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Classroom morality

Since I’ve been asked by a number of people, I’m going to share exactly why I don’t believe that “Christian” morals should be taught in schools and what I think is the only option available to us in light of those reasons.

Last week, before reading to my kids, I commented on how much I love looking at the Christmas lights.  My son said, “You can’t love things, only people.”  Puzzled, since this is terminology we often use in our house, I asked him about it.  He confirmed that it was his teacher who told him that.

While I don’t entirely disagree (though I would say it’s a matter of semantics), I found myself irritated that his teacher thought it was her place to tell children something that amounts to her opinion.  If what she meant was that she would prefer the students to be more creative in their language, then she should have said that instead.  How my son interpreted her words was that he should never use the word “love” unless speaking of another person.

What bothers me most about it is that he is nine and very susceptible to impression by the other adults in his life.  We’ve seen that before—on more than one occasion, he returned from church telling us that girls were not as good as boys and that girls could only do certain things.  It’s also happened before at school, such as the time he came home from second grade repeating an urban legend his teacher informed the class was true.  As his parents, we can try to correct these messages at home, but in the case of church, it required removing him from that context before he trusted what we were telling him.

On the surface, that may sound like a good thing.  After all, if kids are listening to their teachers, then perhaps that gives teachers the chance to present messages about what is appropriate or healthy for their age.  Could we get children to stop playing violent video games or watching adult-themed television programs?  Could we prevent adolescents from absorbing sexually-charged messages?  Possibly.

I don’t want to do that.  As I mentioned, not one of the things our son brought to us was something we actually wanted him to be taught.  I do not want our kids to learn any one teacher’s version of morality.  That can easily head into dangerous territory.  Suppose a teacher wants to instruct the students that homosexuality is immoral?  Some parents would agree, but many would not; it would be particularly damaging for students who themselves are gay, or who have parents, friends, and siblings who are.  Suppose a teacher wants the students to learn that women should submit to men in their authority?  That might actually lead to problems among students and an increase in boys harassing girls.  What if a teacher were to suggest to students that they should not read books by Lewis, Tolkien, or Rowling because they contain magic?  That would limit a child’s choice of what to read.

Those may sound far-fetched, but I absolutely know teachers who believe all of those things.  It would be quite a task for a school district or a principal to create rules about which moral values could be taught and which couldn’t.  Although we may not agree with the way other people parent their children, it’s not a teacher’s job to override those decisions

What schools can do is influence the students’ actual behavior toward each other.  Students can be expected to show basic decency and respect toward one another.  Students failing to demonstrate that attitude can and should be disciplined, without resorting to victim-blaming/shaming tactics such as “social skills” classes for those who are bullied (inherent in such classes is the notion that if a child behaves “normally,” he or she will not be picked on).  Teachers can and should be encouraged to show enthusiasm for their work and for the very idea of learning.  (Although I mentioned a negative example about my son’s teacher, one thing I do like about her is how much she obviously loves both learning and teaching.)  Adults within the school can reinforce the message that there are safe, caring people the students can turn to when they need help.

I am pleased to say that I send my child to a district where this is frequently true.  Are they perfect?  No, of course not.  But more often than not, they have it right.  I am sorry that not all districts are like that; the one in which I grew up was not.  However, I don’t believe that asking teachers to promote certain values would have addressed my situation.  In fact, given what I remember, it likely would have increased my suffering.

As parents, we also have a responsibility.  While we cannot parent another child in place of his or her own family, we can choose with whom our children spend time.  We can make a point of addressing situations in which our children are victimized and demand change.  We can find like-minded parents and stick together.

For many people, the local school is the only option.  They can’t afford private schools, and homeschooling may not be feasible.  But allowing teachers (or principals) to encourage specific morals isn’t the answer.  The problem is far too complex for such a solution.  For my part, I’m going to do the best I can as a parent and hope that it’s enough.

So, what’s purity about, anyway?

After my post last week, a friend retweeted it like so:

I liked her question.  I do think it’s important, something we should consider carefully as people of faith.  I don’t think I could fully answer it just yet, but I have an idea where we might start.

