Let’s agree not to legislate sin.

yay-10050992I recently stumbled across this blog post from The Atlantic, posted in April of last year, in which a young woman explains her position opposing gay marriage. I always appreciate reading opposing points of view that are written thoughtfully, and I have to commend this young woman for sharing her perspective.  And now I’d like to explain why she’s wrong.

Everyone in the whole world has sinned

The center of her argument is that she believes that homosexuality is a sin as defined in the Bible; but where others stop there, she does go further and acknowledge that even believing that homosexuality is a sin doesn’t mean that she believes that gay people are evil or bad.  Everyone is a sinner.

My belief is that sin is anything that goes against God’s design and His rules. People who don’t believe in sin obviously do not see anything wrong with homosexual behavior and they don’t know why people like me speak out against it, so their reasoning is that what I say must come from hatred.

But if I hated all sinners, I’d hate myself.

There are lots of sins that exist, and in fact, everyone in the whole world has sinned.

I have no interest in making an argument whether or not the Christian Bible does define homosexuality as a sin, although there are certainly a large number of Christians who would happily engage in that debate.  My obvious issue is that the Christian Bible does not define my legal rights.

Do you really want to start legislating sin?

If you really want to start legislating sin, let’s start with the Ten Commandments.  Let’s make it illegal to work on Sunday, to curse (or if you want to be more literal, specifically taking the Lord’s name in vain), or to commit adultery.  Should you have to pay a fine if you are jealous of your neighbor’s boat?  When you are mean to your mother, you spend a couple of nights in lock-up.

That all seems ridiculous, of course.  Even for Christians, sin is a part of life.  Some sins are also crimes, but there are a lot of sins that we know we’re going to end up committing from time to time – and we don’t expect to be arrested, fined or censored for them.

We legislate to protect citizens against acts that damage our society and hurt other people.  Gay marriage hurts no one.

Is it really just semantics?

The young woman in that original blog post did say that she wasn’t sure if maybe government shouldn’t just get out of marriage entirely.  I could argue that no one should be legally “married”, but all couples have a right to a legal commitment that is equal for hetero and homosexual couples.  However, a lot of members of the gay community feel strongly about that word “marriage”.

If it comes down to definitions, can we agree that we define words differently in a biblical sense than in a secular sense?  When you watch American Idol, are you really worshipping a false God?

In the end, if all individuals who are against gay marriage were as well meaning and well reasoned as this young woman, we could have a reasoned discussion and almost certainly end up on common, equal footing.

Make good choices.

makegoodchoicesI asked my 7-year old niece a couple of weeks ago what she’s learned since she started 1st grade.  She said that she’s has learned to “make good choices”.  I love that for her first grade mind, that’s a one-time lesson.

Of course, we know that the reality is that our entire lives are spent in the struggle to make good choices.  As hard as it can be to learn to make good choices, I think it is even harder to learn to forgive ourselves for making poor choices.

For the majority of my adult life, I have made poor choices when it comes to my physical health.  I wish I could point to a reason for my bad decisions, but there isn’t just one.  I don’t have that one deep, dark secret that caused me to turn to food for comfort.  I don’t have a physical condition or illness that has kept me from being physical active.  What I have are just a lot of little moments along the road of life when I could have chosen vegetables over ice cream, and I didn’t.  I could have taken a walk, and I chose to read a book instead.

I’ve made BIG DECISIONS to get healthy.  I’ve made resolutions.  I’ve made sweeping changes to my pantry, my refrigerator and my schedule to “get healthy”.  I put together a long-term plan, with realistic goals and milestones.  And I’ve done all of that with the right mindset.  I’m not hung up on my weight.  I’m not ashamed of how I look.  I’m not worried about what someone else might think about me.  But I know that I want to be healthier, I want to live longer, and I want to enjoy more physical activity – and so I resolve to make a major change.

And then I fail usually sometime around day four.  I make a bad decision.  I have the ice cream.  I skip the workout.  And my plan is doomed.  Weight loss and fitness experts will tell you that you have to just pick yourself up and get back to your plan, but that just doesn’t seem to work for me.  My plan didn’t account for failure, and now it’s a goodchoicesblemished plan that isn’t shiny and fun anymore.

So I am taking a new approach – inspired by my favorite 7 year old.  I don’t have a plan.  I haven’t made any resolutions.  There are no milestones I’m tracking.  I’m just making good choices as often as possible, and forgiving myself for the bad ones.  My new mantra is…

Every moment is a new opportunity to make a good decision.

I don’t know if this approach will work in the long run, but it’s helped me to get through a couple of days of good habits without a sense of overwhelming responsibility to some bigger picture.

Words Matter.

likeagirlThere was a time in my life when the overabundance of “political correctness” frustrated me. It seemed like no matter what was said, someone took offense. I was proud of the fact that I was not easily offended, and thought that we shouldn’t get so uptight over words.

As I’ve mentioned before, it is okay to evolve – and evolve I have.  I now find myself pointing out why certain language, even while said with no ill intention, is still harmful. I’m hyperaware of the things I say and the things I hear, listening for opportunities to point where our cultural biases and societal norms have created negativity.

I myself recently told someone that when I have car trouble, I “turn into a girl”.  Eek.  Did I really just say that?  I immediately self-corrected that problematic language.

When someone uses the phrase “like a girl” to indicate something that is done in a weak manner, they probably do not intend to offend or belittle an entire gender. (I certainly didn’t when I used it.) Getting called out on using language like this is embarrassing, and we might wonder why the listener is so sensitive to be offended. But the problem is that the phrase “like a girl” is used to indicate weakness because we’ve created a cultural bias to believe that girls are weak. And if we continue to use those seemingly innocuous words and phrases, that cultural bias will persist – and equality of the sexes will continue to elude us.

I’m particularly sensitive when I hear someone tell a boy not to “cry like a girl”. It’s a double-edged offense, both using “like a girl” as something negative and weak, and teaching boys that showing emotion is to show weakness.

So if you hear me say something that perpetuates negative cultural biases, stereotypes or negativity, you have my permission and my encouragement to let me know. Because words matter.

One Direction fans need feminism because…

I have been home sick for the past two days – and in my weakened state, I actually watched the first 15 minutes or so of The View. For a show that is supposed to be empowering to women, I was genuinely appalled by their treatment of One Direction fans. The “ladies” of The View showed a few video posts by teenage girls live on the air, making fun of the emotion they were feeling at the imminent demise of their favorite group.

Is it silly to get so caught up in a musical group? Maybe. But when LeBron James left Cleveland to play in Miami, the network news made it a story for weeks. We heard all about the fans heartbreak. Grown men cry over who wins or loses the Super Bowl and we admire their dedication.  We compete over which city has the most devoted fans to their sports teams.

I’m not saying we should publicly humiliate sports fans – I’m just asking what makes that any less “silly” than being a One Direction fan? The answer is that one is traditionally male and one is traditionally female.

You are a feminist. Yes, YOU. Go ahead and say it proudly.

Gentlemen, please don’t stop reading. I wrote this because of a man in my life who said he wasn’t a feminist, and I think he’s wrong. I’d like to explain why. I wanted to post this for International Women’s Day, but I was a little late.

feministThere was a time in my life when I shied away from using the word “feminist”, buying into the belief that to be feminist was to be anti-male. Not only can I now recognize that I was wrong, but I fully appreciate the need to use the word feminist proudly, loudly and often. We’re allowed to continue to evolve as human beings, and for anyone out there who still doesn’t like that word, let me help you to evolve, too.

Feminism is…

  • Feminism is the belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. (Per both Merriam-Webster and Beyoncé.)

Feminism is not…

  • Feminism is not a belief that women are superior to men.
  • Feminism is not a belief that men and women are the same and does not ignore differences in gender.
  • Feminism is not a liberal movement.
  • Feminism is not anti-religion or anti-tradition.

So why do we use the word Feminist instead of Humanist or Egalitarianist?  

First, Humanist means something different entirely. Please stop using it to indicate a belief in human equality. (I am also a humanist and it makes things very confusing.)

Egalitarianism is similar – in fact the definition is almost identical. Egalitarianism is a great word for the belief in equality in a broader context – race, gender, nationality, sexuality, class, and ability. I encourage you to also be an egalitarianist.

The use of the word Feminist is important, because while it means equality, it acknowledges the historical record of global oppression of women and the existence of male privilege in almost every society around the world. Right now and right here at this moment in history, we need feminism. We need to focus on raising up the rights of women so that they are equal to the rights of men.

That’s not to say that feminism is simple or that all feminists are the same.

Some aspects of feminism are so basic and so simple that I hope that they go without question. Female infanticide, child brides, and honor killings are all global epidemics are unquestionably horrific – and highlight in the most awful of ways the need for a global focus on women’s rights. We are still fighting globally for the rights of women to LIVE.

Even in much more female friendly of cultures, women are still battling for equal rights in ways that seem so basic. In the United States, women do not receive equal pay for equal work and a woman’s right to make decisions about her own health care is not guaranteed. Women are far from having equal footing with male counterparts professionally, women are under-represented in technical and scientific fields, and we live in a culture that continues to objectify women as entertainment.

We can go further with feminism to talk about the ways in which traits and characteristics that are traditionally “female” are not valued in the same ways that traditionally “male” traits are valued. Most people view physical strength, for example, as a more valued characteristic than emotional empathy. Traditionally male past times, such as being an avid sports fan, is viewed as more valuable to society than traditionally female past times, such as enjoying fashion. We encourage girls to try out for sports teams and to not get caught up in all things “pink”, but most people wouldn’t dream of encouraging their sons to play with dolls or take dance lessons.

If I started to lose you as those last three paragraphs went on, I’ve made my point about feminism not being simple. Not all feminists see the world the same way – and that’s fine. We are all still feminists – and we need all of our feminist voices (male, female and everything in between) speaking up about the need for equal rights.  We don’t have to be in perfect agreement to agree that things are far from perfect.

You are a feminist.  Say it.  Share it.  Pass it on.

I don’t usually ask my audience to share the things I write, but I’d love to see all of you fellow feminists share with your social media circles. If it’s easy to just share the blog post – go for it. Or just a note about your take on feminism.

It is not easy, but it is also not “complicated”.

michaelbrownLike so many others today, I’m sad.  Frustrated. Angry.  There’s a sense of impotence, not knowing what I can do or say that will make tomorrow better than today for the community around me.  I don’t know what else to do, so I’m going to write.

In an editorial on CNN earlier today, Safiya Simmons, a black woman married to a police officer, said that she is  conflicted on the Darren Wilson verdict.  On one hand, she is raising her son and living in a society that displays “a pattern in this country of killing black boys without care or consequences”, while on the other hand, she believes firmly that her husband should do what he needs to do to stay alive and come home to her at the end of day.  In her words, it’s “complicated”.

Being a police officer is dangerous, thankless and unbelievably self-sacrificing.  It also comes with a legal and moral obligation for discipline, objectivity and restraint when asserting your authority and in the use of your firearm.  I would guess that 99.99+% of the police force in America are great men and women with great judgement, who are worthy of our support, praise, thanks and trust.  Darren Wilson is not one of them.

Don’t make Ferguson about people who support cops versus people who don’t.  Doing so is to completely misunderstand and minimize the depth of the issue.  This is about justice for victims of cops who go too far and get away with it.  This is about a system that is broken. This is about respect for all lives of all colors.  This is rooted in hundreds of years of history.  This isn’t easy, but it is also not “complicated”.

If Michael Brown had been armed with a gun…  If Darren Wilson had fired only to disable or deter the unarmed teenager…  If Darren Wilson had fired only one shot…  If the fatal shot had been at close range while Michael Brown was within reaching (punching, tackling) distance of Officer Wilson… If any one of those things had been true, I might believe that Darren Wilson was doing what he needed to do to stay alive and go home at the end of the day.  But 12 gun shots – only one, non-fatal, at close range – is in no way simply what he needed to do.

12 gunshots and a body left in the street for more than 4 hours is a disregard for the life behind the skin color.  It is, at the very least, a loss of control and negligence in the use of a firearm that deserves the due process of a criminal trial by jury.

(This post fails to address so many other critical issues that the shooting death of Michael Brown and subsequent protests brought to light.  The handling of the protests, the numerous questionable decisions of the prosecutor, the violence in the midst of pleas for peace from Michael Brown’s family, and the underlying systemic racism that so many want to deny.  I’m going to try to spend some time over the upcoming weekend digging into the grand jury testimony, and I expect this will not be my last post on this topic.)