That time of year again: Mark Driscoll’s “Daddy Christmas Tips”

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.

Comments are closed. Please comment at the new AWH site.


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

Trigger warning: sexual abuse, ableism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A partial transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Shut up and smile

Via Jesus Needs New PR, a video from a Baptist marriage retreat originally posted at Christian Nightmares:

Notice how only the husbands are interviewed about the retreat, while the wives say not a word? And that none of the women even have microphones on, kind of like it never even occurred to the powers that be that wives might have opinions on a marriage retreat, and/or that they might be interesting or relevant? And that every single married woman just stands by as smiling support? It’s a little creepy.

Of course, we can’t know what these couples’ marriages are like just from a few seconds of video. But I think this clip – with the each husband speaking exclusively for each couple, each wife standing in silent agreement with and adoration of her husband – illustrates attitudes and expectations about gender roles in marriage that I’ve seen so often in evangelical complementarian marriages.

When Mr. G and I were engaged, we had premarital counseling with a couple from my family’s SGM church. And by “counseling with a couple,” I mean counseling with a guy whose wife would say nothing until the very end of our meetings, when the husband would turn to her and ask if she had anything to add. She never did. Her husband had said it all, apparently. At our first meeting, she deliberately avoided shaking Mr. G’s hand until he had shaken her husband’s hand first.

At the time I was totally oblivious to what was going on – her husband was closest to me, so I naturally I shook his hand first, unaware of the maneuverings going on behind me. This was one of her ways, I guess, of respecting her husband’s authority over her; the chain of command had to be upheld by having our male leaders acknowledge each other first, before the ladies could be involved or acknowledged. I realized later that she probably considered me to be wildly insubordinate, or some such nonsense, because I had the audacity to shake her husband’s hand without waiting for my fiancé’s go-ahead, without acknowledging him as my “head” and above me.

And then there’s the fact that I’m much more talkative than my husband in unfamiliar company, which meant that I did the vast majority of the talking during our counseling meetings. We both noticed that counselor dude was irritated and offended by the fact that Mr. G wasn’t more forthcoming. I eventually pieced together that our counselor’s problem wasn’t simply that Mr. G didn’t say very much, it was also that I said so much more than he did. I wasn’t being properly submissive and letting my future husband take the lead that was rightfully his.

It perhaps doesn’t need to be said that our counseling meetings weren’t terribly useful or pleasant for anyone involved.

Bizarre as her behavior was, our counselor’s wife was just trying to show respect to her husband (whose behavior, it must be added, was no less strange – a story for another day). And of course, respect between partners is a vital part of a healthy relationship. But in complementarianism, respect is understood as being primarily the wife’s responsibility. This is based on gender essentialist assumptions that men need respect while women need love, and that women find it easy to love but difficult to show respect, especially to men, while men have an easy time treating people with respect but a hard time showing love, especially in the way women need (this is code for “men should treat women as delicate, hyper-emotional creatures incapable of logic and reason”). The complementarian notion of respect is perverted at its root by an insistence that only one gender needs respect in a relationship.

What respect is supposed to look like for a married woman is also quite strange. As our counselor told us, being a respectful, properly submissive wife means “affirming” the husband’s leadership in every. single. aspect. of the marriage. Naturally that includes conversations in public. For a lot of married women I knew at church, that meant they were expected to never contradict their husbands in public, much less argue with them; to never interrupt; to let them “take the lead” in mixed conversation, which meant speaking a good deal less than their husbands, often not until their husbands spoke to them first.

It also meant that women were expected to never complain about their husbands – and more than that, to constantly talk up their husbands as the best and most considerate spouses ever, no matter what. I can begin to count how many times I’ve heard women from church effusively praising their husbands for doing things that should have just been routine. For “releasing” them to go on a trip with friends. For maybe making one measly meal every few months, when their wives are expected to have homemade food on the table for their husbands and many children every night. For “letting” them sleep in or giving them the “morning off” from domestic and childcare duties (even when the reason for this is that the wife is laid up with an illness, or dealing with pregnancy nausea, or has a small infant).

I’ve seen women berate themselves for being justifiably angry with their husbands – for example, for putting their family in danger by repeatedly delaying getting a failing car checked out  – because well, nothing serious happened and a wife should focus on their husbands’ strengths and her own sin, not his failings. And if there are few or no good things they can think of, it’s because they, the wives, have a sinful attitude, never because the husband might have any real failings. They are the ones who need adjustment; it could never be that a husband is neglecting or mistreating his wife so much that little positive can be said about his behavior or attributes.

