Default position…

Initially, this was going to be a series of tweets. But once I started writing, I could not stop…

I am not an SBC member. But I am a Christian woman who has encountered unwanted advances from a “pastor”. Thankfully, I was not assaulted, but it could have easily happened. The thought of bringing the incident to the attention of the deacon board of the church was so incredibly frightening to me that I refused. Instead, I and my father confronted him privately. But although he confessed privately to us that what he did was wrong, he would never acknowledge it before his congregation. So, I left. He remained, and continued on with his behavior, ultimately leading to disastrous consequences. When I learned this, I felt guilty. What would have happened had I come forward?

The same thing that is happening to all of the women coming forward today. I would have been shamed. I would have branded the whore, the seducer, the liar. I would not have been believed. And the wounding that had already occurred by his initial action would have been compounded by the character assassination I would have endured. In the end, sadly, the outcome for him would have likely been the same: he would have remained and continued down the same path that led to his downfall.

It saddens me that I can predict this with such certainty. But I know how it works. And it is wrong.

We are taught that to be good, Christian women we must submit to our male authorities. We are further taught that men are given the charge to shepherd and lead. But what happens when a man does not shepherd and lead well? What happens when a man uses his leadership role to abuse and exploit? Is there any safe space for a woman to testify to abuse at the hands of someone who is supposed to protect and lead? Are we honoring the image of God in either the man or the woman when we shove such sins under the rug, instantly assume the woman is lying, or traumatize women into silence?

And if this is the culture we inhabit – one in which a woman who does come forward is further dehumanized and debased by those whose purpose is to protect the reputation of the man and the fragile hierarchy of the institution – why are we then surprised that women choose to stay silent? If the outcome can be predicted with such brutal precision, self-preservation will cause someone to shy away from exposing herself to further abuse.

If the first instinct when I woman comes forward is to demand to know why she waited so long, or question if she is “sure” she was assaulted, or to simply call her a liar, why would a woman ever come forward? Would you? Why must we “wait for the facts” before judging the man (even if all the facts are laid bare before us in stark relief), but instantly judge the woman coming forward and brand her suspect?

Would you come forward in such an environment?

There so many qualifiers I could place on what I am seeking to convey here; so many “What about”, or “What if” scenarios that can be put forward. No one would say such cases are easy, or that wisdom and discernment are needed to separate truth from fiction. But if the default position is always to suspect the woman and protect the man, then there is a problem with how we are doing things.

My heart is sick about what I am witnessing in the SBC. Even though I am not SBC, my solidarity with believers transcends denominational boundaries. This is a wound on the body of Christ. It is a self-inflicted wound. And it hurts all of us.

We are supposed to be the light of the world. We are supposed to be pointing people to Christ. But we are acting just like the world.

Shame on us.

An impassioned, sincere plea…

I said I was done talking about politics…so…I lied. Not purposefully; I really wanted to be done with this topic. But I have more to say, apparently. So…

This is an appeal to my Christian brothers and sisters. I have a major concern with the way in which the church is so wrapped in the American flag that we have become indistinguishable from the rest of American society, especially when it comes to how we talk about politics and views we oppose.

I am still fighting within myself to decide if my place in all of this is to be active within the political sphere. So much of it drains my spiritual vitality, and I wonder if that is reason enough to retreat. But one thing I do know is this: the enemy has so blinded the hearts and minds of many people that no amount of truth telling will help unless or until the Lord moves miraculously to remove those blinders. And it has to start from within. It has to start with the church.

My appeal here is directly to the church versus to the American culture at large. Our witness is being damaged greatly by our allegiances to political parties. The polarized atmosphere of our country right now is tense and intense. Both sides are deeply entrenched in their version of how things are, convinced wholeheartedly that their way is correct and the other side is too blind or stupid to see it. The way conservatives talk about liberals and liberals talk about conservatives is just plain awful and dehumanizing. And what distresses me more than anything is that I see and hear these dehumanizing words being written and spoken by Christians about people who are not Christian, or their Christians brothers and sisters who are on the opposite political side. This should not be.

