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SCOTUS, Hobby Lobby, and the Problem of Serving Two Masters

June 30, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol

The Supreme Court ruled today in a 5-4 decision that the federal government cannot require “closely held corporations” to follow the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employee health plans cover contraceptives, if the use of contraceptives violates company owners’ religious beliefs (source: Slate.) The case was brought by Hobby Lobby, a craft store who claimed that providing certain forms of contraceptives to their employees would violate their, “sincerely held religious beliefs.” 

Plenty has already been written about the medical and scientific distinctions between contraceptives and abortion, and why taking a pill or inserting an IUD that prevents pregnancy is not the same thing as ending one that’s already began. No one can say with absolute certainty when “life” starts, or what that means, but if we’re talking strictly about the process of fertilization and implementation, and the medical distinction of what abortion does vs. what contraceptives do, this case was never about abortion.

What this was about was “religious freedom.”

Hobby Lobby, and the multitudes of religious conservatives who rallied behind them, claimed that since Hobby Lobby’s owners were Christian, and as Christians they didn’t believe in certain forms of birth control, that the government forcing them to provide this was a form of religious oppression. For this to be true, the court would have to rule that Hobby Lobby – a for-profit corporation – was effectively an “individual” covered under the first Amendment. Hobby Lobby claimed they were, and the SCOTUS today agreed.

In the wake of this decision, I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus.

When I first heard that Hobby Lobby was claiming that they were an “individual” that deserved religious liberties, I immediately thought about Matthew 6.

Jesus lays down some hard truths in the book of Matthew, some instructions so difficult that they caused people following him to turn away. One of these hard truths is found in Matthew 6:24 -

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

As individuals, it’s hard enough to follow this teaching – to work diligently to make enough money to pay our bills and be financially responsible – but never making the pursuit of wealth an idol. Money for Christians is never supposed to be thought of as “ours,” but as “God’s”; we’re just supposed to be stewards.

How is a corporation whose main goal is to make a profit supposed to honor this? If your goal is to stay in business and make more money – not money to use for others, like with charity or non-profits, but for yourself and your benefit - how can you claim that God, and not money, is your master? If you’re a businessperson and a Christian you can walk this line, because your job is just a part of who you are, and not essential to your faith. But if you’re essentially saying that the business itself is a person – how does this work? How does this business/person honor both God and money?

Furthermore, if a corporation has religious rights, what does that mean? Does that mean that this corporation is held to the same standards as individual Christians? That corporations are required to love their neighbors as themselves, to seek to lower themselves and lift up others, to confess their sins, to give heartily to God, and to be peacemakers? If so that sounds WONDERFUL. I fully support this. I don’t know if capitalist companies would ever get behind this though. Could you imagine what it would be like, if every “closely-held” Christian company publicly confessed to any sins of greed? If they sought to lift up their competitors instead of themselves? Actually, if enough companies did this I don’t even know how capitalism would work. Maybe that’s because the tenets of business and the tenets of Christianity are generally incompatible -one is about elevating the self, while the other is about putting others first.

But before I get called a communist, there’s another larger point to be made about Hobby Lobby’s claims that their “religious freedoms” were being opposed. The fact that what was being discussed was not a mandate that Hobby Lobby themselves, as Christians, be forced to take contraceptives, but they not be forced to provide them to their employees.

So the crux of the issue comes down to a company not wanting to pay for a medicine that an employee would be prescribed by a doctor, that they themselves would choose to take. There’s no distinction of course that this only applies to Christian employees, who they might feel are held to the same Biblical standards as Hobby Lobby themselves, but all employees. The argument being that, while it’s the employees decision to take the medicine, it would be Hobby Lobby paying for a portion of it.

There’s that whole serving two masters problem again. Now I’m seeing a little better why Jesus isn’t a fan of money, especially in matters of faith.

The dangerous precedent this sets is in saying that Christian companies have a right in how the money their employees spend on healthcare is used. I don’t want to throw the word “Sharia” around, but this is problematic. It puts an elevation on the rights of business over the rights of workers. To use Biblical terms, it hurts the least for the greatest.

It also conflates two things; “religious freedom” and “the right to medical care.” Because birth control = medical care. Pregnancy, while a beautiful, natural thing for some women, is also deadly to others. Either because of physical or psychological risks, financial insecurity, unstable partners, or any number of things that can be deadly for seemingly normal, healthy pregnancies. Women die in childbirth everyday. More in the US than many other countries. So to tell some women that preventing this in effective* ways is not “medical” is wrong.

What is at stake in this case is life, absolutely. Some would say that what’s at stake is the lives of babies who will come into existence if they are able to implant in the uterine wall, and progress without spontaneous abortion/miscarriage. They would say these lives (or potential lives if you don’t believe a fertilized egg is a life) trump the lives of grown, human women. Well, they might not say this, but their actions do. Actions like completely and totally ignoring the right for women to choose for themselves if birth control is best for them. Or actions that say that all pregnancies are a gift, even ones that could lead to permanent, irreversible harm to women.

As a Christian, I believe in life. That’s why I support the Affordable Health Care Act, it’s why I oppose the death penalty, and it’s the whole reason why I believe so strongly in wide-spread affordable access to birth control for women who want it. Both because access to birth control is the proven best way to prevent abortions, and because women’s reproductive health can easily be a life-or-death issue.

Someone on Twitter said that the argument around reproductive health, “wrongly conflates quality of life with protecting the sanctity of life.” This implied that the former didn’t matter as much as the latter. I’d argue that Biblically, this is not true. Jesus wouldn’t have healed the people who came to him if he didn’t care about their quality of life. It’s also hard to rationalize a lack of concern for quality of life with a Bible that spends so many verses on caring for the poor, widows, and orphans. And it’s hard not to see Jesus elevation of the people that had the worst quality of life as intentional. This applies especially to a people group who, in Jesus time, had a terrible quality of life – women.

While on Earth, Jesus fought for women. From the woman he saved from adultery, to the woman at the well, to Mary who he allowed to let down her hair and wash his feet – Jesus treated women with a respect that they were not accustomed to. He valued them. He didn’t treat them as other religious leaders of the day did, as vessels for sin and fleshly corruption – he treated them as children of God.

This is why I don’t believe it’s wrong to care about the quality of life of the women for whom affordable access to birth control is now being threatened. Their lives matter too.

As a married Christian woman who is fully capable of making her own decisions regarding her body and her reproductive health, I don’t see today’s decision as a victory of “religious freedom.” I see it as proof that problems arise when “Christian businesses” try to serve two masters – money (that they see fit to spend as they please) and God. What became evident today is that when Christian businesses try to serve two masters, the person who is hurt most is not God or themselves, but the person they are commanded to love – their neighbors.

That’s the problem - Hobby Lobby saw their female employees who need birth control not as their neighbors, but as their enemies. And this doesn’t seem like something a “Christian” business should do.

 

 

 

*I say “effective” because IUD’s, which the Hobby Lobby family opposes, are the only form of birth control many women with hormonal sensitivities can use. They’re also one of the most affordable, in the long-run.

 

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How Queer Theology Restored My Love of Scripture

June 18, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol

My favorite Bible growing up was my rainbow study Bible. It had a hard cherry cover and the pages inside were color-coded with content designations, thus creating the “rainbow.” Sin was gray, God was purple, love was green, etc., etc.

This Bible was read and scribbled in so often that the cover quickly wore down at the edges, and the pages I read most (Psalms, the gospels, Romans) started to fall out. I truly loved that Bible, and can still remember the excitement I’d feel every time I’d open it.

My feelings over scripture changed substantially around 2007, when I picked up Shane Clairborne’s book The Irresistible Revolution. It was the first book I’d ever read that opened me up to the fact that, while the Bible itself may be inerrant, man’s interpretation of it isn’t.

Before this, I’d believed that to be Christian meant to not question anything related to the Bible in any way – even if that question was, “is my current reading of the Word truly honoring God?”

