What Does It Mean to “Denounce White Supremacy”

One of the more contentious points from last week’s presidential debate between Trump and Biden was the point where Trump passed up an opportunity to denounce white supremacy when directly asked to do so. That has been overshadowed by Trump (and many others) testing positive for COVID-19. Now that Trump is back (after either doing really well or on his death bed depending on which misinformation source you believe), I wanted to circle back to this idea of “denouncing white supremacy.”

This whole issue really tracks back to the decades before Trump became president, when many different accusations of racism and/or biased practices were leveled against him and/or his companies. When he became president and started railing against “Antifa” and the “radical left,” many people connected past to present and wanted to know more specifically where he stands on racial issues as president. So various reporters and interviewers began asking if he would respond to and act on the fact that at least 90% of political violence in this country comes from radical right wing groups that are often racist or outright white supremacist. Typically, his response to these questions was to dodge or use tricky language. One of these responses was his now infamous response of “very fine people, on both sides” after a question about Neo-Nazis (even though Trump later claimed he was referring to supporters of Robert E. Lee – a guy that fought to keep slavery around). This led to more specific questions of whether he would even speak out about the actual sources of violence, much less do something about them.

Because of Trump’s history of saying something in support certain white supremacist groups (the Confederacy was white supremacist, after all), many wanted to see him change his tune. The calls for action and response were quickly shortened to “denounce white supremacy.” Of course, this shortened question is not the clearest call to action, since “denouncing” something really doesn’t have much teeth. But because of Trump’s evasive manner, that specific question became a shorthand for seeing if he would at least say something about right wing violence, and then actually do something about it as as well once they had his words to hold against him (as if that ever worked).

This is where the whole issue gets a bit sneaky. When certain people (usually of the liberal persuasion) say Trump will not even denounce white supremacy, they are met with quick responses (usually from the conservative persuasion) of videos proving Trump has denounced white supremacy.

Sometimes these are videos of someone asking Trump if he would ever denounce white supremacy, with Trump responding something like “sure, I will denounce white supremacy.” This is a sneaky use of words here. If you have children or have taken care of / taught / etc children, you recognize this ploy. You ask your kids to clean their room, and they say “sure, I will clean my room.” But then if they never actually clean their room, then their statement saying they “will” or “would” was meaningless.

Trump saying that he “will” or “would” denounce white supremacy is not the same as actually denouncing it. But even if he did say it, the original intent was that people wanted him to start denouncing it by saying so directly. Of course, now it finally seems that he did directly do the first step of denouncing white supremacy in an interview released last week.

But his statement should be the start of action, not a final answer of some sort.

It should also be noted that telling people to “stand down” is not a denouncement either – even though it is an important step. Yes, Trump did come back later and take away the problematic “stand by” statement to the Proud Boys by just telling them to “stand down and let the police handle it,” but this is also not a true denouncement. If a friend of mine gets so mad at someone that it looks like they are going to attack that person, but I tell my friend to “stand down” and not attack – have I denounced my friend and/or any of their beliefs? No, I have just told them to not attack. Which, of course, is also something we want our presidents to say – as a start, not a final answer.

This is why the issue is complicated. When you are dealing with the fact that 90% of the political violence comes from certain groups, we don’t want a president that just says “stand down” and “yes, I denounce white supremacy” to certain parts of the overall group. We want one that will denounce all of the violence in action as well as in words. So instead of railing against antifa (which is more of an idea and not an organized group) most of the time, start focusing on where 90% of the violence comes from and do something about it. The rally cry of “denouncing” just became short hand for dealing with the larger problem. Trump was complimentary to right-wing groups (which includes many white supremacist factions), and now he needs to work to curb those same groups.

This brings us to the problem of naming only the Proud Boys, especially in light of focusing too much on white supremacy and not the overall problem of extreme right wing violence. I think it was a big mistake on Biden’s part to say “Proud Boys” when Trump demanded a specific name of a group to denounce. Of course, we all know that Trump was just using a diversionary tactic to get away with being pressured into denouncing white supremacy. He generally doesn’t react to well to pressure, as he has a deep driving need to be the one in control at all times. So he wanted a name of a group to denounce rather than cave directly to the people he saw as fighting for dominance in the conversation. Biden should have stuck with the main idea and just said “all of them,” but he said “Proud Boys” instead. He probably wanted to just stop the fighting and move on, and I can’t say I blame him. But it was still a big mistake.

The Proud Boys are a violent right-wing hate group, no doubt about it. They are male-only, and have made it clear they are against immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQIA, Jewish People, etc, etc, etc. They also claim to be anti-racist, even coming out to say they denounce white supremacy as well. They even point to their small number of Black and Latinx members as proof they aren’t racist.

Of course, they also believe that racism doesn’t exist, which is clearly a white supremacist ideal. In fact, you can find all kinds of racist things all over their words and actions. But because they actually say they aren’t racist, and they have Black and Latinx members – many people will take them at their word and proclaim that they are “not white supremacists.” Never mind that the Nazis, the KKK, and many other well-known racist groups have made the same claims through the years.

People that do racist things always have a long list of reasons why they really aren’t a racist despite those racist actions.

But still, I wish that Biden hadn’t brought the Proud Boys into the conversation, because it takes a lot of unpacking to understand why they are part of the bigger problem of Right-wing political violence… as well as how they can still be viewed as white supremacists even though they say they aren’t. This is also why I wish there was a greater understanding of metamodernism in society in general, because the question of defining for all time whether or not Proud Boys really are or aren’t “white supremacist” misses what is needed here. People can say they are not racist or white supremacist and still bring about racism and white supremacy in many ways. Participating in Right-wing violence against BLM and Antifa still sends a message of racism and white superiority to many BIPoC – no matter what stances you claim to believe in or your skin color.

Now, to go back to the analogy about telling your kids to clean their room. If you tell your child to clean their room, and they say they will, and they go in to clean the room… but they only pick up a few things and hide the main mess in the closet and under the bed… did they really clean their room? No, of course not. You really want them to vacuum, scrub, dust, organize, etc. Just saying things like “I denounce white supremacy” or “Proud Boys stand down and that’s it” or “we are not white supremacists” is the equivalent of the kids that stuff the mess in their closet and then don’t do any true cleaning.

We need a president that will stand up and do something about racism and white supremacy. BLM and those labeled as “Antifa” are showing up and doing something. You know who you usually see at protests asking rioters to stop? Usually it is the BLM protesters themselves. The Proud Boys and other right wing groupers are the ones that show up and agitate the situation even more. They are not even cleaning their room so to say – they are taking more mess and dumping it on the pile.

So that is where the issue stands: it’s complicated. It’s not just denouncing white supremacy (even though that has become the short hand), it is about ending political violence that is 90% Right-wing (and often white supremacist as well but not always). It’s not about proving certain groups are or are not white supremacist, but how they support white supremacist aims by promoting the general Right-wing violence that serves as a catalyst for white supremacy. It’s not about ignoring the political violence from non-Right-wing groups, but starting with the main overwhelming group causing 90% or more of the violence rather than spending 99% of the time focusing on the less than 10% that cause violence.

The Problem of False Binaries

In many ways, metamodernism is all about binaries, conundrums, paradoxes, etc. However, the distinction that metamodernism makes about things like binary concepts is how two different ideas can often co-exist in the same space. Sometimes this coexistence is easier to define, and other times it is not.

However, I’m not sure if you can just throw any two random ideas or concepts together and just assume there is some way they will coexist, or even that there is a way to swing between the two in metaxy. For example, while modernism and post-modernism make interesting ideas to either fit together paradoxically or to swing back and forth between, not all ideas form a solid binary pairing to build a paradox out of – at least, within the current limitations of our understandings of logic.

In politics, it would seem that this problem can also be further extended when false binaries are introduced to the conversation in a way to equally erase both sides. You see this a lot in “both political sides are equally bad” arguments. For example, someone on one political side will say something that is historically or legally racist (“go back where you came from”), and people on that side will ignore historical and legal precedent to try and prove that this statement is not racist. People in the middle of both sides will pull out some kind of “both sides are equally bad” argument to just end the fighting rather than deal with the blatant racism. This will usually be supported by some problematic false binary meme:

The image above is a popular meme shared most often by moderates and independents. However, if you examine it for a minute, you begin to see that the two different sides on this graphic are not comparing two, well, “comparable” sides together, creating a false binary.

The first evidence of this is the fact that there are self-labeled White Supremacists and Nazis in our country, and they have generally attached themselves to the extreme conservative side of our current political spectrum. Also, there are those on the right that claim they are not racist, but they support the actions of the self-proclaimed White Nationalists and Nazis on their side. And while there are many on the Left that will hurl “Nazi!” and “Racist!” statements as insults (even occasionally at those that may not deserve that title), that does not change the fact that there are people that claim titles like “white nationalist” that are, in fact, racist.

However, the bigger problem comes with the insults being hurled at the Left in this diagram. had they chosen “Socialist!” or “Communist!” – that would have been a more accurate binary. There are those on the Left that are proudly Socialist or Communist. However, the insults depicted here are not equivalent to “Racist!” or “Nazi!” They are far worse.

“Libtard” is combination of “Liberal” and “Retard.” “Retard” is a hateful slur against people with disabilities. They are real people that should not be turned into insults in a partisan war. “Racist” or “Nazi” are labels that people can and do choose for themselves, but no one should be called a “Retard” or any form or mixture of the word, because disability is not an insult.

“Pussies” is using a part of the female anatomy as an insult, and there is also no place for this kind of sexist/misogynistic behavior. It comes from a view point that hates women and their bodies, and therefore sees them as a source for insulting terms. You should not use parts of the female anatomy as an insult, period.

There you have the false binary: taking words that can actually describe people (“Racist!” “Nazi!”) and comparing them with words that should never, ever be used to describe others (“Libtard!” “Pussy!”) in fake sense of both-sides-ism. Yes, I realize that all of those terms and others are thrown out in political arguments as insults. But to be clear: if someone is a racist or Nazi, that should be called out and confronted. However, there is never a reason to use disability or women’s anatomy as insults.

The Problematic Satire of The Babylon Bee

Satire is usually defined as “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.” Satire always has an underlying message that intends to get people to react. If people react to your satire in ways you don’t like, but then respond with “it’s only a joke”… then you really don’t get satire. And probably should stay away from it.
 
The Onion is a typical example of satire. They often get it wrong, but when they get it right they do so by ridiculing those in power. Some people refer to this as “punching up” – using satire to criticize and expose the problems of those that hold power and influence,
 
A very inappropriate usage of satire is when people do things that are referred to as “punching down” – using satire to mock and ridicule people that don’t hold the power in this country (especially groups like feminists, Native Americans, people of color, etc.).
 
This is why I don’t like the Babylon Bee. It is run by white Christian males, and it likes to use satire to mock and criticize situations related to actual, real discrimination and bigotry in this country. Yes, I know they make fun of white males, too. Doing that does not negate the other stories they run.
 
For example – women, Native Americans, and most people of color have always suffered from various forms of government retaliation in this country, even to this day. The Babylon Bee wrote a satirical story trying to make the point that we no longer have any fear of government retribution in the U.S. The “stupidity” that it was trying to ridicule was the idea that there is “government retribution” in this country.
 
The problem is, there is still government retribution. Even worse, they made the story about an unnamed woman. They were literally trying to ridicule women for saying they face government retribution…. when women still do in various ways.
 
And before you go off on “no there isn’t any government retribution any more”… I would just point at the hundreds of government watchdog groups that are specifically looking out for this and bringing up multiple cases every year against our government for doing so.
 
Also, before you jump into a logical fallacy of “whataboutism”… yes it is much worse in other countries. But that doesn’t mean that people have no fear of it here.
 
So, sorry/not sorry to all the Christian males out there for ruining your week by raining on your “let’s have a laugh at the expense of women’s justified fears” parities via The Babylon Bee. Just because it is a joke to you, that doesn’t mean it is a joke to other people out there as well.

Civility Never Was That Great of a Thing. Time to Let it Go.

