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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Blogaround

Two adorable baby huskies are hugged by people. Image source.
1. Love and solidarity on tap for Pulse workers in Orlando (posted June 17)

2. Yes, the Bible Does Say to Kill Infidels (posted 2015) Apparently somebody at the American Family Association said Christianity is way better than Islam because "There’s nothing like that in the Bible, that tells the Christian to go out and decapitate the infidel." At which point everyone who has ever read the Old Testament was like LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL and fell out of their chair.

3. Almost 170 Members Of Congress Participated In The House Sit-In For Gun Control (posted June 22)

4. The Toast Looks Back: The Best Of Two Monks (posted June 15) Oh my goodness all of these are so funny! "MONK #1: how best to depict the suffering of the Crucifixion
MONK #2: Jesus with one shoe off, one shoe on"

5. The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’s Wife (July 2016 issue) Journalism is like detective work. This is a really cool story.

6. Killing Us Slowly (posted June 15) "To the denominations, the pastors, the churches, the Christian magazines who remain silent when men like Kevin Swanson call for our deaths—I’m looking at you OPC, and you, WORLD Magazine—who treat it as a mere theological disagreement, you’re killing us."

7. The Terrifying Effect Brexit Could Have for Mixed-Nationality Couples (posted June 24) "According to the British Office for National Statistics, there are more than 100,000 couples in London where a British national is dating someone of another EU nationality."

8. The GOP’s War on Abortion May Have Cleared the Way for a Zika Disaster (posted June 14) A virus that specifically poses a risk to fetuses- wow, the pro-life side is going to do everything they possibly can to fight Zika, right? Because they really really just want to "save babies", right?

9. Can Toys DIE?! (posted June 23) Ooooh. Massively over-analyzing "Toy Story." I love it.

10. Hillary Clinton's Planned Parenthood Address (posted June 10) Wow. This is an amazing speech.

11. An Open Letter to the Female Hat-Wearing Dog From “Go Dog, Go” (posted June 15) "Forget this dude who isn’t into your hats! It shouldn’t be hard—he is so completely and totally forgettable because P.D. Eastman draws all dogs more or less identically. And yet like so many cartoon female dogs, you only have eyes for some generic nobody who can’t see how freaking fantastic you are. You confront this guy a third time, desperately searching for the hat validation that since childhood you’ve been told you need."

12. Jesse Williams’ BET Awards Speech Is Everything You Need Right Now (posted June 26) Yes. Watch this.

13. #IfTrumpWereEvangelical makes Twitter great again (posted June 27) "#ifTrumpwereevangelical he'd "have a heart for" the United States" LOLOLOLOLOLOL

14. James Dobson is reliably untrustworthy (posted June 27) "So the idea of a “secret” born-again Christian is weird and the idea of Donald Trump keeping a secret is even weirder."

15. Can queer pride save the American church? (posted June 28) "The most powerful spiritual transformation occurs when I hear God say to me: you don’t need to do that anymore because who you really are is beautiful."

16. Istanbul Terror Attack (posted June 28) Noooooooo

17. Trump Evangelical Advisory Board Stacked with Anti-LGBT Activists (posted June 22) This is my shocked face. Oh, nope, it's not.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Shanghai Pride 2016

Rainbow flag which also has the Shanghai Pride logo.
June is Pride month for the LGBTQIA (and possibly other letters?) community, and I was very happy to attend some Pride events here in Shanghai. There was a huge variety of events, organized by a group called Shanghai Pride. Talks and discussions, parties in bars, performances put on by local acting groups, an art exhibition, and a weeklong film festival.

Let me tell you all about it. It was very cool.

First, some background about me.

This was my first time attending events that were part of Pride month. Actually, in college I joined the campus LGBT group- this was at the very end of college, after I had become a feminist and decided I 100% support all the LGBT rights, none of this "try to befriend them so they'll listen to me when I tell them their whole lifestyle is wrong" Christian crap. I was in that group for probably less than a year, then I graduated.

Besides that, I don't really have any real-world experience with the LGBT community. I just read a ton of blogs, and write a ton of blog posts- I feel like I'm very educated about it (and I have a lot of insightful things to say about how evangelical Christians are totally Doing It Wrong) but in a practical sense, I really don't know anything.

So. Hoping to change that.

Western influence

We're in China. The overwhelming majority of participants at all the events were Chinese. But you can tell there's a lot of western influence. Almost everything was presented in both English and Chinese- announcements, subtitles in movies, posters advertising the events, etc.

Also, I was very intrigued by LGBT cultural markers that are the same in both China and the US. I'm talking about things that don't intrinsically follow from the concepts of sexual orientation and gender, but at some point in history became associated with those things. The rainbow flag. The letters "LGBT"- this exact acronym is used in Chinese too. People will say a complete Chinese sentence, and you hear "LGBT" in the middle of it, amongst the Chinese words. (Actually, in general in China, there are A LOT of abbreviations from English that don't get translated at all, they just say the letters directly.) The word "queer" is translated to "酷儿" [kù er, or if you're unfamilar with Chinese pinyin, it's pronounced like "coo-arr"] just based on pronunciation. The term "come out of the closet" translates literally to "出柜[chū guì]". All of these examples are things that didn't just arise independently from China's LGBT community- they must have come from western countries.

Additionally, the US struggle for LGBT rights is very important to China's LGBT people. I heard people talk about when same-sex marriage was officially legalized in the US, and how that's a big deal. And also the attack in Orlando, and how it's an example of the violence faced by LGBT people all over the world. (There was a candlelight vigil held at a gay bar here in Shanghai.)

So. All this western influence strikes me as very similar to the topic of spreading Christianity to other cultures. It's very easy for Christians to see mission work as "oh those poor people are so lost and not-white, we need to help them", like Christians just need to go teach them the right way, rather than actually trying to understand their culture. I believe that Chinese Christianity should be thoroughly Chinese. It shouldn't be foreign leaders teaching that the correct way to do Christianity is the way we do in this or that particular denomination in the US. And in the same way, it's not necessarly true that China needs to adopt the exact same policies that US LGBT advocates are fighting for. Or rather, we can't know what China should do until we learn about actual Chinese LGBT people.

So, on seeing the same cultural markers that I've seen in the US LGBT community, I was a little concerned- is this something that western countries are forcing on China, the way that western Christianity tries to force its church culture on "unreached people"?

But I think the key here is that Chinese LGBT people should be directing the LGBT movement in China. Maybe the US has set a good example in some areas, and they can choose to copy that if they want, if it's helpful to them. If, for whatever reason, Chinese LGBT people didn't want to use the rainbow flag, that would be fine. It wouldn't make them any less LGBT. If, for whatever reason, Chinese LGBT people didn't advocate for same-sex marriage to be legal, that would be fine, and wouldn't make them any less LGBT. (There are LGBT-rights advocates in the US who don't advocate for same-sex marriage- because they believe the concept of marriage is too flawed and they don't want to be part of it, because they believe other LGBT issues are more important, etc.) (These are just hypotheticals- in reality China's LGBT community does use the rainbow flag and advocate for same-sex marriage.) Basically, the LGBT movement in China should be based on the needs of Chinese LGBT people. Some of those needs are the same as LGBT people in western countries, some are not.

Things that are the same: Being ashamed and afraid to come out. Discrimination at work. Advocating for legalization of same-sex marriage. Advocating for trans people to be able to change the gender marker on their ID.

(One gay man told about a time when the company where he worked was interviewing candidates for a job opening. Someone was like "oh, this woman has short hair, maybe she's a lesbian, let's not hire her." Wow, that's awful. And he didn't really know what to do- he didn't want to speak up and out himself at work. In my opinion, this is EXACTLY the type of situation that allies should handle. Allies have much less to lose.)

Things that are different: Loyalty to parents is a super-huge-big-deal in China. According to the personal accounts I heard this past week, many Chinese LGBT people don't want to come out because they don't want to upset their parents. Now, yeah, that can be true in the US, but EVEN MORE in China. Also, because of the one-child policy (which has ended, by the way- as of January 2016, Han Chinese people can have 2 kids), the overwhelming majority of Chinese people my age don't have brothers or sisters. So if you're gay and you can't get married and have kids, then your parents will never have grandchildren. There is a lot of pressure to get married, and sometimes a gay man and lesbian woman will get married, just to make their parents/society happy.

And also, there are stories of Chinese people subjected to reparative therapy. Apparently it is still a thing here.

Sexualization

I was a little freaked out by stuff that was maybe too sexualized. There was the occasional comment about "most of us had never met other lesbians before, so when we met, we totally had sex." There was the gay bar which had the words "shirtless bartenders" printed very large on their advertisement for an event- kind of like that was the entire point of the event... (That event was not part of Shanghai Pride. I did go to a Shanghai Pride event held at that bar, and it was pretty much what I expected, not sexualized or anything.) (Wait, should I say "gay bar" or "LGBT bar"? Let's be real, it was mostly gay men.)

I remember when I went to the LGBT group in college, there were also sexual comments that I was uncomfortable with. (Not like, creepy/harassment comments, but like, joking about scissoring. Really freaked me out, because to me, sex was just not a thing that people did.) At the time, I figured it was pretty much the normal rate of sexual comments that can be expected from college students, and I was just not used to it because I hung out with a lot of "sex is a sin" Christians.

But now I think that the rate of sexual comments in LGB-friendly places is higher than in society in general. Because, straight people have tons of opportunities to give their opinions about liking sex. But if you want to joke about how it's fun to have sex with a same-gender partner, there aren't many places you can do that. They can't express this part of themselves as freely as straight people can, so when they finally do find a place where it's okay to talk about that, it ends up much more concentrated. (This is based on my own limited observations- correct me if I'm wrong.) And don't misunderstand me- the sexual stuff was a very small proportion of what was talked about at the Pride events. There were a ton of other topics- acceptance and identity, history, politics, personal stories, family, wedding photos, etc. The sexual stuff was a very small part- but higher than the rate I'm used to in the rest of my normal life.

I really don't believe LGB people are *more* sexual than straight people. Among LGB people and among straight people, you have some that like to joke about sex, and some who aren't comfortable talking about it. Anti-LGB people often believe the stereotype that LGB people are more sexual (and that bisexuals just want to have orgies all the time), even though the anti-LGB people are the ones that tend to come across as OBSESSED with gay sex. (Remember the "gag reflex" article? The one that was basically like "whenever people talk about gay rights, remind yourself of how gross it is when two men have anal sex." I won't link to it, but I'll link to my response here.) So.

I personally don't think there's anything wrong with people wanting sex, even casual sex, but I don't really want to hear details, that's all. (I will, however, read ALL THE FEMINIST BLOG POSTS about sex ed, consent, purity culture, etc etc etc. To me, it's a fascinating topic to think about, but kind of disturbing to be aware of the fact that most of my friends/coworkers/family members/random acquaintances have had sex and like it.)

Persecution

I learned about the history of the LGBT movement in China, and how activists would get arrested back in the 90's, how the Chinese media would say that LGBT is "a western problem" that doesn't exist in China, and one speaker mentioned that just within the last few weeks, a lesbian advocacy group on WeChat (social media app) was banned.

It sounded EXACTLY LIKE how Christians talk about being persecuted. (Err, rather, how American Christians retell stories of persecution they've heard second-hand from missionaries. Which, yeah I believe persecution of Christians does exist in China, but it's not anything like what the American church thinks.) I'm kind of curious about the similarities. Hmm.

Also, that was one of the few times I've heard Chinese people in China mention, ahem, Tiananmen Square, ahem, 1989. And other things the government probably doesn't want you to say.

Miscellaneous

A few different people asked me if I was a lesbian. I was like, "no, I'm just an ally I guess." Kind of felt weird. But LGB people have to deal with EVERYONE IN ALL OF SOCIETY assuming they're straight, so, not a big deal that I can choose to go to these kinds of events and people wonder if I'm a lesbian.

Pride month is for all of LGBTQIA and any other letters I missed, but really it seemed like only L, G, and T were covered in the events I went to. I would love to get to know more people in the group and ask them about the other letters. Are the bisexual people in the group? Are there asexual people? Etc.

In Chinese, "跨性别[kuà xìngbié]" means transgender. "性别[xìngbié]" is gender, and "跨[kuà]" is like, stepping over something or stepping across something. I met some Chinese transgender people, at which point I realized I'm too socially oblivious to ever notice if anyone's transgender- the only reason I noticed was because they were staffing the trans advocacy table. SO BASICALLY I've probably met lots of trans people during my life and just had NO IDEA.

Anyway, overall I was really excited to be able to participate in Shanghai Pride. I'm hoping to learn more about the LGBTQIA community in China. It's really interesting, but there is definitely a long way to go in terms of achieving equal rights.

"The Genderbread Person" diagram (which can be found here) in both English and Chinese.
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Also: Ian McKellen visited Shanghai recently, and made this video to show his support for Shanghai Pride. Awesome!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Boundaries in Dating: This may be the most un-purity-culture thing I've ever read

3 post-it notes. They say "Past", "Now", and "Future." Image source.
Chapter 5 of Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships is called "Don't Repeat the Past," and it's about taking an honest look at your past dating experiences to see what mistakes you made, what emotional issues you may need to work on, and addressing those things so you don't have the same problems in the future. Sounds good and healthy, right? Yeah! Sounds like the opposite of purity culture.

The chapter kicks off by talking about why it's important to learn from the past. Check out this mind-blowing statement:
No one enters the dating world competent and ready to go. You may come from a good family and relational background. You may be a well-rounded person. These are certainly advantages. But, even given these advantages, the specific arena of dating, like any other relational undertaking, must be experienced through hours and hours of trial and error.
WHAT.

Wow. Every single thing about this is the complete opposite of purity culture. The ENTIRE PREMISE of purity culture is that if you're just prepared enough, if you pray enough, if you're devoted to God, if you work really hard to keep yourself pure and you never have a sexual thought, then you can find your marriage partner successfully (through dating or courting), without ever being hurt emotionally. "Boundaries in Dating" says you can never be fully prepared for dating- you just have to experience it, and then learn from those experiences and the mistakes you make. Wow. In purity culture, any mistake means that you've lost some of your purity and you're not good enough for your future husband. To learn through "hours and hours of trial and error" would be way too risky. No, purity culture claims that if you just follow the rules well enough, you'll find your spouse with no mistakes, no heartbreak, and no risk.

The entire point of purity culture is that, if you have a past at all, then you're impure, unworthy of marrying a good person, never again capable of real love towards a marriage partner. If you have a past, well Jesus can forgive you, but you'll never be as good. And purity culture advocates have to really emphasize the "you'll never be as good" bit- to scare people enough that they'll never do any of those "impure" things.

In contrast, the authors of "Boundaries in Dating" are psychologists. Their goal is to help people deal with their emotional issues- deal with their past- and get better. It's about hope. It's about your ability to take control of your life, and when you discover the reason for your problems, you can change and get better. That's what psychologists do. None of this "but you'll never be as good" like in purity culture. Probably because the "Boundaries in Dating" people don't see the "impure" things as terrible sins that should be avoided at all costs- instead, it's more like "okay this is a thing that happened, it wasn't good, but it happened, and let's see what we can do to help you get better." No judging, no shame, no "this was a sin, and now you've screwed over your future husband. And God."

As an example of what it means to learn from your past and make a change, let's read Jim's story:
Jim had been a happy-go-lucky man in his twenties. He dated quite a bit, but nothing ever came of the relationships. However, Jim wrote it off to bad luck and comforted himself with the knowledge that he had lots of time to find someone. He never really sat down and wondered what was going on. Time, however, caught up with Jim. By his midthirties, he became concerned. He had always wanted to be married by then. Jim became anxious that he might never get married at all.

At this point, the older, wiser Jim slowed down a little and began seriously thinking about his dating pattern. He finally figured it out. Jim tended to go after women who wanted him more than he wanted them. The main thing he was attracted to was that a woman really liked him. It was less risky for him. However, once the relationship became more involved, he would quickly lose interest, as they were not what he desired in the first place. Almost every past relationship has this same clear progression. Jim was amazed when he put the pattern together. I was proud of Jim, because he worked very hard to diagnose the problem.

By this time, Jim had been dating two women, Robin and Jenny. He was honest about this with both women, and was not deceptive. Robin was very interested in him, which normally would initially render her more interesting to him. Jenny, on the other hand, liked Jim but wanted to keep dating other people. This was a struggle for him. The old Jim would have never pursued Jenny after a couple of dates, so great was his insecurity about taking risks with women.

Fortunately, Jim had been pondering his pattern of low-risk dating, and was willing to use his knowledge of the past. What Jim did was to bring his loneliness and insecurity out of his dating world and into his friendships. He opened up to his safe cluster of friends about his feelings, and took risks with them about how afraid he was of committing to them or anyone else. They stuck with him and supported him.

Eventually, Jim became more able to be honest and straightforward with people, secure in the knowledge that he had a solid foundation of relationship between God and a few good folks. In other words, Jim was growing. He got honest with Robin and told her he just didn't have enough interest to continue dating. And he pursued Jenny, though it almost gave him panic attacks to go after such an unsure deal.

As it happened over time, Jim did lose Jenny to someone else, and that was also very painful for him. The good news is that he found that he could survive losing. This foundation of growth is what made it possible for Jim to do the right thing with Robin, and establish the relationship with Jenny. Things then played out as they were supposed to, unhampered by his insecurities. It is much better for a dating relationship to end due to healthy differences than to unhealthy ones.

In time, Jim went for another woman, Samantha, in whom he was genuinely interested. And this time, he was attracted to her character and values, not her interest in him. Pursuing her was a real risk for him. But in time, Samantha loved him back. They are now happily married. Had Jim not dealt with his past dating approaches, who knows what might have happened instead? The past's examples and warnings (1 Corinthians 10:11) proved a helpful ally for Jim.
On first reading this story, I really liked it. But then I realized, I don't really know how to evaluate this- is it realistic? Is it a healthy way to view relationships? I like this story and it seems like it all makes sense, but it feels very strange to hear relationships talked about in this way. About risk, about choosing to take risks, about surviving a breakup and taking that as confirmation that the risk was worth it. Wow.

To a reader who believes in purity culture, this story is unintelligible. It's not that they would disagree with it, it's that they wouldn't even be able to understand it. If all you know is purity culture, and then someone talks about how isn't it great that Jim learned to take risks in relationships and then everything worked out, it would make no sense to you. What about purity? What about how everyone in this story lost pieces of their heart? Because the authors of "Boundaries in Dating" come from a completely different perspective than purity culture, with completely different assumptions about what dating is, a purity-culture reader would be literally unable to understand this story. They would learn nothing from it, because it comes across as complete nonsense if all you know is "breaking up will make you impure, so GUARD YOUR HEART!!!!"

And even for me, like I said, I like this story but honestly I don't have the tools to really understand and evaluate it. It includes big, abstract concepts like taking risks and learning it's worth it to take risks, even if you break up- and I don't know if I've ever heard dating discussed in those terms. Actually, if I think about my experiences rather than abstract ideas I've learned about dating, I can sort of understand the part about being more willing to date someone I'm less interested in, because then it's less risk. Yeah, okay, so one time there was this guy, let's call him Pat, and I wasn't attracted to him AT ALL, and sometimes he used to sit next to me and lean against the back of the couch in such a way that he was almost leaning on me, and I liked imagining that he liked me and we were dating, in my head it was fun to pretend because he didn't actually matter to me so there was no risk of me losing part of my heart, and we weren't actually in a relationship or anything, so no risk of me losing any purity.

See, yeah, I need to think of a really specific example that I've experienced, because these concepts feel so foreign to me. (And actually, a purity-culture follower might even reason that they should be in a relationship with someone they're not terribly interested in, as a way to guard their heart.)

Next, there's a section in this chapter called "Be Afraid of Your Past", about how not evaluating and learning from your past can cause problems in your current or future relationships, so it's good to have "a healthy fear" of repeating the past. I'm not really comfortable with how they use the terms "afraid" and "fear" because purity culture was ALL ABOUT FEAR for me, and I am so done with that. Really, though, what they're talking about here is being aware of possible consequences that could realistically happen, and working to prevent them. It's not some huge unknown, vaguely-defined, infinitely-horrible thing that just hangs over you all the time, like in purity culture.

The most interesting bit of the "Be Afraid of Your Past" section is this:
As in Jim's case, most people have some sort of age deadline in their head by which they would like to marry. In reality, you can't wait forever, because you don't have forever. There is such a thing as "too late." So many people who have dreamed all their lives about being married will, in ignoring their pasts, lose their married futures. Get to work on the past!
This is pretty shocking to me because purity culture is all about how you should keep waiting and trust in God's timing. If God has ordained that you meet your husband at age 41, then that's the way it is and there's nothing you can do about it. Yes, purity culture does pressure people into marrying young, and generally church people act like you're a problem that needs to be solved if you're still single in your late twenties or thirties- but at least in the form of purity culture I followed, you can TOTALLY wait forever and it's wrong to have an "age deadline."

This is a good illustration of the fact that "Boundaries in Dating" is definitely written for adults, whereas purity culture is generally directed toward teenagers and college-aged people. As for the "age deadline" concept, my opinion is that you have to be reasonable. My parents got married right out of college, so I always thought I would too, and I felt like a failure when I didn't. And I still sometimes feel like I'm going so slow, when it seems like everyone on facebook is getting married and having babies. But in reality, it's totally fine and normal to not be married or have kids at my age. Just because a lot of people on facebook are doing it doesn't mean they're winning and I'm losing. Realistically, you can have biological kids in your late thirties or even older (I'm not totally sure when, but I think it's much older than whatever mainstream culture is telling you) or you could even adopt kids. At different ages, you'll have different life circumstances and different options available to you, some of which are better than others, so it makes sense to have a preferred age when you want to get married, but I'm not sure I can say there's some point after which all hope of getting married and having children is lost. (Or rather, since I'm young, I don't know enough to be able to speculate on that.)

The point is, if you're in college and you think your life is ruined because you don't have a "ring by spring", then calm down, it's okay, you have a lot of time. But maybe, at some point, years and years and years later, it's no longer true that "you have a lot of time." Sort of a strange new concept for me. But yes, it shows "Boundaries in Dating" was definitely written for adults.

So. In summary, this chapter is about learning from your past. There's no judgment, there's no "now you're impure and you can never be fully healed." These authors are psychologists; their job is to help people get better, not to tell them they're permanently damaged. Pretty much the complete opposite of purity culture.

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A blog series reviewing the book Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships (introduction post is here)

Previous post: Without using the word "idol"

Next post: Preferences and Red Flags

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Blogaround

A photo of a cat and a mountain lion staring at each other through a glass door. The cat is thinking, "This mirror makes me look ripped." Image source.
1. Yes, you hate me: Christians and homophobia (posted June 15) "They’re just so very confused when they look at me and say 'I disagree with your very existence because of my pet biblical interpretation, but that clearly can’t be hate.'"

2. The 'Trump Effect' in Schools: How Trump's Hate Speech Is Traumatizing America's Children (posted April 14) "Another educator from a Tennessee school says a Latino kindergartener was told by his peers that he will be deported and barricaded behind a wall. “Is the wall here yet?” he asks daily."

3. A Renegade Kitten Survived A Cross-Country Road Trip By Clinging To A Car (posted June 15) YOU GUYS this kitten is adorable.

4. Baylor University’s culture of sexual assault is real and it doesn’t surprise me. (posted May 27) "But cultivating a culture in which consensual sex is a punishable offense and students who do have sex are too ashamed to talk makes it extremely difficult to simultaneously cultivate a culture that exposes and punishes sexual abuses."

5. 'Star Trek' actor Anton Yelchin dies in freak car accident (posted June 20) NOOOOOOOO

6. We’ve gotten better at mourning. That’s a sick form of ‘progress’ (posted June 14) [content note: anti-LGBT violence] "And knowing the role they have played, it’s a wonder that all of these steadfastly anti-gay church leaders didn’t choke on their own words as they all, in turn, offered their lovely, duplicitous statements of grief and sorrow."

7. These Social Media Posts Offer an Important Reminder (posted June 15) "I crossed two streets, by myself, while cars rushed by, and I didn’t panic."

8. Needed: A New Conversation on LGBT in the Church (posted June 22) "This is why we have to have a different conversation about gay people in the Church. Because even the ones who are there–who are doing their best to live faithfully to the scriptures as your church understands them–don’t feel welcome, loved, or safe in your community."

9. Terrorist Attack, Mass Shooting, or Anti-Gay Hate Crime? How We Talk about Orlando Is Important (posted June 16)

10. You Are Better Than Fred Phelps (and that’s why he was so dangerous) (posted 2014) "I’ve heard people insist on using the word “homosexual” to refer to all LGBTQ people, because calling gays and lesbians “gays and lesbians” allows them to normalize their perverted lifestyle, and because bi and transgender people don’t really exist anyway. But they would never say “God hates fags.”"

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

"Rubbish"

Batman and Alfred. Image source.
When I first started studying Chinese, I was in college in the US. I made friends with lots of international students from China, and practiced Chinese with them. I really admired the international students- they were so awesome and courageous, moving to a whole new country, a whole new culture, having to learn how things work in the US. I wanted to be like them.

Their English was very good, but I noticed they had weird words for things like trash cans and bathrooms. Bizarre, creative terms like "dust bin" or "wash room." I'm sure the first time someone said to me, "Can I take the rubbish?" I had NO IDEA what they were saying- both because of their accent and because who even uses the word "rubbish"?

As it turns out, the answer is British people. British people use the word "rubbish." Apparently, it just means trash. (I moved to China and taught English for 2 years, and I learned more British English in that time than I had in my entire life before. Chinese students all walking around saying cookies are "biscuits"- it's just madness over here.)

All this talk of "rubbish" reminds me of a sermon I heard many years ago, on Philippians 3:7-11.
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
(The above excerpt comes from the ESV. The current NIV version uses the term "garbage" rather than "rubbish" in verse 8 there, but the one I read growing up, the 1984 NIV, said "I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ." And I'm pretty sure that was the version used in this sermon.)

The speaker- an American, giving a sermon to an American audience, in the United States- pointed out that word, "rubbish." She said, wow, such a unique word, we rarely use it. When you think of "rubbish" you think of a British butler with his nose turned up, holding a trash bag at arm's length, like he's so high-class and these things are so beneath him.

Her point was, the apostle Paul felt such disdain for his "gains" in his life before Christ, that he needed to choose a special word to properly convey that feeling. The apostle Paul wanted the Philippians to know that his feeling was the same as that of a proper British butler.

And like, when I phrase it that way, the anachronism is pretty obvious- like obviously Paul didn't hold stereotypes about what British butlers are like. Actually, the speaker was just trying to tell us that the word "rubbish" has a different feel than "garbage", like it's a term reserved for especially awful garbage. And that's true, in American English, but only because of American culture's idea of British butlers. It's still an anachronism.

If you're a British person reading "I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ," there's no shockingly unique word that stands out and demands us to question why it was chosen. It's just the same thing as if an American read "I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ."

(And I won't even go into how, if you look at the actual Greek word that Paul used, it should probably be translated more like "shit" or "crap.")

That sermon is a good example of how Christians of the "bible is inerrant" persuasion put so much emphasis on every individual word in the bible, and they find meaning that isn't even there. It's a translation of an ancient book- you can't take the individual English words too seriously. I often have to write English translations of Chinese documents for my job, and, you guys, translation is hard. For some reason, four sentences' worth of stuff somehow becomes all one sentence in Chinese. I have to decide where to break it up. And sometimes there's a word or concept that doesn't translate directly into English, because you'd have to understand some Chinese culture in order to get it. I have to decide whether to preserve individual words or just write a completely new sentence that gets the same point across and sounds much more natural to an American reader. And there's no "right" way to do it.

When you read an English version of the bible, you can be pretty sure the English translation matches the general idea of what the passage said, but oh my, DO NOT get stuck on individual words. (Maybe the best way to avoid this problem is to read several different translations- if a specific word gets translated in a few different ways, maybe don't put too much emphasis on that exact word and how it feels to you, a native speaker of American English [or whatever your language background is]). Really, it's kind of deceptive how the bibles we read are full of English words we understand and sentences that make sense to us. It hides how completely foreign the bible truly is.

Here's another way that Christians get stuck on individual words in the bible: I've often heard people say things like "This bible verse has the word 'trust' in it, so I looked up 'trust' in the dictionary, and one definition was [definition that isn't the one being used in this verse], and wow, isn't it amazing to think [whatever the conclusion would be if that was the definition that the writer meant, rather than the definition that's more likely based on the context]."

So bizarre. The translator just chose the word "trust" because it was the English word with the closest meaning to what the writer was saying. That doesn't mean every possible definition of "trust" in Webster's dictionary applies to that verse.

Or there's this: "The word that's translated as [whatever English word] comes from the same Greek word they used for [some interesting imagery about farm animals or whatever]. So really, the writer meant that we [do whatever thing] in the same way that [a donkey pulls a cart or whatever]."

