Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Human Trafficking: A Community Conversation

Last night I attended a Community Conversation meeting on the topic of human trafficking in Central Florida.

Dr. Joel Hunter, pastor emeritus of Northland Church and founder of The Community Resource Network, moderated the conversation. (Side note: As a former Northland member, I have known Joel since he and Becky came to Orlando 1985, but I hadn't seen him in several years. What a delight to chat with him after the meeting! I have always said he has a heart of gold, and now more than ever.) Northland is now a megachurch of 20,000 and Joel was a spiritual adviser to President Obama. He "retired" last year to devote his time to rallying the community around such issues as homelessness, addiction, and trafficking. That takes humility and courage! The Community Conversation meetings are a part of his initiatives. Please take the time to read this article in Christianity Today: Joel Hunter Is Done Pastoring His Orlando Megachurch.

The panel guests were Tomas Lares, founder of Florida Abolitionist; Ron Stucker, director of the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation; and Lisa Haba, Assistant State Attorney who specializes in prosecuting trafficking cases in Seminole County.

I took 8 pages of handwritten notes, scribbling as fast as I could to keep up with the torrent of information. Here is some of what I jotted down; I have attempted to synthesize and organize it, but it's a wild beast, so please forgive if it seems disjointed.


First, what is human trafficking? I looked up the definition this morning.
Trafficking means recruiting, abducting, facilitating, transferring, harboring, or transporting a person, by threat or use of force, coercion, fraud or deception or by the purchase, sale, trade, transfer or receipt of a person, for the purpose of subjecting that person to involuntary servitude, peonage, slavery, slave-like practices, sex trafficking, or forced or bonded labor services. (Source: www.gohttf.org)

Joel gave one real life example of human trafficking which hits way too close to home since I personally know the family. This past weekend, an 11 year old girl was lured online (via playing Minecraft) to leave her home in the middle of Saturday night to meet up with someone she thought was a female. Due to quick work by the FBI, she was located on Sunday in another state in a hotel room with a male perpetrator. We are so thankful for her safe return to her family but I am sure she is quite traumatized by the experience. She has a long road of recovery ahead of her.

What are some other examples of human trafficking victims?

  • any child/teen prostitute, regardless if she/he is doing it "willingly"
  • a prostitute who is being forced to work by a pimp
  • a migrant worker who is debt-enslaved to their "employer" - they can't leave until they pay it off, but the debt keeps racking up, so they are trapped.
  • an unpaid domestic worker (often foreign) who is enslaved in a home, even in an affluent neighborhood
  • an undocumented worker paid under the table and exploited using threats of exposure to ICE
Joel asked Tomas Lares, "Why don't more victims try to escape?" Tomas started with the word victimology. They don't feel like they deserve any better. They are psychologically powerless. They have been raped, battered, threatened, and otherwise intimidated by the perpetrators. They don't think they have a safe place to go. They may have no other means to support themselves or their children. Even if they do get away, they fear retribution against loved ones. Many have been sexually exploited hundreds or even thousands of times; they have been used and abused to the point that they perceive themselves as worthless and hopeless. Many have Stockholm Syndrome, which makes them sympathetic to those who are abusing them. Many have been numbed by (and become addicted to) drugs and alcohol. 

What can we do? We can start by using our power wisely.

If you have power - and you DO have power - how will you choose to use it? Will you EXPLOIT others, AVOID getting involved, or ADVOCATE for the vulnerable? Lisa Haba noted that we tend to avoid vulnerable people because we are afraid or because it is inconvenient. This only enables perpetrators who keep committing their crimes, because they think no one will bother to prevent them. Instead, we need to be like the Good Samaritan, who stopped to help the wounded Jew on the road to Jericho. You can make a huge difference if you change your mindset!

Ending sex trafficking requires a multi-faceted approach. Many of these strategies also apply to other forms of trafficking. 

