Tuesday, February 9, 2016

He's Not "My Future Husband"

A blind date. Apparently. Image source.

me: “Hey babe… so… in purity culture, girls are supposed to write letters to their ‘future husband’… so… I wrote some, a long time ago.”
fiancé: “Ooh! I want to see!”
me: “No, I don’t think you do. They’re all about how I know that you love Jesus more than anything.”

So. Hendrix and I got engaged. Which means that in the future, he will be my husband. But he’s not “my future husband.” Because for me, that phrase- “my future husband”- is all about purity culture. It means much much more than “a person who will be my husband in the future.” It means “the perfect Christian guy that God chose for me, whom I’m working so hard to stay pure for.”

And that’s not Hendrix at all. Hendrix is NOT “my future husband.”

And now that I think about it, it’s incredibly bizarre to have pre-teen girls writing letters to “their future husbands.” (Ahem, full disclosure: I wrote maybe 2 or 3 such letters when I was in college, that’s all.) Like, why on earth would anyone assume that you could know anything about the kind of relationship you would have in the future, the kind of person you would decide to marry, the kind of person you would be at that point in your life? Ah, because in purity culture, people don’t grow and change and discover what kind of person they are and what they want, nope, in purity culture, we have a set of rules which are the rules FOR EVERYONE. No matter who you are, purity culture is confident that following these specific rules will be the best possible thing for you. (Also, this plays right into the idea that the entire purpose of a woman’s life is to get married, and her “pre-married” life is all about looking forward to that marriage and preparing for it. Because purity culture doesn’t understand the concept of time. You must always be loyal to your husband, whether it’s your present husband or a hypothetical future husband you haven’t even met, who may or may not exist.)

It’s kind of cute and fun to read something your romantic partner wrote back before you met, or see pictures from when they were a kid. This is not that. This is not “oh look how cute you were back then!” This is “I seriously believe that, at 12/15/18/20 years old, I have something meaningful to say to the person I will eventually marry, even though I don’t know who that is.”

Furthermore, I very much believe that all communication must be based on some level of common understanding between the two parties communicating. There must be a shared language, assumptions that the other person agrees with you on certain basic concepts, etc. This is most apparent when I’m trying to explain something and I have THE PERFECT words to explain it, except that I’m in China and I’m pretty sure my listener is not familiar with those particular English words, and therefore they are NOT the perfect words to explain it. Those words would actually be completely useless for communication in this case. In other words, you have to know your audience. This is also one of the main reasons I don’t pray very much- I don’t want to assume that God agrees with me about this topic or that topic (remember back when I believed all that bullshit propaganda about how “homosexuals” are “destroying the family” and I prayed against LGB rights, assuming that God also believed the bullshit propaganda? Yeah, I never want to do anything like that again), and if I can’t assume anything about the other party’s opinions, then it’s impossible to have meaningful communication with them.

Same thing with “my future husband.” I had to assume a lot of things about what kind of person he would be, how he had specific opinions about religion and about purity. I had to assume I “knew my audience” in order to write to him. Of course, in purity culture all those things are obvious- of course we already know what sort of person we will marry. Of course we already know what his (oh by the way it’s definitely a man, in purity land everyone is straight) opinions are on religion and purity.

Spoiler: yeah, Hendrix does NOT believe those particular things about religion and purity. And so, what I wrote back then fails spectacularly to communicate with Hendrix. They are not letters for him. They are for someone else who, it turns out, doesn’t exist. (I’m totally going to let him read them though. Uh, except those letters are on the other side of the earth, at my parents’ house. Stay tuned for a follow-up blog post after he reads them at Christmas 2016, I guess.)

The letters I wrote back then were for “my future husband”, a completely different person from my real-life fiancé.

The most important quality about “my future husband” is that he is a Christian, and not just a Christian, but a REAL Christian, totally 100% dedicated to Jesus.

My fiancé doesn’t believe in God.

“My future husband” is proud to say he loves Jesus more than he loves me.

If I told my fiancé about the whole “you know somebody is a really good husband if he loves Jesus more than he loves you” thing, he would probably be shocked.

“My future husband” is very very concerned about what romantic or sexual experiences I have before meeting him. He believes that I owe all those experiences to him, and anything I did with another guy takes away from our marriage.

My fiancé was a bit baffled when I asked him if we should describe to each other, in careful detail, exactly “how far” we have gone in the past. (Because, you know, you need to quantify how pure you are.) Yeah, so we ended up not doing that.

“My future husband” feels very hurt that I had crushes on guys in high school, that I dated in college, that I said “I love you” to a guy, that I kissed a guy, etc.

My fiancé thinks all of that is normal and not a big deal.

“My future husband” will be my spiritual leader.

My fiancé doesn’t think I need a leader, that I can make my own decisions about what I believe and whether I go to church or not. And he knows Christianity is really important to me, and he supports the decisions I make.

God will direct the events of our lives such that “my future husband” and I meet each other and start dating. God will give the okay for us to get married.

My fiancé and I chose each other.

“My future husband” is very concerned that we follow the purity rules and stay away from temptation and not do anything remotely sexual. And definitely not live together, that’s probably the worst sin in purity land.

My fiancé and I live together and, well I won’t tell you any details beyond that. ;)

“My future husband” is DEFINITELY a man. And probably white. He can definitely read the letters I wrote in English to him.

My fiancé is a Chinese man. He speaks English really well. ^_^

“My future husband” doesn’t exist.

My fiancé does. Hooray!

And can we also talk about the phenomenon that is praying for one’s “future husband”? Like, it only makes sense if the girl who’s praying is going to get married, to a man, exactly one time. What about women who never marry? Or who marry a woman or non-binary person? Or who get married more than once? Like, what does God do when they pray for their “future husband”? (And this is completely ignoring the whole question of free will and whether God knows the future.) If purity-culture Christians believe God really does listen to prayer and perform actions in the real world in response to prayer, then what does God do when someone for whom “my future husband” is not a well-defined term prays for their “future husband”? God just goes “this prayer doesn’t even make any sense, I can’t do anything with it” or what? Remember what I said about communication? Your prayer is based on the assumption that “my future husband” is one specific person that God knows. What if God doesn’t hold that assumption? Then your prayer is meaningless and you’ve completely failed to communicate with God.

(A note to those Christians who would like to take the “you’re taking this too literally” route: so, do you believe God actually listens and responds to prayers, or not? Do you believe that God takes every prayer seriously and acts on it or at least answers in some way (maybe with “no”)? Maybe not every prayer, just some prayers? How does it all work, exactly? And what does God do with the prayers that, unbeknownst to the pray-er, make no sense? Maybe God is like “yeah I understand the emotion behind this, at least your heart’s in the right place”, something like that? Maybe most of our prayers make no sense and that’s why we need the whole “groans which words cannot express” thing.)

Seriously, though. I used to be so sure about what kind of person “my future husband” would be. But now I’m glad I’m going to marry Hendrix instead.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Blogaround (and Happy Chinese New Year!!!)

