Friday, April 29, 2005

The Case of Judy Brown: Lesbianism, Attempted Murder, and Deconstructing WORLD magazine

This is an ugly story made uglier by ideology.

First, the raw facts. In March of 2004 Judy (Judith) Brown, Assemblies of God pastor, professor, and theologian, was sentenced to eight years in prison for the August 2003 attempted murder of another pastor. (I don't choose to inflict pain on the pastor and his wife by further publicizing their names.) She befriended the pastor and his wife, seduced the wife, and when the wife wouldn't leave her husband, set a trap and attempted to kill him. Waiting in the basement of the couple's house without their knowledge, she turned off the power. When the husband descended the stairs, she hit him repeatedly with a crowbar. He wrestled it away from her, and managed to go upstairs and call 911. The police found Ms. Brown on the front lawn, and inside located various items including a large knife and garbage bag she'd abandoned as she exited the house.

In November 2004, after she'd already gone to prison, Judy Brown's contribution to a book by InterVarsity Press, Discovering Biblical Equality, appeared when the book was published. Not until April of this year did IVP discover she'd committed the crime, or been involved in a lesbian relatioinship. They promptly removed the book from circulation and announced a new edition for July of 2005 which will be without Brown's chapter.

The story apparently broke in the blogworld; the traditionalist blog first reporting it started out wondering darkly if InterVarsity Press had known about Brown's crime and conviction. But as IVP responded promptly and less flamboyant, more thoughtful readers posted cautionary notes, the original blog as well as others covering the story seemed to moderate both in tone and content. Then there's Tim Bayly's blog, where some particularly irrational ranting went on (Tim is an old friend of mine, but oh my do we disagree over gender equality!). The comments to the blog entry are worse yet, one woman going as far as to say, "Someone certainly knew about this woman's lifestyle choices--and chose to ignore them. I suspect that probably someone also knew about her criminal activities, but did not expect that anyone would find out." Baseless slander was a sin last time I checked my Bible...

World Magazine and Gene Veith in Murder, She Wrote (appearing in both the April 30 hard copy and online) offered a highly sensationalized soap opera account, told with glee and serving as a thinly disguised apologetic for patriarchy. The story is drooled over for an entire page, and concluded with a wonderfully hypocritical paragraph:

"What can we conclude from this lurid mix of feminist theology, homosexuality, and attempted murder? It would be wrong to generallize from this case to make conclusions about all evangelical feminists or all female Pentecostal preachers. But it is more evidence -- as if we needed any more -- for total depravity and the mystery of iniquity."

"It would be wrong to generalize"? Of course World wants to generalize! Why does World call the story "Murder, She Wrote"? Being clever, or a bit devilish with the insinuation that what Brown wrote about led to what she did? Why would World's readership want to read about Ms. Brown's misdeeds if this isn't in fact the implication? What significance does a singular crime by a sinful (and one now hopes, repentant) woman have, news-wise? Without Brown's connection to the egalitarian community, biblical feminist scholarship, InterVarsity Press (an egalitarian publisher), the gender-inclusive TNIV Bible, and Christians for Biblical Equality (an organization I am humbled to say has featured my wife and I as speakers and writers), just to name a few targets of traditionalists, I can see no compelling reason for World publicizing this story.

The case was a freak, an anomaly, a white buffalo. No, World printed this story precisely because they do want their readers to make the unfair linkage between gender equality, lesbianism, and violence. Even though they know such linkage is unfair. What makes it even more startling is that the hierarchalist community recently had their own homosexual scandal involving a high-ranking European member who left his wife for a young man. Talk about selective amnesia!

Let me suggest a new place for World to focus their investigative energies. I promise they will find plenty of horrible stories, ripe for the plucking. Thousands of men beat their wives. Some of them kill their wives. Some of them say they're good biblical Christians, and believe that a woman is to submit to her husband. If I started a blog that tracked the sexual and homicidal misdeeds of men believing in a hierarchical view of men over women, that blog would simply fill and fill, month after month. People would stop reading out of sheer fatigue. Shall I do it? Would this be proof of good vs. bad theology? Maybe...

