I’m pretty passionate about women needing to embrace their own sexuality without shame and without regard to male sexual desire, and today I’m over at The Friendly Atheist to review Dannah Gresh and Dr. Juli Slattery’s book Pulling Back the Shades, their Christian response to 50 Shades of Grey.

This [is] a pervasive problem in Christian relationship books aimed at women: the assumption that female sexuality begins with the initiation of a woman into the world of male sexuality. This can be through abuse, rape, regretful premarital sex, or happy married sex, but it always starts and ends with a penis. This gets taken to such an extreme that even masturbation is condemned if it uses any sort of imagination or fantasy to speed things along — that would be making oneself dependent on a man other than your husband, even if he’s fictional. Which would be cheating, and a misuse of sex (by their definition of the act).

Gresh is known for her interpretation of the Hebrew references to sex in the Old Testament (yada, according to her) as “to know, to be deeply respected,” and she explains that this is a sign of how sex was intended by God for marriage, where you can have that sort of intimate knowledge of your partner. She further asserts that sex always transcends the physical act, which is how she explains that cheating is wrong (again: no mention of consent here) and why she believes that no-strings-attached sexual encounters are also wrong.

She concludes this little explanation by saying:

“Erotica places undue emphasis on the physical and disables your ability to connect emotionally.”

I find this hard to believe, seeing as erotica is entirely based on the imaginative capabilities of a sexual human being to use fantasy for arousal, and doesn’t require anything physical at all. The focus in the fantasy, I agree, is physical rather than emotional, but can’t it also follow that heightened sexual awareness can help improve intimacy in the bedroom and increase emotional connection during sex? I suspect that Slattery and Gresh both have trouble connecting their own experiences of moments where they owned their sexuality to themselves as whole human beings in positive ways. The over-emphasis on the spiritual and intellectual understandings of sexuality leave the physical out in the cold in a very Gnosticdualistic sort of way.

Gresh brings this split out further in a later chapter, where she tells a story from her marriage where she considered herself to be owning her sexuality in her marriage in a positive way: one evening, she wore a somewhat sheer black top to the dinner table on a night when she and her husband were dining alone by candlelight. He checked her out across the table, and she congratulated herself and felt empowered. Essentially, she was exploring her ability to perform for her small audience’s male gaze and felt good about her success in catching his eye.

But again, this is about him and his arousal and her sexuality is entirely defined in reaction to or performing for his sexuality. He is the fixed point and she orbits him. It’s as if she has no sexuality outside of him, and while she is quite articulate about how women should not be ashamed of their bodies when they are with their husbands, she shows little capability of being aware of herself as a sexual being independent of her sexual relationship with her husband.

This is not a critique of Gresh or Slattery as individuals. Their stories happen to be very common, compared with the many I have heard and witnessed in my years in the church. Evangelical American Christians don’t have a framework for female sexuality that doesn’t start and stop with a husband’s penis. And I think this is ultimately why erotica is seen as a threat: it’s a primarily female-focused genre, and it explores female sexual pleasure in ways that are infrequently seen in our society.

Read the rest here.


Isn’t the American dream autonomy over self in the face of the man, getting a little privacy and a little power — just enough to live well and in peace?

I’m not much of one for American idealism, but this bit has always resonated. We like the freedom to do was we please so long as it hurts no one other than ourselves.

Which is why yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling on Burnwell v. Hobby Lobby is pesky and awkward. But what’s more, it’s the result of a complex network of decisions and chess moves by the conservative Christian right set in play for more than 20 years. And I haven’t thoroughly read all the details in the ruling and the dissent by Ginsburg (bless her), but this is personal and I know enough to get myself into a little trouble talking about it, and I need to talk about it.

When I was getting divorced, I also left my job without knowing where I would end up next — depression and a detail-oriented job was an unsustainable situation, and I needed to get out of DC. But I was also having funky side effects from my hormonal oral contraception that I was using and I didn’t want to leave my job and have my insurance end without knowing what was going on and what to do to fix it. I researched options and concluded that I needed to be on something non-hormonal, and then, as I narrowed down my best choices, I learned that because the newly-enacted ACA was changing my health care coverage for the last month I was on it, I would be eligible for my birth control to be fully covered by my employer.

And I was facing rent I knew I couldn’t pay for another month, running numbers on a potential cross-country move, and generally running frightened rabbit loops in my head about money and my future. I had two weeks left, about $1,000 in my name, and a car loan and final bills and gas and groceries and no solid prospect for a job. (Aside: depression makes decision making really vile.) And I knew that a) one in three women are sexually abused and b) I was probably going to be dating again in the near future and c) generally just wanted to take no unnecessary risks with my future and d) the idea of having a child sent me into anxiety attacks.

So I looked at that $700 copper IUD covered by the ACA through my insurance, and I said “yes, please” and got it for myself as an autonomy present after my divorce. That little inch of copper says that my future is my own, my body is my own, and I decide when I’m ready for whatever comes next.

And I paid nothing for it. I swear, this has been the biggest boost in my self-confidence and general peace of mind. It was free, and it gives me my power as an adult woman.

Others aren’t so lucky. I know that my IUD isn’t going to cause abortions, because I researched it and educated myself. But the number of conservative Christian women I grew up with whose science education is so lacking that they don’t know that (for example) being on hormonal birth control actually reduces the possibility of a fertilized egg getting sloughed off in menstruation when compared with the natural risk of this occurring without being on birth control of any sort.

And I also know women who weren’t as lucky as I was, whose minimum wage employers kept their hours just below the full time mark in order to not have to pay for their heath care costs, and who couldn’t afford birth control before the ACA and ended up pregnant or unable to treat their endometriosis symptoms or their PMDD and became depressed, bedridden, suicidal, or just plain overworked and exhausted. And, this isn’t just one or two of my friends. This is a large portion of the women I know.

Contraception isn’t just an extra funtimes experimental drug that women sometimes do for kicks when they feel wicked.

Sometimes it’s the difference between freedom and reduced options, between autonomy and wage-slave exhaustion.

***

There’s a piece of the ruling that rests on something called the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which was pushed into place by none other than Michael Farris of HSLDA, and his then-compatriot, Doug Phillips, formerly of Vision Forum.  This RFRA is what (basically) enabled Wisconsin v. Yoder to be an active playing card in the religious freedom discussion today (and what keeps homeschool reform from occurring and the parental rights movement alive and well).

The piece of the ruling is the part where it rules that a private corporation is a person whose religious rights can be violated. As sussed out by my good friend, a law school graduate studying for the bar this summer:

The majority says that the answer to the first question [Can a corporation be a “person” within the meaning of RFRA?] is “yes,” a corporation is a person who can exercise religious beliefs under RFRA.  This is a statutory and not a constitutional interpretation.  One interesting part of the ruling is that the majority says RFRA is not limited to restoring the Court’s pre-Smith Free Exercise jurisprudence.  This opens the door for the Court to expand RFRA protection to cover even more things than the Free Exercise Clause covered prior to Smith.  Additionally, the majority limited this ruling to “closely-held” corporations.  This means that this ruling does not apply to corporations that are publicly traded.  However, the majority did not provide any reason to make a hard division between closely held and publicly traded corporations.  It just said it would be “improbable” for a publicly traded corporation to be operated according to religious beliefs.  This leaves the door wide open for a clever plaintiff to get the Court to expand RFRA protection to publicly traded corporations as well.  The majority also dismissed the argument that it would be difficult to determine a corporation’s religious belief when different board members have different religious beliefs.  The majority just said we would turn to state law when such questions arise. ” – Carmen Green

The whole of her analysis of the ruling is intelligent, insightful, and well-worth reading.

The layers of hypocrisy and back room dealing involved in this case are just appalling. Not only does this set legal precedent for clever appeals to chip away at the ACA, and not only is it largely possible due to horrific legal engineering of Christian reconstructionists, it has detailed and sweeping ramifications that make me see red.

The appeal was designed to also prevent women from receiving contraceptive counseling from their doctors related to any of the drugs that their employers happen to object to. Why?

Hobby Lobby seems to have no problem with dealing with China, where forced abortions and sterilizations happen on the regular. Why?

