The Purity Culture of Progressive Christianity: Additional Reflections

Monday's post "The Purity Culture of Progressive Christianity" generated a lot of discussion so I wanted to follow up with some additional comments and clarifications.

To start, some concluded that I was saying that progressive Christianity, because a purity psychology is a work in how we reason about righteousness, is "just as bad as" conservative Christianity. So a pox on both their houses.

But I'm a progressive Christian writing, mainly, for other progressive Christians. Which is to say I think progressive Christianity is getting right some fundamental things about Jesus and the church in a way conservative Christians are not. Yes, I was describing psychological similarities about how both conservatives and progressives reason about righteousness in the idiom of purity. And about how this "will to purity" creates similar problems for both camps. But at the end of the day, as a progressive Christian I'm oriented to see purity/righteousness the way progressives see it. That's what it means to own the label "progressive" after all. (See my book Unclean for how I argue that Jesus reworks purity to align it with justice.)

So to be clear, the point of the post wasn't to say that progressive and conservative Christianity are theologically "the same." I don't think that. But I do think that a purity psychology works among both groups and that this psychology, given that it's a purity psychology, creates similar sorts of temptations.

A second concern raised about the post is that it was centering the feelings (e.g., burnout, exhaustion) of privileged progressives rather than the feelings of the oppressed and victimized. I think this is a potent observation.

I think many privileged progressives do use social justice as a route toward self-justification, as a way of overcoming liberal guilt. Especially if you've come out of fundamentalism or evangelicalism where a purity-driven moral performance has been inculcated into you, where you learn that you are good because you are being good. For many progressive Christians who are post-evangelicals it's very easy to import that same purity psychology--I am good because I am being good--into the progressive fight against injustice and oppression. And the tragic aspect to this pursuit is that, as with all attempts as moral self-justification, we can't ever fully get clean. Not in the evangelical way, nor in the progressive way.

So, yes, there is a legitimate concern that such efforts at moral self-justification in progressive Christianity do unwittingly center the needs, feelings and goals of the person fighting for justice rather than upon the needs, feelings and goals of the marginalized and oppressed.

I think that observation deepens the analysis of Monday's post, that one of the pernicious effects of the purity culture of progressive Christianity is the way it centers the feelings of the privileged rather than the oppressed.

But that doesn't mean that this purity psychology is limited to privileged progressive Christians. Because even among the oppressed who are fighting for justice this purity psychology is also at work.

For example, I was in Selma on Sunday for the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday" and the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March. And in Selma there were lots of examples of this. For instance, at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge there was a young African American man screaming at other African Americans calling their lives and alternative forms of activism into question. He rebuked them, saying things like "Ya'll are going home back to your plantations!". What I was witnessing was an intramural squabble between African Americans. And a purity psychology was at work. The same purity psychology that was at work when Malcolm X called Martin Luther King, Jr. an "Uncle Tom" and a "House Negro."

In short, there is a purity culture among progressive Christians and it is at work among both the privileged and the oppressed and, perhaps especially, at the intersections between those two groups. So if you can't see the "purity culture of progressive Christianity" then you're just not paying close enough attention.

Either that or you've weaponized the phrase "purity culture" so that it can be wielded solely against evangelicalism with the assumption being that progressive Christians are too enlightened or "pure" to ever be "contaminated" by that sort of thinking...

The reason for the ubiquity of "purity culture" is simple: purity is one of the ways humans--all humans, progressives and conservatives, privileged and oppressed--reason about morality. Purity is just a piece of our innate moral software. We can't help but think of morality in the idiom of contamination. Progressives as much as conservatives. (Psychologists have called this "the Macbeth Effect." For more again see Unclean.)

Finally, let me end with a few comments about how to deal with exhaustion in the fight for justice.

Some readers felt that I was arguing that because purity psychology creates exhaustion (or free-floating rage, what might be dubbed "generalized anger disorder") that this was warrant to opt out of progressive Christianity. That I was arguing that exhaustion could become an excuse for inaction and complicity. 

That wasn't my point. Again, I'm a progressive Christian. My faith orients around lifting up "the least of these." That's what I think Jesus was doing. That's why I think the progressive vision of Jesus is more biblical. That's the reason I work in a prison. That's the reason I was in Selma. That's the reason I visit differently abled friends at an assisted-living facility. That's the reason I share meals each week with the poor and homeless. That's the reason LGTBQ students know they can come out to me. The post I wrote wasn't about giving up any of these things. The post was about giving up the exhaustion that flows out of an "everything is problematic" mindset that haunts progressive Christianity.

And where does that mindset come from? I am arguing that it comes from a purity psychology--the purity culture of progressive Christianity--that grounds moral performance in freedom from complicity.

To be sure, this is a worthy and noble goal. But this is a vision that we--oppressed and privileged alike--come to experience as both impossible and unsustainable. And if we are not attentive to the temptations related to the purity culture of progressive Christianity our pursuit of justice--for both oppressed and privileged alike--can fall into exhaustion, schism and anger.

So the point of my post wasn't an excuse to give up on justice for victims. The point was to give up on the toxicity rooted in the pursuit of purity.

The call was for progressive Christians to become a little more self-reflective in how they are affected by "the will to purity," in how they both view themselves and others. 

We are limited and finite creatures. We have to pick and choose our fights. We will, inevitably, fight harder and more passionately for some things rather than for others. You might care about food justice and sustainability. You might care about animal rights. You might care about race. Or LGTBQ issues. Or sex trafficking. Or mass incarceration. Or immigration. Or wage and income inequality. Or capital punishment. Or sexual abuse. Or universal healthcare. Or exploitative labor practices. Or woman's rights. Or the plight of indigenous and native peoples. Or war. Or education. Or the treatment of the differently abled. Or the mentally ill. Or clean water. Or world hunger. Or global warming. Or homelessness.

Or even things many conservatives care about, like the global persecution of Christians or abortion.

To say nothing about all the debates regarding how these various ends are to be achieved. When does helping hurt? We might agree on the ends but come to blows over the means.

You care, I'm guessing, about many if not all of these things. But if your vision of being a Christian is rooted in a progressive purity culture--I am good because I am being good--you'll find that you can't fight all these battles with equal passion and investment.

So when the inevitable moment arrives when someone calls you out for how you're slacking in a given area--because there will always be a person who cares 10% more than you in a given area--you end up feeling like a piece of shit. Like a hypocrite. Like a bad person. And it's not just White people who struggle here. After the victories in '65 when Martin Luther King, Jr. turned to the issue of war and the military-industrial complex he was harshly criticized by his Black peers for turning his back on Black people.

Even MLK found it hard to care about everything.

So the takeaway here isn't to give up giving a damn. The goal is to reject the "will to purity" and learn to extend grace to yourself in the midst of the fight. And then, in turn, to extend grace toward others. Because we're all complicit. No one is pure. This is the progressive version of Original Sin.

And that's not an excuse to give up fighting. Nor is it an excuse to sin so that grace may abound.

It is simply the recognition that the purity culture of progressive Christianity--for privileged and oppressed--will be perennially tempted to marginalize joy, love and grace in its pursuit of the Kingdom of God.

Which means that great effort must be exerted to gather grace, for yourself and for others. Daily, like manna. Over and over.

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59 thoughts on “The Purity Culture of Progressive Christianity: Additional Reflections”

  1. Ehhhhhhh, appropriating MLK here is probably not your best move. I understand that Selma's on your mind, but really, you can't pull in MLK to erase the fact that you are failing to center marginalized voices and failing to make a distinction between the voices of allies and the voices of the marginalized. This is especially the case for your sideways comment about the criticism facing MLK when he went after the military-industrial complex, as that fight was far more complex than the one line you give it here.

  2. I know it may be an unpopular opinion with some of my readers, but I totally agree. I've been wondering why so much of what I've been feeling lately reminds me of the shame, exhaustion, and perfectionism I struggled with in fundamentalism and this need to be "pure" in order to be accepted and loved in the progressive community is exactly what it is. Where I see the most overlap between the conservative "purity" mindset and the more progressive "purity" mindset is in the shaming that happens. Now this may be more of a symptom of the internet call-out culture (of which I have been a part; I recognize my complicity in this phenomenon, for sure, and am repenting of it), but what I see happen over and over again is people make what is deemed a mistake or say something "problematic" and they are not only called out for their actions but deemed totally unacceptable as human beings and publicly shamed. A massive pile-on commences. Their motivations and character are called into question, and they are "farewelled," just like in fundamentalism. I confess this had to happen to me a few times before I realized how destructive it can be. (I understand people disagreeing with what I say or even what I do; what I don't understand is the demonizing and dehumanization that often follows.)

