Kirstie Allsopp, classism, and a distinct lack of choice

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

It was obvious what was going to happen yesterday when the media started putting its own spin on Kirstie Allsopp's comments made in an interview with Bryony Gordon for the Telegraph, coming up with headlines such as "Kirstie Allsopp tells young women: ditch university and have a baby at 27". As everyone who bothered to read the original article knows, that's not the extent of what she said - but why let that get in the way of calling her stupid, accusing her of wanting to take women back to the 1950s, and telling her where to stick her overprivileged expectations about home ownership and marriage?

According to the law of how women talk about lifestyle choices and how it's played out in the media, Allsopp has, of course, been positioned as some sort of spokesperson for womankind, judging everyone who doesn't want to live their life the way she thinks they should. And in their reactions to her comments, many of those who don't agree with her have fallen into the trap that's so obviously laid for us all, every single time some vaguely high-profile woman has something to say about women's lives. Yesterday's 'debate' became a defence of education and careers (and why not? No-one's going to deny that they're important things to defend), against the spectre of smug, twee, wealthy motherhood and financial dependency on men.

No-one likes to feel patronised, especially by someone they perceive to be out of touch with what most women think and want. I don't think it's correct to say that women are unaware of fertility issues, or that they are never talked about. There's enough discussion of it about for us to know roughly at what point conceiving a child does begin to become much more of a struggle - if, indeed, we were all that fertile to begin with. But the fact is, even as most women know what they'd do about becoming a mother, in an ideal world, and even as they laugh at scaremongering headlines about 'career women leaving it too late', the years pass by quickly - years of trying to find a suitable partner, trying to save money, trying to get a job, or a better job, or a job you actually like.

What Allsopp did touch on - which I believe is important here - is the pressure on middle-class women to have the various aspects of their lives sorted out and adhering to an ideal before children get factored in. The degree, the wedding, the 'life experiences', the career, the foot on the property ladder. It was noticeable yesterday just how many people I witnessed saying "But NO-ONE can afford to buy a house/have a baby in their 20s!" And it's certainly true that for many people, saving up for a house deposit is a terrifying thought. Wondering how to pay the bills while on maternity leave or afford to pay childcare is a terrifying thought. But it's also true that many, many people become parents in their 20s (and earlier). Many, many people who aren't privileged and whose parents haven't bought them a flat somehow manage to become parents and just get on with it. Yesterday's 'debate' had a particularly narrowly-focused and classist side to it - one that needs to look beyond non-debates over the 'right time' to have children or go to university or get married and question instead the way UK society places expectation on women about the 'right' way to live their lives in a country that makes it so difficult for them to do so, sneering at both those who choose not to go along with it and those who are happy about having achieved it.

Let's leave aside, for a moment, the fact that becoming a mother at a young age so often gets you labelled as a 'scrounger', a 'waste of potential', or a statistic for the right to sneer at, and the fact that being a relatively young middle-class stay at home mother gets you labelled as 'smug' and 'irritating', and being a childfree woman in your 30s gets you labelled as 'sad' or 'selfish' - because these things are important, but they're not the most difficult things.

Not when a particular 'route' of university followed by the career ladder followed by 'settling down' when you're financially secure and have 'really lived your life' is the 'desired' one. Not when the cost of attending university has skyrocketed and the housing market in London and the south-east is ridiculous and there's so much competition for jobs that people despair of ever getting the job they want or feeling financially secure at all. Not when maternity discrimination is rife, maternity leave difficult to imagine for those in difficult financial circumstances, and childcare here is the second most expensive in Europe. Not when the burden of care and everything child-related is still seen as a woman's domain. Not when the voices of women who have had children at a young age, and working class women who have never had the luxury of expecting to get all their ducks in a row before making big decisions about their lives go unheard, as feminists who are quick to sneer at the idea of having children in their 20s without thinking how that looks to their sisters who already have children and are doing just fine. For all the cries of "Shut up Kirstie, can't you see it's all about choice?!" it's evident that most of the time, it's really, emphatically, not.

