Archives

A little more on evangelism

Coppo di Marcovaldo [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I made a commitment to a friend that I would post a bit more on this subject just to clarify a few things.  My apologies to people who consider themselves evangelical who thought perhaps I was trashing the concept itself or all evangelical Christians.  Let me state this as unambiguously as possible: I do not hate evangelical Christians.  What I dislike is evangelical culture and many of the teachings that lead to what I call “friends with an agenda” and inauthentic relationships.

Not all people who consider themselves evangelical Christians do these things, of course.  That’s because a person is separate from an institution.  Not only that, there’s a big difference between “churches that evangelize” and “evangelical churches.”  The former applies to any church that encourages people to tell others about their faith in Jesus.  The latter refers to denominations that are built on the premise of evangelism.  So churches like mine (Lutheran) and mainline Protestant churches (Methodist, Presbyterian) are not considered “evangelical churches” despite the fact that they may do some evangelizing.  However, some churches that evangelize can and do encourage behaviors that are far closer to evangelical denominations and evangelical culture.

There are some specific aspects of evangelical culture that are more common in some churches than in others, and those are the things that concern me most.  For example, Calvinism and its offshoots always make me a little (or a lot) irritable.  Some specific things common to evangelical culture (which may or may not be true of a given church or individual):

  • Belief that people are either born bad or become tainted at some randomly appointed age (“age of accountability”)
  • Pressure to work Jesus into conversations with non-Christian friends, family, and co-workers
  • Belief that “salvation” means rescuing from eternal suffering after death
  • Encouragement to make friends with people for the express purpose of converting them
  • Hosting large-scale events to which people can invite others in order to either hear a salvation message or see the church in a positive light and return at a future time
  • Pressure to bring friends and family to church services
  • Door-to-door visits, mass mailings, newspaper ads, or in-church handouts used to bring people to church, frequently containing ambiguous, misleading, or provocative language in order to pique interest

None of that has anything to do with genuine relationships, no matter how hard a church tries to sell it as such.

When I was in college, I worked at a Christian camp.  One part of our work was to present the message of salvation to the kids under our care.  Now, let me just say, I love this camp.  My own kids now go there, and I have no complaints about what they’re being taught.  I am glad that they’re hearing about Jesus in a caring, fun atmosphere.  If I had a problem with evangelism in general, I would not send my kids to camp–end of story.  But as both a former employee and director, I am fully aware that the camp counselors often come from different backgrounds and may have learned things that are different from what our family and our church teach and believe.

This particular camp is a day camp, but there’s one overnight trip.  As part of that, the counselors deliver a gospel/salvation message.  One year, back when I was working, the other counselors decided to present the message in the form of a skit.  In this particular atrocious story, a group of girls is in a car wreck, and they all die.  One of them goes to heaven and the rest to hell.  The last part of the skit is the girls, being pulled down by Satan, shrieking at their friend, “Why didn’t you ever tell us?”

I could not make this shit up.

I wasn’t part of the skit.  My campers were all six and seven years old.  They were absolutely terrified.  One of the girls sat with me by the campfire afterward and sobbed, telling me she was scared that her parents were going to hell and that it was all her fault.  It took an hour to calm her down.  Needless to say, when I became camp director, I put a ban on that kind of skit.

Instead, they did the one about the teenage party girl who wants Jesus to leave her alone so she can get drunk and do some unspecified “bad” thing.*  But, you know, Jesus loves her anyway.

Which is the other part of this–telling people that they need God because on their own, they are worthless.  There’s a persistent, stubborn belief that Christians are good because we have the Holy Spirit and non-Christians are bad because they don’t.  If a Christian screws up, then it’s because “we’re all still sinners.”  If a non-Christian screws up, it’s because they didn’t have godly morality.  If a Christian does good things, it’s because of Jesus.  If a non-Christian does good things, it’s only out of selfishness or accident.  Being convinced of the “truth” of these things is the only way some churches can get people to share their faith.  It’s as though they’re saying our religion (yes, it is a religion) isn’t good enough on its own–we need to convince people of their need for it first, either by devaluing them or frightening them.

Which, when you think about it, is absolutely necessary if you believe that the fate of one’s soul rests on a specific set of beliefs.

Is it any wonder that my teenage self was terrified for the eternal souls of my family?  I was the lone Christian, both in my immediate and my extended family.  Skits–and teaching–like the one above are the reason I told family members that being gay was on par with being a rapist, in hopes that it would scare them into getting saved.

I was sixteen when my Jewish grandfather passed away.  The Sunday following his death, I sat through a salvation message in Sunday school, watching a video on the eternal fate of the unsaved.  By the end I was crying because of my failure to present the gospel to this man I barely knew and had been forbidden to tell I was a Christian.  One of the adults made some noncommittal noises about Jews being “God’s chosen people.”  It didn’t help.  What if one of my neither-Jewish-nor-Christian family members died without knowing Jesus?  Looking back, I truly think these people did not know what to say to me, because what I was going through was completely alien to them, far outside the reaches of their insight.

