Emily Timbol

When Grace is Given Only to Abusers

May
28

I’m a big fan of grace. I love that it’s a core tenet of the Christian religion;  we don’t just base our faith on the existence of our sin, but on the fact that this sin has already been paid for and covered by Christ. My faith is not one where I have to earn love or acceptance or forgiveness–it’s already been given to me. Grace is great. Yay grace.

Unsurprisingly, I’m not a big fan of abuse. Especially sexual abuse. Worst even, if that abuse is carried out on a child. In the line of things we can experience as humans, the grace of God and the evil of sexual abuse are about as far from each other as possible.

I’ve seen quite a few friends, writers, theologians, and even politicians, seemingly making this same point this week–that sexual sin is evil and heinous, but despite this, God’s grace still covers abusers. Each time I’ve seen this argument made I’ve wanted to grab a Bible and throw it at the person making it.

This is not because–in theory–I disagree that God’s grace covers all sin. But because the grace they were talking of is not from God. The grace they are referring to is the one granted to certain “sinners” and not others, given selectively, and often politically.

This is the grace of Christian celebrity. Well, the “right” kind of Christian celebrity.

I know this because, as the “wrong” kind of Christian (the feminist, non-submitting to my husband, supportive of LGBT people kind) I’ve received very little grace from the majority of mainstream Christians. Of course, what I’ve experienceDuggar2d pales in comparison to what my LGBT Christian friends have faced from their religious churches and families. Weirdly, for myself and my friends, there aren’t as many statements of support as there are condemnations and demands for repentance.

But personal anecdotes aren’t evidence right? Maybe I’m just a jerk and that’s why people don’t like me (very possible.) Thankfully for my argument, I’m not the only Christian whose experienced a lack of grace from her “brothers and sisters” when confronted with “sin.”

The furthest memory I have of a popular Christian “falling from grace” (so-to-speak) is Amy Grant. Back in the 90’s, when I was growing up, Amy Grant was one of the hugest, most successful artists in Christian music. She was like a more wholesome Taylor Swift. Amy had the first Christian album to go platinum, and was (to my knowledge) the first Christian artist to crossover and have a #1 hit song on the Billboard charts. Her fan base was solidly, overwhelmingly, Christian. Some fans were displeased when she went more mainstream, but the real waves weren’t made until 1999 when Grant filed for divorce, and then remarried a year later. Even though I was only 14 then, I remember how all anyone could talk about was how sad it was that Amy Grant had lost her faith. How wrong she was, how the popular culture had changed her, and how much they’d miss listening to her music. Christian stores removed her albums from their shelves. Popular Christian leaders and magazines released statements of disappoint in her choices. And her career was never the same.

You know what Amy Grant didn’t get? A whole bunch of articles written by conservative Christians reminding everyone about grace.

More recently is the public “farewell-ing” of pastor, author, and speaker Rob Bell. Bell, who was riding a long wave of success and popularity among both progressive and not-quite-as-progressive Christians, published his now infamous book Love Wins and the religious shit hitteth the fan. For his heinous act of asking questions about our modern understanding of hell Rob was publicly attacked by a barrage of religious leaders, many who before had worked with and spoken of him fondly. John Piper’s infamous “Farewell Rob Bell” tweet has almost become a meme in Christian culture, for it’s brevity and ridiculousness. In 2011, you could not randomly click on an article on the Christian net without seeing some kind of rebuttal or warning about the dangers of Rob Bell’s book, and by extension, his faith. I watched all of this from the side of someone who thoroughly enjoyed Love Wins and found its questions stirring. I read many, many articles, posts, and tweets surrounding the book and controversy, from people on all sides.

You know what I didn’t see? A plethora of Christians who disagreed with Bell’s book reminding everyone that God’s grace covers even those believers with differing theology.

Of course, these are just two examples. There’s also the backlash that followed when Dan Haseltine, the lead singer of hugely popular Christian band Jars of Clay, tweeted a modest support of same-sex marriage. It was so fierce and swift that he was forced to issue clarifying statements, no doubt to quell whatever damage his band-mates and managers feared. There’s also the ostracizing of Christian singer Jennifer Knapp, who lost almost all of her supporters once she came out as a lesbian. Again, two examples of Christians who did such heinous things as send a tweet and come out of the closet, nearly having their careers destroyed because so many Christians swiftly and immediately rushed to condemn and turn their back on them.

I’ve watched all of these Christians face the wrath of the religious populous with the same disgust I feel now that Josh Duggar is basking in support. Josh Duggar, in case you’ve been in a coma, is the oldest son of the Duggars, an Arkansas family made famous by TLC for having 17 children who all live under strict religious patriarchy. Josh confessed to molesting at least five girls, four of whom were his sisters, over the period of at least one year. He confessed this after the details of the abuse allegations leaked to the media.

Almost immediately, I saw people defending Josh. First it was that popular plea for us to “wait for the facts.” Once those came in and confirmed what everyone feared, the defenses changed to something along the lines of, “he was 14, this was over a decade ago, the media is just trying to attack a good family” or, “we’re all sinners, what he did was wrong, but he without sin cast the first stone.” And of course, my favorite, “God’s grace covers all sinners.”

First of all, I don’t pay my taxes to pay for God’s grace. I pay them so that the agents of the law can protect me and my family from criminals and predators, of which Josh Duggar is both. No where in the Bible does it say God’s grace is a legal pardon. Jesus didn’t get that thief on the cross next to him down, remember? He served His (unjust) punishment right next to the man He later welcomed into paradise. What I want more than anything is for Josh Duggar and predators like him to not be able to skirt around flimsy statutes of limitations, or use powerful family and friends who call in favors to avoid persecution for sex crimes. Remember–justice and grace are two different things. There’s no justice in sexual predators walking free.

Secondly, if your first response when faced with the news that a popular Christian celebrity molested his pre-pubescent sisters is a reminder of God’s grace, there is something wrong with you. I mean that seriously, not facetiously. Sexual abuse, especially of minors, is a disgusting, revolting, maddening evil. It should make us recoil and feel those warning hairs rise on the back of our necks. It should twist knots in our stomachs and cause our appetites to cease. If you value the autonomy and lives of women and girls, hearing about their abuse should break you. Like it absolutely breaks them. Even more so if this abuse was carried out by the hands of someone who claims to follow Christ. A Christian sexually abusing a child is an evil of which I can’t find comparison.

Part of being a Christian is (or should be) a duty to “the least of these.” While the meaning of this has been debated recently, all who have studied the Bible can agree that the protection of children was sacrosanct to Jesus. Their harm is a grievous sin. As Christians, our response to grievous sin should always first be to the victims. Caring for them, supporting them, loving them. This is what it means to be salt and light. Then, and only then, can we begin to wrestle with the unfairness and pain of what it means for God’s grace to cover everyone. Lest we forget, this idea of grace should not be one that’s easy for us to accept. It’s one we often have to struggle with, and pore over, and argue with God about. I know that (if Josh Duggar truly is a Christian, which judging by his “fruit” he’s not) grace that covers harmful families like The Duggars under the same net as people like me, is something I don’t stomach easily.

But that’s because God’s grace is not the same as man’s. God’s grace doesn’t just extend to conservative Christian celebrities who star on reality TV shows and fit the idea of what we think a “good” Christian should look like. God’s grace doesn’t lift and wain and falter with the political tides. It’s not something that we have any say over, whatsoever. And it’s certainly not something that nulls the rights of victims of abuse.

 

The Duggars, and Sex Abuse Within Purity Culture

May
22

Ever since I saw the police report and confession from Josh Duggar, eldest of the TV famous Duggar family, detailing the sexual abuse he carried out on young girls, I’ve felt disgust radiating throughout my entire body. Angry, violent disgust, the kind that made me want to throw my computer across the room. I tried writing some coherent thoughts about these allegations, and how the Duggars’ josh_duggarindocrtination of purity culture directly lead to the abuse and cover-up that occred, but I couldn’t. Instead I ended up writing a thousand words about my own experiences with purity culture, and how it almost ruined my life.

But these allegations aren’t about me. So since I can’t bring myself to clearly express my thoughts on exactly why this tragedy should not surprise anyone, I thought I’d let my friends and people I admire do it for me.

If you haven’t read the below posts, you should. They have helped me understand why “purity” is something I no longer believe in, support, or will teach my kids (if I have them.)

Because,

Teaching virginity is anti-Christian. Even if it weren’t, Virginity itself is an allusion.

Aside from virginity, there’s the fact that Purity Culture teaches shame more than anything else. Purity Culture also encourages “forgiveness” for abusers more than punishment. But if abusers are “welcome at the table,” then those they abused are not.

Lest you think this story is uncommon, know that abuse within Purity Culture is not rare. Everytime I see a woman in the church share her story of sexual abuse (and the cover-up that followed) I see comments flood in with similiar stories.

Purity Culture needs to stop. It needs to cease to be taught in churches, and unlearned by those who have believed in it.

If it doesn’t, stories like this will continue to be common.

Christians, we can do better. We NEED to do better.

