UPDATE, 07/22/2015: David Hayward, has issued an apology and statement concerning former community members’ accusations: http://goo.gl/mLGWPw. Former members call the apology and statement inadequate: https://goo.gl/yAUCHD.
It pains me greatly to say this, but I cannot in good conscience remain silent any longer:
David Hayward, the satirical religious cartoonist known as the “Naked Pastor,” is not a safe person for abuse survivors. And his online community, The Lasting Supper, is not a safe space for them, either.
It pains me to say that because Hayward was one of several outspoken advocates for Julie McMahon, the ex-wife of Tony Jones who courageously fought earlier this year to make public her allegations of domestic abuse. At that time, Hayward appeared to understand the reality of abuse, the dynamics of abuse, and how to be sensitive and welcoming to abuse survivors in his interactions with McMahon.
But riding on the coattails of abuse survivors for page views and being an advocate and friend to abuse survivors are two very different beasts. They often look the same, and someone skilled at the use, misuse, and abuse of marginalized people groups can easily make one look like the other. More and more individuals and former members of Hayward’s online community, The Lasting Supper, are stepping forward with their stories of being taken advantage of by Hayward, having their stories of heartache and trauma mined for his cartooning business, and gaslit when calling him out for his actions. He has even allegedly stolen stories from abuse survivors and written their stories “for them” without their permission.
I don’t want this to be true. It hurts when someone you thought was safe — someone so skilled at talking the talk — is in fact unsafe. But it hurts far more to those intimately and devastatingly betrayed by Hayward than it does for me. And I believe the words of Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” So I refuse to be silent. I refuse to let my dear friends stand alone in their confrontation of Hayward. I refuse to let Hayward whitewash his actions and pretend abuse survivors are “haters” and “abusers” for speaking up.
I refuse to let Hayward get away with being another progressive leader who only cares about abuse when it furthers his bottom line. I refuse to let him continue making cartoonish mockeries of other progressive leaders when he acts just like those cartoons when confronted with wrongdoing.
Hayward has apparently forgotten what it means to take abuse seriously.
The stories of my friends — survivors of abuse who have also considered Hayward a friend — begin several years ago. They connected with Hayward through other online communities intended to be spaces for survivors of spiritual abuse. They found an ally and protector in Hayward when his post against Tony Jones — the infamous “Tony Jones on Mark Driscoll: What came first, the thug or the theology?” post — went viral after Jones’s ex-wife, Julie McMahon, commented on the post with allegations of domestic violence. Hayward positioned himself as someone who understood the dynamics of abuse. People like McMahon — and others who had similar experiences of being alienated from churches due to being abused — saw Hayward and his online community, The Lasting Supper, as a safe person and a safe space. In fact, The Lasting Supper — which charges participants $7 a month to be in a private Facebook group — billed itself as a safe space for survivors (“a safe online community”, “a safe place”, “creating safe spaces for people”).
Many of these people, despite misgivings, paid the money to join Hayward’s safe space — which turned out to be anything but safe. Survivors of abusive homeschooling upbringings were attacked when arguing for the importance of reporting child neglect to the proper authorities. Survivors of spiritual abuse were attacked when trying to communicate they were triggered by a self-proclaimed prophetess who claimed an alien pearl inhabited her body and informed her about the end of times. Some members were sent frightening, threatening messages by other members. Queer members had to experience other members calling their sexuality “repulsive.” In each case, Hayward sided not with the abuse survivors or those harassed but with the ones abusing and harassing. You can read full testimonies from three former members here, here, and here.
In the midst of this, as survivors begged Hayward to make good on his promise of a safe space, Hayward began blocking them, deleting their comments, and ignoring their appeals. They attempted reconciliation; he refused. They tried to build bridges; he burned them as quickly as he could. He used his own failings to make The Lasting Supper safe for survivors to justify his abrupt abandonment of Julie McMahon and online teams assembled to defend her. But he made one promise: “I promise not to remove posts or comments.”
He failed at even that one simple promise.
On March 15, 2015, in the midst of Hayward’s defense of Julie McMahon’s right to speak out against her ex-husband Tony Jones, Hayward had no problem with saying abuse survivors have a right to speak up. His cartoon, “Policing Complaints,” came with the blog title, “why abusers police how the abused file complaints.” Hayward wrote,
It never ceases to amaze me how many rules there are for how people who’ve been abused should act. Especially in the church! You’d think the church would be afloat with ethics for how those in power should treat people and what they should do if they violate those ethics.
