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As increasing amounts of white male followers of Jesus awaken to the reality of our privilege––and thus power––within both the church and society at large, we are confronted with the questions of how we faithfully dislodge ourselves from power for the sake of others and what it means to live in such a space. This awakening, to the extent that it challenges patriarchal structures and well-established systems of power, will alienate you. That is, when you begin challenging traditionally held beliefs about equality, gender and sexual orientation within an Evangelical realm, you find yourself hard pressed to find a church community that is willing to entertain your questions and walk that journey with you. But I am not the victim. What is solidarity for me is another’s alienation and exclusion for simply being who they are.

Following this path through the Christian narrative has opened my eyes to the ways that fears of the unknown threaten control and power, and instigate a recoil effect that justifies and perpetuates inequality. My experiences within Evangelical circles has revealed an immense fear of being wrong. I admit that I too used to fear being wrong about particular beliefs or nuances in my theology. I thought that to get something wrong would throw my entire faith out of balance. It would pop the chain on my bicycle. It’s my assumption that this fear of getting things wrong dictates how Christians treat women and people who identify as queer with regards to acceptance, value and participation within church communities. It is far easier to operate within the bounds of safety and comfort at the risk of excluding others than it is to risk our power and certitude by and affirming the voices and experiences of those who challenge our beliefs. This fear lures us into believing that God will be displeased with us if we get this part wrong, do this thing incorrectly, or allow this other thing. This fear creates structures in which any deviation is tantamount to capsizing.

Jesus changes the story for me. And for you. I’m constantly disarmed by the Apostle Paul’s words about Jesus in Philippians 2.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death––even death on a cross.

The more I absorb these words into my being, I cannot help but to understand that having the same mind in me that was in Jesus means that I work to recognize my privilege and make attempts to dislodge myself from the ways that it silences others. My whiteness is not something to be exploited. My sex and gender are not things to be exploited. It means that I humble myself to the point of willingness to diminish my power and my voice so that others are lifted up. But this isn’t about straight white men throwing up our hands and saying, “Here! You take the reins!” This is about shared power, which is far more difficult, but far more beautiful. And necessary. Shared power demands that we play well with others. It demands that we not privilege particular voices and experiences over others. It demands that we relinquish our control over how things should be for us to remain comfortable, and instead ask, “What makes you comfortable?” and then honor that. In order to experience shared power there needs to be an environment in which all people are regarded as valuable, important and equal. But furthermore, it requires an environment where we value, trust, and allow ourselves and our theology to be shaped by the varied experiences and stories of others.

Sallie McFague talks about the Christian gospel as a “destabilizing, inclusive, nonhierarchical vision of fulfillment for all of creation.” That is the gospel of mutuality. Me fulfilling you and you fulfilling me.

I have by no means arrived anywhere beyond the privilege I benefit from as a straight, Christian, white male. I find myself at the intersection of no longer willing to tolerate Christianity’s devaluation of women and persons identifying as queer, and my own complicity in the systems and cycles that perpetuate this inequality in the name of Christianity. I recognize the irony of me arguing for these values out of my privilege and the increased weight that my words hold over the words of another saying the same things. Maybe Christianity can play a role in changing that reality.

Until then, I will do my best to honor you and your stories.

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READ: Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

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Station 6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

At Station 6 we remember Veronica, the woman who courageously stepped out of the crowd and proceeds to wipe the face of Jesus and clean his wounds. She parallels Simon of Cyrene, but Veronica comes to Jesus’ side by her own will, moved by the inhumane drama unfolding before her. Perhaps she learned this form of nonviolent resistance from Jesus.

Jesus was considered a radical for many reasons, but one in particular is attributed to the ways in which Jesus breached the lines that divided what was clean and unclean. His community held quite traditional beliefs about people who were sick, disabled or diseased and intended to keep firm walls between those who were considered pure and those who were deemed impure. Jesus was not at all interested in these divisive delineations surrounding purity. He understood the healing power of community, intimacy and physical touch and defied norms and tradition by touching both men and women who were considered impure or sinners, thus making himself impure and sinful in the eyes of the religious elite. Richard Beck describes this sociological phenomenon as negativity dominance:

When a pollutant and a pure object come into contact the pollutant is “stronger” and ruins the pure object. The pure object doesn’t render the pollutant acceptable or palatable.[1]

By extending his touch to those whom no one would touch, Jesus was situating himself in the category of untouchable, impure and sinful. Jesus gave up his purity and reputation in order to affirm the humanity and experience of others. Richard Beck goes on to comment on the idea of negativity dominance,

The [religious elites] never once consider the fact that the contact between Jesus and the sinners might have a purifying, redemptive, and cleansing effect upon the sinners. Why not? The logic of contamination simply doesn’t work that way. The logic of contamination has the power of the negative dominating over the positive. Jesus doesn’t purify the sinners. The sinners make Jesus unclean . . . What is striking about the gospel accounts is how Jesus reverses negativity dominance. Jesus is, to coin a term, positivity dominant. Contact with Jesus purifies.[2]

Denying oneself and following Jesus means risking ourselves and the power we hold as we extend our hands to others in love and mercy, affirming their humanity and the reality of their experiences regardless of who may consider them unclean.

Prayer: Help me to resist seeing anyone as unclean and impure, and to see everyone as beautiful and equally deserving of love, respect, justice and human contact.

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1. Richard Beck, Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), page 28.

2. Ibid., 30.

I had the privilege of attending The Justice Conference here in Portland over the weekend. With the help of a handful of scholars, activists and artists, it was a great weekend that inspired, challenged, and disturbed many people. I’d like to share a few thoughts about some things that were highlights for me.

