Blessed Are Those Who Don’t Need No Therapy–and other things Jesus never said.

I’m not pulling punches on this one.

I was incredibly sad to see Robin Williams go this week. It’s even more terrible and tragic that his death came at his own hand. And it’s even worse that some people called him a coward, or belittled his supposed lack of willpower in powering through life. I’d like to see some of these people spend 63 years in constant mental pain and then see who’s the coward.

There’s been some talk in the Christian blogosphere (from bloggers who I won’t link to because it would only increase their traffic and reward their unloving, click bait behavior) to the effect that depression is a spiritual malady best treated with joyful thoughts, and that too much talk of brain chemistry and medical treatment is a modern distraction. Christians should, so these people say, view suicide as a conscious choice to reject all the good in this world, and the rest of us should therefore place suicide victims outside the “victim” category because it was really just their own selfish choice.


Despite all the available information about the medical side of depression, I’m upset to see so many people sharing these sentiments and going right along with them. The lack of nuance in the conversations is worrying the bejeebers out of me, and I’d like to have a chat about it with you.

Modern psychology has known for awhile now that depression is a complex animal with many factors. Life circumstance, habits of thought, brain chemicals, and physical ailments can all contribute to depression, and each might be explored as part of a treatment plan to alleviate it. As a Christ follower, I also believe that spirituality interacts with our depression. But then, as a Christ follower, I believe that all our experiences have a spiritual component to them, so this is almost as obvious as saying that the meaning of life has a spiritual component to it, or that the love for a child has a spiritual component to it. As we used to say back in the 90s, “Duh!”

Yet some people take this further, stretching the implications of this truth way too far. They get suspicious of medication and psycotherapy as real answers, stressing instead the need for God’s joy and spiritual healing as the “real” answer over and against the “false” answer of depression as a medical condition. This makes little sense to me. Saying that we should downplay the role of brain chemistry in depression just because we know a spiritual component exists is like saying that a cancer patient should downplay chemo just because we know that nutrition helps fight cancer, too.

Christians accept the role of medicine alongside faith in just about every other type of ailment, without seeing the two as being pitted against each other. Mention a serious ailment like Lukemia, AIDS, Parkinson’s, or Alzheimer’s, and most Christians will immediately say “I’ll pray for you,” indicating that faith and prayer are part of the healing. Those same people would not, however, say, “I’ll pray for you, so that means you don’t need to take your medication or follow your doctor’s orders.” Rather, they accept that faith, prayer, and modern medicine are going to work together in harmony–not competition.

It seems that some of the bloggers and nay-sayers who talk about depression are assuming that if feelings are happening inside your head, rather than outwardly on your body or organs, then those feelings can’t possibly be tied to physical processes; they’re all spiritual. And we know from science that it’s simply more complex than that. There are physical and spiritual forces at play in our brains; thus you need physical and spiritual healing to deal with it.

Next up–what’s with this insistence that enough faith and enough joy will allow or facilitate healing from depression? Isn’t that dancing at the edge of being a prosperity gospel, one in which God rewards you like a slot machine for putting in enough Faith or Joy tokens?

When I was 17, someone apparently entered my name in the Anxiety Lottery without my permission, and sadly, my number was picked. I became the lucky recipient of an obsessive worry problem that I’ll likely be managing for the rest of my life. At that young age, I didn’t understand why my feelings were so out-of-control, so I prayed about it constantly. When God didn’t heal my fears and obsessions and phobias, I began to suspect that He had rejected me. What other assumption could I make? Why wasn’t He fixing the problem?

During this time, my parents taught me something that I count among the top five pieces of life advice I have ever received. They pointed out to me that I was asking God to heal me immediately from my fears, the way one might ask God to heal a broken leg overnight or make a new job drop in your lap. Sure, they said, miracles are possible, but do we really walk around expecting God to zap our every prayer into being immediately? Doesn’t God usually work over time, in various ways, without revealing the end of the path? Why should that be different just because the problem is in our head, and not something outwardly physical? Did I expect Him to reach down and magically rearrange my brain wiring when maybe His plan involved leading me through a process of healing?

I’m not saying that’s any kind of easy answer. When your brain feels like it’s doing time in Hell’s version of Alcatraz, of course any rational person would wish for immediate healing. There is legitimate grief, anger, and confusion when emotional healing doesn’t come fast. But the point is, we mustn’t get unrealistic expectations about how God works. A person with a broken leg expects to go to physical therapy and stay off the leg for awhile and receive strength and patience from God during the healing period. A person who needs a job sends out job applications and pray that God guides them to the right place.

By the same token, it’s normal to need professional help and medication, and to take time to heal, and to feel like utter crap while doing so. It doesn’t mean you’re doing faith wrong. It doesn’t mean God rejected you. It doesn’t mean you’re wasting your time with medication while you should be sitting on your couch waiting for Joy-with-a-capital-J to show up.

For the record, my own treatment for anxiety involves a professional therapist, supportive friends and family, exercise, keeping a job outside the home, and the Holy Spirit. Should medication ever need to enter the picture, I won’t hesitate.