We are currently in a sermon series about words at my church. Of course, one of the major passages about the tongue, James 3, was the subject of one our sermons. In James 3, the tongue is described as “fire” able to “[set] on fire the entire course of life” (ESV). Hyperbole? I don’t think so. How many ways can we get ourselves in a world of trouble with one word or sentence? A careless comment or ill-advised statement can destroy a relationship in a split second.

So I am going to get a little personal here for a second. I am a Christian. I believe in the Lord Jesus, I depend on Him and Him alone for my salvation. He is my refuge and strength. I confess with my mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe that He was raised from the dead. God is my Father and Creator, and to Him I owe my whole life.

I’m also a Democrat.

My political affiliation in NO WAY negates my relationship with my Lord. In deciding to be a Democrat, I cannot say that I agree with their entire agenda – I certainly part ways with the official Democratic platform on certain social issues. But I am not alone. In fact, there is a group called “Democrats for Life”, who for the most part agree with the Democratic platform with one glaring exception – guess which one. I resonate with this group. This is my brand of Democrat.

Why do I feel the need to defend myself here? Because when I was a Republican, I looked down on those amoral, evil Democrats. Liberals were idiots and worse, destined for the deepest pits of hell (and no, I’m not being hyperbolic here; I’ve heard these things said, and I’ve, sadly, said them myself). I spewed all sorts of hateful things out of my mouth about Democrats – about people, made in the image of God. And then I went to church and praised the Lord every Sunday.

Can you feel the dissonance with me?

Now I’m on the “other side”, and I see the hurt those words cause. The doors they slam shut. The hope for dialogue and points of possible agreement they quash. And I have to temper myself, because it would be so easy for me to swing to the opposite extreme.

So, for the purposes of this post, I want to appeal to my Christian brothers and sisters. I pray you will hear what I’m trying to say:

I peruse my FB feed and read some of the things that are posted. Conservatives trashing liberals and liberals trashing conservatives. And it all makes me so very sad. When I read them on pages of people I know are Christians, it just plain hurts. It’s like a punch in the gut. It is a blanket dismissal of a person, and their ability to think critically and form informed opinions. Yes, some people blindly follow whatever lead they’ve received from family or social cues; but it is unfair to make that assumption about someone simply because they have an opposing view.

It is not an excuse for either side to say “Well, the other side does it”. That is not how Christians should think or act. And please hear me when I say this: I am not sitting in a place of judgment, because I am guilty. I stand before you to confess my own sin, to fall on the mercy of God and say that I am need of a heart change. I see this out there because it lives in my heart too.

And so I say this: For any posts I have ever posted that have been derisive, personal attacks on conservatives writ large, I apologize, with no qualification.

The most important words in the phrase “Christian brothers  and sisters” are *brothers*, and *sisters*. I am your sister. You are my brother or sister. We are children of God, and as such, siblings in the family of God through Jesus Christ. We don’t have to agree with each other everything; but we are forever linked to each other by our shared profession of faith. We are the light of the world. The church is the light of the world, not a particular country or political party. We are the salt of the earth. Are we shining light? Have we lost our saltiness?

These are the questions that keep me awake at night. Not whether or not America will crumble. It is a certainty that if the Lord tarries, the empire that is America will fall – it is a manmade kingdom and will go the way of all other manmade kingdoms. But the Kingdom of God stands forever. No matter what…

More later…grace and peace…

Trigger Alert: Political Post Straight Ahead!

Hopefully, this will not be your average political post, however. I am working on a theory, and need to flesh it out. I could be wrong, but I won’t be able to figure that out until see it written down. If I am wrong, I welcome feedback and discussion. Deep breath…here goes…

I am an American, and as such, I have a certain idea of what political engagement should be. I have a specific understanding of government, a democratic republic, and my role in it and relationship to it. I don’t know anything outside of this paradigm. I live in a country where dissent is allowed, and we vote for our government representatives. I also live in a country that has as part of its national character a civil religion that borrows heavily on a “Judeo-Christian” ethic and therefore liberally applies biblical language and imagery to our public and political life. The American way of life is highly individualistic, focused on rights and freedoms, and champions the lone ranger who pulls himself up by his bootstraps and makes something out of next to nothing.

