My Monday morning reads brought me to this article about the tenacious women blogging about sexual abuse in SBC and other conservative Evangelical churches. It is a must read.
I have many thoughts, but I’ll boil it down to just these at the moment:
Women (and children) (and anyone marginalized) are in danger anywhere women are shut out of the power structures in an organization.
I have a post halfway written about the problem Evangelicalism faces from institutionalized, theologically-justified patriarchy. Despite OT and NT examples of women in leadership positions, conservative theology does not make room for women to hold power and exercise authority outside of very narrow realms. As a result, leadership within conservative churches are blind to how abuse happens (and many women are themselves complicit in protecting abusers and shaming victims).
I applaud the brave women who have stepped up to review, investigate, and record stories of (mostly) women who were raped or abused by pastors (usually as children, but not always) and have lived traumatized lives while the pastors moved on to greater glory and continued employment in the ministry. The loose denominational structures of many Evangelical groups allows predators to flourish, but they run unchecked because they are protected and apologized for by leadership in those churches. In fact, it’s far more likely for the women telling the stories (or recording them, as these bloggers do) to get shoved out than for their abusers to be brought to justice.
Both men and women of the Church need to arise and say No to sexual abuse in churches. That the SBC refuses to even allow supporters of victims to rally at their convention this month shows how far leadership within the conservative church will go to refuse acknowledgement of the problem.
You can’t impose enough church policies to prevent sexual predation. In fact, without opening the power structure to women as equals, I don’t think the conservative church will be able to eradicate this problem from its institutions.
In addition to leadership failure and lack of oversight and accountability, Evangelicalism perpetuates a victim-blaming tendency baked into its theology about sex. This article is a great overview of the destructive impact of purity theology on young women: Naked and Ashamed: Women and Evangelical Purity Culture – The Other Journal
But leaders could at least choose to listen, acknowledge, repent for harboring abuse, and change policies to support victims.
We’ve got a long way to go on this one, folks.
This is a short entry in the series I’m writing about my breakup with Evangelicalism. You can find the first entry here.
Yesterday I posted a Voter’s Manifesto – mine. You can read it here.
It’s the morning after an election in America, and the pundits have only just begun to wag their jaws about the implications of yesterday’s voting. Blue wave? Red wave? Referendum on Trump?
I’m not here to discuss it, y’all. I’m done.
I’m at the stage in the breakup with Evangelicalism where all the ways in which my former lover acts like an ass confront me. Especially when I’m trying not to think about it.
It’s like when you run into the friend of an ex, and he tries to make the argument that “Bobby is a great guy, you know?” as if that made Bobby’s douchey behavior toward you irrelevant. “I mean, he’s trying, ok?”
As if rampant nationalism, racism, xenophobia, a lust for power, and idolatry of individualism and the “self-made man” and capitalism weren’t warts on the face of the Gospel. “Evangelical” literally derives from the Greek word that we translate “Gospel,” euangelion. What’s sad is that I see the clear connection between evangelicals’ theology and their actions at the voting booth, arising from deep-seated racial and cultural fears, and from long-standing racism that’s buried so deep into evangelical culture that it’s hard to notice unless you tune your eyes to see it.
I’ve realized that I’m well and truly over this breakup. I have nothing against “Bobby’s” friends. I’m not severing ties with anybody. I don’t need other people to agree with me or follow me out. You do you, and stand before God with a clear conscience for your own actions.
I’m still puzzled, though I’ve given up trying to understand.
Like how the hell Evangelical women can feel like this for a man who belittles and demeans women almost non-stop:
I don’t need my Evangelical friends to explain why they picked the side of the “culture war” that makes as its goal the disenfranchisement of non-cisgender, non-heterosexual people….. or rejection of people seeking asylum and respite from oppressive regimes whose origin is closely tied to over-zealous American foreign policy…. or an absolute loyalty to an anti-abortion stance above actual policies that reduce abortion.
