Keep Going or Stop?

Rob Bell has announced an event.  It’s called “Keep Going” and is…

“for all of you who are growing and learning and changing and evolving and you’re discovering that not everyone around you is seeing what you’re seeing. Friends, family, spouses, coworkers, employers-what do you do when you’re more alive than ever, and yet all this new life is also bringing with it all kinds of disruption and grief and criticism and even loneliness? For some of you who are leaders, your growth has direct implications for your employment. For others, the new life you’re experiencing is deeply unsettling for some of your most significant relationships.”

The speakers are all white and include Vicky Beeching, Carlton Cuse, Kristin Bell and Pete Rollins.  The same Pete Rollins who only last week declared that calling out narcissism and male violence against women was “a reductionist and violent act that allows for dehumanization and lack of empathy”.

Last week I wrote a post about about Woman Hating.  And I’m back writing about it again.  I know, I know.  I keep going on about it. I’m not going to apologise, because while there’s woman hating, it needs to be brought into the light.

A few weeks ago Steve Chalke declared that serial sex offending is a “gap between aspiration and behaviour”.

Recently Pete Rollins stated that narcissism is a form of self-hatred.  It’s not.  That is one of many myths about narcissism.  He said that publicly calling a narcissist to account is “shaming” and that narcissists are basically pariahs. The fact that narcissists are generally extremely well liked and are given platforms and prestige because they fit the “charismatic leader” role seems neither here nor there to him.  His blog is essentially about rebuffing criticism of his ongoing support for Tony Jones.  Julie McMahon, Tony Jones’ ex-wife has shared her story HERE.

There’s also Mark Driscoll’s grand re-emergence at the Thrive Conference in recent weeks claiming he was the victim of injustice, regardless of the evidence he was an abusive and dangerous leader who hurt thousands.  And most people sat at the conference and applauded him at the end of his talk.

The tale of the two Mars Hills is an interesting one, with Mark Driscoll founding a church called Mars Hill which preached reformed (extremely conservative) theology at one end of the spectrum.  And Rob Bell who led a church called Mars Hill at the other end.

In recent years Rob Bell has become part of the emergent church.  He has partnered with the aforementioned Pete Rollins for this event.  Rollins practices a form of Christian atheism suggesting we all need to deconstruct religion to the point where we realise there isn’t a God anyway.  He presents this as a new and radical way to be Christian, a way which involves no god, Jesus or the Holy Spirit.  But hey!  He’s called it “pyrotheology” so that’s okay.

The two white, privileged men; Rob Bell and Mark Driscoll.  They have grown followings and created Personal Brands.  They seem to have nothing in common, at least theologically.

Yet here I am writing about the whitewashing of men’s violence and abuse, in favour of the cause, from both ends of the theological spectrum.

Perhaps Rob Bell wasn’t aware of Pete Rollins’ recent abuse apologism when he invited him to speak.  Maybe now I’ve tweeted him and written this blog, he might choose to un-invite him?  Who knows…?

Vicky Beeching is also speaking at the event.  A couple of years ago Vicky created a project dedicated to faith and feminism.  I declined to be involved in the project at the time.  It will be interesting to see how she will respond to speaking at an event with Pete Rollins, now she has been made aware of his abuse apologism…  With her feminist values, I hope the voices of women like Julie McMahon will be more important than the prestige of speaking alongside Rob Bell.  Who knows…?

I came across this quote from Susan B Anthony today:

“Cautious, careful people always casting about to preserve their reputation or social standards never can bring about reform. Those who are really in earnest are willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathies with despised ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences.” 

For me, it is not reform that drives me to be anything or nothing.  It is obedience to Jesus and His teachings that seeks first the Kingdom of God.  The one where the first will be last and the last will be first.  Where we ask, “what good is it to gain the whole world, but lose my soul?”

Publicly and privately I will speak out about woman hating within the body of Christ.  Over the last few years God’s voice has echoed through the hearts and halls of people and churches; to see women and girls liberated.  Yet with all the anti-trafficking fundraising and acceptance that feminism isn’t a sin, there is still woman hating and we’re still not talking about it.

We hear all this talk of a “voice for the voiceless”, but guess what?  They already have a voice, and they’re shouting, but the people with the power, those with the microphones and the sound systems refuse to broadcast their pleadings.

