Criticism of my Criticism: Some thoughts on allies and critics

Let's start with a true story:

Some months ago I was tweeting back and forth fairly amicably with a very progressive Christian trans thinker. We’d been following each other for a little while, shared some interests, and I thought of this tweeter as something of a twitter buddy.

This tweeter was having some online frustrations with a particularly troll-y twitter parody account. The account often made crass and insensitive remarks while lampooning my buddy and some of my buddy’s other friends. At the time the account also had an extremely small following, to the tune of significantly less than 100 people.

As my buddy’s troll was being a bother, my grandmother passed away. I don’t share this to garner pity, she’d been ill for some time and it was not a great surprise—indeed it’s very common for people have to deal with losing their grandparents. I share this simply to explain that as I dealt with burying my grandmother, it was an inopportune time to be glued to twitter.

I suggested to my buddy that the best course of action in dealing with this troll might be to simply block and ignore her. Unfed, she’d surely go away, as she had almost no following as it was.  My buddy proceeded to lambast me unceasingly for being an oppressor, a transphobe, and a shitty ally.
How dare I tell marginalized people how to deal with people who say problematic things to them?

The tweeter refused to accept my explanation. I thought this was a solution for this one person and this one situation, and I don't consider it a philosophy for all people dealing with all oppressors everywhere. But my "buddy" wouldn't hear it, and continued blowing up my feed about how I had no right to speak on the topic of being oppressed, or speaking to oppressors, and was a terrible person for trying to speak to that situation. Finally, lacking the emotional bandwidth to deal with my buddy’s sudden flare of temper and the goings on in my own life, I simply clicked block. And have only even thought of the interaction a couple of times since.


I think this anecdote is apt for a couple of reasons.

For one, I did not then, and do not now think that I have a right to tell all marginalized people how they should respond to problematic people. Much of the criticism I've read in the last 24 hours has seemed to have ignored this. It would be offensive, and frankly absurd of me to tell the marginalized to "pipe down and be nicer." But what kind of friend (or ally) is only a yes man? What I suggest is that perhaps there are some instances when setting phasers for stun, rather than kill, would benefit everyone involved. Critique an imperfect person whose heart is in the right place rather than decimate them. I believe that's how coalitions are built.

Secondly, it's an apt anecdote because it's a one-on-one version of the very behavior I sought to critique. I offered a suggestion that this tweeter (who I'd mistakenly considered a friend) thought was a bad one. Rather than disagree, this person declared me persona non grata and berated me until the only thing I could think to do was to disengage. I'd lost a twitter contact I genuinely enjoyed conversing with, my contact lost me, and no progress was made in dealing with my contact's problem. Who wins in this scenario besides the troll who'd been actually bullying a trans person?


Another common critique I saw today I can try to respond to with a little less verbosity:

"Look at this white guy trying to tell people how to respond to problematic situations!" [with the terribleness of this situation implied by its very description]. As whitey I cannot speak on such matters (even though some of the people I'm speaking to are ALSO straight, white men).

Yes. I think I made it pretty clear in my piece I was a white guy trying to suggest a better way for dealing with problematic situations. I tried pretty damned hard to pay attention to the optics, and the reality, of me being me saying what I was saying to the people I was saying it to. Privilege very carefully checked. But, no, go ahead and claim I didn't check it enough.

Speaking of checking privilege though, I have a question. A serious question for my critics. Is the proper act of an ally to sit down and not talk and watch a person we wish to be allied with fail? Is it a better act of being an ally to attempt to be helpful? Or should we truly just shut up and let the chips fall where they may? Because if it's the latter, I'll honestly take that into account next time.


The last "criticism" I seemed to receive a lot of today was simply "This guy is critiquing us!" shared between likeminded individuals who all implicitly believed that my so doing was absurd. I got numerous mentions that weren't even substantive refutations of my post, but were just essentially "get a load of this guy, he has the audacity to speak!"

I'm a little puzzled that people who do as much critiquing of the problematic as some of these folks do would be so shocked, appalled, angered and dismayed at someone critiquing THEM. And as to this push back that simply says "I disagree with you?" Yes. I know you do, that's why I felt compelled to write what I did.

Oh, a quick P.S.!
One person critiqued the unserious play on words I used to promote the piece, "leftist cannibalism." I used it because it evokes the idea of leftists turning on themselves. One of my twitter critics claimed I was essentially calling people of color cannibals. The mental gymnastics required to get to that point are astounding to me. You made some points today, person who tweeted this, but that one was an embarassment. Even for you.


It's Not Okay To Be A Little Bit Progressive

Rightly or wrongly, I consider myself to be a progressive. A liberal. A leftist.
Dislikes include the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.
In the vast majority of my interactions with other lefties online, and with the people lefties like me claim to have a heart for, I'm led to believe I've pretty much got it figured out:
I believe that rape culture is a thing.
I believe that policing, and mass incarceration is inherently--probably intentionally--racist.
I think TERFs are terrible.
I believe we can't survive on $7.25.
The AUMF is a disaster.
The NSA is a disaster.
Drone strikes are unconscionable.
Israel is not an apartheid state only because calling it that undersells the true horrors Israel is perpetrating on the Palestinian people.
What's more, I'm a Christian who holds all the quote-unquote correct progressive theologies.
I'm an open-theist. An egalitarian. I don't buy into 7 literal days or eternal conscious torment. Prevenient grace makes more sense to me than double predestination. I think churches should affirm (and perform) same-sex marriages and allow for the ordination of queer (and female!) clergy.
I'd pat myself on the back for my correctness, but I'm also a comfortable straight, white guy, so let's be honest: I'm already playing life on the lowest difficulty setting, and I didn't get into this for cookies.

But not everyone gets all of these things. These things, many of them, go against the conventional wisdom of our day. We're constantly told that communism is evil, police are always justified, trans people are confused and sometimes women are just asking for it (and why are they leaving the house?) And yet, a lot of well meaning people who aren't constantly listening to Democracy Now, Citizen Radio, Radio Dispatch, Best of the Left, etc etc DO pass a few of these lefty benchmarks, but maybe they've got 3 kids and a couple jobs and haven't had an opportunity to drill down into all of them. So what?

Why is it not okay to be a little bit progressive?

Here's what I mean: The Facebook group Stuff Christian Culture Likes is often a first step for folks out of fundimentalism, or conservatism, or the cult-y side of evangelicalism. It's hostess/curator Stephanie Drury is constantly poking at, and poking fun at, the awful wrongs that the church is capable of unchecked. And in providing a pressure valve for those escaping such places, it's an invaluable community for many.

