black church hug

There was a hashtag on twitter a couple of months ago started by relationship blogger Oloni called #sluttygirlfears, tackling some of the taboos surrounding women’s sexual desires and dismantling the idea that women shouldn’t enjoy or want sex in the same way men do. I initially looked on as an interested outsider of sorts, but quickly realised that I could actually relate wholeheartedly with the jist of many of the tweets.

I can’t remember the age when I started believing that good girls don’t like sex, but by age 13 I definitely knew it to be true. I don’t remember thinking  too much about sex before 13. It wasn’t that my household was one where the topic of sex was taboo or forbidden. My Dad was (still is) and old school Jamaican man, whose idea of the sex talk was telling me, gruffly, on the way back from a sleepover age 12 ,”I don’t want to find you with any boy behind a bush”. To which I obviously replied “Why on earth would I be doing ANYTHING behind a bush?”

My Mum, on the other hand, encouraged us to ask as many questions as we wanted and she was never shy about giving answers, even if the answer was “I’ll tell you more about that when you’re older”.I had a very good working knowledge of the birds and the bees by the age of 6, thanks to the “GROWING UP”  books she had left around the house, littered with very graphic and clinical diagrams of, as they described it (1986 edition books), ‘coitus’. 6 year old me was unphased and uninterested in intercourse, although I would gladly tell you that men produced sperm, women made eggs, and that it took approximately 9 months for a baby to develop from their joining.

Unfortunately, March 23rd 2003 and the onset of puberty came upon me suddenly. One minute I was reading Harriet the Spy complete with my Marks and Spencer’s training bra, and the next minute hormones, bleeding uteruses and teenage acne attacked me. Shortly after that assault commenced,  I was sitting in the living room at home one afternoon and I stumbled across some porn on the T.V. I was intrigued and disgusted by it at the same time, but honestly probably more intrigued than disgusted. Fascinated that I could finally put the cartoon graphics of “GROWING UP” to real faces, I watched through half squinted eyes for a minute before telling my Dad that something had got fuddled up with the Christian cable box (yes, it was on a Christian cable box) and he should probably get the cable guy to fix it,

I’m sure I was aware of my own sexuality before then to some extent – I knew that when the boy I liked at church had to hold my hand during the prayer my heart would get a bit racy, but I think age 13 was when I really realised that I probably was going to really like sex when I finally had the chance to do it.  The problem was, I was pretty sure I wasn’t really supposed to like sex.

The early 2000’s were the hey day of the ‘True Love Waits’ movement that swept across America’s evangelical churches. Teenagers were signing pledges, writing vows of virginity with menstrual blood (not really, but i wouldn’t be surprised), wearing promise rings and doing Daddy daughter dates to make sure that they had enough non sexual male presence in their life to stop them having sex with men they actually fancied. It was a bit of a #fail, because the pregnancy rate in schools with abstinent only education ended up being the same or higher than schools which taught more about contraception.

Being a young, Caribbean-British Christian, specifically Seventh Day Adventist, I had my own purity woes to contend with. The American books on waiting didn’t exactly resonate with the environment of my South East London private school. I wasn’t being constantly pressured to have sex and having to valiantly run out of high school proms clutching my bra strap and my dignity.

The overwhelming message I heard about sex in church was pretty simple though – “Don’t have it, try not to think about it, and if you do do it, don’t have an abortion because that’s a sin. But once you get married it’s great and a gift from God and you can think about it all the time”.

Age 27, this is no longer serving me.

I’m fed up of us pretending that only single men struggle with wanting sex. The narrative that women seek companionship primarily and sexual intimacy is a pleasant but secondary consequence is frankly, more archaic than leather condoms. It’s hilarious that in 2017, we’re still doing relationship seminars with young Christians where we pull the boys into one room and talk to them about masturbation and porn and pull the girls into another and talk to them about modesty and ‘guarding their heart’. Women of this generation are often as visually stimulated as their male counterparts, much more aware of their sexual desires and definitely not just ‘giving sex to get love’. 15 year old church girls are performing oral sex during the week and sitting at the back of church every Saturday. Get real.

