book haul
Social Issues

stuff I’ve been into: June edition

The picture for this post is of the book haul Handsome and I brought home from our county library book sale– which is “The Event of the Year” as far as anyone down here is concerned.

Articles

I’m a big fan of the Washington Post— I read it fairly consistently, and I love that they run pieces like “For the poor in the Ivy League, a full ride isn’t always what they imagined” by Nick Anderson fairly often. This one was especially good because it puts to bed the tired argument that minority/poor students can just “get scholarships” to solve their problems. Sure, you might have your tuition covered, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can buy food, or textbooks. Heaven forbid you want to major in a STEM field, where the textbooks are constantly updated and can cost hundreds of dollars.

I’ve been reading the blog-zine Women in Theology for several years, and I recommend them in general– they’re one of the reasons why I’m going to seminary. “A Reasonable Violence: Why the Third Way is the Worst Way” by Amaryah Shaye is a good example of the work they do. I’ve shared my own opinion on the “Third Way” perspective before, and Amaryah’s argument, I believe, is incredibly compelling. I kept wanting to grab a few pullquotes, but all of it is just too good.

My friend and colleague, Sarah Jones, wrote “The Strange Story of Sewanee, the KKK, and a Franklin County Gay/Straight Alliance” for Scalawag and it’s fully worth a read. bell hooks first coined the phrase white supremacist capitalist cisheteropatriarchy — and while it’s certainly a mouthful, it elucidates the reality we all unthinkingly live in: that misogyny, racism, homophobia are all tied up in each other. Each oppressive system perpetuates the others.

This is Why we have Women-Only Spaces, and I Don’t Want to Hear Your Complaints” by Clementine Ford wrestles with the impossible-to-meet demands women face that constantly contradict each other. I think the thesis of her piece is here:

The only conclusion I’ve been able to draw from this is that women, despite being constantly told what we MUST do to avoid danger, are actually not allowed to be in control of what those preventative actions might look like.

Bust can be a hit-or-miss feminist magazine for me, just like Jezebel and a few others– but “Why ADHD is a Feminist Issue and What Happens when its Overlooked” by S.B. Casteñeda is short, but excellent, and is a good introduction to this issue. Girls also tend to be under-diagnosed for a lot of things, like autism, and we need to keep demanding that the medical establishment corrects its misogynistic bias.

The Reluctant Memoirist” by Suki Kim is probably one of the best things I’ve read this month. She’s an investigative reporter, but yet when she tried to share her investigative journalism on North Korea — one of the most badass things I’ve ever heard of — it got billed as “memoir.” Argh gablargh. Anyway, you should read it. She’s a lot more eloquent than “argh gablargh.”

Bitch magazine, unlike Bust or Jezebel, is a publication I have a lot of respect for. When I saw that Kameron Hurley– one of my favorite authors– seriously, go read The Mirror Empire right now–had written “In Defense of Unlikable Women” for them I squeed. It’s one of the essays from her book The Geek Feminist Revolution which I’m going to buy as soon as I’m able. Two of her women characters in Mirror Empire are everything she’s arguing for in this piece, and they’re some of the best-written “unlikable women” I’ve ever encountered in literature. If you think I’m trying to get y’all to become Kameron Hurley fans– you’re right.

Books

As I mentioned above, I brought home a literal trunk-full of books from our library’s book sale, and I’ve been tearing through them. I picked up The Magician’s Apprentice by Trudi Canavan and enjoyed it so much I bought her other two trilogies in the same universe– The Black Magician trilogy and the Traitor Spy trilogy. She has an interesting plotting style, and I enjoyed the pacing of her books. Traitor Spy has a bisexual woman and a lesbian as two of the main characters, and they get a happy ending. No Bury Your Gays here. Black Magician has a side-ish/main-ish character who realizes he’s gay toward the end, and he become a main character in Traitor Spy, and wheeee I’m so happy when I read books that resonate with my lived experiences. Made me realize how tiring it can be to read about exclusively straight characters the rest of the time.

I also grabbed all of Karen Miller’s books from the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker universe. She’s a genuinely good fantasy writer, and I’m really enjoying them, but I do have one complaint: in a world where the main religious icon is a woman, you’d think there’d be other women in the books. There’s four women total in The Awakened Mage. Innkeepers, servants, stable hands, secretaries, guildmasters, guards, teachers … they are all men. The only exception is the queen, the princess, one woman who shows up for a few pages during a court hearing, and the main character’s friend. It’s frustrating that even in a fantasy novel written by a woman, the male gender is treated as the default.

I also read The Black Jewels trilogy by Anne Bishop in basically a single sitting because I’m a complete sucker for books written about insanely powerful women; but, I will warn you that while the second two books are decently entertaining, there is a lot of sexual violence in the first book– Daughter of the Blood. And I mean a lot– against women and men and the main character, who’s a child in the first book. It’s a complicated system to explain, but there’s a lot of gender essentialism and then there’s the interesting little factoid that a woman can be “broken” on her “Virgin Night” and lose her magical powers. The same is not true of men, although I think this might have been Anne’s attempt to balance out the fact that women tend to be magically stronger than the men. But …  bleh. Anyway, truly entertaining books and I liked how they referenced vampires and gargoyles without specifically invoking those archetypes … but yeah. Complicated feelings. The next two books respond to the sexual violence the main characters endured delicately and appropriately– Anne doesn’t ignore the trauma or its consequences, and there’s an organic healing process, but, like I said … it’s complicated.

I also read the Selection series by Kiera Cass, which is in that young-adult dystopian genre with the interesting twist that it’s about royalty. Again, I’m a sucker for princess-themed books, so I read them all. Not the best in the genre I’ve read, but cute. There’s four books and I think it probably should have just been two, but I understand the rationale of stretching it out a bit for younger readers.

***

I’m throwing a barbecue this weekend that I’m very excited about– hence why you’re getting a “stuff I’ve been into” post. I wish everyone a very jolly weekend, and if you’re an American citizen, happy Independence Day!

I Kissed Dating Goodbye
Feminism

I Kissed Dating Goodbye review: 165-186

“Ready for the Sack but Not for the Sacrifice” &
“What Matters at Fifty?”

We’re in the last section of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, titled “Looking Ahead,” and if you were tired of an unmarried, not-even-dating high school graduate lecturing you about your love life, then you’re just going to love this section because it’s about marriage. So, jumping right in with Joshua’s assertion that young people have an unrealistic view of what that is:

These people thing of married life as one grand, thrilling moment after another– the everyday, mundane parts of marriage are safely edited from the picture. (166)

Le sigh.

I’ve only been married three years, but, so far, the “everyday, mundane” parts are the “thrilling” parts. Cooking while he loads the dishwasher. Watching TV or readings books out loud to each other. Going on walks. Making household decisions, like choosing which garbage pickup service we want. Maybe I won’t feel like this in ten years, but for now, the times when I’m the happiest, the most content, are those simple moments.

Also, do none of these “many young adults” have parents? I spent 20+ years watching my parents be married, and while I didn’t have an inside-out understanding of what being married is like, I certainly wasn’t expecting rainbows and unicorns. I love being married, 15/10 would recommend, but I knew going in that I, as a human being, was going to be living with another human being.

He then moves on to define “what marriage is,” relying on Love that Lasts by the Ricuccis (considering Carolyn Mahaney wrote the foreward, I think this is a book written by people at his church). He (and the Ricuccis) argue that “Marriage depicts the supernatural union between Jesus and the church” (168) which… yes. Marriage is one metaphor for that relationship in Scripture.

But so are grape vines, and architecture, and armies. The metaphor is a beautiful one, even powerful– something I understood better once I was married to a wonderful person– but it is just a metaphor. American Christian culture has idolized marriage, and one of the ways they’ve done it is through over-literalizing one metaphor among many. It was convenient for them to perpetuate a whole set of cultural conceptions and roles, so they took advantage of it.

