Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Had a friend recently remark to me, "So didn't see an actual comment on your blog about Phelps resigning..."

Yep, she's right.  It's a distraction technique that has changed nothing of substance.  I don't find it even worth commenting on.

I don't begrudge those who are celebrating, because it's provoking Conversations.  And that is important.  But no one, from Mr. Phelps to anyone on the BJU Board has admitted wrong or repented of wrong.  Absolutely nothing has changed except a name on a list.

And that just continues to perpetuate the injustice.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Haters Gonna Hate

In a bit of serendipity, I ran across this article recently (

Some of it is uncannily familiar, isn't it?  The perpetrator is retained while the victims are sent away. The authorities call it "falling away" and "adultery" instead of honestly naming the sins of pedophilia and rape; "forgiving and forgetting" is demanded instead of integrity. 

The writer asks the same questions many in the Chuck Phelps/Tina Anderson issue are asking.  Where is the repentance?  Where is the justice?  Why is a Good Ol' Boy's club covering up for each other? Why did this take so long to be dealt with correctly?

Yet he is by no means a "hater".  His pedigree is as Independent Baptist as they come.  And he probably gets away with his strong statements because 1) he is male and 2) ABWE was already considered a "compromising" instution due to "slipping standards".  Other Fundamentalists are happy to throw them to the wolves; few Fundamentalists still have loyalty ties to this institution.  But let it be a venerated Fundamentalist Church or University and watch the spin begin.

The stories are essentially the same every time.  The similarity speaks to deep-seated corruption and unholiness.  I'm pleasantly surprised that at least one Fundamentalist out there actually has an unseared conscience.  Hats off to you, Dr. Bennett.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


When you start to talk about specifics, things start to get nasty.  And it starts to get tiring.

More than once in this exodus from Fundamentalism, I've wondered if it was really worth blogging through it.  I don't have scintillating daily content; I don't have a big following.  I am but one small voice in the growing disillusioned chorus clamoring for God and Christ instead of man-centered abuse.  It's probably more therapy for me than really helping anyone else (and no, I'm not fishing for compliments there).

So why do it? People say to me and others like me, "Why can't you just walk away?  Why do you have to stir up trouble/open your fat mouth? Why can't you just leave us alone - you left, didn't you?"

There are days that I agree.  Fundamentalism is so morally corrupt, so breathtakingly distorted, there's no human hope for it. Removing certain board members or changing certain policies are just rearranging deck chairs while the ship sinks from the massive weight of sin and failure to repent.

And yet...  there are good people in Fundamentalism.  People who don't realize how abusive the party line is when they mouth it. They should be able to see it, but they don't.  Not yet.  That was me.  I see people responding the way I would have before.  And that goads me to keep talking.

Because the good news is that when you start the conversation, the responses reveal corrupt practical theology - and therein lies opportunity.  Opportunity to expose the heresy and confront with orthodoxy.  Opportunity to snatch some from the flames (Jude 23).  Opportunity to gently instruct those who oppose the truth in the hope that God will change their hearts; that they will come to their senses and escape the devil's trap (2 Tim 2:25-26). 

So there is value in having the conversations.  Even deck chair conversations.  That's why one of the cardinal rules in Fundamentalism is "don't talk".  Just look at the average Fundamentalist response to Chuck Phelps: "forgive and forget", "people shouldn't be talking about this.", "Don't do x/y/z, it's unchristian." It's all a desperate attempt to maintain control and stop the conversations.   Whether consciously or unconsciously, they realize the danger to their system when the conversation starts.

No, Fundamentalism no longer runs my life.  I am free to serve God again.  But my conscience doesn't allow me to walk away from those who are still enslaved.  I will continue speaking out.  I will name names and get as specific as I have to.  Because Truth is more important than Institution or Tradition.

I can't help but speak.  And God is triumphing over evil.  Aleluia.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving, Belated

Dear Fundamentalism -

Thank you for everything you taught me.  Without you, I wouldn't be the person I am today.

Without you, I wouldn't have learned the importance of sound doctrine.  Because of your heterodox handling of, among other things, the sovereignty of God, the nature of sin, and the nature of salvation, I better learned the orthodox view.

Because of you, I've seen firsthand the worst possible way to deal with abuse victims.  Because of how badly you failed, I have learned the importance of abuse advocacy and know reporting laws a lot better.  (By the way, this should absolutely terrify you.)

Thank you for being so blatant in your contradictions. Unfortunately, it took me 25 years to figure it out myself; now that I have, I can't believe it took me that long.  You claim you believe salvation is by faith alone and not works; then you turn around and question the salvation of anyone whose works you disagree with.  You emphasize the importance of separation on issues as trivial as clothing and music yet fail to separate from abusers, rapists and those who protect them. You preach about honesty and then lie on national TV about unbiblical policies. You make it impossible for someone to afford to work for you without both husband and wife working, and then condemn mothers who work out of the home or in "traditionally male" occupations. Your overemphasis on separation and standards finally went beyond the pale and shattered the whitewashed facade.  Thank you for pushing the envelope so far.  It's easier to see the underlying logical fallacies when reality starts to resemble cariacature.

Thank you for being different enough from God that I didn't leave Him along with you.  Because of your inconsistencies and lies, your assertions that you alone represented God, His teachings, and the purest form of Christianity rang hollow.  And when that noisy gong and clanging cymbal insisted one too many times that it was instead a symphony of love, I finally threw away my counterfeit tickets and discovered the True Composer's performance was all around me.

So thanks to you, the wine is sweeter, the dance more joyful, the music freer, and the love more poignant.

From the bottom of my heart,

Clara English

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The New Year

Today, I celebrated Advent for the first time.  I made my first Advent wreath.  We will light our first Advent candle tonight. 

Since leaving Fundamentalism, I have discovered a wealth of Christian tradition that I never knew a thing about (and if I did, I disapproved of it).  How foolish and arrogant!  These are things that Christians have been doing for hundreds - if not thousands - of years.  They developed as pictures of Christ; signposts to point to Him; celebrations of the amazing Gift of God.  Fundamentalism dismisses these beautiful traditions, calls them "unchristian", and then replaces them with its own ersatz off-key cantatas and poorly-done guilt-laden church programs.  How sad to have separated so far from the lessons learned through the ages and to treat so much richness like so much rubbish.

The church today was festooned in blue.  The pastor's stole and chausable were rich royal blue; the deacon's stole was a glorious midnight blue with a sparkling embroidered gold star.  An advent wreath with one lit candle hung from the ceiling.  The service, while always beautiful, sparkled even more.  In the service we were taught that Advent is the beginning of the Church calendar; a season of expectant waiting for the gift of Christ.  A season of hope.  A season of renewal.  A time to begin anew.

As our nights grow longer and our days grow short,
we look on these earthly signs - light and green branches - 
and remember God's promise to our world.
Christ, our Light and our Hope, will come.
Listen to the words of Isaiah the prophet:
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light;
on those who lived in a land as dark as death
a light has dawned.
You have increased their joy
and given them gladness.

May it be so, Lord Jesus. The darkness of Fundamentalism has been so deep.  Oh, may it be so.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Alma Mater, Alma No Longer

Yesterday's discussion was to help clarify the discussion to follow.  As concluded yesterday, the one true glaring issue that perpetuates this controversy is Mr. Phelps' apparent inability or refusal to admit or apologize for any wrongdoing.

On Monday, Bob Jones University posted a statement online regarding their decision to keep him on the board despite an ever growing backlash among alumni and the community.

You know, if you didn't do your research, and especially if you approach it from a specific mindset, you might be fooled by this.  I understand that.  That was me in the past. But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let's just analyze the document.

Part 1: Setting the Stage

The first two paragraphs indicate the University heard the criticism and wants to humbly address the concerns.  It also says they want to do it in a spirit of forgiveness. 
"We try to listen and determine if there is something we need to change—and if there is—we change it. If we humbly listen to our critics, analyze the situation and don’t find cause for change, we then, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, determine whether or not to answer the criticism."
You know, this sounds great.  And if this school didn't have the history it did of stubbornly ignoring valid criticism to their detriment, I might even believe it.  But I'll try and give them a chance.  Let's see what else they have to say.

So how we handle disputes—with forbearance and forgiveness—has everything to do with bearing the identity of Jesus Christ.
Just who is the forgiveness and forbearance for here?  Pay close attention to this as we continue this analysis.  This is important.

We must speak the truth and speak the truth in love.
If they would listen to the people standing up and speaking the truth, I would be ecstatic. 

In 1997 a tragic incident took place in Concord, N.H. involving members of a church then pastored by Dr. Phelps. A 15-year-old girl in the congregation was raped by an older man who also attended the church.
This is refreshingly strong language.   Bravo.  But that part about the 15 year old girl then being put up in front of the congregation and being given some of the responsibility for being raped "in a compromising situation"?  Yeah, you forgot that minor detail.  Boo.