With all of the the talk about “civility” recently, I have been trying to figure out exactly when American became a civilized nation. Was it after we invaded this continent in the first place, pushing aside the original inhabitants (often in violent manners)? Was it after we started a war to gain independence? Or maybe it was after we stopped justifying slavery as a civilized norm? Was it after World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the whatever-you-call our current wars? Or maybe it was after we finally gave all people the right to vote and participate in society equally? What exactly does “civility” mean in a country with a history of violence and mistreatment (both here and abroad) like ours?

Of course, maybe all of the calls for civility would not sound so hollow if so many had not just now started saying anything at all. I mean – black churches were burned… no calls for civility. Immigrant children were separated from their parents… and no calls for civility. The LGBTQA community faces constant attacks, death threats, and harassment daily… and no calls for civility.  But a handful of rich white people lose a dinner while some others call for more to be harassed…. and stop the presses! We need civility NOW!

And the weird way people cherry-pick religion to support their new-found desire for civility? Especially when they didn’t say a word when white supremacists marched; or when our leaders said horrible things about people with disabilities, about women, about Muslims, about all kinds of people? Take, for instance, how Bob Vander Plaats focused on how Jesus told people that have disagreements to go and meet with those they have the disagreement with. Of course, the scripture there does not say “first” like Plaats misquotes it as, and secondly, he conveniently leaves out how Jesus again and again spoke out harshly against those he disagreed with publicly – many that He had never met. Plaats makes it seems like the only Biblical way to respond to disagreements is to privately meet with those that you disagree with, or else keep it to yourself. The Bible is not that black and white on this issue by a long shot, and it is unfortunate that Plaats would misrepresent scripture like this.

To a certain degree, I do agree with Plaats that we should get to know people before demonizing them – but I wouldn’t make that an absolute rule to live by. In many cases, it wouldn’t be safe to meet those one disagrees with (I wouldn’t recommend a woman go meet with someone from GamerGate, for instance). But we also have to realize that there is a lot more to be done after we get to know people. Plaats’ scenario is not the solution, it is a place for some to start. Plaats described where he got to know a leader in the LGBTQA community, and they stopped demonizing each other. But the problem is, both sides often can’t have both of their stances in society. We can’t can both “marriage quality for all” AND “traditional definition of marriage” as the law at the same time. It is good that they learned how to get a long. But someday, one of them will be deemed “wrong” by society. One, day, one of them will have to stick with their side and be on the wrong side of society, or change sides.

Sitting down for coffee with those we disagree with will help us get along better with certain people, but will not solve the problems in society if that is all it does. “Civility” is a call by the privileged to stay at the coffee table when they suddenly see society getting up from coffee talk and taking away their privileged spots.

But I still have a problem with people thinking that our society was all that “civilized” in the first place, or that we really need to hang on to it (if it was). Maybe it is because I live in the South and we see through civility so easily down here. People will say “bless your heart!” as way to tell you how ignorant they think you are. So many people live out civility in cities where racism is still rampant. So many people claim to be “civilized” while still being racist themselves. Civility is just too low of a target.

Mike Caulfield made an excellent point that we need decency rather than civility:

Civility is often a push-back to conflict, as a call to ignore disagreements and just get along (even though that is not really what it should be – but that is another issue for another time). Decency is how we treat people even when we disagree – or even how we call out people that aren’t decent to others (sometimes decency requires you to stand against those who aren’t decent). There is nothing wrong with disagreeing. But if your response to finally receiving some push back for the way you treat others is to scream “we need civility!!!!” when you have never done so when others are mistreated, that is not decent. Civility – for too long of a time – has kept different standards for different people. You can’t have one response to one type of harassment (telling men to grab women by their….) and another response to another lesser type of harassment (getting booted out of a restaurant) and still be “decent.” But you can have different responses and still be “civilized.” Civility never was that great of a thing.

What “Moderate Conservative” Christians Misunderstand About Progressive Christian LGBQTA Stances

The past few weeks, I have been reading many responses from “moderate conservative” Christians to the Nashville Statement controversy. Many of them attempt to explain why liberal/progressive Christians are (typically) affirming of LGBTQA issues, while others attempt to dissect why some conservatives are stuck in the middle and not sure what side to take (while sneakily pointing out where liberals are wrong as well).

Most of these lists or examinations of why a Christian (conservative, moderate, liberal, anything) would become LGBTQA affirming are unfortunate at best. The authors do a pretty good job at exposing their utter lack of understanding of the liberal/progressive Christian viewpoint on this issue. Many progressive Christians are not LGBTQA affirming because they ignore the Bible or church tradition, but because they have studied it all deeply and come to different conclusions on what is in the Scriptures and the history of the Church.

Full stop. This is their reason. If you don’t agree, fine – you can believe what you want about these issues. But you don’t get to re-write anyone’s reasons because you disagree with them. You don’t get to define or re-write their reasons. That would go for the moderates and conservatives that are considering the progressive side as well. Taking their well-thought out, or extensively wrestled with, or even intensely debated reasons and re-imagining them as a list of moral failures or lack of personal fortitude is just inappropriate.

Don’t forget that most church traditions believed that all people of color and all women were less than white men until they changed their stance within recent memory. Or that the word “homosexual” first appeared in writing in 1869 – meaning that it probably didn’t exist as the same concept it does today much before then. So stop claiming “long church traditions” on a word that has only existed for as long as some church traditions have believed in letting women vote or letting black people drink out of the same fountain.

If you are not going to be bothered to understand the progressive position (or why some conservatives are interested in it) deeply enough to get it right, or to misrepresent it when you write about it, then just don’t say anything until you can speak Truth.

