I’ve been pretty busy elsewhere this week, but I wanted to drop you a line here to keep you updated on goings-on.
Mostly I’ve been doing a lot of writing. And procrastinating by cooking soup and creating salads and new takes on mac & cheese.
A few things to share with you, though.
The first is: I finally wrote a love letter for Ben Moberg’s series over at Registered Runaway. I initially resisted his invitation because I get really fed up with loud LGBTQ allies talking about being allies for the sake of talking about being allies. I want to live that, not talk about it. But something happened this week that pushed me over the edge, so here you are:
My parents used to have a tile they got when we drove through New Mexico on our pilgrimage east, and it hung in our entryway at home for years and years. Mi casa es su casa, it read.
…because invitations are sometimes hard to accept if they aren’t made loudly, let me make it very clear: mi casa es su casa.
This house always belongs to you, too.
Secondly, I’ve accepted an offer to join the blogging team over at The Friendly Atheist. Hemant Mehta reached out to me a couple weeks ago and I think he’s great and I’m excited to be contributing to his Patheos blog as a Christian culture commentator. I’ll still be blogging here, too, so no worries about that!
Also, I don’t think it’s particularly relevant to this whether or not I’m an atheist (this isn’t me coming out as one); my writing and analysis on Christian culture issues fits the tone and themes of his site well. I’m excited for my first post to go up there tomorrow, especially I’ll be talking about the latest updates on SGM “scandal.” (I’ll add a link here when it’s live.)The post is live!
Another week, another story of everyday sexism. My sister (a different one — she’s 17 and doing dual enrollment at the local community college to finish up her last year of high school via homeschooling and will start college on the east coast this coming fall) was supposed to go to prom this past weekend, but everything went terribly wrong. When I saw her Facebook status about it (which used the particularly perfect phrase “rape culture activists”), I asked if she wanted to share her story with you here, and she took a little time this evening to write up this fantastic post for you all. This story is actually pretty common — things like this happened a lot in the homeschool ballroom dance + grassroots theater circles in Richmond. But I’ll let her speak for herself. I’m so proud of her.
So, I’m a high school senior, a homeschooler, and a girl, and something really awful happened to me last night, and it made me really mad. Not so much because it was something that did permanent damage to me, but because it is something I have seen happen over, and over and over to people I love and care for very much, and on what better day then mother’s day could I make a stand for the mothers, and the sisters, and the daughters and the friends who have been victims of this painful, traumatizing evil. So here is my story.
Last night was my senior prom. I live in Richmond, VA and several weeks ago my boyfriend got our tickets to the Richmond Homeschool Prom. The theme was “Twilight in Paris.” I got my dress, my shoes, we got our flowers and we waited eagerly for Saturday to arrive. My dress was gorgeous, silver, and sparkly and I got it at Macy’s and was very excited to find it after searching over 6 stores for this dress. The only dress code specified on the registration form was that “Ladies, please keep your dresses fingertip length or longer.” Like a good little homeschooler, I made sure that the dress was fingertip length on me; I even tried it on with my shoes, just to be sure. It was fingertip length, I was ecstatic, and I laid down several weeks worth of tip money I had been saving up to buy it.
Fast forward to prom night. I’m all dolled up, channeling my inner Marilyn Monroe with my blonde hair and bright red lipstick. I’m a tall and fairly curvy girl and you know something? I looked hot. Not trashy, but you definitely would look twice when I walked through a doorway.
And you know what happened? I got kicked out of prom because of it. Stay with me, I’ll explain. I showed up at prom with my boyfriend, and I was wearing the really cute silver dress that was fingertip length on me, and on my way in Mrs. D (one of the two ladies organizing the prom this year) stopped me and said, “honey, that dress is too short.” I said, “what is the rule?” she said, “fingertip length” and I put my arms down by my sides and showed her that it was fingertip length. After which she made a face at me and was like, “well make sure it stays pulled down, it’s too short.” I want you to know that she is a very short woman, and I assumed that she probably just didn’t understand that when you’re 5’9″ and leggy, everything looks shorter on you then it would on anyone else, even if it’s still inside the dress code. So, I tried to help her understand by saying, “I just have long legs, everything looks short on me, but it is fingertip length I just showed you.” To which she responded begrudgingly “Okay but you need to be careful and just keep pulling it down, but not too far!” I was annoyed with her pettiness, especially because I had so carefully complied to their rules, but I said “Yes ma’am,” and went into the ballroom.
