One in Christ Jesus – A Sermon

After tweeting earlier today about my sermon I thought I’d post it online in case anyone is interested in reading it…

 

This week has been a difficult week.  Though it may not have been reported as such, the death of Jo Cox was a political assassination.  And her death is directly linked with some of the rhetoric within the EU referendum.  Yesterday I was on local authorised preacher training and someone said that we shouldn’t make preaching political and that voting is a personal thing.  And the choice of who we vote for is personal, but the impact certainly is not.

I wrote this sermon before Jo Cox was murdered, so I will speak further about that later on.  When I saw that this passage was to be preached on today, I told our vicar I would love to preach on it, as one verse in particular has great significance to me.  Galatians 3:28..

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I love this verse so much that it is the name of a project I am involved in, Project 3:28, which is all about addressing the lack of representation of women in Christian culture.

Last month I participated in a debate at Oxford University “This house believes religious practice hinders gender equality”.  I was on the opposition with a Hindu woman and a Muslim woman.  The proposition included an atheist woman, a cultural Muslim man and a “post Christian theologian”.  Her name is Daphne Hampson and she is a post Christian theologian because she used to be a Christian and she rejected the Christian faith because of how it oppresses women.

She’s not wrong…

Though it may not have happened in our church, the experiences of many in Christian culture and in churches is…

  • Women told by church leaders to stay with an abusive husband
  • Women told they cannot lead, teach, fulfil their calling
  • The failings of male leaders often colluded with.  “Restoration plans”
  • Real work seen as male, intellectual.
  • Model of spirituality often aligns with men who often have less caring responsibilities
  • Assumptions women will do childcare in church
  • Men often encouraged into leadership roles

Women’s full inclusion can be perceived as a “secondary issue”…

Yet for Daphne Hampson and many other’s it is the reason they have rejected the Christian faith.

In today’s post-modern world, it is ethics and not reason or proof that is standing in the way of many people accepting Jesus into their lives.

How do we declare Jesus as liberation when so many who bear His name are contributing to the oppression of women?

Today is Father’s Day.  Both Mothering Sunday and Father’s Day can be amazing, positive days for those of us with loving parents.  But for many they are complex days.  For better or worse, our parents are usually the biggest influence on our lives.

And for those of us who are parents what a great responsibility it is to recognise that is also the case for our children.

Our father may not have been present in our lives or perhaps he made choices which have deeply wounded us.  Perhaps we were adopted or do not know who our father is.  Or there may be men here who hoped to be fathers and it never happened.  Or fathers whose children are no longer with us, or perhaps who are estranged.

Often the church can be a difficult place to be if our family doesn’t fit the 2.4 nuclear family that is often idolised by Christian culture.  We can feel alienated and isolated if we are single, it we do not have children, or if our family background is complicated and messy.  Just as women (and men) can be alienated from the church because it seems oppressive to women, so can those who don’t fit the nice, happy smiley family structure.  How often when we’re asked how we are at church on a Sunday do we put on our church smile and say we’re fine, even though life is actually deeply painful?

Can we be confident that the non-Christians we know with messy family situation will not put the church off them because of the mess?  Do they feel the church is a place of inclusion or of judgement?  Do they know that us people in the church have messy lives too?  Are we willing to be honest about our pain?  Be vulnerable?  Or do we want to present ourselves as a model person, as a model family?

In 2 Corinthians 4:7 Paul says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”  I imagine myself as a broken jar of clay, with a light inside.  It is through the cracks that the light of God can get out.  It is not my strength or competence that most clearly reveals God to the world, it is instead my brokenness.

In the past week we have witnessed the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States.  49 people were killed and 53 people injured when a man claiming to represent Islamic State opened fire in a Gay Nightclub in Orlando.  I have gay and lesbian friends who have been horrified and left deeply scared by this homophobic terror attack.  It can be easy to look at this terrible atrocity and condemn Islamic State, without examining how Christianity has often been deeply homophobic.

We can look at the murderer’s religion and consider Islam as the problem.  Fear of ISIS has fuelled hate crime to those who don’t have white skin.  Earlier this week we may have looked at Orlando and assumed it happened “over there in America, where everyone has guns”.  Yet, what happened later in the week?  An MP, shot dead.

Just as women and those with complex families can feel the church and Jesus is incompatible with their lives, so can lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.  Do we have friends who are gay or lesbian?  Do we have work colleagues or family members?  Are there people in our congregation?  People here today?  Do they know that we care about them?  Or is their assumption that we are homophobic because we are Christian?

As we consider how to vote on Thursday (and there will be people here who vote both ways) as Christians, our vote must not be based on how the referendum will affect the price of our house.  As Christians we must prioritise firstly loving God and then loving our neighbour.  And who is our neighbour?  WHO is our neighbour?  If Jesus was here today, the story of the Good Samaritan would perhaps be about our neighbour being Muslim people or refugees.  As Christians we must vote based on how that vote will affect the last, the least and the lost.

The passage from Galatians includes a statement of equality that was unheard of in that time.  “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  We must always be careful not to elevate one passage above others when discussing theology, however this passage has special significance for us today.

In Jesus, the prejudices that separate us from each other dissipate.  Those people unable to accept the Christian message because it is sexist or misogynistic have a place to come in the Bible which suggests a difference truth is possible.  Maybe our differences are not as important as the love Christ came to bring to us?

Though there are many stories of how the Christian faith can be oppressive to women, we must also acknowledge that the reason women can vote today is because of the pioneering work of the suffragettes, many of whom were driven by their Christian faith.  So however the Christian faith can be a force of oppression for women, it can also be greatly liberating.

When we delve into the Bible further we find that far from 2.4 cereal box families, the Bible story is full of messy families.  Cain killed Abel, Abraham impregnated Hagar his wife’s servant, King David refused to deal with his son raping his daughter,  Joseph’s brother’s sold him into slavery, Rahab was a prostitute, Jesus was raised by a step-father.  We have a faith founded in the messiness of real life and people’s bad choices.

We don’t have to be ashamed of our messy families.  Though we may need support and help to overcome the challenges, the church should be a place we can be honest and know that messy families are in our faith’s DNA.  Let me challenge you today, if anyone asks you how you are after the service, to be honest rather than offering the default church smile and the very British “I’m fine thank you.”

As for the Orlando massacre and the many people who have been affected by it.  The church has a complex, theologically difficult road to walk with issues of sexuality and gender identity.  However, we are called first to love.  And may we represent the Jesus of love and life-in-all-its-fullness to those who currently find the Gospel to be oppressive.  May we be people who love deeply and live honestly, even when it hurts.  And may we know the God who binds our broken hearts; the God who is truly the greatest Father and Mother each of us can ever have.

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Guest Blog: Five Years

I am hosting this guest post for a woman who was subjected to abuse by her boss when she was working in a church.  She has courageously chosen to share her story and I feel privileged to offer my blog as a place for her to do this. 

 

 

It’s been five years.

Five years since he was my boss.
Five years since he turned and became violent in front of my eyes.
Five years since the institutions and people I trusted to protect people like me, let me down.
Five years since I learned some of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn.

He was my boss. I thought he was my mentor and my friend.

I was the intern and he was the youth-worker. A good communicator, well respected by his peers; the classic church employee, minus the checked shirt.

What you probably don’t know is what he’s really like. Underneath the façade of loving father, caring husband, wonderful boss and brilliant youth worker. But I do.

I was there whilst he yelled at his wife down the phone, telling her she’s a stupid b***h. On the night he assaulted a volunteer and realised that he probably wouldn’t have a job the next day, he told his wife that without his job, his life had no meaning. That she and their children were not enough.

He told me that his wife didn’t understand him. But that I did.
That one day I would be better than him and that it scared him. He told me as his boss, I needed to be accountable to him. He would ask me personal questions about my relationship with my fiancé. He would vet my church activities, telling me which groups I could and could not volunteer with. I needed protecting you see. He didn’t want me to be overworked or taken advantage of by a demanding church. Particularly if those activities had any degree of leadership, or would give me opportunities that he hadn’t been offered.

He would take credit for my work constantly. He told me that he had the respect of the leadership team and the credibility to take my ideas and make them into a reality. After all, we are a team, it’s not about ego. If I truly wanted what was best for the young people, I would let him pretend that they were his ideas.

One night, about 11pm he came to talk to me. He told me that he had tried to commit suicide the day before but that it was a secret; that I couldn’t tell anyone. He said that the church were conspiring against him; wanted him to leave, and that this would give them the ammunition they needed to fire him. I believed him. Felt sorry for him. Ignored his tantrums. Forgave his cruelty as he undermined and bullied those around him. Babysat his child so he could get help from a counsellor.

But all of the pressure was just too much for twenty year old me to handle. I couldn’t be the person to keep his secrets anymore and told my fiancé who informed the church leaders. The next day my fiancé received threatening texts from my boss, telling him that he had no right to do that. That he was ‘taking me away from him, and poisoning me against him.’ My fiancé tried to phone me, but I didn’t get his calls, went to work and that’s when he became violent to a volunteer.

He was fired. But he pleaded that he was suffering from a mental health problem, that the stress of work had made him ill. He begged for reconciliation and attended mediation meetings with the church. They allowed him to resign on the premise that he would never work with young people again. At the time that really hurt, but I recognise that in the leadership was a deep desire to do the right thing for everyone. It was naïve, but I respect the compassion they showed to him and his family, even if it broke my heart in the process.

Six months later he started working as a youth worker in a church in another part of the country. My church was never contacted for a reference.

Looking back, I know it sounds so ridiculous. Why didn’t I say anything sooner? Honestly, I didn’t know anything was wrong. I was 20 years old, this was my first job, my first line manager. I didn’t know that this wasn’t normal. I thought I was the bad Christian for being upset when he took the credit, that I was unsupportive for questioning his actions, that he was ill and that I was somehow at fault.

Five years have passed and I am still angry. Angry that he could be doing this to somebody else. Angry that I am the one who is told that I need to be more forgiving. Angry that the people I have told did not act.

I don’t want to be angry. But I don’t want to reconcile. Somehow that feels like it makes his actions ok. How do I balance my ‘responsibility’ as a Christian to forgive, with my fury that he is still out there, in a position in power, still working with children and young people.

The internet is a funny thing. I see Christians; men and women talk about misogyny and equality. But some of them know what he did and ignore it. It’s easy to shout about faceless men and nameless abusers, but what happens when we put a face or a name to that man?

He is the one who abuses and I am the one who needs to be less angry.

It’s been five years.
But I’m the one that still has nightmares.
I’m the one that is still on a high dose of anti-anxiety tablets.
I’m the one who hides in the toilets at conferences, churches, events, having spotted him from a distance because suddenly its five years ago and I’m back in that room as he screams and lashes out.
I’m the one who is fearful of receiving another letter, another email in which he simultaneously asks for forgiveness, without acknowledging any of his behaviours or actions.
I’m the one who is typing this, debating whether or not to keep going.
I’m the one who is fearful that he will read this, recognise himself in it and contact me.
I’m the one who is fearful that people will read this and not believe me.
I’m the one who is terrified that this will happen again.

 

 

If what the author of this post has said resonates with your current or previous experiences, please do seek help and advice…

Women, for information about your rights regarding workplace bullying and abuse: http://rightsofwomen.org.uk.

For anyone wanting information about workplace bullying and abuse: https://www.gov.uk/workplace-bullying-and-harassment or http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=1864.

For issues around anxiety you can contact http://www.mind.org.uk or http://www.mindandsoul.info.

Do get in touch with me via befreeuk {at} gmail.com if you would like to chat further about the issues raised in this post.

Brock Turner and Whitewashed Tombs

Last week two letters have gone viral across the internet.  The subject of both is the rapist, Brock Turner.  Firstly, the profound and deeply moving victim statement was published.  In the 12-page letter, the woman Brock Turner raped shares some of the many ways he hurt her and has forever changed her life in immeasurable, painful ways. “My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me,” the woman says. “You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.”  She talks about the impact of the criminal justice system and courageously stands with all women who have been subjected to rape and sexual abuse.

 

The second letter was from Dan Turner, Brock Turner’s father.  It is as angry-making as the other letter is heart wrenching.  Dan Turner describes his son’s choice to rape a woman as “twenty minutes of action” and laments his son’s lack interest in pretzels and steak as evidence that his son should not be punished harshly.  The judge chose to go against all guidance and give Brock Turner an extremely light sentence with only six months in county jail (rather than the recommended 6 years in prison).  Even as much of the Western world is outraged by Dan Turner’s letter, it seems the judge was taking Turner’s sentiments into consideration in sentencing Brock Turner.

 

As Christians, how should we respond to this case?  What should be our interaction with it?  Should we focus on mothering and Jesus as the only answer, as Ann Voskamp has?  Or is there more to it?

 

Perhaps we should start by acknowledging that there are experts who are responding to sexual violence in a Western context and Christians are rarely the experts.  Christians claiming expertise are currently describing the choice of men to sexually assault as women “fall victim to sexual violence” and most efforts in the Christian world to address male violence against women doesn’t name the agent for fear of appearing “anti-men”.

 

Guess what people?  Men are the majority perpetrators of sexual violence.  This is a fact.  It is not anti-men.

 

The reason men are the perpetrators of sexual violence is not because men are innately bad.  As Christians we understand that the Fall has resulted in sin coming into the world.  This means that each person has the capacity to choose great evil, but also this means they have the ability to do great good.  Not only did the Fall result in personal sin becoming a reality for human existence.  It also ushered in the principalities and powers of evil in the unseen world.

 

The consequences of sin are listed in Genesis 3.  Pain in child birth; women will be dominated by men; men will struggle with the pressures of trying to provide in a world that makes it almost impossible.  Yet eventually, the serpent’s head will be crushed.  These are not God’s best plan for humanity, we already messed that up.  They are the consequences of sin.

 

Patriarchy is one of the powers and principalities that we must be fighting against.  This is perhaps where Christians could start.  Rather than leaping to the conclusion that we must end sexual violence, perhaps we could start by acknowledging and dealing with our own complicity in sexual violence.

 

When one of the most shared Christian response about Brock Turner’s choice to rape infers that it is a mother’s responsibility to act in ways that stop a boy becoming a rapist, we have a problem.  Yes, Jesus models a different way, but asserting that Christianity has the answer when many women and men who have rejected Jesus because patriarchy has so deeply infected the church that we are the staunchest purveyors of it?  In their rejection of the patriarchal-Jesus aren’t they more effectively seeking to end sexual violence than the many Christians who promote the toxic blend of purity culture and restrictive gender roles?

 

How do we declare Jesus as the answer to sexual violence when so many who bear his name are contributing to the problem?

