How James Dobson Convinced me to Keep Prayer Out of Schools

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Somewhere in the turbulence of high school, I found myself at a rally to protect traditional marriage. The rally was led by the (in)famous James Dobson, leader of Focus on the Family and well-known advocate of “traditional marriage.” It consisted of Dobson bellowing a very convicted and passionate speech about how we must protect our children from a future America that will throw God away and ignore his commands. The event center full of people cheered with wild but Midwest-polite fury. I was there willingly, having not yet committed myself to the burning questions that destroyed my religious foundations and rebuilt them unconventionally. I’ve already come to terms with the fact that I think Dobson and his supporters are pretty straight-up wrong about how they interpret marriage, but I vividly remember something else he said that has had me confused for years. In the midst of Dobson’s pleas to “remember God” during these trying and confusing times, he prompted the crowd—“We want prayer in schools again!!” and the crowd would cheer uncontrollably; “We want the name of God on our nation’s currency!” Again, people clapping and screaming; “we want the religion of our fathers in this country again! We want to be one! Nation! Under! God!” and people are just going insane. But even then, I was confused, and I guess I still am. So here I am to ask a few questions about this agenda.

There is a strong demand by traditional Christians to involve their religion in the politics and government of the United States. It really only starts with legislating morality like bans on gay marriage, but it also includes things like demanding prayer in public schools, erecting religious statues on state grounds (the famous Texas courthouse) and basically protecting the religious rhetoric that seeps into all politics (don’t get me started on presidential speeches) and essentially denies the worth of the other religions and lack of religions that live and thrive in this country. And I truly cannot understand why. How could keeping “In God We Trust” on our currency help anyone to actually know God? Has it ever? Because in my experience, pushy Christianity does exactly that: pushes. A prayer at a public school graduation only makes people that don’t pray uncomfortable and unwelcome. Which church agendas strive to make visitors uncomfortable and unwelcome? It seems to me like we’re letting our sentimentality get the best of us here. Isn’t it kind of like when a high school football team refuses to change its name from the “Fighting Chiefs” because “it’s always been like that?” The team is choosing to hurt a group of people with a violent label rather than take a few steps to change their name. I’m already anticipating the “This is a Christian Nation!” plea, but there is already more than enough great writing disputing that fact that I will not waste keystrokes on it.

Perhaps these people have historical interests in pushing intrusive religion. That’s fine with me, but they should be passionate historians, not passionate Christians.

What if Christians went out of their way to learn about other religions and whole-heartedly respect them—without the intent to evangelize? What if they listened when atheists talked about the reasons they don’t believe? What if we took scientific questions seriously? Could we shed our reputation as pushy truth-deniers? Or will we strive to maintain our very comfortable and politically powerful spot in the supposed majority? 

 Christians should put everyone else’s comfort ahead of their own. They should be willing to duck into a corner to pray with their families; to put themselves out for the sake of the group. That would be a cool reputation to have—I think one that Jesus (and Gandhi) would approve of.

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How James Dobson Convinced me to Keep Prayer Out of Schools

Are We Becoming Slave-Holding Christians?

Today, DOMA was overturned by the Supreme Court. This does not grant equal marriage rights to every couple in the US, but it is a step in the right direction. Even months before all the DOMA hype, though, I have been hearing Christians say this one specific thing in regards to gay rights that I think is a misconception: “Can’t we give up all of these politics and focus on Jesus?” I hear it all the time. They see politics such as discussions about gay rights to be divisive and unnecessary when we should just be “focusing on the Gospel.” To a point, I think there are things we can do in the mean time. I think there are fights we can fight as we process this question (for instance, sex trafficking, local and global poverty, etc.), but no, dropping questions like these in favor of the Gospel is counterproductive.

 

Here’s where we can learn from American slave-holders. In the first half of the nineteenth century, Charles Colcock Jones was a devoted Christian and a notorious proponent of the institution of slavery. He fought tooth and nail to preserve the traditions of the Confederacy, then he came home and evangelized to his slaves.

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At first, this baffled me. How could someone preach the message of Jesus that I understand: peace, overwhelming love, uninhibited freedom, and in the same breath tell a group of people that they are less than deserving of equality. I came to realize that it was not logically possible for Jones to have understood the Gospel as I do. Jesus preached social justice without tiring. Jones was preaching salvation, not the Gospel. And that is, I think, the problem today. The church is so caught up in our evangelizing that we neglect the Gospel—a message that cannot leave out social justice. To “forget politics and focus on Jesus” doesn’t make any sense, because Jesus was inherently political. He made rifts in the social world as he taught about God. If Jesus is any indication, the two go together.

 

We must learn from the slave-holding Christians so we do not become them—we cannot continue to shrug off political questions as “divisive” and “worthless” because they are not. They have to do with people. They have to do with how we treat people and how and whether we love them. This cannot be separated from the Gospel. Perhaps if our gospel does not include any political implications, we have watered it down. 

Are We Becoming Slave-Holding Christians?

