Lately we’ve been talking about a super-official (and super-backfiring) statement issued by the fundagelical group CBMW. Last time I took us through their central conceit, complementarianism, which amounts to institutionalized misogyny. That doctrine has permeated that entire end of the religion–and corrupted what was already a really iffy worldview for Christians. Complementarianism is an offshoot of a wackadoodle Christian ideology called Christian Reconstructionism, which has gone from a fringe idea to a doctrine that has, over a frighteningly short amount of time, informed literally all of fundagelicals’ culture wars against those they’ve decided are their enemies. Today I’ll show you how Reconstructionism figures into the CBMW and complementarianism–and why those are, to the Christians involved, three great tastes that go great together.
Strap in for a tour of the Christian Culture Wars!
They Were JUST SO CONCERNED, Y’all.
The CBMW (short for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and if you’re snerking right now that’s totally fine; I doubt we’ll ever stop) was formed back in 1987 specifically for the goal of destroying the wisps of feminism that had started wafting through fundagelical churches. They kicked off their Jesus party by issuing a statement that they hoped would not only clear up any confusions anybody might have had about feminism and by extension women, men, relationships, and all that tap-dancing jazz, but also set a new course for fundagelicals as a whole.
The creators of that 1987 declaration, called the Danvers Statement, sanctimoniously begin by wringing their widdle handsies about “uncertainty and confusion” and “the tragic effects of this confusion.” They, however, are not confused. Oh no! Certainly not!
You see, they are filled with Jesus Power till the glow of it is pouring right out of every orifice and even their fingertips–like the last part of Beauty and the Beast except they’re turning into monsters and not super-cute French princes with inexplicably English-sounding names, a tendency to treat servants like furniture, and a major thing for nerd girls.
It’s a scary thing when any religious wingnuts decide that they totally know what their god wants them to do. Put a few dozen or hundred of those wingnuts in a room together, and the sheer potential for catastrophe just goes through the roof. If they happen to be part of a religious movement with deep ties to every single regressive and oppressive social stance in American history, though, the slider bar goes way past catastrophe and into strange new worlds of misery for everyone but the people busily making rules that will, assuredly, never apply to them or pose any danger at all to their own rights.
Slam Books for Jesus.
The result of the CBMW’s blathering and religious showboating looks more like a slam book or a vaguebook post online. Ever seen those? Such writings are kept kind of vague and indistinct, but you can tell while reading them that the writer(s) had some very specific people in mind that they are very specifically criticizing.
In this case, the CBMW’s members were savagely rebuking Christians who were maybe getting a little too touchy-feely with women’s rights at a time when fundagelicals were diving deep into super-politicized, super-right-wing ideas like the Patriarchy Movement and Christian Reconstructionism.
As I read the Danvers Statement, I realized that all of the listed “rationales” in it are direct and totally distinct responses to specific churches or events–much like how fundagelicals talk about the Bible’s epistles having been responses to specific churches. It’s way more fun to imagine what provoked each of these “rationales” and who they were pointed at than it is to think of the misery this document has created over its short lifespan. Like this:
The widespread uncertainty and confusion in our culture regarding the complementary differences between masculinity and femininity [SHERRY, FOR REAL, HOW COULD YOU]; the tragic effects of this confusion [I’M LOOKING AT YOU, DEREK, YOU ASSHAT] in unraveling the fabric of marriage woven by God out of the beautiful and diverse strands of manhood and womanhood [AND JFC LINDA, OMFG I SWEAR TO GOD I WILL CUT YOU]. . .
A “Biblical” Doctrine That’s Younger Than I Am.
It’s important to understand the religious/political movement that was spurring the Danvers Statement and why the fundagelicals in charge of the religion felt that they needed to stomp on feminism as hard as they could.
The title of this section comes from a classic Slacktivist post about how Christian opposition to abortion is a “‘biblical view’ that’s younger than the Happy Meal.” It’s an excellent post, particularly concerning the timeline of that opposition.