First, I don’t think that purity is merely a state of dress/undress, specific expression of sexuality, or internal thought.  It’s not about adhering to a set of rules about where the line of premarital physical expression lies.  It’s not about how much skin is or isn’t showing in public.  It’s not about avoiding anything that might cause arousal.  While those may all be ways that an individual person expresses purity, they aren’t actually purity in and of themselves.

Part of the reason why those rules and behaviors can’t define purity is that for many of them, there are further questions.  For example, is a couple who were intimate before the wedding, but then got married, still “impure” now?  Is a person who was raped “impure”?  Is it “impure” to wear a bathing suit, since more skin is showing than in pants and a shirt?  Do the same rules apply to men and women?  Is a hormone-fueled erection in math class “impure,” or only if it was caused by “lust”?  And how might “lust” be defined, anyway?  Leaving aside the question of whether homosexuality itself is sin, if one thinks it isn’t, then are partners “impure” if they are in a long-term relationship in a state where marriage isn’t legally possible?

Another problem with the set of rules is that they have to be defined very specifically and may vary from person to person.  For example, one woman I know is a very attractive person.  She wears clothes that flatter her and that feel good to her.  Her blouses are often cut lower than something I would wear, but she never looks immodest to me.  I suppose there are very strict people who might not like the way she dresses, but most people would not take issue.  Yet I’ve seen lists of “appropriate” clothing that would exclude most of what she wears, because there is too much bare skin exposed.  On the other hand, I’ve seen people wearing more clothes than she does who definitely have an air of overt sexuality about them.  There is clearly something about the underlying attitude that contributes to immodesty.

I think the clothing issue bothers me more than just about anything else.  I’ve heard guys say that girls and women should show “respect” for men by not dressing in certain ways.  Personally, I believe that if your respect for another human being starts with what you’re wearing, you’re coming at it from an entirely wrong angle.  This is true about purity and modesty in other ways, too.  The rules aren’t the launchpad for the respect.

While I don’t have a concrete, clear definition for either purity or modesty, I do think that the place to begin is long before the rules on how to get it right.  Respect for others doesn’t come from thinking about how we can keep each other “pure.”  It starts with thinking about others as real people, people who have opinions, ideas, feelings, needs, interests, beliefs.  Respect involves treating other people how we want to be treated and placing them above ourselves.

If we see others as being whole, three-dimensional people, it becomes easier to show respect.  It becomes easier to believe that the way to get others to take an interest in us is not through flaunting our bodies or sexuality, but through taking an interest in who they are as people.  It becomes easier to avoid things that objectify people for our own pleasure when we see them as complete beings.  It becomes easier to respect our partners in our intimate relationships by mutual love and care.

It’s not the Purity Manual for Impure Christians, a set of rigid rules and lines we mustn’t cross, that will keep us on the right path.  It’s seeing each and every other person as uniquely made in the image of God and treating them accordingly.  Come to think of it, that system would work pretty well for all sorts of things: Gossip, rudeness, disrespect for authority, lying, bullying, poor management of money, ignoring the poor and needy, and so on.

Huh.  Maybe that’s what Jesus had in mind, after all.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

Women are not the problem

Warning: This post contains subject matter which may be triggering for some people.  Things I will mention include rape, sexual assault, harassment, abuse, molestation.  Also, I use some strong language (read: swearing).  Read at your own risk.  If you choose to comment on this post, please show respect by providing a trigger warning for sensitive topics each time you include them.  (Posts with potential triggers that don’t include a warning will be removed within 24 hours.)  Thanks!

Last night, I participated in an animated discussion on Twitter regarding the 2005 book Sex Is Not the Problem: Lust Is by Joshua Harris.  One of the people I follow is reading it for research and was live tweeting her reactions.  I won’t take up space with all of the horrifying quotes she tweeted, but I will tell you which two I found the most disturbing:

When you dress and behave in a way that is designed …to arouse sexual desire in men, you’re committing pornography with your life.

and

Ask God to help you see how selfish and uncaring it is to want to use your body to encourage your brothers to lust.