  • Eliminate the supply of victims. Empower and educate potential victims to prevent them from falling under the power of perpetrators. Many prostitutes were vulnerable to trafficking because they had been sexually abused during childhood, or they were teen runaways, or they were domestic violence victims. They have extremely low self-esteem. They feel worthless. They may be addicted to drugs or alcohol. They don't have education or job options. They might be lured into trafficking by the promise of a modeling career. Young people need to be warned about trafficking so they won't be deceived by perps. And they also need a clear path to healthy living. Mentoring can be a huge help with this. (Side note: One of my daughters, who has a masters in counseling, works as a school-based therapist in a country school system. One of her goals is to create resiliency programs for teenage girls.)
  • Protect the victims. Officers will first attempt to physically separate a victim from the perpetrator, who is either the pimp (someone who is selling the prostitute for profit) or the john (the "customer"). If the situation is not clear, but there are other valid charges such as drug possession or probation violation, they can jail a suspect immediately to create extra safety for the victim. The officers must build a sense of trust with the coerced prostitute, who may not yet acknowledge that she is a trafficking victim rather than a criminal. Building trust is a challenge since pimps often threaten their "girls" that they will be arrested for prostitution or drug charges if they ask law enforcement for help. Child victims will be referred to DCF for on-going care. Adult victims may be placed in a secure shelter and offered counseling, addiction treatment, and job skills. (We need more of these shelters and services!) For immediate assistance, they may be given a backpack with basic supplies. The key is to not criminalize the victim, but to give her a sense of value and dignity, and then practically equip her to take a different path.
  • Refer victims to qualified care for counseling and protection. Do not attempt this by yourself! This is extremely complicated, and you will do a disservice to the victim. It can also be really dangerous to bring a trafficking victim into your home due to mental health, addiction, or retribution by perpetrators. Don't give them cash, because it could end up in the pocket of the pimp instead. Instead, call law enforcement for help, and they can arrange a referral to competent and comprehensive care. 
  • Eliminate the demand. Enforce stiff penalties for both johns and pimps. Allow victims to sue perpetrators with civil law suits. Change the cultural conscience so that no one will even want to exploit others. Expand the availability of sexual violence awareness classes for offenders. Block the gateway of pornography, which becomes addictive, rewires the brain, and demands more of a "thrill" to satisfy desire; if a magazine photo or online video isn't enough, a real life girl might do the trick. This is heinous. Pornography must go! You can find a lot of information here: Fight the New Drug.
  • Educate the public about the signs of trafficking. Everyone should be aware of this, but special efforts are underway to train hotel clerks and maids, medical personnel, teachers, transportation workers, bartenders, etc. The woman who sat next to me has worked for Marriott in this area, and says they are making huge efforts to equip their employees to spot trafficking situations. An ER nurse called authorities after a prostitute was brought in with a bull-whip slash on her face. An airline clerk stopped two teenage girls who were trying to check in without proper identification, flying to another state on what turned out to be a one way ticket. Truckers Against Trafficking is training truckers to be vigilant to red flags of trafficking at truck stop; they also have training videos right on their web site. 
  • If you see something, say something! If you notice someone you think might be vulnerable and in trouble, CALL 911 ASAP. Let law enforcement assess and investigate. The sooner they can do this, the more likely they are to be able to rescue a victim and prosecute the perpetrator. You don't need to figure it out first; go with your enlightened intuition. You can often sense if a situation seems "off" - such as an older man traveling with a young girl, with no apparent family relationship, and she seems afraid or unkempt... What are some red flags of possible trafficking? Read the list here: Recognizing the Signs. I repeat: If you see something, say something. You could save a life.
  • Penalize businesses which enable trafficking. These include hotels/motels that knowingly allow prostitution, tattoo parlors, massage parlors, bars, Backpage and Craigslist web sites. Joel gave one example of a young girl who was being trafficked by her own mother at a local motel. At age 11, she asked a friendly looking new employee for help. The woman walked away, not wanting to get involved. The girl was trafficked for another several years. Many of these workers are afraid of being fired. We need to enact mandated reporting, with legal protection for employees who, in good faith, report suspicious behavior.  The Florida House of Representatives Judiciary Committee is voting on HB 167 tomorrow morning (Wednesday, February 21, 2018). This bill would, along with Senate Bill 1044, allow victims to sue these businesses which enable the crimes! Please call your legislator and demand that these bills be passed! Pennsylvania and Texas already have similar laws on the books. The other 48 states need to get with it!
  • Support and extend the #metoo movement. Right now we have such wide public awareness about sexual abuse and harassment. Now is the time to expand that awareness to the issue of human trafficking. We are at a tipping point, a watershed moment. Let's push this through while the light shines bright. Let's fight against compassion fatigue and issue saturation, so we don't lose interest and give up before the problem is solved. Keep it in the news. NO MORE! NOT ON OUR WATCH!

