Can I share some random thoughts I had this Mother’s Day about protecting the vulnerable around us?
Let me start with recounting how my Mother’s Day began. My mom and I went on a walk with Rebecca and her son Alex (four generations!) by the waterfront trail where we live.
At the waterfront trail, we found a number of geese families, together with about a dozen goslings each.
My grandson’s favourite things in the world are ducks and geese, and these were our first sightings of babies. So it was a BIG DEAL.
The geese, however, were not very peaceful. Four of them kept fighting, because the babies kept swimming back and forth between different adults, and it seems like the adults were laying claim and stating ownership of said babies. Alex was thrilled by all the honking and wing flapping.
But that’s what mothers do. We fight to protect our babies.
That’s good and right.
But what if our religious communities tell us that it’s a sin to do that? Then we’re stuck between two very strong, very opposing forces. Every fibre in our being may want to protect our kids, but we also believe that the God we serve would think that’s a sin.
Allow me to invite Rachael Denhollander to explain. After Josh Duggar’s charges were released, including the fact that he had hundreds child sexual abuse materials (child porn) of children as young as toddlers on a hidden hard drive, Rachael, who led the fight against Larry Nassar and is a sexual abuse victim advocate, had to speakout. She wrote a long Twitter thread about the Josh Duggar situation, and how women are routinely blamed for men’s sins, and bear the cost of men’s sins, while men are often excused. It was very good. I shared it on Facebook, and allow me to quote some of it (it’s so good I wish I could quote the whole thing):
When Josh was arrested, his father began calling people in the church asking them to be Josh’s custodian until trial, so that he could be released on bail. He found a man willing to take him in. Except that man’s wife teaches piano lessons to children, and she was not comfortable having Josh home with her all day, because she would be alone with him while her husband was at work.
That didn’t matter to the husband, however. She has to find a new place to teach all those children because her husband wants Josh to live with them until his trial. Every single family who takes piano from her, and the wife herself, has to uproot their routine, livelihood and the child’s music education, because Josh. Everyone is expected to bear the cost, except Josh.
And the wife’s own very reasonable fears about being alone all day with a man who enjoys the sexual torture of toddlers didn’t matter to the husband either. The FBI agent recommended to the judge that Josh be kept in custody, especially since the wife was afraid to have him in the home. But when she was called to the witness stand and asked if she was in agreement with having Josh live with them, she responded that “her husband had made the decision, and she was here to support him”.
Because under that theology he has the authority and her job is to submit. No matter what…
Everyone – EVERYONE else, from Josh’s own children, to a woman afraid to have him in the home, to his own wife, are bearing the risks and costs of his behavior. And they are being told it is godly and right to do it.
Each man in the situation, from Josh’s dad, (who isn’t protecting his own grandkids or caring about the risks to anyone else), to the husband who decided it was fine despite his wife’s very justified fear, make the decisions. The women and children who pay the price, are expected to submit, forgive, and support, no matter how foolish or wicked the decision….
But we don’t think it’s a big deal in Christian culture because we’ve also peddled the “boys will be boys” mindset. Except we’ve added Scripture to it, and told women they’re responsible for men’s lust and addictions. That if they don’t have sex enough, his needs won’t be met and he’ll stray. We’ve talked about his sexual needs like it’s impossible to go more than a few days without release, but couched her sexuality as existing solely for his benefit. We’ve turned women into dangerous beings who control whether men “fall”, and also into the solution for it. And yes, defining women and sexuality this way is the norm, it’s not the exception. Telling women to be more sexually available to help their husband keep it in his pants is the norm, not the exception. Women are taught as the cause and solution to men’s sexual perversions.
Until our theology changes to actually reflect Scripture, we shouldn’t be surprised at any of this. It’s a story I see every single day. It’s wicked. It’s evil. And it’s long past time that we called it that – not just the abuse, but the twisted theology that fuels it.
I wrote my own thread about Josh Duggar, to elaborate on some of what Rachael said about how our toxic theology makes his sin our fault, but also how our toxic theology sexualizes children.
Now that Josh Duggar has been indicted on possession of Child Sexual Abuse Materials (child porn), some depicting toddlers, we must confront the sexualization of children in evangelicalism.
Let’s start with teenagers, and go all the way down to toddlers.
Shaunti Feldhahn, in For Young Women Only, tells girls “82% of boys feel little ability and little responsibility to stop the sexual progression.” Telling girls that boys have “little ability” to stop legitimizes date rape and puts the blame at the girl’s feet.
Furthermore, in a post to teenage girls, she warns that their date’s dad will be tempted to “visually take in, linger on, and fantasize about all the details of this great body he’s seeing.” Let that sink in. Teens are being told that it is normal for adult men to sexualize them….
What about toddlers? In For Women Only, Shaunti Feldhahn is making a case for the “male brain”, that men are visual from the earliest ages. She tells an unfortunate story of her son at 4: his “tummy felt funny” when seeing Victoria Secret models’ tummies, sounding like arousal.
