Why Christians (except for Calvinists) Should be Pro-Choice

I recognize that this post will be concerning for some of my readers — perhaps even heretical. Many of you will not agree with what I write here. I challenge you to read and consider anyway. Feel free to comment – in a respectful way – for this could be a dialogue. I rather prefer that it is.

My husband recently found himself in dialogue with an associate, who observed, with some confusion that he believed that my husband was a Christian, but was unsure. The question arose, because he had knowledge that my husband holds some “un-Christian views.” Upon further dialogue, my husband learned that his salvation was in doubt, based on his pro-choice, feminist views. I could not be prouder of my husband.

How funny is it that this conversation came the day after…. no kidding, the day after we watched the movie God’s Not Dead together. Nancy, Stephanie, per your earlier requests, I would now be happy to engage with you in dialogue about this film.

I was hesitant to engage this film, as I am much of Christian sub-culture, because my historical view of Christian sub-culture I have believed that its existence promoted a separate culture, encouraging disengagement with the culture in which we find ourselves. Also – I find aspects of it decidedly predictable, and often of lesser quality than that which exists in the culture at large. It is safe. I am not convinced we are to play it safe. And I am certain that God has not called us to disengage with the world and culture around us in a way that would lead us to create a parallel universe.

This movie may have changed my mind; not because it was fantastically done, or because the caricatures – ahem – characters were particularly well-developed; not even because the caricatures – err – characters include varying depictions of strength in both men and women. No, the reason this movie changed my mind was this: the crux of the pro-God argument was the importance of choice — that theological, spiritual, and moral choice must be allowed, and is congruent with God’s design for free will.

This is why I am pro-choice. This is an issue of moral choice, and as such, the decision needs to reside with the decision maker, as the subsequent benefits and/or consequences thereof will fall upon the decision maker. Precious few lawmakers (who are predominantly male) in Washington will ever feel the weight of one woman’s decision to have a child, abort it, or give it up for adoption, except perhaps as it impacts their voting record, popularity, and campaign funds. We cannot and should not mandate morality.

God saw it fit to offer free will, so that each person could choose to love, hate, obey, or not to his or her own degree. This was important for God. Why is it not more important for God’s people? It is the Holy Spirit’s design and work to convict, and I find that as I press more into my relationship with God I am more inclined to obey him in various struggles and choices of my daily life. But I am no legalist. I move when the Spirit leads me, and trust the Spirit’s timing. If we make moralist laws, we demonstrate distrust for the Spirit’s work in the world. How much more restful and faithful is it to allow the decision maker to bear the consequences of his or her decision?

As a counselor, I am often asked to help people make decisions or to tell people what they should do. I am loathe to take on this task, as I am not the Spirit in these lives. I know not the entirety of what someone is up against or what they will face down the road as a result of any given choice.  But I believe the Spirit does, and that people have the ability to hear from the Spirit to the extent that they know the Spirit. For that reason, I will continue to stand on the side of those who would honor God’s design for free will, and willingness to use even this choice for his good in the world. For that reason, I would call Christians to stop harming others by imposing their widely varied standards of morality on those who do not choose to believe or participate in their religious acts.

For that reason, I beg you to stop shaming women, or advocating for the restriction of their exercise of free will in the context of the abortion debate.

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Women in the Church

Recently my church did something remarkable. In a quite conservative (politically) suburban church in the super-conservative Deep South of the USA, my church community elected a woman to the position of Chair of the Board. This election was the first to my knowledge of its time in this church body. Let it be known, my church is not known for being liberal. I sometimes feel as if I am too far to the left to fit here well, but I stay. I love the people and feel called and welcome into this community. Our church lost a few families as a result of this election, which hurt. We are not a large community and the absence of even one family is felt… and missed. I recently had a fantastic conversation with our remarkably available pastor about the impact of this move among the larger community of churches our area and within our community. As we spoke of this, he surprised me by his response and approach to the whole debate. He stated that he was at peace with women in leadership to whatever extent it did not facilitate passivity in the men of the church. Wow. What beautiful middle ground. And what a way to create space for those on both sides of the debate. Thank you, Simon!

One of the major concerns I have about this whole debate is that it seems to miss the impact the debate itself has on the church community of men and women, and the impact it has on our mission and those who watch us from outside of our ranks.

Let us consider the impact on the men of the church: (Caveat – I write as a woman, having only minimally staffed my thoughts on this with other men. I am open to feedback from my brothers, whom I invite to contribute to my thoughts on this subject.) My pastor, and other influential men in my life have raised a yellow flag, indicating the need to proceed with caution here. For (some) men in the church, the curse of Genesis 3 means an ongoing, perhaps lifelong struggle with the weight and cost of his labor. This is a daily, and for some a moment-by-moment struggle against a nagging sense of futility. When a woman steps up and embraces a role of leadership, this may be perceived as a threat, or a neon sign pointing right to the heart of his failures. Some men seem to perceive women in leadership as a sort of scarlet letter—clearly marking and even drawing attention to their failure to adequately fulfill or maintain their God-given call to rule the earth and all women, children, and living things therein.
I have concern that the insistence that women serve in inferior positions and are prevented from leadership or influence of men unnecessarily burdens men with more than their share of the work. This only feeds into any fear of failure and any sense of futility that men struggle with. When we force them to carry the weight of the whole church or their whole family authoritatively, and without strong partners, we doom them to failure. My husband is strong, and together we can overcome obstacles that he could not on his own. Why? Because I am strong in places he is not, and he trusts me enough to work with me effectively and to allow me to work out of my strengths to the benefit of our whole family.
Another impact that I see the debate about women in leadership has upon the men of the church is that awareness of the debate can feel cornering to men (and women). A new or growing awareness of the debate often begs—demands—that a man choose a side. If he chooses to advocate for women in leadership, he has to acknowledge that this privilege, calling, ability, authority have been withheld from women for too long. Allowing or encouraging women into leadership roles and/or teaching positions means sharing the power and influence that he has known, possibly taken for granted, and perhaps abused. I struggle to imagine a man who would acknowledge these things and not feel compelled to turn the tide. Truthfully, I want no partnership with that man.
Considering the debate and choosing to advocate for the historical status quo, means a man must hold tight to his power and control and acknowledge that it is threatened by all those “others” who are advocating otherwise. It requires him to take a stand against equality of the sexes.
This debate divides families within the church and divides the church family itself. More on that in a bit.

