Today, I Doubt

Nothing shakes my faith in God like the deep-seated, all-encompassing pervasiveness of racism in the US, and in the (mostly white) Evangelical Church in particular. I have attended white or mostly white churches most of my life, in several states, on opposite coasts, plus D.C. I have no doubt that George Floyd’s name will not be spoken in some of those churches tomorrow. I have no doubt that tomorrow, pastors in other white churches will express sadness over his death, but will save their rebukes for the destruction of property. I have no doubt that George Floyd’s murder—yes, murder—will be called “tragic” from some of these pulpits, but not “evil.” Because even though we watched it with our own eyes, we cannot let go of the belief that black deaths at the hands of police, however unfortunate, must be unavoidable or warranted. 

Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit lives in the people of God, and that s/he does not discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, gender, or class. The Spirit is given to empower God’s family to represent God to the world. The Spirit comforts, counsels, directs, helps, corrects, unifies, teaches, motivates, and convicts of sin, to name a few things. Yet, in most white churches, unity is superficial and cosmetic at best. Teaching on American/Evangelical racism is absent. Ambivalence drowns out motivation. There is no conviction of sin, because there is no true understanding of the depth and breadth of America’s original sin, which we continue to partake in today. “Surely you’re not saying I’m racist?!” is the defensive refrain of the white Evangelical, as if individual racism alone killed George Floyd, or Breonna Taylor, or Ahmaud Arbery, or Stephon Clark, or Tamir Rice or so many others. If Scripture is true, then where is the Holy Spirit in these white churches? 

I say this, and know that I am not separate from the people who cause my doubt. I’m a white Christian, in a nation built for my flourishing—built on the backs of black and Chinese Americans, on the lands of Native Americans, at the expense of Latinx Americans. I was able to remain comfortably oblivious to this tremendous evil for the first two-plus decades of my life. Where was the Holy Spirit in me—teaching, driving me to action, convicting me of my sinful indifference?

A few years ago, my faith was shaken by the realization of just how deeply embedded and insidious misogyny is in the Church. I mean, I knew it went deep, but not that deep. I delved into Scripture—Greek, Hebrew, commentaries, scholarly articles, and all— and my faith was renewed and strengthened to find just how pro-women the Bible actually is. I would even go so far as to say it is surprisingly feminist, when read with a proper cultural hermeneutic. 

Similarly, I take some comfort in knowing that Jesus was not white when he walked this earth, nor is he white as he sits at the right hand of the Father today. My doubt quiets slightly with the knowledge that the alleged Judeo-Christian values at the center of American society are far more Enlightenment and Platonic/pagan values than they are genuinely Christian. I am grateful for scholars like Soong-Chan Rah, Richard Twiss, Brenda Salter McNeil, and many others for helping me begin to peel back my white cultural lens when reading the Bible. 

And yet, I’m left asking: Holy Spirit, where are you in white American churches—teaching us about the depravity of our nation and ourselves, convicting us of our complicity, moving us to act? Today, eight hours before Pentecost Sunday, I doubt the Spirit’s presence.

God of justice, do you see? Are you listening? George Floyd’s blood cries out to you from the ground.

Quarantine Reflections from Around the World

A couple of weeks ago, I challenged some friends to journal every day throughout Covid-19 quarantine. The idea was that we are in an unprecedented time, and it’s important to preserve our experiences for those that come after us. How much would you like to read your grandparents’ journal entries from The Great Depression or WWII? I was surprised by the enthusiastic response to this challenge. Below are several of these lovely friends’ summaries of their first few weeks in quarantine. I hope you see yourself in their reflections, and that their stories cast new light on your own. Feel free to share your own reflections and experiences in the comments. In no particular order:

Exactly one month ago was the last day of school for Washington.  I was supposed to be working since I’m only half time but knowing it was the last day for six weeks (now till June) I came into the school and rearranged the day so I could fit 16 classes into coming and checking out library books. All fines and late notices were waved. Every kid got two books. It seems so surreal to me now.  I think about those kids every day.  I know a lot of them are going to be ok and this could actually be a fun memory of time with family for some. However, I know a lot of them are going to be struggling more than I can ever imagine.  We have a class of students pooled from across the district who are high needs due to behavioral and academic issues.  I think about that class a lot.  It takes so much support to help those kids succeed day to day and I hope their parents have found a way to still have that support while keeping their kids and families safe.  It’s also odd to me how quickly I have found myself adjusting to my new normal.  It’s been a month since I have gone to work, out to eat dinner, hang out with friends, go to a movie, or a concert and yet I find as much as I miss it, I have quickly settled into a new normal of classes and professional development on the computer.  I hope that when this time is over I don’t so easily go back to a life of comfort and forget how much this has impacted everyone over the world. 

Jori (Washington)

It happened so fast. Within a week, I was housebound for the foreseeable future. If you had told me at the beginning of that week that the country of Spain would go into total lockdown, with police and military enforcement, I would have probably laughed. On Sunday, we began to see people in masks and we were encouraged not to hug or kiss per usual Spanish cultural norms. By Tuesday afternoon, we were meeting to discuss closing the church I work with here in Madrid. On Wednesday, March 11th, all schools and universities were closed. Despite that, as I went out with friends in the center of Madrid that night, the streets and restaurants were full of people laughing and enjoying life. There was no sign that the “Madrileños” were afraid of this Coronavirus.

