Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Parable of the Ungrateful Servant is NOT COOL

Image source.
[trigger warning: abuse]

In Matthew 18:21-35, we have the parable of the unmerciful servant. And I have some problems with it.

Here's what happens: Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive a brother or sister who sins against him. Maybe 7 times? Jesus says nope, 77 times. (Or 70 times 7, depending on which translation you have. Which is 490 for those of you bad at math.)

And Jesus tells this parable, to show the importance of forgiveness or whatever:

There was a man who owed the king millions of dollars (or whatever unit of currency they used in the ancient middle east). The man begged the king for mercy, so the king cancelled the debt.

Then this man went out and found another guy who owed him a few bucks [actually I'm unclear on whether this is supposed to be a big amount of money or not. Definitely much smaller than the first amount]. The second guy begged for mercy, but the first guy refused to give him any more time- he had him put in prison.

Then the king came back and uncancelled his debt.

So...

Back when I was a Real True Christian, the meaning of this story was so obvious. The king was God. The first man was me, and every other Christian in the world. I had a huge debt owed to God, and I deserved to go to hell for it. (As does every human being that has ever lived. Except Jesus, ya know.)

I had accepted Jesus into my heart, so God had forgiven my debt. No real reason for God to do that- just because of mercy. Really, I should go to hell.

Huge debt. Massive debt. Every sin is really a sin against God, and since God is completely perfect, each sin is an infinite offense against God.

Now, the second guy. This is some other person who sins against me. But, you know, the debt is much smaller, because this is just a sin against an imperfect person. Every sin is mostly- infinitely- a sin against God, and some sins are also against people. But, you know, the "against people" part is less of a big deal. The debt is smaller. Because a person is imperfect (unlike God) the debt is finite. I mean, they're already full of sin, our good deeds are like filthy rags, a bit more sin is not a big deal, yes?

And wouldn't it be ridiculous for me to not forgive someone, after God has forgiven me a debt that's so much bigger?

This interpretation fits well with the following concepts, which I don't believe anymore:
  1. Everyone deserves to go to hell. 
  2. Every sin is, first and foremost, a sin against God. Sometimes it also harms other people, but that's beside the point.
  3. The amount that I've hurt God with my sin is greater than any hurt I can experience on earth.
  4. There's nothing that anyone can suffer on earth that compares with the torture we deserve to receive in hell.
The conclusion is, no matter what anyone does to you, you need to forgive them, or else you're as unreasonable as the ungrateful servant.

This kind of thinking leads to the idea that victims of abuse have to forgive their abuser, and their sin of "bitterness" is as great a sin as the abuse was.

Even in less extreme cases, the idea that we always have to forgive and we're not allowed to continue having negative feelings toward the other person, no matter what the crime was, is a huge problem. [But maybe that's not what forgiveness means?]

I now believe that all those ideas on that numbered list above lead to some nasty beliefs. But I don't know how to understand the parable of the ungrateful servant apart from them. When I read this passage, it just seems so obvious that that's what it means. Jesus is clearly saying that every person in the world has such a huge debt of sin against God, and deserves to go to hell, and that anything anyone else can do to you is NOTHING in comparison. So how dare you be upset about it.

I mean, right? How could the parable of the ungrateful servant possibly mean anything else?

Let's see what we can do.

First of all, nowhere in the parable does it say that the first man represents EVERYONE. Maybe some people don't have some kind of unbelievably huge debt that gets forgiven. Maybe some people's sins are less of a big deal. Everyone sins, but not everybody sins in a way that ruins other people's lives.

(You may notice I very much do not believe "all sins are equal" or any crap like that.)

Also, in the parable, the debt that the second man owed the first was tiny compared to the debt that the first man owed the king. But maybe that's not the way it always is. Maybe someone sins against you, and you've never done anything bad enough to compare with what they did. And God knows that.

If, however, you are in a situation where someone has done something bad to you, but you've done worse things to other people, then yeah, how could you not forgive them? (I'm saying "done worse things to other people" instead of "to God" because I believe a sin is defined as something that hurts people. God feels their pain too, but the reason a sin is a sin is because it hurts people. Trying to separate the part that's "a sin against God" just gets convoluted and leads to this nasty theology.)

For example, if I needed someone to do something for me, and they totally forgot, well, it's okay, I've forgotten important stuff before. I shouldn't get all angry at them about it.

Everybody makes mistakes. It's all right.

And even if it's not a mistake, if it's actually malicious, well maybe I've done similar things to other people before. And I shouldn't have. But I get it. And I should forgive them.

If it's a situation with a sin of that proportion, then yes, this parable totally makes sense. But I always assumed Jesus was talking about ALL sins.

Like what if someone murders your kid? I think if you forgive the murderer, that's, wow, that's amazing. If you don't forgive them, well that's pretty normal. It's not like "oh my goodness how could you not forgive, after God forgave all your sins?!!!"

How can forgiveness possibly be required, in a situation like that? But in the "obvious" interpretation of this parable, it is. If you don't forgive, any and all sins, any and all heinous crimes, you're spitting in God's face.

If someone hurts you very deeply, there's no way it could be healthy to require forgiveness. What does forgiveness look like in that case? And how does it relate to healing and justice?

----------------

All right you guys, I'm writing all this stuff, about some sins being worse than others, about forgiveness not being automatic and guaranteed, about certain actions being evil and abusive enough that we are well within our rights to never trust this person again. And I'm aware that the things I'm writing against are usually presented by evangelicals as the selling points of Christianity.

It doesn't matter what you've done! God can accept you! The past doesn't matter! Christ gives us the power to forgive everyone who sins against us!

God doesn't call the qualified, He qualifies the called! Jacob was a cheater, Peter had a tempter, David had an affair, Noah got drunk, Jonah ran from God, Paul was a murderer, Gideon was insecure, Miriam was a gossiper, Martha was a worrier, Thomas was a doubter, Sara was impatient, Elijah was moody, Moses stuttered, Zacheus was too short, Abraham was old and Lazarus was dead. Image source.
I mean, look at that text in the above image. Reassuring us that we can totally do great things for God, because look at how so many of the bible heroes were sinners, maybe even worse than us. Look how they have all different kinds of sins (and things that are not sins) mixed in there together, as if they're all the same. "Paul was a murderer, Gideon was insecure" as if those are anywhere close to the same problem. Christians, THIS IS NOT OKAY.

This is what happens when you think the main reason sin is bad is it breaks your relationship with God. You don't even realize that maybe a rapist or murderer should be in jail, instead of working at your church. You don't even realize that he could be dangerous and no matter how much he says he's repented, we have to keep an eye on him.

Okay I've gotten kind of off-topic. I'm ranting here because of all the stories I've heard from abuse victims who were told by Christians to just "forgive" their abusers and pretend everything was fine because they "repented", and then it was the victim's fault for still being upset about it.

NOT COOL.

