When the church hates “Immodest Women”

I’ve been thinking for a little while about this modesty thing, and this week in particular I’ve finally been able to pin-point the reasons why discussing it in church can be so tiresome and hurtful. In my eyes, the church has become a place in which anyone who dresses immodestly is separated as an evil entity worthy of scorn, shame and disrespect. Last week, I saw a presentation about modesty, during which several photos  of Meagan Good were shown for the church to gasp at and gossip about her marriage and character. I looked around the room and felt embarrassed for everyone. Since when was sharing photos of another woman a Christ-like way to discuss modesty, when the woman in question isn’t even there to defend herself? Back in school, misogynist boys used to do similar: they liked sharing photos and videos of women to each other via their phones, all the while crying “slut! Hoe!”. How was everyone’s behaviour that night much different?

I’m genuinely perplexed. If someone had an alcohol problem, the response would be different. When people speak about their lust/pornography/masturbation issues, there’s much sympathy and support (maybe because it’s normally men who speak out about these? People expect men to have such problems, after all…). I would never expect photos of drug addicts or porn addicts shared around the church for everyone’s enjoyment. It would be wrong. So why do we not give women (I’ll say women cause we’re always called out on this), who are struggling with dress reform the same the same care? It’s almost as if, by their attire, everyone else thinks they have a right to talk about them, to slander them and make judgments about their spiritual life….

The typical phrase that I always hear about the judgement thing is “well, by their fruits ye shall know them”, which is true. But people are still far too quick to come to a conclusion about someone’s character. If you are using something as superficial as an outfit to make conclusions about how someone must be, then by principal the only fruit you can confidently assess is their dress reform fruit. You can’t say anything about their personal prayer life; or how much they’re studying the Word; you can’t say what’s in their heart or if they’ve witnessed that week; you can’t see if they’re a nice person, or even their motives for dressing how they do. All you can say is that when it comes to dress reform, they’re ignorant.

Now, in regards to someone who has no second thoughts about publicly shaming a woman who has come to church dressed immodestly; who gets angry at the thought of having to be “politically correct” when approaching someone about their outfit; who doesn’t know or understand how to talk to someone about this issue with respect and understanding; who has forgotten where God has brought them from; who sees women who dress immodestly as “trying to tempt men”, or “trying to take men” (errm, maybe cut down on the Tyler Perry films?), and who gets annoyed when said person reacts emotively to their treatment—I’d say their actions speak volumes about their spiritual life. If behaviour like that is second-nature, then it says more about what’s in their heart, than the person dressing immodestly. I would even say that these are the fruits we should be focusing on more, since they verbally show what’s going through a person’s head. If a Christian habitually behaves in this way, they deserve prayers. Because in essence, they’re wasting time coming to church: they are a Christian who’s mean. What’s more, being told that the modesty issue requires “politically correct” speech annoys them. You’re going to be talking to someone about their appearance! Why would you not want to be kind to them? Have you ever heard of a Christian who gets offended at the thought of showing kindness? How bizarre.

It’s worrying because we have two classes of church-goers that emerge from this scenario. People who display fruit that don’t really look all that good. Like a persimmon, or a pineapple. Maybe their fruit is covered in dirt? But inside it’s all sweet and rich and all it will take is some gentle encouragement, study and aid to guide them to understand more what Christ wants for them. Just because they may not dress the part, doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re rebellious, or that they have no care for God’s sanctuary; they want to take everyone’s husband, or they have a vendetta against all men and want them to sin. It means that God is bringing them on a journey. We all have to start from somewhere; everyone’s had their own struggles and problems throughout their Christian walk, through which we’ve all been met with discouragement and scorn and unfair judgement. Why should be pass on that same attitude to someone else who’s trying just as we are? Why not break the cycle and do the Christ-like thing for once?

The second person displays the fruit that looks amazing: a big Julie mango, ripe and fresh. But unbeknownst to everyone else (probably not even themselves, which is the scary part), the flesh is sour and rotten with mould. It’s no good, but because they wear a nice hat, and high-necked tops and long skirts, everyone assumes them to be virtuous, modest, vegan, natural; the perfect wife and all those idealised stereotypes of women we have in church. We tend to make archetypes out of women based on appearance—in the world as well as the church—and these affect the level of respect a woman is given; the confidence that church members put into her; and how she gets treated from day to day. Massive conclusions of character are made about a woman by how she looks. The person with the deceitful fruit also needs lots of prayer, that they may be kinder to those around them and not internalise the horrible way in which they were probably treated in the past about their dress.

