Tara C. Samples is a grateful disciple of Jesus who believes that social justice is the responsibility of the Body of Christ which is called to speak for those whose voices are not heard by the powerful. She is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, an Assistant Professor of Clinical Mental Health Counseling and a scholar. She recently relocated from life in the urban South to a Midwestern prairie town. Together with her family she is exploring practicalities of living out the spiritual discipline of justice professionally and personally in her new community. Tara is a wife, a mother, and foster-parent. In her professional life, Tara speaks and writes on the psychological treatments of traumatic grief and trauma-spectrum disorders. Tara is as an advocate against injustice, violence, oppression, and exploitation in the church and in the world.
Posts By This Author
Learning to Lament With the Psalms
The poetic prayers, songs, and laments of the book of Psalms were recorded to teach worshipers how to praise God, as well as to lament and grieve. When undergoing times of agony or when words are not enough, the Psalms can express the painful emotions for us, as processing emotion helps us to move forward with difficult choices.
Much of the Psalms were attributed to David, including the prayer of Psalm 55—a lament about suffering violence at the hands of a loved one. Many victims of abuse find themselves alone and abandoned by family and friends who become impatient and exasperated by their ongoing struggle with loving their abuser. Praying through a Psalm may be an emotional refuge during such a painful time.
Are Christians Supposed to Forgive Abusers?
“What do I do, Dr. Samples? I love him. I want to forgive him,” she said. “Doesn’t Jesus teach us to forgive? I want to give our life a chance, but I’m scared. What is the right thing to do?”
As a clinician who has worked with victims and perpetrators of domestic violence since my undergraduate training, I know something about the journey of healing she is facing. I know that protective anger is often required for the courage to leave an abusive relationship. Where inter-partner violence occurs, many relationships separate and reunite many times before the final dissolution, and the majority of those relationships become more violent with time.
In relationships where one partner is victimized by another, the most dangerous period of time is when the victim is ending the relationship. Many individuals are injured, permanently disabled, or even killed when they move to dissolve the relationship.
Forgiveness is healing to the soul of the forgiver as well as the forgiven. In addition to the spiritual benefits, those who live a life of forgiveness have better mental and physical health outcomes. Achieving forgiveness of the abuse is often the pathway for a survivor to rebuild new, healthy relationships with others. However, in the case of relationship violence, premature forgiveness of the abuse through reconciliation can place the abused partner (as well as children, family members and coworkers) at greater risk of future harm.
Thoughts on Holy Week: Identifying with Jesus and the Temple Cleansing
Among Christians who practice Lent, the Holy Week timeline is a time for reflection on the practices of Jesus in his last days prior to his death. Reflecting on Holy Week can be a spiritual practice to consider the place of those practices in our own lives. According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus followed his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday by taking time on Monday during that week to publically drive out and speak against temple-based financial exploitation.
The cleansing of the Temple is documented in all four gospels. Three place it during Holy Week. Scholars have written that this event occurred in the area of the Temple known as “Solomon’s Porch,” which was open to Jewish and Gentile worshippers alike. It was a marketplace for the purchase of items needed for worship — pilgrims attending Passover celebration, unfamiliar with Jerusalem, may have purchased sacrificial animals at a higher price than elsewhere in the city. Poorer individuals, unable to afford a lamb, may have purchased overpriced sacrificial doves. Foreign currency, forbidden inside the Temple, could be exchanged, for a fee, for local currency to pay the annual Temple tax.
It has been argued that the High Priest may have received a percentage of the profit from the money changers and merchants, so their removal from the Temple would have caused a financial loss to those in power. It has been argued that the noisy marketplace atmosphere may have been disruptive to the atmosphere of worship. The text is unclear about the exact nature of the sin. However, it is clear that when Jesus saw the market, he became angry and turned over tables, driving out those exploiting the people and publicly calling them “robbers.”
Whatever the exact nature of the financial sin was that was occurring in the Temple at the time, the text in Mark suggests that after this act of clearing the Temple, those in power began to earnestly plot Jesus’ arrest and death. Jesus’ opposition to the money changers was directly related to his arrest and crucifixion later in the same week.
While I would like to identify with Jesus in this story, I realize I am more often in the position of the watching crowd. Or am I the merchant, lining my own pockets with the misfortune of others and making profits or receiving benefits from practices that exploit?
Rape Culture Is Real
The term "rape culture" is a sociological theory in which individuals who sexually harass and assault others are given a social license to do so, as they live in a society that makes excuses for perpetrators and blames victims for their own abuse. Feminist theorists often argue that rape culture beliefs are socialized into young men and women from childhood. Young men are socialized into beliefs that they have power and/or control and entitlement over others' bodies from a very young age. Likewise young women are socialized into believing they control men’s desire and lust via their clothing, behavior, and attractiveness. The theory of rape culture argues that these social beliefs facilitate sexual harassment, inappropriate sexual touch, sexual assault, and sexual objectification of others by reducing the stigma of engaging in unwanted sexual behavior and by increasing a since of entitlement from men towards women.
