evangelical christianity

Age of Consent

vosges mist

I’ve been thinking a lot about consent lately. What it is. What it isn’t. And how this fits into my world view. I’m not just talking about consent in sexual relationships, though consent is a HUGE part of sexual relationships. From the one night stand to the committed monogamous relationship. Without consent, enthusiastic consent, sexual partnerings are not equal. Ever. Consent goes deeper than sex. It should be a part of the very fabric of our lives. Which is why I’ve been thinking about it so much these days.

I’m a Christian. I’m learning that I’m a very strange breed of Christian. I believe in love. And acceptance. And inclusion. I don’t believe I have all the answers. The Bible is not to be taken literally in all cases. God gave us free will and expects us to actually use it. I believe in ethics before theology. I think sin is overused as a focus for faith. And seriously, why should we be focusing on sin and hell when God is all about life? I’m not sure I even believe in hell. And I’m not 100% sure that Jesus died for my sin. Or of how the concept of the trinity really fits into the foundations of Christianity, which is first century Judaism. I disagree with the religious right. And I wish the United States would get back to separation of church and state because this entire policing morality shit is really messing us up.

I question things. A lot. And I’m okay with not having a definitive answer. I am not okay with doing harm. I don’t consider myself messed up, backslidden, or apostate. I consider myself a person trying to do the best she can in this world.

What has this got to do with consent? In one of my daily excavations of the internet I link clicked myself to a blog post by a wonderful woman who for reasons of her own has deconverted. Her post centers around consent and the fact that Western Christianity has a consent problem.

This makes me sad. Not because this woman experienced a lack of consent through her fundamentalist upbringing. That makes me angry, actually. That faith was used to beat submission into her. That it’s used to tear away a person’s right to belong to themselves. That is abusive and wrong on oh so many levels. And I know it happens in almost every denomination from the fundamentalist conservative right to the liberal left.

While her experience make me furious, what made me sad was that she’s so very right. And this is part of what’s so very wrong within Western Christianity.

Think about it. Do Christians ask permission before they evangelize or proselytize? Do we teach our women to submit to their husbands because for some strange reason men just know better than us women? Or are less emotional?  Do we teach that emotions aren’t to be trusted? That we belong to God and therefore aren’t entitled to live our own lives? That we should be holding each other accountable whether or not we have been invited into each other’s lives? That boundaries don’t belong in a community of believers because we are one big happy family?  That saying no to a request from a sister or brother in Christ is just…wrong?

Do we expect everyone around us to live life according to our rules? To never question authority? That women don’t really have dominion over our own bodies? That men are to be held to a different set of standards because there are apparently different rules? That there is no room for other religions, philosophies, points of view because whichever brand of Christianity we belong to is obviously the right one? Is there room in heaven for those who do not comply with our particular brand of faith?

In general, no. And this makes me sad. For us. For everyone else. Because aren’t we supposed to be different? Safe? Non-judging? Inclusive? Compassionate? Loving? When people start telling us we aren’t, there’s a problem. A huge problem. And some of it comes down to what we teach , or don’t teach, about consent.

I can’t speak for all Christians. I can only speak for myself. Consent wasn’t in any of the lesson plans in the curriculum of my faith. I was presented with a lot of mixed messages about a lot of things, which lead me to believe that no one denomination has it right. That no person has all the answers. That maybe there are many ways to interpret the bible. And many ways to live life.

In every church I have attended consent has rarely been a topic of sermons or conversation. Respect, sure. Honoring the autonomy of others, sometimes. But consent? Never. Submission, oh yes. Submission to parents, to authority figures, to husbands, to God – this has been preached and taught in spades. But consent? Not so much. Without consent, well, I’m not really an individual, am I? Without consent one doesn’t have to worry about things like rights. Or questioning authority. Or questioning at all.

I want to be different. I want to be a Christian who cares about consent, respect, and honoring the autonomy of others. I want to help build a community that is all about love and inclusion. I want to honor the individual for all that is unique and wondrous about her. I want to be a safe person and live in an environment that is safe for every person, every gender, every race, every faith system. I want to enter into your hopes and joys and fears. But only if you give me the consent to do so. It’s not my right to tell anyone how to live, how to love, or how to believe. It is not my right to judge.

I want to apologize to every person who has been hurt because someone didn’t honor your right to be yourself. Because someone took away your consent. Or imposed their world view upon you. I’m so sorry. What can I do to be different? To be safer for you? I can’t change the rest of Western Christianity, but I can change myself.

Photograph by David Penny

 

 

 

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Why You Gotta Be So Mean?

I was expecting the usual quiet between the morning get-to-work-on-time rush and the just-finished-working-out crowds when I entered my favorite café. It seemed that as soon as I sat down, that quiet buzz quickly turned into something frenetic and loud. Distracted, I gave up all pretense of writing and used my laptop as a prop as I settled in for some people watching.

