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 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 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.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Cops Are People, Too

by: Janice

On June 17, Dylann Roof walked into a church in Charleston, SC and murdered nine people. The nation was shocked, grieved, and outraged. Let’s be reasonable, though.

Dylann is a 21-year-old white male. Most 21-year-old white males are decent people. They would help an old lady cross a street or rescue a stranded kitten. Just check the statistics. So what’s the big fuss? Back off, people. Don’t be so hard on Dylann. After all, millions of 21-year-old white males would never do what he (clearly) did.

If this line of reasoning sounds absurd, callous, cruel, and unreasonable to you, I am glad. Obviously, it is written for shock value. Yet, I am grieved and angered to see so many people openly embracing this type of reasoning when it comes to law enforcement officers.

Ever since what happened in Ferguson, my social media feed has been full of posts about cops. Many, many people post general praises and support for LEOs, saying how grateful we should be for all that they do to protect and serve, to go above and beyond in the line of duty. Others share statistics about how many cops are never involved in sketchy episodes or re-post heartstring-tugging tales of blue valor. The posts that sadden me the most are the ones that belittle victims, saying that “if you would just behave, you’d never even see the cops” and concocting all manner of frightening excuses for dangerous behavior from LEOs.

Here’s the thing. Sure, lots of cops are the good guys. And criminals shouldn’t do crime. I wholeheartedly believe both of these statements. But contrary to popular opinion, believing this does not bind me to one side in a simple, two-dimensional argument. It’s not “cops versus criminals: believe in and defend one or the other.” It’s good versus evil. And the cops must be held accountable to act in line with their job description as the good guys. This is why certain behavior is never tolerable. There is never a legitimate reason for a grown man to grab a 14-year-old girl by her hair, slam her to the ground, and kneel on her back while waving a gun. It is impossible to accidentally sever a spine. Sure, most cops don’t do these things, just like most 21-year-old white males aren’t racists who murder nine people in a church. But this is irrelevant, and insensitive to wave in the faces of hurting people.

The fact is that some cops and some 21-year-old white males are criminals, and are racists, and do hurt, bully, and even kill people. Admitting this does not harm the reputations of the many who are not criminals. The many shouldn’t feel threatened by this. 21-year-old white males should not feel the need to take to the media and defend themselves, or ask for caution in the prosecution of Dylann because, after all, he is an anomaly. And good cops (and those who like cops, and those who are law abiding citizens) shouldn’t feel the need to hide or make excuses for LEO racism and violence.

And as Christians, especially, we better be incredibly careful of jumping on any bandwagon. We of all people should understand that every human is a sinner. We of all people should recognize that being a LEO doesn’t equal being righteous, because Jesus is the only one who makes people righteous, and being a cop doesn’t equal being saved. Being a Republican doesn’t equal being biblical. And supporting the prosecution of criminal LEOs does not equal embracing lawlessness and condoning criminals. We've got to stop seeing agendas and sides and opportunities to make our points or advance our causes, and see real, individual people in real, individual situations instead.

Of course ambushing and shooting cops isn’t ok. Just like ambushing and shooting any human isn’t ok. But believing criminal cops should be prosecuted is not the same as believing random cops should be ambushed and shot. Let’s have a little discernment here. And let’s acknowledge that evil exists everywhere, in the heart of every human – and even the “good guys” need to be held accountable when they choose to be bad guys.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Segregation Wasn't Really Equality Either...

by: Katie

"Separate but equal"
If you've spent any significant amount of time in a conservative church in America in the past century, it's likely you've heard some reference to the idea that God made men and women "different but equal."  This phrase is usually thrown out to reference the idea that men and women are made equal in worth but given different roles by design and different tasks to complete.  On a practical level this typically plays out something like this on a church level:  Man's place is to learn, teach, and discuss theology.  Woman's place is to work in the home, take care of the man's physical needs, and raise his children for him.  Often this results in women's functions at church centering on how to make crafts or how to be a better mother or wife, while men's functions focus more on actually teaching theology and the Bible.  While I have not yet landed on what to make of the idea of "different, but equal" I do have to take some issue with how it's being applied in many contexts across America today.

