The Dirty Necessity of Deconstructing David Hayward’s Apology

Today David Hayward, the facilitator of the online community The Lasting Supper and satirical religious cartoonist known as the “Naked Pastor,” issued a “statement and apology.” This statement/apology was in response to claims of mistreatment by former members of his community. These members — who collectively are childhood abuse survivors, survivors of abusive homeschooling backgrounds, spiritual abuse survivors, and LGBT* individuals — were misled by Hayward to think The Lasting Supper was a safe space. It ended up being anything but that.

To that end, Hayward apologized, tried to explain himself, and announced several changes to his community. One aspect of his statement that I appreciate is his commitment to no longer appropriate the term “safe space” — a term that has very specific meanings arising out of women and LGBT* liberation movements. Hayward now understands that The Lasting Supper is not a safe space, and he promises he will no longer appropriate that term. He also apologized for the immense pain he caused abuse survivors and LGBT* individuals who thought they were entering a safe space. Hayward says,

Out of respect for physical and sexual abuse victims and survivors, I am retiring the phrase “safe space” as a descriptor of TLS… I have deleted every reference to “safe space” on TLS’s main site and Facebook group, and from now on I will no longer use it on nakedpastor to describe TLS. I’m also going to be very diligent in keeping TLS on track for why it was created – that is, the goal stated earlier. I may use the word “safe”, but only very cautiously when no other word can be found… I extend my apologies to those that were hurt.  Please forgive me for giving the impression that TLS was this technical ‘safe space’ for all persons.

Hayward does undercut his apology and promise to change, though, by saying he might still use the word “safe.” We will have to wait and see if he truly understands appropriate versus inappropriate ways to use that descriptor.

While there are several other parts of Hayward’s statement that I appreciate, I believe it is necessary to point out three glaring problems with his attempt to apologize and reconcile with those whom he has hurt:

First, Hayward continues to justify his poor treatment of childhood abuse survivors by referring to their anger at his mistreatment as “abusive.”

This first point really eradicates any good will I was interested in extending to Hayward. After acknowledging that he messed up — he messed up in facilitating his community, he messed up in miscommunicating the safety of his community, and he knows that really hurt people — he then has the gall to still refer to those hurt people as abusers. Hayward says,

I block people who speak to me abusively and who threaten me with warnings of defaming and destroying my work. I deleted and closed all comments on the nakedpastor site during my vacation (July 2015) because I could not respond to the comments and did not want any comments to stand idle for so many days.

Those people? Those are the people that he is theoretically apologizing to! And yet here he is, continuing to dig his heels into the ground and gaslight them as people who abused him. People who threatened him. I saw their interactions with him. Yes, they were angry. Yes, they contained profanity. But Hayward — who proudly declares in his apology that he is “someone with over 50 years’ experience in the church institutions, and 30 years within the full-time ministry” and thus understands spiritual abuse — should be one of the first to recognize that anger and profanity are not the definition of abuse. In the face of mistreatment, anger and profanity are brave refusals to be dehumanized. In the face of being shunned by the leader of a community, anger and profanity can serve as prophetic critique. That Hayward refuses to drop this marginalizing language is evidence that he has not taken his mistakes to heart.

Second, Hayward refuses to actually apologize to the individuals he has hurt personally.

Rather than reconciling himself with those whom he has betrayed and hurt, Hayward chose to write a public statement. Despite claiming in his apology that he “spent many hours in communication with some of those who left The Lasting Supper (TLS),” he did not actually talk to the many former members I interviewed and communicated with in my account of their mistreatment. If you are not willing to actually apologize personally, and instead content yourself with public declarations of sorrow and humility, you are clearly more interested in your reputation than in justice. You are furthering injustice by trying to sway public opinion against those whom you have hurt.

One of these former members, Danica, called Hayward out on this on his public Facebook page. Only when pressured did Hayward apologize to her personally. Danica then further pressed him to apologize to other former members. Hayward ignored her request and instead simply added the phrase, “ALSO: To individuals… I beg you to please accept this letter as if written to you personally,” after an advertisement for The Lasting Supper. Text of Hayward’s public interaction with Danica follows:

Danica: Thank you for this, David. I appreciate you addressing these concerns, and also for hearing what we have been saying about tls not being a safe space.I was wondering if you would please apologize directly for how you’ve specifically hurt me? It would mean so much. Thank you. (Posting this here since you blog is closed for comments)

nakedpastor: I apologize to you Danica. Your words about “safe space” were a large part of what went into my public apology, and TLS will be a better place because of it.

