When God Sends Your Black Friends White Paternalism

So there’s this post going around, “When God Sends Your White Daughter A Black Husband.”  I would like to take some time to do a close reading of the language in it and talk a little bit about how, as white people, we can do horribly wrong things in our attempts to be helpful when it comes to confronting racial bias.  If you have not read the post, it is a letter that a white mother has written to other white mothers whose daughters may be choosing interracial marriage.  And while it is meant to encourage other white people to embrace their children’s choices, it goes too far in whitewashing very complex racial issues and ignoring the consequences that white attitudes have for people of color.

I’m going to go through that post now, copying the harshest of the language and deconstructing what may be read as implied meanings.

The story starts out with the writer explaining how she’d had a wish list that she prayed for her daughter’s future husband to be, and jokes that God “called [her] bluff” by sending “an African American with dreads named Glenn.”  What is unstated here is that she’d always assumed the man that she was praying for would be white, and it turns out that if she’d thought about it, she may have prayed for a white husband.  But given the title of the post I suppose that’s not surprising.

The writer then goes on to say that interracial marriage used to be taboo and even illegal, but isn’t anymore, and states that “though I never shared this prejudice, I never expected the issue to enter my life.”  Again, she’d always assumed her daughter would marry someone white, even though she claims she isn’t prejudiced.  So if she wasn’t prejudiced, why did she assume that her daughter would marry someone white and why did she say that God sending her daughter a black husband was “calling her bluff?”  Despite the author positioning herself as being openminded and accepting, her mere writing of the article gives tell to the lie- it had never occurred to her that her daughter may date someone black.  There is a very real, subtle but real, prejudice at play there.

“Glenn moved from being a black man to beloved son when I saw his true identity as an image bearer of God, a brother in Christ, and a fellow heir to God’s promises.”  The structure and language here are very interesting.  First, Glenn was a black man.  Then, as he proved he had certain good qualities, he also became something else: a beloved son.  This implies that being a beloved son and a black man are somehow contradictory or disconnected ideas.  Also, it states that his “true identity” is as an image bearer of God.  Is that also separate from his identity as a black man?

Then there is the anecdote about a fellow Christian’s worry over the possible future children of this union, “It’s just . . . their future children. They have no idea what’s ahead of them!”  This confession shows that there was an acknowledgement that having interracial children could be difficult.  What is interesting is that the writer brushes this off as a shrug- no one knows what is ahead of them!  No one picks the trials they face!  But that admits that the author believes having interracial children would be a trial.  That race affects one’s life is both tacitly acknowledged and painfully ignored simultaneously, in the way that only a white person can manage.

Then the author gives this problematic advice:  “Calling Uncle Fred a bigot because he doesn’t want your daughter in an interracial marriage dehumanizes him and doesn’t help your daughter either.”  Oh.  Okay.  The author encourages people to simply ignore “naysayers” as long as people aren’t “undermining the marriage.”  I think it’s worth mentioning here that experiencing bigotry does undermine marriages.  Relatives objecting to the marriage based solely off of the color of one person’s sin does undermine the marriage.  Encouraging people to just lovingly ignore racism helps no-one, other than tacitly racist people who don’t like confrontation.

The post continues on, talking about building relationships and trusting God.  It’s all very saccharine and generally good advice to anyone whose child is marrying anyone.  What bothers me, though, is that the issue of prejudice and racism is never confronted head-on.  If anything, prejudice and racism are swept under the carpet.  The author never delves into why she may have never assumed or wanted her daughter to marry a black man.  While she does lather on her son-in-law’s positive qualities rather thickly, she never discusses why those qualities may have surprised her in a black man with dreads.  She never talks about why other people might object to the marriage.

She does the opposite.  She ignores the issue of racism as if it weren’t important or even central to the necessity to write about her experiences.  She ignores the impact of race on the experience of of her daughter and son-in-law.  I have to wonder if her daughter and son-in-law feel that the proper approach to relatives who objected to their union was just to ignore the racism and pray?  I wonder if they felt that such objection undermined their relationship?

Instead, the issue of race was treated as a merely cosmetic issue.  I could imagine a similar missive being written about when God sends your tall daughter a short husband, or your athletic daughter a chubby man.

The impact of race on people’s lives is manifold, especially so for people of African heritage, even more-more-so for people who are known descendants of slaves, and I imagine that impact is even greater in the South (where the writer lives.)  What bothers me the most is the lack of introspection on the part of the writer, and the lack of repentance, and the lack of a call to introspection or repentance.  Without understanding how racism works in our own hearts we cannot repent of it or work against it.  We cannot ignore it as a cosmetic or inconsequential concern and simply shrug it away as if it doesn’t matter.  Rather than being a much-needed confessional of how entrenched and dangerous racism is, how badly we need to confront and defeat it, the writer instead gave us a rather prim 8-step tutorial on how to smile and pretend nothing is wrong.

All the while, what is really wrong is clearly printed between the lines.

 

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Donald Trump isn’t called by God.

So if you search around much on the internet, you’ll stumble across a growing movement of Christians saying that Donald Trump is called by God to strike fear into the heart of America’s enemies.  I think this is something to prayerfully consider, testing it against the word of God.  Anyone who knows me personally won’t be surprised, though, that I find it deeply troubling.

1 John 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

 I won’t link to these blogs- if you’re curious, feel free to Google.  I don’t want to lend further notoriety or money to a movement which I do not trust.  But I do want to discuss why I feel that the Bible provides sufficient evidence that anyone claiming Trump was anointed by God is a false prophet.

Matthew 7:15-20 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

What fruit has Donald Trump’s tree borne?  Divisiveness, fraud, corruption, a kingdom built on taking advantage of the poor, skirting the system, idolatry and bigotry.  How could such a person be called by God?  To claim such a thing is true shows a spirit either blinded to the knowledge of Trump’s true character, or a spirit which (I think this is far more likely) is taking advantage of the trusting nature of Christians and the language which codes belonging to them in order to further the agenda of a very dangerous man.

