Updated: Aug 20, 2018
Hi Ashley! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist home and both of my grandfathers were pastors in this denomination. For many years I was also a “Stay-At-Home Daughter” fully embracing the patriarchal theology being taught to me. I’ve also experienced multiple forms of abuse in faith environments.
Now that I am walking in freedom I am a writer, speaker, and abuse victim advocate. I identify as a Christian feminist and Egalitarian. Much of my work centers on the intersection of patriarchy and abuse. My passion is to free others from the clutches of abuse.
On a personal note, I am 26 years old and happily married to Will Easter.
Wow! That’s an amazing start to this interview and gives us a lot to talk about. Growing up in your home do you remember a particular time when you first encountered Jesus and what that was like? Also, has your view of God changed now that you are out of that setting?
I really cannot recall a time without a connection to God. Even as a very young child my idea of playing was pretending to be Jesus preaching to the disciples or pretending to be a pastor serving my stuffed animals communion. However, growing up in a very isolating, legalistic environment has caused me to have to reevaluate all of the things I had been taught about God and faith. Faith has always been a part of my life but as I have grown I’ve embraced a more loving and inclusive understanding of the Divine. I've had to go through an intense "deconstruction" process and I am currently sifting through what was healthy and what was damaging about the view of God I was given. I'm in a process of discerning what ideas about faith I can keep and what needs to be thrown out or should be integrated in. I’ve rejected a lot of legalism and am learning to embrace God’s expansive love. On one hand, this has been a painful process but ultimately I feel closer to God than ever and it's freed me to walk out my calling in a more bold and loving way.
You mentioned that you are an advocate for abuse victims. I first heard of you and had the privilege of hearing you speak at the 2017 CBE conference in Orlando. You had some great truths to share and I heard you mention something called The Courage Conference. Can you tell us what that is all about, how it got started, and when it is taking place this year?
The Courage Conference exists to be a refuge for survivors, to educate and empower advocates, and create the conditions where this movement for change can become a Justice Generation that recognizes and resists abuse everywhere. We strongly address abuse in faith environments.
The Courage Conference features survivors, advocates, legal experts, mental health professionals, and others sharing inspiring keynote and “Courage Conversation” talks. We also connect everyone in attendance to local and national resources.
As a survivor and advocate, I’ve seen the devastation of abuse in the church. I realized the survivor and advocacy community needed a place to connect and come together for healing and abuse prevention. In 2016 The Courage Conference was born. Truly, I’ve never experienced such a warm and healing event as The Courage Conference and survivor attendees tell me the same thing.
This year The Courage Conference is on October 19th-20th, 2018 in Raleigh, NC. You can find full details and short videos at: www.TheCourageConference.com I personally invite you to come!
Also, you’ve recently been pretty active with the For Such a Time As This rally. Can you explain what this is and how it originated. Also, what outcome/end goals are you hoping for?
My friend, Cheryl Summers, birthed the idea for the For Such A Time As This rally and I enthusiastically jumped on board the team. The rally came as a response to the abuse and coverups in the Southern Baptist Convention. The rally met outside the annual SBC convention and called for change and accountability in the SBC. Since this rally, we’ve spoken with high-level leaders in the SBC and we are encouraging them to take the right steps such as creating an expert committee to address abuse and developing a clergy abuse offender database. Our hope is that we see a true and lasting change in the SBC. Far too many have been abused and wounded in the name of Christ. We must put an end to this.
You’re involved in some tough things! Did you ever think this is what your life would look like or has this caught you by surprise? What have you learned along the way as you’ve stepped out in obedience to God’s calling?
I am definitely surprised to see what my life has become. Growing up in a very patriarchal faith community I had lost all hope that I, as a woman could be called in such a way. Finding Egalitarianism a few years ago allowed me to believe again that God could use me as a woman in ministry. I firmly believe that if God calls you no one can revoke that calling on your life. The male spiritual leaders told me I could not preach or lead spiritually but this is what God has called me to and I realize I no longer need the approval of men to follow God’s call on my life.
What does the term “Christian egalitarian” mean to you?
In my understanding, “Christian Egalitarianism” is a theological term for equality between men and women and before God, both in essence and in spiritual function. God does not limit the call on your life based on the sex you were born with and neither should we. God does not place one sex in a position of power and control over the other and neither should we.
What do you think about women in church leadership? Have we cleared all the hurdles or is this something that we are still trying to see come forth in its fullness?
Women have been leading within Christianity for years, all the way back to the time of Christ, but sadly patriarchal structures seek to squelch this move of God by restricting women. I’m seeing distinct progress in the US, especially among millennials, but I still believe we have a long way to go before women are equally accepted in church leadership across the board.
What do you feel are some of the main things holding back your generation? If you could speak to a bunch of your peers all at once, what would be the most important things you would want to say and have them take hold of?
I have a lot of hope for my generation, which I call the “Justice Generation”. One of the greatest challenges I’ve seen for millennials is that they are often not taken very seriously. They are viewed as overly sensitive, troublemakers. I see millennials very differently. I believe, generally speaking, they have a deep sense of empathy and an internal compass that points towards justice. To my fellow millennials I would say, let no one despise your youth. Keep dreaming of a more just society, keep working and voicing your concerns. You have the power to positively change the world. Don’t listen to those who wish to silence you.
What mental obstacles have you had to overcome in order to walk out what God has called you to? How did you do that? (or how are you doing that?)
My patriarchal upbringing and some of the abuse I have experienced deeply embedded a sense of unworthiness within me. I grew up in a Church that focused its beliefs on Calvinism. We sang songs about being worms and heard sermons about the general unworthiness of humans. This was magnified by the patriarchal perspective that women were born to be in submission to men.
At 21, I began to research Egalitarianism as well as alternatives to Calvinist theology. This opened me up to learning more about God's love of women and people in general as well as our natural born dignity. A verse that has meant a lot to me is from Matthew 22. "Love your neighbor as yourself." I came to realize I cannot love my neighbor well if I don't first love myself, a worthy creation of God. I have to work hard to believe that I, as a woman, am worthy to partner with God for justice. I regularly recite scripture inspired positive affirmations to myself to remind myself of God's love for me. This recognition allows me to not only love my self but to better love others.
I’m really curious to hear your thoughts on how you think a patriarchal view/mindset affects men. What do they miss out on or what burdens to they have to bear while trying to function this way?
Patriarchy is a structure of power and control and while women are at the bottom of that structure some men are given more power over other men. The most powerful men within the patriarchy, lose the human qualities of empathy, vulnerable connection, and often find themselves destroying themselves and others around them. Men who are on the lower levels of patriarchy suffer too both from the oppression of the men in power over them but also the crushing weight of living life without blessed, mutual relationships with women. In addition, men or boys who experience abuse will be less likely to open up about their pain because of the myths that “real men” must be dominant and always be in control.
This has been great! Thank you so much Ashley! If our readers would like to connect with you or read more about some of these things we’ve touched on, where can they find you on social media?
I’ve really enjoyed this interview! Thank you for this opportunity.
You can find me at the following places: