Picture of woman's hands holding a closed Bible close to her ribs, with the words over the top: "Why are you still a Christian? What keeps you in faith?" My answer to a friend who asked me these questions workthegreymatter.com

“Why are you still a Christian? What keeps you in faith?” My answer when a friend asked me these questions

A friend recently asked me why I’m still a Christian. She asked because she was having trouble holding onto her faith, especially with Christian politics in the USA being what they currently are.

This is my answer to her. I don’t know if it will help other people, but it’s my story. Grab a cuppa, or bookmark this page, this post is about 3,000 words long. Continue reading “Why are you still a Christian? What keeps you in faith?” My answer when a friend asked me these questions

Wooden slats with two red felt hearts pegged onto a string in the top right corning. Text over the top: Actually, sometimes it's right to say 'love your neighbour' more often than 'love God' (and it's always right to remember context) workthegreymatter.com

Actually, sometimes it’s right to say ‘love your neighbour’ more often than ‘love God’

OK, so I know that deconstructing bad tweets on Christian Twitter is often a soul-destroying sport, but hey – this one overlapped with the subject matter of a book I’ve just started reading, so…

The tweet was this:

“The most pervasive — and pernicious — false teaching of our day is that “love your neighbor” is the greatest commandment in the law.”

It was written by a Southern Baptist pastor in the US who later doubled-down with a looooonnnng thread about the law and what Jesus meant when he talked about the two greatest commandments. (For those less familiar: these two commandments are (1) to love God and (2) to love your neighbour.)

If you’re wondering why I’ve given no direct links, that’s because a couple of weeks later he followed up with another tweet (which I didn’t see but was screencapped) about the Old Testament law and slavery. When that thread blew up he deleted his entire timeline. He then said people should be able to ask questions and acknowledged that his thread had caused hurt, but did little more.

Sigh.

I’m not interested trolling a particular person, but I do care deeply about how Christians understand the Old Testament and apply it in their everyday lives. Because that application – for good or for bad – can have far-reaching consequences.

OK, let’s talk about this. Continue reading Actually, sometimes it’s right to say ‘love your neighbour’ more often than ‘love God’

Spotlight shining into the darkness, with the words: Cancel culture: how it works, what it does, + four useful examples to have at your fingertips (Because if it's not all bad, we need to explain why) workthegreymatter.com

Cancel culture: how it works, what it does, plus four useful examples to have at your fingertips

I’ve seen a number of stories recently about individuals and organisations standing up for what they believe is right.

Some left me with fuzzy warm feelings. Others not so much.

In their midst is much talk of “cancel culture,” though most uses have negative connotations of “intolerance”, “outrage culture” and “mob mentality.” And it makes me ask: when does cancel culture become bullying? Because withdrawing support for public figures isn’t always a bad thing.

To wrap our heads around this, I think there are a few things we need to appreciate. Continue reading Cancel culture: how it works, what it does, plus four useful examples to have at your fingertips

Young woman looking up thoughtfully with the words: Five things I’d explain to a teenage girl if she asked about Deuteronomy 22:13-21 (assuming she has the courage to ask) workthegreymatter.com

Five things I’d explain to a teenage girl if she asked about Deuteronomy 22:13-21 (assuming she has the courage to)

This would be that law about the young bride who’s already lost her virginity.

Actually it’s not, but I’ll get to that later.

I promised myself I’d keep this post under 1,200 words: 200 for each thing to say, plus intro. So if you want detailed backup for what I’m saying here, check out the links and references for further reading. I’m drawing mainly on the work of Aaron Koller, Carolyn Pressler, Joseph Fleishman and, not least, Emily Nagoski.

I’m writing this post because in the Western evangelical church, Christians of all ages are encouraged to read the Bible, although there are some pretty puzzling things in it. And whilst it’s pretty standard to say “Jesus won’t mind if you ignore that bit,” if you’re talking to a teenage girl who’s anything like me, those arguments won’t wash. (Admittedly though, I’m pretty weird.)

I grant you, even if she’s grown up with purity culture, Deuteronomy 22 probably didn’t feature much in conversation. But it’s still likely she’ll completely misread the passage (as I did) if she reads it from a purity culture mindset.

