controversial

#notmyOGHS — The @PCUSA_SO ‘s spectacular ad failure #presbyterian

Well, the PCUSA has done it again in terms of missing the mark (big time) and branding/marketing only this time, instead of a relatively cute dog in a pink sweater, it’s a campaign that makes plays on stereotypes of race and gender and portrays the recipients of mission not as vital members of the body of Christ with whom we can partner, but poor recipients in need of various types of handouts. Let’s take a closer look. For this post I want to focus on the two images which are the most disturbing to me. Incidentally, these are two of the images that are not highlighted in the PCUSA’s news article that has been receiving a lot of traffic in the last few days. I can speak to the first image directly and out of personal experience because it features a woman. Take a look:

put in her place

A beautiful young and confident looking woman with the bold headline that says “Needs to be put in her place” with smaller type that says “Math 101 to be precise” and then even smaller type talking about how a gift to the Christmas Joy offering can provide schooling to girls who need it. It’s clever and provocative advertising, to be sure. It’s edgy. I like the typography. It looks professional. One problem: It hurts.  I’m not as beautiful as that woman, but I’d like to think I have the same level of confidence. And guess what? People have said that I need to be put in my place. The intent of this ad is to say “Oh look, some people say women need to be put in their place, we’re saying that women need help and support to get an education. See? We turned it upside down!” Yes, yes, they did. I get it. Get it as I may, I look at that image and I see myself in that photo and I think of all of the times men have said subtly (or boldly) “That’s ok, sweetheart, we got this one.”  The ad is intentionally offensive. The second ad I’m going to talk about is much harder to write about because it hurts even more. It’s truly an embarrassment to the denomination I love:

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A young African American boy juxtaposed against the words “Needs help with recurring anger issues.” Then in smaller print “his country’s” then in smaller print words about how the world is unjust and full of famine. This ad reminds me of two friends I’ve spoken with about how it is to parent an African American boy. In both cases, the mothers choke up as they talk about the sense of powerlessness they feel as their sons experience the type of racism that this ad is based around. The ad’s intent, again, is to say “we’re not saying African American boys are angry! We’re saying the world is an unjust place!” Yet no matter how you dress it up, the fact remains that, in the context of everything we have been through as a nation, the PCUSA approved an ad campaign where a young African American boy is juxtaposed against the words “recurring anger issues.” I can’t imagine the hurt this ad causes African American sisters and brothers. I would encourage you to comment on the posts, though, so that those responsible can begin to reflect on the hurt these ads have caused. My boys are Colombian Americans. It’s a stereotype that Colombians are drug dealers. How would I have felt if there were an ad with a little Colombian boy and really large type floating around that said “Looking for Some Coke” and then in smaller type it says “Coca-Cola, that is. Buy these boys a soda!” I would be heartbroken. I wouldn’t think it was edgy or appropriate or funny or a way to raise funds. I think I would put my face in my hands and have a good cry. This ad is inflicting a similar pain on my mama friends who have black boys. I hurt for them. I am ashamed this ad has anything to do with my denomination. How could they not know that this would be a problem?   I was not around for the process of approving these ads and discussing them. Through the beauty of the internets, however, it appears that the powers that be did know about the concerns and chose to ignore them. What were they thinking? Seriously. What. Were. They. Thinking.? It’s ok to hurt people as long as a lot of money is raised? It’s provocative and that’s a good thing? It appears that the intent of these ads is to make them unforgettable and memorable. They are that, for sure, but at what cost? At the cost of actually hurting people. Not only are the ads plays on race and gender stereotypes, they seem to go against the model of partnership and mutuality that the PC(USA) tries to excel at. Our missionaries are called “mission co-workers” our Hunger, Peacemaking and Disaster programs seek to work at a level that is not “you vs. me” but rather “us.” We have an entire grantmaking organization called “Self Development of People (SDOP)” that seeks to empower grassroots organizations. Each of the ads proposed by this campaign sets up the giver as someone who can help the “other.” At no time is it ever suggested that the girl who needs to be “put in her place” is a partner in all of this. (And we didn’t really mean she needs to be put in her place, it’s just a ‘made ya look’ type of thing) This ad campaign needs to be removed and an apology issued.  We wanted to do the right thing and raise a lot of money for causes we all believe in and we went too far. We should have listened to minority voices and we didn’t. We will do better.   Two important things before I let y’all have the floor in the comments 1. “Special Offerings raise money for good things.” This has come up again and again on numerous threads and discussions about this campaign. I agree wholeheartedly. Special offerings raise money for Presbyterian DIsaster Assistance, Presbyterian Hunger Program, Self Development of People, Young Adult Volunteers, Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, and (hello!) Racial Ethnic Leadership Development. I (or my husband) have benefited directly from each and every one of the programs I just named. We owe a debt of gratitude to the PCUSA for providing these programs and for the good work they do. All the more reason to not jeopardize the future of such amazing programs by rolling out such a divisive and painful campaign. There will be a cost to redoing the materials for this year. There will be an even greater cost for not redoing them. 2. “PCUSA needs relevant and good marketing that appeals to young people.” Yes and no. I agree that it can be helpful to have a well designed and beautiful campaign to inspire people to give money to a cause. I was impressed by the gifts catalog that was put out for Christmas this year. It made me want to show it to people and encourage them to give. That said, slick marketing campaigns only go so far. In my experience money starts flying out of wallets when people hear the stories of what God is doing and how lives are being changed. I will encourage my congregation to give to special offerings, as I always do. I’ll be looking closely at the denomination in the coming week to see what materials they propose I use to do that.