A Chinese-style image of a monkey, with the words "猴年吉祥 2016 Happy New Year." Image source.
Happy year of the monkey, everyone! Last night was the big night- Chinese New Year! And here are the links for this week:

1. The Three Letter Word Missing From the Zika Virus Warnings (posted February 3) "Rather than telling women to “avoid pregnancy” in the manner of avoiding a pothole, why are none of these assorted agencies telling men to stop having procreative sex until we know more about Zika? Why does the very suggestion of any government recommending men to practice abstinence for two years seem like a joke?"

2. Iowa Caucus Results: 6 Things That Explain How It Happened (posted February 2)

3. Unpublished Black History. "Every day during Black History Month, we will publish at least one of these photographs online, illuminating stories that were never told in our pages and others that have been mostly forgotten."

4. Slaves in the hands of an angry white God (posted January 26) “Because every other thing I’ve read about that famous pastor’s famous sermon approaches it from the pretense that it is insignificant and not worth mentioning that this is the sermon of a slave-owner delivered at a time when the northern colonies were gripped with the fear of slave revolts. And the contention that none of that had any influence on Edwards, on Edwards’ theology, or on his composition and delivery of this particular sermon, is more outlandishly absurd and patently false than anything suggested in that unreliable essay.”

5. Donald Trump Accidentally Sat Through A Sermon About Welcoming Immigrants (posted January 25)

6. Donald Trump and a Tale of Two Gospels (posted January 28) “This is the gospel of Donald Trump, his “good news” to Christian voters: Stick with me and you’ll be a winner. Stick with me and I’ll give you power, protection, prestige. It’s also the very thing Satan promised Jesus when he tempted him in the desert.”

7. Naghmeh Abedini, Franklin Graham, and the Silencing of Evangelical Abuse Victims (posted February 3) “Meanwhile, both of them have positioned the restoration of the couple’s marriage as a victory from God and the destruction of their marriage as a victory for Satan. In other words, if Naghmeh decides to make the separation permanent, she will have allowed Satan to win. Think, for a moment, about the impossible position in which that puts Naghmeh.”

8. These “Legal Rape” Advocates Cancelled Their Plans Because They Didn’t Feel Safe At Night (posted February 4)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Brace Yourselves, Wedding Posts Are Coming

A bride using a laptop. Image source.

So, I got engaged! Yay! For the purposes of blogging, my fiance has decided he wants to use the name Hendrix, so that's what y'all can call him. (I tried to convince him to use a nerdy math name like me, like Fermat's Little or Countable Infinity or The Set Of All Sets That Do Not Contain Themselves, but no luck. Or Mersenne Prime, except that's a little bit too, ahem, explicit.) Go ahead and start cross-stitching your "Perfect Number + Hendrix 4ever" pillows.

So now that I'm thinking about weddings and marriage, I suddenly have a ton of things to blog about. Here are some topics I plan to cover:
  1. Purity culture. When you get that engagement ring on your finger, that's when you can finally stop guarding your heart. That's when you can finally fully love a romantic partner. And then the wedding- and the wedding night- that's what us purity culture girls all dreamed about and looked forward to, all those lonely nights we spent because we weren't allowed to love. Um, yeah... I plan to blog about everything that happens differently from the myth that purity culture promised. (Check back next week for a post called "He's Not 'My Future Husband.'")
  2. Feminism. So, making a wedding feminist is an interesting task. So many traditions are based on the whole "the woman is property being given to the man" sort of thing. But people (including me) really love a lot of those traditions, so I don't want to just get rid of anything that has roots in patriarchy. Like for example, I'm sure my dad really really really wants to walk me down the aisle, so we'll do that. But there will be no talk of "giving me away."
  3. Chinese culture. So Hendrix is Chinese and we're going to do 2 weddings- one in China, one in the US. Traditional Chinese weddings are very different from anything I would have imagined when hearing the word "wedding." So, we'll have to figure out that whole thing. And I'm sure I will have a lot of things to say about the different cultural expectations about weddings and marriage. Like for example, in the US, when a woman gets engaged, everyone is like "oh my goodness let me see the ring! How did he ask?" and they want to hear some super-romantic story. In China, not so much.
  4. All the fun and chaos that is wedding planning. Yeah. Fun and chaos and gender essentialism and cultural expectations. Like it's assumed that the bride is going to plan the whole thing and the grooom's just going to nod along. And how people always say "it's the happiest day of your life" as if that's just axiomatically true- uh, what the heck? That's ridiculous. The wedding should be a pretty good day, possibly the best day, but not definitely the best day. This whole "it's the happiest day of your life" myth puts a ton of pressure on you to be happy or else you're being a bride wrong, and if some details don't work out perfect then you'll be all worried that you've ruined "the happiest day of your life." And after that, the rest of your life will be all downhill. Yeah, that's just so absurd it's laughable. (Pretty much as laughable as "your virginity is the most precious gift you can give your husband." lolololol why would anyone say that? [note: yeah I totally used to believe that])
  5. Marriage. So I'm realizing that marriage is A REALLY BIG DEAL. Like, we're deciding to spend our whole lives togther. Wow. In purity culture it's just assumed that everyone's going to get married- but wow, I mean WOW getting married is a HUGE decision.
So to all my wonderful readers, thanks for reading and being awesome! I'm excited to write about all the stuff I learn about weddings and marriage. <3

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

This is so much like me in purity culture it's kind of freaky

Drawing of a girl and boy who seem to have a crush on each other. Image source.

Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism has been doing a review of the book  "Anonymous Tip" by Michael Farris. It's a book which was apparently written to show homeschoolers how Child Protective Services is evil and wants to take away their kids. In the story, Gwen is a mother whose daughter, Casey, was taken away, and her lawyer, Peter, is helping her get Casey back. Peter is a Good Christian Man, and Gwen is beautiful... and you guys, the way Peter's thoughts and feelings about Gwen are portrayed in this book is EXACTLY the way I felt back when I was in purity culture and I had crushes on guys.

Like, I'm kind of shocked at how perfectly this matches what I felt.

Let's see some examples!

1. From Anonymous Tip: In Which Peter Says Too Much:

Gwen's first lawyer, Bill, sexually harrassed her. When she meets Peter and he offers to take her case, she wants some kind of assurance that he's not also going to try to take advantage of her. Here's what he says:
“I believe that the Bible teaches that as a single man I am unable to marry a woman who was divorced under circumstances like yours. Not all born-again Christians believe this. But I do. So because of that . . . ”

He paused for a moment, looked down briefly, and continued, “Because of that I would never begin to pursue a relationship with you. I would like to be your lawyer and your friend, but . . . nothing more. I shouldn’t’ have brought this all up. I just wanted you to know that you could trust me to do you a favor without an ulterior motive. OK?”
I... what? What? What? This is in the context of a lawyer-client professional relationship. Why would he say that?

(As someone on the internet once said, "If this red flag was any bigger, China would slap 5 stars on it and claim it was visible from space.")

But this is SO what I was like in purity culture. Completely missing the point when relationships came up in conversation, saying bizarre, overly-personal stuff that left normal people like "what?"

Like the time I told a friend he needed to be careful that he and his girlfriend were "safe" and when he asked what that meant, I said they should make sure not to get "too emotionally attached." Which is a completely normal thing to say in purity culture, but he had no idea what I was talking about.

