“It’s not me, it’s her, isn’t it?”

When a friend passed along the latest kerfuffle within the evangelical blogosphere last night, I had no words. Well, now I’ve found a couple.

Under the auspices of the Gospel Coalition, Jared C. Wilson started this latest reverse-SAD-motivated ruckus here and here (Edited to add: Both links been removed but are available here and here.). Others have confronted the gross problems with Jared’s privilege-denying assertions and then apologia: Rachel Held Evans, Scot McKnight, J. R. Daniel Kirk, and the folks at Are Women Human?. I have nothing to add to their legit and articulate corrections.

Here’s what I can add, however — historical criticism. That Doug Wilson is the most verbose and colorful apologist for the sanctified rape culture should surprise no one. When you take up a Lost Cause myth as your guiding ideology, that is what you get. This legal scholar explains:

What is less often discussed is the impact of slavery on white families and the individuals who comprise those families, or generally the American family within society at large. For both the commission of incest or miscegenation, the event(s) were publicly condemned while simultaneously ignored and hidden, and thereby condoned. Despite the imperative for racial purity, white men enjoyed a presumption of free access to slaves, as well as to freed women. Indeed, because acts of miscegenation were so common, as was their denial, they occurred in transparent obscurity. Further, this white, patriarchal, sexual prerogative was unfettered and all but unchallenged, even when such access resulted in an actual biological, incestuous coupling. Thus, the convergence of the taboos, miscegenated incest/incestuous miscegeny, prompted the hidden exhibition of incest, first for relations between family members of “opposite” races, but also for any correlate relations within a “same” race family. Indeed, acknowledgment or exposure of incest between relatives of so-called opposite race challenged both the social construction of race and therefore the basis for social stratifications.

The slavery culture is the rape culture. There is no difference. Conservative ideology has sanctified both at once. The dominant white male privilege penetrates all who are not dominant white male privilege, and if you thwart that penetration, you upset the divine order and are, then, deserving of . . . penetration. I’m trying but failing to avoid the low-hanging fruit of those sexual metaphors. Maybe Dilbert‘s vocabulary works better.

What TGC and either Wilson intend to say or what they want you to think they said is not my point. My point is how mindlessly easy it is to find a religious vocabulary of oppression and to intimidate dissenting voices into silence with pleas to be “civil” or “rational” or “gracious” or “forgiving.” The apologists’ reactions to the criticism prove the criticism correct: we misunderstood, we are too emotional, and we must be less than 100% AmericanEvans said as much this morning:

Sadly, this reaction is reflective of patriarchy’s overall posture toward women, which dismisses their pain and perspective as unworthy of acknowledgement.  I think the Gospel Coalition’s response to this matter has spoken more loudly than the original post.

Sure, patriarchy’s old and all. I get that. But this particular religious expression of patriarchy has roots we can trace in our own soil — roots that thrive in South Carolina‘s red clay as well as Idaho’s wheat fields. This is an exceptionally American problem. More specifically than American, the problem lives right smack at the crossroads of revivalism, conservative politics, and white supremacy. You can find it in an Easter sermon. And fifty years later, you see the same rhetoric lobbed at girls who are the victims of forcible rape. It’s all an assault on personhood whether female persons or black persons or grown persons or minor persons.

The wider Evangelical culture — the people who ignore the likes of Bob Jones University and all its freakish extremes — is reluctant to see the pattern, and, as a result, the Evangelical good guys get stymied by the usual silencing power plays. Let me show you the pattern here as briefly as possible.

First of all, BJU fundamentalism is not just a genetic malformation of conservative Evangelicalism. BJU is to Evangelicalism what the South is to the USA. Look at Howard Zinn‘s conclusion:

For the South, I am about to argue, far from being utterly different, is really the essence of the nation. It is not a mutation born by some accident into the normal, lovely American family; it has simply taken the national genes and done the most with them. . . . Because the South embarrasses us, we try to disown it, apologize for it, hold it at a distance, pretend it is an abnormal growth on the national body. Once, however, we face the truth–that the South crystallizes the defects of the nation–there may be some value in the acknowledgment.

And so I’m arguing that just as the South is a distillation of the whole United States, so Bob Jones University is a parallel concentration of conservative Evangelicalism. This most recent summertime drama proves it. Here’s the pattern:

  • Person-With-Power says a horrible thing.
  • Persons-with-Common-Sense say “No, no, no. That’s horrible.”
  • PWP feels a twinge of conviction. Instead of apologizing, he doubles down and claims PsWCS misunderstood.
  • PWP waxes eloquent with irrelevant and incoherent abstractions.
  • PsWCS get flummoxed and exhausted and walk away.