This is the screwed up kind of evangelism I’m talking about.  Not the average, share-your-faith-because-Jesus-rocks kind of evangelism.  I mean the sort that tells children they are “deeply broken” and frightens people into telling others about God.  The kind that genuinely believes more than two-thirds of the world’s population–billions of people–are destined to fry eternally for the crime of unbelief.

I can’t get behind that.  If that’s your bag, please find someone else’s eternal soul to fret over.  If my failure to pressure people into belief in Jesus results in their damnation, then I don’t think I want to spend forever with that kind of God anyway.

______________________________

*Probably sex, but these were little kids, after all.  We can scare ‘em about hell, but forget sex.

6 reasons not to waste your money…

…because your daughter is just going to stay home and have babies anyway.

Little Housewife, Johan Georg Meyer (via Wikimedia)

Last week, several friends were kind enough to bring to my attention this awful piece on why parents shouldn’t send their daughters to college.  Go ahead and read it if you’d like some rage with your coffee this morning.  In case you prefer not to, here’s the list in brief:

  • Your poor daughter will end up with a–gasp–educated man.  No, wait, she’s just going to end up being the hard-working, intelligent wife with a lazy loser for a husband (kinda like all those sitcoms).
  • She’s going to have the opportunity to have sex.  Maybe a lot of sex.  Probably with lazy losers.  Once that happens, she’s not going to notice that her guy is bad for her because sex hormones.
  • She’s going to end up with a career, dammit.  She probably won’t want to play house anymore.  Maybe she won’t even want babies!
  • Since she’s just going to be a good wife and mommy, she won’t enjoy having the career that would have paid for her college education.  Also, it’s a total waste of money to go to college and then stay home, thus forcing your husband to pay for your loans with his money.
  • There is obviously only one way to be a feminist, and that is by going to college and having a career (which is dictated by your college education, of course) and not being a wife and mommy.  It’s a slippery slope, thinking she has to prove she’s a feminist by doing all this.  We can’t have that.
  • In order to pay for college, parents might plan ahead and not have all the babies God wants them to.  They might use birth control!  No worries that sending sons to college might make parents sin by preventing pregnancy, though.
  • Those young women are going to regret it someday when they are stuck in a cube somewhere wishing they could just stay home and luxuriate, eating bonbons and watching daytime television like the rest of us stay-at-home moms.
  • They won’t be able to go to seminary (at least, not a Catholic one) if they have debt.  Fine, that one might be real, especially since no woman called to vocational ministry ever knows that before she stupidly and blindly goes off to college to get a degree in chemical engineering first.

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that I’m informed now.  It’s only about ten more years til I have to think about sending my own daughter off to college, and I sure as heck don’t want her to end up with a degree that keeps her from her duties as wife and mom.  Who cares if she’s ambitious and has talked for the better part of two years about wanting a career working with animals?  She should just squash those dreams right now before they get out of hand.

Meanwhile, I guess I’d better figure out a way to pay my husband back for using “his” money (that he worked super hard for!) to pay off my loans from undergraduate and graduate school.  After all, I’m just playing 1950s-television-style housewife here and not contributing financially.  On second though, never mind.  I’m just gonna go watch some television to alleviate my regrets.

FYI (if you’re a mom of teenage boys)

Dear moms,

I have some information that might interest you. Last night, as I sometimes do, I sat on my couch and looked at social media on my phone.

I’ve been on vacation, so naturally there are quite a few blog posts and news articles to wade through. Wow – the Internet sure has been busy with the slut-shaming this summer!  Some of my friends brought this to my attention, because as Christians and/or feminists, we notice shit like that.

I noticed other things, too. For one, it appears that I’ve been on the wrong path when it comes to raising my own son.

I get it – you’ve seen all those shameless hussies putting their pictures up on Facebook how our culture exploits women’s bodies, right? I can’t help thinking that maybe I’ve failed by trying to raise a son who respects women regardless of how they’re dressed.  Clearly, I should have been protecting his eyes.  I should remedy that.

So, here’s the bit that I think is important for you to realize.  If you are the parent of a teenage son, you should definitely make sure he never, ever sees a half-dressed girl.  Half-dressed boys are okay, though, because naturally, none of your sons are gay or bisexual.  Posting half-naked pictures of your own sons flexing on the beach is also totally fine, since no one ever equates strength and virility.  We all know that unless we see a penis, it’s not sexual anyway.  Besides, it’s not at all exploitative to parade their bodies on the Internet for your own gain; everyone knows that’s much better than making one’s own choices about what to post.

Please understand this also: you are not responsible for making sure your sons know that regardless of what a girl is wearing, she deserves respect.  All you need to do is assure they don’t see those pictures.  After all, if they don’t see them, then you can relax in the knowledge that your sons do not know what girls’ bodies look like or that they won’t satisfy their curiosity by looking at the Internet at a friend’s house.

Not to mention that those “sexy” selfies your sons’ friends are posting don’t reflect who they are clearly demonstrate that they are temptresses who want to cause your sons to fall into sin.  You need to be sure to remind them often so that you can keep your sons from acting like animals protect your sons.

And now – thank God – you have a good excuse to select who your sons are friends with. You can also have awkward family dinners during which you remind them that masturbation is a sin teenage girls are sluts they should probably not see a female-bodied person in her nightgown until they are married.

I know you’re concerned that these girls’ parents would be disappointed if they knew their daughters were causing your poor, defenseless sons to get hard think impure things when looking at them on the Internet. Obviously, you know that once a boy sees a girl in a state of undress, he turns from a respectable, nice kid into a raging, hormonal beast.  You don’t want your sons to only think of girls in this “sexual” way, do you?

Of course not.

You’re also probably aware that girls don’t fantasize about boys’ bodies, so you’re free to put as many objectifying pictures of them up on your blog as you like.  No worries–you won’t be causing any teenage girls to lust.  That’s because girls don’t really have any sexual feelings unless they are a)married or b)they weren’t properly guarding their hearts.  Naturally, they never masturbate or look at naked men on the Internet.  And they’re not ever lesbians, either.

Good thing you’ve resolved not to give any of these teen temptresses a second chance to corrupt your innocent little men. I’m sure you’ve also installed nanny software and have a firewall so good no one could ever hack it.  You’ve probably made sure that your sons’ friends have these things too.  Don’t forget that awkward conversation you had with all their dads to find out if any of them had a stray magazine or several that you needed to confiscate before you allowed your sons into their homes.

I know that sounds harsh and old-school, but that’s just the way needs to be if you want to raise your sons right.  Blocking, banning, and shaming is so much more effective than merely having open conversations about how your sons treat women.  Remind yourself that you are raising men, while their female counterparts are mere girls.  That way, you can convince yourself that your sons are mature enough to make adult decisions while these girls are not–and apparently don’t have any parents to help them learn and grow the way you’re helping your sons.  Their parents will probably be grateful that you implied their daughters are tramps anyway.

Meanwhile, you should have in mind the kind of women you want your sons to marry.  Your gag reflex probably prevents you from realizing that they may be gay, which is why you need to imagine them with women.  It’s not creepy and weird at all that you are making these plans for them when they’re only halfway through high school.  It’s never too early to control your children’s future adulthood.  Besides, there’s no chance whatsoever that your sons will go behind your backs and date or have sex or whatever.  And did I mention that these “men of integrity” are totally not ever, ever masturbating?  Oh, I did?  Well, I said it again.

Moms, it’s not too late! If you think you’ve made a mistake in raising your sons (we all do – don’t fret – I’ve made some doozies), RUN to your boys’ social media pages and block every single one of their girl friends.  There are pictures of them that make it easy for your sons to imagine them naked, including that lovely senior portrait.  After all, girls don’t even need to be in a state of partial undress to tempt boys to lust after them–all it takes is their mere existence.

Will you trust me? Your boys are crying out for you to teach them that girls are the cause of all their adolescent hormone surges as well as any other behaviors they may exhibit.  Deep down, they are uncontrollable cavemen who cannot possibly learn how to respect and love women unless you protect them from the grasps of those alluring young things.  (And also, they are NOT gay, so you probably don’t need to worry about protecting them from other boys.)

You are raising MEN.

Teach them guilt, sexism, and blame.

I’m glad could have this talk.  Maybe we’ll talk again sometime about how we can raise our girls into women who feel ashamed of their bodies.

Mrs. Mitchell

People are not broken

I was on vacation last week, so I didn’t blog until Friday.  I missed jumping on the train with the rest of the people who responded to Steve McCoy’s tweet about teaching our children they are “deeply broken.”  There are still ripples from that tweet, and at no point has Steve bothered to apologize for his tweet.  Instead, he’s chosen to troll Stephanie Drury on her Stuff Christian Culture Likes Facebook page, and he’s responded to the criticism (which has been vast) with defensiveness.  He’s claimed that what he meant was that he personally does teach children that they are loved, though still sinful.  The problem is, he tweeted something which had no context and wasn’t followed up with anything further.  Plus, you know, the fact that what he said is wrong in the first place.

People screw up, make mistakes, do terrible things, hurt each other, sin, whatever you want to call it.  We’re not perfect, and none of us can claim that we always do the right thing in every situation.  But we are not “broken.”  Objects can be broken, but humans cannot be.  The word broken implies a need to be fixed or changed or repurposed in some way.  It doesn’t make any sense to apply that to people.

Since that tweet and its fallout, I’ve seen many people talking about the shame they’ve felt because they were taught from a young age that there was something fundamentally flawed about them.  This is common in Reformed Christianity, though it appears in various forms in all sorts of denominations.  It’s based on the first premise of Calvinism, the doctrine of total depravity.  While I don’t actually agree with that particular theology (or Calvinism in general), I can see how it could be taught in a less threatening manner.  There is no excuse, on the other hand, for teaching anyone that they are “broken.”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, because I’ve been doing some reading from autistic people.  And yes, I’m referring to autistic people rather than “people with autism,” because this is how many autistic people choose to identify.  The reason for doing so (in their words) is to emphasize that it is not something separate or external to their core as people–it is a vital part of their existence and make-up.  It is this specific thing which makes me angriest about the “deeply broken” tweet.

After reading this excellent post by Michael Scott Monje, Jr. about person-first language, I began thinking about my son’s ADHD.  There is only “person-first” language to describe him–he’s a boy with ADHD.  I wish there were a different way to describe it, though, because without his ADHD, my son would be an entirely different person; he wouldn’t be himself.  The urgency for such language increased after reading Steve McCoy’s tweet.

My son spent fourth grade in a classroom with a teacher who viewed him as, in a way, broken.  I’m not necessarily criticizing her; it’s a common perspective in educational settings.  I’m bringing it up because it’s the same thinking that leads to telling children they are broken in church settings.  It’s a view of people–particularly those who don’t fit some expectation of “normal”–that leads to shaming them and turning them into “others” with whom we’d rather not associate.

The problem with that is that we can easily rationalize poor treatment of anyone we see as “broken.”  When we teach children from a young age that they are broken, who they are at their core becomes irrelevant.  My son’s ADHD and my friends’ kids autism are part of their “brokenness” rather than being something of value that makes them uniquely themselves. Rather than helping them understand their own identity, the language of brokenness shames them into thinking that they require fixing.  Even for children who do fit into cultural and religious norms, these words are damaging and can lead to years of struggle to feel whole, particularly for those who develop physical or emotional challenges later on.

Instead of defending this terrible language, why aren’t people like Steve McCoy listening to those who have been deeply hurt by this teaching?  Why aren’t they apologizing for the use of abusive, triggering language?  And why in God’s name aren’t they urging us to have a view of our children that emphasizes their worth?

My son is not “broken.”  He is not flawed, damaged, or otherwise ruined.  These are not words he needs to hear, particularly as a child who does not fit with what’s expected.  My daughter also has some things about her that make her different from other girls her age, and she does not need to be told she’s “broken” either.  Failure to tell them that they are “deeply broken” will not lead to a belief that they are perfect and sinless.  That concept is not necessary; they already know that everyone messes up.  They are learning that who they are is not the same as what they do, and they are learning that there is a big difference between behavior some people don’t like and behavior that actively hurts someone else.

Instead of teaching our children that they are broken, I propose that we love them, cherish them, and teach them that they are precious, beautiful people.  Instead of raising them on the doctrine of total depravity, how about we simply correct behaviors that are hurtful and harmful?  How about we seek their forgiveness when we do the wrong things?  We don’t need to make children–or adults, for that matter–feel ashamed of who they are at their core; they will meet plenty of people willing to do that for them.  It’s our job to assure that they know how deeply loved they are.

 

The Past of Sinner – Seven Deadly Sins, Franciszek Żmurko [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

At church on Sunday, in her sermon, our pastor mentioned some key differences between evangelical and mainline/liturgical faith practice.  There were several, including believer’s baptism and the preference for praise songs over hymns.  Among these differences was the tendency of evangelical Christians to emphasize The Testimony–a telling of one’s story of coming to faith or of what God has been doing in one’s life.

My husband and I were sitting in the last pew, and we were shaking with silent laughter and exchanging fistbumps of solidarity.  I thought about all the times, as a teenager and college student, I listened to people’s testimonies–and even gave my own more than once.  After the church service, when we greeted the pastor on our way out, she said, “I have to know why you were laughing.”  Still giggling, I explained that everything she’d said rang true and brought back a lot of memories of similar experiences.

(In fairness, our pastor’s point was actually not about these differences or about passing judgment; she was talking about how “reasonable” any part of our faith really is.  I’m not going to recap the whole thing here, of course, but it was a good message.)

Later, I had time to consider just what struck a chord in me and why, exactly, I found it so funny.  I think I can answer that now.  It’s not the idea of giving a testimony that I have issue with; it’s the specific way in which it’s often done that makes me cringe.

There’s nothing wrong with sharing the blessings in our lives.  There’s no problem with talking about how our faith has shaped us or what we believe we can attribute to God.  What I’ve found, however, is that in many evangelical circles, it follows a pattern that troubles me because of the heavy emphasis on having been bad, wretched, evil, self-destructive and having been turned around to become a “new” person.

I don’t doubt that faith changes lives.  I’ve certainly seen it happen.  But there are some disturbing aspects of testimony culture.  First, when a person has not had a past involving much of what the conservative Christian world regards as sin, one of two things happens.  Either the person becomes convinced that mere thoughts are enough to send them to hell, or the person makes up a testimony about being brought out of the pit.  I’m an example of the former; Mike Warnke is an example of the latter (though an extreme one).

