Why I feel sorry for Indiana’s Christian business owners…

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Congratulations Indiana. You’ve done it. Your Christianity is free! That’s how your promoting this new law, right—as freedom? Freedom from the gay agenda? Freedom from governmental influence? Freedom from the words of Jesus to love thy neighbors?

And what “freedom” it is, too. I mean, seriously, your religious bakers no longer have to make butter cream frosting for lesbian mouths. Your Jesus-loving construction workers are legally protected to say no to the gay couple who wants to build their first home. All of your faith-based business owners can now safely and legally avoid selling their products to the good people of the GLBTQ community. That sounds like some amazing freedom.

However, I’m still not sure why your state’s Christianity is so afraid of gay people. You guys bake wedding cakes and build houses for Pentecostals. And you do that without blinking an eye. I mean, if you’re so bent on protecting your state’s faith, you might consider discriminating against those Pentecostal people who turn the Gospel into magic tricks, 401k plans, and pony shows every Sunday. They seem far more dangerous to your Christianity than gay people who want to get married.

But then again, you and I both know this new law has nothing to do with protecting Indiana’s religiosities. If that were true, you’d have stopped making wedding cakes and homes for a long list of people years ago. No, this law is about giving so-called Christian business owners the freedom to be jackasses if they want to. You’ve given them the right to discriminate against a group of people who have been discriminated against since pretty much the beginning of time. How does that make you feel? Proud? Lonely? Christ-like? But what I don’t understand is why. For what cause have you passed this new law? And please don’t say you’ve done this for Jesus. Just don’t go there because there’s nothing remotely Jesusish about this law.

If I’m honest, I actually feel sorry for the business owners who are celebrating this new “freedom”. Because for one thing, what do they really have to celebrate anyway? I mean, I can only imagine that the thrill of “Yay, we get to discriminate!” won’t last long. I mean, come on, you and I both know that discrimination is exhausting over time, even for Christians. And they’ll not only be fighting their consciences—yes, deep down they know this new law is wrong—but they’re also fighting against the grain of an entire culture. Sure, that fight will cause them to feel as proud and haughty as Puritans for a while because going against the culture does that to religious folk. But soon, that pride will fade and keeping up the passion for avoiding gay patrons will become a great burden. Hate is a terrible weight to carry. And then, at some point, their freedom to discriminate will intersect with their personal lives. They’ll learn that somebody they’ve known and sold things to is gay or they’ll find out that their son or daughter is gay and then they’ll have to choose between their freedom and their emotional connections.

Is that freedom?

But Indiana, mostly I feel sorry for your Christian business owners because you’ve given them a free pass to stop evolving. That’s right. In your attempt to offer their faith-based convictions a little ease, you’ve actually put them in a kind of prison, one that will keep them inside their closed-minded little worlds feeling safe and “free” from gay people. You’ve given them the right to pass on conversing or interacting with a multitude of really good people. But not only that, you’ve put up one more roadblock, a divider that will prevent them benefiting from the stories, the experiences, and not to mention, the pocketbooks of some amazing people who happen to be gay. And sadly, people who have permission slips to be intolerant remain intolerant.

You’ve taken a huge step backwards, Indiana, a step back that will have consequences in the years to come, a step back that makes life harder and more cumbersome for all involved, a step back that other people will have to invest time, energy, and money into fighting against in hopes of overturning. You might call it religious freedom, but we both know there’s nothing about it that’s religious or free.

Yesterday, I met some of the most vulnerable people in the world…

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Across the snow-covered mountains that surround the region of Amasia, light from the winter sun glistens against the ice, making it difficult to see. The air is dry and thin atop of this range, a cluster of high rolling hills that run north and stop just shy of the border that Armenia shares with Georgia. Life is never easy in the northwest corner of Armenia’s Shirak province, but for no less than seven months a year winter makes the uneasy life nearly impossible sometimes for families who live amid the valleys and on the ridges of this tundra. A majority of those who call Amasia home are considered to be among Armenia’s poorest, most vulnerable people.