When I got into the ballroom I laughed, because I was surrounded by girls in much shorter dresses then me, albeit they were shorter, and therefore stood out less in the crowd, but it was still frustrating. I joined my group of friends, (there were six of us), and told them what happened, they were all appalled, especially considering we’ve been attending this prom all four years of high school and usually wore much shorter dresses then we chose this year. We were also a little grossed out by all the dads on the balcony above the dance floor, ogling and talking amongst themselves. We weren’t dancing, but swaying with the music and talking and enjoying ourselves, when Mrs. D again approached me, and gestured me off the dance floor. She took me into a corner in the hall way, with another woman, (who I’m assuming was a parent/chaperone) and told me that some of the dads who were chaperoning had complained that my dancing was too provocative, and that I was going to cause the young men at the prom to think impure thoughts. At this point I said to her that I hadn’t been dancing at all! Much less seductively, and that even if I had been being inappropriate, they should issue a warning instead of just kicking me out.
Then she proceeded to reiterate that my dress was too short and I that I was going to have to leave. I again showed her and the lady with her that the dress met dress code standards, the only thing the dress code said was it had to be fingertip length, and they never had us sign any sort of agreement to abide by that rule in the first place, and second of all my dress was in compliance with the one rule. Mrs. D said again “The dress is too short” and I asked the chaperone standing next to her what the rule was and she reiterated that it had to be fingertip length, I showed her my fingers and said ” Is this fingertip length?” and she said “yes, but I can’t make that call it’s on Mrs. D.” Then I told them I was trying to understand what they were kicking me out for since my dress complied with dress code and everyone I had been standing with would vouch that I hadn’t been dancing inappropriately. (At this point one of the girls in my group came back and said that she’d been by my side the whole 15 minutes we’d been there and I hadn’t even danced more then 2 seconds and it was completely appropriate.)
At which point they told her that she wasn’t welcome in the conversation and when I protested and asked that she be able to stay to verify what they were saying to me they got very rude and said if she didn’t leave they would kick her out too. Then she went and told my date what was going on and he got very upset , and came over and was respectfully asking them to explain to him the situation, and they told him that it was none of his business and they were kicking me out and he needed to leave. At which point he said “That’s fine, she wasn’t doing anything wrong but if you’re kicking her out then the group that she came with is leaving too and you’ll need to refund all of our tickets.” And Mrs. D said “No, we will refund Clare’s ticket but nobody else’s” And then my date got very angry (but was still being respectful not raising his voice or anything). And he explained that we all drove together and if I had to leave everyone else would be forced to leave with me and therefore they needed to refund everyone. I want to reiterate that my date was being very respectful, but he was also obviously frustrated with her for refusing to communicate with us in a mature or respectful way. Then she got very rude, repeatedly saying “I will not debate with you about this,” when my date was simply asking questions to help him understand the situation, and Mrs. D sent the chaperone to get security at which point both my date and I respectfully demanded to speak with the lady in charge of prom, and Mrs. D refused to let us.
Security came and my group went to get their stuff, I was crying and I asked the security guy if my dress was compliant with the dress code and if he had noticed any inappropriateness in my behavior and he said he didn’t think I did anything to get kicked out but it wasn’t his call. He helped me get my stuff and walked me to the front door, my date was still talking to Mrs. D and demanding our groups refund. She said, “Ok, I’ll give you all your refund if you go to the front and leave now,” and so the group walked to the front where I was, and only I was given my refund ($25). The group I was with got very upset because they had been promised their refund since we had all come together and if I was leaving they had to leave too, at which point we were told that the leadership would converse and make sure we all got our refunds, later that night when one of the girls in our groups mom called and asked how they were going to refund her, they stated “We aren’t going to do refunds.”
When we walked out of the prom, frustrated and angry and feeling very disrespected and violated, some of the people in my group shouted profanities at the security guards, and I personally flipped them off. I putting this part in the story because I want everyone who reads this to know that we shouldn’t have reacted so immaturely to their unfair and disrespectful actions, and we’re all adult enough to admit that. But what I want to know is if the people involved in this situation at the Richmond Homeschool Prom are adult enough to own up to their wrong actions as well. And refund my group as they verbally promised to do, and issue an apology for kicking me out of my senior prom because their husbands felt as though my body was something they had a right to control.
What happened last night was so wrong for so many different reasons:
I was told that the way I dressed and moved my body was causing men to think inappropriately about me, implying that it is my responsibility to control other people’s thoughts and drives.
I was talked to disrespectfully, ganged up on and treated as less then a person by people in authority, and when I requested to have one of my peers present to validate later what was said in this “meeting” I was denied that right and my friends were threatened for sticking up for me.
We were verbally promised a full refund for our group, we received only a refund for my ticket, they need to refund 5 more tickets for our group.
I felt violated by the sheer number of male parents that were assigned to do nothing for five hours other then watch girls in short dresses and heels dance to upbeat music. I think that it is sick and wrong that they assigned them to sit on a balcony above us and look down on us and single us out for our clothes or dancing.
