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Conservative Christian Women, Speaking Truth to Power

Recognizing Sophia, an Original Collage by Z Zephyr

Recognizing Sophia, an original collage by Z. Zephyr

A month or so ago I blogged here and here about Ted Haggard, the pastor of a megachurch outed by a male prostitute he’d been paying for sex for several years.   He resigned and, as I understand, has “submitted himself” to various and sundry conservative Christian/fundamentalist others in an attempt to repent of his gay ways.  Based on the reading I’ve done, Ted Haggard is a gay man and should not have to subject himself to what he is now, undoubtedly, subjecting himself to.  It’s a very, very sad situation, and I continue to wish all the best for him and for his wife and family.

In the furor over Haggard’s outing, I noticed, and some here commented, that Gayle Haggard, Ted Haggard’s wife, was being blamed by conservative Christian men for Ted Haggard’s visits to the male prostitute.   For some reason, until recently, when a local group of Christians and pagans calling itself “People Against Fundamentalism” organized a protest against him for the statements he made in connection with the Haggards, I hadn’t noticed that primary among the woman-blamers was a local pastor, Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, whose ministry is considered to be “cutting edge” as bible-believers count such things.  

Following is some of what Driscoll wrote on his  blog following Haggard’s outing:

I have, however, seen some very overt opportunities for sin. On one occasion I actually had a young woman put a note into my shirt pocket while I was serving communion with my wife, asking me to have dinner, a massage, and sex with her. On another occasion a young woman emailed me a photo of herself topless and wanted to know if I liked her body. Thankfully, that email was intercepted by an assistant and never got to me.

Most pastors I know do not have satisfying, free, sexual conversations and liberties with their wives. At the risk of being even more widely despised than I currently am, I will lean over the plate and take one for the team on this. It is not uncommon to meet pastors’ wives who really let themselves go; they sometimes feel that because their husband is a pastor, he is therefore trapped into fidelity, which gives them cause for laziness. A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband in the ways that the Song of Songs is so frank about is not responsible for her husband’s sin, but she may not be helping him either…

I spend the vast majority of my time working from home. Some years ago when I did not, I found that lonely people, some of them hurting single moms wanting a strong man to speak into their life, would show up to hang out and catch time with me. It was shortly thereafter that I brought my books home and purchased a laptop and cell phone so that I was not tied to the church office.

Pastors have the right to protect their own home. This means that if someone keeps dropping by unannounced and is unwelcome, or a flirtatious woman shows up to a Bible study at the pastor’s home, the pastor and his family have the right to request that they never return….

Churches should consider returning to heterosexual male assistants who are like Timothy and Titus to serve alongside pastors. Too often the pastor’s assistant is a woman who, if not sexually involved, becomes too emotionally involved with the pastor as a sort of emotional and practical second wife…

Pastors need to carefully protect their cell phone number. If that private number gets out, too many of the wrong people have access to the pastor. Not only should the cell phone number of a pastor be given out to only a few people, he should also consider eliminating his voicemail and simply have calls forwarded to his assistant. In this way people will not become too informal with the pastor and if the pastor knows someone is trouble (e.g., a flirtatious woman), he can see that on his caller ID and simply refuse to answer the call or have to deal with a voicemail.

You know, Driscoll is unapologetically, openly demonizing women here.  There is no discussion at all in Driscoll’s post about the way men objectify, sexually harrass, sexually approach, rape, molest, sexually assault, “flirt with,” or otherwise harrass women, or of the way men prostitute women, or of  any of the reasons why they do.  It is all laid at the feet of women, it is all about poor, beleagured Driscoll, protecting himself from teeming hordes of temptresses, shirtless Jezebels, deceivers, sex-crazed single mothers, emotionally needy secretaries, and wives who “let themselves go” once their pastor husbands are “trapped” by the requirements of monogamy.   Does  he even GET it that it wasn’t women Haggard lusted after, it was men?  Beyond that, I think he’s bragging, and even threatening, especially in light of his throw down about “taking one for the team on this,” as though to say, “You women better shape up, because we men can only hold out so long.”

Beyond his issues with women, he is also am egregious lesbo/homophobe.  In this post he characterizes efforts among progressive Christians to make the Bible gender neutral as being the work of “some chicks and some chickified dudes with limp wrists and minors in ‘womyn’s studies’ [who are] not happy because two persons of the Trinity have a dude-ish ring.”  Here he writes:

… if Christian males do not man up soon, the Episcopalians may vote a fluffy baby bunny rabbit as their next bishop to lead God’s men. When asked for their perspective, some bunny rabbits simply said that they have been discriminated against long enough and that people need to ‘Get over it.’

A conservative Christian woman pastor here in Seattle, Rose Madrid Swetman, wrote an open letter  on her blog which I think is well worth reading for anyone who doubts that women in patriarchal religion — including Christian fundamentalism — make their own kinds of revolution, in their own way, on their own terms.  Indeed they do.  I wish this woman were willing to identify as a feminist; regardless, her words are woman-centered words, her heart is for women, and she is speaking forth a very clear challenge to male power.  In my view, she is an incipient Amazon, rising, and it brings tears to my eyes.  Consider:

It seems to me that in your “Traditional,” or as some have stated, “hard Complementarian” view of Scripture, you seemed to have developed a rather unhealthy, vitriolic, abrasive, unchristian, and uncharitable form of rhetoric to describe women in your posts and sermons. You have been labeled with the descriptive word, “misogynist” by some. When I hear that word used, I don’t just think about a person that only “hates” women, rather I think of the word as also carrying an injustice ideology, similar to racism or anti-Semitism. For me a misogynist justifies and maintains a subordination of women by men for reasons that are not always apparent. I know you say that you believe in equality, just difference of roles. But, to hold a view that submission is in a woman’s DNA, which then disallows equal ministry with a man, is to hold both a far reaching and a destructive theology. The passage in Galatians about no Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free seems to sum up God’s story in Jesus. For some, this issue injures the heart of God because of his desire for justice. It is for many men and women a justice issue as was, and still is to some degree, the issue of racism in and out of the church in the last century.

…Can’t you see how even posting that women have motives such as this — my husband is a pastor so he is trapped into fidelity so I can sit back and let myself go — is offensive? In the second post, you sound patronizing and demeaning of Gayle Haggard calling her “lovely and devoted.” Please don’t call me out as a feminist that does not want to be considered “lovely’ or “devoted” because that is not my issue. The issue is that Ted Haggard’s struggle is homosexuality. It did not seem to matter if Gayle Haggard was the most beautiful, devoted woman, and with her husband the most sexually active woman on the planet, it would not have changed this situation one iota. So for you make this statement in these terms and make it an issue of sexual impropriety, failure, and sin, in my opinion, simply misses the point. It is offensive to talk to men and women this way and certainly reveals something about your character which for this reader seems rather prurient.

…This open letter is an attempt on my part to ask you to stop your insulting rhetoric and not abuse the power that has been given you by using bombastic statements about people, both male and especially the demeaning way you name-call women. In my opinion, you are causing injury to your brothers and sisters. There is enough injury inflicted from our enemy without leaders of the flock adding to the amount of injury.

Many of the comments to her post are nearly identical to the comments we feminists receive from misogynist trolls– just the vocabulary is different at times.  She is accused of being a hater, a man-hater, is told to repent, is castigated for not going to Driscoll “privately.”  Never mind that he has been openly woman-bashing and gay-and-lesbian-bashing for months on his blog!

As I’ve suggested in past patriarch-naming-and-blaming posts, right-wing women stand in need of our support and affirmation, even if it is, as here, respectfully and from afar.  Driscoll met with “People Against Fundamentalism,” and afterwards blogged an “apology” which in my view was nothing of the kind.  Another protest against Driscoll’s church is scheduled for New Year’s Eve.

Heart

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Discussion

23 thoughts on “Conservative Christian Women, Speaking Truth to Power

  1. So I read it, and the comments are awful – many of them – and she even has comment moderation on, so who knows what ELSE she’s getting. And these are supposed to be ‘Christians’ – and ‘humility’ means self-flagellation and acceptance of authority – ! … I did learn a lot from this, though, about the ideological background of many people I meet and deal with on the daily.

