The Women Exposing Abuse at Their Churches

‘Disobedient Women’ tells the stories of communities controlled by pastors and powerful churches and the organizers who fought back.
disobedient women book excerpt
Collage by Natalie Moreno, photos getty images

In 2021, Sarah Stankorb reported on the culture of control and abuse within the evangelical Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, based on accounts from former members. Her new book, Disobedient Women, follows that story and others, highlighting the women fighting patriarchal norms—and worse—within religious institutions. In this excerpt from the book, Stankorb touches on one of its key themes: how these women use online communities to foster change and heal. 


As I started interviewing women from Moscow, Idaho for VICE, I learned how Christ Church pastor Doug Wilson’s teachings impacted their lives. In his book, Father Hunger, Wilson claimed lack of masculine fathers exerting their authority (a masculinity that “does not simper and lisp”) is a root failing of our culture. Egalitarianism is poison. In Fidelity, Wilson writes “the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.” Authority and submission, he holds, “are therefore an erotic necessity.” He suggests that because our society has lost “biblical concepts of true authority and submission,” caricatures of those roles intrude in our lives with violence. And so “our banished authority and submission comes back to us in pathological forms. This is what lies behind sexual ‘bondage and submission games,’ along with very common rape fantasies.” Men, Wilson writes, “dream of being rapists, and women find themselves wistfully reading novels in which someone ravishes the ‘soon-to-be-made-willing’ heroine.” In The Fruit of Her Hands Nancy Wilson, Doug Wilson’s wife, shares a metaphor for marital sex. Wives cultivate a sort of lovely garden for their husbands and “of course a husband is never trespassing in his own garden.” 


Moscow’s women told me the damage wrought by such teachings, when sex in marriage is not consensual, and when women understand sexual submission as an act of faith. Like many pastors operating in independent or self-made denominations, Wilson functions in ministerial and counseling roles but does not have formal theological training, a seminary degree, or a counseling license. 

More than one Logos student described being questioned in meetings with Wilson, asked for every detail of sex with her boyfriend. Others told me that they’d heard from multiple other students that they’d met with either Doug or Doug and Nancy Wilson and were asked for specifics concerning sexual encounters. The frequency with which that detail was offered was striking. Such behavior with students would surely be inappropriate in a school setting and felt voyeuristic. 


Moscow, Idaho, now sadly well known for a brutal quadruple killing last year, is otherwise on its surface an adorable university town where shops, bars, and restaurants display Pride flags and university students congregate. However, Wilson’s reach is everywhere. Some Christ Church holdings—the downtown church (in a converted theater), a new church plant, tiny St. Andrews College—dwell within existing Moscow storefronts. Wilson headlines Christian education conferences and his protégés lead Christian content creator, Fight Laugh Feast. Today, Kirkers (Christ Church members) do have significant real estate holdings in Moscow. Christ Church also owns Canon Press, through which Wilson has produced over 100 books under his own name, plus others by his family members. Recently Canon Press published Stephen Wolf’s The Case for Christian Nationalism. Doug Wilson has said Moscow is the right, manageable size for spiritual takeover.


After a local podcast appearance by one advocate named Sarah Bader, anonymous Facebook and Twitter accounts “Examining Doug Wilson & Moscow” (called EDWAM by insiders) exploded from obscurity. There was plenty to cover. One EDWAM tweet reminded readers that Wilson calls unbelieving women “c*nts” and “herpes on heels.” There’s his writing about bouncing women, their “boobs,” and “pushy broads, twinkies in tight tops,” and suggestions that feminism “wants us to be ruled by harridans, termagants, harpies, & crones,” complete with pestering from “small-breasted biddies.” 

After about a year reporting on Moscow, I got to speak to the woman anonymously leading EDWAM. To protect her identity—and she has deeply felt safety concerns—she suggested that I call her “Priscilla and Aquila,” named after first-century Christian missionaries and a nod that there are “kind men who are with their sisters in being against abuse, who are part of the group.” 

Years ago, her own kids attended a school in Wilson’s classical Christian model and came home with a middle-school exercise, wondering, “Is this right?” Her son showed her an assignment directing students to write a letter from the perspective of a slave to a Northern friend, “telling them how good you have it as a slave.” 


“What? What am I seeing? How can this be?” she recalls thinking. 

Today, Priscilla and Aquila’s primary concern is the people who reach out to EDWAM. Often, it’s women who don’t have “a framework or words to articulate that they’re being abused.” The usual pattern consists of women from Moscow who have been part of the church—which they loved—for years. Then they “started to hear things” and think “Well, they’re kind of describing me and my life.” EDWAM does small things like sending links for help identifying domestic violence. Too often, the recipients are “women who have bought into the ideology, and they are part of it, and then for whatever reason, their husband rapes them, beats them. And they just reach their breaking point.” 

Like for other women I met reporting Disobedient Women, online communities have been vital to recognizing wrongdoing and finding peers who have had similar experiences. Priscilla and Aquila once told me, “The internet is the great leveler. It’s changed everything for victims. It’s given victims a way to have agency and a voice.” Before the internet, “you had powerful men with powerful platforms who could just shut down victims because they had the bully pulpit. But now…you’ve got victims who have found their voices who are speaking up.” 

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Excerpted from Disobedient Women by Sarah Stankorb. (Copyright 2023) Used with permission from Worthy Books, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.