Hi and welcome back! Last week, Al Mohler did something he usually does: he objectified and literally dehumanized women. But this time, he faced some backlash for it. Today, I’ll show you what happened, and then we’ll look at why he did it–and why it didn’t work this time.
(Terminology: a childfree woman has deliberately opted out of having kids. A childless woman might or might not be happy with the situation; often, the term implies that she would happily have kids if she could, but faces infertility or lacks a partner or the necessary resources for motherhood. Childfree women often bristle at being called childless because it implies that they’re lacking something, when they themselves don’t think they lack anything.)
Last week, evangelical leader Al Mohler did one of his “briefings.” He does these almost every day as a podcast. His podcast topics almost all deal with his fearmongering and culture war-waging. And those rants almost all get heard exclusively by his tribe of fundagelical culture-warriors: those hyper-politicized Christians who buy into his preferred unholy fusion of evangelicalism with fundamentalism as a means of regaining the power they imagine was once theirs.
This podcast was no different. It consisted of three parts. The others involved hand-wringing over legalized marijuana and state-sponsored gambling.
The first, one, however, was some hand-wringing about the number of women deliberately opting out of motherhood. Very tellingly, he titled it “Less Patriotism, Less God, Fewer Babies.”
In that segment, he tied the number of childfree women to the rising tide of secularism in American culture. (Sure, no experts agree with him–they think it has to do with people’s poverty combined with access to birth control. But forget it, he’s rollin’.)
“To Be Human is to be a Parent.”
In the feed, he wrung his widdle handsies over America’s birthrate. American women, he thinks, need to take one for Team Humanity and have more babies. The entire species is totally on the line here! But those silly women won’t listen to him! Why won’t they listen to him?
Here’s the significant part:
. . . Americans are basically, by the millions, giving up on the fact that to be human is to be a parent, eventually to take on that responsibility to get married and have children, to take on the responsibility of passing on civilization itself.
OMG, won’t someone think of his sad dominance-boner? Y’all, (white American) humanity itself is at stake! (Evangelical) civilization itself could collapse! OMG!
In fact, he was so proud of what he clearly regarded as a money shot that he put the above quote into a frame and put it up on his Twitter feed to advertise the briefing itself.
I can’t imagine he had any reason to think anything bad would come of his whiny bleating and belligerent chest-thumping.
After all, he’d performed this exact song-and-dance many times before.
Umpteenth Verse, Same as the First.
At least since 2003, Mohler’s been peddling this piff-poff tosh to fundagelicals. That year, he published what became an instant classic in the tribe, “Deliberate Childlessness: Moral Rebellion With a New Face.” In it, he recoiled and curled his widdle lip in disgust over the idea that childless couples “revel in their decision.” Then he OMG panicked over what might happen if more couples go that route.
No woman who’s opted out of motherhood will be unfamiliar with the litany of accusations he raises in that post: we’re immature, we’re terrified of “responsibility,” we want sex without “consequences,” we just need fundagelicals’ help to set ourselves straight again, we have a “lifestyle” far inferior to that of parents, etc. It ends thusly:
To demand that marriage means sex–but not children–is to defraud the creator of His joy and pleasure in seeing the saints raising His children. That is just the way it is. No kidding.
Man alive! I just chuckle to imagine how smug he must felt as he typed these words! Bet he finished his post with a flourish and a fist-pump in the air!
In Mohler’s estimation, childfree women are just poor widdle victims who’ve bought into an evil secular culture telling us what we should want. See, we should be listening to fundagelicals like Mohler telling us what we want!
A few years later, when women continued not to listen to him, he drilled down on that message. He reworded a few things, but he made sure to end the rehash with the same flourish.
The Veteran of a Thousand Psychic Wars.
Al Mohler isn’t just one of the evangelical culture wars’ soldiers.
He’s one of its generals.
Dude helped engineer their current worldview. Though he’s not one of the original creators of it, he’s definitely one of its early adopters and one of its current leaders.
