Tuesday, December 11, 2012

#232 Covert misogyny

For as inclusive and LGBTQ-friendly the progressive Church likes to imagine itself, there are still deep, linty pockets of gender bias and old habits that haven’t been broken. And how could they be, if no one has pointed them out? Actually, I take that back. How could the Church realize its biases if if the people in positions of power won't entertain the possibility that they have them? The tragic truth is that the people in power do not need to realize their biases if they don't elect to, and there’s the rub.

Gender bias in Christian culture is so ingrained that it's difficult to identify much of the time. Many women who didn't take their husband's last name or promise to obey him (see, progressive!) are just fine with male-pastor-only denominations. Many men who Mr. Mom while their wives work the day job (and to whom many will ascribe feminist tendencies when he's just acting like a decent human being) can still operate under constraints they haven't examined. We all do it. It's getting to the point where you can dig it up and examine it that's the hard bit.

Straight men in Christian culture simply don't need to examine the ways in which they are sexist, and this is the most difficult factor in the move towards wholeness. Coming to terms with the truth could make men feel awful about themselves. To even be an unknowing participant in something as egregious as gender bias while living in a culture where civil rights and equality are valued above all else is one of the worst things you can do. Far easier to stay ignorant of it. I mean, I would want to. People of privilege can't understand what the margainalized experience day-to-day but when it happens in Christianity in the name of the ultimate gender barrier iconoclast (that would be Jesus), the irony is excruciating.

In a Christian culture whose doctors of theology, board members and published authors are more than 80% male, many men and women still maintain that no significant bias is truly at play. These same people seem proud of the fact that 10% of those in powerful Church roles are women. This is seen by many as a giant stride from where women were a generation ago, but it still means it's 9 times harder to get into a powerful role as a woman. And if you're still having any misgivings as to whether it's really that difficult for a female voice to be considered in the progressive year of 2012, I would invite you to take ornery heed of a Black Like Me-esque experiment conducted by Jen Theweatt-Bates. While commenting on a male theology blog she found that she was engaged with significantly more respect and curiosity when using a male pseudonym, while her female persona encountered markedly more dismissal. Even her doctorate in philosophy doesn't appear to lend her much credibility amongst male theologians. There is no subjectivity in this experiment. Please refer to the statistics she recorded which paint a disturbing mathematical portrait of whose voice we value and why.

A common response to this topic by men in the Church is to deny that it is taking place and to tell women they are misreading the men in power. Those men are actually quite generous with their power! They do a lot of work for civil rights! They even have a gay friend! You are misreading them! I get it. There is nothing more difficult than facing the truth about the ways you perpetuate brokenness within the world and especially in the Church you hold dear. The hardest truths requires such painful realizations that many people live their entire lives without facing them. Summoning the curiosity and making the emotional and intellectual space for these realizations is almost preternaturally difficult. Could this mean they are also outrageously worthwhile?

When gender discussions occur on the Facebook page of this blog, men frequently protest the women's claims that their voice isn't taken as seriously a male voice. In these cases it always takes the voice of a sympathetic dude to point out where sexism is present in order for the disgruntled men to come around a bit. The fact that it takes a person of privilege to advocate for the marginalized and engender understanding speaks disgraceful volumes about how those in power choose to manage their unearned privilege. When defending their role, men will often say "I feel that as I try to defend my position I can't say anything right. I feel that nothing that I say will be considered valid by you. It feels like a vortex and a mindfuck." This is the point where a man might finally understand what it is like to have a feminine voice in this culture.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

#231 Sending conservative propaganda to their liberal children

Political proselytizing from parent to child is a time-honored tradition made even easier and more passive-aggressive since the advent of email. The wayward and disillusioned child of conservative evangelicals stands an excellent chance of receiving insistent emails of a right-wing nature in the weeks before a big election. These emails tend to escalate in frequency and tone as the election draws nearer, lavishly capslocked and feverishly warning against the global implosion that will surely be triggered by turning the collective American back on the evangelical notion of God. In acute cases, you may receive up to two dozen per day in your inbox. This is normal. The conservative parent is frightened to the point of hypertensive chest pain that the future hinges on who will occupy the office for the next four years and they figure the best thing to do is educate their prodigal offspring with immutable resolute facts about the candidates. You might do the same if you believed everything Fox News said. They're insistent little buggers.

Friday, September 28, 2012

#230 Worship leader conferences

Christian culture absolutely loves a conference. It's such a popular enterprise that there is now a conference for every facet of evangelical life, and the bigger the conference, the more likely that it will be sponsored by a corporation or nine.  Fortunately for the economy, the realm of interacting with the divine and unsayable (which the Christian tradition often calls “worship”) is no exception.

