Believing Jane: Reflections on a Rape and it’s Cover-Up at The Master’s College & Seminary

believingjane

On this fine afternoon as thunder rumbles outside my window, my blood is boiling and my “injustice antenna” is sounding alarms. I just read a well-documented account of the rape of a Master’s College student. Her rapist was a student at the Master’s Seminary. Both of these institutions are associated with John MacArthur’s church Grace Community Church. When college and church staff learned of the rape, instead of supporting the victim, she was blamed, called to repent, and kicked out of school. You can read the full story on Marcy Preheim’s website at http://www.marcipreheim.com/2017/09/18/do-you-see-me/ but I will also provide a summary of the situation.

Jane (not her real name) was a 21 year old student at the Master’s College studying to become a Biblical Counselor. In her courses, she learned all about how to deal with situations of rape, including the importance of reporting it to the police. On a school break, she went to a restaurant with some friends who were students at the Master’s Seminary. (The restaurant was an approved location according to the strict guidelines for student behavior.) Also at the restaurant was a friend of her friends (also a Master’s Seminary student) who offered to buy her a drink. She said yes, and he brought her a Coke. But the coke was drugged. After she blacked out, the stranger carried her to his room where he raped her, drugged her again, and put her in a dress that was against the school dress code. He also repeatedly offered her alcohol to drink.

When Jane finally was conscious enough to realized that she had been drugged and raped, she confidently went to the police, knowing the importance of reporting such matters. She then spoke with her Residence Director, who was shocked–not at her rape, but at her use of alcohol and drugs. She was assigned a Biblical Counselor as well, who assured her that the only way to make this better would be to marry her rapist. She was also made to go see Rick Holland, the college pastor at Grace Community Church. He asked for all the details she could remember about her rape, much to her discomfort. (This is sexual harassment, by the way.) Rick consulted with Pastor John MacArthur and together they told her that she would be kicked out of school for violating school standards against alcohol and drugs. They were also angry that she had reported the situation to the police.

Jane was shocked at how people were responding to her, which was not at all in line with how she had been taught in her counseling classes to respond to allegations of rape. She was later contacted saying that she could finish her final year at the Master’s College under a few conditions. She found out that her rapist had confessed to raping her, specifically noting that their sex was not consensual. However, she was required to apologize to her rapist for her part in the matter. The second condition was she must consent to regular counseling sessions with her rapist. She refused, and was subsequently barred from campus. Up to that point she had received all A’s for her classes, but when she was expelled, the school changed all her grades to F’s. When she sought to further her education elsewhere, the appearance of her flunking out of college made that extremely difficult. After she left the Master’s College, she continued to receive messages from people associated with the Master’s College and Grace Community Church calling her to repent for fornication and drinking alcohol. The story was circulated that she was expelled for sleeping around and using drugs/alcohol.

That is Jane’s Story. She asks, do you see me? And yes, Jane! We see you! And I for one believe you! What happened to you, the rape itself, was a horrific crime! And the cover up and blame that ensued at the hands of “godly men and women” is unconscionable!

I know there are those who will blame Jane for coming forward with her story, for uncovering these “deeds of darkness.” Others will persecute her for daring to question their favorite Christian celebrities. Some will assume that she’s lying because of John MacArthur’s reputation and fame, even though she has documented evidence of the whole situation as well as a corroborating witness.

But for myself, I believe Jane. And I applaud her courage in speaking the truth.

I’ve heard enough stories like Jane’s to know that it’s possible for even famous Evangelical educational institutions and pastors to so grossly and horrificly mismanage cases of rape. I know that false allegations of rape are extremely rare. I also believe that faulty views on sexuality, authority, consent, gender roles, and submission played heavily into her story.
So I believe Jane. And I am angry at the injustice she experienced–the crime of rape, yes. But also the further injustice of being blamed, disbelieved, disciplined, and silenced as if she had been the perpetrator instead of the victim.

I also call to repentance the people at the Master’s College and Seminary who blamed and oppressed Jane. I call to repentance Rick Holland for his sexual harassment and punishment of Jane. And I call to repentance John MacArthur for participating in disciplining Jane for her drug and alcohol use (which was forced upon her!). These men and women have erred greatly and have caused harm to Jane and to the name of Christ. The best things for them to do now is to: acknowledge their wrong; repent; seek to make restitution to Jane, including clearing her name; seriously consider resigning from their jobs; and examine what sort of distorted theology can contribute to such gross injustice.

