I Choose Hope

This week feels much more like we have reached the other side of a national disaster or suffered a collective death than like we have elected a new President. The atmosphere around me has been one of quiet fear, confusion, anger, and sadness. I have had my fair share of those emotions since waking up on Wednesday.

I don’t want to diminish the weight of what people are feeling. The fear is legitimate for many.

I have heard of misogynistic and racial attacks on individuals already, and Trump hasn’t even ascended to the Oval Office yet.

And in addition to the terror of what might happen to minorities through policy or mob, I have the very unique terror of realizing that we have just handed the most powerful position in the United States over to a man who meets all the qualifications of a cult leader, from the charisma to the totalism to the manipulation of the masses.

There is a part of me that just wants to curl up into a ball and scream…because once I got out of the IFB, I thought I would never have to face this again…because ever since I got out, I have lived in abject terror that it could happen again.

But currently, I am consciously choosing hope.

Hope is a funny emotion. It’s positive, but not the way that joy or happiness is. Hope is not necessary when things are going well. Hope is not a certainty that things will turn out the way we want them to.

Rather, hope is that strange emotion that shows up when things are going badly. It’s a bright emotion to dark and ambiguous circumstances.

In Tarot, hope is represented by The Star card. It tends to signify that things aren’t necessarily great right now. The night isn’t anywhere close to being through, and the darkness is thick. But the stars promise that there is still light somewhere. And even the little twinkling that comes from so far away can help lift the darkness that surrounds in the moment, if only just a little.

I have no doubt that we are guaranteed to have at least four difficult years. It’s hard to say exactly how difficult it will be because there are many aspects of this election that are unprecedented and unpredictable.

So today, I don’t want to pontificate about how dire things are or what the risks are. So many of us are already aware of all that.

Today, I want to talk about what is giving me hope.

  • I have hope that, in this moment, we still have choices and power within ourselves to affect the future. Our civil rights movements have shown what can be accomplished when people work together for equality. We had enough people who were able to vote Trump into power, but we have still more that I hope will stand up to abuse where they see it.
  • I have hope that this election will be a wake-up call for people to begin listening to each other, to fight the urge to lock oneself in an echo chamber. This election, more than anything, has shown me that isolationism doesn’t help us grow. Coercion doesn’t eradicate bigotry. It’s time to engage in the tough conversations. We have seen an uptick in homophobic, misogynistic, racist, and xenophobic speech, and the sad part is that liberals have participated just as horribly. But I refuse to accept that it has to be this way. We can put down our word-weapons, lean into the discomfort of trying to have reasoned discourse, and collectively learn together.
  • I have hope that people can change, even the ones that I might have labeled “beyond hope.” Not everyone does, and this is not a hope that is based in naivety. I will not overlook abusive behavior in the “hope” that it will stop. However, it is a reality that people can and do change. I have. Some friends have. Recently, I’ve come to think that perhaps others like Glenn Beck have. Perhaps we won’t agree on everything, but when people make a genuine effort to challenge themselves and listen, there is hope in that space.
  • I have hope that we can overcome adversity. And I have history to validate that hope. For every national tragedy, there are glowing bright spots of love, of people coming together to help one another, of courage, and of strength. We are a resilient people; many of us have already survived much. It’s not fair that we might need to again, especially for those of us who have experienced oppression and/or abuse already within our lifetime, but I have every confidence that we can survive more.
  • I have hope we have the ability to influence each other in positive ways when we reach out in vulnerability and love, that conversation is the most powerful form of activism, that respect is possible, and that the majority of people want good things for themselves and others. We might not all have stellar ways of pursuing those desires. Communication, above all, is a skill and an art that needs to be honed and practiced. But there is opportunity if we can tap into the universal truth that none of us want to suffer and all of us want to be happy.
  • I have hope that some of those who voted for Trump will stand against abuses of power, fight for the rights and dignity of others, and hold him accountable. I have even more hope that the 49% of voters who didn’t vote in this election will fight against apathy and will choose to engage in meaningful discourse and action on the side of freedom and equality.
  • I have hope that I can make a difference in the world by making a difference in the personal lives of those I know. These last few days have been difficult to sit with people in their pain and fear while I myself am in so much pain and fear, but there is magic in connection. I am appreciative of the special role I get to play in helping people become their best self. That feels more important right now than ever.
  • I have hope that we can learn from our mistakes. When we get to the end of this term, may we realize the shit-storm we created and take definitive action to make positive changes to our political system. May we realize the importance of checks and balances on power. As nice as it might be to think that a “good” President can put a “bad” guy in jail without due process…perhaps now our nation will see that stripping people of their rights in the name of good intentions only creates the possibility of having that used against us later.

