Figuring Out Healthy Church by Speaking Up

Speaking up is hard. (This story is a 5 minute read.)

I had some church issues to address this week and that was a big thing for someone who has many issues with Christianity and churches. ๐Ÿคทโ€โ™€๏ธ

It’s easy to put a sign on a church lawn, but being performative and being genuine are not the same things, from a church. Sometimes you need to test that out to know which it is. And that is always a really brave and difficult thing. It’s scary if you’ve gotten healing in some place to put that to the test. To risk being disappointed. To risk losing a place you thought was safe.

The children’s sermon on the last week I was there, encouraged children to use their voices and actions to speak up or ask for change and be a part of that. But what happens when you take up that challenge as an adult? Did they mean it? Or is it just cute when kids do it?

Those of us who don’t shy away from conflict don’t necessarily enjoy it either. I know some people love arguments and can make a sport of finding conflict, and then there are those who run and hide and flee from conflict or avoid a hard conversations at any cost. And there is always a potential cost, even for those of us who speak for the safety of ourselves and those around us.

Speaking out is often hard because you can lose people that way. But you can also make a difference and the right people will appreciate your voice. The genuine will come to the surface. But if they are not genuine the conscequences of losing people and places you thought were safe is devastating. You can also suffer a lot of personal attack and false accusations from those who want others to dismiss you and not listen to you too.

I speak out about progressive churches a lot because resting on having ‘the right positions’ is not the same thing as living it out. I come from an evangelical background that cared about ‘right doctrine’ (orthodoxy) but when it came to loving others (orthopraxy) the cognitive dissonance needed to kick into high gear to make it work.

I held onto that cognitive dissonance for a long time. It wasn’t one church. It was a system of beliefs that span across evangelical denominations and parachurch organizations. It looked like re-defining love to look away from and trying to justify the harm of our so-called ‘truth-telling’.

We had to redefine truth too; Ignoring the bad fruit and pretending any conscequences of putting those beliefs into practice wasn’t because the teachings themselves were harmful (if it’s in the bible, God said it, that settles it, end of discussion, right?!) but if it’s not working out right it must be the devil messing with God’s truth. They never wanted to acknowledge it came from the tree (teachings and leadership) that produced (interpreted/implemented what lead to) that fruit.

I think we all need to begin with the plank in our own eye. Introspection with your own group before going at others. Looking at where we need work before ever imaging our role in the world is to help ‘save’ others. (A concept that leads to so much messed up thinking and actions but I’ll digress!)
There’s a verse about keeping your own house in order first:
โ€œWhat business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?โ€ 1 Corinthians 5:12

I don’t think this verse is so much about being judgey as learning to speak up and address things that concern you. (At least that is how I find practical application.) Deal with the communities you are a part of and participate in. Especially if you claim to exemplify specific values and beliefs.

But for those who think this is a permission slip for being judgey about your fellow church people (many of you were part of an abusive or controlling church or bible college, that under the name of discipleship or discipline liked to enact this judgement on it’s members so often!) โ€” here’s another verse to put in to perspective that scripture highlights that is the ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ฅ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ด๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ฑ that needs a process of accountability to the members first!

โ€œBut those ๐—ฒ๐—น๐—ฑ๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐˜€ who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning.โ€ 1 Timothy 5:20

Ask yourself with churches/organizations that ask members to leave (to discipline them) how many are willing to do that with their leadership instead?!

And I don’t mean once the scandal has become public and the leaders fled the scene. ๐Ÿคฆโ€โ™€๏ธ

Expecting perfection from churches is silly.

Expecting wisdom, integrity, accountability and compassion from your leadership?! ๐Ÿ’ฏ reasonable.

There is a need for using our voice when it comes to how things run.

Jesus always seemed to be a โ€œput your sword awayโ€ peacemaker type, but he knew true peacemaking required leadership accountability.

A great quote I read this week:

๐˜ž๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ต ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฑ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ต๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ค๐˜ฆ, โ€œ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ค๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ค๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ช๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ” ๐˜ช๐˜ด ๐˜ฎ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ช๐˜ฑ๐˜ถ๐˜ญ๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ.
๐˜ž๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ต ๐˜ข๐˜ค๐˜ค๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ฏ๐˜ต๐˜ข๐˜ฃ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜บ, “๐˜ง๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜จ๐˜ช๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ๐˜ด๐˜ด” ๐˜ช๐˜ด ๐˜ฎ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฌ๐˜ฆ๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ.
๐˜ž๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ต ๐˜ซ๐˜ถ๐˜ด๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ค๐˜ฆ, “๐˜ถ๐˜ฏ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜บโ€ ๐˜ช๐˜ด ๐˜ค๐˜ณ๐˜ฐ๐˜ธ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ค๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ต๐˜ณ๐˜ฐ๐˜ญ.

That is probably why Jesus saved his rebukes for the religious leaders who caused harm. That was the group he had the harshest criticism for. To those with the power who held the keys to the structural dynamics he had a lot of choice words.

๐˜๐˜ช๐˜ฑ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ด, ๐˜ธ๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ฆ ๐˜ธ๐˜ข๐˜ด๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ต๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฃ๐˜ด, ๐˜ฉ๐˜บ๐˜ฑ๐˜ฐ๐˜ค๐˜ณ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ด. Not my words, he didn’t sugar coat that.

(But I didn’t go into my discussion like that this week, although I’m not arguing that there isn’t a place for that when going up against leaders who continue to cause harm and refuse to change!)

