Building Community Through Art

Klimt, The Kiss, Loveland Colorado

“THE KISS” – Loveland Version, 15 x 15 feet.

2020 is our fourth year to create a giant community art piece in downtown Loveland, Colorado. For the design each year I’ve spoofed a famous fine art painting, giving each one a Valentine’s Day twist and a nod to Loveland.

This year I chose Austrian painter, Gustav Klimt, and his iconic 1908 painting, The Kiss.

If you look closely you can see Dan Cupid aiming his arrow at the couple. Dan Cupid is the character who shows up in the special postmark each year for Loveland’s famous valentine re-mailing program. He’s kind of a Loveland mascot, at least around Valentine’s Day, so he made his way into the design this year.

Dan Cupid, Loveland Community Mural

Detail showing Dan Cupid

The painting of the mural takes place during Loveland’s annual Valentine’s Day Street festival. This year there were 400 tiles, each painted by festival-goers; young and old, skilled and unskilled, first-timers and returnees. I received many enthusiastic comments from folks who are thankful for this community project, letting me know that people value the experience. That’s worth a lot to me!

Four years ago, my motive for creating the mural event sprung from a perceived need and a desire to build community. After the 2016 election, so much of the country seemed so divided and angry, even in my hometown of Loveland.

Today, four years later, the climate doesn’t seem much better to me, except that I now hear more voices calling for listening to, and understanding, one another in respectful dialogue. (Click here to see a favorite example of mine). I believe those voices are correct. The unhealthy alternative of perpetual division is too disheartening to live with. What a dysfunctional mess to leave to our children.

I don’t see much hope that presidents and elected politicians are capable of bringing healing to our divided nation. It’s up to us to do that at a grass roots level. It’s up to us to restore the vanishing art of respectful disagreement. Let us connect with our neighbors and get to know them, especially those who may see things differently than we do.

Even though a community mural is not going to transform the social climate, I think it’s one small step in the right direction. Combined with many other small steps, perhaps we can eventually find that we have arrived at a more caring and unified place as a society.

Big thanks again to all of my amazing volunteers at Beggars’ Gate Church!
Thanks also to Loveland Downtown Partnership and the Loveland Chamber of Commerce for their support!

Scott Freeman public art

My valentine to my wife. (I’m too skinny to get a real tattoo).

 

My Top 10 Christmas Movies

American Girl Doll Samantha

I admit…one of my favorite Christmas movies is an American Girl Doll movie. Don’t judge me.

At our house we love a good story. One of our Christmas traditions is watching Christmas movies together, beginning right after Thanksgiving. I’ve noticed that if I do this with too many lame Christmas movies it makes me sad and tempts me to hate Christmas. So here are 10 that I can look forward to seeing during the season.

Here’s my criterion for the Top 10:
My personality requires that a Christmas movie be meaningful to me in some way. If it’s only about Santa Claus, or people singing and dancing, or Christmas for the sake of Christmas, that doesn’t quite do it for me. (Even though I like to watch Elf every year because the idea of a human raised in elf culture is pretty hilarious, Elf didn’t quite make the cut).

Also, since we like to watch movies as a family I wanted to make the list kid friendly. I believe these ten movies are. I hope I’m not forgetting anything. I’ve made note of possible exceptions at the end of some descriptions. (I like the idea of making Green Book a Christmas movie, for example, but it has some thematic elements that don’t fit well with small kids, so it didn’t make the cut ).

10 – Little House on the Prairie – The Christmas They Never Forgot
I haven’t actually seen this movie for a couple of decades because we only have it on VHS, but I think I really like it. The entire Ingalls family and a friend get snowed in by a Christmas Eve blizzard. They decide to pass the time by sitting around the fire and sharing stories of their favorite past Christmases. Almanzo’s story is the only one I remember, but it’s pretty great. Also, Hester Sue tells her story of what Christmas was like for her as a slave child.

9 – Prancer
A beautifully filmed movie about very average people in a small town. Sam Elliott plays a prickly widower struggling to raise his 2 kids. His spunky and mildly annoying daughter has a Christmassy secret that becomes public in hilarious fashion. This leads to the father having an emotional epiphany of his own, leading him to reexamine his priorities and rejoin the land of the living. The characters are wonderfully cast in this film.

8 – Miracle On 34th Street
In contrast to Prancer, this is a beautifully filmed movie about a beautiful couple in NYC. While the movie revolves around a charming Kris Kringle character (Richard Attenborough), the movie is really about the struggle between good and evil, belief and distrust, within each of us. While I might disagree philosophically with a few ideas, the bottom line is that it’s a visually lovely Christmas movie that is enjoyable to watch.

7 – The Bishop’s Wife
I haven’t seen the 1996 remake, so I can’t make a comparison, but I can’t imagine why this movie needed to be remade. In this 1947 Black and white film, Cary Grant plays an angel sent to help a Bishop get his priorities straight, (though that’s not why the Bishop thinks he’s been sent a helper). The emotional affair between the angel and the Bishop’s wife has always made me a little uncomfortable, but the writers manage to erase the discomfort by the end of this amusing story.

6 – Christmas Eve
The newest movie on my list (2015), we watched this for the first time a couple of years ago, mostly because of the cast: Patrick Stewart, Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite), James Roday (Shawn from Psych), to name a few. It’s a psychologically fascinating idea. Basically, an entire section of NYC loses power on Christmas Eve, trapping various groups of people in 6 different elevators throughout the city. It’s kind of an exercise in imagining what would happen if you were forced to move beyond the surface with people you would ordinarily pass by. (For instance, a guy who just got fired on Christmas Eve gets stuck on an elevator with the manager who fired him). The entire movie consists of following these wildly diverse groups as they interact throughout the evening, resulting in some alternately amusing and profound moments.