I never signed any documentation agreeing to adhere to any sort of dress code, and the dress code that was verbally communicated to me was followed to the letter, and yet I was still kicked out.
I was informed by more then one friend who stayed at the prom throughout the course of the evening that there was some truly dirty dancing, and that there were several couples making out and grinding on the dance floor, and yet out of a group of 500 people, only one person, (me) got thrown out for inappropriate dancing.
The whole situation made me feel violated, walked over and ostracized. My group of five people had to leave the prom because I stuck out, I have long legs and I was wearing a sparkly dress, I didn’t look like most of the 13-15 year old girls there, I looked like a woman. And goddamn it, I am so tired of people who abuse their power to make women feel violated and ashamed because she has an ass, or has breasts, or has long legs.
This is a message to the women who understand that sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much you pin a dress, you’re still going to have cleavage show when you bend over. This is a message to girls built like me, who can’t find jeans that fit because your ass is just too damn big! The girls with long legs, who are forced to prove that their dresses fit the dress code, just because they have more leg showing then most girls.
This is what I want to say. You are beautiful, no matter how you are built, no matter how you chose to dress or dance or what words you chose to say in the heat of the moment. And even more important then knowing that the fact that your looks, and your body and how you dress doesn’t get to define whether or not you’re beautiful, you have to know, that people are responsible for their own thoughts, desires and actions, and it doesn’t fucking matter if you’re just swaying along with music, or if you’re grinding up on your date, or not even dancing. You are a person, with a soul, and with potential and with purpose, and the way that other people treat you, should never be based on how you dance, or dress or talk. You are a person, I am a person, is it really too much to ask that we be treated like people? Talked to as equals? As responsible adults who get to have opinions and likes and dislikes too? How is it that what I look like and how I dress constitutes the level of respect you give me? How is it that you refused to refund me when I asked for it, but when my male date asked for it, you agreed to refund my ticket to him? I’m only 17, but I can see there’s something wrong about this, please, please tell me I’m not the only one who think it doesn’t matter how people are dressed or how they move their bodies, we should still treat them with respect and decency. And enough with the slut shaming. Please. Goddamn I’m not responsible for some perverted 45 year old dad lusting after me because I have a sparkly dress on and a big ass for a teenager. And if you think I am, then maybe you’re part of the problem.
Clare is doing well and is supported by a good group of friends. She will respond to comments as she can, but this week is her finals week and she may not be readily available.
Everything crashed again, sorry, sorry, etc. We had a SNAFU with servers and switching and WordPress accounts and the fastest way to get this up and running again was to jump the gun on switching Wine & Marble to a domain of my own name, etc. It got complicated, Kiery King is a web fairy wizard, and everyone should go give hen lots of love and probably some alcohol.
Hi and welcome, new readers!
I’m sitting here with my cat on my lap trying to take a deep breath and process the last couple hours. Thank you for reading, for your support, and for breaking my blog.
I think we’re up and running again, and so now I wanted to do a little follow-up on the Cracked piece.
First: my parents left the cult and my family’s doing a lot better. My younger siblings are getting much more normal childhoods than I did — all my challenging the system is finally starting to pay off. My parents sent me a big box of goodies this week for an early birthday present and there were references to Disney movies and birthday parties and I even got a chocolate Easter bunny!
Second: My friend whose novel was burned — she’s doing a lot better. After that she got into UVA and got a full ride (but her parents hid her mail and kept her from attending), so she ran away from home and got herself set up, living and working in another state. She’s healing and growing and has started writing fiction again (finally!). She wrote a short story for Swan Children’s inaugural issue. Right now, she’s saving to go to college (she wants to be a doctor) and has plans to do a workaway program this summer in Europe and write more. Freedom is sweet!
What to do if you want to help:
Raise awareness. This stuff is ongoing and hard to spot if you don’t know the signs. Cults are less about doctrine and more about social control tactics.
If you want to help me out personally: recovery is slow, I’ll be honest. I’m doing a lot better these days than I have been in a long time, but I’m still underemployed and running a tight ship to stay afloat. There’s a tip jar on the side of my blog if you want to buy me a coffee or a tank of gas, but no pressure. I’d be thrilled if you liked The Swan Children and The YA Wallpaper on Facebook and followed us on YouTube — I’m super passionate about the healing power of art and beauty, and about amazing feminist writing and good novels.
I’m feeling more whole, more happy. The California sunshine is stretching me out and caressing my soul. I’m not so curled up tight all the time. I can breathe better. I don’t wake up every morning with that feeling of “oh shit” anymore. Not every day, anymore.
I want to untangle myself from this world — I want to write about books that make me happy, about ideas, about things that enchant me. I want to tell you about yoga and baking and writing process.