Hobby Lobby’s retirement fund options involve stock in companies that manufacture the drugs they’ve asserted that they object to their employees using. They could have chosen alternative retirement plans that opted out of these investment options, but they didn’t. Why?

Hobby Lobby previously provided coverage for these contraceptives that they apparently object to, but that was before the ACA came along and required them to provide this coverage. Instead of choosing to maintain their status quo coverage, they raised the religious objection flag and started their fight. Why?

Educate yourself. I’m still shakey with how angry this ruling has made me — it’s a deep cavern of lies, money-based hypocrisy, and carefully constructed long-term plans to reinvent how religious freedom is defined.

And ultimately, this ruling is statistically likely to cause more abortions to occur in the U.S. in the future than would have occurred if these employers had agreed to provide ample coverage for reproductive health products. So much for pro-life consistency.


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!

Thirdly, I’m finally posting my explanation of why modesty culture = rape culture, and Convergent Books is kind enough to host it for me. Part 1 is up today!

Fourth: Third: The Swan Children is accepting submissions for our July issue now! Read our latest update here and submit here.

And finally, the YA Wallpaper has a new video up! We’re talking about Meg Wolitzer’s new book (which isn’t out yet), so SPOILER ALERT.


I think the biggest confusion in this whole my-sister-is-a-viral-blogger-after-her-first-post thing (besides the part where everyone is assuming her surname is Ettinger — it isn’t, and she’s a minor. So, my parents have requested anyone using her real name please redact it for her privacy), was about why Clare cared about the modesty guidelines more than getting kicked out of prom.

Everyone is reacting along the lines of “oh how HORRIBLE that she got kicked out of this momentous life event!” or “she’s being a drama queen and just wants attention because she didn’t get her prom night.” Neither are true.

While I won’t deny that Clare is an extrovert with a Just Plain Fancy sort of joie-de-vivre about her, she is not a drama queen out for attention. She didn’t write her post because she was upset about missing her prom. And she didn’t lie about what happened — my sister has always had a fierce sense of justice and I’d encourage everyone to actually read her original post rather than just the news articles or petty reactions by her peers. (I’m sorry your prom got so much heat. No one, least of all me and Clare, expected this would generate so much attention.)

For those who aren’t familiar with our background or what going to a homeschool prom like this one implies, let me give you a bit of context.

1) It was a big deal for Clare to be allowed to go to prom. I wasn’t allowed to go to a prom (though there was one and many of my friends went). The homeschool scene in Richmond is rich in cultural appreciation, and some awesome ballroom cotillion groups exist for extracurriculars. But my dad and I had lots of fights throughout high school because he would not permit me to participate in any of their Friday night dances, out of moral objections. Obviously, this standard has now changed, which is pretty awesome for Clare.

2) Our family was part of a cult group (see here for coverage of a sex offender’s trial that shows how the pastors in this cult have been exposed for covering up sexual abuse and pedophilia) and if you’re confused about what that kind of childhood looks like, go read my piece for Cracked.com about growing up in this culture. More details on this stuff and how it related to sexuality and autonomy can be found in my Immodesty Rail series. And a great response to the parental angle in all of this, written by my friend Ashley, can be found here.

3) HOWEVER, that prom (while it was held in a church), wasn’t explicitly Christian. That said, homeschool culture is predominately conservative Christians and the majority of people at that prom were probably your good old-fashioned family values voters who chose to homeschool their kids because they wanted to keep their children away from corrupting influences in the public schools — sex, drugs, gays, abortion, global warming, mini skirts. (I jest. Partly.) But that’s why it was convenient for the parents to hold it in a church rather than another facility, and that’s why modesty standards were imposed on attendees (this year the rules were actually a lot less stringent than in years past).

4) Modesty standards do not hold the same social weight as your average dress code. Which is why a homeschool dad would feel himself legitimately entitled to comment on a girl’s outfit at such an event.

Point #4 there is really the crux of all this, and it’s why Clare originally called the people who shamed her for her dress “rape culture activists.” I’m going to follow up on this with a post later this week, but for now, I’m going to let Clare speak for herself once more. And this time, she made you a video. Enjoy!


UPDATE

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.

Carry on.

::end update::

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.

