A painful plea to women of the Church

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To the women of the Church,

Please stop.

Please stop beating the bruised bride of Jesus every time she fails you.

Please stop blaming her for your sin and for the wrongs of this world.

Please stop ejecting on her when she disappoints you and is unable to live up to the standard that only Christ can meet.

Please stop holding forums to discuss the flaws of this messy and broken bride of Christ with intention only to dissect, not to help her grow.  Please stop gossiping about her issues as if she’s some far away celebrity who will remain unhurt by your rehashing of her failure in such a public and degrading way.

Please stop pointing out how fat or ugly she is.  Please stop publicly shaming her.

I know she has hurt you.  I know she has failed you. I know she has shamed you and spoken lies over you more times than you can count.

She has hurt and failed us all.  She has shamed us all and spoken lies to us all.  We don’t have to  deny that.

I will be the first to say that this bride of Christ’s is a wreck.  Because she is messy and living organism made up of sinners; made up of us.

We are the church.

And we are not perfect.  We say the wrong thing.  We grow and we change and the words we spoke in the past are words of which we now repent, but that is the nature of sanctification and there is no one exempt from that process.

You will never find a church that is perfectly like Jesus, because the Church is not Jesus.  It is His blood brought bride, redeemed and still as much in need of a Savior today as you are.

And the same blood that covers you, covers her.

Know this: your accusations are not the first to be leveled at this broken bride.

There is one who points at her all day and whispers to her of all her sins, all her failures, all the ways she has failed to accurately reflect the heart of Jesus.  He recounts them one by one and tells her that they are too horrific to be forgiven.

But that one is Satan.  God forgive us for fulfilling Satan’s job description.

And know this as well: she has a husband.

He will come riding to her defense on a white horse, and all of Satan’s accusations and all of our accusations, even if every single charge leveled her way is true, will fall on deaf ears.  Because Christ has paid the debt for His bride.  He has bought her at a great price, making her desperately valuable and infinitely precious.

The Church cannot stay as she is.  She must grow and must change.

She must repent and be transformed to a closer image of her husband, but that will not happen by dragging her out into the streets and publicly shaming her for her whoring ways.

If you stand ready to condemn her, know this – there is one who will intervene and ask you some very pointed questions about that rock you clutch in your hand.

The Church will change when we – who are the Church – raise our hands, take responsibility for her flaws.  The Church will grow when, instead of spitting on her as she lies on the dirt, we lovingly lift her off the ground and offer to walk through this life making her into the most beautiful bride she can be.

May God make it so.

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Comments

  1. This is so good and so needed. You are voicing so much of what has been in my head as I have grown to love the Bride so deeply.

  2. wow. powerful. amen. Thanks Fabs.

  3. Amen!

  4. Amen!

  5. Maybe I’m missing something, but is there a reason this is only addressed to women?

  6. Patricia says:

    Dear Fabs: As one of those women you are likely writing to, thank you for you writing from your heart. Your concern and love for God and the church runs through every line and I want to hug you.

    I’m sure you know the passage in Matthew about the four steps to take if your brother or sister sins against you. There are many women who are at the third: “If they refuse to listen, tell it to the church.” In our here/now case, the church is country-wide.

    I do not understand why you think that we are like Satan who insists that there is no forgiveness just because we speak out about the damage done to us, after years of it, and while working the first three steps of the Matthew passage, without the perpetrators yet asking forgiveness. Numbers of believers have already gone through the fourth step: “treat them as a pagan or tax collector.” But even there, that they’ve disappeared from the scene only means that it is left up to God.

    You needn’t worry that online discussion means the “world” finds out and uses it as an excuse to despise God. They already know because the people delivering the damage have been very loud across the nation, including online. In fact, an honest discussion and a changing of those hearts who are being so hurtful, only raises up the truthful and loving nature of God. Every human heart could be nurtured by it.

    I hope you are willing to keep this in your comment section. But either way, know that I am right along with you, also praying: “God, make it so.”

    • fabsharford says:

      Hey Patricia!

      thanks so much for your sweet tone and encouraging words.

      Based on what you wrote, it is very unlikely that you are one of the women I was writing to. I think I’ve seen in recent months an increase in the number of complaining and condemning of the Church coming from women, with no willingness to help the church get better. I just want us to be people who roll up our sleeves and try to help. And it sounds like you’re one of those. :)

      • Patricia says:

        There are likely a few who are not at the same time working hard in their corners. But since there are always a few of those types everywhere, why should they be a focus?

