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Christian Colleges Need to Remember Their Biblical Values

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Our trans community deserves our love, too

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

Title IX protection of transgender students on college campuses is clashing with Christian colleges’ claimed right to religious expression. What to do?

How do we accommodate trans students and protect these colleges’ stated values? It’s a huge question, and it’s not going away.

This Huffington Post piece gives an overview of the battle in many university campuses, including George Fox, Simpson and Spring Arbor.

In a letter to the Department of Education, interim Simpson President Dr. Robin Dummer wrote that the school cannot “support or encourage” an individual who lives in “conflict with biblical principles,” noting that students who violate campus standards for biblical living are subject to disciplinary measures, including expulsion. For example, Simpson would not permit a “female student presenting herself as a male” to use the restroom, locker room and living accommodations of her choice or to participate in men’s athletic programs, Dummer wrote.

Alright, got it. Dummer wants to protect Biblical principles. He did not specify which Biblical principles he means, but I don’t think he included all the relevant principles values in his letter — I found a few more.

  1. 1 Samuel 16:7 People look at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart. We do not know others’ hearts, we can only guess. God sees things we do not see. You may think that being transgender is just an act of defiance or something you can stop by drawing a line in the sand. But God sees more than we do, which is one reason God does not tell us to draw those lines.
  2. Romans 8:1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. Why are we so quick to condemn when God does not condemn? Do we know better?
  3. Matthew 7:3-5 “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” That’s really the point. We have so much going on, so much we don’t understand, so much we give a pass on for ourselves but not for others, that we really are in no place to ever determine right and wrong. It goes all the way back to the Tree of Knowledge.
  4. Luke 18:13 But the tax collector stood at a distance. He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to look toward heaven. Rather, he struck his chest and said, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’ This is to be our posture. Humility. Gratitude. Love. Period.
  5. Micah 6:8 He has told you, O man, what is good;And what does the Lord require of you
 but to do justice, to love kindness,And to walk humbly with your God? Could that be stated any better? It is enough to fill our plates for the rest of our lives.
  6. Matthew 7:12 “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” If you were transgender, you would not want your school to draw the lines you are drawing — no doubt about it. And to think you could not be there, well here’s another verse for you.
  7. 1 Peter 3:8 Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Figure out a way to make this work for your transgender students. Don’t just stand on your predetermined ideas here. Be tenderhearted toward these people. Sympathize with what they must deal with and all they have gone through. If they were just being belligerent to cause trouble, that would be one thing, but they are not.

Clearly, these Biblical values are not part of many Christian college policies towards transgender students – all stated “in Jesus name.” And they are not part of how much of the church treats anyone they deem as somehow “less than.”

Why not?

If you understand transgender students, or any human being from a place of humility, God might indeed show you something you have not yet seen.

At the very least, you would glimpse God’s heart toward God’s children.

That reflects true Biblical Values and the “astoundingly good news” that is the gospel.

Susan Cottrell is a speaker, author of Mom, I’m Gay—Loving Your LGBTQ Child without Sacrificing Your Faith, and founder of FreedHearts.org.

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Hey, Canada: I Am a Muslim Convert, Not an Extremist

When asked about my religion, authorities assume I'm being manipulated

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A few months ago I was applying for a job when I was suddenly required to attend an in-person interview with a member of the intelligence services. I was interviewed by a white male, who very politely went on to ask me questions for the next two hours. The most puzzling part of the interview though was that I suddenly saw my life through a very gendered lens.

I was asked about my conversion to Islam and whether or not a “boyfriend” had tried to recruit me for the purposes of “extremist activities.” I was also encouraged to provide a list of people who I thought could potentially be “radicalized.” The cherry on top was that he said that as a woman I am much more susceptible to “influencing” because women who are in-love do “inappropriate” things. Leaving aside the fact that the guy automatically assumed that I was heterosexual and that there was a man in my life, I felt quite confused.

To make things worse, the same story and questions were repeated in the context of my Latin American background and my mother’s activism with Indigenous communities. What it came down to was that I, as a woman of multiple identities, could be a threat, but I could also be a valuable ally against “extremists.” Now, keep this point in mind. In the 80s Latin Americans were their time’s radicals. These days the List of Terrorist Entities in Canada mostly targets Middle-Eastern and North African organizations; however, Latin American revolutionary movements featured heavily in this list, and even now former involvement with a revolutionary movement can be problematic for immigration purposes. In addition, today Indigenous communities continue to be seen with suspicion because of sovereignty movements and anti-capitalist approaches. Yet, “extremism” is not new to Canada (Here are a few examples).

