Our Sons Deserve Better Than Donald Trump’s Example of “Manhood”

noahmetower

My son is 11 years old; bright and beautiful and fitted with a heart far larger than it has a right to be. He’s that kind of brilliantly alive that only an 11-year old boy can be.

And this year, we let him down.

Donald Trump did.
The GOP did.

The Evangelical Right did.
Much of America did.

I did.

This year, while so many people openly (and rightly) lamented the devastating effect Donald Trump’s disgusting treatment of women (and the inexplicable defending of said treatment) will have upon young girls looking on, we all forgot something: our sons were watching and listening too.

I’m not sure we’ve stopped to think about what kind of young men we’re creating right now.

I don’t know if we’ve considered the collateral damage this is doing within the boys in our collective care. 

I don’t think we can fathom what our sons in a Donald Trump America are likely to grow into:

Men with a dangerous sense of entitlement when it comes to the bodies of women.
Men for whom violent, hateful, objectifying words about women are viewed as normal.
Men who believe that money and power and their penises give them license to do whatever they want with a woman regardless of what she wants.
Men for whom the very idea of consent is unimportant.
Men who believe they will get rewarded for their misogyny and sexism and filth, because they’ve watched it happen.

This week my son asked me what Donald Trump said about women, and I did the best I could to relay it all without using the actual words, because to use the actual words Trump used, would have meant subjecting my son to the kind of explicit, angry vulgarity that isn’t normal and shouldn’t be normal for 11-year old boys—or boys of integrity of any age.

The words about women from a man who is now President, unfit to be repeated by a father to his son. Let that sink in for a minute. 

Trying to find any scenario in which any man talking about grabbing a woman by the genitalia and forcing himself on her physically is at all normal or acceptable, underscores the tragic absurdity of it all. It also illustrates the depths to which we’ve fallen and the sickness which is so pervasive; that our politics now so easily trumps our humanity.

The fact that a man with such a well-documented pattern of misogyny was the GOP representative for the highest office in the country (let alone garnering the support of millions of people who claim faith in Jesus) should be an embarrassment to any self-respecting parent and Christian. We should be sick to our stomachs right now, realizing how poisonous this all is to the hearts and minds of our boys. We should be openly condemning it all, if we had any regard for them and any interest in who they are becoming.

That so many fathers (and mothers) are not doing so, means that maybe Donald Trump is exactly the person to best represent us in the world. Maybe that is how low the bar we’ve set for our young men really is. Maybe the support for Trump is a true measure of the hatred so many men have toward women and the self-loathing too many of those women are afflicted with.

I have better dreams for my son than this.

I want him to know that girls and women are worthy of respect and decency and gentleness.
I want him to know that dehumanizing a woman is never normal; not in a locker room or a frat party or a board room or a bedroom.
I want him to know that another woman’s body is not his jurisdiction.
I want him to know that a woman’s outward no is louder than his internal yes.

I want him to know that there is a huge difference between being a man—and being a gentleman.

I believe my son deserves better than this week. All our sons do.

They deserve far better than a Donald Trump presidency. They deserve a higher definition of what it means to be a man, than an insulting, groping, bragging predator who treats women with complete disregard. 

They deserve a Christianity that isn’t as pliable as the Conservative Right and so many professed believers have made it in order to accommodate their candidate.

They also deserve better than to see adults making excuses for the words Trump has said and the things he’s done. They deserve parents, mentors, and role models who won’t sell their souls to align with a party or retain power.

One day my son will be a man, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to ever worry that he’s not a man who recognizes women as valuable and equal and worthy of respect, and I’m going to shout down all the voices that would speak something different into his ears, even if those voices are of family members, friends, pastors, and Presidential candidates.

Rationalizing sexual assault and violence toward women as just “boys will be boys”, is the best way to ensure that our boys grow-up to become abusive men who have contempt for women and believe that to be what all men do. I refuse to participate in that.

At this point, opposing this kind of language and behavior shouldn’t be seen as a political move—but a human decency move. There shouldn’t be an alternative side to choose here; not if we love our sons and daughters.

Right now my son and millions of other bright and beautiful boys with big hearts and bigger questions are watching and listening to Donald Trump, and to us.

He is failing them.

We can’t afford to.

 

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Exit Interviews: What I Wish My Former Pastor Knew, Part 1

manwalkingawaywarm

Note from John:

I’m very fortunate that I have a venue for my voice to be heard, and realize that most people do not. As a pastor, I spend a great deal of my days listening to people’s stories and trying to speak and write in such a way that those stories are represented in the world—and particularly in the Church.