It was only this past summer—2011—that this man was charged and convicted for his crime.
 What a tragedy it took so long.  Whysoever did that occur?

We are grieved by the sin committed against this lady who was a young teenager at the time. And we are grieved that she will live with the horrible effects of this sin against her throughout her lifetime. Sin is real and so is its damage that only God’s grace can heal and restore.
This is good as well, insofar as the statement takes it.  Clearly we're only talking about the rape here, not the aftermath. The aftermath is the reason people are concerned with Mr. Phelps being on the board, yes?  Do you see how we deftly ignored the real problem by pinning it on something both sides agree on?  Ernie Willis' actions are not the reason Mr. Phelps is under scrutiny.  Mr. Phelps' actions are the reason Mr. Phelps is under scrutiny.

I'm glad to hear they are so grieved.  I'm interested to see if their actions correlate appropriately. Because if I were grieved for Tina in their place, I'd take some pretty specific actions.
Part 2 : Setting the Spin

Six paragraphs in, we finally get down to business. 
Bloggers have posted a wealth of information about this incident and how Dr. Phelps handled it. Dr. Phelps has been accused of not reporting the crime to officials, sending the girl out of state to hide the situation, harboring a criminal and protecting a sexual predator.
Ah, those pesky bloggers.  If only a national investigative news organization had looked into this, or the local news in Concord had covered and had a running twitter feed at the trial; or if even the police had (finally) gotten involved.  If only those people had known, then it wouldn't be poor BJU vs. The Bloggers. 

We believe that the biblical way to approach this information is to get all the facts before judging Dr. Phelps or his actions, including going directly to him for answers to questions.
Boom!  There it is.  You almost had me, BJU.   Do you see the sleight-of-hand?  Anyone? They said "get all the facts before judging".  Who did they go to?  They went to Mr. Phelps.  Is he the source of "all the facts" here?  Really?  Who was the main person Mr. Phelps offended?  IT WAS TINA ANDERSON.  DIDJA TALK TO TINA?  HUH?  DIDJA?

While the University maintained regular contact with Dr. Phelps since the matter came to light, we have recently spent time on Dr. Phelps’ website——and reading what the bloggers are saying. To verify facts and get our questions answered we called him and he answered our questions.
Any former or current students want to comment on how much their own testimony was valued when *they* were hauled in front of the Administration for an "investigation"?

After speaking with him and weighing the criticisms against the facts...
Facts according to whom?

...we have concluded that some of what is posted on the internet about this incident is true, but the majority is a little bit of truth mixed with a lot of opinion and speculation.
Yes, there is a lot of opinion and speculation. I agree.  Yet if these opinionated speculative people hadn't have been paying such close attention to this, the average person would not have the wealth of facts they have available now - and Mr. Willis would still be scot-free.  These people watched Mr. Phelps change his answers on his website.  They documented him stumbling on the witness stand and giving mind-bogglingly bad answers to straightforward questions.  There's plenty of incontrovertible evidence if you open your eyes.

Did Dr. Phelps do everything perfectly? No—nor would anyone make perfect judgments in similar circumstances.
How many times do I have to say this?  Nobody expected him to do everything perfectly.  What people are shocked and grieved at is the blatantly poor treatment of an abuse victim and a perpetuation of injustice with NO ATTEMPT AT AN APOLOGY.   Beyond that, it's not just a few minor things he "didn't do perfectly".  There were great big WRONGS.  What people expect is an admission of the wrong and an attempt at restoration.  And did you notice that BJU almost admitted he did something wrong here?  Careful gents.  You admit something went wrong and then you have to apologize and make it right.  Can't have that, now can we.

He has openly admitted this on his website.
Really?  Where?  Admitted what? I saw no apology.  Did you?  All I saw was some weak statements of "regret" and that he might do things differently now.  "Regret" is not repentence.  "Regret" is what you feel about eating lasagna when you have morning sickness and then unfortunately have to see it again.

The biblical principle is to go to the person directly and get facts before reaching a judgment.
Red herring!  This was a public matter.  Tina's "correction" or whatever you want to call it was shamefully public.  The trial was public.  I remember being taught in Fundamentalism that the scope of the offense helps determine the scope of the rebuke. But you go right ahead and keep breaking your own rules by repeating that old saw, gentlemen.  Because you do that too many times and people start to wake up.

What answers do you think Mr. Phelps would have given those who contacted him personally?  The same unsatisfying and vaguely disturbing answers he has on his website?

Dr. Phelps has offered to talk to several of his critics and even shared his phone number, but not one has called to talk with him directly.
Love it.  100% guilt trip.  Can't you see your Italian grandmother saying that?  You never call, you never write...

Part 3: The Shame of Social Media it can be used to tear down a person’s reputation with little verification of fact.
Feel like a broken record here.  The stuff everyone agrees happened is horrific enough.  Let's deal with that appropriately first and not excuse it because the "really bad stuff" is just speculation, shall we?

Part 4: The Shame on You

In conclusion, we cannot overlook the human side in all of this.
  • A teenage girl was raped—this is a tragedy.
  • A rapist is in jail—this is justice.
  • A faithful pastor is being pummeled in social media and his family maligned—this is unjust.
  • Our God is being grieved.

Every time you criticize Chuck Phelps, God kills a kitten is grieved.  See how the erroneous assumption is put on par with the two correct conclusions?  Clever.

The one-sentence distillation of this entire document?  "Please forgive Chuck Phelps and move on, because we're not taking him off the Board."


To forgive someone, there has to be a wrong to forgive.  Neither Mr. Phelps nor BJU have admitted any wrongdoing.  So, for what are we to forgive him?  If there is nothing to forgive, why are we being asked to do so? And if there is something to forgive, then why has he not apologized?  

*sigh*  I'm just so confused.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Good Vision Part 2

Ok, Fundy readers.  We need to have another talk.  About Chuck Phelps.  Again.  I'm sorry.  But a certain University has forced my hand.

(I also apologize in advance for being very screechy.  This is an important topic that should be pretty cut and dried for anyone with even a shred of an unseared conscience.  Shouting may not be the answer, but it's all I can do right now.)

The most common response, hands down, that I have received regarding concerns about this whole mess is "But have you read Chuck Phelps' website?".  I find this a bit puzzling, frankly. I'm not sure why his is the only explanation that counts.  And I'm not sure why people automatically assume I haven't.

Yes.  I have read his website.  It doesn't help his case much.  Why do his defenders act like it's the final word?

I have some simple questions for those who say that reading Dr. Phelps' explanations clarify everything.

1.  Why do you criticize those with concerns about Phelps for reading only one side of the story when that's exactly what you just did?  Why are Phelps' statements the only true ones?

2.  Did you know that he changed his website and contradicted some earlier statements when the 20/20 episode and the trial happened?  I don't personally have screenshots to prove it, but enough people out there were watching. In fact, his statements before the trial were brought up at the trial and made him look pretty bad.

3.  Speaking of getting the full story - why aren't we primarly looking to the trial transcripts?  That's where the real information is. That's where the conviction came from.  Chuck Phelps can say what he wants on his website and to University administrators doing an "investigation", but the statements he made under oath and with documentation from the time are likely the most reliable. And clearly the most damning.

Obviously, for my Fundy readers, it's going to take a line by line/precept on precept approach here.  So, let's dissect

"Specific Answers to Tough Questions"

1.  How old was Tina when she told her mother....etc.

2.  Was Ernie Willis a deacon?
Yes, some original bloggers breaking this story were initially wrong about this detail.  AGAIN, WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE?  Does it make what happened ok because he wasn't?

3. Was Tina Anderson "disciplined" by Trinity Baptist Church?
I love the oily answers to this one.  I've heard this tone before; it's a virtual paternal pat on the head.Sorry, I don't fall for that any more.

Have any of you ever seen anybody brought up in front of the church to apologize for something and it was NOT a discipline session? No?  You sure?  Me either.   And a number of people who *were* in that service remembered it as a discipline session as well, not a "loving" session.  I've got my 2 or 3 witnesses contradicting what you're saying, Mr. Phelps.  Never mind that it has already been clearly established that the two incidents were presented as separate - Mr. Willis "broke his marriage vows" (translation: COMMITTED RAPE); Ms. Anderson "got in a compromising situation" (translation: GOT RAPED).  Just this alone should make anyone livid. 

As a sidenote, did you notice the number of times Phelps excuses something he did because "it's what Tina wanted to do"?  SHE WAS A 16 YEAR OLD RAPE VICTIM WHO HAD ALREADY BEEN SEXUALLY ABUSED BY HER FATHER.  SHE MIGHT NOT HAVE BEEN THE BEST DECISION-MAKING SOURCE.  THAT WAS YOUR JOB TO GUIDE HER, MR. PHELPS. YOU WERE THE ADULT.

