IFBs and Spoiled American Women

Women's March on Washington

A close family member who happens to be a woman attended the recent Women’s March on Washington. Memories of [much] earlier days and accounts of her experience shape my spirit as I prepare this post.

While I haven’t checked, I’d guess that at least one or two IFB pastors waxed eloquently about the sinfully rebellious and unfeminine spirit any woman who would do such a thing.

SFL prints this account as Ashleigh Ferguson Baker in recognition of the many women who live under demeaning and/or abusive circumstances because they were born with the gender their father determined for them. It is truly shameful that such statements are necessary. But that said, it is imperative that we not forget or close our eyes to the hardship many women bear every day.


‘Let this be a reminder that there are currently, right now, 25 and 30 year old women in America who are being held hostage in their parents’ homes, not allowed to leave until they are married, at which point their fathers’ authority over them will be transferred to their new husbands.

There are currently, right now in America, sitting beside you in church pews, women who haven’t been allowed to get an education, lest they develop an “independent spirit.” They haven’t been given high school diplomas, let alone been allowed to step foot on a college campus. Because why would women need education anyway?

There are women being told that no, they don’t have feelings for that person. That they are easily deceived, don’t know their own thoughts, and thus, cannot be trusted to choose their own mate. If they do? They risk being cut off from their entire family.

There are women who are in their late 20s, having to sneak out of their parents’ homes in the dark of night, suitcase in hand, because their parents don’t trust them to have friends other than their siblings, monitor their phone and internet conversations, and won’t let them get a job.

There are young women who are teaching piano lessons in their home living rooms, then handing the money they’ve earned to their fathers each week, because as a wife they won’t have their own money so why learn to do so now?

There are women, right now in America, being told that showing their knees is nakedness, that bare shoulders are sinful, that their heads must be covered to show their submission to their fathers, husbands, brothers, and ultimately, to God.

There are women in America, smiling at you in the grocery store, whose husbands are beating them, cheating on them, belittling them… and then expecting their wives to meet them willingly in bed each night, without birth control, providing him with what he wants and her with another baby to nurse. And when cautiously, quietly asking church leaders for help? These women are told to pray more, because they will “win him back” with their gentle and quiet spirits.

There are women in America, right now, in your neighborhood, who are desperate. Many of them aren’t even sure what they’re desperate for, because their hearts and minds have been so wounded by emotional and spiritual abuse that they often believe what they’re experiencing is right and normal and holy and good.

But the women who do wake up? The ones who want out? Let me tell you how they manage to climb out of that darkness:

They encounter strong women who have gone before them, who will band together, march together, stand up stronger together in the face of opposition, and pull their sisters out.

For some of us, this isn’t even about systemic patriarchy. It’s about Patriarchy with a capital P, literal subscriptions to “Patriarch: the magazine” and articles published in “Ladies Against Feminism,” being told to our faces for our entire lives what we’re allowed to think in our own heads, hearing year after year that Patriarchy IS God’s great plan for humanity, experiencing extreme forms of actual, daily oppression for being a born a girl.

So before you hit repost on that declaration you don’t need a march because you’re not oppressed in America in 2017, claiming that spoiled American women are whining because what about women being oppressed in Afghanistan in the name of religion? Maybe take a look around you, in your own neighborhoods and churches, and realize that it’s happening right here, in America, right now. That what you see in front of you isn’t always what’s happening behind the scenes. Maybe realize some of those women holding signs and wearing pink hats know a thing or two about blatant injustice, celebrated in the name of religion.

And maybe some of those women know that the only reason they are still standing today is because of the women around them who linked arms and pulled them out and helped them learn, for the first time in their lives, to stand on their own two feet.’

Reviled, Reinvented and Rediscovered

MLK

Five decades ago, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Junior made a crucial decision to combine the struggle for democratic rights in the United States, with principled opposition to imperial war abroad. King very courageously did so in context of opposing the war on Vietnam.

Many try to cloak themselves in King’s mantle. Some are some outright charlatans who actively oppose what King died defending. But in either case, these opportunists share not one shred of principle among them.

Over the weekend, tanks, artillery, armored vehicles and 4,000 US troops descended on Poland. They are to be deployed over seven East European countries. Around October, another unit will replace them. This is the first, permanent deployment of US troops on Russia’s border since the Cold War. In coming months, NATO plans to deploy four battalions on Russia’s border. And US annual military budget for Eastern Europe is quadrupled to $3.4 billion over last year’s $800 million.

Poor People's Campaign Brochure, Spring 1968
From the last campaign on which MLK worked.

King understood that poverty is very much a civil rights issue. He saw poverty and powerlessness as mutually reinforcing realities. And he saw the need to break the power that they hold over us.