Weeks after my interview, following another attack against military personnel, Canada’s Parliament was attacked. Several theories about the perpetrator were given throughout the day, but little information was publically available. But finally the identity of the shooter was released: Michael Zehaf-Bibeau , a convert to Islam, had attempted an attack against Canada. As the events unfolded, I wrote a piece in my blog, as I feared that Muslims would be put, once more, at the centre of political discourses about “extremism” and “terrorism” followed by anti-Muslim sentiments.

The Muslim community was quick to act in an attempt to proactively show their commitment to peace and to Canada. Several media sources showed how Muslims across the country condemned the Ottawa shootings. The Global News, CBC and CTV have featured pieces showing Muslims standing up against extremism. A social-experiment video was applauded in media outlets after it “demonstrated” that Canadians are not Islamophobic despite the earlier attacks; and pictures of solidarity among community members circulated widely after a Cold Lake mosque was vandalized, and the community (Muslims and non-Muslims) got together to erase the graffiti.

But other processes are taking now place. Muslim leaders across the country (mostly male), in an attempt to disassociate themselves from extremism, have released a number of documents that have put many Muslims at odds. In partnership with the RCMP (Police services) they released “United Against Terrorism,” a handbook outlining the difference between jihad and terrorism, and providing Muslim parents with tips on how identify “radicalization” among children and youth. In theory, it may sound like a good idea… However, when the handbook is religion-specific and it is published in partnership with the same institutions that perpetuate racial profiling and criminalization of Muslims in Canada it only propagates the idea that Muslims are violent terrorists and a danger to the country.

Interestingly enough, the handbook mentions the word women only three times, and the word “girl” is never mentioned, the assumption being that girls and women are less likely to be “radicalized.”

In the past I have talked about how female converts to Islam are often depicted in the media. Images of brainwashed, almost-fakely-modest women permeate these portrayals. Female converts are infantilized in an attempt to take away the agency of their conversion. What is more, Muslim women, converts or not, who take up violent conflict, are seen less as agents than their male counterparts. But gender issues aside, the handbook was so problematic that even the RCMP withdrew its support.

Now, Muslim leaders are trying different things to appease the government and, to some degree, the communities across Canada that continue to display anti-Muslim sentiments. In Calgary, an imam has created a background checklist to determine a convert’s likelihood of becoming radicalized. Once more, a good idea in theory, except that, what are you going to do with those who are flagged as potential “radicals”? Not let them convert? Or call the police? On what grounds?

The Islamic Supreme Council also published an information document warning converts against “extremism” and “radicalization.” Once more, women do not feature here (except in two instances), and the tone maintains the infantilization of converts. It turns out that some of us are deemed as ‘right’ sources of Islam, while others not so much… Yet, at the heart of the issue is that it almost seems like a scapegoat strategy. Muslim converts are now “the other” even in Muslim communities.

God forbid we deconstruct the terms “extremism” and “radicalization” to recognize their political use. God forbid we talk about political, economic, social and mental health-related issues when discussing “extremism” and “radicalization.” And God forbid that for once converts to Islam, particularly women, are attributed any kind of agency or knowledge. The sad part is the above documents have some support from Muslims, who think that “screening” converts is the way to go. As if the meanings of “radical” and “extremism” weren’t political and contextual, and as if exclusion played no part in acts of violence.

The question is, how is the marginalization of converts the answer to Islamophobia?

Eren Arruna Cervantes is a writer for Muslimah Media Watch and a university student whose research focuses on the politics of gender and women in organized religions.

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No, Brittany Maynard Did Not Commit Suicide

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What we can learn from "Falling Man"

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

The past few days have been filled with news that terminally ill 29-year-old, Brittany Maynard, has ended her life with medication prescribed by her physician. She did so under legal physician assisted suicide provisions in the state of Oregon. Had Maynard not taken the medication, she would not have lived much longer, and the final moments of her life would likely have been painfully debilitating, as her brain cancer took over.

In the weeks leading up to her death, Maynard succeeded in not only completing her “bucket list” but also in sparking a national discussion on “death with dignity,” or what is commonly called physician assisted suicide.

Admittedly, I thought the matter was settled in my mind before Brittany’s story became a daily topic. Until Brittany I was absolutely, positively against the idea that physician assisted suicide should be legal. However—and here’s another of Brittany’s accomplishments these past few weeks—I don’t feel the way I did a few weeks ago.

Part of my shift has been because of the discussion and reasoning that came from Brittany herself, and part has been from some of the judgmental condemnation I’ve seen of Brittany online—judgmental attitudes that caused me to re-think my association with that side of the issue. However, the real shift in my thinking came from sitting in my rocking chair next to my wood stove late in the evening, watching a program about iconic photography from the terrorist attacks of 9-11.

