Disrupted by Julie Anderson Love

This is cross-posted from the RevGalBlogPals site.

This is, on one level, a very extraordinary story. In Disrupted: On Fighting Death and Keeping Faith, Julie Anderson Love battles a brain tumor, something that most of us will not have to undergo, especially in the third decade of life. Love moves us with medical accuracy, spiritual awareness, and emotional depth through the painstaking decisions and healing.

On another level, however, Love’s story is an ordinary one. She is an Associate Pastor, she clashes with the Interim Senior Pastor, and he retaliates. Let me sound the spoiler alert here—if you have not read the book and want all of it to be a mystery, you can stop reading.

The heart of our discussion resides in the fact that the church fired Love while she was fighting for her life. Yes, you read that correctly. They took away her insurance and her livelihood while she had a brain tumor. When they should have been bringing her casseroles, flowers, and cards crafted by Sunday school children, they brought her a pink slip.

When Love’s pastoral counselor recounted the devastation that she had been through that year, he was pretty sure that the brain tumor was less traumatic than the church letting her go in the midst of it all.

As stark and traumatic as Love’s story is, what’s even more difficult is that we hear about this stuff happening all of the time. Something similar has probably happened to many of our dear readers. When it does, we are told to be quiet, gloss over it, and move on as quickly as possible. Most of us do. Then we try to negotiate a new job, entering another church, becoming a chaplain, or dropping out of the clergy ranks altogether. But does all of this playing nice help in the long run?

I don’t think so. I mean, it helps in our particular circumstance (and looking after yourself is the most important thing in these devastating situations). The opportunities for secure employment increase when we don’t make much of a fuss.

But how does it help clergy in general when we constantly cover up the sins of our congregations in order for us to come out less scathed? I think we need to find creative ways to be able to break the silence that so often enshrouds our positions.

We all know stories that make us shudder–women who have been sexually harassed, fired without cause, or paid unfairly. How can we tell these stories and still protect our positions?

Reading this book made me thankful that Julie Anderson Love was able to break through that code of silence under which we work. She told her story, with courage and honesty. She did not shy away from all of those secrets that we often have to keep. And for that, we all owe her.


Alisa Harris: Raised Right

I’m a pastor in Washington, D.C. The job is not at all what I supposed it would be. When I lived outside of the beltway and looked in, I saw a group of power-hungry, egomaniac talking heads, yelling at television cameras or rabid crowds.

I didn’t expect what I encountered—a group of idealistic individuals, who love God and love their neighbors. They have allowed their dreams of what the world ought to be seep into what they do each day. They work for nonprofits (or as they say around here, NGOs, non-governmental organizations). They lobby for the environment, lead with teachers unions, and work on the Hill. I don’t serve one of those congregations where the superstar politicians go (there are those churches), but I serve the one where people might be hanging out with a guest at Miriam’s Kitchen on one day and affecting policy on the next.

Of course, we have a thread of ego-driven power-mongering in all of us as well. We are a church, after all. But for the most part, after pastoring this congregation, I’ve learned a bit more about day-to-day politics and the people who are rightly known as “civil servants.”

I had a chance to think about this a lot this weekend. Not only was it the 10th anniversary of September 11, but I’m also participating in the Patheos Book Club Round Table discussion on Alisa Harris’ book, Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith from Politics. I loved reading how Harris went from Hillary bashing at a goat pageant to burning thrift-store bras as a feminist protest at her conservative college. So much of her story resonated with my own.

As I sat, consuming the pages, I wondered, What now? I may be over-reaching in my analysis, but I dare say that we are watching the coming of power of many women who learned the ways of politics through the pro-life movement.

Think about it… we’ve got Sarah Palin. We’ve got Michelle Bachmann. We’ve got a whole bevy of Mama Grizzlies. You may scoff, but they became solid political figures as a result of their activism. Liberals scratch their heads, wondering why so many Republican candidates are wearing power skirts, while those who fought for women’s rights still seems to be overwhelmed with old white guys. But those of us who grew up in the Religious Right hotbed know exactly why (and if you’re wondering, read Harris’s book).

