Monday, April 9, 2018

A conversation about sexual assault and churches

A conversation about systemic sin, sexual abuse, rape, and consent, especially in churches.

I’m a married woman in my early 30s, R is an unmarried man in his 30s. I volunteer minister to college students; R works full time and ministers to refugees and immigrants several hours a week.
Content note: reading this may be upsetting for some people, discussing rape, sexual assault, victim blaming, and more. 

This conversation has been heavily cut down from the original. I’ve added bold to significant statements. I’m sharing this conversation with permission. 

Ginger
Here's another systemic church example that is upsetting- women who've experienced sexual harassment or assault from leaders being told- "Don't tell anyone cause you'll harm his ministry and he's doing the Lord's work!" Both the leader and the advice-giver are sinning, but there's a deeper cultural church problem where that would be a common or acceptable answer

R
Yea, it’s a sin and very systemic, one of the big ones. I bet you could find 1000 examples of it in history, but to leave a church because of it seems even worse. Remember when King David did this? The whole nation was outraged. David’s own son took power from him and it took a civil war to restore David to power. Leaders sin, they are human, so a path to reconciliation must exist. If not, God’s appointed might get rejected by the people and be unable to use his gifts. We shouldn't tolerate sin, but neither should we demand perfection. Rebuke and correct, then forgive but don't forget. I would welcome the chance to meet King David, but if I was married I wouldn't let him spend time alone with my wife. I wouldn't reject someone because I knew they had sinned. I work with adulterers and murders, and I will help them be as good and successful as possible. Imagine the world we would live in if the whole church closed its doors to those who sinned or had bad theology. Fight the sin, fight the ideology, but don't reject humans because they sin, only if they propagate sin. If in the above example once it was exposed everyone apologized and repented I would stay and help clean up the mess. If they declared their actions justified, or denied that they occurred I might leave or force him out, but I would respond if they repented in the future and needed help.

G
I see what you are saying- I do believe in forgiveness and reconciliation. But Christian culture loves to forgive people in power and stigmatize the marginalized. You make a good example with David, but if you can't trust him with your wife, why would you believe that he repented? A man who can't be trusted with a woman shouldn't be trusted with leadership.
Look up Bill Gothard for a good (aka bad) example of this

R
My mom loved his preaching, so I actually grew up going to Bill Gothard conferences, watching his chalk talks and reading his stuff. Haven't heard the name in 20 years and it looks like the scandal is recent.

G
Yeah, my [extended family] knew about him back in the day too.
The worst part for me was reading this worksheet for counseling sexual abuse victims http://www.recoveringgrace.org/media/Counseling_Sexual_Abuse.jpeg

R
What did you not like about the worksheet? Some weird stuff like bringing eunuchs into the picture. That's a bit outdated of an example. But it does have a good focus on reporting and confessing which most sex abuse things sweep under the rug.
Wow, I cannot believe that girl [one of Gothard’s accusers] didn't see anything wrong with him giving her money to buy sexy bras. If your boss asked you this, would you comply? Not to justify his request, but you can't just comply with requests like that. Anyway rant aside and back to your main point, women do sometimes comply when men make outrageous demands. Why they do doesn't matter. So what do you think should happen to women who are taken advantage of? I assume you think the laws are too weak. That article indicated that she would be unable to win her case in a court of law thought it incorrectly stated the reason was the statute of limitations. (If she is underage there is no statue of limitations) I assume you think she should win her case, what should she be awarded. If you were the judge of the case what would your verdict be? Related question, what should happen if a slut deliberately seduces, or inappropriately touches a powerful man? Does the direction of affection matter? Is the man just as guilty as if he seduced the woman?

G
The direction matters because of power imbalances. If an employee is inappropriate with a boss, the boss can fire them, or distance themselves from them with some ease. If a boss is inappropriate with an employee, that person isn't sure how to respond. Do I report them? What if it was just something small, (like Gothard playing footsie?) Maybe she can't afford to lose this job. Maybe people will be angry with her if she says anything bad about the boss. Maybe people won't believe her. Seduction is about lust- abuse is about fear. Do you know much about the dynamics of abuse? I can send some links- I think it's something everyone should know about. A key aspect of abuse in the Gothard story is grooming: he would do small inappropriate things, mixed with kindness, to tear down confidence and defenses. The first time he caresses her, she draws away. She tells herself it was a mistake and didn't mean anything. The second time, she feels bad for not speaking up the first time, and that paralyzes her. By the time he's telling a girl to buy a sexy bra, she's already scared and ashamed. She realizes she should tell someone, but after months of footsie and hair touching, she feels guilty, just like he wants her to feel. The abuser also grooms everyone around him to think he's an upstanding man- when they do hear an accusation, they don't believe it. And they do, they blame the scared 15 year old girl rather than the conniving 60 year old man, who people revere.
(I should have also said abuse is about control, not lust)
Here's a page about grooming, better than my explanation
https://www.abuseandrelationships.org/Content/Behaviors/grooming.html

R
Grooming for abuse sounds A LOT like dating. For example I bet your husband held your hand before kissing you. I bet he didn't walk up and say, hey you look nice; let’s have sex. The differences between grooming for abuse and grooming for friendship or romance seem almost trivial, until the abuse occurs. If you outlaw these "grooming" items would you be married today? To me more of the problem is putting a guy in a room with dozens of attractive women who fawn over him for 30 years without any real oversight. It’s like giving one man unrestricted and unmonitored access to the company bank account for 30 years, its just a bad idea.
What did you not like about the worksheet?