5 – The Nativity Story
After all, the birth of Jesus is the reason we have a holiday called Christmas, so every season I want to see a movie telling that story. This is the best one I’ve seen. I love that the characters look middle-eastern (because they are). And yet, despite their quest for authenticity, the producers fail to comply with the biblical narrative at a couple of points. Nonetheless there are many powerful and beautiful moments. For me it is most moving to watch the awkwardness of Mary and Joseph’s divinely-created predicament being played out in a palpably human manner. Visually this film is exceptional.

Note: there are a couple of violent (but not terribly graphic) scenes having to do with Roman soldiers, which some kids might find disturbing.

4 – A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott version – 2009?)
These last 4 are difficult to rate. Perhaps I only rank this at number 4 because of its familiarity, and I want end with a couple of movies you probably haven’t seen. For me A Christmas Carol may be the quintessential Christmas story. I LOVE the story of Mr. Scrooge’s repentance and joyful embrace of becoming a man who “knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.” I like this particular version because of its beautiful filming and clarity. (Apparently there are over 8 movie versions of this story). I also have the1951 classic version starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge. It has its superior aspects, but overall I find it sometimes difficult to watch and understand.

Note: some children might find Marley and some of the Christmas spirits frightening.

3 – It’s A Wonderful Life
These last 3 are probably a 3 way tie. Love this story. Love the characters. Love the self-sacrifice of George Bailey, reluctant though it may be at times. (Love that too). Love the corniness. Love the dialogue and the quotable lines. Love Clarence, the angel with “the IQ of a rabbit.” Love the valuing of family and community over personal achievement. I suppose this film is similar to A Christmas Carol in that a man is made to assess his life with the help of a supernatural being, and has a change of heart. I guess something about that resonates with our common human experience.

2 – Samantha – An American Girl Holiday
Okay…my guy friends will probably revoke my man-card for listing these last 2 as my favorites, but I don’t care – I love this movie!

Yes, I know this film was probably made as a marketing stratagem to sell more Samantha Parkington dolls and accessories, (hence the stupid title), but it resulted in a great Christmas movie! It actually makes me CRY…there, I said it! But not due to mere sentimentality. The movie is about love, family, friendship, loss, social justice (yes), and how privilege and power could, or should, be used.

I only know about this movie because my wife and I bought it years ago for our daughter who owned a Samantha doll. We have since stolen the DVD back from her. I still can’t believe somebody made a full length movie this good to sell a toy. Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve seen it. Don’t even try to tell me you sat through this and didn’t tear up.

I don’t even know how to summarize without spoiling the movie. I’ll just say the movie is set at the end of the Victorian era, in New York, 1904. Samantha befriends a neighboring immigrant servant girl, and…you should just watch this movie.

1 – A Season For Miracles
Number one of the 3-way tie – a movie nobody has heard of. That’s probably because it’s a Hallmark movie. Elitist types have taught us to smirk at and disdain Hallmark movies. Not unlike the Samantha movie, this one is also a marketing tool. In this case, the movie was made in order to create a positive emotional connection in the viewer’s mind toward Hallmark Cards, Inc. (I know this because I worked at Hallmark as an artist and I once heard the guy in charge of Hallmark movies speak). But I don’t care! I LOVE this movie!! Hooray for ethical capitalism!!!

But about the movie. All I’ll say is this. A devoted aunt rescues her sister’s kids from being put into the foster care system, but she does this pretty much illegally. Things get complicated as she tries to make this work by blending into a small town. She meets a guy, whose attraction to her further complicates things. So it’s a love story, but also a story about trust, poverty and privilege, exclusion and community, and love. All kinds of love. Did I say love? Love is awesome. Always. Good movies about love are the awesomest.

Our family lived in the inner city for a long time. The biological mother (Laura Dern) in this film is scarily spot on. Same with her street smart and not-cute daughter. Pretty gritty stuff for a Hallmark movie. My only complaint is that, as in several of my picks, there is an angel in this movie, which I think the movie could have done better without. But in keeping with Hallmark’s tendency to gild the lily, there she is. I still love this movie. I think you will too.

Share you thoughts
If you check out a movie from this list that is new to you, I’d love for you to come back and share your thoughts in the comment section below. What did you think?

Also, if you would like to recommend your favorite Christmas movie below, I’d love to hear it. I’m always on the watch for good ones.

Merry Christmas!
Scott

Watch This Graceful Interpretation by an Inspiring Young Girl

Down syndrome girl signing ASL

At our little church, members take turns leading the congregation in breaking bread every week. A few weeks ago during communion, one of the dads said a few words and then turned the platform over to his daughter, Autumn.

Autumn is 12 years old and was born with Down syndrome. The youngest child of a big, loving, musical family, she loves to dance and worship. She has also been learning American Sign Language (ASL) and wanted to sign a worship song she had been learning. The video below is her mom’s iphone recording of what Autumn shared with us that Sunday morning.

When I first met Autumn, I was struck by her name – a child with Down syndrome named Autumn, the youngest of 9 children. I assumed she was unplanned, and that her name reflected her parents’ later season of life into which she was born. Not that it was any of my business.

But I eventually asked Autumn’s mom, and she informed me that my assumption was incorrect. At age 45 she realized she wanted to have one more child. The parents understood the increased risk of having a child with Down syndrome due to their age, but they consciously chose to accept whatever blessing God might give them. God gave them Autumn.

