A Better Story?

Glynn Harrison’s book “A Better Story; God, Sex and Human Flourishing” seems to have become the “go to” book on sexuality for conservative Christians interested in a conversation that is broader than the debates on same sex relationships. You can read my live-tweets of reading the book HERE.  Glynn Harrison is a former Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Bristol, where he was also a consultant psychiatrist.  He is a conservative Christian and speaks widely on issues of faith and psychology, mental health and neuroscience.  This professional background seems to have increased his credibility amongst Christians, however it is interesting that this book is not primarily focussed on his specialism of psychiatry.

 

In the book, Harrison explains that his audience is conservative Christians (he defines them as “Orthodox Christians”).  Rather than seeking to convert others to his position, he is equipping conservative Christians to respond to the current UK situation around sexuality, which he sees as rooted in the sexual revolution of the 1960s.  The book aims to give conservative Christians a better understanding of the sexual revolution (its ideology, moral vision, narrative and “casualties”), offer a better critique of the sexual revolution than the one conservative Christians are currently able to give, and give them a better story about sexuality that will help them articulate their convictions.

 

Though Harrison states that his focus is on sexuality holistically, within the book his focus is almost solely on same-sex relationships and the erosion of marriage and the nuclear family.  I think what makes this book successful amongst conservative Christians is that Harrison acknowledges that Christians should be thankful for the sexual revolution, primarily focussing on the benefits for women and in enabling the discriminated against to stand up for their rights.  Many would not see that as particularly radical, but for a group of people with a very rigid view of the sexual revolution as evil, this could be Huge News.

 

There are some points that I agree with Harrison on (though not wholly):

 

1. Critiquing liberalism and individualism

Much of Harrison’s critique of liberalism and its development into radical individualism is something that I’m fully onboard with. Whilst many view liberalism positively, I do not.  Liberalism is fundamentally selfish; we do not care for others because they are inherently worthy of care, but rather because we ourselves would like to be cared for.  It’s transactional.  And that impacts everything, including how liberal societies engage with sexuality.

 

However, I don’t think Harrison’s argument that the sexual revolution was rooted in liberalism is accurate.  There were many socialist and Marxist lesbian and gay activists and the movement was generally organised collectively, and not primarily for individual benefit. This was also the case for much of second wave feminism (however, Harrison does not engage with feminism, collapsing the work of feminists into the sexual revolution).  It’s been interesting reading the objections of some older gay and lesbian people about how Pride has become a parade where corporate logos abound. Originally gay and lesbian liberation was caught up with a class-analysis and Pride was an anti-capitalist political statement.  The array of corporate banners seem representative of a Pride which seems to have de-politicised and de-toothed.

 

In positing “Orthodox Christians” in opposition to liberals Harrison fails to account for socialist and Marxist organising, and totally ignores the emergence of neoliberalism within UK political Conservativism (and in the US).  We find that the biggest actor in moving the UK to individualism was Margaret Thatcher, not the sexual revolution.  Whilst I understand that Harrison’s views would be considered “small c” conservative, it’s problematic to see individualism as solely the fault of the sexual revolution.

 

Alongside this, I find it interesting that whenever Harrison mentions Christian engagement with social justice, he always refers to churches “helping the poor”, not being the poor or being with the poor. Whilst slightly tangential, I think it evidences that Harrison does not envisaging an incarnational Christian community, but one who does for and to the Other that is the poor.  I think it is only in moving to incarnational living that we a) live out the Gospel of Jesus and b) eradicate individualism.  I am not sure whether conservative Christianity has the capacity for this.

 

2. Polarisation on social media and the diminishing of intermediate-sized communities

I agree with Harrison that social media has contributed to huge polarisation, and the distance through screens allows for some to behave with great unkindness, on all sides. However, I do think Harrison should try being a woman with an opinion online, it definitely surpasses any abuse that a white conservative man expressing an opinion about same-sex relationships will be subjected to.

 

Alongside this, I think Harrison’s comments about the diminishing of intermediate-sized communities is accurate.  In the micro of close personal relationships, we can often choose to associate with people like us (except within our family of origin of course!), and then in the macro, we can remain distant from those who do not think the same as us.  The church functions as an intermediate-sized community and provides opportunities for learning to love people who are different to us.  Interestingly though, I’m not sure how many conservative Christian communities function like this.  My experience has been that such churches have an expectation of ideological purity. As Harrison states, on Twitter (a liberal and lefty platform) a conservative may be challenged for not affirming same-sex relationships.  However, within a conservative church, someone who has less conservative views on sexuality would find themselves marginalised and possibly shunned.  A recent conversation with a member of a conservative church was told that as they were having pre-marital sex, they would not be allowed communion.  They left the church.  I think we could probably argue that being denied communion is of greater significance than a stranger on Twitter telling us we’re homophobic.

 

3. The Zeitgeist of “I identify as”

To some degree, I agree with Harrison that the zeitgeist of our age is “I identify as”, and I’m not entirely sure how this fits with the self-emptying call of kenosis within the Gospel. What Harrison does acknowledge though is that it is impossible to give up our life unless we ownour life in the first place. Whether our life has been owned by others because of their abuse, violence, prejudice or discrimination, the process towards healing and freedom definitely involves a period of regaining ownership of our lives.  My experience (as a woman who has been abused by men), is that there is a freedom that can only be found in death to self.  I’m not sure how that works out, particularly in contexts of ongoing oppression (especially when that oppression is structural, institutional and/or systemic), but I do think this is something we need to be talking about and grappling with.

 

4. Christians have caused great harm

Harrison does acknowledge that churches and Christianity have caused great harm. I think this might be news to many conservative Christians, and I’m grateful to Joshua Heyesfor pointing this out (I didn’t think it could be anything other than Very Obvious).  Harrison does have one chapter about the harm conservative Christianity has done around sexuality, and he does acknowledge that “Christendom’s dysfunctional attitudes to sex helped create the discontent that triggered the [sexual] revolution and propelled it forward”.[1]

 

The chapter is nine pages in a two-hundred-page book and offers only intangible, amorphous suggestions of shame, alongside the issue of Christians judging gay and lesbian people without admitting to our own sexual sins.  That’s it.  To put it in context, he spends seven chapters unpicking the issues with the sexual revolution and five chapters talking about how the Better Story. Some of the things he chooses to ignore about the harm done by Christianity:

  1. Suicide and suicide attempts by gay and lesbian Christians.
  2. Preaching and perpetuating the view that men are hypersexual and women are not interested in sex.
  3. Causing some women to develop vaginismus due to the way they were taught to think about sex.
  4. Justifying men’s pornography use because “God made men to be visual”.
  5. Catholic priests raping children and women.
  6. The harm caused by Christian communities disbelieving and blaming women and children who have been sexually abused by male church leaders and members.Research has found that many of those subjected to abuse found their church’s response more harmful than the original abuse.
  7. The covering up of men’s sexual abuse of women and children by church establishments.
  8. Providing young people with a narrative in which all pre-marital sex is bad and all post-marital sex is good, thereby disabling them from differentiating between sexual violence and consensual sexual activity.
  9. Teaching young women particularly that engaging in sexual activity makes them the same as a jar that numerous people have spat in.
  10. Young people generally being invited up at Christian events to confess sexual sin, without creating a space for young people who have been sexually sinned against.
  11. The legitimising of colonialism and slavery which led to the rape and impregnation of countless numbers of black women, and the intentional destruction of black families.
  12. The ability of white evangelicals to vote in Donald Trump as a self-confessed sexual offender, over a woman.
  13. Guilting women whose husbands are masturbating to images of women being degraded and abused into prioritising their husband’s feelings.
  14. Placing young women in Magdalene laundries, forcibly separating them from their children, torturing them and making them do forced labour.
  15. Inflicting electric shock therapy on gay men and lesbian women and making them drink substances to induce nausea in order to supposedly stop them being gay.
  16. Judging women for being single, or without children, for working, or for having a career.
  17. Infantilising men and perpetuating masculinity, male headship and male dominance.
  18. The Catholic church’s approach to contraception contributing to great harm to women, children, and communities.
  19. I could go on, but we’d never get to the end of this blog!

 

Although we Christians have a faith rooted in crucifixion, we are generally uncomfortable with facing pain.  Glynn barely pays lip service to the harm Christianity has caused (which admittedly might be more than most of his audience have previously ever considered), and then moves swiftly onto the Better Story.  Even in his “resources and further reading”, Harrison limits his suggestions to the titles on “sex and marriage”, “bisexuality and same-sex attraction”, and “identity and transgender”.  That’s what he thinks his audience needs to know more about, rather than learning more about the harm done.

 

5. The existence of positive same-sex relationships and marriages

Throughout the book, Harrison does acknowledge the existence of positive same sex relationships; gay and lesbian couples going through their normal everyday lives, raising kids and having loving, positive relationships. However, that is not the end of the matter, he writes:

 

“…we find ourselves asking how it can possibly be wrong to support a same-sex sexual relationship that seems to happy and life-giving.  These are valid and potent objections.  We can point in response to the destruction wreaked on God’s creation by human disobedience and pride; we can point out the we see only part of the picture whereas God see the whole.  These are valid and good arguments.  But in the end there is a mystery in suffering: our creaturely minds are finite, and there are some things that only God knows and sees.”

 

Which I don’t think really explains anything much.

 

6. The pornographication of childhood

Harrison raises concerns about the pornographication of childhood. Whilst this is good, his content is not adequate.  Focussing solely on pornography itself (and not the pornographication; the influence of pornography on wider media like music videos, adverts, films, songs and children’s clothing and toys).[2]  It also doesn’t explicitly lay out what exactly young people are watching (brutality and sexual violence).  Harrison states that the ideology of the sexual revolution, “offers little that is capable of resisting [the pornographication of childhood].”[3] I would agree with him.  If we see any moral reflection on sexuality as Judgemental and Wrong, how do we help children make good sexual choices, if sex is not part of morality.

 

At no point within the book does Harrison engage with work done by women.  He cites no women at all.  This is quite staggering.  It is impossible to engage effectively with issues of pornographication or the harm done around sexuality, without engaging with feminism and feminist theory.  I think this is a significant element of why Harrison’s project is fatally flawed.

 

7. God’s love can be erotic

Harrison advocates for seeing God’s love as erotic, explaining “When we [Christians] think about God, we are happy with the idea of platonic (spiritual, emotional) love, or agape (charitable, self-giving, compassionate) love. But erotic love?  No thanks.”[4]  He points out that the shame attached to sex is a huge aspect of why Christians are so avoidant of the erotic love of God. I am onboard with this bit.

 

To evidence this, Harrison points to Ezekiel 16 and describes the passage as all about the “tender generosity” of God and the “imagery of faithfulness yoked with passion”.  The passage likens God to a man who rescues an abandoned new-born baby girl and cares for her.  When the girl reaches puberty, the man finds her sexually attractive and takes her as a wife.  She rejects his love, prostitutes herself and kills her children, so the man (who was her foster father and then her husband) beats her.  Whilst there’s various passages in the Bible to evidence God’s erotic love, this is a not good example of that.

 

Within the same vein as this, a couple of chapters later Harrison critiques his previously held view (that he tells us was shared in men’s ministry seminars) about  Jesus-is-my-boyfriend songs by quoting James K.A. Smith, “While [these songs] can slide into an emotionalism and a certain kind of domestication of God’s transcendence, there remains a kernel of ‘fittingness’ about such worship.”[5]Male issues with Jesus-is-my-boyfriend songs have littleto do with eroticism and a lot to do with misogyny.

 

Eroticism is something that heterosexual men do with women.  The idea that God could be a woman is completely anathema to men.  How could they see a woman as All Powerful?  How do they submit to a woman?  In the same way, much male homophobia is also rooted in misogyny.  Gay men become associated with the Other that is women. The homophobic heterosexual male fear that every gay men is going to try to have sex with them (really, they are not THAT desirable), is based on their view that all male sexuality rapes and takes, and that women are there for their penetration (therefore gay men must view them as for penetration).  And so, God must be a man and must not have anything to do with eroticism, for God is power and man is power and sex is something men do to women.

 

Having established where I partially agree with Harrison, let’s look at what I unambiguously disagree with him on:

 

1. The foundations of moral reasoning dichotomy

Harrison uses Jonathon Haidt’s work of six intuitive foundations of moral reasoning; care, fairness, oppression, loyalty, authority and sanctity. According to Harrison, liberal Christians lean towards the first three and are focused on the individual.  Conservative Christians are more focussed on loyalty, authority and sanctity (which are about big sacred principles).[6]  While he’s right that conservative Christians need to make more space for care, fairness and oppression, I’m not convinced that’s possible in the framework that Harrison offers.  He believes that only heterosexual marital relationships allow for sexual activity; how does that enable fairness for people in same-sex relationships?  In barely scratching the surface on the harm the church has done, how does he enable them to offer valid care?  He can’t even include women’s work and scholarship in his writing, how does that engage with oppression? I’d also argue that oppression fits more into the “big sacred principle” of right use of power, rather than the individual framework.

 

Harrison also doesn’t engage with Sara Ahmed’s seminal work on the cultural politics of emotion (published in 2004, thirteen years before Harrison’s book). Within Ahmed’s analysis, emotions are cultural practices rather than solely psychological states, that lead to the othering of people who do not align with the dominant culture.  Particularly as Harrison engages with disgust in his articulation of Christian approaches to same-sex relationships, his lack of engagement with her work on the “performativity of disgust” (even if only to dispute it) seems rather problematic.

 

2. The destruction of the whole hive

Harrison tells his readers that, “we must try to communicate our conviction that it is no use catering for the needs of a minority of bees if in doing so we destroy the whole hive.”[7] This serious concern about the destruction of the hive is not borne out in the examples he gives of what the sexual revolution has actually done to society. His main evidence of harm to society is that: a) people are having less sex, b) more people are living alone, c) his concern for the “fatherless wastelands of social deprivation.”[8]

 

I’m not sure people having less sexcould destroy the whole hive unless everyone stopped having sex altogether. I do think he is right that lifegiving sex is in short supply in a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy,[9]but I don’t think that can all be laid at the door of the sexual revolution.  What conservative Christians often miss is that the women’s liberation movement, the black liberation movement, the development of the New Left, technological and scientific developments, and the sexual revolution all happened at the same time.  They are of course interconnected, interwoven, and in conflict at many and various points, but to simplify what is actually a very complex picture does not help.  When Harrison states that the sexual revolution improved women’s lives, he’s collapsing second wave feminism and womanism into the sexual revolution.  When he attributes higher rates of either abysmal sex or no sex to the sexual revolution he is collapsing technological developments, capitalism, consumerism, globalisation, Thatcherism, and various other isms and issues into the sexual revolution.

 

And let’s not pretend that Christians are having better sex.  I arrived to speak at a Christian event to be told that a male speaker at a previous seminar in the week had told attendees that “when women are having sex, they’re usually thinking about their shopping lists”.  Most Christian teaching on sex (including Harrison’s book) don’t even mention the clitoris.  This is crazy. God gave women an organ purely for sexual pleasure and nobody even points that out.  I digress.

 

If we look at Harrison’s evidence that more people are living alone, we find it is based on US research, and perhaps doesn’t account for what we’ve seen in the recession where many fewer adults can actually afford to live alone (he uses research from 2000 in evidence this).  But even if more people are living alone, is this the fault of the sexual revolution? I’m not convinced.  Isn’t this just as much about people no longer remaining in their town of birth?  We can move away, afford cars to travel home, and seek more aspirational careers through the opening of higher education to working class people.  Doesn’t it also include developments in healthcare which mean people are living longer, and a culture which venerates youth and demeans its older and infirm citizens?