We also need to address this pernicious (and baffling) idea making the rounds that depression and joy cannot co-exist in the same mind, and that joy is therefore a cure for depression. I’m not sure why anyone would ever think this, but here is a good resource by a Christian woman for dispelling that myth. If you’re still unsure, ask around with people who have been depressed. I’m sure they can give you many more personal examples of joy and utter depresson coexisting. Life is nuanced. Life is gray. Get used to that.

No discussion of this subject could be complete without addressing this next point: is depression-induced suicide a refusal to see the goodness in life?

Besides being needlessly antagonistic and utterly insensitive to grieving family members left behind, this statement is just plain wrong. Taking one’s own life is not based on the refusal to see life as good. It’s based on the belief that you cannot attain life’s goodness.

When you know you should be able to enjoy things, but literally can’t–when you know loved ones care for you, but they can’t sit in your pain with you–when you see other people functioning, but can’t get yourself to function–you are painfully aware of how good life is…for everyone else. You just can’t get there yourself.

This, by the way, is why depression is so isolating. You look outside of yourself and see a happy world full of happy people. But you can’t be there with them, and they can’t come inside the depression with you. It’s not a lack of desire to see joy and have hope; it’s an inability to break down a wall that your brain created without your permission.

To say that someone who is depressed or suicidal is refusing to see life’s goodness is like saying that a slave who can’t escape a captor is refusing to know what freedom is. You may know it, you may want it, but you don’t believe you can get to it.

I mean, let’s stop and think about this for one second. One second. Who on earth would ever choose to be miserable enough to kill themselves? Who on earth would ever say, “I’m in so much pain I want to die. There’s an answer in the form of hope and happiness and joy and good things, and all of those sound lovely, but….nah. I’m too lazy. I think I’ll just painfully cut my wrists open, or strangle to death on the end of a rope, rather than regain happiness.” Who says that??

This refusal-to-see-the-good-life idea is such utter, complete, ignorant, cruel, ridiculous tripe that there aren’t enough words in the English language to criticize it, or to describe the careless stupidity one must possess to spout it in judgment two days after a beloved actor has left a grieving family behind. And that’s saying something, because do you know how vast and descriptive the English language is?

Now to the final bit. It has come to my attention that some people are playing the Personal Experience card to de-legitimize other people’s experiences. Here’s how it works. Person X says, “Depression feels insurmountable; people who kill themselves must have been in so much pain.” Person Y says, “Oh yeah? Well I’ve struggled with these issues, too, so I can say from experience that you can get out of depression with this spiritual formula.”

Well, if we’re going to play the Personal Experience card, guess what? I have one of those cards too.

Having dealt with anxiety since I was a teenager, I’ve had my fair share of bouts with depression. Here’s the interesting part: my depression is usually a byproduct of anxiety (in fact, I hesitate to even call it depression because of that, but let’s do for the sake of argument). Because it’s a product of my anxiety, my attempts to fix my anxiety by changing thoughts and changing focus usually go a long way to alleviate the depression. So in a way, I could fit the profile that many of these bloggers want everyone to believe–the profile of the depressed person who finds a way to pull herself back into joy.

Yet even I, someone who found ways to pull myself out of depressed feelings, completely affirm the reality that many cases of clinical depression are too debilitating for people to fix on their own, and cannot be solved with enough joyful thoughts, especially if they’re due to chemical imbalance. Even I, who should fit these bloggers’ categories, believe their theories about depression are complete poo.

I could use my personal experience to belittle and blame people who have a different depressive experience than I do, but I don’t. You know why? Well, first, because I’m not a jerk. But second, it’s because I recognize that my experience is very particular to me, and that I have not experienced the kind of severe, brain-chemistry based clinical depression that some people struggle with. And I would not want those other people to tell me how my anxiety-driven depression should work, or to make predictions about how to fix it. What’s useful is to learn from each other’s experiences, recognize the differences, and support each other. So let’s drop this charade that heaving dealt with “these issues” somehow gives us insight into the experience of every depressed person. Shall we?

If I sound angrier than usual, it’s because I have finally lost patience for people hurting each other. I will grieve for Robin Williams and the millions like him in the world who suffer from a silent hell, and I will not be polite when people say ignorant things about them.

In Defense of YA, and of Positivity in General


I thought I’d better say something about the infamous “Against YA” article in Slate, since, you know…I have a degree in this subject.
A few days ago, Slate contributor Ruth Graham wrote a piece in which she chided adults for reading young adult fiction. YA is alright for teens, she says, but grown-ups should be “embarrassed” if the bulk of their library consists more of YA than adult literature. She laments that about half of all YA books are purchased by readers who are above the target audience of 12- to 17-year-olds. To her, that’s a problem.

It would be hard to find any article with which I disagree more thoroughly—and not just because I happen to write the genre that she’s suggesting adults abandon. I find her argument flawed in nearly every paragraph, and feel the need to defend a genre that adults are finally beginning to wake up to.
The first thing I disagreed with was her ham-fisted usage of John Green’s novel The Fault In Our Stars, which she simultaneously misinterprets and manipulates to suit her own argument:  

I’m a reader who did not weep, contra every article ever written about the book, when I read The Fault in Our Stars. I thought, Hmm, that’s a nicely written book for 13-year-olds. If I’m being honest, it also left me saying “Oh, brother” out loud more than once. Does this make me heartless? Or does it make me a grown-up? This is, after all, a book that features a devastatingly handsome teen boy who says things like “I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things” to his girlfriend, whom he then tenderly deflowers on a European vacation he arranged.

Absent, of course, is any mention of what Fault In Our Stars is actually about. Props to her for finding the one detail in the book that sounds stereotypically teenage-ish and wording it in the shallowest way possible. She conveniently omits that it’s a book about a teen with cancer who struggles with the knowledge of what her death will mean to her loved ones, and can’t seem to find any meaning in what’s happening to her.
But I guess no one wonders about life and death, or worries about hurting people, or gets cancer past age 13?
It’s actually quite ironic that she uses the age 13. That’s the age I was when I watched my grandmother die of cancer. And all those questions that are central to the book—about the meaning or not-meaning of death, the messiness of death, and our struggle to live with its reality—were not resolved in my mind when my grandmother died. They were only beginning. They never truly got resolved, and they never can be, which is why the book haunts me so at age 30. Why she thinks a preteen is the only one for whom this book is appropriate is beyond me. If she figured out the answers to death at age 14, I sure wish she’d come share it with me.
She also has this to say:

But even the myriad defenders of YA fiction admit that the enjoyment of reading this stuff has to do with escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia. As the writer Jen Doll, who used to have a column called “YA for Grownups,” put it in an essay last year, “At its heart, YA aims to be pleasurable.”

I’m not sure what she counts as a “myriad” since she doesn’t explain who she polled and/or interviewed, but I don’t know anyone who would self-identify as reading YA for instant gratification. Believe me; anyone who was into Harry Potter while the series was unfinished understands the utter futility of wishing for instant gratification.
But on a serious note, I’m baffled as to why she made this claim. General YA readers truly don’t, in my experience, say that the books allow them instant gratification or are primarily about nostalgia. Most readers of YA read a book because the protagonist is interesting and the story is captivating. Isn’t that why we read anybook? Also, how does the word “pleasurable” imply escapism or nostalgia? I find many adult books “pleasurable” that are far from escapist or nostalgic, and plenty of YA, too.

But crucially, YA books present the teenage perspective in a fundamentally uncritical way.

I’m not even sure what she means here. She seems to imply that viewing the world from a teen perspective becomes obsolete once you gain enough life experience.
But who says? Who says that teens see life in a fundamentally different way from adults? Yes, it’s true that we (hopefully) develop a more nuanced understanding of the world past age 18. We learn to take social slights with a grain of salt, we quit stressing about pimples, we start to see our parents as people rather than decrepit caretakers. But there are many things about life that we do see accurately as teenagers. By the time I went to college, I had done much observing of life and death and hope and spirituality and social dynamics and dreams. Whatever immaturity hang-ups teens have, it doesn’t disqualify them from also knowing good and true things. In fact, sometimes I think I was wiser about certain issues—such as my work-life balance—at 17 than I am at 30.
Ironically, there’s even a scene from Fault In Our Stars that makes this very argument! (The scene in the Ann Frank House, anyone?)
Furthermore, when I’m, say, 50, should I stop reading adult literature that has 30-year-old protagonists? After all, I will have outgrown the 30-year-old perspective on life, according to Graham’s theory. Should we divide adult literature into “middle-age” and “elderly” genres and get snooty about the age groups directly below ours?

Most importantly, these books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple. YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction.