It is not enough to simply say women are equal and not treat them as such.  Equality is more than a buzzword, it must also be a reality.  Spiritual segregation is just as inherently evil and unjust as the physical segregation of the pre-Civil Rights Era was, and it is rampant in the Church today.  As of the writing of this post:
  • Women are consistently shut out of global theological discussion and debate (both in educational and in cooperative contexts; such as conservative seminaries and meetings, etc.)
  • If the roles are "equal" why is it only the men of the global church who are allowed to determine what those roles are and how they should be fleshed out?  This is akin to the age-old "I cut the cake, and I choose my piece first" philosophy.  Women are left with the remaining piece, and questioning the given reasoning only invites further criticism and condemnation.
  • Women are relegated to church ministries that are considered traditionally "feminine" but excluded from church ministries that may be better suited to their gifts and are not restricted from them in the Scripture.  (We should be allowed ministry opportunities beyond cooking, working in the nursery, teaching the children's classes, and playing musical instruments...)
  • Women who have any theological education are viewed with skepticism and often treated as a threat in church circles simply for discussing theological issues with passion.  Engaging in theological discussion and debate should not be viewed as rebellion or insubordination by the leadership.  It should be encouraged and taught, to men and women alike.  Women who are gifted in this area should not be shunned for caring about biblical truth.
  • The church should be the first in line to show the world how Jesus stood up for the protection of women and their worth as people made in the image of God, but instead it was dragged into the era of civil rights and equal rights kicking and screaming.  Male-dominated organizations have complained bitterly since the first days of women's equality and have blamed most of America's moral failures on women having better access to healthcare, more options in the job market, and overall having more options for their life choices.  What the church seems to forget is that it used to be commonplace for men to beat their wives while the police turned a blind eye to that "private family matter" and women were endangered by those who should have been protecting them.  Is that the church's definition of "different but equal"?
  • Male leaders of the church treat issues relating to women both culturally and within the church about as sensitively as bulls in a crowded china shop.  Treating traumatic personal situations like abortions and sexual assault as casually as other "issues of national policy" like the environment or the economy--is that treating women as "different but equal"?
  • Modesty culture within the church places the blame for men's thoughts and lust squarely on the shoulders of the women and their clothing choices, all the while simultaneously sending out the mixed messages of "Modest is hottest, but you don't really want to be hottest, because then you might be immodest."  Ultimately telling women to be attractive to men, by not attracting men.  Confusing, yes?  Perhaps the focus for how women dress should not be all about men at all.

Taking Our Place at the Table

This list could go on indefinitely, but the point is, it is not enough for the church to tell women they are equal and then treat them like they are not.  If women are truly joint-heirs with their brothers in Christ, it is time for those brothers in Christ to stop cordoning them off into "Ladies' Retreats" and "Women's Conferences" where they will be taught to be good, cooperative homemakers.  It is time to accept them into the same body of Christ that the men are a part of.  It is time to welcome them to the theological discussion table.  It is time to hear their thoughts and prayers.  It is time to invite them to serve where they are able.  It is time to teach them the Word (Not 5 steps to Bible study for a busy mom).  It is time to teach them the Biblical languages.  It is time for the women of the Body of Christ to step up and say enough is enough.  We will not take a shallow, watered-down faith that says I am only here to do the things my husband is too busy or too important to do.  I am here to serve Christ too, and part of that involves loving God with my mind, not just my hands.

Some readers may find this idea scary or threatening, or just plain offensive.  I am sad about that.  I am sad that some Christians would be offended at the idea that Christian women are equally human made in the image of God their Creator and deserve the chance to deeply study the Word and to think deeply about that Word and to share their thoughts with others.  I am not advocating women as pastors, and I do not dispute the fact that many women find complete satisfaction and joy in serving God in their own homes with their own families.  What I am saying is it's time to take back the position on women's equality that Jesus had.  He elevated them beyond where society had dragged them down in his day.  

