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.

Advertisements

Falling

Once, I fell.

It wasn’t the frivolous fall
of times recklessly sleeping
only to stumble
–plummet
and wake in the
debris of bed sheets
and night time;
with the moon informing me
it was all a dream.

It was a fall totally different
from rolling in tarmac in playfields
or the psychedelic mess of ball pits
or the ethereal, almost spiritual
lolling between blades of glass
so that when you stand
daisies fall in your wake
as if your very shadow is
celebrating your existence
and you walk proud like a bride
and deliriously forget
that many years ago
you already divorced your life.

 

Once, I fell.
It was like an ill-fated plane that no one cared about
the signs of its doom clear,
like the bold steps of a crazy-paved floor.
The traitorous engine;
drunken pilot;
the scrap of metal on the runway;
all ignored
because sometimes, it feels good
to witness a downfall;
and wait in the wings of the airport,
binoculars ready
to capture the disaster
and replay it in your head.

So, I fell
and crashed and exploded in my mess;
carrying all the stories with me
that I wanted to keep secret,
but there is only so long you can run from God.
My heart was torn open
and the evidence littered the floor;
like a black box in the cockpit
my heart told the truth:
the safety checks that were vital to the survival of myself;
the junk that I carried around that made a puncture in my step
the careless people that watched as I began to limp
but did nothing to help.
The sin I carried like thunderclouds on my head
which pushed me
and spun me like the winds of turbulence
and I could do nothing
but stare
as the contents of my black box
was scattered before my eyes
and all those who had been fooled
by my pretence and lies.

 

So one day, I fell.
I was wreckage on the ground
the pictures had been taken
the revelations told with haste
the evidence laid bare in board meeting
of the drunken pilot that
destroyed a vessel supposedly going heavenward;
my presence was erased from
the departments I took part in
and my absence was felt
like a weight in the stomach.
I was left in this state
and almost washed away to shore…

 

But I noticed something.
A quiet rattling at first
the noise of childhood,
of beaded toys
and laughter
and the beginning of life
I found someone beside me,
knee-deep in my mess
welding the wings together
examining the engine to set it right;
windows were fixed
and tar mopped away;
This someone filled me with fuel again
worked all night
and didn’t go away
until I was better than before.
My someone, my Jesus,
filled me till I was running over
taking off,
and ready to fly again

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.

When You are Overwhelmed by your Self-Importance

I mean ‘overwhelmed’ in the ironic sense…

There’s an odd culture in church, a dangerous attitude where certain members who are perceived as holy become icons amongst their contemporaries. This turns into a ‘hype’ of sorts, and before long the person has acquired celebrity status; they will be found at every church event, their picture is in every album; people from North London to South Manchester know who they are. They have thousands of friends on Facebook; some so popular they have to rotate people, deleting some to add others, because they’ve reached the friend count limit. To be a part of this person’s true friendship circle, you have to be a very special person, and this automatically makes you important, just for being seen as important by the celebrity.

This behaviour is displayed more explicitly among the youth. My friends and I call these celebrities the “A-Listers”. Normally, the A-List is filled with singers and musicians, but there are also preachers on there, their girlfriends; socialites; people from old Adventist families; Bible workers and missionaries, and those who have set up their own ministries which have gained a following. It’s an interesting phenomenon to witness, but the sycophants that follow the A-Listers are what worry me. Even if they think they’re being sincere in their attempts to approach this special group, to find role models in church, their actions can be the downfall of others.

I bear no grudges against these popular people, for of course, they didn’t nominate themselves to this position, but even in a place like church a culture of celebrity exists and sometimes, even the most unsociable introverts are thrust into the limelight. But that meekness and humility of character can very easily warp into something ugly when you’re forever followed, praised by others, complimented on your talents, told how amazing you just are as a person; and everything you say is taken so seriously and dwelt upon. It’s almost as if your words become a gospel of their own… And then you start to believe you really are important. You are no longer a vessel surrendering to God to be filled, but you have filled yourself with the compliments of others. Your words are ambrosia: people taste them and receive strength.

