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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.


creeds and redes


Interestingly, several people have asked me in the past couple of weeks whether or not I still agree with the Nicene Creed. If you’re not familiar with the history of the Nicene Creed, here’s a crash course:

In 325 AD, one of the major discussions at the Council of Nicea (council = gathering of all significant bishops) was whether or not Jesus was actually a human or if he only seemed to be human (an idea known as docetism, and a logical result of Christian gnosticism). The Nicene Creed, which is similar in substance to the Apostle’s Creed and seems to be the final articulation of the creed found in I Corinthians 15:1-11, goes a bit like this:

We believe in one God, the Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God the only begotten of the Father; that is, of the essence of the Father, Light of Light, very God of very God– begotten, not made, being of one substance of the Father
By whom all things were made
Who for us, and for our salvation, came down as incarnate and was made human
He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven
From thence shall he come to judge the quick and the dead
And in the Holy Ghost.

The Nicene Creed is historically important because it establishes that one of the fundamental tenets of Christianity is the Incarnation. You might have heard me rave about the Incarnation before– to me, it is probably one of the most beautiful and significant doctrines of my religion. Immanuel, “God with Us,” means that God became flesh and dwelt among us, and I think that’s extraordinary. It tells me that my humanity, my physicality, my existence, my life– it matters. Considering I grew up in a world where everything about my flesh is wholly corrupt and evil and must be literally beaten into submission, the idea that God became flesh never fails to comfort me.

So, short answer: yes. I agree with the Nicene Creed. It’s considered one of the most essential definitions of Christianity, and I like that it is incredibly unifying. Catholics, Orthodox, Protestant– we all can come to the Nicene Creed and say here– here is where we are the same.

But . . . something sort of fell out of my mouth this morning while my partner and I were driving to church. Ever have those moments, where something you say seems like it’s been something germinating for a long time and all of sudden pops out as this fully-formed thought and it surprises you?

I was talking about how there are times when I desperately want to distance myself from the word Christian. I can’t get away, intellectually and emotionally, from my belief in a deity, and for a bunch of reasons I think that deity looks like Jesus. I want to follow Jesus– I believe that what he taught was beautiful and is worth trying to live out.

Sometimes, though, I look at religions like Buddhism and Wicca, and I think wow, there are some incredible ideas in these religions. For example, one of the most absolutely fundamental ideas of Wiccan practice is the Rede: An it harm none do what ye will, frequently shortened to “do no harm.” That’s the north star of Wicca, its central teaching: do no harm.

However, it seems to me that if you ask a Christian “what does it mean to be a Christian?” the answer you’re going to get is a list of varying beliefs, usually organized around something like the Nicene Creed.

Wouldn’t it be a spectacular if, instead, the answer to that question was they shall know you by how you love one another? Because, after all, what Jesus taught was love. Love each other. Love your enemy. Love your neighbor. Love the least of these.

What if the most absolute essential statement anyone could make about Christianity was that we love people? That how we loved was the only thing we really cared about or ever evaluated, and we stopped asking about how “theologically sound” someone is, or how “biblically based”? What if love were our North Star, instead of do you affirm the deity of Christ and his virgin birth?


doubting my salvation

Picasso, “The Crucifixion”

One of the phrases I heard quite a bit in the fundamentalist church I grew up in was “You need to check up on your salvation.” It usually followed a long diatribe on sin, or wordliness, or unrighteousness, and the church-cult leader would say it to make sure we all understood that real Christians feel convicted when they hear sin being preached on. Real Christians feel crushing guilt. Real Christians have the Holy Spirit pricking their conscience day in and day out. If we could get through an entire sermon on sin without feeling a single twinge? Well, then, we needed to “check up” on our salvation, because we probably weren’t saved.

Interestingly, and perhaps paradoxically, I got a completely different message about “doubting my salvation.” Real Christians didn’t doubt their salvation, because real Christians could point to a specific time, a specific place, a specific prayer; and any time the Devil assailed them with doubts (and it was always the Devil doing this), a real Christian could point to that moment and say “get thee behind me, Satan!” That moment gave us “assurance of our salvation.” That moment became our testimony.