G
I feel there is a strong implication that sexual abuse damages the body, not the soul. (Saying the offender only damaged the body, but the victim damages her soul with guilt and bitterness.) Abuse damages every part of you. The mental, psychological, and spiritual abuse can be MUCH worse than punching or than intercourse.
I'm saying the pain of assault goes really deep and hurts you in ways that don't show on the outside. Bruises and cuts heal- but fear, shame, and other trauma change the way your mind works, the choices you make, the way you value yourself, your trust in God.
Next, there's a lot of work to blame the victim. No one is raped because of immodest dress or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A rapist makes the choice to rape. The clothing didn't make him do it. Yes, there is danger in certain situations, like being drunk at a party. However, if Girl A wasn't drunk at the party, the rapist would have simply raped Girl B instead. In the Gothard case, it's distressing because the girls were working a job in a Christian setting. They dressed very modestly, like the Duggar girls. They thought they were under the "umbrella of protection." [a Gothard teaching] They didn't realize that the person everyone trusted to protect them was the one mostly likely to hurt them. (That's usually the case- most women are raped by someone they know and trust, not a stranger in a dark alley.)

R
I highly disagree your statement. "No one is raped because of immodest dress or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” A rapist makes a choice, because of this women are raped for all manner of reasons, including their clothing and their location, all the time. I can show the counter point most clearly by taking the issue to an extreme, if no woman was ever present at the location a rape occurs, none would ever occur. Clothing and location does not cause rape, but certain clothing choices and locations make it much more likely. It is like wandering dark alleys proclaiming you have $1,000 on you. It does not cause robbery, and it does not excuse the robbers, but it’s just a stupid thing to do. If you’re at a party where lots of sex is happening and a guy can see your breasts and up your blouse, you’re being stupid, especially if you wander off with him to a room alone. Remember it doesn’t take a conscious choice to rape someone. Even animals, and mindless beasts rape. Not raping someone when you want to takes a conscious choice, trust me sometimes it is a VERY conscious choice. Women use this all the time to hook men who otherwise wouldn't be interested in them.
…But you are correct, women are often abused by people they trust. I wouldn't say they are the one most likely to hurt them but it does happen a lot. This is usually men being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and his sin hurting another. This is often caused by male pride, saying I can handle a little temptation, and perhaps the first few times they can, then one day they just don't. I have lines I won't cross, like sleeping alone in the same room as an attractive woman. I have bought hotel rooms and slept on concrete floors to avoid it. I am sure I could resist the temptation but I also wouldn't be surprised if I didn't. If you notice it was Bill Gothard being alone with a woman that got him sacked. Not the belief that he actually abused a woman but the knowledge that he could have and was tempted to do so. Every guy should know not to be in that situation. I would give myself no chance of lasting 30 years in an office full of beautiful women fawning over me without doing something wrong.

G
I know this is a complicated point to make- I think about it really differently than the way I used to, or the way churches taught me. If "modest" woman get raped, doesn't that prove that rape isn't about clothes? Woman is burkas get raped. Children in carefree kid's clothes get raped.
Yet, women in nudist colonies aren’t constantly getting raped. Women wearing bikinis on the beach aren't constantly getting raped.
You brought yourself into these examples- do you think there is any situation where you'd have sex with a woman who said she didn't want to have sex with you? Do you consider yourself a mindless beast, operating on instinct? I have a high opinion of men. I think they are fully capable of refraining.
I think you might be considering your doubts about yourself with what you might be tempted to do with a willing partner. If a woman in your office was really fawning over you, and you invited her into something sexual, it would still be fornication, but it wouldn't be rape.
I realize most rapists aren't walking around thinking, "I wonder who I should rape tonight?" Once you use that word, it sounds wrong. But they are thinking, "I'm having sex with her," and not considering whether or not she also wants to have sex with him.
How does the church deal with it? Unfortunately, most churches have no plan for dealing with this sort of thing. I think they should encourage and support the victim if she choses to report to authorities. I think they should find her good counseling. They should make sure she is safe and protected from her abuser- whether that's a change in living situation, job, etc. If the offender is a leader in the church, he should be removed from his position of power. Often, I would remove him from church membership entirely. I would encourage him to seek help- counseling, or whatever, but prioritizing helping the one who has been hurt is more important than saving the abuser. (Especially since abusers are very skillful at false repentance.)