Those two statements, right there, are exactly why we have a problem with boys and men who act as though they have the right to take whatever they want from girls and women.

You may not be able to see it.  You almost surely won’t see it if you are a straight, white, cis-gender man.  You probably won’t see it if you’re a woman who buys into purity culture and have never been victimized.

But the rest of us see it.

It’s especially bad for those of us who have been harmed by it.  We’re the survivors.  We’re the ones who have had to deal with years of shame because we believed that what we suffered was our own fault.  We’re the ones who…

  • were raped by our innocent, safe boyfriends with whom we never even shared a kiss.
  • dressed in baggy clothes and pretended we didn’t have breasts because we were sure that they wouldn’t have raped us if we’d been more modest.
  • were licked, leered at, and taunted by our classmates because using sexuality was a way to make us feel small.
  • had boys write “slut” and “whore” and “bitch” on our homework, then had friends tell us we should be flattered because “he likes you!”
  • had our fathers demand chastity with our boyfriends while themselves finger-fucking us in bed at night.
  • got felt up by boys, without our permission, and then were ashamed because we kind of liked it.*
  • had boys ask to touch our bodies, and said yes because we were scared, and never told anyone because we hadn’t said no.
  • thought something was wrong with us when we felt sexually aroused, because that wasn’t supposed to happen to girls who weren’t married.
  • were virgins when we got married and endured years of painful intercourse instead of real lovemaking because the first time was so painful and scary, and no one ever taught us that it didn’t have to be—even if we’d never had sex before.
  • continue to live with shame over our non-marital intimacy because we’ve been labeled as “sluts.”

And through every single moment, we heard the message loud and clear that whatever we were doing was the cause of our misery.**

So you can sit there in your self-righteous bubble and tell us how we should dress or act so that we don’t attract the “lust” of boys and men.  Or you can choose to use your own feelings of guilt and shame to do more damage to other people.  Either way, though, you need to keep it to yourself.  You need to stop using your words to continue the cycle of blame and guilt that has been inflicted on too many women.

If I sound angry, it’s because I am.  I’m angry that we spend our energy demanding that women take responsibility for both their own and men’s sexuality, instead of doing what we should be doing: going after the actions of the people who victimize others directly, without blaming those they’ve harmed.  I’m angry that anyone gave Joshua Harris a platform for his douchey attitude toward women.  I’m angry that the message that what women wear causes uncontrollable urges in men is still being spouted in churches everywhere.  I’m angry that because this message is so prevalent in Christian culture, my children will someday hear it, even if it isn’t explicitly preached to them at church (the same message appears in music, books, devotions, and educational material for Christian teens).

I have two messages.  First, for men like Joshua Harris and other men who call themselves Christians: Shut up.  Just shut up.  We women don’t need you to tell us how we should dress or act.  And we don’t need men to “protect” or “rescue” us from the fairly uncommon random stranger that attacks women.  No, we need you men to keep your damn pants zipped and stop being the ones who rape and molest us, and then trying to blame us for being immodest.

Second, for those of who have been abused and assaulted, stop believing the lie that it’s your fault.  Stop believing that there is something wrong with you.  There isn’t.  And you don’t need Jesus to heal you from whatever sin caused your pain, because it wasn’t your fault at all.  You don’t need to recover from your own fall, but from the shame placed on you by other people.  You have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

This has to stop somewhere, and I’m determined that, at least in my own household, it stops with me.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

*It’s not uncommon for children who are molested or people who are sexually assaulted to feel some degree of arousal.  Those parts of our bodies are designed to respond to stimuli.  The shame comes both from the confusion that it’s simultaneously unpleasant and yet stimulating, coupled with the belief that anything sexual is bad until marriage.

**Yes, everything on that list has happened to someone (or multiple someones) that I personally know.  Yes, some of them happened to me.  No, I’m not going to tell you which ones.

The mouths (and bodies) of babes

My kids share a bedroom.  They have done this since my daughter was two.  People have long since stopped giving me grief over it, but I used to get quite a few comments and raised eyebrows.  Come to think of it, I’ve gotten that since they were born.  I have no idea why our sleeping arrangements are of any interest to anyone else, but chalk this one up to the ways moms (and often women generally) cut each other down.

