a fractured life blog

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  • Open Letter to Christian Colleges Accepting Title IX Waivers

    Amidst everything going on this week, an article by The Column titled, Dozens of Christian schools win Title IX waivers to ban LGBT students popped up in my newsfeed a few days ago. Usually, as someone who attended a Christian school for my undergrad degree and who works in the Christian education industry, I either feel angry about issues like this, because they feel personal to me, or I just let them pass by. When I sat down to write out my thoughts on this happening, again, I realized that I'm embarrassed to write about this. I’m writing an open letter, even though I don’t really care for the format, because I’m embarrassed this keeps happening in a world to which I’m connected and in which I’ve invested time and money. I’m embarrassed that even though my alma mater isn’t on this list, it very well could be, given their past treatment of queer and gender-nonconforming students.

    I’m embarrassed because I’m angry when anyone disregards people in this way, but more so because these are Christian schools. The Christian religion is arguably based on up-ending the religious status quo in order to best provide for marginalized people. As someone who works in the Christian world, I can tell you that the status quo is definitely not acceptance. It’s control and fear when it comes to gender identity and sexual orientation. I hate that I have to explain this to you and that I have to keep watching you run circles around inclusion. I'm embarassed that even a conversation about what it might take to make room for all people (including queer ones) and all Christian beliefs (including affirming ones) seems impossible for so many schools.

    Additionally, you’re asking the federal government for these waivers, which have been used “not only to deny enrollment to or expel transgender students, but … [have] also targeted gay, lesbian, and bisexual students and staff. In some cases schools have even asked for, and been granted, a waiver to allow them to expel women who have been pregnant outside of marriage.”

    You have a history of wanting to be separate from the government, while also taking it’s money, and then also trying to get around its laws. What is your ethical argument for this? Is this the example and education you’re giving your students?

    I know why rejecting this law that's meant to protect and bolster marginalized people is important to you. I understand the scriptural argument, even as I disagree with it. It probably would have, at some point in my life, been important to me. This is the part where I should list Bible verses about welcoming all people; about women in the Bible being pregnant outside of marriage and affirmed by God; about queer-affirming interpretations of scripture; and about seeking to end legislation that hurts already marginalized people in your community. But I won’t because you should already know them and if you don’t, you should reconsider labeling yourself as a Christian education institution because you’re doing a poor job.

    People know what you think now, just as those of us who have grappled with and navigated the Christian, evangelical, and denominational worlds for a long time already knew – you talk about having “freedom in Christ” but that freedom is subtly conditional. We know that keeping bodies controlled is the top priority, even as you preach about how God loves them all.

    Do you know what that’s like? To have someone tell you that at your core, you're not wanted? Or that you don't exist? Or that you can’t do something because of how you know God made your body and/or soul? Or that your school would rather challenege the United States government than make room for its own students? Do you understand the stress that puts on people? I’m sure if you asked a few of the people affected by your decisions, you’d learn a little bit about it. I’m guessing none of the Presidents of the schools on this list are women, because 1. There are so few of them anyway and 2. As women in Christian higher education, they probably and hopefully understand the importance of Title IX in their own lives, so at the very least they’d understand the gravity of not accepting it.

    So here are my last questions for you. What kind of world do you dream about? Is it one where people can seek God for themselves? Or one where you get to control the terms of seeking God while a person is in your establishment?

    What is your image of God? Is it one that looks like you? 

    Source: http://thecolu.mn/21270/dozens-christian-schools-win-title-ix-waivers-ban-lgbt-students

  • Not Your Future Married Woman. Not Your Fun Single Lady.

    Note: As a white, heterosexual, cisgender woman without children, my experiences aren’t specific to all single people. Or even people similar to me. But, I hope this is helpful, in some ways, to all kinds of people.

    For the most part, it’s easier to just write about women’s issues. But the internal stigma of talking about singleness and happiness as a woman brings up a lot of the same questions – Will I be perceived as bitter? Will someone redirect the conversation and make it about marriage? Will it be a turn-off to potential partners? Will I have to prove I’m happy? Am I happy? Will people try and set me up with another person I don’t have anything in common with just because we’re both single? Will someone demean my experience and tell me I’ll change my mind when I’m married? Will people think I’m an uptight bitch? Will people hear me?