Or let’s look at it this way: Rod Drehler makes a list of what he thinks motivates “conservative Christians who are considering adopting the pro-LGBT position.” These reasons probably are true for some, but after reading through books and blog posts of many people that are wrestling with this question, I find little Truth in Drehler’s points.  Plus, Drehler’s list is really just a generic list of bad reasons why people make decisions, with a few words tweaked to make it about his point. One could easily tweak those few words another way to make it true about why many other conservatives staunchly stick with anti-LGBTQA positions:

  1. Discomfort with being called or thought of as a friend of gays, and with the social stigma attached to it
  2. A desire to deny homosexuals the blessings of marriage.
  3. Belief that marriage is intrinsically complementary, in terms of male and female, but no ability to point out where that is commanded in the Bible beyond a few anecdotal references by the writers of certain Biblical passages that are never attributed as direct commands from God (aka, never printed in red letters for a reason).
  4. An inability to explain why gay marriage and homosexuality in general is wrong, except for “because the Bible tells us so.” [yes, this one stays the same – think about it]
  5. Having no real dialogue with a gay or transgendered person in one’s life, and not understanding how that person suffers — especially if that person is one’s child.
  6. Belief that the struggle over sexuality within the church is not that important, and is keeping the church from focusing on more important things (e.g., “When can we stop talking about gay marriage and get back to preaching the Gospel?”)
  7. Resignation over the fact that the church has solidified so much with Purity Culture to this point that it makes no practical sense to reconsider lines based more on 1950s sexual frustration than Biblical concepts. Better to accept that reality and to work within it as best one can to preach, teach, and live the Gospel

If you are really want to know how many progressives have thought through this issue from scripture, from history, from logic, from tradition, and from any other angle they are accused of ignoring, I would encourage you to read these posts (as a starting point):

About That Civil War Statue You Claim is History and Culture….

Not everyone knows this about me, but I am certified to teach art at the Jr. High/High school level in Texas. We studied a lot about art history and the symbolism behind art, especially public displays like monuments. The thing to remember is that there is no way to memorialize everything “historical” that needs to be memorialized. We would have statues every two feet to even begin that. Society has to pick and choose what to memorialize. Just putting up a statue in the first place is revisionist in several ways, because you choose to symbolize one thing over another. But because of this, statues are not just about history or art. They also have to symbolize who we are now and what we want to become in the future. That is how you move a memorial out of being a mere “historical artifact” (or worse “historical revisionism”) and into being an actual monument. That is also why, for instance, 9/11 monuments don’t show a building blowing up, but usually symbols to memorialize those that died while at the same time pointing to a better future that we want to see happen.

Also, we have to realize that there is a difference – from an artistic and symbolic perspective – between memorializing events and memorializing people. This is why we see memorials to the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King, Jr. A memorial to the civil rights movement is not really appropriate for memorializing King, and a memorial to King is not really appropriate for memorializing the whole civil rights movement. Statues of people symbolize what that person did and who they were, not just the movement they led or were connected to – or the culture they were a part of.

This leads to the problem of Civil War statues of General Lee and other Confederate leaders being confused for memorials of the history and culture of the South. The United States Civil War was a specific type of war that was ideological in focus while being contained within our borders. Not all wars are like that, so we have to be careful when comparing it to other wars our country has been in, like the Korean War or World War II (or really any of the others). The ideas we divided over would shape the future of our country. Therefore, how we choose to memorialize and symbolize our Civil War is important. Do we symbolize the Civil War itself, or the leaders of the war? The difference is important.

This important difference means that the symbolism of the statues becomes ingrained with the history they represent – otherwise, they just simply aren’t “art.” If you look at the statues of General Lee (or other confederate leaders), they always have the pose of a leader. Sometimes taking a step forward, or on a horse – leading. This is to symbolize not only the historical record of where they led us in the past (dividing a nation to protect a state’s right to treat certain humans as less than human), but also to memorialize where the people were at during the time it was built and where they wanted to go in the future. Therefore, these statues symbolize not only art and history, but a future where people want to follow in General Lee’s footsteps again. That is why they created a statue of him as a leader (or actively leading on a horse), when he is no longer a leader. If the builders of the statues had wanted to symbolize a memorial to remind us not divide over hate again, they would not have made a statute that literally memorializes a leader leading his people into dividing over hate. No, a statue immortalizing General Lee as still leading is symbolic of a hope to go down that past road again.

Civil War monuments are also unique in that they are some of the only statues built by the losing side to memorialize their failed leaders. This has rarely happened in the history of war and conquest. Imagine the Romans (or any other large force) allowing the areas they conquered to build statues to their losing military leaders. No, usually the conquering force came in and tore down any statues of the people they conquered, and replaced them with statues of those people being conquered. To send a message. Because statues and memorials almost always send a message about the future at the same time they teach about the past.

Also, in the cases where conquered people’s statues weren’t destroyed, they were taken down and moved to a museum or trophy case of the winning side. We still see that in modern day America – symbols of the “losing” side are, at best, displayed in a museum. Most are filed away and forgotten in warehouses.

But let’s take the idea of Civil War statues into a modern context to really drive home this point. And no, not Korean War. For many reasons, the Korean War is a horrible comparison for the Civil War. No war in America can really be used as a good comparison. The closest parallel I can think of for this point (even though it is still problematic) is 9/11. Think of it this way: what if America had annexed Afghanistan as a new state (sorry Guam and Puerto Rico) and somehow the Taliban had settled down and became citizens. Then a large chunk of them moved to the U.S. and wanted to build statues to Osama Bin Laden and the people believed to have caused 9/11. And then we actually let them. And then a few decades later we wised up to how insensitive and inappropriate it was to build those statues in the first place. And then their descendants claimed we couldn’t take those statues down because it represented history and culture.

Would we buy into that? Doubtful. The people protesting the removal of Civil War statues would be the main ones crying out for the removal of these hypothetical statues. Let that sink in.

Controversial Celebrities and Their Church’s Stance on LGBTQA Issues: Why It All Matters

I may be opening up a can of worms that I shouldn’t here. But I knew this day would come. Small towns in the South are sometimes thrust into the spotlight when a resident becomes a celebrity. Eventually, people begin to wonder where these people stand on various equality issues, especially since the South doesn’t have the best track record in that area. And eventually those concerns will turn to equality for those that are LGBTQA

I’m from a small Southern town with some celebrities that go to a church that I used to go to (even though I never met them). That church has come under scrutiny for their stance on LGBTQA issues. Since I used to be a very involved insider at that church (before moving to a different city and leaving the “evangelical” tag behind), I thought would comment on some of the issues that happens in almost all of these situations.