The seven years since I read Clairborne’s book have been a blur of questions. Some of them I haven’t found answers to, until now. The main question being, “how can I get that love for my Bible back?”

What made my love of scripture wane wasn’t the words within the covers. It was the way I saw these words being used by those around me. The Bible stopped being the book that encouraged love and grace for all, and instead became something I saw used to draw lines of division. In my youth, I read the Bible in order to know Jesus more and grow closer to Him. I assumed that’s what everyone did. But in my adulthood I saw the Bible used less as a personal study tool, and more as a weapon lobbed against the people I cared deeply about. I struggled to reconcile these two experiences of scripture.

There was another reason my love of scripture faded, the older I got. At first I thought it was because, by the time I was in my mid-twenties, I had read the Bible cover-to-cover multiple times. Nothing was truly “new.” Every verse preached on Sunday was one I was familiar with. But this wasn’t it.

Looking back on my faith, I see that what always spoke to me in Christianity is who Christ chose to surround himself with, and who He constantly extols as virtuous. Christ came for the losers. As a chubby nerdy kid who never truly fit in, I latched onto this message of the Gospel. The Bible was for me. When I thrived in my faith was when I saw the Bible being used to reach out to the misfits, the downtrodden, and the lowly and despised. Jesus didn’t care about being accepted by society, He cared about loving others, and encouraging His followers to do the same.

It was this turning on the head of “wisdom” in order to love, that drew me to the Christian faith. For me, the message of the Gospel will forever be tied with the message that everyone – all in God’s creation – are welcome.

I also saw something else. Christianity – a minority religion held by a few radicals in it’s conception – had morphed into the dominant cultural force of America. Christianity had become so ubiquitous in the country that not only did 3/4 of American citizens identify as Christian, but nearly all of the government as well. The culture was inextricably tied to Christianity. Maybe not “true” Christianity, some would argue, but Jesus name was invoked by more regular Americans and politicians than ever before. Talking about the Bible was no longer something that ostracized you – it was something that could help you gain approval.

Theology then, became not something for “the misfits” but something for popular culture. Even if the culture valued things that Christians would argue against – sex, wealth, greed – the people consuming and influencing the culture were the ones sitting in pews every Sunday. I mean, when the cast of a highly-rated reality show releases a “branded” Bible, it’s hard to argue that Christianity hasn’t been “mainstreamed.”

Loving scripture then became an even harder struggle, because I always felt that Christianity was never supposed to be mainstream, let alone commercial. It was supposed to be something risky, challenging, and hard. I felt myself slipping away from the church, and the Bible. I had a hard time reading scripture because of the constant misuse. It was hard for me to read a book I used to love, like Romans, without being reminded of the dozens of times people had thrown its verses at me (as if I didn’t know them) as proof I was wrong to support equality. While I never felt myself drawing away from God, and spent time with Him frequently, it was Her word with which I struggled to make peace.

Recently though I stumbled upon something that reminded me why I fell in love with scripture in the first place – queer theology.

What this means to each person can differ – but for me, queer theology is a way of reading the Bible that makes it accessible for all. Fr. Shannon Kearns puts it this way in his post on whether straight people can participate in queer theology,

“…this idea of reading queerly is about giving people permission to bring whoever they are to the text and to figure out who they are in relation to the story. I think of the way that Jesus told his audience parables and one of the ways he used them was to get the audience to figure out who they were in the story. So in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus for example: are you the Rich Man? Lazarus? The scribes and teachers listening? Who you are shifts how you hear the story. Often that is uncomfortable because we want to be the hero of the story but sometimes the reality is that we’re the goat!

But there is also a second way of reading queerly and that takes into account this understanding of queerness by Patrick Cheng from his book “Radical Love”. He says, “The second meaning of “queer” is a self-conscious embrace of all that is transgressive of societal norms, particularly in the context of sexuality and gender identity. In fact, this term is best understood as a verb or an action. That is, to “queer” something is to engage with a methodology that challenges and disrupts the status quo. Like the function of the court jester or the subversive traditions of Mardi Gras, to “queer” something is to turn convention and authority on its head. It is about seeing things in a different light and reclaiming voices and sources that previously had been ignored, silenced, or discarded.” (From “Radical Love” Seabury Books 2011)”

Reclaiming voices that previously had been ignored is what the Gospel means to me. It’s what first drew me to Christianity, and it’s what’s bringing me back again now.

There is something that speaks to my heart so deeply in this way of looking at the Bible. It’s not about manipulating verses to see what you want, or twisting scripture. Rather, it’s allowing yourself to be who the Bible was written for. It’s saying that, maybe we don’t have to let the thousands of years of interpretation by white men of authority be the only “correct” interpretation we value.

It hit me soon after discovering queer theology that, once again, scripsand-and-sea-1442125-8-mture could be new to me. It was while reading the beautiful analogy of sand and sea from this piece by Sarah Moon, on why scripture doesn’t support a binary way of thinking, that I felt that stirring again which spoke to me. I felt God’s presence re-affirming that, the Gospel is for you. What’s wonderful about queer theology is that it also re-affirms that the Gospel is undoubtedly for my Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer friends as well.

A criticism that has been lobbed against me is that, by aligning myself so closely with the LGBTQ community, I’ve not been able to see the church fully. I’ve become blindsided by my love for these friends, and it’s unfairly biased me. Queer theology has helped me see that this is simply untrue – my faith has always been biased towards looking at things from the outside. What drew me to scripture initially – it’s subversiveness – is the same thing that draws me to a queer reading of it now. I want to read scripture through the eyes of those on the outside Jesus treated with worth, not through the eyes of the religious readers He chastised.

When I think about how I first fell in love with scripture, I think of that rainbow study Bible of my youth. How beautiful it was every time I opened its pages and saw the spectrum of color. The greens and browns and reds all helped me see that the Bible was not homogeneous, but diverse. The beauty was in the variation of what was being said, to whom, and how. That was always there in scripture, of course, but the rainbow brought it out and made it clear. Adding color didn’t take anything away or change the meaning of scripture, it simply gave me a new way of looking at it. The diversity is what made me fall in love.

The diversity is what’s keeping me in love with scripture now. For that, I have queer theology to thank.

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“Why Are You Always So Angry?”

June 11, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol

Growing up, the only Christian I saw consistently represented on TV was Ned Flanders.

The affable, happy, somewhat naive neighbor of Homer Simpson was always quick to mention his faith in the Lord, and many a laugh was made at the expense of his unflappable Christian kindness.

I am not Ned Flanders.

For one thing, I’m three-dimensional anNedd human. I also know I’m not Ned Flanders because I’ve had some people complain to me recently  that I can come across, “too angry.”

“You just seem so pissed off all the time,” a family member said to me over dinner.

“I’m not always pissed off,” I said, smiling.

“Yeah you are,” this family member and another said in unison.

Some days later I got a message from a friend. They saw a post of mine about how disappointed I was in a theologian I respected who had made some ignorant and disturbing remarks about transgender kids. My  friend who messaged me said, among other things, that my digital reputation was one of, “cynicism tinged with bitterness.” Ouch.

This was strange for me to hear, because, if I were to describe myself, I’d say I’m a fairly happy person. I might have a bit of resting bitch face, but on the inside I’m usually thinking happy thoughts. My life is so (hashtag) blessed, that it’s hard for me to be angry or bitter. 90% of the time I’m feeling incredibly content.

That’s when I realized that there are two “me’s” people see – the real me, and the social media me.

Social media is where I talk about the issues, events, and problems in the world that are important to me. To explain why so often this might come across as “cynical” I’m going to attempt to walk through what a normal social media experience of mine is like:

Facebook – checks private group of LGBT Christian friends and allies, sees post from friend whose mother just told him that, because of how much she loves Jesus, she can’t ever acknowledge the “devil inside her son” or her son’s partner. Sees other post from friend whose sister wasn’t allowed to marry her husband in her church because the person performing the ceremony was my friend, her (lesbian) sister. Scrolls through feed, sees posts from feminist friends regarding op-ed written by old white guy proclaiming that women in college see being raped as a “coveted status of privilege” and lie about sexual assault. Checks comments on a recent article I wrote, reads through multiple strangers saying disparaging things about me.

Before closing Facebook checks messages, sees one from trans friend who tell me how happy they were at a recent doctor appointment when the techs actually acknowledged their true gender, and didn’t disgustingly misgender them.

Twitter – Sees a half a dozen notifications from people who have found my page from various articles I wrote, thanking me for writing them. Reads through feed, sees posts from the LGBT Christians, feminist Christians, non-religious friends and media I follow. Lots of tweets regarding whatever school shooting was most recent, whichever white male politician said something offensive about women, and the most current religious figure who felt the need to send out a post to thousands of followers, saying negative things about a marginalized group. Clicks on links to news articles about political topics I follow (sexism, gun control, racism, etc.) Tweets replies and comments about some of the things seen.

Instagram – cats and dogs and smiling babies!!

Aside from Instagram, when I log onto social media and connect to those around me, I am flooded with the reality of the sinful, often shitty world we live in. There is pain, there is injustice, there is violence. I know that not everyone gets this “bad news” from their Facebook and Twitter and what-not, but part of being an activist is following other activists and a lot of what that entails is being bogged down in the terrible things people do to each other. I don’t open myself up to this for the fun of it of course, but because part of who God made me is a person who deeply seeks change. I have always had a heart that longs for justice.

“Well Emily,” I can hear someone saying, “maybe your problem is that you’re just on Facebook and Twitter too much.”

This I considered.  But the thing is, social media is both a blessing and a curse. I might see things that upset me the more I’m on, but I also get more encouragement and feedback there than anywhere else. I’m a writer after all. Twitter and Facebook is how I connect to readers. The more I write, the more readers have found me, and shared with me how my writing has positively affected them – not everyone who reads my posts finds them bitter and cynical. I would say (based on the responses I get) that the majority of people find them encouraging.

The people who do have a problem with my posts though say that it’s not what I’m posting (stories or articles that upset me)  but my reaction – I don’t hide my anger at the church, the religious conservatives, or the people I feel are responsible. It’s this they find upsetting. They think that Christians shouldn’t be so angry at the church.

Like any “good” Christian, when thinking of how to respond to this, my mind went immediately to the Bible. Specifically to Luke 6:27- 29,

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.”

My first thought when re-reading this was, “But I’m mostly getting angry for my friends who are being slapped and mistreated – I’m not really the one being cursed. Are defenders of those being slapped supposed to turn the other cheek as well? If it’s the church – who should be opening it’s arms, not reaching them out to strike – that I’m angry at, should my reaction still be the same?

My second thought was related to something I never noticed in the Bible before (guess you’re right Mom, I can find new things after all this time.) I noticed that the passage that immediately follows the commandment to “turn the other cheek” is the one exhorting Jesus’ followers not to judge others. Right after telling people not to retaliate in anger, Jesus tells them not to judge the speck in their brothers eye, yet ignore the log in their own.

If there’s anything I want to publicly confess to, it would be perhaps not stating clearly enough that I don’t think my own eyes are free from timber. I judge “bad” Christians probably as much as they judge my friends who are gay, lesbian, bi, or trans. Too often I lob rocks at these Christians instead of asking God to help me forgive them. I’m not perfect, or without sin. I apologize for being eager to gather up the rocks the Pharisees were threatening to hurl at sinners, so I could throw them in their faces instead.

But what I’m not apologizing for is the anger itself.

I feel angry over the injustices being carried out in Jesus name. I do not believe that it is sinful to feel anger at church leaders who are willingly and enthusiastically encouraging their 16 million members to reject a part of the body. Nor do I think it’s always inappropriate to express anger at people who are wrong. I’m not parsing words here – I don’t simply disagree with what a lot of the church has done today, I see it as what it is – a completely inexcusable injustice.

Should the people carrying this injustice out be forgiven? Yes, if they seek forgiveness, they absolutely should. But do I have to treat what they’ve done with kid gloves? I don’t think so. To be clear – I’m not name calling, cursing, or posting long tirades and rants filled with personal attacks aimed at the religious leaders I disagree with. Instead, I’m often just simply posting links to articles with a short sentence or two expressing why I’m sad or angered over the actions spoken about within. This doesn’t makes me cynical or bitter. It makes me critical of actions that I wish more Christians were upset over.

I don’t think that “most” Christians are bad people. I apologize if it’s come across that way, because I don’t. Most of the Christians I know personally are good, kind-hearted people who  earnestly love the Lord and want to serve him. This is true even of the ones who still hold views on sexuality and gender that I find troubling.  But it’s frustrating to see how defensive some of these Christians get when religious injustice is called out. What I don’t understand is why some of these Christians seem to be more upset at me for being angry, than they are at the people doing the terrible things I’m upset over.

Anger – the kind motivated by a desire to see wrongs righted – has accomplished much good in the history of the church. I was not there at the time, but it is hard for me to imagine Martin Luther whistling away while he pounded the nails into the door of the Catholic church. That theses was driven and hung with resolve, determination, and righteous anger. He was pissed off – and rightly so – because of the injustice he saw the Catholic church carrying out. Anger beget good. Anger over evil isn’t evil.

Now, I’m not Martin Luther. Hardly. But I am someone who shares the same (or similar) faith. This faith has shaped me into who I am today, a person who reads the Bible and sees story after story of sinners who Christ loved and forgave – and the religious leaders who He repeatedly criticized for not acting lovingly. I am surely not Jesus. But when I’m reacting with anger towards the religious leaders and people of today who are attacking my friends, I’m doing so because I love them, feel compassion for them, and want them to be welcomed into the church that’s been my home for almost three decades.

What’s motivating me is not anger – anger is the symptom – what’s motivating me is love for the marginalized people who are my friends. Love for my oppressed friends, and anger at their oppressors, goes hand in hand.

Yes, I’m angry. But what I wish more people saw was the good that’s come out of this anger. The friendships made with people in the margins. The doors God’s opened for my writing. An ever-widening audience of people who are just as angry as I am and want to do something about it. I don’t want to be angry forever, but I’d rather be angry at the church and want to change it, than apathetic and walking away. As long as the church can still hurt me, it means I still care enough about it to want to change it. And as long as there are other Christians working along-side me, I know that the anger I’m feeling isn’t destructive, but geared for good.

No, I’m not going to apologize for being angry. That’s the season I’m in. I do hope though, with all of my heart, that it’s a season that will end once wrongs are righted. I  look forward to feeling at peace. But peace doesn’t usually come without a struggle.

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I Don’t Hate Housewives – A Response to Matt Walsh’s Post

June 6, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol
walsh-first-stone

Image courtesy of The Naked Pastor

Yesterday morning my Twitter blew up with reactions to a tweet I had sent to blogger Matt Walsh. Matt is someone who I have major issues with, to put it mildly. He is political, Christian, and condemnatory, three things together that can make a dangerous, volatile mix. Some of the things Matt likes to passionately attack are feminism, LGBT people, and liberals (or progressives.) He does this in a way that infantilizes people, reducing them to their “illogical feelings.”

Like I said, I don’t like the guy (because of what he says.)

It was only after someone alerted me to the fact that Matt had mentioned my tweet in his recent post, that all of the people angry at me on Twitter made sense. Here is the tweet I sent him that he embedded in his post:

tweet 1

And this is the follow-up one I sent, that he didn’t include:

Tweet2

The second tweet makes it clear that the Ann Coulter swipe was a joke, not an attack on her gender (I think calling her a “man” as an insult is stupid and offensive.)