An Immigration Policy We Can All Agree On: #EndChildDetention #EndFamilyDetention

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I’ve been visiting a mother, Alicia* in family detention in Karnes City for a few months now. Family detention is the almost unbelievable practice of locking up young mothers and their children in prison. No matter what we think about the right of immigrants to cross the border without proper authorization, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where anyone believes that children deserve to be locked up. The United Nations agrees. The committee on the rights of the child says:

Children should not be criminalized or subject to punitive measures because of their or their parents’ migration status. The detention of a child because of their or their parent’s migration status constitutes a child rights violation and always contravenes the principle of the best interests of the child.

For several months I’ve been actively volunteering and working with Mission Presbytery’s efforts to help refugees from Central America who find themselves in the bounds of our Presbytery. There are a lot of overlapping, complicated issues. Though we see these issues through the eyes of faith (“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” – Exodus 22:21) our work necessarily takes us to places where broader policy is involved.
Not everyone agrees on what the policy should be. Should there be quotas? Should more people be given asylum? How should new arrivals be handled? Should people be deported right away? How many people should be allowed to come and under what circumstances? What about people who have been here for a long time? And what about family members? Should adult children of US citizens be automatically given visitor’s visas to come visit? (This affects my own family and Elias’s adult children who have not been allowed to visit in the 6 years Elias and I have been married, though they have applied). It would take a lot of blogging to address all of these policies and to propose solutions, and these are all very complicated questions and solutions.

Instead, though, I want to focus on this mother and her children, because I think it’s something most of us can agree on:

Children do not belong in detention. Family detention must be ended.

I’ve heard people who work inside the family detention center in Karnes talk about how nice it is. “The children have school and they are fed three meals a day and they are permitted to play outside.”

These things are true, and even so, family detention is outrageous. When we talk about facts and statistics, sometimes our eyes glaze over. (Although, if you’re interested in facts, I suggest reading THIS or THIS.)

Instead of summarizing the facts you can easily read yourself, I want to tell a story, and it’s a story about the mom I’ve been visiting in detention. More specifically, it’s a story about her 8 year old son, Camilo.*

Alicia says that Camilo is having a lot of difficulty in detention. After making a harrowing journey all the way from central america, fleeing imminent gun violence and threats of death, they spent some challenging days at the US/Mexico border. Once they made their way to Karnes Detention facility, she noticed the problems: acting out at school, hitting his head against the wall, outbursts. She says he cries a lot. One of the problems, according to Alicia, is that he can’t make friends in detention. Friends mysteriously arrive and leave. He doesn’t understand why. He also doesn’t understand why they can’t go anywhere. Ever. They can’t go to the store or to church or to the soccer field. They can’t go to get a haircut.

It’s this last one I want to talk about for a second: a haircut. Last time I went to visit Alicia, I asked about Camilo. “He’s sad today. He was supposed to get his haircut, but then he didn’t. He’s been crying about it.”

It didn’t seem like she wanted to talk more about it, and so we didn’t. But I can’t stop thinking about that haircut. As I pack my two boys up in the car to take them here and there and everywhere, I can’t stop thinking about the hundreds of children in Karnes Detention facility who are locked up, in cells, because their parents dared to try and give them a better life. Family detention is outrageously costly to the US government. There are cheaper and more humane options.

