Weekly Ponderings

Here are some things I read this week. Inclusion does not mean I fully endorse everything in each article or the sites they are linked to. You can read each post in its entirety by clicking on the title beneath each excerpt. 

“We tend to think that we would have seen what was happening and stopped it…When would we have stopped? When would you have punched a Nazi? When Hitler was making nationalistic speeches? When the government demonized Jews like the far right demonizes Muslims? When the movies and the media put on a propaganda campaign that would have put Milo to shame? When the “lying press” was getting shut down? Would you really have spoken up by the time Auschwitz was set up, 7 years in, after being primed to hate that much? Really? Or would you be like the millions who didn’t even put the pieces together to know their were gas chambers and stop what was going on?

Here’s the deal: We KNOW that the Nazi message is effective. We know it can spread a cancer through our society, that people will latch onto it, that if you start from certain premises it is a logically sound position that is virtually unassailable from the standpoint of pure reason. We know that science cannot defeat it, and can instead enhance it to come up with more effective, crueler methods for the realization of its darkest capaibilities. We know that the humanities cannot defeat it, but that the artists and the writers and the moviemakers and even the philosophers became part of one of the greatest propaganda campaigns of all time.

The only time we stamped out the virus of Nazism wholly and thoroughly, to the point where most today think it an abomination, was through choking the life out of it.
This reality shows me that there may be some places in society where free speech is not an option, where it is intolerable, where the debate ends — where, indeed, if you allow the debate to continue, you will lose, and humanity will lose, to a crueller, harsher view of who we are.”

When to Start Punching: Notes on Defending Social Justice by Martin Hughes

“Johnson, the former 11-year-old unwitting bride who is now fighting for Florida to set a minimum marriage age (there is none now), says that her family attended a conservative Pentecostal church and that other girls of a similar age periodically also married. Often, she says, this was to hide rapes by church elders…

“It was a terrible life,” Johnson recalls, recounting her years as a child raising children. She missed school and remembers spending her days changing diapers, arguing with her husband and struggling to pay expenses. She ended up with pregnancy after pregnancy — nine children in all — while her husband periodically abandoned her.

“They took the handcuffs from handcuffing him,” she says, referring to the risk he faced of arrest for rape, “to handcuffing me, by marrying me without me knowing what I was doing.”

“You can’t get a job, you can’t get a car, you can’t get a license, you can’t sign a lease,” she adds, “so why allow someone to marry when they’re still so young?”

11 Years Old, a Mom, and Pushed to Marry Her Rapist in Florida by Nicholas Kristof

“The worst part of what happened to this young woman is that she learned about a false Christ – a Jesus who shames sinners, who turns an angry and harsh face on those who confess and repent, who demands his pound of flesh before he offers peace. She was taught that Jesus first ridicules and gleefully watches us weep before he grudgingly offers forgiveness. She was taught that even after she goes through all of that, Jesus is still ashamed to be seen in public with her. She was taught that Jesus was ashamed to be her God, ashamed of her and her baby!”

How Shame Drives Us From Christ by Sam Powell

“You should try reading the Bible and asking God to reveal the truth to you.”—as if these are things I’d never considered…

My reply is always the same: “Reading the Bible and praying over it—is precisely how I became Progressive.”

None of us has the market cornered on the Truth, and we all bring the same things to our study and prayer and to our religion—we bring ourselves. We bring the sum total of the families we’ve lived in and the place we were born and the faith tradition we were raised in. We carry the teachers and pastors and writers who inspired us, the experiences we’ve had, and even our specific personalities. In other words: we all find our way—in the way we find our way.

