ordinary monsters

gremlin
[content note for child sexual abuse and rape]

If you are anything like me, you were probably sick of hearing about John Grisham’s comments the first second you heard about them. Another celebrity said something beyond uninformed and ridiculous about abuse and rape? I’m shocked.

If you haven’t heard what he said about child pornography (a crime that I believe should be referred to as “paying to watch other people sexually abuse and rape children”), here’s the salient bit:

“We have prisons now filled with guys my age. Sixty-year-old white men in prison who’ve never harmed anybody, would never touch a child, but they got online one night and started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons, went too far and got into child porn …

I have no sympathy for real paedophiles. God, please lock those people up. But so many of these guys do not deserve harsh prison sentences, and that’s what they’re getting.”

Turns out he was talking about a friend, Michael Holleman, who served 18 months in prison, and who also disagrees with John and says that “‘I did something wrong and I don’t have a bit of resentment about the way I was treated.” John has since apologized for his comments:

Anyone who harms a child for profit or pleasure, or who in any way participates in child pornography—online or otherwise—should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

My comments made two days ago during an interview with the British newspaper The Telegraph were in no way intended to show sympathy for those convicted of sex crimes, especially the sexual molestation of children. I can think of nothing more despicable.

I regret having made these comments, and apologize to all.

Ok, now that we’ve gotten all the background stuff out of the way, I want to talk about this. When I saw this start popping up in my news feeds, some of the comments accompanying these articles were things like “someone should get a warrant and search his computer,” implying that John must have also watched recorded-for-profit child rape– but I disagree with that, and to a certain extent I get this.

What he said was inexcusable and completely unjustifiable, but he said nothing more than what a huge section of our culture actually thinks about abusers and rapists, and that’s what I’d like to focus on.

John Grisham had a friend who– drunk or not, accidentally or not– spent at the very least five minutes (according to Michael’s own words) watching someone else sexually abuse and rape a child. I don’t think John really wants to admit that his friend was capable of doing something truly heinous and something worthy of going to prison for, so, like many of us, he took advantage of the lie we all tend to believe: his friend is not a real pedophile. He’d never really hurt someone. Therefore, the fact that his friend started watching the rape of a child and didn’t immediately click away in horror isn’t a real problem. Plus, he was watching someone rape 16-year-old girls who “appeared older than their chronological age,” so it’s not really a terrible thing.

That falls right into place with the common understanding of rape. My friend isn’t a horrible, terrible, gross, disgusting monster.  My friend is a decent fellow. I like him. He couldn’t possibly rape someone, so if someone says he did, she must be a lying bitch. Because, after all, rape is horrible, so only truly repulsive people are capable of doing it, and I would never be friends with them because I’m a good person.

And, to a certain extent, they’re not totally wrong. The vast majority of the population– male, female, and otherwise– are not rapists and will never rape someone. Most of us recoil in horror at the very thought. But that doesn’t mean that the people who are capable of sexual assault and rape aren’t our friends, the people around us that we like. These people seem normal, ordinary, likable. In fact, for most of their lives, they could be fairly decent people who seem to have a pretty reliable moral compass. These people do not spend all of their time hiding in alleys. In fact, 70% of the time, women are raped by people they know, not strangers. The person that they trust to walk them home from the bar when they know they’ve had too much to drink. Their boyfriend. Their husband.

Ordinary monsters.

In fact, this came up in a recent episode of The Mindy Project. I only have a passing familiarity with the show, but they recently tried to cover “consent” as an episode topic … except it went off the rails and featured Mindy’s boyfriend anally raping her. And Mindy spent the rest of the episode wondering if she was good enough for her boyfriend, instead of calling him out on the fact that he’d put his penis inside of her anus without her consent.

As the viewer, we’re supposed to like Danny. In fact, the few times I’ve caught the show, it seems like Danny is supposed to be a sort of grounding character for Mindy, and also perhaps more moral? That’s speculation, I’m not familiar enough with the show to say, but that was the impression I got.

Except Danny raped his girlfriend.

My own rapist? For the longest time one of the things that held me back from understanding that he’d raped me was the same lie that John Grisham believe(s/d). My rapist wasn’t a monster. I was in love with him. He did all of these wonderfully sweet, romantic things. He surprised me. He loved his parents. He wanted to serve God as a missionary. Everyone on campus adored him. He couldn’t possibly have done that. Except he did. I told him no, and he did it anyway.

This is one of the biggest lies our culture needs to stop believing, because as long as we believe that only hideous monsters who are clearly visible to everyone can do these horrible things, rapists and abusers will continue getting away with it.

Mark Driscoll’s resignation letter

letters

You might have heard the news that broke just a little while ago– Mark Driscoll has officially resigned from being a pastor and elder of Mars Hill. This is exceedingly good news, and while I was not exactly joyful to hear it, I am hopeful that those who have been abused by Mark and the Mars Hill leadership can gain some hope and comfort from this. Mark Driscoll wasn’t the only problem at Mars Hill– no one becomes a spiritual abuser of thousands all by themselves– but he was the most visible example of misogynistic, abusive Christianity and I’m glad he’s gone.

For the moment.

Because he’ll be back.

However, that’s not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about a few things happening in Mark’s resignation letter that hopefully won’t be ignored in the flood of “see, everyone, now we need to forgive him and NEVER SPEAK OF THIS EVER AGAIN” posts that are probably coming. You can read the entire letter here, if you’d like, but there’s a few things about this letter that I think it’s important to highlight.

This appears in the third paragraph:

You have also shared with me that many of those making charges against me declined to meet with you or participate in the review process at all. Consequently, those conducting the review of charges against me began to interview people who had not even been a party to the charges.

The “You” there is “Board of Advisers and Accountability.” When I got to this section, at first I was a little puzzled why this was coming up in the middle of what was supposed to be a resignation letter, and then I remembered that this is not so much a resignation letter as much as it is a PR move on Mark’s part. It’s his attempt to continue controlling the narrative and what gets talked about as he leaves, and “these people who have forced me into this are cowards whose stories aren’t credible” is supposed to be one of the things he wants us all to bicker about.

Except most of the people who have “made charges against him” have done so publicly, with their names attached, and they have put an overwhelming amount of proof out there for anyone to review, including memos and e-mails. That whoever Mark is talking about didn’t feel particularly inclined to talk to a “Board of Advisers” isn’t at all surprising, especially when people like Paul Tripp resigned from it because it was incapable of actually addressing the issues at hand. Why would anyone abused by not just Mark Driscoll but an entire system set up to keep him in power ever want to talk to these people?

This is not a failure on the part of those who “declined to meet.” They’ve done more than their fair share of suffering in order to expose Driscoll and Mars Hill leadership, and “declining to meet” was probably the only option they had to protect their mental and spiritual well-being.

Prior to and during this process there have been no charges of criminal activity, immorality or heresy, any of which could clearly be grounds for disqualification from pastoral ministry.

This line made me laugh– a bitter and cynical and rueful laugh, because oh it’s just so … sad. What this line actually means is: well, nothing I did was actually ILLEGAL. If the best thing you have to say about your behavior is “well, I wouldn’t go to prison for it,” you have a problem.

But let’s talk about how he says he didn’t commit “heresy.” The fact that he doesn’t think his abusive behavior– and his plagiarism– is immoral is a problem all on its own, but that the Board decided he’d never taught anything heretical is revealing. Granted, I’m not one to bandy around the word “heresy”– but Mark’s tribe is. I mean, they pull out the “heretic!” when someone uses a feminine pronoun to describe God in a poem.

But Mark gets to call women “penis homes” and preach entire sermon series on how women should basically be nothing more than sex slaves to their husbands and … crickets.