What about other forms of trafficking?
  • Undocumented workers who are being trafficked often fear they will be jailed, deported, or separated from their children if they report abuse. They are now eligible for two specialty visas with a path to citizenship. The T Visa is for people brought into the USA by traffickers. The U Visa is for people who came on their own, but were later trafficked; the stipulation here is that they most cooperate with authorities to expose and prosecute the traffickers.

I know this is a lot of information to process. Please take the time to think through this thoroughly, and decide how you will take action in the fight against human trafficking.

On a personal note: I have been seeking God's wisdom on my own future. As I write this, I am in the middle of applying to Asbury Theological Seminary (Orlando campus) for a masters degree, probably in chaplaincy or pastoral counseling. For a regular job, I plan to work with the elderly and hospice/hospital patients and their families. However, my hope is that I will be equipped to also extend basic frontline ministry (comfort, encouragement, referrals to more comprehensive care) to women in the community who are at risk from domestic violence, homelessness, sex trafficking, and faith crises related to spiritual abuse. Please pray for me as I take each step by faith. 

Virginia Knowles

I have other blog posts about human trafficking and related issues:

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Mutual by Design 2017 Christians for Biblical Equality Conference

Dear friends,

Two weeks ago, my longtime fellow blogger and FB friend Julie Anne Smith noted on her FB page that she would be in Orlando for a conference. She wanted to know if anyone would like to meet up there, which for me is "here" since I live just north of Orlando.

I jumped at the chance to meet her in person, as she lives on the opposite end of the country - not much farther you can get from Florida than Washington State, unless we're talking Alaska. And I was intrigued by what conference she was attending.

Julie Anne Smith
It turned out to be Mutual by Design, the 2017 international conference of Christians for Biblical Equality. The funny thing is, I had just been on the CBE web site a few days before that to look for book recommendations and hadn't even noticed the conference information! I got to thinking how much I would enjoy attending - and fortunately for me, another kind FB friend (whom I also had not met in person) worked out the details for me to go to the conference and to stay at the hotel for the weekend.  She was also responsible for several other women being able to attend.

All of this was on very short notice. I found out about the conference on Tuesday, and it started on Friday morning! And I went out to dinner with some of the ladies when they arrived in town on Wednesday!

Dinner at Sweet Tomatoes two days before
the conference with some of the CBE attendees:
Lindon, Tega, Mabel, Reagan, Tega's
daughter (I don't know her name!), and Gwen
I am super grateful that I went. I have been learning about Christian egalitarian theology in recent years, and see it as so refreshing as compared to the patriarchal/complementarian theology to which I had been heavily exposed in some of our former churches and in certain edges of the home schooling movement.

Egalitarians believe that men and women are truly equal. Not identical. There are obvious differences. But they are equal. No hierarchy. No superiority. No gender rank pulling nor rigid gender roles in the family, the church, or the work place. No "Woman, SUBMIT!" They certainly believe in submission in marriage! But it is mutual submission, mutual leadership, mutual serving, mutual respect, and mutual love.

I see the beauty of that.
I see the promise in that.
I see the fruit borne by it.
I see the power of the gospel at work in it.

Many complementarians claim that egalitarians don't take the Bible seriously. What struck me was how seriously they actually did treat Scripture at this conference. These are serious students of the Word. Many of them are professors in seminaries and Christian universities, with doctorates and decades of faithful teaching and/or pastoral work to their names. They carefully parsed the Greek and Hebrew. They researched the ancient cultures within which the Bible was penned, including the Greco-Roman household codes.They have shown how Scriptural principles can be universally applied in each culture and time period, even if the details of how they are carried out necessarily differ by time and place. And, as Dr. Ronald Pierce explained, they teach what they do "in light of Scripture, not in spite of Scripture."