Patriarchal purity/rape culture infects the world of Christian colleges (and their horrific mishandling of rape cases) — see, for example, the ongoing story at Patrick Henry College.

Spiritual abuse is also rampant in independent evangelical churches, and my good friend Elizabeth Esther just published her fantastic memoir about her experiences in a similar cult to the one I grew up in. It’s a quick read and covers a lot.

On the positive side, there are folks working to reform and heal the American evangelical church from these horrific ideologies. People working on that include Rachel Held Evans, Sarah Bessey, the good folks at Deeper Story, The Wartburg Watch, and Convergent Books.

The homeschooling side of my story is where the biggest ongoing need for reform is, and a quick overview of that can be found in this piece by Kathryn Joyce on us “homeschool apostates.” Groups working to change the state of homeschooling to eradicate abuse, patriarchy, and religious isolationism and dominionism include: Homeschoolers Anonymous, the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, and Homeschooling’s Invisible Children.

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’ll also occasionally run a fundraiser project to help a Quiverfull escapee get on his/her feet. Right now my friend Becca is trying to pay off hospital bills from her gallbladder surgery by selling her music album, and there’s a scholarship contestant we’re upvoting for a chance to go to school without parental support.

And finally: If you related to my piece and thought you were alone:

HI. YOU ARE NOT CRAZY.
::hugs::

Come hang out with us over at Recovering Grace, Homeschoolers Anonymous, etc. Find us on Facebook. We have support groups for you. <3

And if you want book recommendations for how to recover from this stuff, I highly recommend the following:

1) All About Love: New Visions, bell hooks

2) Boundaries, Cloud and Townsend

3) Daring Greatly, Brené Brown

4) Quivering Daughters, McFarland


http://enkidu-of-ur.tumblr.com/

Cliché blog title and topic, oh, I know.

This is a lament.

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.

When will it be done?


If a divorced person told you he or she was worried about the wisdom of you marrying your fiancé[e], would you listen?

Or would you disqualify her advice because of her failure to make her marriage work? Even if she did everything right according to the Christian system and listened to her parents, waited to have sex until her wedding night, prayed exhaustively about the decision, and sought lots of counsel from pastors and mentors?

I am not going to be getting any brownie points among Christians for this piece, but this been driving me nuts and what else is my blog for?

Here is my best advice for good Christian kids looking to get married: have sex already.

I’m watching too many couples play Russian roulette with their lives because they aren’t listening to their gut instincts about who they want or need to spend their lives with because they happened to have found one person somewhat enchanting and willing to play the Christian marriage game and the stakes are: your whole future on this decision, made in the worst possible state of mind, horny celibacy.

Hermeneutically speaking, St. Paul’s “it’s better to marry than to burn with passion” was probably not about what you think it’s about. All my books are in storage in boxes, so I’d love to have someone with an accessible library help me out with citations here, but it’s pretty widely accepted in schools of theology that he was talking about couples disturbing idealistic celibate communities by sneaking off to have sex and making everyone feel either jealous and upset. As in: don’t be Gnostic, early church! It’s okay to not require celibacy of all Christians. C.f., Reasons why no one should ever be forced into celibate living against their will.  Not a lot of people have that gift, and that’s what Paul was acknowledging in that well-worn passage.

But what that passage doesn’t say (and honestly, what no passage in the Bible says) is “God’s best plan for your life is to be a virgin when you get married.” Seriously. Look for it. It’s not there. Two years ago a couple ex-fundy friends and I started hunting for it when we started to be troubled by why courtship was failing and why we were seeing so many unhappy marriages with good Christian kids like us who followed the rules. So we started searching the Bible ourselves and we haven’t found a much biblical basis for Christian purity culture and how it treats virginity and sexual experience.

There’s a whole lot about sex in the Bible, I learned. Most of it is dictated by the assumption that societies required clearly defined patriarchal lineage in order to operate (e.g., if your wife wasn’t a virgin when you married her, how would you know if her kids were yours and thus keep your family property and name in tact for the future?). Such things were very much a part of the historical period in which the Bible was written, but those things related to preservation of pure bloodlines are really irrelevant to our social order today. We can have healthy, happy communities without needing to be constantly in fear of the threat of a bastard child. Once that’s established, looking at the rest of the verses in the Bible about sex, it becomes evident that the sexual ethics laid out are essentially those of respecting each other and not abusing sex as a tool for power or domination or for revenge. It is, quite simply, an ethic of sexual behavior that values consent and human dignity and respect for social propriety within the context of an ancient patriarch-dominated culture.

