World Vision and remembering the children

Today World Vision made an announcement that it’s changing how it handles LGBT employees, and IMO in a very good way. Previously, they required employees to either be in heterosexual marriages or to abstain from sexual activity. As I understand it, the old policy meant that if you were gay you couldn’t work there and be involved in even a long-term, monogamous relationship. (You still have to be married if you’re sexually active, even if you’re gay; it’s just that marriage isn’t restricted to heterosexual couples.) You couldn’t bring your spouse to the company picnic, for instance, and I’m assuming they wouldn’t be eligible for spousal health insurance or even to be listed as next of kin in a health emergency.

Some people are saying this is a really little thing and doesn’t deserve much praise, but I actually find it pretty courageous. It’s not a big change in a lot of ways, and I want to hear more about what they mean by marriage. For instance, do they mean sacramental marriage (which, to my knowledge, no church offers) or do alternate religious commitment services count? What about government marriage licenses or civil unions? It may well be this seems like a decent step when really it won’t be available to anyone. I’d also like to know how many gay people actually work at World Vision – if you’re not actually hiring them, then this seems like a progressive step when it’s really quite moot.

But I also find myself encouraged because, from a purely messaging level, World Vision made me feel particularly proud of them today. This decision sends the important message both to their employees and to gay people in the larger evangelical subculture that an authentic life is increasingly available to them in that culture, that they don’t have to choose between the common evangelical dream of family and a future together, meaningful work, a chance to effect the world for good — and who they know themselves to be. That’s a good thing in my opinion. It also tells them that there are expectations for how they live that life, too. That there’s a standard that’s meet-able, that doesn’t categorically exclude them from Christian virtue. That’s something many Christians really, really don’t do well with LGBT people. Myself included in the past, and probably to a certain extent todya, though I do hope I’m making progress there. Of course, it’s the nature of progress that you can only really see it in retrospect: if I saw I was wrong in any way now, I’d be changing my actions and thought-processes now.

Of course it’s usually two steps forward with people who take their beliefs as seriously as most people still opposed to homosexuality probably are. (more…)

Arguing Against the Defense of the Christian Private School Bubble

Over at ChristianityToday‘s Hermeneutics blog, Andrea Palpant Dilley wrote an interesting defense of her decision to put her kid in a private school. Her main point, and I think it’s usually a good one these days, is that we need to tone down the vitriol and actually see the complexity, the nuance in peoples’ situations.

To that end, Mrs. Dilley gives us some details about her own situation. She says she’s a good person, and as far as I can tell she actually is one. She’s involved in her community, cares about racial justice and equality and all the things those public school advocates apparently value so much. (In her words, “To public school advocates, I’m one of those people destroying the educational infrastructure of America, complicit in wrecking the hard-earned egalitarianism of a public classroom where kids of all creeds and colors can meet together in unity to learn about everything from planets to caterpillars.“) And yes, there’s a touch of seeing herself as put upon, maybe even a bit victimized, but that’s at least understandable. I think sometimes we underestimate a bit how hard it is to come from a position of privilege and want to work for a more just world where you’re not so privileged, but at the same time are fighting a very natural drive to do what’s best for the people you’re closest to. Your family, your kid, even your neighbors. I’m not saying this tension makes everything we do in the name of it okay; but I do see how you can look at people proclaiming form on high that all private-schoolers are selfish, elitist, etc. and think: if she just walked a day in my shoes, she’d see it just wasn’t so simple.

So I’m sympathetic to Mrs. Dilley’s position. I’ve been there, not with education but with other things, and like I said, I do agree with her central point that we need a more nuanced, merciful way of approaching public policy questions like to private school or not to private school. I’m also a proud beneficiary of private parochial school (grades 7-8 + the tail end of grade 6), and while I went to public universities most of my social life was anchored in the Campus Ministries building. So I get the value of Christian bubbles, the real value of them and also the pull of them psychologically. That’s what makes my reaction to Mrs. Dilley so frustrating. I agree with her conclusion, but I found the road she took to get there, pretty thoroughly muddled.


newsflash: not all Southerners are dumb hicks

Apparently ignorant people are saying idiotic things on the internet. In YouTube comments, no less. Stop the presses!

People in the South are trying to prove that snow is actually fake because it’s a government conspiracy

Normally I’d go on about the stuff I need to get through after taking most of yesterday and today off from getting things done. There’s just one problem: these particular ignorant people went online when the South was getting hammered by a snowstorm. Anomaly, the author of this piece, is sure they must be southerners because –I’m just guessing here– they all had screennames like ClemsonPride1978 or TheSouthDoneRiz or some other clever variation. Actually, to be fair, Anomaly says he reached this conclusion because Southerners “aren’t used to snow (I’m trying to help them find an excuse) so they have all suddenly become scientists, because they think it has to do with chemtrails and the government trying to push a climate change conspiracy, or something.”

That’s me, by the way; hello. Not the scientific illiteracy stuff by a longshot –I actually received a really top-notch education in science and maths, including a B.S. in maths from a state university– but the Southern part? Absolutely. That B.S. I mentioned? From the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I also had basic chemistry and physics so I know it’s possible for a frozen substance to be heated so quickly it vaporizes rather than melting into a liquid. I learned that in school, actually in an adjoining class to where I learned how to tritate and dissect (and, since we’re on the subject of science education, that the earth is most certainly more than 6,000 years old). Most people I knew were exposed to these kinds of things. Not all of them remembered it, but then again, a good number of the people I’ve tutored in Cleveland and taught in New York were similarly fuzzy on the details.

Speaking for myself, the science education I received in the Carolinas gives me a bit of ability in evaluating empirical claims. I like to test what I read, so much as the available evidence allows. That’s why I particularly appreciated Anomaly’s specific, quantified claims that I could verify. There are, after all, “tons of videos out there trying to disprove snow,” and a “lot of people think the snow that has hit the Southeast was “geo-engineered.”” So that answers my basic skepticism, I guess. I suppose it’s not at all possible that people in (say) Iowa or New Jersey were responding to a national story and used it as an opportunity to take a swipe at global warming. (Because, you know, national journalists like Iowa-born Steve Doocy are completely innocent on this topic.) Clearly this is enough to justify our outrage that these people can vote, as quite a few people can on that site. One particularly memorable comment refers to “snow ball goobers.”


As I said, ignorant people are saying idiotic things on the internet. Better save room above the fold for this one.

Here’s the truly frustrating thing about all this: Southerners are getting blamed as a group for this. For comparison, a news story recently popped up on my FB page talking about a correlation between high incidence of whooping-cough cases and high percentages of non-medical vaccination exemptions [that is, where people chose not to vaccinate their kids without a medical justification] in California. They said these overlapping areas “‘were associated with factors characteristic of high socioeconomic status such as lower population density, lower average family size, lower percentage of racial or ethnic minorities,’ higher incomes and other factors, the researchers wrote.” But I can’t imagine any news piece referring to silver-spoon granola flakes who (guess what) actual vote. That kind of generalization, denigration, and name-calling seems saved for white Southerners. I can’t even imagine a headline along the lines of “People in California are refusing to vaccinate their children, leading to whooping cough outbreaks.” You just don’t get that level of marking a few individuals’ reaction to a region-wide vice for any other area of the country. It might get attributed to anti-vaxxers or something similar, but that’s at least a group that more or less overlaps with the behavior being called out. Not true here.

And that, in case you’re wondering was the point I had to calmly leave the library, make my way to the bathroom, lock the stall door, and scream. Because sometimes? This shit just gets so, so old.

Mr. Moffat, your privilege is showing

I’m not going to use the word “misogyny” after this line right here. Other people have called him stronger things: sexist, homophobic, even racist. For a lot of people those terms have a tinge of intention to them (you can’t be, say, a sexist, without intentionally trying to push women down), and I’m honestly not sure that’s what’s going on here. But here’s the thing: you don’t have to go nearly that far to cross into what John Watson would call a bit not good.

In fact, I’ll go better: privilege is bad. And in my humble assessment, it’s at least one of Mr. Moffat’s biggest problems.

Let’s start with the obvious: Steven Moffat is a fanboy. If there’s any question on this point, consider his recent statement in a TOR piece on “The Sign of Three”:


wes thu hal, Pete Seeger

Peter Seeger has long been one of my favorite musicians for the nice blend of folk, Southern Gospel, blues, and the like. A wonderful musician whose songs were deeply human and always uplifting to listen to.

He had apparently sailed west, which is my cue to share a song of his. Who am I to fight tradition?

Sherlock Holmes: A Rational Giant in a Post-Rational World?

A few days, Sevenswells (LJ user ) posted a very good, critical review of the Sherlock episode “His Last Vow” along with an alternate ending that makes significantly more sense than the one Team Moffat gave us. While I don’t agree with her on every point, her criticisms did help me think about a major difference between the Doyle books and the BBC series in a more specific way than I’d managed so far. Specifically, the books give us a Sherlock who uses his spectacular brain to triumph over criminals In the TV show, on the other hand, even when he solves case, the bad guy manages to get away, or be killed, or otherwise escape arrest and jail. Sherlock may still solve the case most of the time, but this doesn’t seem to get him what he really cares about; much less ensure that justice is done.

Let’s start with the most recent example, in “His Last Vow.” There will be pretty heavy spoilers for “His Last Vow” in the next paragraph, but I’ll get back to some discussion based on the first two series. If you’re avoiding series three spoilers you can skip down to “[end of series three spoilers]” below.

Unspoiled eyes duly averted? Excellent.


making sense of His Last Vow’s final scene

This whole post is pretty much one giant spoiler for the tail end of “His Last Vow” and everything leading up to it. If you haven’t seen it and are avoiding spoilers, you should probably stop reading now.

Still with me? You’re sure you don’t want to stay spoiler-free? Good.

Setting aside certain not-dead-after-all (perhaps) consulting criminals, the very last scene in “His Last Vow” gives us Sherlock, John, and Mary saying goodbye at an airstrip. Sherlock has shot an unarmed Charles Augustus Magnussen in front of dozens of MI6 types. The audience expects him to go to jail. I’m sure Sherlock expects a life sentence somewhere thoroughly boring; his last words to John outside Magnussen’s house certainly gives that impression. Instead, he’s being sent on what Sherlock and the audience knows is a suicide mission in eastern Europe. John doesn’t know that aspect of things, but Shelrock does tell him, quite plainly, that this will be the last time they’ll ever meet. The game, in Sherlock’s words, is over.

It should be a gut-wrenching scene on par with John’s eulogy at the end of “Reichenbach.” But it isn’t, at least on first glance. I’ve seen lots of fans of the show get quite frustrated, because to them it simply doesn’t seem like John cares about Sherlock any more. This is the man who he bawled for two years over losing, who just sacrificed himself again for John’s future, and he’s… discussing baby names? Really?

Hold on to that fantasy, if you can. When the truth (or what I think is true) hit me, the only thing keeping me from screaming was that I was in public. I’m not exaggerating on that none.


the dark virtue of John Watson

If you have even a passing familiarity with BBC Sherlock’s third series, you know it involved the (more…)

what does it mean to be devout?

The Religion Clause blog [discussion of legal experts on religion and the law] linked to an interesting journal article looking at the best law schools for “devout” law students. The article ranks schools based on “percentage and activity of students who belong to the faith; percentage and activity of faculty who belong to the faith; number of religion-focused courses and other ways the school incorporates the faith into the curricula; religion-related journals, centers and clinics; religious services and clergy at the law school; mission of the law school.

Interestingly, this means you might have a top school for (say) pious LDS students that wasn’t actually affiliated with the LDS church, though there would probably have to be a certain proportion of LDS students and faculty for it to score high on those metrics. The results are pretty interesting on their own.

What really caught my attention and made me flip through to the article was a sneaking suspicion I had that, for non-Catholic Christians at least, “devout” really conservative or evangelical. And it turns out that’s not entirely off-base. This article lists (starting with the best): Liberty University; Trinity Law School; Regent University; Pepperdine University; and Baylor University. I recognized Baylor and Liberty as obviously conservative schools right away – I actually thought of going to Baylor but decided it would be a poor fit for just that reason, though it’s academically a very good school, at least in philosophy. I then poked around on the websites of the other three schools, and of them, Trinity and Regent both used code words that made me think I wouldn’t be entirely comfortable there. Specifically, Regent referred to George Washington’s quote about God and government depending on each other, and Trinity talked quite a bit about the Biblical foundations of right law. Pepperdine, on the other hand, did seem to be genuinely open to people who were called to the law as a way to serve others, who wanted to do it as Christians but not necessarily as a way of fighting the culture wars. I could be wrong, but there was nothing I saw on their site that screamed conservative or evangelical Christianity.

Still, one out of five… :-S

This reminds me of a statement Franklin Graham made a while ago on the BGEA website, in the context of the Duck Dynasty fowl-up. I try not to pile on Franklin Graham because I’m not sure who I’ll convince who isn’t already convinced, and also because I know so many good people who work for his ministry and do such good work. Also also, if I’m being frank, out of gratitude for the opportunities that ministry gave me to do work that mattered right out of undergrad. This one’s stuck with me, though, so I’m going to talk it out, as much for my own sake as any other reason.

Back in early January, Franklin issued a statement about the churches that were going against Phil Robertson. The two first paragraphs, which are the bits I’ve been turning over in my head, are:

I appreciate the Robertson family’s strong commitment to biblical principles and their refusal to back down under intense media pressure over Phil Robertson’s comments in a recent interview. As the Robertson controversy winds down—at least for now—I have been amazed at how many churches have apparently “ducked” out on the issue (sin). Some were even quick to condemn Phil Robertson.

If we Christians banded together and took a stand, perhaps we wouldn’t be losing so much ground in what the media is calling the “cultural war.” However, it is not a cultural war—it is a religious war against Christians and the biblical truths we stand for. Some churches have fallen into the trap of being politically correct, under the disguise of tolerance.

I don’t doubt some churches condemned Phil because it was popular or easy, just like I’m sure some more conservative Christian institutions defended him for the same reasons. Tribalism and sticking up for “us and ours” can die hard. But I also suspect many Christians stood by Phil because they thought he was right. They probably believe in their heart of hearts that the Bible says it really is more natural for a man to love and build a life with a woman than with another man. I don’t think God has categorical preferences here, and I believe sexual immorality is about promiscuity and lack of commitment rather than gender. But I do respect that some of my fellow Christians disagree with me on these points, not because they hate gay people but because they sincerely believe it’s what their faith requires of them in terms of right doctrine.

I’d ask that they extend the same courtesy to me.

Seriously. I read my Bible and my church history. I pray and think and wrestle and debate and write about these things. When I say I don’t believe homosexuality is per se sinful (though of course homosexuals are capable of being sinful in their sexuality), this isn’t because I want to be liked. I’ve thought and said these things in contexts where the easiest path to being liked and approved of pretty much consisted of shutting up and sitting down, not rocking the boat. I’ve spoken up otherwise because I’ve seen my siblings in Christ being told who they were was an affront to God, and because I think the heart of the golden commandment requires me to act on this issue how I’d want to be treated if I was gay myself. And whatever I thought of the standard Christian response to homosexuality, it wasn’t that. Then I started filling in the edges with what I knew of the Law and the Prophets and the Gospel and the Letters, most specifically: how should I treat the person I thought was wrong, and the one I thought was right, and the messy majority who fell somewhere in the middle?

I flatter myself that pretty much every Christian (and every non-Christian for that matter) would disagree with me on some point. That’s how you know you’re doing the hard work of wrestling with these things, when you don’t fit neatly on anyone’s side. But even when we disagree, I’d really appreciate the courtesy of not writing my position off to political correctness. I can promise you this much: whether we agree or disagree, that factor had precious little to do with my thought process.

One more favor I’d ask: When you think of me as someone who may not match your theology, remember that I too spend my Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights at church events, that I too read my Bible or some other devotional literature before I head out in the morning, and that I take a moment to bow my head at various intervals during the day. I consider myself devout, and I hope you would as well if you saw how I live my faith. “What Would Jesus Do?,” perhaps asked in a slightly less cliched form, is usually at the center of my decision process. The fact that I often come to a different conclusion than many of the people thought of as devout Protestant Christians doesn’t change that fact.

And because I’m a Methodist, I’ll end with three simple clauses:

In essentials, unity;
In non-essentials, liberty;
In all things, charity.

As far as devotional creeds go, I’ve seen worse.

The Empty Hearse: more critical (still spoilerish) thoughts)

I’ve fangirled (when did that become a verb) with the best of them over the first two BBC Sherlock episodes. As a fan, I liked them, really liked them. They’re fun and lighthearted and approachable in so many ways, and still felt true to the characters built up over the series if not the Doyle stories. Sherlock is more pulled toward actually caring about people in a variety of ways than I can imagine the Doyle character ever being, and much more human in his own unique way. But that’s not actually unique to the new series, is it? This is a retelling of the Sherlock Holmes mythos more than an adaptation of those stories, I’ve always felt, so I’ve always been prepared to give Moffat and Gatiss a fair amount of leeway in that department.

Still, there’s something about this first episode that isn’t sitting well with me at all. In two days the BBC is about to lay the finale and inevitable cliffhanger on us, and I rather suspect that’s where peoples’ focuses will be in the upcoming weeks. Rightly so, if previous series are any judge. So before everyone’s attention gets diverted, I’d like to try to work out why something about The Empty Hearse simply refuses to sit well with me. Major spoilers for TEH, and possibly minor ones for TSOT, behind the cut.


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