The Problem With The Bubble

May
13

I got into a lovely discussion/argument today over this seemingly innocuous post from The Toast; Books That Literally All White Men Own: The Definitive List. I argued with a bunch of dudes (Wednesday, amirite?) that this post wasn’t really funny as much as it was telling since the majority of white guys don’t read books by women. That’s a problem, obviously. Especially since the publishing industry still tends to only deign Serious Books About White Man Pain (TM) as “literature.”

The whole thing, while entertaining, also got me thinking about the cultural phenomenon of “The Bubble.” White dudes who are friends with white dudes who read books by other white dudes will go through most of their life thinking nothing of this, until they meet a feminist or non-white dude who introduces them to the wonders of Flannery O’Connor or Toni Morrison. It’s not that the white dudes reading those books–many of them classics, don’t get me wrong–are nefarious in any way, it’s just that they haven’t expanded their horizons out yet to the experiences and writings of authors who might not look, think, or act like them.

This is not something exclusive to white dudes, lest you think I’m being unfair to my light-skinned brethren. Plenty of white feminists spend their time reading nothing but writing by other white feminists (save for bell hooks) and neglect to work intersectionalism into their advocacy. It’s a problem. This problem is not one of skin color though, but proximity. It’s an issue of people being drawn to what’s safe, familiar, and reassuring. That’s why it’s called a bubble. Because bubbles create a barrier between you, and everything that threatens your way of thinking.

Modern bubbles look like this: Facebook friends that are 90-95% your same race, socio-economic level, religion, and political affiliation. News gathered from sites that subtly or explicitly skew to your political preference. Friends that look like you, vote like you, and have about the same level of money as you. Church all of the above.

Sadly, I don’t have much of a bubble (aside from where I get my news.) I used to have one, back when I was a normal middle-class, conservative Christian. Everyone I spent time with or talked to or chatted with online back then (this was pre-Facebook days, I’m old) thought just like me. But then I blew my bubble apart by A) becoming a liberal Christian feminist, and B) attempting to maintain relationships with my conservative Christian friends and family, and everyone else.

Bye-bye bubble.

There are perks to losing your shimmery, translucent shield. Like, getting exposed to ideas that you would never otherwise encounter. Or, having your beliefs challenged and seeing them not falter, but strengthen instead. Sometimes you even get to effect someone, maybe even change their mind, who would not otherwise have encountered your views.

But being outside the bubble is hard. When you have friends that range from as far right and religious as you can get, to as far left and anti as possible, engaging can be exhausting. Sometimes I think of life outside the bubble as a kind of intellectual Mad Max-ian dystopia. Every idea and utterance can be perceived as a threat, every potential post or conversation a potential time-bomb. Sometimes you have to battle it out thunder-dome style, and sometimes you just high-tail it out of there and drive away as fast as you can (see, I can reach white dudes too.)

Bubbles protect you from all the discomfort that diversity brings. If that sounds wrong, it isn’t. Diversity is not bad. Diversity is good. It’s life-giving. It’s literally necessary for the continuation of species. But dealing with difference isn’t easy. It is uncomfortable.

Part of the discomfort I experience comes from the glances I get into the bubble that used to encase me. I might be outside now, but I can still see in, thanks to the window a lot of my conservative Christian friends have given me. And what I see really worries me. Far more troublesome than a bunch of white dudes reading nothing but Kerouac, is a bunch of white Christians talking to no one but each other.

The real danger is that, for most Christians, the idea of this bubble is not just normal, but Biblical. Instead of seeing their carefully crafted worlds as echo-chambers, they see their exclusion of everything “other” as the way God wants them to live. Where this once used to just be sad, in a Blast From The Past kind of way, has now turned frightening. Because now, in order to protect these ever-shrinking bubbles, some Christians have turned on those on the outside.

To keep their bubble from bursting, some Christians are trying to pass legislation to keep “outsiders” away–from their businesses, churches, and schools. Of course, the irony is that this is the exact opposite way of treating “others” that Jesus commanded. You know Jesus, He was the brown-skinned homeless dude who hung out with social outcasts, preached against wealth, and commanded rich people to give everything they had to the poor. That guy. His entire time on Earth was spent challenging the notion of “us” vs. “them” (gentiles vs. Jews) and encouraging those who wanted to follow Him to treat everyone with love. Jesus, who said, explicitly, that He came to fulfill all the laws that came before Him, and spelled out exactly what the greatest commandment was (spoiler alert: it’s love.)

That’s the problem of the bubble though. If you only ever hear Biblical interpretation and theology from people who think exactly like you think, you can miss the depressing irony in advocating for laws that discriminate against people in the name of the dude who commanded that you never discriminate. It’s like demanding laws to be passed against people asking for cloaks, in the name of the guy who said to give people who ask your cloak, and your shirt also. See why I’m so often annoyed at Christians?

