Trigger warning: classist and racist language, misogyny, cissexism, spiritual abuse/cults.
I’ve noticed for some time that Mark Driscoll is at least as obsessed with money as he is with sex and gender roles – and further, his obsession with money is directly connected to his preoccupations with sex and proper gender roles. So it was interesting to see the considerable degree to which money is a major theme, if not the single dominant theme, in the Mars Hill documentary. Driscoll talks about money literally from the first minute of the film right through to the very last minute.
The douchey beginning: It takes less than a minute for Driscoll to make a nasty remark about “men in dresses.” Not one minute. The full comment reflects how how class and wealth are integral aspects of what Driscoll believes separates “manly” men from “girly” ones:
The last thing I ever thought I would be was a pastor, ’cause growing up Catholic, the pastor is a guy who lives at the church, is flat broke, is committed to never having sex, and walks around in a dress. So pretty much that was [the] last career choice of all possible career choices. – Driscoll, ~ 00:50-1:05 in the film.
Driscoll, of course, is not this kind of pastor. He owns a home. He’s not broke. He has lots of sex. He dresses in an appropriately virile fashion. And apparently, part of his job as a pastor is to make sure that everyone is informed of these facts. Repeatedly.
The vast middle: Driscoll repeatedly regales viewers, accompanied by sad womp-womp music in the background, with tales of the days when Mars Hill was “broke” and “homeless.” Homeless,” apparently, means “renting out someone else’s building for services rather than owning our own property” and “broke” means “not having as much money as other churches.”
Bonus: the use of “ghetto” (though not by Driscoll) to describe the temporary housing of the Mars Hill offices and three male church staff in the Driscoll home. Staff who, by the way, despite being grown and capable adults, left Driscoll’s wife Grace to do their dishes and clean up after them. Real manliness, y’all!
Driscoll talks about Mars Hill like it’s a business (to be fair, like most megachurches, it is one). In fact, he seems to see churches in general in business terms. He describes established denominations starting new churches as equivalent to a big business opening a new branch – denominations simply “write a fat check” as seed money and they’re good to go.
So it’s not surprising that Driscoll also casts Mars Hill as a brash and cutting-edge startup that “innovates” and bucks church traditions out of necessity (read: being “broke”). Traditional churches simply use their oodles of money to try to “buy cool” instead of innovating themselves.
The “absolute gamechanger” in Mars Hill’s history: receiving gigantic sums of money from wealthy donors. The first large donors to Mars Hill – a couple who single-handedly donated $200,000 – are described as “the first ones to believe in the possibility of what we were doing.” Because, as my husband says, you can tell who’s the first to believe in you by who gives you a large amount of cash.
The real kicker, though, is that Driscoll immediately follows this rhapsodizing about rich benefactors whose generosity saved Mars Hill from imminent demise with the sage conclusion that these donations came in because “God showed up….There’s another Trinity behind Larry, Curly, and Moe [Driscoll and his fellow pastors] actually putting this thing together.” In case that’s not clear, he equates people donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to Mars Hill so that they could renovate a run down church building with divine intervention and favor.
Why doesn’t God “show up” and help actual poor people? This remains a mystery we don’t really need to question. But we can rest assured that God takes time out of the divine plan to make sure people like Mark Driscoll have awesome renovated church buildings so their churches can grow. And we can tell who God really favors by who has big churches with lots of money, obviously.
The shocking conclusion: Let’s start with some context.
- In fiscal year 2010, Mars Hill received about $13 million dollars in general giving, and is on track for $14-15 million dollars in giving for FY 2011.
- Mars Hill owns over $16 million in total net assets
- Between FY 2008 and 2010, their “excess revenue over expenses” – ahem, that is to say, their annual profit – has ballooned from $15,000 to $2.1 million dollars.