When both kids were under two, they slept in our room.  As babies, they shared our bed.  Gradually they each transitioned to a bed in our room, then to their own room.  They’ve been together for almost 5 years.  This summer, we’re giving them their own rooms.  When I talk to people about moving rooms around, I can practically hear the sigh of relief that they won’t be changing in the same room anymore.

Honestly, the reason for giving them their own rooms has nothing at all to do with whether or not they see each other naked.  It’s more because Sarah needs space for her ever-expanding collection of stuffed animals and Jack, because of his ADHD, needs a quiet place to do his homework.  I would have been happy to let them share for a while longer.

What the heck is wrong with people?  Why is everyone so concerned with my children and whether or not they see each other’s private parts?  I really have no idea what anyone thinks is going to happen.  I mean, if Sarah sees her brother’s penis, is her head going to start spinning around while she spews split pea soup?  Good grief.

I know this is all bound up in the very screwed up way a lot of people view sex and bodies.  They’re placing adult sensibilities on children who haven’t even reached puberty.  I’m not gonna lie here, people need to deal with their own issues instead of projecting onto my kids.

I’m a lot less worried about whether my kids see each other naked, or whether they are “appropriately” modest, than I am about the kind of people they are becoming.

The things I choose to emphasize in my kids seem to be different from what many of my conservative acquaintances apparently believe are important.  There’s a lot of pressure for me to choose activities for them that will keep them away from “impurity.”  I should monitor their clothes, their friends, and their extracurricular activities carefully lest they be immodest, gay, or sexually active.  This is the message I hear repeatedly.  Strangely, no one seems concerned with whether or not I’m helping them become better people.

You can do everything “right” when it comes to purity and still be a raging—excuse my language—asshole.  Trust me, I know a lot of people like that.  They rage against our heathen, sexually charged culture, but every other word out of their own mouths is hateful, angry, and abusive.  Yet they feel justified because they have lived their lives “biblically” (more on that later).  I’ve actually removed some people (who profess to be Christians, no less) from my life because their hurtful words and actions against myself and others became too much.

Those are not the sorts of people I want my kids to emulate.

We’ve gotten to a point where, for a lot of Christians, sexual purity has become more important than treating others with respect.  Sadly, we’ve forgotten that the Bible has just as much (or more) to say about generosity, honesty, and using our words wisely.  Consider these verses

There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
       haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
        a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
       a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community. (Proverbs 6:16-19)

and

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’  But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

 “‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules. ’”

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” (Matthew 15:1-11)

My husband and I are choosing to raise kids who know how to speak kindly to others, who know that telling the truth is wise, and whose hearts are focused on doing what is good.  We both believe that this is the starting point—placing others before themselves, rather than a list of all the things they aren’t supposed to do.  Out of that love for others, the rest will follow.

And that is far more important than which room and which bed they sleep in, or whether or not they see each other’s naked butts.

Cover Up

 

Modesty, © 2005 Nancy Breslin
http://www.nancybreslin.com/index.html

Last week, an acquaintance shared this article about a woman who was confronted by another woman from her church regarding how she was dressed.  The link to the article was accompanied by this acquaintance charging women to “have your husband inspect your outfit before you leave the house!”

I shared that with my own husband.  He looked at me, his eyebrow raised in puzzlement, before he burst out laughing.  He told me that he couldn’t imagine me doing that, nor would he want me to.  He and I have an ongoing agreement that we are both adults and do not need to be monitored like small children who don’t know any better, so I wasn’t really surprised by his reaction.

The thing that stood out to me were the particular criticisms of the writer’s clothing.  The woman who confronted her wanted to know,

Do you think wearing your shoulders out is okay for other men to see while they are trying to worship?

and

Don’t you think your high heels with your toes out are a bit much?

She was not only fixated on the specifics of the clothing she found objectionable, she was placing it in the context of how it would affect the men in the church.

This is a problem.

