Monday, November 30, 2015


Image description: A huge lion sitting in a wheelbarrow like a kitty. "If it fits, I sits." Image source.

1. Cursed be anyone who deprives the refugee of justice (posted November 19) Yep.

2. Please don’t suddenly pretend you care about homeless veterans for just as long as it allows you to oppose helping refugees, because that’s hurting both veterans and refugees and it’s making you miserable (posted November 20) "As a general rule with very few exceptions, whenever you encounter someone arguing that “We [America] shouldn’t be doing X to help those people over there until we fix Y over here for our own people,” then you have also just encountered someone who doesn’t really give a flying fig about actually doing anything to fix Y over here."

3. Bible School Primer for Governors (posted November 18) "It would be shameful under any circumstances, but Pence pretends to be a defender of Christian values, which makes it all the more disgusting."

4. Young Black Men Share Heartbreaking Stories About Growing Up in the US (posted November 12)

5. Dear politicians who want to bar Syrian refugees: here are 6 ways you're wrong (posted November 17) "You are not the first person to think of vetting refugees. In fact, the US is pretty good at it."

6. Racism and the refugee problem (posted November 19) "If we let them in and generously provide for them, we would be building up a community of grateful, patriotic Americans whose presence and loyalty would undercut the message on which ISIS thrives."

7. Teacher: A student told me I ‘couldn’t understand because I was a white lady.’ Here’s what I did then. (posted November 24) "We read about the Syrian crisis, analyzing photographs of war-torn faces at the border and then wrote poetry of hope, despair and compassion from the perspectives of the migrants. Many of my kids asked to write about their own journeys across the border and their [dreams] for a better future. One child cried and told me he never had a teacher who honored the journey his family took to the United States. He told me he was not ashamed anymore, but instead proud of the sacrifice his parents made for him."

8. [Theory] Jar Jar Binks was a trained Force user, knowing Sith collaborator, and will play a central role in The Force Awakens (posted October 30) You guys. Wow. You must read this Star Wars fan theory.

9. So this happened:
boyfriend: "Do you want to go see 'The Martian' this weekend?"
me: "eh..........."
boyfriend: "You can write a blog post about what good Christians would think of that movie."
me: " know my blog so well."
So anyway we saw "The Martian" and it was really really good! It's a science movie! Totally recommend.

(I am not, however, going to write a blog post about "what good Christians think of it.")

Images from "Saving Private Ryan", "Interstellar", and "The Martian." Text: "America has spent so much ****ing money retrieving Matt Damon." Image source.

About the shooting at Planned Parenthood:

1. Everything We Know About The Planned Parenthood Shooting In Colorado Springs (posted November 27)

2. The Colorado Springs shooting epitomizes white privilege and the hypocrisy of pro-lifers (posted November 28)

3. Here's what I have to say:

4. And now would be good time to go over and donate to Planned Parenthood.

5. Targeted Attacks On Abortion Providers Is Domestic Terrorism (posted November 28)

6. The awkward dance of condemning violence against Satanic baby-killers (posted November 28) "Since that would mean backing down from the central, flawed premise that abortion is murder, however, I don't think they'll do it."

Saturday, November 28, 2015

On "Being Thankful"

A hand turkey. Image source.

A strange thing happens whenever I teach about Thanksgiving in China.

I ask the students to discuss this question: "What are you thankful for?" After letting them talk among themselves (in English, this is in the context of an ESL class), I do a little bit of error correction. Because most of them didn't catch that being thankful for something has a different meaning than being thankful to someone.

"I am thankful for..." and then you list the good things in your life. Your job, family, home, etc. "I am thankful to..." means you want to say "thank you" to someone. Your parents, your friends, God, etc. (Somewhat confusingly, these can also go on the "thankful for" list.)

Anyway, in the end, the students come away with this message: the meaning of Thanksgiving Day is to go thank people for everything they've done for us. And indeed, this week on wechat (Chinese social media app) I saw a post in Chinese which said basically "Today is Thanksgiving in western countries. Thank you to our parents, for giving us life. Thank you to our teachers, for giving us knowledge. Thank you to our friends, for giving us friendship." and on and on and on, all the people we should thank. It was really beautiful and poetic, in my opinion.

The problem is, that's not the meaning of Thanksgiving at all. Or, at least, it's so completely different from the way I've always understood Thanksgiving.

I remember in school, we used to have to write an answer to the question "What are you thankful for?" (Sometimes this answer was in the form of a hand turkey, obviously.) And my family has a tradition where we go around the dinner table and each person says what they're thankful for. But you can't repeat what someone else said. (And then sometimes it became a game, and we just kept going and going and you're out if you can't think of anything when it's your turn. Until someone says "I'm thankful for quantum tunneling" and that prompts everyone else to quit the game because it's been completely overrun by nerdiness. Yeah that's how we roll.)

Yeah, we always talked about what we were thankful for. But did we ever think about the "thankful to" part? Did we ever think about who we were thanking?

Aha! Yes, we did! The correct answer is God.

Except, not really. The whole "it's about being thankful to God" thing is more about a culture war than about actually thanking someone. It's about Christians getting all upset about how Thanksgiving is a Christian holiday, and isn't it terrible how our culture has lost sight of that, and kids in public school are writing "I am thankful for" but the lesson never mentions the name of God and isn't that the most horrible thing, it robs Thanksgiving of all its meaning, etc etc etc.

Thanksgiving, as I learned it, was about me having a vague feeling of thankfulness. Vaguely in the general direction of God. It's about me being happy about the things in my life. It's about "being thankful." It's NOT about actually thanking anyone. Yeah, they say it's about thanking God, but does anyone actually talk about what that means? Do we believe these good things were given to us personally by God? Or just because God made a world full of good things and the potential for happiness? Did God cause those good things only in a general sense, or actually with you personally in mind? And what about the bad things in our lives, or in the world- did God cause those too?

No, the average Christian (in US evangelical culture, at least) doesn't think about those questions. "Thanking God" is just a vague label that gets applied to positive things in one's life. Does it actually mean anything?

So I'm always a little bit shocked when I teach Chinese students about Thanksgiving, and they decide they're going to actually go out and thank someone. But I never tell them "no that's not what Thanksgiving is about" because, geez, that SHOULD BE what Thanksgiving is about.

(And if you're wondering about whether I totally omit the part where "Thanksgiving is a Christian holiday" in my lessons: I tell them the story about the pilgrims, and how the pilgrims were Christians and they thanked God. I tell them that Thanksgiving is about being thankful, and so for people who are religious, they would thank God. But most Chinese people aren't that religious, so I don't present it like "this is the entire point of Thanksgiving and if you're not a Christian then this holiday has no meaning for you." That would be ridiculous. And mean. And also not an accurate representation of the place that Thanksgiving holds in American culture- which is what I'm supposed to be teaching.)

It just shows how selfish and individualistic American culture (or American Christian culture) is, that we've created a holiday all about thanks, and yet it never occurs to us to actually thank someone. It's all about you and thinking about your own life. It's about "being thankful"- just a warm feeling, but not related to relationships between people or anything like that.

My Chinese students got it right though. Go actually thank someone this Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 23, 2015


Image description: An adorable shiba inu dog laying on a couch, stretching its head forward to touch someone's finger with its nose
Image source.
1. Church World Service, an organization that helps refugees. You can go donate to them.

2. Please Don’t Deny Our Agency (posted November 16) Totally agree with this. If you are an adult, you are responsible for what you believe. No excuses.

