Thursday, August 29, 2013

Saved through faith alone- or, it's better to be right than good

The question has been asked, "Why are Christians so into opposing abortion and gay rights? What about helping the poor- you know, something Jesus ACTUALLY TALKED ABOUT?"

And, long long ago, when I first heard that accusation, I thought, "Well, the problem with abortion and gay rights is some people actually think those things are okay. I mean, everyone agrees we should help the poor, so no need to talk about that." (Uggh, I'm glad I don't believe that anymore. Also, a good response to this line of reasoning can be found here.)

But I think this is indicative of a larger issue within evangelical Christianity. We're saved through faith, not works. And that means it's better to be right than good.

Let me explain this one step at a time.

First, what is the message of Christianity? I grew up hearing evangelists ask, "If you died tonight, would you go to heaven or hell?" Yep, that's what's important. Heaven or hell? We need to tell everyone how to get to heaven.

And, according to said evangelists, a lot of people may think they get to heaven by "being a good person", by "doing good deeds" or something like that. But no no, good deeds can never earn God's favor. Instead, you have to believe the right facts about Jesus. Believe that he is God's Son, believe that he died and rose again, believe that he is the only way. Yep. Saved through faith, not works.

That's it. That's all Christianity is. (And no, I DON'T actually think 'that's all Christianity is.' But that idea seems pretty common in evangelical Christianity.)

So it used to be, whenever I heard someone mention "being a good person", I was highly suspicious. Doesn't the bible say there are no good people, that we are all sinners? If we start talking about "being a good person", someone might think that's what gets them into heaven! Oh no! We can't explicitly teach that you should try to be a good person, you should do good deeds- no, that's dangerous teaching, because someone might think that's how you get into heaven. We can't risk that.

Instead, evangelical Christians use terms like "love your neighbor" and "serve." Can't use the word "good." But even so, it's kind of an extra thing that's tacked on to the end. First, you are saved through faith. Okay, that's done. Now you are so grateful and so inspired by Jesus that you want to go out and serve others and show them God's love! Yay! It's a result of being saved. But oh goodness, we must be super-careful to never ever imply that being saved/being a Christian and doing good are connected in any way other than that.

You don't have to do good, as a Christian. But like, you will. Naturally. Because of the Holy Spirit.


Except that in the past, I've been really busy, and I made time for evangelism- for discussing the facts about Jesus- but not for things like volunteering, helping others, getting educated about the world's needs. Because it's better to be right than good, ya know. Because the most important thing is getting into heaven, and in order for that to happen, people have to believe the correct information about God. That's what I need to focus on. And unfortunately, I don't have time to do good deeds too.

But someone may ask, doesn't this seem wrong? How could God punish someone for legitimately believing something that turned out to not be true? How could God punish people who tried their best to live right and believe the truth, but came to the wrong conclusions about said truth?

And the answer is that, oh, secretly, everyone knows Christianity is true. They just deny it because they want to sin. They don't want to obey God. But I don't believe that any more. I've been in a few too many arguments where I tried to convince someone, "No, you really do know God exists! Deep down, you know I'm right!" (And when you're trying to argue that, you need to just stop. Seriously. Just stop.)

And the other possible answer is that everyone deserves to go to hell anyway, so isn't it so nice of God to at least let some people in to heaven? Don't argue about the requirements, just be grateful he's at least letting some people in. Yeah, I don't buy that either, not if "hell" is the notion of hell in popular culture. I can't accept the idea that God's definition of "justice" is something so totally different from mine. That God's definition of "justice" is TORTURE FOR EVERYONE!- something that I, as a human being with a God-given conscience, totally oppose.

Umm, right.

Not pictured: justice. Image source.

So that right there is the biggest problem I see in evangelical Christianity: It's better to be right than good. Doing good deeds? Who cares- surely not God! Nah, what really matters is identifying God by the correct name and correct religion, and being clear on what specifically he has done and how he decides who goes to heaven.

That's why we're arrogant. Because we're right about the most important thing ever, an eternal life-or-death question, and everyone else needs to accept the information we have, if they know what's good for them.