My first “moment” was when I was five or six. It was around Halloween, and my Sunday school teacher told a horrifying story about druids going from house to house flaying little children alive and burning pieces of their skin inside of pumpkins. He finished his lesson by telling us that Jesus could protect us from the demons if we “asked him to come into our heart.” Terrified, I spent the entire night curled up in my dark bedroom begging Jesus to protect me from the demons I was positive were going to snatch me out of my bed.

Later, when I was around eight, I realized that Christians got baptized, and when I asked to be baptized the lady I spoke to at church asked me when I’d “gotten saved.” Initially I was frustrated because I didn’t know what the heck she was talking about, and it took a few weeks to communicate my confusion to my mother. When I finally understood what “getting saved” meant to a Baptist, I explained to the woman about that night when I asked Jesus to come into my heart to save me from the demons. She wasn’t entirely convinced by that story, so she led me through a “sinner’s prayer.”

When I was eleven, I was in a revival service listening to an evangelist describe the horror of the crucifixion. The next night he preached a message about the difference between “profession and possession.” He explained how people can walk around saying they’re a Christian but who aren’t “saved” at all. In a sudden burst I realized that I had never really “gotten saved,” so I decided I’d go down to the altar at the end– but wait, what if the Rapture happened before the end of the service? I’d be “given over to a reprobate mind” for not getting saved before the Rapture and go to hell!

So, I walked myself through the Roman’s Road and prayed another sinner’s prayer in the middle of the sermon.

Those were my moments. Those were the times I could point to and declare, definitively, that I was saved. I didn’t have to worry about “doubting my salvation.” I had a rock-solid testimony. Any time I felt conflicted, or unsure, or afraid of hell, I could point to that moment and tell myself there was nothing to worry about.


There are moments when I wish for the simplicity of my childhood. When I long for the comfortable black-and-white of saved and not saved— it was so quantifiable, so objective. Saved people had repented of their sin and asked Jesus to save them during a sinner’s prayer. Unsaved people had never done that. It was simple. Easy.

Now, though, that things have become far more complicated and far more gray, I find myself struggling again and again with questions.

Is God real?
Does he love me?
Was Jesus God?
What is Election?
What does the Atonement mean?

Does God send people to hell for no other reason than they’d never heard of Jesus?
Do I want to be a Christian anymore if the answer to that is yes?

And, when I’m asking these questions, you better check up on your salvation comes flitting through my head, unbidden and unwanted. I wish I could banish that phrase from my memory. I wish I’d never heard it once– let alone the countless times it was screamed at me. I wish I could get rid of it, because it makes these questions so much harder. There is a part of me– and sometimes this part of me is big, sometimes it is small– that wonders if I could possibly be a real Christian if I am plagued by these sorts of doubts. How can I call myself a Christian if I’m putting myself into the position of “judging God by human standards”? How can I call myself a Christian if I doubt his existence– or, if not his existence, then if he cares about human reality at all?

How can I be a Christian and doubt?

I know, most of the time, that doubt isn’t the antithesis of Christianity or faith. I know having serious questions about my religion doesn’t disqualify me from embracing it. But, I’m still, sometimes, terrified of being sent to hell– eternal conscious torment–  for my unbelief. Somehow strangely sure that not feeling constant nagging guilt means that I can’t be a real Christian. That my new-found comfort of dwelling in the gray means that I no longer “know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” I am comfortable questions, with perhaps never knowing what it means to be “saved” or “one of the Elect” and that must mean that I’m not. Because surely real Christians know that.

There is still a little girl inside of me curled up on her bed begging Jesus to protect her from the demons.


church statistics and abuse


[trigger warning for child sexual abuse, rape, domestic violence]

I’m not entirely sure when it happened, but from the reading I’ve been doing, sometime in the last 30 or so years there’s been a subtle shift in how churches talk about growth. What my reading tells me is that this is at least somewhat connected to the rise of the “mega church,” with it becoming impossible for pastoral staffs to simply look around their churches and understand who their congregation is.