 

Make the link 1

This image from Make the Link explains how sexual violence exists in a pyramid propped up by sexism, the objectification of women, traditional gender roles and rigid stereotypes for women and men:

 

 

Christians, this is where we start.  Not at the top of the pyramid, but at the bottom.  We must examine how our own lives and choices are contributing to a society where a man’s disinterest in pretzels is of more concern than the all-pervasive damage he has done to a woman.  It is easier to issue the rallying cry “fight sexual violence” at Christian summer festivals than it is to examine the ways those festivals continue to promote purity culture, sexual shame and a lack of women on the platform.  It is easier to be horrified at the crimes “out there” than to recognise that a patriarchal God is still the dominant God worshipped by many of our brothers and sisters.

 

Let us start at the bottom of the pyramid and recognise we are not the experts.  Let us begin supporting experts like Rape Crisis, NAPAC, Object, Women’s Aid, Refuge, Nia, AVA.  Because until then Jesus may be saying to us, “Woe to you Christianity.  You are like whitewashed tombs which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of bones of the dead and everything unclean.”

Does Avoiding Pre-Marital Sex Devalue Marriage?

Two separate things have led to me writing this post.  A few weeks ago I had a Twitter chat with people after pondering whether an abstinence approach to sex may in fact dishonour marriage.  Then a couple of days ago I listened to THIS discussion between Dianna E Anderson and Sarah Long, facilitated by Justin Brierley on the Unbelievable show at Premier.

The debate was “Should Christians save sex for marriage?”

The debate was interesting, though I’m not sure it fully worked.  Dianna has written a book reflecting on US purity culture in Conservative Christianity.  Sarah is UK based and has worked with Romance Academy.  There’s some massive culture differences between the UK and the US, so to some degree it became much more about acknowledging the different contexts and less about a debate based in the same cultural context.  Though I think many would say the culture isn’t as different as was perhaps suggested on the show.

Sarah’s main view was that sex is a covenant and as such should be saved for marriage.  Her work has generally been in a youth context and therefore the focus has been with young people.  Dianna’s view was that the Bible isn’t clear at all about sex before marriage and as such she would place it within the adiaphora of Biblical stuff; basically it’s a conscience issue, not an absolute.

Mr GLW and I didn’t have sex until we got married; I’ve written a few thoughts about sex and Christianity in THIS blog post, in which I bemoan awful post marital sex that is rooted in the many unhealthy messages attached to abstinence values.

Some thoughts I have about the whole saving sex until marriage thing…

1. It may possibly work when people are in their teens and early twenties.  What about people in their forties, fifties or sixties who have never had sex?  Did God just decide they shouldn’t ever experience the awesome gift of sex?  Not everyone is going to have a partner.  The whole abstinence teaching is connected so strongly to the “everyone will get married and have babies” narrative.  What does sexuality look like for people who don’t ever get married?  Do they simply suppress it FOREVER?  What about masturbation?  Is that off limits too?

2. When abstinence teaching is intertwined so strongly with purity culture is there a baby left in the bath when you chuck out the bath water?  Or is the shaming of women, blaming of women, infantilising of men, lack of understanding of consent and terrible sex so fused with “don’t have sex before marriage” that we can’t keep the latter without holding onto the former?

3. Within the Unbelievable debate, there was no mention of how abstinence teaching disables people from recognising abuse.  For me this is paramount.  I am confident that my young adulthood sexual experiences would have been non-abusive if I’d chosen to embrace pre-marital sex.  Could that have been the case if I’d been educate in healthy ways about consent and had awareness of abuse?  Perhaps.  But could the messages from across Christian culture about abstinence have drowned out the voices providing that awareness?  Also quite possible.

I’ve been wondering about whether Christians put a higher value on sex than on marriage.  If people HAVE to get married to have sex, how many (usually young) Christians rush to the altar so they can GET IT ON?  Conversely, how many Christians suppress their sexuality and their natural desire for one another for years while they wait to be able to get married. leading to a whole load of marital problems?

One of the examples on the Premier debate was a couple who’ve been together for four years, are engaged but can’t afford the wedding.  Dianna suggested that having pre-marital sex in that context was a matter between the couple and God, they could pray about it and come to their own conclusions.  Sarah’s view was that the couple could choose to marry in an inexpensive way in order to “save sex” for marriage.

Is that the best approach?  Should people reject the whole Big Wedding thing in order to have sex?  Or does that suggest less value for the whole process?  Do the couple elope and get married in a registry office somewhere so that SEX?  Or is the marriage ceremony and the value placed on it and the community element significant enough that pre-marital sex isn’t the main consideration that should be attached to it?

What does abstinence mean anyway?  Should there be no kissing pre-marriage?  No tongues?  No nakedness?  No oral sex?  No groping?  Is everything non penetration based okay?  Is there a sense of legalism in the whole thing?  Is this whole thing simply tithing herbs (Luke 11:42)?  Are we neglecting the weightier matters of a deep and considered sexual ethic that takes into account the many ways abstinence is painful?

The Bible wasn’t written for our context.  People got married REALLY young.  Mary was probably 14.  Women had no rights.  Contraception didn’t exist.  Periods were seen as impure. Singleness wasn’t an option for women.  Women’s sole value was attached to their husband and sons.  Rape victims were to marry the man who raped them.  Then there’s Song of Solomon which is full on sexiness, seemingly between unmarried people.  Marriage was a financial contract between the girl’s (it usually was a girl) husband and her father.  How do we extrapolate a sexual ethic for our time, our culture from a book written in such an extremely different context?

I don’t know.

I do know that the current system isn’t working.  Abstinence teaching doesn’t produce chastity.  It leaves people ill equipped to recognise sexual abuse, sexually damaged, repressed and/or with a deeply unhealthy sexuality, it blames women and encourages men to avoid responsibility for their sexuality and wrongly assumes that every twenty-something Christian is going to meet a nice Christian (opposite sex) partner, marry them, have babies and live happily ever after.

I’m not sure what a positive sexual ethic looks like.  I guess I veer close to Dianna’s view.  What’s wrong with trusting couples to discern what is right for them?  What is the risk in encouraging people to seek God’s will for their lives over and above an abstinence rule that isn’t fit for purpose (and actually isn’t in the Bible)?  When the current messages are causing serious damage to individuals and couples can we risk insisting abstinence is the way forward?

Matthew 23:24 comes to mind…  “You blind guides!  You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”  Yes abstinence may get women to their wedding night with their hymen intact, however what about the camel of shame, vaginitis, pornography use, woman blaming and/or sexual repression?

The conversation amongst young people should be a different to that with adults.  One of the difficulties of the Premier debate was that Sarah’s context was young people.  We can’t liken the sexual choices of two people in their mid twenties (and upwards) to how we approach 14 year olds.  However, is the right approach with teenagers and young adults to focus on marriage as the means by which people access sex?  Does that put unnecessary focus on marriage as the end goal for people’s lives?  In a Christian culture which is deeply heteronormative and idolises the nuclear family, how do we articulate the liberating message that marriage is not the logical start of adult Christian life?

With our children, Mr GLW and I have focussed on:

  • Ensuring they own they bodies, lives and choices. This is the foundation of consent.
  • Nakedness and sexuality are not shameful, bodies are BRILLIANT.  Puberty is fabulous and exciting, if somewhat messy and traumatic.  Since they were very small we regular talked about how bodies change; hair, periods, wet dreams and the like.  This stuff shouldn’t be a surprise.  It is INEVITABLE.
  • That sex is awesome yet SO extremely special and precious that it’s a serious matter.  Babies can be made and diseases can be caught, so great thought must go into when, how and who we choose to do it with.
  • Singleness is GREAT!  We regularly chat about the amazing single people we know.  At first the kids assumed that all the single adults we knew were married, they just hadn’t met their spouses.  This stuff must be made explicit or kids won’t notice it.
  • Critically examining the messages around us; women are not objects, sexism is all pervasive and it is wrong, gender stereotyping is bad, racism is everywhere and it is bad, male privilege is real, a lot of masculinity is toxic and needs to be challenged etc etc.
  • There’s creepy naked stuff on the internet (pornography) and when they see it (because they will)  they need to tell us so we can help them make sense of it.

Our kids may have sex before marriage.  It’s not something I’m concerned about.  What I am concerned about is that every sexual experience they have is one they have entered into willing (and legally), in an informed way and with deep respect and love for themselves and the other person they engage in any sexual activity with, and also deep respect and honour for the seriousness of the act they engage in.

Yes, marriage may be a way of ensuring this stuff happens.  But that is not guaranteed.

Genuinely, I don’t want my kids to get married.  I want them to live lives of worth.  And if that includes marriage, great!  But if not, that is JUST as wonderful!

No Sex Please. We’re Married

Everyone knows what the Christian view of sex is.  That it should be “saved” for marriage.  That it’s this precious gift God gave humans and that sex outside of marriage can be damaging.  Depending on who you talk to, the damage ranges from a vague possibility to ABSOLUTE DESTRUCTION which requires a whole lot of prayer to get rid of “soul ties” which some would say mess you up in all sorts of emotional and spiritual ways.

 

Yesterday I listened to teaching on sex delivered to 12-14 year olds at a 2015 national Christian youth event.  Separate sessions for boys and girls.

 

The boys were told the only relationships they should have with girls should be friendships, in part because they can’t “go out and get a job to support the girl” when they’re only 12.  The speaker explained to these 12-14-year-old boys: “If the girl is not your wife, then she’s your sister.”  He went on to explain there should be no touching, kissing etc. until the couple are engaged.  The boys were also told that masturbation is wrong; avoid it by going for a walk or by reading the Bible (because they were told, the Bible isn’t sexy at all).