An Open Letter to the Church from My Generation

Church,

I got to go to the Macklemore concert on Friday night. If you want to hear about how that went, ask me, seriously, I want to talk about it until I die. The whole thing was great; but the best part was when Macklemore sang “Same Love.” Augustana’s gym was filled to the ceiling with 5,000 people, mostly aged 18-25, and decked out in thrift store gear (American flag bro-tanks, neon Nikes, MC Hammer pants. My Cowboy boyfriend wore Cowboy boots…not ironically….). The arena was brimming with excitement and adrenaline during every song, but when he started to play “Same Love,” the place about collapsed. Why? While the song is popular everywhere, no one, maybe not even Macklemore, feels its true tension like we do in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. If you’re not familiar, here’s the song:

Stop–did you watch it? Watch it.

Before the song, Macklemore spoke really simple words along the lines of: “Hey, you can all have your own opinions on how we treat gay people in this country, but this is mine.” And I held my breath in anticipation of some kind of uproar or walk-out…but the crowd cheered louder than they had yet. In our red state, in our conservative little city, the 5,000 young people in that arena wanted to hear about marriage equality.

During the song, almost every person at the concert had their hands up and their eyes closed…it reminded me of church. The whole crowd spoke every word with Macklemore. We were thirsty for those words. We want to hear about equality and love in a gentle way. We’re sick of the harsh words of both sides. Say what you want about my generation, but we can smell fake from a mile away. This rapper from Seattle had brought us truth in song form, and we all knew it. I live in such a conservative bubble that I couldn’t believe the crowd’s positive, thankful reaction. But I shouldn’t have been surprised. No one knows the tension of that song like my generation in South Dakota does. So many of us were brought up in churches and Christian homes, and even if we weren’t, we’ve experienced the traditional Christian culture that just resonates from South Dakota’s prairie land. We know conservatism; we know tradition. But we also have Twitter, we watch SNL, we listen to Macklemore, and we read Tina Fey. We’re more in touch with the rest of the country than the Midwest has ever been. Some of us love the church and some of us hate it, but there aren’t too many people for whom it’s irrelevant. So when Macklemore takes on that tension with his poetry, his South Dakota audience listened. We practically yelled with him when he spoke the lyrics:

“When I was at church, they taught me something else: if you preach hate at the service, those words aren’t anointed. That holy water that you soak in has been poisoned.”

We yelled because we knew that holy water too well. We knew that hateful preaching too well. We had all been hurt by it in one way or another.

My point in writing this isn’t to protect gay people. Things are changing—the world is becoming a safer place for my gay friends. They’re going to get equal rights. I’m writing this because I’m worried about the safety of the Church. The Church keeps scratching its head, wondering why 70% of 23-30 year-olds who were brought up in church leave. I’m going to offer a pretty candid answer, and it’s going to make some people upset, but I care about the Church too much to be quiet. We’re scared of change. We always have been. When scientists proposed that the Earth could be moving through space, church bishops condemned the teaching, citing Psalm 104:5 to say that God “set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.” But the scientific theory continued, and the Church still exists. I’m saying this: we cannot keep pitting the church against humanity, or progress. DON’T hear me saying that we can’t fight culture on anything. Lots of things in culture are absolutely contradictory to love and equality, and we should be battling those things. The way culture treats women, or pornography? Get AT that, church. I’ll be right there with you. But my generation, the generation that can smell bullshit, especially holy bullshit, from a mile away, will not stick around to see the church fight gay marriage against our better judgment. It’s my generation who is overwhelmingly supporting marriage equality, and Church, as a young person and as a theologian, it is not in your best interest to give them that ultimatum.

My whole life, I’ve been told again and again that Christianity is not conducive with homosexuality. It just doesn’t work out. I was forced to choose between the love I had for my gay friends and so-called biblical authority. I chose gay people, and I’m willing to wager I’m not the only one. I said, “If the Bible really says this about gay people, I’m not too keen on trusting what it says about God.” And I left my church. It has only been lately that I have seen evidence that the Bible could be saying something completely different about love and equality.

So, my advice to you, the Church: if you’re looking for some intelligent biblical liberal opinions on the subject, have a little coffee chat with your local Methodist or Episcopal pastor. Christians can be all about gay people, it’s possible. People do it every day with a clear biblical conscience. Find out if you think there’s truth in that view before you sweep us under the rug. You CAN have a conservative view on gay marriage, or gay ordination. You can. But I want you to have some serious conversations with God, your friends that disagree with you, and maybe even some gay people, Christians or not, before you decide that this one view is worth marginalizing my generation. Weigh those politics against what you’re giving up: us. We want to stay in your churches, we want to hear about your Jesus, but it’s hard to hear about love from a God who doesn’t love our gay friends (and we all have gay friends). Help us find love in the church before we look for it outside.

Oh, and can we please please PLEASE stop changing our Facebook profile pictures to crosses in a protest against gay marriage? You are taking a symbol of hope and redemption and using it to make a political point. No matter what you think, that has to stop. It’s a misrepresentation of what that symbol means.

