The Billy Graham Rule: Sexual Segregation

A number of lawsuits have been cropping up where Baptist men claim they are victims of religious discrimination because they have refused to work closely with women. Like Billy Graham and recently, Mike Pence, there is this reticence about men being alone with women, other than their wives, that permeates the patriarchal culture of some evangelical communities.

It is very unlikely, given the history of misogyny among S Baptists, and their reluctance to allow women into leadership positions, that this is entirely about avoiding sexually charged situations. S Baptists have fought hard the last 6 or 7 decades, against the woman’s movement, against women’s rights, and against women “taking men’s jobs. Entering the 20th century was hard enough for them, let alone the 21st! So, I believe a large part of this backlash against women in the workforce has to to with animus towards women for being there in the first place.

But that is not all. There is a general tendency among evangelicals towards legalism. For example, I grew up in a culture where attending movies or dances, was considered “sinful.” I saw my first theater movie at age 20, when I attended college out of town. The tendency, therefore, is to create extra-biblical rules to avoid even the remote possibility of a “real sin,” like fornication. It is as if, they are saying humans are of such weak moral fiber that they must be baby-sat with rules in order to keep from sexual transgressions.

No doubt, a lot of this comes from our Puritan heritage, total depravity and Calvinism, but it reflects neither adult behavior or reliance on the work of the Holy Spirit to lead us rightly. I can speak from my own personal experience on the matter as I was a victim of harassment in the workplace myself. I worked alone with a woman for 6 years in a large manufacturing facility. It did not end well, unfortunately, and became increasingly uncomfortable towards the end. But I did not decline to work with a coworker because she was a woman, I made the situation work as long as I could, only raising concerns when she became abusive and possessive. I went through the proper channels, gave her chances, until, the company had no other recourse than firing her. This is the adult way to deal with situations as they arise.

I cannot help but feel the recent rash of evangelicals wishing to have odd and discriminatory exemptions in the workplace reflect their general animus towards gays, minorities and women. There is no practical way to create a “separate but equal,” workforce, where women and men are kept segregated, or where business are allowed to discriminate against others based on gender, gender preference or sexual orientations. Yet this is exactly what the Religious Right would have society embrace. Are there any adults in the room?

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/north-carolina-police-officer-fired-following-billy-graham-rule-lawsuit-n1045706

People Are Getting Sued Over the Billy Graham Rule Now

 

Blinded by the Light: The Boss, and What it Means to be Human

I just finished watching the movie: Blinded by the Light in our local theater. It is based on the real life story of a young Pakistani in Great Britain who is inspired to achieve something other than the pedestrian ambitions of his conservative father. I walked away uplifted and strangely spiritually moved. A Pakistani, and a Muslim at that, and yet I felt more in common with him than my own conservative Christian background.

At movie’s end, Javid comes to realize that the Springsteen lyrics “blinded by the light” were not referring to a love affair, or something solely personal, but referred  to how blinded we become to our shared humanity, our shared struggles as humans, how we are family. No matter how far we roam, we are still family, both literally and figuratively.

Javid’s journey in many ways, mirrors my own. No, not that my father was unsupportive or that my parents weren’t proud of me, but that we all belong to non biological families that we are “born into.” The family I am referring to, that I was born into, was American conservative Christianity.

The movie, set in the 1980s, shows a Britain in turmoil. Loss of jobs, a slumping economy and severe racial tensions. Javid is caught between two worlds, the world of White GB and his Pakistani heritage. His father’s stern warnings about becoming “British” instead of Pakistani, reminds me of dozens of sermons I’ve hear over the years in church. In listening to The Boss, Javid is suddenly aware that someone who doesn’t look like him, with an entirely different culture than his Pakistani one…understands!

In his 1980s GB, the culture wars are in full swing, White Nationalism and the inevitable clash between working class whites and working class immigrants. Sound familiar? Both traditions strove to separate themselves from each other, to concentrate on their differences rather than commonalities. Javid is exasperated when his father refuses to confront racism and ignorance, but instead states Pakistanis must keep their heads down and not draw attention to themselves. Like the way blacks were expected to behave in America for so many years.

And this is where it started to hit home for me. Conservative Christianity, like the practice of Javid’s father’s Muslim heritage, is divisive. At core, religion done badly points to the faults of others and creates an “us vs them” mentality. It was this realization, some half dozen years ago, that started me down the road of deconstructing my Christian heritage. Christians like James Dobson, Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham, to name a few, didn’t sound like Christ.

