#churchtoo: What Do We Do With King David?

Two weeks ago, Matt Smethurst and Rachael Denhollander ignited what turned into quite the Twitter war over her contention that King David’s conquest of Bathsheba was not a consensual affair but rather a sexual assault.

(For the record, I agree with Denhollander, and that is a position at which I arrived almost 30 years ago.)

But accepting that assessment–that David indeed committed rape–leaves us in a quandary: how does this affect our theological assessment of King David?

This is not a trivial question, as–over the years–commentators, both academic and devotional, have given a large amount of time to David. Beth Moore became a rock star with her Bible study, A Heart Like His. Just go to Google and search for books about King David and you’ll get a voluminous number of results.

First, I want to address the blowback against Denhollander, some of which I incurred in the Twittersphere.

The backlash was severe, coming from a faction of hardline conservative–hard Calvinist–devotees. This crowd, with very few exceptions, was very combative, not collegial at all, and downright insulting. Myself and a Twitter ally–a pathology professor–were called “stupid”, “liar”, “fool”, “heretic”, and told “you don’t know the first thing about Scripture”, all for pointing out the obvious, including the Hebrew and basic grammatical structure of the text.

Personally, I was not so much offended as I was beside myself as to why they were so passionate about digging their heels regarding this matter.

Keep in mind that as an old-school conservative, I am used to hard fights about tough issues: Biblical inerrancy, inclusive language, the Atonement, the Deity of Christ, the veracity of miracle accounts in the Bible, the Resurrection of Jesus, the end times, pedo-versus-credo baptism.

In those fights, it gets spirited to say the least. But in this case, the “David did NOT commit rape” crowd was fighting as if this was the last stand against the enemies of Jesus.

Oh, and then they “blocked” me. I’m not so much offended at that–I’ve got thick skin and big shoulders–but mildly entertained at the level of angst that they seem to convey. For people who oppose the “easily-triggered” crowd, they were quite easily-triggered.

My question to them: what do you have invested in this that explains the butthurt? Has Rachael Denhollander hit a nerve?

Kyle Worley provides as an insightful piece, writing in Christianity Today, as to why it’s hard for people to accept that David was a rapist.

My take: most people cannot envision themselves as rapists. We can see ourselves having illicit sex given sufficient motivation and opportunity; we can see ourselves doing great bodily harm to others given sufficient provocation; given the right circumstances, some of us may even be willing to kill another person.

But rape? We run from that one. No one likes the “sex offender” tag. Not even a sex offender.

But that brings us back to King David: what do we do with King David? What do we know of his character? Do we view him as a great man of God? Do we view him as a sexual predator and a murderer? How do the Scriptures assess him in the final analysis? And what are some of the implications of that for us as Christians?

First off, it is important to remember how David came onto the scene. The first king–Saul–started out strong but turned sour in a hurry. The Israelites had picked him, as he looked the part: he was the tallest man in the kingdom and looked like a warrior. Despite some early successes, he fell out of favor with God, as the Judge-Priest-Prophet Samuel chastised him for showing an utter lack of regard for the things of God.

After Saul failed a sufficient number of times–particularly in his disobeying the command of God to kill the Amalekites (including all livestock) and leave everything as an offering–God had Samuel anoint the next King.

As you read the story, God led Samuel to the tribe of Judah, to the house of Jesse. As Samuel met the seven sons of Jesse, God indicated that none of them were His choice for King. Then Jesse told him there was another son: the youngest, who was out taking care of the sheep. (In other words, the lowest of the bunch, as he had the task no one else wanted.)

That son was David, and that is the one God chose, and Samuel–in turn–anointed him as the next King.

The next time we see David, we see the Philistine warrior–Goliath, a 9-foot super-fighter–challenging the Israelites to send out a fighter to take him one-on-one. The Israelites, including Saul–ironically the tallest man in the kingdom–were not up to the challenge. One day, as David was taking food rations to his brothers, he took up the challenge:

What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?

I Samuel 17:26 (NASB)

The response by this brothers was nothing short of an insult, amounting to, “You sure talk tough for a sheep herder who’s not even a fighter.” And David’s words to Saul were poignant:

Your servant was tending his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.

I Samuel 17:34-37 (NASB)

Clearly, David is a man of faith in God. For a young man–otherwise untested in battle–he’s confident that he can win. Is it because he knows that he has been anointed as the next King (which happened in the preceding chapter)? Is it because he sees Goliath as less-threatening than a lion or a bear? Is it because he has a level of marksmanship that awaits Goliath, who has no idea what kind of unconventional attack he is about to experience? I believe David knew that God was on his side, and–as of that point–he also was on God’s side.

The depth of David’s faith–and understanding of God’s word–is laid bare in the Psalms. He understood the importance of meditating on God’s word (Ps 1); he had a glimpse of the Godhood of the Messiah (Ps. 2); he trusted God for protection from the wicked (Ps 5); trusted God for mercy (Ps 6); worshiped God fervently and called others to do so (Ps 8, 9), implored God for forgiveness (Ps. 32, 51), extolled the great mercies of God (Ps. 103), spoke greatly about the law of God (Ps. 119); gave glory to the providence of God (Ps. 23).

We also know that David had great respect for God’s order. In spite of being the anointed King, David respected that Saul was King until he died, and David was in no rush to make that happen. He was willing to wait his turn. In fact, he was best-friends with Saul’s son, Jonathan. His first wife was Saul’s daughter Michal. Even when Saul tried–on multiple occasions–to kill David, he refused to fight Saul.

Even when he became king upon the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, David was gracious to Saul’s legacy, extending kindness to Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth. In taking the throne, David would become the standard for Godly kings.

But something happened between his anointing in 1 Samuel 16, and his assault with Bathsheba in II Samuel 17.

During the time in between, David killed a large number of people in battle. When he was first anointed, he was a lowly shephered who had fought off a bear and a lion. But from there, he killed tens of thousands of Philistines. This is one reason why God would not let King David build the Temple.

This high death toll is a big deal, even if it was in the course of “just war”. Any time you kill someone, even if the killing is justified, there is a price to pay. This is because justifiable homicide is still homicide. And the more you kill, the more it impacts your soul.

And that large death toll was a likely factor in making David cavalier–even Machiavellian–with the lives of others when it became expedient.

But there was another factor that seemed to play against David: his own success. From his victory over Goliath to his years on the run from Saul to his ascent to the throne, David was successful in his endeavors. Even as Saul sought to kill him, he still managed to score great victories against the Philistines, and even gained a popular following. As a King, he enjoyed great success against longtime enemies of Israel.

That also likely stoked a pride in David that lurked under the surface. That pride may have motivated him to stay in Jerusalem during that fateful Spring. That would be the kind of pride that says, “I’ve been successful; I have a competent army; they don’t need me; I can defeat my enemies without even being on the battlefield.”

Why do I point these things out? David’s “great sin” was not a spontaneous act, but rather a series of actions that required (a) a heart inclined to evil, (b) premeditation, (c) the use of other people to carry out the evil, and (d) purposeful action. In the process, David showed a callous disregard for the Law of God, a sense of entitlement to what was not even his, a callous disregard for the well-being of others, and a callous disregard for the lives of others.

Had David gone to battle like he should have, we would not be having this discussion. When he saw Bathsheba, he began lusting immediately. Had he stopped there, we would not be having this discussion. Had he harkened to the warnings of his men–that Bathsheba was married and therefore off-limits–we would not be having this discussion.

But let the record show that a man after God’s own heart–who cherished God’s word, who had a deep faith and understanding of the character of God–trampled over all that is holy and pure and did the unthinkable: he took another man’s wife, got her pregnant, whacked her husband to cover it up–oh, and she mourned over her husband’s death–and then tried to make himself look like a great hero by taking her in her pregnant widowhood.

