Another Reason for Women to Leave the Christian Faith

Beth Moore is a Christian evangelist. Fairly popular.

John Piper is a Christian preacher/author. Also popular.

Last week, someone asked Piper for his advice:

I’m a guy. Is it wrong for me to listen to Beth Moore?

(No, really, someone wanted advice about that. Because that’s a source of conflict in this guy’s mind.)

Piper responded with the obvious answer:

No, of course it’s not wrong. Listen to what she says. And if the advice is good, think about how you can apply it in your own life.

HA! I’m kidding. Of course he didn’t say that. That would’ve been sensible.

Instead, Piper gave an answer you’re all gonna have a field day with

No. Unless you begin to become dependent on her as your shepherd-your pastor.

This doesn’t mean you can’t learn from a woman, or that she is incompetent and can’t think. It means that there is a certain dynamic between maleness and femaleness that when a woman begins to assume an authoritative teaching role in your life the manhood of a man and the womanhood of a woman is compromised.

I want to learn from my wife and I am happy to learn from Beth Moore. But I don’t want to get into a relationship of listening or attending a church where a woman is becoming my pastor, my shepherd or my authority. I think that would be an unhealthy thing for a man to do. I could give reasons for that biblically, experientially and psychologically, but I have given the gist of it.

It reminds me of that Bible verse in which Jesus says to Mary Magdalene: “Woman, know thy place and get back in the kitchen!”

I know, I know, it’s just some jackass using the worst possible interpretation of a religious text, right? But Christianity always seem to be littered with men like this…

My friend Rachel Held Evans took Piper to task for this (*gasp*… a woman speaking up? Rachel, what are you doing?!) on account that he’s cherry-picking that particular verse (emphasis hers):

Piper cites the first half of 1 Timothy 2:12 (“a woman should not have authority”) as universally applicable, but disregards the second half (“she must be quiet”) by encouraging women like Moore to continue speaking. If the first half of 1 Timothy 2 is so crucial to the complementarian hierarchal construct, why is the second half, (along with the silence command in 1 Corinthians 14:34) essentially ignored? Why is that complementarian women are forbidden from assuming leadership in churches, and yet permitted to speak? Nowhere does the Bible spell out this distinction between teaching and speaking or between leader and “shepherd-pastor.” Does Piper’s response not “reinterpret apparently plain meanings of biblical texts” and rely on a bit of “technical ingenuity”?

In other words, Piper is taking the first part of the verse literally… but he’s ignoring the (equally idiotic) second part of the verse that tells women they ought to be silent. Rachel has a point. Don’t cherry pick. It’s all or nothing.

(And if there’s one thing we all know for a fact, it’s that Christians never pick-and-choose when it comes to the Bible…)

It’s amazing to me that any woman in her right mind would want to live by Biblical ideals when so many of them, like this one, go against their best interests. It’s been said before, but God is like an abusive boyfriend and it’s high time women leave the relationship.

And why aren’t more Christian women denouncing this guy? Sure, Piper’s not worth listening to, but neither are any of the other Christian men who use Biblical “rules” to keep women quiet and under control.

By the way, Greta Christina has a great take on the cherry-picking problem:

… [D]on’t atheists do the same thing? Atheists don’t blindly follow the teachings of Saint Dawkins or Saint Hitchens — we accept the ideas that make sense to us, and reject the ones that don’t. Why are we so critical of believers when they cherry-pick their sacred texts? What’s the difference?

Yeah. See, here’s the thing.

There is a huge, huge difference between atheists cherry-picking the parts of a secular text that we find useful and plausible… and believers cherry-picking the parts of a religious text that they find useful and plausible.

The difference is that the atheists aren’t bringing God into the equation.


About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    We can cherry pick references and quotes while rejecting others from the same source because we can explain why in logical terms. If the source is a document you believe to define what is true and what isn’t with no logical or Humanist reasoning then it would make no sense to cherry pick from it. It’s either all entirely correct by definition or it’s entirely not the word of God.