 

As for the “fatherless wastelands”, Harrison views co-habitation and easy divorce as the cause of children being raised without fathers.  It’s odd because Harrison doesn’t point out that mothers are not leaving their children.  It’s men who abandon their children after a relationship fails.  Why is that?  It’s not primarily about relationship breakdown, but about masculinity and men failing to take responsibility for children.  With 30% of women being subjected to abuse by a partner in the UK,[10]a significant proportion of those children raised by single mothers will be much better off without the abusive father’s involvement.  It’s also interesting that Harrison’s focus is on separation and divorce, rather than considering that maybe the issue is that the skills to form strong and positive relationships is the issue.  Perhaps it’s not that people are divorcing quickly (I don’t know anyone, either Christian or not, who hasn’t agonised over whether to divorce, myself included), but maybe they are conducting relationships without the skills or support to form strong relationships?

 

3. Victimhood identities and cognitive minorities

Harrison has an issue with the “victimhood identity” of trigger warnings and the like.Whilst I am not a fan of trigger warnings myself, there is an irony in Harrison bemoaning safe spaces on university campuses as projecting an “inherently fragile” self,[11]when earlier in the book he insists that conservative Christians should begin to view themselves as a “cognitive minority”.[12]

 

“Christians have occupied the cultural mainstream for so long that we find the idea of being a minority difficult to stomach, never mind the thought of acting like one.”[13]

 

On the one hand, when actual minorities and those who have been subjected to violence or discrimination request spaces to be safe for them, this is a problem.  But when conservative Christians (who still dominate Christian discourse, and are the majority within Christianity overall, as those seeking inclusive churches can attest to) feel threatened, they should view themselves as minorities?  Minority status is not something to be claimed, however reluctantly.  It is conferred as a result of historical, political, and social powerlessness and oppression.  People of colour are the majority of humans globally, but they are minorities because of how power, privilege, and colonialism have harmed them and benefitted white people.

 

4. That no experience should shift theological positions on same-sex sexual relationships

Where Christians have become affirming of same-sex relationships as a result of their relationships with gay and lesbian Christians, Harrison views this as evidence that their theology was clearly flawed. According to him, if their love for their son, daughter, friend, or other person leads them to change their theology, then it wasn’t good theology in the first place.  Not only that, but if gay and lesbian people’s relationships begin to convince Christians that same-sex relationships are not wrong, this also is a result of flawed theology.  Accordingly, no experience should result in a shift in the conservative position on same-sex relationships.  One of the theological arguments I’ve seen to counter this is that when Peter was given the prophetic message of including Gentiles through the vision of the blanket,[14]this was confirmed in him seeing the Holy Spirit fall on Cornelius and the others who were present, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”[15]

 

5. The need to give conservative Christians a compelling case for marriage and families

Harrison explains that “Church leaders in the UK rightly call upon governments to do more for children by alleviating child poverty or improving educational opportunities.But in a culture where fully one-half of children reach maturity with only one parent in the home, the most important intervention they could make would be to set out more clearly a compelling case for the social goods of marriage and family.”[16]  Apart from Harrison’s statistic being wrong (25% of UK families are single parent),[17]I have yet to find a church which doesn’t think that marriage and family are a social good.

 

The issue I have encountered in conservative churches is not the devaluing of families and marriage, but the idolising of them.  If ever a statement were preaching to the choir, this is it. Conservative Christians do not have an issue being compelling on family and marriage.  They have a huge problem making single parents and single people feel welcome and included.  Mother’s Day services which insensitively ignore miscarriage, infertility. Father’s Day services which ignore abandonment and abuse.  Women pushed to stay with abusive husbands.  Single mothers left to feel like second class citizens (I speak from personal experience). These are the pressing issues for Conservative churches, not a doubling down into some compelling vision of what they already advocate for.

 

6. The threat of liberal elites

Harrison insists that, “Even as they undermine its importance for everybody else today’s liberal elites seem to know something about marriage that they are keeping for themselves.”[18] He doesn’t explain exactly how the liberal elites are stopping poor people getting married or how liberal elites are in charge of the sexual revolution.  Looking at the history of marriage (Harrison doesn’t), we find that marriage was all about keeping property safe once people began accumulating it.[19]  It was always about liberal elites!

 

7. A lack of practical suggestions

Harrison uses a lot of flowery language to offer the Better Story, but his practical suggestions are pretty sparse. They include:

  1. Celebrate singleness.
  2. View singleness as a vocation.
  3. Have community homes where married people, families and single people live together.
  4. Honour and celebrate marital commitments more publicly.
  5. Employ matchmakers like Orthodox Jews to facilitate voluntary introductions (yes really).
  6. Make weddings more profound celebrations of commitment.
  7. Make marriage preparation one of the first and most important pastoral skills acquired during ministerial training.
  8. Churches should provide marriage and parenting courses, if they’re a small church, they should partner with other local churches. This suggestion alone seems rather unrealistic!  Churches, working together?!

 

Harrison doesn’t tell us how he squares the circle that is the ratio of Christian men to Christian women in Christian culture.  Where do all the women find husbands?  How do the men learn how to be good husbands, when they’re bred in contexts of huge male entitlement?  He doesn’t mention the issue with patriarchal understandings of men and women that are rife in conservative Christian culture.  Or how we heal from the damage that has wrecked lives, marriages, sexuality.

 

 

Having looking at Harrison’s views, what do I think should be our approach to sexuality?  These are some of my primary principles (and are a work in progress!):

 

  • Sex is the most beautiful and most harmful element of human interaction.
  • Patriarchy is a spiritual principality and power, and sex is one of the places it operates most clearly. The specific impact on women and men of this must be articulated in any conversations about sexuality.
  • In heterosexual relationships, most sexual encounters have the possibility for a new human to be created. The sexually dimorphic nature of humans means that in heterosexual sexual activity, females risk (or hope for) becoming pregnant.  Whilst contraception and access to abortion has diminished the risk of this, it has not eradicated it.  This impacts hugely impacts heterosexual power dynamics.  The risks of sex for females are biologically significantly greater than for males.  One of the biggest issues with the sexual revolution is how, in ignoring this power differential, much harm has been done to women and girls.  I know this point will be very controversial to some.
  • The ideal context for a new human to exist is one in which their parents are committed to each other, have a shared value system, are on the same trajectory in terms of life goals, and where both parents contribute to the other’s greatest flourishing. Marriage can provide such a context (it mostly doesn’t).
  • Very few humans historically, currently and globally (including most of those mentioned in the Bible) are born into such a context. Yet as humans we seem to muddle through.
  • UK societal approaches to sex are hugely flawed and greatly harm many, perpetuating the myth that sex only has whatever meaning you choose to give it. Which is odd, given that these same people view sexual harassment and abuse as deeply harmful.
  • Christian constructs of sex are just as flawed as the wider UK societal approaches. The desire to double down on these constructs as a response to wider society is just going to more deeply harm everyone.
  • The UK church needs a season of lament and repentance, where we individually and corporately speak our pain, sorrow and guilt for harming so many and for the harm that has been done to us. This should not be only one service or sermon, but an ongoing posture of repentance. We must put to death our idolatry of the nuclear family and marriage.  As that seed dies, we must await what emerges from a posture of sorrow and repentance. The MeToo movement is a prophetic foreshadowing of what we need to be doing within the church; listening to the voices of those who have been hurt and broken by our messed up-ness.  We must be careful not to rush onto the next stage, instead awaiting God’s work in our hearts and minds.
  • It is tempting to offer what the next stage could involve, but I don’t think we’re there yet. I know that’s not satisfactory, but until we become comfortable with the pain of crucifixion, we cannot expect to discover what the other side of resurrection looks like, even though we can be sure that it is indeed a Better Story.

 

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. (John 12:20-26)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1]Page 81

[2]Gail Dines’ book “Pornland” discusses this.

[3]Page 111

[4]Page 149

[5]Page 151

[6]Page 28

[7]Page 180

[8]Page 121

[9]bell hooks

[10]http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_352362.pdf

[11]Page 119

[12]Page 68

[13]Page 69

[14]Acts 10

[15]Acts 10:47

[16]Page 169

[17]https://www.gingerbread.org.uk/policy-campaigns/publications-index/statistics/

[18]Page 102

[19]https://www.enotes.com/topics/marriage-history

Paige Patterson; Abuse of the less serious variety

Paige Patterson is the President of the US Southern Baptist Convention.  His response to a question about domestic abuse at a conference in 2000 re-emerged this week.  You can listen to a transcript of his comments HERE.  The questioner asks about the media discussion around submission “jumping” on the issue of women being abused by their husbands.  He asks Paige Patterson

“What do you recommend for women undergoing genuine physical abuse from their husbands and the husbands say they should be submitting?”

Patterson responds with,

“It depends on the level of abuse to some degree. I have never in my ministry counselled that anybody seek a divorce, and I do think that’s always wrong counsel. There have been, however an occasion or two when the level of the abuse was serious enough, dangerous enough, immoral enough that I have counselled temporary separation and the seeking of help.  I would urge you to understand that that should happen only in the most serious of cases…  More often, when you face abuse it is of a less serious variety.”

He explains that he won’t describe the type of abuse that was severe enough to lead him to counsel temporary separation because it was so horrifying that it couldn’t be spoken about in public.

He went on to give an example where a woman was being “subject to some abuse” and he told her to pray about it based on his understanding of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:7-12.  He said that she came to church with two black eyes, but that it was all okay, because her husband came to church for the first time that Sunday and “his heart was broken”.  Patterson explains,

“…when nobody else can help, God can.  And in the meantime, you have to do whatever you can at home to be submissive in every way that you can and to elevate him.  Obviously, if he’s doing that kind of thing he’s got some very deep spiritual problems in his life and you have to pray that God brings into the intersection of his life those people and those events that need to come into life and arrest him and bring him to his knees.”

Let’s take a little look at some of the language used within this.  Patterson clearly reinforces all concerns that submission leaves abusive men supported in their behaviour.  To some degree I wonder if this is preferable to the weasel words of those who try to justify complementarian theology as absolutely fine. At least he’s honest about it.

From the outset, the questioner uses passive language and a qualifier to abuse, “undergoing genuine physical abuse from their husbands”.  I use this clip from Jackson Katz A LOT in training to explain how language is used to erase the agent of the abuse (who is generally a man).

By asking about “genuine physical abuse”, the questioner is inferring that non-genuine abuse exists.  What would that be?  Does the husband’s violence have to leave bruises to be genuine? What about if there isn’t physical violence?  Is that what he means?  If a man is berating his wife, belittling her, humiliating her, manipulating her into degrading sexual acts, giving her no money to buy sanitary products, timing how long she takes shopping, screams in her face, torments the children to punish her, deliberately gets her into debt, keeps her up all night, makes her watch him wash after sex because she’s so dirty?  Are all these things not genuine because he hasn’t physically hurt her?

I should say at this point, even responses to Patterson still echo the language of only an abuser’s physical violence warranting separation, for example:

Screen Shot 2018-04-29 at 08.31.23

Patterson’s response starts again with qualifying the type of abuse a man has to perpetrate in order for a woman to legitimately separate from him.  But apparently it has to be SO bad that you can’t actually publicly tell people about it.  Patterson also doesn’t make any mention of how a church leader would actually be privy to the full scale of abuse being perpetrated.

Disclosure is usually accidental and is always gradual.  Nobody starts by disclosing the worst things that their husband has done to them.  We start small and see if a) we are believed and b) we are looked at with disgust or care. The risk of speaking out leaves most women unwilling to do so, which means that often it will be accidental. Someone sees us at the school gate on the day he has bruised us, or one of our children mentions something to their teacher, or we mention something benign like, “Oh my husband doesn’t let me go shopping for more than half an hour.”  Because we hadn’t realised that isn’t normal.

Nobody is going to start off by telling their church leader, “he urinates on me and chokes me and one day he took me to a derelict building and told me if I tried to leave him, he would bury me there”.  And so, how exactly is Patterson able to assess how serious the abuse is in order to decide whether it meets his criteria, when he will likely never be provided with enough information to do so.  But besides that, what abuse is not serious?  Why does he get to make an arbitrary line between run of the mill abuse which should simply be ignored and that which is “serious enough, dangerous enough, immoral enough” to warrant temporary separation (nothing warrants divorce, so the only women able to escape are those whose husbands kill them, or who kill their husbands)?  Sin is sin. Abuse is abuse.  There is no sliding scale.  And abusers inevitably escalate their behaviour, so whichever abuser fits within Patterson’s “acceptable abuse” category today may kill their partner or children tomorrow.

It takes years for most of us to recognise that our partner’s behaviour is wrong.  He works very hard to ensure that we blame ourselves for his behaviour, and his constant minimisation and denial leaves us sure it can’t be that bad.  By the time a woman says, “I need to get out”, you need to be listening to her and doing all you can to help.  Particularly women in Christian communities, who have been indoctrinated to believe men have to be in charge, that submission is the solution and that denial-based-forgiveness is the way to move forward.  But from this interview, there seems to be an inference that women are accusing their husbands of abuse willy nilly, just waking up in the morning and thinking, “Today I’ll go to my pastor and say that George is abusive because he won’t let me buy 73 pairs of shoes.”  Just no.

It’s always convenient isn’t it, that people like Patterson have that story of the violent husband whose wife prays and he becomes a model Christian man.  But it is hugely irresponsible to tell that story (whether it’s actually true is always something we must ask too).  Abusive men do not change out of nowhere.  There are too many benefits for them in remaining abusive. They get whatever they want whenever they want it; sex on demand, a servant, the status of being a good husband and father without actually being one, they get to always be right.  And Patterson wants to uphold all those benefits, in fact he wants to increase them.  Why on earth would an abuser change when Patterson is saying that an abuser should be rewarded with increasing levels of submission and adoration from his wife?

Patterson says that “when nobody else can help, God can”.

YOU CAN HELP, PAIGE PATTERSON!  WE CAN ALL HELP.  THIS IS NOT SOME INCURABLE DISEASE THAT WE ALL HAVE TO HOPE GOD WILL INTERVENE IN. THIS IS AN ABUSIVE MAN MAKING CHOICES THAT ARE ILLEGAL.  WE CAN REPORT HIM TO THE POLICE.  WE CAN FIND HER AND HER CHILDREN A SAFE PLACE.  WE CAN STAB HIM IN THE HEAD.  OKAY I KNOW WE SHOULDN’T DO THAT, BUT AT LEAST WE COULD THINK AND ACT WITH A VIEW THAT HE NEEDS TO BE STOPPED.

The only mention to “arrest” that Patterson makes is that God might arrest the abuser’s heart.  PATTERSON SEEMS TO LIVE ON ANOTHER PLANET WHERE THERE AREN’T ACTUAL POLICE OFFICERS WHO CAN ARREST ABUSIVE MEN.  The US and UK have both had laws in place for decades which can be used to arrest, charge and convict those who harm a partner.  The police could actually arrest the abusive husband, but no, Patterson wants to leave that up to God.  We should just pray that God brings situations and people into the man’s life that cause the man to be changed.  Let us not consider that maybe WE are the people that God has brought into the man’s life!  Let us not consider that WE could be the ones God is asking to partner with women and their children in finding a way out.  Instead, Patterson would prefer that like the Pharisees we tithe our herbs and neglect the weightier matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness.

It is easy for us all to be horrified and outraged about Patterson’s comments.  And they are deeply concerning, particularly for all the women and children who have been brutalised first by an abusive man, and then had that compounded by church leaders and communities who have been more interested in the letter of the law rather than the spirit of justice and mercy. However, it is much harder to accept that we are likely to believe some of the things that Patterson says, albeit in much more implicit and hidden ways.