Two days later, on Friday, March 13th, all restaurants and shops (except supermarkets) were closed, and we began our downward spiral towards complete lockdown. Saturday afternoon as I met a friend in Madrid Center, we had the streets to ourselves. The normally packed streets were emptied and there was a strange, tense feeling in the air. Little did I know, that was the last time I would leave my apartment for anything other than necessities. I should have savored it more.

The next day we began total lockdown until further notice. I have not seen my friends, been to work, taken a walk, or really been outside my apartment since March 14th, other than for groceries. We didn’t even have time to try social distancing. The first week I thought I could handle this, but by the end of that week, when we heard the quarantine was extended, I cried into my bowl of cereal, then just started laughing. It was time to process, accept, and adjust. And that’s where I still am, a month later, in an endless cycle of process, accept, adjust, and back quarantine continues.

Amy (Madrid, Spain)

As a self-professed homebody, social distancing and staying home have not been particularly difficult for me (although when I consider how long this might go on, I do experience some low grade dread). I’m truly grateful for the gift of being able to hunker down with my husband and one-year-old. It’s the uncertainty of the situation in general that has me waking up in the middle of the night with a racing heart, that makes me dig deep to remember Psalms I memorized as a kid. On God I rest. Or do I? 

I am at times overwhelmed with worry. For my parents and my in-laws. For my husband, whose heart condition has not felt like a very big deal until now. For my brother who has an autoimmune disorder. I worry about my husband and son going for a walk after having heard reports of horrific hate crimes committed against Asian American people. I read the headlines and I worry some more. All this anxiety and angst from someone who is about as safe and secure as anyone could ask to be in these times. My husband is able to work from home, our baby is happy and healthy, our pantry is stocked, and our neighborhood remains a lovely and safe place to take a walk. 

There are so many things that might go wrong, that truly are worrisome. But for today, for our little family, all is well. And I know that is more than so many others can say right now. 

– Libby (Massachusetts)

I found out I was pregnant with my third child the same week we started to realise that maybe Covid-19 was something we needed to take seriously. We’re now in our third week of social distancing and it has been unbelievably hard. I’ve been suffering with extreme morning sickness. It’s difficult to stay hydrated, let alone keep food down. I find myself consumed by sickness and just trying to make it to the next moment. I would find this isolating enough on its own, but with social distancing thrown in mix, my mental health is suffering. I started this time hoping to make life as normal and steady as possible for my children. They’ve lost school, friends, grandparents, and now I feel they’ve lost me too. This breaks me most days. I know they’re resilient. I know this dark cloud will move on. But when you’re in the middle of it, it’s incredibly hard to have that perspective. It’s made me think about all those out there who need their people right now. What about those hanging on by a thread going unseen, not checked up on? I guess I’m just l hoping people aren’t afraid to reach out and say when they’re really not doing ok. And really hoping we find creative ways to step up and be there for those who are honest enough to say.

Anonymous (Australia)

I have, honestly, been surprised by my response to this current season of time. It has been filled with many unknowns and losses, yet I am relatively unphased by it all. And that surprises me. Oh, I have been human in the midst of all of this. I have cried. I have been disappointed. I have been frustrated. I have felt fear trying to gain a stronghold. I have FELT this season of time deeply in my heart.


I have been unphased by it in the core of my being. I do not live in fear of what might happen. I am not lingering in the pain of what has been lost. I am not wondering where God is in the midst of all of this. I am not without hope or joy or peace. When one has walked the road of disappointment, loss and pain before, and found beauty on the other side, new disappointment, new unknowns, new struggles and new pain and new loss no longer possess the power to defeat.

My family and I were homeless 10 years ago. The ‘08 recession hit us hard, and for 3 1⁄2 years we lived in the houses of friends and family, trying to make sense of the chaos around us and secure some sort of stability of work and finances. We had great loss, great disappointment, great sorrow, great pain. And, on the other side, we saw great beauty, great healing, great restoration, and exquisite love.

As I have pondered my response to this season of time, I have come to the realization that my previous experience with great loss has prepared my heart for this season of time. And while I still FEEL the loss, FEEL the sorrow, FEEL the disappointment of this time, I don’t struggle to find hope or peace or joy in the midst of it all. I KNOW that, in the end, beauty will emerge. I KNOW, in the end, that healing will have taken place. Yes, there will be stories of great, overwhelming loss and pain. And I will cry over those.

But there will also be stories of triumph and healing, of relationships restored and priorities made right. And I will cry over those stories as well, but they will be tears of profound gratitude and joy.

This current season of struggle and loss has revealed that the foundation forged in pain and loss during my previous personal season of pain and loss is strong…stronger than I even knew. And that is knowledge I am grateful to have for whatever future crises come my way.