I asked my readers a simple question, and the responses have been overwhelming in number, and in the depth of faith and pain they reflect. I believe they deserve to heard be directly, and over the next couple of weeks I will share as many as I can. I hope they will minister to you, that they will bring some comfort and encouragement. I hope you’ll realize how very not-alone you are in your desire to pursue faith in the tension between God and organized religion.

And if you’re a faith leader in any capacity, I hope you’ll sift these words to find the ones that resonate and reveal to you the ways you might better do the important, life-giving work you are called to do. 

As you read, resist the temptation to refute or argue anyone’s response. Simply listen and allow each person’s experience to weigh the same.

The question was: If you’re no longer in a church or struggle with the one you’re a part of—what do you wish your pastor/priest/minister/leader knew?

I want your message from the pulpit to be the least important thing you do for the week. I want to know that you see me, not just as a body on Sunday morning. Not just as someone who has something to give. I want to know that you see me and know my story. Nothing you have to say on Sunday morning counts, If I do not feel know and supported on the journey I am on. And I want you to give me permission to be on a journey, to be seeking. I don’t want to have to follow your rule book or listen to the answers you pull out of your playbook. I want permission to find my way. I want you to listen. And maybe even be open to learning from me in the way that I want to learn from you.

_______

I wish my former pastor knew is that my sexuality didn’t deter my love for ministry. If anything, it made it much stronger.

_______

That instead of working so hard to save people’s souls for the next life, I would like to see them working just as hard to help people during this life.

_______

That their complete silence towards me since I’ve left had hurt more than anything they might have said while I was there.

_______

That mercy and grace are indispensable when building community…
That we have all sinned and fallen short….
That doubt can foster growth…
That it is not a zero-sum game…
That where ever one finds love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control, the Holy Spirit is there…
That I still want lovely things for them…

_______

I want them to know that I can’t come back until their love feels like love; when it validates and heals rather than condemns, when they treat me like a person instead of a project.

_______

Eighty percent of every church’s beliefs come from the culture around it, whether they conform or define themselves by nonconformity. Their beliefs follow or fight against trends in politics, the economy, changing social norms. What we believe and how we act rarely has anything to do with God, so let’s stop acting like every bit of dogma is God’s honest truth—and make some room for people.

_______

I wish the pastor of my Catholic church could understand how hard it is for me to attend Mass with my Transgender son in light of Pope Francis’ recent remarks. I wish he knew how I sat there in bitterness, resentful of having to tithe to an organization so intent on rejecting people like my young child. I wish the pastor could be brave enough to outwardly love and support the LGBTQ community, and even start a group so that we didn’t have to feel so alone. I wish the pastor could preach about how although not all Catholics might agree, we still deserve the same love and respect, not condemnation

_______

I would like my former pastor to know how free I am. He said when our family left his church that we were headed to destruction, but in fact we have never experienced more joy and freedom than we do now. I would like him to know that he is the one in bondage. Not only is he in bondage, he is putting chains of bondage on each and every one of his members. The damage he has done (in the name of Jesus) is irreparable. I want to believe in Jesus still, but the Jesus I was taught of doesn’t look anything like the Jesus you speak of.  “I like your Jesus…”

_______

I wish they knew how hurtful it is to receive emails inviting me to conversion therapy classes.

_______

I wish he knew I am not ‘back sliding’ or lost the plot or lost my faith in Christ. I really wish after 10 years and starting a ministry that I was worth a phone call or coffee date to say, “Hey, you ok? I see you and your family have left and we miss you, and if you want to share I would love to know why you left and if you guys are okay.” I wish he knew the cost of losing my church family and I wish he knew that all those people who have left are not just the trash taking themselves out, but people worth something.

_______

I wish they knew how the church’s overt sexism and bi-phobia, and eventually its rape apologetics caused me to feel more pain and anguish in the community than away from the community. That after 20 years since leaving Christianity, I still do not feel safe or welcome as a human being in the church, let alone loved. I am happier keeping my distance.

_______

I wish my pastor knew about how vulnerable I was at the time (as a teen), and how much I needed him to be who I thought he was. I wish he knew that I had caught on to every attempt at manipulation, every subtle mention of the situation at the podium, and every condescending tone of voice he used with me. I wish he knew how damaging that behavior was to my ability to trust people in a critical age of my life. And I wish he knew that my refusal to go back to any church is due to his hunger for power, not because I was a “confused sheep” that was led astray.

_______

I wish you knew how hard it was for me to walk away from a ministry that I would have done for free. I wish you would remember who you are as a godly man, swallow your pride, and seek my forgiveness. I wish you knew that it was because of your ungodliness that I have a very hard time trusting male leaders. I wish you knew there are no titles in the kingdom of God that we are all equal. There is no brotherhood or sisterhood—only friendship.”