Leaders set the tone for any organization. Jesus said bad leadership looked like ‘the blind leading the blind’ because the results would be ‘both will fall into a pit’. He was concerned for safety!

How do you know when a community is really a safe place?! I have a few ideas.

โ€ฃ see that the diversity of the leadership represents the diversity of the congregation.

โ€ฃ watch how leaders (those in charge) respond when you come to them with your problems and most especially your criticisms of the church they are responsible for.

That first point you can do with your eyeballs. Sometimes without visiting the church you can just go to their staff or team page on their websites.

The second point is when you need to speak up about something. That is when you find that stuff out. And this is where I landed this week.

For those curious about the conclusion to my story, I had a great experience taking up my church issues with my pastor. One of the best and most healing conversations I’ve ever had with clergy in my life.

I felt seen and heard. They did not have a chance to rehearse their response and consult with a PR specialist before crafting a response to me. Their unfiltered response was that I mattered. My concerns mattered. My pain mattered. (And not like I was some wounded animal taking this the wrong way because of ‘church-hurt’ or trauma.) There was no pointing to Jesus or the devil as a way to deflect from their part in dealing with it.

I wasn’t gas-lit.

Nobody told me to get thicker skin.

My feelings were not viewed as some weakness or womanly wiles. That’s probably because my reverend is female and doesn’t look at emotions or women with disdain.

And as a bonus: the one man invited into this conversation didn’t interrupt to give his opinion. He didn’t assume he was God’s gift for spiritual insight granted by his body parts. He didn’t think his male voice represented default humanity. Instead he stayed in the background listening quietly. Learning. Maybe it’s because he’s also the type that goes to therapy for himself. Shedding that toxic masculinity. Love you Nate โค๏ธ

Why Evangelicals struggle with Deconstruction

Deconstruction can never be: โ€œthis far you may come, but no fartherโ€… (As the book of Job describes an authoritative God drawing boundary lines for the ocean.)

It’s pretty much antithetical to deconstruction to start with your conclusion and then be closed to testing it out.

Coming to the table with a hypothesis but only subjecting it to tests that will prove it true is called Christian apologetics, not deconstruction. And the practice of apologetics is not as effective as apologists think it is.

Speaking about deconstruction without understanding it is the swan song of an evangelical culture desperately trying to stay relevant while enforcing irrelevant boundaries they feel are essential.

Whether it’s adhering to ancient creedal statements or “not losing your faith entirely”, the idea of deconstruction is being misunderstood altogether.

So let’s start with a working definition of deconstruction since people have varying ideas of what deconstruction is, and how to go about it.

I’ll define deconstruction as a willingness to honestly explore everything in your past or present faith paradigm looking ONLY for love and truth no matter where that may take you and what you will have to undo or remove in the process.

Or to quote my friend Calista Uriarte : โ€œit is the continual process of holding each of your beliefs up to honest scrutiny and deciding if they are something you need to adjust, toss or continue considering based on the information you have at that time.โ€

With this in mind, deconstructing isn’t simply creating a more orthodox faith where you take out the impurities and are โ€œgood to go just as long as you don’t go too far.โ€

Perhaps they are mistaking deconstruction with growth that does not rock the boat. However you cannot deconstruct while saying there are certain forbidden conclusions. That isn’t a place where you can honestly examine your beliefs.

It’s like saying you want to learn how to dive into a pool without getting completely wet.

That’s not how deconstruction works.

Evangelicals are terrified to go there, to completely let go. They want to know they will still end up with the right answers because they find safety in those boundaries.

Faith is a non-negotiable because they have been taught hell is real and hell is hot. You pay the highest price imaginable if you don’t come to the right answer, and deconstructing that part of your beliefs is hard work.

๐˜™๐˜ฆ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ๐˜ท๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ต ๐˜ฎ๐˜ข๐˜จ๐˜ข๐˜ป๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ spelled out this desire to hold on in their article title โ€œHow to Deconstruct Your Faith Without Losing It.โ€

The article was filled with the type of people who are respected Christian priests or those who came around and have found their way back home from โ€œ๐˜–๐˜ถ๐˜ต ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง ๐˜š๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ดโ€ to now learning about God and writing about prayer (Richard Rohr and Sarah Bessey).

Instead of a โ€œdeconstruct-to-your-heart’s-contentโ€ it was more of a โ€œhere-is-a-healthy-way-to-do-itโ€ kind of post. In the article they refer to deconstruction as a โ€œphase.โ€

โ€œPeople get stuck in a phaseof deconstruction, partly out of a fear of being hurt again.โ€

The goal to ๐˜™๐˜ฆ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ๐˜ท๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ต seems to be in constructing a new worldview.

But what if deconstruction doesn’t require “reconstruction” to have value? What if the journey ๐™ž๐™จ the destination? What if it’s not a phase?

I’m wondering how many readers pushed back against this article because a major tone shift is going on. In their most recent article they acknowledge deconstruction to be a lot more substantial than a phase!

In their newest article titled “The Age of Deconstruction and Future of the Church,” they boldly state:

โ€œI believe deconstruction is from God.

โ€œI believe deconstruction is the revival evangelicals have been praying for for centuries.

โ€œDeconstruction is Godโ€™s way of returning our hearts to the main point: Love.