Or how the combination of these Culture War factors drive intense support for a president whose “base” is energized by race-baiting and xenophobia.
“There is no fear in Love, for perfect love casts out fear,” as the Apostle John wrote. I can’t sanction refusing to see beyond apparent moral infractions to take care of people in need.
“Who is my neighbor?” Jesus shut down that sanctimonious shit from the Pharisees. You can’t play games with the great commandments. Love God and Love your neighbor. You don’t get to choose not to love because you’re afraid of who they are, because they got pregnant without being married first, because you don’t approve of gay love, because you don’t like their atheism or Islam, because you think they’re lazy and unmotivated.
The quote above comes from a great interview with a National Geographic photographer who was asked to document the Squirrel Hill synagogue shooting last week. She’s from Pittsburgh, so she had initially resisted the assignment to work in her hometown. But she went out anyway and captured powerful images.
Her graduate thesis focused on hate crimes, and she interviewed Fred Rogers as part of her research. He asked her this question: “Is your neighbor worth loving?”
Cuts to the heart of the issue, methinks.
I live in one of the reddest states in the South. South Carolina Republicans won nearly every race yesterday, with only a couple exceptions. (Article)
It’s hard to believe in change when the momentum around uniting Jesus with the GOP is like digging something out of cured concrete.
But I have faith.
My faith in the core tenets of Christianity informs my priorities, and voting is actually about priorities rather than moral absolutes. I believe that many Americans can learn to see a way to vote for priorities that don’t disenfranchise others in our nation.
Maybe I’m a fool, I don’t know. One can hope.
As an American, I believe in the core values established by our Founders and refined through our history that prioritize the freedom of the individual to choose for themselves in pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. But we must also question our assumptions as Americans to ensure our system does not become a tool for abuse in the hands of the wealthy or powerful, or that individualism does not become a tidal force tearing apart our communities.
People have the right to make their own choices until those choices begin to harm others. The role of government includes negotiating boundaries between competing claims to protect the rights of citizens who would be unduly harmed by someone else’s exercise of rights. These discussions must consider hidden harms reverberating still from America’s history of racism, slavery, imperialism, sexism, and xenophobia.
As a Christian, I believe that caring for my neighbor trumps raw issues of power or money, meaning that I’m willing to lay the burden of protecting vulnerable people on the backs of those who have resources, like taxing individual wealth or corporate profit and using that money to fund health care or social programs. However, government programs cannot fix core social issues. Only deep and difficult community development work will solve those.
As a Christian, I value life across the spectrum of human existence. And I believe that laws excel in defining justice but don’t do much to change human behavior. Complex issues require complex, multifaceted solutions. For this reason, I refuse to be a one-issue voter. A single stance on a hot-button issue does not define an entire candidate.
I believe the responsibility of the majority is to protect the rights of the minority, even if that means giving ground on majority culture and rights. Those who are vulnerable or recovering from systemic oppression deserve greater protection than those who naturally enjoy the benefits of majority power. As an educated white Christian heterosexual woman, I acknowledge my privilege.
When I step into the voting booth, I do not see my vote as a simple statement of belief or a referendum on my conscience. My vote represents a series of pragmatic choices driven by issues that matter to the current cultural zeitgeist and to me as an individual. Therefore I will vote for imperfect candidates within the two-party system because that is the system we have. I do not refuse others the option of supporting a third-party candidate if they choose to do so, but I rarely find the outside candidates compelling.
Likewise, I exhort myself and others to offer charity toward others who vote under different priorities. I may disagree with someone’s press, assumptions, and priorities, but I vigorously uphold their access to a free and fair ballot. American civil discourse will improve only when we voters recognize that we share many of the same priorities (healthy citizens and functional communities, a strong infrastructure, just and fair laws, protection from harm). Where we differ is in the mechanisms for promoting those goals.
