Not really, but it seems that many lurking in the church–like Catherine Woodiwiss–are promoting the idea.
Most of us are too familiar with this story: an Upper Midwestern Baptist minister claims that “God made Christianity to have a masculine feel [and] ordained for the church a masculine ministry.” Or a Reformed Christian pastor mocks the appointment of the first female head of the Episcopal Church, comparing her to a “fluffy baby bunny rabbit.” Or a Southern Baptist megachurch pastor in California says physical abuse by one’s spouse is not a reason for divorce. Or numerous young evangelical ministers brag about their hot wives in tight leather pants.
While I share the disdain for the woman appointed as head of the Episcopal Church, my sentiments have nothing to do with how she looks. As for evangelical ministers bragging about their wives in “hot leather pants”, that’s almost certainly the exception: I’ve not met any of those personally, and I’ve been around the block.
As for Christianity, we need to face the fact: in Scripture, while women are valued greatly–and are equal before God with the men–Christianity, like Judaism, is overwhelmingly Patriarchal. While Jesus had women in His inner circle, they were not among the Twelve. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, there were women in key positions of political–even spiritual–leadership. They were, however, the exception to the rule.
And yet, the dilemma that women are experiencing in American churches–highlighted by Woodiwiss–exists largely due to the feminism that has been absorbed into both societal and Church circles. But more on that later.
Fewer of us are familiar with this story: Tamar is raped by her half-brother Amnon. Tamar protests her brother’s advances, citing the social code of Israel, his reputation, and her shame, to no avail. Their brother Absalom commands her to keep quiet, and their father, the great King David, turns a blind eye.
What do these contemporary statements above, delivered into cultural megaphones with conviction and certainty, have to do with the Old Testament rape and silencing of Tamar? The difficult answer is, quite a lot. The narrative dominance of these stories rests on power and control, which — whether intentional or not — speaks volumes about whom the church serves and what the church values
I’m more familiar with the story than you appear to be. Don’t forget that Absalom sought justice for his sister: he killed Amnon for raping Tamar. In fact, Absalom showed more regard for the welfare of his sister than did her father, who–from the Scriptures–was aloof about what was going on in his own household. And while we are on the subject of rape, don’t forget Levi and Simeon: while their actions–killing the entire village of Shechem–were over-the-top, let it be known that they did show great regard for their sister Dinah.
It’s not like there aren’t men in Scripture who didn’t care about rape. In fact, they do. I would also suggest that, even in their flaws (Simeon, Levi, Absalom), their regard for their sisters were their strong points.
What do these contemporary statements above, delivered into cultural megaphones with conviction and certainty, have to do with the Old Testament rape and silencing of Tamar? The difficult answer is, quite a lot. The narrative dominance of these stories rests on power and control, which — whether intentional or not — speaks volumes about whom the church serves and what the church values.
In short, the stories that fail to treat women seriously are the kinds of narratives that lead to manipulation, devaluation, and sexual abuse of these very women.
In fact, these narratives do treat women seriously, and accentuate the evil of both the perpetrators as well as those who turned a blind eye to–or sought to mitigate the damage of–the abuses.
There is too often a shameful culture of silence around rape and abuse in the church. But equally pressing is the confusion or silence in many evangelical communities around the pattern-forming behaviors that lead to it. For men and women alike, this brand of silence has roots in a sexualized view of women, and is given context in a power narrative that is built to protect and perpetuate male dominance in the church.
That sexualized view of women was not merely concocted by men; in fact, feminists have a great many issues for which they should be held to account on this. Gloria Steinem sold it to men, saying, “You’ll screw more and enjoy it more.” Women’s magazines–from Cosmopolitan to Ladies Home Journal–have promoted a sexualized view of women. Romance novels–overwhelmingly written and read by women–promote a sexualized view of women.
Feminists have decided to have their cake and eat it too: one one hand, they denounce and shame men who won’t date obese women, while at the same time promoting a sexualized view of women in the course of promoting an agenda of free sex cross-dressed as liberation.
That element of culture has, sadly, made its way into the Church. Even then, the Church–which has swallowed the feminist pill, even among many conservative circles–is in its current dilemma in no small part because of the conundrum created by the feminist paradigm they have embraced.