Jesus' View of Women

Society (and the church along with it) has once again dragged women down to objectification and inferiority.  Women are either considered poisonous objects of sexual temptation or good, virtuous housekeepers who are too busy to know the most important things God has ever given us to know.  Let us follow the example of Jesus when he broke society's customs and spoke with outcast women about theology in the middle of the workday.  Let's take his lead when he accepted and embraced with the loving title "daughter" the chronically ill and unclean woman in Mark 5.  Let's embrace the women in his church and stop using proof texts to shame them, silence them, verbally beat them into submission, or anything else we have found effective in trampling their voice for the Cross.

Let's stop treating educated (particularly in theology) women as social lepers and start inviting them in to use the gifts God's given them and the passions God's put in their hearts for the mission he's given all of us to do until he comes back for us.  And, sisters, let's stop settling for a Christianity that sounds like a "How-to" book on parenting or crafting or cooking or anything else.  Our faith runs much deeper than that.  Jesus has not brought us into his kingdom to be his housekeepers, but his daughters.  We are not just his slaves, we are his sisters.  Let us study.  Let us read.  Let us write commentaries and well-researched books.  We should not have to choose between raising a family and reading the Word.  We should not have to choose between marriage and seminary.  We should not have to sacrifice theology for house-wifery.  Why are those mutually exclusive?  Why can't women love their homes and love their Bibles at the same time with the same level of passion?  Let us share the things we are learning with those around us.  Let's stop making women's Bible studies a joke, and start digging in to the real meat.  We can handle it.  

It's long past time for the church to stop lagging behind and take a lead in showing the world how Jesus treats women--with dignity and respect, with love and compassion, with protection and leadership, with support and encouragement.  He is not harsh and dictatorial.  He is a good leader who helps his children grow and develop and serve with the skills and gifts he gave them. He is not insecure and threatened by honest questions.  Why are we?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Bridging the Racial Gap in Ferguson

by: Nicole

By Jamelle Bouie [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Less than a week after I got married, I received a panicked text from my dad. The world had turned upside down; Ferguson MO was filled with protesters burning buildings, raiding, and resisting police. I was dumbfounded. Such things didn’t happen in America. Not the America I was from. 

But the riots were happening and because of my job teaching high school English at an inner city private school, I was about to enter a world I did not understand. My students were mostly black, a handful lived in Ferguson, and many were siding with the Brown family against the police.

I remember sitting silently in many teacher meetings as we hashed through race issues, safety policies, concerns for our students living around Ferguson, and concern for parents who were police officers.

By Loavesofbread (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Then Myers, a black 18-year-old was shot and killed by an officer a few blocks from my school. Anger erupted and this time it was my school’s neighborhood that was overrun by volatile protesters.

I realized very quickly how little I understood the situation. I was a white girl from nowhere Idaho whose school hadn’t allowed Martin Luther King Jr. Day to even be celebrated. (Why? Because he was black? Because of the communist rumors? Because he wasn’t our stripe of Baptist? I still don’t know.) But what I did know was how thoroughly uneducated I was. I knew only cursory details about black history. I felt so terribly white. I felt white because of my willful ignorance of black history. White because of my relative affluence. White because of my position of authority in my classroom in direct contrast to my lack of knowledge and experience. I realized that passively I was part of the reason that Ferguson erupted. The protesters were protesting something—someone—they were protesting me.


Some Conclusions

I thought for a long time about the Michael Brown case. Were the protesters right to protest? This question seems to be missing the point: it’s not their response that matters, but rather my response. So here are the basics that I pulled away from my first year in St. Louis.

(1) My viewpoint is not the only plausible view. Truth is not relative; however, truth is intertwined into stories of history that are told by raconteurs each with his own bias. I take those stories and interpret them by my own limited experiences, discarding what I believe to be superfluous or unbelievable. So when I am told that black communities have become ghettos that raise boys to become gangsters, this all may fit within the history I have been told and my own bias, but that doesn’t mean that that viewpoint is the only viewpoint. Nor can I assume it to be the correct one. My version of history is simply that, my version.

(2) Therefore, I must listen. The protesters may be telling a version of history that I don’t like and that I don’t agree with, but I must still listen. Listening is a basic human dignity. To give weight and time to people who come from a different stratus of society is to give acknowledgment to their worth as human beings.