If that was our culture today, it would be much more directly applicable, but that isn’t where and how we’re living. Today, we have a lot more freedom, a lot more ground gained in the realm of respecting diverse people groups and identities, and a lot less risk in terms of economic security and social honor riding on our sexual behavior.

Therefore I believe, based on my research, that it’s possible to have consensual, safe, and private sex* outside of marriage and not be transgressing any of the basic ethical guidelines for sexual behavior as laid out in the Bible.

But all that is just contextual framework for my primary point.

Christian culture over-values virginity at marriage so much that it heightens to an unreasonable degree the tension of an already momentous and risky decision. Marriage is, in a lot of ways, a jump off the cliff of adulthood that forces you to come face to face with yourself, and that’s when you find out just how much you can depend on yourself [to be mature and kind], without the parachute or training wheels of an easy exit. Most of us find as newlyweds that our selves aren’t really all that dependable, and we’re actually pretty selfish and immature.

Within Christian purity culture, sex, as an unknown and desirable thing (known to be powerful and good, but forbidden), necessarily becomes the bullet that we imagine blowing our brains out with if we pull the trigger at the wrong time, and we trick ourselves into believing that marriage will somehow protect us from spiritual suicide by pre-marital sex. We can’t know better if we’re still treating sex as a huge scary-and-wonderful unknown entity, but you’d think that our elders/wisers/more-experienced influencers would bother to let us in on the game before we sign on the dotted line.

But they don’t. Instead, pastors and parents and Bible study leaders and youth group mentors have bought into and perpetuated a false fundamental assumption that binds us to shame and ignorance as a necessary part of spiritual integrity: 1) we are required to take them at their word that sex is life-changing and terrible (in both senses of that word), and 2) we are required to make our trust in their definition of sex a fundamental assumption into how we weigh out relationships and how we decide who and when to marry. The bogey of sex thus becomes a looming question mark for us and the already-significant risks of choosing to get married to someone become exponentially more risky because there’s a huge piece of the marriage-choice puzzle that we are required to leave up to chance (which our good mentors have named God’s Will to keep us quiet).

Thus, when we good [read: virgin] Christian kids decide to accept this system, trusting our parents and pastors’ terms and wisdom, and denying ourselves basic understanding of ourselves as sexual beings (which we are, but they help us overlook this by telling us that perpetual fear and denial of sexuality is a form of healthy [and therefore godly] sexuality), sex as an unknown other becomes a non-factor in our choices for who we date and who and when we marry, or it becomes the secret but driving factor for who and when we marry. It must remain secret as a motive, because everyone knows that marrying just to have sex is a bad idea, but there is no other alternative for healthy, safe, and consensual sexual experience when we have bought into this system.

And if we are unlucky enough to be just a little too horny to effectively deny the existence of our sexuality until the approved time and place (the wedding night), we are caught in an impossible place where in order to keep being Good Christian Kids, we have to not question what our parents and pastors have told us—which is, essentially, that everything I just laid out in layman’s hermeneutics about biblical sexual ethics is lies and that God’s best plan for sexuality is total ignorance and total commitment to one person and one form of sexual experience forever and ever, amen—and to jump through all the Christian social hoops to land in bed with someone and not get ostracized or shamed for wanting to have sex in the first place

Or you just keep your head down and have sex and keep that part of your life so very secret and separate from your public social life, for fear of being found out for what you know they will think you are: a Bad Kid** with wanton desires and a sense of judgment that cannot be trusted.

So, in the end, if you want to be labeled a Good Christian Kid, you play by the rules that your parents and pastors have laid out for you, and inevitably (if you find another Good Christian Kid you like well enough, who likes you well enough, and who also agrees to play by the rules of this game) you’ll find yourself sitting somewhere with your boyfriend or girlfriend, and you’ll have a choice.