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I’ve witnessed some of the worst poverty in the world. I’ve seen the slums of Nicaragua. I’ve witnessed the hardships of Kentucky’s Appalachia region. I’ve walked among mud huts in Uganda’s Gulu District. I’ve played “Mother May I” with orphans at a home in Cluj Napoca, Romania. In my travels I’ve learned a great deal about poverty. I know its effects. I know that sometimes its effects are easily reversed and that sometimes its deeds take years to turn around. I know that sometimes its consequences can be easily seen, but that sometimes the darkest byproducts of poverty are the kind you don’t see or can’t. But on this trip to Armenia, I’ve experienced a new kind of poverty, a kind that I’ve never fully seen before, a kind that forces one to not only surrender to or fight the effects of destitution but do so against a severe and bitter climate amid an abominable geography.

Seven months of hard winter amid an intolerable topography put the thousands of children who live in Amasia’s villages among the world’s most helpless.

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That’s why we chose to come to Armenia, to shine a light on the struggles of a country and people in which many people in the United States are unfamiliar.

The families here have broken down homes—walls with holes and cracks, floors that are rotting and can’t handle the weight of a few hundred pounds. Most of them don’t have running water or electricity. They use outhouses and their bathtubs are outside next to their dog pens or chicken coops. They use wood stoves to boil water for food and baths, to bake bread, and to keep a room or two in their homes warm. Few trees grow in these tundra-like conditions, so they have to collect, dry, and burn horse and cow dung as a substitute. Most moms and dads don’t have jobs and depend on unreliable odds-and-ends work to make ends meet, which rarely happens. Nobody has access to birth control, so often their families grow to six or seven children very quickly. Health care is rarely available. Kids often go to bed hungry or with growling unsatisfied tummies. Which is why their bodies stop growing and their teeth rot and sometimes fall out prematurely. Often times, due to the lack of work, fathers travel for long periods of time to Moscow or St. Petersburg to find work, leaving mothers to run homes and small makeshift farms. Though parents practically give up everything in order for their children to go to school, their educations rarely save them from falling into the same generational traps that befell their fathers and mothers.

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And for seven months out of every year, their difficult lives are lived amid sufferably cold temperatures, snow storm after snow storm, and a dry thin air that almost takes your breath away.

Their aged faces tell their stories. Their empty eyes punctuate just how hard life feels. Their slow and careful swaggers showcase their lack of hope.

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Last October World Vision started a new work amid the villages and towns of Amasia. Nearly 2500 kids have signed up for the sponsorship program. More than 500 kids have already found people who would become their cheerleaders and supporters. But so many more are still waiting, hoping that somebody might click on their name and face and sponsor them through World Vision.
I met my little Armenia child on Saturday. Angelina’s big brown eyes melted my heart. We were at restaurant that had wifi, so I was able to introduce little Angelina to Jessica, Elias, Adeline, and Ezra. Angelina’s mom hugged me and cried tears of joy because Jessica and I made a choice to sponsor her little girl. And she said, “Angelina’s dreams are possible now because you and your beautiful family.” And that’s my prayer, that Angelina will now have the chance to rise above the circumstances that have held her parents and grandparents and great grandparents back. But I also pray that because of Angelina, my kids will grow up with a strong desire to help people.

You can sponsor a child from Armenia right now by clicking here.

God have mercy on us: the genocide of 1.5 million Christians that America refuses to acknowledge

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God have mercy on us.

That was how the young charismatic priest ended his prayer, by repeating once more a request for heaven to have mercy on his beloved country, Armenia. Later we learned that God’s mercy is a holy idea that believers in this onetime state of the former Soviet Union have weaved throughout their Church’s liturgy for centuries, a longing I swear I can see weighing on the brows of a multitude of men and women who call Armenia home. Since walking out of the airport on Wednesday evening, I’ve been unable to escape the gnawing feeling that a real and present sadness hangs over Armenia, a mostly unspoken yearning that seems almost etched onto the beautiful faces of these God-loving people. Maybe I’m over emotionalizing my experience. Or maybe the melancholy I’m sensing is a sincere hunger for mercy from the Almighty.

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While I’m not ready to make blanketed conclusions about a people I’ve only shared space with for two days, this country’s plight seems not only present in the social and economic poverty that challenges this nation in its here and now but deeply rooted in the long and pain-stricken injustices it’s endured throughout its history. Its greatest generational scars exist because of the Great Massacre of 1915, a genocide enacted by the Turks in which 1.5 million men, women, and children, a people who mostly identified as followers of Jesus, were murdered.