The last few pages of this chapter turn into a dumpster fire, though:

As quickly as possible, we must dispel any selfish notions that marriage is about what we can get instead of what we can give. (171)

No, Joshua, it is about both. I “get” a patient, compassionate husband who carries me when I can’t walk, who helps me clean our home when I want to entertain even though he’d almost rather be a hermit, who says “let’s get takeout” when I don’t have the energy to cook. I give my love of research (on grills, washing machines, lawn mowers, cars…), my enthusiasm and hope, my willingness to handle all those grown-up calls we have to make to water companies and medical insurers.

People who aren’t “getting” anything while “giving” everything are in unstable, unbalanced, and unhealthy relationships. If you’re not “getting” anything from your life partner, it is a problem that needs to be addressed and corrected.

And then here’s the dumpster fire. Joshua is quoting from by Ann Landers, written in 1967:

…Marriage is giving– and more important, it’s forgiving.
And it is almost always the wife who must do these things.
Then, as if that were not enough, she must be willing to forget what she forgave… (171)

and this one by who he says was written by Lena Lathrop (it wasn’t; it’s by Mary Lathrap), penned before 1895:

…You require a cook for your mutton and beef,
I require a far greater thing;
A seamstress you’re wanting for socks and shirts–
I look for a man and a king … (173)

I have ugggghhhh scrawled over the margins here. Gender roles from the 60s and the Victorian era were all the rage in the culture I shared with Joshua, and it’s both hilarious and sad that he read the Lathrap poem and thought it was some kind of encouragement to young women to “keep their standards high” (174). These are just a few lines from the whole poems he quotes, but both place the tasks of drudgery and long-suffering on the women. Men get to be kings, get to have all their faults and foibles not only forgiven but forgotten, while women are perfectly content to be cooks and seamstresses if only their husbands are “kings.”

Just … ugh.

***

So far in I Kissed Dating Goodbye, it’s been obvious that Joshua has been trying to write something resembling gender parity. If he says something negative about women as a gender, he then attempts to say something disparaging about men as a gender. In my opinion the attempts fail because he can’t acknowledge the patriarchal system that is his bread and butter, but in chapter fourteen he just clear gives up:

When I meet a beautiful girl and I’m tempted to be overly impressed by her external features, I try to imagine what this girl will look like when she’s fifty years old … This girl may be young and pretty now, but what happens when the beauty fades? … When pregnancies and stretch marks and the years add extra pounds … (175-76)

This is nothing but misogyny, and it’s a point of view that’s reinforced by the Bible, which Joshua quotes from: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting” (176).

Beauty is not fleeting; nor is it tied to youthfulness, thinness, or a lack of stretch marks. Not every person meets our white supremacist, misogynist society’s “standards” for beauty, but I know I’m not the only person who is capable of seeing beauty in every person, young or old, fat or thin. The way my mother-in-law’s eyes sparkle when she’s feeling mischievous. The delight that lights up my mother’s entire face until it feels like I’m looking at sunshine. The way my father’s face crinkles when he’s so proud of his children he could burst. The easy suppleness in the way my partner walks. The elegance in her hands when my sister-in-law is painting, the way my sister’s lips curl when she’s feeling especially fierce.

All of those are breathtakingly beautiful to me. Joshua’s view of “beauty” is so shallow and insipid it makes me sick.

The rest of the chapter is dedicated to laying out the qualities we should all look for in a mate. Because someone who thinks a fifty-year-old woman can’t be beautiful is definitely someone we should listen to about this. He places everything under two major headings, “character,” and “attitude,” and then chops those up into easily digestible bits.

How a Person Relates to God

Two brief things: first, people who aren’t Christians can have wonderful marriages. Secondly:

“It’s obvious when he really loves the Lord,” my friend Sarah said. “When he’s telling you about his love for God, you can tell he’s not distracted by you.” (178)

Bullshit. My ex could absolutely not shut up about how much he loved God, and how much he desired to serve God and become a missionary. Virtually everyone he knew would talk about how he was “on fire” for God until the cows came home. Didn’t stop him from being an abuser and a rapist. How a person “relates to God” is not something you can even begin to understand until you’ve been through life with them.

How a Person Relates to Others

The most important thing to note about this section is what he thinks is the most important and least important: how your potential significant other interacts with “the authorities” comes first, and whether or not they’re a jerk to their friends comes dead last (178-79). In his paragraph on “authorities” he makes it clear that a woman who “can’t respect a teacher’s authority will have difficulty honoring her husband.” I’ve had difficult respecting some teacher’s authority for a variety of reasons. They were bullies, or just incompetent. Just because someone is an authority doesn’t mean they automatically deserve respect. But, according to Joshua, exercising my judgment means I’m not good wifely material.

To me, the first thing that stood out to me about Handsome was that he’s empathetic. Truly understanding others is essential to his character; compassion and kindness are his first instincts in his relationships. Because I’ve gotten to know him, compassion is now a character trait I value in all my friendships. However, he has no regard for authority because they’re authority. He treats everyone with respect, but if you hurt someone it doesn’t matter to him what power you hold. This is one of the best and most wonderful things I love about him.

Personal Discipline

He spends almost two pages basically saying that we can’t be slutty (“flirtatious”) or get fat, and if we do, it’s a sign of bad character. Awesome.

An Attitude of Humility

He asks the men reading his book to observe how she “responds to conflict” in her family, and the only metric men need to use is whether or not we’re “humble enough to share blame” (182). This a tactic abusers use– the whole “it takes two to tango” idea, that it’s impossible for conflict to arise without more than one person contributing.

Often, that could be true. Most of the tense moments in my marriage come because we’re both doing something. But sometimes one person is grumpy and taking it out on the other, and there’s no equal share of blame to go around. The grumpy person needs to quit it. Sure, the other person can help by being sympathetic and understanding, but they are not to blame.

***

He finishes off the chapter by returning to “beauty,” this time emphasizing how “the spirit that lights up her sparkling eyes will still be young, vibrant, and alive” (186). It’s a rehashing of the tired trope that “beauty is more than skin deep,” but he’s still associating it with youth!

These were a couple frustrating chapters. But, good news, we’re almost done. I can’t wait to kiss this bloody book goodbye.

plant in a pot
Theology

what Christians mean when they say I’m “bitter”

My great-grandfather was stationed in the Aleutian Islands during WWII. He told us a lot of stories about living there– like being trapped inside the mess hall once because a moose was standing out in the street and no sane person screws around with a moose— but one of the tidbits that stuck out to me the most was an interesting detail about their water. It wasn’t clear, and had a bitter taste to it. When he asked someone why, they explained that the pipes were made out of wood and plants had grown through them to get to the water. Those roots left an oily residue that caused the bitterness.

That was the mental image I carried with me any time I heard a Sunday school lesson or sermon on bitterness. Most often the speaker would turn to Hebrews 12:15 where it uses the phrase “root of bitterness,” and I would think about those wooden pipes in Alaska.

In my experience, “bitterness,” much like “sin,” is one of those terms that get tossed about in Christian culture without a clear, workable definition. In contrast to colloquial use, all those sermons and lessons were pretty consistent about what bitterness is: it’s “unforgiveness fermented.” It’s holding onto a hurt or slight long after you probably should have let it go. It’s resentment.

A while ago I wouldn’t have been able to tolerate reading all those posts and sermon transcripts I’ve linked to above because bitterness was being used, almost constantly, as a cudgel to beat me. I stopped thinking about bitterness entirely, stopped evaluating whether or not I was bitter– and it’s been one of the healthiest, most life-affirming decisions I’ve ever made. If someone called me bitter, I’d mentally shrug it off because I didn’t care whether or not I was bitter. If being “bitter” was what I needed in order to deal with the pain in my life, I was going to embrace it.