    It's also worth noting that nine times out of ten, this is privileged, educated white folks shaming other privileged, educated, white folks for not being good enough. Obviously, when a marginalized person tells you something is problematic, you perk your ears up more than you would otherwise. That's a good practice, generally speaking, I think. But I also see all sorts of folks taking advantage of and shaming open-hearted people by appealing to their sense of justice and using words like "racist" "abuser" and "bully" so liberally that those words lose all meaning. (Kinda like how conservatives use the word "heretic" so much it's lost its potency.)

    When I saw you wrote this, I was glad, but I was worried. Because, to be honest, I am much, much more afraid to challenge progressives than I am conservatives. In my experience, the shaming is much more intense because it exploits things I do indeed care very much about - inclusion, equality, reconciliation, justice - and tells me I am disqualified from ever speaking on those things again because I made a mistake.

  3. Oh, I definitely think MLK saw his critcisms of Vietnam as intitimately intertwined with race. He saw them as a Gestalt of oppression. My point was, rather, that King's peers felt that he was diluting his efforts in the fight for racial justice. The point I was making goes to that experience of dilution that finite people face when they try to address the whole.

  4. Some articles that speak to this include this one in the NYT:

    And this by Asam Ahmad:

  5. This morning on a news interview someone mentioned a "mob mentality" that is developing in social media. Perhaps that is an aspect of what is being discussed here.

  6. Yeah, strange to reflect on some of this from a UK perspective . . . I would call myself progressive as you have termed it, but would be considered an "open" evangelical by most in the UK . . . either way, the challenge Conservatives have had is to BELIEVE in grace through faith in Christ alone . . . but then bang on about the need for doctrinal and lifestyle purity as it that too is essential for salvation itself (we need grace to get us there, but once there . . . lets jettison the "need" for it in our daily lives); whereas I think open, progressive bods can fully embrace grace . . . . not just as a theological necessity for salvation but as a practical reality . . . yet, here we are, as you say . . . needing to have a "pure" thing.

    I have also found as much antagonism within "open" theology if people (maybe people like me) suggest they don't know or don't have an opinion on something . . . there are things I am just not sure of. I don't feel it is acceptable in either camp to say "I don't know" . . . as if there are some key things I have to sign up to for me to be a FULL ON open evangelical or progressive . . . I am an egalitarian through and through, yet I just don't know about some of the other areas that for a Conservative might be black and white . . .

  7. I wonder if our culture has lost the art of disagreeing without dehumanizing each other. :(

  8. I can't speak for Rachel, but I think there is a difference in making a mistake--like the stupid Tweet of a stranger in the NYT article--versus a public figure consistently teaching things you find deeply problematic. When you engage that public figure you are in the mix of democratic dialogue and debate vs. mobbing a stranger and calling them hateful things.

  9. I know I don't comment here often, so I don't want to open without expressing how much I appreciate your writing and thinking in general. I think I understand what you're trying to do with these two posts, and I'll wholeheartedly second a call to gather and spread grace. [Here's the but...]

    I get why you used the specific term "purity culture" in your original posting - it's in the vernacular, it's a "hot" topic, etc - and I'm finding it interesting that you use "purity psychology" so frequently in this follow-up. Interesting, because I think it's probably a better phrase for the comparison you were trying to draw -- that no matter what the standard of perfection is, imperfect humans by definition will be unable to achieve it.

    I still fail to see though how, apart from this broad assertion of our fundamental imperfection, striving to center the least of these and working out our complicity in oppressive systems is anything like a culture wherein one's worth as a human being is directly related to how and under what circumstances one's sexuality is expressed. In the former, screwing up is an opportunity for growth and learning to do better, but in the latter - in actual "purity culture" - it's a permanent stain of wrongness, brokenness.

  10. From where I stand now, I would have still critiqued what Driscoll said about women, LGTB people, etc., but I would have done it much differently in several cases.

  11. I always wonder about correlation vs. causation, and I don't think that Christianity necessarily makes people want to be better, but I do think that people who want to improve themselves morally are often drawn to religion as a whole as a vehicle for that improvement. We get out of our religion what we bring to the table, so if you are inclined towards compassion, you'll find that Christianity justifies that compassion, but if you're inclined towards seeking power, you'll use Christianity as a weapon to maintain control over the people in your life.

