At the End of the World

(aka the post on eschatology and also Trump.)

We’ve made it to the third post on fundamentalism and all its fun problems. I’m going to try weaving in some current events that relate to this specific issue of what many fundamentalists believe about how the world is going to end. And how that affects how people are treated in fundamentalist circles and in the world of politics.

Two terms for you which many of you are probably very familiar with if you grew up in this environment are pre-tribulational rapture and pre-millennialism. The first encapsulates what many fundamentalists and your more conservative evangelicals believe about the rapture. Basically, Jesus is coming back to rapture the church away from the earth while the world goes through seven years of terrible terrible things (antichrist, lots of people die, all that jazz. Scary stuff in the book of Revelation). Pre-millennialism is the idea that Jesus comes back to the earth to establish his million year reign on earth after the end of the Tribulation.

NOW: because fundamentalists believe this and because they believe what they believe about morality, they tend to only focus on spiritual things in preparing people for this end of the world scenario they believe so strongly about.

If you believe the world is ending, but you’re not sure when, you’re going to live your life a certain way.

If you believe that your spiritual destiny matters more than the physical state of the world and people in it, you’ll only care about “sharing the gospel” with folks and not nearly as much (if at all) about social justice…except as a prerequisite to helping people “get saved.” Even if that means leaving people in oppressive circumstances. But they’re saved, on their way to Heaven and will be raptured with the church, so it’s all good.

They don’t think climate change is a thing. They don’t usually have a problem with torture. Or war crimes. Or those stuck in a cycle of poverty. Or systemic racism. If any of this sounds familiar, we just got a new leader of the free world who is the result of what fundamentalism can bring to a society. I truly believe these are dark, dark times. Sorry, I’m a downer, but this shit is real. The authoritarian president shit. I don’t know about when the world is going to end. I do know that fundamentalists hold to this American version of Christianity that looks nothing like Jesus. It looks a lot like the Church’s politics and religion being mixed together. I am involved in politics because I think politics affect people and Jesus cares about people. THEY are involved in politics to protect self interest in “religious liberty” to discriminate against refugees, disabled people, people of color, women, LGBTQ people…The list goes on.

Also, isolationism is a BIG thing with fundamentalism. Again, sound familiar? Because, if you believe you have to follow a certain moral code to be in good standing with God, you will try avoiding anything or anyone who is “of the world” and tend to be isolated from the real World. It means saving people from the fires of hell but leaving them in their own version of that fire on earth.

I don’t like to make jokes about Hell because it was taught to me as a very real reality. And something people tell me occasionally because I’m gay is that I’m going to Hell. Fun. Stuff. I don’t have time for this anymore–mostly because this type of thinking leads to only caring about one part of a person and not all of them. Not to mention, what kind of God do you have if you claim this God is loving and don’t love your neighbor? I feel like Jesus said something about that somewhere….

This goes back to the angry God as Judge. And leads to fear of living. That’s what I grew up with…being taught I didn’t need to fear death because of Jesus. But I was afraid of living. I even had nightmares growing up that the Rapture happened and I had been left behind. Sometimes I still do. Many of those nightmares have been coming back.

In closing, I used to think this was a normal way to think. Ya know, being preoccupied with the end of the world and telling people they’re going to hell out of concern for them. Now I see it as one of the cruelest things you can say/believe when you don’t truly love people in real life. So…to those people who do this:

What would you do if you knew the world was ending?

Would you fight for justice and stand for the oppressed?

What would you do if the world was ending?

Would you save as many people as you could?

What would you do if the world was ending?

Would you stand with the broken and damned?

What would you do if the world was ending?

Would you try to stop it…

Or just smile as you watched everything burn?

What would you do if the world was ending?

What would you do?

_______________________________________________________

I was inspired by the song End of the World by Ingrid Michaelson, which you should totally listen to.

I was also inspired to write this after reading Girl at the End of the World which I referenced at the end of my last post. It is an incredible book and a very hard read.

 

 

Why Is God So Angry?

(Content Note for spiritual abuse)

This is week two of a series I started last week on fundamentalism. I thought I would attempt to focus on one foundational issue from which all the other issues in fundamentalism stem. Most of the problems with fundamentalism are so interconnected, I’ve really struggled with where to start. Or where to stop once I started writing down different subjects. So, I decided this is a good place to start theologically at least: God as Judge/Angry with humanity.

