Even in my sheltered upbringing, I encountered manipulative, verbally abusive men.
There was that thirty-something-year-old guy who sent an email to nineteen-year-old me, describing his self-claimed position of a prophet sent to spy on denominationally-affiliated churches — and, oh, p.s., I’m looking for a godly wife. Here is my sales pitch. Let me know if you’re interested in courting me.
When I replied, “I’ve got a boyfriend, and look, you’re violating every single thing ever written in Scripture about church authority,” he got offended — not because I took him to task on his prophetic calling, but because I dared to assume he wanted to court me! He never asked me to court him! And seriously, I wouldn’t email him back ever again? That’s just rude, ungracious, and extreme. Please, please email me back.
I felt horrible ignoring him, as my dad strongly, strongly encouraged me to do. I felt like the woman he accused me of being — oversensitive, ungracious, rude. I felt like the abuser.
And frankly, I was just flat-out confused. He did ask me to court him. It’s there, in the email, in plain English. (But I must have read into it. I must have. How can he deny it? Why would he deny it? It doesn’t make any sense. I must have completely misunderstood him. Why else do I feel so guilty if I’m as innocent as my parents and friends and conscience tell me?)
That was my first experience with a manipulator, who later went on to publicly accuse my family and church leaders of the most absurd and petty things.
I now have words for these things: Gaslighting. Manipulation. Narcissism.
I’ve since then experienced more gaslighting, manipulation, and verbal abuse from other men, along with that subsequent feeling of equal parts rage and confused guilt. I know how it feels to panic, to physically and mentally shut down, at the very thought of coming into contact with those men. I know the temptation of viewing every man, even the man I love, as a potential abuser, because I’m scared of being chewed up and spat out again with no defense.
And as far as abuse and manipulation goes, I haven’t even experienced the worst of things. That “one out of four girls are sexually abused” stat — it’s real and informally verifiable even in my Christian homeschool circles.
Donald Trump? He fits the bill of an abusive manipulator. He makes outrageous claims (like bragging about sexually assaulting women) and then makes outrageous denials (“Nobody respects women more than me”). He talks openly of his privilege (like strolling through a crowd of naked pageant competitors unannounced). He rarely apologizes, and when he does, he shifts blame on those who were offended and diverts to other, “more important” topics. He lashes out at everyone who corrects him. He degrades disabled reporters, Muslims, Mexicans, war heroes, and women, especially those who challenge him. He namecalls, throws tantrums, and finds fault with everybody except himself. He makes off-color exploitative comments about bedding troubled women and minors. He threatens his opponent with jail and looms behind her during debates (when he’s not interrupting and contradicting her every other word).
And that’s not even mentioning the credible allegations of rape and sexual assault.
The reason many women are upset that Donald Trump is running on the “pro-family” ticket?
He reminds us of our abusers and manipulators — especially the ones who got away with their abuse because other women, other authorities, and other Christians defended them.
He rips open old wounds where documented abuse and speaking out made no difference in preventing the abuser from abusing again or seeking justice for the victim.
The controversy surrounding his latest comments reminds us of the times we got angry at abuse and were silenced and mocked by the people of God.
The controversy reminds us that some of the same people tweeting and posting against Trump were silent about, even antagonistic toward, our own stories of abuse and manipulation.
He and his many controversies are public reminders that people will readily believe and support the abuser over the abused, that there’s a whole bunch of goodhearted, churchgoing, Jesus-loving people out there ready to disbelieve and disparage you when you come out with your story.
That’s what a Trump presidency will mean — that’s what his candidacy already means — to the many, many victims of verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse both inside and out of the church.