For garden-variety sins, the kind that we've all committed, yeah you should forgive. But if it's something really serious, no. Nobody deserves to be abused (or any of those other really life-ruining sins). Nobody has some kind of huge "sin against God" that makes abuse not a big deal.

If you're actually in a situation like the parable of the ungrateful servant, where somebody hurt you in a way that's proportional to/less than your own sins, then yeah, Jesus says you should forgive. But nowhere does he say all sins are like that.

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This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: Matthew 18 (Matthew 18:15-20)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Blogaround

"Remember, there's no 'i' in 'team.'"
"No, but there's a 'u' in 'people who apparently don't understand the relationship between orthography and meaning.'"
Image source.

1. No, NY Times, enslaved African women could not be the mistresses of those who claimed to own them (posted August 17) "...using words to describe any sexual contact between slaveholders and slaves—words that imply it was either romantic, consensual, or optional—is not just wrong, it's sick and offensive."

2. Sexual Preference Cakes We Are Willing To Bake (posted August 7) "We will obviously bake a cake for your heterosexual wedding, but only if you prove that you’re straight by performing a sexually explicit act in the back room of the bakery."

3. How Are Televangelists Still Able To Scam People Out Of Their Hard Earned Money? (posted August 17) "Therefore, as long as people are getting saved, we tend to give a free pass to the people doing the saving (and their methods) by saying things like 'God works in spite of...' or 'Well, at least some people are getting saved.'"

4. Christians taught me I can't trust my deceitful heart (posted August 12) "This indoctrination hasn’t just affected my ability to make decisions– the most drastic way it’s affected me is that I still can’t trust my opinion of myself."

5. This baby seal:

Image source.

6. [trigger warning: rape] Bill Gothard Explains Road Safety (aka How Not to Get Raped) (posted August 17) and Are Women Biblically Required to “Cry Out” During Rape?


7. What It's Like To Be Intersex (posted March 28)

8. Donald Trump’s First Policy Plan Is Even More Racist Than You Think It Is (posted August 17) "[In 1866] some members of Congress expressed concerns that this provision would extend citizenship to immigrant populations they viewed as undesirable, including 'the Chinese population in California and the West, and the Gypsy or Roma communities in eastern states such as Pennsylvania.'"

9. Disrupters, witnesses, and bridge-builders: three different tactics in the struggle for justice (posted August 18) "A disrupter‘s role is to create pressure when a group of people are dragging their heels in having uncomfortable conversations and taking a public stand for justice."

10. These Hilarious Harry Potter Comics Show How Irresponsible Dumbledore Was (posted August 18) "Are we just going to watch an empty lake for an hour"

11. Why Grown-Ups Need Sex Ed Too: Exposing the Long-Term Harm of Abstinence-Only Teachings (posted August 13) "Abstinence-only teachings result in a perpetual cycle of scared, unprepared girls who think they have no choice but to bear the “consequences of their sin.”"

12. 16 Trans People (That We Know Of) Have Been Murdered this Year (posted August 17)

13. Campaign Zero. About ending police violence.

14. Josh Duggar Spent Nearly $1000 to Cheat on His Wife and Josh Duggar Blames Porn and Satan in Public Statement. Pray for Anna.

15. Would Mike Huckabee send the FBI to protect the personhood of this 40-year-old unborn twin? (posted August 20) "That unborn twin was not viable, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from critics of Roe v. Wade and the rest of the anti-abortion movement, it’s that viability means nothing. Life begins at conception, they insist — at the moment of fertilization."

16. Fertility clinics destroy embryos all the time. Why aren’t conservatives after them? (posted August 14) "This distinction cannot be based on principle — if life begins at conception, then anti-choice groups have every reason to put the estimated 400,000 to 1 million frozen embryos in the United States at the forefront of their efforts."

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

This is what a "personal relationship with God" looks like. Be very afraid.

"Well I am starting to pray every second of every day, so yeah it's getting pretty serious." Image source.

So I came across this article from 2014: We Were Praying at an Abortion Clinic When, an Abortion Center Owner Came Out. It's from the pro-life site LifeNews, one of those good Christian organizations which shows its love for Jesus and unborn babies by bearing false witness.

I'm pro-choice, but in this blog post I'm not going to talk about the pro-life/pro-choice stuff. I'm writing about that linked article because it does a really good job showing what a "personal relationship with God" looks like. And makes me really glad I'm no longer in that kind of relationship.

So, my background: I grew up evangelical. I was taught that being a Christian meant having a personal relationship with God. When I was in college, I was "on fire for God"- obsessed with praying and obeying God, passionate about evangelism, starting bible studies for my non-Christian friends, all that stuff. I loved God- or at least, that particular version of God.

I read this LifeNews article, and it sounds SO MUCH like the way I used to think. I never did any pro-life activism (but of course I held the correct pro-life stance that Real True Christians must have)- maybe for me, the equivalent would have been evangelism. But the way I thought about God was the same.

(I guess I should put a disclaimer here: maybe "have a personal relationship with God" means something different to other Christians? I'd be interested to hear if my readers have experience with a "personal relationship with God" that was completely different than mine.)

The article illustrates these 5 aspects of having a "personal relationship with God":

1. Everything is a big huge deal.

Okay, so let me summarize the article first: The writer, who lives in Alabama, was visited by her mother, who lives in Mississippi. The two of them went to stand outside a Planned Parenthood and pray- for the end of legalized abortion, obviously. Later that day, after they had left Planned Parenthood and were just hanging out, they happened to see a woman who is apparently known as "the abortion queen" because she owns several abortion centers.

That's it. That's all of the action that happens in this article. Except that the writer made it into a HUGE DEAL:
This is no coincidence; this is the work of an intentional God who collides our prayers with the politics we didn’t even know were there.

...

I wondered immediately if God wanted me to go up and talk with her. She had another woman with her in the vehicle that looked a lot like her, too. Through rushed praying, I asked Him, “Why did you want me to see her? What do you want me to do?” I couldn’t understand why He had me run into her. All I could do was pray—and that is just what He wanted.

...

There was no denying God was sounding an alarm and a warning somehow.
Having a personal relationship with God means looking for God in EVERY SINGLE MUNDANE THING that happens to you. You pray constantly and you believe that God really does work in the world and affect the things in your life.

Basically, the writer happened to see someone whom she knew of and had prayed for (prayed for her to see the error of her abortion-ways, obviously), and OH MY GOODNESS THIS IS SUCH A BIG DEAL, this is the hand of God working. Clearly God had caused this to happen, this is a big important moment full of action.

I can totally relate to the "rushed praying" and asking God "What do you want me to do?" My heart used to beat faster and I prayed frantically when I sensed there might be an "opportunity to share the gospel."

And the way I had to overanalyze everything. Everything had a deep supernatural meaning. I prayed for answers constantly.

It's so much stress, living that way.

2. Everything is a battle.

A few more fun phrases that the article uses:
so that I can pray with a target in sight and for exact precision

...

prayer siege

...