Usually these situations come about after an expose article looks at an online blog post or sermon video or what have you and brings certain views on LGBTQA issues to light. Then there is a confusing tornadic swirl of responses from all sides. Often it becomes difficult to figure out what the real problem is. But have you ever noticed that no matter what is said and done, every single article that looks into the issue in a way that might harm a church is automatically labeled as “bad journalism”, “a hit job”, “a witch hunt”, etc by members of the church, no matter what the article says? Every single bit of criticism is bad journalism, regardless of whether it really is bad or not. In general, the original pieces are pretty middle of the road explanations that present the church’s views in context with little commentary. Then many of the follow-up reaction pieces attack the original article for saying things it didn’t say, or even go as far as taking quotes out of contexts. Leaders and members of the church in questions echo that sentiment.

There are also accusations of “major liberal hateful backlash” that are hard to substantiate. Of course, there are usually a few fringe left-leaning websites that call for extreme responses, but they typically were doing that before any controversy breaks out. It is important to note that when ever any Christian becomes famous, there are also extreme right-leaning sources that attack them for not being “bold” enough with their faith. Attacks against Christian celebrities are usually always there from both sides, but people just latch onto the extreme ones from one side and use them as “proof” that there is a wave of new persecution when there really isn’t.

Of course, it is also somewhat unfair to hold the views of a church against the celebrities that go there. Yes, churches in the South do tend towards “believe one way or else” mentalities, and they tend to vet political attitudes before letting anyone on their stage (including celebrities in their midst). It is possible, although probably unlikely, that they hold a different view from their church. But until they say anything specific it is unfair to hold their churches stance against them.

At the same time, those that feel it is unwarranted to look into the beliefs of these churches are also misunderstanding the power and influence of the nondenominational evangelical movement, which holds millions of Americans under its sway. As a former insider at one of these churches (at least that is what some of the church leadership referred to me as once), I did want to shine a light on some of the problematic issues at play here.

First of all, most expose articles will characterize these churches as being “hard line” and “unmoving” around these issues. This might seem harsh, but is usually true. You will even find these churches boasting about their unwavering stances in their sermons. So I am not sure how something they once bragged about suddenly becomes an “attack,” but what can you do?

I used to bang my head against this unmovable wall when discussing creationism, evangelism, or the role of women in a marriage. I generally find that you either parrot what they want to hear from you and get accepted, or question things and get ostracized. This is nothing new – such is the case in many churches both conservative and liberal, as well as businesses and organizations of all kinds. I just bring this up in case anyone wants to say “why don’t you try talking to them about all this?” Believe me – myself and others have tried. We have even formed an unofficial support group on Facebook to process what we went through. Others have started blogs to chronicle their problems. I don’t want to dig into that any more as there is plenty online about that at many churches already.

Many will say that these expose articles are taking words out of context, even when they provide links to videos and articles to show they aren’t. But I can verify that these stances typically have been preached over and over again at these churches, with tens of thousands of people being influenced by them. So even if one specific article had taken words out of context (which they rarely do in these cases), I have sat through enough of these sermons to know what has been said. Then there are countless leadership development classes, missionary training programs, and other secondary outlets that I have also attended that dig deeper. What emerges once you have become enough of any insider is a deep layer of problematic issues that need to be brought to the Light. I will touch on these issues next.

Biblical Clarity on Marriage and Gender Definitions

First issue: the concept of the Bible being clear that marriage is only between a man and a woman, based on Genesis. The problem is, its not really that clear. If you take an honest look at Genesis 2:24, its not really a command from God as much as a commentary on a reason why people get married: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Even more problematic is that in Bibles that mark the words of God in red, this passage is rarely in red. That is because it is not a direct quote of God, again, but commentary from the writer of Genesis. Therefore, it is not necessarily true that “God defined marriage” as many preachers say, even if you believe that the Scriptures were literally written by God. Why? Because none of the scriptures used to back that statement up are in any way written as “definitions.” To say that they are “definitions” is for us to re-write the Bible based on our own feelings. Commentary is commentary, not a definition.

Additionally, pastors often talk about God clearly defining masculinity and femininity, which is another extreme oversimplification of what the Bible actually says. What it really says is “male and female he created them.” Well, of course: there were only two of them. So there were only two options for anything. Which also means that God could have only created, at max, two hair colors, two eye colors, two skin colors, and so on. Those details were irrelevant to the story of creation, so they weren’t mentioned, but it doesn’t mean that this wasn’t true (and if you don’t believe that Genesis is literal history, I understand – I am just writing this to those that do). Of course, now we have more that two hair colors, two eye colors, two skin colors, etc. The same DNA that produces hair color also produces our sex. Yes, that is a major oversimplification, but what I am trying to get at is that we should not confuse the way things were created with the way they have to be forever. God created (at most) two eye colors. We now have more. Same can be said for any other genetic trait, such as our sex.

Then, of course, there is the whole problem of saying anything in the Bible is “clear” at all.

Homosexuality as a Sin

On to the next issue: Stating that “homosexuality is a sin” is the truth while “homosexuality is not a sin” is a lie. The problem with statements like this one is that the word “homosexuality” does not appear in the Bible in the original languages. This is because the word was coined around 1869. It probably didn’t get used in English Bible translations until the 1950s. The history of what many incorrectly refer to as “homosexuality” now is problematic and confusing. While historically a few individuals saw it as a way they were born, most people saw it as deviant actions of heterosexuals or a temporary condition. In fact, the places where we tend to see “homosexual” now in our Bibles are all words based on this assumption in relation to sexual slavery of young boys, or rebellious heterosexual women that were performing in some weird religious sexual ritual. This is important because it means that there is no commentary in the Bible about committed, loving marriage between two normal, non-cultish people of the same gender. To say that the Bible is clear on modern “homosexuality” issues is not historically or Biblically honest. If you want more commentary on this issue, or to look at the difficulties of specific scriptures, I highly recommend looking into this series of blog posts by my friend Michelle.

Part of the problem here is the constant strategy of hiding real stances on these issues behind the ambiguous veil of “homosexuality.” Its a vague word that takes away any responsibility of really saying what one believes. Instead of saying things like “I don’t want to let gay people legally marry” or “we don’t let those that are openly LGBTQA attend our church” or “I want to be free to not bake cakes for lesbian weddings” or “I want to cause transgender people to use the bathroom that matches with their birth sex” you just say “sure we believe that homosexuality is sin, but we still accept all people at our church.” Typically churches mean all of what I spelled out in that sentence and more with that last vague sentence, but I will get to that more later.