(3) There is more than one black response. This seems so obvious on one hand because of course black people do not all see the world through one perspective. They have individual experiences and biases which lead them to respond to events in different ways. Just like ALL people do. However, it’s easier to get angry at the riots and the damage they did to property and conclude that that’s just how black people respond. No. It’s how some responded. Other black community leaders vocally decried the violence and argued for peaceful protests, one of which I was a part of. What happened in Ferguson is a difficult and complex issue, and therefore I can’t settle for simplistic or idealistic conclusions.

(4) Finally, there is no shame in being born white. In my classroom every day of this past year, I was reminded how very little I knew about anything “non-white.” From Maya Angelou, to Beyonce, to Mayweather, I had one steep learning curve. But still what I had experienced that set me apart from my students, also made me as human as them. Their world is often as one-sided as mine was growing up. It’s mutual respect, not conformity that opens up community to healing.

I don’t understand what happened in Ferguson. But I feel a sense of urgency that the church—especially the dominant white church—take a second look at what happened in St. Louis, and what is happening across the nation. How can we respond as people of faith that believe there is one God over all people and all time?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Dealing with the Duggars

by: Katie

By now, most people have probably heard the news that broke earlier this week regarding the allegations against Josh Duggar for molesting 4 of his younger sisters along with a family friend when he was a young teenager.  If you haven't caught this story yet you can catch up here.

I'm not here to attack the Duggars.  I find it at least slightly encouraging that it appears they tried to do the right thing by reporting it to their church leadership and by later reporting it to a family friend who was a state trooper.  The fact that their family friend took no legal action and later turned out to be hooked on pornography which sent him to prison doesn't speak well for the outcome of that situation, but it also doesn't necessarily speak to evil intentions on their part either.

As a parent, it would be incredibly difficult to hear from your daughters that their older brother had preyed on their sexual innocence while they slept or while he read to them.  I cannot imagine the pain or confusion that specific situation would cause.  I won't pretend to know how they felt in that scenario.  Giving them the benefit of the doubt, let's say they tried to be as transparent about it as they could and still protect their family.  However, even with all of those disclaimers, that still leaves us with quite a few things left largely unsaid by the Christian majority of the population of the country.  More must be said, if only because of the very public nature with which they have decided to run their family and its overarching belief structure.  Let's begin.

Abuse is never simply a "mistake"

One of the most common responses I'm seeing pop up online from Duggar supporters in the conservative Christian camp, and even from those who would land squarely in the "I wouldn't agree with how they run their family, but..." camp is something along these lines: 

Teenagers make mistakes.  I sure wouldn't want people to dredge up stuff from when I was a teenager and hold it against me.  Know what I'm saying?  

That sounds on the surface like a fair-minded and reasonable response, but let's put it in perspective.  This is not a broken window or a fender bender we're discussing.  This is devastating, life-altering abuse of young, vulnerable girls who were under the care and protection of these same parents who from all appearances put the most priority into salvaging the life of their son, rather than focusing on protecting their other children.  This is a pattern of conscious choices made by a young man old enough that he should know not to be touching his younger siblings in their private areas.  If he did not know that was wrong, then he should have.  Either way, that is a major failure.
Abuse is never a mistake.   
It is a conscious choice that steals the power to choose from the victims 
and leaves them with the consequences of the perpetrator's sin for years to come.
These sisters and this family friend will have to deal with the fallout from Josh's decisions for the rest of their lives.  It is admirable that he apologized rather than denying it, but the fact that he decided to change rather than risk letting it "ruin the rest of his life" without necessarily connecting the fact that he had already done major damage to at least 5 other lives speaks to the perspective he took coming out of this tragedy.

I do not say this to vilify or crucify Josh Duggar, but I think it does great disservice to abuse victims when abuse is referred to as "mistakes" specifically as "teenage mistakes" as his wife called it.  Forgetting to bring your homework to school is a mistake.  Molesting your sleeping sisters multiple times is NOT a mistake.  Calling it that is dishonest and cheapens the matter.

