All posts by Rev. Faith Totushek

I currently pastor Grace United Methodist Church in St Cloud Minnesota as well as pastor a small home church called WayFinders. I grew up in the Assemblies of God faith stream, married a Presbyterian, and served in the Evangelical Covenant Church for 10 years. I graduated from Bethel Seminary in St Paul, MN. I am a Gottman Seven Principles Program Educator helping couples enhance their marriages and families and created a six week marriage class. I have also helped plant a Hispanic Church in my community. I've also worked with women coming our of abusive relationships or those in major life transitions. My favorite verse in the Bible is: Romans 8:11, If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your human bodies also, through his Spirit that lives in you.

Thoughts On The George Floyd Memorial and Racism.

I’m writing this not as an expert nor as one who has been fully formed.  I am what is called in the new term, an anti-racist.  This does not mean that I have it all figured out or that I am not growing in my awareness of my own complicity in this racism that plagues our country.  I am writing what I understand at the moment.

The murder of George Floyd was a catalyst igniting a community in it’s call for an end to police brutality and reform in the way our nation polices it’s communities.  The militarization of our law enforment has had a great effect on our African American community who have born the brunt of the trauma.

Black Lives Matter

My neice Linnea (pictured above), has been an active participant in the many protests taking place in Minneapolis and St Paul, Minnesota. (Outside of the Clergy march–we were caring for her baby and did not march with her.)  Although cloaked in “Minnesota Nice,” our state is known for being one of the places most plagued with racism.  We have witnessed the murder of not only George Floyd but Philandro Castile.  And there were others who were not filmed.  We are also known for redlining which created neighborhoods for white families segregating Minnesota communities and denying home loans to eligible Black families.  We have a great deal of work to do in our cities and our state–not to mention our nation.

During the protests while the news media covered the riots, (there were some), they failed to cover the ways the Minneapolis community came together to form neighborhood watch groups who protected their own communities.  Churches and other groups formed pop-up food shelves and collected diapers and other necessary items to help the community.

I have watched my neice become aware of the many issues around race in our country.  She has taken bold stands and participated in the neighborhood activities at the George Floyd Memorial site.  Contrary to how this site is depicted in the news, the memorial site has become a place of healing and community.

I asked Linnea what this site has meant to people.  What struck me as I listened to her story was how this memorial brought people together to grieve and process trauma around police violence.  Posted around the George Floyd memorial are notes and letters telling the stories of loss.  Nearly every family has, in some way, been touched by police violence.  There are mothers who lost sons, siblings who lost brothers, uncles and parents due solely to police violence.  Others shared stories about how they too have experienced unjust policing.  The memorial site is a healing place where people are free to share their stories and heal their trauma.

Also at the memorial site many came to join in the grief and learn about their own complicity in racism.  As white people, we can say, “this is too much,” and turn off the news or walk away.  But those facing police violence and injustice every day cannot just walk away.  Families come with strollers and children, learning, listening.  Present often are speakers, leaders who are aware of the history and dynamics of racism.  There is much to learn.

Some thoughts: I wonder if the redlining segregation has created a situation within which in our little white enclaves, we can ignore what is happening because we are not in proximity as neighbors.  The white flight had long range impacts on schools and policing.  Had we stayed and had we integrated, had we become better neighbors, would we be in this situation today?

When Jesus called us to love our neighbors, he called us to live as he did.  Jesus put on human skin and moved into the neighborhood as Eugene Peterson translated John 1:14  He didn’t separate himself from others, he joined the human race.  In this, Jesus spoke truth to power, spoke up for the ones experiencing injustice and ultimately paid with his life.

And I just have to say, that I am so proud of my neice.  The protests have been very effective and she has changed my mind on the value of protest.  The protestors were effective in getting the officers involved charged, effective in starting the conversation of what is known as “defunding the police” which is really about better ways to resolve various community problems through getting the right people involved.  The people involved in the protest have formulated good and creative solutions for the betterment of their community.  I have hope that this movement is bringing good things in the future.