The entity of worship has so many types of conferences that now there are even conferences specifically for worship leaders. The websites and brochures for worship leader conferences state and restate that worship leaders and church creatives have been commissioned to lead remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice. They want you to believe that they believe this. These conferences charge on average $330 for 3 days of gathering with worship specialists to “keep you engaging with God” and “offer the prayers of your congregation with more authority and humility.” They call it a bargain, the best you ever had. Sizable evangelical churches and all Acts 29 church plants have a conference budget for occasions such as these so that the worship leader, select members of the worship team, and even a lucky intern or two may attend.

At these conferences you are often invited to present your own original worship song to a panel of experts that includes major publishers (the brochure's words) who will give you their professional feedback on just how worshipful and relevant your song is exactly. I don’t think any of us even want to think about what would happen if there were no industry professionals to critique the remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice, do we?

Along with relevant education in songwriting and pastoral worship, you'll find workshops on the art and maintenance of backline. These workshops have names such as“Worship Lighting,” “Wireless Mics in Worship” and (wait for it) “Who Moved My Console?” For the visual ministry teams that modern evangelicalism requires, there are workshops on “Multi-Screen and Environmental Projection on a Budget” and “How to Effectively Organize and VJ Your Visual Media Library.” If nothing else, worship conferences highlight the fact that there are positions on church payrolls to fill the aching spiritual void that is met by Visual Ministry. We often take these for granted.

But even a worship conference wouldn’t be a conference without Sponsor Resources.  The sponsors hold their own workshops with titles like “Be A Part of Something Beautiful. Is An [Insert Brand Here] Website For You?”, “Engaging Mobile Phones With Your Presentation” which is sponsored by church presentation software, and “Yamaha Keyboards In Worship: Equipping Instruments Of Praise” — sponsored of course by our friends at Yamaha.

Best of all, record labels buy slots for their artists to lead worship. They want their artists to worship during various sessions and workshops in hopes that other conferees will take those songs back to their churches to perform on Sundays so the artists and labels get to collect CCLI publishing money. Once the labels help cover costs and provide materials, their artists get the coveted evening slots. It really is quite a strategy. Upon leaving the conference you will be strenuously encouraged to give feedback, and the most glowing reports will appear on the conference website to inform next year's applicants. The worship conference website insists that attending their event is “one of the most important ministry decisions you’ll make all year.” And who are we to argue with that?

Monday, July 30, 2012

#229 Sufjan Stevens

Christian culture are suckers for a reworked hymn and a banjo and as such they cannot get enough Sufjan. Between his spiritual allusions, mandolin usage, meaningfulcore vibe and altbro stage costumes, it is their firm belief that he is relevant Christianity personified.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

#228 Not taking God's name in vain

Evangelical Christian culture has a specific idea of what the third commandment entails and goddammit, they won’t hear anything else.

As a participant in western Christianity you are taught that this command is supposed to keep God’s name from being spoken with disregard or irreverence. From Sunday school onward the exegesis of taking God's name in vain is usually presented without context or explanation. Christian culture doesn't tend to be overly curious about meaning and intent.

People who identify as Christians become visibly uncomfortable when God’s name is spoken with apparent irreverence. They are on you like white on rice if you say oh God or oh my Lord. “Was that in vain?” you are then asked. Many of them don’t even approve of “gosh” because it is just a substitute for the authentically vain version. Christian culture has decried the use of “omg” for the same reason. What if the “g” stands for “gosh,” you might ask? We can’t know, they say, and we must not give the appearance of evil. End of discussion.

The evangelical definition of taking God’s name in vain is so far-reaching that it has become the mainstream (secular) definition. Ask someone what it means to take God’s name in vain and regardless of their faith tradition or religious persuasion they will probably tell you that it means using one of God’s many pseudonyms in an exclamatory or thoughtless manner. Test it right now. Poll a friend or nine and they will prove this. Jesus Christ, it’s universal.

Much of western Christianity doesn't even know that the commandments were issued to the same Israelites who, when they asked God his name, weren’t given a straight answer. They still don’t have an answer. The story goes that answer was only "I Am," which is why Jews traditionally write the name as G-d. And Christian culture hasn't really publicized the fact that the commandment issued on Mount Sinai wasn’t intended to censor careless bandying about of a literal name, but rather was stating we are not to use God to justify or legitimize an action that is not justified or legitimated by God.

Getting this detail wrong has resulted in Christian culture declaring God’s position on causes such as war, marriage rights, evolution and megachurches, all while staunchly refraining from typing “omg” lest they blaspheme the name of G-d. The irony is excruciating, and they are able to keep it going as long as people don't ask too many questions.

"You say I took the name in vain.
I don't even know the name."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

#227 Saying "Love the sinner, hate the sin"

Christian culture likes to say that they "love the sinner but hate the sin." They put it on bumper stickers and memes and have no problem saying it out loud to the sinners in question. Love the sinner. Hate what he does. Two separate things.

Curiously enough, "Love the sinner, hate the sin" is often credited to Ghandi. Christian culture might not quote it as readily if they knew that part (danger! Hindu!) but even so, they can and will invoke it any time someone is doing something Jesus probably wouldn't like.

Christian culture makes a special point of saying they love the sinner and hate the sin when explaining why marriage should be between one man and one woman. It's concise and tidy and lets them to stay an arm's length from the people they're calling sinners. Their subtext sounds something like this: "I sure do love that sinning gay person. Sure do. But as a Christian I hate, I really hate the fact that he continues down the path of willful defiance against his Creator and chooses to live a gay lifestyle."

When pressed, a person in Christian culture will often concede that it's okay to be gay as long as you don't act on said gayness. You know, because of Leviticus. And they won't think twice about saying this to you over shellfish after working on Saturday while wearing clothes with two types of fibers and after cutting the hair on the sides of their heads. Then after all this they might remind you that they love that sinner but sure hate that sin. If you choose this moment to tell them they're quoting a Hindu, expect them to be defiant, or at the very least confused. They may be just as baffled by another of his quotes: "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

#226 Giving up Facebook for Lent

In recent years a large part of Christian culture has made a dogleg towards the reformed tradition. This is particularly common among Christians who were raised evangelical. (The traditional evangelical non-observance of Lent is pointlessly pontificated here.) For not being raised with the ancient church calendar, or maybe because of it, they really get into its traditions. An obvious way to fast is from social media, and they certainly seem to enjoy telling you about it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

#225 The word "petting"

Nobody ever says this word unless they're talking about a petting zoo, and then it's used as a participle and is G-rated. Christian culture are the only ones who use it as a verb in a PG-13/NC-17 way and for them it only comes in two flavors: heavy and light.

Its etymology is uncertain but James Dobson brought it into the evangelical vernacular in the early 1990s or thereabouts with his twelve stages of physical intimacy (see here) which included a line that unmarried couples should not traverse. Very practical. Christian culture enjoys clear cut plans and handy guidelines in order to know at which point God goes from happy (not sinning) to furrowed brow (sinning).

Unfortunately for the enterprise of petting, both varieties are disallowed in all evangelical contexts. This restriction predicates the getting of married in order to Do It, which is why people in Christian culture tend to marry young. And getting married young causes another wellspring of problems. To elaborate on those problems would require many more posts, but that's what this blog is for.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

#224 Saying "I'm praying for you"

This is one of Christian culture's very favorite things to say. Whether they actually will pray or not is anyone's guess, but it seems important somehow that you believe they will. Versatile and efficient, "I'm praying for you" can be used in absolutely any situation to cover several evangelical bases and tend to egos all at once. With just four words it's possible to establish yourself as spiritual alpha dog and signal an end to the conversation under the guise of bestowing blessing. Delicious and nutritious!

You may not find a less relational phrase in all of Christianese than "I'm praying for you." When said in response to an expression of pain or heartbreak it often shuts the conversation down. The person sharing can feel as if they've been stiff-armed and kept at a distance by the person they were confiding in so they can be passed off to God Almighty. The confidant can easily say this and remain detached, and if you've said it before yourself, it's that much more painful to hear.

People who are capable of casually informing people they're praying for them can't fathom that anyone could possibly have a problem with it. To their ears it's the most wonderful thing to say and anyone taking issue must be a jaded miscreant who's mad at God. (Anger at God is something else Christian culture does not endorse and does not deem permissible, but that's a whole other blog post.) This is a prominent characteristic of Christian culture: they have no idea how they come off. If anyone feels marginalized or dismissed by the allegation of impending prayer, the pray-er will likely interpret this as disdain for the whole of Christianity and take it as a cue to write that person off.

Saying "I'm praying for you" may be as relational as someone in Christian culture knows how to be. They're so busy Doing Things they may not know how to care and be cared for. All they may know is how to do is say things and remain detached, which definitely has its advantages. Actual relationship is a lot of work. Simpler to hold them at arm's length and avoid holding people's hurt than do the counter-intuitive work of bearing their burdens. When someone carries your struggle with you, the most healing form of relationship is taking place, and relationships are how we will all be healed. But they can be messy. It would be nice to keep this spirituality stuff within tidy boundaries. Which brings us to the hallmark of Christian culture: Doing Things and Avoiding Relationship. Keep this commandment and you will keep all the rest.