Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

An Attitude of Appeasement

Do not applaud Disney because its princesses now claim to be independent or because the cast of Mulan had people of color in it. Do not applaud Hollywood because “girls can kick butt” (what about women?). Mulan is not the model of cultural sensitivity and Charlie’s Angels is not the poster child for second-wave feminism. In fact, interviewed for such movies as Charlie’s Angels and Bad Girls, Drew Barrymore repeatedly asserts how refreshing it is to be able to be a woman in an action role without being a feminist.

What’s so dirty about being a feminist? Feminists have wondered this for years. It seems that movie producers have a worldview that includes two kinds of people: people who want to have fun and people who complain and spoil the fun.

Really, it’s the powers of the film industry that have polarized entertainment and politics. Would most Hollywood or Disney execs be thrilled about a film that

1. didn’t portray a strong woman as a stone cold “bitch” or a disorganized neurotic who simply needs a man to make her life better?
2. had Asian-American, African-American, Latino or Native American characters as the central focus of the film, with white people as only waiters, bus boys and taxi cab drivers?
3. didn’t make reference to the holocaust as the worst crime of humanity or Hitler as the ultimate representation of evil?
4. had a gay male character or characters who were not comic relief?
5. had a lesbian character or characters who did not somehow convert to wanting a man by the end of the movie?
6. did not have America as the hero of some war?
7. included social commentary without being oppressively preachy a la Milos Forman and Oliver Stone?
8. …and had fun while doing it?!

More troubling perhaps is the idea of the probable reaction of some Hollywood exec reading this short essay and saying, “Maybe if actually endorsed a movie that had those eight characteristics all those radicals would just shut the fuck up!”

“A [i.e. only one] movie…”
“those radicals…”

Hollywood isn’t interested in entertainment that’s enlightened or that promotes family (or any particular kind of values). Hollywood is like a candidate running for president 12 times a year. “What formula can we employ that minimizes costs, makes a lot of money, requires little imagination, and will give us the least amount of protest and lawsuits?” Think the “little imagination” is a bit harsh? Why did Blair Witch Project 2 come out? Why did Josie & the Pussycats follow shortly after Charlie’s Angels and Coyote Ugly ?

I understand the plight of Hollywood. For each member of a major motion picture production company, a job hangs on the line with every decision she makes. She might not be able to take a risk on a culturally sensitive film. For anyone who thinks that’s a valid excuse for the racist, antifeminist, overly patriotic, homophobic, tokenist drivel Hollywood puts out every one or two weeks, cry racism, cry antifeminism, homophobia, Americentrism, tokenism! Make sure everyone knows at least that there is a problem.

Those so-called “radicals” will not shut up until Hollywood ceases its attempts to stop them from speaking and really starts listening to what they’re saying.

Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality


I was fumbling around the web late at night, and I came across the funniest bit of antifeminist backlash I’ve ever seen. It’s apparently an excerpt from a book called Sex, Lies & Feminism by some guy named Peter Zohrab. I was amazed at how cocky he gets. He has the nerve to think he’s poking holes in the arguments of respectable scholars like Susan Brownmiller, when he writes stuff like this (excerpted text is all verbatim and [sic]):

A most surprising thing happened to me: I was working on the second draft of this book, when I went to an inservice course1, where a bunch of Feminists handed me the best disproof of the Feminist position on rape I could ever hope to find ! In fact, this group of people (mainly women) is so determinedly Feminist (and left-wing, generally) that I almost had to pinch myself, and wonder if it wasn’t some sort of set-up.

One topic which was covered during the one-day course was Brain Sex, based on the book of the same name. 2 After talking about a few of the differences between men and women’s psychology which are mentioned in that book, the Facilitator, talking to the females in the audience, said something like:

“You know what it’s like when you tell your husband not to buy you a present for your birthday — and he doesn’t !!”

There was a chorus of patronising agreement from the mainly-female audience.

So, of course, I jumped at the opportunity to say,

“That’s just like rape. The woman says ‘No’, and the man’s wrong whatever happens.”

There was a surprised, but almost unanimous, reflex chorus of “No” from this same audience !!! (I might have added that he could end up in jail for making one choice, and lose his marriage if he makes the other choice.)

This incident illustrates a number of points: One is that the Feminist insistence that a woman always means “No” when she says “No” is a downright lie — as Camille Paglia, though she calls herself a Feminist, has said. Many men have gone to jail because that lie has become official doctrine in some courtrooms.

Another point is that allowing only Feminists to have serious input into Sex/Gender policies has resulted in a Society where women can have their cake and eat it too — while men are put into a Catch-22 situation.

And the other point that this anecdote illustrates is that the Politically Correct are perfectly prepared to deny obvious truths and enforce them by sheer weight of numbers. This is shown by the chorus of “No’s” I got when my made my comment. To be fair, I could see at least one intelligent and rational woman in front of me had got my point — and I felt, on the next day, that my point had sunk in to some extent — so the “No” reaction was probably the reflex reaction of people who recognise theological heresy when they hear it.

But I should add that I had been preparing the ground for many years, with the gradual introduction of anti-Feminist heresies. If it weren’t for that background, the “No” reaction would have been really unanimous and permanent, and I would have suffered detrimental consequences in the workplace for my heresy.

Delicious, eh? Well, where to begin? First of all, the idea that there is only one “Feminist position” on rape is laughable. Every die-hard feminist knows positions on rape range from the extremely cynical (pro-male) likes of Katie Roiphe to the extremely cynical (pro-female) likes of Andrea Dworkin, with many moderate feminists (Susan Brownmiller, Robin Warshaw, etc.) in between. The funny thing is that this Peter Zohrab guy pretends to be an intellectual but ends up simplifying his opponents’ (many) positions into one that suits his rhetorical needs. I admit I’m biased toward anything remotely feminist (over those things more masculinist), but I do not imagine or wish that all antifeminism and backlash against feminism are the same things. Think about it—do all Republicans have the same beliefs? Do all Muslims have the same beliefs? Is there “the” Christian position on abortion (some would have you believe there is only one)?

But simplification is a natural human tendency, isn’t it? What I don’t understand is the way Zohrab has presented the supposed catch-22 facing men. There are two things at issue here: 1. The relation (if any) between buying presents and rape, and 2. The nature of consent in sex.

First of all, Zohrab makes a false analogy here, mainly through the de-contextualization of a feminist slogan about “no” meaning “no” and “yes” meaning “yes.” No feminist I know actually believes the slogan applies to all situations—it is a slogan that derives directly out of the controversy surrounding consent as far as sex is concerned, and sex only. How do we know we can’t apply the slogan to gift-giving? Well, because if you tell someone, “No, you don’t have to get me anything for my birthday,” there is no law against him getting you one anyway; and, in fact, very few people complain about unwanted gifts (unless they are also coupled with unwanted advances or stalking-like behavior). The scenario the facilitator described had a humorously playful context—there is not the implication at all that the husband worries about whether his wife might misconstrue a gift as signifying some kind of unhealthy obsession. However, if a wife says, “No, I really don’t feel like having sex tonight,” she will unlikely be flattered by a reply of, “Oh, I know you’re being polite, honey, but I got you a penis, anyway.” The sticky situation is consent in the bedroom, not consent in gift-receiving. The two activities (the acceptance of a gift, the acceptance of sex) differ in nature, not just degree. If someone receives an unwanted gift, she can say, “No, really, please take it back,” and if the giver takes it back, there is no harm done. She can also, after having received the unwanted gift, throw it away, and usually not feel any more violated or vulnerable for having taken the unwanted gift. The same observations cannot be made about sex. If someone “receives” unwanted sex (to the point of penetration), even if she says, “No, really, please take it out,” and the rapist retreats from his position, there is harm done—the rapist has violated her. She cannot throw away that feeling of being physically overpowered, of having intimacy corrupted.

After having made a false analogy, Zohrab also makes a statement that doesn’t make sense: “That’s just like rape. The woman says ‘No’,[sic] and the man’s wrong whatever happens.” How is the man wrong whatever happens? Even Andrea Dworkin would not look down upon a man who did not have sex with a woman who said “No.” The idea Zohrab presents is that the man has no respectable option if a woman says “No.” As a matter of fact, there is a respectable option, and here it is: A man and a woman in a relationship have some quiet time alone together. They’re holding each other, talking, and maybe even kissing. Eventually, the man begins undressing the woman and begins unzipping his pants. The woman says, “No, not tonight, honey.” If the man says, “Okay. Sorry. I just got so excited. What’s the matter?” how is he then “wrong whatever happens”?