Years ago, I was contacted by a church leader.  She wanted to know what to do about a family in her congregation.  The man had been violent towards his wife on a number of occasions.  I started by asking the church leader if she felt able to advise the woman to leave, “Oh yes of course,” she said, “nobody should be abused.”  After we had been talking for about 20 minutes, she said to me, “The thing is, he was going to leave, and we felt that we could support her, because he was going to instigate leaving.”  My response, “It sounds like you’re saying that if she had instigated leaving, you wouldn’t feel you could support her?”  This church leader thought for a moment and responded, “No, I don’t think we would, because of what the Bible says about divorce and forgiveness and…”

We all like to believe that we think abuse is wrong.  And that we don’t have such horrendous views as Paige Patterson.  But in reality, we are theologically and psychologically predisposed to deny abuse.  If she’s a strong woman, or he’s a lovely man.  If she hasn’t mentioned physical violence or it seems like it’s a one off.  We don’t want to believe that it’s abuse and so we minimise it, make it into something palatable.  It’s his mental health issues.  She’s quite overbearing.  They just need couple counselling or to attend the Marriage Course. (Relationship counselling is NEVER appropriate where there is an abuser).

I spoke to a woman who asked for prayer because her husband was abusive.  The pray-er advised her to put little love notes in his pocket each morning.  Apparently that would solve it.

We don’t want to live in a world where the men that we think are good and nice could be abusers.  We don’t want to believe that the women we know who are competent and strong could also be subjected to abuse by their husbands.  We don’t want to believe that our church, family, neighbourhood could be tainted by abusers.  And so we minimise, avoid, reshape the narrative and all without ever believing that WE, the woke people that we are, could EVER be anything like Paige Patterson.

But maybe we are.

 

 

If you’ve found this blog helpful, my WHOLE book about Christians and domestic abuse is being published by SPCK in March 2019.  If you’d like to get updates about the book, you can sign up HERE.

 

On Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder

The Mennonite Church is a “radical offshoot” of the Protestant reformation.  Originating in Holland, it grew out of Anabaptist theology and continues to hold pacifist values.  The most famous Mennonite theologian is a man called John Howard Yoder.  He was born in 1927, became a theologian in the North American Mennonite church and is world famous for his theology.  He died in 1997.  He wrote prolifically and his book “The Politics of Jesus” and other writings remain on theology reading lists for theology courses across the West.  John Howard Yoder was also a prolific abuser of women.

 

An eighty-page article by Rachel Waltner Goossen entitled “Defanging the Beast”:
Mennonite Responses to John Howard Yoder’s Sexual Abuse
was published in January 2015.  The article gives only sparse details of Yoder’s abuse of over 100 women, but covers in significant detail the North American Mennonite’s response to Yoder’s abuse, which went on for decades and was enabled by the academic establishments he was employed by.  Yoder framed the sexual abuse as “experiments” in “familial” touching.  He would approach female students (and some female colleagues) and ask for their help with these experiments which could be anything from sexually explicit communications, physical touch, partial or full nudity and genital penetration.  He described his sexual abuse of women as “helping them” to deal with their sexual issues, even going so far as to state that his actions were intended to show women “that intimate relations did not have to be coercive, that men don’t have to be rapists”.[1]  For the majority of the time when his behaviour was challenged, it was because he was seen to be committing adultery, and it was only in later years, when wider culture had begun to engage with men’s sexually harassment and abuse that the Mennonite Church began to engage with Yoder’s abuse of women as a power issue.

 

Yoder was an accomplished theologian, writer and speaker.  He was recognised as an expert in non-violence and his position as a world-renowned theologian enabled him to continue to abuse women for decades, with many aware (to some degree) of what he was doing.  Goosen’s article evidences that it was Yoder’s capacity as a wordsmith and his rhetorical skills which kept him from being held accountable for decades.  Years of interactions with Marlin Miller, President of the Goshen Biblical Seminary (where Yoder worked), proved Yoder’s ability to couch his abuse of women in theological terms and to use his theology on church discipline to avoid taking responsibility.  Later in Yoder’s life, as Mennonite discipline procedures were initiated, Yoder “appropriated the language of victimhood for himself.”[2]  There were seven different committees over 1980 – 1997 which sought to hold Yoder to account, and he was able to obfuscate his behaviour in all of them.  His oratory skills which confounded seminary presidents, ministers and theologians were also used to groom his female students so that he could abuse them.

 

On 18th October 2017 social media was in the midst of hearing from thousands of women who were sharing how men had subjected them to sexual abuse or harassment using the hashtag #metoo.  It was a brutal time to be on social media, and I wrote THIS sharing my thoughts on it.  This was also the day that an article was published by esteemed theologian, ethicist and long-term colleague of Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas.  It is entitled “In Defence of ‘Our Respectable Culture’: Trying to Make Sense of John Howard Yoder’s Sexual Abuse” and shares Hauerwas’ views on Yoder’s abuse.  As we shall see in dissecting the piece, it is hugely unfortunate that his piece was published whilst thousands of women disclosed the ways men harmed them.  Whether Hauerwas had control of the publication date or not, its timing magnifies the huge problems with the article.

 

I have had to read a small amount of Yoder for the MA I am doing with London School of Theology.  I communicated to my tutor about how inappropriate it is to have a sex offender as the primary voice on a unit about social justice and power.  I have also read a small amount of Hauerwas for my MA.  I say this to preface my critique of Hauerwas’ article.  My theology and Christian life has not been hugely influenced by either theologians (as far as I am aware), and I seem to have made it to this point in my life as a Christian without either of their Big Thoughts.  This perhaps gives me the freedom to be more highly critical than someone with a greater investment in Yoder’s or Hauerwas’ thinking.  It also means that my critique is not currently able to particularly bring in Yoder’s or Hauerwas’ own thoughts to interact with the way they view women’s lives and pain.

 

Now, without further ado, let us look at Hauerwas’ article…

 

Hauerwas starts by drawing our attention to Yoder’s framing of his abuse of women as a rejection of the consensus of “our respectable culture” which Yoder viewed himself to be a “victim” of.  Hauerwas states that Yoder’s “assumption that such a consensus exists was a profound and costly mistake [emphasis is mine].”  It is interesting that within an 80-page document about Yoder’s abuse, Hauerwas particularly chooses to focus on this one comment of Yoder’s, is it the metaphorical needle in the haystack?  Or could it be more focusing on one of the trees rather than the whole wood?  After reading an 80-page article which demonstrates the ways Yoder manipulated everyone (from the women he sexually abused, to the men who ran the accountability procedures) by utilizing theological arguments, it seems rather unwise to focus on one of Yoder’s theological arguments which he used to justify his behaviour.  Yoder is not longer alive, why is his rationale still a priority?

 

Goossen’s report explains that none of the women Yoder admitted to abusing ever received any financial support to aid their recovery, yet the Mennonite accountability process paid for Yoder to be assessed by a psychologist.  The psychologist’s report was so damaging that before he died, Yoder succeeded in having every copy of it destroyed.  The report explains that:

 

“While Prairie Street’s elders [Yoder’s church) focused on maintaining contact with the Yoders, members of the Accountability and Support Group realized that no such concentrated effort—by any board or committee—was similarly focused on the women’s welfare. Denominational and congregational resources were being channeled into the rehabilitation of John Howard Yoder, but no comparable endeavor addressed the spiritual and emotional needs of women who had been harmed.”

 

And yet, Hauerwas’ main interest after reading the report is citing Yoder’s rationale for his abuse.  And how does Hauerwas categorise Yoder’s rationale for abuse?  Not as a rationale for abuse, but rather as an assumption and as a profound and costly mistake.  Yoder has abused over 100 hundred women, and concocted an entirely baseless theological justification for doing it, and Hauerwas chooses to engage with this concoction in good faith?  What is that about?!  It was not a mistake of Yoder’s to condemn “respectable culture” in justifying his abuse of women.  It was a deliberate way of flimflamming seminary president Marlin Miller.  By making it about the respectable culture, Yoder forces Marlin Miller (to whom he put this argument) to be part of that respectable culture, if he continues to challenge Yoder.

 

He has created a theologically baseless “us and them” mentality which leaves Marlin Miller as one of them, particularly when placed within the wider context of Yoder’s non-violence theology.  Yoder is on the side of non-violence, a paragon of Mennonite theology, and he is creating a dichotomy with which to rationalise his abuse of women, because it is only respectable culture which thinks that abuse of women is wrong.  Yoder is the Naked Emperor (both literally and figuratively) and Marlin Miller is co-opted into Yoder’s narrative.

 

I’ll now quote paragraphs Hauerwas’ article and then offer some thoughts…

 

Before developing that argument, I need to make clear that for me to write about these matters fills me with sadness. I do not want to try to “explain” John’s behaviour. I find even thinking about that aspect of John’s life drains me of energy and depresses me. And I am not a person given to depression.

 

Stanley, can we just pause for a moment.  The women Yoder abused sadly don’t have any choice about being given to depression.  Unlike you, they don’t get the luxury of a life in academia unencumbered by their mentor and professor sexually abusing them.  They are left with the lifelong impact of sexual abuse, many of them were unable to pursue academic theology because of Yoder’s impact on them.  So although I know it’s helpful for you to express how it feels, maybe it would be worth considering that sadness is not enough.  Perhaps outrage and disgust might be good feelings to make space for?  Not only for Yoder’s behaviour, but also for your collusion with it.  You attempted to rush the accountability process for Yoder in order to get his Important Thoughts out there.  Or that you publicly commended Yoder for not publicizing his views on sexuality “that he consider[ed] to be prophetic”.[3]  What is there to commend an abuser in, for not publicly telling everyone about his abuse?

 

But Goossen’s article stunned me. I had no idea that John’s engagement in his “experimentation” was so extensive both in terms of time and the number of women he seems to have involved. I am not sure, moreover, if I ever recognized how troubling it is that John refused to acknowledge that his views about what is possible between brothers and sisters in Christ were just wrong.

 

Perhaps Stanley, we should explore how you, as a world-famous ethicist, are stunned by large scale sexual violence by a powerful man.  It is not that you were not aware that there were allegations made about Yoder, it is that you perhaps did not believe those allegations and minimised those allegations.  Perhaps because (along with the rest of the world) you are conditioned by patriarchal systems to trust powerful white men more than you trust anonymous women.  That doesn’t make you overly bad, it makes you normal.  It would be great if as you reflected on Yoder’s abuse, you (as a world-famous ethicist) might consider what standard of ethics were at work when you prioritised rushing through Yoder’s disciplinary process, rather than perhaps asking questions about who these women were that Yoder had abused and what he had done to them.  It might be worth asking why you think that the actions you had in mind for Yoder to have done were so minor as to be irrelevant.  You mention that you knew of Yoder’s “questionable relations with women”.  What ethics were at work as you deemed those questionable relations with women irrelevant to Yoder’s career?  What ethics were at work in you not noticing the power Yoder held and what that meant for how he related to women?  It would be great if these questions formed part of the article, but as we both know, they don’t.

 

I partly hesitate to write about John’s abusive behaviour because I know John’s family and I do not want to add to their pain. John was by all reports a loving father, though one that was often absent. Annie, his wife, is a wonderful person who was a bulwark for John in the last years of his life. I count a number of his children as friends and I know something of the complexity of what it means to be John Yoder’s child. The Mennonite world is just that – a world – and his children must find their way, as they have, through that world without anything I might say adding to that challenge.

 

Of course Yoder’s family require empathy and care Stanley, but it is interesting that the concern you raise here for Yoder’s family is not matched by concern for the over one hundred women who he abused.  Your concern seems to remain theoretical throughout your article, seen by your focus on the “respectable culture” of Yoder’s flimflamming.

 

 I also report in Hannah’s Child what and when I learned of John’s behaviour, as well as my own involvement in the process of John’s disciplinary proceedings. I see no reason to repeat what I said there, but what I must do is acknowledge that I did not appropriately acknowledge how destructive John’s behaviour was for the women involved.

 

Stanley, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but even within this article, at no point do you actually acknowledge how destructive Yoder’s behaviour was.  You don’t detail any ways you can see the women were harmed, and your conclusions prioritise Yoder’s Big Thoughts over the wishes of the women he harmed.  Saying you didn’t acknowledge something is not in itself and acknowledgement.  The women harmed have lost parts of themselves that can never be brought back, not only by what Yoder did, but by how you and other (mainly powerful men) colluded with Yoder.

 

In 1992 Al Meyer, his brother-in-law, and Mary Ellen Meyer, his sister, told me about John’s behaviour. I was at Bethel College to give a lecture I seem to remember John was to deliver, but had been disinvited because of his behaviour. I realized I was getting the straight story from Al and Mary Ellen but for some reason I assumed the behaviour they were reporting had ceased and that we were not talking about that many women. I thought maybe three or four women might be involved. Of course, one woman would have been too many, but at the time I could not imagine what seems to have been the large number of women who had been abused by John. Nor did I appropriately appreciate at the time how traumatizing John’s actions were for the women involved. For that I can only say I am sorry and I have learned an essential lesson.

 

Stanley, here you are again, telling us about how you made assumptions about what Yoder’s behaviour was like.  That it wasn’t many women (perhaps three or four) and that you didn’t realise how traumatizing his actions were.  I already know you haven’t done this, but wouldn’t it be great if you (as a world-famous ethicist) might consider what ethics were at work in your assumptions?  Why did you think three or four women would be okay?  In 2010, over 18 years later, you still wrote favourably about Yoder. You colluded with him, and in an article discussing this, you in no way interrogate why you made the devastating assumptions you did.  That your immediate response to information about Yoder was to minimise his behaviour is surely an ethical conundrum that should be interrogated?

 

One of the aspects of this whole sad story that saddens me is that I have had to recognize how much energy John put into this aspect of his life. His attempt to maintain these multiple relationships would have exhausted any normal person. But John was not normal – intellectually or physically. When I think about the time he dedicated to developing justifications for his experimentation, I feel depressed. Of course, John gave us the great gift of the clarity of his mind, but that same analytic ability betrayed him just to the extent that he used it to make unjustified distinctions – such as those about the significance of different ways of touching that could only result in self-deception.

 

Depressed?  It makes you depressed?  Does it not anger and infuriate you?  Does the injustice (which you contributed to) not horrify you?  By describing his analytic ability as betraying him, you remove the agency of his choices.  It did not betray him.  He utilised it, along with his power and prestige (afforded to him by men like you) to abuse women.

 

Another reason I find it difficult to write about these matters is, like most of us, I do not want to acknowledge my mistakes. But I learned from Yoder that such an acknowledgement is necessary if we are to be people for whom speaking truth matters. I hope in some small way writing this article may be a small example of Matthew 18, because at least one of the reasons I am writing is that I have been told by many that I need to do so.

 

It is great, Stanley, that you are willing to acknowledgement your mistakes, but surely as a world-renowned ethicist, you are aware that acknowledgement is only the first in a number of steps towards change.  You admit your faults but at no point consider why you made such assumptions about Yoder’s behaviour, or why it didn’t occur to you that sexual abuse was harmful.  Sexual violence should not be a peripheral topic to ethics, in fact male violence is the root of so many ethical issues that it seems outrageous that you are not well acquainted with the issues related to male violence.

 

The paper gives me the opportunity to confess: I was too anxious to have John resume his place as one of the crucial theologians of our time. I thought I knew what was going on, but in fact I did not have a clue. In my defence – and it is not a very good defence – I think it is true that I simply did not understand what was going on. However, in truth, I probably did not want to know what was going on.

 

You have now acknowledged your minimisation and denial of Yoder’s behaviour.  Yet again, you do not ask any questions about why you would do that.  As I read this paragraph I was hopeful you would conclude this paper by asserting that Yoder’s status as a “one of the crucial theologians of our time” would be questioned.  And that, after years of prioritising Yoder over the women he harmed, that you would conclude that their voices and their needs take precedence.  That this paper would not just be a confession, but would instead be the metanoia of a changed mind, convicted that some things are more important than thoughts about ethics (you know, like living out ethics).