And, to be blunt, that Mark’s and the Board’s standard is “don’t be convicted of anything illegal and don’t do anything heretical or immoral” is more than just a touch horrifying. It’s also troubling, because the “standard” that these people claim to adhere to doesn’t have “don’t do something illegal” as its baseline. The Acts 29 Network even has a whole article dedicated to the “Biblical Qualifications of a Pastor” (posted March 2010, when Mark was still in charge) and these items jumped out at me:

4. A Pastor must be humble – not arrogant (Titus 1:7)
5. A Pastor must be gentle – not quick-tempered (Titus 1:7; 1 Tim 3:3)
7. A Pastor must be peaceful – not violent (Titus 1:7; 1 Tim 3:3)
16. A Pastor must be respectable (1 Tim 3:7)
17. A Pastor must be an example to the flock (1 Peter 5:3)

The Board of Advisers and Mark himself admitted to all the different ways Mark has not been any of these things– and some of these he even admitted to in the letter. He says that ” I have confessed to past pride, anger and a domineering spirit.” The Board of Advisers said this:

We concluded that Pastor Mark has, at times, been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner.

Mark is quite clearly saying my own articulation of the rules do not apply to me.

One of the last things he says in this letter, though, made me angry:

Recent months have proven unhealthy for our family—even physically unsafe at times—and we believe the time has now come for the elders to choose new pastoral leadership for Mars Hill.

I am not in Seattle, and I do not personally know the Driscolls. It is entirely possible that his family has received threats, even threats of physical violence. That would not surprise me at all, considering the things that Mark has done in an incredibly public way. Threats against his family are completely inexcusable and I will not justify them if they happened.

However, there is absolutely nothing in this letter that says “I am resigning as pastor because I have sinned against the people I was supposed to shepherd.” He never says that. He says a bunch of stuff about how the Board didn’t say he was disqualified to lead, and how the people accusing him are a bunch of untrusthworthy cowards, and how he’s leaving because it’s just not the best thing for him. This letter is dedicated to creating this image of a man who was persecuted out of being a pastor, and it makes me sick because that’s not what happened.

Mark is a misogynistic abuser who has spent well over a decade creating a church and staff that would enable his behavior, and this letter is nothing more than a continuation of that. It is insurance so that one day he can start another ministry and do it all over again.

the way it’s always been is a sucky reason for it to always be that way

columbus day

For the record, “Columbus Day” wasn’t an officially recognized holiday until 1906, when it became a recognized holiday in Colorado– and it took another thirty years before it was a federal holiday. So it’s not something with a deeply embedded cultural meaning, but America as far as countries go is pretty brand-spankin’ new, so it’s not like ANY of our traditions are old.

However, I think celebrating Columbus Day is wrong. Many historical figures have complicated stories, filled with moments of good and bad, righteous and evil, things worth celebrating and things worth critiquing. Even Mahatma Ghandi had his problems.

Christopher Columbus is not one of those people. Columbus was wholly and totally and irredeemably evil. He did nothing good and nothing worth celebrating. He did not discover America — and it could be argued that not even Leif Erikson was the first– the only thing he did was convince a powerful monarch to give him a lot of ships, men, and weapons so he could go enslave an entire population and steal everything they had.

Anyway, I’ve had a migraine for three days that I’m just now coming onto the other side of, so I’m not going to has that all out. But, one of the reasons why I’m an intersectional feminist is because it’s important to recognize the stories of everyone who has been or still is oppressed, and First Nation people are absolutely in that group in pretty much every conceivable way.

It particularly concerns me because Native American women are at extreme risks when it comes to sexual violence. 1 in 3 Native American women have either been raped or have experienced attempted rape– compared to the 1 in 5 number for the general population of women, and potentially 88% of those assaults will be committed by non-Native Americans. That is a horrifying, frightening reality, and it is extremely important to recognize how the systematic dehumanization of First Nation people plays a significant part in that. I live around a lot of DC football fans, and when I occasionally point out how incredibly racist their team name is, they get mad at me.

Celebrating Columbus Day is just another way that we ignore, dismiss, and forget the atrocities we have put them through– and continue, every day, to put them through.

I wanted to leave you with some further reading on the subject, especially because today’s post is so short.