It comes to the point when you feel the need to admonish for the sake of admonishing; filled with a zeal given to you by your peers, it is now your duty to show everyone where they’ve gone wrong. You could actually go onto Facebook or Twitter, write something as mundane as “Baa Baa black sheep”, and your followers would believe it has some esoteric meaning; they’ll just assume you’re so deep that they need to decipher the meaning of your sentence. Why is the sheep black? Is that a symbol for sin? Are we the sheep, like in the parable of the lost sheep, instead we’re not lost, we’re saturated in sin, but completely oblivious so we only talk in babble, which is what our sinful words sound like to God…. (???)

You get where I’m going? I’ve seen this attitude. It’s very unattractive for a person to believe that they are so important that everything they say must be from God, even when it truly isn’t. I’ve read some ludicrous statuses on Facebook where I’m literally peering deep into the screen, utterly perplexed, and all I see are commenters praising a statement that is quite spiritually questionable. This person, this A-Lister, has only reached this level of pride because they were thrust onto a golden stage and made into an idol. And because no one has challenged them, they have stopped listening to the Holy Spirit, to the point where their very sermons are an abomination, because the words came from a selfish place.

To conclude: there’s nothing wrong with encouraging people you can see are doing well, but it’s always important to know when to give God credit when it’s due. If someone is clearly walking on the right path, it’s because of the Holy Spirit, not because of anything they have done within themselves. Once you realise that, you will stop looking to others to start changing your own attitude about things, and start looking to God.

Because these church celebrities are as fragile and as prone to sinful ways as you are.

A Rebuke…

Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.

 

They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.

 

Taken from Titus 1: 15, 16

I didn’t fully understand what ‘reprobate’ meant, so I looked it up in the dictionary:

rep·ro·bate

  [rep-ruh-beyt]  Show IPA noun, adjective, verb, rep·ro·bat·ed, rep·ro·bat·ing.

noun

1.

a depraved, unprincipled, or wicked person: a drunken reprobate.
2.

a person rejected by God and beyond hope of salvation.
 
Now that is scary. I received the passage in a text yesterday night. It led me to ask myself, do I really believe the God that I serve? Is it shown in my actions? 
 
Time won’t permit me to write a lengthy post this morning; I need to get ready for a funeral, but in due course I’ll be writing Part 2 to Lust. Now I’ve gained a deeper understanding of the word…
 
xXx

That Night…

I did something wrong.
Tied together with someone else
the rope forming complex knots,
knots strong enough to caress a carcass
and rock it back and forth
over a cliff.

That night
I did something wrong
and it was so wrong that I couldn’t talk to You about it
pacing my room muttering
sonnets of sorrys in my head
the words dissolved on the edge of my tongue
I rebuked the walls
lest they heard my of my sin.

I didn’t want the air around me to be polluted with it
so I sat up all night
staring at the ceiling
and hoping to see Your face.

And now, all I ask
is Your forgiveness
and a way to feel Your grace.

When Life Gets Hard, Get on Your Knees.

I think this is the first post of November, which is really awful. University work has come back with a vengeance, but I’m grateful that God has really helped me reach my personal word-count goals. He’s really been giving me the strength to get things done.

In addition, there has been a lot of problems at home recently. It’s nothing that I can go into detail about, but I’ve felt drained and frustrated and hurt and confused and angry all at once and in quick succession. Every now and then the world reminds me how powerless  I am against the grand scheme of things and God shows me that I can do nothing on my own. A couple weeks ago I got into probably the most bizarre and pointless argument of my life: it had no meaning; it was ignited by a ludicrous stimulus and both of our arguments were incoherent. Halfway through the argument I gave up and began mocking and trivialising the thing, which didn’t help, but I only did this because for the first time, a Bible text that is quoted so often on the pulpit actually had practical relevance to me. My eyes were opened as I saw the strange movements of dark forces before my eyes.

And to top it all off, I walked into church and they were discussing the very same text for Sabbath School. It was comforting.