So, here are five things to explain. Take it slowly and gently.

13 “If any man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and detests her, 14 and charges her with shameful conduct, and brings a bad name on her, and says, ‘I took this woman, and when I came to her I found she was not a virgin,’ 15 then the father and mother of the young woman shall take and bring out the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. 16 And the young woman’s father shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man as wife, and he detests her. 17 Now he has charged her with shameful conduct, saying, “I found your daughter was not a virgin,” and yet these are the evidences of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city. 18 Then the elders of that city shall take that man and punish him; 19 and they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name on a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife; he cannot divorce her all his days.

20 “But if the thing is true, and evidences of virginity are not found for the young woman, 21 then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done a disgraceful thing in Israel, to play the harlot in her father’s house. So you shall put away the evil from among you. (NKJV)

Continue reading Five things I’d explain to a teenage girl if she asked about Deuteronomy 22:13-21 (assuming she has the courage to)

Picture of a closed black Bible resting on an ornate lectern, with the words: What exactly is this 'preaching' MacArthur speaks of, that he says it's categorically beyond all women? workthegreymatter.com

What exactly is this ‘preaching’ MacArthur speaks of, that he says it’s categorically beyond all women?

John MacArthur was recently asked what he thought of Beth Moore. In addition to telling her to ‘go home’, he said: “There’s no case that can be made biblically for a woman preacher – period – paragraph – end of discussion.” (Video here.)

[For those less familiar: if you want a flavour of the more recent controversy around Beth Moore, try reading this Church Leaders article from May 2019: Beth Moore Has Had Enough of ‘Sinful’ Evangelical Misogyny. John MacArthur is on Wikipedia here.]

This ‘no case that can be made biblically’ statement has got me scratching my head a little. I mean…

Before Zelophehad’s daughters, there was no scriptural case for daughters inheriting. (Numbers 27:7-11) Continue reading What exactly is this ‘preaching’ MacArthur speaks of, that he says it’s categorically beyond all women?

Picture of woman sitting outside with her eyes closed and a slight frown, holding a closed copy of the Bible, with the words: Why do I care so much about the Old Testament rape laws? workthegreymatter.com

Why do I care so much about the Old Testament rape laws?

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

What I blog about and what I want to blog about, do not always align.

The Old Testament laws on sex, adultery and rape, particularly those in Deuteronomy 22:13-29, are a sensitive topic to say the least. Whenever I find an angle to write about, my inner caution tends to apply the brakes before my enthusiasm gets to the point of posting.

It’s not that this is a topic to be enthusiastic about, per se. It’s just that, in the last few years, the biblical scholarship I’ve read on these passages has absolutely blown my mind. And the more feminist literature I read (currently working through Jessica Valenti’s The Purity Myth), the more I believe the church needs to re-evaluate its relationship with these verses. Because although these verses are steeped in patriarchy, I’ve come to believe that there’s a lot of good stuff that they can teach us today.

If you’re now raising your eyebrow at me, I’m gonna guess it’s for one of several reasons. I’ll take them in turn. Continue reading Why do I care so much about the Old Testament rape laws?

Text on purple, white and black swirly background: Why do Methodist evangelicals insist all sex outside marriage is 'sexual immorality'? Because that's not in the Bible. workthegreymatter.com

Why do Methodist evangelicals insist that all sex outside marriage is ‘sexual immorality’? Because it’s not in the Bible.

The Methodist Conference in Great Britain recently commended a report about marriage and relationships, God In Love Unites Us, by 247 votes to 48. The headlines have focussed on how this report commends same-sex marriage, but it’s actually much broader than this. For example, it also discusses cohabitation, developing resources for married people, and even developing liturgies for when relationships end.

Meanwhile, Methodist Evangelicals Together have issued a statement and article in Premier Christianity saying that the report was one-sided, ignored testimony, and biblically unsound.  They’re calling on evangelicals to “make the case for a biblical view of marriage and relationships” rather than echo society’s views. [Edited to add: I should probably caveat here that that not all Methodist Evangelicals agree with the stance that MET has taken. Certainly, I saw tweets to the contrary as the report and article came out.]

Now, I might have my own problems with the report (the section on good sexual relating doesn’t mention consent), but I also recognise that it’s attempting to tackle and contextualise big and very sensitive issues, whilst still being accessible to read. And on the whole, I reckon does very well at this. What’s more, far from being unbiblical, I think the report is conceptually groundbreaking in how it de-couples sexual ethics from marriage.

Make no mistake, the report doesn’t give a free-for-all. For all my talk of ‘groundbreaking’, much of what the report says about sex is still well within the bounds of Methodist evangelical sexual ethics. It explicitly says “promiscuous, exploitative or demeaning” sex is unacceptable and emphasises exclusivity (albeit, not marriage) as a pre-requisite for sexual flourishing.

As such, the report places itself outside of much sex-positive thought, including any discussion of, for example, BDSM or polyamory. I’m not going to debate that in this post. In fact, right now, I’m not interested in going over same-sex marriage (though you’ll probably be able to guess where I stand).

What I want to ask is simply this:

Why do evangelicals insist on directly linking extra-marital sex to sexual immorality?  Continue reading Why do Methodist evangelicals insist that all sex outside marriage is ‘sexual immorality’? Because it’s not in the Bible.

Picture of wooden crucifix on a table, with the words "I heard a talk on penal substitutionary atonement; here’s what happened when I complained"

I heard a talk on penal substitutionary atonement; here’s what happened when I complained

You’ll get the most out of this post if you first read the previous one. Basically, I went to a talk where a man preached that Jesus took humanity’s punishment when Jesus suffered on the cross. At the end I said I didn’t think was supported by the bible, but rather Jesus took humanity’s sin.

In the previous post, I talked about what the theology of penal substitutionary atonement is, why I have such issue with it, what this man actually said, and what I said by way of challenge.

This post charts my experiencing of going into that talk, coming away from it, and how people responded to me.

I’m sharing this because one of the most pressing questions of the current time is how people can raise their voices and be heard and bring about positive change. I don’t have all the answers, but my reflections on this particular incident may give people helpful food for thought. Continue reading I heard a talk on penal substitutionary atonement; here’s what happened when I complained

Picture of wooden crucifix on a table with the words "I heard a talk on penal substitutionary atonement; it tainted the ‘good’ in Good Friday"

I heard a talk on penal substitutionary atonement; it tainted the ‘good’ in Good Friday

So, last week I heard a man in paid ministry explain why Good Friday is good.

I took notes.

I knew in advance that he was an evangelical, so I guessed he’d be presenting a variant on penal substitutionary atonement (PSA). In this post I’ll lay out what PSA is, what he said, what I said to him by way of challenge and other reasons why I felt the theology was problematic. In the next post, I’ll discuss the fallout, how that affected me, and what I make of the situation as a whole. Continue reading I heard a talk on penal substitutionary atonement; it tainted the ‘good’ in Good Friday

Primrose Everdeen from the Hunger Games with the words "Remember who the real enemy is and who we're fighting for"

This is not a defence of Ezer Rising; it’s a lament over evangelicalism

Primrose Everdeen from The Hunger Games – MockingJay part 2Last week was eventful.

On Tuesday (11th December) I received a message from a friend about a recent post on Medium titled The Ezer Rising Story.

The friend was Sierra White, who founded and runs a small social media platform called Ezer Rising. The post was an account from six people, five of whom were former members of the Ezer Rising team, about how Sierra was abusive and the platform wasn’t a safe space.

Sierra said she was “just floored.”

It wasn’t the first time she had messaged me and others in this way. Like the previous times, I encouraged her not to respond. Though, unlike the previous times, I decided I would.

I say this post is not a defence of Ezer Rising, that’s because this post isn’t about Ezer Rising, per se. It’s about evangelicalism and why this whole sorry mess makes me weep.  Continue reading This is not a defence of Ezer Rising; it’s a lament over evangelicalism

Wordcloud of words in the poem Dear Judge with blue and red text in the shape of the USA

Dear Judge (a poem about Brett Kavanaugh)

This poem draws on the story of David and Bathsheba, which is detailed in 2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12. A commentary on the poem, what inspired me to write it, and what I’m trying to say with it, is available here.