One of the most recognized images from the terrorist attacks is an image that has been called “The Falling Man” by Richard Drew, and I’m sure you probably recognize it. The image is of an unidentified man who was trapped on one of the upper levels of the Trade Center, and ultimately made the decision to jump to his death instead of being burned alive or suffocated by smoke.

I can’t imagine making that choice. I’ve tried, but I can’t.

There are no exact numbers, but some have estimated that upwards of 200 people made that difficult choice—choosing to jump instead of dying by fire or smoke.

On one hand, one could say these people took their own lives—that they committed suicide—but that wouldn’t really be fair, would it? NYC officials didn’t think so either, and had their deaths classified as homicide by blunt force trauma instead of suicide. A spokesman for the NYC medical examiners office stated:

“Jumping indicates a choice, and these people did not have that choice,” she said. “That is why the deaths were ruled homicide, because the actions of other people caused them to die…”

The Falling Man, and others like him, didn’t have a real choice to live or die—they only had a choice in which way they died: smoke and fire, or by falling. For their children to have to walk through life saying, “my dad committed suicide” is less than fair and completely untrue—they didn’t choose to die (the very definition of suicide), they just chose how they died.

This is precisely why I’m losing my patience with my fellow Christians who are condemning Brittany Maynard for her decision to take the pills her doctor prescribed her. Brittany didn’t wake up one morning and say “I hate my life and I’m going to kill myself,” just like those who jumped on 9-11 didn’t step up to the ledge and jump because they were in debt or trapped in a bad marriage.

It seems disingenuous to force someone to choose between two ways of dying and then turn on them in judgement for picking the least painful of the two options.

Like the 9-11 jumpers, Brittany didn’t have a choice in dying, she only had a choice in how she died. You see, there are people like Brittany—terminally ill with imminent death looming—who are essentially trapped in a burning building from which there is no way of escaping with their lives. For some of these people, the idea of being burned alive or having to inhale smoke until death overcomes them becomes less appealing than stepping up to the ledge and accepting a quicker, less painful fate.

In all the years since 9-11, I’ve never once heard a Christian speak up in judgement and condemnation over the 9-11 jumpers. I’ve never heard someone say they sinned because they “hastened death instead of accepting God’s timing.” I’ve never heard anyone say that failing to condemn their choice is a “slippery slope that could send the message that suicide is okay.” All I’ve ever heard about the 9-11 jumpers is how difficult their choice must have been, and how sad it is that their lives were taken by terrorism.

Why then, should we say those things about Brittany—or those who choose to die more quickly and less painfully in response to a terminal disease—a death sentence that becomes their burning building? It’s not a choice to die (suicide). It’s just a choice to pick the most painless way to die.

Christians should be the people who are the least judgmental and the most compassionate—the ones who recognize the truth that while the 9-11 jumpers didn’t commit suicide, Brittany Maynard didn’t, either.

She died because of terminal cancer, and that is very, very sad.

Benjamin L. Corey, is an Anabaptist author, speaker, and blogger. His first book, Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, is available now at your local bookstore.

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Let’s Leave the Bible Out of the Ballot Box

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One thing we could all do, if we care about our democracy, is get out on Tuesday and vote

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

On Tuesday, Americans will go to the polls to make some very important decisions regarding the life of our democracy and everyone is vying for our attention, our money and our vote! Elections are about power: who has it and who doesn’t. People who have traditionally lacked the power to create the best life for themselves and their families can demand their share of the pie. On the other hand, those who have traditionally held the reigns of power will fight all the harder when they realize they’ve been forced to share. Case in point: Christian churches. In particular, conservative, evangelical churches, some of whom have recently gone so far as to give their church members sample ballots with the church’s preferred candidate. This is, of course, against IRS code and could result in the church being fined and losing it’s 501(c)3 status. That some churches feel entitled to do this is just one evidence of their hubris and their sense of entitlement to control the American political process.

The nuance about religion in public life, however, is this: people get their moral and political values from a variety of sources, one of which is religion. Other sources include family, school, books, civic groups, etc. What is reprehensible to me and most fair minded people is the attempt, on the part of some, to legislate unique religious beliefs and/or practices. When Christians, for example, based solely on what the Bible says about same sex relationships, seek to prohibit same sex couples from enjoying the same legal benefits as any other couple, we have a problem. Because the opponents of marriage equality have not been able to make a convincing secular argument, states are one by one equalizing marriage. This is as it should be. Were it not for religion, this would have long since ceased to be a debate.

On the other hand, what I think is not only acceptable, but unavoidable, is for people to bring their values into the voting booth. What else could you possibly do? As such, some people will vote for candidates who promise to lower taxes because that fits with their values of small government and individual autonomy. Others will vote for candidates who promise to create a better social safety net even if that means higher taxes for some, because that fits with their values of shared, communal responsibility and the common good. These are the ideas that should be openly debated in a democracy.

Decisions about these matters require the careful application of our reason and our moral sensibilities—our heads and our hearts. For years, when I was a pastor, I championed causes of justice and peace and anchored those convictions in my reading of the Bible. The Hebrew prophets demanded justice from those who would use dishonest scales and Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers in the Temple court to express his anger at the rich and privileged fleecing the poor in the name of God. These stories fired my conscience and animated my teaching. The problem is that other pastors, with a different reading the Bible, rallied their congregations to oppose a woman’s right to choose, deny LGBTQ people the same protections under the law, and maintain Christian hegemony in the United States. Try as I might, I could never escape the feeling that the Religious Right and the Religious Left are mirror images of one another—”using” the Bible for their own political agendas. Just because I agreed with the Left more frequently than the Right didn’t mean that both sides couldn’t make their point from the Bible. Naturally I felt my reading of the Bible was more “faithful” and “true” to the original intent, but I could never escape the fact that the Bible could be interpreted in such a way to endorse a sort of theocratic agenda. Just last week I heard a pastor quote Proverbs 14:34,

Righteousness exalts a nation,
but sin is a reproach to any people.

Of course, righteousness means obeying the Christian God and sin is defined by anything that goes against the will of God, as taught in the Bible.

Having left the church I am able to see more clearly the mimetic nature of the religious left and right. What is also clear to me is that our democracy still needs to wrestle with the notion of the “common good.” Our system of government attempts to honor the wishes of the majority while protecting the rights of the minority. This is a tension well worth struggling for. People for whom the system is working well need to think not only of their own interests but also the needs and interests of others. Often, the two are not as far apart as they may seem. When it comes to public education and access to health care, for example, healthy, well-educated people are a public good for our whole society.

As our country continues to pluralize, Christian conservatives, who for decades could take for granted that their values were the values of the entire country, feel the country slipping from their grasp. These Christians—generally middle to upper-middle class, conservative, white, Christians—are afraid that everything they worked so hard to build is being destroyed. And so, efforts of the conservative churches today to control the political process is the last gasp of a world that is fading away. It even makes sense that they would perceive their loss of control as persecution.

One thing we could all do, if we care about our democracy, is get out on Tuesday and vote. And if you really care about democracy, work to get traditionally disenfranchised groups within your community out to the polls. Instead of trying to stack the deck, let us fight for the rights of those whose voices are currently not being heard!

Ryan Bell was a pastor for 19 years before resigning in March, 2013 due to theological and practical differences. He writes about his experience at Year Without God.

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What Christianity Without Hell Looks Like

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It would allow Christians to point upward to God’s love

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

The idea that the Bible declares hell a real and literal place is no more valid than the toxic lie that the Bible condemns homosexuality.

Yet the idea that hell is real persists. Why? Because over the centuries those in positions of power within the institutions of Christianity have methodically, relentlessly, and with great art used the doctrine of hell to exploit the innate fear of death that is harbored by one and all.

Show me a Christian terrified of hell, and I’ll show you a Christian ready to pay good money for the assurance that he is not going there.

If you don’t think the “doctrine” of hell is about the accrual of money and power, then God bless your naiveté.

For the rest of us, it’s certainly worth asking what a Christianity without hell would look like. Well…

A Christianity without hell would be literally fearless.

A Christianity without hell would have nothing to recommend it but the constant and unending love of God. It would allow Christians to point upward to God’s love—but never downward to His/Her wrath.

A Christianity without hell would be largely unevangelical, since there would be nothing to save anyone from.

A Christianity without hell would trust that God’s loving benevolence towards all people (emphasis on all) extends beyond this life and into the next.

Bringing peace about the afterlife, a Christianity without hell would free Christians to fully embrace this life, to heed Christ’s commandment to in this life love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

In short, a Christianity without hell would be a fearless, trusting, loving, divinely inspired source of good in the world.

And this Christianity would be more biblical—would be truer to not just the words but the very spirit of Christianity—than any Christianity that posits the reality of hell.

I want that Christianity. I insist upon that Christianity.

Tell me I’m not alone.

John Shore is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question.

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Read next: The Christian Way to Deal With Your Kid Coming Out

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Yes, I Bring My Poor Children Trick-or-Treating in Your Rich Neighborhood

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I am angry because the rich pass on all the resources possible to their children while depriving poor children of access

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

I know I’m late to the party, but I only just came upon that viral Dear Prudence letter about poor kids trick-or-treating in rich neighborhoods.

Dear Prudence,

I live in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country, but on one of the more “modest” streets—mostly doctors and lawyers and family business owners. (A few blocks away are billionaires, families with famous last names, media moguls, etc.) I have noticed that on Halloween, what seems like 75 percent of the trick-or-treaters are clearly not from this neighborhood. Kids arrive in overflowing cars from less fortunate areas. I feel this is inappropriate. Halloween isn’t a social service or a charity in which I have to buy candy for less fortunate children. Obviously this makes me feel like a terrible person, because what’s the big deal about making less fortunate kids happy on a holiday? But it just bugs me, because we already pay more than enough taxes toward actual social services. Should Halloween be a neighborhood activity, or is it legitimately a free-for-all in which people hunt down the best candy grounds for their kids?

—Halloween for the 99 Percent

Guess what? I am one of those “poor” parents who takes their children trick-or-treating in “rich” neighborhoods. I’ve done it for years, and I’ll be doing it again this Friday. Why? Well if you must know, we live in an area of town that is not set up for trick-or-treating so we have to travel regardless, and I happen to love taking long, beautiful walks through a wealthy neighborhood a mile or so away. But honestly, my reasons shouldn’t matter, because when I read this letter, I see one more desired boundary to circumscribe and trap poor children—to keep them in their “proper” places, the places they deserve.

My kindergartener attends a “poor” school. I’ve looked at the boundary map for her school, and it looks like someone went out of their way to piece all of the poor neighborhoods together while leaving out the wealthier ones. And guess what? Someone did. I researched the backstory, and it turns out that my daughter’s school boundaries were drawn in the midst of some pretty heavy advocacy by some wealthy neighborhoods to stay out. Because apparently my children aren’t good enough for them to send their children to school with.

And I am angry. I am angry because this is about resource hoarding. It’s about the rich passing on all the resources possible to their children while depriving poor children of access to equal resources, and it’s disgusting. We give all sorts of lip service to equality of opportunity in this country, but in actually our social mobility is abysmally low. It is difficult for the children of the rich to fall into poverty, and difficult for the children of the poor to get out. And it is not this way by accident—it is this way because this is how the system set up.

I’m not even angriest for my own children. My children, you see, are not poor-poor. They are graduate-student-poor. Graduate-student-poor is a sort of temporary poor that avoids much of the resource deprivation that accompanies being poor-poor. Other children are not so lucky. Other parents are stuck. It is for these children, and for these parents, that I am angriest.

My husband and I grew up in upper-middle class families. Our parents have college degrees and stable, well-paying jobs. Yet when my husband and I first married, we lived on very little. I learned what it was like to look through the food budget for something to cut or trim so that we could afford to have meat a few times a month. I learned what it was like to beg rides or figure out how to navigate convoluted bus routes because we did not have a car. Our children have been on Medicaid, and our daughter now attends a low-income school. I have learned a lot since my privileged upbringing.

Yet I have not experienced true poverty. Our family has always been there to help us if we really needed, and we have always known that our current state was temporary. Indeed, things are already looking up for us! Someday we will finish graduate school and move, and then be faced the question of choosing a school district. It will be tempting to choose the neighborhood with the best schools, and at that point we will likely have the means to do so. But then, that is what perpetuates the system—everyone grabs the most they can for their children, and at that point I will be in a position to grab more than others.

I can’t say for sure what I will do in the future until I live it. I hope I won’t forget my experience being graduate-student-poor. I hope I’ll live by my principles. I hope I’ll remember what it was like to stand at the checkout shuffling through WIC coupons and holding up everyone behind me, only to learn that I grabbed the wrong brand of grape juice. And I hope I’ll remember what it was to take my “poor” children trick-or-treating in a “rich” neighborhood.

I hope I’ll be part of the solution rather than becoming part of the problem.

Libby Anne is a blogger for Patheos.

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The Christian Way to Deal With Your Kid Coming Out

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My experience with my own daughter taught me a valuable lesson

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

Four years ago our daughter came out to us. She was 20. Here’s one of my first thoughts: we’ll never be the same in the church.

No kidding.

My daughter is telling me something very intimate and scary, several thoughts are going through my head, and I am a little surprised to realize that one is about how the church relationship would never be the same. Not just our then-church but the evangelical tradition we’d been in for 20+ years. They don’t accept gays, and no way are we going to squeeze our daughter into some box so we could fit a church. No. Way.

Frankly, the fact that our relationship to the church was a concern in my mind in that moment indicates a very serious problem with the non-affirming evangelical church tradition. Every time Jesus interacted with people in need, he was a safe and welcoming place. Done.

We are supposed to be that for each other.

Yet, in this moment of need, I knew the church was not a safe place for me to bring this conversation. Just the conversation was not safe to have with my closest friends there. That is a serious distortion of what the church was supposed to look like.

Our daughter asked if we would accept her. I said yes. She said are you sure? I said of course. Absolutely. My husband said the same – no doubt about it.