  1. Trump’s kingdom is built on idolatry.  Trump covers all of his properties and businesses in his name and his own likeness, often plating them in gold and only the finest of materials in order to further the idea that his name, not God’s name, is synonymous with prosperity.  His kingdom is a temple to his self, not the principles of the Bible.
  2. Trump’s kingdom is built on principles of taking advantage of other people, the political and legal system of the United States.  Trump’s real estate empire owes it’s success, in part, to his ability to buy up properties that were lost in bankruptcies, raze them to the ground, and build ostentatious new properties in their place.  Often this has been accompanied by complaints from impoverished communities that have been literally over-towered by Trump:  as commercial properties encroach on poor neighborhoods, people are forced out of their homes.  This is further compounded by the fact that Trump has taken advantage of bankruptcy laws in order to force government subsidizing of his own financial risk taking- he has LOST an incredible amount of money trying to game the system, and he’s passed those losses on.  Furthermore, he has padded his ability to do both of this things, skirting zoning laws, having cities pay for the right to have towers bearing his name, etc, by shamelessly buying politicians.  In what could not be a greater bit of irony, when Hillary Clinton was the Senator for New York, Trump often gave money to her own causes and invited her to bless his.
  3. Trump’s kingdom is built on bigotry.  Trump has called for the wholesale slaughter of Muslim women and children so that terrorists will stop, as if killing their women and children wouldn’t be MORE of a reason to hate the United States.  He has accused all undocumented immigrants of being drug-dealers and rapists.  He has called for large-scale deportations of the like that the United States has never seen, which would leave children born in the United States without parents and would tear families apart- but even worse (if you are a capitalist, like Trump) it would cripple American industry and leave thousands of fields empty of hands to pick food, slaughterhouses empty of workers, and factories bare of the people needed to pack and ship.  Perhaps because I am a woman, though, the type of bigotry I find the most disturbing from Trump is his open contempt for the opposite gender.  He calls breastfeeding mothers “cows,” he tells women they’d “make a pretty picture on their knees” and his favorite insult for any woman, be her the nominee of a party or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, is that she isn’t pretty and his women are “prettier,” as if a woman’s worth starts and ends with her physical characteristics.  This contempt for the fairer gender, contempt for women who were made by and loved by God, based off of nothing but a callous assessment of their potential as sexual objects, is abhorrent.  No man of God condemns a woman for not being a valuable enough sexual conquest.  Let’s not forget that a good portion of Trump’s wealth comes from the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, a gleaming temple to the idolatry of beauty as the sum of a woman’s worth.
  4. Trump’s kingdom is built on divisiveness.  From the petty divisiveness of pitting Apprentice against Apprentice to the large-scale divisiveness of pitting Republican against Republican, Mexican against Caucasian, Muslim against Christian, Gay against Straight, Pro-Choice against Pro-Life, and on down the line, Trump has built his world on pitting people against each other.  His campaign includes almost no (if not literally no) actual agenda.  Other than banning Muslims from entering the country, building a wall between here and Mexico, and ending our trade deficit with China, he has said nothing of any real substance.  How would he HELP people?  How would he grow the economy?  How would he improve foreign policy?  His answer to that is that we can’t trust Mexicans, Muslims, or the Chinese.  Divisiveness, pure and simple, not solutions.
  5. Trump’s kingdom does not value truth.  There is almost too much to write here- but suffice it to say that Trump’s world is riddled with inconsistencies like a tree trunk laced with termite trails, to the point where stunned onlookers often wonder how much longer it can stand.  His stance on abortion, gay marriage, trade, his own wealth and business acumen, and so much more have changed with the winds so many times it’s impossible to keep track of what he has believed when.  He has been accused of fraud and is losing that case, he has often conserved his wealth by refusing to pay contractors and then suing them when they file for payment, he has often protected his own assets in shady legal maneuvers to allow companies to die and go bankrupt without putting his personal wealth on the line- often to the grave expense of his employees.  Some people will argue back against this accusation, saying that what Trump does is “good business,” but where in the Bible does it say that we can manage our worldly goods in a way that contradicts Biblical Principles and then still claim to act for God?  If Trump is a man of God, should not the fruits of his business be a testament to God’s goodness, instead of a testament to avarice and fraud?

So no, I do not nor will I ever believe that Trump was called by God.  All the evidence of Trump’s works on Earth can be seen in the faces of my students, when they write poems describing how much he scares them, when they beg the adults in their vicinity to vote against him, and when I literally hear them praying for Trump to fail.

Unless the “enemy” Trump has been called on to strike fear into is American women and children, he has not nor could he ever have been called by God.

Safety Is Not Guaranteed

Or, “How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Refugees.”

Ben Carson proudly backs a “majority of US Governors” who want to block Syrian refugees from coming into this country.  Paul Ryan calls for “a pause” in the refugee process, which typically takes two years, to reassure political leaders that refugees are adequately vetted.  (They are screened seven times, by several agencies, more than any other kind of immigrant.)  People across the United States are calling for the refugees to be kept out.  Government officials propose alternative solutions like, say, forcing all the refugees back into Syria and simply putting them in camps there and guarding them.

I understand that this is a complex issue and answers don’t come easily, but when I see my Christian brothers and sisters calling for the refugees to be sent back to Syria, or to be housed in “nearby countries where people are like them,” what I see isn’t a rational discussion about the issue, but a reaction based off of fear and xenophobia.  I have seen Christians using the Bible to defend both sides of the argument, arguing alternately that the Old Testament is stringent in it’s command to care for foreigners in our land and that we are called to provide for our own.

People say things like “why take in refugees from THERE when we have homeless people HERE?”