    I am interested in knowing how Piper responded to Rachel’s criticism.

  • Lady_Ravenchilde

    And the atheists don’t have a Book that says, for example, in Deuteronomy 4:2 that you CANNOT cherrypick. When atheists don’t follow something that Dawkins or Harris or Dennett or Hitchens or PZ Meyers says, they are not negating anything else. When believers don’t follow what their Holy Writ says, they are denying the entire thing.

  • Jesse

    And atheists don’t claim infallibility for Dawkins and Hitchens.

    • Anonymous

      It makes me laugh when christians say “well, you treat the work of Dawkins as your bible!” and “you atheists treat him as your god!” Laugh, and shake my head in despair. 

      • William Young

        Yes, like what part of Atheist don’t they understand. No gods, period. How can Dawkins or Hitchens be a god? Even worse are those who think Atheists worship Satan. Again Atheists worship no gods, good, bad or indifferent

    • Russ Gunsalus

      To be fair,  every ideology-religious, secular, political, economic etc. have texts and leaders that function as “sacred.” So to the extent that any ideology or system of thought has internal or external debate there will be “cherry picking”.  That goes for theism and atheism. 

      • Aasda

        If you agree with the Axiom and cannot fault in the logic.  You must always accept the conclusion.   Always.  No cherry picking.  That’s reason.

      • http://twitter.com/Kahomono Kahomono

        Says who?  There is no “sacred” text to atheism.  It’s kind of the opposite…

  • Rb6k

    Religion relies entirely on the fact their holy books are the complete guide to everything, the direct word of the creator, the guide to life. If any part of these books is disproven then that means their belief that this book should be 100% followed is wrong.

    If you’re calling yourself part of a religion but chosing to ignore any part of its rules and regulations then you’re not following that religion becuase you’re choosing to ignore what your God has told you to do.

    With atheism no 1 thing supports another, it doesn’t work like that. We’re saying “Religion needs to get some evidence to back its claims or stfu” The extent of being an atheist is thinking there is no God. It doesn’t need to go any further. Everything after that point is just science, nothing to do with atheism. If Dawkins comes out with 200 reasons why the universe is made out of pancakes that is his research as a scientist, he’s making that claim with evidence to back him up. If some atheists think “My word, he’s right, it is made of pancakes!!” that is their choice because they have seen his evidence. The only atheist part of that whole piece of research is the fact he knows there is no evidence for God and has tried to find an answer which has lead him to pancakes.

    Some (not all) Atheists are searching for the answers elsewhere instead accepting a fairy tale from religion without a grain of evidence to back it up. 

    • Rb6k

      To add to this, some atheists just don’t care where we came from. I imagine most reading this sort of blog want to know though, which leads to the science.

    • Anonymous

      Hmm pancakes.

      • Rb6k

        Not sure where I decided on pancakes from, but I have been craving them since!

    • William

      And religions that don’t have holy books?

      • Rb6k

        Sub Holy Books for rules then (I did think when I wrote it that not all religions have books) If  it is just the belief in “thing” then it still needs evidence and reasoning behind it.

    • Sarahdlangford

      But it’s not possible to wholly follow the bible. It’s contradictory to the point of being nonsensical. Anyone claiming to follow has to cherry pick.

      Why are we picking on cherries anyway?

  • David McNerney

    Sorry, but you have to read quotes from the bible “in context”.

    Everyone knows that.

    • http://www.facebook.com/DocMonkey Mick Wright

      That’s all right for those whose context is the inside of their own head, but it’s no good for those of us poor heathen souls who’ve been taught to empathise with other people. We’re not enclosed enough to wall off contradictions like that.

    • Peter Mahoney

      By ready the crazy book (bible) “in context” you imply an endorsement of “moral relativism” that so many believers argue against. If god’s morality is absolute (not relative) and god is unchanging, then his moral laws/mandates would apply to humans throughout all time.

      Thus, it would be a lame god whose laws only applied to the bronze age but don’t apply now.

