Westboro and the “Pink Mass” Joke

pink satin

I couldn’t find a picture of a pink Satan, so here’s a pink satin ribbon instead.

 A story popped up yesterday that seems to have a lot of people laughing, but somehow I just can’t. An independent religious organization called “The Satanic Temple” decided to fight back in a rather unconventional way against the infamous Westboro Baptist hate protests about the Boston Marathon. The Temple apparently decided that they going to target a dead relative (in this case, the mother of the founder of Westboro) and “baptize” her to make her spirit gay via a “Pink Mass”. There hasn’t been an official response from Westboro Baptist, yet.

In this situation, this wasn’t publicized as a loving ceremony. This wasn’t publicized to talk about the two couples who apparently volunteered for this, it was publicized as a “Pink Mass” to turn a dead mother gay.

Martin Luther King Jr. said it best

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  

The only evidence I can find for “Pink Mass” being anything other than a ritual specifically to humiliate family members of dead people, is a reference to a Catholic church holding an annual pink Mass for breast cancer survivors and supporters. The Temple seems to have co-opted a religious ritual from another church without even researching to see if it might mean something.  

Any organization is of course free to create rituals that symbolize whatever they wish it to, but creating a ceremony to specifically humiliate people who believe differently than you is abhorrent, and especially unethical when it is specifically done to attack another person’s religious beliefs.

Much was made of the fact that the Temple was basically doing what the Mormons do (aka, baptizing living people in proxy for people who have died). In my mind, howeverm this is not a solid arguement for this behaviour being ok. It does not follow that because a church or group has done it before, anyone now is free to form their own ceremonies of a similar kind. In addition, while intent is not magic, one can see that the Mormons are intending their ceremony to be a blessing, a way for even non believers to get to heaven. In terms of morality, this is in some ways more gracious than the “one chance and that’s it” version that most of the rest of the evangelical Christian sects go for the idea of eternity.

Note: The Satanic Bible doesn’t talk about an afterlife in the way that many of the mainstream religions do. The majority of Satanists don’t believe there is any such thing as an afterlife, and many are in fact atheists. I don’t presume to speak for The  Satanic Temple’s congregation’s personal beliefs, but it is very likely that this “ritual” is not part of a sacred worship ritual formed for the benefit of the church members. It seems pretty clear that this was more a specifically directed mockery/punishment of the beliefs of a group of people (a group of people, I may note, that is larger than just the Westboro Baptist congregation, as many, though not all, Christian believers believe that being gay is a sin, and many believe that being a Satanist sends a person to hell.)

Overall, the saddest, most offensive part is that this ceremony has become a weapon. In attacking the Westboro Baptist, this weapon is being used as a punishment, and the punishment is the idea that being gay sends you to hell. This makes a powerfully offensive statement, that being gay is a punishment, something that can be done to you, and something that is dishonorable and shameful in its own right. Although I’m sure thats not what the people involved in this ritual believed, that is what thier actions imply.

In the end, the woman being theoretically punished or “turned gay” is having this done because her son has hurt people. I wouldn’t condone this behaviour even towards someone who had been nasty in her lifetime, but this is made all the more tragic by the fact that Mrs. Phelps died of an aggressive form of cancer when her son was only 5 years old.

Sorry, all this just doesn’t make me laugh, even though I get it. I get that we want to hold on to something seemingly trivial when people with terrible views take a stand against equality. I get that this is supposed to be whistling in the dark, but to me it’s undeniably mean spirited and directed in the wrong way, and hurts the very people it is trying to help.

In conclusion, I want to call out a cultural trend I have begun to notice. Rape culture is already well known as a situation that propagates and promotes rape as just a fact of life. Rape culture glosses over abuse, hurtful comments and jokes that promote problematic behaviours in others. I propose that we use Shame Culture as a term to talk about the overarching, wide ranging effects of people equating justice with the widespread shaming of perpetrators of social crimes. In our society, day in and day out, I see the back and forth of people trying to modify others’ behaviour via shame tactics, which are almost universally underhanded, and are designed to insult, expose and disgrace the person in question. While exposure and disgrace are side effects of being brought to justice in a legal and moral sense, they are not proscribed as morally good punishments in and of themselves. Even more so for insults.

A person being genuinely offended and voicing that opinion on a private or public stage is welcome and allowed to do so, but there is a difference between asking for a platform to speak your mind and attacking someone else’s self worth. I would say that the Westboro Baptist are an example of people who try to shame others, to devalue their self worth, debase them and shame them into agreeing with them. So I would call for us to rise above those tactics, fight with words of justice instead of words meant to shame and debase.


Fisking Cultural Norms: The Lone Ranger


I have been awaiting the reviews of “The Lone Ranger” ever since the idea was first announced. The idea of Hollywood doing a grittier, more realistic reboot of ANYTHING is both fun and horrifying at the same time, and has only led to good a small percentage of the time. However, it has led to amusement and discussion of tropes 100% of the time, and that’s where I come in, ready for a good fisking. I want do something a little different, though. I want to boil down the basics of what is being communicated with the look of movie, and contrast it with the goals of Johnny Depp and the producers. Here are the things that were said BEFORE the movie came out. This is from an interview with MTV:

“I like the idea of having the opportunity to sort of make fun of the idea of Indian as sidekick…throughout the history of hollywood, the Native American has always been the second class, third class, fourth class, fifth class citizen, and I don’t see Tonto that way at all. So it’s an opportunity for me to salute Native Americans.” Johnny Depp

This seems like a very respectable goal. If I were to sum up his goals as stated in this comment it would go like this:
A: Portray the character as a first class citizen
B: Portray him as a character worthy of respect
C: Make sure that the character is portrayed as something to “salute”, aka that Native peoples today can be proud of

There has always been a history of actors working closely with designers to come up with the best visual representations of their ideals for the characters. This was brought to the public eye in a very obvious way, however, when Johnny Depp talked at length about how he came up with most of the costume ideas for Captain Jack Sparrow. As far as the character goes, Sparrow was a great achievement of creating a pirate captain in such a vibrant, realistic and iconic way, without resorting to pirate stereotypes other than gold teeth.

So it seems natural that the design of the character would be handed to Depp as the actor that would portray Tonto. Here’s what I would call the first big mistake. The Jack Sparrow (“that’s Captain!”) that we see on the screen is NOT Depp’s unedited work. First of all, there were many more gold teeth capped by Depp’s dentist at his behest (including his front two teeth), and the Disney representatives made him take the number down to less than 5.

Also, Depp had a grand idea that nobody bought, which was to have the character have a deformed nose, which was supposed to be the result of a botched reattachement surgery after it was lopped off in a fight. The nose was supposed to have bad circulation, and thus be blue and swollen. Yes. Instead of a blue beard, this Captain would have a blue nose. Disney never even let the makeup artists do a mock up of the design, so it was happily left alone in Depp’s imagination.

On April 22, 2012, the character design and inspiration for Tonto was revealed to the public in an exclusive interview by Entertainment Weekly.

The world was wondering what he would look like, as his last few roles have obscured his ostensibly Native American complexion and cheekbones with gothic black and white makeup. So it seems he departed from this by…ripping his inspiration from a painting where the subject wears heavy black and white makeup that obscures his features. Also, the producers of the film decided to make Tonto and the rest of the Native Americans in the movie full blooded Comanche…which Depp exemplified by choosing a painting called: “I Am Crow”.


No, it gets better. Or worse. Hee hee. The painting isn’t of a Crow Native’s ceremonial facepaint, nor is it of any Native whatsoever. I’ll let the painter, Kirby Sattler, explain.

“The subjects are a variety of visual references and my imagination. I am not a historian, nor an ethnologist. Being of non-native blood, without personal history, it would be presumptuous to portray the subject I paint from any other view than as an artist with an innate interest in the world’s indigenous cultures. I purposely do not denote a tribal affiliation to the majority of my subjects, rather, I attempt to give the paintings an authentic appearance, provoke interest, satisfy my audience’s sensibilities of the subject without the constraints of having to adhere to historical accuracy.” Kirby Sattler

Yes. He likes to paint pictures of real historical people, without any of that actual history bogging down his mind. I want you to imagine for a moment, the idea of a popular artist painting a series of successful paintings of, say, historical traditional Chinese people, without ANY research whatsoever into what those people looked like. Imagine the hubris involved. I used China because there are 56 different cultural groups in a similar size landmass, but that doesn’t even come close to the 566 separate nations that exist in America today. Much less all of the tribes that have existed in the past. So this definitely violates C of Depps goals, as I don’t know a non native portrayal based on no particular tribe and having no real sense of history could be honoring to the people for whom this is their reality, their culture.
Anyway, back to Depp on seeing the painting:

“It just so happened Sattler had painted a bird flying directly behind the warrior’s head. It looked to me like it was sitting on top. I thought: Tonto’s got a bird on his head. It’s his spirit guide in a way. It’s dead to others, but it’s not dead to him. It’s very much alive.” 