It’s been a few years since all that though– conservative Christians have mostly stopped reading my blog, so I’m not hearing “you’re just bitter” every day– and I’m willing to embrace the concept of bitterness again, because I think it can accurately describe something about the human experience. We’ve all had our encounters with people that bring up some incident from their past over and over again and rant about the injustice they faced because of it. Today, though, instead of being worried about whether or not their “well is poisoned,” I acknowledge that I don’t understand their life. Maybe, when they’re talking about that one incident that seems inconsequential to me, it’s emotionally emblematic of how the entire relationship they had with that person was toxic. Maybe they need to hold on to that one moment because it’s a clear reminder to them that what happened to them wasn’t their fault, that they weren’t to blame for the abuse they suffered.

I can’t know either way, so I don’t concern myself with other people’s “bitterness” or lack of it. I know that I often return to a handful of stark moments– highlights that prove I was coerced, that he raped me. In the dark times when the whispers say you’re lying, you’re exaggerating, you’re to blame I point to that moment when I was flat on my back on filthy carpet begging him to stop.

That’s not bitterness. It’s coping. It’s hope.

Bitterness can happen to people. It’s not our job to evaluate how or why, but I think we can self-reflect and say y’know what, self, I think we can let go of that now. It’s done it’s job, and we can have peace about it. I think those moments of self-honesty are important, but they’re yours, and yours alone. It’s no one’s job to tell you when it’s an appropriate time to “let it go,” or “forgive.” You get to decide when all by yourself. For me, the answer for some people is “never”– in the sense that absolution is not mine, cannot be mine, to bestow.

Because, in the end, that’s what it seems many Christians mean when they say you’re just bitter. They mean that you haven’t absolved someone of their guilt, that you haven’t personally allowed the consequences to evaporate. In everyday Christian parlance, “forgiveness” has been confused with “absolution,” and the fact that we’re even daring to speak about an injustice or wrong means we haven’t forgiven them. That’s proof positive that we’re bitter. Heaven help us if we’re still angry about what happened while we’re speaking out.

But, most often, it seems like they’re not even talking about absolution and my refusal to not hand it out like candy. Most often, “you’re just bitter” is evangelical shorthand for “you’re criticizing something I believe is right.”

This insight revealed itself last week when a commenter on my post about the Pulse shooting told me that he’d gone back to read several of my recent posts and had concluded that I was “just bitter” and then preached a sermon at me about it. I responded light-heartedly, all the while thinking whaaaa? How could he have read my recent posts and concluded from those that I’m bitter? I went back and re-read all the ones it was obvious he was referring to, and suddenly what he meant by bitter was as plain as the nose on my face.

It meant that I disagreed with him, and that wasn’t allowed.

And it didn’t even matter how I disagreed. In some posts I was sympathetic, gracious, charitable, kind. In others– like the one where Joshua Harris described gay men as “those people are so sick!” — I said the words “this makes me angry” and “I’m furious” and that meant that I’m bitter. I disagreed. I disagreed and expressed my emotions, no less.

A woman? Expressing her opinion *gasp* forcefully?! That is not to be borne! Quick, call her bitter!

In the past three years I’ve had a lot of Christians call me bitter, and it only happens when I’m criticizing an issue they happen to think is “correct” or “biblical.” In the early days of my blog when I was mostly just chronicling my life growing up in a deeply abusive church, I had several regular readers who considered themselves conservative Christians, even fundamentalist. I was describing something they could condemn right along with me– pastors abusing congregations, Sunday school teachers telling us to essentially self-flagellate, evangelists being horrifically racist– but then I started critiquing positions they held, and suddenly I was bitter.

The first time it happened, it came from someone I considered a personal friend. She’d been cheering on my writing for the first few months, but when I turned from talking about my specific church background and directed some of my criticisms toward fundamentalism in general, she lost it. She de-friended me on Facebook, accused me “divisiveness” on top of being bitter, and declared she’d never read my blog again.

Don’t let the door hit ya, I thought, but it kept happening. Friends, colleagues, readers, they all started calling me “bitter” once I’d started making the connections, started talking about systems, started explaining to others what spiritual abuse looks like in a big-picture, top-down way.

They loved my blog as long as they got to use it to say “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican!” As long as they got to point to how bad other Christians were, they were happy. The second I said, “well, actually, this thing you do is also pretty bad,” all they had to do was accuse me of being “bitter.”

It’s an “in-group signifier,” used to police their borders and boundaries. It’s a tool used to destroy credibility– they’re linguistically stringing caution tape around my blog, to warn off other Christians like them. “This woman here is bitter, you can ignore what she says. No self-reflection necessary.”

Photo by Craig Sunter
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Social Issues

yes, you hate me: Christians and homophobia

[content note for bigotry and homophobia]

If you’re anything like me, this is a conversation you’ve probably had with your parents:

“Ugh! I just hate her! She’s so awful!”
“Samantha, don’t say ‘hate.’ Hate is a strong word.”
“Fine, then, I strongly dislike her.”

I always felt like I was being particularly witty, since “intense or passionate dislike” is the dictionary definition of hate. Colloquially, hate does have a connotation that “intense dislike” just doesn’t encompass, but Christian culture has bent and twisted the word hate until it’s practically meaningless. When a Christian looks me in the eye and says “of course I don’t hate you!” what they actually mean is something akin to I don’t personally want to assault you with my bare hands. To a conservative Christian, unless they’re actively and personally wishing you —personally– harm, than you can’t possibly accuse them of hating you.

That’s how Thabiti Anyabwile and the people who agree with him can say this:

Return the discussion to sexual behavior in all its yuckiest gag-inducing truth … In all the politeness, we’ve actually stopped talking about the things that lie at the heart of the issue–sexual promiscuity of an abominable sort … I think we should describe sin (and righteousness) the way God does. And I think it would be a good thing if more people were gagging on the reality of the sexual behavior that is now becoming public law, protected, and even promoted in public schools

That sense of moral outrage you’re now likely feeling–either at the descriptions above or at me for writing them–that gut-wrenching, jaw-clenching, hand-over-your-mouth, “I feel dirty” moral outrage is the gag reflex.

… and then infuriatingly believe that their explicit perpetuation of an active and intense dislike isn’t an act of hatred. They can do it because they’ve intentionally forgotten that hatred is “intense dislike” with just slightly more oomph– the oomph of thinking “I feel dirty” or “those people are so sick!” They can do it because they’ve lost their sense of communal responsibility. To your average evangelical Christian, sin is personal and it is individually committed. They are blind to systems, to institutionalized hatred. They blatantly refuse to acknowledge how every single one of their homophobic actions and beliefs feed into a system of hate.

It leads to these, which are just a handful of the awful comments on Rachel Held Evans’ post where she reminded us that “there was a body count before Sunday”:

facebook comments

Or these, from Jen Hatmaker’s post where she said “We cannot with any integrity honor in death those we failed to honor in life”:

facebook comments 2

“It’s not hate, it’s a disagreement.”

They say it over and over again and are just so utterly baffled when I choke on rage, frustration, and despair. They’re just so very confused when they look at me and say “I disagree with your very existence because of my pet biblical interpretation, but that clearly can’t be hate. If I hated you, I’d want to punch you or something. Since I don’t want to punch you in the face, that must mean what I’m saying is loving!” and all I want to do is rip my skin off and gnash my teeth at them.

Believing that I don’t have the right to exist exactly as I am is hatred. Fighting against my civil rights is hatred. Believing that Romans 1 applies to me and that I’m therefore “worthy of death” is hatred. Referring to my existence as an abomination— which has happened to me multiple times over the last few days– is hatred. One man on my public facebook page told me I was abomination, that my existence was just as evil the eyes of God as mass murder, but then two comments later said that he “loved” me and “mourned the deaths in Orlando”!