I agree that there are standards of dress and that modesty is a good thing.  Where I disagree is why.  In fact, it’s why I dislike modesty culture just as much as I dislike the “immodest” styles that are available.  It’s not the outfit, it’s the motivation—on both sides of the Great Purity Divide.

Ironically, I dislike the purity movement for exactly the same reasons I don’t like porn and provocative clothing.  In both cases, the catering is done for the benefit of men.  And it’s why I don’t give a rat’s butt about a woman wearing a cami with her bra straps showing, or a bathing suit that doesn’t make her look like she’s pretending she doesn’t have boobs, or a pair of sweat pants that says “sweet” on the rear, any more than I care about baggy dresses and “mom jeans.”

When clothing is chosen with men in mind, it doesn’t matter whether it’s chosen to entice or to “respect.”  In both cases, the motivation is someone outside the woman choosing the outfit.  That’s not healthy for anyone.  Here’s why, and these apply in both situations:

  • It reinforces the imbalance of power.  Here’s the idea: Men have power, women don’t, therefore everything we do as women must be done keeping men in mind, including how we dress.  What a terrible way to live.
  • It implies that men are only ever interested in one way of interacting with women.  It causes a relationship between men and women that is entirely based on sexuality, rather than mutual respect.  On the one hand, skimpy clothes are intended to be sexually arousing for men, which objectifies women.  On the other, “modest” dress assumes that men are looking at women as mere sex objects and that their bodies must be hidden to prevent this.
  • It sets up an impossible standard for women.  Either she must conform to a certain kind of physical beauty or she must conform to a certain kind of moral purity, but the lines are never clear enough and the rules are never specific enough.  How thin is the ideal body?  How big do breasts need to be in order to be perfect?  How many inches above the knee is too short?  What constitutes too tight?
  • It makes women responsible for the actions of men.  Either we’re supposed to show off our assets so those clueless men finally take notice, or we’re supposed to cover them up so those oversexed men won’t be distracted.  It’s classic blame-the-victim.  When a woman seen as attractive is single, people wonder what her flaws are that she couldn’t land a man.  When a woman is assaulted, she’s often asked what she did to provoke the attack.
  • It assumes that male-female pair bonding is the ultimate goal for every woman.  Female clothing is supposed to be chosen to please our future husbands.  This ignores the fact that there are lesbians and women who don’t want to get married.

Ultimately, what’s more important than the dimensions of the clothing is that a woman chooses it with no one in mind except herself.  A woman who is empowered does not choose her clothes based on what anyone else thinks she should wear.  It is my belief that if more women dressed in ways that made them feel good about themselves, we would no longer need to continue to argue about what constitutes appropriate clothing and where the modesty line is.

Disciplining the Disciples

Church discipline has been a big topic in the last week or so, at least in the blog circles I read.  I thought it was time I pitched my own tent on the battlefield.

I won’t mention any names this time (even though we all know which church sparked the conversation).  I will say that I was appalled at the disciplinary contract.  I wasn’t bothered by the idea of signing a contract.  On the contrary, I think that can be a good thing, when it’s mutually agreed on (rather than forced) and has specific goals in mind.  While I understand that there is nothing in the Bible about that type of contract, there is precedent.  People made covenants with one another all the time, agreements which were typically mutually beneficial.

I’m also not against asking someone to leave who is consistently dragging down the church, blocking its mission, or who is predatory in word and deed.  It’s not about simply banishing “unrepentant” people, it’s about what it’s doing to the health of the church.  In my experience, it’s rarely necessary to bar someone from the church.  People who refuse to acknowledge their problems typically don’t stay after they’ve been confronted.  It’s the ones who insist on taking others down with them who create the most drama.

There is nothing wrong with using the Bible to understand spiritual discipline.  But when it’s misused, there’s trouble.  We are fortunate that the Bible tells us that we can lovingly correct someone who has done wrong.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t spell out the specifics for each circumstance.  We have to do that part on our own.  I agree that Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 are good places to start for a healthy overall approach to dealing with sin within the church.  All they do, however, is give a framework.  How we carry it out is up to us, and we need to be sure that what we’re doing has the purpose of healing, not shaming.