Sheri (Montana)

The Laborious, Sticky, and Often Agonizing Reality of “All One in Christ”

*Sorry in advance for the humble-bragging I’m about to do.*

It’s no secret that the United States is more divided today than it has been since any point in history since the Civil War. Unsurprisingly, this division is reflected in our church communities. It may, however, come as a surprise to some how central church unity is to Scripture.

Last week, I had the joy of sitting in on a class on Galatians taught by N.T. Wright. Wright argues that justification in Pauline writing—especially in Galatians—is primarily about inclusion (specifically ethnic inclusion), and less about salvation (a word that never appears in this particular letter). ‘Salvation’ as understood in the classically Reformed tradition certainly has something to do with how this inclusion is achieved, but it is not the issue at hand in Paul’s argument. Rather, Paul is responding to a teaching pervasive in the early church that God’s people—the “Messiah-family”—were limited to ethnic Jews and to those who chose to observe Torah. 

Wright seldom repeats himself while teaching (he’s a bear for slow notetakers like myself), but one line he repeated over and over was that Galatians is Paul’s argument that “Jesus died to make one family” in keeping with the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12:2&3), a family comprising Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free people, men and women (Gal. 3:28). In Paul’s view, these differences are not obliterated (assimilated) in this new family, but transcended and re-imagined within the promised “new creation” which all believers eagerly await. Wright went on to say that Paul has in mind a “Messiah-family” characterized by God’s faithfulness—self-giving, self-sacrificial, loving—and righteousness/justice. By embodying these characteristics—Paul calls it “clothing yourselves with Christ” (3:27), God’s people fulfill their original purpose of projecting God’s image into the world (Gen. 1:27).

I found myself in an impassioned conversation with several other women after the class let out one day about the current divisions in our churches, and how lamentably few Christians actually wrestle with the theology we’re taught which underlies them. Certainly, many of these divisions fall along on ethnic lines, but also along the lines of

  • gender (complementarian v. egalitarian)
  • embracing vs. minimally accommodating those with disabilities
  • generational differences
  • single, married, and married-with-children
  • political affiliation
  • attitudes/practices/theology re. LGBTQ people

It occurred to me as we were talking that our apathy and unwillingness to reconsider and wrestle with our faulty theology boils down to one simple failure: the failure to recognize someone who doesn’t look/talk/think/live like us as “our own.” If we truly understand the invitation of the gospel—to become a part of “the Messiah-family” in which culturally defined differences are transcended—then we are called to recognize those different from us as “our own.” And if we recognize someone as “our own,” then we care about the theology that impacts them (and dare I say, creates divisions in today’s “Messiah-family”), and we engage with it accordingly. 

I do not think that rigorous engagement on the above listed divisions (and associated theology) will result in agreement or uniform practice. As an egalitarian, I dearly wish that all of the apathetic complementarian men I know (and some women, too) would be persuaded to my view through thorough study of Scripture. However, I also believe that the act of openly engaging with the theology, even if it results in disagreement, is an act of self-giving love (i.e. the faithfulness of God), love which is meant to characterize our new “family.” Having the conversation and seeking to understand the other’s perspective is an acknowledgement that “the other” is “my own,” even in the absence of consensus. 

So I’ll leave it at this: If you’re a person of color and follow Jesus, you’re my family. If you’re a complementarian follower of Jesus, you are my family. If you have a disability and follow Jesus, you’re my family. If you’re 8 or 80 and follow Jesus, you’re my family. If you’re married, divorced, widowed, have small children, or you’re an empty-nester and follow Jesus, you’re my family. If you’re a Democratic Socialist or a Republican and and follow Jesus, you’re my family. If you’re an LGBTQ follower of Jesus, you’re my family. Let’s talk.

Purity Culture and Porn Culture: Two sides of the same dirty coin

I grew up at the tail end of Purity Culture’s heyday in a fairly conservative, Evangelical community. Courtship, “true love waits,” purity rings, were part of our common vernacular regarding relationships, and the definition of purity was ubiquitous and unchallenged: virginity.

Conflating purity and virginity was just one of many problematic things I was taught growing up. The church camp I attended every summer through junior high and high school had separate “guys and girls” talks, where the guys were admonished not to watch porn or masturbate, and the girls were encouraged make lists of traits we wanted in our future husbands and ask God to bring that special man into our lives at just the right time. We were also warned not let the guys get too handsy with us, because “once guys get going, it can be difficult for them to stop.” Shudder.

I also distinctly remember at my last year of church camp the speaker saying something to the effect of, “If you wait and do things God’s way, he will reward you. You’ll have the kind of sex that will curl your toes.” That first sentence was a paraphrase; the second is forever seared into my memory, verbatim.

Purity culture–embodied by the True Love Waits campaign, I Kissed Dating Goodbyethe Scotch tape metaphor and other such illustrations–largely failed to achieve its goal of keeping Christian teens and single adults from becoming sexually active. But beyond that, it set many of us up for disappointment once we reached the arbitrary point of being “ready” for marriage.

I’ve known for years that Purity Culture established unrealistic expectations of romance and marriage in many Christians of my generation, and I’ve actively fought it in my own heart and mind. But as I stepped into the world of dating myself, I was surprised and disturbed by the other consequences of Purity Culture I’ve encountered. And what’s more, I was surprised by how these effects mirror those of porn culture. The following is not an exhaustive list of parallels, but merely what I’ve picked up from my own meager dating experience and by watching my friends date.


Entitlement is the cornerstone of porn culture. Instant gratification is the reason the industry exists in its current form: I can have exactly what I want, whenever I feel like it, and no one can tell me otherwise. Entitlement quenches gratitude, growth, joy, and ultimately sucks the life and love out of a relationship (often before it begins).

When marriage–the relational end game of most Christians raised in Purity Culture–is seen as God’s reward for a “pure” life, and when purity is narrowly defined as virginity or sexual activity in a distant but redeemed past life, it can generate a sense of entitlement in us as well. I’ve been obedient and faithful, so why hasn’t God delivered on his end of the bargain yet? The end result of disappointed entitlement is either hate directed inward (God hasn’t delivered on his end of the bargain because I’m not [attractive/funny/smart/spiritual/wealthy] enough), or hate directed outward (God hasn’t delivered on his end of the bargain because all of these [b*tches/a**holes] are too vain to look at me). I’ve seen plenty of this in my single Christian friends, both male and female. If I’m being honest, I, too have had thoughts along these lines from time to time. Let me say it again: entitlement sucks the life and love out of relationships.

I am not entitled to be married any more than I am entitled to sexual gratification at any and every moment of the day. When I read the Bible, I do not see that God has promised me a marriage with a “toe-curling” sex life. What he has promised me is actually far more significant. I am invited to participate in the joy-filled, love-abounding perichoresis of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am adopted into the family of God, the communion of saints–a family which will surely delight and disappoint, challenge and change, encourage and discourage as all families do. My life is given eternal purpose and meaning as God works in, with, and through me and my brothers and sisters to bring about the restoration of his beloved world. These are the things he promises me, with or without a spouse.


Following closely on the heels of entitlement, dangerous beliefs about consent are another consequence of both Purity Culture and porn culture. While some proponents of pornography assert that porn is consensual because the actors are paid, reports of sexual assault on set are far from uncommon. Furthermore, the prevalence of violence in porn shapes viewers’ arousal templates, meaning men and women alike (because let’s be honest, women use porn, too) find arousal and, ahem, completion difficult without some element of force, abuse, or coercion. Anecdotally, I have heard from lots of teenagers in Generation Z–who get their sex education primarily from Porn Hub–that they feel expected and pressured to perform more violent and bizarre acts than they are comfortable with. Porn does a terrible job educating young minds about consent.

As does Purity Culture. Growing up, I heard time and again that men are more visual (an assertion that is heavily contested within social and neurosciences), and so women must dress modestly in order to “protect our brothers from stumbling.” This dubious psychological premise followed with a misapplication of 1 Corinthians 8:9 has a sleazy cousin, which I briefly mentioned earlier: “once guys get going, it can be difficult for them to stop.” In other words, I am responsible to keep myself from being assaulted. I am responsible for my own purity, narrowly defined, as well as my boyfriend’s. The story of David and Bathsheba (2 Sam 11) is taught as a cautionary tale on immodesty more than a story of a woman who was coerced into sex (rape) by a man who held tremendous power over her.

I wrote a post several months ago about some of my own brushes with harassment and unwanted physical contact within Christian circles. Not only does no not mean no to many Christian men, but there was never a question to begin with because it is simply assumed that the woman is the gatekeeper of the relationship’s physical boundaries.


Until now, I’ve been talking about Purity Culture and porn culture as though they’re two separate forces. But I actually think it’s naïve to assume that those raised in Purity Culture were not also raised in porn culture. It can be difficult to tease out which problems stem from Purity Culture and which stem from porn culture, and to what degree. Once a cake is baked, you can’t separate out which part is egg and which is flour.

That said, I think the ‘cake’ takes a pretty clear form once baked: objectification.

Porn culture reduces beautiful, precious men and women beloved by God and created in the divine image to two dimensional, digital apparitions whose existence begins and ends with the click of a button. It obscures and commoditizes their humanity, basing their worth entirely upon a few key physical attributes and a willingness to ‘perform’ for people they will never meet face to face. They are things that exist to fulfill another’s self-centered needs, not the complex, interesting, glorious people God created them to be.

At the beginning of this post, I talked about the list I was encouraged to make at church camp of traits I wanted in my future husband. While I believe that this was intended to teach us to develop healthy standards, I think that the broader impact of ‘the shopping list’ approach on my generation has been the objectification of those we encounter on a day to day basis. Are you The One? becomes the question we ask ourselves whenever we are around singles our age. We treat each person that God has called us to love sacrificially as though their primary value lies in whether or not they tick all of the boxes on our list, whether there is “a spark” or sufficient chemistry, or whether their [EQ/spiritual habits/calling] matches our own. When we do find that person who more or less ticks all the boxes, our love is transactional and highly conditional, quid pro quo. Our significant others are things that exist to fulfill our self-centered needs, not the complex, interesting, glorious people God created them to be.

Faith, Hope, and Love

In the last year and a half, I have had to wrestle honestly with my unwanted gift of singleness more than at any other point in my life. I have struggled with each of the issues above–and then some!–in different ways, and I understand that I cannot avoid the repercussions of porn culture or Purity Culture by trying to wish away my desire for a relationship. I am also slowly settling into the realization that I cannot satisfy my singleness woes with a relationship, at least not entirely.

Rather than responding to a legitimate longing for a relationship with objectification or a sense of entitlement, the solution is the three things that remain at the end of 1 Corinthians 13: faith, hope, and love. Faith: authentic, firmly rooted trust that God is a good Father who gives good gifts to his children for a good purpose, although I may not understand fully what that purpose is. Hope: the expectation that God is drawing me deeper into the perichoresis, that he has given me a permanent place in his family (Ps 68:6, Jn 1:12, Eph 1:5), and that he is making all things new (Rev. 21:1-4). Love, the greatest of all: choosing to receive his abundant love for me even when it feels foreign and uncomfortable; accepting love from those around me, flawed though it may be; asking God to give me the eyes to see others as he does, so that I may love them as he does–sacrificially, tenaciously, and with great delight. These are the only antidotes I know to the creeping, insidious ripple effects of two seemingly opposed cultural forces.

But what revolutionary antidotes they are…


#MeToo in The Church

Unless you live off the power grid, you’re probably aware that a prominent Hollywood producer has been dethroned by a snowballing number of sexual assault allegations in recent weeks, with another massive round of allegations against a major director following close behind. Chances are, you’re also aware of the thousands upon thousands of #MeToo posts circulating on social media attempting to bring the staggering, common, and generally overlooked problems of sexual harassment and assault to the forefront of people’s consciousness.  This particular movement, if we can call it that yet, strikes me differently than past female-driven hashtags (recall #Ineedfeminismbecause and #Imwithher) because it is simple and it is personal; it states a fact rather than taking a stance.  #MeToo is an invitation to step into another person’s shoes, to glimpse the world through her eyes and consider that she knows something about the bleakness of the world that we cannot understand.

I’m going to add my own voice to the flood of #MeToo’s, not because I want sympathy or shows of support, but because I hope that by stepping into my shoes for a moment, you may be compelled to shift from empathy to an altered stance, and from a stance to action.

I was fifteen the first time I was sexually harassed. A guy in one of my classes asked me to have sex with him during our lunch period.  When I think back on that event, the vileness of his proposition still makes me queasy.  I was harassed again by someone else a few months later, and that time it got physical.  I exited the situation quickly, and told myself I had imagined it.  In the 20/20 hindsight of adulthood, I know I did not.

I am beyond thankful that these two encounters were the worst it ever was, and I know from countless conversations with friends that I am in the minority here. I was never assaulted or raped, and most of my brushes with harassment since then–while they still disgust me–have not made me fearful in the way that these first two incidents did.

Most of the audience I expect to read this is tracking with me so far, because they–you–know that the world is a dark place full of teenage boys and grown men with lecherous minds. Society, without question, objectifies women and reduces us to mere body parts that exist for male gratification, and rampant sexual harassment and assault are the natural fruit of said objectification. We have the porn industry, advertising, and yes, Hollywood, to thank for this.

But it may come as a surprise–to some, anyway–to know that both of the times I was sexually harassed in high school were by Christian boys, and both incidents happened when we were surrounded by other Christians.  And this, reader, is by no means unusual.  These were my first experiences of harassment from Christians, but they were certainly not the last. And beyond my own experiences, I have friends who have been harassed, assaulted, and even raped by men that they–we–went to church with. These are not my stories to tell, but they are many, and are so many that I am convinced that this happens regularly in most churches, if not all of them.

It is no secret that Christian men battle pornography addictions at comparable rates to the rest of society (as do a growing number of Christian women).  Lust undoubtedly plays a part in harassment and assault, and lots of churches have ministries specifically geared toward helping men walk in freedom from pornography addiction.  Addiction is crippling, and I have a lot of compassion for those in its grip.

But sexual harassment, abuse, and assault are not just about sexual desire; they are about power, too. To be honest, I don’t think that the 17-year-old that propositioned me actually wanted to have sex with me; the number one thing I took away from his tone, body language, and the words he chose was that he wanted me to fear him.  He wanted power over me.

And I’m going to suggest something that will undoubtedly ruffle some feathers:  mainstream Evangelical theology and its outworking often lend themselves to this kind of power.  As I see it, there are two aspects to this, and I’m going to start with the interpersonal one: as long as we understand submission in Ephesians 5 as being linked to power/control/authority, churches will never be completely safe for Christian women.

I’m not going to get into how I understand all of Ephesians 5 right now because this post is already long-winded, and I still have more to talk about.  But suffice to say that if men view women fundamentally as people to be controlled, if they believe that God encourages them to assume positions of power over women, it is easy to see how what women want, need, and are entitled to as children of God can become subordinated to the impulses and desires of men. It is an almost imperceptibly small step from “men run the show” to abuse and silencing the abused.

I’m not saying that men and women are the same, or that the Bible doesn’t promote some kind of gender roles within marriage. But I do think that when we legitimize men assuming power over women, women lose. We lose dignity, value, and most importantly, we lose safety.  And men lose, too, because when women become fearful, subdued, hollow shells of who we were created to be, men will be hollow shells as well.  In a world untainted by sin, Adam still needed Eve to do what God made him to do.  We were created for interdependence, not domination and subordination.

The second aspect of Evangelical theology I see contributing to a domination/subordination culture is in our ecclesiology.  Shifting from the interpersonal to the corporate/communal ways most Evangelical churches operate, my observation is this: when church leadership teams are exclusively men–or include only a token female–the church is creating an atmosphere ripe for the exploitation of women.

Let me be clear: although I am egalitarian when it comes to church life, it is not my mission to turn any of you reading this into egalitarians.  My concern here is that women are safe, valued, and respected in their churches and in the company of the men who claim to be their Christian brothers.  And I strongly suspect that when men who are crippled by addiction and feelings of inferiority and inadequacy walk into a church and see only men on the stage, only men making decisions, only men speaking with authority, they subconsciously begin to feel like this might be the place for them to take back the power they think they’ve lost.  When boys growing up in church see only men on stage, they value the minds and hearts of women less.  And when women see this, we know that male needs and viewpoints are of primary importance in this community; we know we are decorative, at best.  Regardless of what the man from behind the pulpit says about men and women being created equally in the image of God, if image-bearing women remain without positions of influence in the church body, what is said from behind the pulpit is mere lip service.  Based on what is plainly visible, male imago Dei > female imago Dei.

For those of you complementarians, I’m not saying you have to let women preach.  But men, if you are not actively seeking out the wisdom, guidance, and constructive criticism of at least some of the women in your church, and if you are not doing so visibly, your church is probably not a safe place for women.  The women in your church need to see women in prominent positions so that they know this is a place where women are respected and valued, and the men in your church need to see women in prominent positions for the exact same reasons.

Furthermore, our churches need women in prominent positions because their voices are necessary for building Christ-like communities. Men, you do not instinctively know what we need to be safe. You need to be told.  You need to be told that the way you talk about lust and modesty and romance often makes us less safe and adds to our silence.  You need to be told that most of us do not feel comfortable telling our pastor that his friend felt us up when he had too much to drink, or that he won’t stop texting us or “randomly” bumping into us when we’ve turned him down repeatedly.  You need women to help shape your communication style, relationships, and the church community itself so that your church can be a place for women to thrive as image bearers of the living God. Men, you need our voices in order for the Kingdom of God to be established in your churches, and we need you to know that you need us.  If the apostle Paul needed women in his ministry, so do you.

I have spent my entire life in church.  Until I was in college, I attended nominally egalitarian churches, churches whose theology, in theory, causes them to champion women.  But a theological position is not enough.  A stance is not enough.  Action is required.  Our relationships and our churches have to change if #MeToo is ever going to stop being the norm in Christian communities.


It Will Never Be My Name in the Headlines

I want to start this by saying I don’t generally like to be very controversial on the Internet. This isn’t to say that I don’t have opinions on controversial things—I certainly do—but that I’ve mostly refrained from using social media and this blog (which I haven’t posted to in ages) to express my opinions. This is partly because of my conflict-avoidant Scandinavian upbringing, partly because I know there’s a lot that I don’t understand and many pieces of the puzzle I lack (including in what you’ll read below), and partly because I don’t want to be just another loud, angry, indiscernible voice amongst the cacophony.

But today, I am hurting, I am seething with frustration and anger, and I don’t think I can maintain my self-respect if I don’t explain why: Philando Castile (or any number of the Black people killed by police officers recently) could have been someone I love.  Philando Castile (or Lavish Reynolds) will probably never be me.

I was born and raised in White America. I’m from rural Montana and proud of it, where even nonreligious people believe in God, in family, in loving their country, and in lending a helping hand to their neighbors. Rural communities have each other’s backs, and that is a value I’m proud to carry with me today.

I went to D.A.R.E. as a kid. I was taught to respect and trust police officers and authority figures in general. Although I have yet to meet a single perfect cop (because no one is), I believe that the vast majority of them put on their uniforms every day to do what their badges declare: to protect and serve their communities. I vividly remember a poster in our local IGA of a police officer drinking lemonade at a little girl’s sidewalk stand. This is how I grew up viewing police officers, and as far as I know, it still fits my sleepy little hometown.

I was raised in White Evangelical America, where we listened to talk radio, memorized Psalm 139, and voted pro-life. Psalm 139 is still one of my favorites, and I’m still avidly pro-life. This is the general context I’m coming from, and the context I hope to address.

I was in my last semester of college at the University of Montana when George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin. It struck me as a bizarre situation, like part of a world to which I did not belong. I followed the news as it unfolded with the rest of America, and I remember thinking that even though the situation was fishy, there just didn’t seem to be enough evidence to convict Zimmerman beyond reasonable doubt. And even though UM is probably the most ethnically diverse 220 acres in all of Montana, I still managed to stay emotionally distant, like a lot of America. I still failed to consider that there might be something bigger going on in Trayvon’s death than a trigger-happy vigilante, like a lot of America.

Fast-forward a couple of years, and Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson. This was the first death of a Black person that shook me, not because of the protests or the controversial details of the incident, but because for the first time in my adult life, I really paused to listen to Black voices. And I started to hear a different narrative about violence and fear and the justice system I had been raised to trust. I began to actually hear my Black friends as they told me about getting pulled over while driving the speed limit, being followed in stores, and far more terrifying things that are not my stories to tell. I was in unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and even shocking territory.

That summer, I was talking with a friend of a friend who is a police officer, asking him what it is like to be a cop in the midst of the tensions caused by Michael Brown’s death. This police officer, who I still believe puts on his uniform to serve and protect, told me that he could not do his job without racial profiling.

If the notions I had about the fairness of the American justice system were shaken by Michael Brown’s death—along with the subsequent grand jury proceedings—they were shattered as I watched, with the rest of the nation, as police officers forced Eric Garner onto the concrete and choked the life out of him. The pieces of my shattered faith were ground to dust as I watched Laquan McDonald die. The dust was blown into the wind as I saw a police car pull up to an isolated park bench and its occupants shoot 12-year-old Tamir Rice to death without warning.

To my people, my White people, who I love and deeply respect, I know what many of you are saying. You’re saying that Michael was smoking weed, that he should not have stolen those cigarillos. He shouldn’t have resisted arrest (which we do not know for certain). True, but I know of large White men from my rural Montana community who, in their misspent youth, committed much larger robberies while intoxicated, ran from the police (resisted arrest), and are still alive. College classmates ran when the cops came to bust up parties, and rather than being fearful, we could joke about how it was a good thing Missoula cops loved their donuts.

To my people, who I love and deeply respect, I can hear and have heard what some of you have had to say about Laquan. He had a history of violent behavior, he was mentally unstable, he was a criminal. He was breaking into cars. I can say the same thing of White men I know who have lived to tell about it. But Laquan had a knife! I know. I was once mugged at knifepoint, and even if I had had a gun, I would not have used it. It is always, always better to deescalate the situation, even at the expense of personal property. There’s also so much I could say about how our society fails men and women with mental health issues on a daily basis, but suffice to say this: nowhere is that failure more apparent than in communities of color.

To my people, who I love and deeply respect, I can guess what some of you are thinking: Tamir Rice should not have been playing with a toy gun in a public park; he was big for his age; his parents should not have let him play with a gun without the orange cap which marks it as a toy. Let me remind you, my people, that my siblings, my friends, and I played with toy guns throughout our childhood, sometimes in public parks. Some of those toy guns didn’t have orange caps. Many of us were shooting real guns by age ten or twelve, sometimes without parental supervision. Many of us were big for our age. Not one of us was ever perceived as a threat.

Please, these are not singularities. I could go on, and on, and on reminding you of times in recent memory when Black men and women were abused, mistreated, and yes, killed, before our very eyes, while for the most part similar situations are handled much differently when the suspects are White.

My beloved people, I am not defending criminal behavior. I am not saying that the emerging details of Alton Sterling’s and Philando Castile’s deaths at the hands of police officers are insignificant. I am not saying our nation’s police officers set out to brutalize our Black brothers and sisters when they put on their uniforms. Let me reiterate, I believe they put on their uniforms to protect and serve their communities. What I am saying is that in so doing, our police officers have stepped into a system that regards Black men and women as inherently more threatening than White men and women.

This is a well-documented fact that even includes the way Black and Latino officers perceive civilians of color[1]. The desire to protect and serve, combined with an innate view that the darker someone’s skin is, the more of a threat they are, creates an atmosphere where men and women of color are more likely to be searched, shoved, and shot by police officers than if they were White. Many of our police officers, regardless of their skin color, operate under a narrative where a Black person is an object of fear first, rather than someone to be protected and served.

And they operate under this narrative because we, a majority White nation, have allowed it. We have allowed it with our disbelief, our silence, and our refusal to listen. We have allowed it with our dismissal when we have listened, our discomfort, and our calls for understanding when we are the ones who don’t understand. We have allowed it with our votes, with our inability to comprehend a bigger picture on crime, poverty, and race, and with our assertions that we are incapable of racism because we have Black friends.

So please, my beloved White people, let’s not allow this anymore, for the love of our God whose image was imprinted on Alton Sterling’s Black body, for the love of our God who knit Philando Castile together in his mother’s womb. Please, do something. Right now, our brothers and sisters are in agony. Let’s allow ourselves to hurt with them, rather than demanding that we wait for more information before validating their anger and pain. If you are still dubious about the realities of the racial system we all live in, read articles and books of whose premises you are skeptical; I would be more than happy to suggest some resources that have deeply challenged me. Listen, really listen, without passing judgment, to the stories of our Black (and Latino, Native American, etc.) brothers and sisters. Allow a new perspective and our God’s heart for justice to inform the way you vote, not just in national elections, but especially in your local elections. Please, let us love our Black neighbors, whether across the street, across the tracks, or across the country as we love ourselves, because they are precious to the Father.  And because, for those of us who have been blessed with Black friends, it could have been those we love.

