Poor J.D. Greear.1 Dude literally just got elected the Grand High Lord Poobah2 of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and he’s already stomping on my last nerve. Last time we touched on his solutions to the SBC’s years-long decline. Today, we’ll look at his non-solution to the problem of misogyny in his blighted, embattled denomination–and why it won’t work at all. And then we’ll look at why that’s the point.
A Recipe for Evil.
#MeToo might well have finally come home to roost at the SBC. And it’s about time!
As we’ve discussed a few times already here, misogyny is a huge problem for those folks. The cruel and utterly ineffective doctrine of complementarianism guarantees abuse and conflict. It’s not even a question. It’s not anything close to being in doubt. “Separate but equal” always turns out disastrously. That’s why the only people who try it anymore–or think it works–are out-and-out wackadoodles.
But the SBC’s leaders don’t care how many scandals erupt as a result of this doctrine. They won’t–indeed can’t–reconsider it. Even Al Mohler, one of their other Grand Poobahs, can’t reject it. That doctrine is the rotted, festering, blackened heart of the Southern Baptist Convention. Nobody is allowed even to question it. They are required to think it’s perfect.
See, complementarianism enshrined male supremacy into law in the SBC. But it enshrined a lot of other terrible stuff alongside itself. It is the fullest flowering, the loftiest expression really, of pretty much every awful thing about the SBC.
We’re not just talking here of misogyny. Obviously complementarianism firmly slammed women into the ground, halted their progress forward, confirmed their status as second-class citizens–if citizens at all!–and chained them to narrowly-prescribed gender roles. Yes. But it didn’t come from thin air. Rather, it materialized from a great many other grotesque and repulsive flaws in the religion: arrogance, entitlement, overreach, willful ignorance, control-lust, denialism, and even Christianity’s long-held hatred of consent and bodily autonomy.
Southern Baptists affirmed their love for all of these traits and more through this one overarching doctrine.
Complementarianism, then, is the distillation of every single thing about Christianity that is bad for humanity. It is the polar opposite of love, compassion, kindness, justice, and mercy.
And fundagelical leaders very clearly like it that way.
Appeasement, But Never Resolution.
When women complain about mistreatment at men’s hands in that denomination, or worse yet when a huge scandal erupts as a result of men’s wielding of complementarian ideas, the leaders of the group must dance very carefully. Obviously, they don’t want to totally offend these women, or to look like they’re not taking a grievous complaint seriously.
But they also don’t want to offend their fellow men.
Even more than that, they don’t want to whittle away at their own power.
Any real solution to the problem of misogyny will involve scaling back men’s unwarranted, undeserved power. So they can’t actually propose or enact any real solutions. These leaders gain way too many benefits from their idolized doctrine to risk altering it.
Don’t worry, though. They’ve found a way.
They just make sure that whatever they do and say in response to scandals and complaints mollifies and appeases the women making the outcry without altering anything about the system itself.
When you see a Christian leader making nicey-nice-talk with his pie-hole, look to see what tangible changes he’s proposing to ensure that the situation never happens again. Chances are very good that none will be forthcoming.
So now, forewarned and prepared, let’s go look at what J.D. Greear is going to totally do about misogyny in his brand-new position as the new Dear Leader of the SBC!
SBC Men Are SUPER-DUPER-SORRY, Y’all.
The story comes to us from Christian Post. It involves one of J.D. Greear’s first pronouncements after the election.
See, he’s super-sorry about misogyny in the denomination. He’s taken it upon himself to speak for all the other men in the SBC (which I suppose is kinda his new job description). In his post, he officially apologizes to all those women who’ve been hurt and abused at men’s hands. And he’s got a request for the men in the denomination:
Newly elected Southern Baptist Convention President J. D. Greear has urged evangelicals to humble themselves and apologize to women who have been hurt by sexual abuse and other injustices.
Oh yes! He’s urging men to humble themselves.
It’s serious Jesus Business Time, y’all, when a leader uses that Christianese.