As I look back on the conversation now, I get chills. But in the moment, I didn’t grasp the gravity of her question. Of course we would accept her. No other possibility crossed our minds. But she told us this is not always the case. She told us that some of her friends lost their families when they came out. They were kicked out. What?!? How could that possibly makes sense?

My experience since then shows me this rejection is all too common. One young woman’s psychotic mother threw her down the stairs. A young man’s mother fell on the floor and wailed, “Where did we go wrong?” and his father answered, “When we had him.” This response is a serious breakdown. (Ya think?)

And it reveals something horrifying.

It reveals a lack of understanding of sexual orientation. A lack of understanding that it is who somebody is, not what they do, and not a choice. And nowhere, nowhere, does God or the Bible or common sense condone throwing out your child because they’re gay. By no measurement does that make sense. Unjustifiable. Period.

It reveals a completely wrong understanding of God’s unconditional love and acceptance. It is a wrong and dangerous teaching that puts behavior first, that makes worthiness up for grabs, something that can be withdrawn on a moment’s notice. It completely undermines Jesus’ presence on earth and in our lives today.

That my daughter could think, after all these years, that we could cut off or in any way limit our relationship with her is a chilling indictment of much of the church and its teaching.

Imagine someone who’s already been through the struggle of discovering that they are gay, and coming out to themselves. It took immeasurable strength and courage to come out to their Christian parents. And then those parents, and the church throw them out? Shun them? Reject them? Tell them they are going to hell? That makes no sense! ZERO SENSE. And it is the complete opposite of the message of God’s love.

But the church is changing. Because I AM the church. And I know many, many, many parents just like me. The church is shifting.

I’m beyond grateful that God is ushering in a new day and age. Legalism, fundamentalism, literalism – all of it – is on its way out. The next generation will not tolerate it. God is refreshing the truth of unconditional love to all people.

As it should be.

Susan Cottrell is the author of Mom, I’m Gay: Loving Your LGBTQ Child Without Sacrificing Your Faith.

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The Catholic Church Needs to Embrace Single Parents Like Me

Pope Francis waves at the end of his weekly general audience on Saint-Peter's square at the Vatican on October 22, 2014.
Pope Francis waves at the end of his weekly general audience on Saint-Peter's square at the Vatican on October 22, 2014. FILIPPO MONTEFORTE—AFP/Getty Images

What I’m simply proposing is a little more recognition

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Well, the Extraordinary Synod for the Family, has ended, and not surprisingly single parents have gotten the same sort of polite inattention from the Catholic bishops that we are used to getting in the pews.

Special attention should be given to the accompaniment of single-parent families, in a particular way to help women who have to carry alone the responsibility of the home and raising children.

That vague-sounding one line was all the consideration single parents saw in the final relatio. Thank you for that, now we can go back to subsisting on the crumbs from the masters table, while the “divorced-and-remarried” and the “gifted gay Catholics” enjoy all kinds of concerned hand-writing from the hierarchy and, for that matter, from the secular press.

That one single line of attention given to such a large, hugely ignored faction of the Church is almost patronizing, like “oh, yeah, those people also; we are mentioning them here, so that base is covered.”

It’s so unbelievably isolating being a single parent in the Church. Where exactly do we fit in? We are not singles eligible for a religious life, we aren’t available to meet during the day for mommies groups, and we’re too divorced for married ministries.

However, the lack of outreach programs available to us isn’t what is the most upsetting — it’s the overall dismissive attitude to our situation.

Personally, I feel all these specialty groups, catered to specific demographics within the Church, do more to divide and isolate us than they do to build camaraderie. It’s the complete anti-thesis of the word “universal”, which is what Catholic means.

When you start dividing the body of the Church up based on age or marital status you run the risk of creating little cliques. These cliques prevent us from socializing and getting to know other members of our own parishes. I’ve been at my parish three years, same seat every week, and I’ve been greeted by only one other family.

We’ve become a church of strangers.

I don’t think another special interest group for single parents is the answer. It’s nice to commiserate, but I can’t think of anything more depressing than a group of single people sitting around talking about how single they are.

What I’m simply proposing is a little more recognition — a blurb in the bulletin, a priestly mention in the prayer intentions during mass, a homily or two about saints who were raised by single parents or were single parents themselves, and lastly, when speaking of families in general, recognize that single parents and their children are indeed still very much families.

Single parents work all day, and spend all evening taking care of our children, so we don’t have the time or resources to rally on our own behalf; in fact, we shouldn’t have to. We shouldn’t be protesting and writing articles on the internet about how we’ve gotten overlooked yet again. The Church should be aware of our existence at this point, recognize our growing numbers, and be there to offer the support we desperately need. At the very least acknowledge, that we exist.

Honestly, it’s just about being seen. That’s all it’s ever been about.