Hope is not a promise.

There is much work that needs to be done in order for my hopes to bring me through the night and into the morning, but with hope, I can dedicate myself to that work and invite others to join me. It fuels my motivation to be actively involved and helps me see enough through the darkness to take up the power and choice that I have and use them to advocate for my and others rights.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Guest Post: Don’t Forget Ferguson

This weekend’s post was written by my partner, outlining some of the things he thinks we can learn from the situation in Ferguson. 

The world’s eye is on Ferguson, Missouri following the police shooting of an unarmed black teen. Questions of racism, mass civilian protests, and para-military reactionary violence hold the nation’s social media spotlight, in spite of reluctant media coverage.

The news has made a point of selectively reporting on the rioters who loot and destroy property, as if that justified the presence of snipers aiming their guns at civilians. Never mind that people go on crimes sprees all the time without prompting law enforcement to resort to armored tanks and riot gear. They ask us to believe that it’s necessary to shut down schools, enact a curfew, and bring out the arsenals over a few Molotov cocktails and broken storefronts.

But when the police are taking cameras away from reporters and citizens and arresting individuals just for protesting, the claim that police response is focused on rioters and looters rings hollow. There is a fundamental difference.

Protesters raise their hands in front of police atop an armored vehicle on Wednesday in Ferguson. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, J.B. Forbes/AP

The scene in Ferguson is not just some small number of criminals who hate and oppose police. Thousands of ordinary citizens congregated to employ one of the dearest human rights in the history of humanity: the right to protest and petition the government for a redress of grievances.

And the police retaliated with teargas, smoke bombs, and rubber bullets. Ferguson PD came out with helicopters, armored vehicles, and military-grade assault weapons, essentially enacting martial law.

And we rightly recognize that this is unacceptable.

The nation responded with a wave of outrage, and following public demonstrations all across the U.S. in solidarity with Ferguson, things seem to be settling down. Yet this shouldn’t be the end of our action.

We must ask difficult questions. Why did these abuses occur? How did the country arrive at a place where it was possible? Who is responsible?

For when police fail to limit their response to the actual criminals and criminal actions, instead removing all constitutionally guaranteed freedoms from every single citizen in an entire city, they have not simply failed as a police organization. They have sunk to the level of the criminals they supposedly despise and fight. And this is more than disturbing.

Yet the near-unanimous social opposition to the police’s actions is slightly surprising. An even more stringent martial law was enacted in the Boston manhunt for the bombers, and the nation’s response this time is fundamentally different. Instead of largely supporting the removal of every citizen’s rights, an entire city (and the nation with them) is protesting the injustices.

This objective contradiction leaves us to wonder what impetus and justification caused these police-state actions. The police do not wake up one day and shoot an unarmed black teenager. A government cannot suddenly seize the power to attack its own citizens, punish them for exercising 1stAmendment rights, indefinitely detain them without probable cause, or suppress them.

Everyone wants to identify different culprits. The nation points at the Ferguson Police department. Some point at Presidents they didn’t/don’t like. Others raise their voices against an oligarchy run by corporations. Still others blame Congresses for passing bad bills or being generally inept.

We decry racism where we find it. We can castigate a media that kowtows to their owners. We throw our hands up in despair.

But to find the nearest complicity, we need look no further than the mirror.

You. Me.

We have turned blind eyes to comparatively minor violations of freedom that paved the way for incrementally larger ones. These have occurred piecemeal over decades, sometimes in secret, but usually, largely with America’s approval as citizens exchanged freedom for a sense of safety.

