Tag Archive | church

Hello, my name is self-righteous

By Doug Kerr from Albany, NY, United States (Otter Lake, New York) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Warning: Long. Ranty. Contains mentions of abuse.

Over the weekend, I read Hello, My Name Is Church, a blog post helpfully shared with me by one of my Twitter friends.  It’s been ages since I almost injured myself from rolling my eyes so much, so I was grateful to be back in the game.  I won’t say this is the worst thing I’ve read so far this year (that prize now goes to another article on girls and modesty, which I may blog about later this week).  It is, however, the worst thing I read between New Year’s and Epiphany, so it’s still in contention for the Top Ten.  Hooray!

It’s hard to tell exactly what Unappreciated Pastor is going for here.  I can’t tell if he’s talking about people who walked away from Christian faith, from church attendance in general, or just from his specific congregation (wouldn’t be surprised, judging by the name he goes by).  It sounds like he’s conflating all of those things.  Let’s get to his “poem,” shall we?

He has some ideas about why people just avoid the whole scene:

Perhaps you have heard that I am…

Boring
Shallow
Cheap
A waste of time

You’ve heard that I am full of:

Hypocrites
Clowns
Greedy people
The self-righteous

So, these people have merely heard that those things are found in church.  Even in my days of poorly-orchestrated evangelism, I never once had anyone tell me they didn’t want to go to church because they’d caught rumors that it wasn’t all that great.  I think a lot of people don’t go because (gasp) they already have beliefs.  Shocking, I know.

Next, he has some words for people who showed up once and didn’t like it.

Maybe you have visited me before and discovered:

Horrible music
Passionless singing
Dry preaching
Rude congregants

Apparently those people were just attending the wrong church, because one visit and they never wanted to go back again owing to the off-key praise band or the pastor’s uninteresting sermon.  There are two wrong assumptions here.  First, how does Unappreciated Pastor know whether these people didn’t just find a church they liked better?  I mean, in my city, it’s not that hard.  We have several within five minutes of our house.  Second, he’s doing the same foolish thing entertainment-focused churches do in believing that superficial things are, in fact, what drive people away.  The only difference is that he makes it the fault of the visitor rather than the church.

Now we’re getting into the meat of the thing.  Here’s what he thinks of people who “needed” the church:

Maybe you needed me and I was:

Too busy
Too “righteous”
Too broke
Too blind

Yes.  Because no one should find it off-putting that we didn’t get help when we required it.  I think it’s a very strange thing indeed that conservatives often claim the local church should help “the poor” (or at least, the “deserving” poor) rather than the government stepping in.  Yet people should stick it out when they are in need, despite the fact that whatever church Unappreciated Pastor is referencing (hopefully not his own) isn’t coming through.  Also, what the hell does he mean by “too ‘righteous’” in this context?  Hm, maybe those two things are connected.

Up next, here’s what happens when you’re a disgruntled member:

Maybe you joined me and found I was:

Distant
Demanding
Dull
Preoccupied

Maybe you tried to serve in me but were caught off guard by:

Business meetings
Committees
Teams
Bureaucracy

We’re back on the dull thing again.  It’s obviously a great filter, since we’ve already weeded out the people who only heard that it’s boring and the ones who showed up once and fell asleep during the sermon.  I wonder if that would work to get jackasses out of the congregation–bore them away.  You’d have to let the rest of the congregation in on the secret first, though, or you’ll lose them too.  And God knows members don’t have any other reasons for leaving the church, of course.  It’s all about how church isn’t entertaining.  No one ever leaves because they simply don’t believe anymore or because they were sick of the constant shaming or because women are considered lesser beings or because the church is vile toward LGBT people or because a person in authority violated them.  Nope.

So, what happens if you try to leave?

Maybe you left and were surprised that nobody:

Called
Cared
Noticed
Invited you back

He’s not serious, right?  Leaving church can be a scary thing indeed.  It would be a blessing for many to go without being hounded.  Also, the way that’s framed makes it sound like people walk away in hopes that someone will give them reason to stay.

Perhaps your experience has driven you to:

Speak negatively of me
Swear to never come back to me
Proclaim that no one needs me
Believe you’re better off without me

I have serious doubts that Unappreciated Pastor has actually tried to find out the real reasons people leave church.  I would venture a guess that he’s never sat down and listened to story after story of people who have been hurt.  Maybe he doesn’t see the pain in the eyes of people who want so desperately to experience the kind of love than many churches promise but only deliver to those deemed worthy.  If he had, he might have to acknowledge that some people have good reason to speak negatively of their experiences or step away and never look back.

If this is true, I have something to say to you:

I’m sorry
I was wrong
I blew it
I made a huge mistake

This would be a great place to stop.  Well, it might also help to recognize that boredom and committees are not what’s driving people away from the church.  Still, it’s nice to have an apology.

But remember, I never said my name was:

Perfect
Flawless
Complete
Arrived

Or not.

We get it.  Churches aren’t perfect.  People aren’t perfect.  And really, if the simplistic view of what’s wrong with the church as outlined above were true, then I could absolutely buy it that we need to be okay with imperfection.  In light of what actually happens, though, I’m pretty uncomfortable with this.

My name is church. I welcome the:

Hypocrite
Dry
Self-righteous
Shallow

I welcome the

Sincere
Passionate
Forgiving
Selfless

And if this were the only thing we needed to be concerned about, I’d be cool with that definition of “flawed.”

I cannot shut my doors to the people who make you:

Angry
Uncomfortable
Impatient
Self-conscious

Oh, really?  Because  I see the church do this all the time.  The trouble is, they’re usually so busy shutting the doors on those who make people angry or uncomfortable because of who the church perceives them to be that the church fails to shut the doors on abusers.

But I would remind you that we couldn’t always worship in the same room. In the Old Testament there was a division between the:

Gentile
Jew
Man
Woman

Your point being?  I’m not sure what parallel he’s trying to draw.

In order for us to all worship in the same room Christ was:

Shamed
Beaten
Killed
Resurrected

Er…okay.  Though Jesus broke a lot of barriers when he was alive, too.  Also, Unappreciated Pastor has obviously not been to a modern-day synagogue.  It’s been maybe twenty years since I attended services, but last time I was there, women and men were sitting right next to each other.  Fancy that.

Which is far worse than being:

Bored
Uncomfortable
Embarrassed
Ignored

Oh!  I get it now.  Jesus died, so how dare you not like church services?  Because you could not possibly have anything in your church experience that is as terrible as being dead.  No one’s ever actually died because of something inflicted on them by the church, right?  Oh.  Wait.

So why not come back to church and let all of these messed up people:

Challenge you
Sharpen you
Strengthen you
Humble you

Why not come back to church and let all these messed up people continue to harm you in exactly the same way they were doing before you left?  Sounds like a date!

I can’t promise you that the people will be great. This is church. It’s not:

Heaven
Paradise
Beulah Land
The Celestial city

Translation: “I can’t promise to protect you, and I might even try to excuse some of the things that are happening to you because I think it’s your fault.”

Come back.

God wants you here.
The body needs you here.
The world needs your witness here.
You belong here.

Hello, my name is church.

I miss you.

I love you.

I’m sorry.

Can’t wait to see you.

“I’m sorry.  It’ll never happen again.  I need you.  I can’t live without you.”  Heck, why not throw in a “No one will ever love you the way I do” for good measure?