Dr. Ronald Pierce,
professor, author, speaker
The people I met were kind, caring, curious, and passionate. At times I felt out of my league when I heard what each one had been doing for God's Kingdom, but they were so humble and approachable that I still felt right at home. Never mind that I am a home schooling mother of ten who has been "at home" in my house for over 30 years, and who emerged from what I call deep patriarchy.  

God bless the work of CBE, and God bless the women and men there who are rising up to serve with liberty and justice and compassion among the heartbreaking crises in this world.

Dr. Mimi Haddad,
President of CBE

Mary Gonsior,
who works for CBE
I'll be writing more on the conference as time allows. I already posted a poem that I wrote there: No Little Women.

Virginia Knowles

P.S. Now I'm dreaming of the 2018 conference in Helsinki, Finland. Not much of a chance I'll get there, but who knows?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

No Little Women (CBE17)

"No Little Women"
Virginia Knowles

In the beauty of the Kingdom

There shall be no little women:
No, never!
Lo and behold
Sisters and brothers together
In mutual love and honor
Lift their lights high
Raise their voices strong and clear
Boldly proclaiming
Peace, joy, liberty, mercy
Healing, justice in Jesus
Together, strong and free
In the glory of the gospel of grace
No little women and no little men.
"May your Kingdom come
May your will be done
On earth as it is in Heaven."

~~ I wrote and posted this poem from my phone while attending Mutual by Design, the 2017 international conference of Christians for Biblical Equality. I'll be writing more about the conference and some recommended resources this month as I have time.

~~ I'm obviously not talking about physical height here. I'm talking about the tendency of many in the church to see women as "less than" men - and oh, "bless their little hearts!" We all talk about equality, but then women are still treated with condescension.

~~ But speaking of physical height, here are two women from the conference. Julie Anne, on the right, is a watchdog blogger at www.spiritualsoundingboard.com. We've been in touch for several years about issues in the home schooling movement and patriarchal churches. I really appreciate the sacrificial work she does.  Diane, on the left, was a nun for about 20 years and then was ordained as a Catholic priest. I'm not sure how that works, but she says there are 250 women priests. Now in her 70's, she hosts a radio show aimed at preventing domestic violence. She may be only 5 feet tall, but she's a powerhouse. Julie Anne is 6' 4". Whatever their height, these two women get the job done.

~~ I picked the Statue of Liberty picture for the top of this post, because I believe that women are emerging as powerful leaders in the fight for liberty for the oppressed around the world. The women at this conference included ones who work in dangerous places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo doing rape prevention and aftercare, or who labor from and within the USA to end sex trafficking, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, and other evils.


Think about it.

Act on it.

Virginia Knowles

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

International Women's Day 2017: What Do You Stand For?

Dear friends,

It is International Women's Day again! 

What does that mean?

Different things to different people, I'm sure.

I am an evangelical Christian and a feminist, and no, those are not mutually exclusive. And yes, I am still very pro-life. (And not just until the baby is born!) I also have seven daughters, three sons, four grandsons, and two granddaughters. I've put my time in.


This morning, I started going through my "On This Day" memories feed on Facebook and re-sharing IWD posts from years past, like my own article here on Watch the Shepherd: Women's Voices Rising

One of my Facebook posts read: "I am a woman. But this day, though for me, is not just for or about me. Think of women around the globe. Think of their challenges, their heartaches, their opportunities, their examples, their gifts for their families and communities. Let us sit with them in empathy, stand with them in solidarity, walk with them into a future of progress, dignity, and equality. We are women. Let's make this about each other, all of us, and about all of the girls in generations following us."

I added a fresh new picture for my quote. I had taken down my bulletin board recently and piled its contents on my desk: baby announcement, cards from friends, clipped quotes. The postcard above, purchased at the holocaust museum in Washington D.C., sums it up for me.