People say, “why should we WELCOME TERRORISTS?”

People say, “we have a responsibility to protect our families!”

Bible verses fly like chaff on the wind, the casing of an argument that is built around a very different kind of seed.

So come now, my friends, let’s try this again.

Why take in refugees from THERE when we have homeless people HERE?  Once upon a time, I was a supervisor in a homeless shelter.  And while my salary was paid by the kindness of our donors, and we received adequate support, I was always a little shocked by how many people didn’t help.  The amount of people who actively supported and donated, especially the amount of people who gave with any regularity, was a small percentage of the booming Christian population surrounding us.  The truth is that while homelessness is a growing problem in the United States, the people actively working to help homeless people are almost constantly having to beg for support, redirecting funds and personnel that could be helping the homeless to raise more funds.  If we really cared about the homeless, shelters wouldn’t have to be constantly begging for cash and calling their donors to ask for more food and socks and diapers.  It is both disheartening and outrageous to see homelessness used as an excuse to NOT help refugees, when the government funding for the programs that help the homeless is constantly under threat of being removed.  The Republican Presidential Nominees using “we need to help our people here” as a talking point for refusing the refugees have also said that they would cut funding to HUD, which sponsors shelters, and have said they would get rid of “tax loopholes” like the Community Development Block grant, which is part of what kept my own shelter in the black.

Point one:  You don’t get to use the homeless as a shield for your opinion if you actively support defunding the programs that currently keep them off the street.  Entire Republican field- I am talking to you.

Why should we welcome refugees if some might be terrorists?  Well, for one, while people are quick to talk about rising crime rates in European countries accepting refugees, the evidence is that the crime rate has risen in proportion to populations, showing that refugees commit the same amount of, or fewer, crimes comparative to their native counterparts.  While one bomber in Paris was found with a fake Syrian passport, his presence in France was due entirely to the amount of refugees arriving on boats in Greece and the European Union’s open border policies and lax refugee laws.  The refugees awaiting placement in the US are not the same ones washing onto the shores in Greece.  They are living in UN refugee camps and applied for placement years ago.  They are going through an intense screening process and would only be placed in the States if they are deemed to be a good fit: they have family here already, are connected with community groups here already, or have skills that would make them beneficial to the US economy.  The refugees that the UN would refer for placement in the US would already have protective barriers that are known to decrease the likelihood of terrorism, since terrorists are generally people who are disconnected from communities due to extreme hardship.  The presence of a fake passport on a terrorist in Paris tells us that the terrorists want us to fear refugees and send them back to Syria.  Do we want to be so easily manipulated?

Point Two:  If you fear refugees, you do what the terrorists want.  The first step to overcoming terrorism is to not fear what terrorists ask you to.

But we still have a responsibility to protect our families!  Except we have to ask ourselves what we need to protect them FROM.  One thing we want to protect them from is living in a future where the actions we take today could haunt them.  One way we could haunt our children is by making our country responsible for millions of deaths because refugee camps were overrun, people hand nowhere to go, so they were trying to cross the seas en masse on rubber rafts.  The fact that the US was unwilling to take in Jewish immigrants prior to WW2 remains as a stain on our collective conscience.  How many people could we have saved if we’d been compassionate?  But people had, then, the same fears they have today:  what if the refugees steal our jobs, rape our women, cause crimes, are actually spies?  While the problems today are slightly different and there is legitimate reason to suspect that terrorist organizations would take advantage of refugee programs, that is why the government of the United States already has refugees pass seven screenings through various organizations before approving them for placement, in a process that takes several years.  Ten thousand unscreened refugees aren’t going to show up and wage war tomorrow.  It isn’t going to happen.  While one or two psychopaths could possibly leak through, it would be in a percentage proportionate to the population at large.  And while one or two psychopaths can cause a lot of damage, we face mass shootings from our own citizens with some regularity.  By taking in refugees, we help the UN to provide stability throughout the Middle East by taking some of the pressure off of their refugee camps.  This helps to keep everyone safe and sap the power from the terrorists, who benefit from Syrian families suffering.  Besides which, if you feel justified in “keeping your family safe” at the expense of the suffering of innocent people, that is truly shudder-worthy.

Refugee camps catch on fire.

Refugee camps are susceptible to fatal disease outbreaks.

Female refugees, especially young women, are often the victims of unreported crime.

Refugees have inconsistent access to medical care, to education, and to basic niceties of life.  The war in Syria could rage for decades; in the meantime, are we meant to believe that we make the world safer by leaving these people to burn to death, to die of viral meningitis, to be raped and beaten?

Will their children learn to love us and our freedoms if we leave them to suffer?

Point three:  You cannot make the world safer by perpetuating the conditions that breed terrorism.  If you want the Muslim world to love us and our freedoms, bring them here.  Show them our freedoms.  Love them.  Let them learn to love us.

Besides which, the Bible doesn’t guarantee us safety.  If anything, it does the opposite.  The Bible is full of references to persecution, stating that as Christ suffered so we will also suffer as his disciples.  Let’s not forget the fact that we follow someone who lovingly offered his body to the scourge so that his blood would be shed to save us.  And we can’t even offer up our local community center to a refugee family so their children can play?

1 Corinthians 14:10-  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

This is an opportunity for us, in our weakness and fear, to be made strong.  This is an opportunity to put our faith in God, to put our fate in God’s hands, and to trust that His will be done.  This is a time to pray for the wisdom of our leaders that they make the right call when placing refugees.  This is a time for us to sacrifice our pride as the servants of mankind and to pour out blessings on the refugees, trusting that as we do so in obedience to Christ that our faith and humility will open their hearts to God’s love.

This is a time to act like Christ.

Let us not forget that Jesus washed Judas’ feet the night before he died.  That he ate with Judas, that he called him friend.

