Re-centering

Are Women Human? is now on Facebook – you can “like” AWH using the button in the right sidebar, or on the AWH Facebook page, also linked in the sidebar.

Sorry for the long and unexplained absence from the blog! I had a number of obligations and was also on the road a bit; I thought I’d still be able to get some writing done despite all that, but clearly that wasn’t the case.

To be honest, another part of the delay in writing has also been a bit of burnout over the SGM situation, or perhaps more over the way I’d been writing about it. Put simply, I’m a bit tired of writing about privileged white men all the time. That’s not what, or who, this blog is about. There’s no shortage of writing that centers privileged white dudes, way more than there ought to be, and not nearly enough that deals with the concerns of people who are not privileged white men (which is most people, after all). I’m not sure that the way I’ve been writing about the current drama in SGM does much to balance the disproportionate focus on people with privilege and power.

On the one hand, there’s no way to write about the issues I care about without spending a significant amount of time writing about privilege and power. The abuses that this blog focuses on are a direct product of inequitable distribution of power in the church, and abuse of religious authority and influence to promote teachings that oppress and harm people. So I need to talk about power, and powerful people – and when it comes to talking about Christianity in the U.S. or American society in general, that means spending a good amount of time talking about privileged white men.

Still, spending an extended period of time writing only or primarily about powerful white dudes in the church doesn’t jibe with my vision for this blog, and what I hope it will grow into in the future. If I believe that the extremely narrow range of voices and experiences represented in most church leadership is a direct contributor to oppression in the church, then part of fighting that oppression has to be devoting more time, attention, and space to neglected voices, and pointing to alternative models of church leadership and community. It has to include making visible the diversity of people and perspectives that the evangelical church in particularly so often marginalizes and renders invisible. In general I haven’t done as much of that kind of writing on this blog as I would like, but that’s especially been the case since all the drama between SGM’s leadership become public. My blogging became all about SGM pastors.

First and foremost I want this to be a space that centers the voices and experiences of people who are survivors of abusive church cultures. Part of that will definitely be continuing to call out men who foster toxic church environments. There’s a lot of therapeutic value in talking about these men and their warped and cramped worldview. When you grow up in this kind of system, you’re taught to self-censor any kind of dissenting speech, or even thought. You’re taught to ignore any doubts or feelings that things aren’t quite right. That any feeling that something is wrong is just you – being judgmental, being angry, being unforgiving, rebelling against God. The church and the pastors can never be wrong.

So when you finally find someone who is willing to name the system for what it is – abusive, oppressive, perverse – it’s a tremendous relief. I remember when I found the SGM Survivors blog for the first time. I wept. A lot. I didn’t even know I had that kind of emotion bottled up inside of me until I found people who were at last confirming what I’d thought for so long, that there was something deeply, horribly wrong in SGM. I didn’t realize until that moment that I thought I was all alone in feeling that way. And in one unexpected moment, I knew I wasn’t alone. I knew it wasn’t just me being paranoid or oversensitive. What I saw and felt were real.

I don’t agree with much of what the folks who run SGM Survivors and Refuge believe, but I’ll always be thankful that they made it possible for me to see that I wasn’t alone. I want my blog to do the same, but to be more inclusive and welcoming of people of color, queer people, trans people, people who are no longer Christian or no longer religious, and anyone who has been harmed or marginalized by authoritarian church leadership. And I want to make more space to talk about religious and secular communities that are working towards being more inclusive and less hierarchical. I don’t want to unthinkingly accept the disparities that exist in the church and the culture at large by spending all my time talking about demographics that are already overrepresented in public discourse.

So what does that mean, in a concrete sense? There’ll still be posts about Mark Driscoll’s toxic notions of masculinity, but I’ll also write more about alternatives to patriarchal masculinity. I’ll still pay attention to the current crisis among SGM leaders, but I’ll be spending more time talking about various experiences of marginalization in the church – e.g., what it’s like growing up as a girl/woman of color in a predominantly white, patriarchal church culture, about the racist and classist assumptions that underlie white evangelical definitions of “biblical” masculinity and femininity, about abuse and recovery in Christian families and communities, about queer sexuality and non-conforming gender, etc. I’ll still write about so-called traditional Christianity, but I’ll be spending more time talking about churches committed to practical theologies of social justice and equality, about deconversion and processing one’s own beliefs and spirituality after leaving an authoritarian religious group, about negotiating relationships with loved ones who believe differently, and other issues.

This blog isn’t ultimately about C.J. Mahaney or Mark Driscoll or any other blowhard complementarian. It’s about those of us who have been and are still being affected by their teachings, and I need to re-center my writing to reflect that better. I’d love hear any ideas or thoughts you all might have about how I can do that, or suggestions about topics that would be good to discuss.

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Tim Challies on SGM: Nothing to see here

Tim Challies, a huge name in the reformed evangelical blogosphere, finally weighed in on the controversy surrounding C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries today. Challies has long been associated with the “young, restless, reformed” crowd – i.e., the very same mash up of Calvinist doctrine and “biblical” patriarchal masculinity that C.J. Mahaney and Joshua Harris are seen as models of.

So it’s not too surprising that the main point of Challies’ post was to warn like-minded Christians off reading Brent Detwiler’s documents. The documents, he says, deal with an interpersonal conflict between Brent and C.J. alone. Brent has an agenda, and reading his biased, slanderous take allows him to “tell us who C.J.Mahaney, one of our brothers in Christ, really is” (wait…isn’t Brent his brother in Christ, too? Hmm). Christians should guard their hearts from slander and passing judgment by not involving themselves in a personal conflict.

Except there’s that small matter of C.J. admitting to trying to blackmail Larry Tomczak, which would seem to go far beyond the level of mere “interpersonal conflict.” I left a comment on Challies’ post asking if he thought attempted blackmail counted as a strictly personal conflict, and guess what?

My comment was deleted.

I left another comment asking why my comment was deleted when I simply asked a question about factual information. Challies response: the focus of his post was on “the morality of the documents” and any discussion of “issues…contained in the documents” that didn’t pertain to the morality of those documents was a sidetrack.

In other words, let’s not talk about the fact that C.J. blackmailed someone. Let’s not talk about the ridiculous dysfunctionality of the SGM and CLC leadership teams – the unbelievably petty nitpicking and in-fighting, the inability to communicate honestly and clearly, the outright lies. Let’s definitely not talk about the large and still growing number of allegations on the blogs of sexual abuse coverups and abuse of pastoral authority.

In other words, let’s not talk about whether these serious charges are true or not; let’s talk about how mean and sinful it was of Brent to make them in the first place.

It other words, it doesn’t matter how bad the alleged behavior is; the real sinner is always the person who makes that behavior public – and people who listen to them or take them seriously. Or to put it in Challies’ words, “Let’s be sure that we do not begin to celebrate Christian whistleblowers.”

The truly Christian thing to do is just to look the other way.

This how accountability in evangelical communities is squashed, how silence and complicity become the watchwords of other evangelical leaders. It’s no wonder evangelical leaders are able to run amuck in how they exercise their “authority.”

Again, it’s no mystery why BJU was able to have a ban on interracial dating until 2000, why Mark Driscoll has gotten away with spouting hatred against anyone who isn’t male, or his idea of what a man should be, why  C.J. Mahaney and his fellow “apostles” have been able to get away with controlling and cultic “leadership” for so long.

This is why. Because it’s almost always considered a worse sin in conservative evangelical culture to call someone out for doing something truly harmful that it is to do harm in the first place. It’s almost always a worse sin to look seriously into charges of wrongdoing than to actually do something wrong.

Don’t even read these criticisms, or you’re opening your heart to slander. Don’t share them with anyone, that’s gossip. Don’t take the person making the criticisms seriously, they’re committing slander and libel and not dealing “biblically” (privately, discreetly) with conflicts.

How can any real wrong done in the church be addressed if it’s an awful sin to even consider such allegations? This is why abusers find a haven in so many churches.

And here’s another reason: evangelical leaders and influencers get status and concrete financial benefits from being associated with each other, and as such are not exactly disinterested parties when one of their own is accused.

Challies says he has no “formal” connections to Sovereign Grace Ministries. He says he has nothing to lose by criticizing C.J. Mahaney. If by this he means any formal institutional, legal, or financial connections to SGM, that’s true.

However, he is a frequent attendee and live blogger at Sovereign Grace conferences, and other conferences where C.J. and other SGM leaders have been prominently featured. He quotes C.J. on his blog, and in his books. His blog is one of the very few written by non-SGM members that have been recommended by SGM pastors for their members to read, and his books are sold at SGM conferences and stores.

So is it really any surprise that he’s able to look at the by now overwhelming evidence that SGM as an organization is going through a period of serious stress and division, and has managed to alienate numerous members and former members with their approach to “leadership,” and still conclude despite all that that all of this fuss is only about a private, personal conflict between two men?


How SGM’s Covenant Life Church and Fairfax Covenant Church deal with sexual abuse

Extreme trigger warning: child sexual abuse, details of child molestation, spiritual abuse, victim blaming, and enabling of abuse perpetrators. 

I don’t really know where to start with this, so I’ll just cut to the chase. In the past week, two more accounts of sexual abuse of children at SGM churches – this time at Covenant Life Church (CLC) – have been made public. In both cases, CLC pastors were primarily concerned with the preserving the comfort and reputation of the perpetrators, as well as the reputation of their own church. In both cases the pastors put pressure on the victims’ families to handle the abuse “internally” – i.e., within the church and without the involvement of the police – and, when charges were pressed in both cases, to make statements in support of “leniency” for the perps. In both cases the pastors pressured the victims and their families to forgive and pursue “reconciliation” with the abusers.

Both accounts are at SGM Survivors. I’ve linked them below and have also posted, below the jump, excerpts that highlight the most egregious abuses of pastoral authority in these cases.

  • ExCLCer’s account of her mother’s husband’s sexual abuse of his 11 year old daughter (and ExCLCer’s half-sister) in the late 1980s.
  • SGMnot’s account of a teenage boy’s sexual abuse of her  3 year old daughter, 1993.

In one case, the perpetrator, a man who abused his preteen daughter and went to jail for it, is now out of jail and back in membership at CLC. He’s remarried in the church and has regular access to children and teenagers – his children with his current wife, and teenagers in a band that he manages. In the other case, the perpetrator was a teenage boy who is now an adult and, as of a few years ago, was still a member of CLC as an adult.

In other words, there are at least two child molesters who are/have recently been in membership at CLC without the informed consent of the congregation. One of them has regular access to teenagers who most likely have no knowledge of his history of abusing children.

Additionally, this whole time, SGM leaders have been “preaching into people’s lives” and “modeling godliness for them” – i.e., lecturing people about how they should live their lives, down to the last detail, and manipulating and terrorizing people with teachings that turn the most harmless preferences, emotions, and actions into horrible sins. This whole time they’ve been disciplining people and making people feel like crap for the smallest infractions, in the name of “pastoral care.”

And over the same time, they’ve been concealing knowledge of sexual abuse in their church. They’ve imposed gags and forced forgiveness on victims and their families. They’ve exposed their congregations to unbelievable risk by hiding the presence of rapists and predators in the church. They’ve decided that when it comes to sexual abuse, the reputation of the church and the perpetrators are what need protecting, not victims, not their families, not the congregation.

They’ve been keeping people under fear and control with their bullshit on living holy lives the whole time they were working hard to make rapists feel more comfortable in their churches.

These incidents took place around 20-25 years ago. Cue the defenses from SGM leaders that they happened “a long time ago” and were “mistakes,” but now they’ve changed. No. This is bullshit.

First off, 20 years is NOT that long ago. Secondly, time is not a defense for evil actions when the perpetrators have never willingly acknowledged their actions or that they were evil. Most importantly, these “long ago” incidents are part of an ongoing pattern of pastoral victim blaming and abuse enabling in SGM. The responses of the pastors at CLC are very similar to incidents as recent as 2007 of pastoral mismanagement of abuse cases at SGM’s Fairfax Covenant Church (FCC): Noel and Grizzly’s story, 1998 and Happymom and Wallace’s story, 1998 and 2007.

Once again, after years of pretending the ex-SGM blogs didn’t exist in public while smearing them as lies, gossip, and slander in private, SGM pastors have now been forced to admit that the blog’s accounts of sexual abuse at the Fairfax church are substantially true. Mark Mullery, the senior pastor at FCC, recently “confessed” to his congregation that the pastors did, in fact, isolate victims and their families and fail to provide them with support, treat them as being in a “conflict” with the perpetrators that needed to be “reconciled,” and pressure them into concealing the identity of perpetrators and even that someone perpetrated any abuse in the first place.

Mullery, of course, doesn’t quite state things in these terms. He doesn’t touch the allegations that the pastors pressured victims into avoiding legal recourse or being character witnesses for the perpetrators. He glosses over the real implications of the actions of the pastors. He puts on a performance about how sad and full of regret he is – and before anyone calls me judgmental or a cynic for saying his sadness is insincere, please keep in mind that FCC pastors and other SGM leaders have, for the past two years, been telling members who raised questions about these cases that the victims’ families were lying, and that the blogs were slander. Please keep in mind that Mullery is only “confessing” some of the truth at a time when SGM is in the middle of a scandal that has countless members angry, seriously questioning their leaders, and ready to leave their churches en mass. Please keep in mind that not only all of SGM, but much of the evangelical blogosphere is now aware of the ex-SGM blogs and reading accounts like SGMnot and exCLCer’s stories – and aware that these blogs have far more credibility than SGM leadership has claimed.

This is the context for this “apology.” SGM and FCC are being forced by internal pressure from members and negative external  publicity to finally acknowledge these issues. Confessing “mistakes” when you no longer have a choice but to address them is not a sincere apology.

This is an apology and promise of change that is forced by negative pressure and attention. Two questions: How can anyone know the pastors actually believe they did anything wrong? How can anyone know the pastors actually understand why what they did was wrong?

The answer to both is that we can’t know. But I would bet money that they don’t believe they did anything terribly wrong, and they don’t have any clue why anyone would think otherwise. There’s nothing in Mullery’s statement that indicates anything beyond superficial understanding that they finally got caught, that people are angry and want to hear that they are sorry and will change.

This is not good enough. Not by a long shot.

Here’s the thing. Pastors have real power, influence, and authority over their congregations, and this is especially true in authoritarian and hierarchical organizations like Sovereign Grace. People look to their pastors for support and guidance in getting through difficult periods in their lives. People trust their pastors to tell them how to live in general, how to relate to others, how to raise their children and relate to their spouses and families, how to make huge life decisions. And they trust that their pastors aren’t just like any old friend they’d go to for advice, but people who have knowledge of higher spiritual truths, knowledge of God – and therefore to some extent speak FOR God.

This is a HUGE amount of power. It’s a virtually unparalleled level of trust.

So when pastors deal with victims of sexual abuse and their families, they’re coming into a situation where the things they say and do have incredible power and influence behind them, and have incredible potential to either support and help victims, or further traumatize them. By the same token, their actions can weigh powerfully in favor of bringing perpetrators to justice and whatever rehabilitation is possible, and keeping other members of the church safe from them, or in favor of protecting rapists and predators, enabling their abuse, and preserving their access to unwitting future victims.

Here is what pastors at FCC and CLC have used this power to tell victims and their families:
– Keep abuse secret and protect the identities of abusers.
– Naming your abuser is gossip and slander and unforgiveness.
– Don’t go to the police. Don’t pursue legal recourse.
– The legal and personal ramifications for the abuser are more important than the damage the abuser did to you.
– You are obligated to forgive abusers, and do so virtually instantly.
– You are sinning if you remain angry about their abuse for more than a matter of days.
– Sexual abuse doesn’t really cause long-term psychological trauma (and therefore you don’t really need care or help from us and you might even be sinning by still experiencing flashbacks, nightmares, and other effects).

Again, this is coming from people who victims and families have been taught to believe speak on behalf of God. That they are men of God. When pastors say all this, the implication is that God is saying this. Some families will believe this and accept it. But even for families who don’t accept that God, e.g., cares more about an abuser’s reputation than about their trauma, these messages add to their trauma them by forcing them to choose between their faith (as presented by people they have trusted to instruct them in the faith) and their healing and wellbeing.

This is spiritual abuse. It is a real form of abuse. I can’t state strongly enough that it is a real form of abuse to tell people who have invested unbelievable levels of trust in pastors as their spiritual leaders that their trauma doesn’t matter to God – not as much as the comfort of their abusers or their ability to “get over” the trauma, anyway. This is actual abuse and it causes further trauma to people who have experienced abuse.

And it’s rampant in Christian churches. It’s endemic in Sovereign Grace Ministries. It’s not an accident, and it’s not a mistake. This keeps happening because this is what the pastors really believe about abuse. This is the culture they have fostered – one where survivors of abuse are hounded out of the church, and abusers are perfectly happy staying.

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The double standard at work: Anthony Bradley on Mark Driscoll and Rachel Held Evans

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.


Bob Jones, Mark Driscoll, and C.J. Mahaney, cont.

Part 1

John Jensen’s post about the criticism he’s gotten from other Christians for swearing got me thinking again about about the skewed moral priorities that often prevail in evangelical churches. Growing up, we were led to believe that all sorts of personal choices disqualified someone from being a “real” Christian – swearing, listening to “ungodly” music, voting a certain way, wearing certain clothes. Before I went to college, I honestly thought it was impossible to be a Christian and a Democrat.

But I was never taught it was impossible to be a good Christian and a racial separatist.

To the contrary, my experience was that fellow conservative Christians, white ones in particular, were extremely reluctant to call BJU’s opposition to interracial marriage what it so obviously was: blatant racism. They had no trouble saying they disagreed with the ban, that they believed in racial unity in Christ. But few people would go so far as to actually call the ban racist, much less make a real issue of it.

Instead people stressed that Bob Jones and others at BJU were our “brothers in Christ” and that they loved Jesus, loved the Gospel, and were working hard for the kingdom. Yes, they said, Bob Jones is wrong to oppose interracial marriage, but no one is perfect; we’re all sinners and we all make mistakes. All of us are wrong about something. Making a public issue out of BJU’s sin would be self-righteous. It would be wrongly attacking a fellow Christian and creating division and conflict in the church, making the church look bad to the secular world.

Besides, Bob Jones wasn’t really racist – he didn’t hate black people, he just honestly believed the Bible required segregation. BJU never went quite so far as to say “We hate blacks,” so the churches I attended not only did and said nothing to oppose their racism, they also supported BJU and affiliated institutions by purchasing their books, and holding BJU up as a good Christian university that good Christian families could send their kids to.

There are days I think BJ III would have had to put on a hood and burn a cross on Jesse Jackson’s front lawn to spark any serious uproar in white conservative Christian circles. Even then I think it might have been dicey.

Evangelical responses justifying Mark Driscoll’s hate speech or C.J. Mahaney’s autocratic leadership of SGM illustrate the exact same kind of thinking that allowed BJU’s ban on interracial relationships to stand for so long. Put simply, there’s a pattern of making excuses for fellow evangelicals, as well as a culture where certain “sins” are arbitrarily and bizarrely prioritized over others.

Saying “shit” gets you flack for being a bad example, not being “holy,” and being a “stumbling block” to others. But engaging in hate speech or abusive behavior that actually traumatizes people is apparently not a sufficiently bad example or “unholy” or “stumbling” enough to warrant public criticism. Anyone who disagrees will be accused of “libel” and “slander.”

I mean really, this is the same crowd that just months ago pitched very public tantrums over a video of Rob Bell asking questions about hell, and over Ann Voskamp’s erotic spiritual imagery. These folks were quick to warn of the spiritual danger of Bell’s and Voskamp’s writings (without having read them) and to paint them as stealth pagans.

Now this same crowd is accusing critics of libel and slander for pointing to a clear, public record of Mark Driscoll’s bigoted, bullying behavior, and for simply discussing countless compelling stories that point to SGM being a ministry that perpetrates and enables all sorts of abuses against its members.

The hypocrisy, the moral relativism, and double standards are quite blatant.


Bob Jones, Mark Driscoll, and C.J. Mahaney

It occurred to me that Bob Jones University, Mark Driscoll, and C.J. Mahaney have a lot in common. The connection might not be immediately obvious, but bear with me.

Stuff Fundies Like posted a 1995 letter from fundamentalist leader Bob Jones III (BJ III. Yes, really!), defending his university’s now defunct ban on interracial dating. When a student challenged this policy by pointing out that in the Bible, Moses, a Jew, married an Ethiopian, which would seem to be an interracial marriage, BJ III responded:

Text:

Bob Jones III
November 15, 1995

Dear Peter:

As a young man, you would do yourself a favor to back off and listen to your family and others who know a lot more about the road of life than you do because we’ve been there.

No, I can’t see your point of view. I am sorry. I don’t suppose that surprises you.

You don’t have to agree with the school’s position on this matter to stay here, obviously; but you do have to keep your disagreement to yourself, because griping isn’t tolerated.

As I mentioned the other day in Chapel, 40-50 years ago in America, it was understood by believers, North and South, that interracial dating was not proper. There would have been a few radicals, of course, that would not have agreed, but it wasn’t even discussed in churches because it was just understood.

You and others of your generation who have allowed yourselves to be brainwashed by the media have been sold a bill of goods.

Yes, Moses married a non-Jew. That was what he was criticized for, and the issue for which Miriam his sister was judged by Godwas her criticism of the leader God appointed and the divisiveness that it brought. The race of Ethiopians has to do with what part of Ethiopia they come from. Haile Selassie, the former ruler of Ethiopia, and the ruling family are not black. To make a racial issue out of this is to argue a point beyond all reason.

I could spend my time dealing with this issue, but I am not inclined to because I don’t think you really wan tot know but that you want to argue. Forgive me if I have misjudged you, but that is how your note comes across.

Kind regards.

BJIII:kas

Riiiight. It’s not even worth trying to take all that apart. I just love how he basically equated “white racist Christians” with “believers” and everyone else with “radicals.” Also “reading comprehension” and “sharing an opinion” are, apparently, griping and dissent, not to be tolerated at BJU circa 1995.

To be honest, I’m not particularly surprised that BJU’s leaders were, and in all likelihood still are, opposed to interracial dating. Many white conservative Christians still are. Nor am I surprised that it took the pressure of overwhelming negative publicity for BJU to finally drop the ban in 2000. That’s pretty much how it goes when it comes to injustice and oppression. People who know better have to raise a stink for things to change.

What I have always found remarkable about the longevity of BJU’s ban is precisely the fact that other conservative Christians in large part didn’t protest the policy, and instead dealt with it with silence and complicity. Most conservative Christian leaders and churches did and said nothing to challenge an institutionalized, blatantly obvious form of racism at a nationally known conservative Christian university.

Most such Christians would deny having any problem with interracial relationships per se. Most would claim to believe racism is a sin. All of them would claim to believe in the unity of the church and the equal humanity and worth of all people.

Yet the end of the ban at BJU had virtually nothing to do with the Christian church. It came largely thanks to the evil liberal secular media.

The scandal here isn’t that some Christians are prejudiced, or even blatant racists. That’s true of all kinds of people. The scandal is that the media did the job the church should have done in calling out, pressuring, and, yes, publicly shaming BJU for their racist policy.

Here’s the connection Mark Driscoll and C.J. Mahaney: There’s a disturbing pattern of evangelicals tolerating and making excuses for egregious and oppressive behavior when the people engaging in it are their kind of Christians. This is frequently coupled with a tendency to turn on and ostracize anyone who dares to call out prejudiced or harmful behavior for what it is.

We can see this in the backlash against Rachel Held Evans’ posts calling on Christians to denounce Mark Driscoll’s bullying speech and misogynistic teachings. We can see it in the SGM board and SGM defenders accusing Brent Detwiler and ex-SGM bloggers of “slander” when we dare to openly discuss even established and admitted facts about the pastors.

Part 2 of this post here.


Further reactions to Brent Detwiler’s comments

This story is moving pretty quickly, and there have been a lot of developments just in the past couple days – most notably that reformed evangelical bigwigs Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan are circling the wagons to defend Mahaney, and the SGM board (with the interesting exception of Joshua Harris) is now claiming they think C.J. is perfectly fit for leadership. These responses directly contradict C.J.’s “confession” of sin and Joshua Harris’s comments on the situation. Mohler’s and Duncan’s comments in particular are dismissive and minimizing of the situation and victim-blaming. More comments on those later.

A few more thoughts about Brent Detwiler’s documentation of his grievances against CJ and SGM:

– The almost total absence of women in the correspondence is really striking. This is an artificially constructed, all male world where the women are all assistants – secretaries, wives – there to be ‘helpmeets’ to men and to boost their importance. Women have no direct role, agency or personal investment in the events described, except through their husbands. And at one point Brent even asks permission from C.J. to email C.J.’s wife Carolyn. Pathetic.

– Given all that I have to wonder what will happen to the wives and daughters of these pastors if this controversy sticks, especially Mahaney’s wife and three adult daughters, “the “Girltalk girls.” The Mahaney women have built a significant following and quite successful brand and business based almost entirely on their acquired celebrity as C.J.’s female relatives. Their entire identity and livelihood revolves around his role in CLC and SGM. Every single one of C.J.’s sons-in-law is a pastor in an SGM church, two of them at CLC. What happens if his leave of absence becomes permanent (which seems increasingly unlikely, given the doubling down of famous friends of SGM and the SGM board)?

Well, they probably won’t hurt for money ; C.J. has done quite well with books and conferences and that success isn’t going to disappear overnight. He’ll land on his feet, surely. But Carolyn has been a preacher’s wife since she was 19, and their daughers have been pastor’s kids their entire lives. That’s why they’re famous. That’s why people look up to them. It must be disturbing to deal with such a sudden change in their identity and fortunes. Even though I think what Carolyn and her daughters teach women is incredibly harmful and deeply wrong, I still feel very sorry for them. The sudden scrutiny and uncertainty can’t be easy to deal with.

– It’s a bit ironic to see Brent criticizing C.J. and CLC for promoting “legalistic” gender roles for women given that he’s the one responsible for one of the most explicit statements of SGM’s incredibly regressive stance on women’s education and employment. Brent is the one who explicitly says that financial reasons are more or less the only legitimate reasons for a woman to have a job outside the home. Brent is the one who explicitly encourages women – preaching to a white upper middle class demographic in which college would ordinarily be taken as a given – not to assume that they should or will get a college education. He has no leg to stand on here.

– Brent is also one of the most frequently complained about leaders with respect to spiritual abuse, so again, it’s hard to take his finger pointing seriously. There are indications from the other blogs that he’s open to hearing from people who have been hurt by his leadership, so perhaps he’s changed or is willing to change on some of these issues.

– Brent doesn’t come off well in these documents at all. He’s just as implicated as any other pastors in the culture of tattling, constant high level and frankly stalkerish scrutiny of others’ lives, and  enabling of bad behavior. Further, he frequently presents himself in a self-congratulatory light, e.g., there’s a lot of language about how he’s tried for years to help C.J. and others to “see their sin,” but they won’t let him. Meanwhile he seems totally clueless to his own fairly obvious grudge-holding and obsessive attention to various ways big and very, very small he’s been offended or slighted.

– These men haven’t the slightest clue how to handle conflict or disagreement. They’re constantly dancing around what they’re really trying to say, couching it in flowery and disingenuous language, never really coming out and saying what they mean.  They all have to pretend not to be angry and not to be offended, even when they obviously are. They have to assure each other of how wonderful they are and what great friends and brothers in Chrsit they are, even as they’re following this with absolutely withering critique of each other’s character and behavior.

It takes pages and pages of emails for Brent to try to communicate to C.J. that it’s not fair for him to take more vacation time than other pastors and expect exemptions to SGM’s policy of not covering children on pastor’s vacations – and in fact, Brent never actually comes out and says that, even though it’s clear he thinks C.J. wants to be treated with favoritism and is being dishonest about his vacation record. Nor does C.J. ever come out and clearly say that he thinks Brent is accusing him of wanting special treatment and fudging his travel record. It’s sad to watch two grown adults not be able to conduct a conversation in an adult manner – instead it’s full of passive-aggressive nonsense and manipulative language.

There’s a clear dance they all have to do when they’re working through a conflict. It’s shedding a lot of light on some of the issues I’ve seen in my own family and personal life when it comes to dealing with conflict in a healthy way – there’s SO MUCH suppression of real emotion, so much denial of what people are clearly feeling. You can see in the documents how it makes it impossible to make any progress towards resolving problems.