IT rage gif

Not only have they twisted the definition of hatred into something so deformed it’s beyond recognition, they’ve done the same thing to love. Here’s the thing, though: when Jesus said they shall know you by your love, it comes with the pretty basic assumption that your “love” should be recognizable to people who don’t share all your pet theories. If people who don’t share your interpretation or your faith look at your actions and say “that looks an awful lot like hate to me,” your response shouldn’t be “oh, it only looks that way to you because you’re not a conservative evangelical like me!” It doesn’t make any sense.

On top of that, Jesus also said this:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Raca literally means “to spit.” It’s a reaction of disgust, of revulsion– in the words of Thabiti, it’s the “gag reflex” at work. And Jesus compares that reaction to murder. John, later, makes the connection explicit for anyone who might not have gotten it:

Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer.

I’ve seen hundreds of Christians over the last four days protesting against the connection that my LGBT community has been making: this is on you. You’re responsible for creating him and the homophobic culture he breathed in every single day of his twenty-nine years. You weren’t the gunman, but you’re the culture that built him. You’re the bullets in his gun.

To be honest, I never really, viscerally, understood Jesus’ indictment of hatred until Sunday. I understood the larger point of the sermon on the mount, that sin isn’t a matter of rules and regulations but begins in the hearts and minds of men. I understood that he was reorienting a culture away from their preoccupation with the Law and focusing them on their beliefs and perhaps deeply-buried motives. But saying that anger and disgust and revulsion were on par with murder seemed so extreme–surely this is one of those times Jesus was speaking hyperbolically?

I don’t think he was. I think he was talking about systems. He was talking about the creation of a system where Robert Dear could walk into a Planned Parenthood clinic and open fire while shouting “no more baby parts!” and then declare “I’m a warrior for the babies!” The hatred that stirred the “Center for Medical Progress” into slander prompted Robert to commit murder. Just a little bit ago James Dobson practically begged for someone to shoot LGBT people, trans people in particular, with a desperate plea of “Where is today’s manhood? God help us!” Thirteen days later someone in Florida decided that he was enough of a man to actually pick up the gun and go do something about those abominations.

You have hated us for years. You have been killing us for years. Now, it’s time for you reconcile yourselves to us, to seek diallassoa change of mind, a change of heart.

Photo by Julien
I Kissed Dating Goodbye
Feminism

I Kissed Dating Goodbye Review: 137-164

Before we begin, I want to offer my love to all my LGBT+ and Latinx readers. We are grieving for all those precious, beautiful lives, and we are living with yet another ghastly reminder of the hatred that so many bear toward us. Today is the day after, where we have to try to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and keep breathing. Just keep breathing, beloved. We’re here, we’re queer, and love is love is love is love is love.

***

“Guard Your Heart” & “Redeeming the Time”

Joshua opens Chapter 11 with a few pages on how your feelings can get the better of you– if you let them. There’s a long story about “Emily” going away to college and interacting with decent Christian young men for the first time ever, and how that upends everything she “believed” about dating. He uses Emily’s experience to highlight “how easily [our heart] can be swayed in the wrong direction,” and then he launches into this:

First, picture guarding your heart as if your heart were a criminal tied in a chair who would like to break free and knock you over the head. (141)

Again, he’s chosen incredibly violent imagery to communicate his point. From falling off cliffs, to tightrope-walking over “gaping chasms,” and now physical assault and battery … everything is bent on convincing us how dangerous it is not to “guard your heart.”

What that can look like is basically girls nursing crushes on boys and boys lusting after girls. Interestingly, he uses the same term for both of these experiences– “infatuation”– but they look dramatically different based on his perception of gender. He’s certainly never walked in my shoes– my “crushes” (using his definition) have been few and far apart, but the times where I’ve been sexually attracted to a person in the way he describes that men experience “infatuation” are numerous and abundant.

He bases most of this chapter on a passage from 1 John: “Do not love the world, or anything in the world … For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does– comes not from the Father but from the world,” which Joshua reduces down to three categories: sinful cravings, lust, and prideful comparisons with others. To him, this translates into our romantic lives as infatuation, lust, and self-pity (143).

Which … just.. that’s a leap. This passage from 1 John is lifted out of a passionate argument to love our neighbors, deny antichrists, and how we “must live as Jesus did,” but he’s trying to make it be about avoiding romance and sexual attraction. First of all, his interpretation doesn’t really line up with traditional ones, and he’s also going out of his way to ignore the meanings behind ἐπιθυμία, σάρξ, ἀλαζονεία, and ὀφθαλμός– the words behind lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life. He defines epithymia ophthalmos as “to crave something sexually that God has forbidden” (146), and that’s just not accurate. I’m not a Greek scholar, but a brief look over the lexicons seems to indicate lust of the eyes  doesn’t really have much to do with sexual objectification.

Also, how a word that essentially means “braggart” got turned into “self-pity” absolutely boggles me. It’s eternally frustrating when ten minutes of surface-level research completely upends an argument made by someone who claims to take the Bible seriously. No, Joshua, you really don’t, since you’re quite happy to make it say whatever you want. I’m a hippy-dippy liberal who doesn’t even think the Bible is inspired, and I’m not going to try to magically transform braggart into self-pity.

I’ve spent a lot of time dealing with Joshua’s particular tendency to conflate sexual attraction with sexual objectification here, so I don’t want to dig into that too much, other than to point out that sexual attraction is normal, healthy, and largely unpreventable, but sexual objectification is a problem.

This chapter is the first time I became truly angry with him, though (content note for homophobic bigotry):

This time, I could in no way mistake their intent or the reason I’d felt strange–these guys were homosexuals and were checking me out. They whistled, winked, and laughed at my bafflement. Finally they sped away, leaving me to fume.

I’ll never forget the anger and disgust I felt at that moment. I was outraged to have served as the object of their lust, to have their eyes crawling over me. It was so wrong, so filthy. I remember turning to God in self-righteous anger and hissing through my clenched teeth, “Those people are so sick!” (146)

Which brings to mind this definition of homophobia: “the fear that another man will treat you like you treat women.” Joshua does take an incredibly brief moment to compare the two, but it never seems to dawn on him that his reaction was spurred by femmephobia, homophobia, and misogyny. He says that his “heterosexual lust” is just as disgusting to God (147), but it’s clear that he’s comparing his sexual objectification to homosexuality in general.

Disgusting. Sick. Those are the exact ideas that Omar Mateen used to justify a massacre yesterday. And Joshua had the incomprehensible audacity to tweet “Praying for all those touched by this wicked act” yesterday when his feelings about my queer family were shared by that murderer. Joshua’s never killed anyone, but the blood is on his hands. He clearly said that disgust and repugnance are the God-sanctioned feelings that Christians should espouse toward LGBT people.

I’m beyond done. I’m furious.

***

The next chapter is a short treatise on everything single people should do before they find that “special someone,” including a 21-year-old’s wisdom about: child care, communication, budgeting, and home maintenance. I don’t really disagree with much in this chapter … although the fact that he’s a fundiegelical Christian trickles out in places, like the assumption that it’s unhealthy for teenagers to shut themselves up in their rooms (158) and that boys should merely observe how older men discipline their kids while girls should “apprentice” themselves to church ladies and do their cooking, laundry, and cleaning (161).

So, annoying, but when it comes right down to the brass tacks, not horribly hurtful. Learning about how to clean out a bathtub drain or to stay within a budget aren’t exactly bad skills to acquire.

However, something stood out to me today when he told the story of Rebekah watering Eliezar’s camels:

For Rebekah, the trip to the well that particular evening was nothing special. She made that trip every night. And she’d probably watered more than a few camels. Yet though her task was mundane, she had a quickness to her step and a ready willingness to serve others. These qualities put her in the right place at the right time with the right attitude when God intended to match her with Isaac. (157)

Joshua comments that “she’d probably watered more than a few camels,” which makes me curious about what he’d learned concerning this story. Growing up I always heard this story with the factoid that Rebekah would have had to draw around 400 gallons in order to water ten camels … an exhausting and back-breaking amount of work that, according to the story, Rebekah seemed to have done cheerfully.