R
You say they should support the victim, who is that? Most of the time its a “he said / she said” case, like with Bill Gothard. You have to pick the one you believe without evidence. Recall the story of Potiphar's wife, if a woman is angry she will do anything to hurt a man. Plus this relies on memory, which is not very accurate. If you doubt this ask two kids who got in a fight who started it, even if they both believe they are telling the truth they are probably both wrong. Plus it gets worse as time passes a skilled advertiser can change someone memory, most famously in 16% of people exposed to adds about meeting Bugs Bunny at Disney World believed they had met him there as a kid. (Bugs is Loony Tunes not Disney) https://webfiles.uci.edu/eloftus/BraunPsychMarket02.pdf
If you can prove rape the problem is easy, and your solution sounds reasonable, but what if you cannot? Just because you cannot prove it doesn't mean it didn't happen, but by the same token just because rape is claimed doesn't mean it occurred. What do you do in this case? Personally I would not condemn anyone, either the man or the woman.

G
Responding to your comment: ”Grooming for abuse sounds A LOT like dating."
This really distresses me, so I hope I'm not too incoherent here. The difference- a huge, key, obvious different, that everyone should know about but doesn't- is CONSENT. Holding hands with someone you like is delightful. Holding hands with someone you don't want to be with is scary. The easiest way to find out the difference is to ASK. Use your words. If I could give every guy this advice, I'd say the best thing is say, "I like you. I'm interested in you. Can we go out? Would you be my girlfriend? Can I hold your hand? Can I kiss you?" 

R
This is not the cultural norm. This is no where close to the cultural norm. It might be better than the norm but its not the norm. You can’t judge people based of how you would do it. I would also change the system if I could. I think everyone has their idea on the way it “should be.” Sadly they are all different systems.
G
Isn't it weird that communication isn't the cultural norm? It’s “normal” to force someone to do what you want and then see how they react? We should be sad about this.
I was pleasantly surprised when I was re-watching "Hitch" recently- Will's character was teaching a man how to get a woman, and one piece of advice was about kissing. He said, "You go 90% and let her go 10%" as he leans into a kiss. Although he didn't use words, it seemed like a good way to communicate the desire for a kiss without forcing one on someone else. They have an opportunity to turn away or to close the gap.
There's probably other good ways to do it- I'm not saying every single person has to say "Can I kiss you?" But everyone should make a system based on communication and consent.
I know that all our movies and sexy stories make it seem like people just fall into bed together- and even worse, we have tons of stories about one person pressuring and manipulating the other to date them and it all works out- but it's also very like that the person being coerced is scared feels guilty and doubtful.
This does sound like the bad side of dating to me- I had guys slide their hands up my legs, push my boundaries, expose themselves, and more. Without asking, communicating, and considering that I'd already been clear about what I wanted. But because I didn't understand consent then, I always ended up thinking it was MY fault- and I treated other women the same way with their similar problems. That's what I regret.
Yes, there is a progression of physical intimacy in most dating relationships. But some people want it and others don't. In the Gothard example, we're dealing with teen girls. Even if they were "fawning over him" (which I doubt, given the age difference) - they are legally unable to consent. The power imbalance is too great, and teens and children are easier to manipulate. Yes, Gothard should have had better oversight, but it also seems like many people knew and did nothing about it.
Grooming is about coercion and deception. Dating should be about communication and respect.

R
Yes dating SHOULD be about communication and respect, but let’s be honest its sometimes not. And many women like it that way. You were offended that guys slid their hands up your legs, well other girls are turned on by that kind of thing. Who is right? In America everyone decides for themselves. Was the guy who slid his hand up your leg a creep because he slid his hand up a woman's leg or because he slid his hand up YOUR leg? America has no standards and rules are flexible based on who is involved. You say you think verbal agreements should be made, what if the guy’s last girlfriend hated those? You must judge by society’s standard, and what kind of madness is that standard? It’s “free sex.”
Let me say this clearly, in a world with “Free sex” where anyone can have sex with anyone at any time things like “rape” get very vague. What is consent? Who decides it? Ultimately it is the guy. If he thinks the girl has given him consent he can have sex with her. If he guesses right its romantic, if he guesses wrong it’s rape. Its a judgment call. Most of the time it depends on the attractiveness of the man if the action is creepy or romantic. Let me say that again to be clear, if two men do the exact same thing to a woman one can be rape and the other romantic based on how nice his hair looks. This is acceptable to society. What practical impact does this have, the more drinks a guy has had the more likely it is that you have given him your consent. It is very important for women to realize this. Many women love this system, in fact the current rules were developed by feminists, and they just think some guys are born rapists. Much of the time this isn't true, some guys are just uglier than they think, or stupid or drunk and think they are following the rules. Plus women have different tastes. This is why you hear guys say things like “she wanted it” and they are believed. Many people have met a woman who would have “wanted it” in similar circumstance. This upsets people who haven't met such people. Classic example is 50 Shades of Gray. It horrifies some people, but lots of women think it romantic.

G
I agree that many women like having a man slide his hand up her skirt- but that doesn't mean she doesn't like communication and respect. She has different rules for her body than my rules. She wants her rules to be respected just like I want my rules to be respected. Can you provide an example of a woman who doesn't like communication and respect? (In real life. Like I said before, our fiction world does a terrible job of this.)
Don't guess! Ask! I feel like you are saying that an attractive man can get away with raping more women than an unattractive man. Yes, women have different tastes. Communicate about it. It's not an excuse for sex.
50 Shades of Gray is a great example- I'm glad you brought it up. I am sad that many women think that book is romantic. (I think if many of them were living it rather than reading it, they might be more aware of how abusive it is.) Interestingly, the BDSM community has done a great job speaking out against that book- they were pretty angry to be represented that way. People who get off on pain and things like that take boundaries very seriously.
Even if someone does love 50 Shades, they could still communicate by telling their partner they love that book and would like to act it out. But any guy who say, "Women love that book- I'm going to treat a woman that way" is headed down a bad path.
Lastly, don't think of sex as something a man does to a woman. It should be something they do together.
R
I consider rape to be sex without authority to do so.
Generally we discuss it in the context of society, so legal authority. This is because the legal authority is the agreed upon standards which society has agreed to uphold. Note: much immorality is not covered by the term "rape." What is your definition.

G
Both people have authority over their own bodies and need to agree to have sex.
Yes, ultimately God has authority over our bodies, but God gave us stewardship and free will.
There are situations where consent isn't able to be given: children can't give consent to sex, adults can't have sex with teens, mentally handicapped to caregivers, prisoners to guards, etc. A unconscious person can't consent to sex. A person who is drugged or drunk can't consent. 

R
What do you believe consent to be, and who gives it? Can a good man ever think he has consent but doesn’t?
G
I do think men have thought they had consent, or that they didn't need it. Because we have bad teaching on this subject- like we've said before about "romantic" stories where men keep pressuring women to love them until they do.
R
The clearest case is the issue of dress. To me its super easy to say don't wear revealing clothing that turns guys on.
G
What kind of clothing turns guys on? It's different for everyone. Trying to not turn on men with one's clothing is an impossible goal. One person says don't show any cleavage. Another says that yoga pants are wicked. Another says modest women only wear skirts. Trying to be modest and please everyone is an impossible standard. Here's a good list of how impossible these rules are: https://kateschell.wordpress.com/2015/02/04/ip-rules/ 

R
That link is clearly a joke, your case would be stronger if you found some draconian dress code, which I am sure exists. But I will agree it is funny because it is based on truth. I will point out that dressing like a nun seems to cover all these points, so if you want to be a super Christian in the eyes of all it’s easy to follow all those restrictions. But on a practical point, most women actually seek out clothing that turns guys on, because it turns guys on. Ask a woman if her outfit is sexy. If she says yes, she is intentionally encouraging guys to try to have sex with her. If a woman thinks she is dressed modestly and is not sexy, I would accept that she is properly dressed. Again women dressing sexy does not cause guy to act sexy, but I do believe a correlation exists.

G
No, it's not easy to follow all these restrictions, because everyone disagrees about where the line should be drawn. You could dress like a nun, but some men have a nun fetish. Bill Gothard's girls dressed like that- all long skirts.
I see you are switching to focus on intentions- if a women is trying to arouse a man. I think it's not good to make assumptions. For many years, I haven't worn shorts (outside of gym). I was told when I was a teen that my long legs were too sexy and needed to be covered up. I was mortified. Now that I'm living in Hawaii, I finally bought some shorts. It's hot outside! and inside my house! Although I don't wear shorts to work because I don't think it's office professional, I'm wearing shorts a lot. I love it! Both because it's cooler, and because I feel freedom from being ashamed of my legs and fearing that I was being sinful. But that's not all. I do like the way my legs look. I don't think my body is sinful anymore. It feels nice to like my body, but it has nothing to do with encouraging men to have sex with me. My body isn't public property.
Even for women who are trying to get attention from men, that doesn't meant they want every single man to feel entitled to her. A women might be looking for sex, but men still have to ask permission, not just start raping her.
There's NO reason to assume a stranger wants to have sex with you unless you've had a conversation about it. 

R
I question this, so you really believe that everyone who has consensual sex has a conversation about it ahead of time? Watch the TV that teens emulate and tell me if this is true. Especially chick flicks violate this rule. Women should expect guys to act the way society says normal guys should be. I am not saying society’s rules are good, but that they should be expected and planned for.
G
Yes. I hate how click flicks portray this.
That's what we call rape culture.
That's why I'm trying to make cultural change.
And really- even without words- you should be able to tell if the person you are having sex with isn't enjoying it. If they are unconscious, or too drunk or drugged to be clear headed, if they are crying, if they are staring into the void, if they are fighting back, if they are only following instructions without giving any input... It's hard for me to have compassion for guys who "accidentally" rape someone. I do identify it as a systemic problem more than a personal problem, because our culture and media teaches us that "no doesn't mean no." But they should still know better.
The only people who enjoy having sex with someone who isn't enjoying having sex with them are rapists. They are getting off on the power and control, not love or lust. 

R
Do you really think guys can't get self absorbed in themselves and not notice they are hurting someone? Again to the TV watch any guy action flick and you will likely see him go berserk when he gets passionate. But I do think what we have here is another clear point of disagreement, does rape involve a women not being satisfied? Your statement seems to imply that if a guy takes a women without her consent but she enjoys the experience and is pleased at the end its not rape. Now combine this thought with the belief that many men have, that they are super studs and all women love them, with a belief that if a women enjoys it, then it’s not rape.
FYI culture and media don't teach men that no doesn't mean no, it’s women that teach that lesson. Sadly lots of women do say no when they mean yes, I can tell you many stories. Those women exist, and they make it harder for those who say what they mean.

G
If a women says no when she means yes, respect the No. Maybe she'll be sad that she didn't get to have sex, but that can start a change for her to start communicating properly in the future.
Yes, I think guys can get self absorbed and not notice they are hurting someone. So? It's rape, or at the very least, bad sex. Like I said before, sex is something two people do together, not something one person does to another person.
It really distresses me that Christian men don't take this more seriously. They should care about this. Why is it that an atheist, nudist man who practices BDSM can care about consent and will refrain from sex because his partner doesn't want it, but a Christian man will rape or at least defend rapists?

R
Lets bring back up Bill Gothard, and Bill Cosby, both men who have not yet been proven did anything wrong, but have only been accused of abuse. Is the correct action respect and acceptance for those who bring serious accusations against people, or should it be skepticism?

G
Certainly there is a healthy level of skepticism. I think Gothard and Cosby have moved far beyond that level. If you believe that many women are lying, it must be a conspiracy, and you would need a lot of evidence for that. 

R
Far beyond a healthy level of skepticism? (That is me expressing extreme amazement, I am actually offended that you said this. This is the only thing you have said that has offended me) Correct me if I am wrong but a jury (which was approved by the prosecution) listened to the case of Bill Cosby and refused to condemn him. Normal people looked at the facts and the verdict was split. Are the jurors stupid? Why is it clear to you but not to the jurors who have reviewed the case in detail and heard both sides? Its a complex case, like they all are. Cases like this are only simple on internet blogs. Full disclosure I know almost nothing about this case but I hate trial by Facebook. People who read an article and jump to conclusions before hearing the other side of the story don't do any good. Don't make cases like Bill's turn into cases like Leo Frank's. Be a skeptic.

G
I'm sorry to offend you. I am confused though. I believe the testimony of dozens of women. You believe the testimony of two men. Why is my position offensive?
I don't think the jurors are stupid, but they live in a culture where we say that raped women are asking for it. I don't see why I need to agree with the results of every trial. Leo Frank got a bad trial- I don't agree with the decision his jury made either. 

R
Sure, I agree I work with refugees and have to deal with the messed up system. But it is better than any other I have seen or heard of. That's why I don't want to bash it, I know what other systems exist, and what would happen if certain policies were introduced. So I have a deep fear of any system other than our own. 

G
I admire the work you do.
I'm not discarding our whole system.
You also mentioned David before. I was always taught Bathsheba was a slut in that story- now I'm frustrated that adults portrayed her that way. It's victim blaming. The story is clear that she was doing a ceremonial bathing, required by law, after her period. She wasn't showing off hoping to get noticed. And if the King asks for you to come to the palace and have sex with him, you don't have any choice in the matter. It's rape, not an affair. 

R
Yea, I have heard the Bathsheba was a slut story before as well. I don't really believe it but I also don't believe your story that she was ceremonially washing either. The bible is unclear, it neither claims she was a slut or ceremonial washing. Truth be told her actions really are not relevant to the story so they are left out. If she was a slut, David shouldn't have slept with her. If she wasn't a slut, David shouldn't have slept with her. 

G
The Bible isn't unclear on this point, it says it. 2 Samuel 11:14 "Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness."
It's like the article I posted above- it matters that that girl didn't chose to have sex with her pastor. She carried around guilt and was blamed by her community for something that wasn't her fault. This is so damaging. The church should care. 

R
I have friends who are both rapists and those who have been raped. I know of people who have been falsely accused of rape and those who have committed rape and had no punishment. I think God has a plan for them all, even if some of them will need punishment.
As for the rapists I think once a prescribed punishment is complete they should be forgiven. My example is King David. After he did his raping the High Priest publicly condemned him. David repented and was punished by God. Then some of his subjects didn't forgive him and tried to overthrow him and they found themselves fighting God. Also remember this was the "Man after God's Own Heart" a Godly man and Godly leader who raped that woman. When you think of rapists remember he was one, they aren’t some vile breed of immoral men. Just men who do immoral things.

G
David repented. That's key.

R
As for those raped I think they should be supported as we are able. Doing so its like supporting Christ, as it is written "When did we see you thirsty and give you a drink"
Overall I think that many “rapist” like Joseph deserve the benefit of the doubt. Even the guilty ones like King David sometimes deserve a second chance. This is not meant to excuse rape, I would support extreme penalties for extreme cases. Some men just take advantage of women, but to the counterpoint some women go out looking to be taken advantage of. Good women shouldn't emulate loose women. Women should expect men to act within the norm of society. Sadly “rape” is part of the norm, women need to be prepared for some normal guy to come on to them and avoid the normal pitfalls. Hoping it wont happen isn't much of a solution. Punishing men is a long term way to change what the normal guy is. However I would try to insure the guys like Leo Frank get a fair trial and are not convicted because people know that “those kinds of people do that kind of thing.” Social media can distort things as in The Affair of the Diamond Necklace, sometimes people are convicted in the court of public opinion solely because one side is louder and more popular. 

G
Thanks for discussing it with me. It does seem like we're reaching an impasse.
I do think it's good to discuss- sex was a taboo subject for me growing up.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Revelation Nonsense

Although I've done my best to write about Revelation in a historically and Biblically literate way, it's a tough subject to research. There's a lot of nonsense about Revelation on the internet. Some of it is intentional nonsense, pernicious misinterpretation to attain power and money for the purveyors of misinformation. Some of it is somewhat innocent - true believers who have a laser like focus on the nonsense and can't keep track of God's character and love anymore.

Either way, it's harmful.

Here's a video which exemplifies this sort of nonsense. (The first version of this video was deleted... hopefully this one will stay online? If not, just search for "revelation monster energy drink")



The passage of concern here is Revelation 13:18 "This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666."

I realize this passage is intriguing to conspiracy theorists, because it's a secret code. How fun! Now you can feel like the hero of The Davinci Code as you figure it out.

Or, you could ask yourself a better question. Why tell this story in code?
Apocalyptic stories are all told like this. (It’s a lost genre.) We can’t fully understand spiritual realities, so they are told with images and metaphor.

In the time period Revelation was written, it wasn't safe to speak freely. Freedom of speech was not a right for the author and audience in this story. Saying “Emperor Nero is wicked" would be a crime. But saying “The Beast is wicked” gives a little room for interpretation. Still, for people living in that time period in that area, most of these metaphors and symbols would be clear and not confusing at all. (If I wanted to talk in code about my dislike of President Trump, I might refer to him with an insult based on orange. Everyone now would now who I was talking about and why, but it 1,000 years, people might be puzzling over the symbolism of the color orange.)

Six-six-six could be code for Euanthas, Lateinos, or Nero Caesar. (Here is one such explanation._ These were wicked Roman kings who caused great harm to the people they were supposed to rule wisely. 

Or, 666 could be empathically short of the perfect number 7. Don’t get obsessed with interpreting it. Some things that were perfectly clear at the time don’t make sense now, and people will start seeing 6’s everywhere if you are looking for them.

Here's a few of the examples I've found online of people obsessing over 666:

Obama! He's a secret Muslim, and also the antichrist.

Math! I've always said it's fun

Anything can be a 6 if you work hard at it

Working hard to keep this updated - any "new" thing is the Mark of the Beast, but any old thing is  The Good Old Days
It's sad how quickly these conspiracy theories become dated. It's not cool to say Obama is the antichrist anymore; since he's out of office and power, you really need to get over it. But young people don't know how long the antichrist game has been going on. (By the way, there is NO character in Revelation called "The Antichrist")

The Pope is an ongoing favorite for accusation. Every pope has been accused- so nothing on this chart will make sense after Francis passes away. 


Every US president (or potential president) gets a share of accusation:

1990s: President Bill Clinton

2000-2008 George W. Bush

2009-2016 President Barack Obama
Presidential Candidate Hilary Rodham Clinton 2016
President Donald Trump 2017 - present

When my mom was my age, Gorbechev was a popular contender:

General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
1985–1991
Islamic leaders are also common options:

 Saddam Hussein President of Iraq, 1979-2003
 Or, just combine a hatred of Islam with a hatred of Catholicism and smoosh them together.


I also found two accusations which frankly shocked me:

Billy Graham: world famous evangelist from 1940s to 2000s
The Apostle Paul: major New Testament character and writer 
 One could argue that all of these people have done wrong things, perhaps even things that were against (or anti-) Christ. However, calling any of them "The Antichrist" - a one singular evil person who would bring about the end of the world- is both selfish and silly. All it takes if for that person to die or to lose power for your prediction to be worthless. That's why they keep writing new books and pretending like the old ones never happened.

However, if you took the time to simply criticize what that person did wrong- why their beliefs, teachings or actions were contrary to God's love and God's will, you may accomplish something useful.

You can take anything you don't like and apply Revelation symbolism to it

Let's return to the Monster energy drink video.

This woman focuses on secret symbols. She imagines that someone's soul is damaged by turning a cross upside-down by accident. She suggests that satan gets some sort of benefit by a symbol that looks vaguely like a Hebrew letter. What benefit could it possibly be to satan? Here's how satan benefits: when people hurt each other. When people hate. When people misuse God's name to ignore the suffering of others.

Monster Energy is not a Christian company, as she observed. There are potentially harmful things about using cursing and sexualization to market a product. There's much harm in capitalism in general: greed, false advertising, oppression of workers, promotion of unhealthy consumption, waste, lack of care for the Earth. But she doesn't focus on any of that. She's only concerned with secrets, conspiracies, and feeling proud of herself for having secret knowledge. (By the way, I do think there's a good side to American innovation- creativity, challenges, and teamwork.)

Steve Jobs, American entrepreneur and inventor, CEO of Apple until his death in 2011
I can summarize this into two main problems:
  1. A nonsense interpretation of the history of Revelation- thinking John of Patmos looked into the future, saw Monster Energy Drinks or Barack Obama, and felt the need to tell his contemporaries about it.
  2. A nonsense interpretation of the present: that rather than considering the good and bad deeds of world leaders, we focus our attention on secrets and conspiracies.
The symbolism of 666 is not the most important thing. The most important thing about the Mark of the Beast is allegiance. The real question is: Is our allegiance to God, or to wicked rulers? We can use secret symbols to justify following bad leaders, or to let them distract us from having good discernment about leadership. Or we can look at the big picture, and make decisions based on following a God of Love. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

What is Worship?


Holy, Holy, Holy, / Is the Lord God Almighty / Who was and is, and is to come.
With all creation I sing / Praise to the King of Kings / You are my everything
And I will adore You


Today, we come together to worship, so let’s ask- What is worship?


Christians typically think of worship like this, gathering together with a community, singing songs, and reflecting on the meaning of the lyrics. Worship is also expressed through our feelings- you may be happy, exuberant, overwhelmed, moved, sad, or all of them at once.


Some of you here worship God, and maybe some of you aren’t sure if you consider yourself a person who worships.


But actually, we all worship!


We all dedicate ourselves to something. We all spend our time and our money in some focused way. We all honor whatever it is that we consider to be valuable. 

How do we worship?

  • Money
  • Time 
  • Focus 
  • Rejoicing 
  • Mourning 
  • Energy 
  • Art
  • Songs
  • Writing
  • Speaking
  • Prayer
  • Movement (dance, exercise, prayer postures)
  • Love/devotion/adoration
  • Trust, Obedience/submission
  • Protecting/defending
  • Taking action
  • Refraining from action
Some of this worship is personal, and some of it is communal. Today we’re worshipping communally- everyone together. We worship because our family or our community said we should, or sometimes we worship something we’ve chosen for ourselves.


Either way, we worship because we’ve decided that something is worthy of worship. In fact, “worth” is the root of the word worship.



Worship = Worth-ship



We worship what has value. We worship what we think is deserving.


In the book of Revelation, we see many scenes of worship. This may surprise you because the book is more famous for stories of destruction and death- but that’s not the point of Revelation. In contrast to despair, we witness this scene alongside our narrator John. 

Revelation 4:6b-11, 5:1-6b, 9-12

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:
“‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is, and is to come.”
Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”
Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.
And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
I know this is an overwhelming vision, and we don’t have time to break down every part of it right now.


But it is overwhelming on purpose. Imagine standing in front of this heavenly throne with this cast of characters: four creatures with wings and strange faces, twenty-four elders, and 100 million angels. This contrasts the destruction elsewhere in the story. John was writing this as a letter to a persecuted people- those who were dying for their faith in a time when Rome had conquered most of the known world.  They worshiped a goddess of victory and built statues and altars to her. Roman kings also demanded worship. They said, “I’m worthy of worship, because I’m the strongest and the smartest, and I have the biggest army.”


Many of the things Rome worshipped, we still worship today. Maybe we don’t build a statue to them, but we spend our time, money and energy focused on these things.

What We Worship

  • Athletes, sports teams, movie stars
  • Politicians or policies
  • Church and religious leaders
  • Success and accomplishments
  • Independence and self-reliance
  • Grades, degrees, titles, prestige
  • Coolness or uniqueness
  • Sex and sexual attractiveness
  • Dating, romance, romantic partners
  • Marriage and family
  • Western beauty standards (certain skin tones, face shapes, body shapes)
  • Thinness
  • Good health and able bodies
  • Strength and security
  • Patriotism and nationalism
  • Money and materialism
  • Authority figures
  • Winning/victory
  • Comfort, convenience
These things aren’t all inherently bad: but are they worthy of worship? I mentioned things like marriage and family because they can be good and life-giving, but worshipping them can also mess up our priorities and cause harm. I see that in dating too- many think they are incomplete without a significant other, that their life isn’t worthwhile unless a boyfriend or girlfriend affirms them.


For me, grades and achievements were a major focus when I was a student. I built my identity around my report card. Jesus was important to me too, but there was a wall around part of my heart where Jesus had no place. When I was 18, for the first time I decided to give my whole heart to Jesus, instead of just the places where it was easy and convenient. It’s still hard to keep giving up that part of myself. I don’t get grades anymore, thankfully, but I tend to worship being right, winning arguments, or being perceived as being right. It can be hard to let go of these things, and it’s still a long journey with Jesus for me.


The next hard step in my journey again started with expanding my heart. I hadn’t noticed how my faith was exclusively personal. I thought, as long as I have a personal relationship with Jesus, it doesn’t matter if my family, my church, my people group, or my country have a broken relationship with God. But in Revelation, we see that it matters to God when our communities worship things which aren’t worthy. Most of the stuff on this worship list are things our culture ingrains in us- how many times do you see media for thinness and certain beauty standards? How often do we see leaders escape consequences for their wicked actions because we worship their power?


