Friday, 3 November 2017

Sherlock Holmes And The Institutional Church

IMDB

Last night I watched the 2015 movie, Mr Holmes. It's a beautiful film which recounts the poignant story of the last years of the life of the world-famous (fictional) detective, Sherlock Holmes. At the age of 93, with his memory failing, he is desperately trying to remember the details of his last case. As the story unfolds, we learn that it was this case which caused him to retire from public life, and withdraw from London to settle in a quiet village on the Sussex coast, where he tends the bees in his apiary.

Eventually, it becomes clear that his handling of that final investigation resulted in the suicide of his client's wife, and he is driven to acknowledge that his intellectual genius is not enough for life. For all his amazing powers of observation and his near miraculous deductive reasoning, he lacks compassion - connection with the humanity of the lives around him.

But it is only when he faces the possible loss of his housekeeper's son - a young boy with whom he has formed a deep bond - that his life finally comes into focus for him and he reaches out to another human soul.

As I reflected on the way the film exposed the incapacity of Holmes' emotional life, I saw a parallel with my experience of the institutional church. Where the detective had his intellect and reasoning, the institution had its cold morality and ceaseless performance. Holmes' raison d'ĂȘtre was solving mysteries in life, but he failed to ever experience the mystery of life. The church's driving passion of compliance and rule-keeping was seen as proof of devotion to God, yet it failed to comprehend the mystical, transformation wrought by the Spirit of God.

Both were concerned with a dispassionate observation of human life - the way things presented to the eye - while maintaining a safe distance from the messy reality of the human heart. Both held at bay any danger of intimate connection or the exposure of their own vulnerability.

And in doing so, both have damaged the lives of those around them - sometimes leading to the death, whether physical or metaphorical, of those lives. For Holmes, the crisis leads to an acknowledgement of his 'sins' and failings. He 'confesses' to his housekeeper:
"There was a woman, once. I knew her less than a day. A quarter of an hour's conversation. She needed my help. She needed so desperately to be understood by someone... Me. So, I laid out the particulars of her case as I saw them... To her satisfaction, I thought. I watched her walk away. And within hours she'd ended her life. By identifying the cause of her despair with such clarity, I'd given her carte blanche to do just as she intended. I should've done whatever it took to save her. Lie to her, make up a story. Take her by the hand and hold her as she wept, and said, "Come live with me. "Let us be alone together." But I was fearful. Selfish. She's the reason I came here to my bees, so that I couldn't harm anyone ever again."
While it was not his intention to harm this woman, his choice to remain detached and dispassionate - to stick to "the facts" - nevertheless contributed to her despair-driven death. Likewise, the church has been culpable in harming countless souls who were offered "the truth" instead of love and connection in the midst of their desperation.

But unlike the church that I have encountered, Holmes does own his failure. He does care that he simply watched this woman walk away to her death. He does acknowledge that his "help" was worthless in the face of her distress. He does, in fact, repent.

The illustrious Sherlock Holmes humbles himself and acknowledges that facts, even when "true", will never meet the very real need for compassion and care in our lives. His eyes are opened to a greater necessity than "the truth" in life, and he allows this understanding to change him. 

In the closing scene, we glimpse his developing relationship with one who he had previously viewed as simply an employee. He has finally started to see the human behind the role; comprehending her capacity to feel and connect, despite the loss and pain she has known. We also witness his homage to the ghosts of his past - people with whom he failed to connect, but whose unacknowledged (and unreciprocated) love and care for him were vital to his well-being. And he finally recognises and honours the worth of their imperfect, irrational love for him.

And as I ponder this transformation in the great detective, I can't help but wonder if the 'church' will ever use a crisis in its own life to such good effect.

Monday, 4 September 2017

What "Intolerance" Can Offer Christians

Here in Australia, as the debate continues to rage over marriage equality, there are many christians loudly and publicly lamenting that they are being subjected to intolerance when they voice their opinions in public arena. It would appear that the tide of public opinion has turned, leaving many christians feeling washed up and alone on the shore.

I understand how painful that can be. Everyone wants to feel free to share sincerely held beliefs without fear of being labelled, shamed or rejected.

Unfortunately, christians are every bit as guilty of this behaviour as anyone else. Affirming christians are being attacked, ridiculed and even having their faith categorically denied by their non-affirming brothers and sisters. LGBTI christians are suffering an even worse offensive, including open and absolute rejection.

Is it unreasonable to expect that those who claim to follow Jesus would have a better way of engaging with opposing views? If we take the name of the one who advocated that we turn the other cheek, and bless our enemies, and even lay down our lives to serve our fellow humans, how can we credibly object and lament simply because our doctrine of sin is no longer accepted or adhered to by the (non-religious) majority?