4 Ways to Celebrate Columbus Day (without Celebrating Columbus Day)” by Taté Walker, a Lakota.

A very helpful comic from The Oatmeal. (update: it is important to note that I do not agree with the proposed “solution” at the end of this piece, mostly because it ignores the origins of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.)

why am I still a Christian?

questions

Last week, I wrote about some of the reasons why I still think that attending church is an important part of my faith practice, as many struggles as I have finding a church that will be a safe place for me and that I can, in good conscience, support. It sparked some interesting conversations here and on twitter, but I wanted to address Bri’s question in particular:

Personally, I don’t wonder so much why you want to go to church as why you still want to be a Christian. I hear a lot of progressive Christians talking about a struggle they deal with in trying to remain Christian but finding it difficult. I can’t relate to that at all, because for me, I can’t imagine why any part of me would want to still be Christian. What do you get out of it? What about it appeals to you?

This is a question I ask myself somewhat regularly, and there are days when I want to simply say “fuck it” and just be done with all of the questions, when everything about struggling with my faith seems so utterly pointless. Those are my extremely cynical, borderline-nihilistic days, though, and they don’t happen all that often. Most of the time I feel somewhat comfortable still choosing to be a Christian (whatever the hell that really means, anyway), and there’s a few reasons why.

The first being that the existence of a deity makes sense to me– and that I don’t find the arguments against the existence of gods or supernatural beings personally compelling. Over the last few years I’ve come to know and care for many agnostics and atheists, and as I’ve gotten to know them I’ve come to better understand why they don’t believe in the existence of any deity. It’s an interesting place for me to be–to fully inhabit a frame of mind that accepts another person’s conclusions without trying to change their mind, even though I disagree. I do not think they have faulty reasoning, or are drawing conclusions from inaccuracies. However, I also believe that my own reasoning is thorough, and I’m working with the same set of facts they are.

I never would have thought I’d end up in a place that would be happy to accept such a tension, but I am.

I think a big part of it is that for all intents and purposes I’m functionally a Deist. I believe in a deity on a rational level, but in some ways it doesn’t seem to matter a whole lot when it comes down to the brass tacks of me living my life. My ethics are based on consent, not on what a deity tells me is right or wrong, and I believe that empathy and compassion should be the driving force of human action– and I think this is where I have more in common with atheists than I do with most evangelical American Christians.

So why bother with Christianity?

The answer is actually pretty straightforward: I like the theology. I’m still a Christian because I believe that God became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us, and we Beheld his Glory. The doctrine of The Incarnation is one of the most beautiful ideas I’ve ever encountered. My God became a flesh-and-blood person and lived with us, ate with us, drank with us, loved with his, had friends with us, enjoyed sunshine and rain and the sound of wind rushing over grass and trees whispering to each other and water laughing. He smiled when he could smell bread baking. He danced when he heard music playing. He laughed at good jokes and silly antics.

The thought of that … I can’t get over it.

My second favorite part of Christian theology is the Imago Dei. I’ve written some about this idea before, but I love how fully embodied Christianity can and should be. We were all created in the image of God, and that included our physical selves, which are not intended to be cast off like chaff. Christianity teaches that we won’t become disembodied souls– I’m not going to “Ascend” like Daniel in Stargate SG-1, or evolve to the point where I exist as energy on a higher plane of existence. I’m not searching for nirvana, but waiting for a physical eternity.

My body matters. My body is important. It is me, it is mine, and I love every part of it. I love that I have senses and live in a world that is overflowing with beauty and wonder and enjoyment as much as it is filled with destruction and evil. I love that when I look into the eyes of another person I am seeing God.

As I’ve become more progressive or liberal or whatever I am, I’ve started appreciating more and more that the teachings of Jesus aren’t about me sitting by myself at my dining room table every morning with a cup of coffee and my Bible and my prayer journal having my “quiet time.” Christianity is about looking around the physical world, seeing the suffering and oppression, and doing whatever you can to end it. That’s what I believe Jesus was talking about when he talked about bringing the kingdom of God to earth, for God’s will to be done in earth as it is in heaven.

