Guest Posts

“But He’s a Good Person”

brett kavanaugh

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

During his Senate confirmation hearings, Brett Kavanaugh testified about the good and great things he’s done throughout his life: He has “mentored” many female students; 21 of the 25 clerks he hired while a US attorney were women. Why, he even coaches his daughters’ basketball team!

I have no reason to doubt that he has done whatever he can to offer women opportunities in the law, politics, academia and other areas. I also am willing to believe him when he says he is committed to equality or even when he says he’s tried to live an “exemplary” life.

I would also believe such statements from any number of other men. Moreover, I have known many other men who, throughout their lives, gave of their time and resources to help women, as well as men and children, in any number of ways. In fact, I know of one in particular who gave over his life to helping and guiding other people.

He was a priest in the parish where I grew up. Nearly everyone sang his praises: He was a fixture, not only in the parish, but in the community as a whole.

It seems that at that time, a priest stayed in a parish longer than he stays now: Some priests spent most or all of their careers in the same place, hearing the first confessions, offering the First Holy Communion and confirming young parishioners — and their children — and grandchildren. You would also see them on playgrounds, in nursing homes or walking the streets of the neighborhood. They visited the old and sick, sometimes giving of their meager means to help.

Also, in neighborhoods like the one in which I spent my childhood, priests were the de facto therapists and social workers. Most of the men were blue-collar workers and the women homemakers; many were immigrants and few had more than a high-school education. That meant they couldn’t afford, or didn’t know how to access, therapists, and even if they could or did, they never would trust them, or for that matter, social workers, in the same way they would confide in a priest.

The particular priest I’m thinking of right now did such things, and more.

And he sexually molested me.

Now, anyone who doesn’t know that probably knows only what a “good and Godly” man he was to them. Were I to tell them, then or now, what Father did to me, it probably wouldn’t change their perceptions of him. In fact, some would turn on me — or, for that matter, anyone else who might say that he did to them what he did to me.

(I, of course, have no way of knowing whether he abused any other kids — or assaulted any adults. But, given what we’ve seen, it isn’t hard to imagine, for me anyway, that he did: Sexual predators rarely, if ever, prey on only one person.)

So, even though I thoroughly sympathize with — and believe — Christine Blasey Ford, I understand why other women signed a letter of support for Judge Kavanaugh. Most were his high school friends or classmates and said, in essence, that the young man they knew “would never do anything like that.”

That is how most sexual predators are able to go undetected for decades.  If someone treats you well, you are less likely to think he or she is capable of harming another human being. That is especially true if that someone has some sort of standing in the community — whether through family or professional connections, academic or professional accomplishments or as a spiritual leader.

Brett Kavanaugh may well have been someone who “has always treated women with decency and respect,” as the letter relates. He may also be the rigorous scholar, conscientious teacher, caring mentor, impartial jurist, loving father — and champion of women’s equality – that he proclaimed himself to be.

That is, he might be all of those things — to people not named Christine Blasey Ford. Or Deborah Ramirez. Just as the priest in my parish was a godly, saintly man to many people in my community — but not to me. Or, perhaps to some other kids or, for that matter, adults who have not yet spoken up.

It’s difficult to understand the complexities of the human mind – what makes people “tick,” what goes on inside them. As a result, none of us ever knows what evil lurks in the depths of those we think we know – even those who are “good people.”

This Week With Christians on Social Media

social media

Guest post by ObstacleChick

Here is a sampling of some of the posts I have seen this week from Christians on social media. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments!

“If God could close the lions’ mouth for Daniel, part the red sea for Moses, make the sun stand still for Joshua, open the prison for Peter, put a baby in Sarah’s arm and raise Lazarus from the dead, then He can certainly take care of you. Have faith in Him.”

OC: You do realize those are myths, right?

“God is still trying to write your story. Quit trying to steal the pen.”

OC: Yeah, because I totally want an invisible deity to make decisions for me.

“God has a reason for allowing things to happen. We may never understand His wisdom, but we simply have to trust His will.”

OC: I don’t have to.

“The motto ‘Be yourself’ has become Satan’s counterfeit to God’s ‘Be holy as I am holy’.”

OC: If by “holy,” you mean that I get mad and order my followers to kill all the people in a land I don’t like and steal their virgins as wives, or to smash infants against rocks because I don’t like the people in that land, or that I send she-bears to kill some children who taunted my favorite prophet, I think I would rather pass on holiness and be myself. I don’t do those things.

“God will put you in positions you didn’t even apply for.”

OC: God, the original abuser, leading clergy by example.

“I have learned that spiritual discontentment is a gift from God. When God is leading you somewhere different or changing you…He puts this thing in our hearts that force us to get quiet before Him so that we can hear the next steps. It makes you want to do whatever it takes to get to that next place as He is moving & stirring your heart. It makes you adjust locations, friendships, relationships, jobs & churches. Don’t be scared of this tugging because God is LEADING your life. You’re in the most beautifully uncomfortable place. Flow with Him. – Heather Lindsey”

OC: Or it could just be heartburn and you need to take some Alka-Seltzer.

“I want to take time today to thank God for all that He has done for me. He sent the rain for dry thirsty land. He sent the grain to feed hungry man. He sent the birds to sing in the tree. But when he sent JESUS he sent him for ME.”

OC: Because I need me some JESUS in my life!

“In a world where right is wrong and wrong is right, we can run to the Bible whenever we’re unsure what to think or do.”

OC: Because the Bible is so incredibly clear in its message and has no contradictions whatsoever.

“Faith means obeying God, even when all my questions aren’t answered.”

OC: Because nothing makes more sense than going into a situation without having answers, facts, or data.

“Life is fragile, handle with prayer.”

OC: Because handling with care is inferior to handling with prayer.

Off My Knees: A Victim Remembers

colin kaepernick

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

Two years ago, Colin Kaepernick did something that garnered far more attention than any game he played or pass he threw.

Those who disapproved of his gesture said he “refused to stand” during the National Anthem. On the other hand, those who approved, or simply supported his right to do so, said he “knelt” or “took to his knee.”

My response? “Well, at least he was on only one knee.”

From that position, he could leap up and run, if he needed to. Even though he’s a professional athlete, if he were on both knees, he’d have a hard time springing up and darting away.

That, of course, begs the question of why he would need to do such a thing. As an NFL quarterback who was, arguably, one of the best at his position for a couple of years, he almost certainly has the strength to fight off a would-be attacker, as well as the speed to run—and the reflexes to do either, or both.

Still, I was relieved not to see him on both knees for the same reason that, to this day, I cannot bear to see people in such a prone position — and why I never kneel.

The last time (that I recall, anyway) I knelt for any period of time was also the last time I had to see someone I love kneeling.

Even though she had to genuflect for only a moment, and I knelt only for a few more, I could barely keep myself from screaming. I couldn’t keep myself from crying the rest of that day.

It was an unusually hot day for May and, in spite of the air conditioning, everything seemed to be happening in the kind of haze that precedes storms and terrible, violent acts.

On the side of the aisle opposite from where I sat, a line of boys stood in their dark suits, almost none of which fit. On the side nearest me were a line of girls in loose white dresses that, on some, looked like oversized doll costumes.

They took one step down the aisle and stopped—except for the boy and girl at the front. It took them three or four steps to reach the altar. The boy, and the girl, knelt. The scream started to roil inside me.

The boy and girl turned their heads up. The priest mouthed the words. Even though I couldn’t hear him, I knew what they were: “Body of Christ.”

The boy whispered, “Amen,” and the priest placed a small round wafer in his mouth. He repeated this ritual with the girl. Then with the next boy and girl who came to the altar, and the ones after.

Some people made the sign of the cross for each kid receiving his or first communion. Others held their hands as in prayer. I cupped my hands in my best imitation of Durer’s sculpture—over my mouth. It was all I could do to keep the howl, the curses, I’d held from my childhood to that moment in my middle age.

Then she and another boy knelt in front of the priest. I nearly bolted out of that church. The reason I didn’t:  My family, her family and all of their friends would be upset and demanded an explanation I couldn’t give them.

Truth is, even if I could’ve given it, I wouldn’t have. The words would not come until a few days later, after we had all gone back to our homes, some of us far away.

At that moment, I was never as afraid for anyone’s safety as I was for that girl — my niece — and the boy, whom I never knew, kneeling next to her. I had never seen the priest, either, before that day, and would never see him again. But I simply could not bear to see my niece, or that boy, kneeling — vulnerable — in front of him.

Even though her face wasn’t between his knees.

She and the boy rose to their feet, crossed themselves and walked back to the pews. Even though the priest did nothing to harm her — or him — I felt as if I had failed . . . to protect them . . . to save them . . . to protect and save myself.

After the mass, we all went to my brother’s house. Spreads of salads, sandwiches, chicken wings and breasts, burgers and other foods filled the tables and counters.  I excused myself to go “to the bathroom” but snuck out the back door and across the yard into the woods, where I let out a long, howling wail and cursed out someone I hadn’t seen, or even thought about, since I was a child. Like my niece. Like that boy.

A few days later, my then-partner was talking about a wedding we would attend a few weeks later. In a church, of course. My partner — an atheist — noticed anger and bile rising through my face when she mentioned “church.”

“Hypocrites and pedophiles,” I grunted.

“What are you talking about?”

Then, as if — for lack of a better word — possessed, I sprang to my feet, stared past her, past everything and everyone and hissed, “Get your fucking hands off me, you motherfucker. God let you do it to me. But this time, I won’t.”

At least she knew I wasn’t talking to her — and that I wouldn’t attack her — which is probably the one and only time I can recall that she seemed not to know what to do.

Or maybe she did. Nothing. She did nothing. And I talked, for the first time, about the way a priest in my parish got me to kneel — between his legs.

I’ve talked about it only with a few other people since then. But I still haven’t gotten down on my knees — not for God, country or anything else.

Why We Didn’t Tell

help sexual abuse

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

They’re never gonna believe me.

Nearly all of us have told ourselves that, for one thing or another, at one time or another. Some of us, though, echo that refrain in our minds any time we have to tell someone — especially if that person is particularly close or an authority figure — a difficult, unpleasant or painful truth. Or even a mundane fact.

No matter how truthful or authoritative we may be, we will have our credibility challenged by someone, on some issue. For a well-adjusted adult, this is not a problem: Such a person has confidence that with the facts and reason on his or her side, others will realize that he or she had no reason to lie, misrepresent or cover-up.

Some of us, though, expect to have our veracity challenged at every turn. That can make us into angry, defensive people — in other words, grown-up versions of children who are acting out. Or it can turn us into people who don’t speak up, who don’t advocate for ourselves — or, worse, who doubt what our eyes, ears, skin and minds tell us.

I know of at least one way that happens. A friend and I were talking about it recently.

We have this in common: sexual abuse at an early age. She, by the mayor of the town in which she grew up — who just happened to be her father. And I, by a father — of my church.

The real difference between her story and mine, though, is this: She told someone. I didn’t.

The person she told — her mother — beat her and washed her mouth out with soap for “lying.”

Me? I knew that something like that would happen if I said “Father did this to me.” That is, if I could have: I didn’t even have the words to tell about it.

The results for both of us were similar: shame and self-doubt that led to self-censorship and self-abuse of one kind and another. Not to mention relationships with abusive people.

Her father is long gone. So is any relationship with her mother. She tells me she doesn’t even have contact information for her: She heard that her mother moved, somewhere, some years ago.

The priest who abused me is also gone, long gone. I never got to confront him. And, although I know where my parents and siblings are — I speak to all except one sibling regularly — I have never told them about my abuse. Once, not long ago, I was talking with the sibling to whom I am closest about something involving my parents. “You know, even though I’ve ‘come out’ (about my gender identity and sexuality) and they know about my work, I have never really shared anything with them.”

A pause. “Yeah, I know what you mean.”

“Aside from the night I ‘came out’ to Mom, I’ve never told her or him (my father) anything really personal, anything intimate about myself.”

“They’re not the kind of people you can go to with a problem,” he sighed. “And, you know, you could come in soaking wet and they still wouldn’t believe you if you told them it’s raining.”

I don’t know whether my brother had an experience like mine, with that priest or some other authority figure. I can’t help but think, though, that somewhere along the way — perhaps early in his life — he had some experience he couldn’t, or wouldn’t talk about with my parents, or anyone else.

They’re never gonna believe me.

Although he’s accomplished a lot professionally, he’s confessed to me that sometimes he doesn’t speak up when he should, or at least when it might help in getting to the bottom of something. “It’s just not worth the trouble when you know you’re not going to be taken seriously,” for bringing a situation to the attention of a supervisor or official.

Or, worse: They’ll blame me for it.

That’s what happened to my friend after her mother took out her fury on her. Well, my friend wasn’t exactly blamed for her father raping her — remember, her mother was still in denial about it. Or was she? In her eyes, her daughter was “always up to no good.”

Her treatment, and mine, led to another eerie parallel in our lives that seems all but inevitable: It took us far too long to get the help we needed to deal with our abusive relationships and other difficulties because we didn’t think we would be believed, or at least taken seriously. Worse, we expected blame for our situations.

They’re never gonna believe me.

And they’ll blame me.

About all I know how to do now is to be the person who believes, and doesn’t blame —  my friend, or Christine Blasey Ford, or Andrea Constand. And, perhaps, one day, my brother—and others who have yet to tell their stories.

