The True Liberal/Conservative Divide

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You heard about Princeton revoking an award to Tim Keller because of his beliefs on women and LGBTQ people in ministry? And perhaps you read Jonathan Merritt’s criticism of Princeton for “marginalizing” Keller, a conservative? And if you did, no doubt you got sucked into debates about whether Princeton did or did not marginalize Keller, and if it’s appropriate to critique a theologian based on his secondary theological beliefs concerning minorities, and whether beliefs concerning minorities are secondary.

I’ll show my hand: I feel like Princeton had a right to revoke the award and choose to celebrate only those theologians who affirm inclusiveness; I think it was sloppy to award Keller and then revoke the award; I do not think Keller is a misogynist and homophobe; and I think Princeton could only be considered intolerant and close-minded if it refused to allow Keller to speak on April 6, which they did not.

Here’s the thing. Christianity has always had problems with celebrated theologians who held questionable, if not outright deplorable, beliefs. Many have pointed out that Abraham Kuyper, the theologian after whom Keller’s retracted award was named, was racist and supported apartheid. If you do any sort of digging into Christianity’s past, you will find theology and theologians shaped by all kinds of pettiness, politics, personal disputes, and prejudices. Christianity does not have a perfect moral track record. Christianity was not always, in all eras, in all issues, united against bigotry, genocide, patriarchy, and oppression.

And I don’t need to tell anybody that Christianity today is not in all issues united against every Christian’s personal or collective idea of injustice.

That’s something Christians need to own, because Christians need to deal with it. They need to deal with in-house immorality and injustice.

Many Christians try to deal with it by committing the no true Scotsman fallacy — well, no true Christian would support x, y, or z. True Christianity stands with a, b, or c. And that’s why there’s thousands of denominations and denominations within denominations and emphases within denominations within denominations. Christians split into their own true or truer communities that affirms the “true Christian social ethic.”

But Christians squarely within orthodox belief do believe questionable and/or deplorable things — including that only men should be leaders within the church and home or LGBTQ people are abominations.

Even more frustrating, said Christians do have historical precedent, tradition, and Scripture supporting their beliefs because, as mentioned above, Christianity was not always, in all eras, in all issues, united against bigotry, genocide, patriarchy, and oppression.

For better or for worse, Christianity has or has had oppressive views about women, LGBTQ people, racial minorities, etc. that technically count as Christian — if we’re defining Christian by what Christians have traditionally believed and taught.

This is not to say those beliefs are true. This is not to say those beliefs are consistent with Christian charity, ethics, or common decency. This is not to say those beliefs are supported by correctly interpreted and applied Scripture. This is simply to say that the Christian church was not, in all eras, in all issues, united against bigotry, genocide, patriarchy, and oppression.

And this is also to simply say, that no matter how wrong-headed or bigoted those beliefs or those people are, they still fall within Christianity, and Christians have to engage with them as Christians. Christians cannot write off other Christians as not Christians. Certainly, Christians can critique other Christians and their beliefs as not being in line with Christian charity, ethics, or Scripture. But they cannot shrink the definition of Christian so small as to exclude the majority of Christians.

As hard as it is to admit, Christians, as Christians, as wonderful, decent people who love the Lord and mean well, can believe horrible things.

Such is humanity. Such is Christianity.

That’s why I support Princeton’s decision not to celebrate Tim Keller. That’s why I also support their decision to still allow him to speak. Christian institutions, churches, and individuals must find ways to critique each other’s beliefs while still acknowledging the Christianity of the other.

***

As evenhanded as this sounds, I’m chafing as I write this.

It’s so clear to me that certain social justice issues are not merely “secondary theological issues” or even “theological issues,” but rather human rights issues. It’s so clear that while privileged people (including myself) are feeling good and open-minded and ecumenical with their discussions about whether a woman should be a minister or whether gay people should marry or whether there’s racial prejudice still around, real people are suffering.

There’s a loud, clamoring part of me that wants to say that nobody who oppresses or limits others can be a true Christian or a decent human being or a good theologian or a man after God’s heart or whatever. And there’s a smaller, more fearful, but calmer part of me that says, “But Bailey, you know that’s not true.”

Because I know these good, true, decent Christians who believe oppressive things.

And I know there’s a difference between good, true, decent (and ignorant) Christians who believe oppressive things because they think the Bible says so, and false, ugly “Christians” who believe oppressive things because they hate women, gays, and minorities.

I think Christians need to start discerning when a Christian is operating out of hatred and when a Christian is operating out of a wrongheaded love for God, especially via a love and obedience to a literal interpretation of the Bible.

For sure, there are those who trash talk women as deceivers, weak, gullible, and unfit for leadership. For very sure, there are those who despise the LGBTQ community’s existence. And certainly, there are those who seek the destruction of minorities and the “other.” Those people, motivated as they are by hatred, deserve neither applause nor a platform.

But there are others who believe their oppression comes from love — love of others, love of God, love of the Bible. The logic goes like this: God is a loving God, and his commands are loving. No matter how unloving his commands seem, they are loving. In order to love others, we must introduce them to this loving God and his loving commands. That is the most loving thing to do.

And that’s where you get Christians who genuinely believe gay conversion therapy, rigid gender roles, slavery, or any other controversial measure is not only true but inherently loving — God’s best for others.

Why don’t more Christians question these “loving” beliefs, particularly when so many of those affected by those “loving beliefs” decry them as unloving? Fundamentalism is a closed system. You cannot question certain beliefs because those beliefs have been hammered home as orthodox. In this view, theology is systematic — one premise builds upon the next. If you question those “secondary theological issues,” Christianity collapses.