I think that violates point A of what Depp was trying to accomplish, “Portray the character as a first class citizen” and possibly B, “portray him as a character worthy of respect”. People who are first class citizens are portrayed as level headed, rational and sane individuals. Now, don’t misunderstand me, having religious ideals or beliefs is not the problem here. He is saying that to Tonto, the bird isn’t just “spiritually alive”, its PHYSICALLY alive. This is exemplified in the final product of the movie, where he tries to feed the bird peanuts while it is sitting stuffed on top of his head.

Now, people who have delusions and problems connecting with reality are not less worthy of respect, but they are often perceived as deserving less respect, particularly when their situations are played up for laughs. Feeding his dead bird hat is played up for laughs. Also, add a point to your stereotype score sheet (SSS) for the assumption that Tonto would have a spirit guide (and another point that he would reveal this spirit guide to literally everyone).

“…The whole reason I wanted to play Tonto is to try to [mess] around with the stereotype of the American Indian that has been laid out through history, or the history of cinema at the very least — especially Tonto as the sidekick, The Lone Ranger’s assistant…As you’ll see, it’s most definitely not that.” Depp

So instead, he turned out to be the storyteller. Add another point to the score sheet. Oh, and I forgot, the stereotype that all “Indians” wear ceremonial facepaint every second of the damn day, that earns 500000 points.

I thought it couldn’t get any worse, but I’ll leave you with this final quote from Depp, whom I still very much admire as an actor, but he definitely needs to work on his delivery and examine his privilege.

 “I wanted him to be no joke. First of all, I wouldn’t f**k with someone with a dead bird on their head. Second of all, he’s got the f**king paint on his face, which scares me…I wanted to maybe give some hope to kids on the reservations. They’re living without running water and seeing problems with drugs and booze. But I wanted to be able to show these kids, ‘F**k that! You’re still warriors, man.'”

Oh Johnny…

Now that the movie has come out, if you want a point by point review of the movie itself, please please read this brilliant author take it down on a blog that fully explores Native Appropriations. She’s done better than I ever could and her review should go viral.

The Silencing of the Oppressed in SGM, Part 2

chains broken

In my experience, any time someone tells a personal story, there is something to be learned. This holds true for my post yesterday (Part 1), both for reading Hännah Ettinger’s story, and for the story that unfolded in the response from pastor Stephen Altrogge.

Hännah’s story enlightened me to the circumstances of her life as she attempted to find her place in a church that doesn’t allow women to teach. The situation of her church life and family life led her to a need for self discovery, to decide what her personal boundaries were. She notes that she hasn’t reached any conclusions about the “reformed” theology behind the SGM church she attended because she was so confused by the legalism that proceeded from the members. She ended with a positive message to the people around her and in the world who may have been hurt by churches and spiritual abuse.
In contrast, she is very critical of C.J. Mahaney’s oversimplification of life into pert responses and her congregation’s adoption of his terms into prescribed cultural touchstones. She points out how his comments were used to homogenize interactions within the community, but without offering support for people who needed the comfort of freedom of expression.
She condemns in strong words the strictures of the church culture, which dictated everything from how she expressed herself in conversation to how she dressed and what hobbies she pursued. She doesn’t make a distinction here, but I think its worth it to point out that in many of these churches, families are given freedom to choose whatever they want for thier kids, which may harm their interactions with peers. For instance, one family may allow their kids to watch Disney movies, while another may prevent their kids from even watching cartoons at all. My point is, some of the situations that stifled Hännah may have originated from her parents’ preferences. Conversely, she also might have found peer pressure stifling to her enjoyment of hobbies and interests if THEIR parents were more strict. I say this to point out the variance of individual experiences in churches like these.

She is critical of her home life, of parents who put more emphasis on her example to her siblings than the need of the individual child to find herself and make mistakes and learn from them.

Hännah links directly to a site that many members of SGM have been told not to go to, SGM Survivors. She says she stands with the hundreds of people who post there every week. She speaks out against techniques that SGM people have publically adhered to in the past, like “first time obedience” with children, and “assuming the best about those in authority” which is still being publically promoted in their literature today.

Then we see the second story. Here are the other comments of Stephen Altrogge in the blog post:

“…I would be the first to point out many problems in SGM. But the problem with this article is that it is not a fair representation of the big picture. Rachel, as a blogger you have a responsibility to look at the whole picture.”