He’s not commanding this, of course. He can’t even command that his denomination set up a sexual predator database to protect its own children, so he can’t really force men to apologize or anything. But he’s urging men to do it.
Essentially, he’d really like it if they would apologize.
A Quick Detour Into Christianese.
Humble themselves is Christianese. The phrase means basically for them to say they’re sorry, except with more tightly-squinched-up Preacher Eyebrows and a more earnest expression. We’re talking very nearly self-abasement, here.
It always reminds me of that scene from 3rd Rock from the Sun where Dick piles on earnestness in his apology until Mary accepts it. Then he gets a huge emotional rush from apologizing and Mary realizes he really isn’t sincere at all. He’s apologizing for his own benefit, not hers. He’s not sorry at all for offending her.
3rd Rock from the Sun, “Brains and Eggs”
That’s pretty much what humble themselves looks like in real life.
Now, admittedly, apologizing is very serious business all on its own for fundagelical men. Being wrong is the worst thing ever in that culture. Wrong people get dogpiled by the rest of the tribe. They also potentially risk going to Hell. No wonder Christians get so scared of admitting they’re wrong!
Humbling is even worse. Fundagelicals interpret this phrase as a sort of self-lowering. The humbling person, who is normally the superior in that relationship, essentially kneels down (usually metaphorically, but not always, and yes, YES, when I was Christian I saw literal kneeling on occasion, and it’s OMG CRINGE FUEL) and lets the wronged party exult in the reversal for a short while.
That reversal is a problem for fundagelical men. In fundagelicalism, everyone is always scared of being hurt by others. That’s why they’re all so obsessed with power. Every person in the religion wants to be as small a target as possible. The higher up the ladder of power they can climb, the safer they will be.
Complementarianism guarantees men that they will always be safe from at least that other half of the human race. It also gives men a feeling of superiority over that other half.
So J.D. Greear wants SBC men to turn from their own retaliatory power–and to lower themselves further down than the people they’ve always considered beneath them.
For Some Weird Reason, Jesus Never Hinted At This Problem.
Moving on, we see J.D. Greear continue in his entreaty:
We are sorry [he tells women] and we should have heard you before now. We know our deafness has added to your suffering. For many that suffering was direct, as it put you in unsafe or abusive contexts. . . For others, that suffering was indirect, as we allowed a toxic culture to grow up in our churches, one in which you were not as safe and valued as your should have been. You deserved better.
And here we really need to ask: Why didn’t Jesus tell any of these godly SBC dude-bros and Good Ole Boys and Hipster Christians With Cool Hair in all these positions of power what was happening?
Think about all the huge scandals in the SBC. Think also about all the women abused by their husbands–like the woman Paige Patterson deliberately put at risk. Consider all of the female college students told to forgive their rapists and then penalized for committing some transgression of the college’s conduct code. Reflect upon the children whose abusers kept getting shuffled from church to church.
Now think about the millions and millions of SBC men out there who think they are totally plugged in to what their magical invisible sky daddy wants. They pray every day (or claim to do so, at least). They listen earnestly for any sign of this god’s desires for their lives.
And “Jesus” didn’t tell them anything about this huge problem.
Two Lives, Two Paths.
One of those men is probably J.D. Greear himself. (I mean, wouldn’t you think?)
He’s my age–a bit younger, but close enough. When I was a teenager, so was he. Long ago, I stood in one of the SBC’s churches one fine Sunday morning, though I felt growing unease with how money-focused this group was. And he was probably somewhere out there at the same time, doing his thing in some other church. Women our age grew up, became adults, conformed (or didn’t!) to the life script that fundagelicalism demands that women follow, and struggled with all the terrible stuff that the SBC allows men to do to them.
Dude’s married. He’s a pastor. He’s been around and interacted with literally thousands of women over the years, including his own wife. They’ve sought his advice; they’ve wept in his office. He’s absolutely been present while women cried aloud about their terrible marriages and their misogynistic husbands. He’s seen same same headlines all of us have, the same social media trends.
