Beyond the Rumors of Poisoned and Cursed Halloween Candy…

Screen shot 2013-10-25 at 11.38.51 AMIn 1989, Jack T. Chick published a comic strip gospel tract that claimed to reveal the truth behind Halloween: the panels reveal a group of Satan-worshipers gathering in the weeks before Halloween to “provide our father [the devil] with a number of sacrifices.” They plan to murder some children (“in order to obtain more blood for our master”) by tainting the candy with “razor blades, crushed glass, pins, etc.” while bringing other children under Satan’s “guidance and care” by performing incantations over the candy that, when consumed, will cause children who were once “so sweet” to become “totally rebellious”–refusing to go to Sunday school “without a big fight.”

This tract undoubtedly represented an extreme view even among conservative Christians, but the idea of Halloween as a satanic holiday rife with the potential to harm children seems to have held considerable traction in many families, including the one in which I grew up and even after the isolated and rare instances of candy-tampering were shown to be largely mythical. (Though Snopes.com confirms that there were a few–very few–instances where children were pricked by sharp objects that had been inserted into Halloween candy.) Ministries such as John MacArthur’s “Grace to You” pointed out the Celtic pagan roots of the holiday and churches sought alternatives: hosting “harvest parties” where kids could dress up (but not as witches), bob for apples, and overload on sugar. Jerry Falwell went a step further and created the “scaremare”: a sort of haunted house that “replaced the demon-filled message of Halloween with the biblical message ‘man dies, Christ saves,’” in effect scaring people into belief.

These days, even conservative Christians seem to be a little more relaxed on the question of Halloween. Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family admits that he and his wife “have chosen to allow our sons to engage in the innocent and harmless side of Halloween” while condemning the excessively ghoulish displays Halloween often encourages, acknowledging that Christians differ on the subject and insisting that he “respect[s] the strongly held perspectives in both camps.” At TheResurgence.com, which is closely associated with Mark Driscoll, Winfield Bevins suggests that a “Happy Christian Halloween” is possible and that it’s a bad idea for Christians to be “weird” about Halloween and refuse to participate. Over at John Piper’s website, DesiringGod.org, David Mathis makes similar suggestions, encouraging Christians to use Halloween as a chance to connect with neighbors for the sake of the gospel.

Concerns over the pagan roots of the holiday and the fear of tainted candy may have taken a backseat for most Christians, but it’s possible that other things should concern us about Halloween..

{Continue Reading at iBelieve…}

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.

Two New Books on Marriage

So yesterday I told you about the 1965 book on marriage by Father Capon that I think is just lovely, and promised that the rest of the week we’d be talking about some other marriage books. Today I want to talk about two new books–the unbearably hyped Real Marriage by Mark & Grace Driscoll and the somewhat less arrogantly titled The Meaning of Marriage.


So first, Real Marriage. The title makes me cringe, as does any title that seems to introduce itself as giving the truth about anything. Books deserving of authoritative status gain it whether their title suggests it or not–though I would suspect that the likelihood of a book’s gaining authoritative status decreases proportionate to the amount of authoritativeness (that’s actually a word?) suggested by the title. But I digress.

There are so many things I could say about this book and about Driscoll, whose famous name and reputation is the only reason this book is creating much of a buzz at all: it is pretty standard ‘complementarian’ fare, but with characteristic Driscoll flair: barely suppressed misogyny and homophobia throughout, the assumption that anyone not attended a “Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, conservative Christian church” (including Catholics and mainline Protestants) are not “real” Christians, and (of course) frank discussions of sexuality that would almost (not quite) embarrass Dan Savage. There isn’t much I want to say that wasn’t said eloquently by Susan Wise Bauer at Books & Culture and by Rachel Held Evans, so I’ll just say a few things:

1. Too many statistics!

Supposedly evangelicals have sex lives that are better than those of Catholics and mainline Protestants, supposedly women are happier when their husband earns at least 68% of the household income, but really, so what? I’m so tired of seeing statistics like these held up as evidence of something (in this case, that people would be happier and have better sex if they would just listen to Driscoll) without any nuance. It’s irresponsible and misleading to use statistics like that. Besides, 73% of statistics are generated at random simply to prove the point that the writer wants to prove. (See!?)

2. Too many assumptions!

The Driscolls seem to think that it’s possible to read the Bible and prove things from the Bible without interpreting it, or they wouldn’t simply place Bible references as “proof” of certain of their claims. I was particularly troubled by these two points, held up to prove that patriarchy is God’s Will for All Time:

  • “God called the race “man” (Gen. 1:26) and “mankind” (Gen. 5:2)” —um, no. God called them “dirt beings” because they were taken out of dirt. Adam sounds a lot like the Hebrew for “dirt.”
  • “By naming Eve, Adam was exercising authority over her as God commanded.”–While this assumption–that naming implies authority over someone/something–is popular, no lesser scholars than Phyllis Trible and Richard Bauckham have said that there’s simply no good reason to believe that.

3. Too much detail!

In their “Can We_____?” chapter, the Driscolls apply 3 questions to every question: Is the given sexual act: lawful? helpful? enslaving? But instead of giving us that (reasonably adequate) rubric and leaving the rest to the imagination, they go into occasionally-excruciating detail. I imagine Father Capon would say that it’s really too bad not to let married people figure things out for themselves on a dreary winter evening, but I won’t go that far. I’ll just say that I’m glad  Timothy and Kathy Keller mercifully didn’t over-explain sex in their book, The Meaning of Marriage…

In one sense, these books are similar: the Driscolls and the Kellers are both Reformed, complementarian, and conservative; in many ways, they could not be more different: absent from here is the barely disguised rage toward women; absent, too, is the undercurrent of sex-obsession one finds in Driscoll. I appreciated that the Kellers chose to write about sex much more discreetly–pointing out that sex can be awkward, confusing, problematic–but that working through problems in loving ways with much love is the best (only?) way. This book was based on Keller’s popular sermon series, an exposition of Ephesians 5, and while he’s much more clinical and less flamboyant a writer than, say, Father Capon, he writes with admirable clarity. In fact, he has something of his hero C.S. Lewis’ knack for clear-eyed, logical discussion in plain language. Two criticisms:

  • any discussion of woman-as-helper (Hebrew, ‘ezer) really ought to mention (as Driscoll does, in fact!) that GOD is called an ‘ezer, too–the Kellers seem to assume (or leave us to assume) that “helper” means “subordinate,” which it needn’t.
  • the Kellers nod to cultural contexts when it suits them and assume universality when it suits them: in one breath they point out how the Ancient Near Eastern culture in which the Bible came together would’ve read the Bible as revolutionary on marriage and in the next they say that what the Bible teaches on marriage (in terms of literal, on-the-page meaning) is universal, not bound to time or place. It’s hard to say both those things at once without casting doubt on one or the other. (I’m a big fan of William Webb’s writing on the subject.)

Tomorrow (Friday) I’ll tell you about a third new book on marriage that I really, really like. Despite all the hype about the Driscolls’ book, it’s this book–Are you Waiting for the One?not that one, that contributes something new to the discussion of Christian marriage.

{I hesitantly acknowledge that I received free review copies of each of the two books mentioned today…hesitantly because I hope the publishers won’t be scared of sending me more books to review. As my mom is sure to say, I can be a bit rough…}