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.

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#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).

 

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.

 

Questioning “A Theology of Maleness”

After being told about Andrew Wilson’s talk “A Theology of Maleness” in January, it’s taken me a while to get around to watching the whole thing.  But I have now watched the it and will offer some (rather extensive) views on it.

If you don’t know who Andrew Wilson, he is an elder at Kings Church in Eastbourne and is a well known complementarian.  He has an MA and is doing a PhD in theology.

Before I start my thoughts on his talk, I should make clear that he says towards the end of his talk that it’s content he would not deliver to women, so if any men would like to watch the 45 minute talk, and offer their thoughts, please do!  Mr GLW’s response, listening in to the last 20 minutes of it was intermittent OH PLEASES so I don’t think that being female precludes my ability to critique what he says.

So here goes…

He starts by apologising for the “theological” nature of his talk, taking it out of the realms of opinion and into the realms of factual, or perhaps the academic, however rarely within the talk does he say anything that I would consider on an academic level.  I’m sure he didn’t intend for it to be a communication device, but the effect of saying it is “theological”, is that people immediately assume a level of robust research and fact within the forthcoming content.

He uses the John Piper quote, “The question you have to be able to answer is, “What are you going to do when your son says to you, “Dad what does it mean to be a boy rather than a girl?  Or to be a man rather than a woman?””

Personally if my son was to ask me this, I would reframe the question and say, “Well, Joshua, what does it mean to be you?  What does it mean to be Joshua?  Because God made you unique and different to everyone else in the whole world, and there are so many different ways to be a boy or a man that we need to be working out what it means to be who God made you to be and being a boy is only one part of that.”

However, Andrew’s approach is different.  He acknowledges that we need a strong theology of identity, before then choosing to not focus on the macro of identity but rather on the micro of gender.  He talks about the differences between absolute and generalised statements about men and women and says that “we need to be able to generalise about gender in order to articulate what the Bible says.”

He immediately makes generalised statements that women are more sensitive and men are more decisive, explaining that people get upset about statements like this.  “It’s not absolutely true, but is generally true that women are more sensitive and men are more decisive”.  He goes on to evidence that men are more decisive because within academia there are trends which show men get further in academia that women.  He does mention that privilege could come into this; that men might have more opportunities than women, but says he thinks it’s probably more about Christendom and that white men were involved in the rise of Christendom.  He also says that historically women were in the home and men had more muscles so worked as farmers.  Which led to men having more time to do academia.Andrew doesn’t detail how that meant men had more time.  Just that they did.  I would suggest that if men had the muscles to do the farming, women would have been much better suited to academia, what with having less muscles, but anyway…

This section really seems like a response to feminist critique as he begins to talk about  privilege, I definitely felt he was engaging with the issues I would raise in a conversation with him.  However, his conclusion about privilege is that it’s “not necessarily true” that white men are privileged but that it is about taking responsibility and good stewardship of what’s been given to them.

He states the usual complementarian line, that men and women are “equal in dignity but not in function” and uses playing the bass as an example of this.  He says the left and right hand are used in the bass for different things.  The left hand plays the notes while the right hand plucks the strings.  He suggests that the left and right hands are equal in dignity, but their function is different; just like women and men.

As an analogy it is deeply flawed.  People play the bass that way round because that is the way they have been taught to play the bass, not because the left and right hand have been innately designed to pluck strings/play notes specifically.  And the existence of the left handed bass suggests some people still play it the other way round.

He says that men should be talking about FGM, domestic abuse and rape, that these issues are injustices and should be challenged.  That they’re not the same as what he see as inequality of function, i.e. the roles men and women should have are different to violence against women.

Except that every expert in understanding and ending violence against women will tell you that gender inequality is the foundation of violence against women.  That the privilege he has just denied as a real thing is the reason men abuse 25% of women in the UK.  That the position of men as the power-holders and gatekeepers leads to women’s oppression.  These things cannot be separated into “real injustice” and “a God intended injustice  plan”.

He goes onto say something that I actually fully agree with (I know, it’s a shock.  Have a pause before continuing if you need to…).  He says that within the church, the rhetoric about “real men” and (to a lesser extent) “real women” is about what people “ought to” be doing, not who they are.  So, by being a man or a woman, you are “real”.  The existence of your body being male or female makes you male/female, not the need to perform a certain type of masculinity/femininity.

The rest of his talk is about equipping men to know more about what being a man looks like.  Which doesn’t sound that contradictory when he says it, but actually is.

He mentions the feminisation of the church, without giving any examples or citations of how the church has ben feminised and states that some Christian conversations/resources/ideas about manhood have been an “overreaction” to this non-evidenced feminisation of the church.

He says that we should be looking to Jesus for how to be a man, and also for how to be a human being.  Which is weird, because his whole talk is about theological differences between men and women, but he’s saying Jesus is the model for being human.  Which really He can’t be, if there’s particular ways that men are meant to be.  Because either Jesus conformed to the theological way of being a man (therefore not being a model for women) or He was a model for being human (therefore not conforming to the theological way of being a man, which would suggest it might not be all that theological if Jesus didn’t do it).

He explains that since the sexual revolution men are being “infantilised” by society and that even though women have progressed in lots of ways, that they are “not happier”.  He doesn’t provide any evidence that states women aren’t happier, or really explain how society is infantilising men, he just states it as a fact.

He then pitches “very feminist”  and chauvinist as a polarised positions, the two extremes and says people mainly sit in the middle.  This is deeply problematic.  Last time I checked a chauvinist was “a person displaying excessive or prejudiced support for their own cause, group, or sex” whereas a feminist is a person working for “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.”  I’m not sure how those two things can be polarised.  A chauvinist is excessively prejudiced, a feminist is working towards equality.  Hmm…

However, polarising those two terms works to the benefit of Andrew’s points.  That being in middle, being a moderate means not being a chauvinist, but also not being a feminist.  Now, I know I’m biased as a feminist, but I would say feminism is the middle ground between hatred of women and hatred of men.  The portrayal of feminists as “man hating” is not from evidence of the feminist movements, but a mischaracterisation by people against the cause.  Chauvinism and misogyny however is evidenced in language and actions.  Men rape women and kill women, men tweet about raping and killing women.  There’s no similar action from feminists towards men.  Women are not as a collective or on a large scale killing or raping men.  It simply does not happen.

Andrew then moves into his 7 points about what a Theology of Maleness looks like.  He explains that as it originates in Genesis and is “bound up with marriage” but is applicable to single people too.  However, he doesn’t at any point during the talk expand upon the implications for single people or how it is practically worked out in the lives of single people. Here are his 7 points, and my thoughts on them:

1. Men = Tohu. Women = Vohu (Genesis 1:2)

The earth as formless (tohu) and void (vohu).  Andrew explains that Tohu refers to men; men bring form to the earth and that vohu refers to women; women fill the earth.  It’s interesting that this verse is mentioned long before men and women are created and that it’s just an idea that he (and perhaps others) have come up with.  It suggests that women’s role in the world really involves birthing children, which creates great problems for single women and women who can’t have children.

It places men as subjecting the earth, being agents in the world; the ones who shape what the world looks like, while women act within the constrains of what men decide.  This leaves me wondering, why did God give so many women gifts of leadership.  Surely, they are anomalies within a world of men who were created to shape?

2. Men = Subdue and Dominion. Women = Multiply and be fruitful (Genesis 1:28)

It’s interesting because this verse is said to woman and man together.  There is no mention within the text that these commands are gender specific.  It is only after The Fall that gender differences are mentioned at all.

He talks about penis and vagina (which obviously I was pleased about, given my goal of making vagina a more acceptable word across society).  He explains that women’s reproductive organs are internal.  Men’s reproductive organs are external.  This mean’s that men are “externally focussed agencies there to protect”.  That seems like a rather large leap in theory to me, but then I may not be theological enough…

He states that men’s “involvement in child birth and child rearing is relatively short.”  As Christians we believe that women and men are equally called to be parents, the biological reality is not the one which dictates how we behave as parents, otherwise men would generally just, “shoot and leave”.  Instead, we hope for integrated family structures, seeking after “the important things of justice and love”.

He mentions the book “Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps” saying he has “no idea idea whether it’s true or not”. It is not true. The book is based on ridiculously bad neuroscience.  Andrew’s mention of this book allows him to example the differences between men and women, without having to stand by the conclusions of the book as true.

He talks about how until relatively recently men went to war because women were the one’s bearing children.  He fails to mention that those creating the wars were also men. He says that God could have created us to be fertilised like plants or as asexual, but instead, “God did something and in doing so made a statement about how women and men are meant to function.”  All mammals function and reproduce in the same way; so rather than God choosing a specifically unique way for human’s to reproduce (to infer all the special things Andrew wants it to show) it’s actually the way all mammals reproduce (including whales).  Unless we’re saying male whales are uniquely purposed as “externally focussed agencies there to protect” it’s not really going to work.

After this he references a shooting in Colorado in which three men died after having laying over women to protect them from a gunman in a cinema.  He said the men were in no way connected to the women they chose to protect.  In fact (according to Wikipedia) the three men who died were protecting their girlfriends.  Andrew’s point is that men are wired to protect women. That it’s somehow an innate characteristic of men.  He failed to mention in his talk that the person who shot dead 12 people and injured another 70 was also a man.

This section of Andrew’s talk left me crying.

We live in a world where male violence is at epidemic proportions.  Rape, murder, torture, emotional abuse, street harassment, female genital mutilation, female infanticide, sexual abuse; all perpetrated by men in every community and society of the world.  We don’t live in a world where there’s an epidemic of men protecting women, but rather, hurting women.  We don’t live in a society where a woman sees a man in a dark alley and thinks “Oh he’s going to protect me”.  That’s not what our world looks like.

I have argued before with people that I don’t want to be offered a seat or have a door held open for me by a man if they’re only doing it because I’m female.  If they always offer their seat to women and men or they always open the door for women and men, then that’s fine.  But the assumption with those things is that I am weaker, but let’s face it, I am not more in need of a seat than a man.

The belief in women as weaker is what lays at the roots of male violence.  I delivered an assembly to a group of 240 13-14 year old students.  One boy said, “The thing is I think girls are emotionally weaker than boys, that’s why they get upset more.”  Afterwards a teacher explained that this same boy had been abusive to all his girlfriends.

Although Andrew says women aren’t defective or impotent, but instead inherently “precious”, the reality is that if women are weaker, especially when it comes to “dominion” then they should be less trusted than men in relation to those things.

His example of the men who died in the Colorado shooting was used to say that “men immediately knew” women should be protected, but across the world men don’t immediately know that, how do we know those men’s responses didn’t come from how they’ve been raised?  Andrew excluded the information that the women were the men’s girlfriends and at least four of the people murdered in the Colorado shooting were women, not all of the women had men “immediately” knowing how precious they were and jumping in front of a bullet.

3. Man = Guard. Woman = Helper (Genesis 2:15 and 18)

Verse 15: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (ESV)

Verse 18: “Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.””

Andrew introduces both of these verses and explains that although nowhere in verse 15 does it actually say “guard” he is going to use it interchangeably with “keep it”but doesn’t explain his rationale for doing so.  It’s interesting that at this point in the story there were no threats to human beings, so there wasn’t actually any need to “guard” the garden from anything.  Other versions use the word “take care of…” which definitely doesn’t sound like a “guard” type role.  He does say the word is related to that of the priest role in the Old Testament, however the guards in the tribes of Israel were not the Levites.  In fact the Levites didn’t go to war, their role was to enable the community to worship God.

He mentions how women are called to be men’s helpers, and does reference that helper is used as a word in the Bible to describe God bringing help to His people.  Andrew doesn’t mention that it is a word used to describe God on 15 occasions, he also doesn’t explain how God helping His people differs from what he says as men’s role of “guarding”.  To me they sound quite similar…

Andrew talks of how men will always get up to check for a burglar if there’s a noise in the middle of the night.  That men’s role as guard is “why men protect their families.”  That men would always ensure they were first to deal with suspicious noises in the middle of the night.  He didn’t offer any research to back this point up.  Just his assumption that men always protect their families.

Except men don’t always protect their families.  In fact women and children are much much more likely to be at risk in the middles of the night from men they know than from burglars.  Children sexually assaulted by their father or step-father while their mother sleeps unaware.  Women awakening to find their husband raping them or perhaps not allowed to go to sleep because their husband’s abusive tactic is to force them to stay awake all night.  If we’re going to use collective male behaviour to decide that something is innately built into men, it seems violence and abuse is something we should be talking about.

He also doesn’t explain how single women are supposed to protect themselves.  Without a man are single women sitting ducks for burglars?

Also he seems to think protection is solely a physical thing.  I may not be physically strong enough to protect my husband physically (though some women are).  However, if someone was being verbally hurtful towards him, I would be the first to stand up and say something.  If someone was going to try and take advantage of his kindness or support, I would be the first to challenge that.  Perhaps, as women and men we are supposed to protect each other, based on our gifts, rather than some assumption of difference from a word that doesn’t actually appear in the verse being talked about?

Andrew states, “The role of guarding and protecting is always something God has said, “Men I want you to do.” I could be wrong, but I don’t think this is actually a verse found anywhere in the Bible:  “And then God said, “Men! Guarding and protecting is always your job!”

God likens Himself to a mother bear protecting her cubs.  Jesus likens Himself to a chicken gathering chicks under her wings.  Unless I’m mistaken, those are female images of God protecting and guarding.  In fact, mothers are well known for protecting their children.  There are many anecdotal stories of women having “Hysterical Strength”, lifting a car off their father or fighting a polar bear to save their children.  1 Corinthians 13:7 tells us that love “always protects”.  Protecting isn’t limited to men, it’s a characteristic of love.

4. Men = Beloved.  Women = Beloved (Genesis 2:23)

“The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman”, for she was taken out of man.’”

Andrew says that Adam “Initiates the relationship” and Eve responds.  He explains, “That’s why a man asks the father’s permission” to marry a woman.  And states, “That’s the way civilisation has worked ever since.”

Where to start with this..?  The reason a man asks the father’s permission is because historically the woman/girl belonged to her father, and the marriage contract enabled the husband to buy the woman so she goes from being her father’s possession to becoming owned by her husband.  That’s not okay.

When Mr GLW and I decided to get married, God told us we should marry each other.  So we had a conversation about it and decided to get married.  Perhaps Andrew thinks this is unBiblical, but that’s how God worked out our marriage and it is no less valid because Mr GLW didn’t initiate the relationship.  In fact, I think the model of having a grown up conversation about marriage, rather than a romantic proposal, might be more useful for lots of people…

He goes on to say that it’s obvious what this means “in a marriage context, but with implications for single people as well.”  He does elaborate further, leading me to wonder how exactly this works for single people.  Men should initiate all things?  Women should stay silent?  I’m not really sure how this works out in the lives of single people even if Andrew is.

5. Man = Christ. Woman = Church

Andrew says that “Christ leads the church” and that the “church responds and submits to him” and that should be the “same with husbands and wives…this is very obvious.”

Setting aside the content issue.  He has used a communication device here (perhaps unintentionally) which says that what he’s just said is “obvious”.  Basically everybody should get this, everybody should agree with it.  The fact that there are many scholars, theologians and others who don’t accept this is what the Bible says, or that it’s actually quite offensive to say that one gender is more like Christ than the other is neither here nor there when you say something is “very obvious”.

He goes on to liken the spectrum of masculinity to having various points on it.  It looks like this:

<—Servant leadership—Apathetic—Controlling—Domineering/abusive—>

He says that Christian men should be at the servant leadership end of the spectrum .  That is what Christ is like.  Though it would seem women shouldn’t even exist on this spectrum, we’re somewhere else, on the “submission spectrum” no doubt.  He explains that his life hasn’t required him to stand in front of a bullet for his wife, but usually involves him having to get up earlier.  He doesn’t really explain why getting up earlier makes him a servant leader, but anyway.

We are all called to “prefer each other’s needs”, as Christians.  Personally, I don’t want Mr GLW getting up early for me every day, I want us to exist in mutuality, where if he’s tired he can have a lie in, if I’m tired I can.  We submit ourselves to God and each other, in full partnership.  It’s not our gender that dictates how much we offer, or how we offer it, but our love for God and for each other and the gifts God has given us.

6. Man = Representative. Woman = Beneficiary (Genesis 3:9)

“But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?””

Andrew explains that even though Eve was the first to eat the fruit, it was Adam who God addressed the question to.  He doesn’t mention that in verse 13 God asks Eve, “What is this you have done?”  But anyway…

He likens this to a civil servant and a Government Minister.  When the civil servant makes a mistake, it is the Minister who is held accountable for it, because they are the representative of the department.  After using this analogy he then says that “boss isn’t the right language to use” when talking about headship, which is problematic when that’s the exact analogy he has used to explain the whole “man is the representative” thing.

It’s interesting that there is actually a verse about being a representative in the Bible, “Therefore, we are the Messiah’s representatives, as though God were pleading through us…” (2 Corinthians 5:20 ISV)  So we see that actually, all of us, men and women are Jesus’ representatives and when I get to heaven my husband won’t have to make account for my behaviour, I will.