Lord have mercy.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

But sometimes I am in need

"Hasten, O God, to save me;
    come quickly, Lord, to help me."
Psalm 70:1

So lately I've been really cynical about prayers like this. Like, why should God help me, if he regularly lets bad things happen to innocent people? Why should I even pray to a God like that? Isn't it kind of terrible to even expect him to do something- like "hey God, please treat me better than you treated my brothers and sisters who experience stupid tragedies..."


But lately, I actually am in need. New job, new city, new apartment, new friends- dude I just moved to China and sometimes stuff is confusing. Seriously. I really can't handle it by myself. I want help...

And I remember, long ago, when I had problems, what did I do? I used to pray, about EVERYTHING. So I've been trying that again.

I mean, I still don't have an answer for how it could possibly be okay to pray to a God who lets bad things happen to good people. So either this is faith, trusting God and acting on it, without all the answers, or I'm ignoring my conscience and doing something I know is wrong.

Okay then.

Image source.

One other thing I want to point out about Psalm 70- verse 4. "But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who long for your saving help always say, 'The Lord is great!'" Kind of odd to find this in a little 5-verse psalm about "hey I desperately need God's help." The rest of this psalm is so focused on the psalmist's own individual personal needs- and then there's this line, where he remembers his brothers and sisters and prays that God would bless them too.

So that's how I'll pray. I'll give this whole "praying for my own needs" thing a shot, and also pray that God would bless others. Bless my friends and family and everyone. Amen.


This post is part of a link-up on the topic of Psalm 70. To read other people's posts, click here: Lowering our Shields and Searching for Help.

Monday, August 26, 2013


1. Not “Just” Friends - Thoughts on cross-sex friendship by Alise Wright (posted August 12) "We lament that the world has separated intimacy from sex, but many Christians have done something equally damaging, in that we often imply that intimacy must be paired with sex."

2. Flipping the script on Russia’s anti-gay persecution (posted August 13) "American Christians fail the test. We’re breaking the Golden Rule — disregarding the whole of 'the law and the prophets.' We are failing to love our neighbors as we love ourselves."

3. NH Notes: Dino Doo-Doo (Coprolites) and the Genesis Flood (posted August 10) "Any dinosaur that has been running around for 20-100 days escaping the global flood waters will have had no time to eat (there wouldn’t be anything to eat in the barren landscape anyway) and would have voided their intestines in the first days of the flood."

4. The Onanism of ‘teavangelical’ Republicans (posted August 19) "The story says, rather, that sex with your dead brother’s childless widow must always be for the purpose of procreation."

5. What is the burden of proof in the #Methodist #homosexuality debate? (posted August 20) "Here is Paul’s explanation for his teachings about celibacy and marriage: I want you to be free from anxieties. ... Does that sound anything at all like contemporary evangelical teachings about sex? Does that sound like teenage girls being told to wear knee length XXL t-shirts over their already modest one-piece swimsuits at youth pool parties? Does that sound like counseling boys and girls not to kiss until their wedding day if they’re even allowed to date at all? Does that sound like the obsession with masturbation among Christian men that actually causes it to be an irresistible temptation?"

6. Going to Weddings Alone (posted August 21) "Am I really missing the most important way humans model God’s love because I’m not married? Am I really only barely okay unless I’ve got a matching ring set with an opposite gender human? Is the bond I have with steady friends of twenty years just a half-love?"

7. Don’t Be a Friend of Sinners (posted August 22) "Maybe He knew that we’d have a tendency to create hierarchies of righteousness and pat ourselves on the back for stooping to hang out with those lower than us."

8. Math Experts Split the Check (posted August 23) "We can also assume that the restaurant has no friction!"

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Gag Reflex (a response to TGC)

Deep down, everybody knows it's wrong.

But we come up with convoluted arguments to justify it. We redefine the word "love" to suit our own opinions.

We take something that's simple, which God clearly commanded, and twist it, and even claim that God supports us.

Image source.

"Love your neighbor as yourself." But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?"

Who is my neighbor? Surely it only includes the people I'm comfortable with. People like me. People who don't make me gag.

Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Deep down, everyone knows its wrong to dehumanize others, to judge and reject them. Deep down, everyone knows this isn't really what love is. 

And I hope and pray that more and more people refuse to ignore their conscience, and start actually treating people with love.