I stand for women on this day. One of my missions in life is to empower women around the globe. Courage. Strength. Respect. Purpose. Equality. Assertiveness. Confidence. Justice. Honor. These don't come easy in a world where many religious and social systems subjugate women. Think that's just far away in some Third World country? Nope. It's here in the USA, too. Been there, done that, walked away from it. It has hurt way too many people whom I know and love. These are just some of the articles I have written.

This past year, it's been difficult to watch the ascendancy of Donald Trump to the presidency. Even though he acknowledged International Women's Day on Twitter today (be sure to read comments), he does not, in my opinion, represent the interests of women very well. It's not just a lack of support, but his attacks on women, not the least of which would be the sexual assault of strangers.

By coincidence, I was in Washington D.C. the weekend of the huge women's march. I was en route to my aunt's funeral in Pennsylvania so I didn't go. I also have concerns about the march organizers not welcoming pro-life leaders. However, there is so much more that I do support about the aims of the march. On my flight back to Florida the next day, I sat next to a woman who was in D.C. for her grandmother's birthday and had walked along with part of the march while she was downtown. We shared so many common views about empowering women. I loved to hear her story, face to face, of succeeding as a woman of color despite many challenges.

When I was a small child, the only jobs commonly open to women were nurse, teacher, secretary, and maid. And I'm only 53! Things were much better by the time I reached high school and college, but there was (and still is) discrimination. This should not be. Women need the ability to provide for themselves and their families. Instead of restricting women based on what we think they should do, why not empower them with the same opportunities so they can learn and work according to their own needs, talents, and desires? 

I remember in my early 20's telling a man from church that I had just gotten a new job. He asked if I was a secretary. It was more of an assumption than a question. I was actually a computer programmer for a military contractor, and likely made more money per hour than he did. By choice, I have spent most of the last 30 years (with the exception of one year as a part-time teacher) as a stay-at-home mom. I don't regret that at all. I love being home, and wish I could always do that. I am planning to transition back into the paid workforce out of necessity. This should be interesting. I am a bit nervous. 

The comment from the man at church over 30 years ago was actually more amusing than annoying at the time. Worse than that by far was the sexual harassment I experienced in the work place and other situations, including losing a job for refusing a boss's advances. I wrote about some of this here: #YesAllWomen: My Many Stories of Sexual Harassment.  Yet as distressing as those experiences were to me, they were nothing compared to what other women in this country have suffered. Listen to these quotes about domestic violence and sexual abuse in the home: Voices of Survivors. Then watch some videos from the recent Awaken:Awareness Matters conference.

Photo credit: www.AmyRBuckley.com
See also: 25 Essential Quotes of Women

And then when I think of the world beyond, I am absolutely appalled at what women and girls have to endure. There is no way I can be silent about trafficking, child marriage, FMG (female genital mutililation), honor killings, rape, and lack of decent health care for women.

From Catapult Cover Stories - click for more
Photo Credit: The Times of Israel Facebook

Two of my other Facebook posts were videos I recorded from my spot in the audience at the Synergy conference in March 2011 here in Orlando. It was organized by Carolyn Custis James and keynoted by Sheryl WuDunn. Later this morning, Carolyn Custis James asked permission to post them on her YouTube channel, which I happily granted. She too has written a post for International Women’s Day, and I think she has another one coming up that has my videos in it. 

So here are the videos on her channel:

Carolyn Custis James introducing Sheryl WuDunn at 2011 Synergy conference in Orlando (Video Link)


Sheryl WuDunn talking about forced child marriage, obstetric fistulas, and maternal mortality at 2011 Synergy conference in Orlando (Video Link)


Here is another of Carolyn's YouTube videos: Patriarchy is a Fallen System

Carolyn and Sheryl are both authors. You can find their books on their web sites:

Or you can order these titles, which I have read, through ChristianBook.com (Disclosure: I am a CBD affiliate and would get a small percentage.)

There is so much more that I could write, but instead, I'll leave you with one last article link 
by Sarah Bessey, author of Jesus Feminist (I've read part of this) and Out of Sorts (just bought this one and hope to read soon): A Prayer for International Women's Day 


Walking with one of my granddaughters
- and wondering what the future holds
for her generation

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Wonderful Words of Life (Strength in Hymn)

"Wonderful Words of Life"
Philip Bliss, 1838-1876

Sing them over again to me, 
wonderful words of life; 
let me more of their beauty see, 
wonderful words of life; 
words of life and beauty 
teach me faith and duty. 

