Christmas and the heavyness of being without a church

photo by David Trotter

I went to a Christmas Eve service with my kids and ex-husband today. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a Christmas Eve service, for a variety of reasons, least of which is the fact that Mark and I try to spend that day together for the kids and there is nothing more awkward than going to church where that act of walking in the door together springs into action a number of people excited to pastor us back into marriage, rather than accepting us as we are – a divorced couple not needing to be saved by any meaning of that word. I’ve also ambivalent about church in general for some time. I think, like many of us, I’ve been hurt by both the people of the church and the behavior of The Church of late. I’ve been angry about how the church had responded equality, to sexual abuse, to women’s issues, to politics. I’ve felt out of place and disenfranchised. And yes, I know. #notallchristians. But it’s sometimes hard to identify with the ways that our faith can be used to hurt others.
Tonight I drove by a mega-church with giant expensive road signs and greeters in Santa hats trying to convince people to turn in. I was part of a church like that for many years. I played parts in the Christmas productions. I sang the solos. I passed out the rave cards to neighbors. I never imagined I would one day be a person without a church, who would drive by the enthusiastic greeters and wince.
We went to a progressive church tonight where we know the pastor but the liturgical style is not familiar to me. I miss the charismatic worship of my old church history but I don’t miss the judgment. During “pass the peace” I didn’t know what to do, and the lady in front of me didn’t either and said so. And then she cried through all of the songs. I don’t know her story except that I could see there was some church baggage. I wondered how many of us felt that today.I don’t have a bow to wrap this story with. This season is hard for a lot of us. I still wonder and marvel at the person of Jesus. I sang Silent Night with my family and in a room full of people and felt a sense of community and corporate peace that I haven’t in while. I miss church and I don’t. I’m okay with it and I’m not.

So Totally Relidge: The morning after pill, abortion, birth control accessibility for minors, and a minefield of ethical questions

In this episode of So Totally Relidge, Elizabeth Esther and I are discussing the new law that lowered the age of accessibility for the Plan B pill to 14. It sparked some really interesting debate (as you will see, Elizabeth and I have VERY different opinions).  The conversation left me thinking for days – I think it’s my favorite episode yet. We explored the accusation that Plan B is an abortion pill, we talked about whether or not we feel birth control should be offered to minors, and we discussed the concept of “unwanted” pregnancies. You know . . . just minor things. I would love to hear your thoughts on these issues! Do you think Plan B is an abortion pill? Do you think we need more access to birth control for teens? Do you think teen pregnancy is inherently bad, or can it be a blessing?

Shame-based sex education: we can do better

A couple months ago, Elizabeth Esther and I discussed the potentially harmful aspects of idolizing virginity and purity. While I think that abstinence is a great goal for kids (and one I will encourage for my own), I also believe that it is vitally important that we not use shame in an attempt to scare our children into complying with our own sexual ethics. While I think it’s great to explain the benefits of abstinence, I do believe that Christians have begun to rely too heavily on a shame-based rhetoric that motivates teens into compliance for fear of being “dirty” or undesirable. The reality is that many kids will become sexually active in their teen years. According to research, 80% of them. It’s imperative that, while highlighting the benefits of abstinence, we also educate on sexuality and birth control and abuse and consent. It’s also imperative that we teach our kids, and our girls specifically, that THEIR IDENTITY AND WORTH IS NOT TIED TO THEIR VIRGINITY.  This is such a dangerous message and is so psychologically damaging. I cannot tell you how many women I have counseled who became sexually active in their teen years and consequently felt like they were damaged goods. And for women who were sexually abused, the broken sense of self is even more compounded by hearing, over and over, that “purity” is the marker of a girl’s worth. Today Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped, raped, and held captive for nearly a year, spoke about the way these messages discouraged her from running from her captors. She spoke from her own experience at a recent forum on human trafficking at Johns Hopkins University.  She describes the feelings of shame she felt after her rape:

”I’ll never forget how I felt lying there on the ground. I felt like my soul had been crushed. I felt like I wasn’t even human anymore. How could anyone ever love me or care for me after this? I felt like life had no more meaning to it. And that was only the beginning.”

She further explained how she had no concept that sex could occur outside of marriage.

“I was raised in a religious household where I was taught that sex only happened between a married man and a woman. After that rape, I felt so dirty . . . can you imagine going back into a society where you are no longer of value? Where you are no longer as good as anybody else?”

Raised in a religious household, Elizabeth recounted a school teacher who urged students against premarital sex and compared women who had sex before their wedding nights to chewing gum:

“I thought, “Oh my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value. Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”

Elizabeth went on to advise that we focus on teaching children their inherent value. “The best thing we can do is educate young people as young as we can reach them,”she said. Survivors of rape need “permission to fight back,” and that requires them “to know you are of value.” elizabeth smart on the importance of teaches kids their worth While most teens will not be faced with an abduction situation, Elizabeth’s experience is a startling example of the way this kind of religious rhetoric significantly alters a young woman’s confidence and self-worth. We cannot continue to send the message to our young girls that being sexually active is some kind of black stain on their personhood. We do not need to make teenagers feel worthless when they have sex—or, in the case of too many teenagers, when they are assaulted against their will. As Carolyn Custis James said, “a message of purity and abstinence, as important as this is for young women (young men too) comes too late for huge numbers of young American girls, including those in church pews. It is utterly devastating to the one-in-four girls who is sexually abused before she reaches her 18th birthday. We live in a world where by the age of 18 an estimated 70 percent of girls have had sex at least once and not always by choice, where globally countless women and girls are in the grips of sex traffickers, where an appalling 48 women are raped every hour in the Congo, where within our own borders sexual freedom has opened the door for young women to be as sexually promiscuous as men, and where some girls with the very best of intentions succumb to temptation. I grieve all of this, but do not for a second imagine that any of this means a woman has less to offer a husband or that in any sense it diminishes her worth.” No woman, ever, is a chewed up piece of gum. No woman is a cup of spit. No woman is a used car or a dirty rag or a used-up piece of duct tape or a plucked rose or a licked cupcake. No matter what she’s done. Didn’t Jesus come to tell us that? We can do better.

So totally relidge (a week in review): Sexual abuse in the church

We’re back! After a brief hiatus due to someone forgetting to turn on the microphone technical difficulties during our last shoot, Elizabeth and I are once again sitting down to recap the hot topics from the religious blogosphere. Last week, a number of faith bloggers had a conversation about overcoming spiritual abuse in the church. Much of the dialogue focused on sexual abuse. It’s a timely topic, as a high-profile church network was recently sued for allegedly covering up abuse within the church. It’s also a personal topic for both of us . . . Elizabeth is Catholics and her church has had it’s fair share of scandal in relation to sexual abuse, and my own church unfortunately had a recent incident where a sunday school teacher was discovered to be a child molester. Here are some of the links that inspired this week’s conversation: The Scar of Sexual Abuse by Mary DeMuth Proper Treatment for Sexual Abuse: 7 Questions to Consider When we criticize the church by Micah Murray Your journey and consequences of spiritual abuse by Joy Bennett

“The next time someone tells you that reporting suspected abuse within the Christian community will “hurt the cause of Christ”, tell them that we are attempting to rob God of worship when we leave criminal behavior to fester and grow in the darkness of silence. “

“Don’t Talk About It”: Reflections on Spiritual Abuse by Kristen Rosser When saying no doesn’t help a guest post for Elora Nicole No More Silence: An interview with Boz Tchividjian Rachel Held Evans did a comprehensive link-up of related posts and resources here. What are your thoughts on sexual abuse in the church? How can churches better prevent sexual abuse, and what do you think is best practice when the issue is discovered?