People here ask me about my story and I hesitate — which version to tell them? If I tell them true, tell them gory, I get stunned silence and gentle recommendations to move out and beyond this world.
They’re right. Writing about abuse in the church, about theology and faith and church and conservative homeschool communities and purity culture: it’s a small, small world. It really doesn’t affect most the rest of the universe. It’s really insular, cramped, self-absorbed.
But then, too: this morning, my day off, I got two calls (before I got my coffee!) about Christian communities in which sexual assault has been ignored to the point of blatant abuse of power. Two communities that haven’t made the news about these issues. Yet.
I didn’t sleep well last night, and this bleary-eyed grief over this stuff is compounded by my own personal sense of healthy boundaries that’s emerging. The stronger, the more whole I get — the further removed from that world I become — the more blatantly horrific these things appear.
And I realize how insane all this sounds to everyone outside of this little blogging world, how appalling it is that these abuses occur. But I still get calls about girls who are afraid to use their real names when they tell their stories because they are afraid of Christian leaders attacking them for speaking out.
How insane is that?
Why are we here? How obvious is this, and how is it that we could not see these things for so long?
Fuck everything, is all I can manage to say, half the time. I hear these stories and I hear the shame and the fear and the massive amounts of cultivated codependency for the sake of crowd control, and that’s all I’ve got. Fuck everything. Here we go again.
The anger turns numb because the abuses are too common. Fuck everything, here’s another story. Another leader. Another frightened soul. That leader steps down, but another story comes to light.
I’ve been waiting for this book to come out for months. It finally showed up on my doorstep on Friday (it releases tomorrow, but I got lucky and got an ARC) and I gobbled it up by Sunday morning, reading it during stolen moments here and there.
Blogger Elizabeth Esther isn’t everyone’s cuppa tea. She’s not that poised goddess of tact and diplomacy we all so admire in Rachel Held Evans. She’s not just a funny adult Catholic convert you want to buddy up with over beers to talk about boys and babies and the pope.
She’s larger-than-life, she’s sloppy, she’s enthusiastic, and she’s loud. Her Catholicism is deeply personal and sometimes off-putting. She wears headscarves to church. She live-tweets American Idol. She has Twitter-rant ADHD and reads more books than I can keep up with, and has a daily schedule that’s probably more demanding than the president’s–yet she’s often able to write a blog post a day (when, you know, she’s not writing a book) and be a good friend and pour herself into everyone and everything she loves with abandon.
When we met up this past fall, I wasn’t sure if we’d get along. Our stories have a lot of overlap, but I’m an introvert and she’s not. I’m stiff and awkward when I get uncomfortable and she gets happy-puppy affectionate.
Guys, I can’t review this book without talking about the woman who wrote it. I don’t know how it will come across to someone who’s never met her, but as I was reading Girl At The End Of The World, all I could think was “damn, her voice is so clear.” Every event unfolds and I can hear her telling these stories. I can hear her laughing at herself, I can hear her tender heartbreak and forgiveness as she talks about her parents, and I can hear her admiration and devotion when she talks about her husband, Matt.
This book rings true.
Memoir is tricky. I love to hate Joan Didion because she’s such a good writer, but her voice is so very much that of an unreliable narrator to me that I find myself in internal dissent with anything she says. I want a new vantage point, other angles. There are other authors whose memoir messes with me in this way–they’re ever so slightly out of sync with themselves and can’t quite hear themselves talk when they write about their lives. It’s uncomfortable to read.
This book is uncomfortable to read, but that’s not why. Elizabeth Esther has taken the memories from her formative years in her grandparents’ cult and grabbed these memories by the ears and showed us their bald faces–crooked teeth, handsome eyes, bad breath, and all. There is no disingenuous narration. There is only the agony of being a child, craving security and affection, and getting told that God doesn’t like you and your parents will beat you because of it.
This book is a love letter, from Elizabeth Esther to her child self. And, I think too, it’s a love letter to her own five children — who are the reasons she found the strength to leave the cult and seek out a God who loves. It’s a promise to work against the curse of legalism, shame, and abuse, to give her babies a family life with the love and security that little EE didn’t get to know.
We’re getting to eavesdrop on these conversations, as readers. We’re being handed her heart and we’re given permission to look at her scars. I’d feel more guilty about that if her writing of dialogue wasn’t so vivid and funny. But it is, and so I read and laughed and lost myself in the story. And I offer it to you, if you can stomach it, with this commendation:
Fundamentalism isn’t an ideology, it’s a habit of thought patterns. Fundamentalism is based in fear. Fear of not being heard, fear of being invalidated, fear of attack, of erasure, of silencing.
Fundamentalism can be present in any community regardless of ethics or system of belief.
