Finding healing in walking away

DepressionIn college I was intense. I don’t believe I ever took less than 16 credits, and usually took closer to 18. I was enrolled in three foreign languages at once, an officer in several clubs, and an enthusiastic participant in martial arts, self-defense, flexibility, and dance classes. I played guitar (though probably not very well) and sang in my church’s choir. I was as close to a Renaissance woman as I was ever going to be. The worst grade I got in anything was a B-; I had a 4.0 GPA or nearly a 4.0 GPA on a number of semesters. I had not started school with any academic scholarships, but began receiving them every year after my first full year at BYU.

Two things happened in 2003. I got married, and I decided to cram in a second minor in history in preparation for pursuing an American history master’s degree. It was too late to switch my major or add a second major and still graduate by 2005, but the minor would be enough to curry favor with graduate schools and show that I was serious about history.

My marriage became my undoing. I don’t want to go into all of the reasons why; let’s just say that duties and responsibilities that are supposed to be jointly shared within a marriage fell heavily and disproportionately on me. There was very little partnership. Instead, I found myself almost exclusively responsible for the well-being of two adult lives instead of one, to my exhaustion. Things got worse when my then-husband suddenly asked for a divorce in 2004, less than a year after our wedding. There had been no warning, and he did not want to even try to do therapy or work things out. He told me I was such a horrible person that I didn’t deserve any kind of a second chance with him, that he just wanted out of the marriage and away from me as soon as possible. Though we eventually reconciled, his gaslighting had an immeasurable impact on my psyche. I spent years walking on eggshells, believing that I had done something mysterious and terrible to drive him away in 2004. After our divorce in 2014, my former college roommates approached me to say he had been cheating on me shortly after we got married and they hadn’t known how to break it to me. The sudden and earnest request for divorce back in 2004 suddenly made sense. I believe he only reconciled with me because the Other Woman broke up with him.

With all of this going on, I finally lost my intensity. For the first time since high school, I began failing classes. (more…)

On Hope

Harley with a Funko POP of her namesake, age 10
Harley with a Funko POP of her namesake, age 10

Last Friday I recorded a podcast on the theology of hope with Dan Wotherspoon for Mormon Matters (available now). The other guests were Brian Hauglid of the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies and Patrick Q. Mason of Claremont. Though the podcast was by Mormons for Mormons, I had a lot to say about traditional Christian views on hope and eschatology.

Dan asked us at the end of the podcast if we could answer the call of 1 Peter 3:15 and “give a reason for the hope that is within [us].” I have given a personal testimony here, but I wanted to repeat here what I said on the podcast:

My daughter was born in 2006 at the end of a healthy pregnancy in which I’d had every reason to expect a healthy baby. As I looked down at her resting in my arms for the first time, a horrible thought came into my head. I felt like I was being silly, but in that moment my fear and dread were all-consuming. I had to say it. “Does my baby have a cleft palate?”

The doctor and the nurse exchanged confused glances and looked at me like I was CrazyMom. I thrust my daughter back at them, made the nurse take her to check her palate. I’m sure she was expecting to say, “No, CrazyMom, your baby does not have a cleft palate. Please stop acting crazy now.” Instead, she called out, “Actually, doctor, can you come and take a look at this? I think there’s something here…”

It was the beginning. (more…)

Review: Leave a Cheater, Gain a Life

Leave_a_Cheater_Gain_a_LifeLeave a Cheater, Gain a Life: The Chump Lady’s Survival Guide by Tracy Schorn [Philadelphia, Penn.: Running Press, May 2016]

These days, self-help books are a dime a dozen and so often seem to be filled with myopic, impractical “advice” rife with wishful thinking on the part of their authors, it’s become both shocking and refreshing to run into a self-help book that actually helps.

It has been a little shy of two years since I read the original self-published version of this book. I read it in the wake of having discovered that my husband had secretly gotten back together with his mistress. He had responded to my discovery of his affair by treating the Other Woman to adultery prom night and posting pictures of their fabulous night out together all over Facebook (where our daughter had access to them). I was in shambles and my emotions were raw. To cap it off, my husband was engaging in some classic abuser behavior, acting like he hadn’t done anything wrong and we could still be friends. I didn’t know how to handle the faux-amiable attempts to chat me up about the latest season of Arrow or his mistress’ fabulous hair; after all, wasn’t he being nice? Shouldn’t I be nice back? I felt like I was going insane. This crazy-making behavior is called “gaslighting” and it’s what abusers do.

The beauty of Leave a Cheater, Gain a Life is that it calls infidelity what it is: abuse. Truth-telling has become a dying art in our society and cheaters (and those who sympathize with them) despise being told this, but Schorn pulls no punches. (more…)

Did Luther really say women shouldn’t be wise?