There’s a certain appeal to evaluating church growth by the numbers, especially when church sizes seem to be ballooning. Applying business models that are intended to bring growth can be extremely useful for a variety of organizations, and churches are, really, just organizations. Organizations that are almost totally defined by “growth,” for better or for worse. Even in Acts, as my partner pointed out yesterday, the apostles tossed around a lot of numbers. Peter, especially, has one famous speech about Pentecost and how many were saved.

In the churches I’ve been in that have talked numbers– “X many people were saved! X many people were baptized! X many people have joined our church in the last year!”– the focus has almost always been hope. Numbers are real, concrete indications that we’re headed in the right direction, that what we’re doing is making a difference. Numbers are people.

But, in the last year, my perspective has changed quite a bit. I used to hear those numbers shouted from pulpits all over the country and exult right along with the preacher. And, in some ways, I still do. But, when I hear about how many people regularly come to church, and how many children are in Sunday school, and how many babies are dedicated, a completely different set of numbers starts spinning around my head, and it makes my heart ache.

My heart has been especially broken this week, since Bob Jones University decided to terminate the investigation they’d hired GRACE to do. I wasn’t a student of BJU, but I did grow up in that world and I know many people who were– and I know how important the GRACE investigation was to them, how much hope it had given them that maybe, just maybe, BJU could turn over a new leaf.

But, just like the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, and just like Sovereign Grace Ministries, and IBLP, and just like countless other churches and ministries all over the globe, BJU has decided to do what far too many other Christians have done: turn a blind eye to the abuses happening under their watch– abuses they are allowing to happen through their silence, abuses they are complicit in.

I know how hard it is to face the bleak reality that there are so many people willing to hurt others. That abuse in so many forms is commonplace. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to be a pastor and stand in front of your congregation and know that there are abusers and victims in your church. That you could be shaking the hand of a pedophile or rapist after church. That you could be eating dinner in the home of a batterer. That you can’t know. Not for sure.

But, this is a reality that does need to be faced. We need to look it dead, square in the eye and let it change us. We need to keep in front of us, always, that people are hurting and desperate and don’t know a way out. That most victims don’t even know they’re being abused, that abusers cloak themselves in forgiveness and grace and redemption, that some abusive husbands will use “I am the head of this home and you are my wife, so you must submit to me” as a weapon.

So, because this needs to be something that we know, something that changes how we talk, changes the advice we give, changes the way we love the people in our churches– I’ve broken down an average church size by the most reliable statistics we have.

Most churches in the United States have an average church attendance of around 500 adults, 125 children. Most congregations are dominated by married adults, so in this “average church,” there are 200 married couples, 275 women and 225 men, 64 girls and 61 boys. This means that in this church:

That’s a possible 256 people– 40% of this “average” congregation— who have been violently wounded by some kind of horrific abuse. This isn’t something we can afford to ignore. This is something that should utterly break us and radically transform everything we do as a church body. We can’t be dismissive of hurt. We can’t ignore that there’s darkness and pain and suffering. We can’t preach messages filled to the brim with ideas that can be turned into weapons by abusers. We can’t afford the blithe, non-committal “if you’re being abused, you need to get out,” and then move past that as if it doesn’t happen here. We have to stop burying our heads in the sand with our “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle!” and our “faith like a mustard seed!”

We have to be the ones who love the hurting and the broken, who acknowledge their pain.


fundamentalists, evangelicals, and certainty

question mark
photography by Marc Domage, installation by Robert Stadler

My small group is a little shy of your run-of-the-mill “Bible studies” and other evangelical-culture-approved curricula, so for the past year we’ve been reading through different religiously-oriented books, and for the next couple of months we’re going through Gregory Boyd’s Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty. I’m only to chapter five, but I think I’ve already recommended it around a dozen times. I think Boyd addresses an incredibly important question I’ve heard so many people asking: what does it mean to have faith, to believe? The typical evangelical teachings about faith usually involve this nebulous idea that “faith” equals “certainty”– that you feel sure. That if you can just convince yourself that God will heal a loved one . . . that God will heal that loved one.

It’s a crazy idea, and I really do think the book is worth reading. I’ll let you know for sure when I finish it.

