Monday, December 1, 2008

Fact, Fiction, and Blatant Exaggeration.

I'm cruising the web and decide to google myself. It's not something I do every day. Maybe once a year?

Imagine my surprise when I find that I'm the subject of an article that's accusing me of spreading a story that Jeri Massi (author of Schizophrenic Christianity) attended Hyles Anderson College! Not only attended Hyles Anderson, but also met Voyle Glover there!

That's news to me because I never said or wrote that! The proof text is not given and the article from where the accusation came from was never printed.

The article they refer to, I presume, is from a review I wrote of Jeri's book, Schizophrenic Christianity. I removed the article from this blog for reasons I believe share similarities with Trinity leadership covering up the Bob Gray affair: because it would not look good for advocates of victims to appear conflicted.

I've since crossed the border of 'care/don't care' a long time ago. Ergo, I have no problem with re-printing the review today.

Your assignment, class, before you read, is to glance at this article from spiffinwheeze.

Now, after reading, go through my review, which I freely admit is stream of conscious, and find where I mentioned Jeri Massi attended Hyles Anderson (let alone met Voyle Glover)! Never happened.

I limit myself solely to what she wrote in her bio. Her character, Grace, may have went to a college inspired by places like Hyles Anderson, but I never made the claim about Jeri. I challenge anyone to dig up that piece of info.

While you're reading it, notice the picture of the grave of Bob Gray (above, click on pic to see a bigger image). It's presented as a public service. Although some from Trinity once criticized my first posting of this picture, I think you'll understand, given the context of the article, why I'm reposting.

The image reflects that the gravestone commemorates Gray as 'devoted husband and father' and a 'Sgt' in 'World War 2'. Nothing about 'man of God', unless that's her interpretation of what a devoted husband, father, and WW2 Sgt stand for.

Regarding the other opinions, I stand by them. Her psychology hearkens back to the days when homosexuality was considered a mental illness. I'm not finding any caveat in the quoted sections to escape the interpretation that, in some circumstances, it appears permissible to blame the victim. If that's not what she meant, the passages need to be re-written.

PS: If you wish to host a discussion about this, do so at the FFF. I've disabled comments because I've decided to emulate the great bloggers who claim to accept comments, then give creative reasons for not publishing critical ones. In this case, I've decided to be a little more honest by simply eliminating them.


NOTE: All italics in this article are mine for emphasis.

Jeri Massi, the author of Schizophrenic Christianity, is the one person who almost did what I thought was impossible. She makes me look at Trinity in a slightly more sympathetic manner. 

A reader once contacted me about what exactly was on Bob Gray's tombstone. The origins from the question most likely began with Jeri's post at the Fighting Fundamentalist Forum.

From her thread: Visited Bob Gray's grave today.

"I'm in Jacksonville, and my host asked if I wanted to see the Trinity campus. I said yes, and we drive around the campus. On the right side (as youdrive up), it looks liek a drab compound: low, block-like buildings. As you come around the other side, where the football stadium is, it looks more like a school campus.

In the back is a cemetary, and Bob Gray has an imposing monument and flat plaque commemorating him as a man of God."

There is not a flat plaque commemorating him as a man of God. The flat plaque commemorates him as a husband, father, and soldier. While there are still people around who do regard him as a man of God, that is not what the plaque says. I posted a picture to prove this and was chastised by anonymous posters, probably from Trinity, even though this is evidence we are dealing with a personality prone to exaggeration.

Needless to say, out of respect for those from my past, I removed the photos. 

So, between the exaggerations and her childish posts at the 'Fighting Fundamentalist Forum', (i.e., 'I would like to thank all the corrupt fundy wackos.), and the occasional harassment of the folks at the TBC forum, I'm wondering if Schizophrenic Christianity will push me over the edge? Will I, like Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi, after years of doing the same thing, finally turn my back on the evil empire and throw the emperor down the shaft?