One New York Times headline from 1914 broke the story: Erzurum Fanatics Slay Christians, Holy War Proclamation Followed by Destruction of Armenian’s Buildings

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This tragedy still haunts the Armenian people, partly because it was an annihilation that impacted the genealogy of every family, a story that personally affects every living Armenian today. But perhaps the biggest reason the killings of 1915 still cause people to become mournful and reflective today is because the genocide is still widely disputed. Turkey denies it was a genocide at all. And countries like the United States and Great Britain also refuse to acknowledge its realities because of political and international relationships with Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries. In the United States, a politically charged debate regarding its refusal to call the events of 1915 a genocide happened once more in 2010.

You can read more about Armenia and the genocide here.

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Though the two countries share a border, no relationship exists between Turkey and Armenia. But the genocide isn’t the only history that weighs on Armenian. These are also a people who are still trying to outlive its Soviet roots. Its relationship with Azerbaijan on its eastern border is hostile. Even the effects of a massive earthquake in 1988 are still evident in certain parts of the country’s infrastructure.

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Its dark history is a vivid backdrop to the challenges it faces today, challenges that include one-third of its population suffering the symptoms of poverty. Amid impoverished conditions, more than 25 percent of Armenia’s youth suffer depression. Abuse of alcohol and drugs are on the rise. Stunting, the poverty and malnutrition-induced condition in which children are undersized and underdeveloped, affects 1 out of 5 kids. Unemployment and economic woes also plague the Eurasian country.

It’s no wonder Armenia’s consistent prayer to God is for mercy.

Today, after the priest prayed that prayer one more time, I was filled with questions: What does God’s mercy for Armenia look like? How, amid suffering, are they still able to pray that prayer with conviction and/or belief that God might do something? And what role should we, a people who are rich and known for helping the poorest of the poor, become the active mercy of God for the children of Armenia?

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Right now, in a community 50 miles north of Gyumri, in the snow-covered hills along the Georgian border, there are more than 1000 children in crisis, suffering the longstanding and various effects of poverty. These children are dreaming of God’s mercy. They are, hoping to become a part of a new Armenian generation, a generation that will break the cycles that poverty and tragic history often cause. They are all waiting to hear the good news of God’s mercy that somebody from the United States has decided to sponsor them.

They need our help, friends. Sponsorship through World Vision is a proven path for helping communities turn the tide. If you are reading this post, would you consider becoming a part of God’s mercy for one kid by sponsoring him or her through World Vision?

Together we can help lift the cloud of sadness that lingers over this country’s people. Together we can bring nutrition, clean water, health and wellness, and emotional and spiritual nourishment to the children who are suffering the most. Together we can bring a good answer to the prayer that’s threaded through the liturgy of Armenia’s church, that God would have mercy.

Please sponsor a child from Armenia today.

Looking for rainbows amid suffering, genocide, and other mysteries of God

As a child, my father loved telling me Bible stories before bedtime. Animated and full of belief, Dad told the stories of God and God’s people with such rich enthusiasm that me and my sister, Elisabeth, would plead every single night for another story. The stories of the Bible played such an integral part of my childhood. The narratives of people like Moses, King David, Esther, and Daniel were potent echoes of hope, faith, and devotion for me, sometimes inspiring my curiosity to know God and sometimes haunting my imagination like ghost stories.

But one Bible story stood out more than all of the other stories, a story about a man and a dark tragedy–a massacre some call it–that in many ways was more important than Jesus’s story, a narrative with a plot and theme that was, to my church’s theologies and worldview–like a Missing Link.

