The Entire Goal of Authoritarianism: Oppression of the Powerless

The Entire Goal of Authoritarianism: Oppression of the Powerless March 27, 2021

Hi and welcome back! Yesterday (and the day before, really), we touched on a post by evangelical Josh Buice, who appears to be a very fervent Calvinist. At one point, he tries hard to assert that his brand of Jesus-flavored authoritarian misogyny (JFAM) does not represent oppression of women at all. I disagree in the strongest possible terms. Not only does his JFAM represent oppression of women, but that’s the entire point of the whole shebang. Authoritarianism in general gives powerful people a powerful tool for the oppression of those they strip of power. Today, let me show you exactly how JFAM oppresses women, and why it’s nothing but dishonest for the Josh Buices of the fundagelical world to say anything different.

abuse of power comes as no surprise
(Samantha Sophia.) Seen during the Los Angeles Women’s March, which took place on January 20, 2018. Still true today.

(Exhibit A for the Josh-Buice-Fellates-Calvinism’s-Knob hypothesis: this slobbering praise he wrote in 2018 for the central idea in Calvinism, “Election.”)

Josh Buice: Does This Calvinism Smell Like Oppression to Y’all?

In his 2019 post advising the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to shun Beth Moore, Josh Buice wrote:

[Beth Moore] has been very outspoken on issues that we can all agree are problematic such as misogyny, sexism, and discrimination against women. However, is preventing women from preaching the Bible oppressive?

And because I’m feeling extremely helpful, I’d like to answer his plaintive little question.

Yes. Yes, it is. It is absolutely oppressive.

And that’s the entire point of the doctrine.

Calvinists designed their power structure from the ground up to exclude women from leadership roles. They specifically pushed a doctrine, inerrancy, that would let them lead toward that exact end. And even now, women-in-ministry appears to be their uncrossable Rubicon, the unthinkable wrongthink error that would spell the absolute end of their entire way of life.

When challenged authoritarians tell you what represents a threat to them, take them seriously.

In this case in particular, Calvinist authoritarians’ words are truer than any truth that has ever slipped and fallen to its death in any of the Gospels ever written.

The Conservative Resurgence: Always and Forever.

For a long time now, I have thought that the SBC’s entire Conservative Resurgence was built on a platform of institutional misogyny. For newer folks, the Conservative Resurgence was an organized, systemic, planned-out-to-the-letter takeover/schism in the 1970s-1990s brought about in the SBC by ultra-authoritarian conservatives seeking power.

I call those organizers and their sympathizers the SBC’s “Old Guard.” For the most part, the Old Guard is not Calvinist at all, though they do have a few hardcore Calvinists in their ranks (notably, Al Mohler, a big name who runs the SBC’s flagship seminary).

(Another very powerful faction in the SBC right now is a side I call the “Pretend Progressives.” Weirdly, for the most part they’re dominated by Calvinists — notably J.D. Greear, the SBC’s president for a few more months. See this post for more info. I’m still threading this needle. I’ll get there soon, I’m sure.)

And from the very get-go, it looked to me like the entire Conservative Resurgence was a lashing-out reaction to the growing numbers of women seeking and gaining leadership roles in the SBC. From the start, that’s what the Old Guard seemed the most focused on. And even today, that’s what the Old Guard tends to care about most, in terms of losing ground won during that schism.

But it took a good long while for me to realize that the Old Guard had been set in motion way back then by Calvinist hardliners with very ambitious dreams indeed. Those Calvinist hardliners lacked the numbers and power to outright grab and reform the SBC. So instead, they started a campaign to get the powerful men in the SBC to start caring enormously about a doctrine called “inerrancy.”

And that’s how Calvinists won near-total control of the SBC. They actually won the whole war with that inerrancy strategy. Really, the rest was just logistics.

Quick Segue: Hermeneutics and Exegesis.

The doctrine of inerrancy basically declares by fiat that whatever the Bible says is correct and true and without errors of any kind, is binding forever, and must be obeyed to the letter.

However, even a newbie Bible student realizes quickly that truly accurate interpretation of the Bible is impossible. It’s really easy to insert our own worldview into an ancient book that is so alien to it, or to drastically misunderstand something in  it. And let’s face it: the Bible’s myths resemble, on their best day, a very poorly-written precursor to the Barsoom books by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Inerrancy, then, depends mightily on 1) exactly how the reader sees the Bible as a document, and 2) how the Bible gets interpreted. Pros call these two things, respectively, hermeneutics and exegesis.

(See more about these terms here and also here. Also, didja need some cringe today? For a while, Christianity Today called their regular women’s column “Her.Meneutics.” Ugh…)

So, a modern standard-issue evangelical takes the Bible literally. Thus, their hermeneutic approach will lead them to a totally different exegesis of a particular story in their magic book than someone with one of the other major hermeneutic approaches to studying the Bible.

Differing hermeneutics explains how two Christians can read the exact same set of verses in the Bible and yet come out with wildly contradictory interpretations of them. When I was Christian in college, I encountered that situation constantly, and it really bothered me every time.

Oppression, Built on Inerrancy.

So when an evangelical authoritarian talks about inerrancy, they’re invoking some very powerful magic: the tribe’s decades-old idolization of their particular quirky li’l view of the Bible: their literalist hermeneutic. Literally, all an evangelical must do to win the obedience of their audience is to craft a fancy-soundin’ argument with tons of Bible verses in it — and make sure it kinda already fits into the audience’s existing wingnut beliefs.

And here is my paraphrase of what those Calvinists told the SBC’s leaders before the Conservative Resurgence:

The Bible, which is LITERALLY TRUE, REMEMBER, says that women cannot be leaders over men. Ever. Period-point-blank. So all these churches allowing women into pastor and preacher roles are doing Baby JAY-zus dirty. They commit a massive error by disobeying the clearly laid out rule in the Bible! (Unspoken: And we all know what the ONE PENALTY is for error and disobedience, right?)

In order to make Baby JAY-zus happy, churches must forbid women from these roles.

I know, I know, we all WANT to be all progressive and nice, right? Of course we do.

But Jesus said no.

So we can’t say yes.

And it worked.

It worked.

By gum and by golly, their careful weaponization of wingnuttery worked.

The SBC’s hardliners, their Old Guard, didn’t really want women to win power anyway. So miraculously, their exegesis completely aligned with these Calvinists’ assessment on the matter of women in SBC leadership positions. Must be Jesus! Gosh, this realignment couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with these men’s natural desire to oppress and subjugate women!

How Oppression Follows Authoritarianism, As the Night the Day.

Authoritarian systems are naturally broken systems. By this term broken, I mean that their groups cannot ever actually fulfill their own stated goals. They can’t even assure the physical safety of their powerless members. Rarely do they even try to rise to that meager level of bare functionality.

Instead, authoritarian systems exist to fulfill the dreams of their leaders. Their leaders desire power — absolute power. They can achieve that kind of power only at the expense of their followers.

However, people don’t normally like to hang around groups that take advantage of them like that. They’ll leave if they feel oppressed.

So the leaders of these groups need a way to force followers to hang around and get taken advantage of.

That’s where authoritarianism comes in handy. Through emotional manipulation and as much social coercion as they can possibly bring to bear, authoritarian leaders seek to chain their followers to their thrones. They strip as much power as they can from those followers (in the form of money, obedience, attention, etc), grab it all for themselves, dole it out as sparingly as they dare to their sycophants, and revel in it for as long as they can.

Inevitably, bad-faith actors enter the ranks of leaders in broken systems, and they reap far more than is legal or ethical from those powerless followers. This abuse is an inevitable outgrowth of authoritarianism, and Jesus sure ain’t stopping it from happening.

