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

Over the last few years it seems that blogging and wider social media has changed enormously.  I’m not an expert in trends, but the monetising of the digital space (adverts on your Twitter timeline, bloggers gaining book deals, personalised trending lists) all have contributed to the space which was once a place of speaking truth to power, into a power source in its own right.  The radical prophets of truth have been subsumed into the power structure, the emerging church becomes, as David Haywood (@nakedpastor) calls it “submergent”.  The question is, does power corrupt, or was the tendency to desire power there all along?

I’m writing this piece partly in response to the way Julie McMahon’s voice has been silenced and ignored by people in power.  Her husband Tony Jones (a man I had never heard of until Julie, his ex-wife, began sharing her experiences of abuse online) is a well known leader within the Christian progressive movement.  She has shared some of the ways in which he hurt her and their children, alongside the ways their church colluded with him over at David Haywood’s blog.

I’m also partly writing this as a reflection a while after Steve Chalke’s continued choice to ignore criticism of the way he referenced a well documented sex offender as a “well-known pacifist”.

I’ve always been vaguely suspicious of the emerging church, where the leaders are almost exclusively white men talking mainly about themselves and their journey deconstructing religion.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve benefitted from reading Rob Bell’s books as much as the next person, but still, these two situations have solidified what was a gradual uneasiness.

Mainly men protecting those accused of being abusers.  People like Pete Rollins, a man presenting himself as liberating people from the chains of religiosity spewing nonsense about narcissism as a form of self-hatred to justify his siding with his friend; enabling Tony Jones continually hurting his wife.  Declaring holding an abuser to account for his abuse as “a reductionist and violent act that allows for dehumanization and lack of empathy”.

Steve Chalke, a leader of inclusivity, whose theological justification for the inclusion of LGBT people within the church included throwing the weight of Biblical scholarship for female leaders under the bus.  (“all those Christians who accept that women have any role, however minor, in teaching or leading, rather than simply serving in a local congregation or any wider expression of church, the Bible – the closed canon of Scripture – does not provide the final answer to the issue.“)  Steve’s inclusivity excludes justice for the 100 women Yoder abused, denying their voice in favour of the nonsense of a “gap between aspiration and behaviour”.

Mark Driscoll stood on a platform this week and declared himself a victim.  And some of the audience believed him.  And his powerful friends who invited him onto the platform applauded him.  And his many victims continue to suffer the consequences of his choices.  His family continue to suffer the consequences of his choices.

This weekend I had an amazing time with a group of wonderful women.  It was my wonderful friends’ hen night and some of our glorious group of women were lesbians.  After a lovely meal, we went to the gay friendly bar “New York New York” which describes itself as a “safe, friendly and welcoming space”.  A man performing as a drag artist spent the 20 minutes we were in the bar being horrendously misogynistic and lesbo-phobic.  He talked about “muscular dykes”, describing lesbians in many and varied disgusting terms, joked about paedophilia and anal rape and spent most of every song shouting about penises.  Myself and at least four other women complained about his behaviour, yet we were told to “f*ck off” or accused of being aggressive.  Woman hating isn’t a church based problem, it’s everywhere.  Even in so called “progressive” and “safe” places.

Isn’t it interesting that women who want equality are so often called “man hating”.  That when women say men rape, they are called man-hating.  But when men kill, rape or emotionally torture women, it’s not called woman hating?  When high profile (mainly) men defend and stand with other powerful men accused of abuse, sexual violence or emotional torture they are not called woman hating?  Isn’t that interesting?

Since the monetising of the digital space, it seems people are less willing to speak out.  Will it always be the case that when people have something to lose they stop being willing to speak out?  Is maintaining book-deals and friends in positions of power worth it?  When powerful people stand on stages or write from blogging platforms do they ever ask themselves, “And what do I benefit if I gain the whole world but lose my own soul?”

I don’t know what the way forward is. Power and platform are not the enemy, like any currency, it is in the hands of humanity that it becomes good or evil.  Money is not the problem, the love of money is.  Power is not the problem, the love of power is.

We need spaces that call out woman hating for what it is.  We need people (and some do exist!) who will speak out, who care more for the voiceless than having their own voice heard.  Because it is that which is not seen as honourable that has the most honour, and that which is last which will become first.  And the truth is, it was in giving up all power that Jesus saved anyone, and as we all know, it is the truth that sets us free.

