How The Gospel Has Not Saved Brazil

In 1997 I made a fateful mission trip to Brazil. Though it was only two months, it changed the course of my life. Since my late teens I knew I was going into ministry, but in the year prior to that first mission trip I had begun to drift. What I felt lacking was a personal vision of how my career should unfold. The inequality, crime, corruption, and social injustice I saw in Brazil contributed to what I believed was a calling on my life to help usher in a transformation of that country. I had no grandiose notions of single-handedly ‘saving’ the entire nation, but I did come to see myself as one small part of that greater initiative. Little could I have imagined that the evangelical revolution in Brazil would make matters worse for many people.

Despite its image as a sexually liberated country, Brazil is actually profoundly traditional on the topic. Men are expected to be ‘manly’ and women to be feminine, and anyone who falls outside that norm are subject to discrimination. Gay men in particular have suffered violence simply for being who they are, even just walking down the street or waiting for a bus. Rather than combatting violence against the lgbtq community, evangelicalism in Brazil actually demonizes them. They are treated at best as having an illness, and at worst as being literally demon-possessed. As a result, gay conversion therapy has apparently been given the green light to continue in Brazil, while elsewhere in the world it is being banned as abuse. More on that here:

As a starry-eyed young evangelical I believed that violence and crime would abate as ‘the gospel’ spread through a population. What I didn’t realize was that evangelicalism is still a religion, one subject to the preferences of those who adopt it. It would have shocked me then to learn that now, in 2017, there are entire gangs in Brazil that identify as evangelical and/or Pentecostal, and who continue to commit crimes and perpetuate the drug trade. Worse still, evangelical gangs have carried out campaigns of harassment against practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions who live in neighborhoods they control. Read about that here and here .

Religions are all malleable, existing in the minds of believers and having no objective reality. That is why they change so much, including among groups that claim to have an unchanging faith. A Southern Baptist from 2017, for example, wouldn’t do very well pretty much anywhere in 1617, all else being equal. It doesn’t surprise me as much now as it would have even just a decade ago that evangelicalism in Brazil is taking the shape of the pre-existing prejudices and predilections of the Brazilian people. That’s precisely what it’s done in the United States and elsewhere.

The only real path forward for any nation is through education and a firm commitment to human rights. Ignorance cannot be eliminated with myths any more than adding wood to a fire can be expected to put it out.

American Atheists Embarrasses Us Again

American Atheists says that people who don’t believe in gods should clearly identify themselves as ‘atheists,’ avoiding terms like ‘Humanist’ and ‘Freethinker’ in order to ‘normalize atheism.’ And yet, that same organization regularly takes up frivilous causes that only harm the public image of atheists. Take their recent lawsuit against an animal shelter’s animal blessing event. might win this legal battle, but in the court of public opinion in only does non-theists more damage. This is, however, fully in keeping with the grand-standing history of American Atheists.

Hope Does Not Disappoint

Reorganizing my online photo albums recently was a walk down memory lane. Since 2012-2016 were what I refer to as my ‘four years of hell,’ it wasn’t an altogether pleasant journey. 

Reviewing pictures I took during the lonely time when my family was in Brazil and I was in the US was grim. For 14 months I worked, paid off debts, sent money to keep the family going in Brazil, and sold off or gave away what was left of our possessions that wouldn’t be making the trip down to Brazil with me. This was a time when my faith mattered more to me that ever, and it had always been vitally important to me. I prayed, I read the Bible cover-to-cover (again), I did volunteer work, I attended church…and in the end, the last month of my solitary sojourn, I realized that what I’d believed for all of my adult life was a fiction.

The following 14 months provided the relief of being back with my family in Brazil, but also the consternation of being expected to be a believing Christian and perhaps even a leader in the church. I hung back from everything in that arena, finding solace in a few new Humanist connections online and a couple of Kindle books on that topic as well. 

