Temptation in the Church // In Honour of Sexual Assault Awareness Month

I titled this blog post Temptation in the Church because I think it keenly speaks to the fallacies our communities have adopted when we talk about sexual assault/harassment. May is Sexual Assault Awareness month, so I feel now is an appropriate time to share some of my thoughts on this dangerous fallacy.

When we talk about sexual harassment we tend to focus on two key points: Temptation, and Intention. This first piece will focus on Temptation.

Temptation

I love the Young Clergy Women Project and their blog “Fidelia’s Sisters”. Recently, Rev. Katie Chullino wrote a piece entitled “Making Church a Safe Place for for Everyone” in response to a piece from Pure Freedom, a purity culture ministry in the USA. “How Women Can Make Church a Safe Place for Men” by Dannah Gresh. It speaks to how women must minimize their role as ‘the temptress’ in the church. The article begins with the catchy first line:

When we dress provocatively, we dishonor God and display a lack of regard for His holiness. We can also become a distraction for our brothers in Christ.

The article includes confessions from church-going men who express that the greatest pitfall to their struggle for sexual purity is not freely available pornography or over-sexualized media and advertising, but…

I’m struggling with the way women dress in church,” they groan. They are specific in adding those two words—in church—because the location is what makes them feel so vulnerable.

The article continues to say:

After all, isn’t church supposed to be a place where they can go to be free from temptation? What’s a guy to do when the woman in his Sunday school class keeps showing up in a tight shirt and miniskirt, announcing it was a little cold in the parking lot?

Unfortunately, the piece continues to degrade into a rant which shames women into disguising their body, covering up lest they act as an object of temptation to their “brothers” in Christ. Yet, as Rev. Katie puts it so well, The church isn’t laden with impurity because of a low-cut shirt, but because of our condemnation of those we are called to love.”

In choosing to view women as temptresses, we are choosing both to view them as the cause of lust, removing responsibility from the one lusting, and lastly as sexual objects. Our churches cannot be void of temptation because they cannot be void of our own messy human essence; this is why we pray, as Jesus taught us, for God to “deliver us from temptation”. We also believe that God is capable of doing so, that God can strength us when our own will is too weak. God does not simply remove the object of our temptation but works with us to build our discipline, dignity, and to free us from the shame of our struggle. We must empower the one struggling, to build right relationships centered on true love, not blind lust. By blaming women for the sexual struggles of men we are blaming the victim for the transgression of the perpetrator and propagating an unbalanced, unhealthy style of gender relations.

Now, don’t think I don’t have sympathy for all those struggling with the desire for purity. In fact, I have a great deal of empathy as I have struggled to navigate God’s intention for my sexuality as both a single and married person. The one lesson I have learned, which Rev. Katie speaks to in her article, is the idea that right relationships, build on love and respect for both parties, are the best combatant to impurity. Yet, to have these relationships we must affirm all people, all individuals on the spectrum of gender, as full persons. We must all honour our own bodies and the bodies of others. We must affirm all people in their beauty and value; their depth and richness in the image of God as a sexual, spiritual and emotional being. We must avoid devaluing our bodies as things to be ashamed and fearful of because they are made in the image of God and they are good and holy things.

I do believe in modesty, but not the kind Gresh is preaching. Gresh refers to “leather pants”, “low-cut blouse”, and a “tight-skirt”, not nakedness. The women she is shaming are all covered, and frankly, are probably wearing clothing I enjoy myself (and I grew up Mennonite!). I recognize in our culture we have shame around our bodies, which stems from the sinfulness humanity entered when it turned away from God’s purposes (in the Garden, if you will). In our social environment, we can only see nakedness as private, which is a damn shame. But, collectively, we have chosen that nakedness is an intimate rite reserved for intimate relationships–in same gendered, family, erotic or medical settings. I do not believe nakedness is bad, only that we require trust in our nakedness. We reserve nakedness for intimate settings, since trust leads to intimacy, but not necessarily eroticism or sexuality. I believe in modesty when it comes to nakedness, but Gresh is not referring to nakedness. Gresh is referring to styles of clothing–she is shaming fully dressed women into believing they are tools of sin instead of the image of God.

Let me conclude with a final quote from Rev. Katie, a centering idea that should lead us into right relationship with our creator and fellow creation.

Women and Men, God has made you in God’s image and when you stray from that image God re-creates you in the image of Christ. Brothers and Sisters, hear the good news: you are more than skin and bones. Brothers, you aren’t helpless. Sisters, you aren’t temptresses.

[…]

Put on clothes which show you are God’s own image — as beautiful and beloved, created and re-created sisters and brothers in Christ.

Amen.