Indeed, constant revelations of abuse scandals have always been a big problem for evangelicals who buy into Jesus-Flavored Authoritarian Misogyny (JFAM). For the system that most pleases Baby JAY-zus, it seems far more prone to these scandals than any other.

Why the Old Guard Needed the Oppression of Women.

The SBC cannot possibly survive without the money, free labor, and obedience of women. But its inevitably-male leaders need women to be okay with having no power whatsoever in their broken system, and for those women’s male allies to be okay with it too. These goals always required stripping women entirely of power and also of any hope of ever achieving power.

For a long time, centuries even, the SBC’s strategy worked fine.

However, in those heady days between the SBC’s clampdown on racism and its abortion holy war, Southern Baptist women began to catch on to the cosmic joke about divinely-mandated oppression: it looks exactly like regular ole secular oppression. (Gosh, y’all! Who’d’a thunk?)

On the heels of those realizations, women began to realize that powerlessness = oppression, every time. With leadership roles comes power of its own — and a voice women could use to fight oppression (not only their own, either). Equality for women would inevitably lift all boats. Of course, equality would also add potentially powerful new voices to evangelicals’ binders full of apologetics and preaching.

However, the JFAMs of the SBC already had boats floating plenty high enough on the water. They only needed their own names in their various binders. And they greatly feared sharing any of what they had stolen with women.

What they needed from SBC women was their money, free labor, and obedience. They had no interest whatsoever in anything else those women could possibly offer — especially if sharing their power reduced the amount they wielded.

(A Principle of Power: Power is a zero-sum game. If one party gains X amount, all others lose that same amount. Sharing power? An impossible dream, best never mentioned.)

You Can’t Have Oppression Without “Problematic” Problems.

Look at the list of things Josh Buice agrees are “problematic.” He names “misogyny, sexism, and discrimination against women.” He agrees that these things do, indeed happen within his tribe, and implicitly agrees that his tribe has been powerless to stop them from happening. In Buice-World, though, if the misogyny, sexism, and discrimination are Jesus-flavored, that magically makes them okay.

He’s not the only one who concedes these points. I found an Old Guard paper by Stan Frye about “what in the world has happened to the SBC.” He wrote it after the public outcry over Paige Patterson’s disgraceful behavior. (He disapproves completely of the outcry, natch — not the behavior.) In a just-asking-questions way, his paper asks (p. 53):

Is complementarianism the problem? Is it just camouflage for abusive males and permission for the abuse and mistreatment of women? We can see how that argument would seem plausible to so many looking to conservative evangelicals and wondering if we have gone mad.

He immediately answers his JAQ-off:

But the same Bible that reveals the complementarian pattern of male leadership in the home and the church also reveals God’s steadfast and unyielding concern for the abused, the threatened, the suffering, and the fearful. There is no excuse whatsoever for abuse of any form, verbal, emotional, physical, spiritual or sexual.

However, Frye only offers a mealy-mouthed exhortation to evangelicals need to “hold every abuser fully accountable,” and call the cops when necessary (which is already a rule in the SBC, and which JFAMs also break regularly). He never actually tells us what that accountability looks like.

Solving Oppression, TRUE CHRISTIAN™ Style.

As far as I can tell, Frye suffers the same problem Buice does: he can’t even envision a world where JFAM ideology actually works to fulfill its stated goals and without sprouting abuse scandals like cherry-tree flowers in spring.

And both men’s solution to these inevitable problems, just like those of every single JFAM out there, is to sorrowfully concede they exist, then ignore them. They offer no street-legal way in any of their screeds to stop them.

Oh well, whatcha gonna do — besides Jesus harder, which will magically fix everything wrong!

Except these authoritarian leaders, for all their illicitly-won power, can’t force their followers to Jesus harder.

So nothing at all will be changing any time soon.

Women just need to accept abuse as the natural consequence of sin nature, because any other system makes Baby JAY-zus sad. Sorry, gals! It’s orders from the top — the men in their denomination can’t displease Baby JAY-zus!