[all numbers from the Mars Hill annual report, thanks WeenatcheetheHatchet for pointing me to this]
Keep these numbers in mind as I tell you how this shining record of Mars Hill’s history, this testament of “God’s work” and Mars Hill’s witness, ends. Given these numbers and what’s come before, you might think Driscoll would conclude by talking some more about how God has showed Mars Hill with
money favor. Or perhaps with one more nostalgic anecdote about how “poor” the church used to be, but no longer. You might think that, but you’d be so very wrong.
Long story short? The documentary ends with Driscoll complaining at some length that Mars Hill “has often, quite frankly, really stunk at giving,” then trying to guilt people into giving more money to the church.
No, really. In Driscoll’s mind, “most of the people in the church need to be giving a whole lot more.”
[Partial transcript] Mars Hill has often really just, quite frankly, stunk at giving, and I think the last thing to be saved is a person’s wallet. And so I’m just going to tell you that most of the people in the church need to be giving a whole lot more.
Some of you are being generous. I’m not talking to you. For those people, we’ll have a separate conference for you in a phone booth.
For everybody else, the sad, cold, hard truth is about 24 percent of people at Mars Hill this year have given nothing. In addition, another 41 percent have given $500 or less. So that’s 65-ish percent of Mars Hill, two-thirds of Mars Hill’s twelve thousand people who are giving nothing or nearly nothing….
And I want you to ask this question of yourself. At the end of the year, how much do you anticipate that God wants you to give? We’re at that place now where it is going to take everyone being very generous to open up an opportunity to welcome nine thousand more people, all the new churches, seats, opportunities.
So is it about the money? Yes, it’s about spending the money to reach people for Jesus. Everything costs something. And we think that if you love Jesus and you believe people are going to hell, you should give at least as much money to that as toilet paper, and many of you aren’t.
Bottom line: you can do better. We love you and we trust in the grace of God. You will be more generous.
People are getting saved more than ever. Churches are getting planted more than ever. Leaders are rising up more than ever. Opportunities are surfacing more than ever. And this is the best possible time to get onboard, to pray, give, serve, because I promise you, what comes next is the kind of thing that you’re going to tell your grandkids about.
As I said while live-tweeting, you could land yourself into a coma if you had to drink every time Driscoll mentions money. But it wasn’t until these final minutes that I realized that money isn’t simply a recurring motif in the film, but rather what it’s about. The final note of a film like this is the take-away message – not necessarily the consciously intended message, but a moment that sticks in the viewer’s memory, precisely because of its finality, because it’s the last message you hear.
And this is the message Driscoll chooses to leave viewers with: God wants you do give us more money. You can show you love Jesus by how much of your money you give to me (note: not to charity, not even to Christian causes, but to Driscoll’s church specifically). If you don’t give us money, Jesus is going to send people to hell. Please ignore the fact that we believe in predestination, and no amount of money or time you spend on church will change supposedly preordained divine decisions about who ends up in heaven and hell. Don’t sweat the details! Just do better with the whole giving us money thing.
I mean – you can’t even call this an ‘appeal’ for more money. It’s blatant money grubbing, privileged and entitled grumbling from the pastor of what’s undoubtedly one of the wealthiest independent churches in the country, if not the world, and unashamed emotional and spiritual manipulation.
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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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Trigger warning: racism, misogyny, cissexism, spiritual abuse/cults.
So Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church made a documentary… about themselves. Specifically, about the history of the church and how it came to be where it is today. The full documentary is online: God’s Work, Our Witness. Quite the title.
I watched the documentary over the weekend and tweeted my reactions while watching it. You can read the round-up of my live-tweeting on Storify. I can’t embed or post the full text of my reactions to the documentary here; it’s pretty long. But I can sum up a few things that struck me after watching it.
Predictably, much of it consists either of Mark Driscoll talking about himself, or other leaders from Mars Hill talking about Mark Driscoll. Also predictably, there’s a lot of talk about manliness, sex, and money, from the typically boorish and self-obsessed “Pastor Mark” perspective. Let’s break it down.
