Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Berean Baptist Pastors and Patriarchy

In a June 6th column at Charisma Magazine entitled "The #1 Reason Why Christian Marriages Fail," J. Lee Grady delivers a beautifully progressive message about gender equality. Grady laments the pervasiveness of violence against women across the globe, which he attributes to "male superiority" and machismo. Male dominance, he argues, is one of the biggest threats to Christian marriages, which should be a relationship between equal. Male dominance is a result of the Fall, he argues, insisting that God never intended marriage to be a setting for domination or abuse. He urges men to treat their wives as equals, help their wives with everyday responsibilities, and encourage their wives to cultivate their gifts.

Grady's column is refreshing in its respect for women. He takes violence against women seriously, acknowledging the connection between male violence and sexism. Whereas some Christian speakers praise women but stop short of rejecting patriarchy (i.e., Mike Bickle), Grady urges men to treat women as equals. Unfortunately, one church of recent notoriety disagrees.

Remember Pastor Sean Harris of Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, NC? Several weeks ago, Harris was soundly condemned for encouraging fathers to punch "effeminate" sons and scold "butch" daughters (see here and here). Harris' sermon not only reeked of homophobia, but it also suggested a worldview in which gender roles are extremely rigid. That misogyny reared its head once again in a podcast available at the Berean Baptist Church website.

In a June 7th podcast entitled “Why Christian Marriages Fail,” Harris sat down with Berean pastors Dwayne Smith and Steve Wilson to discuss Grady’s commentary. Harris condemned physical violence against women, reminding listeners that “guys hitting their wives is off limits” and that physically abused women are entitled to leave their abusers and seek safety. Unfortunately, Harris and the other Berean pastors seemed more concerned about defending Christian patriarchy that tackling the real-life issues that Grady’s column addressed. The pastors spent much of the interview criticizing the idea that unfair treatment of wives was the chief threat to Christian marriage.

At the 5:54 mark of the podcast, one pastor claimed that the degree of male dominance seen in foreign cultures isn’t a problem in the U.S. Rather, he saw equality between the sexes and a lack of rigid gender roles as a more immediate cause of marital problems in America.
"I also think that it needs to go further because really what he's saying is the root cause is the symptom, and in those cultures the root cause of sin is this cultural idea that, hey, 'I'm the man, I'm in charge, I'm the king, I'm the boss, I'm going to put you under the thumb,' but I don't find that really to be the problem in the United States of America. I think that I think the opposite, in fact, could be argued, that we've reached such a point in our American culture that everything is egalitarian that in many cases, some of the causes of marital problems in America is there is no defined roles. Nobody knows what's going on. I wish this guy would step up and take some leadership."
At the 7:07 mark, Sean Harris correlated male dominance with leadership in the home.
"Well, if I look at this statement, and it says male superiority is a global problem, is the number one reason why Christian marriages suffer and fail, I'm going to become less of a leader, because the assumption here is that you stop trying to be so superior as the husband of the house, and your life is going to get better."
The 7:36 mark featured the single most facepalm-worthy statement in the podcast. One pastor, completely missing the point of Grady’s commentary, assumed that violence against women across the globe had little to do with Christian marriages.
"Well, there's not many Christians in India. There's not very many Christians in Africa, and there's not very many Christians in the Middle East, especially in Afghanistan."
At the 7:54 mark, Another pastor claimed that parts of the world where violence against women is extreme tend to be placed with little Christian influence. The fact that violence against women occurs in Christian and non-Christian communities alike was not considered.
"You're pointing to folks outside of the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ that are putting on their wives, that are putting on their daughters something other that Christianity in this respect."
Grady’s assertion that male dominance is a result of Adam and Eve’s sin drew ire from the Berean leaders, who argued that Adam was created before Eve and was intended to be dominant. 1 Timothy 2, in which Paul endorses female subjugation on account of Eve’s sin, was quickly cited as evidence. One pastor called Grady’s ideas “theologically irresponsible” at the 9:11 mark.
"I think if he was saying that the male role leadership was corrupted after the fall, or was made more difficult after the fall, that would be accurate, but to say that the male leadership role was not until after the fall is entirely inaccurate and theologically irresponsible."
Sean Harris painted a glorified picture of patriarchal marriage at the 9:55 mark, arguing that the relationship between a dominant husband and wife mirrors that of Adam and Eve.
"In this case, he seems to argue that we need to understand that God's plan was never to have Adam in charge, but we would completely disagree with that. We would say that Adam is a picture of the coming Christ, the leader of the church, the king of the church, and that the bride is the picture of Eve and he glorious relationships is when the husband and wife get it right, and it becomes this picture of the gospel."
Predictably, one of the pastors disapproved of Grady’s attention to violence against women, complaining that Grady neglected women’s sins at the 12:11 mark. He seemed to forget that women are far more likely to be abused than men, preferring to categorize domestic violence as just another form of sin.
"He hasn't mentioned the sin of the ladies or the females in this at all, and it's a terrible thing that the male sin seems to show itself through this domination that he is clearly showing, and we would agree with that that this is a problem, not to minimize that in any way, but it's both sides are sinners. Both sides are the ones that have struggles with sin."
These men need a dose of reality. According to the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 35.6% of female respondents reported experiencing physical violence, rape, and/or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lives. A report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics states that in 45% of female homicide cases in 2007, the female victim was murdered by a spouse, ex-spouse, or romantic partner. Whether the Berean leaders want to admit it or not, mistreatment of women IS an American problem. It is not just another sin, but a social pathology born of misogyny that has destroyed countless lives. By failing to confront patriarchy and misogyny, the Berean leaders are refusing to confront the roots of male violence against women.