"Today, I would not allow such personal needs of a teenager to be presented to a congregation in an open forum.  I certainly regret that the well-intended actions taken in 1997 have been reinterpreted 13 years later as a purposeful shaming allowing many accusations to be brought against the good people of Trinity Baptist Church and against me, as the former pastor."

Let us make two things clear.  First - this is not an apology.  Not even close.  An apology would read, "This was wrong.  In fact, it might have been the worst possible way to handle this.  I am sorry that my actions, even if well-intended, caused so much harm to both Tina and the cause of Christ.  I have asked her forgiveness in private and in public for this."  If you don't believe me, contrast Phelps' attitude with what Joe Paterno said about his actions.
"This is a tragedy," Paterno said. "It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more." 
That is an apology, for those of you who have never seen men in authority do such a thing.  Mark it well.

Second - read that section again. Carefully.  Whose reputation is Mr. Phelps most concerned about?  If he were concerned about the cause of Christ, his response would have been different.  If he valued Tina like he says he and his church did, his response would have been different.  No, he is upset that people have said bad things about him and his church.  In my not-so-humble opinion, this reveals a lot about Mr. Phelps.
4.  Did you report?
I think he probably did.  And frankly, from my experience in Fundamentalism, if he did he was light-years ahead of what most pastors would have done.  It's small consolation, however.

5. Did the police follow up?
Anyone who has done any work among the abused is not surprised that the police didn't follow up.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "I reported and the police dismissed my claims or talked me out of reporting."  In fact, it's a minority of times where the police have acted in the best interest of the victim in my experience.


As someone who has reported abuse myself, I sure as hell followed up.  If I had heard that one of the reports I made was dropped or not followed or I was not contacted back, I would not have shrugged my shoulders and said "oh well".  This is a sorry excuse.  His statement, "...I believe that today I would be far more aggressive with other community professionals to assure that justice was served." is again, NOT AN APOLOGY.  An apology would say, "I'm sorry I wasn't aggressive enough and let this injustice perpetrated by the police stand.  I have asked Tina's forgiveness for this."

6.  The question regarding letting Willis stay in the church
This is another red herring.  Yes, it is true that the church is a "hospital for the sick", as Mr. Phelps claims.  Yet in the hospital, if someone has a contagious disease that will damage other sick (or well) people with whom they come in contact, they are put in isolation and prominent brightly colored signs warn everyone who enters their room of the danger and how to protect themselves.  Mr. Phelps failed to put up those signs, and this is what the critics are truly concerned about.  And the juxtaposition of Tina being removed and isolated as though her victimization would damage her school-mates - well, that's the truly sick part.

7. Do you believe that you should have been more forthcoming in sharing the details of this matter when it occurred?
Well, now he gets all concerned about legality and propriety.  Sorry, but it's a little late.  The whole ostensible public support-group-session was antithesis of legality and propriety.  Pull the other one, it's got bells on it.

8.  Was Tina's move to Colorado a beneficial experience?
This is a distraction technique, and I have heard this kind of nonsense from more than one person trying to excuse their bad behavior.  "Well, no permanent damage was done."  They point to Tina's accomplishments as proof that what they did was ok rather than considering she turned out ok by the grace of God and *despite* their ham-handed treatment of her.

9. What was your part in the adoption process?
Translation: "Tina wanted this.  It was her choice.  She was perfectly happy at the time.  What is your problem?"  Yes, God redeemed this awful situation and brought good out of it.  But Mr. Phelps was a great deal of the awful, and it's really bad form for him to try to claim some of the good.

"According to Tina's Mom" - this document I'm not even giving the time of day. The document is full of Phelps-worship and vicious insinuations.   Her behavior is unfortunately common in cases of abuse - the non-offending parent protects the abuser rather than the abused.  I've personally seen this behavior before, and it marks her statements as very untrustworthy.

The "More Answers" section is basically he-said/she-said.  It's difficult to definitively say who is right here based on the public record.  However, as I said in my first treatment of this topic, there is enough horror already documented that these points are just coals to Newcastle even if they are true.  But one thing I do wonder - where's the mentioned "Statements Released to 20/20" document, eh?  The one that contradicted some of the trial testimony?  Yeah, that one.

"After The Trial"
This document is the icing on the whole bizarro cake. In it, Mr. Phelps finally uses the strong language he has avoided at every turn prior to this point.  I do appreciate that he finally calls rape what it is; would God he had been so clear and sure 13 years ago.  However, one statement disturbs me greatly:
"...the release of this information (his notes) no doubt played a very important part in bringing this matter to justice."  
 You mean the notes he fought to keep from being presented in court, claiming clerical privilege?  Those notes?  And now he's taking some credit for the conviction because of them?  Unbelievable.  Where was this concern for justice 13 years ago, Mr. Phelps?

So in conclusion, Chuck Phelps' website is no defense. In fact, anyone who examines it in light of the public record finds much of it to ring hollow and raise even more disturbing questions.  By no means is any part of it even close to a much-needed apology.

And that's the one action that would go the longest way towards silencing the critics.  An apology.  Just apologize for the mistakes and poor choices.  I can't count the number of sermons I heard in fundamentalism stressing the importance of repentance in forgiveness and restitution.  There has been no repentance, public or private. Yet he is defended as a humble man who merely had the misfortune of being the object of a smear campaign.  Unconscionable.

Next up?  A discussion of Bob Jones University's astounding statement regarding their decision to keep Chuck Phelps on the board.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Independence Day

A year ago today, I was asked to leave.

It was the Friday before Thanksgiving.  I was approached and told there had been "too many complaints" about me.  I asked what kind of complaints they were, and the subject was changed.  This person started to say that my "feelings" about the Institution were well known - and then seemed to realize they'd said too much and quickly went to yet another topic.  I was told I was brusque, unkind, and "steamrolled" those around me.  Again, no examples were forthcoming.  I was finally told I clearly had too many philosophical differences with the Institution, and I should think about whether or not I belonged there.  And then I was told we would discuss it further after the holidays - around January sometime.  (A long time to let the axe dangle, eh?)

I was devastated.  Completely crushed.  Suicidal that weekend, frankly.  I realize now that this "talk" was intended to keep me off balance and make me feel uncertain of myself.  We all have self-doubt, and master manipulators prey on this natural tendency quite well.

Over the weekend I talked to a few friends to get their perspective to make sure I was being objective, and they were all shocked at what had been alleged. 

Fortunately, by the time the weekend ended, my survival instincts kicked in and I woke up to what was really going on.  I wasn't a failure.  I wasn't bad at my job.  I wasn't mean to people.  I had merely made the wrong people uncomfortable. 

The next week, I was fawned over by this person.  "How are you doing?" they simpered in the hallway.  Another classic emotional manipulation manuever - they cut the legs out from under you in private and then pretend to be your friend and care for you in public.

For the next several weeks, I had an unusual number of compliments from uninvolved people about how I did my job.  I mean embarrassingly nice things. One after another.  Also during that time, I was organizing some of my old documents and ran across some papers from my past secular institution education.  They were letters of recommendation praising my interpersonal skills.  One was a letter to me from classmates (we all wrote down each other's good qualities and turned them in to the instructor; he compiled them and handed us each our own list).  Again, this list refuted, nearly verbatim to the point, much of what I had been accused of. It became obvious God was confirming that I had been lied to. 

Late January rolled around, and I was approached again.  "What is your decision?" was the opening salvo.  Unfortunately, since I had already realized the initial chat had been a threat, I replied that I was leaving instead of questioning, "What do you mean, what is my decision? Decision about what? You said we would talk further after the holidays about my problems - what am I supposed to be deciding?" But no, I took the coward's way out and let it slide. 

I still wish I had had the courage to confront this person about what they did.  This person has been manipulating for so long though, it would have been a dangerous proposition.  Maybe someday when I'm healthier emotionally.  I'm getting there.  Talking about this doesn't give me the pit in my stomach it once did - I can even laugh about it.

But seriously, in a sense, this person was right.  I *did* have some serious philosophical differences.  I believe that disabled persons have a right to basic accommodations and should not be told they're being selfish for asking for them.  I believe parents should not beat their children.  I believe teachers should not physically assault students.  I believe the victims of sexual assault/abuse are not at fault for the crimes perpetrated against them and  the police need to be involved.

And if standing up to Important People and confronting wrong on these issues makes me disloyal and a threat, then so be it.

I'd do it all over again.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Penn and the Sword

At Penn State, the public at large becomes aware of a sexual assault cover-up, and heads roll.

At Bob Jones University, the public at large becomes aware of a sexual assault cover-up, and the primary person involved in covering it up remains part of the school's Co-Operating Board of Trustees.

And the Chancellor of the University's reply to one concerned alumna?

Dear [Alumna]:

The Bob Jones University board of trustees is made up of God-fearing men and women. For them to remain on this board they must be walking with God and living righteously. Their personal and ministry integrity is the requisite above all others which qualifies them to be members in good standing.  None would be retained whose life or ministry was found to be in violation of the Scriptures.

