Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Using Fiction to Address Real World Issues

by: Katie

So, I wrote a book.  It wasn't terribly long or even terribly clever or original.  I wasn't trying to make a statement about social issues, and I didn't even have a plot figured out when I sat down and wrote it.  It just came up out of things I'd experienced and issues that were milling around inside my head.  What I find intriguing about this is that the finished product did speak to current issues.  It did address things that are happening in the real world, and it gave readers who may otherwise never be in that position, a chance to consider how they would respond to it.

These thoughts prompted me to consider the role of fiction in shaping a culture's values and passions.  A culture that reads about certain issues seems more likely to take those particular issues to heart and fight boldly and courageously for them.  On the surface it may seem like a silly idea to try to produce change through writing stories about it.  But on a second glance, it seems entirely possible to open society's mind to problems that run so deep within the system that mainstream America can't see it.

So, writing a small book isn't going to save the world, but using whatever influence I have as one voice to open the conversation where it has always been closed in the past, that seems like something worth doing.  It may not be read or discussed by that many people, but it just might.  You never know.

The book in question was written after spending a couple years working in our local Public Defender's office which has its office in the courthouse.  I got to see and experience a lot of daily scenarios that happen around the nation out of earshot of the general public who doesn't spend its days in the courthouse.  I have tried to start processing how this has effected my worldview and hope to continue working through ideas and concepts as the series continues.

Thankfully, I don't feel that the office I worked in was like the one in the book, but those forces were at work in other areas.  The conflict of ideals and cynicism was real and continues.  Do we continue to care about people we can't trust or do we just throw up our hands and write off an entire subset of the population as a lost cause?  Do we bother to investigate the facts or do we assume the worst and leave vulnerable people in the hands of a callous system?  These are questions that hit when you are delving into people's lives, and they seem especially relevant in the current debates that are happening in public this election cycle in particular.

I don't feel like I have all the answers, or even most of them.  I hope getting a fictional environment in which to wander for a bit is helpful for readers as it has been helpful for me.  For those of you who are interested, the book can be found on Amazon both in paperback and Kindle formats here.  Enjoy!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Cheap Repentance Isn't Repentance

by: Katie

There's a lot of talk these past few years of repentance and forgiveness, particularly as it concerns high profile Christian leaders such as Josh Duggar and Tulian Tchividian, but also relating back as far as Bill Gothard, the Bob Jones GRACE Report, Jim Berg, R. C. Sproul, Sovereign Grace, and many other delicate situations of the past few years.  It's become nearly formulaic in the pattern that these situations follow.  Pretty much anyone who has followed enough of them could predict how the next one will turn out. Deny. Exposed. "Repent" in public. Damage control. Lie low. Move onto new ministry/job. Wait two years. Deny.

Sadly, while many of these situations vary in their specifics, the general response to each remains pretty much the same.  No matter what is revealed a large majority of people consider any apology sufficient (even when it blames the victim or is full of conditional statements).  They don't take into account the fact that the apology only came once the crimes/sins were exposed by someone else.  They don't take into account the fact that they are focusing all their energies and compassion on the perpetrator rather than the victim(s).  They want to move on as quickly as possible and simultaneously pretend it's not happening.  But there's a lot we could say about how people respond to public apologies.  What I find most troubling in this trend is throwing around Christianese buzzwords like "repentance" and "forgiveness" without actually seeing any reality behind it.

For example, I see a lot of people claim they've repented and demand everyone else's forgiveness.  However, their claims are not backed up by any action, and they just use those words to marginalize the true victims of their actions.  A half-hearted "I'm sorry if you felt that I might have hurt you..." is a sign of someone refusing to take responsibility, not a sign of true repentance.  It's sad to see so many people today who demand we grant "forgiveness" (i.e. stop holding these people and institutions accountable for their actions) because of what they view as repentance, but is this really repentance?  Here are a few tips for spotting cheap repentance after a scandal breaks:

1. Perpetrator's "apology" references his pain and how the situation affects him more than anyone else.

2. The perpetrator categorically denies any wrongdoing until it is revealed by someone else and there is no choice.

3. Public apology is full of conditional modifiers (such as: I'm sorry if you felt I did something wrong) rather than actually apologizing for real wrongdoing.

4. Apology blames the victims and makes the perpetrator a victim of circumstances.

5. Perpetrator and supporters try to quiet victims and dissenters from being honest about past issues by playing the "bitterness" card.

Genuine Repentance

I could list more, but I think it's more productive in the long run to try to describe what genuine repentance should look like rather than give examples of all the people featuring cheap repentance right now.

Genuine repentance grieves for the victims more than the loss of reputation or position.  This looks like a pastor who is more heartbroken over the pain and hurt he has caused his victims, his God, and his family and church than he is about holding on to his pulpit or reputation.  It should not require someone else to break the news to the church.  Someone who is truly repentant will confess instead of trying to cover it up and get away with it

True repentance acknowledges personal responsibility without making the entire situation about himself.  It is important to take responsibility for your actions, but it does not mean that every statement and every sentence needs to center on you, your actions, and your feelings.  Not every situation is about you.  This makes me continue to wonder about ministries where the first response is always self-preservation rather than concern for the victims.

Real repentance works toward restoration.  This can be tricky, because it looks so different to different people. This does not always mean a restored relationship, especially in cases of abuse.  Sometimes transparency is the best you can achieve in those cases.  However, on a very general level, you could say that for an institution that has hurt entire generations of students, it will take a lot more effort and public transparency than for one person who has injured one other person in private.  This is more than just words.  Saying you want reconciliation is not enough, you need to actually put action to that desire.  If they are wounded from your actions, you should be the first to support their process of healing.  Sadly, we are seeing the opposite for many Christians who have been devastated by leaders or institutions or churches.  Once they are wounded they are outcasts, troublemakers, lepers.  Whatever it takes to preserve the group mentality.  That group or leader is the last one to support their recovery, but true repentance demands that we support the recovery of victims.

This might seem basic, but from the way things are going I will say it anyway.  True repentance stops hurting people.  This should be self-evident, but apparently it's not to everyone.  When you realize you're hurting people, you should stop.  How do you know if you're hurting people? One simple way is when multiple people come to you with no apparent ulterior motive and tell you that you are or that you have in the past.  If you don't stop, we are not going to believe you have legitimately repented.  We will quite simply not take anything you say seriously again.

There's a lot more to say about this.  It seems like there always is.  But perhaps you can pause for a moment and see why sometimes just issuing a public "apology" isn't actual proof of repentance, it's just proof that you got caught.  It is not fair to demand blanket forgiveness from victims and at the same time shield their perpetrators from accountability.

Cheap repentance is not repentance, and too often cheap repentance is all we're being offered.  Let's stop bartering in cheap repentance.  Let's stop accepting that as proof of a changed life and start holding leaders, institutions, churches, and ourselves accountable for actions.  It's time someone did.  

Friday, September 11, 2015

The dangers of legalism: my story of shame in the IFBC

by: Nicole

My church didn’t intentionally try to hurt me. I look back now and know that, although I questioned it many times growing up. It was a legit gospel preaching, revival hosting, evangelistic church with a full list of what gospel-living looked like for its members. Modest dress, conservative music, and prohibition were prominently on that list. Along with strong condemnation against extra-marital affairs, remarriage, and God-forbid divorce. Those were the three unmentionable sins. Homosexuality hadn’t been invented yet.

I remember clearly a time where my family was at the pinnacle of church approval. My dad led the teen group, was a deacon, and every Sunday led the worship service and directed the choir. My mom was the perfect stay-at-home mother of three, then four sparkling children and managed to teach Sunday School and sing in the choir. I remember feeling so proud of our family every Sunday. We were highlighted by my parents’ obvious presence doing for the good of our church. I was bathed in love and acceptance. It was the happiest time of our lives.

But after my parents’ marriage fell apart and we were living in a different state, but going to a similar church all shame broke loose on my family. Not the embarrassed-because-I-didn’t-sing-the-right-words-to-the-song kind of shame, but the shame that still follows me with anxiety and nausea around churches. The shame I can’t seem to let go of. What if they find out who I really am? Who my family is? That kind of shame.

The gist of our family’s story is that my dad slowly abandoned my family over a period of years and left the faith. But in doing so, he left behind a wife and four children devastated by his choices. I wish I could say that our church family sheltered us during that time. That they loved on us and poured their hearts into us. That they affirmed that what my dad did was wrong, but that his decisions didn’t make us a less valuable part of the church. But they didn’t. At least not from my perspective.

The message from the pulpit, but even more importantly from the people was that my family didn’t belong unless we could play the part. Sin was denounced and no one in the congregation spoke up about the sin in their families; fear of disclosure silenced everyone. The only stories of similar sin I heard about were the whispered conversations of gossip. Godly people didn’t come from messed up families. If they did, they learned to hide it. I certainly learned to hide.

Shaming came in two categories: Direct and Indirect.

Direct shame was obvious. My mom was no longer the woman that other women wanted to get advice from or build a relationship with. She was that woman. We weren’t invited into social spheres any more. We could come to church, but no one wanted to actually associate themselves with us.

Indirectly we were shamed by well-intentioned caring people. I remember many people coming up to me as a little girl and asking me if I missed my daddy. A fair question, but not an empathetic one. Of course I missed him. But their concern was still wrapped around a carefully constructed list of “Do” that my family by its very nature could not uphold. They didn’t offer me grace. They gawked at me like I was an exotic exhibit. Their family didn’t go through that kind of pain. Their family was sin-free. No one told their stories. I know now that they had them buried in closets, but in our legalistic church there was no room for honest transparency and admitting brokenness.

So we grieved. Alone. In silence. With great shame and no help.

In sharing my story I do not want to bring vengeance against the system I grew up under. Rather I want to share to warn against the deceitful trappings of legalism.

 And I want to note that over the years that particular church morphed and changed with different pastors and different perspectives. The problem wasn’t with our church necessarily, or with any group of people within our church. The problem was and still is the legalism that has plagued believers since the beginning of the church.

Legalism places a list of man-made rules on top of Scripture. At its best it calls them “standards” and doesn’t require others to live by that same list. But even then, legalistic churches applaud those with the highest standards: “We waited until marriage to kiss!” “We only listen to Christian music where both the words and the music are not secular.” “We are always in church every week for every service.” Standards are a matter of the heart, that’s for sure, and I have some myself, we all do. But a church that applauds the highest standards is in essence saying: “The highest standards are the most godly standards” and “God loves those who live by the most rigid rules the most.”

Legalism then uses shame as its key tool in controlling its adherents. Legalism says that it will withhold respect, compassion, and understanding from those that disagree with its list whether in philosophy or practice. 

For my family this is where it got particularly difficult. We kept all the rules, except the significant ones my dad broke. I mean we were all there (except my dad) at EVERY service, we wore the correct dress code at all times, my mom was involved in multiple church ministries, we only listened to approved music, and I memorized all my AWANA verses. But we didn’t make the cut because there was obviously a problem in our home when my dad never showed up at church. And I felt that if the church knew all that went on behind our closed doors—oh goodness—no one would have talked to us again. My dad wasn’t breaking some odd church rules; he was clearly breaking God’s law, and there was no way to redeem that, not even by keeping all the rules of the church.

Fundamentally, legalism says that God’s grace isn’t enough. Once saved you must do something to earn God’s favor. Paul spoke out so adamantly about legalism throughout the New Testament because it makes less of Jesus. His death is insufficient—for the approval of the church and God—rules must be followed.

What happened to being justified (declared righteous) before God because of Jesus dying in our place, not because of any work that we have done or will ever do?! All a believer has to stand on is Jesus’ death and resurrection. My works—no matter how good, even in keeping the law of God, cannot save, nor do they earn me “brownie points.” Paul says it best: “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:2/ Rom 3)

What does grace practically change? When I am around believers who understand that it’s not their works that save them, nor is it their effort that perfects them, I have the freedom to be a sinner saved by grace. I have the freedom to express the deep pain I went through as a little girl. I have the freedom to rejoice in God’s saving work. And I have the freedom to reach out towards whoever enters my life: the LGBT community, the divorced/remarried family, the liar, the orphan, the sexual abuser, the drunk because I can say as Paul did: And such was I, but I have been washed, I have been sanctified, I have been justified. 