When another Christian instructs someone else to “read the Bible,” or “take it to prayer,” or to “ask God to reveal the truth to you,” they usually mean, “Do all of these things until you get it right—until you agree with me.” They are assuming their version of study and reflection are more valid than another’s…

Christian, the next time your tempted to flippantly tell someone who doesn’t share your religious convictions or mirror your theology, that they should “try reading the Bible and going to God,” it might be helpful to seek a humility about your own beliefs and a respect of theirs; to entertain the idea that maybe their reading of the Bible and their prayerful life surrounding it—are the very reason they now hold those beliefs…”

“The Bible and Prayer” Won’t Fix My Progressive Theology—They Created it. by John Pavlovitz

“And on top of it all, the ultimate kick in the gut: We wouldn’t even see her alive. I struggled with the idea of Eva’s existence and her humanity all along, whether a terminal diagnosis made her dead already. I clung to knowing her humanity would be validated to me when I saw her as a living, breathing human being. I would hold my daughter and be her daddy. I wanted to watch her die, because that would mean that I got to watch her live. Think about that one for a second. Now it was all gone. I longed for just five minutes with her, heck, five seconds with her. All of that practical stuff about organ donation was irrelevant to me now. I just wanted to hold my baby girl and see her chest move up and down. I just wanted to be her daddy, if only for a few seconds…”

We spent months bracing and preparing for the death of our daughter. But guess what? We weren’t ready. by Royce Young

“But if you think Medicaid is evil government bureaucracy and your church could do better, then I’ve got a few questions for you. Have you already met with your pastor to talk about chairing your church’s capital campaign to build a free health clinic? How many doctors, nurses, social workers, and counselors will need to be hired for this health clinic and which church staff do you think can be let go to make this substitution? How many thousands of dollars are you willing to take away from your retirement and/or your kids’ college tuition to pay for this health clinic? How many weekly hours are you planning to volunteer at this health clinic? Have you talked to your boss about the time you would need to take off work in order to take this on?

Ideology is so much easier when you don’t have to deal with the details.”

Is your church going to replace Medicaid? by Morgan Guyton

When God’s got a gun to your head

When this phrase popped into my head I realized this often a reason behind Christians (as well as believers in other religions) doing some pretty terrible things to people. Take this woman who is treating her son as if he is dead (for getting married to another man). But she must behave like this because Jesus says you must love Him more than your family (according to her interpretation of certain verses).

I used to be able to understand where this woman is coming from. We must sometimes make sacrifices for God because we love Him and He loves us. At least that is how the reasoning goes.

But here is the problem. The unspoken threat hovering over all this love is that God will hurt us (if we don’t obey/love Him) and He will certainly hurt those we love if they don’t get their act together in time. Essentially…God’s got a gun to your head.

Don’t waste my time arguing about God’s justice, how offensive our sins are to Him and how anyone who ends up in hell made that choice. Justice isn’t torturing people (not even in this world). No one had a choice about being offensive to God besides the first two people He made. And God was the one who made the choice to make a universe/realms that would include hell knowing He would be sending most of the people He created there. And to top it all off He could only be appeased by the slaughtering of animals culminating in the slaughter of a human being. (I no longer understand why we think other religions/cultures who engaged in human sacrifice were so barbaric). Even the one true God (of Christianity) demands someone’s blood had to be shed in order to be pleased with people again. Even though it was His own Son laying down His life there is no getting around the fact that God still “needed” a human sacrifice in order to give Himself permission to love us. Many Christians basically present God like an abusive spouse rather than a loving parent. (This is a summary of some things I heard and learned growing up in Christian communities. I don’t necessarily hold to all these ideas anymore).

Anyway back on topic…

I also (used to) get the fear part of all this. Though at the time I didn’t realize I was admitting God’s love was too weak and ineffective to fully redeem and restore most if not all the people He made. And unfortunately as history often bears out fear keeps people in line as much if not more so than love.

Another sad aspect to this is the fact that some people would like to believe that God is better than the one we’ve been told exists (This is elaborated on quiet well over at Fred Clark’s blog). We wish we could believe that God loves more than just a select few. We wish someplace like hell didn’t ‘have to’ exist. We wish we had the freedom to just love others without judging and shunning them when necessary. But God does not give us that permission. If we start diverging from the abusive narrative we’ve been given of Him we risk Him pulling the trigger on us. Better safe (with an abuser) than to be one of His victims.