And while some will point out that God forgave King David, we cannot ignore the terrible consequences of his actions:

  • His first child with Bathsheba would die;
  • there was perpetual turmoil in his house;
    • Amnon raped his sister Tamar;
    • Absalom killed Amnon;
    • David exiled Absalom;
    • Absalom mounted a coup against David;
    • David was forced to flee Jerusalem for his life;
    • The most powerful King in the region couldn’t even protect his wives from being publicly raped by his son;
    • Absalom would be killed in battle;
    • Adonijah tried to make himself the King as David neared death;
    • Even in Matthew 1, God calls attention to David’s sin, referring to Solomon “by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah”, even as he refers to Jesus as “the son of David”;
  • his taking of the census resulted in mass death among his own people;
  • David–while not dying in the disgrace that Saul did–left this earth with a whimper;
  • successive kings would lead Israel to idolatry, then civil war, beginning a descent to captivity.

Was David a man after God’s own heart or was he a rapist and a murderer who played fast and loose with other people’s lives and dignity? Yes: he was all of those things.

Theologically, David was the closest thing to a Messiah in the Old Testament. And yet he was short of the glory by at least half a universe. He committed not just one, but rather two, death penalty offenses, one of which was a sexual assault on a married woman.

And yet, even as his actions reflect a profound spiritual degradation, I would note that David still was notable in his character.

When Nathan confronted him and gave him a prophet-to-king smackdown of all time, David’s response was one of uncommon humility. Contrast the way he received Nathan’s rebuke–admitting his sin–with the way other kings (Joash, Asa) responded to prophetic rebuke.

Contrast David’s response to the way many preachers and evangelists–caught in scandal–have responded. David does not respond with any expectation that he should live; in fact, he states that the offender “deserves to die” (II Samuel 12:5) and does not retract that when Nathan responded, “Thou art the man!” He owns his failure. When his son dies, he does not whine about the consequences, nor does he–at any subsequent point in his life–complain about his consequences.

In fact, for the remainder of David’s rule, he was humble in his dealings with others. When we read the Psalms, we see his anguish over his sin (Ps 51: “my sin is ever before me”) even as he rejoices in God’s forgiveness (Ps. 103).

The implications are staggering, as, without a doubt, many ministers today have committed similar abuses of power–taking sexual license with people in their care. The Andy Savage/High Point fiasco of 2018 brought this reality to light, as a 22-year-old Savage–a youth minister at the time–took 17-year-old Jules Woodson to a dark place and solicited a Clinton.

Many of Savage’s defenders called attention to King David and implored the Church for forgiveness, as Savage had “repented”.

The problem is, that wasn’t the case. When confronted with his past, Savage attempted to minimize what he did, spinning it as a “sexual incident” and even an “organic moment”. Even after his resignation–in which he finally admitted that what he did was “abuse”–he later tried to downplay the #churchtoo movement.

Over the years, the scandals have been voluminous. And almost every time the pastors are exposed, the immediate talk is of restoration: when will they return to ministry. Their fans will cite King David.

But in so doing, we miss the point. In so doing, we overlook the horrid trail of damage, the victims left in the wake. And before you overlook these offenses, chalking them up to “youthful indiscretions”, talk to the victims and ask about what they went through.

Ask Jules Woodson–she’s easy to find on Twitter and is outspoken about her experience. Ask Anne Marie Miller. Ask Brooks Hansen and Kenny Stubblefield; ask Kim Rung; ask Kelly Haines. And if you want to know what drives the predatory abusers, I can direct you to experts such as trauma therapist Mike Phillips and University of Michigan pathologist Julia Dahl, who will teach you more than you ever wanted to know about narcissists and their grooming and damage control techniques.

Sadly, by glossing over these abuses–chalking them up as “oopsies” or “screwups” or “mistakes” or “misconduct”–we overlook the price born by the victims, and, worse, the ugliness of sin.

David, by accepting Nathan’s rebuke, accepted that he was entitled to nothing good, that he deserved to die, that he did not deserve to remain on the throne let alone remain in the covenant that God had established with him. When was the last time you heard a minister–caught in his sin–admit that much?

We could use a lot more humility among our clergy and Church leadership, and less entitlement. And the better we understand how an otherwise Godly King abused his power and took a married woman for his own sexual pleasure–and comitted murder to cover it up, and then tried to spin himself as a hero–the better we’ll be able to understand that need for humility.

May we not become like David before we ‘get it’.

Kansas channels Stone Cold Steve Austin

If you don’t get the title… when he was performing in WWE, Austin regularly popped fingers at authority figures, opponents, the crowd, or whoever his antagonist at the time was. Often double-barreled.

The Kansas Jayhawks men’s basketball team is indisputably one of college basketball’s flagship programs. And it’s one of the programs most tied to the recent NCAA recruiting corruption scandal. Last month, the Jayhawks received a notice of allegations from the NCAA, stemming from the school’s relationship with Adidas, the apparel company most tied (so far) to the scandal.

According to this post from a popular University of Kentucky sports blog:

There are two ways to respond to rule-breaking allegations. You can decide to lay low, comply and embrace a straight-edge lifestyle to prevent any further damage, or you could deny any rule-breaking whatsoever and become defiant. Kansas chose the latter in the most over-the-top way imaginable.

For starters, Kansas posted a video promoting Snoop Dogg’s appearance at Late Night in the Phog, the team’s first preseason practice. The video featured longtime Jayhawks head coach Bill Self wearing a T-shirt with Adidas’ logo and a chain with a dollar sign. Mind you, this was four days after receiving formal charges from the NCAA.

(Kansas is one of many schools that makes said practice into a major evening event; Kentucky’s version is known as Big Blue Madness. “The Phog” is a nickname for the Jayhawks’ arena, Allen Fieldhouse; it’s named after one of their past great coaches, Forrest “Phog” Allen.)

Then came the event… with Kansas going full Stone Cold, sticking two middle fingers right in the NCAA’s face. Complete with the following:

  • Pole dancers during Snoop’s performance.
  • Kansas’ mascot “smoking” a huge fake blunt during said performance.
  • Snoop firing a money gun into a section where Kansas recruits were seated. Granted, the money was obviously fake, with Snoop’s face on it, but still…

The aforementioned post from the UK sports blog even threw in a dig at the Louisville basketball sex scandal, saying “Kansas brought Minardi Hall to Phog Allen.”

(Minardi Hall is Louisville’s men’s basketball dorm, alleged site of several of the parties that triggered that scandal.)

Kansas couldn’t backtrack from it fast enough. Self said he was caught off-guard by Snoop’s performance; he had gone back to the locker room early on and didn’t see most of it. Kansas’ athletic director Jeff Long—no stranger to athletic scandal, since at an earlier post as AD at Arkansas he had to deal with the fallout from the revelation that the head football coach was (1) having an extramarital affair and (2) had hired his mistress for the team’s office staff—issued an apology. Actually, two apologies, since his first version made a very awkward reference to the pole dancers that caused no end of snickering on the Internet.

I could say more about this, but I think it speaks for itself.

David and Bathsheba: #metoo Before The Hashtag

In the Twitter world, Matt Smethurst of The Gospel Coalition tweeted the following:

https://twitter.com/MattSmethurst/status/1179912370103160832

To which Rachael Denhollander responded:

In point of fact, Denhollander has a good point. Sadly, her view is not shared across the board among people who ought to know better. Over the years, I have, on many occasions, heard the David-Bathsheba “affair” portrayed as a case where Bathsheba bathed in plain sight in order to be seen by King David. The commentaries include everything but a winking eye, and poor David—he just couldn’t control his lusts!

I kid you not. Even in a Bible Study Fellowship presentation 23 years ago, a guest presenter provided exactly that take. And this was a fairly learned group of men.

Allow me to burst that bubble….and this, ladies and gentlemen, is not rocket science. (I’m going to use ESV for the translation, although–to be honest–it doesn’t matter. Pick any translation you wish: on this matter, it’s clear as daylight.)


Picking up 2 Samuel 11, starting at verse 1:

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

The chapter begins with a layout of the background:

  • It was Spring.
  • It was a time during which kings typically went to battle. And we know that David is himself a warrior who has established himself as an Israelite king to be feared and respected among her neighbors.
  • The Israelites were enjoying military success.
  • But David–a warrior-king–did not go with his troops.

In other words, David was not doing his job.

Picking up verse 2:

It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful.

While the ESV translation says “late one afternoon”, the Hebrew literally translates “in an evening”. (NASB indicates “when evening came”, KJV says, “in an eveningtide”, and NIV indicates, “in an evening”. For once, the NIV is actually closer to the literal Hebrew rendering.)

So let the record show, when David saw Bathsheba bathing, it was evening. This is an important detail.

Picking up verse 3:

And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?”

Keep in mind that, at this time, David is married. In fact, he has at least two wives of whom we know by name: Michal (Saul’s daughter) and Abigail. When he saw Bathsheba, the proper response would have been to look away and go back to his official business, meditating on God’s Law, of which he wrote so eloquently in the Psalms.

But instead, he decided to entertain his lusts. In so doing, he asked his men about her. And their response was to the general effect of, “Uhmmm….your Majesty…she’s married, and you know both her husband and her father.” (Based on what transpired, he knew that Uriah was one of his most valiant soldiers.)

Had he dropped the matter there, all would have been well. Except he didn’t stop with that veiled admonition. We learn this in verse 4:

So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house.

Now I’ve heard some commentarors use this passage to show that the David-Bathsheba “affair” was a consensual one, and that she was at least partially at fault. What gets lost in that take is that the passage does not say that.

Let’s just say that, if you’re a woman whom a king wants, and that king sends his men for you, you have two acceptable responses: “Yes, I will happily serve His Majesty” and, “which clothes does His Majesty prefer that his women wear?” Bathsheba had no choice; due to the power differential, “consent”–as we understand it–was simply not possible.

Moreoever, verse 4 gives us an additional, and important detail as to what Bathsheba was doing in the first place:

  • “Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.”

In Old Testament Israel, women were deemed unclean during that wonderful time of the month that Aunt Flo dropped in for a week. At the end of that week, women ceremonially washed themselves and were then declared clean. That is what Bathsheba was doing!

When women are sexually assaulted, a common response–albeit an unfair one–is to question the degree of victimhood of the woman:

  • What was she wearing?
  • Was she a prostitute?
  • Was she acting seductively?
  • Did she really want it and then just claim rape now that “buyer’s remorse” has set in?

2 Samuel 11:1-4 is not implying that those responses are legitimate in such cases; at the same time, those 4 verses are telling us that such a response–even if you think it is valid–isn’t in play here.

  • It was evening;
  • Bathsheba was bathing as part of her monthly purification.

In other words, Bathsheba was doing everything “by the book”. She was being discreet. In spite of her proximity to very powerful people, she is acting so as to not be easily-seen. She is the one minding her own business.

Contrast that with the way the passage presents David.

  • David wasn’t doing what he should have been doing.
    • He should have been on the battlefield with his troops, but he remained in Jerusalem instead;
    • Even in Jerusalem, it was evening and he should have been attending to his wives or other official business;
    • When he saw Bathsheba, rather than turn away from his lust, he chose to entertain those lusts by asking about her;
    • In spite of a veiled warning, David sent his men and took Bathsheba, at which point “he lay with her.”

In point of fact, the Scriptures put 100% of the blame on King David and none of it on Bathsheba.

This was not an “affair”; affairs are consensual acts of infidelity. (This is why the Law commanded death for both offenders in such cases.)

This was not consensual; in fact, it was a #metoo assault long before the hashtag arrived.

Mass Shooters: Nihilism On The Margins

With the latest mass shootings–in El Paso (22 dead) and Dayton (9 dead, not including the gunman)–we are now getting the obligatory calls for gun control, with new focus on “mental health” issues. We’re getting the same old arguments:

  • We have a white supremacist problem. (The El Paso shooter was a White Nationalist).
  • The El Paso shooter was a Trump lover, so it’s Trump’s fault.
  • Access to firearms is too easy.
  • We must have a better way to keep mentally-ill people from obtaining firearms.
  • We need to ban “assault weapons”.
  • We need “Red Flag” laws: laws which allow for the rollback of Second Amendment rights–even allowing firearm confiscation–from people who might be violent, even if they otherwise have no criminal record.

So far, I have yet to hear anyone–not on the news, not in either political party–take notice of a large elephant in the room: Nihilism.

Let’s get a few things straight:

  • While many “mass shooters” indeed have mental problems–the Sandy Hook and Aurora shooters are perfect case studies–mental illness is not what drove them to kill people. People who are depressed, bipolar, and even schizophrenic function without slaughtering people. When you flip that switch to plan and execute a mass assault, it is not mental illness, but rather a character issue.
  • As abhorrent as racism and white supremacism are, such views alone do not move a person to walk into a store and mow people down. Does such a person have an ideological motive? Sometimes. But killing innocent people at a store or a festival or a concert usually requires more than just a lower view of another race of people.
  • Economics has nothing to do with this. Mass shooters tend to be middle-class.

And here’s the thing: look at the largest mass shootings–Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Charleston, Marjorie Stoneman-Douglas (MSD), Santa Fe, El Paso, Sutherland Springs, Orlando, San Bernardino, Dayton, Pittsburgh (Tree of Life), Wisconsin (Sikh temple)–and you will find a common thread.

It’s not ideology. Two (San Bernardino, Orlando) were Islamist; two were death worshipers with Nazi leanings (Columbine); four were white supremacists (El Paso, Charleston, Wisconsin, Pittsburgh); one was hard-left/Antifa (Dayton); two were mental cases (Sandy Hook, Aurora); two were alleged bullying victims (Santa Fe, MSD).

Nor is it mental illness, as every mass shooter was not mentally ill.

Here’s the commonality: Every single one of them has/had a Nihilistic outlook on life.

What is Nihilism? To put it simply: it’s a line of thought that rejects the premise that life, or anything about life, has meaning. In the mind of a Nihilist, there is no objective morality.

While there are philosophers–most notably Nietzsche–who develop this framework, one does not have to study philosophy to be a nihilist; one only has to reach the conclusion in one’s own mind that life has no meaning and that there is no objective morality.

Can one suffer mental illness and reach that conclusion? Yes. But depression is not a new phenomenon; some of the best people in the Bible suffered from depresssion. No, Nihilism seems to be an epidemic among younger folks.

A friend of mine, a longtime therapist who has counseled mental health patients and trauma survivors for years and who is opposite of me on gun control, puts it this way: “Mentally-ill people barely overcome themselves; to say mass shootings are a mental illness issue ignores the real problem.” He and I don’t agree on the problem–he says it’s the guns–but we agree that it isn’t a mental health issue.

Can one suffer other traumas and flip the Nihilism switch? Yes. But trauma alone doesn’t explain the growth of Nihilism among the general population. Otherwise, our country would have been a big free-fire zone at the end of the Civil War, World War I, and World War II.

No, what we are seeing today is a completely different animal.

Even worse, I don’t think there are easy, pat answers to this. I realize that many Christians will point out: “we’ve taken God out of classrooms”, “we’ve rejected God as a society”–and they’ll point to abortion, gay marriage, the whole LGBTQIAWTH brouhaha as examples. And while that may be part of the answer, I don’t think this completely explains the problem.

I would submit that it comes from a number of factors:

  1. Societal trends have taken a large number of people away from meaningful relationships, including with the opposite sex. This includes social media, porn, community structures, and even the degradation of the nuclear family to name a few. As a result, an increasing number of men are growing up to be “incels”: men who are smitten with profound hatred and anger toward women, as they lack even the most basic social skills necessary to have even platonic relationships–let alone any romating relationship–with women.
  2. The Church is losing her standing in society due to a mountain of scandals and other “own goals”.
  3. As the Church has lost ground in society, other elements have risen to fill the moral void.

Over the last 20 years, America has seen the growth in the “nones”: those identifying as atheists, agnostics, or otherwise having no religious affiliation. As the Church has declined, those identifying with the Head of that Church have declined as well.

No, I’m not suggesting that all mass shooters are atheists–although many of them are.

I am suggesting that in a society in which Atheism and agnosticism are more popular, some of the tangential ideas that come with those outlooks–among them the premise that life, and elements of life, have no meaning–also become increasingly popular.