Watching the clip above gave me same tight, sinking feeling I always get when I think about the girls I grew up with in church who are now married. It’s so emblematic of how so many complementarian women experience marriage: as cheerleaders expected to hang on their husband’s arms and words, silencing themselves and suppressing all authentic expression of emotions. When I think of people I used to be friends with living a life like that, so completely muzzled, I feel sick with worry and despair for them.


“For your good”: Joshua Harris’s “Word to Wives,” pt. 4

Part 1Part 2Part 3

Harris argues that because everyone has to submit to authority in some context (at work, as a citizen), women shouldn’t feel “as though the word of God is picking on you.” Of course, this argument hinges on his audience joining him in the fantasy that “submit” and “authority” mean the same thing in the workplace, etc., as they do in a complementarian marriage.

He continues with an even weirder and more disturbing comparison:

We know from other parts of the bible, ephesians chapter 6, that male and female children are called to be subject to their parents.  Isn’t that right?  All the parents said “Amen!” [Laughing]  You know, I just was thinking about the fact that I’ve never heard of any scholar challenging the teaching in the NT that children are to obey their parents.  I’ve never heard that.  No one’s ever questioned those passages.  And you know why?  Because by the time you’re old enough to be a scholar, you’re probably a parent, and you want that to be true.  There’s no question that that’s the word of God speaking right there.  Well I mean, the ultimate example of authority as Christians is that we’re all under the authority of Jesus Christ.  We all call him Lord, we submit to his lordship.  So my point here is that authority is not a bad thing.

Once again, he’s arguing for analogies between relationships that are fundamentally not comparable. To compare a relationship of a minor child, dependent on parents and whom the parents have a responsibility to protect, to a marital relationship between two grown adults is all kinds of messed up. This is a particularly disturbing comparison given the very draconian and in many cases abusive approach to parenting that complementarians generally endorse. In SGM, which I don’t think is all that exceptional in this regard, one of the major goals for parents is to train children to obey immediately, completely, and cheerfully.* If any one of those factors is absent, it’s not true obedience. Practically all parents use corporal punishment from a very young age (as early as 1 year, or even earlier) and with high frequency: spankings using implements, as often as once or more a day.

So comparing a woman’s “duty” to submit to her husband with a childs “duty” to submit to parental authority is not only problematic by definition, it’s also quite alarming when you take into account that many complementarians define parental authority as having total, unquestioned control over their children’s behavior from infancy through adolescence and often beyond. What does it say about complementarianism that it presents this kind of relationship as analogous to a relationship between spouses? Bad news.

It does occur to Harris that authority can be abused, but his concept of “abuse” is a bit…strange:

Now it can be misused. It can be abused, and I just want to qualify all that I’m saying here today in saying that we are never called as Christians to obey authority when it calls us to disobey our ultimate authority, which is God and his word.  And so if the government commands us to disobey God, we obey God.  If our employer tells us to do something that violates God’s word, we obey God.  Even if our parents, the God given authority of parents, if they tell us to do something which violates God’s word, we are called to respectfully and humbly obey the Lord instead of them.  But in the majority of cases authority is something that is a blessing to our lives, and it’s something that God has given for our good, and without it there would be untold chaos, and misery in this world.

Joshua Harris thinks it’s very important that you understand you should never submit to authorities if they order you to sin. Because that would make God mad. That’s what “abuse of authority” means under this fucked up theology. As for abuses of authority that involve ill treatment or coercion of behavior that isn’t “sin,” well. Harris doesn’t seem terribly concerned about those. Priorities! The important thing is that GOD isn’t offended. Sound familiar?

If [a husband’s abusive behavior is] not requiring her to sin, but simply hurting her, then I think she endures verbal abuse for a season, she endures perhaps being smacked one night, and then she seeks help from the church”. – John Piper

ALSO. It is very important that you understand that without authority there would be untold CHAOS and MISERY in the world. UNTOLD and unprecedented. You know, fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling! The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!

I mean what the hell. Does Joshua Harris remember he’s talking about MARRIAGE here? Does his audience remember that? Here he is talking about a relationship between two people, and suddenly the future of civilization and the fate of the whole world hangs in the balance. It’s not only an enormous leap in (il)logic, it’s incredibly manipulative of his audience. That such an absurd argument is accepted as literal gospel is a testament to the incredible level of thought control that exists in SGM and similar evangelical church cultures. Such “reasoning” suffices only in a context where people have been trained to completely ignore logical fallacies and to accept whatever their leaders say without question.