We trusted President Obama not to use his new power – to execute or detain US citizens without probable cause – against us. We believed the TSA’s promises that their disregard for due process is necessary for our protection.

We allowed the NSA to surveil and record innocent US citizens as long as they kept the terrorists at bay. We turn blind eyes to the FCC as they censor public speech. We were convinced by our leaders that curfews and martial law were the only way to catch the Boston Marathon bomber.

We’ve been lulled into complacency over the violations of our rights and privacy for years…until we get a glimpse of the repercussions of letting go of the Bill of Rights. We watch in horror as a fundamental shift occurs, from our government and its citizens together facing an outside enemy—to our government facing its citizens, who have become its enemy.

And it was inevitable. For when people voluntarily relinquish their human rights, abuses naturally follow.

Let Fergusun be a lesson. We must be vigilant. We must be active. Freedom is not something to take for granted. Let this tragedy be the wakeup call for us to protect each other’s rights from the ever-reaching arm of power. The government can only be of the people, by the people, and for the people if the people maintain that balance.

When Freedom of Speech Doesn’t Exist: In Memory of the Dante Papers

Before I left the Independent Fundamental Baptist cult, I went through a phase of trying to “fix” fundamentalism. It was a time when I could recognize the discrepancies, cognitive dissonance, and abuse, but I wasn’t quite ready to recognize the cult as a whole. I was a student at Bob Jones University, three years into my degree, when I got involved with a small group of students who were writing newsletters under the name of Dante and distributing them anonymously throughout the campus. We weren’t ashamed of what we were doing, and we believed we had every right to write those papers. But we also knew that if the administration found out, we’d be in pretty severe trouble.

“The Voice of Truth” had three good runs. Then one of the group members got caught and kicked out. He refused to turn in the rest of us, so we were able to return to the university if we chose to. I was torn. A year away from graduation—practically speaking, I could have just kept my head down, gotten my degree, and gotten out. It seemed like the smarter move at the time . . . before I found out that the degree was bogus and worth about as much as a non-degree anyway.

But I couldn’t overlook the complete disregard for freedom of speech. How could a school that practically worshipped the Constitution as inspired by God violate other people’s Constitutional rights so blatantly? I wrestled up until a couple weeks before I was supposed to return. As I began trying to pack, I realized that I wasn’t going to finish packing. I simply couldn’t go back and be silent about what had happened. I withdrew from the school, explaining my protest to the admissions office.

I don’t think any of the group actually returned that semester, and the school had a quiet fall. When spring came around, two of us collaborated one last paper to send out to let the students know what had happened.

I’ve been out of the IFB for several years now, and I still value freedom of speech as the cornerstone of freedom. Wherever there is power, I suppose people will always have to fight to protect their freedoms, but lately with Obama’s expansion on the Patriot Act (as if it weren’t bad enough initially) and the recent revelations we’ve seen regarding privacy right violations, the punishment of whistle blowers, and the silencing of protesters, it seems an especially timely year to remember what freedom of speech means to me—what I sacrificed for it, what it was like without it.

With Banned Book Week starting Sunday, I wanted to post the last of the Dante papers that ever went out. It’s a bit cheesy in some places and still carries cultic influences in others, but for the most part, the core of the message is one that I think is vitally important even outside of the IFB. Don’t ever take freedom for granted. Guard and protect it. Treasure it. Use it.

Voice Of Truth Issue 4

Last year, a student [editor’s note: we let the university think it was a single student to protect the others involved] began writing anonymous papers in an effort to spur the students and administration to think critically. He was not attacking the school, although some of the people who read the papers felt the need to defend themselves. He was not, as some have asserted, complaining or trying to gather a following and incite rebellion like Absolom, or he wouldn’t have written anonymously. He wanted to help and improve the school, not tear it down. For that, he was “denied re-enrollment,” which is the same treatment BJU gives those who engage in extra-marital sex during the summer.

