Sex Obsession: Pornography and Purity Cultures

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It might seem that pornography and purity cultures are polar opposites. One provides instant gratification for sexual appetites whereas the other promotes abstinence and encourages young people to ‘save’ themselves for marriage. However, while pornography does accomplish its short-term aims, purity cultures often fail at their intended goals.

Purity cultures, a product of Protestant fundamentalism, arose in reaction to the promiscuity of mainstream America in the 1960s and as an effort to protect the next generation. It is fueled by the regrets of some who, like Augustine, indulged in fornication themselves and is also promoted by others who were just plain fearful of outside influence. However, as with most fear-based reactions, purity culture has created as many problems as it has solved. The promise of the ‘right’ one being the reward to those who most carefully adhere to its teaching has often only led to long-term dissatisfaction.

This purity teaching, especially when introduced to the already reserved conservative Mennonite culture, has made the threshold for entering a dating relationship nearly impossible for some. It has led to paralysis for the most conscientious and added unnecessary difficulties for all but the boldest and superficially attractive. Worse, while this reactionary movement has not delivered as promised to those who most fearfully adhered to the expectations, it has done absolutely nothing to stop those said “boldest and superficially attractive” from gratifying themselves outside of a marital commitment. So the net gain is more guilt for those who already have too much guilt and increased the hardness of hearts for those who are already predisposed to do as they please.

Purity culture fails because it does not provide any real help or practical solutions to those who desire a healthy relationship and, sadly, is too often as (or more) carnally focused on carnal pleasures as the carnal-minded are themselves. Purity culture never transcends or brings us closer to holiness and, sadly, ends up often leads many young people right into pornography addiction and a self-defeating cycle of shame. Pornography use is as prevalent in these fundamentalist purity cultures (albeit almost never confessed openly for fear of the social stigma) as anywhere else.

This obsession with physical purity and on female virginity, in particular, paired with the dogmatic emphasis on female modesty, has had some terrible unintended consequences. Consequences which are all but ignored by fundamentalist leaders who think that their doubling down on preaching condemnation will someday change hearts.

Here are some observations about the similarities between pornography and purity cultures:

Two Sides of the Sex Obsession Coin

Sex, in the right context, is a wonderful thing and not something to ever be ashamed about. Unfortunately, sex is also something that can be twisted into a harmful obsession.

It is fairly obvious how pornography is degrading and a destructive habit. However, what is not so understood is how purity culture mirrors this obsession. The first notable similarity between pornography and purity cultures is that both represent an unhealthy fixation with sex and physical bodies. Both undermine us spiritually, objectify women and pervert our interactions:

  • Pornography and purity cultures both objectify women. The biggest irony of purity culture is that it is as obsessed with sex as the mainstream culture it decries as sinful. Yes, purity culture is in opposition to sexual promiscuity, but it is also as objectifying as pornography in that it places a woman’s value in her virginity and also spends an inordinate amount of time in discussion of the female physical form. I can still recall the men’s meetings about things like the so-called “peekaboo effect” pertaining to slit skirts (below the knees) and also hearing how some men claimed a woman’s exposed elbow somehow resembled a nipple and thus needed to be covered. To anyone outside of a purity culture, this sort of talk is perverted and ridiculous. It is little wonder why women in these cultures feel especially objectified and are often extremely distrusting or weirded out by men.
  • Pornography and purity culture pervert interactions between genders. This is the most insidious similarity between the two and the one that is most frustrating to me. There’s a picture of me on the beach, as a toddler, holding hands with a female cousin—our touch was friendly, completely non-sexual and entirely appropriate. But somehow, by the time I reached my teenage years, many young women were convinced that a mere conversation with a young man was a risk of defilement. This fear, sadly, is what became of the coffee date offer made in response to one of my blogs, the young woman who made the offer backtracked, and—while we did meet in the most awkward of settings—it was another bitter reminder of how perverted purity cultures have made male and female interactions. Rather than have a good time getting to know one another, as would be appropriate, we instead waded through topics of defilement and “guarding hearts” and her predetermined lack of interest in getting to know me. I don’t blame her for this nor the dozen other Mennonite girls before her who treated me more like a rabid dog than a Christian brother. It is what she was taught and it is also something she likely caught by seeing men constantly talk about her body as being this irresistible object. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, the female form is beautiful to me. But I’ve gone on many friendly dates with non-Mennonite women, even studied alone with them, and never once did we engage in sexual conversation or behavior. A good man sees a woman as more than an object, not all physical interaction is sexual, but both pornography and purity cultures pervert our interactions, make everything about sex and make it much more difficult for healthy relationships to develop between genders.
  • Pornography and purity cultures feed guilt without providing effective long-term solutions. Sin needs to be called out. That said, guilt-tripping a person stuck in a sex addiction is not going to stop them and, if anything, will simply keep them from speaking openly about their struggle with sin for fear of being stigmatized. Those mired in shame do not need more sermons, they need practical solutions. Feeding guilt may provide gratification for purity culture preachers, but does little more than the pornography itself to helping those who already feel shame yet are caught in a vicious cycle and defeated. Rather than obsess on sex and sin, we would be better to focus on holiness and fostering a church environment where those ensnared feel free to confess and find their salvation from the addiction.