Good news does exist though. Bubbles are not made of brick and cement. They are easily burst. It does not take a lot to step outside. To introduce yourself to someone who could not be more different from yourself, and invite them into conversation. It’s not hard to engage respectfully with someone who thinks differently than yourself, politically or religiously. And in the advent of Netflix, educating and exposing yourself to new ideas has never been easier.

This is my hope, today. That more Christians (and for that matter, atheists, Muslims, liberals, feminists, and every other -ist and -ism) would open themselves up to relationships with people across the aisle. Real relationships, where both parties listen and not just talk over each other. Because really, the root of almost all of our problems lies in ignorance, and lack of accurate information.

Which is why, keeping in that spirit, I’m going to go out and buy a book written by a white dude today. Fair is fair.

 

Same-Sex Weddings and the True Meaning of Marriage

Mar
14

I always cry at weddings. As soon as the doors open and everyone stands and the music changes for the grand entrance, my mascara starts running down my face. It’s always involuntary, like an emotional sneeze, and I’m often annoyed at myself. I mean, I’m a Christian in the south. I’ve been to A LOT of weddings. Most are quite similar. You think I’d be used to this by now.

This morning, when the doors of the old Baptist church opened and the music changed and I watched two of my friends walk armchurch-and-arm down the aisle together, the water-works started. When they read their vows to each other in front of our pastor, I cried. When they poured three colors of sand into a vase, one for each of them, and one to represent God, who is the foundation of their marriage, I cried.

It was beautiful and unique, because, unlike the other weddings I’ve been to, this was a ceremony to legally signify a relationship that God had blessed 21 years before. There was the normal new beginning, but there was also an acknowledgment of everything in the past that had brought them to where they stood today.

There was one thing though I didn’t do at the wedding this morning, that I find myself doing at almost every (Christian) wedding I attend. I didn’t cringe. I didn’t sigh under my breath or resist the urge to roll my eyes, or poke Ryan with my elbow as covertly as I could. This is something I’ve done at pretty much every other Christian wedding I’ve attended, because at most of these, the sermon or message has focused on one specific thing. Gender. Not commitment, or sacrifice, or kinship, or any number of things that form the foundation of a healthy relationship. But gender, and how the man standing in front of his friends and family has one role and his wife has another. Sometimes it’s just a brief mention, a nod to Genesis maybe. A reminder of who was created first (man) and who was created second (woman) and the significance in this order. This I can usually endure. What kills me though is when the pastor standing in front of the church launches into a lesson on gender roles, and how women should never be over their husbands and how their submission is mandated by God.

Bad theology aside, it makes me so sad when these are the words the faith leader chooses to leave the bride and groom with. Because there is a wealth of knowledge and wisdom in the Bible, and a focus on archaic, culturally specific gender roles is not going to help anyone.

God did not create marriage to teach men and women a lesson about how different they are and how important it was for them to stay within the rigid lines of their roles. God created marriage to teach two people the true meaning of love. Religious marriage is an institution meant to reflect God’s love. When we commit to another person and allow them to see us in all our weakness and selfishness and cowardice, yet they love us anyway, we see the love of God. Likewise, when we begin to want what’s best for our partner more than what’s best for ourselves, we see a glimpse of the sacrificial love of God. And when we look into the mirror that marriage creates and stare at all of our flaws and imperfections and decide to grow because we want to be a better spouse, we understand the kind of love that God wants for us. Life-long kinship love.

There is a reason why egalitarian marriages are not just happier and longer lasting but better reflect the image of God. Because in egalitarian marriages, spouses face one another on equal footing. They are allowed to have their own strengths and weaknesses depending on who God made them individually, not on their sex. In egalitarian marriages, the bond between spouses includes mutual submission by choice, not expectation. If there’s anything we learned about love from the Bible it’s that it can’t be taken, it has to be given. How much more beautiful is it then when two people equally, freely choose to serve and love each other, using the gifts God created them with, not just the gifts deemed appropriate for their sex.

That’s why, just by their nature, Christian same-sex weddings have better theology – because the ceremony is about the commitment of the people standing in front of God and their loved ones. It’s not about their genders.

I cry at weddings not because of a bride and groom. I cry at weddings because of the commitment two people are making to one another, for sickness in health, for richer or poorer, for better or worse, as long as they both shall live. That commitment is not dependent on gender. It’s certainly not dependent on a white dress or black tux.