Jesus moved in power in my dream and showed me the victory that had been won; that any “power” that comes against Him is feeble and weak.
When you have a personal relationship with God, he sends you to fight against the forces of evil in the world. The battle is happening all around us, and we are God's strong warriors, using prayer as a weapon, valiantly standing up for our faith.

Furthermore, people and events aren't just people and events- they're symbols in the spiritual battle. Notice the way the writer talked about "the abortion queen"- she isn't treated as an actual human being with a complex life, but as a symbol of the evil spiritual forces that brought legalized abortion into reality.

Again, it's so stressful to live this way constantly. Back when I did it, it was so exciting and I felt like my life had so much amazing purpose. I was on a mission from God! But it was so hard on me, always having to be on guard and fighting.

3. Reality isn't the REAL reality.

In this belief system, there is a complex spiritual world that exists alongside the physical world, and the spiritual world is more real and more true than the physical one. In the physical world, we can sometimes see small signs of what's going on in the spiritual world (see point number 1 "everything is a big huge deal").

Therefore, even though we can observe what's happening in the physical world, we can't necessarily take it as a sign that this is truly the way things are. Take a look at this excerpt from that fun article:
With this news [an anti-abortion law had been struck down], my heart was in distress. My former and my current home states had politically ruined a seed of hope for diminishing abortion in our nation within days of each other. Then God reminded me of the orchestrated occurrences of my mom coming to pray from Jackson, the running into the sole owner of Mississippi’s last abortion center, and the dream where I battled and won. Politics is a thermometer, but it’s not what Heaven sees. God’s power is above politics, above the language and rulings of this world. His power will have the final word.
The writer sees that the pro-life cause has suffered a defeat in the legal system, but she doesn't consider this to be an actual indicator of how things are going in the battle over abortion. To her, the real truth is in the sign God had given her- which, remember, was "running into the sole owner of Mississippi’s last abortion center" and then having a dream about it. This showed that God was still working (toward ending abortion, obviously) and that in the future, there would be victories for the pro-life side.

Let's take a moment to recap. Of these two things- a law which would affect thousands of people, and you personally seeing an abortion center owner getting into her car- which is more important? The writer has attached all kinds of deep spiritual meeting to the second one, so clearly that is more important, clearly that is a better reflection of the REAL reality.

I'd like to point out how self-centered this all is. When you believe that you personally have a close relationship with God, and every mundane event in your life is micromanaged by God, it's really difficult to expand your view to include other people (or to see them as more than soldiers on one side or the other in the great spiritual war). All that matters is you and God.

And the other fun part about not believing the reality you see is that results don't matter. Let's say you do XYZ because you believe that God wants you to. And then XYZ fails horribly. Or at least, from a human point of view, it failed, but in truth it was exactly what God intended. See how this works? Within this ideology, it's incredibly difficult to actually evaluate your actions and stop doing things that don't work or are clearly harmful.

4. My random thoughts are SO INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT. 

The writer describes the dream she had, the night after her HUGELY IMPORTANT encounter with "the abortion queen" (ie she saw her on the street and didn't actually interact or anything). In the dream, she meets "the abortion queen", and then prays so amazingly that "the abortion queen" is rendered speechless.

The writer says that this dream is a sign of God's power (and obviously God opposes "the abortion queen" and sees her as a symbol of evil).

Apparently this dream- and all the other thoughts that ran through her head and were supposedly from God- are so important that it's worth writing up a whole article about it and publishing it on the internet.

This is how it was back when I had a personal relationship with God. I assumed that "God speaking to me" would mean a random thought just popped into my head, with no obvious source. Of course, then there's the discussion to be had about how to determine if a thought is really from God or not- which was a very important question for me back then. And if I concluded that some thought was from God, yeah of course I would tell my close friends about it. And they believed me. Because we lived in an evangelical Christian culture where it was assumed that God regularly spoke to us all in that way.

Living this way meant I prayed constantly, asking God the same question over and over again (usually about if a particular crush was THE ONE GUY that God had destined for me), and meticulously analyzing every thought that ran through my head to see if any of them were an answer from God. Or maybe I prayed asking God what to do in a particular situation, and then analyzed whatever suggestions came to mind. And when I analyzed them, the question of "is this realistic? will is work?" was not the biggest concern. (It mattered, but other things were more important.) Remember, reality isn't the REAL reality.

I would get so nervous when I thought of an idea which I TOTALLY didn't want to do, and then I'd have to decide if this was a message from God- if so, I would need to obey. In that LifeNews article, the writer says "I wondered immediately if God wanted me to go up and talk with her." I can relate to that feeling of panic.

5. I assume God agrees with me.

There are so many assumptions about God that need to be made in order to write an article like this. God wants abortion to be illegal. God is in favor of any and all legislation that bans abortion or restricts access to abortion. God speaks to us through mundane events in our lives, and through dreams and random thoughts that pop into our heads. I saw this person on the street and it can't be a coincidence, it must be a message from God.

After all these assumptions are made, the real question is, as the writer says, "Why did you want me to see her?" That's the issue that this article is addressing. There is no indication that the writer is even aware of all the assumptions she makes about the nature of God.

That's how it works when you have a personal relationship with God. You know God's opinion all the relevant political issues and spiritual questions, and you pray for things consistent with those opinions. And God sends you to help fight the battles.

You live as if this is all true, and the spiritual interpretations you invent for the everyday happenings in your life are evidence that yes, this is the way God is. It's so hard to get out of that way of thinking. It's so hard to even imagine a God who doesn't agree with opinion ABC, because you are constantly seeing little signs from the "spiritual world" that confirm it.

This ideology colors your interpretation of everything that happens.

In the past few years, I've changed a lot of my beliefs. But this means I can no longer have a "personal relationship with God". That God I had a personal relationship with, the one I was so close to- he (yes, he) had very firm opinions about those things. I couldn't imagine God changing his beliefs. So I can't work with him anymore.

And I don't want to make the same mistake again- invent a new God and assume that one agrees with me about everything.

But I don't think possible to be close to someone- to communicate with them and work together- without some understanding of what beliefs they would hold on the topics you communicate about. Without some assumption that you have common ground to start from. Is it even possible for a person to be "close to God"?

Image source.

I'm so glad I'm out of that relationship, you guys. I'm so glad I don't have to live with the constant stress and excitement of living in a spiritual war. I'm so glad I don't have to worry and overanalyze every thought and coincidence in my life. I'm so glad I don't have to ignore reality. I'm so glad I'm not driven by devotion to a God who might want me to do something wild and impractical- we call it "stepping out in faith".

Back then, my "personal relationship with God" was the most important thing in my life. I'm so much better off now that it's over.

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Readers: So, I'm curious about whether there could be some interpretation of "personal relationship with God" that's less, umm... emotionally unhealthy. Tell me if you have any ideas.

