I see that Mark Driscoll has recycled his “Daddy Christmas Tips” for 2011. Since all the “tips” are identical to last year’s, it seemed right to re-post my comments on them. Enjoy!
Christmas is around the corner, which for Mark Driscoll, apparently means yet another opportunity to bully men into being just like him. Driscoll, an extra unique complementarian snowflake about who’s certain to come up more on this blog, is the senior pastor and bully-in-chief of Mars Hill Church, a Seattle megachurch (and the biggest church in the city). Driscoll’s confrontational and chauvinistic style of preaching has gotten him a lot of attention in the mainstream media, much more than most complementarian pastors, who usually fly under the radar.
So! Christmas in Driscoll-land. “Daddy” needs to have a holiday agenda for the family; godly leadership means telling people what to do and where to be all the time. At least, that’s what leadership means for Driscoll, and funny enough, it turns out to be what God means by leadership, too! Clearly that’s what it has to mean for everyone else. Hence Driscoll’s “Daddy Christmas Tips” – some interesting ideas on how fathers should be running the show during the holidays:
Tip #1: Dad needs a plan for the holidays to ensure his family is loved and memories are made. Dad, what’s your plan?
Right off the bat we’re in weirdo land. How do you “plan” for people to be loved?
Tip #6: Dad needs to manage the extended family and friends during the holidays. Dad, who or what do you need to say “no” to?
Apparently mom doesn’t need to be a part of this decision. Or maybe she just doesn’t have an opinion? Thinking something different from her husband might be a sin, after all.
Tip #7: Dad needs to schedule a big Christmas date with his daughter(s). Dad, what’s your big plan for the fancy Daddy-daughter date?
Tip #8: Dad needs to schedule guy time with his son(s). Dad, what are you and your son(s) going to do that is active, outdoors, and fun?
We can’t call a dad’s special time with his son a “date” – clearly that would be inappropriately sexualizing. Men don’t go on dates with each other, gross! But dads can totally take their daughters on dates – there’s nothing inappropriate or creepy about that. (Hint: if a parent can only go on a “date” with a child of the “opposite” sex, um, you are sexualizing the relationship between that parent and child, not to mention being super heteronormative). Also, there’s no way a real girl would ever want to do something “active, outdoors, and fun” with her dad. Girls just want to be fancy – and real boys, obviously, don’t. Because the activities you share with your children are entirely dependent on their genitalia, not on, you know, their actual opinions or interests.
Tip #9: Dad needs to help get the house decorated. Dad, are you really a big help to Mom with getting things ready?
Because decorating the house is really mom’s job.
Tip #10: Dad needs to ensure there are some holiday smells and sounds. Dad, is Christmas music on the iPod, is the tree up, can you smell cookies and cider?
If you can’t smell cookies and cider, your wife is doing something wrong. That kind of laziness cannot stand. Better get on that, dad.
Whew. Dad has a lot of things and people to stay on top of during the holidays! But remember tip #4: Dad needs to not let the stress of the holidays, including money, cause him to be grumpy with Mom or the kids. Dad, how’s your joy?
I’m sure it’s really easy to both be constantly obsessing over whether or not you’re micromanaging the holidays and your family appropriately, and actually enjoy the holidays with your family. Yea.
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WORLD Magazine’s Anthony Bradley, slamming the campaign by Rachel Held Evans (RHE) against Driscoll’s bullying, perfectly exemplifies these tendencies to enable hateful behavior and attack anyone who dares to challenge it:
One sign of the declining state of Christianity in America is the way in which believers publicly slander one another, which can do violence to love and undermine the witness of the Church to nonbelievers. A recent example occurred when a Christian blogger took offensive [sic] to a comment made by a prominent pastor, and then, sadly, the blogger’s rant went viral on the internet.
Dear Anthony Bradley: let me assure you, Mark Driscoll’s repeated, public misogyny is what’s doing violence to love and undermining the witness of the Church to nonbelievers. Evangelicals who are trying to hold him accountable for his speech are doing your church a huge favor.
Also, did we read the same post by Rachel? She gave a measured recounting of Mark’s long-standing pattern of verbal abuse and called on other Christians to take responsibility to end bullying behavior and stand up for the least of these. I’m struggling to see how anything she wrote counts as a “rant.” But hey, if you want to read a rant, you can check out my post on the subject.