We don’t need to be a voice for the voiceless, we need to be willing to broadcast the voices no one is listening to.  They’re not voiceless.  They’re IGNORED.  Step away from the Personal Brand and make space for the Ignored People.

I want you to use your imagination for a moment.  Imagine you’re standing in front of a tree.  An enormous tree.  It’s not a beautiful tree, it’s ugly.  Planted in a graveyard.  It reaches upwards, blocking out most of the light.  The branches stretch out, gnarled and twisted.  They’ve curled themselves around gravestones, stone squeezed until it’s buckled.  Pieces of gravestone litter the scorched dry earth.  There’s no leaves.  No colour.  It looks dead.  But it’s not.  It’s moving, writhing, squirming in front of you.  Like a colourless hard wooden snake.  Despair and fear grip your insides as you realise it’s growing, inch by inch.  Defiling everything it touches.  As a branch creeps past your face you see images etched into the bark of this undead, ugly tree.  In the dull, greyness you can see the images are women, trafficked and broken.  Beyond that, on the next branch, women and girls photographed naked, the carvings move as the tree grows, women degraded for men’s pleasure.  Peering further into the tree you see other moving images chiselled into the gnarled bark.  Of girl’s genitals being cut, girl babies killed at birth, men beating women.  At the end of one branch the whittled images move, a Bible screams at a woman to STAY SILENT.  Elsewhere women’s bodies are battered by rape in war.  The terror is overwhelming.  You feel your feet being tugged, the roots below you squirm.  Your feet have sunk into the earth.  It drags you down, pulls you in.  You flail around, trying to maintain your balance, falling to the ground, shock numbing the pain.  Immediately you feel your torso dragged into the earth.  A piece of gravestone catches your eye.  The tiny letters are women’s names.  Row upon row of tiny letters, each name a human being.  Before you can read more than a couple of the names, the earth crawls up your face and into your mouth.  Swallowing you whole as it fills your mouth, throat, stomach.

This is the reality of patriarchy.  It is trafficking and female genital mutilation and pornographies.  Women’s lack of representation on the public platform and the Bible being used to silence women.  Toxic masculinity and gender stereotypes.  Everyday sexism and the gender pay gap.

People are appalled by some of the forms patriarchy takes, while they celebrate other aspects.  They donate to anti-trafficking work, completely ignorant to the woman on the pew next to them whose husband makes her stay awake at night, repeating over and over to him that she is a failure and a bad mother.  They talk of changing and evolving while hosting an abuse apologist.

People don’t see the tree even though it’s swallowing them whole.  There’s many good hearted efforts happening taking a chainsaw to one or two branches of the tree, not seeing the writhing, squirming ugliness that those branches are attached to.

There’s all these efforts for progress.  Progressive politics.  Progressive theology.  Yet as the author Arundhati Roy said, “a political struggle that does not have women at the heart of it, above it, below it, and within it is no struggle at all.”

Men are hurting women.  They are controlling, abusing and hurting women.  And as individuals and institutions we are colluding with that.  So perhaps the sentiment and title of Rob Bell’s upcoming event to “keep going” is wrong.  We need to stop and step back.  Men are hurting women and girls.  The Ignored People have been renamed “the voiceless” so we can avoid having to shut up and listen.

Perhaps God could be saying to us:

“Quit your worship charades.

I can’t stand your trivial religious games:

Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings—

meetings, meetings, meetings—I can’t stand one more!

Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them!

You’ve worn me out!

I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion,

while you go right on sinning.

When you put on your next prayer-performance,

I’ll be looking the other way.

No matter how long or loud or often you pray,

I’ll not be listening.

And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing

people to pieces, and your hands are bloody.

Go home and wash up.

Clean up your act.

Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings

so I don’t have to look at them any longer.

Say no to wrong.

Learn to do good.

Work for justice.

Help the down-and-out.

Stand up for the homeless.

Go to bat for the defenceless.”

Isaiah 1:13-17 (The Message)

5 thoughts on “Keep Going or Stop?

  1. Thanks for this great post, GLW. I grieve over the complications that we are constantly trying to negotiate. Rob Bell started well, but seems to have lost his way just as surely as Mark Driscoll, although Mark had lost his way before he even got going. I’ve always been interested that two diametrically opposing theologies/philosophies should have been named after the god of war, because we are definitely in a war.

