Internet Wars Cause Real Life Casualties

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Since writing my post on the Tony Jones Debacle of 2015, events have continued to unfold. Open and honest communication between camp Julie and camp Tony has been strained and tenuous, at best. People from Stuff Christian Culture Likes and the Wartburg Watch have continued to call on high profile individuals within the progressive Christian community and those directly involved with what’s gone down with Julie and Tony in the past to communicate with and listen to Tony Jones’ ex-wife, Julie McMahon. Responses from people like Brian McLaren, Matthew Paul Turner, Rachel Held Evans, and Nadia Bolz-Weber have ranged from an apparent willingness to communicate and make amends, to angry blog and social media posts, to silence.

Meanwhile, critics of camp Tony have been anywhere from measured and tenacious, to aggressive and abusive, to their best impression of a soccer player beating the hell out of another player and then saying, What? I didn’t do anything!

I haven’t been able to keep up with every single volley back and forth between the camps, nor all the blog and social media posts. (In fact, some have been deleted, making it impossible for me to read.) But here is what I’ve observed, and what has taking up a good deal of my headspace.

The Calling of Shenanigans
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One major criticism by Group Julie against Rachel Held Evans is that she has publicly, and quite often, called out Mark Driscoll for his abusive theology, misogyny, and homophobia. She even went so far as to contact the elders at Mars Hill, and encouraged others to do so as well, to demand that they make Mark Driscoll change his behavior. Not only did she discuss public statements, like his books and those made in sermons, but also stories of former congregants who escaped the Mars Hill madness. Matthew Paul Turner did the same. (I believe MPT has disabled his blog for now. The original letters he posted from a former congregant who was under discipline at Mars Hill, therefore, are no longer there.)
In comparison, Rachel has decided to mostly stay out of this clusterfuck, instead advocating for resolution through the court system, (as she has before when decrying the horrific nightmare of Sovereign Grace Ministries.) Of course, it makes sense to pursue resolution through the courts, to a point. Rachel can’t call a Twitter quorum and decide custody issues. But there is more at play here than a domestic relations dispute. We have tacit support of a friend and colleague, Tony Jones, and all those who engaged in abuse and inappropriate behavior. There seems to be an unwillingness to believe that a woman who threatened to kill herself in order to get Tony to skip yet another trip away from his family, could be the same woman who was physically, verbally, and emotionally abused by this man.
And you know what? I get it. It’s easy to cry foul on a person, like Mark Driscoll, for whom there is no love lost. It’s much harder when the person is your friend and colleague. It’s harder when you’re in shock because of what he has been accused of doing. It’s harder when the other person, (Julie) has a tendency for high emotion and dramatics, and your friend has told you that she’s mentally ill. By the same token, I’m sure it’s easy to cry foul on Tony Jones when you don’t like him. Most of the people who believed Julie from the outset had no love for Tony. That’s not to say that they weren’t right for believing Julie right away.

Abuse and assumptions
Some of the people in groups like Stuff Christian Culture Likes can be real dicks. It doesn’t matter what you say or what your reasons are, if it doesn’t align with what they want and expect, you are clearly a horrible person. Even when people change their minds, like Matthew Paul Turner finally, publicly declaring that he believes Julie, it’s too little, too late. Every single action and possible motive is scrutinized and framed by that person’s past experience of church abuse. It seems to be forgotten that people like Rachel, Matthew, and Nadia are just people. They’re imperfect people who make mistakes and don’t have impervious armor for when verbal abuse,
and valid criticism alike, rain down on them.

And, as in all things, the dicks ruin things for everyone. It’s easier for Matthew Paul Turner to call SCCL a swarm and hide when people are rude and hold him accountable for every injustice ever. But for the most part, the people within SCCL are measured, reasonable, and thoughtful people who are hurting. They know what abuse looks like because they’ve been abused. They can smell the stink of church-speak and gaslighting from a mile away. They know that, perhaps, all of this could have been avoided if progressive leaders had just listened to Julie. They just want to be heard, understood, and for injustices to be made right.

The Proud Don’t Live Here
Documents from Julie and Tony’s divorce, psychological evaluations, and Julie’s medical records were released the other day. Whatever Julie may have done, it’s clear that Tony and church members abused and railroaded her. Such a person has no business being in a position of power and authority, especially when he doesn’t get how any of it is his fault.
From what I saw, no one was dancing an I told you so dance. In groups like SCCL, the only emotions I saw were hurt, anger, confusion, and grief. Not only were they, (and I) heartbroken over the abuse, but also the reactions, so far, from progressive leaders. Matthew Paul Turner deactivated his online presence and went dark. I’ve only seen silence from Rachel and Nadia, although I’m still hopeful that they are taking time to respond thoughtfully. I imagine that, they too, are possibly grieving. No one ever wants to be right about abuse. No one wants to be right that they are witnessing church abuse and the silencing of victims all over again, especially from people who gave people like me hope for the future of the church. Everyone has been wounded. No one is celebrating.

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Love fail

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I want to begin this post with an apology. I know that, along the way, I must have said or done things that were hurtful to people in my life who are gay or have gay loved ones. If you happen to read this, I want you to know how deeply sorry I am. I may have been ignorant and never intended any harm, but I know that doesn’t erase that pain I caused. And if I continue to say or do things that offend, please tell me. The last thing I want to do is cause even more pain than I’ve already caused.

Did you know that being gay is a choice? At least, that’s what I was taught for years. Within the evangelical community, gay people were deviants choosing to live in sin. Or they had some kind of trauma as a child, like sexual abuse or an absent parent of the same sex. As a coping mechanism, they chose to be within a same-sex relationship. Did you also know that lesbian relationships are extremely abusive? We received all of this information from groups like Exodus Ministries, the Family Research Council, and Dr. James Dobson, so we knew it was credible.

Clearly, I don’t believe any of this garbage anymore. But for a long time, I truly believed that gay people were simply mentally ill and just needed help, just like those with depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder. I don’t know that I ever felt what I would call hatred, but I was definitely homophobic. They were different. The thought of gay sex grossed me out. I didn’t understand what I believed to be the gay lifestyle which, to me, was exemplified in gay pride parades where mostly naked men with washboard abs gyrated in Speedos atop parade floats or stout women with short, spiky haircuts wearing plaid shirts and clunky shoes.

So what changed? How did I go from a brainwashed homophobe to someone who believes that gay marriage should be legal and simply called marriage. Or someone who is still filled with rage and sorrow over what happened this past week with World Vision?
I changed. It took time, and I’m sure there are still plenty of rough edges that need to be rounded out. My heart and mind opened up as I met people along the way who cast out my fear and prejudices. People like a guy in high school who didn’t know me, but took the time to help me with my choir audition. People like my friend, A, who came out to me and it changed nothing. She was still my friend, who called me on my shit when I did something homophobic. People like former co-workers, who were told they were going to burn in hell by their “friends” because of who they were attracted to. People like Justin Lee, whose story and work revealed to me just how deeply entrenched the lies about the LGBT community are. People I have known, dated, worked with, or just met in passing who have the same hopes, dreams, lives, and love that I, and everyone else, have. These people and these stories showed me just how wrong I had been and just how insidious the lies I had been fed were.

But you know what? Even if the lies I was told growing up were 100% true, it still wouldn’t give evangelicals or anyone else the right to treat the LGBT community the way they have been treated. It doesn’t give The Family Research Council cause to equate a gay person with a terrorist or a pedophile. It doesn’t give churches the authority to say who is and isn’t allowed to worship God. It doesn’t make it okay to treat people as second class citizens. It doesn’t give a country, nor its citizens, the right to rape, imprison, or execute its gay citizens, (nor to help craft such laws and attitudes.) It doesn’t give you leave to feel superior as you say idiotic things like, I love the sinner, but hate the sin or Gay lifestyle. (And a side note: everyone knows that “gay lifestyle” is simply evangelical for sex. If someone can clearly define for me what a “straight lifestyle” is, without the use of any terms that relate to sex, gender, and genatalia, then you’re clearly full of shit. And I have no fucking clue why evangelicals are so fucking obsessed with, well….fucking.)