The conclusion from a strong piece by Lili Loofbourow in Slate on why we’re seeing men speak out so forcefully on behalf of Kavanaugh’s actions at 17 being irrelevant — despite Kavanaugh himself denying he did what he’s accused of doing:
It’s useful to have naked misogyny out in the open. It is now clear, and no exaggeration at all, that a significant percentage of men—most of them Republicans—believe that a guy’s right to a few minutes of “action” justifies causing people who happen to be women physical pain, lifelong trauma, or any combination of the two. They’ve decided—at a moment when they could easily have accepted Kavanaugh’s denial—that something larger was at stake: namely, the right to do as they please, freely, regardless of who gets hurt. Rather than deny male malfeasance, they’ll defend it. Their logic could not be more naked or more self-serving: Men should get to escape consequences for youthful “indiscretions” like assault, but women should not—especially if the consequence is a pregnancy. And this perspective extends 100 percent to the way they wish the legal system to work: Harms suffered by women do not rate consideration, much less punishment. (I recommend Googling the mortality rate for women when abortion was illegal.)
I haven’t thought about “separation” much since leaving Fundy-land, a less-than-magical place where every decision I made as a Christian had to be run through a sieve of questions to be sure I wasn’t running afoul of the Doctrine of Separation.
Separation from sin is what defines Fundamentalism from Evangelicalism in their minds (and I’d say that’s essentially accurate, though it’s not the entirety of the difference). It boils down to this: if someone is “sinning,” and you call them on it, and they don’t stop sinning, then you don’t hang out with them or do ministry with them or whatever. This idea extends to individuals, to entire churches or denominations, and to whole movements (basically any group in Christendom that doesn’t interpret the Bible the same way the Fundamentalists do).
Because Separation is THE critical doctrine in Fundy practice, Fundy Christians have to separate from people who don’t separate. The hall of mirrors is infinite. And no one can escape it once they’re labeled “someone who must be separated from.” It’s one of the reasons my husband and I left the BJU orbit in our late 20s: with apologies to those who attempt to defend this as a legit biblical doctrine, it doesn’t hold water.
Here’s the most fair defense I can find of the doctrine of separation, as explained by Fundamentalist pastor Mark Minnick. I have a lot of respect for Minnick and sat under his teaching for several years. He’s a careful expositor. Though I disagree with his conclusions, he presents the best of the Fundy arguments here:
Mark Minnick on Separation (9 Marks-audio interview)
Article by Minnick on Separation (Frontline magazine)
I could have a whole ‘other discussion of how separation and legalism are related, and how separation is — at its core — a critical misunderstanding of how sin works. If you’re interested, I wrote some posts about it a few years ago: On Sin and On Sin Revisited. I believe the central flaw of Fundamentalism in general and all Evangelical legalism is the rejection of Paul’s teaching at the end of Colossians 2: you can’t make enough rules to make yourself holy. Sin is on the inside, if you accept the traditional doctrine of the Fall and of sin, and as such it’s something that must be changed by God via redemption and Grace. Sanctification is active and ongoing, but it is also internal as much as it is external.
Fundamentalists talk a lot about how sin is inside us all, but they ACT as if it can be regulated and “solved” through shunning, excommunication, and rule-keeping. [Side note: if you read that last sentence and thought, “Huh, that sounds like the tactics Evangelical conservatives are using to drive the narrative of a ‘culture war’ within American politics,” then you may understand why I think Evangelicalism has lost its Grace, and why I don’t want to be in that tribe anymore.]
In the end, Fundamentalism boils down to a lot of gate-keeping by the tribe to make sure everybody is following the rules, although not all rules are equally accepted…. and thus you have many small islands of Fundamentalism rather than a monolithic whole. My BJU experience was qualitatively different than that of someone who attended PCC or Ambassador Bible College or Hyles Anderson or Northland or Detroit Baptist Bible Seminary or the Free Presbyterian Church’s seminary or …. All of these little islands have their own rule book. Fail to play by the rules, and you’re voted off the island. It’s been 100 years (or so) since Fundamentalism really came into its own as a movement, and most of those islands have merged into a few larger camps.