And no, I am not suggesting that all Nihilists are going to become mass shooters; most, in fact, do not.

I am suggesting, however, that if I have a Nihilistic outlook, then it’s a lot easier for me to rationalize going there. And on the margins, that is exactly what is happening.

How do we fix this problem? There are no pat answers.

I can tell you that it’s not simply about “getting God back into schools”. God isn’t worshiped in most Christian homes. Posting the Ten Commandments on a school wall isn’t going to solve this issue.

How many Christian families read the Bible at home? How many pray with their kids? How many parents teach Biblical principles without making it the death of a thousand dogmas? How many live out their faith with minimal hypocrisy?

I can also tell you that it’s not just a matter of getting more conservative theology in the churches. The evangelical world is largely conservative in her theological outlook. The availability of solid Biblical study information for every American–including Bibles of every translation imaginable, Greek and Hebrew study guides, theological commentary, apologetics resources, Church history, all for free via the Internet–is unprecedented in history.

None of those things can account for a Church stained–in Catholic, Protestant, and Evangelical sectors alike–with terrible scandals that span all levels of Church life from the local church body to the highest offices. In a world desperate for a meaning to life, the Church could not be weakened at a worse time.

While the SBC and other conservative sectors have declared Complementarianism as the hill to die on–even as their denomination drowns in sex abuse/coverup scandals–they miss out on a chance to provide a real answer to much larger problems in this world. Youth ministers are often shallow in their Christian walk, lacking the depth to provide substantive answers to teens who search for answers. Single adults are largely ignored by the Church, offering no hope to the incel who will never see the love in the Body of Christ, therefore never appreciating the meaning of that Ironman triathlon known as life.

The liberal denominations are busy offering the world a watered-down version of itself, conservatives are offering a robust theology soiled with abuses by wolves, who in turn get their cover from the masses.

Meanwhile, a significant subset of younger adults are deciding that life has no meaning, joining the ranks of the Nihilists. And while 99% of them are otherwise harmless, that one percent is flipping the mother of all switches.

At this trajectory, we are well on our way toward the breakup of our nation.

Joshua Harris Kisses Jesus Goodbye

It would be a major understatement to say that Joshua Harris has had quite the rise, and fall, in the Christian world.

As an otherwise intelligent, but untested, young man, he rocketed to the forefront of the evangelical world with his landmark book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. In it, he made several controversial propositions:

  • Dating–in which relationships are often temporary–only conditions people for marriages that break up, contributing to the divorce culture;
  • Dating also contributes to more sexual immorality;
  • Courtship is the prefered model.

The book would become a best-seller; it would make Harris a proverbial rock star: he would go on to serve as a pastor under the wing of C.J. Mahaney at Covenant Life Church. As a high-profile megachurch figure with two bestselling books, he was one of the “go-to” men in the evangelical world. Even though he got where he was, not on the basis of having fought the good fight and having kept the faith, but rather on the basis of a bestselling book that promoted an unproven thesis without Biblical veracity. The book would become the field manual for the Purity Culture.

At Covenant Life Church, Harris became both a victim of, and a perpetrator in, one of the most abusive church settings in the history of American evangelicalism. While former Boundless editor Ted Slater, a friend of ours, contends that his experiences at CLC were very good, it is also demonstrably true that Mahaney and Harris–and the others in their circle–left a trail of victims that extends miles. The overbearing, micromanagy church discipline model, the sexual abuses by staffers–and ensuing coverups–those are a matter of record, and Harris continues to be mum about his own culpability in that.

In 2014, in the wake of the fallout over the sexual abuse scandal and resultant lawsuit–which was dismissed due to Statute of Limitations and not merits–Harris ultimately resigned from CLC and subsequently decided to attend seminary.

(Having spent some time at seminary myself, this set off some red flags for me, as that signaled to me that Harris was “trying to find himself”. I saw a fair share of these types at SBTS: they go to seminary expecting to find the answer to some internal conflict they are having. I do not recall one instance where that ended well. In fact, when I was there, there was one suicide.)

From there, he began to question the basis of IKDG in light of the trail of damage it caused. On one hand, the developments seemed positive–he finally repudiated the very book that made him a rock star. OTOH, he still did not come clean about his role in the abusive system at CLC, particularly the coverups of sexual abuse and the overbearing system of church government.

Then, a little over a week ago, he Instagrammed a message that he is separating from his wife. Any time a major evangelical figure has a marital failure, it’s a very big deal. In Harris’ case, it is far, far worse: he became a mega-star in the evangelical world for promoting a formula as a key to strong marriages that last. And his was failing.

Most in my circle were concerned that this was the prelude to the next chapter in his life: I Kissed Jesus Goodbye.

And sure enough, on Friday, Harris announced exactly that. In his announcement, he also specifically apologized to the LGBT movement. (Yes, there is an elephant in the room.)

At Wartburg Watch, Dee has expressed considerable skepticism about Harris’ stated “deconstruction”, and I agree with her for exactly those reasons.

Here’s my take, and I think Dee is absolutely correct: Joshua Harris’s “deconstruction” is, at least in part, a cowardly attempt to shirk his responsibility for his role at Sovereign Grace, which was was a cog in the abusive machine that is NeoCalvinism. It’s not just CLC and Sovereign Grace; it’s 9Marxism, it’s in many Acts 29 sectors, it’s various SBC churches, it’s a model of church government that micromanages peoples’ lives; attracts and encourages ministers who are narcissistic and Machiavellian, promoting them as models for leadership; promotes a good-old-boys network by which the key leaders travel to conferences, get paid lots of money, promote each others’ books, and market their brands; all while ignoring–even covering up–flagrant abuses at their churches.

Here’s my hot take: many of these “preachers” aren’t even Christians. And if you think Joshua Harris is a one-off, you’d be mistaken. There are thousands of Joshua Harris types in the evangelical world. He is the tip of the iceberg.

Those who know me or have casually followed my blog, know that I don’t like to throw the “false teacher” tag around very often, as I’m a big-tent Biblical conservative. There are many pastors and ministers who are concerning to me, but I don’t throw the “wolf” tag at them, as I prefer to let them out themselves. Many in the discernment blogging community suffer from the hammer-nail syndrome: when you’re a hammer, everything is a nail. For many of them, if you’re off on one little micro-detail in the Bible–not a young earth creationist, not a five-point Calvinist, etc.–you’re a heretic. I don’t waste my time throwing such invective around. If you affirm the basics–a high view of Biblical authority, the Deity of Jesus, the Virgin Birth, the Substitutionary Atonement, the bodily Resurrection, the Second Coming–you’re inside the realm of sound doctrine.

On the other hand, being a peddler of false doctrine is not the only qualification for being a false teacher. It’s easy enough to target the Joel Osteens and the Benny Hinns and the Creflo Dollar types, but let’s be honest here: you can preach exceptionally on Sundays and Wednesdays and still be a wolf. And if you think Prosperity Theology is just about material riches, you’d be mistaken.

I would contend that modern evangelicalism promotes its own brand of Prosperity Theology. The type of pastor they seek to develop and promote–from Bible Schools to seminaries to churches–is more akin to a business executive than a shepherd. One of my pastor friends, speaking of Harris, said, “everyone around him said ‘he’s a natural at expositing Biblical text.'”

My response: Biblical exposition is not brain surgery. Fact is, I can take someone of good intelligence and oratory skills, teach him how to study the Bible, show him some good commentaries and resources, and–with some practice–he can exposit well enough to preach. And he can do this while not even being a believer. This is because exposition is something we can objectively teach. What we cannot impart, however, is a relationship with God.

I can teach you the fundamentals of Biblical exposition; I cannot make you like Abraham, who made time to offer sacrifices of thanks to God, or returned to Bethel to seek God after a big failure, never giving up even as it took 25 years from the time of his calling from God until–at 100 years of age–his promised son was born.