        It would likely be more useful for the larger church community to deal openly with the truck-load of oddly similar complaints rather than chide the messengers.

      • Hello, fabshar….

        Could you spell out how you see “willingness to help the church get better”?

  7. Pisaster says:

    It sounds like, to summarize you are saying that there are woman who are doing the work of Satan by beating, abusing and dissecting the church.

    What about the men in leadership in the church that threaten and manipulate their congregation or “colonize and conquer” aka have complementarian sex with little children? What would the prophets or Jesus say? I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t like it very much they might even call these men to account – oh wait that’s what many of these women (and men) are doing? I think Jesus also has something to say about attributing works to the wrong master.

    PS I found this through TGC

    • It’s a blog post, not a book. You can’t cover every church or societal ill in 400 words.

      • It is no secret that the subject at hand is sexual abuse by church members against church members, and the pastors’ responses of protecting and enabling the perpetrators through manipulation.

        If the writer of this blog is going to address “women in the church” for calling for accountability (& explaining the reason for it) for the church instead of dead silence, oh, i think she can surely respond to this one, single “ill”.

  8. Confused as it why this is written to women. This is an issue that all Christians must address.

    • I am guessing it’s written towards women b/c that is who Fabs ministers to mostly. A man could write the same post. Again I agree with Mike. It’s a blog, not a book. 400 words can’t possibly cover everything. :)

  9. The Bible exhorts believers from one end to the other to do justice and to advocate for the poor — there might even be a verse or two about rebuking our brethren or being responsible for the wickedness of another because we failed to speak. Doing justice sometimes requires public outcry where other methods have failed. In one thing you are correct, WE are the church. If we don’t admit our own faults, confess, and repent WE, THE CHURCH are going to be as healthy as a gangrenous limb allowed to fester.

  10. Translation: exposing abuse is a terrible idea because it makes the church look bad. If only Martin Luther heeded your advice.

  11. Hi…

    For those asking why this is directed at women, you might read the about tab on Fabs blog. She is ministers to women and this blog is a ministry to women. So she’s addressing an issue that she thinks many women need to here. That does not mean that men don’t need to hear it as well. But her focus is……..women!

  12. When I first read this blog my initial impression is that it had been written by a man. Perhaps it was the somewhat non-gender-specific name of the blogger (Fabienne, a femininisation of Fabian), the scolding style or the somewhat misogynistic overtones. After a Google search, I realized Fabienne Harford was a woman, a director of women’s training at The Austin Stone Community Church.

    Only after sleeping on it did I realize my initial impression had been correct. This blog entry was written by a man.

    In journalism school, my area of research is discourse analysis. There are distinct gender-specific differences in communications style, ones that can be obvious even if we haven’t specifically been told the gender of the writer.

    Men tend to be more assertive in their writing, stating their opinions as facts. Women are much more cautious, hedging their opinions with phrases like “I think,” “I believe,” or “It seems to me.” This, for example, is a sentence from one of Fabienne’s previous blog postings:

    “But it occurred to me the other day that it also should effect the way we view insecurity in singleness.”

    The phrase, “it occurred to me” would be typical of a female writer.

    Compare that to this sentence from the current blog:

    “Know this: your accusations are not the first to be leveled at this broken bride.”

    This is a much more assertive, nay,even aggressive statement. Not only that, because there is no supportive evidence of the claim, it appears to be an opinion stated as a fact. This is the epitome of masculine writing, the sort of statement that would be made by a male religious leader, possibly one from Fabienne’s church in Austin.

    Now, a woman can certainly take steps to masculinize her writing. However, I seriously doubt a non-feminist–and in particular a complementarian–would be motivated to do so. If you look at Fabienne’s prior postings, I think you’ll see the writing style here is considerably more aggressive in tone, and, I might add, more misogynistic as well.

    Perhaps the man who coerced Fabienne to represent this as her own writing was hoping his personal hatred of women would be concealed if he prevailed upon a woman to write it instead.

    In closing, I’d like to list a few biblical statements about the nature of the devil:
    1. The devil has enmity toward women, not patriarchal religious institutions, which are only symbolically feminine.
    2. The devil is a liar and the father of lies. Note that he isn’t the “mother” of lies.
    3.Jesus referred to the religious leaders of his day as “the sons of the devil.” Jesus never referred to anyone as “the daughter of the devil.”

