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Some Resources for Whites Wanting to Self-Desegregate

November 26, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol

Of all the articles, statistics, and information that’s been floating around on Facebook and Twitter recently, this study, on the self-segregation of white Americans, has stuck with me the most. According to the research, the social networks of whites is 91% other white people. A full 75% of white people have no minority presence in their social networks at all.

When I first read this study, it wasn’t exactly clear to me if “social network” meant real life, or Facebook and Twitter, which for my generation is a heavy part of our social lives. The statistic shocked me because I’d estimate that about 1/3 of the actively tweeting people who I follow are non-white. And a smaller portion of my Facebook friends (but still a substantial one) are non-white as well.

I started thinking then about how different my social media experience would be, if the only people I got my news and current event info from were white. While a lot of my white liberal friends share the same views as my black liberal friends, they don’t share the same experiences. And it’s the experiences that I’ve read about – not the opinions – that have affected me the most over the years. It’s listening to people who have lived through things I’ll never understand (like racism) that has affected my politics, my opinions, and the causes I support.

So in the spirit of practicing something I need to get better at  – using my voice to lift up the voices of POC – I’m going to share some resources from non-white writers and activists who have important things to say. If you’re white and don’t regularly follow any people of color (POC) then I highly recommend you check out some of the resources below. I say “people” and not “person’s” because I think it’s important for white people not to just find one POC who says everything they already believe, like say, Dr. Ben Carson, and then feel justified in tuning out every other non-white person’s voice. This is not OK. There is not one “spokesperson” for every race, and if the people of color you listen to don’t challenge you in any way, then you need to start listening to others. Here’s a good place to start:

Al Letson (NPR host):

As a young man, I’ve been pulled over for no reason more times then I can count, (literally one cop let me go cause I was bumping NPR- seriously, no kidding.) I stopped once on 1-95 to help an older white woman change her tire, the cop got out of his cruiser, and watched me in the Florida Sun sweat to fix this woman’s tire, the whole time he watched me, with his hand on his gun. The woman came to thank me, he stopped her, made sure she was okay, let her go first and made me wait, then let me drive away.

A friend and I ran a poetry reading and late one night, he called me, telling me a cop pulled him over for no reason and slammed him on the cruiser hood. I have 100 more stories from other friends, if I asked I’m sure I could source well over a thousand, that’s just one example.

Christena Cleveland (Christian writer) :

The gospel calls us not only into individual faith in Christ, but also into the multi-racial family of God (Matthew 12:50) in which everyone has value and a voice, and those who were biologically born into higher status races (e.g., whites) intentionally listen to and stand in solidarity with those who were biologically born into lower status races (e.g., blacks) (Luke 13:30; Philippians 2:5-8)…This is not a calling to be taken lightly. As a unified family of God, we are empowered to address the racial issues that are afflicting our world….

Let me repeat: the unified family of God is the answer to the problem of race in America. For years, black Christians have invited white Christians to participate in the unified family of God by leaning into justice issues that affect black people.

Ta-Nehisi Coates (writer):

The truth was that there was no financing for people like Clyde Ross. From the 1930s through the 1960s, black people across the country were largely cut out of the legitimate home-mortgage market through means both legal and extralegal. Chicago whites employed every measure, from “restrictive covenants” to bombings, to keep their neighborhoods segregated.

Their efforts were buttressed by the federal government. In 1934, Congress created the Federal Housing Administration. The FHA insured private mortgages, causing a drop in interest rates and a decline in the size of the down payment required to buy a house. But an insured mortgage was not a possibility for Clyde Ross. The FHA had adopted a system of maps that rated neighborhoods according to their perceived stability. On the maps, green areas, rated “A,” indicated “in demand” neighborhoods that, as one appraiser put it, lacked “a single foreigner or Negro.” These neighborhoods were considered excellent prospects for insurance. Neighborhoods where black people lived were rated “D” and were usually considered ineligible for FHA backing. They were colored in red. Neither the percentage of black people living there nor their social class mattered. Black people were viewed as a contagion.

Derrick Clifton (writer):

https://twitter.com/DerrickClifton/status/537273629432877056

Imani Gandy (Writer/Legal Analyst):

The simple fact is that Black Americans are in crisis right now. In Ferguson, activists will be looking to the Department of Justice for answers if the St. Louis prosecutor announces—as many expect he will—that Darren Wilson won’t face any charges for the killing of Mike Brown. At the ballot box, Black voters will be relying on the DOJ to restore the voting power of people disenfranchised by voter ID laws and Republican gerrymandering. And when it comes to the War on Drugs, which continues to send disproportionately high numbers of Black and brown folks to jail, it is clear that we need an attorney general who understands the current civil rights crisis. Loretta Lynch is that person.

Jamelle Bouie (Writer):

Take Wilson’s account of Brown’s actions and language. He describes a vicious, combative Brown, quick with a quip and eager to fight with police. Based on what we know from his family and friends, this sounds out of character….

