D. L. Webster http://www.dlwebster.com Helping Christians and the church to be healthy and whole Sun, 26 Jul 2020 01:00:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.15 79511075 God Kills Kittens—Sex and Christianity http://www.dlwebster.com/god-kills-kittens-sex-and-christianity/ http://www.dlwebster.com/god-kills-kittens-sex-and-christianity/#respond Sun, 26 Jul 2020 01:00:06 +0000 http://www.dlwebster.com/?p=5226 I’ve considered making videos for sometime, and I finally did one. This is my first “sermon”. Hello and welcome to the first of what I’m calling, “Choose Your Own Sermon”. This is a series where you get to choose what I speak about. For this episode, I received a question about a phrase I’ve used, […]]]>

I’ve considered making videos for sometime, and I finally did one. This is my first “sermon”.

Hello and welcome to the first of what I’m calling, “Choose Your Own Sermon”. This is a series where you get to choose what I speak about. For this episode, I received a question about a phrase I’ve used, “The evangelical fear of sex”. I’ve been requested to expound upon this. I didn’t plan for my first “sermon” to be about sex, but here we are. However, I think this uncomfortability highlights part of the problem—the topic of sex seems taboo, so we don’t talk about it which makes it feel taboo. Along similar lines, Jonalyn Fincher once shared how she learned that just because sex is private doesn’t mean it’s shameful. More on this in a moment.

The attention-grabbing title I’ve selected for this particular video is, “God Kills Kittens—Sex and Christianity”. Now you’re likely wondering what it is about this topic which places cats in peril. The title is inspired by a XXXChurch marketing campaign from years ago which said, “Every time you masturbate, God kills a kitten.” Now don’t worry, this is neither biblical nor theologically accurate and no kittens were harmed in the making of this video. But this also led to one of my favorite memes ever—every time you write parallel fifths, Bach kills a kitten. Now in case you’re struggling to figure out how XXX and Church go together, know that they are an organization which, among other things, will go to porn conventions and, rather than protesting, will set up a booth inside and pass out “Jesus Loves Porn Stars” bibles. How cool is that!? If you’d like to learn more about XXXChurch and/or support them, check out their website. Now that I’ve said enough juicy words for any content filter to flag this video, let’s continue.

I’ve heard a joke that Baptists (or some other denomination) prohibit sex because it might lead to dancing. The joke is funny both because it flips things around but also due to how it captures the true paranoia regarding sex. Not only is sex “prohibited”, but many other activities are avoided as well out of fear that they might lead to sex—as though this is the worst thing in the world, to be avoided at all cost.

Regarding the evangelical fear of sex, the first thing which comes to mind for me is what has become known as “purity culture”. This is the term used to refer to an evangelical movement in the 90’s and 2000’s which encouraged young people to abstain from sex until marriage. The first book you’ll most frequently hear blamed for this is “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” by Josh Harris. This book became very popular… and equally hated. Seriously, I’ve never experienced people hate a book more passionately than this one. But I believe the blame is somewhat misplaced. “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” captured the conservative Christian view on dating and sex more than it did create it. Harris was only 21 when he wrote the book, too young to have adequately developed his own views on the subject. (In case you’re curious, Harris married not long after the book was published and moved on with his life, dating no longer being personally relevant. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that he began to revisit and re-evaluate the topic through a documentary made about the influence the book had.)

In reality, the Southern Baptists are a more likely culprit. If you are unfamiliar, the Southern Baptists are the largest protestant denomination in the U.S. and are basically the flag bearers of conservative evangelicalism. It was Lifeway—the publish division of the Southern Baptist Convention, which came up with the idea for “True Love Waits”, a campaign to encourage young people to pledge to abstain from sex until marriage. But though this may have been the beginning of “purity culture”, this wasn’t the root of evangelicals’ fear of sex. To find the real source, we must go back. Much, much further back. All the way back to the 4th and 5th century.

At that time there was a theologian named Augustine or Augustine depending on who is speaking. Augustine is arguably the most influential theologian in history—at least in western Christianity—outside of biblical authors. It so happens that Augustine believed sexual passion—sexual desire itself—was evil. [Pause] This is why Roman Catholics are to this day against contraception. Seriously. Part of our modern-day controversy over healthcare in the U.S. has to do with the beliefs of a guy who lived 1600 years ago.

Where did Augustine get this notion from? Asceticism became popular in early Christianity. You may have heard of the “desert fathers”—early Christians who went out into the wilderness attempting to live with almost nothing. Significant influences in this were likely Greek philosophy and strict Roman social order more than they were scripture and Judaism. Plato and other philosophers separated the physical world (including our bodies) from ideas, believing the latter to be higher. Gnostics ran with this, holding the belief that the spiritual realm is higher than the physical and that the physical would eventually cease, leaving only the spiritual. Prior to becoming the theologian we know, Augustine was influenced by Gnosticism and the Manicheans who believed that sexual desire was innately evil. Though Augustine left Manicheism, he obviously continued to share their views of sex. You see, if you separate the body and believe it to be lessor, then one’s natural desires seem to get in the way of “higher” pursuit of God. Even now, pastors and other Christians will sometimes say things which sound highly spiritual but which aren’t necessarily correct.

Okay, fast-forward back to the future… er… back to purity culture. Some Christian leaders were concerned that young people were becoming less… moral. They were also concerned over statistics showing increases of teen pregnancy and STDs, etc. Furthermore, there was concern about how casual sex could lead to heartbreak and other consequences. Arguably, their intentions weren’t bad. However, the methods used to encourage young people to pursue sexual abstinence were flawed to the point where they arguably did more harm than good.

First of all, the primary emphasis of purity culture was simply “Sex outside of marriage is bad, waiting until you’re married to have sex is good.” While it may not have been intentional, what happened in reality is that this led by extension to also mean anyone who has had sex outside of marriage is bad while those who haven’t are good. You see in my experience, conservative evangelical Christianity values morals and their beliefs more than they do people. There is paranoia that association with “a sinner” may lead oneself to likewise sin. Now there is truth to the idea that you’ll tend to behave similarly to those you are around. But this evangelical paranoia leads to people being judged as to whether they are “good” or not. Good people are accepted and bad people are distanced. This is classic cultural shaming in attempt to achieve conformity. In reality, this is very unhealthy because it leads people living in this culture to either put on a mask of conformity, hiding any part of themselves perceived to be unacceptable, or it places a huge cloud of shame, condemnation, and rejection on those who can’t or don’t conform. Hypocrite was a term meaning “actor” and is one of the things Jesus was most critical of.

In purity culture, there was also little to no teaching about sex apart from “don’t do it until you’re married”. The topic of sex was largely taboo apart from this which also led to a subconscious impression that sexuality is shameful. Again, the “evangelical fear of sex” meant a fear of talking about it for fear that it might spark the idea in someone’s mind, eventually leading to the act. The toxic shame has been one of the worst legacies of purity culture. Unfortunately, from what I’ve heard there are many people who have had significant challenges with sex in their marriage because of the shame associated with it. This was another unintended consequence. It’s true that purity culture said that sex within marriage is good. However, the subconscious part of the brain where shame lives is not aware of one’s marital status. Sex was so closely linked with shame that some people struggle to shake this association even in marriage.

Additionally, by focusing on it, purity culture over emphasized sex. In so doing, they ironically made a same mistake as the mainstream culture they were trying to distance themselves from. The mainstream culture often views sex as the ultimate experience. In trying to encourage young people to wait, purity culture hung out the incentive of a good marriage. In other words, the sex and good marriage would be “worth the wait”. One problem with this is that it made a happy marriage the reward for abstinence rather than integrity or character as the goal. Additionally, within purity culture, marriage was assumed. A subsequent unintended consequence could be a sense of entitlement—feeling deserving of a fulfilling marriage if one did wait. Purity culture never expected nor provided guidance for dealing with extended singleness or challenges within marriage. Yet these things can be a part of real life. Life can be complicated and bad things happen at times regardless of merit. I think conservative religious people try to find a sense of control through morality. At the very least in the case of purity culture, the message was, “If you act right, things will go well; if you act wrong, things will go wrong for you.” (This also makes it easy to judge people—if things are going wrong, it must be their fault and therefore they deserve it.) However, we know real life isn’t this simple. The bible certainly acknowledges that at times life goes well for those doing wrong while it goes poorly for those who are doing everything right.

