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Bridge to Nowhere

Last night, I was on Twitter discussing the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission Summit.  Unsurprisingly, there is still a lot of ignorance in the Southern Baptist Convention about LGBTQ people and issues.  I won’t waste time quoting the worst of it; you can easily search for it if you’re that curious.

What I found interesting was the ensuing discussion about building bridges.  Just the term building bridges is often so loaded that it can be hard to have a conversation about it.  It’s been used to mean everything from asking LGBTQ Christians to make the first move to progressive Christians who won’t take a firm stand but want dialogue to liberal Christian allies sharing the burden for reconciliation.  There’s disagreement on all sides about whether any or all of those things are good.

To be perfectly honest, I’ve never been much of a bridge-builder.  I’m pretty fierce when it comes to standing with those I love.  When I was new to blogging about these things, I was in a much darker place than I am now.  I was immersed in a church culture that seemed intentionally unloving towards LGBTQ people while putting on a good face.  There was nothing in me that wanted to bring people together—I wanted them to change their minds!

To an extent, I still feel that way.  But now, I also believe it’s my responsibility to use my perceived privilege to reach out to people who might not be sure how to take that next step.  I’m still not convinced that “I don’t care if you’re gay, but you shouldn’t be in a relationship” is terribly loving.  In fact, I’m sure it’s not.  On the other hand, I don’t need to be hostile about it, either.  That’s the point at which I will do more good affirming people’s humanity than arguing my point.

With all of that said, there are some people who will never be able to have rational conversations about any kind of sexuality.  Their condescension, moral superiority complexes, and outright hate prevent any kind of dialogue.  It is impossible to claim, “But I love gay people!” while looking down your nose disapprovingly.  The sorts of people who would compare being gay to rape or who would deliver entire sermons outlining the finer points of gay sex for the shock value or whose gag reflexes are tripped by gay people are not the sort whose table I want to sit at.

I’m not the only one.  I enjoyed tweeting with Rachel Held Evans and Ben Moberg (as always; they are good people), and we had this exchange (it’s hard to read, so the text appears below):

TweetRachel Held Evans: And yet, in spite of all the misinformation etc. I sense a desire for grace from #erlcsummit. How do we build bridges? I really don’t know.

Ben Moberg: @rachelheldevans I’m unsure if we want a bridge going there.

Me: @Runaway_Writes @rachelheldevans I really kind of don’t. This is one case where THEY need to be the bridge-builders.

I’m in favor of working things out.  I may not agree with some of my more conservative fellow Christians, but there can be thoughtful conversations.  These people, though?  They need to make the first move.  It can’t always be us, LGBTQ people and allies.  And it absolutely cannot, under any circumstances, be them reaching out their hands beckoning us to join them.  We’ve done that for far too long.  If they want peace and reconciliation, it’s going to be on our terms, on our side of the divide.  They need to ask for a seat at our table.

These men (let’s be honest; even the women who agree with them have very little authority here) have acknowledged that they’ve lost the culture war.  Now they’re going after other Christians who disagree with them, and most of us just aren’t buying it anymore.  Ultimately, unless they decide to take those steps, they are going to find themselves alone on their island of hate, shouting to no one.  It’s up to them to decide if that’s what they really want.  If it isn’t, the rest of us reasonable people will be over here living our lives, ready to welcome them home if they choose to cross the sea.

Resurrection

In this post, I’m going to write about my experience of Easter this year.  I know Easter can be as difficult a holiday as Christmas for many people.   Almost universally, people who have come from abusive religious backgrounds find that it triggers a host of unpleasant memories and feelings.  I fully respect that, and I will not blame anyone in the slightest for not continuing to read this post.  Because my experiences are different, I want to be able to talk about that, but not at the expense of people who are hurting.  Take care of yourselves first, and only read this if you feel able.

Continue reading

Flesh and Blood

The first time I remember hating my body, I was nine.

Oh, I don’t think I put it exactly in those terms.  It was more the certainty that I didn’t look like other girls.  I was short, for one thing, even at that age.  I was rounder, too, than my classmates.  I’ve seen pictures of myself in fourth grade, and I wasn’t even what adults would have semi-affectionately termed “chubby.”  But I wasn’t skinny, and for whatever reason, my peers latched onto that insecurity and spent the next several years calling me fat.  Taunting me about my hips and thighs.  Pinching me to show where I could “lose a few pounds.”

