Tag Archives: evangelicalism

Pondering “Out of a Far Country”: Deserving of love

I’d like to draw my discussion of the book “Out of a Far Country” by drawing attention to a single statement that Christopher makes in the final (pre-epilogue) chapter.  I feel this statement deserves a great deal of attention, not only because it says something about the conservative evangelical/fundamentalist Christian approach to homosexuality, but their approach to life, the divine, and spirituality in general.  As Chistopher speaks of the overwhelming sense of welcome he felt as he returned home with his parents, he offers the following phrase:

I was unworthy of my parents love…

Christopher quickly slides past that statement and goes on about the great depths of love that his parents had for him despite his alleged unworthiness.  But I want to pause and really think about that statement.

Christopher felt he was unworthy of his parents love.

Because a child doesn’t deserve the love of parents simply because zie exists.  It’s something that either the child must earn — presumably through proper behavior — or through the magnanimous actions of parents who decides to love zem anyway.  But either way you slice it, a child is not simply worthy of a parent’s love simply because, hey, children deserve to have parents who love them.

I don’t buy that line of reasoning.  Quite frankly, if a parent ever told a child, “You know what, you don’t really deserve my love because [the reason doesn’t matter], but I’m going to love you anyway because that’s just the way I am,” I would not consider that parent loving.  I would consider that parent cruel.  I would suspect that such a parent was being manipulative or otherwise abusive.  If I were in a position to do so, I would watch that parent very closely and see how else zie treats zir child.  I might even have social services on speed dial.

Here’s the thing, many Christians like Christopher don’t just think that this unworthy child with a parent who deigns to love said child anyway as a dynamic between earthly children and their earthly parents.  They see this as the appropriate dynamic between themselves and their heavenly parent.  They see a God who loves not because people deserve love, but sees a bunch of unworthy people and decides to love them anyway because He feels like it.

My view of such a heavenly parent is no higher than my view of a similar earthly parent.  I believe that the Divine loves me because the Divine can do nothing else when the Divine looks upon me.  I believe that Divine love is based in my inherent worthiness to be loved.  I don’t have to earn it.  I don’t have to wait for the Divine to decide to love me anyway.  I deserve to be loved.

That doesn’t mean that I’m perfect.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t need to improve.  The Divine calls on me to do these things because the Divine loves me, not in order to make me (more) lovable.

I feel a great deal of sadness for someone who considers themselves unworthy of love.  In my book, that suggests to me that zie is in a dark place.  And if zie is in that dark place because zir  religion tells zem that’s the zie they should be in, well, I’ll make no apologies for finding that monstrous.

Raised Right: Empathy and Judgment

With today’s post, I want to take a look at chapter 8 of Alisa Harris’s book, “Raised Right:  How I Untangled my Faith from Politics.”  Ms. Harris selected “Judge Not” for the chapter’s title, almost certainly to bring up Jesus’s own injunction against judging as retold in Matthew 7.  I think that the entirety of Matthew 7:1-5[1] is relevant to both the theme of chapter 7 of Ms. Harris’s book and her approach to it, so I’d like to quote it here:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.  And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye?  Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

This passage does not end with simply saying, “Don’t judge.”  It goes on to explain that whatever standard you choose to pick up and judge others with is likely to be the same standard that others turn around and judge you on.  If you nit-pick others’ every actions, pointing out every thing you consider to be wrong, people are likely to scour your own behavior for things to criticize.  If you tend to be be more lax and easy-going, others are more likely to cut you some slack too.

Ms. Harris appears to apply this as she goes from telling her story about discovering with disbelief that some of her Christians friends are Democrats to recalling her own experiences promoting feminism and being criticized and even attacked by other Christians[3].  She describes how her promotion of feminist thought[4] and the slack both she and her employer at the time — a Christian publication — took a great deal of flak, and how it caused her to soften her own views on how other evangelicals might approach certain political ideas differently than she did.  Her empathy enabled her to realize things are not always as stark and simplistic as one might first believe, and that a more nuanced understanding of the complexities of reality may lead rational people to complex positions that differ greatly.

I found myself more willing to believe thatpeople can hold blends of belief that seem incongruous to someone else.  I could be a Christian and a feminist; someone else could be a Christian and a Democrat.

Is it any wonder that to those who want to continue seeing the world in simple terms of black and white, this kind of empathy is dangerous enough to be decried as heresy?

  As an aside, while looking up this passage, I noted that it comes immediately after the “don’t worry about what tomorrow will bring” passage and is immediately followed by  the whole “ask and you shall receive” passage and a variant on Golden Rule.[2]     It seems to me that Jesus really could’ve titled the whole sermon something like “Silly thing that everyone does that creates more stress and problems for themselves and others.”

[2]  In reality, I think Jesus’s “judge not” passage is actually a specialized application of/corollary to the Golden Rule anyway, which I hope comes out in the rest of this blog post.

[3]  Not surprisingly, many of the fellow Christians who attacked her were men.

  I want to wait until next week to delve more deeply into Ms. Harris’s feminism, the response she received from her fellow evangelicals, and possibly even how it might have affected her.  I feel it deserves attention in its own right.  Plus, I’d like to offer a blogging buddy an invitation to share her insights on the topic.

TV pp.9-10: “Poor Sally”

Note about page numbers:  I’m using an iBook copy of this book.  With iBook (and I believe most electronic books work this way), the book repaginates based on your font settings.  As such, I’m not sure how useful it will be to give page numbers.  For anyone who wants to know, I’m reading my iPad in portrait mode using the smallest font size, with a font setting of Palatino.  That’s how I come by the page numbers I list in the post titles.