And J.D. Greear didn’t see any of these rotted fruits of complementarianism.
He didn’t hear a word.
He didn’t notice a thing.
It wasn’t that women weren’t talking about their experiences, either (as indeed he’ll accidentally reveal in a minute). The information was there for the having. He didn’t even need to reach out his hand for it. He didn’t need any gods’ help to pick up on this painfully-obvious shortcoming of the doctrine that has ruled the SBC since he and I were both children.
All he needed to do was not ignore the troubles experienced by the women around him. He just needed to take in the complaints they and their allies were raising.
And he couldn’t manage that.
Weirdly, Jesus never grabbed his chin and directed his gaze to those women’s plight.
(If this impotent, mewling godling can’t even protect the oppressed and weakest people in his own religion, then he isn’t any good at all. But his followers are worse; they are real, and they didn’t do it either.)
The Useless Apology: Worse Than None At All.
One thing I hear misogynists say often–seriously, often–is that they absolutely won’t apologize “for stuff I dindu.” Some anti-feminist right-wing nutjob must have put the idea in their heads that women everywhere desire to see them humbled.
I can’t speak for all women everywhere, obviously, but I honestly don’t know where they’re getting this bizarre idea. The way I see it, nobody’s ever asked them to apologize for anything, and their apologies really won’t fix anything in the first place. (The entire notion just smacks of such incredible arrogance.)
And it’s not just about misogyny. I can’t even tell you how many Christians I’ve run across who want to apologize to me on behalf of their religious bunkmates for all the mistreatment I’ve ever suffered at Christian hands. Their motivations are very different, but still.
I always feel mystified when they do this. I’m like Um, yeah, great, I mean this is sweet of you, thank you, but you’re not the ones who did all that stuff to me.
As well-meaning as their efforts are, ultimately it doesn’t really mean much to me because the people who did that stuff are still out there hurting people like whoa. I’d rather these kinder Christians go track them down and figure out how to stop them. What I hope isn’t happening is them clearing their consciences in this meaningless exercise, then bouncing away feeling unburdened and happy and then not doing anything to stop their bunkmates!
In both situations, the people committing the harm aren’t being brought to accounts, and the people who are apologizing aren’t actually helping fix the real problem.
I don’t think women really want J.D. Greear’s meaningless apologies. What they probably want way more than that is CHANGE. Justice. Redress. An end to all of this mistreatment, all this “separate but equal” that keeps them subjugated and shackled.
How would an apology accomplish any of that?
A short instructional video.
But As a Focus, It Makes All Too Much Sense.
In light of that need, who in the world cares if some rando from the oppressive group apologizes? It’s a systemic issue, so what exactly is that rando fixing? What exactly is going to change?
But by focusing on their desire to NOT apologize, people in an oppressive group accomplish three very important things.
First, they get to feel disgruntled at how totally unreasonable “the other” group members are for wanting it. (Rawwr! Grrr! Meaniepie women!)
Second, they get to feel like the problem is totally magically fixed if they do go through with the apology. When it isn’t totally fixed and “the other” group continues to complain, they get to be angry. (What else do women want? What more do we require? Egad, won’t we ever be satisfied? They apologized, for chrissakes!)
Third, they get to continue seeing this vast systemic issue as one involving individuals who just aren’t living up to a perfect message. The message, meanwhile, remains sacred and sacrosanct. (Hooray, we’ve apologized! Now let’s go to the potluck!)
Remember that Love Dare book we looked at a while ago? Apologies in this context are like that: meaningless busy work that’s supposed to bring about great shifts in understanding and greater love and peace between people. In the right context, of course, apologies can mean the world to someone wronged. But here, they’re far worse than nothing done at all.
Something All Too Easy to Overlook.
Of course, something that should–but won’t–give complementarian Christians pause is how very easy it was for all of them to ignore and overlook all the abuse and injustice going on against the women in their midst.