 Excessive Focus on Externals

Anyone who follows the Duggar saga (when they're not knee-deep in a nationwide scandal) is aware that the Duggars focus heavily on external rules and strict dress codes.  They don't have a television set, their girls have strict guidelines for what they're allowed to wear, they restrict hand-holding to after engagement, kissing starts at the wedding, etc.  It is very common to hear people all over the country commending them for providing "wholesome" entertainment at a time when there's practically nothing else good to watch on television.  While it might be tempting to dream about a Christianity that cordons itself off from the world (and even the outside church) through homeschooling, extremely filtered internet, special clothing, special courtship guidelines, and friendships that are carefully vetted, I have a hard time choosing the word "wholesome" to describe that.  I think it needs to be said--frumpy does not equal wholesome.  Extreme separation from everything and everyone you disagree with, does not make you wholesome.  Obviously, there was more going on behind the scenes with Josh and his sisters that was not wholesome, and the dress code, the courtship rules, the buddy system--none of that kept sin from entering the picture.  Sin is possible wherever people are.

You may object and say that nobody's perfect, but my point is not looking for perfection.  Looking objectively at the vast amount of rules and restrictions the Duggars have placed on their family, it would make sense to expect those rules to pay off with more protection from "temptation" or at the very least to make their children safer, but it hasn't.  Sexual abuse can happen anywhere to anyone, because sin comes from the heart, not from wearing the wrong clothing.  
When we put our trust in our homemade rules to protect us from sinning, 
we deny our desperate need for grace.   
If God's divinely-inspired Law could not protect us from our own sin, 
how can our own restrictions do what His Law could not?  
 The Duggars promote a Gospel of dressing in such a way that men will not lust after you.  But men regularly lust after ugly women wearing burqas in foreign lands.  Men can still choose to lust.  They emphasize the need to get all the externals right; they promote courting instead of dating in order to keep parents squarely involved in the marriage process.  They boast of their son "saving his first kiss for his wedding day" when they know what he has done behind closed doors to his own sisters.  Their standards did not protect their family from abuse.  Jesus said that it is not what enters into a man's mouth that defiles him, but what goes out of it.  In other words, you are not defiled by eating something unclean.  You are defiled because your heart is inclined to be defiled already.  Sin is a heart issue that will never be solved through external standards.  Relying on externals to protect your family from sins that stem in the heart is like expecting to pass a class simply because you bought the textbook.  Externals are not the point, and they will not compensate for lacking in other areas.

Christian Response to the Media's "Attack"

A final thought I would like to address regarding the Duggar situation is how we, as the general Christian population, respond to it.  I've seen a lot of comments the last day or so that generally fell into the range of "We support you guys, such a great family, it's a shame the left-wing media and Gay activists are trying to take you down. Don't let them win!  Satan always attacks what God wants!"  

To me, this is by far the most significant topic to address, but I will attempt to remain civil in my explanation.  It bothers me greatly that when Christians learn of sexual abuse coming out in groups or people they admire and respect, their gut response seems to generally be to circle the wagons and assume it's an attack of Satan on great people.  The general public calling for accountability in areas of child abuse and sexual abuse--that's NOT AN ATTACK OF SATAN.  That's called accountability, but it's something that Independent Baptist don't tend to appreciate very much.  Here's the thing, people have acted like this is a private family matter and a private family and they are being dragged through the front pages with scandal as an attack.  

This is not a private family.  This is a family that has made a fortune out of promoting itself as "The Christian Kardashians" for a good decade or more on national TV.  They have written books, appeared on numerous talk shows, and promoted their family franchise shamelessly all while knowing they had secrets lurking in the background.  I am not arguing that you have to be perfect to appear on television or to declare the truth in public, but when you set your family up as a public example and "family ministry" to the world showing them what followers of Jesus should look like, you should not do that if you are having trouble keeping your oldest son from molesting his sisters.  Rather than assume that unbelievers are always at fault and minimizing the tragic circumstances he put his family in, it would be great if Christians would actually hold each other accountable for once. 