I can teach you how to navigate the Old Testament, especially how to read it in light of Jesus–that is a lost art among modern evangelicals. I cannot make you like Moses or Elijah–who loved God. I cannot make you like Peter, who fell on his keister and failed often, but would go on to be the lead Apostle. I cannot make you like Paul, who–before God knocked him on his butt on the way to Damascus–was a major persecutor of Christians, who went on to become one of the greatest Apostles. Peter and Paul loved Jesus and were devoted to the well-being of His sheep. They were about Jesus; the “system”–in this case doctrine–was a something they preached from their love of Jesus; it was not a business model.

The problem is this: what if I am seeking to develop teachers, and I am fixated on developing qualities that are indicative of charisma and academics, while not cultivating the shepherdlike qualities that you see in Jesus and the Apostles from Acts through Revelation? The end-result: you get leaders who are more likely to take sexual advantage of parishioners, leaders who are more likely to be heavy-handed and micromanagy, leaders who can teach with great charisma who do not get along with people, leaders who do not love their wives or their children. They may be able to, like a competent sports coach, talk a great game about Xs and Os, but their character is majorly lacking because they are either immature believers or not believers at all!

Make no mistake: Big Evangelical gave us Joshua Harris!

He was raised in a system–homeschooled in a system, churched in a system, became famous by promoting his own system, learned how to preach and promote a system.

That’s not to say that all such systems are bad. Any educational regimen–homeschool, private school, church community, even public school–has to rely on a “system” at some level. Every church community has its own “system” that defines their bent or flavor; all of those are not evil, some in fact are very good.

The problem is, the Christian life is not about knowing a system, even if the system is good. Knowing and loving the system is not the same as knowing and loving God, whom your system articulates with eyes through which we will always see darkly on this side of eternity.

Still, when your system is attracting, developing, and rewarding ministers who are charismatic marketers who turn out to be scandal-ridden, then it is long past time to revisit the very system that is producing such ministers.

As for Joshua Harris, it is my hope he will spend some time with Satan so that his flesh will be destroyed and–ultimately–he may be saved. I hope that his ensuing years are times of utter misery, and that God bashes him upside the head with the almighty Louisville Slugger and brings him to his senses.


Update:

The Southern Baptist Convention Has An Existential Crisis

There is no pretty way to spin this.

The Houston Chronicle is reporting a damning collection of abuses that implicate Southern Baptists at every level of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

The abuses and coverups include volunteers, deacons, youth and children’s ministers, music ministers, pastors, missionaries, even foundational leaders in the SBC. Most of us who have been following these things are not surprised. And trust me, this is not even the tip of the iceberg.

The abuse/coverup culture precedes even the Conservative Era (1980-present), but it has snowballed during the Conservative Era. There are many factors that have led to this disaster.

(1) The Conservative Resurgence–in which many moderates and liberals were run out of key SBC seminaries and institutions and replaced with Fundamentalists and Calvinists–fostered an institutional arrogance.

What do I mean by that? Here is the story you will hear:

The SBC was hijacked by liberals who believed that the Bible was full of errors. Those liberals dominated the seminaries and Bible schools and fostered a culture that was dead: they didn’t really believe the Bible, and this reflected dead preaching and teaching, and that caused the SBC to descend into the same liberalism that has destroyed mainline Protestants.

The conservatives–led by a grassroots movement of faithful Baptists and the organization of conservative preachers and activists such as Charles Stanley, C.W. Criswell, Adrian Rogers, Paul Pressler, and Paige Patterson–saved the SBC from the onslaught of liberalism.

When it came to scandals, the conservatives never confronted the institutional culture that existed before; they just replaced a left-leaning structure with a right-leaning one, only with arrogance to boot.

Why do I say arrogance? The conservatives developed an “It can’t happen here” mindset.

Even worse, if a pastor or other worker DID sleep with a parishioner, it was treated merely as a “sexual indiscretion” rather than an abuse of power. (The liberals treated it that way, too. That’s how they addressed it at SBTS when I was there.) As a result, if a pastor had an affair, he was often allowed to quietly resign, move on to another church, and set up shop after a season of being under the radar.

What if a father rapes his daughter and she tells the church about it? They rally around him but show her the door. Ask me how I know.

What about the children’s worker who fondles a kid, and that kid reports it? The church tells the family “we’re taking the situation seriously”, lets the worker quietly leave and go on to another church, then he resumes his abuses. Ask me how I know.

When high-profile ministers cover up abuse in their churches, SBC leaders–who were financially-beholden to such churches–failed to confront those ministers.

Paul confronted Peter–“to his face”–over lesser offenses, but SBTS President Al Mohler could not find it in him to confront C.J. Mahaney over his coverup of at least one child abuser at Covenant Life Church.

(2) A culture that values and rewards charisma over character and competence, allowed a critical mass of narcissistic, sociopathic, Machiavellian personalities into the ranks of ministers, and then rewarded them based on metrics that are functions of charisma.

If you have winsome charisma and can regurgitate conservatism–and even better, do it with NeoCalvinist spin–you’ll go places in the SBC.

You have to make sure that you champion the hot products from LifeWay, preach inviting sermons that have enough conservatism to wow the masses but so soft that you step on no one’s toes. But if you play the game, you go far.

If you provide the requisite “fruits of your ministry”–growing membership, new baptisms, and, yes, more dollars going into the Cooperative Program–you receive great recognition. And as you get to know the right people, and say the right things at the right meetings, you get key appointments to the appropriate committees.

(3) A culture that throws victims under the bus to protect the institution.

This did not begin with the conservatives–truth be told, it’s a longstanding problem that goes back to the very foundation of the SBC–but it has snowballed on the watch of the conservatives.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler and his protege Russell Moore are a major part of the problem. Why? They are years late and millions of dollars short, as they sat for decades on this issue. For decades, they failed to call out key leaders, they have failed to demand change where doing so would have yielded better policies.

For his part, Mohler has begun to repudiate his longtime support of C.J. Mahaney, whose Sovereign Grace Church is now in Lousiville and who has given The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary $200,000. Perhaps that will lead the way for other Big Evangelical names to start distancing themselves from Mahaney, whose heavy-handed leadership, probable coverup of several sexual abusers, and systematic attacks on all who questioned him, ought to permanently disqualify him from ministry.

And make no mistake: the abuses and coverups extend from local churches to particular arms of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Former missionary Mark Aderholt, who is on trial for his abuses of 16-year-old Anne Marie Miller while he was a 25-year-old youth minister and seminary student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, went on to a distinguished career with the International Mission Board (IMB).

When Miller reported the matter to the IMB, their own investigation concluded that the abuses “likely happened” and that Aderholt was not truthful with them about it. What did they do? They allowed him to resign. Did they report the matter to authorities? No. Did they inform the next church he went to? No. Did they inform the South Carolina Baptist Convention, where he became a strategist? No.

(And don’t start here with the argument that the whole thing was consensual. He was 25; she was 16. Irrespective of what you think her issues were at the time, the fact remains it was on him to be the adult. If he wanted to eventually marry her, he could have steered her in the proper direction and exercised propriety. Moreover, given that he was in training for MINISTRY, it was incumbent on him to do the right thing.)

The SBC also has a storied history of saying they will look into this issue, but not doing it. Their fallback is always “but muh church autonomy!”

Fact is, if FBC Timbuktu ordained an LGBT pastor or deacon today, the SBC would move Hell to ensure that FBC Timbuktu was disfellowshipped as soon as SBC 2019 opened session.

If the SBC wanted to confront the abuse culture, they’d do it. But to do so will mean stepping on toes that are connected to very large amounts of money. It means that popular leaders–with big radio presences, book deals, and academic credentials–will have to face censure if not complete repudiation.

It will also require a total cultural transformation: from a culture of theological arrogance where predators operate under the radar to a vigilant, humble culture where victims are welcome and predators are not.

That is a tall order for the SBC. It is probably not the battle that new President J.D. Greear was hoping to fight. But this is every bit as serious as any fight that the SBC has faced in its history.

Greear had better be up to the call.

Abortion and Matt Chandler

A couple weeks ago, a friend of mine from my seminary days–she leans a little left politically but is otherwise pro-life on abortion–posted this meme on her Facebook feed:

Yes, she is a friend of mine, and we had an otherwise collegial, low-key discussion about this matter offline. I did this to keep other FB friends of mine from turning this into a foodfight.

