Ficino found this recent Politico Magazine article about Jen Hatmaker–just in time for an upcoming post about Christians’ herd immunity. Here we see exactly what happens when a tribe claiming ultimate moral authority and a stranglehold on the very concept of love is presented with a voice of dissent. The reality of Christian love ain’t pretty, but then, not much in Christianity is pretty once you get past its soapy, scrubbed-clean veneer.
Everyone, Meet Jen Hatmaker.
If you’ve ever delved into the swamp of Christian women’s lit, you probably already know who Jen Hatmaker is. She’s a fundagelical woman, but a hip and modern fundagelical woman. She has a serious following of equally hip and modern fundagelical women. They (generally) dress in long skirts and carry big tote bags. They also attend her speeches in droves and buy millions of her books, which makes her a very big fish in her mid-sized pond.
Jen Hatmaker strikes me as a basically nice person who is struggling within a deeply toxic system–trying to force something to fit her humanly-decent notions when it just totally is incompatible with any of those notions. In the name of that struggle, she has built an audience of like-minded Christian women, and she’s built that audience from the ground up and on her own terms.
Way more alarmingly to fundagelical leaders, Jen Hatmaker and the female fundagelical bloggers like her operate outside of the authority structure that those leaders have so carefully cultivated and guarded. And so they view her success and her reach with a level of suspicion and caution that would normally be more applicable to discovering a wild animal in the house.
Jen Hatmaker at a recent fundagelical conference.
There is nothing that fundagelical leaders hate more than someone circumventing their towers of authority and power. And these female bloggers slip right under those towers’ forcefields to reach millions of followers who resonate with their messages and carry those messages forth into the world.
It’s not like we’re talking about super-wacky messages, either. Mostly they’re trying to fuse feminism with fundagelicalism (an unholy mishmash if ever there was one–and an impossible, brain-breaking, and crazy-making endeavor to boot) or objecting to the piss-poor treatment women receive in fundagelical groups. Earlier this year, I covered a very similar Christian woman blogger, Sarah Bessey, who started the viral hashtag #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear. Jen Hatmaker is in a similar boat–she’s not trying to overturn her tribe’s boat, just rock it enough to make a little room in it for her maxiskirts and notions of social justice.
And even that little bit of boat-rocking is enough to get fundagelicals completely pissed at her.
We’ve looked in on Jen Hatmaker a few times around these parts. Last time, we were marveling about the terrible treatment she was receiving from her tribe in the wake of her turnaround on the topic of equal marriage. That was in April–and now Politico Magazine has released an update on that situation1 that is genuinely chilling–but not in the least surprising to anybody who’s ever tangled with fundagelicals.
Welcome to “Christian Love.”
Jen Hatmaker made the dire mistake of openly dissenting from her tribe’s culture war at a time when they’re drilling down harder and harder on bigotry as their most important tribal marker belief. Literally, their culture wars have now come to eclipse every other doctrine and social stance that fundagelicals hold.
In Fundagelical-Land, someone can be a child molester and be totally accepted by the tribe–even pushed to the highest offices in their political landscape. But don’t you dare suggest that marriage is a human right or tell fundagelicals that they will not be allowed to dictate other people’s rights based on what they think Republican!Jesus wants or hates. Don’t you dare.
For that offense, they will stop at absolutely nothing.
Legit the only love I really need.
The Broken System.
Since April, Ms. Hatmaker has not only not backed down, she’s doubled down on her heresy–which is why the tribe has redoubled its efforts to shut her up and stamp her out.
What’s hilarious is that a few voices of reason have arisen in the tribe. Feeling convicted (that’s Christianese for Jesus-flavored shame, since it’s thought to be divinely-sent) by the savage and brutal retaliation that she’s faced, these few mealy-mouthed and sniveling voices try to persuade their fundagelical peers that maybe this time they can kinda lay off a bit.
One of these voices can be found over at MikeFrost.net, where the blogger there identifies a number of signs of what he calls “unhealthy religion.” He could be describing any fundagelical church I’ve ever seen or heard of–and he ends with an ominous warning:
Get the bloodlust out of your system, people. Call off the attack dogs. Start treating your sisters and brothers like sisters and brothers. In the meantime, let’s pray for our sister currently in the crosshairs of unhealthy religion, knowing that at any time it could be you or me who draws the ire of her detractors.