If you are going to make a huge profit and franchise out of labeling yourself a Jesus follower, you should be living it out.  If your family is struggling in those areas, you should not be flaunting them as an example of holiness and purity.  If your daughters have been molested, you should be giving them the privacy and space to heal rather than parading them on TV.  

It is hypocritical to expect the world to believe what you say about Jesus when your own way of life has proven that your rules don't fix sin.  It doesn't take a religious person to notice the family full of people calling gay and transgender people "child predators" are actually harboring a genuine "child predator" themselves.

It is time for Christianity to stop covering for each other and to start lovingly and biblically holding each other accountable.  Rather than assuming "it could never happen here" we should be willing to admit it could happen anywhere.  Rather than assuming our strict moral code will protect us, we should be crying out for God's grace and owning up to failure when it happens (not years later when we're caught).  Rather than making ourselves the poster children for righteousness, we should be thanking Christ for covering us with His righteousness.  

I am hopeful that Josh Duggar and his family can find healing and learn a valuable lesson from this whole debacle, but I am more hopeful that conservative Christianity will learn to take sexual abuse seriously and perhaps take its self-inflicted arbitrary rules somewhat less so.  Jesus did not die to give us a dress code.  He died to give us grace.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Responding to Sexual Abuse Within the Church

by: Katie

BJU Student Chapel - captured from their public Facebook page

There is an elephant in the room of collective Christianity that must be addressed once abuse has been brought up as a topic.  The primary offender in the spotlight of recent years is the Roman Catholic church and their handling (mishandling of historic proportions) of the seeming epidemic of sexually abusive priest scandals that seemed to crop up without any warning a few years back.  

What has perhaps been less televised and received less worldwide attention overall, but is nearly as widespread in its effects and damage to the global church (this time in the Protestant realm) has been the apparent apathetic and many times aggressively antagonistic response of the church to abuse victims when they come forward with their stories.  That is what I'd like to focus on in this article.  As such, this is where we'll begin.

Two Major Media Events

The majority of media attention devoted to Protestant "scandals" in recent years has been devoted to the Tina Anderson story (which can be seen on YouTube here) brought to ABC's 20/20  by Jocelyn Zichterman's anti-abuse campaign, and the G.R.A.C.E. report released about Bob Jones University revealing that their counseling guru Jim Berg, not only had little to no actual training in counseling, but also had no idea what the legal mandates were regarding reporting child abuse, among other glaring inadequacies in his counseling methods.  Unfortunately that report appears to no longer be available online, though it was only released publicly in December 2014.  

The combination of these two situations would understandably make the outside world scratch their heads a bit about this previously ignored group known as "Independent Fundamental Baptists."  A lot of people have begun questioning why groups such as these and churches connected with them and their core teachings are consistently choosing to side with abusers and leaving the victims to fend for themselves, or worse, as in the case of Tina Anderson, they are actually re-victimizing those who have already suffered at the hands of predators and reinforcing the idea that God will judge them for having been abused.  If this sounds far-fetched, you should really watch the Tina Anderson story on 20/20 or read Jocelyn Zichterman's book entitled I Fired God.  Among the countless stories of horrible abuse suffered inside the camp of fundamentalist Christianity, these are some of the most high profile in recent days.

Why Rehash Old News?

So, with all the ink that has been spilled in the past few years over these two specific stories, why should we bother to re-examine these events?  It would be impossible to argue that no one is covering them, because even the NY Times found time to give some attention to the BJU Report, and getting an hour long special on ABC's 20/20 Investigates doesn't exactly sound like no coverage for Tina Anderson either.  Then why?  The reasoning is simple.  People have spoken out on this until they are blue in the face, and yet, little to no change has been forthcoming from within.  Chuck Phelps has apologized for nothing; Matt Olson has said nothing public to make amends for his role in that tragic story.  The church where Tina was forced to stand up and confess for sexual immorality after she became pregnant from her rape by a deacon has never made any type of public statement of regret or remorse for the trauma or re-victimization they caused her.  In fact, no one has publicly apologized to Tina Anderson to the best of my knowledge.  