Or the time some guy I barely knew from high school asked me out, and I said no, and I gave him this whole long explanation about how I would only date a Christian guy who puts God first in everything, and I pray for God's direction about who to date, etc. Like... no, you don't need to say all that. If you're not interested in someone, you can just say no, and you don't owe anyone an explanation. (Related: purity culture teaches girls to make decisions based on the rules and what God says- but you are never supposed to consider your own feelings or what you want. It leads to feeling like we should at least "give him a chance" if we're not able to present a logical argument about why we are not interested in dating some guy.)

Or when I was at training for my TA (teaching assistant) job in college, and there were some ethical questions we were supposed to discuss, and one was what do you do if you want to date a student in the class you are TAing? And my first thought was I would get on my knees and pray about it, because dang, being in a relationship is some super-serious dangerous stuff, and I'm only doing it if God clearly gives approval. And no, I did not say any of that out loud. (Related: Though I would definitely take seriously the ethical issue of dating somebody whose grades I control, and what the university's rules were for that situation, God's yes or no would supercede that.)

So here we have Peter, who seems to be a purity-culture Christian and doesn't know how to just respond like a normal person and say "I'm a lawyer and it would be unethical for me to be romantically involved with a client." Instead he says a bunch of very personal stuff about the kind of woman he is allowed to marry and how Gwen doesn't meet that standard. Like, what the heck? Creepy.

2. From Anonymous Tip: Sir Peter the Handsome:

Peter agrees to take Gwen's case, and goes to meet her at work:
Presently Gwen Landis came striding down the hall in her nursing whites. Peter couldn’t help staring at her. A smile broke out on his face involuntarily. And with the smile, there came a momentary pang of spiritual conviction. He realized that he was not guarding his heart very well. Not only was Gwen divorced, but he had no reason to assume she was a believer. He had very strict standards and had not dated a nonbeliever in years. He focused his mind quickly on his legal mission, and greeted Gwen with a mix of warmth and professionalism.
OH MY GOODNESS. This. Exactly this. This is what "guarding your heart" feels like. You have a momentary feeling of attraction to someone, and then you squash it as hard as you can and feel really guilty about it. Because you have very strict rules from God about the kind of person you are allowed to be attracted to.

3. From Anonymous Tip: Peter Makes His Move:

Peter invites Gwen to his church. Then this:
As he walked to the elevator, he said to himself, “It’s evangelism. It’s not a date. It’s evangelism.” Then he thought of Aaron and Proverbs 21:2: All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart. He hit the heel of his hand on the elevator door. I don’t know. I just don’t know what is going on inside of me.
Y'all. I have TOTALLY had the "it's evangelism, it's not a date" debate with myself. See, back when I was a Real True Christian, two of the most important areas in which I demonstrated my total devotion to God were purity culture and evangelism. Purity culture says "don't be too friendly with the opposite sex, because you might start to like them and then lose part of your heart/purity, or you'll lead them on and then it'll be your fault." Evangelism says "you need to do everything you possibly can to talk to people and try to convince them to become Christians. It doesn't matter if it's risky or socially unacceptable or seems like a really bad idea. Heaven and hell are at stake here!"

So, do I invite a guy friend to read the bible with me, or not? Maybe it's God giving me this great evangelism opportunity! Or maybe I'm "leading him on" and he's getting the wrong idea and everyone's going to think there's "something going on" with us.

(To add further unhealthy elements to the situation: In purity culture, you're not allowed to date someone or express any interest in them without approval from God. So the only way for a girl who's really really interested in boys to get any kind of romantic anything is to have a boy like her and then she rejects him. You guys, I spent so much time having worried conversations with friends about "what if he likes me? What if I'm giving him the wrong idea? Should I keep meeting with him for bible study or not?" and a big part of it was that I wanted to be desired. I wanted to talk and talk and talk about the possibility that a boy might like me, because in purity culture, that's the closest to romance that I could get and still be "pure." I wasn't even attracted to him or interested in dating him- I just wanted to be wanted.)

Libby Anne points out that in Peter's case, he is Gwen's lawyer, so there should be no evangelism OR dating going on. Yep.

4. From Anonymous Tip: In Which Lingering Eyes Make Peter Forget All His Doctrine:

Peter brings Gwen to church. Aaron, his accountability partner (because of course he has an accountability partner) expresses concern:
Aaron and Lynn rushed over to Peter and Gwen immediately after the last song. Lynn struck up a friendly conversation with Gwen. Aaron turned to Peter and whispered, “Who is she?”

“She’s my new client you told me to witness to.”

Aaron had been watching Peter watching Gwen during the service.

“You’d better be careful,” was all Aaron could say without prolonging the side conversation.
Yep, because in purity land, beautiful women are DANGEROUS. They tempt good godly men, just by existing as beautiful women. Be careful.

5. From Anonymous Tip: In Which Bruises Are Not Abuse:

And then, here are some of Peter's thoughts as their non-relationship develops:
“Me too,” Peter said, again pulling his gaze away from her face. I’ve got to stop staring at her, he told himself. But he didn’t. Finally, looking down at his desk, feeling convicted in his spirit, he said, “Well, I’d better get to work.”
I'd like to point out how out-of-control Peter feels here. He's attracted to Gwen, he likes looking at her, and he believes this makes him a dirty sinner, locked in a battle to guard his heart, and losing badly. Cascading out of control down the slippery slope full of all kinds of temptation and before you know it, you've had sex and lost all your purity because you couldn't control yourself.

I totally felt like this, back in my guard-your-heart days. I couldn't stop myself from having feelings and romantic attraction. And I was so scared- it meant I couldn't control myself. And if I couldn't control myself in this area, who knew what other sin I was capable of? Merely noticing someone was attractive was a HUGE CRISIS.

All right, reality check. It is totally normal and okay to be attracted to someone. That's out of your control. But you are definitely able to control your actions. You are 100% capable of liking someone but NOT acting creepy toward them, NOT asking them out, NOT touching them, etc etc etc. That is what normal people do. But purity culture taught me it was all one huge slippery slope and I wouldn't be able to control myself- and then I found yes, it's true, I'm not able to control my feelings of attraction. OH NO! PANIC!

6. From Anonymous Tip: In Which Peter Has Second Thoughts

After winning the case, Peter is sad that he won't have an excuse to see Gwen again:
The legal victory was bittersweet. He had poured his heart and soul into winning, but winning meant less contact with Gwen. That thought was both disappointing and troubling. He was disappointed because he wanted to keep seeing her. Yet he was troubled because he knew his desires did not mesh with the lessons he believed the Bible taught. Gwen was not a believer. But Peter believed that her spiritual condition might well change anytime. Her status as a divorcee was unchangeable—absent the unlikely possibility Gordon [Gwen's ex-husband] would drink himself to death sometime soon.

"Absent the unlikely possibility that Gordon would drink himself to death sometime soon."

Excuse me, WHAT?

Peter believes that he can't marry a woman who was divorced without "biblical grounds." (The book emphasizes that not all Real True Christians believe this, though.) Basically the only way he and Gwen can be together is if Gordon dies, because then Gwen would be a widow and it's okay to marry a widow but not to marry a divorcee.