Through this all, my children suffered. While I was in the US they felt my absence as they struggled to adapt to a culture that was not really their own. When I was with them again I witnessed first-hand their hardship and heartache. Not only was everything different, our standard of living was greatly diminished as I sent resume after resume and made call after call seeking full-time employment in project management. It doesn’t matter if a foreigner has all his papers in order and speaks the language fluently, Brazilians avoid hiring non-Brazilians. One local tech company with great leadership finally welcomed me on board, but by then it was too late.

Christmas 2014 was a sad time. My daughter wept as we put up the tree and hung the decorations. That was my limit. After further reflection and discussion with the woman who was then my wife, I gave notice to the company and began preparations to move back to the US.

Several more hard months away from my family in the US followed by a lay-off right before they returned. A few months of unemployment and then finally a good job at a major media company…only to discover a few months later that my wife had broken her wedding vows.

Thinking back over those years of hell, I have felt a hollowness and wondered how I survived. Then, just this past week, the answer occurred to me: hope. 

Those long months alone in Elizabeth, New Jersey were illuminated by the hope that I’d be back with my family and finally able to fulfill my years-long dream of returning to doing mission work in Brazil. The hard months of job hunting in Uberlândia, Brazil were driven by the hope that I could build a better life for my family and extend my career in that challenging market. My move back to the United States was compelled by the hope of a return to the familiar for me and my family, and the continued progress of my project management career in New York. Even the betrayal, as shocking and harsh as it was for me, was countered by the hope that I could now be unchained from someone who I’d felt had been dragging me down emotionally and in other ways for years.

Were the first two examples above ‘false hope’ because the thing hoped for did not come to fruition? Not at all! False hope is based on a lie, on something that is not real. My hope to return to mission work was rational, as was my hope of continuing my career in Brazil. One didn’t work out because I came to reason, and the other was dropped in favor of making life easier for my family and myself. Perhaps these were misguided hopes, but they were hope nonetheless, and they kept me going. 

My hopes and dreams now are far more specific than what I’ve described here, and they could well be foolish and, like so many before, come to nothing. That doesn’t matter. My hopes animate my life now and give me reasons to get out of bed every morning, and that’s good enough.

“And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.” (Romans 5:3-5a NRSV).

My Experiences With The (Im)Balance of Power in Romantic Relationships

In 1998 I learned how to say ‘We love each other’ in Portuguese (Nós nos amamos). Nearly 20 years later I’ve begun to understand the full import of that phrase in either language, as well as realize that I’ve never really experienced it..

From age 18 to 42, I’ve been in three serious relationships. Here’s how they went.

The first woman, for whom I learned the phrase above, ended our engagement on the eve of my 24th birthday. I had twisted myself into theological knots, forcibly redefining myself in a misguided attempt to keep her. In the end she used a religious justification to dump me, when in reality she was already eyeing another man. They ultimately married and – last I heard – have three children together. It took me years to forgive her.

The second woman was a rebound who became long-term. We have two children. Unresolved issues from her adolescence shadowed our life together, and finally became fully manifest in a ridiculous mid-life crisis that led her beyond the pale of a committed, monogamous relationship.

In the two relationships I’ve outlined so far, I had little power. With the first I went through mental contortions to be what I thought she wanted. The harm I did myself psychologically lingered for years. With the second I was always adjusting my behavior for her and also trying to think of things to do for her. The third relationship, however, departed radically from this pattern.

With the third woman I was always upfront with what I really thought and who I felt myself to be. Things went well for a few months, until she tried to end our relationship. I put up no fight, and sadly accepted her decision. The next morning she was messaging me that she’d made a mistake. Though I accepted her back, I never felt the same about her again.

Don’t get me wrong. I cared deeply for number three. It was just no big deal for me any more if we broke up. When she made terribly homophobic comments and then backed off when she saw this was a non-negotiable with me, I felt in my bones that our days together were numbered.

