Recently, Swanson discussed the Phillips scandal on his Generations with Vision program. In an episode entitled "Hypocrisy is Everywhere", he and his co-host Dave Buehner discussed Phillips' resignation alongside other Christian scandals, sharing commentary on everything from our "fallen sinful world" to the sexual revolution to the marriage bed. Not surprisingly, the two men's attitudes about infidelity and sexuality were unhealthy, even victim-blaming.
Swanson began the program by insisting that Christians confront scandals in their midst. "We can say this is what it is, and we don't have to create monuments to our hypocrisies, as the liberals are like to do," he said. He talked at length about scandals in the Christian community, such as Christian leaders who committed sexual indiscretions, came out as LGBTQ, or experienced tragedy in their lives (i.e., Rick Warren's son committing suicide).
Discussing a young man's suicide in the same breath as sexual misconduct struck me as mean spirited, and labeling all Christians who come out as LGBTQ struck me as homophobic. Sexual misconduct is one thing, but how is being LGBTQ or experiencing a family tragedy related to scandal? I thought.
Swanson's monologue suggested that the roots of church scandals lie in part in society's alleged moral disintegration. Swanson claimed that today's world was living in an "age of apostasy" in which the church in the western world was "languishing". Since the 1950s, people have recognized that America isn't quite the Christian country they thought it was, now that the "facades have come off", he claimed.
Throughout the webinar, Swanson and Buehner offered mixed messages about Doug Phillips and his family. At first, Swanson was sympathetic to the Phillips family, expressing sorrow and wishing them healing. At the 4:51 mark, he told listeners that he and his family were praying for the Phillips.
"My first reaction is I'm very sad and very concerned for Doug and for the family, and we've been praying for him in family worship, and praying that God would bring repentance and restoration, and for his family as well, that there would be some restoration, and that God protect and preserve and save this precious family. We're concerned about this."At the 5:15 mark, however, Swanson's tone changed. After expressing sympathy for the Phillips family, he brought up the deception and deaths of Ananias and Sapphira in the Book of Acts. From there, he lashed out at critics of Doug Phillips, calling them "ungodly" and "sons of Belial".
"Acts 5 speaks of what happened with Ananias and Sapphira who did not present themselves as they should have presented themselves. In other words, they presented themselves as something better than what they really were ... They tried to present themselves as holier than what they really were. And because of that, because it was a public sin, God killed them. And then we read that fear fell upon the entire church at that point. Dave, this is why there is a spirit of fear that has spread across much of evangelicalism. The ungodly, the sons of Belial are making fun of Doug and they're making fun of the church. They use these as excuses to degrade the church of Christ, and that's a sad but inevitable consequence of what happens with the ungodly. Their business, what they do is make fun of the church of Jesus Christ until they go to hell or repent."Jesus wants Christians to participate in the Lord's supper and "eat of unleven bread of sincerity", Swanson claimed, arguing that Jesus doesn't want "unlevenous activity" in the church. Hidden sins must be brought out in the open and confessed, and fear must spread across the church, he insisted. Swanson admitted that he'd had marital and family problems, and that he confessed those issues to church leaders in the name of transparency.
Swanson's co-host, Dave Buehner, stated that scandal and humiliation are the means by which God cleanses the church at the 9:02 mark.
"Jesus is ... trying to fit us for heaven, and to the extent that we resist our being made holy, resist that he is trying to remove the spots and iron out the wrinkles in the church, is to the extent that the Holy Spirit is going to have to use harsher measures to get rid of that sin, and sometimes that's public scandals, sometimes that's humiliation, sometimes it's very drastic. When you have a cancer, sometimes surgery is required."Swanson, who painted the world as a corrupt, sinful setting, stressed that sins and scandals such as those of Doug Phillips serve as evidence for the evil nature of the world. At the 10:14 mark, he grew increasingly agitated as he outlined the dire situation of the world.
"The world may look at us and say, 'Wow, these Christians are being a bunch of hypocrites." In the end, I think what we're seeing, Dave, with sin is a verification of exactly what the Bible says concerning the problem with man, and that is we live in a fallen sinful world and the situation is far more desperate than any of us think it is, and sin is way, way more deceitful than we even think it is. The Devil himself, Satan, is way more powerful than the average person thinks he is, and these are true blue realities. The world denies them, but I think every one of these circumstances that rises to the surface and becomes very, very public is just a substantiation of the truth of scripture concerning the fact that we live in a fallen, sinful world! And we need God's redemption."Swanson and Buehner talked at length about the peril of lionizing men over God, since human beings are capable of mistakes and sins. They named several Christian evangelists who divorced or committed adultery (thereby lumping divorce in the same moral category as infidelity), lamenting the ways that "power, sex, and money" corrupt people.