Jane asks “Do you see me?”

Yes, Jane, we do. We see you and we believe you.

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Something You Might Not Know About Trump Supporters, Feminists, and Gay People–Musings on Ontological Equality

I first heard the phrase listening to a recording of Jemar Tisby’s talk at The Charleston Conference. It’s been weeks, and I’m still thinking about it and relating it to an increasing number of ideas and situations. The phrase: “ontological equality.”

Sometimes this phrase relates to the persons of the Trinity, but in this case it refers to the belief that all people are equal in essence and possess inherent worth and dignity. This relates to the philosophical study of anthropology (which asks the question: what is humanity?) and to the theological concept of the Image of God (the belief that all humans are made in the Image of God). In his talk, Mr. Tisby asserted that this doctrine is probably the most important Christian doctrine aside from the doctrines of salvation, and that chaos ensues when we forget or reject it.

So after mulling over this concept for many weeks, here are some of my thoughts on it. To treat a person as an ontological equal means to respect their humanity, even if you don’t respect their character or accomplishments. It means that no matter how much you disagree with someone, you never lose sight of their dignity. It means that no matter how evil a person is, that you seek justice rather than vengeance. It means that you accurately represent who they are and what they think–no straw man arguments or spreading false information. It means that when dialoguing with them, you are assertive rather than aggressive.

Let me clarify what I’m not saying. To respect a person’s equality does not mean that you respect their ideas or their choices. It does not mean that it is wrong to disagree with them. It does not mean that one cannot call out oppression or seek justice. It does not mean that one cannot call out immorality or urge righteousness.

When Mr Tisby spoke on ontological equality, he applied it primarily to the experience of people of color in the United States. He asserted that slavery and Jim Crow happened in large part because so many people denied or dismissed the ontological equality of human beings who were from another land or had a different skin color. And it was when some Americans lost sight of (or purposely and systematically rejected!) the inherent dignity of all people that gross injustice was rationalized and perpetuated.

Race-based discrimination is one of the most extreme examples of what can happen when people deny the equality of other people, but the same principle applies to many other areas of life as well. The belief in ontological equality also means the following…

  • When having discussions with people with opposing political viewpoints, you maintain respect for the person even if you disagree with (or even hate) their positions.
  • Women are viewed primarily as people (instead of “other”) and as equals to men.
  • In a relationship between a child and an adult authority, the most important kind of respect is the adult’s respect for the child’s humanity (rather than the child’s respect for the authority’s position).
  • People are not less valuable if they have less capabilities. A disabled person is not less valuable if they are unable to contribute to society. A child is not valuable only because of their future potential.
  • A person’s age does not make them of lesser value. An old person or an unborn person are equal in worth and dignity to a young adult, and therefore should not have life taken from them.
  • A person’s socioeconomic status does not change their inherent worth. A wealthy person and a poor person are ontological equals.
  • A person’s beliefs do not lessen their humanity. A Trump supporter is of equal value to a feminist. 
  • Any discussion of LGBT issues and people must start with the ontological equality of people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

But what about those whose very purpose in life is seemingly to deny justice and equality to others? What about Neo-Nazis? What about evil, murderous dictators? How does a belief in ontological equality relate to them? I think the answer is two-fold. First, it gives us confidence in denouncing their beliefs as wrong and their actions as evil. But second, we are not absolved of our responsibility to treat even them as our ontological equals. We may critique them and seek justice, all while maintaining an awareness of their dignity and worth. (Practically this might look like not physically harming them or not spreading lies about their beliefs or actions.) It is tempting when evil people so blatantly deny the equality of other humans to then want to take away their human rights, to dehumanize them in our minds, and to treat them as if they have forfeited their own inherent value. But this is where, especially as Christians, we are to rise above our baser instincts and honor the humanity even of evil people as we simultaneously call out their wrongs.