You’ll be just turned on enough with this person for the first time to realize that sex is probably something powerful (which means your parents and pastors must have been right, after all), and you’ll both be feeling it, and you’ll both realize that this situation can end in two ways: one, you follow the feeling and have sex and ruin your standing as a GCK in your own mind forever, even if no one ever finds out.  Or, two, you’ll indulge the feeling and fool around just enough to get scared of how good it feels and “put on the brakes” (a timeless analogy used by youth pastors everywhere, as if sex is a car rolling unobstructed toward a large and frightening cliff), which is to say: you stop and feel ashamed of yourself and look at your partner in crime and realize that no one can ever know except the two of you (because even a little sexual “sin” is enough to ruin your Good Christian Kid status), and that you are probably going to marry this person and you are probably going to be happy about it. Whether or not you really are happy doesn’t matter, because you’ve been practiced at denying parts of yourself (read: an accidental follower of Christian Gnosticism) for long enough that what’s one more thing? If you’re married, you’re going to be having sex, which means one less thing to ignore—and so your desire for real happiness can replace sexuality under the wraps of self-control and shame.

And then you’re trapped, because you let your pastors and parents think through your sexuality for you (which is such a bad idea, seeing as sexuality is such a unique and individual thing), and you got married because that was the only way to explore your sexuality and stay sane in the face of such overwhelming social pressure and potential shame, and if you’re really lucky you’ll both be moderately happy and mostly sexually compatible and have enough in common to make a pretty decent life out of a pretty bizarre and unbalanced decision.

But the chances of ending up with that ending to your story are pretty slim—and after my marriage ended, the stories of unhappy marriages launched on these terms started coming to me out of the woodwork. Our pastors and parents may adore Dannah Gresh, Josh Harris, and the Ludys, but those relationship and purity gurus are the lucky ones selling their stories through books and speaking events. They do not represent the vast majority of American Christians, and while they mean well, their idyllic solutions have shortchanged most people who bought into their system out of blind trust.

So, as a divorced woman who did everything right by the assumptions of that system and found that it was full of empty promises and bad hermeneutics, I dare you to think for yourself about your sexuality and your beliefs. Put down the gun—stop playing Russian roulette with your life on someone else’s word.

*Consent requires consent of all parties affected, so naturally, if you’re married and assuming that your marriage means exclusive sexual fidelity to your spouse, then you don’t cheat. Likewise if you’re in a relationship and the terms of the relationship mean that your girlfriend/spouse/partner/fiancé isn’t comfortable with you having close friendships with members of the gender that you’re attracted to sexually, then you honor those boundaries and act in a way that respects your partner’s comfort zone.

**In either scenario, young adults, who are pushed and urged to be mature and wise because that’s godly, are still socially seen and treated as children—and I think that, subconsciously, sexual experience functions as the only real coming of age signifier in this Christian subculture, which is an entirely different subject, but one that also ought to be scrutinized for bullshit.


Okay, so, basically, my blog is currently useless if you’re not familiar with Brené Brown’s work on shame, especially Daring Greatly. Just get a copy already. [On another note, I’m still working on a follow-up to my post on leaving fundamentalist thinking, but I’ve moved this week and had a family member in the hospital and have been generally too drained to write a good piece on that yet. It’ll happen as soon as I can.]

I used to own a copy of Humility by C.J. Mahaney. I used to think it was a really good book.

I used to beat myself up a lot over how “proud” I was, a concept drawn from SGM’s teachings inspired by C.J. and the Puritans. My desire to be right, my desire for safe relationships, my desire to be heard–all these were twisted in my interpretation of them and lumped in a pile in my mind, under a big black sign that read “PRIDEFUL SINNER.”

Pride, as they defined it in SGM, is “contending for supremacy with God” (Jerry Bridges). Any attempt to control your life, to assert your likes, dislikes, boundaries, or ambitions was written off as “idolatry” and “selfish” and “proud.”

Arrogance was a label of a tent that expanded in SGM to cover anything that wasn’t following the social code of correct behavior. Doubting or anxious? Your lack of faith exhibits pride. Depressed? Prideful doubt of God’s goodwill toward you. Making plans for your life and dreaming/learning/exploring about what and who you really want to do and be? Pride and refusing to listen prayerfully to God’s will for your life.

