Carrying the Banner: In Which I Am Brutually Honest

The Church of the Spilled Blood - St. Petersburg

The Church of the Spilled Blood - St. Petersburg

[Trigger warnings: depression, potentially triggering discussion of food, child abuse, corruption]

Working in social justice and feminism can be a bad place to be if you are prone to depression. I’ve learned the gospel of self-care over the past couple of years as an effort to keep myself from slipping into depressive funks that make it hard for me to think or write or do pretty much anything. I’ve written previously about my anxiety issues and their relationship to my need for birth control, but anxiety, unfortunately, is often coupled with depression.

My depression is not at a point where I need medication. This is not the case for everyone who suffers from depression, and I appreciate the good that medication has done for my friends.

I do have to steel myself some days and decide that I won’t be involved in certain discussions because simply dealing with the response takes everything out of me and takes all the wind out of my sails. Working in the social justice realm is hard, taxing, emotional work. Empathy can be incredibly draining and this work often has a high rate of burnout. This post is not a confession of that – I’m actually doing quite well – but rather an opportunity to talk about why this work becomes so taxing and emotionally draining. I also want to offer my solidarity with my brothers and sisters in the fight who are dealing with much worse hardships than I – in the face of the systemic and systematic institutional problems, this work often drains every emotional reserve we have and my fellow fighters have all my love and grace and I hope they remember and know that self-care is necessary.

Here’s why this sort of thing is so emotionally taxing.

I don’t pay a lot of attention to how the Reformed Christian blogging world works or how it connects back to churches. I take ideas as they come, challenge them, and respond as I can and am able. I am much more concerned with advocating for rape victims and empowering women on an individual, personal level than I am with grasping the entire narrative of the institution. Don’t get me wrong here – I am interested in the institutional and systemic injustices and involve myself in rebuking institutions insofar as I see the effects of institutionalized injustice. But studying the functions of the institution itself takes more energy and time than I can often muster.

Looking at the institutional corruption drains me of all activist energy I would have. So I concentrate on empowerment, on helping women find the words they need to understand themselves and to place themselves in context. I understand the institution insofar as it provides context, but part of the brilliance of the institutional injustice is that it is so large, so unwieldy, so incredible that looking at it, to me, is the emotional equivalent of looking at the sun. I can’t do it for too long or I am blinded.

This all shifted with Tim Challies’ post about SGM a couple weeks ago. I knew there was an institutional background that made his post even more hurtful than what it was on the surface, so I started digging. I’ve only scratched the surface, but the mass of money and financial investment SGM has in keeping these events quiet extends well beyond SGM. Tim Challies himself has a business relationship that stands to make money off of SGM continuing to have a good reputation. John Piper and Al Mohler have been either silent or actively throwing their support behind SGM’s efforts, likely because of business relationships. The Gospel Coalition has several SGM people on their board.

It feels like I’m a conspiracy theorist, like I should be writing for The Smoking Gun and appearing in an episode of X Files.

But it’s not. It’s all very real, and it’s all very disheartening.

Ignorance I can handle. Ignorance has the ability to change. Ignorance can be dispelled with the tools at my disposal  - words, a blog, the Internet, and social media. I am, after all, just a writer in Chicago, IL, sitting at my desk with a cat on my knee. Words are what I have.

But malevolent corruption? The voice that says “I know this is bad, but I don’t care because it benefits me”? The institutional protection that says vested financial interests are more important than the lives of children?

That terrifies me. That drags me into despair. That makes it hard for me to even think about cooking myself a meal.

Such is the enormity of the problem before us.

I have come to expect this large scale corruption from such entities as banks and large corporations. I have been primed for those narratives ever since Michael Douglas intoned that “greed is good” in the early 90s. The devil in the marketplace is less enormous. It is expected, and smaller.

The corruption that has caused men of God to ignore abuse, to ignore the cries of children, to claim secular authority and laws as their guides and protectors? The corruption that leads men to “protect their ministry,” even at the cost of children they are supposed to be protecting? The devil of the marketplace that tempts ministers of God to abandon their flock even while they claim they are fighting for their flock’s protection?

I’m floored by it. I cannot comprehend it. I cannot move past it. I cannot align myself with an institutional church because of it.*

But this is why I am a Christian feminist. Not simply because I was raised in the church, but because I believe in the holy justice of God. There are writers and advocates better equipped than I to discuss these institutional issues – men and women to take up the torch when I stumble, world-weary from the exhaustion and the enormity of the journey before me. Men and women taking on States, institutions, and devils in their own worlds. Men and women who bravely speak up when I – even I, who is never at a loss for words – lose my voice.

This is the church I know. The church that preaches justice for the marginalized. The church that does not let anyone fall behind. The church that pushes us to be better people but that understands the enormity of the takes before us. This is the image of God that carries me through the rough patches and the hard times – the Trinitarian God of love who is community in Themselves, the God in whose image we are made. We, the church, are the Imago Dei. We, the people, are his banner carriers. And when one of us falls, someone else will carry the banner while others help the fallen.

Institutions, principalities, powers of darkness fall before us, even as we scrabble for a foothold. Even when these institutions are the church itself. Iconoclasts all, we proclaim justice, enact mercy, and fiercely defend those trampled by the institution. This, this, is the image of God. This, this, is the glory.

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*My day job is with a large Reformed denomination that is, to my knowledge, not associated with Piper’s denomination. To be clear – I do not work for the same organization. And I need to eat. [To reiterate: I do not speak for my company in any capacity].