On Gender, Power, and Sin: The Evangelical #MeToo Moment

As you know, there's been a reckoning among evangelicals who are having their own #MeToo moment.

Albert Mohler in his post The Wrath of God Poured Out — The Humiliation of the Southern Baptist Convention describes what is happening as the punishment of God being poured out upon evangelicals.

In his post, Mohler describes how the conservative resurgence in the SBC worked to restore biblical integrity to SBC doctrine, gender complementarianism among those teachings, only to find its moral integrity in these last days severely damaged and compromised.

Why did it happen?

Mohler wonders aloud if theology and complementarianism have been the problem:
Is the problem theological? Has the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention come to this? Is this what thousands of Southern Baptists were hoping for when they worked so hard to see this denomination returned to its theological convictions, its seminaries return to teaching the inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures, its ministries solidly established on the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Did we win confessional integrity only to sacrifice our moral integrity?...

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.
I don't know Mohler, but from I do know of him, that he's raising these questions is remarkable. Still, he doesn't fully relinquish the complementarian position:
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. The Bible warns so clearly of those who would abuse power and weaponize authority. Every Christian church and every pastor and every church member must be ready to protect any of God’s children threatened by abuse and must hold every abuser fully accountable. The church and any institution or ministry serving the church must be ready to assure safety and support to any woman or child or vulnerable one threatened by abuse. 
I appreciate his both/and balancing act here, trying to keep the complementarian structure yet speak a strong word for protecting the abused. And yet, this is the exact same balancing act that evangelicals and the SBC have been preaching and attempting for generations. And by Mohler's own admission, it has brought the judgment of God down upon them.

In short, Mohler seems genuinely anguished and searching for answers, but he can't offer an accurate diagnosis of what went wrong. He seems legitimately perplexed. He says nothing beyond the same old, same old: Men are in charge, but they shouldn't abuse the women under their leadership.

But clearly, that's been a disaster.

And it's not really hard to see why. I think the problem evangelicals are having here is the same problem they always have. They only look at the Bible and they ignore human experience. Evangelicals always make man serve the Sabbath, rather than having the Sabbath serve man. In this instance, the Sabbath is "God's plan for marriage and the church," and men and women must conform to that plan. Come hell or high water. Well, they've found hell and high water.

Evangelicals obsess over establishing "God's plan" over the genders and routinely fail to attend to the raw material they are plugging into that plan. Mohler is right to raise questions about the theology, but that's only half the equation. It's complementarian theology combined with human nature that's the problem.

Human beings are corrupted by power asymmetries. Based on his famous Stanford Prison Study, Philip Zimbardo has called this "the Lucifer Effect." Psychologically, power has been shown to decrease inhibition, which means that when we have power we're more prone to act out, sexually and/or aggressively.
 
Add to this the observation that psychological studies, along with criminal statistics, indicate that men are prone to aggression and violence, physical and sexual.

An irony here is that many evangelicals admit all this, that men have a natural, durable "nature" characterized by dominance and aggression, the characteristics that make men great leaders and warriors. That's the positive spin on those traits. But the darker side of those traits are a proneness to violence and abuse.

I say this is an irony because evangelicals describe men as being "naturally" wired for dominance and aggression. And then they espouse a model of gender relations that gives power to the gender characterized by dominance and aggression. And then they express surprise that this arrangement didn't work out so well.

Given their view of the genders, let me express the irony of the evangelical position this way. Complementarianism isn't a problem because there are no differences between the genders. Complementarianism is a problem because there are differences between the genders.   

Here's an analogy for complementarianism's mistake. Imagine a church full of people, most have no tendency toward addiction, but in this church are three other groups. First, there is group of recovering alcoholics. Second, there is a group that is prone to alcoholism. Third, there is group of actual, practicing alcoholics. And then imagine, because of how you read the Bible, that you believe it is God's plan for human flourishing for everyone in the church to drink a glass of whiskey everyday. And then imagine expressing shock when a lot of these people fall into, or back into, addiction.

Listen, at this point in the post, I understand if you're a reader who is a little tired of this particular culture war battle. I, too, get a little tired of all the "f**k the patriarchy" talk, and I've been beaten up for being a "problematic" ally.

But seriously, if you don't think the mistreatment of women is the number one issue facing the moral witness of men--and not as a contemporary culture war issue, but as a demonic shadow that has haunted us for millennia--I just don't know what to say to you. Buckle up, buttercup. I think sin manifests in men in just this way.

A theological and biblical way to say all this is that men's dominance over women is a part of the Fall's curse upon humanity. The wound of sin upon gender relations is clear in Genesis 3: "He will rule over you."

So if that's a part of the curse, why do evangelicals think that building the curse into the system--gender subordination--is going to produce anything other than cursed outcomes?

News flash: The curse isn't a feature, it's a bug.

Summarizing, this isn't rocket science: If you preach gender subordination you're going to have #MeToo. Power reduces inhibitions, and men have a suite of impulses that increases the likelihood of harassment and abuse. And seriously, can you doubt this? Have you not learned something from #MeToo and #ChurchToo? Have you not had conversations with the women in your workplace? Have you not looked at the sex trafficking statistics? The statistics on rape and domestic abuse, throughout history and worldwide? There are millions of women being abused or trafficked right now in the world. Millions. And if you refuse to own that fact or be sobered by it for fear of man-shaming, I don't know what to tell you.

But again, the pushback will be, but if men were godly this would not happen. But isn't that the big blindspot here? "If men were godly..."

That "if" is a whopper. That "if" is dangerous. Seriously? You're going to make the safety of women a cross-your-fingers, let's hope for the best, contingency? A big fat "if" built atop a foundation of total depravity (as you believe to be the case)? And you are surprised this didn't go well?

Here's another news flash: men aren't godly. (And neither are women.) And given their weak theology of sanctification--because we are saved by "faith alone and not by works"--evangelicals have no clue or program about how to produce godly men. And many of them think godliness isn't even necessary. Witness the evangelical endorsement of Donald Trump.

To go back to Albert Mohler, I'm not trying to pile on. I understand how he and the SBC read the Bible. But I don't think the Bible is the problem. The problem is talking your eye off human beings and reading the Bible in a moral and human vacuum. That's how you end up making man serve the Sabbath. Perhaps a plug for natural theology fits in here, paying attention to what the sciences of human flourishing might reveal to us about "God's plan."

To conclude, I'm an egalitarian for three reasons.

First, I think you can make a biblical case for it. I'm happy to admit, for the sake of argument, that this case might not be as strong as the complementarian case. Still, you can make a biblical case for it.

Second, I think egalitarianism heals the curse of Genesis 3. Phrased differently, egalitarianism takes sin seriously, more seriously than does complementarianism. For men (and women!), egalitarianism is an exercise in spiritual formation, a monastic discipline, a kenotic practice that shapes us into the image of Christ. Let me phrase it this way: You don't promote "God's plan" by hoping that men will be godly. As we've seen, that's disastrous and dangerous. You don't hope for godliness, you form godliness. That's the contrast between complementarianism and egalitarianism. Complementarianism is wishful thinking. Egalitarianism is a plan for marriage that's spiritual formation.

Third, egalitarianism is a practice of care and protection, not just in words, wishes, and commands, but in concrete, structural ways. Complementarianism loves women with sermons. Egalitarianism loves women with love.

To conclude, for a second time. Agree or disagree with bits and pieces of this post. Quibble and point out everything that is problematic. Demand qualifications and more nuance. Tell me I'm man-shaming or a bad ally. Let me know I'm overgeneralizing and stereotyping. Fine. All I'm trying to say is this:

"God's plan" for the genders, whatever it is, has to take sin seriously.

And complementarianism just doesn't.

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