He says that he sees headship as who the woman is identified by.  For example when he sees other men in the room he recognises them by their head, not their shoulders or body.  In the same way, he explains, the husband/father is the representative of the woman.  He goes on, “That’s what still happens in many cultures, even now.  The father speaks for the family…he carries the can…he gives the family their name.”

Andrew may not be aware, but male violence against women is also directly correlated to the level of autonomy and control women have over their own lives.  The less autonomy women have (like in the cultures he’s mentioned) the more instances of violence against women.  Because where women and girls are seen as possessions and as less than equal to the men, they are treated and discarded like possessions.

7. Man = ground.  Woman = Womb. (Genesis 2:16-19)

Andrew mentions the curse on Adam and Eve; childbearing pain for women and the ground being cursed for men.  He explains that this is what he sees as men’s and women’s “spheres of responsibility”.

He omits the part of the verse which says, “Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.”  This is an interesting section to omit, given his previous mention that men should be talking about FGM, rape and domestic violence more.  Every society in the world is blighted by male violence.  And yet the Biblical basis for male violence and domination isn’t referenced at all in his talk.

What is referenced however as evidence of men’s sphere being different to women’s is the Man Drawer, specifically Michael McIntyre’s portrayal of the Man Drawer.  Yes, this is a theological talk that references the Man Drawer as irrefutable evidence of men’s sphere of responsibility being different to women’s.

Towards the end of the talk he explains he would not be present teaching about gender in the same way to women as it wouldn’t be helpful, especially not for single women as “marriage changes a woman’s life an impacts a woman more than a man.”  He didn’t explain how/why it impacts women more.  I’m not sure it does actually.  Surely if he believes that men are supposed to be the servant leader, getting up early and being the representative in the relationship, it should probably be more difficult for men than women, but as it is, I’m really not sure how women are affected in a greater way than men…

Personally, when I do talks or write blogs, I hope everything is as useful to men as it is to women.  It’s interesting Andrew’s view is that his message to men can’t be delivered with the same content to women.  Maybe that’s because, like me, women see the implications of his message on them, or can see that it doesn’t make sense.

Andrew finished by talking about the Gospel and reminding all the men present that in relation to Jesus they are the “female”; the Helper, the Beloved, the Beneficiary.  It’s confusing how this works out for women though.  Are women the Helper to their husband and then Jesus?  Or Jesus and then their husband?

He said that “in the Gospel we [men] play the part of the wife, we respond with submission and obedience…we are recipients, not agents of…”  Which gets to the crux of the matter.  He seems to see men as agents, women as recipients, which doesn’t look so different to the rest of society.  This TED Talk by Caroline Heldman explains powerfully and clearly the ways the media ensure men are the subjects and women are the objects.  Men act, women respond.  This is not good for men or women.

God implanted free will within all of us.  As male and female beings we are called to make choices and we will have to account for those choices.  No distinction is made between men and women in Jesus saving us and to do so, especially within Andrew’s restrictive terms is not enabling us to be more Christlike, or more deeply rooted in God, but rather to find our identity in our genitals and tenuous links to The Man Drawer.

The Spectrum of Pornographies: A Man’s Perspective PART 2

This post is part of the series I’ve been doing about the spectrum of pornographies, you can read the others (along with a few of my previous posts that cover the subject) here.

This is the second guest post from a Christian man who I asked to share his views…

I personally have been helped by some of the literature and resources developed by Christians aimed at men who consume porn of the types I did. Their frameworks for understanding compulsive behaviour and my motivations were very useful, as were the practical strategies for changing problem behaviour. I would commend the work of XXXChurch in the US particularly, especially as it is noteworthy that they are addressing aspects of the production of porn as well as its consumption.

However, the language in the books and on the websites produced by Christians can be problematic. Talk of addicts and addiction, of being a user can reinforce the notion of men being primarily victims and analogous to drug users. Yes, the literature does address the effects on family and friends of an ‘addicts” behaviour, just as those addressing alcohol or drug abuse do.

But telling men they are victims in a spiritual battle – whilst partially true – is only a part of the bigger picture.

The battle can be too often described only as the struggle of ‘good men tempted’ against the ‘flesh and blood’ of naked women (or men) having sex on screen.

It is closer to the truth, I think, to say that men are called – no, compelled – to take up a battle against the ‘powers and principalities’ behind the systematic and all-pervasive denigration and objectification of women of which pornographies are manifestations of.

That may mean men learning not to solely be obsessed with maintaining personal purity (though resisting the lust Jesus speaks of IS a non-negotiable) and being willing to speak about and root out every form of misogynistic thinking and practise. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and but it’s essential we stop casting ourselves as the victims of the piece and face up to our greater responsibilities.

What does an effective response to this issue look like?  Do you have any thoughts about what a theological response to the issues looks like?

I only have tentative answers but there are some things I think we definitely do.

Firstly, given that the majority of exploitation and degradation one can observe in pornography of all forms is enacted by men against women, we men firstly need to listen to what women would have us do. Men are not the saviours of porn performers nor of porn consumers but we do have responsibilities. We need to learn not to shrug off our responsibility to act but we do need to curtail our assumption that men know what is best for women and that we know what women need us to do.
I think too that men need to engage more readily in conversation with – and especially in listening to – feminists within and outside the Church. They are able to teach us how pornography connects with wider issues of sexism and women’s liberation.

We also need to talk together more frankly and honestly about what is out there – I don’t mean talking porn for the sake of showing how much we know or how in touch we are with what is out there but in order to confront the realities and expose the mechanisms of exploitation and damage.

As I’ve suggested, we need to think more carefully about our language and terminology. Can we find language which is more accurate and honest than only “addict/addiction/purity/lust”? Should we be speaking of consumers not users given most pornography is unashamedly cynically marketed product, given that many pornographies is outworking of capitalism?
What about the language of “models” and “performers”? Where is the line between “performer” and “product”? I don’t want to deny the self-determination of women nor the fact that women do choose to produce and act in porn movies, and I don’t wish to speak for women (see above) but when women are saying “pornography is hurting women in all manner of ways” then to fall back on language which emphasises freedom and consent and downplays power and exploitation is disingenuous.

This goes for the larger narratives we employ in our writing and speaking about pornographies in the Church. Whose stories do we emphasise: men who have “suffered” loss due to porn, men who have “recovered” from addiction? Or do need to give more airtime and platform space to women telling their stories about porn? About the effects of the men they know consuming porn? Of their own experience of having been exploited by porn producers? Do we need to pay more attention than we do to the voices of women who have suffered sexual violence due in part to the shaping of men’s minds and actions by violent porn?

In some of the Christian books and websites I’ve read addressing pornography I’ve read much about men who “use prostitutes” and stripclubs, or pay to access porn online, but next to nothing in the same books and sites about who these prostitutes are, who works at these strip clubs, who made the porn and “performed” in it.
For every man’s life “ruined” by pornography consumption there is at least one woman whose life has been ruined and whose health and well-being have been compromised.

Even the well-meaning talk of “would you want your daughter to be watched in that way?” is problematic. We should instead be saying things like “should any woman be treated in this way or feel compelled to make a living like this?”

We need to resist shallow stereotypes about men and women and sex. Addressing porn has to be connected with what we teach in churches about men and women and sex more broadly. Much teaching can inadvertently give more license to men to consume pornography by emphasising “men’s needs” and their apparently greater sex drive, and women’s supposed more “emotional” and “passive” view of sex. If our church teaching on sex reinforces male potency and drive, and female passivity and receptivity, does this not shape men’s expectations of sex to conform to what they see on their screens?

We need to join the dots in our speaking and acting between pornography, sex trafficking/slavery, and sexual violence. These relationships are complex. Not all that comes under the banner “pornography” is necessarily exploitative and connected with sexual violence; but much is. However, we need to resist seeing ourselves as the male saviours of poor helpless women – back to listening and learning before acting – whilst still acting when we can.

We need to read our bibles “better” – to see the narratives of sexual exploitation, the gender stereotypes often under the surface of texts we read too simplistically.

A quick example:

David and Bathsheba: do we read this as David in a moment of weakness succumbing to temptation? Or do we notice and highlight the power dynamics at work: the powerful king seeing another woman as a sexual object to own and consume, a woman who could not realistically say no to the summons from the King who “sent messengers to fetch her”? In our modern terminology, was this really fully consensual sex or was this exploitative behaviour within an asymmetrical power relationship?

I’m not advocating that we demonize King David or dismiss the fact that he was a man “after God’s own heart”; rather we perhaps need to learn that “good men” are not simply “tempted”; sometimes they are exploitative and abusive.

We need to open our minds to recognise that when we laud a biblical character simplistically as a “goody” we risk overlooking the patterns of sexual exploitation and sexism even within our scriptures.

The same goes for other aspects of the Bible – how do we read Paul’s epistles within a “pornified” culture where women are routinely objectified on camera and in print? When I read in 1 Corinthians that a wife is not “master” of her own body, I must treat and read that text extremely carefully given that pornographies so frequently depict a woman’s body simply as an object for a man or men to use to achieve orgasm. Paul had his reasons for writing, and I don’t think he is advocating the routine objectifying of women. However, thousands of women within pornography industries are routinely treated and told that they are not “masters” of their bodies; they are told that their bodies exist for men’s pleasure, and their value as people is proportional to the degree of pleasure a man derives from gazing at or physically using their bodies.
We certainly can draw on Paul’s writing to develop a healthy theology of the body and of sex BUT we need to be very careful and not rely solely on a simplistic reading of him.
I’d also ask: please, please, please resist quoting chunks of Proverbs to address porn and sex. I’ve heard that book used too often to endorse narrow sexual roles especially for women, and to perpetuate the notion that men are “potential victims” who must resist the advances of “temptresses” whether in the flesh or on screen.
Finally, if we want to hold up Samson and Solomon as heroes of the faith, also be honest about the massively exploitative sexual behaviour they were engaged in. Solomon’s harem of women were not in his royal court purely of their own volition, acting from true freedom and self-determination. Our ancestors In the faith used women as objects for pleasure and to continue their bloodlines. Yes, God was gracious enough to “use” these men for his purposes but let’s at least be more honest about the long legacy of sexual exploitation in our faith’s story.

I realise I’ve offered more questions than answers. I realise I’ve offered no programme of action or 10 steps to eradicating pornography. I hope these suggestions about how we think and speak and listen will provoke others to develop appropriate ways of acting. My greatest concern is not so much ridding my home or computer of porn (though this is essential), nor to rescue men from addiction (though men do need help stopping what they’re doing). There is a bigger cause of ridding the world, our communities and churches of the ways of thinking, speaking and behaving which contribute to pornographies being so pervasive, and increasingly violent and damaging. That’s a huge and more complex task.

WHAT DOES THIS EVEN MEAN?!

I am enraged.  THIS article written by Carl Beech and published by Childrenswork magazine has left me ENRAGED.  According to Carl Beech being stressed should lead me to “become vocal and chatty”.  I am not feeling vocal or chatty, I am angry and I want to smash things.

 

I have known Carl for quite a few years.  I had the privilege of working at the men’s event he runs for a couple of years.  I’ve seen him call an event with hundreds to their knees in repentance of violence against women.  In many conversations I had with women who were uncomfortable with some of his ideas and views I defended him, explaining that he loves Jesus and is a good guy.  At the all-male events I attended he was very careful to ensure there were no derogatory comments about women, much more careful than I’ve seen organisers of women’s events be towards men.  Yet over the last few years our paths have crossed less and less and our views have polarised more and more.

 

So here’s my thoughts on what he’s written.

 

The article is framed as “Christian Vision for Men’s Carl Beech thinks it’s time to man up and face the reality of a feminised Church.”

Man up is a term that has often been used towards male victims of sexual abuse to describe how they should respond to the choice of someone to violate them.  It has been used to sneer at little boys when they are hurt and it has been used to bully and devalue men who don’t conform to gender norms.

What does it mean that the church has been “feminised”?  When it’s used to suggest the church is failing, it suggests women are the problem.  It assumes that feminisation is an agreed upon thing.  That we all know that women are touchy feely emotional creatures who love quiche and liturgically dance their way around the building, snogging paintings of Jesus as they cry at the slightest upset, demanding that men join in, insisting they hold hands and skip.

 

Carl explains: Premier Childrenswork dropped me a line and asked me to pen a feature on…take a deep breath: What kind of men do we need in the 21st Century? What does an effective children’s work look like? What needs to change?’

Who decided Carl was the expert on writing about working with children in church?  Unless I’m very much mistaken he hasn’t done a whole lot of it.  He has been very open about his views on masculinity and what he thinks works, with many people at many times suggesting that there are alternative views to his.  Why didn’t they think to invite a few people to comment?  Perhaps Ali Campbell who is an actual expert in working with children?  Why only one perspective and a very narrow one at that?

 

Carl says: “I fully believe that men and women think differently”

That’s fine, believing men and women think differently is fine.  We can all believe things whether they are true or not.  I mean, there’s a flat earth society.  I’m totally up with respecting Carl’s belief in the difference between men and women’s thinking.  Unfortunately he doesn’t stop there…

 

“Our brains are different. Some parts of our brains are bigger or smaller depending on our gender. For example, areas that deal with spatial awareness are bigger in men, while problem-solving areas are bigger in women.”

Yes men an women’s brains are different, but what neuroscience has discovered is that this difference is far too complicated to ascertain what it means.  And what is clear is that neuroplasticity means that there’s no such things as hardwired difference between women and men.  So so many neuroscientists have written rebuffing the so-called science Carl quotes here.  At no point does he reference evidence for his views, but rather infers it is well accepted science, which it is not.

 

Research has shown that stressful situations seem to activate an almond-sized part of the brain called the amygdala, which processes fear, aggression and action. While in men it triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response, the female reaction has been dubbed ‘tend and befriend’. Men, as a whole, get angry when they are stressed. Women become vocal and chatty.

Responses to trauma are much more complex than Carl is allowing for here.  We cannot underestimate the impact of socialisation on how people respond to trauma, girls are socialised to be “good” and not to fuss, we are told “boys will be boys”.

 

Hormones also play a role. It seems as though it has almost become a criminal offence these days for men to have testosterone. Athletes who inject additional testosterone get angrier and have a much higher sex drive. Men live with a higher level of testosterone 24/7. Women have fluctuating hormone levels according to their monthly cycles.

I don’t know anyone who has suggested men should be banned from having testosterone.  I have however seen many suggest that testosterone is not a justification for rape, violence or other actions that perpetrated by almost exclusively men.  God made men with testosterone.  He also made men with free will.  So whether it is men and testosterone, or women with monthly cycles, our hormones do not in any detract from the choices we make as humans gifted with free will.

 

It’s widely known that more men kill themselves than women. However, it is also known that more women seek counselling for depression than men. Men don’t report suicidal feelings or depression, they just go ahead and kill themselves; usually in far more violent ways than women, who are more likely to poison themselves. Men chuck themselves off buildings, jump in front of vehicles or shoot themselves. That’s what testosterone can do.

The deep irony of an article which starts with telling us to “man up” then suggesting that men being less likely to talk about their feelings because…MEN ARE WIRED DIFFERENTLY will hopefully escape no one.  No wonder men don’t talk about their feelings!  Weakness and vulnerability are squashed out of boys at an early age.  The masculinity Carl discusses throughout the article perpetuates the very issues which underpin WHY men don’t talk about their feelings.  In fact, a recent campaign trying to prevent male suicide is working on men not being defined by the very stereotypes Carl perpetuates throughout the article.

God made men with testosterone.  It is not testosterone that causes suicide.  Circumstances, mental health issues, lack of support, stereotyping are all contributory factors in men being at risk of suicide.  And let us not forget that 90% of those who self-harm are female, which is inherently a violent act.

 

“We do open up and chat, but often in male spaces. I recently heard about a barber shop that created additional male spaces for guys to hang out. The owner related how men would openly share their feelings at quite a deep level and share very intimately. But when a woman came in and sat with them they stopped sharing and moderated their behaviour in an unhelpful way.”

Ohhh!  So it’s women’s faults men don’t talk?  Not the fact that having to “MAN UP” is a thing men have invented?  Carl’s following comments talk about men not being into lovey-dovey Jesus is my boyfriend stuff, but just here insists men can’t do feelings because…WOMEN.  How about men insisting other men don’t like lovey-dovey stuff perhaps impacting men’s ability to be honest about their feelings?  No…?  Let’s just blame women then eh?

 

So what’s all this got to do with children’s work? Well, a heck of a lot actually. Unless we start to ‘get’ men rather than trying to change them, we’ll never crack it. Yes, there is a broad spectrum of masculinity, just as there is with femininity. I understand that, but let’s get real. Let’s stop using a female standard to measure emotional and spiritual health.

Oh, so there’s a broad spectrum of masculinity?  I thought all men couldn’t talk about their feelings, had good spacial awareness and get angry when stressed?  Because of their brains?  But now we hear (very briefly) that some men aren’t like that, then a SWIFT MOVE ONWARDS.

