What You Can Do About Ferguson

140813-michael-brown-protest-1812_8870be55b27850f7d38b11bd530fc90a

You can shut the fuck up.

You can shut the fuck up and listen.

And by ‘you’ I mean you, me, and all of us who walk down the street every day safely swaddled in the bulletproof vest of our white privilege.

You can listen to the anger of a community whose young men are gunned down without cause or penalty.

You can stop citing ‘black on black’ violence, because the justice system doesn’t overlook black on black crime, or black on white crime, or white on white crime, but when a white man with a badge guns down a young black man, justice closes its eyes.

You can and stop condemning the the destruction of private property when your political party is literally named after the destruction of private property.

You can stop co-opting the work of Martin Luther King Jr. by implying that he’d condemn the Ferguson protests. Maybe we’d know what he’d have to say if he hadn’t been shot for promoting non-violent protest.

You can stop insisting that white privilege doesn’t exist when you have never picked up a product in a Wal-Mart and feared being gunned down for it.

You can stop bemoaning how the whiny liberals are so sensitive about kids playing with toy guns and then claim that a twelve-year-old playing with a toy gun took his life into his own hands.

You can stop calling Michael Brown a thug.

You can stop insisting justice was served.

You can stop pretending that shoplifting, jaywalking, or resisting arrest are capital crimes in the United States of America.

You can stop giving white cops the power of judge, jury, and executioner.

You can stop telling people they have no right to be angry, no right to feel oppressed, no right to be victims, no right to exercise their freedom of assembly.

You can stop lecturing people of colour on how to behave when those checks can, and do, rightly come from their own community.

You can stop paying eleven dollars to go see the newest ‘Hunger Games’ movie and then pretend like there’s nothing wrong about a society where a man is trained to kill innocent people, does so, and is awarded celebrity status.

You can shut the fuck up and start listening.

And if you are a person of colour, if this is your city burning, your children dying, your faces being plastered on the internet as you beg for justice:

Please, keep talking.

Don’t shut up. Not until we’re listening.

Please tell your stories. Please share your pain. Please rub our noses in the stench of injustice that you wake up to every morning.

We need it.

And we need you.

Or else we need to prepare for a thousand more Michael Browns.

If you want to support the Ferguson in a way that’s been advocated by many people affected by Michael Brown’s murder and its aftermath, consider making a donation to Ferguson Public School Projects. The effective education of our children is the best defense we have against continued violence against marginalised groups.

Picture via nbcnews.com

When I Was A Boy In Belfast

belfast_aerial Many of my posts are responsive. I hear about an event or incident or encounter an argument and I respond on my blog with my thoughts. This is not one of those posts.

This post is a love letter to my favourite city in the world, Belfast.

Sometimes it’s easy to talk about Belfast. And sometimes it’s very hard. There’s much about the city to love. My mother’s family calls Belfast and the surrounding suburbs and villages home, and as a child I would spend days, weeks, sometimes a month or more there at a time. Travelling between my home in the Republic of Ireland and my family’s home in Northern Ireland presented challenges of its own, but I always loved Belfast. I loved the perfume of salt and briny sea mingled with the steel and oil of the Harland and Wolff shipyards. Coloured boats dotting the sea, people yelling with strange tongues wearing stranger clothes, the regal facades of the old municipal buildings, the severity of the church architecture, the life and colour and vibrancy of the gypsy enclaves, and the music, oh the music and the dancing and the laughter and the craic. Belfast was beatha, an baile, an gra.

But none of us ever forget that Belfast is a city defined by conflict. Even today when you walk through the city you walk along the peace lines, walls erected in 1969 to separate the warring Catholic and Protestant factions. The Troubles murals glare down at you, fierce and fresh and plastered in pain and loss. Belfast as a child was life, and it was death. It was pipe bombs and barbed wire. It was empty beds and blood in the gutters, shattered windows and shattered kneecaps. Belfast was Protestant gangs breaking the windows of Catholic boarding schools and throwing in firecrackers and cherry bombs, laughing and hooting at the screams of the young girls inside. Belfast was graffiti spray painted across a door, calling for the death of this tribe or that religion or this political ideology. Belfast was a blast of hot air and shrapnel flying through the streets. It was the cold bead of ice in your stomach when you went to the market for milk and fish and bread and you wondered Am I going to turn a corner and die because someone with a religious-political grudge wants to make a statement?

belfast falls road murals2

Belfast and its people are a seed that fell into the mud from the hands of empire and took root. Trampled and ignored and dismissed until new growth took hold and a strong sapling stood in the soil and the world asked where did that come from?

Belfast is bullet holes and new trees, three hundred years of war and sixteen years of peace.

My life in the city, among the Irish and the British and the Romani, taught me so many lessons, but three of them have stayed with me stronger than the others.

Belfast taught me about Church.

“There’s only two sacraments a Protestant needs,” said a deacon to a relative when I was within earshot. “A bullet in the left knee and a bullet in the right.”

I was seven or eight years old but the lesson stuck with me. I was Catholic. That was good. Protestants are bad. They are the enemy. They are not Us.

ygtz8S0But my mother is a Protestant, I couldn’t help but think. And my sisters, and my grandmum isn’t even Christian. But they were the good kind of Protestants, so I thought. They were in America already. They weren’t the Protestants who marched through the Catholic neighbourhoods with war chants and banners. They were fine.

I hoped.

Red letters were scrawled on the walls with lurid paint as I walked from the bus station to a dance competition. KAT KAT KAT!

Kill All Taigs, Kill All Taigs, Kill All Taigs.

I was a Taig, because a Taig was a Catholic. They wanted to Kill All Taigs and I knew they meant me. The deacon was right. Protestants were bad, and dangerous, and they would kill you if they could.