Through the story of Noah and the Great Flood—that terrible, mysterious, and confusing account from Genesis about how God became so troubled with humanity that Heaven’s only option was death to all by drowning—the pastors and leaders at my church explained fossils, environmental concerns, the Grand Canyon, the reasons why Earth’s lands broke apart into continents, and that’s just the beginning. Our faith, politics, and science were hinged to the belief that God had once intentionally covered Earth for 40 days and nights with one mighty monsoon. To those of us who believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that God created Earth in 6 days and that the planet was roughly 6000 years old, give or take 7 years, the Flood was our secret not-so-secretive weapon. The Great Flood killed the dinosaurs. The Great Flood was the reason why human and animal remains were found amid rock layers that scientists dated to be much much much MUCH older than 6000 years. The Great Flood was the reason why fossils of tropical plant life were found in Alaska and large coal beds found in Antarctica. The Great Flood was of utmost importance to me and the members of the church I grew up in.

And yet, amid this tragic tale, a tale that offers us a glimpse of God’s darker side, a man called Noah believed—for more than 100 years— that God had a divine purpose for him and his family. And of course, as the story goes, Noah built an ark, God sent animals two by two, and then, after Noah and his family boarded, God shut the ark’s door. For more than 300 days Noah’s family was on that boat. And when the boat finally rested on dry ground, it was amid the Mountains of Ararat.

Next week, I will be closer to the story of Noah than ever before, amid a people and culture far more influenced and affected by the Genesis story than I was. The inhabitants of Armenia, the tiniest of the former Soviet Union’s republics located just east of Turkey, have a long tattered relationship with Noah’s story. That’s because Mount Ararat was amid their borders, a fact that brought much pride to the Armenian people. Throughout history Armenia has suffered incredible loss, torture, and discrimination at the hands of the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Byzantines, Arabs, Mongols, Ottoman Turks, and Russians. Armenia’s greatest loss was suffered under the Turks in 1915, when during World War 1 somewhere between 600,000 and 1.5 million were murdered or died of starvation. It’s said that the genocide of 1915 still haunts the Armenian people today. At some point during the mass murder of innocent Armenian people, the Turks secured control of the Mountains of Ararat. After suffering such immense loss, alas, Armenia lost one of its most prized possessions, Mt. Ararat. [Source]

However, despite Turkey stealing Mt. Ararat and all of its beauty from Armenia, the Turks did not take away the Armenian people’s deep and profound connection to the biblical story of Noah, a narrative that I’m told still lives and breathes and beats among its people, bringing them much national pride and inspiring them with a hope that God always provides a way out, a way through, a way forward.

Even when there’s great pain. Even amid long and terrible suffering. Even despite miserable unspeakable circumstances.

The Armenians have a long history of believing that God provides.

Next week, I’ll see Mt. Ararat. Oh how I wish my father could be with me on that day. I just know how much he’d enjoy seeing the mountain where Noah’s ark is said to be resting.

But according to those who have been there before, I’ll not only see the mountain where Noah saw the rainbow, I’ll experience the story of Noah through the stories and lives and cultures and faiths of Armenia’s people, its cathedrals, its pain.

While encountering the echoes of Noah, I’ll also witness poverty. I was told that the poverty I’ll run into in Armenia will be unlike any poverty I’ve seen before. Which is saying something considering I’ve seen what poverty looks like in Asia, Africa, South and Central America, Europe, and in Chicago, Appalachia, Philadelphia, and Nashville, Tennessee.

For a long time, I’ve wondered what the story of Noah really says about God. Because God seems so bipolar in Noah’s story, a deity who’s portrayed as both the antagonist and hero, the taker and provider, a wrecking ball and the restorer, the terror and the salvation. Oh how that biblical story leaves me with questions, frustrations, and doubt. For me, Noah’s story is just so difficult to comprehend, so much so that I’ve mostly avoid talking about it with my kids, unsure how to explain the seemingly dual roles of God. Lately, I’ve become convinced that I might always have those questions and frustrations. And I’m okay with that.

However, for the next 10 days, I’m pushing pause on my godly wonderings regarding Noah’s story. I’m not going to pack or unpack any of those big questions. In fact, I’m not even going to take the questions with me. Now, they might well up inside while I’m there. But it won’t be on purpose because I want to encounter the tragedy and hope of Noah and the Great Flood through the lens of a people who have suffered terrible loss and yet find hope and faith to believe that God will provide. I want to experience the mystery of Noah again, without my questions and/or conclusions.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll get to play the tiniest of roles in the restoration that God has planned for Armenia. And too, maybe I’ll be able to encourage others to become small portions of Armenia’s new beginning.