3. Thousands Quit Mormon Church in Mass Resignation (posted November 15)

4. Stop pitting security and compassion against each other in the Syrian refugee crisis (posted November 19) Yep.

5. Why I’m Not Capable of an Equitable Distribution of Empathy for Terror Attacks (posted November 15) THIS. Go read this. About feeling more connected to victims of certain tragedies but not others, and how that needs to be challenged when it's rooted in stereotypes/racism/etc, but at the same time, we will never be able to care about everything equally, and you shouldn't judge people for their emotions in the face of tragedy.

6. Freed Slave Writes Letter to Former Master: You Owe Us $11,680 for 52 Years of Unpaid Labor (1865) (posted November 11) "Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire."

7. Podcast from the Evangelical Immigration Roundtable about the refugee crisis. This is great. See also this website: We Welcome Refugees. Americans: contact your local government officials and tell them to welcome refugees. (Their website provides a form letter using Christian language, if that's what you're into.)

8. When Courtship Means Regret (posted November 17) "Yes really—I’ve spoken with scads of homeschool alumni who regret waiting until marriage to have sex." THIS. This is the most important thing to be said about purity culture.

9. The 41 percent (posted November 15) "Trans people have to deal with telling people in those online ads, “Looking for someone who will take me out,” or “I’m not a secret.""

Saturday, November 21, 2015

How NOT To Write About Phobias

Fear, a character from the movie "Inside Out." Image source.
So I came across this article: One Felinophobe Describes Life With One of the Rarest Phobias In the World. It features some quotes from a Reddit AMA ("ask me anything") from 3 years ago, where a user named panicbreakfast talks about what it's like having ailurophobia (also known as felinophobia- fear of cats).

Plus a bunch of images of cats.

Umm... does anyone see anything wrong here?

You have an article about ailurophobia- a real psychological condition in which a person may experience distress in the following situations (according to wikipedia): "hearing purring, seeing a cat in real life, imagining the possibility of a cat touching or rubbing against one, the thought of meeting a cat in the dark, seeing the staring eyes of a cat (cats have the tendency to stare at passers-by) cats in pictures and on television, and cat-like toys and cat-like fur." And your article is accompanied by several photos of cats.

What the hell.

Are you serious?

Society just wants to gawk at people with phobias. Whoever put this article together doesn't care about people with ailurophobia at all. Actually, the text itself is pretty good- quotes from a person who actually has the condition, information about possible causes from a doctor who has studied phobias- presented in a fairly factual way, without that "wow look how completely WEIRD these people are" tone. This leads me to believe that the writer did not choose the images for this article. So I don't blame the writer- the writer did a good job. Somebody else really screwed this article up, though, by adding the cat photos.

It's an article about a phobia of cats, set up in such a way that people who actually HAVE a phobia of cats would experience distress even looking at the web page. (Or at least, some proportion would be. Others experience distress when there's a real cat but don't mind a picture.)

I mean, is it not obvious how completely wrong this is? I don't even know what to say, it's just so completely wrong. It's like you wrote an article that said "Did you know that some people are bothered by swear words? Fuck them." No, it's worse than that. Having a phobia is way worse than being "bothered" by something.

But this is how phobias are treated in popular culture. People just want to gawk at it. Wow, so weird, how could someone be afraid of that? Let's laugh at them! Click here to read a list called "Top 10 Weirdest Phobias" then point and laugh and share it with your friends!

An article about cat phobia, and somehow someone thinks "What images can we add to make this article more interesting? How about some cats? And let's write captions about how they're totally plotting something evil!" Yeah! Haha, cats are evil! Look at the way they stare! LOLOLOLOL!

Are you serious. You really think having a phobia of cats is at all similar to the way people joke about how their cats are always scheming and making trouble?

But that's the status of phobias in our society. And it is not okay.


Related posts about my experiences having phobias:
About My Phobia (this post has a cat picture, FYI)
Phobiettes And That Time I Panicked (this post has a cat picture too)
"Homophobia" is an Ableist Term. Stop Using It.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

I Deserve God's Love

Chocolate Vanilla Creme pop-tarts. Image source.
People are amazing. People are just absolutely amazing.

Is there anything better than seeing someone smile? Seeing someone genuinely enjoying life? Pleasure is wonderful. Pleasure is so important. Everyone deserves to experience pleasure.

We can think, we can feel, we can experience emotions. We can love. We can love and be loved. Isn't that amazing?

Every time I'm in the US, I fill up my suitcase with pop-tarts and bring them back to China. Then in the evenings after dinner, I say, "I deserve a pop-tart" and I go eat one and it's fantastic. And I do deserve that. I deserve pleasure and good things simply because I am a human being.

It's not about anything we've done. It's about who we are. Created in God's image, with the ability to feel and love and experience happiness. And because we can experience those things, and because they are so good, we deserve them.

I'm using the word "deserve" in sort of a strange way here. I'm not talking about something that's earned. I'm not talking about something that one person owes to another.

What I mean is, it's such a wonderful thing for human beings to experience happiness. So incredibly wonderful that, somehow, I feel this is what we are meant for. Simply because we can experience pleasure, it is right and fitting that we do.

Of course, for practical reasons, there are limitations on this. For example, if I decide I'm going to go get Starbucks because I deserve to have nice things, I still have to pay for it. I deserve nice things, but that doesn't mean anyone should just give them to me for free. No, that would be ridiculous. I have to work and earn money, and the Starbucks employees deserve to be paid for their work.

For practical reasons, we can't always have pleasure. For practical reasons, we suffer and experience pain. For practical reasons, we have to work hard. But in the midst of this reality, human happiness is the greatest good. Human happiness is the goal. We aim to create a world where everyone can have good things and be happy, because that's what we deserve.

All right, wait one second. It's great to see someone happy- unless that someone has hurt you and you believe they deserve to be punished for it. So, there's a conversation to be had about what justice looks like. In my view, there are 3 aspects: punishing the perpetrator, giving the victim whatever help they need, and preventing it from happening again in the future. Preventing someone from experiencing happiness only falls into the first of those aspects. Yes, people should pay for their sins- but that's not the totality of what justice is, and that payment is finite. It doesn't mean they deserve to never be happy again. (A sentiment which seems to me to be more motivated by revenge than justice.) If, for example, a murderer goes to jail for the rest of their life, I think that's good enough. I hope they can at least have some sort of simple pleasures in jail. I don't know, maybe I shouldn't say that because I've never been a victim/ been close to a victim of some sort of awful crime like that. But personally, I don't believe there's anything you can do to erase the fact that, as a human being created in God's image, you deserve happiness. (Again, if you happen to be a violent criminal, your freedom needs to be severely limited for practical reasons. Like the fact that victims also deserve to live happy lives free from fear. But yeah, you still deserve some happiness.)

But that's a very unique case. For most people, there's nothing they've done that raises legitimate questions over whether it's right for them to ever experience happiness again.

So the point is, people deserve to experience pleasure. That's why sometimes I stop by a convenience store on my way home and buy a yogurt for my boyfriend. He loves yogurt, and I want him to be happy. His happiness matters. His happiness is a beautiful and wonderful thing in and of itself.

My happiness matters too. And I'm saying all this because I come from a Christian culture which taught me my happiness doesn't matter. I was taught to view pleasure with suspicion. I was taught that sacrificing and suffering for the sake of God was way better and more godly than experiencing happiness. And pleasurable things like pop-tarts and yogurt may even be seen as temptations, and we are selfish if we indulge in them.