Purity culture also reduced sexuality to just intercourse. From what I always hear, the first lesson about sexuality is that it’s about more than just sex. It’s about our desire to connect with others and the beauty in the world. Our sexuality is a fundamental part of who we are. So in some way, expressing our sexuality is a part of being a healthy, whole human being. (Now for those of you who are concerned, I’m not saying we have to go around having sexual intercourse.) Exactly what does it mean to express healthy sexuality outside of intercourse? I’m still trying to understand this question myself. Healthy sexuality—and being a person of integrity in general—is more about practicing values such as love, peace, patience, etc. more so than following rules. In fact, people misunderstand Jesus’ statement in the sermon on the mount when he says, “If you look at a woman lustfully, you commit adultery.” Because of Christians’ history with sex, we think lust is merely thinking about sex with a person. So we think Jesus is saying that even thinking about and/or desiring sex is a sin, defining a new rule for us to follow. This is an example of the problem of ignoring context. In reality, the point Jesus is making in this portion of the Sermon on the Mount is that a person doesn’t make themselves righteous by merely holding to the letter of the law. It’s the spirit of the law which counts.

If you’re still watching, you may be asking, “So, what are the rules regarding sex? What does the Bible say?” Evangelicals have rightly been criticized for making huge deals about certain sins while ignoring others almost completely. At the same time, the Bible does say a lot about sex. In the New Testament, there are several example lists of sins; items related to sex are mentioned more frequently than any other. So on one hand, it seems that Christian have some legitimate source for the emphasis on sex. In the Old Testament, there are quite a few rules regarding sex, many of which may seem odd to us today. However, understanding the New Testament reveals that we’re to live by the Spirit, not by rules—new or old.

One of the first Christian controversies was how Jewish non-Jewish Christians needed to act in order to be Christian. Did all Christians need to follow the entirety of the rules in the Old Testament? The conclusion they came to, recorded in Acts 15, is no, they do not. Nevertheless, they had four things which non-Jewish Christians were instructed to follow, one of which was to abstain from sexual immorality. And what is sexual immorality? Well, this isn’t necessarily clearly defined—more assumed. But here’s the thing: people often seek rules because rules are easy. This might sound strange, but consider it. If there is not a clear rule regarding a situation, we have to think about it, consider, debate, and try to figure out how to best apply principles which frequently compete with one another. By comparison, having a rule to apply would seem easy. It doesn’t require much thought. And the real motivation behind it is once again control. Christian can easily assume—even without realizing it—that things will go well if they hold to the rule and badly if they don’t.
Here’s the thing: I think that Christian can want and think that everything is black and white as though there is a clear line running down the middle. However, in reality I believe it’s more like a playing field. There are boundaries marking areas which are clearly out of bounds. But there is also a lot of room to play. God didn’t create a world where everything is set, black and white, effectively putting us in a test to see if we’ll stay of the right side—a test we’re destined to fail. No, instead, God created a world in which we have space to play, to make our own choices within the given boundaries.

I think that within marriage, the guidelines for sex are that so long as it’s private, consensual, and doesn’t involve other people, a couple are free to explore. The goal should be loving one’s spouse. Now outside of marriage… will sex ruin you’re life? In some extreme cases, yes. It also can potentially lead to lifelong negative consequences in many other ways. However, in real life, a person might be quite sexually active and not experience any significant negative consequences. Meanwhile, a person who does everything “right”, waiting for marriage, etc. may well experience significant challenges in their marriage—if they even marry at all. Again, in the real world, the unfortunate truth is that sometimes good people experience heart wrenching trails while things seem to work out for others who’ve done everything “wrong”. I don’t think this is to say it’s a complete craps shoot, it’s just that they’re aren’t guarantees. We should certainly strive to do what is best, we should always try to do what’s right, but we can give ourselves and others grace when we fail. We can give others grace rather than judgement when we realize that if something is going poorly for them, it’s not necessarily their own fault (though it can be).

Because of my evangelical background, I can already hear people complaining that I haven’t been adamant enough, laying down law regarding sex. I think evangelicals want to emphasize the rules in part because they recognize that actions have consequences. And yes, actions do have consequences. A person who does whatever they feel like all the time and shouldn’t expect not to experience any negative consequences. However, life is complicated and therefore one cause does not always lead to the same effect in every situation. Furthermore, it seems that evangelicals have blown the potential consequences of sex out of proportion. The negative connotations about sex have been so pounded into people’s heads that they’ve literally expected they were going to die after having sex for the first time.
Here’s the challenge: not every church is the same and not every person’s experience is the same. Some may have had an opposite experience where they were never told that sex may have negative consequences and wish they had been warned. Some may never have heard this topic addressed in church and wish it was. I don’t know how much it is or isn’t being taught these days, especially to young people. So I recognize there may be different perspectives on this. What we need is balance: the subject of sex should be addressed with honesty and realism. Avoiding the topic altogether or over-emphasizing one dimension such as the negative consequences both lead to significant problems.

If you’d like to learn more about this subject and/or if you are someone who grew up in purity culture and struggle with sexuality, I highly recommend this book, “Sex, God, and the Conservative Church”.

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Black Deaths and Police in the News Again http://www.dlwebster.com/black-deaths-and-police-in-the-news-again/ http://www.dlwebster.com/black-deaths-and-police-in-the-news-again/#respond Thu, 28 May 2020 17:44:56 +0000 http://www.dlwebster.com/?p=5209 I haven’t said anything until this point regarding several recent events. I personally prefer to remain silent until I believe I have something constructive to say, something helpful, something which may lead to positive change. I don’t necessarily believe anyone I know is doing the following, but I don’t want to speak merely to make […]]]>

I haven’t said anything until this point regarding several recent events. I personally prefer to remain silent until I believe I have something constructive to say, something helpful, something which may lead to positive change. I don’t necessarily believe anyone I know is doing the following, but I don’t want to speak merely to make myself feel better, presuming myself therefore to be part of the solution rather than the problem. But I do have a bunch of thoughts and feelings. And in my case, this deserves more than a short quip or meme.

First of all, I am upset to hear about further instances of black men and women being killed and/or harassed in what seems to be entirely unnecessary ways and for mistaken and/or other reasons which are quite out of proportion to the preceding events. Words don’t and can’t do this justice. I’m upset to think that the people I know who have dark skin live in a significantly more dangerous world than I do (as do women, though that’s another topic). I’ve had a handful of encounters with police for minor or mistaken events. Yet I never feared that I might not live through the encounter. I was never beaten or detained. Yet these are things blacks may face, likely enough for them to invoke reasonable fear.

I also have been silent because I don’t want to merely complain nor proclaim how outraged I am. I tend to think practically. I want a solution. How might positive progress be made in this issue? In order to answer this I ask, what is the root of the problem?

Many people point to racism. Though this may be true in a sense, I don’t believe this is very helpful. This is partially because I suspect the vast majority of people don’t think they’re racist. I’m guessing even many white supremacists wouldn’t consider themselves racist. Remember, “separate but equal” was claimed during the time of legal segregation1. “We believe everyone is equal, you do your thing over there and leave us alone to do what we want without you.” Or for an example from the recent confrontation in New York’s Central Park, a woman pointed out the man’s skin color, apparently revealing a degree of bias, yet she claims to not be racist2. Racist is such a negatively loaded word, I doubt the effectiveness of calling people racist and/or trying to point out their racism. There are many forms of what is effectively racism but many of these aren’t thought of as racist by a significant number of people.