Just goes to show you how taking even the most measured tone when calling someone out is no protection whatsoever from someone trying to derail a discussion with a tone argument.
Bradley claims that people dislike Driscoll because he “[speaks] boldly against feminism in our society and paganism in the media. Well, guilty as charged on the first count, but paganism in the media? Is there a cabal of Wiccan newscasters I don’t know about?
He continues: “I am not here to defend Driscoll’s post and would personally challenge him over what he wrote.” He makes no attempt to elaborate why he would privately challenge Driscoll over what he wrote, and apparently he’s not so concerned about that: “My concern is how Christians handle conflict with other Christians in public.”
In sum: Bradley would handle a conflict with Driscoll in private, but feels no qualms about taking a conflict with RHE public. And his conflict with RHE is that he disagrees with her decision to make her criticism of Mark Driscoll public. That’s not confusing or contradictory at all!
And I suppose gender has nothing to do with the fact that Bradley considers Driscoll, and not RHE, worthy of the deference of a completely private correction. Now, Bradley says he emailed RHE to express his disagreement with her approach. But she never replied to him, and obviously women owe men with whom they’re not acquainted replies to their out-of-the-blue emails. Clearly Bradley had no choice but to write about her on the internets!
Funny how Bradley doesn’t say anything about privately emailing Driscoll about the post that started this in the first place, given that he claims he would privately challenge Driscoll over it. Funny how he so clearly approves of the fact that Driscoll “speaks boldly,” but has his knickers in a twist over a woman speaking out in a similarly bold fashion against Driscoll’s hate. Nah, couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that RHE is a woman voicing a strong opinion on the internet.
There is nothing loving about calling a pastor a “bully” – that is, “a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people.” That is a serious charge.
And Driscoll doesn’t fit that definition of a bully how, exactly…?
While it is more than reasonable to understand why someone would take issue with Driscoll’s post, Evans’ way of responding cannot and should not be encouraged. What was even more disturbing was the way in which many other believers jumped on the slander bandwagon to feed on the carnage once it went viral. [Emphasis mine]
Again, the double standard is amazing in its total shamelessness. Driscoll calling on people to make fun of effeminate men is barely worth a word, but RHE and others calling it the latest in a pattern of public bullying is not simply slander, but carnage. Good grief.
Bradley goes so far as to completely redefine slander and libel in criticizing RHE’s posts:
Jacob W. Ehrlich…explains that because of the oral culture of the world of the Bible there is no difference between slander and libel in christianity. And according to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, slander in the Bible is understood as an “accusation maliciously uttered, with the purpose or effect of damaging the reputation of another. As a rule it is a false charge…but it may be a truth circulated insidiously and with a hostile purpose.”
Interestingly, some defenders of SGM have been sharing an article by Tim Keller and David Powlison that similarly redefines “slander” based on a literal translation of biblical Hebrew, taking it entirely out of its current linguistic, legal, and cultural context. These SGM apologists use this argument to claim that not only are Brent’s documents slander, simply discussing them or passing them on is also slander.
So slander now simply means to say or discuss anything that reflects negatively on another person’s reputation, no matter how true it may be, and slander is now the same thing as libel. In other news, Hebrew is now English and we live in the 4th century BCE. The more you know!
Evans’ slanderous post also represents one of the things that God finds detestable, “a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community” (Proverbs 6:19). Additionally, the Bible teachers that if someone offends us we should go to the person directly first (Matthew 18:15-20).
Christians publicly defaming the character of other Christians by name is not the way of love. But Bradley publicly calling RHE a “false witness,” accusing her of libel AND slander, and “stirring up” conflict and dissension is somehow totally different RHE calling Driscoll a bully.
Thanks to the dissension that has now been stirred up, atheist websites are applauding Evans’ response to Driscoll. What type of Christianity are we displaying before the world if slander is our response to the words of leaders we find offensive?” Evans maintains that “Mark’s bullying is unacceptable,” and I would add that so is ungodly public speech against another Christian.”