People say that girls today learn those lessons earlier than in previous generations.  No, they don’t.

When I reached high school and chose to reinvent myself through conservative evangelical religiosity, I thought I’d found a place where I wouldn’t be judged on my body.  How very wrong I was.

Instead of using beauty as the standard by which  I was judged, it became “godliness.”  I lost track of the number of times some well-meaning person asked me if I “really needed to eat that.”  It didn’t actually matter what I was eating; I could have eaten anything and I still would’ve been asked.  No one said it to my skinny friends under any circumstances.

As shaming as that was, that wasn’t the worst of it.  It was the way in which preaching spoke of “the flesh” as a dirty, evil thing that must be overcome.  I learned that my body was bad—not bad merely for being the wrong shape but bad because it wanted things.

In that graceless spiritual bubble, the mind, the body, and the spirit were disconnected.  The body had sinful desires to overcome.  The mind had sinful thoughts to overcome.  But the spirit was of God and trumped all of our sinful nature if we prayed and asked Jesus in to fix our broken humanity.

I’m sure some of my conservative evangelical peers must be saying, “It’s not like that!”  Perhaps it isn’t, for them.  Maybe they didn’t already go into faith believing they were broken simply by virtue of existence.  Or maybe they just can’t see it even though it’s right there in front of them.

It never occurred to me to medicate my shame.  Food, substance use, sex, even suicide—none of those were options because they were all “temptations” to be deal with through prayer and reading the Bible.  I didn’t touch drugs or alcohol or cigarettes because that would have been fleshly sin.  Eating the wrong things or in the wrong way was sin, too.  I stayed away from boys just in case my body betrayed my spirit and wanted more than hand-holding and innocent pecks on the cheek.

None of that stopped my body from wanting things, of course.  I used to hide my Easter chocolate in my room and make it last for six months by eating just a tiny bit at a time.  I would nibble, and then I would feel guilty—both for hiding and for eating.  Chocolate was sinful for bodies like mine.  I wasn’t disciplined enough.

I made sure I was covered, not out of modesty, but out of hiding.  It functioned both ways, though, and I was safe from the bodily sin of “causing my brother to stumble” in lust.  Not that I believed for even a moment that any boys were looking at me that way; I knew they all liked pretty girls with skinny waists and big boobs.  Privately, I could barely admit to myself that I wanted someone to look at me that way.

My language was clean, at least on the outside.  I pretended to be outraged once on a trip with some other Christian teens.  A boy from another city said “shit.”  I joined the others in telling him that wasn’t God’s best.  Secretly, it gave me a thrill to hear such a word on the lips of the faithful.  I wished I were that brave, but I felt ashamed for it.

I monitored my thoughts to make sure I wasn’t harboring resentment, anger, or lust.  There was a boy I liked.  I imagined what it would feel like to kiss him, maybe to have his hands on me.  But I remembered that I wasn’t supposed to be thinking about that.  I never asked him out because I was afraid both my body and my mind would betray me.

Alone at night, sometimes, I touched myself, all the time trying not to think about anything so I wouldn’t be guilty of lusting.  Except the very act of giving myself pleasure seemed to fall into that category—not to mention the impossibility of keeping my mind blank, separate from my body.  Orgasm and guilt became inextricably linked.

Everything was about overcoming the “desires of the flesh,” emptying myself of me so that I could be filled with the Holy Spirit.  The more Spirit-filled I was, the closer to God.  If I just let Jesus in far enough, he could make all the things my body—and my mind—wanted go away, replaced only by the desire to love and serve God in near-perfect holiness.

It didn’t work.

Instead, it left a gaping, dripping wound, a hole in the place where I should have been.  I tried harder and harder to not sin, convinced I was broken somehow for not having the faith in God to keep me from doing the things a Good Girl doesn’t do.  So I prayed harder, confessed more, and begged God to make me just not feel.

That did work.  In the wrong way.

A door closed, locked, bolted.  But instead of keeping my spirit safe from my own mind and body, it kept me from feeling much of anything for anyone else.  And it didn’t stop my body or my mind from their natural inclinations; it only served to prove they needed to be separated.

I want to open that door again, but I think I’m afraid that what I unleash will be very much like Elsa in Frozen, setting off an eternal winter.  That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much.