It’s important to note that “preserving a good testimony” is the club used to control people within Fundamentalism if there’s no clear biblical rule against doing something. Take movies, for example. Moves are BAD EVIL HORRIBLE NOOOOOO in Fundamentalism because of sex, language, violence, whatever. Mostly sex. So no good person would dare set foot in a movie theater, right? Even if you were going to see The Incredibles 2, how do people at the theater not know you aren’t there to see Slenderman or Sexx69? So you’d better not go.
If you just spewed your coffee, I sympathize. I lived this stuff, folks, and I thought it was Gospel truth well into my 20s.
Your “testimony” is everything in Fundamentalism because it’s about the only currency you have to gain prestige or power. If someone can mount a credible accusation against your testimony, especially if you’re in ministry, you’re done.
Well, maybe. There’s a stunning irony here that isolation + patriarchy + misogyny + ignorance + authoritarianism tends to work to the advantage of pedophiles and serial abusers, and that’s rampant in Fundamental churches. (See my post about the GRACE Report at Bob Jones for a wee taste of that delightful topic.)
This morning, I read John Scalzi’s interesting post on the situation with Bannon and the New Yorker. It’s a good take, and I recommend you take a minute to go read it. (Scalzi is a sci-fi writer and his blog Whatever is always a great read.)
The Whatever Digest, 9/4/18 (Scalzi)
Here are two paragraphs that grabbed my attention:
As a former journalist, I can understand Remnick’s thinking on this one: He’d been angling to interview Bannon for a while, and the idea of getting that festering lump of white “supremacy” on a public stage where he couldn’t equivocate or finesse his way out of his shitty racist ideas seemed like a good one. The problem was that Remnick was thinking with his journalist brain and not his event coordinator brain. The event coordinator brain should have realized that inviting Bannon to a New Yorker-branded “festival of ideas,” complete with travel expenses and honorarium, was in effect paying Bannon to take on the New Yorker imprimatur for his ideas. It’s not reportage; it’s the New Yorker saying “these ideas are important enough that we paid to get them on our stage.” And note well that Bannon was meant to be the headliner.
Which is of course the New Yorker’s, and Remnick’s, privilege — it’s perfectly within its rights to book a fascist piece of shit to its festival and hope people pay to see Remnick chat that fascist piece of shit up on a stage. But Remnick’s event coordinator brain should have probably realized there was going to be a backlash to that. It’s not just the New Yorker’s brand associating with shitty fascism up there on that stage; it’s the personal brand of everyone else on the program as well. Strangely enough, a fair number of other people didn’t want their brands smeared with shitty fascism, and theywere perfectly within their rights not to participate for that reason. Remnick’s problem then, as an event coordinator, was realizing that soon his “festival of ideas” would be nothing but shitty fascism unless he dropped Bannon. Oh, and that his staff hated it. Oh, and that social media hated it too.
Huh. That, my friends, is the EXACT argument made by Fundamentalists (though for different reasons and with zero curse words) for refusing to share the stage with Billy Graham, and for then refusing to share the stage with any pastor who had shared the stage with Billy Graham.
If you’re new to all this and that example made zero sense to you, well, lucky you for not growing up in the weirdness that is Christian Fundamentalism and separatism.
Also, it’s worth noting that even the most moderate of Christians who doesn’t believe in The Doctrine of Separation™ as it’s practiced by Fundamentalists still holds to a line that he/she will not cross, though in general progressive Christianity is much more likely to take someone’s faith claim at face value and treat them like a brother/sister in Christ unless there’s evidence to the contrary.
It’s usually the Evangelicals and Fundamentalists who demand receipts before they will accept someone as legitimate. This might explain the shocked and horrified response of many moderate Christians to James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Jr, Eric Metaxas, and other Christian “leaders” who have rushed to affirm Trump as a baby Christian despite zero evidence to this being true (and plenty of evidence that Trump is using them for political power but they’re too stupid or power-hungry to see it).
