Great Expectations: basic human decency.

This post first appeared on Dani Does Lots of Things on October 5, 2015. It has been republished below.


Last week, I went to my first therapy session since I was a teenager. (For those remembering my summer post about starting therapy, I was wrong — that was seeing a psychiatrist, not a psychologist.)

My primary care practitioner recommended the counselor who volunteers at the clinic. I’d known that the clinic had a pastoral care counselor, so I told her I was apprehensive about going to such counseling as an atheist, particularly an atheist whose mental health has been so damaged by Christianity. She assured me that despite his work on his Master of Divinity, he would be respectful and objective.

From these assurances, I assumed he must not be a biblical counselor like those I saw as a teenager, but closer to the many liberal Christian friends I have who merely want to make the world a better place through compassionate social justice work, much like my PCP is.

I also assumed that if he wasn’t licensed yet, he was working on it.

Ohhh, how wrong I was, on both counts.

While I don’t want to get distracted by the details of this session, a few things strike me as particularly notable about it. They’re themes I’ve noticed emerging from my more fundamentalist and evangelical friends alike, and it’s troubling.

On the one hand, he claimed that his office was a safe space free of judgment, much like you’d expect from a counselor.

On the other hand, he kept reiterating that he wasn’t going to stop talking about God.

Despite my repeated insistence that approaching my care with God as the focus (especially knowing that I’m an atheist) was disrespectful and made me very uncomfortable.

He disagreed, even managing to work a “God’s Plan for Salvation” speech in, all the while assuring me that’s not what he was going to do.

Don’t get me wrong. As I’ve said multiple times before, I tend to not police Christians’ talk about their faith. I accept that it’s a significant driving force in their lives, and realize if I want a relationship with them, it’s unfair for me to expect them to keep quiet about it (much like it’s unfair for them to expect me to remain silent about my beliefs, but we’re still working on that one).

This particular situation, of course, was starkly different. This counselor was not acting or talking to me as a peer. I was in his care, and he was abusing the position of power that care afforded him.

This experience highlights a couple of the many reasons I have this on-going series of conversations for well-meaning Christians. There are reasons I keep coming back to the concepts of empathy and respect and listening to people who believe differently than conservative Christians do.

One such reason is the vast divide between what Christians expect from non-Christians and what they expect of themselves in relation to non-Christians. Continue reading

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The rightly divided word.

word

This post was first published on my blog on May 1, 2015. It has been edited slightly for publication here. Image courtesy of Julie Jordan Scott.


This is less a definitive post than it is a personal observation and public questioning. I’d love to have a discussion about this phenomenon, largely because I’m still kind of processing my observations and what they imply. But do keep in mind that my opinion is just that — mine. You don’t have to share it, and you’re welcome to share your views in the comments!

If there’s one thing the Plymouth Brethren taught me that will probably never ever go away, it’s the ability to notice patterns in both written word and lived-out actions. Considering humans in general notice patterns to ensure our survival and to imbue our lives with meaning, combined with how so much of Plymouth Brethren-practiced theology is based upon what they see as patterns in Scripture, it’s really no wonder.

Lately though, I’ve been noticing how many people, men in particular, (men with Plymouth Brethren influences even more particularly) approach me, my story, and my critique of their religion. And I’m kind of fascinated by it, in the same way cats are fascinated by knocking things off of tables just to see the world burn.

cat

Conservative Christian men approach what I say in the exact same way they approach what the Bible says.

It’s as if the rightly divided word has less to do with context & intent than usefulness to a particular cause or argument. I know that’s quite a claim to make, but the more I reflect on how I was taught to approach the Bible and observe how these men approach my words, the more pronounced the parallel becomes. What do I mean, exactly?

  1. They isolate our words from the context in which they were written.
  2. Then they insist that neither context nor authorial intent can meaningfully affect a “plain reading.”
  3. Finally, they assert that any other interpretation is intellectually dishonest.

Continue reading

Basics of preaching.

In my 20+ years of experience in the open assemblies in the United States, typically there are only three explicit prerequisites for preaching:

  1. Being a Christian
  2. Being a man
  3. Having the spiritual gift of teaching

Formal study in a seminary setting is often discouraged, or at the very least looked upon with skepticism. The idea is that any man under guidance of his local assembly, through the indwelling Holy Spirit and regular study of the Bible, is capable of preaching God’s Word to the congregation if he is deemed to posses the spiritual gift of teaching.

This is not to say that assembly preachers never receive any training at all. Typically, training will come from the elders or a mentor in the assemblies who is also a preacher. With a lack of emphasis on formal biblical study, however, it is not unusual for training to start at a very young age. Boys as young as 8, in my experience, have been given the opportunity to give short sermons or testimonies as a way for them to gain experience. So in the assemblies, an 8 year old boy is more eligible to preach than a grown educated woman.

There are leadership workshops and conferences for training as well, like the Shepherding Conference at Greenwood Hills or the Rise Up conferences. There is one assembly Christian college that is seen as acceptable to attend for training (Emmaus Bible College), though any conservative Christian college is grudgingly acceptable.