Let’s not forget that anything God calls for us to sacrifice, even our lives, is never too much.  That we have faith in him that he uses every harm for good, every wound to show his grace and mercy.  When we open our mouths to say that we must ignore the needs of the innocent because it is “too risky” to help, that we must leave orphans and widows in squalor because we must protect ourselves, what we say out of the other side of our mouth is that we no longer believe that serving other people in obedience to God offers us any sort of reward.  We want to reward ourselves with our own safety.

Is that what faith does?

Let us not forget that as the Bible teaches us, everything we have is God’s in the first place.

Psalm 24:1  The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it

All we have we possess as His stewards.  If we truly believe that, that this is His country and not ours, we need to ask ourselves not what we want but what He requires.

Does God want his children in the Muslim world to suffer in camps, living exposed to the elements in tents, subject to fire and disease, famine and cruelty, indefinitely while a war wages in their hometowns?  Does he want us to turn a blind eye to their plight out of fear that one or two radicals may slip through the cracks?  Does God value OUR safety more than THEIRS?

photo via the associated press

Why you don’t get to decide that Caitlyn Jenner is a man named Bruce.

The first day of my first anthropology class, my professor said that he needed for a moment to make us the most uncomfortable we’d ever been made.  It was cultural anthropology, and in the process of that class we’d spend a lot of time talking about cultures that didn’t remotely resemble our own.  Our professor instructed us that we’d have to accept the reality of these other cultures wholeheartedly and not try to rationalize it against our own experiences.  “If you’re dealing with a society that believes the sky is an ocean and the stars are fish and rain is a leak in the heavens, you accept that.  You don’t try to explain to them that their god-fish is really a big ball of gas.  You accept their belief, and accept that it does for them the same thing that your God does for you.  In anthropology there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” society, there are systems of belief that work or they don’t, and if it works for that culture, it is the right belief for that culture.  By depriving a culture of belief, you deprive them of their way of being human.  No one gets to make that choice for other people.”

That lecture, in and of itself, was upsetting for many people, who believed that there was absolute truth and to “accept” the reality that in certain cultures illness was the result of the curses of other tribes, and sacrifices had to be made to out-curse the other tribes in order for a person to get better was somehow inherently wrong.  But my professor held his ground, explaining that for those cultures witchcraft works.  “They believe it works, and it works, and if you want to understand who they are, you must accept that it works.  You must participate in their lives not as an authority, but as an equal.”

Not as an authority, but as an equal.

You may be wondering why I’d introduce a blog post about Caitlyn Jenner with a seemingly innocuous story about anthropology.  Let me tell you another story, this time about the section in the big book of anthropology that talks about gender.  “Male and female anatomy exists, that is undeniable.  And that the anatomy of male and female is proscriptive of our lives to some degree is also undeniable.  Only women can become pregnant and give birth, and in many cultures that by necessity defines a certain aspect of their lives, because we need children to survive,” my professor said, “but beyond that anything you think of as male or female is as much a figment of your culture as stars being the spirits of flying fish in an ocean you’ll never touch.”

In many cultures, male and female roles are defined by what the society needs men and women to do.  That doesn’t mean that in every society women stay at home and give birth and don’t otherwise contribute.  In many cases, women have roles that are just as crucial to moving the society forward as men do.  In some societies, for a man to try to overpower a woman or boss her around is seen as a grave sin, which is interesting.  What is even more interesting is the amount of societies in which men’s and women’s roles are seen as fluid and changeable.  A man can “elect” to become a woman and care for his children, or a woman can “elect” to become a man.  If this happens, it is treated as a good thing.  One story is of a woman whose husband died when her children were still young.  She could either remarry, but then her children would be denied the inheritance of their biological father, or she could choose to “become” a man and never marry again, preserving her children’s inheritance and allowing her to provide for their needs.  (Recently a woman who did this in Egypt was honored for her sacrifice.)  In some cases women who do this take on identities as male and “become” men, in other cases such as the Egyptian woman, it is something they add to their female identity.

In any case, there are many cultures where “male” and “female” are seen more as descriptions of who someone is, based off of how they dress and act and operate within the culture, rather than proscriptive orders about who they can and should be based off of the presence of certain genitalia.

After all, when we start to sit down and define who is “male” and “female” based off of physical characteristics, things get muddy.

What makes a man a man or a woman a woman?  Is it the presence of external sex organs?  Because those can be removed, modified, or even created.  Back in the day when castrating boys was still common practice, did those “boys” become a third gender based off of their lack of either male or female sex characteristics?  Were they male because they were born with a penis, or were they female?

What do we call the women who are born without functioning ovaries or uteruses?  They cannot give birth, thus are they no longer female?  Do we define gender based off of what specific gender roles someone is capable of fulfilling?  Or do we look at DNA?  What about people who are born with one set of female chromosomes and one set of male?  Are they simultaneously male and female, or are they neither?

This is one of those cases where I don’t believe there is a single, correct, answer.  While we may be able to define a set of physical characteristics that mark “male” and “female”, then the argument becomes what happens when those change.  If the characteristics define the gender, then if I ceased to have a womb, or breasts, or a vagina, would I cease to be female?  And these questions cannot be taken lightly, as women who experience uterine or breast cancer often have to face these thoughts.  If I lose what defines my role, my gender, do I lose my self?  Or is the gender, the role, based not off of the body but off of some harder to define, more intangible thing?

Men lose their gonads.  Sometimes their penises fail to function.  Do they cease to be men?

“Ah-” someone may interject, “it is what you are born as.”

I find that hard to stomach.  One’s role in society isn’t defined from birth.  At birth it wasn’t decided that I would be a wife or mother or teacher or Christian or anything else.  Those things that I have become, I have become as a result of my choices and actions.  And while I can say that I feel like a mother, and a Christian, and a woman, I cannot say that when I was younger I even understood what any of those things meant or what it felt to be them.  In many of those cases, those feelings had yet to even be birthed.

