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Monday, January 30, 2017

Christianity Taught Me I Don't Matter

A potter forms a clay pot. Image source.
Here's a post from John Piper: What Does It Mean That God Will Glorify Me? And How? This post is not unique, there is nothing in it that shocks me, it's pretty standard Piper ideology. But I'm blogging about it here because there are people- good evangelical Christians- who don't believe me when I say the church taught me I don't matter and that I'm still struggling with the damage that teaching has done to me, that it was one of the main causes of my depression a few years ago.

Here are the receipts.

In his post, Piper is answering a question from a reader about a bible verse where Jesus instructs people to seek glory from God. The reader asks, "How do we balance this with desiring to glorify him? What is the difference (and the link) between me glorifying God and God glorifying me?"

To answer this question, Piper explains that people glorify God in a completely different way than God glorifies people. People glorifying God is about "making God look like what he really is"; God glorifying people is about "making us into what we are definitely not; namely, beautiful and glorious in his image." So from the very first sentence of his answer, Piper says that people are NOT "beautiful and glorious," that God glorifies us by changing us to be more like him (Piper's god is male), by covering up our true identity, whereas we glorify God by clearly showcasing God's true, glorious nature.

This is what I was taught in church. I am naturally, intrinsically awful and worthless. Don't imagine that I'm reading something into Piper's post that isn't there; later in the post, he says, "We aren’t intrinsically beautiful. We are intrinsically abhorrent in our rebellion against God." The only way I can stop being so "abhorrent" is by believing in Jesus, who will then change me to make me more like him. I can't just be myself; no, I need Jesus to cover up my true nature, to make me into something different. To hide who I really am- that's the only way I can be valuable and beautiful. I often heard Christians say we want people to "look at us and just see Jesus." We reflect Jesus. And Piper talks about that same idea in his post, using the words "being conformed to the image of Christ."

(Yes, I have heard Christians claim that this isn't about losing your identity and becoming a mindless drone; instead, God enriches your own natural personality and abilities when you submit your life to God, and this is the only way you can really, truly be the unique person that you are. Yeah okay, this doesn't help, it still teaches that you suck without God.)

Look at this bit:
No one can love God and not want to be conformed to the image of God. But we will always want our glory to be derivative. We will always want our glory to be reflective, not original: reflective of the original.
Reflective, not original. He's saying there's nothing in your intrinsic nature that's good or glorious; the best you can do is reflect God. Also, wait a second, I love God but don't "want to be conformed to the image of God"- at least in the sense that I understood that term as an evangelical. I belong to me and I make my own choices. I don't believe in "I surrender all" or anything along those lines.

And what's even more horrifying is the purpose of all this "being conformed to the image of Christ." See, it's not about you. According to Piper, you are a tool that God uses to display his glory. You don't matter in and of yourself; you are a means to an end. Don't believe me? Here are some quotes from his post:
"Jonathan Edwards makes a very big deal out of the point of the universe being the creation and preparation of a bride for his Son."

"He makes us beautiful and, therefore, our beauty reflects his primary power and grace and beauty as the Creator of our beauty."

"God does not intend for his Son to have an ugly bride."
Let's take a minute and unpack that last one: "God does not intend for his Son to have an ugly bride." (The church is sometimes referred to as "the bride of Christ.") First of all, note the misogny- there's an unspoken assumption that it's not okay for a bride to be "ugly," that women John Piper considers "ugly" aren't worthy of marriage, that their husbands deserve better. I know that terms like "beautiful" and "ugly" are being used here metaphorically to represent goodness or something, but the way he phrases this one sentence- "God does not intend for his Son to have an ugly bride"- is meant to convince readers by appealing to their sense of "oh wouldn't it be just awful for a man if his bride was ugly."

Second, that sentence makes it all about God and his Son, with the bride as nothing more than something for the Son to "have." What she wants doesn't matter- God is only interested in making her good enough for his Son. And that's the Christianity I was taught: I don't matter, I'm only good for whatever Jesus wants to use me for.

This is what they taught me: It's all about God. By myself, I'm worthless, I'm so sinful God is too horrified to even look at me. I need God to cover up who I really am and replace it with Jesus. And God does that to get glory for himself. To please himself. Yes I end up better off, satisfied in God and all that, but that's not the point. My happiness isn't important; it's just a byproduct of the real goal, which is glorifying God. I don't matter. I only have value if God takes over my life and changes me so I'm more like Jesus.

"It's all about God" was the entire foundation of the ideology I used to believe. I believed it was wrong to care about my own needs or pursue my own happiness; that would be "selfish" and wrong. (That's why someone wrote to ask Piper about this in the first place- they read a bible verse where Jesus tells people to seek glory for themselves, and were immediately confused as this contradicts everything they had been taught about "selfishness.") I was supposed to "put God first" all the time, and then God would take care of my needs. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength," and all that. Always, everything, totally devoted to him. By myself I don't matter, I'm just a tool whose purpose is to glorify God. My entire life is just a means to an end.

You can see this anti-human ideology in one post after another on John Piper's website. I used to believe every bit of this. I lived it every day. And I still haven't recovered.

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Related: "The Authority of Scripture" is One Hell of a Drug

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Happy Year of the Chicken!

The number 2017 styled to look like a chicken. Image text: "Chinese New Year, The Year of Chicken." Image source.
Last night was the big Chinese New Year celebration, and today is the first day of the new year. This is the biggest holiday in China. 2017 is 鸡年 (jī nián), the Year of the Chicken. For some reason, in all the English news stories I've seen about it, they translate it as "Year of the Rooster," which is SEXIST AS HELL. That translation erases half the 鸡 (jī) population. #YesAllHens and all that.

Back in 2014 I wrote a post that gave an overview of Chinese New Year traditions, so in this post I'll just talk about a few things unique to this year. First of all, Chinese culture loves puns, so obviously we need to talk about what chicken-related puns are being made during this year's celebration. 鸡 (jī), which means "chicken", sounds like 吉 (jí) which means "lucky", so that's pretty much the basis of this year's puns. So if you happen to meet someone who speaks Mandarin, you can tell them "鸡年大吉  [jī nián dà jí]" ("Wishing you a very lucky Year of the Chicken"). (Hendrix told me another one, "鸡年大吉吧 [jī nián dà jí ba]" which, again, means "wishing you a very lucky Year of the Chicken", but also sort of sounds like "wishing you a big cock in the Year of the Chicken." This is more of a joke that people are sharing on social media, not something you would actually say to someone...)

Last night, we all watched "春晚 [chūnwǎn]" which is the Chinese equivalent of "New Year's Rockin' Eve." (If you're interested, you can go watch the whole thing on the 春晚 youtube channel. It's an amazing showcase of so many diverse cultures within China.) I've picked out a few of the performances I really liked, to show to you all:

I like this one, because have you ever seen so many people dressed as dancing chickens?



Here's a bunch of dancers playing with fire:



Here's more fire:



This one is a good example of just the sheer amount of stuff going on in so many of these performances. There's dancers- several different groups of dancers, with incredibly colorful costumes, dancers hanging from the ceiling, dancers raising a red sheet up and down like water. So much stuff going on.



Here's one from 哈尔滨 Harbin, a city which is famous for building a bunch of buildings entirely out of ice annually:



A second one from Harbin. All the ice dancers seem to  be straight out of a Tron movie? And there is a MIND-BLOWING part where some of them are skating with skates that are on stilts maybe 1-2 feet tall.



This one shows a whole bunch of Chinese New Year traditions, but mostly it's worth watching for the BABY PANDAS:



Here's Jackie Chan singing, along with a bunch of ... extras from an 80's workout video?



Here's two gymnasts competing to see who can bend over completely backwards and pick up the most roses in one minute:



Happy Year of the Chicken, everyone!

Friday, January 27, 2017

You know that whole "white dress means virginity"? Yeah, not actually a real thing.

A bride in a white wedding dress. (If you search "wedding dress" on google images, all the results are white women. What's with that?) Image source.
Good news everyone! When I was in the US a few weeks ago, I bought a wedding dress. It is TOTALLY AWESOME and I'm really excited about it. (Hendrix and I are getting married this summer.)

And yes, it's white. Let's talk about that.

I grew up in purity culture. The most important thing was you HAVE to be a virgin on your wedding day. Then you wear a white dress. (If you're a woman, that is. For men, the rules are exactly the same in theory, but in practice women's value is tied to their "purity" much more than it is for men.) There was so much talk about how that's what the white dress is supposed to mean. And how nowadays brides wear white even though most of them aren't virgins, and that's BAD, their dress is a LIE, and they don't value marriage. There's a well-known purity culture book called "And the Bride Wore White"- because that's the entire goal of purity culture; that's how success is measured. If you haven't had sex, then you get to wear white on your wedding day, and you get to wear it with confidence, as a sign of accomplishment, as your reward for working so hard to be "pure." Your white dress actually means something, unlike those other brides who wear white dresses even though they obviously don't value marriage or themselves, because they had sex.

And then on the other end we have the feminist brides who adamently oppose the entire concept of "white dress means virginity." The whole thing is based in patriarchy, with the pure white color indicating that the woman (and her virginity) is a high-quality piece of property being passed from one man to another. Feminist brides getting on internet forums and asking, "Is it okay to wear white, as a feminist?" They like the look of a white wedding dress, but they're worried about participating in a tradition which has such incredibly misogynist roots. (And my opinion on that is, it's your wedding, wear whatever you want. Maybe the white dress meant that in the past, but not anymore. None of your wedding guests are going to be sitting there thinking, "Her father is handing off a high-quality piece of property to the groom.")

I also see the idea of "white dress means virginity" referenced in TV shows and movies occasionally. For example, there was an episode of "Friends" where Ross's monkey was humping everything. Rachel, who is incredibly annoyed with this monkey, says, "I have a Barbie who's not going to be able to wear white at her wedding now." (This joke is pretty horrifying if you think about it- I'm guessing the Barbie did not consent, and wow that's messed-up, to imagine that somebody's choices about their wedding clothes should be restricted because of something that was done to them in the past without their consent.) The idea of "wearing white at her wedding" is referenced in TV shows and other media as a euphemistic or joking way to say someone has had sex.

So the concept of "white dress means virginity" is very well-known in our society- either as a goal to strive for, or a sexist tradition to avoid, or an indirect way to joke about someone's sexual experience. But when I actually went and bought a wedding dress, nobody said a single word about it.

I was totally shocked. I went through the whole entire process- looking at photos online, picking styles I liked, going to a bunch of stores with my mom and sisters to try on dresses, narrowing the choices down as I got a better idea of what I liked, going to stores again to try on more dresses, and finally choosing one- and at NO POINT did anyone say anything about "white dress means virginity."

(And, not that it's anyone's business, but, I have had sex.)

I half-expected that there would be a salesperson at one of the stores, talking to me about colors, who would say, "Some women choose to wear white to show their virginity, I don't know what your opinions are about that, but it could be something to think about." That NEVER HAPPENED. And OF COURSE it never happened, because wow that would be an incredibly inappropriate thing for a salesperson to say to a customer. But when you grow up in purity culture, that's what the white dress means- it means you're announcing your sex life (or lack thereof) to the entire world. If you grow up in purity culture, it doesn't seem too far-fetched to imagine that a salesperson at a wedding dress store might ask about your virginity. But no, they did not. Of course they did not.

And at no point in the process did a Christian say to me, "Don't you think maybe you shouldn't wear white, because... you know..." (And I would like to point out how MESSED-UP it is that they would assume I've had sex, just because I live with my fiance. I will definitely be writing a post about that someday.) Actually, I avoid Christian culture as much as possible- maybe if I had more Christian acquaintances and I went to church, somebody might have said something like that. I don't know. But still, I'm astonished that I bought this amazing white dress and throughout the entire process of finding and buying it, not a single person said anything to me about "white dress means virginity."

Let me tell you what they did say, at the wedding dress stores. As it turns out, all the dresses at the store are white- or rather, an untrained layperson would call them white. Actually in the wedding dress industry, there are a whole bunch of different shades, like "ivory" and "champagne"- and there's one they call "white" which specifically refers to the brightest shade of white. (For the purposes of this post, I will use the term "white" to mean all the slightly-different shades that an untrained layperson would call "white", and the term "white white" to mean the brightest white, which salespeople at wedding dress stores refer to as "white.")

Here is a summary of all the things the wedding dress salespeople said about dress color:
  • They asked what color I wanted, but they expected that my answer would be one of the shades of white, not like, blue or something.
  • They said some women don't like to wear white white because it doesn't look good with their skin tone.
  • I tried on an ivory dress, and the salesperson said that dress can also be ordered in white white, and she's seen it and it looks really good. Some of the dresses don't look as good if you order them in a different shade of white, so that's something to be aware of when you're trying them on and making a decision about color.
  • I said I wanted white white, so before having me try a dress on, the salesperson checked to make sure that particular dress was available to be ordered in white white.
And that's it. I can't remember anything else that was said about color. The only recommendation that was given about choosing a color was the skin tone thing. And when I told them I wanted white white, they never questioned it; they took it very seriously and made sure to check that the dresses they picked for me to try on could be ordered in white white.

And now I have my dress. And nobody said a word about "white dress means virginity." And have I mentioned how totally shocked I am?

Maybe the only people who care about "white dress means virginity" are the ones who are way into purity culture and see it as the ultimate goal, the reward, the guarantee of a good, godly marriage, and the ones who are way into feminism and see it as a very very shady symbol of patriarchy. But for everyone else- particularly those of us who are buying and selling wedding dresses in the real world- "white dress means virginity" just doesn't matter and isn't true at all.

Wow. This whole wedding thing is so different from how purity culture said it would be.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Blogaround

Here are some facts about climate change the president doesn't want you to read. Image source.
1. Go and learn what this means — the bad-faith ‘biblical’ defense of injustice (part 4) (posted January 12) "Reading the Bible four times over without ever noticing the major theme of justice is like reading through The Lord of the Rings four times over and somehow not noticing any of the bits about hobbits and elves. But that’s what happened to me."

Go and learn what this means (part 5) (posted January 23) "Those are the meanings we try to force into their mouths when we try to tame these passages into some piously moralistic lesson about all our good works being filthy rags. Yesbutofcourse, we say, our prayers and offerings and worship might be somewhat less than wonderful to God if we don’t have the proper attitude — the proper level of passionate sincerity and sincere passion. We pretend the prophets were worried about our feelings — about whether or not we really, really, really mean it when we do our religion things."

2. Sunday favorites (posted January 15) "For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.'"

3. Interior Dept. Ordered to Stop Tweeting: Report (posted January 21) "The Interior Department has been banned indefinitely from using its official Twitter accounts after sharing two tweets Friday that appeared unflattering and critical of the Trump administration, according to reports."

4. Overhead Shots Show Massive Women’s March Crowds in Cities Across America (posted January 21)

5. The Jehovah’s Witnesses Want to Make Sure Kids Don’t Use Kiss Emojis When They Text (posted January 22) The video is hilarious.

6. Jessica Ladd: The reporting system that sexual assault survivors want (content note: rape)

7. Trump Administration Removes LGBTQ Content From Federal Websites (posted January 24) Well that's creepy.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Tickling, Consent, and The Way It Works

A woman tickling a little girl. Image source.
I don’t like being tickled. I’ve never liked being tickled. I seem to recall, as a little kid, being okay with playing tickling games with my parents and sisters, but nobody else. But the problem is, if you’re a little kid, then everybody is allowed to tickle you. Well, I mean, not total strangers. Everybody your parents see as friendly is allowed to tickle you. Relatives, friends of your parents, other kids. You exist in a constant state of consent for being tickled. That’s The Way It Works.

One time, I met a little girl whose mother said we weren’t allowed to tickle her because “she really doesn’t like it.” I was very confused- I didn’t like being tickled either, but I never knew there was an option to be exempt from it. I figured “she really doesn’t like it” meant she hated it much more than I did, that her discomfort was high enough that it met some kind of threshold that allowed her to explicitly tell people it wasn’t okay. Surely my discomfort did not meet that threshold, because nobody ever gave me that option.

I remember another time, when one of my aunts played one of those rhyming, hand-gesture games with me. The last 2 lines were “break the pickle / tickle tickle.” For “break the pickle”, she held her hands so that fingers from each hand were touching at the tips, horizontally as if it was a pickle, I guess. When I “broke the pickle” by using my hand to separate her fingers, she said “tickle tickle!” and tickled me. See, that’s How It Works. I had been tricked into consenting to being tickled. I had broken the pickle, so it was my fault.

And there are lots of those little hand-clapping games that kids play, which end by tricking the other person into something. Sometimes it’s tickling, sometimes it’s the declaration that whatever you said or did during the game “means” that you have a crush on so-and-so. That kind of thing. It’s funny because you trick the other kid into something they don’t want to do. And it’s their own fault because they played along with the game.

(Later I probably found another kid and did the "break the pickle" thing to them. Becaue that's The Way It Works. Sometimes you're the one who gets picked on, but sometimes- maybe when you're bigger and stronger and more savvy about these hand-clapping games- you get to be the one who picks on other people.)

I guess for a lot of people, these things are just silly games. Just a joke. They’re okay with being tickled. That’s fine; there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is, there’s not really any socially-approved way to communicate that you’re not okay with it. If you say “no, stop”, well that’s part of the game. People always say that, and they keep getting tickled anyway. After all, you’re laughing. Clearly you like it.

I’m in my twenties now, so I don’t have friendly friends-of-the-family tickling me anymore. But occasionally, somebody my age will ask, “Are you ticklish?” And I always say no and do my best poker face. It’s a lie. I am ticklish. I am SO ticklish. But if I say yes, they’ll tickle me. If I say “yes but I don’t like to be tickled” they’ll probably tickle me anyway. The best strategy is to say no and hope they don’t try to verify it themselves. I lie, and I do not feel one bit bad about that.

Because come on, it’s just a game. It’s not a big deal. It’s not a big deal that they purposely did something to me that I literally JUST SAID I did not want. My boundary was not reasonable, says society, so they didn’t have to respect it. That’s The Way It Works.

Back in college, because of purity culture, I was not okay with any kind of physical contact with men- with the exception of a handshake in a professional context. But sometimes, friends who were guys would give me a hug, or poke me in a playful way, and I would put on my DEAD SERIOUS face and tell them no, that’s not okay. DEAD SERIOUS. As if I was incredibly angry about it. Bring the friendly social atmosphere to a halt and make it awkward and say hey, DON’T DO THAT.

I actually wasn’t angry. It actually wasn’t that much of a big deal, if they just did it once because they didn’t know I didn’t like it. But if I just told them politely, with a smile, they wouldn’t get the message. Because it’s totally fine to poke your friends in a playful way, just for fun, it’s just a game, and it’s funny when they don’t like it. I mean, unless they REALLY don’t like it, then it’s not okay. I had to present my objections in a way that proved I “really” didn’t like it, that I met the threshold where I would be allowed to actually set boundaries about what people can or cannot do to my body. That’s The Way It Works.

Teasing works in a similar way. In my high school French class, there was one student, let’s call him Jake, a boy with long hair. And our teacher thought his hair looked messy and he should cut it. Almost every class, the teacher would make comments- sometimes in English, sometimes in French- about how Jake needs to cut his hair. When we got to the unit that actually included French vocabulary about haircuts, the teacher called on Jake to answer every single question about hair.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s bullying. At the time, I thought it was okay because the teacher would never say anything mean to me- I was one of his favorite students. I told myself he was only picking on Jake because he knew Jake wasn’t “really” bothered by it, that he knew Jake saw it as just a joke and it was all good. Now I don’t think that’s true. That was bullying, and it was really a bad thing.

Because yes, that’s The Way It Works. People tease each other and it’s just a joke, so it’s okay. Yeah, I know for some people, they do think it’s funny when their friends tease them. They’re okay with it. That’s fine, that’s their decision. But the problem is, what if it’s not fine? Why is it the responsibility of the person being teased to clearly communicate that it’s not okay, rather than the teaser’s responsibility to check if it’s okay or not?

That’s what we were taught to do: if another kid is being mean to you, you should confront them and say “I don’t like it when you do xyz, it’s mean and you should stop.” (If that doesn’t work, that’s when you get adults involved and get them in trouble.) Because maybe they don’t realize they’re being mean. Because we exist in a constant state of consent for friendly teasing, and it’s up to us to put a stop to it if we don’t like it.

(And I'm guilty of this too. There have been situations where I've teased someone over and over because I thought it was funny, and they didn't think it was funny but I determined that they were wrong, it totally was funny and therefore I didn't need to respect their boundaries. Yeah that was bad. That's not okay.)

But if we decide to teach kids “if you tease or make jokes about someone, you need to ask them if it’s okay” that’s still not good enough. Because even if the person being teased doesn’t think it’s okay, there’s social pressure for them to say it’s fine, or else they look like they are No Fun. Or if they say it’s fine, but then later they change their mind, well that’s not allowed either. You said it was okay before, which invalidates you current statement that it’s not okay.

It needs to go farther than that: we need to explicitly teach that everyone is allowed to make rules about their own body and about “jokes” made at their expense. It’s your right, and other people MUST respect it. Don’t let them say you are “no fun.” They’re the ones who don’t respect you; they’re the ones who should feel bad.

And no, there cannot be any kind of “threshold” for what’s a “big enough deal” that you’re allowed to tell people to stop. If you don’t like it, then you don’t like it- that’s enough of a reason. You’re not required to prove your case in front of a group of people and wait for them to judge if you have a valid case for not letting people touch you. (Note: I’m excluding situations where it’s necessary to touch someone for practical reasons, for example, a parent holding a child to keep them safe.)

Because this whole thing about tickling and teasing is an example of rape culture. Your body is public property- if you’re a little kid, it’s totally okay for any of your parents’ friends to come and tickle you. Your feelings don’t matter- unless, of course, you can prove that you “really” don’t like it, but that’s hard to do, because doesn’t everyone say “no, stop” through their laughter as they’re being tickled? Of course your “no, stop” isn’t something that should be taken seriously- it’s funny to do things to people they don’t like. And besides, you’re laughing. Obviously the tickler is a better judge of what you want than you are. That's The Way It Works.

From a young age, we internalize the message that our consent doesn’t matter. That we’re only allowed to tell someone “stop” if we have a “good reason.” And even then, we might be in the wrong because we are “no fun.” We’re taught that others have the right to judge if our boundaries are justified or not, and they don’t have to respect those boundaries if we don’t have a “good reason,” or if it’s really funny when they violate them. Come on, it’s just a joke.

It’s funny to push someone into a pool. Unless they have a cell phone in their pocket and the water ruins their phone. Then it’s not funny, it’s just mean. That’s the standard that society has set, that’s the boundary between “funny” and “mean” on the issue of pushing someone into a pool. It doesn’t matter how the person who was pushed feels. Society has determined that what happened to you was totally funny. We don't care how you feel about it. It was funny, so it was totally okay for them to do that to you. And that’s The Way It Works.

Rape culture. The general public gets to decide what is and isn’t okay to do to your body. Wow, that’s messed up. We need to teach consent instead. We need to create a consent culture, where people have the right to set boundaries about their own bodies and they don’t have to justify those boundaries to anyone.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Christianity of GCN Conference

Serving communion at GCN Conference. Image source.
I went to the Gay Christian Network conference because I really want to be in a Christian environment that's not awful for me. I miss going to church, but I don't go because I can't find any kind of church or Christian group that's not awful for my mental health.

I was hoping the Christianity of GCN conference would be the Christianity that I follow. It wasn't. But that's all right- it never tried to force me into believing anything, and there were parts that were really really good, parts that were so exactly what I needed.

First of all, the message of the entire conference, proclaimed over and over again by every speaker, was this: You are loved. God loves you. You are a beloved child of God. Maybe in the past somebody told you you can't have a relationship with God, or you can't be a worship leader or pastor, or you need to change in order for God to accept you- well they're wrong. You are loved and accepted and able to serve in the name of God exactly as you are.

LGBTQ Christians very commonly experience rejection from the church; they are excluded either directly or indirectly. So over and over, GCN conference preached a message of inclusion. At the church-like service on Sunday morning, the choir sang "Draw the Circle Wide" as we all had communion, and wow, that was powerful.
Draw the circle wide
Draw it wider still
Let this be our song
No one stands alone
Standing side by side
Draw the circle, draw the circle wide
Wow. So bizarre to me to hear a worship song with that kind of theme. (Maybe "worship song" isn't even the right term for it.) Over and over, all the speakers at the conference preached inclusion. Everyone is loved. Everyone is worthy. They didn't tell us we had to believe or do certain things in response to God's love. There was no altar call. There was no "God loves you unconditionally, therefore you need to make a decision to commit your life to him." The only thing we were commanded to do was continue to include others and spread the love.

So I'm kind of confused about this. I'm ex-evangelical; the Christianity I learned was always about trying to get people to believe certain things or obey God in specific ways. The pastors I knew would say that GCN's general message about God's love was good and true, but that it was only half of the story- and that when you leave off the other half, you're just preaching some deceptive feel-good nonsense which doesn't actually do any good. "The other half" being the things people are required to believe or do, otherwise their life will suck and/or they go to hell. If you don't warn people and let them know what the requirements are, maybe you're actually doing more harm than good- you're giving them a false sense of security. That's what I was taught; I'm not sure what to make of this "God loves you unconditionally" stuff when it's not followed by "and therefore it's totally reasonable for God to ask you to do the following things."

There are two possibilities:
  1. This message of love and inclusion really is the message that GCN wants us to hear
  2. GCN believes the "God loves you" stuff is only half of it, that the "here are God's requirements" part is also essential, but that many LGBTQ Christians already know it or are not in a place right now where they'll be receptive to it. Now is not the time- if we try to preach that now, it might push them away. Right now we just give them the first half, hopefully that will convince them to stick around with the church and then somebody else will tell them the second half.
I find possibility #2 to be incredibly dishonest, sort of a bait-and-switch thing. I should know, I did so much evangelism back when I was "on fire for Jesus," I know all about how to sugarcoat the idea of hell and condemnation and dress it up like it's good news.

So... could it be #1? Could it really be? I'm having trouble even comprehending that- a form of Christianity whose main message is that God loves you, a form of Christianity which isn't at all interested in forcing people to believe certain things. Wow, could that really exist? That's ... wow. I want a Christianity like that. [Note: It's possible that some of GCN's leaders and the speakers at the conference believe possibility #1 and others believe #2.]

On that note, I'd like to tell you about something that Bishop Gene Robinson said. He was one of the speakers at the conference, and was the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal church. I remember when he was in the news back in 2003, back when I was a good anti-LGBT evangelical. At the conference 2 weeks ago, there was so much applause for him; he is an important role model for queer Christians who want to become pastors. To me, he had been just a symbol in the culture war, a sign of how the church is "abandoning the bible"... I had never thought about what it would be like to be told you can never be a leader in the church because you're gay, and then to see someone who proved that wrong, how powerful that would be. Anti-LGBTQ Christians don't understand how deeply their "culture war" affects the actual lives of actual people.

Anyway I want to tell you one thing Bishop Robinson said. He was talking about how he had been asked to do a prayer at Obama's inauguration, and he agonized over the words to use to make the prayer inclusive to people of different religions. He finally decided to use the phrase "God of our many understandings." Later, he heard from Jewish and Muslim people who thanked him for saying it that way.

And I just about fell out of my chair.

Did I mention I grew up evangelical? I heard all about how isn't it terrible that people water down their language to make it "inclusive," how they don't proclaim the name of Jesus because someone's going to be "offended," making some weak, meaningless prayer that's so vague it hardly says anything. Isn't it so pathetic and wrong when so-called Christians care about being respectful to other religions? Come on! They need Jesus. Don't act like those false religions are just fine- no, what those people need is to get out of those lies and follow Jesus instead.

I'm stunned, just totally stunned. I've never heard a Christian leader say it's good to be respectful to people of other religions, that it's important that they not feel excluded during a prayer at a public event. I just ... wow. This is just totally unimaginable to me. I like it, sure, but I'm still shocked. Are there churches that regularly preach such things? What would that type of Christianity even look like? Like, I want to be part of it, but it's just so unimaginable that something like that could even exist.

(Bishop Robinson also did not use pronouns for God- he never said God was a "he." I don't remember any of the speakers on the main stage calling God "he." I like that too.)

The message of GCN conference was love and inclusion. And let me tell you, it's one thing to believe that in a theoretical sense, but it's a whole different experience to see hundreds to LGBTQ Christians and allies believing it and preaching it wholeheartedly. It was an amazing thing.

But at the same time, there was a lot of Christian-culture-type language I was really not comfortable with. People talked about "God's calling" or "God's plan" or "a relationship with God." The speakers on stage would talk about something that happened to them and say "that was God"; listening to the other conference attendees, I heard many anecdotes from the "isn't it funny how God works" genre. (For example, I met a gay man whose mother has never accepted him, but now she is old and depends on him to take care of her every day. On hearing this, someone made a comment about how such an ironic situation clearly must have been brought about by God.)

Yeah, that gets all the eye rolls from me. I don't believe God actively does things in our lives. You really think that this world, a world full of systemic injustice, is the result of God intervening over and over in every Christian's life? I don't want anything to do with a God like that.

Again and again, people talked about having a relationship with God, communicating with God, how God is doing this or that in their life. There was one conversation I was part of, where this woman was talking about her job and about the kind of company she wants to work for in the future, which is sort of in a different area than her job now, but she wants to work in that area because she'll be able to make a difference in the world. She used language about how it's totally "God's plan" that she does this in the future. And then she told us about how excited she is about how some high-up person in that industry just followed her on twitter. Wow! How exciting! She only had 9 followers before that! Clearly this is GOD WORKING! God is OPENING A DOOR!

Come on. It's just a twitter follower. It doesn't mean anything.

I'm not trying to mock. I'm sad because I used to live that way. I believed I was constantly in communication with God, and I looked for meaning in every little tiny thing that happened to me. Everything is a super-huge big deal, everything is a sign that "God is working." It's so stressful to live that way.

What happens when we make a big deal out of some little thing, when we go on and on about how it's God's plan, we thank and worship God because of it, and then nothing ever comes of it? Back in college I sent out an email to a big mailing list about a bible study I was starting, and somebody called me and said she wanted to come. And I worshiped. I took it as a sign that God was totally working, God was going to do great things in this new bible study, that I was a devoted follower of Jesus right there on the front lines, that God saw all my hard work and valued it. I emailed my evangelism friends to tell them the good news. And then that girl never actually came.

