© 2019 -  Joshua Wilkey - This Appalachian Life

Misogyny is a core part of Fundamentalist Christianity. Kavanaugh's confirmation is proof.

October 9, 2018

I grew up in a religious tradition that pretended to honor women while systematically subjugating them. 

 

For this reason, I am not surprised at all that conservative evangelicals, including women, so resoundingly support a man who was accused of sexual assault by an utterly credible victim. The Kavanaugh confirmation process is yet another symptom of the misogynous rot that is at the core of fundamentalist evangelical Christianity in the United States.

 

I grew up in tiny fundamentalist Southern Baptist churches. In these churches, women were excluded from all forms of leadership apart from teaching young children. Generally, women were not even allowed to teach teenage boys. They were certainly never allowed to explore calls to ministry. They were not allowed to serve as Deacons, and even though they could bake Communion bread, they were most assuredly not allowed to serve it.

 

Those women who demonstrated capability and a call to serve were relegated to children's ministry, even when their talents were very evidently in other areas. The Church said to them, in this way, that they were unfit for leadership by virtue of their gender, and I have had heartbreaking conversations with so many of the women I grew up with who, because of this, were made to feel incapable of leadership and unequal to men for much of their lives.

 

Ambitious women had (and still have) no place in most fundamentalist Southern Baptist churches. When this is the reality for so many conservative Christians, is it any wonder that these Christians are inclined to advocate for someone like Brett Kavanaugh rather than a strong and inspirational woman like Christine Blasey Ford? 

 

We can no longer pretend that the Christians who supported Kavanaugh so viscerally were doing so because of political ideology. The reality is that they were simply acting within the bounds of their religious beliefs which call for the systemic second-classing of women. It's time for the rest of us who profess to be Christians to stand up to this flawed theological interpretation and demand better. It's time for us to stand up to the perversion of our religion in matters of gender. 

 

In the aftermath of Kavanaugh's confirmation, I have been heartbroken to see a number of conservative pastors post on social media about upcoming sermons on what they describe as "Biblical womanhood." These pastors are citing the epistles to justify their belief that women are to be subject to their husbands or fathers, and they continue to perpetuate the sinful and disgusting idea that women should be measured not in terms of their own humanity but in terms of how obedient they are to the powerful men in their lives.

 

Never mind that a woman was the very first human to proclaim the Gospel. Never mind that women had incredibly visible and powerful roles in Jesus's ministry in the years leading up to his crucifixion. These right-wing pastors are perverting scripture as a means of justifying and entrenching their misogynistic views in their congregations and in their communities. They are not interested in strong female leaders. In fact, I dare say, they fear the idea. They are interested in subjugated followers who believe it is a sin to question male leaders and who think they are fit only to teach children and cook for potluck lunches. It's a short distance from their misogynistic theology to their open disdain for victims of sexual assault.

 

In a political movement where an overwhelming number of members are Evangelical Christians who hold harmful and theologically-flawed beliefs about gender, it should be no surprise to us when conservatives continue to support men who are accused of sexual assault rather than the women who were assaulted. If, as these conservatives believe, women are to be subject to men, then why should they believe a woman who says she was hurt by a powerful man? In the religious tradition around which I grew up, women who were sexually assaulted were generally blamed for the violence themselves. Perhaps they were behaving badly or they were "outside of God's will," whatever that even means, or, heaven forbid, they could have been dressing immodestly, the logic went. This version of Christianity is wholly void of the Gospel. It is dangerous, and I can no longer remain silent when I see it in practice. 

 

 

It is my sincere hope that Christians, particularly those within these fundamentalist traditions, will look to Christ for examples of how we are to value and treat women in our churches and in our communities. Jesus himself lifted women up as leaders and evangelists, often incredibly unexpectedly and contrary to the cultural and social norms of the time. If you have somehow managed to miss all these amazing stories of Jesus empowering and lifting up women as leaders, you should go back and read the Gospels without your gender-biased blinders on and notice all the ways Jesus acknowledges women - even socially outcast and "invisible" women - as leaders. If you don't know the stories, it isn't because they aren't there. It is because you have been programmed to ignore them. That's fundamentalist Christian misogyny at work. 

 

It is nearly impossible to create an environment where we listen to and believe women when we adhere to a theology that systematically makes them second-class humans. If you sincerely believe that your Christian faith calls you to limit the ways women are allowed to serve, then I hope you will consider the ways your own socially constructed beliefs are causing you to misinterpret scripture in a way that supports your non-religious cultural beliefs. 

 

I have no doubt that many of the people who ascribe to this flawed theological notion are good people who are trying to be faithful Christians. Few of the people in the churches where I grew up have likely given any thought to the reality that their interpretations of scripture have caused generations of women to feel inferior and generations of men to believe they are superior to - and, by extension, dominant over - women. However, this is not Christianity. It is legalism. The result will continue to be a political ideology, falsely parading as faith, that privileges powerful men over victimized women.

 

One of the primary reasons I now reject the fundamentalist form of Christianity around which I was raised is the way that portion of the Church treats women. My wife and I have a child on the way, and though we do not plan to learn its sex until birth, if it is a girl, I want her to grow up in a world where she can choose to do anything she wants, including becoming a leader in the Church. I want her to grow up in a faith tradition that values her humanity without regard to her sex or her gender identity. I want her to grow up in a society where we believe victims of sexual assault and where we hold those who commit assault accountable for their actions even if they have Ivy League degrees or they are good swimmers.

 

If our child is a boy, I want him to grow up seeing women around him honored and respected in top leadership roles, both in the Church and in society. I cringe at the thought of our son being preached at about his alleged dominion over the women around him. I want him to see women not as people who should be subject to his authority but as equal partners and as capable leaders to follow. I want him to listen to and believe women when they say they've been assaulted by powerful men, and I think this is substantially more likely because we will raise our children in an open and affirming religious tradition that lifts up female leaders. 

 

Thankfully, in my adulthood, I found a spiritual home - the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America - that embodies all of these values, but I am heartbroken to know that even now girls and women in the US are being told that their stories do not matter and that their assailants will face no consequences. Moreover, I am distraught that so many Christians are good with that reality. We can do better than this, and we should all carefully consider what Christ is calling us to do about it. 

 

It is up to all of us now, especially those of us who exercise male privilege within the Church, to lift women up into positions of leadership, even if that lifting up comes at the expense of our own ambitions. Men have been the most visible and powerful leaders of the Christian Church for centuries. It's past time for us to elevate women to the most powerful positions in the Church. They need to be deacons and pastors and bishops, preachers and teachers, vestry chairs and council presidents, elders and presbyters.

 

Even in denominations that have been elevating and ordaining women for decades, there are still those who attempt to prevent women from reaching leadership roles. Until there are at least as many females in senior leadership as males, we haven't done enough, and until women are at least as likely as young men to be called to serve local congregations, we aren't doing enough. It isn't that there are not capable and called women to fill these roles. It is that we continue privileging men over women in filling them. If you've ever participated in a call committee that refused to consider a female pastor, you are part of the problem. If you've ever encouraged a young woman who expresses a ministry call to become a pastor's wife instead of a pastor herself, you are reinforcing misogynist theology. Stop it. 

 

I'm done being silent about the ways Christianity contributes to misogyny in our communities. We all have work to do, even those of us in progressive denominations. However, the hardest work remains in breaking the fundamentalist systems that pervert Christianity for the sake of arcane and harmful cultural ideas about gender. Through the examples set in the Gospels, Christ is calling us to something better, and it's time we start answering that call by speaking out. Our Christian faith is too precious to allow it to be used as a weapon against women who are victims. 

 

 

 

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