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“Progressive” Christianity and Premarital Sex

Almost exactly one year ago, I read an article on Relevant Magazine that made me realize that I had absolutely no personal convictions to remain abstinent.

I had grown up in the dead-center of the purity movement. I’d worn the silver rings, made the pledges, condescended to the teenage mothers, read the Joshua Harris books, and all the other lovely rituals that seem to be involved in that movement. However, after an abusive partner coerced me into sex and eventually raped me, I had to let go of the basic tenets of the purity culture. The purity culture functions on the idea that virginity is the greatest gift a woman can give her husband. She is a used toothbrush without it, or a crashed car. It holds the idea that every time you have sex, you give away a part of yourself that you can never get back, and therefore you will necessarily enter into future relationships broken–your only value coming from the benevolent grace that God has on your insufficient self.

I gave up that idea and replaced it with a new “ethics of abstinence.” In these new ethics, which are often promoted in evangelical Christian circles that claim to be progressive (but usually aren’t), premarital sex was just the same as any other sin. It didn’t ruin me for life. I wasn’t broken or scarred.

But premarital sex was still universally wrong, and there were reasons. Several of these new reasons were listed in that Relevant Magazine article I read in November, 2011. According to the author, Ally Spotts (who I really appreciated during my earlier years of blogging. I don’t know that we’d agree on much now), we should wait for sex because waiting builds friendship, because “physical boundaries speak to the value you place on your sexuality,” because relationships should be about wholeness–not just happiness, and because we need to practice managing our lust.

She listed these as the real reasons God asks us to wait for sex. She talked about how other reasons–namely those held by the purity movement–didn’t satisfy her, and recognized that they weren’t satisfying the 80% of young Christians who had had premarital sex, either. So she attempted to come up with some new reasons, as many other Relevant writers and pastors and Christian bloggers (including myself) have tried to do.

But I realized something reading that article on that day.

Like Ally, the reasons the purity movement had given me didn’t satisfy me. But neither did Ally’s reasons.

Image via David Hayward

So I started asking questions in the comments section (advice: never ask questions in the comments section of Relevant. In fact, avoid that place like a cat avoids the vacuum cleaner. Your sanity will thank me). In asking the questions, I learned that no one seemed to have the answers. Instead of answers, I either got harsh judgement or other people who admitted to being just as confused as I was.

But in every comment that told me I was “abusing grace,” that I “must not be very familiar with the Bible,” telling me to “get married earlier, genius!,” to just find a fraternity house where they can set me up with a goat if all I want to do is get laid (FOR REAL), or comments that just listed every verse in the Bible that mentions sexual immorality (while failing to define sexual immorality), all I heard was “I don’t know the answers, and your questions expose that. I don’t know, and that makes me afraid of you.”

While I applaud evangelical Christians who move away from the blatantly destructive teaching that a woman’s (or a man’s) worth lies in her virginity, these new teachings that emerge in its place don’t stand up to the questions. They fall apart at the simple, honest questions of a confused recovering Fundy.

So why do Christians keep scrambling for these new reasons? Why do Christians accuse anyone who dares question these of perverting the grace of God or wanting to sleep with goats? Do these Christians who claim the label “progressive” not realize that they are just repeating the same patterns that they condemn in their more conservative brothers and sisters? Patterns of judgment, close-mindedness, denial of reality, and fear of the unknown?

Let’s get this straight, Christians. Choosing to wait until marriage is a personal choice that you can make for any number of reasons. It’s a good choice. But it’s not necessarily THE good choice. The values we place on sex can’t be universalized. Neither can interpretations of the Bible. Even the definition of marriage and of sex is fluid throughout history and culture.

We would do far better to throw away these paper-thin universal arguments against premarital sex. There are better things to focus on, like affirming one another’s humanity. Like not treating the people we are attracted to as sex objects. Like respecting the physical boundaries of other people without question. Like fighting the rape culture that’s so prevalent in the church.

We can’t universalize sexual standards. But we can treat each other well, so let’s start with that.

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An Update on Relevant Magazine and Hugo Schwyzer

In case anyone would like an update on the Relevant Magazine/Hugo Schwyzer situation, here are a couple of emails I sent Relevant. I have been asked not to quote their responses on my blog, and I will respect that, so the following are my emails, with brief summaries of the response I got in between.