So why did I tweet that? Or, to answer the question a lot of people on Twitter asked me, why do I care how many women Matt follows? Because it matters - women are who Matt frequently writes about. Specially, women who he thinks are “wrong” for thinking differently than him.

I’m well aware that who one follows on Twitter does not exactly indicate who one holds most dear – I follow Homer Simpson after all. But my point was that, at least on the platform he uses frequently, Matt shows that the voices he values most are 1) men, and in a much smaller number 2) women, many who hold the kind of “anti-feminist” traditional roles that Matt things serve women best. Of course, the fact that he doesn’t follow Rachel Held Evans or Sarah Bessey doesn’t prove that he never listens to his sisters-in-Christ who have different views than him. It doesn’t prove this, but it sure raises some questions.

If this seems petty for me to do this, let me clarify why I think pointing something like this out matters. Matt Walsh is not some fringe blogger with no followers, spouting off his condescension into the void. He’s a popular voice from the Christian right with a very large following, who take his words very seriously.

A lot of his following (from what I gathered on Twitter) are women. The ones who tweeted me were very conservative, and took offense to my complaint that most of the few women Matt follows on Twitter are (self-proclaimed) “housewives.”

Let me be very clear – I have no problem with women who stay home to take care of their children, whether by choice, or by necessity. Childcare isn’t cheap, and for millions of women, staying home makes the most financial sense. I tweeted this yesterday afternoon, to try and quell some of the outrage:

tweet3

tweet4

My tweet was not sent to attack the women who follow Matt. It was sent to critique the man who thinks nothing of claiming that he knows the truth, the absolute truth, about people who he doesn’t even listen to. How many feminists has Matt actually talked to, civilly? Getting “hate mail” doesn’t count. For that matter, how many trans people? The death threats he says he received (as well as my tweet) were all in response to his incredibly hateful post which completely dismissed a trans child, and in turn, all trans people. Has he ever actually listened to a trans person? Maybe one of the 41% of trans people who attempted suicide because people like him didn’t believe them and dismissed their existence? I highly doubt it. If he had, he would know how hateful (yes, hateful) it is to purposely and repeatedly misgender someone. Like he did.

Matt likes to complain that liberals don’t operate with facts and logic, but with feelings. Well statistics like the one above are facts, ones that should cause decent humans beings to feel. If knowing that almost half of trans people try to kill themselves doesn’t inspire you to feel something, then something is seriously wrong with you.

Here’s something that’s different between Matt and I: I try and reserve my anger for the people who attack others for living lives that they deem “wrong”, not people who I simply disagree with. I don’t get angry at people who are simply trying to live their lives in a way I don’t understand. I’m not a parent, like Matt is. I don’t understand what it’s like to devote your life to a child, or, like many of my friends, multiple children. The strong desire to be a parent is something I haven’t felt (yet.) Many of my friends have gotten great joy from having multiple children in short succession, and I don’t get how they do it, let alone how they love it. But just because I don’t get it, doesn’t mean I think I have any right to tell them that they are WRONG. Is it what I want for my life? Probably not. But who am I to say that just because someone chooses something foreign to me, they are the one who are wrong?

Telling people they are WRONG is what Matt does every day. He tells LGBT people they are WRONG for wanting the right to marry. He tells Christian feminists they are WRONG for claiming they have a right to their own bodies, and he tells the people who criticize him that they are WRONG for not seeing the “truths” that he spouts.

I think Matt is wrong on almost everything. But the reason I sent that tweet wasn’t because I wanted him to simply agree with me, it’s because I want him to stop angrily attacking people who just want to live their lives. LGBT people are not a fascist mob trying to take away straight people’s rights. Granting gay marriage does nothing to harm traditional marriage. Allowing trans people the dignity of their identity doesn’t cost people like Matt anything, except maybe their ire. But allowing people like Mr. Walsh to spew unbridled contempt and hate at marginalized people DOES hurt, and does take away rights, and is WRONG.

Matt likes to use threatening hate mail from “liberals” as a reason to prove that all progressives are violent, crazy, rabid lunatics wanting him dead. I don’t want him dead. David Hayward, who Matt also responded to in his recent post, doesn’t want him dead either. In fact, there are lots of sane, calm, progressive people who have criticized Matt without wishing him death, who he somehow always forgets to post mail from.

Maybe that’s because, like I suspected in my tweet, Matt Walsh only listens to the voices who tell him that he’s right, and anyone who disagrees with him is crazy. But that’s just one feminist woman’s opinion. He’s free to prove me wrong.

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Fat and Happy and Loved

June 5, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol

Last week I came across an essay that was so well-written and powerful, I was thinking about it for days after. The writer, Alana Massey, spoke frankly about the lengths she went to to stay thin, and how this affected her relationships with the men who sought her out specifically for this feature. Here’s an excerpt:

And though I never had trouble getting a respectable amount of romantic attention, at a size 0 it rushed in at such a volume and with such enthusiasm that it was difficult not to be taken aback. I always thought it was a melodramatic cliché when thin women said that the more they disappeared, the more visible they became, but it was now undeniable. Male acquaintances suddenly wanted to spend more alone time together. Compliments during sexual encounters that were once full of the word “beautiful” became dominated by mesmerized declarations about me being so “little” and “tiny.” Men suddenly felt comfortable telling mean-spirited jokes about overweight women and lamenting how poorly other women took care of themselves. I’d only dropped a couple of sizes but I was in an entirely new country.

After reading the piece I tweeted the author and the site, The New Inquiry, to tell them how much I enjoyed the essay. Autumn, who runs the section the essay was published on, The Beheld, asked me if I’d be interested in writing a piece from the perspective of someone who is (in my words) “real fat.” As you can imagine, I was very interested, and my thoughts on how being fat have affected both my image and relationships with men were published today.

You can find my essay, “Fat and Happy and Loved” here, on The New Inquiry’s section, The Beheld.

Hope you enjoy.

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God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships

April 21, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol

God-and-Gay-ChristianEver since I became a Christian LGBT ally, people have asked me how I can claim to respect the authority of scripture, while also affirming same-sex relationships. There’s no short answer to that question, one I can sum up in a sentence or two, but the closest attempt I can give is, “There is only one Bible, and one God, but there is not only one correct way to interpret scripture.”

All it takes is a visit to three separate churches to see how differently the scriptures are interpreted. Baptism, pre-destination, women’s roles, elders, deacons, saints – the list of variations in how we view God’s word are endless. Yet rarely, at least not blatantly, do people go so far as to say that if someone doesn’t share their churches view on say, the role of elders, that that person isn’t really a Christian. You don’t see leaders of huge church denominations writing 10 page diatribes on why people who sprinkle instead of dunk during baptisms are clearly trying to deceive people away from Christ, and are going to hell.

Well, at least not anymore.

What you see today, instead, are church leaders and Pastors warning their flock that there are people who seek to bring down Christianity by encouraging the acceptance of homosexuality. You have leaders of denominations warning that a “revolution” is coming, one that might split and irrevocably break evangelism, if we allow it. And who are the purveyors of this impending religious holocaust?

My friends. And myself, I guess.

Which is news to me. Seeing as how, in all the conversations, meetings, and moments with these friends that share my beliefs, the one thing we’ve all consistently agreed on is our goal – not to destroy Christianity, but redeem it.

Why would I say that Christianity needs redeeming?

Because numbers don’t lie. Because if anything is going to irrevocably break Christianity, it’s not going to be the Christians trying to welcome more people into it. It’s going to be the Christians driving the hurting and rejected away.

It is daunting to read the statistics that show that the number one reason young people are leaving the church today is because of its attitude towards homosexuality. Not because sex is something young people are unhealthy focused on, but because sex is the thing young people have seen the church care more about than anything else. When the only time the American church rallies and comes together is in order to stand up against a group of people defined by their sexuality, it’s easy for those curious about Christianity to turn and walk away.

