Mark Driscoll’s words in Jesus’s mouth

I’m not sure how the brilliant Tea Party Jesus escaped my notice until now, but this image sending up Mark Driscoll’s comments on cage fighting is freaking hilarious.

Original post here.

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Stay with me Jesus

The husband sent me this video for Guster’s “Stay with me Jesus.” It’s hilarious and really captures so much of what bothers me about prayer and divine providence as I was raised to understand them – so self-focused, grounded in the absolute conviction that everything that happens is God doing something just for me, as part of a divine plan, that it can make people insensitive and even callous to other people’s suffering.

Appropriate for April Fool’s Day, given some of the comments on Youtube from Christians who don’t seem to understand that the song is satirical…


Jesus’s ministry vs. church ministry

Just a quick thought – I was just reading this article Mark Driscoll tweeted about how Acts 29, his church planting network, fared in the last calendar year: “4000 saved and 133 new churches.” 2010 was Acts 29’s “biggest year yet” after “an explosion of growth over the last five years.”

It’s pretty clearly implied in the article that numerical growth is linked to divine approval. Which is interesting. It’s one of the peculiarities of American evangelical culture that people simultaneously believe that their “persecution” is a sign that their version of Christianity is the true faith, and also believe that growing churches and revenue are a sign of divine blessing. It’s a convenient paradox; either way God is on their side.

The other thing that occurred to me was how very different the Acts 29 model of “ministry” is from Jesus’s ministry in the gospels. By a lot of measures today his ministry wasn’t terribly “gospel-centered” or all that successful. He had a small, rag-tag bunch of followers, most of whom were of pretty low status if not total outcasts (fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, adulteresses…). Sure, he told people to repent and converted people into his followers, but that wasn’t really the bulk of his ministry.

In the gospel accounts he seems to have spent far more time healing the sick, feeding people, and caring for the poor and marginalized, even arguing that such people were more righteous and closer to the kingdom of God that the rich and the religious elite of the time. He preached a radical vision for society: give up your wealth and security to follow the way, share what you have with those who have less, nonviolence, the poor are rich in spirit and the meek will inherit the earth, make yourself last if you want to be first. He spent a lot of time ministering to the physical needs of people who didn’t have much – something contemporary evangelicals consider to be a “distraction” from the gospel – and called that righteousness, and said those who failed to provide for the physical needs of those with less than them could not be part of his kingdom.

What if churches measured their ministries by this standard? What if they spent more time making sure everyone has food, shelter, healthcare, basic rights and needs than they did trying to police people’s morality or make their churches bigger or win more converts? What if they defined success by how many people they helped, by how much they shared with others, not how much money or people they could claim?

I’d be proud to belong to a faith like that.


The Cross and Sexual Abuse

Trigger warnings for sexual abuse/incest.

In “The Cross and Male Violence,” James Poling argues that patriarchal narratives of the crucifixion provide a kind of script for abusive relationships between men and women in Christian contexts, in which male abusers can take on a godlike role (all-powerful, all-knowing, to be obeyed), and female victims of abuse can play a Christlike role (obedient, subservient, suffering without complaint).  He cites Christianity and Incest, Annie Imbens and Ineke Jonker’s study of incest in Christian homes, in which female survivors of incest recounted how their religious upbringing led them to believe that being a good Christian meant they had to be resigned to their abuse and not speak out about it:

You must love your neighbor.  Not much attention was paid to standing up for yourself (Ellen).  You must always be the first to forgive and you must do so seventy times seventy times (Judith).  You must always serve, serve God.  Sexuality before and outside of marriage is bad (Margaret).  faith and standing up for yourself are conflicting concepts (Theresa).  You must sacrifice your own needs and wants, you mustn’t resist, musn’t stand up for yourself, must serve God, musn’t be your own person with your own ego (Amy). (Imbens and Jonker, 271)