Adultery? Sexual sin? Women are still playing catch-up to men in both those fields. Homosexual sin? Again, women are playing catch up, especially within the churches. (How about tossing in pederasty; any guesses as to which gender commits that sin more often?) And violence? Oh, baby. Try a google or three and see what comes up.

One more note: World and other hierarchalists' use of this story to somehow support their own theology is very like another camp's use of the same story. As a long-time supporter of Exodus, International and other ministries involved in reaching homosexuals, I find the continual attacks on Exodus nearly always start by citing the most spectacular failures of those attempting to leave gayness behind. "So and so fell back into sin; that proves your theology is wrong about homosexuality, and that God must have made them that way!" The similarity to this reasoning and the reasoning from some (not all) hierarchalists re Ms. Brown's theology leading to her lesbianism is striking. Not to be post-modern or anything, but the story told by WORLD and the story told by gay activists about Exodus has the same problem: both claim that it is bad theology leading to the problems experienced. Neither has a real leg to stand on.

Interestingly, one Fuller Seminary student writer does indeed make linkage to Brown's case as one of repressed lesbian desire by a fundamentalist Christian subculture:

As an Assemblies of God minister, Judy Brown believed fervently in the orthodox doctrines of the Church, including the prohibition of homosexual behavior. She believed so fervently that she disassociated entirely from that aspect of her identity that was robustly gay. Her forensic evaluation indicated that her level of disassociative splitting is what allowed her to commit the brutal crowbar attack with “no memory” of the act itself or the planning of it.

This reading is highly creative, and of course bogus, but no more so than World making their insinuations regarding egalitarian theology

Let's get real. As Catherine Clark Kroeger writes in Priscilla Papers (Spring 2004), there are numerous grounds upon which to say women's equality leads away from, not toward, homosexual practice. Let me quote at length just two of those grounds:

My first response is that although the Bible contains a handful of references to same-sex eroticism, nowhere is there given any sign of approval to homosexual behavior. Rather, there is loving sympathy for the individual but condemnation of the conduct. Therefore an examination of the subject must be based upon the wider consideration of biblical teaching on human sexuality, as well as on gender interdependence.

My second response is that the very statements in scripture that women find to support their claims of equality are also ones that call for a close association with men. Women who espouse biblical equality do not seek exclusively their own kind in their most intimate relationships—rather they acknowledge the creational purposes of a shared reflection of God’s image, a shared mandate to fill and subdue the earth, and a shared mission to declare Jesus Christ and his love in every dimension of life. They ask to share their gifts and talents, their endeavors, and godly aspirations with the whole body of Christ. They wish to be part of the decisionmaking processes of the church. Within marriage, they ask to bring all that they are to the union, to be like Adam and Eve—naked and unashamed, with no need for a woman to hide her abilities, her mental acumen, or her potential for leadership. For this there is ample warrant within the pages of scripture.

I can't urge readers strongly enough to read the entire article, and others like it (many freely available), on the Christians for Biblical Equality International website. And, if so led, remember to pray for Judy Brown and the couple who's marriage she so damaged.

As for a theology that disempowers half of humanity in the name of Jesus, it is an easy call. That is bad theology, and a theology that aids and empowers the epidemic of violence against women worldwide. Judy Brown's was a terrible crime, thankfully not successful. Unfortunately, crimes against Christian women by men who say they, too, love Christ are so numerous as to be unremarkable. And that is the real and tragic story World missed.

Jim Braddock, the real-life boxing champ, is the subject of "Cinderella Man," a movie Hollywood hyped at the 2005 Evangelical Press Association Convention. bluechristian wonders why... see below article on the epa 2005 Convention for more.

Subcultural Snapshots: Evangelical Press Association Convention 2005

Is the press itself a story? Of course! And the evangelical press is no different. I attended this year's Evangelical Press Association Convention (held April 24-27 at the Schaumburg Hyatt) as editor of Cornerstone, and as usual found it both inspiring and infuriating... like evangelicalism itself.

Some snapshots.