There are also numerous books from assembly men teaching others how to preach. One favorite is A. P. Gibbs’ classic, The Preacher and His Preaching.

Preaching styles vary from preacher to preacher and even from message to message. There are topical studies, expository preaching, analytical studies, word studies, and various other approaches to scripture and application. Due to the low church nature of Plymouth Brethren (and my gender prohibiting me from being eligible to preach while I was in the movement), there are specific terms for these preaching styles that I’m simply unfamiliar with. The website Voices for Christ hosts probably the largest online database of Plymouth Brethren sermons.

Just as elders are not generally paid staff for the church, preachers are also not salaried and generally there are several men in an assembly who share the burden. Some preachers travel to other assemblies to preach as well, promoting community and ensuring that no one assembly is entirely insular. It’s not unusual for them to be given a love offering from the church.

Most preachers are not typically considered evangelists, however. While most assembly preachers focus on their congregation and a few local assemblies, evangelists are often commissioned from their home assembly to travel and preach regionally or even nationally. While many of them hold full-time secular employment, it’s also not unusual for an evangelist to rely on financial support from a group of assemblies or through the Plymouth Brethren group, Christian Missions in Many Lands.

Of masculinity & abusive breeding grounds.

Masculinity

I’ve been offline quite a lot the past week. It’s been a busy time at work and in my personal life as well. So I didn’t hear about the recent tragedy in Isla Vista until late Saturday evening, and the more I learn about it, the more sobering it is. Hännah Ettinger captures my feelings rather perfectly in her post from yesterday:

Yesterday’s shooting didn’t leave me as shaken as it should have, like other shooting that happened have. Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Aurora. Those haunt me in their very senselessness. The mystery of why. They’re unforgettable because the motives are unknowable.

Yesterday’s shooting made perfect sense

Dianna Anderson further expounds upon it in her essay “On Purity Culture, Violence Against Women, and Disbelief As Patriarchy:”

Men grow up in a culture that simultaneously tells them that “getting the girl” is some manly men do and that manhood is inextricably tied with violent acts. The Men’s Rights Movement, in its extremes, has developed a methodology of treating women as objects who exist either to give men sex or to undermine their deserved right to sex, children, and power. Being an “Alpha Male,” in Men’s Rights terminology, means being the manliest of men – which requires using women for sex, being the provider of the household, and asserting your rightful place at the top.

I’ve often commented to myself, when I read the work of complementarian ministers, especially those talking about manhood, that they sound like MRA’s. Especially in studying purity culture for my forthcoming book, I’ve come across biblical exegesis that sounds very like Men’s Rights discussion simply bathed in “biblical” justification. Owen Strachan’s famous post about “man fails,” for example, could easily be a post on the Men’s Rights subreddit.

In this drive to prove themselves as manly men, women become collateral damage. Three women die each day as the result of domestic violence [PDF]. Many more end up in emergency rooms. Some end up on the news, the victims of men they had rejected previously. This is not an isolated phenomenon. This pattern of violence is the result of a culture that says that only valuable thing about a woman is what she can do for men.

And “Biblical” evangelicals do not escape from this culture. Women in the purity movement serve as vessels for Christian children, as objects that must keep themselves pure for a father, a husband, and a specifically male God. There is no escaping the ways in which evangelical theology defines women solely by their relationships to men, objectifying them first as single women whose worth is determined by their sexual activity and then as wives, whose goodness as wives is determined by whether or not they can keep their virile, manly husband from “straying.”

I can’t help but see what Dianna noted here reflected in the assemblies.

Continue reading

From “assembly girl” to feminist: learning my worth as a woman.

A variation of this image was designed by me and used for Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week earlier this year.

A variation of this image was designed by me using open-source images and used for Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week earlier this year.

“I really appreciate your spirit,” he told me.

I looked at him, a bit embarrassed and confused. “Thank you?” I replied and asked all at once. He chuckled good-naturedly.

“You’re not like these other girls — loud, giggly…honestly, a little shallow. A little vain. You’ve got a quiet spirit. You’re a thinker. You’re very tender to the voice of the Lord. I really appreciate that about you.”

I thanked him once more as he left me alone to continue writing in my journal in the empty conference room. He was one of the conference organizers, a man I’d known for almost 10 years and whom I looked up to greatly.

I thought back to a few summers before, when one of my male friends on staff at camp told me that he considered me to be the godliest girl there, then thought of the several preachers who regularly thanked me privately after their sermons for being so openly attentive, like Mary at the feet of Jesus.

Those comments all swirled around in my head, and I was suddenly very deeply humbled. I often felt that I was too brash, too opinionated, that I fell so far short of true godliness. But for that moment, I felt relieved that my dedication to obeying the Lord’s commands regarding women seemed to be evident.

It simply didn’t occur to me that despite the good intentions of these men, what they said was absolutely not a compliment.

Continue reading