Slowly, slowly, I’m unfastening the chains.  I let myself cry with someone from church who was feeling a deep, heavy hurt.  I asked after several friends coping with fresh grief.  It felt good to allow their pain in.

If only I could let mine out.

World Vision and Unmasking Priorities

So, this happened.  World Vision is now allowing married gay Christians (and unmarried gay Christians willing to agree to WV’s policy of abstinence until marriage) to serve in the organization.

As you can probably guess, I’m behind this as a step forward.  Is it perfect?  No.  I’m not a champion of abstinence until marriage (and really, are they so sure their employees are all waiting anyway?).  I also understand that this prevents couples in any state not recognizing legal same-sex marriages from employment, since that’s the specific parameter.  I understand the implications that WV appears to be endorsing a heteronormative view of relationships (that’s a whole other discussion).  But in the Christian world, this is huge.

Which, of course, means that the backlash has been huge.  And that’s what I was thinking about when I woke up this morning to see that my friends had linked to several articles, tweets, and blog posts in which WV has been accused of deception, “empowering the darkness,” embracing “the world” (Christianese for “stuff the church considers wrong in society”), presenting a false gospel, and more.  People have questioned whether they should withdraw support or discontinue sponsoring a child through WV.  Lots and lots of people have expressed being “sad” about WV’s change in policy.

To which I say: Wow, people have messed up priorities.

Nothing reveals the true values of people more than asking them how they feel about anything related to same-sex marriage.  Almost no one says, “I don’t really care; whatever.”  The vast majority of people have one view or the other–that it ought to be legal universally or it ought to be banned or called something else so as not to mess with the “official” definition of marriage.

It would be awfully nice if it were a non-issue, but it isn’t, certainly not when people are expressing horror and outrage at WV’s comparatively innocuous change in policy.  I mean, come on, people.  WV did not suddenly announce that they have adopted a policy of beating small children or setting forest fires or shooting sub-par employees or drowning puppies.  All they did was say they’re going to hire gay people.

How about we get back to protesting something that actually matters for a change?  Because honestly, the only reason it makes a difference whether WV hires gay people is if you think being gay and/or being in a same-sex marriage is worse than acts of harm and violence.  It only matters if you think same-sex relationships are more terrible social ills than poverty.

Yesterday, I posted a link on Facebook to a good review of the movie Frozen.  (I promise, this is related.)  A family member joked that I must not be worried that watching it will turn my kids gay.  I replied that I wasn’t, but even if it did, I didn’t care.  I suspect that’s the real fear—that gay missionaries are going to somehow turn the world gay.

I suppose my question, then, is this:  Who cares?  Which is more important—telling people about God’s love and providing people with food and clean water, or making sure no one is threatened by the presence of gay people?  I guess maybe my own priorities are messed up because I sure prefer the former.

And if my kids somehow turn gay* because they’ve been around gay people or watched “gay” (by that I mean “things people accuse of being gay”) movies, so what?  That just means both the church and the gay community get two more awesome members, ’cause everyone knows my kids are the best and anyone would be lucky to have ’em.

Let go of the warped idea that a small subset of the population is looking to colonize the world and plant their rainbow flag in the dirt of impoverished villages everywhere.  Instead, let’s take seriously WV’s call to come together in Christian unity for the good of all.


*I truly do not believe it works that way; I’m just saying I wouldn’t care if it did.  For real, I could write a whole blog post on why we need to stop saying “But it’s not going to turn them gay!” as a defense regarding gender pigeon-holing.

Guest Post on Praying the Rosary

Woo hoo! I got to write a guest post for Carly Gelsinger‘s series From Grape Juice to Red Wine, stories of people shifting from mainstream, conservative, or fundamentalist evangelical to “high church” liturgical traditions.

I had the chance to meet Carly in person at the Faith & Culture Writers Conference a couple of weeks ago.  She’s really cool, the sort of person who makes you feel like you’ve known her forever even though it’s only been a single weekend.  She has a way of putting people at ease with her warmth. The coolest thing was finding someone else who shared my own experience–that of choosing (rather than having it forced on us) a conservative evangelical path before finding our way out again.

I’m excited to add my voice to the conversation, especially because it echoes my own journey so well.  Go check out my post, and while you’re at it, give Carly some bloggy love on her other writing.  Happy Friday!

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.