If you’ve left regular church attendance or church membership or the Church or Christianity as a whole, you have good reason.  I’m sorry if I’ve ever dismissed you.  I’m sorry that people like Unappreciated Pastor have written whole pseudo-poems discounting your reasons for leaving.  You know what?  I’m even sorry that people think it’s their job to discern what a “good” reason is.  Who cares if you left because you were bored or people acted like ass-hats?  I don’t want to spend social time with a bunch of jerks, either (boy, do I have thoughts on forced friendships).

Hey, Unappreciated Pastor?  I’m sorry that people are leaving your church and you feel down about it.  That actually must suck.  Being a pastor isn’t easy.  May I suggest, though, that instead of writing passive-aggressive and dismissive poetry, you check out my friend Naked Pastor?  He’s been through it too, and maybe his wisdom and humor will help you get by.  Or maybe you’re ready to leave the church yourself, and this is your plea for help.  I’ll light a hope candle for you.

When Church Leaders Plagiarize

By Mars Hill Church (Mark Driscoll) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (See what I did there, Pastor Mark? Proper citation, dude. Learn it.)

I had it all set to post something completely different today, but it will have to wait because darnit, someone is wrong on the Internet.  Okay, a lot of someones.

If anyone has been following church-related news, you may have heard about Mark Driscoll’s latest problem with plagiarism.  Of course, if you have little to no interest in fundamentalist church politics or the behavior of Pastor Mark, then you won’t have heard about it and probably don’t care.  I admit that I almost didn’t care; when isn’t Mark Driscoll doing or saying something at least minimally awful?

I started reading about Janet Mefferd’s accusations of plagiarism and the resultant fallout over at Jonathan Merritt’s site. (Go read through it for a good synopsis of the events and the timeline; also read this.)  In no way am I slamming Jonathan for writing about it.  I’m glad people are continuing to point out this man’s repeated offenses against the Church, the Christian faith, and humanity in general.  My problem is with all the people who are then sharing Jonathan’s posts (and other posts) as though Mark Driscoll being a Supreme Ass-hat is something New and Different.

I’m concerned that people are upset and crying out for justice about the wrong one of Pastor Mark’s transgressions.  Have we so quickly forgotten that this is the same man who thinks oral sex is a good evangelism tool?  He’s obsessed with male sexual pleasure, but in an incredibly misogynistic and homophobic way.   He’s also the guy who regularly shuns people who try to leave the electric fence of his “ministry”;  attempted to “reach out” to a section of Seattle known to have a large gay population under the pretense of AIDS ministry (dear God, I should not have to explain how bigoted that is); and tweeted about “effeminate anatomically male worship leaders.”  And those are just the tip of the iceberg–outlets such as Wartburg Watch, Stuff Christian Culture Likes, and Mars Hill Refuge have been pointing these things out for ages.

Every time I (or someone with more direct experience than I have) tries to talk about the damage being done, someone is quick to rush to his defense and explain how “some of what he says is beneficial!”  Whether or not that’s true is debatable, but at the very least, that’s a truly ridiculous statement.  Do you mean to tell me that there are no other people less brutish than Pastor Mark saying some of the same things only without the hateful overlay?  If that’s the case, I question your judgment.

I’m not much on name-calling because I don’t think it’s helpful most of the time.  But in this case, I’m gonna go ahead and do it (heck, even Jesus did it when the situation required it): Mark Driscoll is a complete douche.  He teaches and encourages the most vile things and seems to have not one iota of compassion for actual human beings.  All you people retweeting and sharing and forwarding the latest kerfuffle over his alleged plagiarism–where were you when real people told their stories of being harmed by Pastor Mark and his ministry?

Now that he’s been caught with his hand in the textual cookie jar, some of the same people eager to defend his ministry are suddenly rushing to judge him for violating the law of the land.  Others–who previously apparently didn’t give a damn one way or another–are repeating the story like it’s Church Scandal of the Year.  While you’re at it looking for some legal consequences, please take a few minutes to review the notes of the people who left his church.  Consider those who are still deep within his cult-like ministry, desperate to escape but unsure how to do it without facing his brand of church “discipline.”

I’m tired of the influence this man has on American Christianity.  It’s time we saw him for the bully he is and started looking to someone else for spiritual guidance.

Stop hate-watching the survivors

This post happened last week (trigger warning for policing how people heal from abuse.)  Dianna Anderson has a good response regarding healing and recovery.  From that angle, her post is a must-read.  I want to approach Richard Clark’s post from a different perspective.

I absolutely agree with Dianna that it’s wrong to tell people how they should heal–what form that should take or what the time frame must be.  Doing the work of a survivor is good and important work, and some might even call it holy.  Clark doesn’t really have any business policing that.  But there’s something else that he’s missing, and I think it’s related to tone-policing.

First, one of his biggest mistakes is assuming that the people who are (as he calls it) “hate-watching” and/or “mocking” the church are Christians–or religious at all, for that matter.  Quoting Scripture and talking about when and how Jesus used mockery are irrelevant to people who don’t believe the Bible to be a sacred text.  Just because someone used to be part of a church doesn’t mean that person was ever a Christian, is one now, or ever will be one.  There are many possibilities there, none of which Clark bothers to acknowledge.  Telling people outside the church how they should write, speak, or behave and putting it in Christian terms is like trying to apply U.S. federal laws to Canada.

Second, Clark fails to see that this isn’t like someone getting bad service in a restaurant and venting about it afterward.  It’s not just a casual visit to a church, deciding it wasn’t a good fit, and looking elsewhere.  We’re talking about long-term abusive teachings and behaviors, many of which were perpetrated on underage people for years.  Damage done in childhood takes a lot to overcome, and it’s pretty disturbing how many people have had similar experiences at the hands of pastors and teachers within the church.

Third, there’s more at stake here than individual people’s recovery.  This is about the ways in which the church has, as an institution, continued to wound people deeply.  If you see a house on fire or someone committing a crime or a person in need of immediate medical attention, don’t you have an obligation to at minimum call emergency services?  That’s what so many of us have been doing in our own ways–we’ve been writing, teaching, and speaking about this problem and working actively in our day-to-day lives to help end the abuses at the hands of religious leaders and institutions.

Richard Clark and others don’t appear to be heeding our words.  At least, when they write about “hate-watching,” it’s a little hard to tell that they’ve heard us.  We don’t want just to vent about the abuses at Mars Hill or John Piper’s teachings or Westboro Baptist’s protests or tweets about children being deeply broken.  We’re not using the Internet as an electronic therapist.  We don’t merely want to be heard and acknowledged.  We want it to stop.

I’m exhausted from those within the institution telling me I’m doing it wrong or I’m “hurting my cause” or I’m “hate-watching,” because we’ve tried every possible way to say the same things and not one of them has ended these abuses.  We’ve tried the quiet polite way; the humorous way; the angry, ranty way; the sarcastic mocking way; the pleading way.  We’ve written, shouted, set it to music, and created artwork about it.  We’ve asked for those directly hurt to be heard and we’ve asked for the allies to be heard.  And yet it continues.  What the hell else do you want us to do?

I’m tired of hearing about how we’re all just seeing oppression everywhere (and implying it doesn’t really exist), even in the face of solid evidence that it does.  The primary problem isn’t the score-keeping of who is more oppressed or whether sometimes the same person who holds privilege in one situation lacks it in another.  For example, I’ve lately seen statistics floating about on the percentage of college-educated women and women’s earning power.  That’s great, but it doesn’t erase institutionalized sexism–particularly within the church.  It certainly doesn’t give anyone a free pass to ignore misogyny when they see it.  The problem isn’t whether a given church has made a commitment to battling oppression but that church as an institution still perpetuates it.

