my abusive relationship was typical

while a student at PCC
[in PCC's Student Commons, taken during the relationship]
{content note: abuse, sexual violence}

Last week, I wrote an article for xoJane and I shared some things about my past that I haven’t shared on the internet before. I don’t enjoy talking about my abusive relationship at all, and I especially avoid thinking about my last semester at PCC, which was nightmarish with exceedingly few good memories. I was extremely vulnerable in that piece, knowing that there would be people around the internet that would shit on it.

And shit on it they did. Thankfully xoJane actually moderates their comment section and they don’t allow rape apologia, so most of the truly horrific comments have been removed. However, several people expressed confusion about the events I had related in the story, and I was slapped in the face, again, with how much people just don’t know about what abusers do and how abuse functions in relationships. Most of them thought that the events, as I related them, falsified my story in some way and opened the door to some “other side” that could offer an alternate explanation.

Before I start talking about what these people don’t understand, I’m going to share a brief timeline so that the basic facts are clear.

  • I started officially dating “John” in February 2008, although we’d been casually dating since September 2007.
  • He’d always used emotional manipulation and coercion, but he escalated this in March.
  • The physical and sexual abuse began during summer break.
  • He proposed in August 2008.
  • He raped me in January 2009.
  • He raped me again in July.
  • We had a rather significant fight during the first week in September, and then another. On September 14 I told him that he could not call me a “goddamn fucking bitch” anymore.
  • He ended our engagement on September 25.
  • He began calling my dorm room/cell phone repeatedly, even after I told him to stop.
  • He began physically stalking me.
  • I was assigned a chapel seat near John at mid-terms.
  • I went to Student Life in early November, requesting a seat change. They refused.
  • I stopped going to the cafeteria for meals, afraid that he would be there.
  • He stalked me for six straight hours on Thanksgiving. The last two hours was a constant barrage of “why won’t you just talk to me?!” that ended with me screaming at him.
  • I started spending most of my time in my friend’s apartment.
  • I graduated in December 2009.
  • He sent me a facebook message on New Year’s Eve, which I ignored, which led to him sending me another dozen messages saying “Sam. Sam. Sam. Sam. WHY ARE YOU IGNORING ME.”
  • He sent me another facebook message during the summer of 2011, saying “I was thinking about you, if you ever wanted to talk…” I told him to never contact me again, then blocked him (again, not sure how he became un-blocked), blocked his entire family, and blocked  any “mutual” friends we had.

To anyone who has escaped an abusive relationship, or to someone who knows how abusive relationships operate, this will all seem very familiar. There isn’t a single thing about this timeline that isn’t shared by thousands of other intimate partner abuse victims. However, to commenters on xoJane and reddit and other places, this timeline makes me seem like a liar.

He broke your engagement?
Why didn’t you break it off with him if he really raped you?
Why would you be engaged to someone like this?
Seems like you’re just a bitter bitch because he dumped you.
Why would he want to talk to you if he broke it off?

All of these comments revealed that an awful lot of people have absolutely no clue how abusers work. Which, in one sense, I suppose is a good thing. I learned first-hand, and I would never wish this experience on anyone. However, the one thing that these people desperately need to understand is that my story is typical. There is nothing unusual, or in the words of one commenter, “fishy” about it.

There’s plenty of amazing resources already written on things like the Cycle of Violence/Abuse (first written about by Lenore Walker in Battered Woman Syndome). We also know that it can be extremely difficult for people, especially women, to escape intimate partner violence– and that many women have attempted to leave their abusive relationship six or seven times. Complicate all of those factors with the ingrained belief that you are literally ruined for any other relationship and no one else will ever want you, and you have something close to approximating my situation.

Most of the commenter’s questions oriented around what happened after he ended our engagement, though– if he broke it off, why would he follow you all over campus begging to talk to you? Couldn’t it be possible that you were exaggerating how bad things really were and he’d had a change of heart? That he really did want to be with you? That he’d changed?

First of all: there’s a reason why the Cycle of Abuse is so damn effective, and that would be it. Women don’t start believing in the Cycle of Abuse because they’re in an abusive relationship– they already believe it before the abuse even begins. Every single time the abuser apologizes and they enter the “Honeymoon Phase,” that is exactly what the victims says to themselves. It’s not actually that bad. Look, see, he’s trying. I just have to make sure he doesn’t lose control again [hint: abusers don't actually lose control]. And we believe those thoughts because they are given to us by our culture.

