Monday, February 27, 2017

I Do Care About the Invitations

Wedding invitations. Mine look way better than these. Image source.
Here's something exciting: my mom and I ordered the wedding invitations! They are super cute.

So basically here's how it happened: I was browsing around online for invitations, and I found a design I really liked. It was about $200 for a set of them. Later I thought, well maybe I can find some that are cheaper than that. So I went back to the invitation website and set filters so it would only return results that were in the lowest price range. But I didn't like those ones as much.

It makes sense, right- the prettier ones will be more expensive. You're paying for the artists' and designers' work, and it takes time for them to make something that looks really good.

But is it okay to choose to pay extra just to get something pretty?

I kind of felt like it wasn't. For two reasons:

1. That's kind of more "feminine" that I want to be.

So there's this stereotype that women are all into decorating and making things pretty and planning out all the cute little details of weddings, and men don't care. From the time I was little, I didn't really want to be seen as "feminine" [even though I'm a woman] because then I wouldn't "look like" I was good at math and science. Wearing cute clothes would take away from my nerd cred.

It was internalized sexism. I did buy into the idea that the more "girly" someone looks, the less talent she has in STEM. Sure, girls can be good at math and science- of course they can! (I would get very angry at anyone who suggested otherwise.) But if they are good at those things, their appearance will be less "girly" and more "nerdy." Glasses, t-shirts, long hair that they never styled. No cute dresses, no revealing tank tops, no high heels, little or no makeup.

So when I was in high school, my identity as a math nerd was very important to me, and therefore I stayed away from interests that are seen as more "feminine." In college I decided I could embrace my "feminine" side more, that I could like pink and wear cute things and it didn't make me any less of a math nerd.

But apparently I still have this idea that I'm not into things that "girls" are into. In a lot of cases, this "I'm not like other girls" attitude is a form of internalized sexism- and I think that's at least partly true for me. Theoretically, I should just like the things that I like and not care about if society says they are "girl things" or "boy things"- but in reality, I find that I don't want to be interested in certain things, because there are lots of gender-related stereotypes attached to them.

Basically, society has certain ideas about what a girl who prefers to spend more money on pretty invitations is like. Those ideas are not true about me, and my reflex reaction is to pretend I don't care about the prettiness of the invitations- in other words, to agree that the stereotype is true and then deny part of whom I am. But that's so messed-up. I like the prettier invitations and I think it could be worth it to spend extra money on them. But just based on that, you can't assume other things about my personality. It doesn't mean I'm "shallow" or "high-maintenance" or whatever.

(I'm finding I actually do care about many different "pretty" aspects of the wedding, but I want to pretend I don't care. So... yeah...)

Challenge the stereotype. There's nothing wrong with liking things that are seen as "feminine." It doesn't limit who you are as a person.

2. Is it immoral?

I used to believe in a Christianity that said my desires don't matter. The less-pretty invitations are perfectly fine, they tell the guests when and where the wedding is, and that's the only thing invitations need to do. If I want to buy more expensive ones, just because I like them, well, that's selfish. I want to spend money just to make myself happy- that's SO not okay, not in the Christianity I learned.

For the past few weeks, we've been talking about radical Christian missions here on the blog. This ideology teaches that, because some people in the world don't have food and water, it's wrong for me to spend any money on myself, beyond the bare minimum needed to survive. It would be immoral- very, very immoral- to pay extra to get prettier invitations, when that money could have gone to feed a starving child somewhere.

I don't believe that anymore. I don't believe it's wrong to spend money just for the sake of making ourselves happy. My happiness matters. And it's so incredibly unhealthy to live in a constant state of guilt over the fact that I have nice things. It's okay not to deny myself. Yes, I should donate money to help other people, because I'm able to- but I don't have to donate ALL the money I possibly can. It's okay to make myself happy.


So anyway. I should tell you that my parents are paying for the wedding, so actually it was my mom making the decision about getting pretty vs cheap invitations. She seems to be of the opinion that it's not a big deal to pay a little extra- she wants me to have the ones that I like. (Aww isn't that nice?) So that's what we did. If I were paying for it, though, I'd have to think about whether it would be better to save that money for future living expenses. Not because it's immoral to spend money on myself, but because I might be better off spending it on myself in a different way in the future.

It's okay to care about pretty things. It's okay to have interests and desires that society reads as "girly." That doesn't make me illogical (y'all know I want to be a Vulcan)- my emotions are real, and it's logical to take actions to satisfy those desires. My happiness matters and is worth spending money on.

Thursday, February 23, 2017


Image with text about hotlines for trans people who need support. Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255. Trevor Project: (866) 488-7386. Trans Lifeline: (877) 565-8860. Text an anonymous crisis counselor: 741741. Image source.
1. How racism harms pregnant women -- and what can help (October 2016) "In certain parts of the country, particularly the Deep South, the rates of mother and infant death for black women actually approximate those rates in sub-Saharan Africa. In those same communities, the rates for white women are near zero." Wow this is really shocking. (Also, let's make sure the "pro-life" community hears about it- they are all about saving babies, right?)

2. Jesus Was My Boyfriend (posted January 19) "I could say and feel any which way toward Jesus and not only would he not respond, I could also easily live in the extravagant fantasy that, were he physically present, he’d be totally cool with all of my moods and words. Not very good training for actual human-to-human negotiations, it turns out."

3. The Lasting Trauma of Japanese American Incarceration (posted February 16) "As their Japanese American neighbors were being rounded up, few Christians voiced opposition to the government’s plan of mass detention."

4. If you like Return Of The Jedi but hate the Ewoks, you understand feminist criticism (posted 2015) "We’ve fallen into an all-or-nothing rut with feminist criticism lately. Battle lines are immediately drawn between movies that are “feminist” (i.e. “good”) and “sexist” (i.e. “bad”). And that simplistic breakdown is hurting our ability to actually talk about this stuff."

5. Why can 12-year-olds still get married in the United States? (posted February 10) "Legislators should remember that pregnant teenage girls are at increased risk of forced marriage. They need more protection, not less."

6. Baptist identity means religious freedom for all (it’s not about dunking) (posted February 13) "The Pilgrims fled England because they didn’t want to be required to follow someone else’s religion. They wanted to be free, instead, to require everyone to follow their religion."

7. Ken Ham Has a Serious Lack of Imagination (posted February 23) "What is the point of engaging in a level of biblical literalism that conflicts with all of our modern understandings of the ancient world if you’re not willing to take it all the way?"

8. Does Making Maternity Care Optional Put the Consumer in Charge? Some Conservatives Think So. (posted February 22) "Frankly, anyone who is pro-life really should be pushing for universal maternity coverage."

9. An Evangelical-TERF Alliance Shouldn’t Surprise Anyone (posted February 21) "This is what happens when people who don’t know anything about feminism pretend that they do. ... The problem here is that the Family Policy Alliance and WORLD magazine see the term “radical” and assume that means extra feminist. These are like the most feministy feminists, right? Um, no."

10. And since I'm getting married this summer, I'd like to share this song:

Lucky you were born that far away so
We could both make fun of distance
Lucky that I love a foriegn land for
The lucky fact of your existence

Links below are related to the orange antichrist:

1. Ordinary Americans carried out inhumane acts for Trump (posted February 6) "They showered, got dressed, ate breakfast, perhaps dropped off their kids at school. Then they reported to their jobs as federal government employees, where, according to news reports, one of them handcuffed a 5-year-old child, separated him from his mother and detained him alone for several hours at Dulles airport."

2. Anne Frank Center slams Trump: ‘Do not make us Jews settle for crumbs of condescension’ (posted February 21) "'His statement today is a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting Antisemitism, yet day after day have refused to apologize and correct the record,' Goldstein said in the statement. 'Make no mistake: The Antisemitism coming out of this Administration is the worst we have ever seen from any Administration.'"

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

We're Not Doing the Garter Thing

Wedding garter. Image source.
I had the following conversation with my fiance:

me: "We're not doing the garter thing."
Hendrix: "What is 'garter'?"
me: "It's this little thing a woman wears around her leg... [indicates with hands on leg] ... and at the wedding reception, the bride sits down in a chair... in front of all the guests... and then the groom comes... and puts his hand up her dress... while everyone is watching... and pulls out the garter."
Hendrix: "... That sounds like some kind of pervert thing."

(Basically, to someone from another culture who's hearing about this for the first time, that tradition sounds super messed-up. And I hadn't even told him the part about throwing it to a group of men.)

First of all, in writing this post, my intention is not to criticize those of you women who did this at your weddings. There are a lot of wedding traditions that are based on very patriarchal, misogynistic ideas, and sometimes we choose to do them anyway. I'm going to talk about why I think the whole "garter thing" is incredibly effed-up, but if you chose to do that at your wedding, I don't think you're bad or sexist or whatever. I'm sure you had your reasons. I have a problem with the tradition as a whole, not with you. (Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of this dark world, and all that.)

The garter tradition is, at its core, a performance where the groom plays the role of an aggressor, full of passion and desire, and the bride plays the role of a passive object who waits for him to do it to her, to come and overpower her and take from her and emerge victorious in front of a crowd of onlookers. The man plays offence, the woman plays defense, and the man wins. I know that in reality it's consensual and unrelated to the couple's actual opinions on male and female sexuality, but that's the story they are acting: the man is the one who wants it, he initiates and she lets him do it.

In the weddings I've been to, I've seen brides suddenly look very awkward when the garter performance is happening. See here's how it works: Somebody makes an announcement at the reception for everyone to gather and watch the garter tradition. A chair is brought out and put in the middle of the room, and the bride sits down, surrounded by all the guests watching her. She sits down, and then what? She has to wait. She waits for the guests to all come over and find a place to stand. She waits for the announcer to talk about what's going on. She waits for somebody to track down the groom and get him to come over. During this time, there's nothing for her to do. She just has to wait for it to happen to her. And I've seen that look on a bride's face- like "I wanted to do this, but now that it's actually happening I feel so awkward."

I've seen grooms get really into their "aggressor" role. One guy put his whole head under his wife's dress, and pulled out the garter with his mouth, while we all cheered at how sexy and scandalous he was acting. While his bride just waited for it to happen.

It's effed-up, this image of female sexuality, where the woman doesn't have any desire, she just passively lets the man do things to her, and everyone cheers and calls it a success when he conquers her.

Let's re-imagine the garter tradition, but with the bride in an active role instead of passive. (Note: Though we're talking about a wedding with a bride and a groom, don't forget that same-sex weddings exist! And it's totally possible to be a bride and not wear a dress.)

Okay, how about this: The groom sits in a chair, holds his hand out, and doesn't move. The bride comes up to him, lifts her dress, and shoves her hips up onto him, to push the garter onto his hand. He holds on to it and then she pulls back so the garter slides off. We cheer for her success in giving it to him.

Or this: The bride sits in the chair, just like in the normal garter tradition. But this time, when the groom puts his hand up her dress, she thrusts her hips at him. They both move around a bunch, enthusiastically consenting, both working toward the same goal (passing the garter to the groom).

Or how about this: The groom stands there, and the bride shoves her hand down his pants- in front of all the guests- and searches around until she finds some kind of little trinket, and pulls it out. Then she throws it to a crowd of women.

It feels obscene to imagine those things happening in public, in front of a crowd of your closest family and friends, doesn't it? So ask yourself this question: Why is it a completely normal wedding tradition (and people will think I'm weird for refusing to do it) to have a performance where a woman is the passive recipient of a man's aggressive sexual desire, but it's unheard-of and inappropriate for a woman to publicly play a role where she shows strong sexual desire for her husband?

The second problem I have with the garter tradition is the exhibitionist aspect of it. But back when I was in purity culture, I was sure I was going to do the garter tradition. Because in purity culture, a wedding is an incredibly exhibitionist event.

Think about it: In purity culture, the most important thing about a wedding is that the couple is suddenly allowed to have sex. And make no mistake: when I say "the most important thing," I really mean that. Sure, purity culture advocates will deny this; they swear up and down that OF COURSE they're not saying that sex is the most important part of marriage, OF COURSE they're not teaching that you should get married just to have sex. But I challenge you to go read any purity culture book or article and find each time the words "wedding" and "marriage" are used. Over 90% of them will be in sentences along the lines of "don't have sex before marriage" or "on your wedding night, you will finally be able to give yourselves fully to each other." In purity culture, the most important thing about a wedding is that the couple is suddenly allowed to have sex.

And therefore, for purity-culture followers, their wedding sends this message to the world: "HEY EVERYBODY! We haven't had sex yet, but we totally will tonight!" A purity-culture wedding is an extremely, extremely exhibitionist thing. There are even people who follow a stricter version of purity culture, who make a big deal out of how their first kiss is going to be the one up there at the altar in front of a crowd of people. (And if you want to see a saving-our-first-kiss-for-the-wedding couple really going at it, there are videos for that. ... Eww.)

I went to one wedding where the ceremony included a line about "he's very much looking forward to finally being united with her in body." Wow, TMI. (Why do they have to shove their heterosexuality down our throats?) But I don't really fault the couple for including that in their ceremony. I don't see it as an attempt to brag about their purity-culture success. I think it's because when you believe pre-marital sex is a sin, then sex is a hugely important part of what your wedding means to you, and it would be almost dishonest to not mention it during the ceremony. (It's pretty common for Christian weddings to include euphemistic references to how the couple is totally going to have sex for the first time tonight.)

Back when I was in purity culture, I totally wanted to do the garter tradition. Because I imagined that OF COURSE before the wedding I would be super-pure and not do anything as sexual as letting my partner put his hand up my dress. When the officiant says "I now pronounce you husband and wife," that's the moment all those sexy things go from "forbidden" to "a beautiful gift from God." I didn't want to wait til the reception was over. If there's a chance to do something sexual right there at the reception- even if it's in front of a huge crowd of people- then damn I'm doing it. That was my reasoning. In purity culture, a wedding is a way of broadcasting to the entire world, "WE ARE ALLOWED TO HAVE SEX NOW." Of course it's natural for that to be followed by the groom removing an undergarment from the bride, in front of the whole crowd of guests. Of course.