Here it is…

11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Ephesians 6:11-13

I know now that I can do nothing. And I’m glad I know this, because it has made me pray more and surrender to God in a way I hadn’t before. I’ve been praying for my family more than I ever have and it makes me feel good.

God’s got it in control.

 

Knotholes

We said we would wait for God
before we did anything.
We ate our meals with a third seat between us
vacant, so He could sit and observe
our pure conversations
stilted devotional rhetoric
church banter
musings of creation;
amongst the blades of glass on the table
filled with apple juice
that cast chlorophyllic shadows
across the white table cloth
and reflected on the silvery pools of knives and forks
which glimmered in blank response.

You used to telephone me in the morning
so we could pray together;
at night for Bible study.
Visits round mine consisted of sitting by the coffee table
Bible open,
and our bottomless eyes staring at newsprint
becoming entranced in the thees the thys the thous the therefores
It seeped through in your prayers, this language
to take me back to a buried age–
your words fell upon me till I was foetal and surrounded
hands tied together, noose around my neck, shackles on.
Men calling–

WITCH

–to my face.

Our Bible was imperative to our meetings,
the paper thin, like the skin of a cocoon
fragile, wings of a moth
pure, like doilies on wedding tables
family, friends and anonymouses crowding around us
as we dance, Bible confetti snowing down on our heads
Bible petals falling on a consummation bed
dotted red with consummation blood
red turning to auburn, auburn to chestnut
the wild of me as we interlock, hidden in knotholes in the forest
and back again, to meet the disappointment
of cyclical blood: burnt umber,
the ashes of my hope swirls like dust unearthed
from a rug.

Trivial things of married couples
arguments, torn wedding dresses
reconciliations in bathtubs
counting down menstrual days like prophecy
until you can try again.

You and I failed to get there.
I remember staring at the ceiling
as it swam in my wetted eyes
and feeling forbidden blood oozing down my legs.
We were still young
and illegitimate.
Our Bible open above us but cold and foreboding
every swirl of the letter was like a dismayed Eye.
We were on the floor, by the coffee table. Behind us,
was the vacant chair
where God should have been.

Reins

You had me
on my hands and knees.
I crawled like an animal on the ground
the dirt carved rancid contours in my skin
which helped to map the journey
of the sins
that I held dear;
How far these acts had brought me
and how near to death I am.

I felt a scorching sun between my legs
which pulsed with each throbbing movement;
sent daggers of pain along my spine
every time I remembered.
The blood that runs from me
like a leaking tap
or angered menstruation
only causes others to see
that I allowed you to use me.

A noose to cut into my neck
and a red handkerchief to gag me
a cloth plastered to my eyes
so I lose sight of any Light:
all my hope is gone
and I’m bound to you entirely

There are things that I love doing
and some activities refuse to be abandoned:
those websites that I sought out
and watched with morbid fascination
until they were all I thought about during the day
and rushed home to spectate again;
those novels that told me I was invincible
and excited me for other things;
those people I loved to talk to
about affairs that didn’t concern me;
those men I went home with
so they could fill me, yet I still left feeling empty;
those times I ignored the Word for Worldly Things…

Now I only have your word.
How far must one have fallen,
to believe the slippery solicitations of a serial
adulterer
deceiver
and fiend?

How far must one have fallen? I asked,
as the Devil rode me like a fool
for his bidding.

 

The Only Time I Feel Really Ashamed to be A Christian

Well, not the only time.

And also, I don’t think I’ll ever be ashamed to be a Christian. I’ll never be ashamed to follow Christ, but there are times when I feel uncomfortable that there are true fruit bats out there, claiming the same name as me.

I could talk about the American Christian Right, and how, because of that country’s influence, people the world over have used Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum and George W. Bush to speak for the rest of us, just so they can laugh and mock Christians and continue their campaign to get religion abolished from the world.