*If you can stomach it, here are some of SGM’s teachings on parenting. Each message has a PDF outline that accompanies it – spares you from having to listen to the whole thing, thankfully.


“For your good”: Joshua Harris’s “Word to Wives,” pt. 3)

Part 1
Part 2

Harris continues to lay out his interpretation of the connection between the verses on female submission in 1 Peter 3, and the verses on other kinds of submission and authority in the preceding chapter. Peter’s point in these passages is to teach Christians what “honorable conduct” is so that non-Christians will be able to see how holy they are:

When an unbelieving word looks at [Christians] and slanders them and calls them evildoers, they will see that it’s not true, and on the final day they will glorify God. On the final day they’ll be able to say, you followed Jesus, you represented this holy god.

Ah. Problem: people who aren’t already invested in patriarchal assumptions see demands for female submission as dehumanizing and oppressive, not as “honorable conduct.” Good luck getting us to believe you’re being holy by telling women and girls they have to obey men if they really love God.  Harris does actually teach in this message that “submission” means obedience and subordination:

Peter gives a very specific way that we as God’s people can be honorable in our conduct . . . He says, “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.”  That phrase “be subject” is the same word used to tell wives to be submissive to their husbands.  It means to obey.  Be subject, to be submissive, to submit, means to place yourself in a secondary category, and to receive the leadership of someone else.  It means to obey. [bold my emphasis; italics are his]

I’m somewhat surprised that he’s so candid. My experience in SGM was that the words “obey” and “obedience” were very deliberately avoided when discussing female submission. The pastor who did our engagement interview (yes, really) advised us not to choose the traditional vows that include the word “obey” in them, because it could “give the wrong idea” to wedding guests from outside our church – not that we would have chosen that set anyway! It was particularly strange given that this set of vows was included in the materials they gave to engaged couples with ideas for the wedding ceremony.

This is yet another example of the hypocrisy and cynicism of complementarian leaders.  They distance themselves from the clear meaning of their beliefs in mixed company because they know it’s bad PR. The only explanations I can think of for Harris’ candidness in this sermon are that SGM has gotten more extreme in its beliefs on gender in the years since I left, and/or that Harris feels comfortable using such language because he’s preaching to the home crowd.

Harris continues with the argument that male authority in marriage isn’t a misogynistic singling out of women, but rather is just one kind of authority set up by God :

What’s being communicated is that God, in other words God, has ordained institutions of authority. And so because you are a Christian who is submitted to the Lord, be submitted to every institution of authority that your Lord has set in place in this world for your good [my emphasis].

And then Peter lists three examples: government leaders, who are set in place by God to determine and enforce laws; masters or employers in the workforce, and then husbands in the home who are called to be the head of the family.

I discussed in an earlier post one big reason why the comparison of “authority” in marriage to “authority” in the workplace is problematic: 1 Peter 2 doesn’t actually say anything about “employers.” It calls on slaves to submit to their masters, and states that a slave owner’s authority is God-ordained. It calls on slaves to submit even when they are unjustly beaten (as opposed to justly beaten, I guess?). This is the real parallel to female submission, not workplace chain of command. The real meaning of this passage, using Harris’ philosophy of biblical interpretation, is that wives are their husbands’ property, and they are obligated to obey them even in cases of horrible abuse.

Again, Harris tries to have things both ways, preaching an oppressive message while being dishonest about it’s implications.  He lies by equating slave masters with modern day employers, and goes on at length about the importance of authority in the workplace and in the government, as though either has anything to do with the very different kind of submission Peter preached – a philosophy of ownership that saw women, slaves, and children as literally belonging to the male head of the household. He lies by equating patriarchal marriage with an employer-employee relationship, or the relationship between a citizen and the government. Neither employees nor citizens are expected in our society to “obey” or be “subject” to employers or the government in the way complementarian wives are expected to – total and complete submission to their husbands in every little detail of their lives.

And he uses this false equivalence to argue that just like there would be chaos in society and in workplaces if there were no one to lead, or set the agenda, there would be chaos in the home and family if no one was the leader:

Go spend a week in Somalia [ah, the classic look how bad things are in Africa example – Grace], and you will realize what a blessing it is to have just laws and a government that enforces it [sic].  Authority is a good thing.  Authority is all around us.