So no, Hendrix and I are not doing the garter thing. I might wear a garter at the wedding, or I might not. It's none of your damn business. We might have sex on the wedding night, or we might not. IT'S NONE OF YOUR DAMN BUSINESS.

Monday, February 20, 2017

What Feminism Taught Me About Saving the World

Elastigirl, from "The Incredibles." Image text: "Leave the saving of the world to the men? I don't think so." Image source.
I've been blogging about the book Runaway Radical: A Young Man's Reckless Journey to Save the World. In last week's post, I described the ideology of radical Christian missions, which inspired Jonathan to go to Africa and made him vulnerable to spiritual abuse. The book condemns this ideology and instead presents a healthier perspective based on these two ideas:
  1. Grace: You don't have to be "radical" in an attempt to earn God's approval. God already loves you, no matter what you do.
  2. "Loving the person in front of you": Jesus doesn't expect that you're going to go out and single-handedly save the world. Don't worry about doing something huge, just focus on the opportunities you have to show love in your normal life. You don't have to travel to the other side of the world; just love the person in front of you.
In my opinion, this perspective does a good job of addressing half of the reasoning behind radical Christian missions, but does nothing about the other half. What I mean is, there are two motivations given for the radical Christian missions ideology. The first is about obedience to God, about giving up your life, being like those missionary heroes we hear about in church, doing great things for God, striving to live every single moment of your life in obedience to the bible's commands about loving others and caring for the poor. It's "This is what you do if you are a real Christian, if you are really devoted to God." And "Runaway Radical" answers that by talking about grace. God loves you no matter what. You're not required to live "radically" in order to please God.

But what about the second motivation? There are people in this world suffering in conditions that we can't even imagine. There are people who don't have food or clean water. There are people who are trapped in slavery. And if I can give up a little bit of my comfort in order to help them, don't I have a moral obligation to do so? Really, shouldn't I donate as much money as I possibly can to help them? How can I justify having a savings account, when that money could have fed a hungry child in Africa? How can I justify taking a vacation, when I could have donated that money to a relief organization instead? Their problems are so huge and unimaginable compared to mine; therefore I don't deserve to ever buy any nice things for myself.

This "second motivation" isn't about religion or God at all, it's just based in logic. And "Runaway Radical" didn't really give any answer to this. Which is fine, that wasn't really the purpose of the book. But I have an answer that feminism taught me, which I'd like to share here.

See, feminism is also about helping people and righting the wrongs of the world. But there are a few key ideas that make it totally different from (and much healthier than) radical Christian missions:

1. Don't play "oppression olympics."

Radical Christian missions motivates people to action by finding the most extreme problems and claiming that you are obligated to help because you have it so good compared to those people. Back when I believed in that ideology, I donated a lot of money- but ONLY to organizations which were fighting against things that I considered the biggest problems: Lack of food, lack of water, human trafficking, and people not believing in Jesus. (If you think I'm joking about that last one, then #YouDontKnowEvangelicals.)

I remember one time, I was buying something at the mall, and the cashier asked if I'd like to donate a dollar to this organization that does after-school activities for poor kids. And I said no, because those kids in the after-school activities have it way better than the hypothetical starving African children whose lives I imagined I was saving with my donations to global Christian relief organizations like World Vision. I thought people in the United States didn't deserve any donations, not when there were children in other countries who were starving.

The idea that "it's wrong to fight against this particular example of injustice because there are worse injustices that exist in the world" is called "oppression olympics." You see this in blog posts about how American feminists are wrong to fight against rape culture because look at how Middle-Eastern countries treat women- they have it so much worse, so you're not allowed to complain. (Samantha Field has a good post about this.) Often, oppression olympics is about criticizing people for caring about the "wrong" issues- and this criticism comes from people who aren't even doing anything themselves to advocate for the issues they claim are more important.

But feminism rejects the idea of oppression olympics. There are a lot of different bad things happening in the world, a lot of different causes worth fighting for. It doesn't do any good to rank them in terms of which is worse and then say that only people suffering that problem deserve our help. We should fight against poverty- both internationally and locally. We should fight against racism, whether it takes the form of Hollywood whitewashing, discrimination in hiring, or police brutality. We should fight against sexism, whether it takes the form of telling girls they're cute instead of complimenting their abilities, purity culture ideas about virginity determining a woman's value, or intimate partner violence. We should advocate for LGBTQ rights. We should advocate for the rights of disabled people. We should improve public schools so all children can get a good education. We should support scientific research to develop life-saving medical treatment. All of these different things are causes worth fighting for, and it doesn't really help anyone when you say "this problem is not as bad as that one, therefore you're wrong to care about it."

Radical Christian missions says you have to donate to help those starving people because, comparatively, they have it worse. But feminism rejects the idea of basing advocacy on "who has it worse." And perhaps the most important result of this view is that your problems matter too. If you're feeling overwhelming guilt and so you're donating so much money that you're constantly worrying about whether you have enough for yourself- while at the same time worrying about whether you're doing enough to help others- that is just AWFUL for your mental health, and mental health is definitely something we need to care about. So don't do that to yourself.

2. Different injustices are connected. We have to dismantle the system.

In radical Christian missions, it's common to be presented with an image of a starving child, with no context. The message is, "This child has no food. Give us money so we can buy food for him." People rarely talk about why he has no food, what causes poverty, and what the long-term solutions are. It's just a simple problem, with no context, no connection to anything in our lives, and a simple solution.

In contrast, feminism is all about examining the connections between different kinds of injustice, and showing how "extreme" cases like poverty and murder are made possible by seemingly-harmless stereotypes and attitudes woven into our culture.

Let's take patriarchy as an example. Women experience the harmful effects of society's sexism in many small ways, such as assumptions that girls like dolls instead of science kits. These "small ways" aren't that bad when viewed as individual, isolated events, and we internalize the idea that this is just normal and it's not discrimination. But those same attitudes and prejudices lead to women being rejected for jobs they are qualified for, or paid less than men. And in some of those faraway "poor countries" that radical Christian missions is so concerned about, there are huge gaps in education between boys and girls- girls don't have the opportunity to go to school because society thinks women should just focus on taking care of kids. There are even places where child marriage is common- but ensuring that girls have access to education significantly reduces child marriage rates.

In American society, we have these cultural ideas about what women are supposedly good at or not good at, ideas about how mothers should mainly focus on their kids instead of their career (unlike fathers). Then we read news articles about girls in India forced into marriage even though they are children, and we're shocked. We see it as a faraway, foreign problem that we can't imagine or relate to at all- but it's not. It's patriarchy. It's all connected.

Studies have found that giving more resources to women in Africa can help to end poverty. In particular, helping women in developing countries access birth control is incredibly important. Well that's kind of awkward, because birth control is a culture-war issue that people fight over in the US. There are ideologies that believe birth control is bad, that empowering women to take control of their own lives, their own bodies, their own financial situation, is bad- we see people arguing this in our churches and in our government. And it's that same ideology that perpetuates poverty around the world- and in the United States too. It's all connected.