I’m a full-grown, full-blown progressive now. Palin and Bachmann make me feel like I gulped down a glass of milk before realizing it was six-months out of date. But I was raised looking up to women like them, and I often wonder, If I were still conservative, would I be running for Congress right now? The truth is… conservatives are better at developing young leadership than progressives…. They’re even better at developing their young women.

Which brings me to my earlier point about my congregation, about the everyday work. Harris’s book didn’t make me want to give up on politics, or even completely untangle my faith from politics (even though they are now woven together in a different way now). But it did make me realize that if we represent a new generation of political creatures, then we need to roll up our sleeves and get on with the daily grind. Not just in rallies and protests, not just in posters and sound-bytes, but also in day-to-day justice. In being honest journalists and courageous pastors. In making sure that our daughters hear a different message.

One bit of the book keeps rolling around in my mind, and I find myself wrestling with Harris’s words:

Unless you are smuggling soup to the Jews in your attic, I think a political act can’t be an act of love. It can be a good act, even a noble and heroic, but love is something that takes place behind a barricade; it happened in the breaking of bread and the passing of cups. Political love is theoretical, directed at some vague “humanity,” and Jesus didn’t say to love humanity but to love your neighbor.

I suppose that I agree more with what Cornel West famously said: “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” I know that politics is messy, but I also believe that individual acts of love are only going to go so far. As one hand feeds the hungry, the other needs to be working on the larger scale.

Putting energy into helping one homeless person does not keep you from defending the poor in the political sphere. Loving my daughter does not keep me from fighting for women’s rights. Recycling one can does not keep me from working to make sure regulations are in place so that environmental degradation does not consume our planet. One action informs the other, and we need to keep doing both.

It is a profound moment for a new generation of politics, especially as we learn to engage our faith in the public sphere. And reading Harris’s story is a good reminder that our faith should never be tightly wound up into one political party. And as we engage our faith in different ways, we can remember that being involved in politics means that we must keep thinking for ourselves.

Seven Things Guys Need To Know About Post-Evangelical Women

I’ve been in a conversation about the post-evangelical movement. During the conversation, someone asked me to blog about post-evangelical women’s issues for their blog. This is what I wrote. While the post is about PEWs, it’s relevant to Mainline situations as well. For those who read this blog regularly, forgive me for sounding like a broken record on so much of this!

Right now, in the US, many of us wrestle with the Evangelical movement in which we were raised. There are a lot of reasons for that. Our questions are theological, as we struggle with the atonement, the Kingdom of God, or Hell. We ask sociological questions about the role of women, LGBTQs, social media and politics. And philosophical and generational issues arise regularly. We’re in this exciting moment of turmoil right now, and we can realize we make real differences.

For me, the questions (or lack of questions) around gender have been interesting. I find myself wanting to explain what it’s like to grow up as a conservative Evangelical woman and how difficult the transition into leadership is from that place. I work a lot in the conference world, and my issues often arise there. I hear the whispers that men don’t. So, even though I’m at risk of sounding like a bad Cosmo article, I decided to write 7 Things Guys Need to Know about PEWs (Post-Evangelical Women). Basically, it’s the stuff we’re saying or dm’ing when you’re not there.

1) We were told to keep silent in church. Sometimes it was overt and other times it was subtle—a youth or Campus Crusade for Christ director buddies up with the cool football guys, takes them to lunch, and focuses on their leadership potential while the young women were left stranded. To go from “you must be silent” to finding your voice can be a long, arduous process.