Yesterday wasn't the first time in the last couple of years that I've been reminded of this piece on women in Iceland that appeared in the Guardian in 2011. I remember being struck at the time by the idea that being a young mum at university could be seen as totally normal, rather than a 'challenge' or something worthy of a newspaper feature as it might be in the UK. Writes Kira Cochrane:

"Parents here talk strongly of community support, of collective care for children, and there is no sense that motherhood precludes work or study, which effectively changes the whole structure of women's lives."

One woman, who we're told had her first child at the age of 19, is quoted saying: "You are not forced to organise your life in the 'college-work-maybe children later' way". Another woman explains how couples in Iceland don't tend to think of parenthood in 'How many children can we afford?' terms. And with full-time childcare, at the time of publication, costing single mothers £70 and couples £118 a month (as opposed to an average cost of more than £700 a month for full-time working couples in the UK - much higher in London), you can see why. Feminists do enough shouting about the perceived egalitarian joys of Scandinavia and I'm aware that no country is perfect. The fact remains that women in the UK find themselves supposedly liberated yet also restricted by what we've constructed as the 'right' way to do things, the 'right' way to live the capitalist dream and the 'right' way to experience life. For many, it's a bind and an enormous source of anxiety. For many more, it's unattainable and unrealistic, and by doing things their way they end up being derided and devalued by Kirstie Allsopp's cheerleaders and detractors alike.

Rereading the second wave - Susan Brownmiller

Thursday, 22 May 2014

“I can attest that in New York City during the late sixties and early seventies, nothing was more exciting, or more intellectually stimulating, than to sit in a room with a bunch of women who were working to uncover their collective truths.”

My contribution to the New Statesman's series on rereading second wave feminism in the light of the so-called 'fourth wave' was published last week. It's now a couple of months since I read Susan Brownmiller's In Our Time - her memoir of the women's liberation movement, spanning the late 1960s to the middle of the 1980s - and felt that it has much to offer today's activists on the subject of conflict and infighting - particularly those who have, in the last couple of years, felt alienated from the movement and 'put off' by the very fact that feminists don't seem to agree on a lot of things and spend a fair amount of time getting angry about it. 

The number of pieces written and time spent talking about 'call-out culture', 'toxic feminism', or whatever we're currently calling 'feminists publicly disagreeing about stuff' means that it can become the sole focus for many people. It's sometimes cited as the main problem with today's feminist movement, a 21st century phenomenon. But while the internet has added a new dimension to activist infighting, In Our Time reminds us that the struggles - who has power, who should speak for the movement, what it means when women achieve a public profile and platform, and which issues should be our main focus - have existed for decades, and that our aim should be to work through them rather than letting them define us, becoming the obstacle that cannot be overcome and the sticking point that stops women participating. In Our Time is a fantastic memoir of the achievements of the second wave of feminism and the way its activists brought issues into the public consciousness for the very first time. Times may have changed, but there is much to inspire us and much we can learn from.

"Brownmiller came to see these disagreements and denouncements as par for the course in the women’s movement. “You have to believe that the Sturm und Drang are worth it,” she writes - and it seems she did, very much so, until the last gasps of the second wave in the 1980s. Weakened by the ‘pornography wars’, the decade’s family values-obsessed mentality and economic necessity of getting a job and ‘settling down’, with the women’s bookshops, the feminist press and utopian dreams in decline, the movement’s militancy petered out. In Our Time’s challenge for feminists today is to encourage us to keep the balance – effecting change despite robust disagreement. The aim of feminism should not be the creation of a synthetic sisterhood focused on little more than affirmation and making women feel good about every choice they make. Neither should it be the constant assumption of bad faith on the part of women who are still learning, doing the best they can, and sometimes getting it wrong – the idea that trashing other women is progress."

Image: John Olson, from here

Book review - Women in Waiting: prejudice at the heart of the church

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Those of you following the progress of legislation concerning women bishops will know that these are exciting times. After a disappointing vote in 2012, many are feeling more optimistic about the situation - and there have been many opportunities to speak about hopes for the future this week as the church has celebrated the 20th anniversary of the first women priests being ordained.

Having finished Julia Ogilvy's Women in Waiting: Prejudice at the heart of the church last week, I'd set this evening aside to write my review. After reading the Tuesday's coverage of the 20th anniversary of women's ordination, and even having a bit of a moist-eyed moment at my desk after seeing Kate Bottley's tweet marking the day, I was made aware, over breakfast today, of an old interview with Wayne Grudem that people were once again talking about.

I'd never read the full interview before, although I've seen some of its content reproduced to illustrate Grudem's position on women teaching and writing books that interpret scripture (a man doing so is 'teaching with authority', a woman doing the same is 'giving her viewpoint'). What I hadn't previously been aware of was his intriguing explanation of the problems that arise in churches and denominations where women are ordained:

"... anyone who lives in a pattern of constant disobedience to the word of God--if a woman does this, she is opening herself up to the danger of the withdrawal of God’s hand of protection and blessing on her life."

He continues:

"Judy Brown is one example that I mention. [She] contributed a chapter to [the book] Discovering Biblical Equality. She was an Assemblies of God pastor or maybe Foursquare, I’m not sure. And she actually, sadly, is in prison in Virginia for attempted murder. It’s tragic."

The problem with Judy Brown, claims Grudem, was her commitment to promoting women's ordination. As a result of her departure from faithfulness to God, she's now in prison. I've never been keen on giving airtime to Grudem on gender, but on reading the interview with him I was struck by the contrast to the stories of the twelve women contained within Women in Waiting. Twelve women, all of them in favour of women's ordination, many of them ordained themselves and holding positions of varying seniority in the church. Theologians, writers, and advocates for women. Twelve women who felt called to vocations where they knew they would face opposition, who have seen enormous changes in attitudes since they started their careers and who know there is still much to be done.

This is not a challenging book; if you're looking for a hashing-out of the arguments for and against women in church leadership, you'll need to look elsewhere - but this is no bad thing. The book's purpose is to tell the stories of just some of the women who have helped pave the way for a greater acceptance of women in ministry and a greater awareness of the damage done by patriarchy. Almost all of them spoke to the author about hostile attitudes from colleagues, but Women in Waiting is by no means a book full of stories about feeling hard done by and miserable. It's actually an inspiring reminder - full of wisdom - of what God can do through those who are willing to serve Him. The women interviewed have worked incredibly hard, knowing that they are fulfilling their calling, and were full of positivity about their achievements and the church, despite some of the painful, lonely and frustrating situations they had been through. It was also encouraging to read, in the case of those who are married, how supportive and affirming their husbands have been.

I wasn't familiar with all of the women profiled in the book and so it was wonderful to learn more about them. I was particularly moved by the interview with Lucy Winkett because it left me with such a strong sense of her wisdom and love for the church and its people. I was reminded, as I read Elaine Storkey's chapter, why I was so inspired by her the first time I saw her speak and why she continues to be ones of my heroes. I was very interested to read the differing perspectives of Katharine Jefferts Schori and Chilton Knudsen from the USA, and found myself nodding my head righteously as I read Helena Kennedy on the cases of abused women that she's been involved in.

Ever since I started attending events where the place of women in the church has been discussed, I've been struck by overheard snatches of conversation, but the confessions of young women getting up in front of a group and saying:

'I feel called but I need to know that it's what God wants for me as a woman. Am I allowed? Is it what scripture says?'

Women in Waiting would be an ideal read for any women mulling over this question, not because it will provide all the answers, but because I think it clearly shows that being a pioneer in the church is what God wants for many women, and that they've been gifted accordingly.

Further reading:

The problem with ideological purity

Thursday, 20 February 2014

If you've ever been part of one of those conversations where someone's having a bit of a moan about their church, you know you can always count on someone to chime in saying "There's no such thing as the perfect church!". Clichéd as that phrase has become, it's true, and it's a constant reminder that when we go looking for perfection in this life, we're not going to find it. There's no such thing as the perfect church, the perfect marriage, the perfect job. And there's certainly no such thing as the perfect person. Most people know this, and recently it's become a bit of a "thing" to be open about all our flaws, admitting to our brokenness and just how "messed up" we are as a way of showing vulnerability and assuring others that no-one ever has it all figured out (so much so, in fact, that it's already been identified as a problematic Christian trend by people with too much time on their hands).

You know how it goes. "Hi, I'm Hannah, a sinner like everyone else. I'm a champion procrastinator. I struggle with depression. When I'm tired I crave junk food. My relationship with church is none too good at the moment. I didn't start blogging to glorify God; I did it because I knew it could help get me a more interesting job. Sometimes when my toddler is being a pain in the backside I get angry with him. My 'lightbulb moment', when I realised I was a feminist (aged 19), didn't involve any intersectional analysis. None at all! But every day I'm learning; as time goes by I'm evolving as a person. SEE - I'M JUST LIKE YOU."

It seems, however, that it's pretty hard to be vulnerable and admit mistakes when it comes to activism. It's another progressive cliché, the idea that you 'just need to be constantly learning and growing and ready to admit you messed up', an idea that's become more about performance of learning and a pretence of listening when it often seems like not very much of either ever really happens. You can be vulnerable and imperfect - as long as you stress just how much it's shown you the error of your ways. For many in the social justice world, what's prized more than anything is ideological purity - described by some as 'purity leftism'. A so-called commitment to 'learning and growing' that actually struggles to deal with differences of opinion from within the same activist sphere, that struggles to support any cause or campaign because it will never be perfect and supported only by those who display completely "correct" ways of thinking and being. It's 'me, me, me' activism.

This obsession with ideological purity leads to two things. Firstly, there's silencing - a fear of being denounced, leading to people shutting up, stepping back, and quietly going about their business so as not to be noticed or accused of wrongdoing when they're just trying to muddle along and make a difference in the world. Secondly, it stops activism from involving any action whatsoever. Why run or join a campaign when people who don't see eye to eye with you on everything might get involved? Why go to an event if one of the speakers once tweeted something you didn't like? Why express support for someone who's going through a bad time when 20 years ago, they wrote something that you don't agree with (learning and growing, apparently, is only for the chosen few)? Why do anything except sneer at those in public office and mainstream media and positions of authority who are to all intents and purposes on your side because they're all 'part of the system'? Principles about things become more important than actually doing them.

When I think about the feminist and egalitarian women that I admire the most, some of whom I'm friends with, some of whom I've never met and probably never will, they have one thing in common. They know that attempting total ideological purity is ridiculous, and that waiting around for perfect situations is pointless. They know that what works is women living as best they can in this world, being the change they want to see and getting their hands dirty in the process, messing up and having to apologise, having uncomfortable realisations and having to love all and serve all as they do so. 

They're in the media and in politics and the church, working tirelessly to mentor younger women and get more women a space on the platform and a seat at the table, even when the table isn't perfect, because they believe in effecting change from within. They're from different backgrounds with varying amounts of privilege. They're helping survivors, fighting injustice, writing, calling meetings and putting their heads above parapets, all the time using words of encouragement and building up and celebrating success - and doing what they have to do to provide for themselves and their families. They'll offer critique when it's constructive and point out the problematic when they've got a solution. And they know that vulnerability, honesty, and love will always achieve more than attempting ideological purity at the expense of anything resembling real change.

If we want to 'be' any sort of change, we need to be willing to get stuck in - whatever that means for us personally. Creating change is hard, and I'm thankful for everyone who gives so much of themselves to make it happen. We need to be willing to do more than criticise and snipe from on high, congratulating ourselves for not doing anything because that would mean compromising impossibly high standards and associating with people who don't share all of our opinions. If we don't, we risk becoming like religious fundamentalists - concerned only with our self-righteousness and superiority compared to others who are part of the very same belief system, our brothers and sisters.

What you should have read recently

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

"Everyone wanted to know how a girl from a family of nine siblings in a town of barely a 1,000 people could have carried a baby to term without anyone finding out, if indeed her pregnancy was the secret the community claimed it to be.

Questions were asked about what kind of society made a bright girl feel unable to ask for help or undeserving of support at what must have been the most frightening time of her life."