I take it she’s never read Hunger Games, which ends with the PTSD-riddled protagonist becoming estranged from the former lover involved in her sister’s death, and struggling to make a relationship with a man who formed a trauma-induced attachment to her.
I guess The Hanged Man is not on her shelf. It’s about a girl who comes to terms with being molested and ends the novel plotting how to save her best friend from a self-destructive fate (we never see the outcome).
Let’s assume she skipped my friend Sara Farizan’s book If You Could Be Mine, which ends on an emotionally devastating note when a character realizes she married someone she can’t love, and can’t do anything about it.
Do these books count as the “nowhere” that the ambiguity of the real world is evidenced in YA fiction?
For that matter, has Graham read any adult fiction? If emotionally “satisfying” endings that look to the future are a sign of immaturity, then we must re-categorize popular adult works like To Kill A Mockingbird, Rosie, Lord of the Rings, and Gilead, as being overly-simplistic YA. All of these have very satisfying endings and thus don’t fit her vision of the supposedly adult, supposedly real, world.
To be honest, this article got my dander up so hard because I hate when satisfaction and hope are seen as childish fantasies that one outgrows. If one seriously believes this, why would one even get up in the morning, let alone stare at a glowing monitor and type a series of symbols in hopes to create meaning and communicate with fellow creatures about the genre of meaning-making symbols they read?
You may think I’m waxing philosophical, but really. We walk around and form attachments and contribute to society because we think there is some spark of hope in what we do, some meaning, and we follow that instinct in spite of ambiguity and hardship. It’s not that kids enjoy hopeful endings because they haven’t learned better; it’s that people enjoy hopeful endings because their hearts just won’t stop yearning that direction.
Let’s finish this train wreck. Graham proves that she hasn’t actually understood Fault In Our Stars when she claims that the protagonist Hazel “finds messy, unresolved stories unacceptably annoying,” (even though Hazel is the character who constantly reminds others that the prospect of death is pointless and messy and irresolvable through platitudes). Graham gives hollow lip service to politeness by claiming that she doesn’t wish to shame anyone’s reading list (this is the blogger’s equivalent of the “No offense, but…” routine, in which yes, one actually does mean offense). She encourages adults to read about protagonists they can’t empathize with (I guess Ann Lamott will now have to be considered a YA writer, because Lamott is famous for stating in her book Bird by Bird that “I like for narrators to be like the people I choose for friends, which is to say that they have a lot of the same flaws as I.”) And finally, she states that adults are “better” than all this satisfying YA crap.
If being an adult means going beyond hope, satisfaction, and empathy, then, my friend, I am not along for the ride. I will remain a young adult for the rest of my life, along with many of the most famous adult writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
And that’s really where the subject touches home for me. It’s not just about the lack of knowledge of the YA genre, nor the logical fallacies in her article, nor the frustration of a writer arguing about books she doesn’t understand, or even the hair-tearing at watching someone claim her insults aren’t insulting. This is also about whether adults are allowed to be hopeful—whether cynicism is the mandatory mantle of the high school graduate. She seems to think that with increased intellect and life experience comes decreased satisfaction and hope and pleasure.
Probably the best thing I can say in response to that, is this:
J.R.R. Tolkien was a genius. Really, the man was no dummy. He invented, in one lifetime, the kind of mythology that typically takes centuries to develop. He was fluent in several dead languages, and snored his way through school at Oxford, where he ended up teaching.
This extremely intelligent adult also had a very hard life. He grew up with no father and lost his mother at a young age, forever scarring him emotionally. As a teenage orphan, he was separated from the love of his life for many years due to the short-sighted decision of his legal guardian. When he later found his love and married her, they often had a difficult home life, strained even further when he went away to the horrors of World War I. He saw friends die. He lurched through middle age carrying the emotional battle scars and living what most would consider a drab and unremarkable life, lost his wife years before his own death, and finally passed away without fanfare or trumpets in the 1970s.
Yet this remarkable man, much smarter and more acquainted with the sorrows of the world than I or Ruth Graham will probably ever be, coined the term “eucatastrophe,” which means a sudden and unexpected reversal from bad circumstances into incredibly good ones. It is described as a sudden “turn” from sorrow to joy.
Tolkien once commented on how frequently we experience eucatastrophes in real life…and how infrequently in the modern novel.

Christian Feminism: Friend or Foe? Part 2



As we saw in yesterday‘s post, a recent article made the argument that feminism is unnecessary for Christians, and I gave my view on why that’s not so. As promised yesterday, I want to spend this post examining the second main objection that Walsh raised against feminism (again, with the understanding that I am picking on his article because it represents a widely-held view among many Christians, not just Walsh himself).

 
His other question is equally legitimate and also deserves a serious answer. Even if feminism is not redundant to the Christian faith, is it worth it, if it comes with so much baggage?
He brings up several different points included in this notion of baggage, and I want to deal with them in order of importance. So, let’s start with abortion.
Walsh, like many other Christians (comp and egal alike), is suspicious of feminism because it has so many ties with the pro-choice movement. Lots of peole feel too uncomfortable with that to identify as feminist. That is their right. I must leave it to every individual to decide where their comfort level is with that, and I’m not trying to gloss over how seriously many people take that issue.
But Walsh goes a little further and claims that no Christian anywhere should be able to hold a different opinion or level of comfort. His claims, plus the amount of time he spends on the abortion issue, make it sound as though abortion is about 95 percent of feminism’s purpose:

The concepts are contradictory, [feminists] argue, and I agree — though I’d say the term ‘pro-life feminist’ could be more aptly compared to ‘abolitionist slave trader’ or ‘free market communist.’