Second, there’s a common view that when one has come to faith, the person will automatically have some magical transformation.  When it doesn’t happen that way, and a person continues to do what their particular church regards as unacceptable, there’s often very little grace.  I recall one friend, many years ago, telling me that when he first stepped into a church, he had a serious, ongoing addiction.  As a result of the warm welcome he received in the church, he began to turn his life around.  He entered recovery and remained clean for years.  In the end, however, the church continued to view him as little more than an addict, and every challenge on his journey was met with disapproval for not having come far enough, fast enough.  After all, if he was now a committed Christian, how could he do something seen as sinful?

On the other side of that are people who have the “perfect” testimony with the public appearance of righteousness to match.  More often than not, people like that are able to deflect blame for their shortcomings, particularly when they have used “biblical” authority to abuse others around them.  This is often the case when thought-policing is involved in someone’s testimony.  For example, young men who claim to have had “lust issues” can frequently excuse themselves by placing blame on women for being “immodest” and causing them to “stumble.”

Third, due to the heavy emphasis on the myriad sexual sins listed by conservative evangelicals, many people find their testimonies involve repentance for a wide range of human sexual experience and expression.  Because the focus is on the meaning and appropriate context of sex, rather than on how to have healthy, ethical relationships, many people are led to believe that even their natural physical reactions are sinful and must be controlled.  “Addiction” is thrown around without fully understanding the meaning of the word and sometimes becomes used as a way to bolster testimony.  Someone who can claim to have overcome “porn addiction” (often without the help of an actual professional with experience in the field) is viewed as “honest” and is celebrated for such a victory over sin.  That person may be held up as an example of the power of God and paraded around by church authorities.

As I said, it’s not the testimonies that are the problem necessarily; it’s the fixation on “proving” that God changes lives in extraordinary ways.  It’s a natural result of the view that what one believes is of greater importance than what one does.  When the whole message can be summed up with “Sin–repent–stop sinning,” and evangelism is reduced to “convince people they are sinners so they can repent and stop sinning,” we’ve lost the point of Jesus’ life and ministry.

I don’t believe people should stop talking about what God’s doing in their lives.  I do think we need to reconsider how we handle it.  It should never be about turning bad people into good ones or using words to shame others into belief or pretending that if we just pray hard enough things will work out in our favor.  The testimony that convinced me to throw my lot in with the Christians was nothing like that.  It was about the power of God’s love to help us see ourselves as worthy simply because we exist–God doesn’t make garbage.  I’m grateful for that testimony and for the ways my life has been changed as a result.  Maybe that’s where we should start: seeing each person as inherently valuable and taking it from there.

You are loved

In case anyone missed it, many of us have been participating in an ongoing conversation about sexuality and sexual ethics.  There have been so many brave people sharing their stories with honesty and dignity.  Collectively, we all seem to need to move away from the shame and fear that have permeated conservative evangelical teaching.  This is an incredibly beautiful, brave venture and I’m proud to be part of it.

But.

After one of the first posts went up, Sarah Bessey’s wonderful I am damaged goods, I began to notice something that disturbed me.  Rather than understanding Sarah’s use of the phrase “damaged goods” for what it was in the context of her post, others were appropriating the term and using it to mean something very different.  I lost count of the number of times I saw someone post or tweet something like this:

We are all damaged goods.

I understand what they meant.  I, too, am a product of the doctrine of total depravity (that we are born without any goodness in us and our only worth comes from God).  While I no longer hold that view, I certainly respect those who do.  I also understand the sentiment to be a paraphrase of “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  That isn’t my primary concern here.

The phrase “damaged goods” breaks my heart not only for women like Sarah Bessey who have been told that their sexual histories have ruined them but for all of us.  We are not “damaged goods.”  Not one of us.

Words mean things.  “Damaged goods” is something we should use to describe a bruised banana or a dented can of tomatoes or a package of frozen peas that split open.  Damaged goods are unsaleable throw-aways.

Call us sinners, if you believe we are.  Say we make mistakes or that we sometimes hurt each other or that we need forgiveness (from people or God).

But don’t call us damaged goods.  Human beings are not ever damaged goods.

We are not spoiled, ruined, useless, or worthless.

We are beautiful.

We are precious.

We are valuable.

We are loved.

You are loved.  I am loved.  Let us reflect that love that no one will ever again believe he or she is damaged goods.

Notable News, week of July 7-13, 2012

Ah, it’s good to be back.  I have read a whole boatload of fantastic blog posts this week.  It was hard to pick my favorites!  So here we go, in no particular order:

1. Christian Piatt gives us the scoop on what Christians should stop saying.

Seriously, if you are not subscribed to Piatt’s blog, you should be.  You can read about the clichés he says Christians should never use here, here, and here.  And because Piatt is so awesome, he gives great advice on what we can do instead.

2. Avital Norman Nathman on handling the sexualization of young girls.

Another favorite writer, I appreciate that she tells it like it is, but she’s never heavy-handed.  In this article, she explains what sexualization is and talks about how we can give our daughters tools to protect themselves.  There’s a great list of resources at the end.

3. Daniel Tosh rape joke controversy.

This shouldn’t be a controversy at all.  Controversy implies that there is a defense for the action, even if some people were offended.  There is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for what he said.  Dude claimed rape jokes are funny, woman objected, and he suggested it would be funny if 5 guys raped her right then.  He gave a somewhat back-handed apology, in which he said that all he meant was that bad things happen and we can joke about them.  Except the problem is, rape isn’t something that can be joked about.  So he’s either malicious or stupid, but either way, it’s indefensible.  Yet somehow, a lot of people did exactly that.  I refuse to post links to their idiocy, but I will link to some great responses:

Dear Daniel Tosh: You Know What’s Even Less Funny than Rape Jokes? Rape Threats

For Daniel Tosh, Actually Assaulting Women Is Comedy

Daniel Tosh and Rape

On a related note, this blog post isn’t specifically about Tosh, but it is about the way that some men believe that harassment is something women want and how decent men can respond to that.

4. Something that’s actually funny.

Because Daniel Tosh apparently can’t think of something funny that’s less crass than rape jokes, I’m providing it here.  Because you know what’s always funny? Phineas and Ferb.  Yeah, I know this isn’t news, and yeah, I know it’s not recent.  I don’t care.  It’s funny anyway.

You can enjoy the whole episode here.

Why I’m not a fundamentalist

There is a somewhat negative connotation to the word “fundamentalist” (in my opinion, with good reason and a measure of accuracy).  But the kind of black-and-white thinking associated with fundamentalism is actually present in the majority of conservative Christianity (“evangelical” or not) to at least some extent.  Most churches teach a variation on exactly the same theme.  The sad part about it is that this theme isn’t “ancient.”  It isn’t a Jewish theme, and it isn’t even present in the oldest forms of Christianity.  Not the way it’s taught now, anyway.  This excerpt sums it up nicely:

The overarching story of fundamentalism, based on a highly literal and selective interpretation of the story of the Bible itself, goes something like this: God created the world; man was created good; Adam and Eve sinned; man was corrupted, and came under God’s condemnation, specifically the judgment of eternal punishment, i.e. hell; God sent Jesus to take the punishment for us; if we become (properly born-again) Christians, we will go to heaven and be saved from hell. It is a story about good versus evil, God versus Satan. It is a story in which the world is a battleground between the two.

When you become a fundamentalist Christian, typically by being “born again”, you become a part of that story. A distant and alien story about God and a group of people thousands of years ago becomes the story of how you yourself, two millennia after the cross, crossed over onto the right path and became destined for heaven.

You will join a community where the big story will be told over and over again, whether explicitly or implicitly, in the songs you sing, the sermons you hear, the conversations you have, the language you use and the rituals in which you participate. Present-day fundamentalists may well see themselves as part of a story about how society is getting worse and worse as standards decline and the ungodly have their wicked way, a story about how people have overcome by resisting this decline and how you too can overcome. Within the big story are smaller stories, whether hypothetical or attached to actual events, about how accepting this, that and the other is the beginning of the slippery slope into heresy and apostasy.

As in all good stories, there is a cast of characters, of heroes and villains. The world is divided up unambiguously into Believers and Unbelievers, the Saved and the Unsaved. The Believers are faithful, Bible-believing, valiant defenders of eternal truth, heavenbound. Unbelievers are godless, blinded, hellbound. There are the Liberals, pretend Christians, attackers of the truth, rebellious against God. Everyone falls into one category or another. Fundamentalism presents a very black-and-white world. And if all this looks like a caricature of fundamentalism, perhaps that’s because the fundamentalist worldview is a caricature of the world itself?  -from Why Leaving Fundamentalism Hurts, by David L. Rattigan

Right now, a lot of people are reading this and thinking, “Exactly.  What’s wrong with that?”  Let me explain.

The problem with this kind of either/or mentality is that it ignores stark reality and lived experience.  Lumping all people into the binary categories of “saved = good” and “unsaved = bad” turns a blind eye to the fact that a lot of people exist outside those labels.  The assumption seems to be that the rest of the world is going down, but we real, true Christians aren’t going with it.  And if you’re not for us, you’re against us (a faulty paraphrase of Jesus’ actual words).  Which might be true.

Except that it isn’t.

This dichotomy ignores the Christians who spend a good chunk of time posting rude, ignorant things on social media sites.  It pays no attention to the pastors who spew hate from the pulpit.  It allows people to appear to be “good” Christians by attending every Sunday, wearing the correct modest clothing, and avoiding the Big Evil Things that No One Should Ever Do (like swearing, getting drunk, having premarital sex, and being gay) while simultaneously failing to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned.  You know why?  Because they can claim the slogan, “I’m not perfect, just forgiven.”