    Your description of the life draining, growing tree is powerful and I feel so aware of the issues the tree carries in its roots and in its branches. These things are at the heart of the study I am wanting to work on … how patriarchy uses religion to commodify women.

    I love the Church. It is my passion because Jesus loves His Bride, but gosh… how complicated it all is. We need God to bring revelation.


  2. Tanya Marlow says:

    Hi – I read the blog post about narcissism by Pete Rollins that you quote from and I couldn’t see anything in it about violence against women. Maybe there’s other stuff on his blog, but from that reading I couldn’t see anything there. that’s not to say there isn’t some huge back story that I’m missing, but I couldn’t see it from that post.

    I think conferences are places where lots of different Christians come together and different voices unite. I have spoken in conferences where I didn’t agree with everything that other speakers said, and some big theological differences. I am failing to see the purpose of telling feminists like Vicky not to speak at the few conferences which actually have a woman speaker.

    You know that I wholeheartedly support your campaign to end violence against women, and think you are such an important voice. By all means let’s challenge where men have been defending violence against women. But why attack the women who are just speaking at a conference? What would be the good of silencing them? I don’t get it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Tanya,

      Thanks for your thoughts. Sorry if the backstory to this whole blog isn’t clear enough. Here is the evidence about Tony Jones: Across the emergent church there has been total silence from leaders about Tony Jones, except from David Haywood and Stephanie Drury. People like Pete Rollins and others ave chosen to support him. He wrote the blog about narcissism soon after being challenged by Stephanie Drury on his ongoing relationship with Tony Jones.

      I totally appreciate your support and genuinely I wouldn’t have written this blog without truly believing that it was important to speak out.

      There is a very real current context in which progressives are silencing victims of abuse. Steve Chalke’s response to the challenge on him quoting Yoder, Pete Rollins defending narcissism and the wider ongoing saga around Tony Jones. There is a real need for this to be challenged and fundamentally, I believe as a Christian and a feminist that we must prioritise listening to the Ignored People.

      Yes, I have worked extremely hard to see the Christian platform have more women on it. That is why the image I describe of the tree is so important. Having more women on the platform is not the whole picture. The silencing of women who have been abused is part of the picture, and the erasing of men’s violence is part of the picture. We can’t champion women on the platform at the cost of the women who will never have a platform.

      I haven’t “attacked” anyone in this post. I have raise legitimate questions about some individuals’ possible collusion with abuse.

      We may have to agree to disagree on this one, but honestly, what I have written here fits in with what I have written everywhere else, on this blog and other places online, they are the same thing, just this time I’ve mentioned people I haven’t previously. Feminism cannot be about blindly supporting women’s choices, it must be about questioning why people are making decisions and who is benefitting/losing out from those choices.

      Everything a feminist does isn’t “feminist” and so as feminists, we must all be open to challenge and critique.


      • Hi – thanks for your response. I really appreciate what your saying.

        I don’t know anything about Tony Jones, and even from the links I still don’t know what has been admitted, what has been said, what has been denied, what is indisputably true. I’m inclined to believe Julie’s story, but I am a bit wary of saying that anything connected to him is therefore tainted. There seem to be some saying the whole Emergent culture is now somehow at fault, or anyone who speaks on the same platform as someone who is connected to him is therefore the same as someone who thinks it’s okay for men to hit women.

        Where I’m coming from is a dislike of the celebrity culture in Christianity and a ‘who’s side are we on?’ mentality. I have never met Tony Jones or even read any of his stuff. I am not someone who is promoting his work. If I don’t instantly denounce him am I therefore part of the system that oppresses women? Am I ‘colluding’ with him if I choose not to retweet Julie’s story? That’s a little bit what it feels like – the pressure to join a tribe, to pick a side, to be in or out. I’m not sure that I want my credentials as a feminist/campaigner to rest upon denouncing anyone vaguely connected to a guy whose church I’m not a part of, whose blog I don’t follow, and whose writing I haven’t read. Does that make sense?

        I think we agree on dismantling thought structures and not excusing people who are violent against women, even if they happen to have a great and flourishing ministry / even if they agree theologically with us or others / even if they are our friends / even if they are friends of friends. I am not ever saying that is is right for a man to physically harm a woman. I want to affirm that, as I think many others would.

        Liked by 3 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s