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Crucifixion and Liberation

[Trigger warnings for abuse, rape, and violence against oppressed groups]

Image by Aaron Douglas

Image by Aaron Douglas

I recently wrote a blog post for Rachel Held Evans in which I talked about how many popular images of God are abusive. Someone left this comment:

I read something once -and it has troubled me since – that God requiring Jesus to die on the cross ‘for our sins’ was the equivalent of child abuse. I would love to hear some opinions on this matter.

A few commenters jumped in to say that since Jesus IS God, it was a personal choice and therefore not abusive and, well you know the rest. I’m sure you’ve heard justifications for this theology many times. My opinion on the matter was that penal substitution is still a terrifying theology about an abusive God.

I’m guessing many people that I know (including some of my readers) would be shocked to hear that I do not believe that God had to die because humans were just so evil and God was just so wrathful and required a blood sacrifice. I even know many self-identified progressive Christians who would probably assume that I wasn’t really a Christian if I told them I didn’t believe that Jesus died in the place of wicked human beings in order to save us from our sins.

I take a more, shall we say, literalist viewpoint.

God didn’t kill Jesus. People in power killed Jesus. 

My friend David Henson recently said on Facebook:

If atonement is literally at-one-ment — being at one with — perhaps it is God that experiences atonement in the crucifixion by being with us and being at one with us in death.

I would take this even further. Christ didn’t experience just any death, but a death reserved for those who challenged the oppressive power structures of the time. Jesus’ teachings of liberation threatened Rome. But even more so, they threatened the religious leaders of the day: spiritually abusive leaders who had turned their backs on Judaism’s message of justice and mercy and had twisted the teachings to oppress others.

Jesus stood with the oppressed. He healed on the Sabbath. He advocated for the poor. He spoke out against the abuse of women.

And those in power killed him for it. They silenced his message (but it couldn’t quite stay dead, could it?).

Maybe this is the real message of the cross. That the God of all creation loved the oppressed enough to become one with them, even in death–the ultimate tool of oppressive forces. 

I think of an article about the book The Cross and the Lynching Tree, by liberation theologian James Cone. Cone makes a comparison between the crucifixion of Jesus and the lynching of black people throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

The cross and the lynching tree interpret each other. Both were public spectacles, shameful events, instruments of punishment reserved for the most despised people in the society. Any genuine theology and any genuine preaching of the Christian gospel must be measured against the test of the scandal of the cross and the lynching tree. Hengel asserts: “Jesus did not die a gentle death like Socrates, with his cup of hemlock. . . . Rather, he died like a [lynched black victim] or a common [black] criminal in torment, on the tree of shame.

I don’t think many white people like this comparison (as a white person myself, it is challenging and sobering). So white theologians shy away from this comparison, as obvious as it seems. Instead, they embrace a spiritualized version of Christianity in which Jesus is nothing but a sacrifice, meant to save us from some abstract idea of inherited sin. Where Christ’s life of healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, raising the dead, touching the untouchables had nothing to do with his death. Where the promise of liberation and justice  given by the Old Testament prophets to the oppressed in Israel is not considered part of the gospel. Where the only real result of Christ’s death and resurrection is that we are free from our sins (though we still sin), and go to heaven when we die (maybe–if we ask nicely).

If we did embrace the similarities between the cross and the lynching tree, it would open the doors to comparing Christ’s unjust death with the many other injustices that go on in our society.

The wife who is raped and beaten by her husband, and then told by her church to stay with him.

One of the transgender people that are murdered every three days. 

The Muslim people who are bombed by the United States just because some people who looked like them happened to be terrorists.

The people in poverty who starve to death because they cannot afford food, or die slowly from illness because they cannot afford healthcare.

The woman on the street corner in Detroit who was forced into prostitution at age 11.

The young black man who is shot in the back of the head because he looked threatening.

The young woman from Steubenville who was gang-raped and then shamed for it.

The gay, black mayoral candidate who was beaten, set on fire, and killed in Mississippi.

Christ is crucified again and again as injustice goes on and on. 

But the cross means, to the oppressed, that God is on our side.

As James Cone says,

The cross is the most empowering symbol of God’s loving solidarity with the “least of these,” the unwanted in society who suffer daily from great injustices. Christians must face the cross as the terrible tragedy it was and discover in it, through faith and repentance, the liberating joy of eternal salvation.

The cross can empower those who are suffering. It can give us hope. But as James Cone continues,

But we cannot find liberating joy in the cross by spiritualizing it, by taking away its message of justice in the midst of powerlessness, suffering, and death. The cross, as a locus of divine revelation, is not good news for the powerful, for those who are comfortable with the way things are, or for anyone whose understanding of religion is aligned with power.