Gender: The documentary is slightly over an hour long. In that time, only two women appear on screen without their husbands, one of whom is Grace Driscoll. The other women who are featured barely speak in comparison to their husbands. They seem to mostly be there to look supportive, smile, and hold their husbands’ hands. So it doesn’t really come as a surprise when one of the pastors’ wives, recalling the challenges the church staff faced during a period of sudden growth, says the following (emphasis mine):
It was just really intense, really busy…it was trying to [pauses, looks at her husband], the guys were just trying to keep up with what God was doing. And so I think all of us wives were just holding on for the ride. With our kids in tow. [looks at her husband, smiles].
Well. Sigh. The church belongs to the men, you see. The women and children are just along for the ride.
Then there are the lovely bits where he talks about how he decided to start doing a church-wide men’s meeting because he simply didn’t have the time to yell at all the men individually, poor thing, so he just had to gather all the men in one place so he could yell at them at the same time!
This is real innovative leadership, y’all. You should take notes.
Naturally what one does when one has a captive audience of men is to tell them to “sit down and shut up until I’m ready to yell at you,” and then in fact proceed to yell at them for 2-3 hours about about “all of [their] perversion… laziness…lack of drive and ambition…ungodly living.” Oooh, also, hand them stones with Bible verses written on them, with instructions that the men hang on to them “until they get [their] own stones.”
Like I said: real cutting edge stuff. What a memorable and classy way to “lead” men!
Not only is Driscoll communicating to the men he leads that they are “inadequate” men (they have no stones), he’s communicating to them that he is in a different, higher position than they are. Not only does he have “stones,” he’s in a position to judge their lack of “stones.” This is all part of Driscoll’s whole shtick, which is not only about putting women in their place, but actually about putting everyone, including and perhaps especially other men in their place – namely, beneath him. Eeeeveryone is inferior to him. No man is as manly as he.
And this manipulative, toxic behavior is part of a long-established pattern. From the discussion of the documentary the Stuff Christian Culture Likes FB page, we learn that in the earlier days of Mars Hill, the church had a message board on which Driscoll had two accounts: one that was known to other church members as be his account, and another, “anonymous” sock puppet named “William Wallace II” (oh, the evangelical male obsession with Braveheart. A post topic of its own). Driscoll used this fake account to rant about how the U.S. is a “pussified nation” and to angrily challenge other men in the church to “man up.”
Let’s be real about what Driscoll is passing off as “leading men” here. Questioning someone’s gender is an attack on their identity and very personhood – I’m not talking about intent, but content and effect. Driscoll goes way beyond that. He deliberately tries to undermine people’s security and confidence in their gender identity. He deliberately tries to induce a feeling in men – and people of all genders – that their gender is actually or potentially not “real.” That? Is abuse. Period. It’s a deliberate attempt to degrade people and make them *feel* the degradation, make them feel ashamed, and it’s not leadership. It’s abuse.
It’s also cissexist as hell – i.e., treating people whose bodies, appearance, or behavior don’t conform to arbitrary norms of the gender they are, or are assumed to be, as lesser than people who do conform to gender expectations. It’s bigoted behavior that literally kills people. That is the “bold” leadership Mark Driscoll is selling.
Race: There are also precisely ZERO visible people of color in the entire documentary (I say visible because some of the people in the documentary may have nonwhite ancestry that’s not immediately obvious). This is a documentary about a twelve thousand member church, in a huge city, with one of the biggest Asian-American populations in the country. And there appear to be no black people in it. Nor any Asians or Asian Americans. Nor any Latin@s. Zero.
A quick browse through Mars Hill’s various staff pages on line shows that this stark absence of people of color in the documentary is in fact reflective of the leadership of Mars Hill as a whole. Just taking men who are explicitly labeled as pastors, there’s only one visible man of color (Asian or Asian American) among the various Mars Hill’s total staff of 31 pastors.
Put it differently: Mars Hill’s pastorate is 97% white in a city that’s 14% Asian/Asian American and has a 30% minority population.
