Category Archives: Listening

Grief on the Margins of UMC General Conference

Amidst the concentric circles that sat within The Dome in St. Louis this week, it was the outer ring that leaves my heart hurting most as I walk away. We gathered for this Special Session of General Conference to discuss human sexuality and bring to a conclusion the battle that had raged in the church since the 1970’s. On the floor of The Dome, where football rivalries are usually waged, a different game played out. In the center, on that floor, the voting delegates, elected from around our global church, both clergy and laity, convened to cast their votes on our Queer family’s place in the church. Around them were the Bishops, and pages, and various support folks given access to the space. Above all that, in the stands, were the Observers, folks like me, who had come from far and near to witness what would take place.

Yet, even they were not the outer circle.

Outside of the stands, on the Concourse Level, were the non-unionized employees working the concessions stands of the Dome, serving us overpriced water and soda and popcorn. Positioned to their left and to their right in each opening were large television screens, broadcasting the images and sounds of everything happening inside on the microphone into their ears. The screens were there for the people in line to stay up to date on what was happening inside, and few of those people probably thought about the effect they were having on the people behind the counter, handing them their hotdog and taking their cash. 

As the Conference moved through the first couple days, something beautiful began to happen. Seeing those of us in rainbow stoles, our beautiful brothers and sisters behind the counters began to feel excitement and hope. Many of them began to wear rainbows themselves, at first just a little, and then fully bedecked. There was something of a sense of celebration to it. It was as if they were not only showing solidarity to us, but also celebrating an affirmation of themselves as supporters of LGBTQIA+ folxs who had found church people who agreed. 

Yet, as we got into discussions, there were those screens above their heads, the speakers blasting every word that was said into their hearing. They were not passive recipients of our presence, they were active participants in our church community this week… for those of us who had the eyes to see them, the ears to hear them, the hearts to love them. 

They, in kind, heard every ugly word we said from the microphone. They heard every bit of gaslighting. They heard every snide conversation held between Traditional Plan supporters waiting for their soda. They saw the results of every vote we passed to condemn our Queer family.

It did not take long for the rainbows to vanish, disappearing as quickly as the joyful smiles left their faces. 

My heart ached most of all for them. 

The amazing Rev. Sara Baron had a bag full of small yarn rainbows with notes that said “You are loved” that had been knit by a woman at her church and prayed over by the children of the congregation. She had given me a bunch of them to hand out to people who needed them, and as I walked by a concession stand, I handed them to one of our family behind the counter. “Wait, I want one!” the person next to her called out. They took them, and slipped them into their pocket, away from condemning eyes but still close to their hearts

The small bundles of colorful yarn matched the large yarn rainbow stole that I was wearing, and so word spread quickly among the workers that if you wanted one of the notes with rainbow yarn, to look for the lady in the big yarn stole. I found myself being hailed down as I walked through the halls, dropping pieces of rainbow yarn into people’s eager hands. The colorful drops of love, that matched the stole my Aunt Jackie knit, became like water running off the edge of the cup that overflows with mercy.

When the Traditional Plan passed, and I rushed down to the lobby to make sure that Queer family and allies were safe from police, we found ourselves locked out. Police barred us from re-entering to the closing worship service. I could not get to my belongings, and I could not get to my family behind our Concession Stands. I could not remind them they were loved. I could not tell them we would still fight. I could not tell them this changed nothing about how precious and beloved they were. I could not tell them that I will still put my collar on this Thursday and serve Holy Communion. 

Yet, though separated by police, and gates and distance, the air between us was clear. So, when we sang out at the top of our voices there in that lobby about the unconditional love of God, I know they heard us.

I know they heard us.

I know they heard.

I know. 

Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do.

 

When Celibacy Conflicts With Faithfulness

Most young clergywomen are familiar with the predictable conversation that takes place when people encounter us for the first time in the wild. Scrunching up their face in puzzlement at my clergy collar, the woman cutting my hair, or the man ringing up my groceries will almost inevitably ask, “So can you get married?”

In earlier years my answer always came easily, “Of course I can get married! No, I’m not a nun.” In more recent times, however, I have found the answer does not come as readily. “Technically…” has become my cryptic reply.

Having come out as Queer clergy a few months ago, I have been wrestling with what that word “technically” means to me. It means that I can get married – technically – but not in a way that would be life-giving for me, since the only marriage that my denomination condones – technically – would be if I were to marry a man. In a few days in St. Louis, many people that know and love me will have the ability to vote on whether that technicality will change. What a strange circumstance, that there are people that I have lived with and worked with that will be able with the push of a button to decide something so important to me. Some of them plan to vote to set me free, and some of them plan to vote to end my career by requiring me to reject who I am to continue in it. Emotionally, and practically, it is a strange power for people I love to have over me, like holding the keys to a medieval chastity belt.

A heavy weight has sat on my chest every time I try to write about this. Since coming out, I have observed that some who know me would like to make this reality easier for themselves by choosing to think of me as “not like those other Queer people” or somehow better than my Queer family because I’m not in a relationship, and am therefore not “practicing.” It seems easier to tell themselves and others that I am the one choosing celibacy, than it is to talk to me about it and understand how I feel. 

While it is uncomfortable for me to talk about this as well, I do not want to be used as an easy out by anyone either. I need to speak my truth and my reality.

So, let us be accurate. I am celibate. This does not mean I have a call to celibacy. This does not mean I have the “gift of celibacy.” If someone tells you that, then it means they have not loved me enough to talk to me about it. This is simply my reality. I am celibate. Full stop. And I wish I wasn’t.

It bears noting that it has been a difficult year for women who grew up in the purity culture. Joshua Harris expressing his remorse over his book – that was treated as evangelical doctrine – does not lessen the trauma it caused. 

It has also been a difficult month for women with vows of celibacy. The Pope expressing his remorse that nuns have been being used as sex slaves by some priests and Bishops does not lessen the trauma caused by those who feel betrayed by their vows and their institution. 

It will be a difficult week for queer clergy ordained in the United Methodist Church. The expressions of sympathy from church leadership will not lesson the trauma that is about to be caused as the intimate aspects of our lives will be casual discussion for our global colleagues, as they are discussed right in front of us as though we are not in the room.

Here I sit. Occupying all three of these realities. This is no coincidence. 

