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Deescalating the War on Women

human dignity

Dear Pastor,

Perhaps you’ve read my recent post, titled “Turning the ‘War on Women’ to the ‘War for Women.’” In it I suggested that the “war on women” is a real thing—not the bigoted, misogynistic attack on female sexuality that secular (and some evangelical) progressives suggest, but a complex gender-charged disagreement about female (and fundamentally human) thriving and dignity.

Since you’re reading Canon and Culture, there’s a good chance you are and evangelical—committed to the inerrancy, veracity, and applicability of Scripture and trying to apply the good news into the grooves of life. You may, because of your theological or political commitments, have been labeled a bigot and a hater, or even physically threatened. I know I have. It is, I acknowledge, an uncomfortable position to be.

But, I’d like to charitably assume that you’re not a hater—that you may even be interested in deescalating this “war on women” chaos. Please listen as I suggest four ways that you can help.

Choose your words and ministry methods wisely.

Take a page from our Savior. Jesus Christ chose harsh words and strong action against spiritual leadership of his day. His anger disturbed the money-making status quo—the good ol’ boys who had turned a place of worship into a predatory market place. He also chose to caustically address the religious establishment as a “brood of snakes.” As a child, I’d always thought that the Pharisees would have had impossibly sardonic, smug, dour faces—that you could totally tell that these were the “bad guys” and they had rebuke coming. But whatever their faces actually looked like, these men were actually known and esteemed within the community as the righteous, the leaders. In contrast to Christ’s aggressive style with the (presumably male) religious leaders, he sat down and had a real conversations with and ministry to women. In the case of the woman at the well, he knewthe ugly brokenness of her past, the quality of her sexual rebellion against God’s norms. She had a shameful social standing and Christ risked his reputation as a teacher by starting a conversation with her.

This same Savior—when the religious leaders of the day foisted another adulterous woman upon him—had brief and gracious words for her (where, pray-tell, was the man she was caught with?). The Savior certainly did not accept or encourage her sin but released her to—“Go and sin no more.” He did, however, charge the church leaders to examine their own hearts—and only proceed to enact the Levitical judgment if, upon authentic review of their own hearts, they could say that they were without sin.

How well do you represent this Savior in your sermons, your counseling conversations, or especially your closed-door meetings with other members of your staff? Do your books, blog posts, and even your Tweets represent the Savior’s ethos as well as his logos? Do the Christian leaders that you promote or associate with similarly value the Savior’s grace and humility as well as his standards for holiness? Do you couch any loud and forceful calls to repentance in the larger context of the good news?

Civility is not effeminate. It is more than a pet peeve—a squishy niceness that is lauded by female (or effeminate), squeamish millennial hipsters who majored in English and likes a pretty turn of phrase. Civility is a respect for the person with whom you plead and debate. Civility is part and parcel of the Christian shepherd’s calling. The Word himself became flesh and dwelt among us—and when he dwelt among us, he used words wisely.

How, then, shall we speak? Or, to put a sharper point on it, what do we do with Pastor Mark Driscoll’s outbursts? Frankly, I don’t know. Pastor Driscoll’s name-calling tirades—and fresh revelations of caustic, anonymous blogging (though over 15 years old)—have certainly damaged my own ability to trust him as a pastoral voice, let alone as a man of integrity and Christian grace. Our Savior overturned the moneychangers’ tables, but he didn’t drop verbal carpet bombs throughout the temple, Jerusalem, Palestine and Samaria. Neither Samaritan woman’s water pot nor Mary Magdalene’s ointment jar were collateral damage.

Perhaps Pastor Driscoll is truly humbled, repenting and growing. I do not know his heart and am not near enough to him or his ministry to make that assessment. The mercy of the gospel is certainly strong enough to cover his verbal sins and I pray that his ministry becomes more thoroughly gracious and Christ-like. I do, however, suggest that conservative evangelicals accept or ignore caustic, misogynistic, uncivil, and unrepentant speech at their risk. Furthermore, and much more seriously, God’s glory and important truths about human sexuality and complementarity get discredited when they are so misrepresented.

Develop and articulate a theology of the body, of sexuality, and singleness that is robust enough to meet the stories of actual women in your church.

A second way evangelical pastors can help deescalate the “war on women” is by developing and articulating a theology of the body, of sexuality, and of singleness that is robust enough to meet the stories of actual women in your church. The progressive complaint about the Christian right’s “obsession with sex” seems unwarranted. In my estimation, conservative evangelicals must certainly continue to talk about human sexuality—partly because God made us embodied, sexual beings and partly because we, and our secular neighbors, constantly elevate sexual pleasure and fulfillment above most other earthly goods.