The LGBT community has been a casualty of the culture wars for so long. I’m proud to say that I have defected, and will do what I can to stand up for the rights and lives of my fellow human beings. I beg the evangelical community to dispense with the lies and let go of your bigotry. I know thems fightin’ words, but it’s the truth. I refuse to dance around it and try to make what is happening more palatable. And I can say for certain that that is what is happening because I’ve been there. And no matter how you try to phrase it or hide behind what you interpret the Bible to say, you do not come across as loving. Because it isn’t loving. Love doesn’t hold selfishness and fear. (And when it comes down to it, this is about you and your comfort and understanding.) Love casts those things out. It lays down ones own rights for those of another. And while you and I may continue to fail, love never will.

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To Be in Christ

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My dad has a special talent. He has the ability to shut down arguments. Like a guided missle, he can target his words to the very heart of whoever is involved and leave them speechless. I have inherited a sharp tongue, and have learned to shut arguments down as well. I try to avoid doing it because, while it can have the immediate relief of ending the argument, it usually means I will have said something I regret.

But when I see things like what Rachel Held Evans posted on Storify yesterday, (and all the other Twitter conversation) it makes it hard not to say something. (It also gives me heartburn. And I don’t mean that in a Christianese sort of way. I actually took two TUMS.) Over and over, people who call themselves followers of Christ behave in ways that in no way reflect Jesus. (Side note: Can I just say, Rachel should be considered for sainthood given her ability to remain calm, assertive, and respectful while flaming piles of BS are lobbed her way.) I so desperately want to jump in and say, Rather than referring to these people as brothers (or sisters) in Christ, can we just call it like it is so we can all go home? They’re assholes who feel threatened by a strong woman calling shenanigans on them, and are hiding behind the patriarchy they’ve helped create. Nothing about their behavior suggests they are “in Christ”! It’s not helpful. It’s not productive. It’s not nice. But dammit if it doesn’t make me feel relieved to say it.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul said that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Gal 5:22-23 In Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus taught his disciples how to recognize false prophets, telling them that they would know a tree by the fruit it bears.
No one, including me, could claim that I am an example of what it means to be in Christ. For one, I’m not even certain of the existence of God. But part of the reason why I don’t care to be involved in church right now is because I invariably find people who almost seem to make it their business to behave like massive douche canoes. And all in the name of God, praise The Lord. After awhile, even lab rats know when to stop pressing the pedal that doles out painful electric shocks. Ya know? If one were to assess whether someone was in Christ based on consistent bad behavior and attitudes, logically, one would have to come to one of two conclusions: 1) That the someone is either not genuinely following Christ or, 2) Jesus was a giant asshole who consistently denigrated people with different points of view and treated people as less than as part of His bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.

Even though Mike and I are not Catholic, we watched with baited breath as Jorge Bergoglio was revealed to be the new Pope. As Pope Francis began his address by asking everyone to pray for him, I developed a massive “Pope Crush”. With each thing he does, the “crush” gets worse: washing the feet of prisoners; refusing the papal apartment for more modest accommodations; choosing his own old, beat up car over the PopeMobile; becoming an example in Catholicism of love toward the LGBT community; working to eradicate corruption among priests and the Vatican Bank. I’ve commented to Mike how, for the first time in a long time, he is a leader in the church in whom I actually see Jesus reflected. While some have commented on how sad that is, I choose to see it as a glimmer of hope. Maybe, just maybe, it’s the beginning of a change within the church. Perhaps, more and more, we will see in others what it means to be “in Christ”. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll find myself in there again, too.

Spiritual Abuse

If you’ve grown up in an Evangelical church with contemporary worship, traditional Lutheran liturgy can be the most yawn-inducing, mind-numbing, head-pewing, soporific experience ever. The congregation painfully wends its way through a march hymn in the ELW, (or the LBW before it) sounding as joyful as Ralphie getting a pink bunny suit on Christmas Day.
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As we face the baptismal font and dolefully recite the Apostle’s Creed, you start to get the eerie feeling that any minute everyone will start chanting, One of us. One of us. If you happen to have a non-charismatic, horrible story-telling, devoid of point-making/lectionary tying-in pastor, you’ll start looking around at others during the sermon to see if they’re engaged. You think, Seriously? Where did you find this guy?

