“It’ll be a cold day in hell before I get my theology from a woman”

Trigger warning: sexual abuse, ableism.

ABC’s 20/20 aired an exposé on sexual abuse and abuse coverups in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches (IFB) last week. Much of it dealt with Tina Anderson’s story, which I wrote about some months ago (link). The first part is posted below, and you can watch the full episode here.

It was pretty well done, and very difficult to watch, especially knowing that these stories are only the tip of the iceberg – not just in the IFB, but in the much larger church culture that the IFB is part of. I kept thinking as I was watching this that the only difference between the IFB and SGM is that the former is somewhat more conservative (e.g., in terms of women’s clothing, and I’m guessing in terms of music, movies, etc.) and more overtly misogynistic. Other than that, the same story could easily have been told about SGM churches. Their teaching on gender roles and the marginalization of women is more or less the same, as are their toxic church cultures, where all kinds of abuse flourish but are kept secret, buried under a thin veneer of “family values.”

It makes me sick to think about how many people have endured this kind of abuse while churches and their members keep themselves willfully ignorant (when they’re not actively enabling it or perpetrating it themselves). Given how few survivors of abuse come forward with their stories, there’s no question that abuse is a much more widespread problem in the church than evangelicals generally acknowledge. I’m convinced that perverted theologies – not just on gender, sexuality, and family life, but also about the nature of God, and of divine and human authority – make patriarchal churches an environment where abusers of all kinds thrive and are protected, while others are forced to endure abuse in silence, and even punished for being survivors of abuse. The whole culture of patriarchal evangelicalism is set up so it’s virtually impossible to acknowledge the existence of abuse in the church, much less to actually name members of the church as abusive. It’s set up so the victim is always partially or wholly to blame for their abuse.

The response of Jack Schaap, a well-known IFB pastor, to the 20/20 exposé illustrates this. He completely ignores the the main focus of the story – that several women were abused, many by more than one person, in IFB churches, and that the IFB has a pattern of responding to survivors seeking help by covering up their abuse and punishing the victim. In one especially awful case, a teenage girl confided in her youth pastor that her stepfather was molesting her, only to have the pastor respond by also molesting her – more than once.

Schaap mentions none of this. The existence of abusers in the church – in IFB families – is completely unacknowledged. The survivors who spoke their truth are treated as nonentities. Instead Schaap makes a story about sexual and spiritual abuse all about him. Worse, he seizes on the story as an opportunity to spew more misogynistic bile (ht Jesus Needs New PR).

[Schaap’s church had the video of his comments taken down from Youtube. Almost as if they were afraid of something. Hmmmm. ETA: Darrell of Stuff Fundies Like has reposted the video with commentary.]

A partial transcript:

Somebody the other day asked me, this reporter, he said, um, “I heard that…it’d be a cold day in hell before you get your theology from a woman. Don’t you think that’s kind of demeaning to the genders?”

I said, “Ask Adam what he thinks about getting his theology from a woman. I said it damned the whole world. I said the reason your soul, sorry soul’s going to hell is because a woman told Adam what God thinks about things.

…I wouldnt get my theology from a woman. I don’t mind if mama teaches the kids. I don’t mind if a strong lady, and a wise woman, and a gracious godly woman follows the, uh, takes the lesson from the pastor – Hey y’all, you listen to me right now, I still believe, it’ll be a cold day in hell before I get my theology from a woman. I’m a preacher. I wasn’t mama-called, papa-sent. No woman ever got me involved in ministry, I didn’t follow a woman into ministry. A woman didn’t write this book, not one woman wrote the scriptures right here. [banging his bible on the lectern] A man wrote the Bible, got it from God, a man hung on the cross, his name is Jesus Christ, and God called a man to lead the church here – [shouting] Hey! I’m glad I’m a man!

…I’m the messenger of the church and what I say is more important than what the news reporter thinks I oughta say. God didn’t call him to tell me what to do, and God didn’t call anybody else, either. You know, if that’s arrogant, so be it.

Can anyone honestly claim that this is anything other than a belief that women are subhuman? Or deny that this kind of theology is a natural and powerful fuel for all kinds of violence against women?* The contempt and hatred Schaap has for women is obvious. My jaw literally dropped open at the point when Schaap starts talking about how the Bible belongs to men. It’s pure, unashamed bigotry, a loud and proud statement of the inferiority of women. I’ve never seen anything like it, at least not in the churches I grew up in. It’s horrifying in its shamelessness.