Then one bright afternoon the bomb went off in Omagh and twenty-nine people were dead in the streets and it was Catholics, it was Catholics who set off the bomb and oh gods there was nowhere to go and we weren’t safe. And some churches were ashamed and some were furious and some ignored it and a few were quietly pleased.

I was ten years old.SONY DSC

Belfast taught me about Church. It taught me that I wasn’t safe.

Belfast taught me about heresy.

Someone I knew as a very young man was raped by a Catholic clergyman. I didn’t find out until years after the fact, when the family was moving away and the victim’s brother whispered to me that there was a counselor in Dublin who would help his brother because someone had done something to him and he was a faggot now. But the person who had…done things had moved. Where to, he didn’t know, but he didn’t go to jail or anything, he said. The family was too ashamed and the parish wouldn’t – couldn’t – didn’t let it get out.

I was thirteen years old.

clonard new facade bright sky 1 mediumI went to someone I trusted. Someone in the church, even though I no longer considered myself to be a part of the church. I told him what I knew. I told him how angry I was. I told him I wanted to do something, I don’t know what, something. Something to make them pay for hurting my friend’s brother, because I knew what it was like and how could they let someone get away with doing that to a fecking kid?

I received a lesson in forgiveness. About why we are called to forgive others. About why it’s best to leave somethings in the past and give forgiveness for transgressions, because when we don’t forgive others we are not forgiven ourselves, and are outside the fold of the Good Shepherd.

I didn’t forgive. I walked straight out of that fold.

And soon after I stood in front of a church building in Belfast much later at night than I was technically allowed to be out. It was late, no one was around, but there were lights inside the building and the stained-glass glowed like so many crystal jewels. The Virgin was staring down at me, her face soft and hands folded and eyes dark like coals. There were angels and apostles too, I think, but I remember her most of all,

In my hand, I held half a brick. I stared, and she stared back, and rage pounded through my temples, and she stayed serene and I raised my fist and hers was already raised.

As I held the brick up, my imagination gave her a voice in my head. Turn the other cheek. Let him who has no sin cast the first stone. Forgive, forgive, forgive.

I threw the brick.

And in my rage and my spite and the dark of the night, I missed. The brick broke apart against the stone wall and the crack echoed through the night and I ran as fast as my legs could carry me back home.

I’ve learned my lesson about vandalism and the willful destruction of property since then. I’ve learned how to turn anger into activism, rage into resolution, But on that cold night, if my emotions were given power, a hundred thousand churches around the world would have been nothing but smoking craters.

And in my darkest, most honest moments…I’m glad I threw the brick.

Belfast taught me that it doesn’t matter who you defend or what you believe. You’re always going to be a heretic to someone.

Belfast taught me about grace.

Grace: n, (in Christian belief) the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. (Merriam-Webster dictionary).

I recently had two separate conversations with Christian authors Rachel Held Evans and Benjamin Corey. They covered whether or not all sins were equal in Christianity, what made or didn’t make a True Christian, what the definition of Christian even is, and why it matters. They gave me good thoughts, explained some of their Christian doctrine with patience and good humour and I got some varied and quite diverse opinions.

(Except when I quoted a verse from the book of Romans, then was the response was identical literally verbatim, Look at you quoting your Bible!, thank you, thank you, it’s my best parlour trick).

Thinking of the Christians I had grown up with, the best and the worst, I led up to the question ‘Can a person be a Christian and a terrorist?’ After all, if a person can lie, cheat, steal, gossip, covet, and lust while remaining a true, if imperfect, Christian, why does that not apply to the worst of sins -murder, destruction, and terror? In this, Rachel and Ben were both in agreement. There are some things that exclude an individual from being a follower of Jesus, even if they claim otherwise. While I define a true Christian as someone who claims and believes in the label, they were in disagreement.

It didn’t change my opinion, or theirs, but that wasn’t an expectation between any of us. However, as I thought more on the conversation, the question I didn’t ask continued to nag at me.

What if you’re wrong?

What if a terrorist really is a Christian? What if the grace Christians so fervently believe in, the gift they want everyone to receive, is something a terrorist can already possess?

What if grace doesn’t just apply to the blogger who belittles you and insults you online, or the abusive pastor who disdains and degrades women, or the person with a voice and authourity who actively hurts an already wounded community? What if grace means that a person who is so twisted and perverted by his religion and his politics that he leaves children lying in pieces in a bombed out street has received grace? What if he’s already at the table? What if it doesn’t matter?

Does that cheapen grace, if its given to the worst of us even when every synapse in our brain says ‘no, no, not him, anyone but him, look at who he is, look at what he’s DONE!’ Or does it enrich it?

I don’t believe in deities, and that’s not going to change any time soon. I don’t believe in church or Church. I don’t believe in sins or the forgiveness of them, I don’t believe in salvation or the eternal soul or heaven or hell.index

But sometimes I almost think that I believe in grace.

I believe in grace because I love Belfast, and more important I love it’s people. All of them. We are flawed, tribal, broken and healed time and time again and I can’t help them love them.

I believe in grace because I’m still a thirteen year old boy filled with hatred and anger, but there are fingers who are prying the brick out of my hand and some of those fingers belong to the religion I’m so angry at.

Belfast taught me about grace because it showed me grace, and showed me how to give it.

Belfast. Béal Feirste. Mother to a godless, grace-filled heretic, and I couldn’t be more proud of it.

Also we have Game of Thrones, so #winning.

The Spirit of Driscoll Lives On in the Bullying of Others

bully_girls_high_res-640x420

The Man has fallen.

If you’re at all active in the religious blogospheres, you know who I’m speaking about. In a move that surprised his church elders and absolutely no one else, Mark Driscoll has stepped down from his position as lead pastor of the Mars Hill Church industry. Haunted by a string of accusations ranging from plagairism to spiritual abuse to misappropriation of church funds, Driscoll stated in his resignation letter that he believed that stepping down was for the good of his family and his ministry. Coincidentally, the board that he personally appointed also found that none of his actions excluded him from ministry in the future, so The Return of the Dudebro Pastor might already be in preproduction.