 

Thanks to Carrie Totushek for the photo of Linnea and to Curtis Paul DeYoung for the picture from the Memorial site.

Viruses, Creation Care and the Problem of Evil

We are at the moment living through a Covid-19 pandemic and many are asking the question why would God allow such a harmful virus and why would he allow so many people to die?  Some Christian preachers are attributing this viral outbreak to our nation’s sin–two in particular but such preachers conveniently ignore other types of sins such as disregard for creation.  Regardless, the preachers seem to be saying that we have this horrible virus because God is punishing us.  But is that what the Bible really teaches and is that really who God is?

I begin with how the Bible speaks of God as LOVE.  In 1 John 4:7-8, we are taught that God is love.  Not that God loves or that God does loving things, but that God is himself love.  I don’t believe God is sending lethal viruses.

God has chosen to partner with human beings

In the beginning of Genesis, God created human beings in God’s image.  As image bearers God gave human beings the task of ruling in the garden.  They were to produce families, food, tend the animals and cultivate the garden and co-work with God in creative ways.  The first humans were to do this in relationship with God, accepting God’s wisdom, guidance and influence. But as the story goes, human beings were led astray by a deceptive being and found themselves following the wisdom of the serpent.  (The serpent is an image for wisdom in the Ancient Near East).  (Genesis 1-3) Continue reading Viruses, Creation Care and the Problem of Evil

Politics and Bearing False Witness

This week I was disturbed once again by a post made by a well known Christian Evangelist who asserted that Christians who did not support the current administration were demon driven leftists. I have read various other articles also which stated that Christians who did not support President Trump were unsaved. This is labeling theory at work.

What is labeling theory?

Labeling theory is how one group defines another group as deviant. Those defining and labeling others can reduce the humanity, criminalize, or in some way otherize those they do not agree with. Labeling also allows those doing the labeling to control others who might be questioning or wondering, This creates group think and threatens a person’s sense of belonging. This tactic also creates division in the body of Christ. And real people with real thoughts, beliefs and opinions are dismissed. The body of Christ becomes less thoughtful.

Essentially labeling is setting up a false witness or testimony against one’s brother or sister in Christ to bolster self or validate one’s group. In this case it is the group that has God behind them. If a given Christian does not toe the political party line of a given faith community, then they are unsaved, or demon possessed. This does not require a relationship or knowing a person’s faith walk or allegiance to Jesus Christ nor does this require an understanding of how one has come to various beliefs. It does not take into account the deep study or conscience or experience of other believers who disagree. All those who are labeled as unsaved or demon possessed are lumped into a box and assumed to hold all of the same views as the candidate for party they voted for.

The Amplified Bible says it this way, “You shall not testify falsely [that is, lie, withhold, or manipulate the truth] against your neighbor (any person).” Exodus 20:16 AMP. This actually happens a lot in politics as real human beings are otherized, discounted and then dismissed.

And many have felt alienated within the body of Christ.

Many under 30 and 40 have deep concerns about climate change, real concerns about immigration, oppression and exploitation be it sexually or among corporations. These real concerns are unheard, discounted and once again labeled as part of some sort of communist, leftist or socialist agenda to take over the world. I believe there are real people who have real concerns and they are genuine people of faith who love and follow Jesus with their whole hearts.

And they have found little welcome in churches that continue in this group think and labeling. Some are leaving faith altogether. And as a pastor, I am deeply grieved by this. Many are experiencing a loss of trust toward the church and people of faith. This loss of trust affects all churches in some way.

We once defined a Christian by their relationship with Jesus Christ and the life that flowed from that relationship. Historically Christianity was defined with an essential orthodoxy that included certain core beliefs about the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. In the Charismatic renewal we saw the life of the Spirit flow and people of faith entering into a Spirit empowered life. Currently there is a new orthodoxy emerging among many Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians in the United States. This new orthodoxy is a political one. One must support the GOP platform and God’s “anointed” leader, President Trump. If one does not, they are considered not submissive to Apostolic authority, demon possessed or worse unsaved.

