Legalism, Christian Gaslighting and Religious Identity Politics.

Want to know why my generation and younger are leaving the church in droves? Because legalism is like bullshit and we can smell it a mile away.

“You are being divisive, not loving.”

“What will the world think?”

“You are maligning the Word of God.”

“We must present a unified front to a skeptical world.”

These are all things you will hear from Fundamentalist Evangelicals if you dare turn over the rock of their ideology and expose the legalistic rot underneath. They will tell you the problem lies in the hand that turned over the rock for the whole world to see, and not the ugliness it revealed.

Yet they cry, Love does not mean accepting sin, if you love God you obey his law, if anybody dares call them judgmental or unloving in their attacks against what they see as liberalism creeping into the church and culture.

For them, attacks on legalism are attacks on Christianity itself.

Sound familiar? It should. Jesus and Paul spent most of their time battling the same religious identity politics in their day, but Fundamentalists don’t see the analogies between hand washing, circumcision and food rituals and their own codes and rules of behavior. They are so ingrained into their identity as a Christian, they can’t separate them from their faith. They are one and the same. If you aren’t familiar with these codes, here is a brief overview.

Fundamentalist Evangelical rules

1. Go to church–ones in big buildings with more than 10 people and a male pastor that preaches biblical expository preaching. Traditional worship preferred but not a salvation issue…

2. Interact with God in a certain way. Through a physical book of devotions and a prayer list that are to be done daily. Close your eyes when you pray, especially in public and around other church people. Open eyes are disrespectful to God. Closed eyes are respectful. The only exception is when you’re driving or it is an emergency situation or very brief commentary on the state of mankind. Then they should be short and to the point. Lord, help me on this test! Lord, help her turn from her evil ways! Lord, help us get out of this traffic!

3. Dress a certain way This is usually applied only to women and focuses on covering bare skin, because bare female skin is inherently inappropriate. But it can also be applied to males when it comes time to go to church. Certain outfits are more respectful to God than others. Clean, neat clothes are respectful to God. Sloppy, dirty clothes are disrespectful. You can wear sloppy, dirty clothes at home when you pray, but church is where God lives and he likes a clean house. Plus others see you in church and it’s important what other people think. Therefore you should be not sloppy nor dirty clothed.

4. Talk a certain way No swearing. No talking about sex. No talking bad about other Christians unless they are liberal, then it isn’t talking bad but loving rebuke. Do not question the church, your husband, or pastors and elders. No saying ‘mean’ or ‘divisive’ things about other Christians unless they are liberal Christians, wolves in sheep’s clothing, or plain old sinners. Then it is okay because it is loving them via truthful reproach.

5. Entertain yourselves and engage in culture in a certain way. Sanitized art only, preferably with a Christian message. Violence, language, sex, the naked female body (which is inherently inappropriate), gore, and/or the depiction of people in art that don’t follow our rules are not allowed, unless it is in a biblical setting…and even then should be PG-13 at the very most so it won’t rub off on us.

6. Eat and drink a certain way. No alcohol, or very little. Eat healthy so you can stay thin, especially if you are a woman because that is godlier than being fat. If you are a fat male, that’s ok because most of our male leaders are fat anyway. See rule 5 and rule 3 about how the female body is depicted is much more important than how the male body is depicted.

7. Vote a certain way. Republican. Duh! Democrats are definitely not saved and independents are lukewarm Christians.

8. Think a certain way.

– No doubting of the Church.

-Doubting yourself is okay, especially if you are doubting Fundamentalism.

-Doubting God is okay but only for a ‘season’ and the road must lead you back around to Fundamentalism. Not doubting God EVER is much godlier.

-Embrace all the rules of Fundamentalism, protect Fundamentalism at all costs because this is what God was talking about when he said you would be persecuted for his sake: He was talking about being persecuted for telling the world they have to uphold our rules of behavior in order to show they really love God.

9.Use a certain tone of voice: Rebuke and reproach are Godly, but only when rebuking liberalism or wolves in sheep’s clothing. Some rules are more important than other rules. Christians that don’t follow our most important rules are automatically wolves in sheep’s clothing or false teachers. It is okay to rebuke them loudly in a mean tone. You can also call them names, like ‘Libtard,’ ‘snowflake’ and other creative names that reveal how stupid they are. Because they do that to us. That makes it ok. However, if you absolutely MUST rebuke a fellow Christian, first consider how they follow the rules. If they follow most of the rules, and our most important rules, it is not ok to rebuke them out loud in a mean tone. Non Christians could see this and not want to be a Christian and follow the rules. You must in person, confront them in a whispered hush while simultaneously affirming they are a cherished child of the King, made in his image. Then walk away and forget about it. Never publicly say anything negative about other Christians, because then people won’t want to become Christians and follow the rules.

10. The Golden Rule An attack on one rule follower is an attack on all rule followers. Your tone, speech, and lifestyle must all support the rules or you are not a true rule follower and will be kicked out of our rule following club altogether.

There are different rules and different hierarchies of rules depending on what denomination you go to. Feel free to remind me of those in the comments.

Here’s the problem with all the rules. Jesus didn’t die for rules, for standards of behavior. He died for our sin so that we don’t have to match up to a standard of behavior in order to be considered ‘saved.’ Because we can’t. Ever. If we could then He didn’t need to die in the first place.

All our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. Isaiah 64:6

Stop measuring yourselves and others by the rules listed above. Examine your own heart. Examine it for false piety, for pride in your own ability to keep the rules, for judging others by how they keep the rules. The desire to control our sinful state–to claim a tiny part in our salvation other than simple faith in God and His work on the cross is as old as the Garden of Eden and it resides in all of us.

Jesus said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.

Did you catch that? Upholding your ability to follow a set of rules or code of behavior as evidence of your salvation is DETESTABLE in the sight of God. The church will applaud you for it, but God knows your heart. If you are more concerned about what your neighbor thinks about you and “the Church” than you are about your neighbor, God knows it. He knows the soundtrack in our heads that goes something like this:

Look at me I don’t watch R rated movies. I don’t drink. I don’t say swear words. I don’t wear or approve of immodest clothing. I do my devotions and pray everyday and make sure I post it on social media. How can people call themselves a Christian and vote Democrat? I go to Church every week and check in on Facebook. I tell everybody else they should do these things too through social media–by sharing articles that say that. All this is evidence that I’m saved because the Bible says, ‘By their fruits you shall know.’ If people really love God they ought to do all these things I do too, because that is evidence they are saved. If you love God then you keep his commandments.”

That is what maligns the name of Christ—legalism— where rule following takes center stage, reducing the crucifixion and resurrection to nothing but background music highlighting the moral fortitude of the super-spiritual in their hero’s journey towards salvation.

We must stop circling the wagons. We must stop treating legalism as anything but a cancer that needs to be cut out of the Church if we want it to survive.

People are drawn to truth, despite themselves. Legalism distorts the truth, disguises it as something that seems noble and pure on the outside—something at face value that will give us life and purpose—but inside it is “full of dead men’s bones.”

It is the underlying obstacle that my characters deal with in Objects of Pleasure and Vessels of Wrath

Legalism, no matter how safe and righteous it feels when you follow it, always ends in spiritual death. It is the true evil that divides the church. It is a true stumbling block to those who believe and a detractor to those who don’t.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.

Posted in religion, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Dangers of Roblox


“Can we talk on the bed?” This is my 10-year-old daughter’s code for I did something questionable that I really want to talk to you about, but I’m afraid I’ll get in trouble. 

Sitting on my bed is a safe place in our house, where the kids can tell me anything without fear of punishment. I got the idea from my friend, Barb, who raised four kids and is one of the smartest people I know.

Okay, so you’re not going to be mad…right?” my daughter says when she sits down.

This is the part where I freak out in my head, but I make myself say, in a what I hope is a calm voice, “Of course not, what is it, Sweetie?”

I mentally prepare myself for accidental arson or confessing that the weird kid down the street molested her, but it’s nothing like that. It never is.

“It’s about being online, Mom.”

“Okay, what happened?” Again, I internally freak out, expecting the dude from “To Catch a Predator” to bust through my front door with a news crew and ask me how long I’ve been oblivious to the fact my daughter has been the victim of an online pedophile ring.

But instead, my daughter tells me with tears in her eyes, wild gestures to the ceiling and pinches to the bridge of her nose about her online drama in Roblox.

Roblox is an online platform for kids that hosts a bunch of role play games. Cops and Robbers, animals in packs that have to attack other players and eat them in order to survive, almost educational at first glance. But after you watch it for awhile, it’s really just a bunch of kids walking around chatting in groups. It’s something I would have been drawn to as a kid—virtual kids in a virtual fantasy land with no adult supervision—Lord of the Flies, except they are all pixelated unicorns or tigers on a screen.

The disturbing part is all the lonely kids in corners with dialogue bubbles that read, “I hav no friens, im so sad” or “I hate my life, I want 2 dy.” At first, I thought they might be savvy adults, pretending to lure unsuspecting 8-year-olds into feeling bad for them, but I soon realized that real kids just say, “Okay, bye,” and run off to play, kind of how they are in real life—oblivious with short attention spans. The lonely ones are the ones in danger. All they want is somebody to pay attention to them, making them easy targets for predators, and sadly, there are a lot of them.