The cross cannot just mean that we are “saved from sin,” and “going to heaven.” Our speaking about the cross cannot just sound like those cliched platitudes that Christians often tell those who are hurting. The cross that Jesus reclaimed from the Roman Empire has fallen back into the hands of oppressors, becoming a tool of white supremacy, of patriarchy, of heterosexism and transphobia, of the military and prison industrial complex, of those who wage warfare on the poor. 

But I want to reclaim it, like Christ did.

If we are to find liberation in the crucifixion, then the cross must stand as a middle finger to oppressive power structures.

The cross of Jesus reveals the ugly truth behind oppressive power, and then the cross mocks that power through the resurrection.

The cross of Jesus calls those of us who are oppressors (most of us–myself included–are oppressed in some contexts and oppressors in others) to humility, repentance, and a new way of living.

The cross of Jesus tells the oppressed–in a world that tries to convince us that we are not even human–that we are not only made in God’s image, but that God came to earth to be made in ours.

The cross of Jesus tells the oppressed that we can take up our crosses and our protest signs and join together, armed with the power of love, to defeat the powers that rape, abuse, and murder us.

The cross of Jesus tells us that they can kill our bodies, but that doesn’t mean they win. 


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IMAGE BY DANI KELLEY

IMAGE BY DANI KELLEY

Back in February, Sen. Marco Rubio explained why he opposed the Violence Against Women Act:

I could not support the final, entire legislation that contains new provisions that could have potentially adverse consequences. Specifically, this bill would mandate the diversion of a portion of funding from domestic violence programs to sexual assault programs.

Rubio has this idea, apparently, that different types of abuse have nothing to do with one another. Not a surprising conclusion in a world that’s determined to paint all abuse as isolated incidences committed by monsters, but that’s not reality. Often, sexual abuse is present in violent relationships.

No one wants to talk about the fact that different types of abuse are connected because that means challenging the very society–ripe with hierarchies that enforce themselves with violence–that we live in.

Today, I’m discussing spiritual abuse as part of a Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week that some fellow bloggers are hosting. Also this week, Rachel Held Evans will be hosting a more general discussion of abuse (which I will be guest posting for) and Elora NIcole will be sharing the anonymous stories of survivors.

With all these thoughts of abuse in general going through my head, I think about how ridiculous statements like Rubio’s sound. As if we can end violence against women without ending sexual assault.

Truth is, the violences that women (and other oppressed groups) face often stem from the same root–a deeper violence that questions the legitimacy of their very humanity.

I don’t want us to miss this point while we talk about the different types of abuse that people face, inside and outside of the church. Abuse happens, and society either ignores or accepts it because there is an assault on humanity that says certain bodies are objects, or are public property. An assault that paints some bodies as worthless, gross, weird, animal-like, sinful, collateral, too sexual, needing to be taught a lesson, etc. 

Religion is far from the only institution that perpetuates this kind of abuse, but spiritual abuse can be a powerful tool for painting some groups as less important than others and therefore “deserving” of violence.

This happens in obvious cases such as the Southern Baptist Church supporting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or in the many church groups that advocate hitting children who misbehave.

It also happens more subtly in ways that I don’t think most leaders (though when you hear stories like Jack Schaap’s, you wonder…) or church members intend.

Here’s where my own story comes in. I grew up in church and grew up learning many things about myself and about my body and about the way the world is. I also ended up in an abusive relationship when I was 16.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I was physically, verbally, and sexually abused in that relationship, but little thinking about how I was spiritually abused. My ex-boyfriend used my own deeply-held religious beliefs to make me think that what he did to me was okay. It was easy for him to convince me, too, because I had been absorbing abusive ideas from the churches I’d attended my whole life.

I will be writing in more detail about how my idea of who God was affected what I accepted as love. But my churches growing up also fed me dangerous ideas about who was, what my body was, and what my place in the world was.

I was a woman, the church told me, so I had to be passive, meek, submissive, caring and nurturing, and endlessly patient and forgiving. A man, on the other hand, was just naturally aggressive, out-of-control, and sexual. These were God-given traits.

My abuser, knowing this, played on those, even sometimes calling my relationship with God into question when I didn’t live up to my role.

My church also taught me that I was worthless. From the sermons the pastors preached to the books that my youth pastors recommended. Because I was not a virgin I was what the Christian dating book, Dateable, would call “dollar store leftovers.” 

My abuser, knowing this, told me constantly that no one else would want me so I had better stay with him. That I was already impure and couldn’t be fixed so I might as well let him do whatever he wanted with my body.