    • Megan, your name sounds feminine, but are you actually a man? Because you come across as quite assertive and unequivocal.

    • “This is a much more assertive, nay, even aggressive statement. Not only that, because there is no supportive evidence of the claim, it appears to be an opinion stated as a fact. This is the epitome of masculine writing”

      How ironic that you go on from these interesting observation about gender and writing styles to state your own very emphatic opinions here as fact — that Fabienne’s post was ghost written by some aggrieved male. Aggressively, nay very aggressively! you go on to guess at ‘his’ motives, “Perhaps the man who coerced Fabienne to represent this as her own writing was hoping his personal hatred of women would be concealed if he prevailed upon a woman to write it instead.” Using your um… logic, to guess at your own motives, I can deduce that you are not a woman at all, but some man posing as a woman, concealing your identity in order to slander Fabienne’s character in the weirdest possible way.

      And this “Megan” is studying journalism? Be afraid. Be very afraid.

    • Megan….I agree with you. A man wrote this to silence women.

      • How brave of you to hide behind an anonymous identity to make your baseless accusations!

        You know I lean towards Preston’s view that, ” According to Jesus, she’s standing tall and firm and the gates of Hell do not prevail against her. That’s Scripture.” But these shameless accusations based on some kind of fabricated ‘evidence’ are really a low, low form of engagement.

  13. Sarahdabs says:

    I read this blog yesterday and was convicted, not shamed by the Holy Spirit. Yes, I have beaten the bride of Christ. Yes, I have all but publicly flogged the bride for not being like Jesus. I have “justly” judged a bride I was never given authorization to judge. The Lord, in His faithfulness led me to a place of repentance and today I feel more free than I have in awhile. Jesus did come and he did die on the cross for my sins and I am really sinful and I am thankful that God would show me where I am expecting the church to be a saviour only God could bring me. Thank you for your faithfulness to respond righteously to things that grieve the Lord. God used you big time in my life through these words.

  14. Hi Fabs, this is the first post of yours I’ve ever read, so I may be missing some needed context. At the moment, this post seems very, very prone to misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

    First, I don’t know whether you are talking about the “church” as an institution or the “church” as all those who follow Jesus, some of which are involved in the church as an institution and some who are not. I agree that Jesus will defend His bride. He will absolutely fight on behalf of all those who are His.

    But I don’t think Jesus has much, if any, interest in defending the institutionalized “church.” I think Jesus is more interested in defending the oppressed. And unfortunately, there are many, many times in which the institution that is the church is oppressive.

    Many of the women I know who will often critique “the church” are actually very involved in their own local churches and invest in deep friendships with fellow Christians. I am one of those women. I could give you a list in all the ways I am involved with both the institutional church as well as fellow Christians, but hopefully that is not necessary. Yet, at the same time, when I see churches covering up cases of abuse, oppression, etc. within its walls, and I see other Christian leaders refusing to do anything about it, I will stand up loudly and whoop and holler and say, “Enough of this injustice, church! We are failing our job.”

    And I know that I have been called to speak up. Yet, reading your post, I felt like you were trying to say that I am wrong for even bringing up how the church is failing. Yet, I love the church. I am doing everything I can and know how to do to help her be better. Part of that is speaking up when I see how the church is hurting real people.

    I worry that a woman who has been genuinely harmed by the church and has tried to tell her story so that the church might correct its harmful ways may read this and feel like she is being shamed for speaking up. As someone who works with victims of abuse, I know that one of the major steps in healing is for the victim to be able to be open and honest about what they experienced. I feel like this post, whether intentional or not, is advocating for the exact opposite: it feels like it’s telling women to stop talking about their truly awful experiences with the church, and that’s something I can’t get behind.

    I hope that all of this is not your intention, that it’s simply a result of miscommunication on several levels, including a lack of clear definition of what “church” means in this post. I’m commenting, not to tear you down, but hopefully to help you see what you may not have seen before in writing this post and help you in more clearly communicating your message.

  15. Fabs: I really love this post. I am that woman. The church has failed me and I have bitterly failed the church. I struggle to love the church. I’ve even justified my bitterness towards the church with my love for Jesus. The thing is, Jesus loves his church, his bride. If I really love Jesus, I’m going to love his bride.