I’m in the middle of reading C.S. Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, and in talking about the Lord’s Prayer he says this:

“Thy will be done.” But a great deal of it is to be done by God’s creatures; including me. The petition, then, is not merely that I may patiently suffer God’s will but also that I may vigorously do it. I must be an agent as well as a patient. I am asking that I may be enabled to do it. In the long run, I am asking to be given “the same mind which was also in Christ.” (25-26)

I hadn’t thought about that particular line that way before, but it works for me. Jesus taught us to love and sacrifice for each other. To look around and make sure that everyone is being taken care of physically, spiritually, emotionally. We are to feed the widow and orphan. We are to liberate the oppressed.

That’s what I feel it means to be a Christian. It is both my obligation and my joy to be a part of anything that is working to make this world a better place. Christianity at its best, I believe, is about making sure no one is ever enslaved or ever goes hungry. Jesus brought healing and comfort with him everywhere he went, and that’s what I feel that Christians should be doing, too.

#WhyBuffyStayed: Riley and the Cycle of Abuse

why buffy stayed

I told y’all that one of the reasons why I shifted my schedule down to three posts a week was to work on my non-blog writing and work on getting published. Well, I was published at The Mary Sue yesterday, and if you’ve never checked them out, you really need to if you’re at all a geek. They’re one of my favorite places on the internet, because it’s the crossroads of two of my absolute favorite things: feminism and geekery.

“It shouldn’t have to be necessary for someone to punch his girlfriend in the head with enough force to render her unconscious in order for domestic violence to be a part of the national conversation, but, unfortunately, it is. One of the more visible manifestations of the dialogue surrounding former Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice and his abuse of then-fiancée (now wife) Janay was the hashtag #WhyIStayed, in which people shared their stories of why they stayed in abusive relationships.

So… why? Obviously, each case is different, but it’s no stretch to say that women stay in abusive relationships at least partly (I believe largely) because our culture tells us to. In a thousand different ways, beginning with “he only makes fun of you because he likes you,” women are instructed to see acts of coercion, aggression, and violence as romantic. Instead of as abuse, women are taught to see these actions as simply the result of true passion and love. Because of this, it can be extremely difficult for a woman to recognize an abuser before she is trapped in the Cycle and left with little or no option for escape.

Sadly, one of my favorite shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is guilty of spreading this dangerous myth. There are so many moments through the show that are worth standing up and cheering for, but in season four—acknowledged even by fans as anything from “mediocre” to the “absolute worst”—Buffy ends up in an abusive relationship that the writers consistently portray as romantic, passionate, and loving.”

You can read the rest here.

Sharing the love and spreading it around a little bit would help me a great deal, if you can and want to. :)

“Real Marriage” review: 65-85, “The Respectful Wife”

50s teacup

With a chapter title like that, you just know how much I loved it. I probably should have expected this chapter to be more infuriating than the one devoted to men, but I didn’t. My marginalia has a lot more “WTF” and “BS” (which stands for both bullshit and benevolent sexism; nice how that one worked out) than the last chapter did– and I wish I could talk about a lot more than I have the space for.

But, today, we’re going to start of with Significant Problem #1:

Mark and Grace twist Scripture to the point of deceit. Or they proof text in order to mislead. Or they use footnotes as if the verses they’re referencing have anything at all to do with their argument. In short: Mark and Grace use the Bible to lie, and it pisses me off. What they’re doing isn’t at all unusual in complementarian circles, because the “biblical” argument for complementarianism is incredibly weak so they are forced to rely on manipulative tactics like these. Unfortunately, these deceptions work on far too many people.

The first time I threw the book today was when I got to page 71, and Grace quotes 1 Cor. 11:7-9 in order to support her argument that women need to be “companions” and “helpers” in the complementarian sense. I have actually written about this exact problem, in a post I’m particularly proud of.

Grace quotes this:

“Man is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.”