Which is why I am so happy, excited, hopeful, and yes, a little jealous, about the release of my friend Matthew Vines book, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. I’m happy because I believe this book can be something that can help bring people back to the church. I think it’s something that can help heal the wounds caused by years of Christians saying that, “you can’t be one of us unless you look, act, and think the way we want you too.” Matthews book says, “You don’t have to choose the Bible, or your identity. Jesus loves you for who He created you to be.”

I’m also happy because, unlike the people writing emotionally charged, panicky reviews about the book, I’ve met the author. I’ve talked to him. I’ve heard him speak about his heart for the church - not just for the LGBT people in the church, but the church as a whole. Hell, I’ve even seen him cry. I know then, in a way that you can only know when you’ve looked someone in the eye – that Matthew Vines book was not written in an attempt to deceive or hurt anything. It was written out of a love for, above all else, scripture.

That’s why I want to encourage everyone I know to purchase and read Matthew’s book, which is desperately needed today. It’s a clear, definitive answer to that question I get all the time – “how can you be a Christian, and support same-sex relationships?”

If you’ve ever wanted an answer to that question, I suggest you read Matthews book.

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Fred Phelps is Dead and I’m Grateful

March 20, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol
Fred-Phelps-650x381

Fred Phelps, eponymous patriarch of the Westboro Baptist church, is dead. The 84 year old man who spent most of his years bringing pain and torment to family and strangers alike, is no longer on this Earth. In the wake of this news, many people are not sure how to react.

Should we celebrate?

Should we mourn?

Should we just ignore it?

While my desire is to celebrate, as this man was by all accounts evil and deranged, I know that celebrating his death would just be trading evil for evil. It’s possible no other human will actually mourn this man’s passing, but I have to wonder what God’s reaction will be. Did God see Fred Phelps as a disgusting and vile creature that He eagerly cast into hell? Or did He view Mr. Phelps as His child, a person that He loved and sent His son to die for? Did Fred ever know God at all?

I have no idea what Fred’s personal life was like, when he was all alone with no cameras around. I don’t know what motivated him. If he was driven to hate by some kind of mental defect or sick need for attention, or if he really did hate gay people and America as much as the signs he crafted said he did. I do know though that God says we are to be judged by our fruit, and the things that Mr. Phelps produced were far too bitter, vile, and foul to be anything resembling nourishing fruit.

I also know that on some level, I’m grateful for Fred Phelps.

That might sound shocking, but it’s true. I’m grateful that Fred Phelps made hating gay people seem deranged, and crazy. I’m glad that, with his crudely drawn bright color signs, he looked foolish. He made the word “fag” something that only hateful people, not “Christians,” use to describe gay people. Fred became the clown of homophobia that everyone else laughed at, or mocked, and distanced themselves from.

Fred Phelps showed homophobia for what it was – a sad, angry, misguided belief.

Yet at the same time, I have to give credit to Phelps for at least being honest with himself and others. He thought gay sex was disgusting, and abhorrent. He thought it was so awful that it caused 9/11, and would result in the demise of America. Phelps was so horrified and angered by homosexuality that he didn’t care about offending people by protesting the funerals of soldiers or murdered kids – he just wanted people to know that “God Hates Fags.”

Fred Phelps would never say that he “loves the sinner.” He just hated the sin.

This is different than the more deceptive, “loving” homophobia that many other Christians advocate for today. They would never ever dream of holding a sign that attacks gay people, or protesting a funeral. But they will vote against the rights of LGBT people, claiming “religious freedom.” These people will talk about how awful Fred Phelps was, yet put forth laws that would make it legal to turn a LGBT person away from a restaurant, hospital, or public space.

Which homophobia is worse, the kind that offends with signs, or the kind that oppresses with laws?

Fred Phelps may be dead, but homophobia sure as hell isn’t.

Maybe Fred wasn’t a clown after all. Maybe he was just a man who was willing to say what so few others wanted to; that their obsession with gay sex far outweighed their care for gay people. Because really, if Mr. Phelps was the crazy one, what does that make the lawmakers and people supporting the very things he put on his signs? “Fags Burn in Hell” might seem crude and crazy, but how crazy is it when multiple countries right now are passing laws criminalizing homosexuality?

Even more frustrating is that fact that some Christians see nothing wrong with ostracizing Fred Phelps, while at the same time defending people like Scott Lively. Fred just spread his hate with signs. To my knowledge, Westboro never actually killed anyone. But Scott Lively has made it his life’s mission to travel the world, trying to influence governments and pass laws that would make homosexuality punishable by imprisonment or death. He has gay blood on his hands. And if we want to talk about “crazy” he’s also a man who wrote a book on why homosexuality played a role in the holocaust. Despite all this, one of the most powerful and influential Christian organizations today, the Liberty Counsel, (aka Liberty University) is defending him against charges of gross human rights violations. They’re on Scott’s side.

Honestly, I’m much more worried about the lives that Scott Lively can still destroy, than the ones Fred Phelps already might have affected.

Here is my hope and prayer, in the wake of Fred Phelps death: that people, Christians especially, will not paint Fred Phelps as the now-deceased leader of dangerous homophobia, but instead recognize the alive leaders still spreading hate all over the world today.

Maybe instead of mourning or celebrating Fred Phelps death, we should be paying attention to the men, like Scott Lively, who are still alive, wreaking damage.

 

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The 20 Most Misunderstood Verses in the Bible

March 10, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol

(This is a piece I originally wrote for CuratedQuotes.com, but they ultimately decided it was too big for them to run. Since I spent quite a bit of time on it though, I wanted to go ahead and share it. Would love to hear your thoughts.)

Anyone who grew up in the church, or with friends and family who did, is familiar to some extent with the Bible. It’s the foundation of the Christian religion and the book that millions of people claim to live by. Yet even though we’ve spent over 500 years trying to fathom it, many people still get what it says wrong. You can blame this on bad interpretation, teaching, or cultural bias, but the fact is many religious people don’t know the meaning of the core verses they pass around. Here is a list of 20 of these most commonly misunderstood Bible verses.

1) Jeremiah 29:11 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Entire churches have been started on the misinterpretation of this verse, found in the Old Testament. The most popular understanding, that spurned the “prosperity gospel,” is that God wants you, yes you, to prosper. How? With money of course! And happiness. A future of prosperity is enticing enough to fill whole arenas with Christians every Sunday, eager for their share.

But mansions and Mercedes and a life free from worry is not what the Lord was declaring in this verse. As Thomas Turner, writing for Relevant Magazine, so perfectly explained,

“This verse, quoted to countless individuals who are struggling with vocation or discerning God’s will, is not written to individuals at all. This passage is written to a whole group of people—an entire [Israelite] nation…in Jeremiah 29:10, God lays down the specifics on this promise: that He will fulfill it “after seventy years are completed for Babylon.” In other words, yes, God says, I will redeem you—after 70 years in exile. This is certainly a far cry from our expectation of this verse in what God’s plans to prosper us really mean. He did have a future and a hope for them—but it would look far different than the Israelites ever expected.”

For this verse, and every verse in the Bible, context matters. And the context for Jeremiah 29:11 removes any notions that God promises you a future of riches and comfort.

2-7 on this list is devoted to the most popularly referenced verses when it comes to the issue of homosexuality. These are sometimes referred to as, “the clobber verses,” because the effect on the people they’re lobbed against is often hurtful and damaging. Here’s why the religious people using them this way have it all wrong.

2) Genesis 1:27-28

“27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”

This verse is used most often to defend the argument that gay marriages, and therefore gay rights, are against God’s design because gay unions cannot be “fruitful” and produce children. This argument, from the start, makes two mistakes: 1) Wrongly assuming that the creation story was meant as a model for all humans, not just the first two (who had to populate an empty Earth,) and 2) Ignoring the fact that what God gives in this verse is a blessing, not a commandment.