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?"


Acting like you're always right, like you have all the answers about a stranger's personal life? You know it's wrong.

Judging someone you've never even met, deciding that their love and their family is all a big pile of sin that should never have existed... you have to deaden your heart.

Don't look too closely. Don't read their stories. Don't listen. You might be led astray. But deep down, you know this is wrong. What happened to "love your neighbor as yourself"?

And the tension you feel, as you truly want to love others, but you can't explain why "love" looks like hate...

You want to obey God. And it's tough to fight this fight for God, because you're a human being with compassion for others. "Hate the sin and love the sinner" is a tough line to walk.

You've been led astray by religion. But God gave you a conscience- a gag reflex for your heart. Please don't ignore it.

When you put everything in abstract terms, about "protecting marriage" and "God's ideal" and "sin", when you use these euphemisms, you don't think about what's really going on, what you're really advocating. Human beings, made in the image of God- and you shut the kingdom of heaven in their faces. You teach that they're not good enough for the gospel unless they change. You treat them as an issue, a culture war, an example of how the evils of "the world" are invading the church too. You claim to know their own personal lives better than they do. You say you're the authority on God's will.

Please, please, listen to your God-given conscience. That tension you feel, trying to be kind and loving while preaching a message that hurts others- it doesn't have to be that way. And how you're misunderstood and accused of hate- God offers freedom.

The bible is clear: love. Just love. Without judging, without using the word "abomination", without dehumanizing and excluding people.

Maybe, just maybe, if you have to shut down your heart and your empathy in order to proclaim the "truth", maybe that's not love. And maybe that's not truth.


This post is a response to The Importance of Your Gag Reflex When Discussing Homosexuality and “Gay Marriage”, which said that we should remind people that gay sex is gross, so they realize what they're "actually" advocating when they support gay rights.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Purity: My boyfriend the aggressor

[trigger warning: rape, abuse]

They warned me.  In church, in Christian magazines.  When a good Christian girl has a boyfriend, he's going to try to get her to compromise on her purity. Be careful what you "give" him- giving him your first kiss, giving him your virginity, giving him part of your heart.

It's all some fearsome economy, culminating in marriage, which is an agreement in which you give him sex in exchange for his lifelong commitment.  You need to hold out until then, or he'll take it- take your virginity, your purity, and he'll be gone the next day.

They had me expecting that boyfriends DO NOT respect their girlfriends.  That girlfriends have to stand strong and keep saying no, as boyfriends keep pressuring them and not accepting their boundaries- and that this was normal.  (I'm not sure how much of this was explicitly taught, and how much was me taking it to its logical conclusion.)

In other words, dating is all about protecting yourself from your boyfriend.  He is the attacker, heartless, only wanting sex, and you need to be careful about how far you go, because once you "give" it to him, you can never get it back.  That part of you is missing, and you're damaged.

No, you have to keep saying no.  Until... where is this going?  Finally you get married, and then there's no problem because you can just have sex without being "impure"?  No worries, when he pressures you, we don't require you to resist any more?  Yay!

The stupidity is baffling.

And then... when I was dating my first boyfriend, I became incredibly confused as I realized he respected me.  For example, when I told him not to kiss me yet, he actually felt bad for mentioning it more than once, fearing he was "pressuring" me.

He was a gentleman, and I had no mechanism to understand that. 

Yes, sometimes in talks about purity, they mention that you have to ditch that guy if he's pressuring you.  Being single is better than being with a guy like that- and he doesn't deserve you.  But what about the option of dating a gentleman?  Why are healthy relationships almost never discussed?

Because, this is abuse.  If a guy pressures a girl over and over, to have sex with him, to kiss him, whatever, that's not okay, and that is not normal.  That's emotional manipulation.  Why is this the narrative they give the girls in church- "Be ready, because your boyfriend will try to manipulate you into having sex with him.  All boys do."  Really?

I mean, in a practical sense, it's nice to teach "here are the warning signs of abuse."  But that's not how this is taught.  It's presented like this is normal.  Like this is how relationships are.  There are no guys who respect girls.

And that's why "purity" is so important.  Because boys want sex and girls have to hold down the fort.

