In my post “What I used to miss about Christianity” I mentioned the article How Playing a Good Christian Wife Almost Killed Me by Vyckie Garrison. The reason I mentioned Vyckie Garrison’s article was the parallel she drew between literalist biblical theology and the power & control wheel, a tool used for understanding abuse. For her, Christianity and abuse go hand in hand. Garrison opens her story by saying


“Whenever I talk about my escape from the Quiverfull movement, Christians immediately dismiss my experience by saying, “Your problem was not with Jesus or Christianity. Your problem was that you were following an extreme, legalistic cult. Let me tell you about my personal relationship with Jesus.” It can be extremely frustrating. I was in a close, personal relationship with Jesus for over 25 years. But rather than telling you about the beginning of my relationship with this man, I am going to spare you the long story and skip straight to the break up.”


Quoting Garrison’s article didn’t sit well with some of my Christian friends and resulted in lively discussions. Although I follow a Pagan path, I am committed to pluralism and believe firmly in everyone’s right to practice their religion as they see fit. I have friends in many different religions, including Christians whose paths I deeply respect. I asked myself whether the article was slanderous by basically calling Jesus abusive. One of my Christian friends responded:

“I thought about this article a lot and talked about it with others, and I wondered why I considered the behavior of the spouse and leaders to be abuse, but recoiled at the idea of Jesus as abuser, and I finally figured it out. I am equal as a person to my husband and church leaders, but God is my parent. Just like a toddler who wants to stick keys in the light socket and drink dishwasher detergent (in a spiritual sense, but not eat my dinner because that's gross), I need a loving, all-knowing father to direct me, control me, and prevent me from hurting myself. If we want to deem an all-powerful God as our equal, we have to be damned sure we really are. Me, I am doing everything I can not to screw everything up all the time. If you think I'm wrong, just take a look at or”


A few years ago I would have agreed with her. I would have applauded her for her faithful interpretation of the scriptures and eloquent use of metaphor. I still find it easy to put on the mindset of my younger self and once again see the world through those eyes.


But as soon as I ground into the here and now, integrating the experiences I have had and the work I have done, I cringe at my friend’s statement. I know that being “equal as a person” can be a way of leaving room for inequality “in role”. I once believed myself to be “equal as a person” to my husband and church leaders. At the same time I allowed them to make decisions on my behalf, because their roles as head of household and church elders meant God had granted them a position of authority over me.


But even if I were seen as equal “in role” as well as “in person” I would still take offense. I am not a spiritual toddler who needs to be watched and controlled. My experience as a Pagan has taught me the very opposite. I am my own spiritual authority. I do not need to be all-knowing and all-powerful to keep myself from spiritual harm. So much of Paganism is about empowering ourselves. I will make mistakes, yes, but I am not a helpless child about to screw everything up all the time. I am an adult, living and learning from my mistakes, taking risks, and coming into my power by trusting myself.


Evangelical Christianity teaches us that humans are sinful, that at the root of our problems lies pride, relying on ourselves rather than God. We are told to trust ourselves less, to see ourselves as helpless babes, in desperate need of Jesus to parent, discipline, and control us. Is it really a stretch to extend this understanding into our human relationships? If I am so incompetent in the eyes of Jesus, where do I find the inner strength to believe myself worthy and equal to my husband, my pastor, my superiors? I didn’t.


In the year before my divorce I felt powerless and worthless. My marriage had become a prison and I longed for freedom. But I held to my belief that marriage was ordained by God and that faithfulness to my vows mattered above all else. At one point I considered suicide over divorce, so strong was my belief. But I dreamed of freedom. I knew all the bible verses, “it is for freedom that Christ set us free” and how we were given “freedom in Christ”. But my soul longed for “freedom from Christ”. That phrase, heretical, slanderous, wouldn’t leave my mind, all I could think of was “freedom from Christ, “freedom from Christ.” I eventually took the step and broke up with him. Later I signed divorce papers with my husband, too.


The first resource I found in researching abuse many years ago was The Verbal Abuse Site. The author, Patricia Evans, sees abuse as actions that limit, invalidate, or define others. My relationship with Jesus caused me to call into question my own emotions and experiences, to mistrust my intuition and reason. I became defined by who Jesus (and later my husband) wanted me to be, not the person I would have chosen for myself.

Does that mean Jesus* is abusive? Garrison writes “Quiverfull IS regular Christianity writ large … lived out to its logical conclusion.” I disagree. Quiverfull is the brainchild of literalist fundamentalist Christianity, but I believe there are many different Christianities with many different gods. They all go by the same name, but they certainly are not the same deity. The Jesus of Oscar Romero, for example, is a completely different Jesus than the Jesus of Quiverfull. But any Jesus that sees me as a toddler, emphasizes my inadequacies and tells me to distrust my emotions, my reason, my intuition, and my sense of self, I have divorced for good.


* As an update to this article I want to clarify that I am not writing about the historical Jesus or Jesus as he is portrayed in the canonical gospels. This is purely about Jesus as he is understood and worshiped by various forms of Christianity. The Quiverfull Jesus, Liberation Theology Jesus, and American Evangelical Jesus all differ greatly from one another, and there are differences even within those faith communities. How these Jesus' of faith relate to the historical Jesus or the Jesus of the canonical gospels, is a different topic.