Tag Archives: legalism

NYT Opinion: A Christian Case against the Pence Rule

When the NYT writer understands that we can’t make a rule big enough to solve the problem of sexual harassment, I have to stand up and cheer… and repost.

The answer is not to ask women to leave the room. It’s to hold all men in the room accountable, and kick out those who long ago lost their right to be there.

via A Christian Case Against the Pence Rule – The New York Times

And this too…

{R}easonable people know the difference between a business meeting over breakfast and drinks at a hotel bar at night. And what the Pence rule fails to grapple with is that the Weinstein story wasn’t, at its root, about attraction but abuse of power. The producer’s behavior wasn’t fundamentally about lust gone wild. It flowed from male consolidation of power in Hollywood, and the lack of opportunity and influence that women have there and in many other industries. Mr. Weinstein could prey on women because of his undue influence over actresses’ careers. He knew they would have little recourse if they spoke out. Those women wouldn’t have been helped by greater isolation from men. They needed a stronger voice in the industry and greater agency over their careers.

The Pence rule arises from a broken view of the sexes: Men are lustful beasts that must be contained, while women are objects of desire that must be hidden away. Offering the Pence rule as a solution to male predation is like saying, “I can’t meet with you one on one, otherwise I might eventually assault you.” If that’s the case, we have far deeper problems around men and power than any personal conduct rule can solve.

Men, Women, Dinners, and Access

I grew up in Fundamentalism with the phenomenon of men and women living under radically different holiness codes. One of the most notable, even to my young eyes, centered on the way men – especially married men – could not be in the room with a woman alone. For example, if the male church janitor was in the sanctuary cleaning up, it would not be considered appropriate for the church secretary (a woman, of course) to be the only other person left in the building.

When I was a teenager, my Christian school almost canceled a planned field trip because some parent of one gender canceled and that left only the opposite gender parent and I’m not really sure because even then it seemed weird to me that people were so worried about parents-without-their-spouses hitting the sack on the backside of a 711 or something.  I think somebody’s wife agreed to take a day off work to go on the field trip and protect the testimonies of all the parents involved.

(Man, if I’d been any more worldly-wise growing up, I would have raised several eyebrows at how often “testimonies” needed to be “protected.”)

When I was in college, my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and started a long march through chemotherapy. As a senior in college, I awoke one weekend to the nightmare that she’d had a stroke once the cancer hit her brain (or maybe it was the chemo; those particular drugs had a habit of triggering strokes) and had been rushed to the hospital. It was bad there for awhile, and I was 500 miles from home, and my parents didn’t really have the money to put me on a plane. So the youth pastor from my home church, a man whom I barely knew because he’d started working there after I went to college, graciously offered to drive down to Greenville from Western PA and pick me up for a quick weekend home to see my mom after she had brain surgery.  Problem was, he couldn’t be in the car with me for the ride home.  In Fundamentalism, that was a deal-breaker.  My agnostic, rock-band, techie brother agreed to do the ride-along job of chaperon, creating what must have been the Universe’s weirdest “buddy comedy road trip adventure” story of the year.

I’d pretty much called ‘bullshit’ on this whole paradigm when the head pastor of the church I attended in Greenville made a point in a sermon and then in a published article of expounding why, if he saw a single woman walking down the road in the pouring rain with groceries, he could not be expected to give her a ride. I don’t have a copy of the article and this was pre-internet, but someone on that side of the fence commented on the general gist of it in a post at TGC.

So this might explain how I went for years without any man touching me ever, even on the arm, even as a hug, even as a goodbye or hello, when I lived and worked and studied in Fundamentalist circles. It explains why, when I joined a PCA church in the early 2000s, I nearly jumped out of my skin when a guy would tap my arm as part of normal conversation. Took me years to retrain my body that human contact is actually healthy and good.

*****
Vice President Mike Pence made a splash in January when it hit the news that he refuses to be in a room with another woman if his wife isn’t present. A lot of people outside conservative religious circles guffawed, but many of us – especially women – rolled our eyes and said, “Here we go again.”

Many people wrote good articles about how this is a form of gender discrimination. I liked The Atlantic’s piece: “How Mike Pence’s Dudely Dinners Hurt Women.”  In a world where men still serve as gatekeepers to power, barring women from the room unless there’s a chaperon around isn’t protecting either of them from wrongful accusation. It’s just keeping women out of the chambers of power.

A friend of mine is studying science at a nearby, large, Research One institution that shall remain nameless. She is a senior PhD student in a STEM field, highly capable and respected by her colleagues.  If she needs to use a particular piece of equipment in another lab, the professor (a man) refuses to let women into his lab unless there are other people present.  Since this student cannot control others’ schedules, she has sometimes lost her slot to work with this critical lab equipment because there were no other people around to “chaperon” their time in the lab.  But it’s ok – some guy got to jump in and take her spot, since apparently religious conservatives are so opposed to LGBTQ+ people that they refuse to consider them when building these holiness codes.

What makes this so galling is the way her science department and university administration cannot see that this professor’s holiness code has become a weapon against women in STEM at that university.  Instead, she’s noted that people are stunned when she suggests anything but admiration for this man “who cares so much about his marriage that he refuses to be alone with any woman who isn’t his wife! Isn’t that chivalrous?! Isn’t it grand?!”

No. It’s legalism, if we want to parse this through the lens of Christian theology.  God never said “don’t be alone with another woman.” What He said was, precisely, “Don’t be an adulterer,” which Jesus intensified as “Don’t lust after another woman in your heart.”  You can’t cut your heart out of your body, guys, so you’re going to have to rely on the Grace of the Cross for your sanctification, not your own rules about who’s sitting in the office after hours. [Please don’t bring up “Let not your good be spoken about as evil.” Not the point of that passage. If we want to play the proof-text game, then let me remind you, “To the pure, all things are pure.” So get your damn mind out of the gutter next time you see a man and woman together in a professional setting.]

And from a professional, “business” viewpoint, it’s sexism. The primary victim of all holiness codes are the women. In the name of protecting something good (marital fidelity), the brunt of the work falls on the women – not to be present if there’s a man doing his job; not to dress in a way that a man finds provocative; not to be available lest he want to rape her. Oh, sorry, I forgot we aren’t talking about the Stanford swimmer-rapist. 

Things were simpler, I realize, when the only power brokers in the boardroom, the lab, the classroom, or the pulpit were white men. That 1950s demographic profile does remain in many conservative circles, but in general American experience, things have opened up for us ladies.   ….Kind of.  OK, barely….. 😉

But I wish more men were out there expressing the outrage they ought to feel when their religious structures reinforce the idea that sexuality and attraction are uncontrollable forces in the universe; that women are temptresses and men are faithless ever; that a man wants only sex from the women he’s around; that people’s ability to claim any ridiculous thing about your reputation trumps the Great Commandments should you happen to see a woman walking in the rain and you’re the only guy in your warm, dry automobile as you pass her.

As a woman who’s married (19 years and counting) to a man who’s nothing like that, I’m offended on my husband’s behalf that people not only think like this, they celebrate people who do.  I don’t feel any need to track my husband’s movements via his iPhone or think twice about what he’s doing with his genitalia where other humans are concerned. Why? Because he’s a decent human, and I trust him. It’s part of what Love means when I think about my marriage vows.

*****

You don’t get to close your lab “in the name of Jesus.”  You shouldn’t applaud people like Mike Pence who use a non-biblical standard of sexual “purity” in a way that locks women out of the halls of power. It doesn’t matter whether Pence “intended” for that to be the effect. It IS the effect his holiness code has on the women around him.

You shouldn’t cancel your kid’s field trip for the sake of your testimony. (Good grief, who ARE your friends, and why do you keep hanging out with them if they are going to scream nasty things about your reputation the minute you set foot in an automobile with someone of the opposite sex?)

You shouldn’t avoid doing the right thing – the kind and loving thing – because you’ve built yourself a big ol’ holiness fence to protect your personal reputation. Sometimes doing the right thing is going to look rather messy.  At that point, you can either love your holiness code or you can love the person you’re trying to help.  You can’t do both.

Great read: Whether or Not It’s Possible to Debate Fundamentalists, Fundamentalists Want to Debate You

One of the best analyses of fundamentalist thinking I’ve ever read

It is impossible to debate a fundamentalist….because their very language psychologically traps them into their frames of mind.

In saying it is impossible to debate fundamentalists, Race is saying that fundamentalists — to borrow a concept from Robert Jay Lifton‘s idea of totalism — load the language. They use language in a radically different way from most society, which enables them to control dialogue. They use “thought-stopping cliches” (which is also a term Lifton uses). Race explains that,

That’s why it’s impossible to debate with a fundamentalist. By replacing “my” with “God” and melding beliefs about authority with authority itself, fundamentalist vocabulary has left no room for humility, reason, openness, doubt or change.

And, in conclusion: fundamentalism values ideology over people  

Yes. A crisp insight, one that’s vital to understanding current political discourse or my college years.