Calling someone a bully is ungodly speech, but calling people “effeminate anatomically male” is NOT ungodly public speech? And apparently in Bradley’s world, nontheists are just sitting around waiting for Christians to stir shit up with each other. Wrong again, sir. People inside and outside the church applaud RHE because she had the courage and integrity to stand up to an incredibly influential man in her community, despite the potential cost to herself, and state clearly that his harmful behavior needs to stop. We applaud her because she chose to stand up for people who are being hurt by Driscoll’s bigotry, instead of siding with those who use their power to oppress, as so many other influential Christians do, whether through silence and complicity, or by actively enabling and making excuses for abuse as Bradley does.
Anthony Bradley needs to ask himself what kind of Christianity he’s displaying before the world when he argues that Driscoll’s behavior merits only a private rebuke, while RHE’s call out of his behavior is “ungodly.” From where I stand, the kind of Christianity he’s displaying is one that shelters abusers and silences survivors and those who are in solidarity with them.
Christian and former cage fighter Matt Morin has a fantastic article on mixed martial arts (or MMA, the technical title for cage fighting) and its implications for thinking about masculinity from a Christian perspective. It’s a brilliant and thorough takedown of Mark Driscoll’s absurd fetishization of violence and domination as the epitome of “real” masculinity. Morin systematically unpacks misogyny, the homophobia, the harmful assertions about “real” masculinity, and the deep-seated insecurity about gender and embodiment that underpin the current trendiness of MMA in some complementarian circles.
And he does it all from a perspective informed by Christian anthropology! It’s very heartening to me to see challenges to Christianized toxic masculinity from within Christian circles. It drives home the ridiculousness of complementarian assertions that gender essentialism and bigotry are inseparable from being a “real” Christian. And it’s extremely powerful to have a Christian man explicitly reject Christian patriarchy and call it out as misogynist, homophobic, and harmful to everyone.
Seriously, it’s an amazing article and an absolute must-read. Check it out – The Confessions of a Cage Fighter: Masculinity, Misogyny, and the Fear of Losing Control [discussions of physical violence].
Morin particularly takes apart this clip of Driscoll claiming that MMA represents “pure” masculinity:
And I don’t think there’s anything purer than two guys in a cage, no balls, no sticks, no bats, no help, no team, and just see which man is better. And as a pastor, and as a bible teacher, I think that God made men masculine, he made humanity male and female. And men and women are different, not that one is good and the other’s bad, that’s why I married a woman, I’m very glad to be married to her [laughing].
But i think men are made for combat, men are made for conflict, men are made for dominion, and it doesn’t matter what you do to a bunch of guys, I mean, you could put ’em in the worst public high school, and tell ’em that they need to just be into their feelings, and talk about their feelings, and cry a lot, and fingerpaint their inner life, but at the end of the day, they’re still gonna want to throw down. And when they go out to recess, two guys are gonna go at it and see which one is the dude.
And that’s just the way that men are made. So we either allow that in way that is violence [sic] and inappropriate, which is what a lot of guys do, through criminal activity, or we put it together as a viable, legitimate sport, and let men be men and do what men do, and let the other fat, lazy men sit around and criticize them while watching.
Driscoll appears to have a talent for packing lots of wrongheadedness into a small number of words. Where to start? Perhaps with his statement that humanity was created “male and female,” a launching point for much of complementarian theology. Driscoll takes for granted – as do most people, to be fair – that all humans fit into binary categories of sex and gender: male/female, masculine/feminine. But both sex and gender are far more complicated than a binary system can account for.
In biological terms, what we boil down to the single word “sex” is actually made up of several different paramaters (e.g., genes, gonads, genitals, secondary sex characteristics like body hair and breasts, etc.) These factors are interrelated, but don’t always correlate with each other as we expect, and don’t always easily add up to an answer of “male” or “female.” Intersex is the most obvious example of this, but there’s also a tremendous among of variation in sexual characteristics between people who fit “typical” expectations of male or female sex, as we can plainly observe by huge differences in appearance (and specifically sexual development) between men or between women.
Gender is perhaps even more complicated than sex, with incredible variance in both gender identity and gender expression. We’re all assigned a gender at birth based on what our genitals look like, or are prematurely surgically altered to look like, as is sadly the case for some babies born intersex (trigger warning). But the gender we’re assigned at birth doesn’t always fit with our actual gender identity (i.e., some people are trans), and there are many people whose gender identity is nonbinary: neither male nor female, or not entirely one or the other. And in addition to gender identity (what we feel internally), gender expression (how we express our internal gender) also varies widely. Many cultures past and present have recognized this.