More accurately, why fundamentalists treat people who “sin” a certain way so terribly (specifically queer women) can be directly attributed to how they view morality as a whole. Fundamentalists like to focus on having a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” because they believe this saves you from an eternity in Hell separated from God forever. Also, you want to avoid the Tribulation, so better get “saved” before that…and since we don’t know what time that will occur, you need to do it asap. Most would start conversations with people outside their churches with a God loves you, but you’re a sinner type of conversation. They will most likely quote John 3:16.

And of course, once you accept Jesus “into your heart,” you have to tell others about Jesus so that they won’t die and go to Hell. It’s all about policing others’ morality and making sure they’re set for eternity. Whether they agree with you or not. Now, it’s important to make a distinction here, I think, between fundamentalists and evangelicals. There’s definitely some overlap, but the two differ significantly. Both groups would agree that Jesus is the way of salvation (John 14:1-6), but fundamentalists tend to be much more about rules and have a different eschatological belief (what they believe about the end times can be VERY different). Evangelicals tend to emphasize grace more and have similar concerns about morality…just not as adamant about the hell, fire and brimstone part of sharing the Gospel.

In case you’re wondering where the spiritual abuse part of this comes in, it’s coming. Because fundamentalists believe this about eternal salvation, they also believe in moral absolutes. I don’t have problems with moral absolutes per se but they present their ethical system as having no grey areas. All things have a moral value to them–nothing is neutral. And all things tend to have spiritual value to them–psychological ailments can be considered a spiritual problem. I struggle with depression but it’s not because of some hidden sin in my life that I haven’t dealt with. That’s what they would tell me.

Ultimately, fundamentalism’s view morality in a way that distorts how they see people. If you’re struggling with a certain “sin” (Read: sexual sin) you’re probably going to be treated like less of a person. I can almost guarantee it both from my own experience and the experience of others. This can lead to damaging consequences for LGBTQ people in fundamentalist churches because when someone views morality in a way that distorts humanity, this in itself presents an ethical dilemma. They think they’re being moral, but choosing between treating a person like a person or like a “sinner” who needs to be punished or policed is a big deal. This leads to controlling someone else’s life because of concern they are either not “saved” or they need to repent.

This is abusive. You can call it legalism or fundamentalism or whatever the hell you want but either way it is both spiritually and psychologically damaging. For queer folks, it leads to self-hatred and it can be very dangerous. It is also this view of morality that leads to churches excommunicating their queer members or encouraging parents to kick their kids out of the house. Because God is an angry God and God is judge…so if you’re truly a Christian, you need to not sin.

Primarily the views expressed above have led me to realize they’re wrong because of how I’ve been treated recently. But even growing up, I used to have a deep sense of urgency that something was not right in my world. And that I had to figure out what that was. I felt this for the first time when I was 12. Now at 25 I feel like maybe I can finally deal with that sense of urgency and do something about it. It’s also lead me to view ethics from a different viewpoint.

I guess you could say I’ve mostly turned to what is referred to as situational ethics or situationalism. Of course, I am told this system of ethics is lacking by most evangelical Christians, but it can be defined as determining what’s right based off what is most loving, what promotes freedom, human rights, etc. This is just where I’m at right now. It could totally change in the next year. I personally believe that love is a pretty good reason to treat human beings with dignity and respect. I can see some flaws in it as many people can say that the most loving thing in one situation might be different than what I would say. There are inconsistencies as with any other ethical framework. Either way, I think it’s better than teaching people to hate a part of themselves just because the version of God they believe in says they have to.

I can honestly tell you I don’t know what I believe about Jesus being the only way of salvation, or about Heaven and Hell right now. I am very uncomfortable with an angry God who sends people to hell because they didn’t believe in him or know about him (is God even a he though? I’ll get there…). But I am equally uncomfortable with a God of love. Why? Because it is the opposite of what I’ve known God to be. When you’re taught that, Yes, Jesus loves us, but only if we stop sinning so God can love us based on our performance–how much less we sin…I have to wonder if that’s right. If that God as Judge can also be the God who loves.