Jeri Massi is a talented writer.

The book begins with promise. 

She talks about growing up in Philadelphia. Her parents were divorcing. Her life was 'marked by violent, ugly scenes, and constant, cataclysmic changes. I was too young and too innocent to know just how much I was caught between the wrath of two furious parents, but I understood that I was in trouble.'

Her parents enrolled her in a Catholic school, but she rebelled against that.

This is intriguing. It makes you wonder if the drift into fundamentalism was not, in fact, a rebellion against her parents. This book would actually benefit from more autobiography.

I found myself identifying with her. I also went to a Catholic school. My parents divorced. I went into fundamentalism, possibly out of rebellion. And then, like Jeri, attended Bob Jones University.

The difference is, I left Bob Jones University after three weeks because I realized it was a just a waste of time for me. 

Jeri stayed, graduated, and seemed surprised that fundamentalism drifted into legalism and pettiness. Hadn't it always since the days of J. Frank Norris?

She began researching fundamentalism back in 2000 and is now presenting 'her findings'.

Her facts are accurate. It's just there's too few of them!

This book appears to be maybe 30% fact and 70% opinion.

Lots of opinions! If you've ever stumbled onto her webpage and read her '30 Days of Righteousness', you'll know what I'm talking about. Just endless preaching. Calvinism. Church structure. Hierarchies. 

Opinions and more opinions, interrupted by stories about Charles Shifflet, A.V. Ballenger, Jack and Dave Hyles, Joe Combs, Andy Beith, and, of course, our own, Bob Gray.

There are lessons to be drawn from all these cases, but I'm looking for more substance. Not sermonizing.

Jeri loses herself by the time she gets to Chapter Eleven. This chapter attempts to describe the difference between the real world of child molesters and public perception.

This is coming after a lengthy diatribe about the differences between schizophrenia and sociopathic behavior.

Jeri seems to have no sympathy for those who have been victimized by sociopaths:

"If you are stupid enough to have given up your wife, your money, your time to him, that is because you are a wimp, a dope, a fake like him, but you were beaten at your own game."

Okay, I'm not looking for her to be speaking at the next American Psychiatric Convention, that's for sure.

We move on to an example sometimes given by molesters when they accuse the victim of leading them on.

Jeri chimes in:

"If the stupid child is going to behave as a temptress, he will treat her as a temptress. If she is going to wear those frilly petticoat dresses to church, he will act on the lure she has provided."

Hmmm, are we blaming the victim here?

She switches from the 'stupid child' to the sociopath:

"He either views himself as different because of his sexual appetite, isolated from other people because of these temptations that have been with him since childhood, or he places the blame on children."

Excuse me? Like Jeri Massi did when she was describing the 'stupid child'?

If there's any blame to be had, you could blame the parent for making the child wear revealing clothes, but not the young victim.

Jeri seems to regard a child playing doctor as pedophilia:

"A 14 year old who engages in a sex act with a younger child is engaging in pedophilic behavior. A seven year old who sexually molests an infant is also engaging in pedophilic behavior. And a 50 year old who engages in a sex act with a 10 year old is a pedophile. Pedophila has to do with sexual attraction to a child before the child enters puberty."

A seven year old who molests an infant? A seven year old who does this should be reprimanded, but by this definition, any child who ever engaged in sexual experimentation with a friend of the same age (i.e. 'I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours') is guilty of pedophilia. Well, that's probably more than half the country!

Yes, a 50 year old man who engages in a sex act with a 10 year old is a pedophile. I would argue the definition of a pedophile can only be used to describe an adult with an attraction to children. Not a child's attraction to someone within his, or her, age group.

We go through 195 pages of this book before we get to Chapter Fourteen, `If You Have Been Abused'.

This important section only comprises four pages and offers nothing to victims beyond 'Get your hearts ready with contrition for your own sin and humility before God.'

Is that it? I was expecting way more than this.

