The Nashville Statement and Patriarchy

The recent Nashville Statement (1) on human sexuality is the latest attempt by the Religious Right to position male-female complementarianism, patriarchy and gender stereotypes as the Biblical norm for today, based largely on the ancient cultural norm in which male dominance and female subservience was the norm. One of the main problems with the belief that the Bible paints a clear picture of “one man, one woman,” is…that it does not. The truth is conservatives must carefully pick and choose their verses to support their thesis, conveniently overlooking the much more numerous passages that portray the ugly side of patriarchy and submission.

Contrary to most evangelical thinking, while the NT gives us excellent advice on loving our enemies and our neighbors as ourselves, the Bible, as a whole is a mixed bag on the issue of “Biblical Marriage.” With Biblical marriages involving polygamy, concubines, maid servants, spoils of war, sisters-in-laws, rape victims, etc., conservatives must do a lot of cherry picking to come up with a definitive view of marriage.

So, the basic quandary behind the Religious Right’s rejection of non binary human relationships and identity is the question of whether or not the “Biblical” model of sexual relationships is culturally informed and outdated, or whether strictly male-female complimentarianism and male headship (2) should be the cultural norm for moderns. As evident from the Nashville Statement, most evangelicals believe the latter, although headship is not specifically mentioned here. The traditionalist stance presented in the Nashville Statement is based, in large, on a specific biblical hermeneutic that is literal and believes the Bible is without error. But pushing for a literal, inerrant understanding of the texts poses problems for the definition of Biblical marriage. If one would follow the various examples of marriage in the Bible religiously and consistently, Christian marriage would differ little from that of Islamic fundamentalism. What conservative evangelicals have done to soften the hard edges of this fact is to couch male dominance in the language of “complimentarianism.” In other words, men and women have separate but equal clearly defined roles. We have heard “separate, but equal” used before and it never truly means “equal.”

This is not to say that all evangelicals hold to a strict male headship relationship of human sexuality and gender role. The minority model I grew up with was “mutual submission,” which is more egalitarian and follows a much more Christlike attitude of serving one another. It also follows the broad outline of Paul’s discussion of marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 and Ephesians 5.

Behind the language of the Nashville Statement, is a history of a cultural shift from evangelicalism to fundamentalism within the Southern Baptist denomination. As David Gushee points out, fundamentalists within the denomination waged a fierce battle for control of the Southern Baptist convention between 1979 and 1993. What resulted was a decisive string of victories within the SBC that put fundamentalists firmly in control. In, turn, these men made sure that women and moderates were forced out of teaching positions within Baptist colleges as well as diminishing the role of women within the denomination. (3) Prior to 1979, Christian fundamentalism’s primary hand-wringing involved the Civil Rights movement and resistance to Black equality and the “mixing of the races.” But as Gushee puts it, “by the late 1970s, a different strategy was developed on the conservative side, focusing especially on traditionalist Christian discomfort with the women’s movement, the sexual revolution, and the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision on abortion…This proved a more appealing agenda for conservative Christian consumption than directly attacking progress in racial integration and black empowerment.” (4)

The shift from outright racism (which is still very much alive among fundamentalists) to “family values,” i.e., anti- feminism, anti-Gay, anti-abortion, is very much based on a traditional male headship model, as presented in scripture. One would wonder why evangelical and fundamentalist men would be so upset by Gay marriage, but the answer is simple: non binary individuals fall outside the control of male headship. They don’t fit into a patriarchal scheme of human sexuality. Which begs the question, in an egalitarian society, where an individual’s self worth and purpose is not based on their genitalia, exactly what value does male headship bring to the table? If divorce rates among evangelicals are any indication, the answer is, none, as the rate of failed marriages mirrors that of society as a whole.

The tragedy of the Nashville Statement is that it closes the door to dialogue about human sexuality, and attempts to rigidly compartmentalize gender stereotypes, ignoring the realities of gender and sexuality. It also closes the door to further understanding and reform amongst evangelicals. The door too has been shut on careful consideration of the Biblical passages themselves, preferring a inerrant, literal hermeneutic that does not take into consideration a great many things: culturally bound materials, story as opposed to historical facts, and a general inability to differentiate Kingdom principals from cultural mores. It has sadly become all too apparent that fundamentalists favor law over Grace, continuing over a century of vigorously defending indefensible attitudes towards race, women, violence and sexual minorities. This needs to stop.