I will never be a woman who wears a certain kind of clothes, because when those clothes hit my body I feel instantly uncomfortable.  As an infant, I could’ve been dressed in them against my will.  I would hate for people to point at pictures of me in frilly pink dresses as an infant and say, “see, that is who you are.”

No.  Who I am, I am because I took the time to explore my self and get to know it.  I made deliberate choices about what I wanted from my life, and who I wanted to be.  I am the kind of woman I am, because I feel this is the person I am meant to be now, even if then I could not have understood or expressed that.

When I was younger, I had a female friend who had never felt like a “girl”.  I remember her crying in my arms and saying that she hated her female body and wanted for it to die, it didn’t feel like it belonged to her.  I cannot confess to knowing or understanding how that would feel, but what I do know and I do understand is that I had no right to correct her.  She felt what she felt, and if she had told me that she wanted to be referred to as “he” I would have done it in a heartbeat, because she was the one living in that body.  She was the one whose responsibility and right was to decide how to live with those feelings.

Commanding someone to live with those feelings in a specific way too often leads to death.

The suicide rate for transgender people is very high, and it is even higher for transgender youth.  Some statistics estimate as high as 45% of transgender youth attempt suicide.  The rates of violence experienced by transgender people is also much higher than the population at large, and that number also skyrockets for transgender youth (especially in ethnic minorities.)

This feeling, of being stuck in a body that doesn’t belong, can be a death sentence in too many ways.

So, to paraphrase my anthropology professor, “if you’re dealing with a person who feels like they are the wrong gender for their body, you accept that.  You live with them not as an authority, but as an equal.”

The first day of kindergarten, we all faced a big sign on the wall, usually a nice golden-colored one, that said “always treat other people the way you would want to be treated.”  That is a very basic law of reciprocity in our society:  if you want respect, you show respect.  If you want kindness, you first must be kind.

When people get very belligerent about the fact that Caitlyn Jenner is really a man named Bruce, this is how I respond:

Man:  “He’s not a woman.  He’s just not.”
Me:  “What gives you the right to decide that?”
Man:  “It’s just the truth as I see it.”
Me:  “Well, the truth as I see it is that you’re a woman named Susan.  And I don’t care that you can show me male genitalia and that you feel like you are a man, you are a woman named Susan to me now.”
Man:  “No I’m not.”
Me:  “We’re just having a difference of opinion, lady, don’t get your panties in a wad.”

Who decides who Caitlyn Jenner is?  Well, there are two people.  The first is Caitlyn, and the second is the law.  In terms of the law, a person seeking gender reassignment therapy who is taking hormones and undergoing changes to their physical characteristics in order to reflect a different gender than the one on their birth certificate is legallyable to fill out paperwork as the gender they want to be assigned.  So, Caitlyn may legally be seen as a woman and may legally be entitled to treatment as a woman.  If she can check the female box on paperwork and her driver’s license says “Caitlyn Jenner” and “Female”, then I say the least we can do is give her the correct legal name and legal pronoun.

But even so, who decides what is the fair way to treat someone?

Let me tell you another story.  I was fighting with someone I was in a relationship with.  That person told me, “don’t be such a bitch about this.”  I told them that I was really offended they’d use that word to describe me and I didn’t feel like I was being a bitch, I was just expressing my needs.  They persisted in calling me a bitch.

That relationship didn’t last long, because feeling loved and valued as a human being walked hand in hand with feeling respected, and part of feeling respected was knowing the other party understood the ways their word and attitude effected me.  To put things simply, they had to treat me in a way I was comfortable being treated, or they had no place in my life.

Who defines what is loving treatment?  Who defines what is respect?  These aren’t things that you can turn to a dictionary and get step-by-step instructions for.  In every relationship, to know and to love and to respect are things we learn from each other through communication.  Caitlyn Jenner has expressed that she wishes to be seen and treated as a woman, to do anything less is to disrespect her terms for having a relationship with the world.

Now, this note is especially to Christians:  Do we believe that Caitlyn Jenner, that any transgendered person, is a person that God loves?  If we do, that means we have an obligation also to love.  And if we have an obligation to love, that means we cannot do things that disrupt relationship.  And if we must do that, that means we must start with accepting the person not on our terms, but on their terms.  This is where the Church too often falls woefully short, because we think that we have to accept people on God’s terms and thus we feel obligated to decide what God’s terms are.

It doesn’t work that way.  We express love, others respond, others become open to love in their own lives, and by a very simple reaction that love changes everyone.  It’s hard to be cruel when you love, it’s hard to lie when you love, it’s hard to sin when you love.  Because that love is something we wish to preserve, and that love cannot grow in soil that is poison to it.

So when you are openly disrespecting someone, openly condemning them, openly shutting the door to any conversation with them, you aren’t loving.  You are doing the opposite.  You are destroying the soil that love needs to grow.

What does that matter?  Many readers may say, “it’s not like I’m friends with Caitlyn Jenner.”  Yes, but you’re friends with other humans.  And chances are, at least one of them is transgender or is friends with someone transgender or you have friends who simply care about the human rights of transgender people.  And you know those friend?  Those friends you are injuring by extension.

Our words matter.  Our attitudes matter.  Whether or not we respect other people’s way of being human matters.

We don’t get to decide that Caitlyn Jenner is a man named Bruce.

Why the politics of Gay versus Christian hurts everyone (but the politicians).

Indiana.

Oh, Indiana.