    Most of what I read about the lives of single people is really about marriage. Aside from a few good authors (and articles like this great one by Lindy West) – it’s pretty much a wasteland when it comes to finding affirming articles, books, retreats, Ted Talks, sermons, political speeches, or general resources about living as a single person. A lauded Christianity Today article was making the rounds last year and the first thing I noticed about it was the leading picture is of a wedding, the pre-article note is about the author’s wife, and the article is framed around the institution of marriage… not to mention that almost nothing said about single people mirrored my life. Still, the article was an attempt at a positive spin on singleness that came off as a justification for the relationship status. The author was writing from his perspective and experience as a married person: which was the problem. Singleness is often framed as a subset of marriage, and even a conversation that has to do with dating or sex, doesn’t usually stray far from the same framework – it’s the single person in relation to other people they might want to touch, date, kiss, sit-close-to, sex, marry, parent, or just share feelings with.

    I’ve received the message from both religious and non-religious institutions that I matter as a single person, and the other guy doesn’t think so. However, neither of them has really treated me like my experience with singleness matters much. I feel like I have two options – I can be a future married woman. Or, I can be a fun, single lady. Neither of those options feels right to me.

    In one of my favorite Mad Men scenes Don Draper says to his protégé, Peggy (a complex, single woman herself), “If you don’t like what is being said, change the conversation.” (Peggy reiterates this later … but that’s for a different article.) I’m pretty tired of being stuck in the middle of a conversation that privileges experiences that aren’t mine.

    Almost two years ago I stopped attending church for a lot of reasons that I won’t get into here, but one reason was that I don’t like being talked about as if I’m a future married woman. Even at fairly moderate-to-progressive churches, the same message existed – You are important no matter your relationship status… about which we have marriage-centric knowledge. I was also tired of hearing pastors – almost 100% of whom were men and married around age 23 – preach about singleness and end having said almost nothing about my life as a 31-year old single woman. Or, hearing them use marriage as an example in sermons because it’s their main context, which is fine, except that it’s a privileged one. From another angle – and this message is prevalent in non-religious spaces too – I was done with people touting the message that single women should have fun and travel and hang with their lady friends and wear fancy dresses, etc, etc before it’s too late and they get married. That idea seems tailored to an early-twenties crowd as well and also married women wear dresses. 

    I hoped that this messaging would cease when I lessened my involvement with religious circles, and it did a little bit, in that I don’t sit in a pew and have a married man tell me that a relationship with God is like a marriage – which suggests I don’t have experience with God. But the micro-aggressions stayed the same. 

    I don’t think most people who are married recognize the privilege marriage holds or how pervasive it is in our society. Single women are, for the most part, treated better now than they have been in the past (although singleness is a complex issue). We definitely carry with us a large set of micro-aggressions that never really get talked about outside of vent sessions. Those aggressions center on the constant celebration of marriage or partnerships paired with a lack of care about or consideration of singleness. For example, during holidays, I can count on relatives asking me about my dating life, but not my life as a single person. Once I was told that I was single because I “was doing other things right now,” which wasn’t even true. But, the existence of singleness always needs justifying.

    Mothers, wives, sisters, and friends – we know from many a political speech that women are important because of who they are attached to. As someone who works in the social justice world, I often hear the question, “What will you tell your children you did about injustice?” My answer is that I’m not too worried about it because there are people who exist right now who need my support and answer to injustice. There’s no need for me to be driven by future relationships, when there is a need right now that I can address as a single person.

    Because I don’t have a story with a long-term partner and I don’t have outlandish dating stories, my relationship status isn’t a story people value or ask about. People want to know if there are men in my life, not how my solitary life is going, even if the later is more important and interesting to me. This is the part of the article where I’m supposed to say that I support marriage and I want to get married. But I’m choosing not to spend any energy on that just so I look like a good, future married or fun, single woman. Like most things we try and put in a manageable box – it’s complicated. There’s an unspoken rule that every single and childless woman knows and it’s that you have to audibly love and desire the role of spouse and/or parent in order to prove you’re safe. 

    Whether we realize it or not, we’re prepped for marriage early on. I have been told how difficult and rewarding marriage is since I was 12, but no one ever told me singleness would be difficult and rewarding as well. “You’re too good for marriage,” is a backhanded compliment I’ve received more than once. It’s a confusing joke that’s supposed to make single people feel accepted, when it really just adds to the confusion of where we might fit in a world that doesn’t fully accept us. You’re too good for the relationship for which you’ve been prepped. Or, more often, you’re too good for the relationship you want.