But it's not acceptably progressive for many others. The group as a whole, and especially Drury personally, are attacked, maligned, and shamed on the regular for being insufficiently advanced through the rubric of proper leftiness. I don't know how someone who was in fundamentalist Christianity a month or six months or a year ago is supposed to now know the proper vocabulary and GLAAD Media Reference Guide for discussing trans people. But by God they'd better figure it out or a watchdog tumblr might be started. (I wish I were joking. Regardless, I'm not linking to the SCCL Watchdog Tumblr because its charges are childish, trumped up, and they've got a whole bunch of gifs on there all about how they don't care what you or I think anyway).

It's not okay for things to be "better" or "good," they must immediately be "perfect" or we'll cut them down.


Mother Jones writer Kevin Drum had a piece about this phenomenon recently. In it he wrote of people trying to find their way around lefty politics and having their not-there-yet best efforts highlighted by others.
If you write a blog post or a tweet, and the wrong person just happens to highlight it, your public is suddenly gigantic whether you meant it to be or not. Then the avalanche comes. And, as deBoer says, the avalanche is dominated by the loudest, angriest, least tolerant fringes of the language and conduct police.
This isn't Bill O'Reilly bemoaning the PC police. This is the guy who released the Romney 47% video for one of the nations' best known progressive outlets saying that leftists have a problem with eating their own young. And the worst part is he's not wrong.

Drum was writing in response to a similar piece by Freddie deBoer at Andrew Sullivan's The Dish who framed the problem like this:
Suppose you’re a young college student inclined towards liberal or left-wing ideas. And suppose, like a lot of such college students, you enjoy Stephen Colbert and find him a political inspiration. Now imagine that, during the #CancelColbert fiasco, you defended Colbert on Twitter. If your defense was noticed by the people who police that forum, the consequences were likely to be brutal. People would not have said “here, let me talk you through this.” It wouldn’t have been a matter of friendly and inviting disagreement. Instead, as we all saw, it would have been immediate and unequivocal attack. That’s how the loudest voices on Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook act. The culture is one of attack, rather than of education. And the claims, typically, are existential: not “this thing you said is problematic from the standpoint of race,” but rather “you’re a racist.” Not “I think there’s some gender issues going here that you should think about,” but “you’re a misogynist.” Always. I know that there are kinder voices out there in socially liberal circles on social media, but unfortunately, when these cyclical storms get going, those voices are constantly drowned out.

(A sidenote: I think it's funny that without mentioning her, deBoer alludes to Suey Park, who I've found to be the greatest champion of this kind of lefty cannibalism. Finding left-leaning people to be not leaning left enough is seemingly her raison d'ĂȘtre, and impressively she does it in both Christian and secular progressive circles).


Another recent example, I think, proves the rule. And brings it back to the fact that this problem happens as much in Progressive Christian circles as it does in Occupy circles.

My readers might be familiar with Christian blogger Micah J. Murray. He's the guy who awhile back wrote some incredibly powerful pieces poking holes in the ludicrous Christian patriarchy and its refusal to understand egalitarianism and the problems of purity culture (and its ugly cousin rape culture).

Micah, a designer, recently produced and sold a shirt that read "Love the sinner, hate the sin." For its intended audience, likely people still operating in the vicinity of folks who believe the stricken phrase is appropriate behavior, the shirt is a step in the right direction. It states clearly that LOVE is the only correct part of that concept, and it does so succinctly.

Unfortunately, others found this shirt to be triggering and co-opting. Micah has killed it and is donating its profits to charities supported by his critics.

I'm being a bad leftist when I say this, and I've already watched Micah's critics tell others to "sit down," and not to "speak for LGBTQ people," but I find criticisms of this shirt as "triggering" as compelling as I would the same criticisms for a "Fuck Cancer" t-shirt. That is: not very. I truly think you have to willfully refuse to see the point being made.

As for the criticism that Micah's design is making money on the backs of LGBTQ people when he has no experience being in their position? I feel a little like the critics are now saying that if you aren't sufficiently far left, you don't get to profit from your labors. No wonder the labor movement in America is dead, amirite?

I don't know (and don't think) that he was specifically thinking of this last example in his latest post, but yet another progressive blogger whose input I admire weighed in on this problem today. Writing at his blog, Matthew Paul Turner wrote of the problems of Progressive Christianity, including:

Because again, progressives are fantastic critics—needed critics! However, their talent for critiquing the ills of the Church or the sins of the “other side” are only outdone by their seemingly limitless ability to eat up their own kind without a second thought. It’s kind of shocking to behold actually. But progressive Christians jumping on other progressive Christians over the tiniest differences is disheartening. I’ve watched Christians who support equality lash out at other Christians who support equality. I’ve witnessed Christian feminists hating on other Christian feminists. And that’s just the beginning. Many of us are just spectators to these wars, and while we don’t get involved too often, the interactions silence us. Why? Because we’re afraid of our own kind (problem 19). Yes. It’s true. I think THIS is one of the biggest problems in the progressive Christian culture and why so few new ideas come out of this trend/movement: Because it seems there’s so little grace for mistakes or for being wrong or for being not completely right… And so many progressives become so intoxicated by their own “pet issues” (ideas that most inspire them or interest them) that speaking into that issue is to risk getting attacked socially online by that individual and their friends…. somebody who fights poverty but doesn’t fight poverty the way one person or group thinks it should be fought, they are ridiculed with rage online. Or somebody who speaks out against our country’s racial inequality but either doesn’t do it exactly the way a person/group thinks it should be done or isn’t the kind of person that a person/group thinks they should be, they get vehemently attacked. And I could go on and on. Which is why I think progressive Christianity remains so vague, so undefined. It’s not conservative theologians that limit us. We are far more limited by those with whom we agree with 99 percent of time (Problem number 20).
Look. Lefty politics are important. Inside and outside the church, progressivism is first and foremost about progress. But if we keep fighting battles to the death against those who have progressed--but not far and fast enough for our liking, we're going to lose the greater war through attrition.

And if you really have the guts to claim there's no difference between Mark Driscoll and Fake Driscoll, it's also possible I just don't know how to help you.

[Author's Note: I'm honestly a little bummed that I felt I had to start this piece by listing my lefty bona fides, especially since they'll surely be dismantled as wanting by anyone who thinks of themself as left of me, but there they are all the same. Feel free to destroy me in the comments, tell me I ought not speak for whoever it is you think I'm speaking for, and imply that I'm a racist, homophobe, Calvinist, or capitalist (or worse, a bro-gressive). I assure you that before I started this piece I already took those consequences to heart as an inevitability.]


What Makes Christianity Christianity?

THE APOSTLES’ CREED, TRADITIONAL VERSION (As printed at 881 of the United Methodist Hymnal)
I believe in God the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord:
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
This may stir some things up, but...