If you go to the workplace, uh, you want there to be leadership.  You know?  Th-this idea that you know what, we should just all be equal, let’s just all show up and do what we think is right, and – have you ever worked in a place like that?  That’s not a good place to work! . . . The same is true when it comes to the home.  Someone has to lead.  And God has set authority and roles of leadership in these different contexts, and this is not a bad thing, it’s an expression of his care for his creation to establish authority in human institutions. [emphasis his]

Funny, somehow my husband and I and the vast majority of couples we know manage to run our households just fine without one spouse telling the other what to do and think all the time. Maybe we just got lucky?


The Cross and Sexual Abuse

Trigger warnings for sexual abuse/incest.

In “The Cross and Male Violence,” James Poling argues that patriarchal narratives of the crucifixion provide a kind of script for abusive relationships between men and women in Christian contexts, in which male abusers can take on a godlike role (all-powerful, all-knowing, to be obeyed), and female victims of abuse can play a Christlike role (obedient, subservient, suffering without complaint).  He cites Christianity and Incest, Annie Imbens and Ineke Jonker’s study of incest in Christian homes, in which female survivors of incest recounted how their religious upbringing led them to believe that being a good Christian meant they had to be resigned to their abuse and not speak out about it:

You must love your neighbor.  Not much attention was paid to standing up for yourself (Ellen).  You must always be the first to forgive and you must do so seventy times seventy times (Judith).  You must always serve, serve God.  Sexuality before and outside of marriage is bad (Margaret).  faith and standing up for yourself are conflicting concepts (Theresa).  You must sacrifice your own needs and wants, you mustn’t resist, musn’t stand up for yourself, must serve God, musn’t be your own person with your own ego (Amy). (Imbens and Jonker, 271)

Escaping the cycle of abuse is difficult in general, not just under Christian patriarchy.  However, Christian patriarchy explicitly labels suffering in silence as a virtuous emulation of Christ.  Further, it teaches that Christians must forgive anyone who sins against them – even that survivors of abuse must forgive their abusers.  Covering up or keeping silent about abuse is cast becomes righteous behavior, even a spiritual obligation.  Victims of abuse are taught to be more concerned about their abusers and how they respond to them than about their own welfare.  They learn that they are obligated to treat their abusers with love, kindness, and forgiveness, no matter what, without expecting or demanding any change in behavior, much less love or kindness in return.  This adds an additional spiritual and psychological impediment to speaking out about one’s abuse, and creates an environment that fosters enabling or dismissive responses to abuse.  Add in patriarchal teachings about men’s right to lead and women’s obligation to submit, and you have a culture that creates situations in which male violence against women is more likely to occur, more likely to be overlooked, enabled, or justified, and thus more likely to become an entrenched feature of church and family life.

The quotes below from Christianity and Incest (which I found here) explain further how theologies of male dominance and female submission in church, marriage, and family structures are intimately linked with male abuse of female partners and children in patriarchal Christian contexts:

Their Christian upbringing made these girls easy prey. Offenders used Bible passages or church-authorized texts in order to be able to abuse girls and to keep them quiet about it. Mothers were powerless to do anything about it. They were subservient to their husbands in everything, as was and still is requested of women marrying in Christian churches. (page xvi)

“In all of the interviews, the Mother is psychologically or physically abused by the father.” (page 121)

About the offender: “Father thinks boys are more important. He says so: “Good men father sons,” or he shows it in his attitude.” (page 123)

The girls try to keep their rapists away from them in every way possible. Screaming, yelling, or crying make little impression or are labeled “rebelling against Father,” for which forgiveness from God are required (Nell). ” (pages 127 – 128)

“Religion forces women to forgive their rapists, although those rapists have not asked for forgiveness. They are commanded to love their enemies. Moreover, Christian churches stress the love on one’s fellow human being so heavily that the words “as thyself” following “love thy neighbor” have very little meaning for these women.” (page 141)

“God the Father wants only the best for her. He is Almighty and merciful. When something happens to her and she wants it to stop, she must pray hard.” (page 141)

This to me is perhaps the most telling and tragic point, because it drives at the fundamental issue underlying all of these teachings that enable abuse in Christian homes: “Not one incest survivor had learned that it was important to love yourself as well.” (page 238)  In other words, these women had not been taught that they were worthy of love – not from themselves, nor from any one else.  Christian patriarchy teaches the exactly opposite – that we’re all completely unworthy of love, and that God loves us despite this.  And if their churches are anything like the ones I grew up in, they were probably taught that it was sinful to believe they deserved to be treated with basic human dignity.