First of all, there was nothing wrong in what he did. The administration, when pressed for an answer, admitted that he broke no rule in the handbook. To be quite honest, we all get stuck in our ways, and from time to time, we need someone to challenge our beliefs. Why? If our beliefs cannot stand up on their own merit, we must re-evaluate what we believe. Questioning a belief is not wrong, even if the belief itself is correct. Unfortunately, in fundamental circles, the very idea of questioning what you’ve been taught is not permitted and asking “why?” often brings both rejection and accusations of heresy. Have we forgotten who our God is? God can handle our questions. He is not afraid to let His people question Him. Many in the Bible have done so, including Job, David, Elijah, Noah, and Moses. In fact, questioning what you believe can be very good because it makes you stronger. Each of us will have to defend himself at some point. We should be sure of what we believe so that we can be ready to give an answer to any man who asks.

Secondly, the school was very wrong in expelling the writer. Such an act was cowardly and tyrannical. By kicking him out, the school blatantly infringed upon his constitutional rights. He broke no rule; he broke no law; he told no lie. He merely expressed his opinion in writing, protected by the First Amendment rights of the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. In the words of Harry S. Truman, “We punish men for crimes they commit, but never for the opinions [that] they have.” The previous writer committed no crime. What made the administration so angry and so defensive? Was it that he expressed his opinion, because he expressed it in writing, or because he expressed a differing opinion from the one held by the school? The freedom to express what we believe without punishment or suppression is one of the fundamental freedoms our founding fathers fought so hard to win for us.

Along with that freedom comes the freedom to read and either accept or reject what we read, which the school effectively took away from the students in expelling Dante. No one forced those who disagreed with him to read his paper. Those who read and agreed did so of their own volition. Another President, John F. Kennedy, said, “A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” What is the school so afraid of? Again, if their beliefs are true, their beliefs should be able to stand the test of one lone voice crying out. And whether or not the school’s beliefs are true, the students have a right to hear both sides and choose for themselves what they believe. BJU stole those rights away by suppressing free speech.

The original writer of The Voice of Truth was not trying to war against BJU. The administration turned it into a war. Obviously, the school, its administration, and its students are not perfect. However, many choose to accept BJU’s rules and regulations without question or thought. So have generations before us. But looking at the history of the school reminds us that BJU has been very wrong before. Most students know that BJU lost its tax-exempt status at some point. Few, however, know why. The school used to prohibit inter-racial dating and inter-racial marriage. In fact, any student who openly disagreed with the school’s stance could be kicked out. Sound somewhat familiar? Of course, such a racist policy could not survive. Dr. Bob III rescinded and apologized for that policy in 2000 on national television. However, I wonder how many who were kicked out for that reason got even so much as an apology letter?

Could it be that just as BJU was wrong with its unconstitutionally racist rules, BJU is just as wrong with its unconstitutionally suppressive rules? Although it’s obvious that, biblically and constitutionally, it was wrong for the school to kick the writer out and to try to suppress the paper, few would say anything. All of you, students and faculty, have a choice. Will we allow this suppression? I still strongly believe that BobJonesUniversity is a good school with many merits and the potential to be a great and shining light for Christ. However, the school’s attitude of stubbornness and tyranny often covers this light in the bushes.

 

The Different Shades of Rebellion

Who is more rebellious? The girl wearing makeup, a skirt, and high heels? Or the girl with baggy pants, a shaved head, and a dozen piercings?

Stereotype would say the latter is far more rebellious, and not too long ago, I would have agreed.

Not anymore.

I’ve been reading Shiri Eisner’s Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, and it’s completely shaken my assumptions of what makes up a rebel. (Yes, it’s the same book that I was reading when I wrote this post, and yes, it’s my first reading still. I’m slow with nonfiction books. Don’t judge me!)

I never considered my sexual orientation as an asset to rebellion. As a bisexual female married to a guy, I often feel like I’m the most benign version of “queer” out there. There’s no way to avoid passing as straight unless I stand up and wave a flag in people’s faces (which I’ve enjoyed doing at Pride parades). However, Eisner has helped me see that it’s that very facet of my identity that makes it so much more subversive because it challenges what people think about relationships, sexuality, and identity in general.

Whether I fit into or challenge the stereotypes about bisexuality, either way I challenge stereotypes about what it means to be straight or queer. My very existence undermines the invisible certainty of monosexuality.