How much of that is really “Christian” though? That’s a post for another day, but I post that question to make this statement: America is not the Kingdom of God. And government can only go so far. No matter the structure, political philosophy or economic policy, every form of government is flawed. There are elements that are good, and elements that are sinful, because government is made up of a bunch of sinful people. It seems reasonable to me that if an institution or system is set up by people who are all sinners (a biblical doctrine, no?), then there will be things about that system that are sinful. Again, another topic for another day. My bottom line is this: Certain things are simply not biblical or Christian, no matter how many Christian words your sprinkle on them. And even in our most eloquent speeches advocating unwavering national pride, throwing God in the mix doesn’t make it Christian.

But, I digress, as usual…back to the point of this post.

Full disclosure: I am a left-leaning Christian. Not that anyone who reads my Facebook page or Twitter feed would be surprised by that statement. There are a few (extremely important) issues where I do not fall in line with the left side of politics; but for the most part, I would say I lean left. I own this preference, and will not necessarily apologize for it. What I will apologize for is that I at times ignore that I do look at things through this lens and therefore do not account for that particular bias when considering political commentary or news. If this past weekend has taught me anything, it is that I need to sit back and reassess how I’m seeing things.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a particular political preference. What I do think is wrong, and what I’ve seen in myself personally this last week is the fact that I allow my political preference to inform my reading of the Word versus the other way around.  There are elements on the left and the right that are God-honoring and very biblical. But there are elements on both sides that are diametrically opposed to Scripture. Naked Capitalism has winners and losers; it’s the nature of the beast. But applauding capitalism while ignoring the very real suffering of its losers and blaming them for their losses is not biblical. Treating men and women with equal dignity and respect in the home and workplace is a biblical concept. But redefining life in order to justify our desire to do as we please with our bodies is not. As you can see, I live on both sides of a very contentious fence. But things are not so black and white, and the lines we have drawn in the sand are proving to be more arbitrary by the day.

I point this out to suggest that perhaps we are focusing on the wrong thing, or better said, depending on the wrong thing to effect change in our culture and world. No matter what issue we’re debating or what side we are defending, all policy has unintended consequences. We are not omniscient. We cannot see all sides of everything. Fixing one problem can create a dozen new ones we never saw coming. When that happens, who is there to pick up the pieces and help those who have been hurt? Should that not be the church?

This is where I’m going: How would things look if we owned our political biases and allowed others to own theirs without automatically dismissing them as sub-Christian because they disagree with us? Or spent more time comparing our particular stances with Scripture and allowing Scripture to correct them instead of going to Scripture to proof-text the validity of our positions? Or stopped stereotyping each other and allowed facts to drive our discussion, even if they don’t support our position? This would require that we be willing to see the flaws in our positions and accept that the other side might have something valid to say. This would require that we hold our position loosely enough that we are willing to be wrong and change our minds. It would require more listening as opposed to speaking. It would require humility, some discomfort, and the potential loss of reputation and/or influence in the world.

But wouldn’t it be worth it?

We could then focus on being a prophetic voice instead of a political mouthpiece. We could a refuge that would help clean up the mess those unintended consequences of policy decisions will create. But most importantly, it would shift our focus as the church back to what we ought to be focusing on. Caring for the least of these, for the poor and afflicted. Caring for the orphaned and widowed. For the stranger. That is not a left or right position: it is a biblical position. It is uncomfortable and would require sacrifice. But I ask again: wouldn’t it be worth it?

I realize that opens up another can of worms. How best do we help the least of these? But that is a discussion worth having and should be had in the church. We have the resources within ourselves to do these things. We don’t need the government to do them. We need each other.

Again, this is a work in progress. I haven’t thought out all the implications, and as you can see, I haven’t yet dug deeply into scriptural content yet either. All or some of this is subject to change. I just know there is a better way than what we are seeing and have been seeing for a long time.

So this is part one of a multi-part series that will go on for who knows how long. I will take breaks from this topic because it is so thick that sometimes I have to come up for air. But since I don’t think this problem is going to get better any time soon, it’s not something I can ignore.