Kind regards,

Bob Jones III
Chairman, Board of Trustees
Bob Jones University

When a secular University at least attempts to make something right while a "Christian" University denies there's even a problem, there is something deeply, inherently wrong. This is unacceptable. This is ungodly.

Amos 5
1 Listen, you people of Israel! Listen to this funeral song I am singing:

7 You twist justice, making it a bitter pill for the oppressed. You treat the righteous like dirt.

10 How you hate honest judges! How you despise people who tell the truth!

12 For I know the vast number of your sins and the depth of your rebellions. You oppress good people by taking bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
13 So those who are smart keep their mouths shut, for it is an evil time.
14 Do what is good and run from evil so that you may live! Then the LORD God of Heaven's Armies will be your helper, just as you have claimed.
15 Hate evil and love what is good; turn your courts into true halls of justice. Perhaps even yet the LORD God of Heaven's Armies will have mercy on the remnant of his people.

18 What sorrow awaits you who say, "If only the day of the LORD were here!" You have no idea what you are wishing for. That day will bring darkness, not light.

21 I hate all your show and pretense— the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.

23 Away with your noisy hymns of praise! I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.

May God bring justice.

Monday, October 31, 2011

All Hallow's Eve

How lovely to enjoy a holiday rather than fearing it (or at best, snobbily ridiculing it). To work for an employer who understands the lightheartedness of the celebration and is not threatened by it.

I can't say it any better than this blogger did, so I'll stop trying.

The Gospel of Halloween

What a joy to finally be free of the fear of death and hell this Halloween!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wandering Part 3

I think we may finally be close to finding a permanent church home.

It's such a relief to be part of the Body of Christ again.  To look forward to Sunday's spiritual refreshment instead of dreading picking over a list of yet another church to try.  And honestly?  In some ways, I wonder if I've ever really functioned as part of the Body until now.

When we walked in to this church, we felt immediately at home - despite it being dramatically different from anything we have ever experienced - and we really haven't had the desire to go elsewhere since.

Truth be told, however, we initially tried this denomination in desperation.  We had been through just about every Protestant/non-Baptist/non-Pentecostal church in town, and couldn't find *anywhere* that worshipped and glorified God instead of manipulating and glorifying man. I was reassured enough to walk in the door once my research revealed that this denomination is a main branch of the Protestant Reformation and believes in the cardinal doctrines of the faith.  Not exactly what I'd been taught about Episcopalians to this point in my life.

I can hear the gasps now. EPISCOPALIAN?!?  As my own mother said - "They're practically Catholic!"  Well, no.  There's liturgy, sure. But remember, I work for Catholics.  It's like saying they're the same person because they're both blond and wearing a blue shirt. Besides, Catholics aren't that bad, so I don't see a huge problem.

Why does this church feel like home when it is So. Very. Different?

  • Scripture-drenched worship.  More scripture than any Fundamentalist service we have ever been in, hands down - even more than the relatively decent Fundamentalist halfway-house church we left behind.  The solid orthodoxy in the prayers and homilies.  The beauty that makes me weep every week. (The rector probably thinks I'm a headcase - which I am, but that's another post.)  The Gospel is truly proclaimed in multiple manifestations throughout the service.
  • No guilt trips.  Ever.
  • The people were kind to us from the minute we walked in (in both Episcopal churches we visited, actually).  And not that syrupy-sweet "nice", I mean really kind. Loving, even.  They weren't blustery, judgy, or fake.  They were genuinely interested in who we were and what we did and how we got to town.  They had no qualms about admitting they forgot our names from last week and asking again.  They didn't latch on in cultish desperation like some other churches we visited.  They exuded a depth of character we were drawn to.  We felt no ulterior motives for their actions, and the interactions were much more emotionally healthy. What a refreshing change from a church where everyone is trying so desperately hard to appear perfect.

We have membership classes coming up in a few weeks, and I'm very interested in learning more about the nuances of Episcopal theology.  I am well aware that I might fuss over a few points once I really sink my teeth into them.  But you know what?  That's ok.  From what I've read, you can be an Episcopalian and have some relatively out there or alternatively some pretty orthodox beliefs.  The unity of the Body is so important that you spend your time dialoguing rather than separating over triteness - which is so completely opposite of Fundamentalism that it's mind-boggling.

And the opposite of Fundamentalism is a good start.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Suffer the Little Children

I saw something at church today that I have never seen before.  It's dreadful, really, that this was so out of the ordinary for my religious experience.

What, you may ask, could have engendered such shock? 

It started with newborn twins in the service today.  Yummy, squishy, redfaced newborns in stereo.  That in and of itself was a joy, but it was nothing compared to what happened at the Great Thanksgiving.

When the Celebrant saw them brought to the Communion bench he smiled a grandfatherly smile.  He kindly welcomed them and their mother.  He put his hand gently over each little fuzzy head and blessed them, making a small cross with his thumb on each red wrinkly forehead.  The babies slept through it all, but I was awakened to another vast spiritual chasm between Fundamentalism and true Christianity.

In Fundamentalism, I was not used to seeing men in leadership be gentle.  Preachers usually yell throughout their sermons.  They make rude and obnoxious statements about people who vote Democrat, don't have guns, are gay, etc.  Women are denegrated with inappropriate jokes or, at best, patronized.  Children are maligned by these men as little tyrants with wills to be broken - by force as necessary.  The vulnerable are either ignored or verbally beaten down. Everything is made into a fight.

Yet here was this man gently, humbly, and lovingly treasuring these precious babies.  No hint of roughness.  Not a whisper of antagonism.  As the Great Thanksgiving continued and I approached the bench, the same man gently offered me the Bread with words of comfort.   The man after him who offered the Cup just as gently reminded me that Christ's blood was shed for me and reassured me of God's love.

How did I not realize before that Fundamentalist leaders in no way exemplify the Biblical example?
 "A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people's hearts, and they will learn the truth." - 2 Timothy 2:24-25
Now that I've truly seen it, I can't think of any leader in my old life who could have been characterized as a servant of the Lord.  What a tragedy. May God spare his sheep from such wolves.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Blessing of Animals

On a lighter note, my horse and I attended our first-ever "Blessing of the Animals" this week.

In some Christian traditions, a special service to bless animals is held to celebrate the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi.  Usually, one ends up with a church parking lot full of dozens of dogs, cats, birds and other animals - it's a wonder anyone thought this was anything close to a good idea.

"Pixie" behaved herself quite well, mind you. Even when someone's German Shepherd exuberantly lunged at her in an attempt to make friends.  In fact, she took the blessing and the holy water rather regally.

However, while we were waiting to be blessed (and standing a safe distance away from the 70+ dogs), I began to discover that my horse was actually there to *be* a blessing instead. Children materialized with awe-struck faces and loving pats.  An elderly woman from a local assisted living facility who had owned horses "her entire life" was delighted by her - and my horse melted into her hands.  Everyone who came to see her walked away with horse-sized smiles.

After all the blessings were completed, the pastor and deacon came back by.  My horse seemed particularly interested in the holy water, so the deacon kindly offered her a drink.  Pixie promptly stuck her nose in the bowl...

...and flipped water all over her.

Yes, my horse blessed the deacon as well. *snicker*

I'm a troublemaker no matter where I go.  Seriously, the Fundamentalists have got to be glad to be rid of me.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Testimony Of Women

Being a female Fundamentalist is no picnic, let me tell you.

Following all of Fundamentalism's written and unwritten rules is hard enough.  But when you're a woman, the rules are double.  Minimum.

I remember hearing constantly that women should be certain things and not be others. For example,  I was once told that it was a sin for a woman to laugh too loudly. I was denied a job as a wrangler at camp because I was a woman.  At Fundamentalist University, male students were allowed to do a great many things female students were not - like go off campus their first year without an upperclassman accompanying them, for starters.  Most women's sporting events were not allowed to have a "mixed" audience; the reasons I was told were #1 - not enough faculty chaperones available and #2 - nobody wants to watch girls sports anyway.  I got in a great deal of trouble once for asking why the men's sports teams received money to purchase uniforms when women's teams did not. (I wish I still had the reply letter I was sent, it was atrocious.)

But those are the relatively innocuous differences.  I heard multiple sermons on women dressing modestly because it was a woman's fault if a man had lustful thoughts.  I heard a lot fewer telling men to control themselves, and I never heard it was primarily their responsibility.  I heard endless sermons on wives submitting to husbands.  I rarely heard sermons on husbands loving their wives and never ones telling husbands it was wrong to abuse their wives and what abuse looked like.   I saw rape, sexual abuse, and domestic violence victims get blamed and told to forgive and "move on".  I was told women were not as spiritually minded as men - in fact, I beat myself up with that enough to actually believe it for a while.  But, God bless my Bible Doctrines teacher at Fundamentalist University - he actively repudiated that particular belief in class one day.