Who is to Blame?

fault and blameGuest Post by Stephanie

There was a time in my life when I was far from a feminist. No surprise there, when I went to a church where women were not allowed to preach and were taught about submission in marriage. I distinctly remember being on a youth group trip and being told I couldn’t wear a tank top or two-piece bathing suit. I was chastised for talking to a boy without direct adult supervision. Sexual assault wasn’t even on my radar. That happened to other women, out there somewhere.

It seemed as though women had no voice. Wanted a leadership position? Nope, that’s for men; women are to be silent. Want to ask out a man? Nope, that’s not proper. Dare to show some skin? You got what was coming to you. Have to protect your virtue; your body belongs to your future husband! Abortion? Completely out of the question. Even birth control was sketchy — why would you reject God’s blessings? Every woman wants to be a mother! The message was clear, we know what’s best for you.

I started to actually listen to women. I learned that sexual assault is, tragically, not uncommon. I could fill this entire piece with stories of women I’ve known who have endured such abuse. The friend who was assaulted at a party and never reported. The woman who was raped at a music festival as a young girl and never reported. The woman who endured years of physical and sexual assault at the hands of her husband.

The story that sticks with me is one that is personal to me. I knew a rapist. He was a co-worker. I also knew the woman he assaulted. At the time I was working in an assisted living facility, mainly memory care with residents with advanced forms of dementia. I assisted them with dressing, eating, all the activities of daily living, trying in my own way to give them some quality of life, as were most of the other employees. There was one resident with advanced dementia, I’ll call her “Mary.” She had trouble communicating but was usually happy and compliant. One night the male co-worker was working alone on one particular unit where “Mary” lived. Shift goes on as usual, then suddenly everyone starts shifting around. I’m puzzled. I see the male co-worker sitting in a conference room by himself. He doesn’t say anything. His head is down. I think it’s strange but I don’t question it too much. Then the next day comes and the truth comes out.

A co-worker pulls up a news article. In the headline: “sexual assault,” his face prominently featured. I didn’t process what I was reading. When it sank in that the male co-worker sexually abused a resident, whom I later found out was “Mary,” I felt sick. It’s hard to describe a visceral reaction like that. I drove home while my mind raced and I cried. How could someone who didn’t even seem dangerous hurt a sweet, vulnerable old lady? How could I trust the men around me knowing one was a rapist and I couldn’t even see it? Knowing that women aren’t even safe in a long-term care facility, I was devastated. Old age doesn’t protect from sexual assault. He got sentenced after a year and a half. How much time? Fifteen months.

My heart breaks. They ask why don’t women report? Dr. Ford was not believed and threatened. The president laughs about sexual assault and call dozens of women “false accusers,” and calls this a “dangerous time for men.” There are people in this country who don’t even care if Kavanaugh were guilty, they still wanted him in the Supreme Court. If the co-worker wasn’t caught in the act I fear he would still be free. He chose a woman who didn’t have the cognitive ability to report her abuse. Women are told over and over and over that they brought it upon themselves. The church wants women to be silent, never assert an opinion. Your body doesn’t belong to you. Trust us, we know what’s best. When we’re living in a world where women can’t even go to a woman’s health appointment without being told by other people what they should or shouldn’t do with their own bodies. Oh, and if you’re a man who has experienced abuse, you run up against toxic ideas about masculinity. You should have been strong enough to stop it, don’t be like a woman.

With these attitudes, is it really any surprise that women are blamed? Women need to be anything but silent. Be angry. Be angry every time a sexual abuser is let off lightly or not held to account at all. Be angry every time those in power try to take away a woman’s right to control her own body. Be angry every time the church places blame on the abused and pardons an abuser. I’m past the point of feeling ashamed if I get called “uppity” “bitter” or a “feminazi.” If standing up against abuse and destructive social attitudes and promoting women’s right to live with dignity and respect makes me a “feminazi” then I’m damn proud of it!

Ask yourself once again: “who is to blame?”

Abuse and Alienation: In The Church, Away From Yourself

alienation

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

In a previous essay, I wrote about the conservative blue-collar community in which I was raised. Although it was in one of the world’s major cities, it very closely resembled, in many ways, a small town or village.

For one thing, everyone knew everyone else—or so it seemed. Also, nearly all of us were living at the same social and economic level, and our parents and grandparents had similar backgrounds. Most of them even came from the same places: the grandparents, and in some cases the parents, of just about every kid I knew, were immigrants. They came, not only from the same country, but from a group of towns and villages within a circle of 100 kilometers or so.

That meant we shared the same culture and, if we didn’t speak English at home, we spoke the same language—actually, the same dialect. In my earlier essay, I mentioned that nearly everyone had the same attitude about the Vietnam War, which claimed young men from my neighborhood. Well, there also wasn’t much diversity of opinion when it came to other issues of the day, as well as political figures and other famous people. Even someone like my uncle, who regarded Martin Luther King Jr. as a hero, believed—like most of my family and neighbors—that “Hanoi” Jane Fonda was a traitor or worse.

One more way in which my community resembled a small town in the South or Midwest (or even in the more rural areas of my Northeastern home state) is that on Sunday, nearly everyone went to the same church. While the churches in those far-flung villages and hamlets were, as often as not, Baptist or Presbyterian or of some other mainstream Protestant denomination, ours was Roman Catholic. But the effect it had on us was not unlike that of those small-town denominations on their congregants.

For one thing, going to the same church inculcated us with attitudes and values that some of us still hold to this day. (So, for that matter, did attending the Catholic school I attended along with many of my peers.) Perhaps even more important — at least for a child, especially the sort of child I was — it gave me a sense of belonging that I could find nowhere else. I made some of my first friends in the church, and being an altar boy was really the first experience I had of male camaraderie: not only did we practice and prepare together for the masses, weddings, funerals and other ceremonies in which we served, we also went on picnics and other outings, including ball games, together. It was, I just recently realized, my first attempt — however doomed it was to fail — to forge some kind of male identity.

You see, in the neighborhood in which I grew up, there weren’t many other ways to meet your peers while engaging in positive (or, at least, socially approved and legal) ways besides church. For that matter, it was difficult for people a bit older than myself to meet potential dates or get any sort of guidance about life without going to church, or someone connected with the church. And for adults, there weren’t many other things to do after a day or week of work, paid or unpaid, besides going to the church—or a bar.

That means, in such an environment, that if you are not part of the church, you are not part of the life of your community. It means that you will probably have few or no friends, and may find yourself alienated from family members. Ironically, not having the relationships most people take for granted — or, purely and simply, people to talk to — is just as detrimental to someone who is different and who is bound to leave one day as it is for someone who could, and wants to, be wholly integrated and raise his or her children in such a place.