Within the bounds of grace I am and forever will be on equal footing with them. I am a sinner saved by grace! I am a sinner. And by none of my own working, I am a redeemed child of God.  

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Dear (Independent Fundamental Baptist) Parents of My Peers,

I would like to start by saying thank you. Thank you for your dedication to and love for your children. Thank you for wanting to keep us safe, and for striving to ensure that we grow into thriving adults who love the Lord with all our hearts, souls, and minds. Thank you for investing untold hours into teaching God’s Word to us, and for telling us, over and over and over, that the Bible is God’s mind revealed to us.

But in light of the way you have invested in our spiritual health, and in response to the negative reactions I am seeing from many parents as my peers and I seek to take our places as adults in our churches, in our communities, and in our own homes, I want you to know that your words haven’t fallen on deaf ears. And I want to implore you not to write us off when we live the values you have taught us and the results look different than you expected.

All of our lives, you have taught us that God’s Word is the only authority concerning how we live our faith. You have told us to interpret scripture using scripture. So please don’t be surprised or offended when we want to know where, exactly, in scripture a standard or practice or tradition comes from. If you can’t show us that concept in God’s Word, without referencing a preacher or writer or historian, don’t be surprised when we reject that concept. We’re not being rebellious: we’re doing our best to follow God’s Word.

As young children, most of us memorized 1 Timothy 4:12 – “Let no man despise thy youth.” “Nobody is too young to walk with Jesus,” you told us. Forgive us for believing this: for not looking down on ourselves as lesser church citizens, but boldly stepping up and interacting, asking for real involvement in church ministries, wanting to discuss real, solid theology with our pastors and anyone else who cares to enter the conversation. And please don’t be upset that we want this verse to apply to you, too. Please don’t discount our perspectives simply because we are younger. The same Holy Spirit that Jesus sent to comfort you comforts and guides us, too.

Another verse you made us learn was 1 Samuel 16:7. “People look at the outside,” you told us, “but God cares about what really matters: he looks at the heart.” So why are you baffled when we take this teaching at face value? Why are you surprised when we seek to focus on what God focuses on, rather than getting wrapped up in appearances?

You told us that God’s Word has “all the answers.” So why are you upset when we want to ask “all the questions?” You told us that nobody is grandfathered in to God’s kingdom: everyone who comes to him comes alone, and must personally choose to follow him. So why are you saddened when we don’t want to just take your word for things – we want to study them out ourselves? We want to know why we do what we do, and know that our reasons are biblical, and only biblical. We don’t want to do what we do because “grandad did it this way.” As much as we may love and respect grandad, and as confident as we may be that grandad walks with Jesus, our calling as Christians isn’t to follow grandad: our calling is to follow Jesus.

Throughout our lives, we have been inspired and challenged repeatedly by your faith in God. We’ve seen you walk through difficult situations with peace in your heart because you believe the words of Jesus as recorded in Matthew chapter six, when he assured his disciples that they didn’t need to worry: their heavenly Father will never stop taking care of them. So we are surprised by the way you are stressing out right now, panicking over our life choices and trying to deduce where you “went wrong” in raising us. Do you trust your heavenly Father to protect and shepherd us? When you made us memorize Philippians 1:6, did you truly believe what it says: that God who began the work in our hearts will be faithful to complete it?

We know that a lot of your discomfort with our choices is based on preaching you have heard for years and years in your church circles. You have heard that any deviance from the lifestyles you have been taught stems from rebellion and/or deception and will lead, ultimately, to a rejection of the foundations of the gospel. We want you to realize that this dichotomy is inaccurate.

The fact that our lives don’t look just like yours doesn’t mean we will turn our backs on God.

If we wanted to leave the church, we would have left the church. 

(And, like it or not, you will leave the church to us. Your generation won't live forever. God's work will continue, even when you are gone. He has given that promise.) 

We don’t want to walk away from Jesus. We want to truly walk with him.

And we want you to walk with us in this process.

So please, don’t write us off. Don’t shut us out. Don’t tell us to just trust you because you “know better” than we do.