Personally, I have to disagree. I believe, through reading feminist blogs and having conversations with women who identify as modern-day feminists, that feminism’s main focus is to explore the ways in which society has unhealthy beliefs about gender. That can include certain beliefs about the rightness or wrongness of abortion, but abortion certainly is not the only (or even main) focus for most of the feminists that I personally deal with in everyday life. And it is certainly not the only social concern that feminists are working to affect (other social concerns include equal pay, sex trafficking, female representation in government, the portrayal of women in the media, and more).
Most of the feminists that I speak with talk to me about unfair policies toward women in the workforce; about the horrors of rape culture; about expectations for how women should dress and act; about dynamics between husbands and wives, etc. Those are the issues that many of my personal feminist friends seem most concerned about, and they’re the issues I see being written about and broadcasted by feminists in the wider media. In fact, I have gotten into many more abortion discussions with Christians than I ever have with feminists.
Now, I don’t want to be disingenuous here. There are indeed some (many?) feminists who don’t believe you can be a feminist unless you are pro-choice. However, the reality is, there are feminists who agree on every other issue except the abortion one. Those people do exist, and I see no law or Gestapo preventing pro-life Christian women from identifying as feminist. So, why not? To me, saying that the feminist movement is focused on or inextricably tied to abortion just doesn’t ring completely true.
Now, again, if someone else feels differently, s/he has every right to reject the feminist label. But where I think the line is crossed, is where that person tells other people that we are not allowed to see feminism as being about more than abortion, just because s/he doesn’t.
Moving past the abortion issue, the next largest issue that is often brought against feminism is that it doesn’t square with a complementarian view of the sexes. “Complementarianism,” coined in the 70s (see, I can read about the history of gender theory, too), is the belief that God ordained a high degree of difference between the sexes and intends men for one type of “role” within the family and church, and women for another type of “role.” Men are leaders; women are supporters.
I think a belief in complementarianism is why Walsh said the following against feminism:

To be equal is to be the same. Women are not equal to men because they are not the same as men. Therefore, a woman’s freedom is really slavery if it forces her to abandon all of the unique feminine abilities and characteristics that make her a woman. The same could be said for men, if his freedom requires him to shirk that which sets him apart from women and makes him a man.

The problem with using complementarianism to prove that feminism is un-Christian is, of course, that not all Christians are complementarian! Many egalitarian Christians (in organizations like God’s Word to Women and Christians for Biblical Equality) believe that complementarianism is an incorrect interpretation of a handful of Biblical passages. They believe in mutual submission between husband and wife, in the leadership capabilities of women, and in the rights of husbands and wives to divide traditionally feminine and masculine “roles” within the home however they want. And as for not being the same, egalitarians believe that Adam’s delight with Even was because of her sameness to him, not because of her difference. “Then the man said, ‘At last, here is one of my own kind—bone taken from my bone, and flesh, from my flesh.” (Genesis 2:23, Today’s English Version).
Thus, I’m not sure that feminism is incompatible with “being a Christian.” It may be incompatible with “being a complementarian Christian.” To prove that Christians shouldn’t be feminists, Walsh would first have to prove that they shouldn’t be egalitarians. Until he and other anti-feminists can do that, they can’t really use the complementarian line as an example of feminism’s evils.
And while we’re on the subject…why does Walsh get to define what Christian feminists mean when they say the word “equal”? He seems to think that word means “having no difference in their essence.” Actually, many Christian feminists do accept a difference in gender makeup to some degree (and others don’t), but that has nothingto do with what they mean when they say “equal.” The word “equal” in Christian feminist discussions is often employed to mean equality of opportunity (such as ministering alongside men, being able to get a job after motherhood, and not viewing your husband as your authority). It’s bad rhetoric for a writer to claim that the term must mean interchangeability of essence or being, when the people he’s arguing with don’t use the term that way. To truly engage someone, you have to address what they’re actually saying, not some cliché you pretend they’re saying (that’s something we cover in my freshman-level writing class each year).
Perhaps I could say that every time Walsh uses the word “women” he actually means “tyrannosaurus.” I could then claim that his argument makes no sense, since tyrannosauruses don’t exist anymore, and aren’t, in any case, human. But that wouldn’t make me right.
And speaking of bad rhetoric…
To Walsh’s other points about the baggage of feminism, I simply have to disagree with most of them. They read like the outdated caricature of second-wave feminism that preachers crafted to scare parishioners during the 70s and 80s.

From the very beginning, at its earliest stages, feminism was a movement designed to find equality with men — and then dominance over them. Christianity has always taught harmony and love between the sexes, while feminism preaches competition and exclusion.