Just some closing thoughts for the series as a whole:

Other topics I’m planning on covering in the next few weeks are Purity Culture, End Times, Happy vs Holy, and Self-Care vs Selfish to name a few.

Also, I’m at a point where I think I’m seriously considering writing a book because think it’s needed.

Lastly before I post some resources that are helpful for this post, I’d like to have YOUR help and input on some things you’d like me to talk about. And I would even maybe like to interview some of you who have grown up in fundamentalism/are queer.

Especially, if you have left fundamentalism and/or decided to even leave the faith, I’d like to share that story. If any of this sounds at all interesting to you, you can email me at wallflowerinfj@gmail.com which is the email account I’ve set up for the blog.

Resources:

Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther – The author grew up in a fundamentalist cult basically that focused on the end times a lot. It’s a hard read but helped me process some things.

Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans – This one is good for those struggling with their faith and wrestling with doubts. I am currently rereading it because I think I’m at a place where I can glean more from it than the first time I read it.

Love Wins by Rob Bell – I know…we were taught this was heresy, but it’s actually quite good.

 

All My Friends are Heathens

Content note: Spiritual abuse, sexual abuse, homophobia

(If that song is stuck in your head now, you’re welcome)

So…this is the first post of the year on sexuality! Yay! Hopefully this will be the first of many in a series on fundamentalism and sexuality–specifically, how growing up fundamentalist affects queer women. I realize I’m probably only going to scratch the surface because attempting to untangle homophobia in the American Christian church in general could take a book, and I know my experience is not the only one. This is primarily introductory.

I am one of many struggling with sexual identity and battling not only homophobia or biphobia (will discuss gender identity briefly but later will do something more thorough) but also sexism/misogyny simultaneously as these are interrelated. I’ve only known that I was gay or at least that I wasn’t straight for about 5 years now. and gay is a quick answer that in no way fully explains my sexuality. It’s incredibly complex.

Fundamentalism is in short a particular sect of Christianity that believes in a literal interpretation of Scripture, usually King James Version of the Bible only in my experience, and very heavy on the women submitting to men not only in marriage but within the church whether single or not. Women aren’t supposed to hold leadership positions much less pastor or otherwise do anything in the church that would “usurp the authority” of a man. Samantha Fields, a blogger I follow does a lot of good work on this. Feminism is basically demonized and labeled “radical feminism.” So that’s fun to deal with.

Now, I didn’t realize that fundamentalism differed from any other Conservative Christian evangelicals until I went to college. I was also homeschooled from age 10 until I graduated high school, so that’s another layer. My dad was currently pastoring a small Southern Baptist church that was incredibly fundamentalist in practice. This was one of the darkest times of my life as I realized how dangerous legalism was to your spiritual health. It’s probably the closest I came to ending my life.

While I didn’t admit to myself that I was in some way queer until halfway through college, it’s not really new information to me. Especially when I began coming out to people who had known me for most of my life, who had watched me externally try to be straight, it was confusing/still is confusing for my parents and church I grew up in to process. I swear, queer kids should get Oscar’s for growing up fundamentalist and acting straight. Most people have no clue.

I didn’t know I was gay but now I just have a word to describe what I’ve been experiencing my entire life. Also, it’s not as simple as that for me so I want to talk about how not every LGBTQ+ person’s experience is comparable to someone else who identifies even in the same way. Not to mention if you grew up in a conservative fundamentalist home like I did, your experience may be very different from someone who grew up in a less conservative Christian environment.

SO! Let me explain why this is hard. I currently identify as gay but I also consider myself to be demisexual. Basically, I’m definitely attracted to women but I don’t really experience sexual attraction/romantic attraction until I’ve gotten to known someone and can emotionally connect with them. I do not quite understand celebrity crushes for the most part or the concept of one-night stands, going on dates with strangers, etc. (Also, gender non-conforming…another layer…) Previously, I had identified as bisexual as I was working through what label most made sense to me. In my early posts from two years ago, you’ll see that, and I won’t change it since it’s part of my journey.