At the same time, I found it oddly relieving to hear such honesty about the real implications of patriarchal theology. There’s no complementarian bullshitting about how women are of “equal worth” to men, but just have “distinct roles.” There’s no pretense of equality here. There’s no pretense that women have equally valuable contributions to make to the church. Christianity belongs to men. God is a man. The scriptures belong to men. Power and authority belong to men. Truth belongs to men. The right to speak belongs to men. Women have no voice, no part in creating or shaping their own faith, nothing. Women are inferior.

This is what complementarian theology really means, no matter what ridiculous contortions complementarians go through to try to deny it. Teaching that God is male is teaching that other genders are inferior. Believing that women shouldn’t teach or have authority over men necessarily means that women are inferior. Believing that all decision making power in a heterosexual marriage belongs to the husband means that women are inferior. Believing that it’s literally a sin for a woman to have an opinion about the Bible that contradicts male teaching means that women are inferior. At least Jack Schaap is being honest that in his theology it’s better to be a man, instead of lying and trying to have things both ways.

Women matter less than men in patriarchal theology. We are worth less (worthless?). It isn’t a coincidence that there’s an epidemic of abuse of women in the church, and that most churches can’t be bothered to do anything about it – that most blame women for their abuse. It’s the natural product of a theology that teaches that women are less than human.

*Sexual abuse of males and people of nonbinary gender is also a problem in the church, especially of children, which I would argue is also related to theologies that treat children as less than human.


9 Comments on ““It’ll be a cold day in hell before I get my theology from a woman””

  1. presentlyhuman says:

    One of the comments on the Jesus Needs New Pr post was really triggering for me. It reminded me how much the submission of women is really glorified, to the point of equating it with the quality of a woman. A woman who continuously forgives and accepts back those (men, usually) who hurt and abuse them, who stay silent and always act sweet no matter what is considered a strong woman of faith. Speaking out about abuse isn’t just wrong on the level of accusing others of hurting you, it’s wrong on the level that you are doing something against what they consider to be your god-given feminine nature.

    My mother constantly used Elisabeth Elliot as an example. “If she can forgive, you have nothing to complain about, you need to forgive to.” Churches threw around abuse like it was nothing, a way to quantify how everyone else needs to forgive, a way of saying that there’s no excuse not to.

    I remember when the abuse was really bad growing up, my mother started doing this thing where, no matter what my father and brother did to her, she would smile this passive smile and say, “That’s okay, I forgive you.” She would sing sweetly Christian songs and ignore what they were doing. It was the most terrifying thing to me. It was like she was gone; anger and shouting, even tears and whimpering at least meant that her sense of self was still there. It was like they managed to destroy her completely, and just leave her this shell. And that was why I would panic listening to those sermons about forgiveness (and maybe why it’s a trigger for me, actually) because the image it paints for me is one where what a woman thinks and feels, her pain and emotions and needs don’t count. She’s just a woman. She was designed and created for the specific purpose of putting up with the men in this world who abuse her, helping them, accepting them back, and being whatever they want for her. Her voice doesn’t count, she doesn’t deserve any kind of autonomy.

    My church didn’t even teach complimentarianism, and it was a foursquare church, so women being pastors was a nonissue. But there was a major reinforcement of gender roles, and just within that there was this attitude of “oh you silly women thinking your opinion actually has any value or holds any weight.” Men are the intellectuals. Women seek men. Those were the roles.

    • Grace says:

      I’m sorry the comments were triggering :(

      It sounds like your mother was dissociating. I can imagine that it would be really scary to see happening.

      The theology of salvation and gender in these kinds of churches teaches women in particular that the role of silent victim (like Jesus) is a holy one. As if it isn’t hard enough for people who are being abused to speak their truth, they turn it into a virtue not just to never complain about being abused, but also to be “sweet” and even submissive to their abusers. It’s awful.

  2. Sounds like he was a bit nervous – he requested his ‘sermon’ be brought down off youtube.

    What a coward.

    • Grace says:

      It’s so hilarious when these macho posers get scared by a little negative attention. That’s all it takes, seriously? What kind of leadership is that?

      They are cowards. That’s why they create these little empires for themselves where no one is allowed to question what they say, and why the cloister themselves off from the rest of the world. They can’t deal with the slightest scrutiny.

    • Grace says:

      The video has been reposted!

  3. Jason Dye says:

    Thanks for the transcript, Grace. I was looking for a copy when I heard the video was down. I linked to you from here: http://leftcheek.blogspot.com/2011/04/know-thy-place-woman.html

  4. […] the video has been removed from YouTube, here is a partial transcript [From AreWomenHuman] of the “message”: Somebody the other day asked me, this reporter, he said, um, “I […]

  5. Still struggling to find the words to express my disgust with this kind of attitude. Thanks for sharing the transcript. I have linked to you from: http://barefootpreachr.org/2011/04/19/update-monday-madness-itll-be-a-cold-day-in-hell/


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