This is beautiful to me. It also stands in remarkable contrast to the direction the world is heading. In recent months there have been news stories reporting that Iceland has essentially eradicated Down syndrome. But not through prevention or through finding a cure. Iceland has reduced its Down syndrome population through prenatal genetic testing and abortion.

This is a troubling accomplishment, but apparently Europe and the United States are not far behind in following Iceland’s chilling example. I love that Autumn’s mom and dad predetermined to love her, with or without a disability.

I don’t know how much Autumn understands of the song she is signing. But the truth of God’s promises remain regardless of how well they are understood. There is something moving about her simple belief in a Savior who loves her and welcomes her into His presence. I have a feeling that we are all in a similar position to Autumn with regard to our imperfect understanding of things to come.

Enjoy and give thanks! :

https://youtu.be/VG8fwIMUqXk

Video used with permission from Lori Mihaly.
I do not own the rights to the music. “I Can Only Imagine” was written by Bart Millard and released by the band Mercy Me in 2001.

The Myth of White Evangelical Racism

Jesus was Jewish

There can be no such thing as an evangelical Christian who is intentionally racist. This is true in the same way that there are no Muslim pig farmers, or Mormon brewpubs. Or vegan cannibals. Or feminist sex traffickers. You get the idea.

These things are not merely unlikely – they negate the very definition of the concept.

I recently read an opinion piece by a professor, Anthea Butler, suggesting that liberals should stop puzzling over why evangelical voters are (supposedly) so pro-Trump despite Trump’s flagrantly unchristian behavior. Her answer to this puzzle is simple:

We’re racists.

Professor Butler has a history of making ridiculous and extreme claims, but nonetheless, NBC news saw fit to give her false assertion a hearing. It’s a serious accusation, so just in case anyone is inclined to believe her, I’d like to explain why her assertion can’t be true.

It must be the case that Butler, and others riding the racist-labeling bandwagon, simply don’t know what an evangelical follower of Jesus is. Hopefully the following will be helpful.

Well Understood, Not Secret, Not Mysterious
By definition, evangelicals, white or otherwise, are followers of Jesus who consider the Bible to be authoritative. Look up “evangelical” in a dictionary if you doubt this. At the risk of sounding snarky, this means that they seek to follow what Jesus and His apostles taught in the Bible. If they don’t, then they are not evangelicals. They are something else.

But does the Jesus of the Bible have anything to say about race and racial superiority?

Yes. Tons, actually.

It so happens that Jesus’s greatest commandment and His “great commission” utterly rule out intentional racism. In fact, the defining statements of Jesus and His apostles, and their descriptions of where human history is heading, simply do not allow followers of Jesus to be racists. A racist may attend church, but to the extent that he or she harbors beliefs of racial superiority, he or she is not following Jesus. He or she is following someone else.

The clearly stated aims of Jesus presuppose racial inclusivity and equality. Here are a few indisputable examples:

The Greatest Commandment:
 “…Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:36-40).

The Great Commission:
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:18-20).

Jesus’s Final Prayer for His Followers, Past and Present:
“I do not ask for these [1st c. disciples] only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me… I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:20-23).

Paul Affirming that Social & Biological Distinctions are Obliterated in Jesus:
“…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26-28).

 Paul’s Statement of God’s Ultimate Plan for Human History:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:7-10).

John’s Revelation of the Future Age to Come:
“…After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’… For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev 7:9-17).

For the evangelical follower of Jesus, unequivocal biblical statements like these must settle the issue.

Angel, Evangel, Evangelical, Evangelism
Notice the Great Commission verse about making disciples of all the nations. This undertaking of making voluntary disciples is called “evangelism.” The word “evangelist” literally means “bringer of good news,” (from eu- “good” + angelos “messenger”).

Notice how the word “evangelism” is part of the word “Evangelical”? That’s because Evangelicals are supposed to be evangelizing – spreading the good news of how Jesus has invited all of humankind to be restored to relational unity with God.

Furthermore, biblical evangelism is not about making brown people Western and white. Jesus specifically commanded that His followers spread His invitation to people of different ethnicities. Here’s a statement the resurrected Jesus made before His ascension:

“…and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Notice the progression: his disciples congregated in Jerusalem. The news then spread to the whole region of Jewish Judea. Then to the Samaritans, who were historically looked down upon as “half-Jewish.” Then to all the nations of the earth, including every “race.” There is simply no getting around the fact that God wants to include all people groups in His kingdom.

How Jesus Abolished the Notion of Racial/Ethnic Superiority
Perhaps the most stunning development among the first (Jewish) followers of Jesus is the fact that the (Jewish) apostles officially, as a matter of conscious policy, extended the invitation to salvation to non-Jews. This was a completely unexpected development coming from a group of Jewish followers of the Jewish Messiah, and it was not without some controversy. You can read the whole debate in the book of Acts, chapter 15.

Clearly, everyone assumed that non-Jews who wished to become followers of the Jewish Messiah would have to first become Jewish, and follow the Torah of Moses. However, through a series of signs from God, and as a result of seeing the ancient Hebrew scriptures in light of the actions and words of Jesus, the apostles reached their revolutionary agreement: the gentile nations could enter into Jesus’s new covenant and kingdom, as uncircumcised gentiles!

This development was so unexpected that the apostles thereafter referred to it as a “mystery,” meaning that it was unforeseen, and not clearly explained previously in their Jewish Torah and prophetic writings. Here is one example of (Jewish) Paul speaking of this “mystery”:

“When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph 3:4-6).

Pretty clear.