_______

That God works in ways beyond our own understanding.  Just because we don’t understand something, it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have His hands on a life that desperately wants to love and worship. No one believed Paul when he first spoke of the grace that changed his heart.  We who are gay or transgender can indeed be used and used effectively. All they need to do is give us a damn chance.

_______

I wish my pastor knew how hurt I am by him not being the friend he advertised himself to be.

_______

That hate drives young people away. Fear (“You’re going to burn if you don’t do x,y, and z . . .”) is very off-putting. It may have worked in the past. Not now.

_______

I would like them to know that having questions, experiencing doubts and being uncertain about things the church is teaching, does not necessarily equal spiritual immaturity. No one comes right out and says that you are spiritually immature because you are struggling with things like the concepts of Heaven and Hell, or substitutionary atonement, or the inerrancy of the bible, or the sovereignty of God etc., but when they kindly offer to pray that God will make these things clear to you, what they are really saying is that they hope you settle down soon and get back to seeing things the way they do.

 I think it would help if pastors stopped saying everything from the pulpit with so much certainty, if Christians were taught fewer answers and trained more in the skill of asking good questions, if the local church would be a little more humble about what they know and hold to be true, if it would not be considered heresy to think or believe differently in their midst, and if more people in the church believed that right living is more important than right doctrine.

_______

Our Episcopal Church is full of former Catholics and many many gay former Catholics. I often wonder if my Catholic priests and bishops know this. Do they see the good that we do and the glory it brings? Do they realize that so many of us would have been the priests and sisters that they so sorely need? Do they see that we are living out our Catholic faith through the Episcopal church because that is where we can truly be ourselves. Do they miss us? And beyond wondering if they see or know this or miss us, I want to know if they care that we are gone? Do they wish it was different? Are they fighting to change things and make things right from the inside?

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Someone Mansplain To Me, What The Heck is Wrong With Men?)

Angry Man

Last week I read news stories about two different women, both sexually assaulted and murdered while jogging on consecutive days in different American cities.

Two radiant lives snuffed out in an instant.
Two grief-stricken families preparing to bury their daughters, sisters, and friends well before their time.
Two senseless wastes of beautiful humanity.

As I read the accounts of these seemingly random, violent attacks by apparent strangers, one question rose up and refused to be ignored. It’s a question I’ve been wrestling with for most of my adult life:

What the heck is wrong with men, anyway?

The truth is, you can find stories like this every single day without even trying. If your eyes are at all open, it’s a fairly noticeable reality that there are vile, sickening things that as a general rule, women rarely if ever do:

They don’t lie in wait to sexually assault or kill strangers.
They don’t snap, and shoot up movie theaters and shopping malls and churches.
They don’t murder spouses and lovers when they try to leave a relationship.
They don’t commit random violence against LGBTQ people.
They don’t subject strangers who pass them on the street to disgusting catcalls.

Men do these things—with alarming regularity and proficiency.

Obviously we can find anecdotal incidents in each of these cases, but the fact remains that men have a seemingly inexhaustible capacity for violence and inflicting terror on others—one that women simply can’t touch. In fact we’d be hard pressed to find any examples of wide-scale or systematic malevolence to point to, on behalf of our sisters on this planet.

For the past twenty years as a pastor I’ve been trying to figure out why that is, and I don’t find testosterone and penises and a couple million years of caveman DNA to be compelling answers. I also don’t think that simply blaming Sin cuts it either, otherwise we’d share the load of such atrocities with women.

And oddly enough, even in the face of this clear disparity of decency, many in the Church still insist that women are the “weaker sex”.

Conservative strains of Christianity subscribe to a view known as Complementarianism, which assigns distinct roles and responsibilities in the world to both men and women. Proponents of this theory often use the Bible to justify denying women formal positions of leadership in the Church, as well as authority in the home.

Complementarianism tends to perpetuate many of the stereotypical, historical gender roles, that women should be submissive caretakers of the children and home, while men are to be the dominant, aggressive forces out there in the world. It has also formed the bedrock of the notoriously patriarchical Christian Church, used to excuse all manner of misogyny and sexism. It’s perpetuated the subjugation, abuse, and silencing of women for a few thousand years, all in the name of God. In the words of my wife, “In Complementarianism, a husband and wife are ‘equal’ until they have a disagreement—then the man is the tie-breaker. That’s not a tie-breaker!”

Not exactly equality.

Every day I see brilliant, passionate, faithful, gifted women leaders treated with such contempt and disregard by arrogant, intolerant men who claim to be Christian. I watch these guys dismiss their contributions and heap condescension upon them while using the Bible to do it. And the whole time I’m wondering why they can’t see the world that I see. I’m wondering why they don’t notice the mess we’ve made. I wonder what Jesus they’re taking a cue from.