And how seriously can we expect our complaints to be taken, when we engage in exactly the same behaviour we are so loudly denouncing? How credible do we think we appear, when we "do unto others" the things we are publicly protesting having done to us?

Maybe it's time that christians realised that "the church" no longer holds the position of power in our society it once did. Even more so, that it has squandered any right to expect to be treated as a moral authority by the general population.

It's not comfortable; and it's not pleasant; and it's not what we're used to. But so far, I have not heard of any Aussie christians being beaten senseless, or criminalised, or declared mentally ill, or chemically castrated, or jailed, or murdered for holding an unpopular opinion. And yet for decades, many members of this country's LGBTI community have been subjected to these things simply because they existed.

In light of that, I would suggest that we are facing an important choice. We can continue to complain, and protest, and fight for our rights, and lobby to legislate our morality... or we can choose to see a truly redemptive opportunity for our community in this current climate. Because after living in privilege for so long - experiencing little but power and consensus - we finally have the chance to learn what it means to identify with those who have been marginalised and rejected by society (and the church).

And best of all, despite the well-voiced fears of some, no-one has to "compromise" their convictions, or "water down" their gospel, or "deny" their beliefs. All that is needed is a recognition and acknowledgement of the pain inflicted when people are rejected by their communities and deemed "unacceptable" by their peers; coupled with a willingness to stand with "the least of these" and simply love and serve them.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Truth, Love, And The Australian Plebiscite

Dear Lyle,

As we Australians find ourselves living with the unhappy consequences of the push for a plebiscite, I couldn't help but notice your recent, impassioned plea to "let truth be spoken in love".

It's a really great sentiment, but as I read the letter you addressed to your "friends in the LGBTIQ community" it seemed to me that you might be having some trouble putting that into action.

I'm not sure that anyone has told you this, but creating a long list of the sins of your opponents, and then implying that you are better than they are because you don't act like them, is not really likely to make anyone feel loved.

You see, I know what it's like to have someone tell me about all the wrong, bad, nasty things they think I've done, and then tell me that they love me. It didn't actually make me feel loved. In fact, I didn't believe they loved me at all. (And even if they'd told me that they meant it with all their heart, their protestations of love would have remained meaningless words to me.)

So I thought I might offer you my valuable experience to help you convey your message of love. Please find attached my suggested alternative to your current offering.

Yours sincerely,
An Australian Christian.


To the LGBTIQ community, 
I know I have no right to call you friends, because you have made it clear my sincere attempts to be friendly have completely failed. I am sorry about that, and I want you to know I hope to do better in the future. Would you be willing to forgive me, and help me learn how to really be your friend? 
I know I can't compel you to comply with my way of thinking, but I'm hoping that taking the risk of sharing my heart, and showing my good will by owning my own failings, might help to repair the bridges between us that have been all but destroyed. 
So to begin, there's this ancient collection of books I read quite a lot, called the bible. (I suspect you've heard me mention it once or twice!) I know there's a bunch of other people who read this book too. Like them, I am on a journey of understanding it, but the way I currently understand what this text says is the only way I can at the moment. (Please bear with me, I'm a work in progress, just like you.) 
I know that none of us can claim to have the "correct" interpretation of what it says, but sometimes we forget that. Mostly we do try to hold on to our "truth" with humility and express it with love. (We often fail in that, but we do try.) 
Anyway, my current understanding of this religious text means I am unable to agree that SSM would be good for our society. I know you want me to, but I just can't do it. If I'm being honest, I'd really prefer you saw things the way I do, because I believe that God sees it that way too. But I guess that's not likely to happen, is it? 
So I can only suggest that we try to learn how to disagree without demonising each other. I know I've been guilty of that, but I really do want to change. To prove that to you, I'm going to stop telling everyone that you have a secret agenda to corrupt our children. (I must admit, it's only just occurred to me how much I'd hate it if you went around saying we had a "religious agenda", and acted like we were really trying to pervert your children. Wow! Sorry about that!) 
And I'm sorry that my words and actions have inadvertently sent you the message that you are somehow a lesser human being than me. The bible says that everyone is made in the image of God - so in future, I'll try to do better at seeing the image of my God in you. 
It also seems that I've been so busy talking about protecting children from you and your friends, that I've failed to see how hypocritical I must sound to you. When there is so much awful history in my religion of children suffering unspeakable abuse at the hands of its leaders, my apparent silence on that topic is indefensible. 
I've know I've complained a lot about the really disrespectful behaviour I've been subjected to by people from 'your side' - and implied that you are all the same - but I don't think I've ever acknowledged there has been some incredibly unloving behaviour from our 'side' too. That was wrong of me. I'm sorry. I don't like being judged by the horrible behaviour of some of my supporters, so I promise I'll stop doing that to you, too. 
I can't change what I sincerely believe, and I know you shouldn't have to either. So do you think we can learn how to do this better? I'd really like to try.
Hoping to show more love with my truth in future, Lyle. 
 
