Mediocre Mystic

When Purity Culture Kills At The Atlanta Spa Shootings

March 30, 2021 Fundamental Shift Season 2 Episode 6
Mediocre Mystic
When Purity Culture Kills At The Atlanta Spa Shootings
Show Notes Transcript

What feeds the consciousness of someone who becomes so hateful and fearful of his own sexual desire that he would turn against those whom he has been led to believe are the source of his sinful desires and temptation? How many more out there are subject to the same influences? In this episode we are taking a closer look at the doctrines and teachings that fed the consciousness of a murderer.

We’re talking about the dangers of purity culture in light of the recent spa shootings in Atlanta. We will also examine some of the cultural biases in the United States that feed American notions about those of Asian heritage.

Content/Trigger Warnings:
Sexual Content
Gun Violence/Mass Shootings

Referenced in this episode:
National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum
Sex Workers Outreach Project
Freedom From Religion Foundation

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James: Heads up: the following podcast contains adult language and deals with adult subjects. Keep this in mind as you listen. We offer an additional trigger warning today as we're discussing topics of mass shooting and sex.

  Grace: Today we're talking about the dangers of Purity Culture in light of the recent spa shootings in Atlanta. Note that we will not name the shooter as to deny him any kind of fame. We also will not name the victims as we've been asked not to in honor of their cultural beliefs.

James: On with the show.

Grace: Hey folks, I'm Grace.

James: And I'm James. Welcome to Fundamental Shift: the podcast where we explore the major shakeups in our lives, their fault lines and aftershocks.

 Grace: Thanks for listening. You're in for a real shift show.

James: By now, you've seen the headlines and heard the horrific news. On March 16th, 2021, a young white man opened fire on three Asian American owned massage parlors across Atlanta, Georgia killing seven women, one man, and wounding one man. The shooter was a very active member of Crabapple First Baptist Church in Georgia. This church is part of the Southern Baptist Convention, the same fundamentalist denomination Grace and I spent much of our youth being raised in. Because of the church's stance on sex; and the shooter's time spent in a Christian halfway house, Hope Quest, for treatment of sex addiction; a conversation about the dangers of Purity Culture has been sparked not only in circles like ours, among people who were indoctrinated into it, but all across the United States in national media. 

Grace: As part of the Southern Baptist Convention, Crabapple First Baptist Church ascribes to the resolutions on culture and events, as well as the statements of faith made by this Convention. I spent a few days researching their log of resolutions concerning the main points of this tragedy, and I came up with some staggering numbers. I searched their statements and resolutions on the topics of guns, murder, racism, and sex. Now, if you're a nerd like me, you can go and make that count for yourself right there on their website. The Southern Baptist Convention has spoken out about gun control once, in 1968, when Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. And while they did say they supported president Johnson's legislation to slow the traffic of guns, they also made clear that they still support the Second Amendment. While they have a lot to say on abortion, capital, punishment, and suicide, they do not have much to say on the topic of murderous mass shootings. I counted only three times total. The reason they say for all of this violence in our nation? Youth being exposed to violence in media and video games, which has been heavily debunked.

Since the shootings targeted Asian-Americans, I wondered what a denomination with its roots bound in slavery might have to say about the topic of racism. 

The Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1845 in the state of Georgia. They split from the Baptists at large in the United States over the issue of slavery. In 1995, there was a resolution on racial reconciliation wherein the Southern Baptist Church did admit and repent of their racism toward African-Americans and resolve to strive for better race relations, but it took them 150 years to acknowledge this.

And it can be seen even in the language of the resolutions themselves, that it was influenced by the growing numbers of Black congregants in the denomination. Race itself is contained within many statements of the Southern Baptist Convention and typically displays the argument for colonization under the term quote-unquote Christian missions.

Its latest resolution was in opposition to Critical Race Theory, which is an examination of how institutions at large intersect with racism. They have opposed anti-racist movements, calling intersectionality and Critical Race Theory unbiblical ideologies. Finally, what does the Southern Baptist Convention have to say about sex?

Well, a whole lot. Fifty-one resolutions worth. Fifty fucking one. Speaking of fucking, they care more about that— who you're doing it with; how many people you're doing it with; if you're legally doing it; if it will produce any children to be born into the covenant— than they care about guns, murder, or racism combined and multiplied. 

This. This is why we are having a widespread conversation about the dangers of Purity Culture in America.

James: Many people will say that we can't lay blame anywhere but with the shooter. But what if the shooter was so heavily indoctrinated into a repressive worldview that made sex dirty and wrong, but also irresistible? What feeds the consciousness of someone who becomes so hateful and fearful of his own sexual desire that he would turn against those whom he has been led to believe are the source of his sinful desires and temptation, and how many more out there are subject to the same influences? In this episode,  we're taking a closer look at the doctrines and teachings that fed the consciousness of a murderer. As someone who grew up hearing the same types of teachings as the Atlanta spa shooter, this hits pretty close to home for me. I imagine it hits pretty close to home for some of our listeners as well, and this may be a difficult topic. 

Let's start by taking a look at the church and the treatment center in their own words.  Crabapple First Baptist church actually took down most of their website after the shootings. They posted a statement, an FAQ of sorts, and a statement of belief. Here's a portion of that statement.

 Quote. "We want to be clear that this extreme and wicked act is nothing less than rebellion against our Holy God and His Word. The women that he solicited for sexual acts are not responsible for his perverse sexual desires, nor do they bear any blame in these murders. These actions are the result of a sinful heart and depraved mind for which [shooter's name redacted] is completely responsible. End quote. 

 Notice there is no mention of racism or sexism. They end the statement with a request for us to pray for all involved, including them, the church.  The shooter and his family were longtime members. And the shooter grew up there, according to the church's own statement on their website, yet they can't grasp their own culpability in feeding the mind of the shooter, his family, and the congregation a toxic, repressive, and oppressive set of doctrines about sex. The church's statement ends with a virtual altar call, an invitation to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. The Baptist plan of salvation is laid out. They've proselytized, or "witnessed," to us. So their work is done. Now it's in God's hands. 

 The lack of accountability that goes with "giving it to God" is a major problem. It lets people off the hook and puts it all on God or the devil. People are just pawns, or in this case, sort of like God's wingman.

 Grace: The glaring indication of the church's role in teaching the shooter to both despise himself and women, is the backhanded statement that he was perverse in his sexual desires, but the women he solicited for these acts aren't to blame, but they've literally just implied that the women are perverse for being willing to perform said acts.

Then they double down on their tragic theology, saying that this was the result of rebellion and a sinful heart. It was a hate crime, period. The truth is the hate is on many sides. I suspect the shooter hated himself and also hated the women for the temptation they represented, that he was not strong enough to overcome. 

In no way am I offering sympathy here for his acts. What I am doing is offering an indictment on the church for perpetuating this kind of dangerous teaching that leads to death. We've all heard the saying that hurt people hurt people. I think that people whom the church hates with this kind of “sinners in the hands of an angry god” preaching, then hate others, and sometimes that hate shows up with a gun and people die. 

James: The shooter also attended a Christian halfway house, Hope Quest, for treatment of sexual addiction. Walking Free is, quote, "a community of men who meet in weekly support groups to rebuild lives broken by pornography addiction and other sexual sin," end quote, as described by the website. At Hope Quest, there are two programs that work in tandem between Troy and Melissa Haas.

Troy, who describes himself as a one-time sex addict, runs the program, and his wife runs a program for the spouses. Let's hear from Troy of Walking Free.

Troy Haas: One of the biggest issues, in fact, perhaps the biggest issue facing the church today, is the impact of pornography and sexual sin on the men and women of the church. And what are we supposed to do as a church when, when that sin and that issue raises its ugly head? Well, here at Hope Quest we've, uh, birthed a vision, uh, for a group called Walking Free and we've been, we've been actually executing that vision for almost 20 years now. And Walking Free provides a safe place for support and accountability for men that are struggling with sexual addiction.

 Grace: So right off, I noticed that only men apparently struggle with sex addiction, and then only straight couples exist in this environment. In conservative evangelical centers, healthy sex positive attitudes are also sin. If you fall outside the norms that they have set of legally married, heterosexual monogamous sex, it's now an addiction or it's a sin.

It's a moral fail and you need to be delivered and healed from it. You dare not even think outside of this box, or you might need treatment. That kind of mental, emotional, spiritual confinement that leads to a sort of physical confinement in the form of sex can be torturous for all kinds of people.

And then in this weird dualism, if you do step outside of those lines, the lack of ability to take responsibility because it's being called an addiction or temptation from Satan can leave a person feeling pretty impotent on all levels. Well, now that we've heard from Troy, let's hear from his wife, Melissa, who leads Journey at Hope Quest. According to the website, quote, "Journey is a community of women who have experienced betrayal and loss as a result of their spouse's struggle with pornography, addiction, or other life-dominating sexual sin." End quote. 

Melissa Haas: If you decide to come to Journey, one of the things that you will experience is a large group time where there is either teaching or testimony from a fellow Journeyer. Um, we use, uh, all of our leaders, all our facilitators, our peers, they all have experienced being married to a guy who struggles with sexual addiction.

So everyone in the room is like you. After large group time, we break up into small groups where we process what we're learning and, um, experiencing through the curriculum. And those small groups are really, really the place where community happens. Spiritual community happens on our journeys of healing.

All of our groups are facilitated by women who have taken their own journeys down this path. They have all experienced sexual betrayal, um, uh, because of their husband's sexual addiction. And they've all taken a healing journey and are at a place where they want to give back to other women like you.  

James: So, you know how churches will often take things from secular culture, sort of Jesus it up and then present a Christianized version as something that's supposed to be equal to or better than the secular thing? It isn't rock and roll. It's Christian rock and roll. Hey, let's take Amazing Grace and sing it to the tune of an Eagles song. Let's take the Budweiser slogan, This Bud's For You, change it to This Blood's For You, slap it on a t-shirt with a picture of Jesus's hand with a spike through it and blood shooting out!

It seems like this Hope Quest group, along with Journey and similar ones like Celebrate Recovery are basically doing that. It has the skeleton of a 12 step program like Al-anon or AA, which I get, it's not really accurate to call these secular programs, but they are more widely attended across faith and non-faith lines.

They're taking a widely recognizable, very familiar format, making it more Jesusy and even using made up conditions that they can diagnose and treat according to their fundamentalist programming. Sex addiction. First of all, it's not a thing, not a real condition. Now, I think people can and do sometimes get a warped view of sex that can lead to compulsive behaviors, but you don't develop a chemical dependency to compulsive sexual behavior. That's why this isn't an addiction. And that's not a small difference. When we talk about things like harm reduction for people with chemical dependency, we're talking about people addicted to alcohol or drugs who will literally die if they go cold turkey. That is not the case with so-called sex addiction. 

I think there's room for discussion of harm reduction in terms of sexual activity, but that isn't what these so-called Christian recovery programs are doing. And in fact, it's often the indoctrination of people with these repressive views of sex that lead to wrong thinking, wrong perceptions, and compulsive behaviors around sex that get fake diagnosed as addiction and fake treated in these church programs. It's the self fulfilling prophecy of a disease masquerading as the cure. So this place presents itself as a treatment program, but have we seen or heard from an actual mental health professional involved in this program? It seems to be a bunch of people who have been through similar experiences before and are sharing their experience, and how the Christian recovery program helped them, and making their experience prescriptive: THE way to freedom. They draw on their life experience and a sense of Christian authority rather than years of study and practice in clinical psychology or mental health counseling. 