Second, abuse is about dominance and power. Abusers abuse because they want to control other people. Just because John had ended our engagement does not mean that he no longer wanted to control me– in fact, it was the exact opposite. When he broke it off, his justification was “I just can’t trust that you’re going to be a godly, submissive wife.” He ended our engagement because I was finally only beginning to realize that I could stand up for myself. I looked him in the eyes and said no and enforced that no. That was why he ended it– it was a tactic in order to re-assert control.

For a month, it even worked. For four miserable weeks I was eager to prove to him that I could be submissive. That I could obey. That I would be what he wanted. For those weeks he manipulated me– encouraging those thoughts, telling me that he didn’t really want our relationship to end, that he’d consider getting back together.

But then I got angry. Furious. It was like I woke up from a dream and I finally saw all of his fucking shit and I got mad. I was angry at him, angry at my parents, angry at my friends, angry at the world, but mostly I was enraged with myself. How could I have let him do that to me! I didn’t understand anything I know now– that I’d been groomed basically my entire life for an abusive relationship by complementarianism and biblical patriarchy. So, one night, when he called my dorm room at one o’clock in the morning asking if we could have a “do-over,” if we could just “erase everything that happened,” if we could just get back together like nothing ever happened

I told him no.

I said fucking hell no.

And that’s when he started stalking me.

Because he’d lost control.

He knew that I’d woken up– that I knew who he was, and he was desperate to make sure that everyone believed that he was the victim, that I was the stone-hearted bitch that wouldn’t take him back, that I was the crazy one, that he was doing everything he could, but, well, I was the problem because I didn’t “want to make it work.” I became the bad guy, and he made sure everyone knew it. He’d lost control of me, so he’d control what everyone else thought of me. He would not allow anyone to believe me.

That’s what abusers do.

learning the words: self-esteem

mirrors
[art by Jacqueline Hudon-Verrelli]

Today’s guest post is from Rachel. “Learning the Words” is a series on the words many of us didn’t have in fundamentalism or conservative evangelicalism– and how we got them back. If you would like to be a part of this series, you can find my contact information at the top.

A boy, about two years old, realized that his parents had left the house. It was a big house, so he wasn’t sure. He ran from room to room sobbing and bellowing out his fear, anger and frustration. I followed him to make sure he was safe, knowing that he wouldn’t be satisfied until he had searched the whole house– he would keep crying with the abandon of a two-year-old until he got tired of it or was distracted. I’d seen it before. His crying didn’t offend me. My frustration was that his parents left without telling him so they could avoid dealing with this scene.

That day an adult who was respected in the Christian community I lived in also watched this scene unfolding. He made a comment about this little boy being “bad.” Although I was just a teenager I challenged this idea. He was just upset. How could that be bad? And the answer was only surprising in that it was applied to this particular situation. It was an argument I was very familiar with: we are all bad. Born with sin. Separated from God and incapable of pleasing Him. In short, on our own, we are worthless. Apparently, even a two-year-old who threw a fit when his needs weren’t met was evidence of this.

It was, I think, a fairly “mainstream” evangelical community, made up of members of a number of different denominations from a number of countries. They were missionaries – people who had fairly extensive training in biblical interpretation and who had committed their lives to reaching the “lost.” Although they tended to share the general evangelical suspicion of secular psychology, they generally had not written it off completely.

But the term “self-esteem” was sometimes criticized. Phrases like “We shouldn’t have self-esteem, we should have God-esteem” rattle around in my memory. When a counselor asked my teenaged self why I had poor self-esteem I was confused. Was there any other kind?

Whenever I hear someone criticize the concept of self-esteem I think: “Everyone has self-esteem. It has to do with our understanding of who we are. It just refers to the idea a person has about what they are worth. Healthy self-esteem is a realistic sense of worth. Unhealthy self-esteem is an unrealistic sense.” It doesn’t mean being proud or having an inflated sense of our abilities.