โ€œLove of God, love toward ourselves and love for each other. Even love for our enemies.โ€

They almost recognize the harm of misunderstanding deconstruction entirely when they address ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜Ž๐˜ฐ๐˜ด๐˜ฑ๐˜ฆ๐˜ญ ๐˜Š๐˜ฐ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ’๐˜ด response to the movement:

โ€œ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜Ž๐˜ฐ๐˜ด๐˜ฑ๐˜ฆ๐˜ญ ๐˜Š๐˜ฐ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ recognized that deconstruction is more potent than many believed it would be, and decided it was time to respond by putting out a book entitled Before You Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing in the Church.

โ€œIn an article released by ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜Ž๐˜ฐ๐˜ด๐˜ฑ๐˜ฆ๐˜ญ ๐˜Š๐˜ฐ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ regarding the book, ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜Ž๐˜ฐ๐˜ด๐˜ฑ๐˜ฆ๐˜ญ ๐˜Š๐˜ฐ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ expressed some measure of acceptance regarding deconstruction. However, it eventually became apparent to me that they are writing a book about something they have little understanding or experience.

โ€œThe main takeaways I was able to decipher from the article is that deconstruction is only beneficial if done within the context of church affiliation.

โ€œSimply put, ‘deconstruct all you want, but donโ€™t leave your church.’

โ€œThe problem with ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜Ž๐˜ฐ๐˜ด๐˜ฑ๐˜ฆ๐˜ญ ๐˜Š๐˜ฐ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ’๐˜ด advice to ‘deconstruct within the Church’ is that most people you will find in church are uncomfortable with deconstruction. Most view deconstruction as something to be corrected or argued away, rather than listening, accepting and embracing those wrestling with deeply challenging questions about their faith.

โ€œI will tell you that the more church leaders and Christians attempt to correct deconstructors rather than embrace them in their questions and doubts, the faster their church attendance numbers will dwindle.โ€

So does ๐˜™๐˜ฆ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ๐˜ท๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ต really embrace deconstruction, or is the conclusion about holding onto specific beliefs still being laid out for the readers?โ€œIt is still painful for me every time deconstruction leads people out of their faith completely. ๐ˆ ๐๐จ ๐ง๐จ๐ญ ๐›๐ž๐ฅ๐ข๐ž๐ฏ๐ž ๐ญ๐ก๐š๐ญ ๐ข๐ฌ ๐†๐จ๐โ€™๐ฌ ๐ข๐ง๐ญ๐ž๐ง๐ญ ๐Ÿ๐จ๐ซ ๐ญ๐ก๐ข๐ฌ ๐ฉ๐ซ๐จ๐œ๐ž๐ฌ๐ฌ. But really, who could blame them?โ€

๐˜™๐˜ฆ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ๐˜ท๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ต expresses how harmful it is to draw boundaries around deconstruction but ๐˜ด๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ญ concludes by telling us what they think God’s intentions are for this process. They are defining it. ๐Ÿ˜ฌ Which shows just how deeply ingrained this concept is within the most progressive sounding evangelicals.

So close but so far, ๐˜™๐˜ฆ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ๐˜ท๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ต.

The Problem with Church Discipline is the Whole System

Do you believe in church discipline? What sorts of things should be controlled/disciplined by the church, which sorts of things aught not to be?

With the recent headlining stories of the leadership abuse of Carl Lentz at Hillsong, or James MacDonald at Harvest Bible Chapel or even rocking Ravi Zacharias Ministries (RZIM) it seems that a lot of people are having a hard time knowing how the whole system is supposed to work in a very broken structure.

Why are leaders protected and congregation members used and abused? Why are the shepherds not the protectors of the sheep instead of seeming to be the core problem?

This is not just a question for celebrity pastors and mega churches.

I think the question needs reframing, and hopefully my answer will lead to thinking through where the fault lies, because it’s not just the leadership that might need to be torn down entirely.

Let me start with the question of if I believe in church discipline: I believe in church discipline for leadership.

1 Timothy 5:20 โ€œBut those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning.โ€
James 3:1 โ€œnot many of you should be teachers, my brethren, knowing we who teach are held to a higher standard of judgmentโ€.

There are not many books written on how to keep leadership in check or what a healthy church structure should look like. It seems those books get written instead for leaders to know how to discipline their congregations instead. There are articles written on how to resign from your church membership so that you can get out of an unhealthy church galore, for a good reason which points to the core problem going beyond bad leadership.

If a church has a system in place for keeping the congregation in check but not a way for congregation to have power to deal with an abusive or bad leader the church is just interested in controlling it’s members. A church becomes fertile grounds for abuse under those conditions because the structure of the church itself is problematic.

My church can vote out their leadership. I will never join a church again where leaders decide when leaders come and go and the congregation is powerless to deal with abusive leadership. I never want to be in a place where you have to hope it’s not just an ‘ole boys club, where the leaders all have each others backs anyway, and cover for each other. โ€œIf you tell on me for this I will tell on you for that. Let’s all keep our jobs and be quiet.โ€

In my current church we vote to keep our leaders in place if that is what we want, every year. If politicians need maximum terms and should not be dictators who can stay on indefinitely with absolute power than nor should church leaders who are humans like everyone else. Absolute power corrupts, absolutely.

There are too many control freak churches out there with manuals on church discipline for members (9Marks anyone?!) which is really a ploy for leaders to power trip and to be given control over people’s lives that they have no business having. Although 9Marks and a system of discipline popularized by the Acts29 network is no longer the hot topic it was at one time, this question still persists in the minds of church-goers. Even ones outside that Calvinist brand and even those who are not in a mega-church.