(But if you leave a comment that suggests I misunderstood the Christian teaching I received, I will totally laugh at you. I was "on fire for God" and my Christian friends were so "encouraged" by my "bold witness for Christ." It's not til I started questioning things, that Christians told me "no that's not what Christianity really teaches." I'm looking for other possible interpretations, not "actually, no real Christian is teaching that this is what a 'relationship with God' looks like.")

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Matthew 18

Simpsons character holding a bible: "Marge, just about everything is a sin. You ever sat down and read this thing?" Image source.
Matthew 18:15-20
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them."
On its surface, this passage seems pretty straightforward. Somebody does something bad, but hopefully you don't have to make a big deal about it, just go talk to them and if they take responsibility, then the matter is resolved. Don't escalate it unless you have to.

So maybe, for example, somebody said something that was hurtful to you. Don't go around gossiping about how they're a terrible person, just go tell them. They're probably not a terrible person.

Seems reasonable. ... So far.

Two things I would like to point out:
  1. It seems that you and the person who sinned are equals. The passage uses the term "brother or sister."
  2. Some translations say "sins against you" rather than just "sins." Based on the rest of the passage, it seems like yeah, this would only make sense if it was some personal thing between the two of you. 
So the point is, if we were naive, we would just read this passage, think "that sounds reasonable" and move on.

But.

Matthew 18 is a passage that's often used to silence criticism of the church. As if the only correct way to respond, in any situation where a Christian did something wrong, is to Matthew-18 them. Here are some examples that I've heard a lot of bloggers talk about:
  1. [trigger warning: abuse] A young girl in the church is sexually abused by a man in the church. Instead of turning him over to the police, the church leaders tell the girl that she has to go personally confront her abuser, Matthew-18-style. WTF? This can be traumatizing for a victim. Her own healing should come first, and being forced to see him again is not healing. (See this post by Boz Tchividjian. Or just go google "Matthew 18 and sexual abuse" and see how this passage gets used against victims.)
  2. Some famous pastor makes an offensive comment on twitter, and the feminist-progressive-Christian blogosphere goes into a frenzy. In the midst of all the blog posts written on why it is SO not okay to say things like that, you get some people quoting Matthew 18, trying to stop all the criticism. They say that Christians aren't allowed to publicly say anything bad about each other unless you've first gone and met with that person one-on-one to point out their sin.
(And another misuse of this passage, but not in the category of silencing criticism: Some random Christian decides that I have some sin in my personal life- for example, I'm living with my boyfriend- and they have to come to me and point it out. Geez, you think I didn't know people think that's a sin?)

For the two numbered examples there, I think the problem is the power difference. The person who's sinning has more power, so it's not realistic for the victim/random internet bystanders to go to them personally and point it out and expect that will fix things. Matthew 18 seems to just be talking about some minor personal conflict between equals.

So in summary, confront your fellow Christians/ other people [whichever you interpret this passage to mean] Matthew-18-style only if you're in a situation when it is reasonable to do so. Use your brain; none of this "well God said it and we have to obey even if it's hard and it doesn't make sense."

One more fun anecdote about Matthew 18:

So I remember reading an article about what a wife should do if her husband was sinning. The writer was coming from a complementarian perspective- doesn't the bible say "wives, submit to your husbands" and that means a wife can never directly confront her husband about something she thinks he's doing wrong?

No, says the author of that article. Because look, Matthew 18. Technically, the husband and wife are also "brother and sister in Christ", and therefore, the wife has the right to point out the husband's sin, Matthew-18-style, and the right to get other people involved if the husband doesn't listen.

So, you guys, if you've read my blog before, you know that I think such an interpretation is ridiculous. The bible is not a rulebook full of absolute statements and we have to logic them all out to determine exactly which situations each applies to, and after all that interpretation is done, obey the results even if they seem unreasonable, because "that's what God said."

To say "oh Peter said 'wives, submit to your husbands' so that sounds like it means you can't talk to him about his sin, but oh I found a loophole here in Matthew 18" is just a really bizarre way to read the bible.

I read the bible using the very biblical principles "love your neighbor as yourself" and "by their fruit you will know them." To say a wife can't tell her husband certain things- to say they can't have open and honest communication- is that going to bear good fruit? And to say a wife has to "submit" and her husband must be her "spiritual leader" or whatever- is that loving to women? Maybe back in the first century, that was the best way to do things, but not now. The world looks at the church and says we have a huge problem with sexism- the world is right. By their fruit you will know them.

Other odd bits in this passage:
  • So... what is this "treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector"? Does he mean you just treat them like an average random stranger in public? So... just general politeness but you're not going to have a close relationship? Or...? Does it come across as insulting to pagans and tax collectors?
  • Also this part about "if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven" is weird to me. I was always taught to "stand up for what's right, even if you're standing alone"- and now here's the idea that you need to at least find a second person who agrees with you in order for God to take you seriously. Also, just because two people pray for the same thing doesn't mean it will automatically happen. [source: personal experience] So... what's the deal?
So, readers, what are your thoughts? :)

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This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: Jesus had some millstone-related things to say about that. (Matthew 18:1-14)

Next post: The Parable of the Ungrateful Servant is NOT COOL (Matthew 18:21-35)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Blogaround

Image source.
1. Interrupting Bernie: Exposing the White Supremacy of the American Left (posted August 9) "What was true in King’s time is true in ours: the greatest stumbling block to racial justice is not the KKK; it’s well-meaning White people who would rather maintain injustice than risk the decentering of our Whiteness and White comfort."

2. Hiroshima: An Anti-Transfiguration and Nagasaki: The Sufferings of Christ (posted August 8) "Why do we so readily agree that the Holocaust was a sin, but defend the atomic bombings?"

3. After #Ferguson (posted August 10) "I am literally putting myself in the place of people who are now dead, wondering if there is any way I can protect myself, escape, live."

4. Why Sex Still Dominates Christian Focus On Human Trafficking (posted August 11) "The vast majority of modern slaves are in chains not for sex, but so that you and I can save a few bucks at the store."

5. Wildlife Experts Say Not Climbing Into Gorilla Enclosure Likely Saved Man’s Life (posted August 13) Lol. The Onion.

6. Planned Parenthood Gets Religious Support (posted August 12) "A total of 56 faith-based groups have sent a letter to members of the Senate voicing their support for Planned Parenthood and urging them to reject efforts to defund the organization."

7. This Is What Happens When You Come Out As A Gay Christian Rock Star (posted August 13) "She said she knew she was gay when she was 13, and she’d wept into her bedroom carpet wishing God would end her life."

8. The Problem We All Live With (posted July 31) A radio podcast about school integration. This is really worth listening to.

9. 9 Affirmations You Deserve to Receive If You Have a Mental Illness (posed August 10) "You are worthy of love."