Dr. James Brownson writes an entire chapter on this misinterpretation of the verse in his wonderful book, “Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Marriage.” Among his many sound observations on the true meaning is this:

“…to “be fruitful and multiply” is not given merely to the man and the woman. It is also given to the animals (Gen 1:22) and is thus not a directive given uniquely to human marriage. This in itself calls into question whether the essence of marriage is in view here…”

Furthermore, if the main purpose of marriage was to produce children, then we would see infertility as a biblical grounds for divorce. But no where in the Bible does it say this. Neither does the church refuse to marry older couples who are past the age of child-bearing.

3) Genesis 19:4-5

“4 Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. 5 They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

The source of many misconceptions about homosexuality can be traced back to this verse, taken from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Despite the fact that “the sins of Sodom” are listed in various other verses in the Bible that recall its destruction, yet not once is “homosexuality” mentioned, many Christians maintain the belief that this story is about the fate that will come to any people who accept homosexuality as normal.

Here’s some problems with that interpretation: 1) the men who surrounded the house were threatening gang rape, not sex, 2) rape, as we know today thanks to a modern understanding of psychology, is not about sex, it’s about power and de-humanizing another person; rape is not “gay,” and 3) The point of this story was not to teach a lesson on sexual immorality, but rather, to show the importance of hospitality, and the punishment for treating visitors or guests with ill will.

4) Leviticus 18:22

“Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is an abomination.”

This is a great time to remind people of something they need to hear: the Bible was not written in English.

The word that was translated in King James, to “abomination” was written in the Hebrew Bible as “toevah.” This word is used over 100 times in the Bible, to describe a host of things that are permissible for one people group, but not another. It does not mean that gay people are an abomination, in the way we think of the word today.

5) Romans 1: 26-27

26 “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

Some religious people find this to be the most damning of the “clobber” verses. It’s hard to read any interpretation other than that homosexual acts are unnatural. The verse even clarifies that these were homosexual acts of lust, not rape, which many people before have tried to claim the verses against homosexuality were really condemning. As an extra condemnation, this verse is the only one that specifically references female same-sex acts, making homosexuality seem not something isolated to pederasty and soldier rape, like other pro-gay Christians have claimed.

But once again, context is everything. It wasn’t until I dove into early church history, rabbinical texts, and again, Dr. James Brownson’s book, that I saw the true meaning of this verse. It wasn’t a warning against homosexuality, it was a warning against excessive lust, which, in biblical times, and for hundreds of years after, most people assumed homosexuality was a result of. What does that mean? It means that for hundreds of years the church, and society, assumed that homosexual acts were committed by men who were so “inflamed” with lust that they grew bored of “natural” relations with women, and moved onto “conquering” other men. The concept of sexual orientation wasn’t discovered until the 20th century. And what was “natural” for most of the earlier centuries wasn’t just heterosexual sex, it was heterosexual sex acts that resulted in procreation.

What religious people need to understand from this verse is that lust is sinful. Any acts driven by lust, gay or straight, outside of marriage, can be understood as sinful sexual acts. That is what Paul is warning against here, and that is what happened to these people when they turned their backs on God. But that has little to do with two committed, loving, monogamous adults of the same sex today.

6) I Corinthians 6:9-10

“9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men[a] 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Once again, the Bible was not written in English. The word used here that is roughly translated to “men who have sex with men” is the Greek word “malakoi.” This literally means, “soft.” In ancient times, the insult of “soft” was hurled at men for a variety of infractions, like wearing perfume or luxurious clothing, not wanting to work, or loving women too much. Yep – loving women too much, or wanting to have sex with a woman “too” often could get a man labeled “soft.” Sure, there were plenty of men who were “soft” who also engaged in same-sex acts, but a look into history shows that not all of them did.

Over time, “soft” became “effeminate” which the people that translated the book into English apparently took to mean, “men who have sex with men.” Of all the clobber verses, this one is probably the most grossly mistranslated and understood. How we got from “soft” to “men who have sex with men” just shows how much damage can be done by people who don’t understand context.

7) I Timothy 1:9-10

“9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine”

The condemnation of homosexuality in this verse depends on one of the most debated and little understood words in the Greek language -“Arsenokoitai.” It’s found first in the Bible and very few places other than scripture,  leading many scholars to believe that either Paul made it up, or it was so rare that all other references to its origin were lost. It translates, literally, to “male bed” or some other combination of those two words (bed referring to sex.) It is notably a different word than what was used in 1 Corinthians above. Because of the rarity of this word, and the lack of it in other texts, different interpretations of what it means exist. Some think it refers to male-male sex acts, others to male sexual expression, and others still think it refers to men who engage in sex trafficking, as the word falls into an ordered list and precedes a condemnation of slave traders.

Regardless of what the word means, what religious people tend to get wrong with this Bible verse is the meaning of what was being said – that the law was not for the righteous but the lawbreakers and rebels, which we all can count ourselves among. All of us. So to single out “Arsenokoitai” from this verse, and use it to condemn gay persons, is a horrible misinterpretation.

8) 1 Corinthians 14:34

“34 Women[a] should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.”

True story: once, before my mother left for a mission trip she was leading in Africa, she asked if she could say a prayer in front of our church’s congregation. One of the male leaders refused, and said, “in my Bible, it says women should stay silent in church.” This man later cheated on his wife and left her and their five kids, but that’s beside the point. Many men (and women) would agree with him, that women have no place speaking or teaching in church. Here is what they don’t understand.

This verse is part of a letter from Paul, written to an actual congregation. It was meant for specific people, experiencing a specific problem. As Rachel Held Evans puts it, these letters were written for us [modern Christians], but not to us. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, context matters. The context here is that this specific church that Paul was writing to had a problem with a large group of women that were becoming disruptive and distracting, and possibly hurting the reputation of the church. Paul’s instructions were for how to deal with them. But for whatever reason, unlike his other biblical instructions (like that church members greet each other with a holy kiss) this one stuck as universal and absolute for many Christians. It shouldn’t be. There’s no reason for us to take this verse, and not the whole movement of scripture towards women (more on that later), as what to reference as far as female roles in the church.

9) I Timothy 2:11-12

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”

This, like 1 Corinthians, is an epistle and letter; Paul wrote it to help his friend and colleague Timothy with his ministry in Ephesus. So most of the arguments made about context in number eight above apply. What makes this verse all the more frustrating when it’s used to oppress women, is that it only takes a cursory reading of Paul’s other letters to see that he has no problem with women who teach.

Again, to quote Rachel Held Evans,

“Obviously, Paul didn’t have a problem with women teaching in general…he honored Priscilla, a teacher to the apostle Apollos, and praised Timothy’s mother and grandmother for teaching Timothy all he knew about faith. He recognized Junia as an apostle, Phoebe as a deacon, and Euodia and Syntyche as church planters.”

If Paul truly did not permit all women to teach and to be quiet, then it would make no sense for him to honor and praise the women above. In fact, he likely would have called them out by name, and said exactly what it is he thought they were doing that dishonored God. Paul was not shy, or subtle.

10) Ephesians 5:22-24

“22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

As a woman, I struggled with this verse for most of my faith. Why should I have to submit, just because I am a woman? Does Paul think God created women inferior? How can I call myself a feminist and a Christian, if I follow a religion that says my husband is the “head” of me?

See, like many religious people, I was misunderstanding these verses. Thank goodness for Rachel Held Evans (seriously, read her stuff.) To understand this verse, you need to understand two things: 1) Greco-Roman “household codes” and  2) the biblical culture of patriarchy.

In biblical times, women were literally property, like cattle and slaves. In fact, as Rachel points out, the verses preceding the ones above are all instructions to slaves and masters, because these fell under the same category. When reading Ephesians with this understanding then, it’s incredibly subversive because it goes on to command husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church.