Labeling Theory: Labeling the Educated

I have also noticed how labeling theory is used to discount educated people as if somehow if one is educated one does not live by the Holy Spirit. I get that as the gifts of the Spirit emerged some theologians discounted and labeled pastors and other members of their congregation as fanatics and enthusiasts. That wound is real. However one cannot say that all educated people do not practice, teach and encourage the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I have read many books and listened to many podcasts by great and learned scholars who affirm these gifts and their proper use in the body of Christ.

I wonder sometimes if by labeling these people as unspiritual, we have lost the gifts they bring the church. And what remains is an echo chamber of talk show host theologians.

And talk show theology has become the core theology of many Christians.

I believe that when Jesus died on the cross he was enthroned as the King. And that God is not at this time appointing rulers as he did in the Old Testament and the Kingdom is not coming by political means. Jesus is King of a world-wide, multi-ethnic people who know and follow Jesus. A people who accept his influence and live in the Jesus Way. And the church has moved off the mark and embraced an unholy alliance with the state. Down through history, whenever the church has taken that stance, they have surrendered their witness and joined hands with the Empire.

We must return to the governance of Christ and stop discounting, dismissing and labeling the prophetic voices trying to speak into the body of Christ. We must stop the practices that exclude brothers and sisters in Christ because they vote differently. We must recognize that political parties are of this world and function in the way the world functions.

We as God’s people must always speak prophetically into these political entities, stand up for the vulnerable and participate as good citizens. (And there are other kinds of vulnerable people other than the unborn). We are strangers and aliens in this world, we are of a different kingdom whose salt and light make this world a little more whole. And our influence is not from using power over, but by power through the Spirit as we serve others in the way that Christ did.

 

Patriarchy and the Jezebel Narrative

Narrative is the story through which we view reality.  We all have narratives that help us interpret our lives.  The Bible also is a narrative that helps us interpret reality.  There is a narrative that has floated around Charismatic and Pentecostal circles whenever anxiety surfaces around women co-leading with their husbands in marriage and having leadership roles in the Church and political world.  The Jezebel Spirit teaching comes from a false narrative drawn from 1Kings 16-21. 

Who was Jezebel in the Bible? 

Jezebel was the wife of Ahab who descended from a number of wicked kings who had each become progressively more evil in their ways.  Ahab was the son of Omri who was the son of Zimri who was the son of Elan who was the son of Bassash.  Each of these kings were idolaters, men of violence who did not keep the Torah, in fact this was said of each king:

“Baasha had done what was evil in the Lord’s sight.” 1Kings 16:7

Of Zimri, “ for he, too, had done what was evil in the Lord’s sight.” 1Kings 16:19

 “Omri did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, even more than any of the kings before him.” 1kings 16:25

“Ahab son of Omri did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, even more than any of the kings before him.  1Kings 16:30

Ahab had come from a family of wicked kings who had long practiced idolatry with each subsequent generation becoming more and more evil in the site of the Lord.  The intent of the author was to show that Omri was more evil than the kings before him and Ahab even more evil that Omri and all the others before him. Continue reading Patriarchy and the Jezebel Narrative

Shifting Our Focus from Rules to Mission

1On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years.  She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.  Luke 13:10-17 

Is the main point of this passage about healing?  Is the main point of this passage about our focus and mission as God’s people?  These are two of the many questions I puzzled about as I reflected.  And the answer is yes… This passage is about healing and yes this passage is about the focus and mission of God’s people.

Continue reading Shifting Our Focus from Rules to Mission

Let’s be frank about the abortion debate

Upfront, I need to state that I am not for abortion, I believe in life and life abundantly. I believe that the Bible teaches the infinite worth and value of human beings which includes unborn children. And I believe unborn children are human beings.

I also recognize the gray areas of abortion and I acknowledge the wide disagreement about when life begins. I don’t claim to know all of the science around this debate but wish to speak to some of the Patriarchy surrounding it. I also acknowledge that at times women are faced with difficult decisions around birth, illness, and other medical situations that threaten the lives of mothers–I offer no judgement. And finally, I acknowledge how political abortion is and how it is used to bolster power and how it is co-opted by politicos to target our fears and moral anxieties in order to gain our votes.