The reactions to Driscoll’s resignation haven’t been a surprise. There are those who are satisfied and relieved by his fall, and those who argue that people shouldn’t be satisfied and relieved. There are those who finally feel like their years of abuse and hurt are vindicated, and those who insist Driscoll’s victims should be working on forgiving him.

But my purpose here isn’t to gloat about Driscoll’s downfall (I did that privately with a few shots of Jameson), or to again reiterate his long list of offences. It’s to focus on whether Driscoll’s departure from Mars Hill Church matters in the long run. Was it a victory? Was it a step forward? Does it really make a difference?

After deliberation, I’ve come to the conclusion that it does. And it doesn’t.

Which is maddeningly unhelpful, I know.

With a congregation of tens of thousands and a Twitter following of almost half a million, Driscoll was an extremely popular and well-known face of the misogynistic, homophobic, dudebro, Jesus-was-armed-and-dangerous Calvinistic movement. The loss of such a charismatic and dynamic leader (whatever you may think of him, Driscoll was both these things) is a large blow to his brand. But the legacy of Driscoll has hardly disappeared with his face. Driscoll trained pastors. He trained men to be rude like him, crude like him, bully others like him, put people down and shame them like him. This method of ministry has leaked out into the Christian world, and the Spirit of Driscoll is evident every time you watch Christians interact on the internet.

I saw this occur two days ago with a Twitter user who goes by the handle of @kingjimmy1982. He also blogs here. Two days ago, Jimmy was debating the role of patriarchy in Christianity with another individual. Frustrated that his opponent didn’t immediately reverse his position when confronted with the fact that not everyone agreed, Jimmy had this to say.

“it’s gotta stink making a living running your mouth and speaking do ignorantly. Seriously, go get a real job”

Now, of course, it’s not bullying to accuse someone of ignorance, provided that you can back up your claims. It is, however, bullying to put someone down, mock them, or harass them for their chosen occupation. When I pointed out Jimmy’s bullying behaviour and rather sarcastically pointed out that it was completely without the grace and humility that Christians are supposed to act with, Jimmy said – in all seriousness – “I’m proud of my humility. Thanks!”

It was followed by an appeal to the Christian persecution complex when he sarcastically thanked me for not judging him.

It’s a typical Christian attitude. Anything I say is in the Spirit of Christ as long as I personally say it is, in not so many words. And remember, mocking and putting someone down for their career isn’t bullying but calling it out as such is taking the low road and being judgemental

However, the interaction soon leveled up in both aggression and bizarreness when Jimmy proceeded to accuse me of calling him out on bullying solely because the individual he attacked ‘appeared gay.’

This was, of course, very reminiscent of the now infamous Mark Driscoll Facebook post where he called upon his followers to mock effeminate-appearing worship leaders. When I remarked on the homophobic nature of judging people as ‘looking gay,’ Jimmy quickly backpedaled, claiming that it wasn’t that he looked gay, but that he seemed to be gay because he supported LGBT rights. I pointed out that by his logic, 54% of the nation is gay, to which he responded that the individual was more supportive of LGBT rights than most people. So he’s gay.

Or something.

Whether the individual in question was gay, bi, trans, asexual, etc. is entirely beyond the point. The spirit in which Jimmy claimed that my accusations of bullying only reflected the gay way that the individual looked is textbook Christian anti-gay bigotry, and his back-pedalling was just an attempt to put himself in the clear when called out on it. Jimmy went on into a tirade against public speaking as a career, people who stand against bullying LGBT people, how Catholics aren’t ‘real Christians,’ and rounded it off to an appeal of how persecuted Christians feel.

So yes, an interesting and enlightening interaction.

But the sucker-punch has yet to be delivered. As a testament to the power of irony and the sheer audacity of Christian hypocrisy, moments before Jimmy delivered his first insulting and bullying tweet, he was tweeting about Mark Driscoll and how he was no longer above reproach and therefore unfit for ministry.

The disconnect here is just…astonishing. That so many Christians can preach a message of accountability and responsibility and then refuse to live it out themselves. Their judgement, their accusations, their call to accountability is reserved for others, not themselves. The Spirit of Mark Driscoll, the spirit that bullies, mocks, and then attempts to admonish others is alive and well. There’s a common Bible verse about specks and planks that’s almost too cliche to even mention here.

In the end, @KingJimmy1982 is one man on Twitter who has a blog. He has demonstrated himself to be both a bully and anti-gay, but in the end he’s just one man. So again I ask the question: Does it matter?

I say, with complete confidence, that yes it does. It matters because people hear these words. They affect people. They hurt people. They foster a culture of spiritual abuse and no personal accountability. It matters when people call others out on their bullying. It matters when people stand up and say ‘No, I will not let this go unchallenged.’

It matters.

Atheists, it’s important for us to stand up against the abuse and bullying utilised by Christians. But to those Christians who actually care about others and the effect your church has on them, it’s even more important to hear from you. People like Jimmy, like Driscoll, always need to be confronted. They always need to be called out. And Christians have an additional calling to do so because this is your tribe.

It’s time for you to step up and clean house, or you will continue to be understandably perceived as an abusive, uncaring, bullying community.

Why “Left Behind” Didn’t Convert Me

left_behind_2014

On a sunny day in late spring, a Bible Studies teacher at an Evangelical high school in the American Midwest ducked out of his classroom to make some copies of the homework. When he returned, his students had vanished. All that remained were piles of clothes scattered around the room. In a blink of an eye, the children had disappeared and their teacher was….Left Behind!

The students spent the rest of the afternoon sans outerwear playing hookey and engaging in general hooliganism around town. They received a week’s worth of detentions and all agreed that it had been absolutely worth it.