So today, I cried out of happiness for the two women whose relationship has helped me see what the true love of God is like. A love that endures, and is patient, and is kind, and perseveres. I’m so glad that their perseverance paid off, and today, this love was recognized not just by God, but by the state they live in. That is certainly something to shed happy tears over.

 

A Finale on Failure

Feb
25

When I was in high school I wrote out a thirty-year plan for my life. It charted the path I would take from graduating college and law school, to becoming a lawyer, then a judge, and eventually, by the age of 48, being appointed as a Supreme Court Justice. Most teenage girls spent time memorizing facts about their favorite boy bands while I (in addition to knowing Taylor Hanson’s birthday) memorized details about the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.

I didn’t have a lot of friends, basically.

That plan was never something I stuck to (obviously) and one that was definitely more fantasy than anything actionable. I got off course. Found new dreams. Realized I loved writing way more than government. But I never forgot that girl who dreamed of donning a black robe and wielding the most power that the United States can grant an individual (President, schmezedent, the SCOTUS rules all.)

I think that’s part of the reason I have always loved Leslie Knope, the main character on the show Parks & Rec. Leslie always knew what she wapawneented, and worked towards those dreams. She did so hilariously, and with the help of her friends and co-workers who were just as unique and (usually) driven as she.

It was really hard saying goodbye to Leslie and the crew of Parks & Rec last night, after the series finale aired. I’ll admit that throughout the hour long episode I ugly cried, my face all scrunched up, snot coming out of my nose, weird animal like sounds escaping from my mouth. It was not pretty. Even though they’re fictional, those characters were ones I had not just grown attached to, but, truthfully, sometimes learned from.

Surprisingly, it was not Leslie Knope’s send off last night that spoke the most to me. It was [Spoiler Alert] actually Tom Haverford’s (played by Aziz Ansari.) Tom, the perpetual hustler of the show, reached the end by achieving the success he’d been clawing at for seven seasons. He was a business owner, a restaurateur, and a successful entrepreneur. He had overcome multiple failures to finally succeed. Except….he didn’t. We saw in his epilogue that all his restaurants closed, his businesses failed, and he lost everything. We watched him lamenting to his now-wife Lucy about how many times he failed, and how everything he did was a disaster. Of course, in typical Tommy T-pain fashion, he turned this all into a world-wide best selling self-help book on how to succeed by failing. It was a good joke, and it fit his character perfectly – he finally reached success doing the only thing he was good at – being bad at everything. It was light and fun, and fit with the happy endings given to each member of the cast. But it also really stuck with me.

It made me think about how, unlike a lot of other light, comedic shows, almost everyone on Parks & Rec experienced failure at some point in their arc. Leslie especially, as she was recalled from her dream job as City Council-woman when she was barely into her first term. Ben failed at being an 18-year-old mayor, Ron had multiple failed marriages, Andy failed to get accepted to the police force, and April failed at maintaining Gothic cynicism until the day she died. Each character managed to not just overcome this failure though, but use it to propel themselves forward.

As someone who has probably failed more times than I have succeeded in my life, this narrative theme meant a lot to me. Because even though the series finale walked the line between sweet and saccharine in its send-offs of beloved characters, it still didn’t shy away from failure. It still acknowledged that even the most successful people get rejected and don’t get everything they dream of.

That was something I needed to be reminded of, as I, once again, attempt to reach my dream of getting published. Three years ago I wrote my first book, and sent it out to agents, spending a year hoping and wishing and trying as hard as I could to get published. I failed. It sucked. There was a part of me that said I’d never go through that again, and wanted to just give up entirely. But that part was overpowered by the part of my brain, I guess the Knope-Haverford part, that wanted to keep trying, and wasn’t ready to give up my dream. So I took a year off. Then in early 2014 I started writing another book, my first novel. It felt good to try again, and to experience that involuntary buoying of hope. And in a few weeks, after I finish my last round of editing, I’m going to try again. I’ll send out query letters, feel my heart race every time I see that little (1) in my inbox, and experience the crushing sorrow of rejection when I see a “Sorry, this isn’t for me,” response. It is entirely possible I will fail again. And again. And again.

What I loved about the Parks & Rec finale last night was the reminder that even if this happens to me, I won’t be doomed a failure. I’m not a failed writer. I’m a writer who is still growing, and learning, and working towards a dream. Even if I never actually reach that dream (a scary thought I’m not quite ready to face) I still won’t be a failure. I’ll just be a writer who kept trying, and working, and doing the thing she loved.

So thanks Tom, Leslie, Ben, Ron, April, Andy, Chris, Ann, and Donna. You taught me a lot about what it means to fail, and keep going. You will all be missed. Except you Jerry.