 

The girls were told “God wants His best for you.  He wants you pure and undamaged and unhurt.”  They were also told, “If you want to be attractive, dig into God.”  The girls were told that girls’ wanting to have sex was a form of seeking love and validation (the boys were not told this was the case for them).  The girls were also told that masturbation was wrong, addictive and the devil would use the shame they subsequently feel from masturbating to harm them.

 

This was at an event that happened in 2015.

 

In the church, we’re very good at talking about not having sex.  What we’re not good at talking about is the awful post-marital sex a lot of Christians endure, especially if they’ve done the “right” thing and waited.

 

If a couple have waited to have sex until they get married (whether or not they’ve had sex previously) there can be an expectation that such a sacrificial and counter-cultural choice will be rewarded by mind blowing sex from the wedding night onwards.

 

Sadly, multiple orgasms do not ensue.  From 12 years upwards they’ve both been told not to masturbate and not to think about sex.  At all.  Until “she’s a wife not a sister.”  The boys have been taught they should “resist temptation”.  The girls have been taught their value is intertwined with their purity.  Both have been conditioned to think only males have a sex drive.

 

Post-abstinence marital sex can be utterly abysmal.  Rarely is this talked about.  When it is talked about, it’s euphemistic at best.

 

I’ve been married over 8 years, my husband and I didn’t have sex with each other until after we were married.  We’d both had sex previously, and I brought two small children to the relationship.  From 17 to 21 I was abused by my ex-husband.  Much of the abuse was sexual.  I had been raised in Christian culture which taught me not to have sex but didn’t tell me what consenting to sex actually meant.  All of my first sexual encounters were coerced, forced or manipulated.  And Christian culture had given me no framework for this, so I thought the trauma I was suffering was caused because I had betrayed Jesus, not because I was being raped.

 

At 23 when I married my now husband, I’d been dealing PTSD, depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts and more.  He’d been single in the church for 13 years and had tried to avoid thinking about sex the whole time.

 

Our honeymoon was amazing in most ways.  Except that sex was generally difficult.

 

Marriage has been awesome for us.  Sex not so much.  And even though I’d been sexually abused for the majority of my life at that point, my husband being raised in the church caused us at least as many issues as my stuff did.  We’re not alone.  So many Christians (even where there hasn’t been abuse) experience extreme damage from abstinence and purity teachings in church.

 

Christian women and men have been conditioned to see sexual acts as shameful.  How do they then engage in those same acts after saying “I do” without shame?  The wedding ceremony isn’t going to negate years and years of unhealthy and sexually negative messages.

 

My husband and I are doing good now.  But stories like ours must be told.  Because otherwise every couple struggling, every woman feeling ashamed for simply considering initiating sexual activity, every man feeling inadequate because his sex drive doesn’t meet some arbitrary level he’s been told is normal, feel this is just them.  And it’s not.  There’s loads of us out there.  Welcome to crap Christian sex!  We’re not getting much.  But hey, it can get better!

 

I would tell 12-14 year olds that…

 

  1. Compulsive masturbation is a problem. What isn’t a problem is learning how your body works, what feels good and what doesn’t.  Girls especially are not taught about their genitals and popular culture can leave girls and women ashamed of their woman bits.  God isn’t ashamed of your vagina or vulva, he made it and He wants you to love it!

 

  1. Boys, it is not your job to pursue, provide for or protect a girl. That is nonsense made up by people.  Only God does those things.  Don’t take on responsibility that was never meant to be yours.  God made women and men equal and gave them the awesome gifts of intimacy, equality and partnership found in marriage.

 

  1. Choosing to have sex is a big deal. God made it as a thing to do within a marriage relationship.  There’s the potential for making babies and catching diseases and all sorts when you start doing it.  Understanding the difference between choosing to have sex and being coerced or forced is really important.  Sex is a big deal and when someone hurts us sexually they can cause us great damage.  But there is help available and healing is possible!

 

  1. You are not defined by your virginity. God loves you whatever your sexual experience or lack of it and so should any person you have a relationship with.

 

And to all you Christians preparing to get marriage please be aware that if you haven’t engaged in sexual activity with your spouse before getting married, don’t expect sex to be mind blowing straight away (if it is, lucky you!).  Like anything valuable in a relationship, it takes time, effort, understanding, respect and self awareness.  Sex can be awesome, get help if you need it and marriage is so much more than how good the sex is anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Supermarket Christianity

After doing a one-woman protest at the Hillsong Conference last week, Christian Today writer Mark Woods interviewed me. He asked whether I thought the protest had been a success. It got me thinking about what “success” is.

The Christian model of success seems to mirror the world’s view; it’s numerical… The more people that buy into your brand, attend your event, buy your books. That’s how you know you’re successful. There are Christian courses about building your online platform, growing your personal brand and blogging for success.

By those standards, my protest wasn’t very successful. It was me. On my own. By numerical standards it was 8000 (or more) to 1. By those standards, it was a failure.

However, Christian culture’s valuing of things isn’t God’s valuing of it. The kingdom of God is in the weeds that push through the pavement cracks, in the birth of a human child over 2000 years ago, in the smallness and in the whisper.