I suspect that this stuff was harsher for women in SGM (and the fundamentalist homeschooling community at large) than it was for men, because men were required to learn their skill sets, urged to find mentors, and assumed to follow their dreams (of some sort) and have careers and aspirations. Women were not. Gender roles were stricter for us–godly women aspired to be housewives and mothers, and anything outside of that was a spiritual open doorway to pride. Aspirations outside of the wife/mother/housekeeper role might be permitted, if you were quiet and meek and self-deprecating and insecure enough in your potential. Men with aspirations were taught to give lip-service to this sort of attitude as well, but they were never socially required to really adhere to it with the same intensity of guilt trips and care group self-shaming sessions that women were.

I was thinking on this the other day–I wrote a poem (which I may share here later) and I wrote it about the fierce beauty of a healthy, strong woman who is confident in herself. Which is, really, a positive sort of pride. I realized a few things, which I want to talk about here.

Pride, in its actual real-life definition, is a double-edged concept. It can be a false, inflated sense of self-importance (a sort of delusion, really), or it can be a secure feeling of worth and belonging of some sort, a warm connection to someone or something. My baby sister has no shame in her artistic attempts–if I get a box from home, it’s full of paintings and drawings she’s made. And she puts them on the fridge and sends them to work with our dad and it’s not a big deal. She doesn’t act self-important about her art, but she is happy with it and shares it with people. It’s pride in her work, and it’s deserved and healthy. And I am proud of her and her cheery lack of self-consciousness with her art. It’s healthy and that’s good, and so I am pleased and heart-warmed by it. That’s the other side of pride.

And the thing that I’m realizing, is that in all the years that I beat myself up for being proud, I was never really proud. I may have been immature and naive and selfish, but I wasn’t deluded in my importance (okay maybe sometimes with younger siblings when I was babysitting), not really. I was afraid of myself. I was afraid of being large and taking up space and having a voice and things to say and having people hear me. I was afraid of being good at anything that would prevent me from being mostly invisible. I gravitated toward excelling in supporting social roles, toward excelling in domestic skills, and toward excelling at being unobtrusive.

I was not proud in either sense of the word. And I was living in shame, afraid of existing much at all. And I think we should be proud in the healthy sense of the word.

My favorite example of this is my friend Kiery, who has been making art since hen’s parents rejected hen when hen decided, at 18, to move out and marry hen’s boyfriend/unofficial fiancé (only unofficial because of the parents’ attempts to break them up). Hen’s family was vicious and abusive to hen’s assertion of independence, and Kiery went into emotional cocooning as a newlywed, but eventually started painting and drawing. The process has been slow and agonizing at points–I know Kiery has fought a lot of internal voices telling hen to stop and that the art is worthless. But hen’s art has improved SO much, and Kiery’s doing a comic strip with a friend, running a gaming vlog, and making some really cool pieces of art. It’s taken years, but there’s a wholeness to what Kiery makes that has been the result of lots of self-nurturing and patience with henself that I really respect and admire. It’s been like watching a butterfly emerge and dry its wings in the sunlight. It’s so beautiful and good.

I aspire to things. So do you. And it’s not sinful or “prideful” to be honest and encouraging and kind to yourself about that.


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.


“The hardest part is realizing you’re in charge” – Helen Bishop, Mad Men

One of the things that has been a constant struggle for me, as a woman leaving the world of Christian patriarchy, has been reconciling reality to my learned “right” responses. I have to be gutsy and take charge of my life and heed my personality type and my needs and make sure I’m living in a way that works best for who I am. But it’s hard to learn to do this, because I grew up considering myself strongest when deferring to other’s needs and wants, most godly when negating my desires, and most strong and female when abandoning my preferences to respond and absorb the desires and choices of others.

The term I’ve heard used for this is “learned helplessness” and it’s frequently a gendered problem, but I think it’s not just an issue for women. It’s also an issue for everyone in the “new reformed” circles of young Calvinists.

