Toxic Legalism (Jeremiad #1: Sexism, Lies, and Ecclesiastical Bling)

Lazarus and Dives by Fedor Bronnikov, 1886

Lazarus and Dives by Fedor Bronnikov, 1886

A new, toxic legalism, based on a shallow, piecemeal, combative reading of the scriptures, is choking the Evangelical faith like a clinging vine.  Our churches are shrinking, and our reputation is mud with the wider world – they think we are immoral in our vitriol and our intolerance.  They see us as less moral than non-Christians, as moralistic and manipulative and controlling.

And they’re right.  Our churches are segregated, even today.  Our divorce rate is no better than the non-religious.  Spousal abuse still lingers, and in some cases is even tolerated.  And our advice to abused women is often dangerously, even fatally wrongheaded.

You can proof-text me all you want, but homosexuals are not the ones degrading our nation’s culture.  We are, with our arrogance, our lingering racism, our commercialism and consumerism.

We build multi-million dollar churches, yet leave the poorest of the world (who often need things like $18 mosquito nets and $25 vaccinations) and the poor and homeless in our own cities to fend for themselves.

We keep spending money to prop up dying churches that exist only because a few elderly people don’t want to find a new church, but which are doing nothing for the community, spiritually or materially. We spend ungodly sums on “faith-based extravaganzas” on Easter, Christmas, and Halloween (“scare them to salvation with Hell House!”).  And all the while, like Dives, we watch the poor man starving at our gate.

We degrade our name, and our nation, when we let our political leanings dictate our theology.  Case in point: it’s no secret that the Southern Baptists are going whole-hog for Mitt Romney.

But when I was growing up, Southern Baptists considered Mormonism a “cult.”  Some still do.  Oops, never mind.  He’s backing Romney now.   So, which is it?  The answer no one will give you is this:  “it doesn’t matter, as long as he dislodges that black pro-death, pro-gay, liberal socialist we’ve got now.”

We bring shame on our name and Christ’s through our sexism and incredible insensitivity to the realities of women’s lives.  You can proof-text me all you want, but the truth remains:  when you pre-determine a woman’s role in life based on her gender, you take away her right to follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance, you take away her Imago Dei, and you make her less than human.

Who should we obey, God or Men?  The reality of complementarianism, as it is often preached, is this: Only men get to obey God.  Women obey men, and access God through the male spiritual heads – first their fathers, and then their husbands.  But I think we all know the right answer to the question, both for men and for women I think the answer is clear [Acts 5:29].  We obey God, not men.

Libyan Embassy (Wrestling the Angel of Hate)

Note to the people of Libya

One of the hardest things to do is to forgive those who’ve wronged us.

The only thing harder might be to remember who’s wronged us and who, like us, has been wronged.

For eleven years we’ve been at war with radical Islamists.

For eleven years we’ve struggled to remember that we’re not at war with Islam, with all Muslims, with the Arab world, with the Middle East…

For eleven years we’ve all too often failed.

For eleven years I’ve heard anger in our churches, vengeance in our sanctuaries.

For eleven years way too much of it has come from my mouth.

And when Ambassador Stevens was killed in Libya, it was all to easy to think, even say, things that lumped all Libyans together.  Guilty by association.  Ungrateful for the help in overthrowing Khadafi, infuriated by a b-movie, blah blah blah.

Then I saw this:

15 photos of Benghazi citizens apologizing to Americans

So now I owe them an apology.  For thinking too quickly, for blaming to broadly, for being quick to anger.

And I owe them a debt of gratitude.  Several Libyans died helping to protect and evacuate the embassy.  Their lives were as valuable as any American’s.  Their lives were as valuable as my own.

So, to start on the right track, I’m posting this.  And I’m posting that picture, a handwritten note thanking the Libyan people, and wishing them peace and freedom.  I’ll be Facebooking it and Tweeting it, and I ask you to do the same.

Show your support for all those who love peace.  Write your own note.  Let the killers, the idolaters who worship blood and power, that they don’t get the last word.  Show those who would divide us, who would plunge us into hate, that they will not succeed.  Show the world that Americans and Libyans want peace and freedom.

Factory Farming (Wrestling with the god of the Gut)

 

Pigs Confined in Gestation Crates

Pigs Confined in Gestation Crates

I started this blog to talk about the questions, about wrestling with the angels, struggling with things I don’t know and things I do know, but don’t quite want to accept.