I feel a little nervous about entering this sphere of discussion because it is heated and can at time be filled with lots of angry words. But I am speaking up because I believe that Patriarchal thinking is embedded in much of the pro-life dialogue. And that bothers me. Continue reading Let’s be frank about the abortion debate

The Church, Poverty and Domestic Violence

She came to our women’s Bible study one day. Her name was Linda, no on really knew her, no one was really sure how she found our Bible study. After coming a few times, she disappeared from our group. Krista, one of our members, had one of those impressions that she should call her. And Linda returned one day to tell us that her husband was going to kill her.

What to do, we were just a ladies Bible study untrained in such things. The Spirit prompted me to ask Linda if she had an escape plan. Together, we worked out a plan, set a date, vowed to secrecy. And we prayed.

That night our little Bible study group attended a local Revival meeting in a near by city. After the message we huddled together at the altar and once again prayed for our friend Linda. Corporately, we felt like the friends of the lame man who had broken a hole in the roof and lowered our friend before Jesus, the one who could actually heal and bring life… So we prayed into that Bible story.

On the set date, we gathered together, helped Linda pack up her things, picked up her daughter at school and began the journey toward the airport. We were stuffed together like sardines but we all wanted to be there to see Linda off.

We collected a little money and prayed one more time for safety.

Linda made it out finding freedom in a faraway city with her mother. But many do not find such freedom or safety. As a pastor, I regularly come across women stuck in poverty largely because of domestic violence or other forms of abuse. It’s staggering to me how many of them shared stories of how the church supported their abusers, believed the abuser, at the expense of theirs and their children’s well-being.

I currently serve in a city with a significant homeless population and it is startling to learn how many homeless people are women, often women with children. As I learn their stories and get to know them, I have discovered the role domestic violence plays in poverty and homelessness.

Even more curious is how the “Biblical” narrative about husbands being the head of the home feeds abuse and justifies the behavior of those who abuse. I hear story after story after story of how pastors have told victims of genuine abuse to go home, try to be a better wife and submit more to her husband or just give him more sex. One woman we helped went to a Biblical prayer counselor who in front of her husband told her she had a Jezebel Spirit. This fed the narrative her abuser was using to keep her in his control. Because this was offered as a “word” from the Lord, she was terrified that she would be going against God if she left.

There was a popular Deliverance Ministry–Bondage Breakers in the mid to late 90’s that proliferated the notion that if a woman was not submissive to her husband then the devil would attack her. This became embedded in various deliverance ministries around the nation. When an abuse victim and her husband sought prayer counsel, this “biblical” idea would surface keeping the abused person in further bondage and shame.

It is curious how little pastors and churches grasp the role of abuse and violence in poverty and homelessness. Instead, in our political dialogue, we lay the blame for poverty on laziness and lack of ambition. In reality poverty and homelessness related to domestic violence has nothing to do with laziness and lack of ambition. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, on one night alone 55,000 beds in shelters across the country were set aside for homeless women affected by domestic violence. That number is staggering!

And I wonder how many more that night remained in their abusive home fearing that they and their children would end up without a home and in a shelter.

Here are some practical ideas that churches could do to help this crisis.

  1. Believe the one being abused. The body of Christ must stop with the teaching that women are easily deceived and that men are somehow less open to deception. This feeds the narrative that women are not reliable when they bring up abuse. I have observed that women go to their churches long after the abuse has begun. Often she has tried everything and suffered many years before she has mustered the courage to tell someone. In addition there is a psychology abusers use to gaslight and undermine a victim’s sense of reality making it harder for her to come forward.
  2. Give practical aid. Homelessness and domestic violence often stem from not being able to gather enough money to get into an apartment or rental. Often in situations when the victim finally leaves the abuse, she finds herself without enough money to pay a deposit and first months rent. It takes a few months to get rental assistance, childcare assistance, health care assistance and other helps. And this kind of assistance is needed just to climb out of homelessness. I don’t often find churches willing or able to provide much for transitional help. (We offered radical hospitality in our home for six months until victims were able to find work, get childcare and launch into self-support).
  3. Provide emotional support and prayer. Because of the psychology around abuse, emotional support and prayer are vital. Often women believe God has forgotten them or worse they are going against God when leaving the abuse. The gaslighting and emotional abuse has damaged the victim’s sense of self and decision making ability is diminished. Emotional and prayer support can help a sense of self re-emerge as emotions are validated and prayer is given.
  4. Include them in the church community. Often victims of abuse are excluded in the church community because there is yet a stigma around leaving one’s husband. Especially if the couple was a part of the community together. Often people have a hard time believing such things could happen among Christians and when the perpetrator is known it’s even more difficult. But being a part of a Christian community can be so healing if the victim is believed and supported. Often this is not the case and they are left wondering if God has abandoned them too.