I’m weary of being told that people/churches are imperfect, because that’s just an excuse for ignoring those who have been hurt.  Of course churches are imperfect and people are imperfect.  But why shouldn’t people and churches work toward being better?  Why should any form of bullying, abuse, or oppression be allowed to continue?  We have a responsibility to tell people that these abuses are occurring, and the church as an institution has a responsibility to put an end to the damage.

When these well-known pastors stop hurting people with their teaching; when the church begins to care more about children living in poverty than about the “pre-born”; when more money is spent on those in need than on our buildings and programs; when helping the sick, hungry, and homeless becomes a priority; when justice for victims trumps policing what women put on their bodies; and when all the institutionalized oppression ends, we will surely have no more need to use our words to express our outrage.  Until then, we will use any method we can to get people’s attention.

Richard Clark, you’re trying to fix the wrong problem.  Stop hate-watching those of us who criticize the church and help us do something to end these abuses.

The sacred and the dirty

Note: I should not have to do this, but I will because I need to stem the inevitable tide of people coming over here to argue with me (the person) rather than what I’ve said.  So here goes:  I am not picking on Pete Rollins here.  I’m actually not even picking on what he says in the video clip I’ve linked, because I believe this is (possibly) taken out of context and edited so that it sounds the way the editor wants it to sound.  I am troubled, however, by the idea that it represents, so I’m going to address that.

A friend messaged me to ask my thoughts on this video.  I’ve already replied directly, but I thought about it some more and I wanted to post it here.  (I didn’t ask permission to quote those private messages, but the video is on YouTube and I’m sharing only my own thoughts here.)

At first, I couldn’t quite place what bothered me.  I think it’s perfectly fair for Pete Rollins to have made peace with this particular teaching of the church–his journey is his own, after all, and I don’t think these words were meant for other people to take to heart and apply it to their lives somehow.  That’s an expectation many churches have about things, but this isn’t a pastor preaching to a congregation.  The problem is that the idea expressed herein is not all that far from the way pastors like Mark Driscoll talk about sex: It’s “dirty,” but within marriage, one can enjoy that dirtiness.  (That’s why I have some issues with the way this was edited; I don’t think it’s a fair representation of what Pete’s trying to say, actually, and that kind of pisses me off.)

I’m uncomfortable with the idea that because the church considers sex–or some forms/situations of sex–”dirty,” it is therefore “fun.”  There are several important things that occurred to me about that as I watched the clip:

1. It’s not true for many women in the church.

In many ways, church has taught women to entwine their sexual purity and their value so tightly that it’s not possible to unravel one without the other.  It isn’t sex that’s dirty, it’s we who are dirty for having had it.  That doesn’t go away just because we get married, either.  It’s not really about the specialness of sex; it’s about the specialness of having a Star Trek-worthy vagina (where no man has gone before).  I don’t recall being told that sex was “dirty” before marriage or that some forms were dirty afterward; I recall being told that my future husband wouldn’t want me or respect me unless I was pure.  That’s not the same thing.

2. It’s not true for many men in the church.

Although men may not be taught that they are worthless if they’ve had sex, there’s plenty of shaming for them, too.  I remember applying for a job back in college and talking to one of my potential employers about the application because I thought some of the questions were invasive.  She told me that a former employee in the same organization had been sexually active and therefore the people doing the hiring wanted to know that information because we were working with children.  (I believe that was my very first “WTF?” moment in the church.)  It occurred to me even then that there was something wrong with the idea that any sexually active man was a potential predator.  I’m not convinced that men who have been damaged and shamed by these teachings can so easily decide that dirty = fun.

3. It’s not true for many people in the church who aren’t gender-conforming or who aren’t straight.

I don’t have experience being a person who was taught that my gender identity or sexual orientation are inherently sinful.  I do, however, know what those teachings sound like.  They don’t sound anything like sex being holy or sacred or blessed within marriage.  They sound like condemnation.  Pastors who promote the idea of dirty sex being redeemed by marriage are the same people who believe that the only healthy option is to either remain celibate and alone or to conform to the “correct” kind of relationship and/or identity (being the one assigned at birth, of course).  The layers of shame in those teachings won’t be remedied by viewing sex as fun rather than sacred.

4. It’s not true for many people who have been abused, assaulted, or raped.

Conservative Christianity likes to blame victims.  It also likes to tell people they’re going to be healed by having a right relationship with God and a good marriage.  A view of sex as dirty but fun isn’t any more helpful than a view that says it’s sacred and beautiful.  For some, it’s not really about what the church has or hasn’t forbidden but about drawing a clear line between “sex practices the church doesn’t like” and “things no one should ever do to another person against that person’s will.”  Neither of those extremes about sex–the sacred and the dirty–speak to issues of consent.

5. The meaning ascribed to sex is not an ethic.

Whether sex is holy or filthy is not the real issue anyway.  The church–liberal and conservative arms alike–is having a hard time developing a healthy ethic around sexuality.  Purity rules, metaphors about Jesus and the Church, and the realness of actual sex are not ethics.  It doesn’t matter whether sex is one thing or another when there are so many other facets to explore.  We’re badly in need of some conversations about consent, gender norms, communication, respect, health and safety, and so on.  Whether we view sex as sacred and mystical or down and dirty isn’t the biggest question on the table, and answering it won’t speak to the deeper problems.

6. Holy vs. Dirty is a false dichotomy anyway.

Who cares if some people want to view sex as some sacred, beautiful experience?  No, really.  If that’s part of some people’s relationships, what’s wrong with that?  There might be a problem with that being the only view of sex, but as one of many, it’s not a problem.  Also, why can’t sex be both holy (isn’t love itself holy?) and messy, complicated, and enjoyable?  Those aren’t truly opposites.  For example, one can view the actual moments and acts as naughty, yet still see the underlying connection created as special.  In fact, separating those from each other is exactly the problem with Mark Driscoll’s view of “biblical” sex.  It’s fixated on the acts themselves and deciding which ones are okay and which are not.  That’s obsessive and controlling, not empowering and freeing.

I’m going to emphasize again the desperate need for the church to have this conversation.  We need to stop creating lists of rules.  As I said before, the problem here is not Pete’s words in the video I linked, nor is it whether I personally find them meaningful.  The problem is that we don’t have a better way to talk about these things because we’re busy grinding our gears on what rules to apply.    We’ve so convinced ourselves that we can somehow use out-of-context Bible verses to solve our every problem that we’ve effectively shut down communication on the topic.

Obviously, I don’t believe the words in the video are an end point.  They can’t be.  I do hope, though, that they are another place to start talking.  If what Pete Rollins says isn’t strictly true or useful, then what else can we come up with that could be?  Where can we take this conversation that we haven’t tried before?

“But we’re not all like that!”

Straight Ally Flag

Not gonna lie, I’m sure I’ve said those exact words.  Or, more specifically, I’ve muttered them at my computer screen, whispered them to God late at night in bed, and thought them angrily in my head while listening to people preach.  Up until a couple of years ago, I didn’t dare speak them out loud, because to do so would mean to lose the people I hoped to help move toward change.

I admit, I’m not a huge fan of Dan Savage, but I credit him with saying something that made me take notice.  He said Christians should stop hiding behind “not all like that” (I’m paraphrasing here).  He specifically meant in regard to support of LGBTQI people, but I think it applies just about everywhere that -isms reside.  We can’t just sit silently or straddle fences; if we’re against oppression, then we need to do something about that.  (Honestly, I could just shorten that to “Fuck living in the tension.” If I never hear that phrase again, I will die happy.  It strikes me as a way of trying to have one’s cake and eat it, too.  Just be honest, dammit–if you’re truly anyone’s ally, spell it out; otherwise, keep your yap shut.)