I’m sure that there are people who are quite consciously racist. However, I suspect this isn’t the primary source of trouble. I suspect that systems which have a much greater negative impact on minorities are one of the main problems. There are things such as voter id laws which opponents claim are necessary to prevent voting fraud. To them it’s not about race, yet these things affect blacks un-proportionally. Unrecognized biases are another problem. There is a lot of history behind all of this which I won’t attempt to convey here. But the short of it is that because of this history, we’re not all on an even playing field now. In a manner of speaking, the U.S. won’t be rid of racism until we actively unwind much of what was done in the past.

Practically… Probably the first important step (for non-blacks) is to learn. What kind of issues are important to our darker skinned brothers and sisters? Why are these important? What has their experience been? One of the challenges is that we tend to be surrounded by people who are similar to us. Often times we won’t hear about what other communities are talking about or events which are opportunities to learn more. It takes some work to find and start engaging with some of these. But for some easy examples, I follow The Equity Alliance, Community Oversight Now, NOAH – Nashville Organized for Action and Hope, Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition [TIRRC], and Tennessee Justice for our Neighbors on Facebook and have attended events they’ve hosted.

As a white American male, my life was really no different when Obama was president compared to Trump. Who is governor and mayor and most any other public official affects my life little (at least directly). This affords me ability to hold more theoretical political opinions. Abortion. Homosexuality. Transgender bathrooms. Immigration. These are a few examples of politically devisive topics. None of these will affect me directly, but I can still hold strong opinions and vote based on them. However, politics and the decisions the government makes do have significant impact on people, it’s just usually other people.

I’m struck this contrast: there were people—the vast majority of whom appeared to be white3—who recently protested the covid-19 restrictions. My impression is that they were demanding to do what they want regardless of the risk it might pose to other people. In contrast, a racially mixed group4 is protesting now, demanding that darker-skinned people be able to live without fear of being killed by police and/or whites for little to no reason.

I have the impression that minorities are perhaps more affected by local government than they are national government. Yet how many of us are aware of local politics? What topics do we base our vote on if we vote at all? I’ve found it interesting how black churches seem to be much more intertwined with their communities. Many of the political issue events I’ve attended have been hosted by black churches. This is one of the problems I see with a lack of diversity in many churches. In a church of predominantly white affluent congregants, it’s easy to think that government and politics are a separate realm in which we shouldn’t get involved. It’s easy for us to emphasize the spiritual and personal aspects of Christianity and continue to be oblivious to the negative impacts government may be having on our neighbors. It’s easy for people to potentially attend church for years and continue to unknowingly support harmful systems.

I have more thoughts than I can share here, but I must share a few more.

Conspicuously absent has been any mention of terrorism.

Have you ever thought that brunettes are likely to be criminal, or that people with green eyes are less intelligent, or that people with straight hair are more likely to con you? If these seem ridiculous, why is skin color any different? (Rhetorical question; of course I realize it has everything to do with history.) It seems that across the entire history of humanity, we’ve always divided between “tribes”. But in many ways, there’s no more need for us to separate those of African descent any more than most of us do Irish, German, Italian, Poles, Norwegian, etc. now days in America.

In response to the question regarding the root of the problem, I must mention that the Fraternal Order of Police came to mind. They are the largest police union, representing nearly half of police officers from what I can tell. (It so happens that they are based here in Nashville and previously in Indianapolis.)5 I admit that I can’t claim to be overly familiar with them. Yet I’ve been very disappointed in everything I’ve encountered so far. My first impression came during a forum regarding setting up a community oversight board in Nashville. This came about after several police shooting deaths of blacks here. I was curious what the FOP representative (James Smallwood, president of the Nashville FOP6) would say. I was frankly shocked that he showed no compassion, empathy, or understanding at all. Instead, he defended the officer right in front of the parents of one of the killed men! The whole tone of the FOP made me feel like I was back in pre-civil rights America. “Don’t worry, we know what’s best for you; we have everything under control. Any accountability is unnecessary (forbidden).” (They claim that internal police reviews are sufficient.) The FOP fought tooth and nail against having an oversight board, and from what I understand, the police continue to resist, hinder, and delay the C.O.B. as much as possible.6 From what I understand, nationally the FOP has said little to nothing about the issue of alleged police racial bias and misuse of force. Instead, they seem to exist only to protect their members no matter what and to resist any attempt at accountability.

Is the FOP a major source and/or accomplice in bad police behavior? If so, what if anything can be done about it? They aren’t a political organization themselves, so direct action may not be possible or fruitful. How can we communicate that we support good police officers while simultaneously communicating that unnecessary force and harassment won’t be tolerated? I expect that the majority of police officers are good, sincere people who work in a tough job. Unfortunately, even if only 1% of officers are bad, this would still mean thousands of dangerous officers on active duty across the country. How can we weed out and hold accountable those who aren’t acting honorably? Why do so many seem to still be embraced by police forces across the country? Is there some reason that the leaders of the police are afraid to discipline or fire officers for bad behavior?

The position of Sheriff is an elected one.7 How many of us know anything about our sheriff? Can we make race and police force decisive issues in who we elect? Police chiefs aren’t elected, rather they are appointed by a mayor or other elected official. While we may not be able to vote directly, can we pressure the mayor to make this a critical priority?

Regarding the case of George Floyd, I understand that the police were acting in view of other people. This caused me to wonder, what would happen if someone tried to save a person whose life seemed to be endangered by the police? How severely would this person be treated? How would this treatment compare to that of the officer(s) who committed the killing? Would they be beaten and imprisoned for interfering? I can’t imagine the police would look on this action favorably. At the very least, this incident demonstrates clearly why some communities feel a need to be protected *from* the police rather than feeling protected by them.

I do have concerns about the general public acting as a court. Too many people make snap judgements based on a headline, meme, 120 character tweet, and rumors, and are eager to mercilessly hang the victim of their judgement. However, it seems the institutions which are supposed to perform these functions have rarely served justice in this area. In other words, we shouldn’t be the ones to pass judgement here, yet we must because those who are supposed to have repeatedly failed to do so. And in at least some cases, the situation appears to be clear enough to not require an in-depth investigation. Our society will be safest and healthiest when it works for us all. The more we divide and work to protect us against them (for example, not wanting to adequately support urban schools), the worse it will be for us all.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Separate_but_equal
2. https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/26/us/central-park-video-dog-video-african-american-trnd/index.html
3. https://www.google.com/search?q=covid+lockdown+protests&client=firefox-b-1-d&sxsrf=ALeKk01JlCm7ClzQsgfXem0FIaLmRLnFKA:1590680732181&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjyj_i_89bpAhXhmeAKHcNhCswQ_AUoAnoECAwQBA&biw=1408&bih=724
4. https://www.google.com/search?q=police+brutality+protests&client=firefox-b-1-d&sxsrf=ALeKk01oCOIaE8I2xQlUdWm_1Rc7FntifA:1590680793176&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwio6ILd89bpAhXHTd8KHSpBCv4Q_AUoAnoECBMQBA&biw=1408&bih=724
5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fraternal_Order_of_Police
6. https://www.nashvillescene.com/news/features/article/21134960/communication-breakdowns-continue-to-hinder-police-oversight-board
6. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2018/09/26/nashville-police-oversight-what-board-and-wont-do/1426041002/
7. https://theappeal.org/the-power-of-sheriffs-an-explainer/
8. See also https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6080222/ for a law enforcement death report.
9. See also Kneeling and the Flag, Police and Race, Guns, etc. — Understanding What’s Behind the Controversies

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Is God Behind Sickness and Suffering? http://www.dlwebster.com/is-god-behind-sickness-and-suffering/ http://www.dlwebster.com/is-god-behind-sickness-and-suffering/#respond Thu, 02 Apr 2020 19:23:46 +0000 http://www.dlwebster.com/?p=5196 A common belief about God (aka theology) is that God is in control. Everything which happens in the world is either directly done by God or is at least allowed by God. Many take this as a comfort because they believe in a good God and find it encouraging to think that everything which happens […]]]>

A common belief about God (aka theology) is that God is in control. Everything which happens in the world is either directly done by God or is at least allowed by God. Many take this as a comfort because they believe in a good God and find it encouraging to think that everything which happens is under this good God’s control. However, this idea can also be troublesome when bad things happen as they are for many people right now. This raises questions and doubts for many as to if God is good and cares for us. I want to suggest there is another way to look at the problem of suffering.

