Sunday, April 22, 2018

Barbara Bush and Christian Culture

Barbara Bush/ Source Bing Free to Share and Use Images

People celebrating the life of Former U.S. First Lady Barbara Bush referred to her as classy and down to earth—a difficult combination for many to portray. Many celebrants also noted her faith. Barbara Bush was a Christian. And her funeral service was held in her local church—St. Martin’s Episcopal Church of Houston, Texas. The NY Times referred to the church as her “spiritual home.”

The relevance of her story to Christian Culture is her contribution to helping people connect to others while respecting diversity. Outsiders may not realize the incredible diversity that exists amongst those who claim an identity as Christian.

Mrs. Bush' story is also relevant because of the widespread respect she has received from people linked to conservative and liberal religious and political groups.

Not surprisingly, some Christians do not consider other groups as Christian. In the book, A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures, I make a point of describing some of the commonalities of Christians reflected in the early creeds as well as noting some beliefs that set the faithful apart as members of various subgroups.

The Episcopal Church traces its origins to the second century when Christianity arrived in England. The Church of England was established in British North America during colonization and became the Episcopal Church following independence. Today Episcopalians are part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Although often associated with Protestants—likely because they are not Catholic—Anglicans are not necessarily tied to the doctrinal protest movement of leaders like Martin Luther.

A glance at the official statements of beliefs confirms what one would expect from a group identified as Christian. But amongst protestants, Episcopalians are considered part of the mainline Christian groups and not a part of the Evangelical groups. Evangelicals, especially those holding fundamentalist perspectives, consider Episcopalians as “liberals” largely based on their social values. (Relevance: A House Divided Chapter 1).


Episcopalians differ from other Christian Cultures in ways relevant to several chapters in A House Divided.


Women may have a prominent role as clergy and as bishops. This sets them apart from Catholics where only men are priests and from various Evangelical groups, which hold to a traditional interpretation of the biblical texts that excludes women from church leadership. One unusual finding is the ordination of women in some Pentecostal groups such as the Assemblies of God—a group, which is a part of the National Association of Evangelicals. 

Barbara Bush was known as a wife, mother, and grandmother yet she supported women’s rights—as one article reports, her views on women were “complicated” (USA Today, 2018). (Relevance: A House Divided Chapter 10).


Episcopalians welcome those who identify as LGBT as children of God. They have an explicitly inclusive position. Clergy may identify as LGBT. And marriage is not limited to a man and a woman. For Barbara Bush’s compassionate view, see The Atlantic article (2018). (Relevance: A House Divided Chapter 9).


Following the #metoo movement, the House of Bishops met to begin a process of working to change the culture of the church with respect to the important concerns of those who have been harmed by sexual harassment and sexual violence. (Relevance: A House Divided Chapter 11).


The Episcopal Church views human life as sacred from conception to death. The church supports a woman’s right to an abortion with specific limitations (Church archives). 

Barbara Bush wrote “I hate abortion” but also believed abortion should not be a political platform issue (Slate, 2018). (Relevance: A House Divided Chapter 7).

Discussions of A House Divided have been well-received in conservative and liberal settings--in churches, universities, and a seminary.  The book is free to professors as an exam copy from PICKWICK. The publisher - PICKWICK- also offers group discounts.

A low cost Discussion Guide can be found on AMAZON.

Buy as an eBook on AMAZON and at other bookstores.


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Friday, February 2, 2018

Abortion, Politics, and Lives

Abortion laws continue to make news in the U.S. and elsewhere. A few days ago, the U.S. Senate did not pass legislation that would have limited abortions to 20 weeks of pregnancy. The bill had passed the U.S. House of Representatives. President Trump urged the Senate to pass the legislation.

Here's what Trump said: 

“I urge the Senate to reconsider its decision and pass legislation that will celebrate, cherish, and protect life,” Trump said in a statement. 

Medical science continues to make progress in the treatment of babies born much earlier than the usual 40 weeks, or 280 days. 

In the United States, the Republican Party has consistently promoted its anti-abortion stance. For conservative Christians, a prolife agenda means all unborn children's lives should be protected. Hence, prolife means no abortion. So it is no surprise that many Christians support Republican politicians.

The failure to pass the legislation was blamed on Democrats, who are usually associated with supporting a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

It is not surprising to find Democrats opposed to abortion bans for lower weeks than what is currently allowed.

What is surprising is that despite decades of prolife campaign rhetoric, the Republicans advocate a position inconsistent with that of the prolife movement. That is, the debate was not about prolife, but rather about when an abortion would be legal. By supporting a ban at 20-weeks, Republicans provide evidence of support for abortion.

The only reasonable assumption, given the bill rejected by the Senate, and supported by the President, is that American Republicans and Democrats support abortion—they just disagree on when it is acceptable.

The level of support for the 20-week number was 237 House, 51 Senate, and the President. Opposed to the ban: 189 House, 46 Senate. (Politico 1/29/2018).

I write about the often confusing positions of liberals and conservatives in Christian cultures. Abortion is one of those topics in A House Divided.

Discussions of A House Divided have been well-received in conservative and liberal settings--in churches, universities, and a seminary.  The book is free to professors as an exam copy from PICKWICK. The publisher - PICKWICK- also offers group discounts.

A low cost Discussion Guide can be found on AMAZON.

Buy an eBook on AMAZON and at other bookstores.

Several news sources carried the story. Here's one account Huffpost and here's a story from Fox News.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Christian Moral Foundations- Liberal Conservative Divide

Preliminary data anayses of American Christians identified as Republican or Democrat were consistent with predictions based on Moral Foundations Theory.

According to Haidt and his colleagues, liberals (usually Democrats in the USA) emphasize care and fairness in their moral arguments.

In contrast, conservatives (e.g., Republicans) tend to draw from up to five moral foundations but stand out as higher than liberals on Authority, Loyalty, and Purity.

The findings are part of a study I worked on with Heather Kelly, and Marin Marsi of Evangel University. The bars in the chart represent rounded marginal means from a MANCOVA where sex was the covariate.

You can look for the pattern when you read arguments over various social issues. Take the example of illegal immigration. Liberals will emphasize care for the families being separated and the treatment of children. Conservative arguments will emphasize respect for the authority of the law and loyalty.

Consider the case of an effective leader who has been hit with credible allegations of sexual misconduct. What would you predict? Liberals will focus on care for the vicitm and fair treatment. Thus liberals may often condemn their own candidate if the person is a man who harmed a woman.

Conservatives will likely argue about authority concerns e.g., innocent until proven guilty. They can be expected to be loyal to their "family member" longer than will liberals.  But purity concerns will be strong among most Christian members producing real tension. One way to reduce purity concerns is to argue the problem is in the past-- "sins are washed away."

Note: The data analysis has not yet been vetted by peer review. We present our findings at an international meeting in April.

If you are interested in moral psychology, see Haidt's book, The Righteous Mind.

If you are interested in the application to Christian cultures, see A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Mennonites Divide Over Sexuality

Many Christians are divided over matters of sexuality. At times the differences are too large to permit a sustainable "bridge." The Lancaster Mennonite Conference with 179 churches in the US states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York have split from the Larger Mennonite Church USA as of January 1, 2018.

The LMC is opposed to same-sex marriage, which appears to be the primary concern.

"Although Lancaster Mennonite Conference’s opposition to same-sex marriage has been cited as the principal cause for the separation, conference moderator L. Keith Weaver said vision, church polity and governance within MC USA also played a role." (Lancaster Online)

"Although Lancaster Mennonite Conference’s withdrawal is significant — according to published reports, it will reduce the size of MC USA by 14 percent — both Weaver and Stoltzfus said the split has been amicable." (Lancaster online)

This blog and the book, A House Divided, focus on issues of morality and sexuality in Christian Cultures. Same-sex relationships are not the only issue of concern to Christians. Additional information about biblical sexuality and morality can help think through the issues. Understandably, even a civil discussion does not lead to reconciliation when specific behavior is viewed as sinful by one party and not the other.

Learn more about A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures 
available from the publisher PICKWICK and other stores e.g.,  AMAZON    GOOGLE

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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Manage Family Conflict

It's easy to get sucked in to an argument at family gatherings and holiday parties. Here are some ideas for preventing A House Divided effect.

PREPARE for conflict by relaxing. It is easier to mentally prepare to be in a cheerful and peaceful frame of mind before arriving at an event than try to recover when someone pushes your buttons. Just recognizing that your well-being and positive relationships are more important than trying to convert someone to your views at a party can help you stay centered. People prepare in different ways like meditating, deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and so forth.

LISTEN to button pushers. It seems inevitable that any large group will have someone apt at pushing buttons. They may be on the extreme left or right in politics, religion, or both. Perhaps they are really a moderate who enjoys conflict. Consider listening without debating. You know you probably can't win a debate in a festive situation. You might say something like, "it's good to hear your perspective" as you move on to another conversation.

DISTRACTION works with infants and boors (at least some of the time). When an infant grabs for something that might break, you have a choice. If you grab it back they might create a loud crying scene drawing attention from anyone within 60 feet. On the other hand, dangling another object within their reach often serves to shift their attention long enough to remove the fragile item without a fuss. Adults can be distracted too, by subtle shifts in conversation. Have a few ideas ready and soon they will be your go to "verbal toys" like those prepared parents carry in their bags. For those oafs who are not so easily distracted, a more direct, "lets discuss that point when we have more time" might work.

ESCAPE when your emotional temperature rises. Awareness of rising conflict can be a good time to excuse yourself for a break. Getting a snack, excusing yourself to say something to a friend, and a trip to the restroom are ways to regroup and avoid entrapment.

A House Divided effect is a commonplace in human history. People are divided about many things but moral matters involving religion and politics are at the top of the list of conflicting topics. There are times to engage in meaningful conversation about hot topic issues. But a party or family gathering is not the time or place. Resolving conflicts requires focused attention and skilled leadership.

Learn more about A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures 
available from the publisher PICKWICK and other stores e.g.,  AMAZON  GOOGLE

Connect on twitter @GeoffWSutton

Facebook  Geoff W Sutton


Friday, December 8, 2017

Boys will be Men: Sexual Harassment and Self-Control

Boys will be boys is a meaningless statement at best. At worst, boys will be boys is an excuse for aggressive behavior. And for young men, the aggression can include sexual harassment and assault.

Boys will be men. Girls will be women. In addition to their biological trajectory, parents, family, educators, clergy, and others will help boys and girls become the men and women that respect or do not respect sexual boundaries. Boys will be sexually active men.

Sex education is important but it is not enough. Awareness of sexual attraction is of course important to inhibiting harmful acts. But adolescents also need to learn strategies for inhibiting forms of sexual expression that harm or offend others.

It’s no secret why men, rather than women, make headlines for sexual harassment and assault. In case you haven’t noticed, adolescent males and young men have a powerful sex-drive. That’s biology at work. That’s not an excuse for wrongful behavior. But it is important for all humans to recognize that young heterosexual males are biologically driven to have sex with females. They are intent on having sex. Testosterone is a primary driver of sexual desire.

Moral bumper stickers aren’t going to help much when a young man sees a sexually attractive young woman. Sexual self-control is not easy for young men, which is why societies have provided external controls for millennia.

Sexual Self-Control and Social Barriers

We have a dilemma in western cultures because we have removed many external barriers to sexual expression in order to be fair to women. But we have not replaced those barriers with working control strategies that are fair to women.

In the 1930s and 1940s many of the world’s men went to war. Formal and informal arrangements were made by governments to meet young men’s sexual desires by providing men with prostitutes and brothels. To fight the battle of disease, some governments (e.g., USA) supplied men with condoms. Thus, they could continue to enjoy sanctioned sexual expression when away from home for years.

Meanwhile, back on the home front, millions of women left the home for the factory and the office, which were previously a man’s world. This movement of women into the workforce was at a time when western women had only recently secured the right to vote and a few were rising to powerful positions in all areas of society.

Following World War II, western cultures were on a path to learn how men and women could be educated together, work together, serve together, and even worship together. Appropriate boundaries on this path have not been fully established.

When men and women were segregated, men did not have to learn how to treat women respectfully in schools, at work, or in church. Segregation works for men to the extent women are not available at school, work, or elsewhere when sexual desire prompts the quest for sex. But segregation of the sexes is an immoral method of placing barriers around male sexual desire.

As an aside, let us not forget that women have sexual desire as well. Segregation placed limits on their access to attractive males. The removal of barriers at school, work, church, and elsewhere provided opportunities to interact with possible sexual partners.

In male dominated cultures, men pursue attractive mates and women vary their attractiveness to select desirable mates and repel others. Of course, this process does not always work well thus magazines for young men and women provide constant advice on attraction.

And let us not forget that segregation never works for those who are attracted to those of the same sex. Men and women who experience same-sex attraction are, and were, forced by cultures to live close together in residential schools, college dorms, hospitals, and military bases. Only recently are people becoming aware that some people find both men and women sexually attractive.
Recognizing their problem with sexual self-control, some men attempted to cope with temptation by keeping their wives close and refusing to be alone with other women. Understandably, this barrier interferes with a woman’s access to discussions when career-improving events may take place. It also interferes with developing important social relationships and mentoring.

Possible Solutions

Continual Sexual Harassment Training

Harassment training needs to be a part of the culture. And sexual harassment training needs to be age-appropriate and evidence-based. Children, teens, and adults must learn to respect others’ boundaries. At a minimum, they must learn by presentations, reading materials, and quality videos what behavior is unacceptable and the negative consequences for violating the boundaries. Adults need to know the impact on others following unwanted sexual behavior (talk and touch). And we need research to identify the most important components of training programs.

Sex-education and Self-Control

Sex education must include values. Sex education should include values that underscore the importance of respectful interactions with others. Students need to learn perspective-taking to encourage the development of empathy. This means that older students must learn the harm done when people are badgered into sexual activity. Sex education should also include information about acceptable sexual expression within the value system of the local subculture. Understanding what consent means is critical to a culture of respect. For many, appropriate sexual expression includes masturbation.