I was just thinking about putting together another blog post about "church baggage" and how being raised in the Church of God influenced what I look for in a church. Specifically, I was interested in collating my thoughts on church membership, which is so important in some denominations and literally does not exist in the Church of God (I still hope to write that post, another day). But I came across something else, instead.

I found a really great pamphlet, entitled "What We Teach" that lays out the history and foundational beliefs of the Church of God (Anderson) Reformation Movement™and I honestly found a lot of it troubling.

For some context, I also recommend checking out this post on heresy from Rachel Held Evans' blog. I'm currently reading Justin Holcomb's book, discussed in that post, Know the Creeds and Councils.

From its outset, ChoG was started specifically to battle what its founders saw as unbiblical sectarianism. A noble idea birthed from the sectarian-battle-to-end-all-sectarian-battles The American Civil War. As such, it eschewed the idea of rigid creedal statements meant to separate "right" from "wrong" doctrine. ChoG therefore did away with the idea of membership, as "joining" would thusly require affirming some sort of set of beliefs.

The issue, though, is that my understanding of ChoG foundational beliefs is that they likewise refuse to affirm any historical creeds. Here's the relevant verbiage from "What We Teach":
We appreciate the value of the historic
Christian creeds, but we are unwilling to
make any of these creeds a test of Christian
This seems problematic to me, as I study the historic creeds and councils of Christianity, because doing so rather quickly leads one to believe that they're extremely vital to sussing out what is Orthodox, what is not, and why that's so important.

As I tweeted while reading through "What We Teach" the first time, if you're not willing to affirm Nicaea, I don't really even know what we're doing here.

Because ChoG still exists in America today, and hasn't been blasted as heretical by The Gospel Coalition or any of a thousand other possible parties who might choose to throw such a charge at it, and since I have some working knowledge of the denomination having spent half my life in it, I know that it practically does affirm the tenets of Orthodox Christianity as they are understood. Surely it wouldn't be operating several successful universities if this was not the case.

I do find it strange, though, that the denomination I grew up in seems not to find the need to state a definitive adherence to classical Orthodoxy. In 2003, however, the faculty of Anderson University drafted a new Statement of Belief that touches on many, if not all, of the points that these creeds do, but their blatant omission still leaves me more than a little ill at ease.

Briefly, it's also worth pointing to another statement in "What We Teach," as it pertains to my other problem with the Church of God:
We recognize the church as the universal
body of Christ. Each local congregation is
called to be a manifestation of this one
body. We recognize the importance both of
freedom in the Spirit and mutual responsi-
bility among Christ's disciples.
This point speaks to what I can only (experientially) describe as the impotence with which the Church of God has dealt with the lawlessness that has taken hold at my former church. Without a desire to affirm what is, or is not, doctrinally correct, and without a willingness to sow discord in the body (by which I mean, take a stand--any stand) I think the ChoG has succeeded in its mission to minimize infighting on a sectarian scale while utterly failing in its mission to provide a Christlike worship space for the bride of Christ.

I recognize these are serious charges, but I can point you to a whole lot of folks who'd be able to tell you that their experience bears them out.

And this is why I looked to a denomination with a more episcopal governance.

THE NICENE CREED (As printed at 880 of the United Methodist Hymnal)We believe in one God,The Father, the Almighty,Maker of heaven and earth,of all that is seen and unseen.We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,the only Son of God,eternally begotten of the Father,God from God, Light from Light,True God from True God,begotten, not made,of one being with the Father;through Him all things were made.For us and for our salvationHe came down from heaven,was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Maryand became truly human.For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;He suffered death and was buried.On the third day He rose againin accordance with the scriptures;He ascended into heavenand is seated at the right hand of the Father.He will come again in gloryto judge the living and the dead,and His kingdom will have no end.We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life,who proceeds from the Father,who with the Father and the Sonis worshiped and glorified,who has spoken through the prophets.We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.We acknowledge one baptismfor the forgiveness of sins.We look for the resurrection of the dead,and the life of the world to come. Amen
- - -

In devotion to Christ as the head of the church, we desire to be a biblical people, a people who worship the triune God, a people transformed by the grace of God, a people of the Kingdom of God, a people committed to building up the one, universal church of God, and a people who in God's love care for the whole world. 


How We Settled On A Church

So in light of the fact that I've made such a big, public deal of how Melissa and I are "church shopping," and especially after making such a big, public deal of naming and shaming the places we wouldn't be considering, I felt it was important to explain where we've been attending the last three weeks, and why we (after only three weeks) think that we may settle in already. I'm planning this as a 3-day series on my blog.

Late in the evening on Saturday, May 3rd, Melissa and I agreed on a plan for the church we were going to visit the following day. As we'd decided that we liked my parents' home church (Grace United Methodist, in Perrysburg, OH) we would check out a nearby UMC church which offered a contemporary worship service. Best of all, the service started at 11:45, so we could sleep in!

Sometime after ten that night I kissed Melissa goodnight and sat down at my computer to read and tweet and waste time until I felt tired enough to head to bed myself. While I was at it, I thought it might be fun to check out the podcast of the church we were planning to visit the following morning. I made a few discoveries along the way.

While I knew that this church was considered an extension or second location of another nearby UMC church, I didn't realize that it was truly a multi-site operation. If we attended the 11:45 service at the "campus" near to us, it seemed we'd watch the sermon on a video screen and, obviously, have no opportunity to interact with the pastor who was giving it. This was a big turn-off, but not necessarily a dealbreaker.

As I pulled up the podcast page for the church, though, I realized I could actually pull up the previous week's video message just as it had been sent from location to location, so I gave it a look. As I began skimming and fast-forwarding through the introductory portion of the message, I happened to pause on something that DID feel like a bit of a dealbreaker. The pastor was describing the events of the quasi-religious memoir Heaven Is For Real and explaining that it 1) was based on true facts and 2) was providing the theme for the day's sermon (part of an ongoing series).

I guess that I knew that there was a Heaven Is For Real series going on, but I'd assumed it was more of a cash-in. We'll use this popular book and movie to get folks in the door and then we'll tell them what the Bible actually says about what happens to those who believe after death. After all, the afterlife was a topic I was acutely interested in as of late, as I'd spent that week plowing through N.T. Wright's Surprised By Hope.

It's possible that the whole of the message hewed closer to what I hoped it would be than what I feared it was, but at the time I was turned off enough by what I saw to turn off the video and begin looking for somewhere, anywhere else to go.

- - -

I want to make a quick aside here to explain the importance, and recognize some of the shortcomings that I think come from podcasting.

