Lately there’s been a trending hashtag on Twitter: #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear. Most of us won’t be surprised at all to hear the stuff that appears under that hashtag. I was even more interested in the responses to the stuff women are sharing on it. These responses reveal a lot about the religion and its direction–and why it is failing so fast and so hard. They are the reaction to a tell-tale heart in hashtag form.
Sarah Bessey, a Christian writer, flippantly created the Twitter hashtag at the heart of today’s post. She may not have even expected it to go too far, but it exploded through the internet.
Quickly I noticed that people’s responses to this hashtag fulfilled a rule called Lewis’ Law: the comments on any online post or article about feminism justify feminism. One could apply that rule to this hashtag too. The comments on it more than justify the need for its existence.
There are various compilations of the Greatest Hits of the #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear hashtag–here’s one, for example (and you might even recognize one of this blog’s mods in that list!). But they don’t usually include the responses to those hits. I wanted to know more about those.
Earlier this week we looked at the responses to a Christian minister who was trying to tell his tribe to quit trying to zing and whammy non-Christians into conversion with apologetics because it wasn’t effective. Not a single respondent to his ideas actually addressed his point: that apologetics doesn’t actually convert people. Instead, they panicked and ran through their entire toolbox of misdirection, victim-blaming, No True Christianing, and silencing. In that vein, I want to show you the responses to the hashtag #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear–and translate those responses.
Before we begin, though, I want to mention a couple of things.
First, nothing in the complaints is anything new. This is all stuff women have been hearing–and complaining about–since I was a Christian in the 1980s and 1990s and likely even long before then. These are complaints based in systemic sexism, a problem that’s only gotten more entrenched in the decades since I got out of the religion. Hundreds of women are pouring their hearts out in this hashtag, obviously happy to finally get a very public platform where they can express disgruntlement that has been brewing for years. But they’ve been making these observations privately among themselves for decades.
Second, nothing in the responses is anything new either. Some responders were sympathetic, while most were condemning in some way or outright trying to silence the complaints. Some men sounded downright shocked by the revelations revealed; many issued calls to “repentance.” (That’s Christianese for saying they’re sorry, but saying it in a way that makes them sound very, very sorry. It might imply actually changing one’s behavior to improve the situation, but the foll0w-through is almost always nonexistent in reality.) But so far, every single person I’ve seen conceding that there’s even a problem with sexism in Christianity has immediately decided afterward that the problem is how people live out Christianity’s teachings (or how the women themselves are feeling–lots of victim blaming going on here), not the perfect message itself.
As a direct result of those two enduring situations, there are clear trends in the responses Christian women are getting on this hashtag.
WAAAH BUT BUT BUT ISLAM!
A number of Christians responding to the hashtag immediately fixated on how unfair it was that people were focusing on criticizing Christianity when, in their opinion, Islam is soooo much worse to women. I’m not sure why the Christians trying this redirection tactic thought they were being clever here; likely they got the idea from AM talk radio or something, because inevitably whenever a big criticism gets made of their religion in the last couple of years, Christians suddenly get terribly interested in Islam. The attempt to redirect much-deserved criticism ends up sounding terribly whiny and put-upon, but it also backfires dramatically by making us painfully aware of how oppressive all religion is to women.
There’s no charitable read I can give on their goals in trying to redirect our attention. Do they imagine everyone will go “Oh, wow, okay, we’ll stop criticizing Christianity until no other religion mistreats women. That’ll obviously end all the injustice Christian women are experiencing at the hands of their brethren.” Well, it ain’t happening.
On that Religion News Service piece, one commenter didn’t care at all about the actual injustices being shared on the hashtag. She just wanted everyone to know all the ways that Islam was mean to women. Her comment was quite long, but it was very indicative of a good number of the Twitter responses as well–like this tweet:
I’m so sick of the Christian bigotry from the left. God forbid we offend Muslims but screw Christians right?#ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear
— r1es (@midnightride20) April 19, 2017
“I’m so sick of the Christian bigotry from the left. God forbid we offend Muslims but screw Christians right?” And this guy spent a considerable amount of time in the comments spewing insults at anybody who disagreed–and advancing his theory that people needed to be nice to his religion and give it a pass until Islam was either repaired or eliminated. (It’s mind-blowing that this is how salespeople behave in public around people they ostensibly want to persuade!)
One should bear in mind that these comparisons to Islam are literally only happening because of how stung Christians are by the revealing nature of the quotes women are sharing on the hashtag. That’s it. They’re just trying to redirect the conversation and deflect blame. They’re not actually trying to fix the problem they’ve brought up. They don’t actually care at all about actual Muslim women and are doing nothing whatsoever to help them. (Anti-abortion activists are much the same about all those “precious babies” they rattle on about.) These responses are 100% only happening because they want people to look away from their own flaws. Specifically, they want women to shut up and let things go back to the way they were.