 

Monday, 7 August 2017

Sex, Sin, And The Bible

Today, a friend of mine (who happens to identify as christian and gay) posted a link on his page to an article entitled 5 Things You May Not Have Realized About Paul’s Anti-Homosexual Words. My friend asked that people read it with a willingness to understand, rather than a desire to prove the author wrong (or heretical, or whatever).

Since he 'came out' a few years back, this friend has been treated appallingly by certain christians. People who had known and loved him for years seemed to suddenly view him as a monster to be hounded from their midst, rather than a brother to be loved. I know firsthand how maliciously christians can act towards those who fail to comply with their 'truth', and I understand his desire to be loved and affirmed by those who have judged and rejected instead.

The Bible Clearly Says...
But I suspect that this attempt to reach out will fail. Not based on the merits, or otherwise, of the arguments put forth in the article, but because christians have always disagreed over what the bible really says about a great many topics.

From human issues like slavery, racial inferiority, and the equality of women, to theological ones such as the rapture, the pre/mid/post-tribulation timing of such, and the question of whether the earth was created in six literal days, christians have shown that there is only one thing we can be absolutely certain of: the bible will always be used to "prove" completely contradictory things.

So while my empathy for my friend is real, I would suggest to him that he's on a road to nowhere. Because people who are certain of what the bible "clearly says" will simply dismiss out-of-hand any argument contrary to their own. So where to from here?

Well... rather than trying to prove who's right and who's heretical, maybe we need to go back to the example Jesus set. After all, isn't he the one we are supposed to be following?

For starters, Jesus showed he was actually willing to set aside "what the bible clearly said" in order to love. On more than one occasion he was reprimanded by the religious leaders for breaking the law regarding the Sabbath. On each occasion he had "clearly" contravened the law, and yet what was his response? Did he repent because they showed him chapter and verse? No! He basically told them to take a hike, declaring that doing good (and loving others is very good) took precedence over such rules and regulations. In other words, the 'law of love' trumps other, lesser laws.

Likewise, it is important to learn from Jesus's response to the religious leaders when they tried use a woman - caught in the very act of sexual sin - to trap him. When confronted with the law regarding sexual conduct, he turned the focus back onto her accusers, masterfully pointing out to them that they were all declared guilty under "The Law". In doing so, he was not only highlighting their incredible hypocrisy, but was also telling them, in no uncertain terms, to concentrate on their own sin, not that of others.

And before anyone thinks they have an ironclad 'gotcha' by gleefully pointing out that Jesus told the woman to "go and sin no more" just think about this: if Jesus was the only one qualified (by being sinless) to cast the first stone, he was also the only one qualified to tell the woman to refrain from sinning! So next time we hear someone use Jesus's words to this woman as a justification to point out the sins of others, just remember that we are only as entitled to do that, as we are to cast the first stone.

As far as I am concerned, we can argue theology and biblical interpretation until we are blue in the face, but it will change nothing - least of all people's opinions about their own correct thinking. Yet if there is anything that is "clear", it's that Jesus told us love is to govern everything we say or do. Judging and rejecting someone because we believe they are sinning is not an act of love - no matter how we try to spin it.

So regardless of what we believe the bible says about homosexuality, our calling (and example) is to love. If we want to worry about sin, let's worry about our own. But I think we would do far better to let God "worry" about it, and simply concentrate on how we can treat others so that they actually feel loved. If we are being honest, I think we'll agree that that task alone is enough to keep us busy for a lifetime.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Is This Love?

I read a heart-breaking blog post today about a child who reached out for love and understanding from the church, and who was offered judgement and condemnation in their stead. As I was reading, the following words leaped out at me:
“If we want to understand what it means to love, we need to be looking to Christ, and taking notice of those he drew to himself and the way in which he drew them. The way in which we ourselves were drawn.”
Those words raised an important question in my mind: How many people in the church actually have been 'drawn to Jesus' because of his outrageous, totally unconditional love?

pinterest.com
And how many have merely “made a decision for Christ” because they were told that unless they did, they would spend eternity being tortured in hell?

How many simply muttered "the sinner's prayer" like an incantation as insurance against being condemned to an unending punishment, having been assured that the “wrath of God” can be assuaged by nothing less?

And it occurred to me that maybe this is the heart of the problem. That we are unable to love like Jesus loved, because we have never actually received that love ourselves.