Confronting a Christian on his insensitive beliefs is literally asking him to reconsider his entire systematic theology — at least, that is what it feels like to him.

This complicates matters, when two different Christian sides see God clearly saying, “This is a human rights issue” or “This is a secondary theological issue attached to the sum of the Christian faith,” which amounts to one side saying, “You’re clearly a bigot” and the other, “You’re clearly a heretic.”

Neither are accurate labels. The truth is, both sides believe they are following the heart of God, Biblical mandates, and Christian ethics. Both think they are right because of either their moral or their theological superiority.

And both sides are going to get nowhere in their efforts to unite Christianity against evil until they recognize that what divides them is neither hatred and bigotry nor rebellion and heresy, but rather the ignorance, blindness, misunderstanding, and sin that has always plagued true Christianity.

PC: Religion News

The Need for Prominent Women

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In a rather hostile, one-sided “conversation” about feminism and female priests, a priest noted that confession is one reason why female priests would be unhelpful: men would be more comfortable confessing sexual sin to a male priest. I can grant that, though I have been the unlikely confessor for young men’s sexual sin in the past.

But if that’s true, what about the opposite — what about the women and their discomfort with confessing their sexual sin to a male priest? Would that not be an argument in favor of the need for female priests?

What about women wanting female pastoral care, period? Would that not require a female pastoral staff?

As an academic and wannabe theologian, I got used to male mentors. All the pastors were men. All the Bible students were men. All the religion professors were men. Many of my theologically-inclined friends were men.

It was my male pastor who answered all my theological inquiries as a kid. It was a male professor who stopped me outside of Delp Hall to ask about my feelings, because I had been crying during his class the night before (and not, he had intuited, about the Summa Theologica). It was a male professor who oversaw my thesis on gender and spirituality. It was a male professor who heard all the angst about my spiritual life. It was a male counselor who walked me through relationship quagmires.

And yes, I even had dispassionate and theological conversations about sex with men. Was it uncomfortable? Slightly, in the sense that I was wondering whether it was uncomfortable for the man and whether it should be uncomfortable for either of us. But there was nobody else to talk to.

Ministry and academia are dominated by men, and I adjusted to that. I don’t regret any of those friendships or mentorships. I don’t resent my mentors for being men.

At the same time, I did want female mentors. Women have different perspectives than men. Women can talk firsthand about being a wife or a girlfriend or a female, about motherhood, about feminine spirituality (or even if there is such a thing). There are problems and questions I had that I wanted to address to a woman as equally thoughtful, intelligent, and educated as the male professors, pastors, and counselors in my life.

And there were certainly such women at my college (and maybe at my church). They just weren’t obvious fixtures in the community. There were the deans of women, there were pastor’s wives, yes. But those were titles with which I wasn’t familiar. They didn’t connote a pastoral or professorial nature. So I never went to them.

It wasn’t until the end of my junior year when I finally stumbled across these female mentors and struck up equally satisfying friendships with them. Those friendships with intelligent, thoughtful, caring people — both men and women — are what I miss most about college.

All of this leads me to say: We need prominent women in every community that cares for souls — particularly women’s souls. 

I developed relationships with the people who taught and guided me — pastors, professors, and counselors — that is, those readily available. They were advertised as counselors. They stood in front of the class every other day. They addressed the congregation each Sunday. They were visible. Their beliefs and concern for their students or congregants was visible. And that made them prime candidates for mentoring.

In the churches I attended, that was not so. Women were not allowed to lead or teach in any way, shape, or form, so there were no prominent women. You didn’t know if a woman held a theological or counseling degree, and even if she did, whether she wanted to be a mentor or would be a good mentor. You never heard her teach, never could evaluate from afar whether she would be a safe person with whom you could confide.

That, to me, is a travesty. Even the early church had female deaconesses for the care of women before baptism. There’s historical precedent for an organized, prominent group of women for the spiritual life of other women.

It’s all very well and good to talk about the Titus 2 model of mentoring, but the reality is that many women don’t know who those “older women” could even be — because they’re not prominent in the church’s pastoral life. In many churches, there is no opportunity to walk up to a woman after her sermon and kickstart a relationship with a question about her main point — because women aren’t even allowed to read through the church announcements.

Like it or not, the people who look “prominent” in a church or a community are those up front — those you see and those you hear on a regular basis. If communities are serious about providing female mentors for women, they need more prominent women in their community.

A Lighter Post on Education

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I really do love teaching, and to prove it, here’s an excerpt from the worst day of school so far. I now find it one the best, most hilarious memories of first-year teaching!

Art is an emotional subject, particularly in kindergarten.

Observe:

Child 1: “Teacher, I can’t draw a fish.”

Me: “That’s okay, honey. I don’t consider myself a good artist either. What’s important is that you just try your hardest.”

Child 1: “But I can’t.”

Me: “If I draw a fish, will you draw a fish?”

Child 1 nods. I draw fish. I have no idea if she ever draws a fish, because…..

Child 2: “Teacher! I don’t know how to draw a shark!”

Me: “If I draw a shark, will you draw a shark?”

Child 2 nods. I draw shark. I have no idea if he ever drew a shark because Child 3 approaches me in tears.

Child 3: “Teacher, I can’t draw a [unintelligible].”

Me: “What do you mean? That’s a great fish!”

Child 3: “It’s a shark.”

Me: “Yeah! It’s a great shark!”

Child 2 (interrupting): “Look, teacher! I drew a person getting eaten by your shark!”

Child 4 begins crying for no apparent reason.

Child 3 (sobbing): “Teacher, I can’t draw a shark!”