A lot of these issues are often coupled with some weird picking and choosing of statistics to support these positions: 90% of “homosexuals” are abused and that caused their “homosexuality,” many people are lured into “homosexuality” through pornography, etc. There are many problems with this line of thinking, including how it ignores a lot of research, but I will just point to this article as a good summary into the problems with assuming that abuse causes people to change their sexual attractions. Additionally, the idea that people can be “lured” into “homosexuality” through pornography is a major misunderstanding of the roots of sexual addiction (as well as the shady attempts that criminals make to exploit those addictions to make money online). This article is a good source to start looking into that.

If you are seeing a pattern here of oversimplification and glossing over unclear realities in a manner that ignores the complexities of life, welcome to life in the evangelical nondenominational movement. Questions are only encouraged as long as you are moving in the direction of the leadership on the answers. You are only allowed to come to the conclusion that the leaders already have. Only one answer is allowed in the end for the whole church, no matter how unclear the scriptures are. And then a few token “unclear” issues such as “whether missionaries can drink a beer in countries with different views of alcohol” are touted as “proof” of their “theological diversity.”

Oversimplification of What Change Means

Now for the next issue: saying that someone is a homosexual in thought and action and cannot change is a lie. Of course, we all know we can change many things about ourselves. Others we can not. Even others are not so black and white. To be honest, sexuality is not as black and white as many would like it to be. Just look at this list of Seven Myths about Sexual Orientation. Its not very clear or straight forward for many. But ambiguity is a tough sell from the pulpit, so any gray areas that exist in reality are painted over in black and white “Biblical Clarity.” Additionally, churches love to take one or two stories of people that exist in this ambiguity (in other words, they had their sexual attractions change for reasons they don’t even understand) and lift them up as examples of everyone else to follow. They completely have no idea what really happened, but take a few random weird examples out of this person’s life as “steps” to “overcoming homosexuality.”

I know that at this points pastors always have their stories of hundreds of people that they have helped. They always do. All of heir beliefs are backed up by their stories as much as scripture. Some that can be corroborated, others that can’t. Its always hard to figure out which are which, but many people have spoken up through the years when they have veered off the verifiable path. Regardless, when pastors say “I have seen hundreds of people personally change their direction of same-sex attraction from a homosexual lifestyle to a heterosexual lifestyle”… I don’t buy it. First of all, statistically there are probably not that many people in any one city that would claim to have been gay and then changed their sexual orientation. Are we to believe that every single one of them ended up at any one church? Just look into the numbers of people that are or were LGBTQA and then how many of those claim they have changed it. Doubtful once you convert that to the population of most cities. But how does a pastor of a church of hundreds or thousands have time to “personally” work with hundreds of people with any one issue? My experience has been that these pastors are one busy dude and it takes a lot to get a little of their time.

Also, I know some of these people that pastors have “helped.” Many of them are currently not a member of any church and are openly LGBTQA. So, sorry, not quite all “success” stories (by the church in question’s standards or conversion). Others have privately disagreed with their church about being able to change and have told me horror stories about the “conversion” therapy they went through after being pressured by their church. Not to mention that they have also told me and others that they doubt there are “hundreds” of ex-gays helped by any one church. At best, I think pastors can say they know a couple of people that have had their sexual attractions change for unknown reasons and then have forced a good number of people that are LGBTQA to live celibate lifestyles based on this idea that people can change their attractions.

Public Response to Personal Beliefs

Two more issues rolled into one: when pastors talk about how educators in public schools should not accept same-sex marriage as normal, or how business owners should be willing to stand to lose business or even various deals or contracts over this issue. Which is weird, considering our job as Christians is to be in the world but not of the world. Treat every student you teach as weird unless they believe like you? Cause your business to go under unless everyone you deal with has the same religious beliefs as you? That is all just silly. People every where are not going to believe like you, but you can still do business with them or treat them like they are normal. That is the whole point of “be in the world but not of it.”

Of course, this stance often does does not apply to other issues, like the many people at church that are currently on their third marriage, or who had sex before marriage but still got married, or who are obviously not treating their bodies as a temple of God by the way they eat. You see, at many churches like these, it is okay to do business with people that violate some scriptures, just not others. They can even become leaders in the church (yep, I have personally known some leaders at various churches that are on their third marriage, or had sex before marriage, or committed a wide range of the “acceptable” evangelical sins).

Compassionate Christians?

Look, as I often say, I am not trying to convince anyone that they need to change their belief on what is sin. My concern is that many very complex and difficult issues are being glossed over and made to seem clear when they are not. People are going around saying that the Bible clearly says things that it does not. People are saying that most Christians believe something that they sometimes don’t (even though Christianity is not supposed to be about popularity anyways, but interesting how many will automatically turn “what we should believe” into a popularity contest if it helps their point). Many are going around saying that Christians at these churches are nice, caring people… which they are, as long as you agree with them. Try to take a different position and have a productive conversation about it? Not so much. I have had many in person and online conversations to prove it. I have been defriended by many former close friends over just raising questions. Then once the arguments start, I have had to block more than I can count once they go off the deep end of hate. People I used to be good friends with, pray with, walk with, eat with, etc. Once the hateful insults come out about how I want to kill babies (it always goes there for some reason) just because I want to acknowledge the difficulties on this issue, its time to block. Before someone wants to talk about the compassion of evangelicals, let me pull out some statements towards me that are not very compassionate: I’m worse than a pagan because I am too liberal (even though I never expressed that), hopeful God will strike me down in explicit graphic ways, how gay men will attack my family, etc.

You have to ask yourself: why does such extreme hatred come out of the mouths of people once they are confronted by one of their former insiders that now walks a different path? Maybe we can look back to the words of their pastors to see why: claims that if one is not clear, they will have no leg to stand on at some point in the future, or if they think they are going to get away with their beliefs in the short run, then they won’t in the long run, because the “spirit demands submission.” Skipping over the problematic idea that is “spirit demands submission,” just looking at the whole tone there is very telling: you either agree with me or God is gonna get you in the end. Its not grace, its beliefs. You have to get every point right or else there will be divine trouble.