    I think progressive Christians are those who see Christianity as a motivation and means to better society and improve the lives of others in the world, but that doesn't mean we're immune from the "us vs. them" mentality that is so insidious to every part of human interaction. We want to do better and be better, but while that impulse is helpful, it can easily be distorted into arrogance and perfectionism. Articles like this and the previous one are beneficial because, since I'm inclined towards progressive Christianity because I think it is a better interpretation of scripture than other types of Christianity, it can be difficult for me to see the flaws in it. No manifestation of Christianity is perfect, and it's necessary to be honest about that and to guard against the problems that are present in every form of Christianity.

  12. To be fair, I also think (and I risk saying I suspect you'll agree!) that more than purity psychology "was at work" in Malcolm X's abusive rhetoric towards King (aka the "Revd. Dr. Chickenwing"!). Remember that the entire African American leadership of the civil rights movement not only distanced itself from Malcolm politically but refused to debate the issues with him -- in fact, to be seen with him -- publicly. Indeed, ironically, one might ask: on the grounds precisely of purity (ideological and otherwise)?

    In any case, because Martin was the leading figure of the civil rights movement, obviously he was the one to bear the rhetorical brunt of Malcolm's anger -- and Malcolm was one angry guy anyway, certainly a lot angrier than Martin, and for biographical as well as theological reasons (it was as a "field Negro" that Malcolm called Martin a "house Negro"). And after Selma -- that is to say, after Watts -- Martin came not only to understand and empathise with Malcolm's anger, he also came to share much of Malcolm's analysis of the White Supremacy (and white liberal hypocrisy) that made him so angry, including its economic and (as you point out) military-industrial elements.

    James Cone calls the 2 Ms the Yin and Yank of the black American soul. And very interestingly -- make of it what you will -- he suggests that Martin's faith was closer to Malcolm's than to that of white, indeed white liberal Christians, and that Malcolm's faith was closer to Martin's than to that of Middle Eastern Muslims.

  13. I do think that using the phrase "purity culture" might not have been wise and that sticking to a discussion of purity psychology would have been better. I don't want to overly defend that choice, it might be better to just name it as a mistake, but I opted for the word "culture" as I do think there is a social and, yes, cultural component to how progressive relate to each other. The work "culture," even if ill-chosen, was trying to highlight that social component.

  14. I'm wondering what it is that White, Middle Class, educated Christians are the ones who are always saying these things about how *we* are the ones who need more grace, about how the oppressed are asking too much of us, about how Twitter is Toxic (TM) and progressives are carrying around Digital Pitchforks (TM).

    I wonder why...

  15. Dr. Beck, I am grateful for your voice. Your writing has had a significant influence on me. I'm not "progressive" theologically by any means, but I've gained a tremendous amount from you. I think because what you describe as the "progressive" perspective ('My faith orients around lifting up "the least of these.'") comes through in pretty much everything you write...and it seems to me to be neither "progressive" or "conservative/fundamentalist" but rather "Christlike."

  16. Yes, I think that's a large part of it as I described in the post.

    But, again, as I go on to point out, it's not just "White, Middle Class, educated Christians" who argue that there must be a dialectic between prophetic rage and grace. Many prophets of color have made that exact point, over and over and over.

  17. Oh, I believe that there is a need for grace in the midst of "prophetic rage." But maybe that grace can be that of White people giving People of Color the benefit of the doubt for once? Maybe that grace is facing systemic evil and our own complicity in it - and still remembering to breath and love and laugh in the midst of it all because, hell, we ARE human and we ALL deserve to be treated as human.

  18. Yes, and there is also something obscene about me using the grace preached by prophets of color to avoid my own complicity.

    So to clarify a bit. I'm not against rage or even "calling out" people on social media. That's necessary. The post isn't against rage. It's against a will to purity that distills the rage and marginalizes grace. I think that's a universal temptation. It might be unseemly for me, given my social location, to be offering that analysis. I see and confess that. But I think the analysis is accurate.

    But just to clarify, I'm pro-rage.

  19. Certainly might've removed one axis of disagreement, at least. ;)

    I think the better question is whether feeling shameful/guilty over a failure to "do right" is really such a bad thing? I think (because I feel it!) there's a real temptation for privileged people to want a little "grace" for ourselves when we screw up but not for the less-privileged person who called us on it in a way that makes us uncomfortable.

    Not to say I'm arguing for scrupulosity as an M.O. for progressive Christians, but at what point is looking for grace at an *individual* level just perpetuating *systemic* injustice without having to feel bad about it?