I don’t have a plan for how we see things change.  I just know that they must.  I say it often, yet I will say it again, until women are safe, no one is safe.  And while  “progressives” hate women there will be no progress.

I was sent this song by someone today, and it spoke so deep into my soul.  I pray this prayer for myself and I pray it for you also.


(The song starts at 1:50 minutes)

Pray by Kendall Payne

I will pray for you now, for you have been my faithful friends

While the road we walk is difficult indeed

I could not ask for more than what you’ve already been

Only that you would say these prayers for me

May your heart break enough that compassion enters in

May your strength all be spent upon the weak

All the castles and crowns you build and place upon your head

May they all fall, come crashing down around your feet

May you find every step to be harder than the last

So your character grows greater every stride

May your company be of human insignificance

May your weakness be your only source of pride

What you do unto others may it all be done to you

May you meet the One who made us

And see Him smile when life is through

May your blessings be many but not what you hoped they’d be

And when you look upon the broken

May mercy show you what you could not see

May you never be sure of any plans you desire

But you’d learn to trust the plan He has for you

May your passions be tried and tested in the holy fire

May you fight with all your life for what is true

I have prayed for you now all my dear and faithful friends

But what I wish is more than I could ever speak

As the way wanders on I’ll long to see you once again

Until then, would you pray these prayers for me?

Oh, that you would pray for me

Advertisements

Thoughts on Steve Chalke and Yoder: until women are free, nobody is free.

When men commit violence against women it rarely impacts their credibility, status or value in society.  Someone I know who works with men in prison commented that men imprisoned for abusing children are seen as pariahs, whereas men imprisoned for abusing women are sympathised with, “it’s only because they were unlucky enough to get caught”.

John Lennon, Mel Gibson, Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Chris Brown, Sean Penn, Nicholas Cage, Steven Segal, Paul Gascoigne, Christian Slater, Ike Turner, Glen Campbell, Ray Rice.  All men arrested and/or charged with choosing to hurt a woman.  All men for whom their actions and choices towards women and girls have not negatively impacted their careers.

Jean Hatchett’s tireless work to campaign against Ched Evans’ becoming re-employed after being released on license to serve the rest of his sentence for rape is likely the only reason he has not yet begun playing professional football.  Before the dawn of social media sites and online petitions, it’s almost certain Ched Evans would have returned to his old club and life would have continued for him.  As it is, he may not be working as a footballer yet, but the woman he raped is living with the horrific impact of sexual assault alongside being harassed and forced to change her identity.

Over the last week another serial offender who violated and abused what is thought to be over 100 women has been given a new platform.  Theologian John Howard Yoder features in Steve Chalke’s new book “Being Human” released last week, coinciding nicely with the Open Church Conference he was leading about how to more fully include LGBT* people within the church.

Blogger Thomas Creedy made public concerns about Chalke referencing Yoder within the book, especially where he refers to Yoder as a “theologian and ethicist, best known for his pacifism”.  I have Storified some tweets about the situation HERE.

Christian Today have done a piece giving more information about Yoder, including a response from Steve Chalke, who explained that he didn’t know about “Yoder’s personal history before referencing him in the book, but wasn’t inclined to make any changes to the book in light of the information.” 

He said of Yoder’s book “The Politics of Jesus” that he “think it’s a fantastic piece of theology,” and “acknowledged that there was a “clear gap” between “who Yoder is revealed to be and what he espoused” but added “There’s always a huge gap between our aspirations and behaviour.”

He mentioned cases from “history of leading theological figures who had morally questionable personal lives, pointing to the widespread influence of Karl Barth, despite his unconventional domestic arrangements (he lived with both his wife and his theological assistant Charlotte, to whom he declared his love in letters)” and said that “King David was hardly sweetness and light,”  

He explained that “although he appreciated Yoder’s theology, it was not a defence of the allegations against him. “Just as I consider Karl Barth an extraordinary theologian… But it’s his theology I’m reading, and I understand there’ll always be a gap between who we [say we] are and what we do.””

Although Steve Chalke knew nothing of the allegations against Yoder when referencing him, his response since is of great concern and continues that age old tradition of ignoring, minimising and silencing women who have been abused in favour of the men who abused them.  Preferring the gifts the men bring over the reality of the hurt they have caused.

One of Yoder’s victims was Sharon Detweiler.  Her story can be found HERE.  She talks of the impact of Yoder’s abuse on her, of her struggles with intimacy and trust, her inability to stay in a church for more than a few years.  Of the hurt of being ignored, even with taped evidence of Yoder’s behaviour.  What a disturbing irony!  An author who has written a book about “Being Human” not being able to see or consider Yoder’s victims, talking about a pacifist who violated 100 women.

