Over the last few years it seems that blogging and wider social media has changed enormously. I’m not an expert in trends, but the monetising of the digital space (adverts on your Twitter timeline, bloggers gaining book deals, personalised trending lists) all have contributed to the space which was once a place of speaking truth to power, into a power source in its own right. The radical prophets of truth have been subsumed into the power structure, the emerging church becomes, as David Haywood (@nakedpastor) calls it “submergent”. The question is, does power corrupt, or was the tendency to desire power there all along?
I’m writing this piece partly in response to the way Julie McMahon’s voice has been silenced and ignored by people in power. Her husband Tony Jones (a man I had never heard of until Julie, his ex-wife, began sharing her experiences of abuse online) is a well known leader within the Christian progressive movement. She has shared some of the ways in which he hurt her and their children, alongside the ways their church colluded with him over at David Haywood’s blog.
I’m also partly writing this as a reflection a while after Steve Chalke’s continued choice to ignore criticism of the way he referenced a well documented sex offender as a “well-known pacifist”.
I’ve always been vaguely suspicious of the emerging church, where the leaders are almost exclusively white men talking mainly about themselves and their journey deconstructing religion. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve benefitted from reading Rob Bell’s books as much as the next person, but still, these two situations have solidified what was a gradual uneasiness.
Mainly men protecting those accused of being abusers. People like Pete Rollins, a man presenting himself as liberating people from the chains of religiosity spewing nonsense about narcissism as a form of self-hatred to justify his siding with his friend; enabling Tony Jones continually hurting his wife. Declaring holding an abuser to account for his abuse as “a reductionist and violent act that allows for dehumanization and lack of empathy”.
Steve Chalke, a leader of inclusivity, whose theological justification for the inclusion of LGBT people within the church included throwing the weight of Biblical scholarship for female leaders under the bus. (“all those Christians who accept that women have any role, however minor, in teaching or leading, rather than simply serving in a local congregation or any wider expression of church, the Bible – the closed canon of Scripture – does not provide the final answer to the issue.“) Steve’s inclusivity excludes justice for the 100 women Yoder abused, denying their voice in favour of the nonsense of a “gap between aspiration and behaviour”.
Mark Driscoll stood on a platform this week and declared himself a victim. And some of the audience believed him. And his powerful friends who invited him onto the platform applauded him. And his many victims continue to suffer the consequences of his choices. His family continue to suffer the consequences of his choices.
This weekend I had an amazing time with a group of wonderful women. It was my wonderful friends’ hen night and some of our glorious group of women were lesbians. After a lovely meal, we went to the gay friendly bar “New York New York” which describes itself as a “safe, friendly and welcoming space”. A man performing as a drag artist spent the 20 minutes we were in the bar being horrendously misogynistic and lesbo-phobic. He talked about “muscular dykes”, describing lesbians in many and varied disgusting terms, joked about paedophilia and anal rape and spent most of every song shouting about penises. Myself and at least four other women complained about his behaviour, yet we were told to “f*ck off” or accused of being aggressive. Woman hating isn’t a church based problem, it’s everywhere. Even in so called “progressive” and “safe” places.
Isn’t it interesting that women who want equality are so often called “man hating”. That when women say men rape, they are called man-hating. But when men kill, rape or emotionally torture women, it’s not called woman hating? When high profile (mainly) men defend and stand with other powerful men accused of abuse, sexual violence or emotional torture they are not called woman hating? Isn’t that interesting?
Since the monetising of the digital space, it seems people are less willing to speak out. Will it always be the case that when people have something to lose they stop being willing to speak out? Is maintaining book-deals and friends in positions of power worth it? When powerful people stand on stages or write from blogging platforms do they ever ask themselves, “And what do I benefit if I gain the whole world but lose my own soul?”
I don’t know what the way forward is. Power and platform are not the enemy, like any currency, it is in the hands of humanity that it becomes good or evil. Money is not the problem, the love of money is. Power is not the problem, the love of power is.
We need spaces that call out woman hating for what it is. We need people (and some do exist!) who will speak out, who care more for the voiceless than having their own voice heard. Because it is that which is not seen as honourable that has the most honour, and that which is last which will become first. And the truth is, it was in giving up all power that Jesus saved anyone, and as we all know, it is the truth that sets us free.
I don’t have a plan for how we see things change. I just know that they must. I say it often, yet I will say it again, until women are safe, no one is safe. And while “progressives” hate women there will be no progress.
I was sent this song by someone today, and it spoke so deep into my soul. I pray this prayer for myself and I pray it for you also.
(The song starts at 1:50 minutes)
Pray by Kendall Payne
I will pray for you now, for you have been my faithful friends
While the road we walk is difficult indeed
I could not ask for more than what you’ve already been
Only that you would say these prayers for me
May your heart break enough that compassion enters in
May your strength all be spent upon the weak
All the castles and crowns you build and place upon your head
May they all fall, come crashing down around your feet
May you find every step to be harder than the last
So your character grows greater every stride
May your company be of human insignificance
May your weakness be your only source of pride
What you do unto others may it all be done to you
May you meet the One who made us
And see Him smile when life is through
May your blessings be many but not what you hoped they’d be
And when you look upon the broken
May mercy show you what you could not see
May you never be sure of any plans you desire
But you’d learn to trust the plan He has for you
May your passions be tried and tested in the holy fire
May you fight with all your life for what is true
I have prayed for you now all my dear and faithful friends
But what I wish is more than I could ever speak
As the way wanders on I’ll long to see you once again
Until then, would you pray these prayers for me?
Oh, that you would pray for me