    So much talk about humility from arrogant people, so much meanness piously phrased. A very clear example of many things, although I am still too flabbergasted to be articulate about it. ;-)

    Posted by profacero | December 6, 2006, 6:17 am
  2. It is not uncommon to meet pastors’ wives who really let themselves go; they sometimes feel that because their husband is a pastor, he is therefore trapped into fidelity, which gives them cause for laziness. A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband in the ways that the Song of Songs is so frank about is not responsible for her husband’s sin, but she may not be helping him either…

    I find this, among other things in that article, very shocking. I’m chastise myself (again) for being so naive to believe that such thinking can no longer be prevalent in an ‘informed’ society.

    Posted by tender [hooligan] | December 6, 2006, 11:41 am
  3. I wonder if the email from a topless girl was one of those spam emails with a link that sees “see free photos of me topless!”
    he sounds like the type of guy to think it must be a personal invite just for him… he makes it sounds like women are throwing themselves at him right and left.
    also, he seems to have completely missed the board that this guy is GAY–i’m surprised he has no reaction to that fact.
    Additionally, I feel like there is no logic behind saying pastor’s wives “let themselves go” because aren’t they somewhat of a public figure? expected to reflect well on their husband?

    Posted by paperbacks | December 6, 2006, 12:45 pm
  4. “I’m chastise myself (again) for being so naive to believe that such thinking can no longer be prevalent in an ‘informed’ society.”

    This is the way I have been feeling non-stop for the last week. It’s like having been asleep all my life, assuming people strived to be good, only to find out how naive that really is.

    Posted by veravenom | December 6, 2006, 3:13 pm
  5. It’s doubly ironic in how that christianity, like any other subculture in patriarchy, is about diluting so called alpha-male competition. In other words, because they add a few wrinkles of their own to what makes a man desirable (and brutally enforce women seeing those attributes as desirable), endemic to their own group, such as holiness, brokenness, etc., they can compete on a closed circuit for women who are gaged attractive by ALL of patriarchal society.

    Now, it’s not just the guys who want to use jesus to make their cock bigger, subcultures like “goths” and what not are exactly the same, but like I said, ironic that this guy is whining about christian women not measuring up when christian men can be complete toads and land a “princess” provided they play their cards right in the spiritual warfare department.

    Posted by rich | December 6, 2006, 3:17 pm
  6. Interesting that the thought of pastors “throwing themselves” at other women never occurs to him. Had a pastor who was going to preside over a wedding I was singing at proposition me at the rehearsal dinner! I met his wife there, he met my husband but still asked to “get together with me privately”! There are so many male pastors who do not feel constrained at all by their christian teachings when it comes to going outside a marriage or being a sexist, egomaniacal a$$ as this fellow. Guess in this jerk’s view men are never pigs.

    Posted by xanadu1015 | December 6, 2006, 4:16 pm
  7. HA!!! Paperbacks, that is too funny re the “See photos of me topless” theoretical e-mail. Ohmygoddess I laughed when I read that. :) Yeah, a personal invite, just for him, right alongside his personal invitations to try Viagra.

    Really interesting post, Rich, and so true. No matter what the patriarchal subculture, women are viewed as “for” men. One reason I am interested in writing about what’s going on with conservative Christians (besides having been one) is, I so often hear women lumped in with men in fundie groups as though their status in those groups is remotely comparable with what men’s is. It is not. Just as in any other group, how well a woman fares inside of conservative Christianity depends on the man or men she is attached/connected to. If she is attached/connected to a powerful fundie and she is a traditionally attractive and young, she is at the top of the heap– just as in non-conservative-Christian heteronormative people groups. If she is traditionally unattractive and is, say, a single working mom, her *only* hope in order to be respected in these groups rests in “placing herself under the authority of” either her father (even if she’s an adult) or pastor or elders. Of course if she attempts to demonstrate her willingness to be under a pastor’s authority, woe be to her if it’s Driscoll! He’ll think she is lusting after his bod or flirting with him or whatever.

    She has one other possible avenue of hope for moderate levels of acceptance and minimal levels of fear if she’s a single mom: if she tirelessly serves in the church, especially where servants are really needed, like in the church nursery, and if she is willing to babysit for others. Single mothers in fundie churches are a HUGELY oppressed group, are horrendously discriminated against, feared, marginalized, and treated, in general, very, very poorly compared with married women. At the same time, there are resources available to them in the church that are not available to them outside the church, and especially not free of charge, and that’s why a lot of single moms cut the deal they cut in becoming fundies.

    Hey, tender hooligan, I agree– for those outside this world, what these men say is shocking. But it’s also really, really useful. Being in these groups or just watching them, reading them, allows us a look at pure, unadulterated, unapologetic patriarchy, allows us to understand how it works, what its dynamics are.

    profacero, so right about the arrogance in people who theoretically value humility and even self-flagellation!

    Heart

    Posted by Heart | December 6, 2006, 5:57 pm
  8. xanadu, I read some statistics about Christians on Driscoll’s blog in some post or another. According to the statistics, 50 percent of Christian marriages break up, and 40 percent of Christians acknowledge having sex outside of their marriage after they had become Christians. I wonder if Driscoll figures the 40 percent are 39 percent women and only 1 percent poor guys, including pastors, whose wives “let themselves go,” so they just couldn’t hold out any longer.

    Heart

    Posted by womensspace | December 6, 2006, 6:06 pm
  9. “Pastors need to carefully protect their cell phone number. If that private number gets out, too many of the wrong people have access to the pastor. Not only should the cell phone number of a pastor be given out to only a few people, he should also consider eliminating his voicemail and simply have calls forwarded to his assistant. In this way people will not become too informal with the pastor and if the pastor knows someone is trouble (e.g., a flirtatious woman), he can see that on his caller ID and simply refuse to answer the call or have to deal with a voicemail.”
    Well, so much for being there for his flock. If this guy were really a spiritual leader, he would be easily available to anyone who needed him, and just deal with difficulties or “temptations” as they arise. Instead, he wants to be isolated from all the tawdry reality of human interactions, and remain pure and blameless up there on his lofty ayrie. Just like the god he serves.

    Posted by Cathy Gale | December 7, 2006, 12:36 am
  10. Sounds to me like he flirts with the idea that he’s some sort of celebrity who needs to desperately guard his hot and tender body. Is he REALLY the fundie woman’s replacement for Johnny Depp?

    That aside, he also sounds to be of camp of men who claim the inability to resist any sort of temptation placed in front of them, so have to ‘remove themselves’ from any temptation lest they are ‘forced’ to sin. I don’t understand how men can reconcile this weak, pathetic excuse of a will against the ‘strong manly-man’ image they’re supposed to be projecting. So… are they a ‘man’, or are they so weak-willed they can’t resist the slightest temptation? Which IS IT? How do they reconcile BOTH within the same body, and yet still face the mirror with a straight face?

    What a joke.

    Posted by Pramiti | December 7, 2006, 1:13 am
  11. Apart from his oh so obvious preening, it is rather disconcerting to hear a man in an influential position STILL going on about “Jezebels” as if a man has no responsibility to himself or to his wife to deal with his own sexuality. So, she isn’t giving it up at home? Why not? Could it be that he’s more interested in “his ministry” than her? Could it be she’s tired as hell from taking on the lion’s share of child-rearing, homemaking, and washing his freaking underwear? When men start trotting out “due benefescence” shit, it’s a clear sign that because he looks at women’s duty as servicing him and if she isn’t, well, the sin lies with her. He’s setting it up. Oh sure, if he commits adultery it’s HIS sin, but who can blame the poor dude with the wife who “let herself go” and who doesn’t give him any. Built in protection right there. I’m sorry, but fuck that noise. I know, that expletive didn’t win me any points with the Christian crowd, but ok, focus on that or look at the real problem, ok?

    All I can say to tripe like this is, “Dude, if your wife is suffering, check it out. Don’t lay additional burdens on her. Look at WHY she’s turned her back to you in bed, look at her. SEE her. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll see what a prick you’re being.”

    Mmkay. I can see I’m just spreading sunshine all over the place. I just hurt for these hurting women, honest to God, I do.