1. https://www.scribd.com/mobile/document/357531494/The-Nashville-Statement
2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complementarianism
3. David P. Gushee, “Still Christian, Following Jesus out of American Evangelicalism,” see chapter 3.
4. Ibid., p. 32.

The Women’s March on Washington, Part 2: When Men Think It’s All About Them

This interesting Patriarchal Complementarianist interpretation of the women’s march on Washington was posted recently by Dale Partridge explaining why the women’s march was really about men and that our “dormancy” (insert dominance for what he really means) has required women to step up and take the dominant role (becoming men).

“Men, we cannot ignore last weekend’s women’s march. It was a complex moment fueled by historical wounds, ungodly political agendas, and broken desires. But at the root, it was a reaction to the absence of Godly men. A reaction to generations of fathers who never loved, husbands who never cherished, and brothers who never valued. It was wives, sisters, daughters, aunts, and grandmothers screaming the songs of oppression, of belittlement, and of confusion. Men, the women of our world are hurting for the truth. Their protests are also pleas to us for more love, for more value, and for more leadership. Men, it’s time we recognize the reservoir of wisdom that sits within our women. It’s time we see the value Christ placed on our counterpart. And it’s time to grow up, know up, and show up to the roles God has placed before us. Remember, when men become boys, women become men. And when women become men, our ladies carry our weight at the cost of their femininity. In turn, our dormancy is robbing what makes them so beautiful and distinctive in the first place. God has given men and women different roles. However, He has not given us different value. Men, it is time for us to turn to the women in our life, to pick up our heart, to stand in our responsibilities, and to remind them of God’s word on women, on the unborn, and on intrinsic value. The world will never thrive without their inclusion. Let’s make sure they feel this truth this upcoming year. Please share.” #DaleyWisdom (1)

This is a typical take on male-female relations that I heard time and time again growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. When men give up control, women take over, with dire consequences! The “Truth” Mr. Partridge of course referring to is not that in Christ Jesus we are one, that there is no male or female in God’s eyes (Gal 3:28), but that man was created to rule over the woman (Gen 3:16). In the 50’s the Religious Right concentrated their ire on communism. When JFK ran for President in the 60’s the attention switched to keeping a Catholic out of the White House at all costs. When that failed the Right was shut out of political control and needed a new boogieman to attack. That ended up being secularism and the Cultural Wars began in earnest. (2) Ladies and gentlemen, its all about control. The stuff about showing women more love, gently guiding them into their proper God-given roles, etc., all a smokescreen. When men stop treating women as inferior, as simple children that need to be led by “Godly men,” then and only then, will men get to know women as the way God intended, equal in every way.

I can do no better than this woman’s answer to Mr. Partridge:

Amanda: “Ungodly political agendas? Like equal pay?, access to life saving medical treatments like cancer screenings?, believing all people regardless of color or religion deserve equal treatment under the law? (Remember Jesus was a brown man from the Middle East and basically a refugee)
A reaction to the absence of Godly men? No it was a reaction to the presence of a very ungodly man.
My father loved me just fine thanks.
My brother also values me, thanks again.
Confusion? No I think you are the one who is confused.
Lose our femininity? Because we can take care of ourselves? Not even close.

I guess to sum it up, we marched against men like you telling us how we should feel or why we act the way we do. You are NOT my voice. You clearly have zero clue why we were there. And for you to put out some huge statement talking for the women who were there, stating the reasons, you think, we marched is patriarchy at its finest. Get a clue.”

(1) https://www.facebook.com/DaleJPartridge/?hc_location=ufi

(2) See Daniel K. Williams, “God’s Own Party, The Making of the Christian Right,” Oxford University Press, 2010.