It is the ultimate in works-based religion played out to its logical conclusion. Faith that God is still God even in the gray areas is not enough. You have to know for sure what you know, and get it correct right now or the big army boot of the Spirit in the sky is going to squash you. Of course, this is all because they care for you, even if that caring is wrapped up in a big ball of “God is abusive” theology.

Do They Really Hate Gays?

Finally, I would also like to address people saying that these Christians “hate gays” because of their beliefs. Look, the concept of “truth being more complex than easy, quick sound bites” goes both ways. Yes, conversion therapy is very hateful towards those that are LGBTQA. But many people, especially at these churches, just don’t understand that. Their pastors seems to refuse to understand that side of the issue. But they don’t hate gays in the ways they are accused of hating them. Or at least, in the ways that many conservative outlets say they are being attacked for (its always hard to know if that is true when conservative media won’t actually point to any real attacks or claim that certain articles are an attack when they really aren’t). Do these churches have abusive parts to their theology? Yes. Does that mean they are intentionally trying to be abusive? Not necessarily. They are just misguided in these areas. Part of that is the pastor’s fault, part of it is the evangelical leaders that they listens to, and part of it is the fault of the thousands that enable them by accepting what they preaches without critically analyzing it.

And I know what the typical response is: they aren’t anti-gay – they love all people and want them to be everything that God has for them. This sounds wonderful, but there is one big problem: when saying this they conveniently leave out the parenthetical statement after that: “be everything that God has for them (as long as it is not a gay Christian).” They like to selectively edit their response to seem like a loving, accepting church, specifically leaving out the part where you will be expected to not be LGBTQA if you want to stay there a long time, or that you will at best have to live a celibate lifestyle and never serve anywhere on the church leadership. Yes, it is dishonest and deceiving. Technically they are still anti-gay even after claiming not to be. That is because they are trying to take a “bold stand” in a way that will get them attacked the least.

Take Time to Listen

The biggest problem here is an evangelical movement that refuses to listen. You can go find many other sermons by these pastors on a wide range of topics where they speak so emphatically of things they clearly do not understand. I say this not because they have a different stance than I think they should, but because they can not accurately describe the side they are railing against. Such is the case when they speak about “homosexuality.” Just using that word demonstrates they are not listening or understanding or both. They do this because they follow the lead of many other problematic evangelical leaders like John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and Francis Chan. To these pastors and those that follow them I would say: try to listen more and rebuke less. Those of us that have left the evangelical tradition but still cling to Jesus are not any more ignorant or misled than anyone else is. Please try to understand our position before preaching more misguided sermons about us. I highly recommend the work of Justin Lee and the Gay Christian Network. They have many members who believe that “homosexuality is a sin” but are willing to be honest about the uncertainties about what the Bible actually says in this area.

And I know the response that many evangelicals give: I have lots of gay/liberal/homosexual friends/family/co-workers, so I have listened to and know their side well. Leaders and members at these churches do technically listen, but then respond in ways that reveal they didn’t listen to understand as much as correct. Look, you can disagree with someone all you want – its a free country. But if your words do not display an understanding of the side you are railing against, then it doesn’t matter how many people you talked to: you didn’t listen to understand. There is a difference.

metamodern-faith-avatarThen there is the response that I am saying all of this because I want to be “popular with the world.” Look, I’m not a famous person. I won’t gain popularity taking this stance in Texas. I will probably get defriended by at least 10 people for posting this. I will probably get a handful of likes and then a massive amount of argument and accusations from many others. And all of that is nothing compared to what people who are LGBTQA will face once all of those articles about “hit jobs” against popular celebrities circulate more and more. Yes, something for you to consider: someone you know that is LGBTQA could possibly get harassed and verbally attacked each time you post those articles “in support of This Famous Person.” Any negative feedback you or I face is nothing compared to the horrors that the LGBTQA community has to face every time they get accused of “overstepping their bounds” in response to some celebrity’s beliefs.

Actually, What If I Do Understand Trump Supporters – But Still Disagree?

We are now all being told that the biggest problem with with our national discourse on the election is that we don’t listen to each other. On the surface, this is a good point because listening is usually always a good idea. However, it seems that this good idea is being served with an unhealthy side dish of “if you are disagreeing, it is because you are not listening and understanding.”

We tend to accept this side dish because we are taught that our problems would all be solved if we just realized that we are more alike than we are different.

But what if we all start listening to each other right now and find that…. we are all still different on many key issues?

I have lived in Texas all my life. My parents are not very conservative, but probably 90%+ of all people that I have known are. I know and understand the conservative position as much as any conservative does (and sometimes even more so). And because I understand, I disagree. Bigly.

However, I don’t believe that the conservative viewpoint should be silenced or removed from the national discourse on and topic. Many conservatives feel like their viewpoint is not being heard because the liberal media and biased system is keeping it out. To advocate for those feelings to be ignored will just cause them to grow stronger.

But at the same time, I know that there are factual problems with that last paragraph. There is a conservative side of the media that tells their story and technically gets more viewers than the liberal side. The system is a mess that causes many problems with many people, not just conservatives. And even those two sentences are greatly oversimplifying some complex issues.

But the current drift of our national narrative is heading towards an attitude that will label me as not “listening” or “understanding” just because I disagree.

Its not really one way or the other. Sometimes listening leads us to realize we are more alike than we realize – on some issues. Sometimes listening leads us to realize we are really different on some issues and that can’t be changed.

The other side of this problem are those that say that all opinions on all issues are valid, and that we should stop telling anyone that they are wrong. This, of course, is followed by a long list of exceptions to this all inclusive declaration: except for racism, except for sexism, except for religion discrimination, except for heterosexism, except for ableism, etc. This whole package sounds good on the surface, until you dig in and find out that its not that people don’t want you calling out any of these exceptions as much as they want to re-assign everything to different categories so that nothing falls into any negative area. For instance, people will acknowledge that racism exists, but any specific instance of racism is labeled as something else – misunderstanding, social media hype, personal feelings, etc – and therefore moved into the category of “personal opinion” rather than societal problem. Racism exists, its just that there are no racists. Somehow, its magic.