For a while it seemed pretty simple to me. As Christians, why shouldn’t we have not only a realistic sense of our worth, but even a positive one? After all, God thought that we were valuable enough to die for. He wanted to have a relationship with us. He made us his children. Lists of our identity in Christ just confirmed this idea to me.

But in spite (or because) of this complicated dance of “I no worth on my own but I great worth with God” I realize that I have spent most of my life feeling that I am falling short. Whatever God might think I’m worth, the “me” I deal with every day is still a raging two-year-old demanding to have my needs met. There is still a gray-haired man standing by declaring that I am bad. Maybe if I were healthier, more athletic, less emotional, more organized, or spent more time reading my Bible I would feel more worthy. Maybe I would actually be able to see myself the way that I have been taught that God sees me.

Or is the problem that this is a really muddled way of seeing the self? Do we really know ourselves in relation to how God sees us? Can that really be part of our everyday consciousness? My pastor, a wonderful man, often starts out his sermons saying, “I have nothing worthwhile to say. But I hope that God will speak through me.” This bothers me a little, since he is a man with skills and abilities. I feel that he should take some credit for the work he has done and the thoughts he has assembled.

For some people, maybe it’s all about being filled up and directed by God. But for me I suspect that there’s the spiritual reality I’ve been taught about, and then the physical reality I know from experience. The one where people evaluate me and give me grades. The one where I don’t keep my house clean and last autumn’s leaves are in the process of killing this spring’s grass… But I know that I’m a good cook. That I’m good at having empathy for people. I think I’m good at listening to my children. I desperately want to be good at helping them have a healthy sense of who they are.

So I don’t know what to do with the “We are all worthless sinners without the grace of God” mentality. I guess I start by saying that Jesus died for us before we made the decision, so our worth is not based on whether we get that part right. Because I look at my beautiful baby and I know that he is so much. That even if he never believes right or does right he is worth everything I pour into him. And I hear my five-year-old say “I’m really good at tracing” and I want him to hold on to that satisfaction. I want him to be comfortable with who he is – to feel that he is enough. I want him to know that striving is good, but it doesn’t give us worth. I want them both to know that having needs doesn’t make them bad.

I want self-esteem for my children to be about something other than fighting the sense that at their very core they are worthless sinners. Or even fighting to hold on to the idea that they are loved by God. I want them to have a sense of just themselves. I want them to stretch out in their skins and know that it’s acceptable for them to scream out their rage, to dance out their joys and to rest when they are done playing. I want self-esteem to be about knowing that they have a place in the world that they don’t have to earn. I want them to know they have a value they don’t have to prove.

Captivating: Introduction to the Review

captivating

I finished my review of Helen Andelin’s Fascinating Womanhood a few weeks ago, and started reading John and Stasi Eldredge’s Captivating. I also have Wild at Heart, although I won’t be going through Wild at Heart the same way I did Fascinating Womanhood and will be going through Captivating, but I might allude to it every so often. My fantastic partner will be reading Wild at Heart, and will occasionally be chipping in with his thoughts on it.

I’m excited to start digging into Captivating because it is the exact opposite of Fascinating Womanhood in every possible way. Fascinating Womanhood was . . . well, I hate to say “obviously ridiculous” because so many people still believe what it says, but it was far too easy to mock– and it was far too easy to show how she was wrong about almost everything she said. When all you’d really have to do is put up a post with a list of quotations to show how awful a book is, that’s not really a review.

Captivating, on the other hand, is far more subtle, and it’s obvious from the opening pages that John and Stasi are going to be straining with all of their might to make what they teach seem palatable. That makes it more interesting to discuss– and I’m looking forward to having posts with more nuance and less open annoyance. The best thing about engaging with Captivating, I think, will be showing how a lot of what is going on in Captivating is unconscious– it will be much closer to pointing out how sexism operates in modern evangelicalism, which I think will be much more useful for me– and us.

If you’re not familiar with Captivating, this is what appears on the back of the book:

Every woman was once a little girl. And every little girl holds in her heart her most precious dreams. She longs to be swept up into a romance, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, to be the beauty of the story. Those desires are far more than child’s play. They are the secret to the feminine heart.

And yet―how many women do you know who ever find that life? As the years pass by, the heart of a woman gets pushed aside, wounded, buried. She finds no romance except in novels, no adventure except on television, and she doubts very much that she will ever be the Beauty in any tale.