I know growing up in the church, this was my experience.

I was told that God loved me. But the proof I was offered was that he slaughtered his own son in order to "pay the debt" I owed him for being born such a miserable sinner. (Even though being born at all was his idea, not mine.)

I was told that Jesus loved me. They said he'd proved it by "taking my place" and getting tortured and killed instead of me. So I kind of owed him. And that meant I had to be on my best behaviour for the rest of my life (a life which he now owned by the way) to somehow make it up to him or something.

So I said a prayer which, I was told, guaranteed me my very own "get-out-of-hell-free" card.

The trouble is, in all of this I hadn't been drawn to Jesus because he loved me. I'd been compelled to say a prayer because I was so scared of what I was told would happen if I didn't.

So I spent years "being a christian" and "going to church", while the love I knew about in theory remained just that. Theoretical. And because of that - because what I'd received was shame and fear, not love - that was all I had to offer others.

All I had to share was the message of how bad I had been until Jesus "took my punishment", and how bad others were until they accepted the same offer and then lived up to the conditions written in small print in the contract. And those conditions seemed to consist mostly of avoiding the list of sins that the church had cherry-picked out of the bible as being really too bad to forgive without a lot of grovelling and recanting, and a little bit of self-flagellation thrown in for good measure.

(Although, now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure some of those "sins" were just made up to make sure we didn't have any fun, and had nothing to do with the bible at all! However, I digress...)

The point is, it is a sad reality that far too many people in the church today would swear blind that they are motivated purely by the love of God, but are really only offering shame and fear and sin-management to those around them. What is even sadder, is that they seem to have genuinely mistaken this for love!

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

When Church Leaders Act Like Abusive Husbands

In my last post, I mentioned that a board member of my ex-church once told me that I had a problem submitting to "godly" authority. I responded by telling him I didn't have a problem submitting to Godly authority. And he didn't like that. At all. I saw his anger. And I didn't care.

Because I knew I wasn't the problem.

My lack of submission wasn't the problem.

But it's only in the last few days, I've seen with clarity what the real problem was.

As I wrote in that last post, the issue of how the church has failed survivors of domestic abuse has hit the headlines here in Australia. And in following the conversations being held, the stories being told, and the responses and reactions of different people, I have seen more clearly into the realities of my own experience of abuse in the church.

And I've had a moment of revelation. An "aha!" moment.

The real problem in our church was not my failure to submit to "godly" authority. It was the failure of its leaders to serve as Jesus served.

In the stories of domestic abuse that I've been reading, the husbands all quoted scriptures to demand submission from their wives. The husbands claimed they had "godly" authority over their wives, and based on this supposed authority they thought it was entirely appropriate to demand that their wives submit to them, no matter how harshly or hurtfully they treated them.

Of course, what they failed to realise is that their use (or misuse) of scripture damns them, not their wives. Because the scriptural call on them as husbands is to love their wives sacrificially, not to sacrifice those they love on the altar of their own inflated egos.

In similar fashion, my fellow leaders appeared to believe they had the right - in the name of God - to enforce submission and to compel obedience from their brothers and sisters. They showed willing to inflict hurt on others in order to gain the desired outcome, and then berate them for being wounded. And in doing so, they displayed their own failure. Because the God from whom they claimed to derive their authority is the God who equates greatness with servanthood, not tyranny. In demanding servility from others, they failed to obey the one who said he came to serve, not to be served.

You see, the problem was not with my refusal to submit. I knew I had nothing to fear from submitting to Godly authority, because I knew that truly Godly authority would never act in a way that harmed me. The "problem" was that I wouldn't submit to abuse. People didn't like me naming it for what it was and, using the same tactics as those abusive husbands, they tried to blame me. Like an abused wife I struggled with that, and sometimes I even fought back, but that did not make me "the problem".

The problem was created by those who, in attempting to crown one man "king" in the church, failed to acknowledge the true King. It lay with those who, in seeking to "lord it over" others, failed to obey the words of the "Lord over all". It was caused by those who, in demanding submission from others, failed to submit to the teachings of Jesus who said, "Do you understand what I’ve done for you? You call me teacher and Lord, and you’re right because that’s what I am. So if I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you must wash each other’s feet. I’ve given you an example that you should follow."

That was the real problem in our midst. "Leaders" demanding submission instead of displaying servanthood. "Followers" who refused to follow.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Submit, Or Else...

This morning, a Facebook memory alerted me to the fact that this time 5 years ago I had just attended my last meeting as an elder of my ex-church. After months of conflict and stress over leadership issues, I had been told that a fellow elder (and his wife) were now seen as the leaders of the church by the church's board, and that if I felt "uncomfortable" with that, I should "consider stepping down" from leadership.