10. The Scarlet Letter: The A-word doesn’t apply when the Right People choose it for the Right Reasons (posted August 12) "For Walker et. al., the word “abortion” refers to evil baby-killing performed on behalf of irresponsible sluts for unknown — but presumably evil and indefensible — reasons. The termination of a pregnancy by good, white, Christian people may be the same procedure, but since they’re good, non-slutty people, they get to call it something else."

11. Two essential ways we need to support pregnant workers (posted in June) "Right now, if you’re pregnant and need a workplace accommodation — even something simple like being allowed to take extra restroom breaks — you have to show that you are medically impaired by the pregnancy (the whole fetus-in-womb thing isn’t enough)."

12. This Study Should End The Debate About Whether Women Regret Having Abortions (posted July 13) "According to a new study that tracked hundreds of women who had abortions, more than 95 percent of participants reported that ending a pregnancy was the right decision for them."

13. You May Know Me from Such Roles as Terrorist #4 (posted July 27) "You've heard of actors getting typecast. But there is no group more slighted, more narrowly cast, than the Muslim-American actors who earn virtually their entire livings pretending to hijack planes and slaughter infidels."

14. An Atheist On The Worst Passage In The Bible (posted August 13) 1 Corinthians 1:17-31

Friday, August 14, 2015

"Let's Send Them Bibles!"

Image source.
I'm kind of baffled at what always happens after some disaster occurs on the other side of the world. Inevitably, you'll get Christians saying, "Let's send them bibles!"

Mostly, after a disaster, people send a lot of humanitarian aid. Christians and Christian organizations are a huge part of this. Which is great! And if they want to send bibles too, okay, I'm fine with that.

But it's just so bizarre that evangelical Christians think sending bibles is a useful way to teach people about their brand of Christianity. It's not.

Evangelical Christians think that their beliefs come directly from the bible. They think if you believe the entire bible is inerrant and inspired by God, and you read the entire thing, you will end up with all the correct Real True Christian beliefs.

Haha... right.

Here's what happens if you have no prior knowledge of Christianity, and you start reading the bible: You start out with creation stories, like how Tubal-Cain invented iron and bronze tools. Then you get to the bizarre hijinks of Abraham's family, like how Judah had sex with his daughter-in-law because she was disguised as a prostitute (an honest mistake, yes?).

If you stick with it, eventually you get chapter after chapter of detailed regulations about exactly how to build the tabernacle and exactly how to sacrifice animals. And so on, through accounts of ancient Israelite history, poetry, graphic and gory prophesies of doom, etc.

The bible is weird, and a lot of American Christians don't realize that.

For those of us who were raised in the church, we learned the more well-known bible stories in Sunday School class. The ones that were a bit more, uh, PG-rated (or could be cleaned up enough to be PG-rated). We were trained to just sort of ignore the other bits- the more WTF bits. But WTF bits can be found on almost every page of the bible. As for the poor people you are sending bibles to- they don't know which parts are inspirational stories/ deep truths about the nature of God and which parts we just don't talk about.

We learned about Noah and the ark and how it cute it must have been to have two of every animal there together, and ignored the fact that God killed all humans on earth except for 8.

If you give a bible to a poor person in Asia, and they read the story of Noah's ark, odds are they're not going to come away with the message "What God did was reasonable and just. All those people deserved to die. Wasn't it so nice- merciful, in fact- for God to save Noah's family?"

Odds are, they're going to have some questions about it. The kind of questions we don't ask out loud in church.

They don't know we're supposed to pick out John 3:16 and treat it as the most important verse ever. They don't know that the basics of the "gospel" are Romans 3:23, 6:23, 5:8, and 10:9. There's nothing in the bible that says these verses are more important than all the others. There's nothing that says these are the core principles of Christianity.

Evangelical Christians always talk about how the whole bible is so great, and every word is inspired and important, and how we should all read the whole thing. Meanwhile, they base most of their sermons and bible studies on a small subset of the bible.

And they don't even realize they're doing this. That's why they think that if they give someone a bible, and that person reads and believes the bible (whatever that means) they'll end up becoming an evangelical Christian.

But, you guys, the bible is weird. The bible is full of different types of literature, compiled over hundreds or thousands of years, and it's really diverse and interesting and worth studying. But you need some sort of strategy to go about reading and interpreting it. Some sort of hermeneutic.

There are Christian organizations who actually work to help people around the world, and they understand this. They do the work to find out people's real physical needs, and the best way to help them. They bring food, water, and medical care. Most of them also teach their version of "the gospel", and I don't have a problem with that, as long as it's done in a way that respects people. And they know that dropping a bible on someone is not the same thing as teaching their version of "the gospel."

The fact is though, there will always be evangelicals running around suggesting "let's send them bibles!" They think if you read the bible and take it seriously, you'll automatically become a Real True Christian. They think that the phrase "I believe the bible" actually has some kind of well-defined meaning. They think that their beliefs come from just reading what the bible clearly says.

Is this because evangelicals talk all day about how important it is to read the bible and base your whole life on it, but most have never actually read the whole thing?

Or, perhaps more disturbingly, we've read it, but we've been trained to ignore the parts that don't fit our idea of what Christianity is. We've been taught to "use the more clear passages in the bible to interpret the less clear ones" where "less clear" means "this pretty clearly contradicts what the church taught me." We've been trained to just gloss over the bits about "you guys are in SO MUCH trouble for not helping the poor" and focus on the parts about rules for sex. We've been made to believe that to be a Christian means thinking everything God says and does in the bible is good- so we try not to think too hard about the Canaanite genocide and all the other WTF things God commanded.

Those third-world disaster victims you want to send bibles to? They've received no such training.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

I'm a woman, and God created me to do math and build robots

A pregnant woman in a t-shirt that says "Coding a future geek". Nice. Image source.

Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, what the hell?

No seriously, what is this? Target removes the "boy" and "girl" labels from different categories of toys [hooray! way to go, Target!], and you write an article about how this is a horrible thing, a sign that people are rejecting God's design for their gender or some bullshit like that.

Seriously, what the hell is this:
The Bible teaches that men are wired by God to protect and to pursue, so it is not surprising that they naturally like toys that by-and-large involve fighting, building, and racing. Women, on the other hand, are wired by God to nurture and to be pursued, so it is also not surprising that they largely enjoy playing with American Girl Dolls, Barbies, and Disney princess dresses.
First of all, where the hell in the bible does it say "men are wired by God to protect and to pursue" and women "are wired by God to nurture and to be pursued"? Where? Is it in the Book of Double You Tee Eff? Is it in the letters of Saint American Pop Culture That We've Baptized And We're Pretending It's From God?

No really, where?

Let me tell you a story. When I was a little girl, I played with Barbies. I had a ton of Barbies that were given to me as gifts. They were fun! But I didn't brush their hair or change their clothes. No, sometimes my Barbies got kidnapped and held as hostages- maybe by evil Barbies or some other toy- and then the other Barbies had to negotiate for their release. If this failed, the Barbies would launch a secret mission during the night to rescue their friends.