This story reminds me a lot of similar folk tales, like the Cinderella archetype, or virtually any other story about a young woman doing everyday labor, being kind to a stranger, and then being rewarded for it. There was one from my childhood about a girl who gave an odd little man something to eat or drink– in return he said she could harvest golden apples from his tree, but she’s the only one who can do it. If anyone else tries to pluck those apples, they would turn into rocks. One thing leads to another (mostly her family being terrible and greedy) and she ends up marrying the prince/Isaac-figure.

We know from various academic disciplines that the biblical narrative of Israel’s founding is largely mythical, and it seems even more obvious when you set “Rebekah And the Ten Camels” alongside other similar folklore traditions. It’s impossible to ignore that, in that context, this story is a woman’s story. It was likely created by grandmothers, re-told by mothers, and preserved by their daughters. In it, an ordinary woman through an act of extraordinary kindness (involving water, a powerful symbol for a desert culture) becomes one of Judaism’s greatest figures.

All of that mythic potential in this story– the symbology of water, the exaltation of womanhood, the meaning of beauty– is ultimately discarded by Joshua’s application. To him, the main thing to draw out of it is “Rebekah was able to meet God’s divine appointment for her life because she was faithfully carrying out her obligations” (157).

The English major in me died a little.

The Bible, as a collected oral tradition containing a milennia’s worth of folklore, is rich and its tales are full of meaning. But not if we ignore what those stories are, and how they were meant to function.

leaves in the fading sun
Theology

what do we do when saints are sinners?

Lately I’ve been wrestling with the concept of ethics and what that means to me. What are my ethics? What should they be? It’s clear that my values have been shaped by a white supremacist, patriarchal culture, and maybe there are some things that I should examine more closely. Through all of this, one of the things that I’m becoming more convinced of is that there is a difference between the morals I can personally hold and ones that I believe should govern society in general.

For example, I believe that following Jesus means that I’m required to love my enemy, to do good to those who persecute me. However, that’s a standard that I have freely chosen– and I think it’s impossible to actually live out unless it is chosen. Loving one’s oppressor– even in the radical form of resistance I think it is — isn’t something that should be forced on someone as a universal moral imperative. In fact, I grew up in a culture where that was demanded of me, and they did so in order to further oppress and abuse me.

I don’t think Christians will ever be on the same page when it comes to ethics. The most glaring example of this is abortion: being pro-choice alone disqualifies me from being a moral person to a significant number of American Christians. However, I do think that there are some things that aren’t quite so fraught and intense, and that are a little more universally held among Christians, like they shall know us by how we love one another. Maybe we don’t all agree on what that practically looks like, but I think we all know we should be at least trying to demonstrate our love to the world so clearly that it’s noticeable and obvious.

But what do we do with the fact that we’re all human, and fallible?

The justification that I grew up with– and one that isn’t isolated to fundamentalism, but seems to be endemic to American evangelicalism– is that of course becoming a Christian doesn’t make you a better person. This is, hopefully, obvious. Christians are “just sinners saved by grace,” after all. We half-joke about how “no church is perfect, because all churches have people in them,” or “my ‘old man’ is alive and well today!”

Looking back, I don’t think any of the people I’ve known who have said these things were trying to excuse sinful behavior from Christians. They weren’t trying to argue that because we’re “prone to wander” that we can do whatever we want and then receive “grace” and “forgiveness” for our actions. That’s not the point– we’re supposed to “become more like Christ.”

All of that doesn’t change the fact that when I comment on how my worst employers were Christians, inevitably someone comes along to quip about how “everyone is flawed” and we have to “forgive” them for it. This happens all of the time, in large and small ways. Over time I’ve noticed a pattern: Christians only seem to come out of the woodwork to order the rest of us to “forgive” when it’s a Christian who’s screwed up. The problem with this attitude is that I think the reaction should be the opposite: when a Christian is the one doing wrong, we should be coming out of the woodwork to make it right.

Shame and condemnation shouldn’t have a place in Christian culture. God didn’t send his Son to condemn the world, but to save it. If we’re to be like him, that should be were our priorities lie: in saving the world (of course, I have a slightly different definition of “saving the world” than most evangelical Christians). Swarming over someone and shrieking endlessly about their sin isn’t the ideal I’m striving for, but neither is removing the consequences for their actions.

Too often, getting defensive on other Christian’s behalf overtakes good judgment. Today, it seems like standing up to support Saeed Abedini and Josh Duggar is more important than anything else. Apparently, we can’t let a Christian even be criticized by the public for abusing his wife or molesting his sisters, because saying “yes, you’re right, that is wrong and their victims deserve justice,” would somehow tarnish Christianity’s reputation. We rush to to stand in solidarity with other Christians regardless of what they’ve done or the harm they’ve caused for no other reason than they supposedly share our religion.

Except, in our religion, one of God’s chief aims is justice. The characters in our sacred texts don’t get to escape consequences just because they’ve repented, and neither should we. Forgiveness shouldn’t exist in isolation, and forgiveness and absolution are not the same thing. Forgiveness without justice is meaningless.

For those who share my faith, it’s not unreasonable to expect better-than-average behavior, and it bothers me that Christian culture resists this so ferociously. Yes, we’re only human, but the whole point of following Jesus is to become as like him as we can possibly manage. Whenever one of us fails– sometimes publicly, sometimes catastrophically– we should deny the impulse to remind everyone that Christians aren’t really any better than other people. No, we aren’t, but we should be.

This dominant urge to defend monstrous acts and monstrous people is one of the reasons why I fight so hard to re-articulate the Christian religion to myself and others. In the last fifty years we’ve gotten caught up in this vision of Christianity as predominately being about avoiding Hell. “Being a Christian” means I will go to Heaven when I die, and not “I choose to follow the teachings of Jesus and to be like him.”

If all being a Christian means is that we’re not going to burn in Hell forever, then it could be a natural outworking for us to try to absolve every Christian of every wrongdoing, since that would be the basic premise of Christianity. After all, we all deserve eternal conscious torment, but we chose to accept God’s forgiveness and therefore get to spend eternity in paradise instead. If you’re going to reduce the beauty and entirety of Christian theology down to I won’t experience just punishment for my sin, then why not apply it to this vaporous existence?

I don’t think that being a Christian is about avoiding consequences, eternal or temporal. I think it means holding ourselves to the higher standard of following Christ.

Photo by Davide Gabino
masks
Feminism

things not even tolerated by the world: Christians and hypocrisy

A little while ago I read “All Christians are Hypocrites” by Jayson Bradley. I don’t really disagree with him or any of the points he makes, but I want to highlight something.

Jayson opens his article musing that many people associate “Christian” with “hypocrite,” and I don’t think he’s wrong. However, he spends the bulk of his article pointing to behaviors that are frequently condemned by Christian culture: drinking, going to move theaters, secular music, affairs, drug addiction, liberal politics, etc. Part of his argument is “Feeling forced to hide these things from our Christian neighbors is part of what makes us look like hypocrites to The World,” and that’s where I disagree with him.

Sure, I knew people growing up who believed that Christians didn’t drink alcohol and would be judgmental if they saw me tossing back a pumpkin ale, but Jayson’s focus on movie theaters and rock music is downright laughable because those things are not why “The World” views us as hypocrites.

It’s because we condone things that “not even the pagans” would tolerate (I Cor. 5:1).

Josh Duggar molested his sisters and girls from his church, and I personally knew people from previous churches who defended his actions as “normal.” More than one Christian told me I was wrong for daring to talk about it.

Saeed Abedini– who pled guilty to abusing his wife and now has a restraining order against him— was handed a massive pulpit by Christianity Today to call his wife a liar and say she’s in league with Satan. That’s not even the first time they’ve done something that despicable– their Leadership Journal published a piece by a convicted rapist where he referred to raping a minor as an “affair.”