Uh, not really. (This is really the same mistake as the "I looked it up in an English dictionary" thing, except you used a dictionary from the original language instead.) Just because the same word is used in multiple circumstances doesn't mean that, when we use it in one context, we're always thinking about how this situation is similar to another context where that word would also be used. It would be like if someone read "we were kicked out" and started teaching that "this word 'kick' is the same word they used in their sports games, so the original audience would have imagined big, strong athletes when reading this." Yes, in some cases it's true that a word has a certain special "feel" because of the other ways it can be used, and that affects its meaning- but sometimes it totally doesn't. (This is especially true in Chinese, where more complicated words are often made of smaller, simpler words, but nobody is thinking of the meaning of those smaller words when they say them. Like "小心 [xiǎo xīn]" means "be careful"- but "小 [xiǎo]" means "little" and "心 [xīn]" means "heart." Why on earth do they mean "be careful" when you put them together? Who knows? But when you tell someone to be careful in Chinese, you don't involuntarily think of little hearts.) You really have to have a deep understanding of the language and culture to know when those other situations would affect the meaning or "feel" of a word, and when they wouldn't.

Don't take individual words in the bible so seriously. It's just a translation, and maybe they picked the best English word but that doesn't mean it has the exact same meaning as the original Hebrew or Greek. Translation is hard.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Boundaries in Dating: Without using the word "idol"

An illustration of a golden calf. Image source.

Chapter 4 of Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships is about when people get into bad relationships just because they are lonely. This fear of being alone is a problem that must be addressed first, before you'll be able to find a healthy dating relationship. The book says this:
If you must be dating or married in order to be happy, you are dependent, and you will never be happy with whatever person you find. The dependency will keep you from being selective enough to find the kind of person who will be good for you, or will keep you from being able to fully realize a relationship with a healthy person.
I like this chapter. It's really interesting how purity culture also talks about this problem, but in a very different way. "You must get to a place where you are happy with your life apart from a dating relationship in order to be happy with one." That's a line from page 76 of "Boundaries in Dating," but that exact same sentence could appear in a purity-culture book.

But it wouldn't mean the same thing. Not even close.

This section of "Boundaries in Dating" is all about loneliness and our need to connect with other people who can support us, and how it's not healthy to try to meet that need solely through dating relationships. In contrast, purity culture says it's a need for God- your relationship with God must come first, and any other thing in your life that you "put before God" is a idol.

Take a look at this bit from "Boundaries in Dating":
How do you cure your aloneness without a dating relationship?

First, strengthen your relationship with God. Make him your first priority so that you are not trying to get God needs met by a relationship with a person.
Yep, so far this is pretty standard Christian advice. Heard it a million times.
Second, strengthen your relationships with safe, healthy Christians. Make sure that you are not trying to get your people needs met by a dating relationship, or by God. Yes, you need God. But you also need people.
WHAT? What? Christian book say what? There are needs that can't be met by God? WHAT IS THIS BLASPHEMYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY

Okay but actually I agree with them. Well, actually I would word it differently- I agree that you need to have connections with people, and you can't get this need met just by sitting alone and reading the bible and doing those individual activities that evangelicals refer to when they talk about "working on your relationship with God." BUT we don't find God only in those personal, individual things. God is everywhere, the source of everything good. I fully believe that God's love is like sound waves- it can't exist in a vacuum. It needs a medium to travel through. You don't just believe some abstract doctrine about God's love- that's not enough. You experience God's love through the good things in life. Through friends. Through cats. Through pleasure. Through living with your awesome boyfriend.

So in a practical sense, I completely agree with the authors of "Boundaries in Dating" in this section here. (The difference seems to be only in how we define "getting needs met through God.") But I would never say we have other needs besides God, because that is a surefire way to guarantee that no evangelical will take seriously anything you say, ever again.

"Boundaries in Dating" talks about this feeling of "needing" a relationship in purely psychological terms. In church, I've always heard it discussed in purely spiritual terms. This is a huge difference- and the psychological approach is MUCH better.

In spiritual terms, the logic goes like this: Everyone has a need for God. God must be first. If there's something else in your life that's massively important to you- more important than God- then that's an idol and you're sinning.

But what exactly does it mean to believe that God is more important than ANYTHING else, ALL the time? Doesn't it mean that, if at any point you believe "I need this thing", then at that moment, that thing is more important to you than God? So that thing is an idol.

And really, this extends to any desire. You want something, you think "if I had this, my life would be so much better." Oh, so you're not perfectly content now, you think you need something else in order to have a better life? You can't just be content with God? Wow, that's an idol.

Because this line of reasoning is based on something so abstract and intangible- "you have to love God more than anything else"- there's nothing reality-based to anchor it so it doesn't go into that extreme where all desires are "idols."

Back in my most "devoted to God" days, I really believed that it was always wrong to imagine "if only I had this thing, then my life would be so much better." I thought in all circumstances, you have equal access to your "personal relationship with God", and nothing else matters. So you should always be 100% content. God is all you need.

Obviously, that's not true. Some life changes really do make everything way better. Getting a new job, moving to a new home, starting a relationship, getting out of a bad relationship, etc- all of these things can cause massive improvements in one's quality of life.

The problem with "if only I had this thing, then my life would be so much better" is when your expectations are unrealistic. If you find a really great romantic partner, you can start a relationship where you love and support each other, and that's wonderful and it will improve your happiness level. But that doesn't mean they can meet all your needs, you don't need to have friends, you should spend all your time with your romantic partner, you're never going to fight, etc.

The problem isn't having a desire, it's when you believe that thing is going to totally change your life in ways that, really, it won't. In that case, you probably have some other psychological issues to work out, but it's easier to just tell yourself that you can get this one thing to solve all your problems, rather than honestly face your issues.

But nobody ever talks about that in church. It's always "if you think that getting what you desire will finally make your life better, then that's wrong, that's an idol, nothing can meet that need except God."

Furthermore, this whole "if you think you need something besides God, that's an idol" makes it really easy for people who already have all their needs/desires met to judge those who don't. I've blogged before about how I always took it for granted that I would get a college education, and I judged my classmates who worked so hard doing homework and not coming to Christian events- they were making education an idol. And this can turn into ableism very fast. Oh, you need to take medication for chronic illness/ depression/ etc? You "need" it in order to live? Well if you were a better Christian, you would believe God is all you need.

But, surprisingly, "Boundaries in Dating" takes a completely different approach- a healthy approach. It's about the need to connect with people. This book does NOT say that if you think you need ANYTHING, then that's an idol and you're sinning. No, nothing like that at all. The word "idol" does not appear once in this chapter. Instead it says if you think you NEED a dating relationship, then it's probably because you're lonely, so you should focus more on your friendships and doing things you love, so you're more emotionally healthy and better able to evaluate potential romantic partners.

This is wonderful. And, of course, shocking.

Here's another interesting difference between "Boundaries in Dating" and purity culture. Check out this paragraph:
Have a full life of spiritual growth, personal growth, vocational growth, altruistic service, hobbies, intellectual growth, and the like. The active, growing life does not have time or inclination to be dependent on a date. The more you have a full life of relationship with God, service to others, and interesting stimulating activities, the less you will feel like you need a relationship in order to be whole.
This exact paragraph could appear in a purity culture book. But it would be about how, before God brings your predestined spouse into your life, you have to wait, and you should spend that time becoming a better person for your future spouse. You know, the whole "don't focus on finding the right person, focus on being the right person." Oh and also, here's how you should use your time as a single person to serve God. The point of having a full, active life while single is to serve God and your future spouse.

But in "Boundaries in Dating", that's not the point at all. It's about your own emotional health- helping you to have a happy life and not be lonely. So you won't be desperate for a relationship, and make bad decisions because of that desperation. The point is to help YOU.

