Hello from Italy! (And thanks to JS for alerting to some of the links below.)
The way my experience played out makes sense within the culture that shaped me. Of course, the principles about gender and sex that we absorbed in SBC institutions and broader evangelical culture were not explained as principles. Instead, they made up an invisible web of discourse within which we learned to negotiate.
If the first thread of that web is that women’s bodies are sex objects and male-female relationships are always sexually fraught, then more of the threads could be summarized as follows:
A woman exists primarily for the benefit of the men in her life, typically her father or her husband. A woman who senses a calling apart from those roles needs to figure out how her calling complements and supports the calling of her husband. The husband’s calling, gifting, and agency takes priority over the wife’s. And this reality must be prepared for and practiced in the dating relationship. The man leads; the woman follows. (No mention was ever made of women who may not feel compelled to get married or who are not attracted to men at all.)
Men are inordinately preoccupied with and tempted by sex. Because this is their fundamental nature as men, it is the woman’s job to ensure she protects the men in her life from her body. This principle is in tension with the one stated above. In a dating relationship, the woman does not lead but she is primarily responsible for their sexual purity.
A woman cannot say yes to any sexual act before marriage. Thus, any sexual activity before marriage is shameful and makes the woman “used goods”. (Ask any girl who attended an evangelical youth group in the 90s and she’ll be able to tell you stories of being compared to chewed up gum, used duct tape, filthy water, and more.) There was no distinction made between sexual abuse and consensual sexual acts despite the fact that, statistically speaking, one in four women have been or will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime. Any sexual activity—wanted or unwanted—outside the bonds of marriage is shameful and something for which you will suffer in the future.
A woman cannot say no to sex after marriage. A married man has the right to have his sexual desires satisfied. And a married woman’s role is to satisfy the sexual desires of her husband. Therefore, a married woman should not say no to sex except in extraordinary circumstances. The underlying assumption here is that if she submits, performs, and willingly cooperates with her husband in bed, then the sex will be enjoyable for both partners and he will not become addicted to pornography or commit adultery. In the event that either of the latter scenarios come to pass, then it might be because the wife was not fulfilling her husband sexually. (I have heard men blame the wives of celebrity pastors for their sexual indiscretions more times than I can count.)
If a man harasses, assaults, or rapes a woman, she might bear some responsibility for it. A man’s sexual desires are not easily controlled and it is a woman’s responsibility to protect the minds of the men she interacts with. Perhaps she was in a place she shouldn’t have been, wearing what she should not have worn, saying things she should not have said, or doing things she should not have done. This is born out in one of the stories in the Patterson case: A student at Patterson’s seminary who told him she’d been raped was later disciplined for being in the man’s room.
Again, these principles were and are rarely stated in the explicit way I have outlined above. Nevertheless, they were the ideological water within which many of us learned to swim.
All of these threads in the web of the evangelical sex and gender discourse would be harmful enough on their own, but they are typically paired with one overarching axiom: Men are ordained by God to be leaders in the church and the home and women are to submit graciously to their leadership.
It is this last one—divinely ordained deference to male authority—that helps explain the stories emerging from Patterson’s tenure at both Southeastern and Southwestern seminaries. When joined with overarching male headship and a “touch not the Lord’s anointed” (Ps. 105:15) view of the pastoral office (and all of its derivatives), the sex and gender discourse that exists within SBC and American evangelicalism easily leads to the perpetuation and concealment of harm against women. Certainly, I know plenty of men who hold to male headship who do not endorse the other principles outlined above. Yet, the tangled discursive web remains in place, and women and men are continuing to suffer.
As the Patterson abuses were coming to light, I couldn’t help but think back to the devastating revelations about a sexual predator from a very different theological tradition, John Howard Yoder. In early 2015 (how long ago that feels, in scandal-years!) the Mennonite Quarterly Review laid out the case against the revered pacifist theologian, who had violated more than 100 women over the course of several decades. Every part of the story was awful—the violations, the years of cover-ups, victims not heard or believed, powerful men excusing each other’s worst behavior.