Most women think they have to settle for a life of efficiency and duty, chores, and errands, striving to be the women they “ought” to be but often feeling they have failed. Sadly, too many messages for Christen women add to the pressure. “Do these ten things, and you will be a godly woman.” The effect has not been good on the feminine soul.

But her heart is still there. Sometimes when she watches a movie, sometimes in the wee hours of the night, her heart begins to speak again. A thirst rises within her to find the life she was meant to live―the life she dreamed of as a little girl.

The message of Captivating is this: Your heart matters more than anything else in all creation. The desires you had as a little girl and the longings you still feel as a woman are telling you of the life God created you to live. He offers to come now as the Hero of your story, to rescue your heart and release you to live as a fully alive and feminine woman. A woman who is truly captivating.

It’s just the back of the book, and already I got problems.

As far as how it’s been received: it’s got about 230-240 reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble each, most of which are overwhelmingly positive, and there isn’t a single negative review at ChristianBook; most of these reviews have something along the lines of “I want every woman to read this book!” Out of the 18,000 reviews on GoodReads, 11,000 gave it 4 or 5 stars. It’s been well-received in the evangelical community– my own church regularly uses Captivating and Wild at Heart for both the married-couples and segregated men/women small groups and Bible studies. I’ve had it recommended to me at least a half-dozen times by different people, each person claiming that Captivating is a different sort of book– it’s not those other books that I don’t like. It’s better.

I’m going to be working with the “Revised and Expanded” edition that was released in 2010, but the book was originally published in 2005. It’s got 12 chapters, so I’m hoping to do this in about three months, although it might take a bit longer than that since I’m anticipating having to more thoroughly parse out– or put in broader contexts– what the Eldredges say in order to show how what they teach is problematic or unhealthy.

Also, can I comment about how I’m more than a little annoyed that the authors are John & Stasi Eldredge when Wild at Heart was just written by John? Why does John get to be one of the authors of a book subtitled “Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul”? Oh, right, I forgot. Silly me, thinking women were capable of writing books about our own gender on our own.

(A possible alternate explanation is that Captivating quotes Wild at Heart pretty heavily, which comes with another set of problems.)

*edit: I don’t know why I didn’t think of this earlier, but this would be fantastic. This doesn’t just have to be a review– we could also make it into a book club. If you already own Captivating or don’t mind spending money on it, we could read it together. I’ll post my review every Monday, and then whoever’s read it can pitch in with their own perspective. Brilliant, no?

Pensacola Christian College & Me

August 2008-1
from August 2008, while I was still a student at PCC

If you’ve never meandered around xoJane, well, now is your golden opportunity. I’ve been a loyal reader for almost a year now, and it’s a pretty cool place. So, when an xoJane editor reached out to me and asked if I’d be willing to tell a piece of my story for them, you can imagine that my reaction looked a bit like this:

my little pony clapping seal

I’ve never really written out the entirety of what my experience was like after my rapist ended our engagement, although I’ve alluded to it a few times. I try to keep what I write about here focused on bigger-than-just-me things, although my story is a good example of what being at PCC can be like.

You can read the whole thing here.

blessed are the peacemakers

knotwork peace
by Bradley Schenck

Muckracker.

Yellow journalist.

Rabble rouser.

A lot of names like these have been tossed in my general direction in the last month, and I’m fully expecting that they will continue to be hurled at me. Calling me a liar and telling me that I’m writing about these things just so I can be internet famous for 15 mintues isn’t going to stop me from talking to survivors and collating their stories. It doesn’t scare me.

However, I’ve been in a few conversations recently where I’ve been accused of going about this an entirely wrong way. I should never have published that article about PCC. I’m stooping. I’m stirring up controversy for no reason. I have an agenda and I’m attacking an institution with nothing more to gain than making them look bad.

When I explain that no, the only reason I had for publishing that article was to help make sure these things don’t keep happening, most of the time I’m told well, if you actually want things to change than this was the worst way to do it. All you’ve done is made them defensive– now they’re simply going to entrench themselves deeper. Their only response to anything you say from now on will be damage control or dismissal. You’ve accomplished nothing– you’ve made it worse. You had a real opportunity to make things better and you blew it. If you keep publishing stories, you’ll be nothing more than a bitter gossip.

