Last time we were talking about The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) and how they were drilling down on fundagelicalism’s ongoing culture war against, well, everybody–but in particular LGBTQ folks and women. In that post we were primarily looking at how much of a catastrophic failure the statement was in every way. Today I want to look more closely at why the CBMW chose to rally around this particular set of declarations, because that question tells us everything we need to know about that whole end of Christianity–as well as its end.
The Hills to Die On.
You can tell a lot about people by the hill they choose to die on: that one topic that they will defend to the very last breath even when failure and loss become obvious even to themselves.
Sometimes it seems weird to outsiders to look at the hills that fundagelical Christians have chosen to die on. It might seem, at first glance, to be totally counterintuitive that they’re clinging as hard as they are to bigotry, sexism, racism, and all those other -isms that are awful. I mean, you’d think they’d want to differentiate themselves by being the most charitable people EVER, or maybe the people who are the MOST concerned with social justice, but no, they literally have chosen causes that mark them as being both the cruelest and the most regressive groups in the nation–possibly the world. Worse, they have demonstrated repeatedly that those cruel and regressive stances matter far more to them than any of the stuff Jesus is said to have told them to do.
And yes, non-fundagelicals are often totally confused by this weird insistence on such obviously-regressive platforms. They seem to have nothing to do with Christianity’s main missions of recruitment and charity, after all. And they don’t. Those folks are right to wonder.
It’s like someone showed these Christians a catalog of the worst human beings conceivably possible and they nodded smartly, pointed at the very worst things in the catalog, and said, “I’ll take all you have of these.”
They stand against pretty much every single human advance ever, consequently, but their two main hills to die on are ferocious opposition to women’s rights and complete dehumanization of LGBTQ people.
And when you look at why they stand on those two particular hills with their swords in hand, it actually makes total sense for them to do it.
I’ve written about this before but it’s been a huge long time and (now that I’m thinking about it) on a whole other blog, so I want to recap why it makes sense for fundagelicals to consider their opposition to women’s rights and LGBTQ rights to be causes that they must uphold to the very end.
The First and Always Hill.
The first hill fundagelicals are dying on is women’s rights.
Fundagelicals have always opposed women’s rights–from simple suffrage to the Equal Rights Amendment that they had no small hand in defeating. Without fundagelical posturing, there’d be no anti-abortion culture war and nobody’d blink about contraception coverage in healthcare plans. Sure, Catholics opposed that stuff too and had done so for a very long time, but they needed the political muscle of fundagelicalism to really push for those two reproductive rights to be curtailed. It sure didn’t take much to get fundagelicals on board, though. Not much at all. They already hated and despised feminism with all their might–and they always had.
They oppose women’s rights because in their weird little world, controlled as it is by very frightened and angry men, the literal only way that men can differentiate themselves from women is by doing and being stuff that women do not–and cannot.
Men earn money outside the home. They are big and rough and tough. They can fix the lawnmower and never ever have to do housework. If women are doing all that stuff too, then what are men differentiated by? How can a man show himself to be a man when women are earning money outside the home, are big and rough and tough, and are fixing the lawnmowers and arranging with their partners different housework configurations? How can men actually look male when their essence of maleness is being not-female, and yet femaleness is expanding to cover the same ground they once owned?
They’ve always seen women’s rights as a huge threat because they knew very well that fully-liberated women–and men–would have very little use for the extremely hierarchical worldview that exists in fundagelicalism. That’s why they literally call feminism the curse of independence and consider the whole affair to be driven by demons. Obviously only demons would ever want to challenge a “godly” worldview like theirs. And only demons would have the ability to come close to busting up their penis party.
Their clever solution to the problem of that gained ground was to smash women’s rights back into the Iron Age. Remove the very center of feminism–reproductive rights–and watch feminism collapse as women are shoved back into their former subservient positions as “helpmeets” for men, forced (they’re sure) by simple biology to obey and gratify the men that “God” had in his infinite wisdom decided to put above them. What I’m describing here was always the plan. I heard men talking about this exact same stuff back in the 80s and 90s–and can only imagine they’ve gotten more determined and more polarized since I left the religion.
That’s a big part of why fundagelicals have always taken for granted a narrative about feminism that looks nothing whatsoever like actual feminism–imagining it as making women miserable (or as one fundagelical asshat put it in pushing this exact strawman argument, “feminism is not your friend,” though he actually meant “feminism makes my boner sad”), while the male domination fundagelicals demand makes women happy because they’re fitting better into the fundagelical god’s plan for how relationships should work.