Bob Jones University (interestingly tied albeit indirectly to Tina Anderson's story, their own report by GRACE, and the Jocelyn Zichterman accounts, along with countless others) has never made anything more than a half-hearted attempt to save face by stumbling through public apologies more intent on maintaining their image as good Christians than actually reaching out to the survivors of their institutional malpractice.  When faced with the decision on making real change where it counted with regards to their faculty and administration and keeping things the way they had always been, they stuck with the status quo--signalling to the world and everyone watching that nothing was really going to change.

The short answer is this: while the outside world may have exhausted its keyboard trying to explain to institutions and their leadership why these types of actions are wrong and so harmful, their careful and often compassionate pleas have not been received.  The conversation has digressed into name-calling, paranoia, and further isolation into the fundamentalist bubble.  It is my hope, as a Christian with a background steeped in fundamentalism, and well acquainted with many sides of this topic, to make one more plea for repentance and humility from the fundamental church as a whole.  

I don't expect the leadership to listen, but I do hope that in so speaking without yelling or just resorting to name-calling, I can reach out to the average person in their churches and groups who may not be too far removed from compassion and grace to realize that the way we treat abuse victims in the church (and often in conservative para-church organizations) is dead wrong.  

It is not the "liberal media" attacking the name of Christ.   
We are, when we attack the abused and defend those who hurt them 
to protect our own good name and institutional well-being. 

Revictimizing the Abused

A lot of kind, compassionate Christians are currently part of churches that systematically revictimize hurting, damaged people.  This does not mean that they are purposefully trying to hurt people.  It simply means that perhaps they have not seen the situation from the other side.  They only see it from the side their leadership promotes, and as a result, they become passive abusers themselves.  So, what are some of the most common ways victims are "re-victimized" by the church once they go public with their story or even go to the leadership for help and counsel?  We talk about it a lot, but don't always discuss what it looks like.  Let's take some possible examples.

  • Women find the courage to come forward with their history of sexual abuse in a respectful way seeking help and Biblical counsel only to be accused of bringing it on themselves, or told they need to repent for "their part" in the abuse and apologize to their abusers or the church in public for being sexually immoral.
  • Victims at Christian schools or colleges come for counseling and get disciplinary action instead.  Confidentiality in counseling gets thrown out the window, along with the victim's trust.
  • Victims who are already known for feeling vulnerable and tending to blame themselves are then encouraged to look for ways to blame themselves and feel less than "pure" the rest of their lives.
  • Victims come forward about criminal activity and instead of reporting it to the police, pastors attempt to smooth it over and convince the victims to just pretend it never happened.  Crimes go unreported; offenders reoffend; victims get hurt again.  True repentance never enters the equation.
These are just the tip of the iceberg.  Nearly every victim could give a story that has its own unique details while the basic facts remain the same.  The damage was done, and rather than helping them pick up the pieces, the church came in and condemned their brokenness.  

How to Respond to Abuse Victims in the Church

So, how should churches respond when victims come forward looking for help?  Let's examine a few ways that might be helpful.

