Hi and welcome back! I know nobody’s surprised when we talk about evangelical hypocrisy. They’re soaking in it! However, today’s story might represent one of the more egregious recent examples of that trope. Jen Hatmaker, a popular Christian speaker/author, recently announced her impending divorce. As expected, most people responded with compassion. But one group has decided to heap abuse upon her and her entire ideology instead. You can guess who that group is, no doubt: authoritarian evangelicals. Today, let me show you how the rank-and-file commenters at religious-news sites responded to the divorce announcement of Jen Hatmaker.
(A few previous posts about evangelicals’ hypocrisy about marriage: As I Lay Dying (To Myself); The Things I Wish I’d Known; It’s My House Too; The Terrible Bargain; The Great Husband Hunt; Sacrifice of the Marriage Lamb; The Kodak Marriage. Also, when I talk about tribalism, I’m using the term in its sociological sense. A group becomes a “tribe” when it defines itself as morally superior to other groups, demonizes outsiders, and enforces a party line.)
Everyone, (Re-)Meet Jen Hatmaker.
For those who haven’t tangled much with the Christ-o-Sphere, Jen Hatmaker is one of those quirky, sweet, middle-aged Christian gals who’s made a living catering to like-minded Christian women. (We covered her a few years ago here.) The women who adore her tend to be evangelical mothers who like big hats, boho fashion, and phrases like a beautiful mess. Jen Hatmaker writes well-received books, has appeared on at least one TV show, and does a lot of public speaking engagements.
In essence, she and her fans are less-authoritarian evangelicals.
For a while, more authoritarian evangelicals barely and grudgingly tolerated the chaos and dissension she introduced into their tribe. But in 2016, she walked away from the anti-LGBT culture war. Perhaps even worse, she condemned Donald Trump as “thoroughly unfit for the presidency.”
In response to this defection, the “Christian love” flowed.
Immediately, the rest of the tribe declared her persona non grata forever. (LifeWay Christian Resources even pulled her books from their shelves. That’s like Madagascar closing its ports in Pandemic 2.) And ever since then, they’ve missed not one single opportunity to show their true hateful, exclusionary, bigoted colors at her expense.
Well, a few days ago, we learned that Jen Hatmaker had filed for a divorce from her husband Brandon. Hatmaker’s announcement sounds like it came very suddenly and amid a great deal of pain and emotional shock.
So naturally, those more-authoritarian evangelicals have been having a field day at her expense.
The Response of Decent People.
In response, Jen Hatmaker’s fans enfolded her in love on Instagram. Perhaps she’s scrubbing her comments, but I saw not one single response to her announcement that even sank to the level of tepid. There, people had only good things to say to her, only encouragement, kindness, and comfort, all expressed with great respect for her privacy.
That was good to see. I’m sure Jen Hatmaker appreciates it all, even if she hasn’t read every one of the 10k+ comments there so far.
But none of that grace is good enough for the self-appointed TRUE CHRISTIAN™ ambassadors of the supposed Lord of Love and Prince of Peace. They swung into action immediately to slam and condemn her. Even by the Bizarro-world redefinition of “love” they adopted long ago to excuse their behavior, their reaction has been disgusting and repulsive.
I guess I’m still a sweet summer child at heart. It’s just grotesque to see how little compassion they really have. They’re using her personal tragedy as some kind of drill-down teaching moment to reinforce their very worst tribal impulses.
Religion News doesn’t see a whole lot of comments. But I did catch this pair busily judging and condemning her on that site’s writeup of the story:
J_J: She dropped any pretensions of being Christian four years ago with “her support of same-sex marriage”.
I expect as soon as the divorce is final she’ll drop the other shoe and really let us know where she stands.
What does this even mean? Someone thinks she’s gay, maybe? Because I don’t think Jen Hatmaker needed to wait to tell people “where she stands” on any issue. She’d already been completely judged, condemned, and written off by evangelicalism’s many mini-Jesuses.
If it helps, I’ve read that one of Jen Hatmaker’s kids is gay. She regrets ever taking part in the culture wars against LGBT people — and for initially half-assing her support of same-sex relationships. In response to Jen Hatmaker’s incredible display of compassion, love, regret over wrongs done, and acceptance of her child, the mini-Jesuses got super-mad at her. Yes. How dare Jen Hatmaker act so kindly toward her own child.