I’ve gotten a little off-course here.  I’ve been distracted by some important things going on: Emily Maynard’s post about modesty and the controversy that followed, including my two posts (here and here), Mark Driscoll’s slut-shaming of Esther, Hurricane Isaac, and more.

Well, during this month a new struggle has begun within me, a struggle with cruelty to animals … specifically, the animals that make up such a large part of my daily diet.  Kurt Willems’s “God of the Gut” article sent my mind down paths my belly really wished it hadn’t.   Greg Boyd’s “Compassionate Dominion and Factory Farms” sealed the deal. Modern American factory farming is not humane. It just isn’t.  (Warning, the videos are not for the faint of heart).

Let me say that I’m neither a vegetarian nor even a pacifist right now.  I have no problem whatsoever killing and eating animals.  I even hunt a couple of times a year with my uncle.  Any animal living in the wild has to worry about getting eaten.  Herbivores have to worry about predation, and even predators have to worry about being eaten from the inside out by disease or parasites.  So the death of an animal for food is not a problem in my mind.

But I will not abide torture.  And the practices in factory farms, where animals are held in tiny crates (sometimes for their entire lives), are castrated or de-toothed without anesthesia, and are slaughtered sloppily, leaving some alive for the slaughtering process?  That’s torture.

This isn’t an example of something I’m not sure about.  I wouldn’t treat my dogs like that, and pigs are roughly as intelligent as dogs.  I know, I’m not planning to eat my dogs.  But I wouldn’t treat a deer like that, either.

Every hunter has ethical standards, trying to take only shots that are sure, that will kill quickly, that won’t make the animal suffer unnecessarily.  Yet, when it comes to factory farming, there are no such considerations.  Like so much in corporate America, the bottom line is king.

So like I said, I’m not struggling with whether this is right for me to do.  I’m struggling with what a deep-seated pain in the neck it is. I can’t back-check restaurants, so guess who’s a pescetarian when he eats out?  And guess who used to be head-over-heels in love with Rosie’s Barbecue, Strick’s Barbecue, Mug Shots Burgers, and just about any version of chili cheese fries?  Guess who’s got to convince his wife to pay twice as much for meat and 50% for eggs?  Thankfully, she’s been very supportive.

Essentially, my struggle is to not be a wimp.  I’ve read the horror stories.  I know what I have to do.  Now, the struggle is to do it.  Funny how that goes.

Man Up … Men, Women, Modesty and Lust Part Two

Roasted Brussels Sprouts by Mcmlxl, Creative Commons

Roasted Brussels Sprouts by Mcmlxl, Creative Commons

This is my second response to In my Emily Maynard’s Prodigal.net article, “Modesty, Lust, and My Responsibility.”   In my first article, I talked about modesty and women.  Now I want to talk about modesty, lust, and men.

Just as women get dehumanized and have their agency stripped away in this debate, becoming dress-up-dolls for our lusts or our self-righteous desires to control the way they dress, so too do men get dehumanized.  Sometimes literally: how many times have you heard someone say that “Men are dogs” or “Men are pigs” or “Men can’t control themselves?”  Even “Men are visual creatures, and are more affected by appearance than women are,” while gentler sounding, and not strictly speaking dehumanizing, still steals agency from men.

Women are not responsible for men’s sexual fantasies.  Men are.  Women are not responsible for men mentally objectifying them, thinking of them only in terms of sexual performance and fantasy.  Men are.  Men are not dogs or pigs.  We are human beings, made in God’s image, just like women are.  And if we are, on average, more visual than women, so be it.  If it causes a problem, it’s our problem.

I think all the men here can think back (maybe not that far) to a time when you either entertained or resisted the temptation to entertain a sexual fantasy about someone who dressed modestly, wearing clothes that were neither revealing nor highly sexualized.  How “modestly” do women need to dress to protect us from our own moral responsibility?  Maybe a burqa would do it, but I don’t think even the strictest anti-feminist wants to go there.

So what’s the take-away from this, not for women, but for men?  We have the power (with God’s help) to control what your mind does.  When we see an unusually attractive woman, especially if she’s dressed in a revealing manner, we usually get a rush of attraction.  But we have the power to decide what we’re going to do with that reaction.

