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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.

women bible

I’ve been reading a hashtag on twitter today called #WhyIDidn’tReport. It’s about rape. More than one woman (and a few men) tweeted the myriad reasons why they didn’t report their sexual assaults to the police. More than one is one too much. I was left on the verge of tears – shocked and dismayed that so many have been silenced, emotionally abused, manipulated, and violated in every possible way, not only by their rapists, but by police, family members, and those who are supposed to care about them. I wanted to reach into the future and wrap my future daughter in a blanket of love and a blaze of terrifying anger that would be soft enough to cushion her and hot enough to sear those who would try to hurt her. I saw the pain, and I tried for a moment, to empathise, knowing that I will never fully understand. One tweet caught my eye in particular. A young lady mentioned that her abusers had been popular members of her youth group at church, and she didn’t report because she knew no one would believe her or they would try and protect her abusers.
I have a problem with the word ho. I take umbrage with the word slut. I haven’t always been this way. My 16 year old self would casually refer to other young women as ho’s. I could say the intent wasn’t malicious, that my teenage mind was regurgitating the waste I’d absorbed from rap (and rock) videos and conversations I’d heard on the double decker that took me to and from school. I don’t want to let my 16 year old self off that easily though. The intent was malicious, if only because it came from a place of elevating myself above these other young women – I was Christian and virginal and rigorous (probably not enough) with the criteria for the young men I allowed to so much as hold my hand. My Daddy was at home and very much involved in my life. My family wasn’t perfect but there was love there, and protection, and although I yearned for male approval the same way that any 16 year old dark skinned, kinky haired girl who isn’t sure that she’s not ugly does, there was love there. So many of the 16 year old girls who I mistakenly called hos didn’t have that love there.
But some of them did. They just made choices that were different to mine. I don’t know whether they thought they were the baddest thing out of South East London or whether they needed a man to tell them so, I just know that they made choices that were different to mine. They weren’t in my opinion, wise choices, or even morally good choices, but that didn’t give me the right to use derogatory language and define their whole personhood based on those choices.
I don’t like labeling myself as feminist. As a self described fairly conservative Christian, I definitely wouldn’t be called a sex-positive feminist by most. I do understand though, that they are somewhat correct when they accuse the church (and I want to differentiate between the church and Christianity) of having issues with women and sexuality. I do know that men in church are ‘allowed’ to be promiscuous and preach from pulpits. I know that women who are promiscuous are shamed in ways that men aren’t. I know that pastors sexually abuse women, and sleep with multiple women in their congregations and don’t get given the P45’s they deserve. I know that despite having awesome parents and a Dad who tells me that “a woman’s place is wherever she wants to be”, I still managed to absorb this strange notion that men were sexual, and I was kinda half sexual, and Jesus is little bit more ok with men sleeping with multiple women than me sleeping with multiple men.
This is part of the reason why women in church don’t report sexual abuse. Because we aren’t supposed to be sexual anyway. Because we’ve heard ridiculous things from the pulpit about ‘good men’ who became pastors and were somehow ‘trapped’ by short skirted Jezebels in church clothing who corrupted them, as if a man in a position of power has no agency. Because people in church will tell you that he is a ‘man of God’ and God is a God of forgiveness and so you shouldn’t report him(or her) to the police, but keep it ‘in house’. Because when I was 8 and one of the deacons at church sat me on his lap and began to touch my leg in a way that made me uncomfortable and I screamed and kicked him and ran to my mum I was asked by someone ‘why I kicked a poor old man?’.To which I say, to hell with that. Literally, I condemn it to hell. It’s hellish because it is a culture of evil that allows people to abuse power and abuse the name of God for their own sick gratification.
So in a rather incoherent way, I want to say that silence is deadly. Not the silence of victims who don’t speak up, because they have every right and reason to be silent if they so choose to be. The rest of us though, should be careful not to silence the voices of those who do want to speak. That’s all.
Peace.