As with Patterson, Yoder’s egregious acts were already known (though not to their full extent) by insiders, but the urge to protect a hero, an institution, and theological insights deemed true and critically important drowned out the cries for justice. Until the cries broke through—and even then, the defensive urges rose up.
He didn’t live up to his own theology, but that theology still stands on its merits, people said about those guys, as well as about figures as varied as Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, and Martin Luther King, Jr. I’m sticking to 20th and 21st century Protestantism because that is the field I know best, but countless other examples could be cited from other time periods and Christian traditions as well.
McGowin is absolutely right that Patterson is fruit of a poisonous tree, and cutting him down—while a good and necessary step—will accomplish little unless the rotten branches are pruned and the source of the poison located. The same warped gender ideology that supported Hybels and Savage would fall to this pruning, but what about Yoder and the others? Is patriarchy so deep-seated in Christianity that it cannot be rooted out? On the other side of this question, what good fruit might be lost if we take this particular axe to the Christian family tree? Not all of these figures, or their ideas, seem to belong on the same burn pile, even though they all abused women. …
Emily Hunter McGowin articulated this position vis-à-vis Patterson, and she’s not alone. Other men and women are similarly calling for broader and deeper investigation, believing that Patterson’s abuses of women are inseparably connected to complementarian theology and the power plays that he and his proteges used to take over their denomination.
This assumption of a systemic problem also proved necessary in Yoder’s case. Theologians who admired him were loath to shelve his insights, eager to separate the scandal from the theology. But eventually, four of them wrote, they had to ask themselves,
what do we do with the places where Yoder’s actions were consistent with his theology? We must be willing to consider the possibility that in pursuing these relationships with other Christian women, Yoder just might have been applying his radical theology, though in ways the rest of us had, to his mind, not the courage to imagine.
Feminist theologian Cynthia Garrity-Bond wrote even more forthrightly,
I believe the weight of an accused theologian’s sexual charges must be brought to the foreground before, during and after examination of their writings. Using a hermeneutics of suspicion let the student wrestle with the weight of said theologian and their sexual misconduct. Absent a full disclosure and examination, only a false exegesis is given.
I heartily concur with McGowin that “this tangled mess of misogynistic axioms … must be rooted out and disposed of—within the SBC and American evangelicalism as a whole.” I only wish we could stop there. The roots of this problem are deep, the branches are wide, and the fruit is sickening.
Last month Dennis Baron, a professor of English and linguistics at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, published an op-ed essay in the Washington Poston the language of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
Two new databases of English writing from the founding era confirm that “bear arms” is a military term. Non-military uses of “bear arms” are not just rare—they’re almost nonexistent.
A search of Brigham Young University’s new online Corpus of Founding Era American English, with more than 95,000 texts and 138 million words, yields 281 instances of the phrase “bear arms.” BYU’s Corpus of Early Modern English, with 40,000 texts and close to 1.3 billion words, shows 1,572 instances of the phrase. Subtracting about 350 duplicate matches, that leaves about 1,500 separate occurrences of “bear arms” in the 17th and 18th centuries, and only a handful don’t refer to war, soldiering or organized, armed action. These databases confirm that the natural meaning of “bear arms” in the framers’ day was military.
Lawyer Neal Goldfarb checked more variations of the phrase in the same databases and came to the same basic conclusion.
In the 2008 Heller case, as everyone involved in this discussion knows, the U.S. Supreme Court decided otherwise. Writing for the court, Justice Antonin Scalia treated “bear ams” not as an idiom with a military meaning but as a general phrase about carrying weapons.
The data shows otherwise—hardly anyone in the eighteenth century used it as Scalia did. As with the Reynolds case I wrote about here, the court’s finding is simply at odds with historical facts. The Heller ruling overturned legal understandings that prevailed for most of the twentieth century and changed the law going forward, but such rulings can’t change the actual past.
The Second Amendment reflects the Founding generation’s faith in the militia system of community self-defense that they had all grown up with. It said nothing about private ownership of firearms to hunt, to protect one’s home or person, or to make loud noises. Perhaps they viewed those activities as falling under the Tenth Amendment. We can’t know because the Tenth is so vague.