One of the things that got me thinking along these lines comes from a passage from a book I read recently. The book is entitled ‘Scared Selfless’ and is the true story of a woman who was horribly abused by a sadistic pedophile throughout her childhood. She developed multiple personality disorder ( aka dissociative identity disorder). Eventually as an adult she sought therapy, started remembering the terrible things she suffered and went on to get a Ph.D in psychology and to help others who have suffered trauma. Here is one of the parts that stood out to me the most.

“ Any victim who wants to stay alive knows it’s in her best interest to make nice with the sociopath in charge. Ironically, though, the victims decision to placate the perpetrator actually binds her to him more effectively than chains ever could. This is because in order to form a bond that can ensure her safety, the victim must seek out whatever is relatable and human in the abuser while ignoring all that is bad and monstrous. This herculean feat of pretense requires that the victim ignore her true judgements, intuitions, thoughts, and feelings.
This is the essence of brainwashing. Once a victim has made the mental leap to pretend that the monster abusing her is really a decent guy, she is primed to believe just about anything that monster says…
Ultimately, this is the goal of every brainwashing campaign, whether explicitly waged or not: to convince victims that they are powerless and that their only hope for salvation is the guy abusing them. In the victim’s mind, the abuser becomes an all-powerful being, capable of controlling anyone and anything. The victim has no choice but to submit.”

Now interestingly the author rarely mentions God or her relationship to him in her book. What she is describing above is in terms of what her abuser did to her as a child and how she related to him in order to survive. But frankly I can’t see any difference in this description between this child abuser and the way many Christians present and understand God to be.

While I don’t actually believe God has a gun to anybody’s head I am still working on deconstructing some unhealthy ideas and doctrines that have simply become standard orthodoxy in many if not most corners of Christianity. Sometimes I wonder if it should really be this hard to believe in someone/something good. So far all I can say is I believe the truth about Him is far more beautiful and is therefore still worth seeking after.

Weekly Ponderings

Here are some things I read this week. Inclusion does not equal a full endorsement. To read the post in its entirety click on the title beneath each excerpt. Anything is bold is something I chose to emphasize.

Lesley Stahl: Did you meet a lot of people who perpetrated war crimes who would otherwise in your opinion have been just a normal, upstanding citizen?

“War makes murderers out of otherwise decent people. All wars, and all decent people.”
Benjamin Ferencz: Of course, is my answer. These men would never have been murderers had it not been for the war. These were people who could quote Goethe, who loved Wagner, who were polite–

Lesley Stahl: What turns a man into a savage beast like that?

Benjamin Ferencz: He’s not a savage. He’s an intelligent, patriotic human being.

Lesley Stahl: He’s a savage when he does the murder though.

Benjamin Ferencz: No. He’s a patriotic human being acting in the interest of his country, in his mind.

Lesley Stahl: You don’t think they turn into savages even for the act?

Benjamin Ferencz: Do you think the man who dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima was a savage? Now I will tell you something very profound, which I have learned after many years. War makes murderers out of otherwise decent people. All wars, and all decent people…

Benjamin Ferencz: Well, if it’s naive to want peace instead of war, let ’em make sure they say I’m naive. Because I want peace instead of war. If they tell me they want war instead of peace, I don’t say they’re naive, I say they’re stupid. Stupid to an incredible degree to send young people out to kill other young people they don’t even know, who never did anybody any harm, never harmed them. That is the current system. I am naive? That’s insane.”

What the last Nuremberg prosecutor alive wants the world to know by Lesley Stahl

“What I’m struggling to address here is a weird belief that seems to be the source of a lot of pain for a lot of people — both for the Christians trapped in this form of belief and for the millions of others (many of whom are also Christians) who have to live in a world shaped by the consequences of this weird belief.

It’s the idea that God is not as good as we’d like God to be. The idea that God isn’t as fair, or as kind, or as loving, as we ourselves would be if it were up to us.

