Memo to the Masses: Withhold Consent from Christian Sexism

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It's happening again. A hubbub over John Piper saying God wants the church to have a "masculine" feel. The last hubbub hasn't even died down—the one sparked by Mark Driscoll saying women should keep themselves up so their husbands won't cheat (or was it when he said stay-at-home dads are worse than unbelievers?). Before that, it was something Al Mohler said, and before that Wayne Grudem, and before that James Dobson, and the list goes on like a biblical genealogy. Christian sexists make offensive statements and the opposition goes wild. This call-and-response is long-established, but the cycle has never been so swift, nor shared so widely, as it is today, thanks to social media.

It can feel effective to blog, comment, or repost the outrageous statements of Christian celebrities. At least you're doing something. But without those clicks, there would be no hubbub, or at least less of one. The resistance (make no mistake; we are legion) needs to hone our strategy against Christian sexism.

After Piper interpreted a Minnesota tornado as God's judgment against a church gathering at which homosexuality was affirmed, I blogged a satire, predicting local weather by interpreting my toddler's behavior (male emissions of the urinary variety) with verses from Leviticus. My dearly departed blog had few but faithful readers, but on this day, hundreds stampeded over, offering supportive comments and reposting my words. The spectacle was exciting, but its net yield—calling even more attention to Piper's words—was the opposite of what I had intended.

Any aspiring tyrant knows that Power Move #1 is winning and maintaining the consent of the masses. Many Christians overtly support Christian sexism by buying the books, attending the seminaries, tithing to the churches, and heeding the authority of the men who proclaim it. But often, using social media to protest these men only facilitates the spread of their message, which is consent of a sort. I once heard someone associated with the Holocaust Museum refuse to appear on a split-screen television debate with a Holocaust denier. Giving each person half the screen, he said, creates the impression that the arguments are of equal worth.

Power Move #2 is to convince the masses that the elite have all the power. Really, power is a two-way street. There is, on the one hand, an attempt to influence people; on the other hand, the people must consent to be influenced. The power of the masses is the power to grant or withdraw consent. (This must not be misconstrued as victim-blaming, especially when exertions of power involve violence or manipulation, and the oppressed have few or no options.) So, let's reject the authority of the Christian sexists. Stop giving them face time on our social media. Stop engaging their arguments as if they are intellectually or biblically worthy. Stop buying their books, even if just to critique them. Pay so little attention to them that next time someone tells you about their latest horror, you'll be surprised they're still around.

I once attended a public forum regarding local development in Washington, D.C., at which federal urban planners asked for residents' feedback. A drunken homeless man awoke from his nap in the back row and slurred, "I'd like the streets paved with gold, like in the book of Revelation." The planners nodded respectfully and moved on. The man was allowed to stay, but he was not asked for further comments. He wasn't credible; no one granted authority to his suggestion.

God is glorified by gender inequality? Men, exclusively, are fit for leadership? Women want to be coddled like princesses? Urban streets paved with gold? These ideas are ridonkulous! Jibber jabber! Crazy talk! Now, everyone deserves to speak his or her mind, but not every view deserves to be circulated. Such men should be heard—just one time and by a small audience—then kindly escorted to the back row while the lucid carry forward the work.

Social media is all about being in the know. But how about next time Piper says God loves patriarchy, or Driscoll champions misogyny, or Mohler recommends a new just-for-women seminary course about scrapbooking, don't forward it. Don't "like" someone else's dislike of it. Do your part to help it wither on the vine. Sometimes being "in the know" means knowing what not to bother knowing about.

I'm not recommending that we do nothing. If something consequential happens, then respond. However, a ludicrous idea uttered by a religious man is not, in itself, news, even if the dude happens to be a celebrity. When matters are consequential and you're in position to be part of the solution (that's a big "and"), then speak up and call on others for support. If people harmed by these men and their ideas are close at hand, help them. But let's invest the vast majority of our energy into positive, constructive, world-blessing activity. In the words of Gil Scott-Heron, "the revolution will not be televised [or streamed]. The revolution will be live." The revolution will be quiet as a kiss between a husband and a wife who respect each other as equals. The revolution will be persuasive as a gifted woman in church leadership. The revolution will be peaceful as a family in which no abuse is considered acceptable. The revolution will be productive as women and men working together to benefit the world.

Arguing with Christian sexists is like feeding the wildlife. They keep coming back, and you lose your lunch. Give them nothing, not even the power to incite you, and maybe they'll go away.

2/13/2012 5:00:00 AM
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