Welcomed with handclapping and glee, the demeaning of women and people of color was celebrated on the platform and by attendees at the recent Truth Matters Conference. Leading the way was John MacArthur, a mega-church pastor, radio personality, and seminary teacher. His diatribe against women began as MacArthur offered two words that came to mind when he thought of Beth Moore. With impunity he said, “Go home!” His remarks provoked not silence from the audience but laughter and applause. The African American theologian, professor, and author, Dr. Voddie Baucham, was also criticized. In explaining Baucham’s absence on the panel, the moderator said he was too exhausted to participate, that “he’s not here because… he’s weak, is what it is. He’s weak.” Again, the audience laughed. It is deeply worrisome that bullying remarks from prominent Christians toward women and people of color would inspire amusement rather than remorse. Their reaction reflects a racist and patriarchal legacy too much a part of church life in America—a tradition that has denigrated the gospel for centuries.
While comments that belittled women and people of color were encouraged at the opening of MacArthur’s panel, there was more verbal abuse to come. Pastor Phil Johnson followed MacArthur’s lead by denouncing Beth Moore as a narcissist. Why? Because she said she attempts to see herself in the biblical text. To position ourselves as the subject of Scripture’s teachings means, of course, that we sit under the authority of Scripture. We allow God’s Word to shape and mold our lives. To see ourselves in the text is a discipline that has formed Christian life and service throughout history. Rather than vilify her words, it would have been charitable if Johnson had made an effort to understand her meaning. As a leader, we would hope Johnson would extend her the benefit of doubt, a courtesy that was strikingly absent.
Far from being a narcissist, Beth Moore’s candid vulnerability as an abuse survivor, coupled with her empathy for other survivors, proved a decisive force that challenged the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to examine their own #MeToo scandals. Her courage, humility, and wisdom explain why millions benefit from her leadership and credit her for nurturing their spiritual life. Moore’s character and her partnership with abused women should have earned her respect, but instead they provoked derision from MacArthur and Johnson. While both men sought to demean strong women by calling them feminists and malign their motives as lusting for power, the truth is Beth Moore has never, to my knowledge, defended women’s ordination.
Even so, the idea that the Bible affirms female leaders was not a product of secular feminism, nor a lust for power, as MacArthur and Johnson state. Instead, Christians have recognized for centuries that preaching and spiritual authority are based on character and giftedness, not on gender or race. But what troubles me most about the comments made by MacArthur and his panel is not their failure to charitably and ably defend male-only leaders. It is their egregious contempt for #MeToo survivors and blatant, brazen abuse of women and people of color which they and their audience view as entertainment.
Racism and sexism intensify as MacArthur accuses feminists of advancing critical theories of intersectionality and diversity. In MacArthur’s view, it is the fault of power-hungry feminists that a capitulated SBC now admits there should never be another Bible translation team that fails to include a Latino, an African American, and a woman. MacArthur chided this thinking with his retort, “How about someone who knows Greek and Hebrew?” The crowd erupted in a loud bout of laughter and applause.
The assumption implicit in MacArthur’s response is that Bible teams can prioritize racial and gender diversity only by compromising scholarly competence in the biblical languages. This is absurd. Worse, this is racism and patriarchy—twin demons inextricably part of America’s earliest and deadliest failings. It is “Christian” rhetoric distorted for harm. The truth is, studies show diverse teams are not only more ethical, they also outperform their competitors. For this reason, businesses and NGOs prioritize diversity. Yet the church does not, despite Paul’s teachings (Gal. 3:26-29) and practices (Rom. 16).
What is more, women have driven translations of Scripture since the fourth century: Paula (347- 404) and Jerome (347- 420) who, with other women, produced the unparalleled Latin Vulgate translation; India’s Pandita Ramabai (1858-1922) who translated Scripture from Greek and Hebrew into Marathi; and Helen Barrett Montgomery (1861-1934) who was the first woman to translate and publish the Greek New Testament in English. Barrett Montgomery was also the first woman to lead an American denomination—the Northern Baptist Convention. She is credited for pioneering tools for readers like subject headings, paragraphs, and footnotes for pertinent background information, making her New Testament translation a prototype Bible for those that would follow. Barrett Montgomery relied heavily on the work of Katherine Bushnell’s God’s Word to Women.
A medical doctor, missionary, anti-trafficking activist, and biblical scholar, Katharine Bushnell (1855-1946) exposed flawed Bible translations that devalued women and fueled their exploitation. Her concern for inferior translations grew as she continued to work with trafficked girls and women. She believed their fate was a result of cultural devaluation that better translations of Scripture could have corrected.
Bushnell linked arms with the prominent British evangelical and social activist, Josephine Butler (1828-1906). Together they challenged the systemic complicity of Christian leaders and inferior translations of Scripture that propped up policies and practices exploiting females and people of color. It was women leaders, like Ramabai, Bushnell, and Beth Moore, who challenged the abuse of girls and women by powerful men, even leaders in the church.
Despite opposition from political and religious leaders, these women held the course and remained faithful to their call, fearless in following Christ. They were not misguided by secular culture and most certainly denounced the church’s failed leaders and their flawed teachings. Consistently they challenged the dual demons of racism and patriarchy, realizing that to “pluck the mask of the pharisee, is not to raise an impious hand to the crown of thorns,” as Charlotte Brontë wrote.
While MacArthur et al. seek to marginalize the influence of women and people of color by defining their leadership as “feminist” or “weak,” Scripture supports their spiritual authority not because of gender or race, but because their character is aligned with the teachings of the Bible. To demean women as beguiled by a liberalism that cultivates inferior biblical scholars who are also people of color is racist and incompatible with the obligations of Christian charity and leadership.
Be clear on this: God will expose demons that work together to amass power in the hands of an abusive few. Our Lord included the Samaritan and Syrophoenician women as disciples just as the Apostle Paul asked Philemon to welcome Onesimus as a brother. Junia, a woman, was prominent among the apostles just as Onesimus became bishop of Ephesus. Against these the gates of hell will never triumph. The twin demons of racism and patriarchy will be defeated. The birth of Christ’s church was celebrated at Pentecost through many tribes and tongues, by old and young, by male and female. The bride of Christ remains glorious and vibrant through its ethnic and racial diversity and because of women leaders God has gifted and called. May we honor, rather than demean, their leadership and imitate their faith because truth matters!