To toxic Christians, “love,” means bigotry and cruelty. The tribe demands that parents show love by destroying their children. As even one Christian culture warrior notes, often this “love” results in teens wanting to kill themselves. And to toxic Christians, that is 100% A-OK. Cruelty is the price these terrified sheep pay, eagerly and gladly, to reach the safety Heaven. Anything less makes another Christian into a “fraud.”
By this shall all men know that you are his disciples. The sign of a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ isn’t real love, as Jesus thought, but culture wars!
2) THESE Guys Know Exactly Why This Stranger’s Marriage Ended!
Christian Post tends to be way livelier. There, we find all kinds of TRUE CHRISTIANS™ doing what they love best: judging and condemning others. While some comments manage to stick to reality and show compassion, a number of posters thought that Jen Hatmaker’s defection from the culture wars had caused — or at least indicated the inevitability of — her divorce.
Here, “Dwight Lilly” writes, in this now-deleted comment:
I will pray that both in the marriage repent their sins and pray to God for help sustaining their marriage sanctified by God. Support fornication between same sex partners and relationships divinely set aside for a man and woman is sin. Repent.
He’s accompanied by a great many others. Here are some I grabbed:
Thomas Henry writes:
Unfortunately, she is one of those lukewarm Christians that dont [sic] practice the words from the bible, and behaves more secular, so its [sic] no surprise her marriage was secular too and ended in the same fate that most secular marriages do,…
Ah yes. Here, we encounter a psychic who knows his enemy is lukewarm. (That’s Christianese. It just means that someone’s not as fervent as Judgey McJudgeyChristianPants thinks they should be. Often, these judges define fervor entirely by agreement with their doctrinal beliefs and compliance with their demands.)
And this wonderful prince of a guy, someone whose religion is both noble and admirable:
Michael Weeks writes:
So she supports homosexuality and divorce. What other sins does she think are OK and should be promoted?
Clearly you reap what you sow.
No-one should be remotely listening to what this woman has to say. The fruit of her promotion of sin appears evident. I pray she comes to understand that God’s law, not immorality, are what are actually based on love.
Gee, another psychic! Amazing, how Christians can belong to a religion that flat-out tells them how to treat other people, yet ignore those commands while condemning their peers for failing to obey various commands.
3) And the Gatekeepers.
Just because it’s funny to me, here’s someone trying to gatekeep the title of “Christian” itself:
Hugh Chamberlin writes:
how is this news? how is she a christian if she affirms an abomination? this is trash for some gossip show. satan has infiltrated and destroyed this family.
All through their history, Christians have always squabbled about what being a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ actually even involves. Isn’t it just soooo weeeeeeird? Even when the Catholic Church tightly controlled the religion, people have always flown off into the weeds with their own homebrew ideas. They’ve never been able to agree even on exactly who and what Jesus Christ actually is.
Must be demons causing her divorce. Yes. “Satan” himself, even. Can’t be that none of Hugh’s religion is based on reality at all, so people can just warp it however they like.
To Jen Hatmaker’s fans, of course, Hugh here is the one Jesus-ing all wrong, not them. More to the point, they have a lot of reasons for thinking so — just like he does about them.
4) Obviously, Divorce = Divine Punishment.
I noticed many Christians who decided that Jen Hatmaker’s divorce was actually a divine punishment. Yes, for the high crime of affirming her gay child. “Michael Webman” takes it away from here in a comment that’s gone now:
Jenn, our hearts go out to you your pain! But you have strayed. However, like for the prodigal there is a way home through repentance. God is waiting with open arms.
It’s a long comment (which is why I just linked to my screenshot of it above; I am so not typing out all that nonsense). Mostly, Michael seeks to thump Jen Hatmaker’s noggin. He hopes she’ll maybe see his comment, and thus become convicted. That’s Christianese for Jesus-flavored shame.
After she sees his comment, of course, Jen Hatmaker will correct the great and grievous offense that she has totally absolutely for realsies committed against Michael’s imaginary friend.