  • Listen wholeheartedly.  When victims start to talk about their experiences, one major thing they need is for someone to listen.  Of all the places where they can go for that support, the church should be the first place they can find it.  This does not include being quiet while they talk so you can think of what they did wrong and what sin they need to repent of in the situation.  It means actually listening to what they are saying and being willing to sit through the awkward and emotionally painful parts with them as they process what happened to them.  This is often much more difficult than it sounds, but well worth the investment.  As the Church, there is no excuse for us to be failing in this.
  • Don't cover up criminal activity. This should be a no-brainer, but apparently it is not.  If a minor or a woman or a man comes to you in the church with accusations of criminal activity, don't decide to make an "internal church investigation" instead of reporting it to the authorities.  The New Testament is abundantly clear that we are to submit to the authorities placed over us because God is the one who put them there.  They are God's messengers of justice, and as a church, it is ridiculous to assume that we know better than the police or prosecutors do how to handle accusations of abuse or neglect.  It should not require concrete proof to report abuse to the proper authorities.  If there is reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed (and if you're in authority over people; children especially, you should KNOW what constitutes a crime) you are obligated to contact the police.
  • Publicly Denounce Domestic Abuse/Sexual Assault.  It sends a mixed message at best to victims, when churches spend a considerable amount of time denouncing gay marriage, abortion, and all manner of other offenses they feel are deplorable, but are remarkably silent when it comes to beating your wife or molesting your child.  Domestic abuse and sexual assault are rampant in conservative churches (as well as others), but those topics are rarely, if ever, addressed in a sensitive, compassionate manner by male Christian leadership.  When church members show up at court for moral support, or a pastor shows up at a trial, 9 times out of 10 it is in support of the predator.  Where are the churches who are willing to call sexual abuse the sin that it is?  When will pastors stop telling young female rape victims they're fortunate to not live in the Old Testament times when they would have been stoned?  It has to start with us, if there is to be any change at all.  God stands firmly on the side of the oppressed and abused, not with the abuser.  He stands with the repentant, and the repentant do not cover up their sin to enable their further abuse.
  • Offer solid counseling services to victims.  This can get somewhat controversial since some churches currently offer counseling, and that is what gets them labeled as insensitive to begin with.  By this, I don't mean a young, vulnerable rape victim meets alone with a pastor who then tries to figure out which sin of hers caused the rape so she can "forgive and forget."  By counseling, I mean someone who is willing to take the time to help her feel safe enough to talk through what happened and figure out where God is through the whole thing.  The recovery process can take years, and many churches don't have the patience for deeply wounded people, but they need to start investing in it.  Anything else is bringing shame to the body of Christ.

A few responses to potential objections:

It's possible that some people reading this post will find it raises objections in their minds.  I'd like to answer, in advance, what I can see may arise as a result of this article.  If any others come to mind from reading it, please feel free to post them in the comments or email me through the authors' page, and I will gladly discuss it further.

Objection #1: My church isn't that bad.  It's possible that in reading this you're thinking, "Well, that might apply in a church full of really hurting people, but nobody in my church is like that.  We've all been here forever, and we're all on the same page.  We don't need to deal with this problem."  My answer to that would be--you'd be surprised to find how many people in the U.S. have been sexually abused at some point in their lifetime.  

While it may not have directly affected you, there is a very good chance that someone either already inside your church or who will come there in the future, has been directly affected by sexual abuse, and how you talk about it when you feel like "you're all on the same page" will go a long way towards either bridging the gap of being able to help victims, or starting the cycle of re-victimization all over again.  

Please be sensitive to the experience of others that may look the same as yours on the outside, but was horribly more traumatic and painful underneath.  You just don't know what everyone else has been through.

Objection #2: They're just being too sensitive.  If you have never been through a situation that involved abuse, it is improbable that you are in a position to make that call.  Rather than assuming you know how sensitive someone else is allowed to be about an experience you've never had, do the hard thing.  Give them the benefit of the doubt.

Objection #3: Talking About it Makes the Church Look Bad. This has been very effective at silencing and hurting broken people, but it certainly hasn't made the church look good.
What actually makes the church look bad 
is caring more about what the church looks like 
than the victims seeking refuge and solace in the name and strength of Jesus.
Objection #4: We must forgive the offenders, right? This one gets tricky, because often churches lean heavily towards the "we must forgive" philosophy when it comes to sexual offenders, but in doing so, they sometimes leave the impression that forgiveness removes legal consequences or that forgiveness means acting as if nothing ever happened.  When you have a group of people gathering regularly that involves children and vulnerable people, it is imperative that you take steps to be sure you are protecting the vulnerable.  It doesn't mean you crucify someone for their past offenses, but true repentance will not cover up sin.  True repentance does not shun honest accountability.

We could go on and on, but the conclusion of the matter is that as a church, whether conservative or liberal, we should be prioritizing the care of abuse victims, rather than feeding them to the wolves to satisfy the desires of the leaders.

UPDATE: After originally posting this article I was sent links to GRACE's page that has their final report and BJU's response to it.  For those interested in seeing either of these pages for themselves GRACE's report can be found here and BJU's response can be found here.