In other words, me being a bisexual woman can be seen as an act of rebellion. Yay me!

It was a subtle shift in perspective that had enormous consequences on the way I viewed the rest of the world and my place in the world. Suddenly even mundane activities seemed potentially radical. With the example given at the beginning of the post, both girls could potentially be making a radical feminist statement . . . or a statement about gender . . . or a statement about freedom . . . or a statement about sexual orientation.

I guess it really comes down to two basic ways of rebelling. The first is by abstaining from certain looks, behaviors, or associations. The second is by embracing them.

I’d been taught to view the abstemious method as rebellion, but only because I saw embracing such behavior or associations the same as embracing the norms that society attached to them. How could that be rebellious?

I was faced with that question when I found out about Abercrombie and Fitch’s ridiculous status obsession, from not wanting the homeless to wear their brand to refusing to supply clothes to women larger than they deemed attractive.

I never actually purchased anything from Abercrombie, but I did have a shirt with their brand on it that my partner had found in a thrift store. Normally I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about brands, but I did get a small thrill whenever I wore Abercrombie. It was the only brand that was outright forbidden in the IFB because, as the Bob Jones University student handbook from 2011 states, “Abercrombie & Fitch and its subsidiary Hollister have shown an unusual degree of antagonism to biblical morality (page 32).”

I was more than a little miffed when the CEO turned into the king of snobs. Most of the people I knew wanted to boycott the company (abstinence rebellion). For a while, I felt pressured to stop wearing my thrift-store purchased shirt in solidarity.

Then this guy starts a movement of giving Abercrombie shirts to the homeless to “taint” the brand’s “pristine” reputation. An exploitative move on the part of privilege by using the homeless in status wars? Perhaps. Charitable activist choosing to make a political statement while helping those in need? Perhaps.

Regardless of whether his move was particularly wise or not, the larger idea—claiming something “forbidden”—is a valid though often overlooked form of rebellion. He wasn’t the only one doing the whole “you can’t stop me” act with Abercrombie, but he was the only one I saw that actually got attention. Such a form of rebellion raises a valid question. Would a rebellion be more successful by people boycotting Abercrombie (fiscal punishment) or by “unacceptable” people wearing their brand (reclamation of the forbidden)?

Several years ago, I saw rebellion as an action against an authority or a system of rule. It was a choice akin to standing up when you’ve already been sitting down. It was the radical, in-your-face moments of movies and books. And I’ve had my fair share of those and am proud of them.

But that’s not where rebellion has to end.

Now I’m starting to see that rebellion can be more “passive” than that. It can be as simple as refusing to submit to a false dilemma—refusing to box in your identity.

In this way, my agnostic spiritual life becomes a form of rebellion against fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist atheists alike who want the world to be a choice between each other. My nudity-affirming feminism becomes a form of rebellion against both modesty culture and objectification culture that wants women’s bodies to be all about male arousal.

There is a time and place for marches, protests, petitions, and attention-grabbing speech. By all means we should be making use of those to effect change in society. But in the times when those are not appropriate or simply not feasible, it’s the quiet rebellion, the passive rebellion, that erodes the lines of societal norms. It’s the every-day, mundane kind of rebellion that shifts paradigms.

So, join me this week by going out there and living a rebellious life—a life that says that you can challenge or embrace stereotypes and still be kicking ass and taking names.

 

Reaching Out to Christian Allies: An Apology and a Challenge

I talk a lot about my dislike for Christianity.

As a survivor of an abusive Christian cult, I think I’ve earned that right.

But I also recognize and appreciate that not all Christians are abusive sociopaths. I have some friends who identify as Christian who are wonderful people. I’m so proud of them for finding a way to turn Christianity into a positive faith experience (not that it’s my place to feel proud of them, but I have to give them credit and respect for doing what I could not).

I thought that my disdain and criticism of Christianity were clearly not something they would perceive as directed at them.

I was wrong.

Within most systems of oppression, there is a way to differentiate between individuals within the privileged group and the system that grants them privilege and oppresses others. Patriarchy and male privilege delineate a system that oppresses women and gives men power without implying that men are all horrible, misogynistic asses. The same goes for White privilege and racism and for homophobia, heterosexism, and straight privilege (or biphobia and monosexism for that matter).

I’ve never heard a differentiation made between religious oppression and religious people.

It might be clear in my mind when I rail against Christianity that I’m not railing against all individuals who identify as Christians, but someone else may only hear a word that identifies them personally.

I don’t want to make Christians feel targeted as individuals by my hatred.

Some have tried to argue that what I dislike about Christianity “isn’t really Christian.” But you can’t say that someone who identifies as Christian isn’t Christian because you dislike the way they act. It’s a logical fallacy, commonly known as “No true Scotsman.” It should be an obvious logical fallacy. No one ever tries to argue, “That’s not really a White person. They’re racist, and I’m not. Since I’m White, they can’t be.” It doesn’t make sense, and it’s not a valid differentiation method.

But I understand what these people are getting at . . . I also want to be able to differentiate between Christianity as a faith identity and Christianity as an oppression/prejudice.

What we need is a word, like sexism, to identify Christianity as a system of power. Whether Christianity was meant to be a system of power is beside the point. We have to deal with what Christianity is, not lament what it should have been. Being a Christian is not bad, but just because an individual Christian doesn’t want to participate in oppression doesn’t mean that the religion suddenly loses its oppressive elements.

I came across something on Urban Dictionary the other day that feels like a solution. “Religism” hasn’t come into wide usage yet (I’m hoping to change that), but it exists to identify prejudice against those of a different religion.

Voila! Just like that, I have a word to describe the prejudice and oppression that comes from the Christian religion as a whole that doesn’t target individuals!

I feel it’s important to say that I’m truly sorry for the allies that I’ve inadvertently hurt. I should have done my Google search far before now. I want to work with Christian allies.

But in return, Christian allies need to also do work to recognize where they have privileges because of their faith identity. Just as I have hurt Christian friends without meaning to, many Christians unintentionally contribute to the oppression of others, even with the best of intentions. This article has a great beginning list of privileges Christians often enjoy without realizing it. I’ve added some of my own additions below.

  • If a person who shares your religion commits a violent crime, your neighbors, co-workers, and acquaintances aren’t likely to view you as an imminent threat.
  • If a person who shares your religion commits a violent crime, the media and law enforcement aren’t likely to see your religion as the root of that violence.
  • If being questioned by the police, you have reasonable expectation that stating your religious faith will be an asset rather than a liability.
  • If arrested, you have reasonable expectation of a speedy trial without excessive detainment.
  • If you talk about your faith on the phone, you can feel relatively secure that the NSA won’t monitor you for simply mentioning your religion.
  • Lawmakers and judges who oppose laws on religious reasons refer to your religion.
  • In cases of civil rights violations, your religion is likely to be favored.
  • The morals of your religion are so commonly accepted that they are represented even in media and entertainment that claims to be from a different religious perspective (e.g. Charmed, a supposedly Pagan show, featuring Christian-esque demons despite the fact that most Pagans do not believe in the Christian version of the Devil or good and evil.)
  • Accepted alternatives to scientific theory reference your religion’s mythology.
  • Despite a violent past, your religion is not considered violent.
  • TV shows that portray your religion favorably aren’t likely to be boycotted or recalled because of public outrage.
  • History often favors your religion’s perspective and portrays the work of those from your religion as beneficial.
  • Even non-religious people are likely to use your religious buildings for special occasions unless they have cultural ties to other religions.
  • If neighbors or acquaintances find out about your faith, they are likely to assume you are a safe person for their children to be around.

I could go on, but I hope that my point has been made. It’s hard to see all the ways that Christianity is favored above other religions in the U.S. until you step out of Christianity. It doesn’t mean that these privileges are always present for all Christians, nor does it only refer to rights acknowledged by the government. Privilege is about societal structure that favors one group above another.

And I’m not saying that having privilege automatically makes someone a bad person. Privilege, by its very definition, is something that is given to a group of people whether they want it or not. It’s not necessarily something they have a choice about, and those who are aware of their privilege are limited in their ability to decline to participate.

However, being aware of privilege and taking steps to counter it can pave the way for healing and change.

I’m taking the first step to acknowledging how I’ve hurt the conversation by failing to differentiate between people who have a Christian faith identity and the Christian religism that pervades society. I’m changing my language in order to open the door for that conversation to begin again. We can work together to address the oppression within Christianity but only when Christian allies are willing to acknowledge that it exists.

Now, the ball is in the court of the allies. Are you willing to do your part to address and raise awareness of the system? Can you meet me in this place of differentiation? It won’t be easy. It may challenge you to examine your own life and faith a bit closer. It may challenge you to change perspectives, which is going to be extremely difficult when society is designed to validate your perspective. It may require you to bite your tongue when a wounded person is writhing under the agony of what Christian religism has done to them and to practice patience, love, and space-holding for those too hurt to recognize yet that you are not the same as the system. It may require stepping back from the conversation and listening instead of talking, following instead of leading, acknowledging instead of defending.

The good news is that if you’re a Christian ally, you’ve probably already had to do these things in other areas. You’ve probably already done some work to address white privilege if you’re white, male privilege if you’re a man, and straight privilege if you’re straight. This is nothing new to those who love equality. The trick is to take what you’ve already learned to do and apply it to a new aspect of your life.

Review: Coming Out of the Closet Without Coming Apart at the Seams

Next week, I have the honor of having a guest blog post from Gail Dickert. Gail is the author of two self-published books: Coming Out of the Closet Without Coming Apart at the Seams and Enlightened-ish.

I found out about her first book when I was looking for resources to help me come out to my parents. In hindsight, I wish I’d read it then, but I was nervous about ordering a book about coming out before I was officially out (because someone could see and realize I was trying to come out and then I’d be outed! So the brain doesn’t work the best when it’s afraid of doing something that it needs to do).

Long story short, I went out on a desperate limb and sent her an email begging for support and advice. She answered back with a kind of big-sisterly care that I had only dreamed of, and in the process, she offered me a friendship I didn’t realize I was looking for.

Before I had officially left Christianity, I made sure to make peace with my sexuality and my old religion–I wanted to know that I had reached a place where I wasn’t leaving because I felt forced out. Unfortunately, that all happened before I met her, so her book never made it’s way into the spiritual resource pile.

I decided to buy her book when I was ready to handle reading about coming out with a spiritual focus again. I was a bit nervous about revisiting those themes, but I also wanted to get a feel for how far I’d come from those days when I thought I couldn’t be a Christian if I were bi. About four weeks ago I finished Coming Out of the Closet Without Coming Apart at the Seams. In preparation for her guest post, I wanted to give my impressions of the book.

She admits in the book that her desire in writing it is to help homosexual Christians find a way of coming out of the closet without losing their faith in Christianity, but she takes a completely different approach to reconciling sexuality with the Bible. Rather than diving into the scholarly research or trying to debunk the “clobber” passages conservative Christians so often use, she merely shrugs them off.

Although I think biblical scholarship and reasoning have their place within a theological setting; far too often I feel that people think you have to use that route in order to be a gay Christian.

Gail ignores that pressure, highlighting the personal nature of both faith and sexual orientation. It’s jarringly obvious and refreshing. When deciding the place of sexuality and spirituality, all you should need is your own approval. Nothing more than that. Coming out doesn’t have to be an apologetics course!

As a survivor of ex-gay therapy, she designed the sections of her book like the twelve step program that has often been applied to “re-orientation,” except that in her book the steps are flipped on their heads. Rather than containing “instructions” for turning “straight” (re-closeting yourself), they’re instructions for how to accept your sexual orientation and yourself.

When I started reading, I took the twelve steps as a serious twist on approaching the closet, but as I progressed I began to feel that the steps themselves were more satirical than serious. My suspicions were confirmed when I got to the last step, summed up nicely in her statement: “Give these ’12 Step’ programs a rest already!”