Baylor University administration and staff has spent years covering up rapes and assaults committed by not just football players, but debate champions and other students. They threatened retaliation if the victims went to the police, they rewarded rapists with staff and coaching positions. What they’ve done is an order of magnitude worse than what happened at Penn State and they’re facing practically no repercussions at the moment. It’s hardly unique for a Christian university to do this, either. Patrick Henry has done it, as has Bob Jones, and Pensacola Christian … at this point I’d be shocked if there’s any conservative Christian university that hasn’t spent decades retaliating against rape victims.

The New York Catholic Conference spent 2.1 million dollars making sure it would be impossible for pedophilic priests to ever face justice. Pope Francis, who is being hailed as some sort of progressive icon, won’t reverse Benedict’s decision to make child sexual assault allegations a “pontifical secret” and the Church explicitly told priests that they’re under no obligation to report child sexual assault if they know of it.

And just in case you think that this sort of massive cover up is isolated to the Holy Roman Catholic Church and college campuses, it’s not. The Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE) has spent several decades hiding the fact that several of their missionaries are habitual child rapists. After hiring GRACE to investigate, they fired them weeks before they were about to release the report. Years later they eventually got around to releasing a report compiled by Pii (which you can find here), but when Christianity Today posted something about it, they happily went with ABWE’s position of “oh, that will never happen again even though we’re not really admitting we did anything wrong and we’re doing absolutely nothing to make sure it won’t happen again,” as if a mea culpa could ever be enough. Only a handful of Christians are even talking about this, and when we do it’s mostly to make sure ABWE escapes any serious consequences for being complicit in the rape of children.

And it’s not just Baptists, just in case you’re the sort of person who hates on Baptists. The PCUSA (that’s the liberal one) and New Tribes Mission have both issued “apologies” for the dozens of children who were raped by their missionaries.

This is why Christians are hypocrites.

Not because we drink when we’re not supposed to. Not because some of us get tattoos. Not because we have the occasional affair (which is clearly always the wife’s fault anyway, have you seen how she’s let herself go?).

It’s because when our pastors, college administrators, celebrities and missionaries rape our children we shrug and call it “normal” and we call those children adulterers. We make girls who have been impregnated by their rapists stand in front of their church and confess. We write letters to judges begging them for leniency when our “preacher boys” turn out to be rapists. We scream and scream and scream about predators in bathrooms, but when there are actual predators raping our children, we do something worse than nothing. We call the victims liars, we make sure their abuser can do it again, and when those rapists say “oh, oops, I’m sowwy” we publish long think-pieces on forgiveness.

Jesus said to let the little ones come unto him, that only people who become like a child will enter the kingdom of heaven. Seems like we’ve forgotten that.

Photo by Will Beard
I Kissed Dating Goodbye
Feminism

I Kissed Dating Goodbye review: 123-136

“Just Friends in a Just-Do-It World”

I’m just covering one chapter for today’s review– I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this, but I got a job at a local used bookstore. Usually I only work two days a week, which makes it doable with my fibromyalgia, but I’ve needed to work the last four days. On top of that, my childhood dog passed away this afternoon (she was 15), so today has been … rough. It’ll be back to the regular schedule on Wednesday, though, never fear.

This is one of those chapters where I just want to throw my hands up into the air and shout “I reject this entire premise!” since it’s basically all practical advice on how not to date, since we all know dating is like falling off a cliff. In fact, being just friends is as difficult as walking a tightrope over a “gaping chasm” (124). Images like these are frustrating because they don’t reflect reality at all. Dating someone and breaking up is not as harmful as falling off a cliff. That kills you. Dating is educational. Breakups are educational. As long as everyone’s boundaries and autonomy are being respected, a little bit of the blues at the end of the relationship isn’t going to kill you. Not even close.

I just do not understand why Joshua believes experiencing some temporary sadness is as horrifying as falling to your death. So, instead, lets take a look at the advice this barely-not-a-teenager person has for people trying to keep things “just friends.”

For this chapter, he’s drawing upon the biblical metaphor of “brothers and sisters in Christ” in order to inform his opinion on friendship. According to him, there are a few characteristics of being someone’s brother or sister in Christ: biblical fellowship, affection, and genuine care.

Biblical Fellowship

He argues that Christian friendships won’t be “shallow and meaningless” like what you see on television sitcoms, instead “their passion isn’t to appear witty, but to grow in godliness” (129). First, I’m pretty confident that most people are aware that their relationships don’t look like sitcoms, but I’m not sure Josh knows that. If he was anything like me at his age, he was told by the authorities he trusted that Seinfeld and Friends are an accurate depiction of secular friendships. Except, things like How I Met your Mother and anything written by Aaron Sorkin are good television because they’re not like real life. No one steals a blue french horn off a restaurant wall in order to impress a girl. Women do not show up in coffee shops wearing their wedding dress looking for their high school buddy and a place to live. But why am I telling y’all this?

The problem with Joshua’s attempt to contrast supposedly secular and Christian friendship fails, because in truth it’s more of a comparison than I think he realizes. I don’t think non-Christians walk around spending all their time trying to appear “witty,” but plenty of the Christians I’ve known do walk around trying to appear “godly.” Most of the relationships I’ve had with church folk have been shallow and meaningless because everyone was making sure they appeared “godly” instead of human. I’ve known some church people for half a decade that I barely know because the only thing I’ve ever heard them talk about is how much God’s blessed them. It’s difficult to form a “deep friendship” with someone who’s never honest because being transparent would threaten their reputation for “godliness.”

Affection

He uses an example in order to explain what he means:

On one occasion the men of the group planned a special dinner for the ladies, served all the food, and even had special gifts for each girl. After the meal the men shared reasons why they respected and valued the friendship of each girl. This is genuine affection! (130)

No, Josh, that’s weird and creepy. This kind of event is also a marker for a cult– churches that actively foster this sort of environment are establishing a boundary-erasing over-involvement. One of the things I’ve had to unlearn is how incredibly bound up together the members of my cult-like church were. There were so many strings tying us up, it was like being caught in a spider’s web. At that place, an event like the one Joshua describes would be commonplace, but I’ve never experienced anything like it at healthier churches … for a reason.

Genuine Care

This one was just sad because the entire section is focused on criticism.

God used our conversation to convict Christina and reveal the dangerous path she was on. She involved her mom and other girlfriends and changed the nature of her friendship with the guy.

I’ve benefited from being challenged as well. My friend Heather provided this kind of care for me when she talked to me about the way I was interacting with the girls in our singles group … It was hard to hear, but God used Heather’s words to help me change. (131)

There’s nothing in here about encouragement, or support, or compassion, or empathy. Nothing about kindness, or faithfulness, or even forgiveness. To Joshua, apparently the only way to “care” about someone is to criticize them. This doesn’t surprise me, considering the only two things I heard about friendship growing up were “faithful are the wounds of a friend” and “iron sharpeneth iron.”

No we get to the practical advice section of the chapter. It’s a lot of “do group things” and “mostly be friends with other men, guys” (which I’ve had words about before), but I want to focus on his first piece of advice:

Understand the difference between friendship and intimacy.

I have no idea what he’s talking about, and I read this section over a few times trying to figure it out. He’s basing this on a C.S. Lewis quote: “We picture lovers face to face, but friends side by side; their eyes look ahead.” He’s saying that friendships are about “things outside the relationship,” while intimacy is supposedly focused on the “relationship itself” (132) and I’m just not following. Friends “do things together” while lovers … don’t?

I’m confused.

I’m a bisexual woman, so theoretically any friendship I have with another woman could potentially turn romantic. None of them ever have for reasons that I can’t possibly explain since, supposedly, staying “just friends” is like “walking a tightrope over a gaping chasm.” Most of my friendships involve us chatting about our lives and things we find discussion-worthy … as does my relationship with my partner. The only difference is I fell in love with him and decided living in the same house as he does sounded pretty amazing. Otherwise, the substance of the things I do with him and my friends don’t look different (except, of course, for the sex. Duh).

