Hi and welcome back! Over the past day or two, Stewart-Allen Clark, a Baptist pastor in Missouri, has found himself in very hot water for his creeptastic recent sermon about women’s bodies. The fallout has been just incredible! However, what Clark said has simply been evangelicals’ standard operating procedures around women since well before I joined them in the 1980s. Today, let me show you the double message that evangelical men send the women in their tribe — and how important it’s getting for evangelicals to submerge these messages out of sight again.
Stewart-Allen Clark Sparked a Fustercluck of Biblical Proportions.
In recent days, yet another scandal has exploded across evangelicalism. This time, the scandal involves a Baptist pastor named Stewart-Allen Clark. He leads First General Baptist Church, which is situated in a tiny town called Malden (pop. about 4k) in the very southern of Missouri. This church is really just your average everyday small-town strangely-antiseptic red brick affair in a town stuffed to the gills with evangelical churches and probably all kicking and clawing to poach members from each other to survive. Clark seems to have ruled his fiefdom for a while now.
A week or so ago, he gave a sermon that really got out of hand. He lectured women extensively for gaining too much weight after marriage, basically, with all the usual blame-and-shame techniques evangelical men use to justify their own poor behavior. Hemant Mehta wrote it up very well yesterday over at Friendly Atheist, but y’all can likely guess everything Clark said.
Since then, like just in the past day, Clark’s entire religious organization has been trying to put out the nationwide viral fire that’s erupted in their sleepy little town. Hemant’s written up the damage-control efforts as well and it is a hilarious must-see. Newsweek and Raw Story have picked it up too!
All the other evangelical leaders over and around Clark are seriously doing their level best to contain this catastrophe. But I’m not sure they understand how the real world works. It looks like they’re trying to use damage-control methods that work on small towns absolutely dominated by evangelical blowhards. So the chances are extremely good that this scandal might just turn into a public-relations nightmare for every single man in church leadership in that whole town.
The Message Stewart-Allen Clark Will Never Understand.
Of course, this was hardly the very first time that Stewart-Allen Clark has delivered a disgustingly misogynistic sermon. But it might be the first time it’s been publicized like this. Someone on Facebook mentioned a Mother’s Day sermon in 2019 that was so bad that at least one family got up and walked out of the church before Clark finished.
Also of course, Clark himself is hardly a slender reed. But this fact simply lays bare what’s really happening with his advice to women. More importantly, it reveals why he felt entitled to give it in the way that he did.
He’s not talking about health here. Nor is he talking about any kind of healthy relationship where each partner does their best because that’s just the right thing to do, and where partners support each other knowing that when they need it, their partners will be there for them in turn. No. Nothing like that.
Clark speaks as one of the powerful in evangelicalism addressing the powerless members of the tribe.
And he’s telling those powerless members that their value rests entirely in how appealing they are to the male gaze.
This is the message he sent:
Unless a man finds a woman sexually irresistible, she has no inherent value otherwise. It falls to powerless women to bash their brains out meeting elusive, shifting standards of beauty. Men, of course, need feel no similar obligation.
The Bride Worth Eight Cows.
Stewart-Allen Clark’s blathering reminded me of a story evangelicals used to like a lot. Maybe they still do. I heard it when I was Pentecostal from visiting missionaries. But I think it comes from a Mormon movie, Johnny Lingo, made in the late 1960s.
Basically, there’s this single man on a Pacific Island. He wants to marry. Families in his culture sell their daughters to their future husbands, with the currency being cows — somehow. So he comes to a father whose daughter is known to be very ugly. Single Dude offers the father a shockingly-high number of cows for his daughter. There’s not even any negotiation or haggling! OMG! He really wanted this woman! And she finds out how much she cost and gets really proud of herself, flowering into her full potential and everyone’s all impressed.
The punchline is always a comparison to Jesus. We’re worth eight cows to Jesus! Hooray!
There’s not one element of this story that isn’t disturbing and ickie, from the facts of its setting to the comparison to Jesus. To me, though, one of the story’s biggest problems involves how glowingly it speaks of women’s value.
The woman in this story had no value at all till a man decided to treat her as if she had absolutely stunning beauty even though she wasn’t attractive at all.
Unfortunately (or very fortunately, depending on your opinion regarding Christianity), very, very few eligible bachelors in evangelicalism ever swoop down into the lives of women the tribe deems undesirable to transform them with their Pygmalion powers of male sexual interest into total hotties. That just does not ever happen.