#EndFamilyDetention #EndChildDetention

Three ways to begin to make a difference about child detention in the US:

1. Look for information and learn about it. Family Detention seems to get lost sometimes in the middle of a much larger immigration debate. Another reason it gets lost is that the family detention facilities are far out of the way of any major city or area. Out of sight, but not out of mind.

2. Don’t worry too much about being “too political.” It’s a dangerous narrative out there when showing compassion and basic common sense is somehow a political agenda. There is room for all kinds of politics in the immigration debate. There is not room to ever justify locking up children and denying them freedom to live in a house with friends or family while their cases are processed. Whichever political party you support, your leaders can get on board with some kind of meaningful reform. Children deserve to be free. (And, yes, some can come live with me. Mission Presbytery has families lining up to receive families in our own homes if people are given the opportunity).

3. Connect:

Mission Presbytery Refugee Family Response

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

See also: Babies in Jails

 

*Names changed for privacy

Why I Won’t Remain Silent on Adrian Peterson

Credit: Mike Morbeck  Creative Commons Licence  https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Credit: Mike Morbeck
Creative Commons Licence
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

First: Adrian Peterson did not “spank” his child, he beat him bloody. This is not a matter of a “judgement call.” This isn’t “well some people think differently.” He beat him up. Look it up. There isn’t room for debate here.

Second: Prominent evangelicals as well as Adrian Peterson himself defend this type of action because of the Bible and the faulty belief that somehow God is pleased when parents beat their children on the back, buttocks and scrotum, with a tree branch.  I’m not making this up.

Third: The phrase “spare the rod, spoil the child” does not appear in the Bible, though there is an entire industry and collective consciousness built around it.*

These are the reasons I’m unable to be silent about this. It’s not that I want to jump in on a current news story about a professional sports player behaving badly (which would be a full time job right now, it seems.) I wrote a book on Christian parenting and many other books on Christian parenting advise spanking as a legitimate form of “discipline.” I’m ashamed to be a part of this genre of work if that’s the connection people are going to make.

You wanna know who the loudest proponents of hitting your kids are? Christian Pastors. I’m ashamed to be a part of this profession if that’s the connection people are going to make. 

Adrian Peterson’s little boy was beaten bloody with a stick because his dad thought God told him to. This is not ok.

* Proponents of hitting children as a valid form of Christian parenting often use two verses: Proverbs 13:24 and Proverbs 23:13. I’m not going to engage this debate in this post because it’s an example of what is called “prooftexting” which is “is the practice of using isolated quotations from a document to establish a proposition.” I will engage anyone on this question using a debate from either of these two verses if that person is willing to say that disobedient children should also be stoned to death. (Also in the Bible: see Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

See Also: Adrian Peterson and the False Gospel of Spanking

Four Reasons Why This Pastor Encourages Egg Hunts in Churches

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The Saturday before Easter, my lovely congregation will be holding a little Easter Egg hunt with cupcakes, cascarones, music and laughter. Some pastors might argue this is liturgically, theologically or spiritually inappropriate. I don’t think so, and here are four reasons why.

1. The Easter date was chosen to coincide with a pagan festival... there’s already ample historical precedent for the church putting itself squarely in the middle of culture. The early Christians thought it was a good idea to celebrate the risen Christ in the middle of where the party already was. They contextualized it. It doesn’t make Jesus any less risen, it makes him risen at a time when people are already having a party. I’m fine with that. Eggs and bunnies, chicks and candy aren’t going anywhere, culture-wise. Children will associate Easter with bunnies and chicks and candy and eggs even if there is no egg hunt on the church lawn. So why not have a celebration that includes these things in a place where there are adults who love them and will also share the message of Jesus and resurrection and new life?

2. It’s a great way to reach out to people who don’t have a faith home. Eggs and candy and games are a very low-stress way to drop by a church. If a child and his or her parents drops by and has a great time and is inspired to come back, I see that as a huge win. If not, it’s an opportunity to share our love and joy with the community.