 

I also find it hard to write this because I do not know what to say. I do not know what to say to “explain” John’s behaviour. Like anyone grieved by John’s behaviour, I cannot resist trying to give some account of why John Howard Yoder of all people got into such a bizarre pattern of abuse. Of course he had a theory, but this is John Howard Yoder. Surely anyone as smart as Yoder should have known better. But what he did speaks for itself. Whether he may have had some form of Asperger’s may be true, but it tells us little. My general assumption that his behaviour betrayed a deficit of empathy may be closer to the mark, but I think even if that is true we learn little from such a judgment.

 

You are right to not try to explain his behaviour.  To say that Yoder had Asperger’s is offensive to anyone with Asperger’s.  Those who are on the Autistic Spectrum are perhaps more vulnerable to being subjected to abuse, they are not more likely to be abusive.  It is not an assumption that he had an empathy deficit, it is a fact.  Someone who can treat women (including his wife, Anne) the way Yoder did, has a deficit of empathy.

 

But he wasn’t the only one in the situation who had a deficit of empathy.  You have already acknowledged that you did not realise the impact of Yoder’s abuse on the women he harmed.  That is also a deficit of empathy.  One that is shared amongst the many men and some women who colluded with Yoder’s behaviour.  The deficit of empathy was collective and structural, not individual.  And those many women Yoder abused (and their families) continue to deal with the pain not only Yoder subjected them to, but also those in power who ignored them and the systems which prioritised Yoder’s (failed) rehabilitation over their pain.

 

It is perhaps also worth pointing out that Yoder’s bizarre pattern of abuse happened because everyone gave him space to develop that pattern.  If the systems he was part of had sacked him and removed all credibility from him he may have still abused women, but not on such a scale, and not legitimised by flimflam theology.  That is on all those who supported him, you included Stanley.

 

Finally, I have to revisit Yoder’s life and work because I do not want what he has taught us about how we should and can live as Christians and how we think theologically to be lost. Many of my friends who are former students, students who have written quite insightfully about Yoder, feel that they can no longer have their students read Yoder. They rightly worry that the very shape of Yoder’s arguments for nonviolence may also inform his view about sexual behaviour between men and women in the church. I think the question about the continued use of Yoder’s work for instruction is not quite the same among Mennonites as it is for non-Mennonites, but I have no stake in defending that view. What I do know, however, is that we cannot avoid the question of whether his justification for his sexual behaviour is structurally similar to his defence of Christian nonviolence.

 

That empathy deficit I was just talking about?  Here it is again!  It’s great that you as a world-renowned ethicist, will be listened to by many who look to you to guide them in how to deal with Yoder’s works.  However, none of the women who Yoder abused will be afforded the power you are given.  Their voices remain ignored.  Their feelings remain unimportant.  If every woman Yoder abused came to you and said that they needed for Yoder’s work to be lost, that whilst his work remains celebrated and lauded, their pain increases.  Would you support them?  Would you amplify their voices?  Would you defer to their expertise as those who Jesus told us to prioritise?  Or would you remain steadfast in your refusal to acknowledge that Yoder’s legacy is too tainted?  What if one of the women Yoder harmed came to you and said, “Please don’t do this.  Please don’t continue to endorse him.  It feels like I’m being abused all over again, like I’m being ignored all over again.”  Would you listen and prioritise her?  Or is it only Yoder’s work that matters?

 

It is not only the women that Yoder victimised who are damaged by your continued endorsement of him and his work.  Many women who have been abused by those in power, by church leaders and by those in churches feel ignored by you.  We feel that your endorsement of Yoder and his work reinforces the power of abusers.

 

What do you think the abusers who are reading your article think?  They read your condemnations of Yoder’s abuse, but they see you continuing to endorse his work and legacy.  What does that say to them?  Perhaps it says that world-renowned ethicists don’t think that men’s abuse of women matters that much?  It certainly doesn’t matter as much as their Important Theological Thoughts.  And that will only bolster those abuser’s justifications, just as the collusion with Yoder in his lifetime did.

 

So I do not want to write this article, but I think I have to write about this part of John’s life, because I owe it to him. John Yoder changed my life before I knew it needed changing. I am often credited with making John Howard Yoder better known among those identified as mainstream Protestants. True or not, it is nonetheless the case that I am rightly closely identified with Yoder.

 

You seem to be unaware, Stanley, that your endorsement of Yoder is not only something that ties you together with him, but also potentially gave him access to a wider range of victims.  Your endorsement of him gave him more credibility and therefore opened up the access he had to women.  Who knows how many women were approached by Yoder because of the increasing platform you gave him?  You don’t seem to acknowledge this within your article at all.  You hold so much power and you used that power to endorse Yoder, even after you were aware that he was harming women.  Even after the failed disciplinary process that you lauded as a success.  Because his Big Thoughts were more important than the risks he posed to women.

 

There only needs to be one such report to establish the violent character of Yoder’s behaviour. But there is clear evidence that many of the women Yoder invited to participate in his “experiment” experienced the same reaction that Heggen reports. Of course, Yoder maintained that he never forced any women to participate. That sense of non-coercion appears to have preserved his presumption that what he was about was nonviolent.

 

But it is hard to avoid the assessment that he was repressing the violence inherent in the structure of the event. For god’s sake, he surely should have recognized that he was John Howard Yoder, the most prominent Mennonite theologian in recent times, and that these women he tried first to seduce intellectually in the hope it would lead further – and I think seduction is the right word – wanted his approval.

 

Again, you choose to charitably trust Yoder’s assessment of his own behaviour.  Why do you do that?  Why do you trust him when he says he believed that women were consenting?  Every argument he gave was to justify his behaviour.  It’s what all abusers do.  They all minimise and deny the abuse.  Whatever age their victim is, they will say that the child was asking for it, the woman wanted it.  This is not unusual.  What is unusual is that a world-renowned ethicist is unaware of the tactics of abusive men.  Or that such an ethicist would take at face value an abuser’s justifications, without considering just how much such justifications benefit the abuser.

 

So I told him what I had learned and I made it clear I was not in the least persuaded by his “arguments.” I pointed out that everything depends on how you understand “mutual masturbation” as it can be understood as more intimate than intercourse. I told him, moreover, that I was extremely doubtful about his assumption that what he was about could be described as “nonsexual” behaviour. But clearly, I thought what he was doing could not be right because it could not be shared by the whole community. For it must surely be the case that, whatever it means to be a Mennonite, it must mean that you cannot keep your “experiments” secret. John did not respond other than to express concern about the effects his behaviour was having on others.

 

Isn’t it interesting that you (along with all the other theologians) focussed on his behaviour as a theoretical thing?  The feelings of the women involved hadn’t occurred to you (or Yoder).  His abuse of women becomes merely a theoretical discussion about the church community and sexual activity.  You were “extremely doubtful”, but not more concerned than that.

 

That Yoder’s abusive behaviour was inconsistent with his deepest commitments is not the most challenging aspect anyone concerned with his actions needs to consider. The most challenging question is raised by the authors: “What do we do with the places where Yoder’s actions were consistent with his theology?”

 

I know this may be overly radical Stanley, but could the most challenging question about Yoder’s behaviour actually be How Do We Make The Church A Safe Place For Women?  How do we stop world-renowned ethicists colluding with abusers?  How do we stop men abusing women?  How do we stop the systems prioritising men’s thoughts over women’s actual lives?  They all seem like more important questions than some theoretical stuff around Yoder’s theology, given that Yoder’s theology on abusing women was basically say-stuff-that-will-flimflam-people-into-not-challenging-me.

 

In a similar fashion, Cramer, Howell, Tran and Martens suggest that Yoder understood his exploration of “non-genital affective relationships” to be an expression of the “revolution” inaugurated by the new age. As I have already suggested, and the authors make the same point, given Yoder’s account of singleness, such touching could be seen as a way the church has found to meet the needs of the “whole person.”

 

Stanley, never engage an abuser on their own terms.  An abuser’s terms are always used to obfuscate.  They want to hide their culpability and responsibility.  Yoder may be more sophisticated than the man who says “Her dress said yes, even if her mouth didn’t.”  Or my ex-husband, who told the police, “I don’t remember raping her, but if she said I did, then I must have.”  Yoder’s entire theological justification is a sophisticated legitimisation for abusing women.  And to meet an abuser on his terms allows him to continue his abuse, just as all those committees did over the years.  They were so concerned with meeting Yoder’s Biblical standards, they failed to notice that the Biblical response should prioritise the powerless.

 

The point I am trying to make – a point not easily made – may entail a criticism of Yoder’s work that I am only beginning to understand. I worry that Yoder may have made too extreme the duality between church and world, particularly when it comes to dealing with our everyday relations with one another. I need to be very careful in making such a criticism because Yoder, contrary to many superficial criticisms of him, never restricted God’s redemption to the church. He was always ready to acknowledge that God was doing a new thing among those who were not church – thus my insistence that Yoder always assumed what is a duty for Christians is a possibility for those who are not.

 

Even in death you’re more interested in attending to Yoder’s words and work than the women he abused.  His entire career was characterised by his work being of a higher priority than the women he abused.  And you are going to continue that in his death.  For many women (and men) who have found your work to be so insightful and important to their theology and ethical frameworks it is deeply disturbing that you are so blinded to your own prejudices.

 

That reality makes possible reflections of practical reason that offer wisdom to guide our lives. Though I doubt that there needs to be any hard-and-fast distinction between the natural or moral virtues and the theological virtues, it is nonetheless the case that the distinction not only can be made but must be made. This is not the context to develop these issues, but I raise them to suggest that I have long suspected that I hold views about such matters that may put me in some tension with Yoder’s general perspective.

 

Well Stanley, I’m glad you’ve found some way to make this more about your work and perspective.  Nevermind the actual women whose lives have been devastated by Yoder, you’ve established tensions.

 

Another, rather tendentious, way to make the point Sider and I are trying to make is to observe that Yoder had no interest in novels. He seldom read novels, nor did he think novels to be morally important. It is not that he did not like to read. But he saw little reason to engage in the kind of literature represented by the novel. Yet the novel is all-important for me exactly because it forces one to imagine other lives. In short, novels are an exercise in the enrichment of the imagination through which we develop the empathy that is crucial for the acquisition of the virtues.

 

What one cannot help but wonder is, like his encounter with Carolyn Holderread Heggen, how Yoder failed to appreciate how his suggestion about her joining him in his hotel room could only be received as a form of violence. Something was missing in Yoder, and I think the name for what was missing is called the moral imagination.

 

Stanley, it’s all very nice that you’ve solved this.  Yoder was missing moral imagination.  Perhaps (and I know I’m not a world-renowned ethicist, so could be wrong) he was just missing the moral bit.  Why does it have to some sort of new title (in italics)?  If he’d raped a load of men, if he’d raped you, would you be so concerned to have an italicised title that he was missing?  Yoder used flimflam theology to justify himself and you too are engaging in it.  He was missing empathy for women, he was missing morals (when it came to women), he was missing effective accountability structures, he was missing a whole load of things.  But to give it a profound name only serves to continue to obfuscate Yoder’s abuse.

 

I do not have ready answers to either of these questions. Much depends, of course, on who the “us” or the “we” may be that asks the question. As I’ve mentioned, I have friends who have decided in deference to the offence against women by Yoder they will no longer have their students read Yoder. I respect that decision, but it is not one I can take. I need John’s clarity of thought if I am to try to think through what I think I have learned from him.

 

Oh Stanley, Yoder’s work means more to you than women’s suffering?  That is a heartbreaking thing to know.  You wrote this paper to confess to your failings, which were that Yoder’s work meant more to you than the women he harmed.  And still that is the case!  This paper is a confession, not a commitment to repentance or restitution, but rather an elaborate justification to explain why you will continue to use Yoder’s work.  No wonder thinking about Yoder makes you depressed.  For you are tied to a sexual abuser and unwilling to separate yourself from him.  Unlike your friends, you will not defer to the women Yoder harmed.  The only small mercy is that your continued support of Yoder’s work is no longer going to give him a platform to abuse women.  Yet, what about all the other men who are abusing women?  The other theologians who are harming women, the other church leaders and Christian men.  Make no mistake, Yoder is not the only Christian theologian who harms women.  And your continued endorsement of him says to those men, “Your work will be harmed much less than the women you abuse.”  That is not okay.

 

The women Yoder abused may have been brilliant theologians!  They may have changed the world with their thoughts.  But their potential was cut short by Yoder and the systems which enabled him.  Goossen’ report describes the impact on Elena:

 

“Her sojourn at the Mennonite seminary had been darkened by Yoder’s abuse, by Miller’s blaming, and by her own shattered sense of self. These experiences, she later recalled, set her up for further abuse by several other male predators who sensed her vulnerability. In the longer term— over the next several decades—this legacy, including debilitating anxiety and depression, foreshortened her vocation in Christian ministry.”

 

Elena might have contributed something extraordinary to Christian theology, but she wasn’t given the chance.  That’s not okay.  Why should Yoder’s legacy matter but Elena’s not?

 

I think Gerald Schlabach puts the matter well in his reflections on his relation to Yoder in his wonderfully titled essay, “Only Those We Need Can Betray Us.” He observes that “there is simply no way to tell the story of 20th century historic peace church theology – much less to appropriate it – without drawing on Yoder’s thought.” Schlabach acknowledges that he can understand how younger Mennonite scholars can try to do peace theology without relying on Yoder, but he confesses, “I just don’t see how they/we can do without him.” Nor do I see how we can do without him.

 

I haven’t had a chance to read Gerald’s essay, but I think there is a huge difference between acknowledging someone’s contribution (along with the abuse they perpetrated) and insisting people read their work.

 

In particular, I need his readings of Scripture which seem to me ever fresh and powerful. Yet I cannot deny that this cannot be the decision others can or should make. In particular, I think women would have trouble reading Yoder. But “trouble reading” is not the same thing as “not reading.” For it is surely the case that there are aspects of Yoder’s work that are of constructive use for the concerns of women.

 

Oh Stanley, why exactly would women find it more difficult to read Yoder than you?  Is it our VAGINAS?  Why does someone need to be a woman to have trouble reading Yoder?  What is wrong with men?  What is wrong with you?  That your empathy deficit for women would be so huge that a woman would struggle more than you to read Yoder?  What does that say about you?  Surely Yoder’s offence to humankind should cause all of humankind to feel disturbed.  The majority of those killed in the first World War were men, does that mean you expect men to find reading about it harder than women?

 

Also, how dare you say that Yoder’s work is constructive for the concerns of women?!  Yoder got himself on the board of the first feminist theology course at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary.  Women worked to develop a feminist theology course and Yoder used his position to gain power on the course, which was likely a tactic to gain access to women he could abuse.

 

I have a very ambiguous relation with feminist theology because I often agree with their criticisms of the male behaviour but disagree with the basis for those criticisms. That I have not been prepared to discuss feminist theology in principle does not mean, however, that I do not think it important to take into account what women have to say. I should like to think that I have done that, at least to the extent that women like Iris Murdoch, Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Martha Nussbaum, Marie Fortune, Catherine Pickstock and Ellen Davis, among others, have been crucial for how I have tried to think. But I engaged with them not because they were women, but because what they were doing was so interesting.

 

I have to say Stanley, your ambiguous relationship with feminist theology is quite obvious throughout this paper.  It’s great that you engage with women theologians because they are doing interesting things, not just because they are women.  That’s what Yoder did, pay women attention, because they were women.  However, why do you think so many of those you are interested in are men?  Do you think men just simply say more interesting things?  Or could there possibly be something that disadvantages women from having the opportunity to say interesting things?  Perhaps like a high-profile theologian trying to have sex with them as a so-called theological experiment?  Or maybe that theological establishments don’t think women’s pain matters very much?  Feminist activism is the reason that Yoder’s abuse of women became public and it’s all very well you not agreeing with feminism in principle, but without it, women wouldn’t even be theologians.