I was convinced that I would be given no peace until I either bowed down to this man, or I resigned. And having already had a taste of the board's highly partisan approach, I knew that I would be treated as a problem - an undesirable - until I complied one way or the other.

Although I can now read the minutes of that meeting perfectly dispassionately, I haven't forgotten how traumatised I was at the time. Time, and the effort I have put into healing, have combined to give me a quite different perspective on the events of that whole year but I do remember, both in the lead up to my resignation, and the devastating aftermath, how many times my thoughts bordered on the suicidal.

But quite apart from Facebook's reminder of its timing, this week I have been thinking about that meeting for another reason. Because the second instalment of an investigation into domestic violence and religion by journalist Julia Baird aired recently. And the same man who sat and delivered the 'submit or resign' message to me at that meeting, responded with the following tweet - apparently absolving the church of any responsibility for the use, or misuse, of its teachings on submission.


Entitled 'Submit to your husbands': Women told to endure domestic violence in the name of God, the report suggested that "the men most likely to abuse their wives are evangelical Christians who attend church sporadically." It includes stories from women who have not only been abused by husbands claiming a mandate from God to do so, but who have also had church leaders fail in their duty of care towards them.

And it appears that the man who once told me that I had "a problem submitting to authority" is now denying the lived experience of countless women who have suffered abuse at the hands of husbands claiming the church's teaching on 'wifely submission' as their justification - women who have been told, as they were being beaten physically or emotionally, that God demands they submit to their husbands. I wonder if he believes they have a problem submitting to authority, too?


According to an article on the ABC News website, this man "said he was "perplexed" by the [...] report which found some church ministers are encouraging victims of domestic violence to remain in violent relationships and "submit" to abuse." He claims he's "never met a leader who supports that proposition" yet he himself happily told me to "submit" to a man whose behaviour had already led to the resignation of one fellow elder, and which had left me struggling with both physical and emotional health problems. The inconsistency and contradiction between these two positions takes my breath away!

So I am writing to add my voice to the growing chorus of those choosing to expose the abuse inherent in a system which selectively calls for the submission of wives to husbands, while ignoring the preceding call for mutual submission between the two. 

I am also questioning the credibility of anyone who, on the one hand apparently denies that any "christian leader" would encourage a woman to simply submit in an abusive marriage relationship, yet who seems to find nothing wrong with insisting that a woman (an elder of the church) should submit in another type of relationship where the "testimony of two witnesses" revealed that bullying and coercion had been at play.

And in doing so I am asking the question: if this dissenting voice is so lacking in credibility, how many other "church leaders" are dismissing or protesting the work of Julia Baird while at the same time enabling, concealing (or even engaging in!) abuse in the church, conveniently justifying and excusing it under the doctrine of "godly submission"?

Friday, 5 May 2017

Questioning Kris (Touch Not God's Anointed)


There seems to be an incredible amount of drama coming from certain christian circles these days. Not so long ago, a group of church-goers almost broke the internet over the 'scandal' of a woman breast-feeding in church.

Now a new catastrophe has been unleashed, with the publication of an open letter from a graduate of Bethel's School of Supernatural Ministry. This graduate has had the temerity to challenge the church over its behaviour and attitude towards LGBT christians in its midst. It would appear that some people can't deal with the outrage of the words of their idols celebrity pastors being questioned. Touch not God's anointed and all that...

I noticed that one Bethel "pastor" posted this in response (making me wonder if he actually read the original letter):



Although one of his followers described it as "bold, clever and uncompromised" I, in fact, don't believe it stands up to much scrutiny.

"I cannot believe the arrogance of 2 Lgbt women who say they are Christian, who just wrote an article against Bethel." [emphasis added]
Disregarding the accusations of arrogance... isn't implying you believe someone else isn't a "real" christian just a bit... well... arrogant?

Regardless, it seems to me that the real cause of Ben's anger is the fact that someone has dared to challenge Bethel and its leaders - thus touching the sacred cow.

"It's absolutely shameful to even challenge people who love and honor so well."  [emphasis added]
Hmmm... if they "love and honor so well" why is this woman saying she feels unloved and dishonoured? "What I see coming from Bethel in this area is not respectful or honoring."

"Who are you to question the God of the universe and His words that have been there from the ages."
Is the issue really about questioning God? Or is it questioning the "man of God" that really gets Ben riled? Because the God I know has never been afraid of being questioned.

"I had a period in my teens where I had a same sex attraction, but God delivered me from it, and I never struggled again."
Simple as that. Magic. And everyone should be like Ben, because his experience trumps their's!