Bob Jones Sr. did in this in his 1912 sermon, “The Modern Woman” in which he insisted that sexual assault victims should be put away from society for good. When a Southern Baptist pastor in Atlanta objected and pointed to (of all things!) the Gospel, Jones blathered incoherently.

Maybe 1912 is too long ago for you? Okay. I guess antebellum defenses of slavery are out then. How about a KKK parade in a Bob Jones revival in 1922? Galveston in 1923? No? Hmm. . . . A sermon series on Daniel and the Revelation from the 1930s? A 1957 prayer rally for Graham’s NYC crusade1982 Supreme Court case? How about Bob Jones III on Larry King Live in 2000? Or “the statement of regret” in 2008? A few weeks ago the current Dean of the School of Religion at Bob Jones University, in defending a smarmy bait-and-switch “conference,” admitted that fundamentalists don’t confess when they’ve “made a mistake” (i.e. sin). They just “grow.”

All of these public examples demonstrate the pattern I list above. It’s been 100 years. Bob Jones Inc’s reaction to criticism is no different from the Wilsons and Driscoll. And while Penn State and Daniel Tosh are similar, the religious vocabulary makes it way, way worse. Corruptio optimi pessima. It’s all pagan. It’s all power. It’s all privilege.

And there’s no room for Jesus in it.

What are we gonna do about it? I don’t know yet. Still in the research stage. I just know we can’t walk away. Even if all these privilege-denying dudes sound like Nathan Thurm.

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Update: Jared C. Wilson has offered a statement of regret for the “hurt” his expression of “the truth” caused. It’s an inadequate and predictable response (see above list). I do wish, however, these complementarian folk would read just a little Cixous and stop talking about their words as a “blunt instrument” unless it’s ironically.

More Update: While I’m talking about stuff 100 years ago, Dee at The Wartburg Watch really cuts to the chase and talks about the nitty-gritty here and now. Is it any surprise that the churches (or “kirks”) that harbor predators love the Lost Cause? We don’t need to talk about James Henry Hammond and Billy James Hargis too, do we?

Comments & Responses

18 Responses so far.

  1. Grace says:

    This post is absolutely brilliant. Thanks for writing it. Love the point about the evangelical “fringe” is a distillation of the whole culture – just as the worst parts of evangelicalism are distillations of so-called secular culture.

    • Grace says:

      Also have to add that I looooove that you said “What TGC and either Wilson intend to say or what they want you to think they said” isn’t the point. It’s been frustrating to see people calling them out but hedging by saying we should give them the benefit of the doubt on their intent and personal character – I mean, first off, there is *no reason* to give Doug Wilson the benefit of the doubt here – but also, both intent and whatever they do in their private lives are completely irrelevant. What they said and what it means is what matters, and it does promote rape and rape culture regardless of what their intent was or how nice they are to their wives.

      • cklewis says:

        First of all, thanks!!

        Secondly, that all-criticism-is-ad-hominem trope is odd. I don’t understand how people can’t see the difference between a person and an idea, but I regularly get slammed for it. Heck — I got fired over it five years ago!! I don’t get it.

        • Grace says:

          Personally, I think it’s a systematic effort to suppress any productive and meaningful discussion of problems in the church. Not that it only happens in the church – but as with other issues, it’s baptized in a theological rationale that makes it even harder to make any headway.

        • Christy says:

          I’m confounded by the all-criticism-causes-conflict-and-division-among-the-brethren-which-grieves-God-and-distracts-from-the-gospel-so-we-shouldn’t-do-it trope. It seems to lead to Stepford wife-like plastic permagrin where no one is willing to talk about anything unpleasant in that stereotypical 1950′s way of avoiding real truth and emotional intelligence.

          • The most effective way to ‘keep things hidden’ is to not talk about them. One of the enemy’s effective weapons. Things that need to be exposed, need to be talked about. The practice of ‘bringing things out in the open, into the light, breaks the power of them over people’s lives.’ The internet has so much good stuff on it, about the subject of Emotional Intelligence.’ If you’re looking it up for the first time, it’s hard to stop reading about it.It;s so liberating. Good, right knowledge such as this, really is a liberating kind of healthy power1 it really empowers you to celebrate being human. Google knows all!

        • Camille, this is an amazing post topic. I’ve only read through it once, so I’ve barely scratched the surface of taking it in. Simply amazing.