My religious background being as repressive as it was makes it difficult as well for me to think of myself positively as a sexual being. Thank you, purity culture! When churches or any other institution requires LGBTQ+ people to repress a core part of their identity, it. is. harmful. I know, they think they’re being moral. I know they think being “right” and “biblical” is the most important. But they’re hurting us by telling us we should just resist our “temptations” with “same-sex attraction.” This is bullshit. Plain and simple. It reinforces deep hatred of self. I want to see my friends stay alive and live full lives with whomever they choose to love. And you all deserve that. I’m just tired of not feeling safe. ┬áIt is exhausting to fight for a safe space in a place that should be one of the safest and most healing places. It’s emotionally and physically exhausting. If no one’s told you recently, God loves you and you matter. NO ONE has the right to make you feel unloved or unwanted.

Fundamentalism is a toxic thing. If you can leave, do it for your own safety and mental health. You do NOT have to stay in a toxic environment. I know some perhaps still living at home and in high school are going to find that option hard, but please get out if you can and reach out for support. There are times for meaningful engagement but not at the risk of harming yourself in the process. Anyway, sorry that was a bit of a rabbit trail.

I’m heartbroken that almost every LGBT person I know has at some point been suicidal and/or struggled with mental health. These types of faith communities usually care more about their image and protecting themselves than you. Your parents may even fall prey to this mentality that you’re a “sinner” who needs to be “fixed.” You don’t need to be fixed, friends.

Especially for us queer women, we often deal with the spiritual abuse and sexual abuse. Fundamentalist churches are practically breeding grounds for abuse of power. We don’t meet the standard for how the male leaders think a woman should be. We are both too much and not enough. They may vilify you. Exclude you. Invalidate your experience. But please reach out for support. Again, you are not alone.

I’m going to close with some resources that helped me come from a strictly conservative point of view with issues of sexuality to my more current, more queer liberation theology view. This is probably long overdue.

Resources:

Most conservative places to start are with your gay celibate Christians (don’t read reparative therapy books that want you to change your sexuality. those are damaging and unless you’re researching the subject, just…don’t.):

Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill – Wesley Hill does a good job of humanizing the experience of the gay Christian specifically one who chooses celibacy.

Gay and Catholic by Eve Tushnet – Similar to Wesley Hill’s but gives the lesbian perspective that I found helpful at the beginning of my journey.

Is God Antigay? by Sam Allberry – This is actually the first I read. He’s advocating for calling himself same-sex attracted which I don’t like, but if you’re used to hearing homosexuality is sin…

Less conservative but sooo good:

Changing Our Mind by David Gushee – He started from an extremely conservative perspective and does a good job meeting conservatives where they are in the debate over same-sex relationships.

Torn by Justin Lee – Specifically deals with being gay and Christian and moving towards a more affirming position of same-sex relationships. I LOVE this one. It helped me move to being more affirming of myself. Also, he started Gay Christian Network which is much more inclusive than the name sounds.

God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines – Good, good Scriptural defense of committed, monogamous same-sex relationships from a more conservative guy. Started The Reformation Project.

Does Jesus Really Love Me? by Jeff Chu – Jeff Chu interviews many people surrounding the debate of whether you can be LGBT and Christian. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking.

MY FAVORITE:

This Book is Gay by James Dawson – This is the most inclusive despite the title of those all over the spectrum of sexuality and gender. It’s not written by a Christian and it’s just wonderful. I would especially recommend this one for LGBTQ+ youth.

Edit: A few resources I forgot:

Unnatural: Spiritual Resiliency in Queer Christian Women by Rachel Murr

Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women, and Queer Christians Are Reclaiming Evangelicalism by Deborah Jian Lee

What 2017 Brings

Answer: Restlessness. Resistance. Feeling like a rubber band about to snap.

“But if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
You’ve been here before?”

I feel like the song Pompeii by Bastille this year. So maybe it’s a good theme song for a new beginning that feels like we’ve been here before, but we have a chance to make changes happen in light of where we’ve been.

“How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?”
“We were caught up and lost in all of our vices
In your pose as the dust settles around us
And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Grey clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above”
Mostly in this new year of crazy news stories breaking within the first couple weeks, I’m discovering the need to take time to pause. Meditation is a thing I’ve started this year, and I’ve discovering how much I overthink, how busy my mind is. all. the. time. This year is a year for us to resist all the things that are happening politically in our country.
And I’m afraid. I am afraid to try because I’m afraid to fail. I started reading the book Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, a book I’ve been wanting to read for a while and got for Christmas.
So far…the biggest adventure in life might be that some risks are worth taking even if there’s a chance you might fail. But it would be worse never to have tried at all because then you have already failed. I have much more to say that I’ve not been able to articulate yet about moving forward in the new year, but this is all I’ve been able to put together for now.