Perhaps Mark Driscoll doesn’t know – or doesn’t want to know – that gender variance is in the bible. The very same bible he quotes as evidence that humanity was created male and female features eunuchs – not just people who were castrated, but also people who in Jesus’ own words were born eunuchs – and others who challenged binary sex and gender categories. Peterson Toscano, creator and performer of the play Transfigurations, points to some of these examples:
(I’ll try to get a transcript of this up later.)
Of course, there’s a lot more wrong with Driscoll’s comments than the assumption of binarism (which, again, is widespread), and I’ll get to those and some of Morin’s criticisms of them in subsequent posts.
One of the most interesting and insidious aspects of complementarianism is its use of alternative (read: false) historical narratives to legitimize its claims about the timeless and universal nature of “masculinity” and “femininity.” Men everywhere have always been like X, and women everywhere have always been Y, and that’s that.
Of course, these kinds of ahistorical claims are hardly unique to complementarianism – you can see the same phenomenon at work in the counterfactual history promoted by the Tea Party and their ilk (Paul Revere’s Ride was about defending the right to bear arms against the British! The Founding Fathers fought tirelessly to end slavery!), or by anti-Muslim warmongers (Islam is a bloodthirsty religion that’s been hellbent on wiping Christianity off the face of the earth for over a millenium!). These kinds of narratives show how important history is, how powerful historical accounts – accurate or not – can be in lending credibility and influence to particular points of view and undermining others.
Unsurprisingly, the actual historical record completely contradicts complementarian assertions of a monolithic “masculine nature.” Sara Lipton’s recent New York Times article on ancient and medieval concepts of masculinity is a great example of this. Our current cultural view of masculinity holds that “all men” or “real” men are characterized by an insatiable and barely controllable lust for sex – which is why we often ascribe the sexual escapades (and far worse) of powerful men to their gender:
The conventionalis that when it comes to sex, a certain kind of man, no matter how intelligent, doesn’t think at all; he just acts. Somehow a need for sexual conquest, female adulation and illicit and risky liaisons seems to go along with drive, ambition and confidence in the “alpha male.” And even if we denounce him and hound him from office, we tend to accept the idea that power accentuates the lusty nature of men.
But as Lipton points out, for much of western history, sexual restraint, not excess, was viewed as the hallmark of mature masculinity.
Late antique and Roman writers, like Plutarch, lauded men for their ability to resist sexual temptation and control bodily desire through force of will and intellect….Rampant sexuality was something men were supposed to grow out of: in medieval political theory, young male bodies were used as symbols of badly run kingdoms. A man who indulged in excessive eating, drinking, sleeping or sex — who failed to “rule himself” — was considered unfit to rule his household, much less a polity.
At the same time, lustfulness and sexual excess were in fact associated with women, not men:
Ancient and medieval writers described women as consumed by lust and sexual desire. In 1433, officials in Florence charged with regulating women’s dress and behavior sought “to restrain the barbarous and irrepressible bestiality of women who, not mindful of the weakness of their nature, forgetting that they are subject to their husbands, and transforming their perverse sense into a reprobate and diabolical nature, force their husbands with their honeyed poison to submit to them.” [Of course, this notion of female sexuality as a weapon used to subdue hapless men is still very much with us.]
Because of this association of sexuality with femaleness, men who failed to control their sexual urges or were susceptible to feminine attractions found their masculinity challenged. Marc Antony was roundly mocked as having been “softened and effeminized” by his desire for Cleopatra. When the king and war hero Pedro II of Aragon spent the night before a battle not in prayer or council but in bed with a woman, he was labeled effeminate.
Of course in a sense this trope is not so different from our current cultural framing of masculine and feminine sexuality. Both the ancient/medieval and our model are essentially misogynistic, blaming women for sexual indiscretions or outright crimes by men, whether because of imagined female sexual aggression on the one hand, or because women supposedly stir up uncontrollable male lusts simply by existing (I’m sorry, being “immodest” or “provocative”) on the other. Still, it’s clear that our modern understanding of gendered sexuality didn’t exist in the West as recently as a few centuries ago. Kind of calls into question claims that our notions of masculinity and femininity reflect some divinely created male or female nature, hmm?