Before we proceed, it’s important to quickly differentiate between two kinds of suffering. There are those things which are inconvenient and unpleasant but which otherwise don’t leave a big mark on our lives. If one doesn’t get their ideal job they applied for, it’s easy to think that “God has something better prepared.” However, there are other kinds of suffering, ones I believe go into another category (though there may not always be a clear line between them). An accident which kills a child. A shooting which kills a young man. Bullying. Metal illness. Devastating natural disasters. War. Mass shootings. Genocide. Maybe God can bring good out of even these—after all, God redeemed the brutal killing of Jesus. But there’s a significant difference between this and saying God is actively behind these things, even if only intentionally allowing them. It’s difficult to say God had a purpose behind the Holocaust or genocide in Uganda, etc.

In the west at least, we seem to define God as the entity which has all the power. Especially for those who believe God merely spoke and created everything in seven days, we imagine God as having the power to magically make anything happen instantaneously. But is this actually the way God’s power works in reality?

When it comes to suffering, there are three ideas which seem to be in conflict and of which only two can apparently be true: God is powerful, God is good/loving, and evil suffering exists. Since we tend to define God and the being with all the (magical, instantaneous) power, when suffering is undeniable, then it’s only natural to question God’s goodness or even God’s existence.

Some theology deals with this dilemma by effectively redefining evil as good. “God is good and powerful (in an absolute, micro-controlling way), therefore these things must actually be good though they appear bad.” However I believe this line of thinking is unsatisfactory to most of us; we intuitively know that some things are evil and should not be.

But there is at least one other way of looking at this. What if we acknowledge that evil is evil and also hold on to a belief that God is good and loving? This brings God’s power into question. “Isn’t God all powerful? Can’t God do anything, even the impossible (miraculous)? Isn’t God in control?” Where do these ideas come from, or more specifically, where do our ideas of God’s power come from? The Bible? I’ll suggest that perhaps they are more western ideas we’ve taken and applied to God. Allow me to suggest that while God is most powerful, this doesn’t mean instantaneous, magical power.

When Jesus arrives in the new testament, he heals sickness, disease, and even death in some cases. These miracles weren’t just to show Jesus’ power—they demonstrated what it’s like when Jesus is ruling as king. So why don’t we see this healing universally? Isn’t Jesus lord (in power)? No, not yet fully. In John, Jesus refers to the enemy as “the prince of this world” (12:31, 14:30, 16:11). Likewise in Ephesians, reference is made to the ruler of the “air” (likely referring to the world in which we live) (2:1-2). “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I (Jesus) have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10).

Does covid-19 or any other sickness and disease come from God? No! God heals sickness and disease as demonstrated by Jesus. “An enemy did this.” (Matt. 13:28). Why don’t we see global, universal healing? Because Jesus isn’t yet ruler of the world. Why is Jesus not fully in power? It’s because there is still an enemy and those who live according to the enemy’s ways. God’s power isn’t magical nor instantaneous, so it takes time for the enemy to be fully defeated and banished from the world. We’re still living in the midst of this. The good news is that God is good, has the power, and is in control (just not in a magical, instantaneous way). God can even bring good out of bad.

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Samson and the Pirate Monks Book Review http://www.dlwebster.com/samson-and-the-pirate-monks-book-review/ http://www.dlwebster.com/samson-and-the-pirate-monks-book-review/#respond Sun, 06 Oct 2019 20:01:54 +0000 http://www.dlwebster.com/?p=5171 “Samson and the Pirate Monks: Calling Men to Authentic Brotherhood” is a book with an intriguing title written by Nate Larkin. The book is very well written; since it’s Larkin’s first, I suspect he had a great editor. It’s to the point, not excluding necessary information but also excludes extraneous material. In the first several […]]]>

Samson and the Pirate Monks: Calling Men to Authentic Brotherhood” is a book with an intriguing title written by Nate Larkin. The book is very well written; since it’s Larkin’s first, I suspect he had a great editor. It’s to the point, not excluding necessary information but also excludes extraneous material.

In the first several chapters of the book, Larkin shares his personal story of long-term hidden addiction—even while a pastor—and how he found recovery. At this point, he begins to transition toward teaching the lessons he believes he learned. The main one is isolation, how he didn’t have relationships in which he could be open, honest, and authentic. The final section of the book describes how he came to start the Samson Society along with details on their basic documents and meetings. Overall it’s an interesting and insightful read.

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Honesty vs. Orthodoxy—A Response to John Cooper http://www.dlwebster.com/honesty-vs-orthodoxy-a-response-to-john-cooper/ http://www.dlwebster.com/honesty-vs-orthodoxy-a-response-to-john-cooper/#respond Sat, 17 Aug 2019 23:22:57 +0000 http://www.dlwebster.com/?p=5160 Skillet (a rock band in case you aren’t familiar) frontman John Cooper recently shared a post on Facebook which has in turn been getting shared itself by others. It is apparently in response to a recent announcement by Joshua Harris and a since deleted post by Hillsong’s Marty Sampson. Since Cooper’s post has apparently resonated […]]]>

Skillet (a rock band in case you aren’t familiar) frontman John Cooper recently shared a post on Facebook which has in turn been getting shared itself by others. It is apparently in response to a recent announcement by Joshua Harris and a since deleted post by Hillsong’s Marty Sampson. Since Cooper’s post has apparently resonated with some people and is being shared, I wanted to take a moment to respond.

After reading through it a few times, Cooper’s post significantly bothers me because it seems to promote a lot of what I think is wrong with Christianity and seems to demonstrate a lack of understanding in a number of ways. The paradigm behind Cooper’s post seems to be that there is a “truth box” (for lack of a better term—a set of beliefs/truths/doctrines/dogmas) which is clear and simple enough that one can easily grab a hold of it right from the beginning of their faith. Furthermore, there is no greater depth nor complexity which would require a process of learning to come to greater understanding. Additionally, holding on to this “truth box” is more important than anything else. Perhaps I am wrong in this, but this describes religious fundamentalism in my understanding.

One of my biggest concerns with Cooper’s post is that it seems to value honoring this “truth box” above honesty: “Why do people act like “being real” covers a multitude of sins?” It’s true that, for example, saying, “I stole” doesn’t change the the person stole which had real, tangible consequences. But that’s not the kind of thing we’re talking about here, or I’m concerned if it is. Is Cooper trying to say that having questions or doubts about God, etc. is a sin? I’m not sure, but if so, he wouldn’t be the first Christian to believe it. But I think this is very dangerous (which I’ll return to in a moment).

Belief seems to come easily to some Christians. They make a decision to follow Jesus once and seem to have no questions or doubts thereafter. What I don’t know is if this is just truly how they see things or if they have some internal need for the apparent safety and stability which assurance provides. I do know that many people aren’t this way and that their faith is an ongoing journey involving doubts and questioning. And based on the psalms and prophets, this does seems to be biblically acceptable.

I believe there are different levels of understanding. As a child or new believer in Jesus, one generally sees things rather simply and in terms of black or white. This isn’t bad; it is a stage we go through. But it’s also not entirely accurate, not entirely true to reality. As we grow, we should begin to notice greater nuance and things which don’t fit nicely into a simplistic, black and white model. Hopefully, we’ll wrestle with these challenges and as we do so, our understanding deepens and grows. (The alternative is to deny these things.)

“Hypocrite”, a word used by Jesus to describe some religious leaders, is merely a word for an actor as I understand it. Jesus was harshly critical of many religious leaders for merely acting—suggesting that they were posers and imposters. They looked good and religious on the outside, but it didn’t proceed from good character and the true spirit of God inside. This is something which I think is one of the most dangerous, harmful aspects of conservative religious groups. These groups tend to value protecting their “truth” (“truth box”) and acting “correctly” above all else—including being honest, open, and authentic. Because those to things are valued above all else, people are treated based on how well they are judged to conform to these values. (This is why it rubs me the wrong way when people talk about the need to uphold truth or something similar; what I hear is, “My beliefs excuse me from treating these people well.”)