My church taught me that I was responsible for men’s actions. That dressing immodestly could make men lust after me.

My abuser, knowing this, blamed me when he sexually assaulted me. He told me it was my fault for being too sexy, even in the Baptist school-approved outfit I was wearing.

All violence is connected.

I’m positive that the churches I grew up in did not want their teachings to be used by abusers to support abuse.

Too bad. That’s not how it works.

Those teachings were violence in and of themselves. They did violence to my humanity. And in doing that violence to my humanity, they sent the message to abusers that I did not have to be treated as human.

Churches don’t have to be as cult-like and controlling as Driscoll’s Mars Hill or First Baptist Church of Hammond to be abusive. By using language about groups–whether it’s women, children, LGBT people, or people of different colors, cultures, countries, or religions–that does violence to their humanity, they commit spiritual abuse. And spiritual abuse won’t confine itself to the pulpit. Those abusive words and teachings and ideas leave the church in the hearts and minds and Moleskine notebooks of every church member and are spread throughout society like an infectious disease. 

The church is not the only source of this disease, again, but it is a powerful one because battling it means battling ideas and perceptions about God (something I will discuss more in my guest post for Rachel Held Evans later this week).

A church that claims to worship a man whose purpose was “to set the oppressed free” should be horrified to learn that its teachings are being used by abusers to support abuse.

Is it though? Are our churches concerned about how their messages are received? Are our churches concerned about abuse survivors? Or are they more focused on so-called sound doctrine and on giving “grace” to abusers?


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Must reads!

Lots of posts that I want to share this week. I hope you’ll check them out, as they are all important! They discuss a wide variety of topics, from God, to rape culture, to The Wizard of Oz, to racism/homophobia, to the dangers of fraternizing with bears.

“For most of my Christian experience, I’ve only ever heard God described in verbs. Very busy verbs.”

“If you want to know why we need to educate men not to be sexually aggressive, look no further than what happened when Zerlina Maxwell went on television to say that we need to educate men how not to be sexually aggressive.”

“But one can’t help feeling that ‘Great and Powerful’ is two steps back from the feminist bent Baum proudly and freely lent his work, and in a day and age when there wasn’t even a label for it.”

To be a victim does not mean that you lack agency as part of your essence; it means that someone attempted to deny your agency in inflicting harm, in rendering you less powerful or even essentially powerless.”

“And right then I knew that I was tired of good people, that I had had all the good people I could take.”

“Though I grieve I cannot ever go back. The steak is a lie.”

“The combination of patriarchal gender roles, purity culture, and authoritarian clergy that characterizes Sovereign Grace’s teachings on parenting, marriage, and sexuality creates an environment where women and children—especially girls—are uniquely vulnerable to abuse.

A gay, black mayoral candidate killed last week in Mississippi was beaten, dragged and set on fire before his body was dumped near a river.”

“I was unmarried, pregnant and they took away my livelihood. San Diego Christian College did not show any mercy or grace towards me.

“A church in which a woman’s voice is not welcomed is a church with incredibly limited mobility in the kingdom of God. It can limp, at best, but it will never run.”

“This attempt to anthropomorphize and humanize bears strikes at the heart of everything the gospel teaches about bears.

Damsel’d women are being acted upon, most often being reduced to a prize to be won, a treasure to be found, or a goal to be achieved.

Here's a cat that rocks. (picture taken by my sister, Sam Moon)

Here’s a cat that rocks. (picture taken by my sister, Sam Moon)


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A quote for today…

I’m having trouble today, writing words. When I try to set the words free through my fingers, fear reigns them back in. So, today, I’ll share the words of Audre Lorde until I can gather my own.

Your silences will not protect you…What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language.

Next time, ask: What’s the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare. Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal. And the world won’t end.

And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have discovered your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.

 

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Photograph: Robert Alexander/Getty Images/via The Guardian

 


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Why Chris Rosebrough is Wrong: A Case for Ordaining Women (Guest Post By Travis Mamone)

Here are some thoughts from my friend Travis Mamone (who blogs about cool stuff like Doctor Who and theology here!) on why popular arguments against the ordination of women fall flat and why sometimes it’s best to just step away from “theological bullies.” He included a picture of a fluffy animal to represent Rosebrough but I couldn’t get it to load, so for now, here is my cat in a tiny top hat. Enjoy!

