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?