Trust the God whom you taught us to trust, and be willing to open your eyes and see in our lives the biblical principles we are seeking to follow. Listen when we speak. Welcome our questions, instead of feeling threatened by them. Please, seek God with us; we all have a lot of growing left to do.


A Fellow Child of God 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Obedience and Blessing

by: Emj

"Repeat after me...Obedience brings blessing, disobedience brings conflict."
The auditorium swelled with the voices of hundreds of teens blending the mantra into a single identity.
"Obedience brings blessing, disobedience brings conflict."

I wish I could have recognized how reductionist it was.  I wish I had realized how simplistic.  How half-true.  How old covenant.
I did not.  Instead, I did what the camp speaker had wanted.  I internalized it.  Wrapped my identity in it.  Found evidence for it.  Viewed every situation through the lens of this dichotomy.  And God, who is rich in mercy and who loved me so much, did not allow me to go for very long this way.  He didn't speak to me in a dream or give me a vision.  He would burn away the lies in the fires of experience.

It was a fall evening.  I was a new high schooler, and somehow my family had fallen into friendships with a group of families in our church which had jumped on the "I kissed dating goodbye" wagon. Having dealt more with the taunts of boys because of my weight than any seduction for their lust, I wasn't necessarily interested in the debate.  But I had found what my community considered the "right" view of dating, and that was enough for me.  So I sat with a group of junior high and high school girls.  We were all appropriately dressed.  The meal had been homemade.  The movie had been capturing our attention the whole time (motivated by the pending conversation afterwards.)

Plot: Girl and father live alone due to the tragic death of her mother years ago.  The girl is gorgeous (of course) and painfully (oh, sorry, I meant beautifully) innocent.  And most importantly, she's never kissed a boy.  The guys at school find out about this and place bets on who could get her to kiss him first.  The girl doesn't know this and when one of the boys asks her out, her dad says "No, darling, you can't go out with that boy. I'm protecting your purity."  In a rare moment of rebellion, she sneaks out of the house and goes to the basketball game with him anyway.  As he walks her home, he tries to kiss her.  And she makes like Joseph and flees the scene.  She tells her dad.  She cries in repentance realizing that she almost lost something she could never get back. But she learns her lesson and never ever does anything like that again.  She knows she was in danger and is so glad that her father kept her safe.  She never talks to a boy again.  Until the day she graduates from high school.  A very handsome boy notices her and they start hanging out.  Then they get married, because he was "God's Best" for her. The end.
Moral: Disobedience brings conflict.  Obedience brings blessing.

God rewards people who save their first kiss.  God rewards purity with a hot husband and a happy marriage.  You saved yourself.  You deserve a husband.  Those other people...of course their marriages are unhappy and their divorce rate is high and their lives are a mess.  They were disobedient!  And all good Christians know that disobedience brings conflict!

Were we so graceless as that?  Yes, we were. I was anyway. Has the Church so deeply buried the gospel in favor of this man-centered pharisee-ism? Some of it.

It is true that people are more careful with their theology than their words?  At least I hope so.

Does God bless us?  Oh yes.  Does it have anything to do with us?  Nope.  It has everything to do with His immense Grace.  Why do I know this?

Because contrary to the testimony of people who messed up and were blessed with good marriages anyway, I have a different story.  I "did everything right" and ended up breaking off my engagement. This mentality absolutely backfired on me.  The pride I had built into my life because of my rule keeping was an intense evidence that I didn't love God.  Instead, I was incensed when God "took away my fiancee" because to a large extent, I felt that I "deserved" a relationship.  I had waited.  I was pure. I was "serving God."  And yet, He is not a God who makes bargains with mere humans.

I wish at least that they had said, "Your superficial obedience will bring the blessing of God's breaking you until there is nothing left. Then you will long for nothing but Him.  It will be a horrific and painful process.  And it will happen again and again.  And you'll not enjoy it, but you'll enjoy Him."

Why did they paint the picture of blessing as if it was:
"A ridiculously fun college experience resulting in a degree,  a husband, a happy life of serving God in some prosperous ministry on the mission field with lots of happy, healthy, children who also go on to serve God...as long as you constantly wear a skirt and refrain from swearing, alcohol, and tattoos throughout the whole experience."