This is the second time that Stephen has ignored the person who wrote the story, Hännah, and directly appealed to authority, Rachel, to “fix” the post. In my previous post, I listed where he admitted that there were problems in SGM. But I have read his blog, I have heard his messages and I have not heard him ever being the first person to point out problems that need to be addressed in SGM. If this is something he does regularly, I would love to read about it. I don’t know what he wants to accomplish by appealing to Rachel to fix this, because he offers no opinions on how this could be done. Its not Rachel who wrote the post, but it was Rachel who edited the post and chose what to display. She stands behind this person’s personal story. I don’t see why that is so offensive.

“first of all simply being male does not put me in any sort of hierarchy within a SGM church”

Simple question…How would he know? How would the son of an integral, longtime member of the organization have any idea whether he was being favored or not, or whether it had anything to do with being male?

“And I never once heard it taught that women were taught to be completely passive, and I basically attended every conference SGM every hosted, and I attended the very church Hannah attended for 10 months.”

COMPLETELY passive? So they were taught to be passive? Also, she said

Though it was never said in so many words, being a biblical woman in SGM was the emotional equivalent of lying back, closing one’s eyes, and taking one for Jesus.” (emphasis mine)

So she said this comment was about subtext, not actual text. Anyway, he continues:

“Additionally, I have many, many friends in the church Hannah attended, both men and women, who would completely disagree with Hannah’s version. So I actually do have a pretty good feel for Covenant Life Church, given the fact that I personally attended, know many of the pastors, know many of the members, and am still in contact with them to this day.”

Yeah, she didn’t go to Covenant Life. She said that.

“In terms of abuse, I never intended to be flippant. Abuse is horrendous, awful, and terrible. All child abuse should be exposed. However, we must tread carefully when one person speaks of systemic problems. I am not defending child abuse in any way, and my church goes to great lengths to prevent it.”

As others have pointed out, his church is small. Like compared to Covenant life, it’s miniscule. Also, “all child abuse should be exposed” has not helped him point out or condemn the men in the lawsuit who had served jail time after being convicted of child abuse, of which there was at least one. Please remind me the last time Stephen practiced what he preached.

“My point is simply this: Hannah’s version is not a fair representation of the church as a whole. Yes, it is her experience, and I do not discredit that. But my personal knowledge of the church, my attendance of the church, and my relationships within that church make me certain of particular facts. Hannah interpreted those facts in a particular way – many others did not.”

I still can’t believe that he never once says “I’m so sorry this happened to you, Hännah, I will strive to make sure that my words and my preachings are more bible based than the things you heard, and to make sure my flock understands how to apply them biblically and not legalistically.” He has no idea that he is coming across as singularly unsympathetic and legalistic.

“Actually, yes, there is way to present a balanced viewpoint. First of all, Hannah is one person in one church in a movement made up of approximately 80 churches. To say that her story represents the whole is false. I have no doubt that Hannah really experienced what she says she did. But I personally know many, many people in her church who did NOT experience what she did. Presenting a balanced view would be to interview someone who did not experience what Hannah did.“

This blows my mind. He is literally saying that a more balanced view of the church would be to find someone who had a good experience, and interview them instead. What?

“Does my church practice emotional modesty? No. I don’t know what that means. I’ve never heard that term before today.”

Then how can you know that the term isn’t being talked about in the churches? Please do your research, its not hard to find out what terms mean. For all you know, its given a different label, but how could you know that if you claim you don’t even know what it means?

“Does my church encourage physical modesty? Of course. But not in any sort of “let me measure how short your shorts are way”. Do we practice first time obedience? No. Do we practice spiritual coverings? No. I don’t know what that is.”

She said these things happened at her church. According to the testimonies of others online, they also happened at the Fairfax church, CLC, and they happened at many different churches across the nation who weren’t SGM because they were trying to follow the “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” example of the SGM churches. (EDIT: Also, his comment about “Let me measure your shorts” reminded me of the infamous Mahaney Modesty Checklist, which includes lots of measuring and techniques to measure length of shirts/skirts etc.)

“And I am well connected with many other SGM pastors and have never even heard of these terms.”

Did it occur to you, Steven, that they may have been preaching these things BEFORE you became a pastor? Back when you were in college, or even before?

“All I’m asking is for balance. Are there problems in SGM? Sure! I can think of lots. But the Internet is a breeding ground of half-information. As Christians we should do all we can to change that.”

All she did was present her story. Is he accusing her of being part of that breeding ground of half-information? Also, if you can present those problems in SGM, I can think of MANY blogs that would love for you to set the record straight. Give us the full story, the true story, so we can support you in fixing it!

