Conservative Christianity Openly Sexist Now, as it was Openly Racist Then

Little_Rock_integration_protest

“If we would just listen to the Word of God and not try to overthrow God’s established order, we would not have nay trouble.” 

Does this statement sound like a conservative Christian statement concerning gender roles?

It was actually said by conservative Christian, Bob Jones, in April of 1960 concerning the segregation of blacks and whites in America.

Jones was absolutely certain that the separation of races was biblical and to allow blacks and whites to attend the same schools together was not Christian, not biblical, and even satanic (Source URL: http://www.drslewis.org/camille/2013/03/15/is-segregation-scriptural-by-bob-jones-sr-1960/).

Jones pointed to Acts 17:26 as “clear” evidence that God intended every race to stick with their own kind.

“From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.”

Jones, along with many conservative Christians at that time, believed that blacks and whites were equally valuable in God’s sight, but different. Jones was the founder of Bob Jones University and he did not want black people attending his college. It is evident that Bob Jones was a racist who used the Bible to fit his personal agenda.

Can the same be said about complementarian leaders, but in the area of sexism?

If you are unaware, complementarian leaders teach that men and women are equally valuable in God’s sight as image bearers, but they are designed by God to function in different roles. The role of the man is to lead and the role of the woman is to submit.

In 2015, leader and co-founder of complementarianism, John Piper, was asked by a woman if she, as a complementarian woman, could pursue a career as a police officer. Piper gave her a round-about “no” and here were his reasoning’s in his own words:

“To the degree that a woman’s influence over a man, guidance of a man, leadership of a man, is personal and a directive, it will generally offend a man’s good, God-given sense of responsibility and leadership, and thus controvert God’s created order (Source).

Sound familiar?

It seems clear that when some conservative Christian white men, who hold influence, want to exclude, control, and limit other human beings based off race or gender, they are quick to point to “God’s created order” and their sinfully warped versions of what is “biblical.”

Bob Jones continues,

You cannot be superior to another race if your race is in the will of God and the other race is in the will of God. But the purposes of these races were established by almighty God; and when man attempts to run contrary to the directive will of God for this world, there is always trouble.”

The self proclaimed complementarian, “Council of Biblical Manhood & Womanhood” lays out the following affirmations (http://cbmw.org/about/danvers-statement/):

  1. Both Adam and Eve were created in God’s image, equal before God as persons and distinct in their manhood and womanhood.
  2. Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order, and should find an echo in every human heart.

In other words, this organization has made it their primary mission to convince the Church that men are not superior to women in worth, but that men and women are purposed by God to fulfill different roles, and to ignore this idea is to ignore “God’s created order.”

The problem is that complementarians always give men the superior roles of authority in the home, church, and according to Piper, even in societal jobs. Therefore, women who sense a call to leadership in any of these realms are discriminated against if a complementarian man has any influence.

Creation order should hold no authority in this debate when we consider the fact that God created animals before God created humans in the Genesis account. If creation order mattered when it comes to the question of “who is in charge,” then animals should be in charge of humans.

Let’s take a look at another similarity between Bob Jone’s teachings about segregation in 1960 and John Piper’s teachings about gender roles.

Jones states,

‘”Well,” you say, “The colored folks have not been treated right.” I agree with you.” 

Piper states in 2012,

“Complementarians acknowledge and lament the history of abuses of women personally and systemically, and the present evils globally and locally in the exploitation and diminishing of women and girls (Source).

It is evident that both Jones and Piper know that people of color and girls & women have been abused and continue to be abused today, but still call for an unhealthy distinction of “purpose.”

It is evident that men and women are different in some general ways, but to cause a division among the two by focusing on their supposed “different roles” is to empower the already powerful and weaken the vulnerable. It is sexist in its purest form; just as it was racist in 1960.

Just as Bob Jones did not know he was being racist when he delivered that sermon 56 years ago, John Piper and all complementarians do not know that they are being sexist in 2016 by limiting women from leadership opportunities, not permitting women to be church leaders/elders or pastors, discouraging women from becoming police officers, and maintaining their position that “husband headship” means that of “authority over.”

Embracing complementarianism as “biblical” and “Christian” means that women will always have the lower-level jobs (and lower-level pay) in the Church. This means that women who are not trained and ordained will have even lower level positions in the Church. “Equal but different roles” means “unequal opportunities and unequal pay,” which means men and women are not at all equal in worth or person-hood under this sneaky system.

Although we still see much racism today and we still have a long way to go in racial reconciliation between blacks and whites, segregation is illegal in the Untied States of America. Even Bob Jones University accepts people of color today.