More troubling is Wilson’s physical description of Brown, which sits flush with a century of stereotypes and a bundle of recent research on implicit bias and racial perceptions of pain. In so many words, Wilson describes the “black brute,” a stock figure of white supremacist rhetoric in the lynching era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The southern press was rife with articles attacking the “Negro Beast” and the “Big Black Brute,” notes Philip Dray in At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America. To the white public, the “black brute” was a menacing, powerful creature who could withstand the worst punishment. Likewise, in northern papers, it was easy to find stories of “giant negroes” who “spread terror” and rampaged through urban centers. That image never went away; it lingers in crack-era stories of superpowered addicts and teenaged superpredators, as well as rhetoric around other victims of police brutality.

These are just a handful of the people I regularly follow, if you have any other suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

 

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The Dysfunctional Family That is The Church

October 13, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol

Last Thursday my husband Ryan and I attended a panel discussion entitled, “Faith Perspectives That Embrace LGBT Youth and Families.” It was put on by the university we both graduated from, and was centered on understanding the implications of faith communities on LGBT youth and family, society, and the church itself.

The small theater the event was being held in was about 1/2 full, mostly with students and a few white haired older folks. We sat next to Susan, the pastor of the church we’ve been visiting for the past few weeks. On the stage sat four speakers; Jane Clementi, the mother of Tyler Clementi and co-founder of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, Dr. Carolyn Stone, Ed. D, professor and counselor educator who serves as chair of the American School Counselor Association’s Ethics Committee, Rev. MacArthur Flournoy, a preacher who serves as the director of Faith Partnerships and Mobilization for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), and Dr. David Gushee, a clergy member and Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology at Mercer University.

Each person on the panel spoke about their own story and how their background led them to where they were today; most as believers who fully embrace the Bible as the Word of God, but who reject the current church’s teachings on homosexuality.

At one point during the panel, when Rev. MacArthur was speaking – in the booming, engaging voice one would expect of a preacher – I leaned over to Ryan. With a big smile on my face, I whispered, “this feels like church.”

It was a weird thing to say, as, by the end of the night, there was at least one thing every speaker and audience member agreed on; it was the church we were fighting against. Even though most of the “we” were also church members themselves. We were all believers. People who not only worshiped the same God and read the same Bible, but wanted the very same thing as the people we were working against.

The dichotomy was almost overwhelming. Here we were, Christians, talking about other Christians and how we needed to save LGBT youth from them (and their incorrect and dangerous teachings.) It was like being at an intervention familyfor a family member who is abusing their children; the immediate need is to save and protect the kids, but you don’t necessarily want to do that in a way that harms the parent. Everyone involved – abuser and victim- are family.

As someone who was  ridiculously blessed with loving parents, it’s taken me a long time to process what it’s like to live in this dysfunctional relationship with my Christian family – I’m honestly still processing it.

I have to deal with this painful dichotomy every time I randomly peruse the Facebook pages of friends from the church I grew up in. There I see jokes made at LGBT people’s expense, attacks on poor people, defenses of violence, and of course, praises to God. This is just par for the course on social media – you’d think I’d be used to it by now. But I’m not. Every time I see a Christian use the Bible to make a remark filled with ignorance or hate, there’s a part of me that wants to just throw my hands up and say, “I quit. I want no more part of this family.”

There’s a certain kind of pain and frustration that can only come from knowing that the people who hurt you the most, are supposed to be the ones that protect and love you.

After the panel discussion ended, we walked back to our car. I was stewing in a mixture of incongruous emotions; anger, hope, frustration, disappointment, and as usual, hunger.  It wasn’t until we reached the parking garage that I realized something.

No matter how dysfunctional the church family gets, we have a father and mother (God) who loves us. All of us. God is not the one carrying out the abuse or causing the dysfunction. God is the one who is bringing truth to light, and opening enough people’s hearts and minds, that events like the one we attended could even take place.

I can’t throw my hands up in the air and say, “I quit”, because I have a father who has always been there for me. My siblings might often be terrible (what siblings aren’t?) but my mother God is in control.

Towards the end of the panel, Dr. Gushee opened a Bible that was sitting on his lap and said, “The thing about holding this up and saying, ‘the Bible says’ is that in certain places, people actually believe you.” For years, I’ve been secretly wincing every time someone utters that phrase, “The Bible says” because what follows has almost always been void of the Gospel. Last night though, I was reminded of the power that comes when the person holding that Bible is using it not as a weapon, but as a welcome.

It’s OK for me to separate myself from the dysfunctional parts of my church family that have caused me and my LGBT friends pain. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for dysfunctional relationships is draw boundaries. The great news though is that the church family has many members. Much to my joy and relief, I’ve found that there are many in the church family who want to embrace LGBT youth and families. Fully. Which means that even though my faith family is dysfunctional, there are people within it who I can turn to for strength, support, and guidance.