The reason that I started questioning the Christian fundamentalism I grew up with was because I saw people valuing the system of belief as more important than having compassion for hurting people in our community. I was upset that our value system put being right over sitting with someone in pain and empathizing with them in their vulnerable place.
I think that’s why most of us left the system of legalism, fundamentalist Christianity, Christian patriarchy—whatever you want to call it. We saw the system steamrolling people in pain—either us or those we loved—and realized that the system didn’t work for outliers, for those who didn’t fit the boxes or couldn’t follow the rules. We suddenly saw the marginalized, and realized that we were in a broken system and needed a new paradigm to stop marginalizing people if we wanted to have integrity in our claim to love as an ethic of life.
And so we stepped out of the too-small shoes of whatever ideology we’d been living in, and tried to listen and learn and practice consistent compassion and fight shame. We learned about self-care and about boundaries, we learned to question authority structures and say no. We learned the value of listening to those less privileged than us, and we adopted the language of feminism and intersectionality—clumsily at first, for most of us, but with sincere desire to be different from what we’d been before.
But fundamentalism isn’t something you can leave by deciding you’re LGBTQ* affirming, or by reading bell hooks, or by finally expressing the anger you felt when you were marginalized in your former world.
All of these things are good, but being “feminist” or “progressive” or even coming out as atheist can’t really do a thing for unlearning fundamentalism.
Fundamentalism is fundamentally a defensive position. It is not easily open to nuance, it uses synecdoche on first impressions to assume that one or two interactions is the sum of a person’s essence. It is too interested in self-defensive labeling of everyone and everything to have the patience to sit with someone and try to learn how much their good intentions are reflected in their actions over time—it doesn’t have time for those who are learning or need to ask a million questions before they can grasp concepts that may have come quickly to us.
In the book Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, Nathaniel is talking to a woman about teaching the sailors complex math tricks to navigate more accurately, but they’re not picking it up very quickly and he’s impatient. She chides him, saying [I’m paraphrasing] “Don’t kick the chair because you ran into it in the dark. It’s not the chair’s fault it’s like that.” She goes on to encourage him to try to get to know the sailors individually to understand how their different personalities might inform how he can best approach teaching them to navigate the stars well.
I think about this scene often, because sometimes I’m the quick one who picks things up intuitively, and I don’t always remember that not everyone else is like that. And sometimes I’m the one with clumsy emotional intelligence, and I step on toes without realizing it, and need to have things explained to me in nice, small words so I can understand.
I am not advocating re-traumatizing yourself for the sake of helping someone who you find triggering. That is not your job. Boundaries are good. Take care of yourself.
But: I think it’s inconsistent and a bit mean to have believe you’ve left Christian fundamentalism and to rail against its treatment of the underprivileged and to claim that you’re an ally—and to choose to publicly label someone as “unsafe” for some intent-to-action clumsiness despite evidence that they’re trying to change and learn, just like you. They may very well be unsafe for you or for others and I’m all for eliminating negative influences from one’s personal life. But I can’t help but think how grateful I have been for the kind people in my life who have chosen to sit with me in my ignorance and inconsistencies and help me unlearn my bigotry without labeling me or shaming me.
Compassion is an act of the imagination, right? Shame is the tool of fundamentalists to silence and control the borders of a community. I don’t want to be right and educated well about intersectionality and feminism and my privilege, and fail to have compassion for those who are not as far along in the learning curve as I might be. I remember what it was like to be there. Do you?
Leaving fundamentalism is more about a laying down an irrational craving to be right (oh, I love you my darling Gryffindors, but…) and a taking up of compassion and imagination and epistemological humility than it is about learning and using the right labels and theories. The ethics of unlearning fundamentalism must go much deeper than just jumping to the other side of your line in the sand.
Safe people aren’t relationally fundamentalist. Safe people are compassionate people.
No one is really surprised that Doug Phillips had an affair and is stepping down from Vision Forum Ministries. And no one is really surprised at his statement–it’s the same slightly pompous and affected tone adopted by any politician caught in the spotlight of a scandal.
But what really fascinates me is first, the similarities between Doug’s statement to the statement put out by CJ Mahaney when he first stepped down from SGM in the aftermath of Brent’s “documents,” and secondly, how very differently these stories are playing out.
The SGM “scandal” [read: cruel abuses of power over minors and parishioners and unrepentance when confronted] and the Doug Philips “scandal” [read: yet-unspecified abuses of power and unrepentance when confronted] are playing out very differently and will continue to do so. And in the end, I suspect that Doug Phillips will be a ruined man, and his sins will be the lesser, while CJ’s sins will be the more substantial and detrimental, and he will never quite be brought to justice for how he abused his position of authority.
There are two reasons why:
1) Doug Phillips and his followers practice intellectual integrity (because they are Reformed) in a way that SGM and CJ Mahaney never did or could (because they were never truly of the Reformed tradition)
2) Doug Phillips and his movement relies on youth in leadership to sustain its momentum.