That said, the idea of a militia in the Founders’ time depended on widespread ownership of firearms by the (mostly white) men who made up the militia. Even if we go back to reading “bear arms” to refer only to military activity, as the Founders no doubt understood it, they still envisioned a public self-defense system in which most white men owned muskets, trained regularly with those muskets, and knew which officers to turn out for while carrying those muskets.
I think the big question of the Second Amendment lies in its opening premise: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State.” We no longer have a militia system that the Framers would recognize. Instead, we have a large standing army with advanced weaponry, many of those troops deployed overseas—a situation that would startle the Founders, if not alarm them. If the premise of the Second Amendment no longer applies, what does that mean for the conclusion?
Thank you Amanda Southworth:
Sitting alone in a lifeguard tower watching the sun sink below the horizon, Amanda Southworth had a decision to make.
This Los Angeles teen, gripped by depression and anxiety, could continue on as she had, not eating, addicted to painkillers and attempting repeatedly to kill herself, or she could grab a lifeline and use her love of coding to save her own life and others.
On that chilly summer evening in 2015, she hatched the idea for AnxietyHelper, a mobile app that offers the resources she herself needed, and embarked on a journey of healing and recovery that has led to a career in the tech world.
“I can honestly say that technology has saved my life,” said Southworth. She says she hasn’t harmed herself or attempted suicide since. “When I found something greater than myself, I realized that I am not just a person with a life. I am a person who has something to contribute.”
Now 16, she’s dropped out of high school and last month started her own company — but not the way most young technology entrepreneurs do. Astra Labs is a software nonprofit funded by donors and a $25,000 grant from the TOMS Social Entrepreneurship Fund. She spoke to USA TODAY from Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose Friday.
Southworth’s commitment to creating mobile apps and other software that help others was reinforced this week. The deaths of designer Kate Spade and chef and television host Anthony Bourdain were grim reminders of the toll of suicide, the tenth-leading cause of death in the United States and one of three that is increasing, particularly for teens.
The suicide rate for white children and teens ages 10 to 17 rose 70% between 2006 and 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although black children and teens kill themselves less often than white youth do, the rate of increase was higher, 77%.
Southworth estimates she’s been mentally ill for more than half her life. She says she attempted suicide at least seven times.
Many of us find ourselves worrying about trends that feel both potent and recent: a growing inability to distinguish between fact, opinion and lies, and a declining capacity for thoughtful, collective discussion. Someone who has reflected deeply on these issues is Siva Vaidhyanathan, Robertson Professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia. Trained in both history and American Studies, he brings the long view to the challenges of media, culture and democracy in the first decades of the 21stcentury. The author of five books, his first book on big tech – The Googlization of Everything — and Why We Should Worry – was published by University of California Press in 2011. His latest book – Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy, just published by Oxford University Press (go, UPs!) – couldn’t have come at a more important time. We spoke recently about the intricate relationship between media and democracy, and the critical role that cultural institutions – including scholarship, publishers and libraries – need to play in countering this pernicious hold on our attention….
You note that Facebook undermines efforts to deliberate deeply about important matters and talk about the importance of scholarship over the long-term. You finish with “a plea for a reinvestment in institutions that promote deep thought conducted at analog speed”. How would you like to see us step up to these challenges?
That’s a good idea regardless of whether or not Facebook was ever invented. But now the problem is more urgent – we need other ways for humans to learn about the world and interact with each other, healthier ways, less commercial and addictive ways. We should explicitly build out public forums, we should subsidize journalism, we should enhance our public support for universities, museums and libraries. We should promote and take more seriously the scientific project, which we now completely take for granted. We have to understand that historically the scientific enterprise is key to all the US has built. The leaders of the Peoples’ Republic of China get that and yet we seem to have forgotten. So, building up those institutions is crucial no matter what. But they’re even more crucial now that we have this direct threat to our ability to think, and that’s ultimately what we’re talking about here. There’s a frenetic process of distraction through our devices that draws us away from newspapers, magazines and books, out of conversations with smart people from whom we could learn. The lure and gamification of Facebook is a big part of that – it prompts us to reward Facebook for rewarding us, and that’s why it’s so addictive.