  20. It's also worth noting that one of the people mentioned in the NYT article - Adria Richards - has commented that the author entirely misrepresents her story, misrepresented himself to her in the course of interviews, and overall mischaracterizes the events of her "call out."

  21. But as horrifying as shaming can be, in some cases, it has the effect of causing us to repent. It has done so for me, and I keep waiting for the shame that was piled on you regarding your defense of Tony Jones to take enough root for you to publicly admit your complicity in a situation where an abuse victim was silenced. Shame can be a useful tool - you yourself have used it, as you note. (Although, I am perfectly happy to continue shaming Mark Driscoll until the effects of his bullying disappear from the people I love who live here in Seattle!). I can certainly tell you that shame after speaking something that was offensive to a friend had the instructive effect of causing me to recognize and repent for some of my own stuff.

    That said, I don't want to demonize or dehumanize you, because I love you! I think you're one of the best writers and theologians of our age. But there are a lot of people out there who were really disappointed by your actions there. There would have been either way, right? But in the end, it comes down with choosing the opressed, not because you're good by being good, but because it is what Jesus would do, and we're all seeking after him.

    I agree that calling people names causes your words to lose meaning, but sometimes those words are true. Here are some other words that are true: You are a warrior, a daughter of God, a woman of valor, and I hope you continue to keep those things close. Draw strength from the words that you know you are, and keep listening and speaking truth into the world. I'm glad you're seeing the gray spaces in progressivism and activism, and I hope God continues to bless you for being a voice for those of us who are swimming away from evangelicalism but still want to honor its work in our lives.

  22. Hindsight is 20/20. :-)

    To your point, that's really the hardest part, that dance between guilt and shame vs. mercy and grace. Boy, I wish I had a blog post in me that could untangle that knot.

    Here's one stab at a way forward. Brene Brown distinguishes between guilt and shame. Guilt is "I did something bad." Shame is "I am bad." Guilt, therefore, is good. Shame is unhelpful.

    So perhaps we monitor the balance of shame and guilt. And, to venture a connection with this post, purity psychology keeps pushing us toward shame and we have to keep working to move that shame, via grace, toward guilt.


    Complicity + Purity = Shame

    Complicity + Grace = Guilt

  23. Shaming is a very useful and effective tool. Dropping nuclear bombs on unsuspecting villagers is also an effective way to end a war. Neither are Christian.

  24. Beth, you said, "I don't want to demonize or dehumanize you, because I love you!" I'm gonna get a little vulnerable here and gently push back: You don't love me, Beth, because you don't know me. This is what is most challenging about having a somewhat high profile public persona. People tell me every single day that they either love me or hate me, that I am a good person or I'm a bad person, that I have integrity or I have no integrity - based entirely on what I write, not who I actually am. This is what is so dehumanizing. Whether it's someone gushing about how amazing I am or piling on the shame about what a horrible person I am, it's disorienting and unsettling to hear these things from people who have never met me and who have know idea what sort of experiences, relationships, and struggles are happening behind the scenes. I don't know how to fix this. Sometimes I think maybe I'm just not cut out for this kind of work. But when it comes down to it, it's this sense of "access" people think they have that is most unnerving. Just a thought.

  25. I don't know if it's helpful to this discussion about shame, but elsewhere in this thread in a comment to Nicole I try to make a distinction between shame and guilt:

    The comment:

    To your point, that's really the hardest part, that dance between
    guilt and shame vs. mercy and grace. Boy, I wish I had a blog post in me
    that could untangle that knot.

    Here's one stab at a way forward.
    Brene Brown distinguishes between guilt and shame. Guilt is "I did
    something bad." Shame is "I am bad." Guilt, therefore, is good. Shame is

    So perhaps we monitor the balance of shame and guilt.
    And, to venture a connection with this post, purity psychology keeps
    pushing us toward shame and we have to keep working to move that shame,
    via grace, toward guilt.


    Complicity + Purity = Shame

    Complicity + Grace = Guilt

  26. Saying A is to B as C is to D is not the same as saying A=C. Also if your goal is to shame someone then you have failed to love them and love overcomes all is the central claim of the gospel. Anything that drives you to bring shame on others is a failure to follow Christ.

  27. I think this is a particular problem with blogging. People read the same author's thoughts on a variety of subjects and begin to feel like there is a relationship there that has meaning and value for them. This is why bloggers can develop loyal audiences in the first place. However, what most people miss is that there is no reciprocity to that relationship. Love requires a relationship, hatred in fact requires some relationship to break. What happens on the internet is normally just affinity or distaste, but we find those terms less satisfying so we use words that pretend mutuality.