    I have two tattoos – one on each ankle. The circle on my left ankle, among other things, reminds me that I am a whole person, at all times. The triangle on my right ankle reminds me that I can be stable, no matter the plane on which I land. I know my experiences as a single person, which have been huge and positive influences on my life, are not valuable in a society that doesn’t value women or singleness. I know that unless I have a husband or a baby, my life probably won’t be celebrated in a communal or large way again. I also know that at some point you have to choose to be a free person – accepted, loveable, knowledgeable, and kind, rejecting whatever frameworks you and society hold over your head.

    In her On Being interview, Brene Brown said that searching for certainty doesn’t breed wholeheartedness and vulnerability is the center of meaningful human experience. Many times, I’ve heard people say “Marriage really teaches you ______,” and, as someone who has spent their young adulthood mostly unattached, I can always think of another experience or relationship in my life that has taught me those same things. I value intimacy. I’m a good partner, listener, advice-giver, compromiser, arguer, communicator, and encourager and I got all those things from being a single adult.

    At the beginning of this year I decided I was only going to do things that make me happy, which included being proud of and thankful for my experiences as a single person. I also got off all online dating sites because I don’t even like them.

    There have been men in my life that I still value and care about very much. There have also been unmemorable dates and 3-month hangouts with no callbacks, but I don’t really care to spend a lot of time talking about them. I don’t have many good stories. When I drink too much, I just giggle and try hard not to make bad choices. I’m not your future, married woman, but I’m not your fun, single lady either. There are things that are much more valuable to me than the number of times I’ve had to define my relationship with someone else and I know those things will never be celebrated. 

    In “Stop Telling Single Women They’re Fabulous,” Sara Eckel wrote:

    We still don’t really know how to talk about single women in our culture. In decades past, they were lonely spinsters, quietly languishing in their studio apartments. Later, they became hollow careerists who paid too high a price for their ambition. Then, sometime in the late 1990s, society awakened to the fact that actually a lot of unmarried women were having a pretty great time and were in no rush to marry now or maybe ever. This was a vast improvement over the old models, but it too quickly descended into caricature—the boozy party girl, the intellectual lightweight whose brainwork mostly revolved around dating rules and snaring those designer boots at 40% off. 

    My life is just a life— not a future married one, or a fun single one. Maybe it has qualities of both and maybe it has neither. There’s no need to figure it out. When I think about being single I don’t think about dating or sex very much unless I’m feeling pressured to be something I’m not at that moment. I don’t think about being too old to have kids, or paying for a wedding, or anything like that. But I think it’s fine if you do. I worry about being 50 and single because I know people won’t know what to do with me or they’ll pity me for no reason. I think about how I might afford to retire on one, non-profit employee salary. I think about supporting my friends who are having a hard time. I mourn the friendships I’ve lost to marriage or relationships. I travel by myself because I’m an introvert who wants to not because it’s my last chance. I wonder if my work with youth will always be attributed to future-motherhood instead of present qualities. I wonder if I’ll be able to do work I love and be celebrated for being who I am right now. I hope I meet a partner who values singleness. I think about how annoying it is when people place heterosexuality and marriage on kids like an E-Harmony commercial. And I hope they have the privilege of experiencing a solitary life, for at least part of their adulthood. It’s enormously valuable.  

  • On Disappointment, Evangelicalism, and the Non-Profit Industry

    This week has been really disappointing for me. I actually can’t think of a time I’ve been more disappointed in the past 5 years, which seems like an exaggeration, but it isn’t. The situation/fiasco/decisions made by World Vision this past week were mystifying to me, and at the same time, highlighted some of the reasons I no longer consider myself Evangelical (I use this word to mean the Christian denomination and culture).  

    Within the Evangelical community I read nothing that I wholeheartedly agreed with concerning this topic and most of the liberal commentary bothered me (there could be some out there I have not read). As for people outside but commenting on the Evangelical world, there were a few people whose ideas were very helpful to me: Fr. Shay Kearns for example (read his thoughts here).