Today, the Church is more feminist than the Church of Acts 2. And yet the abuse dilemma is greater today than it was then.
Ergo, chalking this issue up to Patriarchy is to erroneously equate correlation with causation.
In the American church today, men hold a significant proportion of narrative power. Though twice as many women as men join discipleship activities and greatly outnumber men in church attendance, a significant majority of men still hold the highest positions of leadership across denominations. Of course, if not from the pulpit, women may speak out in other forums (increasingly, for example, through publishing or online platforms, as notable evangelical women are doing). But it does not require rejecting a complementarian view of gender to recognize that the predominance of men in church leadership makes power a gendered issue for the church.
Don’t forget, however, that in many of those “male-dominated” evangelical churches, women have a tendency to dominate the key committees that wield much of the power. In no small number of Baptist churches, women will dominate the nominating committee (that recommends people for teaching posts), finance committee (that effectively controls the purse strings), personnel committee (that effectively controls the hiring and firing of key staffers).
And the church’s unsettled relationship with gender and sex in the context of power does contribute to an ugly storyline that too often crops up in this framework: that a woman’s value is inextricably tied up in her sexuality.
The consequences of this view was starkly articulated last week by Elizabeth Smart, a Mormon from Utah who was kidnapped at age 14 and sexually assaulted during her 9-month captivity. She spoke of her hesitancy to flee her captors in damning terms for our faith communities’ discussions of purity.
“I was raised in a very religious household — one that taught that sex was something special that only happened between a husband and wife who love each other,” Smart said.
“So for that first rape, I felt crushed. Who could want me now? I felt so dirty and so filthy. If you can imagine the most special thing being taken away from you and feeling that — not that that was your only value in life, but something that devalued you — can you imagine turning around and going back into a society where you’re no longer of value, where you’re no longer as good as everybody else?“
While I empathize with Elizabeth Smart, we must also keep in mind that Mormons are not Christians. To take her plight–which was beyond awful–and conflate that with what is going on in the Church is an intellectually dishonest use of a false canard.
I’ll call BS. Every. Single. Time.
The church’s emphasis on young women, but not necessarily young men, remaining “pure” for their future spouse creates a double bind, Victoria Ferguson, founder of Kindred Moxie, a faith-based domestic violence advocacy network in Atlanta, Ga., said — one where women carry the burden of responsibility for sexual purity but have no power over the consequence.
“We are told every day, ‘boys will be boys. Your obligation is to not be raped.’ As if this is what just men do,’” she said.
This approach, Ferguson said, uncomfortably mirrors the broader cultural approach to rape and victim-blame.
For one thing, the Church does admonish both sexes to remain pure for marriage. In conservative circles, men are not told “boys will be boys”. In fact, it is the other way around: they are often taught that, if they have consensual sex with a woman, she remains innocent and the sin is all his. I had a long-running feud with our friends at Boundless, an arm of Focus on the Family, for exactly that.
“You don’t see the media discussing the impact or magnitude of intimate partner violence,” Ferguson said. “We are giving the perpetrators attention without accountability. We ask, ‘Why is she still with him?’ Not: ‘Why did he do that to her?’”
Actually, it is the other way around. We are very diligent in our punishment of men for abuses, even to the point that even an accusation–without proof–is enough to convict. Churches have a longstanding tendency to coddle the women rather than admonish them to take action through appropriate channels.
In the realm of sexuality and sexual violence, the media and the church share at least one frustrating commonality: the dominant voices are male, and their prominent focus and value judgments are directed at females.
“It’s the hyper-masculine kinds of comments that get the most publicity,” said Rev. Sharyl Marshall Dixon, associate pastor at the Presbyterian Church of Deep Run in Perkasie, Pa. “They’re louder and meaner, and make better stories. But they’re not making my job any easier.”
Who are those men and what are those comments?
Donna Schaper, senior minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City, agreed.
“Nuns and Protestant women are also very much faith leaders. But the megaphone is captured by white Protestant men,” she said. “We need to say out loud whose voices are not being heard — and give women hope that they might be heard.”