      Thus, you/we/humans should either apply god’s laws even now (kill those who work on the sabbath, don’t let women speak in church, beat up on our slaves, etc.) or just abandon those bronze-age myths (seeing them for the ancient superstitions that they are). I’ll choose the latter.

      • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

        Even if we were to abandon old religions based on ancient myths it just frees up room for new mythical religions to emerge.

    • Rb6k

      Care to elaborate?

  • Anonymous

    The basis for all ‘Religions’……….. Don’t think for yourself, we’ll tell you what to think and when you can express your own thoughts and opinions.

  • http://twitter.com/Kahomono Kahomono

    There is a huge, huge difference between atheists cherry-picking
    the parts of a secular text that we find useful and plausible… and
    believers cherry-picking the parts of a religious text that they find
    useful and plausible.

    The difference is that the atheists aren’t bringing God into the equation.

    The difference is that religions claim their holy books are the literal and inerrant* word of God, and nobody makes such claims for anything by the Four Horsemen.

    * except the parts that don’t suit their agenda, please look away for a moment while they “interpret” those out of existence.

  • Anonymous

    I think that cherry picking is actually a really good thing for believers to do.  If you accept that they aren’t likely to deconvert any time soon then the best we can hope for is that they will interpret their holy books in a positive and productive way.  

    1 John 4:8 says “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” yet there are dozens of references to fearing God, hating even your own family, burning in hellfire, etc.  I’d much rather Christians cherry picked the good, secular, honest, open, kind, compassionate parts of the bible than the hatred and bigotry that we’ve all come to know and shake our heads at sadly.

    As for taking advice from Beth Moore I like the Buddha quote on the subject:

    “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

    • Anonymous

      Agreed. Cherry picking is a good thing. You have to pick and choose. There is absolutely no way to believe everything in the Bible, let alone act on it. But people need to be honest and consistent in it. That’s the key. Acknowledge that some of the stuff is nonsense and say why you don’t follow it

      • Rb6k

        You can’t hold the book up as a reliable source of *anything* if you’re cherry picking what parts to take serious. Why would “Gods word” be full of so many irrelevant parts that you can disregard as you see fit? What if those parts were the only parts he meant and he actually wanted you to hate thy neighbour and be a real jerk about it?

      • mysciencecanbeatupyourgod

        Um, no it’s not. If you cherry pick from a text that is supposed to be infallible you are admitting that it is fallible.

        Atheists can cherry pick thoughts from atheist texts because they are just that – thoughts. Hitchens, Dawkins, et al are thinkers, not preachers. They do not claim infallibility nor divine inspiration. They don’t say “I am an unquestionable source of undeniable information and this is what’s what” – they say “I’m a guy who observes and thinks and here’s what I’ve come up with.” When someone says “hey read this book, there’s some good stuff in it” it is an acknowledgement that the writer is human and that not everything in it may be accurate or useful. But when somebody says “God spoke to me and here are the words verbatim” It really undercuts your claim if you say “except this part, I think somebody added that or didn’t quite understand what God was saying…”

        The Bible is sold as a unified, consistent history that was inspired by God. Every human involved in creating the Bible was divinely guided so that everything in it is true. If you cherry pick, you are admitting that everything in it is not true. You are by your actions, showing that on some level, you do NOT have faith in your text and you KNOW parts of it are wrong and if one guy could get non-God inspired information into the final version, then it is entirely possible that any and every passage in it has been compromised. (Or that God never had a hand in writing it in the first place.)

        • Anonymous

          Not all Christians consider the Bible to be infallible or even historical. Heck, priests know perfectly well how those texts were written and compiled.

          Sure, it’s still illogical as there is no rational basis to still hold on to some rules and not to others. But in practice, it’s possible to co-exist with people like that. Unfortunately, we won’t get rid of religion any time soon, so we still have to live with them. And cherry-picking is the only way to make that bearable.