    Jesus bought his bride when she had absolutely nothing to offer him. Jesus loves his bride even when she whores herself out. This is such good news for us Fabs. We are treasured even when we fail. Do you know how I know that? I know that because you have told me time and time again with tears in your eyes.

    I am so thankful for you. There are a lot of folks who have misunderstood you here – that can be so painful. I’m thankful that even when you are misunderstood you continue teaching and encouraging us. God is using you to accomplish his work in my life and the lives of countless other women.

  16. I’m trying to come up with a single Scriptural reference in the New Testament that supports the suggestion that the Church is ever destitute and lying on the dirt and all of this. What I can come up with our instances where Paul or Peter or James or the author of Hebrews or John directly calls out members that are promoting bad theology and taking them to task for it, sometimes with a lot of weighty pushback. They call them out for bad interpretation, for misconstruing the Gospel, for denying the Prophets and the purpose of the Law. They never, though, say that the Church is left in the dirt. It may be more Scripturally sound, then, to remind ourselves of when Scripture does and does not use Satan, does and does not speak of the Church, does and does not use what may be some pretty careless metaphors here designed to silence those who point out the flaws of individual systems within the Church as a whole, but do not comprise the Church as a whole. When you say Church, do you mean Protestants, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox? Or do you mean only a particular Church, perhaps in your mind the “true” Church? I ask because if it is the case that you mean the Church as a whole, then I want to return to my question of where the Scriptural evidence is to ever say that the Church as a whole is lying in the dirt. According to Jesus, she’s standing tall and firm and the gates of Hell do not prevail against her. That’s Scripture.

  17. “The Church will change when we – who are the Church – raise our hands, take responsibility for her flaws.”

    FABS,
    How is the church going to change and take responsibility for her flaws if no one is permitted to talk about those flaws? Many, many women and men have been mistreated and abused by the church. Women have been encouraged to stay with husbands who hit them and lock them in basements in the name of biblical submission. Children have been MOLESTED by people in their church. These things happened in the past and are happening right now. It isn’t gossip and slander to stand up and say, “this is wrong” and the folks doing the abusing need to be held accountable. They need to be stopped. How is ignoring this behavior going to help the church to “take responsibility for her flaws” or “repent and be transformed”

    It seems like you have a true love for the Church and want what’s best for it. But how can we do what’s best for the Church without having some kind of dialogue about the real, raw problems in the Church???

  18. I have to admit that I wasn’t in love with this article when I read it. Having been one of those hurt by the “church”…..alot…… it was hard to read. However the one thing I will say is that I am also done throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    The church does need to be called out. People have been wounding others for far to long and being protected because we don’t want to tarnish the church. But the church sure hasn’t minded tarnishing the one that screamed ouch when they got pushed down.

    There are those who go out with vengeance in mind, who strike back in bitterness, rage and anger all with the thought in mind of making the church pay. Do not repay evil for evil. But just possibly the anger would not be so deep if church leaders would get off their pedestals and help bring justice and healing for those who have been wounded.

    Maybe, just maybe if the victims were heard, validated, and the oppressors dealt with, just maybe there would not be such a backlash against the church.

    BUT, as I look back on my long list of hurts with the church I learned a lot about myself. I learned that it wasn’t always the “churches” fault alone. I learned that sometimes because I didn’t listen to God that I placed myself in positions where I could be hurt. Please note that I am NOT talking about sexual/physical abuse here. I believe this article was written with more than that in mind. But I did have to take responsibility for some of my wounds. ouch.

    Also why is this just written to women? My guess is that this is a blog written by a woman for women. When I write a blog it is directed at women because …… well……i’m a woman? By the way, the tone of this blog was not ugly but she got couple of comments back that seemed a little attacking. I just want to ask how it is o.k. to do what you are accusing others of ?

  19. I read this post a week ago. And it is still echoing in my heart.
    As one who has experienced the Church in its imperfect state, I needed this reminder.
    I needed it for to thicken my skin against those who berate the Bride, so often to my face.
    I love the Church. I am grateful I’m not jaded against it, but sometimes I want to give up and think there is so much damage being done BY my fellow brothers and sisters. But these words comfort me. Remind me that Christ is still sanctifying his bride.
    THIS encouraged me.
    Thank you so much.

