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.

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The Everyday Famine(s)

You won’t hear about it in the news because it isn’t news. It’s just what’s normal here.

Every day, or nearly so, the clanging sound of metal hitting metal lets me know that someone’s at the gate that surrounds our home, bringing vegetables or fish or charcoal or wooden carvings to sell. It happens often enough that the sound elicits annoyance from me as I leave the stove, or my book, or the couch to answer the call. And often enough, the people are so desperate to sell that if I say “not today,” they’ll plead with me, lowering the price with every word. But occasionally—at least once a week—someone comes to the gate with nothing to sell, nothing to offer at any price. They’re coming, very simply, to beg for food.

It’s summer here in the southern hemisphere, and corn is growing in every spare bit of earth in which it can possibly be grown, with pumpkin and squash vines bearing their orbed fruit between the rows. The corn will be allowed to dry on the husk before being harvested, after which women in villages will pound it to a fine flour that they’ll cook into nsima (nn-SEE-ma) the thick, polenta-like dish that forms the staple of people’s diets. Pumpkins—and their edible greens—along with okra, beans, and tomatoes will become stews to give the bland, starchy dough some flavor. It’s tastier than it sounds, and it fills you up.

But in these months—in February and March, as people are waiting for the harvest—their stored corn begins to run out, and they enter the ‘hungry months.’ What corn remains is rationed carefully, and two daily meals become one small meal, or none at all. As I walk and drive along the streets, I can see people using canes of bamboo to coax guava or papaya or avocado out of tall trees. When people pass me in the street, they often chew sugar cane before spitting them out, slowly and carefully extracting whatever sweetness might remain in the fibrous bits of plant. People walk slowly. Women in labor hardly have the strength to bring forth babies. These are the hungry months.

Despite this, corn—maize, they call it—is regarded with nothing less than reverence. “Nsima is our food,” James, our gardener, tells me. “If you don’t have nsima, you don’t have life.” Nsima—and foods like it—are to much of the world today what bread was to the ancient Near East when Jesus ministered there. “I am the bread of life” was meaningful in that context in a way that’s difficult for us to grasp. For most of us, bread is just one of many choices, and we may forgo it altogether if we’re going low-carb or gluten-free or Paleo. For them—for many people in the world—no bread, no rice, no nsima—means hunger. It means weakness. It means lifelessness. Eventually, it means death.

Every day, or nearly so, women and men look in mirrors and step on scales, count calories and worry about body fat and about their appearance. It happens enough that children as young as four begin to develop anxiety over food, or express fears of being seen in a bathing suit. Even eating healthfully can become an unhealthy obsession. And often enough, people become so desperate to get control over their eating as to spend huge amounts of money on drugs, diet plans, and surgery. Occasionally, the burden of eating; of bodily existence itself, is too much to bear, and people lose their lives to anorexia—the deadliest of all mental illnesses.

But even with the superstores filled full in season and out of season with food of all kinds in every space where food can possibly be so, many of us still struggle to extract whatever goodness might remain in God’s gift of food. We ration carefully so as not to overindulge, or we use food to comfort ourselves when we are feeling lonely or anxious. We eat thoughtlessly and on the run. In this land of plenty, we remain hungry, disconnected, unsatisfied. Those at the gates—people who are poor in America—are more likely to suffer diseases associated with poor diets because the ‘plenty’ doesn’t extend into the food deserts.

Despite all this—despite the tens of thousands of children who die each day because they don’t have enough food, despite the mothers who die giving birth because their bodies have never been nourished properly, despite those who suffer bitterly from the various ills associated with greed and overabundance—I believe we can, and should—“eat with joy.” It’s a phrase that comes from Ecclesiastes, a book that reflects, and is reflected in, a good many people’s experiences of life “under the sun.” We look for justice, and find injustice; time and chance sometimes trump hard work and intelligence. Still, urges the Preacher, even in this messy, confusing world, with hunger and poverty and injustice always with us, we should, as we are able, enjoy the good things of this life with an enjoyment tempered by the knowledge that life is fleeting, and that we have obligations to God and to one another.

And so when the sound of metal hitting metal pulls me away from my computer once again, I fill a bag with cornmeal and give it away with a smile, because that’s what I can do right where I am. But wherever you are—whether among people hurting from plenty, or hurting from want—you can do something, too.