But no! Instead, we have an endless list of ethics for how the abused should and shouldn’t act, what they should and shouldn’t say, and how long they have to do it in.
You’re too angry. You’re too hysterical. You’re too persistent. When are you going to let it go? You should forgive. You’re being mean. You say they’re trying to silence you but you’re trying to silence them. Turn the other cheek. You’re bitter. Do you have to swear? That’s not very Christian. He hurt you but now you’re hurting him so you’re no better. You’re creating division in the Body of Christ. You’re being vindictive. On and on. The endless list of rules on how the alleged abused should file their complaints is astounding. All to silence the victims and survivors.
Hayward then reiterated his commitment to the right of abuse survivors to speak in a comment, saying,
I do not delete comments. Nor do I edit them. The usual tactic of those who support power is to exit the conversation when it gets too hot, or delete comments, or close comments, or ask others to delete comments or posts. It’s all about the control of information.
Hayward’s alleged dedication to not deleting comments also came with an attack against another blogger who closed down his comments section. In a thread on the Facebook page for the Stuff Christian Culture Likes community, Hayward said closing one’s comments section is “a common tactic of those who protect the insidious practice of silencing victims” (image was sent to me with the blogger’s name redacted)
Well… it seems that [redacted] has closed comments on his blog. This seems to be a common tactic of those who protect the insidious practice of silencing victims. Very frustrating! [redacted] and others can’t seem to grasp the groundswell of frustration that so many people are experiencing with the systems of power… its privileges and abuses. It’s like Wall Street. The protests seemed insanely useless, a sterile hippy attempt to be heard and affect change. Those in power just watch and wait for the frustration to fizzle out or cold weather to set in. Then they send in the police to clean up the mess. Nothing changes and those in power know it. So of course places like SCCL and nakedpastor sound angry and shrill and petty and useless. It’s because we are voices crying in the wilderness to affect change in the city center. Those in power and their protectors, like [redacted], realize that if we just ignore those hysterical voices that it will marginalize them and prevent them from creeping in to the locus of power to disturb their authority and its benefits.
Of course, this was when the target of abuse survivors speaking up was Tony Jones and when Hayward had the chance to portray himself as a “voice crying in the wilderness” against Jones. But when abuse survivors began speaking up about Hayward’s mistreatment of them, suddenly Hayward changed tunes. He began deleting comments and shutting down his comments section on his July 11, 2015 post, “trust is earned, not demanded,” where former members of The Lasting Supper — who are abuse survivors themselves — spoke out against Hayward. Images of those interactions — which Hayward has since deleted — are below:
Hayward also deleted perfectly reasonable dissents from his Facebook page. For example,
To my friends who are still in the Lasting Supper, I wish you all well but I can’t be silent. David has no intention to do what is necessary to create a safe space. I believe posts like this are deceptive and will lure more people in who join with the false impression that is is a safe space. If he wants to advertise an environment where you are free to explore any and all ideas, fine. Just add a disclaimer. I don’t wish David ill will but at this point he is willfully ignorant of what a safe space is and needs to stop suggesting TLS is safe.
All these comments — from his Facebook page and blog — are now deleted. As Hayward himself said, “It’s all about the control of information.”
But Hayward has not only deleted and silenced the voices of abuse survivors. He has also publicly represented them in dishonest, negative, and gaslighting ways. On July 9, Hayward created a cartoon entitled “Betrayed By Authority.” In the text he revealed there had been unrest in The Lasting Supper, but in true, self-protective, self-serving manner, acted as if there was nothing he could do or could have done about those feeling betrayed by him:
I am passionate about community. I am passionate about leaders having integrity. When I typed the title “Have you been betrayed by your leaders?” I was painfully aware that there are people who feel they have been betrayed by me. This causes a great deal of pain in my heart, and I wish there were ways I could repair those relationships. I’m also aware, because I’ve been on the receiving end of betrayal, that the erosion of trust is completely understandable and should be respected. I have to keep reminding myself, and my good mentors always remind me too, that even though I make mistakes and even though I have my own deep-seated issues, this doesn’t disqualify me from being passionate about healthy leadership and communities.