What do you do with that?

(Well, the only thing you really can do is decide- with absolutely no evidence- that even though she never came to the bible study, her reading my email and calling me on the phone was a big, important step in her spiritual life, and God used it for great things even though I will never personally see those results. Yeah okay.)

It was so much stress, living that way, looking for "God working" in every little thing, constantly speculating about the meaning behind the mundane things in my day-to-day life. And sometimes it required a bit of memory loss. You know how Christians say you should keep a prayer journal so you can look back on all the prayers God has answered? I've never done that. (I kept a journal, but never organized it like a "prayer journal.") But it wouldn't have been good. What would it be like, to read back through all the things I was so excited about, where I was so sure I saw God working, so overflowing with awe and worship that I would literally bow down on the floor and pray... what would it be like to read those things, maybe a year later, with the knowledge that they never amounted to anything? (Maybe the whole "prayer journal" concept is more for "look at all the things you were so worried about, and then they never happened and you've actually forgotten about them now" rather than "look at all the things you were so excited about, how you were totally sure God was going to do certain things in the future, and then they never happened and you've actually forgotten about them now.")

All this excitement over one twitter follower in the industry "God called" her to work in... I feel sad about that. I really do.

I didn't say anything to her. I don't go around telling people that God's not actually intervening in their lives or that their "relationship with God" is bad for them. If those beliefs make them feel better, then okay fine whatever. And actually, for LGBTQ people who have been told that they're not able to have a relationship with God, it can be really good and healing for them to say they do have one. For me though, it's the opposite- I was totally devoted, followed all the rules, people admired my "relationship with God." It controlled and consumed my whole life, drove me to squash down my whole identity, my needs, and my emotions. I'm so glad I'm out of that relationship. The whole concept is really unhealthy for me now, and kind of triggering.

There was another part in the conference, where I was having a conversation about the concept of "God's calling," because one of the speakers in a breakout session had said "your calling might change" and I have no idea what they mean by that- if God wants you to do something, how on earth could that change? God changes God's mind?

Anyway, I happened to be asking this question to another random attendee, who said maybe at first God calls you to something, and then later on, God gives you a more specific direction to go in. Or maybe God calls you to do something and then later calls you to do something different in order to THROW THE DEVIL OFF.

And I was like "... I don't really believe in that."

And she said, "You don't believe in spiritual warfare?"

And, wow it would take a long time for me to answer that question. (I covered it a little bit in this post.) But wow, THANK GOD I never believed that God might "call" me to do something that God wasn't planning on me actually doing, just because God wanted to confuse the devil. Like, CAN YOU IMAGINE? That adds a whole new layer of second-guessing "God's calling." Like how's this supposed to work, I'm going to start doing all this stuff in obedience to what God said, and then satan's gonna make a bunch of plans to combat it, and then suddenly God will be like "NOPE LET'S DO THIS DIFFERENT THING INSTEAD" and satan will be all "NO ALL MY PLANS HAVE BEEN FOILED"? Like, really? That sounds like it would inconvenience me way more than it would inconvenience satan.

I'm ... wow. Still can't get over how absurd that whole idea is.

Anyway, yeah, my point is, at the conference there was a lot of talk about "God's plan" and how God did this or that specific thing in someone's life. I'm not a fan of that kind of language. But it's important to point out that, when I mentioned to people that I don't believe in "having a relationship with God", nobody tried to convince me I was wrong. Instead they asked questions and sympathized with the way I've been hurt by evangelical Christianity.

The worship time was also an interesting experience for me. When we walked in to the big "auditorium" on that first night, the song "My Savior My God" was playing. Uh. Yeah. Okay, the song itself is fine, the lyrics are fine, I don't have anything bad to say about the song itself, but ... for me, that song has the feeling of "back in 2010 when I was on fire for God" and, just, ugh.

Then the worship time started, and after a few songs, the worship leader (Darren Calhoun) said something to the effect of "I know for some of you, these songs aren't good for you. That's okay. If you need to leave for a little bit, it's okay. You can do your self-care." And that was really really good. First of all, I don't think I've ever heard a church say it's okay if you don't want to participate in this or that part of the service. I've never heard a church acknowledge that some of the songs they use might have bad associations for some people, and it's fine for those people to leave because they know their own needs. And he used the term "self-care"! That's a word I learned from the feminist blog-o-sphere, a word that goes against the whole entire ideology I learned in the evangelical church. Self-care. No, instead the church taught me to sacrifice my own needs and desires. If there was a sermon about the need to rest and take care of ourselves, it was "you need to take care of yourself or else you won't be able to serve others", not "you matter and you deserve to have your needs met."

So wow. That was really good.

And during the worship songs, I didn't really know what to do. I don't pray, and I don't sing to God, and I'm not interested in trying. I felt like the music was kind of nice though, and I wished I could be part of it somehow. So I came up with the brilliant idea of singing some kind of "harmony" part higher or lower than the melody of the song. Yeah I basically know nothing about music, but I was in a choir in college, and we had different groups (sopranos, altos, tenors, etc) and usually one group would "have the melody" and then the other groups would be singing the same words except higher or lower in such a way that they all sounded good together. (There are probably actual terms use to describe this concept. Idk. I don't know anything about music, but if you ever want to learn matlab or something, talk to me.) Yeah. So, for these worship songs at GCN, sometimes I sang the same words but either higher or lower than the melody.

I did that so I would be concentrating on how the music sounded, instead of on the words or how I feel about the song itself. Or, in evangelical-speak, I was singing but "didn't really mean it" and therefore my "worship" doesn't count. Whatever. If I was just singing the normal way, those songs would have been unbearable.

Communion was really good. I don't go to church (and I don't feel bad about it), so I hadn't been able to do communion for a long time. I know that within Christianity there are lots of different interpretations on the meaning of communion; the one I grew up with was "this is about you feeling really really guilty for your sins and sad about Jesus' death." Currently, though, my view is more like "you have a physical body that needs food, and God cares about that- your physical needs are real needs that matter." (And also a bit of "if anybody tries to tell me I can't have communion because I'm 'not a real Christian', or that my interpretation is wrong, well **** you, I'm a Christian, I have a right to be here.")

Anyway, that was the first time in a long time that I've gotten the little bread and grape juice without thinking the person serving them to me would probably not accept me if they knew what I really believe. They always say "this is the body of Christ, broken for you," but do they actually mean it's for me, or for the good-Christian-with-all-the-correct-evangelical-beliefs that they assume I am? But at GCN, I really believed they accepted me. And I may have cried a little bit. I also may have cried during the song "For Those Tears I Died."

A few other small things I want to mention: I had forgotten how American Christians have such huge misconceptions about "persecution in China." Had to set some of those myths straight. Also, I heard somebody asking people to pray for his husband to become a Christian. Ugh. (Background: My fiance is not a Christian, and I'm not okay with anyone treating that like a problem that needs to be solved.) And one of the speakers, Ling Lam, said we all have a God-shaped hole, and, well, you all know how I feel about that. (The rest of Ling Lam's talk was really really good though- it was about Jacob trying to get Isaac's blessing and how we pretend to be something we're not in order to gain approval.)

It was an environment where I could be honest about what I believed and what I didn't believe, and people wouldn't try to force me to change that. Even if they didn't agree with me, they understood what it is to be hurt and rejected by the church. And throughout the entire conference, the message of unconditional love and acceptance was preached- seriously, LGBTQ people know how to preach a better gospel than anything I've ever heard in church. But still, the Christianity of GCN Conference wasn't the Christianity I follow. There was way WAY too much talk of how God caused this or that thing to happen in someone's life, about how God "called" someone to do something, and just generally the kind of language people use when they believe in "a personal relationship with God." That's a concept that has caused me a lot of emotional trauma- honestly, I see it as all tied up with the anti-LGBTQ ideology I was taught, so it was a little jarring to hear LGBTQ Christians using those exact same words and concepts. Their experiences are different than mine (even though I'm also queer) so for them, it's possible to reject some of those teachings while keeping some others. And it can even be really healthy and good for them to say "no, I DO have a relationship with God" because of all the anti-LGBTQ Christians who told them they couldn't.