So, mostly, this chapter is pretty great. Totally shocking to me, of course, and I'm still baffled about how this passes as a "Christian book." But this stuff about loneliness and the need for human connection makes a lot more sense than anything anyone's ever said about "idols."

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

A blog series reviewing the book Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships (read the introduction post here)

Previous post: In which I roll my eyes so much

Next post: This may be the most un-purity-culture thing I've ever read

Friday, June 17, 2016

Blogaround

"Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love, cannot be killed or swept aside." Lin-Manuel Miranda at the Tony Awards. LGBTQIA and allies have been preaching the gospel all week.
1. Bible Verses Where “Behold” Has Been Replaced With “Look, Buddy” (posted June 6) "Listen, buddy, you shall conceive and bear a son."

2. How Stories Told Of Brilliant Scientists Affect Kids' Interest In The Field (posted June 7) "Growing up in China, David, she told me that she learned about scientists but mostly about how hard people work to make discoveries. When she came to the United States, she found that people tend to think of scientists as being naturally brilliant."

3. 5 Things Trans Allies Say That Mean Well But Miss The Point (posted June 9)

4. The Truth About: A Bugs Life & ANTZ (posted June 9) This video will probably only be interesting to those who, like me, are obsessed with animated movies from the 90's.

5. things not even tolerated by the world: Christians and hypocrisy (posted June 8) [content note: covering up rape and abuse] "at this point I’d be shocked if there’s any conservative Christian university that hasn’t spent decades retaliating against rape victims."

6. 'Three black teenagers' Google search sparks outrage (posted June 9) Hmm. This article kind of comes across like "Google's algorithm is racist, they need to change it" but that's not really the point- it's a sign of the racism that exists in US society, which goes way deeper than Google's search algorithm. We could talk about what Google could or should do about this, but the problem is much bigger than just Google.

7. Untold millions are still untold (posted June 4) "Was this person simply shopping there in paint themselves, or did they imagine that paint was where the sinners were likeliest to be shopping?"

8. 'Nonbinary' is now a legal gender, Oregon court rules (posted June 10) Great!

9. It’s This Drowning Dog’s Lucky Day When a Sikh Samaritan Disobeys His Religion (posted June 7) Great! Actually, some of the comments say that the Sikh religion totally says its followers can break the rule about turbans if there's a good reason- so it's not necessarily true that he was "disobeying his religion."

About the Orlando shooting:

1. How to Fight Hellfire (posted June 13) "And yet even still, there are some whose consciences are so seared that they cannot express grief for the victims without the caveat that they 'disagree with their lifestyle.'"

2. Why Does Dr. James Dobson Pretend He’s Sad About Dead LGBTQ Folks? (posted June 13) "I’ve already seen several false, hypocritical expressions of sympathy from people who wanted LGBTQ folks dead merely days ago."

3. China's LGBTIQ Organizations Issue Joint Statement on Orlando Gay Nightclub Attack (posted June 14) Scroll down for English. And that massive list at the bottom of the Chinese section is a list of Chinese LGBT organizations expressing their support for the victims.

4. You'll Need to Come Through Me (posted June 13) "ISIS isn’t the ones boycotting companies that advocate for policies of equality."

5. Orlando Shooter Was Reportedly a Regular at Pulse and Had a Profile on Gay Dating App (posted June 13) Whoa.

6. A Statement On Donald Trump’s Statement (posted June 13) "If Donald Trump, after this attack, still cannot say the words “I am using a terrible tragedy to incite ethnic and religious hatred for personal gain,” he should get out of the race for the presidency."

7. The Orlando Massacre Is About LGBT People No Matter What the Media Says (posted June 13) "Parts of the British media are struggling with how to report this atrocity and the extent to which it deserves coverage at all."

8. Trump's Tweets After Tragedy Often Strike Self-Congratulatory Notes (posted June 13)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Vigil and a (Very Wrong) Bible Verse

A rainbow heart above the word "Orlando." Image source.
[content note: anti-LGBT violence, anti-LGBT theology]

So. I mean, what can we even say about the Orlando shooting? It's just... it's not okay. I have so many feelings. We all have to live in a world where this is a real thing that happened, and that world is not okay, but we have no choice. What are we supposed to do? How are we supposed to feel? I don't know, you guys.

I guess I'll tell a story. Two stories, actually. From back when I was in college.

This one time, there was a candlelight vigil for LGBT people who had been murdered. I don't remember the details- I don't think it was in response to a specific event or anyone personally connected to the college, it was just like "anti-LGBT hate crimes are a thing that exists in the US, let's have a vigil and remember the victims from this year."

So I decided to go. That was back when I was trying my best to "hate the sin and love the sinner." I hated how Christians were always accused of hating LGBT people, and I wanted to learn how to show love, in order to disprove that stereotype. (I pretty much wanted to be like Andrew Marin.) More than anything, I was motivated by evangelism- nobody's going to choose to become a Christian if they think Christians hate them.

I told the leader of my bible study group about the vigil, and she decided our whole group would go. So we did. And we did not say one word about "it's a sin" the whole time we were there. We were very well-behaved, wanting to express love more than anything else. (Or... well, like I said, I was motivated by evangelism. It wasn't actually about "I want to show love", it was about making Christianity look good. Err, actually, I believed "love" meant doing everything I could to get people to become Christians so they wouldn't go to hell. So in that sense, I was motivated by love.)

It was about making Christianity look good- that meant I couldn't say anything about "I disagree with that lifestyle." I was playing the long game. Gotta prove to people that I love them before I reveal that I "disagree with their lifestyle." Otherwise it'll never work.

And also, I wanted to learn. I knew that I knew nothing about LGBT issues. I knew I wasn't in a position to preach about it. I would need to listen and learn much much more before I could be a missionary to them, right? There's no way I would be able to convince anyone they were wrong if it was obvious that I knew nothing about their culture.

I'm glad I went to the vigil, and sort of tried to open my heart a little, and learn more about love- even though I believed in a horribly unloving theology. Trying to take seriously the "love" part of "hate the sin, love the sinner" was the start of my journey to accepting LGBT people, with no caveats, with no "but." Praise God.

Here's the second story: Back in college, I had two friends, who we will call Joshua and Caleb. There were "on fire for God" just as much as I was, but their methods were different. They were more along the lines of in-your-face, not-ashamed-of-the-gospel, we-don't-care-what-people-think. They were that type of Christians who think the rules don't apply to them, because their allegiance is to God, and they're following God's rules, which are way superior to any earthly rules. They were confrontational in their evangelism. They said and did harsh things to other people and called it "being bold for Christ."

In contrast, I did care what people thought. Because, like I said, my highest goal was evangelism. I wanted to present Christianity in such a way that it would be convincing to people and they would believe it. Joshua and Caleb kind of freaked me out sometimes, the way they were so... uh, bold, for lack of a better word. I thought sneakier, nicer-sounding evangelism was more likely to "work". Please understand, it's not because I believed treating people with respect is an intrinsically good thing. Nope. My reasoning was 100% practical. I wanted people to get closer to Christianity, not be freaked out and pushed away.

But I never expressed any disagreement with Joshua and Caleb, because I very much believed they were real Christians acting out of whole-hearted devotion to God, and how could I argue with that? Maybe it's good for different Christians to have different methods. They were more like Old Testament prophets, and that's fine, there's a place in the body of Christ for that, I figured. They were boldly speaking the truth- I couldn't articulate why I was uncomfortable with it.

