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The Root of The NFL’s Violence Problem is Misogyny

September 18, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol

Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, two pro-NFL players who have recently been either suspended or cut from their respective teams, have much in common. They’re both running backs in the midst of successful careers. Both have wives and child(ren). And both men are, apparently, Christians.

Adrian Peterson, in his first “official” statement after being indicted by a grand jury for injury to a child, posted a photo of Bible verses to his Twitter account. Ray Rice, who was cut from the Baltimore Ravens once video surfaced of him punching his wife so hard she lost consciousness, reportedly became a “born again” Christian after the incident, and claims to be a “changed man.”NFL

At face value, their crimes seem very different. Peterson, acting in what he saw was an appropriately loving way, beat his son bloody with a “switch.” Or as he called it, “whooped” him – in the legs, buttocks, and scrotum. Many people, including celebrities and former athletes like Charles Barkley, have defended Peterson’s actions, claiming that spanking is not abuse, and since they themselves survived being “switched”, so can their kids.

Not as many people have sought to defend Ray Rice’s actions, which, unlike Peterson’s, were caught on video. Rice can be seen punching his wife Janay in an elevator, then standing over her unconscious body, seemingly unphased. While Peterson was just suspended for his actions, Rice was (eventually) cut by the Ravens.

What’s interesting is the seeming distinction that some have made between these two actions. One is seen as debatable (spanking) and the other is not (domestic abuse.)

In discussions on the use of spanking, especially among Christian parents – who overwhelmingly support the practice – many have quoted the Bible as why they physically discipline their kids. “Whoever spares the rod spoils the child”, from Proverbs 13:24, is often cited. As is Proverbs 23:13, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die.”

Yet, if we are to use the Bible as a defense for corrective violence, we can’t just use it as it applies to children. Since Biblically, children AND women were both seen as under the “headship” of their father/husband. Instructions regarding “obedience” are given in the Bible not just to children, but also to wives and servants (under the household codes, of which all three fell.) Why would it then be OK, Biblically, to use physical discipline on your servants and children, but not your wife, since all fall under the same household codes?

Well according to some Christians, there is no distinction. Have you heard of “Christian Domestic Discipline?” It’s the practice of husband’s, “lovingly” paddling or disciplining their wives with spanking (not that kind) if they disobey. Well.  At least their consistency is refreshing.

To many other Christians though, this would be absurd. Or at the very least, going too far. Even the proponents of Christian Domestic Discipline would agree that what Ray Rice did to his wife was abusive. And many of those who believe in spanking have agreed that Adrian Peterson crossed a line.

But how did we even get to a place where there was an acceptable line to begin with?

Patriarchy would be a good place to start. This of course being the belief that men, “real men”, the kind with strength and power and “headship”, should be in charge. Should be the leaders. And that women and children should defer to them. You know what else Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice have in common? They’re both a part of the NFL, a place that perpetuates a subtle patriarchal view of worth and value. The wives of NFL players (most of them) stay home and do whatever they can to support their men. The husbands are the stars, the bread-winners, and the ones who everyone else’s lives revolve around. The NFL might not be a “biblical” organization, but they sure are a patriarchal one.

The problem is that patriarchy does not work. It does not lead to happy, healthy families, but instead breeds a culture of abuse – either physical, emotional, spiritual, or even sexual. When women and children are seen as not equal to men, they’re treated like they’re not equal. Which means their abuse is reacted to not with horror, but with justification or laughably insufficient punishments. It’s no wonder then why an organization with no female coaches, players, announcers, owners, or referees, would fail to treat women with the respect they deserve.

The solution to the problem of violence in the NFL isn’t just to hire more women (although that would be a good start.) If we want to get to the root of the problem of violence against women and children in the NFL, or in our society in general, we have to start at the source. The source is misogyny. And until we as a society, a church, and a culture, can see and treat women as equal to men, we’re not going to change a thing.

 

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The Fight for a Living Wage is a Christian Issue

September 4, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol
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Across the nation today minimum wage workers took to the streets to demand a living wage. In over 32 cities fast food and service industry workers protested for the right to earn enough money to take care of themselves and their families. Most were asking for an increase of $15 an hour. Workers engaged in sit-ins and walks-outs, sometimes closing down restaurants and entire streets. Over 400 people were arrested. And while pundits on both the right and left have weighed in with their opinions, the responses have been overwhelmingly economic based.

For most people, the fight for a living wage is seen as purely a political issue.

What bothers me is how few people seem to think that this fight for a higher minimum wage has anything to do with their faith. It’s not as if politics and faith don’t often intertwine – ask most Christians their opinion on abortion, same-sex marriage, legalized marijuana, or free speech, and you’ll hear a wide range of Bible verses and directives to, “follow God’s truth.” Christians are well known for their opinions on sex and “moral” issues.

But a lot of Christians that I’ve talked to don’t seem to think that a minimum wage increase is a moral issue. They believe that it’s a bad economic move, one that hurts the economy, and that the solution isn’t higher wages but people who want to earn more money getting better jobs (how is not usually discussed.) These people don’t see the fight for a living wage as one that has any Biblical relevance, or especially one that they should support as Christians.

While there is certainly an argument to be made for a separation of church and state, and for a government that is free from Christian favoritism, I have a hard time believing that the Bible doesn’t say anything about the current status of low-income workers. While I loathe the phrase, “The Bible is clear that…”, if there’s anything the Bible is “clear” to point out, it’s the folly of money and impossibility of serving both God and wealth.

Luke 16:13 “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

Mat 6:19-21  “Do not save riches for yourselves here on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and robbers break in and steal. Instead, save riches for yourselves in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and robbers cannot break in and steal. For your heart will always be where your riches are.”

Mat 19: 23-25 “And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24“Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?”

Luke 16:9-11 “Now my advice to you is to use ‘money’, tainted as it is, to make yourselves friends, so that when it comes to an end, they may welcome you into the houses of eternity. The man who is faithful in the little things will be faithful in the big things. So that if you are not fit to be trusted to deal with the wicked wealth of this world, who will trust you with true riches?”

That’s just a handful of verses, but there are so many more that depict money as something dangerous that should not motivate Christians or be their main concern. Instead, the Bible says that a believer’s chief concerns while on Earth should be loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves:

Psalm 140:12 “I know that the LORD secure justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.”

Deuteronomy 15:7-8 “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard hearted or tight fisted toward them.  8 Rather, be open handed and freely lend them whatever they need.”

1 John 3:17 “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be that person?”

James 2:15-16″Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”

You can’t sum up the whole of the Bible or Jesus mission on Earth in eight verses. But you can make a pretty good case that caring about the poor is something we’re commanded to do. The poor are our neighbors, and we are commanded to love them over and over in scripture.

I think some people don’t think the fight for minimum wage is relevant to the above verses, because their image of “the poor” is a little too Biblical -a huddle in an alley or corner somewhere, homeless, covered in blankets. This is indeed poor, and these people exist and need our help. But this is not the only accurate description of what the poor in America look like. They also look like people struggling with food insecurity, or near homelessness, or an inability to afford needed medical treatment due to lack of insurance or funds. What is a travesty is that many of these people work.

Despite what many think, the average minimum wage worker is not a teenager, living at home, working part time for extra cash.

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It’s a woman, possibly with children, working full-time to support or help support her family. If you’ve never tried to support a family on $10 or less an hour, I’d suggest watching the wonderful documentary Inequality for All, which paints a pretty clear picture on just how impossible this is.

The problem that we have now, the problem that is causing massive strikes and sit-ins and protests, is not one of people wanting more money just because they’re too “lazy” to get a better job. It’s a problem of people working themselves to death but still not making enough money to survive.

The problem we have is one of inequality.

Today, the average CEO makes at least 380 times what their workers earn. In the 1980’s, CEO’s made 42 times what workers earned.

That means today, a CEO of a Fortune 500 company makes on average $12 million a year.

I’ve tried, but I haven’t yet found a Biblical reason to support this kind of income inequality. I can’t find a reason why it’s fair, or just, or right for a handful of people to make most of the income in this country, if that income is not “trickling’ down in economically sustainable ways. I can’t find a reason not to demand higher wages for workers, even if those wages come from the massive, expensive silk pockets of their CEOs. Even if what I’m wanting is *gasp* a re-distribution of wealth. I’m not saying I want to live in a socialist country, I’m just saying that I’d like to live in a country where more Christians had a problem with 1% of the people inside of it earning 25% or more of the income, leading the other 99% to suffer and sometimes starve. But that’s just me.