[1] See Lorie Fridell’s contribution in this article.

When I Was a Black Man

When I Was a Black Man

Stirring words from one of my Seminary Brethren.

Theism, After Lunch.

I have not told this story publicly, and Joelinda and I have not been sure of how/whether it was helpful to share. A version of it has been sitting in my blog drafts for well over a year. But. MLK weekend seems as good a time as any. 

You see, there was a time before Joelinda and I were dating that we had the police called on us.

We were walking through the front yard of an apartment complex because a friend, Britt, was letting us in the side door of the apartment in which she lived. We did this regularly.

We were let inside, and about half an hour later, there was a knock at the door. An officer, who I will make a point to say was very kind and professional, was called because a neighbor expressed concern about the safety of the elderly woman who resided in…

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Scorning Its Shame

One of my professors read the following excerpts from the works of Cicero in class this week, and I have been mulling them over ever since:

To bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to flog him is an abomination, to kill him is almost an act of murder: to crucify him is–What? There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed. (Against Verres)

The very word ‘cross’ should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen, but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears.  For it is not only the actual occurrence of these things [that is, the procedures of crucifixion] or the endurance of them, but the liability to them, the expectation, indeed the mere mention of them, that is unworthy of a Roman citizen and a free man. (In Defense of Rabirius)

There is no parallel in modern Western culture for the shame crucifixion incurred.

Western theologians have spent a lot of time, ink, and oxygen explaining the work of Jesus’ death on the cross as a work of justification, and rightfully so.  I’ve read many times that it took a divine being to bear the fullness of God’s wrath and judgement on sin.  All have sinned, all are guilty, but Jesus’ death makes us innocent.

The cross of Christ certainly means our innocence, but it also means more.

Is it possible that just as it took a divine being to bear the wrath our sin warranted, it also took a divine being experiencing one of the most vulgar, humiliating, degrading executions devised in all of history to bear the shame our sin brought us?  If Jesus exchanged our guilt for his innocence, I think he also exchanged our shame for his sonship, his identity as the beloved Son of the God who spoke yet unknown galaxies into existence.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that “for the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame…” (Heb. 12:2)  What was the joy set before him?  What did he stand to gain by dying as he did, scorning the shame of the cross?  He gained you and me.  He gained a world that he is continually, progressively reconciling and recreating to be what he planned from the beginning.

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.

(“The Love of God,” Frederick M. Lehman)

Finals Week [Ad]venting

While slogging through commentaries on this fine Saturday evening, I happened upon this gem in Hendriksen’s New Testament Commentary on Matthew:

…the sojourn of Jesus on earth must be viewed not primarily as a series of things that happened to him, but rather as the accomplishment of tasks assigned to him.  Other children are born.  They are wholly passive at birth.  He, too, was born, but he also came.  Moreover, he came with a purpose: not to take but to give, to give his soul as a ransom in the place of many, to seek and to save that which was lost.

In the chaos, stress, and exhaustion of the next several weeks, I need to take a few moments to remind myself that Emmanuel came, and that he accomplished the tasks set before him: to ransom, seek, and save us.  It is finished.

We’re not fine.

“I’m fine.”
“You’ll be fine.”
“Everything’s fine.”
“Fine, then!”

Fine. A word that almost always implies the exact opposite of its definition.

Most of us come from cultures where if you are not ‘fine,’ you keep it to yourself.  Actually being healthy is far less important than appearing healthy.  And if not healthy, then ‘fine.’ “Soldier on” and “Pull yourself together” are often the most empathetic pieces of advice we’re offered. We’re trained to believe that ‘fine’ is our default setting, and if we’re not fine, then we need to muster our courage and/or self-delusion in order to restore our fineness.

But the truth is, the default of humanity is not physical, mental, and emotional health. The default of humanity is not even ‘fine’; the true default setting of humanity is depression, anger, and volatility. It is the propensity to hurt others, both accidentally and intentionally, and to act from our own festering wounds.

The default setting of humanity is depravity.

I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a five-point, T.U.L.I.P.-picking Calvinist, but I’m on board with Total Depravity. I see it daily in the news, in my fellow seminary students, in my friends and my family, and especially myself. I see it in the in the kindest, most selfless people I know who sometimes bristle defensively and act maliciously.

The reality of total depravity has been weighing on me a lot lately. Between all of the geopolitical calamity of this summer and the “typical” heartache that comes with being human, I’ve been overwhelmed. Yet in the last week God has been reminding me of something that injects hope into my faltering spirit. He’s been reminding me that although the default setting of the human heart is depravity, the default setting of his heart is redemption.

I am not fine; neither are you, and neither is our world. We are egregiously far from fine. But we are not beyond our Father’s reach.  He is, was, and always will be a redeemer, and nothing – not ISIS, not Boko Haram, not Hamas or the IDF, and certainly not my own depravity – can change that.