Agape Love Does Not Look Like Abuse

Yesterday morning, Grove City College had popular author and speaker Dannah Gresh give a talk in chapel. Since it was Valentine’s Day, Gresh, naturally, decided to focus on the topic of love. Specifically, what “agape” love (agape being one of the four Greek words for love, often used as shorthand in church for sacrificial love) looks like.

Her speech was weak in many areas and left much to be desired: describing all girls across the board as “needy,” making it sound like girls have no responsibility to help set and enforce boundaries, and a complete lack of understanding of feminism and its history, to name a few.

But the most appalling problem was a story she told about her and her then-fiance:

We found ourselves horizontal on the sofa. And, it really…it wasn’t okay. You get the picture? But it lasted, about a second. And before I knew it, my fiance picked me up off the sofa, threw me against the wall, and ran outside of my apartment. Yes, I felt horribly rejected. 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 Heffy’s house.” And we spent the weekend in one of our professor’s homes. That’s agape. 

Okay. Hopefully you already see the problem: The way her then-fiance reacted was not okay. In fact, it was violent and abusive. There’s nothing that’s “alright,” much less loving, about picking a girl up and throwing her against a wall. In fact, she could have pressed charges for battery.

I don’t care what the situation is. There is simply no excuse (other than self-defense) for anyone to use their physical strength in such a manner that could cause harm to another. There is absolutely nothing about that act that reflects agape love.

Love leaves no room for abuse or violence. Period.

Agape love

Now, I don’t know Gresh personally, nor am I very familiar with her teaching beyond reading “And the Bride Wore White” in high school, so I have no reason not to give her the benefit of the doubt. It is entirely possible that when she said, “That’s agape,” she meant to refer to her fiance’s decision to spend the weekend at their professor’s house, and not to how he reacted when he got uncomfortable with things. It is entirely possible that she would agree that he could have handled the situation in a much better manner.

But she offered no such clarification in her speech, leaving it very easy to believe that she meant to describe the whole situation as a reflection of agape love. That’s an incredibly irresponsible message to send to a room of college-age guys and girls.

Domestic and dating violence are huge problems in this country. Every day there are hundreds of girls who are in relationships that are either abusive, or showing the warning signs, but are choosing to stay because they are convinced that their significant other truly loves them. Telling stories that equate abuse with agape love only helps further convince these girls of that.

This is not okay. I sincerely hope that Gresh realizes the message she is sending and clarifies. I hope that Grove City College realizes the potential damage done and works to make it right.

Because when abuse is treated as normal, we send the message to guys that violence is okay, we send the message to girls that abuse is normal, and instead of helping individuals who need it, we enable the abuse to continue.

Note: My friends Hannah (who is a Grove City alumna) and Dianna are both working on posts addressing the problems with Gresh’s speech as well. As soon as their posts are up, I will link to them from here. 

Update: Here is Hannah’s post on her concerns as a Grove City alumna. She also addresses some of the other issues that were wrong with this speech that I did not. 

Update 2: Here is Dianna’s post which takes a closer look at the entire culture that Gresh is creating and  promoting with her talk. 

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  • suzannah | the smitten word

    i listened to it, too, and found that bit extremely concerning–especially since it was played for laughs. i’m interested to hear what the reactions on campus were.

    • Shaney Irene

      Yeah, I couldn’t tell if the audience was laughing because they genuinely found it funny, or if they were just reacting out of nervousness. I hope the students at GCC push back against this.

      • Hännah

        With grovers at 9:30am, maybe they’re not even awake yet. -_-

  • Sarah Moon

    Wow. I read ATBWW in highschool I think? Did she tell a similar story there, because it sounds familiar? Horrifying.

    • Shaney Irene

      Honestly, I don’t remember. The only thing I remember from ATBWW was that she encouraged girls to make an extremely detailed list (right down to the physical attributes) of their future husband. I’ve never recommended the book and I never read it again. At the time I didn’t see anything dangerous, I just though it was a little ridiculous and mostly full of fluff.

    • Caleigh Royer

      this may be naive of me, but which book is ATBWW?

      • Shaney Irene

        And the Bride Wore White

  • Pingback: “That’s agape” [Grove City College and Intimate Partner Violence] | Wine and Marble()

  • Dannah Gresh

    Hello Shaney Irene:

    I know that there were three bloggers that took time to address my Grove City College chapel address and I wanted to make sure that you all saw this.

    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.

    • Shaney Irene

      Hi Dannah, thank you so much for taking the time to personally respond to our posts. I’m very relieved to hear that the story that actually was much different than how it sounded during the chapel talk, and I’m very grateful that you’re taking the time to clear things up personally. The effort is much appreciated. As someone who has personally had experience working with victims of dating violence, I’m especially thankful that you are taking this seriously and making the effort to clarify your story.

      I will make sure that my readers are informed of your clarification. Thank you for taking the time to personally respond.

      • Dannah Gresh

        You are most welcome and thank you for your kind response. I also plan to blog about this on my own blog after I have spoken to Hannah and gotten her response. The three of you are illuminating some good things about the purity movement and I want to be open to your thoughts.

  • Pingback: Dannah Gresh and positive dialogue | Wine and Marble()

  • jack

    Abuse of men by women is almost as common as the reverse, but no one wants to believe it, so they refuse to consider it. There is plenty of talk about “abuse”, but the definitions of abuse have become so broad as to become meaningless. In some European countries, ignoring your wife is “emotional abuse”. Trying to get her to control the budget is “financial abuse”.

    The grievance-group mindset of women is now such that real abuse is lost in the noise of all the whining.

    There are boatloads of great Christian men who would never abuse a women, but they get ignored due to the fact that they do not produce the tummy-butterfly excitement that the ne’er-do-well man seems to generate.

    So why should good men care one whit about abuse? We are not the ones doing it, and the women willingly stay in abusive relationships.

    Seems to me that the women are choosing what they want. So let them do as they will.

    Really, I think it is just a bunch of victim status-posturing most of the time.