Escaping the cycle of abuse is difficult in general, not just under Christian patriarchy.  However, Christian patriarchy explicitly labels suffering in silence as a virtuous emulation of Christ.  Further, it teaches that Christians must forgive anyone who sins against them – even that survivors of abuse must forgive their abusers.  Covering up or keeping silent about abuse is cast becomes righteous behavior, even a spiritual obligation.  Victims of abuse are taught to be more concerned about their abusers and how they respond to them than about their own welfare.  They learn that they are obligated to treat their abusers with love, kindness, and forgiveness, no matter what, without expecting or demanding any change in behavior, much less love or kindness in return.  This adds an additional spiritual and psychological impediment to speaking out about one’s abuse, and creates an environment that fosters enabling or dismissive responses to abuse.  Add in patriarchal teachings about men’s right to lead and women’s obligation to submit, and you have a culture that creates situations in which male violence against women is more likely to occur, more likely to be overlooked, enabled, or justified, and thus more likely to become an entrenched feature of church and family life.

The quotes below from Christianity and Incest (which I found here) explain further how theologies of male dominance and female submission in church, marriage, and family structures are intimately linked with male abuse of female partners and children in patriarchal Christian contexts:

Their Christian upbringing made these girls easy prey. Offenders used Bible passages or church-authorized texts in order to be able to abuse girls and to keep them quiet about it. Mothers were powerless to do anything about it. They were subservient to their husbands in everything, as was and still is requested of women marrying in Christian churches. (page xvi)

“In all of the interviews, the Mother is psychologically or physically abused by the father.” (page 121)

About the offender: “Father thinks boys are more important. He says so: “Good men father sons,” or he shows it in his attitude.” (page 123)

The girls try to keep their rapists away from them in every way possible. Screaming, yelling, or crying make little impression or are labeled “rebelling against Father,” for which forgiveness from God are required (Nell). ” (pages 127 – 128)

“Religion forces women to forgive their rapists, although those rapists have not asked for forgiveness. They are commanded to love their enemies. Moreover, Christian churches stress the love on one’s fellow human being so heavily that the words “as thyself” following “love thy neighbor” have very little meaning for these women.” (page 141)

“God the Father wants only the best for her. He is Almighty and merciful. When something happens to her and she wants it to stop, she must pray hard.” (page 141)

This to me is perhaps the most telling and tragic point, because it drives at the fundamental issue underlying all of these teachings that enable abuse in Christian homes: “Not one incest survivor had learned that it was important to love yourself as well.” (page 238)  In other words, these women had not been taught that they were worthy of love – not from themselves, nor from any one else.  Christian patriarchy teaches the exactly opposite – that we’re all completely unworthy of love, and that God loves us despite this.  And if their churches are anything like the ones I grew up in, they were probably taught that it was sinful to believe they deserved to be treated with basic human dignity.


The Cross and Male Violence

I’m doing some reading for a discussion on different ways in which the masculinity of Jesus is or has been constructed and presented in various Christian contexts.  A couple of the articles I’m reading are about how depictions of Jesus in popular art and other media have been read as gendered, and how Christians have read such depictions as being either in line or in opposition to their understandings of Jesus’s gender, and particularly his masculinity.  It’s really fascinating stuff, and I hope to say more about it in future posts.

The other article I’m reading is James Poling’s “The Cross and Male Violence,”* which is about how interpretations of the crucifixion of Jesus can either support authoritarian patriarchy and male violence against women, or oppose them.   I’m loving this article – it neatly encapsulates how abuse in patriarchal churches and families is, in general, is a product of a patriarchal theology which is inherently and fundamentally problematic:

The cross of Jesus Christ was a violent event and its interpretation over the centuries has been ambiguous.  For men who live in patriarchal societies, the cross gives mixed messages.  On the one hand, the cross is a symbol that legitimizes male dominance in human community.  For many centuries, the cross has been symbolic of the church’s authority as a patriarchal institution.  Jesus died as a man of the cross and brought salvation for humankind.  Therefore, most churches have argued, only men can serve as governors and ritual leaders in the church, modeling a form of governance for all society, including the family.  Theologians have taught that male headship over women is established by God the Father and his only Son, Jesus, and any challenge to male dominance is a challenge to God himself One can see the cross as a symbol of a natural patriarchal order that must be supported by the interactions of men and women. – Poling, p. 474, my emphases