  • http://lovejoyfeminism.blogspot.com Libby Anne

    And…again, this is how I was raised. I was literally taught that women are never to have careers. I’m still trying to recover from that one!

  • http://nolongerquivering.com Vyckie Garrison

    Rachel Held Evans is no stranger to cherry-picking bible verses herself.  She’s making a big show of following the bible’s commands for women, including not cutting her hair, abstaining from sex – not even touching her husband – during her period, etc – in preparation for her upcoming book, “A Year of Biblical Womanhood.”  

    Yet, when it comes to the bible’s clear command, “Be Fruitful & Multiply” – Evans says she will not be having a baby as part of her experiment.  

    I spent over 16 years of my Christian life tying myself in knots in order to consistently practice “Biblical Womanhood” as defined by John Piper and his Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.  Prolific childbearing and indiscriminate submission to my husband resulted in an extremely demanding lifestyle which was abusive and ultimately unsustainable.

    When I finally woke up and started thinking again, just as I had embraced “all the bible with no cherry-picking” – I quickly ditched all the bible, including Jesus and “The Big Guy.”

    I founded a website, No Longer Quivering, where those of us who have escaped share our experiences in that oppressive “biblical” lifestyle.

    • Anonymous

      I came across your website before while browsing and it seems to be a good resource for women  leaving abusive religions. It’s a mystery to me that with so many religions on offer in the US so many women choose to be stuck in ones that treat them so badly. For those who need religion in their lives they owe to themselves and their children, especially their daughters, to chose religions where women have equal rights to participate and act as leaders.

    • Russ Gunsalus

      I’m so sorry that the bathwater of some sexist’s interpretations caused you to through the baby too.   There are entire branches of Christianity that don’t do that and fully affirm woman and men equally at every point in the society and the church.  Just for one example you would probably enjoy this from a biblical scholar friend of mine.   http://kenschenck.com/women.html and http://kenschenck.com/wrongonwomen.html  they are brief and pithy.   Peace to you.

    • Russ Gunsalus

      ooops.  clearly I meant. . . throw out the baby. ..

    • Russ Gunsalus

      one more collection of Christian thought and practice that is completely egalitarian.  http://www.jameswatkins.com/women.htm

  • Erp

    Correction, it is not recorded that Mary Magdalene was told to get back to the kitchen by Jesus.   The general story is that Mary (generally considered a different Mary) was listening to Jesus instead of helping her sister, Martha, in the kitchen.  When Martha complained to Jesus that Mary should be helping her, Jesus said Mary had chosen the better part and could stay.    I do wonder what would have happened if Martha had then joined Mary and Jesus ended up with no supper.

  • Erp

    Correction, it is not recorded that Mary Magdalene was told to get back to the kitchen by Jesus.   The general story is that Mary (generally considered a different Mary) was listening to Jesus instead of helping her sister, Martha, in the kitchen.  When Martha complained to Jesus that Mary should be helping her, Jesus said Mary had chosen the better part and could stay.    I do wonder what would have happened if Martha had then joined Mary and Jesus ended up with no supper.

    • Rb6k

      He’d of continued to not exist. *shock*

      • Erp

        You are missing the point.  It is irrelevant whether the characters actually existed, but, what the story actually was in the Bible (Hemant got it wrong) and playing with alternative endings (haven’t you ever done that with a story?).

  • Anonymous

    I don’t have a problem with cherry picking from the bible. I do it myself.

    Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, love thy neighbour - these are good ideas.

    Where it all falls down is where

    a) people support the good ideas not because they’re good ideas, but because they fear punishment and hope for reward.

    b) people support and promote the bad ideas and don’t feel they need any more justification than the fact that they are ‘biblical’.

    So I say put down the bible and convince me with logic. If you can’t, then maybe it’s because your ideas aren’t good ones.

    I’d invite Mr. Piper to expound upon the ‘psychological and experiential’ reasons he has for his opinion. I have a feeling they’d be swiftly exposed as faulty and backwards.