This kind of environment is a pressure cooker for getting people to conform. Like the proverbial frog in boiling water, one doesn’t often notice it while in the middle of it. (This is the environment I grew up in.) We all have a need to belong to a group and feel accepted and loved. When love is made conditional on how we act and what we profess to believe, we will naturally, almost unconsciously, act the part we’re told to play. I don’t want to say every believer is merely acting; I don’t believe that’s the case at all. I am saying that this kind of environment unintentionally breeds inauthenticity—hypocrites. While this might prove beneficial, at least superficially, in defending the “truth box”, it is very unhealthy for the individual. (Or conversely, there are those who may not be familiar enough with the religious culture to conform well, and the way they are subsequently treated—traumatized even—pushes them away and in many cases makes them bitter toward God. If a Christian wants others to follow God, why would they support and perpetuate a system which pushes people away?)

I believe that faith and God and Jesus and the bible and Christianity aren’t simplistic. I believe they’re a part of life—real life, and correspondingly, there is as much nuance and complexity. Furthermore, there isn’t such thing as perfect understanding or knowledge; like the truth of the real world, these are things we can continue to explore for our entire lifetime. We will never fully arrive. So I believe it’s extremely healthy for people to have space to go on this journey, to explore God, Jesus, the bible, their faith. And I don’t think we need to worry about what others might think and consequently push people off into a dark corner when they do have questions. I don’t think we need to be paranoid about defending our “truth box” at any cost. We can share and argue for what we believe without having to do so at other people’s expense. If it really is the truth, then those searching for it will head in the right direction. So are fundamentalists really concerned that people find the actual truth, or are they in reality more concerned about ensuring people agree with what they’ve defined as “truth”?

* * *

A second, related big issue which Cooper seems oblivious too (at least he doesn’t mention it) is that Harris and Sampson are potentially walking away from unhealthy versions of Christianity. Toward the end of his post, Cooper expresses perplexity as to why they would hold on to values which apparently come from Jesus: love, generosity, forgiveness. This isn’t a mystery if we can accept that much of Christianity isn’t very Christ-like. If we can understand that Christ and Christianity aren’t the same thing, then it’s not so mysterious how a person might question and/or leave the religion of Christianity and subsequently get closer to Jesus. It’s a grave mistake to believe that anything with a Christian label on it must be something which God ordained. It is an unfortunate reality that many of these things (people, institutions, etc.) mis-represent Christ. One of my main motivations in writing is a desire to correct this mis-representation (though I doubt I’ll make much difference).

I don’t claim to be overly familiar with Harris’ background. From what I hear, he was raised in a significantly conservative culture and groomed to become a leader therein. He followed and passed on what he’d been taught, holding fast to the “truth box”. But later on, he began to recognize some of the harms caused by their beliefs: mis-handling of sexual assult reports, teaching on women, naive beliefs regarding dating and marriage, etc. Being as immersed in that culture as he was, I’m not sure there was any other healthy way forward than to let go of it all, at least for a while. Speaking from some experience, unhealthy religiousity is so intertwined with truth about God and Jesus in conservative Christian culture that it can be quite difficult to differentiate. Sometimes the only thing one can do is knock it (beliefs) all over and then sort through the pieces to begin rebuilding.

I’d never heard of Marty Sampson before, and I am only vaguely familiar with Hillsong. But from what he wrote, it sounds like he was in an unhealthy Christian culture too. Cooper chastises him for saying “no one talks about it”. Obviously this is somewhat hyperbole. But what it says to me more than this is that the church/Christian community Sampson is/has been in must not talk about these things. He says, “Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point.” I agree. I think there are two “things” if you will. Much of Christianity is just another religion. (Many Christian practices have their origins in either Judaic religiousity of the sort Jesus criticized or in paganism brought in from the Greco-Roman world.) While this is true, there is also following Jesus which is not the same. (There is some overlap between what Jesus taught and what is common in Christianity, but there are significant differences as well.)

Cooper says, “Just because you don’t get the answer you want doesn’t mean that we are unwilling to wrestle with [the idea that God send people to hell]. We wrestle with scripture until we are transformed by the renewing of our minds.” Many Christians have been critical of those who question certain ideas such as hell, dismissing their questions by saying that they’re unwilling to accept a difficult truth. This could be the case. But it can also be the case that there are good reasons to question a common Christian teaching such as this. (“Hell” as we think of it doesn’t appear in the bible; when talking about “hell”, is one referring Hades—the land of the dead in the old testament? The lake of fire in Revelations? The city dump to which Jesus refers?) Merely saying things like “homosexuality is wrong” or “people will go to hell” don’t make you biblical.

I fear that Cooper’s desire for and call for biblical truth may actually be pointing in a direction of biblical immaturity. This is tricky because many people, even those who have been attending church for years, don’t have a great understanding of even the basics of Christianity. For them, gaining a greater basic familiarity with the bible is a step forward. But we—and our leaders in particular—shouldn’t stop there. Just because we been taught to understand a verse or two in a particular way doesn’t mean that it is truly the most biblically accurate understanding of a topic. We need to go deeper here, be willing to go against tradition if it’s to head closer to Jesus. And our leaders should not condemn as appostasy anything beyond a simplistic understand of the bible.

* * *

Now for some minor points: Cooper’s quote in his third point is apparently a reference to Sampson’s post, however the quote isn’t exact. While this seems like and in many ways is a minor issue, it can also be problematic to mis-quote another person, enough so that I felt it was worth pointing out.

Cooper begins with “More and more of our outspoken leaders or influencers who were once “faces” of the faith are falling away.” As mentioned, I’m aware of two. Is there more to it than this? Cooper’s statement gives the impression that it is so and thus a bigger problem, but I don’t know who else he might be referring to. Second, he states, “They are being very vocal and bold about it. Shockingly they still want to influence others (for what purpose?) as they announce that they are leaving the faith.” Cooper later reiterates his opinion that they are “boldly and loudly” trying to influence others. Is a single post on social media, one of which has since been deleted, qualify as “very vocal and bold”? I’m not sure it does. Additionally, I think it is presumptuous to say that they do this with the desire to influence others. Unless you say that any public statement is an attempt to influence others, Harris’ and Sampson’s posts seem to be merely honest, open statements regarding their current mindset. (It seems Cooper’s post was shared much more in hopes of influencing others—attempting to make an argument to persuade people—than were the two a fore mentioned posts.) (Sampson responded to Cooper with a similar sentiment.)

Cooper mentions “the purity of scripture and the holiness of the God”, then goes on to say, “Have you ever considered the disrespect of singing songs to God that are untrue of His character?” I certainly have some concerns here. First of all, this seems to be based in a view of God in which God is really uptight and his like or dislike of people varys based on their doctrinal accuracy and/or degree to which they follow the rules. (While God is holy, I don’t think it means “anal retentive”; yes, God emphasizes his holiness—his extraordinary uniqueness—in the old testament in a culture in which it was important to distinguish that he wasn’t just another one of the many gods people believed in.) Second, it seems to presume that we can get it perfectly correct, something which I don’t believe is true. In fairness, Cooper merely asks a question here and isn’t exactly making a statement. In context, I expect his point is more a word of caution about being too loose regarding what we base our understanding of God on.

It also seemed odd that Cooper would say, “Is it any wonder that some of our disavowed Christian leaders are letting go of the absolute truth of the Bible and subsequently their lives are falling apart? Further and further they are sinking in the sea…” Again, I’m only aware of two instances which he could be referring to. Sampson says, “I am so happy now, so at peace with the world.” Harris is experiencing a divorce. Nevertheless, his posts begins with, “My heart is full of gratitude…” This doesn’t sound to me like men whose lives are falling apart. Does Cooper have other people in mind whom I don’t know about? If not, why does he say this? Is he possibly skewing the reality out of his obvious passion for what he is writing? This would be ironic since he states earlier, “We need to value truth over feeling. Truth over emotion.”