It seems in the Bible there is something significant about numerical growth. In Acts we hear of people joining the faith constantly, of meetings where thousands were added to their number. We hear of Jesus feeding the five thousand and the crowds that followed Him wherever He went. Yet, within Christian culture it seems success is measured solely in numerical terms.

I’ve been pondering Christian culture’s tendency towards numerical success. It’s led me to thinking about mega-churches and Christian brands. Hillsong, HTB, Bethel, New Wine, Soul Survivor, Spring Harvest. And the human brands within the wider brands; Osteen, Meyer, Houston, Hybels, Warren, Dollar, Driscoll, Gumbel.

It seems we currently have a dominant Christian model of “Supermarket Christianity”. Everything is pre-packaged. Shiny and new. Every taste is catered for. You can go to one church and have all your needs met. Supermarkets aren’t fundamentally evil, they meet the needs of people with busy lives. People who don’t have the time or skills to grow their own food or milk their own cow (if the even have a cow at home any way…).

In the same way, most mega-churches (and even a lot of regular churches) aren’t evil. They provide for people who don’t have the time or skills to take on their own spiritual growth. In a church where there are few creative people, an Alpha Course is a great package to begin conversations with non-Christians about God. Many amazing ministries have been birthed out of events like Spring Harvest and Soul Survivor. Supermarket Christianity is not evil.

However, though supermarkets are not evil. They are perpetuating injustice. There has been an enormous increase in food insecurity as supermarkets buy food overseas and have it shipped over to the UK. They don’t pay staff a Living Wage. They prioritise profits over ethics. And now we are all reliant on them. We can’t live without them. We are dependent on them. I don’t know how to grow vegetables. I can just about keep children alive, but give me a plant and it will be dead with a week.

In the same way, it seems that Christian culture has become reliant on Supermarket Christianity. Rather than learning to hear God’s voice for ourselves, we seek out another book/sermon/worship song to tell us what God thinks.   We read more words about the Bible than the Bible itself. We expect Supermarket Christianity to meet our needs. With pre-packaged courses and sermons for every situation. Instead of considering the needs in our community and how best to represent Jesus to those who don’t yet know Him, we simply put on an Alpha Course. Supermarket Christianity isn’t wrong. Supermarket Christianity as the default is.

I’ve been part of Christian culture long enough to have seen Supermarket Christianity as the answer. Growing up in a medium sized Anglican church, I was attracted to the idea of thousands of people in one place, cool preachers and the general largeness of Christian youth events. I thought that’s where people grew in their faith. And for some people, large events are where growth is found. Yet, there’s something slightly off kilter about our relationship with God being reliant on things that aren’t God. That aren’t local church or the Bible. That are branded and shiny and new.

I knew a guy who would always start to lose his connection to God in September. “But don’t worry!” He told me, “This always happens around this time, then I’ll go to Spring Harvest at Easter and I’ll get time with God and everything will be okay again.”

Maybe it’s partly that my faith didn’t grow large at an event or through a popular Christian book. Maybe it’s just my experience that makes me sure that Supermarket Christianity is not that way. And if so, then I’ll just keep walking the road that God has placed me on. But it feels like more than just my experience.

It seems that Supermarket Christianity allows us to vicariously live faithful lives through the testimonies of people who give up everything for Jesus. Just as the Tesco aisle invites us to have a “taste of India”, believing we have become more exotic for eating a pre-packaged meal made somewhere in Milton Keynes, so we hear the stories of people who are doing amazing things for God and we feel filled with a sort of confidence that Christians are doing good things.

We can now donate to a food bank and buy fairtrade produce on our way round the supermarket; either ignorant or avoiding the many ways supermarkets contribute to the need for food banks and fairly traded goods. In Supermarket Christianity we can donate to projects or even set projects up, while still living our lives in ways that exploit the most vulnerable.

My faith was founded in the crucible of suffering and through learning to be obedient. I have learned that the measure of my faith is not the amount I am on the church rota nor the number of people who stand with me in that which God has called me to. Not everyone has the “opportunity” to find God in losing everything, so maybe this is my truth and not The Truth.

I am trying to live a “Smallholding Christianity”. One which relies on the weather that God sends, that involves taking full responsibility for my walk with Him. Learning to grow my own spiritual food and not rely on the pre-packaged kinds. It’s a lonely road as most people are still living out Supermarket Christianity. I think I might be allergic to Christian events now. The last event I went to I cried all the way home. Just as people who re-enter the UK after a prolonged time in the majority world experience culture shock going into a supermarket, with the choice and shininess. So I think I have developed Christian culture shock.

Someone sent me this quote the other day,

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” Mark Twain

I responded to Mark Woods by saying that I thought the protest was successful. God has taught me that success isn’t found in the numbers of people by your side, the number of books you sell, the size of an event. It is found in being fully obedient to God’s call. And we can only become obedient to God’s call if we learn to hear Him above all the other voices in our lives. Success is not found in this life, but in hearing, “Good and faithful servant” on the other side of eternity.