We should—at very least—be promoting healthy relationships and providing opportunities for young people who desire relationship to interact without it being assumed to be a sexual encounter or regard every conversation between two unmarried people as a potential defilement. If we believe in a transformation of heart then we need to stop telling young women to fear their brothers in Christ, we need to humanize each other rather than treat ‘sisters’ like objects or treat ‘brothers’ as if they are animals. This means that purity culture leaders need to trust God to work in hearts, stop living in fear of losing control, and love as Christ loves them. If Jesus welcomed prostitutes, we should be fully ready to embrace and restore those who have ‘defiled’ themselves with pornography or other sexual immorality. The long-term solution is to stop promoting fearful reaction and sexual obsession and start with leaders willing to acknowledge this current quagmire and their repentance for creating it.

Both Produce Unrealistic Expectations

There is often a nasty surprise waiting for those who do manage to navigate the dysfunction of purity culture courtship expectations. The high ideal that kept them fearful of talking to the opposite gender for fear of defilement doesn’t guarantee that they will find satisfaction in marriage when they finally find someone superficially attractive enough to give a chance. No, if anything, this will likely lead to their discontentment when this magic person, who checked all the right boxes, turns out to be a sinner like the impure others they’ve rejected merrily along the way and isn’t what they thought he/she was when they married.

Purity culture, like pornography, creates this unrealistic expectation for male and female relationships. Yes, pornography is different than purity culture in that the expectations it creates are solely pertaining to the physical and yet both push for this perfect fantasy ideal. Whereas pornography often centers on perfect bodies having amazing sex, purity cultures paint the right guy as being this courageous knight in shining armor and a young woman as this pristine princess. However, in reality, a real-life relationship often falls well short of these expectations in even the best of circumstances, real people have “bad hair days” and make mistakes.

I’ve heard a purity culture pastor explain that he needs to portray is own marriage in glowing terms as an example for others. But that sort of whitewashing is in direct contradiction to what we see in Scripture where even the heroes of faith are portrayed in their flawed and very unflattering moments. King David, for example, was an adulterer who murdered the husband of the woman who he had sinned with. Elijah was working miracles before he fled like a complete coward when faced down by a female tyrant. Even Peter, the leader of the early church, denied Christ. All of these men would be unqualified by the standards of a purity culture fathers and daughters, yet they are the best examples of faith we have besides the literal son of God!

Pornography and purity cultures both imagine a world where real people do not live and true Christian love is not required. These unrealistic expectations will lead many to great disappointment when they finally get to marriage. It has led to many others giving up on marriage because they can’t get their wish list of expectations with options currently available. This goes completely contrary to a love that transcended our imperfections and died for our salvation while we were yet dead in our sin. No, not saying that we should marry someone unbelieving and unrepentant, certainly not, nor even someone unconcerned with things like hygiene, etc—but we should also show love to others as we want to be loved by God.

Both Have Diminishing Returns

Pornography, like any self-gratifying indulgence of the senses, often requires more and more novelty to have the same effect and can eventually even lead to erectile dysfunction. Likewise, fear-based purity culture preaching, rather than make us more vigilant, often deadens ears. Sure, it might get the heads nodding in agreement, it might even get the commitments to purity from the idealistic youth still trying to navigate their way through their own sexuality, and yet there is nothing in it that will lead to holiness. Just like consuming all the porn in the world won’t produce a meaningful relationship, you can’t actually “scare the hell out of people” and drive them into the kingdom of God through fear. No, salvation depends on a new birth, an encounter with God’s grace, and spiritual transformation.