What’s remarkable is that Mike Frost doesn’t even seem aware of why it could be any of them at any time who might draw that “ire.” He doesn’t understand why his broken system falls into the traits of “unhealthy religion” so easily, nor why it’s so impossibly hard to pull back from that brink once the tribe’s tumbled in that direction.
Typically when a Christian dares to object to something terrible their tribe is doing, they follow up that criticism with an entreaty to let’s all just Jesus harder, y’all! And Mike Frost is no different. He’ll never understand–not till he deconverts, probably–why it is that these entreaties fail utterly. In his current situation, he can’t understand why the people harassing and threatening Jen Hatmaker are doing what they’re doing, nor why they have no trouble at all doing that stuff to people.
In the same way, most of us have to deconvert before we realize that there is only one way to deal with a broken system–and that’s to walk away from it.
There is no reasoning with toxic Christians. There’s no way to get them to perceive their own deep and glaring hypocrisy. They’ve so thoroughly warped and redefined the idea of love that they literally can’t understand that what they’re doing is the opposite of love. All they see is someone standing in the way of their culture war–and if they see that that person identifies as a member of their own tribe, their entire seething, boiling-over rage pours out.
Roll to Disbelieve stands in full sympathy with Jen Hatmaker. I may not think highly of that form of defanged feminism that fundagelical women bloggers tend to espouse. I might think she’s unwise to waste the effort of trying to drag her tribe, kicking and screaming, another half-inch toward decency. I absolutely do think it’s hugely counterproductive for anybody to remain a member of a tribe whose central tenet is to rend, tear, and destroy anybody who gets in the way of their grabs for power.
And yet all the same it is totally not okay that her tribemates are mistreating her.
I condemn to the very skies the people threatening and harassing her for daring to do something that makes their irresponsible leaders quiver in their little boots: putting her body between a tribe of howling, power-mad zealots and their intended victims. That’s a hell of a lot of bravery there, and though I don’t think it will succeed in reforming fundagelicalism, it’s at least something–and more than most fundagelicals are doing. And her rebellion against the fundagelical culture war on LGBTQ people only serves to illustrate all the more powerfully just why Christianity, as a world power, deserves to lose that power.
Once again I am reminded that the measure of a person isn’t found in how people treat those they must treat well–their leaders, their masters, their employers. It’s found in how people treat those they view as socially or morally inferior–their servants, their family members, their children. It’s especially found in how they treat their enemies–enemies like Jen Hatmaker. In 2000 years, Christianity’s various social rules have proven to be woefully ineffective at creating a group of people known globally for their incredibly kind, generous, and gracious behavior, and fundagelicals are possibly the worst of the group in that regard. And the hilarious part to me is that the more power fundagelicals lose, the more credibility they destroy for themselves, the more domination that slips out of their grasp, the worse they behave and the more they accelerate their own losses. It’s like they have no idea in the world how to behave when they lack the power to coerce compliance out of others.
Today, Lord Snow presides over “Christian love,” and reminds us anew why it is that we simply can’t take Christians seriously when they yammer on about being the sole arbiters of what is loving and what isn’t–not when so many of them are busy threatening real harm upon someone for simply voicing opposition to their culture wars. Though Christians are fighting hard to maintain their power by brutally punishing dissenters, they simply can’t stop their growing numbers of dissenters from speaking anymore–and their cruelty and viciousness are no longer hidden in shameful shadows but proclaimed throughout the world. The harder they fight, the worse they make their own situation–and the faster they lose both members and credibility.
So I hope Jen Hatmaker keeps talking. As we used to say back when I was Christian, Dogs don’t bark at what don’t move. Obviously “Jesus” totally approves of what she’s doing, or else nobody would object to her doing it!
Keep this whole situation in mind for tomorrow, when we look at Christian herd immunity. We’ll see you then!
1 I have nightmares sometimes about misspelling a word in my URLs, so I feel some sympathy for whoever did that on this article.
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