Leadership should be the influencers, and the entire set up of the church should be inclusive and representative of it’s members. And not merely the influencers of clothing style or brand like Carl above. If their lives are not the catalyst for change in their congregation and they need fear and control for that, including fear of discipline, or a hierarchy that keeps leaders protected from accountability, they are doing it wrong!

I can’t help feel red flags when leadership gets into the topic of church discipline. When did Jesus punish his disciples in scripture and when did that root word from discipline go from disciple to punish?! It seems to me Jesus led by example not by threat or coercion.

What if our modern churches today were built on corrupt power structures to begin with?

It led me to thinking about evangelicalism and the largest Protestant denomination today: the Southern Baptist Church.

The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, came into being in 1845 as the church of Southern slaveholders.

Now, 173 years later, Southern Baptist leaders are not just acknowledging their dark history; they are documenting it, as if by telling the story in wrenching detail, they may finally be freed of its taint.
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the denomination’s flagship institution, this week released a 71-page report on the role that racism and support for slavery played in its origin and growth.

As Beth Moore who is an SBC member and speaker herself, has been calling out Trumpism (and perplexed at how the evangelical world has been taken in by such a fascistic leader) and rebuking his followers for making him into an idol, something was bothering me more than just Beth’s unaffirming stance or cruelty aimed at the LGBTQIA community in the name of God. It requires careful thought as to why a person picks one area and fights against one form of oppression while ignoring other areas or even contributing to the oppression of others in other areas. This needs to be looked at in another lens aside from “well, she wouldn’t be taken seriously if she was too liberal”.

My friend Kay Bruner put her finger on it:

She [Beth Moore] is the poster child for patriarchal bargain.

from Wikipedia: Patriarchal bargain is a term coined by Turkish author and researcher Deniz Kandiyoti in 1988 in the article “Bargaining with Patriarchy”. Patriarchal bargain is the blueprint for how women deal with concrete constraints of different types of patriarchal systems by accepting gender rules that are unfavorable to women in order to survive. These different types of patriarchal systems reveal the various ways that women use to conform to gender norms so they can gain some sort of benefit in return.[1]
She has benefited personally and enormously from sucking up to the white supremacist patriarchal church for her entire career. Iโ€™m glad sheโ€™s speaking up but. She knows that going full lgbtq affirming is the last straw.
I keep thinking about where the real problem is with the Beth Moore statements and I think itโ€™s that she wants the system to revert to her normal where sheโ€™s comfortable and profiting from the whole thing as per her patriarchal bargain. She frames trump as the one bad apple and if you just get rid of him, then the church is fine. My opinion is that the whole thing is rotten and needs to end. Trump is a symptom of the evils of white male supremacy that the America evangelical church is founded on. These issues are not separate from the American evangelical church, they are the founding principles of it.

Jules Woodson, a victims advocate for church abuse knows better than anyone else how those systems were built to protect:

She points out that the SBC structure is the actual problem here:

There seemingly remains zero accountability for repentance or justice within the confines of the SBC’s structure, organizations, and committees, when it comes to clergy sexual abuse. #ChurchToo #SBCtoo #SBC20

And Jules of all people would know that. As the New York Times headline about her situation reads: “I Was Assaulted. He Was Applauded.”

โ€œMy abuser is back in the pulpit.โ€ she tweeted as her former youth pastor was planning to start a new church.

Her story made headlines not only because of the sexual abuse by her former youth pastor Andy Savage when she was only 17 but the response and subsequent cover ups of her former church and their leadership revealed a much deeper problem in the evangelical world. His church at the time of the public disclosure made headlines when he was applauded by his congregation High Point church when telling about the abuse in a way that was completely tone deaf to all victims of abuse. The way it was announced to the church shifted the sympathy onto himself leading the congregation to applaud him as if he was being heroic.

These situations are far from exceptional. There are entire survivor communities out there dedicated to how these structures lead to abuse on a much wider scale then merely one fallen leader and their many victims. Often the leadership underneath them and the church structure itself uses and abuses it’s congregation even grooming them as they volunteer, sometimes burning themselves out in the process of their free labor.

As Jesus said about bad fruit in Matthew 7:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheepโ€™s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. … every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. ”

It’s interesting that after addressing the need to be aware of bad leadership (that is often disguised as good leadership), he addresses a bigger picture- the system. The tree itself needs examination and not just the individual fruit or one branch of it.

Breaking Free

For those who have started deconstructing because churches have been closed and it’s the first time you are not running around serving and you are not so busy you can’t think anymore, you might enjoy our two part series of our (Cally, Dave, Nate and my) journey out of evangelicalism. Part two drops today. Here is part 1:

https://www.podpage.com/dont-repeat-this/exvies-part-1-escaping-evangelicalism/

Church can be helpful if you are shy or socially awkward at times. It can ease the stress if you do not have people skills or know how to cultivate relationships or build friendships churches can fill a social needs โ€œgapโ€.

But people often conflate real friendships for โ€œpeople I see each week because I go to the same building and have superficial talk for a couple of minutes over coffee time.โ€

Deeper relationships are not taught and this can be problematic as acceptance is often predicated on agreeing to a set of shared beliefs.

I remember being pressured by evangelicals when I was not in church to be part of a church.

Although I landed in a very beautiful progressive and affirming church, I wonder how much of that pressure to stay in church was about indoctrination or brainwashing.

Stuff became more clear with a step out and it rooted me firmly in the opinion that my time out of church was my time best spent and was critical to my mental emotional and spiritual well being. You can’t gain a perspective without stepping out of that bubble.