Furthermore, I believed that "justice" meant we should never be happy again. Because humans are sinners, the most fitting and right thing is that we suffer in hell forever. We don't deserve happiness, not even one second of happiness. Not even one smile, not even one pop-tart. Anytime something good happens to you, thank God for giving you what you don't deserve.

In this ideology, the complex and wonderful depths of our emotions and desires and capacity for love were never meant to be explored and enjoyed. No, because God made us sinners, we deserve nothing but trauma and agony. Because of God's grace- which, obviously, we don't deserve- people are able to experience happiness during our earthly lives. But when you die, the game is up. When you die, you finally get what you deserve. Unless you've managed to cover yourself with Christ and hide how obviously worthless and unworthy you are.

No. That's a lie from (ironically) the pit of hell. Because people are amazing. How could anyone look at a child laughing and think "this is wrong, she should suffer instead"? How could anyone look at a person resting on the couch after a day of hard work and think "no, it's not right for him to rest, he should feel pain instead"? How could anyone look at the sum of all the world's celebrations and festivals and parties and think "God's justice says this none of this is supposed to exist"?

But that's what it means every time a pastor says "God doesn't owe us anything."

No. People are amazing, and we deserve happiness. And yes, we are created in the image of God and we deserve God's love. I deserve God's love. You deserve God's love.

We deserve pleasure. We deserve to have good things. Go ahead and buy something nice for yourself, because you are wonderful and you should have nice things. Like I said, for practical reasons we can't always buy nice things. But every now and then, when there's space in the budget for it, go ahead. You deserve it.

People are so astoundingly amazing. Fearfully and wonderfully made and all that. So we deserve to be happy. We deserve to be loved. And we deserve God's love.


PS please enjoy this song: "Diamonds" by Rihanna

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Image description: four adorable golden retriever puppies sleeping on each other
Image source.

1. It sounded right in my head until I said it out loud (posted November 2) "Those misconceptions endured, unperturbed, uncorrected, almost unacknowledged, until life conspired to draw us outside of the bounds of that little world and we saw the look of confusion and consternation on someone’s face as we said those things out loud for the first time in the presence of someone who knew better."

2. T.F.: The Logic of Hell (posted November 2) "Accept that Hell is real and that it is infinitely more important than any earthly concerns and suddenly the very things that might compel you to attend to this-worldly needs and injustices — compassion, empathy, faith, hope, love — become reasons not to do so." Oh my goodness, you guys, go read this post. This is exactly everything I've been saying over and over about how HELL RUINS CHRISTIANITY.

3. The GOP primary’s theocratic X-factor: Inside the twisted worldview and junk history of David Barton (posted October 27) "He is the most influential right wing crackpot in American politics today. And that’s saying something."

4. Dear Professor: Is This Class Going to Challenge My Faith and Make Me Uncomfortable? (posted November 13) "I find frustrating the too-frequent sentiment from Christians that equates interrogating and examining the texts with destroying faith. There is a strain of anti-intellectualism in modern US Christianity that is vile, unbiblical, and deadlier to faith than scholarly examination could ever be."

5. This Children’s Book About Sex And Gender Is A Total Game-Changer (posted November 5) "Because any part of your body can be private, in this book we don't call them your private parts."

6. You Don't Need Your Moms' Permission to Have Sex. (posted November 13) "You could have the most eloquent, well-reasoned argument for why you should be allowed to have sex, and she would still say no. Because she's demonstrated that this is less about your well-being than it is her personal views about sex."

7. This image:

Image source.
Image text:

It is not Paris we should pray for.
It is the world. It is a world in which Beirut,
reeling from bombings two days before Paris,
is not covered in the press.
A world in which a bomb goes off
at a funeral in Baghdad
and not one person's status update says "Baghdad"
because not one white person died in that fire.
Pray for the world
that blames a refugee crisis for a terrorist attack.
That does not pause to differentiate between the attacker
and the person running from the very same thing you are.
Pray for a world
where people walking across countries for months,
their only belongings upon their backs,
are told they have no place to go.
Say a prayer for Paris by all means,
but pray more,
for the world that does not have a prayer
for those who no longer have a home to defend.
For a world that is falling apart in all corners,
and not simply in the towers and cafes we find so familiar.

I live in China. If it had happened in China, in some city with 5 times the population of Paris, but which most Americans have never heard of, would it be all over my American friends' twitter and facebook pages?

(On the other hand though, I'm not comfortable with the idea of policing the way people grieve or saying "how dare you care about this issue so much when there are other issues going on elsewhere in the world?!" So... not exactly sure what to do with that.)

8. One Million Moms Declares War on Children of Gay Parents (posted November 10) "One Million Moms’ claim that American Girl should have chosen another family and thus “remained neutral in the culture war” reminds me of those people who tell progressive parents that they need to force their sons to wear pants, because letting them wear dresses is “pushing an agenda.” Do you know what neutral looks like? It sure as heck doesn’t look like going out of the way to avoid stories about kids with gay parents."

9. I believe in conversion, but not in ‘conversionism’ (posted November 9) "Tell us about the moment when you got saved, the moment when you were born again, when you repented of your former life and everything changed. The problem, though, is that for most of us, everything didn’t change."

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Church is Supposed to Hurt

Bad Luck Brian: Tries to have quiet time. Falls asleep. Image source.
Last week I wrote a post called So I've Discovered That (For Me) Church Culture Causes Depression, about how I've been going to this church small group for a while and it's causing me to sort-of sometimes have depression.

While writing that, I realized, why on earth am I even going to this group?

Like, I read what I wrote, and it sounds like the effect that this group has on me is all bad. I seem to be getting no benefits from it at all. And yeah, that's true. No benefits, just a small sliver of hope that maybe by meeting a ton of Christians, I can eventually find one or two who accept and understand me.

(And for this group in particular, because it's young people who come from many countries all over the world, they act very open and welcoming. But I'm starting to suspect on a deeper level, they believe that same unloving theology that I'm escaping. The theology that says non-Christians go to hell and LGBT people don't know what's good for themselves. I can't believe I fell for this. I can't believe I actually believed them when they said "we're different." And on that note, go read this post by Samantha Field: On "Different" Churches: You're Actually Not.)

So my goal is to find Christians who accept me, but I guess I'd lost sight of that goal. I guess I'd gotten into the habit of going because that's what I do on Wednesday nights. (And I'd gotten into the habit of feeling nervous all day on Wednesdays.) Well... actually this is not entirely true- I never forgot that I don't have to go if I don't want to, that this is my choice.

But the point is, I wasn't paying attention to my body. I wasn't paying attention to how I felt. My body and mind were telling me about my own needs (specifically, that it's not healthy for me to put myself in that kind of Christian environment) and I didn't realize it. (Until I actually wrote it all down.)

Because the church trains us to ignore our own needs. The church teaches that following God is supposed to be hard, and that we need to obey even though it will hurt.

For example, I was taught Christians are supposed to "spend time with God" every day. Bafflingly, "spending time with God"- you know, the God who created everything, the God who is the source of every good and perfect gift, the God in whom we live and move and have our being, the God whose presence we can never escape, yes, that God- "spending time with God" refers ONLY to reading the bible alone and/or praying alone.

Yes, we have to "spend time with God" every day. But, I was also taught, you're not going to like it at first. It's a discipline- it'll be tough, it'll sometimes be painful, but if you keep at for long enough, you'll reap the rewards. You'll be closer to God. You'll be more like Jesus.

