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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Used By God

An inspirational-looking image with the text "How to be used by God in great ways" and some trees. I found this image on a Christian devotional site that, without a trace of irony, gives us advice on how to be used by God.
I used to believe that I belonged to God. I lived my life that way- striving to put God first, working toward what [I believed] God wanted without thinking about what I wanted, praying and worshiping with an obsessive love.

In this post, I will explain why "I belong to God" is an incredibly harmful ideology. First I'll talk about it in a general sense, and then as it relates to sex and purity.

What does it mean if "I belong to God"? It means I am a tool that God can use to do God's work in the world. It's very common for Christians to say "I want God to use me!" My own goals and desires are not important. All that matters is what God can do with me to advance God's purposes.

In church I learned "Jesus first, others second, yourself third." I believed that my own happiness wasn't important in and of itself; instead, my happiness would be a byproduct of doing what was truly important: serving God and serving people. It would be wrong for me to put a lot of energy into pursuing something solely because I wanted it and it benefitted me. No, I had to do what God wanted instead. (But Christians assured me that the only way to truly be happy is to be in complete submission to God. If I pursued my own goals, it wouldn't make me happy anyway.)

Sometimes I heard Christians teach that we need to rest and have fun, we shouldn't wear ourselves out working so hard for God. But here's the thing: this resting and fun was seen as a means to an end, as a way to maintain the tools God used so that they could function efficiently in doing God's work. We didn't tell each other to spend time relaxing because we believed relaxing was a good thing by itself; no, we need to rest sometimes so that we can serve God better.

I prayed about big decisions. Of course I did; how can I make a big, life-changing decision by myself? I belong to God, I need to do what God wants. Decisions about jobs, dating, whether or not to move to China- of course I prayed about those things, trying to figure out what "God's will" was for me. I believed that "God has a plan" and that if I couldn't hear God and make the decision that I was supposed to, then I would be off of the plan and totally screwed. I worried about it. I wished that God could just take over my brain and control me; then I wouldn't have to worry about doing something wrong.

"I belong to God" means that I can't do what I want- I have to do what God wants. Combine that with evangelical teaching about how I'm inherently sinful, so disgustingly sinful, with a mind that's warped and perverted, and the result is the idea that I'm not capable of making my own decisions. I have to obey God, even when God's command seems like a bad idea. The bible "clearly" tells us that certain things are sinful and certain things are mandatory, and I must obey. I can't look at the real-world consequences of various actions and use that to evaluate whether those actions are good or bad- not if it's about something the bible commanded. Even if obeying God looks like a bad idea, God knows best and I have to trust that. I'm so sinful anyway, I'm not capable of honestly assessing things and making good choices.

And because I'm so sinful in my natural state, "I belong to God" means that God is changing me. God loves me too much to let me just be the way I am. It's that "hate the sin, love the sinner" kind of love, the love that says "you suck, but I will help you to not suck." In church, you hear people making metaphors about how we have to "get out of the way and let people just see Jesus" or how "we are a mirror that reflects God"- in other words, a Christian's goal is to be as invisible as possible, so that people only see Jesus when they look at me. My own identity is something that should be conquered and consumed by God. (But, they assured me, we're not giving up who we are; no, when we submit to God, God makes us even better versions of ourselves.)

"I belong to God." It means my own feelings don't matter. My goals and plans don't matter. I must do everything I can to advance God's goals. God is the potter, I am the clay. God is so big and powerful, God overtakes me and steamrolls my individuality, my desires, my choices, and replaces them with what God wants.

And for some of my readers, it's obvious why this belief system is so unhealthy. But for evangelical Christians, it's not. I really used to explicitly say things like "I want God to use me" and how I was submitting every part of my life to God, "not my will but yours be done", etc, and Christians would just nod along or tell me what a great example of faith I was- it was so normal to hear that kind of language.

Okay, so, why is it harmful to believe "I belong to God"? Because it causes so much psychological damage when you internalize the message that your own emotions and desires don't matter, that you're not allowed to be an independent person, you're too sinful to make your own choices. Mental health is a real thing. Our emotions matter.

And I believed that by myself, I was worthless, that I only had value because "I belong to God"- God gives me value. So when I started to realize that version of God was abusive, and started distancing myself from him, of course I believed I was crap. I no longer obeyed God, I no longer submitted to him, and so I was back in my natural state, apart from God... which meant I was just worthless trash. You think I'm exaggerating? Go to any evangelical church and you will hear people sing worship songs about how we are so broken and empty without God. Literally, explicitly stating that we are nothing without God. I'm serious. "Broken." "Empty." "Nothing." Those words exactly.

And here's another problem: When you spend so much time stomping down your emotions because you believe they're just a distraction from following God, you end up out of touch with your own desires. You don't even know what you want. Trying to make a decision, stuck on "what's the right answer?" when really there are many valid options and your preference should be the determining factor.

Also, when you're taught that you don't know what's best for you and you always have to "obey God" instead of figuring out for yourself what to do in a given situation, it's really easy for people to take advantage of you. You buy into whatever your pastor says- you have to, you're too sinful to try to figure it out on your own. (Christians tell you that women aren't as able to be leaders as men are- of course it makes no sense, but we have to obey it anyway, because God said. That's what faith is, right?) And you're not supposed to care about your own emotions, so you're not even aware of the red flags, of people manipulating you. Yeah, maybe it doesn't feel right, but who cares, you're too sinful to know what's right anyway. You're not supposed to stand up for yourself- remember, "Jesus first, others second, yourself third." When you believe you're only a tool to be used by God, it's easy to become a tool used by manipulative people.