Anyway, that’s not my point, really.  What I want to write about is the people who wear their “Not All Like That” gold star as a way of silencing people.  I’ve actually found, over the years I’ve been at this blogging thing, that Not All Like That is really code for, “I don’t approve, but I’m going to be nice anyway.”  These are not hidden allies who are scared to speak up; they’re people who still believe they have the right to treat people as issues to fight over.  More often than not, it’s people who are still stuck in an endless loop of “love the sinner, hate the sin” and “it’s the same as any other sin, like being a drunk” (heard that one more times than I can count at this point).  My personal favorite is, “Well, I’m wired to want to cheat on my wife; you’re wired to like people of the same sex–let’s both work on our issues.”  Yech.

An exchange between friends this morning prompted me to think about the ways in which some Christians continue to deny that there’s anything wrong because they aren’t participating in the worst of it.  There were some words traded back and forth about whether or not the Church has chosen to fixate on the wrong problems in the world.  I had a distinct impression of excusing religiously-based heterosexism because it’s not as bad as hate speech.

This is just an alternate form of “not all like that.”  I’m not sure where the idea comes from that the Church bears no responsibility for quite a lot of anti-gay obsession.  A number of prominent organizations and preachers have had pretty vile things to say about LGBTQI people, mostly in public.  There are still places one can go to be “cured” of the “homosexual lifestyle.”  Friends have expressed grief that they’ve been shamed–sometimes publicly–both for being LGBTQI and for being an ally.  It’s easy to see where the Church has gotten a reputation for spending more time and energy on fighting gay marriage than on resolving world hunger (or hell, even hunger in our own country).

At the same time, there’s this new wave of “moderate” Christians who want to distance themselves from what they perceive as the truly evil, while still maintaining a position in which they refuse to acknowledge people’s humanity.  A fellow blogger has pushed every. single. one of my buttons by continuing to act as some kind of spokesperson for the Church of Not All Like That.  She’s written on such cheery methods of “reconciliation” as hugging a gay person (at random? one we know personally? not sure here) and attending a gay pride parade for the purpose of observing the people there.  (Just a bit of advice: Please don’t do that.  Put that way, it dehumanizes people by making them sound like wild animals you’re visiting in their native habitat.)  I’ve seen similar sorts of things across my Twitter and Facebook feeds, and it drives me up the wall.

Listen.  I know you Not All Like That folks mean well; I really do.  But please trust me when I tell you that LGBTQI people and their allies do, in fact, know the difference between patronizing them and actually loving them.  Sometimes, when you have an established relationship, you can make this work.  God bless and more power to ya.  But when you are a random stranger on the Internet?  Don’t.  Just–don’t.  The words, “But I love you anyway” should not come out of your mouth or your keyboard.

It’s easy to say you’re going to love a LGBTQI person (or hug them or stare at them at Pride or write precious things about how you care for them even though you “disagree” with who they are).  I recommend against saying it, though.  It’s a lot more important that you do it.  Your LGBTQI friends and family don’t actually require your approval to be who they are, so telling them that you “love them anyway” is not likely to further that relationship.  That isn’t acknowledging anyone’s personhood, it’s making you feel better for trying hard not to be a jerk.

I’m kinda done with the whole fence-sitting thing; I have been for a long time.  I don’t bother trying to engage people in conversation so I can convince them to change their position.  I used to be willing to go there, but not anymore.  Honestly (and I apologize for this), I was making humans into issues.  There was a point at which I truly wanted everyone to stand on what I believed to be the “right” side.  What I want now is for people to just be honest.  I’m not interested in making space for anyone at my table–I want a whole new table where people don’t need to ask for space.  If don’t want to do that, then own it.  Don’t pretend you’re honoring the full humanity of others while still refusing them a seat.

Notable News: Week of June 8-14, 2013

Happy Friday! Here at our house, this is the last Friday of the school year (for the kids, anyway).  They’re done as of next Wednesday.  I’m glad, because I need a vacation.  The nice thing about the school calendar is that just when I’m starting to feel burned out, we get another break.  I’m going to be making the most of mine, that’s for sure.

Here are the cool (and not-so-cool) things I read this week:

1. The “question” of consent

Dianna Anderson has a fantastic post on dignity and not treating people as questions to be answered.  She rightly points out the inherent problem of calling consent a question and where the Church must tread lightly in regard to ideas open to debate.  Ironically, the same day I read this post, I read another one in which the writer cheerily talks about wanting to interact with “the gay community” in order to demonstrate how loving she is–all while simultaneously referring to “the gay lifestyle” as being outside God’s perfect design.  Guess that writer didn’t read Dianna’s post first.

2. The “question” of breadwinning wives

I highly recommend you make time to read all of Danielle’s response to Mary Kassian’s post on breadwinning wives.  I particularly liked the second part, My Marriage Is Not a Form of Prostitution.  In parallel, I’ve seen couples treat marriage this way outside of the career/financial angle–a lot of people seem to think that it’s an acceptable transaction to trade sex for goods and services.  I’m not convinced that’s a healthy view of marriage.

3. Questions for N. T. Wright

If you’re a fan of Wright’s work, you may be interested in his responses to readers’ questions on Rachel Held Evans’ blog.

4. The “question” of women teaching

This is a great read from Laura Ziesel about the illogical view of women as “more easily deceived.”  I have long held that not only can we not determine exactly when a boy is too old to be taught by a woman (many churches arbitrarily use 18), we also have the stupid view that a 70-year-old life-long woman of faith cannot teach a young, inexperienced barely adult male of 18 or 21.  Now there’s another one–that women, being weaker and more easily deceived, should probably not be teaching children, either.  What a load of manure; thanks, Laura, for pointing that out.

5. Questions for a couple coping with chronic illness

This is an interesting interview with a couple in which the wife has endometriosis.  I appreciate the wisdom in recommending that the Church develop healthier ways to talk about sex and relationships, especially given the fact that it’s never one-size-fits-all.

6. The “question” of PDA

Yeah, I admit I’m one of those people who prefers that couples not stick their tongues down each others’ throats in public or grope each other under their clothes on the beach.  But a little kissin’? Heck no, that doesn’t bother me.  It makes me just want to scream whenever I see someone on social media write,

I’m not homophobic, but I really don’t need to see two guys kissing.

I get it that some people don’t like PDA, but until everyone starts pointing it out when they see a het couple doing it, then those people really need to keep that thought to themselves.  Anyway, go read this article about couples who were asked to leave for PDA and then try to tell me it’s not homophobia.

7. Love isn’t a question

My fellow writer Aaron Smith has written a beautiful guest post over on Registered Runaway’s blog.  He says it all; I have nothing to add.

8. A question of point of view

Novelist Adrian Smith explains using second person.  I do it all the freakin’ time, on this blog and in casual speech, but I’ve never written a story in second person.  When done well, it’s good; when done poorly, it’s awful.  See if you can make it work. (See what I did there?)

9. The “question” of modesty

Oh, dear Lord, here we go again.  We women don’t know what we “do” to men.  Apparently, they have to repeat the internal mantra, “Don’t think about boobs don’t think about boobs don’t think about boobs dammit I’m thinking about boobs.”  This just seriously creeps me out, because I don’t think I know any men who really have these issues, but a few who do have managed to convince a whole generation of young men that they do, too.  So gross.

10. A question for Cheerio-despising racists

At the end of this spoof of the Cheerios ad with the biracial couple, the question is: “What? Now this is a problem?”  Go watch it and share the funny with your friends.