See, somewhere in the early to mid-1980s, Christians very suddenly began to start opposing abortion rights for women. They did a near-180 on the subject, in fact. Before that time, they preferred to leave the matter, as they really always should have, up to the women facing pregnancy.
But in the mid-1980s, suddenly abortion became the Big OMG Important Cause.
Not only did it become one of the biggest culture wars Christians have ever waged on American society, but the Christians involved in it totally forgot, literally forgot, that they’d ever held any other position on the matter. As far as they were concerned, they had always been at war with abortion.
That total and sudden reversal might confuse outsiders, but in the world of fundagelicals, their god is always unchanging and indeed cannot ever change. Whatever he tells them is always the perfect and correct thing to do in all circumstances forever. Thus, you’d be hard-pressed these days to find a fundagelical who even knows that their end of Christianity more or less supported abortion rights at one time.
The Joke’s On Them. And On Us Too, Unfortunately.
The reason for the about-face on abortion was, of course, purely political. It took fundagelicals over ten years after the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 to finally figure out that they had a problem with abortion, which ought to tell anybody that this new culture war was made out of whole cloth. Indeed, it had nothing whatsoever to do with babies but everything to do with a Christian leadership that thought anti-abortion activism would make a great manipulation tool to get the flocks voting for the right people. Whatever sanctimonious preening and posturing a fundagelical cares to make about the matter, that is the simple truth: it worked.
Segregation had been the previous rallying point, but abortion proved to be way more effective at manipulating people. As that Politico piece puts it, until fundagelical leaders decided to turn abortion into a culture war, “evangelicals were overwhelmingly indifferent to the subject, which they considered a ‘Catholic issue.'” Even the TRUE CHRISTIANS™ of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) even passed resolutions not only before Roe v. Wade but also twice after that court decision–in 1974 and 1976–both times affirming women’s right to seek abortion care with few restraints.
Christians who recoiled in disgust at the very notion of supporting stone-cold racist policies melted like butter in a Missouri summer at the suggestion that poor widdle baybeez were totally being TOTALLY OMG MURDERKILLED. For that matter, Americans proved to be so receptive to this manipulation that even people who weren’t even fundagelicals–often not even Christians–got tricked and conned into joining the crusade against abortion.
(We’re gonna talk more about that last bit later–I’ve got some top-secret intel sent to me by a reader I want to show you. Soon, I promise. Sooooon. I’m researching some stuff still to go along with it.)
Scaring the Sheep.
These same fundagelical leaders also began to trample any dissenting opinions to their own. Before then, right-wing Christians could hold very disparate views and still be considered acceptable Christians by their group or denomination. One was as likely to find conservatives in any given group as liberals and few fundagelicals felt they had to hide their intention to vote Democrat.
That would change, though.
Francis Schaeffer père was agitating hard for fundagelicals to get super-involved in politics–urging the flocks toward extremism, in effect encouraging Christians, already loosely tethered to reality at the best of times, to fight to out-hardcore each other. In pursuit of that goal, Christians tried to inject their religion into absolutely everything–like in that Portlandia song “Put a Bird On It,” except with Jesus swag and symbolism everywhere.
The Christian bubble solidified to become an impermeable barrier against the fearsome secular world. Inside that bubble, wackadoodle beliefs crystallized and hardened. There was no longer any more room for different opinions. There was one opinion, which was proclaimed to be the divinely-commanded one. All other opinions were non-divine, meaning (to the increasingly polarized Christian mind) that the people holding those opinions were enemies of Christianity.
Fundagelical Christian leaders discovered that they had considerable room to operate within that bubble, and they took advantage of it. There was no claim that was too ridiculous or farfetched for Christians inside that bubble–nothing too absolutely preposterous for Christians to believe. This is likely the only environment in which modern-day Biblical literalism could possibly have taken root like it did. Without a way to test claims reliably, Christians could be told anything and believe it. And often that’s exactly what happened.