Poling shows how cultures of abuse in patriarchal churches develop out of theologies that:
– understand the nature of God the Father and God the Son (Jesus) to be essentially masculine
– understand God’s the Father’s nature to be essentially authoritarian, defined by the exercise of total power and the use of violent acts as punishment for human disobedience.
– understand Jesus’s crucifixion as a moment in which God the Father – the angry Father God – inflicted the violence rightfully due to humanity on his obedient, submissive Son.

If God is male, and God the “Father” is defined by possessing and exercising authority, then human males must share in his masculine nature, and men, especially in marriage and parenthood, must also be defined by the exercise of power, dominance, and violence.  Given the patriarchal assumption of binary gender, the corollary of this must be that females are defined by lacking power, submitting to male dominance, and being the targets of male violence.

Under these theologies the cross becomes “a symbol that legitimizes male violence against women” by casting such violence as

“[replicating] the drama between a patriarchal God and an obedient, self-sacrificing Jesus standing in for a sinful humanity . . . the [man] has taken the place of God who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving, and the [woman] has taken the place of Jesus who take on the sins of humanity and submits her will to God’s, and sacrifices her life unto death on the cross for the sake of the relationship.

In family violence, a similar drama is enacted.  Given the negative and conflicting images of women in many churches and their responsibility to be obedient to an all-loving Father God and his Son Jesus, Christian faith means that men are closer to God than women, that the proper relationship of women to men is subservience, and that the traditional values of submission and obedience are the essence of Christian faith. –  Poling, p. 476-477, my emphases.

Just a few days before reading Poling’s article I jotted down some notes for the blog:  Not every marriage where submission is supposedly followed is an abusive one. But submission theology is an abusive theology.  It’s an abusive framework. When I read the article I found that my notes were echoing a point Poling also makes:

Certain interpretations of the cross clearly create the occasion for sexual and physical abuse of women and children because of their images of the Trinitarian God in relation to families.  Survivors of abuse** are saying that an abusive God and abusive clergymen do not contradict the church’s theology.  The images of abuse are inherent in the symbols themselves. A church that preaches God’s love but projects the evil of the world onto women and other marginalized groups is preaching an abusive God. – Poling, 47, my emphases.

A culture of male violence against women is therefore not incidental to patriarchal theological assumptions, but is rather a natural product of them. The abusive husband and father, the abusive male pastor or priest, thus becomes a reflection of an abusive and angry God, and the victim of abuse becomes a reflection of Christ – if they endure their suffering obediently, and submissively.  This might seem like a very unfair description of complementarian and other patriarchal theologies, but as we’ll see in coming posts on Joshua Harris’s sermons on submission, this is precisely what he tells married women – that suffering silently makes them more like Christ.


*James Newton Poling, “The Cross and Male Violence” in ed. Bjorn Krondorfer Men and Masculinities in Christianity and Judaism: A Critical Reader (2009)
**Poling quotes female survivors of incest in Christian homes recounting what they took form their Christian upbringing – I’ll post these in a separate post tomorrow.


Strange priorities

Newsweek recently profiled Brian Brown, the president of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage.  The article presents a very sanitized picture of Brown and his work; it gives the impression that he’s some sort of moderate homophobe, not as hateful or prejudiced as the other guys.  As Jeremy Hooper of Prop 8 Trial Tracker points out, this is a rather strange way to depict a straight man with a “near-daily, decade-long obsession with same-sex marriage.”  Further, the article misrepresents NOM’s record, overstating its influence and success, and casts marriage equality supporters in a negative light.