Still, I wanted to give this woman the benefit of the doubt. She was clearly quite devoted to me. At the same time, she had long forbidden me from mentioning my most recent ex. This seemed fair to me, until our conversations became nearly consumed by her rants about her ex. It was in the midst of one of those tirades that I realized I’d violated one of my fundamental rules: I had covered up a part of my life (at her request avoided mentioning my ex in any context) to appease her.

In that relationship, I held all the cards. She was truly in love with me, and my infatuation had faded to nothing. She dreamed of our life together, and I worried about what further compromises I would have to make if we remained together. So, I ended it.

I have yet to be in a relationship with someone where it could honestly and fully be said that ‘we love each other.’ Maybe I’ll never have this experience. If I do, it will both permit and require me to be fully and truly me, and it will be priceless.

Who Thought The Church of The SubGenius Was Legit?

In an interview published recently in TexasMonthly the founders of The Church of The SubGenius ‘come clean’ about their religion being a big joke. What surprises me is that anyone actually ever thought this group was for real. In recent years we’ve seen the rise of The Church of The Flying Spaghetti Monster and The Church of The Latter-Day Dude, but the SubGenius group has been around a lot longer, dating back to 1980. 

Here’s a taste of the insanity that is ‘Slack,’ as passed along to us from the great J.R. “Bob” Dobbs.

The Minister is Not Your Friend

When I was in full-time ministry, I looked for friendship in other ministers, and not from among my parishioners. Now, I was certainly friendly to the folks at church. I paid them visits, asked about their families and lives, and sought to be supportive of them generally. They were not, however, my friends. I couldn’t very well go and confide in one or the other of them, or seek out a church member to be a sounding board for my ideas. Such behavior stinks of favoritism, and also opens up the minister to manipulation or exposure. So, I reached out to other ministers and sought to cultivate friendships with them. I remain convinced that this was the best course of action.

Several years ago my then-wife and I took our family to a different church than the one we’d attended since moving to New Jersey. We’d had a great deal of trouble with a couple in that tiny congregation, and had enough of it. A few months into life with our new church I was contacted by a paid member of the ministerial staff. It was essentially an offer of friendship. Nothing creepy, to be sure. He clearly just wanted to make a friend and have the ‘accountability’ that many Christians value.

I said ‘no.’

There wasn’t any unkindness meant on my part towards him, and it bothers me to this day that I felt it necessary to respond to him in that way. At the same time, he shouldn’t have put me in that position. I was a member of the church, and he was a minister. Had a friendship formed, I have no doubt that other church members would have noticed, and almost certainly jealousy would arise. 

 The minister is not your friend, no matter how much you would like that to be the case. And ministers, your congregants are not your friends. Be friendly to everyone, but make friends other ministers.

For a much better post on this topic that what I’ve written, check out ‘Why Your Pastor is Actually Not Your Friend.’

Mistaking Jesus as Milquetoast

Since my teen years I’ve been a student of the Bible. First it was a matter of my search for meaning. Then it became about preparing for what was supposed to be a life of ministerial service. Now it’s more of a solo academic pursuit. What is shocking to me now is what I missed in the Bible for so long, particularly because my Bachelor’s degree is in Ministry with a heavy emphasis on Bible (and I mean heavy). It was only in the first decade of the 21st century, after I had already stepped away from full-time ministry, that I learned that Jesus wasn’t really teaching people to be doormats. 

When parishioners came to me about co-workers bullying them (baffles me still that such a thing happens) or abused by a spouse, I counseled them that God didn’t mean for them to be doormats. In the back of my mind, though, I could’t justify what I was saying. After all, didn’t Jesus teach us to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile? 

No, actually, he didn’t. I mean, he likely said those words (yes I think there was a historical Jesus upon whom the tradition is based, and no I don’t believe in the supernatural), but his meaning was a far cry from what is most often taught. Check out ‘Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way’ by Walter Wink for details, and watch the video below to get the general idea.

Christians And The ‘New World’ of Transgender Inclusion

While I had planned to blog about the electoral victory of more than one transgender politician this week, I’ve decided instead to simply share the full thread of replies to a stupid tweet about it.