And see, that's the real difficulty with this topic in Fundamentalism.  On the one hand, many Fundamentalist men sincerely think they believe that women are equals and that they treat them that well. They say that women and men are equal, just with different roles.  See?  Isn't that egalitarian?  I used to fall for it, sad to say.  It was the gag for my conscience every time it would scream in protest during a sermon, because "...he doesn't really mean it that way."

But you know what?  When I finally started looking at their actions instead of their words, I realized the truth about Fundamentalists.  They *don't* believe women are worth as much as men.  How else could one explain the constant belitting, unfair restrictions, and most of all, rampant abuse of women?  How does the Tina Anderson case make any sense other than that Tina was a young, powerless girl and everyone else was a man?

Just this morning, I saw this little gem posted on a friend's social networking wall.  Go ahead, listen if you want to be depressed:

"Look at them. Out there, all around you. Women competing with men. Oh, you see them everywhere.  Climbing telephone poles, loading trucks, directing traffic, driving heavy equipment, operating gas stations.  Now a Christian woman automatically senses the inappropriateness of such behavior to her testimony."

Seriously? This was aired September 30, 2011.  Not September 30, 1951.

The best part is that I know firsthand that the Fundamentalist University associated with the speaker has women on the campus security force who direct traffic.  I've seen women on the grounds crew driving heavy equipment and loading trucks.   The school has admitted women to and has graduated women from majors like criminal justice, carpentry, accounting, and pre-med.  Even if you happen to agree with the sentiment that women shouldn't be doing those things, the hypocrisy is astounding.

And then it keeps going.  Worrying about who your kids like better?  Really?  Requiring validation from your children reveals severe emotional insecurity.  That's actually something called covert incest.  The rest is so snide - and frankly, so very sad. Her recommendations for wives have nothing to do with being righteous and have everything to do with rolling over and playing a dead floormat.

Frankly, I was despondent after listening to this.  I felt worthless.

And then I went to church.

As the pastor and deacon came in at the beginning of the service, I noticed the deacon's stole.

It was decorated with the names of Biblical women.

Mary of Magdala.

With every name I read, the chorus of women grew louder and clearer in my head.  These women of faith sang of a God who loves His daughters and knows their contributions are not inferior - and they're certainly not competition.  How does Mary's Magnificat "compete with" Joseph?  How does Ruth or Naomi's faith obscure Boaz? How does Esther's courage demean any man except the deservedly villainous Haman? The answer is that they don't.

It was as though God reached down to comfort me and reassure me that women are valuable.  "Look how many great women of faith I told you about!  Remember them! Don't believe Satan's lies!  Look!!"  What an amazing difference to be in a church that doesn't hate women.

If you really think about it, the Fundamentalist line of thinking actually demeans men - they are treated as such fragile creatures that they can't handle anyone in any position of power other than themselves.  You know what it means when someone has to be in control all the time and can't allow competition?  Means they're an abuser, that's what.

It is not of God to make women constantly worry about overshadowing or "competing with" men.  God asks all of his children, male and female, to do what needs to be done - not look around first to see if a man approves or is threatened.  That's the very definition of "the fear of man", yes?  And its snare nearly swallowed me whole.  Praise God that he crushes traps and releases His daughters from prison!  Alleluia!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Faith of our Fathers

I had the most interesting thing happen the other day.

As background, you should know that very few of my extended family are Fundamentalists, and one of my grandmothers in particular had always been uncomfortable with my mother and I identifying as such.  I don't ever remember her being ugly about it, but I knew she wasn't interested in our new-found faith in the least.  She was also one of the ones most hurt by things we did in an attempt to "be a testimony".

In Fundamentalism, I was frequently taught that being in church every time the doors were open was not only what Spiritual People Do, it was also A Good Testimony.  Doing so made it clear to those around you that church - and therefore by extension, God - is the most important thing in your life. (Pay no attention to the fact that equating the Church with God is problematic.)

I remember frequently going to her house for dinner when I was young; apparently, many of those dinners were Sunday nights, because once mom and I converted to Fundamentalism, it became a point of contention. Instead of going to my grandparents' house, we now went to church.  My grandmother tried to compromise and have dinner earlier so we could do both, but it was still such a strained time compared to the way things used to be, and the tradition was eventually given up.

Some Testimony, eh?

A few days ago, grandma was at my house to help watch my child while I got a few things done around the house.  While the child napped, we talked, and all of a sudden she asked, "So, I understand that maybe you and [hubby] became a bit... disillusioned by your time at [Fundamentalist University]?"

What followed was one of the most enlightening conversations I've had so far along this journey.

My "heathen apostate" grandmother had seen right through Fundamentalism from the beginning.  She told me the insistence on control frightened her.  She said she didn't understand how people could ignore the poor and vulnerable while calling themselves Christian at the same time.  She was shocked at the way parents dominated their adult children's lives and the rules the University enforced on those same adults.  And she told me, among other things, an appalling story I hadn't known about from when they visited [Fundamentalist University] for my graduation. 

At the time, my grandfather had some medical issues that necessitated frequent trips to the restroom.  And as the ceremony was extremely long (this was the year that a new President of the University was installed) he had to get up at one point for another trip.  He walked up the aisle, reached the doors, and was stopped by two ushers.

He was told that the doors were locked and no one was to be allowed to exit.

They essentially told a grown man that he wasn't capable of understanding the solemnity of the occasion and intimated he was acting like a child who should be better behaved.  Those snotty superior ushers TOLD AN ELDERLY MAN WITH A MEDICAL CONDITION THAT HE WASN'T ALLOWED TO USE THE RESTROOM.

Oh yes, indeed.  Very Good Testimony.

Now, my grandfather was no troublemaker.  He was an upstanding businessman in the community, and if there was a rule, he followed it.

But my grandfather stood up to that bullying and said something to the effect of, "If you don't want to clean up a puddle right here, then you will let me out to use the restroom."

And they let him.

Needless to say, my grandparents weren't impressed with how they were treated.  They were kind enough (or perhaps frightened enough?) not to mention the incident.  I do remember them joking that the ceremony was "like installing a new pope"...

It's ironic, really.  I thought I was so spiritually superior to my non-fundy grandparents; now I realize they had a great deal more discernment than I did.   They saw the abusiveness and wanted nothing to do with it. In addition, I remember them being the kindest, most giving, and most socially active of anyone in my family - and certainly kinder than most people in my church. Even at my most Fundamentalist self, it gave me no small amount of cognitive dissonance that they were labeled as unbelievers.

Oh, and the most fascinating part?

I discovered my grandmother was raised in the denomination we've started to settle into and is a member of the same church we've been attending for over a month now.  I have more in common with her than I ever knew.

Fundamentalism robbed me of that.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

In Vino, Veritas

The day I idealogically fell off the teetotaling wagon probably sparked the first flames of my eventual complete separation from Fundamentalism.  Because once you wake up from one part of the brainwashing, you start to be able to identify other parts...

It happened while was attending another institution of higher learning getting a degree beyond my Fundy University bachelor's degree.  (Though I suppose it could be argued that if I were a woman getting an advanced degree in a secular university, I wasn't that big of a Fundy, but that's another post.) I was offered an alcoholic beverage by a friend at a study session.  I piously proclaimed, "I'm a Christian, I don't drink" - echoing the words of a Fundamentalist evangelist I heard once who bragged of his testimony to his Marine buddies using those very words while holding a glass of milk. 

However, the resemblance of my story to his ended there.

Rather than respecting my firm stand for the Lord, and being impressed with my devotion...  well...

He laughed.

That was probably the one response I never expected.  He LAUGHED!  And not scornfully either -  he actually thought I was joking.  Then he said, "Christians are the biggest drinkers in the world.  Irish Catholics, anyone?"

And, you might also be surprised to learn, he wasn't the least bit interested in my protestations that Catholics "weren't real Christians." He followed with something about the fact that Jesus drank wine.

Praise God, I was stunned into enough honesty to realize that abstaining from alcohol wasn't the amazing testimony to unbelievers I had been taught it was.  It was actually a stumbling block.  And maybe, just maybe... he was right.

Exit #1 off the Fundy turnpike.  No wonder Fundamentalists hammer this issue so hard.

I occasionally, guiltily, tried some wine after that point at family gatherings, but my conscience wasn't freed on the subject of alcohol until I listened to a lecture about the medical benefits of wine in heart disease and high blood pressure.  A half glass of wine for women/full glass of wine for men daily is strongly recommended by cardiologists.  Huh.  That seemed to fit under the medicinal use of alcohol that even hardcore Fundamentalists had to admit to.

But that was just wine, not any alcoholic beverage. And I still wasn't completely sure that "new wine" wasn't really grape juice, hesitated to say that Christ himself drank wine, and stuttered when asked if drinking wine was intrinsically a sin.