Salvation isn’t pounded through skulls by screaming fits on Sunday mornings. Sure, we do see where Jesus used the threat of being thrown into a trash pit to try to knock some smug self-righteous religious folks off their high horse, but that certainly isn’t all he did nor is that what drew the crowds. We have no indication that Jesus was overly dramatic or ever raised his voice, in fact that would go against what was prophesied about him in the book of Isaiah: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.” (verse 42:1,2) What Jesus did do was heal and work miracles, his words were full of truth and love, that is why the religious needed to put him to death—he had something they themselves could not match.

We can preach sexual purity and saving oneself for marriage until the cows come home and it will not save anyone. Even this effort does actually convince some to abstain from sex before marriage, sexual purity is a false hope for winning God’s favor and especially if it comes accompanied by pride. It is very likely that many of those who rejected Jesus never viewed pornography and lived completely righteous lives according to the law and yet lacked the one critical component necessary for salvation. The bigger issue with purity culture is that it keeps us fixated on physical or emotional purity and takes our focus off of what is actually consequential.

We aren’t saved by our ability to live out a high moral standard. No, as Hebrews 11:6 tells us, without faith it is impossible to please God. So, yes, sexual purity before marriage does potentially come with some temporal returns, but eventually, it will be worth nothing unless we repent of our pride and depend fully on Jesus in faith.

Both Render Us Impotent

The most striking similarity between pornography and purity cultures is how both effectively neuter us and keep us from healthy relationships. Prior to writing this blog, I came across a YouTube video, “Porn and You,” from a secular source, talking about the damage to men and culture as a result of porn. In the video he cites an article, “6 Ways to Develop Sexual Integrity,” (a terribly misleading title) that presents this degradation as positive:

“An interesting effect happens as people watch pornography. They become more egalitarian, and more supportive of women and men sharing roles and work, less accepting of gender-based discrimination. They also become more accepting of sexual diversity and less stigmatizing towards homosexuality. They become less religious, and may even experience more crises of faith. Enjoying porn leads to people changing their beliefs about sex and gender, and, in some cases, rejecting the dogmatically rigid sex/gender values they were taught in church.”

That could be fine for a ‘progressive’ social engineer who does not see declining birth-rates and hypofrontality as an issue. But, for the rest of us, that should be the writing on the wall. Pornography addiction is pushing us towards cultural dysfunctionality and a potential demographic disaster. There are many good reasons to stop consuming pornography now, to not wait another day, and that it renders us spiritually and sexually neutered is top of the list. A great video to watch on this topic, “The great porn experiment,” gets into some of the ill-effects and also the benefits for those who quit their pornography addictions. But quitting is enough (or even possible) without filling the void (the answer to addiction is not sobriety, but connection) and that is where the church should be stepping up to the plate.

Purity cultures, likewise, render both men and women impotent. Rather than encourage us to live in faith, to take necessary risks and seek meaningful connections, they keep us fear-bound, on the sidelines and paralyzed. Again, young Christian men are treated by young women and their fathers as threats to purity and not as true brothers. The discernment of a young man is routinely dismissed as irrelevant, he can’t even get a date until he meets a list of expectations that have nothing to do with his faith or good character, and that’s assuming he is not run out completely by jealous and competitive church leaders. Many women too are kept from fully expressing their maternal and nurturing abilities, perpetually saving these complementary strengths for the one who is deserving and never arrives.

In purity cultures, ironically, unmarried men are turned into servile drones, often failing in their frustration to the very things that this focus is supposed to guard against and basically groveling at the feet of women who see them as creepy or weak. An end result is a growing number of older unmarrieds, those with standards that can’t be pleased on one end and others defeated—might as well be eunuchs—on the other. It is not healthy, it is not a model of Christian relationship, and often goes hand and hand with pornography addiction rather than being the cure. Both pornography and purity cultures feed our fantasies in the short-term, but in the long-term, they can destroy our chances at the most meaningful relationship a man and woman can have together.

It Is Time To Get Over Sex Obsession!