If you wanted things to change, you should have approached the administration privately. You should have engaged in conversation with them, shown them gently and lovingly how they were failing, and worked with them in Christ to make things better.

You should have followed Matthew 18.

If you’re not familiar with Matthew 18:15-17, it’s the go-to passage on how Christians are supposed to handle confrontation. If you have a problem with someone, go to them in private first and tell them; don’t just sit there and stew about it. If they don’t listen to you, go back with a moderator. If they still don’t listen, that is when you can bring what they did into public.

However, Matthew 18 isn’t the only thing the Bible has to say about confrontation (and I also have problems with forcing Matthew 18 to be about confronting power systems, hierarchies, and institutions). There’s also Ephesians 5:

Let no one deceive you with empty words … Therefore do not be partners with them … Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them … everything exposed by the light becomes visible–and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.

What PCC has been doing for decades and that they are continuing to do today are the deeds of darkness. They have done wrong, damaging, hurtful, and evil things in order to protect themselves as an institution, and they are still doing them. I will have nothing to do with it, but will rather expose them. If there’s another institution or system that hurt people, I will do my best to expose that, too.

It’s the difference between being a table-sitter and a table-flipper– or a table-burner, in some cases.

I’ve slowly worked my way into becoming an activist, and one of the things I’ve learned is that it takes all kinds is especially true of activism, no matter what sort of activism you’re a part of. Movements need Martin Luther King Jr.– and they need Malcolm X and Huey Newton.

The problem is, most of the MLK-types I’ve encountered want everyone else to be MLK-types and they tell the Malcolm Xs of the world that we’re wrong. That what we’re doing is counter-productive and we’re hamstringing our own cause. We need to be nicer, calmer, more logical, more compassionate; otherwise, the institutionalized power will never listen to us. We have to talk to them the way they want to be talked to, or it’s pointless. Anger and rage, they say, is fruitless. You’re screaming into the wind. We all need to sit down at the same table and talk. Take the time to discuss our differences politely and respectfully.

There’s actually a word for that in conversations about race: respectability politics.

Another term is tone policing.

I will never, ever tell someone that they can’t sit down at the table that I’d sometimes prefer to burn to the ground. So please stop telling me that I should not expose the deeds of darkness that an institution has been committing for decades. Don’t tell me that if I talk about the rampant abuse present in the IFB movement I’m “sowing dissension.” Don’t tell me that it’s more important for us to engage with our oppressors than it is to expose their oppression. My activism and my writing isn’t for the institutions– it’s for the oppressed. Sometimes, it’s simply to let other hurting people know that they’re not crazy and not making it up, that it happened to other people, too, and they have a right to their fury.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said “blessed are those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.”

There can be no peace as long as injustice and marginalization and silencing are daily experiences.

Peace-making doesn’t have to be peaceful.

the Bible and my house of cards

house of cards

I was in seventh grade when I read the book Things that are Different are Not the Same as part of my school curriculum, and that was when I was formally introduced to the “King James Only” argument, although I’d known for years that was the only version my family and my church used. Over the years, through high school and college, as I was instructed in bibliology, I was given a lot of arguments about the Bible in general, and not just the King James version.

Christian fundamentalism and its sister evangelicalism have something in common that is largely absent from other faith traditions: they tend to see the Bible almost as the ThirdFourth member of the Trinity. For example, I was taught that I should never set any other book on top of the Bible and never place it on the ground. It is holy, sacred, the Word of God. It is special– fundamentally and drastically different from every other book that has been or will ever be in existence. It was the basis of our faith, the only guaranteed Truth.

One of the main arguments for seeing the Bible this way was what I’ll call the “Harmonious Library Argument.”

According the Harmonious Library Argument, the Bible’s very existence is a miracle. It was written and compiled over thousands of years. It was written by men from different times, different cultures, different socioecnomic backgrounds, different professions. And yet, somehow, all of the books in the Bible are really just One Book– The Book. It promotes a single message, a single vision. It’s literally a miracle that so many men over so long a time span were able to write books and letters that agreed with each other so perfectly. It just isn’t possible for men to have achieved such a Harmonious Library on their own without divine intervention. That’s how we know the Bible is the Inspired, God-Breathed Word.