1. Burn, baby, burn!

One of the most powerful, subversive and simple acts of resistance took place during “Jesus, Bombs, and Ice Cream,” the presentation by Shane Claiborne and Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen. The two took our country’s priorities to task as they exposed the enormity of military spending in light of poverty, poor education, poor health, and the down spiraling economy. The two talked about the billions of dollars spent on military spending and how those dollars kill twice. The first time they kill is when they are kept from the poor and the second time is when they have created the bombs or the guns or the missiles that kill our enemies. Before a crowd of 4,000 people, Shane Claiborne burned a $100 bill. In that moment a tension filled the room and all the thousands of thoughts regarding what that $100 could do hung over us all like a blanket and silenced us. The point Shane was making was that justice is not about handing money out. Sure, fair distribution and redistribution are certainly crucial and necessary components of a just society and economic structure, but money will never replace hearts that care and are moved by the plight of a neighbor, stranger, enemy, or neighborhood in pain. That act of non-violent resistance in the face of a society that worships money and views it as the cure for all our problems illuminates another and a better story: love of neighbor and the act of humanizing those who have been dehumanized robs money of its power and changes everything. That is the kind of gospel I want to be a part of.

2. Honor. Everyone.

Last semester I wrote a paper in which I kind of called Miroslav Volf “dystopian” and disagreed with him on the scope and influence of a social trinitarian theology. Don’t tell him about that. Miroslav’s lecture on Friday night was phenomenal. Miroslav spoke on the words “Honor everyone” found in 1 Peter 2:17 and challenged everyone to imagine what that might mean. Honor goes beyond tolerance and respect. This has profound implications for interfaith dialogue, as well as how Christians must carry themselves to command honor as well.

In talking through this with my wife, I agree with her that it is easier to honor people who do not claim to follow Jesus than it is to honor people to who do profess Jesus yet fail to embrace and value all people equally. My wife and I were discussing Volf’s challenge on Friday night and questioning whether or not honoring the oppressor demeans the oppressed. You can say that in a myriad of ways, but here is an example. Does honoring people who demean and devalue women hurt my sisters?

3. The low-points…

That kind of segues into my reflection on the low-points of The Justice Conference. While I am sure there were many different traditions represented, The Justice Conference is by and large an Evangelical production. Thus, it is disturbing that a progressive Evangelical conference dedicated to the topic of justice would not turn its attention toward the tremendous split between genders in Evangelical Christianity. This was indeed the elephant in the room. More than 4000 people were gathered to talk about justice issues facing our society–and don’t get me wrong, many pressing issues were addressed along with opportunities to get involved and create change–but a pressing injustice in our own Christian culture went largely unaddressed. The problem of sexism within Christianity is no big secret. Various celebrity Christian leaders are outspoken about gender roles, and gender inequality is pervasive within Evangelical churches. This was the perfect opportunity to tell another story and present another side of Christianity. Justice is a thread that includes women as equals.

Where were the female scholars and theologians and pastors? They exist. Dr. Mimi Haddad from CBE International was in attendance and presented in the pre-conference, though it would have been great to see her in the main conference. With more than 60 presentations in pre-conference and main conference sessions only 3 dealt specifically with the topic of gender, none of which took place in the main conference. Additionally, there was nothing on the topic of sexual orientation.

As Christians getting together to talk about justice, we cannot overlook the continued injustice of theology and practice that wrongly devalues women and cements men in a role of superiority above women. This dualist sexism has no place within Christianity.

I’m deeply thankful for what The Justice Conference has done right and well. It was life giving in many ways, but was also very much a product of Evangelical Christianity in other less hopeful and life giving ways.

The following quote is from Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1962 speech titled “The Ethical Demands for Integration.”

The absence of freedom is the imposition of restraint on my deliberation as to what I shall do, where I shall live, how much I shall earn, the kind of tasks I shall pursue. I am robbed of the basic quality of [human-ness]. When I cannot choose what I shall do or where I shall live or how I shall survive, it means in fact that someone or some system has already made these a priori decisions for me, and I am reduced to an animal. I do not live; I merely exist. The only resemblances I have to real life are the motor responses and functions that are akin to humankind. I cannot adequately assume responsibility as a person because I have been made a party to a decision in which I played no part in making.

Now to be sure, this is hyperbole in some agree but only to underscore what actually happens when a [person] is robbed of his [or her] freedom. The very nature of his [or her] life is altered and his [or her] being cannot make the full circle of personhood because that which is basic to the character of life itself has been diminished.

Incredibly powerful. MLK Jr’s namesake, Martin Luther had much to say about freedom as well. I am captured when Luther writes in The Freedom of a Christian,

A Christian is lord of all, completely free of everything.

A Christian is servant of all, completely attentive to the needs of all.

According to Luther there is this duality to our freedom. We are completely free from [fill in the blank] and we are also completely free to [fill in the blank]. However, freedom is bound by love. Our freedom emerges from the freedom of God and ends at the beginning of our neighbor. The only way we can transgress the boundary of our neighbor is in and through love. Luther states:

Although we Christians are free from all works, we ought to use this liberty to empty ourselves, take on the form of servants, take on human form, and become human in order to serve and help our neighbors in every possible way. This is the very manner in which God in Christ acted and continues to act toward us. And this service ought to be done freely, having regard for nothing except the approval of God.

God, though completely free, took on the form of a servant in the incarnation. Through Jesus, God rejects power and uses God’s freedom to submit to, to serve and to empower the broken and weak. Freedom finds its ultimate expression in how we relate to others, not in how we behave to and for ourselves. The expression of freedom in the incarnation is one that binds itself to the well-being of others in a way that gives life.

This puts new perspective on the restrictions that Christians attempt to legislate against marriage equality. Or the ways in which churches restrict women and people who identify as queer from full participatory life within community. God help us restore agency, honor, and humanity to those whom we have stripped it from.