I’ve hammered it into my kids’ heads that children don’t ask you what your real name is, or your age and address, because real kids don’t care; they just want to play. Sometimes, the adults wait a long time, pretending to be a kid before they ask personal questions, to gain their trust. As a result, my daughter has become uber paranoid and has made it her personal goal to oust every suspected adult masquerading as a kid on Roblox and have them banned. That’s an adult who is trying to kidnap you! she will scream in all caps in the chat boxes.

But this time, our talk on the bed had nothing to do with predators, although in the past she clued in one of her unsuspecting friends that Peppypants210 was not simply a half-unicorn-half-kid, but an adult trying to score a “playdate” with her while her parents were out of the house.

My daughter is a super confident kid. She is a natural leader and found herself quickly with a mass following on Roblox. She got into an argument with another confident girl over something silly, and it turned into an epic gang rivalry like something out of “The Outsiders” with spies, back-stabbery, and treason. 

As I tried to decipher the core tension between ZippyZappy and herself and the fallout of being forced to unfriend Kiwikitty who the others thought was a spy, I wanted to yell, “Do you know how ridiculous this sounds?”  But in her ten-year-old mind, it was the end of the world. I kept telling myself, listen to the little things, so later she will tell you about the bigger things, but then I realized, right now this was the big thing. So, I listened and coached her.

We had just finished watching a “Lost in Space” episode where Will’s dad makes him put 26 rocks he can hardly carry in a pile, to represent the 26 people Will’s alien robot killed before he became devoted to being Will’s protector. It was to show Will how heavy the responsibility is of having a sometimes murderous alien robot under his control. I reminded her of that episode, and how being a leader is a heavy responsibility, and a good leader attracts others because of their kindness, fairness, and ability to listen to others.

My daughter’s friend told us a few weeks ago how a girl in her class tried to kill herself because of a group of girls bullying her on Instagram, calling her a bisexual and posting mocking pictures. Roblox is an elementary school form of Instagram. The kids’ true selves are hidden behind pixelated, Minecraft looking identities, but this anonymity gives them the freedom to say and do things they never would to another child in real life.

My daughter’s generation is getting schooled early in social media etiquette. We have a chance to be part of that process, but it requires a certain trust and openness between parent and child. I thought about banning her from Roblox, but that would deny her the opportunity to learn how to navigate social media in a responsible way and teach her that when something bad happened online, whatever you do, don’t tell Mom–that, to me, is the real danger.

After our long talk, she decided on her own that she would make things right with –Zippyzappy and apologize and ask if they could start over. She re-friended the girl the group kicked out and told them she wanted everybody to stop fighting and not talk bad about the rival group anymore, even if they talked bad about them. To me, that’s progress and I was happy to be a part of it,  but what made me even happier was hearing my daughter telling me how much it means to her that I listened and wasn’t mad at her.  Nowadays, when she says, “Mom, UnicornSillyCat is online and she asked me something. Can you read my response before I post it and see if it’s okay?” Those are the moments to me, that parenting is all about.


Like my writing? Check out my books: here

Posted in Parenting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Dr. Heidi to the Operating Room, Stat! — James Clark — The Next Iteration

Beware. This is not not a comfortable read. Especially if you call yourself a Christian. But it’s an awesome read. An important read. It’s like literary heart surgery for the soul with Heidi as the surgeon and includes a much-needed look at a little-dealt-with subject as one of its main themes — spiritual abuse.

via Dr. Heidi to the Operating Room, Stat! — James Clark — The Next Iteration

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

On Reading, Writing and Discouragement

Growing up,  I read everything I could get my hands on. My mother was a voracious reader and I devoured whatever she had lying around the house. I fell in love with Emily Bronte and Charlotte Bronte. As a shy eleven-year-old, I lost myself in the dark romance of Wuthering Heights and Jayne Eyre. I was captivated by Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Scarlet Letter, The Outsiders, Little Women and the Lord of the Flies. I remember one time, I realized I had read every fiction book in the house, so I started going through the dusty anthology collections I found on a forgotten shelf and discovered a complete collection of Greek Mythology. I read all of it, entranced by the forbidden world of sex, revenge, and monsters I found there.