This is what happens when something like having sex is treated as a life-and-death issue. Pretty soon you end up inserting the concept of death into situations where it totally should not be. You get people imagining hypothetical situations where somebody is threatened with death if they don't "give up their purity" and have sex, and everyone gives their opinion on which would be worse: to not be a virgin, or to be dead. [Ahem. This would be rape. Even if the victim says "yes" it does NOT count as consent if they're being threatened.] You get stories of pastors who tell rape victims "too bad he didn't kill you, at least you would have still been a virgin." You get girls who believe their lives are ruined- who don't think it's even worth trying to escape from their abuser, because what's the point? They're worthless now anyway.

And then there was me, super-angry upon discovering a vent in the bathroom of my college dorm which maybe would allow somebody in the next room over to look through and see into our bathroom. So so so angry because what if a boy saw me, then knowledge about my body would be out there in the world, rather than saved for only my future husband- unless of course I killed the random boy who happened to look through the bathroom vent (doesn't matter if it was an accident or what). Yep, then I would still be pure.

For Peter, divorce is not an acceptable way to end a marriage (unless there's adultery, I assume- then God allows divorce), but death is. DOES NO ONE REALIZE HOW COMPLETELY MESSED-UP THIS IS? In the real world, divorce is awful and it sucks, but it gets better. Life goes on. And hopefully you end up much better off than you were in the bad marriage. Divorce is not the end of your life. But in purity culture, it is. (Actually, purity culture says just breaking up with your boyfriend is pretty much the end of your life- divorce would be unimaginable.)

So here's Peter, sort-of-not-exactly hoping that a person DIES, because the rules say that's the only way he can get with Gwen.

7. From Anonymous Tip: Aaron Gives Peter a Talking To:

Peter tells Aaron that, though earlier he had made a commitment not to marry a divorced woman, he's now starting to wonder if that's REALLY the rule that the bible teaches.
“So, you’ve got a different kind of issue than pure scriptural interpretation. You’ve reached a conviction in the past about the meaning of Scripture and made a commitment to God based on that understanding. And now, when a very attractive alternative interpretation of Scripture comes on the scene, you are rethinking your convictions. I don’t think that’s the way that God wants us to operate. Sure, there are times we should change our views. None of us interprets Scripture with one-hundred-percent accuracy. But I don’t believe that we should change our convictions in the heat of the moment—especially when the reason for the change is not some new insight from Scripture, but simply a very attractive temptation to vary what we have believed.”

Peter sighed deeply and fiddled with his coffee cup. “I was afraid you were going to say something like that. You’re probably right.”

“Well,” Aaron replied, “I don’t feel that it is appropriate for me to give you a blanket answer about divorce. If God changes your mind, that’s one thing. But if it is a beautiful woman responsible for the change, I fear you set a very dangerous spiritual precedent in your life.”

“Well thanks—I think,” Peter said with a weak smile.
This line of thinking is SO dangerous.

Here's what's going on: Peter believes it would be wrong to marry a divorced woman. But now that he's interested in Gwen, he's thinking maybe he was wrong, maybe it would be okay for him to marry a divorced woman. Aaron warns him that he must not change his beliefs based on his situation- he can only change if God tells him.

In other words, purity culture teaches that we must form our beliefs before we have any real-world experience, because real-world experience is temptation and it will make us biased and just want to do what feels good and what's easy, rather than what God really wants.

So you end up with girls who haven't even entered puberty yet, making vows that they won't kiss a boy until the pastor says "you may now kiss the bride" at their wedding. They don't know anything about sex. They don't know anything about kissing. All they know is that God apparently wants them to be pure by not doing ANYTHING until the wedding.

And then when they grow up and start dating and end up kissing a boy, purity culture judges them. Look at how they broke their promises. They were alone with a boy and there was just too much temptation and they sinned. Oh, if only they had believed in that promise even harder before entering a romantic relationship! If only they had avoided any situation which might enable them to learn actual information about kissing and their own desires- ahem, er, avoided temptation.

It is my firm belief that people do not break their purity pledges because of temptation. They break their purity pledges because they realize that those pledges were based on misinformation.

Or, here's another example: I used to make lists of the characteristics I was looking for in a "future husband." I was very careful to divide everything into 3 categories: things that were absolutely essential, things that were maybe not absolutely 100% essential but it might be a red flag if the guy didn't have them, and preferences. I did this because I did not trust myself to objectively evaluate a guy if I had a crush on him. Surely I would just say "oh he doesn't meet this requirement, but eh, that's okay, it's not a very important requirement." That's why I needed to be very very clear about which things were absolutely non-negotiable, before I even got into a situation where it mattered.

So here's Peter, who believes divorced people are not marriage material, and then he meets Gwen and sees she's a great person and THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH HER. But instead of saying "oh, I guess I was wrong, I was basing my beliefs on a stereotype about what divorced women are like" and then being glad that he now has more reliable information on which to base his beliefs, he's like "this is what I've decided and I can't change it because that would be giving in to temptation."

(This is ignoring the fact that he's her lawyer, so there should be no romantic anything going on with them. Peter ignores that fact throughout the entire book.)

8. From Anonymous Tip: The Most Awkward Dinner Ever

Peter goes to Gwen's house for dinner. Her daughter Casey has a bad dream, and Peter goes to comfort her. Then this:
Gwen just stood there in amazement. As Peter made his way to the door, it was obvious that Gwen was not going to move. As he approached her, he reached out his hand, grasping her arm gently to rouse her so they could both leave the room.

“Peter,” she whispered. “You are wonderful. You are truly wonderful.”

Peter’s head was swimming. It was the closest they had ever been. He could smell her hair and feel her breath. He lingered. If only her parents had not been in the outer room . . . how he desired at that moment to kiss her with reckless abandon.

“I think you’re more than wonderful,” he whispered.
Yep, that's purity culture. Remember the whole thing about thinking you're totally out of control? Well here Peter imagines that he could kiss Gwen- and maybe he would even do it if her parents weren't in the next room. Almost like he's having trouble controlling himself and the only thing holding him back is the presence of Gwen's parents.

Notice that it totally doesn't matter whether Gwen wants to kiss him or not. Purity culture teaches that people are unable to control themselves, so don't expect anyone to respect anyone else's boundaries or ask for consent or anything like that. Nope.


Yeah. So, to sum up, Peter's thoughts about Gwen in this book are a perfect illustration of the scared, guilty, out-of-control, bound-by-rules, cognitive-dissonant, out-of-touch-with-reality way that purity culture followers respond to their own feelings of romantic or sexual attraction. I know because I used to live that way.

Follow Libby Anne's blog to find out where this goes. Personally, my money's on "we find out that Gordon had cheated on Gwen back when they were married, so suddenly the divorce becomes valid in the eyes of God, and Peter and Gwen ride off together into the sunset, far far away from any consequences of all Peter's ethical violations."

Monday, February 1, 2016


A dog trying to eat a floating bubble. Image source.

1. The Flint water crisis is a perfect example of environmental racism (posted January 23)

2. The faithless promises of God’s covenants and evangelical tenure (posted January 13) "The God they believe revoked a promise to Abraham can just as easily, at any time, revoke any promises to them."

3. Rick Warren: “You won’t be on earth long, so don’t get too attached” (posted January 27) "I’ve had some people look at me and say, “But if you don’t believe in God, you just live for yourself” — and when they do I feel deeply sorry for them, because they seem to be telling me that the promise of a lie is stealing away their chance to live for themselves."

4. 2 Abortion Foes Behind Planned Parenthood Videos Are Indicted (posted January 25) "On Monday, the Harris County district attorney, Devon Anderson, said in a statement that grand jurors had cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing."

5. Culture-blindness and the Bible (posted January 30) "Conveniently, all of the people who take the highest pains to stress to me that our most important identity must be in Christ, not race, happen to see themselves as white."

6. The Handbook: The Magic Christian (Doesn’t Exist). (posted January 26) "'Magic Christians' think that there’s this one little detail that we simply didn’t know, this one little spin-doctoring of an atrocious concept that maybe we didn’t think about in the right way. Once we hear the Magic Christian’s patient explanation, the expectation is that we will smack our foreheads, say I never thought of that! and reconvert immediately." I totally did this to people back when I was a "Real True Christian." I'm sorry.

7. Young Earth Creationism’s Important Scientific Veneer (posted January 27) "See, there are entire creationist books about the flood and about the ark. There are books full of scientific calculations explaining how Noah and his sons and their wives could have housed and fed two of every animals for months on end. These books explain how the ark would have been constructed, discuss the materials that would have bene available, and answer criticism thrown at the story. No one at Answers in Genesis thinks the image above is science. Instead, they think it’s nonsense."

8. Wanted Pregnancies and Unwanted Abortions (posted January 25) "I spoke with dozens of women over the course of nearly a year, but what struck me most were the women who told me they didn’t want to have an abortion—women who cried and who spoke sadly of their “child” but who simply couldn’t see any way to make it work financially."

9. Saeed and Naghmeh Abedini — Two Kinds of Violence, Both Still a Prison (posted January 16) "Just because one is a Christian pastor and held prisoner in Iran does not remove the possibility that one can also be an abuser. Yet the thought of that scenario is too messy."

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Sheshan, Shanghai [Photos]

Hi everyone! Take a look at my photos from Sheshan [佘山, pronounced "shuh-shan" for those of you unfamiliar with Chinese]. It's a big hill in the southwest part of Shanghai [上海 "shang" rhymes with the English word "bong" y'all] with a huge park, Catholic church, and astronomical observatory.

So here we are on the street, looking up at Sheshan. See the church and the observatory?

Here are a few pictures from the park. Nice walking trails and everything.

Here's an old Chinese pagoda.
And the Catholic church at the top is pretty nice.

佘山天主教堂 Sheshan Catholic church

On the path that goes up to the church, you can see the stations of the cross.

And there are a few statues- I guess this one is Mary.
"A church?" you say. "But I thought Christianity was banned in China!" Yeah... yeah don't believe everything American evangelicals tell you.

Next to the church is an astronomy museum and observatory.

上海天文博物馆 Shanghai Astronomy Museum


Drawing of a Chinese emperor with a telescope. Text in Chinese, English, and French. The English says, "Emperor Chong-Zhen, from the Ming dynasty, was the first Chinese highest leader to use a telescope."

Photo of the moon, with text in Chinese, English, and French. English says, "Full moon photographed at Sheshan on September 4, 1914."
 Turns out this observatory was founded by Jesuit missionaries from France, who brought a lot of scientific knowledge to China.

Here is a huge telescope and a chair you're not allowed to sit on.

And here's the view from the top:

Shanghai is full of cool stuff! Come and visit! Our subway system is really great too. ^_^

Monday, January 25, 2016


My adorable kitty. In a box.

1. Adventures of God 8 (posted January 16) lol

2. GIMPS Project Discovers Largest Known Prime Number: 274,207,281-1 (posted January 7) Hooray! And now, of course, we have a new largest known perfect number: (274,207,281-1)*(274,207,281-1).

3. What’s the deal with God and vegetables? (posted January 20) "I mean, what did Cain do that was so goddamn wrong? He worked his ass off to give God vegetables, and God’s sitting here moralizing because for some reason he doesn’t like vegetables. No."

4. Stop saying Trump has a mental disorder (posted January 20)

5. Man's obituary: 'Please do not vote for Donald Trump' (posted January 22) "Jeffrey would ask that in lieu of flowers, please do not vote for Donald Trump."

6. Demons and the Consequences of Feeding Children’s Fears (posted January 21) "At one point when I was girl, another woman in my parents’ Bible study group told a story about confronting a demon in her hallway late at night. It must have been let in, she said, by some rock music her teenage daughter had been listening to that afternoon. I found that freaking terrifying. I wondered, sometimes, what I might do that might accidentally invite a demon in? I was terrified—utterly petrified—of getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night."

7. Trump: I could shoot people in streets and not lose support (posted January 23) He seems nice.

8. China braces for worst cold in 30 years (posted January 21) YOU GUYS IT IS SUPER COLD HERE IN SHANGHAI.

9. This tweet:

10. Satanic Temple’s Seven Tenets Are Morally Superior To Ten Commandments (posted January 22) This is interesting. It's not a fair comparison though- the Satanic Temple's Seven Tenets were clearly written in the context of modern western culture, in response to the problems caused by religion, whereas the Ten Commandments are older and more universally applicable in many cultures, I would say. Also, the Seven Tenets seem to be a set of guiding principles on how to live your life, which is not analogous to the position of the Ten Commandments within Christianity. If you asked a Christian to come up with a set of guiding principles for life, based on the bible, I don't think the Ten Commandments would be the first thing that came to mind- there's way better stuff than that. The Golden Rule, the Greatest Commandment, stuff like that.

11. Reimburse That $h*t! 可以报销!Fapiao Rap Song. Oh my goodness this will be hilarious to anyone who's worked in China.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

I'm dating a nonchristian and I want to marry him. Here's why I believe that's not a problem.

Two cows in love. Image source.

Yes, I am unequally yoked.

I used to believe that was the worst possible sin you could commit. Well, no. Marrying a non-Christian would be the 2nd-worst possible sin. The worst is actually believing that it's okay to marry a non-Christian.

But I reject the belief that it's not okay to marry him. In fact, I also reject the idea of arguing that it is "okay" to marry him. This relationship is not just "okay" or barely permissable on the basis of a technicality- NO. This relationship is wonderful and life-giving and awesome and healthy. (Perfect Number's in love, y'all.)

I'd like to give an answer to the question, "How can you possibly think it's okay to marry a non-Christian?" Not because I need to submit my personal life for judgment and approval by other Christians- of course I don't need to do that. I am already loved unconditionally and accepted by God. And so is my boyfriend. (And if you just said "yeah God loves us but that doesn't mean we can do whatever we want" then hold on a minute, I will get to that.) I want my people- American evangelical Christians- to know that it's possible to be a Christian and not believe it's a life-ruining sin to marry a non-Christian. (And that my belief is 100% rooted in the bible and the character of God. Not because I was "led astray" or whatever.)

My goal is not exactly to convince people. "The rules" say don't be unequally yoked, so maybe there are some of you who just KNOW this is BAD, and that Perfect Number is ignoring the clear teaching of Scripture and just following what she feels, like she's in a Disney movie or something. Doesn't matter what kind of wacky ideas she has to justify her sin. Yeah, if you're one of those people, it's not my responsibility to prove myself to you. Go ahead and judge me and assume the worst about my character. Whatever. (But I hope you remember 1 Corinthians 12:21, "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!'") I know I am a Christian and God accepts me.

So, here we go:

1. The reason my guy is not a Christian has absolutely nothing to do with him being "in rebellion against God" or such things. There is nothing wrong with him.

He just doesn't believe in Jesus because, you know, he believes other stuff. It's not because he hates God. It's not because he secretly knows God exists and doesn't want to follow him.

It's just because he doesn't believe that.

(Related: I don't believe in hell because I don't think God is going to punish people just because they hold factually incorrect views.)

And obviously I disagree with my boyfriend about religion stuff- I think he's wrong, but not "wrong" in the sense of being immoral. It's not like only Christians can be moral people. My boyfriend is pretty great and cares about me a lot and cares about people in general.

We disagree on the facts, but we agree the most important thing is to love others. Personally, I believe that one of the most important concepts within Christianity is "the kingdom of God." Jesus talked about it a lot. I believe the kingdom of God is the world as God intended it to be, where there is love and there is no pain or injustice. Jesus taught us to pray "your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Someday, Jesus will come and resurrect this world, restoring it to the way it should be. 1 Corinthians 15:20 says, "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep." (Can I get an amen?) Jesus Christ was the first to be resurrected, and shows us that God has power over death, and someday all of us will be resurrected. Someday God will "wipe every tear from their eyes" (Revelation 21:4).

I believe as Christians pray "your kingdom come," we should work to make it happen. Treat others with love, and fight against the sinful, oppressive structures in our society. We should work to bring the kingdom of God. Indeed, in Matthew 25:31-46 (the parable of the sheep and the goats), Jesus says that our reward would be given based on whether we helped those who were in need- "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat", etc. (If you're thinking "oh my, Perfect Number is advocating works-based salvation! Heresy!" then you should probably talk to Jesus about that first; he seems to be preaching it in Matthew 25.)

I believe in bringing the kingdom of God to this world. My boyfriend believes in that too- but he doesn't call it "the kingdom of God." Maybe he calls it "helping people, treating them with love and respect, and generally trying to make the world a better place." And I believe anyone who's doing that, regardless of their religion, is doing God's work.

2. And to be honest, I don't want to be with a Christian guy.

Christians are always judging me. Oh you don't hold the approved view on issue XYZ? Well let me monologue at you as if you have no idea what you're talking about, and then when that fails I'll conclude you're not a real Christian.

And when I'm dating a guy, I just want to be myself. I just want to be honest and free to talk about this and that and everything that's on my mind. I want my guy to understand me and value my point of view.

And I really can't do that in a Christian setting.

But you guys, with my boyfriend... I tell him all this, and I used to tell him how worried I was because "I'm a bad Christian." And over and over he told me to stop saying that. "I hate to hear you talk about yourself like that. You're not a bad Christian."

My boyfriend accepts me and loves me unconditionally. I have not found Christian friends that do that, ever since I, you know, was led astray by the world and I rejected the bible. Oh wait, no, that's not how it happened. But I haven't found Christians who would see it any other way. (Except some of my internet friends- SHOUT OUT TO Y'ALL! You are the best!)

And let me tell you a story. About a year ago, I wasn't sure if I wanted to marry him or not. He and I had talked about marriage, but I wasn't ready to make a decision. Because, you know, what if it IS true that it's always a bad idea to marry a non-Christian? I didn't believe that anymore, but I was still unsure. What if all that fear-mongering I heard in the church had some truth to it? What if marrying him would be a huge mistake?

And then, a Christian "friend" decided to "confront me about my sin" of living with my boyfriend. And as I tried to defend myself and tell her why I don't believe it's a sin and why it's not loving for her to judge me like this- she barely even knew me- I thought, "Yes. Yes, I would marry him."

That was the moment that I switched from "if he asked me to marry him, I would say no because I'm not sure yet" to "still not 100% sure, but I would say yes." Because who loved me, in that situation? My boyfriend, who respects my right to believe what I believe and completely accepts me, or my Christian "friend" who believed she was on a mission from God to examine my personal life and tell me why I'm wrong?

(And if anyone wants to make some kind of "hate the sin, love the sinner" argument here: No, you don't love me. You love the "perfect Christian" I could become if I decided to agree with you. I don't accept your claim that that is love.)

3. Can we talk a bit about the "unequally yoked" passage?
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
“I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
“Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”
“I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
2 Corinthians 6:14-18
So wait, the reason Paul gives for "do not be yoked together with unbelievers" is along the lines of "what do righteousness and wickedness have in common"? So my boyfriend is basically "wickedness" and I am "righteousness"? He is darkness and I am light? Really?

Nah. I know both of us better than that. This verse does not apply to me and sweetheart at all.

And I know we do work really well together. We both want the same things, and we both support each other. And I think it's a bit insulting to claim that non-Christians are not marriage material because they are pretty much the embodiment of evil itself.

4. How about the Old Testament though? All those times that God commanded them not to marry people from other religions? 

I believe that the reason God didn't want them to follow other religions was that those religions were doing awful things, like child sacrifice and forced prostitution. The bible consistently uses language about prostitution or adultery when it talks about following other religions (Exodus 34:15-16, 2 Chronicles 21:13, Jeremiah 2:20) and I believe it's not just some kind of spiritual metaphor- God had a problem with those religions because of the prostitution-related human rights violations going on. Also, verses in the Old Testament which condemn Israel for turning away and following idols are very often followed by a verse about sacrificing their children to these idols (Jeremiah 32:33-35, Deuteronomy 12:31, 2 Kings 17:16-17, Psalm 106:36-39). It's not just "you used the word 'Baal' instead of 'Yahweh' to refer to God"; no, these religions were actually destroying people who were made in God's image. That's why God could not tolerate them.

Additionally, much of the Old Testament has an "us vs them" mentality. We have to be different, we have to be better than those people. In the context of God creating a special nation, it makes sense I guess, but in the New Testament, there is a radical change, and Gentiles are accepted into the church. Ephesians 2:14 says, "For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility," talking about Jews and Gentiles being reconciled because of Jesus.

Yes, this verse seems to be just about Christians of different races being reconciled, but it illustrates the point that followers of Jesus should be much more inclusive than the Old Testament dictated.

Also, within every religion, there are people who are inspired by the religion to do good in this world, and people who use the religion to gain power for themselves. Isaiah 58 blasts those who "day after day... seek [God] out, they seem eager to know [God's] ways", who fast and pray but use their power to oppress others. "Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers." They believed in the "correct" religion, but they were working against the kingdom of God.

The bible also gives examples where followers of other religions were commended. Ezra records how Cyrus, a pagan king, supported the Jews' right to rebuild the temple. No one in the bible says Cyrus should be killed for being the "wrong" religion, and no one tries to get him to change religions.

Matthew 2 gives the account of the wise men visiting Jesus after his birth. They were certainly the "wrong" religion, but they found Jesus, and they are definitely portrayed very positively in the bible. No one tells them they have to change religions or they're going to hell.

I believe that all religions have members who are working to bring the kingdom of God to the earth. They might not use language like "the kingdom of God." They may even be atheist or agnostic and not use any religious language at all. But as Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." They serve Jesus without even realizing it.

Jesus declared, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Yes, Jesus is the only way. But we can come to Jesus without using the name "Jesus." Some people might call him by the name of a deity from another religion. Some people might just use the word "love" (indeed, the bible is clear that God is love). Though their terminology is inaccurate and they may have some facts wrong (as a Christian, I believe the most accurate representation of God is the bible's account of Jesus- other religions have their facts wrong), their heart is in the right place. And the bible teaches over and over, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice": the point is knowing God's heart and loving people as God loves them, not doing all the right religious things, or even getting all the information about religion correct.

5. But is he helping me grow spiritually, or not?

All right, so here's the thing. What does "grow spiritually" mean? I mean, I used to be a "good Christian" and I knew all the answers and I knew that you grow spiritually by reading the bible and praying more.

"The rules" say you have to marry someone who will help you "grow spiritually," which means they will encourage you to read the bible and pray more, and they themselves will be very devoted to God and that will inspire you to be more devoted to God.

Back then, I knew everything. Now I'm not so sure. Back then, there only seemed to be one direction in which we could "grow spiritually." As a Real True Christian, it was obvious to me who God was and what I had to do to communicate with God.

But now I see that many people have different opinions, different interpretations, and I have to figure it out for myself. I don't want a guy telling me what to do, as if he somehow has the answers that I don't. If I'm going to "grow spiritually," it'll be on my own terms. No one else can dictate what "grow spiritually" means for my life. (Maybe you could say my boyfriend helps me "grow spiritually" by not trying to tell me what to do, respecting that I need to figure stuff out for myself.) We're all just human. We don't know.

However, I would like to become a better person in general, and learn to love people/ the world more. And my boyfriend does help me do that.

6. Maybe, since you don't feel close to God currently, right now is not a good time to be making huge decisions like marriage.

So, this objection assumes that right now I'm going through some kind of temporary phase where I'm all confused and doubting, and I'll get through it and back to knowing all the answers.

I used to think I would too.

But I've come to realize, I don't "have doubts" about Christianity or about the bible. No, I am very certain that a lot of the things I used to believe are wrong and harmful. I am very certain that the bible is not inerrant.

And even though the process of re-thinking everything I believe has been very hard, I truly believe that I'm better off now than back when I believed All The Correct Things That Good Christians Believe.

7. So, should I pray for him to find Jesus?

Yeah, I used to wonder about that question. But I realized the real reason I would want him to be a Christian was so I wouldn't have to worry about how I'm breaking the rules. You know, how I'm "unequally yoked" and that's bad and I fear other Christians won't accept me and I have to go around making excuses and blah blah blah.

Do I want him to be a Christian because it would benefit him? Well... he's fine how he is. There's nothing wrong with him. And I respect him and love him (and I don't believe in hell) so no, I don't think I want him to change.

Sometimes I tell him "I believe God loves you!" Just because I really do believe that. And it's fine if my boyfriend doesn't agree. God loves him. Unconditionally. And I tell him because maybe it will make him feel good, to know that I think God loves him. Not because I'm trying to force him to believe anything.

There is nothing wrong with him.

8. What about Christian stuff I want to do in the future? Like volunteering at church. Would he support me?

Yes, he will support me- I've talked to him about that. And I really hope in the future I can do some stuff like that- maybe be involved with leading bible studies at church or whatever.

But really, the issue with this question is not "would my boyfriend support me?" but "would I even be able to find a church that accepts me?" My boyfriend has been wonderful. The church has not.

9. What will we teach our kid(s)?

Uh, just teach them Mommy believes this and Daddy believes that, and we both believe the most important thing is love, etc. And then we respect whatever religion the kids want to believe. BUT most importantly, we teach them about LOVE and COMPASSION and RESPECT and all that. Teach them to bring the kingdom of God to the earth, even if they want to use different terminology to describe it.

10. Would I be better off leaving him and hoping I meet a Christian guy who's like him?

Umm, what? No. There's nothing wrong with him. There's nothing wrong with our relationship. Our relationship is a good thing and we love each other. It's not some kind of subpar thing because he's not a Christian. I'm not trying to make excuses to bring this up to some bare minimum standard of acceptability. No. We are totally awesome, y'all.

11. If I marry him, I'm basically saying I will never be a "good Christian" again.

Yeah, basically. But that ship sailed a long time ago, and it continues full speed ahead every time I hear about some evangelical person or organization who decided some other Christian isn't Christian enough. Yeah, no thanks.

12. Okay, guys, hold up. We're so focused on "the rules" here, what about the actual man who actually loves me?

Yes. Like I said, this relationship is a GOOD THING. We love and support each other. We make each other laugh. We go out for dinner and try new foods together. He was there for me when I had depression. He tells me I have the right to make my own decisions- something that I NEED to hear, but the church would never say.

13. Umm Perfect Number, what about what the bible says? And have you prayed about it?

As you can see above, I've included a lot of references to the bible, so I don't really know what you mean by this question.

OH WAIT haha yes I do! When you use the term "what the bible says" you don't actually mean "what the bible says", you mean "my opinions about what Christians are supposed to believe." (I will grant that your opinions are based in the bible. But so are mine.)

As for your second question, no I haven't prayed about it. I no longer believe in asking God for help making decisions. It doesn't make sense that God would directly communicate with me on this, while also allowing tragedies to happen every day. And I don't believe "God has a plan for my life" because for me, that leads to a lot of worry about how I need to pray really really hard and know exactly what God wants me to do, or else I've ruined the plan (and, by extension, my life). I believe God gave us a brain so we could make our own decisions.

14. But Perfect Number, why are you ignoring the clear teachings of Scripture?

... Uh. I already covered this.

Like, what do you want me to say?

15. Okay so basically you started dating a non-Christian guy and it's all a slippery slope and now you're abandoning your deeply-held beliefs and you want to marry him.

Umm. So I guess there's not really anything I can say to those who want to hold this view- if I say I love him, they'll say "AHA! You've been led astray by your FEELINGS!"

But I will say my beliefs have been changing for years and it's not because of my boyfriend.


Anyway, the point is, we're engaged.

Beyonce. "Put a ring on it." Image source.

Monday, January 18, 2016


8 puppies  sitting and staring expectantly at a woman reading them a book called "Good Dog." Image source.
1. Why We Never Got Ebola: A Christmas Story "The reality is that the Muslim community -- the very people that children in Augusta County and other communities all around the U.S. are being taught to mistrust and even hate -- are the community that prevented the uncontrolled spread of Ebola into the resource-rich world."

2. What Must White Churches Do To Be Saved? (posted January 4) "Just as there was no clean break from slavery, neither was there from Jim Crow. It simply evolved into a less overt but equally sinister system of racial oppression that is fully operative today."

3. Wheaton’s official story collapses (posted January 11) "Mangis, rightly, does not think that a college should be governed by defensive responses to perverse, hostile, and dishonestly willful misinterpretations of its statements. Provost Jones, apparently, thinks that’s exactly what should shape the college’s public face." Well this is awkward.

4. 10 Revelations in the Lawsuit against Bill Gothard and IBLP (posted January 11) [trigger warning: sexual abuse] "People knew this was going on. The IBLP Board of Directors knew, the personal assistant who told Jane Doe III to buy shorter skirts knew, the employee who arranged the room assignment for Jamie Deering knew. People knew something was off. We’re talking about an organization that sent teenage boys home for merely talking to girls, while its leader held late night one-on-one “mentoring” sessions in his office with teenage girls."

5. God will have to beg my forgiveness. (posted 2013)

6. A tribute to Alan Rickman (posted January 17)

And also if you want to cry more you can watch this one:

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

My Racist Personal Relationship with God

Michelle Higgins speaks at Urbana. Source: Five ways you can back InterVarsity after #BlackLivesMatter stance.

I highly recommend reading these posts by the Slacktivist (Fred Clark): InterVarsity takes a firehose to Pentecost in a rush to quench the spirit and Toddlers on a treadmill: Why evangelicals can’t even take baby steps toward justice. It's about InterVarsity's statement explaining why they "addressed" #BlackLivesMatter at Urbana 15, their massive missions conference for college students.

"Addressed" isn't really the right word though. Listen to Michelle Higgins's talk here. She says- very clearly- that the evangelical church in America worships a false god of white supremacy and must repent, and she calls on us to support #BlackLivesMatter.

Clark says this about InterVarsity's statement after the fact: "Every paragraph, every line, every sentence, every word was written based on the assumption that the reader is a white Christian." He's absolutely right. Though it never says so explicitly, IV's statement was written to address the question, "But how can a Christian organization support #BlackLivesMatter? I thought it was just some extreme liberal group." (And in this culture, "liberal" means "evil.")

It's a statement addressed to white American evangelicals, bewildered at the idea that Christianity could have anything to do with race. The statement stresses IV's evangelical credentials ("Scripture and the gospel are non-negotiables for us") and invites the reader to believe that support for #BlackLivesMatter is compatible with Christianity.

As Clark says, "That doesn’t mean they’ll be allowed to say “Do justice.” But — provided the anti-gay and anti-abortion stuff remains in good order — they may be allowed to suggest that doing justice is one possible optional extra that some Christians might optionally be permitted to consider as a hobby, just so long as they get their homework done first and it doesn’t otherwise interfere with their support for TAOTS [The Authority Of The Scriptures] or their opposition to gay baby-killing."

So here's the question: Why is it that white Christians would be confused about the possibility of a connection between #BlackLivesMatter- or any issues about race, really- and Christianity?

Because the white evangelical church does not teach that being a Christian is about "doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly before God." Nope. It's about "having a personal relationship with God."

And I believe there is great danger in the concept of closeness with God. I don't see any way you can believe that you know God intimately without also believing God shares your opinions and prejudices. Without believing "God agrees with me."

Because, here's a black woman preaching about the idol of white supremacy. And the white evangelical thinks to themself, "well, I get up early every morning and spend half an hour reading the bible and listening to God, and God has never said a word to me about white supremacy. This speaker says it's a sin I need to face and repent of, but, if it was so important, why hasn't God mentioned it?"

Or, here's an example from my life. Right now I'm disappointed with IV for backing down from their endorsement of #BlackLivesMatter, but in general, I really admire the work IV does in the area of race and racial reconciliation. That's one of the most valuable things I got out of my experience with IV in college. But I remember the first time I went to an IV meeting and the topic was race- and I was surprised. I had never heard anyone in church talk about race before. The speaker showed us Ephesians 2:14-16, and talked about how, through Jesus, Jews and Gentiles were reconciled. And how racial reconciliation is right there at the core of the gospel. And I was like, how on earth have I never noticed this before?

I went back to my dorm room and I wondered about my own racist biases. I thought about how I kind of thought black people were a little scary, and I was pretty sure it was just a feeling and I had never treated any black people badly because of it, but I wondered if maybe I should pray that God would help me not to have racist thoughts like that. But I didn't want to. I thought, "I'm not really racist, just a little bit uncomfortable, and God completely knows and understands me- God understands that I'm not really racist."

The whole "personal relationship with God" thing provided a way out of admitting my sin of racism. Because if all that matters is me and God, well, then it's all right. God understands how I feel a little scared of black people. Fortunately I then realized, black people are totally God's children too, equal to me, and God must be really upset with me for thinking those kinds of things about people made in God's image.

Again, another example about my time in IV: Every year, a leadership selection team was put together to choose the student leaders for the next year. I remember one year, I heard a black student in IV was unhappy that very few people of color had been chosen for leadership. But I didn't take her concerns seriously at all, because I knew that the leadership selection team had prayed about it a lot, so the choices they made were the ones God wanted.

Because when you pray about something a lot, and you "feel peace" about it, as Christians always say you should, then how can you be open to hearing valuable feedback about the mistakes you made in that decision?

And if you believe God speaks to you and guides you every day, but God has never said anything about how you benefit from centuries of white supremacy and you need to repent... well then, it must not matter to God, huh? Must not be true.

And if you ask all your friends to pray about your job interview, and then you credit God with getting you the job, then how can you acknowledge the reality of employment discrimination- that people with black-sounding names are significantly less likely to get called for job interviews? You believe God helped you get the job as part of his perfect plan- that God controlled every part of the process and blessed you with a new job. If you believe that, you can't believe in systemic racism, can you?

Overall, white evangelicalism's obsession with "having a personal relationship with God" is a convenient way to ignore our sinful complicity in society-wide injustice. It's all about your own relationship with God. Everyone is equal spiritually- and that's all that matters. Sin is bad because it breaks your own personal relationship with God. Maybe your sin hurts people too, but that's not really the point. Completely absent is the idea that the sins of the privileged disproportionately affect those in marginalized groups.

And then somebody comes along and says, American culture trains white people to have subconscious racial biases. It's not white people's fault, but they have the responsibility to fight back against the casual racism and to challenge their own prejudices. And when a white evangelical hears this for the first time, it doesn't sound anything like what they've been taught about sin. "No, that's not what sin is. How can it be a sin if it's not my fault? How can it be a sin if I've never felt guilty about it? How can it be a sin if I've never noticed it causing damage to my personal relationship with God?"

In that context, of course it would be baffling that InterVarsity would take a stand in support of #BlackLivesMatter. Of course Christians would be confused about the connection between racial justice in this world- right here, right now- and the gospel.

And so of course, InterVarsity published a statement defending the idea that it is possible to be a Christian and support #BlackLivesMatter. When you don't challenge the assumption that a "personal relationship with God" is the most important thing, all you can ever do is defensively, nervously make a case that it's possible to be a Christian and do justice.
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