J.D. Greear himself mentions that he’s apparently only just now finding out that some of his churchmates have been agitating and fighting against this mistreatment for a long time:
Greear said that in recent weeks, Christian men have been speaking out against the various types of abuse women have been subjected to in the church environment, but revealed that he is hearing “more and more from many of my sisters in Christ (and some brothers) who have been championing this cause for much longer than a few weeks.”
Somehow none of those champions’ agitations rose to a level he could actually perceive. Nor did his predecessors appear to notice any of it. In fact, absolutely none of the leaders of the SBC has apparently ever noticed that this idolized doctrine sure seems to result in a whole lot of strife, discord, anguish, and pain.
Why should they, though? Every woman in the SBC already knows why they didn’t notice anything happening on the ground. They were getting what they wanted. They were getting everything they wanted.
When someone’s benefiting that much from injustice, obviously they’re not going to examine things closely.
Incompetent or Malevolent?
So the leaders and men of the SBC–and I am absolutely including its new president here–are either blitheringly incompetent, or gobsmackingly malevolent. I see no alternative here, aside from “too new to the tribe or too young to really grok the power dynamics going on,” which the denomination’s leaders really can’t try to say.
Either these men totally had no idea what was happening, in which case they are too incompetent to lead anybody; or they knew and were fine with it, in which case they are too wicked to be allowed near the reins of power.
It doesn’t matter which they are, in the end. Either way, J.D. Greear himself accidentally admitted that after 30-some-odd years of the Conservative Resurgence and after decades of living according to complementarianism’s demands, the men of the SBC cannot be trusted to lead their own fingers to their noses.
Gosh, y’all, I’m just like soooooo confused… I mean, I know I’m just, like, a girl, and everything..? And I know my ladybrainz are totally fluffy and pink..? But…. doesn’t it seem like totally weird that “Jesus” gave fallible men complete power over an entire demographic, and then didn’t give those other people any kind of solid defense against mistreatment? Why would an omnipotent, omnibenevolent god DO that…? What am I just not getting here, obviously because I’m a girl? (/s, but very clearly what the SBC hopes women will say.)
The Perma-Blinking Turn Signal on the Fast Lane of Life.
As long as fundagelicals cling to complementarianism, we’ll know that they aren’t yet ready to end their years-long decline. It’ll be like a little code they’re giving, one that tells us at a glance that this tribe still cares about nothing but power. And now the leader of the country’s biggest Protestant denomination has accidentally revealed two extremely potent facts about its most cherished tradition:
First, “Jesus” has done nothing whatsoever to stop the abuse of women under complementarianism–a doctrine which was supposed to protect women and produce happy relationships.
Second, after decades of living under this doctrine, Southern Baptist boys have grown up into men, matured, and become leaders in turn all without figuring out how to wield their unwarranted, undeserved power responsibly and compassionately–or even noticing any of the wrongdoing occurring all around them.
Not bad, for his first week, hmm? I wonder what doozies this guy is going to pop out with in the days to come.
But there’s one thing I don’t wonder about. I don’t wonder if he’s going to challenge his denomination to give up a doctrine that has caused so much pain, and so little good, in his flocks.
When he’s benefiting that much from injustice, obviously he’s not going to examine things closely.
NEXT UP: No 2018 Annual Report yet (sometimes it does take a little time for them; this isn’t too unusual). But we have a Lord Snow Presides for Monday as always! Then we’re going to look at a weird facet of the No True Scotsman fallacy. You know it’s always something going on here! See you soon, friends. <3
1 I’m being mocking and sarcastic. I don’t feel sorry for J.D. Greear. At all. Dude wanted to be exactly where he is right now.
2 If you wonder where the term “Grand Poobah” comes from, here ya go.
Come join us on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and our forum at rolltodisbelieve.com!
If you like what you see, I would love to have your support. My PayPal is firstname.lastname@example.org (that’s an underscore in there) for one-time tips. I also welcome monthly patrons via Patreon with Roll to Disbelieve. Thanks!