The Women’s March on Washington: When Inclusivity Does Not Mean Everybody

The day after the 2017 Presidential Inauguration thousands of women have marched in Washington seeking to have their voices heard for women’s rights. The march has been promoted as an inclusive event attempting to bring together a diverse group of organizations:

“The marches’ many partners represent a range of causes, including the environment and criminal justice among them. Organizers represent all 50 states, and groups including the ACLU, Amnesty International, EMILY’s List, Muslim Women’s Alliance, Planned Parenthood, and United We Dream.” (1)

For a march that claims to support women’s concerns it is odd and a bit disturbing that 40% of American women have purposely been excluded. Women, who have moral objections to abortion were not included. This is unfortunate as these women share many of the same concerns as feminists do, even when they find the term “feminist” does not adequately describe them. With a president that is so blatantly sexist and abusive towards women, it seems counter-productive to weaken women’s causes by 40%.

“Though the pro-life New Wave Feminists still plan to attend, many women of faith were disappointed in the decision to remove their official designation. Christians spanning from Life Action founder Lila Rose to LGBT advocate Julie Rodgers spoke out on Twitter on behalf of pro-life feminists.” (2)

I suspect part of the problem is historical in nature. The 1970’s saw harsh criticism from Evangelical women such as Phyllis Schlafly against the women’s movement and feminism. Old wounds heal slowly. But things are different today. Conservative women of faith may be wary of their more secular sisters, but also feel a need to stand up against sexism, violence against women and inequality. Unlike their male counterparts, conservative women are much more likely to have empathy for women who choose to have abortions, and to see the issue as more complex and in need of compassionate solutions rather than punishing women such as the president has suggested.

Politically, the Left’s failure to encompass Evangelical and Catholic women was a disastrous decision that may have cost them an election. ““Progressives have a chance to build a broader coalition here, and they are blowing it,” tweeted author Rachel Held Evans.” (3) The “Painful irony of pro-choice stance of Women’s March is that abortion was likely THE issue to tip scales for evangelical women to vote Trump,” said Hannah Anderson, who writes and podcasts about gender and theology for Christ and Pop Culture. “If Dems could have entertained possibility of a pro-life women’s vote, they’d have won.” (4)

Unfortunately today’s feminist movement has taken a decidedly non-inclusive turn, largely due to the Pro-choice organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America co-sponsoring events like this. While these groups do offer legitimate benefits for women, they have a underlying financial agenda, which raises concerns about a conflict of interest here. The end result is that the women’s movement has been largely co-opted by the abortion industry. “It further proves that this is what the abortion industry does,” said Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life. “They have taken over any talk of feminism in the country to point out that if you are antiabortion, you are accused of being anti-woman.” (5)

Indeed, the new voices within the feminist movement have decided that a Pro-life stance is inconsistent with the goals of the movement as it is now described: “Elizabeth Velez, a professor of women and gender studies at Georgetown University, said that feminism is a political term and that the idea that women should be able to choose what they do with their bodies is fundamental to feminism…Feminism is more than finding personal satisfactions in your life; it’s a political movement, and if you are not part of the political movement, you can’t be a feminist,” Velez said. “If you are pro-life, you are certainly not looking at the struggles across all of us.” (6)

So what the feminist movement is now doing is splitting up women rather than bring them together. It is weakening the cause and marginalizing women who have legitimate concerns, many of which mirror their own concerns. Rather than offer a voice of healing it further polarizes and divides women who, especially with this presidency, should be uniting.

Footnotes:

1. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/01/21/womens-march-aims-start-movement-trump-inauguration/96864158/

2. http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2017/january/womens-march-sets-out-to-exclude-40-percent-of-american-wom.html?utm_source=ctweekly-html&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=17445998&utm_content=490529671&utm_campaign=email

3. https://mobile.twitter.com/rachelheldevans/status/821217133476675584

4. https://mobile.twitter.com/sometimesalight/status/821157188722970628

5 & 6. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/social-issues/is-there-a-place-for-anti-abortion-women-at-the-womens-march-on-washington/2017/01/17/2e6a2da8-dcbd-11e6-acdf-14da832ae861_story.html?utm_term=.64765b4a28bb