Luther_Found_GodIn searching for the Martin Luther quote that had troubled me in my youth, I came across a quote on a number of sites critical of Christianity, usually on “look at these misogynist things famous Christians said!” shock lists.

“No gown worse becomes a woman than the desire to be wise.”

The problem: it isn’t clear that Martin Luther ever said this.

I’m no expert on Luther–the focus of my MA was American church history, not Reformation history–but I did do a class on Luther and the Reformation, and this quote seemed “off” to me. Luther was certainly against the ordination of women (and you know what I think about that) but beyond that, most of his problematic statements on women were rooted in his attempts to valorize marriage and childbirth as part of his polemics against Roman Catholic celibacy, and there is a sort of logic to them. That doesn’t make him any less wrong, but there was more going on than unbridled contempt for women. I can’t say the same for any number of Christian theologians who came before him, especially amongst the early church fathers.

(more…)

Then I knew God calls women

“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.” – 1 Corinthians 14:34 NIV

“Even though [women] grow weary and wear themselves out with child-bearing, it does not matter; let them go on bearing children till they die, that is what they are there for.” – Martin Luther [1]

====

Those were just some of the words about women blinking at me from my computer screen that day. I was 16 years old and arguing with a skeptical friend. He had sent me a list of negative quotes about women from the Bible and famous Christian theologians, and I felt horrified.

Holy_WomanI’m not sure you could say I was any kind of a feminist at the time, at least not an intentional one. I had always been taught that I could be anything and do anything, that my gender was no hindrance to dreams, but that attitude within me was void and without form. I had been wild-hearted and tomboyish in my Alaskan childhood, had played on the edges of the wilderness with three brothers before I had a sister, had shot BB guns and pretended I was a Ninja Turtle and done just about every stupid thing that adults told me not to do, for the sake of being contrary and adventurous. The self-selected nickname I had begun sporting in my 16th year, “Jack,” flaunted my disregard for gender norms. “Is ‘Jack’ short for anything?” people would ask me uncomfortably, hoping to learn my real name was “Jacquelyn.” “Yes, it’s short for ‘Bridget,'” I would quip.

The ordination of women had never come up in the two denominations I had attended with regularity (Church of the Nazarene and Presbyterian Church USA) since youth. Those churches had no female pastors, although I had noticed female elders and deacons at the PCUSA. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis had articulated a hierarchical view of marriage that I accepted at the time, as much out of love for Lewis as anything, but it didn’t affect me because I wasn’t married and wouldn’t be getting married anytime soon, so I gave the matter little thought.

And then I had these words blinking at me from my computer screen. Horrible words about women in my own Bible and from Christian leaders I was supposed to revere. I didn’t know who God was anymore.

(more…)

Mormon Theology Seminar Conference

I have been in California for the past two weeks participating in the Third Annual Mormon Theology Seminar, sponsored by Brigham Young University’s Maxwell Institute and the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies. You may recall that I am an alumna of BYU (long story!). While I have never been Mormon and am not a believer in the Book of Mormon as Scripture, I regard the book as 19th century demi-Protestant theological fiction (perhaps inspired in some places) and my paper, “Called and Ordained: Alma’s Priesthood of All Believers” is on some theology in the Book of Mormon that I think both Mormons and evangelical Christians can embrace. I will be presenting that paper tomorrow (June 15th) at the seminar’s public conference.

The conference is free and runs from 9 AM – 6 PM. My presentation is at 3:45. Conference program available here.

Mormon_Theology_Seminar
(more…)

Journey’s End

20160513_200933-2

I went and spoke to Bro. Fluhman today, and not only was he enormously helpful, but I enjoyed the conversation and I was very impressed by him. . . . He also talked to me about doing American Religious History for my master’s. The thought had honestly never occurred to me. But I will keep it in mind.
— Journal entry, Thursday, 20 February 2003

I did my undergraduate degree at Brigham Young University, a college that was (and probably still is) 98.6% Mormon. In my time at BYU, two things happened to bring me to where I am today:

  • Some students from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School visited the university, and it was wonderful. I got to spend the week hanging out with them, going to church with them, taking them to classes with me, and engaging in dialogue and discussion with them. They made me realize how lonely BYU had been for me, and how much I longed to really grow roots in my own faith.
  • I had a conversation with Spencer J. Fluhman, then a professor in the religion department at BYU who was finishing his PhD in history. It was him who put the idea in my head of switching from classics to America religious history.