So, the first time Mike and I went to the church I grew up in, (which has become a mega church since leaving for college) I knew he would get to see how worship was really done. We entered a dim auditorium, starkly contrasted with the sterile, light-flooded narthex in which we had been moments earlier. Christian “rock” played over the sound system as we found our movie theater-style seats. We face a curtained stage where instruments sat dormant, waiting for their players to bring them to life. The stage was flanked by two large screens that flashed announcements and Christian imagery for people to look at as they milled about in conversation before service began. Finally, the worship team took the stage, and I smugly awaited the moment I would get to tell Mike, Told you so! But that moment never came. With the first strum of the amplified guitar, my brain exploded and my ears bled. For the next 15 or so minutes, the music team led in worship performed and I clumsily tried to follow unfamiliar songs, unable to hear the sound of my own voice. Later, as we left the service, I realized I was unable to hear normally. My ears rang and everything sounded muffled. My mom, who had asked us to come to church with them that day, apologized and assured me that the sound level was abnormally loud that day. The next time we came was a couple of years later. This time I had two things: a baby and the sense to leave the sanctuary with her the moment my ears started bleeding.

I tell this story because I want you to know that I know what I’m talking about when it comes to loud, Evangelical worship before I talk about this open letter from the Mars Hill music minister to concerned congregants who have complained that the music during worship is too loud. If you are supplying ear plugs and people are complaining, it’s not a matter of personal preference or people being curmudgeonly. It’s. Too. Fucking. Loud!

But that’s not the point of this post. As the title suggests, I believe the open letter to be spiritual abuse. Here’s why.

1) It’s cowardly
When someone comes to you and says that you’re hurting them, it can be a natural reaction to get defensive. But a pastor’s role is to serve their congregation, not to hole up in their office and lob open letter grenades at them. If only a few congregants have complained, it’s cowardly not to speak to them directly. If so many congregants have complained that you feel the need to respond open letter style, it may be time to reevaluate, lower your defenses, and make some changes.

2) It’s silencing
To take to the internet and tell people why they’re wrong in a very public way is not meant to foster understanding. It’s meant to shut people up. While at first glance it may seem like Pastor Dustin is giving information about decibel levels, here’s what he’s really saying: he’s saying that your concerns and discomfort are not legitimate. But then he goes beyond that. He uses proof texts to support his position of wanting to be loud. Anyone who’s been in the Evangelical community long enough knows that proof texts are not meant to foster respectful discussion. They are meant to shut your opponent, (yes, that word is often used in apologetics) down and shut them up. The bumper sticker, The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it. comes to mind. The letter might as well have said, End of discussion! at the end.

3) It’s shaming
One way women are taught to recognize abuse from their partners is that they make the woman feel or tell them they’re crazy for feeling a certain way, or they make the woman believe it’s her fault. This happens several times in the letter.

“If this is so, then why do people still complain? For one, some people have more sensitive hearing than others…”

Right there he removes any responsibility from himself and blames the listeners. If the music is bothering you, then it’s probably your fault.

“The idea that worship music should only be quiet and contemplative is simply not biblical.”

“And because, as Christians, we have much to celebrate, most Sundays at Mars Hill will be more like wedding receptions than funerals.”

These false “either/or” arguments serve one purpose: to make anyone who doesn’t want to endure music so loud they can’t hear themselves think feel bad. At no time does Pastor Dustin accept any responsibility for his part in the loud worship. All blame is shifted to others, be they the volunteers or people complaining. (Blaming the instruments was inspired; a call for increased giving if ever there was one.) If you prefer something more quiet and contemplative, there’s something wrong with you. You’re unfaithful or just sad.

All of this amounts to spiritual abuse because Pastor Dustin is using his position of power and the Bible for his own purposes, so he may do as he pleases and you will shut up about it. And for good measure, he’ll make you feel stupid and unfaithful so it never happens again.

A friend of mine, who enjoys Mark Driscoll, (senior pastor) and the teachings of his church, rightfully pointed out that I had a bee in my bonnet about this because I hate Mars Hill. Well, partially right anyway. Hate isn’t the right word. They make me angry and disgusted. Open letters like this one are just another public example of why I am angry and disgusted. That anger is not delegitimized simply because I am consistently disgusted and appalled by the misogynistic, homophobic, mental illness stigmatizing, sex obsessed (and here) garbage that’s frequently dumped on the church.

And some of you may ask, Is this open letter really that big of a deal? It doesn’t seem that bad. Of course it doesn’t. That’s how it always starts.