How heavy the task of finding the words to say about my own life, when for others it is so easy to speak of us. It is so easy to assume things about Queer clergy. The word Queer somehow makes people think they have permission to assign all kinds of assumptions onto you that they would feel shame ridden to have cross their mind about their heterosexual colleagues. Somehow logic does not prevail, and they assign judgment to the object of their imagination rather than to their own imagination itself.  How comfortable sits the man with power and hubris, speaking with ease about things which he will never experience, know or understand. 

This vow of celibacy, shared by those nuns, their abusive priests, and I, was imposed upon us for the purpose of institutional preservation, then camouflaged successfully over the centuries and decades by a rationalization built upon a false equivalency between being called to the priesthood and being called to celibacy. 

Let us break this down. 

Somehow the church survived the first 1000 years of its history without this connection between celibacy and the priesthood. Yes, it certainly appeared here and there, and now and then, but never as a comprehensive and compulsory requirement. It was not until the First Lateran Council in 1123 A.D., in a selective and non-ecumenical gathering, that celibacy was decreed as a comprehensive commitment for priests, rather than the occasional and geographical ways it had sprouted up from time to time. The church, frustrated with fighting over inheritances with the children of priests, was eager to rid itself of the complications and costs that accompanied a priest who had wives and children. Thus, it was decreed in Canon 7:

We absolutely forbid priests, deacons or subdeacons to live with concubines and wives, and to cohabit with other women, except those whom the council of Nicaea permitted to dwell with them solely on account of necessity, namely a mother, sister, paternal or maternal aunt, or other such persons, about whom no suspicion could justly arise

The fact that protecting the finances of the church was the crisis of the moment was further emphasized in the next line, Canon 8 of the First Lateran Council, which stated that laypeople, regardless of “how religious they may be,” may not carry out church business because they may “arrogate to himself the disposition or donation.” In other words, the church feared laypeople getting their hands on those tithes and offerings, just as they feared the families of priests getting their hands on church resources in Canon 7. 

Therefore, we found ourselves a thousand years into the history of the church, compelling all people who were called to devote their lives to God, to also devote their lives to celibacy. We placed upon them the requirement to suppress something that was good, godly, and beautiful about themselves, in order to be permitted to answer their call to serve the church. 

This requirement of celibacy for the priesthood did not come from God, however, and was not rooted in scripture. It was a decision made by man. Requiring something so huge from people as the price for “letting them answer their call” did great damage to the relationship between God and those called to serve God. It created a false barrier in the communication between God and those God called. It required them to give up something that God had not called them to give up, but that the church needed them to give up for financial reasons.

This is abuse. Abuse of the trust that people place in the church. 

In time this became evident to some. The many traditions that arose as a result of the Reformation permitted their priests to marry. Vows and expectations shifted, and with time the priesthood in these other traditions even came to include women as well as men. 

The latest chapter of this came in 1983, when I was only three months old. At that time, my own tradition, the United Methodist Church was concerned for their institutional preservation, as the Roman Catholic Church had been at the First Lateran Council. 

As Bishop Jack Tuell would later give testimony:

“It’s February 1983, a little over 20 years ago.  I am meeting in an airport in Albuquerque with two other United Methodist bishops and an executive of the Division of Ordained  Ministry out of Nashville. We are doing preliminary work on legislation for the 1984 General Conference. Our subject matter was ordained ministry. We worked on many aspects of the subject. But a particular concern being raised was: “How do we screen out homosexual persons from becoming ordained ministers?”   

I proposed a seven-word addition to the list of things to which candidates for ministry must commit: “Fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness.”…
Now why did we do that?  You would think that on as important a matter as that we might look to Wesley’s guidelines of discernment: that is, scripture, tradition, experience and reason.  But I’m here to tell you that we did not look at the scriptures; we never mentioned tradition; we did not refer to experience, and reason.  It was almost absent from our discussion. Instead of those four classic words guiding our conversation, we were unconsciously guided by two other words: institutional protection.”

In other words, men in my denomination made the choice, for the purposes of institutional protection, to avoid the whole “gay conversation” by taking advantage of the law of the land, and the fact that it was not legal for gay folks to get married. By inserting a phrase “celibacy in singleness” into the ordination vows, they could ensure that those who could not legally be married would have to remain lifelong celibates, in order for the church to avoid an authentic engagement with them and a loving conversation about their thoughts, experiences, identities, and realities. 

I was born and baptized into a church that did not include that in the vow. Yet, 28 years later, it would be a vow that I would take when I answered my call to ordination. At the time, I believed the vow to be a part of the history of the church, I did not know it had been inserted in my lifetime. At the time, I had not embraced my queerness, and I had no idea how that vow was strategically created to bind me. 

For the years that followed, there was something that I could not put my finger on that lay between God and I. It was not until recently that I would find out what it was: this vow that God did not require of me, that man forced upon me as the price that I had to pay for others to gain the ability to avoid the loving conversation.

God, on the other hand, has never avoided the loving conversations with me. I felt the same good-humored embrace of the Spirit when I accepted my Queerness as I had when I accepted my call, “Welcome, it took you long enough.”

We can debate the content of the vow, whether it is reasonable or not, but that is a straw man, a distraction. Why those words are there matters. As a person who strives to live with integrity, the “why” always matters to me. The intention behind putting those words in my mouth matters to me. Both in the case of the Lateran Council, and in the case of the General Conference of 1984, institutional preservation was what was at stake, and not spiritual integrity. That is a betrayal. 

There have always been people on all ends of the sexuality spectrum, both heterosexuals and members of the LGBTQ+ community, who have recognized that this vow was a result of church politics and not sound exegesis. There have always been Queer clergy who have followed God’s calling into the relationships that God intended for them.

I admire them, and I aspire to have their courage to follow God with boldness.

To make a person choose between two callings God has placed on their life – one to be ordained and the other to be in loving relationship – is spiritual abuse. It is meddling in an area where only the Spirit has a say. It is prioritization of the institution over the community of faith. 

I am Queer. I am celibate, but I will likely not always be. I have never feared anything so much as I fear being outside of the will of God. So, if God calls me into relationship, I will obey. That is the integrity and courage that I have seen from my colleagues like Mary and Susan, Kimberly and Sofia, Bailey and Kelli. That is the integrity and courage that I want to have. I don’t want to hide any longer behind my work, behind my collar, or behind my vows.

 

The Table of Man

At the back of the hotel ballroom, I stood shaking from my encounter with the Spirit. Outwardly composed, the pen I held in my hand betrayed my secret, resisting being steadied each time I tried to set it to the page. 

