Everyone’s sick to death of lipstick, I know. But I have to tell you this. . . .
I’ve said it before to my students and I’ll say it here: Conservative Evangelicalism is really just like 17th-century patriarchy. The administrators are the patriarch(s) who go out into the world to earn money, fight bad guys, and acquire new property for the wife (the faculty/staff) and their sons (the students). Within patriarchy the wife has very little influence with her husband; he’s too busy and too absent to really know what she does. He just wants her to keep her mouth shut and not embarrass him. But she manages the homestead, keeps things running, and raises the children. She smooths over her sons’ frustration with an absent and detached father. Her one hope for influence? To raise sons who’ll remember her in her old age.
I’ve talked to enough people at other conservative Evangelical organizations to say that it’s not just BJU that’s that way; they are all that way. When you study the religio-cultural Evangelical landscape across the United States, you don’t talk about places or even ideas as much as you talk about personalities — Bob Jones, John R. Rice, Arlin Horton, Bill Rice, James Dobson, Gary Ezzo, Tedd Tripp, Michael Pearl, John MacArthur, John Piper, Bill Gothard, Mark Dever, Douglas Wilson, Doug Phillips, C. J. Mahaney, Rick Warren. I could go on. All in all, they are charismatic, affable, strong men who seem larger-than-life. These men each have their homesteads that compete for influence and affluence. Just like the English patriarchs.
Understanding that little fact made life within fundamentalism make a lot more sense, but it didn’t make it less ironic.
I’ll never forget the chapel message where Bob Jones III ranted about the then-new South Carolina law that required drivers to burn their headlights in the rain. Now we would tell him to get a blog so that he could vent those big feelings somewhere OTHER than the chapel platform. When he said, “I can’t believe those people think they can tell me when to turn my lights on and when to turn my lights off,” you could hear the student body’s collective jaws drop at the irony (for those of you not in the loop, the BJU dormitories require lights off at 11:00 pm every night and lights on at 6:55 am every morning). We all stifled a giggle. Are you serious, Dr. Bob?
To his credit, he apologized for that rant the next day. If I remember correctly, his eldest actually pointed out the irony and the patriarch admitted it. It’s always healthy when the dad admits his humanity in front of his kids.
The rant did demonstrate, however, how the patriarch views himself against the government. It was an old-school competition for control between them, not a checks-and-balances system or a “watch for your souls” relationship.
Sometime late in my BJU choir career, OSHA came to our rescue. Before that, we choir girls in our shiny poly-fugly dresses with too-small shoulders, floor-length hems, and ridiculous pit-pads were meticulously scrutinized for any deviance in appearance. No rings or big earrings, ladies! Suntan hose only and black shoes! Hair must be “rolled” and off the brows and shoulders. And the makeup! Ugh. No nose shine, of course, and we must apply dark streaks of orange blush which, we were told, looked best under the harsh Rodeheaver lights. Okay. Whatever.
But the lipstick. It had to be a dark reddish brown, the costume gods decreed, or we would disappear under the lights (the guys didn’t ever disappear!). Okay. Fair enough. But they gave us one or two tubes for the whole choir. We had to share, they said. We had to use the color they had ordered. Or else.
It was gross. And BAD. I secretly bought my own shade of ugly to use ALONE and crossed my fingers that I’d squeak by inspection before they released me to sing with my fellow second-sopranos.
Then OSHA came along and said, “No way, no how, no more sharing lipstick!! Every choir member must have her own!” HURRAY! We choir girls cheered and smiled and clapped. Quietly, of course, because we knew that the patriarch was not at all happy about the ever-encroaching government imposing its rules on poor hapless citizens. That’s what we were told, at least, in chapel.
But we knew better. We knew that even the patriarch needed rules. We knew that everyone needs oversight — usually from outsiders. We subconsciously knew that patriarchy only could work if, on the off-chance, the patriarch is completely selfless and beneficent. Any fetid whiff of power or ego and the littlest is the first one to get tossed aside.
In these weeks of deregulation chaos when some are actually insisting that we need fewer rules, I think about lipstick.