Also I no longer believe someone is better off just because they are part of a church community. Communities can be found anywhere. I have had more permanent, reliable secure community among secular groups of people than I ever had in my evangelical church I attended for almost two decades that called me spiritual family.

And if you disagree just step out for a year and see how many people notice follow up or care.
I realize that relationships that are only connected by shared beliefs and a specific building we meet in are the weakest and most fragile fellowship and community one could have.

If your beliefs change watch which people or relationships evaporate. Next ask yourself if that’s about love or friendship at all (or if it’s healthy) if holding to a specific set of beliefs necessitates their support and a change in beliefs ends a relationship.

I said what I said. ๐Ÿคทโ€โ™€๏ธ

(Image: h/t Jen Hindley )

Coming to Terms With the Messed Up Parts of the Bible

Whether it’s owning women as property, slavery or God-sanctioned genocide: within the pages of the bible you can find all of these and more.

To make matters worse, these disturbing images are sometimes assumed to be read as instructions for what people claim God endorses and finds acceptable as well as who he rejects.

People will say it to each other all the time: โ€œI don’t like what it says either but it’s in God’s word so…โ€ And then they try to defend what they know deep in their hearts is exclusive, prejudiced, unjust, violent, or downright offensive and inhumane.

If you find yourself feeling gross about some of the realities of what is presented in the bible maybe you need to lean in to that and put truth and love before evangelical and fundamentalist teachings of inerrancy.

If you find yourself using scripture to justify homophobia, keeping women out of pulpits or the highest offices of leadership in your church, you are using the bible wrong.

Maybe the bible also contains the opinions and the fingerprints of man (from translations right down to the picking of which books were included in the canon) and not just the fingerprints of the divine.

Maybe the book contains an evolving portrait of people painting an idea of what they think God is like. And that’s why when scripture completely changes its tune on a particular thought or view of God or any set of facts, we don’t need to waste our time defending the obvious errors.

To quote from Rachel Held Evans:

I grew up an evangelical Christian with a pretty solid understanding of the content of Scripture and could find my way around the Bible very easily. Iโ€™m grateful for the gift of Bible knowledge that evangelicalism gave me, but I also had a posture towards the Bible that it had to be defended at all costs, that it was constantly under assault. I had an attitude that I had to defend the Bible as historically and scientifically accurate, as inerrant and infallible, and internally consistent. I was very busy, especially in my youth, defending a Bible that didnโ€™t existโ€”because the Bible is not always consistent, and isnโ€™t always easy to understand, and itโ€™s not primarily science and history. Thereโ€™s quite a few other genres represented in the Bible that donโ€™t easily turn into an ownerโ€™s manual or an answer book or a position paper.

The Bible just didnโ€™t seem to want to behave the way I was told it was meant to behaveโ€”as a scientifically-provable, historically-accurate account of Godโ€™s actions in the world and a cohesive, inerrant rulebook for how to think and live as a Christian. I began to wrestle with the Bible, and that led me to scholars and postures that helped me understand the Bible better. For instance, engaging Jewish interpretations of Scripture really changed how I approach the Bible; engaging womanist interpretations of Scripture; engaging it from different peopleโ€™s perspectives kind of brought it back to life for me slowly but surely over time

Just thinking about the way Jewish interpreters approach the text has been really delightful for me. Iโ€™ve begun studying midrash and reading some Jewish commentaries, and thereโ€™s just so much more room to play, imagine, debate, guess and surmise. When you grow up learning that the Bible means one thing and every story has one meaning, and the goal is to find that meaning and then argue for it, to be immersed in this whole different way of engaging the Bibleโ€”where youโ€™re encouraged to ask questions, to challenge and to read between the linesโ€”has been surprisingly refreshing to me.

Itโ€™s helping me engage the Bible almost how I engaged it when I was a childโ€”with my imagination connected and my questions engaged. It frees you up from the fear of โ€œI have to get this right.โ€ I wish more Christians would adopt that posture of the Bible [being] a conversation-starter, not a conversation-ender; that we would go to the text looking for conversation and community and debate, not just ammunition to win theological arguments or political arguments.

Perhaps we were meant to use scripture as a tool combined with wisdom and without throwing out our consciences. Maybe it was meant to help us grapple and explore rather than being a device for pointing out error in others or as a gavel. It should be used to set people free and not to condemn them.
โ€œNow the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.โ€ 2 Corinthians 3:17
If the bible is used to make people feel like hiding who they really are, or in a way that limits them or minimizes them then it is making people captives.
โ€œChrist has truly made us free: Then keep your free condition and let no man put a yoke on you again.โ€ Galatians 5:1
If a tool of construction is used as a weapon it will become a vessel of destruction.

Never use scripture to marginalize any group of people or to blunt your own conscience, and always avoid religious leaders who teach you to do that in the name of โ€œfollowing the bible.โ€

Jesus was all about making a wider table not building a bigger wall. The word โ€œgospelโ€ literally means โ€œgood news.โ€ And the best news he had was not for the rich & powerful but for the brokenhearted and the captives. For those unfairly treated and for those under oppression.

The outcasts and those who were disposable to the religious were the ones he sought out.

He had a pattern of lifting people up and not pushing the marginalized down. Of using those the religious deemed farthest from God to be the mouthpieces of her divine love.

โ€œNow go and do likewise.โ€

Outrage Culture or Tone-Policing?

When someone complains about outrage culture I usually can guess they have the skin color of privilege.