 

I certainly have deep sympathies with the feminist challenge to paternalism. Even more, I think feminist critiques of masculinity to be extremely insightful. Stan Goff’s book Borderline is a model of how feminist insights can illumine what any Christian should think. The work Goff does in his book makes clear that the feminist challenge to “maleness” is a gift to men.

 

I have to say Stanley, you’re not massively convincing me that you’ve spent much time reading any feminist stuff given that you’re recommending a book by a man to evidence your interest in paternalism.  I’m not against Stan’s book, but I would suggest that, if this paper is anything to go by, you really have a lot more reading to do on feminist analysis, masculinity and patriarchy.

 

I also think the feminist challenge to the assumption that marriage is necessary for the fulfilment of women to be right and important. Yoder’s account of singleness can be read as a feminist argument. I also think we owe feminists a debt of gratitude for their critique of romantic love. For years in the core course in Christian Ethics, I assigned the work of Marie Fortune because I thought her exposure of the violence present in romantic love to be a crucial insight. Fortune was not only important for exposing the violence occluded in romantic ideals of love, but she also helped make clear that nonviolence is not just about war. Yoder would and did think similar thoughts, but he did so because he thought they were commensurate with the Gospel.

 

Yoder’s account of singleness is not a feminist argument.  Yoder’s account of singleness was a way for him to create a justification for sexually abusing women.  Which is the antithesis of feminism.  Yoder cannot be used by feminists, because unlike world-renowned male ethicists, feminists cannot divorce someone’s Important Thoughts from their sexual abuse of women.  It is a political act to reject men’s violence as incompatible with human flourishing.  Plus, Yoder also thought sexually abusing women was commensurate with the Gospel, so I’m not sure how exactly we can trust Yoder’s analysis.

 

Yet the issue remains how to receive Yoder’s work without that reception seeming to imply that his behaviour does not matter. That surely would be an injustice to the women he harmed. He was the President of the Society of Christian Ethics. Should some notation be put next to his name when past presidents of the society are named? Pete Rose will not get into the Hall of Fame, but Yoder is already there. We cannot act as if he was not the president of the Society. Or what does it mean that Yoder was President of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary? I obviously cannot speak as a Mennonite, for which I thank God since I have no idea what to say, but they surely must say something.

 

Well I think we could probably start by encouraging world-renowned ethicists to reconsider their position on this.  We could encourage the church to consider men’s sexual abuse of women to be important enough to merit women’s voices being listened to and their needs being met.  Yoder’s work is still widely used without people (either by professors or students) being aware of what he did to women.  Perhaps we could invest in ensuring that changes.  Maybe Yoder could always be referred to as a “discredited pacifist”?  It doesn’t have to be everything, but it could be something.  Maybe we could also challenge theological establishments to take seriously male violence against women, to no longer justify and deny it, as you describe yourself as having done.

 

Nor do I think it helpful to call attention to the misconduct toward women by Martin Luther King, Jr., Karl Barth or Paul Tillich. Each in their own way seem to have engaged in misconduct toward women or a woman, but I think it does little good to suggest that they help us understand Yoder’s behaviour. To call attention to these men invites the general claim that when all is said and done “we are all sinners.” That is a way to excuse each of us, with the result that Yoder is left off the hook. That is clearly a mistake, not only because Yoder should not be left off the hook, but, just as importantly, sin should never be used as an explanation.

 

Of course these other men should not be brought up to communicate the “we’re all sinners” trope.  But maybe we should be asking questions about why so many high-profile men abuse women.  Someone told me that her church leader husband had researched Christian leaders to find some who had treated their wives well.  He couldn’t find any. Maybe we should ask what it is about manhood that causes a significant number of men to abuse women.  In the UK 30% of women will be abused by a man, with Christian women being subjected to abuse at the same rate as the wider population.   On the day your article was published thousands of women publicly shared the ways they had been abused by men.  And yet nothing in your article acknowledges that Yoder’s behaviour is not an aberration, it is repeated in different forms and with different justifications everyday by men in every country in the world.

 

That is it. That is all I have to say about this troubling matter. It surely feels like I am ending with a whimper. That is the way it should feel, because I have ended with a whimper. I did not want to write this article, but I have done it. I am not happy that I have done it, but then nothing about this situation is happy.

 

Sadly, that is not it Stanley.  Women will continue to be abused by men in power.  Other men (and some women) will continue to collude with the abusers.  And nothing will change.  Not until we change.  All of us.  You included.

 

 

[1] Goossen, 10.

[2] Goossen, 61.

[3] Goossen, 61-62.

#WMH Tom McLean Feedback

I’m currently live-tweeting whilst reading Why Men Hate Going To Church by Dave Murrow.  You can check out my tweets on Twitter with the hashtag #WMH.  I tweeted this page from the book:

wmh-quote

Tom McLean (@Tom_McLean) kindly send me some GREAT information to counter the stuff listed here, hope you find it as useful as I did!

 

In the two paragraphs above, sentence by sentence:

1. You’ll struggle to find detailed evidence of attendances in C13th. Was an era of huge change – rise of the mendicant orders (the Dominicans, the Franciscans). Parallel growth of women’s religious orders, but from earlier roots (e.g. Scholastica, sister of Benedict, so C6th), not completely new. Change was social as well, but the claim about men’s attendance is at best unprovable.

 

2. Catholicism has never worshipped Mary. Devotion to her stems from at least the C3rd. (Have a search for Sub tuum praesidium – the John Rylands Papyrus Gr. III 470 is of note! Pic here: http://frederica.com/gallery/places-and-things/1067611) Title of Theotokos (God-bearer) given to her by the Council of Ephesus (431). Growth in C12th/13th period of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament – so Jesus, in the form of the sacramental bread. (Growth of Feast of Corpus Christi – originates with Juliana of Liege, but popularized by Pope Urban IV and Thomas Aquinas). On Corpus Christi and popular devotion in the period, see Miri Rubin, Corpus Christi. On Marian devotion, see Miri Rubin, Mother of God: A History of the Virgin Mary.

 

3. Weakness and dependency seem to get commended from at least Paul onwards… Struggle and sacrifice never portrayed as an alternative, but integrated with. E.g. Franciscan poverty is about sacrifice of possessions and wealth, but necessarily leads to a degree of dependency on (theologically) God and (practically) whoever gives you a meal, but also to freedom to go where the Church requires.

 

4. Some degree to which clergy became practitioners of faith, and reduced reception of the Eucharist. Though this led to a great growth in popular devotions aside from the official liturgies of the Church, see popularity of places of pilgrimage, the rosary, guilds, mystery plays, etc. On sociology of Christian worship, see Martin Stringer, A Sociological History of Christian Worship.

 

5.…and probably of women. Though only really know about men who became important. (Not so much on what Teresa Berger calls ‘men who were only men’ – see her Gender Differences and the Making of Liturgical History).

 

6. Men in the New World, yes – the first round with the likes of Columbus were the Jesuits. I know nothing about Puritan history which I suspect is more his focus… My instinct would be that a response needs to consider the make-up of the population more – was there an imbalance between men and women in the population at large?

 

7. Perhaps! But how do such rolls relate to the population at large? The comments in Bryan D. Spinks, ‘Imagining the Past: Historical Methodologies and Liturgical Study’, In Liturgy’s Imagined Past/S: Methodologies and Materials in the Writing of Liturgical History Today, edited by Teresa Berger and Bryan D. Spinks, Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2016, pp. 3–18; and Breen, Timothy H., Imagining the Past: East Hampton Histories, Reading, MA: Addison Wesley, 1989 might offer something interesting.

 

Good introductions to Church History:

  1. Very accessible introduction – Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, The Essential History of Christianity
  2. Detailed single volume – Diarmaid MacCulloch, A History of Christianity
  3. A little dated in places, but quite accessible, and still worth reading – The Pelican/Penguin History of the Church – several volumes by one of the Chadwicks, but other authors too. First one: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Penguin-History-Church-vol-1-Early/dp/0140231994
  4. Victorian Church – Owen Chadwick, The Victorian Church (2 vols)
  5. A bit more theological in character, the early chapters of Alistair McGrath’s Christian Theology: An Introduction (and the Reader that goes with).

 

When should a church be disqualified from having women in it?

Mez McConnell is the Director of 20 Schemes, a church planting organisation seeking to “see Scotland’s housing schemes transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ through the planting of gospel-preaching churches”.  His passion for and commitment to seeing lives transformed by Jesus is extremely inspiring. 20 Schemes is working with some of the most marginalised people in society.  This is also a mission I am committed to.  I come from a working class background, have been a teenage mother and single parent.  I have lived in deprived areas almost my whole life and have worked with many women who have been deeply wounded by men and by poverty.   My husband and I are now raising a little boy from a severely deprived background having spent a year trying to support his mum to be able to become a parent again.  As such I hope that this blog is read in light of my great respect for 20 Schemes mission and passion.

 

Mez published a blog on the 20 Schemes website earlier today entitled “Why My First Church Hire Was A Woman, And Yours Should Be Too”.  At first glance, this blog seems to be incredibly pro-women, challenging male-led churches to value the contribution women make to the life of the church.  Not only that, he is insisting women should be paid for doing this, shifting away from the idea that women’s labour should be offered free.

 

Mez’s audience seems to be those who wouldn’t consider employing women in any role within the church and so it is a positive step that he is challenging such men (and women) to consider the role women can have in Christian communities.  Some of what he says is very helpful, including that:

 

  • Untrained “pastor’s wives” shouldn’t be offering pastoral support.
  • Women need other women to walk the journey with them.
  • 20 Schemes trust women and train them well
  • Mez explains he finds it “offensive to suggest that by giving women responsibility at [a pastoral] level we are opening the church up to serious error. Far more men have led churches astray than women.”
  • Mez states, “Women are encouraged that they have a serious part to play in the kingdom of God and that they are not just bystanders or there to cook the meals.”

 

I have become absolutely convicted that individual, organisational and church views on gender and sex are a primary Gospel issue.   Too many women (and men) are alienated from the Gospel because of Christians who insist that men’s and women’s roles are fixed with men being responsible for women (within marriage, church life or wider society).   Jesus says, “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.” I understand this to include those who alienate believers by their views of men, women and sex.  Many of the radical feminists I know started off life in faith communities and the rejected Jesus because of the horrific oppression the were subjected to or witnessed in the church.  Complementarian Christians are quick to insist that their theology is Biblical and that egalitarian theology is not.  I will meet them on their terms, complementarian theology is not Biblical.  It is oppressive.

 

The question Mez’s blog raises for me is, “When a church exemplifies oppressive views towards women, should this disqualify them from having women attend their churches?” And I would suggest there are at least 10 reasons Mez’s blog evidences taking up such a policy.

 

  1. Women are prevented from being obedient to God

If women are called to worship lead, to be an executive pastor or to youth work, they cannot be obedient to God in following that call because Mez explains that: “[Churches] will talk about hiring a youth worker, or an executive pastor or a worship leader before they would even consider a woman”.  The only role women seem to be able to do is to be women.

 

  1. Vulnerable women are at extremely at risk in patriarchal structures

Mez explains that single mothers and those with other vulnerabilities are a large proportion of scheme communities.  Much evidence can be provided that patriarchal structures disempower and further oppress women and prevent them being released into the fullness of life Jesus offers them.  Sadly, most efforts to address the oppression of working class people maintain the oppression of women[1]. Seeking to support vulnerable women without having a good understanding of male violence is likely to perpetuate rather than liberate women who have been deeply hurt by male power.

 

  1. The male leaders don’t have time for the messiness of women’s lives

Mez tells us it is “not wise or prudent for a man to invest serious amounts of time into” women who have been subjected to abuse, violence or sexual violation by a partner because their “emotional needs are often so great”.  This statement is staggering in how pastorally insensitive and revealing it is of how little women’s pain should be invested in by men.

 

  1. A third of the male leaders are a sexual risk to vulnerable women

Mez explains that a third of the leaders who preceded him were removed due to sexual immorality that happened when they were intensely counselling women (who he acknowledges had likely been sexually abused prior to the intense counselling).

 

  1. Extremely vulnerable women will be blamed if male leaders sexually abuse their authority

Mez blames women (with possible histories of having been sexually abused) for male leaders sexually abusing their authority.  According to Mez “Any form of tenderness or a willingness to listen from a male is almost always misunderstood sexually [by vulnerable women]… A man who listens to them is a very powerful aphrodisiac. Temptation can be for some [vulnerable women] very hard to resist. They aren’t used to men listening to their problems. They are used to men being the problem.”

 

  1. The male leaders are powerless to stop themselves having sex with vulnerable women

In the above quote Mez is saying that the church leaders who sexually abuse their authority are not the problem; these leaders are the victims of women who find men listening to them so much of an aphrodisiac that they essentially place the male leader’s penis inside them and with the male leader helpless to stop it.  The male leader just passively allows for sexual activity to take place, unable to act.

 

  1. Men cannot and should not have deep long lasting friendships with women they aren’t married to

Mez explains this in his fifth point about women’s role as pastors pastoral assistants.  Jesus explained that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and as such should be seeking to build communities that are built on deep and long lasting friendships.  It is by our love for one another (not solely love of those who have the same sex as us) that people will know Jesus.  What state can a church be in if women and men can’t be good friends?  If the only deep interactions men and women have to be sexual?  Maybe that’s one of the reasons male leaders keep having sex with women who aren’t their wives?  Just a thought…

 

  1. It is unbiblical

Mez states that “The church is to be led by men after all.”  I shall put aside the fact his church is led by men who can’t stop themselves penetrating women unless they’re not allowed to be alone with them for too long.

The church is to be led by Jesus Christ, in partnership with the Holy Spirit.  Women and men are to serve God and those He calls us to love, giving up our lives in service to Him.  Jesus tells us that “the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them. It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life — a ransom for many.”

 

  1. The church is playing Pharisaical mental-gymnastics with women’s callings

Mez explains, “When we say that our women’s worker pastors our women we don’t mean that she is a pastor, rather, she assists the pastors by providing day-to-day pastoral care to our women”.  The Pharisees played the same sort of mental gymnastics as this to keep their hierarchies in place, “Okay, so we don’t swear by the temple, we just swear by the gold of the temple.”  “I know we don’t support our ageing parents, but that’s because we’re giving all our money to God.”  “We’re being obedient by even tithing all our herbs, look at how awesome we are.”

 

  1. Women are used out of necessity

Mez explains that without women pastors pastoral assistants, “Even with a small church and multiple elders we would struggle under the weight of pastoral issues in our congregation”.  Primarily women are asked to take a role in the church because a) men can’t help putting their penises in women and b) there’s too much work for only the men to be able to do it.  This isn’t about women’s gifts or call.  This is an argument of efficiency, practicality and utility.  It is not about the unique ministry of women, the value of women or God-breathed life in women.  It is not about the image of God that is found in women.  According to the blog Mez has written, this is about men being sexually deviant in nature and therefore women having to lead, pastor and disciple work with women.

 

Mez finishes by saying something I am in total agreement with,

 

“The local church needs women’s workers. Most of the women living in our poorest communities are suffering without the hope of the gospel. They have not heard the good news that can set them truly free from their burdens. Women on schemes need more than women parachuting in to be another worker in their life, perpetuating dependency. They need women who will do life with them every single day of their lives. The harvest is great, the workers are few and women are being left on the shelf. They shouldn’t be. Employing more women for ministry should be our highest priority.”

 

It is heartbreaking to me that the rest of his blog undermines this hugely important message.

 

To find out more about the 20 Schemes perspective on women, have a read of THIS application process for church planters and their wives (only married men can be church planters).  It has been suggested the process may be in breach of various equality and data protection laws.