But, as I was reading it last week, something he talked about jumped out at me: that this approach of “feeling certain” is incredibly attractive– he describes it as “blissful.” It didn’t take me more than a second to connect this to fundamentalism, because if there’s one thing that unites fundamentalists, it is how incredibly certain they are.

When I did my series on defining fundamentalism, I asked all of you to explain what had drawn you to fundamentalism in the first place, and almost unanimously the response was that fundamentalism was comfortable– that the black and white nature of how fundamentalists approach questions made things simple. Fundamentalism is straightforward. Fundamentalism is easy, and given that we live in a world filled with horrible suffering, that this one approach to faith means you don’t have to struggle with soul-deep questions is compelling.

It occurred to me that this “certainty model of faith,” as Boyd calls it, might be what’s fueling Christian fundamentalism in America. Because, if certainty really does equal faith, and Christians are spending most of their energy trying to convince themselves, then it almost seems that becoming a fundamentalist is inevitable. It’s unlikely that evangelicals are going to go gung-ho and they’ll all start touting KJV Bibles or giving up their Christian rock, but when it comes to the practice of faith, how can fundamentalism be avoided if what we’re seeking is certainty?

There’s a term I’ve seen popping up in different conversations– fundigelical. From watching conservative evangelical culture over the past few years, I’ve noticed that there’s been a slow blurring between evangelicalism and fundamentalism. It used to be that evangelicals were insanely liberal by fundamentalist standards, but now? I can barely tell the difference anymore. And maybe that’s just because I’m a progressive Christian so everything to the religious or political right of me all looks the same, but I think I have a little more discernment than that.

I’m looking at things like the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and The Gospel Coalition, and I paid close attention to the Southern Baptist Convention last year . . . and what I’m seeing disturbs me. When men like C.J. Mahaney, whose sermons are indistinguishable from any fundamentalist diatribe I heard growing up, are the leaders of entire evangelical movements, when they are closely connected to one of the largest American denominations, it forces me to ask if whether or not fundamentalism is creeping into evangelical culture. When men like Mark Driscoll draw mile-wide lines in the sand, separating “us” and “them,” I start wondering– how truly different is modern evangelicalism from the fundamentalism I grew up in?

They certainly look different.

But are they, really? Once you get passed the haircuts and the ankle-length skirts, they don’t seem to be. Ideologically they’re practically inseparable– both sets hold to The Fundamentals:

Inspiration and Inerrancy of Scripture
Deity of Christ
Virgin birth
Substitutionary atonement
Physical resurrection and physical Second Coming

As a progressive Christian looking back at what I used to believe, this list seems a little… interesting. None of these things are what anyone would define as “the essentials for salvation,” but this, apparently, is the Hill Worth Dying On to fundamentalists. A specific and relatively new atonement theory, selected from among at least a half dozen others? An approach to the inspiration of Scripture that cannot be proven, not now and not in the future, since we have never had the autographa— and an approach that is, in practice, absolutely useless? A single, solitary approach to eschatology that is a massive departure from almost two thousand years of church teaching?

These are what fundamentalists in the historical sense of the term decided that they were going to be absolutely certain of– and they are the core ideas of evangelical theology. When I poke around some of the evangelical blogs that I read consistently, they tend to make it clear that in order to write for them you have to believe The Fundamentals.

When I first started writing here, when I created this blog, almost all of my focus was on the Christian fundamentalist mindset that I grew up in. But, over the last year, there’s been a slow shift in the language I use– from fundamentalism to conservative evangelicalism to evangelicalism, and it was not a conscious decision. Part of it was that I moved on from talking about my childhood to things I’ve noticed as an adult in mainstream evangelicalism, but another part of it was that as I became more and more exposed to American evangelicalism I stopped being able to make a clear delineation. There just . . . wasn’t enough of a difference for me to treat them as clearly separate things.

And I’m beginning to think that it all goes back not to what people believe, but how they believe it.

Feminism, Theology

myths I believed about women of the Bible

One of my blogging friends, Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism, has been going through Debi Pearl’s Created to Be His Help Meet a few pages at a time– she’s where I got my idea to break down Fascinating Womanhood. Libby Anne’s gotten to the part of the book where Debi uses Bathsheba as an example of everything a woman shouldn’t be, and blames Bathsheba almost totally for everything that happened– both to her and to David and his family. She’s the biblical face that sunk a thousand ships, as it were.