First: a few stipulations:

(1) Abortion is murder. Period. Abortion kills a living human being. You don’t like that? Calling me names won’t change that reality, as I didn’t create it.

(2) Abortion, in spite of being a great evil, is sold in America with the best New York ad agency sloganeering and political posturing. For a woman in a crisis pregnancy, it is easy to see how appealing it can be.

(3) Abortion, like other sins, is very forgivable. And, contrary to what you might think intuitively, the pro-life crowd is a very merciful and graceful lot with women who seek mercy.

(If you have had an abortion, you will have a harder time showing yourself mercy than you will have finding it in the pro-life movement.)

Still, the Chandler quote sticks in my craw. And here’s why.

First of all, abortion has been legal in all 50 states, for the full 9 months of pregnancy, for 46 years.

(And yes, before you start saying, “THAT’S NOT WHAT THEY SAID IN ROE!”, just hold your pants on and read: abortion IS legal for the full nine months when you consider the ramifications of the Roe v. Wade decision AND its companion case, Doe v. Bolton, which SCOTUS ruled on at the same time on 22 January 1973.)

Because abortion is both legal and government-funded, Americans have killed about 60 million babies since 1973.

So let me ask you, Mr. Chandler: how high does the death toll have to be before we pass a law banning in utero infanticide?

Before we have any discussion about what pro-life is, and is not, on this issue, I’m going to lay the card on the table.

IF YOU BELIEVE ABORTION SHOULD GENERALLY BE LEGAL, YOU ARE NOT PRO-LIFE.

You think I’m being mean?

Think about it this way. if you believe that rape–which goes on nearly unabated in spite of laws against it–should be legal, we would rightly say you are NOT pro-woman, even if you otherwise support a myriad of rape prevention efforts.

Moreover, if you believe that child abuse should be legal, we would rightly say that you are not pro-child even if you otherwise support programs to prevent child abuse.

And consider our former national atrocity that was slavery. Those who supported slavery could not be reasonably considered abolitionists.

But back to Chandler’s quote.

On one hand, I’m all for the Church showing more compassion to women in crisis pregnancies, with couples stepping up to the plate to adopt and/or provide foster care.

At the same time, I can also tell you that, having been through training for foster parentage, and having spent two-and-a-half years on an adoption waiting list before we got picked and Abigail made her grand entry, Christians make up the overwhelming majority of adoptive and foster parents.

While we can reasonably argue that we need the Church to do more, it is also fair to say that Christians are hardly inactive on this front.

Perhaps if the Church spent more resources taking care of widows and orphans and less on high pastor salaries and building new churches in areas that are already inundated with them, you’d see more foster children receiving compassion.

The problem I have with Chandler here is that his statement is often used as a subtle form of blame-shifting for abortion, as well as a code-term used by people who wish to keep abortion legal. It fosters the “if only the Church reached out the right way, women wouldn’t murder their babies” mindset.

In point of fact, the waiting lines for adoption typically exceed 3 years. At Catholic Charities, the venue through which we adopted Abigail, the average wait is 3 years. (And they ONLY deal with infertile couples.) For many agencies, the average wait is about FIVE years.

There are at least two adoptive couples for every baby murdered in the womb in America. And most of those couples are Christians.

And while we are on the subject of abortion, I am going to make some hard statements here. Most of you aren’t going to like this, but I’m going to say it anyway.

(1) The death toll from abortion is proof that neither sex has a monopoly on evil. While we can all point to examples of “toxic masculinity”, the fact remains that toxic femininity is every bit as serious, even if pastors are scared to death of pointing to the elephant in the room that is standing on the blood of 60+million babies.

(2) Just as we rightly blame rape on rapists, it is fair to blame abortion on (a) those who make the decision to kill the baby and (b) those who carry out the act. Yes, there are some women for whom the abortion decision is made FOR them–ask me how I know this. Those, however, are totally in the minority.

My point here?

Yes, let’s extend the best compassion that the Church can offer for single mothers, foster children, orphans, and widows.

Yes, let’s extend the mercy and grace of Jesus to those who, for whatever reason, have blood on their hands due to their participation in the atrocity that is abortion.

Still, we must continue to call abortion for the evil that it is, and demand that our legal system right this terrible wrong by ending its sanction of the practice.

If you aren’t for that, then you aren’t pro-life. Period.

Ironman Chattanooga 2018: T Minus 30 Days

On October 10, 2015, I had one of the worst days of my life.

I DNFd (Did Not Finish) at my very first triathlon, Ironman Louisville–I was pulled at mile 17 of the run, with 9.2 miles to go, as I missed the cutoff time for the final turnaround.

I had spent 8 months, from ground zero, getting my swimming ready and that compromised me on the bike and run. I made the bike cutoff but trashed my legs. I had no legs coming out of T2 and bonked at mile 10. From there, it was a slow-motion train wreck.

The worst feeling was, after that, MrsLarijani bawling when I came up short.

I felt like the old Philadelphia 76ers after their 1977 NBA Finals loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. They blew a 2-0 lead, and lost in 6 games. It was bitter. The team took out ads: “We Owe You One!” Julius “Dr. J” Erving, the star of that team, was without a championship.

I was angry. No…angry is too soft. I was pissed.

Wanting to give MrsLarijani a break, I sat out 2016–did a half-Iron, some centuries, and an Olympic-distance triathlon. Last year, I planned on doing an Ironman, but Abigail and the Battle of NICU was my big endurance event last year. Abigail showed her Ironbaby creds.

This year, I signed up for Ironman Chattanooga. September 30 is D-Day.

I’ve been training like all get-out since April. 

I figured Chattanooga would be the fitting place to take care of business, as that is where I met MrsLarijani and that very area is where MrsLarijani and I spent plenty of time during our engagement.

As for the race itself, the swim is slightly easier than Louisville, the bike is about the same–not as hilly as Louisville, but 4 miles longer and hot temperatures can make it a killer–and the run is one of the toughest on the Ironman circuit.

This time around, I’ve been biking like crazy: 8 century rides so far, one of them 160 miles. I have 2 more planned (tomorrow and next Saturday) going into taper, with long runs on Sunday morning. (To put that in perspective: I had 5 going into IMLOU 3 years ago, but this time I’ll have double that. And a lot of long rides to go with that.) 

I haven’t been neglecting swimming or running, but Ironman–as I learned the hard way–is all about the bike. I’ve upped my swimming starting this week, and nailed a 90-minute swim this morning, adding a 15-minute transition run to it.

(Transition-running after every swim and bike has been a big part of my repertoire this time around. And my long runs have been the day after–not the week after–my long bikes. I’m not treating this like training for a marathon.)

My strategy going in is simple: take it easy on the swim and let the current be my friend, keep it steady on the bike to ensure that I have legs going into the run, and don’t get stupid on the run.

And when I’m going through Hell on the run, I’ll just mutter to Satan, “Yippie kiyay…”

It took the old Philadelphia 76ers team six years–which included two more losses in the NBA Finals and an embarrassing 7-game loss in the Eastern Conference Finals–to get their championship. And it was the one remaining player from that 1977 team–Julius Erving–who sealed it in game 4. 

That was a wonderful day: Doc had his championship, and the Sixers delivered on their “We Owe You One” promise.

My goal is to do the latter. And after that, to be able to stand.

I plan on being a “one and done” with the Iron distance. My back, neck, knees, and hips are reminding me to stick to activities that have little or no impact.

But like those Sixers of old, I have some unfinished business.

Here is the highlight video from last year’s Ironman Chattanooga.

Spiritual Abuse

A woman, who has commented on a couple blogs I enjoy, shared some of her story of physical abuse from her father growing up … abuse he perpetrated in the name of God, which elevates it to Spiritual Abuse.

Unfortunately, I understand Spiritual Abuse … from my own parents, from my first husband, and especially from my ex-in-laws, retired from a career in ministry.

I was pondering the story of this precious woman, whose experiences drove her to atheism …  and the things I experienced … and then swirled around to what my daughters experienced.