    I think it would go a long ways for everyone to admit that you do not know anything about the complicated inner lives and intentions of those you disagree with on the internet, and those inner lives are what makes that person valuable and unique, gives them dignity and reflects the image of God. Internet commenting often strips away all those things and merely lets ideas fight to the death. Its destructive for everyone involved.

  28. I think people need to be reminded, over and over, that social media is public forum to debate ideas. If you disagree with an idea, great, you can ask people to defend it.

    The problem with social media is that we shift away from discussing faith, church or theology to scrutinizing a person's moral witness. And as Rachel point out here, that can't be done outside of the intimate space of friendship.

    If you disagree with a person, disagree. Debate them. But shifting to their moral witness gets us into dark waters...

  29. guilt that leads to repentance, not condemnation. the call outers cannot decide for you how you handle the calling out. they have to call out though that action which is not about being pure, but about not in praxis at that moment acting in an oppressive or abusive way, whether intended or not. and we can react defensively, feeling impure, or feelings hurt, or disappointed in ourselves, and all these are centering on ourselves, or we can repent...and change, seeing value in the person we are unwittingly or wittingly hurting with our thought or action, and do better, because we all have the capacity to do better. Perfection, purity, was never the point, but social growth is never a bad thing to strive for.

  30. This was such a good post, and balm to my soul! There is so much in here that resonates with my current experiences, and the reminder that it is a daily battle is very needed. I think there is much about the far ends of conservative and progressive Christianity (or politics for that matter) that dovetail. To me, there's a significant portion of each that seems to be founded on fear and expressed in different ways because of worldview - for instance, wrt to the anti-vaccination folks for instance, the conservative anti-vaxxers are afraid the government is going to tell them what to do with their childrens' bodies; the liberal anti-vaxxers are afraid the corporations are going to hoodwink us into adding unnecessary, dangerous chemicals into our childrens' bodies. It's an oversimplification, of course, but to me, both sides seem very fear-driven.

  31. I think being ashamed of ourselves, of our complicity, of our culpability, can be deadly, but it can also be powerfully lifechanging. I wanna be ashamed of my actions, I don't want to become complacent in that shame. We must always see ourselves as capable of rising above our demons, all the while acknowledging them as demons.

  32. OK, we'll lower that. I have met you briefly, and you seem very kind, like someone I would grow to love as a friend if I spent a fair amount of time with, based on similarities in our thinking and lives, given what little bits I have read. But even if I hadn't met you, do you not think you can be cared for from afar? I love Jesus, for instance, and haven't actually met him. There are many people in the Bible I adore and I certainly will never have the access to them that I have to you - Simeon, for instance, has a much smaller platform and fewer words out in the world than you have had, and I can't *wait* to meet him in Heaven.

    I will ponder that, though - and maybe telling you that cheapens the phrase in the same way calling someone a racist online is much easier than saying it in person! But it is easier to gush online :-) Or to be very judgmental :-) Anyway, you are right - I don't know what is going on behind the scenes, but I do want good things for you as a sister in Christ.

  33. Do you not think Christ occasionally shamed people, then? Granted, it may not have been Him that was doing the shaming, but people were certainly ashamed of and by Him.

  34. "I guess I'm just not sure the anger, guilt, grace, and love that is
    necessary for true, transformative reconciliation can happen in a
    meaningful way outside of an ongoing, flesh-and-blood community or

    And to make a connection with the upcoming book Searching for Sunday, I'd add this to Rachel's comment:

    Unless you've handed the bread and wine to a sister or brother, over and over and over, with the words "The Body of Christ broken for you" and "the blood of Christ shed for you" you're not in the position yet to see that person with the eyes of Christ.

    Loving is an intimate, face-to-face practice.

  35. you've taken this whole Julie situation and made it all about yourself. All about how burnt out and hurt you feel because people publically critiqued your action in not standing up for her, and in action amplifying the voices of those who were enabling the abusive environment she still lives in. You in action ignored the countless articles and posts written by people who have expertise in working with abuse victims, and understanding NPD and how it works, and continued to wallow in this silly guilt that you brought on yourself, no one else. We simply publically decried your actions, you had every power to do differently.