The Cross and Male Violence

I’m doing some reading for a discussion on different ways in which the masculinity of Jesus is or has been constructed and presented in various Christian contexts.  A couple of the articles I’m reading are about how depictions of Jesus in popular art and other media have been read as gendered, and how Christians have read such depictions as being either in line or in opposition to their understandings of Jesus’s gender, and particularly his masculinity.  It’s really fascinating stuff, and I hope to say more about it in future posts.

The other article I’m reading is James Poling’s “The Cross and Male Violence,”* which is about how interpretations of the crucifixion of Jesus can either support authoritarian patriarchy and male violence against women, or oppose them.   I’m loving this article – it neatly encapsulates how abuse in patriarchal churches and families is, in general, is a product of a patriarchal theology which is inherently and fundamentally problematic:

The cross of Jesus Christ was a violent event and its interpretation over the centuries has been ambiguous.  For men who live in patriarchal societies, the cross gives mixed messages.  On the one hand, the cross is a symbol that legitimizes male dominance in human community.  For many centuries, the cross has been symbolic of the church’s authority as a patriarchal institution.  Jesus died as a man of the cross and brought salvation for humankind.  Therefore, most churches have argued, only men can serve as governors and ritual leaders in the church, modeling a form of governance for all society, including the family.  Theologians have taught that male headship over women is established by God the Father and his only Son, Jesus, and any challenge to male dominance is a challenge to God himself One can see the cross as a symbol of a natural patriarchal order that must be supported by the interactions of men and women. – Poling, p. 474, my emphases

Poling shows how cultures of abuse in patriarchal churches develop out of theologies that:
– understand the nature of God the Father and God the Son (Jesus) to be essentially masculine
– understand God’s the Father’s nature to be essentially authoritarian, defined by the exercise of total power and the use of violent acts as punishment for human disobedience.
– understand Jesus’s crucifixion as a moment in which God the Father – the angry Father God – inflicted the violence rightfully due to humanity on his obedient, submissive Son.

If God is male, and God the “Father” is defined by possessing and exercising authority, then human males must share in his masculine nature, and men, especially in marriage and parenthood, must also be defined by the exercise of power, dominance, and violence.  Given the patriarchal assumption of binary gender, the corollary of this must be that females are defined by lacking power, submitting to male dominance, and being the targets of male violence.

Under these theologies the cross becomes “a symbol that legitimizes male violence against women” by casting such violence as

“[replicating] the drama between a patriarchal God and an obedient, self-sacrificing Jesus standing in for a sinful humanity . . . the [man] has taken the place of God who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving, and the [woman] has taken the place of Jesus who take on the sins of humanity and submits her will to God’s, and sacrifices her life unto death on the cross for the sake of the relationship.

In family violence, a similar drama is enacted.  Given the negative and conflicting images of women in many churches and their responsibility to be obedient to an all-loving Father God and his Son Jesus, Christian faith means that men are closer to God than women, that the proper relationship of women to men is subservience, and that the traditional values of submission and obedience are the essence of Christian faith. –  Poling, p. 476-477, my emphases.

Just a few days before reading Poling’s article I jotted down some notes for the blog:  Not every marriage where submission is supposedly followed is an abusive one. But submission theology is an abusive theology.  It’s an abusive framework. When I read the article I found that my notes were echoing a point Poling also makes:

Certain interpretations of the cross clearly create the occasion for sexual and physical abuse of women and children because of their images of the Trinitarian God in relation to families.  Survivors of abuse** are saying that an abusive God and abusive clergymen do not contradict the church’s theology.  The images of abuse are inherent in the symbols themselves. A church that preaches God’s love but projects the evil of the world onto women and other marginalized groups is preaching an abusive God. – Poling, 47, my emphases.

A culture of male violence against women is therefore not incidental to patriarchal theological assumptions, but is rather a natural product of them. The abusive husband and father, the abusive male pastor or priest, thus becomes a reflection of an abusive and angry God, and the victim of abuse becomes a reflection of Christ – if they endure their suffering obediently, and submissively.  This might seem like a very unfair description of complementarian and other patriarchal theologies, but as we’ll see in coming posts on Joshua Harris’s sermons on submission, this is precisely what he tells married women – that suffering silently makes them more like Christ.


*James Newton Poling, “The Cross and Male Violence” in ed. Bjorn Krondorfer Men and Masculinities in Christianity and Judaism: A Critical Reader (2009)
**Poling quotes female survivors of incest in Christian homes recounting what they took form their Christian upbringing – I’ll post these in a separate post tomorrow.