Confession: I Was One of Those “Christians”

I have a confession to make.

I was a Christian. A fundamentalist, evangelical, Southern Baptist Christian.

I will say that Christianity and Christians hurt me, but I also hurt others.

I am guilty.

I left behind those beliefs and stopped committing those actions many years ago, but in all of those years since, I carried a burden of guilt. The girls in that church, they were my best friends. I loved them. We spent so much time together–phone calls, church activities, sleepovers, and various outings.

Then, one day, it all came crashing down. One of the girls announced she was pregnant. She was fourteen years old. How did we respond?

We called her slut. We shunned her. We demanded she repent. We told her she betrayed us. She was made to stand in front of the entire congregation and apologize for having sex and becoming pregnant. We were drunk in our self-righteousness and our purity. We did not stumble as she had. She was a sinner. We were not. Or rather, we were not as big as sinners as she was. We were only sinners in the way everyone was. We were Good Christian Girls.

Eventually, she left the church. I cannot speak of others’ actions here, but when she left, she was gone. I did not call. I didn’t attempt to contact her in any way. I left one of my best friends out to dry–to suffer alone. I inflicted pain and suffering on her. Five became four. We said horrible things about her behind her back.

Soon, things came crashing down upon me, and I too left the church. I took a long, hard look at myself, my beliefs, and my faith, and I cast it out with the trash. I wanted nothing to do with such hatred, hypocrisy, and cruelty. I began a journey, a spiritual one, to learn, to ask, to find out in my words, “what I really believed.” It was a long process, and a story to be shared at another time.

But I did not, in all of this, reach out to this girl, one of my very best and dearest friends. At first, I was consumed by my own problems. But as the days, weeks, months, and years passed, she came to mind more and more often. I realized how awful it was, what I did to her. I realized what a horrible friend I had been. A terrible sister. How selfish. As I discovered feminism, I learned more and more just how fucked up what I had done had been.

I started to wonder how she was, but I was so ashamed of myself that I did not take that step to call and ask. I hoped she was happy. I hoped she was thriving, that her child was happy and healthy. I hoped beyond hope that she had found friends who loved her, who fulfilled her, who were loyal and supportive and true. I wanted to be her friend again, but I thought that I was undeserving. I let too much time pass. My transgressions were too great. I didn’t deserve her friendship.

Then, facebook. I added another friend from my church days–a boy who had also left. I knew his story, and I wanted to catch up with him. We were fellow rebels. He was the only one, in the entire church, who had stood by her. I was glad that he did, that she had someone who had turned out to be a true friend. When I saw their interactions on facebook, I envied their friendship, their closeness, and inevitably, I felt a surge a guilt anew for failing to be what a Best Friend should be.

I was overwhelmed by guilt and shame, yes. But I was also afraid. I knew that I owed her, at the very least, a very big apology, but I couldn’t make myself do it. I was afraid of what she would say and how she would react. I knew that whatever she said–if she chose to react with anger, and throw any and all manner of verbal invective my way, I deserved it. And if she chose to forgive? If she wanted my love and my friendship? I could barely stand to think about it. I didn’t deserve that. She was stronger than me. She was a much better person than me.

I knew also that I was going overboard with my guilt. I should get over it. I should just apologize. I shouldn’t keep dwelling over the past. I should do the right thing, and move on with my life like I hoped she had. One day while sitting with my computer, I took a breath, and sent her a friend request on facebook. I’d wait and see.

A few days later, I realized she’d accepted it. Whoa. This was a huge step for me. I hungrily read her most recent statuses, eager for news that she was doing well. It seemed so. Good. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Now I didn’t know what to do. She was happy, from what I could see. She didn’t need me dredging up the past with all its painful memories. Finally, I broke down and talked to Momma Beemer about it. We sat on the back deck of my older brother’s home, smoking cigarettes, while I opened up about my feelings for the first time. She encouraged me to reach out to her. To apologize. It was the right thing to do–Momma Beemer was sure that it would help to heal old wounds, perhaps rekindle our friendship, and be there for one another like we once were.