And any girl who does have sex is a slut and ruining it for the rest of us.  Supply and demand, folks.  Image source.

Umm hello, women like sex too.  Did you know?  This whole terminology of "giving" and "he took her virginity"- it's so asymmetric.  A relationship shouldn't be like that.  It should be both people working together and both enjoying whatever physical connection they've agreed on.

(And it's fine if one person is more interested in sex than the other.  As I said, it should be both people working together and both enjoying whatever physical connection they've agreed on.)

It's not a freaking transaction.  I don't want to use "giving" and "taking" terminology any more.  And somehow, I'll figure out what purity is supposed to be, and how I should honor God while I'm not married.  But it won't be by defending myself from my boyfriend.

(Credit goes to Dianna Anderson's post Giving In and Giving Up for inspiring a lot of my thoughts here.)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What's there to celebrate?

Sometimes God saves, sometimes not. So what's the point?

I'm stuck on the problem of evil, and I have been for a while. (As evidenced by these posts: The Bible Is Less Naive Than Me, Why I Don't Trust God, Why I Can't Pray Like That, Greater Faith, A Prayer I Don't Even Believe.)

I believe in God and Jesus and the resurrection and all that, but... so what? What difference does it make, if God doesn't stop bad things from happening to his children? Why would I even want to associate with a God like that?

I dream about how someday, finally, God will make everything right. And there will be justice. Come Lord Jesus. But right now, in the present... well? What's the point of God?

"Then what is the point of you?" Image source.

But this week, reading Psalm 68, with the imagery and all the people singing in celebration, I want that. I want to celebrate God again.

"...Sing to God, sing in praise of his name,
    extol him who rides on the clouds
    rejoice before him- his name is the Lord.

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
    is God in his holy dwelling. ...
When you, God, went out before your people,

    when you marched through the wilderness,
the earth shook, the heavens poured down rain,
    before God, the One of Sinai,
    before God, the God of Israel. ...
The chariots of God are tens of thousands
    and thousands of thousands;
    the Lord has come from Sinai into his sanctuary.
Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior,
    who daily bears our burdens.
Our God is a God who saves;
    from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death. ...
Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth,
    sing praise to the Lord,
to him who rides across the highest heavens, the ancient heavens,
    who thunders with mighty voice.
Proclaim the power of God,
    whose majesty is over Israel,
    whose power is in the heavens.
You, God, are awesome in your sanctuary;
    the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people.
Praise be to God!"

A big, loud psalm. A crazy celebration. Proclaiming God's power and majesty and victories. Every nation overflowing with songs of praise.


I want to feel that. I want to celebrate too. But still I'm stuck on this question- what is there to celebrate?

Something. There must be something. I have faith that there's something. Slowly I'll get there. And I want to find God again, in China.

In China, every week I go to church. This is a city with millions of people, and there are only a few churches, maybe 5 or 10. And the whole place is totally packed.

I guess you don't really "shop around" for a church.

Everything's in Chinese. There's a lot I understand and a lot I don't understand, but I like it that way- it's a challenge, and gradually I'll understand more. Some simple words jump out at me- pray, praise, thanks, God, brothers and sisters, love, father.

We pray, we sing from the hymnal, we read the bible, we listen to the sermon. And every week, at the end of the service, we all say the Lord's prayer together. I don't have it memorized in Chinese yet, so I just listen as everyone around me is saying "your kingdom come, your will be done" in Mandarin. I understand most of it, God understands all of it.

I'll find God here in China. At church and in my daily life.

And one could ask, wait a second, this is a church that's allowed by the Chinese government. So is it "really" Christian? But I'm not in a place to criticize. I'm just finding God, little by little, and yes, I can find him in the government-approved Chinese church.

Maybe I'm starting from scratch. I'll learn how to be a Christian all over again, this time in Chinese.

And then I'll know what there is to celebrate.


This post is part of a link-up on the topic of Psalm 68. To read other people's posts, click here: Engaging with Scripture in the midst of life.

Monday, August 12, 2013


1. Maybe God is a “bitch” (posted August 5) "It’s weird, as a white, American Christian, to think that if there is a God, she might not be on my side."

