Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Where I Am

I've really been struggling for the past few months. I've never felt like this before - I've always had doubts, but never of this magnitude. I'm just not sure where God is, or if he even is at all.

Growing up I believed in God first because my parents did. I was supposed to love Jesus because he died for my sins, so I dutifully loved Jesus, though it would probably be better described as acknowledging Jesus. It's hard for a child to love an unembodied concept of a person - I'd never seen Jesus, hugged Jesus, or held Jesus' hand like I did with the people in my life who I really loved - my Mom and Dad and Grandmas and little brother. The story of Jesus had weight for me chiefly because my parents said it was really important and I believed them. At three I prayed the sinner's prayer and accepted concept-of-Jesus into my heart.

In middle- and highschool I really believed. I finally really loved Jesus. The world was so beautiful and surely God must be so beautiful too, because He made the world. If only people would let God into their lives, they would be changed and transformed and joyful. There was such joy in the Lord! I was naive, but I was a true believer. I wasn't faking it or unsure. I believed.

In college I realized the world is very big. There are many people in it, and there is great, great suffering. It is not suffering of the "this will make me a stronger person and give me a better witness!" kind. It is suffering of the meaningless, incomprehensible, dull, aching kind, and it often ends only with death. Where is God in it? Where is God at all? I begin to realize that most of my beliefs come from never having thought another way. Why do I believe in this God who say He is present with us but never seems to show up?

I am a questioning person. I am a logical person. I want my ontological speculations and beliefs to make sense holistically. People often say, "you are too small to understand God. His ways are not your ways. His thoughts are not your thoughts." That's intellectual laziness. It's true that if God is real than He's far too big for the human mind to encompass, but that doesn't mean we don't have to have a belief in God that makes logical sense. Jesus clearly means us to: He says "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, MIND and strength." If belief in God is to be rational then it must be cognitively sound. You have to think things through - you can't just get out of it by saying "His ways are above our ways." Don't give me that. No one would take you seriously if you were talking about anything but God. "Hey, could you talk to me about this math question?" "Oh no, friend, math's ways are above our ways."

I hope, more than anything else I have ever hoped for, with all of my being, I hope that there's a God. But that's it. I hope. I don't know. Knowledge isn't faith - knowledge is fact. Knowledge is Thomas putting his fingers in Jesus' side - a concrete, observable, repeatable experience. Faith, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of observable, repeatable experience, and it's what the Christian belief system is all about.  Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. That's hard for me. I'm only a Thomas. I want to know.

I still pray, though prayer is actually a primary cause of my current spiritual upheaval. I hold a certain cognitive dissonance about prayer - I simultaneously believe that Jesus wasn't lying when he said "Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them,” and I also believe that though I have many times agreed with others on what to ask God for, He has never done it for me. There is no time in my life that I have definitely felt the presence of God or heard Him speaking to me or had prayers consistently answered. Never. Not once.

I hope there's a God. I hope because without God, all this suffering is meaningless. It doesn't matter if the man who raped a three-year-old then set her on fire goes free. She dies, he'll die and it won't mean a thing. It doesn't matter that a woman in Darfur slowly bled to death after having been gang-raped and having her nose, ears and breasts cut off. It doesn't matter. Those people are dead. Soon anyone who remembers them will be dead. They are lost, and so are we, and my dear atheist friends try to give me this bullshit about everyone's lives actually mattering more now that we know there's no afterlife because it makes what we do now while we're alive so much more important. Bullshit. It makes it nothing. It makes us nothing.

I am only Thomas. I am no great champion of faith. I am only Thomas. Jesus told Thomas "You believe because you have seen, but blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe," but He still let Thomas touch His hands and side. He let Thomas prove it to himself. I'm only Thomas! I'm only me! Let me touch your hands and side!

He never answers. I knock but the door doesn't open. I seek but I don't find. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

For the Love of God, Don't Get to Know Any Sinners

I was planning on writing a completely different blog post today but was stopped short in my tracks by a quote from Stacy McDonald, co-author of the book Passionate Housewives Desperate for God. I haven't personally read the book and I had read only a few pieces by her before (most notably her very unfavorable and dismissive review of Quivering Daughters), so today I decided to find out more about her and her ministry. I found her blog, "Your Sacred Calling", and started reading, trying very hard to keep an open mind. All was going fairly well until I started reading the post, "Letter from a 17-year-old feminist."

