Memo to the Masses: Withhold Consent from Christian Sexism
It's happening again. A hubbub over John Piper saying God wants the church to have a "masculine" feel. The last hubbub hasn't even died down—the one sparked by Mark Driscoll saying women should keep themselves up so their husbands won't cheat (or was it when he said stay-at-home dads are worse than unbelievers?). Before that, it was something Al Mohler said, and before that Wayne Grudem, and before that James Dobson, and the list goes on like a biblical genealogy. Christian sexists make offensive statements and the opposition goes wild. This call-and-response is long-established, but the cycle has never been so swift, nor shared so widely, as it is today, thanks to social media.
It can feel effective to blog, comment, or repost the outrageous statements of Christian celebrities. At least you're doing something. But without those clicks, there would be no hubbub, or at least less of one. The resistance (make no mistake; we are legion) needs to hone our strategy against Christian sexism.
After Piper interpreted a Minnesota tornado as God's judgment against a church gathering at which homosexuality was affirmed, I blogged a satire, predicting local weather by interpreting my toddler's behavior (male emissions of the urinary variety) with verses from Leviticus. My dearly departed blog had few but faithful readers, but on this day, hundreds stampeded over, offering supportive comments and reposting my words. The spectacle was exciting, but its net yield—calling even more attention to Piper's words—was the opposite of what I had intended.
Any aspiring tyrant knows that Power Move #1 is winning and maintaining the consent of the masses. Many Christians overtly support Christian sexism by buying the books, attending the seminaries, tithing to the churches, and heeding the authority of the men who proclaim it. But often, using social media to protest these men only facilitates the spread of their message, which is consent of a sort. I once heard someone associated with the Holocaust Museum refuse to appear on a split-screen television debate with a Holocaust denier. Giving each person half the screen, he said, creates the impression that the arguments are of equal worth.
Power Move #2 is to convince the masses that the elite have all the power. Really, power is a two-way street. There is, on the one hand, an attempt to influence people; on the other hand, the people must consent to be influenced. The power of the masses is the power to grant or withdraw consent. (This must not be misconstrued as victim-blaming, especially when exertions of power involve violence or manipulation, and the oppressed have few or no options.) So, let's reject the authority of the Christian sexists. Stop giving them face time on our social media. Stop engaging their arguments as if they are intellectually or biblically worthy. Stop buying their books, even if just to critique them. Pay so little attention to them that next time someone tells you about their latest horror, you'll be surprised they're still around.
I once attended a public forum regarding local development in Washington, D.C., at which federal urban planners asked for residents' feedback. A drunken homeless man awoke from his nap in the back row and slurred, "I'd like the streets paved with gold, like in the book of Revelation." The planners nodded respectfully and moved on. The man was allowed to stay, but he was not asked for further comments. He wasn't credible; no one granted authority to his suggestion.
Jenell Williams Paris is professor of anthropology and sociology at Messiah College in Grantham, PA. She authored The End of Sexual Identity and co-authored Introducing Cultural Anthropology: A Christian Perspective.