I think podcasting is a tremendous tool. I LOVE the fact that some pastors (Greg Boyd comes to mind) see their podcast listeners as a potential extension of their church family and cultivate that audience in various ways. I also understand that you simply cannot get pastoral care, mentorship, counseling, or prayer support from a podcast. It's an mp3 file and not a relationship.

But I have grown tremendously in my walk as a result of listening regularly, and extensively, to the likes of Rob Bell, Matt Chandler, Jonathan Martin, Andy Stanley, Greg Boyd, Brian Zahnd, Francis Chan, and more via the incredible power of the iTunes Music Store.

In the archives I listened to Matt Chandler's Village Church grow into the church that it is now. I listened to Bell, Martin, and Chan as they left their churches for exciting new callings. I was challenged in the way I viewed God and even the cross by Zahnd and Boyd. These were not simply a matter of hearing a nice little message during a commute, these were life-altering and worldview shaping experiences.

Podcasting, or something like it, is how Melissa and I got marriage advice from Tim Keller before saying "I Do." It's how I learned that things at my former church had truly gotten as bad as had been reported to me (why you'd podcast what they were podcasting, I'll never know). It's how I heard Mark Driscoll launch into a 10 minute aside about the "heresy" of the book The Shack during a message purportedly about Orthodoxy and the Trinity, and assured me I just wasn't ever going to come around on the guy.

It's a form of dissemination of message that I don't think warrants dismissal, and it's one that I think allows for tremendous insight into the kind of church that is putting out what is being put out.

- - -

On a whim, late that Saturday night, I pulled the previous week's mp3 file off of the website of www.mayfieldchurch.org. A big, pretty, new-looking UMC church in Chesterland that Melissa and I had passed on the way to Lena's pediatrician.  I was quickly so enamored that I began live-tweeting the experience.

With considerable humor, Pastor Scott was leading his church through a series called "Shift Happens" (be careful how you say it!) and in this message on "Attitude Shift" he grabbed my attention IMMEDIATELY by sharing an anecdote from Brian McLaren. He then proceeded to namedrop several of my favorite pastors and bloggers within the faith and praise their importance to the future of Christ's church.

I broke into tears.

Pastor Scott then launched into a message about greeting people with the basic dignity they deserve, about not being a traffic cop, and about trends in young people that found them wanting to follow Christ without ascribing to labels like "Christian" or "evangelical." I could scarcely believe my ears.

Sometime after one in the morning I decided I knew where Melissa and I needed to visit the following morning, and thanks to my live-tweeting the event, Melissa got up for a 3AM feeding and read all about my decision.

So we went. And as I promised twitter I would, I told Pastor Scott about how it had happened. And I can't overstate the importance of this: I was able to tell him because I was able to meet him. He was in the building when we visited.

But something else wonderful happened, too. Pastor Scott didn't preach on the 5th. Pastor Jan did. And in addition to delivering an even more soul-stirring message still, I was overcome by the added sense of glee that came with knowing that Melissa had been given the opportunity to hear a woman preach from the Word from a pulpit in front of men and women on a Sunday morning. We were hooked.

We've gone twice more since then, we have no interest in stopping anytime soon. In fact, the more we learn about the place the more we fall in love with it. Everyone's friendly with us, their various missions and outreach programs impress and inspire us, and we cannot wait for Lena to be old enough to participate in their children's programming.

I don't know that it wouldn't have been equally possible for us to swallow some pride or look past some minor disagreements on things still well within orthodoxy and then feel equally at home someplace else. I don't know that we won't find some glaring problem with this place just like all the others some day and have to consider that our standards are just too high, our wants just too ridiculous. But for now I can tell you that we've settled on a place.

And honestly, we'd love for you to come visit with us next week.

TuesdayA look at the many churches I've visited or attended since moving to Cleveland, why I left them, and how they led me to keep looking.
YesterdayOur baggage. How our experiences in Catholicism, and a failed/fallen church influenced our church shopping experience.


(Some of) Our Church Baggage

So in light of the fact that I've made such a big, public deal of the fact that Melissa and I are "church shopping," and especially after making such a big, public deal of naming and shaming the places we wouldn't be considering, I felt it was important to explain where we've been attending the last three weeks, and why we (after only three weeks) think that we may settle in already. I'm planning this as a 3-day series on my blog.

Today I thought it would be insightful to explain a little bit about my church background. I've already shared a bit about my faith journey (and lack of faith journey) on my blog here, but as much as my politics and half-decade of atheism influenced my wants and needs in a church, so too did my church experience prior to all that.

For starters: my family went to one church for something like four generations. The church where I was baptized, where my parents were married, was also the church where my great-grandfather participated in setting fire to the mortgage papers of the building he and his contemporaries had just paid it off. I remember joking that I might as well be an honorary member of the board because I knew so much of the inner workings of the place--as a pre-teen.

North Cove Boulevard Church of God was our home. I was there minimum three times a week. Services Sunday and Wednesday night, visiting my great-grandmother as she quilted with the other quilting ladies (thursday mornings?), and usually a drop-in or two in addition. I still remember every square inch of that building (save for the boiler room, kids weren't allowed in there). I have countless incredibly fond memories of attending North Cove, being baptized there, and developing a deep devotion to Christ and his church there.

Unfortunately, North Cove no longer exists. As a church we decided to move out of Toledo to the suburbs and build a large, modern, beautiful new building. The decision was hard and the task was daunting, but my mother played a very large part in its execution. We did it for the health of the existing church community, and so that we could hopefully reach others like us, who had (as most of us had) moved away from Toledo to the suburbs. My 95-year-old great-grandmother turned over the first shovelful of dirt.

Sometime thereafter, the newly re-named Heritage Church of God and its longtime pastor began to lose its way.

Mortgage payments are stressful. A megachurch buying and moving into the property next door is stressful. Losing a ton of money in some deal gone wrong is stressful. I understand. Unfortunately, the Church of God is a denomination that intentionally, or not, has utterly failed to notice problems or staunch the bleeding. The focus on un-checked independent local church means that no one has had to account for the fact that the pastor of this church has stopped preaching biblically sound teachings, allowed his church to devolve into an almost cartoonishly virulent hotbed of gossip, bullying, and infighting, driven away an impressive percentage of its original membership, and grievously injured countless wonderful people in the process.

This experience, which I have admittedly mostly only had to deal with second hand, has still had a tremendous impact on what I look for in a church. I have practical, as well as biblical, reasons to care about how a church is governed, and what it's relationship to other area churches and its denomination is. I have seen what lacking it has done to a community.

This, tied with my strong desire to find a church that was open to all, egalitarian in its understanding of gender roles (especially in church leadership), and my liberal politics led me to look to the mainline denominations.

But there was a complication there.