I think the problem with this piece of advice is that Joshua simply didn’t have the life experience to talk about it. He’s never been married, or even really experienced adult friendships– all his buddies are still in high school and college at this point. I wonder, given that, what Joshua thinks about this section now.

white feather
Feminism

my church says I’m dirty, my mother says I’m awesome: lessons on sex

Today’s post is a guest post from Mara.

I grew up in a very average, white, suburban Evangelical church. My church was not extreme or controversial in any way. But what I learned from church about gender, sex, and relationships has ultimately hurt me. Some of these lessons were explicitly taught; some were insidious undertones, assumptions, or cultural norms that I absorbed over the years.

These are the lessons I learned from church about sex and relationships:

  1. Your purity is valuable. If you have sex, you’ll disappoint God and harm your relationship with him, and harm your relationship with your future husband.
  2. What you want is irrelevant. All that matters is what God wants. What you want is probably sinful.
  3. You can’t trust yourself. You aren’t capable of good judgment when it comes to sex.
  4. You are not in control. If you ever find yourself alone with a guy, the mere proximity will cause the two of you to spontaneously combust. All people want sex all of the time, and men are ruled by this desire.
  5. Listen to your guilt. Guilt is the Holy Spirit convicting you of sin.
  6. Women shouldn’t be in charge. My church paid lip service to gender equality while excluding women from leadership and exclusively using male language for God. Subtly, the way gender roles were played out in the church conditioned me to believe that it was weird (and maybe wrong) for a woman to be in charge – and by extension, weird for me to be calling the shots or in control.
  7. Sex is wrong outside of heterosexual marriages. The only thing worth discussing about sexual boundaries is, “How far can I go without damaging my purity?”

Fortunately, my parents acted as a buffer to many of the destructive messages I was absorbing from “purity culture” at church. As I was growing up, they told me constantly that I was loved, smart, beautiful, good, and competent. My mother also gave me the best relationship advice I have ever gotten. She looked me in the eye and said insistently,

Listen. This is important. Never let a guy talk down to you, because you are awesome. If any guy ever says differently or puts you down, punch him in the face. I mean it. You are awesome. Don’t believe any guy that says differently. And if you try to tell a guy something and he doesn’t understand, he’s the crazy one, not you. You are awesome.

But all of their affirmation wasn’t enough to undo what I had learned from church. I sincerely wanted to be faithful; I wanted to do the right thing. My naïve sincerity worked against me.

The first time these lessons failed me was the first time I was kissed, in high school. I turned to say something to the guy sitting next to me and found his mouth suddenly on mine. I froze. I knew I didn’t want his tongue in my mouth, but it never occurred to me to push him away. I didn’t know I had that option. In matter of seconds, a debate went on in my mind about what I should do.  The conclusion I came to in those seconds was that if it was a sin, I should pull back and do what God wants. But most people I knew didn’t consider a kiss to be “too far”, so it probably wasn’t sinful. And I felt guilty about “leading him on”: since I had flirted with him, I felt he had a right to expect I would kiss him. Therefore, I decided I should let him kiss me because my guilt told me it was the right thing to do. I was very uncomfortable, rather confused, and wished he would stop. True to the lessons I had learned from church, I didn’t trust myself, I wasn’t in control, and what I actually wanted was never part of my decision-making process.

Nothing in my religious education taught me that it was wrong for him to touch me in a way I didn’t want.

I didn’t really start dating until my junior year of college. The first time I met him, I awkwardly blurted out that I didn’t want to have sex until marriage. I was deathly afraid “leading him on,” and I feared that talking to him at all without an upfront caveat would be deceptive. I fully believed he would walk away, since church had taught me that all guys always want sex. But he didn’t care. I was shocked that he actually just liked being around me. We kept seeing each other, and I liked hanging out with him, and I liked kissing him – some of the time.  Once when we were kissing his hand reached behind me for my bra clasp, but he paused, looking at me to see what I wanted. My mind froze, torn between what I thought the church expected of me, and what I thought he expected of me. I didn’t know I was allowed to make decisions based on what I wanted. I didn’t know what to do, so I kissed him to end the panic. And the bra came off, even though I was definitely not ready for that. The next time I saw him, I wore a tricky front-clasping bra, hoping it would deter him without my actually having to communicate with him. It was ineffective.

Throughout the relationship, he would ask me if I was comfortable and what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to answer those questions, and my voice would stick in my throat. True to his word, he never asked for sex. But still, after some encounters where paralysis from my underlying beliefs left me unable to communicate my discomfort, I would start shaking and shivering uncontrollably, exactly as I had after that unwanted kiss in high school. Trying to make decisions based on guilt was disastrous. I felt guilty for telling him no (because by flirting with him or kissing him, I must have been “teasing” or “leading him on”), and I felt guilty for doing anything physical and damaging my “purity.” I ended the relationship after a couple of months because I couldn’t handle the anxiety from the conflicting guilt messages, or the resulting paralysis. I had no concept of what a healthy dating relationship looked like or what consent meant.

Eventually, as my beliefs and understanding around sex evolved and I dated other guys, I learned (slowly and painfully) how to communicate, how to ignore guilt, and how to make decisions based on what I actually wanted and what was right for me. I finally learned that no man ever has a right to touch me. I remember distinctly the first time I was able to actualize this newfound insight. After a date, a guy walked me home, and kissed me at the gate. Then he tried to put his hand down my pants. I pushed him away and told him no, clearly and firmly, and I didn’t feel guilty. I walked away and laughed. I celebrated that night. I celebrated belonging to me, and to no one else. I was 21 years old.

***

Experience has taught me that just about everything I learned about sex and relationships from Evangelicalism was wrong, unhelpful, or dangerous. I’ve discovered that it’s a complete myth that men unilaterally have stronger sex drives than women or that they are controlled by such an imperative for sex. The only guy I’ve gone out with who actually believed that was one who tried to rape me. It was how he justified the assault.

In that situation and many others, I may have been able to protect myself better if I had been taught to trust myself, to trust my instincts when they sense something is going wrong. But the church’s message that I can’t trust myself has been the most insidious, the hardest to root out. It’s an issue beyond just sexual situations. I was recently in a serious relationship with a man that I loved and adored. He was a good guy in every measurable way. But something felt off, and it bothered me. He always felt distant; I felt like I couldn’t get close to him, even though he said he loved me and he called me every day. I explained it away as being the result of a long-distance relationship. But the feeling grew over time, to the point where I felt like I wasn’t a priority to him, like he took me for granted. I told him how I felt, and his response was that I was overly sensitive and I was imagining it or that he already does enough and it was unreasonable to expect anything else. Eventually, when I was miserable enough, I remembered my mother’s advice: he must be the crazy one, not me. My emotions were legitimate, and deserved to be taken seriously.

A few months after we broke up, I found out he had been in love with another girl since high school. He told me that if at any time she had become available, he would have left me for her. He literally said I was his “second choice.” My instincts had been dead on: he was distant and emotionally unavailable, and I was not his priority. I’m not about to be anybody’s second choice. I’m too awesome for that.

As I have come to believe more firmly that I’m awesome and valuable, I have also come to see the value in having sex within a committed relationship. I didn’t always see this value. I felt secure having sex with a guy I felt safe with and who treated me well, as long as we always used condoms and I was on the pill. Then came the unfortunate week in which a condom malfunction coincided with a missed birth control pill – which was followed by a missed period.

During the ensuing panic, three things became very clear to me: I wanted to keep the baby, but having a baby would make graduate school (which I wanted more than anything) very complicated, maybe impossible; and I was horrified at the thought of having this guy be the father of my child, and being tied to him for the rest of my life.

Even after finding out I wasn’t pregnant, the impression of the riskiness of sex stuck with me.  Around this time, the logic of my father’s theory on sex began to sink in. He always said that it was best to keep sex inside marriage (even common law marriage) because it was protective against some of the consequences of sex. I now saw his point: I decided I wasn’t going to risk that kind of sex again until I’d finished graduate school and I was with someone I at least wouldn’t be horrified about being connected to for the rest of my life.

While a serious relationship with someone I know and trust can be protective against the risks and dangers of sex, I’ve realized this is a guideline, not a rule. It makes it less likely I’ll get a sexually transmitted infection, less likely a pregnancy would be unbearable, less likely the sex is exploitative or harmful. There’s value in that.

But it’s also true that some sex outside of committed long-term relationships could be beneficial, and some married sex is extremely harmful.

This is the reason I would not marry someone without having some kind of sex with him first.  You can’t tell for sure how a guy is going to behave or how he communicates or what he prioritizes about sex until something physical starts happening. There are certainly signs to pay attention to before that; if he treats you poorly outside the bedroom, you can be pretty sure he won’t be any better inside. But I’ve been with guys who are respectful, considerate, good guys, but don’t communicate or behave in a way that I’m comfortable with when things start to get physical. Before I agree to spend the rest of my life with someone, I need to know for certain that I’m as safe with and respected by him with the bedroom door closed as I am when we’re at dinner with my parents.

Looking back, these are the lessons I wish I had learned from my church as a teenager, lessons my church would have been well equipped to teach:

  1. You are valuable. Not your purity, not your vagina, you – the person made in the image of God – are valuable. No matter what happens to you or what decisions you make, you are valuable.
  2. What you want is extremely important. If someone touches you in a way you don’t want, that’s called sexual assault. That’s a crime that person perpetrated against you. It is not your fault.
  3. You have good instincts. Trust your instincts. You can sharpen your instincts even more by learning about red flags of abuse to watch out for so you can keep yourself safe.
  4. If you don’t feel in control in a situation, something is wrong. Take a step back. Are you in danger? Do the two of you need to communicate better? Are you not sure yet what you want, and need to pause until you are?
  5. Guilt is a terrible measure for decision-making. You will feel guilty for telling a man yes. You will also feel guilty for telling a man no. Don’t listen to the guilt. Listen to your own, God-given wise mind. Check in with your emotions and your reason. Are you feeling any outside pressure to make a decision one way or the other? Do you actually want the sex itself, or do you want to have sex because you want to make him happy or to be closer to him or because you think it is expected of you? Make sure you know why you are making whatever choice you are making. Double check if this is really a good idea, if this is really what you want. Is this right for you? Is it safe? Are you sure you can trust him? What will you think about this decision three months from now?
  6. Women are equal partners in sex and relationships. Both parties should be benefiting. Both parties have a say in what happens. If you’re not enjoying it as much as he is, do something different. Communication is always necessary, always good.
  7. Sex is wrong when it is exploitative. This is true no matter what type of relationship you have, from strangers to spouses. This means that sex is wrong if:
    1. There is not clear, enthusiastic consent, every time for every act (and continuing through each act).
    2. There is a power differential (employer/employee; adult/minor; sex trafficking; etc.).
    3. There is coercion, force, or manipulation of any kind.
    4. It’s used as a weapon to control, harm, or humiliate.
  8. Make informed choices. Make sure you understand human anatomy, the way birth control works, how to have safe sex, and how to get tested for STDs. Make sure you understand the risks and possible consequences of sex, including pregnancy, HIV, other STDs, and potential changes in the dynamics of your relationship.
  9. You are awesome. Remember you are awesome when you’re making decisions, especially about sex and relationships. Remember how awesome you are before you take unnecessary risks. You are awesome.
Photo by Tall And Ginger
NYX
Social Issues

stuff I’ve been into: May edition

Articles

Hookup culture is bad for women– so why do we force ourselves to participate?” by Leah Fessler was interesting to read. I’d add the two thoughts: “hookup culture” is a little overblown in the general imagination. It exists, but the research says it’s made too much of. However, I’ve talked about a related concept– raunch culture– and my problems with it, so I think the criticism Leah makes is valid. Second thought: she talks about how women are “emotional,” but doesn’t ever clarify what she means so it plays into the “women are emotional, but men aren’t” stereotype, even though her research indicated that men wanted intimacy and commitment just as often as the women.

Stop Trying to Choke Me: The Rise of Rough Sex Culture” by Rose Surnow was thought-provoking. I have a nuanced view of pornography– I think porn could, theoretically, be a good thing if it is ethically made and treats human beings with dignity. However, that’s not often the reality and I’m troubled by the thought that people are being exposed to the relentless degradation of women when they consume porn.

Service Work is Skilled Work” by Hanna Olsen is fascinating. I’ve been reading a lot about the future of America’s labor force and I think we’re going to experience … no one seems to have any clear idea of what but all signs are pointing toward something big. I’m firmly convinced that trying to bring back manufacturing is both fruitless and problematic– the men and women building our cars in Mexico are making $10 an hour, and that’s a “good job” for them. Why do we feel the right to take back that labor from them so we can pay our manufacturers here $30-50 an hour? I’m very much feeling a Workers of the world, unite! sentiment, and for that we need both free trade and to change our perceptions of “burger flippers” here at home.

The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries” by Dave Eggers and Níneve Clements Calegari got a bunch of fist-pumping from me. As an education major, I once had to read a book that advocated paying teachers the minimum wage and specifically hiring married women so you could justify paying them less, I shit you not. One of my peers qualified for food stamps during the years she taught. That’s not ok.

Why Do We Give Robots Female Names?” by Laurie Penny was good. So good. Read it. It’s really stuck with me.

Re-examining Monica, Marica, Tonya and Anita, the ‘scandalous’ women of the 90s” by Sarah Marshall was fantastic and a little bit mind-boggling. I was a kid during the 90s– I was 13 when they ended– so everything I absorbed about these women’s stories was the extremely tricked-down version. It’s amazing to me how much hate and misogyny I inherited through hearing about them … especially concerning Tonya Harding, who I knew the most about because I was figure skating-obsessed as a teenager.

Books

I stayed up all night last week to finish Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. The magic concept is essentially a good way to start discussing race, segregation, civil rights … and I don’t want to spoil too much so let me just say that there’s also an amazing jumping-off point to talk about problems with a certain kind of “ally.” It wasn’t the most amazing book I’d ever read, but it was interesting and entertaining.

I just started A People’s History of Christianity by Diana Butler Bass is a variation on a theme that Howard Zinn started with A People’s History of the United States. Christianity isn’t a monolith, and never has been. “Orthodoxy,” for all it means “having the right opinion” isn’t the same thing as truth, which no one person has an absolute claim on.

Television and Movies

Still re-watching The West Wing, still loving it especially now that Sam is off in California. Interestingly, I”m tending to agree less with CJ, too, who tends to have a narrow focus. Yes, the young pianist should be allowed asylum, but it’s not like trying to make sure North Korea doesn’t sell its nukes to Iran is bad.

We’re also really enjoying the second season of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. We’ve discovered that it’s better if you don’t binge-watch it … it’s much more hilarious in smaller doses.

I have also watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens two more times since I saw it in the theater, and I think I love it more now, which I wasn’t sure was possible.

If you haven’t seen Madam Secretary, the season just finished and I’m enthralled. I can’t wait for it to start up again because TWIST. Yay. I love good twists instead of heart-shattering ones. Speaking of heart-shattering twists …

Anyone who’s seen the season finale of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I’d be more than happy to have a spoilerific conversation in the comment section because FEELINGS.

Also, Elementary is still fantastic. Femme!Watson is still the best damn thing on television.

***

So basically I ran errands for much of today but didn’t want to leave you hanging, especially since there won’t be a post on Friday. My cousin is graduating high school, so we’re heading up to hang out with family for the weekend.

Photo by Jon S