And perhaps I’ll see a rainbow.

Oh how I’d love to see a rainbow. Or bet yet, be a rainbow, cast a colorful reflection of God’s promise over the life of a child and his or her family.

Six weeks ago, my family and I sponsored this little girl:

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Isn’t she just delightful? She’s 5. And her name is Angelina. I’ll have the pleasure of meeting Angelina and her family next week.

Right now, thousands of little ones are hoping for their own rainbows… would you consider joining me in sponsoring a child from Armenia through World Vision?

Whether you sponsor a child or not, I hope you will join me as I go on this adventure, this quest to reengage a biblical story that I’ve known my whole life, my search amid heartbreak and hunger for a glimpse of a rainbow, the promises of God.

Why We Become Morons When it Snows

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I live in Nashville, and I’ll be the first to admit that a lot of people in this town turn into complete morons whenever we hear rumors that we might be getting flurries. Yes, the chance for flurries make some of us really nervous and compulsive. As soon as our weather people start talking about flurries like its frozen acid, a lot of us start to get urges to go grocery shopping, just to beat the mass rush. We buy bread. We buy toilet paper. We buy frozen pizzas, twinkles, and potato chips. After trips to the grocery store, some of us run out to purchase new snow shovels and bags of salt not because we need them but because we’ve misplaced the shovel and salt we bought the last time Old Man Winter put his creepy cold hand on our thigh. And then we come home, sit on our couches, eat our chips, and we watch The Weather Channel until we feel Winter’s fingers moving up our leg.

Of course, usually the rumors turn out to be really cold rain.

But the reasons why we go through the same theatrics each and every time even though the majority of the snow storms never come is because, just like most us believe that hand holding leads to babies, we’ve learned from experience that flurries lead to 25 car pileups. Old Man Winter isn’t just a dirty old bastard to us Nashvillians, but rather he’s a peeping Tom who stands outside our window and watches us watching the Weather Channel and laughs. And sometimes he comes he comes inside and chases us around the house with a steak knife. Which is why we embrace fully the fear that a snow storm eventually kills, because in Nashville, it’s true. Flurries kill.

Snow kills drivers on our highways. It kills our kids’s chances of going to school for days. It kills our plans of going to the Apple Store at the Green Hills Mall. Snow kills everything eventually. And we’re afraid of it.

But our fear and loathing of snow is nothing compared to what we feel when Old Man Winter lays a thin layer of ice on our city. I mean, you people who live in places like Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and Canada laugh at us because 3 inches of snow shuts our city down for at least 3 days plus or minus 2. And maybe, when it comes to snow, your jokes are warranted. I mean the last time 4 inches of snow hit our town, it was like an apocalypse! There were more cars in ditches than there were on the road. Because we’re terrible drivers on dry land, we turn into serial killers when it snows. And it’s true, most of you could maneuver around this town in 3 inches of snow with the ease of John Maher visiting an STD clinic.

But what if that inch of snow were ice? Because that’s what Nashville got slammed with yesterday–an inch or so of ice! Yes, ice. Like seriously, Nancy Kerrigan could lace up and go out on any one of our side streets and perform a double axel. Well technically, Nancy could never really do a double axel. But you know what I mean. It’s ice–a thick layer of ice. Ice that you slip and slide on. It’s great for sledding but unless your Santa with a sleigh, getting around on it in a car isn’t easy whether you’re from Nashville or the Tundra.

Yesterday, more than 200 hundred accidents happened around Nashville. It would have been even worse had it snowed rather than sleeted–because more of Nashville’s morons would have ventured out onto the roads in the snow. Go ahead and poke fun at us for acting like Justin Bieber on Instagram whenever it snows. Because honestly, it’s sort of pathetic.

But ice storms are completely different! That’s what we tell ourselves anyway, that not even an Eskimo would be able to drive his or her minivan around on ice. And if that’s not true, don’t tell us, ok?! Because deep down we’re ashamed of how we act in snow but we believer that how we act on ice is how anybody would act on ice. Why? Because Old Man Winter is a stalker! He’s Kevin Bacon in River Wild. He’s Nicole Kidman during every live interview. He puts ice on our roads! And for 72 hours, he murders our hopes and dreams and belittles our egos.