It’s taken me a long time to get to this point, for reasons I have discussed elsewhere, but it finally happened. Last week, my thesis (“As God Is, Woman May Become?: Women and the Mormon Doctrine of Exaltation”) was accepted for ProQuest publication. Maxine Hanks, who edited the first feminist book I ever picked up, Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism, served as my external reader on my thesis committee and gave me invaluable guidance. Commencement took place on Friday. I am now the proud owner of an MA in “History of Christianity in America” [1] from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

It’s been a long road. The “me” who first met up with those TEDS students and chatted with Brother Fluhman in his office never dreamed of what the future would hold: marrying a Mormon, a disabled child, dropping out of the MA — American History program at the University of Utah, being abandoned while pregnant, divorce, and becoming a single parent to a disabled older child and a baby. I never would have started the degree at TEDS under those circumstances.

But with the help of God and a lot of loving, supportive people in my life, I finally finished it.

(more…)

I Suffer Not a Woman–But I’ll suffer just about anything else

tchividjianTullian Tchividjian was in the news again in March, and not for good reasons. The disgraced grandson of famed mega-evangelist Billy Graham made headlines last June when he resigned from his megachurch post with the following announcement:

As many of you know, I returned from a trip a few months back and discovered that my wife was having an affair. Heartbroken and devastated, I informed our church leadership and requested a sabbatical to focus exclusively on my marriage and family. As her affair continued, we separated. Sadly and embarrassingly, I subsequently sought comfort in a friend and developed an inappropriate relationship myself.

At the time, while I winced at how Tchividjian threw his wife under the bus, I had little sympathy for her. Infidelity is a form of abuse and unrepentant cheaters might be among the few who are actually deserving of public humiliation and shame (granted, their families are not). And while I think the “revenge affair” is still wrong and a terrible idea, I gave Tchividjian props for doing the right thing and recusing himself from ordained ministry. After all, 1 Tim. 3:2 says that an elder must be “the husband of one wife,” a phrase that I believe was a euphemism for “faithful to his wife” (as so translated by the NIV and NLT). The directive is repeated for deacons in 1 Tim. 3:12, and a similar qualifying phrase appears for the order of ministering widows in 1 Tim. 5:9 (“wife of one husband”). [1] Besides that, 1 Tim. 3:2 also says that an elder must be “above reproach,” and adultery is, oh I don’t know, reproachable?

In short: Christian adulterers have no business serving in ordained (or even just ordered leadership) ministry, whether as pastors, elders, or deacons. They may find other callings for their pastoral gifts, but ordained ministry should not be one of them. I personally believe this prohibition should be indefinite, but if such persons ever are restored to ministry, it should only be after years of repentance and therapy. Infidelity is not easy to repent of. It is associated with a wide variety of personality disorders and very serious character flaws, none of which are the sorts of things we want leading us from the pulpit.

Luckily for Tchividjian, the elders of Willow Creek Church [2] in Winter Springs (FL) didn’t have my grasp of the New Testament. They offered him a job just two months after his confession of adultery went public. His pastoral résumé hardly saw so much as a hiccup. Note that Willow Creek Church is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America, a hierarchist (“complementarian”) denomination that doesn’t ordain women even to the office of deacon (which is very clearly a biblical practice; Rom. 16:1) precisely because of their interpretation of passages like 1 Tim. 3:1-12. They wouldn’t have offered Tchividjian’s new job to a woman no matter how much adultery she hadn’t committed; the sin of being born female would have been enough to disqualify her. Yet it took them all of a few months to hand the keys to the office to Tchividjian, 1 Tim. 3:2 be damned. Now that’s all blown up for them as it turns out Tchividjian had an even earlier, undisclosed affair. (So, when Tchividjian threw his wife under the bus, he was being a jerk and a hypocrite. For all we know, she was the one who had the “revenge affair.”) [NOTE: It has been brought to my attention that Tchividjian’s position at Willow Creek was “Director of Ministry Development,” a non-ordained staff support position. Unless this position was/is open to women, I think my criticism holds, and I think weeks/months after confession of adultery is still way too early to be “director” of anything ministry-related.]

(more…)

Good Friday: Jesus Christ and the “Birth Pains of Death”

Image from DayOfEaster.com; I added the text
Image from DayOfEaster.com; I added the text

Today is Good Friday, the day when we remember Jesus’ suffering on the cross, in anticipation of Easter Sunday, when we celebrate his victory over death through resurrection.

Peter spoke of this on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:22-24, when he said (emphasis mine):

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (NIV)

What most people don’t know is that the part I highlighted in v. 24 is a bit of a mistranslation. The Greek for “agony” there, ōdinas (ὠδῖνας), doesn’t just mean “agony.” It quite specifically means “birth agony.” The pains of labor and childbirth. The correct translation of the passage would be, “freeing him from the birth pains of death.”

I know of no English translations that preserve the true metaphor of the original Greek. Why is that? Are we uncomfortable with the idea of a man suffering the pains of labor? Does that make our God too feminine for our liking? Or is it simply because the idea of “birth pains of death” is too confusing? Birth, after all, is supposed to be about life, not death.

(more…)