2. The Bible's case for immigration reform (posted August 8) "Our claim to them is simple: Politicians who are professing Christians need to consider what their faith has to say about immigration. If they oppose reform and refuse to offer compassion to our immigrant brothers and sisters, they should justify their positions on moral grounds."

3. it’s not the rules that are the problem (posted August 7) "Belief in a God whose most dominant, over-riding characteristic is a demand for absolute righteousness, for the acknowledgement of his children that they are completely broken, miserable, worms, barely even worthy of his attention. Belief in a God that is so gracious and loving that he daily overcomes his disgust, his revulsion, to reach out of heaven and show mercy to us."

4. Abstinence: A Birth Control Method That Is 100% Effective? (posted August 5) "When it comes to abstinence, the typical use rate is going to be lower than the perfect use rate because of the large number of people who say they are using abstinence—even going so far as to take formal abstinence pledges—and then end up having sex anyway before marriage anyway."

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Let China Be Glad

Image source.

"Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
    for you judge the peoples with equity
    and guide the nations upon earth."
Psalm 67:4

What about China?

This verse strikes me as almost contradictory, because of my evangelical background. Being glad about God's judgment? Oh goodness no. Because what does "God's judgment" mean? What does "justice" mean? Well it means everyone goes to hell. Yep. Everyone. Goes to hell.

(What? Perfect Number, where did you get that idea? Evangelical Christianity teaches exactly that. God's "justice" means everyone should go to hell. God's "love" gets some people out of it. I'm serious.)

No way a nation is going to be glad about that. Not if "you judge the peoples with equity" means "God will send the vast majority of the population to hell."

And even if you're in the select group who gets saved, are you going to be glad about the whole thing? No. Well, maybe if you deaden your emotions and recite some line about how hell "glorifies God" or some bullshit like that...

See that's the problem with the whole hell thing. We evangelicals refer to it as "justice" but then put in a lot of effort to save people from it. If we really believe that's what people deserve, then what's the problem? Hell would only be a motivator for evangelism if, on some level, we believe it is a horribly unreasonable punishment.

So anyway. Back to my question, "What about China?" Ah, China. Could China be glad when God judges the nations? China, whose government is officially atheist. China, where only 4% of the population identifies as Christian. Sounds like the vast majority of Chinese are going to hell, yes?

China, which has somewhat adopted some Christmas traditions, but only knows the commercialized side, not the story of Jesus.

China, where I'm careful about saying Christian things in public. Where missionaries come back with stories about how a friend of a friend was questioned by the police.

China, where so many people have not heard.

When God judges the nations, that's bad news for China, right?

Image source.

But no, I absolutely DO NOT believe "the vast majority of Chinese are going to hell." Because I see God here. The hospitality in this culture, the emphasis on community rather than individualism- that's a side of God I don't see in the US.

And the language, oh the language. How amazing it is that a language could be so different. How human minds can perceive the world through such different grammatical structures. Wow.

God made this. The beauty, the people, culture, language, everything I love in China. God's not sending China to hell.

If people reflect the image of God, then God is Han Chinese more than anything else.

I don't believe God's sending China to hell. (If he were, then Psalm 67 would make no sense.)

I DO believe that China will rejoice when God judges with equity, as Psalm 67 says.

Because oh, China needs justice.

China, with its human rights violations. China, where the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner is in jail. China, where refugees from North Korea are caught and sent back to North Korea.

China, with its poverty and increasing gap between the rich and poor, the urban and rural areas. Lack of education and opportunities for so many children.

China, with its one-child policy. Forced abortions and forced sterilizations, and 117 male babies for every 100 females.

China, where I post this stuff online and hope and pray my blog is really anonymous because I could get kicked out for saying these things.

Oh yes, China will be glad when God judges.

Because, well you better be sitting down because this is going to blow your mind: Justice is a good thing. Justice is something we really want.

It means those who do wrong will be held accountable. And it means those who suffered and were victimized will be lifted up.

People who hurt others aren't going to get away with it. And for those forced to endure the injustice, someday it will be made right. And God will protect them and meet all their needs.

Now that is a definition of "justice" I can get behind. Not "everyone is supposed to go to hell, but see God didn't want quite that much justice (justice is the opposite of love, didn't you know?) so he sent Jesus to save some of us."