Reading over Debi’s description felt oh-so-familiar. It was exactly what I was taught about Bathsheba. A quick review of church history– its art, its commentaries, its sermons–  reveals that it’s how most Christians talked about her, too. Bathsheba, to many Christians, was a slutty whore. As I’ve grown into egalitarianism and feminism over the past four years, I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with that interpretation. There’s no crystal-clear explanation in II Samuel 11 that Bathsheba didn’t consent, but that’s hardly surprising since Bronze Age cultures had no (or little) conception of female consent. Regardless, David was the warrior-king, the warlord, and how exactly was Bathsheba supposed to say “yes”? Consent matters very little when there’s no real possibility of saying no and having that no be respected.

But then, Libby Anne pointed something out that I had completely missed: that the text actually does make it completely and utterly clear that Bathsheba had absolutely no part in what happened to her and she was not to be held responsible. It says it, plain as day, when the passages specifies that she was “purifying herself from her uncleanness” in verse four.

Bathsheba wasn’t bathing on her roof.

Bathsheba was in the mikveh. In the communal pool, the one designated for ritualistic cleansing, the one constructed for privacy, and the one David would have KNOWN naked women went into at least once a month, as the Law commanded.

And not only that, any time David’s actions are discussed anywhere else in Scripture, it is always to place the full, unmitigated blame totally and squarely on David. Never, not even once, is Bathsheba mentioned. She did nothing– nothing— wrong. Considering how severely the Law treats women who “play the harlot in their father’s house” or commit adultery (ie: stoned to death), that any supposed wrong-doing on her part is never even mentioned is pretty strong evidence that David raped her.

Reading that this morning was… beyond mind-boggling. I read that passage my entire life, have heard countless sermons preached on it, and what I walked away with was that Bathsheba was a slut.

The same thing has happened to virtually every other women in the Bible.

Deborah? Just a punishment for men being cowardly and lazy. Huldah? Huh, who’s that? Oh, just some random woman that read the Torah. Forget about how she was a contemporary of four other male prophets. Obviously she’s just there to prove how ungodly Judah had become. Junia? Nope, not an apostle. Dude, she’s not even a woman. Mary Magdalene, the person the Resurrected Christ appeared to first? Also a whore– she was obviously a prostitute. Please ignore how there’s not even a single shred of evidence to support that.

What’s the only thing we know about Sarah? That she mocked God. What did Rebekah do? She manipulated and lied. Rachel? Was a whiny little brat that stole her father’s idols. Dinah? Also a slutty slut, nevermind that she was also raped. Eve? Weak and easily deceived, also responsible for the destruction of the human race because she was a fool. Satan knew that Adam was much too smart, much too good, to be deceived. The song of praise and honor meant for all women in Proverbs 31? It’s a list of commands now, you have to do all of it or you’re a worthless good-for-nothing wretch. What do we remember about Hannah? She was discontent with her husband and needed a baby to be happy.

Over, and over, and over again it seems that most Christian theologians over the past few thousand years have spent an inordinate amount of time and energy doing anything possible to discredit and destroy every single last positive example of womanhood in the Bible. It’s so deeply buried in Christian culture at this point that it seems incredibly rare for someone to even bother to show women in the same light that the Bible showed them: as human, yes, but also as glorious, courageous, magnificent, brave, intelligent, dedicated, loving Daughters of Abraham, Heirs of God.


and yet ANOTHER internet controversy!: going to church

by Wolfgang Hohlbein

Honestly, when all of this hubub showed up on my facebook feed on Monday, I was quite honestly just … bored. I read Donald Miller’s original article, “I Don’t Worship God by Singing, I Worship Him Elsewhere,” and my only thoughts were, “oh, that’s neat.” And then I read a dozen buzzfeed articles on cats. I really like Donald Miller, and Blue Like Jazz has been on my wishlist for ages, but this article didn’t say anything radical– at least not to me. Another person has discovered that– spoilerGod doesn’t just exist in church. Yay for everybody.

But then I saw so many conversations spring up– on facebook, on twitter, in comment sections– and it took me by surprise. Why are people talking about this? Some dude doesn’t regularly attend his church and this is worth talking about? Ok, then, world, you’re a strange beast.

And then this happened.

And this.

And… this.

And then The Gospel Coalition threw their hat in the ring.

And Donald Miller responded.

Even after following all of that, and reading through a number of conversations, I still don’t get it. Mostly because I think that most of the people having these conversations deeply misunderstood Miller’s original point, which was that church hasn’t been the best way for him, personally, to have a good relationship with God. Since that’s been true for me basically my entire life– and true for mostly everyone I know– it just seemed… ho-hum. Like he was just saying out loud what everyone already thought. Most Christians go to church, that’s true, but I think if we were all being honest with ourselves we’d admit that nope, church attendance isn’t really the cornerstone of my relationship with God.

I guess not.

Miller’s already addressed anything I would say about the general arguments, but there is one path in particular I wanted to follow, because it especially leaped out to me because of my religious background. It’s encapsulated pretty well in “Donald Miller’s Prescription for Spiritual Suicide” by Denny Burk:

I don’t know what else to say except that this is profoundly disappointing. Not only that, it’s also dangerous. It’s a recipe for spiritual suicide. I am not denying that people have different learning styles. I am denying that different learning styles in any way trump what God has said to us about His church. The scripture is very clear that the local church is the matrix for Christian discipleship. In short, you cannot be a follower of Jesus and be indifferent about the church.

First, and you all probably know I’m about to say this: anything that comes after “The Bible Clearly Says” is not something I’m going to give a lot of attention to. Burk almost lost me at that paragraph, but I finished the rest of the post, which he ended with how “nothing could be more dangerous to your soul” than … not attending church regularly.

I don’t attend church regularly, and I don’t for entirely different reasons than Donald Miller. A huge part of it is that I’m just not the healthiest person, but the biggest part of it is that almost nothing is more damaging to my faith or my relationship with God than going to church.

Seriously. When I muster up the strength to face a church service, I sit through the entire thing cringing most of the time. Most of my negative experiences have little to do with anything happening at the church service I’m in, to be clear. Most of the time, it’s because my pastor occasionally does or says something that reminds me of them— my abuser, my cult-leader– and, although it’s nothing really to do with this pastor, or this church,  I spend the rest of the sermon fending off a panic attack.

Rarely, though, something happens in a church service that makes me walk out of the building saying fuck it I’m not putting up with this shit anymore fuck it all to bloody hell fuck God fuck his church fuck all these bloody people I’ m never coming back to this fucking place.

Welcome to the inside of Samantha’s head when she’s disturbed by how blind the church can be to how evil the world is and how the church can hurt people.

Anyway, what I think most of Miller’s critics have completely and utterly missed is that a traditional church service is not the same thing as community, as worship, as anything like what’s described in the New Testament. I mean, it doesn’t take a Bible scholar to read Acts of the Apostles and see that church services mostly consisted of everyone getting together for dinner and then talking about Jesus. I don’t exactly need song leaders and sermons for that.

But, again, in all these conversations about “church” there’s a huge part that’s missing: there are people who have been abused by churches, by pastors, by religious teachings, and that most of what’s hurt them happened during church services. Telling people like us that avoiding our triggers, that staying mentally healthy, that struggling to have any faith at all outside of the environment that causes us so much pain is a recipe for suicide is wrong. That all of the people who don’t go to church for whatever reason are horribly bad, neglectful, uncaring, un-spiritual Christians– if we even get to be Christians at all, which according to people like Denny Burk, that’s not even an option.

No, I don’t go to church very often. But, honestly acknowledging that church is not a safe place for me, and overcoming all the mountains of guilt and shame I feel when I don’t get out of bed on a Sunday morning has been the best thing that’s ever happened in my relationship with God.

Feminism, Social Issues, Theology

rage and grace


Back when I was a Christian fundamentalist know-it-all teenager, I spent a lot of time laughing at liberals– religious liberals, political liberals, it didn’t matter. One of the more common jokes I heard– and made– was about how those “liberals talk a big talk about tolerance, as long as you agree with them.”

I still see this pop up in my life occasionally– and it showed up in my facebook feed a few times yesterday, in relation to this article. The author, Brandon Ambrosino, hasn’t flinched away from controversy, and has faced some intense pushback as a result. In conversations about his New Republic piece, a few people cracked the “wow, liberals are so tolerant, aren’t they?” joke, and it bothered me.

A little while ago, Stephanie Drury of Stuff Christian Culture Likes, made an argument that people (including victims, she never specified), should extend grace and forgiveness to oppressors and take the opportunity to educate them, and that this was important and anyone who didn’t was doing life wrong. When a non-binary person critiqued this argument, Stephanie’s response was to post a single tweet on facebook, out of context, and claim that she was being bullied. It was the same thing– those liberals are just so tolerant, ain’t they?

There’s been a common thread going through my facebook, twitter, feedly, and wordpress feeds– it frequently comes up in flesh-and-blood conversations, and it’s an idea worth spending some time on. It’s this thought that we’re Christians, and that means we’re supposed to love people, and turn the other cheek, and forgive, and be gracious. Why, then, are you speaking or writing this way? Why all this rage and frustration?

And, to an extent, I very much appreciate the thoughts behind this question. I am a Christian, however confused I may be about what that means right now. Regardless of what I’m sorting out in my soteriology and theodicy, I do believe in following the teachings of Jesus, and that includes “they’ll know you by how you love one another.”

What this looks like for me, personally, is that I do my best to recognize the imago dei of someone I’m responding to. If possible, I try to familiarize myself with their body of work if I’m going to critique a single article. If I’m talking to someone in my comment section here, I do everything I can to be patient and gracious (mostly. I have, occasionally, uhm… not been). In conversations I have on twitter, even with people I disagree with, I do what I can do be calm, gentle, and kind. I think those things go a long way.

However, there have obviously been times when that hasn’t held true. I’ve occasionally “rage stomped” on articles, as I call it. I’ve blocked people on here, on facebook, on twitter. I’ve outright refused to engage with some. Some posts have been full of fire and rage. I made a Grumpy Cat meme that was slightly less than “turn the other cheek” material. I’ve sometimes taken some people to task, and then there’s the fact that I spend most Mondays ripping Fascinating Womanhood to pieces (I’m a “Katniss Everdeen of post-evangelical anti-fundamentalism,” not gonna lie, that was awesome).

So . . . why?

It’s all tied into another question that’s related: don’t you think being calm and gracious will get you a lot further? Don’t you think that being angry will just make people defensive? If you want people to listen, you shouldn’t talk like that. It doesn’t get anything done. You’re just talking into the air if you do it that way.

And, again, to an extent . . . they have a point. Anger and rage, no matter how legitimate, no matter how justified, no matter how necessary, will make a lot of people defensive. It can shut certain doors, end conversations before they even begin. That’s just . . . true. However, there’s another, equally important question.

How far do we go to protect the feelings of oppressors?
How little do we say in order to engage with abusers?
What are we willing to suffer in order to be nice?
How much do we allow in our relationships that hurts us?
How many boundaries must we pull down, and make ourselves unsafe?

There’s a place for rage. For anger. For hurt. For the expression of suffering. And yes, sometimes this means that people who hurt us– inadvertently or not– are going to be uncomfortable. Reading some of the twitter feeds that I follow– @sophiaphotos, @thetrudz, @jaythenerdkid– don’t make me feel very comfortable sometimes, that’s for sure. But comfort is rather beside the point when people are suffering and dying every day because of oppression. That’s why we’re angry, and no, we’re not going to “tolerate” it.

And, I’ve made this argument before, but there’s also the fact that, honestly, no matter how hard I try to be gracious, and loving, and compassionate, and kind, and long-suffering . . . the abuser, the oppressor, the privileged are always going to be able to silence me if they don’t like what it is I’m saying. There will always be a way to dismiss me, no matter what I say or how I say it. Oppressors will find a way to oppress. And yes, sometimes it is worth it to take the time to educate someone (what am I even blogging for if not to try to offer an explanation?) . . . but not always. And it’s the not always part that deserves to be recognized.


a peculiar people

Escher, “Relativity”

Salt of the earth.

City set on a hill.

A peculiar people.

In the world, but not of it.

Called out.



I wrote a post for Convergent yesterday talking about why I think legalism exists, and part of what I was thinking about the entire time was a concept that’s consistently bothered me over the last year. In an e-mail I received a long time ago, someone asked me why I had such a big problem with “the biblical doctrine of separation.” My initial response was that they’d missed the point, that it wasn’t separation at all that I was talking about– that I had a problem with Christian fundamentalism. Except, to this person, “fundamentalism,” which they proudly claimed, and “separation,” go hand in hand. To this person, and to a lot of the people I know, they’re really the same thing.

As I wrote about the “why” of legalism, I realized that there was an audience I was likely not going to be able to reach: fundamentalists. Because fundamentalists have an essentially ironclad reason for their legalism, and it comes down to the very definition of church: ἐκκλησία comes from καλέω and ἐκ, and means, literally, “called out.” Fundamentalist Christians take this incredibly seriously: if we’re the Church, we’re “called out.”

I have a book sitting on my shelf: Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church by Ernest Pickering. It’s a textbook for one of the Bible classes at my old fundamentalist college, and it lays out an argument for the necessity of separation. We must be separate, because if we’re not, we risk apostasy and corruption. We must keep our theology and our ideology pure, untainted by “wordliness” or “godless philosophies.” It’s the reason why Christian fundamentalism began, when the early leaders wrote and compiled The FundamentalsThey were worried about attacks on doctrine, about new and disturbing theologies that accommodated early post-modernism and higher criticism.

They would even go on to make the same exact argument I did yesterday: that God’s holiness demands his followers to have the same abhorrence to sin. That we must hate sin, and do whatever it takes to remove it.

Which is where legalism enters.

Every time, growing up, I heard a messaged preached on “sin,” it always, always included this reasoning. God hates sin, so we must hate sin. Except . . . I’ve never been able to really understand what “sin” is, not even when I was a fundamentalist doing my utmost to avoid it. I had this nebulous understanding that sin was “doing something God told us not to do”; but then “drinking alcohol” was a sin, and when the Bible includes “drink wine for your stomach’s sake,” that shit gets confusing.

And as I got older, and the pastor and the people in our church fell deeper into “separation,” more and more things became sin. Things that were obviously not in the Bible, and therefore could not be something God told us not to do– things like going to the movie theater or doing yoga.

Which is where “biblical principles” come in. The Bible might not explicitly condemn movie-theater-going, but we are supposed to “avoid the appearance of evil,” and some movies have all sorts of things in them that are clearly evil– how could anyone tell we were going to see Finding Nemo and not Saw? Better just to avoid the whole thing all together. Or what about dancing? The Bible has lots and lots and lots of dancing, but that wasn’t modern dancing. Modern dancing is always sexual, and doing sexual things in public is clearly not “avoiding the appearance of evil,” but embracing it. Or rock music– rock music comes from demon-summoning-African-tribal-music, and listening to it means that we’re not avoiding listening to the same “beats” that witches use to summon Satan from the depths of hell, therefore it’s sin.

If it wasn’t avoiding the appearance of evil, it was “becoming a stumbling block.” Don’t celebrate Christmas– it reminds some people of their secular/pagan days, before they were good and holy. Don’t listen to rock music– it could remind someone of when they used to do drugs. Don’t discuss philosophy– it could remind someone of when they were an atheist.

There’s no end to it. When you get into this mindset, there’s no place to stop, no place to draw a line, no way to have a healthy conversation about individual responsibility. And once you start thinking like this, it’s incredibly difficult not to get sucked deeper and deeper, and there’s no bottom. There’s always something else that can be avoided, another step you can take to become more holy, more consecrated, more set apart.

I think it’s because Christian fundamentalists have deeply misunderstood the meaning of holy. They’ve lost what it means for something to be sacred, and they’ve cheapened these glorious, beautiful things into a list.