife, (which blows his good-guy cover) and he generated enough enemies who have been personally injured by him in the last 13 years that he no longer has the ability to hide the details. This is a last-resort, best-possible-outcome plan for Hugo, because he needs to stay engaged and he needs access to victims.

  • Fantastic post, Sarah. This kind of attitude is prevalent in “pacifist” circles, and it often makes me feel hopeless, like there’s nowhere to go in the church to find theology that truly prioritizes love above all things (which one would think would be the point!)

  • melaniespringermock

    On this subject, at least, I think my denomination (Mennonite) is getting it right. For years, Mennonites protected the legacy of John Howard Yoder, one of the most prominent scholars in pacifism and justice, period, and so a shining star in the Mennonite church, who had also abused a number of his students. Though he died in 1997, some Mennonites continued to shield him, offering no comfort to his victims. That is starting to change. See, for example, this article by the president of AMBS, just out this summer: http://www.ambs.edu/publishing/2013/07/Revisiting-the-Legacy-of-John-Howard-Yoder.cfm. Yoder’s victims are finding a voice in our church publications, and people are responding to their stories. Were that could be in the evangelical church, too.

  • Christianity isn’t supposed to be a safe place? REALLY NOW

    I could understand it not being a comfortable place (and I think it shouldn’t be), but telling victims they can’t be safe where you are says a lot about the type of person you are, Relevant Mag.

    • Agree totally. Uncomfortable, yes. Unsafe, no.