Senior pranks aside, I had been familiar with the teachings of premillenialism long before I helped convinced my classmates to take off their clothes and make a run for it. While my Christian conservative high school didn’t espouse premillenialism as absolute truth, it was presented as one of many interpretations of the Book of Revelation common in Christian theology. But even before that, I had gained exposure to the increasingly visible interpretation thanks to the pop culture mammoth known as the Left Behind franchise.

The novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins are a Christian culture phenomenon. People were talking about it even before I came to America. “If you’re not convinced by the Bible already, these books with do it,” I was told. Several of my classmates obsessively read the middle-grade novellas during silent reading. I lost track of the amount of people who told me it strengthened their faith and enthusiastically recommended it. That the series is a phenomenal commercial success cannot be denied. Besides the books, there are three movies starring cardboard cutout Kirk Cameron and one more in the works starring more successful cardboard cutout Nicholas Cage. This is in addition to the graphic novel adaptions, a video game, and the additional series aimed at the kids. Millions of people globally have read the series.

And I’m one of them. Yes, I actually gave in. I read the twelve books. The prequel trilogy. The sequel one-shot. The 40 middle-grade novellas. Even the prequel-prequel trilogy Underground Zealots that Jenkins churned out on his own. My fifteen-year-old self consumed each novel. My parents, always concerned for my spiritual well-being, were relieved to see me finally applying myself to more appropriate reading. And for a fifteen year old, hey, explosions for Jesus are still  explosions.

The premise is fairly straightforward. In an instant, every true Christian (except Catholics) disappear, leaving their clothes and unmanned cars behind. The world as it’s left is swept up into the seven-year Tribulation. Most of the remaining unbelievers fall under the sway of Nicolae Carpathia, the charismatic Anti-Christ who leads the evil United Nations against the forces of Christ. In the meantime, a plucky group of Christian converts attempts to survive the Tribulation and show the power of Christ’s love to the unbelieving masses by preaching to them ministering to them shooting them in the face.

Oh, and Jesus helps out by horrifically torturing everyone who doesn’t convert fast enough.

I finished the last book, made myself a cup of strong tea, went outside and said, very loudly,

WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK WAS THAT?!?!

I felt cheated. Robbed. Instead of the spiritual experience I was promised, I got a badly written, flat, gratuitous snuff-fest of horrific spiritual abuses. This was supposed to strengthen faith? This was supposed to convert me?

When the hell was I supposed to convert?

Let’s take a brief look at all the tortures throughout the series that God inflicts on anyone who’s not a True Christian. I’ve assembled a list. Keep in mind that the Left Behind series depicts these things being inflicted on atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, Catholics, animists, Jews (sometimes) and anyone who isn’t part of the right flavour of American Evangelical Protestantism.

– Millions of people disappear, killing thousands who are hit by unmanned cars, planes, etc. and throwing the world into chaos.

– Millions die in WW3 and the resulting plague and famine.

– The Wrath of the Lamb earthquake kills more millions.

– Fiery hail falls from heaven, killing more and burning crops.

– A comet falls from heaven, killing millions around the coasts.

– Wormwood falls from heaven, poisoning the water of unbelievers.

– The sun is dimmed, causing a mini Ice-Age that only affects unbelievers.

– Demonic scorpion mites are unleashed. Unbelievers who are stung endure five months of agonising torture. Many try to kill themselves from the pain, but God doesn’t permit them to die so that they must endure the full length of their punishment.

– More demonic horsemen are released, who kill a third of the remaining world population with poison gases and sulfur.

– Boils and sores are inflicted on unbelievers

– The oceans and the rivers are turned to blood. The only people with drinking water are believers. (At this point I don’t know how there’s anyone left alive, but there are because plot device).

– The sun is given the power to burn unbelievers to death through the power of the Holy Spirit and solar flares.

– Darkness drives the most loyal of the Anti-Christ’s people mad.

– Jesus finally returns and kills all the unbelievers who are left with the power of his talking.

There’s probably more but that’s just what I recall without having the entire series colour-coded (red for plagues, green for disasters, blue for random demons, white for Jesus).

So, at which point was I supposed to convert? After the demonic torture scorpions? Or the burning hail, or the ice age? Exactly where was I supposed to give my soul over to the loving Saviour who loved me so much he came to die for my sins?

I don’t know either.

Here’s the thing, Christians. I speak Christianese fairly well, which means that I understand what the means of grace are (or Means of Grace, because it’s not Christian if it’s not Superfluously Capitalised). The means of grace, according to many Christian sects, are the methods through which God administers forgiveness to his people. The first is the Word of God, the second is the Sacraments. These are the two things that are pushed by much of Christian culture as the way to salvation and eternal life. And Left Behind has none of that. None. Sure there are long passages of Scripture arbitrarily pasted with an addendum of how wonderful God is. But there is no discussion. No debate. No apologetics or defense of the text. The unbelievers never raise legitimate concerns about the nature of the god who’s torturing them, and those who vaguely try are just depicted as being stubborn and hard-hearted. And the Sacraments don’t even make an appearance at all. No one is baptised. The Eucharist isn’t even mentioned. Even my fifteen year old self was confused and confounded by the lack of self-awareness in these books.

There’s a new film based on the books starring Nicholas Cage coming out in October and Will Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame is urging Christians to bring their atheist friends in an evangelising effort. But what sort of evangelising ignores the actual means of grace in favour of apocalyptic spectacle?

Fear-based evangelising, that’s what kind. That’s something I’ll have no part of. My ethics won’t permit it any other way. I won’t be terrorised or frightened into accepting an argument under any circumstances, particularly not one starring Nicholas Cage.

This is what I, as an unbeliever, learned from God’s actions in Left Behind: God want’s an abusive relationship with you so that when he tortures you you know that you deserve it, it’s your fault, that he hurts you because he loves you, and that it’s your own stubborness for not seeing it.

Fuck that. There’s no more civil way to put it.

