When We Are More Interested in Evangelical In-Fighting Than Serious Issues of Justice

My dad used to tell a joke from the pulpit, back when “damn” was a much stronger word in evangelical/fundamentalist circles than it is now.

It went roughly like this:

“Millions of people die every day from preventable causes without ever having heard about Jesus’ love, and most of you don’t give a damn, and most of you are probably more worried about the fact that I said ‘damn’ than about the fact that millions of people die daily from preventable causes without ever having heard about Jesus’ love.”

I have a new post up at her.meneutics, Christianity Today’s women’s blog that, quite frankly, I don’t expect too many people to read.

It’s about how it’s perfectly legal in most states to shackle pregnant women while they are in labor.

Here’s just one bit of the piece, from a highly publicized story from a few years back:

When Shawanna Nelson was brought to the hospital, her contractions were two or three minutes apart and very intense. She cried out for pain medication and begged for a cesarean.

Instead, Shawanna was given two Tylenol and kept shackled to her hospital bed—a shackle lashing one hand to an IV pole and another fastening her legs together until the delivery of her nine and a half pound baby—Shawanna herself weighed only about 100 pounds at the time.

She was serving time in an Arkansas prison for identity theft and writing bad checks. She had no history of violence, yet she was accompanied throughout her labor and delivery by an armed guard.

Any woman who has felt even one intense contraction knows that laboring woman is anything but a flight risk. Moreover, those who’ve given birth un-medicated also know that being able to move freely eases pain and prevents injury: as a result of her shackled labor, Shawanna suffered nerve damage and an umbilical hernia that required surgical repair, among other physical problems and in addition to mental trauma. The American Medical Association has called the practice of shackling laboring women “medically hazardous” and “barbaric”—it poses a risk to the health of the mother and to that of her unborn baby.”

Hideous, right? And yet. Maybe we’re all so accustomed to the hideousness we see on TV and on the Internet every day that we just click on by.

And maybe, for some of us, it’s because her name is Shawanna and she’s black that we can’t imagine extending her the same sort of mercy–whatever her crime–that we would extend to our own wives and daughters.

Maybe it’s because the ACLU and Prison Fellowship and Virginia’s conservative Family Foundation all AGREE that this shackling has to stop that there’s no real story of partisan mudslinging, where the conservatives get to pick on the liberals and the liberals on the conservatives.

Because don’t we all love to get to take sides and entrench within them, and pat ourselves on the back for being so much more enlightened than the “other” side? As I wrote last year, in the blogosphere, it can seem like everyone is always talking about what they are against, and, frankly, it often has quite the Pharisaic tone:

  • Lord, I thank you that I am not like those bleeding-heart social-justice-y Sojourners Christians
  • Lord, I thank you that I am not like those uptight, theology-obsessed Gospel Coalition Christians
  • Lord, I thank you that I am not like those sling-wearing, tree-hugging crunchy mamas
  • Lord, I thank you that I am not like those career-driven, daycare-using mamas
  • Lord, I thank you that I am not like those complacent, suburban dwelling churchgoers
  • Lord, I thank you that I am not like those hipster new-urbanism loving churchgoers
  • Lord, I thank you that I am not like those lefty, wealth-redistributing Democrats
  • Lord, I thank you that I am not like those right-wing, poor-people-despising Republicans

Screen shot 2013-08-05 at 1.03.19 PM(image via PamelaClare.blogspot.com)

Even as I’m writing posts like the one on chaining laboring inmates, I know that they’ll get only a little attention.

And that’s fine. I don’t write what I think will be popular, I write what I think is true and important.

But it does annoy me that when I write posts about ‘biblical’ gender roles or bikinis or modesty or whatever the issue of outrage du jour happens to be, the sparks of interest fly.

It just makes me wonder what many of those most loudly vocal and critical (or adulating and approving) on social media are really interested in: the justice and mercy and truth and righteousness that they claim to be supporting by responding vigorously to whatever foolish thing John Piper or Mark Driscoll or Douglas Wilson has just said or by praising whatever “hot” post has just been penned by whomever is currently judged the paragon of evangelical hip-ness.

Is the appeal of some of these posts–and I include myself as one who has been caught up in this online drama–the adrenaline-pumping thrill of smacking those folks down as we show off our own cleverness in parsing their heinousness by demonstrating how an offhand comment about modesty is a slippery slope to women being held cruelly, legally, and rightly in (mostly symbolic) chains?

I guess it’s just a lot less adrenaline pumping to read about the actual women in actual chains. Who exist. Legally. In these United States.

And sorry for the cranky tone here, but I do find that depressing.

{Sign the petition to end shackling of pregnant women here.}

Read the rest of my her.meneutics post here.

If You Love This Land of The Free–Disagree, Disagree

Whenever I write a post–whether for this blog or another–I always have an inkling of what kind of response it is going to get. Posts on poverty, hunger, AIDS or something Bible-related that has nothing to do with gender roles will get minimal responses. Posts on Victoria’s Secret, eating disorders, or sex, on the other hand, well, you know.