Anyway, there was this wall outside the student center, that campus groups used to paint to advertise their events. One time, Joshua and Caleb painted this on the wall:
"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord."
Romans 6:23
(And they also painted their email addresses on it. I guess because it's kind of cowardly to just anonymously paint such a ... mean bible verse in such a prominent place on campus.)

Now, you have to understand, I believed that Romans 6:23 was the essence of what Christianity is. We deserve death because we are sinners, but Jesus can get us out of it. (I no longer believe this is the gospel- mainly because it's not good news.) But I was uncomfortable with just painting it up there and letting people read it themselves, with no context, no carefully-constructed friendship that could make them more likely to trust.

Anyway, you know how it goes with walls for advertisements, after a day or two another group comes and paints theirs over yours. So Romans 6:23 was painted over. (And I would not be one bit surprised if it was painted over by people who weren't even advertising something, they just wanted to cover that up and replace it with a message of love instead.)

A few days later, it rained, and part of Romans 6:23 was visible again. A Christian acquaintance emailed me and asked me to tell everybody to pray for rain so that the whole verse would be uncovered. I never replied to her email. I did not pray for rain. I wanted it to be covered. I didn't like that method of evangelism. You have to gain people's trust and make them think of you as a loving friend before you spring that on them. For practical reasons.

But I never told anyone that I didn't like Joshua and Caleb painting bible verses on that wall. Because for them, it was about how "unashamed of the gospel" they were, and how could I argue with that?

Well. So there are my two stories. The vigil and the bible verse. But, in a very very unfortunate coincidence, these two stories happened at the same time.

Yes. Joshua and Caleb painted that bible verse, and then 1 or 2 days later, while it was still there, the vigil was held. The wall with the bible verse was on one side of the student center, and the vigil was on the grass on the other side. Same time, same place. Remembering LGBT murder victims just around the corner from a massive wall that says "For the wages of sin is death."

I truly believe this was just a coincidence. They weren't trying to say anything about LGBT people specifically deserving death- they were just sharing the gospel with the campus. They were saying that EVERYBODY deserved death (that's the gospel). They didn't know or care about the LGBT hate crime vigil when they decided to paint the wall.

I used to talk to Joshua a lot about Christianity, so I can tell you pretty confidently, I believe his views were the same as mine. (Only his methods were different.) And it never made sense to me when people asked "are gay people going to hell?" because aren't we all going to hell? Being gay has absolutely nothing to do with it. You go to hell because all humans are sinners. Yes, "acting on homosexual desires" is a sin (I believed), but it doesn't affect your status as a sinner who deserves hell- because, you already are, just by being human.

The Christian groups I attended all preached that LGBT people aren't worse sinners than we are. You know, the whole "you can't accuse me of judging you unfairly, because I admit I am a sinner too! For example, sometimes I am selfish. Now let's get back to talking about how your entire identity and deepest loving relationship are sins."

In a theoretical sense, we believed it was wrong to make such a big deal about LGBT people while being silent on other sins. But make a big deal we did.

Anyway, because I was coming from that perspective, the "we have to warn them about their sin" perspective, it wasn't really possible for me to understand the existence of hate crimes against LGBT people. We saw LGBT rights as an issue where society was abandoning its good Christian morals, and we were the ones bravely taking a stand. When you believe that, it's very hard to also believe that society is cruel to LGBT people- cruel enough to kill.

And it's impossible to take a stand against anti-LGBT bullying and anti-LGBT violence when you're already sure you know what LGBT people need, and it's not protection from violence. No- they need God and they need to quit their "homosexual lifestyle." They don't need marriage rights. They don't need anti-discrimination laws. They don't need anti-bullying programs. More than anything else, they need to obey me when I tell them "God's" rules for sexuality.

And when that's your worldview, how can you really *get* the fact that anti-LGBT hate crimes exist?

I didn't get it. I really didn't get it back then.

I knew Joshua and Caleb had painted Romans 6:23 on the wall. And I attended the vigil. It never occurred to me to think that those two things might be related, until I heard some other students talking about it a few days later. They thought the "for the wages of sin is death" was a direct reference to the LGBT murder victims we were honoring. You guys, I truly believe this was just a very bad coincidence. Joshua and Caleb (and me) believed EVERYONE deserves to die and go to hell. Not just LGBT people. They were "spreading the gospel"- they weren't trying to say "ha, serves them right."

Anyway, when I heard that some students thought it was related, I was very surprised. And actually, my opinion was that it revealed more about the consciences of the people who were complaining than it did about Joshua and Caleb. The complainers were the ones who connected the ideas of sin and death with LGBT issues. Hmm, maybe subconsciously, they know "the homosexual lifestyle" is a sin. Ugh, yeah I didn't get it back then. (And I did not yet know about "intent is not magic.")

And maybe I had heard so many times about how we all deserve death and hell that it just sounded like Christian-y jargon to me. Like, ho hum, the wages of sin is death, yeah, I know, what else is new. Ever since I was a child and adults told me I deserve to die because of my sin, but it's okay because Jesus. I didn't get what I was actually saying when I "shared the gospel", how it must have sounded to others. I didn't understand that it really is a shocking and offensive statement, to say someone deserves death.

I didn't get it, and I couldn't get it, not with that theology. We believed that "loving" LGBT people meant trying to get them to stop being LGBT. I never heard a church preach that loving LGBT people means doing whatever we can to stop hate crimes. I never heard a church preach that love meant we don't want them to be murdered. I never heard a church preach that love meant caring that LGBT people have a much higher risk of suicide.

If you believe that a certain action is a hate crime, doesn't that also mean that taking a stand against that hate crime is an act of love? But no, that's not what my theology said love was. Sure, if we were asked directly, we would say of course murder is wrong and terrible. But our theology said it wasn't important. So unless someone asked us directly, we didn't really care.

I didn't get it. I couldn't get it back then. And I'm sorry.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Boundaries in Dating: In which I roll my eyes so much

Two cows in love. Image source.
Chapter 3 of Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships is called "Take God on a Date," and it's about how Christians shouldn't date non-Christians. So, obviously, I'm not a fan of that. A lot of eye-rolling when I read this chapter.
If we don't feel some sort of conflict or loss because our date isn't on the same spiritual wavelength, there is a problem in our own religious life. Something is broken.
*rolls eyes*
At the same time, having no lasting Christian friendships could mean problems. ... Or it could mean that she is not a Christian, but rather a religious person who has never received Christ as her Savior.
Oh COME ON. This book's gonna participate in that "a lot of people go to church but they're not REAL Christians" nonsense?

So far this book has had a lot of really good common-sense advice that makes sense, but this part, no. Why would it be the case that, because I'm a Christian, I can't connect on deep level with a partner who's not a Christian? Christian concepts like resurrection, love, and "your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" are central to who I am and what's important to me. You know what's not central to who I am? Believing those things are exclusively Christian concepts which NEED to be described using Christian language.

If you're treating people with love and advocating for justice and equality, then I believe you are bringing God's kingdom to the world, and that's fantastic. It doesn't matter if you call it "God's kingdom" or not, it doesn't matter if you believe in God or not.

So much reasonable and healthy advice in "Boundaries in Dating," and then there's this completely arbitrary guideline that says Christians are only compatible with people who refer to the source of all love and goodness as "Jesus."