In Christian spheres of influence there has been an increasing focus — via Sojourners, Christians for Biblical Equality, and likeminded groups — to exposing how social beliefs, church leaders, and authoritarian theology has contributed to rape culture beliefs in the church and in the larger community. This focus comes in the midst of a media debate between social conservatives and social progressives about the very existence of rape culture. Inspired by conservative opposition to the recent publicity from the White House on the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses, this debate was further inflamed by the retraction of a Rolling Stone article about allegations of sexual assault at the University of Virginia. In response, it has become popular in recent months for conservative commentators to argue that there is no such thing as "rape culture."
This escalation of rhetorical debate is dangerous because it distracts from the real concern that rape culture theory was developed to address — that we help socialize dangerous behavior in children by our actions, inactions, and modeled beliefs.
Which Terrorism Matters?
The real war on terror is not a war on Western values or American values. It is evil perpetuating crimes of power and control, and its costs are measured in real in human lives. Those lives are largely black and brown, and the focus on the danger to America with its resulting protectionism and cultural-centrism is endangering lives long term.
Church, let us not join in the narrative of self-preservation. Let us not value those who look and think like our own community more than those who are culturally different. Let us not value the wealthy more than the impoverished. Let justice-speech ring from our pulpits, and let love for the culturally different be reflected in our prayers and our financial endeavors. For the world to hear that in Christ all lives matter, we the Body must speak loudly and demonstrate that #blacklivesmatter #brownlivesmatter.
The Many Ways to Love Like a Mother
As a mental health professional and a mom, I have come to appreciate the incredible importance of family relationships on the development and maturation of children. I’ve also realized that the archetypal family relationships worshipped in our (Christian and secular) culture often have little to do with the real sweat and blood of family life.
My husband and I have a running joke that one day we will start an “ambiguous family relationships” greeting card company. Our imaginary company is designed for those experiencing family situations that aren’t exactly addressed on the cheerful card aisle. Mother’s Day is prime among those occasions that seems to call for our imaginary company’s services. While the consumerist culture portrays images of wonderful family relationships rewarding the hardworking mom with leisure and jewelry, Mother’s Day is not joy and leisure for all. It can be a time of irony and pain for those who have experienced relationship loss, infertility, miscarriage, separation, or death. Mother’s Day in many ways has become a cultural enforcement of the middle class ideal rather than recognition of the real pain and sacrifice of mothers worldwide.
There is a lot of conversation happening in the blogosphere around the movement by Sheryl Sandberg and friends to “Ban Bossy” Many women in leadership in faith circles can resonate with the sentiment of this campaign, as many faith-based institutions historically have silenced women by labeling leadership traits as “unfeminine” while simultaneously enshrining leadership as a male characteristic. Sandberg argued in her TED talk that inspired the movement, that in her experience many girls and women have been called “bossy” when boys and men who express similar sentiments are portrayed as “brave” and “leadership potential.” In my own experience I have experienced and seen this happen and have observed that few places are as guilty of this practice as faith-based institutions. As a professional woman and a mother of two precocious and intelligent girls, I was initially impressed with this effort to reshape the language of educators, mentors, and parents when encountering strong, opinionated children. However, upon further reflection, and after reading several engaging blogs across the political and ideological spectrum, I have changed my mind.
While I applaud Sandberg and associates efforts to highlight the gendered assumptions about leadership that are still present in many institutions and individuals in American society, I think their efforts to “ban” a word are misguided, as “banning” has the effect of stopping dialogue. What is really needed is a cultural conversation about the meaning of “leadership” and the rainbow of its expressions in society. We need an ongoing conversation about how leadership is perceived and how it is expressed in engendered and personality-based and culturally shaped ways. Their efforts to highlight the effects of a label like “bossy” are to be commended, but banning this label alone is not enough for building a future where women and girls have space at the table equal to men and boys, because there are men and boys and culturally different minorities who are also not at the table. It is time that we stop using gender as a straw man and begin considering how labels such as “bossy” construct such narrow definitions of leadership affect both developing boys and girls.
Why My Family Says 'No' to the Santa Claus Myth
A few weeks ago a well-meaning adult asked my youngest child, “What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?” She said, “Oh, I don’t believe in Santa.” I observed an uncomfortable silence, a nervous laugh, then came the question in that tone. “Why wouldn’t you teach your children about Santa? Don’t you like Santa?” Followed by: “Aren’t you concerned that they will ruin the fun for other children” and “Are you using some crazy psychological theory?” as well as “Your children must miss out on so much fun.”
Similarly a pastor friend encountered a strong reaction when he accidently revealed Santa to be a myth in a small group of Christian middle school students. A young girl became emotional and her parents were angry. Until that moment she had believed that Santa provided gifts for all children and her family had intentionally preserved that belief in service of imagination and wonder. I wonder if her parents were aware that had she grown up in a less financially comfortable situation, she would not have been a believer of Santa in middle school. That kind of “innocence” is available only to those with resources to isolate their children from the realities of the world.