Melissa was raised in the Roman Catholic Church. She attended St. Paul's parish in Euclid, Ohio, made her first communion and was confirmed there. She also attended St. Paul's elementary school and worked in the church rectory.

This upbringing left her with a strong love for God, but a sometimes fraught relationship with his church. She witnessed a church office that seemed bizarrely consumed by money. The culture rubbed her the wrong way, to say the least. (And the dysfunction local seemed to eventually play out as dysfunction Diocesan as our regional bishop shuttered tens of parishes only for their congregants to either successful appeal to the Vatican to be re-opened, or to break away from Roman oversight entirely.)

Probably more importantly, she struggled to connect her church experience, filled as it was with its ritual, its recitation, and its old, old selection of music with the Jesus she heard about from friends who attended evangelical churches. She left the catholic church and discovered an even deeper faith in the passionate teaching and rousing worship of evangelicalism.

As we've lived together for the last three and a half years, however, we've found that our marriage resembles the egalitarian vision we've read about online far more than the complimentarian one we were taught to expect. And with this, we've looked hard at our desires in church and in life and with much prayer decided together that what we feel we needed in a church.

Somewhere we could seek mentorship from people whose marriages truly looked the way we wanted ours to look.
Somewhere with a contemporary style of worship we could both find moving.
Somewhere with robust programming for our daughter.
Somewhere with local and regional (at least!) oversight of doctrine and belief.
Somewhere with teaching that would challenge us to be better Christians instead of challenging us to stay (or stay awake).
And we think we've found the place.

YesterdayA look at the many churches I've visited or attended since moving to Cleveland, why I left them, and how they led me to keep looking.
Tomorrow: How we chose Mayfield Church, and why we already think we may stay.


Our Shopping List

So in light of the fact that I've made such a big, public deal of how Melissa and I are "church shopping," and especially after making such a big, public deal of naming and shaming the places we wouldn't be considering, I felt it was important to explain where we've been attending the last three weeks, and why we (after only three weeks) think that we may settle in already. I'm planning this as a 3-day series on my blog.

Today, here's a list of all of the churches I've attended in the last six-ish years. Why the ones that didn't work didn't, why the ones that did work DID, and how this all led us to where we are.

I don't intend for this to be prescriptive so much as just reflective of our experience. We know attenders and members at many of these churches whose experiences are much different from ours. It also deserves to be said that a lot of our objections to places came down to style more than substance, or came down to differences of opinion on things that are still well within the realm of orthodoxy. Nowhere we visited was evil, nowhere was even necessarily WRONG, but many places just weren't right for us. To try to drive that point home, I have recommended several of these churches to others whose needs or tastes were different from ours.

I've left out the names of the churches that we did not stay to try to mitigate the impression I'm simply talking bad about a bunch of places, but many of them are likely easily discerned by folks who know the area, or us, well.

Sevenoseven / Cuyahoga Valley Church - Broadview Heights, OH (SBC)
We attended here for several years and attended membership classes (though never joined). We also attended (and briefly led) LifeGroups. We took premarital counseling/courses here. Melissa was baptized here. We were married here. We left largely due to a perceived calling to worship in our local community, and the long commute. We decided not to return due to our desire to find a church with more inclusive and egalitarian values, and because we struggled with the lack of couples to "look up to" in the mostly young and unmarried 707 congregation.

3-Year-Old Missional Church Plant - Berea, OH (United Brethren)
We attended this church for several months as their method of "doing church" was very much in line with what we felt called to do in our own community of Cleveland Heights at the time. It was also started by a good friend of ours. Around this time we travelled to Sheffield, UK for a missional church immersion experience with Church Doctor Ministries and came back ON FIRE to start such a movement in Cleveland Heights. The 35+ minute commute paired with our very hurt feelings over communication breakdowns surrounding our desire to partner with this church for mentorship caused us to eventually stop returning.

3-Year-Old Church Plant - Cleveland Heights, OH (SBC)
A recent plant in Cleveland Heights, Melissa and I attended here for a couple months before leaving. I was never comfortable with the SBC/A29-esque vibe of the place, though we both enjoyed the worship. We were also made very uncomfortable with the intense emphasis put on becoming members of the church, and the not becoming members seemed to be a certain path to eventual ostracism. It's possible our perception of this wasn't quite the reality, but it was definitely what we felt.

5-Year-Old Church Plant - Lyndhurst, OH (...SBC?)
We visited once with some close friends who were new Christians. We were taken aback by the warm, inviting atmosphere and friendly congregation. The worship was charmingly rough around the edges, but we were both unmoved by the preaching. The sermon we heard essentially boiled down to "You should believe in Jesus because crucifixion is incredibly painful." It hinged on an anecdote wherein a youth group member renounced his faith, and so his pastor stood him in front of a crucifix and made the boy say to "Jesus' face" that he didn't believe. The kid found himself unable to do so. ...and scene.

A United Methodist Church - Cleveland Heights
An insanely beautiful stone church building. A bizarrely 70s themed worship service (including an intro video that I think was from the film version of Godspell). And a very well written sermon that was very drily read verbatim from a script by the pastor. Pass.

A PCUSA Presbyterian Church - Cleveland Heights 
We only attended here once. I liked this church for its liberalism, it's intellectualism, its activism, and its liturgy. Melissa couldn't engage with the highly structured, Catholic-resembling order of service.

Another PCUSA Church - Lyndhurst (PCUSA)
This church was a little more laid back than the first PCUSA parish we checked out. It also holds a "contemporary" service that is reportedly more laid-back still. We wouldn't know, though, as two attempts to attend it in three weeks were thwarted by them not holding it. We decided to check out another area church after the second week we planned a failed visit here, and that other church is likely where we're staying.


St. Thomas Crookes - Sheffield, UK (CoE)
This church is a part of the Church of England/Anglican and has been occasionally called the fastest growing church in Europe. They are responsible for much of the recent resurgence of "missional" church and if you met these people you'd immediately see why. I get chills describing the place, it's that impactful. We lived among them for a week and believe me when I say that once you've seen this it's hard to go back.

Threshold Church - Toledo, OH
This church is attempting to replicate the St. Thom's model in Toledo, and we met their leadership team on our trip to England. We love Tom & Scott, and what they're doing in Toledo. (And, far from teetotalers, they're also opening a brewery in downtown Toledo).

Grace United Methodist Church - Perrysburg, OH
My parents' home church. This warm and welcoming place boasts impressive missions work, engaging teaching, a moving and modern worship service, and cronuts in the lobby on Sunday. This church was very much the model for what we eventually decided we wanted in a church.