2) We’re not welcome at every table. Nobody’s a blatant sexist (well, almost nobody…), so we have to look for cues. When a PEW sees the leadership of an organization or the splashy landing page for a conference, and we notice that the gender ratio is 14 to 1, it causes panic. We think, I thought this movement was different! I thought I was welcome here! It may be that we are welcome, and the leadership thought that having one female voice was good enough. But, for PEWs who grew up listening to “women should keep silent,” major gender inequity is a clear signal that the table is off-limits to us.

3) We don’t want to hear whining about forced quotas.
We’ve heard the tiresome response: “We don’t do quotas. This movement isn’t about counting and making sure that there’s a particular number of non-white males.” I’m sorry, but there’s no way around it. There will be no transformation in women’s leadership unless women are in leadership.

4) PEWs hear a defensive response as “you’re not welcome.” Sometimes on Twitter or blogs, a person might point out an appalling gender ratio. The PEWs who bring it up get the smack-down. I’ve been the recipient of coordinated pummeling twice by organizations who care about gender issues. I don’t understand why they did it, other than defensiveness. Ironically both boot parties were orchestrated behind the scenes by other women. If you care, please stop.

5) There are enough women. I’ve been hosting a podcast for a couple of years, and I regularly receive emails from men who ask to be on the show. I rarely get them from women. Women may be less willing or less able to self-promote. We’re harder to find. But we’re here. We’re writing, speaking, and preaching.

6) Please refrain from using “organic leadership” or “meritocracy” as an excuse. When the subject of PEW leadership comes up, we hear, “Our leadership grows up organically. If women want to be involved, they need to produce.” If organic growth or meritocracy is a reason for not having women in leadership, you have to realize that for post-evangelical women, we’ve have had weed-killer sprayed on us for 20 years. You’ve got to spread the manure to all the corners of the garden for a couple of decades before you can expect women to naturally grow into leadership.

7) Money Matters. Forgive me, but there’s no delicate way of saying this. I’ve spoken at conferences where I have as many credentials as the guy standing next to me. Sometimes more. I’ve gotten paid fifteen times less than he does. You know what makes things more awkward? The conference leaders congratulate themselves for flattening leadership, overturning hierarchies, or unbinding the church. The guy next to me is known for his hard-core social justice work. I’m here to tell you… no one’s overturning hierarchies at a conference where a woman gets seven cents to a man’s dollar.

Church for the 21st Century: Family Structures

I’m working through the 5 questions for the Church for the 21c Committee. I’m chairing the committee, but these thoughts are my own. They don’t reflect the whole committee’s opinions, nor are they indicative of what the final paper will say. While answering “What is your vision for the church in the 21st century?” I’m focusing on a few of the cultural changes that have occurred in the last fifty years. We’ve talked about Work and Finances, now I’d like to look at Family Structures. Please join the conversation, and I will happily link your blog!

The magic formula for our congregations has been to reach out to young families, and our churches spend a great deal of effort hoping and praying that the next generation of young families will walk into our doors.

It has typically worked that way. When young adults found a career, got married, had kids, and “settled down,” then they found a church. And all of that used to take about six months after a man graduated from college or high school. (Okay, so I’m exaggerating here. But only slightly….) Now, our patterns have changed. Because of finances, employment, and choices, our family structures look different.

First, we have an ideal in our society that a person is (or ought to be) a financially independent adult at the age of 18. Even our sociological definition of adulthood is based on when a person gains financial independence. But, of course, the world has not worked that way for a long time. It is difficult to find gainful employment without a college education, and many men and women have to go into debt in order to earn that degree.

Second (and related), there are employment considerations. When a person graduates, there aren’t many jobs—particularly jobs that can pay off those student loans—so men and women entering adulthood often go into internships, temp work, or some other underemployment situation. They are the first to get laid-off, and often young workers don’t have any health insurance apart from their parents. The cost of housing is often based on two incomes. Many young men and women live with their parents well into their 20s.