Is that what girls are supposed to do? Is that what boys are supposed to do? It didn't matter to me. Toys were a way to be creative and tell stories and imagine what could happen in different situations- situations that were based on my own interests, not categories of what girls or boys supposedly like.

In that blasphemous CBMW article, it says, "The problem with gender roles for the secular mind, and in this case, gender-designated signs for the toy aisles at Target, is that they confine." Yes, exactly. That is the problem. People should be free to be who God made them to be, instead of restricted by society's views of what people with a particular type of genitals are good at.

Let me tell you another story. I love math and science. I love logic and how it all fits together, I love manipulating variables in an equation. (My favorite field in math is number theory, what's yours?) I love learning how the world works and asking questions.

During my childhood, adults encouraged me to follow my interests, and I often heard comments about "isn't it great to see a girl winning the math award" and I have mixed feelings about that kind of stuff. At the time, it really made me angry- people talked as if my being a girl was some kind of obstacle I had valiantly overcome in order to be good at math. No. That's just who I am. That's how God made me.

In grades K through 12, I didn't experience discrimination on account of being a girl in math, because grades were objective. You got the answer right or wrong. You got an A or a B or whatever. It was very clear who was better than whom. But in college and in the real world, decisions and evaluations are also based on people's opinions about who seems like they would be good at math, or science or engineering. I'm a woman, so it's more likely that people will assume I don't know what I'm talking about.

It's just an assumption, or a vague feeling though. If asked about it directly, everyone will swear up and down that they really want to be objective and promote equality, etc.

Everyone except for CBMW, apparently. Apparently they're not interested in equality. Apparently they think I shouldn't be an engineer. (Oh I forgot to mention, in college I double-majored in math and electrical engineering.)

Their blasphemous article is just about toys, not careers that men or women should or shouldn't be in. But the same gender stereotypes apply, and CBMW is clearly in favor of those stereotypes.

If you tell me I shouldn't be an engineer, well. First of all, I will recite the first one hundred digits of pi at you. (Memorizing digits of pi isn't actually useful, but it's a fad for high school math nerds, so I did it. [Oooh, this might be a controversial statement, since pi is worshiped in nerd culture. Nerds, gather and debate in my comment section!]) And then I will show you all the programs I wrote on my TI 84+ graphing calculator in high school when I was supposed to be paying attention in class. (It was probably math class, and I probably wasn't paying attention because it was too easy.) Yeah, BASIC on a TI calculator, that was my first programming language. What was yours?

I love computer programming because the computer will do literally exactly what you tell it. And that's how my brain works. That's how God made me.

Let me tell you another story. In high school, I was proud of my identity as a math nerd. And therefore, I did not dress in a feminine way. Because of the stereotype that math is not a "girly" thing. If a female classmate dressed in a cute and feminine way, she "looked like" she wasn't good at math. There are several layers of internalized sexism here. The point is, I wanted to be taken seriously as a math nerd, so I didn't wear cute girly clothes. I wore a lot of big t-shirts.

Anyway, then I went to an engineering college, and I figured, hey, everyone here is pretty much assumed to be a nerd. I can dress feminine and it won't hurt my nerd cred. So I did.

And now, I really like to be cute and beautiful and feminine and wear dresses, in various bright colors including pink. I'm happy being myself. This is how God made me. (I don't wear makeup though- that just seems like way too much work.)

But back in high school, given the choice between two stereotypes- a math nerd and a cute girl- I chose to be a math nerd. And I absolutely would choose math over femininity, definitely. But it doesn't need to be that way. These two things are not actually opposites.

And, ironically, the stereotypes promoted by CBMW caused me to hide my God-given femininity.

One more fun line from their blasphemous article: "Instead of helping guide children towards embracing who they actually are, this blurs reality." Bizarrely, the "this" in that sentence is referring to the removal of "boy" and "girl" labels on toys. Through some kind of twisted logic that they're dragged God's name into, CBMW is saying that telling children they need to play with this toy and not that one, regardless of their own unique interests, is what "guid[es] children towards embracing who they actually are."

Like, what the hell is this?

If you don't want me to build, and discover, and write C++ code, you are denying the way God designed me.

CBMW, get out.

Get out of my religion.

And stop taking the Lord's name in vain.

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How to tell if a toy is for boys or girls: A guide
Do you operate the toy with your genitalia?
Yes -> This toy is not for children.
No -> It is for either girls or boys.
Image source.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Blogaround

Image source.
1. Michael Farris Doesn’t Read the Bible (Apparently) (posted August 3) "Surely I am not the only product of a devout evangelical upbringing to note the close resemblance between Price’s situation and a certain parable told by Jesus in the Bible."

2. INFOGRAPHIC: Sandra Bland's Death Is Not an Anomaly (posted August 3) "73 percent of deaths in jail occur among people not convicted of a crime."

3. To Slide or to Slice? Finding a Positive Sexual Metaphor (posted 2014) "Simply reaching each base and moving on to the next is what our culture values most. ... The baseball metaphor presents a fictitious hierarchy of sexual activities. In real life, there is no universal ranking of most enjoyable or desirable activities."

4. China's Severe Crackdown On Crosses Leads To Outrage And Tears For Christians (posted August 5)

5. How Not to Discover God’s Will For Your Life (posted August 6) "Presumably, if everybody had followed God’s will and bought the toothbrush ordained for them before the foundations of the world, nobody would have gotten hepatitis."

6. The Courage of Being Transgender in Public (posted August 6) "These events always make me think back to the first time that I ventured outdoors dressed in women's clothing. A stranger in a car drove up, called me a "he-she" (an old derogatory term), and ordered me into the car. He followed me the wrong way down a one-way street. I eventually lost him by running across an interstate highway."

7. The Day the Sun Stood Still: Interpreting the Miracle of Joshua 10 (posted July 30) "Joshua’s brief, mid-day return to the camp at Gilgal is a 90-km detour each way. And that’s not to mention the tour of Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, and Debir that follows—which the text seems to suggest all occurred that same day. And then there is one final return to Gilgal (v. 43). This is a campaign that should have taken weeks."

8. Masturbation: A Selfish, Addictive, Vicious Cycle (posted August 6) "Because I’d never really gotten intimate with myself down there, I had no idea what I wanted my husband to do or touch to give me pleasure. This frustrated him, because he wanted to bring me pleasure but was almost as new to this as I was and I couldn’t tell him what I liked. To fix this, he encouraged me to masturbate more to figure out what I like, so that he would know how to pleasure me. True story!"

9. The Abortion I Almost Had (posted August 7) "I realized that all those tactics I was taught were important and necessary for a pro-life politics – the emotional shock that justifies the use of those pictures, of those lies – were not ethical, helpful, loving things done out of good intent. They were intended to manipulate, to achieve the ends of stopping abortion, no matter the emotional or physical cost it would take on women."