I am blown away by his narrative. He hasn’t heard the terms before, so he categorically says they aren’t ever preached. He doesn’t address Hännah or her pain, other than to say that abuse in general is terrible, awful and sad.
On the positive side of things, I must commend him for his comment: “I have no doubt that Hannah really experienced what she says she did.” That is a great step in the right direction, and a very positive affirmation that she’s not making things up to slander an organization at large. I also completely agree with his statement “To say that her story represents the whole is false.” However, no one said that her story was meant to represent the whole. That is where the main miscommunication happened.

I don’t feel that Stephen needs to speak for the SGM community. I think, that like Jesus said, we will know them by their fruits. If the larger narrative from SGM is good, then there will be fruit.

The Silencing of the Oppressed in SGM


I follow a number of blogs, and a few weeks ago there was a new guest post on Rachel Held Evans’ blog. Rachel asked a former homeschooler named Hännah Ettinger to write about the group of churches known as Sovereign Grace Ministries from a personal perspective. The blog post is a story of one who grew up in an environment where church doctrines were often held legalistically by church members and families.

I thought it was a well written blog post about a personal story, and how the community around the author behaved based on preachings that they heard and books that they read (like “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” and “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”).

Then Stephen Altrogge, a pastor from a church in Pennsylvania, and son of a longtime pastor of SGM, commented on the message.

“I’m sorry, but as someone who grew up in SGM, and is now a pastor in a church that recently left SGM, this is a VERY poor representation of SGM as a whole. This is one young woman’s perspective and it is filtered through the lens of her family experience. What she is communicating was not the systemic experience throughout SGM. Some were abused, yes. But this young woman’s experience is not representative.

Rachel, I’m appealing to you, please at least try to post well balanced arguments. This is not well balanced in the least. At least try to get both sides of the story.”

We will put aside the weirdness of the fact that he is defending a church he has now separated from, and get to the heart of the matter. Stephen does not put this “plea” out because he wants another person to tell a positive story. He comes from one of the smaller churches that stood under the SGM label, and although he asks for balance, he gives none himself. He doesn’t explain that his experience was good, and that he wishes that SGM would be more unified for the good of the 80 some odd congregations that were under it.

See, the truth is, even though these issues were in the past, the SGM model has been to move old theologies and commonly held ideals aside when problems pop up. They have a tendancy to pretend that the legalism never happened, or that it was fringe group who “misunderstood” what the teachings were about.

Now, if only Stephen had ever admitted that his church could be wrong and was legalistic in the past, which could have hurt people like this Ms Ettinger…Wait, I’ve got it!

Stephen, I would like to quote your own comment on a blog post a couple of months ago.

“Now, have our churches been overly legalistic about a “quiet time”, or whatever you want to call it? Sure. Just as we’ve been overly legalistic about dating, worship forms, parenting, and a bazillion other things. But our temptation is always to swing the pendulum too far the other way.”


These are the things you admitted to, Stephen. Please stop trying to silence those who would tell their story. I would like to echo and affirm the words someone who responded to you in that thread.

Nerio Jove wrote back to Stephen’s comment:

“I’m not sure you understand just how offensive this remark is to me and might be to some of the other readers here, and how effectively it epitomizes the heart problems of SGM leadership, so let me break it down for you:

1. Not only do you freely admit that SGM has been legalistic in its teachings, but that it has been OVERLY legalistic, as if it wasn’t bad enough to act like the Pharisees, but that SGM has taken it to a level that even the Pharisees might think was too much. Given how Jesus addressed the Pharisees on this issue, how might you think Jesus would address SGM if he arrived at Louisville HQ in person?

2. You respond to the question of legalistic zealotry in SGM’s teaching (and by implication, its culture) with the response, “Sure.” Do you truly understand the heartache caused by this teaching, the broken relationships, the twisting of the Truth that has occurred that you admit to, and yet you respond not with sorrow but with a glib remark?

3. You JUSTIFY the legalism with the remark, “But our temptation is always to swing the pendulum too far the other way.” In other words, Yes, SGM has taught and practiced wrongly–we have taught legalism rather than grace. But because it would be WORSE for us to abuse our freedom and become licentious, it’s better for us to err on the side of caution and prescribe all these different rules and practices–however distant our application is from the actual content of the Scriptures–as mandatory for being pleasing to God.

How DARE you say such a thing! If faith in Christ is what justifies us and enables us to come before the father, if in Jesus we are new creations no longer enslaved to sin, how is it possible that addressing Christians as being essentially just like the World could be a good thing to do?! 

 Mr Altrogge, please consider that your flippant comments on other people’s blogs are hurtful and neglectful. In the future, please realize that people should be allowed to share thier stories without being repremanded for representing their churches unfavorably. It is not your job to be the thought police, and the stories people tell are important.