Despite Stacy's self-assuredness that hers is the only right way, her appeal to a Pascal's-wager type situation as a means of convincing this girl ("Lisa") to believe in God, and her fairly annoying and extremely patronizing writing style ("Lisa, may the Lord give you the same mercy He has given me. May He melt your heart of stone, and reveal to you the beauty of His Truth. May He give you ears to hear and eyes to see. I will be praying for you"), it was not these things that most disturbed me. What actually did it was a brief sentence about a third of the way down the post:

"Men tend to be naturally (sinfully) lazy, passive, selfish, complacent, unfaithful oafs."

Um. Wow. Really? Men (there's no qualifier here, so I have to assume she means all men) tend to be naturally the scum of the earth? THIS is how godly, submissive women view the "natural" state of men? Really?

Now, I get what she's doing. She's trying to communicate that all people are fallen and therefore sinful, and that before a person has a saving relationship with Jesus they're naturally sinful. Once you know Jesus you're enabled to be the great, kind, wonderful leader and priest of the home that God meant for you to be. But there are several things wrong with this: first of all it's a false dichotomy and second, it just doesn't work this way in real life (and thirdly it's just plain sexist, but conveying that point is probably a lost cause). Lastly, it implies that humans in their "natural" state (non-Christians) are not really worthy of our respect, admiration or emulation.

A lot of conservative Christians preach that there are two kinds of people in the world: Christians and non-Christians. The first group have been changed by the power of the Holy Spirit into godly, strong, passionate and righteous people who go about doing good works, furthering the kingdom, and serving as examples of the power of Christ. Examples of this group would be Stacy and her husband (as used by Stacy in the post). The non-Christians are (if you're a man) "lazy, passive, selfish, complacent, unfaithful oafs," and (if you're a woman) "selfish, loud, pushy and obnoxious." Examples of this would be the 17-year-old girl Stacy is writing to.

This is a false dichotomy. It is simply untrue that non-Christians are "bad" people while Christians are "good" people. To view the world like this causes you to miss so much. I used to believe this. I used to believe that atheists, evolutionists, feminists and gay people were bad, that they were willfully and rebelliously rejecting God and His perfect plan. Then I met some. I think that's the problem: Stacy and others like her have never met any intelligent, kind, thoughtful people who think differently from them. Or maybe they have, and have simply rejected these good people as sinful and worldly and not worthy to be considered friends, but that's not a very charitable thing to think of Stacy so let's assume the first. Stacy needs to meet some people! I took a college prep class and met an atheist, who was the teacher. He's one of the kindest, nicest men I've ever met. He has the kind of love that Jesus taught we should have. I met evolutionists in online forums. It dawned on me that these were not people who were purposely rebelling against the truth of creationism simply to spite God and revel in their own wickedness (yes, that's what I used to think). I learned there were lots of different kinds of feminists and that they didn't all fall into the category of "feminazi" (thanks for that word go to Rush Limbaugh, the man I spent every lunch break of my childhood listening to). I got to college and met my first gay person. He's a Christian to boot! I had never considered this to be really possible. Actually, my views on gay people have been some of the most difficult to change and they have taken the longest to get remolded in the light of Christ's love, but the walls I built for myself are slowly coming down. It's very liberating. "The truth shall set you free," indeed. 

I don't think Stacy has ever had true, deep relationships with people who think differently from the way she thinks. If she had, she would not categorize non-Christians as lazy, passive, selfish, complacent, unfaithful oafs. Some of them doubtless are those things. But so are some Christians. You can't just draw a line in the sand with the good guys on one side and the bad guys on the other, and then claim that all the good guys are Christians. That doesn't fit with reality. In fact, it's often directly opposed to reality.

It really bothers me that Stacy goes about her (very influential) life believing that godly Christians (read: those who agree with her) are so morally superior to everyone else. I mean, it really explains the moralistic and incredibly patronizing tone she uses when talking to anyone who falls outside the boundaries of faith that she and the patriarchal movement have made for themselves, but she's missing so much! So many relationships with so many good people! If you wouldn't eat with the prostitutes and tax collectors, you're doing it wrong. That's not Christianity, it's a club for righteous people. Maybe Stacy would do that, but it's not getting through to me from her blog.

I don't say this to attack Stacy. In all, she seems like a very nice person with some very human blind spots, just like everyone else. It's just that this way of thinking is very, very damaging. She's not doing herself or anyone else any favors. By making such an offensive and moralistic blanket statement about what non-Christian men are supposedly really like, she's making it ok to not respect those who have different beliefs. After all, if all non-Christian men are "oafs," why listen to what they have to say? If all non-Christian women are "pushy and obnoxious," well, who would really want to even try to get to know someone like that, let alone start to understand where they're coming from? Stacy has precluded any possibility of finding out that she's wrong. That's really sad. She's missing out.

Friday, September 30, 2011

When It Rains, It Pours

I haven't been blogging because I guess when it rains it pours.

I have been going through some very rough times spiritually and emotionally. Some days are better than others, but on the whole, the last few weeks have been some of the most difficult of my life.

Today I found out that somehow, someway my blog has been found by a few of my former friends and acquaintances who are still a part of TeenPact. Given that fact, I feel that I should clarify a few things.

First of all, this was originally meant to be an anonymous, personal blog where I could work through some of the things that have happened in my life that have been specifically related to Christian patriarchy. For me, the primary form Christian patriarchy has taken has been the organization called TeenPact, though this is not a specifically anti-TeenPact or TeenPact-bashing blog. I wanted to have the space and freedom here to try to process and work through some past events that, for me, have been very formative. Because of this, I have not told anyone I know about this blog. My husband knows about it, and so do two friends who have never been connected with TeenPact and have no experience with the organization. I specifically resisted telling close friends who are still a part of TeenPact about it because I knew it would be unnecessarily painful and uncomfortable for them, and I wanted to avoid that.

I underestimated the internet.

Dear friends who are still a part of TeenPact: please do not be too hurt by what you read here. I won't ask you not to be hurt at all, because I have written quite forcefully about some things, and I know that an attack on an organization that is so close to you seems just the same as an attack on you yourselves. Please, read again my last post. I loved TeenPact. I STILL love the people who are a part of it. But I am just beginning to be able to process the extremely hurtful, negative and untrue things I internalized about myself and others through my experience with TeenPact. I am just beginning to find my voice. I am sure that since I am still just beginning my journey, I view TeenPact in a light that might not be all accurate - I am giving more attention to the negatives and less attention to the positives. I recognize this, and tried to express it in my previous post. However, that does not disqualify the fact that I was very damaged by TeenPact. It hurt me, and I in turn hurt others because of what I'd learned.

This is a personal blog. It is the story of one person's journey through the aftermath of something that was very significant in her life. Not all others who have gone through TeenPact have had this experience - rather, many have had the opposite experience. But this IS what happened to me. This IS how TeenPact affected me. And I know I'm not alone.

I do not hate or even dislike the staff or administration of TeenPact. Please understand, these are good people. These are men and women who strive for integrity and moral character. That doesn't change the fact that many of the tenants that TeenPact upholds are deeply flawed and damaging.

So please, friends, take this away from my blog: I never meant for you to read this. I knew you would be hurt by it. I did mean for it to be an anonymous safe space where I could try to work through the feelings of hurt and degradation that TeenPact imparted to me because of my supposed lesser worth as a female Christian. Jesus would not have upheld such a practice. Jesus specifically affirmed women. I did not once feel affirmed by TeenPact as a female. I did my fair share of affirming others, all men. This is a place where I can try to better understand what made TeenPact so damaging for me and how I can help to decry such practices when I meet them later in life. Please try to understand.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Blogging is Strange

So, this blog is my attempt to talk about and put into perspective some of the more fundamentalist aspects of my childhood and young adulthood. Silly me, I thought it would be easy.

I haven't posted for about a week, mostly because I've suddenly and unexpectedly been feeling guilty. Irrationally guilty. Intensely guilty. I feel guilty for mentioning TeenPact by name. I know, that doesn't make much sense, but that's why this guilt is irrational.

I loved TeenPact and it was an extremely positive experience for me at the time. For the first time, I felt loved an accepted by my peers. I had always been the weird homeschooled girl (a reputation I definitely deserved, but that didn't make it any less lonely). Suddenly, we were all weird homeschooled kids together. I felt at home. I still keep in contact with some of the friends who I met through TeenPact or who went to TeenPact with me. One of my best friends is married to someone who works high up in TeenPact. I feel as though I'm somehow letting those people down by admitting that TeenPact wasn't all great times and positive experiences for me. I feel like if they knew what I think of TeenPact now, they'd feel like they don't even know me.

And that's another thing - what DO I think of TeenPact now? It wouldn't be honest to say that at the time, I didn't honestly love it and think it was one of the best things to have happened in my life. It wouldn't be honest to say that some aspects of that statement are still true, even now. Regardless of religious beliefs and conservative values, TeenPact did alter my life for the better in some ways - I gained confidence as a person, discovering that I could make friends; I became a better public speaker and a more confident person in general. But then I remember all the bad (and from my perspective now, often downright silly) things I had hammered into me: America is God's country. Women can't be leaders. Gay marriage will remove God's protective hand from our nation.

So I'm conflicted. I loved TeenPact. I hate TeenPact. I still love parts of TeenPact. I have no idea how to reconcile the two: I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but what if the baby already climbed out of the tub because the water was too dirty? And why do I feel this huge amount of guilt for even mentioning the name of the organization in an anonymous blog?

This is turning out to be harder than I had expected, but I don't want to quit. I want to work through these thought and these emotions - and this guilt. I want to keep writing about a system that I believe is morally wrong and that victimizes and disempowers lots of people in the name of glorifying God. I don't want to stop writing just because it makes me uncomfortable - and it DOES make me uncomfortable, and I didn't expect the feeling to be so strong. I'm just adjusting, I guess.

Thanks for reading, whoever's reading.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Girl Talk

The first year I attended a TeenPact class I got my first experience of The Girl Talk, and I would experience it every year after along with special Girl Talks at National Conventions. When I was 16, I became a staffer with TeenPact, so I have myself given many Girl Talks. The Girl Talk begins with the staffers splitting the class up, leaving all the female participants together in one room while the males get up together and leave. After all the boys are gone, the female staffers come to the front of the room and explain what is expected of the female participants during the week of TeenPact. The dress code is covered in minute detail - exactly how long mid-calf-length is, exactly how many fingers from your collarbone before your shirt gets too low, etc. Female TeenPacters are left with the distinct impression that in order to set a good example, a woman has to be modest. No one wants to cause their brothers to stumble, and so after The Girl Talk there are relatively few dress code mishaps.

However, sometimes there are accidents. While staffing in Maine, I was asked by one of the female interns to inform a student that her clothes were inappropriate - I forget what was even wrong with them, I think it was that her skirt was too tight or something like that - anyway, the problem was fairly miniscule and she certainly had no idea that she was in violation of dress code. I took her aside and told her that she would have to change. I remember dreading it - I knew she would be mortified. She looked at me in complete humiliation and started to cry. I felt terrible, but she had violated the dress code. I had only done what I was supposed to do in order to protect the young men around us. I knew she wouldn't violate the dress code again.

While the girls are having The Girl Talk, the boys are getting The Guy Talk. The subject of this talk was hotly debated among the girls, because neither sex was supposed to know what the other's talk was about. When I became a staffer, I found out that while the girls were having their half-hour long talks on the subject of just what exactly constitutes immodesty and how we could best keep our brothers from stumbling, the guys were getting a much, much shorter (fifteen minutes topes - and that was stretching it) talk on: being respectful of women and opening doors for them. Now, I'm not saying it's bad to ask guys to respect women - it's great. But the point was that the burden of modesty was on the women alone. After they'd heard their spiel, the guys would stand outside the room the girls were in and wait for them to be done. They got their talk, then stood there and waited. There was honestly nothing more that could have been said to the guys? They just had to wait for the girls to realize that it rested with us and us alone to protect our brother's minds?

The Girl Talks at National Convention were much different from The Girl Talks at regular TeenPact classes. These talks weren't about modesty or the dress code, at least not in those concrete terms. These talks were much better than that - girls waited eagerly for the session when the TeenPact National Coordinator (who was female - it was ok for her to hold a high position because she was always under the authority of the founder, a male) would speak to us about what it meant to be A Woman. We would listen with baited breath as this strong woman of God explained to us that the woman's place is to be subject to the man - a woman is usurping a man's true role if she takes a job over him. She explained that this does not make women less. Far from it! She painted the picture of a noble, strong man - one who would have never gotten to where he was had it not been for the meek and humble encouragements of his doting wife who never stopped believing in him or submitting to him. She explained that a woman's role is to be a persuader - a winsome creature whose Godly arguments could sway the heart of the king. However, if you try to persuade your husband of something (though none of us were married, including her, it was pretty much assumed that we all someday would be) and he should choose not to listen to you, no matter how important it is, the Godly wife, the True Woman, would submit to his wishes. No matter what, no matter how hard. This, we learned, was how God would know we were truly good wives - we honored His role for us even when it was incredibly difficult. There was no mention of anything like spousal abuse, verbal or physical abuse, monetary indiscretion or any of the very real things that a man could choose to do that a wife would then have to submit to. The picture that was painted for us was one of humbling our own pride and selfish desires to be first. If you didn't always do what your husband said, you were prideful, selfish and not God-honoring and that was that.

I know this woman, and she is a wonderful, dear person with great integrity. I like her quite a bit. But she herself has been lied to, and in consequence she was spreading those lies to us. For one thing, the culture she'd grown up in seems to have made her terribly, terribly naive - perhaps I'm wrong about this, but the picture that she painted for us was one filled with naivete. It's one thing to set aside your own desires in order to build up your spouse. Christ provides us this very model: laying down your pride and selfishness to serve another person. But to imply that ANY marital problem can be solved by simply following this formula is nothing but ignorant. If someone is abusing your children, you don't submit to that man. You protect your children. If someone is verbally and physically abusing you, you don't submit to that. You get out. I'm sorry, but it does NOT dishonor God to protect yourself and your children from sin and evil. Either I am completely misrepresenting and completely misunderstood her words and intentions, or she had never give much thought to the extremely dire straits a woman can find herself in after marriage, or those dire straits had been passed off as products of the woman's sin - she's not submitting enough, she's not respectful enough, etc. She couldn't have realized the extremely destructive nature of what she was telling us. She wasn't a hypocrite, she was just extremely misled.

Since none of us were married (not yet!) we got helpful tips on how best to affirm and respect the men who were in our lives right now. Men were the natural leaders, and we should always be encouraging of them. We were told to affirm the young men around us - the 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 year-old young men who were also at TeenPact. It became a running joke with my friend Andy and me - he would say something stupid and I would reply "I affirm you!" But seriously - boys at that age? Can sometimes be stupid. Really stupid. They're not very mature yet, and that's just the truth. But no matter - if the young women in their lives would affirm them in their dreams and aspirations, they could only turn out well. The support of a woman was all it took.

It was a ridiculous view of women, with much more in common with the 1950's idea of the "angel of the home" than with anyone I knew. But I reasoned: didn't Jesus tell us to be meek? Weren't we supposed to be humble? This must be the way for a woman to do those things.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

TeenPact: the Beginning

When I was 13 years old my mom found out about a program that taught homeschooled students about government called TeenPact. My mom has always been very politically active - she used to pull my brother and me around in our little red wagon while she would pound campaign posters into lawns around town. My tendency is to be politically apathetic. I've never really cared that much, and my cynicism when it comes to civic action tells me that my single vote won't do much good anyways. But at the age of 13 my political cynicism was not yet highly developed. So my mom signed me up for TeenPact and told some of our homeschool group friends about it as well, and I agreed to go - it seemed like it wouldn't be that bad, and plus my friends Rose and Andy were going to go as well.

TeenPact calls itself a "leadership school." It's a four-day intensive program focused on teaching teenagers from 13-19 about the way their local governments work. It's open to anyone, but since it's in the middle of the school year it's very rare that anyone but homeschoolers go. TeenPact travels from state to state, hosting classes in each state capitol building. The students hold mock legislatures, hear from guest lecturers who are often very high up in their state governments, and even get to meet their legislators. They learn about lobbying, the constitution, how a bill becomes a law, and the importance of civic action. All this sounded like not much fun to my 13-year-old self, but I figured it wouldn't be that bad, Rose and Andy would be there, and we might meet some nice kids. Then I found out about the dress code.

TeenPact's dress code was rigid. Boys: preferably a suit, at least a long-sleeved button up shirt and a tie, NO shorts, NO sneakers. Absolute professionalism. Alright, I thought, they want us to look nice, I understand that. It's important to present ourselves well. But the instructions for the girls were far more elaborate: girls may not wear pants, even professional pant suits. Skirts must be mid-calf length and must not show the knees when the girl is sitting. No sneakers, no sandals. Shirts must have sleeves - cap sleeves do not count as sleeves. The neckline must come no more than two finger-widths below the collar-bone. Shirts must not be form-fitting - you should be able to pinch the sides of your shirt and pull it away from your body without it pulling tight across your chest. Jewelry should not be attention-drawing. Then there were the more general instructions to both sexes: no piercings anywhere but the ears. No strange haircuts. No strange hair colors.

I had a little bit of a fit when I found out about these rules. At 13, I was struggling to know how to dress my strange new body in everyday life, let alone with this list of regulations to take into account. How was I going to avoid looking like a total dork in a mid-calf-length skirt? My mom encouraged me - these rules were strict, she said, but they just want everyone to look professional. We'll find you some clothes that you'll look alright in.

Well, we didn't. I remember my first year at TeenPact as an awkward time of trying to fit in with the older kids (Rose was 16 and had miraculously found clothes that looked cute and stylish even while meeting the dress code), wearing the same uncomfortable polyester-blend long black skirt every day (it was the only one we could find that was dress-code-proof) and being unsure of what I actually thought about anything.

So that was my first year at TeenPact. I didn't hate it, but I didn't like it much either. That might have been the end of it, if it hadn't been for Rose.

Rose loved TeenPact. She was old enough to make friends easily, and it didn't hurt her that she has always had a personality that's at home with almost anyone and is one of the most strikingly beautiful people I've ever met. She loved TeenPact so much that she went to the TeenPact National Convention in Georgia that summer, and came home galvanized. Her mom became the state coordinator for our state and her excitement infected me a little. Maybe there was more to TeenPact than I had realized.

Year 2 of TeenPact was totally different. I was a year older and had more practice with what clothes worked for my body. I looked long and hard for pieces that would meet the dress code but still be cute. I did better than the year before, and at TeenPact Round Two I actually made friends. I got more excited about political activism - they taught us that we, individual people, and teenagers no less, could really make a difference in our state governments! This was empowering talk. That summer I went to the National Convention too, and by TeenPact Year 3 I was totally on board.

So what's the matter with this picture? TeenPact sounds great. It teaches kids about civic action, provides a place for homeschoolers to get to know other  young people (the coveted "socializing") and gives opportunities for travel and political involvement. What's wrong with that?

Well, not really anything, or at least, not anything really sinister. The best parts about TeenPact were wonderful, and the worst parts were mostly unintentional or accidental. But the worst parts were important, and starting at 13, they began to shape my view of myself and others. TeenPact officially endorses no candidates, but if it's an impartial organization, well, I'm a wildebeest. We learned which candidates were Godly and which weren't - which were trying to save our Christian nation from the hands of the wicked liberals and which were in cahoots with those very liberals themselves. TeenPact unofficially hosted Student Projects where TeenPacters from all over would fly in and go door-to-door for a certain candidate, holding signs on street corners, addressing and stuffing envelopes and phoning all the registered Republicans to remind them to get out and vote come voting day. It was an entirely conservative organization - at National Conventions we listened to guest speakers and sometimes even the founder himself tell us how we could save our nation from the evils of gay marriage, liberal higher education and taking God out of public life. We were going to take this country back for God from the ground up, one teenager at a time! It was a heavy responsibility, and a glorious one. We stood out from the ranks of wickedness all around us, shining the light for Christ and a Christian America. I took up the cause wholeheartedly.

I loved TeenPact. I had more friends than I had ever had before - true, dear friends who cared about each other passionately. I had a purpose and a calling - TeenPact was at times a truly empowering organization. "Let no one look down on you because you are young," TeenPact had us recite, "but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity." I felt like God really wanted me and needed me to further His kingdom. At the same time, I was becoming more and more firmly convinced that gay people and liberals were definitely trying to destroy everything Godly about America, that America needed specifically Christian laws in order for God's hand to remain upon us, that 9/11 may have been God's punishment for taking His Laws out of our schools and courthouses, and that there was a rising tide of young people in this country who were spurining true manhood and womanhood. It wasn't until much later that I reflected on many of the things TeenPact taught me about myself and specifically myself as a woman. Those things will be the subject of my next post.

Friday, August 26, 2011

What's in a Name?

Daughters of Junia: it isn't a blog title with an obvious meaning. But there is one, and it's a meaning that I chose because of its empowering message. I thought for a long time about what to call this blog, and eventually I landed on those three words: three words that concisely sum up what I believe to be the "Biblical role of women." Let me explain.

Paul mentions Junia in the 16th chapter of Romans, a chapter full of personal greetings to the members of the Roman church. Verse seven says,

"Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was" (Romans 16:7, NRSV).

Paul, who is the most vocal proponent of "silent women" according to the conservative/fundamentalist/patriarchal movement, is here recognizing a woman, Junia, as an apostle in the church. This greeting is, in fact, only one of many times that Paul greets women whom he names as influential in the church and church leadership: a few verses earlier in Romans 16:1 he says, "I commend you to our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well" (NRSV). Paul greets many other women besides these two in his letters. So why name the blog after Junia? Why not Phoebe or Lydia or Mary Magdalene? There were many women who were prominent in the New Testament churches.

I chose Junia because Junia and the women of patriarchy have something in common. In the 11th century a man named Aegidius of Rome decided that this greeting of Paul's to Andronicus and Junia, both of whom Paul called apostles, could not possibly have been a greeting to a man and a woman. Paul must have meant two men, since women could never be apostles! Therefore, relying completely on his own prejudices, Aegidius "corrected" what he saw as a corrupt text, adding an "s" to Junia's name, changing it to the masculine-sounding "Junias." Kristina Lacelle-Peterson, a New Testament scholar, comments, "He did this not because the ancient Greek texts of the New Testament demanded it (what biblical scholars call textual evidence), but because of his assumption that women could not be apostles. Essentially he changed the text of scripture because of his own theological commitments" (Liberating Tradition: Women's Identity and Vocation in Christian Perspective, page 63). It was not until the Reformation that Junia was once again recognized to be a woman. Biblical scholar Bernadette Brooten has since shown that the name "Junias" cannot be found in any ancient text, indicating that it was not actually a male name at that time, though the name Junia, a female name, appears frequently elsewhere (Liberating Tradition, page 64).

I chose Junia to be this blog's namesake because I feel that, much like what happened to her, women in the patriarchal movement are overlooked. Their own names are changed and covered over by the names of their fathers, brothers, and husbands who have the supposed biblical mandate to lead. They have never heard a sermon about Junia, the female apostle, or Phoebe, the female bishop. They have never been told that to be a woman is not to be somehow less; instead they have internalized the opposite. And, unlike Junia, they have never had the wrongs done to them righted. They have never recovered their true names.

Junia is a symbol of hope for women in a patriarchal movement devoid of affirmation and acceptance. Junia's name has been restored to her and her rightful place as an apostle right alongside Andronicus and Paul has been accepted once again - nearly all English translations now read "Junia" rather than "Junias." We are her daughters, the heirs to her legacy - the Bible empowers each woman not only to lead, but to lead outstandingly. It is possible for women to be apostles, it is possible for women to be leaders, it is possible for wrongs to be righted. Isn't that the message of the gospel, the good news? Jesus said, "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." The example of Junia offers disempowered women hope and an example of the Lord's favor for women since the beginning of the church.

My hope is that the captives will be released, the blind will indeed recover their sight, the oppressed will go free and that the daughters of Junia will at last recover their names.

The Reason for Daughters of Junia

I grew up in a rural community in the midwest portion of the United States, the oldest daughter of a dentist and a former English teacher. Both of my parents are extremely intelligent, hard-working and honest individuals who decided to homeschool their children when I was ready for kindergarten. My mom was well-suited to homeschooling, having been an English teacher before marrying my dad, as well as being very organized and hard-working. My siblings and I are all very well-educated as a result of her efforts and dedication to teaching us well.

My parents never told me that there were certain things that I could not do because I was a girl. On the contrary, my list of childhood career aspirations was long and changed frequently, including teacher, doctor, writer, astronaut, first female President, and an exceptionally long stretch in early childhood when I wanted to be "a builder of houses and fences." However, as I grew up in the homeschool community, my perceptions of what it meant to be female subtly shifted, apart even from the realization of my parents. Up until I hit puberty being a girl had never posed a problem: I fell nicely in line with the patriarchal ideal of female childhood. Though always a strong-willed child with very definite ideas and opinions, I was respectful and obedient to my parents and to other adults. I loved to wear dresses and play Little House on the Prairie with my friends. I idealized pioneer times and secretly wished I had been born about 150 years earlier. I loved to cross-stitch, knit and make up patterns for dresses for my stuffed animals. I was a patriarchal poster child.

It was around age 12 or 13 when I began to realize: I'm a girl. Of course I had always known I was female and I had always liked fairly stereotypically female things, but this had never been an obstacle or imposed any limits on my ambitions. Up until age 12 my thoughts on being a girl, if I had even had any, would have been something like "I'm a girl and I can do anything I want." Once puberty began and I started "developing", things started to change. "Modesty" was a new thing I learned about, and only girls had to worry about it. Boys began to be much more interesting than they had been, and thus I learned about "guarding my heart" and about Godly Courtship. I started to get more involved in social activities within the homeschooling movement, and there I learned about Equal Value, Separate Callings and the inability of a woman to hold a leadership position without severely offending God. In short, I was surrounded by people who, if they were not quite actively proselytizing the conservative Christian/patriarchal movement, were living it loudly all around me. They were my peers, my mentors, and my examples in everyday life.

However, it was not only the true role of women that I learned from my homeschooling peers. I also became an extremely conservative Christian in terms of social issues. Gays? Abomination. Evolution? There are Answers in Genesis! The environment? Only hippies care, and hippies are unmanly. Female Pastors? Get thee behind me, Satan! God said it, I believe it, that settles it. But even as I became convinced deep in my soul that being female made me less worthy of God's attention and that the liberals were out to destroy America, God's country, I began to feel an unrest in my soul. Why do I believe these things? I wondered. Why am I even a Christian? Try as I might, I couldn't come up with a meaningful answer that wasn't "because I was raised this way." Throughout highshool I became deeply concerned with the reasons behind the things I believed, using all the resources offered me to determine what I really thought about things. Not surprisingly, since all the resources I could get hold of were conservative Christian resources, I reasoned my way right back to where I had started, and I was still unhappy. It seemed like a pretty rough deal that the gay people would have to go through their entire lives miserably unhappy and in bondage to their sin, since homosexuality was such a difficult sin to get rid of. But I knew that God could only accept them if they stopped being gay (or at east acting gay) first - that was what the Bible said, definitively. Similarly, I wondered why women were the weaker vessels - did the smaller proportions of our bodies relative to men's really affect our intellects and abilities as well? I had out-reasoned many of my male peers in the debate tournaments my mom took me to - were those just coincidences? How did all these teachings actually make any sense?

I have now been avidly reading and following a variety of homeschooling/patriarchy/conservative Christianity blogs for more than a year, intrigued and unsettled and frequently angered by the experiences of those who have dealt with the conservative movement in America. Though I've faithfully read these blogs, I have never commented or joined in any discussions, preferring to watch and listen. It's not that I don't have opinions - I do. I have always been mistrustful of my ability to express my own point of view within the space constraints of a comments section. For this reason I've created this blog - Daughters of Junia - to give a voice to my own experiences and concerns and to tell the story of my divorce from the socially conservative, patriarchal homeschooling movement that I grew up immersed in.  I hope that it will be an experience of healing for me and a way of coming to terms with the things I've been taught and the things I believe now. I hope too that my experiences can be a comfort to others who have similar stories but who were not given the resources I was given to help them come out of the destructive and debilitating mindset of Biblical Patriarchy.

It was going to a small Christian liberal arts college that opened my mind to the whole world of Christian thought - not just the small, narrow, very recent strain of Christianity that I met in my conservative upbringing. My faith now is much broader, wider and deeper than it was in my conservative years. I believe now that true religion is what the conservative movement gives a lot of lip service to but makes very little true effort to actually put into action - to serve those who are outcasts, to care for the least of these, and to become the greatest by being the slave of all.