 

My first email:

Dear Relevant Magazine,

I write this email hesitantly, because I am expecting to receive condescending pat answers from you, and I don’t know how many more of those I can handle today. I hope that you will surprise me by refraining from those and I hope that you will read this email with an opened mind and think about the complications of this issue. Thank you.

 

I am a long time reader of Relevant. In fact, I once called it my favorite website. I am grateful for the things it has taught me in the past and for the ways that it has inspired my own writing career. However, lately, Relevant has done many things that have convinced me that Relevant is not a safe space for the “least of these–” abuse survivors, women, and others in disenfranchised places in society.

 

Most recently, you have allowed Hugo Schwyzer, a former woman abuser and an attempted murder, to publish an article about women’s issues on your site. Simply publishing this article alone probably would not have warranted an email response from me, but how you have handled this has been disturbing for several reasons.

 

1. You did not disclose Schwyzer’s past in his bio, or put a trigger

warning on his article.

 

2. Some concerns you addressed with pat answers that amount to–“God has changed Schwyzer and we need to forget his past and have grace.”

 

3. Other concerns you simply silenced. I posted an article on your Facebook page addressing Schwyzer’s past. My post was deleted and I was blocked from Relevant’s facebook page. Several of my friends posted the same article and reported that their posts were also deleted.

 

You are not only refusing to disclose this man’s past, but you are actively silencing concerns. I am asking to you think deeply about the message this sends to your readers who are abuse survivors.

 

Yes, I believe people can change. The apostle Paul of the Bible is proof of that. But did the Bible edit out Paul’s history? Did Paul cover up his past?

 

To put it another way, what if a repentant child molester came to your church and wanted to work with children? Would you allow him to do this? Would you place him in that position without warning the parents of those children of this man’s past?

 

Why, then, would you allow a repentant woman abuser to write articles on women without warning women of what this man has done in the past? How can you expect women and survivors to feel safe commenting on your site or writing for your site, putting themselves in a position where Schwyzer can find their information?

 

Schwyzer has already shown that he has no boundaries and no concern for those who feel unsafe around him (he has attempted to follow my friends and me on Twitter, even as we were discussing on Twitter our being uncomfortable with his post on Relevant). Your unwillingness to inform readers of his history is enabling him to continue to make survivors uncomfortable.

 

Unless something is done about this, I will continue to use my platform as a writer to disclose Schwyzer’s past myself, and I will certainly reveal Relevant’s part in this.

 

Thank you,

 

Sarah Moon

 

Relevant responded politely, and even apologized for the fact that they did, in fact, respond with predictable pat answers. But, the fact of the matter is just that. They were pat answer–claims that informing readers of Schwyzer’s past would not be fair to Hugo. I wish I could show you the email so you could decide for yourself, but I did not notice any concern for the safety of readers or for the well-being of survivors.  The responder claimed that Schwyzer was actually the best person to speak for women’s issues because of his past (I don’t even…). The email claims that the people who made the decision to publish Schwyzer were feminists (…oh Relevant. I have spent enough time on the internet to know that the word “feminist” doesn’t always mean “someone who gives a damn about women.” Hush now). The email is also clear that editors were well informed of Schwyzer’s past yet chose to publish him anyway.

 

They did apologize for blocking me from their Facebook page and for deleting comments. They’ve promised to be more careful about moderating these comments in the future, so hopefully that means comments will no longer be deleted (so those of you who aren’t blocked can comment away! Let people know the truth).

 

Also, they’ve agreed to use more trigger warnings on posts in the future, but told me that Schwyzer’s post did not require a trigger warning (so, I guess that means my triggers upon seeing Schwyzer’s name don’t matter).

 

However, as grateful as I was for the response and for Relevant’s addressing my concerns about their deleting comments, I had many more concerns so I wrote another email.

My response:

Thank you for your reply.

 

Since you believe that Hugo Schwyzer has changed and is deserving of a platform at Relevant, I’m curious as to what you think about his continuing to participate in activities that make women highly uncomfortable.