Jimmy Saville is another man whose crimes were not made public until after his death, but my guess is, his charitable work would not be something Steve Chalke would begin applauding.  In fact those who did celebrate Jimmy Saville, before knowledge of his offences were made public, were very quick to distance themselves from him after knowing about the horrendous crimes he had committed.

In a similar way to Saville, Yoder used his position of power and authority to prey on women, using excuses of gender theology to abuse them.  He never denied the allegations against him and only ever offered a politician’s apology, “I’m sorry you misunderstood my intentions.”  Saville has had royal honours removed and all of his good work is tainted by the reality of his crimes.  Yet for Steve Chalke, Yoder’s ethic and pacifism should remain intact because the sexual offending was “personal history”.

Personal history.  It’s a nice idea isn’t it?  As is the world in which serial sex offending is similar to someone having a live-in mistress.  Yet Yoder’s “personal history” isn’t history for Sharon Detweiler is it?  She continues to live with the consequences of Yoder’s choice to abuse her, as do the other women who were hurt by him.  It’s not “personal” either.  It wasn’t something that Yoder did in isolation, on his own.  It affected 100 women directly, then indirectly affected many they know; their parents, children and partners.  Not only that, it will have impacted the churches they were part of, the people they may have influenced if (like Sharon) they left church leadership after Yoder’s offences towards them.  It’s not personal when 100 women have had to live with being hurt by Yoder.

It’s also not personal when it was not just Yoder’s choices.  Leaders across the Mennonite Church supported him, colluded with him, did not challenge him.  They knew what he had done.  And they failed the many women Yoder hurt.  It’s not “personal history” when individuals and communities protected Yoder and did not speak out.

Steve Chalke is the founder of Stop the Traffik which has at it’s core a commitment to challenging abuse of people, the vast majority of whom will be women and girls.  For him to make this statement about Yoder in light of his involvement in this cause is at the very least, deeply problematic.

Yet Steve Chalke is in esteemed company, theologian and ethicist Stanley Hauerwas dedicates all of 29 words in a 3300 word article about Yoder to his sexual offences.  He describes them as “sexual misconduct” and suggests Yoder’s integrity remained intact because he “submitted to his church’s discipline”.  That Hauerwas, a man with such insight could not see that the power structures of the church means that Yoder could submit to that authority, without ever being held to account, is staggeringly ignorant.

I’m sure I’m not the only person saddened and frustrated by these men who are so committed to Jesus and who have such valuable thoughts, yet see women’s violation and abuse as so irrelevant and small.

It would be shocking if it wasn’t the dominant reality across the world.  Even Paulo Freire, liberationary leader extraordinaire recounts a story in his seminal book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” about a peasant who beats his wife.  Within the story, the peasant is seen by Freire as one of the oppressed, not as an oppressor of his wife.  The man assault on his wife is blamed (by Freire) on the oppression experienced by the man, not on the man’s choices.

A socialist friend of mine who recently turned 60 has shared with me on numerous occasions the ways in which women were simply expected to accept their oppression sacrificially for the “cause”.  The sexual assaults on women in Occupy camps over the last few years show this is not a historical issue.

A while ago I chatted to someone whose husband had studied the leaders of the great revivals throughout history; Wesley, Wigglesworth and others.  He was hoping to find examples of how to be a good leader and a good spouse.  She explained that he couldn’t find one revival leader who had respected or honoured their wife.  Not one.

Over and over again women’s freedom, liberty and rights are discarded in favour of “the greater good”, whether that be Yoder’s theological insights, socialist utopia or Christian revival.  And at that I really weep.

My sisters are thrown in the gutter; raped, violated, dishonoured.  Their lives and stories are trampled on by those who hold the power, their silence requested, nay required, in furthering the liberation of people groups.  Yet while those who birth all the peoples of the nations are trampled on, nobody is really liberated.

It will only be as the power holders choose the voice of the powerless over the Big Thoughts of powerful men that change will happen.  As they address their blindness and the privilege of not knowing what it means to suffer as women suffer.  When as individuals and as a community we hold to account those who erase the suffering of women, no longer will power holders be able to sell books about Being Human while ignoring victims of abuse.  It’s as each of us speaks out and stands up, that change will happen.  Because until women are free, nobody is free.