 

 

 

[1] Even the great Paulo Freire described a poor man beating his wife as the abusive man’s response to oppression and not as a form of oppression in its own right.  Women are always left behind in liberatory movements.

Jon Jorgensen and Repackaged Patriarchy

In the last week, I got my first introduction to Jon Jorgenson after stumbling across his video “Who You Are: A Message to all Women” after it found its way into my Twitter feed.  The video is well on its way to having 6 million views.  Jorgenson is a Christian spoken word poet and although this video’s title is aimed at women, the video is set in a lecture hall and seems to be seeking an audience of younger women and girls.

 

A white man telling girls who they are didn’t seem like a particularly liberatory model.  So I decided to have a watch.  With emotive music and short dramatic sentences, the video is designed to create a specific emotional response.  He tells girls they’re smart and precious and funny and insists we have a responsibility to set free the “world changing woman” within ourselves.  Incidentally the video is entirely produced by men.  So he doesn’t think women are actually smart enough to be involved in creating his videos with him.

 

After moaning about the video on Twitter, I was informed that he has also created one for men.  So I had a watch of “Who You Are: A Message to all Men”, it has close to 2 million views.  The thing that is MOST fascinating is comparing the words of the videos (and though I don’t have time to delve into them, also the tone and body language within them and soundtrack lyrics behind them).  The subtly (or not so subtly) different language devices within stories that are broadly the same.  The overarching narrative of both videos are:

 

  1. You Are Awesome
  2. Things get in the way of you feeling amazing
  3. You have the capacity to change the world
  4. Jesus died for you
  5. The devil will tell you you’re not amazing
  6. Reject the devil
  7. You Are Awesome

 

The image below has the words typed up in two columns in order for you to compare them.  I’m hoping you can zoom in and read it…

 

Screen Shot 2016-12-02 at 21.15.13.png

Here’s some of the issues when the videos are compared:

 

Women are passive: Beautiful, smart, funny, kind, unique, precious

Men are active: Strong, brave, capable,

 

Women receive: they “are worthy of love and affection”

Men give: they have ability, potential, gifts, talents, kind words, wisdom, jokes, joy to spread, they are full of qualities, traits and virtues

 

Women are “the most stunning of all God’s creation”

Men are “the Lord’s most valuable creation”

 

Women are objects: a diamond, rose, pearl, “the most

Men are subjects: writers, athletes, inventors, artists, musicians, technicians

 

The things that get in the way of women knowing their worth are all related to how they look (except maths test scores and pottery modelling): weight, hair, shoes, whether girls envy them or boys want to “have” them, clothes, modelling, hot list or not list (yes it says that), cheerleader, can’t stand to look in the mirror,

 

The things that get in the way of men knowing they are loved by God are related to activities and physical size: being muscly, being small (and in the library), baseball, swing dancing, fastest, slowest, tallest, smallest, skinniest, fattest, captain of the team or last one picked,

 

For women it doesn’t matter whether “you’re Miss Popular or never really had someone you could call a friend”.

For men it’s doesn’t matter whether “your dad could beat up his dad or you never had anyone in your life who could fill that role”.

 

Women “deserve someone who would give their life up for you because you are powerful and strong, capable”

Men “have a power inside you that was formed before the beginning of time in a secret place by the God of the universe”

 

Women get to change the world, but he gives no examples of what they do.  Just to read about women ing the Bible: Esther, Ruth, Mary, Martha.

Men get to change the world with their gifts, talent, courage, ability, and joy

 

Women are cherished, loved, adored by God

Men are treasured, entrusted and love by God

 

This videos are seeking to change the world, to change how women and men perceive themselves.  But particularly the messages Jorgenson sends to women are regressive and reinforce women as objects and ornaments.  It’s all very well wanting to challenge the cultural messages that women and girls are oppressed by.  But you cannot dismantle the devil’s house with the devil’s tools.

 

As well intentioned as these videos are, they continue to perpetuate the same models for women and girls that exist across society.  Perhaps that’s why the one for women has so many views.  It isn’t enabling women to reject the messages that oppress them, but rather to hear God tell them those same messages in a nicer voice.

 

The messages given to men are slightly more benign, there’s less about aggression and redemptive violence.  However, the comparative messages in the videos still leave men to conclude they are the actors (reinforced by a man performing both videos), the agents and that women are put on earth by God to be attractive and passive.

 

We must challenge these messages wherever we find them and remain steadfast in recognising that girls and women deserve better than repackaged patriarchy to empower and inspire them.

 

Political Narratives and Vulnerable Women

Yesterday, the Washington Post published an article about a vulnerable woman from Pennsylvania.  She was subjected to severe sexual harassment and discrimination in a male dominated workplace.  Successfully suing her employer, she was awarded $450,000 in damages, to then have the “verdict overturned by a federal judge who did not question the facts of the case but decided that the matter had been handled appropriately”.

 

She continued working in an environment where she explains that men were abusive to her every single day.  Her sister became seriously ill and died of cancer.  She was sacked from her job after making a dangerous decision in the midst of severe anxiety and has been left with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.

 

Yet, the article was not about the appalling injustices the woman, Melanie Austin, has faced or the ways she has suffered.  Written by Stephanie McCrummen, THE ARTICLE focusses on Melanie as a passionate Donald Trump supporter.  It is brilliantly written and powerfully shows how Trump’s political success and approach to campaigning validates dangerous and ludicrous ideologies; views more at home on conspiracy theory websites than in a presidential campaign.  Reading it, I variously laughed aloud, made shocked faces and loudly exclaimed “WHAAAAAT?” to myself.

 

Melanie Austin believes President Obama is gay, that Michelle Obama is a man and that their children have been kidnapped, possibly from a family in Mexico.  She was involuntarily hospitalised after stating online that “Obama should be hanged and the White House fumigated and burned to the ground”.  The fact that Donald Trump’s campaign (and the people who support it) has validated and normalised her views is one of the most shocking things about the article.

 

Usually my empathy levels are extremely high when I encounter women who have been sexually harassed, emotionally undermined and/or dominated in ways that leave them anxious, their confidence decimated and their lives in tatters.  I feel their pain, I feel anger and outrage at what they have been put through and the ways structures and systems have damaged them even further.  However, as I read the Washington Post’s article I did not feel much empathy for Melanie Austin.  I was incredulous of her views, horrified by her politics and disgusted by Donald Trump’s political campaign.

 

The empathy deficit that occurred as I read was because the narrative caricatured her rather than focusing on her as a multifaceted human being.  Just as a cartoonist may enlarge their subject’s facial features to create an exaggerated likeness, so this article enlarged and attended to Melanie’s offensive political views, without really examining the system in which those views have been cultivated.  And I became complicit as I read openmouthed about her.  Her views reduced my capacity to see her as a human being.  To conclude that I (a passionate supporter of women, particularly women who have been broken by male abuse and by patriarchal institutions) had dehumanised this woman who had been damaged so badly, shocked me almost as much as Melanie’s views about the Obamas.

 

As we navigate this complex and extremely stormy political waters, we can become fixated on the extraordinary views of individual people, unable to step back and see that their views have grown to fruition in a soil of lies sold to them by large media corporations, politicians, multinational companies and also (much to our shame) faith leaders.  We of the “educated class”, look at the likes of Melanie Austin and, alongside our horror, we feel relieved that we are not so stupid, so ignorant, so disgusting as to believe such utterly vile lies.  And in so doing we dehumanise Melanie as stupid, ignorant and disgusting.  We are enlightened and we can be sure that only stupid, ignorant or disgusting people would vote for Donald Trump.  We are, of course, the superior class.

 

And yet, Melanie has been subjected to abuse, systemic injustice and is living with the consequences of that.  She looked for answers and found them in the conspiracy pages, in right wing politics, in televangelists and in Donald Trump.  She views herself as a Christian.  She prays daily, sings hymns and says she feels, “happy and blessed.”

 

I write this article from the UK where the threat of Donald Trump (and his most passionate supporters) are a whole ocean away.  Yet Brexit may be perceived in similar ways to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.  The demonising of immigrants and false and misinformation abound.  Whether intentionally or unintentionally Brexit has validated racist and xenophobic ideologies and people are divided, not along traditional political lines, but by deep values that are hard to even recognise, never mind articulate.

 

Stephanie McCrummen’s article expertly enables us to see the danger of Donald Trump, but at the expense of the humanity of a vulnerable woman with a long history of trauma and hurt.  She becomes a parody, no longer a person, but a spectacle for those of us with more progressive views to stare at.  Her humanity is lost as she becomes a vehicle for demonstrating the danger of Trump.

 

It is in our realising Melanie Austin’s humanity that we have some hope of changing the narrative.  Rather than dehumanising her and seeing her as the enemy, we could seek to find ways to relate with her and offer alternative answers to her struggles.  Jerry Falwell has told her that September 11th was the fault of the “the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians.”  Instead of feminism giving her an analysis of the violence perpetrated against her, she sees it as causing a terrorist attack.

 

We must make visible the systems and structures that created Trump supporters, just as we must find ways to demonstrate how Brexit is the result of political decisions (by both the Labour and Conservative parties), a lack of political education, class inequality, long-term biased media reporting and the capitalising of the injustices facing the least powerful in society.

 

As Christians, this mandate is clearly laid out by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  (Ephesians 6:12).

 

And Jesus taught us how to behave in these situations, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  (Matthew 5:44-48)

 

“If you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?”

 

As Christians we may be fighting for our voice to be heard above “Christian” extremists like Jerry Falwell and John Hagee, but we must choose not to ridicule or dehumanise Donald Trump’s supporters, for what reward will we get for that?

 

 

 

 

WE’RE ALL VISUAL CREATURES

I received an email from Craig Gross at XXX Church the other day.  I had not signed up for emails from them.  This is because XXX Church and Craig Gross purchase email address lists to be able to market to the people on them.  Find out more about that HERE.

 

This uninvited email was telling women how to deal with their husbands’ viewing pornography.  I was horrified and angered by the content that was in the email and took to Twitter to communicate that to Craig Gross.  I shall be spending this blog articulating WHY his email was so dangerous and will by referring t the email, the blog that the email is an excerpt from and my Twitter interaction with him.

 

Being pseudonymous on Twitter and when blogging is intentional.  I have felt compelled to make my communications about the issues I am passionate, not about who I am professionally.  I value the Twitter community as friends and never want to veer into seeing my Twitter account as a “platform to build” or a place to “promote myself”.  This generally works fine.  However, it does mean that in cases like this, the people I am critical of are unaware of the credibility of my perspective.

 

I am an international campaigner, media voice, trainer, writer, consultant and adviser on issues of gender justice.  I am a specialist in responding to and preventing male violence against women and my specialisms include; domestic abuse, child sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation, pornographies, equal platform representation, gender reconciliation, right use of power, working with young people and Christian feminism amongst other things.  I have contributed chapters to a number of books and offer consultancy services to many organisations.

 

Craig Gross’ (and his wife’s) words are in red throughout this.

 

Hey Friend,

 

It’s Craig Gross and wanted to share with you something that I get asked a TON. I asked my wife this question.

 

At no point during the email does Craig Gross mention is wife’s name.  Though he states that his wife has given this information, it is his photograph, signature and name that is on the bottom of the email.  The entire content is clearly endorsed and delivered by Craig Gross.  There is no distinguishing between what Craig is saying and what his wife has said, no delineation.  That leads to an email that for all intents and purposes is a man communicating to women about what they should do about their husband’s choices to use pornography.

 

“What would you do if you caught your husband looking at adult content?”

 

The first mention of pornography within this email uses the euphemistic term “looking at adult content”.  I’ve written about the issue with euphemising pornography HERE.  By characterising the issue as “looking at adult content” this makes what follows more palatable.

 

A couple of ways to phrase this question that are not euphemistic:

 

What would you do if you walked into a room to find your husband masturbating to images of young women been sexually violated and degraded?

 

What would you do if you discovered your husband’s internet search history included “slave farm Asian” “teen models” “nubile cum” ”mistress pegging”  “wants you to cum” “ebony double penetration” “brutal fuck” “lick cum from stomach”?

 

[These are actual search terms from www.pornmd.com/live-search which shows current search terms that are being typed for pornography sites]

 

I thought it would be good to hear from a women’s perspective not a guy’s. I thought it would be great for you to hear from my wife who has witnessed this again and again in people’s lives over the last 15 years.

 

He doesn’t mention his wife’s name (I know I’ve said this before, but I find this incredulous).  As far as we know, his wife has no qualifications to offer advice on this except her personal experiences of witnessing women finding out their husband’s are using pornography.  And as much as personal experience is valuable, it needs to be coupled with expertise and knowledge.  We don’t even know her name, never mind her qualification levels to offer this advice.

 

So, here it goes.

 

Your husband just confided in you that he looked at adult content. I know it must bring up a lot of emotions:

 

– Betrayal … because he didn’t stay faithful to you.

– Mistrust … because how can you trust him in the small or big things if he couldn’t be trusted not to look.

– Self-doubt … because you think it may have to do with you not being pretty enough or satisfying enough in the bedroom.

– Anger … because he didn’t put you above himself and think about how his actions could affect you.

 

Firstly, that’s not how this situation has been framed.  It is framed as “What would you do if you caught your husband looking at adult content?”  Suddenly, this has shifted to your husband “confiding in you”.  They are not the same situations, and conflating them is both unhelpful and confusing.  Are we talking about a situation where a man has been caught?  Or a situation where he has volunteered information?

 

The tone of this is unhelpful.  Telling someone who is hurting that “I know” is not helpful.

 

These are just a few emotions that may have surfaced for you, and these are normal feelings.

 

I can agree with this statement.

 

What you do from this point with those emotions will set the tone for the rest of your marriage. Good, Christ-filled men are trying to do what is right when it comes to lust and their visual nature.

 

I cannot agree with anything in these two sentences.  The tone has already been set for the marriage BY THE HUSBAND who has been masturbating while watching images of women being objectified and sexually degraded.  The woman’s feelings and emotions should be validated, grappled with and held as true for her.  Let’s not immediately put them aside.  All that invites is denial and emotional suppression.

 

Immediately, the subject has shifted from experience and pain of the woman to the man.  The man who is described as “good” and “Christ-filled”.  At no point is the woman described as good or Christ-filled.

 

Biblically, what is “right when it comes to lust” is “if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell” (Mark 9:47).  Also “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  (Matthew 5:28).  And “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”  (Romans 8:13)

 

Right, let’s get this VISUAL NATURE nonsense.

 

Cordelia Fine’s book “Delusions of Gender” is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the basics of neurobiology.  NOTHING IS HARDWIRED IN THE BRAIN.  The last ten years has seen neuroscience reject the idea of hardwiring in the brain.  The most recent science states that NEUROPLASTICITY (http://www.whatisneuroplasticity.com) is how the brain works.  The frontal cortex of the brain (the bit which deals with cognition) only really begins to develop after birth.  This means that almost everything brain based is malleable according to context and socialisation.

 

It is not in men’s “nature” to be visual, it is in their socialisation.

 

Your husband wants to honor you, but God has wired his brain so differently from a woman’s that it is a constant struggle.

 

God has not wired men’s brains.  The Christian faith is founded upon FREE WILL. Humans are designed, wired and created with the capacity to make decisions and choices.  Men are not robots, wired to respond to stimuli (naked women) in a certain way.  And the nature of neuroplasticity means that the differences between men and women have been proven to be socialised more than any neurological difference.

 

Talking about men and women as homogenous groups is dangerous and unhelpful.  Women are also visual.  We have eyes.  We may not be socialised to understand or own this.  But women are sexually aroused by visual stimuli.  I am not making this up.  It is an actual real thing.