Separating God from Church

At this season in my life, where life is relatively calm compared to most all the previous years of my life, I have time to ponder the past, the choices I made, the things I did and didn’t do as a person, a woman, a wife, a friend, a mother. Some of that pondering is good, and some I just need to stop thinking about. One thing I often think about is when I pulled my daughters and myself out of church in the wake of the divorce. I did so because every Sunday something happened that left at least one of us crying all the way home, and I decided I did not want my girls to equate church and church people with Jesus and God. So we stopped church, and I separated God from church and those church people who do stupid, harmful things.

Contemplating the Past

Hindsight is not 20/20, as is often stated; rather, it’s distorted. We cannot recreate the past in the present. Much of the time I find myself deflated and critical of myself when I look back; some of it is justified, much is not. And this hovering question of whether or not I should have removed us from church wavers in and out of my conscious thought from time-to-time. Did I do the right thing? Was it best?

In light of this woman’s story … my personal experience … and pulling my girls and me out of church – and one other thing I will share last in this post – I have concluded it was the right decision. And here’s why:

The Store Incident

There was a pivotal incident years ago when my girls’ Dad tried to force them to do a terrible thing. My Aspie Girl fell into an autistic meltdown and was incapable of obeying him, causing him to become intensely angry. This was in a large store, and he was so angry he commanded Oldest to come with him and leave her sister, whom she knew was incapable of controlling herself or of helping herself. He left the premises and proceeded to leave all together (I do not know if he actually drove away and came back or simply went to his car and came back.)

Oldest fell apart. She was still young – middle school – and incapable of handling all of this but knew it was wrong to leave her vulnerable sister unprotected. She found herself curled up in a corner of the large store, calling me, crying, begging me to come get them right away because Daddy left them. I left immediately to drive the 45 minutes to get them. In that time, she was able to get her sister, tell her Mommy was coming, Dad came back in, they left, went to his place, packed their things, and met me at a restaurant parking lot. And this was when he did the unthinkable … this was when he told our Oldest, who had been a Daddy’s Girl since she was born, that he didn’t like her and didn’t want her and if she was going to be like that, then call her Mom to come get her; he didn’t want her.

Using the Bible to Justify Wrong Behavior

Two weeks later when he picked them up for his regular visitation time together, as he drove off he handed Oldest a sheet with Bible verses about children obeying their parents, chastising her for disobeying him and not leaving the store with him, leaving her sister alone. She threw the sheet back at him, told him she already knew those verses (and she did) and that she would never abandon her sister. Again he told her he didn’t like her and didn’t want her and to call her Mom to come get her, which I did.

A Pivotal Moment

As I thought of all these things – the woman who shared her story of spiritual abuse, my own spiritual abuse, and what I will share at the end of this post, I realized that it was for that one, pivotal moment, and the days and years that followed, that I believe God led me to pull us out of church and separate God from church all those many years earlier. If they related God to church people, and therefore related God to their own Dad – who never, ever missed a church service even to be with them, at that moment my Oldest would have turned from God.

The Funeral Incidents

Another incident ocured several years later at their Daddy’s funeral where their grandfather and uncle (both pastors) led the service. The things their paternal grandfather and uncle did and said surrounding his death and in that service and the days and weeks and months following were nothing short of deplorable. It was so bad that people of great respect came up to us later and told us they were sorry for what happened. It was so bad that the funeral director, even though she was bound by law not to reveal details, said to me, “It’s because of people like him that I do not believe in God.” They did terrible things and said terrible things, even of their own son/brother at his own funeral.

If I had not separated God from church people, my beautiful daughters would not be able to separate God from what these, who call themselves children and representatives of God, these who are biologically related to my daughters, did and said (and continue to do to them and me).

Oldest’s Thoughts

I shared these things with Oldest recently and asked her how that first experience would have altered her perception of God had she not already separated who God is with what her Dad and grandparents and uncle did and do … I asked her how she thought that would have changed the trajectory of her life from that point, and with realization she soberly said, “I’d be really messed up right now.”

Mama’s Gift

It is HARD to be a parent, and it has been super hard for me to face these things and these choices and the years we’ve lived after them … wondering if I did the right thing … hoping I did the right thing.

And then these moments of revelation come about. A gift from God. And I am grateful. So grateful.

Spiritual Abuse

Any abuse done under the umbrella of God: supposedly in the Name of God, for the supposed glory of God, to supposedly honor God, supposedly because of God, using the Bible to justify the acts and/or words, or done by a person who represents God … all of that then is elevated to Spiritual Abuse.

And I’m beginning to believe that of all the forms of abuse, Spiritual Abuse is the most severe. Why? Because, in the words of Andrew Klavan, “It destroys the pathway of faith to God.”

Andrew Klavan’s Thoughts

In all honesty, I do not know who Andrew Klavan is. A friend on facebook put up one of his video shows highlighting a totally different topic than I am addressing here (he covers many topics in the episode I am fixing to share). In the midst of this video, Klavan begins to talk about the sexual abuse in the Catholic church and says some very profound things.

I take this further and relate it to all Spiritual Abuse as I defined above, not simply in the Catholic church. All Spiritual Abuse has devastating effects because again, as Andrew Klavan states, “it destroys the pathway to faith in God.”

In Ep. 560 – Hell on Earth | The Andrew Klavan Show, Klavan talks about Sexual abuse in the Catholic Church from 15:00 – 21:49. Here are some quotes that struck me – which I personally relate to all Spiritual Abuse in any church and/or by any person who represents God or does anything in the Name of God or uses God for their own purpose:

(16:00) Andrew Klavan:

“What does it [spiritual abuse] do? It puts up a barrier …”

(17:00) Andrew Klavan: quotes Matthew 23:13-15 NLT:

13 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.

15 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!

(18:35) Juliann Bortz (molested by a priest in her Catholic High School):

“The collar is still a trigger for me. They murdered something in me. Something died. Everything I believed, died.”

(18:40) Andrew Klavan:

“They took away her faith. They closed, did what Jesus said, they closed the door of heaven.”

(20:00) Andrew Klavan:

“If you are closing the door to the Kingdom of heaven, you are committing a sin against the Spirit that is immense.”

(20:23) Andrew Klavan:

“The enemy is the devil who is in your church. He is in your church. This has got to be pulled up, root and branch.”

(20:50) Andrew Klavan:

“Seventy years of taking away from people their path into the Kingdom of God.”

(21:15) Andrew Klavan:

“It destroys the pathway of faith to God.”   

Consequences

How this world thinks it will escape the consequences of their actions is beyond me because they are all through the Bible and history. Yes, His grace and mercy and love are great … but it is because they are great that we face the reality and consequences of sin.

If it were, as some claim it should be, that God excused such behavior because He is a God of love, then His grace and mercy and love would be weak and powerless. We know that this is not true and cannot be true because God is All-Powerful. Therefore His grace and mercy and love are powerful and come from a place of power, never of weakness.

Many times the Bible says, “Woe to him who … ” God is very serious about life and how we live it. And He is very serious about those who hurt others.

Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. Luke 17:1-2 (NKJV)

“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! Matthew 18:6-7

Help

There is help and healing for those of us who have been abused in any form, including Spiritual Abuse. I am not a counselor or expert of any kind, but please do seek out qualified help in your area if you’ve experienced any of this on any level. God really does exist, He really is God, He really is Holy, He really is Healer, He really is Love, and He really is Good.

Holy God, spiritual abuse is so overwhelming for me. I cannot think of it for long or it completely pulls me under into dark places. But You can handle it. You are God. Nothing is too big or too much for You. There is no place we can go that You cannot find us. Thank You. My heart is heavy for this woman who was turned from you because of the violent abuse of her own father in Your Name, but not nearly as much has Your heart is burdened for her for Your love for her is greater than all other. I lift her up to You, Jesus, and I pray that, in Your time, You will gently draw her back to You in ways that only You can. I pray for anyone reading this that has experienced abuse in any form, especially spiritual abuse. Draw them into Your loving arms. Lead them to places and people who can help them heal. May they know they are never alone and that You are God. Thank You for protecting my daughters and me. Thank You for loving us and caring for us and healing us. Thank You for being God. I need You, and I love You, in Jesus’ Holy Name, Ame

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. I Peter 5:6-7 (NKJV)

About Debt-Free Virgins With No Tattoos

Fair disclosure:

(1) In my single days, I did not discriminate against women who had prior promiscuity or who had tattoos. I dated both virgins and non-virgins. The relationships that failed, failed for reasons having nothing to do with sexuality or body art.