Imagine if it’s exhausting to hear someone crying out in pain “outraged” , how much more exhausting it must be like to be the target of marginalization continually.

Instead of thinking everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and people should stop labeling your view as hateful or being “unkind” in disagreeing with you, ask yourself if it’s possible that your opinion causes others to not be able to live or work in safety. Perhaps the cost of the comfort you wish in having your point of view left alone, is causing someone’s oppression to go unchecked and unchallenged.

Perhaps your privilege causes you to idolize your comfort at the expense of the marginalized groups and it insulates you from being able to see the pain and damage of your positions and view. But how do we change that?

To be an ally to the marginalized does require a lot of work. The first step is to move past the need to feel comfortable or be validated as one of the good ones. We all have cultural prejudices we need deprogramming from. How can we see it more clearly?

Realize it goes beyond you. There is systemic oppression embeded in the structure and fabric of our society and until we are willing to listen to hard truths that highlight how we benefit from that, it’s hard to be part of the solution.

It’s important not to be a perfectionist and get upset if someone calls you out for getting it wrong when you are trying to be helpful. Don’t complain if you get called out for not getting it right.

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Part of the problem is we’ve been so conditioned to see ourselves “above”. As the all knowing teachers and leaders.

We do not even recognize the blindspots that exist due to our white privilege. We sometimes don’t even recognize we’ve been given those positions. It would offend us to know it isn’t only our hard work that gets us places!

I watched as a white man tried to school my Asian boyfriend on what racism was when my bf called him out for his racism with women of color. He could not be corrected and that is a big part of the problem! White man had that “I can do no wrong, let me tell *you* what racism *really* is” attitude.

Nah. Sit down. Listen. If someone is telling you that you are getting it wrong listen and learn from others who have had lived experiences on this topic that your privilege ensures you will never have. It doesn’t mean you don’t have hardships or other discrimination of your own to deal with, but your skin color and race are not one of those reasons.

The voices of those who are marginalized gets to count more than *yours* on this subject. Their experience matters. Don’t let your fragility or ego get in the way of learning.

White people we need to let go of our need to be the teachers here. It’s time to learn and unlearn.

White people we need to let go of our need to look perfect on this one. We are going to get it wrong. Time to get over ourselves!

Say “thanks” that a marginalized group took the time to do the emotional labor of educating you when those conversations never get to be a safe space for the ones who are already oppressed.

We all have a lot of unlearning to do alongside the learning and the listening.

But being comfortable listening to the pain of others without dismissing it as “outrage culture” is critical.

We can’t tell people to just “move on”, from bringing attention to injustice until all are treated with equality.

You can never move forward with justice and love while being dismissive and turning a blind eye to others.

โ€œCan the eye say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’?
…there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have *EQUAL* concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.โ€ 1 Cor.12:21, 25-27.

Or as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it:

“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…
This is the inter-related structure of reality.”

 

 

No Shades of Grey

A middle ground is an exhausting place to stay.
I don’t believe in it anymore.

Oh, I believe in a middle ground between Ketchup and Mayonnaise (I know this is controversial here, I mix those two, but stay with me), when it comes to people and values and politics our middle grounds are nebulous or non existent at best and harmful and oppressive in most cases.

Without healthy boundaries or discernment it’s easier to become naรฏve about harmful people and to become blind to the suffering of others. Tunnel vision is the result.

On an individual level it can keep us stuck in unhealthy relationships and on a societal level it can make us complicit in keeping the marginalized out.

How do you feel about saying to someone “you are wrong and your views are very harmful”?

If we come from a fundamentalist background it is easy to become paranoid about black and white thinking. Especially if we are afraid of being wrong, it’s easier to downplay the validity of having any strong opinion.

If we were damaged by opinionated people twisting fine things into “evil” or if we saw shunning or demonizing of anyone who disagrees it creates fear in us of replicating those systems.

It’s tempting to want to present ourselves as open-minded by looking for a “peaceful middle ground”.

But if our fear of black and white takes away our lines for just and unjust actions and behaviors, we become a tool for causing harm by our apathy and fear of conflict.

“I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarmโ€”neither hot nor coldโ€”I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:15-16

We often want to see everyone in shades of grey, and it could lead us to not recognizing when someone is being a “snake” or “viper”. Labels Jesus did not hesitate to use.

If our thoughts on people attacking others focuses on niceness in social media posts rather than actual oppression in real life we might have lost our focus on what true attacks are.

Looking for a middle ground also causes us to lose discernment over power dynamics and true oppression by creating false equivalencies. For example I’ve heard of people talking about how the opposite of misogynistic men forbidding women to lead or preach in a church is radical man-hating feminism.

I haven’t met the radical feminist who hates men yet. I was warned about her in evangelical culture (to keep me fearful and skeptical about feminism) but I’m learning that there are people who hold positions of power in society and those who are marginalized.

The more privilege we have the harder it is to see these dynamics and the easier it gets to deny that oppression. Holding onto and ignoring our privilege makes it easier to overlook. Imagining that oppression always goes both ways erases the oppressor and those “two sides” keeps us off the side of examining our privilege by putting us in a neutral category where we don’t need to see how we benefit from a structure that oppresses others.

I’ve never seen a church yet that forbids male leadership or male preachers. Why haven’t these radical man-hating feminists done this yet if misogynistic men have? Is she possibly a non existent character invented to keep oppression from being called out or dismantled?