It is another example of the ways the Bible, when looked at as a whole, lifts women up from their societal place of property, to one of loved and honored children of God. A person needs to look no further than Jesus repeated treatment of women to prove this theory. What people need to understand from this verse is not how women should submit to their husbands, but how we all should submit to one another, as Christ gave himself for the church.

11) Proverbs 31: 10-31

“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies….She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants.16 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.17 She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks….She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy…She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple….She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her…Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

Oh this verse. Imagine being a young woman growing up in the church, trying to figure out what kind of person God wants you to become, and being told to read this. Or listening to guys in your singles group talk about how, “hard it is to find a Proverbs 31 woman.” Yeah I bet it’s hard to find a woman who does all of those things (especially being able to afford servants and a vineyard while finding the time to make all those linens.) This verse has been used to make far too many young women feel bad about themselves, or strive to attain something unattainable.

Here’s the problem with trying to be a “Proverbs 31” woman: you can’t. And you shouldn’t want to be. Why? Because trying to mold your personality and life by one proverb of the Bible causes you to miss the whole point of the rest of it – your value isn’t in your works, but in Christ. I’m a wife, and I pretty much never arise before the sun. I also have no children to call me blessed. But while I agree that beauty is fleeting, I also agree with the message of the Bible that says my worth is not in the quality of the linens I make, but my commitment to Christ.

12) John 11:35

“Jesus Wept”

You would think that the shortest verse of the Bible would be the hardest to misinterpret, but then you would be wrong. This is included on the list thanks to former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who, in response to the Supreme Courts ruling that DOMA was unconstitutional, tweeted, “My thoughts on the SCOTUS ruling that determined that same sex marriage is okay: “Jesus wept.”

As a former pastor, you’d imagine that Huckabee would know Jesus was weeping in John not as a result of homosexuality (or any “sin”) but because of a profound feeling of compassion. He saw and felt the grief of his friends family who mourned the loss of their brother, and wept himself, even though He knew He could and would resurrect him. The point of this short verse is to show the dept of Christ’s compassion. It does not exist for pundits to throw it around whenever they disagree with a culture shift.

13) Psalm 37:4

“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

I have been guilty of doing the same thing many religious people do when they read this verse: seeing only the second part, and not the first. What I mean by that is I would look at this verse and see only, “he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Here’s the thing so many people miss: if you follow the first part of the verse, and take delight in the Lord, those desires of your heart are going to change to what God desires for you. But most people don’t think that way. They go to this verse when they’re already desiring something they badly want. They think that if they just take the minimum required delight in the Lord and wait a bit, then bam! What they desire is delivered to them. That’s not what this means though. What this verse is saying is that the more you delight yourself in the Lord, the more your heart reflects His. Which means maybe that job, or husband, or fat book contract might not be given to you – but something the Lord desires for you, will.

14) Isaiah 53:2-3

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”

There is almost no chance that Jesus looked anything like the handsome, striking actor Jim Caviezel, who portrayed Him in 2004’s The Passion of the Christ. First of all, Jesus wasn’t white. He was a mediterranean Jew, who likely had dark skin, hair, and more pronounced (less chiseled) facial features. Many people forget this, mainly because when we think of Jesus face, we either picture the Person of Interest actor, or a painting or work of art we saw hanging in a museum. Or the YMCA. But, of course, none of those images were actually of Jesus. We don’t know what He looked like. But we do know, thanks to this verse, that there was nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. Which means He was not as gorgeous as art has made Him out to be. He was probably very plain and average.

15) John 2: 13-16

“13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”

Someone on Twitter said this, about the above verse: “When asked, ‘what would Jesus do’, just remember that chasing people with a whip is within the realm of possibilities.”

We often forget this side of Jesus, and fail to understand what the verse above means. He got angry. Really angry. And kind of violent. This contradicts the picture of Jesus most of us have, of a serene, gentle man holding a teeny lamb. Jesus did that too, but He also screamed at people for abusing the church. What we need to understand from this verse, but we often overlook, is that His Father’s house is not a market. Now what that means is certainly up for debate, but I think it’s fair to say Jesus is angered by the use of the church for profit.

16) 1 Corinthians 10:13

“13 No temptation[a] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[c] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

Have you ever been in the midst of something horrible, like a break-up or job loss, and someone has said to you, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle?” Turns out that is found nowhere in the Bible. What is found is this verse above, which promises that God, in his faithfulness, will not tempt us more than we can bear. Of course, being tempted with sin and feeling the weight of grief or depression are two totally different things. But over time the two have gotten confused, leading people to mistakenly assume that God will not put on us more than we think or feel we can bear. All it takes is reading the book of Job, or sitting with a friend who just lost a spouse or loved one, to see that this is simply not true.

This does not mean God is cruel, or that He abandons us. It just means that life is hard, and while He will be by our side when we experience hardships, becoming a Christian does not free us from great pain.

17) Proverbs 13:24

“Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”

One of the most dangerous books out there today was written by a Christian pastor. It’s called, “To Train Up a Child,” and it’s been cited in numerous child abuses cases as a catalyst for often fatal abuse. In the book, Michael and Debi Pearl give instructions for how to use a quarter-inch thick length of plumbing pipe to hit misbehaving children. This is what they call, the “Rod of Reproof.” The inspiration for this rod came from the Proverb similar to above, 29:15, “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.”

If parents want to take literal instructions from the Bible on how they should discipline their children, they should just drive themselves straight to jail. Among the many things parents in the Bible did, or were instructed to do, were; stone disobedient sons to death,  bash infants against rocks, sacrifice their sons to God, offer their daughters up for gang rape, or offer their daughters up as rewards. The moral of the story? The Bible is not something you can read and pick and choose what you want to take literally. That’s not the purpose of the Bible.

Almost all psychologists agree that spanking and physical punishment harms children. And a reading of the Bible as a whole, shows that the last thing Christ would want is harm to fall on any child.

18) Phillipians 4:13

“13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

If Bible verses were movie characters, this one would be Rocky, triumphantly reaching the top of the steps, arms raised and fists pumping. This verse has been plastered on everything; T-shirts, mugs, posters, football players faces - everything. But is it really telling us that, with enough faith, anything we want or need to do is possible? Will the Lord really give us superhuman strength to accomplish any feat? No.

As Ben Witherington on Patheos puts it,

“The problem is, that this translation absolutely makes no sense of the context, and is not a literal rendering of the verse in question at all. The verb ‘to do’ is nowhere to be found in this Greek verse. The verb ‘ischuo’ means ‘to be able, strong, healthy, valid, powerful’. That’s the only verb in this phrase. You have to fill in the helping verb, and the context absolutely doesn’t favor the translation— ‘to do’ as in ‘I am able to do all things….’ Not at all…What Paul is saying is that no matter what his circumstances, God has given him the strength or ability to endure and be satisfied, even when he must do without, even when he must go hungry.”

Too many religious people have taken this verse as a motto for pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, with Jesus help. When in actuality, Paul was saying not that God will give us the strength to do anything, but that God will give us the strength to do the only thing we need to focus on – following Him. Because really, isn’t that the only thing that mattered to Paul? And shouldn’t it be the only thing that matters to us?

19) John 8:10-11

“10 Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” 11 She said, “No one, [a]Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more”

This is one of the most famous stories of the Bible, of the time Jesus saved a woman caught in adultery from being stoned to death by her accusers. Ironically, many religious people today focus not on Jesus declaration that, “he without sin” should be the first to cast the stone, but on Jesus last words to the woman, “go and sin no more.” They see the moral of this verse not as one cautioning against self-righteous judgement, but that Jesus wants us to,“sin no more.” Aside from that glaring misinterpretation, another common mistake is made with this verse.

That is the confusing of it with the story of the woman at the well, told earlier in John 4. I’ve had many religious people tell me, while discussing homosexuality and the church, that, “people caught in sexual sin are loved by Jesus, but he still told them to go and sin no more, just like the woman caught in sexual sin at the well.” The problem with that, of course, is that Jesus never said that to the woman at the well, in John 4. He simply shared the gospel of eternal life with her, and treated her as a human being should be treated – with respect and not judgement.