  Grace: These models also tend to have some really well disguised methods of keeping women in line. First of all, you've made women feel like they can't really have this sin, because apparently only men have it. However, you as a woman are an object of that sin. If you don't present yourself as modest and demure, you can tempt men. But secondly, you've made them feel like garbage because their husband does have this sin. And now you're in the other weird dualism of wives being blamed because they didn't make themselves attractive or sexy enough. Maybe they didn't make themselves available to their husbands sexually on demand. I can only imagine the psychological damage that can cause and how it would basically paralyze a woman into doing this program with her husband. And then you get to tell your big redemption story at the end and be the embodiment of glory to God, for which the church gets credit, and you get some kind of special door prize in heaven or something.

James: In addition to fundamentalist dogma, a long history of racism and misogyny in America is a major contributing factor. In the 1800s, the Chinese Exclusion Act banned men from coming to the United States as laborers. Also in the 1800s, the Page Act banned Chinese women from coming to the United States to stop population growth. Both these pieces of legislation were based solely on race. It took until 1943 to repeal these acts. Then there are the wars. Military presence in the Asia Pacific region during the Philippine American, Korean, and Vietnam Wars contributed to heavy sex trafficking in brothels to meet the demands of soldiers. The perception of Asian women as exotic temptresses or docile, submissive play things was brought back to the United States upon the soldiers' return. The stereotypes spread into pop culture and led to the fetishizing and hyper sexualizing of Asian women. Today Asian-Americans are often made vulnerable as many work in lower paying frontline public service jobs. With the Coronavirus pandemic, the rhetoric spewed by the last administration put Asian Americans in danger all over the country. In addition, many are migrant workers and they fear deportation if they speak up, which can often make Asian women's issues in particular invisible to the public. Let's help them be seen. Let's use our voices and our votes to support our Asian and Pacific Islander neighbors, support Asian American owned businesses, and promote positive images in media and on social media of Asian life and culture.

Grace: And while it is racist and misogynist to assume and think that all of Asian American women are sex workers or all Asian-American owned, massage parlors provide sexual services, we want to be clear about our support for sex workers. It truly is the oldest profession and it's not going anywhere. Sex work is work. Sex workers deserve respect, protection, equal labor rights and decriminalization. The kind of Purity Culture teaching we are surrounded with in fundamental religious circles only contributes to harmful ideology that leads to violence. Sex positivity literally saves lives. Not only in the physical body sense either, but in the mind and in the spirit. 

James: We want to say how heartbroken we are for the families who lost their beloved family members in the Atlanta massacre. And we wish the survivor a full recovery.

Grace: We use many resources for the show. Today, we especially used CNN and Wikipedia for news. We refer to SBC.net; HopeQuestGroup.org, and CrabAppleFBC.org to bring you these religious views in their own words.

James: We would like to recommend you check out the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum at NAPAWF.org to find out more on Asian-American women's issues and the Sex Workers Outreach Project at SWOPUSA.org to find out how you can support sex workers' rights, not rescue them. If you're struggling with religion, we recommend you check out RecoveringFromReligion.org, where they have a secular therapy project that can connect you with a licensed, skilled professional. We'll have these links in the show notes for you.   

Grace: Please subscribe to the podcast. Rate and review us on Apple podcasts or the platform of your choice. Your feedback means a lot to us. It allows others to find us more easily, and it helps us to know more about the content you're looking for.

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James: Tweet us @funshiftpod. Instagram us @fun.shift.pod. Find us on the web where you can also comment on our blog at funshiftpod.com.

Grace: Email us funshiftpod@gmail.com. Leave us a voicemail or text us at (704) 665-7473.

James: Tune in next time, when we hear from you about your stories on how Purity Culture has affected you. Let me tell you, we've got some stories from across all faith, gender, and race backgrounds, some heartbreaking, and some that will make you laugh until you cry. Subscribe. So you don't miss it.

Grace: And until then, remember folks: shift happens.