The first reason is going to be most clearly seen in the comparison between how Brent Detwiler was treatedby his old friends when he, following the accountability system that these men and CJ had put in place, confronted CJ about his abuses of power. These guys had a system in place. Brent was the historian and the enforcer personality, and like the good dutiful type-A personality that he is, he believed that the other men in the group believed in the system just as much as they said they did. He trusted them to hold CJ to his own rules, and to help him enforce these rules by preestablished corrective actions.
But these men, for whatever reasons they had, did not put the rules above the man, and followed the whims of CJ rather than the system that they’d put in place. And in doing so, they unleashed a tireless foe in Brent, who has been aggressive and honest in his years of working against the corruption in SGM. To his detriment, I may add, as he’s lost everything because of it. And CJ is fine. Happily pastoring in Nashville and still invited to speaking gigs and lauded by the other “reformed big dogs.”
Contrast that with the snippets of insight into what’s going on in the world of Vision Forum, compiled in a post on Homeschoolers Anonymous. Vision Forum (which is the core of a larger social group of Christian Reconstructionists that spreads into lots of interesting places, if you ever want to Wikipedia link hop). It looks like the guys in Vision Forum value the system like Brent probably wishes SGM leaders did. They are grieving on Facebook after confronting Doug Phillips and getting cold responses (which is, essentially, what the SGM gents were worried about), and are severing ties with Doug as quickly as they can. It’s speculated that the fallout from all of this is that he may lose his house and his business before new year’s.
Why such a difference in group response? I think the answer lies in the values embedded in these two groups’ internal discourses, and may be further reduced to a theological difference. SGM was “essentially charismatic and reformed” at the time all that political drama went down between Brent and CJ. SGM was courting the attention of folks like Piper and Dever, but still enjoyed being unique, retaining that status by still being “charismatic.” SGM worked because it saw itself as a special snowflake church group–we can’t be a denomination because nobody is like us! We’re CHARISMATIC and REFORMED. The Presbyterians will love us for our sermons, the Baptists for our music, and the non-denominational groups will love how we pray and raise our hands during worship.
Contrast that with Vision Forum, which prided itself on changing every part of culture through Christian alternatives to every part of culture. Politics? We got ’em. Films? Sure thing. American Girl dolls? Try our Titanic doll. Books? Our hardback vintage ones are better and the heroes are more relatable for homeschoolers.
But more than just that, Vision Forum is the brainchild of Christian Reconstructionism, which is, in a bastardized summation, Reformed thinking + white dominionism reduced down to racist, sexist culture-change moonshine. [If you need a better summary, let me know and I’ll find one. I don’t have the emotional resilience today to take Reconstructionism very seriously.] The point of it seems to be that culture must be 100% fixed to match OT “Biblical” standards, and I mean that — if you dig deep enough, you start finding that their leaders wrote treatises endorsing stoning of rebellious children and race-based slavery. And these guys are speaking at YOUR local homeschool convention.
My point, however, is this: they are highly rational. They believe theology can and should be systematized. They believe that science, done right, will prove creationism. They believe in the ideology not because it fixed their need for a religious addiction (which is my theory about SGM), but because they needed rational fundamentalism more deeply than they needed to be human.
And so, when the system says Doug is wrong, Doug has to go. [Whereas, when SGM’s system suggested that CJ was wrong, the system had to go.]
The second reason is a little more simple than the first. Doug and his crew were out to change the culture, comfort be damned. CJ and his crew were out to lead a group of people and keep themselves financially stable — they didn’t quickly bring fresh blood into the inner circle. But like a shrewed ideologue, Doug Phillips relied on the energy and naïveté of youth to make his movement thrive. His agenda was political — he didn’t need to protect his inner circle so much as he needed cheap labor and innocent energy. These kids (like Bradrick) were raised to be culture warriors, and they believe in the system (which brings me back to my first point).
I guess all that I’m trying to say here is: if you’re going to run a cult and get away with it, make sure people love you more than your ideas. And don’t sleep around or blackmail people. Your sheeple don’t like it much.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about the Dave Ramsey-is-insensitive-and-privileged party.
He wrote a ridiculous post about “habits” of rich people in which he showed that he is super out of touch with what it’s like to be poor, and is a subscriber to prosperity gospel stuff, which is a lovely Gnostic sort of plague on American culture, shown most clearly in political discussions in which the word “entitled” is used to reference the assumption that “people who aren’t as well off as us must be lazy.”
Rachel Held Evans and a few others responded to him, on Twitter and through blog posts and made some good points, and now RHE’s post is going nuts on my Facebook feed.