The problem I had with the contract that’s been circulated on the ‘net was its excessive demands, nebulous action points, and lack of time frame or end goals.  The terms and conditions were confusing at best.  There was far too much potential for the contract to become weaponized.  As far as I could tell, without any real, measurable goals, the process could have been dragged out indefinitely by the elders.  If their stated result was to restore the individual to full spiritual health, that was probably not the best way to handle it.

I look at spiritual restoration as being similar to physical rehabilitation.  (Before anyone gets all twisted up about whether or not that’s “Biblical,” it’s no more or less “Biblical” than the contract in question.)  When a person has been injured or ill, there are always specific goals in mind.  Sure, the end point may be for the person to return to work or independent living, but that’s too broad a goal at the start.  That’s a great thing to aim for after smaller steps have been taken.  The goals are manageable, have a specific time frame, and never have in mind the idea of reminding the person of what they can’t yet do.  I believe spiritual healing when sin has been uncovered (in whatever way) can follow the same pattern.

When we find ourselves needing to discipline those under our spiritual direction (and this applies to people in lay ministry, not just pastors and elders), there are key parts of the process:

1. Does the person understand and believe that he or she has done something wrong?  If so, then discipline can begin.  If not, then there are further actions as described in Matthew 18.  I do think we’re misinterpreting the Scripture if we think it means to shun someone.  Revoking member privileges and not allowing the person to continue to serve can happen first.

2. Is this a pattern you’ve seen before in this person?  We do need to give others the benefit of the doubt.  Unless it’s something illegal, there is no reason to assume it’s a pattern unless it’s happened before on your watch.  This was one of my problems with the contract I mentioned.  There was an underlying assumption that the person had habitually engaged in the same sin.  That’s a thinly veiled attempt at shaming.  Unless the person says it’s a habit, or unless there is a history of discipline over the same issue, assume nothing.  It doesn’t foster healthy reconciliation.

3. The consequences should fit the sin.  I don’t mean in terms of ranking sins according to how bad they are.  I mean that the consequences should not be excessive and that they should make sense.  We use this technique on our kids.  We don’t just give them a time out or extra chores for every offense.  That wouldn’t even make sense.  The consequences of sin should not be for the purpose of punishment but for correction.

4. There should be measurable goals.  What do you want to see accomplished as a result of the discipline?  The end result may be for the person to regain full membership status and the same role as before, but that’s both too far out and too unfocused.  If you have specific things in mind you want to see happen, or a level of accountability, then spell it out clearly and define the parameters.  This is the step that should not just be meted out by the elders or the leadership or whomever.  If the person under discipline is agreeing to the process, then he or she can be part of the solution.  Again, we sometimes do this with our kids.  They have ownership of their action steps and are usually more compliant.

5. There should be a clear time frame.  The other big problem I had with the contract was that there was no end point.  There was no time limit on the action steps.  They could be carried out or enforced indefinitely.  That’s not helpful because it never allows the person to achieve full spiritual health.  It can’t operate on an “I’ll know it when I see it” basis.  People get far too emotionally involved to be objective.  Again, giving someone the benefit of the doubt will help here.  If it becomes a pattern, then there is always room to revise.  There should be dates by which steps will be completed, and an evaluation of their success by all parties involved.

6. Shaming or humiliation should never be part of the process.  If your goal is restoration, then shame should not be part of the equation.  There is absolutely no Scripture that encourages making someone feel humiliated, even when there is a need to confront the person in a wider circle.  We all remember The Scarlet Letter, right?  Right.

7. When there is no chance of reconciliation, there are two options: Let them go or ask them to leave.  Sometimes, unrepentant people will leave.  I’ve seen it happen.  I have never, ever been to a church that chose to a) shun the person who left; b) ask members to refrain from friendship with the person; c) pursued them angrily, demanding that they finish what they started; or d) tell the entire membership what happened.  People who choose to leave, leave.  They may be given over to God, with the hope that they will eventually repent.  It’s different if someone refuses to be corrected and insists on staying put.  It’s healthy and appropriate to ask that person to leave, especially if he or she is creating tension.  It can be healthy to continue to work with the person, even if they don’t believe they were wrong, if that is what the leadership chooses to do.  I’ve seen that happen, and it can result in healing and deeper relationships.  (In that case, it was a matter of doctrine, and it opened up great conversation.)

In all things, the goal should be to handle things with love and not anger.  If someone in leadership cannot be objective, that person should not be responsible for discipline.  I imagine that’s part of what got in the way in the Contract from Heck.  (Of course, I think that church has other issues, but that’s another matter.)  If we stop treating people like conflicts waiting to happen and see them more as children of God, we will be able to handle sticky matters in a healthy way.

Reap What You Sow

I got to thinking about the consequences of our actions and what that might mean in terms of changing behavior.

Telling people, “You made your bed, now lie in it” doesn’t necessarily help that person to actually make positive changes in behavior.  On the other hand, constantly bailing someone out doesn’t help, either.  Yet that is the artificial tension we’ve set up between so-called Christian politics and “worldly” politics.

For example, many conservative Christians are anti-abortion, to the point of wanting a return to its previous illegal state.  Yet when a woman finds herself with an undesired pregnancy, those same people don’t want her to receive public benefits.  The idea is that she made her choices and now must find a way to deal with the consequences.  On the other hand, abortion is not a good form of birth control and a constant struggle to rise above public benefits is no way to live.

Another one is the moral outrage over sex education.  Plenty of people would rather that their children not be given instruction on proper use of birth control, and some would rather that the whole subject be kept out of school entirely.  Abstinence-only education, and if an adolescent gets pregnant or sick, that’s the natural consequence of immoral behavior.  The alternative is “safer” sex, the idea being that if teenagers just protect themselves, all will be well.

As with the question of whether the Bible is trustworthy, both of the above situations (and most like them) are focused on the wrong thing.  People are going to do things with unwanted results.  Human behavior is much to complex to pin down to a naughty list, and there are always going to be exceptions to the rules we’ve set up.  There will be people for whom the consequences are the same, but not by their own actions.  There will be people who do foolish things and appear untouched by negative repercussions.  And it’s a mistake to make assumptions about the “sort” of people who make poor decisions or need extra help finding their way back again.

Part of the problem is that we have a fix-it mentality.  We see things in terms of:: a) Problems you didn’t cause and I’m responsible to help fix; and b) Problems you caused and you’re responsible for fixing.  If we stop looking at this as some kind of puzzle or math problem with a solution, we might find it a lot easier to see something different emerging.  The first step toward a healthier way of dealing with other people is to stop dividing the world into black/white, on/off, right/wrong categories.

The second thing we might try is getting to know some real people.  It’s very easy to condemn actions, and the people we believe are taking them, when we don’t know anyone in a given situation.  It’s easy to claim that welfare recipients are lazy if you aren’t friends with or related to someone on public assistance.  It’s easy to be angry with an adolescent couple who have become intimate if you don’t understand them or their circumstances.

None of that means that anything goes, morals don’t matter, do what you want.  In fact, that’s no way to live either.  That becomes just as much of a trap, constantly acting in self-interest, taking instead of giving.  I’ve seen just as many people destroyed by that as by condemnation.  People who lean toward free-range morality ought to take a good, long look at themselves and decide if they like what they see there.  Anyone who can honestly say they’ve never made a choice that hurt themselves or others might want to entertain the possibility they’ve rewritten history a bit.  It’s just as important to encourage love, respect, and care as it is to prevent or shed negative consequences.

Ultimately, the best way to handle it is to consider not “what would Jesus do” but what does Jesus actually do with people we would prefer to condemn?  We won’t find the right answer by looking through the Bible for Scriptures which point out someone else’s flaws.  Because when we do that, inevitably, we have to face our own flaws first.  Better to first love the other person, then pray for G-d to show us the way we can best be a loving neighbor to that person.  After all, reaping what you sow isn’t just for those whose immoral behavior can be easily seen, but for all of us.