This is, of course, at the root, a face of that age-old “predestination vs. free will” discussion, but I’m going to lift it from those over-simplified terms because I find that they are useless in the face of reality, where I see a good deal of both/and going on in terms of one’s ability to choose freely and one’s inability to change circumstances. I’d like to lay it aside with the understanding that I think the two concepts probably coexist, and I’m not sure exactly how. Paradox, yes. It’s beyond me just now.

So, first, as a woman dealing with The Most Unpredictable Year Of Her Life Ever!, I’m finding that I have to unlearn a lot of places in my personal character where I’d relaxed into patriarchal norms just because I could when I was married. Things like changing my oil, moving boxes on my own, driving across the country alone, booking a hotel room, getting a credit card, de-icing my car before work, etc. — these were things I had to take on and own for myself.  Some of that is just general cultural gender role stuff. Other things are more Christian patriarchy-related, like realizing that the church search was up to me, if I was going to find one out here in LA, realizing that I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to live my life, or that I don’t need to call anyone to tell them when I’m coming home.

But as I’m talking to other girls trying to take on adult decisions outside of the meet-a-man-and-follow-him-forever Christian patriarchy narrative for women (say, as a woman ends up out of her parents’ house and not yet married, or 30 and living at home without “prospects”), I hear from them over and over again statements such as: “I don’t even know what I like!”  Outside of the girl-to-woman-to-wife-to-mother narrative of patriarchy, they don’t know what who they are, why they want to do what they want to do, or how to make decisions without leaning overmuch on the advice of peers and elders, because they never learned to listen to themselves. Women in Christian patriarchy exist as negative space, conforming to the solid definitions of the men in their lives. And I’m still shaking off stray pieces of that mindset. It’s like sand and children: you’re always finding particles in weird places months after you’ve left the beach.

Similar to this is the “sovereignty of God” talk from the new Calvinists. I’ve been doing a linguistic experiment for the past year or so: every time I feel the impulse to thank God for something or claim his foreknowledge or sovereignty for something, I check myself to see if I’m just talking about an element of my life that’s because of social privilege. If I am, then I don’t do God-talk about it, because that’s just disrespectful to people who love God and live rightly, but still suffer because they’re lacking good things due to privilege. An example: a college graduate might thank God on Facebook for getting her through a private Christian school with good friends and a job offer ready for her in June. The impulse is nice, but it’s infuriating to someone who maybe didn’t have parents who could afford to pay for college, was marginalized socially and had trouble making friends, or got the short end of the stick with the economy and can’t find good work after graduation. It’s not wrong, but does it feels unfair to thank God for something you worked for and earned, or something that was handed down to you by genetics. It feels like it makes light of the hard work you did, or the hard work that less-privileged others put in to try to achieve the same ends.

On the other side of this mindset is the reaction to horrific live events with emotionally numbed reactions: cancer? God’s sovereign plan. divorce? it’s okay, God’s still good. grief? lack of faith in God’s sovereignty. I don’t think this sort of response is meant to be flippant or numbly blasé, but that’s how it comes across. It doesn’t allow for the full range of human emotions to be expressed in normal reactions to traumatic events, but instead cauterizes the emotions with shaming for lack of faith.

Agency is a funny thing. I don’t like that I feel more uncomfortable having agency than I do with feeling helpless. Between the God-is-sovereign catch-all explanation for anything hard or anything good and the patriarchy’s gender roles, the way I thought of myself I was not as an actor in my own life, but a pawn on a chessboard. Things happened to me instead of me making choices.

I don’t think God meant us to half-live our lives. I don’t think he meant for us to wait for life to happen. I don’t think a life of faith is lived in absence of risk or owning one’s full potential or full emotion or choice. I don’t think God wants us to constantly be yammering about how good he is when it’s not something that showcases his kindness in an honest way. It’s a waste of breath. There’s a difference between feeling genuine appreciation for quotidian graces and clanging a cymbal about how awesome God was to give you privilege.

The tension between brash American self-made bootstraps man mindset (which is also unhealthy) and the self-imposed helplessness of Christian patriarchy and new Calvinism is appropriate, I think, and should be embraced. There’s a glorious dignity to being human, and it should be embraced along with a peaceful awareness of one’s size in the face of the universe. These are not things to be taken lightly.