  2. Dani Kelley says:

    I’ve been pondering and wondering lately whether or not fundamentalism is just evangelicalism taken to its logical end. Very sobering.

    • Grace says:

      I think it absolutely is :/

      • Grace, do you believe there is real grace in Evangelicalism? Or that there may be substitutes for grace being fallen for in evangelicalism, that christians don’t know any better as to the real and the substitute? Christians looking for a good church to grow in, are easily attracted to the happy clappy smiley ‘friendliest church in town’ kind of thing, about evangelicalism, believing that ‘all that IS Grace?’ When it is really friendly human behavior in a born again social country club! What is the common denominator as for how and why christians become disillusioned with both fundamentalism and evangelicalism? A weak inadequate understanding of Grace? Fair weather friends? And the double offense of ‘lack of charity’ and ‘hypocracy in their churches?’ The latter two reasons are why I believe unsaved people are not drawn to churches to find Jesus. Well meaning christians, distracted from the purposes and will of God, who are really not set free to love, serve, follow, and obey Him as god created them to. this is supposed to be fulfilling and joyful, not frustrating and discouraging! They seem to be following man thinking they are following God! And so easy to do when we think so highly of our leaders.

    • I never thought of this before! I hope it’s not true. But then I may have to lay down another sacred cow of ‘aren’t all evangelicals nice??!!’ that I have been dragging around for a few decades about evangelicalism. But don’t fundies go ‘towards’ evangelicalism when they first escape from the prison chains of fundamentalism’? Don’t know if people go the other way, ‘from’ evangelicalism ‘to’ fundamentalism? Then undiscerning, gullible people can be fooled by the charmy-smarmy flashy personality types, who really know how to sell a false sale, so that as false leaders they can easily manipulate people into going backwards, while the people believe they’re going forwards. I have a cousin whose done just that. Gone from an evangelical Anglican fold to a Pentacostal fold to a Baptist Church. Third fold is a fairly recent change. But I don’t believe his Baptist church is a toxic -fundy kind. I think about him all the time worrying about when ‘the honeymoon period’ with his church will be over. And someone hurts and offends him and the ‘perfect church’ he believes he’s finally ‘found’ turns out to be just one more big painful disappointment for him. The pastor insists on everyone uniformly accepting exactly the same doctrine and having a testimony he approves of, to be allowed to join and be a member. Sure didn’t like the sound of ‘that requirement ‘ when I first read it on their web site. A very sobering thought though, that fundamentalism might be evangelicalism taken to its logical end. Also a depressing thought.

  3. Two cashiers at local grocery store were talking about that ‘old pet rag’again of irresponsible men who just can’t control themselves” because of the way the girls dress! About how some bright spark suggested we need legislation for how ladies, girls, women dress!!!!” so they won’t be raped!!! I couldn’t resist joining the conversation “So, it’s ‘that’ again, is it?” I said to them. Men have nothing to do with rape, because the girl’s clothing, ‘made them do it’???!!! When some Muslims emigrate to America, their first culture shock reaction to women’s attire, is, that they see girls, ladies, women, wearing clothing with bare arms, leading a normal life, and ‘no one is attacking and raping them!’ Can’t believe what Bob Senior said about women victims of assault! A shocking example of a man who really did live, a shockingly outrageous and hypocritical double life. I wonder how ‘safe’ the girls and ladies really felt on campus back then with such a leader running the prison camp with his warped philosophy controlling his equally warped mind!

  4. [...] Camille Lewis brings some more historical context, this time on the culture of slavery in the American South, that makes it very clear how Wilson’s defense of the slave-owning South is inherently a [...]

  5. Monte Harmon says:

    Could you give me a page number on the Bob Jones/Assault Victim reference? Scanned it (hard on my eyes) and didn’t see it but would like to read it.