Their questionable evangelising skills aside, the protagonists of the series (imaginatively called the Tribulation Force) is even more bloodthirsty and abusive in many ways. I wish I had time to go into the flat characters, antisemitism, lukewarm homophobia, self-righteous attitudes, and soulless dialogue of the protagonists, but I don’t, and others have done it far better than I could. I will, however, touch on the philosophy behind the Tribulation Force. Where Stephen prayed for forgiveness for his oppressors when he was stoned, where Jesus commanded his people to turn the other cheek, the Tribulation Force gears up, arms up, and goes on super-cool missions to keep believers safe from the United Nations and spread the Gospel while they’re at it. And if any unbelievers get in their way, they splatter their brains across the pavement. In the video games, you can actually do the shooting.

This is what I, an unbeliever, learned from the actions of Christians in Left Behind: Frog-demons coming out of people’s mouths must be taken literally, but that ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ stuff is optional where book sales are concerned.

Listen, if this is your theology, fine. It’s twisted, perverse, and a completely intellectually dishonest interpretation of Revelation, since it picks and chooses what’s literal and what’s not. If this is what strengthens your faith, fine, although I pity you for being bullied by fear of punishment into giving your soul up to your deity. But, for the love of the gods I don’t believe in, stop pretending this is an evangelising tool. Don’t tell unbelievers that this was crafted to minister to them. Don’t insult our intelligence like that. At least have the integrity to acknowledge Left Behind for what it really is.

It’s torture porn. Snuff porn. It’s Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye getting their jollies off by subjecting their fictional world to the horrific tortures they fantasize on unbelievers. You can practically hear them masturbating as they describe in vivid, loving detail how those who do not accept Christ are choked to death on sulfur, crushed beneath masses of stone, drowned, tortured, driven to the brink of insanity. There is no other excuse for why LaHaye and Jenkins so eagerly describe the mass destruction of another few thousand people every fifty pages. This is what gets them off. This is what they eagerly want and anticipate happening to everyone who doesn’t jump on their Christian bandwagon, out of faith, fear, or abuse grooming. Now, mass destruction is a literary staple in secular literature as well. But while it’s often shown in shades of grey, it’s almost never depicted honestly as righteous punishment inflicted on a people who deserve it. That honour goes to Left Behind and other Evangelical Christian literature.

Sorry, teenage Muslim girl in Afghanistan. Even though you’ve grown up in a fundamentalist Muslim culture and have never received even a decent education, God has lost patience with your unbelief, and that’s why you deserve getting your face melted off. You really should have known better.

This sort of literary wanking is even more apparent in Jerry Jenkins’ solo trilogy The Underground Zealots. It depicts a pre-Rapture world where evil atheists have toppled every government and globally enforces mandatory atheism. Christians are driven underground and imprisoned or killed. And what’s their response? They ask their god to inflict the last plague of Egypt on the atheist world. And God is like, sure okay. Afterwards, the world comes to its senses and realises how badly it treated the underground church that unleashed a metaphysical weapon of mass destruction that murdered over a billion innocent people.

Convinced yet?

I know that I’m not the only person aware of this disconnect. Many Christians are rightly critical of the depictions of their god in the Left Behind franchise. But even so, this creates another problem. The monstrous deity of Left Behind is simply the Old Testament god brought into the modern world. The Bible goes from the Old Testament god of vengeance to the New Testament god of love. The Left Behind franchise goes back to the Old Testament god of vengeance in order to convince you of the New Testament god of love, for fear that you’ll be tortured in this life as well as another dimension when you die.

If someone can explain that to me, they need to do the same to LaHaye and Jenkins because they didn’t manage to in over 3,000 pages of text.

So Christians, don’t try to use Left Behind to convert us. I left this sort of spiritually abusive theology a long time ago, and I’m happier for it. If you’re going to take me to see the new Left Behind flick, at least have the decency to help me smuggle in some beer so we can drunkenly yell at Nicholas Cage before we’re thrown out.

The Smell of Hypocrisy in the Morning

 

All welcome, unless your Catholic, Presbyterian, gay, Baptist, Muslim, Jewish, or different from us in any conceivable way.

All welcome, unless your Catholic, Presbyterian, gay, Baptist, Muslim, Jewish, or different from us in any conceivable way.

Sometimes my posts on religious topics can exceed two thousand words in my efforts to examine an issue thoroughly.

This is not going to be one of those times.

This is one of those times where I just lay down the facts, barefaced and naked, for the world to see.

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is one of the more powerful Evangelical forces in America, especially in the Midwest where it’s centred. The LCMS boasts 2.2 million members worldwide, more than 6,000 congregations, and several colleges, making it the eighth largest Protestant denomination in America. The LCMS is one of the most extreme forms of Christian conservatism out there. It focuses on biblical literalism and inerrancy (they are the type of people who keep money in Ken Ham’s pockets), doctrinal and congregational ‘purity,’ and the old adage ‘traditional family values. The LCMS is also defined by their near-veneration of noted anti-Semite Martin Luther, celebrated reformer and author of On the Jews and Their Lies.

One of the most extreme (and bizarre) doctrines of the LCMS is their ideas of ‘fellowship.’ To the Missouri Synod Lutherans, it’s important that anyone with whom you associate with religiously has the exact same beliefs that you do on every part of Scripture. This includes public worship, public prayer, receiving the Sacraments, etc. The LCMS prohibits its congregants, and especially it’s pastoral staff, from making any sort of indication that fellowship is appropriate between people with doctrinal differences. Otherwise, they claim, outsiders may believe that incorrect doctrinal beliefs are approved by the LCMS and that would be sin. It even applies to the few Lutheran sects that are even more conservative than they are.