Zohrab himself indirectly calls into question one of his own statements (“the Politically Correct are perfectly prepared to deny obvious truths and enforce them by s
heer weight of numbers”) when he analyzes a passage from Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics: “It is a good rule of thumb that, if you want to look for the weaknesses in someone’s argument, you look for sentences starting with words such as ‘evident’,[sic] ‘evidently’,[sic] ‘obvious’,[sic] or ‘obviously’.[sic] These are precisely the weak assumptions that the writer/speaker needs to prop up with confident-sounding language.” Technically speaking, of course, he’s addressing only sentences that begin with those words (he uses the word obvious in the middle, not the beginning, of his sentence), but the same principle applies: Zohrab feels the need to “prop up” his argument with “confident-sounding language.” If you re-read the above long excerpt from his book, you’ll notice no “obvious truths” that he’s pointed out.

Lastly, the idea that the “chorus of ‘No’s'” shows the denial of truth by the enforcement of “sheer weight of numbers” is a mix-up of cause and effect. Just because there happened to be many people saying “No,” it doesn’t mean the people saying “No” were also implicitly saying, “And you have to listen to us because we are so many—and you, so few.” Maybe some of them thought that, but it cannot be logically deduced that all or any of them did. What he calls a “reflex reaction” is actually a logical response. His “obvious truths” on the other hand seem to be more of an antifeminist “reflex reaction.”

Even though Zohrab makes one logical blunder after another, the real issue (i.e., not the one Zohrab brings up about men always being wrong, especially when they take everything seriously, even when there are no laws to put them in prison) surrounding the consensual/non-consensual nature of sex is, in fact, a sticky one, though. There is the possibility of teasing, of an actual polite “no” being mistaken for a coquettish, playful “convince me.” That’s why when we upstart feminists ran/run our sexual assault workshops (I’m speaking specifically of ones I helped run at Wesleyan University; I’m assuming they’re still being run in the same fashion), we stressed the need for communication (between both parties) in sexual relations. We recognized that most rapes were male on female, but we did not, through our language or meaning, encourage a blaming mentality. Those who had been raped were “survivors,” not “victims.” The focus was on “How can we communicate both our desires and our limits?” not “You bad men, you very bad men, why don’t you stop raping women?!” Zohrab is, as most (not all, of course) antifeminists do, fighting a straw (wo)man—the feminazi. I am a die-hard feminist. I’ve read all of the famous die-hard, moderate, and antifeminist feminists (yes, there are antifeminist feminists—Christina Hoff Sommers, Camille Paglia, etc.), and I have not read anything so radical as to be completely unreasonable or, as the accusation has gone on for decades, “man-hating.”

The problem of backlash is quite widespread, actually. I’ve noticed a lot (and, this is probably another essay entirely) that whenever I teach students about racism, homophobia, or other forms of systematic oppression, they (especially white, straight males) tend to confuse the identification of an injustice with the perpetuation of a victim mentality. Just because someone points out a wrong, it doesn’t mean she is saying, “Woe is me. Pity me. I have it so awful. I have it much more awful than you do, you lucky bastard. There’s nothing I can do to better my situation.” Most people who try to educate others about injustices merely do so because those “others” do not even acknowledge such injustices exist. And, if we don’t acknowledge injustices as existing, how can we correct them? How can we fight them? Feminists do not want to put confused men in jail. We want to put rapists in jail, and we will work together with men, women, feminists, even antifeminists, to improve the lines of communication between partners of any genders so that we can reduce instances of rape—so that we quell the constant manifestation of injustice.


Social Education

In the pages of Time and Newsweek, as well as in their own leaflets and propaganda, both those for contraceptive-focused sex education and those for abstinence-focused sex education throw around statistics and studies about the efficacy of their respective programs. Supposedly, adults, who are either relieved to hear affirmation of their own prejudices or who are learning for the first time of some amazing revelation (“teen pregnancies are down…”), cannot imagine what’s really going on in the hearts and minds of children and adolescents today.

This is the same mistake Nancy Reagan made with the anti-drug campaign of the 80s—backing programs that educate young people about social issues and social responsibility only in the most superficially beneficial ways, and then manipulating statistics to act as if said programs are experiments that either worked or didn’t work.

The truth is there is no one effective way to educate kids about sex and drugs. And, more importantly, there is no one group of “kids.” Parents, politicians and educators need to start thinking in terms of multiple and dynamic (but, at least initially simple) profiles of teen situations, worldviews, and experiences, if any sort of “effective” program is ever to develop.

Another problem with the approach-of-precedent is the focus on concrete results: the primary purpose of sex ed. should not be to lower the number of unwanted pregnancies; the primary purpose of drug education should not be to lower the instances of illegal drug use. Those may indeed happen with an effective program in place, but the most effective program meets teens where they are and gives them honest information about what choices they have. Statistics should be available, but the focus should be on the teenagers themselves. We need more dialogue and less lecturing.

For instance, when I was growing up in the late 80s/ early 90s, drug education essentially said all drugs are dangerous and that even experimentation with supposedly safer drugs such as marijuana would usually lead to the use of “harder” drugs, such as cocaine or acid. One friend of mine, a typical recipient of such information, proclaimed in his powerful 7th grade voice that it would be stupid for anyone to do drugs. He would never do that. 5 years later, he showed up to school every day with glazed eyes.

Instead of wondering if programs are “effective,” adults should be wondering why they are (or aren’t). What happened to that friend of mine? I can guess. But, really, educators and politicians should ask the students. I would imagine, speculatively, it would be something like this: thinking, initially that any experimentation with “safe” drugs would lead to the use of harder drugs, my friend probably ended up experimenting and then realized he wasn’t about to die and that he didn’t have to do harder drugs. He also probably realized that marijuana is only psychologically and not chemically addictive. Suddenly, then, all the adults’ “education” about drugs probably seemed to him to be lies.

Want to create effective sex and drug programs? Do this:

1. Ask students who are older (12th graders, college students) what was effective or ineffective/ useful or useless about the education they received.
2. Stop treating kids as products coming out of the factory of sex and drug education. They’re people, too
3. Abandon unilateral, fear-based evaluated-by-numbers approaches to sex and drug (or, really, any kind of) education.

Usually Evangelical Christianity is the backward one in terms of social reform, but, in some ways, at least as far as evangelism is concerned, Evangelical Christians are moving away from unilateral, fear-based, evaluated-by-numbers approaches. In the 1960s, Urbana, the monstrously large Christian missions conference in Chicago, emphasized in its approach to missions converting as many people as possible. Now, Urbana has Christian speakers of various backgrounds and approaches talking about holistic ministry, witness through service… At Urbana, you’ll rarely hear any talk of preaching “hellfire and brimstone” in the Jonathan Edwards tradition.

As someone who has been in the public education system of several different schools, I can say from my own experiences that the state, the administration, the parents and the media are responsible for the suffocation of proper and honest education, because they don’t treat teachers as human, and they don’t let teachers treat their students as human. Just because we don’t want our sons and daughters cussing up a storm and being perpetual potheads doesn’t mean we should be vigilant watchdogs that hypocritically police every four-letter word or every mention of an adult having once taken a toke. I myself did not even experiment with illegal drugs, never had one illegal drink, and didn’t have my first kiss until graduate school. Nevertheless, we should create a system in which all teachers and adults feel comfortable revealing their past mistakes and experiences.

How powerful would Malcolm X’s biography be if he had pretended he had never been a gambler, pimp, drug dealer and thief? Young people need adults most as role models for honest dialogue, not as givers of rehashed, preachy lectures.


Myths About What Schools Need

  • Time=learning. So, more time=more learning.
  • Good schools have good teachers. So, better teachers=better schools.
  • Testing discourages social promotion
  • Tracking solves most classroom learning problems
  • Lack of tracking solves most classroom learning problems
  • Individual teachers create educational revolution (think Dangerous Minds and Stand and Deliver)
  • Students do not care about education

What schools actually need

  • Student-teachers as paid interns for at least two years. Every teacher should have at least one. Gives student-teachers a chance to learn the profession, make some money, not feel rushed. Gives students more adult presence in the room, more individual attention. Gives head teachers a little more breathing room, work burden less stressful.
  • More flexibility in curriculum, with teachers justifying choices to the community not the state. Even “canonical” works need justification.
  • More student choices in constructing their own education: a distribution requirement or self-designed proposal of study.
  • More integrative approach: a less condemning attitude towards non-academics as supplements to classroom activity.
  • Panels on important issues such as racism, homophobia, student voice, etc.
  • Teachers’ reimbursed by departments for book purchases (make this one of the priorities in funding).
  • Allocation of funds by community size, not community wealth.
  • Smaller schools, more freedom for students.
  • More teachers, smaller class sizes.
  • Smaller class sizes.
  • More funding.

Reflections on Teaching

When I began thinking about teaching, I began it with a rather self-centered outlook: I will teach the way I wanted my teachers to teach me. I will be the kind of teacher I’d always wanted in high school. I also had a dream to be the revolutionary teacher from such faux-inspirational films as Stand and Deliver and Dangerous Minds. I wanted to buck the system, improve the quality of public education. This, I realized later, was also a self-centered (and extremely unrealistic) pursuit.

Upon studying more about educational theory and working directly with a number of public school systems (as a student-teacher, a long-term sub, and an on-call sub), I felt the shortcomings of my individuality: I had to learn to work with a community, and I had to serve the needs of members of that community (both students and faculty) who did not share my values, my learning style or my intellectual background.

I had a chat with Deborah (another teacher at my current school) once in which she lamented that she actually felt guilty for teaching in a private school. I reassured her she had nothing to feel guilty about. As one of my fellow graduate students once said (I’m paraphrasing): “We always talk about being where the students are. The students are everywhere.” It’s true there’s a definite need for good teachers in public schools, particularly in lower-income schools, but truthfully, I see “good teachers” as only part of the solution. Schools that are struggling to meet even the “basic standards” of the state (whatever state it is) need administrators willing to change, parents willing to invest time and energy in their children’s education, a supportive rather than a demanding government, and a workable budget that allows a school to function easily. “Good teachers” aren’t enough.

I found myself, as a public school teacher, spending the bulk of my time dealing with discipline and paperwork. I would have to keep careful track of tardy slips, write cut slips and detention notices, make sure students did not physically harm one another, manage bathroom passes and hallway passes… the list of tasks that had no immediate bearing on curriculum weighed heavily on my idealistic shoulders. It was then I realized I wanted to be with students who wanted to learn in an environment that supported me, where parents, students, faculty, staff and others worked together to create not only good lesson plans and curriculum but also a good learning environment and a community. I thought Frisbee Dogs was a great addition to my current school’s “Spirit Week” last year. We have Spirit Week events, faculty and student retreats, even Grandparents Day to foster community and remind ourselves that education is not just about the classroom.

Before coming to this school, I’d had a few encounters with self-selected groups of students and they were all wonderful. I worked as an SAT instructor for Kaplan. I taught conversational English to high school students in Hong Kong. I even taught Sunday School to middle school students in my family’s church. Self-selected students know why they are there (in the classroom) and are more likely to take responsibility for their education. It is for that reason that I take the somewhat radical view that we should not have compulsory education in this country. We quickly went from little free, public education to much mandatory schooling. True change in education will not happen with the police, vice-principals, teachers, and parents strong-arming the children into classrooms. If the students bring themselves to the classroom, then they’re ready to learn.

So, here I am at a private school, taking the time to learn from experience, from my fellow English department members and from the students. Suddenly, in a community where learning (not paperwork or discipline) is the primary concern, I can remind myself of the theoretical principles of quality teaching we talked so often about at my graduate school of education. I’ve always had a heart for education and a passion for teaching. Honestly, though, in recent years, I’ve gone back and forth between wanting to teach for the rest of my life (teaching and students—yay!) and quitting altogether in order to get a desk job (grading papers—boo!). I don’t know where I’m headed. I love this community—the opportunity I have to teach wonderful students, work with supportive fellow faculty members, and have the educational luxuries I’d always dreamed about when I used to teach five classes (of 20-28 students per class), supervise two study halls a day, and have to plan my bathroom breaks.

The idea of schools having more money instead of better teachers sounds counter-intuitive, but there are numerous ways we benefit from a large endowment and a tuition- and donation-driven school. Faculty and staff are reimbursed for expenses. Students have to purchase books—so the books are less likely to be in bad condition, and the students can write and take notes in their books. Technology is readily available to students and faculty. Faculty can significantly cut down on “meetings” as well as stay in touch with each other better through the use of email. We have retreats, etc.


Christian Living

I actually started my summer thinking I would write a book. In case you’re really curious, you can read the start of my book. It ends in the middle of a sentence and there’s nothing after that. Enjoy!

I would imagine most published authors would write prefaces after they have completed their books: The work has been done–the preface is merely the icing on the cake, the trophy to congratulate the champion runner who has flown through the ribbon. I cannot resist, however, the pleasures of eating that icing, taking that trophy, before the cake is baked or the race run.

I’ve always enjoyed reading prefaces, hated introductions. Introductions tend to be either capsule summaries of what’s in the book or boring historical background that supposedly helps you understand the author’s intent. Prefaces, however, are a voyeuristic glance into the author’s mind: What drove her to write that? What difficulties did she face? What must I know before I read the book?

My experience with books has been a rocky relationship. I started off not reading at all. I opted instead for the more intellectual pursuits of television-watching and war toy-playing. Three key events changed my relationship with books. In fourth grade, my friend B. gave me a novel (either for Christmas or my birthday; I can’t remember which) entitled The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. The book sucked me in–I couldn’t stop reading. I loved it from beginning to end and, to this day, it remains my favorite novel. In eleventh grade, after entertaining the ideas of being a schoolteacher, a comic book artist, a postal worker and “Mr. Nobody” (not in that order), I took American Literature with Mr. H. It was then that I began to realize how much I appreciated literature. I can’t say there was any one book I favored from that course. In fact, I don’t think I particularly liked either The Scarlet Letter or The Great Gatsby at the time. “Roman Fever,” however, will remain one of my favorite short stories of all time. It was Wharton’s “Roman Fever” that baffled me, that caused me to think. It was the discussion of the story that opened my eyes to what I could not see and the fact I could not see it. And, finally, in twelfth grade, I took a recommendation from my friend D. to read two of her favorite books of the time, The Autobiography of Malcolm X and The Feminine Mystique, opening the doors to both my continued appreciation for non-fictional works as well as my passion for race theory and feminism.

Now I am an English teacher at an independent school in California. I help students learn to read carefully, to think critically, to write analytically, and to listen humbly to each other (and to me, of course). While teaching is a satisfying and enjoyable profession, while the rewards are many and the intellectual discourse exciting, I’ve found myself both at work and at home to be primarily a consumer. I have found myself, at this point in my spiritual life to be consuming churches. I have taken a sabbatical from ministry (not that I was ever a pastor, but ministry as any christian can participate in) and I now am a Sunday worshiper, looking to God only and not my peers. I’d like to emphasize that this is a sabbatical and not what I endorse as something to be perpetually a part of the christian’s life. I am a material consumer: having just moved recently, I am acquiring furniture, electronics, car insurance, groceries, cat food, etc. I am an intellectual consumer, reading, analyzing, preparing to teach literary texts; on my own time, reading, analyzing and digesting works of non-fiction.

For several years now, I have entertained the idea of writing a book. I’ve gone every which way about it—trying to write a collection of essays, trying to write a collection of short stories (which are now buried in a pile with the rest of the casualties from my stay in England—a Eurail pass, several expired phone cards, miscellaneous train and bus ticket stubs), and thinking about what might make an interesting novel. I had gone with the novel idea for a while, thinking, first of all, as an English teacher who helps students to analyze and consume literature, why could I not make an interesting novel to consume? So few of todays novels make it into the scholarly canon of literature (Toni Morrison pops into mind, as do only several others). I have a number of theories as to why. I will not take the purist route by saying that they just dont make them like they used to. We could make them as we used to, but then its already been done—it’s not exactly original to write Pride and Prejudice when Jane Austen’s already done so. Our spoken language (and by our I am speaking of the intellectual elite) has become quite colloquial (which, in some ways, is a good thing), and so it seems somehow artificial to write a book with flowery language and complex diction merely to satisfy the appetites of literary scholars. Books are also trying to keep up with the fast pace of Hollywood movies and are actually becoming Hollywood movies (Michael Crichton, John Grisham, Tom Clancy, etc.). I wanted to write a novel worth analyzing. I would try something new—no simple patterns, nothing preachy or trite, some fun, some reality. For instance, I was going to include descriptions of movements, facial expressions in addition to dialogue, but no physical descriptions of characters. I was going to write a book about Asian-Americans without making it some sob story about a girl’s struggle for independence, her mother’s suffering, some sexuality, and exotic food.