Meanwhile, the Cops and Robbers theme successfully pretends that there are no decent people outside of Christian faith.  It pays no heed to the atheists who have strong moral convictions; the people of other religions who have deep, abiding, personal faith; the thousands of gay people who love Jesus with all their hearts, souls, minds, and wills.  It assumes that “the world” is the way it is because of people who aren’t Real True Christians™.

This, right here, is why I’m not a fundamentalist.  I don’t really think I consider myself a liberal Christian either.  I tend to think that “liberal Christian” is the term for someone who operates on the same basic assumptions as a fundamentalist but has a different set of beliefs regarding what constitutes sinful behaviors.  For example, a liberal Christian may still believe that sin is deserving of punishment or consequences, but would not agree that premarital sex falls in the category of sin.  I often think it’s just a cover for “I can be a Christian and still largely do what I want, as long as it doesn’t appear to be hurting anyone.”  (For the record, I don’t think all liberal Christians act this way, but it describes the majority of what I’ve seen.)

I don’t fit that description.

I don’t know how to categorize myself.  Maybe I don’t need a label at all, outside “Christian.”  I don’t need to define the kind of Christian I am.  Being neither here nor there makes me feel uncomfortable among both conservative and liberal Christians, but perhaps that’s okay.  It might even be exactly what Jesus intended.  When we become comfortable, we stop following Jesus and begin to coast.  We become obedient to humans and ideas rather than God.

Dear Lord, may I never grow complacent.  Amen.

The Very Best Wifey in the World

Yesterday in church, our pastor read this to us:

The Good Wife’s Guide
Image collected from http://j-walk.com/other/goodwife/images/goodwifeguide.gif

The text reads:

  • Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready on time for his return. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they get home and the prospect of a good meal is part of the warm welcome needed.
  • Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so you’ll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people.
  • Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it.
  • Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives. Run a  dust cloth over the tables.
  • During the cooler months of the year you should prepare and light a fire for him to unwind by. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too. After all, catering to his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction.
  • Minimize all noise. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer or vacuum. Encourage the children to be quiet.
  • Be happy to see him.
  • Greet him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him.
  • Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first – remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.
  • Don’t greet him with complaints and problems.
  • Don’t complain if he’s late for dinner or even if he stays out all night. Count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through at work.
  • Make him comfortable. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him.
  • Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soothing and pleasant voice.
  • Don’t ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.
  • A good wife always knows her place.

I get it.  I get the point that this is supposed to be humor, and that we’re supposed to realize how far we’ve come in the nearly 60 years since this “article” was published.  Leaving aside the fact that this is probably a hoax, the problem I have is that for a lot of Christians, this is how they see men and women.  Oh, I don’t mean that anyone really thinks that a woman should follow these steps to the letter.  I mean that we have roughly the same expectations, just dressed up a little differently.

When women are challenged to be “godly, Biblical wives,” there is a certain reading of the text that leads some people to conclude that a good wife’s duty is to “manage the home.”  To be honest, I’m not even sure that anyone knows what that means.  I’ve heard it all—everything from being a stay-at-home mom to keeping things neat and clean to making sure that everyone’s relational needs are met.  Time and again, we’re told that these are the things women are good at, because we are “different” from men.  Being in possession of a vagina somehow magically makes us better at cooking, cleaning, and applying band-aids to scraped knees.

And never mind working wives and mothers.  Work isn’t seen as something women should want to do.  We’re not supposed to be powerful or have careers and try to advance them or feel passionate about our jobs.  Working is just something some women do because they’re single parents or their families are financially insecure or they need something to pass the time while the kids are at school.

On top of that, we are supposed to be superwomen.  We get compared to the Proverbs 31 wife all the time.  She’s held up as some kind of ideal, the woman we’re supposed to admire and emulate.  She feeds everyone, even the servants!  She works!  Her kids think she’s awesome!  She does it all with a smile, in her pearls and high heels! (Okay, I made that last one up.)  Even if we have jobs, even if we do volunteer work in the community (and maybe especially then, since it isn’t “real” work), we’re still supposed to make sure that the house runs smoothly, the kids get to bed on time, and everyone is taken care of.  Sure, men can be asked to do some basic chores, or maybe make sure the lawn is mown and the trash is taken out to the curb.  But it’s wifey’s job to make sure she stays on top of what needs to be done.  After all, we can’t expect her powerful, manly husband to come home from his powerful, manly job and do it.  If a woman works, it had better never interfere with her ability to care for her family.

What a lot of people don’t understand is that this isn’t just a problem for women.  This hurts men, too.  What if a woman is a corporate CEO, and her husband is a stay-at-home dad?  What if both parents work, and both enjoy their jobs?  What if a man is the one who is better at taking care of little one’s boo-boos and sniffles?  What if mom is a slob and dad is a neat freak, so he takes care of the tidying and cleaning?  What if the wife is good with power tools and the husband is a master chef?  And what if it’s because she’s a mechanic and he’s a cook in a restaurant?  Are they supposed to suddenly reverse roles in the home?  And do any of those things make him less of a man?