The politics of black hair - Emma Dabiri  

"It can feel pretty frustrating that white supremacy has bequeathed a legacy in which, for many black women, simply wearing our hair in its own natural state can become a complex and politicised act. At the same time - despite the connection between said supremacy and the relationship that many black women have to our hair - most white people demonstrate absolutely no idea about the everyday maintenance of Afro hair, let alone its politics."

"There’s an air of superiority from those who busily seek to ruin and silence other feminists: “We’re doing it right; she’s doing it wrong.” By pointing our fingers elsewhere we keep ourselves safe from attack. It seems pretty clear, though, which white feminists are using valuable ideas like intersectionality to advance their own careers and gain popularity, without an ounce of interest in movements towards ending oppression and with little understanding of structural inequality."

"In a recent study of Black women’s leadership Ngunjiri, Gramby-Sobukwe, and Williams-Gegner note that “early preaching Black women were radical in their commitment to consistent egalitarianism and social justice within the Black church and community as well as society at large” and refer to them as “tempered radicals”... "

What is subversivism? - Julia Serano

"Subversivism is the practice of extolling certain gender and sexual expressions and identities simply because they are unconventional or nonconforming. In the parlance of subversivism, these atypical genders and sexualities are “good” because they “transgress” or “subvert” oppressive binary gender norms. The justification for the practice of subversivism has evolved out of a particular reading (although some would call it a misreading) of the work of various influential queer theorists over the last decade and a half."

"I also needed to read Introverts in the Church and Quiet as a way of explaining my discomfort in church. So much of my church experience had been shaped by the expectations and standards set by extroverts. We were always doing more stuff, meeting more people, attending more events, speaking in front of more people. The introvert in me just couldn’t keep up. Church felt like hard work, sucking the life out of me rather than renewing, strengthening, and, the favorite word of extrovert church leaders, “equipping” me."

Are you being TOO sex-positive? - Be Young & Shut Up

"Sex positivity is well-meaning, and a lot of its practices have helped to make people more comfortable with their sexuality. But its execution is flawed. Many are excluded or harmed by the community’s practices of the philosophy, and even the pure philosophy itself. Its monolithic identity means that if you take issue with sex positivity, you’re the stuffy patriarch enemy. The problems are such that sex-negative feminism has become a legitimate movement that, while it has its own serious problems, is just about as respectful of people’s sexual choices as sex positivity is."

"Since going back to work I’ve learnt that sometimes I have to let go. I’ve learnt that sometimes it’s enough just to do my best. I’ve learnt that tending to my happiness and sanity is important. And I’ve learnt that immersing myself in the world that exists beyond the periphery of my motherhood experience, is key to my family’s happiness. I’m grateful that most of the time work keeps me sane."

"However, after watching that amazing conversation between bell hooks and Melissa Harris Perry, I realised I desperately needed to find a feminism that reflected my specific experiences of being a black woman in Britain and navigating through issues of ‘black identity’, ‘black womanhood’, dual cultural identity among other issues. Black British Feminism."

What you should have read this week

Friday, 24 January 2014

I'm reviving my weekly-ish round-up of things worth reading!

"While some women are fighting not to conceive children—which matters—others are fighting to able to, to not be sterilized, to not be shamed and abused during pregnancy, to not live in poverty with that child and to not worry about State interference and oppression no matter what the choice may be. Whether Black women need abortion or need support for entering motherhood, both choices are valid and both need deliverance from the impact of White supremacist capitalist patriarchy on Black womanhood and Black motherhood."

"I thought about the decision that was mine to make. And surprisingly, solidly, I realised what I would do: I would have this baby. At the time, I didn't know that there is a critical difference between unplanned and unwanted. At the time, I would barely have described myself as “wanting” children. I had never felt that cooing hunger which teenage girls called "broodiness", the longing to put their arms around a baby – even when small, I preferred reading to playing with dolls. And I will never feel the ravenous grief that older women call broodiness, either, the anguish of love with no object. But I did want a child, and specifically I wanted a child with the man I was with. It was ten years premature, but this was that child."