Oh, okay, so we’re just going to start saying things now and sayingthem will make them true just because? Well I’m going to say that the highway is made of snakes, and my husband is actually a unicorn, and the square root of cheese equals a Tiffany lamp.
Sorry to lose my cool, but this was the point at which my patience with this article evaporated. The Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz was less a straw man than this argument. I don’t personally know any feminists who want dominance over men or treat men that way. Feminist culture is actually against such things, believing men and women to be equal in value and capability, with neither deserving to dominate. It is dangerous to equate the pursuit of equality with grasping for dominance. By that reasoning, you’d have to say that the Civil Rights movement was about black people wanting to dominate white people. Today, all of us recognize that for the unfair, bigoted scare tactic that it was, so why is it okay to make the same argument about feminism?
And as far as competition and the destruction of harmony…do you know where I learned to roll my eyes at men, bash husbands behind their backs, and believe that “Men are from Mars; women are from Venus?” From pop culture and, ironically, watching other Christian women. In fact, the women I’ve known who were the most prone to hold bitterness against men, and to struggle with feelings of competition toward their boyfriend or husband, were women who were farther along the spectrum of anti-feminism.
It was feminism that helped me see the destructiveness of such behavior. Feminism helped me see the harmony that can exist between the sexes, and has trained me out of the eye-rolling and husband-bashing that women are expected to engage in. Other feminists are often the first to join me in complaining about commercials and shows that make dads look stupid and inadequate; they’re often the first to insist that rape culture degrades the character of men, too. And let’s not forget that plenty of happy, confident, well-adjusted men are feminists and don’t feel threatened by it.
Again, I came to realize that these harmonious attitudes between the genders were God’s intention, and soon saw how it lined up with Biblical truth (Galatians 3:28, anyone? Ephesians 5:21? Or how about Eve being an “ezer kenegdo”?) But the rhetoric of feminism assisted me in seeing the truth that was already there, and gives me language to explain myself when pop culture (and yes, church and complementarian culture) wants to re-introduce elements of competition.
There are also a lot of hot-button phrases mentioned in the article, such as wedges being driven between husband and wife, and chasms being opened between women and their children. Actually, I’ve seen feminist living arrangements close the chasm between moms and babes, as child-rearing duties are shared equally by the dad, allowing the mom to be less overwhelmed and frustrated and more able to enjoy her kids. Most of the feminists I know have close, happy relationships with their spouse. In my experience, marital troubles come just as easily to people who don’t identify as feminist as those who do.
I’m getting a little exhausted, so I think I have to stop. I hope I’ve made my point by now. This hung so heavy on my mind last night that I started working on it first thing this morning. Then my computer installed automatic updates, shutting Word down suddenly and losing everything, but my husband found the lost file for me over his lunch. Go team! Just another example of the bitter, competitive, selfish marriage partners that feminism produces, I tell ya.
The bottom line, though, is that no one must identify as a feminist. I really, truly respect people who are uncomfortable with the term, including other egalitarians. But if you’re going to attempt to convince everyone else that they should be uncomfortable too, you need to fight fair and have good reasoning behind you.
Consider these two feminist posts part of my 40 Days of Easter Project. Because really, I can’t think of a better way to have spent these hours of the last two days than writing about a topic that makes me so passionate. I am truly a lucky person!

Christian Feminism: Friend or Foe? Part I


A recent article warned Christian women (and men, in parentheses) that Feminism Is Not Your Friend. It asked whether feminism and Christianity are incompatible.

This is a question many Christians on both sides of the aisle are asking. (For those who don’t know, “the aisle” means the divide between Christian complementarians and egalitarians. Complementarians believe the Bible teaches a spiritual hierarchy with men in leadership in society, church, and home, and women in supportive roles. Egalitarians believe this is a misreading of Scripture, and that men and women are equally gifted to lead in society, church, and home.) In any case, I’ve heard many discussions about this within Christendom over the last few years, so I was interested to see it come up again.
I wasn’t thrilled with the tone of the article. It came off as belligerent and flame-ish, possibly to get page views—or, says the more charitable part of me, maybe because the author really is passionate about the subject. Either way, I decided to talk about it because the article echoed some basic questions being asked by many: what is the proper relationship between Christianity and feminism? Should Christians call themselves feminists? Are those two terms antithetical? Even Christian egalitarians are divided over these questions. I should know; I identify as one, and spend time hashing it out with fellow believers.
This article addresses a twofold question: Do Christians need to identify as feminist, and should they, given feminists supposedly anti-Christian baggage? I want to address these two questions separately, starting with the first and most important.
At the most basic level, I think the author, Matt Walsh, is asking what many people want to know. Is feminism is necessary for one who is a Christian? Here’s a quote that seems to sum up a lot of his thoughts:

 But why argue over this? If you believe that women should have equal protection under the law — good. I agree with you. Almost everybody agrees with you. That belief just makes you a constitutionalist. If you believe that women possess an equal inherent worth and dignity — great. I agree with you. That belief either makes you Christian, or brings you closer to becoming one. All of the ground is covered, there is no need for feminism.

In other words, he’s saying, isn’t Christianity enough? If Christianity teaches the basic dignity of all human beings, then is feminism just a redundant title that comes with some baggage?
After all, he says, feminism wasn’t the first to reveal the worth and dignity of women:

No, feminism did not reveal this. Christianity revealed it. Christ revealed it.