All this talk of discipline and sacrifice would be fine if it was something we actually had a choice about. It would be great if the church presented the costs and benefits of having a "daily quiet time" and then each person could decide for themselves if it was something that would be worth doing.

But nope, that's never what happens. Sure, they talk about the benefits. You'll get closer to God. You'll develop love, joy, peace, patience, etc. You'll become like those people the church holds up as super-godly role models. You'll learn the bible really well. But really, these benefits aren't the point. Christians don't have "quiet time" because they weigh the costs and benefits and decide it seems like it's worth doing. No, Christians have quiet time because Christians are supposed to have quiet time.

(I submit that this is what legalism is.)

You want proof that it's not about the supposed benefits, it's about "you're a Christian so you HAVE TO do this"? Try going to church and telling someone "I've been reading the bible every day but it's not really helping me become closer to God or become a better person, so I'm going to stop." What do you think they're going to say? If it was about "this is something that's worth doing because of these benefits", then they would say "oh, okay, I guess in your case, you're not experiencing those benefits, so it wouldn't make sense to keep doing it." Ha. Haha. Do you think, ever in a million years, somebody in church would tell you that?

No. Haha, no. They'll say you must be doing it wrong and you need to try harder. They'll say that satan is trying to discourage you, so you need to be strong and not give in to temptation- you need to keep reading the bible every day. They'll say yes of course sometimes it feels pointless to read the bible, we feel like we're not getting anything out of it, but we still need to do it.

In other words, you should ignore what your mind and emotions are telling you. (In fact, your thoughts and emotions may even be considered "temptation.") You don't know what's best for you. The church has a one-size-fits-all teaching which is definitely way better.

So Christians go to their weekly small group and "confess" to each other "I haven't been reading my bible." But maybe they haven't been reading the bible because they've never actually thought about if they wanted to read the bible. They've heard so many times that this is a thing that Christians need to do in order to become closer to God, but have they ever been free to make a personal decision about whether it would be useful for them?

I'm saying that on some level, they don't actually want to do it, they don't actually see it as something worth doing. And I'm aware that this kind of language is commonly used by the church to make us feel guilty- we skipped our quiet time because our rebellious sinful nature doesn't actually WANT to do it, and this is a terrible thing that must be conquered. No, I don't mean it that way. Your mind and body are trying to tell you that it's not a healthy or worthwhile thing for you, but you've bought this line that a "daily quiet time" is ALWAYS a good thing, a necessary thing in the life of every Christian, and any evidence to the contrary is chalked up to your "sinful nature."

People come to small group and say "I haven't been reading my bible because I wanted to sleep instead" or "because I wanted to watch TV in the evenings" and they feel as if those things are shameful and selfish. NO! Listen to your body. You need sleep. You need to do relaxing things like watch TV. We've created this culture where people claim to believe "spending time with God" is the most important thing, but then they don't do it because their mind/body/emotions tell them it's not actually worth it, and they can't be honest about it. They feel bad and come to small group and talk about how weak and selfish they are, how they have to work harder in the future to ignore their own needs and do what the church taught them is the right thing for all Christians to do.

The same thing is true about going to church. Samantha Field's post, the not-so-ridiculous reasons people leave church, does a great job with this topic. She writes about the memes and blog posts that get shared by Christians, mocking the reasons that people quit going to church. Those awful posts are all about how pathetic and selfish you are if you stop going to church because you don't like it, or because it wasn't actually a good thing for you, or because people judged you, etc.

Reality check: If you don't like something, why on earth would you do it? But the church teaches it doesn't matter how you feel- if you're a Christian, you HAVE TO go to church. And if you don't, you'd better have a damn good excuse, or rather, haha no excuse is good enough, you're just being selfish.

Because we're taught that our own feelings and our own needs don't matter. If the church is hurting us, or if every week we think "this is pointless, why do I keep coming here?" it doesn't matter. You have to just keep doing it, and eventually God will help you learn to like it.

Which is why it's taken me so long to realize that, hey, since this church group is pushing me toward depression, I should stop going. I have an exit plan now. I've gotten familiar enough with a lot of the group members, so it's time to track people down individually and ask very pointed questions about what they believe. If I'm not satisfied with any of their answers, I'm quitting the group. (Does this sound mean? If I treated them badly because they believe differently than I do, that would be wrong. But nobody is entitled to be part of my life- I absolutely have the right to quit interacting with people whose beliefs hurt me.)

I'm done ignoring my own needs. I'm done believing that it's somehow virtuous to dedicate myself to something that hurts me.


Christians Are Supposed To Feel Bad Over Not Reading the Bible Enough (and Here Are the Receipts)

Friday, November 13, 2015

Mind-Blowing Interpretions for 2 Familiar Bible Stories

Image description: group of women dancing at a club or some such location
Image source.
I read a couple of really interesting posts about bible interpretation this week. They were about bible stories I've read a million times, but interpreted in mind-blowing ways I've never heard before. This is so cool! Here they are:

First, there are these two posts that the Slactivist (Fred Clark) wrote about the parable of the prodigal son: Invisible dancing after an invisible famine and Come hear the music. Come join the dance.

In the first post, Clark talks about how many American Christians can hear this story many times throughout their lives and never notice the famine. We see it as a story about how the younger son made bad, sinful choices and wasted his money, and so of course he ended up suffering for it. That's just how it works. It was 100% his own fault.

But... the famine. Does the story actually say the son suffered for his own sin? Or he suffered because there just happened to be a famine in that land?

Furthermore, the post cites a study comparing American readers to those from other cultures. As it turns out, Tanzanians focused on the way that residents of that "distant country" refused to help the younger son during the famine. They exploited him when he was in need. Wow, isn't that terrible?

You guys, wow, I never would have thought that. Wow. And you know what, modern American culture is very individualistic- everybody is supposed to take care of themselves. But in other cultures, hospitality is a really big deal. I live in China, and, well, being white in China is really complicated and I'll blog about it someday, but one thing that happens fairly often is people treat me special because I'm a "guest". In the Ancient Near East, caring for guests was also a big deal.

So when Jesus' original audience heard "So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything," did they think "well yeah, these are the consequences of sin"- which I always assumed was the clear meaning of this verse- or did they think "isn't it terrible that nobody helped him?"


And this whole section from Clark's post is fantastic:
Emphasizing the younger son’s prodigality and ignoring the famine and the fact that no one helped him is also, of course, a self-serving reading of this parable — or, at least, a self-reassuring reading. It carries all the fear-turned-to-self-congratulation of white American Christianity’s just-world fallacy. That starts with the fear of destitution and calamity, staved off with the reassuring hope that such things can be avoided by diligence and moral rectitude. That curdles into the notion that those facing destitution and/or calamity must therefore be lacking in diligence and moral rectitude — that they must, somehow, deserve their poverty and deprivation. To think otherwise would be to allow that fear to return in greater strength. This victim-blaming notion of deserved destitution, in turn, reinforces the reassuring idea that we must, somehow, be exemplary creatures with superior diligence and moral rectitude.
In his second post, Come hear the music. Come join the dance., Clark imagines American Christians who condemn LGBT people are the older son in the story:
In the story, he’s all alone out there, but he’s hardly alone in the white evangelical churches of America. Millions of good, obedient Christians are standing with him out there in the dark, angry and refusing to join the party.

Many others are out there, too, but they don’t share the older son’s anger. They can hear the music and dancing inside and they want to go in to join the party. They really wish they could. But they’re convinced they’re not allowed to.