So you’re welcome to join me in discovering “Smallholding Christianity”, but I don’t mind if you don’t, I’m okay over here on my own…

Mark Driscoll isn’t Speaking at Hillsong

Mark Driscoll is no longer speaking at the Hillsong conferences in Australia and the UK. This is a Good Thing.

I set up the petition asking for Hillsong to remove Driscoll from their conference after they confirmed he and his wife Grace were doing an interview, subsequent to his resignation from his position as a pastor, surrounded by accusations of bullying, plagiarism, spiritual abuse and misuse of funds. The pain of those who are continuing to live with the consequences of Driscoll’s choices must have grown as one of the biggest platforms and brands in Western Christianity welcomed him to the stage.

The recent media coverage has focussed on some of Driscoll’s many woman-hating comments he made over ten years ago. Although his attitudes and beliefs about women are very concerning, the direct impact of the well documented bullying and abuse perpetrated by him, towards many within his church and wider community was what led me to set up the petition.

Many people have commented on Brian Houston’s statement, and while I hope his actions in uninviting Mark Driscoll speak louder than the words in his statement, I wanted to comment on various parts of the statement, partly in response to him and partly to correct some assumptions within it.

After personal interaction with Mark Driscoll today, we have agreed that he will no longer be coming to Australia or the UK to attend Hillsong Conference. It is my hope that Mark and I will be able to speak in person in the coming weeks to discuss some of the issues that have been raised, what – if anything – he has learned, and for me to understand better how he is progressing in both his personal and professional life.

 

This part of the statement is excellent. It suggests that in conversation with Mark Driscoll, Brian Houston may have realised that Driscoll is not in the right place to offer appropriate responses about his behaviour in recent years. As Pastor James Miller wrote after hearing Mark Driscoll speak at the Thrive Conference, “Driscoll just gave a long lecture on forgiveness without asking for it.  Aside from the allusion to “not being totally innocent,” he really didn’t point out his own failings.”

It is likely Driscoll will continue with the same minimisation, denial and blame in private conversation as on the platform and it is good to know Brian Houston has taken this into consideration.

The teachings of Christ are based on love and forgiveness, and I will not write off Mark as a person simply because of the things that people have said about him, a small minority of people signing a petition or statements he has made many years ago for which he has since repeatedly apologised.

 

I agree with Brian that love and forgiveness is at the core of Jesus’ teaching. Nobody has “written Mark off” and any action that is taken has been based on well documented and extensive information about the ways Mark has behaved in bullying and damaging ways; both as a leader and as a Christian.
Ensuring that someone who has chosen to hurt many people does not have access to a platform is not writing someone off. If Mark wanted to work in a supermarket or office, aside from concerns about his bullying behaviour, I would not have set up a petition asking him not to be employed. Being given a platform of any size (especially one of the largest in the western world) is an enormous privilege and being denied access to that is an appropriate consequence for someone who has misused power in so many ways.

In the same way that taking a person with alcohol dependency to a bar might be problematic, giving someone with power issues a platform invites them to continue to misuse power.

The petition was not primarily about statements Mark made years ago, it was about his ongoing misuse of power.

The petition has been signed by 3000 people. This may be a small minority for a church which has around 30,000 people attending its Australian campuses, however some of those who signed the petition have been directly hurt by Mark Driscoll. They are not a number. They have a painful story of Mark Driscoll’s choices, they are still living with the consequences of his choices.

 

However, I do not want unnecessary distractions during our conference, particularly as this 30 minute interview was only a small part of this five day event. It was clear to me that Mark’s attendance had the potential to divert attention from the real purpose of Hillsong Conference, which is to see people leave encouraged in their own spiritual journey.

 

Some have commented that this part of the statement is concerning. I would agree. He has shifted the focus away Mark Driscoll’s choices and lack of repentance, to talking about “unnecessary distractions”. For many, Hillsong’s brand has long been associated with the more negative elements of Christian culture, and this section of the statement will have done nothing to dissuade them of that. However, perhaps it could be seen that he is saying “interviewing Mark Driscoll is not going to encourage people in their own spiritual journey”. Which I think many would agree with.

Clearly Mark has held some views and made some statements that cannot be defended. One or two of the more outrageous things he is purported to have said, I have heard for the first time through the media exposure over the past week.

 

I think similarly to Steve Chalke’s quotes about Yoder, Brian Houston perhaps made an uninformed choice to include Mark Driscoll. But unlike Steve Chalke, Houston has had the wisdom to not collude with power misuse or hatred of women. Perhaps this situation will cause conference organisers to investigate speakers more thoroughly before inviting people onto their platform. Maybe they can also address the lack of women on the platform at the same time…

I am grateful to Hillsong and Brian Houston for their decision and hope that this will lead other conference organisers to think before inviting Driscoll onto their platform. There is much time that must pass, responsibility that must be taken and restitution that must be done before Mark Driscoll should be considered for any platform in any part of the world.