I know people by name that have made racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic, etc statements and jokes on social media. So I am not saying they are any of those because they voted for Trump – I knew that they were long before Trump was even considering running. I just didn’t see anyone that had inflammatory statements before the election posting on social media about how they voted for Clinton, Johnson, Stein, or no one after the election.

And so when I also saw people that never posted or said anything prejudiced declaring their support for Trump, you can maybe now see why it confused me. Did you know what you were voting for? Did you care? Why did you not point out that you disagreed with Trump’s sexist, racist, ableist, heterosexist rhetoric until after someone asked you how you could be okay with that? Before the election, I had one cousin that pointed out how much he hated Trump but as a Republican only wanted to vote Republican and felt trapped. I believe him. A few other connections that stated a general discomfort with “some” of Trump’s rhetoric. I believe them as well. These people are unfairly getting labeled many things they shouldn’t be.

I am not a huge fan of blanket statements. I try to avoid them even in the few cases where I suspect they might be true. But I also have listened to many Trump supporters enough to know where a majority of them come from, and I disagree with a majority of their reasoning for voting for Trump (and technically, all votes are for someone – the ballot did not say “against Hillary Clinton” on it). Additional listening on my part will not change my disagreements (even though I will still be listening because that is just who I am).

And for that matter, I don’t think getting Trump supporters to listen to me will get them to change their mind on many stances wither (even though it would be nice to stop being personally accused of killing millions of unborn babies with my own hands because I voted for Clinton).

metamodern-faith-avatarSo this is the challenge we are facing in America. Understanding each other is not going to solve all of our problems. Some, maybe, but not all. It will lead us to realize there are some things we just can’t agree on. We will need to find a way to agree to disagree and then work towards a system where everyone’s rights are protected. This will not be simple or easy. And the incoming administration seems to think there are simple one-solution-fits-all answers for every problem more so than not. I hope we don’t have to go through a large number of national tragedies and hardships for them to realize this is not the case.

America Doesn’t Need Unity. It Needs Marriage Counseling.

Has anyone else listened to the current political debates playing out on social media and feel that it all seems familiar? Not as is “this argument happened last time,” but some thing even closer to home than that? Am I the only one that thinks the two sides are beginning to resemble a couple in the midst of a divorce going at each other? And I’m not talking about the “oh, they are just drifting apart” kind, but the “should we get the police here before we have to call an ambulance” kind?

Yeah, America needs marriage counseling pronto.  And I say marriage counseling for a reason. When two people don’t get along, you don’t just tell them they need unity… they are already united whether they want to be or not (just like we are in America). You don’t let them blame external forces for dividing them. You tell them one thing: they need to sit down and listen to each other. And not just listen, but learn to practice what is called active listening:

According to experts in the field of communication, active listening means that you possess and have developed a specific kind of communication skill that allows you to fully hear what another person is trying to say.

There are many ways to do this, but the article that I quoted above lists five good places where America (aka “you reading this”) could start:

  1. Let your partner speak”This simply means that you should refrain from arguing your case until your partner finishes stating her or his position.”
  2. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes”During times of conflict, you should enter the conversation with specific goals of what you would like to learn from your mate – and not your talking points.”
  3. Don’t jump to conclusions”Even when folks are trying to listen, they sometimes assume that they know what their mate will say before the words can escape their mouth.”
  4. Ask questions”Avoid asking questions disguised as accusations. Instead, focus on knowledge that you truly need in order to better understand your partner’s position.
  5. Paraphrase what your partner says”Be aware there is a big difference between paraphrasing and parroting. In other words, don’t engage in a verbatim account or take on a litigious tone.”

Notice what this advice doesn’t say: “Quote Bible verses that say you should listen more than speak to the one you need to listen to” “Tell them that other factors are dividing you and there are the reasons why you can’t get along.” “Minimize their point of view by saying your point of view is just as important or more so than theirs.”

Look, I believe in unity. I believe in speaking in love and not hate. But too many times we use the ideas of unity, speaking in love, letting no unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, we are all the same on the inside, the world is changed by your example and not your opinion, the media is dividing us so turn it off, etc to silence the other “side” rather than to actively listen to them.

To put this another way, even good responses can be the wrong responses when utilized at the wrong time or with the wrong intentions.

I hate to have to bring it up, but those in power usually use the concept of “unity” to force their political stance on those that they have power over. And even if you don’t buy that, any concept like “unity” has to be defined, and different people will have different definitions. If the goal is unity, then one definitive version of what that means will have to win out. And everyone else will be forced to follow the winner.

metamodern-faith-avatarTherefore, unity is not really a great goal at this point. Maybe someday, but not now. Besides, we have had unity forced upon us in America already. It hasn’t been working all that great, especially in recent years. We don’t need to ignore our differences, or even acknowledge them and then gloss over them in pursuit of one side’s view of unity. We need marriage counseling. We need to understand each other. We need to see each other as humans and not as sides to be opposed. To some reading this, that is unity. But to those that haven’t benefited from the majority’s view of “unity” so far in America, it is actually a much higher goal. Equality.

How to Destroy a Nation

Capturing millions of people and selling them as property to support business through slavery will not destroy a nation.

Latter declaring that these people have no legal rights and therefore can not even be citizens of your nation will not destroy a nation.

Forcing native inhabitants to move from their homelands to horrible living conditions – killing thousands in the process – will not destroy a nation.

Sending hundreds of thousands of people into internment camps just because they are the same ethnicity as the country that you are fighting with will not destroy a nation.

Dropping bombs that instantly kill hundreds of thousands of people in an instance will not destroy the nation that dropped the bombs.

Denying equal rights, voting, pay, voice, and other basic aspects to over half of the population of a nation just because they are women will not destroy a nation.

Hundreds of years of atrocities, murders, lies, cover-ups, unethical experiments, hatred, greed, mistreatment of the poor, abuse of children, and many other sins will not destroy a nation.

What is finally going to get God mad enough to destroy America (or let America destroy itself)?

Marriage equality and transgender bathroom access.

Two issues not even directly mentioned in the Bible… unlike all of the things above. But sure, God is going to finally hit that smite button because we let people marry who they want, and go pee where they feel comfortable.

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