 

As my friends and I were discussing the situation via Twitter, Schwyzer attempted to follow several of us. Also, he “favorited” a tweet of mine in which I was stating my discomfort about him. After blocking him and expressing my discomfort about his attempt to follow several of us on Twitter, I heard from several other women who have experienced the same thing–having Schwyzer attempt to follow them or retweet/favorite tweets mentioning their discomfort with Schwyzer. This suggests to me that, while Schwyzer may no longer be hurting women physically, he has no respect for women’s boundaries online.

 

Knowing Schwyzer’s lack of boundaries, will you continue to allow readers, many of whom are linking to their blogs and facebook pages in your comments section, or following your writers on social media, to go uninformed about Schwyzer’s past?

 

Also, I am curious what Relevant thinks about these very recent Schwyzer articles (trigger warning):

http://jezebel.com/5875217/he-wants-to-jizz-on-your-face-but-not-why-youd-think

 

http://jezebel.com/5865973/the-real-reason-you-shouldnt-fuck-your-professor

 

Do you really want to direct your readers to this material and do you really want Relevant’s name to be associated with such content?

 

I have created a petition asking Relevant Magazine to please disclose information about Hugo Schwyzer if you choose to publish future posts by him. So far, 72 people have signed. 72 people feel betrayed and uncomfortable thanks to Relevant Magazine. 72 people no longer feel that it is a safe space. 72 people would like to have been informed.

 

You say that Relevant has made an informed choice to publish Schwyzer. Why are you refusing to give your readers that same opportunity to make an informed choice before publishing comments on his articles that contain contact information or before following him on social media? Why do you refuse to give your readers the same amount of grace that you claim to give Schwyzer (though I would argue that enabling a former abuser by not keeping him accountable is anything but grace) by informing them?

 

If you continue to publish Schwyzer’s articles without informing your readers of his past, please know that I will continue to petition and speak out against Relevant. It hurts me to do so because of the positive impact that Relevant has had on my life, but you give me no other choice. Also know that this conversation is being shared and continued by other bloggers such as Dianna Anderson, Elizabeth Esther, and Slacktivist.

 

People don’t feel safe at Relevant anymore. That’s not what Christianity should be like.

 

Thanks,

 

Sarah Moon

 

If you’d like to email Relevant yourself, send your thoughts to feedback@relevantmagazine.com

 

Also, please consider signing my petition to Relevant asking them to disclose Schwyzer’s past to their readers. Every signature equals an email sent to Relevant. At the time of my writing this, 73 people have signed and Relevant has gotten 73 emails asking them to disclose Schwyzer’s past.  Relevant can’t ignore these numbers forever.


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Relevant Magazine, Hugo Schwyzer, and a thing called grace

Trigger warnings for rape, abuse, stalking

I believe in a thing called grace.

Really, I do. I believe people can change, and when people change, I believe in giving those people a second chance. But here’s the thing.

Life’s complicated.

Because, sometimes, showing “grace” to one person means denying grace from another.

Here’s an example: You have a child molester who has raped and abused young children. This child molester meets Jesus. Jesus changes said child molester.

Great!

But what if this child molester decides he wants to start coming to church? What if he decides he wants to work in the church nursery with children?

Do you show him “grace” by forgetting his past and letting him do so?

I think you all know the answer to that question.

Now, hypothetical situations aside, we need to talk about Relevant Magazine  and Hugo Schwyzer.

Relevant Magazine, a site that claims to herald progressive Christianity, recently published an article by Hugo Schwyzer. You may not recognize that name, and I doubt Relevant did either when they published his article. But a quick Google search will reveal his disturbing past.

According to Grace from “Are Women Human?:”

Hugo Schwyzer lied for several years about his attempt to kill a woman – on one occasion, falsely describing his attempt to kill his girlfriend and himself as only a suicide attempt that “accidentally” endangered her.

Grace explains more (and provides documentation) in her article here (which I encourage you all to read).

So, our pal Hugo is a repentant abuser.

Now, let me repeat, I BELIEVE PEOPLE CAN CHANGE, and if you skip down to the comments section without reading this whole post and leave me a pat answer like, “God changes people!” I may just have to cry.