  • Charvakan
  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

    Reader Katherine couldn’t post for some reason, so she emailed me this comment:

    The Bible is such an influential document that we could easily argue we are all cherry picking those things that suit us. The Jews in the Old Testament were probably one of the first societies that had a system of tithing – a means of providing for “the widow and the orphan” and many people approve of the commandments – don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery.  Without the influence of religion down the ages, it is likely we would still be very much looking out only for ourselves.Jesus says very clearly that man is far more fond of the traditions of man than the Word of God. I would say that many Christians get confused between the 2. He says it in the context of being told off for eating on the Sabbath, which is – by a literal interpretation of the text – against the Law. Equally, the Bible says that the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. As a Christian, I would suggest that both these quotes invite us NOT to take the Bible  literally. As any lawyer will tell you words can always be taken more than one way. We need to use the words and then go beyond them.

    • ACN

       and many people approve of the commandments – don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery.  Without the influence of religion down the ages, it is likely we would still be very much looking out only for ourselves

      Katherine, 

      These mandates are hardly unique, and hardly divine. Pretty much every society has come up with prohibitions against murder and theft. A telling example is the Code of Hammurabi. It thoroughly predates any written account of the 10 commandments, and contains the injunctions you would expect against murder, theft, perjury etc.

      Do you honestly believe that before their alleged trip to Mt. Sinai, the jews were under the impression that adultery, murder, theft, and perjury were all “A OK”? And that it was only with this instance of divine intervention that they were able to figure this out? 

      • Anonymous

        sorry to be a pedant, but i have translated the CoH out of the original Babylonian and it’s worth noting that the gods were very much a part of it. in the sense that his authority stemmed from them, which is made clear in the intro and ending, and that he was ‘divine’ and chosen of the gods and thus wiser than other people and thus a good law giver. Babylonians believed in totally different gods than jews and christians today, or of the ancient world, but they still considered themselves a very “faith based society.” you couldn’t walk a few miles along the two rivers and not trip over a temple to some god or goddess. 

        that said, i completely agree with your point. i think people have known ‘right from wrong’ since before science calls them true people. in fact, i’m pretty sure science has proven this. it’s an evolutionary trait to respond when we are exposed to the suffering of others. iirc there’ve been a couple of studies on this; how people instinctively respond to a crying baby, etc. even if it isn’t theirs. 

        • ACN

          There is a time and a place for pedantry, and I think that in this community, a discussion of Hammurabi’s code is a very reasonable time and place. :)

          To clarify my point, I didn’t mean to imply that the CoH was purely secular. Rather that injunctions against murder/theft/etc have been “discovered” independently by all kinds of different cultures and civilizations, before and after the alleged events of the ten commandments, no divine intervention necessary.

  • Anonymous

    I agree that these sorts of responses are there to keep women ‘in their place,’ silence us, etc. 

    However, in my estimation, this is a reason for people to reject this sort of doctrine, not just women.

  • Anonymous

    I agree that these sorts of responses are there to keep women ‘in their place,’ silence us, etc. 

    However, in my estimation, this is a reason for people to reject this sort of doctrine, not just women.

  • Nazani14

    ” the teachings of Saint Dawkins or Saint Hitchens”    Dawkins teaches biology and evolution, Hitchens doesn’t teach anything at all.  He’s a journalist.   When it comes to atheism,  neither of them has asserted that there’s a right way to be irreligious.

  • Jillian

    “The difference is that the atheists aren’t bringing God into the equation.”

    And more importantly, the atheists never claimed that The Blind Watchmaker (or another atheist book) is 100% inerrant and infallible and literally true, *then* hypocritically pick and choose sentences and chapters from the book.

  • Billy

    In that link there is a semi colon. “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;[b] she must be quiet.”  Those sentences are connected, “she must be quite” refers to “teaching or having authority over a man” presumably in a religious context. Don’t confuse the issue.

    • Billy

      Presumably in a religious context such as at church or something as implied by the chapter, reeaadd the boook people.


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