 

Is God so short sighted in creating humans that he made one half of them sexually stimulated by visual stimuli and the other half stimulated by something different?  Did God create man thinking “I want to create human beings with free will, but I think I’ll ensure half of them are unable to function properly.  They’ll be affected by certain visual stimuli in such a way that it will override that free will and make them a slave to their penis.”  No, He did not.

 

Men and women’s brains are not that different.  If you were to look at a brain scan, you would not be able to tell whether it was a male or female brain without further investigation.

 

Please take heart that he actually came to you before getting caught — he is trying to honor you and make things right.

 

See the point above about the conflicting statements in the email.

 

Admitting to having done something is not necessarily motivated by honour.  This email has been sent out to (potentially) THOUSANDS of women.  How can they make any assumptions about men’s motives for admitting they are watching images of women being sexually degraded and masturbating to them?

 

Maybe they knew they were going to get caught?  Maybe they are admitting it to manipulate the situation for their own benefit?  Maybe they genuinely want to change things?  Maybe they are abusive and they are going to use the confession as an opportunity to bully, shame or sexually abuse their wife?

 

Sending this content in an email is so dangerous.  There will be women who receive this email who are currently being subjected to abuse by their husband.  There will be women who see this email as a sign from God that they should do what the email says.  And for women whose husband’s are currently abusing them, this email may cause them to continue to be abused.  This email may be a tool for an abuser to further abuse their wife.

 

Even if this is the case for one abuser, that is one abuser too many.  We must consider that with every blog/article/bulk email we write there will be people reading who are currently being subjected to abuse.  As Jesus instructed us, we must prioritise the needs of the broken hearted, the wounded, the captives.  And if our communications provide ammunition for abusers; we have certainly failed.

 

By using pornography, a husband has already dishonoured his wife and every woman or girl he has masturbated to.  Even if his motives in owning up are good, celebrating his honour without acknowledging that is not helpful.

 

Your job is NOT to withhold sex from him, to question his integrity in all areas of his life, to play detective or police his every move, to not forgive him and always punish him, to shut down and put up a wall, to think it’s your fault.

 

We can infer from this statement that a wife’s job (after discovering her husband has been masturbating to images of women being sexually violated and degraded) is to:

 

·      Provide sex

·      Assume his integrity in the rest of his life is intact

·      Not check up on him

·      Not have any trust issues

·      Forgive him

·      Place no consequences in place

·      Stay fully vulnerable

·      But at the same time, blame him for what he has done

 

A woman has found out her husband has been viewing images of women and/or girls (most online pornography is of teenage girls) being sexually degraded and violated.  Penetrated by multiple men (sometimes in one orifice), ejaculated over their faces and bodies and generally used as objects by men.  He has been doing this while masturbating.  He has been doing this secretly.  What that woman does to deal with her husband’s infidelity is entirely her choice.

 

Telling her what to do is not acceptable.  Telling her what not to do is unacceptable.

 

In February I organised a Gender Reconciliation Workshop in the UK (it was brilliant and I’ll write about it at some point…).

 

Within the workshop we learned about the Cycle of Reconciliation…

IMG_4193.JPG

Finding out about this betrayal requires the Cycle of Reconciliation to be implemented.  This email sent by Craig Gross in no way explores the necessary steps for reconciliation to take place.

 

Once the injury has taken place, the woman needs to be able to withdraw.  To withdraw without being judged or shamed or told she cannot.  Once withdrawn she needs to work out how to reclaim her identity.  Finding this out about her husband will have caused great damage to her and that has to be grappled with.  Working out if/how she can reclaim her identity while staying married.  She may work out that she can, equally she may work out that she can’t and that the marriage has to end.  Either way, she needs the space and confidence that her choices and needs will be valued and respected.

 

If she discovers that her identity can be reclaimed while staying married, the next step is to make an internal commitment to reconciliation.  At not until this point.

 

Once that internal commitment has been made, there is a need to restore the potential for harm to be done again.  Again, she may decide that the risk of her husband doing this to her again is too much and she may need to end the marriage.  Something she has the right to do (both Biblically and in every other sense).

 

If she does feel able to restore the risk then there needs to be a negotiation of needs.  She needs to lay out what her needs are and how they will be met.  She may need to insist that her husband no longer has a smart phone, no longer uses the internet when she isn’t present, that he doesn’t delete his internet history or that she checks his devices every day.  He may not be willing to do that.  In which case the negotiation results in the marriage ending.  Or he is willing to and the negotiations moves towards reconnecting.

 

This same process should be enacted each time the husband uses pornography.  Because a new injury has taken place.

 

This email reduces the deep and profound process of reconciliation to dictating what and how women should respond to injury, ironically this is something they are telling women they have no right to do to their husbands.  Their husbands being the ones who have made the choice to masturbate, to turn the computer/device on, to search for the images and to continue to watch them and lie about it.  While the wives have not done anything wrong in relation to this.

 

Those things might make sense emotionally, but they won’t help you or him.

Instead, your job IS to understand his visual nature and encourage him to have accountability with trusted people who will call him out on things, to extend him grace and realize that we all screw up and are selfish, to seek out counseling with him or by yourself, to pray for him, to pray for your marriage, to welcome honest conversations.

 

See above regarding the nonsense of visual nature.

 

Some of these suggestions are helpful, but not within the context of the wider messages in the email.  The woman is being told to be gracious and giving.  Which is a theme that runs across the oppression of women across history.  Sadly, this defiles the profound power of grace and of selflessness and reduces them to yet another painful and heavy yoke for women.

 

If you can openly talk about how hurt you are that he looked at that stuff, about things in both of you that need work, about what triggers him to look at adult materials, about taking steps to improve the issues that come up, then you can push through the hard conversations and come out on the other side stronger.

 

“Things you both need to work on”.  What does this mean?  Her husband has been watching images of women being sexually degraded while masturbating.  This idea that there’s “things you both need to work on” suggest the problem is not the man’s.  Which they’ve spent the rest of the email saying it is.  His “visual nature” and all that.

 

This is one of the few times where the woman’s hurt is acknowledged, but it is less than one sentence.

 

There is very little compassion for the woman within this whole email.  It is all about how the woman can meet the needs of the man, of his visual nature, of his triggers.

 

This email reduces women to objects whose sole role is to service men.  It dehumanises women and dictates to women how they should feel and act.  Which is exactly what pornography does.

 

You both love each other and want to work through these things, which is a good thing.

 

But his love it tainted by him masturbating while viewing images of women being sexually violated.  And so that changes everything.

 

Divorce is not an option, and it never should cross your mind.

 

Divorce is an option, as mentioned above.  The woman needs to know she has choices.  If divorce isn’t an option, then the woman is not choosing to stay in the marriage, she is being forced to.  If she is given the time and space to consider divorce and she chooses not to, then she has chosen to stay married.  If she chooses divorce then that’s valid.  Jesus’ teaching allows for marriage in cases of adultery, and if that’s how the woman experiences what her husband has done, that must be validated and supported.

 

This email is not sent into a context where Christian women are divorcing their husbands’ willy nilly (no pun intended!).  There are Christian women who have endured decades of their husband’s abuse, rape and violence because they church taught them divorce wasn’t an option.  Women rarely opt to be single parents or divorced.  There is much pain and trauma from being a divorced woman in the church, I know, I was one.  I endured rape, emotional terrorism, my ex-husband’s affairs because I thought divorce was not an option.

 

Women don’t need to be told divorce is not an option.  It’s what they’re always being told.

 

Women whose husbands have been using pornography need our compassion.  They need us to weep with them.  To hug them and tell them that we’ll support them whatever they do.  Sadly, many women won’t talk to anyone when they find out about their husband’s pornography use because there’s so much shame and fear attached to it.

 

This email speaks into a context where women are made to feel terrible about themselves.  The UK beauty industry is worth £17 billion.  An industry selling luxury products nobody needs is worth so much because it drags women’s self value out of them and sells it back to them for a large profit.  Every image of women that we see if digital manipulated, every shop manikin is 4 sizes thinner than the average woman.

 

Consumerism thrives on making women hate themselves.  Patriarchy thrives on blaming women and ensuring they are men’s caretakers.

 

Craig Gross’ brand of church views men as the primary leaders, of churches, homes and organisations.  Yet he believes that men’s visual nature makes them incapable of not masturbating while watching images of women being sexually violated.  Those two views are utterly incompatible.  Either men are competent human beings or they’re not.

 

If being a visual creature is the problem, it seems Jesus’ solution may be the one we should look to.  Blinding.  Each man should gouge out his own eyes to solve this.  As Jesus said, it is preferable to lust.

 

Yet, Jesus’ teaching was allegorical and “mystical”.  He was not advocating self mutilation.  He was pointing out the futility of blaming the eyes for an issue that is rooted in the heart.  This is a heart issue.  And while Craig Gross (and his wife) advocate this “visual nature”, they are speaking counter to the message of Jesus and are colluding with bad science and the excuses of men watching pornography.

 

Even if this time seems desperate and that it will never pass, divorce is much harder and more painful than this one experience in your relationship.

 

This is not “one experience in your relationship” this is (likely) a pattern of behaviour that the husband is choosing which involves secrecy, masturbation and images of women being sexually violated.  I have been divorced.  It was painful.  But I can assure you, not anywhere near as painful as staying married to a man who watched pornography and then made me enact those scenes (amongst many other painful abuses).

 

That’s not to say that a husband’s use of pornography is impossible to overcome.  That divorce could be more painful?  Of course!  But sending out a bulk email with these sorts of absolutes is dangerous to the most vulnerable and damaged amongst us and as such should not be written.  There is no “one size fits all” solution to the huge problems of pornography use among men, and any solution is not going to focus on what the man’s wife should, or should not be doing.

 

You and your husband can get through this and wind up even stronger than you were before. We’ve seen it over and over in the couples we’ve worked with through our ministry.

 

It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

 

Picture1.png

It’s great that they’ve had success.  But see above, this is not a “one size fits all” solution.  This is a ministry.  It is a not a scientifically robust understanding of pornography.  It is great that they are committed to ensuring men stop watching images of women being sexually violated which masturbating.  However, if the methods with which this is done echo those within pornography, objectifying women and reducing them to how they serve men.  Then they need a new model.

 

You can read my tweets about this email in the Storify I have done HERE.  As you will see towards the end of the Storify, Craig Gross responds to my Tweets.  I will offer some views on this too:

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 12.01.31.png

Telling me to “settle down” immediately shapes his response as patronising and rather than engaging with the content of my criticisms, he focuses on the tone with which I sent them.  He assumes I hadn’t read the whole blog, which I had.  His use of “woman” with quote marks is odd.  And as already mentioned, the fact he says this is his wife’s comments does not help his argument at all, given that he doesn’t mention her name and signs the email from himself.  He states that it is for “if [the] husband confesses” even though the email is responding to the question “What would you do if you caught your husband looking at adult content?”

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 12.07.19.png

Shaunti Feldhahn is the co-author of Craig Gross’ most recent book “Men Are Visual”.   Her background is in economics and she has no qualifications in neuroscience or psychology.   HERE (http://www.shaunti.com/2016/02/women-three-phrases-to-never-say-to-your-husband/ ) she tells women they should never say to men:

 

·      “What were you thinking?

·      “You didn’t do a good job at…”

·      Sigh in exasperation

 

She essentially trades in gender stereotypes, neurosexism and Christianese to fix relationship problems and sell books.

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 12.18.21

Admittedly, he doesn’t know from my Twitter profile than I am not clueless, however assuming that is problematic, given that I’m not.  He infers that my tweets suggest I am clueless and unwilling to understand about men.  Neither of these things are true.  I am an expert in my filed and I spend a whole lot of time reflecting on and engaging with toxic masculinity (something he is promoting).  I organised a Gender Reconciliation Workshop because I strongly believe in the need for men to engage with the toxic and damaging effects of patriarchy, something the pornography is a part of.

 

My anger is righteous.  I wasn’t ranting on Twitter because I don’t have a clue, but because I do.  I know the damage the messages in his email cause women and men and it makes me angry that he is choosing to use his platform to spout nonsense.

 

Men are not wired differently to women.  If people are interested in a different perspective to Craig’s on the idea that people are wired to want pornography, read THIS blog by Glen Scrivener.

 

I shall spend the rest of my day reflecting with hope on Matthew 5:6

 

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

The Mark Driscoll Interview

I have watched Brian Houston interview Mark and Grace Driscoll. As you may imagine, I have thoughts on it.

There are various ways language has been used to minimise and avoid responsibility for Mark Driscoll’s choices, both from Brian Houston and Mark Driscoll. I previously wrote a post called “Translating Mark Driscoll” after his resignation. It feels that this video also needs some level of translating.

Before you start though, have a read through the sheet I hadn’t out at the Hillsong one-woman protest I did.  You can access it by clicking HERE.

Avoiding Responsibility:

Mark says, “I made a lot of mistakes.”

One of the big issues in Christian culture is this affirming of mistakes instead of insisting on responsibility. Creating a church that one Mars Hill elder described as “without a doubt, the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with” is not a mistake. Abuse and coercion is intentional. It’s not like falling over. It’s a pattern of behaviour that creates a certain response from those around us. Abuse and coercion is used because it results in the abuser getting their own way.

Brian talks about it having been “a turbulent year for you both…”

Rather than use language that infers responsibility, this makes it sound like a storm that happened to them, rather than the result of choices Mark Driscoll has made. This is the consequence of years of abusive behaviour.

Mark says, ““My contributions and my faults and my sins.  I don’t want the kids embittered against me.”

When responding to Houston’s questions about the effects on their children (which I’ll come back to later), the language Driscoll uses isn’t “my choices and actions”. By using the word “contributions” it infers that there are other contributions to the situation. That he isn’t the only person with faults and sins.

Mark says, “There’s no way to say I’ve always acted with grace or with appropriateness.  There’s been anger.”

This response isn’t, “I acted angrily and without grace.” Though people might hear that, it’s not what he says. Rather than categorically stating how he has behaved, he reverses it. “I haven’t always acted with grace etc…” The reality is, no person can say they’ve always acted with grace or appropriateness. So rather than owning his extreme behaviour, he brings it back to something that anyone could say. He also doesn’t own his actions and say, “I was angry.” He removes it from himself and makes it something separate to himself, “There’s been anger”.

Mark says, “Some people see me as…harmful, angry, careless with words.” 

Though this sounds like he’s saying, “I was harmful, angry and careless with words”, that’s not what he’s actually saying. He places the responsibility for this onto the people who have seen him in this way. Rather than owning his behaviour and actions, he makes it about other people’s perceptions.

When describing some of the impact of his behaviour Mark says: “What that does is it drives your team and it makes them feel unloved and uncared for” 

This doesn’t say, “I behaved in ways that were unloving and uncaring towards my team.” It infers that it is his teams feelings that are the problem. The non-apology of saying, “I’m sorry you FEEL that way” is a classic tactic for placing the responsibility onto the person who has been hurt. This is no different.

Brian Houston asks, “So would the word bully have been an accurate description do you think?” Mark responds by saying, “I think for sure on occasions yeah. I think, um, I think on occasions sometimes, um, strong leaders there’s a line…”

Mark doesn’t say, “Yes I was a bully.” He again removes the description from himself and makes it about “strong leaders”. There is no owning of his behaviours or his bullying. Brian Houston’s questioning doesn’t help here. He could have asked, “Were you a bully?” But he didn’t. They both distance themselves from Driscoll being a bully or even acting in a bullying manner. It becomes a “description”.

Driscoll also says, “on occasions”. Bullying some of the time makes someone a bully all of the time. The bullying infects every aspect of a person’s relationships. People fear the bully all the time, not “on occasions”. It seems “on occasions” is closely related to “occasionally”. Yet Mark Driscoll was not a bully occasionally. He created a culture of bullying and abuse.