When the discussion turned to sex and infidelity, the two men revealed their problematic attitudes about marital sexuality. At the 21:17 mark, Swanson blamed the sexual revolution for unleashing "horrific forms of sexual expression" on the world and tainting the church. By lumping together homosexuality and child sexual abuse, he suggested a moral equivalency between LGBTQ status and sexual violence that revolted me.
"I think that the sexual revolution did unleash the curse of all kinds of child molestation, homosexuality, just the whole coming-out-of-the-closet and all of the demons in this Pandora's box unleash in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s. I think it did lead to more egregious examples ... The world has opened up zeitgeist or spirit of the age that involves sexual freedom, and of course the whole pornography explosion of the 1980s and the 1990s and the internet and everything else has opened up so many opportunities for the most horrific forms of sexual expression that the world has known, and it's gone mainstream, and there's no real surprise that the world is sucking the church into its vortex."Swanson ignores the fact that being attracted to adults of the same sex is not in the same moral category as harming children. This is sloppy moral reasoning, full stop. Furthermore, he conveniently forgets that child abuse and other forms of sexual misconduct have existed since time immemorial, and are not recent phenomena. To blame Phillips' infidelity (or any other acts of sexual misconduct) on a real or imagined sexual revolution is to be woefully confused.
Dave Buehner argued that directing one's sexual energy at one's spouse inoculates couples against adultery. At the 24:03 mark, he argued that sexual temptation can be corrected by redirecting it at the marriage bed.
"The Bible talks about repentance. It doesn't say replace sin with nothing. It actually talks about replacing it with something...The marriage bed is holy. 1 Corinthians 7 says if your burn, get married. If you have a sexual problem, take your sexual energy and take it into this holy marriage bed, this thing that's pure and undefiled, and use your sexual energy there that two will become one. Rather than sex leading you into sin, let it lead you into unity with your wife."At the 24:52 mark, Buehner claimed that people stray when their spouses don't provide a sexual outlet.
"When that vow is broken, then a wife or a husband is turning their spouse over to be tempted by the Devil. You're turning your spouse over to say, 'Devil, have at my husband or my wife. I was the protection of that sexual desire. I was the outlet, and I've decided that I would rather that person be tempted by the Devil.'"I was disgusted. Adulterous spouses make a conscious choice to engage in infidelity, but Buehner's comment practically absolves them of responsibility. The betrayed spouse is scapegoated for allegedly not putting out and given the unrealistic task of being someone else's moral gatekeeper. I hope he was not implying that this was the case in the Phillips' marriage and thereby deflecting responsibility off of Doug Phillips for his inappropriate relationship.
Swanson agreed with Buehner's statements. As an example, Swanson described a time when his wife was talking with church elders' wives who wanted to know how to support their husbands. Swanson's wife reminded them of their conjugal duties outlined in 1 Corinthians 7. Again, sex was understood as a wife's duty and a husband's entitlement instead of an act of mutual pleasure and intimacy.
Swanson concluded the program with a warning about excessive involvement in "parachurch" organizations -- that is, Christian organizations that are distinct from churches. While there is nothing wrong with parachurch organizations, believers must be accountable to local churches, he insisted. Since the program touched on Doug Phillips, I wondered if this was a reference to Vision Forum. Were Swanson's admonishments about "parachurch" organizations a jab at Phillips' ministry, or an innocent remark about the importance of accountability in church communities? I don't know.
In conclusion, Swanson and Buehner not only failed to address the bigger moral questions of the Doug Phillips scandal, but revealed their toxic attitudes toward sexuality. First, Swanson attributed Doug Phillips' infidelity (and that of other Christian leaders) to sin, pride, and a fallen world. He failed to consider that the Phillips scandal might point to larger problems within the Christian Patriarchy movement, such as lack of accountability for men, attitudes of male entitlement, and a misogynist culture than leaves women vulnerable.
Second, Swanson and Buehner promoted unhealthy ideas about sexuality, claiming that they represented some Biblical ideal of marital purity. For example, ample sex within marriage does not necessarily preclude adultery. Buehner assumes that adultery occurs when spouses (read: wives) fail to 'put out', ignoring other culprits such as boredom, loneliness, and entitlement. However, sex should never be an obligation, and should always take place with the enthusiastic consent of both partners. No one is obligated to have sex on command. Couples should instead approach sex as a consensual, mutually enjoyable form of intimacy instead of a commanded chore.
Was Swanson and Buehner talking about marital sexuality in general, or were their words a subtle jab at Doug Phillips' wife? I don't know. What I do know is that attitudes such as these do not offer insight into the Phillips' scandal, but instead demonstrate the flawed thinking of some fundamentalists. If communities wish to address sexual misconduct, they need to address the real roots of such misconduct instead of responding with stereotypes and misconceptions.
(Hat tip to Lana at Wide Open Ground)