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Photo credit: My sister, Sam Moon, and her iphone

Like many of my fellow emergent Christians, I once tried to pal it up with fundamentalist discernment blogger Chris Rosebrough, aka Pirate Christian. Yes, he is anti-gay. Yes, he is against ordaining women. And yes, he has publicly trashed many in the emergent Christian movement. But because he actually talked to his opponents (unlike some other discernment bloggers), we thought that we could somehow forge a friendship with him that would transcend beyond oppositional theologies and therefore fulfill Jesus’ command to love our enemies.

Boy, were we wrong!

We eventually realized that Rosebrough’s words were harmful to female and LGBT members of the emerging church movement. Slowly we began to step away from him. To quote Gotye, now he’s just somebody that we used to know.

Having said that, it has recently come to my attention that Rosebrough recently included the “Call Me Maybe” parody video “Ordain a Lady” on his Museum of Idolatry blog (which is just one of his many blogs, mind you). He then proceeded to quote 1 Timothy 2:11-14 and 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, which are two common clobber passages used to “prove” that ministry is a boy’s only club. After sharing Romans 16:7 with Rosebrough on Twitter, he responded with, “Clear passages govern unclear passages. Plus, Junias was a man.” He then sent me a link to a Christian apologetics website that supposedly “proves” the Junia of Romans 16:7 was a man. However, upon further investigation, this website also claims that humans and dinosaurs lived together. I pointed that out to Rosebrough, but our conversation went nowhere.

Chris Rosebrough is flat out wrong about women in ministry. And here is why.

First, despite what Rosebrough says, Junia was indeed a female apostle. In his e-book Junia is Not Alone, biblical scholar Scot McKnight writes that Junia was thought to be a woman until some mistranslations made her masculine. McKnight writes:

It happened, or can be illustrated in Greek by changing the accent in an originally unaccented text from Jun-I-an to JuniAn. This change is accent led to the male name JuniaS, the Anglicized form. (Loc. 138-40)

According to McKnight, there is “no evidence in ancient manuscripts that anyone understood Junia as a male, no evidence in translations she was a male, and there was no ancient evidence that Junias was a man’s name” (Loc. 276-79). And Junia is not the only female in the Bible to have any sort of spiritual authority. McKnight writes about Phoebe the deacon found in Romans 16:1:

She was not a “deaconess,” which in my youth referred to women who gathered the communion wafers and small plastic cups of cheap grace juice and washed them out so that men would have them for the next time our church had communion. No, Phoebe was a deacon, which meant she was a church leader. Paul calls her a “benefactor,” and this probably—it is disputed—means she financially provided funds and wisdom for Paul’s missionary trips. (Loc. 119-22)

If Rosebrough is reading this, no doubt he is saying right now, “But what about 1 Timothy 2?” For starters, it is debatable whether or not Paul actually wrote 1 Timothy. Second, according to scholar NT Wright, the entire passage must be read in context:

The key to the present passage, then, is to recognize that it is commanding that women, too, should be allowed to study and learn, and should not be restrained from doing so (verse 11). They are to be ‘in full submission’; this is often taken to mean ‘to the men’, or ‘to their husbands’, but it is equally likely that it refers to their attitude, as learners, of submission to God or to the gospel – which of course would be true for men as well. Then the crucial verse 12 need not be read as ‘I do not allow a woman to teach or hold authority over a man’ – the translation which has caused so much difficulty in recent years. It can equally mean (and in context this makes much more sense): ‘I don’t mean to imply that I’m now setting up women as the new authority over men in the same way that previously men held authority over women.’

As you can see, there is room at the pulpit for women. We must not let theological bullies like Chris Rosebrough rob women the freedom and choice to answer God’s call and serve God’s church through ministry.


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No one’s Messiah

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Image via PassionOfAGoddess.com

To Christian men and the churches they attend:

I am not your Christ.

Churches may try to put women on a cross, sacrificing them so that men may be pure and holy.

But I am not your savior.

Churches may expect women to keep silent, to hide their talents, their bodies, to sacrifice who they are to protect men from sin and shame.

But I am coming down off of that cross.

Churches may ask women to endure abuse for a season–like Christ endured crucifixion–so that abusive men might be saved.

But I am no one’s fucking Messiah.

I won’t take the beatings. I won’t bear the shame. If that makes me a bad Christian, fine. If that means I’m going to hell, show me the door.

I’ll let myself in.

Because I know what real hell is like. I’ve been there. Real hell is pretending to happily, silently endure physical, spiritual, verbal, and sexual abuse in hopes of drawing my “brethren” back to the light. Hell is having to bear the sins of Christian men in my body. Hell is hanging on a cross built by a church, dying to save abusive men.

I won’t go through that again.

I am not your Christ.