Let’s try to remember that every speck or blemish in our characters is a sign of some sort of struggle with sin. It’s up to us to help each other not only take responsibility for our actions, but to empathise and encourage. The modesty issue is never really seen as someone “struggling” with a particular way of life: it’s much easier to paint the woman in question as some sort of Babylonian/Golden Calf-worshipping heathen, for which she should be as publicly and unsympathetically dealt with as possible. Not cool, guys.

Think before you speak, and ask God to make your thoughts as close to His as possible, so that your own faults have a higher priority in your mind than everyone else’s.

So, the Piggy Bank is Empty.

“All the youth are leaving the church.”

And all it’s variations are common in most churches. It’s not something unique to my local church, but I think at times, mine is one of the worst churches for finding solutions to this problem….

Every now and then, the members have a discussion that we youth have entitiled: “What is wrong with our church?” When the afternoon programme has failed to materialise, we usually end up having a discussion about the problems we have in our church: all the issues and concerns, and what we would like to see done differently. When I was a newbie I actually believed the concerns would be taken to the church board and dealt with, but year after unfruitful year passed and I learned that my fellow members in reality used these meetings to get anger off their chests; say things that everyone’s been thinking for ages in order to get a hearty ‘Amen!’ and slag off the leaders that they have a problem with. Then there are those within these meetings that feign authenticity: they establish themselves as the One Sane Voice: the rationalist, who has loads of amazing ideas, only to end their speech with ‘well, this church hates change, so there’s no point in doing any of these things!’ Basically, what they mean is that they can’t be bothered to sacrifice the effort and time it would take to implement all these great ideas, so they’d rather blame their lethargy on the rest of the congregation.

To be honest, I’m tired of talking too. At the moment, my church has a good amount of youth but a huge group of teenagers—a group that is almost entirely disenchanted with church. The older members weep and wail over this disinterest and I think a lot of us who are older than them fluctuate between showing them sympathy and tough love. As I’ve observed the workings of my church, I too have lost respect for the older generation and I also feel disenchanted with the way things are going. Like the congregation that was too caught up in the spirit to see tired ol’ Eutychus on the windowsill in the Upper Room; the adults of my church, and many churches I know, are too caught up in themselves to see the problem.

If you want youth to stay in church, get them involved. Treat them like the fellow humans they are and give them greater responsibility. The church I attended in Jamaica was in the midst of a two-week campaign run by the children: everything, from the Bible working, Prayer Ministries, Music Department and lay preaching, was all handled by the children, and the church supported and encouraged them. Such a thing could never happen at my church! From when these teens (and some of the older youth) have been born, they’ve had to sit on a chair and get things told to them. They don’t get a chance to do much. Then their parents and the other adults expect that at 15 and 16 they would have developed their own relationship with Christ. Why is it that we only see children taking part in the main service when it’s 13th Sabbath School? Why must it be a youth day before the platform party is made up of youth? Why must it be Teens Day to see a teen giving a sermon, or doing special items in the main service?

The older generation has failed to invest in the young people. The youth have low confidence in their abilities and lack the will to do things because they’ve never been given a chance. Money goes on stupid things instead of securing the future of the church.

Why do we spend thousands of pounds on new PA systems and speakers and projectors? Why was money used to get new mics at £600 each?

Why were thousands of pounds spent on a community day, a project that was supposed to build rapport with the community and educate them about the church, when since that time last year there have been no followups with the community members who attended? None of those people have come into the church. What was the point of spending all that money, getting the most expensive option of everything, if the remainder of the evangelising was going to be abandoned?

Why is so much money spent on lunch?

Why are thousands of pounds wasted on flying international speakers over to do a campaign when only a quarter of the church can be bothered to turn up anyway?

Why is it that young people are having to do fundraisers and rely on people from outside the church to give money in order for them to go to evangelism and preaching schools? Why doesn’t the church use those thousands for the international speakers to give to their own youth and start bringing up confident speakers and evangelists from their own congregations?

Why are students having to suffer and struggle financially through their studies, and when they go to the church for help they have to involuntarily donate 20% of their funds to the church—because it’s just so broke it now needs the money from poor students.