"And as for bethel, my life was changed there. I had huge issues and was nothing but embraced and I know for a fact you both were too."
Again, Ben's experience trumps that of others. Furthermore, he gets to tell them what their experience actually was (that's called gas-lighting girls and boys...) Perhaps, in his haste to react, Ben missed the parts where the writer speaks positively about Bethel, acknowledging her gratitude for the good things she found there?

"Your just upset cause they wont bend and make your feelings more valuable then Gods standards."
More accusations, and more outrage that the leaders at Bethel should have to consider the feelings of others. I do wonder if he's confusing Bethel's standards, with God's...

"If you don't want to change however, and want to live by emotion, feeling and sensuality..."
As this is exactly the type of judgement the writer was lamenting in her letter "[Kris Vallotton] also said homosexuals are simply people whose character has atrophied to the point where we no longer have the moral fortitude to hold ourselves back from our lusts", I'd say Ben has learned well from his leaders.

"...I won't sit back while my friends get accused"
Maybe it's time we learned the difference between accusation and disagreement. Disagreeing with a brother, even if he's a leader at Bethel, is not a sin.

"Ps: they wrote against Bethel and were praised for standing up!" [emphasis added]
Despite his repeated accusation that the author "wrote against Bethel", it's actually not true. She was simply voicing her concerns about one aspect of Bethel's teaching. And she was praised - very appropriately IMO - for the grace she displayed even in her disagreement with the church. "Bethel is a beautiful place. Thank you for the 6 years of community and equipping. I hope Bethel is able to have a positive impact on people for years to come."

"I will keep this post up for a short time - because it's not my heart to divide, but rather to lay a firm ground for truth."
This looks to me more like a desire to enforce conformity, not present the truth. The not-so-subtle message here is: comply with the dictates of the church or you will be accused of creating division.

But as the letter pointed out, "You told us over and over, both in school and in church, that disagreement was healthy and that we didn’t have to agree to be family. Kris, you talked about God moving us away from denominationalism (where we gather out of agreement) and into apostleship (where we gather because we’re family). And I still believe that’s the direction we’re meant to take."

Now it seems to me that driving all this bluff and bluster from Mr Fitzgerald is a dangerous belief that there are some christians who are beyond being questioned or challenged. Because, irrespective of the issue being debated, this type of reaction from any church leader speaks of a culture suspiciously akin to Animal Farm. In other words, "All christians are created equal, but some are more equal than others!"

So maybe it's time we stopped treating celebrity pastors like demigods, and realised we are all brothers and sisters here. No-one is infallible. No-one is above questioning. And no-one's word should be taken as gospel.


Saturday, 29 April 2017

Breastfeeding In Church Will Not Cause Armageddon!

I'm afraid I've been thinking again...

This time it's about something that was posted in a Facebook group I belong to. Apparently some mum in Virginia (USA) went to church one Sunday morning, and tried to breastfeed her daughter while listening to the sermon. She was quickly asked to leave the room because of it, and when she enquired, was told that this was church policy. (It is worth noting, that this policy is in violation of the law of that state.)

This mum then spoke publicly about what she experienced... and boy did the sh*t hit the fan!

I have spent some time today reading the comments section of her post, and I'm still reeling from the nastiness from the church-going public.

Apparently, breastfeeding in church is not "decent", or "considerate of others". This mum was being "ridiculous" and "should have fed her child before going to church"; gone "into another room"; gone "somewhere private"; or at least "covered up" so that she didn't "bring all that drama to the church, the house of God."

This mum is apparently "totally devoid of common sense" for "flipping her BOOBS out", and "show[ing] NO concern for the stress [she] caused on others".

And on, and on it went...

"You just have no morals."
"...she's after money."
"...you just wanted 15 mins of fame..."
"You should be ashamed of yourself."
"This lady pulled her BOOB out in front of the church..."
"I pray that God Himself will deal with you."

And here's my personal favourite:

"Some one suggested that there is some group, or atheist occult that has put her up to this to get the church to change its policy, to attack it just to show its power over the church. Or to divide it. John 10:10 - The enemy comes but to kill, steal, and destroy. Mathew 11:12 - the Kingdom suffereth violence and the violent taketh by force."

Dear God, get a grip! All this "it's-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it", simply because a mum tried to breastfeed her child in 'church'!!! Is this really what we have become!?

I just wonder how some of these people would react if a homeless person wandered in off the street. Would they lose the plot entirely, or just demand she go and have a bath and put on decent clothes?

And I wonder if these church-goers would eject the son of Mary and Joseph from their "house of God" because he didn't fit their middle-class morality. 