20) Matthew 22: 36-40

“36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[c] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[d] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Appropriately, I saved the most important misunderstood verse for last. What more religious people need to understand is this: that the greatest commandment is first to love the Lord God with all their heart, soul, and mind, and the second is like it, to love their neighbors – their poor, gay, immigrant, female, male, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish neighbors as themselves. Every other law and commandment found above and in the Bible, depends on this. If more religious people asked themselves, before voting, preaching, and commenting on Facebook, “am I loving my neighbor as myself by doing this?” the world would truly be a better place.

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Don’t Read the Comments….Especially From Christians

February 4, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol

One of my favorite websites (both to read and write for) published a piece I wrote today on the power of internet comments. Tony Campolo said it was “very personal” and while I never said those words, I have to admit they’re true. This is a very personal topic for me, because it’s effected me and my love ones.

Here’s a snippet of the piece, to read the full thing please head on over to Red Letter Christians.

 

“In the minds of these commenters, what they’re doing isn’t trolling. It’s witnessing. Preaching. Doing God’s work. When they attack a gay man who just shared how hard it was for him to come back to Christ after accepting his orientation, they’re just trying to make sure he doesn’t “submit to sin.” When they call a progressive Christian woman who supports birth control a “feminazi baby-killer” they’re just trying to restore society to it’s proper gendered order. And when they download software that allows them to mask their IP address, so that they can keep commenting after they’ve been banned weekly for three years, they’re just showing how hard they’re determined to support the kingdom.

Only they’re not doing any of those things. Not because dialogue among people who disagree can’t be helpful. But because dialogue is not what these commenters are after. What they’re after is the ability to unleash their frustration, anger, and dissonance on people who they think are wrong. It’s never been about wanting to “help” those people see the light, because if it was, the comments would not be so biting and nasty. It’s always been about tearing others down, so they can feel superior. “

See more at: http://www.redletterchristians.org/dont-read-comments-especially-christians/#sthash.bEA2tiyX.dpuf”

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How Do You “Love Like Jesus?”

January 14, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol

I have a relatively thick skin. Even before I became a writer, which both entails and invites constant criticism, I was used to mean comments directed my way. Being an unapologetically fat woman requires a certain level of toughness. So does being a vocal Christian LGBT ally. That’s why normally when people I don’t know (especially people on the internet), insult me for whatever reason, it rarely effects me.

While I’ve never cried or spent the day in bed over cruel internet comments, I will admit that I have allowed some of them to stick in my brain, irritatingly refusing to go away. I’ll be trying to think about something else, but this comment, which has burrowed its way into my consciousness, demands to be acknowledged.

The comments that seem to do this the most often are ones from Christians. They’re the comments that have been popping up lately, from different people, on different sites, all saying the same thing.

“It’s important to love one another, but remember how Jesus loved: he did this by first encouraging people to ‘sin no more.’well

The “sin no more” of that sentence has been covered perfectly by Rachel Held Evans, so it’s not that part of the comment that gnaws away at me. What gets me is the word thrown around, but never examined - “love.”

Why do Christians never seem to spend time defining what it means -what it actually looks like – to “love” one another? Especially when this “love” is directed to our LGBT brother and sisters?

I remember  sitting through a sermon a few months ago, where the pastor was talking about how important it was to “love like Jesus.” I completely agreed with him, but I was wanting him to go into more detail, and talk more about what this “love” not only looked like, but how it made the people it was directed towards feel. That seems to be where the disconnect exists.

Some people think that the best way to love our LGBT brothers and sisters is to point out their sin, so that the person will feel convicted enough to repent and flee their unfleeable nature, into the arms of Jesus.

What these people never seem to ask, is whether that kind of “love” is what Jesus advocated. They often point to the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, or the woman caught in adultery, and say, “See!! Jesus shows us that loving someone means pointing out their sin to them! If we don’t do this, we’re not loving like Jesus!”

But, like Rachel Held Evans pointed out, in doing this they completely and totally miss the main point of these stories, which was that by merely talking to these women (that they were women is very important) and acknowledging them as human beings, Jesus was loving in a radical way that went against the religious tradition. Jesus didn’t see these women only as sinners, in need of their sin being pointed out. He saw them as His children who He loved so deeply, so fully, that when the women left Him, they couldn’t help but proclaim to everyone they saw that the Son of God had spoken to them. They who were ridiculed, ignored, threatened, or abused by the religious leaders of the day.

It’s a reversal. They went into their encounter with Jesus weighed down by the sin of  their past failed marriages and sexual infidelity – but Jesus didn’t treat them as everyone else did, by first and foremost pointing out this sin – He talked to them as people, and treated them with respect first. He made them feel valued. Seen. It was only when He first turned their entire perception of a religious man on it’s head by valuing them that He even mentioned their sin. If He mentioned it at all – most people forget that in the John 4 telling of the woman at the well, the “sin no more” is not recorded.

I’m not secretive about my belief, based in intensive scriptural study, that homosexuality – as an orientation or an act between two monogamous, committed* individuals - is not a sin.

However, many Christians I both love and respect remain convinced that it is. Most of them are “Side B” and believe that people don’t choose to be gay, and being gay is not a sin, but acting on those desire is. They believe life-long celibacy (or an opposite-sex marriage) is the only way a gay person can honor God with their sexuality. Many of these people, I am happy to say, are able to act in the same respectful, valued way towards their LGBT brothers and sisters that I believe Jesus would. They don’t see a gay person and see only an “unnatural” sexuality, they see a person who they value and love.

It is possible to believe that LGBT sex is sinful, and act lovingly.

The best way to do this is by treating your LGBT brothers and sisters like you’d treat any fellow Christian  – as someone you love and respect. No, “but’s.” No, “…although you should know I disagree with your lifestyle.” Just as someone who you look at and see a friend – not a sex act you think is wrong. Because if you believe homosexual sex is sinful and you have a gay friend or family member, you should see them the same way you see all your other friends and family members – as someone loved by God. As just another person who needs Christ’s gift of grace. An equal. Someone you want, more than anything, to feel the love of Christ.

But that doesn’t seem to be what so many of these internet commenters see, or think, when it comes to our LGBT brothers and sisters. They see only the sin that they feel the need to point out, repeatedly and forcefully. They don’t ask the question I wish more Christians asked themselves, before they pointed out someone’s sin – either in an anonymous internet comment, or in a conversation.

How is what I’m about to say going to make this person feel?

Remembering, of course, that in every single instance, the way a “sinner” who encountered Jesus felt after leaving Him, was joy, peace, and newfound hope.

To do this, to ask themselves this question, an important realization has to be made; that all of these conversations, debates, comments, and Facebook arguments aren’t just about beliefs or Biblical interpretations. They’re about people. Real people, who will see them, and more often than not, feel anything but loved by the Christians pointing out their sin.

In my opinion, the answer to the question, “How do you define love?” is simple. Love is something that makes the recipient feel valued, seen, respected, and worthy. Love is something that when directed towards someone, causes them to grow. It’s nourishment.

Love is not something that causes people to hate themselves, become depressed, or contemplate suicide. It’s not something conditional, based on whether or not someone changes. And sadly, love is not what has been poured out on the LGBT community by the mainstream Christian church.

I have hope though, that this can change. That even if I disagree with their conclusions on the Bible, my “Side B” Christian brothers and sisters can see the damage done by those who seek to take away the legal rights of their LGBT friends and family. I hope that eventually, everyone, gay, bi, straight, transgender, queer, whatever, can be seen and valued as human beings first, not sexualities or identities.

The reason I have that hope at all, is because I know what it feels like to be loved.

 

 

*I say committed and not marriage because in some states and many places in the world gay marriage is not legal.

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