At first, I thought it was mainly their tone that was unlike Christ. As though there was a polite way to tell gays they were living in sin and going to hell! The problem was, the church offered no way to simultaneously “witness” in a loving fashion, without completely invalidating another’s existence. And this hits at the heart of the evangelical “problem,” they say they love others with the love of Christ, but their actions say otherwise. This is not to say that all individual conservative Christians fall into this category, but rather, the system is rigged to be judgmental and exclusive. There is a great, big “IF’ attached to the so-called, unmerited love of God. God loves you IF you’re not gay, God loves you IF you’re not a Muslim, God loves you IF you believe the Bible is inerrant, there are myriads of “ifs” attached.

The biggest “if” is attached to being white and conservative. And of course, Republican. This is a shoe-in for being on God’s “good side.” A rather slip-shod and shallow reading of the New Testament gives the conservative church a platform to build a narrow, divisive and somewhat paranoid version of Christianity that leads to a church that no longer feels itself a part of the human race, the vast majority of whom “are not lovers of truth,” and are “going to hell.” While hell-fire preaching has fallen out of vogue among evangelicals, the animus is still lying just below the surface. It comes out, rather, in the way conservative Christians wage the “culture wars.” The way they throw their support and hopes onto someone who represents everything Christ is NOT about. Abortion is a diversion from the ugliness that so much the church in America has come to represent. And please, this is not politics I am talking about. Rather, it hits at the core of not only what kind of America do we wish to be, but what kind of Christian do we wish to be.

In conclusion, the movie helped me see that I am a human first, and share that bond with the entire human race. If I strive to be anything, it is to be a better human, or as Jesus said, a better “neighbor.” It’s not about being a better “Christian,” although that should logically follow if one seeks the first. This is backwards, from most sermons I have heard, I know, but I think if the church started behaving more human, they’d end up being more Christ-like.

The Real Reason for the Conservative Attack on Gays: Deflection

While the church has a long infamous history of violence and persecution of gays, as well as other minorities, many in the church have moved on, recognizing that to continue that pogrom against sexual minorities is unchristlike.  Unfortunately many conservatives would continue that discrimination and slander. Fortunately, in America, there are laws against hate crimes and discrimination against minorities.

The church has a public relations problem. When the American church and society marched in lock-step, i.e., anytime before the late 60s, few questioned its authority or its moral aplomb. But times have changed. The stage was set prior to the American Civil War, when those who held a “high view” of scripture argued that slavery was “Biblical,” and therefore “right.” While many Christians joined forces with society to oppose this narrow-minded and hurtful view, conservatives as a whole, did not. Rather than seeing it as a humanitarian crisis, those that had the most to lose if Blacks were given their freedom, argued to do so would be to “attack scripture.”

The egregious rape, torture and brutalization of fellow humans was of less importance than the defense of scripture. The outcome of the Civil War and subsequent emancipation of Blacks did little to change that prevailing view among many conservatives. In the years that followed White Christians continued to decry the general rise of liberalism, communism and just about any target outside themselves, whilst dismantling reconstruction of the South and creating Jim Crow Laws to further the purpose of segregation. Mingling of the races was seen as unbiblical.

So I will get to the point of my post, the church has always been good at the deflection of valid criticism. Using a bit of slight of hand, the church focuses on the splinter in society’s eye, while turning a blind eye to the blight that has set within the heart of “orthodox Christendom.” This is strikingly similar to the conservative push to marginalize Blacks in the 60s. There has been much emphasis on superficial morality like “purity culture,” no sex before marriage and male headship, while total silence about misogyny and racism within the church.  The church has become fascinated, even obsessed, with what people do in their bedrooms. Like the argument for slavery, the church scrambles for proof texts to validate their voyeurism about other people’s sex lives. It is no coincidence that the Bible Belt states have the highest viewership of gay porn.

The last 50 years has seen a flood of criticism, attacks and misinformation directed at the LGBTQ community by the likes of Falwell, Franklin Graham and James Dobson. In the meantime evangelical churches have a growing scandal of sex abuse and misogyny that has been covered up. It is deflection. “Look over there! It’s a homosexual” (says the youth pastor who’s sexually abused a 14 year old. It’s really not even about the Bible and what it says (or doesn’t) about SSM. It’s about being in everyone else’s business while not taking care of the problems in your own family. It’s about not facing the church’s problems and covering them up by pointing out the “sins” of others.

As Paul said the religious leaders of his day, after quoting their screed against the Roman orgies in Romans 1: “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.” (Romans 2:1)

Conservative church leaders: get your house in order, address your church’s sexual misconduct and abuse, then maybe you’ll have the street cred to talk about other’s sexuality.

Further reading:

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2014/03/bible-belt-leads-the-nation-in-consumption-of-gay-porn/

https://baptistnews.com/article/sexual-abuse-in-the-sbc-what-will-it-take-to-prompt-meaningful-action/#.XVHmaMplCfA

https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2019/06/12/southern-baptists-take-action-sex-abuse-some-question-whether-its-enough/

https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2019/02/evangelical-apocalypse

Trump is Saying What Many Christians Think

The latest racist tweet from Mr. Trump is the most overtly racist yet. It is reminiscent of America in the 1950s, when people felt emboldened or entitled enough to directly jeer, mock and criticize others based on the color of there skin. The sad part is, many Christians will still support this moral midget. In a segregated South, Christians were openly hostile towards Blacks and other people of color, and didn’t apologize for it, nor see the conflict between being Christian and being a racist. This holds true for many people of faith still today.

Telling others to “go back to where they came from,” is the cry of White Nationalism, the bedrock belief that only people of White, European descent should have a say in the governance of our country. That people of color, who have traditionally not had the same benefits or opportunity as Whites, do not have the right to criticize social injustices, and should meekly accept what ever scraps fall of the White man’s table.

Yet, those who have bought into the “Pro-Life” narrative cleverly devised by the Republican-Religious Right two-headed monster, will still support this bigot because he is “Pro-Life.” Yet, he reeks of the stench of bigotry and all that is ungodly!

But I would posit that this has less to do with his Pro-Life stance among evangelicals, than with his bigotry, which is the real reason for overwhelming White evangelical support. He is viewed as a beleaguered and much maligned outsider in the same manner as many White evangelicals view themselves. It is the same disgusting and narcissistic twisting of real social injustices—where the oppressor paints themself as the one actually wronged.

Yesterday, we sat through yet again, another awkward sermon at my mother’s evangelical church. The associate pastor admonished us to “respect” the “authority” of “those God puts in power.” The usual cherry-picked Bible verses were thrown out on “obeying the rulers,” and “rendering unto Caesar.” And, after the latest racist tweet as well. Odd, but that sermon would never have been preached during the Obama administration!

Hypocrites! I am so disgusted with all of it!

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of a Dying Church

One of the noticeable trends in Christendom over the last few decades has been ever decreasing church attendance. While it could be argued that the death of Christendom has been a long time coming, perhaps even already realized in Europe, American evangelicals have always pretended they never received the memo.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal discuses the possible political and social ramifications of declining church attendance in America. I think the greatest tragedy or failure of American Evangelicalism is its inability to change and its resistance to change. In short, like the words: “diversity, inclusion, social justice”—change is seen as a “bad” word. It is something the “world” does, but not the church. The perception of holding on to the Truth, once delivered to the apostles and prophets of yore, creates a powerful deterrent to improvement.

While the world steadily marches toward social justice, greater inclusion and diversity, the American church seems to be marching the other direction. The problem is further complicated by the history of racism within fundamentalism, the well-spring from which the evangelical movement sprang. As such, the evangelical movement, especially on the Southern reformed side, is solidly a movement of White privilege and superiority. The affects of “the Southern way of life,” cannot be overlooked when trying to understand why the church is in the position today of fighting against so many different attempts by society for greater social justice.

The Wall Street Journal article links the declining birth rate and decrease in church attendance as two factors that are putting tremendous pressure on conservatism:

“Together, these trend lines suggest significant changes in the shape of society in years to come. Some will be comfortable with them as simply signs of the natural evolution in ever-changing American society. On the other hand, such trends tend to alarm and motivate supporters of President Trump, who essentially promises a return to an America of yore. Either way, they are worthy of discussion in the 2020 campaign.”

This may be true, but I don’t think conservative Christians are in a position to deal with the issue in a healthy manner. Yes, they, for the most part, are aware of the decline in church attendance, but their understanding of the “why” is misplaced. Dispensationalism and a 150 years of “end times” hand wrenching has provided an answer for them: it is inevitable that before Christ returns there will be a “falling away” from the Faith. There you have it: “it’s not our problem, it’s yours.” As America becomes younger and far less White, the fear among many evangelicals will only deepen and provide further “proof” that they are right, while all others are wrong.

For someone who grew up in the evangelical faith it is a bit like watching a train wreck in slow motion. While I long to see reform come to evangelicalism in America, reformers such as Beth Moore seem like such a long shot. The powers behind the evangelical movement are too firmly entrenched in their control, too white and too male. Make no mistake, it is a control and power issue. The old hard-liners within evangelicalism represented by groups such as the Gospel Coalition have thoroughly bought into the dispensational, end times scenario, because it keeps them on top of the power curve. The influx of immigrants and undocumented aliens, the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements, feminism and even abortion rights all attack the belief that white men are in charge. The erosion of power can be seen in real time and has produced a frantic, panicky response from many of these men. The recent response of SBC men to Beth Moore’s request to allow women to fully express the gifts of the Holy Spirit within that body was immediate and almost comical. They went on full panic attack. What is it about a tiny blond Southern Baptist woman that creates so much fear among these men?

My wife who is evangelical, keeps admonishing me to see the good in evangelicalism and not concentrate so much on the faults. I do try, and find encouragement in the efforts of men like Scott McKnight, Roger E. Olson or Beth Moore, but they are fighting an uphill battle and time is not on their side. Society is changing too rapidly, I believe, for evangelicalism to catch up.

As for myself, I find the atmosphere on the other side of the fence much healthier and liberating than the evangelical side. As I have pointed out in a past post, Western society seems to be, at least for now, acting more Christlike than the conservative church in America. This is undoubtably, because conservatism is given a higher priority than Christ-likeness among many American Christians. There are a number of scenarios I can see play out here. There is a strong possibility that conservatism will win out and evangelicalism will become more insular and removed from society, which would best fit the self-fulfilling prophetic vision of dispensationalism. A slightly less likely possibility is that the church realizes it is headed in the wrong direction, and with glacial speediness, changes over the next couple decades, and actually starts practicing true Christian charity—but only after the tremendous loss of influence over society and the sad realization that much of the damage they’ve done cannot be undone. A third highly unlikely option is that evangelicals suddenly wake up, repent and once again become powerhouses for change in society.

If history is any indicator, I think the second option the most likely. What do you think?

Alabama, and the Harsh, Judgmental Jesus

The recent shock of a number of Southern States passing laws prohibiting abortion and the excessive punishments to offenders left me in a quandary as to how to best respond. The pro-life movement in the US is largely a conservative Christian response to Roe v. Wade, involving Catholics, Evangelicals and the Republican Party. As such, there is no one consensus as to how to solve the abortion problem, nor indeed, a consensus as to when a fetus is a “person.” The evangelical lawmakers and Christians behind the recent draconian measures in states like Georgia and Alabama represent only one faction of Christians in the pro-life movement. I will call them the followers of a harsh, judgmental Jesus.

It should come as no surprise that the states most eager to implement these extreme laws have ugly histories of racism and denying civil rights: Georgia, Alabama, Missouri, the Deep South and Utah. And of course, the fact that religion in those areas tend strongly patriarchal, thanks to both Mormonism and the Southern Baptist Convention. What troubles me most is that those claiming to act on Christ’s behalf are resorting to punitive measures (punish the woman and her doctor) rather than looking at root causes. Poverty, systemic racism, income inequality, misogyny, unaffordable health care, childcare expenses and the resistance to sex ed in schools, all are contributing reasons why we have abortions. While we spend billions on war, the military and incarceration of more per capita than any other Western Democracy, we balk at spending for affordable health care, childcare and thorough sex education.

Although this punitive, judgmental wing of the movement does not reflect the entire movement, Catholics for example, are much more consistently pro-life, they have had great success in influencing the language and tone of the debate. What began in the 70s among fundamentalists largely as a knee-jerk reaction to the Carter administration’s firm stance against “segregation academies,” (Christian private schools that denied Blacks), ended up being an effective dog-whistle to rally Catholics and evangelicals to the conservative political causes of the Republican Party and the Moral Majority.

While there is no doubt in my mind that misogynistic patriarchy (men in charge of women), racism and partisan politics play huge roles in this judgmental wing of the movement, these are symptomatic of a larger problem, a problem that has dogged the church for centuries: a coercive Kingdom of God. The overt “dominionism” that has plagued the church for a millennium and a half, the misguided belief that the church is to use the same playbook as Rome, is to blame here. Rather than seeing Jesus as anti-Pharisee, Jesus becomes the Uber “law-giver.” Rather than forgiver, he becomes a Jesus who would force the victim of rape or incest to bear the pregnancy, and then, to not even offer to cover medical expenses.

This wing of the movement has consistently shown little regard for a true “pro-life” ethic, concentrating on the rather convenient “rights” of the “unborn,” and neglecting the rights of women, minorities and the poor: others that would inconvenience them and require empathy and compassion. Being pro-life in this manner requires little personally of these modern day Pharisees. No, they will suffer not at all from these laws, but will cause great hardships and sufferings, if implemented, on “the least of these.”

As the Methodist minister Dave Barnhart has stated: 

“The unborn” are a convenient group of people to advocate for. They never make demands of you; they are morally uncomplicated, unlike the incarcerated, addicted, or the chronically poor; they don’t resent your condescension or complain that you are not politically correct; unlike widows, they don’t ask you to question patriarchy; unlike orphans, they don’t need money, education, or childcare; unlike aliens, they don’t bring all that racial, cultural, and religious baggage that you dislike; they allow you to feel good about yourself without any work at creating or maintaining relationships; and when they are born, you can forget about them, because they cease to be unborn. It’s almost as if, by being born, they have died to you. You can love the unborn and advocate for them without substantially challenging your own wealth, power, or privilege, without re-imagining social structures, apologizing, or making reparations to anyone. They are, in short, the perfect people to love if you want to claim you love Jesus but actually dislike people who breathe.” (Facebook, June 25, 2018)

While I personally view any abortion as a tragedy, I recognize the moral “grayness” of much of the decisions we are forced to make in this life. Life does not offer us a series of clear-cut, black and white choices to make, in spite of what the followers of the harsh, judgmental Jesus would like us to believe. This is why I believe that, rather than letting the Pharisees control a woman’s womb, these decisions are best left to the woman and her doctor.

Rachel Held Evans: Improvisation Done Well

The news of the death of Christian author and blogger Rachel Held Evans at age 37, Saturday morning, left me shaken. Sudden deaths of young people always leave us with more questions than answers and challenge our belief systems. I did not know Rachel personally, yet I found a profound personal loss in her passing that I have yet to understand. Perhaps because I lost my son when he was only 19. I know all too well the sense of hopelessness and inability to make sense of a loved one dying young. Perhaps it is because another bit of my certitude died Saturday morning. Her spiritual journey, while not identical to mine, was similar enough that I felt a kindred relationship.

A few days have passed now, and I am beginning to be able to talk about Rachel and read her final book—Inspired. (I just learned of another book to be posthumously released).  In the introduction of her book Rachel refers to New Testament scholar N. T. Wright’s description of the Bible stories as a “five act play” in which we are asked to participate. Rather than reading from a script that gives us our lines, the participants are asked to enter into the story and “improvise the unfinished, final act.” 1 “Our ability to faithfully execute our roles in the drama depends on our willingness to enter the narrative, he said, to see how our own stories intersect with the grander epic of God’s redemption of the world.” 2

With Rachel Held Evans we got a glimpse of what it means to faithfully question scripture: a series of stories, poems and letters, that invites us in to add our story to the greater story. Like myself, Rachel struggled with scripture like Jacob wrestling with God. As Rachel herself said: “If I’ve learned anything from thirty-five years of doubt and belief, it’s that faith is not passive intellectual assent to a set of propositions. It’s a rough-and-tumble, no-holds-barred, all-night-long struggle, and sometimes you have to demand your blessing rather than wait around for it.” 3

The Bible is full of stories that draw us in and provoke thoughtful and even disturbing questions; is God with us? Does God care? Will He abandon us? Does He commit genocide? Does He feel our suffering? Does He care about justice? Those who understand the narrative, understand that they are to be a part of the answers, and jump in to act out their part in the play. Rachel Held Evans, you threw yourself whole-heartedly into the play, and have shown countless others including myself how to improvise well. Thank you for your faithfulness and courage. The world is a better place for having known you.

1 N. T. Wright, “How Can the Bible be Authoritative?”

2 Rachel Held Evans, “Inspired,” p. XX.

3 Ibid., p. 28.