Dolly Parton’s message to the church
Dolly Parton recently released a song titled “Don’t make me have to come down there”. Released on her 77th birthday, the song was based on a dream, in which she says God spoke from a mountain, warning that if we didn’t pay attention to Him, the consequences would be dire. Many people within the present-day church would probably be quick to assume that this message is for people outside the church, and it may very well be. However, so much of what is going on within churches these days is contrary to the teachings of Christ and rather than focusing on Dolly’s latest release, in this essay, I will discuss a song she released 55 years ago with a message that is very relevant today. The song was an international hit, even topping the charts in South Africa.
The story behind the song
Dolly wrote the song “Just because I’m a woman” after a conversation with her husband that left her feeling upset. They had been married for about eight months when he suddenly asked her if she had been with anyone before him. (Why he hadn’t asked about this before if it mattered so much to him remains a mystery!) When she answered him honestly, he was upset, and the outcome of this interaction was the song that includes the following lyrics:
“Yes, I’ve made my mistakes
But listen and understand
My mistakes are no worse than yours
Just because I’m a woman.”
The song also refers to how men ruin girls’ reputations, then walk off and look for “angels” to marry.
Double standards perpetrate abuse
The double standards that Dolly was addressing in this 1968 song are still very prevalent today, particularly in many conservative church settings. The recent docuseries about the Duggar family of TLC fame and the organization that they promoted, IBLP, have brought to light how religious organizations and the patriarchy that is so often embedded in them perpetuate abuse. I addressed some of these issues in this essay.
The problem with having different standards for men and women is at the root of what now appears to be an epidemic of sexual abuse in religious settings. Victims are often blamed and told they have to forgive their perpetrators, while the perpetrators get treated like heroes.
She discusses, amongst other issues, how the same people who put so much emphasis on sexual purity when it comes to women take a different approach towards men. Male perpetrators of sexual abuse are often defended, while victims are blamed and shamed.
In this essay, Dan Foster tells the story of how a prominent American pastor publicly shamed a woman named Eileen Gray for leaving her abusive husband. The pastor said that since Eileen was unwilling to repent, what the Lord wanted was for her to be put out of the church. And while he asked church members to pray for her, he also told them to “treat her as an unbeliever”. Regarding her abusive husband, David, the pastor told the congregation that they should pray “that he may be showered with the sympathy, compassion and lovingkindness of God.”
Where the church failed, the legal system prevailed
Julie Roys, a Christian journalist, provides more details on this tragic story on her website. Eileen was told by her church that her husband was not “a mental case”, and that he did not need any psychological evaluation. According to them, he was just a sinner, who could change and grow by God’s grace. This was at a time when her husband, David, was repeatedly threatening to kill her, their children and himself. One can only imagine what the church’s response would have been if he had actually followed through on these threats. I have addressed the need for churches to address mental health in a separate essay.
Fortunately, the legal system eventually caught up with David and he is now in prison for aggravated child molestation, corporal injury to a child and child abuse. Perhaps he will have the time to reflect on his actions while he is in prison and truly repent. This just might be the unintended answer to the prayer that he “be showered with the sympathy, compassion and lovingkindness of God.”
Toxic masculinity is not what Christ taught
My heart goes out to Eileen, her children and other victims of abuse who have been shamed and blamed by their churches. I hope and pray that they will experience the healing and restoration they so desperately need. I really do believe that the double standards that Dolly Parton sang about are contributing to the rampant abuse we are witnessing in church circles today. Toxic masculinity is just that – toxic, and it is not the way of Christ.