Browsing Tag


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

Christians understand your feelings better than you

[content note: fundie-speak about “conviction”]

As you all know, a little while ago I attended The Reformation Project’s conference, and it was an experience I appreciated and enjoyed. It wasn’t completely sunshine and roses for me, as Friday morning a couple protestors showed up outside the church. I ignored them every time I walked past until I was coming back from lunch and had an hour to kill, so I stopped to listen to a conversation one of the other conference attendees was having with the “leader” of the two.

I’m not sure how long I just listened, but eventually I got roped in and the other woman left after a few minutes. I stayed and continued to talk, mostly just asking questions because what he was arguing I found honestly confusing for a while. Eventually I figured out that he was saying “openly gay-and-in-a-relationship people can’t be Christians because it’s impossible for a Christian to live in unrepentant sin,” but that followed statements like “Christians aren’t proud,” which I found hysterical and really just said this man is a little out there and not living on the same planet as me.

There were even a few upsides to the conversation– it became clear to me early on that he wasn’t as familiar with the Bible as I am and that he couldn’t really deviate from his homophobic script much and that he also didn’t really understand things like cultural context very well. I think I even managed to get him to go “huh– I’ve never seen that before” at one point (I pointed out the “born eunuchs” passage to him, which I don’t think he’d ever read before while wearing his “I’m thinking about non-hetero-cisgender-conforming people” cap).

Eventually, though, my hour was up and I had to go in order to get to the panel discussion I was attending, so I started extricating myself from the conversation, and this is where our discussion went south in a hurry.

As I started to leave, he told me that the only reason I was leaving was that I was being convicted. I knew I was denying God’s truth, and I just wanted to avoid the pricking of the Holy Spirit on my conscience.

I honestly don’t know if what I did next was smart or not, but I’m a little proud of myself for being able to do it. I took my sunglasses off and looked him dead square in the eye and told him that no, I am not being convicted, I know what you’re doing, and that is not ok. And then I walked away, barely making it inside the church atrium before I broke down. I barely made it to the bathroom–my legs gave out a couple times– but I knew what was happening. I’d been triggered.

I was triggered because “you’re just being convicted” is one of the most powerful ways spiritual abusers controlled me for my entire life. And, as I’ve been thinking about what he said for a couple weeks, I’ve realized why that particular phrase caused the reaction in me that it did.

It’s an absolutely hideous thing to say to someone for a few reasons. First, when a fundiegelical is talking to someone, and they’re being a homophobic or sexist bigot, and the person they are talking to becomes frustrated or otherwise visibly emotional, a frequent go-to response is “you’re being convicted, I can tell.” They are completely confident that your response has nothing to do with them being mean or aggressive or even downright nasty and vindictive. It is not their fault if you become angry, even– that’s only proof of your “conviction.” It relieves the fundiegelical from any responsibility not to be an asshole. They can be an asshole all they want and when someone gets upset, they don’t have to feel guilty.

Second, it is erasure. I wasn’t actually upset with this particular person until he said this– I was just amused and then I had to leave because I was busy— but I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve been legitimately and appropriately upset and been told that I haven’t been hurt by their words, I’m just feeling the Holy Spirit. These people take my natural emotional response and say no, that is not what you are experiencing. I know better than you, and what you are feeling isn’t anger with me. It’s anger with GOD. I had a pretty simple motivation for leaving, like “my panel starts in a few minutes, bye,” but even if I had been upset with him, that would have been a legitimate reason for me not to want to talk to him anymore.

It is an odious thing to do. I am me, I understand what I’m feeling and most of the time I understand why I’m feeling that way. No one has the right to assume they know more about me than I do, especially a self-righteous stranger standing on a street corner. No one should ever erase someone’s motivations for an action and substitute their own.

Photo by Haldean Brown

why am I still a Christian?

Last week, I wrote about some of the reasons why I still think that attending church is an important part of my faith practice, as many struggles as I have finding a church that will be a safe place for me and that I can, in good conscience, support. It sparked some interesting conversations here and on twitter, but I wanted to address Bri’s question in particular:

Personally, I don’t wonder so much why you want to go to church as why you still want to be a Christian. I hear a lot of progressive Christians talking about a struggle they deal with in trying to remain Christian but finding it difficult. I can’t relate to that at all, because for me, I can’t imagine why any part of me would want to still be Christian. What do you get out of it? What about it appeals to you?

This is a question I ask myself somewhat regularly, and there are days when I want to simply say “fuck it” and just be done with all of the questions, when everything about struggling with my faith seems so utterly pointless. Those are my extremely cynical, borderline-nihilistic days, though, and they don’t happen all that often. Most of the time I feel somewhat comfortable still choosing to be a Christian (whatever the hell that really means, anyway), and there’s a few reasons why.