    I’m currently in the mode of fighting the feeling that Christianity doesn’t have a place for me – and this feeling comes from the popularity of western Evangelicalism, overtaking the importance of other Christianities, which I’ve connected to (you can find some of them here). I wanted to comment on World Vision, not because I don’t think there are enough people talking but because I wanted to offer a perspective that is not conservative or liberal.

    This is a commentary on World Vision’s lack of responsibility, the Evangelical response, the constant erasure of the lives of LGBTQ people, and the acknowledgment of Evangelicalism’s participation in the non-profit industrial complex which functions in the same way as the rest of a capitalistic, money-driven society, despite claiming to be “good news.” The non-profit industrial complex is the relationship between a government, a non-profit, owning classes, and foundations, which results in the control, derailment, or management of political or social justice movements (source). (Read more in The Revolution Will Not Be Funded).

    I won’t go into the entire World Vision statement (note: this crisis reflected the views of U.S. World Vision, not all subsidiaries hold the same views and requirements, although they are obviously connected). If you want to read it, you can do so here. But I will also note that their hiring practices and financial information have been under scrutiny before.

    The organization very publically announced that they would be hiring gay people – oddly highlighting the hiring of married gay people – assumedly because they are located in some states allowing same-sex marriage, and represent people of different denominations with different teachings on sexuality. They made it clear that this was a small way to promote unity within their hiring practices and between Christians and not a political or religious statement. They also stated that people employed by them who are unmarried are still expected to be celibate, no matter their sexuality.

    This initial statement bothered me on a number of levels. One, highlighting the hiring of gay people who are married enforces a large problem within Evangelical culture (and I believe, American culture at large): the idolatry of marriage. This idolatry signifies that 1. LGBTQ people are only worth talking about if the conversation is about whether they can wed or not, and 2. single people are less important to discuss than married people and need not be highlighted unless in the context of future marriage. This, and the rules that consenting, adult employees can’t have sex while employed at World Vision, is a larger topic to unpack and better suited for another time. 

    Secondly, this decision, like a lot of Evangelical teachings on sexuality, dramatized it. Something that should have been an internalized staff memo was instead a national announcement – one that was discussed for a long time at World Vision prior to announcement.

    Two days later, World Vision reversed their decision and apologized. You can read about this here. This apology was directed to their donors who pulled their funding and explained their dedication to “Biblical authority,” and the children they support – two things they seemed to ignore with their original statement, despite claiming the importance of those things. The lack of apology, or even consideration, to the LGBTQ community, and a lack of knowledge of their donor base and the general western, Evangelical community are my largest disappointments.

    Not only is it a very poor organizational and public relations decision to reverse a decision after making a huge public announcement about it, it’s unethical to not consider the people at the center of the controversy – LGBTQ people – and instead shift the conversation to something we can all agree on – children in poverty.

    When (some) conservative Evangelical Christians decided to pull funding and World Vision lost over 3,000 child sponsorships (there is plenty of commentary on how this is problematic so I won’t write more) the outcry shifted from the LGBTQ community to the support of children in poverty as if 1. those things are mutually exclusive, and 2. the now unemployable LGBTQ community is less innocent than children in sponsorships.

    For the most part, every blog post I read critiquing this reversal was about children, not about the people who were just told that they couldn’t work to alleviate poverty and also be themselves. Is this because we consider people who are not straight something other than human beings? Is it because there are so many organizations supporting children in poverty that it’s a far-away norm we find easy to talk about? Is it because we feel bad saying people who are gay are evil but we feel ok about saying childhood poverty is evil?

    Why was there nothing written about the life-threatening culture LGBTQ people around the world face, which is fostered by this type of discrimination? What about children who live in a country where “homosexuality” is punishable by death? Was the statement that gay people shouldn’t be allowed to work for a Christian organization the best message for the children they feed that are now the center of attention? Are gay children allowed to eat but denied employment when of-age?

    Evangelical charitable organizations that do not employ LGBTQ people take this “mistake” into countries where it is illegal and punishable to be gay when they take their aid there. So, while we’re arguing about who is employable over here in western Evangelicalism, we choose to ignore how that is implicated in bodily harm inflicted on gay people in other countries where we administer aid. The same dynamic is true when organizations want to save women from the sex trafficking industry in other countries but don’t believe they should be in church leadership in their own.