Dr. King’s last planned protest was the Poor People’s Campaign. He was planning this when he was martyred. This excerpt from a prepared leaflet is as relevant now as it was the day King died. It merits careful study by us all.

King saw the obscene levels of military spending in his own day. The base shamelessness of budget plans is made clear in his work.

Today, total military spending is in excess of $905 billion. Soon, it will top 1 trillion. Every year.

There’s more.

Dr. King also addressed extremes of income discrepancy. But in his wildest dreams, Dr. King could not have imagined the extent to which the level of income dependency would rise even in the lifetime of his peers.

On the eve of the Davos Conference, Oxfam reports that 8 people now control as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population. And of those 8 people, 6 are in the US.

There is no gracious way to put it: such levels of militaristic commitment and social inequality are fundamentally incompatible with a free society.

As social misery rises and political conditions degrade, it begs to be asked where today’s church leaders are. Often, they most stridently support such arrangements. They certainly do not stand beside Martin Luther King Jr., even if they claim to respect and honor that legacy to their own advantage.

Some who know King’s legacy revile him. Others would co-opt his legacy for opportunistic ends. The one alternative of integrity is to recover that legacy for our own time. And if we desire to avert war and revolution, we would be most wise to do so — and soon.

If any churches are prepared to go there, few are fundamentalist.

Preaching and Pastoring in Hard Times

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Preaching Ain’t Easy

IFB sects are sometimes reminded that while preaching is neither easy nor popular, their preachers works hard. Very hard. And while I’ve absolutely no statistical basis for so saying, I’ll say some do. But fundamentalism being what it is, IFB preachers will never wrestle with some of the most perplexing and difficult issues other pastors face every week.

M. Craig Barnes is no Christian fundamentalist. But his freshly published article, ‘The Pastors I Worry About’ [Christian Century, Jan 4, 2017] names a number of difficult issues no fundamentalist pastor should ever face.

The Princeton Theological Seminary President points out that having the President-elect they wanted, many are now stuck advocating for someone whose private life and public policies contradict much of what preachers should say in their pulpits. I would suggest that other than protesting supposed lack of support for Israel, few IFB pastors will chafe much at that lack of morality.

That is a hard problem, but few IFB pastors will face it.

Then again, there are preachers who denounced Mr. Trump, who said that the center would hold, that churches would remain sanctuaries for Muslim-Americans and that harassed women would still be protected? What are those preachers now to say to their congregations?

That is a hard problem, and few IFB pastors will face it.

Barnes’ article shows special concern for pastors of politically divided congregations. In our much conflicted vision, he perceptively sees a tearing at our churchly mission. Undoubtedly this is more so where churches understand and take seriously their calling from God to be Jesus Christ to the poor, the hungry, the stranger, the marginalized, the uninsured, the undocumented, the outcasts and more.

That is a hard problem, and few IFB pastors will face it.

Barnes understands the need to unite congregations while being prophetic on issues that matter, to attend deep wounds without special pleading to ‘be nice,’ and to preach into cultural divisions while also transcending opposed political platforms that shape those divisions. Barnes does not say so, but preaching requires the wisdom of Ahithophel.

That is a hard problem, and few IFB pastors will face it.

Perhaps the most trying challenge many preachers will have is to fulfill their calling and promise to love all the members of their congregation, including those the pastor believes committed grave error of judgment when they went to the polling station.

For all they may say about the pastorate being a tough job, they should have to try to navigate these political minefields, along with all the normal stuff encountered in the pastorate. The fact is, plenty of pastors are faithful while struggling every week with issues of conscience.

That is a hard problem, and few IFB pastors will face it.

Pretending Pious Engagement, and Spiritual Catharsis

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The President of a very regressive and sectarian institution awoke from a dream in which he saw devoted Christian youths from around the world, gathered for praise and worship. He said to himself — ‘THIS is JUST what John said … a great multitude from every land, people, tribe and tongue.’ He decided to make it so. After tireless work and many preparations, the day came. The throng which gathered at Bob Jones University showed more colors than Joseph’s coat. There was weeping and joy, sorrow and forgiveness. Healing and reconciliation followed. In all Greenville and far beyond, this witness to Jesus was believed. The kingdom of God is like that.

Tuesday of this week, SFL linked to the Bob Jones University public announcement that henceforth, the school would observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day. That was the necessary backdrop for this post.

The same day BJU Blogs posted President Steve Pettit’s announcement, another announcement was made. This one was internal. The difference between the two is telling. I am indebted to What In The World for bringing this to light. But before going there, some general thoughts on BJU’s recent discovery of the suitability of this day for commemoration.

Divining Steve Pettit’s ‘Racial Equality’

What will Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day look like at Bob Jones University?