The first being that the existence of a deity makes sense to me– and that I don’t find the arguments against the existence of gods or supernatural beings personally compelling. Over the last few years I’ve come to know and care for many agnostics and atheists, and as I’ve gotten to know them I’ve come to better understand why they don’t believe in the existence of any deity. It’s an interesting place for me to be–to fully inhabit a frame of mind that accepts another person’s conclusions without trying to change their mind, even though I disagree. I do not think they have faulty reasoning, or are drawing conclusions from inaccuracies. However, I also believe that my own reasoning is thorough, and I’m working with the same set of facts they are.

I never would have thought I’d end up in a place that would be happy to accept such a tension, but I am.

I think a big part of it is that for all intents and purposes I’m functionally a Deist. I believe in a deity on a rational level, but in some ways it doesn’t seem to matter a whole lot when it comes down to the brass tacks of me living my life. My ethics are based on consent, not on what a deity tells me is right or wrong, and I believe that empathy and compassion should be the driving force of human action– and I think this is where I have more in common with atheists than I do with most evangelical American Christians.

So why bother with Christianity?

The answer is actually pretty straightforward: I like the theology. I’m still a Christian because I believe that God became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us, and we Beheld his Glory. The doctrine of The Incarnation is one of the most beautiful ideas I’ve ever encountered. My God became a flesh-and-blood person and lived with us, ate with us, drank with us, loved with his, had friends with us, enjoyed sunshine and rain and the sound of wind rushing over grass and trees whispering to each other and water laughing. He smiled when he could smell bread baking. He danced when he heard music playing. He laughed at good jokes and silly antics.

The thought of that … I can’t get over it.

My second favorite part of Christian theology is the Imago Dei. I’ve written some about this idea before, but I love how fully embodied Christianity can and should be. We were all created in the image of God, and that included our physical selves, which are not intended to be cast off like chaff. Christianity teaches that we won’t become disembodied souls– I’m not going to “Ascend” like Daniel in Stargate SG-1, or evolve to the point where I exist as energy on a higher plane of existence. I’m not searching for nirvana, but waiting for a physical eternity.

My body matters. My body is important. It is me, it is mine, and I love every part of it. I love that I have senses and live in a world that is overflowing with beauty and wonder and enjoyment as much as it is filled with destruction and evil. I love that when I look into the eyes of another person I am seeing God.

As I’ve become more progressive or liberal or whatever I am, I’ve started appreciating more and more that the teachings of Jesus aren’t about me sitting by myself at my dining room table every morning with a cup of coffee and my Bible and my prayer journal having my “quiet time.” Christianity is about looking around the physical world, seeing the suffering and oppression, and doing whatever you can to end it. That’s what I believe Jesus was talking about when he talked about bringing the kingdom of God to earth, for God’s will to be done in earth as it is in heaven.

I’m in the middle of reading C.S. Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, and in talking about the Lord’s Prayer he says this:

“Thy will be done.” But a great deal of it is to be done by God’s creatures; including me. The petition, then, is not merely that I may patiently suffer God’s will but also that I may vigorously do it. I must be an agent as well as a patient. I am asking that I may be enabled to do it. In the long run, I am asking to be given “the same mind which was also in Christ.” (25-26)

I hadn’t thought about that particular line that way before, but it works for me. Jesus taught us to love and sacrifice for each other. To look around and make sure that everyone is being taken care of physically, spiritually, emotionally. We are to feed the widow and orphan. We are to liberate the oppressed.

That’s what I feel it means to be a Christian. It is both my obligation and my joy to be a part of anything that is working to make this world a better place. Christianity at its best, I believe, is about making sure no one is ever enslaved or ever goes hungry. Jesus brought healing and comfort with him everywhere he went, and that’s what I feel that Christians should be doing, too.

Photo by Fusion of Horizons
Social Issues, Theology

the straight and narrow

straight and narrow

Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

If I had to guess, I think I’ve heard that verse preached on more than any other verse from the entire Bible, and since this verse only had one possible interpretation for Christian fundamentalists, I’ve heard that particular sermon a lot. This verse, in the communities I grew up in, was meant for us, because we were the only ones who had it figured out. The “straight and narrow way” equaled the fundamentalist lifestyle, being “separated from the world,” the “salt of the earth”– in short, we were of bunch of judgmental legalistic assholes.

But, we were convinced that we weren’t legalists because we wanted to follow the rules– all of which we got from the Bible, anyway!– because they were our personal convictions. And we weren’t judgmental– we were just right, and how can we help it if people were convicted by our modesty and our “upright conversation” (conversation here in the archaic sense).