Fundagelicals are having much better success selling this culture war to the rest of the nation than they have with their other main one, perhaps because the impulses that create and nurture misogyny in a human heart are a lot more common than the ones that create and nurture anti-LGBTQ bigotry. Even atheists can be misogynists–and frequently are. Even atheists can be emotionally manipulated into buying into an anti-abortion platform that was always meant to bring fundagelicals back into power over the nation. But when you run into a bigot, you can safely bet the farm on that person being a fundagelical Christian.
So as you consider the CBMW’s statement, be thinking about how it fits into their decades-old opposition to feminism–how it undercuts female empowerment and pushes a view of men and women that serves their own desire to dominate others, all at women’s expense.
The Second and Newer Hill.
The second hill that fundagelicals have chosen to die on is LGBTQ equality. Though they’ve persecuted gay people since forever, it’s only been in the last 20 or 30 years that they began to focus their attention on coming together to destroy LGBTQ lives.
A lot of folks have asked why fundagelicals chose this rather odd focus for a culture war, but it makes perfect sense to me. It has as much to do with their extremely hierarchical view of human relationships as women’s rights do, and for much the same reasons. If their opposition to women’s rights speaks to fundagelical opposition to women bleeding into what they view as the purview of men only, then their opposition to LGBTQ rights speaks to their opposition to people not even defining themselves as men and women in the way that fundagelicals are most comfortable seeing.
That’s why lesbian couples get asked who’ll wear the dress and who’ll wear the pants at their weddings–and all such similar questions about how a same-sex couple moves through a world that fundagelicals imagine is sharply aligned around heterosexual lines. Where feminism up-ends relationship norms, LGBTQ people up-end gender norms of all kinds: what we envision ourselves to be, how we envision the world working around us, and how we arrange our relationships in the first place. Gender identity and expression are together the bedrock of fundagelical hierarchy.
Another darker reason for fundagelicals’ opposition to LGBTQ rights is that advances in this area mean that their vocal opposition did not succeed in changing the public’s mind about this issue. They put down their foot about something they thought would be this no-brainer moral issue that they’d created and fully expected to win. This time they weren’t listened to and they didn’t win.
Even now, after a series of devastating defeats for bigotry-for-Jesus, the bigots-for-Jesus themselves cannot let go of this culture war. Even long after it became glaringly obvious that they were in fact losing that fight (I want to say the writing was on the wall on this one around 2012 or 2014–one lawyer I spotted commenting on a Jezebel piece along these lines predicted marriage equality at the national level to the month that it happened), at this point bigotry-for-Jesus is as much a part of their cultural ethos as their opposition to feminism is. The leaders in the movement have long ago convinced TRUE CHRISTIANS™ that opposition to LGBTQ rights and persecution of LGBTQ people is simply part of being a TRUE CHRISTIAN™.
And they have no mechanism for walking that idea back.
In fundagelicalism, any major new idea has to come with assurances of having gotten divine approval for the idea in prayer–or to have gotten the idea itself through prayer, insinuating unashamedly that the Christian god himself sent a message down to his ant farm to do this terrible thing. They can’t walk back their war on LGBTQ people because they’ve made such a big stinking deal about it being a divinely-mandated and -approved culture war.
They might recognize the sheer human damage that their culture war has done, but they absolutely cannot question the war itself. All they can do is try to make their followers behave less hatefully and cruelly–but not too hard. Even if they made meaningful changes to their social system, even if they could do that, it’s a task that they will find impossible thanks to that hierarchical mindset that they have created.
What It Means.
The question that many have asked about the CBMW statement is Why now? Why these of all things to drill down on?
Over at Wartburg Watch, a fantastic source of All The Terrible Things Fundagelicals Are Up To Lately, they printed a comment from one of their readers that made me think about the concept of hills to die on.
This is going to turn out badly. Of all the things they could rally around, why this? Statistically, the types of churches that would sign on to this probably have many more abused children and women in their congregations than people who are LGBT. This shows that they don’t care about abuse. Many people are going to be damaged by the fallout of this. I don’t believe the signers care all that much about LGBT issues. I think it’s a backdoor way to subordinate women now that ESS failed. See articles 3, 4, and 13, and this statement from the preamble: “his good purposes for us include our personal and physical design as male and female.” They are using the LGBT issue to solidify gender roles, which directly supports their goal to subordinate women. The people damaged by this new statement will be shrugged off as incidental collateral damage.