And then she stops. Because, if she kept going, she’d eventually run into this:

Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman, For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman.

Grace purposely omits this part of the passage, even though from a grammatical stand point the passage climaxes here. Stopping where she stops would be a bit like me stopping a sentence right before a but. After what she quotes is nevertheless. Nevertheless, (πλήν) as in, “in spite of what has just been said” or “but rather, except.” Quoting a passage in order to prove your point when the author himself says “but” right after the section you’re quoting is … well, I threw the book across the room. Now I just want to type out curse words. It’s wrong and misleading and dishonest and she’s doing this to the Bible, a book they both claim to live their lives by. This isn’t the only instance (she does something similar at least four times), but I have to keep going.

On to Significant Problem #2!

Grace and Mark put all of the responsibility for a healthy marriage and productive life onto wives. In the chapter Mark addressed to men, all he basically said was “don’t be a monster”; he never once uses the word “abuse” even though he describes emotional, verbal, and physical abuse. He didn’t even really take it beyond that into “here’s how to be a decent human being”– he just talks a lot about all the ways men can abuse their wives and then says “don’t be that guy.”

In this chapter, though, Grace has got a lot to say about all the things that a woman has to do.

  • She prays for her husband about every single thing he has to do all day long.
  • She touches him affectionately, romantically, and sexually.
  • She texts him through the day.
  • She makes sure the prepare healthful meals.
  • She takes up his interests.
  • She reads the Bible (71-75).

And while when she’s talking about learning to communicate she indicates this is something husbands and wives have to learn how to do together, “dudes, talk to your wife about what you think a problem is” is something Mark never tells husbands to do. Communication is a two-way street, but they’ve missed that.

And, lastly, Significant Problem #3:

Grace uses the “except if you’re being abused” line.

I wish I could tell you how much I hate that line. I hate it. I hate it more than any other single phrase I’ve ever heard come out of a spiritual leader’s mouth. I have gotten up and left church services because of it, and at this point if I hear it uttered in a sermon and I talk to the pastor afterward and their reaction is nonchalance, I’m never going back to that church. I am done with this phrase.

It is worse than useless. It is dangerous.

It is especially dangerous because of the context of this book. Chapter three spent a lot of time describing abusive behaviors– and not just verbal and emotional abuse, but physical coercion and violence as well. But, Mark never once says “this is what abuse looks like.” He spends the entire chapter minimizing it– personally, I think he has a vested interest in minimizing abuse, because he’s an abuser. There’s no way in hell Grace isn’t going through at home what Mark has been putting his church and staff through for years.

He gets away with it, though, because hardly anyone in our culture understands what abuse actually is. We have the vague thought that it’s black eyes, broken arms, women who “fall down stairs.” But the reality is that my abuser called me Goddamn fucking bitch every single day for almost three years and I never thought it was abuse because he wasn’t hitting me. He would pinch me and twist my fingers like he was playing “Uncle,” and I never thought it was abuse because there were never any bruises.

It is extraordinarily rare for a person in an abusive relationship to understand that’s what is happening. When someone says “oh, if you’re in an abusive relationship, none of this applies to you,” there is basically not a single fucking person who’s going to hear that and think “oh, that means me.”

If you’re about to say something that you think needs to have that disclaimer slapped onto it, then you need to think about it really, really hard. If you know that something you believe could be twisted by an abuser or a victim in order to trap them, then that belief must be re-evaluated, period. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit.

But, Real Marriage makes it so much more worse than that. She tells women that they are commanded to submit to their husbands, even if he makes an irresponsible decision that could be detrimental to both of them (80). She compares a woman submitting to her husband to a child obeying their parents (82). She says that “if your husband isn’t working on his part of loving, you are still called to work on your part of submitting” (84).

But, worst of all, she says this:

If your husband is verbally or physically abusing you, he is not loving or respecting you. If this is an ongoing issue, it should be addressed and stopped immediately by a pastor or trustworthy leader who will listen to you both.