11. A story with a question

I’m not entirely sure what happens after the end of my story for Fiction Friday.  I’ll let you decide.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

The Smokin’ Hot Wives Club

Photo by Nyki M

I wonder where all these pastors are learning to use social media to tell the world about their sexy wives?

Note: If some of these people seem familiar, that’s because they are.  We may see them again in the future.

Jeff was up, showered, dressed, and seated at the kitchen table with the newspaper when Moira entered the kitchen. He looked up and smiled at her.

“You’re up early,” he remarked.

“Mm. Didn’t you have that breakfast this morning? I figured I should be up in case the kids needed anything.” She flung herself into a chair and slouched over the table.

“Yeah. I need to leave in about ten minutes. You want me to make you some coffee first?”

“Nah, that’s okay. I can do it in a minute.” She yawned.

“All right. I’m going to go finish getting ready, then.” Jeff rose from the table and leaned over to give Moira a quick peck on the cheek. He felt her smile at his touch. “I’ll see you around ten-thirty.”

“Okay. I think the kids wanted to go see a movie today. If the rain doesn’t clear up, that’s probably a good idea.”

“Sure.”

Jeff returned to the bathroom to brush his teeth. He thought about the men’s breakfast he’d been invited to attend. It didn’t sound too bad—just a bunch of guys sitting around talking about stuff. He remembered Doug saying something about the topic being “communication,” whatever that meant. Doug hadn’t been specific; all he’d told Jeff was to meet him at his church at eight on Saturday morning. Jeff replaced his toothbrush, tidied up the bathroom, and was ready to be on his way.

Inside the double doors at the entrance of the church was a small sign with an arrow pointing down a short flight of stairs. It read, “Men’s Breakfast.” Jeff followed the sign into a large room with a tile floor and several round tables. He looked for Doug, but he didn’t see him anywhere. Jeff hung back a bit, unsure what to do with himself.

A tall, broad-shouldered man approached him. “Are you new here?” he asked.

“Sort of,” Jeff responded. “I don’t really go to this church. I was invited here by a friend.”

“Ah. Yeah, we’ve only been here a few weeks ourselves,” the man said. He extended his hand. “I’m Bill.”

Jeff accepted Bill’s hand. “Jeff.”

“I’ve never been to one of these,” Bill said. “We were at a different church, but it was a little—let’s just say it wasn’t for us.”

Jeff didn’t press the issue; he merely nodded. “It happens.”

At that moment, Doug appeared at Jeff’s side. “Hey! Glad you could make it. We’re about to start, so let’s grab seats.”

“Uh, sure.” Jeff turned to Bill. “Want to join us?”

“All right.”

They took seats at one of the tables close to the front. There were already several men at the table. Jeff had been hoping to sit further back, in case he decided to leave, but Doug seemed to have other plans. No sooner had they situated themselves than a muscular man with dark hair, slightly graying at the temples, stood up.

“Good morning!” the man began in a booming voice. He hardly needed the microphone he held in his hand. “I’m Richard, and we’re starting something new in our Breakfast with the Lord series. For the next few months, we’re going to be discussing how to communicate with and about our women!”

There was raucous applause and a few whistles. Jeff made a half-hearted attempt to clap and glanced at Doug and Bill. Doug looked enthusiastic, but Bill’s expression reminded Jeff a bit of exactly how he was feeling himself—wary and confused. Jeff shook his head and tried to concentrate. He decided to keep an open mind.

“All right. Now, the first rule we have here is that what we say stays in this room. We want to create healthy boundaries, am I right?”

Jeff leaned across the man to his right to whisper to Doug, “Is this a twelve-step program of some sort?”

Doug just scowled and murmured, “Sh.”

Richard continued, “This morning, we’re going to learn about the difference between flattering women and complimenting them. We’re going to have the chance to put some of this into practice, men, so don’t get too comfortable!” He paused and looked behind him to where a few men were setting food on a long table. “It looks like the food’s just about ready, so why don’t we pray. Then you can help yourselves and we’ll get this party started. Arnie, how about you say the blessing?”

A thin, balding man stood up and offered a brief invocation. After the “amen,” men began filing up to the table to pile food on their plates. When most people had returned to their tables, Richard took to the microphone again.

“All right. Now, the first thing we’re going to do is introduce ourselves. Go ahead and get acquainted with the men at your table. Be sure you tell everyone your name, and practice giving a compliment about your wife. As we go through the exercise, the leaders at your table will give you guidance about how you talk about the most important woman in your life.”

Jeff was confused. Why on Earth were they supposed to talk about their wives? And what about unmarried men? He looked around the table; everyone appeared to be wearing wedding bands, so he decided this must only be for married men. Besides himself, Doug, and Bill, there were four others. The man to Jeff’s right looked distinctly uncomfortable.

Doug set his fork aside and addressed them. “I’ll go first, since I’m our table leader. I’m Doug, and my wife is the most beautiful woman in the world. I still light up when I come home to her, even after almost twenty years.” He glanced at the silver-haired gentleman on his right. “Go ahead, you next.”

“I’m Callum, and your wife can’t be the most beautiful woman, because that honor belongs to mine.” There was a bit of nervous laughter. “She’s still the gorgeous girl I married.”

The next two were the same, and Jeff had the renewed sense that this was some kind of recovery program for men who felt guilty that they’d ever had a stray thought about another woman. He cringed at more than one reference to “girls.”

It was Bill’s turn. “Uh, I’m Bill, and my wife is one of the most intelligent and witty people I know.”

The other men just stared at Bill.

“Yes,” Doug finally probed, “but do you still find her attractive?”

Bill frowned. “Sure, I do. What does that have to do with anything?”

Doug shrugged. “How about you, Jeff?”

“Well, as Doug just said, I’m Jeff. My wife works really hard. She’s involved in some environmental—”

Doug cut him off. “I’m getting the impression that you guys don’t really know what the point of this exercise is.”

Jeff raised his eyebrows. “Well, no, I don’t, to be honest. What is the purpose?”

Doug looked like he was barely restraining an eye roll. “We’re practicing ways to talk about our wives so we can bring that home and they’ll feel appreciated.”

“I don’t understand,” Bill said. “Why wouldn’t Jeff’s wife appreciate that he notices what she’s interested in?”

“Because women in our society are admired for their bodies, and most compare themselves to the models and actresses they see. We need to undo all that damage by helping them see how sexy they are to us.”

Jeff frowned. “That doesn’t sound—”

Doug ignored him and turned to the last man at the table. “Well?”

The man flushed slightly, and Jeff felt bad for him. After he and Bill had apparently screwed up, the poor guy probably didn’t want to say something wrong.

“I, um, I’m Chad. And I don’t have a wife.”

Doug really did roll his eyes this time. “Yes, but you’re married. And basically, it amounts to the same thing.”

“It really doesn’t, and I’m not going to say some crap about how hot my husband is.” Chad pursed his lips together and furrowed his brow.

Doug looked like he might say something, but Richard had taken the microphone again, this time with a stack of papers in his hand. Jeff elbowed Chad, who looked over. Under the table, Jeff held out his fist for Chad to bump, which he did, albeit hesitantly. He looked relieved, and he offered Jeff a tentative smile.

“All right, men,” Richard said. “I hope you’ve all had a chance to practice and receive critique. I’m going to talk you through some strategies for how you can make sure your wives are feeling loved and appreciated, especially in this age of social media.” He handed the papers to one of the other men, who began distributing them around the room.

Jeff looked at his copy. By the time he had read through it, he was sure there was actual smoke pouring out of his ears. The majority of the suggestions were about using various phrases to communicate about his wife’s appearance. He didn’t see a single one that referenced intellect, sense of humor, industriousness, compassion, or virtue. The only things on there that weren’t appearance-based were related to cooking, housekeeping, and child-rearing.