Dear Judge

Dear Judge,
You who discern right from wrong,
You who weigh the conduct of others,
You who interpret and write the law,
You who sit,
You who rule,
Listen – I’m talking to you. Continue reading Dear Judge (a poem about Brett Kavanaugh)

Word cloud in red and blue about David and Bathsheba with the post’s title

David’s story is no defence for male impunity (and Kavanaugh apologists need to know this)

With all that has been written about Dr Christine Ford and US Supreme Court judge Brett Kavanaugh over the last few weeks, I’ve asked myself what I might be able to contribute that wasn’t already being said.

One of the best pieces I read was a post on Slate.com titled ‘Men are more afraid than ever.’

It lays out how one argument in defence of Kavanaugh is essentially the idea that if a man sexually assaults a woman then he should have impunity. Perhaps he might be taken out of the public eye for a few months, but if so, then his time out should not be long:

They grew up in a world that taught them they “get to” do the things they did. They feel, accordingly, that they have been unjustly penalized. They believe they’re suffering greatly.

As I reflected on the article, it struck me that one of the biggest drivers behind this toxic mentality might be a modern Christian (mis)understanding of David and Bathsheba. If so, then perhaps what people need to hear, is something that undercuts poor interpretation of this story.  Continue reading David’s story is no defence for male impunity (and Kavanaugh apologists need to know this)

Evangelicals can’t sanitise Vicky Beeching’s conversion exorcism as badly worded prayers

When I first read the interview in which Christian singer-songwriter Vicky Beeching came out as a lesbian (after a substantial performing career in the USA’s Bible Belt), I found myself faced with a number of challenges. Perhaps surprisingly, the biggest one for me related to how she had undergone an attempted exorcism. It had been aimed at converting her sexual orientation from gay to straight and she had been traumatised by this experience.

I wanted to understand why this was the case. (In all honesty, this wasn’t obvious to me.)

Now, reading her recent memoir-cross-apologetic Undivided, where she defends both her gay identity and LGBTQ+ identities in general, I still have questions, but I also have more answers.

And one thing above all is clear to me: this attempted exorcism ought not be described as merely ‘spontaneous prayers that could have undoubtedly been worded better’. This is what Peter Lynas said whilst writing for (and on behalf of?) the UK Evangelical Alliance. There is much that can be said about his review, but for this post I’ll focus on just these words. I expect many LGBTQ+ advocates would say these words demonstrate a lack of understanding regarding the nature of the offence that conversion therapy presents to them. I think there is something to that, but what I want to show here is how these words fail to take responsibility for beliefs and practices around healing ministries.

I’ll try to explain my reasons as gently as I can.

CONTENT NOTE: This post describes Vicky’s experience of attempted conversion prayer (using details from her book) as well as some anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric.

Continue reading Evangelicals can’t sanitise Vicky Beeching’s conversion exorcism as badly worded prayers

Books of 2017: Titles for those who are looking outside the box

As I finally come to write reviews of this last cluster of books from 2017 I realise that I’ve probably more not read them, than read them. Sorry about that. This batch is probably of most interest to people who are questioning some of the answers they’ve been given by the church, particularly around sex, sexuality and gender. There’s also some sci-fi. Here are the books I’ll give you a little flavour of:

  • Damaged Goods
  • God, Sex & Gender
  • Making sense of Sex
  • Searching Issues
  • Say Goodbye to Hollywood (fiction)
  • Lord of Light (fiction)
  • Soul Bare

Continue reading Books of 2017: Titles for those who are looking outside the box

Books of 2017: Titles of interest to theology lovers and Bible students

I read all of these from cover to cover.

Only kidding! The themes for 2017’s theological reading seem to have been justification (and my discovery of a long-standing debate between John Piper and Tom Wright), hope and the kingdom of heaven, and prophecy. So here are a few short reviews of:

  • Justification
  • Why the Reformation Still Matters
  • New Testament for Everyone commentaries
  • Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries
  • Whole Life Worship
  • Surprised by Hope

(Actually, they’re not short. This post is about 3,500 words. Whoops.)

Continue reading Books of 2017: Titles of interest to theology lovers and Bible students