Sex education is never value-free. Sex education separated from values of respect for oneself and others leaves learners with the impression that sex is divorced from morality. Nothing is further from the truth. Sex and morality must be combined because sex and morality both have to do with relationships in which one or more persons can be hurt.


Parents are always accountable for the behavior of young children but they should not be blamed for the misbehavior of teens and adult children. I’m defending parents because they are too easily blamed for the misdeeds of their teens and adult children. Consider many examples of parents who have raised more than one child to find some children grow up to be responsible adults and others do not. So, parenting is not the sole answer to the problem of disrespectful and harmful sexual behavior.
That said, parenting matters. Parenting is a factor. Parents teach children to respect the boundaries of others by the language they use about sex and others, the behavior they model, the movies they watch, the way they treat other adults to whom they are sexually attracted, and how they react to news reports of sexual misconduct. Parents teach their children about one-one relationships when they enjoy time together. Everyday, parents are teaching their children something about respect toward other human beings.

Sexual harassment and assault represent severe violations of respect for others. Parents are in a position to constantly guide children toward respectful behavior toward siblings, relatives, friends, and others. The work of parents is hindered or helped by the actions of grandparents, teachers, and others. Parents are not alone when it comes to parenting and child discipline.


Individuals with sexual self-control difficulties should consider psychotherapy with an experienced provider. Talking with a supportive therapist may make an offender feel better but it won’t provide skills of attentional control, boundary setting, habit training, and other strategies of acceptable sexual expression.

As I have written elsewhere, sexual desire varies for individuals based on their age, time of day, health, and environmental stimuli among other factors. At the extremes, some men have strong sexual desire, often linked to high levels of testosterone. These men often have difficulty with aggression in other areas of life. When aggressiveness is harnessed, they may rise to the top in government, business, sports, and the military. The damage to self and others is obvious when aggression, including sexual aggression, is poorly controlled.

Policies and Laws

Policies and laws are a type of external barrier. Whether we are talking about a parent’s rules for their home, school policies, military regulations, or a nations’ laws, human beings need rules. It is a paradox that freedom only works when one person does not exercise their liberty to the extent of restricting the liberty of another. The best rules and policies clearly define the limits of acceptable behavior and state the consequences for violating the rules.

When it comes to sexual harassment and assault, all decision-makers must consider specific types of behavior. Not all behavior requires loss of employment, expulsion from school, or dehumanizing condemnation, or incarceration. Let us be clear about the differences between offensive words, jokes, touching, and all the other ways one person can sexually harass another.

Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Restoration

I have written about this topic elsewhere. Here I only comment on a few points relevant to solving the sexual harassment problem.

Forgiveness can help victims gain relief from the intrusive memories of the past—especially when news stories bring similar scenes to mind. Forgiveness does not mean any victim is obligated to speak in favor of an offender. Forgiveness helps victims become survivors with a forward focus in life.

Reconciliation is a two-person decision. Reconciling with a person who sexually abused another may not be safe. Trust is the key ingredient in reconciliation. Trust depends on verifiable changes in behavior—words are not enough.

Restoring someone who has been guilty of sexual harassment or sexual assault to a former position requires wisdom. Apologies and repentance are not enough. Even sincere people can re-offend. The decision to restore a person needs to be an individual decision considering the risk of harm and the likelihood of re-offending. The decision is not easy. Some people change and some do not.


You might guess after reading this post that I have concerns about father/daughter and mother/son dates. It's simple really, dates are culturally defined as romantic events. Parents tell their children they need to be a certain age before they date and they set rules for dating. When parents use the language of dates for their one-to-one time with their children, they violate the usual way we use language about an event that is highly emotionally charged with powerful forces of attraction. And we know dating is a way of finding life partners. Dating, marriage, and sex are about very different relationships than parent-child relationships.

By all means, spend quality time with each child. But use another word for parent-child "together time," "memory time" and so forth.


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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Woman and A Church Divided

First Baptist Church of Jefferson City Tennesse has hired Rev. Ellen Di Giosia as senior pastor. Now the church appears at odds with the Tennessee Baptist Convention and the national group, the Southern Baptist Convention.

A quote from the Tennessean:

“It is regrettable when one of our churches makes a decision that results in a broken confessional relationship with our TBC network of churches,” Tennessee Baptist Mission Board President and Executive Director Randy C. Davis said.

Rev. Ellen Di Giosia/ First Baptist Church of Jefferson City

The move by First Baptist Church reveals a gradual shift among some evangelicals toward equality. Given that most Christians are Catholics and women are not likely to become priests any time soon, seeing a woman as head of a church will be a rarity.

As I wrote in Chapter 10 of A House Divided, there are many scripture references conservatives use to keep women in limited roles when it comes to ministry.

But maybe it's time to start a discussion--at least in colleges and adult sunday schools or book study groups.

A House Divided is available from the publisher: PICKWICK. FREE copies are available to instructors and those writing book reviews.