But Hugo, a man who has committed very serious crimes against women, is now writing articles at Relevant Magazine about women’s issues. And there are some problems with that.

The first problem is, Relevant refuses to disclose Schwyzer’s past. There was no disclaimer on the article, no mention of his abuse in the article.

Not only that, but Relevant actively silenced voices that informed readers of Schwyzer’s past. 

My friend Dianna Anderson, from diannaeanderson.net, posted a comment that was deleted.

I posted the article by Grace (above) on Relevant’s Facebook page. Not only was my comment deleted, but I was blocked from Relevant’s Facebook page, even though my post containing the article contained no profanities or hateful words.

Several of my twitter friends then tried posting the article to Relevant’s page. Their comments were also deleted.

If you can’t see why this is a problem, let me remind you of the hypothetical scenario that I mentioned above–if there was a repentant child molester working in your church nursery, wouldn’t you want to know about it?

Similarly, I, as an abuse survivor, would like to know that the man writing articles at a once-trusted Christian website is a former abuser. I would like to know so that I can be cautious about the comments I leave on his article. So I can be cautious about linking my blog to the article. So I can be cautious about following this man on Twitter.

Yet, people like Relevant writer Max Dubinsky can’t seem to understand this. Dubinsky stated in a conversation on Relevant’s Facebook: “How would everyone here like it if every time you spoke or wrote something, you had to disclose the worst thing you’ve ever done for everyone to hear and read?”

Dubinsky’s comment considers only the feelings of the abuser, and not the feelings of survivors.

And here’s where MY question comes in to play, for Relevant, Dubinsky, and all other Christians who would ignore the concerns of survivors in order to defend former abusers: Who gets your grace?

Because if you can’t see why former abusers should have to disclose their abuse before having an article published on an interactive Christian website, then you have no grace for abuse victims. 

Secondly, this argument isn’t just about Hugo Schwyzer’s past. He continues to write articles that make even a sex-positive feminist such as myself a bit uncomfortable (here’s one entitled “He Wants to Jizz on Your Face, but Not Why You Think” written in January of 2012).

And, the man has no sense of boundaries. None, whatsoever.

I spent last night in an impassioned Twitter discussion about the recent Relevant Magazine article, and how uncomfortable it made me feel. Several of my Twitter friends joined in to express their discomfort as well.

And as we talked about how nervous Schwyzer made us…

Schwyzer tried to follow some of us on Twitter.

He even “favorited” a tweet of mine in which I was talking about how uncomfortable he made me. It was as if he was saying, “I’m watching you. I see what you’re saying about me. I see how I’m making you feel. And I like it.”

I had a panic attack upon seeing that he’d favorited my tweet, and I cried for about 20 minutes.

And I still wonder, why? Why would a man who has completely changed “favorite” a tweet by a woman that felt uncomfortable reading his articles? Why would a man who no longer wants to hurt women attempt to force his online presence upon women who clearly did not want that presence?

The answer is, he wouldn’t.

Hugo Schwyzer may not be trying to murder women anymore. But he is still deliberately attempting to make them feel uncomfortable. He is still relishing their discomfort. Admitting, via Twitter, that seeing these feelings in women is a “favorite” of his.

Yet, Relevant refuses to inform readers of this man’s past. Relevant continues to give this man an undisputed platform in progressive Christianity.

They do this in the name of grace.

But again I say, who gets your grace? 

“Grace” to abusers at the expense of survivors is not the grace of Jesus.

“Grace” that allows abusers to continue to harm women unchecked is not the grace of Jesus.

This “grace” that Relevant claims to be giving Hugo Schwyzer by publishing his articles and refusing to include a disclaimer about his past is NOT grace to survivors. It is NOT grace to women. And, really, it is NOT grace to Schwyzer to allow him to continue to participate in circles where he is working with the people he once abused without holding him accountable.

Check your idea of grace, Relevant Magazine.

It’s not the grace of Jesus. 

If you are as bothered this whole situation as I was, please sign my petition asking Relevant magazine to include a disclaimer about Schwyzer’s past with any future articles by him. I think it’s a reasonable request that would show grace to survivors and commenters who might be reluctant to have Schwyzer know their information. I also think it may help keep Schwyzer accountable and may dissuade him from further Twitter-stalking episodes like the one described above. The link to the petition is here. Thank you very much. 