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Inheritance // The Struggle of Discernment

Yesterday I shared a wonderful hour with another young woman who is discerning for ministry. Over our bubbling lattes we discussed the depression, insecurities and frustration that can associate the process. Specifically, as young twenty-somethings, there is a tension between our idealism and what seems to be the call to inheritance.

The church says it wants to raise up strong leaders to take on the challenge of stewardship. Yet, it feels as though that stewardship is expressed as a call to close churches, to amalgamate dwindling congregations, to shut doors to buildings, and to struggle after support.

Neither of us want to do those things. At least, neither of us want those things to be the breadth of our work in ministry. I understand that sometimes these are necessary, that we must steward our resources carefully and not be weighed down into unhealthy financial and interpersonal situations. Yet, I want to care for people, and steward a community that lives and breathes, a group that grows and dies, in the cycle of life.

Yet, in our struggle I wonder if the churches who watch us as we mature and discern do not have the same struggle. I believe there is a fear, as they watch the young idealistic hopefuls affirming their faith and ideas for the future.

“Can we trust them?”

“Will they uphold our traditions?”

“Will they abandon what we built?”

“Are our communities strong enough for change?”

“Can the church withstand the future?”

We fear what we will inherit and the church fears what they will leave for us.

My hope is that, as I continue in the process there will be space for that discussion. Instead of feeling as though I am working to become the person the community needs, I hope the community will ask themselves wether these young women have the passion and vision to steward and grow, not just close and reconcile.

World Vision held hostage // A reflection on the Broad Church

Reflecting on the recent World Vision fiasco I feel much compassion for their leadership and the individuals they serve. If you haven’t already heard, VW initially made a move to eliminate discrimination against LGBTQ individuals in their hiring practices. The original press release (now removed, but still cached via Google) made a strong statement about the organization’s core values, and recognition of the diverse Christian church:

[…] since World Vision is a multi-denominational organization that welcomes employees from more than 50 denominations, and since a number of these denominations in recent years have sanctioned same-sex marriage for Christians, the board—in keeping with our practice of deferring to church authority in the lives of our staff, and desiring to treat all of our employees equally—chose to adjust our policy. Thus, the board has modified our Employee Standards of Conduct to allow a Christian in a legal same-sex marriage to be employed at World Vision.

I want to be clear that we have not endorsed same-sex marriage, but we have chosen to defer to the authority of local churches on this issue. We have chosen not to exclude someone from employment at World Vision U.S. on this issue alone. (Source/World Vision – March 2014 Press Release – Employee letter on change to standards of conduct)

I really respected World Vision’s move and their recognition of the diversity of the Church. I have friends whom I am proud to say I am at theological ends with–but we refuse to let those disagreements blockade us from living out communal lives of faith.

We can become too afraid of those who disagree, as we seek to find the ultimate unshakeable truth. If we validate another’s theology is acceptable, we fear that it invalidate our own.

I once told a youth leader that I was okay being a ‘heretic’, and I still am. In saying that, I mean I was coming to terms with the fact that I knew I had theology all wrong, I knew that I would continually be searching for the ‘unshakeable truth’. There is comfort in that thought because we will continually misunderstand God. The Bible is a compilation of stories where people were trying desperately to get things right, and, on a bad day, not even trying at all.

My youth leader was perturbed by what I said, and responded with, “If I knew I had me theology wrong I would just get rid of it!”

Unfortunately, in the world I live in, we rarely know we have it wrong. It is our fear and our stubbornness that leads us to hurt others in our search to find, and protect our ‘unshakeable truth’. As I mature in my faith, I know I have come to certain conclusions about the extension of God’s love and grace, of his acceptance. I do not expect everyone else to see God in the way I do (or at least in theory, the practice can be tough). And, I support organizations of the Church who do not reflect the same theology as me but do good work.

I do, however, find it hard to condone the act of taking an organization hostage by removing support that directly helps those they serve. Once again, we have put theology above lives, as we tell boys and girls across the globe that they must suffer in the name of the ‘unshakeable truth’.

I do not condone this action–one taken by both sides as individuals react to both the initial decision and the retraction. World Vision is in an unfortunate lose-lose position, and through their overhead will suffer it is the communities they serve who will suffer the most as sponsorships are retracted and programs will see budget cuts.

I will leave you with this excerpt from the World Vision’s (current) hiring practices, one that speaks of a broad church and a Christian heart. I pray and hope we all may come to this place of acceptance in our daily lives, no matter our theological divisions.

We are, however, a very broad church and as long as applicants for these positions are practicing Christians and will bring a Christian heart and mind to the role it doesn’t matter what creed or church tradition they are part of. (Source)