As I said, bizarre. But the background is needed to understand the uproar that occurred when LCMS pastor Rob Morris participated in an inter-faith vigil after the Sandy Hook shooting in Newton CT. The vigil included several clergymen of other Christian denominations as well as President Obama. Morris was swiftly condemned by the LCMS for the horrific sin of praying for community healing and salvation with non-LCMS people. Fellow pastor Timothy Rossow compared Morris’s actions to that of a pastor sleeping with a prostitute and stated unequivocally that Morris’s actions were more harmful than the shooters.

Yes. Praying with Christians who are not your specific flavour of Christians is more harmful than walking into a school and gunning down twenty-six innocent people.

Eventually, the LCMS president Matthew Harrison demanded an apology from Morris. Morris admitted that he had done wrong and repented of his sin and all was well again.

Well, until the media firestorm, after which  Harrison admitted that his church body may have been ‘insensitive’ to the grieving community.

None of this is surprising. Christian elitism and moralism are common sentiments, especially in America. Viciousness of the kind the LCMS showed against anyone who believes slightly different than they do is to be expected. The fervour with which they defend their closely-held beliefs could almost be admired in a perverse way if they stood by them in all cases.

But guess what? They don’t.

Several religious bodies recently filed a joint amicus brief with the Supreme Court. It urges the SCOTUS to make a firm decisions on the matter of same-sex marriage. It also urges for the upholding of the same-sex marriage ban in Utah, citing arguments that ‘ scholars of all ideological stripes agree that “same-sex marriage is a threat to religious liberty” and “Judicially redefining marriage powerfully conflicts with religious liberty because…such a dramatic change in the law inevitably will lead to ‘forcing or pressuring both individuals and religious organizations – throughout their opera-tions, well beyond religious ceremonies – to treat same-sex sexual conduct as the moral equivalent of marital sexual conduct.'”

The amicus brief is cosigned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Mormon Church, and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

Let that sink in.

The LCMS stands firm on it’s fellowship doctrine when it comes to interdenominational prayer vigils for murdered children. But when it comes to arguing against the civil rights of LGBT citizens, they have no problem with cosigning an interdenominational amicus brief, one that makes a unified statement of religious agreement on the issue, advising the civil servants of the United States to discriminate against certain people to preserve their not-in-anyway-threatened religious liberty.

I’d have a bit more respect for the LCMS if they stood on their elitist principles in all cases rather than making exceptions for the chance to take pot-shots at LGBT people’s civil rights.

Not much more, but a bit.

Christians, this is why when you say that you ‘love the sinner but hate the sin,’ no one believes you. When you say that you treat homosexuality just like any other sin, no one believes you. We have examples like the ones listed above to demonstrate the hypocrisy of your actions and reinforce our understanding of how much you despise your fellow men and women.

 

m217155078

No, Christians. There is no ‘Third Way’ on Homosexuality

homosexuality-sin


 

One of the very first references the Bible makes to LGBT people is a command to execute gay men.

“If a man lies with a male as with a women, both of them shall be put to death for their abominable deed; they have forfeited their lives.”  (Leviticus 20:13 NAB).

After this passage, no one who sincerely believes that gay people shouldn’t be murdered should be putting any moral stock in what the Bible has to say about homosexuality.

But that’s not the world we live in, and so this article is necessary.

The Bible’s other admonishments against LGBT people are likewise detestable. In Leviticus 18:22 they are called abominations. Romans 1 calls them unnatural. 1 Timothy 1 claims that they cannot inherit eternal life.

Fortunately, the Bible is wrong. As sure as it was wrong about a geocentric earth, slavery, genocide, child abuse, the role of women in society, the creation mythos, and a hundred other things, the Bible is wrong about homosexuality. LGBT people are not abominations, nor do they choose to be ‘unnatural.’ Sexual orientation is an immutable part of a human being, like race, eye colour, artistic or intellectual talent, etc. Whether or not sexual orientation is defined by genes, prenatal conditions, or other factors, scientific advancement has made it blindingly obvious that sexual orientation is a natural spectrum, ranging in heterosexuality as the most common but including bisexuality and homosexuality as alternative traits.

The Christian prejudice against the LGBT community should have been dropped around the same time they discovered that black people are not cursed by their god and that owning and selling them like chattel isn’t moral, despite the Bible’s contrary commands on the subject. There are a hundred different Christian ways to defend or dismiss the passages in the Bible that allow for the owning of human beings, but it still stands that very few Christians today believe that slavery is a morally acceptable practise in the modern world. These verses are easily dismissed. So are the New Testament verses that call long hair on a man detestable and call for women to keep their heads covered. When a verse clearly affects the powers that be in Christianity, it is excused and dismissed. When they target a vulnerable minority like LGBT people, however,,,well skip back to history.

I addressed American Christianity’s crusade against LGBT people in my previous article written on the anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s murder, but they are points that bear repeating. Ever since the word ‘homosexual’ was first used in the English language in 1891, ever since a better understanding of what orientation is, ever since the APA removed homosexuality from its list of psychological disorders in 1973, Christians have fought tooth and nail to prevent LGBT people from being treated like human beings.

Christian groups were behind the Briggs initiative that strove to ban LGBT people from being public school teachers.

They have opposed every measure for marriage equality that has ever come up. (And before SSM, they equally opposed interracial marriage).

They have opposed every measure to ensure that LGBT people are not discriminated against in the public and business quarters.

They opposed the repeal of DADT and supported stripping gay men and women of their careers and service on account of their partners and families. More servicemen and women were discharged under DADT than were killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

They campaigned for the draconian laws abroad in places like Uganda that have mandated the death penalty and life imprisonment for LGBT people.

They have opposed programmes in public schools meant to assist at-risk LGBT youth.

They have spread lies about links between homosexuality and pedophilia.

They have told their Christian followers to treat LGBT people with disgust and a gag reflex.

They have used every slanderous term, slur, and description when addressing LGBT people in the public forum.