You see, in Fundamentalism, especially in the Baptist kind, alcohol of any sort is strictly prohibited. Even taking NyQuil or cooking with it could be frowned on in the right circles.  I had been indoctrinated that drinking alcohol is not, under any circumstances, something a Good Christian would do.  It is somehow assumed that any alcohol consumption leads immediately to drunkenness, so even drinking in moderation is a Bad Testimony - and being seen purchasing it is the Worst Testimony Possible even if you're just using it for a Jerry Baker gardening recipe.

Since this is one of the prime evils a person can ever engage in, there are a lot of mental gymnastics and twisting of Scripture to fit this relatively recent human tradition. Sermons and even entire books are devoted to attempting to prove that the "wine" in Christ's first public miracle and at the Last Supper was just grape juice.  Anyone who says otherwise is a godless compromising liberal only interested in indulging his taste for demon drink.

But last week, something was pointed out to me that makes the translational arguments irrelevant.  And the reason is so shockingly simple that I feel like an idiot for not realizing it sooner.

The wedding at Cana occurred just before Passover.  Go read the Gospel account - it's there.  It is clearly stated that a few days after the wedding, Christ went up to Jerusalem for Passover.  The Last Supper was also celebrated at Passover.

When is Passover?

Sometime in the spring.  Around April.

When is the grape harvest?

Fall.  The grape harvest is in full swing here, and it's September.

And here's where the absurdity really becomes apparent.  There is no possible way to have fresh, unfermented grape juice in the spring 2000 years ago.  None.  Grapes aren't ripe then.  They ripened 6 or more months prior.  No refrigeration then, no canning, no pasteurization.  No Wal-Mart with cases of Welch's available at all seasons.

It doesn't matter what your preconceived translational bias is.  Wine is wine, not grape juice.  New wine is wine, not grape juice.

I hadn't even been aware that subtle doubts still lingered until this blew them all away.

So this year, I really, really enjoyed the local wine festival.  No, I didn't get drunk.  Yes, I think Christ approved.  I received the wine with thankfulness and I celebrated His first miracle by enjoying it. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

For the Love of All That is Holy Communion Part 2

I think I'd like to revisit this topic  - and not just because I still can't get over Communion.  In retrospect, I feel the first installment was too heavy on the soul-wearying time communion used to be instead of the soul-feeding time Communion is now.   And if I hope to help woo Christian Fundamentalists away from worshipping their man-centered religion to worship the one true God instead, then they need to see the God they're missing out on.

To recap:

In Fundamentalism, communion was occasional and terrifying.  It primarily focused on me, my sin, and God's judgment, not Christ and His atonement.

By contrast, here are the excerpts from Communion that happens every Sunday at the church we're settling into:

The Great Thanksgiving

Celebrant: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Celebrant: Lift up your hearts.
People: We lift them to the Lord.
Celebrant: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
People: It is right to give him thanks and praise.

Celebrant: It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.

Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who for ever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name:

(sung) Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, 
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
Hosanna in the highest.

Then the Celebrant continues:
Holy and gracious Father: In your infinite love you made us for yourself; and, when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, you, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.  He stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world.  On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, "Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you.  Do this for the remembrance of me."

After supper he took the cup of wine; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and said, "Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  Whenever you drink it, do this for the remembrance of me."

Therefore we proclaim the mystery of faith:
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

We celebrate the memorial of our redemption, O Father, in this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.  Recalling his death, resurrection, and ascension, we offer you these gifts.

Sanctify them by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in Him.  Sanctify us also that we may faithfully receive this holy Sacrament, and serve you in unity, constancy, and peace; and at the last day bring us with all your saints into the joy of your eternal kingdom.  All this we ask through your Son Jesus Christ.  By him, and with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, now and for ever.  Amen

And now, as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to sing...

(sung)Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day
our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom,
the power, and the glory
are yours, both now and forever.
From now until the end of time.

Congregation: We who are many are one body, because we all share one bread, one cup.

Post Communion Prayer

Celebrant and People:
Eternal God, heavenly Father, you have graciously accepted us as living members of your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, and you have fed us with spiritual food in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.  Send us now into the world in peace, and grand us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Celebrant: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.  Alleluia, Alleluia.
People: Thanks be to God.  Alleluia, Alleluia

Can you believe that?   Can you believe that not only is Communion considered "the great thanksgiving", but... a celebration? I nearly couldn't when I first heard that manifestation of the Gospel. Communion celebrates assurance of pardon, not self-doubt.  It celebrates redemption, not condemnation.  It celebrates the acceptance we have in Christ, not the separation we have without Him.  And most of all, it celebrates Christ, not me.

Thanks be to God!  Alleluia!  ALLELUIA!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Living on a Prayer

I have mentioned that my current employer is a Catholic institution, so it should come as no surprise that there is formal employer-organized prayer here too. And the difference in experience is interesting.

In my old Fundamentalist life, I was party to plenty of prayer meetings. Usually, one or more people were charged with praying during that time. It was ostensibly unscripted, but most casual public prayers followed an inevitable format (despite feeling somehow superior to people who prayed “canned” prayers...). I opened with “Dear Heavenly Father”, I asked God to “just be with” a laundry list of certain people/situations, and I closed with “In Jesus’ Name”.

The prayers of the liturgical tradition are a different matter altogether. They aren’t mere laundry lists. They actually say something, and that something is usually quite deep. They are drenched in grace. They make my heart sing in worship to God and thankfulness for who He is - even if they're read in a monotone and maybe a little too fast.

Here are some examples:

“Let us remember in a special way all the countries of the world. Let us remember those countries who are struggling with the issues of oppression, natural catastrophes, large national debts, and corrupt governments. May God be with them and give them strength during these difficult times. We pray to the Lord. Response: Lord hear our prayer.”
– Catholic prayer service

“We pray for all nations and people, and particularly for those suffering from war, disaster, poverty and disease. We ask you to be with our own country including our leaders and with those who serve. We remember all who serve the common good. Be with the nations, Lord, that divisions might cease and wars end.”
– Episcopal church service

“Let us pray for peace, peace in our families, in our workforce and in our world. May God guide our government so right decisions will be made. We pray to the Lord. Response: Lord hear our prayer.”

“Let us pray for those who are unemployed and those who are homeless. May God help all individuals so his or her dignity can be preserved, work can be found and hope can be felt in hearts again. We pray to the Lord. Response: Lord hear our prayer.”
– Catholic prayer service

“We lift up all those in need; those who are in financial difficulties, those who seek jobs, those who are hungry and those who need homes. We lift up those who face illness, those who live with pain, and those who live with sadness. We lift up care givers, and health workers and all who help those in difficulty. Be merciful to those in need, Lord, that help and healing may come.”
– Episcopal church service

There is more here than the content and poetry of the words. The attitudes behind prayers like this were shamefully foreign to me when I first left Fundamentalism but, fortunately, are becoming more second nature.

In Fundamentalism I *never* prayed for God to correct oppression in this world. I may have prayed for the leader of America, but never for any other country’s leader – and only that he would essentially be nice to Christians of my ilk. I certainly never prayed for homeless or poor people in general - they deserved what they got because of bad choices. I never asked God to bring unity and have mercy by stopping wars. The prayers are not only more beautiful and meaningful than anything I prayed before, they are more compassionate and loving.

Frequently I can’t help but break down in tears during the service, because these prayers are sweet water to a parched soul.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Meet the New Boss, Unlike the Old Boss

Reading through my new employer’s handbook a few days ago nearly brought me to tears.

We will, in the spirit of the Sisters [of this group], reveal God’s healing love by improving the health of the individuals and communities we serve, especially those who are poor or vulnerable.
Many resources combine to show God’s healing love.
The greatest of these is our employees.
They must receive from us respect, fair wages,
An environment in which they feel trusted,
And the opportunity to share responsibility for our goals.
They deserve leadership that is capable and just.

In describing the religious order from whence this particular institution arose,
“Whereas the aim of most religious was their own perfection… ‘these Daughters are used… for the salvation and comfort of the neighbor.’”
Repeatedly, [this saint] admonished her Sisters to be “diligent in serving the poor… to love the poor, honor them, my children, as you would honor Christ Himself.”

What a difference from the philosophy of my previous “Christian” employer who paid a salary that hovered near the Federal poverty level (yes, I looked it up) and whose overall guiding principle was “griping is not tolerated”.

I'm so ashamed I ever thought that was acceptable. May God have mercy.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

For the Love of All That is Holy Communion

Another dramatic change since leaving Fundamentalism: I now love Communion.

I never really did in my old life. It was something I endured yet also strangely desperately hoped I was good enough for. Fortunately, the agony only happened once a month at most. Since exploring mainstream denominations, however, I don't think I've gone a week at church without taking Communion - and it has been an unexpected joy every time.

I've been pondering over the difference lately. Why does so much of Christianity practice Communion as an integral portion of weekly worship but the Christians who claim they're the most faithful to the Bible do not? And why do I love it now when I didn't then? To arrive at the answer, an examination of how communion was practiced in my Fundamentalist experience is in order...