Will we remember that she is a person, made in God’s image, just like we are, or will we reduce her to a sexual object in our imagination?  Will we keep her humanity in mind, or will we put the blame on her for how she looks or how she’s dressed?

That’s the question.  What will we choose to do.  Because this is a choice.  We always have the choice to remember her humanity.

  • How does she feel about Brussels sprouts? (EVERYONE has an opinion about Brussels Sprouts)
  • What’s her favorite band, her favorite sport, her favorite movie?
  • What about the last good book she read?  Does she prefer paper books or e-readers?
  • Does she like Farmville, or would she rather take you on in Call of Duty or Super Smash Brothers?

Sexual-fantasy-girl won’t be able to answer these questions, of course, because she isn’t real.  But the actual woman, the one who looked so hot on TV, on campus, or at the mall, can answer those questions.

Humanity.  That’s what it’s about.  Not wardrobe.

Proof-Texting and Cherry-Picking

Cherries from the Jerte Valley by Hispalois, Creative Commons

Cherries from the Jerte Valley by Hispalois, Creative Commons

It’s only human to sift through the evidence and latch on to any fragment that supports your case.  Prosecutors do it. Lawyers do it. Even preachers and theologians do it (there’s a song in there somewhere, I think).  It’s only human … which means it’s certainly not divine.

The things we believe are vital to our subconscious, especially in Evangelical Christian circles.  In a very large sense, we are what we believe. You’ve probably heard of confirmation bias, the tendency to subconsciously interpret the evidence before us (whether textual, physical, or statistical) in a way that’s consistent with our existing worldview.  We cherry-pick and reinvent to protect our self-image.  And most of the time we don’t even realize we’re doing it.

So it’s not that surprising when someone accuses me of not taking the Bible seriously.  What they generally mean is “Anyone who doesn’t agree with my interpretation of the Bible doesn’t really take the Bible seriously, and here are the proof-texts to prove it!”

As if using isolated verses out of context to prove your point in an internet debate actually amounts to taking the Bible seriously.

The Bible is simultaneously a divine work of amazing unity and a related group of human works spanning several centuries and many genres, including poetry, history, prophecy, apocalypse, epistles, and genealogies.  It’s kind of like Jesus in that way – simultaneously fully divine and fully human, as Peter Enns wrote.

Both aspects have to be appreciated and respected, if you want to take the Bible seriously.  Isolated verses thrown out with no cultural context (and in translation, no less), used to silence opposition and win arguments?  That’s how the world uses knowledge: as a weapon, a means to an end, with the end justifying the means.

I’ll quote a comment I made earlier (I won’t link to the debate, because I think that would just be “pointing fingers” at the person I was arguing with).

The truth is, we can cherry-pick individual verse and parts of verses from the Bible, and honestly, we can use them to “prove” anything – subjugation of women, Biblical support for slavery, predestination, free will, Manifest Destiny (the necessity of conquering “pagan savages” so you can teach them about Jesus), vegetarianism, socialism, capitalism, whatever.

THAT practice is what offends me. Not the scripture, but the use of individual verses (and verse-fragments) as a tool to back up whatever point we’re making.

The Bible can only be respected if it is studied as a whole unity, understanding that it was divinely inspired, but written by human hands. We respect it and take it seriously by studying it as a whole, praying for God’s guidance, AND by learning about the genres, culture, and lives lived by the people who first heard it.

The point is not that I’m wiser or more spiritual than some random person I’m arguing with on the Internet.  I’m not.  I’m as vulnerable to confirmation bias as anyone.  I’m as prone to cherry-pick and proof-text as anyone.

The point is, we all have to be aware – and beware – of our own biases and tendencies.  We want the Bible to shape what we believe, but too often it’s the other way around.  Sometimes I think we’d all be better off if we stuck with the basics:  Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

Prayer For September 11

World Trade Center Memorial by Derek Jensen

Memorial by Derek Jensen, 2004

Father, in Heaven, Holy One,

As we remember that terrible day, we pray

Please bring your healing to all those who lost loved ones

On that day, in the battles that followed, and in the wars to come

Protect us here, and protect our soldiers abroad

Be our shield, our strength, our portion, our vision

That no more buildings may burn

That no more towers may fall.

Holy Father, give restraint and peace to my countrymen

So no more mosques or gyro joints will burn.

Give wisdom and grace to us, as Christians

So that we may say, “not my will, but yours be done,”

So that we can pray for violent hearts to turn,

So that we can pray for souls and lives to be won,

Lord, we pray for America and Americans.