Quarry Ridge Community Church - Sylvania, OH (Church of God - Anderson)
My grandparents' home church, this church plant is one I only attended twice, but the engaging and well-researched preaching was incredibly important to me. It is affiliated with the Church of God (Anderson) denomination I grew up in, and seeing a non-dysfunctional version of that kind of church in Northwest Ohio was very encouraging to me.

Tomorrow: Our baggage. How our experiences in Catholicism, and a failed/fallen church influenced our church shopping experience.
Thursday: How we chose Mayfield Church, and why we already think we may stay.


After We've Left: Pursuing The Character of Christ

I'm humbled by the conversations that my last post sparked. I expected some comments positive and negative, but I was overwhelmed by the support, open dialogue, and genuine emotion I got from most everybody.

So WHAT did all that mean?

A close friend started a conversation with me about the post with the assumption that a large step had been taken. "So now that you're an exile..." he started. But, I don't think that's quite what is happening here. As I tried to make clear in that post, the way I see it, very little is changing. I'm not leaving a church because I'm not currently part of one. What I'm doing is leaving a label that I think has worn out its welcome. I'm leaving a philosophy.

The way that I see this decision is that I'm stepping out of a closed-minded theological framework, and, perhaps more importantly, I'm refusing to be cowed by those still inside of it scolding me for doing leaving.

And yes, I'm unapologetically disqualifying a huge number of churches from consideration in my future "church shopping" (we'll talk another day about how I hate that term), sight unseen.

So what are you actually QUITTING?

My good friend Rufus challenged me with a Webster's definition of "evangelicalism" on Facebook as a response to the post. He, lovingly and necessarily, wanted to press me on whether I was really willing to quit what I was claiming to quit. The answer turned out to be yes, but I want to share and elaborate on that definition and that exchange. (I acknowledge first that this is not the only, nor necessarily the most important definition of what "evangelical" is, but I found it to be a worthwhile exercise).

Rufus quoted: "Emphasizing salvation by faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ through personal conversion, the authority of Scripture, and the importance of preaching as contrasted with ritual"

I took that definition point by point:

1. Emphasizing salvation by faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ through personal conversion
I find myself more and more wanting to flee from a kind of faith that ignores James 2:14-26. I don't think there's much value in a religion that is simple mental assent. I don't think responding to an alter call, repeating after me, sinner's prayer/fire insurance type faith is much more than useless... or depending on your translation, dead. It's important to me that the values of a faith movement don't end on that "personal conversion." I'm far less interested in a person's personal relationship with Jesus Christ these days, and I'm far more interested with their relationship with the Jesus Christ who is dwelling already in the weakest among us.

2. the authority of Scripture
I believe strongly in the Luther-derived concept of "Sola scriptura," though I (perhaps counterintuitively) also believe in the import of church tradition (especially things like the Creeds). What I do not believe in, and what I'm more than happy to walk away from, is a conservative understanding of "Biblical Inerrency" that ignores the text's cultural and historical context. This includes unhealthily clinging to things like anti-homosexuality clobber passages, the refusal to allow for women in leadership (Ruth? Esther? Lydia? No? Seriously?), bizarre Rapture eschatology, and--perhaps most egregiously--young earth creationism.

3. and the importance of preaching as contrasted with ritual
This one's a trickier one for me, because I do love a good sermon. I do love a really well constructed bit of Christian teaching. But in today's world there are a thousand places I can get such things, and I'm not going to stay in a place I find problematic solely because I like (most of, but obviously not all of, or we wouldn't be having this talk) the teaching.
For that matter: how many times have you heard a pastor rationalize us to back away from the severity, the sheer terror, of Christ's message? You know, the "I mean he didn't mean we literally have to sell our things and give them to the poor?"
What's so wrong with simply reading the evocative, engrossing, convicting text itself in the midst of a rich liturgical experience?


I think this is the big question. And I do not have a clear-cut answer. Just a series of small starting points that I'm hoping to build on.

I acknowledge that trying to step away from this big thing that I'm calling evangelicalism and into something else risks being a "grass is greener" situation. As one friend warned, I could be leaving bad for worse. (After all, one of the groups leading the charge in the World Vision Abandonment Debacle was the Assemblies of God--so jumping out of classic evangelicalism for that particular strain of pentecostalism is a pretty pointless endeavor, no?)

This whole attempt to step away from the things we're unhappy with is a journey that we know is filled with obstacles. Obstacles like Melissa and my conflicting desires for liturgy. But that's okay. We're going to figure it out because we believe strongly that this is a journey towards, not away from, the character of Christ.

WHAT is this NOT?

This is not a judgement of those staying. It really looks like one, and I likely need to repent of the myriad ways in which I've made it resemble one, because it's not meant to be one. That's a big part of why my "I'm leaving" post contained the part of my testimony where my faith was restored by a church very much of the kind that I'm not interested in moving away from. Because I'm not saying there's nothing good there.

For that matter, my blogging hero Zach Hoag is currently working through how to stay, if the label is important to you, "evangelicalism." Read him at Patheos explain how evangelicalism can be a big tent still. He argues that it's a thing that can, and should be redeemed. I'm respectfully disagreeing, I think the PR damage is such that "evangelical" is a word that is now essentially antithetical to evangelism, but, y'know what, I also reserve my right to change my mind.

Melissa and I are still going to visit evangelical churches. Especially the one I've been mentioning repeatedly without mentioning explicitly these last couple posts. We have good friends there who we want to celebrate our new child with. And for that matter, we've got enough faith in those people to know that they won't begrudge us for striking out in a different direction as we attempt to pursue the character of Christ.

But what this is above all else, is just that: a pursuit of the character of Christ. A refusal to continue to be a part of living out a faith in him that prevents us from looking our neighbors in the eye. If that sounds harsh, that's because it's meant to. We don't believe that living like Jesus requires as many caveats, as many "buts" as the more popular, well-known strain of conservative evangelicalism forces us to feel like it does. And so we go.


On Leaving Evangelicalism

Just a little over a year ago, I shared on this blog about one of the moments that shaped the way I see the world. Back in 2003 we invaded Iraq, and the aftermath of that event unravelled everything about how I thought I saw politics. This past couple weeks, another shaping moment happened. It's likely that it was in fact, two moments, (the first being the one in which I became a father), but this post will focus on the second.

But to get to there, we first need to back up close to ten years.

- - -

Towards the end of my time in high school, I began dating a girl whom I quickly decided I was destined to be with forever. I know it's pretty common for high schoolers to think this way, and everybody knows of a handful of "high school sweethearts" who are still together five, ten, or fifty years later, but I think this belief was a bit unrealistic. We held it, though, because marrying young was a highly accepted practice in evangelicalism, and it seemed to be working fine on the later seasons of Boy Meets World too.

The danger in our hope for relationship permanence, though, was in our idiotic desire to see it through the Christian Worldview™ through which we were supposed to see everything. It wasn't long before we convinced ourselves that it was God's will that we be together. I used the word "destined" in the previous paragraph, and I meant it in all of its weight.

It may come as no surprise to anyone reading this, but that high school relationship did not last. It ended, and it ended messily. This is common in young people. It is expected in young people. But when God wills you to be with someone and then they don't love you anymore, it's earth shattering.

This may be a completely juvenile reason to experience a crisis of faith, and so it's not something I've shared widely before, but it's my story. Halfway through my freshman year of college I got dumped by the girl I'd decided God wanted me to spend the rest of my life with and then I tanked my academic career (it still hasn't fully recovered) and abandoned the faith I was raised in. True story.

- - -

Shortly after moving to Cleveland in 2008, I began to feel like I was missing something in that place inside me where my faith had been. I began idly searching online for nearby churches belonging to the denomination in which I was raised, never visiting one. I considered praying again. But not much came of it until I met Melissa and she (nearly immediately) invited me to the big, rockin' worship service at the large seeker-friendly baptist church she'd just begun attending.

I'm intentionally using dismissive language to make a point. The church we attended brought me SPRINTING back to my faith. It was a family to us. It was a center for us. Melissa and I got married there, led a small group there, grew in Christ there, and still have nothing but wonderful things to say about it save for the long drive to get there. I acknowledge that you can find genuine Christian faith in a big, Baptist megachurch because I did.

My running return to faith led me to attend Indiana Wesleyan University (online) in pursuit of a Christian Ministry degree. It led us to travel to Sheffield, UK to study the resurgence in missional style church that began there. But I now held my Christian faith with my eyes wide open. I was unwilling to overlook the ways in which the church appeared hypocritical to me. I was unable to ignore the parts of faith, or perhaps "faith," that I saw as anti-science or anti-reality. As such I hungrily explored theological discussions that diverged from the usual--the work of Peter Rollins & Rob Bell to name a few--and I never really identified with the more conservative of the evangelicals around me.

The Neo-Calvinists seemed to my eyes to be very certain they had all the answers, but I found their answers wanting. I neared despair when I looked deeper into their antagonists, Arminianism, and found them at least as unfulfilling. I have been intrigued by a handful of strains of theological thought but haven't always known best how to comfortably pursue them (and I keep having to work on Sundays, anyway).

I've never really stood up and said "I am an evangelical" because it has never been a label that I've strongly cared for one way or another. Perhaps I was one of Rollins' "Orthodox Heretics" anyway, perhaps I was something else. Perhaps I am an evangelical and just didn't realize that where I fell on matters of theology was inside that camp. It doesn't matter anymore.

- - -

It has been better explained a dozen other places, but to recap as quickly as I can manage: Recently World Vision was forced to give a statement affirming the decision to allow people in homosexual marriages to work for them--depending on your point of view, either a statement of support for gay marriage or a statement of openness to the plurality of orthodox denominations that affirm same-sex marriage--and the evangelical backlash was swift and severe enough to cause them to reverse course to staunch the bleeding. Bleeding to the tune of the reneging on sponsorships for some 10,000 needy children by evangelical sponsors.

This debacle, and evangelical wagon-circling for the likes of Phil Robertson and Dan Cathy and Mark Driscoll and Pat Robertson and many others like them, has convinced me that the label of "evangelical" is one of gatekeeping, of spite, and of theological policing that goes far beyond our faith's sacred creeds, and I want no part in it.

I believe that this kind of behavior has so tarnished the word "evangelical" that it is irredeemable. This should seem absurd to believers in a faith whose entire existence hinges on belief in resurrection, but the label is not our Savior.

- - -

After Melissa and I left the big, Baptist church we started off at for reasons having to do partly with distance and partly with our desire to do something meaningful and missional (another post for another day) we ended up doing some half-hearted church shopping before ending up attending nowhere.

It's not our desire for this to remain so, but we do not currently attend church anywhere. But we can add to the list of House Hunters' like "Must Haves" (Gay affirming, egalitarian views on gender roles, engaged in local mission) a new "Must Not Have:" even a whiff of the kind of "Evangelical" mindset described above. I'm horrified to consider taking my daughter to such a place, and having to de-program her after. I'm tired of considering telling a friend I attend such a place, but "it's okay, I'm not like that."

This World Vision fiasco was the straw that broke the camel's back for me. I am severing all ties (none, were you paying attention? there were already essentially no ties) to evangelicalism. I joked in my last post about leaving for Judaism. I love Jesus, and so that was a joke. But I also mentioned Pentecostalism, I assure you I'll be exploring it. We'll look harder at the mainline denominations that hew closer to my values, and hope to find one that doesn't too closely resemble the Catholicism that Melissa fled from. We are going to find a church because we believe doing so is important. And if we fail, I assure you that we will start one.

But I'm hereby tendering my resignation from evangelicalism, effective immediately.


Young Fathers

I read the scares on the front page,
It says we're waiting around for an ice age.
It says our comforts, they come with a price tag.

(They killed the cancer but discovered a new plague!)

They say just think of the children,
And imagine the world that we've willed them,
It's populated with weirdos to kill them
(and break their hearts).

"Young Fathers" - Typhoon

So for the better part of three weeks now, I have been a father.
They say that coming to grips with the fact that you're a parent takes longer for men than it does for women. Mothers, after all, were carrying this baby around for nine months before fathers hold her for the first time. I suppose it's true, but I assure you it was real for me within Lena's first moments of life.

After an arduous and eventually too stressful labor, Melissa gave birth by Caesarean. That meant that, after the doctors who cleaned her and swaddled her, I was the first terrified and sobbing parent to hold our daughter. I remember those first cries, I remember that precious weight, and I remember how much my arms ached when I finally laid her down after Melissa's procedure was over.
I don't think I'd ever clutched anything so tightly in all my life.

- - -

In these first couple weeks, I keep finding that I'm significantly more afraid of big, vague threats than anything real. I don't know if that's a sign of "not yet coming to grips," or what... but it's true.
I'm not worried I'll drop her (have I mentioned how tightly I hold her?)
I'm not worried she's not eating enough.
I'm worried she'll contract some should-be extinct disease because somehow it's legal to not get vaccinated in America in 2014.
I'm worried that the disappearance of that plane means there's an existential horror of Lovecraftian proportions lurking on the other side of the world.
But mostly I'm fixated on the way I want to raise her and the world I want her to live in. And I'm alternately hopeful, and paralyzed by fear.