I’m not going to be boxed in by these #sluttygirlfears anymore, being scared of the disapproval of church folks who are in denial about their own sexuality and the sexuality of those around them.  Some women in church have had sex, and are having it right now. Some of them have had lots of sex with lots of different people. Some of them haven’t had sex, but want to. Some of them might even be asexual. Most of them probably really enjoy sex, or at least the thought of it. It’s time to accept it for what it is.

While God gives us boundaries for our sexual behaviour, we don’t help Him along by either pretending that they’re easy to live within, or that we don’t have any sexual desires in the first place. Our inability to accept and acknowledge female sexuality doesn’t lead to righteousness or repentance, but to guilt, shame, self loathing and fear.

I apologise to the women I’ve hurt, spoken badly of, or looked down on because I couldn’t come to terms with the fullness of my own humanity.

To the church girl who has slept with that guy she shouldn’t have, watched the porn video last night or thought a few things that would make the head deacon blush, know that you aren’t strange, abnormal or irredeemable. There are lots of us here, walking this Jesus walk with you, trying to heal from the lies that were told us about our sexuality from those in church and those outside church. You are wonderfully made. God designed your body to desire sex and to enjoy sex as much as any man. You are not a slut. You are formed into wonderful femininity, holding inside of you the breath of God.

I wholeheartedly believe that God’s ideal for us is sex within marriage, with one person who loves us, cherishes us, and forsakes all others. I really want to have that experience one day. It would be great if my sex drive could turn on on the wedding night and stay off before then, but that’s not realistic, and evidently not how I was made. So until then, I’m slowly allowing myself to accept all of my humanity, including acknowledging and celebrating my sexuality – and so should you.

Here’s some great reading material I’ve found helpful:

  1. Real Sex by Lauren Winner
  2. Flame of Yahweh, Sexuality in the Old Testament  by Richard Davidson
  3. Letters to Young Lovers by Ellen White
  4. Songs Of Solomon

adventist.png

 

I had a conversation recently with a friend, and we talked at length about the fact that the nature of religion , especially Christianity, appears to be rapidly changing in our post-modern world. It’s no longer ‘cool’ to have a very definite set of beliefs that suggest that you have a monopoly on truth. Young people of our generation are becoming increasingly disenchanted with dogma, meaningless tradition, and religion that focuses more on prohibition rather than liberation. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

Within my particular denomination there seems to be a shift in certain quarters from focusing on the beliefs that make us different from other branches of Christianity, some of which are seen redundant, irrelevant and even downright wrong, to a seemingly more inclusive approach. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get bogged down  in conversations about religion, politics and society with labels such as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ which often serve little purpose outside of allowing us to keep our ears closed to  the other side. So instead of defending a ‘side’or writing a list of criticisms of complaints, which, let’s face it we’re all good at doing, especially me – I wanted to write about some of the unique things I love about my church. They aren’t in order of importance, they’re just random snapshots of what I love about my faith:

1) Our focus on the Bible

I’m pretty sure I learnt a knock off version of Harvard referencing  system age 5, just from growing up Adventist. It was never enough for me to believe something just because I felt like it was true or it sounded like it was good.  It was never enough for my parents or a pastor to tell me something was wrong or right based on their childhood or a tradition that had been passed down to them. I would ask “Is it in the Bible? Where? Is that in the right historical context?”. And as I got older, that led to me questioning some of the traditions inside my own church and really digging deep to make sure that when I did make a decision in my late teens to actually join the church, that I believed in all the doctrines. Growing up Adventist taught me to take theology seriously and believe that God wasn’t content to just give me a rule book and leave me to it. He wanted me to engage, to ask questions, to understand the history and sociology, but most of all, to come to know and love Him through its study.

2)The health message

If you’re not Adventist, you’ll be wondering what that is – if you’re Adventist you’ve heard the phrase a million times. Adventists are known for their focus on health and a happy lifestyle, and many of us follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. I’ve recently made a commitment to stick 100% to a full plant based diet and I feel great for it. Not only has it given me a sense of achievement,  the discipline required to stay away from my occasional halloumi binges has extended to other areas of life – spiritually, physically and mentally. I love the fact that our ‘health message’ isn’t just about food, but encompasses a total state of well being. Taking time out each week to observe a day of rest, being physically active, getting enough sleep and most importantly, having trust in a power greater than myself give me a sense of well being that I’m incredibly grateful for.