Because the mantra that I learned at camp that summer and would repeat in my head like a broken record for months afterwards, doesn't give the whole picture.  It doesn't speak of grace.  It doesn't know the gospel.  It is, in fact, old covenant living.  Anti gospel preaching.

The truth is that obedience very often brings suffering.  And disobedience very often brings relief.  But this isn't the truest thing.  But when my world fell apart, I wished someone had told me that.  Or maybe someone did but my ears were so full of fundamentalist anti-grace sub-gospel preaching that I didn't have a category for grace.

What is truer than the mantra?
Jesus' obedience brings blessing, even to disobedient me. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Christianity and the Supreme Court Ruling on Marriage Equality

by: Katie

So, it finally happened.  The decision that has been a long time coming, and to anyone watching the trajectory of courts across America wasn't that much of a surprise, is finally here.  The Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is legal across the land and individual states cannot ban it or refuse to recognize those marriage ceremonies conducted in other states.  If you've been outside the Supreme Court building or anywhere on social media today it's impossible to miss the outpouring of celebration and relief pouring out of people's spirits.  Signs and banners are being waved, people are hugging and kissing each other.  Jubilation fills the air.  However, if you're on the conservative right, it is more the sense of apocalyptic doom and gloom that fills the air.  While gleeful protesters dance in the streets and happily plan parades and change their profile pictures to have rainbow overtones, Christians and conservatives around the country are quietly stating that the ruling was wrong and the end is nigh.  Depending on what branch of the spectrum  you fall under, you may not be doing so quietly, you may be at this very moment calling your senator and five of his closest friends.  If so, I suppose that is your choice.

Personally, I fall somewhere between these two camps--into the quiet, calm state of relief.  I do not begrudge the large legal victory that was handed down today, and I congratulate the victors on the legal protections they now may enjoy without fear of continual recriminations, but I also do not fall into the category of wildly celebrating this as a win.  You see, I actually believe homosexuality is wrong.  But wait, before all those nasty words that just started piling up in your head start coming out of your mouth or out of your keyboard, please just hear me out. :)  I don't think you'll be disappointed...at least not too much.

I find myself in the odd position of wishing I could celebrate today.  I see so many people who are overjoyed at so hard-fought a victory after so many years of facing true, hateful bigotry, and as any person who appreciates love more than hate and kindness and compassion more than prejudice and bigotry, I wish I could celebrate that victory with them outloud.  I wish I could, but I am given pause, because I believe the Bible to teach that homosexual activity is a sin.  However, I also believe that having sex with someone you've never married is a sin.  I also believe that drinking to the point of intoxication (not simply drinking at all) is a sin.  I also believe that adultery, materialism, gluttony, selfishness, idolatry, or anything else the Bible condemns is very simply a sin.  Here's the thing though, as far as I know, no state has a law against gluttony or materialism or selfishness, and the culture thrives on those concepts to make businesses (often even "Christian" businesses) run successfully.  No one that I am aware of is running a campaign to make having sex outside of marriage illegal in the U.S.  So, why is homosexuality such a special sin that we have made it the focal point of a cultural warfare?  Good question.

I think it comes down to the fact that Christians are largely insecure in a world where their cultural Christianity is not the dominant way of life anymore (even though Christianity was never designed to be the dominant culture or a "culture" period).  This fighting and crusading against "the gay agenda" is not defending the Bible, because the Bible's definition of marriage will stand no matter how marriage is legally defined, and I don't think marriage equality advocates have really been trying to make their argument from the Bible.  The Bible doesn't need my defense; it's going to continue to stand regardless.  What may fall away is my dominant place in society as having the mainstream view, and that's perfectly fine with me.  My faith was meant to transcend culture not takeover it.  What bothers me about the way Christians in general have conducted themselves in this cultural warfare is that they have made "homosexuality" worse than unbelief in Jesus Christ.  Really that's inexcusable.  For many people fighting this fight, it has nothing to do with "defending the Bible" and everything to do with defending their own comfortable way of life.