He’d had enough. Jeff had no interest in staying for the rest. Before Richard could return to the microphone to introduce any more practice sessions, Jeff muttered, “I need to get out of here.” He pushed back his chair.

He barely noticed the motion on either side of him as he stood up. Without turning around, he stalked to the doors. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw men shifting in their seats to stare at him; he ignored them.

“Wait!”

Jeff turned around slowly, not wanting to have to explain himself. He was surprised to see both Bill and Chad.

“You’re not going to convince me to stay,” Jeff told them.

“I had enough of this kind of thing at the last church my wife and I tried,” Bill said, shrugging. “I don’t think Terrie would like this very much.”

“You’re leaving too, then?” Jeff asked, turning to Chad.

“I’m pretty sure you can guess why.” Chad offered a tight smile. “I mean, I think I should have known I wouldn’t factor into their plans, but I had this notion I might actually learn something about communication.”

“Yeah.”

By that time, Doug had caught up with the three of them. Jeff closed his eyes briefly. He wasn’t sure what he was going to say to his friend. I don’t think much of your church probably wasn’t quite the right thing to tell him.

“Doug—” he began.

“Don’t. Look, I probably should have told you ahead of time, but I didn’t know much myself. I just knew Richard said he was going to be using a program designed by one of those big churches out west. A lot of their affiliates use it, and they even have one designed for leadership seminars.”

Jeff just stared at him. “Don’t play stupid, Doug. You knew. You said it yourself when we were all at the table.”

“I honestly didn’t know anything except that this was based on a men’s Bible study book.” He sighed. “All right, fine. I read the book. But I didn’t know Richard was going to jump right into it at the first session!”

“What book was it?”

Doug looked nervous. “The Smokin’ Hot Wives Club.”

“Oh, hell. You knew about that and you still thought I’d want to show up? Good God, Doug.” Jeff eyed his friend for a moment. “You actually believe this nonsense, don’t you?”

“I—” Doug folded his arms across his chest. “Maybe I do, in fact. Have you seen the response to this? Women eat it up. There’s nothing wrong with reconnecting with your wife, praising her in ways she might not be used to, and letting the world know she’s the only one for you. Do you have any idea how many men this program has prevented from committing adultery?”

Jeff let his mouth hang open briefly before closing it with a snap. “That kind of talk belongs in the bedroom, not a public breakfast or, God forbid, the Internet. Listen, do us both a favor and don’t invite me to one of these again. Or maybe do, so I can have the pleasure of saying no next time.”

“C’mon, Jeff—”

Jeff ignored him and turned back to the exit. He felt something brush his arm, and when he looked to the side, he saw that Bill and Chad were flanking him. Together, they left the building.

When they reached the parking lot, Jeff glanced at his watch. “It’s only eight forty. I don’t have to be home for nearly two hours. You guys want to grab some coffee someplace else? Maybe that diner on the corner of Morton?”

“Sure, why not?” Chad said. He made a face. “Al’s spending the day landscaping with his dad and brother-in-law. Not exactly my thing.”

“I’m game. Terrie’s working this morning anyway.”

“Great. See you there,” Jeff said, sliding into his car.

As he pulled out of the parking lot, Jeff glanced back at the large, brick building. He wondered briefly if the other men were using their smartphones to send tweets about their wives at that very moment. Shaking his head, he realized that he felt sorry for anyone uncreative enough not to know how to give his spouse a genuine compliment. Putting that thought aside, he decided that he would pick up a blueberry muffin for Moira on his way out of the diner. They were her favorite because they used organic blueberries, and she always said they tasted better.

A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Sermons

This story was inspired both by something a rather infamous Seattle-based pastor said about nagging wives and by these two cartoons by Naked Pastor.  Please don’t blame NP; he’s a really nice guy, and it’s not his fault his artwork made my mind go there.

Terrie snagged the mail on her way into the house. She threw it on the table and grabbed herself a glass of water before returning to the dining room to sift through the pile of magazine offers and take-out menus. The postcard halfway into the pile caught her attention and she set it aside to show Bill when he came home from work.

At dinner, Terrie passed her husband the postcard. He examined it thoughtfully. “Well,” he said before pausing to take a bite of his chicken. “We haven’t found a church since we moved here. Maybe we should give this one a try.”

“Any church that doesn’t shy away from sensitive subjects can’t be all bad, right?” Terrie grinned at Bill.

“Definitely. We’ll keep it in mind. If we don’t find someplace else we’d prefer to try, this will probably give us the best impression of what they’re all about.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Terrie agreed.

O_o

The postcard had given Terrie the impression that there was no need to dress up, so, clad in their jeans and casual button-down shirts, she and Bill entered the angular brick building that Sunday. A well-coiffed man in khakis and an ocean blue polo greeted them at the door.

“Welcome! Glad you could join us today,” he said. When he smiled, Terrie half expected the light to glint charmingly off his very white teeth.

“Um, thanks,” Bill said, attempting a manly grin.

Terrie and Bill were swept into the sanctuary with the rest of the crowd. Apparently, a whole lot of people were just as curious as they were about love, sex, and marriage. Terrie took that as a good sign; at least they didn’t stick out as the creepy new people who just came for a lecture on keeping their private parts in check. They found seats and settled in for the service to begin.

There wasn’t anything particularly new or different about the church service.  That didn’t bother Terrie—she figured that as long as the message was good, the rest didn’t matter all that much. She’d never had any special attachment to a style of music or a form of liturgy. She relaxed, enjoying the familiarity of singing contemporary praise songs along with the rest of the congregation.

When the pastor began to speak, Terrie concentrated on his words. He was explaining that although many women did not intend to expose too much of their bodies, most did so inadvertently anyway.

The pastor said, “Ladies, when you dress like that, it’s distracting. All we can see is your body!”

Terrie squirmed a little. She had never considered the possibility that her body might be a source of struggle for anyone else. After all, wasn’t it her body? She glanced over at Bill, wondering what he was thinking. She was surprised to see that he was looking at her, a puzzled expression on his face.

She leaned in and whispered, “What’s wrong?”

He shook his head. “Uh…nothing.” He averted his gaze.

Terrie sat back in her seat. Something felt a little off to her. She shifted uncomfortably, and as she did so, she noticed that she had forgotten to fasten the top button of her shirt.  That must have been what had thrown Bill off. Discreetly, she reached her hand up to slide the button back into place. It wouldn’t budge. She risked a glance downward and saw that it was because the fabric wouldn’t draw together. Since when had this shirt been too tight? It hadn’t felt that way when she’d put it on, had it? She frowned. The shirt was brand-new; it must have shrunk in the wash. She sighed. Obviously she would have to be more careful when she washed her clothes. She turned her attention back to the pastor, who was concluding with some advice for women that they should be careful about maintaining modesty.

After one last song, everyone was dismissed. Terrie stood up and looked around. Being in a new church was always a little awkward. She never felt quite comfortable enough to introduce herself, but she also didn’t care for the feeling of being stalked for recruitment, either. It was usually better to make the first move.

Just as Terrie was about to mingle, Bill grabbed her arm. “Let’s just go,” he said.

Confused, Terrie nodded. Strangely, it seemed like a fair number of other couples were feeling the same way. Terrie followed Bill out of the sanctuary. She remembered that she was a little exposed, due to her button mishap. She felt a tingle of embarrassment creep down her scalp.