When it comes down to it, no family is perfect. I’m just grateful that the family I am a part of has members who are willing to point out the dysfunction within.

 

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The “Cool Christian Girl” in Proverbs 31

October 7, 2014 - Author: emily.timbol

A hallmark of an excellent book or movie is if weeks later I’m still thinking about it. Gone Girl, author Gillian Flynn’s much-discussed third novel, was written in 2012 – yet I’m STILL captivated by it. Especially more so now that I’ve seen David Fincher’s stunning film adaptation (that Flynn wrote the screenplay for.)

gone-girl-01_612x380It wasn’t just the compelling characters she created that enthralled me. Like many women (and men) I was fascinated by her breakdown of gender tropes, among them the “cool girl” stereotype. Here’s an excerpt of her explanation of “the cool girl” from the novel (it has some coarse/graphic language):

 “Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.

Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men – friends, coworkers, strangers – giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them. I’d want to grab the poor guy by his lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much – no one loves chili dogs that much! And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version – maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain. (How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like: “I like strong women.” If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because “I like strong women” is code for “I hate strong women.”)”

There is so much that has already been said about the gender politics Flynn lays out above (and throughout her novel.) But as I was perusing Facebook the other day I saw an acquaintance of mine praising his, “Godly wife” and I wondered if there wasn’t another version of “the cool girl:”

The “Good Christian Girl.”

Not to be confused with “the cool girl” of course, who is secular, and too worldly, and not feminine or submissive enough. While thinking about this I went back and re-read Proverbs 31, which is basically the Biblical equivalent to Amy Dunne’s monologue above:

10 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. 11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. 13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.14 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. 15 She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls. 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. 18 She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. 19 In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. 20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. 21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. 22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. 23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. 25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. 26 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:29 “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” 30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. 31 Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

What is the good Christian girl? She is beautiful, but not proud. She doesn’t “let herself go,” but maintains attractiveness for her husband, since his straying could be seen as partly her fault. At the same time she is modest, adhering to whatever standard of decency is current. She is smart, but not smarter than her husband. Above all she is submissive, feminine, and knows her place – in the home, with her children. She takes on the role of “wife” as naturally as one puts on a comfy sweater, and never, ever dares challenge her husband’s authority. (She’s also a lovely baker.)

I’ve been in Bible studies and women’s groups and retreats where groups of women pored over Proverbs 31, trying to find ways they were failing to be this type of woman. While studying scripture like this is not wrong, singling out certain verses and ignoring their context to the whole of scripture certainly is. And what is so often left out in the discussion of “the good Christian girl” is the other women in the Bible who didn’t adhere to Proverbs 31. Women like Rahab and Deborah and Lydia and Mary Magdalene.

Anyone who read or saw Gone Girl understands by now the danger in pretending to be or marry the cool girl. But not many Christians understand the damage that comes with projecting the image of the good Christian girl on every woman they meet.

Because, just like every “cool” girl doesn’t naturally love hot dogs and football and burping and rough sex, nor is every “good” Christian girl naturally suited to the roles that Christian men have determined she should fit. Not every Christian woman wants to be a wife (or at least not a wife to a man.) Not every Christian woman wants to be a mother, or, if she does, she might still struggle with the role. And certainly not every Christian woman was created to be submissive, silent, and deferential in the presence of men. Hello, my name is Emily, and I am none of these things, yet I am a Christian, and a woman.

The great thing that Amy exposed in Gone Girl was that these stereotypes are only that – they’re not real people. Sure, some women love football and chili dogs and comics and all those things listed above, but they also have other interests and characteristics that exist and might not be pleasing to their partner. Women are complex. As are men. We as people might understand that, be we sometimes take it for granted, wanting the easier stereotype idealized partner instead.

What’s great about real women, as opposed to flat stereotypes, is their complexity. A real woman can both love being a mother and having a job. A real woman can adore being a wife and cooking and keeping house – for her husband or her wife. And a real Christian woman can be cool girl and Christian girl rolled into one, with whatever else thrown in, because she doesn’t exist just to please a man. A Christian woman exists to please no man – she exists to please God, who, as we can see from a complete look at scripture, cares much more about internal character than outward beauty or subservient submission.

As someone who has never fit into the mold of good Christian woman (I even suck at baking) I know how awful it is to feel like you’re failing to be something that everyone wants you to be. Especially when you think that part of that “everyone” includes God. However, the Bible shows that God doesn’t work with molds – he works with individuals. Which means that I can be free to be whatever type of woman I want to be, while still maintaining my identity as a Christian, a wife, and a woman.

“Cool girls” and “Good Christian Girls” might not actually exist, but I’m glad that women willing to speak up against these tropes do. Just maybe they can find better ways to rebel against them than Amy Dunne did.

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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

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.

minimum-wage

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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