Let us consider the impact on the women of the church: For women, the impact of the debate between complimentarians and egalitarians may feel like a threat to their faith and understanding of their place in God’s created order. I do not know how long the church has viewed women as secondary characters, with authority just inferior to that of their male peers and counterparts. For me, it is too long.
As an American (white) woman, I am privileged to know and experience relative equity in my daily life and business. I am free to start a business, or work outside of the home, or manage my money, or speak, or teach in the world around me. But the moment I walk into many churches, I am expected to shed those freedoms, and assume a quieter, meeker, subservient role. I am to submit, and be quiet, per the recommendations of I Timothy 2 and Ephesians 5. But it doesn’t stop there. In many Christian homes, this idea is perpetuated within the home, and so a woman who is free to go about being the authority of her body and affairs is expected to shed that authority as soon as she enters the two places that should be the safest spaces for her: her home and her church community.
The debate around this, which sometimes goes unrecognized and unnamed and at other times is endowed with unnecessary importance, also begs women to choose a side, and divides the body of sisters in Christ, causing division and strife that is not congruent with the call for unity in Psalms 133:1, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, etc… We are divided against each other, and at times against our brothers in ways that prevent us from fully demonstrating the love for which we are to be known. We short-circuit our message of Love to the world around us, because of our disagreements and factions. Jesus had a different plan, and I believe to this day, still intercedes for us as follows:

20“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. 22“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. (John 17:20-23)
For some women of the church, this dichotomy actually drives us out and away from the faithful practice of communion and community with other Believers. We, the Church, atrophy and shed potentially fruitful members, because we are too busy fighting about whether to allow her voice or influence in our midst.
Long has it been the women who draw men and families into deeper (or any!) church communion. If we willingly shed women because we cannot allow their voices, or because we are too busy fighting about what extent to which her influence should be tolerated, we will likely lose their families too. How’s that for contributing to male passivity?

What about the impact on the mission of the church? When those outside of our ranks, non-Believers, or not-yet-Believers, or Believers-in-recovery observe our infighting, how often do they dismiss the goodness of our God or our faith, or miss the hope we have to offer? How often are we dismissed, debilitated by our arguing over details of the praxis of our faith that even the most well-trained theologians cannot agree on? This is NOT a salvation issue. The complimentarian/egalitarian debate is all about practice and authority!
When I say that, it really feels like I am crying out, “This doesn’t really matter!” In some ways, it doesn’t. In some ways it does. But if the impact of this debate on our influence, or our audience’s willingness to hear our message of hope is a net negative, why bother?

What is the impact on the women outside of the church? Much of this issue relates back to the impact on the women of the Church. Our arguments about why women should be submissive and in non-authoritative positions makes us appear undesirable to women outside of the Church, who do not understand the joys and appealing parts of surrender and submission. Yes. I said that. I believe this could be an issue where, as 2 Cor 2:16 notes, when we would be a pleasing aroma to God, we become the stench of death to those who do not know him. For some Believers, that may be your calling, and I bless you. I will seek to let my spiritual walk be honey on the lips, and an alluring aroma for those who would seek and find Him.

The impact on the men outside of the church? This is the one group that I believe is LEAST impacted by the whole debate. Many of them are blissfully unaware of the whole issue, all the questions and passions that seethe within it. They have the privilege of non-involvement. For men outside of the church who are aware, the insistence that women be not involved in positions of leadership just makes the Church look antiquated, quaint. For these men, their power and authority are not at stake, so why do they care? They are not involved. And for feminists, even feminists within the church, sometimes these men are the safe-havens and advocates they struggle to find within their own homes and communities.

On Changing One’s Mind…

I was recently engaged me in a personal and face-to-face conversation about a previous blog post (see Misogyny, Masculinity and Violence). I used to experience mild perturbation when people would choose to disregard my requests for this blog to be a space of dialogue rather than a bulletin board that people would discuss with me as they had a chance. However, I recognize this as inconsistent with my desire for dialogue. For dialogue can be much more real and lively in a face-to-face setting. What came out of that dialogue was a lively discussion about mental illness (which the reader in question seemed to think was the primary subject of the original post), feminism, equal pay (which he unsuccessfully described as an “opportunity” for his female employees to demonstrate their competence in order to rise to the level of pay initially offered his male employees. In his defense, I believe this illegal practice is no longer being perpetuated in his business), and my use of the word “pussy,” which (was actually used as a quoted statement that was said at/to me, not by me). My primary partner in dialogue (although we were in a group of 5) believed that post to be about mental illness, completely missing the messages about masculinity and violence and misogyny at the core (and the title) of the post. Within the post, I even wrote:

“This is not about mental illness. This is about misogyny, masculinity, and violence.”

Sigh.

