I heard the whispers about other women around me who had had secret abortions. Some felt too ashamed or judged to return to church, even as their exes and violators continued to rise in leadership. Stories came out about guys who were having sex, cheating on their girlfriends multiple times, and abusing women. Church leaders told us that no man is perfect, and that they’d grow out of their southern “drinkin’ and carousin’.” If they were called by God, we had to show them grace and forgiveness.
In the book of Revelation, a beautiful character named the “woman clothed with the sun” wears a crown of stars, with the moon at her feet, and she is enveloped in God’s light before giving birth. Another character, the “great whore,” is clothed in purple and scarlet, and wears massive amounts of jewelry. She holds a cup full of her impurities, and has “Babylon the great, mother of whores and of earth’s abominations” branded on her forehead. When John the Revelator sees this woman, he says something I now find chilling and telling: I was greatly amazed.
He is smitten with her as he stares at her drunken body, covered in jewels. Eventually, an angel yells some sense into him, revealing that this woman represents the people and institutions that turned on Jesus. She is stripped naked by beasts that “devour her flesh and burn her up with fire.”
These two characters represent a familiar binary for many evangelical women. We are either temptresses or radiant queens. In my case, as an Asian American woman, this binary exists on several levels beyond the Christian one. Asian bodies are, as the writer Anne Anlin Cheng has noted, ornamental because they’re oriental. Exotic and mysterious. Small and submissive. China dolls or dragon ladies. Lotus flowers or tiger moms.
Read: The dehumanizing logic of all the ‘happy ending’ jokes
As I followed my calling into the evangelical ministry world, I felt vulnerable in the midst of powerful white male domination. I blamed myself for feeling uneasy when a Christian social-justice leader planted a wet kiss on my cheek and held on to me while saying I was the Asian American voice of racial reconciliation. I blamed myself when another worship leader sent me pictures of his penis. In every uncomfortable situation, I figured that I was the common denominator—the great whore—and I absorbed the shame of feeling impure and far from God.
Not once did I consider whether exotification, misogyny, or Asian fetishization had anything to do with my shame. Not once did I consider that these dynamics play into layers of heteronormative patriarchy, male domination, and the subjugation of women. Not once did I consider that the men behaved inappropriately because they assumed that I would not say anything. Not once did I consider that they were wrong. I only thought about how I was somehow at fault. The hours spent poring over my manual, Lady in Waiting, seemed to have been for nothing, as I failed miserably in my pursuit of holiness and sanctification. In my worst moments, I wondered if I would ever get back to God.