Vox has a really good explainer on this, and it’s fair to the Evangelicals IMO.
And Metaxas got dragged hard on Twitter last week for playing into this ridiculous charade by Trump instead of seeing it as outright pandering to a group of people willing to trade away their conscience for the sake of some political power. But I digress….
John dives deeper into the question of when it’s right for an author to bail on an event to avoid appearing with someone distasteful like Bannon, and when it’s probably a poor decision.
Again, I was somewhat stunned to see the exact same style of argumentation happening here as was discussed in my ministry classes at BJU. How far is too far? When is an author’s “testimony” on the line in the age of Bannon, Trump, and alt-right fascism?
Scalzi takes time to parse out which types of people would provoke him to withdraw his presence from an event (separation from the event because of the presence of others) vs when he’d be wiling to attend but not be on the same panel (personal distance) vs just avoiding being on a panel with someone because it would generate into a mess (or the person is a jerk).
Notable: Scalzi defines his rules based on a mix of factors, and he progressively intensifies his “distance” (and the lengths to which he would go to enforce that distance) from someone based on how reprehensible their ideas are (or their actions as a person). So, for example, he has no desire to be anywhere near Ann Coulter (and I agree with him, having heard her speak myself) but he wouldn’t pull out of an event just because she was there.
The question I’ve been chewing on today: is this qualitatively the same species as Fundamentalist separation, or different?
It’s common in Fundamentalism to reject anyone outside the tribe because of their loose moral code and “anything goes” associations (and thus loss of testimony). I think Scalzi is a great example of how this simply isn’t true. He’s got a clear and well-organized set of principles plus a clear plan for implementation and flexibility to judge things case-by-case.
Why do I reject Fundamentalist separation but laud Scalzi for his “separation” from alt-right fascists?
I think it boils down to this:
My colleague (and former headmaster) Dennis used to talk about wisdom a lot, about how Wisdom gives us a framework for making well-informed decisions in the grey spaces in between moral laws. Wisdom enters into the questions where we aren’t sure what we’re supposed to do to ensure that a “judgment call” is based on something sound.
I’ve had a thousand discussions with my friend Jack about how there’s an intellectual fundamentalism on the Left that’s corroding people’s ability to enter into discourse with anyone who isn’t already allied with liberal ideals. Problem is, you’ll never win anyone over to your way of thinking if you can’t even find a way to talk to them, or if you start screaming at them as soon as you realize your views differ.
Are men wrong to not enjoy every argument a feminist throws at them on Twitter? Is every man “mansplaining”? What does justice and redemption look like in the wake of the #metoo movement? Do we burn bridges or extend a hand? Does the Democratic party have room for socialists just like the GOP made room for Tea Party libertarians? Will the result be just as caustic?
See also: America in 2018
I think we can learn from Scalzi (and many others like him — I’m using him as an example because of his post this morning) and avoid the errors of American Fundamentalism.
But that leaves us with some really difficult judgment calls, like….
I want to dig into that final point a bit. This is the crux of the problem for Democrats, progressives, etc right now in 2018. It’s what Hillbilly Elegy was trying to communicate to us. It’s why I’m worn out by all the NYT think-pieces about Trump voters (which probably need to stop) but also feel committed to remaining friends with people in my life who hold very different political views than mine.
If America is going to own up to its racist, ugly history and find restoration and healing, we must find ways to talk about it honestly.
If American democracy is going to survive past 2020, we need to unite around core ideals that are larger than the tribalism that’s torn us apart.
If you’re going to convince your cousin to see immigration in a better light, you can’t throw facts at her. You’ve got to locate her anger and fear, figure out what’s feeding those emotions, and defuse them before your arguments will stand a chance.
And if you decide that you need to draw the boundary and walk away, don’t cloak your separation in self-righteousness. Acknowledge it for what it is: a personal boundary that exists for your emotional and intellectual health.
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