Stories Shape Us: Little Women

Here’s to it finally being 2017 and to learning from 2016 to be better in the new year. For my first blog post of the year, I’m going to try introducing a series just to see if I can actually stay on track with it. Particularly in the last half of 2016, I spent a lot of time telling stories from my life as a way to communicate ideas and help connect with those reading the blog (mostly folks on Twitter).

This year I’d like to broaden the audience. That being said, I want to write more about stories that shape us and how fiction and media do that to change people, communities, and culture. I’d also like to write more about social justice issues that don’t just affect me personally, and I want to be more involved maybe at the grassroots level at least in my own community. I’m going to attempt to connect this two ideas of story and social justice and how they influence each other but sometimes the ideas may be more disconnected.

The first story I want to reflect on is Little Women. I grew up being inspired both by the book Little Women written by Louisa May Alcott and the film adaption from 1994. For those less familiar, it’s a somewhat autobiographical story of four sisters: Margaret (Meg), Josephine (Jo), Beth, and Amy March, their relationship with each other, with their mother whom they affectionately call Marmee, and their experience living in Concord, MA during and after the Civil War.

The author, Louisa May Alcott is one of my heroes who I did a research project on in high school, and it’s been on my bucket list for a while to eventually visit Orchard House where she grew up and penned several of her novels. She also closely identifies with Jo who is her fictional representation in Little Women. She’s mainly one of my heroes because as a woman during her time, she made a way in the world as an author when it was incredibly difficult and almost impossible to do so. Anyway, I digress, but she was a fascinating person. Knowing about the author tells much about the stories she created that shaped her readers.

To me, the story of Little Women has always been first and foremost about women who were strong on their own but especially together in relationship with one another. I have two younger sisters and we would always joke about which sister each of us was in the story. This is an element of Little Women that makes it powerful because it’s so relatable. (Also, Marmee is a hero all her own for teaching her girls to be strong, independent women. I could spend an entire post entirely on her character.)

One of my sisters was very much like Jo in her temperament growing up but also became more refined and sensible like Meg. My youngest sister has and always will be much like Amy March both in personality and in her hobbies as she is an artist.

For me, I’ve always been told I’m most like Beth. Growing up watching this movie a lot as a child, I think I always wanted that to be true because Beth is a saint. Beth is how people always told me I should be as a woman. Which is fine, because she’s a gentle soul and peace maker in the March family. She also meets an untimely and early death and I cry every time I read that part of the book or see that part of the movie partly because I relate to her so much. Externally, I think I come off as a Beth to many people who’ve known me my whole life.

However, it was Jo who inspired me the most. She’s boisterous, unapologetically herself, makes her own way in the world, and she’s a writer. She stays up late into the night inspired by the characters she’s creating. But she’s more often than not harshest on herself and attaches her self-worth to what others think of her. She’s a flawed heroine, and she’s absolutely wonderful. While she starts out writing fictional stories, it isn’t those stories that make her famous, but when she writes about her sisters. When she writes from what she knows and it resonates.

What also impressed me about her character is that while she does care what people think of her, she doesn’t let it stop her from achieving her dreams. Not to mention, Louisa May Alcott originally intended this story to end without Jo finding a lover, but her fans insisted she must end up with someone. So, Alcott wrote a second part to the story. Alcott herself never married, and I don’t think she needed anyone to complete her just as Jo really didn’t either. What makes us strong is when we are unapologetically ourselves and see our own self-worth apart from others but yet find our strength in community with other people.

So, as I sit here listening to the soundtrack for the movie and reflecting on this story, I want to make sure in this new year to be unapologetically myself and see my own self-worth and the worth and value in others. I hope we all seek strength in community and strength in being kinder to ourselves and more loving. and also, I hope we find in this the strength to resist any who would dehumanize, demean, or diminish us or those around us.

“We are all hopelessly flawed,” as Friedrich Bhaer says to Jo. We are all hopelessly flawed and there is great beauty in embracing this.