If divorce is really punishment for Jen Hatmaker’s egregious defection from the culture wars, Michael’s imaginary friend has exceptionally poor aim. Michael should fire him and find a better god. Cuz like, isn’t it strange that this god causes so much pain to bystanders to teach his lessons? Why not do it in a way that’s easily understood and also only affects Jen Hatmaker herself?
Seriously, if this is punishment, then the Christian god is utterly incompetent.
5) Divorce = Only a Secular Thing.
Almost all of the TRUE CHRISTIANS™ commenting on the Jen Hatmaker divorce take for granted that divorce is a secular phenomenon, not something TRUE CHRISTIANS™ ever face.
It’s like they have no idea how often their own tribe divorces. Someone even tried to tell them that TRUE CHRISTIANS™ divorce way more often than outsiders to their tribe, but got slapped down. Thomas Henry even threw in a nice AKSHULLY here:
By contrast, the study that Thomas Henry didn’t like comes from Baylor University, which has way stronger methodology. This study has the additional virtue of not having been produced in an effort to pander to Thomas Henry’s hate-boner for tribal outsiders.
In Bizarro-World, love is hate, East is West, up is down, and TRUE CHRISTIANS™ have always been at war with homosexuals and abortion. But in Reality-Land, we’ve known for a long time that there is no positive difference between TRUE CHRISTIANS™ and those they despise.
That Call Coming From Inside the House.
Something about these comments fascinated me.
Often, people write comments that sound like they fully expect their target to happen by that page and read them. In truth, I’m not even sure really big-name Christians even read their own social-media pages, much less venture out into “foreign” territory to see what total strangers think of their lives. Nonetheless, this sort of response is very common. People personalize their reactions and internalize stories like that all the time.
But in these cases, it’s very hard not to see such responses as virtue-signaling. In virtue signaling, someone makes a statement or gesture for the sole benefit of their group: to show they’re members of it in good standing, to show its superiority to other groups, and to condemn those who disagree with the group. Nothing will change as a result of the virtue-signaler’s behavior — no new information gets created or shared, and it’s hugely unlikely that they’ll actually change any dissenting opinions.
Instead, these Christians are gatekeeping. They’re trying to maintain a self-definition that exists only in their own minds: this huge and glaring difference between themselves and all their tribal enemies that does not actually exist (at least as they think it does). Divorce doesn’t happen in their tribe. Their marriage rules work way better than anything the outside world devises.
Boy, it’d super suck for them if it turned out that TRUE CHRISTIAN™ marriage rules don’t work at all, and that their divorce rates speak to that reality.
Speaking Of: David A.R. White.
I seriously, seriously doubt that he’s going to get the flack that Jen Hatmaker is.
So far, the comments on Christian Post center around how harrrrrrd it is to be a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ entertainer and how he obviously was sinning secretly. Of course. But few are attacking him over any potentially-incorrect stances or questioning his membership in the tribe, only over exactly how hard they think he must have been Jesus-ing.
Yeah, just overall these Christians’ reaction to this whole story with Jen Hatmaker tells me everything I need to know about them. No wonder they’re in decline. Only fellow authoritarians would ever want to be part of this tribe. But oh boy, would they ever.
NEXT UP: Yay, another Christian has published a book about how to totally fix America through Jesus-ing harder. See you tomorrow!
Regarding that Got Questions link: Hilariously, Got Questions doesn’t even source any links to the “question” they’re answering (and which they totally did not completely make up). I can only assume they don’t want their flocks to see any real studies about the tribe’s divorce rate. Instead, they only cite some old study from Barna as a refutation. They didn’t even directly link to the Barna study. They then moved on to offer a quote about that old chestnut being wrong, the one about 50% of marriages failing, which is completely irrelevant to the actual question asked.
As for the Barna study itself, here it is. Many times I’ve noted that Barna conducts what in my opinion is very shoddy research. That’d be because Barna isn’t trying to do real research. Their methodology reflects that fact. Instead, they exist to sell tribe-approved propaganda to culture-warring, authoritarian evangelicals.
For many years, Barna has employed a very quirky definition of “evangelical.” This definition allows them to sell more stuff to frantic pastors and culture warriors. In this case, Barna’s product here reflects the tribe’s certainty that their marriage rules work way better than they actually do. But their redefinition is beyond meaningless in reality. (Back to the post!)
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