The racially and ethnically inclusive nature of the message of Jesus is not optional. It is not a modern, liberal reading of the scriptures. It was there from the beginning. Any racism in the church of Jesus is a corruption of what Jesus taught. Even the Torah teaches that “all the families of the earth” descended from the same two parents (Gen 3:20; 9:18,19; 10:32). The gospel writer, Luke, affirms this in Acts 17:26.

Of course, one is free not to believe the Bible. My point here is not to prove that the Bible is true. My point is to prove that one cannot truthfully say that the Bible promotes racial superiority of any sort. In fact, the very concept of “race” is man-made, not biblical. There is no white supremacist version of evangelicalism.

History Cuts Both Ways
Historically, there certainly have been white church goers who have misused the Bible to justify slavery and racism. Those people have gone the way of the buffalo. Anthea Butler even acknowledges that the Southern Baptist denomination has repeatedly apologized for and repented of past evils. “But” she says, “statements are not enough.” Her proof that Baptists are insincere in their denunciations of past racial sins? They opened their 2019 Annual Convention with a gavel that was owned by the founder of their seminary, and who was also a slaveholder.

I would expect her to be more concerned with groups that were formerly openly racist, but that continue to exploit and decimate the black American population in the present. An example comes to mind:

For some reason white Darwinian “progressives” get a pass for misusing science to justify racism in much the same way that religious people misused the Bible to justify racism. During the early 1900s, there emerged a popular eugenics movement in America and Europe that was concerned with preserving (white) racial purity. It was a terrible and oppressive Orwellian episode of our history. Some 75,000 “unfit” Americans were forcibly sterilized in the name of racial hygiene and human betterment.

Margaret Sanger, founder of what is now Planned Parenthood, was on board with the eugenics movement. It’s difficult to prove whether or not Sanger was an overt racist, but in her autobiography she reports making a favorable impression at a speaking appearance to the wives of the KKK. She also welcomed Klansman and popular white supremacist author, Lothrop Stoddard, as a co-founder and board member of her American Birth Control League, (renamed the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) in 1942).

Lothrop Stoddard, Margaret Sanger's colleague

Stoddard’s most popular book. He also published eugenic articles in Sanger’s magazine, Birth Control Review. A content analysis reveals that the magazine’s overriding concern was not women’s autonomy, but societal improvement.

Today, PPFA enjoys a solid “progressive” reputation because it renounces Sanger’s racist/eugenicist statements, just as evangelical denominations have renounced past racial sins. The difference is that PPFA continues to disproportionately terminate black lives, today.

Black women buy abortions at a rate 5 times that of white women, according the Guttmacher Institute. The reasons are unclear. Regardless, the American black population is significantly smaller than it would otherwise be if not for Sanger and PPFA, America’s largest abortion seller. Bishop Larry Jackson claims, “If we [blacks] had not aborted our children, we would be 30%, not 13%, of the population”.

I can’t prove that widespread black abortion also disintegrates belief in the sanctity of black human life in the black psyche, but I can’t imagine how it would help.

Having said this, I don’t believe that pro-legal-abortion ”progressives” are intentionally racist. But I would arguably be far more justified in leveling that accusation against them than those claiming that evangelicals are racist. Maybe both “progressives” and conservatives should focus on cleaning up their own houses when looking for racists to call out.

None of us lives out our compassion perfectly. All of us – white, black, or brown – harbor prejudice that we must work to overcome. We’ll all be more successful if we work together to overcome it.

“Purity Culture” Hoopla: Comparing Notes

evangelical purity culture

I don’t know who came up with the phrase “purity culture,” but apparently I, my evangelical church friends, and our children were all part of it.

I guess.

It’s not like I was asked to sign a “purity culture” membership card to keep in my wallet as a parent. I think it’s a bit of a stretch to call it a “culture.” I’ve never heard of purity culture cuisine. I’m not aware of any purity culture holidays, art, or burial practices.

Why does everything have to be a culture now, even when it isn’t?

I’ve been reading critics of “purity culture” ever since Joshua Harris came out with his latest in a string of announcements. At age 21 Harris had published I Kissed Dating Goodbye (IKDG), a book advocating an alternative to casual, serial dating. The book became a best seller and was enormously influential in shaping the evangelical and Christian home-school subcultures during the late 90s.

Twenty some years have passed and Harris has now very publicly renounced the central message of his book, announced that he is divorcing his wife of 19 years, and most recently, announced that he is no longer a Christian.

But more troubling, quite a few women who came of age in church youth group “purity culture” are now well into adulthood, and are claiming that “purity culture” damaged them, leaving them to wrestle with shame, fear, anxiety, eating disorders, nasty rashes, sexual dysfunction, inability to recognize sexual abuse, and more.

I’m sincerely puzzled. I was there. What these testimonies typically describe sounds nothing like what I saw. My five kids also grew up in church youth group “purity culture,” and I was a parent leader in our parent-led youth group in a theologically conservative, evangelical church. One of my sons read Harris’s book. One of my daughters went to a True Love Waits conference with a friend. More than one church youth conference or retreat was themed around guy/girl relationships and why casual dating and sex is not a good idea.

Regardless, here are all these testimonies claiming injury from Harris’s book. At first I concluded that, if his critics’ claims are true, Harris is doing evangelicalism a favor by repudiating his book and stopping further publication.

But then I actually read his book.

After hearing the backlash I was surprised that IKDG seemed sensible and sensitively written. I didn’t see any of the legalism or rigidity that I expected to find. Didn’t see any shaming or intimidation.