We thought this verse applied to Christian fundamentalism for a few reasons: first, we thought of ourselves as a persecuted minority, so the “few there be” part was literally true (I thought at the time. I now have serious doubts about how much of a “minority” fundamentalists actually are). Second, we were extremely proud of ourselves for being one of the precious few who were truly committed to living a holy, righteous life. Any supposed “Christian” who didn’t look, talk, and act like us was on the “broad way that leads to destruction,” the sorry bunch of liberals.

Now that I’m one of those liberals, I’ve had to re-think this verse, but I’ve had to be careful. A huge part of me wants to keep the same exact idea, but instead of applying it to fundamentalists I’d claim it for the liberals; I could so easily take the “straight and narrow way” and make it mean “be a Democratic anti-capitalist yuppie,” thereby rendering people like me the “few there be who found it.”

I’ve been thinking about what “the straight and narrow” could possibly be over the last week. I’ve been driving the same four-hour route a couple times this week, and I’ve passed a church with “Straightway” in its name each time. I also just finished reading 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker (the first thing I’ve read by her, and I really liked it. Enjoyable but challenging, too), and she raises the point that if Christians were truly following some of Christ’s simplest commands, so much of what is desperately wrong with the world would disappear (for example, there are 4o Southern Baptists for every child in the American foster system).

So, what in the world is Jesus talking about in Matthew 7?

Well, it’s part of the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount, for one– a passage I’ve wrestled with more now that my viewpoint has shifted so drastically over the last few years. Judging, fasting, giving generously and sacrificially, loving your enemies, trusting God, the Golden Rule, bearing good fruit . . . it’s all there: The Teachings of Jesus: Condensed Version.

Interestingly, my ESV groups this “straight and narrow” bit with the Golden Rule:

So whatever you wish that others would do to you,
do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Enter by the narrow gate.
For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction,
and those who enter by it are many.
For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life,
and those who find it are few.

And as I’ve been mulling this over this week, something occurred to me– maybe I should be reading this passage just a little more literally, especially because of its context. Whose “destruction” is Jesus talking about? What does “life” mean here? And I’m wondering if Jesus might be talking about our world, our communities, as a whole. If we’re not making sure the needs of those around us are met, if we’re spending all of our time pursuing wealth, if we’re petty and vindictive to each other . . . are we not destroying our communities– literally?

Could it be that what Jesus meant by saying that “few there be” who find the “straight and narrow” was simply a statement of fact about the destitution of our world? That there is far more suffering and pain and death and sickness and poverty– destruction– than there is life? Isn’t part of the whole point of the Sermon on the Mount to instruct his followers in what it looks like to be a Christian in the day-to-day? That we must be the life-bringers, the merciful, the meek, the peacemakers?

The more time I spend reading about Jesus and hearing his words for what feels like the first time, the more I think I understand about what it means to be a Christian, and it is so far removed from the ridiculous pettiness of the Christianity I was raised in, where we were obsessed with “practicing our righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.”

Social Issues

singleness in evangelicalism

happy woman

There was one day in graduate school when I got home from work, went on a very long walk, then I hid in my room, cried, and ate Sam’s Choice vanilla ice cream while I watched Sense and Sensibility. I’m not exactly sure why I felt the need to do that on that day, but the feeling of just being done with singlehood got a little overwhelming. I was lonely, and I just wanted it to be over with. I wanted to be in a relationship. I wanted to be happy.

I was only twenty-four years old.

Up until that point, I’d had marriage pushed on me pretty heavily– if you’ve been a Christian in America for any length of time, you’ve probably experienced that, too. GET MARRIED is most likely the dominating message any teenager and young adult hears in evangelicalism.

A few days ago, I read an article that included quotes from two prominent Southern Baptist leaders arguing that Christian adults need to be getting married sooner, and to hell with completing your college education or being financially stable. As always, the biggest concern was oh noes if they wait too long they might have The Sex!

Reading that came after several conversations I’ve had with my small group recently. We’ve got a good mix of single, married, dating, 20s-30s adults in my small group– something that I’m very thankful for. But those conversations have reminded me how very lucky I am. I’m married. When I walk into your typical American church, as a young married woman there’s a place for me. I’m welcome at the wives’ Bible studies, there’s activities and seminars and dinners and classes and picnics and breakfasts and retreats. I fit into the structure many churches are built on– I fit very neatly, very comfortably, into the churchy social life.

Granted, I’m a liberal progressive pro-choice pro-freedom-from-religion Pelagian liturgical universalist thinks-sin-mostly-includes-stuff-like-passive-participation-in-systemic-racism, but hey. I’m white and married. The people who greet visitors when I walk into a church know exactly where to put me.