Over the past few days, I’ve drowned in a barrage of posts from my Indiana-based friends expressing outrage and dismay at a legislature that doesn’t represent them.  The comments I’ve heard have ranged from the mild, “I never thought this would go through” to the brutal “I feel like the state senate has turned against us, and they aren’t going to stop until Indiana is stripped down to nothing but spare parts for big business.”  For those who don’t currently live in Indiana and aren’t terribly immersed in state politics, let me just say that Indiana has a well-storied history of it’s people being ignored.  I can’t say precisely why the idea of a representative democracy is so far from a reality in Indiana, but over the past 10 years there have been a number of significant changes to the state’s operations and laws that the people have openly fought tooth and nail, yet have been celebrated in the press and true victories.

So, many Indiana citizens watched the drama unfolding as what would become SB 568 came into being, in horror.

I’ve seen people asking where the Christians who opposed it were.  They were in Indiana, actively fighting against the law being passed.  Many churches, from the Disciples of Christ to the Mennonite Church to the Episcopalians, did in fact organize and fight the bill being passed.  A common fear they expressed was that the bill could not only be used to discriminate against gays but could also be used to discriminate against other Christians.  This may seem like a ridiculous idea, but let’s not forget that the Mennonite church, highly prevalent in Indiana, found itself in the United states after it’s founders were being burned at the stake for heresy by other Christians.  The common idea of “religious freedom” touted in America today may be the freedom to not participate in society at will, or to discriminate when the Bible can be cherry picked in defense, but that isn’t what free religion meant in the days when this country was founded.  There are some of us with a long enough memory to feel like freedom is still the right to not be persecuted by others of our same faith.  

No one has the right to dictate to an individual what their faith should be: not the government, and not other parishioners.

Now, post-passage of the bill, people are asking where the Christians are.  “Business men are speaking out, sports organizations, but where are the Christians?”

Well, for one, they are still speaking out.  Many churches and religious leaders have openly denounced the law, but a google search for this won’t yield much, since most news organizations have focused not on the religious opposition to the bill, but to the possible ramifications as businesses and public organizations cancel events which quickly rack up millions of dollars in lost tourism revenue.  It’s been said before that dollars talk, and that is the same here.

The sad, bitter reality is that no one cares about the spiritual ramifications of the bill or whether or not the religious support that Pence has touted is actually real.  The tone of the story, from the beginning, was carefully controlled.  Yet major news organizations aren’t asking some very real questions about why.

Let’s look at some of that now:

  1. Politicians have, for years, used fear mongering tactics to pose a false “battle” between gay rights and Christian ones.  This is never more apparent than in the tales of poor elderly Christian baker-ladies who are dragged to court and reduced to Victorian-era poverty when their religious scruples don’t allow them to bake a cake for Adam and Steve’s wedding.  While there have been cases of bakers being sued for refusing to make cakes, what is interesting is that we rarely hear about the baker sued for not making an ANTI-gay marriage cake.  Not to mention the fact that these lawsuits are only possible because the Civil Rights Act ensures that any business offering services to the public at large must not discriminate in their practices.  If you are going to make a cake for Susy and Bill’s shotgun wedding, or Mary and Mark’s atheist wedding, or Jane and John’s jewish/Christian wedding (oh, hey, the Bible openly condemns that one) you’ve got to bake that cake for Adam and Steve’s gay wedding, too.  If you don’t want to bake cakes for weddings that offend your sensibility, maybe stick to just baking cookies.  After all, I can guarantee you’ve baked cakes for sinners.
  2. The news media has very little motivation to cease posing any issues over gay rights as a battle.  Conflict sells, and the more heartfelt the conflict, the better.  There’s not much news to be made from stories that read like this:  “Religious leaders form coalition to lobby for equal rights for gay people.”  Why?  Where’s the conflict?  On the other hand, “religious organizations picket funeral of public figure to protest gay rights” almost always makes the headlines, even when numerous groups have condemned such things and even staged counter-protests that outnumber the original anti-gay gathering.  The truth is that even amongst well-established religious communities, support for gay rights has become nearly ubiquitous, but there’s no headlines to be made by saying that religious opposition to gay rights is becoming a minority belief.
  3. Politicians have everything to gain by continuing to monopolize on gay rights as a campaign tactic.  While gay rights may have widespread bipartisan support, the people who oppose gay rights are loud, rich, and politically motivated.  Political science majors the world over are familiar with a very simple truth:  even if the majority are middle-of-the-road, campaigns can be won by a very active minority who feels there is an immediate danger to the other side winning.  No one fights harder than someone who feels outnumbered and as if their way of life is at risk.  So what do we hear from the politicians?  That “sacred” marriage is at risk, that the “family” is eroding, that the American way of life is ending, that society is on the verge of collapse, that homosexuality led to the fall of Rome, and as the numbers become more marginal the rhetoric gets more hateful and louder.  But let’s look at Indiana specifically.  How did this particular bill get passed?  Again, you have a very vocal minority.  The amount of Christians in Indiana who truly felt their personal liberty needed defending from gays may have been minimal- but they were there, and they were loud.  The bill was originally introduced as a necessary protection from contamination by secular sources.  And as soon as the bill was introduced, concerns were raised.  Often by other Christians who felt that the legislation was too problematic and unnecessary.  (A common quote was, “why defend rights that already exist naturally?”)  In order for the legislation to pass and the minority, who have huge political clout, to be appeased the tenor of the debate had to be carefully controlled.  It’s no wonder that even as evidence mounted that Indiana as a whole did NOT want this bill passed, the legislature continued to stonewall and repeat the basic message that this bill was wanted by the people and absolutely necessary.
  4. Once a tone is set, it continues. Like the basic physics concept that an object in motion tends to stay in motion, once something has hit the news the story tends to stay the same.  The people with the loudest voices tend to be heard first, and the people with the loudest voices tend to be the ones with the most political clout or money.  As an example of this, think about the woman who burned herself on McDonald’s coffee.  By the time the story had hit the mass media, it was reduced to a handful of words that made it sound as if someone had spilled coffee on themselves, was annoyed, sued, and somehow wrongfully was awarded millions.  The actual facts in that case (that the burns were so severe they were disfiguring and the woman had to be hospitalized) were overlooked.  The media had decided from the moment the story was first aired that the tone should be that a corporation was being wronged by fatuous lawsuits.  The actual story?  Irrelevant.  There are hundreds of cases of this where by and large the national coverage of a story is one-sided.  That is also the case with Indiana, where the only coverage of widespread opposition to the bill is from small local reporters who know their cities well.  National news coverage doesn’t seem to know, or care, that the people of Indiana themselves feel wronged.  The only local voices being heard in the national stories tend to be ones who support the bill, or gay people who oppose it.  Where are the Christians who oppose the bill?  Unheard of, despite existing.  How can I be so sure that’s the case?  I’m originally from Elkhart county, Indiana, and my friends and family there are deeply concerned that the bill will make things worse, instead of better.
  5. The outcry that Christians who oppose the bill are staying silent is a false story.  Like Muslims who condemn extremism, Christians who condemn extremism in their faith seem to be largely ignored.  Everyone listens to the Pat Robertsons of the world calling gay rights a steamroller obliterating the faith, but when Christian groups band together to support gay people, no one listens.  This is no different than the constant outcry that Muslims don’t condemn extremist Islam.  Muslims do, regularly, both publicly and privately.  So why isn’t it heard?  One reason is because, like moderate Christianity, it just doesn’t make good headlines.  “99% of Muslims go another day without participating in or condoning violent acts” just doesn’t push papers, does it?  Plus, there’s a lot to be gained from continuing to pose the dialogue the way it is.  People who want to remain with their prejudices aren’t going to seek out evidence that they are wrong, similarly, the people involved in the political wrangling between ultra-conservatives groups and gay rights don’t have a lot to gain from realizing that the moderate middle ground is growing.  So what do they do?  Continue the conversation as it is.