So when he talks about childfree women being inferior subhumans to mothers, he’s not just some rando literally dehumanizing and objectifying women. Instead, he’s actually one of the asshats those randos use as a source for their antics! He’s one of the misogynists signing their permission slip to mistreat women!
It’s very, very important to Al Mohler that he be an authority figure in women’s minds, but if he can’t get that then he’ll take being one to the men who already buy into his worldview.
This Time It Backfired.
Normally, Al Mohler’s dribbling doesn’t get much engagement online. Most of the time, he shouts into the wind and the wind doesn’t respond in much of any way.
This time, the wind heard him. And it did not react well.
Even on his Twitter feed, people pushed back against him. Even evangelicals reacted with horror. In fact, I only saw a couple of responses that sorta-supported him, and only one that agreed with him in principle. And numerous blogs and news outlets criticized and mocked him.
Many people brought up the fact that Jesus hadn’t married and that Paul had specifically recommended singleness and childfree living. Others noted that parents who neglect and abuse their kids sure don’t seem morally superior to the childfree. And a great many people struggling with infertility or the inability to find a partner (or the resources parents need) expressed pain over his assertion that they were less-than to him and his god.
Other Christians noted that their god had specifically ordered them to opt out of marriage and parenthood. They all but dared Mohler to tell them they’d heard Jesus wrong somehow.
I remember doing the same thing. Back then, it was hilarious watching fundagelicals trip over themselves explaining why MY personal revelation was wrong while THEIRS was the accurate one regarding MY life.
It’s still hilarious now.
Why It Was Women He Attacked.
When Al Mohler’s tribemates brought up Jesus and Paul, that probably confused him.
See, Al Mohler wasn’t thinking about Jesus–or about Paul.
In fact, he wasn’t thinking about men at all.
Mohler wasn’t judging men who opt out of parenthood. He barely even recognizes that such men might exist. In a very similar way, his tribe barely recognizes that trans women exist. The almighty penis excuses a great many transgressions.
No, when he objectifies and dehumanizes non-parents Al Mohler thinks only about women.
In his little world, he obligates and expects women to breed to prove their humanity to him. They must demonstrate their utility to men. If they refuse to breed, then of what use are they? So no, they don’t count as people then.
Men are already human, in his world, so they do not need to perform. Al Mohler already considers their utility well past testing: it’s a given. It would confuse him that anybody’d even go there. (See endnote)
Judge, Jury, and Executioner.
In Al Mohler’s mind, when he talks about women and parenthood he’s actually making a distinction between virtuous and unvirtuous reasons for women to opt out of having children.
Before he passes judgment on a woman, he must know all of her reasons for not having kids. Those reasons must be inviolable and inarguable to King Him.
If a woman can’t possibly help her status, meaning that she has reasons for it that he can’t argue or negate away, then he considers her state virtuous–though suspect, always. She’d better be careful not to seem too happy about it! She can’t ever feel or sound like the equal of a woman who follows his fundagelical life-script to the letter.
If, however, she deliberately chose her status or has reasons he considers inadequate, then she is unvirtuous. Such women exempt themselves from his tribe’s approval and protection–just like a woman who talks freely about having abortions, dresses too scantily, enjoys unapproved sex, demands equal rights, or pursues egalitarian and/or same-sex relationships.
Just UGH, with this guy.
The Gatekeeper and the Keymaster.
More than that, though, Mohler’s nonsense creates an environment in which men feel free to judge women’s very status as human.
He wants the men of his tribe to feel comfortable in demanding to know women’s intimate histories and their reasons for this most personal of decisions. He wants men to expect to get this information upon demand. And then he wants them to act on this information by judging other people’s life decisions.
Al Mohler wants pastors to slam their ooby widdle fists [sic] on their pulpits while preaching his message. He wants his followers to parrot it at women who dare to dissent publicly from his ideas of how women should live. He wants women to feel like they must perform a song-and-dance in order to meet with his approval of their choices–in exactly the same way that catcallers want women to perform to their liking to avoid their wrath and abuse.