What does this have to do with our family structures? Well, in our society, a person is expected that he or she will become financially secure before getting married, but it’s difficult to get married when it takes a great deal of financial instability (educational debt and internships) in order to establish a stable career and a place to live. Often people glorify this situation or place the blame on the emerging adult—they say that young adults are in their odyssey years or an extended adolescence. I think we’ve created a society where we don’t take care of our young workers.

Anyways… young men and women are caught in a trap. They can’t get married until they have financial security. And they often can’t attain financial security until they get married. As a result men and women are often scheming their next employment move, figuring out more schooling, going for their next internship, and this situation makes it difficult to make a commitment to a spouse or loved one. People are getting married later now, if they are getting married at all.

Finally, when it comes to family structure, there is more choice in a new generation. Though the societal expectation that men and women will get married and have children is strong, there is also a bit more freedom. Although it is difficult, a woman can have a career and financial stability without getting married. She doesn’t need to move from her father’s home to her husband’s home. There is room—small pockets in our country—where LGBTQ people can happily be with, live with, or marry their same-sex partner.

What does all of this have to do with our churches? Congregations are often set up to cater to the young family. Although this model is good, we will need to broaden our focus in order to reach out to younger people.

Are we welcoming to young singles? If a young couple is living together (this is often a financial necessity), do our churches welcome them? Is our church open to same-gender relationships? In what ways (verbally or nonberbally) do we communicate that our congregation is only for nuclear families?

What happens when a person walks into our sanctuary alone? Is church an isolating experience for them? Will they most likely sit alone and stare at the back of another person’s head? What does our seating look like? Does it invite a community feel?

Is there a social network for people who don’t have a spouse or children? Does the church think about where people will go for Thanksgiving or Easter dinners? Do we think about how a person might be celebrating Holy Days in their homes?

How much time and energy does church leadership put into attracting those who are single or students? How much time do we put into ministering to and with singles and students? How does the time that we put into ministering to and with younger adults compare with the time we minister to and with older adults?

A Word of Thanks for All Those Who Have the Strength and Courage to Tell the Truth

Vienna Presbyterian Church (USA), one of the largest and most conservative Presbyterian Church (USA) churches in our area, is seeking forgiveness after the horrifying details of a sexual abuse scandal have come to light. In 2005, the church leadership thought that their youth director, Eric DeVries, had been inappropriate with a member of the youth group, and so they forced him to resign and reported the case to Fairfax Child Protective Services.

Then in 2008, incoming Associate Pastor David Jordan-Haas realized that there was more to the story and would not ignore the whispers he heard about the youth director. He began asking questions and the sordid details came out, showing that DeVries was particularly adept in the art of religious seduction. Using the stories of Scripture to ensure teenaged girls that they would some day be together, preying on them during youth group trips, Eric DeVries may have enticed as many as twelve teenaged girls.

As a Presbyterian pastor who also serves in the metropolitan D.C. region, I am part of a Presbytery, a governing body that connects our congregations in our worship, mission, and discipline. I am overwhelmed with sorrow that this has happened. I shudder when I think about the emotional and spiritual damage that has been done to these women.

I know that in the days, weeks, and years to come, members of the Presbytery will be trying to resolve why the initial response to this tragedy was paltry. Was the denominational leadership too quick to move on without fully investigating the incident? Did we work as hard as we should have to listen to the victims and seek justice for them?

Those are the concerns ahead of us, but until we get into those difficult questions, I want to stop and say thank you.

To the women who have been carrying the memories of this abuse, hiding these hand-scrawled notes, and trying to make sense of the church in light of these relationships, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the courage and conviction it took for you to speak.

I don’t know how your faith is in all of this. I know that mine is shaken by the events that have taken place, and I only read about it in the newspaper. I didn’t have to live it. But, please know that this pastor is extraordinarily proud of you for finding your voice. You have spoken out, even when you thought that people would not believe you, when you were afraid that they would blame you, or when you thought they would laugh at you. You had the courage to demand justice and wholeness. And, for you and for all of those who speak on behalf of the abused, I am deeply grateful.