Beautiful words, wonderful words, 
wonderful words of life. 
Beautiful words, wonderful words, 
wonderful words of life. 

Christ, the blessed one, gives to all 
wonderful words of life; 
sinner, list to the loving call, 
wonderful words of life; 
all so freely given, 
wooing us to heaven. 

Beautiful words, wonderful words, 
wonderful words of life. 
Beautiful words, wonderful words, 
wonderful words of life. 

Sweetly echo the gospel call, 
wonderful words of life; 
offer pardon and peace to all, 
wonderful words of life; 
Jesus, only Savior, 
sanctify forever. 

Beautiful words, wonderful words, 
wonderful words of life. 
Beautiful words, wonderful words, 
wonderful words of life. 


It's been such long time since I've posted here, and even longer since I featured my Strength in Hymn series. But I'm back with this sweet, grace-filled one from Hymns of Praise. I discovered this vintage volume in my late mother's basement, and brought it home to a place of honor on my hymnal shelf. It once belonged to her grandmother, Olive Ransom. The wonderful words endure through all generations.

Leafing through the pages, I chose this hymn because it speaks life to my soul. I love beauty, as you can see by the nature photos I took with my daughter today at Mead Botanical Garden in Orlando. The beauty of God's creation is life-enriching, and even more, the beauty of his sacrifice is life-redeeming. Words that praise him and tell the gospel story are stunning because they reflect that beauty.

It is God's good news which takes a stained, scarred, statue of a woman as his own, then by grace, liberates, heals her, and brings her fully alive.

In a world all too often captured with ugliness, let us all share the wonderful words of life with one another. Words of hope. Words of beauty. Words of peace. Words of grace. Words of love. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Puritans, The Quakers, and Little Old Me (Reflections on A Measure of Light)

A couple of weeks ago, a new novel mentioned on Facebook piqued my interest. I ordered it almost immediately. A Measure of Light, by bestselling Canadian author Beth Powning, retells the story of Mary Dyer, an English woman who came to Massachusetts as a persecuted Puritan, yet later became one of the earliest American Quakers. 

My mind always seeks connections between what I read and my own life and family, and this was an immediate grab for me. One of my ancestors, Margaret Stevenson Scott, was the last and oldest person hanged by the Puritans in the Salem witch trials. And I also knew that some of my other ancestors were New England Quakers in the 1600 and 1700's. This is not just a historical and genealogical interest for me, either. There is so much in my own life story which resonates with the contrast of Puritans and Quakers.

I'm not sure I was prepared for how this book affected me. And I certainly wasn't prepared for what I found out just after I read it; I was shocked to my core. I'll save that juicy part of the story for the end of this post. (No fair peeking!)

I already knew of the tragic conflicts between Puritans and Quakers from teaching American history to my own children and my home school co-op students for many years. In particular, I love the novel The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. Yet that was a book for children. An adult level novel like A Measure of Light can fully explore more complexities and nuances, as well as more mature subject matter. Clue: this is not a romance novel.

As the story opens, Mary and her husband William are gravely concerned about the cruel way that the Church of England was treating Puritans. Encouraged by their friend Anne Hutchinson and her husband Will, they decide to flee to America for safety and freedom of worship. On arriving, though, Mary realizes that the Puritans are just as harsh in their punishments against those who dissent from what they believe is the true faith. A culture of strict legalism, fear of divine retribution, demonization of others outside the community (especially native Americans), and tight religious/political control rules the colony. There is little sense of God's loving grace and gospel liberty. Anne helps Mary navigate through the difficulties of adjusting to the community and to motherhood. As a loyal disciple of the Reverend John Cotton, Anne has been entrusted with elucidating his sermons in her home meetings to make the theological meanings clear to the other women. As time passes, Anne puts more emphasis on grace and liberty in her lectures, and men begin attending. All of this ultimately brings her into sharp opposition with Cotton and the other Puritan leaders. She is banished from the colony, and her followers, including the Dyers, move south to Rhode Island. Later, Mary Dyer returns to England for several years and becomes a devout Quaker, passionate about sharing the measure of light she has received with other seeking souls. She is also determined to take a stand for religious liberty for the Quakers in America, and repeatedly risks her own life to plead the cause of those who have been imprisoned and sentenced to death. 

I thought long about her conversion. It is true that the Quakers were not the most orthodox in their theology, particularly in the area of salvation and atonement. However, there is so much to admire. They believe in equality and mutual respect between men and women, between races and nationalities, and between varying socio-economic levels. They believe in peace and simplicity and quietness and supportive communities. They believe in social justice and were key figures in the Underground Railroad. They seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and an authentic relationship with God. 

I look at the Puritans, who perhaps technically had a more "correct" theological underpinning, but whose application was at times so appalling and soul-shriveling that it negated any benefit. History does not usually look kindly upon them, except for the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving. Then I look at the Quakers, who were a bit loose in their doctrine, but whose application of their FAITH brought life and health and joy to them, as well as empowerment and justice to others.

This is a clear contrast in the book. We cannot know everything of Mary Dyer's true history, but the novel imagines her depression and anxiety, her disconnection from the God she once knew, the difficulties faced in bonding with her children when she has been warned of undue attachments, and her devastation at giving birth to a deformed stillborn baby and then hearing her religious leaders claim this was God's wrath against her. As a Quaker, she is still a very complex woman with deep wounds and a dysfunctional family, at least in the novel version. This is not a happy ever after tale. She has suffered so much spiritually and emotionally, and that leaves a deep imprint on the soul. Yet I rejoiced when she found her "measure of light" and regained a well-seasoned faith, hope, joy, and peace in the midst of the unrelenting challenges she faced. Mary Dyer was hanged in June 1660 after courageously returning to Boston (from which she had been banished) to demand a change to the bloody laws against Quakers. However, as news of this and other executions traveled throughout the colonies and to England, the Puritan leaders were ultimately forced to stop persecuting the Quakers. Unfortunately, that still didn't prevent the Salem Witch Trials. My ancestor, poor old Margaret Scott, an impoverished cranky widow falsely accused of witchcraft, was hanged in September 1692.

But jumping back to my own book reading experience... I started weeping fairly early on, even in the initial descriptions of the colony. This hit way too close to home for me. For many years, we were members of Sovereign Grace Ministries, a church movement heavily influenced by neo-Puritan thought. At the start, I was quite enthusiastic about this. We were the spiritual elite. We could handle the rigorous theology and the expectations for our lifestyle. It was a small price to pay for being so right, eh? Over time, though, my spirit withered under the culture of legalism, control, fear, and a strong emphasis on purging sin from our souls under the watchful guidance of our leaders, whom we were admonished to obey. They also expressed a strong disdain for professional counseling. I held it together the best I could, but I felt like I was under scrutiny. I could never be good enough. I am more of a free spirit, a fluid poet soul. And as a woman, I had little voice, at least when it came to anything of importance outside of my domestic sphere of home schooling and homemaking. We were to live in quietness and deference to men. 

In 2008, I stumbled on two SGM protest blogs, and my tidy yet tenuous little church life really started to unravel. I learned about the devastating effect that the heavy theology and abuse of pastoral and family authority had on members, especially the women and youth. Depression. Anxiety. Morbid introspection. Teen rebellion. Substance abuse. Suicide. Child abuse. Domestic violence. Yikes. That wasn't all. SGM has been embroiled in child molestation scandals for decades, unbeknownst to most members until the accumulated Internet reports hit like a bomb. Families were ordered to not report these crimes to the police; they were to be handled in the church and hushed up. I was disgusted. 