Force us to our knees,

So that we can learn to pray

For Iraqi, Afghani, even for Taliban

Even as they seek to shed our blood.

Lord, give us strength to offer those prayers genuinely

For we know that saying prayers for our enemies is easy

But meaning them is hard.

Just as loving them is hard.

Yours is the power.

Yours is the glory.

Help us belong to your kingdom,

Forever and ever,

Amen.

One Night with the Mayor…Retelling the Esther Story

Esther in King Xerxes's Harem, by Edwin Long 1878

Esther in King Xerxes’s Harem, by Edwin Long 1878

“Your daughter sure is pretty,” the sheriff said.  Then he spat.  A line of tobacco flew from his mouth, splattering like a twisted branch on the dry ground.  He reeked of stale sweat and old chew, and his pale eyes gleamed from within the fleshy folds of his face. “All willow-thin and fresh-faced. Oh, my.”

Essie looked up at her uncle, then back at the hulking lawman, her dark eyes wide.

The big man with the big leather belt and the big black gun just grinned and tipped his hat.  “Even her nose is perfect.  Not a big beak like most o’ you Jews.”  He ran his thumb across the side of his nose, then continued, not even looking at Mordecai.  “Course, I know she’s not really your daughter.  Her parents are dead, aren’t they?”

“Please,” Mordecai said, “she’s only thirteen.”

Even in the heat of August, Essie shuddered.  Her Bat Mitzvah – and her first flow – had come only two month ago.

“That’s okay.  The Mayor likes ’em young.”  The sheriff tugged at the strap of his Sam Browne belt while his gaze crept over every inch of Esther’s body.  “Maybe not this young.  I think we’ll keep her around the mansion for a while, till she ripens up a little.”  He cupped his hands at chest level and mimed squeezing.  “I think a year will do it.”

“Sheriff -”  Mordecai’s face grew red.  He knew not to appeal any further to this pig’s sense of decency.  Obviously, he had none.

The sheriff laughed so hard his belly shook.  “I told you the Mayor likes ’em young.  Don’t worry, little Essie, you’ll have plenty of company.  He’s got every pretty little thing in the county livin’ up there.  I think you’ll be the only Jew-girl, but that don’t matter much. I’m sure you’ll pretty up just as well as the rest of them, if they can get your hair to behave.  I declare, girl, it’s wild as a badger’s backside.”

“Damn you -”

“What are you upset about?” The Sheriff said, turning on Mordecai, “The Mayor’s gon’ choose a new wife when all this is over.  Your little Essie here could be the new first lady, live in that mansion forever, maybe even do some good for your scrawny little tribe.”  He snorted. “If she pleases him.”  He leaned in close to Esther, his breath thick and dank, his eyes hard as diamonds.  “You know anything about pleasing a man, little girl?”

“That’s enough!” Mordecai snarled, pulling Esther back and raising his fist.

The sheriff stepped back, surprisingly nimble for all his bulk.   “Watch your step, boy.  We can do this the easy way or the hard way.”  He tapped the butt of his revolver, as if to remind them both what ‘the hard way’ meant.  “Either way, the girl goes with me.”

Mordecai swallowed hard.  “Go with him,” he whispered, “I’ll find a way to be there for you.  Just keep yourself alive.  And remember who you are.  Remember where you come from.”

Esther swallowed hard, tensing her jaw and raising her head.  She would not let him see her tears.  She walked, head held high,  to the sheriff’s car, sliding into the back seat like a prisoner, and like a queen.

The preceding, despite being time-shifted 2,500 years, and despite the liberties I took with Mordecai’s social status and the secrecy surrounding Esther’s religion and ethnicity, was still a far more accurate and truthful retelling of how Esther came to be in King Xerxes’ Harem than the rape-apologist, misogynist “exegesis” Mark Driscoll posted and preached Sunday.  An “exegesis” so wrong, so dangerous, that refutations have sprung up like white blood cells at the site of infection.  Rachel Held Evans has a good one (and kudos to her for bringing this to my attention).  So does Sarah Over the Moon.  So does Can’t Catch My Breath.

Honestly, I think (and hope) there can be some value to seeing an old story in a different setting.  Maybe we can see Esther’s humanity and stop slut-shaming one of God’s heroes, a true woman of valor.