So, why am I "relieved" with this ruling even though I believe homosexuality is wrong?  I am hopeful that to some extent we can move beyond this round of our "cultural fistfight" and get back to what we are supposed to be most concerned with in the first place, which is the Gospel.  It is little wonder that people questioning their sexuality and struggling with same-sex attraction issues have fled the church in recent years.  When sides are drawn, where is the Gospel in that?  Where is the understanding and compassion that are supposed to characterize Jesus' approach to sinners of all varieties?  

I don't know what our cultural outlook will be 10 or 15 years from now, but I hope that we are focused solidly on sharing Christ's love with everyone again, because the same-sex couple who is now legally married and claims no faith in Christ is no further from the truth than a "moral" unbelieving heterosexual couple who was legally married a long time ago.  Perhaps if the church wasn't always being dragged kicking and screaming into the latest era of civil rights (i.e. segregation??) it wouldn't have lost so much credibility in discussions today when trying to use the same arguments again.  

So, before you who are celebrating write off all Christians as bigots and haters, please consider my disagreement with you does not mean I will treat you with contempt.  I am genuinely glad you are legally protected from those who would do you harm.  And those of you who are seeing the world as a hint darker today than it was yesterday, before you take to facebook to proclaim what "that gay agenda did" or "how America's going to hell in a handbasket because..." just remember that you may be trying to fling your words at an abstract "agenda" but you're actually hitting people who are still made in the image of God and need to hear the truth and love of the Gospel, not your fear and American rights speech.  

May God show mercy and grace to all of us who are struggling to figure out our way through this crazy, mixed-up world. :)  Grace and peace.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Some Thoughts on Charleston

by: Katie

Last Wednesday night my heart broke.  I don't have the words to adequately describe the flood of emotions that hit as I sat up into the early hours of the morning waiting for each update, refreshing webpages, wondering if they would catch the shooter, watching the footage and seeing the pictures of the heartbroken and grieving families and church members outside praying in circles and embracing each other in shaking arms with tears pouring down their faces.  I wish I could say that could just as easily have happened at my church, or that I know how they feel.  But the cold, hard truth and reality is that it couldn't, and I really don't.

My church is primarily composed of white Christians, and as much as white conservatives seem determined to make themselves the target here, we weren't.  I have never been a part of a church that was attacked for racist motives, and pretending that I understand what they are going through because "faith is under attack in America" seems to trivialize the very real pain and history of struggle that is going on here.  

I don't mean to imply that I have not been mourning with the rest of our nation as we start to struggle through some of the big questions in the aftermath of the attack.  I have been taking time to sit and quietly reflect on topics like racism, systemic hatred, socialized violence, different philosophies of gun law, racial reconciliation, the racial makeup of my own church, the attitudes within my own extended family towards racial issues in America, and many other similar issues.  None of these topics have come to mind lightly, and none seem ready to leave anytime soon.  

I have intentionally reached out to look for a variety of perspectives on this situation and gathered insights from reading the hurt and pained responses of fellow Christians, including many whose churches looked a lot more like the target in question than my own.  I read responses on Twitter, Facebook, individual blogs, and news sites.  After days of soul-searching through this I finally came to several conclusions I would like to share publicly.

To my white fellow Christians:

This attack was motivated by pure, unadulterated racism. Attempting to minimize that fact by avoiding that discussion is disrespectful to those who are living with its effects.  This was not simply an attack on Christians and churches (as horrendous as that would be).  This was not merely the result of one random, deranged person going on a killing spree.  He was calculating, meticulous, and knew what he felt he had to do.  The fact that he is in custody should not mean that the greater discussion of what drove him to do this in the first place should end now.  It is merely beginning.

Forgiveness will not be an overnight process.  Pushing for premature closure does not give the victims and community proper time and openness for grief and mourning and appropriate expressions of anger.  In a case like this, it is important to give the victims room to grieve rather than rushing them through that process in order to get them right to the "forgiveness" stage.  It is beyond sickening to see so many oblivious people talking about forgiveness in a situation where they resemble the perpetrator much more closely than the victims.  It is only those who have actually been hurt who have the power to forgive, and some of them may need time and privacy to heal without the pressure to quickly "forgive and move on" to make the nation feel better.  It was awe-striking to see family members stand up and bravely speak forgiveness to the alleged shooter in court, but not all of the families were at that point yet, and they deserve our respect to let them grieve on their own timetable rather than ours.