And when you add in the ideology about "sexual purity," it gets even worse.

So the idea here is that my body belongs to God- I do not belong to me- and therefore I shouldn't have sex if I'm not married. Uhh... wait, why not? Oh, you see, because my body is so valuable, and therfore I shouldn't have sex. Wait, what? How does that follow? God thinks your body is valuable, and therefore you shouldn't have sex? There's no logical connection between those two things. It's like saying "this food I bought is really expensive, therefore I won't eat it" or "your car is expensive, therefore you shouldn't drive it." Yes, if something is valuable, then it makes sense to take extra steps to protect it from being damaged. But banning all unmarried sex doesn't really do that. Consensual sex, where people respect each other, and use proper protection, doesn't damage anyone. It doesn't make anyone's body less valuable.

Oh, wait. I figured it out. It's not your body that God values. It's your virginity. It's your lack of experience. When people say "don't have sex because your body is so valuable" that's bullshit. What they mean is "don't have sex because your body is so valuable if you are a virgin, and your body is worthless if you have had sex." Or rather, when they bring "you belong to God" into it, they mean "God thinks you are really valuable and worth protecting if you are a virgin, and God thinks you are worth much less if you have had sex."

Yeah, that's not a God who's worthy of worship.

Really, though, if we belong to God, then God doesn't need to give us a good reason for the rules God puts on us. Think about it this way: if you own something, then you can do whatever you want to it. You don't have to explain why or get anyone's permission- it's your choice. So in the same way, if God owns a person, then God can impose whatever arbitrary rules God wants. Christians always say God loves us and therefore God's rules are what's best for us- and remember, we're so sinful, we are completely incapable of making decisions for ourselves. We just have to trust that God's rules are good, even if they don't seem good. (Note: actually, when I say "God's rules" what I actually mean is "the rules that the church told me are 'God's rules.'")

In other words, I believed I belonged to God, and God wanted me to not have sex, or any romantic experience at all, really, and this was really really important to God, and I didn't have the right to do even the tiniest things- like daydream about a guy I liked- because God forbids it. Even though I thought daydreaming was fun and harmless, it wasn't my decision to make. God takes it very seriously. It's not the kind of thing where I can weigh the risks and the benefits and decide if I think it's a good idea- nope. As I said, I believed I'm not qualified to make decisions, and I don't even have the right to make them. I don't belong to me.

And it gets worse.

[content note: we're going to talk about rape now]

According to the ideology of "I belong to God," my body is most valuable if I have no sexual experience. I don't have the right to make choices about this. If my body did experience sexual acts, that would damage God's property. It would be a crime against God.

It doesn't matter if the sex was consensual or not. God didn't consent to it.

In this ideology, rape is when God's property is damaged (by sex outside of marriage) but the inhabitant of that body didn't have a choice- they were unable to stop it, so they are not at fault. Still damaged, of course, but they're not at fault. Consensual sex is when the inhabitant of the body conspires with another person to damage God's property. In a way, having consensual sex is worse than being raped, because if you're raped, at least it's not your fault. (Yeah, apparently consensual sex damages people, but "I want God to use me" is totally healthy. Right.)

In other words, rape and consensual sex both damage God's property. The only difference is whether or not the property was in on it.

In this ideology, it totally makes sense to interrogate rape victims. By reporting a rape, a person is saying two things: 1) something belonging to God has been horribly damaged, and 2) but they didn't do it. Sounds a little suspicious, right? It's really not their fault at all? They had the responsibility to protect something belonging to God, and they failed. Perhaps they chose to go to some place that was unsafe, or be with people who were unsafe, or maybe they drank alcohol, or maybe someone pressured them over and over until they finally said yes. Hmm. Sounds like they were really reckless with God's valuable property.

It's not a crime against the victim. It's a crime against God, and the victim is only innocent if there was literally nothing they could have done to stop it, no precaution they could have taken to avoid it.

Feminists define rape in a completely different way. We say "person A raped person B" if person A did sexual things to person B without getting confirmation from person B that person B wanted it. In this view, all the of the focus is on person A's actions. It doesn't make sense to ask "could person B have stopped it?" because it's not about that at all. It's about "did person A get B's consent? did person A coerce them? did person A know they didn't want it but kept badgering them until they said yes?" But this definition only makes sense if rape is seen as primarily a crime against person B, and if it would have been perfectly fine for person B to have consensual sex if they wanted. This is incompatible with "you belong to God."

If rape is seen as a crime against a person, we respond by giving them whatever help and support they need. If rape is seen as a crime against God, we respond by asking the victim why they didn't protect God's property better.

If rape is bad because "you belong to God", then God doesn't have compassion for rape victims. Instead, God's very very disappointed in them. They failed to protect the valuable property God entrusted to them. They failed God.

This is what "you belong to God" is all about. You can't make your own choices. You can't care about your own emotions, your own needs, your own desires. Always put God first. God gives you rules, maybe those rules make sense, maybe not. Too bad, you have to obey them all anyway, you don't have a choice. Also, God only values unmarried people if they are virgins. If sex happened to you somehow, you better be able to prove every single part of it and every single action leading up to it was totally non-consensual, or else you're in trouble for damaging God's property.

I've heard so many Christians say "I want to be used by God." And now I see, yes, we were used by God.

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