This year, I am again helping to host the unConference (#unco11)! It will be held at Stony Point Conference Center on May 16-18.

What is it? The unConference will be three days of worship and open-space discussion on the church and its future. With an eye toward intentional diversity, we will be drawing from the wealth of knowledge at the gathering. The leaders, topics, and workshops will be harvested from the participants. During these discussions, we will share ideas about planting communities, writing liturgy, creating art, innovating technology, crafting wine, or wherever our passions and insights might lead us.

Who’s going to be there? Many interesting leaders will be there…. Presbyterians, DOC, Episcopalians, Anglicans, Emergents (and I would love that to grow. C’mon Methodists and Lutherans!) from the US and Canada. I hate to list people because I know I will leave fascinating and creative people out… but since we don’t have a “keynote and workshop leaders” list,  I want you to get a sense of who’s going to be around if you’re interested in attending. If you’re planning on being there, please leave a comment. Here’s the Host list. Landon Whitsitt (Presby Vice-mod) and Shawn Plunkett of God Complex Radio will be there. HCX will be sponsoring, so we can bask in the goodness of their crew. The academics will be there Margaret Aymer Oget and Katie Mulligan. Of course, since it’s at Stony Point, Rick Ufford-Chase will be around. Both the Friars and the Fool will be there (and I’m looking forward to finding out who the friars are and who the fool is….). There are people who are going into seminary, students, and those who have recently graduated. There are plenty of church leaders who are attending who are not ordained, and they’re not even thinking about becoming ordained…

So, please, if you’re a church leader, consider this your invitation. It would be lovely to connect with many of you in real life. If you have questions about how it will work, how you can explain this gathering to your church, or logistics, please let me know! (carol at godcomplexradio dot org)

Illuminating the Darkness

Text: John 1:1-18

I write regularly for the Huffington Post, and this week, they asked for nominations for the Religious person of the year. Since I was on vacation, I didn’t do any research or nominate anyone, but the question did occupy my thoughts when I was in Florida. Who made the greatest impact in religion? I thought of the many Muslims who have not hidden in the face of discrimination, but they have worked for deeper understanding. I thought of Jews who have worked for peace. But on the site, I represent a Christian perspective, and so I began to think of Christians who have impacted our faith, and the question grew for me, from the past year to the past decade. Who made the greatest impact on religion?

And I imagined all of those men and women. I don’t know their specific names. I could only recognize their shaky voices and blurred profiles. They were the people who have stood up and turned in their priests, pastors, or missionaries who were predators. I thought of all of those who risked the suspicion and disbelief of their friends, loved ones and community. They were brave enough to stop the lies and cover-ups, and they told the truth. Now that I have worked in churches for thirteen years, I know how good they are at suppressing secrets. They are like families, businesses and other organizations. Powerful forces arise when someone has a complaint of this magnitude. And yet, these men and women did what John describes: They shined light into the darkness.

Since the day when those victims began to raise their voices, they became survivors. Many people have had the courage to step up and shine a light in that deep darkness. Now, in our church and in most denominational congregations, we have strict rules to protect children. One adult is not allowed to be alone with one other child. We try to keep two Sunday school teachers in the classroom, and if we can’t manage that, then we have our Christian Educator who floats and checks in on all the classrooms. In our nursery and classrooms, we have clear glass on the doors so that parents will know that their children are being cared for properly. In our denomination, we have strict rules on how a report is to be made, and how the perpetrator will be disciplined. We have men and women who work to make society safe for children. Are we perfect? Absolutely not. It is a struggle in all walks of life to protect the vulnerable and those who cannot speak for themselves. Yet, many have become aware of what can happen when we try to hide things, and they have worked tirelessly to bring those things in the deep darkness to the light.

