Recently, a small group of people released an article describing abuse that they experienced at the hands of the leaders in a popular social media group for egalitarians called Ezer Rising (ER). The story seems to have come as a shock to many people, especially people who have been friends with the leaders named in the article. This is not a surprise. We are always sad and surprised when people we know are accused of abuse. What has been a surprise to me is the number of leaders – that I know to be deeply concerned with issues of abuse – who have withheld their support from these people who have come forward with their story of how they were abused.
I have been pondering this for several days. How is it that leaders in the movement to abolish abuse from the church can just ignore or dismiss a story of abuse – one that is corroborated by several people? Just because they know or work with the people who are named as having acted in abusive ways? Isn’t this *exactly* what we criticize in the Church?
I have thought about how I might respond. Should I list the evidence I have seen that supports the story? Should I be angry that these people (mostly women) are being disbelieved? Should I express my fury that no one in Ezer Rising has acknowledged, as far as I know, that they acted in hurtful and inappropriate ways? Should I “call out” the leaders who are refusing to believe these people?
I decided instead simply to share my experience with Ezer Rising.
At the beginning of Ezer Rising’s meteoric launch, they shared a series of mine about… parenting, I think. Or maybe marriage. I’m not sure. But I was flattered and pleased and I followed them immediately. I interacted in their groups and followed their pages. One of my best friends in the world, Charissa Garver, became very involved with these groups as well, and she quickly became a contributor and leader with them. She invited me to be an administrator in one of their groups, and I was happy to help and to be included in a group I supported.
However… I began to have misgivings almost immediately. I began to notice that ER leaders ganged up on people that didn’t believe exactly how they did. I believe that growing out of complementarian thinking and into egalitarian generally happens in stages, slowly, over time. But in ER, I saw that if anyone expressed thoughts that showed an earlier or later stage than the ones the ER leaders were at, that person was frequently ganged up on (I am not exaggerating) until they either left or were kicked out. It was very alarming to me.
I stepped down as an admin very quickly. I was in the thick of seminary and I did not have the mental or time capacity to respond to all of the conflict in this group in the ways that I wanted to. I have never, ever been in a group with as much conflict as that group, before or since. I have only seen groups that antagonistic to dissent in fundamentalist, complementarian spaces. It was very unsettling to me to see that level of thought control in an egalitarian space.
I stayed in the groups for a while. I continued to see this ganging up behavior. I saw Amanda Flowers Peterson respond graciously to racist comments again and again. I saw her requesting help. I saw that she continued to be the only admin to regularly respond to racist comments – like she was the designated “racism police” and no one else thought that they were responsible for this topic.
I left the groups and unfollowed the pages a few months later when I spoke up in a way that was not the exact “party line” (the people group I was defending was children). It became a very heated conflict with many participants. I had been debating leaving ER anyways. People were always being divided into groups, some of which could be defended and some of which were fiercely allowed to be spoken of as “less than” – and I took the conflict about children as my cue to exit.
A few months after that, Charissa began to express immense distress. Her health was suffering, her spirits were low, she was upset all the time. I was very concerned. After some time, she shared with me that she was experiencing abuse at the hands of the ER leadership. They were policing personal FB pages. They were hurting Amanda. They were hurting another leader (whose story I don’t see in the article, so I will not reference here). Charissa had discovered that there was a male pastor that very few of the leaders knew who was making decisions behind the scenes that the rest of the leaders could not influence. And Charissa was suffering.
Then she left ER. And she continued to suffer. I supported this friend of mine through pain that is every bit as real as the pain I see when I am supporting people in situations of domestic violence.
Abuse is simply a pattern of abusive or coercive behavior used as an effort to maintain power and control over another person. This is absolutely what I saw in ER, with my own eyes and as I supported Charissa as she suffered under it.
You do not have to be a terrible person to abuse someone. You just have to feel a strong need to control him or her. People who abuse don’t abuse everyone – they abuse the people who are in their power – the ones who are not “toeing the line” – the ones who are not “following the rules.” I absolutely saw this in ER as they attacked and cut off communication with people who did not believe or act in exactly the same way ER wanted them to – first some of the group members – then some of the leaders.
There was – and perhaps still is – abuse in Ezer Rising. Progressive Christian leaders concerned with abuse – what are you going to do? Ignore the reports of abuse in an effort to maintain solidarity with the ones who wielded power in destructive ways? Or confront your friends and call them into a healthier use of power?
I want to see the Egalitarian Christian Movement model what we want to see in the Complementarian Christian Movement – acknowledgement of wrongdoing – apology – transformation. We can do it.