And I wonder if this would even be an issue at all if it was men, and not women, who were equipped by God to breastfeed their young.

But I don't wonder at all why more and more people are permanently leaving the building that some call church.

And I certainly don't wonder why there are so many people who believe christians are not safe to be around...

Monday, 24 April 2017

#ThingsOnlyChristianWomenSay?

I don't know about you, but my newsfeed has been full of talk about the conversation started by Sarah Bessey recently. Using the hashtag #thingsonlychristianwomenhear, women are speaking out about the crap they have had to endure in the name of religion.


But I wonder if perhaps we need a 'sister' hashtag - #thingsonlychristianwomensay

Because at the weekend, I was introduced to a blog written by a christian woman which is chock full of #thingsonlychristianwomenhear

This woman has no hesitation in denouncing her sisters as "false teachers" based on the belief that her own interpretation of the bible is the only correct one.
"The Bible tells us that women are not to preach to, teach the Bible to, or exercise authority over men in the gathered body of believers. Not in the four walls of a church, not on a simulcast, not at a Christian conference. Period."
And is happy to shut down any conversation to the contrary:
"While I understand how disconcerting it can be to see a warning against a celebrity Bible teacher you happen to love, please don’t waste your time commenting (it won’t be published), messaging, or e-mailing me to lambaste me for doing so. Your objection is not unique, clever, or biblical..."
She has no problem in insisting that her view of scripture is simply basic training for all "real" christians.

And apparently she doesn't recognise how Pharisaical it is to deny others a liberty:
"Your comment will not be published or responded to if:
It... questions my salvation or the salvation of others who share the beliefs I’ve outlined above." 
which you have no hesitation in indulging yourself:


The incredible arrogance of such a position is staggering, and I find the sickly sweet wrapping of "christian" solicitude nauseating. So naturally enough, it got me indulging in my favourite sin of thinking.

And while I am not wanting to single out or attack this woman as such, I do question the acceptability of her behaviour, and it does raise the question in my mind, "Is her behaviour actually the fruit of her theology?"

Because I wonder what it does to your sense of self to have spent your entire life buying into a theology which says that men are created as leaders and women were created to serve them. And if you have had no choice but to submit to someone simply because they are male - to suppress so much of who you are in order to prove your godliness and your worth to God - how does that affect your beliefs about your (male) god?

And let's take it a step further. If your unquestioning compliance is taken as a given from those you are told God has put in authority over you, how does that affect the way you "lead" in your area of authority?

Does a woman who has bought into this theology - who has convinced herself that this is the only right and godly way for a woman to be - simply pass on the favour to those below her in the pecking order? Knowing only an authoritarian style of leadership herself, does she simply demand that those she is "allowed" to teach (i.e. other women, and children) be every bit as submissive and unquestioning as she is to those above her?

Does this theology in fact breed arrogance and hypocrisy? Does it have no other response to questioning, than silence and shaming? Does it only stand up by denying any other voice but its own? Because from where I'm standing, it looks remarkably like it does.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Twisting Theology

In the last couple of days have been laid low by a nasty virus. Rather boringly, it is the second time this particular ‘friend’ has visited in the past few weeks, and I’m just a little bit over it!

But, given the fact that this past term has been quite stressful on a number of fronts, it’s hardly surprising that it has had a detrimental effect on my health.

The funny thing is that there are people from my religious past who would have no hesitation in claiming that my ill-health is proof of God’s displeasure for my heretical beliefs and my un-submissive ways.

I can almost hear it now:

“God will not be mocked.” “You reap what you sow.” “Obedience leads to blessing, but those who turn from God are cursed.” “You need to repent of your sin.”

I suspect you get the picture…

And yet, I always seemed to hear something quite different whenever sickness or misfortune marred their own lives. It was the enemy trying to stop them "advancing the kingdom". Or it was a particular person (usually one who they didn’t like) who was putting a curse on them.

Never did I hear, “It’s because we’ve sinned and we need to repent.”

Illness was God’s judgement when it afflicted “them”, but it was the enemy’s attack when it affected “us”.

How twisted our theology can get when we need it to prove our point – or even score points against our enemies. No wonder so many believers are walking away from this nonsense.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Unforgiveness...

Every now and then, I have one of those moments which expose the utter bankruptcy of my previous religious experience. Today, a dear friend helped to expose another one.

You see, I have been told whenever I've protested abuse and injustice at the hands of the religious that I'm just "bitter and unforgiving".

And yet, these same people who accuse me, also claim that they have done nothing wrong.

But as my friend challenged, how can forgiveness be needed - or indeed, extended - when there has been no wrong-doing?

What would there be to forgive?