I wish that more of us who are Adventists would try and experience the benefits that come from our health message especially as everyone else now seems to get that eating clean isn’t a chore when it’s done right!

3) Our commitment to social justice

I’ve never been someone who is content to believe that God wanted us to be so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good. In fact, I tend to believe that the more heavenly minded you are, the mor earthly good you will be. One of things I love about being Adventist is that we’re often encouraged to believe that as individuals we can bring a small taste the kingdom of God to earth in the way we live our lives.The network of charities, hospitals and educational institutions run by the church always remind me that I’m not here to live for myself. My talents and my gifts are given to me to share with humanity and to offer whatever portion of peace and joy that I can to the people I interact with. Fighting against injustice, poverty, ignorance, and suffering are not jobs that I can leave to God – he’s given me my own job to do no matter how small, in reflecting his fight against these things.

4) The emphasis on lifestyle standards.

Being a teenager and an Adventist wasn’t the easiest thing. Before I developed a genuine relationship with God for myself, there was often a feeling of irritation. Why did I have to dress differently from other people? Why were my parents so strict about the things I could and couldn’t watch on TV? Why was it so bad to listen to 50 Cent? (I’m revealing my age aren’t I?) Why did I have to be so…different from everyone else? I was fed up of saying no to going certain places. I was fed up of being out the loop of everyone else’s favourite TV show or music video. I was fed up of not having sex.I just wanted to be normal.

As I grew to actually value my relationship with God I understood more and more why what I watched, what I read, where I went, who I slept or didn’t sleep with shaped the kind of person I became. And at times when I struggled a lot with these standards, I saw how I changed into a person that I didn’t particularly like and that my relationship with a God I had come to love and trust, suffered. I know now more than ever that my standards aren’t about arbitrary rules to control how I live but rather daily decisions about how I want the trajectory of my life to go. I realise that in order to be truly happy I have to be consistent in what I do publicly and behind closed doors and that that only comes from consistency in the outwardly little things I do every day.

I am glad that the youth of my church are not content to be stagnant in doing things the way they were done before for the sake of it. I want us though, to ensure that we are not afraid to be different. That our change isn’t powered by being molded by the unrelenting pressure of a secular postmodern world that paints Biblical faith as primitive, restrictive and embarrassing or a modern Christianity that is offended by any denomination that does not subscribe to a one size ecumenicalism. Now is not the time for cowardice or shrinking. We have a faith that can bring light and love and hope to so many. Find out who and whose you are, and live it!

What do you love about your faith?

 

 

kim kanye interacial

 

“Can’t turn a hoe into a housewife”, is a well known phrase. Essentially it encapsulates the idea that once a woman has a past of being sexually promiscuous, she can never become ‘respectable’ enough to become a good wife. The cumulative effect of her past sexual experiences have forever tainted her and rendered her value at zilch in the marriage economy. I’ve made a couple of posts about sexual double standards before and I hate to to beat on the same drum with a similar rhythm, but unfortunately, this message just hasn’t travelled through to the all the intended villages yet  -so I’m going to keep playing.

Funnily enough, men who are well on their way to being able to run their own brothel with themselves as the primary service giver, are the same men who tend to use this phrase without any sense of coyness.  Yes, you’ve read correctly – JimBob who has slept with a different woman every month for the past 5 years, wishes to marry Felicity Neverkissed. It doesn’t strike them as ironic that they’ve treated women as  mere semen receptacles since puberty but still claim that the many women they’ve slept with aren’t worthy of their hand in marriage. This should be side splittingly hilarious to the majority of sensible people, but it always strikes me as strange how so many otherwise intelligent and emotionally sensitive men have for some reason still not rejected the idea that women’s sexual expression has far more moral consequences than theirs. Practically, I would agree it does – we can get pregnant. Morally I’m not sure why my past promiscuity would make me completely ineligible to get pregnant, use a spatula and be a source of emotional support to someone, but a man’s promiscuity has absolutely no bearing on his ability to function as my life partner. View Post

black church hug

There’s a great hashtag trending on twitter at the moment called #BlackChurchSex. No, it’s not some kind of strange niche fetish involving black people and pews. It’s shedding light on the cultural attitudes towards sex and sexuality within the black church and hopefully, what we can do to encourage better ones.

I actually believe that this is probably one thing that the black and white church has in common – warped, unbiblical views of sexuality that are rooted in a history of misogyny and misunderstanding of God’s intention for our sexuality. As far as the black church, things are complicated even further when we add the historical disrespect of black bodies and sexual abuse of black bodies during slavery and colonialism, often at the hands of ‘Christian’ masters, in the formation of our attitudes towards sexual behaviour.A natural response to black sexuality being treated as cheap is to enforce a legalistic code of conduct around our sexuality that encourages ‘sacredness’.

One thing that stood out to me from the hashtag were the stories of sexual abuse at the hands of ministers and and authority figures. Thankfully, I’ve never personally encountered what most would consider serious sexual abuse, but I did have an incident where a man who was known for being predatory sat me on his lap and started touching my thigh (I was 9)  and I was chastised for kicking him and running out the room. Yeh, I kicked him – and I still maintain that it was the right thing to do.

Unfortunately, the prevailing attitudes in the black church tend to foster a culture of shame and secrecy when it comes to anything sexual. I know other women who were treated inappropriately by the same man, but felt extremely embarrassed about informing the relevant church authority. Fortunately for me, I was young and had a great relationship with my parents, so I didn’t feel the pressure of having to deal with that situation after it happened – they did it for me. For the other women who were in their 20’s, they didn’t have that luxury. It doesn’t help that the close environment of the church means that the person who abuses you might well be the uncle, cousin, brother or sister of one of your church leaders.

The sexual abuse that is rampant in the black church cannot be examined in isolation. The entire sexual formation of black people as they grow up in the black church actively encourages an environment where sexual abuse can grow.

Not least on the list is the head-in-the-sand attitude we have towards sexual desire. Granted, I absolutely discourage people from being very open about the particulars of their personal sexual history, unless they feel moved to do so. I tend to believe that the modern tendency to put your sexual past and present on loudspeaker is pathological, but I do believe that there needs to be a culture where general discussion about sex and sexuality is welcomed and encouraged.

Denial of human sexuality, particularly women’s sexuality is part of the reason why sexual abuse and sexual immorality run rife. You cannot address a problem when you are constantly ignoring it’s existence.

The basic teaching in many churches on sex and sexuality is:

1)Don’t have sex until you’re married.

2)If you do have sex as a woman, you are slightly damaged. As a man, we kinda expected it anyway, don’t worry – you can still marry a virgin.

34)Don’t worry either ladies, God forgives you even if the good men won’t, but don’t get pregnant.

4)If you do get pregnant we will disfellowship you. The guy might get disfellowshipped also, but YOU will suffer everlasting shame while he might well go on to marry a ‘virgin’ in the next couple of years.

5) Don’t sleep with the Pastor. If he abuses his power and position of authority to sleep with single women in his congregation, it’s because they lured him with their Jezebel charms.

6) Men can’t really control themselves, so women, the onus is on YOU.

7) Gay is bad. With no further commentary.

With attitudes like this, is it a wonder that we have so many women getting pregnant outside of marriage? Is it a wonder that most of our young people aren’t abstinent or celibate? Is it a wonder that sexual abuse goes unpunished and ignored? Is it a wonder that men who are sexually abused feel ashamed to admit it? Is it a wonder that many of those who don’t have a heterosexual orientation instead of going to the church for help, reject faith altogether?

There are simple solutions though. The first is proper training of Godly, committed church leaders on Biblical principles of sex and sexuality. In a culture where so many negative attitudes have been formed, there needs to be formal, intentional training about sexuality.It is not something we can afford to leave to chance.  This includes a complete departure from any teaching that encourages men to feel like their sexuality is something the do not have any ability to steward and any teaching that suggests that women are inherently less sexual than men. It also includes focusing on wholeness rather than simply dodging sin.

The second, is churches enabling and empowering parents to teach their children these principles, including confidence in their own sexual choices and how to articulate when someone makes them feel uncomfortable sexually.

The third, is a zero tolerance policy on sexual abuse. All leaders should have appropriate government checks before being placed in any position. Any leader that sexually abuses a child or a member of the congregation needs to step down immediately and be reported to the appropriate legal body.

The fourth, and most important is an emphasis on the heart of the gospel – God’s love redeeming all our brokenness. And none of it being too broken for him.