The same isn’t true for a lot of my friends who are in their late 20s, 30s, 40s. They walk into a church, and the reaction they’re likely to get is umm, well, we have a college and career class! It’s as though you turn 26 in evangelicalism and you grow two heads. No one is quite sure what to do around you. And if you’re over 30 and you’re happy and you love your life and you don’t really care about whether or not you get married?

Yeah. No one knows what to do with that.

Anyway, I don’t really have any thoughts or solutions for this. I’m about to turn 27, and I’ve been married for a year and a half. I was only single for a couple of years before I met Handsome, and while it was not fun and dating was an in-general bore, I lucked out. I don’t have to deal with any of this, although I know it’s a problem.

But, I figured that I probably have plenty of readers who are in their late 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s . . . and are single. It’s something that I think should be celebrated, and I really do think that articles like the one I read a few days ago are completely wrong– devastatingly wrong, in some aspects.

So, my adult single readers– if you’ve been in a church that has been a good fit for you as a single adult, what has that experience been like? What did you like about it? What are they doing well? Or, have you been to a church that felt like you were ignored unless you were married? What ideas do you have to help churches who struggle with their “singles ministry” (gag me with a spork)? What would you really like to hear from a pulpit? What would you want to know as a visitor? Etc, etc.

Hopefully you all know that this is a place for candor and gut-level honesty. 🙂



being a feminist makes me a better Christian

[art by Rebecca Guay]

I had just started my job as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble, and I could not have been more excited– it was the perfect job for me at the time. I got to be surrounded by books, helping people find books they’d love, and it was a part-time retail job that wasn’t a huge commitment, since I thought I’d probably be moving in a while.

I was being trained by the lead cashier on how to work the registers, and he was a delightful person, cheerful and outgoing in a way that didn’t annoy me at 7 o’clock in the morning, which is a rarity for me, the night owl. As we made conversation, he asked about my plans for the weekend and I responded with how I was going to attend an event at my parent’s church.

Instantaneously, he became somber. Sad, almost. He looked me in the eyes and said “I’m — gay.”

A little confused by sudden change in conversation, the only thing I could think of was “… ok?”

He shook his head a little, then went on. “I just mean, will working with me be a problem for you? Would it be better if I asked one of the other cashiers to train you?”

I was dumbfounded– I couldn’t figure out what in the world had happened and why he would ask me this. “Wait– why would working with you be a problem for me? You’ve been awesome.”

He smiled a little, and it was sardonic. “I’ve just worked with Christians in the past, and I’ve found it’s usually better if we don’t work closely together.”

I stared at him, humbled and sorrowful. I had to fight back tears. “No, it absolutely will not be a problem for me. I’m so sorry you needed to ask.”


Growing up in Christian fundamentalism meant that I’d been trained since I was fairly young to think of the world in strictly black-and-white terms. I believed in an extreme form of objectivism, and thought that everything in the world was either clearly right or clearly wrong. There were no moral gray areas, and any question I could possibly have about morality would have an answer in Scripture. Since I’m also an ISTJ, the black-and-white nature of fundamentalism appealed to me.

Since I left fundamentalism behind, I’ve had to fight to reject the theological and philosophical framework that had been ingrained in me for twelve years. And, even as I’ve left Christian fundamentalism, I’ve had to fight with myself to not simply adopt a fundamentalist way of thinking about the ideas I’m developing now. It’s an extremely pernicious trap for me. I want things to be black-and-white, us vs. them. It’s the way the world makes the most sense to me, and it’s difficult for me to get outside of that box.

The one thing that keeps me from slipping back inside my black-and-white mentality is feminism.


I officially became a feminist my second year in graduate school, although I’d been gradually moving in that direction ever since my sophomore year in undergrad. It took a while to become comfortable with the term, to reclaim it from centuries of active and hateful misogyny and all the perpetuated stereotypes and lies that my conservative Christian leaders desperately wanted me to believe.

The one thing I knew when I decided to become a feminist was I know nothing about it. The only things I’d “known” about feminism were obviously lies once I actually started reading feminist literature and actually listening to feminists, and I knew I had a lot of catching up to do. I buried myself in research, and thankfully I had access to databases for a year and I could read all the feminist scholarship I’d ever want. I ordered books through the library, and started talking to my professors about feminist ideas in and out of class.

For the last year and a half  I’ve been steadily blogging about my journey, and if you’ve been here all that time you’ll know how I’ve already changed and grown and developed as a feminist. The best thing about talking to feminists, and developing relationships and friendships with feminists, and learning more about feminism, is how it’s forced me to become a better person.