Coming out is serious business. Anyone who has faced the door of that closet knows how serious it can be. But there is no such thing as the perfect formula for coming out, and Gail rightly recognizes that when we rely too much on the process of others, we harm ourselves by missing the cues to our own process. She knew that whatever her steps were to coming out, they weren’t for everyone. She couldn’t map my path or your path, she could only follow her own.

Which is exactly what she does in between each of the steps. She doesn’t write the typical coming out book. She doesn’t really write a self-help book at all. She writes a memoir of discovering her attraction to girls–the betrayals, the shame, the desperation for change, the torture of religious abuse, and finally the painful process of breaking free.

All she does is tell her story, but it’s a brilliant form of self-help because within her lived experiences she offers so much to others.

There aren’t that many books I’d recommend to LGBT who are struggling to find a place for their faith, but Coming Out of the Closet Without Coming Apart at the Seams would definitely be one of them. Gail tells her story in such a way that she inspires others to tell theirs. She embraces her faith as her own and empowers others to do the same. Both through her words and her actions, she shines a light towards freedom.

I’m so honored to know her as a friend, and I’m excited that next week she will be presenting one of the freedoms from her newest book, Enlightened-ish. Just to entice you to come back, I’ll let you know that it’s about cussing!

As a Feminist, I Believe in Men

It would be appallingly easy to hate men. I honestly can’t blame women who do. With the amount of sexism, objectification, and misogyny women face on a daily basis, it would be easy to think that all men are like that.

And when a guy comes onto my Facebook wall declaring that he needs women to be sex objects and is only concerned about seeing boobs—and then generalizes that and says that all men are like that, it’s tempting to believe him.

But even though real life experience and statistics both show that sexism and misogyny are thriving to one extent or another, I’m not buying the whole “it’s just the way we are” tripe.

I have faith that men are better than that!

You see, as a feminist, it’s not just that I believe that women are just as capable as men. It’s not just that I believe that women should be given equal opportunities, that they should have the rights to their bodies, or that they should be able to live like human beings.

I also don’t think women have to take over the world in order to achieve that, which means . . .

I believe that men are capable of being humane. I believe that men are able to recognize inequality and fight with women to change the system. I believe that men aren’t driven by their penises and that they are capable of emotional processing and empathy. I believe many of them want to be set free from the hypermasculine expectations. I believe they don’t inherently want to rape and that, if we give them the resources and education they need to learn respect and understand consent, the majority of them wouldn’t rape. I believe that men can get offended by objectification too and that they can want to see women in active, equal roles. I believe that men can appreciate beauty without dehumanizing someone . . . or that they can keep it in their pants when it’s not really appropriate to take it out.

“What guys do you know?” I was asked when I expressed my belief that men aren’t all chauvinists.

And the lucky thing is that I know a lot of guys who fit that model of a man. I know they can exist because they do exist.

I’ve heard a lot of feminists say that men don’t deserve to be thanked for being feminists. And perhaps in an ideal world, it wouldn’t be necessary to praise people for refusing to partake in oppression, but in this world, where rape threats and hateful comments are directed at women for little other reason than being visible online, I think it is appropriate to give a shout out to the male feminists and allies of the world—not because we should find it so extraordinary to find someone who isn’t an ass, but because it takes a lot of courage to stand up to the status quo and say, “I’m not having it.”

We as feminists should know that.

So . . . my dear male feminists and male allies,

Thank you for giving me something to hold onto and hope for while we struggle to change the world together. I know it’s not easy for you, just as it’s not easy for me. I know you face your own brand of backlash, and I am sorry that standing for equality is such a shitty experience for both of us right now.

Thank you for standing up to your friends, not buying that product because there’s a sexualized woman in the ad, getting angry when you see the news, and even apologizing when you yourself find latent sexism slipping out from time to time. Thank you for being beautiful, equality-loving human beings who are willing to try to recognize and change the patriarchal culture that other men are content to just assume is the way things should be.

As a feminist, I admire you. I believe in the future that you represent—where respect and equality are things that all of humanity can strive for and achieve.

****Note: Due to an unusual schedule this week, I will not be interacting as much online. I love your comments. Feel free to leave them, but forgive me if you don’t get a detailed or personal response to yours right away.****