Our sexuality is a key part of who we are, and today more than ever, the church cannot be a relevant force to share a gospel which encompasses the totality of human experience  while it refuses to deal with this issue.

segregated churches

I read an article a couple of days ago detailing a sermon giving by a white pastor on MLK day(his race is significant to this), decrying the fact that so many years after King, my denomination (Adventist) still has racially segregated conferences. Conferences are how the denomination organises groups of churches, and currently in the U.S there are state conferences and ‘regional’ (black) conferences.

In his sermon, Dwight Nelson said “With American society racially fragmenting in front of our eyes, how persuasive is church organization that depends on ‘separate but equal’ still, when the nation long ago abandoned it? How can we appeal to a fragmented society on the basis of love when we ourselves are fragmented?”.

I somewhat agree with that statement. The body of Christ cannot represent the love of Christ accurately to the world when the body parts refuse to work together.

In England, our churches are segregated too, just not officially. The white churches are segregated from the black churches, and within the black churches there is segregation amongst different cultural groups ( although you are more likely to find a church with a mixture of different black groups than you are to find a church that is racially mixed).

Churches such as London Ghana, are quite obviously named in a way that is assertively separatist. The idea of reaching a local non-Ghanaian community with the gospel, when the church is called “London Ghana” and the services are in Twi, frankly, puzzles me.

However, it would be unfair for me to speak of London Ghana as if it is the only church that is separatist. There are Filipino churches. There are Brazilian churches. Many of the ‘white’ churches in the UK are predominately white because when my Grandparent’s generation first came to England, the indigenous British people refused to worship with them, and participated in a polite, Christian version of white flight and racism. Caribbeans are not wholly innocent – there have been cases where we have been resistant to our African brothers and sisters joining churches in large numbers, and where both groups have separated themselves along country lines. None of it is good enough.

So while I agree with Pastor Nelson’s statement, I don’t agree with his solution. Churches in America and the UK are segregated because communities are segregated. Because friendship groups are segregated.

Forcing people who mostly socialise with people who look like them, to worship with groups of people they tend to avoid socially, once a week, isn’t going to work.

White Adventists and other white Christians need to address the racism (both individual and institutional) that they uphold through their stereotypes, behaviour patterns and sub conscious beliefs, before they can ever have a hope in heaven of successfully integrating with black and other non-white Adventists. You can’t pop up at church once a week to participate in some lively gospel music, while at the same time defending systems and institutions that oppress black people.

Additionally, the institutional racism in the church makes some black people naturally suspicious of any moves to integrate conferences. Who will be the leaders of these new ‘integrated’ conferences? Unfortunately, history suggests that it’s highly unlikely that it will be brown faces in the most prominent leadership positions. While I don’t feel like clamouring for leadership should be at the forefront of our minds, too often, white people have used the call to ‘humility’ central to Christianity to effectively oppress black Christians. Black churches have always held a powerful role in the black community in terms of being bases for political action and support for an oppressed community. It’s very easy for white people, who have the privilege of not being subjected to the daily demoralising influence of racism, to demand that black churches integrate with them, without any thought to what effect that will have on the community.

There is a need to be sensitive to the fact that church, for many people is a place of comfort after a stressful week. It is a place where we can feel safe and loved and at home. For many of the people who attend London Ghana, forexample, I can imagine that those hours at church form an important part of bonding with their community that they might not get as a minority group in a country that isn’t entirely favourable to them. In the same way, many black people may feel that being surrounded by their own once a week is a ‘safe place’ where they can be themselves without the hyper-awareness that comes from being in predominately white environments.

Do I want to spend my Sabbath being subject to the same micro-aggressions and racial stereotypes that I am subject to in the workplace? No, not really, is the answer. I would be lying if I said that I care about the fact that the majority of churches I attend have very few white people. But I probably should care.

Because I understand that part of the work of the gospel is to transcend the barriers of race. I want this to happen. I believe that this can happen in the church, even if it can’t anywhere else.

What we need though, is not enforced desegregation of churches, but for the racism that is present in the hearts of many white Adventists, and the prejudices between different cultural groups, both black and white, to be eradicated by a saving relationship with Jesus and by frank, open and honest conversations about the continuing legacy of racism in our church and in our society.