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8 NIV)

One tendency of fundamentalists, as reactionaries, is to fixate on the problem so much that their own thinking is perverted in the process. Everyone sincerely seeking after righteousness already should know, at a heart level, that taking advantage of other people for our own sexual pleasure is not Christ-like and sin. But the pushers of purity culture do not seem to trust the Spirit to convict their children and rely instead on isolation from outside influence and their heavy-handed regulations.

Purity cultures are motivated out of fear and a need to feel in control rather than faith. But, while they do force conformity of visible behavior (at least when others are watching) and keep many bound in their shame, they do not lead to a transformation of heart. Faith, not keeping the outside of the cup clean, is what pleases God. And faith will keep us focused on Christ, loving others as he loves, rather than obsessed with securing our own immediate gratification or turning to our own purity in the eyes of our religious peers for salvation.

Purity is not produced in a fearful reaction. It starts in a heart that seeks after goodness, walks in true faith, and is purified in fire. As Jesus said, defilement doesn’t come from the outside in, but from what is inside and comes out. In other words, we need to be pure in heart rather than filled with fear, obsessed with sin and frozen. The idea of guarding your heart, while it will keep us from sin, has nothing to do with avoiding friendly interactions that could lead to more down the road and everything to do with knowing the intentions which come from our heart:

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” (Proverbs 4:23‭-‬27 NIV)

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What Does Patriarchalism Have In Common with Harvey Weinstein?

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At first glance there seems to be little in common between an obscure religious movement and a disgraced Hollywood producer.

Harvey Weinstein and patriarchalism appear to be polar opposites.  One a purveyor filth who made a career of undermining traditional American values and profited greatly from sexual exploitation.  The other a loosely knit group of pious religious folk who promote a notion of sexual purity and believe they are defending their families against men like Weinstein.

What does a lecherous “progressive” elitist, one who championed the feminist agenda all-the-while sexually exploiting young vulnerable women, have in common with a group of extremely conservative people who refuse to participate in this “worldly” entertainment?

That is a question that hopefully will be answered by the time I’ve finished.  However, first a definition of a term…

What is Patriarchalism?

A patriarch is an elder male.  A matriarch is an elder female.  Families have both patriarchs and matriarchs within them.  However, some cultures are more “matriarchal” and others are labeled as “patriarchal” depending on how they distribute power to members of the group.

Our American culture tends to be patriarchal, we typically elect men as political leaders, women traditionally take the surname of their husbands, and this is not, in-and-of-itself, an abusive arrangement.  There are many women who want a strong male presence in their lives, there are many men willing to lovingly provide that for a woman, and that’s not patriarchalism.

Patriarchalism is when a man has absolute (or near absolute) and unquestionable authority over others.  It is a term first used to describe the tyrannical power of a king over his subjects and is an arrangement that is completely forbidden for a Christian leader:

“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not Lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” (1 Peter 5:1‭-‬4 NIV)

That quotation above being further exposition of words first spoken by Jesus:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles Lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25‭-‬28 NIV)

Patriarchalism, specifically for the purposes of this blog, is a Biblically-based religious movement that incorrectly uses Scripture (primarily Old Testament) to justify male dominance over others and dominion over female family members in particular.  It is a religious doctrine that is both negligent of the clear instruction given in the quotes above and also represents regression to a previous system that ultimately failed to provide salvation for anyone.

The Patriarchal movement has grown in reaction to the ever-encroaching influence of secularism represented by Hollywood.  Unfortunately it is as sex-obsessed and destructive as the mainstream culture it was intended to protect against.  When you strip away the superficial differences between them they are essentially the same or two sides of the same coin…

1) Separatism and Elitist Arrogance

Patriarchalism, in the Christian context, is a religious separatist movement.  It gets its ideological energy from Old Testament examples (men like Abraham, Issac and Jacob) then merges that with a sort of Biblical fundamentalist twist on 1950’s era Americana.

Common characteristics of the patriarchal movement include quiverfull teaching along with corporal punishment and home schooling of children.  Basically the man rules the roost, the female is there to be his adoring “helpmeet” (a word they distort for their own ends) and produce his many children.  Men like Michael Pearl, Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips have made their mark by selling this vision of male dominance to Biblical fundamentalists everywhere.

Hollywood, by contrast, is stocked full of globalists and preachers of a kind of multiculturalism that seems more aimed at elimination of European/Western/Christian influence than it is in celebrating *all* cultures.  These multi-millionaires live in their gated communities, hide behind layers of security and send their own children to private schools (or home school) then fight against school choice, want citizens to be disarmed and oppose measures to ensure an orderly immigration system.