It's bad enough that my daughter is going to live in the White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy of America. I have come to grips with that. America is what America is.
But I have fought, and wrestled, and prayed, and cried, and determined that I'm unable and unwilling to abandon my Christian faith, and--OH!--but what another level of baggage comes along with that.

I joked in the weeks immediately before her birth, when I found myself doing a new deep dive into theological thought, that I was channelling my nerves into determining what kind of faith community I could see myself being a part of so that I could then see if they had child care. If the World Vision debacle of this past week has shown me anything, it's that I'm more scared than ever to subject my precious daughter to the people who claim to represent her precious Savior. My disgust with American Evangelicalism and its Gospel of Empire has turned to despair.
I wonder if we'd be happier in Catholicism, or Pentecostalism, or--gee, I dunno--Judaism?
I find myself saddened by the thought that she might not be part of the once ubiquitous (to me) "Baby Dedication" ceremonies, but not so much so that I'm not still also scared of taking her somewhere where the participating congregation might pledge to participate in poisoning her with hatred toward her fellow man.

I'm being overly dramatic here.
But I'm also not.

Because have you seen my daughter? Have you seen her? Seriously. Have you? (If you don't know me IRL, likely not..., but) She is beautiful. She is perfect. She is--exactly as I prayed she'd be--healthy and happy and whole. With every day that I look at her, I feel more confident that we're going to solve poverty and global warming and maybe even war. I just know she'll live to see a world I cannot imagine and that's amazing because I'm really into science fiction, you guys, and I can imagine a world that is pretty awesome.

Lastly, I can't get over just how proud I am of my wife, Melissa. She has been strong when she has needed to be, and yet a sweet and loving mother. She is sleeping less and giving more than I ever could have imagined being required of her, and she's doing it all with a grace that I cannot fathom. The process of falling in love with our daughter has also been the process of falling in love with each other all over again. I'm in awe of her, and I hope she knows it. (But she should, because I keep telling her).

- - -

I hope you don't mind that this hasn't been the usual new dad story of platitudes and cliches, but I'm intentionally leaving in all that is raw and real.
This is scary, and not because I'm afraid of killing a kid but because I'm afraid of raising one. And it's amazing, and it's inspiring, and it's occasionally extremely and almost desperately hard.
And I wouldn't trade it for anything.


What DO I Think The Gospel Is?

Today in the midst of a discussion of other things I asked somebody what the Gospel was. They gave me six paragraphs that didn't once use the word "LOVE."

This caused me to think really hard about what I, in my struggle through theology and orthodoxy and religion think the Gospel is. I tried to craft an answer that focuses on Love. Because I think that's the key. We're supposed to LOVE people.
Most of the rest I'm still working out.
How does this sound?


God is love.
God loves us.
All of us.
So much so that he sent his son to model for us the way that we should aspire to live.
We should love God with all our hearts, minds, and strength and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
In loving deeply, and beautifully. In living free of violence and hate. In feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, clothing the naked, and freeing the captives we experience God, for these things are love and HE is love.
Jesus died on a cross as a final sacrifice to end mankind's slavery to sin and religion.
He rose again to show us that death and fear have been defeated.
The Kingdom of God is at hand and He is making all things new.
We join his tangible Kingdom when we work to do His will on Earth as it is in Heaven.

The good news is that God's people are setting out to do His work. To bring His Peace to all of His People, to rescue them from the hells in which they live.


My Review of Goliath by Max Blumenthal

There is likely no rule in internet debate as well known as Godwin's Law. The semi-satirical law coined in 1990 by author/attorney Mike Godwin states (essentially) that the invoking of Hitler or the Nazis by any participant in a debate causes the participant doing so to lose the debate. Godwin's Law is not without its detractors: Kevin Drum of Mother Jones and liberal firebrand Glenn Greenwald have each argued for its repeal, noting rightly that since WWII analogies are so universally known they can be extremely useful. But because the acts of the Nazis are universally condemned, and universally considered atrocities of the absolute worst kind, it becomes important that any use of a Nazi analogy had better be apt.

The power of Goliath: Life And Loathing in Greater Israel, by Max Blumenthal, comes in the slow realization that his provocatively chosen chapter headings (The Night of Broken Glass, The Concentration Camp) utilize Nazi analogies that are useful and apt. Blumenthal's book is a thoroughly reported look at the way in which modern Israel has devolved into a fascistic, racist apartheid state. Blumenthal spends years in Israel and Palestine, speaks to men on the street and men in the halls of power, and comes away with a portrait of a country in an identity crisis of its own making.

As Blumenthal explains it, the State of Israel was founded to be both democratic and Jewish. Yet as it annexed more land, and as its native and immigrant populations grew, it became clear that these two tenets were in tension. If Jewish Israelis failed to maintain a demographic majority in the country, then the Jewish identity of the country could be dissolved in a popular vote. This idea that indigenous (or immigrant) populations constitute a demographic threat, and thus an existential threat, to the country results in these populations being subjected to both public and private forces aimed at pushing them out of Israel's borders.

Goliath then argues that as the official, legislative, and policy efforts to disenfranchise Israel's Arab population came into maturity, living amongst state-sanctioned discrimination led Israel's Jewish population to cease to see Arab-Israelis as anything other than threats. Government acts of otherizing gave way to a universal acceptance as the Arab as the other. A reality that plays itself out in sobering public opinion polls that show majorities of Jewish Israelis unwilling to share apartment buildings with Arabs, for example.

Working hand in hand with these discriminatory policies, is a PR campaign built to show Israel and its allies that it is engaged at all times in an existential struggle. Far from being an occupation, or apartheid, the actions of Israel are necessary to prevent a “second holocaust” and to prevent the Arabs who would destroy Israel from gaining the power to do so. Goliath stands out because it cuts through so much of this hasbara spin and shows a Western audience what public life in the region looks like.

Though Blumenthal has been cast as an anti-semite, or a self-hating Jew by some for having the audacity to criticize the Jewish state, I think that the cold, hard facts of this book stand on their own. This is a familiar story of a people whipped into a nationalistic fervor, and told their entire lives that the problems of their country are the result of another group. Though it is a great, tragic irony that the perpetrators of this fascism are a people who were once victims of a starkly similar chain of events, that simply does not make the reality of this situation any less true.

Goliath is a dark, depressing, troubling, and lengthy look at the increasingly dire reality of Israel/Palestine. It's a region and a conflict that I knew very little more than the headlines about. I recommend the book, but I acknowledge that it may be controversial for some, triggering for others, and certainly a difficult read for many. But Goliath needs to be difficult, because the truth the book shares is a difficult one as well. And tragically, Godwin's Law does not apply.

This post is part of my Race To Read 26 Books in 2014 as part of Cannonball Read 6. Please check it out at http://cannonballread.com