Why does the community services department have to rely on donations in order for their soup kitchen to run smoothly? Why hasn’t there been money put in place so that they can buy materials to give to homeless people?

Why does the church now have no money?

Because it’s all been spent on the wrong things. We’ve lost focus. We’re more interested in entertaining ourselves than thinking about the future, about people out in the world, about the youth and teens who want to get involved but aren’t able to; who need to find their own relationship with God.

Stop praying. Stop groaning. Stop spending. And invest in us.

Ditches and Rollercoasters

It feels as though 2013 has been a whirlwind of a year and I’m looking forward to the end of it.

From the start of this year, till now:

My brothers suffered the deaths of their mother and aunt; their grandmother suffered a heart-attack some time after. My grandmother died in April and I had three assignments due in at university that week. As I was taking part in her funeral in Jamaica, I had to miss my exams. It was stressful getting all the evidence of her death together before I left England, especially because I had to finish off all my assignments at the same time, but I did do it and in June received a letter stating that my extenuating circumstances had been accepted. There were loads of other trials that took place during the interim: I missed the course options deadline even though I had made an attempt to choose them whilst overseas; when I returned home and tried to phone my university about it I was spoken to rudely and told it was all my fault. But I prayed—and God pulled through. My teachers fought to get me on the programmes I wanted for September and were very kind to me. I began July looking forward to my final year…

Today, though, has been insanity. Our house could have been repossessed, but we’ve been able to keep it, thanks to God speaking through the kind judge this morning. I went to Prayer Tower at Plaistow Church, but there was something on my mind: I didn’t feel all that well; the sun had made me sluggish and I felt a little annoyed at a comment that had been said during the meeting. I was looking forward to going home, but there was a strange entity between me and my ‘better half’. He seemed broodingly absent for a while, and his quietness soon turned to dark irritation—at what I don’t know; I didn’t know what to say to make things better. When we parted at my door, I wondered silently why I had bothered to embrace him. When I turned around at the door to wave, he was gone. We were supposed to have dinner at my house, but I suppose he’s not coming tonight. I think it’s for the best.

The final aggravation, though, was an infuriating letter from my university that I saw upon stepping through the door. I opened it expecting to get a summary of my grades, but the letter says that I have failed my 2nd year and I need to contact someone immediately to organise resits.

Ten Firsts

One 2:1

One 2:2

That’s what I received this year. The two exams I missed accounted for less than half the grades. I’ve calmed down a little now, and I know God has it in control, but every letter of correspondence I receive from this place makes me wish I never attended. I really hate it and I can’t wait to leave. And I’m so confused—They supposedly accepted my extenuating circumstances, so what does this letter mean? Earlier I began to feel as though I gave my testimony too early; there was still another threatening ditch around the corner.

I’ll close with a passage that was read today during Prayer Tower. I believe God orchestrated the meeting—that even though I was barely concentrating, the subject matter of complaining and murmuring to God, and the Bible texts that were read out, seemed to have been preordained for me to hear. This is one of my favourite texts, and it gives me hope:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

Be Blessed.

xXx

 

Constrained By…?

I went to a prayer meeting last Monday afternoon at Plaistow Church at which I was given an experience that I’m really grateful for. These meetings are held every Monday and there has never been a time that I’ve visited and received no blessing. These people seriously believe in prayer; they treat it like medicine and if anyone steps through the doors in dire need of help, they prescribe the dosage with a faith that I really admire. Last Monday was the first time that I’d left the meeting with a page of notes; of thoughts, that I wanted to share on the blog and expand upon in my diary. We discussed a reading from Ephesians 3 from which Paul tells the church of Ephesus to not be discouraged over any trials that may come his way but to look to God instead. The discussion on this text eventually led onto the topic of God’s love and mercy.

Paul was an interesting person and he’s probably the best subject matter after my previous post. After years of torturing, killing and imprisoning countless Christians, he became one of the most well known Bible writers and an advocate of love and truth. There are times in the New Testament that you can see his patience has been tested by the churches, or times when his faith has taken a nosedive straight into the darkest depths of his mind—a friend once told me that he displays signs of depression in the book of Timothy; as he tells his fellow disciple about struggles he’s faced but the hope he still has in God. Because of these experiences Paul encountered, he more than anyone could testify about forgiveness, mercy and love—he wrote one of my favourite passages in the Bible, the ‘love chapter’, 1 Corinthians 13. He tells us that love is patient and kind; selfless and longsuffering. This is true love and it comes from God. Probably one of his greatest gifts to a fallen race.