In the case of one you have those who wish to erase, layer upon layer, a positive identity for traditional Americans.  In the other you have those who have basically voided the New Testament and seek to revert back to the Abrahamic covenant.  In both cases you have an incredible amount of arrogance, a woeful lack of introspection about the possibility they might not be as morally entitled as they feel themselves to be, and conditions ripe for abuse.

2) Purity Culture and the Objectification of Women

Another characteristic of patriarchalism is promotion of an idea of modesty focused almost entirely on clothing and female clothing in particular.  The claim is that it is a woman’s job to control male lusts, that clothing and falling under male domination is her protection from abuse, and positions her father and brothers as protectors.

The result is too often a sort of weird incestuous picture (sometimes literal incest like in the case of Joshua Duggar) where fathers and brothers become practice for their daughters and sisters who aren’t allowed to date otherwise.  In some places there are these creepy “purity balls” where young women are encouraged to pledge themselves to their fathers until marriage.

The dirty little secret is that not all protection is benevolent.  Yes, men in patriarchal purity cultures rant and rail against Hollywood’s objectification of women.  However, they are in no better moral position themselves in their promotion of an idea that a woman’s worth is in her virginity.  The patriarchal claim they are protecting their families, but in many cases they are simply trying to create special privileges and entitlements for themselves.

Hollywood men, for their part, make vast sums of money from turning women into sex objects and then pretend to be feminist when the cameras start to roll.  For example, Weinstein, while publically giving money to feminist endowments and backing female candidate Hillary Clinton, was pressuring young vulnerable women for sexual favors in private.

3) Silencing of Women and Non-disclosure Agreements

The worst part of patriarchalism is how abuse is too often swept under the rug or is blamed on the woman.  Bill Gothard, in his “character sketch” treatments of Biblical stories, even went as far as to suggest Dinah and Tamar were at fault for their being raped because (by his convoluted logic) they were not under their father’s “umbrella” thus unprotected and at fault for what happened to them.

The effect of that kind of victim blaming nonsense is to drive women into silence.  Putting it out there that rape is always somehow the fault of a woman discourages an already difficult task of reporting on a sexual assualt.  It is even worse in a purity culture where a woman may feel she risks reducing her worth to potential suitors by speaking out.

This disadvantage for a sexual abuse survivor only gets uglier in “non-resistant” (and patriarchal) Mennonite and Amish communities.  The abusers often know how to play the game and, if outright denial doesn’t work, they will lay the repentance card.  After this the victims might be accused of harboring bitterness and having an unforgiving spirit if they dare protest.

And, if that is not grotesque enough, men who do get exposed in their evil are often treated as victims themselves.  Both Joshua Duggar and Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein have that much in common.  They are excused as having a “sex addiction” and go for counseling as if they did not have a choice to resist their own primal urges.

At least the women assualted and raped by Weinstein got money or something for their troubles.  Young women in purity cultures are saddled down with guilt and shame because they are constantly reminded that it is their job to keep both themselves and their ‘brothers’ pure.  Patriarchal men are never guilty of their sins, at least not in their own eyes.

The Christian Case Against Patriarchalism

Since most of my audience probably agrees already that Hollywood is not morally upright, I will move right on to addressing the patriarchal movement and whether or not it meets a Christian standard.

One could argue (and I’ve heard this as justification before) that abuse happens everywhere and that means the patriarchal movement should get a pass.  I expect some, in response to this blog, would protest and say: “Sure we have our problems, but who doesn’t? …at least we are promoting Biblical values and better than those liberal elites, right?”

But the truth is that patriarchalism is not Christian.  Yes, there were Old Testament patriarchs and, sure, they did rule their own domains.  However, they were also born in a time different from our own and without the benefit of the example and teachings of Jesus Christ.  We can live to a greater standard than Abraham because we have a more complete revelation of God’s word.

Patriarchalism represents a turning away from Christ and regression back to a prior, less advanced system.  Instead of building on the OT using the NT, many attempt to amend and overturn the clear teachings of the latter with the prior.