She was momentarily distracted by the people walking past her. She realized she needn’t have worried; it looked like it was the official Sunday for wearing slightly-too-tight blouses. Terrie shrugged and let Bill lead her out to their car.

Once they were home, Terrie asked Bill what had him so riled up. He coughed.

“It’s just—that outfit you’re wearing. You look really good.”

Terrie laughed. “That’s all? Hm.” She leaned in. “Maybe I should take it off.”

“Maybe you should,” Bill agreed. “I don’t know what you did differently, but I just can’t take my eyes off you.”

Still laughing, Terrie grabbed Bill’s hand and led him upstairs.

O_o

The following week, they decided to give the church another try. Terrie hadn’t been sure, but Bill had suggested they give it a few weeks before making their decision.

“I don’t know,” Terrie said. “There’s just something a little…odd, I guess, about that church.”

“Come on. Let’s just wait and see.” He thought for a moment. “It’s probably just that we feel uncomfortable with the topic. It doesn’t come up in church that often, you know?”

“Maybe you’re right. Fine, I’ll give it another shot.”

Once again, Terrie and Bill were caught up in the crowd and funneled into the sanctuary. After the worship set concluded, the pastor took his place to preach. Apparently, having addressed the women the previous week, this time the pastor was giving the men their due. He was discussing the problem of lust and explaining how it could destroy a man and his marriage.

“Guys, you are letting your thoughts control you. You need to get a handle on your lust.” The pastor thumped his fist on the lectern.

Terrie smirked a little. Apparently, men were prone to thinking about sex all the time—including in church. She was just suppressing a snicker when she caught a look at Bill out of the corner of her eye. He was shifting in his seat and looking distinctly uncomfortable. Terrie raised her eyebrows, but she said nothing. As she turned her eyes back to the pastor, she noticed that quite a lot of the men were adjusting their bodies. She felt her cheeks heat up. It was one thing to know that her own husband was finding it hard to suppress his reactions; it was entirely different to feel like she’d suddenly been deposited in a room full of thirteen-year-old boys. She concentrated harder on listening to the rest of the sermon.

By the time the band started playing, Bill was begging Terrie to leave a little early. She took in his flushed face and, with a quick peek southward, she decided it was probably for the best. The good news was that they would probably barely be in the door before they would be all over each other. Regardless of whatever else the church had to offer, attendance certainly had its perks.

O_o

When the third week rolled around, Terrie was certain Bill wouldn’t want to return to that particular church. He proved her wrong, however, by suggesting that they stick it out until the end of the series. He thought the pastor had some “interesting points,” as he put it. Terrie shrugged. She didn’t really care. The pastor wasn’t actually saying anything she hadn’t heard before; he was just doing it in a way that made people significantly more embarrassed. Or turned on; whatever.

The message was different that week. The official sex talk over with, the pastor had turned to marriage. Terrie was a little bored; it wasn’t anything new. According to this week’s sermon, men were experiencing leadership failure in their homes. They were either lax, allowing their wives to pick up the slack, or they were obsessively controlling. Terrie made a face. She and Bill didn’t seem to have any difficulty with that. As far as she could recall, they’d never even discussed it.

“Men, you lead your homes like cavemen!” the pastor shouted.

Terrie snorted. That was a decidedly silly image. She wasn’t even sure what it meant. Her mind wandered to an image of Bill dragging her by her hair and thumping things with a giant club. She stifled a giggle.

After the previous two weeks, Terrie had hoped they might stay for a bit after church. Everyone (Terrie and Bill included) always seemed to be in such a rush to escape after the service ended. Terrie was beginning to wonder if they even bothered with coffee hour. At least this time everyone’s hormones seemed to be under wraps. Terrie blamed the previous weeks on the topic; frank discussions about sex were bound to lead to at least some frantic groping, right?

As they stood around making small talk, Terrie became aware that there was something subtly off about the men. The lighting was rather dim, so she couldn’t be sure, but they all appeared to be hunched over a bit. And their faces—they just looked, well, strange, for lack of a better word. She wasn’t having any trouble carrying on a conversation with the other women, but the men were just standing around. Every now and again, one of them would grunt something she didn’t quite catch. Oddly, none of the other women seemed bothered by this.

By the time they made their way out to the parking lot, Terrie was glad to be out of there. She waited for Bill to unlock the car, but he was just standing there, seemingly incapable of figuring out what to do. Terrie huffed.

“Bill, can you open the door? I’d like to go home.”

He turned toward her, and she saw that he, too, looked wrong somehow. He said, “Huh?”

“Never mind,” she replied. “Just give me the keys. I’ll drive.” She snatched the keys out of his hands and propelled him toward the passenger side. With a shake of her head, she opened his door and waved at him to get in. She hoped whatever was wrong with Bill would wear off by the time they got home.

O_o

Terrie and Bill had agreed to stick it out at church until the end of the series. Even so, she wasn’t quite sure she wanted to. She knew Bill was having second thoughts as well, but he thought they should give it one last chance. By that point, Terrie didn’t care one way or another.

They were halfway through the sermon on wives being submissive to their husbands before the realization hit Terrie. She inhaled sharply and looked over at Bill. The same thought must have occurred to him simultaneously.

The pastor had just said, “I was listening to a fellow pastor speaking this week. He was just saying how irritating it can be when a wife constantly nags her husband, a lot like a …”

Terrie and Bill looked at each other. “We need to leave now,” she said.

Bill didn’t even question it. Quietly, they stood from their seats and slipped out of the sanctuary. When the doors had closed on whatever it was the pastor had been about to say, they both sighed with relief. They took a moment to lean against a wall and collect themselves.

“You know, Bill,” Terrie said, closing her eyes briefly, “I don’t think this is the church for us after all.”

“I think you may be right. Next week, let’s try to find one that doesn’t take everything so literally.”

He laced his fingers with hers and, swinging their joined hands between them, they left the church building.

©May 3, 2013 by ABMitchell

Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week: After-Image

Graphic by the amazing Dani Kelley

I wasn’t able to participate in the first day of Spiritual Abuse Awareness week due to other demands on my time.  I wasn’t sure I was going to write anything today, either.  My experiences are mild compared to the horrific things friends and fellow bloggers have shared, and I believe those people who have survived need safe space to heal.  That sometimes includes people like me, who only feel it like the residual tremors of an earthquake, remaining quiet and letting others tell their stories.  But I had an experience that reminded me that everything has consequences, even if we don’t realize it at the time.  So here is my story about the aftermath of dealing with spiritually abusive people and how deep it can make us bleed.

Last Sunday, the pastor asked to speak to us about our son.

I was on my way in alone; I was playing my violin during the service and had arrived early to practice with the choir.  My husband and children were driving separately.  The pastor stopped me on my way up to the choir loft and said,

I’d like to talk to you for a few minutes in my office after church, about your son.

I must have looked surprised, because she added that it was about his baptism, which is scheduled for the Sunday after Easter.  I nodded and told her that was no problem.  But inside, I was panicking.

That’s not really a healthy response to a conversation with a pastor.

I need to say here that our pastor is a lovely woman.  She is kind and gentle and delivers fantastic sermons.  She has been nothing but loving and warm towards our family, our children in particular.  My daughter warmed to her immediately, which is fairly miraculous–she has discriminating taste in people.  So there are no circumstances under which I should feel threatened or intimidated by this pastor.  Even if I had committed some grave error, I suspect she would handle it with grace.

And yet.

My immediate reaction to anyone in spiritual authority asking to speak to me has become one of fear.  I have learned to expect rebukes rather than positive conversations.  When I realized what had happened, that my response was out of proportion with reality, I was puzzled.  Where in the world did such feelings come from?

