So yeah, in recent months and years, it’s been increasingly clear that the litmus test for whether you were a “real” white Evangelical Christian has surrounded the question of where you stand on the Culture Wars, and has been stunningly similar to the question of what made a “true conservative” in the US. And let’s be clear—the issue this has consolidated around in recent years and decades, beyond the question of whether you support abortion being illegal, is the question of whether you’re truly and openly affirming of LGBTQ+ folx in healthy consensual relationships or not. Well, this week, my right-leaning “moderate” denomination rather stunningly staked itself as over and against LGBTQ+ affirmation, classifying “homosexual sex” among other things as a sin in a footnote to a confessional statement written 400 years ago.
I regret to report that my former denomination did this in a way that seems to me is going to lead to casualties. In fact, has already led to casualties. The entire report is written in a way that doesn’t holistically look at the Bible for potential guidelines on sex, but is organized as “the culture encroaching” on some fabled “biblical view on sex.” And the incivility in the assembly’s discussion was even worse.
The way this adopted showed a desire to maintain and gain status. It also was done through abuse of power.
I maybe shouldn’t be surprised–after all it is the culture wars (insert eyeroll emoji here).
“Big W” Wars Aren’t the Only Cause of Trauma and Damage
But yeah, there will be casualties from this decision and how it was pushed through. I can see that already. See, like other kinds of wars, culture wars have casualties. Lots of them.
Trauma researchers have laid the groundwork for understanding this. You see, stress and trauma research actually started with the World Wars, and understanding their impacts of lots of stress and trauma on soldiers. From there, however, it became abundantly clear that things like domestic violence, child abuse, and discrimination, among other things, can cause trauma as impactful as that gained from war.
The book The Body Keeps the Score provides a great overview of this (warning: it presents good research, but being about trauma, isn’t an easy read).
In short, culture wars are not “lesser wars.” It may be more murky at times to draw direct death counts, but often it’s pretty clear. Trauma research has made that clearer. (I’ve previously talked about the trauma that can come from toxic Christian nice here.)
War=a Zero Sum Game
The question, of course, in war in general, is whether the lives lost, the disabilities created, the trauma, are worth the ground gained for those on the offensive.
When wars turn domestic (“culture wars”) and a minority population becomes the scapegoat, that’s a particularly disturbing calculus.
My Standpoint and Background on War and Trauma and So On
But let me take a step back here from the culture war idea for a second and talk about how I developed my perspective on war and its trauma more generally.
See, as I’ve described many times before, I’m a former pastor’s kid in a right-leaning denomination with a more progressive wing to it. And I went on to get a PhD in communication. You know, that discipline that in some ways has been around studying rhetoric for 2000 years, but in its current form has sprung out of concerns about the role of propaganda and fascism in the 20th century World Wars.
And here’s the thing: as my studies and research led me further down the road of studying World War I and II as well as stress, trauma, and conflict communication, I realized something really important.
More Concerned by the Damage Than the Winning
I was less interested in studying these wars for the war games, for the strategy, as I was concerned about the damage they caused. As a result, I was most interested in the impacts on those who were bruised, killed, wounded, traumatized by the root causes of the conflict. And I was particularly interested in those who were trying to help reduce the trauma for so many.
And yeah, that’s the only spot where the calculus of war gets remotely interesting to me—when people are trying to protect the vulnerable as much as is remotely possible in one of these situations.
As I was raised to read the Bible cover to cover, I know the themes intimately, and from my read, I absolutely believe that’s what Jesus would do.
And, well, my undergrad Christian higher ed instructors (from my denominational school, no less) encouraged me to think critically in applying my faith. So as I navigated the research about trauma, I saw the major themes in the Bible as about seeking to heal and redeem both individual and societal trauma. This was a no brainer for me.
Against Unhealthy Rhetoric and Propaganda, Including Religious Rhetoric
As a communication scholar, I’m also particularly concerned about the unhealthy rhetoric that starts unnecessary war and protects the bullies while justifying pointless death and destruction. Especially the kind that persuades otherwise good people to become complicit in the death and destruction.
And, again, having paid close attention to how Jesus and the prophets responded to abuses of power in their day, calling out those who exploited marginalized populations in hypocritical ways, I absolutely believe this concern is a Christlike one.
Purity Culture Absolutely Causes Damage
So yeah, it was all of that grounding and education that helped me ultimately understand how my own swallowing of unhealthy “family values” rhetoric about divorce and other purity culture rhetoric absolutely fit into that latter category.
See, as I described in one of the first posts on this site, that “family values” rhetoric about divorce being a sin, even in situations that were completely unavoidable, came back to create spiritual trauma for me when I actually had to get divorced.
Think It Was Just Me?
The book Pure by Linda Kay Klein does a great job of pointing out it’s not just me reeling from similar issues. I strongly recommend this read, though again, like most books relating experiences of trauma it’s not the easiest read.
Purity Culture Lite=Somehow NOT “Purer” than Other Types
What I can say for sure is that growing up in Purity Culture Lite, as I class that in my right-leaning “moderate” denomination, didn’t shield me from becoming a casualty of purity culture once I had to seek a divorce for reasons even the most conservative folx in my circle didn’t dispute.
The Last Few Years Have Been Hard, AND They’ve Helped Bring Clarity
While the last 6 years of the religio-political landscape has absolutely sucked, there’s a strange sort of grace in the sharp clarity of that happening in the midst of recent events.
See, it was realizing how clearly the rhetoric of family values and purity culture had harmed me that helped me truly break down those final walls between me and other casualties of the religio-political culture wars.
And that in turn, especially in tandem with the increasing attempts to create nationwide policies that spread disinformation and demonization about various marginalized populations, including LGBTQ+ folx, that helped me see the literal damage being caused by the culture wars, including and especially how they were impacting LGBTQ+ folx as well as other vulnerable populations, and to break with my former complicity with the side causing the most damage.
That was when I gradually knew I needed to become openly affirming.
Not that Clarity Is Pleasant or Fun
Ultimately, it led me to the point where, thanks to the tools I was given starting in my Christian education, I was able to see the harm they had been and were continuing to cause by their moral disgusts that led to them joining the culture wars, including this past week’s decision, especially to LGBTQ+ folx in their ranks.
Honestly, I hate that any of this has been necessary, this choice I’ve had to make to support the ostracized and to join their ranks in a lot of ways. It would be easier if I didn’t have to choose. If people were just inclusive and welcoming and the culture wars didn’t exist.
LGBTQ+ Inclusion=NOT the Real Threat
But I know this much is true: the broader culture is not “pushing LGBTQ+ inclusion” as some sort of attack on Christianity, as my cradle denomination’s report on human sexuality seems to frame it.
In the broader culture, as in Christianity, bad actors are pushing scapegoating of LGBTQ+ folx. These bad actors are convincing Christians that somehow a few verses in the Bible, pulled out of context, that have nothing to do with salvation are actually somehow the grounds of whether someone should be fully included in the denomination or not.
(Also, it completely confuses me that the report classes them as “salvation issues.” This is a denomination that is supposed to believe in grace and not losing one’s salvation, from my understanding.)
And yeah, I know from my studies that this demonization of LGBTQ+ populations, most clearly on political fronts but also on theological fronts, is an unfortunately insidious form of fascistic rhetoric, creating second class citizens who are at risk for trauma and suicide.
In theological arguments such as my cradle denomination’s report on human sexuality there is a veneer of pretense toward being Christlike, but in light of key passages in Scripture I’ll get into shortly, I see it as the opposite. Especially in the weaponization of this as some sort of “salvation” issue.
So Wait, Sexual Violence and Exploitation Is Not a Main Category in a Report on the Dangers of Unhealthy Sexuality? Whoa
It was telling in the report on human sexuality put forth by my former denomination that actual sexual abuse and violence against women and children wasn’t decried on its own right. It was only tied to the now-codified sin of watching pornography, including violent pornography. (Because apparently watching violence is somehow worse than doing it, one can’t help but wonder???)
And anytime you write up a supposedly holistic report on human sexuality, but make it clear in your structure and rhetoric that you’re being driven by fears that “the culture is encroaching” on some sort of pure rendering of Scriptural interpretation on this matter, well, that’s not the Gospel as I read it.
And when the categories are only things that you wish you use to weaponize Scripture to keep people you don’t like with less power, well….
That’s not the Gospel as I read it.
Love Does No Harm to a Neighbor?
I could very well have missed it, but it’s so fascinating to me that nowhere in this report on human sexuality did I find a reference to this important verse from Romans: “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:10 NIV)
This is particularly fascinating since the entire report focuses a LOT on the commandment on adultery, which Paul talks about in the previous verse. In fact, the report talks in a couple of paragraphs about divorce and remarriage as forms of adultery without reference to domestic violence (literally harming one’s neighbor) as a cause of many modern divorces.
Wait, So the “Culture of Consent” Has a Point?
These kinds of arguments are particularly interesting because in these kinds of debates about “cultural views of sex” the “culture” gets made fun of for arguing that particular kinds of sex are okay mostly using the yardstick of doing no harm to a neighbor.
Which is particularly fascinating since Paul here argues that doing no harm to one’s neighbor is what the ten commandments are all about. Which also lines up with what Jesus said about loving one’s neighbor as oneself being the summary and fulfillment of the law.
And all of that lines up with the science of stress and trauma, which literally tells us the types of things that often do and do not do harm to our neighbors. None of which are as cut and dried as “premarital sex always causes harm,” by a long shot. And that’s not even getting into the report’s implicit suggestion that marital sex, when pornography or cheating aren’t involved, never causes harm.
Again, as though domestic violence and abuse within marriage didn’t cause tons of casualties. (We could have a whole other conversation about how frequently women are killed by an intimate partner, including spouses.)
Embracing Unhealthy Worldviews=Not Better if You Baptize It with Spiritual Language
At any rate, this decision, and others like it, is definitely not a rejection of encroaching culture by the church. On the contrary—and I know this because I was taught it in my Christian schools—it’s an embrace of one form of worldview over and against other worldviews.
And based on my study both of the Bible and of trauma research as well as fascistic rhetoric, I have deep concerns about this worldview my former denomination is currently adopting and perpetuating.
Actually Just Adds to Spiritual Trauma
Baptizing it in Christian language and using some clobber verses to back up your interpretive viewpoint doesn’t actually make it righteous any more than slapping some whitewash on a tomb makes it clean. (Jesus had something to say about that sort of thing, if I remember correctly!)
Letting My Feels Drive Me Toward Continuing Assertiveness
All of this makes me unutterably sad and frustrated.
And I’m going to let that grief and frustration drive me to continuing to speak up against this kind of unhealthy demonization, even and maybe especially when it comes in the sorts of subtly insidious forms my former denomination packages it in.
I hope this and other scapegoating rhetoric will give you the mojo to stand up assertively too, friends.
Lives (and Health of Existing Lives) Are at Stake
See, as the report on human sexuality from my cradle denomination itself pointed out, failing to fully affirm LGBTQ+ folx increases suicide.
The problem is that the proposed solutions offered by the report, in light of stress and trauma research, etc., are wholly inadequate to prevent literally harmful shame and trauma, in addition to a rise in suicides, in the denomination’s ranks. In fact, they’re highly likely to make the situation worse.
And not just among LGBTQ+ folx, but among anyone who doesn’t fit the denomination’s purity culture-based view of sex and marriage. Especially if anyone were to use this new list of “sins” as a litmus test for situations without first carefully gauging harms in their use.
They certainly aren’t strong enough solutions to warrant being steamrolled through a denominational assembly accompanied by incivility and arrogance without listening to the rightful concerns of those proposing other solutions.
None of that is remotely okay, friends.
I’m deeply concerned about this direction my cradle denomination is taking in tandem with other religious and non-religious bodies making aggressive decisions to hurt folx, and I know I’m not alone in that. This choice is going to increase casualties. I grieve that so hard. And will continue to fight for true love of neighbor, including my LGBTQ+ neighbor, wherever I have an opportunity.
A Final Charge
Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to speak up against the toxic crap toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.
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