It it affirming that racially different people face persistent contempt in public life? Will it entail advocacy work? Will BJU put its legal team at the disposal of impoverished Blacks who need legal council? Would it mean raising awareness of civil rights issues in Greenville? Would MLK Day at BJU actually imply any tangible solidarity with Black Americans in their struggle to achieve racial equality? Would BJU students, faculty, staff or Steve Pettit in any way or sense ‘stand with,’ ‘march with,’ ‘speak with’ or an any other way align with American Blacks?

Does Bob Jones University acknowledge and/or address the racilization of life in America? Has the President or board instructed the BJU theological faculty develop a theological basis for integrating American believers into American congregations? Does Bob Jones University remind the many congregations that feed it money and students that as Dr. King said, Sunday morning is America’s most segregated hour? Does BJU in any way encourage the few Greenville congregations it recognizes to join like-minded Black congregations in worship? If congregations hosted such meeting, would BJU students be permitted to attend them? If not, what black churches are BJU students allowed to join?

How many Black/Caucasian couples married on the BJU campus? In all its years of operation, how many a Black speakers have addressed the BJU Bible Conference? When the BJU Presidency was vacant, how many qualified Black candidates were considered? What Black, fundamentalist Christian leader was interviewed for the job?

Coming to It

If Martin Luther King Jr. Day truly had meaning for Bob Jones University or President Steve Pettit, would his announcement not mention that the Black community is in genuine distress? Would it not address..

Not only Black poverty but its causes?
Policing practices in black residential areas?
The mass incarceration of young black males?
The state of public education in black districts?
Heavy voter-repression protocol in black districts?

Had Dr. King lived, would BJU students be allowed to march and speak with King on these issues? Would staff and faculty? Would Steve Pettit?

No one can be allowed to make ‘racial harmony and respect’ mean, ‘we’re here to bestow our benediction on Blacks who accept status-quo poverty, mass incarceration, broken schools and communities and more.’

Inside Announcement — What is Said

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bju-mlk2  bju-mlk3

Inside Announcement — What it Means

Prayer for Racial Harmony

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Prayer sessions focus on ‘racial harmony’  for good reasons.

Prayer is invaluable. It is key to Christian living. But prayer has other functions also.

Prayer lets one pretend to be piously engaged while studiously avoiding things that truly need doing. And prayer for ‘racial harmony’ studiously avoids the racial reconciliation that truly needs doing. Why is that?

Racial ‘reconciliation’ means someone needs to confess to wrongdoing in order to fix the relationship. Fundies preach about this all the time. They call it the ‘Gospel.’ But that doesn’t mean they need to believe or practice it where racially-different people are concerned.

What would happen if BJU or Steve Pettit told supporting congregations in the South that they need to practice the Gospel and seek reconciliation?

It’s really important to pray for racial harmony. It’s harmless! It’s safe!

Service Opportunities

With prayer, service is a great and necessary Christian practice. That’s why I find it humorous and unsettling to read serving ‘in our community … on that day.’ In Christ, we are free to serve. We could live dangerously and tell people that they’re free to serve and to use their freedom.

While service is basic to Christian existence, we speak of a community with stories of life-long, forced and often cruel service to the families of those who are now encouraged to serve them on this day. After all — their ‘economically disadvantaged.’ Of course, that isn’t why they were pressed into slavery. But we’re not going there. It’s racial harmony. Remember?

It all seems a little too patronizing, especially in the absence of real action for social justice.

Meet the CGO

The Center for Global Opportunities is a Bob Jones University project. BJU Director of Missions Mark Vowels has it that Pettit was its impetus.

The center casts for itself the role of promoting a vision for and participation in 21st-century Gospel expansion for students at Bob Jones University in Greenville and to the ends of the world.’ We know this because it say so on the CGO Facebook page. And if you go there, you’ll see that it is all about missions.

Like prayer and service, missions is a vital component of our Christian existence. None of this is in question. Moreover, Bob Jones University is welcome to observe MLK Day in its own, ‘unusual’ ways.

But in the absence of concrete conviction about the issues and struggles associated with the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it is difficult to see how this ‘observance’ fits the spirit of this modern-day martyr.

Dr. King certainly believed in prayer, service and mission. But he was too intelligent and spiritually perceptive NOT to see that what is required runs run far deeper than a day of prayer for harmony and service will address. If I could offer Mr. Petitt any council, it would be for him to ponder well the questions stated above the ‘inside’ announcement.

That’s the rub. Mr. Pettit’s words seem more to feign respect and honor for Dr. King’s labors, than actually to respect and honor them. In the face of the social issues of our time, this just seems sad.

Many people have misunderstood Dr. King. But I do believe that Dr. King understood Jesus. Hopefully, those who misunderstand King will learn to understand the King.