The media should be held accountable for the double standard of its coverage on crime.  It doesn't take much looking through old news stories to realize that when black people are accused of a crime they are portrayed as gang-bangers, drug dealers, and horrible people in general.  However, when a white male is accused of shooting at innocent civilians, he is typically covered as a "lone wolf" who must be "mentally deranged" because he is certainly an "aberration."  So, we are led to believe through media coverage that black males committing crime means an entire race is the problem, while white males committing crimes are the exception that proves the rule.  This needs to be discussed, and the media needs to be held accountable for how it reports on crime domestically.  

The public needs to stop looking for easy answers.  In much the same vein as the media, the public tends to look for easy answers when tragedies occur.  Immediately sympathy pours out on the victims' families, but actual action is hard to come by.  This situation has raised awareness of some serious issues that need to be addressed with serious, productive conversation.  Sympathy for the victims is not enough, we must be willing to make changes.

Racism is not dead.  This may seem a controversial conclusion, but I have thought long and hard about it.  I do not believe that there are hundreds of young, white males all around the country getting ready to go storming into black churches with guns, but I do believe that the ideology that led the shooter to take those beautiful lives in that historic church is alive and well in our society in many more subtle ways.  This is not a conversation we can afford to shut down until we're ready to have it.  It is not something we can just decide we have gotten past.  The people most affected by it are telling us that it is still attacking their way of life.  We have a choice of listening to them and facing the problem or burying our heads in the sand once again, but that is not even a choice to people of conscience.  It is not enough to say "well, not all white people are racist."  The worst damage is being done by the silent white majority that is content to pretend nothing is wrong, and I have belonged to that majority for far too long.  No more.  

I am determined to fight racism in myself, in my family, in my community, in my church, and wherever I find it, because the Gospel leaves no room for it.  If we as Christians really care for our brothers and sisters of color we will stop living in the dream world of white, conservative privilege and step into the battlefield that is their home.  In the Gospel these dividing walls are broken down, and we are one in Faith and Hope.  The same image of God is reflected in their humanity as well.  To reflect the Gospel is to love our brothers and sisters enough to listen to them and care about what they have to say.

To my black brothers and sisters in Christ:

I am sorry.  I am sorry for all the times that I assumed racism wasn't a big deal.  I am sorry for all the times I ignored the issues that brought you so much pain.  I am sorry that I wasn't listening.  I am sorry that I did not speak up, and I am sorry that I did not care.  I am sorry that I have not shown Christlike love to you in sensitive ways, and I am especially sorry that even within the churches of America we still seem as divided as anywhere in society today.  I am sorry for the pain you are going through right now, and I am sorry that so many of my fellow white Christians seem unable or unwilling to reach out to you in your pain.

I am listening.  I am discovering so many voices of wisdom from within your community, and I am taking their words to heart.  Keep speaking the truth.  Keep sharing your heart on these matters.  Keep reaching out and showing grace when it seems that no one hears, because I am listening.  I know I don't understand how all of these issues play together, but I want to understand, and hearing your voices helps me put together more of the pieces.  When you voice your pain, I am listening.  When you speak up about a system that has never seen you as anything more than a problem or authority figures who view you as less than human, I am listening.  When you speak about seeing your church in place of Mother Emmanuel on the news, and the horrors of imagining your own pastor lying dead in your own church, I am listening.  I am weeping with you.

I am praying.  I am praying that the Gospel will show its power even in what seems like a hopeless cultural standoff.  I am praying that God will bring out racial reconciliation that no one else could ever accomplish.  I am praying for wisdom in how to speak truth to this in my daily life.  I am praying for your communities that are feeling this loss so deeply.  I am praying for the awakening of the white conscience in America, that we would no longer just want to "get back to business as usual" but that genuine dialogue would begin from this and bring real change.  I am praying for love to conquer hate and light to shine where there was only darkness.