Brief Reviews

Sarah Stankorb – Disobedient Women [Review]

Disobedient WomenA Thorough, Disjointed Documentation of Disobedience

A Review of

Disobedient Women: How a Small Group of Faithful Women Exposed Abuse, Brought Down Powerful Pastors, and Ignited an Evangelical Reckoning
Sarah Stankorb

Paperback: Worthy Books, 2023
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Reviewed by Dawn Gentry

Sarah Stankorb describes herself as a religion reporter who deconstructed her childhood faith, got two religion degrees, and calls her relationship with the church “complicated” (3). She has an impressive list of writing and publishing credits, including the Washington Post, The Atlantic, Slate, Cosmopolitan, and even the New York Times. In this book, she brings together several years of research related primarily to the women she met online who, through blogs and chat rooms, were able to expose the abuse they received at the hands of religious leaders. Knowing Sarah’s religious background is important, she writes from a position of pain more than as a confessing Christian calling the church to be better. Her pain is understandable; the stories are often hard to read. Some, in fact, should carry a trigger warning on pages that are more graphic than I prefer (71-73, for example).

The book is well-documented, including many personal interviews, online articles, and some books. As an academic, I appreciate her thorough endnotes section – fifty-six pages worth – and I also affirm her desire to gather and document these stories in book form. While the internet offers immediate searchability, there is something more permanent about publishing the findings in a book. These stories are from all parts of the country and many denominations, and the hard history and devastating experiences deserve to be remembered. The stories need to be told with hopes that those who perpetuated the abuse will repent, that church will become a safer space, and that the victims of abuse can eventually heal.

If you were on Twitter for the past decade, you’ll likely recognize the players and organizations Stankorb discusses. She provides thorough coverage on Doug Philips and Vision Forum, Bill Gottard and Sovereign Grace, along with the Duggar family and the homeschool/Quiverfull movement. Later chapters discuss Covenant Life Church and Josh Harris, Andy Savage and Jules Woodson, Doug Wilson and Christ Church in Idaho, and the #MeToo/#ChurchToo responses. I was hoping her book would bring greater cohesiveness to some of the abuse stories, showing links between churches or systems that allowed abuse to continue unabated. She mentions federal funding for the True Love Waits initiative (157) and briefly connects abuse to the development of Christian Nationalism in the broader evangelical community (227) but only as an aside to other stories.

Unfortunately, I had read all these stories before (and many of her sources), and the book is often a disjointed read, a copy and paste collection of the stories themselves. Stankorb tried, unsuccessfully, to intersect her own story with those in the book, but lost her voice when doing so (for example, 134, 245). Her transitions were difficult to follow and often disconnected with the topic at hand. To be fair, I think her own story is worth telling – I just thought it didn’t sync well with the news-reporting style of this book. This book would have benefited greatly from a good editor who organized the book by a timeline, or by denomination, by category, or woven into her memoir.

All that to say, if you are looking for an overview of various abuse allegations in purportedly Christian spaces from the past 20 years or so, Disobedient Women does provide a fairly thorough compendium of that research, reminding us that the church has a long way to go to be universally considered a safe space.

Dawn Gentry

Dawn Gentry serves as the Executive Director of Adult Ministries at Christ Community Church in Omaha, Nebraska. She earned a Master of Divinity degree from Emmanuel Christian Seminary in 2016 and has taught classes at both Milligan University and Nebraska Christian College. You can find Dawn on Twitter @dgentry1905 and she blogs at www.followingGodanyway.com.

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