10. The "New" Testament: the writers and our experience (posted August 7) "If all we had was a letter written by Moses explaining his rationale for striking the rock at Kadesh without describing the later consequences, we’d have a very different view of what happened. But that’s all we have when it comes to Paul and Peter talking about this supposed 'male headship.'"

11. These little ducks sliding down a slide. Adorable!

12. The Definitive Ranking of Christian Parody Music Videos (posted August 7) LOLOLOLOLOL!!!!

13. Christian Teabagger Reps Have Terrific Plan To Hide Real Affair, With Pretend Gay Hooker Scandal (posted August 7) "As of press time, neither representative has said how they plan to explain this to the children."

14. Focus on the Family (posted August 7) [trigger warning: Bill Cosby] "I do not want her to be polite to him, to acquiesce to his charms or flattery. I do not want her to have to smile awkwardly at his jokes or flirtations, I do not want her to make herself small to make even more room for him. I do not ever want her to feel alone, as though she is the only one responsible for keeping herself safe."

15. Unarmed College Football Player Shot Dead By Texas Police During Alleged Robbery (posted August 8) Christian Taylor.

16. The Chrome extension that makes Republicans palatable (by replacing 'political correctness' with 'treating people with respect') (posted August 9) "Black Lives Matter controversy is treating people with respect 'going amok'"

17. Meals Ready to Eat: Expedition 44 Crew Members Sample Leafy Greens Grown on Space Station (posted August 7) Cool!

18. The Big Secret of Abortion: Women Already Know How It Works (posted August 9) "Women know about blood. We know about discharge. We know about babies, and many of us also love them, their little feet and hands and eyelashes. And, yes, we know that those bitty features develop while the fetus is inside us. We also know the physical, economic, and emotional costs of raising those children outside our wombs."

Friday, August 7, 2015

Nothing about the Good News Club shocks me

Image source.

So I happened across this blog post from the Patheos Atheist channel, about the Good News Club and how it's such a horrible thing.

So what is the Good News Club? According to its website:
Good News Club® is a ministry of Child Evangelism Fellowship in which trained teachers meet with groups of children in schools, homes, community centers, churches, apartment complexes, just about anywhere the children can easily and safely meet with their parent's permission. Each week the teacher presents an exciting Bible lesson using colorful materials from CEF Press. This action-packed time also includes songs, Scripture memory, a missions story and review games or other activities focused on the lesson's theme.

As with all CEF ministries, the purpose of Good News Club is to evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and establish (disciple) them in the Word of God and in a local church for Christian living.
The atheist blogs I've read have a huge problem with the Good News Clubs that meet in schools. It's a "separation of church and state" issue. Actually, this video made by Child Evangelism Fellowship emphasizes that public schools are a "mission field." CEF is 100% clear about its goal: they want to get children to "accept Jesus"- they want the children to become Christians.

For me, with my background as an evangelical Christian, all of this sounds completely normal. Nothing to write home about. We want people to become Christians, because all non-Christians are leading unhappy lives and going to hell. Yeah. What else is new?

Which is why it's so strange to me to read what atheist bloggers have to say about the Good News Club. They're horrified that what looks like a fun and positive after-school program is actually trying to "indoctrinate" children.

And I'm like, yeah, of course. I wouldn't use the word "indoctrinate," but yeah. Nothing surprising, nothing to see here.

This video, The Dark Gospel of the Good News Club, documents how many times the Good News Club curriculum uses words like "sin", "punish", and "hell." It shows excerpts from Good News Club lessons, for example:
The punishment for even one sin is separation from God forever in Hell. You deserve God's punishment...

You deserve to be kept away from God forever in a place of darkness and suffering because you are a sinner.

According to [Matthew 7:14], how many people are on the narrow way leading to life forever with God in Heaven? (Few.) I would much rather be with the smaller group of people, wouldn't you?

The Lord Jesus suffered terrible beatings, then He was cruelly nailed to a wooden cross, where He bled and died... As Jesus hung on the cross, God punished Him for your sin and your deceitful heart.

Dear Lord, I know that I have sin and deserve to be punished. I believe that Jesus died on the cross for me. Thank you that Jesus took my punishment so that I can be saved from my sin forever. I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior. Take away all my sin and give me a new life on the inside so I can live to please you. In Jesus' name, amen.

Your sin makes you 'unclean' before God, who is holy (perfect) and can't stand to be near sin.
These quotes, and many similar ones, scroll over the screen, accompanied by ominous background music. The audience is supposed to be shocked and appalled that this is what the Good News Club is teaching children.

I am not shocked and appalled. I've heard all this a million times. It's so familiar that it hardly even has any meaning to me.

I was taught that this is the core of Christianity. I was taught that this is the most important message in the entire world: That we are sinners who deserve hell, and Jesus died to save us from that punishment.

I'm not shocked at all. I'm over here on the other side, trying to convince Christians that it's harmful and wrong to teach people that they deserve to go to hell. You teach kids that they are inherently evil, worthless, and unworthy of love, and then you wonder why they end up with shame and depression and they hate the church. But no, evangelicals don't get it. This is a totally normal thing for them to preach.

I'm actually shocked that other people are shocked.

Evangelical Christians want to go into schools and teach kids about the bible- how on earth could it be anything other than this?

I grew up in the church, I went to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School and all that. Maybe the lessons in the Good News Club talk about sin and hell much more frequently than the lessons I experienced as a child- I'm not sure. Their website says "Each club includes a clear presentation of the Gospel and an opportunity for children to trust the Lord Jesus as Savior." For those of you who are still beside yourselves with shock, let me clarify: "the gospel" is "you deserve to go to hell but Jesus died to get you out of it, so you need to believe in Jesus." Giving a "gospel presentation" in every single lesson seems like a bit much to me- that seems unusual. (Also I suspect that the posts I read criticizing the Good News Club emphasize the parts about sin/hell/etc while ignoring other, less controversial things that the Good News Club teaches.)

In my experience, most Sunday School lessons were just about some nice bible story and some moral principle we should learn from it. We should be loyal, forgive people, obey God, etc. But then, a few times each year, they had a lesson which presented "the gospel." Jesus died so you don't have to go to hell- if you ask for forgiveness and commit your life to him. These lessons were a lot more sad and serious (which is why I really can't imagine the Good News Club doing a "gospel presentation" in every lesson- maybe they just mentioned it real quick at the end, without going through all that emotional manipulation stuff?). We sat quietly and thought about our sin and how bad we were and how unworthy and how unreasonable it was for God to love us. Then the teachers gave us a choice- if we wanted to, we could pray and "ask Jesus into our hearts" and all would be forgiven. Most kids chose to do it. Some didn't, and they weren't pressured into it- well, except for the pressure of living in a culture that accepts all these things as true.

When kids made the decision to "accept Christ", the teachers would tell them it's the most important decision of their lives. The teachers happily told the parents. The church kept statistics on it and announced the numbers from the pulpit while everyone applauded.