I had just stood on the stage with simple straw basket and cup, and celebrated Holy Communion for the United Methodist Women as if my life depended on it, because in so many ways it does. Adrenaline coursed through my veins, as I tried to calm myself. Stepping out of the focus of this community of women so beloved to me, I found myself standing face to face with the core of what is at stake this month: This Table. This welcome. This meal. This family. This calling. This community. This life. 

We can write and think and debate all we want about legislation and pensions and politics until we become safe and numb, losing all connection with the emotional and spiritual consequences of our actions. Losing all sense of the fact that families once said “I love you” across the breakfast table, and churches once said “Peace be with you” across the Table of the Lord.

At the end of the day, this is what is at stake: Will I lose my ability to serve at the Table of the Lord in the United Methodist Church simply because I have named that I know myself to be Queer?

I word that statement carefully, because this is not a question of whether I can serve at the Table of the Lord. The United Methodist Church does not have the authority to invite me to eat at the Table of the Lord, nor does it have the authority to invite me to serve at the Table of the Lord. Only the one to whom the Table belongs can give those invitations. This is the theology of my tradition. We believe that this is an open table; that our priestly task is merely to extend the invitation that Christ has already made to those that love God, repent of their failures to love, and seek to live in peace. It is my denomination that credentials me, but it is my God who called me.

It is possible that the strategies of those that fear us could rip my credentials from my hands, but they cannot put out the fire shut up in my bones, the coal that has touched my lips, or the lamp that shines from my eyes. Cowardice cannot quench the force of my courage. Hate cannot weaken the power of my love. The assumptions birthed in the dirty minds of patriarchal men cannot imagine away my integrity. 

You should know by now, love never goes down without a fight, and justice never lets the oppressor define the terms of success or failure.

Justice is a beautiful and creative dance, and the clumsy steps of those who do not know how to sway to its rhythm will soon painfully reveal where each of us truly stands. 

If the end of this month brings news that I, and my Queer sistren and brethren, have been barred from a Table, it will not be the Table of the Lord. No mortal has that power. Instead, we will stand shut out from the Table of Man. For a Table to which not all are invited, cannot be called the Table of the Lord. That is not Wesleyan theology, even if it was sadly his youthful behavior.

When we use the word Wesleyan to describe ourselves, which chapter of John Wesley’s life does our behavior emulate? Do we admire the young man, heart yet unwarmed, who barred Sophia Hopkey in 1737 from the Table for his own petty, personal and ego-driven reasons? Or do we admire the experienced leader, who in 1771 would break with church tradition, as well as the accepted interpretation of scripture on a woman’s role, to argue that women like Mary Bosanquet should be permitted to preach on the grounds of having an obvious and extraordinary calling?

As we think to our own future, let us remember in which chapter his ministry was destroyed by his arrogance, and in which chapter it was strengthened by his humility.

Let us be clear, if we choose to exclude from God’s table those whom we exclude from our own table, then we will have built for ourselves an idol in our own image. A Table, surely, but not the Lord’s.

Just as those before us have so often gathered their coins and trinkets to melt into a Golden Calf, those groups who have squirreled aside their coins, in violation of their covenant with the greater community, will have their moment to forge an idol to Man. Whether that idol will stand within the bounds of United Methodism, or outside of them is what we have yet to determine.  Those who find themselves, at the end of the day, standing before that Idol, will continue to say the words, “We confess that we have not heard the cry of the needy” without ever facing the real crime: that they never truly tried to listen.

They have been too scared that they will find their heart strangely warmed, their attitude strangely shift, their mind strangely altered. They have been afraid of what love will do to the beliefs they hold so dear.  I know well this fear of transformation, for as a child I was taught not to listen. All throughout those years, my little brain wondered every day: if what we believe is true, then why are we so scared that someone will change our minds? 

That little girl with all her questions, has become a woman with the humility to know when she does not have the answers. A woman whose strength has been forged in fires whose heat no man who now stands against her could bear. A woman whose mind and heart have blossomed as she has aged, without ever losing her reliance on the vine supporting her, that is Jesus Christ.

So, when all this debating, and strategizing comes to an end, you will still find me at the Table of the Lord. Somewhere, perhaps in a United Methodist Church, or perhaps in the highways and byways, I will still take that loaf in my hands. I will break it as if our lives depend on it, and I will eat it together with those that hunger and thirst for righteousness…

and we will be filled.

and we will be loved.

and we will be welcomed.

and we will be whole.  

Tents, Kids, Money & God

After the weeks I spent sitting at the gate of the tent city for kids in Tornillo, Texas, I realized I was having a hard time seeing the forest for the trees. I texted friends asking them to give me the big picture. Accustomed to trench work, to being close to the ground, I often see the things no one else sees, while at the same time missing the things everyone else is seeing.  

One of the biggest things that was weighing on me was that while offering continual observations from the ground, and listening to firsthand accounts from inside, I had done little to look into the faith-based organization that was running the tent city, Baptist Child and Family Services. That is why I was so grateful when University of Arizona professor, Dr. Elizabeth Jaeger, offered to begin the research into BCFS. Using her research as a starting point, I have attempted to reflect upon what is a faithful response to what we are seeing.

My mind has been particularly ill at ease, because time and again we have been given a date that Baptist Children and Family Services planned to end their involvement in Tornillo and shut down the tent city they were running for the United States Government. Yet, whenever the date drew close, it was extended, and it felt that promises were broken. It began to feel familiar; delay tactics in Texas are one thing I know well. Yet, why did BCFS stay involved? They were supposed to be crisis responders, making a temporary response to a momentary crisis created by family separations. 

It is now four months later and the kids are still there. Permanent structures have been constructed in addition to the tents. The timeline is now dragging on through the end of 2018. 

The initial crisis that BCFS was responding to, the zero-tolerance policy and consequent large numbers of children separated from their parents, has been expanded. Rather than working to reunify the families and children and then shut down, the vision of the tent city has grown to include unaccompanied minors of other forms. The facility has constantly expanded rather than contracted, leading up to the event that returned it to the public eye: the mass movement of kids, during the darkness of night, from shelters around the country to Tornillo. Capacity has been expanded to house close to 4,000 kids from the original 200. Bodies will have to be conscripted to fill those spots. An industry is  being created.

As projected date of closure after projected date of closure has passed, one begins to wonder whether the situation that Baptist Child and Family Services find themselves in is similar to the quandary that Maria Hinojosa exposed in her two part interview with Juan Sanchez, the CEO of Southwest Key. In their conversation, Hinojosa draws out the economic and financial considerations that Juan Sanchez feels he must consider when lining up what may be best for the kids against the financial survival of an institution he has built.

Sometimes we start out with the best of intentions… but then there are salaries to be paid. 

Finances

The CEO of Baptist Children and Family Services, Kevin Dunnin, for example, received a salary of $450,000 in 2013 (while the average salary for non-profit CEOs is closer to $285,000).

According to CNN, in June, a week after Tornillo opened, BCFS was expected to receive $127,000,000 from the US Government during the fiscal year. Since that first week, the number appears to have skyrocketed to between $428,569,971 and $441,234,738 (depending on whether you go by Issue Date Fiscal Year or Funding Fiscal Year respectively) according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. That is a lot of money, a lot of salaries. All relying on the continued imprisonment of children. All relying on the Administration’s policy of creating consequences in order to discourage sponsors from claiming children.

Beware the creation of an industry.

tornillo graph

(Grants made to BCFS by US Gov. Source: Department of Health and Human Services)

Transparency and Accountability

This leads us to some very important questions. First, the question of transparency and accountability. According to a 2014 article, concerns have been raised in the past to the Department of Health and Human Services about the lack of transparency exhibited by BCFS. If you were to look at their website, perhaps as a potential donor, you will not see any mention of the unaccompanied minor facilities, that presumably make up a good percentage of their income. While we can assume that running a tent city has not always been the history of BCFS, which began as an orphanage in Texas, that is the history that it is writing right now.

With each day that passes, and each child that spends another week or month in the desolation of Tornillo, we are normalizing the imprisonment of innocent children. With each person that signs a non-disclosure agreement to enter, and exits carrying the warm impression intentionally created for them and compassion for those that work there, normalization is carried back to the communities they inhabit.

How soon we forget our original horror.

When you open the website for BCFS, it opens with an image of a young blonde woman, and the words “Empowering Youth Through Education.” However, until a new press release was issued this week saying that children at Tornillo would be receiving instruction from teachers, they have only been provided with optional workbooks to work on if they choose. Establishing educational opportunities is surely a necessary and welcome change from the past 4 months. One would presume that the requirements to abide by State regulations, stipulated by the grants BCFS receives, should already have been being respected and that education should already have been being offered. However, Tornillo, being on Federal property, is not subject to State inspections or enforcement.

It has been difficult at times for advocates all along the border in Texas and Arizona to know how to respond. Most of the responses that have taken place have been directed towards the more profitable Southwest Key. Over the past few months, many advocates have restrained themselves from bringing attention to situations, fearing that children will be moved to even worse locations. To many, Tornillo seems like the worst-case scenario, but others fear that moving the kids out of sight to military bases would be even worse. It is hard to know what to do.

One thing I do know: we must fight normalizing this, and we must fight against the creation of one more mass incarceration institution reliant on bodies for income.

Part of me wonders if we are too late… has all of this already been happening, and already been established for years under our very noses? At the same time, looking at the numbers from the Department of Health and Human Services, I can see that income for both Southwest Key and BCFS has skyrocketed, doubling the amount of money they were receiving from the government last year. One can hope, that with the right amount of attention and pressure, we can prevent these and other organizations from being willing accomplices to the administration. One can hope, that we can discourage them from making this a normal part of their expected budget. One can hope, that we can prevent this from becoming business as usual.

Religious Responsibility

I have been struggling with what is our religious responsibility in this from the start. Throughout time when cruelty was enacted upon the vulnerable, there were religious leaders who collaborated and benefitted, and religious leaders who resisted in both public and private ways. When does the time come when we must choose? Where is the line that cannot be crossed? When does the moment come when we must risk it all?

These are questions that many of us have the luxury of asking, because we are not amongst the directly impacted community. Yet, I have heard the voice of a mother who expressed her shock that we were not jumping in our cars and storming the gates of Tornillo.

I have struggled with trying to be professional, trying to be collegial, trying to be respectful. I have held my tongue while watching different religious leaders make different choices.

That mother’s outrage at our complacency strips my soul bare.

Reading representatives from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention defending BCFS from critique, I know that Baptist Children and Family Services is not merely Baptist in name. They are claimed by the Southern Baptists, connected to the Southern Baptists. I wonder what my Baptists friends can do.

In seeking to examine our own practice, I have discussed with other pastors in Tucson how what we do with shelters here is different, and how to keep it that way. Most importantly, we do not hold children in confinement. We offer hospitality, welcome, food, clothing, and the freedom to leave at any time. There are not armed guards or fences, military helicopters or snipers on the roof as I saw on at least one occasion during my time at Tornillo. We work hard to communicate about consent and let guests know they are free to do as they choose and go where they choose. We are not funded by the government, we are supported by the church and you. We do not sign non-disclosure agreements, and as you see, have no problem using any knowledge we have to publicly critique the system. I believe those are important distinctions to maintain.

We must remain vigilant. The way things begin may not be how they end. You may start out setting up a few tents as a temporary shelter for separated kids, and end up running a tent city for thousands of unaccompanied minors.

How closely can the church cooperate with the government in serving immigrants before we have gone too far and become an accomplice to abuse? Where is the line? How much can we tolerate in order to maintain access to the vulnerable, without becoming desensitized to their suffering?

We must examine ourselves. Constantly. We must fight complacency.

 

Wrestling with Peace

“To have peace we must tell the truth; without truth-telling there is no peacemaking.”* (Jean Zaru)

“Only by being truthful about how we got here can we imagine another way.”** (Austin Channing Brown)

The words were like salve to my weary mind. A balm in Gilead. Oil poured out and running over. 

For three weeks, I had been focused on deep listening. You see, three weeks ago, I wrote a blog in deepest sincerity, not seeking to be provocative, but needing to be honest about a book that many leaders in my church were reading. 

The response from some has been to read it again. Not to throw out the baby with the bath water. This may be an option for some. Our deep investment institutionally will make it necessary for some, and I understand that. Due to the calling that I have to amplify “the cry of the needy”, this was not personally an option for me.

That does not mean I had the answers. In truth, it had frightened me how willing I had been to swallow down what I now know to be a mixture of stories, some true and some likely not, under a veneer of heavy handed opinions on one of the most painful and ongoing conflicts in our world. Inviting people to get out of the box with a story taken from a people, many of whom quite literally cannot leave the walls that box them in. I felt deep grief that the pain of an occupied people half a world away was being coopted, not in order to end their pain but in order to end mine. Their trauma domesticated and packaged for my consumption. A placebo of peace. A lesson for better living. 

Over these three weeks, I worked hard. I continued hosting a family of asylum seekers in my home, and I listened to their insightful opinions on the topic of my study. I traveled and I spoke and I prayed.

Most of all, I read. I read voraciously. I read for my life. I read to hear all those voices that  had been stolen. While it is true that I needed to keep reading, in my case it was not the same book again. 

This is what I read:

Throughout the weeks, I both wanted and did not want to continue this conversation. I scribbled notes. I created and scrapped outlines. Many times, I thought I could escape the need to continue. Yet the words of a Palestinian Christian woman, Jean Zaru, would not let me rest, “To have peace we must tell the truth; without truth-telling there is no peacemaking.”

So, because peace must be made and not merely awaited, I’m going to try to share three things that I invite you to bear in mind with me. 

Peace is not an inherent good.

I love my church too much to say it.

I love my church too much not to say it.

Jesus was clear that the peace that we are called to pursue is different from the way that the world uses the word. In John 14:27, he says “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

I do not give to you as the world gives. 

The peace of our God is not the peace that the world gives. The peace of the world most often requires that some suffer in silence, so that others may feel comfortable. The peace of Jesus leaves no one out. The peace of Jesus makes room for everyone. A peace that even makes room for the Canaanite woman, when she disrupts worldly peace to cry out, demand, and refuse to be excluded from the table of the Lord (Matthew 15:21-28).

As Dr. Mitri Raheb, the pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, said of his occupied context in Palestine, “The peace model that has been employed to date has been a type of Pax Romana where the empire dictates peace either through endless processes or through facts on the ground (settlements, land confiscation, colonization, and so forth), thus buying time to expand the boundaries of empire. Pax Romana was rejected by the Judeans of the first century, and similar models are understandably rejected by the Palestinians of the twenty-first century. Peace dictated by the empire is not desirable, doable, or durable.”****

What we must seek is Pax Christi, not Pax Romana. The peace of Christ, not the peace of the Emperor. The peace promised in Isaiah 65:25. This is what defines us as people.

This strange and unusual peace of Christ is what would lead him to say, in Matthew 10:34, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

In Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “When Peace Becomes Obnoxious,” his sermon on this very text, he wrote,

I had a long talk the other day with a man about this [at the] bus situation. He discussed the peace being destroyed in the community, the destroying of good race relations. I agreed that it is more tension now. But peace is not merely to absence of this tension, but the presence of justice. And even if we didn’t have this tension, we still wouldn’t have positive peace. Yes it is true that if the Negro accept his place, accepts exploitation, and injustice, there will be peace. But it would be an obnoxious peace. It would be a peace that boiled down to stagnant complicity, deadening passivity and if peace means this, I don’t want peace:

If peace means accepting second class citizen ship I don’t want it.

If peace means keeping my mouth shut in the midst of injustice and evil, I don’t want it.

If peace means being complacently adjusted to a deadening staus quo, I don’t want peace.

If peace means a willingness to be exploited economically, dominated polically, humiliated and segregated, I don’t want peace.

In a passive non-violent manner we must revolt against this peace.

Jesus says in substance, I will not be content until justice, goodwill, brotherhood, love yes, the kingdom of God are established upon the earth. This is real peace. Peace is the presence of positive good.

As Rev. Dr. King teaches us, the peace we seek must be the peace of Christ. The peace that passes understanding. The peace that the world cannot give to us. The peace that silences no cry of the needy so that it can sleep better at night. 

The challenge for peacemakers, for those who pursue a peace that includes all, has always been to help us to clearly see the difference between the peace of the world and the peace of Christ.

On the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in 1965, the people of Selma tried to cross and many were beaten to the point of death by the police. They did this in order to reveal to the rest of the nation that the peace that existed in their community was no peace at all. It was the world’s version of peace: the silencing of the cry of the needy. It was not the peace of Christ that turns the world upside down. 

It is the work of peacemakers to reveal the difference. Therefore, it is dangerous indeed to create models, that when applied to social issues, would portray the non-violent resister as involved in a collusion to escalate their own abuse. 

Peacemakers disrupt the peace of the world to make way for the peace of Christ, just as Christ did. Just as Bonhoeffer did when he spoke out against the Nazis, while the vast majority of Christians and pastors in his nation were content to be at worldly peace with Hitler.

All anger is not equal.

I love my church too much to say it.

I love my church too much not to say it.

Anger is not equal; neither in its cause, nor in its expression.

In 1965, when armed police were beating Amelia Boynton into bloody unconsciousness on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, there was surely anger on both sides. Yet the anger was not equal in its cause or in its expression. As those of us who have born the pain can attest, there is no desire on the part of peacemakers for a beating, no desire for tear gas. 

The anger, for those that felt it as they fled for their lives back towards Selma, was a just and a righteous reaction to the injustice of their lives both in that moment and in the years preceding. The anger of those that were giving the beating was unjust and unrighteous and arising from their fear of losing the power to oppress those who were marching for their right to vote. 

There is a scene in the 1967 film, “In the Heat of the Night” that always captured this so perfectly for me. A wealthy suspect in the case crumbles into anger and tears because he realizes the world has changed and he cannot just have the Sheriff shoot Mr. Tibbs for being a Black man with confidence. 

We may all feel anger, but it is not equal. Neither in it’s cause nor in it’s expression. For some of us are angry that our humanity is being diminished, and others of us are angry that we cannot control the other’s expression of their humanity. 

Sandra Bland was a Methodist woman pulled over in Texas, who later died in custody. When she was pulled over, both she and the officer were angry, but the anger was equal neither in cause nor expression. She was angry at being unnecessarily pulled over and illegally arrested. He was angry that she did not cater to his ego. His ego cost her life.

Some of us can get away with anger, with explosions and fits. Some of us can yell and scream and curse without lasting consequence. Others live their lives suppressing that anger and it’s expression, knowing that the results can be costly and even deadly. The ability to express anger is a privilege. 

We cannot all explode in anger and get away with it.

Austin Channing Brown writes, “Because I am a Black person, my anger is considered dangerous, explosive, and unwarranted. Because I am a woman, my anger supposedly reveals an emotional problem or gets dismissed as a temporary state that will go away once I choose to be rational. Because I am a Christian, my anger is dismissed as a character flaw, showing just how far I have turned from Jesus. Real Christians are nice, kind, forgiving – and anger is none of these things.”*** She continues to write of finding freedom from this social positioning in the writings of Audre Lorde, “A sense of freedom fell over me as I read her words. Anger is not inherently destructive. My anger can be a force for good. My anger can be creative and imaginative, seeing a better world that doesn’t yet exist. It can fuel a righteous movement toward justice and freedom. I don’t need to fear my own anger. I don’t have to be afraid of myself. “^

Reading her book and Dr. Cleveland’s book made me aware that we value storytelling that leads to self-introspection, but that as a communal body we are more comfortable with the lens of our journey being that of a white man, as was the case in the initial book. The powerful storytelling of Dr. Christena Cleveland and Austin Channing Brown made me wonder could we go on that journey together if it were the lens of a Black woman? Certain ones of us have always had to go on these communal journeys through the lens of another, but others of us have not. Some of us do not see the need to read a book from such a different perspective than our own, how would it be relevant? Yet, others of us have been expected to read from another person’s perspective all their lives.

As Dr. Brittney Cooper writes, “Before we fully learn to love ourselves, all people of color in the United States learn that we are supporting characters and spectators in the collective story of white people’s lives. The stories we watch and read ask us to put aside their whiteness and relate to their very universal human struggles around conflict with the world, the self, and others. The problem is that only the experiences of white people are treated as universal. Meanwhile, Black movies, shows and books are typically seen as limited and particular.”^^

If after centuries of taking a man born in Palestine, like Jesus Christ, and clothing him throughout centuries with whiteness, seeing and hearing him through a lens whiteness, portraying God the the Father as a white man with a white beard on a cloud, is it then any wonder that we could so easily accept other thefts of the voices of Palestine. What have we lost by not seeing the world through the eyes of a God born in Palestine? What have we lost by failing to look at our faith through the eyes of Palestinian Christians, those that call themselves the Living Stones, the descendants of the earliest Christians? Has our discomfort with the turmoil of the region left us so divided from them that we would not recognize their voice if we heard it? This is a point where I feel personally convicted, which has grieved me deeply.

Peace requires change from all of us.

I love my church too much to say it.

I love my church too much not to say it.

The book that challenged me the most was Dr. Christena Cleveland’s Disunity in Christ. She pushed me to see the ways that I could change, without committing the error of oversimplifying. 

That we all must change may seem like a simple and easy thing that we can all agree upon, yet historically this has not been true. In fact, all too often the change has mostly been expected on one side – the side of the one who is most moveable, with the least power, because they have always had to be the ones to move. We have even created elaborate reconciliation paradigms where we bring people together to have the impression that we have all moved; yet, when we go home, we find that often nothing has changed and that it has been an exercise in catharsis if nothing else. 

History has always cast some in the position of being the ones who must move, and offered others the illusion of moving. In this paradigm, we have sought peace without the world having to change, without the church having to change. A peace in which systems of injustice remain in place is not the peace of Christ. 

For example, what if, for one person, peace meant the dismantling of patriarchal systems that oppressed women. And for another person, peace meant people no longer talking about dismantling patriarchal systems that oppress women. A semblance of peace may be achieved if one person would be quiet, and the other would be content because their definition of peace would have been achieved. This is the kind of peace that we experience the most of in our lifetimes. This would not be the peace of Christ, however, because it would be the silencing of the cry, rather than the opening of the table. 

A model where people become suspect if they criticize or make demands, where the oppressed must always consider where they have failed to support their oppressor, is a model that coddles the one with power who is reticent to relinquish or share it. This is a model that may create personal progress for all individuals, but when applied on a communal level works much better for the powerful than the powerless.

In her 2016 sermon on ‘Faith, Justice, and Race,’ Austin Channing Brown reminds us of how dangerous it is to allow those with power and privilege to paint the picture of how things are, without the true and authentic input of others. She reminds us that Pharaoh set out to slaughter the children of Abraham because he assumed that he knew how the Hebrews would act in a conflict without including them in the conversation. He decided that he knew their hearts and minds, and that they would turn against him. He controlled their narrative, stole their voices, and punished them for what he assumed they would do in the future. 

Instead of saying, ‘There were some very fine people on both sides,’ perhaps we would do well to heed Austin Channing Brown’s advice when she writes, “Dialogue is productive toward reconciliation only when it leads to action – when it inverts power and pursues justice for those who are most marginalized.”^^^

Instead of permitting our views of the situations of Palestinian Christians to be shaped without their input, perhaps we would do well to heed Mitri Raheb’s words, “Christians in Palestine are forced to ask themselves what God’s justice means to a people whose members suffer under systematic political, social, and economic injustice. What does “freedom in Christ” mean to people living under occupation and denied basic rights? What does the cross mean to a people constantly crucified and marked by suffering? And what does love for even an enemy mean to a people facing a heavily armed enemy?”^^^^

The Bible is the only book that has the answers to these questions for me, the book which I have committed my life to teaching. And trust me, I get enough of a workout wrestling with it.

“When I hope for peace, I have to work for peace.” -Jean Zaru

 

 

 

*Occupied with Nonviolence: A Palestinian Woman Speaks, Jean Zaru, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008, Kindle loc 1076.

**I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Austin Channing Brown, New York: Convergent Books, p. 118.

***Ibid, p. 122

****Faith in the Face of Empire: the Bible Through Palestinian Eyes, Mitri Raheb, Marynoll: Orbis Books, 2014, Kindle loc 1962.

^I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Austin Channing Brown, New York: Convergent Books, p. 125.

^^Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower, Brittney Cooper, p. 53.

^^^I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Austin Channing Brown, New York: Convergent Books, p. 169

^^^^I am a Palestinian Christian, Mitri Raheb, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995, p. 230.

Anatomy of An Artifice

As I struggled with the strange aftertaste in my mouth after reading “The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict,” I have been left wondering, should I swallow? I was not sure if this was a sugar coated pill or a spoonful of sugar. I was not sure if I was being given a sweet story to help the medicine of interpersonal learning go down, or if I was receiving some interpersonal lessons to conceal the fact that some very heavy opinions about race relations in the Middle East and the United States were being fed to me surreptitiously. After all, isn’t the best propaganda hidden in plain sight?

Hidden in the midst of it all was the lesson that Palestinians ought to look to Israelis to see how they can bring peace by caring for the needs of the ones that they see as their oppressors, and that African Americans were in the wrong for protesting in outrage in the streets.