Danica: Thank you David! Would you also please consider apologizing to Wende and Jason for how they were hurt, as well? (I mention them becuase they were the other two who made public statements)

nakedpastor: I’ve added an edit to my post today at the bottom.

Danica: Would you mind naming them? That would go a long long way in making them feel acknolwedged and not overlooked / ignored.

Hayward ceased interacting with Danica at this point. Not only, then, does Hayward continue to cast abuse survivors as abusers themselves, he also refuses to apologize personally to them — even after admitting he harmed them. This is how this looks:

You are better than that, Hayward.

Third, Hayward follows his own model of an “abusive apology” by casting LGBT* individuals and women who felt unsafe in his group as simply “feeling” so.

On January 19, 2013, Hayward critiqued an inauthentic apology from a church pastor to a woman for being an “abusive apology.” One aspect of the apology that fell short was the following:

She “feels” this way, meaning that she isn’t being logical, that she’s being a typical woman who only thinks with her feelings, and therefore invalidates what he really did to her.

 Yet Hayward implements this exact model when responding to claims that The Lasting Supper became marginalizing to LGBT* people and women. In response to a male member of his community who attempted to scare a woman with a threatening message, Hayward says:

Concerning the man accused of making sexist remarks or contacting women privately: There was a man who made inappropriate contacts and remarks that some felt were threatening. 

Some “felt” the messages were threatening. Hayward then bends over backwards to explain the man is a much better person now, rather than validating the feelings of those who felt threatened. The focus is, again, on salvaging the reputation of the abusive person, not validating the experience of marginalized individuals — the very problem that got Hayward into this mess.

Concerning LGBT* people, Hayward also is more interested in salvaging the reputation of the person who alienated queer people:

I am aware of only one issue regarding LGBTQ. This was when a man, who I know is a strong advocate for LGBTQ rights and not homophobic, confessed in a post that he finds it personally repulsive when he thinks of himself having sex with a man. He was called ‘homophobic’ by someone in TLS. I (and others) spoke with the gentleman, and we agreed that even though his feelings are valid, in the future a better word than ‘repulsive’ might be chosen to express them for the sake of congenial communication. I want to reiterate that my nakedpastor site has been known as a strong advocate for LGBTQ freedoms and rights for years. I still humbly and gladly embrace that reputation.

Hayward stresses that the offending person is “a strong advocate for LGBTQ rights” and “not homophobic” and that he (Hayward) is also “a strong advocate for LGBTQ freedoms and rights for years.” Not a single sentence is uttered on behalf of the queer people who were marginalized by this so-called LGBTQ advocate. Not a single sentence is dedicated to the validity of the queer person actually harmed. No, the entire paragraph is focused on the validity of the “advocate” who had “valid” feelings and the reputation of Hayward himself as an advocate — and the people they are supposed to be advocating for get erased.

To reiterate: I am glad Hayward apologized. I am glad that he is (at least appearing to) think through the mistakes he has made. But his apology is only half-way there. That’s obvious by the fact that I, someone to whom he owes no apology, am writing this because numerous former members that he hurt are blocked from interacting with him and cannot voice their concerns to him. He continues to cast these individuals as abusers when he himself is the one who created this entire situation in the first place. He created it by appropriating the phrase “safe space” and centering privileged people over and against marginalized people.

Hayward needs to do better.

And to people angry at me for calling Hayward out: I have hope that Hayward can do better. That is why I have stuck my neck out. I want to believe that Hayward and I are on the same team, standing against the misuse and abuse of power within Christianity, whether that Christianity is progressive or conservative . Hayward said he was. And now he’s doing otherwise. I believe that we need to keep each other accountable. I hope Hayward would do the same for me.

Published by R.L. Stollar

R.L. Stollar is a child liberation theologian and an advocate for children and abuse survivors. The author of an upcoming book on child liberation theology, The Kingdom of Children, Ryan has an M.H.S. in Child Protection from Nova Southeastern University and an M.A. in Eastern Classics from St. John’s College.

16 thoughts on “The Dirty Necessity of Deconstructing David Hayward’s Apology

  1. I’m becoming increasingly wary of people who were in ministry where there was spiritual abuse trying to assume leadership roles again. At least not without a ton of therapy and some oversight. Because as repulsive as one might find the tactics used in a former church, if that is the leadership model you know, without intervention that is what you will most likely reproduce.

  2. Ryan, I can’t and won’t be accountable to someone I don’t trust, and I suspect David Hayward feels the same way (as any logical person would). If you hoped to establish mutual accountability with him, did you think of contacting him first instead of blogging about your concerns?

    1. I am glad Ryan’s doing this because David has ignored my attempts to address this with him. The last interaction I had with him was a pm he sent me, that was word for word copy and pasted to several other former members.

      Obviously that gave the impression that he’s not really interested in true dialogue.

      1. I’m sorry that you have been hurt by all of this. It does not sound fun.

    2. R.L. Stollar – Los Angeles, California – R.L. Stollar is a child liberation theologian and an advocate for children and abuse survivors. The author of an upcoming book on child liberation theology, The Kingdom of Children, Ryan has an M.H.S. in Child Protection from Nova Southeastern University and an M.A. in Eastern Classics from St. John’s College.
      R.L. Stollar says:

      Hayward made this a public issue by using his public platform to label those he hurt and mistreated as abusers. That necessitates a public response, not Matthew 18 privacy.

      1. R.L. Stollar – Los Angeles, California – R.L. Stollar is a child liberation theologian and an advocate for children and abuse survivors. The author of an upcoming book on child liberation theology, The Kingdom of Children, Ryan has an M.H.S. in Child Protection from Nova Southeastern University and an M.A. in Eastern Classics from St. John’s College.
        R.L. Stollar says:

        It’s not an offer. It’s a belief and a hope. But thanks for sharing your thoughts on the matter.

  3. It’s been interesting reading views that have been expressed here, many affirming my own beliefs. Until recently I have been appearing on the naked pastor blog as “Ducatihero” for my own protection. Now I am aware I am not alone with my thoughts I feel safe to come out here under my real name.

    I find in critiquing it is always best to acknowledge some positives even if what is occurring could be rightly assess as mostly negative. I tend to disregard reviews that are either all positive or all negative.

    In that light I would concur with the kind of experience I have had with Hayward as depicted in the cartoon. As show in in the link you provided before, my interaction resulted in his wrong accusation that what I had commented “puts you in the camp of those who support abuse and the silencing of victims.”

    At the same time my experience is slightly different to your claim “Hayward refuses to actually apologize to the individuals he has hurt personally.” I have spoken with him privately in which he has apologised for the difficult feelings he has caused me. I belive his apology to be genuine.

    However it stopped short of apologising for what I asked – having wrongly accused me of supporting abuse.

    He openly admits “I confess that I have inflicted spiritual abuse… I have issues. But I believe in change. I’m sorry where I’ve failed… To individuals… I beg you to please accept this letter as if written to you personally.

    I have mentioned the following to him privately – A friend who bullies us is no longer a friend but a bully and bullies only respond to strength. From now on I will be prepared to be much stronger. David should be prepared for that.

    At the same time I will be practicing forgiveness again rather (as some would have it) being something that perpetuates abuse, forgiveness is conducive to eliminating the cycle of abuse.

    I have asked the following question a few times now and I would suggest practicing forgiveness and being on the alert to any abusive conduct as a means to address concerns raised.

    Perhaps it might help everyone if there was a consolidated attempt to ask hi this question or similar.

    “How can we help you achieve your desire to break out of the cycle of abuse you talk of inadvertently becoming part of?”

  4. I think that there are two important points here. David took major steps forward in his statement. But a significant step back. Basically, he doubled down on calling dissenters “abusive” (totally foul behavior considering the context…) And then he committed to censoring and fighting anybody he felt “defamed” him and his mission. David is a public figure. Period. The only way to defame him is to tell knowing or irresponsible lies. But based on this episode, he seems to be claiming that anybody who strongly opposes any single thing he does is “defaming” and “abusive.” That alone is enough for me to not trust him as a public figure. It’s disturbing behavior. But I do appreciate his concessions. I think he’s a good dude. But he doubled down on the parts of his recent actions I hate most. Very sad.

  5. “He then has the gall to still refer to those hurt people as abusers.”

    So people who have been hurt can’t be abusers themselves? Is this really what you’re saying? That’s preposterous.
    I’ve seen far too many people in this group who treat any sort of viewpoint that isn’t 100% in lockstep with their own with vitriolic hatred, and then the apologists on the sidelines defend their behavior as acceptable “because they were hurt”.

    That’s bullshit. I’ve suffered spiritual abuse. Does that give me free license to call you an asshole?

    You need to get down off your high horse and realize that some of these people don’t know how to deal with their hurt and pain except by inflicting the same upon others.

    1. That’s the absolute truth, Carl. There is a certain class of people who live off their woundedness–and do a danged good bit of wounding others while reacting with shrill outrage at anyone who points it out. There is a profound difference between a vicious abuser like Tony Jones and someone who’s simply unwilling to turn Romans I into toilet paper to appease a special interest group. Lord help us!

  6. I see it’s ok to not approve of comments when they’re abusive to you, but when David Hayword does it, somehow it’s unacceptable. Nice double standard.

    1. R.L. Stollar – Los Angeles, California – R.L. Stollar is a child liberation theologian and an advocate for children and abuse survivors. The author of an upcoming book on child liberation theology, The Kingdom of Children, Ryan has an M.H.S. in Child Protection from Nova Southeastern University and an M.A. in Eastern Classics from St. John’s College.
      R.L. Stollar says:

      Lol. Your comment wasn’t abusive to me. I’m traveling internationally and thus have spotty internet.

  7. I know I’m way, way late to the game here (I just found out about this post because SCCL linked to it a few days ago). I feel like, for my own sake, I want to say a few things:

    I was part of TLS for almost a year a while back. I was not 100% comfortable with everything from the onset, but I was trying to just make an effort to re-join some semblance of community after needing a lot of space to recover from abuse. This is why I ended up leaving:

    1. It bothered me from day 1 that money was charged to be a member. David said it was for 2 reasons that he charged. One was because it’s how he makes his living. The second was that it kept out the “crazies”. I do understand that charging money tends to weed out those who are not committed, and I do understand making a living. But it’s a very poor set-up for income. By its very nature he is incentivized to make this group as large as possible. In a virtual world it’s impossible to truly have “community” with 300 other people (even in non-virtual world that’s pretty tough).

    2. When I canceled my membership David contacted me to ask me why I left. To be honest, this bothered me. We had no personal relationship. He never reached out to me while I was in the group for personal discussions. I can understand wanting to know if there was something wrong, but to be honest a healthy leader allows people to come and go without them feeling “confronted” because they want to go. He could have easily sent out an email that was automated saying we’re sorry to see you go, here’s an anonymous survey if you feel like filling it out. As it was I felt like I was being put on the spot and owed him an explanation for why I didn’t want to give him $7 per month of my money anymore.

    3. By virtue of the way it was set up from the beginning in essence it’s kind of a jungle mentality, where people who are loudest or most comfortable voicing opinions get to speak and a bunch of others are not heard or dismissed and there is no one (from a moderator perspective speaking up to defend that behavior). Because it’s an online group there’s no way to know who would speak up if you just gave them a chance and who is just not into checking Facebook or cares about the discussion. It does not lend to having authentic community where those who are quiet or do not like confrontation have any input.

    4. I chafed at the idea that he was calling himself my pastor. I did not want a pastor, I don’t feel like I need a pastor. I joined the group in spite of him using that title. All I wanted was a group facilitator. We all have wisdom and can learn from each other, I don’t need someone to tell me what to think.

    5. To be honest the idea of creating a community for anyone, on any kind of journey spiritually is pretty unrealistic. It’s so broad that it can draw a lot of people to pay $7 per month, but in reality just saying “this is for people who are deconstructing” is so broad it cannot serve everyone.

    6.The whole thing with Julie McMahon felt like click bait to me, especially when future cartoons were obviously drawn to get you to click on that popular post.

    7. There were times he would say he had revelations about things (like his z-theory idea) that seemed like he thought he had some kind of greater divine insight than everyone else. It seemed narcissistic to me. The ideas he has may be new to him, but they have been around for centuries if not millennia. It would be good to acknowledge that and welcome the insights of members (this dovetails with why I found it very off-putting that he called himself our pastor).

    8. Ryan is right, the apology letter he wrote (and this coincides with some of the tone I saw while I was in TLS) was not written to his victims. It was written to people who were already in his corner or on the fence. If he were apologizing to victims, he would address them personally and make amends in sincere ways. This letter is meant to save face and make himself look like a victim/hero. And that smells like every other narcissistic abuser I’ve known. Whenever someone says words like “we’re all human” or “I’m going to continue to love and hurt and help and disappoint people” they are setting the expectation for creating harm in the future, and telling you that it’s inappropriate for you to expect them not to do that. That’s BS.

    I have nothing personally against David Hayward. But I feel emotionally allergic to abusive personalities and communities.

    Thank you Ryan for posting this (even though it was so long ago!)… it has helped me process a lot of things I had been feeling but never figured out how to put into words.

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