“Max, am I going to have to blog about this?” I asked my 5-month-old while reading aloud “Pastor Provocateur,” Collin Hansen’s parting feature article in Christianity Today on Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. (The article is not yet available online).
“Aaggoooo,” he said.
“I’m going to have to agree with you,” I said.
It’s not just the specifics of Driscoll, Donald Miller, John Piper or the Desiring God conference that rankled me. And it’s not just the thinly veiled support of all the preceding by Christianity Today’s reporters and writers. They publish my work, so I’d like to get along with them!<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
What really gets me is a new twist on an old game: repressing women and legitimating patriarchy. I visited an evangelical free church a while back and said to my husband, “It’s not just that they repress women, it’s the way they do it that bugs me.”
I realize I’ve raised four different issues here, but the one I want to write about is this new way of writing about and speaking of women, evident in both the story on Driscoll and the way it’s written.
Women are mentioned numerous times in this article. There are several mentions of what one ought to do with one’s wife: bathe with her, seduce her (and it will lead to ministry inspiration!), violently attack bullies who may harm her and lead her.
Driscoll’s wife is described as “attractive,” as her father’s daughter and as “looking on” in a photograph. A <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />MarsHillChurch female staff member “shook with emotion” during her interview. A Mars Hill attendee, described mostly in terms of what has victimized her, loves the church.
In the last few years I have seen too many male authors of a “new generation” in evangelical books and magazines accessorize their texts with women and legitimize patriarchy by quoting a woman who likes it.
Men are referred to by name and in terms of accomplishment, whereas women are described in terms of their physical attributes, who they belong to (husbands or fathers or no one) and their supposedly constant need for protection, leadership and emotional expression. But there’s always a woman or two who loves it, and she is quoted to that effect.
I bet that if I told my students they had to mow my lawn in order to get good grades, most of them would do it. Many wouldn’t really mind. A few would complain. A few would refuse altogether. And a few would say it was the most spiritual opportunity for service they’d ever had. And they’d believe it.
People respond to repression in various ways, one of which is acquiescence. That doesn’t make it right. And even I would embrace patriarchy–perhaps even in my heart–if participation in that system was my only way to shelter and feed my kids.
The only woman in the article whose physical appearance, emotional weakness or family status remained unmentioned is Jennifer McKinney, director of the women’s studies program at SeattlePacificUniversity and a critic of MarsHillChurch’s effect on women she has known.
We are left to our own assumptions about women of unknown marital status who run feminist academic programs. She has a doctorate, also, and should have also been referred to by her credentials, not only her administrative role.
Valorized male traits in the article include bulging biceps, aggressiveness, fighting, entrepreneurialism and decisiveness. The final sentence, “And even the Good Shepherd had to fight off wolves,” not only blows away any pretense of objectivity in the article by linking Driscoll with Jesus and his detractors with wolves, but also strangely casts Jesus as one who fought with his enemies.
Why is Driscoll even featured in this magazine? Because his church is big and growing fast? Because he draws attention by being outrageously offensive? Because he has long-standing disagreements with emergent folks?
Wealth, fame, glitz and public conflict are all reasons to cover Paris Hilton in Star Magazine! The article suggests that Seattle is an important place to look at because of its low number of believers. If that is so, why not cover a church like Monkfish Abbey, an intensively relational, “small is beautiful” collection of believers who aren’t in media-covered conflict with anyone?
I used to be concerned about the over-representation of white, American, women-excluding, power-holding men in evangelical leadership of my parent’s generation. Now I’m concerned about it in my generation.
Wearing jeans, being Web savvy and drinking beer/smoking/swearing might make new pastors cool, but it doesn’t make the church or the world more just.
Until women are included as full humans–emotional and rational, leading and being led, protecting and protected, gifted and limited–then it’s just a new inning of a very old game.
Jenell Williams Paris is professor of anthropology and sociology at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa. This column is adapted from her blog, The Paris Project, and is used here with permission.