So why, why, why do people still give a rat’s shit about the Christian view of homosexuality? The majority of Christians still see LGBT people as sexual deviants who will burn eternally for their sins. A minority believes that churches should be inclusive and actively campaign to draw LGBT people back. But the lack of LGBT interest in religion shows that the majority of the community wishes that Christians would just, for once in history, leave them alone. Stop ministering to them, discriminating against them, pandering to them, discussing them, debating them and just leave them be to live their lives in peace.

But Christianity can never let go of its abuse of minorities without a fight. Which brings us to ‘The Third Way.’

Marriage equality is marching across the land. Gay people have the right to serve their country in dignity and honour. In the past decade, the LGBT community has lived openly and freely for the first time in history. Acceptance of bigotry against LGBT people is no longer the norm. And those Christians who desperately want to cling to their prejudices and moral superiority have been forced to repackage anti-LGBT animosity in a new and shiny package, wrapped in ‘compassion’ and ‘love.’ They call it ‘the Third Way.’

Christian articles on ‘the Third Way can be found here, here, and here. In essence, the Third Way states that a Christian can show love and compassion to an LGBT person and support their human dignity while still personally opposing homosexuality and same sex marriage as God-pleasing. More importantly, the Third Way teaches that LGBT people, Christians who are LGBT affirming, and those who are still prejudiced against LGBT people, can come together under the great banner of Christianity and not let their disagreements affect their fellowship. The Third Way claims that homosexuality or prejudice against it is not a fundamental doctrine of Christianity, and therefore fellowship can exist in tension.

Sorry, I just vomited in my mouth a little as I wrote that.

I’m going to spell this out very clearly. The Third Way is not compassion, or compromise, or fellowship, or love. It’s spiritual abuse.

Several definitions of spiritual abuse are listed here. I’m using Ronald Enroth’s definition as stated here:

“Spiritual abuse takes place when leaders to whom people look for guidance and spiritual nurture use their positions of authority to manipulate, control, and dominate.”

When you tell LGBT people that they are disordered, damaged, or spiritually unpleasing because of an intrinsic part of their humanity, because of the gender of the individual they fall in love with, or because of the family they raise, that is spiritual abuse.

When you pressure or shame someone into celibacy, it’s spiritual abuse.

When you disguise these actions as piety, love, or spiritual compassion, it’s spiritual abuse.

When you tell someone that condemning their orientation, partner or family is loving because living in sin results in damnation, it’s spiritual abuse. Saying ‘I abuse you because I love you and something worse will happen if I don’t abuse you, so don’t complain about being abused,’ is spiritual abuse.

And trying to bridge the gap between abusers and victims is enabling spiritual abuse.

The Third Way is how Christian writers like Jen Hatmaker can publish a 2,000 word article about how much she loves and emphasises with and cares for LGBT people and still say “I want you to know that I land on the side of traditional marriage as God’s first and clear design. I believe God’s original creation is how we were crafted to thrive: in marriage, in family, and in community, which has borne out for millennia in Scripture, interpretation, practice, and society.” You see, Ms. Hatmaker’s family is a blessing from God and a joy in her life because she’s straight. LGBT people’s marriages and families are contrary to God’s will and therefore to be condemned. But she loves them.

This type of love is worth nothing. This is spiritual abuse.

It’s how Zach Hoag can write about how Vicky Beeching’s parents condemn her sexual orientation and say “This is what I mean when I talk about a third way….The mutual acceptance and love among affirming and non-affirming Christians, which really lays the much heavier burden of change upon the non-affirming side of that equation.”

This is enabling spiritual abuse.

And I’m calling it out.

My blog turned a year old a few days ago. Over the past year, I’ve developed friendly acquaintanceships and even friendships with (primarily progressive) Christian bloggers. I didn’t think it possible considering my past experiences with extremist Christianity. But that’s not going to stop me from calling out abusive ideas and teachings.

Progressive Christians, your attempts to find a third way between affirming and non-affirming Christians disgust me just as much as the bigotry of your conservative brothers in Christ.

In many ways, it disgusts me even more because its wrapped in an insidious package being touted as ‘love.’ It disgusts me because once again you have allowed concern for your theology and the fellowship of your religious sects to get in the way of your basic human dignity.

I am disgusted by how Christians like Jen Hatmaker and others like her so casually cause grief and pain to a community that just wants to find happiness in their lives and families. I am disgusted by the pious compassion they wrap this abuse in.

And I am beyond disgusted by Christians who try to bridge the gap between abused and abusers for the sake of unity and fellowship and at the continued cost of spiritual abuse.

You’ve had 2,000 years to get your religion right. There is no excuse anymore.

You either condemn abuse, condemn those who teach spiritual abuse whether in a spirit of Christian love or otherwise, or you stand by and let more people endure the pain of your prejudices. And then you wonder why people flee your sanctuaries in droves.

Christians, you boast of your love towards your LGBT brothers and sisters. Now, defend them.

Image from http://www.joy105.com

No, You Don’t Have To Forgive Mark Driscoll

Mark-DriscollI first encountered Mark Driscoll in November of 2010 when he took a trip to preach in Belfast in Northern Ireland. Back then, he was just another American Evangelical hipster preacher who sported faux-hawks and muscle tees while preaching about how Jesus is totally a bro’s bro. I was vaguely amused by his Facebook pictures celebrating his ‘Irish heritage’ along with pictures of Oliver Cromwell quotes about crushing the Catholic Church. He left, Ireland went on, and so did I.

But once I became aware of Driscoll’s existence, I began noticing his name popping up everywhere. Driscoll is the ‘controversial’ head pastor of Mars Hill Church, a megachurch franchise based in Seattle WA. Known for his hyper-masculine, misogynistic homophobic diatribes, Driscoll is either the modern  salvation of American Christianity, or the physical embodiment of all that is wrong with the modern Christian Church, depending on whom you ask. Driscoll has created waves through his mocking of ‘effeminate pastors,‘ claiming Ted Haggard had a gay affair because his wife let herself get too fat and ugly, constantly mocking and diminishing femininity and women, and attacking everything from Episcopalians to yoga.