Then, a crisis. My childhood and adolescent friend was having a rough time. I can’t describe what I felt at that moment, when I read her facebook note. I wanted to help. I wanted to do something, even if it was only to be an ear. But. I had to apologize first. Before anything else, I had to apologize.

I sat on my couch, with my netbook in my lap, and started to type. I wrote words and sentences, and then deleted them. I was going to do it. I was going to be honest. I was going to admit to her that I had been wrong, that I made a terrible mistake, and I had hurt her. I was sorry. I’m sorry. I poured out my heart in that message. I smoked several cigarettes while writing it. I cried. I let the tears fall, and I brushed them away so I could continue to write.

I hit send.

I spent the next few hours on pins and needles. I was anxious. I smoked more cigarettes. I tried to distract myself, but I kept clicking on the facebook tab and checking.

Then a little red one hovered over my message icon. I hesitated. This was it. Click.

Tears were falling down my face before I’d even finished reading her message. One hundred and fifty-seven words to say: she forgave me. I’d hurt her, yes. But she forgave me for it. She doesn’t hold it against me–it meant so much to her that I’d apologized. She loved me. She called me sister.

I wanted more than anything at that moment to jump in my car, drive to her home, and hug and cry and blubber.

We weren’t girls anymore. We were grown women. We’d lost years. I wanted yesteryear–to pack an overnight bag, sit in a basement on pillows and blankets, watch movies and giggle maniacally like we did so many years ago. I wanted to prank call the boys, sneak chips and coke, and sit in a circle and confide our deepest secrets to one another.

When I left that church, I left behind childhood friendships. I lost that connection you have with those you grew up with, who know you inside and out, your past and your present. Ever since, the friendships I have cultivated had known only of the past I had told them. I didn’t realize it, but I hungered for friendships that stem from a long past. I missed not having to tell friends of my past, of my family, of my history. I missed having people that knew all of that already.

We traded messages back and forth, and soon graduated to texts and calls. One night, I invited her to stay the night. It would be the first time we saw one another in years. When she arrived, she hugged me, and it was the best hug I’ve ever had. We sat on my couch and talked for hours. About everything. You remember when we ___? Yes!  And ___ said __? Oh man, that was funny. What happened after you left? (A lot.) Do you know ___ is married? Oh, fuck. Seriously? ____ won’t even look at me. Yeah, I don’t talk to them, either. They turn around and walk away when they see me. At ___’s funeral they pretended like nothing ever happened, like everything was the same.

We went out,  picked up our friend, and got something to eat. We teased one another about this or that, and laughed over old jokes and reminisced about our days together in church. How wild it is how different we are now. We joked about making a tshirt. We dropped him off and went back to my place. We settled down and watched a movie. It was so late.

It was better than I could have imagined.

We still have a lot to catch up on–so many years cannot be made up for in a single night. But I hope that we can continue to stay in touch, that we will spend more time together in the days to come, and learn more about the women we have become.

I regret those lost years. I regret that it took me so long to do the right thing, and I will continue to regret that I did not do the right thing in the first place. Bigger than all of that, however, is love.

I love you, sis.

Slut Shaming Preteens in Church

I was a rebellious little shit.

Last night I was browsing this blog, written by a former fundamentalist Baptist preacher who has left Christianity altogether. I came upon this post, and stupidly I watched the sermon. It brought back a lot of memories.

You see, from 1993-2003/4 I attended a Southern Baptist church with my aunt and uncle. I went to church Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, Wednesday nights. I was involved in choir, Sunday school, youth group, hand bell choir, vacation bible school, church camp, the production of numerous musicals, and so on.

After I watched the sermon mentioned above, I tweeted this:

ABookishBeemer: “Just watched a vid of a baptist preacher raving on about women’s clothing and modesty. gag/lol/middle finger I’ll have to write about this.”

Once we reached puberty, I, and the other girls in my youth group were scrutinized on a regular basis. Were our clothes modest enough? Were we behaving inappropriately with the boys in the youth group? Were we spending too much time alone with the boys in church?