His privilege is clearly an issue. We are right to be angry at his post and the assumptions therein.
Looking at his teachings more broadly, I’ve observed that long-term, Ramsey’s financial ideas are not especially sound. They don’t teach you how to use credit responsibly, they don’t teach you how to invest, they don’t teach you many important financial management principles that one needs to build wealth well in America.
And for someone like me, who grew up without ever going into debt, who didn’t have student loans, and never owned a credit card, it was downright damaging to my financial stability this year. I couldn’t get a small loan to buy a used car, I haven’t got any sort of credit score or history and therefore I haven’t had a “safety net” of a good visa card, etc., etc. I have had to play catch up to just exist in the credit system so I can do basic life things, like: get approved for an apartment on my own. Thanks, Dave Ramsey! I felt like a trope, the helpless, financially dependent female. [And yes, I have been very lucky to have experienced the privilege that later caused me financial complications this year.]
But I did sit through a handful of his seminars and read at least one of his books, and discussed in great detail his principles with various family members who took his courses over the last decade or so.
And I have to say, it’d be “stoopid” (as he says) to write off his teachings completely. Yes, he’s rich, white, and an arrogant dude. It’s silly to teach that debt is “slavery” and sinful. Sure, debt can be “stoopid,” but it’s just bullshit to think that Jesus is going to love you less if you have student loans.
But if you’re middle class, white, averagely financially literate, and born after 1960, it’s likely he’d be good for you. Ramsey is a skilled manipulator and motivator — part of why 1) he has so many blind followers, and 2) part of why I’m really glad he’s not a pastor — and he exercises his very specific abilities to help a very specific set of people.
Not everything he says is sound — I’m not sure cash is more “painful” than a debit card to use — but he helps those who are either in denial or just numb with fear about their debt by shaking them awake and getting them to start practicing some measure of control and awareness about their spending habits and the long-term ramifications of various debts.
His “snowball” method is not the best way to get rid of debt, but it is motivating and helpful if you’re so scared of your loans and the numbers just seem insurmountable. His “gazelle intensity” is silly, but can be effective, like having a workout coach push you for the first six weeks of your New Year’s exercise plan. A tool is a tool is a tool.
So: Dave Ramsey is a privileged bully, yes. His financial advice is bad long-term. And I hate that he uses shame so much. But, he is very useful for those who need a little courage to start to embrace the challenge of America’s favorite daydream, the self-made man. If they can.
I’ve been quiet here since I’ve been traveling, driving solo from DC to LA, but the other night I had the happy experience of an evening with Sarah and Micah Murray, and we talked a lot about our stories and processing the conservative Christian world we’ve come out of. And I had a flash of epiphany this morning as I drove away, so you’re getting an Immodesty Rail post instead of a happy-Hannah travelogue post.
When I started courting, I was hyper aware of how everyone else I knew had done this thing, what the stories in Josh Harris’s books showed as the “godly” ways to “walk out” their courtship in “good faith,” and what was necessary for having a healthy romantic relationship. Or at least, I knew what I thought a healthy relationship should look like and I had a pretty good idea of how to make mine look like a happy, godly thing for others to later emulate. This wasn’t conscious — this was just SGM culture.
See, the overall focus of everything in SGM (for me) was: be a good example for others. Every piece of my teenage and college years was set up in reaction to either 1) what my elders would think, and 2) what those younger than me would interpret as license to mimic if they watched my behavior.
Welcome to legalism.
And my ex, being who he is, was also really aware of what was and wasn’t socially acceptable in these circles. As a result (because, luckily for me, I was also aware that I was dating a person), I was tuned into this, too.
Given what we saw modeled for us in courtship culture (and, honestly, serious/”mature” Christian dating culture overall), his initial behavior as my boyfriend was much like this:
And it seemed like the reason he did this (well, the primary reason), was because of the culture in our Christian community where everyone assumed responsibility for policing each other (accountability) and thus you had to behave a certain way to assure everyone that you were being “above reproach” and “mature” and “godly” with your relationship choices. It was basically dating as social performance art.
Being uber happy with your new relationship — in a verbal performance sort of way, because physical demonstrations were too risky/sinful — was the best way to keep everyone off your back. I think, maybe, I engaged in this a lot more than he did. I’d be aware of the social expectations and talk up the positive things in our relationship and try to gloss over or tone down the negative elements. I felt compelled to talk about things that were too intimate to appropriately share (swapping dirt with your girl friends is one thing, but it’s entirely another to share that stuff with everyone to try to preemptively keep them from being “concerned” about you), and it drained me a lot. I felt like I was always on the defensive, needing to justify my relationship and my choices.