I’m also not saying that if you’re a Christian you have to support a minimum wage increase, or join in a protest with fast food and service industry workers in your area. But I am saying that as Christians this should be something we care about as much as same-sex marriage, or abortion, or freedom of speech. We shouldn’t just get riled up when we think that “our rights” are being threatened. We should do what the Bible commands us to do, and care more about others lives than our own. As Christians, we should be using our voices not just to speak for ourselves, but for the marginalized among us who need our help. Maybe for some people that’s creating more church programs and food banks that assist needy families, instead of relying on the government for help. Or maybe for others it is grabbing a sign and marching in front of the McDonalds on your block next to the person who takes your morning coffee order.

Whatever it is, something needs to be done, and that something is not telling low-income workers to, “get a better job.” Unless you have a better job that you’re willing to give up so they can take it. Which actually, would be a very Christian thing to do.

 

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Where is The White Evangelical Response to Ferguson?

August 14, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol

This morning I went through the Twitter feeds of a few of the most popular white evangelical leaders, looking for any mention of the atrocities going on in the Ferguson neighborhood of Missouri. Denny Burk’s* feed had funny viral videos, comments on the death of Robin Williams, and pleas for prayers and support of Christians in Iraq. John Piper tweeted advice and Bible verses. Rick Warren, Joel Osteen and Tim Keller sent out spiritual platitudes about faith and God. 

It wasn’t until I checked out Rachel Held Evans that I saw any mention of what’s going on in the small suburb of Saint, Louis Missouri; a town of 21,000 people that has looked more like a war zone in Iraq than an American suburb, thanks to the militarized police response to the protesters angry over the death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown.

Thankfully, people on Twitter pointed me to some other white evangelical bloggers who are writing about Ferguson. Including authors Sarah Bessey and Jen Hatmaker, and prominent Southern Baptist leader Russell D. Moore. There’s a good list of these bloggers and writers here. I’m so heartened to see these responses, but I’m also sad that I haven’t seen any of these pieces floating around the internet with the fervor that writings on gay marriage, abortion, or birth control carry. I’m so glad that there are some white evangelicals talking about racial injustice, but I can’t help but wish there were more.

Image via Time

Image via Time

I can’t help but wish there were more white evangelicals who seemed to care about this issue – at least enough to talk about it on social media, in prayer chain emails, or in church hallways. I wish I was seeing more messages from white Christians asking for prayer and support of the citizens of Ferguson, who are being shot with rubber bullets and tear gas on their front lawns.

I also wish I saw consistent responses from those who believe strongly in the 1st amendment, as much as they believe in God. Journalists in Ferguson are being arrested in McDonald’s for refusing to stop filming – but where are the cries about 1st amendment violations?

I don’t want to believe these lack of responses are because America isn’t for black people. That would be too hard for a privileged white woman like myself to accept. Even though all evidence points to this as the truth.

Maybe so many are silent because the racial division in America hasn’t just affected governments, schools, and neighborhoods, but churches as well. Maybe we’re not hearing from white evangelical leaders because there’s still a belief that “Christian” and “black” are two separate things.

Blogger Dave M Schell illustrated this perfectly, in his good-natured piece, “While You Were Talking About Gungor.” In it he excoriated Christians for caring more about Mark Driscoll’s indiscretions and Christian band Gungor’s theology, than the murder of black men. Schell’s point was right – but he made a crucial mistake in his piece. He said this,

While the Christian world debates who’s going to hell, the African-American community is already there, and nobody seems to give a damn.”

Without even intending to, Schell made a clear dichotomy between “Christian” and “African-American.” He apologetically updated the piece after black Christians pointed out his mistake, and told him that Christians were talking about Ferguson – just not the white ones he followed on Twitter.

This just illustrates a huge problem that affects so many white evangelicals. The belief that “Christian” means something, and “black” means something else entirely.