Here is just one example of my experience there toward the end: When I tried to speak up for living by grace in a Bible study meeting, I was openly shamed and ridiculed by a fellow member and nobody would come to my defense. He said he was going to park his (metaphorical) bus over my ideas and back up three times. Grace is for weak little pansies. He insisted that the Christian life is all about violently mortifying our sin. I was then castigated by someone else for daring to correct this man privately for his unacceptable behavior. Because I was a woman, I was supposed to suck it up in silence and accept his superior wisdom. (Here's the irony: This man is different now. He listened and he apologized. Seriously.) I can think of several other times I was chided or silenced in that church for encouraging others to live in authentic grace or for speaking up about abuse of authority. 

By 2010, I'd had enough. My eyes were opened to the deep damage done to my own family, especially my children. It is still hard to shake the sobering knowledge that I allowed this, and that it still profoundly affects them. I found a good grace-filled Christian therapist who patiently walked me through the issues. We left the church that July, along with hundreds of other members of our congregation. I wrote this poem as we were leaving: It Became to Me a Dark Thing. The church eventually parted company with SGM, as did dozens of others. SGM hasn't improved any, and they've come under scathing public criticism, protests at the 2016 T4G conference, and lawsuits. Despite all of this, I do have countless happy memories from this church, too, and many beloved friends there. So many kind and generous and creative people. We've all learned so much. I've had great conversations with the pastors since we left, and I appreciate their sensitivity to my concerns. So there's that. 

I am now a member of a small Presbyterian (PCA) congregation that doesn't get hyped about neo-Calvinism, thank you Jesus. I am still recovering, but at least I found a safe place to land and heal. I am also still seeing a professional therapist.

Like Mary Dyer, in this long process of waking up and moving on, I finally lost my fear and found my true voice. I am a woman, and I am empowered to speak the truth in love. I am a woman, and I can live by the power of the Holy Spirit. I am a woman, and I can be an advocate for the vulnerable among us. I am a woman and a Mama Bear. I wrote so many blog posts on abuse of authority in churches, families, and the home school movement that I eventually started this Watch the Shepherd niche blog for them. It now has 160 posts with over 160,000 page views. 

Yet, like Mary Dyer, I too have suffered much in my soul. I can write around the tattered edges of my own story, but the darker parts are etched deep within my consciousness. While healing comes as a measure of light year by year, the scars cannot be fully undone this side of eternity. I weep as I write.

And I am shaking again as I write this last part, the part about what I learned after I set down the book. I thought of my second cousin Ellen, and briefly posted on her Facebook wall that I thought she'd like the book. Based on what she posts, she has a Quakerish soul, I think. Then as an afterthought, I told her that we have common Quaker heritage and sent her a link to a blog post (The Quakers Up My Family Tree) that I wrote two years ago. Thinking of that old post made me curious, wondering if there were any connections between Mary Dyer and my Quaker ancestors. I read the list of names and saw the English immigrant Noel Mew and his daughter Mary. (Side note: The name Mary was handed down this family line every two or three generations from Mary Mew in the 1600's until my own daughter Mary.) Anyway, I Googled "Mary Dyer" and "Noel Mew" together and came up with a genealogy post for the descendents of a man named Edward Wanton. I was fascinated to find that he was an officer stationed at the base of the gallows where Mary Dyer was hanged. Edward Wanton was so struck and convicted by Mary's faith and courage and by the cruelty of the Puritans -- that he became a Quaker himself. Wow. That is powerful. 

Edward Wanton

But that is not all. After his conversion, Edward Wanton got married, became a Quaker preacher, and had a Quaker family of his own. Two of his sons became colonial governors in Rhode Island. And then how about this? His son Michael married Mary Mew! Thus Edward Wanton is my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather. I let that sink in and realized that if he hadn't become a Quaker because of standing at the gallows of courageous Mary Dyer, I would not be here. This ripple effect has washed over me like a tidal wave. What she did became my story. I am here because of her. And I am changed by reading her example. I am so grateful. In turn, what I do and what I say becomes the story of others. 

I look at my computer clock here in 2016. Midnight on the dot. It is now Mother's Day.

I am a woman. I am a mother and a grandmother. I have a voice and I'm not afraid to use it. This has already made a difference to many. By the grace and power of God, my life and words will ripple forth and change history. Join me?

2012: My daughter Mary and her two
oldest sons, my late mother Mary,
my late grandmother Dorothy, and me.

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