Then I tried to verify the specific accusations I’d been hearing. For example, here’s a quote from an opinion piece in Huffpost, specifically referring to Harris’s book, (emphasis added):

…Other messages from the book: Girls should be modest and meek. Boys are sexual creatures and if they have impure thoughts about you it is your fault. The body and its desires are to be suppressed at all costs. Harris’ ideas were par for the course in the purity culture that dominated evangelical circles like mine.
– Hannah Brashers, Huffpost Personal

I’ll assume we can all agree that such a message deserves to go down in flames. However, I could not find such a message in IKDG. Following is the closest I could find, from the chapter entitled, Purity. Harris encourages “brothers and sisters in the Lord” to protect each other. He has just addressed the guys, and here he addresses the girls, (emphasis added):

…You may not realize this, but we guys most commonly struggle with our eyes. I think many girls are innocently unaware of the difficulty a guy has in remaining pure when looking at a girl who is dressed immodestly. Now I don’t want to dictate your wardrobe, but honestly speaking, I would be blessed if girls considered more than fashion when shopping for clothes. Yes, guys are responsible for maintaining self control, but you can help by refusing to wear clothing designed to attract attention to your body…I know many girls who would look great in shorter skirts or tighter blouses, and they know it. But they choose to dress modestly. They take the responsibility of guarding their brothers’ eyes. To those women and others like them, I’m grateful…
– Joshua Harris, IKDG, p 99

Is he not humbly asking for help here? Is he not calling for mutual caring?

Why does his critic get it exactly backwards?

Let’s compare more notes
What follows is a rant by a blogger who has left Fundamentalism and wants to help victims of abuse. I’m not including her last name because my point is not to embarrass her. My point in responding here is that “purity culture” was more nuanced than critics want us to believe, and it’s wrong for them to preach that their terrible experiences are representative of all of evangelical subculture:

Katie P: “…Lack of sex education and/or relationship development are unfortunately hallmarks of purity/modesty culture. Purity culture teaches that any type of sexual education or experience outside of heterosexual marriage is wrong and deserving of severe punishment…”

“Severe punishment”? This is news to me. My wife and I taught our kids about sex and reproduction (age appropriately) while they were still elementary school age. We formally went into greater detail before they entered middle school, because we wanted them to hear about sex from us first. From then on we discussed sex, dating, human sexuality, and boy/girl relationships as questions were raised, which they were, often around the dinner table. We still do this as adults.

Katie: “…purity/modesty culture is also called rape culture. Another reason is the severe victim blaming that occurs within this toxic culture…[girls] are taught that their bodies are inherently sinful and tempting and must be covered (modesty) in order not to seduce men…”

Nope. In my lifetime I’ve never heard ANY living, literate, Bible believing person say that girls’ bodies are “inherently sinful.” In fact the Torah states that God personally created the female body and then pronounced it “good!” In evangelicalism, the Bible trumps human opinion – so why did she, or anyone else, say or believe this?

However, I do agree with her that the female form can be “tempting”; not because it’s sinful but because it’s awesome. That’s kind of the point. My wife and I did indeed have modesty talks with our girls. We were intentional about communicating that there is nothing shameful, sinful, or bad about their bodies or about being female. As Harris stated, it is solely on the dudes to control their thoughts and actions. In part, a girl’s choice to dress modestly is to help those of us guys who are actually trying not to objectify women. Many guys aren’t even trying.

Katie: “…Men are taught that they are “visual creatures” who are unable to control their sexual impulses at the sight of a women’s body…”

A revealing criticism. First, dudes do not need to be “taught” this – that we are “visual creatures.” We are this. That’s why there is a multi-billion dollar porn industry – because most guys are enthusiastically able and willing to be sexually aroused by solely visual means. It is girls who, imho, should be taught this about guys, because girls generally do not experience sexual arousal in the same way. My wife and I felt that we would leave our daughters in a naïve and vulnerable position if we didn’t educate them on this biological fact.

Second, regarding male sexual impulses: I’ve read testimonies from women who, due to shame and indoctrination, became unable to think of themselves as sexual beings, causing problems in their marriages as adults. This is sad. This also underscores how boys and girls are different. For most guys, once their pubescent hormones kick in and they find themselves in a world half full of girls, you could no more convince them that they’re not sexual beings than you could convince them that they are the Pope. There are scientifically verifiable reasons for this. “Purity culture” acknowledged them.

Katie: “…Oftentimes in purity culture, women are also given purity rings by their fathers symbolizing their commitment to remain “pure” for their husbands and to obey their father until he gives them to their future husbands.”

Yes, this was a thing. I never did it because I felt it was redundant. Also maybe a little weird. For me. I wouldn’t necessarily fault dads who did it, unless they forced their daughter to sit under a bare light bulb in a concrete cell with no food or water until she signed the pledge. (Which I’m sure evangelicals are being accused of doing, somewhere).

Katie: “…It’s easy to see why purity culture creates such a toxic, unhealthy, dangerous environment sexually, emotionally, and relationally. But for those who are living in this culture, it’s almost impossible to escape. God is used as the ultimate weapon to keep people in line…”

She’s describing cult behavior. Healthy evangelical subculture is not like this.

The youth group my kids came up in did have an informal no-dating policy. It was mostly unspoken, but was certainly articulated at conferences and retreats. During this time my son served as the youth worship leader. Beginning in his sophomore year he also had a steady girlfriend all through high school. No one said anything to him or me about it. No “weaponizing” God to keep him in line. Nothing “toxic” or “dangerous.” He and his girlfriend married after graduating college and have a great relationship today.

I could go on with more examples but I think you get the idea. Many people’s experience with “purity culture” was positive and healthy.