This blasphemous accusation arises whenever we find our fallible conscience in conflict with our fallible perception of a divine commandment. It arises because we’ve had it drilled into our heads that our conscience is fallible and not always trustworthy, while at the same time we’ve desperately pretended that our perception of “God’s will” or “God’s commands” is not just as fallible and untrustworthy. So we wind up deferring to the latter, subordinating conscience to a dreadful obedience of a dreadful command.
That’s a terribly uncomfortable place to be, but it’s where millions of white evangelical Christians in America find themselves because it’s where they’ve been taught to believe they are required to be. They wish they could have a faith that better aligned with what their nagging conscience is telling them would be more good, more beautiful, more true, more just, and more loving, but they’ve been taught to believe that such faith is not permitted

What we quite often see these days, instead, is a form of Christianity that no one wishes to be true — not even many of its believers

It’s very hard to invite anyone to believe anything that they have no reason to want to believe in. It’s very hard to convince anyone to believe in a God who seems distasteful — even to you.

Here’s the really, really weird part of this: Conservative evangelicals reading this are now convinced that what I’m saying here is that we need to reinvent God according to our own preferences. They think I’m saying we need to change what God is really like and who God really is in order to make the idea of God more popular — more palatable and more acceptable.

Let that sink in for a second. Consider the assumptions that shape that criticism — what one would have to presume in order for that criticism to make any sense at all.
What they’re really saying — what they’re really confessing — is that they believe that the actual truth about God is, in fact, unpalatable and unacceptable. They believe that God’s actual character is, in fact, distasteful — that God is exclusive, condemning and oppressive. And that any attempt to portray God as otherwise is a liberal lie.

In this view, God could decide to cherish us, but simply decides not to.

Maybe God isn’t as awful as you think you have to think God is by Fred Clark

“In particular, complementarianism can act to peripheralise women within churches, and in those contexts it’s easy to see how abuse can flourish undetected. In complementarian contexts, women have as much room to speak as the male leaders allow. That’s a profoundly vulnerable position to be in, and one which I suspect some male ministers are not always able to empathise with. If a woman suffering abuse wasn’t completely confident that she would be believed, that the particular nature of the abuse would be understood, and that she would be supported by her church’s leader, she would most likely continue to suffer alone. This is true for any church, whether complementarian or egalitarian, but within complementarian churches the capacity for women to shape teaching and policies is almost entirely dependent on the senior minister’s amenity. That makes it crucial that the senior minister seek out and really listen to the women of the church. They must also be clear-eyed about how they are received by the women of the church – are they regarded as trustworthy, knowledgeable about the issues which affect women, do they demonstrate a humble willingness to learn? If not, women will not disclose abuse to them…

After several years in ministry, I have come to expect that the women I meet with have had significant experiences of abuse, whether direct or indirect. The women who have not been abused (or have not yet disclosed abuse to me) are a minority. Most of the time, these women have told few people. They have learned to accommodate quietly. They swallow their pain…

Male leaders of both complementarian and egalitarian churches – are you confident that you are doing what is necessary to care for the women in your churches who are experiencing such things?

And more importantly, would the women of your church agree with you?

Reflecting on complementarianism and domestic violence by Erica Hamence

“A few years after I came out I had lunch with my father in Toronto. He’s always been a bit more awkward than unaccepting when it came to my sexuality. As I sat across from him he relayed a perplexing story. At the garage he worked in, during lunch hour in a predominately male lunchroom in aforementioned small town Ontario, one of his colleagues made a homophobic remark and he froze. There was no defending his gay son, no calling out the bigotry. At first I was angry at his response. Why wouldn’t he stand up for me? Why would he even tell me this story with no happy ending? A potential moment of redemption seemed so glaringly obvious. Then something became suddenly clear to me. He too was saddled with shame. The culture he still lived in, the culture I moved away from, filled him too with fear of rejection and mockery. It was like this bizarre conversation was an apology and an acknowledgement. It was as if this was his way of saying he was starting to understand my struggle, and that he was ashamed for his part in it now that he too had felt the sting of homophobia, however vicarious…

The lesson here: take care with your choice to be homophobic because it lasts forever for both the victim and the victimizer. It doesn’t just affect gay people or people with gay kids either…”

The everlasting effects of homophobia and why it’s not just gay people that suffer by Ryan E. Thompson



Weekly Ponderings

Here are some things that made me think this week. Inclusion does not equal a full endorsement of everything in each post. To read each post in its entirety click on the title beneath each excerpt.

“I found myself in a debate about this the other day, and the gentleman I was talking to fell back on the argument that it was the Church’s job to take care of the poor, not the government. But is that really true?

My first thought whenever I hear this argument is, “Who gave the Church this job?” Obviously the implied answer is God. After all, Jesus does talk a lot about His followers’ responsibility for taking care of the downtrodden, poor and oppressed. If you read His parable about the sheep and the goats, it’s easy to walk away with the impression that eternal life rests entirely upon whether or not a person cares for the poor…

But does that mean that He’s delegated that responsibility away from non-faith communities and governments? That seems a little silly. To tell His followers to be mindful of a particular group doesn’t necessarily preclude the rest of humanity’s responsibility to each other. If I tell my kids to pick up their trash, I’m not sending a message to every other parent on my block that their kids can litter because my kids will pick it up.

Christ’s major point is that He cares about what happens to the those on society’s bottom rung. It would be irresponsible for Christians to not encourage everyone to do all that they can to protect them…”

Whose Job Is It to Take Care of the Poor? By Jayson Bradley

“…We knew to say, ‘don’t do drugs, they are dangerous, people get addicted’. We didn’t know to say, and I wish with all my heart we had, ‘but if you get addicted, please come to us and we will help you. We will be here for you because we love you.’ Of course this OxyContin thing wasn’t on our radar. Who could ever imagine their kid would go so far as to stick a needle in their vein? I’ll tell you, my son didn’t think he’d ever do something so stupid either, even when he was addicted to OxyContin, until he did…

My son would tell you he had a nice childhood. He played baseball and soccer and took karate. We had a good relationship. He knew his parents loved him, and – he did know better. What made him make bad choices in spite of knowing better? What changed from the age of 14 to the age of 16, when the drinking began? Murky gray. Minefield.

Recognize addiction can happen to your child. The epidemic is real. Be afraid. Be prepared to fight for your child’s life.

Forewarned is forearmed.

Arm yourselves.”

I Raised a Heroin Addict–And I Learned Something Every Mom Should Know by Patricia Byrne By Patricia Byrne

“…You just want to engage in sin, the person who disagrees with Evangelical Christianity is told.

But for the things that Evangelical Christianity wants, it’s somehow not a desire to sin to justify why they are allowed to do things that the Bible plainly states are not okay.

And what’s funny is if these things are so small, if it doesn’t matter, then it also is the easiest thing to follow. It doesn’t cost anything to not braid your hair, to not get a tattoo, to forego jewelry or flashy materialism. If you are storing up your treasures in heaven, then there is no reason to defend material wealth, because to let go of it shouldn’t matter.

But if the argument is that sometimes the Bible is cultural, or certain scriptures need to be seen through a broader context, or certain things don’t apply anymore because they don’t matter as much as other things, it’s hard explain how that makes sense for some versus and not for others without it all looking like justifications. You want to do a thing, so that scripture doesn’t apply. You don’t care about something, so that scripture was clearly cultural and doesn’t matter, solely because it doesn’t matter to you…”

The Acceptable Cultural Relativism: Christianity and the Sins that Don’t Matter 
by somaticstrength

“You weren’t there.