Feminism taught me to look for the person first. I don’t see facts and figures and statistics and abstract problems anymore, but people. Mentally I know that, in America, 1 in 7 married women experience sexual violence at the hands of their husbands– but that’s not what I’m seeing when I hear that. I think of all the married women I’ve ever known and forced myself to realize that some of them have been sexually abused by their husbands, and there is no way any one can tell. They need love and help and support– and they need that from me regardless of whether or not they’ll ever tell me what’s happened to them.

I listen to our stories, now. I don’t dismiss the individual because their experience isn’t my experience. I’ve learned to value that vast diversity of experiences and perspectives in a way that I’ve never been able to before.

Because of feminism, I’ve learned to respect myself. The Christian cultures I’ve been a part of, from fundamentalism to non-denominational evangelicalism, have tried to teach me to be ashamed of my sexuality, to see myself as dirty, to think of myself primarily as a subordinate to another person. Feminism has given me the ability to recognize myself as a person whose voice deserves to be listened to. I am a child of God, created with the imago dei, and I have gifts and abilities and talents that should not be ignored.

But, most importantly, feminism has shown me how to follow Jesus better. Feminism has shown me how to love my neighbor, how to show grace and compassion and empathy, how to defend those who cannot defend themselves. For the first time in my life, when I see the poor and the orphan and the widow, the least of these, I see Jesus.


I wrote this post as part of a synchroblog on the intersection of feminism and faith. If you’d like,  you can watch the conversation happening at the Twitter hashtag #faithfeminisms, and you can see the contributed posts here.


the Bible and my house of cards

house of cards

I was in seventh grade when I read the book Things that are Different are Not the Same as part of my school curriculum, and that was when I was formally introduced to the “King James Only” argument, although I’d known for years that was the only version my family and my church used. Over the years, through high school and college, as I was instructed in bibliology, I was given a lot of arguments about the Bible in general, and not just the King James version.

Christian fundamentalism and its sister evangelicalism have something in common that is largely absent from other faith traditions: they tend to see the Bible almost as the ThirdFourth member of the Trinity. For example, I was taught that I should never set any other book on top of the Bible and never place it on the ground. It is holy, sacred, the Word of God. It is special– fundamentally and drastically different from every other book that has been or will ever be in existence. It was the basis of our faith, the only guaranteed Truth.

One of the main arguments for seeing the Bible this way was what I’ll call the “Harmonious Library Argument.”

According the Harmonious Library Argument, the Bible’s very existence is a miracle. It was written and compiled over thousands of years. It was written by men from different times, different cultures, different socioecnomic backgrounds, different professions. And yet, somehow, all of the books in the Bible are really just One Book– The Book. It promotes a single message, a single vision. It’s literally a miracle that so many men over so long a time span were able to write books and letters that agreed with each other so perfectly. It just isn’t possible for men to have achieved such a Harmonious Library on their own without divine intervention. That’s how we know the Bible is the Inspired, God-Breathed Word.

The Old Testament writers were writing about Jesus and the Atonement without knowing anything about him or even Roman crucifixion. Everything in the Law and the Prophets pointed toward Christ; the Temple, the sacrifices, the Patriarchs . . . They were telling stories about Jesus, foreshadowing him in Joseph and David and Adam. And those who wrote the Gospels and the epistles tell the story of Christ and explain his teachings with no discrepancies, with no theological disagreements.

That could not have happened without God.

Over the past couple of years, my views on the Bible have slowly shifted. When you start out believing that the Bible is completely flawless, with no discrepancy, contradiction, or error of any kind, and you start asking questions . . . it is a rude awakening. Suddenly the difference between “Judas hung himself” and “Judas fell headlong and burst open” don’t seem quite as simple and easily resolved. And the differences start building until either you completely change your definition of inerrancy or you throw the whole thing out, baby and bathwater.

I’ve settled into a more comfortable understanding of the Bible, one that admits to . . . well, reality. It was a book written by humans, and this is a good, good thing. God, I suppose, could have done what he has supposedly done before– he wrote the Ten Commandments and gave them to Moses already completed. He took his finger and wrote on the wall of a king’s palace. According to the Bible, there’s nothing stopping God from giving us a book already finished.

But, for whatever reason, he didn’t. And so, we have a book written by people. Blessedly fallen, so very human people. This is good because of the differences that creates. We don’t have our written religious tradition delivered to us by only one man. We have a variety of perspectives and beliefs and arguments. We have people like Peter and Paul writing letters while disagreeing with each other, sometimes so intensely it resulted in shouting matches. We have both Romans and James, Amos and Hosea. No one person got to control the destiny of Christianity or Judaism.

That’s where I still am, although my perspective is undergoing another shift.