For example, when John writes about “having no greater joy” in reference to his spiritual children, many twist this around and apply it to their own biological quiverfull.  This maltreatment of Scripture turns something that encourages brotherhood into a reinforcement of pride that already comes naturally for most parents.  The Pearl’s whole “No Greater Joy” homeschooling empire is built on this misuse of Scripture.

That is the biggest problem with the patriarchal movement in a nutshell.  The covenant to Abraham was clearly focused on a unity built around ethnic clans and tribes made up mostly of blood relatives.  But the Gospel transcends this and establishes a new covenant, a church, a family centered on Jesus Christ and unified in the Spirit.

One of the practical implications of the patriarchal movement is that those caught up in it neglect their brothers and sisters in Christ.  The patriarch, while demanding submission from his wife and children, refuses to submit to other believers as he is told to do in by the apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:21 and answers only to his own self-serving interpretation of Scripture.

Why Do Some Women Prefer Patriarchalism?

Scripture contains many examples of independent and strong women who had no problem making decisions for themselves.  In fact the ministry of Jesus was bankrolled by women (Luke 8:3) and played a very important role in the Gospel accounts.  Their involvement didn’t simply come at the behest of their husbands.

But many women in the patriarchal movement aren’t like that ideal woman of Proverbs 31 who bought and sold land and managed her own business.  They like playing the part of someone weak and ineffectual outside of certain domestic duties.  The reality is that some of them are really just lazy and refuse to apply themselves as fully as they ought.

They are enablers of the abuse as much as their domineering husbands.  I have talked to mothers who discouraged their daughters from getting an education (that could help further the practical mission of the church) because according to them women should be at home serving their husbands and popping out babies.

Christ Is Our Head and Men Are Supposed To Follow His Example

Many have taken the concept of Christian headship order and turned it on it’s head.  Jesus taught (and showed by his own example) that in his kingdom the greatest served others rather than demand others serve them.  Patriarchal men, by contrast, follow a worldly example and demand to be served.

Christian leadership is supposed to be about servanthood.  Husbands and wives are told to submit to each other and all Christians are supposed to have this attitude:

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:1‭-‬8 NIV)

You can’t claim to believe that and be a patriarchal separatist who only fellowships on his own terms. You cannot say that you “value others above yourselves” while believing that your influence is better than all others (not blood relatives) in the community of faith.  Being like Christ means giving up special privileges, offering yourself as a sacrifice for the good of others, and being involved in the church where it counts.

Patriarchal men deliberately isolate themselves from accountability to the church and then demand absolute obedience from those in their own homes.  They might claim to be protecting their families, but they are also privileging themselves with power that is not theirs to wield.  Their behavior is too often as predatory as that of men like Harvey Weinstein.

What does Charleston say about us?

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There are many who react to the church shooting at Charleston’s historic Emanuel A.M.R. Church by blaming availability of guns and decrying racism.

But one thing missing from the discussion, that is a victimhood mentality and the idea that all people of a particular race are guilty because of the acts of a few. 

When Dylann Storm Roof walked into the doors of that church he was armed with two ideas: 1) his tribe (white people, women, etc) were the victims, and 2) their tribe (black people) were collectively responsible for black rapists, perceived injustice, etc.

It was the ideas that this depraved young man harbored in his heart that were dangerous.  However, these ideas are not unique to him or just to unreasonable and angry white men.  These are ideas accepted accepted in mainstream thought that divides people into falsely dichotomous categories.

Who kills the innocent? We do!

Ideas that white is equal to privilege or black is equal to victimhood are equally dangerous.  When we feed the martyr complex and victimhood mentality we are giving license to those of an even more deranged mind to take it a step further. 

The problem with Roof and those like him (of all races, genders, etc) is not what they do—but that they feel justified to do it.  We can fret about availability of guns and a multitude of other factors, but until we address the heart issue we are only treating the symptoms.

We won’t stop a person bent on evil and destruction with more legislation.  If anything more law will only create the next inequity and give some other person reason to feel disenfranchised.  But what we do need is to unravel the false dichotomies and prejudice assumptions that fuel hatred.

Being on the ‘right’ side of history…

We are urged to be on the “right side of history” yet the problem is that everyone (including Roof) feels they are on the ‘right’ side and justified.  Jesus encountered this in the Pharisees who thought themselves better than other people and superior to their own ancestors:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous.  And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’  So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets.”  (Matthew 23:29-31)

There are many sanctimonious today who think they are superior to other people.  They may decry the injustices of the past, support punishment for those they hold responsible and blame, but they themselves often as guilty or more of similar abuse.