I laughed when I read the above phrase, the title of a kind of absurd TIME article by Meredith Melnick on masculinity and male gender identity. It so perfectly captures the contradiction at the heart of patriarchal claims about masculinity. According to complementarians, masculinity is all about being strong, aggressive, independent, attracted to women (and only women), leading and protecting the “weak” (because proper men can’t possibly be weak and anyone who isn’t a man is by definition weak), rational, etc. All of these characteristics are supposed to be inclinations that come “naturally” to men – recall Mark Driscoll’s statement that “Men want to be men.”
At the same time, complementarians constantly obsess over whether men are behaving in a sufficiently “manly” fashion; no detail of appearance of behavior is too trivial for them to assign a proper gender to it (true story: I once heard a pastor say that canaries are not an appropriate pet for a real man). Any departure from conventional masculine gender expression is an “assault” on masculinity, and a disqualification from it. They’re constantly wringing their hands over the inadequacies of modern men, supposedly emasculated by feminism. Driscoll’s derisive claim that “Sixty percent of Christians are chicks, and the forty percent that are dudes are still sort of chicks” perfectly captures both complementarian anxieties about emasculation and complementarian contempt for women and “inadequate” men.
How resilient can such masculinity really be if it’s so easily disrupted? How confident can these men be in their “natural” masculinity if they’re so easily emasculated? How rational is a masculinity that perceives pink nail polish as a threat to its integrity?
This kind of masculinity is the complete opposite of “natural.” It’s a carefully orchestrated performance, a facade that must be constantly maintained (“gender role” is an apt phrase for it, come to think of it). The moment the act of manliness is dropped – or simply fails to be convincing – one ceases to be a “real” man. This explains complementarians’ ever-present anxiety over male gender expression and sexuality, and their constant need to vigorously demonstrate their “manliness” in these respects.
To wit, Mark Driscoll’s latest bizarre, exhibitionist assertion of his heterosexuality:
Mark Driscoll isn’t satisfied with condemning actual gay sex; he must also distance himself from anything that could be remotely construed as implying it, even harmless, meaningless Facebook memes. Mark Driscoll, despite being a 40 year old grown ass man, seems to think “poking” is a serious synonym for sex. And Mark Driscoll really needs you to know that he would never think the idea of “poking” another dude is anything other than gross. This and other public comments by Driscoll betray a terror of being perceived as anything other than 100% straight, a need to be ever vigilant against any and all associations with anything even kinda sorta maybe queer-ish. Even poking other men on Facebook. That’s mature, manly leadership for you.
Of course, this anxiety over gender and sexuality is hardly unique to complementarianism. This is another lie of patriarchal Christianity, i.e., the claim that its definition of real masculinity is “countercultural.” Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s merely one manifestation of the constant societal pressure that men and people perceived as male are under to “act like a man”:
Manhood is a social status, something a guy earned historically, through brutal tests of physical endurance or other risky demonstrations of toughness that mark the transition from boyhood to manhood. But while that masculinity is hard-won, it can be easily lost.
Once earned, men have to continue proving their worth through manly action. In modern society, that may no longer mean, say, killing the meatiest wooly mammoth, but there are equivalent displays of masculinity: earning a decent living or protecting one’s family. One misstep — losing a job, for instance, or letting someone down — and that gender identity slips away. (from the article linked above; Melnick makes some seriously problematic assumptions about gender identity and expression, but on this point she’s spot on).
Patriarchal fantasies like Driscoll’s Ultimate Fighting Jesus are merely less subtle, more overtly violent and misogynistic expressions of pervasive cultural associations of masculinity with aggression and dominance. Likewise, the perpetual vigilance with which complementarians police masculinity and indeed all gender identities mirrors broader cultural anxieties over and limitations on sexuality and gender expression. The phrase “no homo” is a secular example of this:
The sad and awful irony is that all this angst over acting real makes it remarkably difficult for men and people perceived as male to actually be real, i.e., authentic and true to themselves in their gender expression (and sexual expression as well, not only by making heterosexuality compulsory, but also by insisting that specific gender roles be observed in sexual encounters between men and women).
Far from encouraging realness in masculinity or any other gender identity, our society actually punishes people for being real. Even men who buy into the act are harmed by the severe limitations it places on their emotional expression and behavior, the impossible standards of godlike dominance and control it imposes on them, and the damage it wreaks on personal relationships. Such masculinity is by nature fragile and constantly under threat.
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.
Major trigger warning for sexual abuse of children.
I don’t find “sin” to be a terribly useful moral or ethical concept. In fundamentalist religions especially, it’s a highly arbitrary and variable concept that has very little to do with actual right or wrong. In the fundamentalist communities I grew up in, people were far more concerned with whether something counted as sin or not than they were with whether it caused harm or pain to others. And since the definition of “sin” was based on ill-informed and tendentious readings of documents produced thousands of years ago in a completely different cultural context, that led to some pretty fucked up priorities when it came to judging between right and wrong.
People gave themselves a pass for all sorts of nasty, damaging behavior while completely eviscerating others for behavior that harms no one. So disowning one’s child for being gay, leaving them homeless and without a way to provide for themselves – that’s not a sin. A consensual relationship between two people of the same gender, though, really pisses God off. Premarital sex? Definitely a sin. Sexually coercing your wife (e.g., by telling her that she can never turn you down when you want sex)? God is totally cool with that. “Sin” basically means whatever they say it means. Ironically, it turns out that, despite all their bleating about how cultural liberalism means “anything goes,” fundamentalists are the real moral relativists.
I was reminded of this as I read the latest horrific story of sexual abuse, victim blaming, and cover ups at a Sovereign Grace Ministries church (trigger warning; also be warned that there’s a lot of homophobia and transphobia in the comments at SGMS, and it is not a safe space). Earlier this week, The Friendly Atheist posted about SGM’s Beloved Leader, CJ Mahaney, and one of his signature (read: stale and recycled) sermons on female “modesty.” See, CJ wants us gals to know that our bodies are dangerous to men, so dangerous that men who want to avoid the “sin” of lust can barely stand to look at us when we’re dressed “immodestly”:
Campus is a loaded minefield. There are girls everywhere… I either have to be actively engaging my mind and my spirit to, quoting scripture, listening to worship music, or simply looking at the sidewalk to make it through unscathed. Many days it takes all four to be safe.
The thing that women do not seem to fully grasp is that the temptation towards lust does not stop for us as men. It is continual. It is aggressive. It does all it can to lead men down to death. And [women] have a choice to help or deter its goal….
Sometimes, when I see a girl provocatively dressed, I’ll say to myself, she probably doesn’t even know that a 101 guys are going to devour her in their minds today. But then again, maybe she does. To be honest, I don’t know the truth. The truth of why she chooses to dress the way she does. The way she chooses to walk, the way she chooses to act. I don’t know because I’ve never sat down with a girl and asked her why [probably because you can’t look at a girl, much less speak to her, without your brain exploding? Just a thought]. All I need to know is that the way she presents herself to the world is bait for my sinful mind to latch onto and I need to avoid it [read: avoid her] at all costs.
Got that, ladies? Our dirty girlbodies are bait for the dudes. Leading them down to death. Because we “make” them think about sex when we dress “immodestly,” and thinking about sex is an awful, no good sin. So dressing “immodestly” must be an awful, no good sin, too. Pretty strict standards there. So, if simply being sexually attracted to someone who isn’t one’s spouse is such an awful sin, and having consensual sex with that person is, too, doesn’t that make coerced sexual contact extra sinful? Shouldn’t that be something the church “wars” against like it does against lust and immodesty? Especially when the safety and well-being of children is at stake?
I guess that makes a little too much sense. Apparently when a child is sexually abused in an SGM church, they and their family need to have their sin addressed by the pastors. In SGM-land, the worst sinners aren’t abusers, but survivors and families who dare to speak out about their abuse, or call for legal or church accountability. The abuser, not the survivor or their family, is the one who receives protection and care from the church leadership. Survivors are harassed with calls to forgive- which in SGM means pretending the abuse never happened, not pressing charges, enabling pastoral cover-ups, even when the abuser continues to have access to children, and instantaneously getting over the trauma of abuse (or at least shutting up about it – seeking closure or trauma counseling or even just talking to your pastors about it shows an “unforgiving” heart). Absent such “forgiveness,” survivors and their families are treated as rebellious church members to be silenced and weeded out.