I totally agree! Jesus treated women, even outcast women, like equals (John 4:7-27). He instructed Mary and Martha to learn theology alongside men instead of doing housework (Luke 10:38-42). He made sure the first evangelists were women (John 20:11-18). And he never breathed a word against women leading or ministering. So yes, I have to agree that Christ beat feminism to the punch by almost 2,000 years.
But it’s a shaky logical to leap to assume that we should therefore see feminism as a redundant thing.
I mean, the Bible reveals a lot about the human heart, but I don’t therefore see modern-day psychology as a redundant thing. The Bible talks about marriage, but I don’t therefore see marital counseling as a redundant thing. The Bible talks about living in an orderly way, but I don’t therefore see our country’s law as a redundant thing. Human ideas, concepts, and institutions can explore timeless truths in new ways—albeit imperfectly.
Even though feminism isn’t perfect, it fulfills a couple of important roles that I think are needed. First, it helps reveal the aspects of sexism that we have become desensitized to.It brings attention to the subtle ways in which women are conditioned to step back, to shrink down, to obsess over body image, to acquiesce to men, to take blame, to accept second-rate treatment. The Bible is a great tool for observing that we are all “one in Christ” without gender hierarchy (Galatians 3:28), but patriarchy runs deep in our psyche, and the Bible doesn’t give us a blueprint of exactly how to root it out in every situation.
Second, feminism is an access point to the timeless truth of women’s dignity for those who aren’t religious. That alone should give pause to someone who believes that gender harmony is God’s plan for the world; feminism is taking that message even to people who can’t get it directly through belief in Christ.
Third, Christian feminists and Christian egalitarians believe that large swaths of the church have got it wrong about gender roles. Many believe that the church doesn’trecognize or address sexism as it should. They believe the message still needs to be discussed, and since they are a subset and not the whole of the population, they will adopt that extra label and try to draw attention to what they believe—much the same way that a Calvinist will identify as such to show her beliefs about predestination and God’s sovereignty, or the way a Christian environmentalist would adopt the “environmentalist” label to show that he thinks Christians should consider the environment more.
I hope the above examples show that all the ground is most certainly not covered just by the existence of Christianity as a dominant religion, and that feminists might legitimately see a niche for the movement still to fill. If anything, you must have your head in the sand to not realize that women are still unequal in today’s world. In many countries they have virtually no rights and can be sold like chattel. Even in developed countries, it’s common for women to be underpaid, undervalued, stressed out, and told by their churches and their spouses and TV commercials that they’re not enough (and then bloggers get after them for finding a movement that makes them feel halfway decent sometimes).
I find the claim that feminism has already reached its goal to be spectacularly unaware. And I’m not just picking on Walsh here; I’ve heard this from people inside and outside the church, all over the place.
And I want to pause on that word “aware” for a moment, because it sums up what I’m really trying to say. The reason feminism is not redundant is because it is an awareness movement.
Kate Wallace over at The Junia Project wrote a beautiful piece on this, and I definitely must give her credit for expressing it so well. She explains that, while gender equality is God’s timeless truth, feminism is the vessel that’s being used as a messenger to get that truth out.
In other words, feminism is to God’s truth what a Breast Cancer Awareness rally is to the scientists who are working to find a cure. They are two different things. One is truth. The other is the messenger that allows you to see the truth. But they certainly aren’t in competition.
Therefore, feminism is important—even though the truth is coming from Christ, and even though, as Walsh points out, feminism is not the first time that any woman anywhere has been treated nicely. If the world still has this many problems, and feminism is helping to call them out, I think it’s reasonable to see it as useful.
The feminist movement, like any other human endeavor, is not perfect. And yes, it is capable of being at odds with Christianity in certain facets. But it can still hold a great deal of truth, and many things about it can still be in harmony with my faith. That’s all I’m trying to say, really. Maybe a day will come where I feel like the movement has become all about things I disagree with, but, as Aragorn says, “It is not this day.” If someone else feels that it is “this day” for them, then they absolutely don’t have to take the feminist label. But they do need to understand the point of view of those of us who do, and be respectful of that. 
Tune in tomorrow for Part 2: should Christians feel okay identifying as “feminist,” or are there too many moral compromises?

Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill: Hindsight is 20-20


The Mars Hill conundrum continues as former pastors and elders come forward with more specific testimony about what’s wrong at the church.
I’m writing today because it speaks to my previous Driscoll-themed post, which, if you recall, argued in favor of the wider church culture being allowed to call Driscoll out on worrying behavior.
The problem that many well-meaning (and some not well-meaning) Driscoll supporters had was with bloggers, radio hosts, media writers and others who didn’t personally know Driscoll but drew their own conclusions about what was happening at Mars Hill. Driscoll’s supporters said that many of these people’s claims were alarmist, presumptive, untrue, and unfair.
So imagine how vindicated everyone felt when former Mars Hill leaders came forward and—surprise!—said the exact same things about Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill that all these “alarmists” had been saying for years.
No, I’m not kidding. They said the exact same things. As I read through the following three posts, I was utterly shocked at how similar their claims were to everything I have read on Driscoll-critical blogs over the past three years.
This post documents the comments of Kyle Firstenberg, former Mars Hill member and former executive pastor at Mars Hill’s Orange County branch. (Side note: doesn’t this guy’s last name sound like it came from an “ermagerd” meme?)
This post documents the comments of worship leader Luke Abrams who, until a year ago, was still at Mars Hill. It’s worth noting that Abrams left the church in good standing, without grievances, for professional/career reasons, yet it only took him one year away to admit to how unhealthy MH was.
The third link is a blog post by Abrams’ wife Jessica, discussing her reflections on what was wrong at the church.
I compiled a list of claims these three are making about Mars Hill and Driscoll. All of the following are things that Firstenberg, Abrams and Abrams either participated in or say they’ve observed at Mars Hill.
Claims About Mark Driscoll Himself
*Built a leadership structure around himself that keeps him from true accountability
*Looks at numbers and “results” rather than hearing people’s concerns
*Other pastors are expected to be dedicated “to Mark Driscoll himself” and not just the church
*He’s responsible for the tough atmosphere and “culture of fear” at Mars Hill
*Pastors feared losing their jobs if they tried to hold him accountable
*Driscoll is used as a measuring stick against which other members and leaders should measure up
*He has “unrepentant sin”
Claims about the Mars Hill Culture in General
*Being tough and “instill[ing] fear” in others were part of the operations of a pastor
*Pastors experienced paranoia about not measuring up and “being discarded”
*Sin was often dealt with too harshly rather than having abundant grace
*Church discipline was more about fixing people and didn’t focus on love
*Belief that God was working through Mars Hill and not other places, i.e. other churches are wrong
*True dialogue wasn’t always sought with people who left the church with grievances
*Growth and results were valued more than love and personal friendships
*”Took advantage of volunteers” resources (such as time and energy)
*Members were treated poorly by those in authority over them
*Money (tithing) and attendance numbers are important to those in power
Driscoll’s/Mars Hill’s Gender Theology
* Teachings about marriage were “domineering and forceful leadership”
*Wives should not “stir the pot” but should run opinions through their husband’s opinions
*Women play “supporting” roles to their families and church but are limited from full expression
*A wife’s personal interests rank last, behind her husband and children
*”Spiritual hierarchy”; a man’s opinion/discernment is more trustworthy than a woman’s
(Jessica Abrams’ post is one of the most eloquent statements about the damage of limiting women that I’ve ever read, by the way. You should definitely check it out and give her some kudos).
These are some of the worst accusations that the blogosphere had already leveled at Mars Hill, accusations that were called unfounded or mean-spirited or just plain wrong by many Driscoll fans and many other high-profile pastors.
I bring all this up because honestly, I’m still trying to process it. As someone who has followed Mark Driscoll’s career with concern over the years, I’m experiencing a lot of feelings right now–mostly, the feeling of having been gaslighted. Gaslighting is when someone tells you the opposite of what you know to be true, in an attempt to undermine your trust in your own judgment. In shorthand terms, it’s when someone tries to drive you crazy by insisting on the opposite of what you know in your gut.
 
Now that some of the strongest accusations against Driscoll have been corroborated by his close associates, I find myself tearing my hair out with frustration. Why did everyone spend such a long time denying that this was going on? Why did so many Driscoll supporters insist that everyone was misinterpreting the blatantly obvious evidence coming out of Mars Hill? When ex-members of MH came out of the woodwork telling eerily similar stories, why did people still try to chalk it all up to “holding grudges” or “bitterness”?
Even I, who am no fan of Driscoll, was beginning to doubt my own instincts. Had Mark really bullied the pastors around him to the point where they wouldn’t stand up to him? Surely that was a little bit exaggerated; they probably just all agreed with him and couldn’t see his errors for what they were. Did Mark really believe that he was more right than all other churches, or was that just his hyperbole exaggerating his attitude?
I guess, on some level, it is ideal to hold off on judgment until you have the best evidence possible, and Mark’s close associates are some pretty good evidence. But then, why weren’t the many wounded victims who fled Mars Hill counted as pretty good evidence? Because they had never been hired as pastors? Because they were seen as lowly laymen who had never written a book? Because anyone who leaves a church must be in the wrong, since pastors/churches are always in the right?
Here’s what frustrates me. What if these problems had been caught and corrected years ago, when people first started talking about them? What if Mars Hill had become a healthier place, and its members today weren’t experiencing all this fallout? What if all those members who’ve been hurt in the last few years could have avoided that?
What if Mark could have started on the road to better emotional health and less anger and more repentance a long time ago, and be living a happier life today?
Instead, he and his church have gotten all the way to an embarrassing national-stage controversy that threatens to undermine the ministry. Three or four years ago, maybe the problems could have been solved if people had just admitted to them. At this point, you’ve got ex-pastors calling for a “peaceful evacuation” of the church. That sounds like the ministry could go under.
A final word of caution: I am all for giving people the benefit of the doubt. I have had moments where I was misunderstood, and moments where I was wrong and wanted people to accept my apology. So I don’t want to encourage people to be alarmist, gang up, or jump to conclusions before getting all the facts on someone’s suspicious behavior.
But it alarms me when evidence against someone’s character can be blatant and repetitive over a period of years and still not be seen as a reason for action, until some crisis forces everyone’s hand.