Every single parent has heard the statistics that their children are at a higher risk for lower grades and a life of crime, what we need to hear is some encouragement. I’ve met priests raised by single mothers who’ve mentioned that fact almost apologetically. To them I say, share your story with your parishioners. Give us some hope and encouragement.

Katrina Fernandez is a Patheos Catholic writer and single parent who blogs at The Crescat.

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TIME Culture

Pakistan Should Embrace Malala

Pakistani rights activist Malala Yousafzai addresses the media in Birmingham, England on October 10, 2014.
Pakistani rights activist Malala Yousafzai addresses the media in Birmingham, England on October 10, 2014. OLI SCARFF–AFP/Getty Images

I feel pity for people who cannot find the grace and class within themselves to acknowledge this young woman

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It’s a proud moment for Pakistan, but many Pakistanis aren’t embracing it.

Malala Yousafzai — the courageous, 17-year-old young woman who became a global beacon of hope for girls seeking to gain an education — has won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Predictably enough though, it hasn’t taken long for the critics to mobilize.

Since Friday morning when the news broke, much of the response on social media has been favorable. But unfortunately, many reactions have been discouraging and antagonistic. One blogger wrote Yusufzai off as a “loser” who doesn’t deserve to be recognized with such a prestigious award. Another called her a “sellout” who sacrificed her country and principles for fame and glory.

One critic harshly described her as a “tool.” Many others complained that she’s only 17 and questioned whether she even qualifies for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Reading these comments was difficult, not just because they force us to confront the unpleasant side to human nature, but also because they exemplify a growing, disturbing trend of armchair critics who consider themselves qualified to belittle the well-deserved accomplishments of others.

The source for some of the bitterness can be understood. After all, nothing makes us as keen of our own shortcomings than seeing others accomplish great things. That they happen to accomplish them at such a young age — well, that’s just salt in the wound.

It’s difficult for some to digest that this young Pakistani girl, with her father’s help, rebelled against and arguably made more progress in dismantling the Taliban’s archaic, un-Islamic traditions than even the world’s most powerful military.

That should be reason to applaud — not begrudge — her.

But rather than chastise the Taliban’s unethical practices that have harmed the perception of Islam and Muslims worldwide, many accuse Yousafzai of being a willing accomplice in justifying what is often perceived to be the West’s war on Islam. They conveniently ignore that she was an innocent schoolgirl who’s passion for learning so threatened adult men that they attempted to murder her on a bus as she traveled to school.

Because she re-located to Great Britain with her family out of concern for her safety, Yousafzai is blamed for turning her back on her country. This, despite frequent affirmations that she refuses to allow threats from the Taliban or any group from dissuading her from one day returning to Pakistan after she completes her education.

Some Pakistanis argue that Yousafzai’s father is using her to advance “his own agendas.” If that agenda includes sending your daughter to school without being killed, well he too should be applauded. Frankly, he is a role model for other men in patriarchal societies that still hold women in low regard.

Others argue that the elder Yousafzai deserves the credit for his daughter’s success. Not she. After all, he manages her engagements and public affairs and ensures she attends United Nations meetings.

Aren’t parents often a major reason for their offsprings’ success? I know mine are. Ideally, all fathers should be so involved and vested in their daughters’ — and sons’ — futures. The fact that he provides guidance and support doesn’t diminish his daughter’s accomplishments; it only magnifies his own esteem.

Yousafzai’s father should be recognized for steadfastly paving the way for her to gain an education despite the challenges that stood in their way. More fathers should follow his example and encourage their daughters to be ambitious, set the bar high and never be afraid to fight for a just cause.

Some complain that because the father/daughter duo allegedly have political aspirations in Pakistan, they must be corrupt. S
eeing the deplorable track record of Pakistan’s elected officials, it’s not difficult to see why one might think anyone who aspires to public office in Pakistan must harbor ill intentions.

Who knows if that’s actually what their plans are, but at the very least, if these two come into power, Pakistan’s literacy rate is bound to increase. If they do have political aspirations though, then I hope they will leverage them to establish a legacy in Pakistan that would make its founder Jinnah proud.

Some of the more cringe-inducing conspiracy theorists hypothesize that Yousafzai must be spying for the CIA or Mossad. They clearly fail to see that the determination and confidence Yousafzai projects in striving towards her goals are influenced largely by her Islamic faith, which makes seeking and acquiring knowledge incumbent upon all Muslims — including women.

I don’t envy the Nobel Peace Prize selection committee the onerous task of having to consider and select recipients.

Let’s face it. For all the horrible people who do evil things in the world, there are many more compassionate, selfless and courageous folks who work tirelessly to improve the condition of humanity.