One could question if when the Moral Majority first entered politics if they were a majority at all.  What they were was a political powerhouse that monopolized on both a certain brand of politics and flavor of faith.  That amount of political clout has incredible power to guide the national narrative and quash any minority voices.  And while the “moral majority” may no longer exist as such, the truth is that they forever changed the landscape of politics for moderate, socially liberal Christians.

The best way forward, both for gay rights and for Christian freedom, is to take back the power from the political machine.  And we have to do that by partnering together and no longer allowing the dialogue on the national stage to pit us as natural enemies.  After all, we aren’t enemies.  Moderate Christians want the preservation of basic civil rights just as much as gay people do, and we as moderates also have much to lose if moral extremists are the ones making laws.  The same people who want to keep Adam and Steve from marrying have proposed laws that would force me to be investigated for infanticide if I don’t carry my child to term (even if I miscarried naturally!) and have said such vile things as that “rape is like the weather, and you’ve just got to relax and enjoy it.”  (No link, google “republican politicians on rape” if you dare.)  Moderate Christians fear legislation that will punish single parenthood and women who work outside of the home.  Moderate Christians question the logic of tying together religion with lax gun restrictions or other questionable stances.  One of the greatest of these is the policy of rewarding corporations with generous tax write-offs while cutting back social services to the mentally ill, disabled, and poor.  We need to be partners in fighting the political ideology that uses religion as a crutch while spitting in the face of some of the basic principles of brotherhood and good citizenship that Christ so fully embodied. If moderate Christians are going to take their voice back from the politicians who have bent and twisted the faith for personal gain, we need the support of others.  So if you are talking about cases like the Indiana Religious Freedom law, be sure to point out that moderate Christians do not support it.  If you are a journalist writing about divisive politics, bring gay and moderate Christian voices together.  If you want to see more moderate voices in the political landscape, donate to churches like the Disciples of Christ, the Mennonite Church, and the Episcopalian Church, specifically to their political action committees who have a well documented history of supporting gay rights.

We can take back our fair country from the hands of bigotry together.

the gifts of the anti-magi

This post has been a long time coming.  This time of the year is always difficult for me, as I feel torn between holiday cheer and resentful drear, obligation and celebration, hope and despair.

I am so very sick of the war on Christmas.

“Oh, good,” some of my Christian friends may be saying at this point, “me too!  Why can’t people just put Christ back into Christmas?”

No, dear friends and readers, that’s not what I mean.  I’m sick of the phrase “put the Christ back in Christmas” and all of the entitlement it entails.  I wish it would all just stop.  Now, I understand that may not sound terribly Christian of me, but hold on.  You may say that your anger and demands are for the sake of Christ, and I wouldn’t want to disparage your motives.  I’m not in your head and I don’t know what you’re thinking.  Yet there’s a painful sticking point in that concession, and it’s one that bears hearing out.  Saying “put the Christ back in Christmas” pretends, even for the space of that second, that Christ is something that can be moved and removed by man.  It implies that Christ’s presence in the holidays for us, as individuals, is somehow dictated by the actions of society.  I don’t like to believe that my experience of Christ this time of year is somehow beholden to the displays in Macy’s windows.  After all, the force of love I am enthralled by is greater than any one man, any one store, any one society.  How weak would I have to be if my sacred observances were somehow shattered by a greeting card?

“Now, it’s bigger than that”, someone inevitably says.  “The fact that people are no longer observing Christmas as a Christian holiday shows how secular society has become, and this is supposed to be a Christian society.”

Hold. On.  Please.

For one thing, the Christmas smashed all over billboards is hardly Christian.  The Christmas touted in the commercials telling our adorable little tots that this monster truck or that Barbie doll will somehow complete them are anything BUT Christian.  The promise of the holiday that society has started to hold on to is almost in direct contradiction to the Gospel.  The “spirit of Christmas”, as it is sold, is that the holiday itself has some ability to heal.  We’re told, in less than guarded symbolism, that if we buy the right things, eat the right food, invite the right guests, and have the right attitude that we will somehow achieve a transcendent state.  The holiday has become a spiritual act of reaching for sacred healing, but that sacred healing is not tied to God, Christ, or the ideals of Christianity.  It is a secular sacredness, and as such treating the holiday as holy is tantamount to idol worship.

