The Gospel of Toxic Masculinity: Why the Southern Baptists are Actually Condoning Domestic Abuse (Whether They Mean To Or Not)

The Gospel of Toxic Masculinity: Why the Southern Baptists are Actually Condoning Domestic Abuse (Whether They Mean To Or Not) May 7, 2018

Who’s game for some Monday morning feminist rage? Everyone? That’s what I thought. Let’s roll.

First, let’s talk about how the Southern Baptist Church—long known for their rigid stance on women in preaching roles—are in a legit argument right now about the general okay-ness of domestic violence.

Paige Patterson is a high profile leader in the SBC. As a former chair of the Convention, and current president of  Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has an authoritative voice in the Convention. Recently, he was slated to speak at a large national gathering, and came under fire for some remarks he’s made in the past about women. Specifically, how women who are in domestic abuse situations should not divorce their husbands, but should “Make themselves submissive” instead. (He’s also been criticized for other kinds of remarks about women. Unsurprisingly).

After these comments were released, Southern Baptist leaders have responded … sort of. Some have publicly stated that they personally don’t agree with his beliefs. Others have suggested maybe it’s just time for him to retire. But from an organizational perspective, consequences have been slow in coming.

In a Facebook post over the weekend, I made a reference to the SBC’s seemingly weak stance on domestic abuse. Predictably, I had people tell me I was overreacting, being alarmist, etc. But I stand by it. While the Convention has made a statement regarding their commitment to the safety of women and children, at the end of the day, Patterson still has the microphone. He’s still got his standing in the Church, and he’s still got a platform and a public presence. As long as the SBC is willing to give him that, they are creating space for his message.

And that message, when parsed out, goes something like this.

a) To women: your rights are non-existent. Your dignity and safety are not as important to God as keeping those marriage vows. In the interest of self-preservation, make yourself as small and quiet as possible so he won’t have a reason to hurt you.

A reason. Essentially justifying the abusive behavior by attaching cause.

It follows, then, that message

b) to abusive men goes: Keep hitting her and you’ll get what you want. No consequences.

The connection between points A and B are clear. Not liberal alarmism, not an angry feminist agenda—a clear path from a gospel of toxic masculinity to a church-enabled system of abuse.

This is bullshit patriarchy, hard at work to preserve itself by upholding “the system” at all costs. In this case, “the system” is both the traditional institution of marriage, and the authority of the institutional church—and its inherent right to define the roles and dictate the behaviors of women. It may seem absurd that this is even a conversation in 2018, that a group of male authority figures are holding honest-to-god debates about a woman’s right to leave an abuser. But coming from an organization that has consistently set itself apart by silencing half of its members and banning them from leadership roles? Totally unsurprising.

After all, if a woman has no right to her voice and identity in the pulpit, why should she have one in her own damn house?

Again, it’s not such a great leap from Point A to Point B. Women can’t speak because they are secondary citizens. Secondary citizens are vulnerable to abuse of all kinds.

Meanwhile, CNN released a list of “Most Effective Preachers” last week … presumably derived from reader feedback and investigative journalism of some sort. The resulting list? One woman. One. Out of 12. And yes, she’s a great one. Barbara Brown Taylor is a lioness among leading faith voices.

She’s also semi-retired.

Hear me when I say, I don’t need to be on that list; I don’t care if I ever in life make such a list because what I and my colleagues know is that preaching happens under the radar. Week in, week out in local congregations where pastors are living and walking alongside people; making themselves a part of the local community by showing up and doing the work every day; and, Sunday after Sunday, offering up a good word that somehow ties scripture to that communal life, in real time. We don’t do it for fame, and we sure don’t do it for the money or the cool points.

But it still makes me crazy—and it should make you crazy too—that the authors of such “lists” cannot look outside the usual boxes and find a single Traci Blackmon or Cynthia Hale or even a Jenn Hatmaker/Rachel Held Evans type. Women who are positively bringing the thunder, and not just speaking truth to the community, but changing the perceptions of women’s roles WITHIN that local community. Not just in the church, but far beyond. Relevant Magazine came back with a list of 12 Women Preachers you should know about, and it’s a great list. But the fact that they had to come up with a “women preacher” list in response to the FIRST list tells you that the mainstream church still has a “separate but equal” mentality when it comes to women’s voices.

Aside from the appalling lack of gender diversity in the CNN feature, there is one name on that list that I’d love to smudge out with a flame of a minor prophet’s fire and brimstone. More than wanting to live to see my own name in lights, I want to live to see the day that a name like John Piper provokes nothing but outrage—or possibly just a dismissive eye roll—from the faith community at large. When it comes to misogynistic mansplaining of scripture at the expense of women, he is the worst of the worst. Just, the worst.

And he has almost a million followers on Twitter.

Though he comes from a different brand of Baptist, he represents the Gospel of Toxic Masculinity every bit as much as Paige of the SBC. It’s a gospel that compartmentalizes the Church from the rest of civilization, upholding the institutional right to limit women’s roles in ways that are socially unacceptable in every other corner of public life now. This stratification reinforces every long-held notion about women’s rights in other spheres: a right to her body, to her safety, to her own voice. I’ll never understand why so many free-thinking, presumably intelligent and compassionate people still follow these leaders, uphold their platforms and maintain their systems of abuse. It just goes to show that the lines from institutional “freedom” to widespread societal ill are not always visible to the naked eye.

But the lines from “women can’t preach” to “wives, submit to your husbands,” to “husbands, it’s totally OK to hit your wife,” are not difficult to draw.

And if you still don’t see the connection, you might be a big part of the problem.

Want to read more? My book,”Resist and Persist,” is about the many ways patriarchal Christianity affects women’s lives. Check it out. 

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