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Evangelical Idealism – Leader Announces Separation http://www.dlwebster.com/evangelical-idealism-leader-announces-separation/ http://www.dlwebster.com/evangelical-idealism-leader-announces-separation/#respond Wed, 31 Jul 2019 01:10:35 +0000 http://www.dlwebster.com/?p=5151 Former evangelical pastor and author Joshua Harris and his wife recently announced their separation. This is sad because separation / divorce are always sad I think. We don’t get into and develop relationships with the hope or expectation that they will erode, degrade, fall apart, or even become hostile, harmful, and damaging. In a perfect […]]]>

Former evangelical pastor and author Joshua Harris and his wife recently announced their separation. This is sad because separation / divorce are always sad I think. We don’t get into and develop relationships with the hope or expectation that they will erode, degrade, fall apart, or even become hostile, harmful, and damaging. In a perfect world, I think that divorce or separation would probably not exist.

Harris’ separation is interesting though in that it is in a way symbolic. (I want to be clear that I am in no way gloating over their troubles.) Harris became well known for his book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”, which is often one of the first things mentioned when someone talks about “purity culture”. One of the main ideas and motivations behind it was recognizing the pain people go through during the break up of a close relationship. The problem is that the paradigm behind the recommendations in the book was the idea that if people could just do relationship “right”, then they would be spared the pain which comes presumably as a result of doing them “wrong”.

I think this paradigm goes beyond just dating and marriage relationships. I’ve gotten this sense from conservative Christianity in general. It seems that one of the conservative beliefs (or at least hopes) is that we can control our lives, that there is an ideal out there, and if we just follow all the rules, we will attain it. But this isn’t the reality we experience. Sometimes people who follow all the rules still experiences failures and hardships rather than the ideal life. Others (someone famous comes to mind) may be despicable people yet obtain the height of worldly success.

I think this belief or hope in an ideal is a way people deal with the sometimes harsh realities in life. Broken relationship, illness, untimely deaths, financial troubles… these are difficult for anyone to deal with when they affect us personally. One way to try to alleviate some of the stress is to think, “I’ll be alright because I’m doing things ‘right’.” Unfortunately, those who do things “right” and achieve success can be very tempted to think that those experiencing lack of success or worse challenges must have done something “wrong” and are therefore to blame for their own troubles.

What is my take away? A person doesn’t reach an ideal life by merely following the rules. Or rather, following the rules doesn’t guarantee an ideal life. Nothing guarantees an ideal life. Jesus and the Bible teach us principals to live by more than they do hard and fast rules. But even these principals don’t guarantee any specific outcome. Yes Jesus instructs us on how to live, and while it’s wise to follow these teachings, even he says that we will experience troubles.

So what should we do? Simply break all of the rules and forget about trying to live by any principals? I don’t think this is the answer. I’m not sure it’s helpful to be too strict about rules, but this also depends somewhat on the rule. I think we should try to live by the principals of the kingdom as best as possible. But it’s not necessary to get too upset or condemning when we and others are imperfect, make mistakes, and don’t always abide by our principals perfectly. I think maybe we can and should weight our concern based on how positively or negatively certain actions effect others.

I guess what I’m getting at is that conservatives often seem to hold that sin/rules/morality are the most important, critical aspect of living life. But I don’t think this is correct. I don’t believe God is super uptight about everyone strictly following the rules just because they’re the rules. Doing something wrong can have negative consequences. But the consequences in some cases aren’t nearly as huge as some people make them out to be, while other behaviors (like even focusing too strictly on rules) can have greater negative consequences though the same people aren’t even mentioning these behaviors. Again, I think we should be wise and weigh these things according to the consequences to ourselves and others.

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

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Sex, God & the Conservative Church – Book Review http://www.dlwebster.com/sex-god-the-conservative-church-book-review/ http://www.dlwebster.com/sex-god-the-conservative-church-book-review/#comments Tue, 23 Jul 2019 12:00:37 +0000 http://www.dlwebster.com/?p=5142 “Sex, God & the Conservative Church – Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy” is a book authored by therapist Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers. The first thing to know about this book is that it was written to therapists. This affects some sections of the book more than others, yet in either case, non-professionals can learn a […]]]>

“Sex, God & the Conservative Church – Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy” is a book authored by therapist Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers. The first thing to know about this book is that it was written to therapists. This affects some sections of the book more than others, yet in either case, non-professionals can learn a lot from the book as well. The second thing to note is that couples counseling is mostly presumed, though Sellers frequently shares brief thoughts on counseling singles at the end of each section.

The book is well divided into chapters with clear themes. In the first chapter, Sellers describes the sexual problems and dysfunction she began to observer in her counseling of those who grew up in conservative Christian environments, and specifically the results of “purity culture”. A couple of the primary root problems she sees are that people have received next to no education in sexuality and that the only teaching there has been was negative—only emphasizing not having sex. This has left people often ashamed of their desires while also being ignorant of what healthy sexuality could be, even in marriage.

Sellers reviews the history of thought and beliefs about sexuality throughout Christian history in chapter 2. She finds that it’s long been viewed negatively, perhaps in part due to Greco-Roman philosophy (she also mentions Augustine). The third chapter explores how American consumerism negatively affects our sexuality in addition to these other factors. In the forth chapter, Sellers looks for sex-positive messages in Judeo-Christian heritage. To be honest, there seemed to be little in Christian tradition, and even what Sellers found in Hebraic traditions seemed a bit weaker to me than she made it sound.

In chapter 5, Sellers shares her suggestions for a positive view of sexuality and how she sees it related to Jesus. Her recommendation is to approach sexuality with the principals of seeking to love, show grace, and make the other person feel seen, known, and accepted—the kind of things we see Jesus doing. This is in contrast to rules based prohibitions which conservatives tend to focus on. Rules may have their place, but the new testament is much more about principals—the spirit of the law—rather than rules. It seems apparent to me that things such as beauty and intimacy can’t be generated by following a set of rules alone. They require spirit, passion, and creativity as well.

Sellers addresses religious sexual shame as well as therapeutic steps to address it in chapter 6. In chapter 7, Sellers primarily talks about the “anatomy of intimacy” and how exploring these can help couples to connect (beyond just physically). In the final chapter, Sellars reviews further suggestions on practices which a couple can take to develop greater intimacy. While there is a physical component to these, they’re intended to be holistic; the belief is that our bodies, minds, and spirits are (or should be) integrated and that there isn’t a hard separation between physical, emotional, and spiritual connection.

One of the main ideas Sellers counters is that of “sex is for men” and that a wife is supposed to give sex to her husband but not necessarily expect to enjoy it herself. So while it isn’t a primary focus, Sellers does touch briefly in places on gender issues. This is one bad idea which I actually didn’t receive growing up. I found myself more surprised to learn of the negative beliefs in this case than to learn of Seller’s countering thoughts. If this idea isn’t something you or people you know weren’t taught, then you may find this book less beneficial than might others.

So who is this book for? First of all, therapists and those who counsel couples (or even singles) with a conservative Christian background (such as pastors) will likely receive the most benefit from this book. Couples are the next most likely group to benefit from this book in my estimation. For others, a certain degree of knowledge, maturity, and open mindedness may be necessary to get the most out of it.

As I read the book, I could imagine that staunch conservative Christians might struggle with the material within. Sellers doesn’t approach the subject with a strict, “What does the Bible say?” posture. The fact that she doesn’t attempt to lay out rules—especially prohibitions—will probably bother some as well. Beyond this, there are a couple of hints of things which conservatives might find unpalatable or even immoral. While Sellers and this book don’t come across as especially liberal, the fact that she’s not specifically conservative may cause some to feel that she is too liberal. However, I think these hangups are unnecessary and I find it unfortunate that rigid beliefs may keep some conservatives stuck in unhealth.