Is an anti-abortion activist who calls women entering a clinic names or murderers a provider any better than those they accuse? 

Is a person who labels others as “racist” or “homophobic” or “hateful” in response to a disagreement over opinion less abusive than a person who uses the n-word?

I say, no and no. 

The solution to hate is not to be hateful.  As Mahatma Gandhi wisely observed: “An eye for an an eye only leaves the whole world blind.”  What he observed is the same as when Jesus quipped that those who live by the sword will die by it (Matthew 26:52) or ‘what goes around comes around’ in essence.

We make a difference by being different…

Everyone has reason for their own abuses.  Many of the most abusive people in history believed they served a righteous cause.  Many people can identify the sins of other tribes or the prior generation, but few seem able to see their own abuses.  We prefer to keep the spotlight on those whom we perceive to be worse than us than we are interested in searching out the wickedness of our own hearts.

Ben Carson spoke well:

“You know, we have a war on women, race wars, income wars, age wars, religious wars. Anything you could imagine, we have a war on it… And we’re giving people a license to hate people who disagree with them.”

We need to stop arming ourselves with contempt and be committed to loving as we wish to be loved.  It is easy to love our own and hate others, but divine love seeks unity rather than encourage division.  It sacrifices self rather than perpetuate cycles of violence.  It brings grace to the fight even when vengeance feels justified.

Grace saves us…

It is the Spirit of love like that of Marcus Stanley, who was shot eight times but lived, and chose grace in response to hate:

“I don’t look at you with the eyes of hatred, or judge you by your appearance or race, but I look at you as a human being that made a horrible decision to take the lives of 9 living & breathing people. Children do not grow up with hatred in their hearts. In this world we are born color blind. Somewhere along the line, you were taught to hate people that are not like you, and that is truly tragic. You have accomplished nothing from this killing, but planting seeds of pain that will forever remain in the hearts of the families that lost their lives and countless hearts around our country.”

Let’s not fall victim to those who would divide us into categories, but instead seek the unity of all people only possible with a love that tears down walls, bridges divides and believes when others say it is impossible. 

May those seeds of Roof’s hate stay dead and the love of Jesus in Stanley’s gracious response grow in us.  The answer is not more or less guns nor petitions against flags and protest, it is less hate and more Jesus.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Romans 12:21)

409

Standard

“There is a case for telling the truth; there is a case for avoiding the scandal; but there is no possible defense for the man who tells the scandal, but does not tell the truth.” G.K. Chesterton

A few years ago a man I respected greatly became the center of a media frenzy that ended his storied career as a coach and respected mentor.  The popular narrative at the time was that he had participated in a cover-up and sheltered a sexual predator.  It was an idea based in speculation rather than actual fact, there wasn’t even a semblance of due process before he was fired (literally in the dark of night) and yet with sanctimonious glee many presumed his guilt.  It was disturbing to watch for a person actually concerned with justice.

The man, Joe Vincent Paterno, had coached football at Penn State from 1966 to 2011 and during the time had amassed 409 victories.  But his biggest contribution was not on something recorded in the Sunday morning paper. What earned him a spot in the hearts of many who cared very little about football was his character and concern for bigger things.  He was loyal to the concept of student-athlete, was a trailblazer for civil rights once standing up to an opponent that requested some of his players not participate because of their skin color and practically built the university library through his donations.

Obviously none of the accolades one can list about him would excuse Paterno if he were truly guilty of what many had surmised.  But it is a record that should call us to question the narrative as presented and keep us from joining in a rush to judgment.  Well, the push back has begun and the facts seem to support a less damning verdict.  It is for that reason the NCAA has relented on the punitive measures they took against Paterno and that punished athletes who had nothing whatsoever to do with anything criminal or morally reprehensible.

Still, there are some blowhard moralizers who still refuse to ‘get it’ and insist on painting a whole community as willfully ignorant for not sharing in their own surmising and their own selective memory.  Among them sticking to the presumptuous early narrative is Keith Olbermann who blasted those who celebrate the restoration of a legacy that includes 409 wins.  His persistent to neglect fact in his prosecution of Paterno and Penn State fans the subject of an ‘open letter’ response…

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