Saturday, September 20, 2008

Erasing women (again!)

This morning, when I turned the page of the Houston Chronicle, I was confronted with a very sorry (but telling!) story about erasing women and women's issues again. The Southern Baptist Convention has pulled off of the shelves of its bookshops the latest issue of Gospel Today magazine. Why? Because it shows five women of the cloth on the front cover and "the statements that were in it took positions that were contrary to what we would say," according to Chris Turner, a spokesman for the SBC bookshops.

Really? And only a few days after the men of the Convention revised their position on women to make it possible for conservative Christians from the Convention to support and vote for the McCain-Palin ticket?

Remember ten years ago, when there was a hostile takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention? The result was the declaration that women's place was in the home, "to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation." She was not to be burdened with working outside the home, and was to happily embrace her duty as homemaker which was the backbone of our society. Only the husband should be vocationally oriented.

These were not just sexist words, they became a sexist policy that resulted in the purging of churches and seminaries of female leadership, including not only ministers but also professors who were fired along with any men who supported them. If you have never seen the documentary on this hostile takeover, "Battle for the Mind" by Steven Lipscomb (1997), it is well-worth the viewing time. In fact, it was a big inspiration for me to decide to begin writing next, Sex and the Serpent: Why the Sexual Conflicts of the Early Church Still Matter.

Enter Sarah Palin. Now the Southern Baptist Convention is in a pickle, unless its statement is reinterpreted in such a way that it denies what it declared to begin with. Robert Parham of "On Faith" reports that one SBC professor thus said, "the Baptist Faith and Message does not address the question of women in secular leadership, only spiritual leadership." Ahh, the secular loophole which allows Baptist men to vote Republication even though what Palin is doing is the opposite of their interpretation of women's roles according to the Bible. I wonder if this secular distinction means that all the women professors who lost their jobs will be reinstated in the seminaries too?

I don't even know what to say about the glass ceiling anymore. It doesn't look like glass to me, but cement.


Leon said...

I am curious whether it ever occurs to anyone that as long as separate battles are fought for each group — a kind of divide and conquer poilcy — then these ongoing battles for equality are hopeless. I always feel inspired whenever any group (women, minorities, working class people, gays) fights for its voice to be heard. Yet when I talk about the silenced Jewish voices of the past in the Gospels and elsewhere, all I hear is a continued big silence. I still find it so hard to comprehend how anyone can champion, e.g., the silenced voices of women and yet be utterly indifferent to, e.g., the silenced voices of Judas and Jewish leaders. It just blows me away. Mind-boggling.

Leon Zitzer

David said...

The crux of the matter is that we don't have good or easily used criteria by which to identify individual and collective delusions, much less a consensus on what to do about them.

So when a religious organization suffers a hostile takeover by people who are only listening to a collective delusion, how do we respond, those of us who have a vastly different perspective (I hesitate to say better or more intelligent, because that could be itself a delusion)?

It seems to me that any kind of differentiation results in exclusion (us versus them). Which results in most voices being silenced or reduced to such a small stage that they are in effect not heard.

I have been reading about gnosticism lately, and it strikes me that the many and varied individuals and groups who were lumped together under the label "gnostic" have suffered the same fate. Isolation of their voices, then reduced to marginality by being lumped together under a common pejorative label. How is this happening today? Has anything really changed?

So, Leon, while agreeing completely with your post, I would ask you: what is, or what could be, the macro perspective that would allow people to rise above the small, separate issue, isolation that allows us to be divided beyond utility and prevents us from all being heard?

Unknown said...

The Southern Baptist Church, like any other denomination, has its quirks in the way it governs itself. The reason that the conservatives (actually fundamentalists) were able to take over the denomination is because local churches can send as many delegates as they choose to the national convention. So the conservatives did so.

BUT, and this is important, what were called "liberals" in the Southern Baptist Convention (still conservatives to the rest of us) had run the denomination for years shutting out the real conservatives. Like it or not the takeover was a reaction to the real conservatives being ignored.

None of this justifies the Convention's flip flop on women. I think hiding the magazines under the counter would be hilarious if it wasn't so pitiful and sad. It's as if seeing women pastors is like seeing a Playboy magazine. (Maybe they should put the magazine in plain, brown wrappers?)

And suggesting that their position is that they are only interested in church leadership when they clearly are for submission of wives to husbands is ridiculous. But now I'm just quoting Dr. DeConick.

The conservatives learned the rules in the Convention and used them. BTW the same thing is happening in the Methodist Church because it is an international organization. The African and South American Churches are voting with the American conservatives on social issues.

Unknown said...

Oh, one other thing:

The magazine cover goes for racially diverse. Good move. But is it just me or did they also choose female pastors that all fit the American ideal of pretty?

Dale Caldwell said...

it may be an urban (suburban)legend, but i love what i was told about an arkansas state court case in which it was ruled that churches could not violate the constitutional rights of members to carry guns to church. the case resulted when a woman disagreed with her (southern baptist) pastor. he had said that it was all right for women to speak in churches. she disagreed. but she did not find in scripture that it was wrong for women to shoot heretical pastors in churches. so she did.

Leon said...


I think there are criteria by which we can identify delusions. For example, a good definition of nonsense would be any proposition that a) has little or no evidence behind it, and b) plenty of evidence contradicts it. If you are going to recover the voices of women in history, or any marginalized groups, and the Jewish voices of Judas and ancient Jewish leaders, that act of recovering, if it is going to be rational, will have to rely primarily on evidence. When you have a lot of evidence for something, you are not delusional.

There is another part to this. You are right, David, that there are subjective points of view that affect how we see things. There are unconscious forces at work. It is possible to talk about these things. If you get unconscious forces and ulterior motives out there on the table for discussion, we could make some progress. Some positions that people take rely almost purely on power and desire for power and not any sound evidence. Exposing how power works is part of the process of losing our delusions. Many people do not want this done, but that does not mean it cannot be done. The hardest part of this is facing how emotions and the unconscious control the dialogue. But it is not beyond our capacity to rationally discuss all this albeit many will try to drown out reason with emotional force.

Leon Zitzer