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Soapbox Warning: On Jian Ghomeshi and the acceptability of sexualized violence against women

Soapbox

Trigger warning: rape, abuse, sexualized violence. 

One of my blogger-jokes is that I like to think about and write about the stuff we don’t usually discuss in polite company – things like marriage and religion and politics, for instance. But I have to say I’ve never in my life considered or entertained the idea of writing about a topic like this. To those of you who need to avoid this topic or to click away because it will violate your peace of mind or heart, please do so with my complete understanding.

But my conscience won’t allow me to remain silent, I’ve got a fire in my bones today.

I read it. Oh, yes, I read it. I read Jian Ghomeshi’s statement about his firing from the CBC. I have loved Q for years. My sister and I both listen to it and we swoon regularly over the opening essays, over the thoughtful and deep interviews, over the brilliance of the contributors and, of course, the host, Jian Ghomeshi.

So when Ghomeshi was fired from the CBC this weekend, we were stunned. And let’s be honest: it takes something incredibly horrific to be fired from the public broadcaster. Don Cherry has enjoyed immunity for 35 years even though he’s offended everyone at least twice on matters of race and politics and sexual identity. So for CBC Radio’s golden boy to be fired, well, this was a big deal. We all knew it.

I read Ghomeshi’s statement from the standpoint of a dedicated and long-time fan, someone who was inclined to give the benefit of the doubt. And the further I read, the more my heart sank: it reads entirely like abuser rhetoric and gas-lighting. It was raw and emotional, yes, but it was textbook justification. Of course an employer has no place in the private or sexual lives of its employees – this was clearly not that.

Then came the article in the Toronto Star this morning, detailing conversations with four separate women who allege that Ghomeshi did, in fact, abuse them without consent. So much for the “jilted ex-lover” defense. And they will likely never come forward to press charges or make public accusations because they fear Internet retaliation. A very real and very terrible reality, one I completely understand. I have experienced my own share of violent threats for being a woman online: one needn’t exercise much speculation to understand why these women would shy away from public court cases or lawsuits or accusations. It’s dangerous enough to be a woman these days, let alone a woman who dares to stand up publicly against abuse. Who among us doesn’t understand that fear? We can make the logical arguments about why we are obligated to report cases of abuse or rape and how victims names are shielded (tell that to the victims of Internet doxxing) but the truth is that most cases of abuse and rape go unreported for very real reasons, let alone the public interest component here. The lack of formal charges proves nothing, either way: it doesn’t prove it happened but it doesn’t prove that it didn’t either. And now come the women weighing in on the comment sections of the articles, claiming similar experiences.

So I’m left not knowing whether to cry or throw things. Instead, I’m sitting down to write this post – against my better judgement, if only for the spam comments I’ll receive alone, let alone the rest of the very real and rational reasons as both a Christian and a feminist to never write on this topic.

Because this isn’t really about Jian Ghomeshi right now. After all, we have no idea of the particulars or details or truth here, not yet anyway. He claims persecution for his sexual appetites, the victims are claiming abuse. It’s complex and I pray that the truth will come out and that justice will be done.

Really, this is about the acceptability of sexualized violence against women.

Feminists have long been split on these sex-related issues, from being anti-pornography to pro-pornography, pro-sex-work and anti-sex-work, anti-BDSM to pro-BDSM. There are scholarly arguments for all sides, I’ve read them and I understand how each side arrives at their conclusions on a purely academic basis. I also know why I land where I land on those issues for more reasons than simply my Christian convictions.

Consent always lies at the heart of the arguments: is there consent? If yes, then go for it. Mutual consent is the new moral arbitrator for our sexuality.

I understand that logic. It makes sense to me from an academic or secular standpoint, absolutely. I understand that if Ghomeshi is proven to have engaged in these acts with consent, that it falls within acceptable boundaries for most.

But that logic fails to take one thing into account for me: the whole “Jesus” part of being a Jesus feminist.

I’m a feminist because I follow Jesus, my feminism is shaped by my discipleship to Jesus. And so yes, I dare to have an opinion precisely because of that distinction.

I’ve grappled with writing about sexuality on several occasions – mainly because I think the Church has often gotten it so wrong. Over the years, I’ve taken issue with everything from purity culture to modesty rules to how we treat those of us who not only engaged in premarital sex but dared to enjoy it as “damaged goods.” I’m never one to argue for repression or shaming as healthy sexuality, let alone someone who places one individual in the relationship (typically the man) as the sun around which our mutual sexuality should orbit. I rarely fall neatly on any one “side” – I’m often too conservative for liberals and too liberal for conservatives.

Christians rarely hear a healthy and freeing message about their sexuality, about the importance of consent and mutuality, about being in charge of our own bodies, about the realities of sex right alongside of the delights and desires, let alone a sexual ethic that tenderly cares for victims of abuse. We tend to take an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to sexuality, painting with broad brushes across complex people, ignoring nuance and making up a new law, one that – let’s be honest – usually puts women at risk of abuse or shame-based rhetoric.

I remain wary and yet here I am with a broad brush and a soapbox: this way of treating each other – violence, dominance, bondage, abuse, exploitation – is wrong. WRONG.

We who claim to follow Jesus know that there isn’t really any corner of our lives that is exempt from our discipleship. We are a people who are meant to be a glimpse of life the way that God intended it to be, we’re to be about the business of living prophetically into the Kingdom of God right now. We are people of shalom.

This means seeing the humanity in one another, justice, mercy, faithfulness, loving one another well, peace-making, even purity (a much misunderstood word) and mutual honour. And that commitment includes our sexuality and our most intimate partners.

These kinds of sexual acts are dehumanizing, period. Full stop.

Even if there is consent, it is dehumanizing to fantasize about and enact sexual violence against women. It’s a short walk from fantasizing about violence and rape to becoming someone who commits violence and rape – and even with consent, it is wrong to do so. These acts are dehumanizing and soul-sucking for all participants.

As we think in our heart, so we are, according to Proverbs. Or as Marshall McLuhan wrote, beholding is becoming.

So here, this theologically and socially progressive Christian feminist will say it:

These sexual acts have simply become a socially acceptable way of excusing dehumanizing each other, of abuse, abuse grooming, oppression, language of hate, rape, and violence. Even with consent, it’s exploitative, evil, and wrong. 

All of those acts of sexualized violence run completely counter to the way we are to treat one another, according to the Church and to the Spirit. We are called in Scripture to honour God with our bodies – these acts are not honour. And even apart from the specifics in Scripture about sex in particular, we have a whole ethic for how we treat one another now in the Kingdom of God – with love.

Christian relationships are meant to be characterized by mutuality, not dominance.

Our sexuality isn’t exempt from our identity in Christ.

Scripturally, sex is intrinsically connected to love. And the one who is Love is described in 1 Corinthians 13 among other beautiful qualities as patient and kind, not boastful or rude, it doesn’t demand its own way, our example is to be a people who are faithful and hopeful. We’re made in the image of Love. We are to treat each other in this way.

People are sacred. Women are sacred. Men are sacred. Our bodies are not separate from our spirituality – our bodies matter, our words matter, the way we treat each other sexually matters, the way we believe we should be treated sexually matters.

Then there is this….

In a world where women are repeatedly and consistently raped and abused, how dare we?

Oh, I’m angry. How dare we?

How dare we make light of the very real terror and horror that women have endured and are enduring? You talk to a woman who has been raped or sexually violated or beaten or abused and then try to tell me that it’s okay to be turned on by that. It is NOT okay. It is never okay, it never will be okay. Violence against women is epidemic and evil, it’s not to be mined for sexual pleasure. How dare we forget our sisters? How dare we make light of or sexualize for our own pleasures the unmitigated horror that is endured by women even at this moment? Whether in the context of a classroom power dynamic or a war torn refugee camp, women are preyed upon, groomed for abuse and abused in horrifying numbers in this way from the youngest to the oldest. There are women who believe they deserve to be treated in this way – think about that for a second.

From the account of creation in Scripture, we see that we are all made in the image of God. These acts are part of the Curse in the garden, right along with patriarchy: dominance and an absence of mutuality is not our identity in Christ.  Calling these acts by pithy acronyms or pontificating about consent don’t remove the inherent violence and evil of them.

What a tactic of the enemy – to take the very thing that is a curse upon us and twisting it to make it seem acceptable.

I don’t care if it’s soft patriarchy or BDSM, this is an example of the enemy twisting the very thing that enslaves us, the curse, a consequence of the Fall, and making us think it’s not only acceptable but sexy and desirable. We have been set free from walking in that oppression.

This post isn’t about Ghomeshi. Not really. We don’t know enough to make claims yet and it might very well be none of our business. We can only pray for true justice to be done now, however that shakes down.

But it is about the larger question – how do we view women? how do we treat women? how do we think about women? what is an acceptable way to treat another human being who is made in the image of God? and what do those things say about not only us but the God whom we claim to know? what does this say to the women among us who are abused and sexually violated?