So if you just pick the most extreme examples- the starving child, the human trafficking victim- and imagine that you can do one simple thing to save them, you're only treating the symptoms of the problem, not the problem itself. The problem is patriarchy- or imperialism, or white supremacy, etc. And we can only fix it by dismantling the entire system- even down to our own subconscious biases.

3. There's no "perfect victim."

Radical Christian missions presents people suffering in faraway countries as "perfect victims." They're innocent children. They're mothers who are just trying to provide for their families, but they never had a chance because were born in that country. Christians often tell stories in the "they have so little, but they're so full of joy" genre- as if people who struggle with poverty are automatically perfectly moral, full of gratitude for what little they have, shining examples of selflessness that we should all learn from.

They're perfect, completely innocent, and definitely never had a chance to escape poverty. These are the people worthy of our help, in the radical Christian missions ideology.

Christians who follow that ideology are eager to help those "perfect victims" on the other side of the world, but often aren't willing to do anything for people who live in poverty in their own communities. Because, you see, we're more familar with the people in our own communities; we create negative stereotypes about them based on the flaws we see. We ask, "Why don't they get a job?" or "Why did she have so many kids if she can't even take care of them?" or "They should have gone to college, then they wouldn't be stuck in minimum wage jobs" or "Don't give them money, they're just going to waste it on drugs."

We can see so many things that "those people" should have done differently, so we blame them and decide they aren't worthy of our help. (Though in reality, those things are easier said than done; there are barriers that keep underprivileged people from having access to things like education and job opportunities. And a mistake which an upper-class person could easily recover from- like a $50 parking ticket- can snowball into a huge disaster for someone who doesn't have the money to pay it.) We imagine that the poor African families never made any bad choices.

In contrast, feminism doesn't point to people's mistakes and conclude that they aren't worthy of our help. The goal of feminism is to create a society where people aren't condemned to a life of poverty just because of a few bad choices. And we understand that even though, theoretically, this poor person "could have" gone to college and then they would be able to get a better job, in reality there are systemic barriers that can make it almost impossible. We need to work to make those "theoretical" things actually accessible to everyone in reality.

4. Self-care.

As I said in point #1, radical Christian missions teaches that, as long as you have food and clean water, you're not allowed to complain about any of your problems. Instead, you're morally obligated to give up anything and everything you possibly can, because there exist people who have it so much worse. Feminism rejects this idea, and teaches that your problems matter too. Your emotions matter. Your needs matter. Your mental health matters. It's good to take care of yourself, to do nice things for yourself.

I've heard pastors preach that we shouldn't ALWAYS spend ALL of our energy helping other people, that we need to rest and take care of ourselves sometimes too. But the reasoning is always along the lines of "you won't be able to serve people very well if you're burned out." Feminism is completely different. Feminism teaches that you should do self-care because you matter and you deserve to be happy and healthy. Your happiness is a worthy goal in and of itself- not just a factor in how efficiently you can serve other people.

The feminists I know understand that not everybody has the time, energy, or resources to do a lot of advocacy. They encourage people to just do what they're able to do, and make sure to take care of themselves too. If you don't have the energy to go to a protest, or to educate random people online about rape culture, then that's okay, you don't have to do it. You matter, and you know your own needs. Just do what you're able to do.

This is completely different from what I heard in church. There were sermons whose goal was to guilt us into donating more money or doing more evangelism, there were calls to "give til it hurts" and trust that God would provide for your needs. Serious mental health issues like depression or anxiety were dismissed as "selfishness" or a lack of faith. And we were never EVER told that we could be trusted to know our own needs; no, the church knew us better than we knew ourselves. If you had a difficult-to-explain need and you spent your time or energy on taking care of that need, rather than doing the Christian things you were supposed to do, you were rebelling against God. (Ask me about what it's like to be diagnosed with autism at age 23.)


Both radical Christian missions and feminism are about fighting against injustice in the world, but they have completely different views about the nature of that injustice. Radical Christian missions focuses on only the most horrific conditions, teaching that we have to sacrifice everything we possibly can because other people have problems so bad it's hard to even imagine them. Feminism teaches that all the different forms of injustice are connected and reinforce each other, and that injustice isn't some faraway problem we can't relate to, but something we ourselves are subconsciously perpetuating through the biases in our own hearts. It's not as simple as "This person is hungry, let's buy food for them, problem solved"; it requires tearing down society-wide systems built on racism and patriarchy. It's not about sending help to the other side of the world; it requires changing our own culture into one which truly believes in equality.


Posts about Runaway Radical:

The Stories You Can't Tell In Church
Radical Christian Missions
What Feminism Taught Me About Saving the World

Thursday, February 16, 2017


"Roses are red, alt-facts aren't true, I want to destroy white supremacy with you." Image source.
Links related to the orange antichrist:

1. These Conservative Christians Are Opposed to Trump—and Suffering the Consequences (posted February 11) "On November 18, Smith’s bosses told her they didn’t think she could be a good spokesperson for Focus on the Family, according to Smith."

2. OK, so we’re talking about Frederick Douglass today (posted February 1) "So let us highlight some of those contributions with Douglass’ own words — words that live on in much the same way that Trump and Spicer believe that Douglass himself does."

3. How a Photo of Jewish and Muslim Kids Protesting President Trump Went Viral (posted February 1)

4. Histories for the Trump Era, Part 1 (posted February 3) "That brings me to the Fugitive Slave Act and the inability to implement it in Boston."

5. SNL: Melissa McCarthy’s Sean Spicer Is Back and Better Than Ever (posted February 12) lololol

6. We would have taken part with them (posted February 9) "This is something we’ve been telling ourselves for thousands of years. For his part, Jesus wasn’t buying it."


Links about other things:

1. Why this choir is a huge hit with China's stressed out millennials (posted February 9) Hendrix loves this choir. Their songs are so funny!

2. Star Wars Theory [about Han Solo] (posted February 9) [spoilers for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"] Wow, now this is quite the fan theory.

3. Watch Matt Dillahunty Talk About How Atheists Should Respond to Biblical Contradictions (posted February 3) "Do you have such a strong belief that there is no god or that this bible is crap or that this scripture cannot possibly be perfect that you're not willing to engage in reasoned discussion but instead you have a prejudice that is encouraging you to find fault where there may not be any?" This is a really good video, from an atheist, about why it's not helpful to search for giant lists of "bible contradictions" on the internet and naively rush into an argument with a Christian as if you're obviously right. For one thing, not all Christians even believe the bible has no errors. And many of those supposed contradictions turn out to not really be contradictions if you actually research the context and culture those passages came from.

4. Ezra isn’t the Good Guy in this story (posted February 6) "The preachers who love to cite Malachi 2:16 in their own rants about the evils of divorce never seem to notice the earlier biblical passage Malachi is reacting against."

5. No, Trans Women Are NOT ‘Biologically Male’ (posted February 10)

6. Godly messages: You’ve got mail! (posted 2013) "Keeping a victim dancing depends upon keeping that victim off-balance and off-kilter, uncertain how to please the captor(s) and even more uncertain of how to avoid punishment. If that’s how these Christians’ god operates, then he’s an asshole who doesn’t deserve love or worship."

7. Top 10 Most Romantic Moments In Pixar (posted February 14) Awwww <3

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

BREAKING NEWS: Purity Culture Adherents Completely Miss the Point

Lady Gaga performs at the Superbowl LI halftime show. Immodestly. I love it. Image source.
[content note: rape culture in superbowl commercials]

This article was posted on Desiring God two weeks ago: How Do You Super Bowl? Ideas for Navigating Controversial Ads. It's full of advice about how good Christians should deal with the issue of superbowl ads. "But wait," you ask, "what exactly is the problem? Why are superbowl ads a tricky thing that people need advice about?" Well. I'm glad you asked. Let's see how the article explains it:
But in recent years, an increasing number of those pricey commercials also have proven sexually suggestive, or worse. Ads by Victoria’s Secret and GoDaddy are notorious examples, not to mention the latest efforts by the major beer companies, or this year’s inevitable racy movie trailer.
So the problem is that the ads are "sexually suggestive." No details are given beyond that. Seriously. There's nothing in this entire article that tells us why it's bad for ads to be "sexually suggestive." What exactly is harmful about that?

Fortunately (heh) I grew up in purity culture, so I can fill in here. This is a type of Christianity that is very much afraid of "lust." If a man looks at a woman who's not his wife and feels sexual attraction, oh my goodness DANGER DANGER. Yes, sometimes they will say that sexual attraction is normal (well, only if it's the heterosexual kind, of course) and not a sin, but it can lead to lust, which is a sin- but everything is talked about in such vague terms that many people end up with the impression that their very normal, benign feelings of attraction are a dirty dirty sin. (For example: I'm asexual, I don't experience sexual attraction, but I TOTALLY considered myself to be "struggling with lust" many times during my years in purity land.)

Notice that I said "if a man looks at a woman"- this is very gendered. In this ideology, men are animals which can hardly control themselves, and women don't really have any sexual desire at all. Instead, women want attention from men. So the "danger" from an advertisement containing a photo of a sexy woman is that it will make men lust and make women think "I should dress like that so men will want me."

At any rate, anything that invites people to think about the desirability of sex, sexuality, or sexiness is an EXTREMELY DANGEROUS TEMPTATION. That's what that Desiring God article is about. That's the danger they are trying to help people avoid.

They totally missed the point.

The problem with superbowl commercials isn't that they acknowledge that sexiness exists. The problem is that they portray women and women's bodies as objects solely for men's enjoyment. Often in these commercials, women aren't fully human individuals who make their own choices; instead, they are the reward a man gets for being awesome. There was one particularly horrifying one I remember, which must have been 7 years ago but I remember it because it scared me that much: It was a commercial for potato chips or something, and every time the guy in the commercial took a bite of the chips, a lucky thing happened to him. One of the "lucky things" was a woman's clothes disappearing- she was walking down the street, and suddenly her clothes were gone and she was walking down the street in sexy underwear. And we the viewers are supposed to see this- a woman's clothes suddenly disappearing for no reason as she minds her own business- as a happy thing that happened to this guy who was eating the potato chips. We're supposed to see it as a good thing. We're not supposed to think about how the woman feels- she doesn't have her own feelings, she's only there to make the guy happy. OH MY GOD.

That scares me. That really scares me. It scares me that there are so many people who see no problem with that message- that commercial was approved to air during the superbowl, the biggest event for TV commercials. What if I was walking down the street and my clothes flew off? Would you think "WOW SO COOL!" or would you think "oh my god someone help her! Give her a coat!"

But the Desiring God article about the dangers of superbowl ads doesn't say anything about sexism at all. Not a word about how so many ads promote disgusting, dehumanizing messages about women. (Though in that ideology, if they said they were concerned about the messages it's sending about women, they would mean messages like "it's okay to wear sexy clothes." Again, they totally miss the point.)

They don't care what the commercial is actually about. They don't care whether it presents a healthy view of sexuality where everyone respects each other, or a view where women are public property and don't make their own choices about sex. In their way of thinking, all that matters is that the ad includes an image of a sexy woman. They don't look at how other people in the ad treat her; instead, it's the sexy woman herself who is intrinsically dangerous. Her body is dangerous, and good Christians must not look.

Must not look. That's right, all the "advice" in that Desiring God article is along the lines of "don't look." It's full of practical suggestions about changing the channel, muting during commercials, or skipping the superbowl altogether. Don't look. The sexy woman's body is so dangerous, you must not even look.

The most heartbreaking, horrifying part of the article is this:
We always have a jump channel set on the remote, so pushing one button changes to a ‘safe’ channel. We usually set it to some channel about food or houses or animals. The kids have seen enough commercials to know and will themselves say ‘jump.’ So they are aware and can discern, but we don’t leave it on to increase exposure
OH MY GOD, they trained their kids to say "jump."

I was under the impression that the concern about kids seeing sexual things on TV is that the kids are too young to understand. If they're too young to understand, then how can you teach them to recognize a commercial that they need to "jump" away from? I'll tell you how: you teach them to look for a woman wearing sexy clothes- that's the sign that a commercial is not safe. Do you see how messed-up this is? They're teaching their kids that the problem is the woman herself. The problem is her body, the existence of her cleavage. Not how the other characters in the commercial treat her.

I submit to you that a child cannot develop a healthy view of sexuality if they are trained in this way. Especially if that child is a girl (or assigned female at birth). What happens when she starts to grow up and she discovers that her own body has boobs and curves- those same dangerous things that she was taught to "jump" away from?

What happens when these kids meet an actual person who is "dressed immodestly", the kind of person they would "jump" away from if they saw them on TV? Are they going to be able to treat her like an actual human being, or just see her as a dangerous object they need to protect their pure hearts from?

Purity culture is so totally fixated on sex and sexiness that it's unable to even see the sexism and disrespect present in these ads. They're so focused on superficial things like showing skin that they can't comprehend the morals and messages in these ads, the difference between consent and sexual assault. Of course they miss the point. Of course they can't see it when their only advice is "don't look."

Monday, February 13, 2017

Runaway Radical: Radical Christian Missions

A crowd of students raising their arms in worship at Urbana 2012. Image source.
Let's continue talking about Runaway Radical: A Young Man's Reckless Journey to Save the World, a book I totally recommend to anyone who has experience with the radical Christian missions movement. "The radical Christian missions movement" is the term I've decided to use, because I'm not aware of any explicit label for this movement, but it very much is a movement with its own distinct ideology, and we have to call it something. (I was never aware of a label for it because it was presented to me as "this is what real Christians are supposed to do"- to give it a unique name would imply that it's not the same thing as just plain old Christianity. Related: I was raised evangelical but nobody really told me explicitly "we are evangelical." No, it was always "this is what real Christians believe.")

The radical Christian missions movement is what you get when people who believe in "biblical inerrancy" actually read the bible and take it as seriously as "biblical inerrancy" proponents say we should take it. The bible is FULL of verses about helping the poor, FULL of verses blasting the rich for oppressing people, and Jesus preached some pretty scary extreme stuff like "turn the other cheek" and "whoever wants to save their life will lose it" and "anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me" and "whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for me" and "give to everyone who asks."

It all adds up to an ideology that goes like this: If you are really devoted to Jesus, then you have to give up more and more and more. You have to give up everything you possibly can. The bible commands us to help people, and as long as there exist people in the world without reliable food and water, and you aren't doing as much as you possibly can to help them, you are sinning. It's selfish to have savings accounts, it's selfish to buy nice things for yourself- no, you should donate all that money and just trust God. That's what faith is- taking these big risks, the world says you're "crazy", but then God comes through and the result is amazing.

I went to InterVarsity's Urbana conference in 2009 and 2012, and radical Christian missions ideology was preached CONSTANTLY. From beginning to end, the whole entire Urbana conference is radical Christian missions. It's all about the horrifying reality of humanitarian crises that exist in the world, and how Christians need to DO SOMETHING about it, how YOU need to do something, how God is sending YOU, give everything up and go save the world.

At the end of Urbana, everyone is given a "commitment card" to fill out. I've managed to find a photo online of the card from the 2012 conference:
Urbana 2012 commitment card. Image source.
The card in the above image has a bunch of boxes you can check, to indicate which things you're "committing to." There are 3 categories: getting saved, evangelism, and cross-cultural missions. And throughout the conference it's made clear that the very best thing you can commit to is long-term cross-cultural missions. Be a missionary. Yes, when it's time to fill out the cards, I'm sure the speaker on stage will say something about "not everyone is called to cross-cultural missions, don't feel pressured to check off that box if God's not calling you" but come on. The whole entire conference is "look how much these non-white people in foreign countries are suffering, God cares about them, so YOU need to do something about it" and "look at this person who is a really really amazing Christian because they heard God's call and moved to another country."

And though I'd say this ideology is better than the "all that matters is heaven and hell, just get people saved and don't care about physical needs" that's also common among church people, it's still not a healthy belief at all. It's driven by guilt. The point is to sacrifice so much that you're constantly in a state of crisis and you have to "depend on God"- because some people in this world don't have clean water, so what makes you think you deserve to feel secure about getting all your needs met?

So much guilt. I was at Urbana 2009, when, at the beginning of his talk, Shane Claiborne took a bag of rice and said, "In this bag of rice, there's about 24,000 little grains of rice, almost equivalent to the number of lives that are lost every day from poverty and suffering." And then, while the whole stadium watched, he poured out the entire bag. Later some of us students were talking about it, and someone asked what the point of that was. "Was he just trying to make us feel guilty?" (There was also discussion about "why do they keep talking about global poverty and how we have to give things up, but there's a massive light show and fog machines every day during the worship time- couldn't that money have been donated instead?" [This is exactly what Judas said- make of that what you will.] And "we all spent hundreds of dollars to come to this conference- why are they asking us to give more for this offering they're collecting?")

Even though the church where I grew up wasn't part of the radical Christian missions movement, they taught "always put others first" which is essentially the same thing- the radical Christian missions movement just takes "always put others first" to its logical conclusion, which is "if anybody, anywhere, is in such poverty that they can't even get their basic needs met, then it's wrong for me to have anything good." The church also taught me that my mental health didn't matter, which is a key component in radical Christian missions. It relies on people NOT thinking "a belief system that puts this much guilt on people is so so SO bad for mental health, and our mental health matters."

And churches and missions organizations often use these kinds of guilt-driven tactics to get people to donate money. How many times have I seen an advertisement with a photo of THE MOST starving African child they could find, accompanied with some line about how you could help them "for less than the price of a cup of coffee per day"? The message is clear: There are people who live in such bad conditions, you can't even imagine, but you have a comfortable life and you should feel bad about it. To get rid of that guilt, please donate some money to our mission organization. Right? Radical Christian missions just takes that to its logical conclusion.

That's why none of it was shocking to me, when I read in "Runaway Radical" how Jonathan gave away his bedroom furniture and slept on the floor, how he made a commitment to always give all the cash in his wallet to any homeless person who asked, how he criticized his family for spending money on a vacation, how upset he became when his car was in an accident and he had to use the money he was saving for a missions trip to pay for car repairs instead. It's totally consistent with the radical Christian missions ideology that I was explicitly taught at Urbana and less-explicitly taught in the evangelical church. I've never met anyone who actually followed it to the extent Jonathan did, but that's because he's a way better Christian than the rest of us, according to that belief system. Not because he "misunderstood" or anything like that.

And here's another thing we have to talk about: the phrase "we have so much in this country." I often heard this as the reason we should give away money to help people on the other side of the world- because "we have so much in this country." It's fascinating how many faulty assumptions are packed into this one simple phrase. First of all, it dismisses all the Americans who live in poverty. Clearly it's their own fault because they're lazy and bad at managing money, and also they have TVs so don't feel bad for them, it's not like they're *really* in poverty. Next, it assumes that the way we live in the US is so incredibly different then those stereotype people in Africa or Asia. We have so much, we can easily donate to help them, but they don't and they can't. And finally, I seem to have subconsciously bought into this "we have so much in this country" reasoning, such that when I moved to China I actually found myself thinking "I'm off the hook now, I already gave up the American lifestyle and moved to China, so I don't have to do any more charity giving." I could sense there was something wrong with that line of thinking, but it was really hard to figure out what exactly the problem was.

Another idea mentioned in "Runaway Radical" was "getting God's attention." Jonathan talks about how he felt like he needed to do more and more radical things, put himself in even more risky situations, to show God he was really devoted and get God to respond by doing miracles. I totally get this. This is EXACTLY what radical Christian missions teaches. Just "step out in faith." Be "crazy for Jesus." Jump in before you know what you're even doing, and trust God to take care of you. That's what real faith is, they said. On page 161 of "Runaway Radical," the writers point out that this is how satan tempted Jesus in Matthew 4:
But who else was told to put himself in harm's way and let God do the rest? Wasn't Jesus offered the same temptation by Satan in the wilderness? "Throw yourself down from the highest point of the temple," Satan challenged. "If you are who you say you are, God won't let you fall" (Matthew 4:5-6, paraphrased). It was an opportunity for Jesus to prove his special proximity to God, a chance to demonstrate a show-stopping act of faith.

But manufactured hardship is always for show. Radicals forsake big houses and nice cars for mud huts and orphans. But to wear sacrifice as a badge is to trade material status symbols for spiritual ones. It is baptizing attention-seeking behavior, confusing "making an impact" with "making a scene."

The same kind of exhibitionism Jesus refused to take part in is now the very thing radicals think Jesus expects of them. As the contest escalates, the question becomes, How much trouble can I land myself in? How can I get myself thrown in jail like the apostles? How can I get myself killed like the martyrs?
They're not exaggerating. This is what radical Christian missions teaches: Do wild, reckless things because of "faith"- that's what it means to really be a disciple of Jesus.