I picked up Jesus, Interrupted by Bart Ehrman at a library book sale. I hadn’t read anything written by Ehrman before this, and the only thing I knew about him were things I’d read or heard from fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals. Those things mostly included things like “hates God” and “heretic.” Since I started moving in more progressive religious circles, though, I’d heard his name mentioned with respect, and I was curious.

It was . . . challenging to read. I have a lot of questions, and most of the margins have notes. I don’t think all of the arguments he makes are effective, and I got the feeling that he was occasionally leaving something out. However, he pointed some things out that made me do a double-take and think holy hell how did I never notice that wow that’s . . . so obvious.

The differences between various books in the New Testament are a little more significant than I’d previously thought, and I’m not entirely sure what to do about it now. It isn’t quite the paradigm-altering revelation I’ve experienced before, but now I have to ask some serious questions about the Gospels, especially when it comes to questions like what were the authors trying to argue? What did they believe about Jesus that they wanted other people to believe? I started asking those questions months ago, but not quite as seriously as I am now. Before, I asked those sorts of questions out of a literary curiosity. Now, I’m looking for whether or not Jesus in fact claimed to be God Himself on Earth.

My Harmonious Library understanding of the Bible– really, only a house of cards– has completely collapsed. It couldn’t bear up to an honest examination, and initially I thought I had to replace it with something else right away right now.

It took me a little while to realize that the only reason why I felt that way was that I was still stuck in the fundamentalist understanding of the Bible– as my only source of faith and practice. I simply couldn’t imagine being a Christian without a divinely-ordered Bible. Believing in the Bible as “inspired” was what made me a Christian, and this was as recently as last month. I think I’m starting to figure out that being a Christian has a lot more to do with my life and actions than it has to do with a book and what I believe about it.


can I call myself a Christian?


In the communities I grew up in, it was rare for someone to refer to themselves as a “Christian.” We were Bible-believers, Jesus-followers, disciples, believers, sisters and brothers, but not Christian. That word had far too loose a meaning– after all, Catholics could call themselves “Christians.” It was a term that, to us, was wrapped up in organized religion— which we were not, because we were Independent and didn’t belong to a church hierarchy like those dirty no-good Southern Baptists.

For me, I never really chose a label to describe myself, but when pressed about my beliefs would refer to myself as Baptist, all while joking that “you don’t go to the grocery store to buy the label on a can of green beans– you just want the beans, and the label helps you find them.”

When I started moving around in larger faith communities, I ran into the term evangelical, and for a long time it puzzled me. I had no idea what it meant, aside from the generic “typical American Christian” definition I could glean from context. As I’ve done more moving and reading, I’ve found that while evangelical encompasses a huge camp of people, denominations, and movements, people who identify as “evangelical” are those who believe in a certain list of things. That list changes depending on who you’re talking to, but there’s usually somewhere in the ballpark of 5-10 things on it. In my personal experience, that list includes the following:

  • Penal substitutionary Atonement
  • Salvation by faith that occurs at a specific moment
  • Inspiration and Inerrancy of the Protestant Canonical Bible (trending toward biblical literalism)
  • Original Sin that is Inherited by and Imputed to all people in a Fallen World
  • Belief in unending conscious torment (literal Hell) to which the unsaved are damned
  • God relates to us in the masculine– God is Father, not Mother
  • Emphasis on the spiritual over the physical, the Soul over the Flesh
  • Faith and practice are matters of the individual, not the communal

It didn’t take me too much longer after I’d compiled this list to realize that I didn’t agree with much on it, and I realized that I basically went straight from being a fundamentalist Baptist to being progressive/liberal, and I didn’t really stop in Evangelical Land on the way there (although there was a four-year detour to agnostic theism). Granted, not every single last person who identifies as evangelical is going to agree with this list– but I think this list is typical of evangelicalism in America, at least. However, last week, it became glaringly obvious that to a lot of people living in Evangelical Land, another item needs to be added to this list:

  • Bigotry and Homophobia

And that was the kicker that made a lot of us throw up our hands in defeat. I’d already decided months before that I couldn’t identify as evangelical, but now I’m facing another question: can I even identify as Christian any more?

I still affirm the Nicene Creed (of 325) . . . but that’s about it. As I was writing out the list above, I tried to focus on doctrines that seemed more particular to American evangelicalism, but I kept including items that are traditional orthodox beliefs– and not just Protestant ones, but Catholic and Eastern ones, too. I still believe in God, in Jesus, in his death and Resurrection . . . and that’s really about it.

I embrace beliefs and philosophies that have been condemned by the Church Universal as heresies for centuries. I’m exploring inclusivism, open theism, Pelagianism, liberation theology– and asking questions like Is God immutable? Is Jesus Divine? How much can I trust the Canon, if I can even trust it at all? Do I believe that salvation is a grace-filled, works-based process? Is there an afterlife? Can I explore other religions as revelations of the Divine?