Plates of tiny individual square crackers and a trays of grape juice in tiny plastic individual serving cups were covered with a white sheet on a table below the pulpit during the singing, sermon, and invitation. Once the main service ended, the deacons would take off the sheet, fold it, and the "communion service" began. Usually at this point, the pastor read the following passage from 1 Corithians 11 (KJV):
23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:
24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.
27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.
30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.
31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.
32 But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.

A great deal of time was usually spent on the eating and drinking "unworthily". The Christian was cautioned not to have any unconfessed sin and to be living a life "worthy" of taking communion. The point was driven home by the warning that if you participate despite being unworthy, then you may be killed by God or at least given some illness or tragedy in recompense. Often, Matthew 5:23-24 would be invoked as well.

After duly warning the audience, the elements are passed around while the pianist plays quietly. Despite the admonition to be sure you're worthy before participating, *not* participating also marked you as Someone Who Probably Needs A Talking-To By Those Who Are Watching For That Sort Of Thing.

No wonder we Fundamentalists rarely had communion. Who would want to have such a dangerous service frequently? Communion was an open invitation to personal tragedy! Who could ever feel truly worthy? Any unremembered sin could condemn you. It was small comfort to be told that if we condemned ourselves enough then God (probably) wouldn't condemn us for taking communion.

Unfortunately, the three verses prior to the above passages were never included. These three verses explain what "eateth and drinketh unworthily" actually referred to. The introduction to this passage reveals that in the Corinthian church, people were using this time of feasting and enjoying the Lord as a way to serve themselves instead. People who were rich brought enough food and drink to stuff themselves silly and get roaring drunk. And despite this abundance, they did not share with their brother in Christ who was so poor that he came to this time without enough to eat and went home hungry. The point was that they were being unloving and celebrating communion in an unworthy manner. *That* was the "unworthy" portion. Not the people, the process. The Matthew reference had also been twisted to this errant idea - a passage about man bringing an offering to God was instead applied to a celebration of Christ's offering to God for man. Appalling.

This oversight again underscores Fundamentalism's basic theological error. Fundamentalism, whether consciously or not, says, "I can do enough to be worthy, to please God, or do things that make me a good testimony - I just have to try hard enough." Man-centered, self-worshipping, unattainable, wretched, tragic theology.

I cannot be worthy of taking Communion. None of us could ever *be* worthy, otherwise we would not need to come to Christ to commune with Him. I cannot please God. God is pleased with me because of Christ and His worthiness. It is *His* worthiness that is in place when I take Communion. Communion is a joyful oneness with Him and with the Body, not a Sword of Damocles waiting to fall at the slightest imperfection.

Theological traditions that correctly understand this concept approach Communion in an entirely different manner, and the change of experience has been breathtaking. Communion is a joy, not a terror. Communion is unity, not individuality. Communion celebrates God and His holiness, not me and my sin. I'm now heartbroken if a service does not include Communion. I am part of the Body of Christ. I need the Body. How can we worship and *not* have Communion? It's unthinkable.

The wine of Holy Communion is rich, powerful and sweet; the grape juice of the past pales in comparison. Alleluia.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Least of These

The irony is that I’m again working for a religious institution.

This time, however, it’s Catholic.

And lest my fundamentalist friends go ballistic about fraternizing with such heathens, let’s have a discussion about true religion (a la James), shall we?

My spouse and I have noticed over the last year while reading through the Old Testament how often Israel got in trouble for leaving their God. And their God (through His prophets) often gave specifics about what constituted leaving. There’s the easy stuff – creating idols of wood and stone and then worshipping them, not observing God’s Sabbath. But consistently, there’s also a repeated accusation of failing to defend the poor and vulnerable. Why I never saw this before, I don’t know. It’s there quite frequently. There are also multiple portions of the Law that deal with treating the poor correctly and providing for them. God is very, very concerned that His people aid those less fortunate, and consistently chooses that failure to criticize rather than or alongside others that may seem “worse”.

What do Catholics have to do with this?

Go look at your local phone book under “H”.

How many of the hospitals are named “St.” Something? How many homeless shelters? Indigent care clinics? All run by/started by Catholics?

In my current town, it’s pretty much all of them. In other towns I’ve lived in, same, as best I can remember.

Sure, you’ll find an occasional Lutheran, Episcopal, or Baptist hospital in certain geographic regions. You’ll find a decent number of Jewish hospitals (I guess they finally started listening to those prophets). And there’s always the Salvation Army. But you have the Catholic Church to thank for the lion’s share of religious-based medical and indigent care.

I *never* remember being taught such care for the poor when I was a Fundamentalist. I can’t think of *anybody* in *any* of the independent fundamental Baptist churches I attended who encouraged volunteering in or donating to a program that fed the poor, tended the sick, or defended the vulnerable. Sure, you might get guilted into visiting someone from the church who was in the hospital. And now that I think of it, one of my youth pastors did try to get a group of us to go around and sing to people in the hospital and nursing homes for a while. But *never* was there a concern for the tangible needs of anyone outside the congregation (rarely inside either, for that matter). And woe to the person who had the audacity to donate time or money to a non-fundamentalist cause – they were compromising with unbelievers. And Fundamentalists. Don’t. Compromise. They separate instead.

I remember looking down on a couple in my church who donated to a Billy Graham charity (as evidenced by a calendar from said charity in their kitchen). I remember flippantly brushing off charities because they weren’t “truly Christian”. Yet, had I been asked, I couldn’t have named anyone in the circles I thought were “truly Christian” who was doing any significant work among the poor.

And my favorite face-palming story from just a few months ago: a Christian charity in my hometown held a 5K run/walk to raise money for a Kenyan orphanage. My old church (new pastor) was located in a convenient place for them to have the finish line for the race, and the pastor graciously allowed them to set up their booths in the parking lot – on one condition.

He wanted it to be perfectly clear that his church had NOTHING to do with the charity, supporting the charity, or being mentioned in the same breath as the charity.


Because of the music they would be playing.

Yes, indeed. Because of course, heaven forbid that a fundamentalist church be associated with people helping orphans. Especially people who are also Christians and share the same basic cardinal doctrines. Music is much more important than that.

When a belief system claims to be orthodox but does not value what God values - well that should have been a very big red flag to me. Not that I’m converting to Catholicism by any means. (They seem to have just as much religious baggage as Fundamentalists.) But at least they got a very big something right. And it’s one of the many big things that Fundamentalists got very, very wrong.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


I haven't posted in a while due to life upheaval, but that isn't to say that the journey hasn't continued. In fact, I have several more posts... in my head. Perhaps in a week they will make it to the swirling ether.

May God bless you and yours.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Wandering Part 2

Still visiting various churches. It takes a while to get through the non-Baptist non-Pentacostal Protestant churches, even if you can eliminate some by listening to online sermons and perusing their websites.

Ah, websites. Here's what I've learned about churches from their websites over the last few months:

A. If the website is painful to look at (or absent), that means either they don't trust "outsiders" or they're too penny-wise and pound-foolish to pay for someone to create a good one - neither of which bode well for the function of the rest of the organization. For example, the website of the church that I grew up in is absolutely horrific. (Identifying marks changed/obscured to protect the innocent).

Painful pink/red links on a blue background with poorly aligned, pixelated graphics, uber-patriotic animated .gifs... *shudder* Enough said.

B. If your pastor is pictured on your website like this:

or this...

...I'm not interested. Perhaps I'm the one with the problem, but I can't take these people seriously.

C. If one of the main links on your homepage is "How to donate"...

...that's a great big red flag. Especially when there isn't a link to "what we believe" anywhere nearby.

D. If your website doesn't even have a doctrinal statement, and in its place are paragraphs with a lot of buzzwords like "inclusion", "journey", and "affirmation", then I'm not interested. If I merely wanted a social club, I wouldn't be searching under "church", now would I. (Not that I necessarily have a problem with those words, but those should grow from your understanding of God - ie doctrine - not be a replacement for it.)

E. And speaking of doctrinal statements, from Episcopalian to Lutheran to Baptist to Evangelical to Pentecostal (and fine, even Catholics), we mostly all believe in the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the Trinity, the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, original sin, and salvation through Jesus Christ alone. As someone who grew up being taught that everyone outside of Independent Fundamental Baptists were heretics and didn't believe the Bible, I'm amazed at the amount of Very Important Doctrine that we share.

F. The order of doctrinal statements likely says something too. Most doctrinal statements start with God, and if the first doctrinal statement trumpets a version of the Bible, they've just told me what they value more than God Himself. I even had a friend recently point out to me that starting with beliefs about Scripture is potentially troublesome, because we should start with God. Scripture comes from God, not the other way around.

