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% American. Evans 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 crusade? 1982 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.
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 take about James Henry Hammond and Billy James Hargis too, do we?