This is straightforward gaslighting. Hayward says he “wishes there were ways” he could repair relationships with homeschool abuse and sexual abuse survivors from his community who have felt their hearts ripped out of their bodies by him. Yet he rejected their efforts to repair the relationship and he made zero efforts to repair them himself. He blocked those people, deleted their comments, lied about deleting their comments, and refused to engage them. For example, Wende, a former TLS member, messaged the following to Hayward on Facebook:
Hayward did not respond. Instead he unfriended and blocked the her as well as her spouse. He then sent an email to them saying he was worried about his “safety” and the messages were “aggressively abusive” and he “felt harassed.” He claimed he “only proved myself supportive of you guys over and over again right until the end.” However, Jason, another abuse survivor and former TLS member, says Hayward “never tried to listen to us…. Like the sheepdog in this picture, he refuses to protect the vulnerable members of his group.” Jason adds that, “We have tried to engage David privately and he refused to listen. We tried to engage publicly and he deletes and blocks, calling us abusers. There is no path to resolve any disagreements with David himself.”
Hayward is pulling classic abuser techniques right out of Tony Jones’s backpack, all while claiming he cares about “healthy leadership and communities.” If he cared, he would do better. Caring is not enough. You need to actually do better.
On July 12, Hayward continues to paint those confronting him as “haters” on Twitter. Benner calls Hayward out for twisting the truth, with no reply from Hayward:
Hayward’s July 13 cartoon, entitled “sheep follow,” shows Hayward effortlessly shifting into a persecution complex, accusing abuse survivors of “attacking” him:
You’ll notice that he prefaces his claims of persecution with the phrase “while on vacation,” in an attempt to milk pity from his readers. Text is,
While on vacation, I’ve discovered that some people are engaged in attacking me, the nakedpastor, and The Lasting Supper. For the sake of my peace of mind and to respect my wife and family during my vacation, I’m going to stop comments on my blog posts until I return on the 18th of July.
So now abuse survivors, who were ganged up on, harassed, gaslit, and traumatized by Hayward and members of his community he refused to call out, are “haters.” They are “attackers.” They are “ruiners of vacations.” And oh my goodness it got so bad he had to turn off comments — which he never does because that would be controlling information like an abuser does. Except for those comments he already deleted.
And except for the fact that he used his vacation as an excuse to shut down the conversation.
He admitted this very thing in The Lasting Supper. In the midst of trying to figure out what to do as former members were speaking up about their experiences in the community, Hayward “came up with a great idea”: use his vacation as a reason to shut it all down.
In short, what David Hayward says and what David Hayward does are two very separate things.
Like Hayward, I help run an online community. Unlike Hayward, I would never dream of charging money to join it. (He charges $7 a month for participation in a Facebook group!) That alone shocks me. It is a big red flag.
However, like Hayward’s, the community I have the honor of helping to facilitate is a designated safe space for homeschool alumni and abuse survivors — survivors of emotional, physical, sexual, and spiritual abuse. It also strives to be a safe space for LGBT* homeschooled alumni. I know it takes a lot of work to make a space safe, and I don’t pretend that my community has achieved perfect safety. While a childhood abuse survivor myself, I am privileged in many ways and I have a lot to learn when it comes to identities I am less familiar with — LGBT* identities and the identities of people of color and what needs to be done to make spaces safe for them. But I am learning. I know I make mistakes. But the best thing I can do is admit and own when I’ve made them, apologize, educate myself on the areas I failed in, and double my efforts to do better in the future.
That’s how a space grows and becomes safer.
Hayward has failed at this most crucial aspect of safe spaces and online communities: humility to admit when he’s messed up. And a commitment to do better. Because of this, he has deeply wounded some of the most prophetic, courageous abuse survivors I have the honor to know. He has taken the trust they so graciously placed in him and he has stepped on that trust over and over. He has gaslit them, lied to and about them, and thrown the one label at them that he knows would hurt them the worst: being “abusive.”
The Naked Pastor is indeed naked — not because of humility or transparency, but because he has no clothes.
And David, if you’re reading this: I don’t hate you. And none of these people hate you, either. We are asking you to do better. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Addendum 1: Statement by Former TLS Member Danica
Addendum 2: Statements by Former TLS Member Jason
Addendum 3: Statement by Former TLS Member Wende
Trigger warning: Please don’t read the comments section below if you find people attacking abuse survivors speaking out triggering.