Who is using a female standard to measure emotional and spiritual health?!  Who is doing that?!  Last time I checked (and I actually have checked) the national Christian platform is 62% men, so it’s not there…  How about in Christian publishing?  Christian media?  In local churches?  Oh no, on every level of the church, men are the majority of preachers, writers and holders of the message.  So unless women are controlling the message via some sort of mind meld, I’m unclear as to how the measure is in any way FEMALE.

 

“One example of this trend is the constant emphasis on ‘falling in love with Jesus’.”

I’m not sure where Carl has been in the last decade, but the falling in love with Jesus thing was a sort of 90’s cultural thing.  It didn’t last long and it certainly wasn’t (and isn’t) a CONSTANT EMPHASIS.  I’ve never heard a sermon on falling in love with Jesus.  The only church leader I know who was into it was male (who incidentally also insisted we all hold hands in a service and sing “Bind Us Together Lord”).

 

“I’ve heard pastors tell me that I need to fall passionately in love with Jesus.”

Now, I could be wrong here, but I’m guessing those pastors were MALE.  I know most of the songs Carl is talking about are written by men.  So where exactly is this message coming from?  Because it’s certainly not women who have the majority voice in the church.  Anywhere.

 

“The love I have for Jesus isn’t sexualised.”

I’m sorry to have to break this to Carl, and everyone.  THE LOVE I HAVE FOR JESUS ISN’T SEXUALISED EITHER.  What does that even mean?  How would the love people have for Jesus be sexualised?  That sort of thing is usually relegated to cults who have all sorts of alternative sexual practices.  It’s certainly not something I’m into, or any of the women I know (unless they’re secretly part of a Jesus sex cult I don’t know about…).  In fact I’d suggest it’s deeply heretical and offensive to suggest that any of us have a sexualised love for Jesus.

 

“It’s a love that I hope means I would take a bullet for him, not light a candle and gaze into his eyes dreamily. Men don’t get this eros love for Jesus stuff. They don’t fashion a strong faith in the melting pot of Mills and Boon, but in the context of sacrifice, honour, humility, grit and picking up their cross on a daily basis. Testosterone can be harnessed to this end, or we just end up switching the men off, throwing them into the cauldron of redundancy until, confused, they start to display less helpful male traits.”

I love Jesus.  With all my heart I love Him.  I hope that if I am ever given the opportunity to sacrifice my life for Him, that I would do it.  I’m not all into the dreamy eye gazing either.  Where exactly is this MELTING POT OF MILLS AND BOON?!  Seriously, it’s not something I’ve come across and I’ve been in church my WHOLE life.  Women are up for this call of sacrifice, honour, humility, grit and picking up our cross daily.  Across the world women are utterly familiar with this, what with doing it for their kids while in many countries we see men don’t do this for their kids.  As the saying goes, “a pound for the man is a pound for the man, a pound for the woman is a pound for the family”.  I know that being a mother and the sacrifice that involves isn’t the sexy taking a bullet kind of love, but it is something that women do more often than men, across the entire GLOBE.

And what are these “less helpful male traits” Carl speaks of?  I guess working in the field of ending violence against women, I would suggest they are raping women, mutilating women, killing women, killing their children, killing and mutilating other men?  Perhaps sexually abusing children?  You know, the “less helpful male traits”…?  As someone working full time in ending violence against women, I can assure you feminisation is in no way contributing to the choice some men make to abuse, rape and violate.  The very thing Carl wants to perpetuate, testosterone fuelled, feeling-less MANLINESS is what underpins the violence done to women and children by men.  It is by learning empathy and compassion that men choose to stop.  It is through taking responsibility (not blaming women and feminisation) that men change.  It is through re-humanising women and seeing them as equals that men re-humanise themselves.

 

“In other words, we’re getting it wrong. We tell boys off for wrestling and scrapping because it feels unseemly and somewhat un-Christlike. It isn’t! They’re just blowing off steam the way boys know how to.”

I’m confused.  Jesus was and is the greatest advocate of non-violence that ever existed.  He didn’t defeat evil with a sword, but by being stripped and beaten.  By giving up all power as God and becoming a human baby, birthed from a woman, and raised as a weak, feeble human.

 

“We don’t let boys play with toy guns because we think they will grow up to be aggressive. Rubbish. They’ll just go out and make swords and rifles from sticks. Harness, don’t extinguish. Go with it, don’t deny it. Shape ’em, don’t destroy ’em.”

My son’s favourite game was cooking right up until he went to school.  Within weeks his favourite game became killing.  That’s what socialisation does to boys, it tells them to kill not cook.  To destroy not build up.  And that is not the Gospel of Christ.  We are called to pick up our cross, not beat people with it.

 

“We need to train our children from an early age to engage with the world around them without losing their faith and integrity. We need them to learn how to win and lose with grace. We need to show them how to be competitive without being brutal and vicious. We need to harness the testosterone of our boys rather than hoping it goes away or trying to re-programme them. We were given it for a reason.”

I feel like quoting The Princess Bride in response to Carl’s constant assertions around testosterone “You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means”.

Why do we need to teach boys to be competitive?  Last time I checked the teaching of Jesus was that the first should be last, that the greatest will be the least.  And it that’s too hard for Carl’s MANLINESS, then that’s unfortunate, because that’s the Gospel.

 

“We need men who are trained and raised up not just to lead in Church, but in every sphere of society.”

I hate to break it to Carl, but men are already leading the church and society.  Women on the other hand, are a minority voice in all decision making processes the world over.

 

“We need strong men of God who can take a hit for their faith in the media and the arts; on building sites and farms; in factories and accountancy firms. The same goes for women, of course, but they shouldn’t have to do it by pretending to be masculine to compete. They have uniquely redeemable skills and qualities of their own.”