But wait. Those who do wrong aren't going to get away with it. That includes me. The ways I benefit from systems that oppress others won't go unnoticed. Did I do something to help people, or did I passively accept it as "the way things are" and accidentally become part of the problem? Justice will know.

Justice. I like this justice. Let the nations be glad. Let China be glad.


This post is part of a link-up on the topic of Psalm 67. To read other people's posts, click here:

Monday, August 5, 2013


Image source.

1. God, How Could You? (posted July 30) "I used to declare my trust in God and His goodness, until mental illness made it all so brittle it was laughable. Despite my Christianity-correct words, I had not understood."

2. 101 Everyday Ways for Men to Be Allies to Women (posted July 26)

3. Hell Series: Ask a traditionalist 1 (free will, postmortem repentance)….response (posted July 30) Theologian Jerry Walls, who believes in a traditional view of hell (eternal conscious torment) but with the possibility of repentance after death, explains his view.

4. Being Confused (posted July 30) "My mother, with her incredible drive to serve, taught me that people are important. But the church taught me that to love my neighbor meant that the most critical question I could ask people was if they were saved. ... Because if they were not saved, my relationship to them was evangelistic. So much training was given on how to strike up conversations, how to defeat arguments against Christianity, how to present the Gospel in simple, easy to understand steps."

5. Why My Christian Memoir Has R-Rated Words (posted July 30) "He couldn’t have known that his choosing to say the 'unholy' word spoke God’s love to me in the only way I could hear it."

6. Five Minute Friday: STORY. (posted August 2) "Evangelicals have this idea about God’s plan and calling and blueprint in which he is pulling us one puppet string at a time to wherever he wants us to go and it’s like this thing we say as a big band-aid on any and all problems. He ordained it."

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Chinese Tea Scam

Image source.

So I'm in Shanghai, walking to the subway to go to work, like I do, and this random Chinese lady is like "HELLO!" So... yeah that happens to me a lot- seems like a lot of Chinese people have this idea that they must yell out "HELLO" (or "HELLOR") to any white person who passes by. I think it's racist; they think it's friendly. But that's another blog post another day.

So for some reason I stopped and talked to this lady, and she could speak some English. But you know, I want to speak Chinese as much as possible, so we talked in Chinese. She asked me to take a picture of her and her little daughter, so I used her cell phone camera and took their picture. Then we stood there on the sidewalk and talked in Chinese for a bit, you know, how long have you been in China, where do you work, etc. It was very nice.

And then she asks me if I want to go drink some tea with them.

And I was like OH NO.

As soon as I heard the words "喝茶 (hē chá)" ["drink tea"], everything changed, and I noped right out of there and got on the subway.

Image source.

Because let me tell you about the Chinese Tea Scam.

First, you walk around being white in China. I'm good at that part. Then a friendly Chinese person comes up and starts talking to you in English- and they can speak English pretty well. So after talking a bit, they invite you to go to a traditional tea ceremony. So you go and have tea, and then after the ceremony is done and it's time to pay, your friend has conveniently vanished and the bill is like 700 kuai or some ridiculous amount (that's about 120 or so US dollars).

It's never happened to me, but apparently it's a really common scam in China. I've been warned about it before.

So the moral of the story is, if some nice stranger invites you to go have tea, the answer is NO!

(Or, if you think they might be an actual good person and not a scammer, invite them to a restaurant of your choosing, so you can just hang out and spend a NORMAL amount of money and not get scammed by a tea place that's in on it.)

So... yeah. After I left her, I felt pretty bad, because she was so nice and friendly, but it was all fake and she was really after my money. (Well, we don't know this for sure. Maybe she legitimately wanted to have some tea and become best friends. Uh, right.)

I was really disturbed at being targeted like that. I don't even remember what I said or did when she mentioned the tea. Did I just say "不要 (bù yào)" ["I don't want to"] and then walk away super-fast? Did I at least mumble something about not having time? Did I look incredibly shocked, so it was really obvious what I was thinking?

Well, whatever. I guess I'll try to just look on the bright side: I did the right thing, didn't get scammed, and I got to have a conversation in Chinese. And it's okay, there are a lot of great people in China. Only a few scammers.