Me: “Honey, why don’t you like your shark? It really does look like a shark. You should be proud!”

Child 3: “I can’t draw the tail!”

Child 5: “I DON’T WANT TO DRAW!” *rips up paper*

Me: “Good thing I have another paper!”

Child 5: “I WON’T DO IT.”

Me: “Why don’t you want to draw?”

Child 5: “I DON’T LIKE SEA ANIMALS.”

Me: “Really? What do you like?”

Child 5: “I like my Playstation.”

Me: “Well, do you have a game with sea creatures in it?”

Child 5: “Yeah. Sharks and fishes.”

Me: “Well, then draw a picture of that.”

Child 5: “Nooo, teacher, I don’t want to draw!”

Me: “Do you want to write a sentence about it instead?”

Child 5: “Yeah!”

Child 3: “Teacher, I can’t draw a shark!”

Child 2: “Teacher, look at the shark! He’s eating a person!”

Child 3 (still sobbing): “Teacher, p-p-p-please draw me a fish.”

Child 5: “I did it, teacher! What does it say?”

Me: “Uhhh….what does it say to you?”

Child 5: “‘The shark ate Mario.'”

Child 6: “Teacher, Child 4 is crying!!!!”

Today’s Classroom Model: A Rant

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Can I rant a bit about today’s typical educational model? Please? Thank you.

I HATE IT.

I am talking about the typical set-up with one teacher and 18-30 children for eight hours a day, five days a week. I even have an aide, and it doesn’t help.

Here’s a glimpse into my day:

“This story is called Is This Panama? It’s the story about a bird — A, please sit belly or bottom. It’s the story — what is that in your mouth?”

“It’s gum, teacher!”

“No, it’s not gum, teacher, he’s lying.”

“Spit it out and throw it away, please. All right, now I need everyone paying attention. Look at how nicely Y is sitting. Can you all sit like Y? Oh, I love how M is sitting now. We’re just waiting on E. E. E. E. E! Hello-o. Please stop talking and look up here. So, this is the story about a bird named Sammy — “

“STOP TOUCHING MY HAIR.”

“I’m not touching your hair.”

“F, please stop touching S’s hair.”

“I wasn’t touching her hair.”

“YES YOU WERE YOU LIAR.”

“S, kind words. F, please sit down. Y, please stop touching my knees, for the third time. SO THIS STORY IS ABOUT A BIRD NAMED SAMMY AND HOW HE MIGRATES TO PANAMA. Can you say Panama?”

“Panama!”

“A, what is in your mouth?

Welcome to one of the better-behaved classes academically outperforming the other K5 students.

You might wonder, why so stringent? Why can’t he lay on his back? Why can’t he mess around with the string on the carpet? Why can’t they call out comments and questions as the story progresses rather than requiring them to raise their hand?

Because we are always one wiggle away from all hell breaking loose.

With a handful of kids, it doesn’t really matter if they lay on their back or mess around with something or call out a response. With eighteen kids, it is an unstoppable tide.

It kills me, it really does, to focus so much of my energy on crowd control. This is not the education I want for them. I want an individualized education that works with their quirks and preferences. It’s exhausting and disheartening trying to squeeze little individuals into a predetermined way of learning just to keep the class together enough just so at least some kids will catch on.

I mean, never learned best sitting criss-cross applesauce on the floor or sitting upright in a chair. I did history draped across the couch, with little naps here and there. I did math sprawled across my bed, with extra time to doodle scenes from the novel I was working on. And I was done with school for the day in two to three hours. To this day, I never work at a desk.

I can’t imagine spending over eight hours a day in school and on the bus, only to have homework waiting when I get back. And I’m an adult. This is what we require of kids as young as four-years-old.

To be clear, I am not opposed to children going to school. I am opposed to children going to a school with an educational model that fundamentally undermines who they are as kids and as individuals.

***

The problem is two-fold: there are too many kids, and there are kids who don’t work well in classes.

Of course, some kids do work well in classes. The majority of mine are whip-smart. They can focus fairly well, they can work independently, they can read, they catch on quickly, and they would do just fine if the five kids who consistently cause trouble were absent from the class. I can pull out my fun games without worrying that a fight will break out; I can pull out the multisensory activities without worrying about spending fifteen minutes cleaning up; I can read and read and read books to them and even ask a comprehension question or two without the entire class melting down.

Oh, what a glorious day it is when certain children are absent and the class size is down to a manageable fifteen and we all have fun and I go home feeling like maybe what I do is worth it!

Don’t get me wrong — I love each of my children dearly. But there’s only one teacher and eighteen of them, and it’s impossible to give them all the attention they need.

Early into teaching, a parent mentioned to me that I spent more time with her child as the teacher than she did as a parent.

That terrifies me, because filling in as a parent for eighteen young students means everybody loses.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to put one child’s needs on the backburner in order to put out larger fires. Your head hurts, babe? One second — A just stabbed S with a pencil. Your dad’s in jail? Hang on, love to talk, but J is having a meltdown over here. You think I’m the best teacher ever? You’re too kind, sorry for interrupting, but I promised M I’d get her ointment for her sore finger and this is the fifth time she’s bugged me about it.

I feel the limits of my own inadequacy every day. I see the results of my inadequacy every day. Would S still have these behavioral issues if I had the time to talk with him? Would A feel more loved if I had time to kneel down, look in her eyes, and express genuine sorrow that she bumped her knee? Am I perpetuating a cycle of poverty and crime because I don’t have the time to meet each child’s needs?