I wish I could go to church, I really do. If there was a church like GCN, I would totally go.

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

Related: GCN Conference Was My First Time Not Being "Just An Ally"

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Blogaround

The kingdom of heaven is like a queer dance party in front of Mike Pence's house.
1. Congratulations Anti-Trafficking Activists, You Just Put The People You “Care” About In Danger (posted January 10) "No one impacted by this is celebrating."

2. If God Is So Pro-Death Penalty, What About Cain and Abel? (posted January 11) "Conservative Evangelicals have long told me that if we want to see God’s best, God’s original intent, than we need to go back to Genesis and use that as our standard."

3. Zhou Youguang, Who Made Writing Chinese as Simple as ABC, Dies at 111 (posted January 14) "Since then, Pinyin (the name can be translated as “spelled sounds”) has vastly increased literacy throughout the country; eased the classroom agonies of foreigners studying Chinese; afforded the blind a way to read the language in Braille; and, in a development Mr. Zhou could scarcely have foreseen, facilitated the rapid entry of Chinese on computer keyboards and cellphones."

4. The Evangelical Social Construction of Virginity (posted January 13) "In using virginity as a test of value, we perpetuate the notion that women in the church are not valuable because they are active agents leading in the Kingdom, but because they are sexual objects meant to be saved for and used by men."

5. Bob Jones U., a School That Banned Interracial Dating Until 2000, Is Finally Observing MLK Day (posted January 16)

6. The Pinkification of Girls’ Toys (posted January 18) "the Barbie Dream House [from the 1970s] is red and yellow."

7. This Former Evangelical Became an Atheist After Seeing Fellow Christians Fight Against Obamacare (posted January 18) "I began to realize that others around me despised the thought of allowing people like me the benefit of affordable health insurance."

8. Which Martin Luther King Are We Celebrating Today? (posted January 16) "It is easy to forget that, until fairly recently, many white Americans loathed Dr. King."

Monday, January 16, 2017

GCN Conference Was My First Time Not Being "Just An Ally"

Justin Lee (GCN Executive Director) on stage at GCN Conference.
The 2017 Gay Christian Network Conference was my first time attending an LGBTQ event as a queer person instead of "just an ally." See, I recently figured out I'm asexual (also called "ace"). And I'm wondering how exactly that fits in with LGBTQ.

First let me tell you all about the conference. The were about 1000 people there- including LGBTQ people, a lot of parents, and other allies. People of all different ages. But almost all of them were white. And (as far as I know) all the speakers I saw were either gay, trans, or allies; none of them said "I'm bisexual" or any of the other letters. (Which is weird because, in the world in general, there are probably more bisexual people than gay people.)

The conference had speakers on the main stage who talked to the whole huge group, and tons of smaller "breakout sessions" where speakers gave talks to smaller subsets of us. The breakout sessions seemed to cover more practical things or more in-depth things, like the biblical case for same-sex marriage, or LGBTQ identities in worship, or what it's like for a trans person and cis person to be in a relationship. The speakers on the main stage proclaimed, over and over, using many different bible passages and anecdotes from their lives, that God loves us and nothing can change that. God loves us just as we are. We don't need to earn it.

And wow, can I just say, wouldn't it be great if that was what the church was preaching?

It's a message this group needs to hear. I know the statistics about suicide among LGBTQ people, but wow, to hear people mentioning it so many times over the course of those four days- people saying "I attempted suicide but thank goodness it failed" or "GCN literally saved my life" or talking about somebody they know who committed suicide- wow, this is real. As a group, LGBTQ Christians have experienced so much hate and rejection disguised as "love." People talked about being kicked out of church- sometimes explicitly, sometimes in more indirect ways. A gay man leading one of his church's small groups, until rumors started going around other churches in the area that "there's a practicing homosexual leading a bible study" and his pastor said he couldn't lead it anymore. Another man came out as trans- he says he is in the middle of the gender spectrum and is okay with either "he" or "she" pronouns- when she started wearing makeup and a dress to church, most people acted nice, but the pastor said she couldn't volunteer anymore. And people started gossiping, and it was so difficult to continue going to church, and then one day the pastor said in the sermon "everyone is welcome here" and she just got up and left, and cried, and never went back to that church again.

And wow. This is a crisis. And GCN really is saving lives. Preaching that it doesn't matter who told you you're not worthy, that you can't have a relationship with God, that you can't be a pastor- they're wrong. God loves you just as you are and nothing can change that.

A lot of LGBTQ people have also experienced rejection from their families. Some were even kicked out by their parents. Which is why everyone was so happy to see so many parents there at the conference to support their LGBTQ kids. Many of the parents were wearing pins that said "Free Mom Hugs" or "Free Dad Hugs" and hugged anyone who needed it. Jane Clementi, the mother of Tyler Clementi (who committed suicide because of anti-gay bullying), was one of the speakers on the main stage- and she called on the church to evaluate its beliefs and policies, to ask "does this steal, kill, and destroy, or does it give life?" Another woman I talked with, who has a gay son, said "My church wanted me to choose between God and my son, and I'm not going to do that." When a young person comes out and their family supports them, sometimes the whole family is no longer welcome at church.

A mom and dad wearing pins that say "Free Mom Hugs" and "Free Dad Hugs", respectively. Image source.
So it was a little weird for me, being ace, seeing how much hate and rejection gay and trans people often face, and wondering if it's even right for me to say I'm part of the LGBTQ community, since I'm not at risk for anything that bad. In a technical sense, yes I am part of LGBTQ, because it's defined as gender and sexual minorities. But is it even useful to put so many letters together like that? They're each so different. They have different needs, and face different kinds of discrimination or stigma. We keep adding more letters because we want to be "inclusive," but how inclusive is it, really, when there's nothing at the conference specifically for bisexuals, or specifically for asexuals?

Maybe adding more letters is because they want to be the kind of group that includes all those different identities, even if they aren't right now. Add the letters to get those people to come, and when they do, they can educate the rest of the group about identity and their needs.

Unfortunately, though, there was one thing I saw which was NOT very "inclusive" at all. There was a big whiteboard at the conference where people could write messages to be read by everybody- most of the messages were about finding and meeting up with people from the same hometown, or who attended the same college, or have some common interest to talk about. And someone had written something about poly people meeting up. ("Poly" means "polyamorous", which means having several relationships at the same time, but it's not cheating because everybody is honest with each other about it.) It got erased. I saw another message there later about "for 2 years now, the poly message on the whiteboard has been erased" and how they weren't okay with being judged and excluded like that. Later that had been erased too. I find this to be shady as hell. I have no idea who did it, no idea if GCN has any kind of official position about poly people. But geez, you have to accept and include them. How can you not? Isn't that what this whole thing is about?

About pronouns at GCN: there were free pins we could take, which said "My pronouns are" and then you would write your pronouns. (For those unfamiliar with this "your pronouns" terminology: it means you tell people you want to be called "she/her", or "he/him", or "they/them", or whatever.) And actually, this was the first time I've ever heard someone- in the "real world" rather than the internet- use "they" as the pronoun to refer to a non-binary person. ("Non-binary" means someone who is not male or female.) It's very very common to use "they" as a gender-neutral pronoun when you don't really know who exactly you're talking about, so you don't know their gender- I've heard that TONS of times, that's pretty accepted in spoken English. (For example: "If anyone asks where I am, tell them I'm busy." We use "them" because we have no idea who this hypothetical person could be, so we don't know their gender.) But I had never heard someone use "they" when they do know exactly who the person is, and they know that person actually is not a "he" or "she." (For example, "They were sitting really close to me because they were having trouble hearing." This is talking about a specific person, but that person actually is not male or female, so we use "they.")