She tells a similar story in Through a Man’s Eyes, where a 3-year-old gets an erection from looking at sewing patterns for women’s underwear. She says men have this male brain whether they’re “nine or ninety.”
Curiosity is normal in toddlers. Playing doctor is normal. Touching one’s genitals is normal, as is getting erections in boys. But adult male sexual response and arousal in pre-pubescent children? Definitely not normal.
If these stories were told in a pediatrician’s office, they would warrant follow-up screening questions for child sexual abuse, according to my husband, an examiner in pediatrics for the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Canada.
Beyond that, this is the EXACT SAME argument made by pedophiles for lowering the age of consent. They argue that toddlers & young children have sexual feelings the same way adults do. Our evangelical resources should not be making the same arguments as pedophile lobbying groups.
Some days I just feel sick when I look at how deep this stuff goes.
It’s like Alice in Wonderland, looking down the hole. Once you venture through, it’s amazing how deep it all goes. It’s very sobering.
But I was doing pretty well on Saturday and Sunday for the most part. I dealt with all of this on Friday, and I was putting it behind me and enjoying my family.
And then I saw Al Mohler tweet a slaveholder to justify restricting the rights of women–all on Mother’s Day.
Al Mohler is extremely influential in the SBC, the largest denomination in the United States. He is head of their largest seminary that trains their pastors. And yesterday, on Mother’s Day of all days, Al Mohler resurrected a slaveholder (one of the founders of his seminary), to tweet this:
John Broadus was a slaveholder. He OWNED HUMAN BEINGS. He founded the seminary supporting slavery, and made theological arguments supporting slavery.
How is he supposed to be a moral authority on how we should consider the rights of women?
And notice how he doesn’t just stop women from preaching; he stops them from speaking at all when men are in the room. And this is supposed to be authoritative.
I was spitting mad last night.
Maybe it’s a Canadian thing; I don’t know. but I simply don’t understand this. I really don’t. I understand wrestling with your history as a people and trying to acknowledge the good that was done even by people who believed bad things at the time, or even acted badly in certain spheres. All countries wrestle with that, and we have our own issues in Canada, especially with the treatment of the Indigenous population.
But I don’t understand considering people who owned human beings as moral authorities when it comes to deciding how much rights you should give another class of human beings.
Thankfully everyone jumped all over him (including me), and I love these two responses:
And, of course, the indomitable Beth:
I don’t know if this stuff makes your blood pressure skyrocket like it does mine.
I want to make it clear: I’m not actually upset at Al Mohler or at JimBob Duggar or at Josh Duggar in some ways. There will always be bad people who make dumb decisions. What I’m upset about is that making such dumb decisions does not result in the church rejecting you or chastising you.
Like, if everyone said, “No way. That’s not of Jesus,” then this would stop. People like this would lose their platform and their support. Their churches and communities would shrink and no longer be influential. We could look to more healthy things.
But instead Al Mohler is still in one of the most powerful positions in the SBC. People still support the Duggars and refuse to see that we have a real problem on our hands with regards to our church culture.
I guess I’m just asking that we act like those mother geese.
When someone tries to attack the vulnerable, let’s call it out and make a big stink. Let’s not just be silent for the sake of peace. Let’s say, “this isn’t acceptable.”
But also–and maybe this is more hopeful (this is what I’m telling myself)–let’s realize that we do have power. I think the reason that people haven’t spoken up, haven’t left bad churches, have tolerated horrible books in Bible studies is because we feel like we don’t have a choice. EVERYBODY else believes this; we’re all alone. So we have to just go with the program or we’ll lose everything.
What if that’s not true? What if there’s a groundswell that will no longer tolerate bad stuff? What if speaking up would actually work now?
I think we’ve reached a tipping point. Rachael’s thread went HUGE. Everyone is talking about it. Al Mohler’s tweet backfired big time. People are noticing. They’re speaking up.
And that means you can, too. Together, we can change conversations. We can protect the vulnerable again. We can argue for the dignity of women and children. We can argue that men are not animals. We can argue that we are all made in the image of God.
If you’re looking for some resources to help you start, I highly recommend The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Allison Barr. And check out our rubric and scorecard of evangelical books, too, so that you can see which marriage & sex books scored harmful, and which were helpful.
You’re allowed to be a mother bear. Or a mother goose.
You don’t need to toe the line all the time. You just need to run after Jesus. And if someone is telling you to run in a direction that you know is not healthy–then that person isn’t worth listening to.
The Great Sex Rescue
Changing the conversation about sex & marriage in the evangelical church.
What if you're NOT the problem with your sex life?
What if the things that you've been taught have messed things up--and what if there's a way to escape these messages?
Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.
What do you think? Are things changing for the better? Do you find more people in your own circle willing to speak up about this? Let me know in the comments! (And I hope for my blood pressure’s sake the answer is yes!)
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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