The Old Testament writers were writing about Jesus and the Atonement without knowing anything about him or even Roman crucifixion. Everything in the Law and the Prophets pointed toward Christ; the Temple, the sacrifices, the Patriarchs . . . They were telling stories about Jesus, foreshadowing him in Joseph and David and Adam. And those who wrote the Gospels and the epistles tell the story of Christ and explain his teachings with no discrepancies, with no theological disagreements.

That could not have happened without God.

Over the past couple of years, my views on the Bible have slowly shifted. When you start out believing that the Bible is completely flawless, with no discrepancy, contradiction, or error of any kind, and you start asking questions . . . it is a rude awakening. Suddenly the difference between “Judas hung himself” and “Judas fell headlong and burst open” don’t seem quite as simple and easily resolved. And the differences start building until either you completely change your definition of inerrancy or you throw the whole thing out, baby and bathwater.

I’ve settled into a more comfortable understanding of the Bible, one that admits to . . . well, reality. It was a book written by humans, and this is a good, good thing. God, I suppose, could have done what he has supposedly done before– he wrote the Ten Commandments and gave them to Moses already completed. He took his finger and wrote on the wall of a king’s palace. According to the Bible, there’s nothing stopping God from giving us a book already finished.

But, for whatever reason, he didn’t. And so, we have a book written by people. Blessedly fallen, so very human people. This is good because of the differences that creates. We don’t have our written religious tradition delivered to us by only one man. We have a variety of perspectives and beliefs and arguments. We have people like Peter and Paul writing letters while disagreeing with each other, sometimes so intensely it resulted in shouting matches. We have both Romans and James, Amos and Hosea. No one person got to control the destiny of Christianity or Judaism.

That’s where I still am, although my perspective is undergoing another shift.

I picked up Jesus, Interrupted by Bart Ehrman at a library book sale. I hadn’t read anything written by Ehrman before this, and the only thing I knew about him were things I’d read or heard from fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals. Those things mostly included things like “hates God” and “heretic.” Since I started moving in more progressive religious circles, though, I’d heard his name mentioned with respect, and I was curious.

It was . . . challenging to read. I have a lot of questions, and most of the margins have notes. I don’t think all of the arguments he makes are effective, and I got the feeling that he was occasionally leaving something out. However, he pointed some things out that made me do a double-take and think holy hell how did I never notice that wow that’s . . . so obvious.

The differences between various books in the New Testament are a little more significant than I’d previously thought, and I’m not entirely sure what to do about it now. It isn’t quite the paradigm-altering revelation I’ve experienced before, but now I have to ask some serious questions about the Gospels, especially when it comes to questions like what were the authors trying to argue? What did they believe about Jesus that they wanted other people to believe? I started asking those questions months ago, but not quite as seriously as I am now. Before, I asked those sorts of questions out of a literary curiosity. Now, I’m looking for whether or not Jesus in fact claimed to be God Himself on Earth.

My Harmonious Library understanding of the Bible– really, only a house of cards– has completely collapsed. It couldn’t bear up to an honest examination, and initially I thought I had to replace it with something else right away right now.

It took me a little while to realize that the only reason why I felt that way was that I was still stuck in the fundamentalist understanding of the Bible– as my only source of faith and practice. I simply couldn’t imagine being a Christian without a divinely-ordered Bible. Believing in the Bible as “inspired” was what made me a Christian, and this was as recently as last month. I think I’m starting to figure out that being a Christian has a lot more to do with my life and actions than it has to do with a book and what I believe about it.

“God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines

vines book cover

I’ve posted Matthew Vine’s video “The Gay Debate” before, and I’m planning to watch it with my small group this Thursday. The first time I watched it, I was deeply compelled by the idea he opened his talk with: that a good tree cannot bear bad fruit. To me, the idea was remarkably similar to something Augustine said:

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought.

I appreciated this emphasis on the consequences of what we believe and teach, and I’ve tried to incorporate it as I’ve been delving into my theology. If my “theology tree” would result in harm and damage to people, then I really need to re-think it and maybe go and plant another tree.

I did feel, however, that the video, while effective, wasn’t complete. There are limits to what a videotaped talk can do, and it left with me more questions than I had answers. I started looking into what Vines’ opponents had to say in response, and while their counterarguments were lacking, they did raise some important points.