My dad kept all my report cards and gave them to me recently. Miss Schaeffer, from third grade, wrote: “Heidi often is caught reading fiction books instead of reading the lesson.” That was me: books at the dinner table, books hidden in my lap at school, books on the bus ride home, books under the covers with a flashlight until 1 in the morning. I lived for my English Lit classes in junior high and high school, where I learned there were hidden symbols and themes, puzzles inside the stories just waiting for me to figure them out. Nothing else held my attention like the well-told story.  I suffered from undiagnosed ADD as a kid and would have probably been a terrible speller if it hadn’t been for the fact that I read so much high-quality literature. Not by choice, it was the only thing around to read and I craved the escape.

As I got older and went to college to pursue a degree in English lit, I still read widely and deeply.  After college, I got married and still read entire books in the bathtub until 2 a.m. I had shelves filled with books bloated with water damage. Reading is what spawned my desire to write. I wrote, then read, then wrote some more. Those dead ancient authors were my mentors and teachers.

Then, smartphones and Facebook happened, social media exploded and I stopped reading fiction. I read, but it was mostly articles and blogs, quick snippets of nothing that I forgot almost as soon as I read them. Granted, having little children put a damper on reading time, it’s hard to concentrate when you get interrupted every 15 seconds, but instead of reading after they went to bed, I found myself on my phone, scrolling through meaningless bullshit. I was too tired and social media sated my short attention span.

I had high hopes for my kids. My daughter had a 50-word repertoire by 8-months-old. She has a natural gift for language. My son taught himself to read very early because he wanted to be able to read the whole Goosebumps collection—which he did by 5-years-old. But then came the world of video games, Roblox and YouTube.  Now, for them, reading has become a cure for insomnia, a chore, an assignment from an old-fashioned mother, something to kill time until they can return to role-playing in Roblox.  The online world is their first love, like reading was for me, and that saddens me.

I would have done the same at that age, but none of that had been invented yet. My imaginary world was between pages, their’s is on a screen. But can I blame them, when the lure of the screen is as irresistible to me as it is to them?

I recently got back into writing after a long hiatus. I gave the first draft of Vessels of Wrath to a friend back in 2007. He was also a writer and I respected his opinion. He loved the first part but said the second part was too melodramatic (he was right).  I got discouraged and didn’t write another thing for ten years. Then, last year, I started writing again, sporadic poems and essays on WordPress. But, again, I got discouraged and quit, because nobody had the attention span to read the longer stories I started writing, even people that liked it. They were just like me, no time to read anything longer than a short article here and there. How could I blame them? I had piles of unread books gathering dust on my bedside table.

But again, I missed writing. I went back and re-wrote Vessels of Wrath. I edited and polished another story, Objects of Pleasure and then sent them out to literary magazines. I had some nice replies, but both were too long for that format. I had a few months of discouragement, but then said screw it and put them on Amazon.

Amazon has taught me this—Literary fiction is a dying art. It’s being killed off by genre writing that didn’t exist when I was growing up. Vampires and Zombies. Fifty Shades of Romance and Erotica. YA, Self Help, and Sci-Fi.

The process of getting your writing read is tedious. You realize your friends and family are just like you, no time, too distracted. You wonder why you write, what the point is, wish you didn’t want to.

I keep writing, although discouragement is always watching over my shoulder. I have to. It is a part of me, born from my love of reading at a young age.

One thing writing has taught me is how important reading is—that I defeat my own desire to become a writer, that I silence future literary writers when instead of picking up a book, I  pick up my phone instead.

Janet Fitch is one of my favorite authors. She inspired me to write. She just wrote a new book, The Revolution of Marina M. I’ve heard it’s an important work that needs to be heard. It’s time for me to put away the phone and finally sit down and read it.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

the permanence of earth

She stands and stares out the window

at the spot in the woods,

unable to comprehend the permanence of the earth

separating them,

or how here can change to gone

somewhere between breakfast and lunch without her knowing.

She churns it over in her mind like a spade turns dirt,

but she is only ten and we are middle-aged

and have grown accustomed to the short life cycle of pets.

But I loved her, she says

with the tenacity of a child


refusing to let go

of a lost balloon.


I console her, stroke her hair

and tell her the story of a dog I once loved.


Next time will be easier.

Death will no longer be so grossly unfamiliar,

so incomprehensible.

I know this

and mourn the loss of it.






Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

On Forsaking the brethren

Concerned relatives warned me not to

but I grew tired 

like a tree 

falling in the forest 

when no one is around to hear it

each time left with less

 than I started with

until now there is nothing 

but the absence of sound.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


I’ve been here before

when I was younger 

and still ricocheted off the concrete.

Now, I lie like a stone

and calculate the risks

in standing back up,

of leaving the permanence of pavement,

and joining the long line of feet

walking over me

towards that unknown horizon.






Posted in religion, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments