“That’s agape” [Grove City College and Intimate Partner Violence]

Harbison Chapel, Grove City College

<< Please see the update on this situation here. >>

 While I may have some mixed feelings about elements of the institution that is my alma mater, I admit, I am quite fond of Grove City College. It’s a good place with good people. I am grateful for everyone there who invested in me and for the time I had in that community.

But as an alumna, I have to say something when this Tuesday’s chapel speaker told a story about intimate partner violence and called it an example of agape love with no qualifications.

That is wrong.

Here’s the quote, transcribed from the audio file (click to listen!) by Dianna Anderson. The sermon (message? talk?) was only about 20 minutes long, but Dannah Gresh packed a lot into that time. This is the part that concerns me the most:

In the New Testament, there’s a more familiar word that you’re probably [pause] aware of…the word ‘agape.’ The Love of God or Christ for humankind, unselfish love of one person for another, without sexual implication. Brotherly love. A love feast.

There’s a lot of sisters in the room right now looking for some brotherly love. They just don’t know that’s what they need.


[Quotes Ephesians 5:25, claims agape is the type of love a husband extends to his wife, says that if men are not willing to “step up,” they are not ready for love]

“And here’s the thing, as I was looking over my dating years with my husband, as we were college students. I remember one very distinct time. I was thinking ‘when were the times that he expressed agape love to me?’ I could think of a lot of really neat ones, but I thought of one that was probably harder for him than all the rest.

You see, we had recently gotten engaged and I was living in an apartment and going to summer school so I could finish up a little early – not that I was in a hurry to get married or anything. And he came to see me. And we hadn’t seen each other for months and we missed each other very much. And it probably took one fifth of a second when he was inside of that apartment for us to realize we were really in love. And we found ourselves horizontal on the sofa. And it really wasn’t okay. You get the picture.

But it lasted about a second and before I knew it, my fiancé picked me up off the sofa, threw me against the wall, and ran outside of my apartment.

[awkward laughter]

Yes, I felt horribly rejected.

[more laughter]

But I brushed myself off and I walked outside and I said “What was that?”

And he said, opening the car door, “Get in, we need a chaperone. I can’t be alone with you. We’re going to Professor Haffy’s house.”

[more laughter]

And we spent the weekend in one of our professor’s homes.

That’s agape.

So, I know what she meant. She meant that if you’re crossing moral lines with your significant other, it’s self-sacrificially loving (agape) to help uphold standards or take the high road and stop whatever questionable activity (which may cause sin or be sin…it’s not clear) for the sake of everyone involved. This is generally common sense, though her assumptions about what is and isn’t right here are questionable and, worse, vague.

But what she essentially said is this: premarital sex or lust is worse than intimate partner violence. Or in other words: it’s okay to abuse your girlfriend if it’s going to keep you from having sex with her before getting married.

She could have chosen to qualify this story, to comment, “now, throwing me against a wall was WRONG and he would never do that now,” or something similarly clarifying. But she did not do that. 

And by having Dannah up there in the College-endorsed Harbison Chapel pulpit on a Tuesday morning when students are given chapel credit for listening to this talk, Grove City College is complicit in this endorsement until they state otherwise.

I tweeted at the College’s Twitter account yesterday and was retweeted by others about this, and the feed manager has yet to respond. I assume that they’re busy or someone’s on vacation, because this should not be a difficult question. The College should be able to quickly and easily respond to this, as should anyone else who heard the talk.

Throwing your fiancée up against a wall is abusive and wrong and never okay for anyone, Christian or non-Christian.

I have a host of other problems with this talk — how Gresh is illiterate about what “feminism” and “chauvinism” mean, how her bad use of Hebrew, Greek, and her proof-texting make her a living straw man argument against having women teaching in the church. How her invalidation of emotions for women (and her silence on men with emotions of their own) was appalling and insensitive (and next door to gaslighting). How she mistakenly argued that Dinah’s rape was an example of love. How silly the ending illustration was.

But these are just symptoms of ignorance.

Stating that intimate partner violence is “agape” love is inexcusable.  It’s dangerous and wrong. This is the stuff that has the potential to damage lives forever. 

Grove City College, I’m calling you out. You’re better than this. Make this right.

Check out this post by Shaney in response to Dannah’s talk. A post by Dianna on this is also forthcoming here.

18 thoughts on ““That’s agape” [Grove City College and Intimate Partner Violence]

  1. “But what she essentially said is this: premarital sex or lust is worse than intimate partner violence. Or in other words: it’s okay to abuse your girlfriend if it’s going to keep you from having sex with her before getting married.” OMG YES THIS. I tried to talk to my mom about this last night, and she basically said the exact same thing. I had to just stop talking right then, because I didn’t know how to say anything else without becoming incredibly irate and saying something rude.

    1. I’m not surprised by a mainstream complementarian sharing a story in this way because it flows directly from the type of prescriptive, gender essentialist norms they teach. What I AM surprised at is how she somehow thought that that the means — the abrupt (I won’t say abusive necessarily) “tactic” to “prevent” sexual sin — was justified by the end goal (not having sex). WHAT?? Just no.

      1. Right, and everyone who’s arguing that this is hyperbole is overlooking the point: we know what she meant, and that’s a problem (first), and (second) why didn’t she bother to clarify on the implications of this story?

  2. I haven’t been able to bring myself to listen to the message yet. There’s something about hearing things versus reading them that seems to mess with my head even more.

    You’re right – just that one statement of, “He shouldn’t have done that, it wasn’t okay” would have made this less horrific. As it stands, it’s exactly like what I grew up hearing – it’s better for something like that to happen than to have premarital sex. Violence or abuse are okay if they serve a purpose. In that story, it’d probably be painted as her fault in the first place for allowing him into her apartment and “being in a compromising situation” and not saying no when she should have. It’s such a messed up culture. So much. Thanks for calling it out.

  3. Is anyone sure exactly what she meant by “threw me into a wall”?

    From the context of the story, it seems like he threw her off of him and then ran off and she hit the wall in the process. It seems like she viewed it as an act of rejection (throwing off) as opposed to an act of violence (throwing into).

    If she did not view this as violence (and only she would know), she would not have addressed the violence issue.

    If this is the case, it’s very sloppy language and a clarification is necessary.

    1. This is exactly where my mind went. I didn’t listen to the audio, and YOUR point (Hannah) is correct, but I would wonder if this is simply a poor turn of phrase. It didn’t sound like a violent encounter from her words – rather one which surprised her and took her aback.

    2. The detail of “he picked me up off the couch” makes it difficult for me to believe she just accidentally hit the wall as he pushed her off. But even if he did, pushing off in a violent manner isn’t okay either. Outright abuse? Maybe not. Okay and an example of agape love? No way. Not at all. He should have used his words: “We need to stop.” As simple as that.

      1. There is a LOT unhealthy about what she is endorsing. Engaged couples feeling they have to push each other away because they end up making out on a couch is a big one. Lack of communication is another.

        But endorsing unhealthy behavior is not the same as endorsing domestic violence.

  4. There’s something else that should be noticed: You can press charges for battery (being physically touched in an offensive or harmful manner) regardless of whether the person MEANT to hurt you or not. As long as they intended to commit the physical act, their intention in its consequences are irrelevant. So even if her fiance didn’t mean to push her against the wall, the fact that she hit the wall when he pushed her was enough for her to press charges. Violence is not okay, folks.

  5. I find this story very disturbing. That is happened is concerning enough. I had to go back to check that the speaker said she had gotten married to that particular man. That
    being said, if it was a one-time occurrence and stemming from his own general strangeness due to application of misguided teachings, I don’t wish to imply there is no forgiveness. But,to share it and to choose it share with a college community as an example of agape love is just so disturbing.

  6. Hello Hannah:

    This is Dannah. I was the speaker at Grove City College and would like to apologize to you, Grove City and my husband publicly. My language was very unclear and not only did I position my husband in bad light, but I was not sensitive to those who have experienced abusive relationships. Please forgive me and give me a chance to explain.

    My husband has never abused me in any way. In fact, he has never thrown me against a wall. It would be more accurate to describe that day in this way:

    “… and before I knew it, my fiancé jumped up [from what was more of a futon/wooden sofa] and I clumsily rolled off of it and into the wall.” I was not harmed in any way that day. I was protected.

    Unfortunately, the way that I shared this story on February 14, 2013 wasn’t very accurate. To tell you the truth, it has probably become more of a comically clumsy memory in my mind. Sadly, I did not take care in developing how I would share this story ahead of time.

    I appreciate your blog post. What you are saying is reasonable. My husband and I felt the same way about how I characterized the story and were quick to discuss it after I completed my speech. I can only ask your forgiveness. You have my personal email address with this post and I’m happy to address any further concerns you have. In fact, we can even talk if that would be helpful.

    You are right in what I meant to say about agape love. I can only hope that my intentions were as apparent to others that day.

  7. With all due respect you clearly did not understand what she was saying, Hannah. The story Dannah told had nothing to do with abuse. You are taking this very much out of context. I listened to it as well. I know the story very well. Beyond just the brief mention of it when she spoke on Thursday morning. I just don’t see how you can turn this into a post about “intimate partner violence”. I completely disagree with you.

  8. I found it really troubling as well and I’m glad some people like you and Dianna have stepped up to address it. Also really appreciate Dannah’s response which is very humble and doesn’t try to accuse you of having a bone to pick with the rest of her message. Although I disagree with a good chunk of the message, I have nothing but respect for her for handling it so graciously. When I heard about the message I couldn’t quite believe the whole throwing part, which is why I and you and others went to directly listen to it. I figured the wording I heard second-hand (literally “throw”) had to be wrong because I didn’t see how violence could be put up as a good thing.

    I also don’t see how people can say one is too sensitive about abuse… There are so many real examples of people who try to justify abusers (especially well-known ones) as well as media that says “oh well he follows you and takes your things and yells and is overprotective – it just means he loves you.” That’s ridiculous and harmful and I’d say any concerned person if well within their rights to say that they don’t want to hear that garbage coming from Christian speakers, especially with prominent preachers like Piper saying women should endure verbal abuse or “getting smacked around” it’s not out of line to say, “hey that’s not what you really mean, is it?”

    I think the people upset about nit-picking though are obviously incorrect. Words are powerful and it’s only reasonable to hope that they’re used clearly and properly because it can cause damage if they’re not.

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