Source: Whether or Not It’s Possible to Debate Fundamentalists, Fundamentalists Want to Debate You

A few good reads for your weekend

I’ve run across so many excellent short pieces of writing on the Internet recently that I am going to serve up a list of Posts Worth Your Time this weekend.  None of these are particularly long, so grab them as mental snacks when you have time:

My friend John Ellis’s passionate review of Bill Mallonee’s latest album convinced me that I need to give it a listen today, and if I like it, to buy it. #becausemusic  And that’s a pretty impressive album review considering I don’t even particularly follow that genre. I appreciate people with excellent music taste who write fervently about good music.
“An Unfortunate Review” | No Depression

I saw firsthand the power of improv games in my classroom and among my students to grow their confidence, develop rapid-thinking techniques, and build deeper relationships and community. Guess what, this is great for adults too!
How Improv Can Open Up the Mind to Learning in the Classroom and Beyond | MindShift | KQED News

Not really an article, but I just heard that there will be a live (and streamed) performance of the entire Iliad in Britain this summer. Cool!
Almeida Greeks | Homer’s Iliad to become an epic online performance – BBC News

I never realized Buzzfeed did actual journalism until this spring, when I looked past all the listicle and found genuinely good reporting. This short piece about the way TLC exploits Fundamentalism and conservative Evangelicals for profit as reality TV is both sad and angering. I’m sad that Christians are so easily duped by the likes of TLC, and angry that Christians are defending the Duggars instead of crying out for much needed reforms in our circles. Sarah Jones contributes a good analysis:
How TLC’s Fundamentalism-As-Kitsch Hurts Women | Buzzfeed

Also in the land of Fundamentalism is another good read from Samantha Fields on Defeating the Dragons about how something as simple as grammar rules can be twisted into an issue of righteousness and conscience. Not all grammar nazis think prescriptive grammar is next to godliness, but I absolutely heard this line of thinking when I was in college.
I was a grammar nazi, and I was wrong | Defeating the Dragons

One of the more surprising Caitlyn Jenner pieces to emerge from the Internet was this one, a personal account from a pastor who says Jenner & the Kardashians helped plant a church in their area. Yeah, I had to read that twice too….  “Caitlyn knows who Jesus is, and Jesus knows her by name. Whether that sits comfortably on a timeline or blog comment, I know firsthand that Caitlyn has heard the good news.”
Sanctuary — I Went to Church with Bruce Jenner and Here’s What Caitlyn taught me about Jesus”

John also posted an article this week by a venerable food historian offering an interesting critique of the Slow Food movement. Is it possible for “industrial” or “processed” not to mean “evil” and “bad food”? She says, Yes. And it’s a really interesting read:

Choice of places to shop for food, choices of ingredients and dishes, choice of restaurants are all clearly ways to express class in the US. The snobbery that goes along with the choices can be irritating. And the use of phrases such as “how can we get them to eat better” set my teeth on edge.
via How Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, and Slow Food Theorists Got It All Wrong | Washingtonian.

And here:  Make some amazing lemon bars this weekend:
Lemon Bars With Olive Oil and Sea Salt Recipe – NYT Cooking.

A beautiful explanation of what daily, ordinary, powerful Love is like, as pictured in a relationship between a husband and his depressed wife:
Crawling Back From the Ledge – NYTimes.com

OK. Enough for now. Tune in again soon for more. 🙂

Explaining fundamentalism

When I first meet people, or sometimes after we’ve gotten acquainted and questions arise about upbringing, I find myself trying to explain what fundamentalism is.

It’s usually connected to the “oh, where did you go to college?” inquiry — what ought to be an innocent question for my friend or colleague and an easy answer for me instead makes me cringe. Though I actually got a lot out of my education, saying “I went to Bob Jones University” requires several minutes of followup explanation: But I’m not racist…. But I’m not a legalist (anymore)(like that, anyway)… But don’t hold it against me…. But I met a lot of good people there despite the school’s twisted and unblblical views on sin, righteousness, and grace.

It’s never easy to explain fundamentalism to someone who didn’t grow up in it.  I guess all of us “recovering fundys” are members of a secret club we didn’t ask to join.  Most of us were inducted when we were kids, and what we can now see as abusive was, at the time, simply normal. And sometimes good.

At least for me.  I was never physically abused by a pedophilic pastor; I wasn’t emotionally abused by spiritual leaders; I wan’t driven to mental illness by a system that punishes people for being people.

But I have friends and acquaintances who were. And I think the difference between the fundamentalist’s understanding of the Gospel and the actual meaning of the Gospel are qualitatively different. Not gradations on the same continuum, but a radical difference between the two. (I’ve written about this extensively on my blog – hit the Theology category for plenty of examples.)

So I was pleased to find Samantha Field’s excellent post on her blog about what makes the fundamentalist system too sick to be patched up. Her article numbers the reasons. If you’re straight-out puzzled, perhaps this is a place to start:

trickle-down cults | Defeating the Dragons.