It’s kind of a joke among my fellow writers. The more sensational, the more pageviews and comments–a virtual law of the blogo-twittersphere.

But when I wrote a piece pointing out that “masculinity” is not a fixed concept and that there is no good reason–Biblical or otherwise–for John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Douglas Wilson, or anyone else–to press men and women into “traditional gender roles” and call this “Biblical” or “Christian,” I was unprepared for some of the responses that came my way.

  • you’re going to hell
  • you don’t really believe in Jesus
  • you’re in rebellion
  • you’re stupid
  • you need to be ‘straightened out’
  • you’re trying to grasp authority that’s not yours
  • etc.

Being disagreed with so strenuously, being ‘put back in line’ or simply told off is not something I’m used to. I’m a pretty conciliatory person. There’s a part of me that likes a good debate, but a bigger part of me that just wants to get along. If we disagree strongly on, say, some point of theology or some political position, I’m much more likely to want to talk about anything else just so’s we can not argue.

However, sometimes the stakes are such that I can’t avoid an issue for the sake of a superficial ‘peace,’ or to ensure that people keep “liking” me. I look to Dr. Martin Luther King on this one. Remember his letter from Birmingham Jail? The pastors who wrote to him–well-meaning, of course–urged him not to make waves, create discord, to wait.

But justice too long delayed is justice denied. The time for acting, for speaking, is almost always now.

And the ‘peace’ that comes from ‘not arguing’ is sometimes just a silencing cloth covering injustice.

Yet this does not mean that we have to be, well, mean.

I realized something last week: I can disagree, discuss, yea, argue, with the people I love very best in this world, with none of us doubting the others’ love or even assuming ill will. Why is that?

  • Is it because, from the very outset, we want to move to a place of concord?
  • Is it because we want to know what the other thinks, and why, so that we can understand where they are coming from?
  • Is it because we will love and respect and accept and live with each other even if we disagree?

This country was founded upon some powerful ideas.

One of them being that we are not a monoculture, religiously, politically, or otherwise.

We can disagree, two Americans, and still both be Americans.

We can disagree, two Christians, and still both be Christians.

We can disagree, two friends, and still be friends.

As Pete Seeger sang/said, “I may be right, I may be wrong […] but I have a right to sing this song! (Isn’t that the great thing about America? You have a right–to be wrong!)”

Fun fact: law in 17th century Maryland prohibited the use of the words “Papist” for Catholics or “Roundhead” for Puritans. Because them’s was fighting words, and that’s not what this New Country was ever supposed to be about.

So if you love this land of the free–feel free to disagree. But not in such a way that casts one of us out.

In a way that makes it possible for us all to be in.

With A Scholarly Ribbon In My Hair…

…or, why we’re hearing so much about “masculine” Christianity.

Billy Sunday, grandpappy of 'muscular' Christianity...

I have a post up at Christianity Today’s blog for women, her.meneutics, responding to John Piper’s comments of last week (or so) that “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.”

Here is some of what I said:

“…masculinity and femininity are not fixed and eternal sets of attributes, but are by and large culturally defined, and always changing. For example, blue was once more closely associated with “feminine” while pink was associated with “masculine.” In parts of Europe, it’s still not unusual for men to greet one another with kisses; in India, you might see two male friends walking arm in arm. And we have many examples of renaissance poetry—essentially love poetry—written by and for non-homosexual males who were close friends. By looking to other times and other places, we can see that masculinity is a way of behaving culturally that looks different in different times and places.”

And here are some things that other people have been saying:

  • “you seem uninformed”
  • “There’s a reason that throughout human history and in any cultural context patriarchy was THE norm–feminist thinking will go the way of the dodo. It’s only a matter of time.”
  • “CT tries to tie a scholarly ribbon in [her] hair” (that one’s from Douglas Wilson. BTW, Mr. Wilson, I don’t claim to be a scholar. I just claim the covenant covering of my husband’s Ph.D. We’re one flesh and he is my Head, after all.)
  • “Rachel is promoting is a damnable heresy that will bring many women (and men), including herself to everlasting perdition in hell! “
  • “put down your donuts and pick up a Bible.”

(I happened to mention that bit at the dinner table, and my 6 year old son said, “Anybody who says ‘put down your donuts and pick up a Bible’ is a bully.” Out of the mouths of babes.)

A commenter named Scott Allen also said:

  • “Women use church as a hammer to make men […] fit their norms. They substitute Precious Moments thoughts for actual Biblical teaching.”

Scott Allen, this one is for you–

But there are other comments, too, like this one, which has given me the very best kind of encouragement a writer could hope for (thanks, Natalie!)–

“It’s articles like this that shed light on something I’ve begun to notice on my own: there is an emphasis on masculinity in the Reformed tradition that alienates women (and disabled men like my husband who has progressive MS). For the first time in months, I was encouraged by what you wrote in your post on this matter. Thank you so much for giving me a beacon of light in the foggy world of my strange circumstances.”

Bet you can’t wait to read it! The whole thing is here.