The REAL Only Way to Fix Oppression in Broken Systems.

Ya know, Biff tried this same tactic on me when we were married. It worked for a while. But it backfired in the end, because I flat refused to accept a god of love and justice who wanted his own daughter (me) to be treated unfairly, and I never entertained the idea that Biff’s behavior was anything but completely unfair.

It dizzies me to imagine this same conflict playing out across the many millions of SBC churches and marriages, but I know that it is. Institutionalized unfairness only works if the victims involved really don’t have any options. Women don’t have to put up with oppression anymore. They can leave their groups more easily now than they’ve ever been able to in the SBC’s entire history.

Even now, women are solving oppression by simply leaving the entire broken system. Let the menfolk decide that solving oppression means women just have to cope with it as best they can. The women will just leave.

They’ll let the SBC’s remaining JFAMs thunder and bellow and screech and shriek their hatred and frustrated power-lust across empty churches. Their only audiences will be furious fellow JFAMs, all denied access to victims.

To the end, they’ll blame those women for not Jesus-ing correctly, too. Bet the farm on that.

And About the Women Who Criticize JFAM Systems:

Of course, women increasingly talk about the abuse they suffer at the hands of JFAMs in their churches. But they’re just playing the victim card. They’re totes social-justice warriors (SJWs) who secretly hate TRUE CHRISTIANITY™.

I’m not exaggerating. Here’s Josh Buice sneering at all the women bringing attention to their victimization by JFAMs:

Victimology has replaced theology beneath the banner of social justice. To play the victim card in our culture today is like playing the ace of spades in a card game.

And here’s Stan Frye, before criticizing a petition women brought against Paige Patterson (p. 54):

Before I share with you this last article on the “Me Too Movement” attempt to whip the Southern Baptist Convention leaders, I just want to tell you that some of this upcoming article is utterly ridiculous. However, I just wanted you to read about the foolishness of some of these people, including Beth Moore, who have taken this terrible situation to grandstand for a while.

Of course, this petition calls for the exact accountability that King Stan Frye himself blessed just a few pages ago. But now, that’s “grandstanding!”

It’s like these men don’t realize we can hear them talking. 

Oppression Pleases a God of Love and Justice, Apparently.

I’m forced to conclude something strange about the god that JFAMs worship.

Their god embodies supposedly infinite power. He supposedly values compassion, love, and justice. And yet, he constantly demands that his followers seek the oppression of others.

I don’t think Calvinists buy into a god who truly values love or justice. Their variant of him is so unfathomably evil and wicked that “justice” and “goodness,” in the ways most folks typically understand the terms, don’t seem to be among his attributes. Heckies, they’d probably laugh at me and (try to) make me eat clay at discovering that I’d ever think such a scandalous thing.

However, quite a few Southern Baptists still aren’t Calvinist.

Oppression as a Source of Cognitive Dissonance.

And you’d think those non-Calvinists would kinda notice something amiss here. What we’re looking at, in this institutionalized misogyny, could easily function as the source of some very, very powerful cognitive dissonance for someone who does buy into the love-and-justice flavor of Yahweh.

(Back when I was Christian, my faith finally broke under the way that my beliefs worked out in reality.)

SBC leaders might be happy to sign up for the Calvinist version of their god just as a convenient partnership to get them the sheer power they crave. Many of their JFAM followers might be happy to share an approach to Biblical interpretation that Calvinists inspired, just because it excuses and rationalizes their own lust for power over a designated-powerless demographic.

But their followers might sing a different tune, by and by.

NEXT UP: The literal only way to make Christianity work is not to care what reality has to say about it. I’ve said that for years. Well, tomorrow we springboard from today’s topic to that idea. See you then!


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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. She lives with an adored and adoring husband named Mr. Captain and a sweet, squawky orange tabby cat named Princess Bother Pretty Toes. At any given time, she's running out of bookcase space. You can read more about the author here.
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