But I do feel pity for people who cannot find the grace and class within themselves to acknowledge that this young woman — who overcame overwhelming obstacles, stirred dormant consciences, launched a global movement, inspired millions worldwide and who through it all continues to smile and joke with self-deprecating humility — is deserving of such an honor.

Congratulations, Malala. Continue championing the cause for girls’ education and making (most of) Pakistan proud. May your conviction, courage, determination and bravery give rise to a thousand more like you.

Zainab Chaudry is the Maryland Outreach Manager of the Council on American Islamic Relations. CAIR is the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization.

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TIME faith

There’s Nothing Wrong With Medical Missionaries Talking About Faith With Patients

Emory Hospital Releases American Aid Workers Treated For Ebola
Dr. Kent Brantly speaks during a press conference announcing his release from Emory Hospital on August 21, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Brantly and another patient, Nancy Writebol, were released from Emory Hospital after receiving treatment for Ebola that they both contracted while working as medical missionaries in Liberia. Jessica McGowan—Getty Images

Domestically and abroad, people of faith are far more likely to give time and money to charitable causes than are secular people

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“It’s great that these people are doing God’s work, but do they have to talk about Him so much?” So muses Brian Palmer at Slate about the work of medical missionaries like Dr. Kent Brantly, who contracted Ebola in Liberia. I’m almost embarrassed to write about this piece, because it is such an easy target. But the Brantly case has put new focus on the work of medical missionaries, who are generating surprisingly negative comments from certain observers. These critiques have fallen into several categories: those who say that the missionaries are stupid for putting themselves in harm’s way, those who say that the missionaries should get no special treatment when they contract a disease that has affected so many others in Africa, and those like Palmer who insist that medical missionaries are wrong to speak about their faith to patients. Here’s three observations about this debate:

1) Palmer and other critics have a deluded sense of “neutral” medicine. Doctors who deal with suffering and dying patients will inevitably send messages, explicit or implicit, to their patients and patients’ families, about the meaning of dying and death. Doctors who think that death is a purely natural event, and that there is no afterlife, or who are agnostic on such questions, will tend to communicate that sentiment to clients. This partly explains why so many Christian doctors do volunteer for the mission field – they believe that there is transcendent meaning in both life and death, and that every person has an eternal destiny. They are uniquely positioned to help people who are struggling with such questions. All doctors can and should be sensitive to issues of politeness and propriety, and the religious convictions (or lack thereof) of patients. But no doctor – no person – is “neutral” on topics like suffering, death, and the afterlife.

2) Making volunteer medical service contingent upon silence about one’s faith would be devastating to impoverished regions internationally. As Palmer himself notes, disproportionate numbers of doctors and nurses serving in under-serviced areas of the world (like Liberia) are people of faith. Devout Protestant and Catholic Christians are among the most common volunteers. They serve to honor God, and they do not believe that they can honor God fully if they do not speak about Jesus Christ to clients, when appropriate. Palmer seems unable to identify with the vast majority of people in the world who do not believe that death is the end of life, nor does he fathom that serious believers cannot be silent about their faith in their vocations.

Domestically and abroad, people of faith are far more likely to give time and money to charitable causes than are secular people. (Just this week another survey appeared demonstrating that the most charitable states are those with the highest rates of churchgoing.) You can accuse these believing folks of having ulterior motives, but where are the legions of atheist volunteers to take their place? Palmer’s innuendos about how the missionaries might be doing more medical harm than good are vicious and slanderous.

3) Christians must not object to other medical volunteers who speak of their own faith (or lack thereof) to clients. Of course, there are secular medical agencies such as Doctors without Borders (though presumably many of their individual volunteers are people of faith as well), Muslim medical missionaries, and those of other faiths. While Christians will not agree with the implicit or explicit messages these doctors may share with clients, the principles of religious liberty and charity would affirm that all medical “missionaries” are free to serve and speak (or not) in the name of their faith, and that their healing work does great worldly and humanitarian good. If we expect others to honor Christians’ right to freely witness about Christ, then workers of other traditions, or no faith at all, should have that freedom as well. Of course, this point may be moot: I don’t recall hearing of many Christians echoing the kinds of complaints made by secularists like Brian Palmer…

See also Ross Douthat’s take on the piece, in which he concludes that he thinks Palmer’s real complaint is “not that the missionaries are necessarily doing something wrong (he won’t actually come out and say that), but that they’re doing something right in a way that makes his team, Team Secularism, look somewhat less impressive by comparison. Which isn’t really a reaction that Christians should be offended by. It’s one that should be welcomed, worn as a badge of honor, and joyfully provoked.” Agreed.

Thomas Kidd is Professor of History at Baylor University and is Senior Fellow at Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion. His books include George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (Yale University Press, 2014), Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots, and God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Notre Dame.

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