When all else fails, proof text. Right? That’s the CoC way; when logic, morals, and consistency let us down, we can always pull out a verse or two that protect the status quo.
And it’s natural after all. It’s a conservative church. Not just in recent politics, but in the simplest sense. The CoC is a church that tries to conserve a tradition, so its reflexes are always to protect whatever’s always been done.
So I learned to proof text the hell out of everyone. Proof texting was like porn. I was just gazing at a bunch of dismembered parts, treating them like object(ive)s, getting the rush I craved, then feeling a little dirty afterwards.
I felt dirtier when I learned some Greek. I learned past the point where I knew just enough to be dangerous and actually had some budding hermeneutic chops. My writing was clumsy, and I still was mostly reading through a centuries-old haze of conservation, but there were signs that I was starting to reassemble the parts, glimpse a wholly different text than the hol(e)y one I had been working with.
I felt even dirtier when I wondered about the tutor for Greek. I never used the tutoring section because I really enjoyed Greek, so it wasn’t hard work. But I noticed that the tutor was a woman, my age, who had been in the program a little longer. And she was trusted with teaching the rudiments of Greek to a bunch of would-be youth ministers who saw the course as an impediment and who, as soon as they had gotten their Cs, would revert to their proper authoritative place over her. She was good enough to teach us all Greek, but it was time to shut up on Sunday morning.
I wish it had been that simple. But proof texting is a hard habit to break, and, besides, I barely knew the tutor. She dated and eventually married a friend of mine, but I never had to actually confront the paradox of her position.
No, the CoC pews became too hellish for me a few years later, sitting beside my wife, who is smarter and more creative than me in ways that are too numerous to count. It was sitting beside her and hearing her silence that I finally realized what I was doing to her. Trying all week to live up to our equal partnership (it’s a thing with us), then trudging to a church that had us behave otherwise. And for what? Ultimately just to have our souls nibbled away. A few pieces here, struggling to figure out what to do with the church of our youth. A few pieces there, hearing our parents tell us we were hell bound. A few more pieces there, hearing those same sentiments over and again, being called a disappointment, having our son marked as religious territory to be exploited.
The definition of Christian is hotly contested in the CoC, and it isn’t just one’s gender that gets in the way. It’s political affiliation. Language. Music preferences. Sexual preferences. It’s everything, all the way down. There’s a checklist of what counts as Christian, and I and my family are decidedly not measuring up.
Go outside the CoC, and checklists still apply. The otherwise profound and kind Episcopal rector tells me my son needs to be baptized instead of asking us what our choice (not to mention his!) is. The generous Catholic friends want to make sure we don’t raise our son to be the wrong kind of black. And many churches - even many progressive churches - send missionaries to the other side of the world to convert people to Christianity without once asking what these cultures have to teach us about spirituality.
All these lines are tiresome. I see Christianity defining itself narrowly in US politics, showing its ass to the whole world without the slightest bit of self-awareness, and I think that I should be hot and bothered. I should be out there reclaiming the word Christian for something better, something more inviting, something that, for Christ’s sake, includes women!
But I don’t feel it. I’ve decided somewhere along the way that God’s a big girl who can look out for herself. I’ve realized that I’m dealing with a church that will psychologically abuse my wife and my son if they go back, and I’ve started to lose interest in being a party to that sort of fate for them. I’m not even 30 yet, and already I feel too tired for the kind of fight required when one squares one’s shoulders to the CoC.
The problem is…I’m a young educated white guy. Just the sort of person who’s allowed to talk in CoCs. Just the sort of person to whom much (undesirable privilege) has been given and, therefore, of whom much (what? What’s my obligation?) will be asked. So maybe I should be in the CoC mix, fighting the good fight.
I’m not a victim of the CoC’s bias. I’m its instrument of oppression. I’m the one who’s handed undeserved power because of the random specifics of my inception. The best I can see to do is throw it down and walk away.
Think we’ll turn into a pillar of salt?