We can see this in crises that span the globe as well. It wasn’t until a white American missionary came down with the Ebola virus in Liberia that many white Christians showed concern for the devastation ravaging the nation. My mother, who spends at least a few weeks every year in Liberia teaching and counseling women affected by the war, has been struggling to raise support for her friends overseas. Despite the fact that Liberia is a heavily Christian nation. A black Christian nation.

There is a hesitation in calling any of this racism. That’s because many people get far angrier over accusations of being racist, than any of the horrors mentioned above. There’s a shutting down that happens whenever the word “racist” is thrown around. What does it mean though, if we care more about being called racist, than the things being done to black people that have inspired this accusation?

What other reason, other than systematic or internalized racism, can there be for the lack of concern among white evangelicals for the now regular murder of unarmed black men? How else can we explain the fact that white churches have remained mostly silent on these atrocities for so long?

While the answers to these questions matter, what matters most is how white Christians respond right now. I pray it’s not with defensiveness or excuses, but with a desire to do something positive. I pray that white Christians start seeing and caring about the terrible things happening to their black brothers and sisters in our country, and in others. Mostly, I pray that I, as a white Christian, can do my part to say,

“I’m so sorry. What can I do to help?”

Here’s where I’m starting:

Bucket Brigade Against Ebola

Bail and Legal Fund for Those Arrested in Ferguson Protests

OK White Folks, Here’s How You Can Really Help

Black Youth Project

Petition to Enact Federal Laws to Protect Citizens From Police Violence and Misconduct

*At time of posting, a statement on Ferguson had been made.

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A Christian Response to Trolling

August 13, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol

If there’s one thing I have experience with, it’s trolls. That’s a really sad opening sentence, but oh well, it’s true. Since I’m somewhat of an experienced troll-baiter, I was interviewed by Emily Miller for her recent Christianity Today piece, “A Christian Response to Trolling.”

Here’s an excerpt:

The first commandment of the Internet is this: “Don’t feed the trolls.”

The reasoning is simple. If the intent is to make people angry or otherwise disturb them, the way to shut it down is simply not to respond. And certainly, there are Proverbs that speak to the futility of answering – or not answering – a fool.

Most of us could be better about this; all have fallen short and returned snark for snark. And people are watching, according to progressive Christian writer Emily Timbol; commenters on one of her own posts took her to task after she left a snide comment in response to a troll’s comment on another writer’s post on the same website.

Still, there also are times when responding can be the most Christ-like thing to do. There are times when a response can assure other would-be commenters it’s not all trolls on the Internet. There are times it can further the conversation. And there are times a gentle answer can turn away wrath.

“There are real people behind this account. There are real people and real emotions,” Timbol said.

You can read the rest of her piece here.

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The Danger in Undefined Love

July 28, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol

I wrote a guest post for my friend Ryan Kuramitsu’s blog on love, and what that should mean for us. Below is an excerpt:

What separates love from like, or lust, is not just a commitment, but a removal of self. When you like someone it can be because of how they make you feel, and when you lust after someone, well, that’s all about feelings. But when you love someone – truly love them – you care more about them than yourself and your feelings. You choose to do things that might be better for them than yourself, because you care about their well-being more than or as much as your own. Loving someone means being committed to another person’s wants, needs, and emotions, often times at the sacrifice of your own. People rarely want or need the same thing at the same time.

The only way love really works then, is when two people in a relationship are both doing this, for each other. When a marriage or relationship is healthy, it’s not just a sacrificial commitment devoid of feelings or emotions, but one that is filled with the feelings that go with love, because the love has created the kind of foundation required to allow those feelings to grow. To use a Biblical example, it’s like the parable of the seeds. If you don’t have the rich soil of mutual commitment and selflessness for love to grow, than any emotional seeds of attraction, friendship, or “love” will be choked out and eventually die.

It’s not just romantic love though, that people tend to get confused about. Especially when the people we’re talking about are Christians (of which I am one.) One of the concepts I see most abused and misused in the church today is the one of “love.” Specifically, “loving your neighbors” or “loving your enemies.”

Hop on over to Ryan’s site to read the rest.

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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
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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:

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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:

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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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