I really haven’t ever had the desire to do a post criticising Mark Driscoll. I have no stake in this fight besides enjoying how his efforts drag Christianity’s name through the mud and occasionally expressing my disgust on Twitter. I prefer to let his Christian brothers and sisters hold him accountable for his words, and many of them do. Most prominently is the blog “We Love Mars Hill,” which chronicles stories from people who were spiritually abused by Driscoll and his fellow clergyman.

Recently, Driscoll has been at the center of the long, slow collapse of the Mars Hill Empire. He was caught plagiarising portions of his best selling books. In addition, it was revealed that he used church funds to self-boost his books to the top of the bestseller lists. Driscoll has responded with apologies and withdrawn from social media. He has also issued apologies for the tone he took in his ‘young, angry prophet days,’ although he has never issued apologies for the actual homophobic, misogynistic content.

Most recently, Matthew Paul Turner has publicised a series of internet forum diatribes that Driscoll wrote under the pseudonym ‘William Wallace II’ at the age of 31. In more than 140 pages he calls America a ‘pussified nation,’ calls gay people ‘damn freaks,’ tells women that he won’t listen or respond to them because they are women, and goes on to tell them to leave their husbands if they’re not masculine enough.

Driscoll has again issued an apology for the tone of his diatribes, if not the content. Once again, this does not affect me as I have no stake in this fight beyond sympathy for those who have suffered abuse at Driscoll’s hands.

But now, with the background information about Driscoll out of the way, I want to focus and comment on the response to Driscoll’s apology from various Christian writers who would identify themselves as ‘progressive.’ The responses have been varied, but you’ll see a common theme running through out.

Jonathan Merritt says that Christians should accept Driscoll’s apology and forgive him, noting that Jesus’ command to forgive one’s enemy isn’t optional. He says, “This means that there must be grace for the abused and the abuser, for the oppressed and the oppressor, for Mark Driscoll and for all those he has hurt. If we Christians have now arrived at a point where grace has run dry or is only available to some, let us abandon this whole Jesus way and join those who have no hope.”

Rachel Held Evans emphasises that forgiveness is crucial, but writes that forgiveness does not mean allowing an abuser to continue his abuse or negate the consequences of his actions. She says, “Christians are indeed called to forgive, even when it is costly and undeserved, and Christians are indeed called to work toward healing and reconciliation even when it is hard,” but also, “These teachings should never be invoked to protect abusers, shame survivors, or coerce reconciliation.”

Ben Corey calls for Driscoll’s resignation, while Elizabeth Esther cautions against doing just that, saying it may not help people who are trapped in an abusive environment that is not the product solely of one man’s efforts.

Through many the responses, but most prominently Merritt’s, the theme of forgiveness is emphasised. Christians are called to forgive one another as Christ forgave them. And even if Driscoll’s apology isn’t sincere, the forgiveness of Christians must be, because Jesus commanded it.

So, for any Christians who are reading this, especially those who have been abused themselves, I’m going to tell you something completely different.

This. Is. Wrong.

I have nothing against forgiveness. I have everything against teaching that forgiveness is something that should or must be done.

If Christian forgiveness is something that is mandated, something that is not optional rather than being a free and open gift, then it is not something worth giving or having.

Forgiveness is an intimate part of yourself. It is not something that is given lightly, only freely. Your abuser does not have a right to your forgiveness. No one has the right to demand that you give up part of yourself and give it to your abuser. It does not matter whether the abuser is going to be held accountable anyway, whether you see him or her again or not. Nothing matters except that forgiveness is your choice, and yours alone.

And you don’t have to give it if you don’t want to.

I get that Merritt and RHE and the rest emphasise forgiveness in order to help victims heal, because for many people it genuinely does. I understand that the motives behind this sort of talking are nothing but good, and do not suggest that Driscoll and people like him should not be held accountable for their actions. I get it. I want to get behind it, I really do. But I can’t because for so many people it’s not helpful. It’s damaging.

Christians often say that they are ‘called to forgive others.’ It does not matter if an individual has the desire or ability to forgive their abuser, they remain ‘called’ to try anyway. Well, I could call every Christian to train as an elite gymnast. And guess what? Some of them are going to make it. And then they’re going to tell everyone how liberating and amazing their success was. But for all those who succeed, there are going to be those who fail. Those for whom their ‘calling’ was nothing but a waste of energy and the source of a lot of pain. Those who wonder what’s wrong with them, that others could do it and not them, oblivious to the truth that not everyone is capable of training to be an elite gymanst.

And in the same way, not everyone is capable of forgiveness. And compelling or calling these people to do so, to try, to give it the best effort, isn’t going to help them release their pain or find peace. Its only going to continue the spiritual abuse, and hurt them even more.

Throughout my life, I have been the survivor of spiritual, physical, sexual, and religious abuse. I do not forgive my abusers. I never will. They don’t deserve to have that part of me. I refuse to entertain them by making an effort towards ‘forgiveness.’ This does not mean that I am controlled by my anger or resentment. This does not mean that my anger and resentment are somehow ‘sins.’ It does not mean I don’t have peace.

When my anger surfaces, I can choose whether to use it or release it. I can find peace and meaning and hope, but more importantly I can maintain my dignity by refusing to give more to the people who took so much from me.

Some people have the ability to forgive their abusers. And some people have the ability to become elite gymnasts. I have nothing but admiration for these people.

But Christians and everyone else, you do not need to feel ‘called’ to give a part of yourself you cannot or do not desire to give. No one has the right to demand it. Not Jonathan Merritt. Not your pastor. Not your saviour, and not your god.

It is your choice.

Embrace the choice, even if you do not embrace forgiveness.

And be free.