Then, he wants his tribe to feel outraged when women don’t play along with his scripting, judging, and moralizing.
Why Gatekeeping Matters To Al Mohler And His Pals.
Ultimately, Al Mohler recognizes what it means to have millions of people reject his scripting and power-grabs. In this matter, he echoes thousands of Christian leaders everywhere–and even leaders from other religions in other countries. In his “briefing” podcast, he intones:
It’s hard to imagine a fundamental human question that equals this [all this childfree-ness] in priority. We’re talking about whether or not there will be a coming generation.
It’s hard to say if he really believes his own blathering, but I can tell you that he makes mountains out of molehills to keep his fear-addled tribe in a steady state of rage and frantic desperation.
Mostly he’s worried about white evangelicals, of course, and mostly he’s concerned about their fall from majority to minority status. The usual wisdom here involves white people falling to a minority in the United States by 2044, but that trend actually seems to have accelerated. Now it looks like 2020 will be the year that happens. White evangelicals already face a demographic time bomb in terms of how quickly they’re falling in membership, but when Christian men wring their hands over America’s birthrate, generally they’re talking to white women.
The birthrate continues to boom in other demographics. Already, babies of color outnumber white babies. However, given how stone-cold racist evangelicals tend to be, Al Mohler likely doesn’t think the women in those groups are human anyway. Their birthrate becomes ammunition against them, in the hands of racists.
That said, it visibly distresses him that the women in his idolized demographic aren’t willing to take one for Team Fundagelical no matter how he insults them!
MY STARS, y’all, maybe they’ll go FEMINIST next!
The Loss of Coercion.
Back in 2003 and 2005, when Al Mohler first began bellowing about this topic, evangelicals stood at the peak of their dominance in American culture. Of course, at the time they didn’t realize it. To them, the roller-coaster car only continued to climb upwards.
By the time I came to blogging, I’d already begun encountering studies and polls revealing that evangelicals’ star was falling quickly. It would take years before they themselves noticed that fact.
One of the surest signs of that starfall is how easily and fearlessly people mock and push back against Christians nowadays. Al Mohler could talk like this in the 2000s because who was gonna say anything to King Him? Indeed, he was and is royalty in the SBC.
But today? He’s no more authoritative than any other Christian rando who farts up our Disqus threads. Nobody’s obligated to play along with his game.
The Big Problem Here.
The behavior we observe in Al Mohler is not loving.
But evangelicals moved past love as a strategy decades ago–if they ever felt that way at all. It’s always been about absolute power for them. You can’t count on obedience through kindness–but you can through cruelty.
Deliberately stoking anger and opposition provides a way for fundagelical leaders to reinforce tribal rituals and bonds. When white women ignore Al Mohler’s whining, he retreats back into his bubble with his fellow misogynists to mutter and nurse their wounds.
Maintaining a culture war isn’t easy. Moral panics require constant tending, especially in a world where evangelicals’ powers of retaliation have fallen off the map. And really, ain’t it something that the effort’s so damned obvious these days?
NEXT UP: LSP! Then, how (and why) Al Mohler’s setting up a game here with rules that almost nobody in his tribe can actually win. Then we look back at that time when a dearly-departed friend asked Christians the most dangerous question of them all. See you soon!
About Al Mohler’s penis-shaped blinkers: When I tangle with forced-birther men, I always rephrase their arguments in a way that allows their own human rights to be abrogated along with mine–with forced organ and tissue donation, an issue that American courts have tackled more than once. The arguments forced-birthers use to strip away women’s human rights apply equally well to themselves–though I’ve not once run into a forced-birther man who realized it. When I bring up that point, I can all but hear their paradigms shifting without the clutch: gronk-gronk-CRUNCH! It’s hilarious how poorly they’ve thought through this thing. (It’s even funnier when it’s atheist guys who talk like that, because they think they’re roughly six thousand times more rational than the fundies whose arguments they parrot. Oopsiedoodleboodle!) (Back to the post!)
If your dominance boner lasts more than four hours, read Roll to Disbelieve.
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