  36. I would also add I think there is a destructive psychological angle to the way we engage on the internet. We want something that amounts to real relationships in our interactions online, but we are trying to force the psychological cues of real relationships into online one's with strangers. This means that your brain sort of assumes a level of familiarity that you would have with someone you met in person: where you from? married? any kids? job? hobbies? etc. but we attribute all of those markers of intimacy to the only thing we have access to: opinions.

    When those opinions tick us off then all the intimacy we assigned to that opinion immediately dissolves into character judgments without any countervailing context and that is dehumanizing. Add in the mob mentality and suddenly you have the modern digital version of "Crucify Him!" playing out on Twitter.

  37. I think everything Christ did was to bring about redemption in people and systems. Shame might have arisen in someone's heart in response to his revelations to them but I don't think Christ ever delighted in bringing shame upon anyone.

  38. Here is where I would like to recommend Jay Smooth. This is a link to one of his videos about the craft of being good:

    I'd also recommend checking out his TedX talk on "How I learned to stop worrying and love discussing race"

    I think he does a fantastic job of communicating clearly and entertainingly in a way that makes sense to people who don't use words like "intersectionality" in their daily lives, while also not apologizing for his point of view. He doesn't demonize people, and you get the feeling that he doesn't spend a whole lot of time agonizing over his own complicity either. He just does the work.

    I don't know his religious or theological situation - I get the feeling that he is not an adherent of anything in particular. Of course, neither am I, so maybe that's one of the reasons I like him.

  39. The task of monitoring that balance, then, needs to be on the part of the person receiving the criticism. Often when people talk about call-outs or toxic comments, the statement is made that "we forget the person we're talking to is human." This is true! What's also true is that the person calling us out is human too, and probably hurting as a result of our actions, so we owe them at least as much grace as we measure out to ourselves.

    I think my discomfort with the way you're saying what you're saying is that diagnosing a purity culture/psychology of progressive Christianity and giving a remedy of more grace winds up sounding like "we need to stop worrying about making sure everyone does the right thing all the time because it makes people feel bad." (Which, I will acknowledge, is likely not what you're intending to say, but is often how "grace" gets thrown around.)

    Whereas what we should be aiming for is more along the lines of "we need to remember that doing bad doesn't make us incapable of doing right next time, and that the people pointing out where we've failed are 1) likely the ones hurt by our failure and 2) trying to get us to not fail that way in the future."

  40. jtheory,
    Hey sorry for blocking you, but I want this comment thread to be about my post and not about Rachel. Feel free to talk to Rachel via her social media outlets. For this thread I'd like to keep the focus on any problems or issues related to what I've said in the post.

    I'm unblocking you now...

  41. I also love Julie McMahon, and don't know her *at all* outside of her online presence. I think if you're saying that online relationships are != to offline relationships, that's true. But relationships people form within Internet communities are certainly very valuable, and sometimes life-giving, if the example of my continued correspondence with a friend too ill to leave the house thousands of miles away is worthwhile.

  42. Hi Beth,
    I just deleted your last comment. I'd like to keep the focus off of Rachel in this thread. Feel free to communicate with her via her social media outlets.

    But I'd still love to hear anything you have to say about my post.

  43. Hey everyone, I appreciate the conversation today. Especially the thoughtful pushback.

    I'm about to go watch my son play a baseball game and given the volatile nature of this post I've been working hard to keep the comments focused on me and productive. But I can't do that when I go to the game.

    So, I'm closing comments while I'm gone. I'll open them back up when I return. In the meantime I hope you find something wonderful and relaxing to do or have a good rest of the day at work.

    Comments back open in a few hours. See you soon.


  44. I like and agree with everything here (and your note that it's generally privileged white people calling each other out is, in my experience, disturbingly accurate). But while I think shame is never, ever justified (since it reads WAY too much like verbal abuse to me), sometimes the people doing the shaming have legitimate points, despite their mishandling.
    I think sometimes we make shame into this dichotomy - "you're shaming me? you're all the way wrong!" - and that's 100% not true. I guess I try to advocate taking steps to say "I'm sorry, I was wrong and hurtful - but the way you're handling it is also wrong and hurtful." But in my experience, most people don't do that (and I often don't, either), and then you're left fearing that people on both sides truly do care more about themselves than the people they've hurt. :( And that's upsetting to say the least.
    btw, I'm sorry for your exhaustion online. Your blog is helpful and inspiring. :)

  45. Have you apologized for your mistake? Perhaps people's response to you is not because they want to "call out" your mistake, but because of your lack of apology?

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