This response is about control. Specifically, it’s about toxic Christians (be they male or female) who feel like they’re losing control of the conversation about their religion. To regain that control, they try to set rules for how everyone’s going to be allowed to discuss their broken system. There may have been a time when such Christians could actually do that successfully, but that time’s long over–so nobody’s listening to their tantrums demanding that people only criticize Christianity in the way they happen to feel most comfortable hearing.
Alas and alack for these folks, nobody’s required to follow their arbitrary rules.
Oh, Well, Those Just Aren’t TRUE CHRISTIANS™.
A number of Twitter people were convinced that the big problem here was that the Christians who were saying this stuff to women just weren’t true enough Christians.
One guy sanctimoniously opined, “What’s so important about the
#ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear hashtag is that none of these things are things God said, just other Christians.” It probably made him feel much more Jesus-y, but it doesn’t fix the problem, which is that a hell of a lot of Christians do say this to their Christian sisters in the faith, and their broken system not only allows this injustice to happen but encourages and even teaches this way of interacting.
One person decided that the hashtag “is important not because Christianity is awful, but because the Church is run by people and people have flaws.” She does not, of course, follow that up with any way to detect and remove the “flawed” people or to protect others from them. Her system provides no way of doing either of those, after all. It assumes that those with power and privilege have it because “God” gave it to them, and so there’s nothing to detect or remove–except when there is.
This sentiment was very common through the responses I saw. To Christians, Jesus is totally perfect. Their churches all say they’re following Jesus in the most perfect way possible. So the problems here must all be people-generated. Nobody is ever allowed to actually examine the system that produces all these people who create these problems.
It’s an ingenious dodge, if you think about it. By putting the blame on sinful people, Christians neatly avoid having to address systemic injustices. All they have to do is convince all those sinful people to repent and promise to listen to Jesus from now on! When all Christians are listening to Jesus, nothing will ever be wrong again! But they have no idea how they’ll convince all the fake Christians to shape up their act, so the problem just sits there totally unresolved.
I’ve Never Heard These Comments Before, So Obviously Nothing Here is Valid.
A woman wrote, “When you heard many sermons on how women submit to husbands but 0 on how husbands lay down their life for wife.” One guy only said in response, “I have never heard these two preached separately.” Several other people agreed with the original poster–and the tweet has 354 likes as of now, which indicates that she touched a chord in a lot of other women. But okay, dude, you’ve never heard about this problem so obviously it’s not one at all for anybody, anywhere.
When a woman shared her experiences of being told by her rapist’s mother that “the ultimate healing would be if you two were married,” a shocked-sounding Christian replied that clearly this statement had “nothing to do with Christianity” because “that is not how normal Christians would handle that scenario.” I’m guessing she doesn’t know a lot of Christians. But she wasn’t the only one talking like that.
I will say that I actually laughed at this other one, by a man responding to something else entirely: “Ok, that one had to be said by a woman, right?!?!” He couldn’t even picture a man saying anything like that (though he was being more playful than flat-out denying it happened, I think).
With the possible exception of that last one, these comments are about distancing oneself from unpleasant information. By saying that they’ve never encountered these sentiments, Christians can feel better about their own belief system. They vilify other Christians, but hope to make themselves look superior. They know that there are thousands of flavors of Christianity, so they’re hoping everyone condemns those other Christians–not themselves.
And again, by doing this they can ignore the problem entirely. It’s not their problem. It doesn’t happen in their Christianity. So they can’t really do anything about it.
It’s so easy to deny and push away problems that way.
Just Shut Up, That’s Why.
More than a few men decided to do their Christian duty by simply silencing women outright. When one woman shared a particularly poignant observation (“Only men are strong enough to lead.” — “Men just aren’t strong enough to resist your above-mid-thigh shorts.”), one guy decided to reply, “Never thought I would live to see Christian women spread hatred of Christian men” and then lectured that Tweeter about how hateful she was to share that simple observation of stuff that she, personally, had heard from the men around her in Christian culture.
If any “hatefulness” had occurred, it happened when men originally communicated the stuff being shared on the hashtag. Ignoring it doesn’t make the hatefulness of the original communication go away. It’s all still there. Saying “this is what happened to me” is not hateful. It’s reporting. Later on he said that the women sharing these comments were literally “demoralizing [his] gender,” but he is nowhere near the level of self-awareness he’d need to understand that his feelings of demoralization aren’t coming from the women reporting on their experiences. He’s feeling exposed and he doesn’t like it, but he can’t address the real cause of it–so he blames the messenger for making his man-boner feel bad. (Problem solved! Yay!)