No, eligible evangelical bachelors have a type. What’s more, they will insist to the skies that Jesus himself has told them who their future brides shall be. Yes. They shall be pure, innocent-looking 22-year-olds who just so happen to be oft-crowned beauty pageant winners. Jesus said.
And so it must be.
In the evangelical world, a man’s wife is a lot like a fancy wristwatch in the corporate world. She is a sort of barometer of her husband’s status, an indicator of his potential and his power and how favored he is by their very god.
Men are acutely aware of what their relationship choices say about them. A good choice could make or break an evangelical’s future career prospects, while a bad one could destroy him.
Think about that, won’t you please, the next time you see a megachurch pastor’s family photos. You will not see many wives in any recent photos who are anything but quite conventionally beautiful — and thin, thin, thin.
(Good heavens, we’ve found yet another similarity between toxic Christianity and multi-level marketing schemes.)
The Double Message Stewart-Allen Clark Deliberately Sent.
Even more than non-evangelical women do, evangelical women get a serious double message about their bodies. Both sets of messaging come from men who largely ignore both in their own lives. And both sets come from men who have a vested interest in cultivating marriage partners who’ll allow them a great deal of leisure time with few demands.
Before marriage, all too many evangelical women believe the great lie that dooms so many of them to spinsterhood:
They learn that men in the tribe only care about a woman’s domestic qualities and “spirit.” They officially value a woman’s docility and femininity. People must lift themselves above animalistic impulses to rut like beasts. To become as pure as possible, they must deny their lusts and carnal appetites.
After marriage, however, the women who find husbands discover a horrifying truth:
Men in the tribe care enormously about women’s appearance, actually, maybe even to the exclusion of everything else a women might bring to the marriage table. They realize that men are completely dominated by lust and carnal appetite. Their rules around marriage largely exist to excuse these tendencies. If a wife starts showing the effects of age or worse starts gaining weight, she’ll lose her husband’s love. She’ll almost certainly lose his fidelity.
For an evangelical women, the repercussions could be devastating — far more so than anything faced by outsiders.
Stewart-Allen Clark: Nothing Applies to Himself.
However, this nattering about women’s bodies only runs in one direction.
The message comes from men and entirely serves men’s interest: Wives need to cater completely to their husbands’ sexual needs.
There is no similar coalition of women up in arms about men’s appearance. The men running evangelical groups do not allow women to tell men that their wives will certainly stray if they get fat, or that their value as partners increases with the number of visible abs they can display.
No, these rules command women to please the male gaze and to feed men’s sexual appetites.
That’s why evangelical men feel no need to follow their own advice to women. This marital advice isn’t meant for men. It never was. It wouldn’t occur to these men to go to great pains to please their wives’ sexual gaze. They don’t even consider the possibility of their wives’ attraction to themselves dwindling.
In fact, I don’t think more than a few evangelical men even think their wives might also be “visual” creatures like the tribe thinks men are, nor that women could feel powerful lust just like men do, nor that evangelical women might struggle to avoid masturbation just like men do.
The Worst Part.
And if these men ever did suspect such things, I don’t think anything would improve. After all, authoritarians get a sick kick out of forcing other people to do stuff they don’t want to do.
We saw that mindset on full display in evangelicals’ reaction to Donald Trump’s stated contempt for them. Some of them got downright giddy at the idea of Trump feeling obligated to make nice-nice with a group he profoundly dislikes. To them, this revelation meant that they’d arrived! They were powerful! It was just grotesque to watch these hypocrites congratulate themselves for being soooo powerful that one of the most powerful people on the planet felt obligated to act all sweetsy-syrupy toward them and let their biggest-name leaders paw him every couple weeks like they were kindergarteners on a field trip to a petting zoo.
If you’re wondering if they’d still do that knowing he despises them, don’t. They absolutely would. They’d just enjoy it more knowing that. So as repulsive as this thought is to me, maybe it’s for the best that evangelical men are so abysmally ignorant of women’s thoughts and needs.
Ohh, that so-called “Christian love!”
It’ll really be lovely when evangelical women realize just how focused the engine of evangelicalism is on subjugating, objectifying, and dominating them. That engine absolutely could not function without them and their labor and donated funds — and I wonder if evangelical men’s resentment of that reality fuels so much of their obvious hatred for women as a group.
As for Stewart-Allen Clark, I appreciate his efforts to make evangelicals’ behavior, innermost opinions, and ickie desires more obvious to the rest of the world.
NEXT UP: A popular Christian accusation reminds me of the myth of the virtuous-enough reason. See you tomorrow!
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