Yes, there are definitely certain types of Christians who would not be able to deeply connect with a non-Christian partner. It's the ones who believe in Christian supremacy- believe that everyone else needs to become a Christian, believe that non-Christians secretly believe in God but they just love their sin so much they refuse to admit it, believe that non-Christians' lives all suck because they're being destroyed by their sin and they have a God-shaped hole. Yeah, if you believe a lot of nasty things like that about non-Christians, then you definitely won't be able to love a non-Christian partner. (And this book uses the term "the lost" so yeah, that's Christian supremacy.)

(Question: Is there some kind of middle ground- Christians who have a close "personal relationship with God" and work so hard on it that a non-Christian partner just wouldn't be able to truly understand it and give them the support they need, but also believe that it's perfectly fine for people to not be Christians? I don't see how this could work out and be logically consistent. Back when I had a personal relationship with God, I worked so so so hard fighting against sin and temptation, and I believed if I failed even a little, I would be overcome by sin and my life would suck. I don't see how you can live that kind of lifestyle and yet believe that it's perfectly fine for your non-Christian partner to not do all those things, and their life doesn't suck.)

It's interesting that, when "Boundaries in Dating" talks about whether a very-committed Christian and a less-committed Christian should date, it says not to base your evaluation of someone's commitment to God on external things- maybe they have a deeper relationship with God that's just different from yours. And just because someone knows the bible better doesn't mean they're a more mature Christian. Yeah, okay, why don't we take it a step farther and say those "external things" could include whether or not they use the term "Christianity" to describe their belief system?

Also this:
We don't believe you can only find people to date at church. ...

Unfortunately, this may mean you may not know much about a person's faith as you evaluate whether or not you want to pursue dating him. You can tell a lot about character by how a person operates in the world, but character maturity is not always derived from Christian belief. There are caring and responsible people who aren't believers. So it is important to address issues of faith pretty soon.
Ahhh, so close. Instead of "non-Christians can be great people with good character, so it doesn't make sense to make a rule that you shouldn't date them" it's "non-Christians can be great people with good character, because Christian belief isn't always something that you can tell from a person's actions, but we're still totally set on the idea that it's a deal-breaker, so better ask your date explicitly whether they would use the name 'Jesus' when talking about the foundation of good morals and good character."

*rolls eyes*

But. You guys. There was one surprising bit in this chapter, which may actually redeem the entire thing:
Avoid the tendency to take the role of spiritual responsibility for your date. Don't set up the relationship so that she is performing and growing under your tutelage. Why? Because children have one main job, and that is to leave their parents. If you are the daddy, she must grow up and leave you in order to fulfill God's purpose of becoming an adult.

A friend of mine made this mistake. He fell in love with a woman whom he then began to disciple. He took her through various Bible studies, gave her assignments, and had her reading books. He was so excited about this until the day she left him for another guy, stating that she felt too controlled. It was a devastating experience for him. However, he learned from it. He told me, "Next time, I'll leave the discipling to someone else."
[please hold while Perfect Number picks her jaw up off the floor]

I... WHAT?

They're saying "It's not healthy if one partner takes on the role of being the other partner's spiritual leader." In other words, "It's not true that 'the man has to be the spiritual leader.'"

I mean, yes OF COURSE I agree, it's NOT true that "the man has to be the spiritual leader", that's a bunch of sexist crap that has no place in the kingdom of God. But wow, have you ever heard a Christian book say that? I mean, a Christian book that's recommended by church people, not like, a Christian feminist let-me-tell-you-everything-wrong-with-purity-culture-and-complementarianism book.

(But seriously, Christian feminist let-me-tell-you-everything-wrong-with-purity-culture-and-complementarianism is my favorite genre.)

And this anti-complementarian statement is just tucked away with some common-sense ideas about the role that dating partners can play in each other's spiritual lives. Just all nonchalantly, like "You can encourage them and challenge them spiritually. But it's not good to be their spiritual leader. Here's an example. Well yep that's pretty much all there is to say about that. Moving on..."

I'm just... wow. I'm back to last week's question: what kind of book IS this? Do the authors not know about complementarianism? Do they not realize that every single Christian of the biblical-gender-roles persuasion- every last one of them- is going to read this and gasp at how anti-Christian it is?

Who is the intended audience for this? Who could possibly read this "don't be your partner's spiritual leader" bit and not have a TON of questions? They'd have to be a Christian who had never heard of complementarianism [and probably western and English-speaking, if they're reading this book]. Do those even exist?

All right, yeah, that's all for this chapter. All the eye-rolling from me over the whole "don't date a non-Christian" thing, which is a big change from the very practical and realtistic advice in the previous chapters. And then suddenly a tiny little subsection that basically says "oh we are DEFINITELY not complementarian", gives no explanation, and leaves the reader like "wtf just happened?"

Honestly though, it is kind of amazing to actually read that, just dropped in there like it's no big deal.

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A blog series reviewing the book Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships (introduction post is here)

Previous post: What Kind of Book IS This?!

Next post: Without using the word "idol"

Saturday, June 11, 2016

#BrockTurner Link Round-Up

Picard and Riker both facepalm. Image text: "Double facepalm. When one facepalm is just not enough." Image source.
[trigger warning: rape, rape culture, etc]

Ugh, you guys. All over the internet, people have been talking about Brock Turner and the fact that he's a rapist who's not being punished enough for his crime, and all the feminists are angry about it. Including me. I don't really have anything profound to say, the whole situation is so awful it's hard to even think about it.

I guess I'll just say this: It shows that [a scary large proportion of] society doesn't really think rape is bad. Sure, he shouldn't have done it, but oh that boy has so much potential and such a bright future, is there really any good reason to take that away from him? Wouldn't that be so sad?

Or people think rape is bad for the wrong reasons. Maybe they see it as stealing a woman's "purity." If you're a virgin and a good girl who follows the rules and doesn't go to parties or drink, and you get raped, you've gone from good and pure to totally dirty- so the rape is an awful crime. But if you weren't a good girl, then you were already impure and dirty, so rape isn't as much of a big deal.

OKAY BUT FOR REAL: The reason rape is bad is because it's someone taking control over another person's body, telling them that their emotions don't matter, what they want doesn't matter, that their body and their choices aren't their own. But society doesn't really *get* that this is the reason rape is bad, because we already tell people that their feelings and choices don't matter and they don't have the right to say no, in a thousand little ways. That part seems normal; that's just the way the world works. Ugh.

Anyway here are a bunch of links you should read about #BrockTurner:

Judge goes easy on college rapist to avoid 'severe impact on him.' So, yeah.

Here Is The Powerful Letter The Stanford Victim Read Aloud To Her Attacker. Oh my god this is hard to read. But powerful. People need to read this.

‘A steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action’: Dad defends Stanford sex offender. So his father is also a terrible person.

Outrage over 6-month sentence for Brock Turner in Stanford rape case

Joe Biden Writes An Open Letter To Stanford Survivor

Brock Turner's Sentence Has Already Been Shortened by 2 Months

Missing Mugshot? Brock Turner's Stanford Yearbook Pic In Lieu Of Booking Photo Causes Outrage

Stanford Rapist Brock Turner Has Been Banned from USA Swimming For Life

Why the Stanford attacker's smiling photo is far more telling than any mugshot

Wealthy Teen Nearly Experiences Consequence (I was surprised to see that this article was from 2008, because it's pretty much ABOUT THIS SITUATION EXACTLY)

Brock Turner case fallout: Prospective jurors refuse to serve under judge

Despite all the outrage over bathrooms, America still doesn’t care about sexual assault

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