Because ironically, the greatest argument against this elevated religious view of men—is men. We’ve created a historical body of work reprehensible enough to make Complementarianism laughable. If the abhorrent behavior of men is trying to make an argument for moral superiority, we ain’t looking’ that good, fellas. I think we need to make room at the table and the pulpit and the office, and realize that it’s been a long time coming and it’s a really good thing. 

I believe women should be pastors. (They in fact, already are).
I believe they should teach men in the Church.
I believe they should be Presidents.
I believe they should have greater influence on our political process.
I believe they should have equal pay for doing the work they do.
I believe women fully reflect the character of God.

I believe these things for many reasons, but primarily because there is a decency and compassion and goodness that they bring to the table that men have proven for whatever reason, we aren’t as capable of. We need the balance of their presence to temper the worst in us. In a way that transcends easy caricature, women seem less prone to violence, less vulnerable to ego, and more measured in the face of dispute—and this is sorely needed on the planet. 

I’m certainly not ashamed to be a man, but I can admit that we’ve really dropped the ball with this whole patriarchal civilization thing, that we’ve terribly imbalanced and could use a reboot. I want a less angry, less frightening, less violent world for my children.

Most of all, as a pastor, I want a Church that better reflects Jesus, and having more women stewarding its direction and shaping its future and guarding its heart is the only way there. 

Check out these amazing Christian pastors, speakers, and authors who happen to be women. They inspire, educate, challenge, and encourage me daily.

Listen to them. 

Nadia Bolz-Weber
Melissa Greene
Sarah Bessey
Phyllis Tickle
Anna Register
Glennon Doyle Melton 
Jory Micah
Kimberly Knight
Jennifer Dickenson
Sarabeth Caplin
Bec Cranford
Alicia Crosby
Cindy Brandt

Cynthia Andrews-Looper
Rachel Held Evans
Allyson Robinson
Charissa Grace

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The Church Beloved: A Manifesto of LGBTQ-Affirming Christians

lovesick

A new Church is coming, or rather with each passing day it is becoming; person by person being renovated.

Heart by heart it is waking up.

For a long time we have been shamed into silence, relegated to the periphery of the faith community, believing in quiet. But these days demand volume and today we raise our voices so that there can be no mistaking our intentions. 

We are unrepentantly, unwaveringly LGBTQ-affirming Christians.

We will continue to make the Church and this world a more open, loving, and safe place for the queer community and their families.

We believe the Church must be fully inclusive in both the pews and the pulpit or it is less in the image of God than it could and should be.

We believe that gender identity and sexual orientation have no bearing on a person’s moral worth or their standing in the eyes of God.

We believe we all are the beloved, as we are without alteration.

We believe that everyone is a reflection of the Divine, created good, made of what God is made of.

We believe Jesus calls us to love one another, not to tolerate one another; not to warmly embrace some and to hold others at a distance. 

We celebrate all life with equal ferocity. 

We’re not going to apologize for any of this and we’re not relenting.

We’re not stopping because our faith compels us, just as your faith compels you.

We too have read the Bible and gone to seminary and served in the Church and prayed fervently and listened intently for the voice of God, and all of these things have yielded our conclusions.

We will gladly tell you why we believe what we believe, but we’re not going to argue with you about the validity of our convictions because we don’t need to justify our path to you.

We’ve already walked our road.

We understand that because of what you believe, our position may cause fear and anger to rise up and boil over, and that you may feel the need to defend yourself. You may feel driven to attack us, sometimes violently, and we will try to respond not in kind, but in kindness.

We will do our best to reflect the Jesus we have come to know, by not questioning your humanity or your character or the legitimacy of your faith—but we also will continue to speak without censoring or softening, because that is how injustice is allowed to fester and reproduce.

You can say all manner of hateful, disparaging, insulting things, but that doesn’t matter because we believe in the inherent worth of all people and we believe that Scripture bears this out.

We no longer will tolerate a Church where any group of people are marginalized in the name of God and we will speak into that with sustained force.

To say it plainly: We’re here for the duration so shouting us down or shutting us off is not a viable option.

A Church without the LGBTQ community is simply no longer acceptable and we, Christians of all identities and orientations, stand together to speak in unison: 

Love is indeed winning and we are the loud and shimmering proof.

If this is bad news to you, we’re going to refer you to Jesus and let the two of you work it out. We don’t believe we can change you anyway. God does the changing.

In the meantime we’re going to keep living our faith convictions just as you live yours, and we’re going to love people as God personally calls us to.

This is how that “freedom in Christ” thing works.

We are the Church that is becoming what it was meant to be: fully, unapologetically inclusive.

We are the Church Beloved.