As I sat covertly people watching, a couple of women sat down at the table behind me. They wore the typical suburban housewife uniform of yoga pants, running shoes, designer t-shirt (no logo, thank you very much), and immaculate fleece jackets in subdued tones. It wasn’t what they were wearing that struck me. It was how easily they verbally eviscerated another woman in their circle of “friends”.

This absent third-party apparently tried too hard and yet not hard enough. Her parenting style wasn’t aggressive enough. She was too permissive with her children while also being too restrictive. Poor kids weren’t allowed to go see an R rated movie. Who puts those restrictions on a 16  year-old? Gasp!

From parenting, they moved on to attack her clothing, her car, her marriage, her involvement at church, her desire to work part-time. This woman did nothing right. Right as they were in the middle of tearing apart this woman’s career of choice, she walked into the café. These two women smiled and waved at her, motioned her to their table. They were all concern and goodwill when she sat down and conversation shifted away from her character assassination to how everyone’s spring break vacations went and what summer activities was everyone planning for their precious snowflakes this summer.

I left the café soon after. I had started to feel too deeply my own woundedness and found myself wanting to judge this group of women only knowing them through this single one-sided interaction. It was time to go and immerse myself in something beautiful so I could remember that deep and profound goodness exists. As I left I prayed for beautiful encounters for all these women. We all need the healing that comes from beauty and good.

Later that evening I witnessed something that chilled me and made my claws come out. A daughter had just completed her very first recital, with an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction. Nothing awful, it seems her skirt wasn’t fitted correctly and shifted around on her hips to the point where she had to futz with it during a portion of her recital. No biggie, right? Her older siblings brutally mocked her for it. I get sibling rivalry. What I don’t get, and never condone, is attacking a sibling, removing all joy from an experience or an accomplishment, and in return attacking the identity of another person. Even minimizing their place within the family or society. The parent started to say a few distracted things to move the older siblings away from verbal flaying, and then did  something unthinkable. The parent actively encouraged the mocking by suggesting they ask others who were going to attend the recital later in the weekend to see if the skirt continued to be a problem.

This is not done. This is giving permission to be mean and eradicates any sense of kindness and compassion. It encourages finding fault and exploiting it. I had to say something, especially given that the family in question are practicing evangelical Christians. By encouraging such behavior, you are not modeling Christian values, you are modeling meanness and divisiveness. You are making it okay to cause others pain. And you are doing so to your own family. There is NO place for this. Ever!

I wish I was shocked by this behavior. That it wasn’t normative in circles of faith, or in society in general. I wish I could say I have never been on the giving or receiving end myself. I haven’t given into this type of behavior in a long time, but I recall a time when it was so easy to sit with a small group of women and pick someone apart all in the name of care and concern. Nothing is further from the truth. Speaking ill of someone is not care. It’s not life-giving. It steals goodness and care. It breathes life into malice. Nothing good can ever come from gossip and character assassination. Healthy relationships aren’t built on a foundation of unkind interactions. And while lashing out may be a symptom of a deep hurt or insecurity, that also doesn’t make it okay. It’s a maladaptive interrelational strategy that does immense harm.

I see this play out in Christian circles all the time. Gossip can be given a pass if one is speaking about another out of concern. It’s almost assumed  everyone knows everyone else’s business and as long as you promise to pray for the individual or family in question, the careful deconstruction of personal and private matters is allowed. And we can be so mean to each other. It reminds me of being the poor family in an up and coming neighborhood in a small town. I had to take the judgement and the ‘poor dear, God bless her’ attitudes with a smile. I had to be okay with “well, dear, we’ll pray for you” when things were hard instead of having someone come alongside me and show me kindness. When kindness was offered, I was too cynical and disbelieving to accept it.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he replied, quoting from the Torah and said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40). He said we were to love, first God, then ourselves, and then everyone else. 

What is love? If we look again at the Bible, love is seen in every word and every work of God. There is even a passage that is read during weddings that clearly shows us the characteristics of love.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.                                                                                               (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

It’s right there for us in black and white and no where do I see any exceptions for gossip, for tearing down character, for meanness.

I don’t always live this. It’s hard to live up to. But that’s the joy of being human. To be human is to struggle toward becoming our better selves. It’s also important for me to remember that God feels this way about each and every one of us. The passage above, that’s God. If God is all things good, then God is indeed love and loves us all. If we are to love God, we come closer to God’s heart and begin to understand that God is patient, God is kind. God keeps no records of wrongs. Wrap yourself up in that amazing, life honoring goodness. In that love.

It’s difficult to be mean when I see just how much God loves me. You. The world.