At one point, someone asked me what my pronouns are. It felt very weird, because I very obviously look like a woman, so I figure it's not necessary to ask. I don't know- is that a thing we should do more often? Is it something you should only ask about when someone doesn't clearly look like a man or woman? Ehhhh no, I saw people at the conference who didn't look very "gender-neutral" at all but wanted people to call them "they." So, obviously we should call people what they want to be called, otherwise that's just mean. But beyond that, I don't know very much about non-binary people, and I'd like to find out more.

Another fun thing that happened was people assumed I was gay. I was like "I'm getting married this year" and people would ask questions like "did you meet her in China?" and I'm like "actually I'm marrying a man." It's fine, I don't have a problem with people assuming I'm gay, because gay people live their ENTIRE LIVES with people assuming they're straight.

I felt pretty good about being ace and telling people I'm ace. (Interestingly, I did not tell people "I'm straight" even though I am...) I even met some other ace people, which was great. It definitely feels different, being at an event like this as an actual member of the LGBTQ community instead of "just an ally"- but at the same time, a lot of the problems that people talked about are things I can't relate to or don't affect me. Maybe I should say I'm an ally for an issue like marriage equality, for example, because that's not something that directly affects my life. Again, I wonder what the usefulness is of just squashing more and more letters together. I'm queer now, but in a totally different way than, say, a trans woman, or a gay man, or a bi woman who's married to a man... I see a lot of talk online about how allies are very much not counted as LGBTQIA, a lot of people very strongly disagreeing with "A is for ally." But as we add more letters, and "queer" becomes more and more diverse, every person in LGBTQ will definitely have some LGBTQ-related issues which affect them and some which don't affect them at all. Maybe we all have to be "just an ally" on some things.

Anyway that's a basic overview of my time at the GCN conference and how I felt about being asexual instead of "just an ally." In the next post, I'll talk about the Christianity I saw there.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Blogaround

Bishop Gene Robinson preaches at the Gay Christian Network Conference (#gcnconf). I will have a post on this soon. ^_^ Image source.
1. This Is What You Get For Reading Murder Magazine (posted January 5) lolololol

2. My Pregnancies Cost Me My Hearing (posted January 11) "After all, why would I connect hearing loss to pregnancy? No one had told me such a thing existed!"

3. Was 2016 especially dangerous for celebrities? An empirical analysis. (posted January 2) A must-read for statistics nerds.

4. ‘Of Asher, Pagiel son of Ocran’ (posted January 4) "And I knew, because I had been taught this, that I was supposed to learn something from these censuses of the 12 tribes of Israel — something that would bring me closer to holiness and purity of devotion, something transformative. But whatever that something was, I just wasn’t seeing it. All I was seeing, instead, was a bunch of questions — questions that none of my teachers or youth ministers seemed happy to hear or willing to answer." DAMN this is a good post.

5. Go and learn what this means — the bad-faith ‘biblical’ defense of injustice (part 1) and part 2 and part 3. "The southern auxiliaries of the Bible society who fought tooth and nail to prevent enslaved persons from acquiring and reading those Bibles held themselves up as champions of the very Bible they were fighting to suppress."

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

There's Something Missing From This Article About Marriage And Sex

Bride and groom standing at the altar. Image source.
Here's a strange article from Relevant: Should Christians Get Married to Have Sex?

It's about the phenomenon of Christians of the "premarital sex is a sin" persuasion getting married just because they want to have sex. The writer, Debra K. Fileta, gives an example of a couple she knew in college who got married incredibly fast- "They just had to get married because they were burning with passion." After they got married, they "were having crazy, hot sex several times a day." A few years later, Fileta found out they had gotten divorced.

She says that, in evangelical culture, many people focus on sex far too much when making the decision to get married. "In fact, at Christian college, I often heard people talk of a couple’s marriage plans in terms of 'how long can they wait to have sex' as though that was the determining point of when to get married, rather than the bigger picture of creating a healthy, nourished, God-honoring relationship that would stand the test of a lifelong commitment."

Yes, I agree. This is definitely a problem in the purity culture I was part of. And yes, I agree, it's very unhealthy for sex to be such a huge factor in your decision to get married.

But. There's something missing.

If you say "Don't get married just to have sex, because marriage is a lifelong commitment and it's a big deal and needs to be based on way more than just your sexual desire," then yes, that's good advice. But we need to go farther than that. We need to ask where such an unhealthy idea- that sex would be the deciding factor in determining whether to get married- comes from in the first place. And if you're familar with purity culture or evangelical church culture at all, you know it's because they teach that having sex outside of marriage is a sin. And not just like a regular sin- no, it's a very dirty thing, it makes you dirty and impure for the rest of your life, it damages you so you are less valuable, it's a betrayal of your future marriage.

If people have a strong desire to have sex (and most people do), and you teach them that sex in any other context besides marriage is COMPLETELY OUT OF THE QUESTION, then OF COURSE people will rush into ill-advised marriages so they can have sex. And pointing out "hey, it's a pretty bad idea to get married just so you can have sex" is useless if you don't challenge the underlying line of reasoning which causes it in the first place.

But this is an article on Relevant. Of course they're not going to question "premarital sex is a sin." This is how Relevant articles on dating go- they think they're so healthy and reasonable and completely different from purity culture, they point out how the teachings of purity culture have really bad consequences, but they never ever ever dare to even suggest that we consider the possibility that premarital sex might not be a sin. And that refusal pretty much negates any good points they may have made.

Here, let me ask you a question. Which is worse: rushing into marriage just so you can have sex, or having sex outside of marriage? If you had to pick one or the other, which is less bad? Obviously, if you ask this question to purity-culture Christians, they will say no no, you should do neither. Right, sure, that's what purity culture teaches- you're supposed to just sit on your sexual and romantic desires and do absolutely nothing, and take enough time to pray and think about your decision, and follow what God wants you to do, with absolutely no pressure from your own body's needs and desires, which must be COMPLETELY IGNORED until God gives you the okay.

That's how it's supposed to work, according to purity culture. But how can someone make a good decision while under that kind of pressure? Isn't it obvious that it will drive people toward one of those two alternatives- having premarital sex or rushing into marriage too fast? And unless you can state outright that rushing into marriage IS WORSE than having premarital sex, you have no business telling people "oh you shouldn't get married just so you can have sex."

For those of us who aren't in purity culture, it's obvious which is worse. Getting married means you're legally tied to that person, and that will have legal consequences that last the rest of your life. And you have to spend a ton of money on the wedding. If you do all that and end up in a marriage that's unhealthy, that is SO MUCH WORSE than having sex a few times with someone you eventually break up with.

But purity culture- and more broadly, any Christianity that teaches "premarital sex is a sin" even if it doesn't teach all the "emotional purity"/"guard your heart" stuff- can't say that being in a bad marriage is worse than not being a virgin. They teach that sex outside of marriage is a horrible horrible sin, that it ruins your life, that it makes you "damaged goods," that you're no longer worthy of having a good marriage, that you'll live with shame and guilt forever. But are there any warnings about the dangers of marrying someone who's bad for you? Certainly there are scare tactics about how much it will ruin your life if you marry a non-Christian, but other than that, not really. They just say marriage is a lot of work, it's about serving the other person instead of caring about your own happiness, and if both parties put God first then they can definitely stay married, even though it might be really hard.

It all comes back to the fact that in purity land, sex is a bigger deal than marriage. They teach us to be terrified of unmarried sex- so much that the idea of two incredibly young people getting into a lifelong legal agreement they barely understand seems much less scary, much less dangerous.

If you can't actually say the words "premarital sex is LESS BAD than rushing into marriage just so you can have sex" then all of your advice on "getting married just to have sex" is meaningless.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Blogaround

A cat sticks its head *just perfectly* through a hole in a drawing of that scene from "The Lion King" where Rafiki holds up Simba. Image source.
1. When I Grow Up, I Want to Be Princess Leia (RIP Carrie Fisher) (posted December 28)

2. Within weeks they’ll be re-opening the shipyards (posted December 19) "You might, for example, convince them that the Death Star’s main reactor required a thermal exhaust port that would leave the entire machine vulnerable to destruction."

3. Years after transatlantic slavery, DNA tests give clarity (posted December 31) "We use 'African-American' synonymously with things like 'Irish-American' or 'Scottish-American', but those are countries, and Africa's a continent, and there's 54 countries on the continent of Africa. And so, to be able to say 'I'm Ghanaian-American, I'm Nigerian-American' is actually a significant difference."

4. The clarity of a dead end (posted December 21) "This is where that road takes you. It’s where you’re bound to end up if you drive long enough using only the segregationists and the wealthy donors as your GPS."

5. No, Jesus Wasn’t Born To Die (The Part of the Christmas Story We Screw Up) (posted December 22) "In the Bible, the birth announcement that the Christ has come is made by the angels to shepherds– and what’s interesting is that there’s no mention of God’s anger, wrath, or anything else."

6. Why I Quit My Job at an Evangelical Missionary School (posted December 29) "In my reply to the superintendent’s request, I stated that it has always been my guiding Christian ethic to stand with the vulnerable and marginalized, and to not do so would be unconscionable to me before God." Every time I read something like this, it makes me SO GLAD I'm not evangelical anymore.

7. The Conviction of Dylann Roof Represents The Very Least We Can Do (posted December 15) "Understand that if the Emanuel Nine had instead been shot by trigger-happy police in individual traffic stops, none of their killers would see a day in prison. Understand that they lived every day knowing that."

8. 8 Things in Rogue One That Drastically Changed Key Scenes in Star Wars A New Hope (posted December 27) [spoilers for Rogue One]

9. Flooded with phone calls from voters, House GOP drops effort to gut ethics panel (posted January 3)

10. Jesus never read ‘The Bible’ (posted December 29) "And, of course, Jesus also didn’t have a nicely bound paper book with the whole thing in one package, neatly divided into chapters and verses to facilitate their quotation out of context."

11. Media bias should be Good News (posted January 2) "Yet the story of local hungry children being fed is not usually reported as a Good News story."

12. I Was Taught That Saint George Fought a Dinosaur (posted January 4) I used to be a young-earth creationist. None of this is the least bit shocking to me.

13. The Many Colors of Rogue One (posted December 27) [don't worry, no "Rogue One" spoilers in this post] "About half an hour into the show I realized that none of our five plucky adventurers were white caucasian males."

14. Reading 66 books in one year (posted January 3) "Say you decide, after recommendations from a couple of good friends, that you’re going to read Gillian Flynn’s popular thriller Gone Girl. It seems unlikely that you would take this 422-page novel and decide to set aside a few minutes each morning every day to read 1.15 pages so as to finish reading the book in a one year. That’s not how the book is supposed to be read. It’s not how any book is supposed to be read."

15. This is what happens when you reply to spam email (2015) LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

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I'm going to the Gay Christian Network Conference today! Very excited~

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Sex is Like an Inside Joke (Thoughts from an Asexual)

T-shirt showing silhouettes of 3 elephants and an AT-AT. Image source.
[content note: I'm going to mention me having sex. If that's TMI, maybe don't read this one]

Back when I was in Christian purity culture, sex was an intriguing secret. They told us that it's totally the greatest feeling ever and everyone loves it, but that we weren't allowed to know any details. No, information was dangerous. It would be temptation. Penis goes in the vagina- that's all we're gonna tell you. And try not to even think about that too much- if you think about it, you might start to desire it, and if you desire it, you might go watch porn or masturbate or something horrifically sinful like that, and then you'll probably become addicted to sex and it will ruin your life.

The church's message was this: You're not allowed to know what sex is, but it is the most amazing and powerful thing, meant for a husband and a wife, and... yeah it's just THE BEST. And I believed it. I was sure I was going to love sex so much, after I met that godly guy that God had planned for me, and after marriage we would totally have sex every day.

It was a secret, a mystery. I wasn't allowed to know what it was, and therefore I was endlessly curious. But then, finally, after I got out of those purity-culture beliefs, I watched porn for the first time. It was shocking at first- "Oh! That's what a penis looks like! Oh my!"- but after a few minutes, I was like "... what's the point of this?" Okay, I watched porn. Now I know what genitals look like. Now I know what sex looks like. (With the obvious disclaimer that porn isn't realistic at all.) And it wasn't that interesting.

Actually, I continued to stare at the screen, baffled by a completely new and unexpected question: "Why on earth are people so obsessed with this? It's just naked bodies. Whatever."

I don't get it. Turns out sex was only interesting to me because it was a mystery, because it was taboo and I wasn't allowed to know what it was. When I finally found out what it was, I was like "oh, okay" and not really interested any more.

Or maybe I could say sex is like an inside joke. Starting around high school, kids would get kind of giggly every time someone said the word "hard." As I said, I wasn't allowed to know any details about sex, but I tried to put some of the pieces together based on what kind of bizarre things people would inexplicably laugh at. Apparently, "boner" is something sexual. I wonder what "oral sex" is- is it kissing? (Purity culture makes a big deal about how kissing leads to sex, and really it's best to not kiss until the wedding day- in that context, it's totally plausible that "oral sex" might mean kissing. [Note: Ahem. It doesn't.]) Apparently sex has something to do with something that is "wet." Also there are "balls" involved somehow. And apparently people yell each other's names? I guess?

It was like an inside joke that I wasn't part of. Nobody ever explained to me why it was funny when something was "hard" and "wet."

You could say sex is like a fandom. It's like if I said "I sense a disturbance in the Force" and people laughed because, hey, we like Star Wars too. Sex is like some fictional world that everyone is a huge fan of, and they like to make references to it as much as possible. In this fictional world, sex is a magical amazing thing that makes you feel good and solves all your problems. People like to imagine that it's real- just like the Harry Potter fans who go around telling people "I'm a Slytherin." It's not real, but it's fun to pretend. (Or, rather, my feeling that "it's not real" has a lot to do with the fact that I'm asexual.)

Everyone's making references and jokes about it, and I feel like I never saw the movie. Like if you'd never seen Star Wars, but you can figure out it has something to do with a "force," though you're not really sure what that is. Spend enough time in the fandom, and you're able to make those same references and other people will love it- even though you yourself don't get it at all. You have no idea what you're actually talking about, but other people seem to enjoy your jokes. So okay.

Then I finally did have sex, and sure, it's good, but it's not like... that good. Not really good enough to explain why everyone seems so obsessed with it. I don't see why sex has the biggest fandom. It's certainly not as good as Star Wars.

And now I see sex as a hobby. You know how, if you're dating someone who's really into board games, and they always want you to play board games with them, so you do, and it seems weird at first but after a while you end up liking board games too. It's like that. My partner is into having sex, so I've gotten into it too, and it's enjoyable, though if it were totally up to me, I would choose to spend my time on a different hobby instead.

And I find it very weird that sex is such a popular hobby. Sure, I guess it feels good, but, really? It's not like, that good.

A mystery, an inside joke, a fandom that I'm not part of, a hobby- that's what sex is to me, as an asexual. But other people describe it as a "need," as an essential part of a romantic relationship, as the highest expression of love. I really don't get it.

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