There is so much wrong with this. First of all, if you realize that you are in an abusive situation, leaving should be your end goal. Not reconciliation. Not redemption. Not forgiveness. Getting yourself (and children if you have them) safe is your first and only priority, however you need to go about doing that.

Second, Grace’s idea that someone in an abusive marriage should go to a leader “who will listen to you both” is beyond wrong. It is worse than wrong. That “advice” can, has, and will kill people. Anyone who is willing to listen to both a victim and their abuser is an unwise person who should not be sought out or listened to. If they are willing to “listen” to the abuser, if they want to “hear both sides,” they will be used by the abuser to further ensnare their victim. A wise and properly trained counselor who hears “my husband hits me” will not be interested in hearing from the person willing to hit their spouse.

That Grace (and, presumably Mark), think this is a good idea is horrifying.

why do I still go to church?

church

Sorry about the late post today, everyone. One of my close friends got a wonderfully free sail boat, but it needs a lot of work. So I spent today on the water scrubbing out a sailboat. Well, I did a lot of handing her things and she scrubbed.

Anyway, Travers asked me a question today and I think it’s important enough for me to answer and for us to have a conversation about.

I don’t understand why you want to go to a church. It seems like the negative experiences you’ve had vastly outweigh the positive experienced, and it’s unclear what you get out of it that couldn’t be obtained from joining a non-religious group (e.g. Bike riding group, Star Trek fan club, etc.). Yet implied in your post is that going to church is something that people should just “want” to do. I’ve known American exchange students who were mystified on arriving in my country by the fact that no-one goes to church. “What do you do on Sundays then?” One asked me once. Man, the list of fun, educational and fun alternative activities is endless.

I had a secular childhood, so my upbringing was different to yours. The idea of spending Sunday morning in church has about the same appeal to me as getting my butt-ring waxed whilst watching Grey’s Anatomy. But I really don’t understand this American compulsion to go to church, especially when church has been a source of harm in their lives. What am I missing?

And this is what I answered very briefly:

First, I want to make sure that everyone knows that I don’t think that going to church is “normal” in the sense of I think every one should or want to. If church isn’t for you, I think that’s no one’s business but your own and anyone who would judge you for that is being awful.

For myself, I’ve wrestled with whether or not I want to go to church for a long time. There have been years where I simply didn’t go, and I don’t feel any guilt over those times. Having Sunday morning all to myself can be a wonderful thing. However, my personal reasons for going to church are a) I believe that Christianity is a communal, not an individual, religion, and b) I believe that the Sacraments are an integral part of Christian practice, and that the Sacraments are to be received communally.

I think that American evangelicals tend to over-emphasize the idea that “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion,” or that Christianity is “about having a personal relationship with Jesus.” While the above is true, I think it is true only in the context of a communal faith practice– to me, Christianity is about “bringing the kingdom of God to earth” (not by convincing everyone to become a Christian/be “saved”/go to heaven, but by bringing about justice, reconciliation, mercy, love … in concrete, tangible, life-giving ways) and I believe we are called to do these things as the Church, and not by our lone selves. To me, a church cannot fit the definition of “church” if it is not following Jesus’ command to “love the least of these” and “feed my sheep”– and I take “feed” there far more literally than pretty much any evangelical I’ve ever met.

Second, I believe in two Sacraments– the Eucharist and Holy Baptism. I believe those are to be administered to the church body in a gathering, and I feel that drinking wine by myself and eating bread by myself and dunking myself in water are not the same thing as receiving the Sacraments in church. I believe in these Sacraments as symbolic, not literal (I don’t think the wine and bread is the actual body and blood of Christ, although some do), and I see these symbols as important because they are physical and communal. I eat bread. I drink wine. I baptize my physical body. I do these things as part of and with The Universal Church. To me, Christianity is nothing if it is not a part of my life in a concrete way– the Sacraments are one of the most important remembrances of that.

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I am interested in hearing what you all think. Many of us have been hurt by church experiences, by church leaders, by church doctrines. If you have decided to keep going to church, to keep looking for one … why?