Jeri, to her credit, admits she is not a counsellor or qualified to give psychiatric advice. However, she also claims to be a researcher. If you are not qualified to give advice, find someone who is and have them write a chapter! 

Talk to psychiatrists, counsellors, and therapists about what they suggest victims of sexual abuse should do. This 'take two scriptures and call me in the morning' doesn't work for fundamentalists, and it's not working here, either.

It's interesting. She tells us she's not qualified to give advice, but is producing workbooks for those who have been victimized.

I hope those future books include works from 'the outside'. Get actual victims to write their stories. Have them write about how they coped. How they picked themselves out of the dung heap, cleaned themselves up, and lived to fight another day.

Reading this book made me feel like a designated driver for the late Dudley Moore's loveable alcoholic, Arthur Bach. Arthur is quite articulate before he hits the booze, just like Jeri is at the beginning of this book. Warm. Engaging. However, like Arthur, her personality begins to change at midpoint. 

Arthur, at least, is a funny drunk and not an obnoxious one.

Jeri, alas, is not funny. Just obnoxious. Sermonizing. Rambling. Pretentious. Drunk with self importance. 

This book begins with such promise before it descends into bad taste. Not because of the terrible acts of the people she is describing, but because Jeri does not seem that far off from the fundamentalists she is condemning!

Fundamentalists have traditionally painted their opposition with a big brush, so Jeri's brush, by necessity, must be bigger and broader.

She does mention the problems dogging the Free Presbyterian Church in Canada, and I wished she had spent more talking about how the Presbyterians combatted molesters within their ranks. It was just as much a struggle for them as it currently is for those within fundamentalism. 

There was one small factor that helped the Presbyterians get a handle on the situation. 

Can anyone guess what that 'small factor' was?

The ordination of women.

Having women, especially those who are mothers, on the board had it's effect. Very few mothers, I'm imagining, could be deacons and hear a story about a pastor molesting a child, and be silent. Men in groups, on the other hand, seem to have a knack for writing this kinda thing off. Yet, this is something that Jeri is incapable of endorsing because, in her words:

"I also am patriarchal in my point of view, recognizing that the Bible clearly teaches that eldership in the church is male. Yet I appreciate how patriarchy has been exploited and mismanaged in authoritarian sects of Christianity, including Fundamentalism."

When I first attended a conference of the Religious Broadcaster's Association in Los Angeles, I was struck by how the women at Beverly LaHaye's table dressed. They wore tight black mini-skirts and did not look like they needed any man to tell them what to do, or how to live. Yet, their actual material is nostalgic for the days when men ruled the roost and women made sure their husband's meal was cooked before he came home.

This was the first time I was exposed to the strange phenomena of women who have careers built on getting other women to give up theirs!

You almost get the feeling Jeri is homesick for fundamentalism and just waiting for some godly man to stand against the evils of this movement so she can return to it and gleefully submit.

Jeri Massi's Secret Radio was a much more fulfilling read. 

Secret Radio is filled with insightful character studies and way more wisdom than Schizophrenic Christianity. The only faults in Secret Radio occur when, once again, Jeri gets into her teacher mode and feels the need to tell us about the history of fundamentalism, and what's right or wrong about a particular character's decision. 

The bottom line:

Jeri is talented, but she does not trust her audience. This lack of trust leads to treating the reader like an imbecile or a backslider. If the writer does not trust the reader to come to the proper conclusions, how can the reader trust the writer?

Honesty is demanded and required.

Julia Scheeres, in her book, Jesus Land raised the bar for this new genre that scrutinizes fundamentalism. Julia was totally honest about herself. We respect that honesty because it shows the writer respects us.

Jeri, like the fundamentalist she rails against, does not trust that we'll come to the proper conclusion. Consequently, we get a book that's too preachy, immature, whiney, and potentially damaging to victims who feel guilty enough for the actions of others.

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