One of the main problems in addressing sexuality in conservative Christianity is that sexuality has generally been equated merely with sexual intercourse. This book contains a great reminder that our sexuality goes far beyond this. It is our drive to connect with others in general, and even relates to our passion for life and beauty. But unfortunately, when conservative Christianity equates sexuality with sex, and the only teaching is not to have sex outside of marriage, the unspoken message seems to be that it’s only appropriate to behave as though one is asexual unless married (or in a serious relationship potentially headed that way). But attempting to deny one’s sexuality may kill passion and lead to their sexuality coming out in dysfunctional ways. We need a healthy understanding of sexuality and a way to live into it in order to avoid these negative consequences. And Sellers’ book helps show us a potential way.

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Sex in Conservative Evangelical Christianity http://www.dlwebster.com/sex-in-conservative-evangelical-christianity/ http://www.dlwebster.com/sex-in-conservative-evangelical-christianity/#respond Sun, 14 Jul 2019 13:29:09 +0000 http://www.dlwebster.com/?p=5126 Here’s a deep thought to ponder: Jesus said there will not be marriage at the resurrection, but the Bible never says there won’t be sex in “heaven”. I imagine this thought may tweak a lot of evangelical minds. In evangelical thought, sex is so tied to marriage that I expect many might struggle to consider […]]]>

Here’s a deep thought to ponder: Jesus said there will not be marriage at the resurrection, but the Bible never says there won’t be sex in “heaven”. I imagine this thought may tweak a lot of evangelical minds. In evangelical thought, sex is so tied to marriage that I expect many might struggle to consider this. But I wonder, is this actually because our view of sex and marriage is so correct and Biblical? (I acknowledge that this article is imperfect; the following may just be my impression based on my experiences, and it may not accurately reflect conservative Christianity today. That said, I think there is still some potential value in what I share.)

I’ve heard it suggested that our western theology is significantly influenced by the Greeks. Plato held that everything on earth was just an imperfect shadow of a perfect version of that thing1. Even more influential, Gnosticism held that the spiritual realm was higher than the physical2. We like to think our theology isn’t influenced by this, but isn’t the common view of heaven a detached spiritual state? Yet from what I understand, this isn’t a solid Biblical view, especially not one grounded in a Hebraic context.

I bring this up because I wonder if this hasn’t influenced our view of sex too. Perhaps it’s just me, but is it a common perception among evangelicals that there won’t be sex in heaven? Because, after all, there won’t be marriage, and isn’t sex just a lower, carnal desire? I wonder again, is this really God’s view or is this more influenced by Plato and Augustine. (Augustine may be a pillar of theology, but he arguably had an unhealthy view of sexuality that is still hurting the church so many centuries later.)3

Although I expect many evangelicals are unaware of this, at least directly, evidence shows that the conservative church’s approach to sex is broken and has been harmful to people.4 This is loaded, I understand. Evangelicals have what I call “the evangelical fear of sex”. This isn’t about arguing for sex outside of marriage. We can believe that marriage is the only context for sexual intercourse but still fumble our handling of the broader topic of sexuality. I think there are probably many evangelicals who think something like, “Well this is the truth of Biblical teaching, and yes it may be hard but it’s the truth we must emphatically defend!” It’s the “The Bible says it and that settles it!” mindset. “What more is there to talk about?” they may ask.

Here’s a thought experiment: let’s say there is a mixed gender group at a church studying sexuality. And let’s say there are a man and a woman in the group who experience some mutual attraction, go out and have sex. And let’s hold that having sex outside of marriage is a sin. The thought experiment is this: the couple has sex and it’s a sin. So what? Are they suddenly going to die of natural causes as a consequence of this act? Will God be so angry that he will smite them? Have they ruined their lives irreparably forever? If none of these is true, then what? What if—gasp—they actually enjoyed it? Are they evil? Should they be ashamed? Are they beyond God’s forgiveness? This isn’t to say that there aren’t potential consequences to sex, it’s just that the negative consequences have been way over stated in conservative Christian culture.

I ask all these questions because these are the kinds of things I’ve been taught in evangelical culture—not necessarily in so many words, but communicated nonetheless. The emphasis placed on sex in conservative Christian culture makes it seem like just about the biggest sin possible, maybe just a step down from murder. I imagine that in most church, there would be a ton of scrutiny of the above scenario with the assumption that if people had sex, it must mean that the church did something wrong. This is just one demonstration of the evangelical fear of sex.

I suggest that the evangelical church has so mishandled sex that we need to hang onto the belief that sex is only for marriage loosely until we’ve repaired the damage we’ve done and found a healthier way to teach about sex. But the fear of sex runs so deep in evangelicalism, many will not be able to accept this suggestion. Though I said nothing of the sort, many will hear it as a license for people to have sex (which BTW studies show that they’re already doing anyway to a large extent5). Or they will hear me saying that sex is not a sin which again is not what I actually said. But we can’t become healthier so long as we’re clutching those beliefs so tightly. Sex outside of marriage may be a sin, but what if the evangelical fear of sex is just as much of a sin with its own damaging consequences? (This is part of a larger problem with conservative Christianity in which avoiding sin is often made the focus of following Christ.)

Many will fear and do already fear that, if we’re not extraordinarily clear and emphasize that sex outside of a heterosexual marriage is wrong, then people might actually have sex. My response? Yeah, and so? Let’s go through the list of questions in the thought experiment above once again. Beyond that, statistics show that people are still having sex despite all of our imploring for people to turn off their sexuality.5

A lot of what I’m saying is in response to “purity culture” which at least was popular in evangelical churches. In a nutshell, parents and leaders were scared that their kids might have sex, so in order to try to keep them from sex, they promoted the idea that waiting to have sex until marriage would ensure a good marriage (at least sexually) while having sex before marriage would inevitably lead to marital problems.

One of the core assumptions you may have noticed baked into this is the message that you will get married. This is part of why one author stated that the “purity movement” had nothing to say to adults beyond the age of 236. Truly, in conservative Christian culture, marriage by a fairly young age is held up as normative and correct—a clear ideal. I’m not sure what the exact number is (I’m not aware of anyone having quantified this), but I’ll guess that about 95% of evangelical pastors and church leaders are married.

Are singles, especially older singles, valued in evangelical churches? The story I hear most often is that they are more able to serve. Is this all we value singles for? If we allow few of them to be leaders, are we truly valuing them? Or is there a perhaps unrecognized impression that marriage is the correct ideal, and therefore if some church member is not married, they aren’t fully “ideal” and are therefore less qualified, less mature and able to lead?

I’ve heard it said that we demonstrate what we value by what we celebrate. We celebrate baptisms, weddings, and babies. All of these things are good to celebrate. But to demonstrate how badly the church has handled sexuality, is an older single more likely to be proud or embarrassed about being abstinent? (If embarrassed, if may have to do more with being single than their sexual history, but in either case, the church arguably hasn’t embraced them.) Our culture has movies like The 40 year old virgin and 40 days and 40 nights, both of which communicate by their very core premise that foregoing sexual intercourse is abnormal and crazy. You know how the church has responded? With silence. In other words, it really hasn’t.

For all the condemnation of sex outside of marriage, I can’t say we’ve honored and celebrated those of us who have kept to this supposed ideal. In fact, as I’ve somewhat been communicating, the opposite is actually true. I’ve heard some Christian leaders go so far as to say that you’re living in sin if you don’t marry by thirty (or there about). While usually not that extreme, still it seems that singles are more often seen as an oddity, an aberration to be pitied more than celebrated. (And I haven’t even mentioned how we’re so “focused on the family” that even in our beliefs we only leave singles with the scraps after God and family—an approach I’d suggest is not Biblical.)

Yes, the Bible has a high sexual ethic. But there is much more to sexuality than just abstinence outside of marriage. And evangelicalism’s complete fumbling of this issue so core to who we are as human beings has left a wake of damage. (And I haven’t even mentioned the sexual struggles I’ve heard many Christians encounter even once they do get married because of the lack of teaching as to what healthy sexuality is.) Evangelicals need to let go of their irrational fear of sex (which is not the same as license) in order to begin helping people to heal, to show them the love of Christ, and to teach what healthy sexuality is.