I anticipate continuing to mull over the concept of ontological equality. It has been a fascinating study to date! And I have to say, I agree with Mr Tisby that this is one of the most important doctrines in Christianity. It affects so much of life: how we think about and relate to minorities, children, the disabled, people we disagree with, political opponents, and even truly evil people!

In closing, what I would like is for us to rejoice in the great privilege of being human, of being God’s marvelous creations, of being made in His image. And to seek to honor that image in ourselves and in others.

Here’s the link to Jemar Tisby’s entire talk. I highly recommend it!

www.podasterynetwork.com/2017/07/11/bonus-fierce-urgency-now-christian-complicity-racism-imperative-urgent-action/

When Traditional Values Create Toxic Churches

*Contains References to Domestic Violence & Rape*
Christianity cannot be rightly categorised as either inherently progressive or inherently traditional. There IS, however, Biblical overlap with both progressive and traditional ideals. For example, like the Bible, traditional cultures place high value on the family unit, while progressive cultures, like the Bible, affirm the intrinsic dignity of all people. It is likewise possible to wrongly assimilate as “Christian” either traditional or progressive cultural values that are in actuality antithetical to Christianity (like the traditional belief that women are property of their husbands or the progressive belief that being true to yourself is the highest goal). To give proper credit: I was introduced to this way of comparing and contrasting various cultures with Christian teachings a couple years ago in several Tim Keller sermons. I’ve found it very helpful.

In my experience, theologically-conservative Protestants tend to focus almost exclusively on ways churches can err in adopting certain aspects of progressive ideology; one might call this the “left boundaries” of Christianity, and it is important! But I contend that of equal importance is to recognize ways that Christians or churches err when they incorrectly adopt certain traditional ideologies as in line with Biblical truth; these could be called the “right boundaries” of Christianity.

This post will focus on instances when those right boundaries have been crossed. I’ve observed that these errors most often to relate to authority, sexuality, gender roles, and politics.

One final note: all of the following warning signs are based on real-life situations in theologically-conservative Protestant churches (and most involving well-known, well-respected pastors). These are things that have been actually said! Actions that have actually been taken! This isn’t hypothetical; these are real issues affecting churches today. 

So without further ado,

A Pastor or Church Might be Toxic if…

  •  The pastor teaches or implies that all Christian parents–if they want to be truly godly–must homeschool their children.
  • Church leaders silence all criticism as “gossip” or “lack of submission.”
  • Churches shun former members.
  • The pastor never apologizes.
  • Church leaders speak of certain political candidates as having the potential to “bring our country back to God.”
  • The pastor boasts that his wife has never refused him sex.
  • A pastor believes it is permissible–even godly–for husbands to discipline their wives with spankings if they fail to perform tasks (such as washing the dishes) in the way their husbands prescribe.
  • The church strips couples of small group leadership when the wife works full-time and/or the husband stays home with the kids.
  • When wives bring allegations of rape, abuse, or adultery regarding their husbands, church leaders respond with dismissiveness or even blaming.
  • A pastor believes that marriage cures pedophilia.
  • Church leaders fail to report the crime of child abuse to the police and then discipline church members who DO report child abuse to the police.
  • Church leaders believe that minors can be partially responsible for being sexually abused.
  • A pastor teaches that oral sex may be the best evangelism tool to convert a non-Christian husband.
  • Church leaders urge blind trust in the leadership, instructing congregants not to read blogs that detail alleged abuses perpetrated by the church.

So there you have it! A dozen or so instances of unbiblical, unhealthy, and toxic church beliefs or practices! My purpose is not to hate on the church. Rather, I urge discernment in recognizing unhealthy patterns in our churches for the sake of the peace and purity of the church; for the sake of the health of its members; and for the sake of its witness to those who embrace other belief systems. I hope that I have also made an introductory case for the idea that traditional cultural ideas (not just progressive ones) can be anti-Christian. Note, however, that “patterns” is the key thing to watch for; having one or two of these characteristics does not necessarily make a church toxic.

So in summary: the church is meant to be a beautiful display of Christ, and it is tragic when it falls short of this beauty–yes, when it embraces untrue aspects of progressivism, but likewise when it accepts faulty facets of traditional culture.

– Hannah Conroy
(The views expressed are the author’s and may not reflect the views of other blog contributors.)