But I won’t. My discomfort is felt on a more local level. There’s a particular topic that comes up from time to time, especially on Sabbath afternoons, during lunchtimes, when we’re discussing politics and religion and the Bible, that makes me cringe. Sometimes the topic comes up during a sermon even, or Sabbath School, or Wednesday night Prayer Meetings.

I speak of homosexuality.

It’s an odd thing, because those Christians from denominations who claim to only follow the New Testament will quote Leviticus, which is in the Old Testament, to explain why homosexuality is wrong. Then you have the other Christians who see God as only loving. They will quote “God is Love”, “God so loved the world…” which are all true quotes—because God is love—but then they forget that God is also a God of standard, of justice, and there are some things that displease him. They forget that God is soon coming to judge us all, and to destroy the world with fire. As an Adventist, I suppose it’s easier for me to quote from the Old Testament because the Seventh-day Adventist church practices from the Old Testament. As in, we don’t eat pork, shell fish or mackerel. And all the other texts, such as keeping slaves and stoning wrongdoers are not followed because Jesus said those laws were done away with*. The text about not wearing cotton and wool was more to do with the spread of leprosy than it being an actual sin**. So yes, it makes more sense for Adventists to quote from Leviticus, because we still follow those laws from Leviticus that weren’t nailed to the Cross.

But there’s a sense of oneupmanship about this, a vibe that I feel from certain Adventists, that makes me cringe.

No matter what we Christians say about sin (“oh all sin is the same!”) there are some sins that we think are worse than others. I witnessed a great example of this a couple years ago: during the sermon, a pastor confessed, with great flippancy, that he had a temporary ban from driving for using his mobile phone in the car. The congregation tutted and shook their heads, giggling slightly, and that was it. He broke the law! Knowingly! Can you imagine the reaction if he’d said

“Good morning church. Yeah, tough week. I’ve been sleeping on the sofa because I punched my wife in the face.”

It would illicit a different reaction, I’m sure. Even me, when I hear about child sex abuse cases and paedophiles, I just get so angry. At this moment in time, I feel that I would never be able to forgive a paedophile, because what they do is awful. When I hear about adulterers, I get angry also. But lying or stealing, whilst bad, doesn’t conjure the same feelings in my heart. I suppose that’s how some Christians feel about homosexuality. Especially Christians from cultures that shun gay people. They can’t explain it, but the thought of gay marriage, gay adoption and even civil partnerships get’s them angrier than all other sins. I was at a Youth Day of Fellowship a few months ago, listened to a great sermon, which was interrupted by a PSA about gay people. The preacher was doing so well, then he started talking about promiscutiy, then that led onto a little rant about gay people, about homosexuals not knowing the “right way to enter” and I grimaced. What was worse, people were laughing with him. Why? He was being mean, so why was his homophobia so acceptable?

A part of me can understand the hand-wringing that people get into when it comes to sexual matters. Even in wider society people act … odd about it. We concern ourselves far too much with other consenting adults’ sexual activities. Like, when we hear that someone is into kinky stuff, or strange festishes, we shun them. I know for a fact that there are some people who would be horrified to know that their family doctor engaged in hardcore S&M. It’s sad, but true. I think that these issues are most prevalent in church. During the Dark Ages, the church tried it’s best to suppress other people’s sexual appetite and we still see this today. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve never agreed with the forced celibacy of priests in the Catholic church. It just seems oppressive and unhealthy to me.

I understand that we as Christians should call sin by its right name, as it were. If the Bible says homosexuality is a sin then fine, direct people to the Bible and gently let them know. Then let it go. I just hate the jokes, the cruelty, the nasty remarks about gay people, especially because I have gay friends that I would love to take to church with me because I think they would really enjoy it, but I’m just so scared about what they might hear. And that’s awful—it’s shameful, even. God is for everyone, but some of His people are turning others away from Him.

I just wish that people had the same dislike for this sin that they did for their own. Then maybe they would feel remorse for their homophobia.

(*John 8
**Leviticus 13
I mentioned these texts because they, along with the food laws, are usually quoted in defence of why we shouldn’t follow anything in Leviticus. Hope it helps.)