They’re convinced the Bible says, unambiguously and emphatically, that they’re not allowed to. And they’re convinced that they must therefore obey whatever the Bible says, whether they like it or not. So while they may not be quite as angry, they still refuse to go in, remaining out there in the dark, furtively tapping one foot to the music occasionally and then feeling guilty about that.
Clark mentions J.R. Daniel Kirk as an example of a Christian who, after a long theological struggle, finally decided to "join the party." Kirk, a New Testament professor, recently published a post where he explains why he believes in the full equality of LGBT people in the church. It's good stuff.

I find it interesting that Clark would compare the party in Luke 15 to accepting LGBT people just as they are. The way I always read the prodigal son story, the most important part was the younger son's repentance. He confessed his sin and told his father he's unworthy- THAT is what you need to do to get God's blessing. The older brother was unhappy because it's not fair to forgive and throw a party for him- regardless of whether or not he has repented.

But in Clark's analogy, God has accepted and embraced LGBT people without any repenting going on. Without any "oh I lived a sinful lifestyle before, but now I'm coming back to God." The entire point is that it's NOT a sin to identify as LGBT, to have a relationship with someone of the same gender, to undergo gender transition, etc. And the evangelicals are unhappy because how dare those people think that God approves of them breaking God's rules.

So is the prodigal son clearly a story about "if you sin, you suffer, if you repent, God throws a party and accepts you back, no matter what you've done"? Is it only a story about repentance? Or could it be something else? Could it be about celebrating people, no matter if we think they're "breaking the rules", because God has already accepted them?

The other post I read was this one, by David Henson: 6 Reasons Why Ben Carson’s Tax Plan is NOT Biblical (The Exploitative Politics of the Widow’s Mite). Here's what he says:
The widow’s mite is a symbol of economic exploitation, not of sacrificial giving.

The widow is not an icon of generosity, but a victim of the wealthy.

He links to a post, Rich scribes and poor widows: reading Mark 12.38-44 with Ched Myers and Addison Wright, which has all the long and bible-scholar-y reasons for this interpretation.

Basically, Jesus had just said "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation." Then he sees this widow and tells his disciples, she gave all she had to live on.

In other words, "Look at this widow giving her last coins. This is what I was talking about when I said 'they devour widows' houses'."


I always read the story in this way: "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on. Isn't that great?" I'm just now realizing the "Isn't that great?" is nowhere in that passage.

I thought it was a story about how we should give our money to God, even if we have very little, because God sees how much it cost us and is pleased with our sacrifice.

But Henson explains that it is a story about how the concept of the tithe exploits the poor.


Wow... I'm speechless. I mean, seriously, wow, just go read the whole thing.

In a post I wrote a while back, I said "My point is, for those of us coming out of this "traditional view of hell", we need someone to teach us an entirely new way to read the bible." And yes, exactly, that's what I need. I've read the parable of the prodigal son so many times, and I always imagined its message to be the same as that of the bridge diagram. It was an our-sin-separates-us-from-God-so-you-need-to-hit-rock-bottom-and-repent story. It was a gospel presentation. Clearly. And the widow's mite was clearly saying we need to give sacrificially even when we don't have enough money.

I'm really happy to discover there are other ways to read these stories. I've read the bible many times and I know it all so well, but I need to relearn the entire thing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

So I've Discovered That (For Me) Church Culture Causes Depression

Image description: a drawing that shows one red woman lonely in a crowd of blue people
Image source.
So I've been going to a church small group. And experiencing some of the symptoms of depression.

Ai ya.

We're reading this pointless book about "spiritual disciplines." It's pretty awful. All that stuff about "you need to always have Jesus at the center of your life" and "you need to read the bible every day", which in reality means "you need to constantly feel like a failure for not having Jesus at the center of your life every second of the day, you need to interrogate your motives because if you do the right things for the wrong reasons, that's a sin too, you need to beat yourself up about the fact that you can never follow all these rules, wow what a horrible sinner you are."

I hate this book but I at least flip through the chapters we're supposed to read every week, so the church people won't say "she just wants to complain, she didn't even read the book."

And then I go to work and sit at my desk and stare at my computer, and stare, and stare, because I know exactly what work I'm supposed to be doing (related to C++ coding, yeah my job is pretty awesome) but I just can't work up the energy to actually do it. To actually move my hands onto my keyboard, to make a decision about where in my code to insert the function I need to add... I just can't.

And suddenly I realize, this is depression. This is what depression feels like.

Every week, on the day of the small group, I feel nervous for the whole day. Then when it's finally time for the discussion at the small group, I tell them what I think, and my hands shake and my heart races and my whole body feels tense. Sometimes I try to speak the language of American evangelical Christianity- using words like "legalism" rather than "this is damaging to people's mental health"- but I'm out of practice speaking that language. And I don't think there is any church-approved way to say "I don't believe in submitting my life to Jesus. I used to believe that, but now I make my own choices and everything is better."

Over the past year, I've worked really hard to find Christians and Christian groups (it's not easy in China) in the hopes that maybe someone can accept me. I spent a lot of time and energy on finding them, and then I cut every single one out of my life when it became clear that they just wanted to tell me what to do and what to believe rather than actually listen and care about me. And I'm so glad I did.

And as for this small group, I attend it because I have hope that maybe I can find a Christian there who accepts me. But the most important thing is that it will always be my decision whether I go or not. I can quit and never look back and God supports my right to make that decision.

And I go to work and stare at my computer and think, "one of the church people said people deserve to go to hell" and I can't concentrate on anything. And then, "oh my goodness, this is depression."

And then I can snap out of it by telling myself, no I don't believe that crap. I don't read my bible and I don't feel bad about it and God loves me- and by love I mean real love, which means God doesn't think people deserve to go to hell. I am good and I deserve good things. I have the right to make my own decisions about my life. I can even choose to believe in God or not.

(And I've also been reading Dianna Anderson's Damaged Goods and it's amazing. Mostly the part about how we have the right to make our own choices about our bodies.)

So I feel like I'm right on the line between depression and not-depression. And it's fascinating how obvious it is that attending this church group is causing it.

I had depression last year, because I live with my boyfriend and I'm unrepentant about that so clearly God thinks I'm dirty, and then I went to therapy and quit believing all that crap and everything got better. And now just recently, because of reading this awful book and putting myself in a setting with a bunch of people who appear to buy into it, I'm experiencing symptoms of depression again. But this time it's not as bad- I can just remind myself that I don't believe that nonsense.

(Readers: If you are all thinking, "Perfect Number, you need to quit going to this group", well yeah I'm thinking that too. I'm weighing the mental health cost against the possibility of finding Christians who support me. We will see where that calculation goes. But the most important thing is, it's my decision. I don't pray about it and obey God and all that crap.)

Of course, the Real True Christian perspective on this is that I'm experiencing conviction from the Holy Spirit. I've been avoiding everything related to God and just finding sources who would tell me what I want to hear (including a worldly psychologist who would help me justify my sin) and now that I'm exposed to God's truth again, well of course it's painful. But it's good, it's from God, and I mustn't try to avoid it. At the very least, I need to consider the question, what if I am wrong? What if I am living in sin? What if it's actually impossible for me to know right from wrong because I'm so sinful, so I just need to believe whatever the church says?

To which I say, can a good tree bear bad fruit? (And also no, I'm not going to consider any of those questions. I'm so done with that bullshit.)

And then we would come to a disagreement, because the Real True Christian does not believe depression is "bad fruit." No, it's godly sorrow which leads to repentance.

Yeah, okay. Just makes me even more glad that I don't believe that crap anymore.


Follow-up post: Church is Supposed to Hurt

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

I Had a Great Time Buying Man Shoes in China

A Nike store in Shanghai.
So recently I decided I need new tennis shoes. I wear size 9 in women's shoes, which is 41 for Chinese sizes. (Note: I am from a part of the US where we use "tennis shoes" and "sneakers" interchangeably. If you speak a slightly different dialect, please translate accordingly.)

The problem is, Chinese women have small feet. A size 41 women's shoe is unimaginable, seemingly impossible to find here. (At 5' 7", I'm taller than the vast majority of Chinese women and maybe half of Chinese men.)

Initially I didn't realize this. So I'm walking into shoe stores asking to try this or that shoe in size 41, and the employees are like, no we don't have that.

And another thing- nowadays, sneakers come in all kinds of awesome colors! Orange, yellow, purple, red, pink, etc. Is this a new phenomenon? I've only ever bought tennis shoes in boring colors like white. This is because I believed these 2 things: 1) it's socially required to wear shoes that correctly match one's outfit, and 2) I, Perfect Number, have zero ability to tell whether a given pair of shoes matches a given outfit. So I always just wore white and hoped I got it right.

But I don't believe that anymore- now I wear what I want. So I'm walking into stores like Adidas and picking up bright blue or bright purple shoes, and I'm excited! Until I find out, nope they don't have them in my size. (Seems like the highest they go in women's shoes is 39, which is 7.5 in the US, according to this chart.)

Anyway, for some reason, the first day I went out looking for shoes, I went into it with the assumption that because I'm a woman, I would be only looking at shoes which a store labels as being for women. That's an odd belief. They're tennis shoes. Is there any actual difference between what men and women (and non-binary people) need from a tennis shoe? Like, why did I even think that?

So I would ask if they have size 40, and they would say no. Then they would come up with a 39, or a size 40 of some other women's shoe that I really hate, and I would try them on and they would be totally not right.

That was the first day of shoe shopping. It didn't go well.

After this, I decided to quit fooling around on the outer limits of Chinese women's shoes and just shop in the men's section. WHICH MADE EVERYTHING BETTER. I'm size 41, and they always have all the men's shoes available in size 41.

But the colors are so boring.

Like I said, nowadays you can get sneakers in all kinds of fun colors. Well, it turns out the shoes with the most fun colors are all marked as women's shoes and therefore not available in size 41. So sad for men. And me.

In men's tennis shoes, pretty much every store had blue and black and some boring colors. Occasionally there would be some fun colors, but then again, maybe not.

I shopped around a lot. I went to all the big name-brand stores: Adidas, Nike, Sketchers, New Balance, Vans, Converse. I stuck with big name brands because I have very little experience buying shoes in China and I don't know if cheaper ones would be low quality. (Though I did happen across a tiny shop in some alley with piles and piles of fake name-brand shoes for 60 kuai or so- that's 10 US dollars. I didn't buy them. They seemed like they were about to fall apart.)

Anyway, here's how it pretty much went: I would walk into a store, go to the display which had less interesting colors (that was how I could tell it was men's), and see if I could find any in an acceptably awesome color. Then I would ask a store employee to go get me a pair in size 41 (they keep all the shoes in the back, you have to ask them for it). They would say, "this is a men's shoe." I would say "do you have any women's shoes in size 41?" They would say "no." I would say "okay give me the men's shoes." (This is all in Chinese by the way.) My "favorite" employees were the ones that were like "there's no way you could really need a size that big" and then I try it on and guess what, I really do need a size that big.

The shoes were all pretty expensive, around 600 or 700 kuai (about $100 or so). I spent several weeks considering whether I wanted to spend that much money on shoes. I thought about trying on shoes in a store, writing down the product number, and then searching for them online for cheaper. But the problem is, if you find them online for A LOT cheaper, then they're probably fake and not very high quality. So I decided the online route wasn't worth it.

ANYWAY, the point is, you guys look at my new shoes:

I bought them from New Balance for about 650 kuai and THEY ARE SO RED. I love them.

SO RED. I am like Dorothy. We are not in Kansas anymore.

And if you ask me "so are they men's shoes?" well, they are my shoes. I bought them and I am a woman. So does that answer your question?

Monday, November 9, 2015


Image source.

1. 7 Reasons Not to Participate in Operation Christmas Child This Year (posted November 3) "The absolute last thing this organization is interested in is “just giving a child Christmas presents,” and those who say so are simply burying their heads in the sand."

2. What I Learned Teaching Black Students (posted November 3) "I marked the child absent for weeks, until someone pointed out to me that she was in fact in class, in the same seat she had always occupied, just with waist length micro-braids."

3. What We Owe the MythBusters (posted November 5) "Over the course of 248 episodes and 2,950 separate experiments, “MythBusters” taught a whole generation how science works and why it matters."

4. 5 Reasons Why I’m A Christian Who Stopped Supporting Israel (posted November 5) "4. I realized Israel was a violent military occupation, much like the one Jesus lived under."

5. 4 Ways Humanitarian Work Abroad Reinforces the Oppression It Should Be Fighting (posted October 18)

6. Emotional Intelligence and Sola Scriptura (posted October 22) "I think statements like "this is the clear teaching of Scripture" are psychologically diagnostic. Statements like these reveal something about yourself. Namely, that you lack a certain degree of self-awareness."

7. This photo:

Image description: woman wearing a t-shirt that says "Transgender Veteran: I fought for your right to hate me"
Image source.
8. No, Praising Children Will Not Make Them Selfish (posted October 19) "No shit, Sherlock. The problem here wasn’t praise, it was telling children that they were better than other children and that they deserved something more than other kids got."

9. Treating Pastors Like Trained Clinical Psychologists, Social Workers, Or Counselors Is Dangerous (posted October 10)

10. The Suspended Praying Football Coach: A Perspective You Probably Haven’t Considered (posted November 4) "As I said yesterday, I don’t doubt the sincerity of Coach Kennedy’s faith and I’m not sure he is even fully aware of the potential consequences of his actions. But that’s kinda the point." THIS. You just gotta stand up for God and don't think about the actual real-world consequences of your actions. Gross.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

"That Could Never Work"

"All my loves! I choose you!" Pokeball with the infinity-heart polyamory symbol. Image source.
In this article, 15 Comments Polyamorous People Are Tired of Getting, there is one part that particularly struck me. For those of you who don't know, polyamory means having romantic/sexual relationships with multiple partners, and it's consensual and honest- all the partners know what's going on and are okay with it.

So, some people prefer that style of relationships, and if they treat people with respect and honesty, then there's nothing wrong with it. I'm not polyamorous and I don't really know much about it- if you want to find out more, go to the blog post in that link.

Anyway, the post is about 15 ignorant/prejudiced comments that polyamorous people hear a lot. I'd like to talk about the first one:

1. ‘That Could Never Work’

Often accompanied by an anecdote about a friend who tried polyamory and totally hated it, this comment seems like a well-intentioned statement of opinion, but it’s actually very invalidating.
How can you claim that polyamory “doesn’t work” when speaking to someone like me, who’s been happily polyamorous for three years? Am I wrong about my own perception that my relationships have largely been healthy and successful? Am I actually miserable and just don’t realize it?
Statements like these are problematic because they stem from faulty assumptions that go far beyond polyamory.
Telling someone that they’re wrong about their own feelings causes them to doubt themselves and their boundaries and preferences. For example, queer people often hear that they’re “actually” straight, and people seeking abortions are often told that deep down they must want to have the baby.
Whether you’re telling someone that they actually like something they say they don’t like or vice versa, you’re saying that you know better than them what their own experience is.
That’s just not true – in fact, it can become gaslighting, which is a tactic of abuse and control.
Wow. This one really stood out to me because "that could never work" is something that I heard a lot, growing up as an evangelical Christian.

Seriously, just look at these questions the writer asks: "Am I wrong about my own perception that my relationships have largely been healthy and successful? Am I actually miserable and just don’t realize it?" In the evangelical church, these questions would definitely be answered with an emphatic YES. YES, of course a poly relationship can't be healthy or successful, so if you claim to have experienced one that was, then YOU ARE WRONG. YES, of course being polyamorous is a sin, and sin causes us to feel guilt- on some level, you are miserable, whether you are aware of it or not.

(Really, that entire quoted section is exactly how the church taught me to treat people.)

I learned that "everyone has a God-shaped hole in their heart", which means that everyone who's not a Christian (a real Christian) is, on some level, deeply miserable. On some level, they know they need God. And if they claim "no, I'm not miserable, I don't have a God-shaped hole" then they're wrong. Evangelicals can very confidently tell complete strangers "you are wrong about your own feelings."

This teaching is quite possibly the most wrong and harmful aspect of American evangelical Christianity.

And because polyamory is against "the rules" and against "the bible's definition of marriage" (which is not actually a real thing), evangelicals would say "that could never work." Then, perhaps a polyamorous person would give them a long and detailed explanation of how it actually does work. But no, that doesn't matter. The bible says it could never work [citation needed], so clearly this person is wrong about their own experience.

For so many different topics, the church simply dismisses those with different experiences and reassures its followers "that could never work." Don't marry a non-Christian because it'll never work. You can't be a Christian who doesn't go to church, that would never work. Friends with benefits could never work. Everyone who has an abortion regrets it. Everyone who has premarital sex regrets it. Every LGBT person is running from God. Every atheist secretly knows God exists.

In this ideology, there is no "look at the positive and negative aspects and decide for yourself if it's something that would be healthy and beneficial for you." No. Christians already know all the right answers, and they know that disobeying those right answers leads to awful things.

And by saying "that could never work", by promoting fear of the unknown, by silencing anyone whose life is proof that it can work, they keep all the good Christians in line, obeying the rules out of fear, never daring to imagine "I could choose to do this if I wanted."

They don't know that God is love and perfect love drives out fear.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

When Christians Say "We're Sorry"

Image source.

So back in college when I was "on fire for God", my campus Christian group held the "We're Sorry" campaign, which was an attempt to acknowledge and apologize for the ways that Christians have hurt people.

However, to me it was nothing more than a gimmick to get people to listen to "the gospel."

I haven't blogged about this before, because I don't want to accuse the other members of the leadership team of having that same dishonest, get-people-to-listen-to-"the-gospel"-at-any-cost view. Actually, throughout this story, there's clear evidence that others did not see it this way.

The "We're Sorry" campaign was born from the idea that yes, Christians have done bad things to people. From my point of view, I saw it as people having legitimate complaints about Christianity/Christians, and these things were blocking them from believing the correct things about God and getting saved- which, of course, is The Most Important Thing Ever, the only real need that any human being has. We would address those problems and the way people had been hurt, in the hopes that it would bring them one step closer to "getting saved."

Perhaps other members of the group saw it as "the church has done bad things, and people deserve an apology for that. As representatives of Christianity, we will do what we can for them, and we have a responsibility to make the church less awful in the future." I don't know. It never would have occurred to me to see it that way. For me, every "outreach event" we did had to be for the purpose of "sharing the gospel" and trying to get people to become Christians. Otherwise, what was the point? And when you believe all non-Christians automatically go to hell (and you care), it has to be this way- where every friendship, every kind thing you do is a means to an end.

So yes, for me it was "one reason some people aren't Christians is that the church has hurt them, so we need to get rid of that objection." It was "what can we possibly say that might push people closer to becoming Christians?" I really hope other people saw it more as "people deserve to be respected and cared about" but I don't know. At the time, it never would have occurred to me to think of it that way.

So anyway. We put up our fliers. They said things like "We're sorry for being judgmental" and "We're sorry for our hypocrisy" and "We're sorry that our sins have kept you from seeing Jesus." And actually, it felt really weird and humbling for me, walking to class and seeing all these fliers where we have confessed our sins (very, uh, vaguely).

Unfortunately, members of the general public didn't see it that way. Some people said the fliers came across as passive-aggressive or sarcastic. Those of us who were on the planning committee were shocked by this. I remember one of my friends writing a really long facebook post explaining to everyone what we meant, trying to correct the misunderstandings. (I also heard the criticism that "The reason we're not Christians isn't because Christians aren't good people- it's because we just don't believe it. It's not about you.")

We went out and "started conversations" with people between classes, you know, telling them about the "we're sorry" campaign and seeing what they thought. (Of course, for me, this was an attempt to "share the gospel" or get people to come to our big event at the end of the week, where of course there would be a "gospel presentation.")

I remember talking about it with one guy, let's call him Frank. He was an acquaintance of mine- when I first met him, he was a Christian, but a year or so later I found out he had become an atheist. I'm not sure what point he was at when I randomly came up and told him about the "we're sorry" campaign, but I know I assumed he was a Christian and "on my team."

The really weird thing about my conversation with Frank was, I asked him something to the effect of "do you think it will work?" and he said "if people really sincerely are sorry, and in the future they change their behavior." And I was startled, because he seemed to be answering the question "do you think this will help Christians become less hurtful toward others?" but the question I was asking was "do you think this will get people to quit being mad at the church?"

Because for me, it wasn't about being sorry at all. It was about trying to get people to get over their issues with the church so they could "get saved". (And yeah, maybe people did have legitimate grievances, but when heaven and hell hang in the balance, we don't really have time to respect that and give them the space they need to heal on their own terms.)

Yeah, sure, I did feel sorry, to some extent. I felt bad because yeah, I'd been judgmental and all that stuff. But I felt sorry in the same way that Christians always make themselves feel sorry for their sins. You know, the whole, "Jesus died for me... I'm so unworthy... ohhhhhh I'm such a terrible sinner I don't deserve God's love..." You know, just feeling really bad about yourself, but with no concrete examples in mind, and no plans to try and be less terrible in the future.

I was tasked with creating some kind of display where members of our group would talk with random passersby about how sorry we all were. I prepared a big piece of posterboard, a permanent marker, and stickers. The idea was, people would come along and write whatever grievance they had with Christianity- or perhaps put a sticker if they agreed with something that had already been written. Then one of us manning the table would talk to them about it and apologize, and maybe, maybe, maybe- if we were lucky- we would get to "share the gospel" with them.

But that's the part I struggled with. How do we go from "yes, that was a terrible thing that happened to you, I'm really sorry" to "you are a sinner and you need to accept Jesus"? How do we go from acknowledging people's pain to sharing the gospel?

Stop right there.

"How do we go from acknowledging people's pain to sharing the gospel?" Anyone who asks this question does not understand the gospel at all.

I thought "the gospel" was "You are a sinner, and your sin separates you from God, and the long-term result of that is hell. But God loves us so much, he sent his son Jesus, who was fully God and fully human, and he died to take the punishment for us. [here you could mention the resurrection but if time is short you can leave it out without really losing anything] So we can be forgiven and have a relationship with God. So now you have to make a choice: accept Jesus, or not."

 I can draw a bridge diagram like nobody's business.  But that's not the gospel at all.

"How do we go from acknowledging people's pain to sharing the gospel?" Seriously? How could "the gospel" be anything other than "God cares about you so much, and God knows that those things were very wrong"? How could "the gospel" be anything other than "Jesus understands pain- he suffered too"? How could "the gospel" be anything other than "you deserve to be loved and accepted, and you deserve healing, and you have every right to decide you will never go to church again, and that is totally okay- God understands that you need to heal in the way that is best for you"?

I'll tell you how. It's because I believed in hell.

And if hell is infinite, and all non-Christians go there, and I don't want them to, then hell is the most important thing in the world. And all this stuff about "we're sorry" and the way people have been hurt by Christianity is just a side issue, and I just need to come up with something to say to get people to GET OVER IT and trust Christians again.

In this ideology, the only thing that matters in someone's entire life is whether they repented of their sin and "accepted Jesus." That's "the gospel." That was the message I wanted to share with every student at my university.

Hell was all that mattered. And to save people from hell, first you had to get them to realize they were terrible sinners that needed saving.

I didn't know what "good news" would even look like for a victim. (See also this post about how we did an event about human trafficking and could not figure out how on earth to relate it to "the gospel.")

So I tried my best to answer the question, how do we go from apologizing to someone to claiming that we have the right to tell them what to do? And I couldn't figure it out. I concluded, no, it just doesn't work that way. We would apologize, and that would be all we could do. And maybe it would help them feel better, and maybe, someday, far in the future, they would somehow come to Jesus. (Like I said, "coming to Jesus" is all that matters.)

This would not be one of those times I used someone's politeness against them, forced them to listen to the bridge diagram, and then praised God for "giving me an opportunity to share the gospel."

Anyway, so that was my plan for our little display in the student center. People could tell us their painful experiences, we would apologize, not force a gospel presentation, and probably invite them to our big event in the evening.

At the planning meeting when I explained to everyone how to man the table with the display, one of my friends was not happy about it at all. "You're trivializing people's experiences," she said. "How can you say, 'here, put a sticker on the way you've been hurt'?!"

And I told her, yeah, I'm concerned about that too, and I really don't want it to come across that way. Because really, I was concerned. You guys, I cared about people so much, and the doctrine of hell twisted my compassion into something that could not be recognized as compassion.

I believed everyone needs to believe in Jesus, or else they'll go to hell after they die, and even now on earth their life will be awful too. You take someone who truly cares about people, and get them to believe that... they're going to go out and treat people this way. They will treat people like projects, they will befriend you with the intention of someday helping you to become a Christian, they will start awkward conversations and ask you awkward personal questions about your religion.

It is impossible to believe non-Christians go to hell, care about them, be logically consistent, and NOT treat people in a dishonest and disrespectful way while attempting to force them to believe in Jesus. Respect and honesty are nothing compared to hell.

I want you guys to understand how hard it was to be a loving person who's committed her life to an unloving theology. I want you guys to understand the tension of trying to live out "hate the sin, love the sinner" and "the most loving thing we can do is warn people about hell." Realizing that those things are bullshit is one of the best things that's ever happened to me.

(And overall, I think my non-Christian friends back then did see me as a compassionate person. I was sneaky enough in my evangelism that they didn't know I really believed everything important in their lives was meaningless because they didn't "know Jesus.")

Anyway, we went ahead and set up our little table with our "we're sorry" poster. I stood around with a few other group members and talked to the random students who came by and wrote stuff on our board.

What happened next was, for me, the most important moment of the entire "we're sorry" campaign.

A girl came up to us, took the permanent marker, and wrote "I am a lesbian and every day my life is subject to debate by evangelicals." I was shocked and had no idea what to say, and she just walked away without talking to us.

I was overwhelmed, just trying to even imagine how hard it must be for her. I wished I could help her, but what could I possibly say or do? Yes, back then of course I believed it was a sin to act on same-sex attraction. So what good news could I possibly offer her? It didn't matter, she was already gone, but wow... I just wished so bad that I could help her.

The whole "we're sorry" thing had just been some abstract "yeah the church has done bad stuff, I guess" propaganda tool for me. But at that moment, when I actually encountered someone who was continually hurt, over and over, by things that I actually believed... I was sorry. I really was sorry. And I was humbled by how obvious it was that I had no idea what she was going through. I have no idea what it's like to be a lesbian. All I knew was what Christians had taught me- that it's fine to "struggle with same-sex attraction" but it's not okay to act on it or identify as LGB- but that was just some faraway, theoretical idea. But for someone who actually is a lesbian, that's her reality. And I knew I shouldn't say anything because I wouldn't have a clue what I was talking about.

I just wished so bad that I could help her, and that she didn't have to experience that kind of hurt. It would be several years before I quit believing that God was anti-LGBT. But maybe this moment inspired me to start reading more and trying to figure out how Christians can love LGBT people. (Note: I'd like to point out that LGBT Christians exist, so framing it as "how Christians can love LGBT people" is inaccurate.)

So. Moving on. We had our big event at the end of the week. We brought in a speaker who gave a talk about this one bible passage where someone is asking Jesus to heal them, and other people are judging them for it. At the end, he asked for a response from us- for those of us who are Christians, he asked us to look at the ways we judge people and hinder them from getting to Jesus, and stop doing that. And for non-Christians, he did an altar call and then a less intense altar call for people who wanted to "find out more" about Jesus but not necessarily become a Christian.

I remember during the event, as one of the student leaders in our Christian fellowship was introducing it, she made some remark about "those of us on the leadership team really are sorry" and it really surprised me, because in my mind, the point of this wasn't about us actually being sorry- it was a gimmick to get people to come listen to "the gospel." Yes, for over a week we had been spreading our "we're sorry" message all over campus, and I totally had not realized that I was actually supposed to be sorry.

Well, that's the whole story. And you know, every now and then I see stories online about a group of Christians going to some kind of LGBT pride parade or whatever and telling everyone "we're sorry." So let's talk about that.

I think most of the time, it doesn't come across well. People see it as just a PR move- and yeah, that's exactly what it was for me, back then. Also, if you say "we're sorry" but you keep believing and doing exactly the things that hurt people in the first place, then the "sorry" is meaningless. And don't try to say "oh we're not like those anti-gay Christians who are really mean about it" if you still believe same-sex relationships are not okay. Your apology is meaningless if you still want to deny people's identity and their rights- it doesn't matter how "loving" you think you're being about it.

If Christians want to really apologize, it has to come with the acknowledgement that because Christianity has hurt this person, Christians never again have the right to tell them what to do.

Let me say that again: If Christians really are sorry, then it means recognizing that the victim's pain and anger are legitimate. It's not something you just "get over." It's something that actually matters.

If Christians really are sorry, they know that people need to heal on their own terms.

But of course, like I said earlier, believing in hell screws this all up. Because how sorry can you really be, and how much freedom can you really allow a victim to have, when you believe in a God who won't care about that on judgment day? When you believe in a God who doesn't care that church people hurt this person, and for their own mental and emotional health, they never went to church again... when you believe in a God who says you're out if you don't believe these specific doctrines about Jesus- no excuses.

How sorry can you really be when you worship a God who puts "the gospel" above caring for victims?

How sorry can you really be if you still believe you have all the right answers and everybody better listen to you?