Keep Going or Stop?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I came across this quote from Susan B Anthony today:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps God could be saying to us:

“Quit your worship charades.

I can’t stand your trivial religious games:

Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings—

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

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

You’ve worn me out!

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

while you go right on sinning.

When you put on your next prayer-performance,

I’ll be looking the other way.

No matter how long or loud or often you pray,

I’ll not be listening.

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

people to pieces, and your hands are bloody.

Go home and wash up.

Clean up your act.

Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings

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

Say no to wrong.

Learn to do good.

Work for justice.

Help the down-and-out.

Stand up for the homeless.

Go to bat for the defenceless.”

Isaiah 1:13-17 (The Message)

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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 We Talk About When We Talk About Gender Disparity on the Platform

Patriarchy is all pervasive.  It seeps across all areas of life.  There isn’t one solution, one issue or one aspect to approach patriarchy from.  Perhaps one of the issues with blogging is that it invites us to only consider a couple of issues, it is not designed to approach the fullness of something like patriarchy.

 

When we look at the reasons for gender disparity on the platform, things like childcare or complementarian theology are often as far as we get with defining the issues.  Yet these are superficial issues and in no way explore the vast complexity of why we have less women on the platform.  Yes, there is a need to question whether equal representation is the right way to go, but if we do that without exploring why there is disparity between men and women, we glaze over the actual issues.

 

After collating the statistics for platforms in 2013 I was regularly being asked whether quotas were the way to go.  As a result I wrote this document in consultation with as many women in leadership as I could.  It is 34 pages long and articulates the reasons women are less likely or able to gain speaking opportunities.

 

So I thought I’d list the issues raised in the document here, so instead of picking one or two, we can hopefully stop listing one or two of these and thinking that is enough.  Instead we need to look at the whole picture and engage holistically with it.

Society Community Ontogenetic Individual/Internal
Intersectionality of oppression Formal reinforcement of societal beliefs Children not given critical thinking skills Imposter syndrome
Neurosexism Informal reinforcement of societal beliefs Christian products perpetuate stereotypes Lack of gender awareness
Patriarchy Women’s appearance scrutinied Sexualisation and commercialisation of childhood Women who put selves forwards seen as “pushy”
Institutional sexism “Queen Bee” syndrome Role models fit gender stereotypes Motherhood:

Stepping of the “career ladder” and unable to get back on

Lack of provision for mothers at events

Guilt

Hegemonic Masculinity “Home wives” and “work wives” Children’s clothing Singleness
Male privilege Women expected to fulfil “female roles” Toy and technology industries Lack of self-confidence
Lack of transparency/consistency Lack of support from friends or family Gender socialisation Lack of resources:

No “wife”

Financial/time

Lack of accountability/consequences “You can’t be what you can’t see” Different expectations of girls/boys Silencing tactics:

Policing tone

The “grace card”

Gender stereotypes Lack of gender awareness in ministry training Adolescent development Shame
Gender justice seen as a “women’s issue” Focus on justice as “out there” Traditional gender roles seen as a measure of Christian commitment The patriarchal bargain
Selfish capitalism Single sex events can perpetuate stereotypes Events for children and young people rarely focus on gender Assumptions made based on gender
Tokenism Local church”

Not championing women

Not providing leadership opportunities

Not enacting egalitarian theology

Sex and relationship education Individual complicity:

Not willing to give up power

Fear of the consequences

Lack of knowledge

Blind to the issues

Lack of courage

Women’s contributions written out of history Lack of regional opportunities Parenting Pressure on female leaders to represent their entire gender
Media Representation of women:

-Invisible

-Pressure to conform to beauty industry standards

-Sexualised

Lack of informal ministry training No gender awareness training for youth and children’s workers
Violence against women Lack of support with formal ministry training Parenting advice perpetuates gender stereotypes
Women have less decision making power Fear of inappropriate relationships Lack of discipleship
Women are poorer
Unhealthy expectations of:

Women without children

Single women

Men

Wives

Mothers

Women only invited to speak on “women’s issues”
Workplace not designed for women
No teaching on what a right use of power looks like
Gender exclusive language
Don’t know any female speakers
Negative attitudes towards feminism
Only using existing pool of speakers
Lack of intentionality in inviting women female speakers
Gatekeeping
Main leadership model is charismatic
Theology:

Modesty

Emphasis on “maleness” of God

Unity prioritised

Gender justice a “secondary issue”

Creation ordinance for gender

Only asking speaker’s wives
Non-ministry experience undervalued
Accusations of “feminisation”
Invisibility of women
Muthos

In response to some of the things Ian Paul and others have written about the issues of having children, I have a few things to say.

 

For the last few years, Mr GLW and I have run a consultancy together.  He manages the finances and I do mostly everything else.  This means he has been the primary carer of the children and the house for that time.  He is brilliant at it.  We clearly felt God’s call to live out our life and faith in this way, with both our skill sets contributing to us generally managing family, work and life quite well.  The main issue for us has not been some biological reality of my womb making me yearn for more time with my children, but rather the social judgments made (especially by Christians) about our roles.  On numerous occasions Mr GLW has been asked “So when are you getting a proper job?”  And people are incredulous that I can achieve so much while having a family.

 

I don’t think the way we work is right for everyone.  But suggesting women are biologically predetermined to be the primary carers of children and the home is reducing the opportunity for both women and men to live out God’s call and fully use their gifts.  So in finish I would say:

  1. Men’s contribution to childcare and the home is a deeply feminist issue.
  2. The Church should be encouraging all men to be more involved with their children and homes.  As a feminist and a christian I regularly object to the sort of hegemonic masculinity perpetuated by the majority of Christian men’s work in the UK.
  3. I am not interested in the statistics because I value the people speaking on platforms more highly than others.  I believe there is a need for us Christians collectively to stop waiting for the next big event to hear from God.  Jesus died and rose again so we no longer needed an earthly priest or mediator between us and the Creator of the universe and Christian events are often used by individuals as a replacement for spending time in reflection with God.  However, the statistics we can gain from events gives us a snapshot into Christian culture and the way certain types of power are allocated.  That snapshot is invaluable in motivating change, articulating the issues and beginning the conversations and actions required to change things.
  4. Nobody ALLOWS their wife or husband to be a GP, have a job or be a primary carer of children.  We support, encourage and enable our wife or husband to do such things

Guest Blog: Poem from my mum

My mum wrote this poem about patriarchy and I thought it was great and asked her if I could put it up here.  She said yes, do enjoy it!
Patriarchy, why are you so afraid of strong women,

Women with the heart to challenge you in the arena

Of words, or anywhere that your physical strength

Is of no significance?  Why do you need to control

Women?  Are they such a threat to you?

We are all, male and female, prey

To the patriarchs, they believe we must

Bow before their scathing, belittling

Words and deeds, their domination – No!

We will not be cowed into submission

Nor preyed upon by those who seek

Us out like missiles, homing in on us.

Our shield shall be the truth

That no woman or man owns another.

The spectrum of human nature is wide

For human beings no trait is purely male,

None solely female either.  Forget

What has been passed down to you,

Start afresh, embrace equality for all.

Men and women cannot be owned by anyone

They are free.  All women can be strong women

But not all realise their power yet, we who know

Our strength, must build up our unknowing sisters

With words of encouragement, and knowledge

Of the true reality of patriarchy, which tries to

Imprison women in the cage of a manufactured

And false femininity.  Wake up sisters, from the dream

Be the women you were meant to be,

And you men who are awake to the fake superiority

That you have been fed from birth and ancestry,

Arise and join your sisters, help to free

Your brothers from patriarchy and false masculinity.

Patriarchs will not concede easily but injustice will not

Win the day, it will fail as long as we stay strong.

Justice will always triumph in the end and

Our words will remain long after we are gone.