I know that some people will say, “Well, of course there are exceptions.  These are general principles.”  But when the message we hear, week after week, is that a woman is good at _____ and a man is good at _____, it’s hard not to believe something may be wrong with you if it isn’t true.  It’s especially upsetting when it’s treated as though these are things we can find in the Bible regarding proper male/female roles.  When we don’t fit those roles, we wonder if it’s some kind of sin in our lives that we need to address.

My husband and I chose to have me stay home with our kids.  But the reason we did it this way is that his salary was higher.  We believed that one of us should stay home, at least while the kids were little.  It could just as easily have been my husband taking care of the kids while I worked.  Because I’m home, I tend to do more of the chores, although I certainly don’t do everything.  My husband is usually the one to help with homework, partly because he’s a teacher and partly because the help required is usually with math (which I can do just fine, but I struggle to teach it).  And he’s certainly the more sympathetic and nurturing parent.  (Example:  One of our kids falls down.  Me: “Are you bleeding?  No?  Good.  Go play.”  My husband: “Oh no!  Are you okay?  Do you need a hug?”)  So are we “traditional” or not?

The whole thing stems from the basic idea that our differing biology somehow makes us unequal to each other.  Over and over and over we’re taught that we have societal roles to fill and that we should not deviate, because it’s not how we were made.  We’re told that the Bible “clearly” says this.  In fact, the Bible has far more to say about hospitality, social justice, mercy, brotherly love, forgiveness, kindness, and caring for one another than it does about male and female roles within society or the church.  Yet we dwell on the latter rather than the former.

Church, is it any wonder that young people are leaving in droves?

The 5 Things I Never Want to Hear at Church Again

5. “The Bible, says it, I believe it, that settles it.”

Well, gee.  That’s very humble of you.

The problem with this one is, which interpretation?  I recently had someone tell me the Bible is “clear” on matters of doctrine.  No, actually, that’s why it’s doctrine.  If it were so clear, there would only be one branch of Christianity and no denominations.  And the whole time we’re congratulating ourselves on having the “correct” interpretation of Scripture, so is someone else…with an entirely different view.

4. “The Bible is God’s little instruction book.”

I don’t know where to start on this one.  I was listening to a sermon online in which the speaker said that the Bible offers guidance for every aspect of our lives.  That reminded me of the old Saturday Night Live sketch with Sally Field playing a woman who consulted God for everything, literally.  The idea that the Bible has something personal for us in every verse is a really self-centered perspective.  (And kind of stupid, too: “Of Zattu, 945.” -Ezra 2:8.)  Not only that, it reduces the Bible from the story of God’s love for humanity to nothing more than something we’d keep in the car in case that funny little light appears on the dashboard.  What a depressing way to interact with Scripture.

3. “Lost people.”

Yeah, I hate this phrase.  When I think of my family and friends who are not Christians, I don’t think of them as “lost people.”  If I must think of them collectively, they are non-Christians.  Individually, they are atheists, agnostic, Jewish, Buddhists, Unitarians, and so on.  I know how frustrating it is as a Christian to have people assume things about me because of my faith.  I wouldn’t appreciate it if my friends and family privately referred to me as “one of those super-religious idiots.”  I also remember well enough what it was like to be a non-Christian.  If I’d found out back then that people were calling me “lost,” I would never have wanted to set foot in that church again.  Whether or not a Christian believes that someone is “lost” without faith in Jesus is not a reason to call them that.  I think the phrase is intended to communicate the urgency of evangelism.  Instead, it communicates that we like to categorize people and are more concerned with converting them than with actually knowing them.

2. “Radically inclusive.”

This one’s touchy, because in theory, I agree with the concept.  However, I think it’s often misused and misapplied.  Jesus practiced radical inclusion.  He touched the sick, he interacted with Samaritans, he gathered tax collectors and sinners and called them friends.  It doesn’t count in the same category when we exclude people because there is something we don’t like or because we’ve interpreted Scripture to enable us to leave some people out.

1. “It’s all part of God’s plan.”

Oh, dear.  Well, when we think of the Bible as an instruction manual and we claim that it’s clear on doctrine, it’s not hard to understand this one.  It’s very easy to believe that the ordinary annoyances and difficulties of life are part of God’s plan to make us better people.  But this is far to simple an answer to the grief of parents who have lost their infant to birth defects or their child to cancer.  It’s hard to swallow when that drunk driver hits your car.  It doesn’t make sense when you watch your neighbor’s house go up in flames because of faulty wiring.  It certainly doesn’t seem clear when we live in a country where most of us have enough food and clean water, but whole communities in other places have neither.  Putting it down to “God’s plan” is a way to distance ourselves from having to do anything.  After all, if God orchestrated it, who am I to get involved?  Surely God will take care of it?  Please listen to me: Those are not words of comfort.  If you know someone who is going through something, let that be the absolute last thing that comes out of your mouth in response.

What Christianese have you heard at church that you’d like to chuck out the window?