That bubble is also the reason why the 1980s were such a lively period of shocking testimonials by the Cult of “Before” Stories. Conjobs–both male and female–concocted fantastic and largely fictional “testimonies” of their lives that were meant to titillate fundagelicals and increase book and album sales. At the time, Christians had decided that their big enemies were Satanists and Wiccans/New Agers, so the testimonies usually involved debauched, drug- and sex-drenched romps, the torture and murder of children and animals, real live magic and wizardry, and, um, Dungeons and Dragons.
Outside the bubble, the secular world might not even know about these dark forces arrayed everywhere and certainly had no idea of the PROOF YES PROOF of the Bible’s myths that was being amassed. But inside it, fundagelicals were getting more and more frightened. Alongside their fear, though, they were fed a nonstop stream of pseudoscience and junk history that was meant to bolster their belief in the Bible’s literal truth. Between the ludicrous stories they were fed as truth and the fear and anger stoked within them at the secular world outside the bubble, Christians began to feel a growing sense of entitlement to rule over America.
Amid these swirling fears of secularism, demonic attack and infiltration, not to mention increasingly weird claims of the Bible’s objective veracity, Christians had been getting edged further and further to the political right by leaders like Rousas John “J.R.” Rushdoony, who pushed for Christians to politicize as much as possible to fight the cultural changes brought on by the Civil Rights Era. Rushdoony brought them around to the idea of totalitarianism and unilateral control wielded by Christians–who, in his theology, were the only ones suited to wield such power responsibly. The various offshoots of his ideas, like Dominionism, later became the meat and milk of Republican politicians like Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, and Michele Bachmann, but really the party as a whole was taken over by this new, alarmingly overzealous Christian tribe. Complementarianism was already there too, lurking in the background and simply waiting to be named and claimed.
Many Christians were being sucked into a new and extremely restrictive form of Christianity. Bill Gothard, the handsy creep who was the mentor of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, had existed in some form or another since the 1960s, but in this new generation’s panic about demons and their desire to out-hardcore their peers in the religion, he suddenly became a very big name in the late 1970s and 1980s. His long and very troubling history of sexual harassment and overreach, documented at Recovering Grace, goes back to 1971, but thanks to fundagelicals’ eagerness to cover up such crimes and their tendency to blame female victims when they happen, he continued with almost no problems all the way to his (hopefully) ultimate downfall a couple of years ago.
Gothard preached about the Christian Patriarchy Movement, which stripped women completely of all power in any relationships with men and set up a strict, rigid, unbending, completely fixed hierarchy comprising all relationships. In his teachings, his god bestowed authority on people, and they exercised it on other people. Those above a person have complete power over them, while those below must totally subordinate themselves to those set by that god above them. Refusing to wield power, or worse yet refusing to yield to those with power, would bring chaos and destruction upon a rebellious person’s head. Oh, and of course he was at the very tippy-top of the ladder of power.
Bill Gothard presented his ideas as being reflective of TRUE CHRISTIANITY™, with the implication that this was how Jesus had wanted his followers to live all along. And he told his followers that if they submitted completely to his teachings (and of course to him!), they would keep themselves safe from an increasingly demon-infested and secularizing world–and then when they had children, they’d be able to keep their children from succumbing to that world’s lures. It was all but a siren-song, something that twitchy fundagelicals back then could not resist. His little homebrew operation quickly expanded to become a homeschooling juggernaut and a whole series of seminars, retreats, published materials, and more.
As you can see, a lot of threads were starting to get woven tightly together to draw a certain subset of Christians into more and more extremist beliefs and behaviors. Fear, frustration, anger, and a sudden realization of just how much power Christians could attain in America created a body of believers ripe for radicalization.