    Posted by Ginny | December 7, 2006, 4:13 am
  12. Sort of funny, Paperback probably called it, but there’s actually an article out today about how ministers are especially falling for email scams. I guess the ego that comes with prosperity doctrine makes them highly succeptible.

    http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/2006/12/churches_minist.html

    Posted by Rich | December 7, 2006, 9:16 am
  13. The problem lies in their insular mindset. My ex-pastor refused to even go on the internet and only barely checked email because he didn’t want to be tempted to go to porn sites. He said the internet was “too dangerous” for a good Christian, so he looked askance at me when I told him I had websites and ministered to abused women online. Like it was some front for a sex toy shop or something. Many conservative Christians are just not internet nor current society savvy as they pride themselves in keeping themselves set apart from all that. Which, of course, makes the lure of the “forbidden” even stronger. Depending on the group you’re in, that list can be very, very long. I remember, back in the late 80’s, a co-worker saying to me, when he learned I didn’t watch TV, didn’t own a computer, and listened to nothing except Christian music and Christian talk radio, “Don’t you feel out of touch?” I thought a minute and said, “Hmmm, I never really considered that.” His comment really hit home to me, but I was just getting immersed into the fundie Christian world at that time, so it didn’t really impact me until some years later. But, yeah, it doesn’t surprise me that fundie Christians are ripe for scamming simply because they insulate themselves and aren’t aware. Plus, there’s this sense of false trust engendered among Christians, that if you’re Christian, you’re safe. They prefer to do business with Christian businesses, if there’s a fish on your yellow page ad, you’re in like flint. So, if you send an email claiming to be a brother or sister in Christ, then you’re going to at least gain an audience.

    It’s a chosen kind of ignorance born of fear, and actually it flies in the face of several admonishments in the Bible that Christians ought to “be in the world but not of the world” and “be wise as serpents, but gentle as doves.” Instead, they end up blind sheep with everything that reaches them filtered through the approved sources.

    Posted by Ginny | December 7, 2006, 2:26 pm
  14. See, I don’t see ignorance there, I see egotism. If god rewards and punishes people here on earth, too, then it’s only natural for these dudes to think that some guy in Nigeria has a million dollars with their name on it. Or some email vixen is jonesing for them, for that matter.

    Posted by Rich | December 7, 2006, 5:33 pm
  15. Oh sure, no doubt about that, Rich, no doubt at all. These guys are King Shit on Turd Hill, and they love it. Pastors become microcosmic celebrities. Not only pastors, but worship leaders, youth leaders, some elders, yeah. It’s all about ego. However, seriously, what kind of nimrod doesn’t know about porn spam and Nigerian scams? The kind that prefer the strokes they get in their own insular circle to the reality that they’re really just like everyone else with an email address.

    Posted by Ginny | December 7, 2006, 5:53 pm
  16. Just a matter of months, Haggard will be back as a “success” story from an anti-gay “rehabilitation” clinic.

    It’s awful that he’ll never accept himself.

    Posted by Stephen | December 9, 2006, 2:35 pm
  17. I notice he carefully omits the pastors who prey on the young women of their congregations, too. The pastor of the fundamentalist church I grew up in made overt sexual comments to me when I was still a teenager–being young and naive I was embarrassed but didn’t recognize it for the harassment and abuse of his position that it really was. He also used the excuse that his wife had “let herself go” (she was rather fat) for his prowling among the young women in the church, several of whom he eventually seduced.

    Posted by kactus | December 10, 2006, 5:34 am
  18. So true, kactus. The excuses these men make for male predation are despicable and as endless as the numbers of their victims, yet how often do they ever cop to this? Almost never. Every new story about the pastor/priest who has sexually assaulted children, women, is treated as though it is some anomaly and the guy some extraordinary case, when in fact, fundamentalism is a breeding ground, in so many ways, for male predation.

    Heart

    Posted by womensspace | December 10, 2006, 4:04 pm
  19. Thanks for your writing on the Haggard situation. Fortunately I read your blog before I read Driscoll’s, which I had bookmarked to read b/c a friend recommended the blog to me. Now, I will forward this post to my friend to read and talk to him about Driscoll’s blog.

    Posted by juliuseltrucho | December 11, 2006, 6:18 am
  20. “…right-wing women stand in need of our support and affirmation, even if it is, as here, respectfully and from afar. ”

    I, for one, agree and appreciate that you read and have shared Swetman’s letter with a fair and open mind.

    Posted by CoolAunt | December 14, 2006, 10:39 pm
  21. I found your blog today, thanks so much for your thoughts and willingness to post on this. As you saw from Rose Marie’s blog, it’s a hugely contested issue even today–sadly.

    Posted by leahklug | May 23, 2008, 8:26 pm

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