They didn't talk about hell and sin and punishment all the time, but when they did, they emphasized that it was the very heart of Christianity, the most important message you will ever hear.

You guys you guys you guys, I made a meme for this:


So my point is, nothing about the Good News Club is surprising to me. Of course they tell kids "God can't stand to be near you because of your sin." Of course they tell kids "Jesus died because of you." Of course they tell kids "You need to accept Jesus or else you'll go to hell." To evangelicals, THAT'S WHAT CHRISTIANITY IS. I'm shocked that anyone is shocked about this.

Yeah we also talk about loving your neighbor, etc etc. But that's just the icing on the cake. "The gospel", the core of Christianity, the one-sentence summary, is everyone in the entire world is an unworthy sinner who's on the road to hell, and the only way out is by believing in Jesus.

(Note: Yeah I don't believe that anymore. I believe in a completely different version of Christianity, and a gospel which is actually good news.)

A few other fun things from the Good News Club:

Screenshot from The Dark Gospel of the Good News Club.
"Good News Club" children's activity
1) Hang a sign with the word "sin" around a child's neck.
2) Ask the children what "sin" is.
3) State that "all have sinned and deserve God's punishment for sin, which is death, separation from God forever."
4) State: "Some children try to deny their sin. They say they never do wrong things. But is that true? (No.).... Do you see (child's name's) sin? He may not think it's there, but God says it and you can be sure that other people see it too!"
Yeah, totally not surprised by this at all. This is well within the realm of activities I've seen in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School.

And this quote:
This isn’t the Christianity of Love thy Neighbor and the Golden Rule. One independent researcher analyzed the five-year curriculum of the Good News Club; he claims that the word “sin” and its derivatives appear over five thousand times. Other words like “death,” “obey,” and “punish” appear thousands of times.
Oh honey. Oh. Apparently, there are people out there who think Christianity and the bible are all about nice-sounding platitudes and getting kids to behave. As an evangelical, I was taught that only a small minority of supposed Christians actually get what Christianity is really about- ie, the fact that EVERYBODY need to believe in Jesus in order to get out of hell.

(Yeah, now I don't think that's what Christianity is about.)

The "good news" of the Good News Club is exactly what I was taught. You may be horrified- even more so at the fact that these groups are in public schools- but I'm not.

I think it's harmful. I think it's false. I think a lot of Christians end up in therapy because they were taught that they deserve to go to hell. There are a lot of not-so-nice things I could say about this teaching.

But am I surprised? Am I shocked? Not a bit.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Maybe Christians Actually Can't Support Each Other

"Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it. 1 Corinthians 12:27" Image source.
A while ago, a read a blog post by a Catholic mother about how hard it was for her to not use birth control. She had a bunch of young children and was overwhelmed by the stress of taking care of them, and was so afraid of becoming pregnant again. She fully believed that God said it was wrong to use birth control. She was trying so hard to trust God, but it was tough for her, and she wrote all about how she felt.

From my point of view, there's an obvious answer: No, God doesn't believe it's wrong to use birth control. In fact, it's harmful to teach people that birth control is a sin- as evidenced by how much unnecessary stress was put on this woman in the name of God.

Basically, she's all worried over nothing.

But oh dear goodness, DO NOT say that to her.

I kind of cringed when I read her blog post, because it was so vulnerable, and there it was, on the internet, open to comments from random strangers. Of course there are going to be people who come by and say "this is ridiculous, just use birth control." Which is SO TOTALLY the wrong thing to say.

This woman needs empathy. She needs support from people. She needs to hear someone say "I know how you feel, and it is really hard." She doesn't need someone to challenge her beliefs- to force her into a position where she has to defend the belief that is causing her so much pain.

I'm a Christian, and she's a Christian, but (supposing I actually knew her) is there any way I could support her through this problem? I guess just be there, be a friend, and don't say a word about whether using birth control is a sin.

But really she needs more than that, right? She needs someone who actually agrees.

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Or, to give another example, maybe someone at church asks for you to pray for her kid who decided to become an atheist. (Pray for them to become a Christian again, obviously.) Well, wait a minute. People have reasons for believing the things they believe, and I think we should respect that. What's the whole story here? Maybe this kid has already had a series of people- sent by their parents- come around to explain why the kid is clearly wrong, and not listen at all. I feel a lot of sympathy for someone who has to put up with that.

I am SO not on board with any attempts to force them to become a Christian.

But at the same time, you have to acknowledge the mother's feelings. She's really worried. Maybe she believes her kid is gonna go to hell. Aren't her brothers/sisters/siblings in Christ supposed to help and support her? But I can't.

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There was one time in college when I, with a very serious tone, sat down with my best friend and confessed my sin of lust. How I had seen a hot guy in the robotics lab... and oh, what a struggle. And she was like "... so... what's wrong with that? It sounds totally normal." I had to explain to her why it was a sin. She seemed unconvinced. (And yes, she is a Christian.)

I don't know, maybe it was good for me to be reassured that my feelings were normal and not sinful at all. Maybe it was good that she didn't agree with my premise. At the time, though, I felt super-unsatisfied with our conversation.

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I'm now living with my boyfriend, which is obviously one of the worst sins a person can commit. Last year, I was really depressed, overwhelmed with shame because of how dirty and bad I am- you know, according to purity culture, which I don't believe anymore.

I don't believe it anymore, but is there anyone who can tell me "No, God is not a God of shame. No, you are not dirty. No, God loves you." Is there anyone?

I'm certainly not going to go looking in a church. People would respond by explaining to me why God says it's wrong to have premarital sex- which, you may notice, has absolutely nothing to do with my situation or the kind of support and empathy I need from other Christians.

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I'm starting to think Christians actually can't support each other. We don't have enough in common. Being a Christian just means you believe Jesus is Lord (or maybe you have a slightly different definition of Christian, that's fine) and for everything else, different Christians may have completely different views.

I don't want to say people have to agree on everything in order to love and support each other. But at least if you have some kind of problem along the lines of "I believe XYZ, therefore I am doing ABC, but it's so tough," you probably need a friend who also believes XYZ, or at least won't tell you "well of course you're having problems, you're completely wrong about XYZ."

(Certainly there's a place and time for that- helping people get out of beliefs that are harmful to them- but you don't want to push someone into a situation where they have to argue and defend the ideas that are hurting them, when what they really need is compassion. And it's DEFINITELY not okay to use their problems against them, as evidence that XYZ isn't true. NOT OKAY.)

I used to believe in a set of doctrines that were "the Christian view" on various issues, and I could assume all Christians agreed, or else they weren't real Christians (or maybe they just needed someone to correct them about the proper Christian beliefs). It was so easy- we all agree that these things are right, and we help each other live them out and fight for them.

But that's not true, and what can we even do? Divide Christians up into various groups- conservative, progressive, etc- and assume you'll only be able to get support from those in your own group? What about the body of Christ? The eye cannot say to the hand, I don't need you.

Right?

But what can we even do?
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