Over the years, I have seen the hand of God moving mightily on behalf of victims of domestic violence. I know that he cares. Each time God brings another woman into my life, he speaks and lets me know what is needed. God also provides insight and resources in surprising ways. I know these women are on God’s heart even if they are not on the church’s hearts. The Army of Heaven is with them and we can join God in defeating this satanic system that keeps his beloved daughters from flourishing.

Solidarity and Prayer: One Story

Maria wept as she shared the story of Mary and Joseph when they sought a place to stay in the city of Bethlehem. They had found no room at the inn. Maria shared the tradition of Posada in which the parents of Jesus looked for someone who would offer them hospitality and finding no one, they moved on to the next house also finding no welcome. Her voice was raw with emotion as she shared that Jesus–the one who dwelt within real people continued to seek hospitality in a world that offered him no welcome.

I wondered why this story brought up so much emotion in my friend. I didn’t ask, we had a hard time talking with one another due to a language barrier. I spoke little Spanish, and she spoke little English. Nevertheless somehow the Lord knit our hearts together with a deep love. A few years later, there was an ICE raid in our rural town and I was supposed to meet with Maria’s daughter for discipleship. The two girls in the group had frightened looks on their faces as Maria’s daughter explained that her mom was undocumented. We cried together and prayed. I ached inside as I witnessed the trauma experienced by my young friends.

From that moment on, Maria and her family were in my prayers. I often noticed a shadow of shame fall on her face. As Maria gained more English, we began to talk together about her immigration status. Often we gathered to pray together. Continue reading Solidarity and Prayer: One Story

Blooming Through Cement

Have you ever noticed the tenacity of a flower that blooms through the cracks of a sidewalk?  All around is the hard surface of cement but in the crack the flower has found a way to poke its head up, push through the earth and bloom.  Becoming whole, becoming adult has been for myself a journey in which it has felt as if I were trying to bloom through cement.  What is this cement?  Having come through it, I now have a name for this cement–Patriarchy.

Patriarchy in my life has been the hard surface through which I have tried to bloom.

I grew up in a small rural Charismatic church led by a pastoral couple.  She preached as much as he did and I had my first picture of what a strong Christian woman might be like.  While the little church was not the picture of emotional health, I had been given a picture of a man and woman working together for the sake of the gospel.  The Apostle Peter said this about Pentecost in Acts chapter 2.

“‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.

This is a picture of restoration.

By the Spirit men and women would speak, by the Spirit a new community in Christ would be formed.  In this new community God’s people would become whole–once again partners with God and one another to bring healing in the earth. Continue reading Blooming Through Cement

The Mission of Jesus

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 4:18-19

Every great leader has a mission and I believe that Jesus is no different.  No, I’m not talking about Jesus CEO, I am talking about the focus of Jesus as he lived his life on the ground.  And I believe as followers of Jesus, we are invited to join with Jesus in the mission.

Very often churches that are in decline have a singular focus that revolves around its own interests, its own needs and its own preferences and the mission is mostly lost.  Churches in decline also tend to find themselves having their beliefs defined by a favorite news source that they perceive as “Christian” rather than the actual Bible.  Often the church has become more like the world in the ways it colludes with power.  And we lose our focus on the real mission of Jesus. Continue reading The Mission of Jesus