Martin Marty, the mainline church historian and commentator, offered Monday a fascinating talk in which he masterfully tip-toed through the minefield of evangelical media voices speaking to surrounding culture. Without offending anyone (well, as far as I could find), he gently suggested that a recalcitrant, arrogant evangelicalism will hardly be heard by a culture already thinking we're collectively idiots. No, he didn't say it like that. And that was the brilliance of his address. I'll post it f and when I find it online somewhere (which I thought it would be; he said as much to me later when I caught up to him, but of course I misplaced the URL). He also cheered me up considerably when mentioning his "appreciation" for "Sojourners and Cornerstone," two voices that "do a good job" representing the minority view among evangelicals. I felt good about that until realizing we haven't printed a hard copy in nearly three years. Hope he meant our website!

Of course, I'd have liked to have heard him say something like he wrote elsewhere:

"Most of the international religion stories these days have to do with theocratic suppressors of freedom, would-be monopolizers of religious expressions. We've been spared such holy wars here. But Frist and company, in the name of their interpretation of American freedom, sound more like jihadists than winsome believers. It would be healing to see them on their knees apologizing to the larger public of believers."

But if he'd have done that, he wouldn't have been the wise, sagacious soul he is.


I really wonder about myself when I find all sorts of symbolic meanings where maybe they shouldn't be. Perhaps I'm ill. But when Hollywood showed up to pimp--er, pump--a new movie to us evangelical press types, I got very interested. What movie would they pitch? Why do they think we're a good audience for this movie in particular?

The movie: Cinderalla Man, a boxing flick drawn from the real life story of Jim Braddock (played by Russell Crowe). I don't mind the story line, really, except for it being raised in this context. The idea that this movie -- a movie about a white man who with his fists provides for his wife and two boys -- is a great evangelical / family flick just rings all wrong to me. I see the boxer, fists upraised, as the unfortunate symbol of evangelicalism itself, and also the symbol of one our current icons, the Man in the White House. And a boxer isn't very appealing to me from a Christian point of view; Jesus with boxing gloves? Nor do I like the underlying idea, the traditionalist idea of manhood, the male going "out there" into a hostile world to provide for his wife and children. Hopefully, his wife (played by Renee Zellwiger in the movie) will be more three dimensional than at present I suspect she will be. I hated the trailer shown to us, perhaps especially because I hate the fist to the face evangelical approach to the world so much. And this movie plays to that, a fact I can't help believe led to this movie being sold to us.

See what I mean about being ill?


Two words that don't go together: "Christian" and "comedy." I wish they did. They really ought to. But somehow, whenever I encounter Christian comedians, they seem to be the only people in the room with an even poorer sense of humor than I have. And that is tragic. Chonda Pierce was the epa's comedian of the night Tuesday, and actually she was better than I expected. It was still fairly terrible, but of course one must factor in my own disconnect re some of the more idiosyncratic elements of evangelical culture, which many of her jokes focused on. She did have a tremendous ability to mock herself and us simultaneously, and that at least made it bearable. I need a little self-mocking. One postscript: Doug Trouten, the Executive Director of epa, is a very funny guy. So I guess some Christians can do comedy.


Giveaway newspapers and magazines from the various publishers, stacked on tables for the taking... I had an idea, which I'll report results on later. The newspapers in particular seemed to have a whole lot of political commentary. I grabbed nearly every one there and will soon offer here on bluechristian a likely non-scientific but still somewhat interesting breakdown of what I find. I would like to find out they had a variance of opinion on all sorts of things... but suspect I won't find that. Please, God, let me be wrong!


The last night, Wednesday, I again found myself bemused. What follows will likely endanger the remaining shreds of my evangelical reputation. But World Vision International's presentation on child prostitution worldwide, which should have been a slam-dunk winner, instead left me with a wierd sense of something getting left out. We heard from a WV spokesperson, who assured us that his organization was banding together with the United States government to arrest pedophiles for crimes committed against children overseas. No doubt the fact that westerners, and Americans in particular, make up a large number of "sex tourist" abusers of children is highly disturbing; a reported 80% of adults using children for sex in Costa Rica are Americans, if I heard World Vision correctly. I'm glad to see World Vision and others making this an issue. What was less gladsome to me was the playing of a video of part of George W. Bush's United Nations speech, in which he chastised other nations for not protecting the world's children from pedophiles and the sex industry. He was, I painfully felt, being used as the ultimate evangelical spokesperson for purity and righteousness. I was supposed to feel great about it, but could only remember the Muslim mother in Michael Moore's "Farenheit 9/11," crying out over her dead child, "Where is God?! Where is God?!" Say what one will about the bombastic Moore, one of the bombs our President ordered dropped had killed that mother's child. Purity and righteousness, I suppose, are in the eye of the beholder.

So. I found a certain narrowness of vision from World Vision... Maybe next year we could see an evangelical icon that didn't box or drop bombs? Again it seems evangelicals focus on private moral issues yet fail to see the implications of our collective cultural bias and blindness. Ah, but what do I know...?


Billy Graham's daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, closed out the evening and the convention. As an egalitarian on gender issues, I had to love that. "Our message is Jesus," she said, and urged us not to get sidetracked by other issues. She even seemed to hint that the World Vision focus on child prostitution could easily become a tangent from preaching the gospel. And truthfully, she's partially correct. Jesus alone can rebirth us, transform us, and through us transform others. Despite a stumble when discussing the 2005 tsunami tragedy, her main message gave me a thread of hope. "Jesus!" she said again and again, a faint southern twang on the first syllable sounding a bit like her father. "He's what we have to offer that will change the world."

I agree. Yet still, Jesus himself said that we will find him among the poor, dispossessed, and prisoners. "When you have done it to the least of one of these, you have done it to me." This is the element of biblical faith often lacking among us evangelicals -- yes, I'll still gingerly call myself an evangelical (though others may contest such my membership). We are all too often like a member of a romantic couple, half-drunk on our love but not having yet the faintest idea of what that love will cost us, where it will take us, and how terrible it is to be vulnerable in the midst of love. Jesus' end -- the cross -- should be a clue. If we follow his example, become his disciples, shouldn't our symbol be more the man being struck with a fist than the man doing the striking? Shouldn't our icon be Corrie Ten Boom instead of George W. Bush? Sometimes I wonder if we'll ever grow up.


I ponder the last picture of epa 2005, a picture of my own sense of seperateness. How much of my angst is ego? How much of it is rooted in my own felt need to be a contrarian, a gadfly, an annoyance? Too much, no doubt about that. But is there something more to it, something that is real and true and even of God? Honestly, I'm still sorting that one out. I do probably need to heed Rick Warren's reminder, "It's not about you."

But it is about Jesus, like Ms. Graham-Lotz says. And being about Jesus, it requires a sense of awe, reverence, and even fear. For myself as a writer, I do think I need to talk more directly about Jesus, and more often, because Anne Graham Lotz is merely echoing the words of World War II martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer: "Christ is the only significance."

Are we evangelical journalist-types writing like we actually believe that? And, I suppose more to the point yet, are we living like we believe it? If we are doing either, our writing will reflect more pain, more failure, more confession and repentance, and ultimately more truly a sense of grace, than I fear it does now.

Pray for us.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Clem Checks In

Really amusing, thoughtful bit on "Clem's Place" blog regarding the painful awkwardness of being politically homeless... Here's a snip from it:

We wanted to start a whole new political concept. The old continuum from liberal to conservative was too uncomfortable, like being in a shooting war as an enemy and an ally of both sides. We tried for years to carry on the battle from between the armies in no man's land but got awfully tired of fighting the flack shot by both sides. It was like being caught in the center of a Chicago street with two rival gangs trying to even a score neither side could really add up.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Roe v Wade: David Brooks in the New York Times

Once in a while, a conservative says something I agree with. Invariably, it has to do with the giant shadow of abortion on demand. I'm continually amazed at how the liberal / progressive left, where I often feel more at home politically, can be so incredibly blind when it comes to the fact that the right is in power mainly because of one -- count it, ONE -- issue. And that issue is the one that the Right has right.

As I pondered this recently, I was stunned to encounter the below article. Of all places, I found it on a liberal site that was mocking the writer's premise -- that is, that Roe v Wade is "the poison" behind our current political deadlock and meanness.

Read it for yourself:


Roe's Birth, and Death
by David Brooks (New York Times, April 21 2005)

Justice Harry Blackmun did more inadvertent damage to our democracy than any other 20th-century American. When he and his Supreme Court colleagues issued the Roe v. Wade decision, they set off a cycle of political viciousness and counter-viciousness that has poisoned public life ever since, and now threatens to destroy the Senate as we know it.

When Blackmun wrote the Roe decision, it took the abortion issue out of the legislatures and put it into the courts. If it had remained in the legislatures, we would have seen a series of state-by-state compromises reflecting the views of the centrist majority that's always existed on this issue. These legislative compromises wouldn't have pleased everyone, but would have been regarded as legitimate.

Instead, Blackmun and his concurring colleagues invented a right to abortion, and imposed a solution more extreme than the policies of just about any other comparable nation.

Religious conservatives became alienated from their own government, feeling that their democratic rights had been usurped by robed elitists. Liberals lost touch with working-class Americans because they never had to have a conversation about values with those voters; they could just rely on the courts to impose their views. The parties polarized as they each became dominated by absolutist activists.

Unable to lobby for their pro-life or pro-choice views in normal ways, abortion activists focused their attention on judicial nominations. Dozens of groups on the right and left have been created to destroy nominees who might oppose their side of the fight. But abortion is never the explicit subject of these confirmation battles. Instead, the groups try to find some other pretext to destroy their foes.

Each nomination battle is more vicious than the last as the methodologies of personal destruction are perfected. You get a tit-for-tat escalation as each side points to the other's outrages to justify its own methods.

At first the Senate Judiciary Committee was chiefly infected by this way of doing business, but now the entire body - in fact, the entire capital - has caught the abortion fight fever.

Every few years another civilizing custom is breached. Over the past four years Democrats have resorted to the filibuster again and again to prevent votes on judicial nominees they oppose. Up until now, minorities have generally not used the filibuster to defeat nominees that have majority support. They have allowed nominees to have an up or down vote. But this tradition has been washed away.

In response, Republicans now threaten to change the Senate rules and end the filibuster on judicial nominees. That they have a right to do this is certain. That doing this would destroy the culture of the Senate and damage the cause of limited government is also certain.

The Senate operates by precedent, trust and unanimous consent. Changing the rules by raw majority power would rip the fabric of Senate life. Once the filibuster was barred from judicial nomination fights, it would be barred entirely. Every time the majority felt passionately about an issue, it would rewrite the rules to make its legislation easier to pass. Before long, the Senate would be just like the House. The culture of deliberation would be voided. Minority rights would be unprotected.

Those who believe in smaller government would suffer most. Minority rights have been used frequently to stop expansions of federal power, but if those minority rights were weakened, the federal role would grow and grow - especially when Democrats regained the majority.

Majority parties have often contemplated changing the filibuster rules, but they have always turned back because the costs are so high. But, fired by passions over abortion, Republican leaders have subordinated every other consideration to the need to overturn Roe v. Wade. The Democrats, meanwhile, threaten to shut down the Senate.

I know of many senators who love their institution, and long for a compromise that will forestall this nuclear exchange. But they feel trapped. If they turn back now, their abortion activists will destroy them.

The fact is, the entire country is trapped. Harry Blackmun and his colleagues suppressed that democratic abortion debate the nation needs to have. The poisons have been building ever since. You can complain about the incivility of politics, but you can't stop the escalation of conflict in the middle. You have to kill it at the root. Unless Roe v. Wade is overturned, politics will never get better.


Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Christian Zionism & the Second Coming

Don Wagner of Northpark University does a great job in this April 12 WBEZ interview, unpacking the history, theology, and persons of note behind so-called "Christian Zionism." The infamous Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsay, and other works (including a TV series called "Revelations", soon to air on NBC), promote a potent mix of politics and theology with far-reaching implications. Worth a listen, definitely.

As for this old-school Jesus freak, I do think Jesus will return soon. But I don't think a modern state of Israel, Russia as "Gog" (or "Magog", I forget?), or America as God's hard right hand, is part of biblical second coming theology.

Further, I am always amazed, amused, and simultaneously saddened by the way these evangelical Christian ideas place "evil" so far away from us, the good Christian folk. It seems to me that most of the New Testament makes precisely the opposite point; the poor rotten sinners are the ones Jesus is closest to, while the "good country people" (to borrow an appropriate short story title from Flannery O'Connor) take a biblical whacking.

But that's just me, maybe. The guy I look at in the mirror every day is one of those "nice church folks," so I trust I'm talking about that which I know.

Les Brown, Homeless Advocate: He'll Be Missed!

The loss of Les Brown to Chicago's homeless community is one keenly felt. As someone who struggled with Brown and others against the monolithic lack of concern for the homeless throughout the 80s and 90s and beyond, I can't imagine things being the same without his voice in Chicago. Brown founded the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and early on recieved a heart transplant. That heart beat empowered so many!

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Death Penalty: What a Neat Idea!

"The death penalty is a poor person's issue. Always remember that: after all the rhetoric that goes on in the legislative assemblies, in the end, when the die is cast, it is the poor who are selected to die in this country." Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J.

I find the Death Penalty perversly fascinating, especially when Christians support it. In just a minute, I'll provide links to some "born again" murderers, most still alive and at least one having been since executed.

First, a few links and pages that provide a wide overview on the Death Penalty.

Links to various death penalty sites are provided by Derechos Human Rights. The oft-vilified ACLU has an excellent site, as does Ethics Updates (some info here is also pro-death penalty). Amnesty International has a dedicated page to the DP, and so does Professor David Vanderhoof, who's site will keep you surfing for as long as you want! And finally, a web page of death penalty cases where they were overturned or evidence was found to resentence.

And second, links to and about "born again" believers either now on Death Row, or who should have been on Death Row (according to current standards)... I don't suggest, by the way, that being a Christian ought to qualify someone for special treatment. Rather, I list what follows because of a few things: (a) many of these folks didn't become believers until years after incarceration, leaving one wondering what their eternal destiny would have been had they been immediately put to death, and (b) how completely useless the death penalty is when it comes to prisoners who have successfully been rehabilated. (Not saying every one of these was or is, but many of them are!)

"Son of Sam," David Berkowitz, who killed allegedly after a dog told him to do so. He has been a Christian for over a decade and has an official web page.

Karla Fay Tucker (with another) murdered two individuals June 13, 1983 in Texas; the murders, done by her as a 23 year old drug user, were extremely gruesome and carried out with a pick axe. She was found guilty of the crimes and sentenced to death. Sixteen years passed, in which Karla became a vibrant, mature Christian. George W. Bush, then governor of Texas, denied the flood of mail and phone messages, and contemptuously dismissed Karla's plea for commutation of her sentence to life in prison. In response to a Talk magazine reporter asking him about an interview of Tucker by Larry King he'd watched, Bush mocked Karla. "'Please,' Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, 'don't kill me.'" And of course he did.... kill her, that is.

Tex Watson, who proclaimed "I am the devil and I'm here to do the devil's business" as he began killing victims. Watson, part of the infamous Manson Family "Helter Skelter" murders, was given life when the Death Penalty temporarily was suspended. His site contains an entire book about his experiences and conversion to Christ, Will You Die for Me?.

Susan Atkins' web site is down and I can find no other mirrors or evidence she's got a new one. Susan -- known as "Sadi" in her own time with Manson -- is also imprisoned for life. Her testimony, Child of Satan, Child of God, can be obtained on used (it is out of print). Only God knows whether or not Susan did or did not stab Sharon Tate (her own early statements were that she had, but in the book, she says she did not).

Francis Newton is on death row in Texas -- and this ironically anti-death penalty article from the normally pro-death penalty 700 Club (Pat Robertson) explores her case. In short, she is accused of mudering her family to collect an insurance payment, which she vehemently denies. See some interesting case notes regarding her here.

There are many more prisoners such as the above. For instance, Kevin Zimmerman killed an oil rig worker and while on death row became a Christian. After giving up his appeals, he was executed in Texas, January 2004. His moving final words, as well as the obviously inhumane process leading up to execution, is a proper way to end this.

"As I read the New Testament, I don't see anywhere in there that killing bad people is a very high calling for Christians. I see an awful lot about redemption and forgiveness." James W.L. Park, former execution officer, San Quentin, California