Still, the article offers some insights on how Brown spins his image and his message to make it appear less homophobic than it is, and raises some interesting questions as to why Christians like Brown, a convert to Catholicism, invest so much effort and resources into opposing marriage equality.  NOM has been able to raise, and spend, huge amounts of money in support of anti-gay measures:

Although NOM operates with a skeleton staff, its budget has ballooned from $500,000 in 2007, when Brown cofounded the group, to more than $13 million today. With that war chest, it was able to pour some $5 million into 100 races in the recent elections.

That’s quite a lot of money, money that could make a huge, positive difference in many lives if spent thoughtfully.   NOM doesn’t disclose its donors, but it’s safe to say that most of it is coming from traditionalist Christians and churches.  This is just one organization, of course, and doesn’t include the millions of dollars groups like the LDS and Roman Catholic churches have invested in anti-gay campaigns – so it only represents a fraction of the expenditure on such campaigns in the US.  As always, I can’t but wonder why so many Christians think this issue is so important that it’s worth pouring so much individual and collective money into.  Honestly, this is something I found disturbing even when I still accepted the fundamentalist and homophobic version of Christianity I was raised to believe.  It’s one thing to believe same sex marriage is wrong, but what makes it SO wrong, so threatening, that millions of dollars are needed to deny it legal recognition?  What makes it so much more urgent or important that it deserves more attention and funding than any number of causes focused on actually helping people?  And if it’s really so awful, where are the millions of dollars being spent to ban divorce for straight couples?

Even if you read the Bible the way fundamentalists and evangelicals as literally as they claim it should be read, there’s no rationale for making fighting gay marriage and other LGB legal rights such a huge priority.  Again, if you look at what Jesus actually said about righteous conduct, and what will get you into heaven, there’s absolutely nothing in there about fighting for the government to enforce (one version of) Christian beliefs as law, and quite a lot about Christians’ obligations to respect the government (“render unto Caesar what it Caesar’s”), and about how the kingdom of heaven has completely different values, goals, and priorities than earthly kingdoms and governments.  Jesus rejected conventional measures of worth and status:

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10, ESV)

Jesus was expected to overthrow the Roman government, and instead taught that his kingdom was of another world.  He taught that people who ignored the plight of the poor, hungry, sick, or downtrodden on earth would not be allowed into the kingdom of heaven, that the rich should give their money and possessions away to follow him, and that it’s easier for a rich person to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye (read: pretty damn impossible).  He taught that people should be more concerned with their own failings than with other people’s shortcomings.  And then there’s that pesky business about loving your neighbor as yourself and treating others the way you’d want to be treated by them.

Christian anti-gay campaigns are fundamentally an attempt to use power and privilege against people with less power, and less privilege.  Their tools are wealth and political influence.  Their goals are to ensure that gay couples and families are treated with less dignity and respect than straight couples and families.  As such they are inherently opposed to everything Jesus stood for, and are run completely counter to how Jesus would have operated.  And they’re on no firmer ground if you look at the rest of the New Testament – not unless you decide to ignore Paul and Peter they say Christians should respect ruling authorities, or decide that James is being metaphorical when he says true religion is caring for orphans and widows.

So I’m wondering again how Christians like Brian Brown justify spending millions trying to codify their version of Christian teaching into law, while simultaneously being opposed to the government – and sometimes even the church – spending money to assist people in need.  Jesus was pretty specific about how both of those positions are incompatible with following him.  But I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising when fundamentalists show, again, that they don’t really believe the Bible.


If Fundamentalists really believed the Bible . . .

I loved this cartoon from Russell’s Teapot (ht The Redheaded Skeptic, click for a bigger version).

I’ve often thought that if literalist Christians in this country really, truly believed that the Bible is completely divinely inspired, inerrant, and literally true, most of them would be living completely different lives.  After all, Jesus had quite a bit to say about people who go through the forms of religion but don’t actually live up to the standards of holiness required to make it into heaven.  And he explicitly includes caring and providing for those in need as one of those standards:

41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25)

Can you imagine how different the world would be if so called biblical literalists actually took Jesus’ words in this passage seriously?  If they actually believed not caring for the vulnerable, poor, sick, hungry, and incarcerated would mean eternal damnation?