We should be part of redemption, not part of promoting the acceptability of oppression.

 image source, used with permission

Continue Reading · Jesus Feminist, social justice, women · 220

Pronouns: Or, why I still use masculine pronouns for God

Pronouns - or, Why I Use Masculine Pronouns for God

Occasionally, fellow feminists or egalitarians will get in touch to critique my use the masculine pronouns for God when I write or speak publicly. Critique is often hard to hear, of course, but it has often made me a better writer and sometimes even a better follower of Jesus. And in this case, I think that’s a fair critique and question, worthy of a thoughtful response. This is my attempt.

It’s not because I believe God is a man or exclusively masculine. Far from it, in fact.

And it’s not because I believe that’s the best or right or “most biblical” thing to do. In truth, I always feel elated when another writer or preacher avoids gender-specific pronouns or employs both male and female pronouns interchangeably when speaking of God (or, in the case of Anne Lamott, her way of getting around it is to occasionally call God “Howard” which delights me).

I think we limit our understanding of God by only referring to God as “he” or even “she.”

After all, both male and female are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Calling God “Mother” or ascribing to God characteristics that we have traditionally considered more feminine is not only scriptural, but completely within line of our Church history. God is described in scripture as a midwife, as a mother, as a nurse. God is referred to by Jesus as “Father” or “Abba” (a tender word for father, similar to our “Daddy”) and yet the Holy Spirit is often described using a feminine noun in Hebrew. The Apostle Paul himself often employed feminine metaphors or experiences to explain the work of the Spirit – pregnancy, labour, birth, and breastfeeding.

As my dear friend, Rachel Held Evans wrote on the topic back in May:

Finally, the self-naming of God in Scripture is “I AM WHO I AM”—a name without gender. I suspect that’s because, though God is a person, God is not a human being like us. The people of Israel received a strong warning from God about this in Deuteronomy 4:15-17: “You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air…”

There’s no good scriptural or theological or even church-historical argument for exclusively requiring or using male pronouns for God. God is neither male nor female.

I’ve used both male and female pronouns for God occasionally in my work. You wouldn’t have too look very far into my book or my blog to find those metaphors or phrases or pronouns, not at all. But it is true: I often default to male pronouns. 

When I hear from people who are hurt or surprised by my use of pronouns in preaching or prayer, I think it’s a legit critique. But I don’t use those masculine pronouns or call God “Father” in prayer without purpose. Some might find my reasoning flawed. (I think that’s fair, too.) To me, this is simply a matter of personal conviction. There isn’t a right or wrong answer here, not really.

So here’s my big secret reason: I want to serve the Church in love. This is my small way of trying to build bridges and create pipelines for people to move towards freedom and justice. This is me walking a few steps into their familiar territory instead of waiting for everyone to line up where I think we should line up before the conversation even begins.

And for some of our brothers and sisters, those who have not yet experienced freedom in this area, any other pronoun or name only distracts or offends.

I choose to use familiar pronouns in order to reach even more with the message of Christ’s freedom and love.

People and publishers don’t require it of me. Not all. In fact, if someone did, I’d probably be much more prone to take a big stand against such restrictions to the freedom that Christ has given us and become a bit more militant about it.

I do this only out of care and love for the ones who haven’t received this revelation yet.

I do it to create a pathway for those coming after us.

It’s not an easy choice but given the nature of my work and witness and audience, it is where I have felt lead to submit.

I want to build bridges. This is a concession that I make as an effort to build bridges and reach out to those who are still new to the idea that both men and women are made in the image of God.

For so many who read Jesus Feminist, it was a huge leap of bravery to read something with the “f-word” in the title. I honour their bravery. So my heart was, and continues to want to, make space for their legacy and experiences with my public language about God. I want to meet our brothers and sisters halfway with my hand outstretched.

Of course, I don’t believe God is exclusively or primarily male. And to be honest, in my personal journalling and prayer life, I either avoid pronouns or employ both in equal measure. Much like Anne Lamott’s “Howard,” these days, I find myself calling God “Love” as if it’s their name. But I don’t do so publicly because I don’t want that to serve as a distraction.

If I used female pronouns only to “prove a point” or to deliberately distract or anger or offend my brothers and sisters in Christ, then I think my reasons for doing so would be selfish and suspect, perhaps even filled with pride at the ways that I am “enlightened” compared to others. I appreciate those who feel called to blow these assumptions up and push back here with consistency – I don’t think that my way is the only right way, I’m simply sharing my convictions right now.

In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul warns us about how we walk in the freedom we enjoy in Christ: “But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”… won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience… So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.”

Now, granted, Paul was specifically talking about how some believers felt free to eat food that was sacrificed to idols while others were horrified at the idea. But the underlying truth of his words serves as a universal guide for us today – we live our lives not only for ourselves but for those with whom we are in community. And, yes, I do see myself as “in community” with those who read my work or come to hear me preach. I care deeply about their histories and legacies, about the bravery it often requires to step out in faith to their new convictions and the price they often pay.

It was for this same reason that my husband and I chose to have a “dry” wedding without any alcohol all those years ago – we did as a sign of respect for those among us who had strong feelings or experiences around alcohol, particularly our parents. Even though we personally feel okay with drinking wine, we don’t do so in front of those whom it would offend or if it would cause others to stumble. We make those choices, not out of shame, but out of love and respect.

So as an act of love and respect, I have chosen to submit myself to the preferences of others.

People can get so tripped up with a pronoun that they miss the truth that we preach about the Kingdom of God, about freedom, about our value, about calling and vocation, even about marriage. It’s not perfect, but it’s reality.

In some contexts, it would be the equivalent of setting up a road block to freedom for some of our brothers and sisters. And I won’t do that. I won’t set up that stumbling block.

Should it be a stumbling block? Absolutely not. Of course not. But do we make our decisions in our interactions with one another based on “what should be” or based on the reality of the situation? Perhaps I’m simply too much of a realist.

In a weird sort of way, it’s the same with cursing. I very rarely curse in my writing – and even when I do, it’s of a rather mild variety. Even though the situation may call for it, I know that there are a lot of people who will simply shut down and check out the second they see a curse word or an offensive word. They’ll miss the truth of what I’m writing because I’ve distracted them. It’s not the same thing at all, but it sort of is related to my mind.

Paul wrote often about the freedom we enjoy in Christ but he also wrote about our obligation to one another, particularly to those who are either weaker or not yet free; he exhorted us to choose the slavery of loving them over the freedom of our own expressions. He himself wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:

Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.

I have submitted myself to the familiar language of many in order to bring as many people along with me as possible.

So rather than derail the conversation or perhaps the work that the Holy Spirit is up to with the distraction of pronouns, sure, I’ll call God “Father” and I will use the word “he” while I pray to build bridges. Absolutely.

I will use the common pronouns of our church language in order to reach even more with the greater truth behind the pronouns. I figure we’ll get there on pronouns eventually and in the meantime, the bridge is open, the path is clear, and I’ll stand with arms wide open to welcome as many as possible to freedom.

I’ve made this imperfect choice out of love.

 

Continue Reading · faith, Jesus Feminist, Uncategorized · 62

Giveaway! LoveFeast Velvet Pumpkins + “Jesus Feminist”

CONTEST IS OVER. Winner has been notified.

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Meet two of my very dear friends: Kristin and Chris Anne. These two have been best friends for years – Kristin lives in Baltimore while Chris Anne lives in Minneapolis but they used to be neighbours.

Over our long and lazy conversations from kitchens to paddle boards to Voxer, I’ve come to realise how incredibly blessed I am to have these two women in my life. I love listening to them talk – do you have friends like that? – I just like to give them a topic and listen to them chat together, laughing and dropping wisdom like it’s no big deal. They are real women without any masks or pretensions. When I grow up, I kind of want to be just like them. I find that I rely heavily on their wisdom and insight, particularly when it comes to grown-up friendship, mothering the tinies as they grow up, family life, marriage, and most particularly living a seamless life between “what I believe” and “what I actually do.”

These two women really live the Gospel in a beautiful way – far from stages, book deals, and the attention of the Church Industrial Complex, you know? They just get on with it, they live their whole lives as an invitation. They don’t preach or pontificate much but boy, am I ever challenged by them. I don’t have a big sister myself so I kind of imagine that this is what that must feel like. (At least, they’re the kind of big sisters that I would long to be.)

Anyway, all of that to say that together, they own LoveFeast which is an online shop of inspiration for a beautiful life. Their shop has been featured all over, from The Pioneer Woman‘s blog to Better Homes and Gardens. LoveFeast’s shop includes everything from decor to feast to gifts and style. (Sidenote: I have this gorgeous little bag that I use for my knitting bits like the finishing needle, stitch counter etc. Very handy.) They also have a blog where they write about all of their passions related to those four things. (Kristin also writes at A Deeper Story – check out her posts here. She’s the real deal.)

LoveFeast is the shop behind those famous velvet pumpkins that we all see everywhere in design and decor magazines and Pinterest.

And today, we have a joint giveaway for you to celebrate the start of autumn! That’s right – it’s finally the perfect time of year. Let’s light the spice-scented candles, pour a pot of tea, put on your yoga pants and a sweater, then curl up with a little yellow book and enjoy these beauties on your fireplace mantle or kitchen table.

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One commenter will receive the Large Velvet Set of Pumpkins from Love Feast AND a signed copy of “Jesus Feminist.

I have one of the tiny pumpkins on my mantle right now and it is one of my favourite little things about autumn. The pumpkins are plush velvet, handcrafted with heirloom quality and then finished with a natural stem. They are gorgeous. I don’t mind telling you, I envy the winner of this giveaway. This large set features a 6″ in Sage, 6″ in Acorn, 5″ in Putty, 4″ in Sangria, 4″ in Spice and 2″ in Stone pumpkin. Here’s a picture:

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And for those of you who haven’t had a chance to read Jesus Feminist yet, it’s my own book that was published last year. You can read more info about it here. Or if you HAVE read it, perhaps you could pass this along to someone in your life? Either way, I’ll sign it and send it along to you, too.

To enter to win this combined giveaway, simply leave a comment on this post telling us your favourite thing about autumn.

Unfortunately due to shipping restrictions, this giveaway is one of the rare ones here that is United States shipping addresses only. Womp womp. Make sure you include an email address so that we can contact you if you win. I’ll choose a winner randomly next Friday 3 October. Retail value of the pumpkins is $187 and $14.99 for Jesus Feminist (USD).

 

 

 

Continue Reading · giveaway, Jesus Feminist · 311

Opinion Poll: help me choose a quote for a print from “Jesus Feminist”

Since this Facebook page conversation, we have been quietly working on creating a little collection of Jesus Feminist swag.

If you’ve read the book, you know my heart for small grassroots efforts towards justice and shalom. We saw this as a way to not only support people we love and know, but also a way to begin to create a bit of employment.

So the profits from this little venture will go to support our friends at Help One Now and Heartline Ministries’ Maternity Centre in Haiti.

But, while it was important to us to find a way to support the ministries that we know and love, we also wanted to find a partner with ethical, just, and sustainable production practices to support employment for vulnerable and marginalized people.

IGlogoEnter the incredible team at Imagine Goods.  Check them out:

We are Imagine Goods, and we partner with vulnerable and marginalized people around the world to make products that, in many cases, give them the first fair wages they’ve ever received. 

You might call us “accidental entrepreneurs”. . . we never really intended to start a business. We had been working as a non-profit in Cambodia since 2006, and slowly came to the realization that this was the most empowering project we saw; by giving people the opportunity to work, we give them hope. 

So we sort of do things a bit differently around here. People matter to us way more than the bottom line, and we try to take a close look at the entire chain of people who are involved in making our products. Are they earning a living wage (enough to meet their basic needs)? Are they being empowered? That’s why we call ourselves a “Sustainable Supply Co.”—because we believe that when we buy a product, the cost of the item should be able to sustain every person connected to it with a living wage.

In order to really get to know the people who make our products, we travel to Cambodia together three times a year. While there, we shop in the markets for fabrics (the stall owners know us and love to see us walking up!) and travel to visit the organizations that make our products. These are all workshops run by non-profits that have the express purpose of finding marginalized or vulnerable people—many of whom are survivors of trafficking—training them in a skill, and empowering them with work.

We are creating products that care for the human race—giving opportunity for individuals to care for their children, families, and health. . . so that a new generation has a fighting chance to break the cycle of poverty.

We are so excited about supporting the artisans at Imagine Goods as well as Help One Now and Heartline through the message of Jesus Feminist.

The shop will have a couple of sustainably-produced shirts and a handful of prints with quotes from the book, as well as a necklace, and even a decal for your laptop or locker.

The whole thing will hopefully be ready in time for Christmas shopping – or at least that’s the plan. Fingers crossed and all that. (If our little experiment goes well, we might add to our little collection as we go along but to begin, we’ll start rather small and just see what happens. A free devotional app is also in the works but we’ll see, eh?)

We will have two prints available with quotes from the book. BUT we’re having a hard time picking which ones.

This is where you come in – would you vote to help me pick the two quotes that we will turn into prints?

We’ve narrowed down to these Top 10 quotes based on what we saw as the main highlights at Kindle and Goodreads as well as tweets, mentions, posts, etc. Hopefully this means that these 10 quotes are the ones that resonated the most with readers but it’s a pretty unscientific guess so who knows?

(There is an embedded poll here in the post that can take a minute to show up. But if you can’t see the poll here to participate, please click here to vote.) And yes, you can choose more than just one and see results as you vote.

I’ll give it a week or so and we’ll see where we end up, eh?


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Thanks for your help! We appreciate it so much.

Continue Reading · Jesus Feminist · 10