What Made the Difference?
Why did “purity culture” catch on? “Purity culture” gained popularity because Bible-believing parents thought it could be a positive way for the larger subculture to reinforce their values around sex and dating. Joshua Harris’s book became a best seller because he was a young, single guy, articulating what a lot of evangelical parents already believed about love, sex, and dating. They felt a young person saying it would help give the message credibility in the eyes of teens.

There is nothing sinister here. A lot of evangelical parents came to Jesus from out of secular culture and hoped to spare their kids some of the mistakes they had made. Obviously, in the arena of sex and dating, some mistakes come with a big price tag.

Furthermore, there was nothing new about the idea of saving oneself sexually for marriage, or “dating with a purpose,” or generally treating the opposite sex with care and respect. It’s just that this message contradicted the voices of secular education, media, and entertainment. In this sense “purity culture” was a radical alternative message.

Meanwhile, in the minds of many parents, the secular culture’s view of dating and sex is a train wreck. Many parents had been there and found it unenlightening. Secularism promoted a message opposite that of evangelicalism: Sex is no big deal. Sex is merely recreation. Sex is entertainment. Porn can spice up your marriage. There is a world full of people settling for less than God’s design for love, sex, and marriage. Evangelical parents wanted something better for their kids.

So what went wrong?
I suppose the short answer is: sometimes people get stuff wrong. Given a topic as personal, sensitive, and deep as human sexuality, this is not surprising.

Apparently many young people felt motivated by feelings of shame and fear – those are bad motivators. Apparently false or insufficient information was sometimes given. One woman wrote that, for many girls, once they put on the purity ring, that was the end of the discussion. That’s bad parental communication.

I don’t doubt the testimonies of the critics, but I don’t know the solution to the problem. There is a balance to strike when opposing concerns are both based on truth:

  • How do you promote modesty, while also avoiding victim-blaming?
  • How do you promote a positive, feminine body image, while avoiding crass sexualization of the female form?
  • How do you present accurate, comprehensive information about sex and marriage, while avoiding the secularist anything-goes approach?
  • How do you promote saving sex for lifelong, monogamous marriage, without shaming, or promoting legalism?
  • How do you hold up an ideal standard for courtship and marriage, without being formulaic, or marginalizing those who do not conform to that standard?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences about “purity culture,” and how the church could do better.

Do Christian Missionaries Destroy Native Cultures?

Chau - Christian missions

John Allen Chau, presumed dead at age 26.

With the recent killing of an American “adventurer and missionary,” the legitimacy of Christian missions is being questioned again. The missionary in question, John Allen Chau, illegally made his way to an isolated island off the cost of India, to share the message of Jesus with the island’s inhabitants – one of the world’s last “uncontacted” tribes. The Sentinelese tribe, known to be hostile and violent toward outsiders, reportedly killed Chau and buried him on the beach.

Anthropologists and activists are concerned that contact with Chau himself, as well as contact with any outsiders who may wish to recover his body, could endanger the survival of the Sentinelese tribe by introducing pathogens against which the tribe would have no immunity. There is abundant historical precedent to warrant such concerns. In addition, raging within secular culture are philosophical concerns that raise a number of interesting questions:

Do Christian missionaries destroy indigenous cultures?
Do they impose, forcibly or otherwise, western beliefs and values on indigenous people?
Do they operate from a position of assumed superiority, culturally, religiously, or racially?
Do they threaten, or do they enhance, the physical survival and well being of indigenous peoples?
Is it fundamentally arrogant, or even immoral, for missionaries to assimilate with
“unreached” people groups with the ultimate intent of sharing a foreign, spiritual
message with them? Shouldn’t isolated people groups instead be left undisturbed?

There is no question that, historically, missionaries have often been wrong-headed in their approach to sharing their messages. One sorrowful, infamous example is the case of Catholic Franciscan priest and bishop, Fray Diego de Landis. As a Spanish missionary to the New World, whatever good he did was eclipsed by his harsh and coercive methods against the Mayas. His most infamous accomplishment may have been the burning of the entire Maya library due to the books being filled with what he believed to be “superstition and lies of the devil.” Only 3 Mayan documents survive – a great loss to our understanding of Mayan culture.

Having said that, let us not imagine that the committing of cultural and racial atrocities has exclusively been a religiously motivated pursuit. For nearly a century, Darwinian evolution widely held that dark-skinned people were less evolved than Caucasian people. As recently as the late 19th century, some 5.000 to 10,000 (Australian) aboriginal graves were desecrated, and “specimens” shipped, to British museums. In some cases Aborigines were murdered to obtain parts for study. (See David Monaghan, “The Body Snatchers”). As late as the early 20th century, targets for eugenics and forced sterilization included dark-skinned races.

Thankfully, both theists and atheists, religion and science, have come a long way since then. The modern missionary movement is smart and sensitive. There is nothing innate to the whole of scripture to justify the earlier missionary atrocities.

When Worldviews Collide
Nonetheless, there is certainly a clash of worldviews at play here, and that’s not going to go away. Secularists will continue to think that Christian missionaries have no business “invading” the lives of isolated people groups for the sake of spreading a myth. Followers of Jesus will continue to consider it a compassionate act to introduce isolated peoples to their universal Creator. What is different now is that both groups are concerned with respecting and retaining indigenous cultures and protecting the health and survival of these people.

One fact both sides can agree on is that isolated tribes are vulnerable to a number of modern threats, and that their existence is fragile. Missionary author Don Richardson claims that in the past 75 years, more than one tribe per year has disappeared from Brazil, from an estimated population of 4 million. Richardson claims thousands have been gunned down, blown up, or poisoned. The fact that the Sentinelese warriors have been observed firing their stone age weapons at a helicopter shows that they have no idea what they are up against.

The view of the modern missionary movement is that leaving tribal people undisturbed is not an option in the 21st century. It insists that it is better that missionaries get to remote peoples first because they value them as human beings created in God’s image. There are a host of potential outsider contacts who have no qualms about cheating, exploiting, and contaminating tribal people groups, and they are not asking permission: farmers, lumbermen, land speculators, minors, hunters, military leaders, road builders, art collectors, tourists, and drug dealers.

In thinking about indigenous cultures, there tends to be a halo effect around the way secularists view tribal people groups; as though their existence is peaceful, free, equitable, and humane. But all human beings are broken, and there is no ideal culture. Tribal cultures believe in the supernatural and are bound by strict beliefs about what their gods require. Critics of missionaries must grapple with the question of whether acceptance of an indigenous culture means acceptance of such practices as inter-tribal warfare, slavery, female genital mutilation, cannibalism, and other oppressive or self-destructive behaviors.

A Case Study
Richardson tells the story of the Wai Wai tribe of Brazil, which had been reduced to its last 60 members less than a generation ago:

     This was due largely to foreign diseases and the Wai Wai custom of sacrificing babies to demons in attempts to prevent these diseases. Then a handful of UFM missionaries identified themselves with the tribe, learned their language, gave it an alphabet, translated the Word of God, taught Wai Wai to read and brought modern medical care.

      Far from denying the supernatural world, the missionaries showed the Wai Wai that a God of love reigned supreme over it and had prepared a way for them to “stay right” on a deeper level than they had ever dreamed. The Wai Wai now had a rational, even delightful, basis for not sacrificing babies to demons. The tribe began to grow, and today is fast becoming one of Brazil’s more stable tribes. Wai Wai Christians are now teaching other dwindling groups of Indians how to cope with the 21st century through faith in Jesus.
(Perspectives, “Do Missionaries Destroy Cultures?” – Don Richardson)

The world is now filled with such stories of positive change. Jesus was not “white,” and His message was never to promote Western culture. Relational unity with God transcends all cultures, and can be expressed through all cultures.

Find Out More
If the topic of missions interests you, I would recommend a 15 week long class called PERSPECTIVES. The class takes students through the biblical, historical, cultural, and strategic aspects of “the world Christian movement.” All of the issues discussed above are thoroughly addressed, and much more. It’s a great way to learn about what God has been doing throughout human history, and how you can participate.

Mollie and I took the course in 2018, and loved it. Perhaps my favorite part was hearing a different live speaker every week. Most of the speakers are, or have been, missionaries in the field, with stories and insights to share. The course includes a workbook and a 750 page reader composed of articles by 150 scholars and practitioners.

PERSPECTIVES is a bit of a commitment: the cost is $250, and there is reading homework between weekly meetings. There is usually a $50 early bird discount available. If you’re unsure about committing, you can attend the first two classes for free. Attendees choose between 3 levels of participation, the least committal being the “key reading” level, the highest being the college credit level.

PERSPECTIVES is an inter-denominational event hosted by various local churches. For more information click here for the WEBSITE. Click here to see a short PROMO VIDEO.

 

My #MeToo Story

MeToo movement backlash

As a student at art college, one autumn I decided to take a psychology class at a neighboring campus, UMKC. The KC Art Institute didn’t offer psychology classes, at least not formally. (The Art Institute itself was actually kind of like one big psychology experiment, but that’s another story).

One evening after my intro to psych class I was on my bike headed back to my dorm at my own campus. A carload of girls pulled alongside me, and one the girls shouted out, “NICE ASS!” as the car sped past, the girls in the car laughing uproariously.

As a college boy, I thought this was funny. And then I saw that it was about to get funnier. Looking down the road, I saw the traffic light turn red. The carload of girls had to stop at the light. I grinned to myself and pedaled as quickly as I could and caught up to the car.

I put on my most polite voice, looked into the car, and innocently asked,

“I’m sorry…you shouted something out to me back there, but I didn’t understand what you said.”

It took a few seconds for them to figure out that I was the guy they’d harassed. One of the girls shrunk down and buried her head in her hands, others tried to stifle their giggling. The girl sitting next to the driver, to whom I was speaking, pretended not to know what I was talking about.

I innocently persisted. There were no other cars on the street after all. She suddenly remembered, “Oh!…I said nice BIKE. I said I like your bike.” The car erupted with stifled laughter again. Then the light turned green and as the car sped off, she shouted out more profane remarks. The end.

Men and Women are Different
As you read this, you probably recognize that my story doesn’t really qualify as a #MeToo story. I agree. I didn’t feel victimized, or threatened, and I found the whole thing to be amusing. I assume these girls were just having a little fun by getting back at some random guy (me) for all the times they had been harassed on the street, (not by me, just for the record).

I’m really telling my story to illustrate the fact that men and women experience their sexuality differently. No young, female college student in her right mind would purposely approach a carload of guys who had just harassed her on the street. Certainly not in the evening with no one else around.

My Failed Campaign

When I was a hormonal high schooler, I remember sitting in the school cafeteria with my testosterone-crazed male peers and listening to them talk about girls. This wasn’t talking about girls as in, “wow, she’s cute.” This was cold, graphic, predatory talk. By my junior year, in addition to being raised well, I was a serious follower of Jesus, so I had compelling worldview reasons to treat women with respect. Nonetheless, as a normal male I could see within myself the same sexual impulses as those that ruled my hormonally hopped up peers.