Wallace and happymom’s story of sexual abuse two of their children suffered, and the ordeal they and their whole family endured at their SGM church is heartwrenching and beyond appalling:
During 12 years as members of the Fairfax church, two of our children were sexually molested by two different people who attended the church….[At Fairfax ]The perpetrator of a sex crime and his family are brought under the care of a pastor. This would involve counseling, accountability sessions and possible minor restrictions regarding movement in the church during services. People “at risk” are not notified. The victim and victim’s family however are usually confronted with opposition from leadership by minimizing and/or invalidating particular aspects of the victim’s story.
In 1998, we discover our child (child-A) had been molested by a young man attending the Fairfax church. We did not press charges and regretted this later on. The father of the young man was initially uncooperative in dealing with the situation until Steve Shank stepped in to handle it…Shank addressed our sin and asked the young man to apologize.
We forgave him; however, with minor restrictions imposed by the staff, he continued to intimidate our child during Sunday services to the point where our child was fearful of going to church. The pastors involved had little to say concerning this as it didn’t appear to be a priority for them.
In October 2007, we discover child-B had been molested. The molestation had occurred 5 years earlier…[After they pressed charges] The detective told us later on that Fairfax had been “uncooperative” in the investigation…. a fact they later denied…
The trial took place in March 2008. Prior to the trial, not knowing how the young man would plead, we asked pastor DH to come with pastor SW ready to give testimony on our child’s behalf if needed. Pastor DH made it known to us they were not coming to the courthouse. I explained to him if the young man pleaded not guilty, our child would then have to get up in front of the court and reveal the entire ordeal along with answering questions from the attorneys. It didn’t matter, they still weren’t coming. His response to us was, “I have my church’s reputation to consider.”….[the pastors ultimately showed up after the threat of a subpoena].
The Fairfax pastors – including an uncle of the abused child! – lied and obstructed this family’s attempts to get justice and closure for their child at every turn. The family was ‘invited’ to leave the church. Later attempts to get some kind of accountability were met with halfhearted apologies and subsequent statements that the family was “sinfully craving answers.”
All that SGM requires of abusers is that they “repent” – which is about as meaningful as the notion of “sin” in this culture. Repentance can be performed quite convincingly – in fact, being able to persuasively fake contrition is a common characteristic of serial abusers. In exchange for “repentance,” abusers get the church bullying survivors on their behalf, giving free access to more potential victims, minimizing abuse, keeping vulnerable families in the dark, lying and obstructing justice for them.
My wife asked pastor MM why they do not warn people at risk when a known sex felon is in their church. His response was, “that perpetrator could grow up and sue us for defamation of character.” So in pastor MM’s mind, the possibility of being sued sometime in the future takes precedence over protecting children from known sex offenders.
There you have it. SGM claims to care about “sexual sin,” but when push comes to shove, they’re too busy policing women’s wardrobes and telling couples how to have sex to be bothered with actually protecting their flock from sex offenders. And they can only deal with the hassle of caring for children and families so long as kids don’t get abused by a church member. They have more important sins to address than sexual molestation – like people who don’t get over being abused quickly enough for the pastors’ tastes, and people who are mysteriously bothered by having to be around their abusers every Sunday.
This isn’t the first time this has happened in an SGM church – in fact, it’s not even the first time it’s happened at SG Fairfax. Nor are these (to put it very mildly) misplaced priorities unique to SGM. They’re direct products of warped and widespread theologies of sin that privilege arbitrary, so-called divine expectations over the actual effects of those expectations on real human beings. They’re priorities that are fueling a cycle of epidemic abuse, abuse-enabling, victim-blaming in countless churches:
When my mother can say “I can only vote on what God tells me is right, and I can’t support gay marriage” and say to me, “It doesn’t matter what your brother did, you have to forgive him or else your risking your relationship with God” where is God’s justice? Why does he care so much about the actions of consenting adults, but hates victims? Why is it easier to be a rapist than to love another human being, why is your God’s love for me dependent on my forgiveness, but your love for him unconditional? Where is justice in that? (somaticstrength, Dear Christians: Your God needs to get his priorities straight)
So I’m tired of hearing about sin. If your god can stomach sheltering abusers and abusing survivors, but not a woman in a halter top, your concept of sin is utterly meaningless, and your god is seriously fucked up. You can keep him.