I don’t believe in reverse racism either. These are concepts privileged people make up to ignore the systemic nature of power structures that deny equality and oppress people.

Having to fend for and justify abusive or oppressive behavior because we like someone or are afraid to have to confront or deal with it ends up draining our energy. Having our heads in the sand will suffocate our souls.

Living in cognitive dissonance is tiring. It puts us in the company of shady people. The “wolf in sheep’s clothing” is a manipulator who looks for empathetic people to exploit that grey (“I wanna be nice” as a top value/ let me avoid taking a stance to be included everywhere/ the need to not “sound mean”) thinking.

Having balance is important until you are searching for middle ground when kids are being locked in cages. A political middle ground is not a thing. Different sides hold completely different values.

Before I had shed a lot of my toxic values I still tried to hold space for “the middle” because I was focused on intention rather than impact. I knew that I meant well when I held some harmful beliefs and part of me was not fully convinced of their harm yet.

Mental gymnastics cause a special kind of burn out for empathetic people.

“Everyone is a work in progress” can be used to minimize homophobia or racism or domestic violence. Even spiritual abuse. Intentions are not more important than impact.

We need to keep in mind that not everyone is willing to grow and those compromises are slanted in favor of oppression.

As a great quote I heard says:

“Meet me in the middle”, says the unjust man.
You take a step toward him.
He takes a step back.

“Meet me in the middle”, says the unjust man.
– A.R. Moxon

Full Mutuality Requires Full Intersectionality

Some people fighting against domestic abuse or patriarchal norms have asked me to tone down the LGBTQ posts.

Other people who care deeply about spiritual abuse want me to stop talking about white privilege.

But here’s the thing about it: you don’t uplift any group by deliberately ignoring other oppressed groups.

The excuse often gets used that “well we all have a different focus or area to fight for the marginalized”.

While it’s one thing to focus attention on one area these arguments are used most often because people are trying to appease those who are being homophobic or racist or sexist or ableist. They are not ready to confront another area of oppression so they want to still appeal to those oppressing other groups while getting support for their own oppressed group.

You can never move forward with justice and love while being dismissive and turning a blind eye to others. It can’t be only *your* oppressed or marginalized group that deserves to not be overlooked and ignored.

This is a red flag for being about platform rather than true seekers of justice. ๐Ÿšฉ

I’m going to put my favorite MLK quote up top because it is goes to the heart and soul of what this page is about.

And I will throw in a well known bible passage: โ€œCan the eye say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’?
…there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have *EQUAL* concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.โ€ 1 Cor.12:21, 25-27.

No one marginalized group is a barter chip to be negotiated for another group. We all rise or fall together.

This blog. is fully intersectional.

โ€œIn short,ย intersectionality is a framework that must be applied to all social justice work, a frame that recognizes the multiple aspects of identity that enrich our lives and experiences and that compound and complicate oppressions and marginalizations.โ€

byย ย andย 

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I encourage you to check out this article on why feminism needs to be intersectional here. And then ask yourself how this might apply in other areas that one might fight for the marginalized.

โ€œMy feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.โ€ – Flavia Dzodan.

We could fight for the marginalized in one area while simultaneously using our privilege in another area to cause harm. Caring about justice needs a broader view, and means we keep an eye out for areas where our own privilege gives us blind spots!

That means if you are straight, white, male, able-bodied or cis-gendered (or in only one of those categories) there will be stuff posted here that *will* make you uncomfortable because it is designed to challenge our privilege.

White Comfort Warps Virtues

In the last two weeks my newsfeed has been flooded by white excitement. Between Botham Jeans brother forgiving Amber, the white cop who shot this black man for no reason, in his own home, to a video of Ellen talking about why she was kind to George W. Bush, I have no shortage of examples of “look at how kind and nice this person is”.

Their examples of kindness and forgiveness have gone viral but something is incredibly off though. Virtues are being used as wallpapering over injustice and it’s making my stomach queezy.

Learning about spiritual abuse taught me a lot about the misusage of words and concepts, and how good things can get distorted and weaponized.

I learned that if a church or ministry had the word “GRACE” in the title, it was usually on the more legalistic least grace-filled end of the spectrum. Pretty deceptive, but using that word had a deflective purpose.

Likewise in my evangelical upbringing “complementarian doctrine” was a code for patriarchal teachings. But the word they chose for that doctrine was misleading as it was the least complementary because it is not about fitting together as men and women in a way that complements each other with your unique personalities but about fitting into rigid pre-defined gender roles.

When it comes to words like “kindness”, “forgiveness” and being “nice”, it’s been a similar situation with the white elation. These have become code words used in very specific ways to avoid making white people feel uncomfortable for discriminatory and vile behavior. These words are desecrated and used to escape accountability and used in a way that completely misrepresents their meanings.

The conversation sounds something like: “nobody knows how to talk kindly to each other anymore. We have lost our ability for civil conversation.” And by civil they don’t mean taking kids at the border out of cages! They mean getting too loud or vocal or upset about it.

Mostly the civility or kindness they are referring to is used to tell black people to not get angry and to let go of injustices against them.

Like the fact that the likelihood of black men ending up in prison in the USA is 1 in 3. ONE in THREE. Let that sink in (with privately owned prison systems for profit)!

We don’t want their kneeling protests cause it’s “disrespectful”. We want their shows of forgiveness for white people (Amber) in a court room who have shot their family (Botham Jean) dead.