I hated this.

My parents did not attend church. While both parents were raised in a Christian environment (my mother attended church with her parents, my father attended Catholic schools) they were not religious. My parents did not teach me such ridiculous things such as the draconian dress codes Christians impose on women or the subjugation aka “proper submission” of women.

They did teach me that I was my own person, deserving of respect. They taught me to stand up for myself. They also taught me that only they, as my parents, could dictate to me my actions or behaviors.

You can imagine the effect this had on a young teenage girl being told she was slutty if she wore tank tops, shorts, or skirts, or existed alone in a room with a human of the opposite sex.

Oh yes, I was a rebellious little shit.

What does this mean? Well. It meant that in the hot, humid Kentucky summers, I wore shorts and tank tops. I wore skirts that bared my knees.

It means that I told the adults who slut shamed me that “Jesus doesn’t care what I wear.” and “It’s hot. I’m wearing shorts. The end.”

I remember one incident, at a Super Bowl party at church, when a Very Important Lady chastised me for wearing a shirt, if I recall correctly, that had a smartass remark on it. (It was January after all, I could have been wearing a tank top, but there was no way I was wearing shorts.) Having enough, I called my mother. Having enough, my mother came to church to confront this woman and to take me home.

Now, Momma Beemer is one who, when people are ridiculous, loves to mess with them. In response to this incident, she showed up in a long, dark-colored trenchcoat, combat boots, with a hat pulled low over her eyes. (Not my mother’s normal choice of attire.) She strolled purposefully through the sanctuary toward this woman. They had words. With childish glee at my harasser getting hers, I watched. I wish now that I’d been nearer so that I could overhear what Momma Beemer said. This woman never bothered me again.

But of course, that didn’t stop everyone else from continuing their harassment of me and my friends. Someone made a rule that we could not go anywhere in the church, save the office, kitchen, and sanctuary, unless an adult was present. I broke this rule.The policing of our clothing continued. Adults were constantly suggesting we sneaked off with boys to “do stuff” while we were at church. Now, we were thirteen and fourteen when this began. Thirteen and fourteen year old girls. Grown men and women suggesting that preteen girls were dressing like “hookers” and sexually active. In church.

Though I was a fundamentalist Christian at the time, my reaction to this was not one of shame. It was anger and indignation. How dare they? I am not a slut. These boys are like my brothers. We grew up together. That’s gross, suggesting that I’m messing around with them. (I had no idea what sex actually entailed at that age. Are you surprised to hear that I never received any formal sex education?) My clothes are fine. My Mom and Dad are fine with them (my parents bought my clothes!) and it’s not slutty to wear shorts in church. If so-and-so is “led astray” when he sees me in shorts, that’s his problem. He’s the pervert, not me. That’s gross. Old fracking perverts.

Oh, I was not popular.

Years later, when I ran into one of the boys from that youth group, we naturally began talking about those days. “Brittany, none of us [boys] never knew what to do with you. You were so different.” Different meaning stubborn. Bullheaded. Opinionated. Independent.

Is it any wonder I eventually left?

Now, my leaving the church was not because of the slut shaming. No, it was something else–but that’s another story for another day.

The way those church members treated me and my friends was abhorrent. Unfortunately, however, it was not unusual. The video that sparked this post is here. It’s a thirty minute diatribe on slitted skirts and tops with too-large armholes–and let’s not forget the CLEAVAGE! (That horrible cleavage!) It really is maddening to watch (see Tweet quoted above.) but for those stuck within the throes of modern American Christianity, it is par for the course.

Take Medication, Or Else.

Last night I discovered a woman of my acquaintance had been arrested under a mental inquest warrant–someone close to her (we know who it is, but to preserve this woman’s privacy, I’m concealing certain details to prevent her from being identified from this post) had gone to the police and claimed she had a mental disorder and was not taking medication for it.

From what I know, this warrant is a means to force one’s relatives to get treatment for mental disorders. You’d suppose that this would require a lot of proof, both of the diagnosis, refusal of treatment, and a danger to someone, right? Apparently not. The woman I referenced above is completely able-bodied, and has not threatened or posed a danger to anyone–but that did not prevent Louisville Metro Police from sending two squad cars to this woman’s home, arresting her, and detaining her for several hours before discovering–whoops!–she had no mental disorder.

So, apparently the word of one person is enough to get someone locked up for presumably refusing to take medication. I received a text message today, the sender said:

“Still I could see it if they claimed she was psycho or dangerous, but _____? Please!”

I responded thusly:

“I can’t. Everyone has the right to choose to take medication or not. That right is meaningless if people who have conditions for which medications are available aren’t allowed to refuse.”

I cannot describe how angry it makes me to see such blatant evidence of disregard for the rights and humanity of those of us who are differently abled–and even those who are thought to be differently abled. To know that the entire time I refused medication, I was one phone call away from being arrested, thrown in jail, committed, and forced to take medication frightens and enrages me.

Unfortunately, I cannot find any information via Google–as in, the requirements to obtain a mental inquest warrant, what happens to the person the warrant was gotten against, or if it can be challenged. This information is something that I, and the PWD community in general, need to have. But ultimately, this is something that should. not. happen. No one has the right to force medication on another. Everyone has the right to refuse medication, to refuse treatment.

Update on Wisconsin: Recalls and Elections and Challenges, oh my!

It’s important to keep up with what has been going on in this state, now that national media attention on the protests in the capitol has waned. The recall petition results are in. The Wisconsin GOP are trying to push major pieces of legislation through before the recall elections. The Republican National Committee is planning on making Wisconsin one of their target battlegrounds for the 2012 elections.

Enough signatures have been gathered to put up six of the eight Republicans for a recall election:

Robert Cowles (Green Bay)

Alberta Darling (River Hills)

Sheila Harsdorf (River Falls)

Randy Hopper (Fond du Lac)

Dan Kapanke (La Crosse)

Luther Olson (Ripon)

Republicans managed to get enough signatures for only three Democrats:

Jim Holperin

Dave Hansen

Robert Wirch

Challenges are ongoing for every petition–Republicans are charging that Democrats didn’t file the proper papers with the state, and Democrats are charging ethical violations–that some signers aren’t residents of the state Senators’ districts, that others were misled, that other signers were bribed, and still others were outright faked. The Government Accountability Board will consider these claims, and will decide whether to throw out petitions, or declare the recall elections can proceed.

Meanwhile, Walker and his band of merry men is frantically trying to pass a slew of legislation, anticipating a Democratic majority in the Senate after the recall elections expected to take place this summer. Here is a quick list of their agenda:

Legalization of concealed weapons

Deregulation of the telephone industry

Require voters to show photo identification at the polls

Expand school vouchers

Undo an early release for prisoners

The Wisconsin GOP may try to, again, strip public employees of the right to organize, the very thing that sparked the protests and the recall efforts.

Because of this challenge, the successful protest, the recalls of six Republican state Senators, the GOP is planning on making Wisconsin a battleground state in the 2012 elections. I believe this would have happened anyway, but the national GOP is going to flood out of state dollars, ads, and volunteers to influence Wisconsin voters, in an attempt to counter the success of the month long protests of hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites.

Fueling Hate With Hate: a Feminist Perspective on the Celebration of Bin Laden’s Death

“As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam.  I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam.” –President Barack Obama, 1 May 2011

These are the two most important sentences in President Obama’s speech last night.

In the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, we must remember—hate kills. Hatred of a group of people, any group of people, people at all, turns us down a path of violence and death. This is Holocaust Remembrance week, and the lessons of the Holocaust are more relevant than ever.

Who can say when the hatred began, or who hated whom first? It’s a cycle, we go around and around, and the hatred never abates, and the violence never ends. Does Bin Laden’s death mean the end of the war on terror? No. Does it stop the cycle of hatred or violence? No. There will be more violence in the days to come.

What we must do is weed the hatred out of our hearts. What we must NOT do is taunt, disrespect, attack, or discriminate against anyone of Muslim faith, or Middle Eastern descent, or those who may disagree with us politically.

The theme of this year’s Holocaust Remembrance is poignant in the face of yesterday’s announcement: Justice and Accountability in the Face of Genocide: What Have We Learned?

In the immediate aftermath of the massive death and destruction of World War II, revenge might have satisfied the shock and anger of the moment. But many believed that justice under the rule of law rather than vengeance would better serve humanity. In support of this principle, the Museum is marking the 65th anniversary of the verdicts at the first Nuremberg trial, a watershed moment in international justice, and the 50th anniversary of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the most high-profile postwar recountings of the Nazi genocide and a landmark in public awareness of the Holocaust.

The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1945 held 22 top Nazi leaders accountable for atrocities they commanded and perpetrated. Subsequent proceedings between 1946 and 1949 prosecuted another 183 persons. This total represented only a tiny fraction of those responsible for the Holocaust, but established important precedents. Who was prosecuted was more telling than how many stood trial. No one, regardless of official position, was above the law. The argument that someone had just been following orders was no longer considered a valid defense. Not only were the shooters at mass executions and the guards at gas chambers tried, but physicians and business leaders, government officials and civil servants also were required to take responsibility for their actions—for as noted historian Raul Hilberg wrote, “The annihilation of Jewry required the implementation of systematic administrative measures in successive steps.”

After Nuremberg, a new understanding of international responsibility for human rights emerged, as the world began to fully understand the events we now call the Holocaust, spurring on a process to create a new legal vehicle that criminalized attempts to destroy any entire group of people—the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

…These anniversaries come at a time when some of the last living Nazis are on trial and perpetrators of recent genocides and crimes against humanity are being prosecuted. Precedents set in trials against Holocaust perpetrators have guided a new understanding of justice as a tool for seeking accountability, providing affirmation to victims, warning perpetrators, and reflecting society’s highest ideals about truth and justice. These trials are also a harsh reminder that while accountability is necessary in the aftermath of genocide, early intervention is vital to saving lives. Whether it is prevention, response, or accountability, the Holocaust teaches us that inaction can be deadly; actions, even small ones, can make all the difference for those whose lives are at risk, now and in the future.”

Osama bin Laden could have been captured and put on trial, but instead, he was killed. He was killed for a desire for vengeance, and for hate. This will only perpetuate the cycle of hatred, vengeance, violence, and murder.

We must intervene here. We must quell the desire for revenge. In the wake of this news, we must pause and breathe. We must not strike out against those of Muslim faith and/or Middle Eastern descent.

Remember the Holocaust. Remember the Nuremburg trials.

Osama Dead: What Now?

Osama bin Laden is dead, so what now? We have presumably accomplished the goal that was the reason the US has invaded Afghanistan. Our withdrawal from that country is already in progress–I doubt that it will be quicker because of this development. The US military’s primary mission in Afghanistan at the moment is training the country’s military and providing security until such time the Afghani military can take over.

What will happen to Al Qaeda now that its leader is dead? There will most likely be a period of instability and in-fighting within that group as others move to take over its leadership. This could result in increased violence in areas that Al-Qaeda operates, or perhaps even more Al-Qaeda deaths as they kill one another, or their focus on internal politics could cause they to become careless, making themselves vulnerable to US forces.

Once the new leader is chosen, he may launch an attack to prove his worth to the organization’s members, and to assert Al-Qeada’s strength. He may choose different tactics, or target different things–all these things are the unknown, and these unknowns are dangerous.

Or, the organization could fall apart. If the US and allies move quickly, they can eradicate Bin Laden’s Lieutenants, cut off their resources, and spread this news quickly and convincingly, that is.

Politically, this is very good for President Obama. He has accomplished what Bush Jr and Clinton could not. This accomplishment reflects well on Obama in his role as Commander-in-Chief. The timing is quite favorable–right in the beginning of the Election 2012 season. This will be a mark against those who said President Obama would be weak on defense.