In Christian Reconstructionism, fundagelicals found their One True Pairing. They were primed and ready to accept something that extreme, that dishonest, that grotesquely regressive in every way. And they would discover that this worldview neatly gathered together every one of their doctrinal stances into one sickly-pulsating, throbbing, oozing package.
Give ‘Em That Old-Time Religion. (Whether they want it or not.)
Christian Reconstructionism, at its heart, is a fundagelical movement seeking to take control of the American government to usher in a new age of what its adherents claim is a “Biblical” society based on rules they think are in the Bible and were practiced by the very first Christians way back when. The kind of Christians who look around in alarm and fear whenever someone whispers the phrase the cloud has moved gravitated to Christian Reconstructionism like it’d been made for them.
And in a real sense, it was–just not by any supernatural beings. They’d been primed to leap into this new worldview and led to it like they were following footsteps painted on the floor of a ballroom-dancing class. No demons or angels were required for this to happen, either, and no god seems likely to step in to save people from the false prophets pushing this teaching.
With a groupthink mentality going strong, right-wing Christians across the board fell victim to this extremist style of thinking. Now there are very few fundagelicals who’d dare to speak against Patriarchy, complementarianism, Reconstructionism, Dominionism, or any of the rest of it (and yeah, there’s a lot more that we just don’t have time to cover today). Christians rarely dare to speak, either, against the scandals that constantly erupt out of churches holding this worldview. That silence allows their totalitarian leaders to run roughshod for years before finally being caught by secular authorities and forced to face justice.
But there’s an insidious underlying theology beneath Reconstructionism. It’s the framework upon which hangs the movement’s deeply anti-feminist focus, but there are other elements hanging off that framework–outgrowths of core beliefs that the earlier followers of this movement might not even have realized were there.
Probably the very best writeup I’ve ever seen of Christian Reconstructionism was done at the blog Diary of an Autodidact. (Archive is here in case the blog vanishes.) It’s well worth the time needed to read it all, but to summarize:
Reconstructionism shares some very deep roots with some really awful racist groups and ideologies left over from the American Civil War. Outright white supremacists number among the revered authors and teachers of Reconstructionism–including people like Douglas Wilson, who wrote apologetics to excuse slavery, and R.L. Dabney, who was the chaplain of “Stonewall” Jackson and then later went on to become one of the big names in Christian Patriarchy. You can find similar names all through the literature of extremist right-wing Christians of all kinds, but especially in Reconstructionism and its associated movements.
When Calvinism–a doctrine that basically accepted that the Christian god was incomprehensibly evil and whose adherents downright reveled in the permission slip that belief brought them–infested fundagelicalism, the situation only got worse. By 2010, by Barna’s reckoning, three out of ten Protestant pastors said their church went in for some flavor of Calvinism. Back when I was a Christian, I didn’t even know what Calvinism was–I saw a writeup in a Portland newspaper around 1994 (not long after my deconversion) about Mark Driscoll, and that was my very first brush with the idea.
I could see why it looked so appealing, though. Calvinism asserts that the Christian god already knows who’s going to Heaven and Hell and so there really isn’t much (if anything) one can do to avoid their eternal fate. The doctrine was welcomed with open arms by a tribe long-accustomed to describing obscenely-hateful behavior as “loving.” Now they didn’t even need to pretend that much–and as an added bonus, they got a big ego boost from thinking of themselves as a treasured elite. Calvinism said that people got what they deserved, be it Heaven or political power–and that people with power needed to be obeyed without question by those beneath them.
Calvinism didn’t just come in out of left field, of course. There’s a reason why it fit so well with Reconstructionism.
R.J. Rushdoony, arguably the father of Christian Reconstructionism, had also been a firm Calvinist.
Unsurprisingly, there are more than a few Calvinists in the CBMW’s top leadership as well–such as Denny Burk (its leader) and John Piper.
The Culture Wars…
So here’s where it sits.