Bullies act in the ways they do to get what they want. It’s not an accidental thing that all strong leaders have a tendency towards. The actions are intentional for someone to a) get their own way and b) maintain control. And the reality is, it often works.

Mark says, “so that there wasn’t anger or hurt or defensiveness that was driving some of my motivation.”

Driscoll doesn’t say “I was angry, hurt, defensive.” And within this sentence it’s only driving “some of” his motivation. It has not consumed him or anyone else, it’s just part of what drives him. Throughout the entire interview Driscoll avoids statements that start with “I was…” or “I am…” And until he starts to use statements which own his behaviour, it’s impossible to fully change that behaviour.

When asked what he would have done differently, one of the things Driscoll says is, “I would have had more mature people…in my oversight or governance.”  

Whether intentional or not, this suggests that a) there were not any mature people in Mars Hill who worked with him or had eldership in the church and b) the fault wasn’t entirely Mark Driscoll’s, it was the lack of eldership. My understanding is that anyone who did try to challenge him, those who were in eldership, were sacked and/or abused. He talks about all these kind people who’ve looked after them since the impact of his behaviour started to hit him. But what about all the people who loved him enough to challenge him in the midst of his all-powerful status? They aren’t honoured within this interview. In fact, it seems they are erased.

Brian Houston states: “…there’s been a huge fallout from some of the mistakes you have made.”

We are back to the language of “mistakes” and added to that is the euphemism of “huge fallout”. He doesn’t use the language of choice; Driscoll’s choices to behave in ways that have hurt others and (for a long time) benefitted him. Instead he talks of mistakes; accidents that have happened. It is not a mistake to systematically bully and damage people. That is a choice. (I’ll come back to the “huge fallout” later…)

Mark says, “Having gone through this very complicated season…”

Again with the euphemisms. This isn’t a “complicated season”. This is dealing with the consequences of choices made over a prolonged period of time. The term “season”, while legitimate “Christian speak”, infers something external to Driscoll. Something that has been done to him; similar to the mistake, the season is a thing that happens to a person.

Brian Houston asks, “Do you personally take accountability for the break up of Mars Hill church?” Mark Driscoll responds with, “Yes I think as the leader I have to bear the lion’s share of responsibility for that.”

Leaving aside the fact that Brian uses the word accountability when he should have said “responsibility”, there is significant avoidance of responsibility in this statement. Though this sounds like Mark Driscoll is taking responsibility, what he’s actually doing is saying, “because I was in charge, it’s my fault.” He has not said, “Because I was an abusive bully, of course it is my responsibility, my fault.”

Brian Houston suggests Driscoll’s views on women were a “red rag to the bull to the secular media”. Mark responds by saying, “The fact I can’t even come see you in Australia, you are onto something…”

It wasn’t solely the “secular media” who have a problem with Driscoll’s misogynistic language. There were many Christians who were horrified by his views and thoughts.

Driscoll’s response is telling. Rather than acknowledging his actions have led to him being uninvited from the conference, he sees that it was the media response that meant he was prevented from attending. He doesn’t see this as a legitimate consequence of his behaviour, but rather as something separate to it.

Mark responds to Brian’s questions about his views on women “Some of the misperception is entirely my fault. Some of the things I did were ungodly, unwise and unhelpful.”

As before, when he talked about other people’s feelings, this again makes the problem not what he has said or done, but  how other people have “perceived it”. I’m not sure how he expects people to rightly perceive his historical comments about women as penis homes or his views that women shouldn’t work or that men can’t be stay at home parents.  He does acknowledge that he did things that were ungodly, unwise and unhelpful”. But saying that straight after talking about “misperceptions” leaves it slightly hollow.

When asked specifically about calling women penis homes, Mark states, “What I said is not representative of what I think or how I feel.  Looking back on that, that was not a healthy person working from a healthy place. And so I would have a hard time explaining it.  I wouldn’t even make an effort to defend it.”

 What Mark does not say is, “Yes I did think like that and I’ve realised that is wrong and hateful”. Those words are blamed on being an unhealthy person in an unhealthy place. The term “unhealthy” doesn’t really infer responsibility, rather than “I made bad choices, I said terrible things about women” it’s the language of “not being representative”. He sees it as something to “not defend”, rather than something to describe as abhorrent and misogynistic.

Brian Houston asks him, “Were you ever a misogynist?” Mark Driscoll answers, “No, but because of things I have said foolishly, that impression is entirely my fault…I’ve allowed that to become the impression”

After talking about being unhealthy and saying things from an unhealthy place, he now does not accept that what he said was misogynistic. That’s some high level cognitive dissonance, right there.  The term “foolishly” is the same device as “mistake”.  It’s something whimsical, accidental.  Whereas his ministry was (in part) defined by his ongoing views of women as inferior.  That’s not “foolishness”, that’s intention and choice.

On at least two occasions in the interview Brian Houston infers that Driscoll’s age a) when starting Mars Hill and b) when he wrote the majority of his most misogynistic stuff are relevant to the actions he took. Mark was 25 when he started the church and in his late twenties when he wrote about women being “penis homes” etc.

There is no excuse for Mark Driscoll’s behaviour. I am 31 and at 29 I was quite able to see that calling women penis homes was a problem. Mary was around 14 years old when she had Jesus, the apostle Timothy was criticised for being so young.   Being young does not give anyone a free pass for making abusive or bullying choices. Brian’s inference that his age is a mitigating factor only serves to absolve Driscoll of some responsibility.

Grace Driscoll, who remains quiet throughout much of the interview says that: “I’ve never seen him as a misogynist.  There were methods that were wrong.”

It is clear that some of what Mark Driscoll has said is categorically misogynistic, and denying it isn’t going to change that.

 

Who Has Been Hurt?

Throughout the interview we hear about some of those who have been hurt, namely Mark and Grace Driscoll, their children, the pastors Mark Driscoll was publicly critical of, but throughout the entire hour interview we don’t hear about the many people who were thrown under the “Mars Hill bus”. We don’t hear the names or stories of any of them.

Here are some of the ways Mark Driscoll’s many victims are erased…

After asking the Driscolls how they got into ministry Brian Houston asks, “How are you both doing?” 

This invites a very emotional response from the Driscolls. It makes this about their pain, which although not irrelevant, is not actually why the interview is taking place. Mark Driscoll is not the victim of some tragedy that he had no control over. He made choices and benefitted for many years from bullying and abusing other people.

By starting the interview in this way, we are invited to see Mark Driscoll as a vulnerable, emotional person, miles away from the abusive choices he made.

Within his response to Brian’s question Mark Driscoll says, “watching the kids and the pain that they’ve had, to experience in the grieving process.”

Though it is clear that the Driscoll children have been caused pain within the choices their father has made, at no point during the interview do we hear about the children of any of those whose lives Mark Driscoll has destroyed. Whose parents are in long-term therapy because of his behaviour? Whose parents lost jobs because they challenged Mark Driscoll’s authority? Who were moved halfway across the country for the parents to work in a church that subsequently kicked them out? We don’t hear any of those children’s stories.

We also hear about Mark’s health problems. He says, Fatigue, adrenal glands, intestinal ulcers. There were times where I drove myself to a point of not being well.”


Though he acknowledges he drove himself to this point, he doesn’t acknowledge the likelihood that other people were made ill by his actions. This is one of the issues with the whole of the interview format used. The victims are erased within it. We don’t hear their stories at all.

 Mark describes some advice he was given, to “put down the binoculars and pick up the mirror.” 

Though I appreciate the sentiment, what about focusing on those hurt? One of the big issues with counselling perpetrators of abuse is that counselling “focuses on my feelings and other people’s actions” and what an abuser needs to do is “focus on other people’s feelings and my actions”. While self-reflection isn’t a bad thing, Mark needs to focus on the people he has hurt, he needs to hear their stories, feel their pain. Restorative justice programmes use that model. An abuser cannot simply change their self-perception, they must also work on their perception of “the other”.

Mark says, “What has been useful to me, older people…”

The focus is still on him. On him getting sorted and being restored. What about the hundreds, if not thousands of people who are trying to be restored after the hurt he has caused them? How different would this interview have been if he said, “I have been trying to find out what would be useful to those I have hurt and what they have said is…”

Brian Houston states: “…there’s been a huge fallout from some of the mistakes you have made.”

I quoted this above. I mention it here as this is the only time Brian references the actual people who were in Mars Hill. Except he doesn’t. He talks about the “huge fallout”. Which must be a euphemism for large scale spiritual abuse, job losses, financial irregularities, damage to women’s views of themselves, damage to men’s views of women, damage to LGBT* people, people losing faith and no longer being able to trust, along with a whole host of other issues.

When discussing the Australian media interest around Mark Driscoll’s involvement in the Hillsong conference Mark says to Brian Houston, “I apologise for putting you in that position…”

Even the impact on Brian Houston is acknowledged more than the impact on the many people who were in Mars Hill for ten years or more.

Mark says, the “people who have loved and encouraged us have been out of our tribe.”

I can’t imagine the pain these words must have caused the many people who stuck by Mark through his bullying and abuse. Who sought to help him change and who endured abuse and shaming when they challenged him. All the families who were deeply wounded and tried to stay onboard, believing God could transform the situation.

Maybe the reason the people who have “loved and encouraged” them have been from outside of the church is because they burned all their bridges to those within the tribe? Maybe it’s not the tribe’s job to love and encourage Mark Driscoll after he has chosen to be abusive for years?

Mark talks about how those who he judged (focusing on the pastors and preachers he spoke against from the platform) have offered grace and kindness that has “brought about repentance”.

Perhaps unintentionally, this seems to infer that those who have not offered grace or kindness haven’t “brought about repentance”. As if it is incumbent on the victim to behave in ways that bring about repentance, rather than on the offender to become repentant.

Brian Houston mentions that he doesn’t like people speaking against pastors…  

He doesn’t mention that he doesn’t like bullying or spiritual abuse or misuse of funds. Which is actually the main reason I set up the petition that contributed to the media in Australia pressuring Hillsong. I know that being a pastor himself, he’s probably quite uncomfortable with pastors being criticised, but actually maybe we should be more concerned with the oppressed and downtrodden. It’s not the powerful who are most wounded by Mark Driscoll. Yet Brian doesn’t really mention the wounded, just his friends who have been offended.

“And for the people.  It was a great honour to be their pastor for 18 years…There’s a lot of joy and a lot of gratitude.  For the people in the church who have been hurt.”  

This is the first we really hear about “the people”. There is no acknowledgement that maybe the way he pastored wasn’t very honourable. He also talks about the people “who have been hurt”. Yet again he distances himself from his choices and actions. He doesn’t say, “for the people I have hurt”. We’re back to the language of “mistakes”.

When talking about how God told them to resign, Mark explains that God said, “We’re released from Mars Hill.  A trap has been set, there’s no way for us to return to leadership.”

Within this he doesn’t acknowledge the additional pain this heaped on those within the church. He doesn’t explain how all the elders at Mars Hill could have been getting a different view on the situation to him. He doesn’t explain how God’s words to him and Grace fit within Jesus’ or Paul’s model for dealing with sin. It’s simply that this was right because God said. The wounded yet again are ignored.

There’s also something significant about him saying that there was “no way” for them to return to leadership while staying at Mars Hill.  Maybe that is the issue, he knew staying would result in an end to him having a platform, whereas now, he’s ready to start a new ministry less than a year later.

Towards the end of the interview Mark thanks, “…the people who were really wonderful for us.” 

This seems to be the same people who have offered kindness and grace. I’m not sure the people who attempted to hold him to account when he was in power are considered “really wonderful”. But then, I could be wrong…

Next Steps 

Throughout the interview there’s some quite mixed messages about the next steps. In parts it seems that they have no plans, but then the steps they have taken seem to be ministry based:

Mark says, “This whole season, I’ve been largely out of public ministry for about a year, with a few exceptions” 

The thing about being out of public ministry is that you actually don’t do any public ministry. I know this is quite basic, but I’m not sure he’s grasped that. His first speaking engagement involved him talking about being a “shepherd that had been struck”, that he had to forgive lots of people who had hurt him. He not only has been on the public platform, he has used it to further hurt the wounded.

Brian Houston says, “I know some of the people who have stood with you…”

I could be wrong about this, but I would suggest that most of the people Brian Houston knows are famous pastors. He could mean the woman who works on the checkout at his local supermarket, but I’m guessing not. That the Driscoll’s have likely been spending time with famous pastors kind of suggests the direction they’re hoping to go in. It also seems that this inference from Brian Houston is “hey guys, he’s in with my lot” which sounds a lot like an endorsement…

Mark explains that they have wanted to, “Meet with pastors and learn from them…”

If someone is unsure what the next steps are, why focus on one particular ministry? It seems they are convinced God wants them to continue to lead churches. Which doesn’t sound like they’ve really opened up to the million of other ways God calls people to serve Him…

Mark says, “We don’t know what is next.  I would like to teach the Bible.”

It seems odd that he doesn’t know what’s next when they’re spending a whole lot of time with pastors (possibly famous ones). That they’re moving to Phoenix to start exploring churchey things and that fact he’s just bought a load of mailing lists back from Mars Hill church is neither here nor there.

When asked about the concerns around his theology on women, Driscoll says, “In the future, for the women I pastor…”

This doesn’t sound like someone unsure of what is next. This is someone who plans to be a pastor, not solely someone who “would like to teach the Bible”.

At the end of the interview Brian Houston says to him, “You’re anointed to [teach the Bible].  You’re a gifted teacher…” He goes on to pray that Mark Driscoll’s “greatest days of preaching and teaching” are yet to come… 

So after an hour long interview in which the majority of Mark Driscoll’s victims have not been focussed on, Brian Houston is essentially endorsing and blessing his new ministry. The ministry Mark Driscoll doesn’t even know is coming next. Hmm…

 

A Few Other Concerns

I know, I know, you would think I’d have had enough by now, it’s likely you probably have too. But there are a few other concerns I’d like to share…

Brian Houston self identifying 

Throughout the interview Brian Houston regularly self-identifies with Mark Driscoll. Early in the interview he shares how they both started churches their mid to late twenties. He talks of making mistakes himself and that all pastors and preachers say things they regret.

None of these things are necessarily wrong, but the issue with empathising with an abuser is that you have to be an abuser to empathise with one. Rather than likening abusive choices to “mistakes we all make”, the abusive person needs to hear that their behaviour isn’t the norm, that what they have done is totally unacceptable.

Empathy Deficits

Regularly during the interview Mark Driscoll talks about lacking empathy. That he wants to increase his empathy levels and acknowledging he has a lack of empathy. This is of great concern. He hasn’t mentioned how he is going to increase his empathy levels, and although I’m not a psychologist, I would suggest moving to set up a new ministry less than a year after abandoning a ministry where thousands of people have been damaged is not really enough time to develop the empathy skills required.

Grace Driscoll 

For a blogger called “God Loves Women” I haven’t written much about Grace Driscoll’s contribution to the interview. That’s mainly because she didn’t contribute much.  Once during the interview, Mark asked Grace to offer her view and she did say a bit within the interview, but Brian Houston didn’t ask her many questions. I was surprised that during his questions about Mark’s views on women, Houston didn’t ask for Grace’s perspective. She is obviously 100% committed to her husband and his continued ministry. My question would be, given the damage it has done to her children and their community of 17 years, whether her uncompromising support is the most helpful thing for him? Then again, with their strong complementarian theology, that’s the only available option.

There’s more I could write, but I’ll leave it there for now.

If you’re reading this as one of those Mark Driscoll has hurt, I stand with you and am so sorry for the ways Christian culture is complicit in your ongoing pain. Much love to you…

Thanks to Michael Roca-Terry for proof reading this!

Woman Hating; I pray this prayer for myself and for you also.

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