And the writer of that comment goes on to explain why the CBMW might have made their disastrously-poorly-timed and poorly-received statement: it’s about solidifying the hierarchy and stopping its further erosion by dangerous new ideas like feminism and LGBTQ equality–both of which erode male domination in various ways and whittle away at the power of the old white dudes thumping their chests at the top of the fundagelical hierarchy. That reason is also the explanation for all the things the CBMW omitted entirely from their little manifesto.
Knowing what I know about fundagelicals across the board, it’s hard for me to look at the CBMW’s statement and think that it’ll cause Christians who have already rejected misogyny and bigotry to take up those culture wars again. The people who already subscribe to those culture wars will harden in their beliefs about women and LGBTQ people, but nobody new is going to go “OMG Look at all those Bible verses! This manifesto must be the real deal. Gosh, I guess I’ll have to start persecuting gay couples now…”
If anything, no small number of people in bigoted or misogynistic groups are going to see the manifesto and the opposition to it and second-guess their allegiance to those groups–something I saw happen a few times with just a cursory look at the Twitter hashtag of the statement. (One man said something like “If this is what it means to be evangelical, then count me out. I’m no longer evangelical, I guess.” It echoed other Christians who’ve been bleeding out from the religion lately.)
And maybe that is the goal. Maybe the people involved with the CBMW’s statement wanted to drive away anybody who doesn’t agree with them–all the people in their various groups who would look at their statement and go “Um, none of that looks loving and none of it is going to reverse our membership decline.” Maybe they wanted to pull the wagons tighter around their failing movement. They’ve been cracking down harder and harder on thoughtcrime against orthodoxy as well as dissent from within, these past couple of decades, and the reason isn’t hard to guess.
The most terrible people in fundagelicalism–
Rowdy John Piper, Tony Perkins, William Lane Craig, Denny Burk (the leader of the CBMW as well), and lots more–signed off on this document as containing the answers to the very most pressing questions of this age.
And they were right: these are the questions that are important.
They just got the answers wrong, is all, and everybody but them knows that.
The Future They Fear.
It’s hard to put into words exactly how disastrous this manifesto is. I tried, last time we met up. But I seriously mean it. The CBMW’s statement shows us what toxic Christians‘ most terrifying future looks like.
It’s a future where men and women are equal, where nobody cares what someone’s gender identity or orientation is, where people are free to make and end relationships according to their consent, where sex is freely chosen or declined, where families contain only children who were passionately wanted by their parents, where a robust series of social safety nets prevents anybody from suffering too much when life throws its inevitable curveballs our way, where children are given a fighting chance against the world through rigorous and fact-based education, where people are limited only by their grasp and their reach.
THAT is the future that fundagelicals are terrified of.
THAT is what they fight against.
THAT is what they see coming their way, and they know that their picayune Ignorant Tight-Ass Club doesn’t stand a chance of surviving if that future comes about. It’s a future that has no room for their nattering demands or their grabby hands.
It’s a future that’s coming fast, too.
At this point they’re not fighting to win; they are fighting to survive. That is why no low is too low for them and why their consciences are not perturbed at all by violating every rule they claim Christians must labor under. And it’s why a think tank of dozens or even hundreds of evangelical and fundamentalist leaders came together this year to create a document that did not even try to reverse membership losses or challenge the hateful fruit resulting from their culture wars over the last couple of decades.
Literally all they have, in the corner in which they have painted themselves, is “do this thing we’ve always said to do, except harder and with more fervor.”
That, friends, is why the CBMW issued its statement right when it did, in the manner in which it did. In the face of utter obliteration, all those Jesus-y simpering entreaties vanish and flicker away to reveal the real face of fundagelicalism. And it doesn’t matter how many trans kids they drive to suicide, or how many women are murdered by partners who are well-regarded in their various churches, or how much abuse people suffer at the hands of “godly” men or how many scandals erupt out of the broken system that is fundagelicalism. Those losses are simply collateral damage, losses that must be accepted and expected if the religion these men have set up can hope to survive into the next century with even a fraction of the power it enjoyed in the last one.
We’re going to have to come to terms one day, as a culture, with the simple reality that fundagelicals have always been terrible people, and we didn’t realize the full extent of their toxicity and begin working to stop them until they’d nearly succeeded in creating a theocracy in America.
But that day is in the future, and we, too, fight to survive.
Guess who’s 2 years old now?