After all, it is jolly ol’ Santa Claus receiving the sacramental cookies and milk, not God.

Christmas, the holy mass of Christ, was once not even Christmas at all.  You’ve got the Germanic Yule and the Roman Saturnalia blended in with Christianity, as the Roman empire expanded and brought in new territories and started to expand the practice of tolerance towards other religions.  In order to lower the amount of infighting between sects and oppression as people traveled from district to district, the Roman calendar morphed to overlap the holidays so that people’s observances were not as conspicuous.  It is ironic, then, that a holiday once tweaked to help avoid oppression and foster inclusiveness has become such a battleground.

Honestly, I don’t think Christmas is the real problem.  I think that Christianity has become the real problem.  In the United States, Christians have a huge entitlement complex that has become an idol above God.  We say that this is a Christian society and anyone that acts against that is out of line, ignoring the fact that we are all equal citizens under the law and Christians are not owed privilege or protection to any greater degree than their neighbors.  We act affronted when anything we deem as untoward is allowed to continue, no matter how innocuous it is.  We bicker and argue and fight constantly, sending our representatives to the evening news and gleefully hacking to bits anyone who dares to disagree with them.

Here, in this season of the Magi, when we celebrate the sacred gifts laid at the feet of Christ, I feel that Christians in America have started praising three other gifts, the gifts of the anti-Magi, laid at the feet of our own ego.  We have swallowed these gifts whole and they threaten to destroy us.  They are entitlement, disdain, and division.  Gifts like that are born of evil and exercised at great personal cost.  But open your eyes, brothers and sisters, and see how we worship them!  Hear the entitlement in the voice of the person telling the Jewish shop owner to put the “Christ” back in “Christmas” when they hand up a Happy Holidays banner.  Hear the disdain in the voice of the mother who, when hearing that a classmate of her child’s wouldn’t come to the Winter Program because they don’t celebrate holidays, says, “Well, isn’t that just what’s wrong with this country?” Look at the division when someone goes on Facebook to beg for tolerance and they are told that they are why Christianity is failing in this country.

I have so many friends who say they can’t stand to go to church, that every time they hear someone is a Christian they instantly feel uncomfortable around them, that they believe in Christ but not the church.

I feel like my soul is just shredded, absolutely shredded, by the holiday season.

la pieta

Christianity is not owed anything by society.  Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “Because you are Christian, everyone ought to respect you, respect everything you say, and never cause negative consequences for any of your actions.”  In fact, it says quite the opposite.  It tells us not to be surprised when we’re hated and persecuted.  So why are we so surprised?  Because we have idolized our own society.  We idolize the constitution, idolize free speech, idolize the symbolism of our holidays.  We worship those things as sacred and then react like vipers when they are threatened.  Because we blindly believe they should be perfect, we accept nothing less: even when, or perhaps especially when, the evidence all around us says otherwise.

We bear a tragic consequence for that behavior, but society bears one even worse as people turn from love to disdain and hatred.

So in this time of year, as we dream of the Magi traveling by the light of a sacred star, carrying gifts of adoration and penance to a pure and holy infant king, let’s think about the gifts that we ourselves need to offer.  Not the perfect consumerist presents wrapped in expensive wrapping paper and laid down at the altar of a tree whose symbolism we’ve forgotten, but the gifts we offer each other.

Let’s stop being the anti-Magi.

Photo from Daniela Munoz-Santos

time for a time out.

How many arguments end with both people still believing the same things, and just hating each other more?  You’ve seen it, I’ve seen it.  People yell and rage at each other until they run out of steam and then they retreat into their respective corners to lick their wounds.   The inevitable result is that while no one “wins” the argument, their disdain for the other side grows increasingly strong, and the next time the topic arises the furor with which it is debated is only stronger.

Pretty soon, all you have to do is mention the topic and all the sudden you are drowning in a sea of bile, which once expelled leaves everyone exhausted and in pain.

I saw this recently with gay rights.  Someone posted, on Facebook, a fairly innocuous plea for people to show Christ’s love and compassion when discussing the recent outcry over Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty’s comments. Within seconds, what unfolded was not a “he who is without sin may cast the first stone” show of support, but a heated and bloody argument that left the original poster in tears.

“What’s left,” another friend later said, “but the “unfriend” button?”

I have to wonder, whose needs are met by this disturbing trend?  What is really being served?  We often assume, when we retreat to our respective corners, that out there is a world that agrees with our assumptions.  Yet today I’m feeling like it’s far more likely that we are actually alone.

corner

I think we need to take a time out.  I think instead of rushing from our corners like a prize fighter hungry to land the killing blow, we need to take the time to look around us and simply be aware.  Who are we fighting?  Why?

A dear friend of mine said, in the midst of the heated discussions of the past few days, that’s it’s easy to say something isn’t all that bad if it’s not being said about you.  Often the kneejerk response to her quiet plea to be understood was further defensiveness or accusations that she simply took things to personally.

I have to wonder why, never once that I heard or saw, someone didn’t turn to her and ask, “can you help me understand why you’re upset?”

We need to keep our eyes and hearts open.  Instead of viewing every argument as a chance to bury our own hatchets, why aren’t we seeing an argument as a chance to further our understanding of the world around us?

I believe this is doubly, triply, infinitely more true for Christians.  After all, as Christians we act not as ambassadors of our past grudges but ambassadors of the love and grace of God.  When we see an argument, our first response should never be to start drawing lines in the sand and throwing punches.  We should see them as opportunities to express a unique grace and compassion, defending those who are in pain and showing compassion to our enemies.

So why are we still fighting?

Photo by Nasrulekram