Love,

A College Kid Who Misses You

An Open Letter to the Church from My Generation

“Winning back the Nation:” Jesus as Feminist

I’m in Eau Claire, Wisconsin visiting my friend Livi. Livi is a hipster. She won’t tell you that, but she is. She’s wildly passionate about beards and flannel and if you opened up her itunes, you’d probably have a hard time finding English band names. This is appropriate, because the town she lives in is a hipster town. Don’t believe me? Ever heard of Bon Iver? Justin Vernon, King of the Hipsters?

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Justin Vernon is from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He went to school where Livi goes to school (she seriously brags about it. ALL THE TIME). None of this matters that much, except that I went to church with her today. In Livi’s hipster church, they showed a hipster worship video (Christians can be hipsters too, I guess. Like, Jesus was a Christian before it was cool. Eh, eh??). This is it:

And as very cool as these musicians seem, I had a little bit of a hard time with some of the lyrics. “Win this nation back” in my ears sounds like a ringing endorsement for Mitt Romney, a plea to “put God back in schools” and, I don’t know, add the ten commandments as amendments to the constitution. I know some people are really passionate about all of that, but I think most of the whole America-is-Israel-let’s-make-laws-so-people-have-to-live-biblical-lives movement is pretty ridiculous. So when Livi got really excited about the song, I tried hard to think about it again. “Win this nation back.” What does that really mean? Maybe it’s not a buzzword for the right-wing fundamentalists. What would it really look like for the church to win the nation back?

Well, more than half of this nation is female. So let’s start there. We live in an oppressive patriarchy that tells women day after day that their purpose is for men to look at. This is striking a particular chord with me lately; I can’t get away from society telling me that women are for sex. They are objects… for men. (Chris, Sam, Jordan, Tad, YOU KNOW I’m not trying to blame ACTUAL males for this that are in my life. I love you guys. I’m talking about media objectification of women here. You three love women and I love you and we’ll all be best friends forever.) This heartbreaking reality becomes more real for me every time I drive past a strip club, see any commercial for beer, hear a sitcom make casual jokes about pornography, see magazines in the checkout line, or notice that #VSFASIONSHOW is trending on Twitter. These phenomena do horrible things to women’s self-esteem. It makes us feel like our worth is in how we look, and that we’ll never look good enough. It’s a driving factor in most girls’ lives: what they eat, when they wake up to work out, the kinds of clothes they buy, how they interact with men. It’s in our heads, true or false, that men want women for sex, not for their hearts or ideas.

I am becoming more and more convinced that none of that is true. Most of this is due to the extraordinary men in my life who prove to me again and again that they care about me. (Yeah, you guys. Plus you, Dadski.) They take my ideas seriously; they want to protect me from feeling like this patriarchy makes me feel. I’m imagining how the world might react if the church took this mission seriously. What if leaders in the church actually took on a *gasp!* feminist perspective and told their youth how beautiful women are because of their capabilities as humans instead of objects? What if they started proving that they meant that message by giving women *GASP* lead pastors’ jobs? Or encouraging women to go to seminary the way they encourage men to go to seminary? What if churches began to teach young men not to harass/harm/rape as often as they gave their young women the modesty talk? This nation is women, and it is fathers and brothers and friends and sons and this nation wants to see women respected. That sounds like a start to winning this nation back.

Another chunk of people in this nation are gay. And an even bigger chunk consists of people who love those gay people and want them to be treated like they matter. What would happen to this nation’s perception of God if the church began an overwhelming campaign to love gay people unconditionally? What if churches began LGBT missions (NOT to fix them, to love them exactly how they are) and proved to those people that they do matter to the church and to God? People are pretty good at detecting empty promises. How would this nation react to an outspoken love from the church? Some people would react with rage, I know that. I know those people personally, they live in my building. Churches have this really huge opportunity to love the kinds of people that Jesus would have loved. The outcasts, the abused, the thirsty. Win the nation, Church.

The bible makes a clear differentiation between “the world” and “the Kingdom of God.” I’ve always been annoyed with that distinction because it has been abused. “The world,” I was told, are the drinkers, the fornicators, the cussers, the feminists, the democrats, the gays! And “The Kingdom” is the church. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant at all. I think “the world” is the oppressive patriarchy, the society that tells women they have to lose weight to be sexy and that men have to whistle at women on the street or pick them up at bars to be real, masculine men. The “Kingdom of God” shouldn’t be known for not drinking, or not having sex until they’re married, or not cussing, or whatever. They can be those things too, but those aren’t the most important things. The Kingdom of God is a place where society’s lies are overturned, where everyone is loved and valued and living together in familial community, sacrificing for each other and ending their oppression.

“Listen to me, my people;
hear me, my nation:
Instruction will go out from me;
my justice will become a light to the nations.
My righteousness draws near speedily,
my salvation is on the way,
and my arm will bring justice to the nations.”

(Isaiah 51)

Church, let’s rethink what justice is. You know God as a god of love, justice, peace. Prove to this nation that he means that for everyone. Win back this nation.

“Winning back the Nation:” Jesus as Feminist