As I looked around and compared the guys and girls I knew, I saw stark differences between the sexes that I felt no one was addressing. I felt pretty sure that most girls assumed that most guys approached sex the same way they did. Almost universally, if there was a word to sum up how most girls approached guys, I felt that word would be “unsuspecting.” I sort of took it upon myself to inform my female friends about what guys are really like.

It didn’t go all that well. Mostly I couldn’t get them to believe me.

This was understandable – it is difficult for any of us to imagine ways of thinking that are foreign to us, especially if we would rather hope such things not be true. Regarding male sexuality, it’s probably too generous to even call it a way of “thinking.” It’s more like a way of responding to a hormone-induced state of being.

At any rate, unless a girl had suffered abuse, there seemed to be little evidence for what I was saying, because guys seemed to be so “nice.” I tried explaining that, yes, a lot of guys act nice in order to get into a girl’s pants. I knew a guy who boasted that he would tell a girl he loved her to get her to sleep with him. But what girl wants to believe the world is like that?

Plus, there were factors that confused the picture.

There actually were guys who, for reasons of morality and integrity, fought internally against their animal impulses and worked at viewing women with respect.

There actually were plenty of girls who seemed to be inviting exactly the kind of non-discriminating sexual attention that the unapologetically horny guys wanted to give them.

Nothing was what it seemed to be on the surface.

The Failed Sexual Revolution
Underneath it all was the backdrop of what was then called “sexual liberation,” which seemed like an incredibly stupid idea to me, even at the time, because it raged against the societal taboos that protected women. The sexual revolution seemed to me to overwhelmingly benefit men at the expense of women, and yet, feminists were at the front of the parade leading the charge.

Weird, and yet, predictable, because the feminists were mostly women.

But it’s even wrong to say the sexual revolution “benefitted” men. It simply accommodated the animal impulses of men, which doesn’t truly benefit men or women.

Many #MeToo stories we are now hearing occurred when unsuspecting women accepted invitations to visit a man’s hotel room, home, or office alone. This used to be taboo. But now that we’re all “sexually liberated,” such taboos that once protected women are gone. So the culture has changed, but male animal nature has not, leaving girls and women vulnerable. The proof is that so many women are surprised by sexual harassment and assault by men they trusted and “thought they knew.”

One imperfect but convenient aspect about taboos in more discreet eras was that sexual proclivities could be dealt with, and the vulnerable protected, without going into graphic detail about the reasons why the taboos were necessary. Today we are supposedly more “open,” but we’re open about the wrong things. Who knew that powerful men were using their influence to coerce women for sex??? Well…um…apparently everyone. But no one was talking about it, men or women.

The high-profile men who have recently been outed – including Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Al Franken, and many others – have been called monsters. I call them unethical. Calling them monsters relegates their natural human sexual impulses to some frightening, dark, inhuman realm. For all I know they’re mostly probably pretty normal men, but lacked accountability, and principled worldview beliefs sufficient to restrain their impulses, so they gave in to the temptation to abuse their power. One could argue that, in part at least, the climate produced by the sexual revolution enabled these men to operate freely as sexual predators.

Will the #metoo movement succeed?
In one sense, the #MeToo movement is what I thought I wanted decades ago – a general female awareness that men are jerks. Even though I had theological reasons that told me all of humanity – both male and female – is corrupt and fallen, I still tended to put women on a pedestal.

In more recent years my sympathies toward men have grown, and I believe I see more clearly that both men and women (and everyone in between) are seriously jacked up and in need of redemption and spiritual guidance. I have several close examples of decent men who have been used by women, and lost much in the process.

Regarding the #MeToo movement, I now personally know at least 2 men who have probably had careers destroyed because of unproven accusations from women. I can testify with certainty that not all men are guilty of sexual misconduct. I regularly meet with other men for purposes of accountability, with no “help” at all from feminists shaming me for being male.

I’ve generally been inclined to be sympathetic to the idea of feminism, because historically, men have overwhelmingly tended to abuse their masculine strength, and because I believe in the fundamental equality of men and women. But unfortunately, in practice, feminism consistently veers into a tangle of toxic solutions and malignant ideology. This is not necessarily true of #MeToo.

The Me Too Movement was founded by Tarana Burke, a black woman and survivor of sexual abuse who set up a non profit in 2006 to help young women of color find community and healing from sexual abuse. The more recent social media iteration of the movement is more focused on raising awareness and calling men into account for their actions.

As it is today, I believe the Me Too movement has been a positive force. It is giving formerly silent women a voice, affirming those who have been abused, and bringing to light the issue of sexual harassment and sexual violence. It also contradicts stereotypes about women propagated by the porn industry – lies that many men would like to believe. I think this benefits all women, and helps to create a powerful societal atmosphere of unacceptability around predatory sexual behavior.

In other words it’s a step toward re-erecting societal taboos that have fallen, or perhaps even replacing them with something better.

But the Me Too Movement is not going to change the biological impulses of men. We are all still going to have to learn to live together, in community, in an understanding way.

Furthermore, if the Me Too Movement becomes politicized and partisan, it will be a loss for women. Unfortunately, this already seems to be happening. If the Me Too movement becomes co-opted by, and identified with, left wing feminism(s), it will cease to be a voice and a help for all women, even as it claims to be so. It will become one more divisive faction, issuing irrational ultimatums in our already badly fractured society.

Both the perpetrators and the victims of sexual misconduct cross all political, racial, economic, professional, and ideological lines. No one, (outside of the porn industry), is championing sexual violence. We can’t allow the issue of sexual violence and sexual harassment to become a political tool. May we all move toward more dialogue and healing, and away from walling ourselves off from those who are different from us.