That’s not as far-fetched as it seems. One of my students, suspended multiple times, has had siblings kicked out of school and a parent in jail. This student exhibits similar deviant behavior — despite being the smartest kid in class. I can’t help but feel that the time I have with this student might make a huge difference as to whether they end up kicked out of school, in jail, or graduating college with honors.

Ironically, it’s the well-behaved kids who suffer too. I hardly know my quiet, obedient students, because they’re not screaming at me, starting conversations about sex over lunch, or refusing to fill out their worksheet. They literally, physically cling to me at recess or beg me to read them stories to compensate — and it’s only a matter of time before somebody busts their lip or busts somebody else’s and oops, sorry, we’ll have to see whether he likes green eggs and ham another day.

Ignoring kids was not what I signed up for as a teacher, but I have to do it every day just to cover all the material and keep the class unit functional.

Suggested solutions: Smaller class sizes. No more than fifteen, please. The smaller, the better. Alternatively, add more teachers and teacher’s aides. One teacher for every five or so kids. Require parental volunteering. Something. If schools are going to be parenting the kids more than the parents, we need to be able to parent more effectively. And maybe make it a bit easier for people to get educated and certified as teachers?

***

The other problem is, of course, that some kids don’t work well in groups of any size. I can rattle off to you all the kids in my class who would need or strongly benefit from one-on-one attention. They mostly suffer from being kids or needing lots of guidance because of their behavior issues.

I like to daydream about how I would approach a one-on-one education for some of my kids. Lots of STEM for one boy who literally never pays attention but loves dinosaurs, planes, and building things. Lots of sensory bins and active learning games for one girl who cannot sit still but loves to sing, dance, and handle animals. This girl is a spazz ordinarily, but put her with an animal, and she is the calmest, most tender, thoughtful child ever. I bet she’d love to do math with a rat in her pocket or read to a dog at the library.

Can’t we create a space for these kids? A tailored public education that gives two or three hours of individualized hands-on instruction (if even that much) and then lets them play and create for the rest of the day?

I know how idealistic all this seems, but it’s so needed. My kids and I myself would be eternally grateful for any improvements in our educational system that acknowledge the inadequacy of one teacher among 18-30 students and the uniqueness of each child whose needs buck the current system.

Rant over.

Hijacking Narratives

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I finally figured out what I dislike most about fundamentalism, what I find most toxic: it cannot and will not accept other people’s experiences, claims, intentions, motives, explanations, or observations as real.

I found this out, ironically, through observing liberal arguments on Facebook. It’s standard fare. Some poor unsuspecting soul will say something like, “I want safe bathrooms for everybody. I am concerned for trans people. I am concerned for sexual assault victims who might feel unsafe with male anatomy in their bathroom too. Can we come up with a bathroom solution that protects all people?”

The response is — I guarantee it — something like this: “YOU HORRIBLE TRANSPHOBIC HATEFUL PERSON. How dare you. HOW DARE YOU. YOU HATE TRANS PEOPLE. YOU THINK THEY’RE PREDATORS. I am SICKENED by you.”

The unsuspecting soul grovels before them: “I am so sorry I offended you. I do care about trans people. I never said they were predators.”

“YES YOU DID, YOU DISGUSTING EXCUSE FOR A HUMAN BEING. You hate trans people. You spew hate.”

“But I just said I don’t hate trans people.”

“YES YOU DO!”

Et cetera. Another big step forward for LGBT+ rights.

***

I walked away from viewing this cage fight considerably shaken. It reminded me exactly of the fundamentalist mindset: the inability to allow someone who disagrees with you to mean what they say.

Since we’re on the topic, that’s why any sort of dialogue between the LGBT+ community and the conservative Christian community crashed and burned a long time ago. Gay people cannot actually mean that their love is real and healthy; their children cannot actually mean that they grew up just fine with two dads or two moms; their sexual orientation cannot actually be as unchangeable as they claim, because the Bible says homosexuality is an abomination and the heart is deceitful above all things and Rosaria Butterfield changed her sexual orientation, so there you have it.

This line of thinking may or may not be expressed in the manner seen above (i.e., you disgusting excuse for a human being), but it’s equally damaging.

This is not a strictly “conservative problem” or “liberal problem” or “internet problem” or “LGBT+ issues” problem.

It is an all-of-us problem.

***

A friend of mine confronted some friends, once. This friend expressed concern, hurt, and discomfort at the language they used and the jokes they told. At first, the friends were angry and offended; they thought my friend expressed herself poorly; they thought she was just stirring up the pot and throwing around devastating words.

Then — as my friend put it — “they realized the problem was different: I had meant exactly what I said.”

I meant exactly what I said. 

That. That is the realization many of us need to come to in our conversations with those who disagree with us.

It’s so easy, isn’t it, to dismiss somebody’s perspective and experience because of their word choice or their emotional state.

You’re overreacting. You’re on your period, aren’t you? You just want attention. You’re a white, cisgender male. You always were dramatic.

That’s why many Christians cannot accept as factual the feelings and experiences of a black person or a feminist or a Christian who walked away from their faith. And many secular people cannot accept as factual the feelings and experiences of white people or complementarians or religious people.

Generally, we don’t want to hear anything that contradicts our narrative of the world, that disrupts our “us vs. them” ideologies, that challenges our beliefs that we want to believe are universal.

***

I use the word “narrative” because I think it’s more important to know why we believe the things we believe than to know what we believe. Why we believe can divide us just as much as what we believe, and what drives us to believe can unite us with others different from us. Even if we don’t share the conclusion, we share the process, we share the motives, we share the goals.

I think the key to understanding people, to loving them, to making peace between them, is understanding their narratives — and by “understanding,” I mean letting them mean what they say they mean, even if it contradicts your worldview.

As a fundamentalist Christian, I thought I knew everybody’s narratives. There were only three: those who knew God, those who didn’t, and those who “tasted the heavenly gift” and walked away.

If you knew God, it was because he predestined you, because the Holy Spirit enlightened you, because all along, he was what you were searching for.

If you didn’t know God, you were miserably unhappy and sinful, lost, desperate for escape, incapable of morality or self-control or love. There was a God-sized hole in your heart that nothing could fill.

If you walked away, it was because you hardened your heart; you were bitter and angry against God and others; you threw out the baby with the bathwater; you were deceived; you let your hurt blind you to the truth.

Those narratives dominate and subsume all alternative narratives.

Because of the narrative of those who know God, it’s difficult to be a Christian with doubt, a Christian with the testimony that God doesn’t show up when you need him and that your spiritual life is a source of struggle, not comfort.

Because of the narrative of those who don’t know God, it’s difficult to believe unbelievers who claim to be happy or good without God. “Do you feel like you’re missing anything by not believing in God?” I asked my nonreligious friend. “No,” she said. “Are you sure?” I asked. “Yes,” she said. (I didn’t know what to make of that.)

Because of the narrative of those who walk away from God or Christianity, it’s difficult to take them seriously; it’s difficult to see how droves of Christians are abandoning ship for legitimate reasons; it’s difficult to understand how they could have been unhappy within Christianity and how they could be happier elsewhere.

So we resort to shutdown tactics: “You’re deceived. You’re not seeing the full picture. You’re overreacting. You’re just bitter. You’ll come back to the truth eventually.”

And if your worldview requires that your worldview always be right, you have to resort to shutdown tactics. You have to reimagine somebody else’s narrative. You must, or your whole worldview will crumble around your feet.

***

I did a lot of explaining away as a fundamentalist Christian. Lots of it.

I call that explaining away “hijacking narratives.”

When atheists help the local poor, Christians report how amazing it is that God can work through unbelievers. Hijacked narrative.

When a Christian tries to ask an honest, well-meaning question about homosexuality, secular people report how amazing it is that Christians can be so bigoted and heartless. Hijacked narrative.

When you claim that egalitarianism is a more faithful, Biblical reading than complementarianism, people jump all over you for disrespecting the inerrancy of Scripture. Hijacked narrative.

When you claim to be abused, people roll their eyes at the self-centered victimization going on in today’s youth. Hijacked narrative. 

We’re not going to get anywhere with anybody if we cannot allow people to mean what they say.

***

Of course, this is not a simple path to truth.

People say things all the time that they don’t mean. Not everybody is self-aware. People can be deceived, duped, swayed, and manipulated into believing things that harm themselves and others. And even when people mean something, meaning something doesn’t make it true.

I say this as someone who thought for my whole life the truth was one thing and then realized I was lying to myself. I am hyper-aware of my own ability to deceive myself, my frequent inability to be honest with myself — this, as a someone who prides herself on self-awareness, empathy, and sensitivity.

I hijacked my own narrative. That’s the worst part of fundamentalism, for me — it trains you to doubt your own observations, thoughts, and feelings on the empirical fact that we could all be wrong. And when you’ve hijacked your own narrative to keep it in line with the “truth,” it’s incredibly difficult not to hijack the narrative of somebody who grew up with different experiences or observations. It’s hard not to jump to conclusions or have concerns or questions.

This is why I beg for grace, understanding, and patience for everybody — including fundamentalist, religious, cisgender, straight, white, middle-class people, including secular, atheist, transgender, gay, colored, poor people. I beg everyone to listen. I beg everyone to allow people to mean what they say they mean. I beg everyone to meet people where they are — even if their idea of “love” includes elements of bigotry, even if their idea of “truth” includes elements of narrowmindedness, even if their sincere meaning seems out of touch with reality.

Everybody, on all sides: Give people the dignity to know their own thoughts and motives best, even if there’s evidence they don’t.

No more hijacking narratives.

Black Feminist Inspiration for #BlackHistoryMonth

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My friend Stephanie was born and raised in South Africa by her American missionary parents. She works for iThemba Projects and writes about race, missions, and social justice at her blog Bridging Hope. We met at a summer camp several years ago — co-counselors for a cabin-full of girls. We went separate paths globally, but we keep reconnecting as our spiritual and social justice journeys cross paths. Here’s Steph. 

Since it’s Black History Month, I’ve been learning a lot about black women in American history and the contributions they’ve made to the feminist movement. I thought I’d share my mini-history lesson (which mostly came from Paula Giddings’ book Where and When I Enter).

Maria Stewart: The first “Jesus feminist” was black

Sarah Bessey’s popular book Jesus Feminist makes the argument that we should primarily be looking at the way Jesus treated women when forming views on the role of women today. Well, flashback to 1832, when twenty-nine year-old Maria Stewart from Connecticut — who was the first American-born woman to give public speeches and leave extant texts of her addresses—stepped into the public sphere to talk about women’s rights and the abolitionist movement. Stewart had experienced a religious conversion; today we’d probably call her an evangelical, or “born again,” person, not just a culturally religious person like so many in that time period.

At the time, there was strong cultural and religious pressure for women to refrain from speaking in public. But that didn’t stop Stewart. “What if I am a woman?” Stewart declared. “Did [God] not raise up Deborah to be a mother, and a judge in Israel? Did not Queen Esther save the lives of the Jews? And Mary Magdalene first to declare the resurrection of Christ from the dead?”

Paula Giddings, in her book Where and When I Enter says, “Stewart was confident enough to challenge the exhortations of Saint Paul, whose words had long been used to justify slavery and sexism.”

Stewart, well, simply went over his head: “Saint Paul declared that it was a shame for a woman to speak in public,” she noted, “yet our great High Priest and Advocate did not condemn the woman for a more notorious offense than this….”

In any case, Paul’s words were of another time, and Stewart was convinced that if he had understood the urgency of these times, his attitude would have been different. “Did Saint Paul but know four songs and deprivations,” she said confidently, “I presume he would make no objection to our pleading in public for our rights.”

Ida B. Wells: Who says you have to choose between kids and career?

While white women (who had the economic privilege of not having to work) have throughout the centuries seen a dichotomy between having children and working, black women (by sheer necessity) have not. They’ve always balanced work and family, and their contributions to the greater society have been massive.

Even highly educated white women have throughout history shown a reluctance to engage in the larger workforce because marriage and family were seen as exclusive (and highly prized) occupations. A study of an Ivy League women’s university in the late 50’s concluded that women were “convinced that the wrongs of society will gradually right themselves with little or no intervention on the part of women college students.” A study in 1956 revealed “that 60 percent of all women college dropouts left school to marry or because they were afraid too much education would be a bar to marriage” (Giddings).

It wasn’t until the “Women’s Lib” movement of the 1970’s that white women “got woke” to the problems embedded in this idea.

But black women?

In the 1890’s, Ida B. Wells-Barnett single-handedly led an anti-lynching crusade, owned her own paper, and began investigative journalism into lynchings, which forced her exile to the North. She had her first child just before the founding meeting of the NACW (National Association of Colored Women).

But 1896 was an election year, and soon after the meeting, Wells-Barnett was asked to campaign through Illinois for the Women’s State Central Committee, a Republican political organization. She accepted the invitation on the condition that arrangements be made for a nurse for her six-month-old son, Charles. The committee agreed to provide someone to take care of him in all the cities where she was scheduled to lecture. “I honestly believe,” Wells-Barnett recalled, “that I am the only woman in the United States who ever traveled through the country with a nursing baby to make political speeches.”

She said a year later, when she was pregnant again, that she was retiring from public life. But this lasted about five months. “A brutal lynching in South Carolina compelled her to lobby the President and Congress in Washington, D.C. Again she took a nursing infant along. This was followed by her work for the Black soldiers in the Spanish-American war, activities in the Afro-American Council, her continued anti-lynching campaign, and the birth of two more children in 1901 and 1904″ (Giddings).

Unlike the white women of the 1950’s who thought social problems would go away on their own, Ida B. Wells did something about social injustice. She loved her kids— but she realized there were other families out there besides just her own, and her contributions were needed to bring justice and safety to them as well.

Speaking the Truth in Love

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I like the concept of speaking the truth in love — theoretically. I like the idea that love requires hard things — theoretically. I like the idea that the truth is part of love — theoretically.

We are not always right, and sometimes we need to be corrected. That’s a fact.

Also a fact: 99-100% of the time when somebody “speaks the truth in love,” it comes across as incredibly untruthful, unloving, and even hateful.

Continuing with facts: I will not listen to anything someone says that begins with, “I know you don’t want to hear this, but…”

It’s an involuntary thing. My hackles rise, my defenses go up, and I prepare myself for hearing something irrelevant and potentially offensive. Because it’s always irrelevant and/or offensive.

And if somebody spouts harsh, hateful things and then concludes with, “Bailey, I’m saying all these things out of love. I care about you” — that will not, that absolutely will not ever feel like love to me.

And it will also never change my mind.

Isn’t it the same for you?

But we’ve all done it, haven’t we? We’ve all said something, or wanted to say something, that we thought somebody else needed to hear, and we wanted to say it because we care about them. Like I said, that’s an actual phenomenon we all face.

I’ve spent lots of time thinking about how it’s possible to to “speak the truth in love,” without actually doing more harm than good.

I think we oftentimes place too much emphasis on the importance of conveying truth when we “speak the truth in love.” “In love” just softens the blow. It’s about tone or attitude. It’s a spoonful of sugar helping the medicine go down.

But what if we flipped it, where we focused on the “in love” part? And what if we understood “in love” not as a tone or an attitude that the critic assumes, but a relational context — a relational context that isn’t established by firstly or primarily “speaking the truth”?

We might assume that speaking the truth is the most loving thing, full stop. The truth will set them free and all that. There are people out there walking around who claim to be loving or tolerant, but the only thing they do is force their opinion on others.

I don’t think speaking the truth is always the most loving thing to do. Truth — hard truth, confrontational truth, you-need-to-think-about-this truth — needs to be given and received within a trusting, understanding relationship.

We all know how annoying it is when a random person comes into our life or onto our blogs or social media platforms and graces us with their (ahem) pearls of wisdom. Like I said, whenever somebody feels compelled to “speak truth” to us, it’s ten to one completely unhelpful and out of touch.

I can say that, because every time was that person “loving” someone else by letting them know the truth, I later found out that was off base and offensive — and I alienated them from me.

This is not the way of love. Or truth. Truth-speaking must done within a relationship. Truth-speaking must be done when you have the permission and the trust of the person to whom you’re speaking truth. Because…..

…..there is more than one way to present the truth. There are times when certain aspects need to be emphasized, and emphasized in a certain way. It all depends on where a person is at. That’s why it’s absolutely, non-negotiably imperative to know where a person is at before just spouting your opinion.

See first point re: having a relationship.

Knowing where someone is at requires understanding them — not being related to them, or being their friend, or reading all their Facebook posts that pop up in your feed. It requires actually knowing their side of the story, knowing their views, knowing where they are and where they want to go and how they do or don’t want to get there.

My friend once told me that she never gives advice that people don’t already believe themselves.

You are going to get nowhere by speaking a truth that a person doesn’t already believe. You are going to lose their trust. You are going to lose your credibility as a person capable of understanding and empathizing.

Don’t do it. Don’t be that person.

You have to give advice and encouragement that takes into account others’ assumptions, beliefs, and goals.

This doesn’t mean you don’t ever say something “they don’t want to hear.” This doesn’t mean you sit around smiling and nodding and approving everything they do. How many times have we believed something but not wanted to follow through?

Living out our beliefs often requires a cheerleader and a kick in the butt.

And that’s how I now see speaking the truth in love — not imposing my beliefs on others in a “loving way,” but loving other people, understanding them, helping them live out their convictions, and being honest with them when they stray away from what they believe.

**Caveat** I am not saying you should never share your beliefs with someone who doesn’t believe in them or express concern over what they believe — as long as you do it in a way that promotes dialogue and understanding.

A healthy, understanding relationship requires honesty and authenticity: “I hear you. I don’t believe that myself, but I hear you. I see it like this….” That is not confrontational. It allows you to share your piece without triggering their defensive mechanisms. It allows you to express concern without offense. It allows you to understand them better and ascertain how to best help.

To be honest, it is a far more winsome defense of your beliefs when you unconditionally love someone and help them where they’re at while still being frank about your own beliefs.

That’ll get me to listen up, every time.

It might even change my mind.

That’s the power of speaking the truth in love.

Forgiveness as Empathy

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I wrote about how I didn’t understand forgiveness. When it comes to things as serious as major betrayal, assault, abuse, and murder, all of the cliches about forgiveness — forgive and forget, forgive but don’t forget, hate the sin but love the sinner — feel naive.

Within the context of a loving relationship, forgiveness makes sense to me. Forgiveness and reconciliation and deep love go hand in hand.

Within the context of abused and abuser — within a context where reconciliation is dangerous or not possible — forgiveness makes no sense.

A friend of mind suggested that a key component to forgiveness is empathy. It’s not reconciliation, or being an active part of your abuser’s healing, and it’s certainly not excusing or rationalizing their behavior. I guess, the way I’m thinking of it, it’s a honest awareness that humans are a mix of good and bad.

But it’s not saying, “Well, I’m a bad person too,” because the abused is not an abuser, and that’s a night and day difference. It’s not being okay with what they did. It’s not necessarily having pitying feelings. It’s not feeling guilty that you ever felt negative feelings toward them.

It’s just seeing the other person as human.

Not a demon. Not a “sinner just like me.”

A human.

To know what that mean, I think, requires knowing that you’re a human too, which is how forgiveness can be a process, and only comes after your own healing.

These are just my preliminary thoughts. What do you think?

 

How Sexist Men Change

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I read an article sharing an experience with a male internet bully who called the author a “c***” for being liberal. Her sister jumped to her defense, calling out the irony of this man, a recent father of a daughter, calling another woman such a degrading term.

The point of the article was that by using degrading language toward a woman, he is fostering a culture of disrespect that will eventually harm his own daughter. He is, more or less, making it okay for someone to call his daughter a disgusting word.

He didn’t respond after that.

I thought that was brilliant. I’m a big fan of humanizing issues for others who fail to see people as anything more than living representations of evil beliefs.

But then, of course, someone responded with the oft-heard feminist complaint, “I’m frustrated that the author is encouraging the idea that women are only valuable as mothers or wives or sisters. Women are valuable because they’re human beings. Period.”

And sure, I get that. That’s the goal, isn’t it, of all efforts for equality — people are valuable as people, period. It doesn’t matter if they’re related to us or connected to us or connected to anybody else we value or connected to any other kind of person we value. We respect, honor, and protect them as humans. I agree with that. That is ideal.

But I disagree that comparing a woman to a man’s daughter or wife or mother is counterproductive to that end.

Sexism, prejudice, hate, and fear run deep. They’re also hypocritical and blind and lacking in empathy. They’re incapable of viewing people as people.

But love is powerful, even in a sexist, prejudiced, hateful, fearful person.

When we ask a man to think about how his sexism would affect a woman he loves, we are arousing love. We are arousing empathy. We are arousing protectiveness and anger on behalf of someone, even if it’s partially selfish because it’s “his” someone.

And we aren’t just inviting him to put the woman he loves in the place of the woman he just degraded. We’re inviting him to put himself in the shoes of the kind of man he would punch in the teeth on behalf of somebody he loves.

That’s a clarifying, powerful experience — to realize we are what we hate most, to realize we are perpetrating what we hate most, to realize that our actions contradict our deepest held beliefs.

If you haven’t grown up with sexism, you don’t realize how reasonable it sounds. You don’t realize how the world is taught to you, how your femininity or masculinity is explained to you, how sexism makes perfect sense given certain fundamental beliefs.

If you didn’t grow up with sexism, you don’t realize that sexist people, both men and women, really do believe in loving, respecting, and honoring other people as people. That’s a core Christian teaching — loving the other as human, standing up for them no matter what. But here’s where it gets twisted: if you’re taught that liberalism is evil, if you’re taught that God designed men and women to be happiest within distinct, predetermined roles, your “love for others” will look a lot like hate.

This is how we get devoted fathers calling other women “c***s.” This is how we get women lobbying against who they and their fellow women are. This is how we get demonstrably false ideas like men are inherently more capable of leadership than women. This is how loving, decent, God-fearing people perpetrate hate against others — all in the name of love.

This deception runs very, very deep, and only empathy and love can break it. Only by invoking the true love one has for others can someone see that the so-called “love” they have towards people they hate is horrific.

Perfect love really does cast out all fear.

It’s a process, a deconstruction, to recognize that that your “love” and “decency” and “logic” can be hateful, inhumane, and illogical. We’re really good at mixing up those things. All of us. Even those who lay down their lives in the name of equality. All of us do this, to varying degrees.

We must be patient with each other. We must celebrate the small victory of, for instance, a man seeing the horror of his comments to another woman by invoking his love for his daughter.

Later we can demand that he respect women as humans, period. But for now, we must celebrate this small victory of empathy, this small moment of awakening, this small act of love against hate.

That’s the only way a sexist man will change.

How I Learned to Appreciate Computer Games

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It’s been quite the process to go from the know-it-all, spiritually superior girlfriend with a nominally Catholic, theologically illiterate, failure of an immature Christian man to an embarrassed, humbled, clueless wife with the faithful, Christian, decent husband.

We haven’t changed much. I just realized my superiority was all pride and bluster, and his “failures” and “immaturity” were just me being embarrassed that he didn’t live up to the perfect complementarian divinity student I’d imagined I’d always marry. But he is incredible, and his faith is incredible, and when I allow him to be himself, instead of holding him to my fundamentalist standards of holiness and maturity, our relationship is incredible too.

One of the biggest turning points with us had to do with computer games.

My husband doesn’t play first-person shooter games (thank God). He doesn’t have an Xbox. He just really loves this online, multiplayer computer game called League of Legends. It’s his hobby. He knows the lore, the characters, and the fine points of playing. He puts in a good amount of time mastering a character or skill. He follows the international championships, and he is currently hot and bothered about his fantasy team. (Yes, there is a fantasy league for an already fantasy computer game.)

This used to bother me. One, because I thought all video games involving death and fighting were evil and would more than likely produce serial killers — even a game like League, where the characters are cartoons, there is no gore, they regenerate every thirty seconds after death, and the draw of the game is strategy rather than glorying in the graphic death of your opponent.

Two, I thought only immature people cared about such frivolous things as video games. Any time a college male tried to explain the deeper purpose of video games to me, my eyes glazed over and my eyes wanted to roll so hard.

Three, it can get addictive. Games at three in the morning. Homework abandoned in favor of a five-game streak. Not being able to pause the game at will to help in an emergency — like everyday when I had my routine existential breakdown.

So I did what every responsible, godly, mature girlfriend does — I ridiculed him for it.

I argued against his love of this game from all different angles — particularly attacking his character and his maturity and his common sense. That’s always a great way to change somebody’s mind.

Instead of changing his mind, he began begging me to play with him.

Eventually, begrudgingly, I caved, watching my morality and my maturity crumble around me as a prepared to battle on Summoner’s Rift.

It actually wasn’t the worst thing ever. It was rather fun.

Instantly, I became a girlfriend hero. “You play computer games with Erich? That’s so cute! I wish my girlfriend would do that!”

Ah, yes. Look at me, the model girlfriend.

But the fights still continued into marriage. Some of them were legitimate. Sometimes he did spend too much time on League (not that I spent too much time on Facebook…). Sometimes he did procrastinate on important things in lieu of his favorite pastime (not that I was guilty in this area…).

Perhaps the biggest strain of all, though, was that I cared nothing about computer games in general or League in particular. Lego Star Wars and Mario Cart are the only games I’ve liked. But he talked so much about it. He talked to me as if I knew what he was talking about. He talked to me as if I cared.

I didn’t.

He would go on and on about League, and I would sit and nod and pretend to listen, all the while thinking of something else — normally, about how it was possible for two people to speak English and yet completely not grasp what the other person is saying.

I didn’t have a glamorous breakthrough, except that I hated pretending to listen. I hated not caring. I hated fighting him on this. I hated wishing this part of him would go away. I hated feeling embarrassed about something that brought him joy.

And so I found myself talking about League. At first, I just tried to pay attention when he talked. Then I started asking clarifying questions, like, “What does KS mean?” Then I started asking him questions about how his game was going or how his fantasy team was doing. And then I found myself as his #1 counselor regarding all things League. I was giving my opinion on things, ribbing him for not following my advice, expressing sympathy when he got frustrated with the stupid people in the bronze league, and kissing him happily when things went his way.

This makes so much of a difference in our marriage. 

Not only not judging, but actively participating in something he cares about, even when it’s decidedly not my cup of tea. Surprise, surprise, I find us liking each other more, understanding each other more, and connecting better. He seems far more interested in my hobbies and thoughts too.

GO US!

(Why does it always take me so long to realize these things?)

Of course, I feel a bit self-conscious about his love of League. My friends who aren’t into video games think it’s a bit strange. He had the League world championship up on the big screen when the movers dropped off our couch, and for a second, I wanted to apologize and poke fun at him to show that am a mature, well-adjusted adult who cares nothing about frivolous games.

(Erich has just informed me that the movers exclaimed, “Oh, you have the LCS up! How’s it going? Who are you watching?” Good thing I kept my mouth shut.)

But pooh pooh to the haters.

You know what? Go ahead and judge. Go ahead and laugh. Go ahead and leave links to articles about the sad state of youth these days. We live in an odd world where people pay millions to watch people kick a ball around. We connect with each other via social media and get addicted in the process. We all have weird passions for series on Netflix and awkward hobbies like writing bad fantasy novels and too many opinions on things that don’t matter much to the fate of the world.

And so I say, embrace those crazy, allegedly immature hobbies — especially for the sake of those you love.