But with true love comes false love. Infatuation; lust; exaggeration. People who were madly in love with each other on their wedding day are praying for the other’s death or downfall a few years’ later. Someone who spent decades with their spouse, producing an army of children and good memories, can engage in an extramarital affair with alarming ease. On the news recently the case of Jeremy Forrest has returned: a 30-year-old school teacher who fell in love with one of his students. She was 14 at the time their relationship started and he was married to a woman his own age. Despite being madly in love with his student (and she with him), he failed to see that a man with such responsibility should respect a girl enough to not accept her virginity when she is underage; his deep love for her was shallow enough that he could not patiently wait until she left school as a legal adult—even more, his love and his own heart was just so consumed with passion that he was unable to see that eloping with a now 15 year old girl to France would not end well, and that she would be missed by her family and would not be able to attend school. Love should be rational, surely? Which is why I don’t like the term ‘fall in love’. Falling isn’t a good thing; it denotes something that happened suddenly and unexpectedly; a fleeting feeling or passionate emotion. You fall and you hurt yourself; you could also say ‘plummeting in love’.

Christ’s love is supposed to ‘constrain us’. Not in a controlling way or forceful bondage, but to restrain the negative nature of ourselves: his love and sacrifice show us how to live for others, live for our faith and live selflessly. His love alone provides a blueprint of how to go about things. False love is a delusion. It comes from the enemy and can be hard to detect. Since my last post about love, I’ve really been meditating on it and thinking more about how I should act if I say I love someone. Well, for one, I wouldn’t be thinking about my own lusts and selfish desires, but about how the other person would feel—also a Christian and also in the same line of guilt. I would want to preserve their dignity and body, respect them as a fellow child of God and give them the boundaries they deserve. I would be patient and understanding towards them; mindful of their feelings. I would try to adopt the Christ-like character, rather than ‘my heart’.

If the love of Christ constrains me, I don’t want to be chained down to anything less.

Sinning so much that God Rejects You

It’s a strange concept to think about, but one that is dangerously common amongst Christians…

It’s easy to place Christianity on a spectrum of beliefs. There is always one extreme or the other: the Christians who are so ambivalent towards Christianity that the Bible for them is mostly a fictional account; allegories, stories, examples, parables—and nothing that we should take too seriously. Jesus was a guy who only spoke about love; the Old Testament is virtually irrelevant to life. On the other end are those who take everything militantly literal. Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed because of gay people—and not sin (which is what the Bible actually says); you have to do-do-do. It’s all about what you’ve done for God: how many tracts you’ve handed out; how many people you’ve made feel uncomfortable at your rambling criticisms of their fornicating ways… all of that stuff.

In my opinion, both of those attitudes are wrong. Together, they portray a warped view of God and of Christianity. They also distort the issue of ‘sin’.

One can talk for years about sin. It’s created all the problems in the world; we’re all sinners; we sin naturally because of our fallen nature, yadda yadda. But what does sin mean to you as a person? What does it mean to me?

For a little while, in my effort to understand it, I broke away from the militant crowd and started believing in the other extreme—after all, militancy usually makes me feel wretched about my state as a person. I believed that everything was about ‘love’ and I barely needed to ask for forgiveness because sin would sort itself out somewhere. This was years ago, but it did nothing to really console me. If it had I wouldn’t be agonising over it now.

I always pray for the forgiveness of my sins and I always believe that I’ve been forgiven, but some sins are culturally seen as more sinful than others, which eventually leads to a feeling verging on despair once they’ve been committed. I’m obviously talking about sexual sins: masturbation, pornography, pre-marital sex; lust. A lot of the time they’re hidden secrets, like sewage pipes beneath the city. People know they’re there and that many people in their congregation struggle, but it’s so shameful that no one listens—especially if it’s a woman who is going through these things. For women, we’re lucky if we can find a trustworthy friend to confide in.