More later…grace and peace…

Welcome to Black History Month…

Yesterday was the start of Black History Month. The start of our celebration of this month began in 1926 when Carter G. Woodson designated the second week of February as “Negro History Week”. In 1976 it was extended to a month by the US government (see this article for a longer treatment of the history).

I can recall celebrations of Black History Month during my school days, and it was so interesting that this was the only month that Black history was even mentioned. I found that to be odd…and still do. When I landed on the campus of the University of Illinois in the Fall of 1990, I was absorbed into a world of immense Black pride and frustration. If the Black Panther party had still around, I would have joined. I learned so many things about my history as a Black person that I never heard as a child, and it made me angry. Why was this information withheld from me for so long? And why was “my” history not a part of US History in general? Why did I only hear about it one month out of the year, and why only a select few things related to slavery and the Civil Rights Movement? To say I was militant was an understatement…

I have since shed that militancy and anger, by the grace of God. But I have to be honest, the practice of a “Black History Month” still puzzles me. And ours is not the only month out there. We now have Asian American History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Greek-American Heritage Month, Irish-American Heritage Month, Asian Pacific…It is hard to keep track of them all (and if I missed one, my apologies).

Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems to me that all these special months can have an unintended consequence of keeping us separate, not bringing us together. It would seem more productive to rethink how we write American history in general to include a richer, more accurate portrait of how America came to be America. This would require deep, painful soul searching on the part of all Americans – and I don’t think we are ready to go through that. Thus, a month to represent each ethnic group that makes up the fabric of American life.

Today I read two blog posts that really resonated with me. The first, by Trillia Newbill, is especially powerful to me. The question: How should Christians approach the celebration of Black History? Her argument is that is should be more than just a month, that moving beyond the designation of a month would provide opportunity to build greater understanding within the church. I would agree, and say that all ethnicities should be included in that argument.

Another was a bit more intriguing to me and leads me to my reasons for blogging today. This article landed in my tweet feed today, and I loved it. The author is explaining why he will no raise his children to be “color blind”. And I have to say I resonated deeply with what he was saying. This quote encapsulates his argument:

“I want my my daughter to see race, to understand race, and to value her own race and seek understanding in the racial experiences of others.”

There’s a lot to unpack there – and I would tweak my own expression of this thought – but I agree with his basic premise and desire. I’ll try not to go too long, but I will attempt to explain it and circle it back to how I feel we should think about “race” as Christians.

My first thought is that we need to understand that race is not a biological reality, but a social construct. Scripture makes clear that “from one man he [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live” (Acts 18:26 NIV 1984). Our common heritage is that we are all from Adam. That is the starting point. As Christians, we can take this a step further and say that we are all “in Christ” – our common heritage is our adoption into the family of God through Christ. Regardless of “racial” identity, we are one in Christ. That identity should inform all other identities we have.

But notice what I did not say – it informs but does not obliterate differences. The fact that race is merely a social construct does not make it any less real in our lived experiences as Americans. To admit that and acknowledge it, even in our churches, does not have to divide us. To ignore it can.

This is what I mean – I have been told by many that “when I see you I don’t see race. I just see you.” I know what they are saying, and I know that it is good. But in reality, you cannot really “see” me unless you see my race. Part of the reality of who I am is my race. It is not something we should shrink back from or ignore; it is part of what makes me a unique individual within the body of Christ. That uniqueness – that diversity – can be celebrated without being cause for division. When that happens, true unity can happen.

The problem is this: In America, race has a sordid painful history. Race was used to separate people and determine who could enjoy all the riches of our democratic society and who would be excluded. There is pain and ugliness involved in discussing race, and we don’t like facing that. But facing it can actually heal us and remove the barriers that exist among us. When we take on the realities of our brothers and sisters and make them our own by virtue of our unity in Christ, we can then work to change that reality within our communities. The pain and injustices of one brother or sister become our own, and we can unite to make a real difference in the lives of all believers. This is true reconciliation.

I have so much more to say, but this post is getting too long. More to come…