Notes:
1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plato#The_Forms
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gnosticism These ideas come from what I’ve heard of Gnosticism and Platonic philosophy. However I would need to study further to truly understand their potential impact on Christian theology.
3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustine_of_Hippo#Sexuality
4. What I have in mind here is what has been called “purity culture” which is what I experienced in conservative Christianity. It’s been suggested to me that this may not apply as much today as it did in previous decades. There are no doubt a range of experiences in conservative churches, so this may be more or less true depending on one’s specific context. In any case, I’ve heard that a significant percentage of those experiencing some form of sexual dysfunction come from a conservative and/or Roman Catholic background. I’ve heard this from multiple sources over time, but for two examples, see “Unwanted” by Jay Stringer, p. 212, and “Sex, God, & the Conservative Church” chapter 1.
5. I’ve heard this a number of times of the years, but for one example, see “Sex, God & the Conservative Church” by Dr. Tina Sellers, pp. 12-13. I do want to note that statistics regarding Christians can vary significantly based on whether are classified as such based on their claim of religious affiliation verses whether their actions demonstrate active participation, etc. I haven’t studied all the statistics and their methods myself, so I can’t at this time speak to the exact degree the methods of “purity culture” did or didn’t prevent pre-marital sex.
6. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/15/opinion/sunday/sex-christian.html

photo by MA Fotografi, on Flickr

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Feelings, Thoughts, and Emotions http://www.dlwebster.com/feelings-thoughts-and-emotions/ http://www.dlwebster.com/feelings-thoughts-and-emotions/#respond Wed, 10 Jul 2019 00:40:01 +0000 http://www.dlwebster.com/?p=5134 I’ve been considering the difference and interaction between feelings, emotions, and thoughts. At first I thought there may be a continuum between them rather than always being distinctly one as opposed to another. Now I’m thinking it may be more of a field between three points rather than a single line. In my observation, we […]]]>

I’ve been considering the difference and interaction between feelings, emotions, and thoughts. At first I thought there may be a continuum between them rather than always being distinctly one as opposed to another. Now I’m thinking it may be more of a field between three points rather than a single line.

In my observation, we often don’t distinguish between these very well. For instance, I often say, “I feel like…” and then share a thought. And we typically use the words “feelings” and “emotions” interchangeably. However, let me trying to tease these apart.

Thoughts are an idea in our mind which we can often express verbally. We also may have impressions which may not be clear enough to express but I will still consider these thoughts. This latter kind is what I believe I’m trying to express when I say, “I feel like…”—I have an impression that an idea may be true but I am not yet convinced for certain.

This brings up another important point about thoughts: they don’t all carry the same amount of conviction. Some ideas we’re absolutely convinced of, others are things we think may be true but aren’t sure. Some are based on experience, others are abstract concepts we’ve been taught.

Now, on to feelings. I want to use feelings to describe those things we feel physically. If I stub my toe, I will feel pain in my toe. If I am hungry, I feel this in my stomach. I may feel tired or sleepy. These aren’t really ideas; they’re sensations. While feelings and emotions are often used interchangeably, I’m going to distinguish between them.

Emotions may be sensed in the body, but I don’t think are initially a physical phenomenon. Emotions are things like peace, gratitude, worry, and anger. These often do have related thoughts, yet we may also feel these against apparent reason meaning they’re not strictly ideas either. But they’re not simply physical sensations either, even though they effect how we feel physically.

Part of the trick is that there is a lot of interaction and influence between thoughts, feelings and emotions. So when I feel angry, I feel this in my body. But anger generally comes from the mind—there generally has to be some idea behind it I think. On the other hand, perhaps I wake up feeling grumpy for no particular reason. In this case, my body influences my mood (emotion) which is likely to influence my thinking.

In any case, the following idea occurred to me: Maybe feelings have to do with the nervous system whereas emotions have to do with the lower brain, while thoughts are located in the higher reasoning / rational part of the brain. This would correspond to how they’re all experienced a bit differently.

As mentioned, I believe all three of these influence each other. I started thinking about all of this from the angle of considering how they interact. I’ve heard some people talk about positive thinking and practices such as telling yourself positive messages. I think this can certainly be helpful, but I also don’t think it’s a cure all. I’ve held that our experiences shape what our lower brain (un/subconscious) believes to be true. This is where it’s possible to claim to believe one thing while acting as the opposite is true. If the effect of what we’re hypothesizing is negative emotions, then I’d say what the person needs is a new experience, not simply positive self talk. But on the other hand, I know that in some cases, positive self-talk lifts the emotions which may lead to better experiences. You can probably see the challenge here. It’s not necessarily easy to figure out how these interact or where to start if one of them is caught in an undesirable state.

photo credit: ccsdteacher via photopin cc

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Movie Review: Emanuel http://www.dlwebster.com/movie-review-emanuel/ http://www.dlwebster.com/movie-review-emanuel/#respond Wed, 19 Jun 2019 00:02:23 +0000 http://www.dlwebster.com/?p=5118 My experience gives me the impression that it is very difficult to make a good documentary, perhaps even more difficult than making any other kind of film (not necessarily in the technical aspects, but in terms of writing and editing). In many ways, Emanuel was very well made, impressive even. Yet one of my first […]]]>

My experience gives me the impression that it is very difficult to make a good documentary, perhaps even more difficult than making any other kind of film (not necessarily in the technical aspects, but in terms of writing and editing). In many ways, Emanuel was very well made, impressive even. Yet one of my first impressions after leaving the theater was that something was missing. Something felt unresolved.

The documentary begins by reviewing a bit of the racial history of Charleston, South Carolina, the scene of the events documented in this film. The bulk of the approximately 70 minutes is filled with a recounting of the events which happened (a young white man shot 9 blacks to death in a bible study), accounts of family and witnesses, and remembering of the deceased. Part of the movie touched on the racial tension and demonstrations in other cities. The account of the events in Charleston included the words of forgiveness offered by family members of the victims. Though this wasn’t made overly clear (at least in my initial impression), the film seemed to suggest that the forgiveness offered by the victims* in Charleston led to a lack of a tumultuous and/or even violent response by a black community too often on the receiving end of injustice.

But the movie ended there. It felt incomplete, like something was missing. First of all, the film didn’t share what forgiveness meant. Some of the victims said words of forgiveness just a couple of days after the shooting. I wondered, had they even had a chance to fully process what happened and its impact on them? I believe that forgiveness is healthy, but it’s not dismissive of the harm done. I wanted to hear what forgiveness meant to each of the people who offered it. Forgiveness is much deeper than a word. What did this cost them? How did it transform them? What inspired them to forgive? Yes, their forgiveness was briefly tied to Christianity, but I feel like a more robust explanation was omitted.

Beyond this, the events still left nine people dead and many more wounded and mourning. Forgiveness doesn’t change this. I guess this is why the forgiveness as portrayed in the movie felt shallow and the story incomplete to me. What now? What of the future? Do the victims merely go on enduring the suffering from their loss? I could point to the future hope in Christ, but this wasn’t mentioned in the movie. How can we prevent this from happening again? Forgiveness is important for the victims, but it doesn’t reduce racism, does it? (Honest question.) I felt hurt and angry and just the incomprehensible wrongness of a man walking in a shooting to death nine people based solely on their race. I want to do something to prevent this from happening again. I want to do what I can, little though it may be, to end racism.

This was the other reason the movie felt incomplete. At the end, it felt as though things were just left at the status quo. I didn’t sense any progress on race relations, no step closer to reconciliation. It felt like the black community will be left to continue enduring injustice. But it’s not just them. I suffer from injustice (because I can imagine myself in their shoes to enough of an extent that I identify with them as fellow human beings). We all suffer when injustice is present (though we obviously don’t all suffer in the same way or to the same degree). Perhaps the filmmakers intended this documentary to inspire motivation to positive change. What can we do?

*I used “victims” here and in the remainder of the article to indicate those who either witnessed the shooting or are close to those who were killed. I believe the label of victim is appropriate because they have been wounded in a very real and lasting way.

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