When I found out that Vines would be writing God and the Gay Christian (set to release April 22), I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I knew that a book was a much better format for his argument, and I thought it might answer some of the questions I still had.

It’s a well-researched book, but obviously not exhaustive– or exhausting. While a book like Torn helps illuminate the reality of being both a Christian and gay, God and the Gay Christian moves just beyond that and gives a substantive argument for why the two are not just compatible, but healthy and good. By the time I set it down, I was absolutely convinced: being gay is not a sin. Being gay and being in a relationship is not a sin. Sex between same-sex partners is not inherently sinful, although Vines takes the traditional evangelical stance of reserving sex for marriage.

One of the most interesting things about reading this was the approach he took– very often, people who believe that God doesn’t condemn a gay person who wants to be in a relationship are accused of “dismissing” or “ignoring” the Bible. It happened here on my blog last week– I was told that I was “cherry picking” Bible verses because I was obviously ignoring what the Bible had to say about homosexuality. I insisted that I was not ignoring the presence of those passages, but that I did not agree with the “typical” interpretation of those passages. Vines could never be accused of not taking the Bible seriously or of ignoring the passages (although I’m positive some people will still try to say exactly that), since the book is devoted to those verses.

But, more importantly than that, Vines has something I certainly don’t: a traditional evangelical “high” view of Scripture as inspired and inerrant. I lost that a long time ago, so it was fascinating to watch him unfold his argument from that perspective– and it helped me feel more comfortable with those who also believe in inspiration and inerrancy. It helped reassure me that just because someone believes that the Bible is “inerrant” it doesn’t mean they’re going to fling it around like a weapon.

I think the one issue that I have with the book is that I personally feel that it participates in bi erasure. Just like there are only so many things you can do in a video, there are also only so many things you can do in a book, but I think one element of his argument is troubling, and since it’s a rather core part of his argument, it’s worth mentioning.

Vines points out that, historically speaking, sexuality wasn’t understood in terms of orientation, and that ancient societies tended to perceive sexuality as a matter of appetite. Men who had sex with other men weren’t gay– they were seeking “more challenging” experiences in order to satiate an enormous appetite for sex. Vines argues that was a central part of what Paul, especially, was writing about: not orientation, but excessive and uncontrollable (possibly abusive or exploitative) appetites.

In the midst of presenting all of that, however, he spends a lot of time talking about how ancient Greek society saw everyone as being capable of wanting sex with opposite-sex and same-sex partners, and how that was generally understood to be a result of excess. In bringing that up, he does nothing to mention that bisexuality, just like gayness, doesn’t correspond to that model. Being bisexual is just as much a matter of orientation as being gay or lesbian, and it has absolutely nothing to do with being “greedy”– which is a common misconception hurled at bi people.

He doesn’t actively lump in bi people with that historical conception, but that conception lingers today, and he didn’t address it at all. I personally felt that he did what straight people commonly do; being bi isn’t a part of his lived experience, so he . . . just forgot. This is not an egregious failing and I still think his book needs to be read and shared and discussed, but it bothered me.

There is, however, something I really appreciated about Vines’ approach. I just finished reading Boyd’s Benefit of the Doubt, and one of the central focuses of the book is reading the Bible not as a legal contract but as an illustration of the covenantal, trust-based relationship God wants to have with us. I think God and the Gay Christian is an excellent example of how to do that– even with his “high view of Scripture,” he wrote out a way for us to stop seeing the Bible as a legal contract to constrain our behavior and put boundaries on our relationships, but as the open, loving, give-and-take conversation with God that it was intended to be.

That all said, I think God and the Gay Christian needs to go on every Christian’s to-read shelf. I think that the biggest reason why bigotry seems to be such an integral part of the evangelical cultural experience is simply because many people have never encountered what Vines argues. Not everyone is going to be convinced, of course, but at least they’d be more aware– hopefully they’d even stop telling people like me that we’re “clearly ignoring the Bible” and understand that there is more than one way to interpret the Bible, even when it comes to LGBTQIA persons and their lives.

*edit: I talked to Vines, and he said that one of the things he tried to correct in the final version was about my concern here– I only have the ARC, so I haven’t read the final version.