    Another theme I saw in people’s responses to World Vision was to forgive the corporation and say that we all need to confess sins and be forgiven: that hate is the issue here, not World Vision.

    World Vision is one of the largest Christian charitable organizations in the world; the organization is not a friend who lied to you or hurt your feelings. Their public choices have real, physical, emotional, mental, and long-standing effects on human beings. But, instead of apologizing to the people they alienated and isolated, World Vision apologized to rich Christians who uncritically pulled their money and to the non-profit complex in which they reside. For the record, I blame the organization for their choices and continue to wait for an apology. I also blame the non-profit complex in which they work. That’s not being unforgiving, it’s standing up to an unjust system that was originally set up to help people and to the physical manifestation of hate that so many were claiming to blame.

    A manifestation of racism is the percentages of black and Latino men in prison that far exceed white men’s percentages, for the same crimes. A manifestation of sexism is that the U.S. has never had a woman for president, and women get blamed for it. And a manifestation of homophobia is not hiring gay people and not apologizing for it.

    This immediate reversal shows that, in this case, Evangelicalism participates in a non-profit complex, which is run by a few people with a few beliefs, who can change the course of something with money, and receive an apology for stepping out of line. At the end of this ordeal, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), an organization from which Christian non-profits receive accreditation, made a statement in support of the reversal. They stated, “We expect all ECFA-accredited organizations to hold the same position,” and extended “forgiveness” to World Vision.

    As someone involved with various Christian and religious non-profits, this not only scared and infuriated me, but made me wonder (as I have when faced with the bureaucracy in non-Christian non-profits, when required to work within certain constraints by people and corporations with money), if I can even hold to my own beliefs as a Christian when the Christian in power is saying I can’t, that certain people don’t matter, and there better be an apology later.

    While I understand the complexities in keeping an organization open and the fear of not feeding children and not continuing arguably important work, I do also believe in a religious and political history that has worked to dismantle unethical systems that seem good on the outside but are really just based on power, money, and control of a theology that only accepts some people (See Rosemary Radford Ruether’s book Catholic Does Not Equal the Vatican: A Vision for Progressive Catholicism or Other Lands Have Dreams by Kathy Kelly). And the popular conversation surrounding World Vision doesn’t have to do with dismantling unequal power structures.

    I’ve seen that this past week has put a strain on a lot of Christian’s beliefs and I am glad for that. Pulling back the curtain you might have attributed to the work of God is very scary but important.

    I want to end affirming what Sarah Bessey said this week - if you are struggling in feeling like Evangelicalism is the only place to be, know that’s not true. It is new as far as our church history goes and if you’re someone who is looking to come out of that tradition but still identifies as a Christian, there is a lot of hope and options for you, you just have to look harder.

    If you consider yourself a liberal, or even a moderate - do not let the popular, liberal version Christianity – to love everyone – be watered down to a version that defines “love” in a way that let’s people be comfortable with not really understanding others (which I’ve written about here) or the contexts in which they live.

    Even if there are always corporations that claim to help people but really put money and ideology before humans, we can always say something against them. A professor of mine, in sharing that she once met with a nun in order to heal from her experiences with the Catholic church, said the nun apologized for the harm caused and put the onus on the church, as an institution, for that harm. She also rejected the hurtful teachings and corporation of Christianity, as opposed to her faith. You can do that too. 

  • Book Recommendations for understanding race and violence in America

    Struggling to understand the responses to the Martin/Zimmerman case? Spend some time reading about race and violence issues in America to understand the contributing backgrounds and cultures. Books we recommend:

     

    White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh (essay)

    Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum

    The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

    The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone

    Disruptive Christian Ethics by Traci West

    Uprooting Racism by Paul Kivel

    Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire

    Identity and Violence by Amartya Sen

    Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman

    The Hidden Wound by Wendell Berry

    Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde

     

    Do you have recommendations? Send them our way and this list will be updated. 

  • Things to Read

    Things to Read

     

    Making the Connections: Essays in Feminist Social Ethics, by Beverly W. Harrison is a collection of Christian, Feminist, social principles. Her writing is important, accessible, and definitely intersectional. How to you pick which books you read on social issues? By recommendation? By author? By popularity? 

    Looking for other book recommendations? Check out our Things to Read section and feel free to recommend your own.




    Photo credit: Goodreads