In the book, Amy and Jonathan explain why this ideology is a form of legalism. And their antidote is grace- believe that God loves you unconditionally, you don't have to earn it by saving the world, and you should just focus on "loving the person in front of you." Personally, I think their answer is good in terms of the "getting God's approval" aspect of radical Christian missions, but it doesn't address the "there is so much suffering in the world and you should be doing more to help" aspect. Next week I will talk about how feminism gave me a much healthier way to look at that component.


Posts about Runaway Radical:

The Stories You Can't Tell In Church
Radical Christian Missions
What Feminism Taught Me About Saving the World

Thursday, February 9, 2017


"She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted." Image source.

Links about the orange antichrist:

1. Would You Talk About An Abused Friend Like You Talk About Melania Trump? (posted February 1)

2. Donald Trump is hiding his tax returns: Day 589 (posted January 26) "Realizing the extent of the horrible things he has no problem regularly revealing about himself makes it even more disturbing to imagine what sort of deeds he would try to hide."

3. Kellyanne Conway makes up 'Bowling Green massacre' to defend President Trump's immigration ban (posted February 3) This isn't satire. She actually said this.

4. What History Teaches Us About Trump's Immigration Order (posted January 29) "White abolitionists posted 'wanted' posters around the city, with sketches of the two 'man stealers,' who in turn withstood five days of increasingly taut heckling and threats wherever they traveled. Egging on the crowd, leading abolitionists like Wendell Phillips promised to 'trample [the Fugitive Slave] law under out feet.'"

5. Our Articles on the Attacks Trump Says the Media Didn’t Cover (posted February 7) "Just as striking was what the [White House's] list excluded: attacks targeting Muslims, who make up the overwhelming majority of victims of Islamist terrorism."

6. Elizabeth Warren Reads Coretta Scott King Letter about Jeff Sessions. DAMNNNNNNNNNNNNNN. Senator Warren is right- everyone should read this. Wow. I learned about the civil rights movement in school, how there used to be segregation and racial discrimination written into the laws of the United States, but that was a long time ago. Well guess what, white people- it wasn't actually that long ago, and I'm appalled to learn that some of the same people (ahem Jeff Sessions) who were involved in violent intimidation of black voters are STILL lurking in the US government now. Everyone needs to read Coretta Scott King's letter. DAMNNNNNN.

7. Bryan Fischer: Jesus Would Support the Muslim Ban Since Going To Heaven Involves “Extreme Vetting” (posted February 7) You know how I always say believing in hell COMPLETELY RUINS anything good about Christianity, how it leads to all sorts of shocking, heartless, anti-human beliefs and actions? Well here's Bryan Fischer showing us an excellent example of that exact thing.

8. Ontario to provide life-saving health care to children affected by U.S. travel ban (posted February 3) Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me.

Links about various other things:

1. Buzz Aldrin, Bill Nye Take 'Giant Leap' Down NY Fashion Week Runway (posted February 1) Cool! More photos here and here.

2. How Far Is Too Far (posted February 2) "Because did oral sex count as sex? And if you couldn’t have penis in vagina sex could you ever actually have sex at all? And what if by “petting” you were able to bring someone to orgasm? Was that sex? Even if no penises went into any vaginas? I mean, I guess if you went back to the standard line that asking about where the line was already meant you went too far you had your answers."

3. Harry Potter Theory: Golden Flames Explained (posted February 2) I love this fan theory.

4. When Belief Becomes a Work (posted January 20) "And then he questioned my salvation for even considering the possibility that someone could possibly be Christian and an evolutionist at the same time." (And also you should read this storify.)

5. Discourse in the Garden of Eden (posted January 31) "It’s the tale of humanity’s first bad faith argument."

6. Abortion Is Not a Bible Issue (posted February 3) "Well, I have news for [Franklin] Graham—following his logic, it’s not a biblical command for this country to ban abortion, either."

7. Study: For Those With Autism, Fixations Can Be Beneficial (posted February 3) No shit, Sherlock.

8. Medicine vs. Exorcism: The Real Miracle. (posted January 29) "In fact, this disease may well be responsible for many cases that are considered by Christians to be demonic possession because of its weird, unnerving psychological manifestations and its sudden onset in someone who seemed healthy beforehand."

9. The Danger of the “Wayward Woman” of Proverbs (posted February 7) [content note: rape of a child] "After all, why take the time to learn about grooming when the story already fits perfectly into a “wayward woman” narrative you already know by heart from Proverbs?"

10. Why You Shouldn’t See The Shack – but Why so Many Will (posted January 31) I'm sharing this because it's an example of a thing that Good Christians do- this blogger believes that the movie "The Shack" teaches some incorrect ideas about God, and therefore he says you shouldn't see it. Not "watch it and we can discuss the messages it communicates" but "you shouldn't see it." (This is TOTALLY DIFFERENT from the way feminists critcize harmful messages in movies and other media.) He's from that brand of conservative Christianity that believes it's dangerous to even listen to something that teaches the "wrong" things about God. And the whole blog post is full of "isn't it so sad how so many people nowadays believe things about God that are different from what I believe"- that's not an exact quote, that's me summarizing, but this is an exact quote: "I have the audacity to suggest there is one, specific way to understand all of the scriptures" LOLOLOLOL and by the most lucky of all coincidences, that "one specific way" just happens to be the way that he understands them.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Happy New Year from Yuyuan Garden, Shanghai

To celebrate Chinese New Year, there is currently a 灯会 [dēnghuì], which I will translate as "lantern show," at Yuyuan Garden (豫园 yù yuán). Yuyuan Garden is an extremely touristy area in Shanghai, with old Chinese-style architecture and tons of tiny little shops selling cheap souvenirs. The lantern show there was really cool, so I'm showing you my photos:

They blocked off the streets and everything.

People on this bridge are waiting to see huge lanterns in the shape of the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, and other international landmarks. I didn't want to wait in the line so I didn't end up seeing them.

There were SO MANY police there. Here's a line of police with the words "Hujie Security" on their uniforms.

Is this Paul Bunyan and the blue ox?

吉 [jí] which means "lucky" and sounds like 鸡 [jī] which means "chicken."

Hope you all have a good year of the chicken! <3

Monday, February 6, 2017

Runaway Radical: The Stories You Can't Tell In Church

"Runaway Radical" book cover. Image source.
[content note: spiritual abuse]

The book Runaway Radical: A Young Man's Reckless Journey to Save the World, by Amy Hollingsworth and Jonathan Hollingsworth, tells the story of how Jonathan left college at the age of 20 and moved to Cameroon to work at a missions agency. He planned to be there for one year, but things went very badly and he ended up coming back to the US after only 4 months, with his mental health and his faith in ruins. This is a true story. (Amy is Jonathan’s mother; they wrote the book together.)

I 100% recommend this book to anyone who has been part of radical Christian missions culture. Jonathan’s story is so important because it’s the kind of story you never hear in church. It’s the kind of story we’re not really allowed to tell.