  6. Just read some internet info on the two Wilsons : Doug and Jared! Cannot find suitable colorful language to describe what I think of them. But these two ‘pieces of work’ really ROCK MY SOUL BABY!. They can’t wait for people to read their religious bilge of ‘verbal diarrheah!” They are so arrogant and self-absorbed, that they can’t wait for people to run to and grovel at the shrine of their ‘superior insights’ into things they really know nothing about. It’s Hard to believe how two so called christian men, could think they believe in ‘the Real Jesus’ and ‘the Real Gospel’, could both end up with ‘such warped minds’, that no sane person with half a brain would take the time to listen to either of them or take them seriously. Maybe we now have a new ‘moron meter!’ Any people who take these men seriously, rate a high reading on the moron meter! I am feeling so angry. But I will restrain myself! And yes, I agree with someone’s suggestion that ‘Jared the pill Wilson’ is definitely a CLASSIC blog troll who gets his jollies by provoking people, to enjoy getting them really, really angry. He’s a carnal PIMP. He Provokes, Intimidates, Manipulates, and then he arrogantly Pontificates, over the negative feelings and upset emotional reactions from the people, against which he plays his sick ‘mind games’, especially the women he further gratifies himself ‘by judging.’ To think that a responsible publishing company would actually lower themselves to print books by such a religious moron as Doug Wilson! After reading this blog post, and about those two fundamentalist bozo’s, believe me, NOTHING surprises me anymore, as to ‘what’ educated morons like these two, can come up with about the female gender of humanity! What? Did they both go to the school for a–holes? Reminds me of how the worst of ‘fringe fundamentalism’ really is somewhat of ‘a rape culture’, ( not just sexual molestation which is dreadful and tragic in itself ) but the power hungry , greedy rape culture, of what pulpit power broker bullies, do to people’s minds, ability to think ,and be free agents, how they rape the hopes and dreams, of precious people God loves. People who then lose, their hopes,dreams and most, if not all, of their faith, to the religious vampire- vultures we call” Grace Stealers.” Ignorant men like Bob Jones Sr., and the two poor excuses for the male gender, the Wilsons, one wonders how they have the audacity to proclaim themselves to be “Bible believing Christians, when they don’t even ‘believe’ to ‘respect’ to ‘practice’, WHAT’S IN The Bible! Have they ripped Proverbs Chapter Thirty One out of their Bibles? Or do they think that, God really didn’t say and mean that? I guess ‘truth’ to them, and what they ‘believe’ to them, is “whatever is convenient !” Only one more shocking example, of how the essential relationship virtue of Respect, has gone so missing from religious men’s minds, that it doesn’t really mean anything to them, anymore. They are” false shepherds who eat my people like bread.” Thanks for letting me say this.

  7. Camille,

    You mentioned that complementarians should read some of Cixous’ writings. What are some of her ideas that you think they would benefit from reading?

  8. […] Douglas Wilson’s history (and present) of White Supremacy (you can read about that history here, here, here, and here). Piper and Wilson then compare slavery to abortion, insist that black people […]

  9. Natalie says:

    Camille,
    I fully support the voice you are using and encouraging others to use. Dialogue is a healthy exercise, no matter what fundamental or non-fundamental beliefs are tossed around. Facts, opinions, questions, inquiries….not such scary things if you have nothing to hide. I was reared in a home where I was taught to always be skeptical of people because they’re human and flawed. I was taught to only put my faith in God and my Savior. In the years that I spent witnessing various mistreatment of my friends, family, teachers, fellow students…I was never surprised when they were shunned, thrown under the proverbial bus, gossiped about or demonized. I knew that God knew the truth, and I prayed that those who were judged so harshly by fellow human beings knew the same. I fought my own battles and gained a reputation of being a “loud-mouthed” brat, and although this bothered the many men in positions of authority over me, I never backed down. I refused to feel like less of a person for having opinions, thoughts and ideas. I wish I had used my voice more is my only regret.
    I remember tutoring a really good friend of mine outside on a bench on campus…he happened to be of the male persuasion. He complained of a migraine and he couldn’t concentrate. I went and got him some water, and pressed my thumbs gently into his temple to help relieve some pressure. You would have thought I was French kissing him topless based on the reaction I got from a male faculty member. I told said faculty member to “get his mind out of the gutter”…I think this stunned him horribly because I didn’t even get reprimanded. He just sort of slinked away. There was another time when I was in Elementary school that another girl told the teacher on me because I was talking about sex. My mother had just had “the talk” with me, and I was curious about the conversation. I still remember what that dear, dear teacher said. She looked right at the other girl and simply said, “What’s wrong with sex? If you’re married one day, there will be nothing wrong with that. Thinking about the act with a future man that God has for you is natural.”
    It is so backward. Perverts that would prey on victims and violate the innocence of sex that victims were once looking forward to deserve to be brought into the light. They have taken something that was God-given in a way that can never be returned. That is absolutely deplorable! We are taught to guard our purity with all of our might, but there are no consequences if someone decides to take it any way?
    Enough is enough! There needs to be consequences. If “church discipline” demands accountability, that accountability MUST include legal accountability as well.
    When there is a meeting of “religious authority”, there better be a cop car waiting outside.

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