The Religious Right has been taken over by a dangerously polarized and radicalized white nationalist ideology. Like it or not, they are completely entwined with the white supremacist movement in general. Like it or not, they march to the beat of drummers who ache to create a new government with themselves at its head.
And a lot of ’em mostly like it.
That’s why right-wing Christians so often idolize the culture of the antebellum Deep South, why they’re all for slavery (as long as it’s done the way they think their god told them to do it, and as long as they’re the masters!), why they’re racist and sexist AF, why they’re so brutal and vicious to the groups they’ve decided to persecute, and why they keep grabbing for political power.
The doctrine of complementarianism fits in perfectly with that worldview. Men have their lane; women have their own; and never the twain shall meet. Women are always subservient slaves to men; men always have total power over women. As the Wartburg Watch put it, it’s really just “eternal female subordination,” no matter how complementarians pretty it up or pretend that women are separate-but-equal. Since Christian Reconstructionism itself is eternal everyone-but-us-leaders subordination, that works out pretty well for the leaders of that movement.
…And the CBMW.
The CBMW’s creation reflects a growing commitment on the part of fundagelical leaders to push their dangerous ideology as hard and as far as they can–no matter who is hurt by it and no matter how much damage it causes.
They never pick their enemies randomly, either. They’ve very carefully concentrated on fighting culture wars that will, if ever won, vastly increase Christian power in an increasingly religiously-indifferent nation. In 1987, they knew that their biggest enemy was feminism, and after learning about Reconstructionism and all that it’s probably easy to see why.
The CBMW’s adherents and leaders need women to be subordinate to men or the whole game looks ridiculous. They need culture to think of women as being owned by men. They need laws to reflect that women are helpless and completely dependent upon men. They need people to think of women’s rights–even their right to consent over their own bodies’ use–as given or revoked only at men’s pleasure.
But one senses that this anti-feminist message didn’t take after the 1987 attack on women’s rights, which is why they just issued another manifesto attacking it and a bunch of other civil rights advances that have blossomed and flowered since 1987. It’s almost funny to imagine them playing Whack-a-Mole with human rights–every time they think they’ve hit one human rights cause, another pops up.
But when they’re done destroying everything in sight to try to grab back the power they once had and mistakenly think is their right to have at all, we’re gonna be like this:
When you see these manifestos out of Christian groups, be on the lookout for how that document or proclamation fits into the Reconstructionist view of human relations and Christian supremacy–and what enemies the Christians creating that list perceive as the most dangerous to their goals.
Ah, but those goals must seem further away than ever nowadays to them. As Christian leaders and groups keep losing members, it becomes safer and safer for other people to leave–and so they do. As those leaders and groups keep losing credibility thanks to the endless stories about their hypocrisy that break to the public, people become more emboldened to report more and more of those hypocrites to the proper authorities–and while all that’s happening, more and more people get disgusted enough to leave those Christians’ ranks.
The best part is that there’s really nothing whatsoever that the CBMW can do about their religion’s losses–not that they’re willing to do, at least. They’d have to let go of their dreams of power and the endemic racism, sexism, and bigotry that mark them as a group (far more effectively and definitively than any positive beliefs they might hold). And as we’ve discussed, they cannot do that.
So let them release their manifestos and their “statements.” Let them shriek as loudly as they like and beat their chests bloody. Their voices will fade to a strange tinny echo. The more they try to seize power, the more followers they’ll alienate and the more potential recruits they’ll lose. I almost pity them if they do manage to get a little more political power before it’s all over with for them, because that would only accelerate their religion’s already-fast-approaching appointment with fate. I’m not sure they realize exactly what would happen if they did manage to get into a place where they could literally force people to live according to their sadistic whims. They’re already losing people right and left over their overt politicization, and they know it.
And on that happy note I bid you goodnight–for now. Next time we’ll look at the dirtiest word in the entire fundagelical vocabulary. If you guessed compromise, you win! See you on Saturday!