This all sounded good, but I realized I had so much to say that I could not say in a novel without being preachy, without transparent didacticism. And, in fact, some things I could not think of a way to say at all. Recently, as I’ve heard sermons at church, I’ve thought that I, too, could speak theology; that I, too, had something to say. I also remembered just how powerful Malcolm X’s and Betty Friedan’s books were and how powerless my psychology textbook from college was. My psychology textbook from college had appropriate footnotes, all sorts of scientific studies, cold (objective) explanations of concepts and a scholarly and authoritative tone. Malcolm X and Betty Friedan, however, while both citing some facts and statistics were primarily concerned with experience, the concrete, how theories related to their own lives, what needed to be changed—the subjectivity of dialogue served to empower their voices, supplemented only peripherally by statistics.

Model Over Scope
One concept that is important to understanding this book is the idea of model over scope. In essence, it is the approach of being more concerned about how to deal with the existence of a concept than in proving the prevalence of it. For instance, I will mention the stereotype of the white, liberal, intellectual atheist. I know full well that it is a stereotype and that while it may apply, in part, to a
great many people, not that many people will actually fit so neatly and squarely into the mold I have set up. It is not a straw man to attack. If you resemble the straw in any way, it is cause for self-examination. If you don’t, then don’t worry about it. I am not attempting to say either that any people fit entirely into any stereotype (or model) that I set up, nor do I speculate as to how widespread those models are. There are no statistics, for example, about how many white, liberal, intellectual atheists there are in California or in the United States. And, when I speak of “the church,” I am, of course, speaking of the limited number of churches I have run into in my experience. If your church does not resemble these in any way, then that’s fine. Go on your merry way.

The value of talking about model over scope is that you can talk in detail, keeping in mind how to practically change things without having intellectual filibuster bog your argument down with trivia about to what percent of the population your model actually applies. As an English teacher, I see this as akin to how we consume novels. Novels, rather than concerning themselves with facts, trivia, statistics and sociological trends, represent themselves as fiction intentionally so as to present some form of the truth apart from facts–they, in fact, deny the facts altogether to avoid discussions of degree or scope. If a novelist paints a vivid picture of a woman’s struggle between femininity, masculinity and the balance of power in her life, the novelist does not then need to say how many women struggle with those values or that any women do.

Dialogue Before Proof
Likewise, I am not concerned with proof. While facts are theoretically important to our understanding of life, the same facts are often easily manipulated and used to prove divergent points of view (for example, the Bible has been used to both favor and oppose slavery; intelligence tests have been used to “prove” both nature and nurture).

I am more concerned about dialogue. I believe in some moral and intellectual absolutes; In my experience, most people who claim that everything is relative are actually oblivious to their own values that they impose on others. However, in many spheres of discussion and debate, there is an assumption among certain contingents that what’s important to a debate or dialogue is whether one is right or wrong. While that is one important aspect to living, thinking, and socially interacting, it tends to ignore the fact that in most discussions about theology, literature, psychology, or almost any topic have a certain conventional wisdom attached and certain positions which either society or institutional structures deem more tenable or less in need of a defense. So, a radical or unconventional position does not merely have the burden of being either right or wrong but must prove itself even worth discussing. And, the radical or unconventional position, if not fully proven, if not fully carried out, if not fully implemented, loses by default to conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom does not need to fight to win. It is the rich who own publishing companies. It is a tall hill with an even taller tower. It is the norm.

Take literature, for example. Even though many traditional works of literature have come under attack for some reason or another (too much sex, violence, etc.), including Shakespeare, there is a way in which I, as an English teacher can feel safe in assuming that if I want to teach The Great Gatsby at a school, almost any school in the United States, public or private, in any region in the country, that the administration and other faculty will probably embrace the idea. It is a classic work of literature. Its value is, by default, unquestionable. If someone questions its value, she will have to make quite a case for not teaching it. And, even if she does convince that one school of Gatsby‘s lack of value, hundreds, indeed thousands, of other schools will continue to teach the book unquestioningly. I happen to like The Great Gatsby, but I’ve never had to explain why I wanted to teach it to anyone. And, in fact, Ive never even had to ask to teach it. Most of the time, it’s already part of the curriculum. When I wanted to teach David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly, however, I had a lot of explaining to do, a lot of justifying. In the end, I got to teach it at this one elite, independent school, but that does not mean it will be a regular fixture in the curriculum, nor does it mean that other schools will embrace the text, with its subversive take on gender roles, sexuality and race.

Now, I just went to great pains to explain the example of conventional wisdom versus radical positions in the world of literature and the canon. You knew that already, though, didn’t you? It wasn’t a surprise. Think about it. Did you really think, “Wow! He got to teach The Great Gatsby? I know of very few school districts that allow someone to teach that book unless the teacher gives a thorough explanation for doing so?” Did you really wonder why I had to explain wanting to teach M. Butterfly? How many of you actually have even read/ seen the play or even heard of it?

Hirsch’s idea of cultural literacy is a widespread concept, even before he gave it a name. When I am among a group of white, liberal, atheist intellectuals, I can assume the group will think a discussion about the changes in the comic book industry over the past two decades is a fringe discussion that may leave them either baffled or intrigued for only a few hours (and then never more). We all have a sense about what values and modes of discourse we can assume people have even before we meet them. That’s how American contemporary society functions. Unless we’re in a gay community, we assume everyone’s straight and then are surprised when we find out someone’s gay. We assume most strangers we meet have heard of the latest pop star, not the obscure garage band.

I’m not saying those assumptions are invalid. What we need to recognize, though, is that an argument about what’s a better movie, Foreign Correspondents or Goodfellas, is not an equal argument. Apart from the judgment of films being to a certain degree always subjective, Scorcese is an established filmmaker; Goodfellas has had much acclaim and has much more availability in video stores and websites. The burden of proof is really on the Foreign Correspondents fan, not the Goodfellas one.

So, another reason why I’m not that concerned about backing up my worldview with facts is because it’s so important for the issues to even be on the table, for people to even think about my points of view, more important than it is for people to agree with them. There are so many dichotomies that I have witnessed in discourse and so little room for a sensible and logical middle ground. As I was growing up, it was either creationism or evolution. There was no such thing as old-earth creationism versus young-earth creationism. It was always pro-choice or pro-life. There was never any pro-choice anti-abortion. It was always pro-Bible or pro-feminism. There was never any Biblical feminism. It was always bigots and liberals. There were never radicals and progressives.

Personal With Political
Along with the notion of being heard, of making noise, of opening up a dialogue, right or wrong, I am deeply committed to the personal being political. I abhor the expr
ession, I’m just concerned about fill-in-the-blank. I dont want to be political. A lack of religion is a religion. Likewise, a lack of political affiliation is a political affiliation. There is no neutrality. Neutrality is conventional wisdom. If you’re not fighting for M. Butterfly, you’re automatically fighting for The Great Gatsby. If you’re not fighting for Foreign Correspondents, you’re automatically fighting for Goodfellas. Now, again, I like The Great Gatsby and Goodfellas… but that’s not something I need to defend or write a book about. Those are established. I am simply acknowledging what is the default and what needs fighting for–not just to implement, not just to be right, but to even be considered or heard of.

No one can be objective. Every scholar, every scientist, every psychologist, every politician, everyone should know this deep down in her heart. The only academically honest solution to a lack of true objectivity is the recognition of subjectivity; the deep confession of subjectivity and the outing of any appearances of objectivity.