You tell me you are going to help us learn “to understand one another.” Please LISTEN. Please hear me! I DO understand him. I have stared into those eyes during the good times, the moments of kindness and laughter that kept us staying. I have also stared into those eyes as he has threatened us, ruined us, shredded us, humiliated us. I have spent __ years studying this man – studying his moods, his looks, his face, the set of his jaw, the squint of his eye, the shift of his weight, the movement of his hands, the movement of his arms (just in case), his words, the meaning behind his words, the movement of the corner of his mouth, his need for admiration, his derisive laughter, his sniggering when he “got” me – I have studied him meticulously all these years to avoid the next rage or joke at my expense or humiliation or cruel trick. YOU need to understand, from someone who DOES know him inside and out – he will not go down without a fight. I am scared, hurting, confused, shaken, broken, financially ruined, sexually damaged, and nearly destroyed by all that he’s done to us. And you want to put me into a room with this person? I KNOW him. He will lie, shift blame, label me as crazy, act humble, draw you aside into his “confidence”. If that doesn’t work, he will lash out in anger, cry, tell you he’s a victim, blame his parents and environment, yell, intimidate, storm out and then “apologize” so that you will be obliged to reciprocate an apology for “words that were said,” or use any other variety of tactics in order to get you to back down and admire him again.

I cried out to you for help. You sent me this letter. You completely discounted my pain, my family’s pain. You made yourself to be an expert in a situation you have never looked into, have never visited, have never seen.”

You Weren’t There — a letter to pastors from a survivor of domestic abuse A guest post at  A Cry for Justice

“Two and a half years ago, a pensioner walked into a police station and handed in a piece of paper. It revealed a horrific secret he’d kept hidden for most of his life – a litany of sexual abuse he’d suffered at a private school in Devon in the 1950s and 60s. His abuser went on to have a successful career as a children’s TV presenter and author. But now – the truth has finally emerged.”

Victim of John Earle’s abuse speaks out by Andy Davies (links to video of victim sharing his story)

“The truth is that words have consequences. Putin’s hardline against homosexuality—which Graham praised—gave the Chechen president space to crack down harder on gay and lesbian residents in his own corner of Russia. Words have consequences in the U.S., too—gay teens kicked out of their homes and high teen suicide rates due to anti-gay bullying…

Within the U.S., evangelicals are used to being able to inveigh against gays and lesbians without having their literal blood on their hands. Yes, this rhetoric still has consequences—and people do still die (see teen suicides as referenced above). But the causality feels less direct. American evangelicals do not have to watch as gay and lesbian individuals are murdered.”

Words Have Consequences: Evangelical Rhetoric and Gay Rights  by Libby Anne

“Childbirth is changing in Kenya. Increasingly, mothers are giving birth in hospitals, rather than in the village. But not so long ago the use of traditional birth attendants was the norm, and there was a tacit assumption about how to deal with intersex babies.
“They used to kill them,” explains Seline Okiki, chairperson of the Ten Beloved Sisters, a group of traditional birth attendants, also from western Kenya.

“If an intersex baby was born, automatically it was seen as a curse and that baby was not allowed to live. It was expected that the traditional birth attendant would kill the child and tell the mother her baby was stillborn…”

“The parents did not get any say in the matter,” says the group secretary Anjeline Naloh. “The expectation was that the baby should not even live long enough to cry.”

The midwife who saved intersex babies By Helen Grady and Anne Soy

“What happened to this family is shocking,” Lambda Legal Counsel Beth Littrell said. “Almost immediately after losing his husband and partner of more than 50 years, Jack Zawadski’s grief was compounded by injustice and callous treatment from the very place that should have helped ease his suffering. Following Bob’s death, the funeral home, the only one in the area with a crematorium, refused to honor agreed-upon funeral arrangements after learning that Bob and Jack were married…”

“John made all necessary arrangements before Bob’s passing in order to shield his 82-year-old uncle from additional suffering and to allow friends to gather to support Jack in his grief,” Littrell explained. “Instead, Bob’s peaceful passing was marred by turmoil, distress and indignity, adding immeasurable anguish to Jack and John’s loss. This should not have happened to them, and should not be allowed to happen again.”

We’re Suing a Mississippi Funeral Home for Refusing to Transport and Cremate the Body of Gay Man by Lambda Legal