I grew up knowing that our former pastor was a pedophile, and so it was often hard for me to go to church. Even though I realize that pastors and priests are human, the depth of hypocrisy that it takes to carry out something like that is astounding, and so I always had a difficult time with religion in general.

I have watched people take different positions when the church betrays them or their family. They can reject the church altogether. Or they can proclaim that they are “spiritual but not religious.” In other words, they appreciate the goodness, teachings and practices of spirituality, but they cannot abide the darkness of church. They don’t see much good in the professional clergy, the buildings, or the governance.

I understand this thought and I would never try to argue with someone who has made that determination, but I have made a choice to be a religious professional, in spite of all the darkness that I know is in our midst. The reason is because we are human. There is no way to have a spiritual experience apart from our humanity. And with every human endeavor, there is light and there is darkness. Even when we try to be good, even when we try to be noble, even when we try to do the very best and right thing, there is some darkness.

I have read discussions on MaryAnn McKibben Dana’s blog when it comes to the environment. In order to help the environment, she employed the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down” tactic. And yet, she found that she had to use harsher chemicals when cleaning her toilets. A commenter was concerned the hamburger that she bought everyday, and how bad her beef consumption was for the environment, so she decided to order salads instead. But then she became frustrated to find that her hamburger was served in a small piece of paper, but her salad was served in a giant, plastic dome. I heard a story on NPR recently that said that many dishwasher detergent companies took phosphates out of their soap, because of the terrible things that they can do to the environment. But the story explained that there was a concern about how it was taking more water to wash our dishes now. We buy CFLs, but then we find out how toxic they are when they break.

We can see the same thing when it comes to technology. The community and relationships that can arise through social media fascinate me. Men and women are able to talk to other people who have the same hobbies. They can share ideas. Artists can sell their art. People with the same political passions can create constellations of hope around their causes or candidates.

But at the same time, we have also seen how people can be bullied to the point where they have killed themselves. Men and women, who may never be so uncivil to a person face-to-face, can become nasty with the anonymity of the Internet. Racism can thrive. The darkness of the technology, having your face hidden in those shadows, seems to create monsters out of some people.

We see it with science. Incredible discoveries were made. We learned about atoms, and then we figured out how we could split those atoms. And the world has never been the same.

We even see it with the medical profession. When wonderful achievements have been made to prolong a person’s life, sometimes we begin to wonder, “Does this person have the right to die?” We appreciate ground-breaking medications, but we also realize their side-effects.

Over and over again, our technology, our science, our advancements have led us to new problems. But does that mean that we should give up on caring for the environment, on technology, on medicine, on science? Of course not. As progressives, we will keep working for the good of all people and the care of the earth. We will work for education and freedom for all men and women. We believe that we will keep moving forward and pushing for a better world.

With every advancement, we understand that there will be light and there will be darkness, and we keep shining the light, even when deeper, darker corners arise. In each of our professions, in each of our passions, we cannot give into the complacency of walking away and in giving up. But we need to keep striving and moving forward.

And I feel the same way about religion. It is my passion and my calling. I have seen religion do incredible harm to women, men, lesbians, gays, and children. But I have not been able to walk away from it and I have not been able to separate “religion” from a spiritual life. I have not been able to sequester myself into an individual spiritual practice, devoid of our life together in this sanctuary. Because I know that we can do more when we are gathered. We have more light to feed homeless people, to care for prostitutes, to teach art to children, and to provide medical care for people in Ethiopia.

There is darkness among us. I cannot deny that. And I realize that my comparisons are faulty in many ways. I am not saying that pedophilia is the inevitable outcome of something that is well-intentioned. No. Not at all. But I am saying that there is darkness that I’m not willing to walk away from, and many of us have been called to the diverse and colorful beauty that our collective light can bring.

Thoughout these days of Christmas, may we remember the light that was born within us, and may we be called to keep illuminating the darkness as Christ did.

Through our Creator, our Liberator and our Sustainer. Amen.