I’m not actively assigning motives here, but after all of that I tend to wonder a bit about why courting (or newly dating post-fundy life, or even newlyweds from this background!) couples tend to frequently feel the need to spam social media with announcements of how happy they are, how grateful they are for their bf/gf, how blessed and undeserving they are in/of the relationship. And I don’t really care about PDA if it doesn’t seem like a performance to make a statement.
But that all brings me to the problem with this defensive reaction to accountability in a legalistic atmosphere. Your simple motives aren’t good enough, and you are forced to second-guess yourself and over-think things to the point of cultivating insecurity and codependency. Decisions are made by committee — you talk yourself blue in the face telling everyone you know about your decision dilemmas, and ask endless questions about motives and fears, and then take steps based on where you are at the end of the accountability gauntlet. And advice from mentors and peers and parents is great, but this isn’t that. It’s losing yourself and appropriate sense of boundaries and privacy for the sake of fear, and you often forget to enjoy the ride of a new experience because you’re so afraid you’re doing the wrong thing.
I missed a lot of the joy in various “firsts” because I was so busy over-thinking everything and tense and afraid of doing the wrong thing. And that’s just silly. Dating is supposed to be about learning, not getting everything right the first time.
Why are Christians so afraid of making wrong choices and learning through mistakes? If we’re a practicing a faith that’s centered in grace and redemption, we shouldn’t be obsessing over having the Instagram-perfect, thoroughly “accountable” relationships like in the glossy courtship books our parents handed us. We should be enjoying learning about the beautiful things that can be had in community and learning about ourselves and each other, without fear.
All that said, I doubt I’ll ever recommend a relationship book to anyone ever again. Instead, I’ll shove a copy of Daring Greatly in their face and grin and say “this will change your life.”
Okay. Okay. I’m fed up with the annual Summer Modesty Argument On The Interwebz.
Here’s the rundown:
1) Modesty keeps men’s uncontrollable sex drives in check! vs. NO THAT’S RAPE CULTURE
2) God commands modesty to honor his creation, your body! vs. Uh, modesty is a shame thing and that’s the result of the fall.
3) Modesty makes a statement about What Your Heart Really Wants, so be a good witness! vs. Rape culture, again! I wear what I want, and I’m not asking for anything, AND Jesus doesn’t depend on my clothes for his Kingdom, thanks.
4) Everything in our culture is so sexualized! Wish we could go back to the Good Old Days. vs. Let me give you a history lesson! Everyone was having sex and covering up is a cultural standard, not a godliness thing.
And then, there’s the one that set me off last night, which basically argues that I need to cover up to protect my God-given dignity as a woman.
I want to tackle this idea that my behavior, clothing, or other external things dictates the way church people perceive my dignity. I know it does. I grew up in the thick of modesty-shame culture in SGM.
The message of modesty = dignity was clear, though perhaps not defined in such a reductive fashion. But if your listeners (or readers) are coming away with an idea that’s false, the burden is on you, the teacher/speaker (or writer) to use your language clearly enough to eliminate miscommunication. And so I feel it fair to take on this idea in the manner in which it was received and assumed to be true.
Here, there is freedom for individual women to practice modesty not primarily to preserve men’s sexual purity, but to preserve their own dignity. To show in outward form the inward truth that they matter to society for their minds, their leadership, their passions, and their talents–talents that have nothing to do with how many heads they can turn. Modesty can become a form of female power.
Female power can take LOTS of forms. Usually by transgressing against a social expectation and rewriting some rules. I get that. I applaud that. Some of my favorite things about feminism is how it’s transgressing social orders as those who are traditionally marginalized are empowering themselves and speaking up.
But my dignity is not won or lost by my clothing OR my level of empowerment. And when we’re talking about my body and dignity and working with the assumption that our motives for this discussion are in keeping with pursuing orthodox Christianity, then I’ll take further issue with this.
If you separate my dignity from my physical self, you’re assuming that my spiritual self is “better” or “holier” than my body, and you are 1) demeaning Christ’s incarnation (and thereby devaluing the sacrament of communion), and 2) embracing Gnosticism, a classic heresy.
God made humankind in his/her image and called us very good. God is not gendered, and we happen to be, but that means that ALL of us are in the image of God. Then, the fall happened, and THEN humans were introduced to shame and shame introduced clothing.
Bodies made, called good.
Sin/shame introduced, clothing happens.
My dignity as a human being comes from the fact that God made me and called it good. My body is inseparable from my human experience and identity, and my body is inseparable from my identity as a Christian, because it was through my understanding of the incarnation that I was able to overcome modesty culture shame about my body and re-embrace it as beautiful and good. Same goes for my sexuality, actually.
Don’t buy the lie that “modesty” will win you respect and dignity. If it does, it’s in a fear- and shame-centered legalistic culture, and Christ died to set us free, not bind us with more shame. My dignity doesn’t need clothes. Or your respect.