 

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Buy Jessica Turner’s book, The Fringe Hours: Making Time For You!

Progressive Fundamentalism: A necessary conversation

I grew up in a church environment that shunned people who didn’t believe exactly the same things about God and culture that I believed in. Our community wasn’t built on love, peace, and understanding; its foundation was agreement. Disagreements often caused huge conflicts, many of which ended with somebody being asked to leave or leaving angrily on their own. Those people became like ghosts to those of us who remained. We didn’t talk to them, look at them, and went to great lengths to avoid them whenever we saw them around town.

I left that kind of religiosity on purpose, because it was emotionally and spiritually suffocating.

A gathering of any kind can certainly fall prey to the behavior of fundamentalism, though it seems to favor groups of people who commune together because of a belief or conviction. Belief and conviction are the two ingredients that make fundamentalism so prevalent among conservative Christians, evangelicals, charismatics, and the like.

But lately, I’ve encountered the spirit of fundamentalism among those who consider themselves progressive. This isn’t new trend, of course, but among progressive Christians, fundamentalisms are difficult to pinpoint because there’s a good bit of belief diversity among progressive believers. Assuming what most evangelicals believe isn’t a perfect art, but it’s certainly much easier to do than trying to assume what progressive believe. Our assumptions about progressives becomes much more accurate when considering the numbers of ways and reasons they challenge conservative and moderate Christians. So while fundamentalist tendencies have always existed among progressives, they tend to remain at a much lower volume than those from our more conservative sects.

But lately, perhaps because progressive Christianity is gaining in popularity or because it’s becoming more visible online, the mean spirited, anger-ridden, must-agree-on-everything spirituality that I grew up in has been boiling up among those who identify as progressive Christians, open-minded believers seemingly enraged with self-righteousness and intoxicated by the assumption that they have it right.

While progressive fundamentalism isn’t as common as the conservative evangelical variety that we’ve all encountered, it’s happening often enough that we need to start talking about it. Because it’s getting louder and more and more laced with God-and-self-inspired hatred. And because many of us progressive types have fought the good fight against American Christianity’s better known fundy culture for so long that it would be very easy for us to become tacky, mean-spirited believers without even realizing it, the kind of people who rally, complain, and shun each other just like those we have called out.

Last week, Benjamin L. Corey and I chatted about progressive fundamentalism on That God Show. I hope you’ll give it a listen.

Is grace disappearing from the good news? A review of Philip Yancey’s latest book

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**The following is a guest post by M. Dolon Hickmon**

I was attracted to Philip Yancey’s Vanishing Grace (Zondervan, 2014) by the back-jacket copy: ‘“Why does the church stir up such negative feelings?” Philip Yancey has been asking this all his life as a journalist. His perennial question is more relevant now than ever: in a twenty-year span starting in the mid-nineties, research shows that favorable opinions of Christianity have plummeted drastically—and opinions of Evangelicals have taken even deeper dives […] Why are so many asking, “What’s so good about the “Good News?”’

My own experiences suggest a few answers: I was raised in an independent fundamentalist Baptist church, where rigid gender roles and authoritarian parenting blurred into severe physical child abuse and scenes of bloody domestic violence. Groaning beneath our pastor’s harsh version of ‘Christian child discipline’, I lost faith in the power of prayer and in the goodness of god. During my mid-20s, I gave religion a second chance; but when I discovered the exact messages that had marred my childhood still going out from the pulpits, I became solidly confirmed as one of the “Nones”.

Still, I can’t help remembering the promise: a welcoming community headed by a benevolent pastor with answers for life’s thornier problems. I’m sure that I will never return to the fold of believers, but I do cling to the hope that future Christians might raise their children in churches that have learned from the past and adapted to become more protective of their youngest members. Because of that hope, I was drawn to Philip Yancey’s Vanishing Grace.

Out of the gate, Yancey impressed me with his willingness to engage with the width, depth and breadth of the church’s problems: ‘Divorce rates among Christians mirror the rest of society’s, as do the rates of physical and sexual abuse; sexual promiscuity among Christian teenagers is only marginally lower; only 9 percent of evangelicals fully tithe their money; evangelicals are among the most racist of any groups surveyed by George Gallup; Catholics have more abortions than the national average.’