Add in the nasty “joke” about a worship pastor whose poor singing, according to Driscoll, “sounded like he got captured by Al Qaeda,” Driscoll’s complaints about a church building Mars Hill wanted being given to a Chinese church, and appropriating other people’s culture by using a digeridoo in worship, and the lack of people of color in the documentary becomes a glaring problem.
Narcissistic leadership/Cult of personality: I’d say the people in the documentary, Driscoll included, talk at least as much about “Pastor Mark” as they do about Jesus. Probably more. Which is kind of telling in a documentary that’s supposedly about their witness to “God’s work.”
There’s also quite a bit of approving/enabling commentary about Driscoll’s long-established penchant for yelling and screaming at his congregation. This vitriolic sermon style (if it can be called that) is at turns portrayed by people in the documentary as “awesome” or hilarious. Emotionally abusing and manipulating a congregation that looks to you for guidance is so cute!
I had to laugh at the moment where Driscoll introduces the documentary as “one big roadtrip” through the history of Mars Hill, “with Jesus as the driver”…while he was sitting in the driver’s seat of a car. I mean. I know the man has a Jesus complex, but that’s a bit much. On top of that, a good portion of the documentary is narrated while Driscoll is driving, or, bizarrely, parked in such a way that his hands are on the steering wheel in every shot. Which…again, is just a somewhat telling bit of visual and verbal rhetoric. He’s in charge. He’s in the driver’s seat.
More narcissism on display: Driscoll talks about trying “make [people] into Christians,” and also disparages some musicians who left Mars Hill in the early days “over theological issues,” which he sums up as “basically, they decided not to be Christian.” Because disagreeing with Mark Driscoll on theology is exactly the same as not being a Christian. This would make sense if, y’know, Mark Driscoll were Christ. Which he’s not.
Sex: Of course, it wouldn’t be a Driscoll production if he didn’t manage to throw in some kind of gratuitous or vulgar reference to sex. The winner in this regard is clearly Driscoll’s random mention of a member of Mars Hill who, as a new Christian, didn’t want to get rid of his “enormous p@rn collection” because it was “vintage p@rn [that] cost a lot of money.” Some of it, as Driscoll helpfully and totally necessarily adds, was Nazi p@rn.*
I’m still struggling to understand what would lead someone to think this is an appropriate or enlightening anecdote to include in a film documenting the history of a church. Really?
Not one minute into the documentary, Driscoll states that he never considered his Catholic upbringing meant that he never considered becoming a pastor as a kid, in part because Catholic pastors are “committed to never having sex.” Let’s just say I have a bit of trouble imagining that a young boy would really be thinking about priestly celibacy in quite those terms.
There’s a lot of talk about how various members of the church used to be goth fetishists, or strippers, and so on – all done in a way that makes it clear that they think this is some sort of badge of honor or bragging right. It confuses me that a church claiming to follow a man openly reviled in his day for consorting publicly with sex workers and people who had committed adultery would pat themselves on the back so vigorously just for being so “radical” as to, gasp, not completely shun social interaction with people outside our society’s sexual norms.
It’s particularly strange to see Driscoll congratulating himself for having former strippers and fetishists in his church. Like…given how sinful he clearly thinks such things are, isn’t it preferable for them to be going to church rather than not? Wouldn’t he rather they be coming to his church rather than not? So why should he get an award for “taking in” the very people who most need church, at least in his conception of it? I am baffled.
But even after having written all the above, the biggest story to me in the Mars Hill documentary was not about gender, race, cult of personality, or sex. No, in fact, the most significant recurring theme in the documentary is money. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s really what the documentary is about. More on that in the next post.
*[redacted to avoid spammers, not out of prudery!]
I came across this video by Jamilah Lemieux, aka Sister Toldja, on how cultural assumptions about race and gender shape the way we respond on a societal level to teen pregnancy. My comments are directly below; click to jump to the transcript.
There’sa lot to be unpacked in this clip, but it particularly brought to mind a similar and consistent racial double standard in how white conservative Christian culture generally frames the relationship between gender and sexuality. “Real” femininity is often defined in a way that almost inherently excludes women of color – and indeed, all women fall outside an extremely narrow and privileged ideal of what “true womanhood” is.
One example of this is the ideas the abstinence movement puts forward about what women “naturally” want when it comes to sex and relationships. Abstinence advocates argue for a binary, complementarian understanding of gender, sexuality, and intimacy. Men, they argue, want sex (with women) and women want relationships (with men). Women don’t really want sex – certainly not compared to how much men want sex – and are thus more capable of resisting sexual temptation than men. See, for instance, one church’s guide to a popular complementarian book on sex and relationships which claims that “sexual purity [is] easier for women than for men.” [source: Study guide to Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart by John Ensor]
Women have sex outside of marriage, the story goes, not because we want to, but because we are either pressured into it, or tricked into believing that sex will bring what all women really want – emotional intimacy, commitment, and security, all provided by a man. None of these things, of course, can really exist outside the commitment (read: contract) of heterosexual marriage, because a man who’s already getting sex has no reason to provide a woman with any of that stuff. Or, to cite a charming quote from the aforementioned complementarian relationship manual: “If it’s harder to drag men to the altar today than it used to be one reason is that they don’t have to stop there on the way to the bedroom.”
Marriage, under this model, is basically an institution divinely designed as an exchange of commodities between husband and wife, to allow them to both get what they really want out of each other. The husband gives relational love and commitment to the wife in exchange for her giving him sex. It’s all very romantic.
The story continues that true women need to be protected from men’s voracious sexual appetites until marriage, so we’re not roped into sex we don’t really want without getting anything for it in return. True, godly men therefore have to exert herculean levels of self-control to shelter women from male sexual desire – to keep us from being “defrauded” and having our purity sullied: “If a chaste man is protecting women, what is an unchaste man doing?” Incidentally – if the idea that men have to work really hard not to have sex with women sounds like it borders on rape apologism to you, you’re not wrong. The very next sentence in the guide: “Does it make any difference if the woman is willing?” Implied answer: no.
Yet somehow women are still far more to blame if premarital sex does occur, because, after all, men can barely control their sexual passions to begin with. The burden is more on women to exercise sexual self-control because they are “naturally” more capable of such self-control: “How is a woman’s sexual self-control a powerful force in society? What happens to a society when its women do not exercise sexual self-control?” [Study guide]
This is the dynamic that produces the gendered double standard that Lemieux describes. Teen girls and unmarried women are overwhelmingly the focus of moral panic and concern trolling about out of wedlock pregnancy in the abstinence movement (as in mainstream culture) – not boys or men – because the idea is that as the ones more capable of sexual self-control, women shoulder more of the responsibility for (it’s assumed) agreeing to the sexual contact that led to pregnancy. Because it is believed that boys and men almost can’t help but act on their sexual desires (for women), male heterosexuality is unquestioned and unchallenged; we erase men from the picture of teen pregnancy even though they are equal participants in sex.
The focus is instead placed on women as the ones who could have prevented sex from taking place – who should have acted as gatekeepers. Because real women don’t want sex, any evidence of female sexual desire or activity must be challenged and punished. So it produces a situation where the same action on heterosexual desire is completely understandable and gets a pass for the male partner, but is condemned, interrogated, worried over, and punished for the female partner.
Accordingly, much of the policy the abstinence movement advocates disproportionately seeks to punish girls and women for being sexually active – opposing HPV vaccines for girls, opposing access to condoms, birth control, abortion, and other family planning information and services, opposing social programs that help young and/or single mothers to provide for their families, that provide their children with vital educational and after school services, that allow them to manage their fertility and plan their family size as they see fit. Underlying all of this is the mindset that women need to face consequences for choosing to be sexually active – and a mindset that refuses the acknowledge the reality that many women, including many teen girls, are coerced, assaulted, or raped and that these all factor into teen pregnancy and other issues conservatives claim to be so concerned about.
In sum, the abstinence movement claims that women are naturally chaste in comparison to men, who really have to work long and hard at chastity. But as I’ll discuss in the next post, the same conservative Christian culture that pushes abstinence also frequently stereotypes of women of color – especially black women – as habitually promiscuous, hypersexual, and generally unable or unwilling to exert any sort of self-control in how we express our sexuality. When you juxtapose this idea that women of color are naturally unchaste with the notion that “true women” are naturally chaste, the clear message this sends is that women of color are not really women.
My name is Jamilah Lemieux, and I’m a freelance writer.
Tell us about your article.
My article is called “Becky’s [got a] baby.”
I’ve found that the…increase in media attention around teen pregnancy has, there’s been a change in narrative, and it’s gone from…the poor minority girl who has somehow failed society and failed her family to… the unlucky, unfortunate young white woman who’s worthy of our sympathy. And I don’t think it’s fair. I think that any young woman who’s in that position deserves the same level of sympathy and support. And you know, it’s really interesting that when the face of teen pregnancy was a Black or Hispanic young mother [clip of a black infant and a young black woman] …it was this thing for shame, and darkness, and now that it’s, you know, we’re seeing more white women in the media who are doing it, it’s something to be not celebrated, but examined more carefully.
What roles do race & gender play when discussing teen pregnancy in the media?
The media is a lot easier on young white women who find themselves pregnant as teens compared to black girls, or hispanic girls, or women from any other ethnic group. As far as gender goes, young men are largely left out of the conversation, which doesn’t make sense, because you can’t have a teen pregnancy without a boy or a young man who’s also participated. So we’re blaming the girls, or now we’re being a little bit more sympathetic, but we’re not examining the reasons that both genders have chosen to either be sexually irresponsible, or are simply misinformed, and don’t understand what they could have done to protect themselves or to prevent a pregnancy. We’re not talking about the possibility that, you know, a lot of young women are coerced by boyfriends, you know, some of whom are older than they are, not to wear condoms or to engage in sex before they’re ready. So there’s a lot of factors at hand that lead to young women getting pregnant, and unfortunately we’re only talking about a certain segment of the population now. We’re leaving out the brown girls and the boys.
How is the growing popularity via the media affecting society at large?
I think that now that the face…of the teenage mother has become white, thanks to MTV’s 16 and pregnant and Teen Mom, it has become more acceptable [clips of white infants, white teens and teen parents]. I’m not necessarily convinced that it’s…encouraging young women to get pregnant, but there have been stories of young girls who allegedly have timed their pregnancies to try to get a spot on one of those shows. I think it’s good to alleviate the stigma of shame surrounding teen motherhood, and if we have to through a white face to have that done, then there is some beenfit to it, but I just think that the conversation that we need to have about why young women across socioeconomic lines, across racial lines, and young men, are engaging in high risk sexual behavior. That conversation needs to be had.
What do you want people to take from your piece?
I hope people will understand or… be reminded that we’re not post-racial at all. Some of the things that may seem like progress, such as…ending the stigma or lessing the stigma surrounding teen mothers is also a reminder that we still have leaps and bounds when it comes to managing race in this country. Because again, if the…young women and girls on the teen mothers show were black or hispanic or asian, they wouldn’t be on the cover of people magazine [images of white teen parents in People magazine; images of Bristol Palin]. We wouldn’t be looking at them to be reality celebrities and we wouldn’t have the same level of sympathy towards them. Maybe I would or you would, but you know, people that follow those shows religiously either wouldn’t, or they’d be watching to say, “Well, look at what these black girls are doing,” and “They’re tearing down the moral fiber of this country,” and it probably somehow would become reason to discuss why Barack Obama shouldn’t be president. So I just hope that people understand that this new wave of discussion about teen pregnancy is revealing a lot more than we think, and that it’s not just about teen sexuality.
Thoughts on XhibitP?
I think the biggest thing when using art as social activism is to inspire conversation…and that conversation leads to action. So someone may watch this and totally disagree with me, or with someone else that they’ve seen interviewed, and someone may have some sort of paradigm shift, or someone may just be convinced that everything is ok and we’re just wasting our time here. But ultimately, movements like this can be…the catalyst to inspire people to action. So I hope that anyone that’s checking out XhibitP for the first time becomes a longtime supporter.
[outro of Lemieux talking and laughing]
Jump back to the top of the post.
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.
I’d never heard of Ann Voskamp until a few weeks ago, when Elizabeth Esther wrote about the controversy some reformed evangelicals are stirring up over Voskamp’s latest book. (Is it just me, or does this seem to happen, oh, ALL THE TIME?) Voskamp has written a spiritual memoir which has some clutching their pearls over the sensual language she uses to describe her longings for God, e.g.: expressing a wish to have “intercourse,” “union,” “intimate communion” with God, and to “make love to” God.
Despite, once again, not having actually read the book, critics have leapt from being (understandably) squicked out by this language to basically calling Voskamp an irreligious pervert, blasting her book as “poison, “evil,” panentheistic, and “mysticism” (which is bad, apparently?), and comparing it to, I kid you not, a book on “how to kill your grandmother.” Right.
Now, to be clear, I haven’t read Voskamp’s book, and this post isn’t about the book. I have no intention of reading it; it’s the sort of spiritual writing I know will leave me cold. I’ve never had more than a fleeting, very occasional sense of personal connection with a spiritual being. It’s a relief to no longer have to pretend to feel any such connection, or try and fail to force myself to. And I completely understand being disturbed and even repulsed by the imagery of intimate union with God (although it does raise the question as to why people who feel this way belong to a tradition that requires them to believe the Holy Spirit impregnated a virgin).
Still, when Christians leap from disagreement or even outright disgust to accusations that different perspectives within their religion are poisonous or dangerous to “real” Christianity, it raises some questions for me. The perennial question being, why are conservative Christians so very threatened by anything even slightly outside their worldview or experience, if their version of God is so correct? Especially reformed evangelicals, with their completely sovereign and omnipotent God? Why are they so threatened by people like Voskamp, or Rob Bell, or William P Young (author of The Shack) who suggest a different view of God? It baffles. On my more cynical days I’m inclined to think the haters are just angry that these authors are so popular, with Bell and Young having sold millions of books in a religious publishing market where selling 100,000 makes an author a “bestseller.” John Piper can only dream of having such an audience for his writing.
The specific response to Voskamp raises further questions about: 1) how well reformed evangelicals know what they claim is their own religious history (hint: not all that well. Shocking, I know.) and 2) how well claims about the timelessness and universality of complementarian teachings on gender and sexuality hold up to the historical record (see above hint). Because the thing is, concepts of gender and sexuality have been far more fluid in historical Christian traditions than they are in modern day reformed Christianity, even in traditions present-day reformed Christians claim as their predecessors. If the ‘truly reformed’ bloggers of the world think Voskamp’s imagery is perverted, what the Puritans – Puritan men – wrote about union with Christ would make their heads spin. As Richard Godbeer writes in his excellent book Sexual Revolution in Early America:
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Puritan sexuality was not its spiritualization of the erotic but its eroticization of the spiritual. Scripture invites believers, male and female, to conceive of Christ as a husband and to envisage union with him in vividly sensual, even sexual terms. The challenge that biblical images of Christ as bridegroom and lover post to what we might term male heterosexuality has been met in various ways by different Christian cultures. Modern westerners have, for the most part, ignored biblical passages that contain this imagery. But previous Christian traditions have chosen options other than the suppression and bowldlerization of biblical text. New England Puritans welcomed and celebrated the sensual possibilities embedded within the scripture from which they drew inspiration. Their ability to do so was due in large part to remarkably fluid conceptions of gender within Puritan culture. As a result, in this world and the next, through both human marriage and espousal to the savior, Puritans could find sensual and sexual fulfillment within the Lord’s garden (55-6).
In upcoming posts I’ll look at some specific examples of the Puritan’s “eroticization of the spiritual” and how it undermines reformed complementarian claims about the fixed, eternal nature of gender roles.