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Some humans are more equal than others: John Piper on spousal abuse and submission

I’m doing a series on complementarianism’s manipulative claims at promoting equality. You can read the intro here. The first entry, on Joshua Harris, can be found here.

When I first left the tiny bubble of the Independent Fundamental Baptist Church and stepped into the larger (but still restrictive) bubble of conservative evangelicalism, I learned that I was supposed to love John Piper.

However, even though I was still a (fairly rebellious) conservative at the time, John Piper’s view of women prevented me from becoming that evangelical Christian who’s always putting quotes from Desiring God as her Facebook status (instead I became that feminist that won’t shut up about bell hooks, but I digress).

I’ve never been much of a Piper fan and videos like the following are why:

For those of you unable to watch this video, I’ll share the “highlights (though I really encourage you to watch it, because I cannot describe to you Piper’s non-verbal communication, but I believe it suggests he sees this as a completely abstract subject. He chuckles at parts and that really reveals his character and attitude toward women):”

What should a wife’s submission to her husband look like if he’s an abuser?…Part of that answer’s clearly going to depend on what kind of abuse we’re dealing with here–how serious this is. Is her life in danger?

This man and his hand motions, I swear.

This man and his hand motions, I swear.

He then goes into a rather confusing explanation of his belief that a woman’s submission to her husband is not absolute because she must also submit to God. This explanation includes awkward hand-motions. If a man is “calling her to engage in abusive acts willingly” then

She’s got a crisis of submission there, of course. To whom do I submit now?

Yes, abuse is a “crisis of submission.”

Should she “go along with” her husbands abuse and submit to him? Or submit to God? Piper says she must humbly explain that she would love to submit to him, if he wasn’t requiring her to sin (apparently being abused is a sin).

If it’s not requiring her to sin, but simply hurting her, then I think she endures verbal abuse for a season, she endures perhaps being smacked one night, and then she seeks help from the church…[The church then must] step in, be her strength and say to him, “No, you can’t do this.”

Piper’s words speak for themselves. And for years, people have been outraged by them. Kind of hard to keep up the pretense of complementarianism being good for women, when one of its biggest proponents is saying women should endure abuse for a season.

I guess John Piper realized this and recently decided to “clarify” his words (and four years too late. How many women in those four stayed with abusive husbands in part because of this man’s words?).

His “clarification” reveals the pattern that I discussed in the intro to this series. Complementarians take words and ideas that are actually very clear, and insist that they don’t mean what everyone in the world naturally thinks they mean.

John Piper might have said that women should be submissive even in cases of abuse, and should endure abuse for a season. But don’t misunderstand exactly what he said! Here’s a clarification!

Frankly, I see this as insulting to his critics’ intelligence.

His “clarification” does clear one thing up though. It makes it clear that, under no circumstances is a woman allowed to stop submitting to someone.

Sure, she can’t always submit to her husband. Not just because she shouldn’t have to put up with abuse, but also because, as John Piper said in his first sermon, submitting to abuse is a sin! His clarification makes this same point:

In expecting his wife to quietly accept his threats and injuries, he is asking her to participate in his breaking of both God’s moral law and the state’s civil law.

This isn’t about her escaping from suffering. It’s about her fleeing the temptation to “sin.”

And does an abusive man lose his right to lead? Can a woman stop submitting to her husband when he starts to abuse her?

Yes and no. But mostly no.

According to Piper:

A wife’s submission to the authority of civil law, for Christ’s sake, may, therefore, overrule her submission to a husband’s demand that she endure his injuries.

So, a woman never gets to stop being submissive. But since she must also be submissive to civil authorities (and feminists have pointed out time and again that civil authorities abuse women too), sometimes that responsibility to submit can overrule her responsibility to submit to her husband.

But she’s still to remain submissive to this man that decided to “smack her around for a season.”

This legitimate recourse to civil protection may be done in a spirit that does not contradict the spirit of love and submission to her husband, for a wife may take this recourse with a heavy and humble heart that longs for her husband’s repentance and the restoration of his nurturing leadership.

As Dianna Anderson points out, this “legitimate recourse” isn’t about stopping the pain she’s suffering. It’s about helping her abuser “see the light.”

The woman doesn’t get to divorce her husband. She gets to submit to a system that has done its share of abusing women (or she can submit to the church…but same difference, right?) while she waits for her husband’s leadership to be restored.

His being an abuser does not disqualify him from leadership. His leadership is merely suspended for a time.

How many abusers flock to Christianity when they learn that they will be treated like kings? I’ve met a few in my day.

All humans are equal.

But some humans have an unconditional right to leadership. Other humans have an unconditional responsibility to submit.

Some humans are more equal than others.