  20. Pretty! This has been an extremely wonderful post.
    Thanks for providing these details.

  21. Dear sister in Christ,

    Thank you. I don’t care what the rest think- I needed this post. My greatest wounds in my life have come from the church, over and over again. I’ve been bitter for most of my life, knowing I’m called to be a part of the Body, but with scars that run so deep I began to believe they would never be healed. I began to believe the lie that those people (people that you reminded me Christ LOVES with every bit of His life and death) were beyond redemption in this life. That they would always be what they had been. I’d started to write them off because of the pain they had caused me.

    But you reminded me:

    “You will never find a church that is perfectly like Jesus, because the Church is not Jesus. It is His blood brought bride, redeemed and still as much in need of a Savior today as you are.
    And the same blood that covers you, covers her.
    Know this: your accusations are not the first to be leveled at this broken bride.
    There is one who points at her all day and whispers to her of all her sins, all her failures, all the ways she has failed to accurately reflect the heart of Jesus. He recounts them one by one and tells her that they are too horrific to be forgiven.”

    Jesus LOVES His Bride. He will not rest until she is everything He made her to be. But He loves her just as much even in every bit of her brokenness this moment as He will on the day when He makes all things right.
    The Bride of Christ is just as broken as I am. And just as covered by the blood of Christ. The Spirit, through your words, led me to beautiful, heart-wrenching, repentance. I haven’t felt this free in so so long. And I’m so grateful for you and your ministry and your heart- though I only know you through the words you post in this space. I’m praying for you as you heal from this hard season in life, and that even as your broken you just keep running to Jesus. Don’t stop, Fabs. Don’t give up. Even the greatest and wisest among us is only another sheep; look to the Shepherd of your soul.

    You might never see this, but the world will know that God used this post to make someone more like Christ and to heal places that have been broken too long. Thankful for you.

  22. What is this? Where’s the grace? You said that the post was not about Fabs, yet you continued and to pull apart and dissect her blog (obviously cause that’s what your about, right?)?

    Look, sometimes we say things that don’t seem right or are out of line, we ARE human.

    What is most important is that Fabs heart is in the right place. That is what matters. She is seeking after God and it is so evident in her writing. It’s really disappointing to see other Christians attacking or I’m sorry, I meant “addressing an issue” publicly in such a manner.

    If you’re aiming to improve, this probably isn’t the most loving way to do it.

  23. Patricia says:

    To whom are you talking, Jordan?

    Lately people have been discussing blogging/posting principles. One that hasn’t been mentioned is the idea of “ad hominum”, which is when someone attacks the person rather than critique the ideas presented. There’s a lot of confusion about this among Christians because they are inclined to think that any criticism at all is ad hominum.

    Fabs is not her post. I don’t know her; she presents as a loving person. But she said some controversial things and she said them publicly, and the nature of the process is that there will be pushback and it will also be public.
    That’s good. Really.

    If Fabs chooses to respond, even better! We’d have dialogue, which is always needed before we can hope for relational/structural improvement. But even if she chooses not to, important issues were aired and can be picked up at another time.

  24. Patricia says:

    Jordan, I will also point out that Fabs accused me of beating, shaming, gossiping, and then compared me to Satan. And you said, “…pull apart and dissect…obviously cause that’s what your about, right?”

    “If you’re aiming to improve, this probably isn’t the most loving way to do it.”

    You are absolutely correct. Ad hominem never ever helps. (Oops, misspelled in above comment.)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Coincidentally, in the last few days, there have been a few blogging articles, written by "gospel" bloggers, which cast a negative eye upon certain unnamed Christian bloggers. Tom Challies wrote about his rules for being a "gospel" blogger in The Blogs, the Battles and the Gospel here. This post was based on a similar article posted by Tim Keller a couple of years ago here. SBC Voices also referred to the Keller article this week called Three Rules for Christian Debate on the Internet here. Justin Taylor, at The Gospel Coalition , again this week, chimed in with a similar post called Ten Question to Ask Before Engaging in Controversy here. Taylor's post appeared aimed at bloggers since he stated that the post is about engaging in "public" discussion. Then, today, The Gospel Coalition cross posted (in the Number 1 position on their Home page) A Painful Plea to Women of the Church by FABSHARFORD (that's how she writes it on her blog) here. [...]

  2. [...] and then I read Joy (and others) calling on him to stand for the abused and oppressed. Then I read another blog about how the women of the church have fulfilled the role of Satan in “accusing the [...]

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