It is my prediction that conservative Christians as a whole will someday begin to recognize that it is not biblical, just, or right to limit women due to their gender.

It is not right for churches to discriminate against women who are called to be church leaders/elders, Bible teachers, and pastors. It is not right for husbands to claim authority over wives, as if the humanity of a woman is less capable of directing and making critical decisions for the family unit with her husband.

I believe that most Christians, even conservative Christians, know this to be true deep in their guts, but are afraid of disobeying what they believe to be God’s Word.

The truth is that God’s Word should not rub against the consciences of so many Christian men and women because the Spirit of God lives within each of us. As the Church, the Body and Bride of Christ, let us unite to set girls and women free from our sexist interpretations of the Bible and embrace them as equals in both worth and spiritual authority. It is not too late to show the world that we can join forces and do what is right.

“The time is always right to do what is right.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Update: Please note that there is still profound racism against people of color happening in the USA today and this post is in no way meant to diminish that fact. As a white woman, I am aware that I write from a privileged place, but I advocate daily for the oppressed and marginalized. Please extend me grace if this post was in any way a negative trigger to your heart concerning the injustices and dangers you and your loved ones are facing. -Jory

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45 Comments

  • I disagree slightly. I think Bob Jones knew he was being racist and John Piper knows he’s being sexist. I also think that in the end, the twisted words will fall flat. Eventually, they’ll get the harm those views have, one way or another.

    • I agree, Julie. I believe everybody knew the Bob Jones issue was racist. Hey, remember the song we all used to sing in Sunday School: “Jesus loves the little children; all the children of the world; red and yellow, black and white; they are precious in His sight; except all the little black ones don’t need to attend this church.” Oh, wait, I might have changed those words just a bit, but that’s the attitude I remember in a lily-white area of a rural mid-western state. Even I, as a child, probably not even 10 years old, totally understood the ugliness of it. I am now 70+ and the racism still stings.

  • As always, I enjoyed your post. My church adds a twist. The language and actions come from a very complimentarian perspective. However, and they loudly point this out when questioned, women can teach from the pulpit and lead the women’s and children’s organizations (completely under male leadership and the male-only priesthood authority).

    It feels like a half-hearted effort to keep us in our place as well as something they point to say, “See you have these opportunities, quit complaining.”

    My spiritual journey is pulling me away from the only religion I have known over these issues…

  • Somebody correct my memory if necessary….but wasn’t it around 1970-ish that Bob Jones Univ. was going to have its tax exempt status taken away because they were not admitting African American students? Suddenly, they had a….uh….moment when they reconsidered their racist position. I think somebody who was a student at that time could speak to this. Wasn’t there also a requirement that dating then had to be along racial lines–probably it was one of those unwritten rules. Again perhaps something that a former student might speak to.

    • Dating was for sure required to be along racial lines there..I’m not sure about the tax exempt status…a former student may know this…but I know some former students and they were definitely not permitted to date across racial lines…and I don’t think it was an unwritten rule either…but may be wrong about that.

  • “racist” and “sexist” are both terms that may be described as “respect of persons” or favoritism…forbidden by James 2:9 and in opposition to the image of God in man and to God’s triune person as well. Therefore, while many say these arguments flow from culture, they actually point out that our culture, inasmuch as it is either racist or sexist is at war with God.

    The precept of Complementarian noted above:
    “Both Adam and Eve were created in God’s image, equal before God as persons and distinct in their manhood and womanhood.”

    …is slyly deceptive. There is no mention of distinction when Adam observed the woman…He NOTICED only that she is “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”…it was not the distinction he noticed out loud by the SIMILARITY.

    This emphasis is subtle and deceptive…similar to what Satan said…”yeah hath God said” I ask, Yeah doth the scripture say that the emphasis is to be on the DIFFERENCES or on the SIMILARITIES? Which of the two is more in line with the ways of God? To point out our differences which essentially become markers to status or seek our similarities and become like brethren?

    This alone shows which way is God’s way.

  • Jory, thank you for these true and brave words … I’ve read many writers who reference the similarities between racism/complementarianism, but this is such a thorough analysis of how the rhetoric compares. Wow. Praying for the church to wake up.

    • Thank you, Heidi. I think the Church will slowly but surely wake up and call complementarianism what it is -sexism.

    • I tend to respond, "why do you ask?". Sometimes they have a reasonable real question, but asked it in poorly worded way. Mostly, though, it gives them a minute to realize how inorapapripte the question is. And then I try to extricate myself from their presence as soon as possible.