3. There is time for deeper reflection and Good Friday Mourning later One of the arguments against holding Egg Hunts before Easter (during lent or on Good Friday or on Holy Saturday) is that it is to be a time of penance, mourning and reflection. I agree with this, and I think that families can do a lot of age-appropriate things to teach their children about meditation and grief and restraint. At the same time, let’s let children be children, let’s let them be joyful even if we ourselves are in mourning Life is hard and our children will be adults soon enough. I believe that we, as adults, have a responsibility to shield our children from some of the darkness that is Good Friday. There is a balance here. We can’t ignore the truth of what happened on the cross, but we have to be mindful of what little heads and hearts can grasp at tender ages.

4. There is room for both. I don’t think we should baptize the Easter Bunny, but our children can have both. They can understand that Easter is about the Resurrected Lord and it’s also about celebration and joy (and sure, candy eggs, why not?) There is nothing to fear. If we do our jobs, Jesus will become more real with each interaction they have from loving adults and pastors who will stop at nothing to make sure that they grow up to be fun-loving, Jesus-following, life-giving people.

What do you think?

For Further Reading: Where Did the Easter Bunny Come From?

When a Dog in a Pink Sweater isn’t Just a Dog in a Pink Sweater… #GaDog

As you may know, I’m a Presbyterian pastor. Every other year Presbyterians get together at a huge homecoming called the General Assembly where we vote on important issues, get together with one another socially and have a big ole Presbyterian Part-ay! (Except, well, maybe it’s not just a party, maybe it’s a serious, serious gathering with important issues to discuss.)

This week our denomination’s website, the PCUSA put up this advertisement to promote the General Assembly which is being held in Detroit, MI.

#GAdog

The text says “Attend the 221st General Assembly” and there’s the logo for the general assembly right on the image. Clearly it wasn’t a mistake that this image, a dog in a pink sweater, was attached to the idea of the General Assembly. Someone noticed and posted the question on Facebook, where I saw it, and posed the same question: Why? Since then there’s been a lot of discussion about the dog (tagged #GaDog on twitter and facebook) and I think this discussion really, really matters. While much could be said about it, I’m going to offer an initial thought for reflection and see where the conversation takes us.

The thought is this: design and branding matters, a lot.  Inadvertently (it seems, though no official comment has been made) whoever put this dog in a pink sweater next to the invitation to the General Assembly “branded it.” The brand for the GA in Detroit is now “Dog in a Pink Sweater.” Some people say “wow, that’s really, funny/bizarre/strange” or “We could have a lot of fun with that!” others say “No, that’s ridiculous and tragic, and it overshadows the REAL brand of the conference, which was supposed to be “Abound in Hope.” My own view is somewhere in the middle. I think there’s a lot of fun to be had with this pink dog. I love the idea of “GaDog for Moderator” as a little lighthearted satire of this whole debacle. The truth is, though, this dog in a pink sweater shows something very obvious about the PCUSA — we don’t know what we’re doing when it comes to branding. 

I’m currently in the design stage for my book on families and faith (yet to be named, that’s another blog post, I promise.) The process of branding the book and finding an image that will represent it is not a process that I engaged upon lightly. In fact, I was very persistent and very vocal that I wanted the best designer I could find to work on it and to really think about it. I know that whatever image is carefully chosen and put on the cover will brand the book forever. If it’s a dog in a pink sweater, I’ll have to live with it, and I know it.

I know that there is an individual (or group of individuals) behind the decision to put the dog in the pink sweater in this image, and my intent is not to make that person (or people) feel stupid. I would like to know a little bit more about the thought process behind it though, because my guess is that the answer is “We didn’t realize what a big deal it would become.” Which is, of course, exactly my point.

Virtual Communion

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Last week the Wall Street Journal ran an article about a United Methodist congregation that was getting in trouble for offering online communion. The church is an entirely online church, the services stream online, there is a web-based Bible Study, and there is a full time pastor in charge of putting it and keeping it all together. Communion online would mean that the participants would get their own juice and bread and then, after the pastor blessed and broke it, the congregants would each take the elements at the same time from their own location. Sounds crazy, right? Totally defeats the purpose of communion which is being together, right? Well… I’m not so sure. This post isn’t to advocate for online communion, but it’s not to advocate against it, either. Let’s talk about it a little more, shall we? And when we do, let’s think about some of these questions:

  • Is a virtual community a “real” community? If so, why? If not, why not? – For me, there are several “virtual” communities that are very real to me. I’m a part of an online clergy group that is a great support to me. The women in the group live all over the country and they share their stories in a closed group online. Would it be better to get together in person with them to chat about our common joys and struggles? Maybe, but it’s impossible. 
  • How do people use the internet for connection? What are they looking for? Look, let’s cut to the chase here, there are all kinds of virtual experiences people can get online. If someone is looking for a connection online, there are myriad possibilities. Is the church one of them? Are we as a church available when people are looking for a connection?
  • What kinds of people might be interested in ‘virtual’ communion – Homebound people? People with some sort of disorder that wouldn’t allow them to leave the house? (I’m wondering about extreme agoraphobia, for example) People who are considering returning to church but aren’t sure yet? I wonder if an online experience for those who don’t have the ability to make it to church for one reason or another would benefit from an online experience of the sacrament. If there is a significant number of people for whom this would benefit, why wouldn’t we explore it? on the other hand…
  • Does offering an online sacrament discourage folks from coming to church to receive the ‘real thing’? I wonder about this. If it’s easy to just flip on my computer screen and “go” to church, would some stay away from a physical church building out of convenience?
  • If we (whoever we are) say “no” to online communion, what are we prepared to do instead? It’s not enough to say “nope, sorry, no such thing as virtual communion.” That may be. The PC(USA) may never allow this. I think we’d better make absolutely sure that we’ve got a solid plan in place for how to connect to people who are hungry for this kind of connection.

I’ve got lots of questions about this and I think we need to keep asking the question. Let’s not slam the door on this discussion before we even talk about it. God is big.

For Further Reading:

Church’s Online Communion: Sacrament or Sacrilege 

PCUSA: Can Online Communion be a Substitute for the Real Thing? 

Why I support the #NALT project despite its flaws…

Since I recently got back in to the blogging game, I’ve been keeping it rather light over here on Traci M. Smith… I’ve talked about Toddler Hotspots in San Antonio, I’ve shared some amazing things my congregation is doing, I’ve shared what I’ve been reading, I’ve even gotten crafty. This post gets into a much meatier topic, and I’m grateful for that. It’s time.  Remember, this blog is named after me, because these are my personal views. Here we go:

The NALT project is a project cofounded by Truth Wins Out and John Shore. It was inspired by the wildly successful It Gets Better Project. The goal of the project is simple: get Christians who support full equality for LGBTQ people to tell their stories and speak up. That’s it. Those who wonder “Are all Christians anti-gay?” or “Is it possible to be a Christian and support LGBT equality in the church?” can hear what other people think, how they came to their own conclusions.

Since its launch about a week ago, the NALT project has gotten a bit of press, some of it good, some of it bad. In reading almost all of the press, I still hold to my original view: The NALT project is worth supporting. Here’s why I think so:

The heart of the project is storytelling: Ask any Christian who has changed his/her mind on this issue, and you will likely hear some version of “I heard stories.” In general people don’t change their mind because someone yelled really loud, wrote an angry blog comment, or cited a variety of biblical texts. People change their minds in the context of relationships and stories.

Its art: “But it doesn’t do anything…” I’ve been hearing this a lot this week all around the twitterverse/blogosphere/internets. I disagree completely. The art of telling ones story is one of the most powerful things a person can do. Indeed, it’s the only thing that can be done that will make any difference at all. True, there is no petition attached to NALT, no “Here’s what you should do.” There’s no common creed, no mission statement, no bullet point, no marches, no protests. To that I say: exactly.

This is a theological project: This project is asking people to talk about their faith and how it relates to real life. Not just real life, but one of the biggest, hot-button issues of our time. Not only that but it was a non-Christian who named it, who said “Ok, Christians, tell me, what do you think?” Of course I stand behind that. Somebody wants to know what I think about my faith and what it has to say about this issue? Sign me up.

The name: NALT stands for “not all like that.” It came from the experience of one of the founders, Dan Savage, who heard it all the time. He would say some version of “Christians are hateful toward LGBT people” and people would say “Not all Christians are like that.” The name has been criticized for being, well, rude. I think this is a valid criticism. I would have preferred a different name, for sure. At the same time, can I say that I disagree with the name? No, I do not.

So… I made a video. You can watch it here, on the NALT website. It’s longer than I wanted it to be. It’s not perfect. It’s not edited. It is my story, though. I encourage any of my Christian brothers and sisters who are on the fence about making a video for the NALT project to go ahead and send one in!