J. Lee Grady’s column could have been a opportunity for the Berean leaders to meaningfully address spousal abuse in their congregation. Instead, they seemed more concerned about defending male dominance and deflecting attention and responsibility off of violence in their own culture. Instead of recognizing violence against women as a scourge in their own community, the men envisioned it as a problem over there, in foreign cultures.

How do you reach men who cling to patriarchal power so tightly that they cannot see its evils? With men like this at the helm of some churches, I worry for any abused women in their congregations.

To listen to Berean Baptist Church sermons, visit www[dot]bereanbaptistchurch[dot]org/media-audio.php


  1. You should be worried for them. You don't reach these people. They are in denial and may even be perpetrating violence against their own spouses. Using my own situation as an example, my former spouse still doesn't acknowledge what he did. He is indignant that he's been "labeled" an abuser and denies it to the hilt. Don't get me wrong, he knows what he did, but he has a public face to wear. So do these men.

    1. D'Ma -- I'm sorry to hear that your spouse abused you, and I'm glad you're away from him. Yet another reminder of how dangerous these attitudes can be in real life.

  2. There's nothing for you to be sorry for, Ahab. Thanks for the sentiment, but I'm out and I'm glad I'm out. It happened and I don't dwell on it except to learn from it. I'm not wearing it as a badge of honor or out to get sympathy, BUT it makes me much more aware of the attitudes and behaviors of others. I only hope I can use what happened to me to help someone else.

  3. Wow, that is a great column. How refreshing. However the responses were predictable, I'm afraid.

    1. Donna -- Predictable AND revealing. It's hard to know what to do with men like this.

  4. I think D'Ma is right...it's hard to reach a man who is already committed to that vision of gender roles.

    I hold out hope, that keeping these sort of issues on the front burner, will help men like me. I started down the road of the whole gender role/ male dominance trip. But I had many red flags, as I read or heard about abuses caused by this sort of thinking.

    Even when I was still a committed Christian, I had completely renounced any form of male dominance in marriage. It didn't mean I had all the answers, but our relationship was so much better without the gender role checklist to try and maintain.

    post faith....it just seems so middle ages that we are still discussing whether women can lead or be equal to a man. I think the almost shrill tone in this debate from Patriarchal leaders, may be an indication that they are losing followers.

    1. Christian Agnostic -- 'Shrill' is a good word for their tone. Their indignant feelings are almost palpable, but they still need to realize it's the 21st century.

      I'm happy to hear that you rejected this sort of sexism!

  5. J. Lee Grady authored the book 10 Lies the Church Tells Women; How the Bible has been misused to keep women in spiritual bondage. I just pulled it off my bookshelf as I considered using it as a reference for my own comment on another blog.

    Trying to get through to the men (and actually many of the women) in the patriarchal systems is like trying to convince a member of the Christian Science belief that it's okay to go for the hospital if you are sick.


    1. Zoe -- I may need to look into Grady's other works. He sounds fairly open-minded.


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