Antoinette Tuff: Blessed Are the Peacemakers
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons [and daughters] of God.” Matthew 5:9
The news cycle, the blogosphere, and social justice advocates often focus upon crisis, tragedy, and pain. Moments of freedom, of healing and hope are often drowned out by the cacophonous sounds of self-interest, fear and danger. Today I’d like to silence that cacophony and trumpet loudly about the brave and humble Antoinette Tuff, a peacemaker filled with the Spirit of God, who faced a gunman with her arsenal of love and compassion and saved a school full of children.
Antoinette Tuff’s faith and courage changed the outcome of history on Tuesday, Aug. 20. It is a day that will not live in infamy. Unlike other days that started on a similar path to violence, families did not grieve the loss of their children to the would-be mass gunman who walked into an elementary school with almost 500 rounds of ammunition. Police were scrambled to the scene, but did not have to evacuate classrooms of frightened children watching for a shooter. In fact, despite the heavily armed suspect and a heavily armed law enforcement response, not one person lost their life.
10 Myths of Abuse in the Church
I first became aware of the realities of sexual abuse in the church at the tender age of five. I happened to look at the television screen and witnessed police officers escorting my hand-cuffed youth minister in front of a crowd of reporters screaming questions. The words “YOUTH PASTOR ABUSED CHILDREN” flashed across the television screen.
I was confused and scared. My family comforted and assured me that the pastor had only “hurt” teenage boys and that I was safe. The church hired a new minister and, on the surface, life seemed to resume to normal for our congregation. But as a child I had no idea of the effects of the abuse and its aftermath had on the survivors, their families, and our church community. Many families soon experienced disintegrating marriages, friendships were broken, and faith was lost. One survivor’s family had their home repeatedly vandalized and were forced to move hundreds of miles from our town to escape fellow believers who grew angry with them for filing a lawsuit against the perpetrator.
Church leaders shunned media attention and feared “airing dirty laundry” in public, encouraging members to keep the experience a secret for the sake of the boys and church. As a child, and then a teenager, growing up in an otherwise loving, connected church, I never remember hearing church leaders address this aspect of our shared history in the open. To some of the survivors and the broken-hearted, the silence on this topic was welcome; to others it was deafening. While secrecy was the rule, the legacy of the abuse was real and active in the community. Rather than being cared for with dignity and love, the survivors and their families felt that they were a shameful secret to be whispered about and hidden. I learned as an adult that I was intimately connected with some of the survivors but never knew about their silent pain. I had no idea that I was a participant in a culture of silence and shame that often surrounds sexual abuse and is especially pronounced when boys are abused by men in the church.
How Will I Know I Have Given Enough?
As has happened many times after I have given a talk about the Body of Christ’s responsibility to care for their brothers and sisters experiencing impoverished and dehumanizing conditions, I was asked to answerthose questions — the ones in my experience that are always the first to be asked the moment I stop speaking.
“How will I know I have given enough? How does the church balance financial responsibility with service to the poor? Where do we draw the line?”
These questions always come, sometimes spoken in a curious tone by a person whose heart is being convicted, sometimes in an angry accusing tone insinuating I must hate prosperity, sometimes privately as a whisper in my ear or in a personal email filled with insinuations about my sanity. What a preposterous proposal, that the Body of Christ in any particular location should be the first resource to its own community for spiritual, physical, and emotional well being! Don’t I know that such a mission is naïve and impossible to achieve? Most recently it was phrased like this: “I love this idea, but it is difficult to see benevolence funds go towards someone's electric bill when they smell like they smoked five packs of cigs before meeting with us; what do we do?”
Bright Young Things?
Few companies are as economically successful from their distortion of the sacredness of feminine sexuality as Victoria’s Secret. This lingerie company is one of the most recognized brands in America. Their advertising campaigns are on most television stations, their stores in most malls, and their Christmas fashion show is heralded by some as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Victoria’s Secret’s models have become the American cultural archetype for feminine beauty and sexual objectification. Their semi-divine “Angels” campaign has partially nude models in high heels and wings stare longingly look into the audience speaking “tell me that you love me,” to the unknown viewer, distorting the image of adult female sexuality and love.
While this campaign has been damaging enough to the sexual image of women, Victoria’a Secret has gone a step further. Earlier this year, Chief Financial Officer Stuart Burgdoerfer of Limited Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, announced a new marketing demographic: teenage and tween girls. Bugedoerfer stated about younger girls: “They want to be older, and they want to be cool like the girl in college, and that’s part of the magic of what we do at Pink.”
This new “Bright Young Things” line is a corporate declaration that young girls should be sexualized for profit. This line of lingerie and undergarments includes underwear prominently labeled with the phrases “Call Me,” “Wild,” and “Feeling Lucky.” This is not “magic.” This is note cute. I am not going to remain silent as Mr. Burgedoerfer, Limited Brands, and Victoria’s Secret exploit young women’s developing sexual nature for economic gain.