White oppressors being shown “kindness” and black people forgiving the ones murdering their family, these are the stories white people like to highlight and make go viral. There is a message there in between the lines, and it is not so subtle, although it requires we use discernment and ask the hard questions.

Is it really “kindness” and “niceness” to have Ellen smiling at an oppressor and pretending they are not a war criminal who has under false pretense slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people? To whom is this kind? It certainly isn’t kind to every dead baby, mom, dad and child who is Iraqi and not white who is being ignored.

This is not nice or kind to ignore these realities and stick to shallow pleasantries. If we so easily overlook this, there is nothing civil or kind about our deliberate glossing over of those lives lost for no good reason!

And while the legislation George W Bush passed to restrict gay marriage and the rights this strips away from LGBTQ people, may not affect a wealthy person like Ellen, dehumanizing others the way George Bush did, has a lot of consequence on people who are not as wealthy as Ellen and can’t so easily insulate themselves from situations where they could be fired just for being gay. (This is what privilege looks like.)

Our silence (or warm smiles) around those who dehumanize others is never to be conflated as kindness. It’s cowardice.

Being kind requires speaking the truth in love.

Civil rights were not granted out of white people appreciating the kindness of quiet black people.

Slavery did not end because of black people were having “civil discourse” with white oppressors.

LGBTQ rights were not granted because of niceness.

Where there is oppression, tables need flipping. As Jesus did not hesitate to do, driving out oppressors with the whips. He wasn’t so nice.

And that makes white people very uncomfortable.

Middle eastern Jesus doesn’t uphold the values of white comfort or any privileged groups. He looks very different from the white North American Jesus we hold dearly to who ignores the disregarding of the humanity of others while smiling in a purple sash.

Owning Your Story

As women we were raised on stories of a โ€œPrince Charmingโ€ coming to our rescue. The old Disney movies created and reinforced this narrative. Iโ€™m thankful many of the new movies are switching that up and giving women a bit more agency than the one-dimensional characters of old. Growing up, these were our bedtime stories and what we were dreaming about at night.

This story is reinforced in our own faith, the story of God swooping in and taking care of everything for us. We are the passengers and not the drivers. โ€œJesus take the wheelโ€. We are unable to learn how to take ownership of the pieces of our own lives.

Our agency was rarely taught in our churches. Women โ€œseeking and knockingโ€ is inconvenient to a patriarchal culture trying to train us, like good soldiers, to obey authoritarian structures and to fall in line at the bottom of the chain of command. Thinking for yourself becomes a hindrance to whatever the mission or vision being passed down.

Even taking credit for studying, learning or passing a test is taught as pride that โ€œrobs the glory from Godโ€. We were taught to say โ€œit’s *ALL* Jesusโ€. And as our mouths speak these things we don’t realize how we are creating a God who wants us to distance ourselves from our own personhood.

How many Evangelical stories have you heard of God โ€œcoming to the rescueโ€?

While God taking control is a comfort when we are dealing with the loss of a loved one, or a medical situation doctors have found no solution to, it is more damaging outside the realm of where we have a responsibility to act.

God โ€œcoming throughโ€ often becomes a way to abdicate our own responsibility. Asking God for good health does not mean we can treat our bodies however we like and avoid medical interventions. God has given us agency and expects us to use it. The same applies with our friendships, our families, our finances, our relationships, our romantic lives.

Why do we expect God to just drop the perfect spouse in our laps if we wonโ€™t even go meet people? Do we really think God will simply giftwrap โ€œPrince Charmingsโ€ and leave them in the mail? Because the stories we hear in our churches continue to drive this narrative home. Not just in our romantic lives, but seemingly everywhere you turn.

โ€œTestimonies to God’s faithfulnessโ€ convince us to step aside, to โ€œlet go and let God.โ€

I remember being taught in churches that the problem we have with praying and leaving things with God is that we keep trying to take it back.

This encourages a real passivity in regards to our faith which is counter to an important statement by Jesus:
โ€œAsk, seek and knockโ€.

Jesus used it to express the importance of using our agency. It’s not just about asking. Itโ€™s a reminder to take hold of and use our agency.

Being single is also perfectly fine, if that is what we want. This does lead to another very important point about our agency and responsibility of our own lives.

Owning responsibility for our lives means taking the time to figure out what we want and act accordingly instead of letting things just happen to us (whether we like it or not) and saying things like, โ€œIt’s Godโ€™s timing,โ€ or โ€œI am giving God the pen.โ€

In my story, I prayed and waited over and over for God to rescue my marriage and transform my now ex-husband. But after 20 years of marriage gave up on changing and walked away. After so much prayer, Christian counseling ๐Ÿคข and โ€œtrusting Godโ€…

And I canโ€™t even begin to express the damage it did to my kids, who suffered through all of his emotional abuse as well. I sometimes wonder what life mightโ€™ve looked like had I left him sooner, instead of โ€œtrusting the Author.โ€

But now I think, If God is real and is truly a loving and healthy deity, and not an almighty, micromanaging control freak, what She wouldโ€™ve wanted most for my story would be for me to grab hold of that pen.

I wish people better understood how de-emphasizing our agency and ability to write our own stories has severe consequences and repercussions.

Imagine for a moment if the story God is writing is through you, and that you are an active participant rather than the spectator. What if her spirit indwells you? What if her divinity courses through your veins making your picking up the pen the necessary action to God writing your story?

 

(Stay tuned for part 2 on this series aboutย God wanting us to use our agency. The next one will focus on the belief of Calvinism and how that impacts this idea.)

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