In this area, we would be wise to partner with and learn from our Catholic friends and their consistent, formal articulation of the worth and purpose of sexuality, the dignity of the human person, and value of learning from our bodies. But neither the evangelical academy nor ecclesiological leaders are likely to produce an evangelical Humanae Vitaeor Donum Vitae. In the absence of such church doctrine, we can’t afford not to listen to the thoughtful contributions of evangelical writers who publically wrestle with and apply biblical principles to questions about infertility, body image, virginity, and unwanted singleness.

While this may seem like a frenetic compilation of toxic “women’s issues” the full council of God remains relevant to our modern American context and to the concerns faced by the female half of the population. Are you prepared to offer sermon illustrations that shine truth and grace on these sticky modern issues? Are you willing to lean on godly, female advisors who have studied these concerns, and lived through their implications, in the light of scripture? For a more thorough review of the bioethical issues facing women, I recommend the Her Dignity project, spearheaded by the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity.

Remember the woman herself: decry and actively oppose real actual abuse and offer restorative solutions.

Even the most profound, biblical, and eloquent theological expressions fall flat if we forget the human element, and have not love for the wounded women near us. We must, therefore, decry and act against the actual, real, happening-now abuse of women by churchgoers and even by pastors. To be faithful, you as a Christian leader can’t afford not to eliminate practical theological barriers like pornography use, infidelity, and sexual abuse in your own life and that of your own church. It is a most basic set of first steps but if you refuse to take them, your most well articulated theology (of the body, or otherwise) remains a charade. If you remain unconvinced of the widespread use of pornography among pastors, or its damages to performer, consumer, and family members alike, I recommend an honest and humble review of Covenant Eyes’, “The Pornography Statistics Pack.”

An authentic concern for abused women, or abused individuals more generally, demands an active, often vocal opposition to the abuser—especially when the abuser has assumed spiritual, Christian leadership over the abused. I find myself puzzled and grieved by the relative silence from conservative, Christian pastors and institutions when one of their own, or a friend of a friend has fallen into shameful, abusive sexual sin (whether the abused are children, women, or men).

Dear brothers, you may have wrestled and prayed behind closed doors about how to discuss or handle these scandals. You care about the public witness of the gospel, as you should. But consider this: every publically known abuse scandal that goes unanswered has the potential to empower another abuser. Every lustful manipulation of a woman, by a man who has assumed unbalanced, unbiblical, patriarchal control of her life, lies about authority and the nature of God himself. If even a fraction of the allegations lodged against Vision Forum’s Doug Philips are even accurate, I regrettably place him in this category.

The world is watching, but so is the church. So are your daughters. Do you, as a Christian man, believe that your daughters were given to you to control (an error, I believe, the Stay-at-Home Daughters movement may have embraced)? Or are they lent to you, so you can cherish and encourage them towards competent, gracious adulthood? There certainly remains a degree of Christian liberty in living out the implications of gender differences in family life. But the Spirit is nothing but grieved when purported Christ-followers use biblical truth as a cloak for manipulation and abuse. For pastors who remain skeptical about the prevalence or seriousness of sexual abuse, I suggest the profoundly well-informed, biblically orthodox research presented by counselor, psychologist, and Westminster Theological Seminary Professor, Dr. Diane Langberg PhD.

Look for ways to engage and foster female ministry partnerships.

Where do we go from here? I hope you’ll agree that we have simply begun a conversation. Perhaps it looks more like a can of worms, opened by some restless (and Reformed) chick. I pray that it doesn’t. I am grateful for the men who have invited me to write this piece. I am grateful for the (male) leaders in my church who have invited to join counseling sessions as an advocate for another vulnerable woman. I am grateful for the (male) pastors who have asked me for my opinions about life and ministry in an (male) elder-led church context. I am grateful for a (definitely, male) dad who taught me how to think and write and take care of myself. In short, I am thankful for many men, men who take their biblical leadership roles seriously, and find such leadership consistent with inviting input from women.

Our good and wise God created Adam and Eve. It wasn’t good for Adam to be alone, even in the Garden of Eden. We’ve made quite a mess of the world since then, but I suspect that it’s still not good for Adam to be alone. How will you choose to not be alone?


Your sister

human dignity

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