This is where white people have difficulty understanding why blacks needs to do things for themselves. This is where straight people have difficulty understanding why the queer community needs to do things for itself. And so on. You cannot always be right. You cannot always have the right position, stance, opinion, action. Sometimes it’s not up to you. That’s what frightens conventional wisdom, status quo and power–a lack of agency, not being able to do something. Perfect example of this is white people not understanding why it’s “okay” for blacks to say nigga but it’s not “okay” for whites to say nigger. That’s because there isn’t a universal “okay” for everybody. Each person is not just a person. Each person has a political identity. For better or worse, at the turn of the twenty-first century, part of our political identities as Americans is our race. A black person will know that if another black person says, “How my niggas doing?” that that first person will not deny her a job, tell racist jokes on the side, or commit hate crimes against black people. As an Asian-American, I know that if a fellow Asian-American talks about Lucy Liu having “chinky eyes” I have nothing to fear from her. She will not assume that I like computers, that I am a hard worker, that I am an immigrant. She will not find my cultural heritage “fascinating” or “exotic.” She will not commit hate crimes against Asian people. It almost goes without saying… a white person should not use the word chink.

A person’s history (familial, racial, political) informs our understanding of her position. Malcolm X inspired me not just because of what he believed and spoke but because of what he had gone through. How else can his speech about “plymouth rock land[ing] on us” have so much power unless he felt that landing, unless he is a part of the “us”?

And white people’s constant harping that they “do not see race” is just a joke among people of color. We know that whites see race because they’re the ones who “raced” us in the first place and who continue to see race in us. We can see the message in society over and over again, that white is authoritative, neutral/ objective, universal. Black, yellow, red, brown are ethnic, exotic, familial, subjective, colored by culture, heritage, superstitions, etc.

You can see the white-universal/ color-subjective dynamic in literature–even though Asians, and even Amy Tan herself, acknowledge and insist that Joy Luck Club does not represent the Asian-American experience (supposing there is one and not many), it is mainly white people who tend to see it not as a universal story of mother-daughter relationships, but as Asian-American literature. As an English teacher, I know how difficult it is not to tokenize ethnic or women’s literature. In forming my courses, I always try to include something non-canonical (or in the “New Canon”), but oftentimes I (and/or my colleagues and students) accidentally view those inclusions as “the ethnic book,” “the African-American book,” “the woman’s book.” And how can we not? There is such a rich body of literature in the English language. Unfortunately, a large section of the canon which we cannot and should not abandon happens to have been written by dead, white, usually straight, usually educated (and rich) males. I have to admit, Im hard-pressed to think of even five books written by Asian-Americans that have great literary merit. As an Asian-American intellectual, however, I know that is not because we Asians lack the brainpower or creativity to write great works of literature. After all, in almost every culture with a written language there is great literature. The ability to write great literature is not tied to race.

Why is it so important to assert the lack of connection between race and the ability to write great literature? There is no separation between statements and the race of the person who has made the statement or the race of the person the statement is about. I stated before that as an Asian-American who considers himself to have brainpower, to have creativity, I can make the statement that good Asian-American literature is hard to find without insulting Asian people. However, if a white person says good Asian literature is hard to find, she may believe it is due to a lack of opportunity or social pressures, but she may also be tempted to believe that Asians are just not prone to creativity or literary pursuits. Perhaps, she may speculate, they are more science-minded. It is much easier and more dangerous to make statements about others than to make them about yourself, your own race, gender, or other identification.

In her heart, everyone knows this to be true, yet in some arenas (race, in particular), whites imagine that they can make any statement about race as long as it’s “true” and it doesn’t matter that they’re white making the statement or some other color making the statement. Think about social etiquette, though. Do we not often put ourselves down to be polite, to be modest? “Oh, I’m not really all that.” “Thank you, but its so-and-so that deserves most of the credit. All I did was…” Those statements are personal. They are not absolutely true, no matter who makes them. A scenario in which a football player gave credit to his teammates for a game’s victory he obviously made a major contribution to seems appropriately chivalrous. A scenario in which the teammates celebrate after their win how much they did not need that star player in order to win would show both arrogance and a lack of appreciation on the part of the team, and leave the player feeling bitter or ostracized. In each scenario, someone is giving more credit of the win to the team rather than the player, but who’s saying it determines the ultimate effect.

Not only do white people often ignore this dynamic in talks about race, but almost every category of person tends to ignore this dynamic in discussions about religion. Religious scholars of every denomination, religion or atheism all have agendas, all have prejudices, biases, and preconceived notions of the truth. Yet they pretend whatever truth or facts they have found they can objectively analyze. I’m not saying there isn’t any point to examining what is truth or what the facts are. It is important to any discussion to recognize that who the messenger of the truth is colors the way we view it.

Jesus tells us not to judge others. He repeatedly says so throughout the gospels. The reason he gives is not that the others are not doing anything worth judging. It is because it is not our place to illuminate, emphasize, or vocalize that particular truth. What we say is not as important as who we are that are saying it.

Ordinal Values
Truth is a funny thing. I can’t say that I’m the fir
st to make a distinction between truth and facts. Oftentimes, though, it is easy to confuse the two. Im not endorsing a relativistic stance. I do believe there are universal truths as well as a type of universal ethics. As C. S. Lewis did, I believe that people adhere to universal truths and morals whether they like to believe it or not. The encapsulated (and thus, watered down version) of his argument is basically that any judgment we make on people’s behaviors assumes universality of standards. If the philosophy “to each her own” really applied in life to a large degree, we would excuse everyone’s behaviors and differences of opinions as “that’s just what they believe.” Sometimes we do. If someone likes coconut ice cream and another can’t stand coconuts, usually both parties will let the difference in tastes slide. Even if one person is a Republican and another a Democrat, they will each think themselves in the right and the other the wrong, but will likely say, “Let’s agree to disagree.” They may not even say so aloud but might come to an unspoken agreement. However, a racist and an anti-racist often have difficulty coming to terms with each other. So might a warhawk and a peacenik. So might a fundamentalist Christian and a die-hard atheist. So might a nudist and a prude. There is a spectrum of both morality and truth, on one end there being differences of value which compose the necessary diversity that makes life interesting, on the other unshakeable tenets and basic values no one will stand to have challenged (usually).

In the modest number of years I have spent upon the earth, there are several truths or morals Ive encountered that most people feel to be universal, even if they are not, and even if they may, in fact, be wrong (in my opinion, of course):

    1. The sanctity of life
    2. That the taking of life is an extreme act (whether necessary or abhorrent)
    3. The undesirability of hypocrisy
    4. Passion and direction
    5. Humility
    6. Growth
    7. The expression of respect
    8. Intelligence
    9. Wisdom
    10. Self-preservation

There are many others. Now again, I qualify this list by saying that these are often what people feel to be universal, not what are universal, necessarily. What does seem to be universal is both the set of possible universals emphasized to different degrees (so that in the case that several potential universals contradict each other, one takes precedence over the other) and the mere existence of a value system. For instance, I believe in God’s burden for the poor, the suffering, and the underprivileged. I also believe in the musical expression of worship to God. Another Christian may believe in both as well, but if the musical expression of worship to God and caring for the poor come into conflict, I may choose to care for the poor, and she may choose to sing to God. In both cases we have a value system. We also share a pool of values but do not choose from the pool in the same way. Many people seek to protect others as well as themselves. When others attack you, however, sometimes you must choose to protect either yourself or them. It is not always possible to keep them from damaging you and to keep yourself from damaging them.

Most preachers and devoted Christians do not often speak about ordinal values—that one part of the Bible may have a stronger message, may be more important than another part, that one value may be more important than another value. Yet they often express their set of ordinal values by what they choose to emphasize either in practice or in speech. A Christian who spends most of her time converting people, doing her quiet time, and worshiping God has made a value choice. These are all good things she is doing, but they also leave certain other things undone. A preacher who spends most of her time covering Genesis, Romans, and Ephesians is purposefully leaving out Hosea, Habakkuk and Revelation.

Now, it isn’t bad to have ordinal values. We must—not only because there isn’t enough time to cover everything in the Bible, not only because there isn’t enough time to do everything we want to do: we must have ordinal values because Jesus himself has ordinal values. He decrees that there is, in fact, a commandment that is the greatest and one that is the second greatest. Not all commandments are of equal value. We should recognize, though, that we have ordinal values. Only then can we open up a dialogue about whether or not we are emphasizing the right things. That’s the tricky thing about truth. I will often have disagreements with other Christians not about the facts but about the truth. And the truth is often not about whether the facts are right or not—it’s about what facts you leave out and what facts you leave in and which ones you emphasize.