Additional research spans across centuries and continents, touching on everything from high-profile scandals and private hypocrisy, to the enmeshment of religion in politics and the destructive power of hierarchal and authoritarian thinking in relations between the genders and generations. Yancey includes figures from surveys and polls (‘In total, 52 percent of those surveyed judged that religion does more harm than good.’) as well as anecdotes from private conversations with the disillusioned (‘“I tried religion […] The whole time I was sitting there I wanted to get out.”’)

In the early portions of this book, Yancey seems intent on following the advice of Lutheran scholar Martin Marty, who he quotes in chapter two: ‘”Hold up the mirror if you are a believer, and ask whether anything anyone is saying or doing gives legitimate grounds for anti-religion to voice itself and creates a market for [anti-religious ideas]”’. Unfortunately, the rest of Vanishing Grace veers away: after outlining all of the ways that churches have harmed the spiritual, emotional, and physical wellbeing of individuals, families, and entire communities, Yancey spends the remainder of his book strategizing about how evangelical Christians might win over new converts. By chapter three, it is evident that Vanishing Grace is not about correcting destructive doctrine and behavior, but rather about new ways to market the same old brands.

‘According to Barna surveys, 61 percent of today’s youth had been churched at one point during their teen years but are now spiritually disengaged,’ Yancey writes. On the previous page, he details the common experiences of many ‘postChristian’ youth, who carry memories of ‘a domineering parent, a youth director or priest guilty of sexual abuse, a nasty divorce which the church handled clumsily’. But rather than suggesting that churches get serious about rooting out problems that flourish in of their own congregations, Yancey frames the wounded as little more than hardened targets, who he likens to bitter divorcees: ‘A divorcee won’t easily fall for sweet nothings from a suitor — she’s heard them all before — and has a basic distrust of romance.’

With this view in mind, Yancey’s advice boils down to various strategies for psychoanalyzing the seriously aggrieved in order to come up with more sophisticated emotional manipulations and smoother, more tailored pick-up lines: ‘To communicate to postChristians I must first listen to their stories for clues to how they view the world and how they view people like me’; Yancey writes, having apparently forgotten a previous and very salient point, made using a quote from a woman of his acquaintance: ‘“It seems to completely undermine sincere relationship building if you are looking at people as ‘targets’ to convert.”’

Ultimately, Vanishing Grace does a fair job of explaining why people are abandoning the burning ships of modern evangelical faith. But rather than recommending changes that might put out the fires, this book is mostly about how to lure the previously burned back on board. In my opinion, this kind of ‘gospel’ is the worst of all bad news: it spells another trip through the ringer for those whose battered faith can least afford it; and it is also bad news for those who are born into churches that are best at turning vulnerable seekers into hardened spiritual divorcees.

To my mind, the weakness in Yancey’s logic is his conviction that those who have fled from toxic religion are left in a perpetual state of spiritual longing. Making this point, he quotes author Henri Nouwen: ‘“God help me to see others not as my enemies or as ungodly but rather as thirsty people. And give me the courage and compassion to offer your Living Water.”’ But for me, letting go of religion meant releasing an endless source of unhappiness and pain. Looking back, I don’t feel the least bit wistful about it. Eventually it doesn’t matter how much you polish up the promise: people will remember your faith for what was delivered. [Grade: C]

Vanishing Grace is available at Amazon and other fine retailers.


M. Dolon Hickmon is a freelance columnist for The Freethinker and OnFaith. He explores the intersections of religion and child abuse in essays published around the web, as well as in the pages of his critically acclaimed novel, 13:24 – A Story of Faith and Obsession. You can follow his writing on Twitter @TVOS1324.

Last Sunday, my church made me very uncomfortable (and that’s OK)

On Sunday, I walked into my church, dropped Elias and Adeline off at their classrooms, grabbed a cup of coffee, and found a seat in the auditorium. I was early, so as I waited, I scanned my Instagram feed and soon learned via one of the photos I saw that the church service I was getting ready to experience was apt to make me very uncomfortable. In fact, I was already uncomfortable.

It wasn’t the topic that caused me to feel uneasy or the obnoxious light show they often display, but rather the special guest they invited, somebody closely connected to a Christian organization that I think is toxic, a company that I personally find gross and impossible to support. At first, I silently panicked, scrolling through the Rolodex of sporadic thoughts running through my brain:

I’m offended.

I shouldn’t be offended.

I need to leave.

I don’t want to pull the kids out of their classes.

Should I pull the kids out of their classes and leave?

I don’t want to make a scene.

I sort of want to make a scene.

I’m offended but I don’t want to be offended. But why do I feel offended?

Having somebody like me as a member of your megachurch can’t be easy—I fully realize that. It requires a lot of grace, trust, and humor. I’m survivor of church abuse. I still carry baggage. While I’ve grown a lot, sometimes, when caught off guard, I can quickly fall back into making uncomfortable experiences like the one I was encountering last Sunday all about me, about me being hurt, about me not feeling safe, about my church not considering me. On top of that, I often write about church abuse. So yes, sometimes having me as a member of your church is a big ole pain in the ass.

But Pete and I have chatted about this a good bit. And despite our differences of opinions, he and I are friends and we trust each other. (He’s quite honestly one of the friendliest and sincere people I know).

But trust is a funny thing. Because trust doesn’t mean that I’ll never walk into an uncomfortable church experience. Trust doesn’t mean that I get to control or even influence the decisions my church makes. Trust doesn’t mean I’m entitled to become offended and voice my offenses in whatever way I want.

Trust means that I can be me. I don’t have to like every decision my church makes. Trust means my church and my pastor are free to make choices and decisions that might offend me. Trust means that, when necessary, we can talk about things. Trust means that our differences in opinions do not define our friendship.

Trust means that if something makes me uncomfortable, I can simply walk out of the service and sit in the lobby and play Words With Friends.

And that’s what I did.

One person, an employee of the church, asked me if I was okay. I sighed. And I hesitated.

But trust means I get to be honest.

“I’m not really okay at the moment. I’m not a fan of fill in the blank.”

She smiled, “that’s totally okay! We all have our likes and dislikes. And that’s okay.”

And that was all that was said. I didn’t tell her what made me uncomfortable. She didn’t ask. We sat their and chatted about kids, school, life for the rest of the service.

And you know what? I felt OK. I was OK.

And then I picked up Elias and Adeline and went home.

Trust isn’t always an easy journey, especially when it involves a church, friendships, and personal feelings and baggage. But trust gives me permission to not make every decision that my church makes about me. Trust gives me the ability to feel safe and listened to even when I disagree. Trust means that I don’t have to be one the congregation’s “yes people”.

Trust allows me to write this blog post…

I love my church. I don’t love it because I always agree with every decision the leadership makes. I love it because I trust the people making those decisions, even when they decide to invite a special guest from an organization that I don’t like.

Apparently, mini skirts talk…

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I found this vintage pamphlet at Christian Nightmares. I Googled its title because I was curious what mini skirts talk about.  I found Don W. Hillis’s text at ABaptistVoice.com. Here’s a short excerpt:

Unless I am misreading the situation we seem to make our wearers a bit self-conscious. At least the girl who wears me is always tugging at my hem. Though I am not an expert on human nature, this appears to indicate some kind of complex.

I have also noted that we miniskirts have the ability to attract a good deal of masculine attention even at church. At first I took pride in the fact that men are fascinated by my pattern and color design. However, just this morning I heard the preacher say that this was not really what the young men (some not so young) were looking at. Though I was all ears when he started to preach, “The Appeal Of A Miniskirt,” I was embarrassed before he was through.

He claimed that the miniskirt does not appeal to the aesthetic. According to him, there are dozens of other dresses more beautiful than I am. His blanket statement that miniskirts do not make an aesthetic, academic, economic, moral, or spiritual contribution to their wearers left me with a feeling that I was not such a great Christian after all.

He said the only appealing thing about me was my appeal to the flesh. Then he spoke for ten minutes on the carnality of human nature. He publicly accused me of contributing to the lust of the flesh. I felt a hard tug on my hem when he said that!

That’s a mouthful, even for the 1970s…

You can read the entire text here.