  • A couple hours before I read this, I was thinking about how creepy and eye-opening it would be to replace the words “white people” with “men” and “black people” with “women” in racist quotes, and vice versa in complementarian quotes.

    Separate but equal is an oxymoron, regardless of where it’s touted.

  • I agree with Julie. I think both Bob Jones and John Piper know exactly what they are doing. In the case of Piper, I believe he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Possibly Bob Jones as well. The confusion clears up on the matter if you realize they are not true brethren. Jesus said they would know us by our love for one another. Racism and sexism is not love.

    Good post Jory.

  • The Bob Jones case with segregation didn’t get resolved till 1983, this was way more than “a few bad apples” the whole entire evangelical church segregated. This effected my family in a big way and Im sure it effected other African Americans and their families. This kind of attitude in church destroys peoples spirits out of 6 people in my family only one still goes to church.

  • To the discussion of what racist or complimentarians know, I would recall an old adage: “People don’t know what they don’t know.” If you live in communities steeped in this thinking and living before you, you are apt to be blind to what could be different. Also, institutions and lively hoods that rely on them are locked in and don’t change because they are interdependent. In this case God doesn’t bless “peace keepers” of the status quo. Instead He is calling out “justice makers”, the real “peace makers”! The prayers and actions of these Godly people is the work of warriors. Jory, thank you for being a violent “peace maker”, “justice chaser” in the Christian world of the 21st Century. I Praise God for you and pray for you.

  • The funny thing is that we all start off female in our mothers wombs…sometime shortly after the cooking starts, either a boat load of male hormones surges through the baby, or it doesn’t and it remains a baby girl for ever…hardly seems an adequate way to decide who gets to lead!

  • Excellent post, Jory! Thank you for writing about this. I was part of complementarian churches for years and honestly felt rebellious for holding an egalitarian view. For much of the time, I didn’t even know egalitarianism existed! I thought I made it up…HAHA!

    Finally, I came to a point of deciding to leave evangelicalism for the mainline because I couldn’t bear to sit through yet another sermon or study on male headship/female submission. Finally, I feel FREE!

    The thing that really bothers me about evangelical-complementarian environments is the lack of space created for debate. There is no room for biblical interpretation apart from the complementarian/literalist interpretation. To suggest that complementarianism is sexist is to be in rebellion against the Word of God. It shuts down the conversation before it can begin. You being blocked by that Christian blogging community yesterday is a perfect case in point! Quite frankly, that particular culture of Christianity squelched my spirit and suffocated my spirituality. I so admire you, Jory, for working for change from within. On behalf of my children–the next generation of the Church–I thank you!

  • I know this is an old post Jory, but thank you so much for the work that you do. I was raised Christian my entire life and have had a huge crises of faith for the past few years. My eyes were really opened to the sexism in Christianity (from trauma). I felt I had to decide to follow “Jesus” (their Jesus) or keep my spirit from dying. The bible became so distorted from the messages they were spouting that I truly hated the God I used to love and cling to so much. You have been my saving grace when I felt like giving up. Through a lot of this I realized, sometimes faith is bad and that should be taught more openly. Thank you.

    • Hi Kassie.

      Thank you so much for sharing. I am glad that you are finding your faith again. I too have gone through a crisis of faith over the sexism in the Church and struggled with my relationship with God due to it. But, Jesus is so gracious and saw women as His equals when we really read the Gospels and the Bible in correct context. Glad we are on this journey together. 🙂

  • I had no idea John Piper and Matt Chandler believed this crap. I’m deeply disappointed, considering all their pushing of “diversity” in the church. I guess women aren’t part of that. How very sad.

    • Yes, Heidi. It is painful to watch public figures exclude women. I have noticed that Matt Chandler has been moving a bit forward on this, though. He and his women’s pastor are teaching the Bible to both men and women together. I doubt he would allow her to preach without his “covering” (him standing beside her as a male authority), but at least there is some sign of including women there.

      • I saw that. I’m a member of one of his Acts 29 network churches. I wish he knew the dysfunction this doctrine causes in marriages. I see it first hand. He is so adamant about racial reconciliation and diversity. Part of me is holding out that he is too smart not to see the hypocrisy there. He is truly Piper’s protégé though. He may not ever break free from that. The only reason I stay is to minister to the women in my church.

        • Wow, I could not be in an Acts 29 church, but we do need people who are willing to stay in these churches and speak truth! Praying you witness truth to the women you are ministering too! Blessings!

  • There is no such thing as RACE…all humans are from the human race. “God has made of ONE blood all nations of the earth….the only difference is skin colour, otherwise we are all the same…blood and all. Why do people keep using this false term?

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