Recently, my problems with lust made me feel very low. I’m eternally thankful that God has given me the power to not have sex outside of marriage, but at the same time I know that if I continue to entertain thoughts and be suggestive in my actions it will only be my fault if it actually does happen. A few weeks ago this problem really manifested itself and I didn’t want to pray about it. That militancy that had surrounded me after years in the church came back: that God is quick to anger and you mustn’t sin otherwise he’ll wipe your name out of the Book right away. I kept picturing Him just staring at me in admonition and I almost couldn’t open my mouth. How many times would I come to him with the same problem? How presumptuous can I be, to put myself in the same risk and then ask for forgiveness afterwards? How can that possibly work?

And that’s when I finally understood what sin does to the Christian—what it does to me. Sin separates us from God in all ways. For one, God is sinless and I am not. That gap in status is enough, but on a personal level, one that is based on a relationship with Him, it makes me ashamed of myself. It means that I think of myself as ‘too sinful’ for God to listen to; I’ve done too much. He’ll reject me.

What folly.

A belief like that is an indirect rejection of the Cross: Jesus’ sacrifice was made to free me from sin and give me the freedom to ask for forgiveness and the power to overcome it. Sometimes we can be our own worst enemies…

I’m glad for these experiences, though. Sometimes you have to get knee-deep in your Christianity, with all its mud, sand and dirt, to find the little treasure shells beneath. It’s then that you grow to love God for who he is.

“Show them Love… And they won’t Forget You”.

The above is a quote that concluded a testimony in such a succinct and stark way that it stayed with me for a long time after the telling. It made me think about the small things we do as Christians, the little acts of kindness that allow people to see Jesus in us.

It was my boyfriend who told me the story; of his friend who was in prison and had been left alone. I currently have a family member in prison and it’s only now that I realise just how lonely the experience is. Those who receive regular family visits are the lucky ones: for a lot of inmates, the only visitor to pass by their door is the police guard; the only time they talk to people is when they’re in their cells, whether it be an argument or an impassioned wail: if there’s no one outside kind enough to wire money to their prison account, they’re poor. The only way to make money is to do jobs inside the prison (with salaries starting from around £1). These are needed to purchase the most under-appreciated necessities: toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap….

Then there’s the lack of ‘outside’ time; in the ‘harsher’ prisons, the weather is a myth. You’re unaware of the rain; you’ll be released having missed blizzards, tropical storms, monsoons and biting chills; heatwaves…. the draft from the window and the tiny swirls of dilapidation left by dust motes in the sun are the only traces of natural life you get. Imagine being in a place like this, against your own will, and no one you knew on the ‘outside’ could be bothered to give you a call?

It’s a well known adage that one only knows their true friends when they’re going through a struggle. I suppose that, whilst the prisoner stares at the cell walls, their eyes tracing the assaulted escape attempts of prisoners past, they’re able to reflect in their loneliness and desperation; of all those friends they had way back when who were always there for a laugh, but the moment a member of their arsenal was gone, they quickly found a replacement at the artillery store.

Like my family member, my boyfriend had an acquaintance who had been in a similar situation. In prison and alone. His ‘boys’ were no longer there. The person who sent him money and letters was simply an ‘acquaintance’: my boyfriend. When this man was released, he simply said:

“You were the only one who was there for me. Even though I don’t believe in your God, if you ever tell me something I’ll listen to you before anyone else”.

The only reason why this guy was able to say such a thing was because he saw something different; a trait of Christ. It’s a powerful testament for any Christian, anyone who loves God, to look into their everyday actions and see if the people around them would be able to identify the Christ in them. We can’t all be in a position to rescue a baby from a burning building, or be stoned in the Middle East for our faith, or make it into the public domain and publish books about our life in Christ, but we can help a struggling person with their shopping; spot a lonely person at the bus stop on a chilling winter’s day and offer them a lift home; say “good morning”, volunteer, become a mentor to younger people we know; simply tell people we know to be struggling with life that we’re there to hear their vent. And smile. A genuine smile given to a person who never receives them is like ambrosia: something heavenly. The best stuff. It’ll keep them going.

When people see the genuine care you have for humanity, they’re more likely to inquire about the One who placed that care in your heart.

xXx

Christ2012

When the video invaded
all means of communication
and spread like a river
breaking the bank,
the subject on the lips
of every man and woman
to stop evil and join a
new fight,
When I knew that soon enough
there would be another
movement to capture
the hearts of young people,

I thought about Christ
and whether I
would be so willing to share
the everlasting Good News
to those who are in need
of Love.