I don’t ‘take a hit for my faith’ by pretending to be masculine.  What does that even MEAN?!  Should I don a fake beard before entering any space where I may need to stand up for my faith?  Boys have plenty of role models for what it means to stand up for their faith.  The Bible stories we tell across Sunday School, the great people of faith they hear about are almost exclusively male.  It’s not boys who need role models for standing up for faith, it’s girls.  I don’t need to pretend to be masculine because I continue to be authentically who God made me to be, with the gifts and talents He gave me, to do the work He has called me to.  The same as all the women I know who are standing up for their faith are doing.

 

“What kind of man do we need in the 21st Century? A beatitudes man. A man who will live and die with Jesus Christ as his master and commander. A man who has submitted his strength and testosterone to Jesus. He is secure in his identity and doesn’t care whether he is good at sport or not. He is who God made him to be. He doesn’t feel demonised because he has big muscles, nor weak if he doesn’t have them; he is not looked down on if he is competitive and aggressive. He’s a kingdom man.”

How is the 21st century kind of man different to the 21st century woman?  As human beings choosing to give our lives to God we should all b seeking to live and die with Jesus as our Master and commander, as our Saviour.  We should all be submitting our strength to Jesus and be secure in our identity.  Surely we should be KINGDOM PEOPLE?  Really?

 

“Do you have men in crèche and in Sunday school? If not, get some.”

Oh yes, because it’s that easy!  Most women I know have been asked to be on the Sunday School rota.  How many of the men are asked?  And surely this could have been mentioned sooner?  We all know that Sunday School is run by women.  So we’ve been told for a whole article that we are the problem with the church, but now it’s our job to fix things.

 

“Do you tell the boys off when they rough and tumble? Why? Let them blow off steam and find other ways to bring the discipline into play. Bring back wide games, I say!”

The problem is we rarely tell boys off when the rough and tumble.  The “boys will be boys’ mantra sits beneath offensive banter, rape and sexual violence, sexualised bullying in schools, domestic violence and other forms of woman and child abuse.

 

“Learn to celebrate male strength as much as you celebrate more feminine qualities.”

WHAT DOES THIS EVEN MEAN?!?!?!?!

To The Men

I wrote this piece earlier today after reading this article. The article states that 1 in 3 women in the EU will be abused by a man they thought loved them; their partner. Yet the article managed to mention women a lot of times, yet did not mention the men who abused them. The invisibility of the men in this piece is not an isolated incident, regularly articles about abuse of women refuses to mention the men who abused them. It’s almost as if violence against women is a perpetrator-less. And yet it is not.

 

After reading this article I then went to the gym where I watched Robin Thicke singing about the Blurred Lines between sex and rape and how he wants to give a woman “something big enough to tear her ass in two”. Except the song was silenced, so all that you could see was a music video where fully clothed men gesture at almost naked women who appear to be wrapped in cling-film. Nobody batted an eyelid. Nobody switched it off. I nearly wept right there on the cross-trainer.

 

Then the next two music videos were of male performers “featuring” female performers. How apt! This is the lie the world tells women. That we are features of men’s lives. Not people, not human beings in our own right.

 

And through my headphones I heard music that praised Jesus and declared that we are free because of His sacrifice and I looked at the screen and considered how many women, the world over, are not yet free. And I almost wept on the cross trainer, instead taking my rising anger out on the machine, getting faster and faster, to the point I almost fell off.

 

I arrived home dripping with sweat and wept hysterically on Mr GLW. This is such a terrible world. And I wrote the words below. Mr GLW advised me not to publish them. He said I would appear as a man-hating, angry, feminist if I did. But I needed to. Because this is how it felt to be a woman for me this morning.

 

And if you read my words and you feel more offended by what I have written than by the fact that 1 in 3 women is abused by a man, or that a man rapes a woman every 9 minutes somewhere in the UK, or that 140 million girls and women are living with having had their genitals mutilated, or that a man rapes a woman in South Africa every 36 seconds, then you need to consider your priorities.

 

If you read my words and feel I am alienating men, or being harsh, we are in the midst of a genocide, a war against women, and yet the media want us to believe this is about isolated incidents. It is not. Men abuse women because they believe they own them, and are entitled to do whatever they want to them. This is across the entire globe. No woman, in any community across the world is safe from male violence.

 

I am married to a man and I have a son and so I know there are good men out there. But until we begin to see this as a war against women, and about global gender relations, we will never see systemic change.

 

The hearts of my sisters and I break. And the world-at-large remains silent.

 

To the men

Your kind are raping my sisters

Your kind are killing our mothers

Your kind are reducing my value

Every single day.

 

And yet, as you hear my words,

You do not feel enraged at your brothers,

At your fathers, at your friends.

 

You feel enraged with me,

For giving men a bad name.

 

I do not hate you

I do not know you

But I cannot trust you

Because your brothers are raping my sisters

And the rapists, murderers, torturers

Cannot be identified in anyway

Don’t take up this with me, take it up with your kind

 

My rights are not women’s rights

My cause is not niche

My sisters are they who brought you into the world

While them who birthed all the people of the earth

Are not human.

Then none are human

 

The screens show mutilated women

Parts, not making up a whole

And your kind have convinced some of my sisters

That to sign up to this mutilation

Is the route to power

 

In the church

My sisters are sacrificed daily on the altar of unity

In the media

My sisters are altered daily in the hope of being found worthy

In the home

My sisters are more unsafe than in a dark alley

In the state

My sisters’ voices are silenced

 

When my sisters are laying in the gutter

Broken, chained, discarded

Who lifts them from the gutter?

Who breaks their chains?

Who walks them to freedom?

Not your kind, but the mothers, the sisters, the women.

Yet my words make you angry with me

And not with your kind.

 

I want to call you brothers

To bridge the enormous chasm

That stands between our peoples

The sisters and the brothers

 

So listen to my words

Said by a broken hearted woman

Hold your brothers to account

And help us end this war on women