Aside from the fact that Schaper made quite a racist statement, the women are being heard. The seminaries–even the conservative ones–are still undermining masculinity, are still shaming the men by blaming them for every failed marriage and every problem of women. Those students of those seminaries have gone on to preach a Jesus that is far-removed from the Jesus of Scripture.
That sexual abuses are going on at levels foreign to the New Testament Church should not be surprising.
Unfortunately, Driscoll’s consistently demeaning language towards women makes his narrative on sexual abuse precarious. If anything, it makes his sentiments all the more harmful and open to misappropriation.
How can a young man learn to properly respect a woman when his pastor insists that women are unfit for leading the church “because they are more gullible and easier to deceive than men?”
Because it’s in the Bible.
How can young women learn true, self-respecting empowerment when their teacher compares an enslaved child-bride, Esther, to a sexy contender on The Bachelor (one who “allows men to cater to her needs, lands a really rich guy…and wows with an amazing night in bed”) — and calls her “simply a person without any character until her own neck is on the line?”
Now you’re trying to have it both ways. Having listened to Driscoll’s take on Esther, he is merely being honest about what was really going on in that book. Americans have a dressed-up mindset about how Esther became queen. In fact, the realities are quite sordid and sad. And yet God used that very evil set of circumstances for the good of His people. Throughout the account, God is constantly working great things even when His name is not even mentioned…
To say that Driscoll’s pointing out that Esther is not the clean, pretty account that many Western Christians envision is somehow undermining women does not do justice to either Driscoll or the book of Esther.
And what does it mean when otherwise-thoughtful and respected church leaders like John Piper and Rick Warren’s Saddleback co-pastor Tom Holladay insist that women have no right to leave their abusive marriages?
They’re suggesting that abuse is not a Biblical ground for divorce. Whether or not you agree with their position is not the point; they are making a statement based on what Scripture says. To say that this arises out of a disdain for women would not be fair.
The Scriptures can lead one to make very unpleasant conclusions. If Piper is wrong, then go ahead and show him–from Scripture–why he is wrong.
How can young men learn to not abuse women when they are simultaneously being modeled the behaviors that lead to it?
How can young men learn not to abuse women when they are simultaneously being fed a body of evidence that women prefer abusive men? (50 Shades of Gray anyone?)
For those trying to foster a culture of respectful men, the trend among such male leaders toward masculine swagger and gender prescriptiveness is worrisome, and too closely mirrors the crisis of power at play in abuse.
Women–as a group–reward that swagger and gender prescriptiveness. You don’t have to like it–I’m not saying I like it–but it is what it is.
“[Rape] is not about short skirts,” Schaper said. “It’s about fear of powerlessness. It’s a crisis of masculinity and social control.”
And who has been “controlling” the men? Who has been “controlling” what gets taught in social studies, health, and sex ed classes? It has been a government enterprise that has been indoctrinated by feminists who are fronting the sexual revolution.
She goes on to quite Jason Katz:
“Not about women, but men. Include things like: Why do so many adult men sexually abuse little girls and little boys? Why do we hear over and over again about scandals erupting in major institutions like the church? And what is the role of the various institutions in our society that are helping produce abusive men at pandemic rates? Once we start asking those questions, then we can talk about how we can be transformative.”
That is a culmination of factors in both secular society and the Church, which has bought into much of the secular agenda. And this is not about men. Nor is it about women. This is about men and women. We do no justice if we address each sex in a vacuum.
As people of faith, the stories we tell have spiritual and physical consequences. In order to salvage the good messages of church leaders like Driscoll, Piper, and Holladay from the ugly, marginalizing power dynamics, a richer vision of women as made in the image of God is desperately needed.
Actually, a more Biblical presentation of God–that does justice to masculinity–is a great place to begin. That would allow for a more cogent development of what Biblical masculinity looks like.
As I often say, the Jesus of Scripture had a pair.
In looking at progress made for women’s voices in the church, “We’re maybe 25 miles down a 100-mile road,” Schaper said. “The change ahead may be slow, or it may be radically transformative. I’m just not sure yet.”
Because you are going in the wrong direction, you have 125 miles to go in what should have been a 100-mile trip.