So to all those people who have denied any wrong-doing towards me, and have then accused me of unforgiveness, I say this:

You cannot have your cake, and eat it too.

Either you have wronged me, and you feel justified in your claim of unforgiveness on my part;

or

you have done nothing wrong, and therefore to claim unforgiveness on my part is a nonsense.

But you can't have it both ways.

So if you want to accuse me of being unforgiving - which means there is something you have done that requires my forgiveness - please own it, and let's deal with the crap that lies between us.

I've always advocated that path.

Otherwise your accusations against me are, at best, meaningless.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Love Does Not Look Like Judgement

I've been thinking since I wrote my last post about our use of the phrase "Love the sinner, hate the sin." In that post I was suggesting that going out of your way to point out and denounce whatever you view as sin in the lives of others, under the guise of "love", is not in fact a very loving thing to so.

I've struggled with the notion that people who claim to worship a God whose very essence is love, can be some of the most hurtful, hateful, unloving people around. And that in so many cases, christians are not known for their love, but for their bigotry and fear and condemnation of others.

And I've wrestled with the reality that I've encountered many christians who seem to use the word love to describe behaviour which just isn't loving.

Like the board member at my ex-church who told me I'd been loved, and so I should just shut up and get over it.

I'd been bullied and then dismissed. I'd been told to submit or resign. I'd been removed from leadership. I'd been continually silenced. I'd suffered accusations based on lies. And I'd been treated like a pariah.

Yet here was this guy writing to me, "You. Have. Been. Loved." How could anyone possibly call what I'd been subjected to "love"?

It sure didn't feel like love to me.

But that's just a single example. It so doesn't stop there. Every day, both online and face to face, people are being judged, rejected, cold-shouldered, put down, shunned, bullied, and silenced. And all the while the perpetrators are claiming to love! In the name of their god no less!

And that's where it gets interesting - or at least that's where the light-bulb illuminated for me. Because it occurred to me that despite paying lip-service to the notion that God IS love, many christians obviously have a view of God that is anything but loving.

It seems that the god many worship is a god of anger and vengeance. One who only tolerates us because his own son stood between us and the bloodlust of his father. A god who demands that we work hard, and jump through hoops, and suffer just to avoid the inevitable judgement that is our due.

And if, deep down where people may not even admit it to themselves, God is seen in these terms, it's no wonder they would think that judging and pointing fingers and demanding people live in line with their own morality is what love looks like. That is, after all, what their god looks like.

http://www.lovethispic.com

Monday, 27 February 2017

"Loving The Sinner..."

Love the sinner, but hate the sin.

Despite what some people say, this phrase is not from the bible. 

But it is frequently used by christians an excuse to declare how sinful the 'lifestyle choices' of others are.

"I love you, but you're going to hell." "I'm only telling you how sinful you are because I love you." 

I do not believe that anyone has ever felt loved by that! And I've certainly never seen anyone change their behaviour because they were told how much their sin was hated.

But the bible does tell us that God's kindness leads us to repentance. So maybe we can leave it up to him to deal with other people's sin. Just maybe that's his business, not ours.

All Jesus told us to do was love our neighbour as much as we love ourselves. Not to go around pointing out their sins. Just to love them. 

And last time I looked, we weren't doing that very well! So maybe we can concentrate on practicing what we have been told to do, and let the instructions we've added fall to the wayside.

A-Z Quotes

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Who Amongst Us Is The Greatest?

Today I was reading the latest post from Pete Enns, which is basically an extract from a book by Anthony de Mello (who was an Indian Jesuit priest and a psychotherapist).

It includes the following parable:
"A group of tourists sits in a bus that is passing through gorgeously beautiful country; lakes and mountains and green fields and rivers. But the shades of the bus are pulled down. They do not have the slightest idea of what lies beyond the windows of their bus. And all the time of their journey is spent in squabbling over who will have the seat of honor in the bus, who will be applauded, who will be well considered. And so they remain till the journey’s end."
I read it... and then read it again.

And then I felt like weeping.

Not only does this perfectly describe my own experience of leadership at my ex-church, but it is an incredibly apt description for way too much of Western 'churchianity'.

Jesus came to set us free. He offers us an abundant life. An easy yoke.

He released us from man-made religious obligations, and rescued us from hierarchical ladder-climbing.

We are now all welcomed as children of God. Brothers and sisters born into God's royal family. One body with One head.

We have been reconciled to God and restored to relationship with him - and in him.

We have been unchained from death, and liberated to live in such freedom that nothing can ever come between us and the love of the One who is Love.

We have all this, and yet so many of us remain oblivious to the splendour of our surroundings because we are so focussed on squabbling over the question of who amongst us is the greatest.

How tragic is that!?