I do not believe that virginity is the be-all/end-all. Is it a bigger deal than our culture wants you to think? Yep. Is your world over if you’re not a virgin? Nope. Are your chances of enjoying sex when you get married over if you’re not a virgin? Nope. Are your chances of having a good Christian marriage over if you’re not a virgin? Nope.

And as I say this, I also realize that there are women and men who are not virgins, and are not so due to circumstances beyond their control (i.e. sexual abuse). I’ve known very few Christian men who would have a problem dating or marrying a gal in that boat.

(2) Nor, in my single days, did I discriminate against women who had debt. However, looking back, I will say this much: if a gal had carried a higher debt load than I would have been able to support, it would have been a show-stopper.

With that out of the way, it would not be unfair to say that Lori Alexander made herself the mother of all lightning rods with this post.

The title alone struck a cord in the Twittersphere. I first noticed it when Ashley Easter linked to it. The condemnations were quick and unending. Most of my friends in that sphere attacked it.

My immediate thoughts, before reading the article, were “Well…duh…men tend to want their women to have minimal baggage, and the same is true of the women with respect to men.”

(I’ve always said it plainly: men and women each have their general preferences. It does not make either side mean or unfair, it just is what it is. As an example: women, as a group, prefer tall men. As someone who is more akin to Reepicheep than to LeBron James, that put me at a disadvantage in my single days.)

At the same time, while the title of the article–fairly or unfairly–generated controversy, I found the actual article to be a bit ridiculous in places.

Do you know how much more attractive debt-free virgins (without tattoos) are to young men? Unfortunately, there are so few of these types of young women anymore because of the high costs of college (debt) and sexual promiscuity even within those in the church. As believers in Jesus Christ, we need to live in a way that is pleasing to Him because His ways are the best. He calls debt a burden and urges us to live lives of sexual purity.

That’s true, and it is true of the men as well. When Paul gave his many admonitions regarding sexual ethics, he did not merely aim them at women.

OTOH, Alexander is not far from a point here that is worth mentioning: from the stats I’ve seen, the male virgins, in raw and percentage terms, outnumber the female virgins. Intuitively, I expected the opposite, but that is apparently not the case. And given that men–irrespective of how much you shame them–will tend to prefer a virgin over non-virgin, that does not bode well for the ladies, at least not on the margins.

Now, for some of the more controversial content:

There are many reasons why Christian young women should carefully consider whether or not they go to college, especially if they want to be wives and mothers someday. Secular universities teach against the God of the Bible and His ways. It’s far from what God calls women to be and do: it teaches them to be independent, loud, sexually available, and immodest instead of having meek and quiet spirits.

That depends on your major. If you major in any of the STEM fields–even biology, where evolution is a commonly-held belief among faculty–they aren’t going to bother you, as they are more concerned about your academic performance in fields that require hard analysis, than they are about your worldview. If you’re a Christian and oppose evolution, you may get some derision here and there, but if you can do the work, the static you get will be minimal.

In fields like engineering, it’s even better: no one cares if you’re gay, straight, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu, but if you can’t calculate the shear, torsional, and bending stresses on the main spar of an aircraft under various loading conditions, then you’re going to have a problem.

One woman wrote to me and gave her opinions on why women shouldn’t go to college. (I have added my thoughts in parenthesis.):

“Men don’t want to marry a women with debt. Most of this debt comes from college. They would also prefer a woman who still lives at her parent’s house that has not had other relationships. Do those two things and you will be highly sought after.” (I’m not sure about men only preferring women who still live at their parent’s house and have had no other relationships since some young women have no choice but to live away from their families and some have had their hearts broken by men they thought was ‘the one.’ I would agree that most men don’t want to marry a woman with a load of debt! That isn’t right to bring into a marriage.)

Sure, men would prefer their women to have no debt. And this is rational: they realize that, as soon as the first baby arrives, her income stream is probably going to dry up, at least in the near-term. If she wants to be a SAHM, then he’s going to need to be able to cover for everyone, and that means he will need to support her debts as well as his. That’s economic reality.

At the same time, there is nothing in Proverbs 31 suggesting that a woman must forego college and take on no debt and live with her parents until her knight in dented armor shows up.

I would also suggest that men ought to be careful about the debt they take on in their single days. As they consider college or professional paths, they also need to think in terms of potential return on investment (ROI) as well as payback time. Not all college paths are prudent.

“If they go to college, they are unlikely to stay home raising their children to pay off the debt and use the degree they spent years on.” (I have seen this in many young women’s lives, sadly.)

What I just said about the men–that they need to consider ROI and payback time–applies to women, and for the reasons stated. If you’re coming out of college at age 22 and you want to get your debt paid down before you become a SAHM and that takes 5 years of all-out work, that puts you at 27 before you consider children. Your peak fertility years are now behind you. And if you’re not married yet, the most desirable men in your cohort are now taken.

(At that point, the best available men are going to be socially-awkward, short, geeky PITA types–like I was. :))

Calling me names won’t change the reality, because I didn’t create it.

“The husband will need to take years teaching his wife the correct way to act, think, and live since college taught them every possible way that is wrong.” (Sadly, most young Christian women wouldn’t listen to their husbands since they’ve not been taught to live in submission to their husbands. However, it’s the older women who are called to teach the younger women biblical womanhood and most husbands have never seen it modeled in their lives so they wouldn’t know what to teach.)

Lori, you lost me here.

“Teaching their wives the correct way to act, think, and live”???

Are you kidding me, Lori?

Where have you been for the last 50 years?

Let’s be honest here: neither sex is lighting up the world for Jesus right now.

From my own observations: the men need themselves to be taught how to love, act, and live in a Godly manner. They sure aren’t learning that at church, with all the half-baked and plagiarized sermons coming from the pulpits.

The men are downloading porn at such a rate that you now have men–IN THEIR 20s–who are getting married and cannot get it up with a real naked woman in the room.

The men are also racking up mountains of debt that they must take many years to pay.

And the men who are most desirable? They tend to be the “Alpha Males”, who themselves have a crap-ton of sexual baggage of their own.

Right now, as for church attendance, singles are largely falling off the map. When they graduate high school, both sexes often leave the church, but the men seem to be taking a longer time coming back. We can argue all day about why that is, but let’s be honest with ourselves: that is the situation on the ground.

There are lots of things to challenge about the culture, including the mantra that college is good, as there are good and bad reasons to go to college.

Good Christian women will go to college, some will even go on to law and medical school. Some will become doctors, lawyers, engineers, IT professionals, even businesswomen. Good Christian women will also stay home, perhaps go to trade school, and forge different niches. Good Christian women will move out, work on their own, and forge a path that is more independent.

None of those things, in particular, are evil.

As a Body, we need to have a larger discussion about debt. Especially student loan debt. Fact is, college is not the marginal benefit that it was 30 years ago. There was a time when a 4-year degree in ANYTHING would guarantee a good job and a quick ROI, but that is no longer the case.

And when you factor in debt, the benefit of college CAN be dubious. Not just for women, but also for men. It may be for you, it may not be. There is no hard “this is what you must do” plan for everyone, but rather teens and their parents need to make rational and sober decisions in this area.

As for the secular mindset of colleges, that is not a new phenomenon, although some departments may be more hostile to Christians than others. The larger issue in that regard is this: parents and churches need to do a better job equipping their children to deal with a hostile world.

At the same time, being marriagable is more than being a debt-free virgin with no tattoos.

While those are good things that would–ceteris paribus–make a gal more and not less attractive, they are not substitutes for Christian character.

Class dismissed.