I knew that it wasn’t really the result of my experiences as a teenager.  I was a little afraid of the pastor of that church, but I don’t believe that I thought of him as genuinely in authority over me.  I had no sense of church politics or hierarchy; I was in a bubble of Christian youth culture (as much as there actually was back in the late ’80s/early ’90s).  And it certainly didn’t come from the ten years my husband and I spent at our first church as a married couple.  That pastor and his family were like an extension of our own.  We were close, and we remain in touch to this day despite the 3000 miles separating us.

I’m sure you can guess where this is going.  I am not going to sit here and say that I was spiritually abused by our church or the leadership*.  That would be lying, and it would be hurtful to those who are still involved.  But I will tell you this: There were people in authority there who absolutely, unquestionably used intimidation tactics on me and on others.  I was spoken to multiple occasions about my writing, particularly in regard to my feminism and my unwavering stance as an LGBT ally (and once or twice about my parenting).  I was never told I shouldn’t blog or use social media, but I received subtle threats about it more than once.  Additionally, there were a few adults who used my children for the purpose of coercion and “correction.”  (Nothing makes me go all Mama Bear faster than church people using my kids as weapons.)

None of that may sound particularly bad; and perhaps it isn’t.  But taken as a whole, it damaged my sense that pastors and leaders are safe people.  They may not overtly threaten or shun or shout from the pulpit, but they hold power over the people–in large part because they (or the church structure) dictates that they do.  When leaders wield their authority inappropriately, it undermines people’s faith that they can trust them.

This is exactly what happened to me.  I believe that over time, I can–and will–regain my ability to trust, because it wasn’t damaged beyond repair.  But there are others for whom the same cannot be said.  This is unacceptable–not because it’s unacceptable to be non-religious or non-churchgoing, but because the reason for being non-religious or non-churchgoing should never, ever be because it was literally or figuratively beaten out of you.

By the way, the reason the pastor wanted to talk to us was so she could set a time to come to our house to speak to our son about what will happen when he’s baptized, physically and spiritually.  We met last night, and it was good–exactly as I should have expected.

I hope you will read the other stories about spiritual abuse this week.  There are some remarkable survivors out there.  Take the time to get to know them through their words.  And if you have been spiritually abused, please read this excellent post by Caleigh on self-care.  Meanwhile, I’m going to spend some time praying for the strength to trust again.

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*That is not to say that I wasn’t exposed to abusive beliefs or teachings; I’m speaking specifically here about being directly abused, harassed, threatened, mistreated, intimidated, etc. by pastors, elders, and other leaders in the church.

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For more posts on spiritual abuse, visit these web sites:

Wine & Marble: Spiritual Abuse Day 1

Joy in this Journey: Spiritual Abuse Day 2

 

Holy Hand Sanitizer

By Tlow03 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever been somewhere and needed to clean your hands but were unable?  Perhaps you were in a public restroom and the soap had run out.  Maybe it was in church last week when you passed the peace and shook the hands of twelve strangers.  You might have been in the park and picked up some stray trash.  If you’re a parent, you’ve surely experienced the same thing with your kids–they tend to get their hands on a whole lot of disgusting stuff, and there’s not always a bathroom nearby.

For times like that, I keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer in my purse.  It’s not ideal, even though it says on the label that it will kill the germs.  I don’t know about you, but I never feel quite clean enough.  It’s better than nothing, but I nearly always think, I can’t wait to get home and just use water and real soap.

The church can be a bit like that hand sanitizer in the way we treat people and the issues in their lives.  This morning, I read this excellent piece by Jennifer Luitwieler on the ways in which our culture promises happiness is the reward for skinniness.  Now, this was about the wider society, not the church, but a thought struck me: Inside the church, we do exactly the same thing, but we dress it up in Jesusism.

I read a blog post a couple of months ago in which the writer claimed that being fat wasn’t okay with God.  It was my opinion then, and it remains so now, that the writer was projecting her own beliefs and insecurities on other Christians.  The truth is, God is not sitting up in heaven policing our bodies and demanding that we be thin.  There is absolutely no command in the Bible about being thin.  We could have a conversation about gluttony, but we need to keep in mind that fat and gluttonous are not synonyms.  What’s really going on here is that the cultural pressure to be skinny has seeped into our churches.  Instead of being counter to society, we’ve appropriated societal norms and bent them to a Christian worldview.

Body image isn’t the only way the church has done this.  We’ve done it with parenting, money, leadership, and even sex.  We don’t look for our actions in the persistent call for justice that runs like a river throughout the whole of Scripture.  Instead, we’ve merely taken what’s happening in the world at large and tried to write new rules that conform to our interpretation of the Bible:

  • Culture says skinny is good/fat is bad; the church says God wants you to be a “healthy weight” through “biblical principles.”
  • Culture provides fertile ground for arguments and attacks on parenting style; the church says there is a Biblical way to parent, which is different based on which interpretation of Scripture one uses and looks remarkably similar to secular styles.
  • Culture bombards us with investment opportunities and encourages spending; While the church may not encourage consumerism (though this is debatable), it does encourage investment, savings, and tithing (which may or may not actually help those in need, and a portion of which funds the church itself).
  • Culture has standards for “excellence” in leadership and one can find books and seminars almost everywhere; the church not only encourages the same principles used in business, but often looks to secular leaders for advice.
  • Culture provides sex without context; the church provides context without sex.  Neither encourages having both.

You may be thinking one of two things.  First, if you believe we once were a Christian nation, you may be thinking that I have it backwards–it’s the world that has corrupted these biblical principles and the church is merely trying to redeem them.  Second, you may be thinking that there is nothing wrong with using the things that have value, so long as we don’t lose sight of God’s truth.  Both lines of thinking are flawed.

First, there is no such thing as a Christian nation.  Even if there was a time when most people at least nominally believed, by the very nature of who Jesus is there cannot be a Christian government.  Jesus effectively silenced any notion of that in the way he ran counter to both the Roman authorities and the religious ones.  We have no business linking God and human rule.  We also have no business–for much the same reason–linking Jesus and culture.

Second, there isn’t anything wrong with making use of good sense.  It is indeed wise, in our society, to save money for retirement.  But that isn’t a biblical principle!  That’s an entirely secular one.  By biblical standards, we should be making sure that our poor and our elderly and our children and our infirm are cared for–without expecting that they’ve “planned” for it.  There is nothing wrong with having healthy bodies, but we simply cannot get carried away to the point that we use junk science to support our theories and then call that “biblical.”

In other words, there is no problem with being part of our culture, as long as we don’t become confused and think that what culture says is biblical.  We ought to take our cues first from the calls to love and justice in the Bible, rather than attempting to use the Bible to whitewash the culture.  The problem is that the church has mostly been in the business of sanitizing worldly principles.  Instead of making a commitment to this,

But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream! [Amos 5:24]

we’ve tried to apply the Bible like a Band-Aid to what the wider culture says.  We haven’t committed to helping people find healing and wholeness.  We’ve rather criticized them for what we believe are “poor lifestyle choices,” which are remarkably similar to what secular culture calls “poor lifestyle choices.”

I would love to stop reading blog posts and listening to sermons on the Ten Ways We Can Improve Our Lives.  I don’t need another podcast with five points all starting with the letter P.  I don’t need a workshop on becoming an effective leader.  I need opportunities to love my neighbor, feed the hungry, and care for the oppressed.  Jesus doesn’t care which seminars I’ve attended, he cares which people I’ve served.

When are we going to stop turning church functionally into hand sanitizer?  When will we reach for the cleansing soap and water and really wash ourselves clean?