Like Rome, we have leaders who say - “I’m the strongest and the smartest. I have the power. I’m worthy of your devotion and obedience.” We live in a world where we are encouraged to worship leaders and power, or seek the victories of our group at the expense of others.


So when John says that God alone is worthy of worship, he’s promoting a revolutionary act. In the midst of wicked rulers, he tells us to disobey their commands and give allegiance to God instead.


John is writing this from prison, and others who follow this act of allegiance could end up there too, or die as martyrs.


This worship is not fun or casual. These early Christians took worship seriously. They were serious because it was worthwhile. So why is God worthy of worship?
Day and night they never stop saying:
“‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is, and is to come.
Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”
Holy means to be complete, whole. There's nothing incomplete about God. God was, is, and is to come because God is eternal and lives forever. God is the creator- what power could be greater?


We can see why God is worthy- someone so big and so powerful must be greater than any conquering King, right?


But there’s another aspect to this worthiness. In chapter 5 verse 2,  we meet a mighty angel. We have a cultural view of angels looking sweet and human, but this being probably looks as terrifying as the four living creatures by the throne. And it is mighty: maybe it’s the biggest of all the angels, it has forearms this big around- it could lift John up like a dumbbell. But for some reason, even this mighty angel can’t open this scroll.


Scrolls aren’t usually hard to open- it's just paper sealed with wax.


Strength isn’t enough- power isn’t enough. What is needed to open this scroll? An elder says: Don’t worry, we have someone who can do it. Look- it’s the Lion!


John looks. But he doesn’t see a lion- he sees a lamb.



What is this? A lamb isn’t a lion. It isn’t strong or powerful. It’s a baby, vulnerable.
Why would a lamb be worthy? How could a lamb have triumphed?
We hear why this lamb is worthy in a new song.
And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:
Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
We saw before that the lamb looked like it had been killed. Many ancient cultures sacrificed lambs and other animals for forgiveness or for seeking favor. It’s a strange image for God to become the sacrifice rather than the one receiving the sacrifice.


Surprise: worthiness comes through sacrifice, not strength. Worthy is the one who loves, not the one with power. Worthy is he who made a Kingdom, not he who conquered kingdoms. Worthy is he who makes people priests and rulers, not he who makes people slaves and martyrs.


The name of the lamb who was slain is Jesus. Jesus sacrificed himself and died out of love. His enemies though they’d won, but his sacrifice was the victory. Because of Jesus’ love, we get to gather here today- this campus represents people from many tribes and languages and peoples and nations- we get to be part of God’s Kingdom. We get to serve and we get to reign.


What would our world look like if we valued sacrifice over strength? Maybe we wouldn’t treat the poor and the refugee and the disabled and the sick as a burden, but as beloved brothers and sisters who have something good to contribute. How would we treat people if we believed that love was greater than power? Maybe we wouldn’t care about saying that our country was #1 and stop trying to put ourselves first. And what would our campus look like if we were a kingdom of people from every nation serving God? College students could model love and sacrifice for the whole world to see.


Do you want that? Do you want to be part of that?

Jesus is worth learning about- let Jesus show you why he is worthy.


Worthy is the Lamb who was slain / Holy Holy is He
Sing a new song / To Him who sits on / Heaven’s mercy seat
Holy, Holy, Holy, / Is the Lord God Almighty / Who was and is, and is to come.

Wedding of the Lamb: Cake Color Symbolism

Wedding of the Lamb - Revelation Potluck party! You can have a slice of you tell me what the colors represent

1. Purple: represents royalty (purple dye is historically expensive- only the rich could afford it. In the time Revelation was written, the known world was under the control of Rome. The kings of Rome worshipped victory and conquering; they lavishly spent their wealth and oppressed the poor. They called themselves gods and killed anyone who wouldn’t worship them. The wicked “Babylon” wears purple and is covered in jewels, but she falls in the end. When Jesus arrives, it’s clear that he is the only true royalty, only he is worthy. Love wins over Power! 

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True… On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of kings and Lord of lords.” -Revelation 11a, 16

2. Red: represents blood and sacrifice. Babylon drinks red wine that is the blood of the martyrs- those who died because their allegiance was to Jesus rather than to the evil kings. The Lamb bleeds from a cut throat, and Jesus’ robe is dipped in blood, representing his death and sacrifice for us. 

“They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” -Revelation 12:11

3. White: represent purity, being washed/cleansed. The martyrs were given a white robe because they persevered to the end. Jesus and the heavenly army wear white, and Jesus rides a white horse. Finally, the Bride (the church) wears white for her wedding day! “ I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” -Revelation 21:2-4

4. Leaves: represent healing. The curse is broken and we can eat from the Tree of Life again. Our broken world is restored, both on a personal level and a community or systemic level as all the nations come together, bringing their glory and honor into the City. 

“On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” -Revelation 22:2b
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