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Rape culture, Relevant Magazine, and other things that make me want to swear a lot

Trigger warnings: rape, and rape enabling

Some of the responses to Joe Paterno’s death were triggering for me. You know, the ones that basically say (albeit in much more eloquent terms), “Everyone, shut up about the rape victims and how they’re feeling! Joe Paterno was really good at winning football games! Can’t we just talk about that?”

As a rape victim, this was painful to hear, but not unexpected. As soon as I heard of his death (or rather, as soon as the media falsely reported his death a few hours before he actually died) I braced myself for an inevitable onslaught of Facebook statuses and secular news articles defending JoePa’s great legacy against those of us who have the audacity to place human life over a football career.

But, for some reason, be it naivety or delusion, I wasn’t expecting to hear this from any Christian sources.

I expected to see Christian articles that mourned the loss of a man, loved by God and his family and his players, but a man who made a terrible mistake. A man who became so disconnected from humanity that he put a greater priority on protecting the reputation of his school and his football team than on protecting young boys who were being raped.

For some reason, I expected more from Christians.

But when I read a column on a popular Christian webzine, Relevant Magazine, that stated, that because Joe Paterno was a good coach he was, “He was better than us.” In which the author expressed, “He was so great that I think the ultimate story about him will eventually outshine the awful ugliness of a child molestation scandal that happened…” and that that was “OK.”

And that made the guilt-inducing, shaming claim that “We are all Joe Paterno.” That many of us would have done the same thing in his situation. That we aren’t doing enough to stop the child rape and abuse and therefore, “If Paterno is ugly, then you are ugly. Does that make it right? Of course not. We’re all wrong and we are all missing the mark on this issue—just like Paterno did.”

My initial response was as follows (language warning):

Rather than posting an article encouraging us to see Paterno as a human, like all of us, while acknowledging that he made an inhumane mistake, this article asked us to view Paterno as a super-human, who made a measly mistake that ought to be glossed over in light of his football accomplishments.

 Rather than empathizing with how lost and confused the victims must feel right now, this article bemoaned the fact that the curtains of this scandal were covering the shining light that was Paterno’s legacy.

Rather than encouraging us to direct our anger toward Paterno into a productive path so that we could someday learn to forgive, this article sent already confused and hurting people on a guilt-trip.  

Rather than educating us about practical ways to help victims of child abuse and rape, this article equated Paterno’s misuse of power to our feelings of powerlessness.

A magazine that posts articles insisting that we are too soft on “sin” when it comes to consensual, premarital sex and homosexuality, referred to enabling rape as “dropping the ball.”  

And, again, a section of mainstream Christianity takes its place as a cog in the powerful machine that is rape culture.

And, again, I sit here and cry and thank Jesus for my Zoloft that is preventing the panic attacks, and I wonder why I even bother calling myself a Christian.

I wonder why I’m searching for religious fulfillment.

I wonder why I think it’s going to be worth it.

But, deep down, I know it is. Deep down, I know that for every shitty article on Relevant Magazine, there will be Dianna Andersons and Elizabeth Esthers and Jo Davises making a stand.

I see hope. And that hope is small and quiet in the midst of the roar of rape culture, but it’s there.  

So, church, let’s break away from rape culture. Let’s throw our wrenches into the machine. Let’s call out the Christian magazines that defend rape enablers. Let’s call out other Christians that use modesty standards to blame victims. Let’s stop teaching our boys and men that they are not responsible for their own actions. Let’s get involved with organizations like RAINN that fight rape. Let’s tear down patriarchal power structures and replace them with a world where all are viewed as equals. Let’s use our platforms as pastors, writers, teachers, parents, neighbors, and friends to spread the message that human life is not more important than a person’s reputation as a coach (or a pastor, or a Christian, etc.).

Rape culture is strong.

But so are we.

As for Joe Paterno, a prayer via Scott Morizot–

Kyrie eleison.
Requiem in pacem.

And let us pray that all survivors of rape can find healing in forgiveness.