In order to know what this was in my mouth, it was very important to know who formed this narrative, regardless of whether they intended consciously to sway people politically or not.

I soon saw that as I was drawn into the story of a Palestinian Arab Muslim, who has experienced oppression, teaching a white man how to treat the people in his life better, what I was actually reading was a group of white men using a fictional story, barely perceptible as such, to teach oppressed people that their suffering was of their own making.

Let me explain.

If you are in any kind of leadership role in the United Methodist Church, it is likely that you have been asked this year to read “The Anatomy of Peace” by The Arbinger Institute. It’s a feel-good read that, during these stressful times for the denomination, gives many of us hope that we can figure this all out. 

It’s feel-good. Real good. Maybe too good?

As the book describes itself:

Yusuf al-Falah, an Arab, and Avi Rozen, a Jew, each lost his father at the hands of the other’s ethnic cousins. The Anatomy of Peace is the story of how they came together, how they help warring parents and children come together, and how we too can find our way out of the struggles that weigh us down.

The weight and authority of the information presented in the book comes from the horrific experiences that these two men have experienced and the way that they have overcome their pain in order to create a progam for youth in Arizona called Camp Moriah. 

The only problem is – these men do not exist. There is not a Dr. Yusuf al-Falah who teaches at Arizona State University. There is not a Camp Moriah in the wilderness near Phoenix.

Technically the authors have themselves covered because there is a sentence in the preface, if you were diligent to read it, that states, “Although some of the stories in this book were inspired by actual events, no character or organization described in this book represents any specific person or organization. In many respects, these characters are each of us.”

Despite this subtly placed disclaimer, however, the clear intention of the book is to get the reader lost in the story and drawn into the characters; and, thereby, to use the experiences of those characters to lend credence and authority to the teachings.

The fact that these people and places do not exist would not be a problem were it not for the people and places that do exist in their place.

When I Googled “Camp Moriah,” what came up on my google map was The Anasazi Foundation, the actual location of the lessons in the book. The Anasazi Foundation in Mesa, Arizona is a Troubled Teen Wilderness Treatment Center near Arizona State University and Phoenix. Its President and CEO, Mike Merchant, writes one of the glowing references for the book at the beginning.

Although founded by Larry Olson and mentee Ezekiel Sanchez, scrolling down past Michael Merchant’s photo on the Anasazi Foundation staff page, and past the two white men who are the Co-Directors, one could perhaps wonder whether this is an all white staff running a Foundation named after an ancient Native American people. Apart from co-Founder Ezekiel Sanchez, it would appear that the Foundation has a Board of Directors also made up entirely of white men.

The Anasazi Foundation, confirms that they are in fact Camp Moriah on their “About” page, “ANASAZI’s preventive efforts—including parenting workshops and community drug awareness/education forums—have inspired two international best-sellers (Leadership and Self-Deception and The Anatomy of Peace).”

So, Camp Moriah does not exist, but the Anasazi Foundation does.

Does that matter?

You tell me. Does it bother you that you were drawn into a story about a Palestinian Muslim and an Israeli Jew who had both experienced trauma and built Camp Moriah in response, with a superfluous amount of information and opinions about Palestinian/Israeli relations, only to find out that that camp is actually directed by a group of white folks with degrees from schools like Brigham Young and Liberty University?

Does it matter to you how things are framed? It matters to me. Especially when the truth and the fiction are so far from one another.

The men in this story, Yusuf al-Falah and Avi Rosen, build authority to speak directly to the experiences of the oppressed because they have experienced oppression and trauma. Why frame it this way when the men who work at the Arbinger Institute and the Anasazi Foundation are so far from that reality?

Why frame work done by white men from Brigham Young University as work done by men who have suffered in the Middle East?

Could it be that we would only listen to critiques of the oppressed if they came from the oppressed themselves? Necessitating, therefore, an act of authorial black-face in order to help us to swallow a philosophy that the oppressed create their own problems by not attending to the needs of the oppressor

Which brings us to the character of Dr. Benjamin Arrig, an African American scholar seemingly at Yale, who at this point you ought to be able to guess is also fictitious. The fictitious Palestinian, Yusuf, watches as “black protestors were being restrained by shield-carrying police who were shooting tear gas toward the crowds.”

As a Palestinian, he feels empathy with the oppressed protestors, until Dr. Arrig teaches him a better way, telling him that both are in the wrong because while the police have the tear gas, the protestors have “the desire for tear gas” (p. 187).

(Would it interest you to know that one of the featured leaders from the Arbinger Institute is “Charles “Chip” Huth, “a Major with the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department. He has 26 years of law enforcement experience, commands KCPD’s Special Operations Division, and is the State of Missouri’s defensive tactics subject matter expert.”)

Therefore, Arrig teaches, “If you see a people of a particular race or culture as objects your view of them is racist, whatever your color or lack of color or your power or lack of power… [The oppressed become the oppressors] Because most who are trying to put an end to injustice only think of the injustices they believe they themselves have suffered. Which means that they are concerned not really with injustice but with themselves. They hide their focus on themselves behind the righteousness of their outward cause” (p. 189).

You may have felt uncomfortable when you read that part, if only subconsciously, but maybe swallowed it down because it was a Black man saying it about other Black people.

But it wasn’t.

Those words, that sound all too much like talking points from a conservative pundit, are exactly that.

WarnerCTerry-clr

You see, the founder of the philosophy presented in Anatomy of Peace is neither Yusuf nor Ben, neither a Palestinian scholar nor an African American scholar but – you guessed it – a white man who teaches at Brigham Young University. While you were picturing a stoic African American gentleman on the green at Yale, the person actually producing this knowledge was probably sitting in an office down in Utah, looking a little bit like this. This is the Founder of the Arbinger Institute, BYU Professor Emeritus, Dr. C. Terry Warner, who did in fact go to Yale, prompting the nod to his alma mater. He built a philosophy that we are responsible for our negative actions and emotions that sometimes leads us to accuse others of oppressing us rather than attending to the needs of those we are accusing. To give some context, up until the year when C. Terry Warren founded the Arbinger Institute at Brigham Young University, the Mormon faith had barred African America men, like the fictional Dr. Arrig, from the ranks of their priesthood. One might wonder if Warner met someone like Dr. Arrig at Yale. If he did, however, one would think to find the credit given to him, if not in this fictional book than it least in the white paper of the Arbinger Institute that explains their philosophical grounding. Unfortunately, in neither the white paper nor the video of the history of philosophy before C. Terry Warner is Arrig found. Only white male philosophers, like Freud, preceded C. Terry Warner in his path to knowledge according to the video.

JimCropWhile Warner’s philosophy is the foundation of these theories and practices, we cannot look to him as the author of the book, although it is his philosophy being taught. The book, abstractly credited to The Arbinger Institute, does in fact have one named author in James Ferrell, the Managing Partner of the Arbinger Institute. And, yes, James also went to Yale… before coming to Brigham Young University.

If you’re interested, these are the faces of the Arbinger Institute.

Screen Shot 2018-05-24 at 2.48.27 AM

Amongst them are, “Charles “Chip” Huth, who as referred to above, “consults for international law enforcement, military, and corporate clients” and Cameron Cozzens, who has “more than two decades of distinguished leadership and operational experience in the Intelligence and Special Operations communities.” You see how the book reads differently when you remove the fictional narrative and see the wizard behind the curtain?

Those who deal in war are teaching us how to create peace.

So, one must ask, what kind of peace is this?

Is it Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s false peace that is the absence of tension, or true peace that is the presence of justice? Is it an approach that affirms those that stand up for justice, or condemns them as blaming others for problems they have created themselves? As Dr. King wrote,

“You assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion?… Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.” (Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Why does this book want us to see the robber and the robbed as both bearing a responsibility to fix the theft? It wants us to say “there were good people and bad people on both sides.” When we take all these teachings and critiques of the oppressed out of the mouths of a fictitious Palestinian Arab and a fictitious African American scholar, and place them in their rightful context in the mouths of the white men that truly created them, it becomes quite a different conversation.

Why place this between an Israeli man and a Palestinian man? It may interest you to look at the recommendations at the beginning of the book to see that among them are two Former Director Generals of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Former Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister of Israel. Not a Palestinian in sight.

“It doesn’t matter if you have power,” one of the statements from the fictional Arrig, is something that in actuality only people with extreme power could desire or afford to say.

As lovely as this book is, could it perhaps be the long awaited response from the White Moderates to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s scathing “Letter from A Birmingham Jail”?

*Dedicated to Gwyn, the fictional daughter of Ben Arrig, because you are much more than the caricature of the “Angry Black Woman” stereotype that you were cast as. I am sorry they put words in your mouth. I know, there were no women of color in the room to stick up for you; quite possibly no women at all… I hope this helps.

Thank you to Rev. Dr. Dottie Escobedo-Frank and Pat for being my conversation partners as I wrestled with this.

We Will Not Be Owned: A Response to Roy Moore & Purity Culture

Nausea washed over me when I saw the article in my feed about Pastor Flip Benham’s statement that Roy Moore dated younger women because of their purity. The coded fetishization is something that ought to sicken us all, but for those of us raised in purity culture it bears with it an extra stench.

The heartbreaking stench of a “Vote Trump” sign in front of the home of a friend, father, brother, whom you were taught was supposed to “protect” you from men like Trump.

The stench of Joshua Harris’s apology during the heat of last year’s election to all the women whose lives were damaged by his book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”, the Holy Grail of purity culture.

The stench of insincere apologies from unrepentant men who preened on the progressive moral high-ground for decades, while using their power to take from women what they wanted behind the scenes.

Purity: freedom from adulteration or contamination. freedom from anything that debases, contaminates, pollutes.

Freedom. It would be hard to find a more ironic choice of word. 

Purity in reality has been related to women’s status as property. Women, transferred from one man to another. Unsullied. Undamaged. Property. Extra virgin, just like the olive oil. A descriptor of our status and value and worth. Neither “Good” nor “Excellent” would do, our Amazon rating must be “Like New” or the purchase is void.

We strived to keep our wrapping intact, for the purchaser on the other end. We tried to make sure that we were worthy of being “Handled with Care.” Even so, our wrapping could be torn by a bike accident. Or a young ER doctor in Nashville who really wants to get in some practice with a speculum while you are sedated on morphine and cannot say no anymore. Or, for so many of us, a #MeToo moment, a Roy Moore moment, or a #ChurchToo moment.

Then in this historic moment, all is revealed. The evangelical churches that raised us overwhelmingly stand up in support of a man who we have known was a tearer of wrappings since we were kids. He is no stranger to us. We have watched how Trump treated women our whole lives. Our whole lives. Our whole lives. Our whole lives. When the churches we were raised in supported him, it revealed that our whole lives were a lie. We had never been special. We had never been precious. We had always been property. Like a hammer. Like a spoon. Utilitarian. Use us as you may.

Is it any wonder the onslaught of fury and honesty that has been unleashed from women who have been betrayed. Women who have stayed silent because our culture told us that it was we who were at fault if the estimation of our property value was diminished by the unwelcome touch of a heavy hand.

Then a pastor leans up to a microphone in Alabama, and he tears the whole facade down. “He did that because there is something about the purity of a young woman, there is something that is good, that’s true, that’s straight and he looked for that.” He tells us that Roy Moore went for younger women because they were more pure. Translation: Some conservative Christian men fetishize our innocence and fantasize about being the first to get to us. Our purity, they believe, like everything else about us, belongs to them. In their lecherous perversion, they salivate at the innocence of children. They long to unwrap us like a new phone, with no fingerprints or scratches. They do not want to be the second one to get to us.

For we all know the property value drops the moment that you drive the car off the lot.

As a Christian minister, I must confess the role the church has played in this, even while standing in the role of victim more than perpetrator. Yet, is that not the burden that the world places upon women. To both bear the mess, and be the ones to clean it up. We told young women this was about our relationship with God, which it can be. Yet, the earthly consequences we heaped on them when they acted with self-possession, as if their bodies were their own and no one else’s, made it clear that this was much more about earthly powers than heavenly ones. We called them damaged goods. We taught them that male aggression was caused by the length of their shorts. We measured them with rulers when they came to school. Once “sullied,” we told them no one would want them now. At the same time we elevated the very men whose contact supposedly contaminated them. We looked down our nose at them like so many dented cans in the bargain bin, judging can but not denter.

If we really think about it, we never even tried to hide it. For what are “damaged goods” but another way of telling someone they are property. What is “left on the shelf” but another way of saying unpurchased.

I will not be owned.

Sisters, let us not be owned.

You are valuable, just as you are. You are powerful, just as you are.

You are beautiful, even if no one ever tells you. I’m telling you now.

You are brave, look at all that we have born.

We will not be owned.