I have written this preface to color the way you read this [currently incomplete] book [set of essays?]. It is not a sociological text. It is not fiction. It is not academic study. First, before you disagree with anything I write (and you probably will, at some point), consider model over scope. I may present problems but they are problems—I am not speaking about the degree to which they are problems, simply that the problems exist. Second, consider dialogue before proof. It is much more important to me that what I present, what I propose, what I write is presented, proposed, written, than that it is correct or correctly argued. Once the opinion is on the floor, once I have gotten you to think, to challenge yourself and your assumptions, then you can wonder about what proof might support or refute what I have written. Third, remember that the political is always personal. I do not say these things as an ultimate, objective authority. I say them as “I.” I say them based on my experience. Lastly, keep in mind that I am not disputing facts; I am affirming what I believe to be the truth: Model over scope, dialogue before proof, personal with political, and ordinal values.

The word church has several connotations in popular culture, religion and history. It can refer to a building, a rock band, a cult, a gathering of people, or a corrupt political force. Ever since I was born, I followed my parents around to any number of Chinese churches—Evangelical or non-denominational, usually composed of middle-aged Chinese (mostly Mandarin-speaking, some Cantonese-speaking) immigrants and American-born Chinese teenagers and young children. Occasionally there would be one or two black or white people in the congregation, maybe a few Koreans as well. Never any Japanese. No Latinos as far as I could tell.

While I feel God has called me to be a part of some church in a spiritual capacity, I cannot help always thinking of churches in a political capacity. There, of course, lurks in my mind the horrifying past of the European church colored by torture, oppression, slavery, conquest, corruption, racism, sexism, and animal cruelty, among other things. I’ve often found that there are historically informed political trends and divisions as far as faces I’ve seen in the media and at visits to churches and church conferences, as well as friends and acquaintances in my social circles. I am speaking of trends and what I have seen which may or may not coincide with sociological data. This is anecdotal and personal testimony, not hard social science; model, not scope.

There are the white, liberal, intellectual atheists. Speaking strictly in terms of models (not individuals), I see these as WASPs or Catholics who are not the children of immigrants but whose families have been in the US for at least two or three generations (if not since the Mayflower). Their parents may have been hippies or their parents may have forced them to attend church when they were young. They are not proud of the racist attitudes of their parents, but they usually do not do much to promote antiracism themselves. They feel that they are rebelling by turning their backs on their Christian heritage and that they are somehow more intellectual, more progressive than naiv
e, brainwashed, blind-faith religious Christians who are still following a scientifically backward, historically oppressive and imperialistic, patriarchal, sexually repressed, racist tradition.

There are the conservative, Bible-belt Southern Christians (black and white—though, the white ones are more prominent in the media). Perhaps this is my own bias coming out, but it seems to me logical to lump the televangelists in this group. They’re outspoken, proud of their heritage, always opinionated, always feeling there’s “something wrong” with this country, while simultaneously being overly patriotic.

The Latino and black communities have their predominantly Catholic and Baptist traditions, respectively. I have to confess that I know very little about these traditions, as Chinese churches tend to have almost nothing to do with Latinos or blacks.

I grew up with a community of (mostly conservative) Chinese Christians, young people whose parents are Christian but who did not necessarily come from a long Christian tradition. For example, my brother and I are Christian, and so are my parents and one of my aunts, but no one else in my family (including my grandparents and cousins) is. Among Koreans, there is a long (and strong) tradition of Christianity. And then there are any number of marginalized or developing communities that have embraced Christianity in the past fifty years in amazing numbers—Latin America, Native America, Africa, South Asia…

There are three major trends I see in the church today: a European tradition of Christianity embracing or denying its religious heritage, a number of nonwhite populations becoming part of a sweeping movement of evangelism, and a rarely occurring commitment to a multiethnic Christian church. After graduating from college, I sought after this last set of churches. The Chinese churches were too conservative, too political (pro-Bush, pro-Reagan pulpits; internal political division); the white churches too white. The closest I could find to God’s vision for the church were these multiethnic churches. Multiethnic is still not utopian, though. These churches are usually led by a white male pastor. Theyre usually predominantly white, largely Asian (and of that Asian population, largely Korean), with a spattering of Latinos, Blacks, and white internationals (British and Australians) and Asian internationals (overseas-born Asians). They are in major cities—New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago. What appeals to me about these churches, despite their racial trends, is the refreshing attitude the congregants and leadership take toward worship and the idea of church. Church is often not a building, especially because the church does not have the money to own a building—it rents or borrows space from local schools or community centers. Worship is non-traditional, replacing organs, pianos and hymns with drums, basses, synthesizers and hip praise songs.

Most importantly, these few multiethnic evangelical churches I’ve encountered have not compromised the central tenets of the Christian faith, have abandoned many meaningless or dangerously entrapping rituals of the traditional church, and are seeking more and more to reach out to the surrounding community.

The church I grew up in repeatedly told me to make a distinction between religion and faith. I do think there is a value to making that distinction. I also feel that distinction is a little false. The value is that separating faith (a system of belief and action) from religion (a system of rituals indirectly linked to belief) allows us to examine the meaning of our actions. There are two reasons I think the distinction is false. It’s false in a practical sense, as are many arguments about semantics: when someone asks me what religion I am, I do not say, “I’m not religious, but I’m of the Christian faith.” My religion is Christianity. I can expound upon that. I can describe in great detail the distinction between faith and religion. That’s not what the persons asking about, and it really does not change their perception of Christianity; just as if someone asks me what race I am, I say that I’m Asian. I don’t go on a long tirade about how complicated the notion of race is and that it is an ideological construction, etc. Yes, it is a construction, but until it is deconstructed, it exists, just as any physical construction (think: building) does.

The distinction I will make that is not false is between “being religious” and “taking my faith seriously.” If someone asks me what religion I am, I will answer that I’m a Christian, but if someone asks me if I am religious, I will say that I take my faith seriously. Likewise, if someone asks me what country I’m from or where I’m from (this person is usually white, by the way; most people of color are savvy enough to realize I’m from America), I say where I’m from. I do not say I’m from Hong Kong. I’m not. If they ask me what my heritage is or where my parents are from, that’s a different story: my parents are from Hong Kong. White people, of course, think I’m just being nitpicky or have a chip on my shoulder, but what right do they have to foreign-ize me, to exoticize me, when I am more American than they are? That’s right, more American, because I do believe all humans are created equal–I do not just say it; more American, because I know I am descended from immigrants–I dont pretend to have been here forever.

I have a white friend who’s a staunch atheist. She’s intelligent, was practically the valedictorian of her class in high school (she may have actually been–I don’t remember), went to a prestigious Ivy League school, and she cannot fathom how an intelligent person (though I never got the grades she got) like me could seriously believe in Christianity. Ironically, it is I, the religious one who does not believe in traditions and rituals that have outlived their original purposes or meanings, and it is she, the non-religious one, who denies faith but finds beauty and comfort in the rituals of the church she grew up (but does not believe) in.

I’ve often questioned many rituals, and no one has given me a satisfactory answer about them. Keep in mind that I’m speaking of the large number of churches that I have attended. I realize there are a handful of denominations and individual churches to which these questions do not apply. Why do we always have to have a sermon every Sunday? Why pass around buckets, baskets, or bags to collect offering during service?

Im not doubting that there is a reason for these things to occur, I just feel morally outraged that no one has ever bothered to explain the meaning of these rituals to me. At least the way I have seen sermons typically handled, the notion seems ludicrous: usually one, though sometimes a handful, of pastors have to come up with a thirty-minute (if you’re lucky) to hour and a half (if you’re not so lucky) sermon every week. Keep in mind that sermons are not academic study. They aren’t classes. Sermons are more like books; they sometimes involve humor, entertain, instruct, include anecdotes and/or research, and have to hold the attention of twenty to 6,000 congregants. Ive heard many complaints and have to confess I myself have complained of the lack of quality in sermons. They are often repetitious, uninspiring, trite, offensive, or poorly organized. Why shouldn’t they be, though? Pastors have the job of a newspaper columnist with no editor and also have a lot of other responsibilities. I’m not sure how much columnists have to do outside of writing their columns, but I know pastors have to attend dinners, perform wedding ceremonies, visit their congregation members, run Bible studies, and attend deacon board meetings, among other things. All this, and they have to come up with an inspiring sermon every Sunday? No wonder the quality fades so quickly.