"In the meantime, though, we feminists are stuck with this endless list of reminders from those far cleverer than us. Just in case you’ve forgotten, you shouldn’t worry about banknotes because you should be worrying about Page Three. You shouldn’t worry about Page Three because you should be worrying about every other page of the Sun. You shouldn’t be worrying about the Sun because you should be worrying about the representation of women across the whole of the media. You shouldn’t be worrying about women in the media because you should be worrying about violence against women. You shouldn’t be worrying about violence against women because you should be worrying about FGM."

"After I got married and we left Boulder, a deep-seeded cynicism set in, and every little thing about that former church were all things I despised about Christianity. I mean, really, WHO NEEDS A FOG MACHINE AND LASER LIGHTS? But now, working through that cynicism and suspicion, I've come to have a tender place for churches like that. The glossy evangelical megachurch is a part of my story, just as much as the more gritty, hipster, urban church we're in now.

But, more than missing the worship service and the big-church feel, I miss having an answer for everything and having a checklist to live by. I miss the Christianity of my younger years. I miss that chapter of my story, and in some ways, I truly long for it. Being naive was so much easier."

"I first watched She’s All That back in 1999, at the Stratford Picturehouse some weekend after school. I remember loving it, because it hit all the spots it was supposed to: boy and girl got to have each other at the end, and bad guy kind of got his comeuppance, which is as it should be in real life. The 90s – especially in the mid-to-late period – was a significant time for teen movies. It was a golden period, during which the industry enjoyed a purple patch starting around 1995 with Clueless, continuing into 1996 with The Craft, and exploding in a high point of acne, prom and hormone-fug in 1999, which saw the release of 10 Things I Hate About You, Cruel Intentions, Never Been Kissed, Election, American Pie and of course, She’s All That."

"It is on the windy Sunday evening of October 6 that I make my first contact with the outer ring of this mafia. A big party with VIPs is on the cards; the kind of party an ordinary girl, or rather ‘product’, as we are called by traffickers, is not usually invited to. But I am currently on a fortune ride: Oghogho’s favourite. Additionally, I have been classified as ‘Special Forces’, or ‘Forza Speciale’ as my new contacts say, borrowing the Italian term.  It’s a rule of thumb, I understand, that a syndicate subjects girls to classification through a check on their nude bodies and I, too – in the company of some male and female judges, headed by a trafficker called Auntie Precious – had been checked. I had received the highest classification. “This means that you don’t have to walk the streets. You can be an escort for important clients,” Auntie Precious had told me in a soft, congratulatory tone. The ones of ‘lesser’ classification were referred to as Forza Strada, the Road Force."

And finally...

- This week I finished Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah. Get on it, if you haven't already.
- C. Jane Kendrick is back on the blogging wagon. Hurrah!
- Sunday 26 January is World Leprosy Day (work-related plug alert). If you don't know much about leprosy now's your chance to find out how it's very much a 21st century disease. Watch the video!
- At the Christian Feminist Network we're organising a day conference that's being held on Saturday 1 March in Manchester. The conference will include presentations, workshops and discussion as well as the chance to network with other Christian feminists. Find out more and sign up.

"Put away the shopping cart and pick up a shovel" - who takes responsibility for our issues with church?

Friday, 17 January 2014

What would you say would be a really good reason for leaving a church? Pastor and blogger Aaron Loy* has five reasons he thinks are really bad, but I don't think I agree with him.

No doubt, as a pastor and church planter Aaron Loy has heard the concerns and complaints of many members of his congregation. And this post must have been borne out of a certain amount of frustration at concerns and complaints that he can't fully address or resolve, because some of that responsibility lies with someone else, even the complainant themselves. But my own concern is that just as we can be pretty one-sided in the way we look at issues in our church life, his response to this was just as one-sided and actually comes across as dismissive and patronising, hurtful to those dealing with the issues he lists, and even going as far as to remove responsibility and accountability from leaders.

Discussing the post on Twitter, someone I know commented that it read "too much like cajoling someone to stay in an abusive relationship".

As I read through Loy's five "really bad reasons", my first reaction was to become steadily more irritated. Not because I think we need to move churches at the slightest hint of conflict or dissatisfaction, but because of how I'd feel if I received these answers in response to raising a concern. Under "I'm not being fed", he writes:

"Do pastors have a responsibility to steward the scriptures and care for their church spiritually? You bet they do."