I’m pretty sure a lot of those questions land me in the “New Age Pagan-Heretic” camp to a lot of people. To the fundamentalists I grew up with, I’m pretty sure they’d revoke my “Christian” card in a hurry. So the question I have to ask myself is . . . do I let them? I can’t fully affirm many of the basic tenets of Christianity since my questions about them are still so huge– and is that what makes a Christian, practically? If I don’t fit well under the “big tent” that is Protestantism, Catholicism, or Eastern Orthodoxy, is it useful to still identify as a Christian, or should I adopt another moniker, like “spiritual”? Would that be more beneficial in communicating who I am and what I believe?

Or, do I decide for myself what “Christian” means? Am I a Christian because I believe, with all my heart, in the teachings of the Christ as found in the Gospels– no matter how historically reliable they may or may not be? Am I still a Christian because, like Peter, all I feel can be summed up in you have the words of life, where else can I go? Am I a Christian because my soul longs for the beauty and mystery of the Sacraments? Because I find rest and comfort and peace in a Mother-Father God who became Immanuel?

I’m not sure. There’s a line between words have meaning because they have culturally agreed-upon definitions and I can call myself whatever the hell I want because– well just, because. There’s also another way of asking the question: do I want to be associated with the culturally-agreed upon definition when that definition involves so much hate? Or, do I reclaim “Christian” in order to demonstrate what Jesus taught– that they shall know us by our love?




Feminism, Theology

marriage as a blood covenant

blood covenant

Last week I heard something I didn’t expect to hear outside of a fundamentalist church, and it shook me up a little. Someone was talking about the importance of marriage, and they launched into an explanation of how marriage is a blood covenant. I’d heard passing references to this idea in the last year, but since I’d grown up in a church that never actually talked about sex, the whole “penis goes into vagina, vagina bleeds = blood covenant” idea was not one I was familiar with. I assumed that it was just something this one person had decided made sense and wasn’t that wide-spread.

But, last night when I was talking with my small group about the idea, it seemed like everyone in the room was way more familiar with it than I was– several had grown up hearing that “marriage is a blood covenant” and it didn’t stand out to some of them as unusual. How parents are supposed to keep the marriage-bed sheet as proof of their daughter’s virginity was cited as at least one example.

That disturbed me.

So, I’ve been doing some research today, and I’d like to talk about this somewhat common misconception that marriage is a blood covenant. When you google “blood covenant” all the results you’re going to get are many, many pages of Christians talking about it, which honestly wasn’t very helpful. It took me a little bit of digging until I finally grew a brain and consulted Judaic resources. That finally gave me a basic understanding of historical blood covenants:

The old, primitive way of concluding a covenant, (בְּרִית “to cut a covenant”) was for the covenanters to cut into each other’s arm and suck the blood; the mixing of the blood rendering them “brothers of the covenant” . . . A rite expressive of the same idea is the cutting of a sacrificial animal into two parts, between which the contracting parties pass, showing thereby that they are bound to each other.

There are only a few examples of blood covenants in the Bible that look like this– it seems that a lot of what modern-day Christians refer to as “blood covenants” are not really blood covenants at all. One of the few examples is interesting because of how it diverges from this: in Genesis 15, when God makes his first covenant, Abram sees it as a torch passing between the sacrificed animals, but Abram doesn’t follow. The significance of this covenant is that by passing through it alone, God declared that he will keep this covenant regardless of whether or not Abram did. The imagery of this is repeated, again, in the Crucifixion. Jesus did not require our blood to seal the covenant– just his.

There are, of course, other kinds of covenants, not just blood covenants, and I think one can argue that marriage is a type of covenant. It can be difficult to understand covenant as something different from a legal contract, especially since Christianity has been deeply influenced by a lawyer-like interpretation of the Bible for the last few centuries– but covenants are essentially about trust, while contracts are essentially about distrust.

The problem I have with talking about marriage as a blood covenant isn’t that I think it’s bad to think of marriage as a covenant– I think it’s horrible to think of marriage as a blood covenant for the very simple reason that it accepts violence against women.

I’ve written about this before, but the culturally accepted idea that female virgins bleed is just flat wrong. People with vaginas (who are not always women/female, to be clear) do not have to bleed the first time they have sex, and perpetuating this idea that bleeding is normal– in fact, it is necessary for a blood covenant— is wrong and harmful. It’s a teaching that has, at its core, the notion that female pain and suffering is completely normal, even unavoidable.  It keeps alive the incredibly damaging notion that men do not have to care about a woman’s pain, in fact, they must cause her pain, at least occasionally.

People with vaginas who have sex only bleed when their partner has done violence to them. If your partner is hurting, then you hurt them and you need to slow down, listen to them, and care about their body. Most likely this harm is done in complete innocence, in ignorance, but it is disgusting when our churches, our pastors, our Christian teachers, push pain as good, even holy, because it is a “blood covenant.”

Instead, when we talk about sex, what we should be encouraging is a mutual understanding of our bodies, of how to bring and give and share pleasure, and most of all, to never ever believe that it is acceptable for one of us to experience pain.


why I'm not observing Lent


I worked as a teller for a short while after I graduated from PCC, when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I had moved away from the rural Southern town I’d grown up in and was living in an unfamiliar area where most of the people I met– if they were religious– usually identified as Catholic. It was strange for me, since I was used to everyone being Baptist even if they weren’t fundamentalists.

My first Ash Wednesday there was especially confusing. I was working the drive-through that day and after the twenty-fifth person came through with a gray smudge on their forehead, I finally asked someone what it was.

She stared at me, her mouth open. “I thought you said you were a Christian?”

I had no idea what that had to do with foreheads and gray smudges. I frowned. “I am.”

She laughed. “It’s Ash Wednesday, Sam.”

More blank staring, this time from my end. “What’s ‘Ash Wednesday’?”

She just shook her head and walked back to her office, laughing. When I got home from work that day and finally googled it, I realized that it was the first day of Lent. The interesting thing to me was that I’d been observing Lent for five years at that point and had somehow missed that Lent began on Ash Wednesday. I also found it amusing that Mardi Gras was also connected to Lent, which I had not known.

I started observing Lent my first year at PCC with a group of friends– together we made a pact to give up soda. I drank nothing but water those forty days, and when I noticed that I felt better without the stuff I gave it up almost totally– now I drink nothing but root beer and ginger ale on rare occasions. For the four and a half years I spent in college, I drank nothing but water.

The next year it was sugar– and that was much harder. No deserts, no sweeteners, no sugary cereals . . . after the first week, we agreed that we wouldn’t keep it through Sunday just so that we could have one gigantic slice of chocolate-chip-encrusted cake to get us through the week.

After that it was caffeine, then carbs, and that year I was working at the bank it was coffee. I had started thinking of Lent as my once-a-year diet, or purge, or I guess the popular term now would be “cleanse.” But that year, I finally looked into what Lent actually was and realized that what I had been doing was . . . just a little ridiculous. I didn’t understand the deep meaning, the tradition, the calling of Lent.

The only context I had to observe Lent was inside my fundamentalist box, and the way I was observing this ancient practice clicked right in alongside the self-flagellation of fundamentalism. I observed Lent because I believed that aestheticism was the point of Lent and Christianity. I didn’t yet love the Incarnation and the imago dei, I hadn’t yet learned to appreciate an embodied faith and the gift of life and beauty.

The next year for Lent, with my perspective starting the monumental shift that continues through today, and after several conversations with people from rich Protestant and Catholic traditions, I decided to give up facebook. I wanted to spend the scattered minutes throughout my day experiencing those moments instead of numbing or distracting  myself with a news feed. The next year I gave up the internet totally. Last year, it was reading the comment section.

But this year . . . this year I’m not observing Lent.

Lent has become an important part of my faith practice, especially as I have grown to appreciate its history and what its meant to me over the years. I’ve come to look forward to these forty days. I’ll probably be back to observing Lent next year, and my goal is to follow a more traditional path, especially since I’m living in a Catholic area again. I thought about it this year, but, ultimately I realized that I need to examine why. There are still too many fundamentalist strings tied to me, too many fundamentalist shadows in my life I need to shine a light on, too many times when crawling back inside a fundamentalist cage is my automatic response.

I need to not observe Lent this year, partly just to prove that I can. The guilt is still to close, the shame still too heavy. Fear has been pushed deep into my soul– fear of failing, fear of not being enough. Not holy enough. Not spiritual enough. Not righteous enough. Not godly enough.

Lent has become a way for me to affirm that I am “enough.” Lent has become a way for me to avoid guilt, and shame, and fear. Lent has become a litmus test– If I can just get to the end of these forty days and feel that I’ve “accomplished” being a Christian in some way, then maybe some of the fear in my soul will dissipate.

That is how the fundamentalist inside of me uses Lent, and I want to banish that part of me. I want to wake up on Easter morning and simply be enough for no other reason than I am. I don’t need to “give something up,” to push myself into making a commitment to self-sacrifice just to feel like I’m worthy of being a Christian. I don’t have to prove anything– not to myself, not to God.