First I’ll summarize the story. There is a movement, especially strong with college-age evangelicals, which teaches we need to follow Jesus by being radical, by making huge sacrifices, taking massive risks and then watching as God turns them into miracles. In this ideology, if you want to be the best Christian you can be, you move to Africa. You give everything up and go live with the poorest of the poor. You show them God’s love. You learn to rely on God when you are in need.

I know all about this ideology. I’ve heard it preached explicitly- especially at Urbana conferences. We’ll talk about it more in another post next week. Anyway, that’s what Jonathan believed, so he raised money and moved to Cameroon, in West Africa, to work at a missions agency. They told him he would be teaching guitar lessons to children and helping to build a church and bakery.

But it turns out the missions organization was SHADY AS HELL. Here’s a bit from Amy’s journal, before Jonathan left for Africa:
We found out yesterday that the workers who are building the church in Cameroon are waiting for Jonathan to arrive (and even give him a day to recover!) before laying the foundation stone. (page 80)
This was completely false. Just after Jonathan arrived, the rainy season started. It rained for 3 months. Just like it does every year. So no, they didn’t start construction, and they KNEW they weren’t going to be starting construction then. And school let out for the summer, so he couldn’t teach guitar lessons. They had promised he would be working on these different things, but that was a lie.

And it got worse. Jonathan soon found out that the church there was really into "prosperity gospel" ideology. Apparently, in African Christian culture, it’s normal for pastors to be rich and tell their congregations to keep giving more and more money and God will make them rich too. Here’s an excerpt from page 84:
During another church service Jonathan attended, the pastor turned the word “testimony” into “taste of money.” He insisted that part of each believer’s testimony- his or her personal story of faith in God- should include a taste of money.
Yeah. Wow. That’s … that’s not good.

Furthermore, the African church had a lot of rules, like Christians aren’t allowed to drink or smoke. But Jonathan’s reason for coming to Cameroon was to share God’s love, so he would go out and meet people and if they were drinking or smoking, he would join in. Yeah, he got in trouble for that; they said it “threatened the reputation of the mission agency” (page 47). And he found out that they didn’t want him interacting with non-Christians or Christians who were “the wrong kind.” They basically just wanted him to preach in front of big crowds. Preach things that violated his conscience.

They limited his freedom more and more, but it took a long time for Jonathan or his parents to understand how bad the situation really was. The radical Christian teachings that Jonathan believed said we are supposed to suffer for God, that it was a test, that he had to stay there and put up with it because that’s what it meant to be obedient to God. But finally, he and his parents realized the truth, and they knew he really really needed to come home.

The missions agency wasn’t letting go without a fight though. They said he couldn’t leave. They refused to give him his plane ticket. Finally he was able to get back to the US, but the missions agency never refunded any of the money from Jonathan’s donors.

So he comes back home and has to figure out how to put his life and his faith back together. But it gets worse: Jonathan’s church in the US made him agree to not tell anyone what had happened. He was told to say he had “philosophical differences” (page 135) and that’s why he left Africa. The US church wanted to cover it up. Oh and also, they told him it would be very wrong for him to stop attending their church while he tried to figure out his faith.

So it’s a story about spiritual abuse. He experienced spiritual abuse in Cameroon and in the US. One of the African leaders, Peter, knew how much Jonathan feared his own selfishness, how he believed he was supposed to sacrifice and suffer more and more and that’s what God wanted. Peter used that against him.

And then when Jonathan came back to his church in the US, here’s what happened:
The senior pastor opened their secret meeting by pulling out his Bible and reading a passage:
Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
The one… who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind.
(Psalm 15:1a,4b)
Peter had shamed Jonathan by using his own words against him. More effective still was to use God’s word against him. (page 133)
This is evil. This is evil. This is spiritual abuse.

And at first, Jonathan and his parents agreed to keep quiet. But they realized that the shame was destroying him, so they decided to write the book to tell his story.

This is the kind of story that never gets told in church. You only hear the miracles and success stories. You only hear about how great missionaries are. In general, the white American church preaches an extremely romanticized view of missionaries, and Africa in particular. Page 83 says this:
Jonathan believed what he read in missionary books and saw in documentaries, that the hearts of African people were simple, noble, and pure. Africa, once called the Dark Continent, was now the last bastion of light, maybe the last sacred place on earth. Stories abound and are quickly disseminated about African children sharing freely; in one popular story they refuse to compete for a single basket of fruit, but hold hands and run toward the coveted prize set before them by an anthropologist. Beautiful and barely dressed, they are the antidote to Western greed. Tired of American materialism, Jonathan hoped not only to live among the poor but to learn from them. To see firsthand those who didn't use monetary metaphors like "value" or "worth." To live with people who cherish others more than possessions (which must be easier to do when you don't have many). To experience those with the innate ability to look into someone else's eyes and understand how important they are.
Yep. All of this sounds so familiar to me. That's exactly how people talked about missions trips in church. But when Jonathan got to Africa, he found that people there had the same sorts of problems with greed and legalism that he had seen in the US. How bout that.

And all I ever heard about missionaries is how they're so amazing, they're basically the most Christian of all Christians. They gave up everything to follow God and go to some awful backwards place where people don't even know how to do stuff. (I got a lot of this sort of reaction from church people when I decided to move to China.) They're preaching the gospel to the groups that haven't heard. They're risking their lives in places where it's illegal to be a Christian. They need to rely on God for everything. They take so many risks and they pray so hard and God does miracles for them.

If that's your view of missionaries, then the fact that leaders at the mission organization totally screwed Jonathan over is just unbelievable. Seriously. I never could have imagined a missionary doing something that bad.

I think maybe the biggest reason behind this over-the-top awe for missionaries is that they depend on other Christians to give them money, so they're not really able to honestly tell those Christians about their problems. If you're trying to decide which missionary (or charity) to give your money to, are you going to pick one that's like "look at all these wonderfully successful things, we are totally changing lives, the people here are so desperately in need and you HAVE TO send money to continue this amazing work God is doing" or one that's like "this is hard, and sometimes I wonder if we're really making a difference or not"? So missionaries only ever talk publicly about the good things. And personally, I don't see how it could be any other way, when you have a system where missionaries need to convince donors to support them financially. They have to say what the donors want to hear, or else they won't get money and can't continue being missionaries.

So you see why a mission agency would want to cover it up when they commit abuse. And if you buy into the whole "missionaries are the best Christians ever and they're doing God's work so many times better than the regular church people", then it almost seems reasonable to cover it up. The organization is in Africa so they're clearly doing amazing things, right? That's so important, wouldn't want any bad news to get out and hurt their ministry.

Jonathan did everything that the church said we should do. Giving everything up, stepping out in faith, moving to a foreign country, in a situation where he was in way over his head and needed to trust God- and it ended disastrously. That's not a story you're allowed to tell in church. But it's a true story and it needs to be told.


Posts about Runaway Radical:

The Stories You Can't Tell In Church
Radical Christian Missions
What Feminism Taught Me About Saving the World