This, however, doesn't stop him believing that the access to "substance" we have through books and the internet makes it a "cop-out" to expect to get what we want or feel we need, teaching-wise, on a Sunday morning. I'd say it's just as much of a cop-out to respond to people concerned about the quality or depth of teaching by telling them to go and get it elsewhere when they might not have the first clue where to start. I believe that a church with the resources to do so has a responsibility to serve its congregation, teaching-wise, at different stages of their faith life. Not by offering these opportunities only to those who are being mentored and trained on some sort of leadership track, but with teaching days, evenings, weekends, papers. There is a difference between spoon-feeding the selfish and ignoring valid concerns about teaching.

Many people spend many years of their lives serving the church and "contributing" to their community, but I also believe there are times when this is not possible, and a bit of consumption of something, anything, is exactly what's needed. That could be down to illness, work pressures, or parenting pressures. From personal experience, I know that when you're going through a stage like that and feel that "contributing" is a struggle, and people to give you the impression that you must give more, do more, expend more of yourself, it can make you feel resentful and cynical.

Not everyone feels comfortable in the same sort of church set-up, and it's here that I worry about Loy's response to his second point - "It's getting too big".

"If you have a problem with big churches, you really wouldn’t have liked the first church and you definitely won’t like heaven. To be frank, if you have a problem with the inevitable growth that happens when lives are changed by the gospel, you have some serious repenting to do."

Feeling comfortable in a smaller group of people, in a quieter and more intimate church service or community has got nothing to do with having a problem with people's lives being changed by the gospel, and I think that's actually quite a nasty way of framing it. On one hand I can see his point about people being dissatisfied when 'things aren't how they used to be' because they are resistant to any sort of change. But small churches and the people who prefer to worship in them, are not 'wrong'. This point also seemed to highlight the oft-discussed divide between extroverted and introverted churchgoers, and the way that extrovert characteristics are often prized by Christian culture. For some people, large groups, noise and crowds are emotionally draining and a huge source of anxiety. Do they need to be ordered to 'repent' as well?

I'm not going to argue with Loy's point on "I don't agree with everything that's being preached"; that's fair enough. But his fourth "really bad reason", "My needs aren't being met", needs some looking at. Again it's important to note there are two sides to every story. No-one can totally have their needs met by a church. But when someone speaks to a church leader about a concern they have, it should not be dismissed as a question of needing to "put away the shopping cart and pick up a shovel". What is the need and why isn't it being met? Can the church help? Is it a petty request or gripe, or an issue where someone needs pastoral support? Is it an issue that has been raised numerous times by numerous different people? If so, it might be time to consider change.

I know that the issues Loy has identified must be a source of frustration for countless church leaders who are working hard and doing their best and trying to accommodate people, but it goes both ways. After reading his post, I felt his overriding message was "Don't try to implicate the church, its leaders, or the way it has dealt with issues - the problem is YOU. If you were less selfish, less needy, and more willing to suck it up and give more rather than expect something in return, you wouldn;'t be in this mess."

We all have issues with the church. Sometimes these issues can and should be addressed. Sometimes, we need to talk them through and understand that we have to take some responsibility for solving these issues (sometimes we truly are the victims of something terrible, other times, we're not and need to keep things in perspective), or that we need to look at them from a different angle and see the nuance.

Aaron Loy's "really bad reasons" might not be the greatest of reasons for leaving a church. But his responses to them are exactly the reasons I have often been fearful of raising church-related issues with people: that in doing so, I would be dismissed and given the impression that the problem lies only with me and my selfishness. People I know have experienced it too, in conversations with church leaders and even in response to blog posts. It is perhaps one of the most common sights below the line in some corners of the Christian blogosphere - someone writes about a negative experience with church; someone else rushes to tell them that they're actually the one at fault. When we address the issues that arise on our journeys of faith, the reaction of the church should not be to absolve itself of any responsibility, but to see both sides of the story and think about what could be done to help.

*who I had never come across before today - which leads me to say that I don't regularly read his blog or know about anything else he has written on this subject. I felt the post discussed here was problematic and hurtful, and felt moved to explain why.

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