This seems to happen a lot. A reader will attend to one specific word or phrase and miss the meaning of the whole text. My readers do this with my blog. News/media agencies do it with sound-bytes they get out of news conferences and press releases. And Christians do it with the Bible. In some ways, we can’t help it. We grow up in a context and with teachers that teach us to attend to certain things and to disregard others. We look at texts (books, blogs, reports, data, non-verbal cues, people, events) with certain goggles or contact lenses that tremendously impact our perceptions of those texts… often not even aware of the hermeneutic (lens) in use.

I have been wrestling for at least a couple of years, with my own engagement of the Church, the South, the culture in which I live, and the way it views women. Within the (big C) Church there has been tremendous debate over the appropriate view of masculinity and femininity, with wide-ranging and diverse opinions/mandates defining what is viewed as appropriate and applicable to either gender. While I am a feminist, I am also a Texan. and I am deeply influenced, whether I like it or not, by my culture. I wrote in an earlier post that husbands do not and should not have to earn their wives’ respect. I took some heat (again, in private conversations) for the stance I took in that post. While I stand by my experience and the narrative of what happened for me, I admit that stance feels binding and too narrow for my expanding view of what it means to live into the Kingdom of God. I have decided I can no longer argue that this is the “right” approach to male/female relationships. It is a valid approach, and many don’t find it as binding as I do, but I choose to live out of a wider Gospel than that approach allows.

First, it assumes complementarian views of men and women, which I do not ascribe to. (See this description of differences in the complimentarian/egalitarian arguments as presented by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, but please read it with awareness that it is written and presented from a complimentarian perspective.) Second, it provides too restrictive of a view of what it means to be masculine or feminine. Some women experience and receive love when it is communicated through respectful engagement. Others want romance. Others still, want a dependable partner for a reading date or a nightly chess game… and everything in between. I imagine mens’ desires and needs are equally as varied. Complimentarians tend to plot gender roles and behavior in a dichotomous way, using “either/or” masculine/feminine language, and manliness or appropriate femininity becomes a issue of heirarchy. Consider locker room shenanigans designed to determine pecking order in the emerging-man world, or gossip-wars designed to shame young women for being “less lady-like” than so-and-so. I got called a terrible name for a lesbian throughout my senior year of high school, simply due to the fact that I cut my hair very short, notwithstanding my long term (in high-school terms) boyfriend. Complimentarians may to allow some room for gray-space and flexibility about roles, so long as you maintain some position on your birth-gender assigned side of the masculine/feminine dichotomy. By viewing masculine/feminine in a dichotomous way, we cannot help but impose a hierarchy, comparing one to another to determine who is performing more or less according to their prescribed masculine/feminine ideals. I cannot operate in this way. I feel bound by any systematic comparison. I think comparison is the root of much unhappiness, and inherently unfair. (More on that in another post.. maybe.)

Acceptance of an egalitarian, and I believe a feminist perspective allows one to hold space for those who align with the popularly accepted (whatever that means) behaviors, activities, occupations, and attitudes commonly associated with either masculinity or feminity, but also allows for the existence of appropriate and acceptable space in which the lines are blurred, and men may take on tasks/attitudes/views more commonly identified as feminine and vice versa. There is not the inherent need to judge/compare, and room for acceptance in a new and inviting way. There is no need to compete for acceptance or love. There is no need to prove your place in the heirarchy, because it doesn’t exist.

So, I have changed my mind about the “respect your husbands,” thing? Not exactly. Women need to offer respect to the men around them, all men. All women, too, for they (we) are the bearers of God’s image in the world, and we should not tarnish it. Men, you are to offer love and dignity to all women in your life. All men, too, for we are the bearer’s of God’s heart for the world, and we should not crush it.

For those who would criticize my willingness to change my mind publicly with Ephesians 4:14, please note, the context of this verse is a call to unity in the Body of Christ, and a description of the ideal treatment plan for humanity. It refers to an ideal state of being mature in the knowledge of God… whom I believe to be too big a mystery to claim full and mature knowledge of on this side of life.

For those who would criticize my willingness to be swayed or convinced of a different perspective using James 1:6, well… I’m not even going to engage that one beyond to note that verse has no direct bearing on or connection to one changing her mind. It is specifically referring to one’s prayers, and faith in God.

For those who would criticize, using the curse, specifically claiming that God cursed women to desire to control their husbands, and for him to rule over her (Genesis 3:16), or for those who would argue that Ephesians 5:21-33 indicates heirarchy is God’s will for the relationships between men and women, I must say, I used to fleetingly agree. But I cannot rest into this. Not because I am a man-hater, or a power-hungry or controlling woman. I can be controlling, ask my husband! But when I am controlling, I am living into the curse and the flesh, rather than living into the fullness of Christ, who wrecks these binding and false prescriptions for differentiation in identity. For living into the fullness of life as a witness of Christ’s work in the world means that:

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. (Galatians 3:26-28)

And…

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory…. you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:1-4, 9b-17). 

I believe this is a call to live into the Kingdom of God, something that Jesus spoke of often (see “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of heaven“). Note that living into the fullness above calls all believers to embrace and clothe ourselves with with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience — all characteristics that are often places into the complimentarians’ “feminine” list? I believe that as Christians, we should be living into the fullness of the body of Christ, not handicapping half of it. I believe the Church will be a more desirable community, and less confusing for both men and women, if we stopped calling women to shut up, subdue, ignore, or neglect their gifts and callings when they walk into the church. As it is, western culture is egalitarian-leaning in practice, although women still do not have the same protections and opportunities many men take for granted. Yet, in the church, we often ask/expect that women will shed or silence or shut-down their strengths, and step into line behind their male counterparts and leaders. Church! This makes us a foul-smelling, and ill-fitting, and unattractive as a Bride! This is one of the things that kept me from the church initially, and then caused me to leave the church for a time in my life! If you don’t allow full functionality to a body part, It will get weak, and become useless. It may die. This is what I believe the Church’s historical approach to women has done. Let us welcome our women into the fullness of the Kingdom of God here on earth. And let us demonstrate to those outside of the Church what unity and full functionality can look like in the body of Christ!

 

Misogyny, masculinity, and violence

I am aware of the increase in conversation recently about the mysogyny in our culture. This has buzzed recently, because of last week’s murders. I didn’t plan to weigh in on this one, because those that know me could predict my take… but a strange confluence of events beckons words from me.

I have paid little attention to the rise of the popular #YesAllWomen hashtag. I don’t tweet. I don’t have an account. I am, however thrilled that there is increased conversation (at least for now) about experiences that are alarmingly common in women’s lives, combined with the dismissiveness of  many, but certainly not all men (we’ll call them “non-feminists”). A feminist is simply someone who espouses the following beliefs/activities:

: the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities
: organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests (From Merriam-Webster‘s online dictionary)

In the last 48 hours, three women in India have made international news because their deaths were related to ideology that calls a woman’s body and sexuality property, and that considers women less-important beings (than straight men, presumably).

I read this article that made me sad, and reminded me how pervasive these experiences are for, #YesAllWomen.

I was promptly faced with a challenging client who complained of being perpetually maltreated, and frequently asked to leave the facility. This client was male, somewhat intimidating. He postured, peacock like, puffing up at any perceived provocation. He went on to tell me that in the past, he has been prone to conflict with any other males he comes across, “because they all look at me like I have a big ol’ coochie right there (pointing where you might imagine).”

“That was entirely inappropriate,” I said. “You are aware that I’m a woman, right?”

“Yeah, but I don’t mean no disrespect, but they always be looking at me like I got a pussy or something.”

Both times, this man utters his selected vaginal nickname with disgust… like the word is bitter leaving his throat. Clearly, the worst, most disgusting and offensive thing that could happen to someone would be to have a vagina.

I then spent the next several hours trying to tune out his rants in our lobby, including his retelling of his version/interpretation of the above interaction and who I am as a clinician/human being to every other (male) client that entered the building. This is the choice I had to make: Does this client need access to our services more than I need to not be on the receiving end of his verbal vomit/intimidating behavior? But the worst part is, THAT IS A CHOICE I HAD TO MAKE!

Admittedly, this man’s apparent disgust for vaginas is, perhaps, the least of his problems. But I have to admit he got to me. It got to me — probably due to my feminist filter being primed and ready. The whole huge systemic ugh-ness of it got to me. This is not about mental illness. This is about misogyny, masculinity, and violence. This is what we do to men when we draw a hard line between male and female, rigidly dividing what we consider appropriate for either gender – when we conceptualize gender as a firm dichotomy. This is the cost of requiring boys to meet certain behavioral and ideological criteria to be considered a “man,” rather than simply, “Do you identify yourself as male in gender, and have you reached a stage of maturity?” Because that is what makes a man, to me. But what do I know? I’m just a woman.

This is the cost of teaching boys that violence is a prerequisite to becoming a man, or that being kind, soft-spoken, sensitive or (gasp!) feminist makes one less of a man (ergo less important?). This is what it costs when we rank manliness on a hierarchical scale… creating and reinforcing a culture in which men have to compete, and are ever-striving to find their place in some pecking order (violence).  This is what happens when we tell boys to “be a man….” This is what happens when we don’t allow a young boy who is gifted in physical movement and grace to dance, because “dancing is for girls.”

If the above client believed women were equally as valuable as men in this world, all the sudden the threat of being perceived as more or less manly is null and void… BECAUSE BOTH MEN AND WOMEN ARE WORTHY OF DIGNITY AND RESPECT! But no. His hostile reaction to the idea that someone might think him less “manly” (read: dominant, powerful, aggressive) belies the belief that to be a woman is to be less-than-desirable.

I’m going to stop here, because I am aware I lose readers if my posts are too long. (We seriously need to consider the evolutionary damage we are doing to our attention-spans!). But for additional interesting readings/videos, here are links to a few of my favorite recent reads on the subject:

From BelleJar: Virginity, Violence, and Masculinity

From Laci Green: More than a Madman

 

As always, I want this to be a conversation, so your comments are always welcome below!

 

room to breathe

I began reading a new book last night… two, actually. I don’t often start 2 different books in one sitting, but the circumstance/context of my reading is new-ish. Prior to starting I had 3 other books “in process.” One for educational/professional edification, one for spiritual edification, and one for all of the above and then some. Now, I don’t really have much time to read these days, and I grieve the loss of sitting and reading until my brain, heart, and eyes are full. But this week I made a committment to read and discuss a book with other people. Okay. Here I go.

I am a Christian, although at times I present with a vague or ambiguous spirituality that may be hard for a stranger to pinpoint. This may come as a surprise to some of my readers, as I write more freely here about my faith than I speak of  in my daily life with the community at large. I love Jesus and am aware that the Bible and Christian tradition hugely affect my thoughts and perspectives on what is wrong with the world and and what could help. I take great delight when others who are not deeply spiritual discover my faith and with blinking eyes and head-shaking say, “You’re a Christian?” Recently, I got a “Like how Christian are you? Like you go to church and pray and stuff? How into it are you?” (giggle.)

Over the last 7 years or so, I am aware of God calling me back into a loving relationship with the Church. Yes, I am a reluctant lover. There’s some hurt in my past, some confusion, and a lot of feeling surrounded by people but deeply alone. I’ve had longings for monastic life, where I imagine escaping the trappings of surface-talk and presumption. I did run for a few different periods of time, to a different area of the country (and world) where local culture didn’t carry the presumptions of certain ideologies. I look back on Seattle as one of those places where I felt in my relationship with the Church and Christianity in general, I had room to breathe.

So last night, in beginning to read these two texts, I had two distinctly different reactions. One I read, as I often do religious texts, with my internal feelers on hypervigilant status. This, I recognize is a consequence of past hurt, but also as discernment. I did not find the first text to be overtly offensive (although I find the title itself unfortunate), but I was aware of feeling bored and also tired as a result of my own efforts at vigilance related to “What are they really saying for me? What are they really saying for women in general? What assumptions does this text make about the way I think about the world / God / my family / my self?” Whew. That was a chore! And I felt stifled. Already. One chapter in. I am suffocating in a small box.

I sat for a moment thinking about this reading experience. Then almost on impulse, opened up yet another book on my Kindle and began reading. This book is Jesus Feminist, by Sarah Bessey. Within moments, and mere lines of text, I felt disarmed, centered–as if I had just stepped into a place full of beauty and inviting rest. Here was a text I could rest into. There was space for me here, and permission to belong.

Why is this such a rarity for me in so much of Christianity? Why the need for hermeneutical awareness? I am saddened by the distinct differences between my experiences of these texts. Why is there not more space in Southern Church culture for folks like me, who identify with the description that Sarah Bessey writes of herself:

 I’m an uneasy pacifist, a Kingdom of God focused woman, postmodern, liberal to the conservative and conservative to the liberal in matters of both religion and politics (not an easy task, I assure you), a social justice wanna-be trying to do some good, and a nondenominational charismatic recovering know-it-all slowly falling back in love with the Church.

Dear Church… Dear Southern Church… Dear Evangelical Church…. Can we seek to become a place that demonstrates the inviting love of Jesus? Can we grow to welcome, in love, those who feel perpetually other? Can we begin to become aware of the assumptions we make about those who grace our thresholds? Can we be honest about ourselves and our questions? Can we admit the harm that we have done, and our complicity with oppressive political movements in the past? Can we stop, and consciously make space for others in our midst? I do hope so.

Teaching Sex in a Healthy Way: How I Hope to Keep my Kids From Growing up Naked and Ashamed….

In her essay, Naked and Ashamed, Amanda Barbee critiques the way the Christian Church has dealt with the physical body and sexuality. Barbee discusses the ambiguity with which the Church has handled the human body in general, and then presses in to discuss the consistency with which women’s bodies have been maligned in Christian tradition. She lands more recently upon recent research that reveals  abstinence curricula like “True Love Waits,” increases shame responses for children/adolescents. This shame has been found to have similar effects on intimacy later in life to childhood sexual abuse.

Wow.

Shame is a potent tool and one that has been used by parents, churches, and teachers–especially in the realm of sexual development/exploration–far too often. It worked, or at least appeared to on the front end. I’d like to believe that those pushing for abstinence only sexual education may not have known of the damaging effects of shame on the psyche. When shamed, we isolate. In isolation, our secrets become more powerful. We focus increasing energies on not letting others know of these parts of our selves/thoughts/or actions of which we are ashamed. We become compartmentalized in how we relate, and develop huge tracts of taboo in the landscape of our relate-able selves. We then feel increasingly disconnected from others around us, and unable to risk the further shame that we assume will result from being authentically vulnerable with others.

Not only is abstinence-only teaching shaming and potentially harmful. It is ineffective at its primary goal. According to The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2011 – after more than 20 years of abstinence/purity movement sexual education curricula in our public schools, Texas ranked 5th highest in teen pregnancy!

Abstinence-Only Programs Do Not Impact Teen Sexual Behavior

In early November 2007, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy released Emerging Answers 2007, a report authored by Dr. Douglas Kirby, a leading sexual health researcher, discussing what programs work in preventing teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. The report found strong evidence that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs do not have any impact on teen sexual behavior.[i] Quoted from SIECUS fact sheet.

“[M]any abstinence-only-until-marriage programs rely on fear, shame, and guilt to try to control young people’s sexual behavior. These programs include negative messages about sexuality, distort information about condoms and STDs, and promote biases based on gender, sexual orientation, marriage, family structure, and pregnancy options. It is never appropriate to give young people inaccurate or biased information about their sexuality.” Quoted from SIECUS

In her article, Barbee also discusses the uneven impact/burden the purity movement places upon women. One particularly offensive result is the burden this places upon women to clothe themselves with caution, being ever mindful of the stumbling blocks their beautiful bodies lay before the men of the world. I have previously dealt with this stumbling block theology and have excerpted the guts of it below:

I have heard the argument that women need to use more care to not place stumbling blocks in front of men for more than a decade, from well-meaning women, mostly. I believe this argument is harmful to men, women, God and the Church as a whole.

It is harmful to men because it degrades a man’s ability to develop and act out of self-control. It excuses men for their failures and implicitly blames the woman for not being more mindful of his weakness. How emasculating is it to set the bar so low? And how am I, as a woman, to respect a man (for that is what I am called to do) for whom the bar is set so low?
It is harmful to women because it demands that women work harder to maintain the moral righteousness of men than it asks of the men. This is a patronizing idea from a patriarchal time when women had very little voice in the church and fewer rights as human beings: women were blamed for men’s failures and it is still happening. I cannot realistically be expected to accurately assess the potential weakness of every person I could interact with on a daily basis. If a man stumbles because I happen to be wearing a fitted shirt on any given day, that’s on him. That’s between him and God. I also happen to believe that Christ’s sacrifice is enough to appropriately deal with that.
Consider the effort it would take for a woman to evaluate every issue/article of clothing, make-up, accessories, manner of movement, emotional availability… the list could go on ad infinitum. Where do we draw the line about what is ridiculous and too much? It’s all gray-space. And what is a stumbling block for one man or woman may not cause another to stumble. We are not all psychics. Alternatively, each and every man knows when he is tempted. He knows his triggers. Why is it that we feel comfortable asking a woman to be aware of and respond appropriately to the potential triggers for all men, but we are uncomfortable asking one man to be responsible and aware of his own triggers and to respond appropriately by averting his eyes or exhibiting self control?
It harms God. Consider what kind of God would hold women responsible for every questionable thought or action that arose in the untempered mind/body of anyone she had contact with. That is not a God I would want, not a God of mercy or even reason. That is a vengeful, punitive, unreasonable God.
It harms the Church. Excusing men or women for not growing in self control cannot benefit the Body of Christ at large. Instead, it encourages weak men and the ever-mindful caretaker woman to be the norm in both our culture and our churches.

When I consider the impact and ineffectiveness of abstinence-only teaching in general, and the uneven impact/burden the purity movement places upon women, I am relieved to feel like I understand the roots of my own ambivalence about being an embodied woman in the Church. As a parent now, I cannot justify raising my children with an abstinence-only approach to sexual education. I will not raise my children according to the “True Love Waits” curriculum or others that teach abstinence as the only morally appropriate engagement of sexuality outside of marriage. I do not want my children to believe that their sexual bodies/desires/enjoyment are or even should be shameful.

It grieves me to imagine how confused my children may become as they receive various educations on sexuality from our local church youth group, their peers, the public schools of the deep South, where religion and politics are strange but familiar bedfellows. Will my children notice and be aware of the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between the conversations we have had with them and what they are hearing elsewhere? Will they talk with us about it? I can only hope so.

I have a proposal…

This is what I will teach my kids regarding the theology of their bodies, and sexuality. Although I write from a Christian orientation, I believe this approach can be easily modified and applied to a non-religious context (such as schools or a non-religious home).

1) You have a body. It is yours and it is borrowed all at the same time. It is the only one you’ll get in this life, so use (or better yet be in) it accordingly.
1 (b) Your body parts all have names and purposes. Some are more dignified than others, but none of them are inherently bad.

2) All people are sexual beings, and exist on a continuum which allows for some to have greater or less desire than others.
2(b) There is also a sexual desire continuum that varies for many individuals across his or her life/developmental stage.

3) Your body was made to enjoy sexual experiences, and sexual experiences can bring great joy and pleasure to both you and God… for God made you that way.

4) When it comes to sexual experiences, I will encourage abstinence, on the basis that this a practice of self-control… one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. As you grow in your self-control, you are living more fully into this gift, and honoring and pleasing the Giver.
4(b) Sexuality is a key area for developing self-control because if you can manage your sexuality in a healthy way (definition admittedly debatable), you will struggle less with self control in other common areas for relational and personal sabotage: finances, what you share on social networking, drug/alcohol use, etc.

5) You will get different messages about your body and your sexuality from school/friends/church/mentors/family members/the culture at large. Some of these messages will conflict or may be confusing. We’re here to talk about it, if you want.

The key for our family will be to talk about this in a way that demonstrates to our children that these conversations are not taboo, and that there is room for differences of opinion. I share this approach freely, because I know this is a difficult subject for many parents. and many families apparently just don’t talk about sex.

I would love and welcome your feedback on this approach, as I expect to have several more years to refine it and ease into it before we will be having the majority of this conversation with them.


[i] Douglas Kirby, Emerging Answers 2007: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases, (Washington, DC: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 2007), p. 15, accessed 5 February 2007, <http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/EA2007/EA2007_full.pdf&gt;.

Your husband doesn’t have to earn your respect

Your husband doesn’t have to earn your respect.

I don’t agree with everything Matt says here. I find hyperbole in several of his supporting pillars, but I have struggled with this question for approximately two years (maybe longer). I admit it. And there have been times the vignette he opens with could have been me and my husband. I do find the pervasiveness of the  man-mocking meme curious.  I took my kiddo to a play that was culturally Indian last weekend. Even here, I found women joking about their lazy, good-for-nothing husbands.

I was raised by a strong woman, a feminist, in the deep South… where cultural norms and religious dictates often get confused. I grew up in a family whose tree looks tangled and confusing due to generations of rampant divorce. I don’t say this to shame my family. It just is, and I am daily learning new ways it has influenced the woman I am today.

More than a year ago, during a trying time in my marriage, I sought counsel from one of the ministers at my church. She encouraged me to give my husband respect. That challenge made my stomach turn. I had a visceral response of gut-wrenching “ugh.” This was becoming a more difficult conversation than I wanted it to be. I named the barriers to respect I faced. She named respect as a need for men. “He’s not __________! He’s _________! He doesn’t deserve my respect,” I said. I don’t even remember the specifics of my protest at this time, nor would I want to publish them if I did. Her response was something akin to, “What if you had to earn his love?”

At the time, I did feel like I was trying to earn his love. He wasn’t loving me well, and it was apparent in the level of conflict and dysfunction in our house. He was perpetually trying – and failing – to earn my respect, as I was trying – and failing – to earn his love. But this is not right. As a husband, he should not have to earn my respect. It should have already been established in the dating process. My pastor encouraged me to emulate God in my relationship to my husband. Lofty advice. It felt trite, and I protested so. I am not God. But I yield. Somehow the cycle of had to be broken. No more earning and demanding the other earn what we most needed. Offering him respect was one way I could begin to do something different. And it was and still is at times hard.

Single ladies… please…. Your respect for your man should be well-established prior to saying ‘I do.” Marriage is hard, and commitment takes work, but some of the major hurdles couples face can be circumvented if you can say you trust and respect your significant other wholly, and that he loves you well prior to saying “I do.” But what about those who are married already without this being well-established? Ladies, I am with you. This one’s hard. And all I can say is the result is well worth the cost. He needs your respect. And the deficit thereof can make coming home a painful, rather than joyful process. You want intimacy, yet your disrespect pushes him farther away and makes you an unsafe person for him to be vulnerable with. You have the power to change this. You can change the ugly cycle of demanding/earning. It will cost you, and it will bring peace and joy… and love.

Overall, I agree with what Matt Walsh writes in this particular post, but there are a few things he says and doesn’t say that I feel need to be addressed.  First, Matt speaks from a position of power that he may be unaware of. This is probably part of why he gets so much flack for opining about what women need to do in this manner. Perhaps the culture of disrespect towards men that Matt discusses is a backlash against the demands that men, in a position of power, have imposed on women for numerous years prior. I, on the other hand, may have more license to tell women what we are doing to harm our relationships simply because I am one.

I must argue with Matt when he writes,

“I’ve noticed that the corollary – a message about the respect women must give men, a message challenging wives and encouraging husbands – isn’t quite so palatable for many people” (emphasis mine).

Matt, to challenge a woman to respect her husband is one thing. To state that women at large must respect men at large is absurd and belies your presumed power and your ignorance of the barriers that prevent women from respecting all men. When I open above with the statement (which I copied from and linked back to Matt’s blog) that husbands do not need to earn their wives’ respect, I admit that while I believe this applies to all spousal arrangements, my intended audience here is those women who identify as Christians. This is a Biblical instruction, but not based on the way Matt cut-and-paste quotes Ephesians 5, which appears to rearrange the context. I am looking solely at Ephesians 5:32-33. Our marriages will mirror the ideal of Christ’s relationship with the Church when we live in love as we should. That looks like: Men – love your wives as you love yourself. Put away selfishness which will diminish your ability to love your wife. You promised her you would do this. Wives, respect your husband, because he needs it and your respect has more power to fuel and encourage him than any other human person in his life.

Peace be with you.

Feminism and the stumbling block

Suggested by Daily Prompt: Mad as a Hatter

Tell us about a time when you flew into a rage. What is it that made you so incredibly angry?

Perhaps the phrase “flew into a rage” is overkill for this particular response, but I recently came across a young woman’s blog that I couldn’t help but rant about to the next closest human. (Thank you G, for humoring me!) In it, she used a well-known and oft-touted biblical reference to proliferate one of the more offensive hermeneutics that has been pushed by and to women in the Church. At the root of her argument is that (young Christian) women need to be cognizant of the effects their choices of apparel have on men. To support this argument, she used the often referenced “men are just more visual creatures” argument and referenced the story of David and Bathsheeba  (from 2 Samuel 11) to support said argument.

I find the use of the biblical reference here ill-suited to the initial argument, even a bit ironic. I find the presumption behind this particular use of this biblical analogy troubling. I prefer to discuss the two issues separately. 

First – the stumbling block argument:

I have heard the argument that women need to use more care to not place stumbling blocks in front of men for more than a decade, from well-meaning women, mostly. I believe this argument is harmful to men, women, God and the Church as a whole. 

It is harmful to men because it degrades a man’s ability to develop and act out of self-control. It excuses men for their failures and implicitly blames the woman for not being more mindful of his weakness. How emasculating is it to set the bar so low? And how am I, as a woman, to respect a man (for that is what I am called to do) for whom the bar is set so low?
It is harmful to women because it demands that women work harder to maintain the moral righteousness of men than it asks of the men. This is a patronizing idea from a patriarchal time when women had very little voice in the church and fewer rights as human beings: women were blamed for men’s failures and it is still happening. I cannot realistically be expected to accurately assess the potential weakness of every person I could interact with on a daily basis. If a man stumbles because I happen to be wearing a fitted shirt on any given day, that’s on him. That’s between him and God. I also happen to believe that Christ’s sacrifice is enough to appropriately deal with that.
Consider the effort it would take for a woman to evaluate every issue/article of clothing, make-up, accessories, manner of movement, emotional availability… the list could go on ad infinitum. Where do we draw the line about what is ridiculous and too much? It’s all gray-space. And what is a stumbling block for one man or woman may not cause another to stumble. We are not all psychics. Alternatively, each and every man knows when he is tempted. He knows his triggers. Why is it that we feel comfortable asking a woman to be aware of and respond appropriately to the potential triggers for all men, but we are uncomfortable asking one man to be responsible and aware of his own triggers and to respond appropriately by averting his eyes or exhibiting self control?
It harms God. Consider what kind of God would hold women responsible for every questionable thought or action that arose in the untempered mind/body of anyone she had contact with. That is not a God I would want, not a God of mercy or even reason. That is a vengeful, punitive, unreasonable God.
It harms the Church. Excusing men or women for not growing in self control cannot benefit the Body of Christ at large. Instead, it encourages weak men and the ever-mindful caretaker woman to be the norm in both our culture and our churches.

Second – the misappropriation of David and Bathsheba’s narrative:

Besides the above feminist response to the stumbling block argument/plea, there is the mishandling of the David and Bathsheba narrative. You see, this is a commonly (in Judeo-Christian cultures) known story about the most famous king of Israel, who is said to have authored significant portions of the Bible, especially the Psalms, and his mistress-turned-most-famous-wife.  When I was in college, and admittedly zealous and equipped with just enough biblical knowledge and more-than-enough-narcissism to do some damage, I often heard Bathsheba referenced with similar disdain as Jezebel. For years, I believed Bathsheba’s story to depict a woman who was not careful about how tempting she was. But this is a wholly inaccurate understanding of the story as it is offered. My misunderstanding was likely fed by the generally conservative  and generally patriarchal culture within which I live(d).

The use of the David story to support an argument that women ought consider the possibility of becoming a stumbling block for men when they get dressed in the morning “because men are just visual creatures” (a quote I have heard from many Christian leaders) is just, in my opinion, a leap. Bathsheba was naked, bathing in her courtyard (or on the roof, depending on interpretation) in the heat of the day, which was an appropriate place and time for a woman to be naked and bathing. The soldiers and wealthy folks generally lived closest to the center of town or palace: think inverted sub-urbia.  There was no plumbing. No hot water heaters. No electricity. David saw her. David failed to avert his eyes. David pursued her. What choice did she have? This was tantamount to a most egregious case of sexual harassment possible. He is the king! She is a (marginalized) woman. David was her king, and her husband’s boss. If she says no, he is shamed, and she could be killed, or otherwise see her husband lose his job, be imprisoned, or be set up to be killed in battle (sound familiar?). When she comes up pregnant, she makes a bold move contacting David. But again – what choice does she have? If Uriah finds out, she will likely be divorced, shunned, and quite likely be killed or forced into prostitution as a result of her “adultery.” Do you see the similarities between this dynamic and the ongoing slut-shaming that happens in our culture? This is why I call it ironic that this passage be referenced in this context. The blogger mentioned above is young and zealous, but in her zeal to teach Christian young women how to dress appropriately, she promotes slut-shaming ideology and simultaneously asks her reader to ignore the context and culture of the biblical story that depicts a bold, courageous, and wise woman who was raped and appropriately shamed her rapist.

P.S. The morality issue: for Christians only.

The last thing I want to note here is specifically directed towards Christians. I think it is important to remember that not all people around us, or all of our readers are Christians. Great harm is done when we come off as judgmental because we mistakenly expect people who do not follow our God to abide by his laws.

The reality is that we wouldn’t be Christians if we did not admit and come to terms with our inherent inability to abide by God’s laws. If we are miserable failures in need of a savior, then why do we expect others who have not yet seen or reckoned with their brokenness to act any better. For you to judge someone that you see in a restaurant or on the street for what they look like on the outside is reminiscent of the failure of Jesus’ earlier disciples to recognize the inward beauty of the woman in Luke 7. Live your life by whatever standards you must, but please stop alienating the people Jesus would invite and pursue.

There’s something about leggings…

This morning, I took an unexpectedly delightful trip down the Great Leggings Debate rabbit hole. I might have swapped sides a few months ago, but 2 weeks ago was the clincher. One of my moms asked for Christmas gift ideas for our family. I knew this request was coming, and thanks to the notes app, I was going to be ready. (I was ready, but still inexplicably neglected to answer the request for an exceptionally long period of time! (Sorry MS!)) I had created a wishlist a long time ago, and whenever a valid, approved, viable wish arose, I’d plop it on the list. Here’s mine:

 Image I actually put leggings on my Christmas list. It’s funny! This is something I want, but have not yet bought for myself = good gift! Admittedly, as I placed the word “leggings” on my wishlist, I felt tremendous ambivalence. I felt like a hypocrite. I have internally railed against the resurrection of leggings since I saw my aunt (yes, my aunt!), who is decidedly more fashionable than I am, sporting them back in…. 2009. But my railing, I have come to see, both concealed and exposed my bend toward jealousy. I just never thought I could pull it off, and preferred to dodge the self-consciousness I imagined would naturally result from walking about in the equivalent of a leotard-for-your-legs.  

Look, I have never claimed to be fashionable. I spent a year in college wearing almost entirely men’s clothing. I decided it was less painful to purchase men’s pants with their clear demarcation of one’s dimensions and proportions (W:34, L:30) than to attempt to navigate the ambiguity of women’s sizes. My body changed that year. I didn’t gain the freshman 15. I gained the sophomore 30… okay 40. It was traumatic to navigate women’s clothing, with one store’s 10 fitting like a 8 or 12 in another, and boutique sizing that allows big spenders to delude themselves into thinking they fit into a size (ideal # here). Ugh!

Add to my jealousy a pinch of slut-shaming thrown in for good measure, and you get a grown woman with strong ideas about the inappropriateness of dressing in leggings outside of the gym or home. There was some taboo rule I ingested sometime during the hyper-religious phase of my spiritual development, that layered feelings of guilt and shame upon anything that came within 100 thoughts of being alluring, evocative or sexual. I can’t blame the religious people in my life entirely, they were actually pretty cool about things. I just had this confluence of trauma, religion, and a deep discomfort with ambiguous or gray areas of the moral code. I now chalk this up to a necessary developmental milestone of spiritual development. (More on that (perhaps) another time.)

But jealousy and slut-shaming are antithetical to many of my feminist and Christian ideals (see Luke 7:36-50), so yes, I have come around. Last year, I ventured into the legging-wearing club for what I believed would be a temporary trip, and with pregnancy offering a good excuse. Post-pregnancy, and now again in what I have come to know as my normal shape, I miss feeling free to wear super-comfy stretchy pants and call it good. Well, that can be easily remedied.  I will not covet your ability to pull it off, or assume you wanted everyone see every curve (or dimple) of your lycra-covered tush. I will celebrate that you have the self-confidence and freedom to rock those leggings without shame. And I will join the fashion ranks of legging-wearing-feminists, a few years late, and complimented with a long shirt, skirt, or otherwise fanny-covering overlay.