Then there’s the woman who mentioned abstinence-only miseducation: “Think of sexuality as a piece of gum. Nobody wants a chewed piece of gum.” One guy who claims to be a pastor immediately replied, “Were you a virgin?” and followed it up by mansplaining at her about how to communicate properly (read: in a way that made him happy).
Indeed, another woman felt that the women complaining were obviously just upset about being justly criticized: “Virtue. Self-respect. Character. Modesty. Humility. Since when is being a woman of grace & honor a BAD thing?” This is a good example of someone who is so sunk deep in her broken system that she literally can’t see injustice and abuse happening right under her nose. I remember being that way myself, in the beginning. She doesn’t understand that every one of these qualities are subjective products of their culture, and if the culture is broken then these qualities will inevitably be used to oppress women and silence them–like she is by denying that the hashtag has any merit. She wasn’t the only woman who was feeling very huffy about this whole thing, either–only the most self-righteous.
And in the “Just Asking Questions” JAQing-off competition we have a winning entry: “So you’re saying we should define spiritual gifts to be whatever we want void of Biblical parameters?” from a Christian man who clearly doesn’t think that his god told women they could lead anybody. (Ain’t his Jesus Aura blinding?)
When Christians have nothing really good to say about a topic that they think damages their sales pitch, they go straight for the silencing tactics. They do it because in their culture, silencing tactics are brutally effective. When you see a Christian using silencing tactics outside of their bubble, you can be totally sure that you’re witnessing anti-process in motion.
Tempered Hope, Dashed.
I have seen some men respond in very helpful ways to what’s been shared. One fellow flat-out said he wouldn’t tolerate sexism from anybody anymore, and that was good to see. This isn’t a fight women can win by themselves–by the nature of the broken system, those who hold the privilege in it have to be part of the changes that have to happen.
While a few men were moved to express sadness over the information they were learning (they often claimed for the first time!), others participated actively–either on behalf of their Christian wives, or just with stuff they’d observed being taught to other women. This thread revealed that there are Christian women being told that the only reason women are ever “chosen” by “God” to lead anybody is if “God” can’t find suitable men to do it. That was news to me, personally!
But I did not see a single suggestion from Christian men that were aimed at actually resolving the broken system itself. Lamenting that there’s a problem is good. Agreeing that the women sharing this stuff have a point is a start. But now there need to be walking-boots put on that sentiment. There needs to be action.
And there won’t be any, needless to say.
That’s because Christianity is not set up to be repaired.
Its institutions and traditions are now so entrenched, followed so blindly by so many people who are convinced that a real live god told them to do this stuff and believe this nonsense, that I don’t think there is actually a way for anybody on social media to have a significant impact on it. For every one man in the religion who agrees that there are issues at all, there are many thousands more who are huffily denying it or doing their best to silence the women revealing the many flaws in the system that benefits those men so much.
Even if these women are indeed fully silenced, the broken system’s injustices will still beat beneath the floorboards of churches all over the world: tuh-TUM, tuh-TUM, tuh-TUM, announcing the unseen presence of something dreadful that’s been done and then covered up.
That said, once Christians have been sufficiently persuaded that there’s a problem, they’re good at sounding very very sorry. When the outcry gets too loud to ignore or silence, they’re also good at pretending to listen–when they have absolutely no other recourse. Sometimes they squinch up their eyebrows like preachers; sometimes they even cry a little. But the follow-through, as I mentioned, is never there. The changes that need to happen never do. The system absorbs these criticisms and then a week later it’s as if nothing happened. The women who are exulting at finally feeling free enough to share years of injustice and oppression will bitterly note that yet again, nothing they said actually mattered in the end to the people who needed to hear it.
I have no reason whatsoever to think that this hashtag is going to be anything different. The only good part is that I notice that a lot of ex-Christians are speaking up too–and that may give the women making these complaints the courage to start seriously wondering why a system created by a real live god seems to have all these unfixable problems.
From there, they may start thinking the unthinkable: that maybe it’s time to just leave this broken system. I can only hope. Walking away from Christianity was one of the best things I ever did–like losing 100 pounds in one day, like growing wings and flying. I didn’t even realize what a dysfunctional, abusive relationship it was until I was out of it.
Speaking of which, we’re going to revisit an old (and much, much, much-criticized) name next time, one who still doesn’t get what he’s doing wrong. See you next time!