So, in our journey so far, we've visited a couple of Presbyterian churches, an Episcopal church, and a Lutheran church. My favorite? Well, that should probably be a separate post in and of itself.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


When I was in Fundamentalism, I was taught that any modern type of music was bad. (“Modern” of course being arbitrarily defined and, oddly enough, changing as the years pass and some “sinful” music gets old enough to become acceptable.) Entire books were written on the nuances of what kind of music was “pure” and what kind was “evil”; many sermons were preached on the dangers of listening to modern music, especially its use in worship. I didn’t really care much for non-traditional Christian music, so that was at least an easy rule to follow. Of course, deep down, I really didn’t care for the newer Christian music that *was* acceptable either, I just listened to it because it was the right thing (and the only thing) to listen to.

Since coming out of Fundamentalism, I still haven’t been that impressed with the majority of modern “Christian” music genres. In general, I just find it to be a lower-quality version of mainstream music with some words about Jesus thrown in. Frankly I’d much rather listen to U2 or Pink Floyd than Chris Tomlin.

These thoughts started to coalesce after a recent discouraging and depressing week where I just felt like giving up on everything. That weekend, my husband and I went to a concert at a local country music festival –our first-ever “real” concert. (I know, country music, right? Sorry. I’m new at this stuff. Plus, I’m a hick.)

And you know what?

I walked away from that concert feeling profoundly encouraged. We had a fun night of singing along, dancing when we felt like it, and snuggling to the inevitable sappy love song. Honestly, it was more helpful than a great many sermons I heard in my past.

And here’s my ultimate point. Since I got out of Fundamentalism and developed more freedom of conscience in entertainment choices, I’ve unexpectedly discovered things that speak deeply to me. And I’ve come to realize that all truth is God’s truth. Not that everything out there is true, but when something resonates as true with the human experience, it’s of God. From this, I’m concluding that Christians shouldn’t be making a “Christian” version of anything – whether it be books, music, movies, pajamas, or t-shirts. Christians should just be living out the Gospel. We should be Christians writing books, not people writing Christian books; Christians making music, not people making Christian music, etc. The resultant art may or may not contain Christian themes, and may or may not contain offensive material. Sanitizing everything is dishonest. It’s not real life. The book of Esther never mentions God; multiple Old Testament books contain horrific adult material. Scripture doesn’t sanitize.

Our compartmentalization has damaged our ability to be all things to all men – not just in Fundamentalism (I’m looking at YOU, Evangelicals); a wide swath of American Christianity produces such insincere, Gospel-less drivel. Shame on us for thinking God is so pathetic that He only lives in a Christian bookstore.

Here's a more erudite and focused discussion on this topic - or if you'd prefer a more satirical approach. (Fair warning for my Fundamentalist readers on that second link - you will probably find some of it offensive on non-theological grounds. Which is rather the point.)

Monday, July 4, 2011


Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ's death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross.

Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ.

How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?

Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it?

I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ. -Galatians 3:1-5
So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don't get tied up again in slavery to the law. - Galatians 5:1

Happy Fourth of July, everybody. May you find true freedom from spiritual enslavement today.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Good Vision

To this point in my blog, I have tried to avoid some current hot-button issues in an effort to woo my Fundamentalist readers with love and logic. I'm going to break that a little bit today.

We need to talk about Tina Anderson and Pastor Chuck Phelps.

Stay with me, Fundy readers. Please.

For those who don't know, the short version of the story is this:

Tina Anderson was raped twice by a married fellow church member named Ernie Willis. (Recently convicted of all 4 counts in a court of law.)

Tina became pregnant from the second rape.

Tina's Pastor (Chuck Phelps) became aware of the situation, counseled both of them, and called the police to report the incident. The police, for whatever reason, did not follow up appropriately.

Tina and Ernie were both put before the congregation to be disciplined as separate issues: Ernie for being unfaithful to his wife; Tina for being pregnant after "allowing a compromising situation to occur".

The decision was made for Tina to be moved to Colorado and to put her baby up for adoption. She was homeschooled and largely isolated from other teens.

Ernie was allowed to stay in the church.

Those are incontrovertible facts, without bias. Nobody, unless they're lying, tries to dispute any of these. There is much more to the story, but I'm trying to be as non-inflammatory as possible. Let us be clear, however, just those facts are appalling enough. Chuck Phelps was wrong to put a rape victim up in front of the church for discipline. He was wrong to make it appear to the congregation that the two events disciplined that night were unrelated. He was wrong to send Tina away as though *she* were the pariah. He was wrong to allow a rapist to continue to function in the church, at the very least, without strict supervision. And he continues those wrongs by refusing to admit publicly that he did anything wrong in the entire situation.

Recently at a prominent Fundamentalist conference, another very prominent Fundamentalist leader made this comment about Pastor Chuck Phelps:
”The only way you get publicity is to have somebody hate you, as brother Chuck Phelps has had, and they come up with evil reports [about you,] then you get in the papers. And by the way, thank God he [Chuck Phelps] stood right all the way through all of this and we ought to stand with him and encourage him, but I don’t suppose newspapers here in Indianapolis write a whole lot of articles about Crosspointe.” (full sermon here; quote at 21:55 mark)

I'm sorry, but I cannot believe that anyone with a heart for crime victims or who desires to do what is right rather than what is popular could say something like that about Chuck Phelps. I am angry that Fundamentalist leadership appears to be more concerned with patting each other on the back than truth and repentance.

And then I read a response to this Fundamentalist leader by Tina's husband, Tim. With his permission, I am reposting the majority of it here.

I grew up being taught in an IFB church, Christian school, Christian college for over 30 years. I have two bachelor degrees from two different IFB colleges. I'm not tooting my own horn. I just want to point out that the IFB way of life is about all I knew about church and education.

Growing up, I always admired the leaders in the IFB. I'd like to believe that the pastor I grew up under, Pastor James Singleton, a major force in the IFB, if he were alive, he'd be addressing these things. I'd like to believe that he's turning over in his grave right now with all that is going on in FBFI.

I grew up being taught that a person of character will admit when he/she has made a mistake, no matter the consequences. I was taught that a man of God should be above reproach. Over this past year, I've been having a hard time grasping the mentality of the leaders in the IFB. It's not what I was taught. It now looks like, "Do what I say, not what I do."

I don't understand Dr. Ed Nelson and his comments. I would have understood it better if he had just not said anything but to say that Chuck Phelps has "stood right through all of this" is beyond comprehension. I guess you could say that if you're looking at the situation through rose colored glasses or an IFB prism that distorts your perspective.

His comments make me realize that my wife and I made the right decision over a year ago.

Before Tina's story was made public last May, we decided to leave our IFB church, which is part of the FBFI. We were never asked to leave. We didn't make a fuss or try to cause any problems. We knew there would be enough of that when Tina's story became public. We decided to leave quietly. She gave her letter of resignation to the IFB college where she taught voice and we walked out the door.

My sisters, although they don't agree with us for leaving our church and are currently in their own IFB churches, still love and support us. Fortunately, blood is thicker than church affiliation. I know this is not always the case and I'm extremely thankful to God for that. My sister asked me if we'd ever go back to a Baptist church. Although I had not really thought about it, I told her "I doubt it." After watching everything going on in IFB land, and after watching Tina finally being vindicated through the conviction of one of her rapists, and still no admittance of wrong from the leaders inside the FBFI, I would now answer my sister and say, "No, I'll never be a member of another IFB church." Would I visit? Yes. In fact, I have friends who are pastors of IFB churches. I'm going to visit one of them this Sunday. I have not seen him for about a year and so I'm looking forward to my visit.

Ed Nelson says that the only way to get publicity is to have somebody hate you. If hate is the only way for fundamental baptist to get publicity, I feel very sorry for them. If hate is the only way that you are getting publicity, then you need to examine what you are doing. What you saw was public outrage (hate) at the injustice that was done to a 15 year old. What you saw was hate that a man who claims to serve God kept spinning the truth to try and make himself not look so bad. The only people that worked on are the people who don't want to face the fact that Chuck Phelps did wrong and has not been able to admit it.

What we, my wife and I, saw was hate from the people who claim to love God but were more concerned about their image than doing what was right. What we saw was hate from people who slandered, created false scenarios, assumed false motivations, and downright called Tina a liar and manipulator for finally standing up for herself. This is the kind of publicity that we would have chosen to avoid. In fact, publicity was one thing we never wanted. We never realized how big of a story this would turn out to be when the police asked Tina to tell them her story and what happened 14 years ago.

Hate was never our motivating factor, justice was. It was justice against Ernie Willis, the man who raped Tina twice when she was 15. We finally saw justice this past May.

Tina and I do not hate Chuck Phelps. We don't hate Ernie Willis. We don't hate the IFB or the FBFI or anyone else associated with this whole situation.

What are our feelings? We'd like to go back to living a quiet, peaceful life serving God, raising our kids, and growing old together. We'll see what God has planned for us. I'm excited about our future and looking forward to the journey that God has set before us.

This response reaffirms that Tina and her husband are interested in truth and justice. Fundamentalist leaders are not.

I cannot, in good conscience, follow leaders this corrupt. For me, this debacle is also another confirmation that my decision to leave Fundamentalism was the right one.