Too often I have sat in Sunday service either thinking, “This sermon is too long,” “Didn’t I hear this one before?” or “You went to seminary to learn that?” It’s not the best attitude to have in church, I know. I should be focusing on
God. I should be appreciating his servants. I’d always thought that other parts of the worship service should go on as they usually do, and if the pastor feels inspired, then we can hear a sermon. Who wants to hear an uninspired sermon? And why should the pastor ever feel pressured to come up with something?

What’s with the baskets at worship? I’m not a Biblical scholar, of course, but I have yet to find a passage in the Bible indicating that we should pass around baskets (bags or trays, whatever) when giving our offering to God. In fact, Jesus’ directive that “you should not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret” (Matthew 6:3-4, NIV) seems to indicate that the offering receptacle should be in as private a place as possible. Granted, he was talking about giving to the poor, but his rationalization (that you should not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men) seems to follow for almost anything that could be construed as religious or good (he makes a similar statement in other parts of the Sermon on the Mount dealing with prayer and fasting).

Communion. Ah, there’s an interesting part of service. In every church I’ve been in, the leaders of the church have been finicky about people either being baptized or merely Christian to participate in Holy Communion, and usually the leaders insist everyone wait until all the congregants have the elements (bread/ matzo and wine/ grape juice) before symbolically consuming Jesus body and blood. I’m assuming this comes from I Corinthians 11:21, in which Paul scolds the church of Corinth, saying, “as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anyone else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk” (NIV). Again, I am not a religious scholar, so I may be wrong. If I’m wrong, it is almost all the better. As I have stated before, I am mostly concerned about opening up a dialogue. These are things I do not often hear questioned. Merely bringing to light issues is more important than what the light shining on them might reveal. I can imagine, though, that the church in Corinth is not a church with a steeple, etc. It is someone’s home. And their worship service isn’t a service as we know it today, with a pulpit, pipe organ, and pews. From what Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians (in translation, I know, but I can’t read Greek), it sounds to me as if the Corinthians were getting together to have dinner for communion and instead of recognizing that it is Christ’s blood they are drinking or his body they are eating in remembrance of Christ, they are merely eating and drinking haphazardly, and, I would imagine, literally getting drunk. The context seems to support this idea, because Paul then goes on to say that “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord” (I Corinthians 11:27, NIV). It isn’t the worshipers attending an organized Sunday service and eating their wafers a second too early who are eating in an unworthy manner. I do recognize there is a solemnity and community-building aspect to having everyone eat her wafer at the same time, drinking her cup at the same time, but I also see that pastors are adding a certain death and doom to the act that might be a misappropriated admonition. The context is not the same at all.

What about the church service, itself? Well, in the churches I have attended, there is a Sunday service, possibly a separate, more charismatic service, a singles group, a couples group, various Bible study groups that meet once a week, a youth group, a children’s worship service, and a non-English service (either Chinese or Korean, depending on what church I was attending). These are all valid forms of worship. What I have found encouraging is that in the past few years, churches seem to have become more and more concerned with how they fit into their surrounding communities, how they serve their surrounding communities.

But what exists is not what has to exist. I’ve found my fellow Christians do not even try to understand people’s need to get away. After my first year in college, I decided that I needed a break from church, a break. I was disillusioned with church services, with Bible studies… I needed some time alone with God. When I told my Christian friends and family about even considering taking a break, I was surprised by their knee-jerk and negative responses. Most people told me essentially that taking a break from church was wrong, morally wrong, that it was also dangerous (i.e. that would be the first step to backsliding, falling away from God, no longer being a Christian–though the idea that you can un-Christian yourself is something Christians have debated even before Goethe’s Faust). I didn’t understand where this was coming from. In fact, two forces seemed to be driving the backlash I experienced: fear of change and fear of Satan.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with church as it is usually structured. A morning Sunday service that includes music, testimony/ preaching, fellowship time/ lunch, communion, offering, and a benediction; various church events, retreats, community service, and Bible studies… these are all good things, but they are not necessary, and when you are a Christian and you choose to step away from those things (even for a short while), you can expect to be treated like an outcast, like the prodigal son (before his return). All I wanted was some time alone with God, away from the politics of the church and fellowship, away from the hypocrisy. I think there’s Biblical precedent for this, as well. Didn’t Moses spend time in the wilderness? Didn’t Jesus? Didn’t John the Baptist? Those times in the wilderness, although sometimes trials of faith, were not negative events or times. Those were times to concentrate on God, to fast, to hear his voice, to get away from people. That’s all I wanted. Ironically, it was people’s irrational fear of my going away from God that kept me further from the church and fellowship. I was even more disgusted by the religion of the church taking over the faith of the church, the tradition of the church taking over the rationality of the church.

The fear of Satan is an interesting thing. Many Christians will use Satan as a scare tactic a la Jonathan Edwards: hellfire and brimstone, as the saying goes. He is the bogey man. He is a force to be reckoned with. Watch out! He’ll get you, if you’re not careful. That isn’t what the Bible tells us, though. All this worry about backsliding, temptation and falling into the wrong hands is the type of fear that God does not encourage us to embrace and perpetuate. Although I am often critical of the church and church structures, the small group Bible study I had while in high school has still left its mark on me, and from it I well remember Paul’s admonition from I Corinthians 10:13 that

[n]o temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (NIV).

So why fear Satan? Why fear losing faith? If we truly follow God, if we truly believe God to be all-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving, how can we fear? I’m not saying we should underestimate the Satan, but we know we have a support system. I love the phrase “he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” We are truly strong with God, and we should not ever imagine that as long as we make a genuine commitment to follow him that we’re ever “in danger” of falling away.

Christianity Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

A Christian Perspective on “Homosexuality”

Growing up in a non-denominational, evangelical church in America, I often heard the phrase “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” Christians usually used it in reference to “homosexuality.” The funny thing is… no one around me demonstrated that love for the sinner. It was really “Hate the sin and the sinner.” The Bible tells us to set ourselves apart from the world and the thinking of the world, but Christians often interpret this to mean that we should judge other people and make ourselves seem more holy (which would go against everything Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount). Really, though, it’s not setting ourselves apart to hate gays—plenty of people in the world hate gays.

When I’m with uptight Christian friends (UCFs, for short), and they see a gay person on tv, their reaction is not one of love—it’s one of disgust: “Ew. That’s so gross.” I’ve also heard UCFs refer to AIDS as God’s punishment for gay people. No UCFs get upset when they hear about anti-gay violence. In fact, they tend to think it’s great. UCFs often have no qualms about using the term “fag,” “faggot,” or “dyke.” The discrepancy lies in how they treat other “sinful behavior.” UCFs, when seeing heterosexual allusions to premarital sex may (if prodded) say it’s “wrong,” but rarely (above the age of 15) will UCFs react with an “Ew, that’s so gross.” They do not make up derogatory terms for people engaging in premarital sex, and UCFs do get upset if promiscuous people get beat up for no reason. So, why is there a discrepancy? Theoretically, if it’s both sinful to engage in premarital (and/or promiscuous) heterosexual sex, shouldn’t UCFs regard it in the same way as the sin of engaging in gay sex?

It goes a step further, though. UCFs will be disgusted even by straight men who act “gay.” Any sign of effeminacy both male and female UCFs will think is “wussy” or “gay.” Again, this is not setting apart from the world… it is being the world. Being set apart from the world means actually hating the sin, and loving the sinner. Because all of my liberal non-Christian friends love the sin and the sinner, and all of my conservative Christian and non-Christian friends hate the sin and the sinner; it seems logical that the godly stance is to actually love the sinner and hate the sin.

What does that mean, though? Well, first of all, as Christians, I think we need to recognize that being gay is only sinful if you are a Christian… I mean, sure, you could argue non-Christians can be sinful, too, they just don’t realize it, but that’s the whole point—they don’t realize it! Just as it behooves everyone to use proper grammar, I’m not in the place to correct everyone’s mistakes, because not everyone has agreed to that arrangement–only my students have. We may all be subject to God’s judgment (and redemption), but if people have not entered into a contract (or covenant) with God, it won’t make sense to them when we chastise them for not living up to laws they don’t agree with.

Secondly, we need to treat the “sinfulness” of being gay just as any other sin. There’s nothing in the Bible that indicates that it is a worse sin to be gay than to commit any other sin. Jesus himself never mentions homosexuality; he spends most of his time blasting hypocrites, gossips, etc.; and James writes, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10, NIV). We need to be careful how we focus our energies.

Thirdly, if we’re loving the sinner, we need to treat the sinner as a human being. Violence against human beings is not okay. Human beings living in fear of their lives or verbal attack is not okay. Human beings not being able to marry or have relationships of their own choice is not okay. That’s right. I’m an anti-homosexuality, pro-same-sex-marriage Christian. Until gay people convert to Christianity and realize being gay is wrong, they should have every right to make mistakes because they don’t know any better. And just as we do not pass laws forbidding hypocrisy, gossip, judging others, or pre-marital sex, it doesn’t make sense to pass laws forbidding gay marriage.

Lastly, to follow up #3, Christians should be the first ones advocating for the rights of gays—to live, to not be discriminated against, to marry, to be proud and out… only when Christians fight for those rights will gays be able to actually believe Christians love them while hating their “sin.”

Now, of course, since some of my readers are non-Christian, they’ll probably be appalled that I even think being gay is sinful, but I think my ideas are unconventional enough that the mere fact that someone thinks the way I do should be worth a good read by both non-Christians and Christians alike.

A little bit about people being “born” gay: It’s not something people choose consciously. I don’t think it makes sense to say it’s “biologically determined” either. Very few things are “biologically determined.” I was born right-handed. I wanted to be ambidextrous when I was six or seven and I started writing with my left hand. I didn’t realize I had to keep practicing with my right hand. So now I do everything with my right hand (play sports, sharpen pencils, use scissors, use chopsticks, etc.) except write with a pencil, pen, or paintbrush. If it were “biologically determined” that I was right-handed, I would not need to practice writing with my right hand to keep it. However, I did have a biological predisposition to right-handedness; just as some people have a biological predisposition to left-handedness. The tragedy with forcing lefties to write with their right hands isn’t so much that it’s “unnatural” or “forced” as that it demonizes left-handedness. You need to change because there’s something wrong with you. So must any sensible argument go against changing gay people. We are not going against nature to say gay people can be… not gay. We are merely invalidating something people view as a part of their identity (I’ll return to this idea later). However, we cannot say that anything that goes against “nature” is wrong. I’m naturally pre-disposed to getting diabetes when I’m older. I’m also naturally pre-disposed (moreso than my brother or father) to developing plaque and tartar. I will do everything in my power to fight these tendencies, because I view them as wrong.

More to the point, though, the typical objection then is that gay people are not a sickness, not wrong, not damaging to teeth. Well, the problem is that most people in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries believe that people have been gay since the beginning of time. I, too, believed this before I took a course at college on the history of gay communities and cultures (taught by a gay professor who was extremely ex-hippie). People have not, in fact, been gay since the beginning of time. People have practiced same-sex sex since the beginning of time. It is only since the turn of the twentieth century (the late nineteenth, starting with Oscar Wilde) that people started thinking of gay behavior as part of a new kind of identity. Just as now if a person teaches for a living (as I do) we call her a “teacher.” But if someone eats pistachio ice cream on a regular basis we don’t call her a “pistachio ice creamer.” The development of the gay identity was, in a sense, a defense against extreme homophobia. I can bungee jump a few times every month without being called a “bungee jumper.” And even if people called me a “bungee jumper,” they wouldn’t be so much insulting me as just being plain imprecise. However, once people have same-sex thoughts or one or two same-sex experiences, they feel the pressure to categorize themselves because society categorizes them. Look at message boards, letters columns, etc. People are always asking questions like, “I fantasized about my best friend. Does that make me a lesbian?” or “One time I sucked my friend’s dick just to experiment. Am I gay?”

The underlying question isn’t really “Does that make me a lesbian?” or “Am I gay?” It’s really, “What will other people think of me?” Just as I can try pistachio ice cream (a rather nasty flavor) and not wonder, “Is this going to detract from my vanilla and cookies ‘n’ cream status?” That’s because there is not a vanilla and cookies ‘n’ cream status. There is, however, a het status. The idea of fantasizing once about a girl friend making a girl a lesbian or of sucking someone’s dick once making a boy gay has the implicit assumption that there is a hetero status that needs defending. I can straddle the ice cream flavor line or the bungee jumping activity line as much as I want. Once I’m forced to pick a side, that’s when I have to develop an identity. Another way to think about it is a world without borders… no countries, no states, no cities, no villages; just houses, swimming pools, work buildings, cars, bikes, people, boats, etc. People could come and go as they please. Yes, we might actually name some regions, but there wouldn’t be as strong a sense of “belonging” to one area because the boundaries are not stringent. Well, we live in a world where boundaries are stringent. Even people with dual citizenship have had to ally themselves with two countries instead of all countries. My being an “American” goes beyond merely permanently residing in America. It is my culture. It is my community. And it is the law. If I leave I need my passport. I cannot come and go as I please. I need visas and/or employment to stay in other countries for an extended period of time.

You can probably see where I’m going with this. Back in the times the Bible was written, there were no people who said, “I’m gay.” Neither were there straight people. There were just people. And most people ended up married to someone of the other gender at some point. There weren’t gay people. There was same-sex sex. There were men sleeping with men (often as a recreational or religious activity) and women sleeping with women. No one questioned that these men loved their wives or that these women loved their husbands. If someone talked to his best buddy and said, “I just fucked that guy in the ass,” the other guy wouldn’t reply, “What are you—gay?!” He’d probably reply, “That’s great. How’s the wife?”

It’s only because society (and not just religious society) punishes people for straying from heterosexuality (not so much on the grounds that it’s wrong, but more on the grounds that it is sick or somehow less-than-human) that people who have had gay thoughts and feelings have felt the need to defend their gay tendencies, to conceive of a gay identity. When you attack gay behavior these days you cannot do so without offending a gay person. Now, it is not just behavior. It’s identity.

How do I know it’s the “sick” and “less-than-human” accusations that made people form identities out of sexuality and not the “immoral” charge? Well, as I said before, plenty of people think it’s “immoral” to have pre-marital sex, to gossip, to lie, to be hypocritical, to cheat, etc. We do not have identities for these behaviors as strong as the identities for sexuality. If I gossip once or twice, no one will accuse me of being “a gossip.” Nor will I write into a letter column and say, “I gossiped about a friend once. Am I a gossip?” But one time I remarked that Jonathan Rhys-Meyers was hot (in Bend It Like Beckham) and my wife teased me about it that whole day. I told her that was the reason there is so much homophobia these days. Guys can’t admire another guy without someone accusing them of being gay or not-fully-heterosexual. Whereas women can say a woman is hot and no one bats an eyelash (which alludes to the double standard with lipstick lesbianism—as opposed to butch-femme lesbianism—being chic… surely, a discussion for another time).

What we need to do is revert to a society where sexuality is fluid. There should be no identity around sexuality. It should be viewed mainly as behavior. Listen to Dave Schmelzer’s sermon on gay marriage



To the best of my knowledge, everyone in the youth group expects to get married. Why is this so? It’s tradition. Everyone gets married if they[sic] have a choice, right? So, what am I going to say now? Am I demanding that we all remain celibate? Not really.

What does [the] Bible say about celibacy? Let’s take a look at what Jesus says and what Paul says. Then, we’ll glance back at Genesis. In Matthew 19:31, Jesus says, in reply to his disciples’ question regarding the benefits of not getting married, that we should accept it [celibacy] if we can, but not [accept it], if we can’t. He implies that marriage [is] only around as God'[s] gift to us because some people choose not to remain celibate. Feel free to read the passage to explore the context further. Paul says in I Corinthians 7:41-50 that it is better for people not to marry, “but if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Feel free to read the passage to explore the context further.

That sounds an awfully lot [as if] God doesn’t like marriage. He does, though. Genesis 2:26 reaffirms the notion that marriage is cool with God, especially since he designed it. Feel free to read the passage to explore the context further.

So what’s my point? When a youth like myself approaches a fellow Christian seriously with the question of remaining celibate, he is often not encouraged to stick with such ideas as permanently abstaining from marriage. However, suppose a youth like myself approaches a fellow Christian seriously with the question of [getting married]. He is warmly greeted with a plea to pray for the right spouse that God will prepare for him. Why is that? Let’s stop. Celibacy should not be as rare as exorcism or speaking in tongues. Neither Paul nor Jesus tells us that it is good for a man to speak in tongues, but if he cannot control his mouth, then he shouldn’t [with the possible exception of I Corinthians 14]. Do not discourage those who wish to remain unmarried. [Celibacy] is God-honoring and good.