I came to understand the way alienation — caused by sexual abuse from a priest — affected my own development as a transgender woman only recently, when by chance I found myself talking, for the first time, about my abuse with other survivors—and hearing their stories. One is a gay man from an insular community deep in the center of America. He told me that because he couldn’t talk about the attacks he endured from his parish priest, he essentially couldn’t talk — or learn — about his mind or body. He therefore couldn’t understand, until many years later, why his body reacted as it did even though, as he said, he didn’t feel any sexual attraction to the priest. And it took him even longer to know that there was no contradiction between feeling repulsed by that priest and being attracted to men. Why, even his first therapist told him that because he didn’t enjoy (or consciously elicit) what that priest did to him, he couldn’t possibly be gay.

It took him two more therapists and a failed marriage to understand, finally, that he is gay. Not coincidentally, he came to terms with it only after he was able to talk about his experience with that priest with someone who understood.

As you can imagine, I cried while listening to him. I finally started to clarify, for myself, my own gender identity and take steps to live by it after I told someone about my abuse. Until then, I couldn’t make any sense of how my body responded, involuntarily, to his, and how it — or his actions — had nothing to do with whether I was a girl or boy, or gay or straight, or anything else. Until then, I’d gone through my life trying to live as a gay man — something unsatisfying to me — or asserting a kind of masculinity some would call toxic but which, deep down, wasn’t any more mine than a same-sex attraction to men.

Of course, in the place and time in which I grew up — and in the world in which I’ve lived until recently — sex and gender identity issues weren’t discussed as openly, much less understood as broadly, as they are now. But even by the standards of my schools, communities, workplaces and other environments, I did not talk freely (actually, at all) about my own identity or inclinations. Because the priest who abused me swore me to silence — and because I knew that even if I could talk about it, I wouldn’t, because I would probably be disbelieved or blamed — I learned that talking about such things was not merely taboo: it could end my life. Or so it seemed.

So I kept quiet and, probably as a result, had a roof over my head, food in my mouth and the opportunity and means to an education. But I lived in isolation from all of those people who could talk with their friends, families and others about the issues that, as it turns out, almost everyone faces at some time or another. They learned what it was like to meet people, to form bonds and to support, and be supported, emotionally. Or, through interacting with other people, they realized how and why they were different and figured out what they needed to do before embarking on courses of study, careers, marriages and other relationships — including relationships with themselves — that were bound to fail.

In brief, when your church is the center of your community’s social life — whether in a rural village or an urban enclave — being alienated from it (even when you’re still participating in it) makes it much more difficult to define yourself, whether by or against or outside of it. For people like me and the gay man I’ve mentioned — and, I’m sure, many others who grew up in church-centered communities — that is what is so damaging about being abused by priests or other authority figures — or, more precisely, being sworn to silence and secrecy about it.

How Evangelical Zealotry Harms People Psychologically

not in the bible

Guest Post by ObstacleChick

“I don’t have a lot of friends because I’m too busy trying to be holy.” — Sam, age 9

My brother and I share a biological mother, but we were not raised by the same people or in the same ways. I lived primarily with my grandparents, whose number one message was that my education should come first and that I should never be dependent on anyone else (particularly a man) for my financial stability. My brother was raised by my mom and stepdad with very little hands-on parenting. Where I was educated at an Evangelical Christian school with slightly above-average academics, he was expelled from that school in third grade for misbehavior and spent the rest of his education at an academically poor public school. Where I studied and was determined to be the top student in my class, he did as little work as possible to pass classes. I got a scholarship to a top-20 ranked secular university, and he never pursued education past high school. Our mom still retained some secular influences and ideas when I was young, but she had become more immersed in Evangelical Christianity by the time my brother came along. Where I have traveled the world, he has barely traveled within the United States. Whereas I moved 1,000 miles away from a somewhat rural suburb of Nashville to the New York City metropolitan area, my brother moved further from Nashville to an even more rural community. My progressive political leanings are counterbalanced by my brother’s extremely conservative political leanings. We’re both Generation X, though I am 12 years older.

Don’t get me wrong, my brother is an intelligent man. Like my grandma, my mom, and me, my brother loves to read. During adulthood, my mom and brother would trade books on religion and right-wing politics and would have discussions about them. Because I live 1,000 miles away, fortunately I did not get involved in all that. But their little conservative book club served to indoctrinate them further into their right-wing conservative religion and politics as they created their own personal echo chamber. When I did visit them, it was very difficult for me to stay away from incendiary issues, but I became adept at diverting the conversation to different topics. When my mom died, my brother mourned the loss of our mom’s “spiritual wisdom and guidance”, something I had no use for but never could articulate to him. My mom already suspected my apostasy, but she never knew the full extent of it. My brother doesn’t ask, and I’m glad because neither of us wants to face the idea that he would probably cut me (and my husband and kids) off from himself, his wife, and his two sons.

My nephews are 11 and 9 (almost 10). Though my brother is devout, his family does not attend church, mainly because he can’t find a local church with which he agrees. He does a lot of reading (A.W. Tozer is his current favorite), and he has joined an online/Skype men’s Bible study and prayer group. Every night, my brother teaches his sons and prays with them before bed. My older nephew doesn’t talk about religion much (he doesn’t talk about much except for music), but his younger, outgoing, vivacious brother does talk about it. Recently, he told my daughter that he thought other religions were bad and false and that a lot of people were led by evil spirits. He said that he knows a lot more about spirits than most adults because his dad was teaching him about them. My daughter asked him why other religions were bad, and he said it was because those religions did not promote God but were instead led by evil, deceptive spirits. She was afraid to ask him if he thought that people who followed those other religions were bad. But she did tell him that she thought there were a lot of good people in the world regardless of what religions they followed.

I suppose it should be no surprise that Sam told my son and daughter that he didn’t have a lot of friends because he was too busy trying to be holy. The definition of holy is as follows: specially recognized as or declared sacred by religious use or authority; consecrated; dedicated or devoted to the service of God, the church, or religion; saintly; godly; pious; devout. My brother is indoctrinating his sons to dedicate themselves to the service of his interpretation of the Christian God. I would love to be snarky and ask him what his interpretation of God is. On social media he posts a lot of Bible verses about the mighty God who repeatedly smote humans or ordered the smiting of humans, the judgmental God who gave his people 600+ rules to follow, the God who is righteous and will send sinners to hell, the God to whom we must submit our will. He likes verses with rules for separating oneself from the world, following rules, or remaining holy and chaste. He also posts a lot of articles touting the evils of the “Godless, communist, Luciferian left” (I seriously did not know that “Luciferian” was a thing). He recently posted a Christian article about remaining “pure” in a culture saturated with sexual imagery. (I am currently reading the book Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free by Linda Kay Klein, so I was particularly interested in seeing what the recommendations were in the article — basically your typical admonition regarding heterosexual sex within the confines of marriage as one would expect). I don’t get the impression that my sister-in-law is as devout as my brother is, and often she will try to soften or explain away some of his most fervent comments. She just started taking college courses as she wants to pursue a degree in nursing, and I wonder how exposure to outside non-religious ideas will affect her thinking. From time to time, I see that my brother “corrects” or “instructs” some of her social media posts by commenting with a relevant Bible verse, and I wonder what she thinks about that.

As my brother has grown more devout and I see how he is instructing his sons, I have been having a lot of memories regarding my own Fundamentalist upbringing. I rarely ever talked about it with my husband. He was a “Christmas and Easter” Catholic, so he was never indoctrinated with teachings about sin and hell or taught misogynistic or anti-LGBTQ ideas. During our early years of dating and marriage, we tried out some Catholic and progressive Christian churches because that’s what one does. We attended a Congregational United Church of Christ while our children were little, and this church was progressive, LGBTQ-affirming, and socially active. My husband liked the kind Jesus, the Christianity that teaches love and caring for others, the Christianity that encourages us to care for the less fortunate. We both lost our belief around the same time for different reasons, and we stopped going to church when our kids were about 7 and 5 years old, so our kids know very little about Christianity specifically or religions in general. We teach then humanistic principles.

As my brother has grown more devout and openly posts ultra-conservative articles and daily Bible verses on social media, and as we are having more contact with his family now that my daughter has enrolled in a university near where I grew up and where my brother lives, I’ve started sharing my upbringing with my family. In the beginning, I was sharing mostly with my daughter to make sure she understands the Bible Belt and our family members’ beliefs in general. Occasionally, I would share something with my husband or with the entire family. Every story I tell is met with looks of “WTF” on their faces accompanied by a few seconds of silence. It isn’t easy to leave my husband and daughter speechless, and I have been doing that frequently in the past couple of years. My husband is the most stunned as he lived with me for over 20 years without being aware of a lot of the psychologically damaging doctrines I was taught. He had no idea about the deep-seated fear of hell that cropped up unbidden for a decade after I had stopped believing in the Christian god and all associated aspects. He had no idea of twinges of fear and doubt that perhaps I was single-handedly responsible for damning my children to eternity in hell for not making sure they “got saved.” He had no idea that I was taught and rejected complementarianism. He had no idea that I had to learn about evolution on my own because the Christian school would not teach it and in fact taught ridiculous counterarguments. He had no idea of the cognitive dissonance I encountered repeatedly in college courses where indirectly or directly I learned that inerrancy of the Bible is patently false. He had no idea that the school and church I grew up in were teaching eschatology that scared the living daylights out of me. He had no idea that for several years, I struggled with reconciling lessons I learned in history and science that repeatedly showed that the doctrines I had been taught were false, yet I was fearful that I was being deceived by Satan and might be bound for eternity in hell.

Bruce has written about how Fundamentalist Christianity is psychologically damaging, and I can attest that it is. Please read the series, Do Evangelical Beliefs Cause Psychological Damage?) I didn’t realize that it was damaging, and I certainly did not understand the extent. I just know that I struggled through my teens and twenties with doubts, fears, self-esteem issues, and cognitive dissonance. Even when I was deeply embedded in the bubble – church and Christian school – I was inundated with doubts and fears. I actively advanced outside the rules of fundamentalist religion, each step deliberate but accompanied by the fear that I was doing something eternally damning. I chose each step, and I chose to deal with the eternal consequences. But each step required agonized examination and a great bit of courage. It took two decades for me to step away from Christianity entirely and nearly another decade to label myself “atheist”, “feminist”, “pro-choice”, and “liberal” without flinching from the negative programming surrounding those words.

So when I see my own brother indoctrinating my nephews with these dogmas, I become more and more concerned. When I hear my nephew saying that he doesn’t have a lot of friends because he is too busy being holy, it makes me sad and angry. Maybe these boys can grow away from these teachings as I did. I surely hope so. I hope that our limited influence can help these boys as they grow up.

Note:

I’m pretty sure that my husband believed in this Jesus:

Video Link

Lyrics

Jesus was way cool
Everybody liked Jesus
Everybody wanted to hang out with him
Anything he wanted to do, he did
He turned water into wine
And if he wanted to
He could have turned wheat into marijuana
Or sugar into cocaine
Or vitamin pills into amphetamines

He walked on the water
And swam on the land
He would tell these stories
And people would listen
He was really cool

If you were blind or lame
You just went to Jesus
And he would put his hands on you
And you would be healed
That’s so cool

He could’ve played guitar better than Hendrix
He could’ve told the future
He could’ve baked the most delicious cake in the world
He could’ve scored more goals than Wayne Gretzky
He could’ve danced better than Barishnikov
Jesus could have been funnier than any comedian you can think of
Jesus was way cool

He told people to eat his body and drink his blood
That’s so cool
Jesus was so cool
But then some people got jealous of how cool he was
So they killed him
But then he rose from the dead
He rose from the dead, danced around
Then went up to heaven
I mean, that’s so cool
Jesus was way cool

No wonder there are so many Christians

The Far Reaches of Sexual Abuse

i believe you

Guest post by ObstacleChick

Awareness of sexual abuse seems to be at an all-time high. Whether the stories are from the entertainment industry, religion, politics, or your neighbor next door, it seems that more and more people are telling their stories. For some people, this is the first time they have felt safe to tell their stories. It is not uncommon for people to have tried to bury their stories deep within themselves for years, decades even. Now some people are ready to open up, and it seems that sexual abuse has lain just below the surface for decades, centuries, millennia perhaps, and now it is erupting to the surface. So many of my friends are coming out with their stories, and even if they are not ready to tell the whole story, they are saying “something happened and it traumatized me.” “Hear me.” “Believe me.”

This is not my story, but it is my mom’s story, and I believe that I owe it to her to tell it.

My mom died from metastatic breast cancer in November, 2014, at the age of 71. A couple of years before she died, she told my brother, my sister-in-law and me that she had been sexually abused when she was 5 years old. She said she had told only one other person – my stepfather, who had also been sexually abused as a child. That means she waited over 30 years to tell someone (my stepdad) and over 60 years to tell anyone else. We were stunned, but a lot of things about my mom and how she raised me made a lot more sense after this revelation. (I asked my mom why she waited until after her uncle’s death to tell us, and she said she was afraid I would call the uncle and rip him a new orifice; she was not wrong in her assessment).

My mom’s abuser was her 14-year-old uncle. While my mom said he never penetrated her, he forced her to touch him and he touched her. She didn’t go into detail about the experience – I suppose that even 60 plus years later she didn’t wish to relive it. He threatened her that if she ever told anyone, everyone would think she was a bad, dirty, filthy girl. He told her that people would think she was a liar. He also warned her that if she told her parents that her daddy would kill him and that it would be my mom’s fault if her daddy went to jail. As a 5-year-old, those were scary reasons that sealed her silence. She told us that she didn’t understand what was happening but instinctively she knew that it was bad.

Growing up, my mom buried herself in books, in schoolwork, and in learning. Books were her escape from reality. I remember my mom habitually reading 2 books of fiction and one book of nonfiction at any given time, and I was amazed that she could keep them all straight. As a voracious reader myself, I can only handle either one book of fiction and one of nonfiction, or two works of nonfiction. As a high school student, my mom excelled and was one of the few female students put into advanced science and math classes. In the late 1950s and early 1960s there was a push to pursue excellence in mathematics and sciences in order to compete with the Soviet Union’s advances in those fields, particularly in regard to the space program. My mom tied with another student for salutatorian in her graduating class of about 300 students, so the school gave both students a test to determine the salutatorian. As my mom was painfully shy and terrified to give a speech at commencement, she purposely answered questions wrong so she would not become salutatorian. I asked her why she didn’t tell her guidance counselor that she did not want to give a speech instead of going through the testing, and she said she never thought of that as she always tried to do what was expected of her. My mom’s parents had not graduated from high school, though her dad had completed refrigeration training courses through the G.I. Bill and her mom got her GED just because she wanted to. My mom’s guidance counselor suggested that my mom should go to college, so as a good girl, my mom did what she was told and enrolled in Middle Tennessee State University. She completed 5 semesters before dropping out and getting married.

Everyone always remarked about my mom’s intelligence but how quiet and sweet she was. As a teenager, my mom developed ulcers. She was terrified of going out in public, especially in any situations in which she might be alone. She told me that it was torture for her to walk past the college dining hall because she had to walk past all the windows where people looking out might see her. As she grew older and needed to work, she became better at managing her extreme shyness and fear of people, of being seen, but she never outgrew it completely. When I was planning my wedding, I told my mom that I did not believe in having someone “give me away” as I was capable of making my own decisions and did not want to promote an archaic system whereby women had to be “given away” in marriage. She thought I should not buck tradition and suggested that I should ask my uncle to walk me down the aisle. Knowing her shyness, I told her that if anyone should walk me down the aisle, it should be her. She didn’t bring up my walk down the aisle again, and I happily strolled alone as a symbol of my autonomy as a human being.

Unlike the parents of most of my friends at the time, my mom taught me about sex at a very early age. For as long as I can remember, she told me to fight, run away, and tell a trusted adult if anyone ever tried to touch me in my “private” areas. We even had an identification code for which adults she trusted and which ones she didn’t; if she referred to someone as Mr. Will or Ms. Betty, those were trusted adults, but if she referred to them as Mr. or Mrs. Smith, then they were not on the approved list. My mom explained sex to me with all the appropriate body part names and where they were located when I was 6 or 7 years old. She told me that I should not tell the other kids because their parents should tell them. I was repulsed by what she was telling me, but I knew that it must be true because I had witnessed dogs copulating. After my mom told us about her sexual abuse, suddenly it made sense why she had taught me about sex with the correct terms for body parts when I was as young as I was. I don’t know if she had similar conversations with my brother, but she may have.

Other things about my mom made more sense as well, like how she seemed to be afraid of so many things. She was easily startled by sudden or loud noises. She was terrified to walk anywhere alone. Her doctor prescribed antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication, both of which helped take the edge off her irritability. My mom was in poor health most of her life, suffering from arthritis since she was in her mid-twenties in addition to a plethora of other ailments as she aged. My mom would not allow me to play sports or go too many places with friends, though there were 3 families at church with girls my age whom she trusted. She had two failed marriages, the first that lasted only a year and the second to my father, lasting only 4 years due to his emotional and psychological abuse. (In his next relationship he fathered 6 more children, and his abuse escalated from verbal to physical and sexual. None of his children has contact with him today). When my mom married my step-dad, she became the bully who verbally abused my step-father for the 25 years they were married until he passed away. My mom used books, food, religion, interest in politics, and craft and jewelry making as ways to derive enjoyment (and probably escape) during her life.

The only time my mom talked with me about the abuse was when she told us. She said that she had forgiven her uncle (I have not, but as he has passed away, I suppose the issue is moot). He was a retired chief master sergeant in the US Air Force, and he and his wife lived in Destin, Florida, near Eglin Air Force Base which was his last posting. The uncle and aunt used to visit his mother, my great-grandmother who lived with us, while she was still alive. I did not like this uncle, and I don’t know if I had picked up on cues from my mom or if I just did not like him generally. I asked my mom why she allowed this uncle around me when I was a child, and she said she knew that she was always watching and she observed that I did not like him and would not get too close to him. That is true — as a child I thought he was a jerk.

My mom coped the best she could. Who am I — someone who has never suffered from sexual abuse — to determine whether she handled things the right way or not? Each person handles it with whatever coping mechanisms he or she has. Would my mom’s life have been different had she not been sexually abused? I have no doubt that it could have been quite different.

Forgiveness is Not Enough, When it Comes to Healing for Sexual Abuse Victims

interceding virgin mary

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

Much has been made of the smaller-than-expected audience and sometimes-hostile reception Pope Francis encountered during his visit to Ireland. While commentators noted the contrast with the more enthusiastic greeting that awaited Pope John Paul II when he arrived in 1979, they did not make the connection between something Francis said and young Irish people’s drift away from, or even outright rejection, of the church.

At the Marian Shrine of Knock, he begged for forgiveness of the sins of members of the Church of Ireland who committed abuse of whatever kind and asked the blessed mother to intercede for the healing of survivors and to never again permit these situations to occur.

One can say that, although he did mention young people who were robbed of their innocence and children taken from their mothers, his appeal was still too vague. And, as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by a priest, I feel that he placed too much emphasis on “forgiving” the “sins” of the perpetrator and not enough on the healing for the victims.

Then again, it may be that neither he nor the Church can do otherwise. For one thing, addressing the plight of survivors in a more specific way would open up the Church to even more scorn and more lawsuits than it already faces. But more to the point — at least from the point of view of survivors and the general public — clergy members, from parish priests all the way up to the College of Cardinals, simply are not equipped to help survivors move on from the abuse we have suffered.

What they, and the Pope, don’t seem to understand is this: those of us who have been sexually abused as children were traumatized. This is not the same as simply having one’s feelings hurt by a thoughtless word or some quotidian misdeed. It means that we have been changed, irrevocably, in fundamental ways. We lost our ability to trust, not only priests and the Church, but other people, even those with whom we have (or should have) our most intimate relationships. That is because, as modern research has shown, the stress caused by trauma affects our brains: It sensitizes the “reptilian” parts, which is more impulsive, and restricts the “limbic” area, which helps us record our memories and form our judgments from them. And, of course, that stress affects the body, manifesting itself in a number of health issues such as hypertension and diabetes.

So, while “forgiveness” of “sins” might give the perpetrator a clean slate, it does nothing to alleviate trauma and its effects in victims. If anything, asking (or, more precisely, guilt-tripping) a victim to “forgive” a perpetrator only re-traumatizes that victim. I know: whenever I’ve been asked to “forgive” someone who has caused me real harm — whether that priest in my childhood or an abusive ex-spouse or partner — it’s like another blow to my body, not to mention to my mind and heart.

As I’ve said, the Pope and most priests, as well-intentioned as they might be, simply don’t understand the difference between being sinned-against and being traumatized — and that the latter happens to children who are sexually molested by priests or taken away from their mothers. I think most of them can’t, in part because they don’t have the training that would allow them to do so. But even those who have such training, I believe, still operate under the belief that, when the victim forgives, he or she heals along with the victimizer. Too often, it just doesn’t work that way.

Really, all one can do after abuse is to prevent it from happening again. That doesn’t happen through “forgiveness” or “redemption.”  Only taking away the opportunities for abuse, for inducing trauma, can do that: priests (or any other adults) who abuse children must not be allowed access to them. And the abuse from my ex-partner stopped, not through “forgiving” him (as he begged me to do), but after an order of protection and the loss of his career.

Still, trauma remains. I work through mine every day. No amount of “forgiveness” can change that. I am sure other survivors could say the same — and feel exasperated or enraged, or both, by the Pope’s plea, even if he could not have acted in any other way.

Sexual Abuse Victims Have the Right To Be Heard — Whenever They Are Ready

catholic church sexual abuse problem

Cartoon by David Reddick

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

When I heard about the Pennsylvania grand jury report on children sexually abused by Roman Catholic priests, my reaction was, “Only 1,000 kids? Only 300 priests? — over 70 years?”

I am not a lawyer or any sort of expert on laws regarding child sexual abuse (or on any other kind of law, for that matter). But I do know that in most states, it’s all but impossible for anyone over the age of 30 to bring charges against a priest or church for abuse suffered at age ten, fifteen or even twenty. Depending on the state, a victim can only file a suit up to a certain age or, perhaps worse, a certain number of years (usually five to ten) after the abuse.

This all but prevents most victims from bringing their perpetrators — or the churches or other institutions that harbored them — to account. I know; I am one.

More than three decades passed from the times I was sexually molested by a priest in the parish where I was an altar boy until the time I finally told someone: my partner at the time, as we were breaking up. Until then, I had experienced a failed marriage, a bunch of other failed relationships, difficulties with supervisors and other authority figures, substance abuse, suicide attempts, financial ruin and general confusion about my sexual orientation and gender identity — the latter of which I began to resolve only after telling my now-ex-partner about my abuse.

The abuse I suffered — or, I should say, the experiences of abuse I can recall most vividly and terrifyingly — occurred when I was nine years old. I had received my first holy communion about a year and a half before that, and I was confirmed only a few months after the last of those incidents. The reason I recall those incidents most clearly and terrifyingly, I believe, has to do with the priest who committed them and the time in my life in which he victimized me. I will not get into either of them here; instead, I will try to answer the question of why it took so long for me to talk about them — and why the statutes of limitations regarding such abuse needs to be lengthened.

A Culture of Authority

That priest took advantage of my vulnerabilities — I was in a new school and didn’t have a very supportive home life — half a century ago, in the late 1960’s. That time is often associated with the Sexual Revolution and other changes in society, but those things could have just as well happened in a different world from the one in which I grew up. It was a milieu (a word nobody in that environment would have used) in which authority was to be, if not entirely trusted, then unquestioningly obeyed. Young men did not protest being drafted to fight in Vietnam; some even volunteered to go. Anyone who dared to question, let alone resist, fighting in the war was branded as a coward or traitor — or with the most damning epithet of all: Communist.

(My uncle, who was even more progressive than I am now on issues of race relations, gender roles and sexuality, nonetheless refused to watch any film, television program or other show in which “Hanoi” Jane Fonda appeared. He kept up this embargo until the day he died.)

Most of the men in my world — my own father, uncles and grandfathers, as well as those of nearly every kid with whom I grew up — were blue-collar workers.  Many had fought in Korea or World War II; nearly all had military experience of some sort. And just about all of us were children or grandchildren of immigrants who believed that their gratitude for what America offered them could be expressed only as unquestioning obedience, which they conflated with loyalty. I did, too, for a long time.

Most of them were also Roman Catholics, and their attitudes toward secular authority made them all-but-perfect candidates to follow the flock of their Good Shepherd — or, more precisely, his representatives on Earth. If you are of my generation and raised Catholic (I went to Catholic schools), you were taught that your parish priests, and even more so the bishop of your diocese, were just that: your connection to God, as it were. That, in a church, where the Pope is considered infallible.

You may not have known about that last doctrine (officially defended under Pius IX, but asserted long before that) as a kid, but you probably knew — or, more importantly, felt — the weight of the trust and authority granted to your priests and bishops. It was even greater than any power your parents, teachers or other elders held over you. When you are living under such an imbalance of power, you realize early on that if you speak up against someone who is held in as high esteem as your principal, let alone your priests or bishop, your credibility cannot hold a candle to theirs.

That is, if you can even explain what happened to you.

Human anatomy, let alone sex education, wasn’t part of the fourth-grade curriculum in my Catholic school — or most others, I imagine — in 1967. Or, for that matter, most kids’ homes, including mine. Even today, many parents avoid talking with their kids about the body’s processes, let alone sex, for as long as possible. In many families, even today, that discussion never takes place. I know it never did in mine.

So, when our parish priest molested me, I didn’t even know the names of the parts of my body he was touching. It almost goes without saying that I had no vocabulary, or any other way, to describe the ways in which my body reacted: I had not experienced anything like it before. I also did not have words, let alone expression, for the unease I felt: I knew that what he was doing wasn’t right, but I didn’t know why, and I never could have defended myself against those who would have blamed me for it. (Remember, this was at a time when the usual responses to rape were: What was she wearing? What was she doing there, at that time of day/night?) I am sure others abused by priests when they were children could say something similar.

Given the repressive conditions I’ve described — one in which authority is not questioned, church leaders have absolute authority and children do not learn about their own bodies, let alone how they can be used against them — is it any wonder that most victims don’t recount their abuse by priests to anyone but themselves — if, indeed, they ever do — until they are well into adulthood? Or that some never speak up about it? One reason, I’m sure, that the Pennsylvania report didn’t name more victims is that some have taken their stories to their graves. Needless to say, some are in those graves by their own doing. And, I’m sure, many priests parted this vale of tears before their victims could confront them. Mine did, about two decades before I told anyone, although I didn’t realize it at the time.

Whenever they are ready.

Thus, as long as there are implicit as well as explicit rules and forces that enforce obedience and silence, particularly among children, victims need the freedom and the space to discuss their molestation whenever they are ready — whether at 20 or 40 or 80. Whenever it is, we can only hope that it’s before marriages fail, jobs are lost, families are broken up, substances are abused and lives are ended prematurely. Victims deserve the right to repair or reclaim their lives; there should not be a time limit on that.

Want to Share Your Thoughts on Donald Trump, Brett Kavanaugh, or #metoo?

your story matters

Are you angry over how Donald Trump treats women and how he denigrates them publicly? Do you have passionate opinions about the sexual assault allegations against Donald Trump or Brett Kavanaugh? Do you support the #metoo movement? Do you have a personal story to share about being sexually abused, raped, or sexually harassed? Are you appalled by Evangelical support for President Trump, Brett Kavanaugh, and the idea that what happened in high school — even sexual assault — shouldn’t disqualify a man from public office? Are you sickened by how Evangelicals abandoned any sense of moral authority, choosing instead to be shills for the Republican Party? If so, I want to hear from you.

If you are a woman and have something you want or need to say on these matters, I want to extend to you an invitation to write a guest post (or multiple posts) for this site. I think it is important for readers to hear from women on these issues. Guest posts can be any length, and can either be written anonymously or under your own name. If you are interested in writing a post but fear your writing/English skills are lacking, please don’t let that hinder your participation.  I have a first-rate editor who will edit your post, making sure the grammar and structure is correct. Your point of view will not be changed in any way. My editor is a progressive woman, so you can rest assure that she will do all she can to help you.  You may have noticed frequent guest posts by ObstacleChick.  OC is also a woman. Her recent letter to Evangelical women was posted as written with only a few minor grammatical corrections. She will tell you that I don’t alter content. It’s your story, and I want to provide a forum for you to tell it. You don’t have to be an atheist or agree with me to write a guest post.

Interested? Please email me expressing your interest via the Contact Form. I will then provide you with my private email address to which you can send me your post. All correspondence between us will be held in the strictest of confidence.

Thank you!

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Your Own Personal Jesus

personal savior

Cartoon by Dan Piraro

Guest post by ObstacleChick

When I was growing up in a Southern Baptist church and attending Evangelical Christian school, we were told that we should strive to be like Jesus. The pastors and teachers taught us that Jesus was the perfect Son of God, that he was part of the Trinity so therefore God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit were one but separate all at the same time (for the life of me, I could never grasp the concept). Jesus was God’s Son but also God come to earth in human form to live amongst us, to suffer and die for us, to be resurrected and to ascend to heaven with his Father (and the Holy Spirit, but he isn’t talked about as much — he’s just the voice in our head…or heart). Jesus was considered to be born of a virgin, sinless, perfect, and therefore the perfect blood sacrifice to atone for the sins of mankind for those who accepted his sacrifice. We were taught that Jesus was a teacher and a miracle worker. According to the Gospel of John, in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. Jesus was the Word. (And here I was thinking Grease was the word according to the musical Grease).

A former member of the church in which I grew up became a pastor. I’m connected to him on social media, and he frequently posts thoughts that he posts on his church’s social media each week. Each post is intended to be instructive to Evangelical Christians. This one was interesting:

One dangerous temptation we all face is the powerful tendency to build our own Jesus. I meet the real Jesus in the Christian faith and He reveals Himself in the Bible. He convicts me to turn from sinful habits or attitudes or relationships I’m not sure I want to give up. He keeps leading me out past my comfort zone and calling me to grow in Him. So, I just take the words and the qualities of Jesus that I agree with, that seem to confirm what I already think and do, and I ignore and leave out the rest. Voila: my own Jesus, who thinks like me! My Jesus condemns your sins but isn’t too concerned about mine. My Jesus doesn’t care whether I’m faithful to his church, etc. J.D. Greear: “What we must avoid at all costs is editing Jesus, forcing Him into a mold where He answers our questions the way we like. This is not worship of God; it’s worship of ourselves. And it’s the greatest substitute for true faith.” The problem with following your Jesus is that you miss the life and joy of following the real one. Plus, the one you stand before in judgment will not be the one you created for yourself. Make sure you’re growing to look like Jesus, not just trying to make Jesus look like you.

Modern Christians’ concept of Jesus is taken from the books of the New Testament, mostly from the canonized gospels (I had never heard of the non-canonized gospels until I took a religion course in college – I was stunned that there were writings that weren’t canonized). Most modern biblical scholars believe that these gospels were written decades after the death of Jesus. Certainly there are no surviving accounts that were written in Jesus’ lifetime by eyewitnesses. Most likely the stories about Jesus were passed along by word of mouth from one person to another. Have you ever played the game “telephone” at a party? Here is how it works. A player whispers a sentence or phrase to the next player, who then must whisper the phrase to the next player, and so on, until the last player says out loud what he or she heard. It is rare for the message to arrive completely intact. In fact, this is part of the fun — to see how the sentence or phrase morphs as it is passed along from one player to another. Some players will intentionally change the phrase to make it funnier. Others just don’t hear it properly so they try to say what is closest to whatever they think they heard. If people at a party have a difficult time repeating a single phrase accurately, how much more difficult must it be to repeat an entire story accurately? So how do we know that the stories told in the Gospels reflected the “real” Jesus? And we’re not even taking into account the different ways each gospel writer presented Jesus.

Additionally, as twenty-first century citizens of a (mostly) free country enjoying creature comforts of indoor plumbing, air conditioning, and immediate access to information through technology, how can we understand what it was like to be a first century Middle Eastern man who was most likely illiterate and who didn’t even know that the world was not flat or that we live in a heliocentric solar system or even what a solar system is? Archaeological finds have shown what architecture was like, and what types of implements people used, and surviving ancient writings can give us an indication of what the educated and literate may have known, but it is difficult for us to comprehend what first century lives of ordinary people must have been like.

So, don’t we all create our own personal Jesus? We listen to what our pastors and teachers say about him. We read about him in the canonized gospels. We read cute memes on social media about Jesus – Jesus as a lamb, Jesus loving all the little children of the world, Jesus as the one who carries us across the sand when we’re too weak to carry ourselves, etc. Some people are drawn to the sweet, wise, meek teacher. Others are drawn to the miracle worker. Yet others like the badass Jesus, the one who got angry and ran the money-changers out of the Temple.

Let me conclude this post with the lyrics from the song Personal Jesus by Depeche Mode:

Reach out and touch faith
Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who cares
Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who’s there
Feeling unknown
And you’re all alone
Flesh and bone
By the telephone
Lift up the receiver
I’ll make you a believer
Take second best
Put me to the test
Things on your chest
You need to confess

I will deliver
You know I’m a forgiver
Reach out and touch faith
Reach out and touch faith
Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who cares
Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who’s there

Feeling unknown
And you’re all alone
Flesh and bone
By the telephone
Lift up the receiver
I’ll make you a believer

I will deliver
You know I’m a forgiver
Reach out and touch faith
Your own personal Jesus
Reach out and touch faith
Reach out and touch faith
Reach out and touch faith
Reach out reach out
Reach out and touch faith
Reach out and touch faith

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What was your own personal Jesus like?