Having met our mysterious crucifixion survivor and watching his discovering of some unknown power last week, we turn the first chapter of Peretti’s “The Visitation” this week to meet nineteen year old Sally Fordyce as she leaves her home in Antioch Washington[1] to go for a walk.  We learn that Sally is nineteen and has returned to Antioch to live with her parents after a short-lived relationship with a trucker named Joey.  Peretti describes that relationship from Sally’s point of view:

She had believed everything Joey, the trucker, told her about love, and how she was that girl silhouetted on his mud flaps.  The marriage — if it happened at all — lasted three months.  When he found another woman more “intellectually stimulating,” Sally was bumped from the truck’s sleeper and found herself coming full circle, right back to bring Charlie and Meg’s daughter living at home again.

This is the perfect evangelical cautionary tale against “fast relationships,” especially those involving premarital sex.  Sally is that “poor girl” who trusted the promises of the “wrong boy,” fell head over heels, got used, and had her heart broken and dumped back home, ruined.

As anyone who has ever dated can tell you, there’s a lot of truth to this story.  I suspect most of us could tell that story of that person who promised us the world and eternal love, believed them, and ended up getting hurt.  I don’t take issue with any particular detail of this story, as it’s quite plausible.

And yet, the way in which this tale is told and meant to be perceived in evangelical circles is troubling to me.  This is not a tale of a young woman who had her heart broken when love didn’t work out, but the tale of the foolish girl who made a lot of bad choices and got the heartbreak coming to her.  Let me break down some of the hidden (or maybe not-so-hidden) elements of this message.

First, we have Joey comparing Sally to silhouettes (presumably of a sexy woman in some pose that’s meant to be provocative) on the mud flaps of his truck.  In evangelical culture, this is a hint that Joey is a sex-obsessed boy who would seek to sexually objectify any woman he meets.  In the evangelical mindset, this is probably seen as a sure sign that Joey watches porn too, and that if Sally had been smarter, she would’ve realized that Joey was bad news and only interested in one thing where she was concerned.

Add to this the phrase “if it happened at all” in regard to the marriage, which suggests that maybe Joey and Sally didn’t officially tie the knot, but instead were simply cohabitating in Joey’s truck as the traveled around for his work.  Again, this is a clear warning sign in evangelical circles, as any guy who will shack up with a girl without “making her an honest woman” is bound to dump her at some point.  Again, to the evangelical mind, this is something that Sally should have seen as a sign that Joey was trouble and avoided him.

The thing is, this is how some evangelicals tend to envision all relationships that meet their expectations of “doing marriage right” look.  There are no well-meaning couples who decide to live together and do their best to make things work, only to fail.  If such a relationship fails, it’s because the couple “did it wrong.”  Even if the couple does everything “right” according to the culture, if the relationship fails, it’s a sign they “didn’t really do it right after all.”  And while they might be sympathetic with Sally, there’s that part that sees this as consequences she brought on herself.

This is further shown as Peretti tells us that Sally saw her relationship with Joey as her chance for freedom.  Of course, Sally’s understanding of freedom is painted as immature.  Now that she’s back home, she has to cook, clean, and help with other household chores, things that she apparently didn’t have to do while living with Joey.

Of course, to Sally, freedom also meant escape from the small town of Antioch.  To her, Joey was her one chance to escape.  I find this interesting because Peretti is playing on a cliche here that I don’t buy into.  Contrary to popular belief, not everyone who grows up in small towns wants to escape them.  Even some of those who are not “wheat farmers” decide they like their cozy little hometown and stick around.  After all, there’s a lot to be said for living in a small community where everyone has known almost everyone else since they were born.  It can be quite comfortable.

Yes, some of us[2] decide we’d prefer more excitement.  Or we decide that our chosen careers require us to move.  Or we decide we’d have better dating options in a larger, more diverse community.  But we don’t necessarily just leave our small towns for the sake of escaping our small towns.

This is, I suppose, where I find Sally a bit poorly written.  There is nothing driving her desire to get out of Antioch.  There is nothing pushing her away from her hometown, nor is there anything pulling her to some new location.

Of course, that’s why Sally never found an escape other than Joey.  She has no ambition of her own.  She has no goals or self-determined destination.  And that’s why she is still (or at least back) in Antioch.  So she latches onto a man — a trucker who tells her that she’s sexy and beautiful, no less — to provide her with her escape.

Elephant in the room time:  Don’t a lot of evangelicals hold this up as a woman’s perfect — and only — duty?  Isn’t being a wife beholden to a particular man part and parcel of many evangelical descriptions of the ideal woman.  So here we have Sally, who seems to be latching onto that idea herself.  She turned to a man to be her ticket to the good life.  And yet, because (1) she didn’t “do it right” and (2) she “failed,” she’s a “poor girl” to be pitied/tsk-tsked by the same people who probably contributed to her thinking that this was the perfect life for her.

After all this set up, Sally meets a random stranger that has a message for her:

“I’m here to bring you a message.  Your prayers have been answered, Sally.  Your answer is on his way.  Be looking for him.”

Sally’s answer to her prayers — her prayers to get out of this small town — is on his way.  You heard that, the alleged answers to her prayers is another man.

You can almost hear the evangelical readers sardonically thinking, “Here we go again.”

[1]  Google maps knows of no Antioch in Washington, though there apparently is a “Highway 9” that runs through that state.  I suspect that this is another attempt by Peretti to create a plausible sounding small town, as Yamikuronue concludes about Ashtion in “This Present Darkness.”

[2]  I grew up in the rural town of Tioga, Pennsylvania, so I’m a “small town boy” myself.