Facing a Holy Sucker Punch

Facing a Holy Sucker Punch

I remember sitting in the adequately comfortable chair near the back; I always sat by myself in those days, and near the back with the new moms who needed to be able to sneak out at the slightest whimper from the mushy newborn clutched to her chest.

The church resembled a warehouse with rows and rows of the grey-blue chairs and trendy, exposed light bulbs hanging over the stage. This was the second time I tried to be Southern Baptist. I crash-landed both times. The doctrine triggered my perfectionistic, legalistic tendencies, which have always lurked just below the surface.

But I liked the way the pastor spoke; he was intelligent, articulate, and passionate. I don’t remember what the sermon was about that day, but I remember his tone and his words as he made a curious side comment. He was using violence against women in order to illustrate some point in his sermon.

“I don’t agree with anything about feminism except that men are the problem.”

It was nice that he acknowledged violence against women as a real problem, but this wasn’t the first time he had uttered the word “feminism” with such derision. He made it clear that he believed feminism and Christianity were incompatible.

I never had the courage to ask the pastor about his comment, to confront him and probe his meaning a bit more. I didn’t want to be accused of not believing the Bible. I wanted to ask him about issues like equal pay, about the women who had fought for the right to vote, and the women responsible for his wife and daughter’s legal right to run businesses, have bank accounts, and own property. I wanted to know how his views of feminism translated to the women who might never marry.

But I didn’t. I liked my quiet place in the back row too much. I rode out my time in that city and moved on when I graduated.

The comment might seem innocuous, and maybe it was in many ways, but that sort of comment in the right ears sounds like license to treat women as sub-human. The primary tenet of feminism is equality, not superiority of either gender.

This type of comment discounts the work and words of women who don’t have a husband to stand behind. It sounds like the rhetoric that has been used to control women for centuries. It sounds like exactly the kind of excuse that has perpetuated much of the abuse and misogyny that has been surfacing in the Southern Baptist Convention.

As a single woman attending an unofficially Southern Baptist Church, I lived in fear of stepping out of line and losing my place at the table. I attended a community group, led by a man I knew and liked but who clearly didn’t have the time, energy, or desire to lead the group. I saw a man on the brink of burn out.

I would have loved the opportunity. I am, if I may say, skilled in leading biblical discussion, and I enjoy it. Instead, because of the strict complementarianism of the SBC, the men I saw were vastly over-taxed. Their wives were “co-leaders,” but could only lead discussion if we split up by gender. But for those of us who were not wives? I suppose I could have been a leader in the children’s ministry, but trust me no one wanted that.

Misogyny is infectious, passing the promised high of power and authority to men, then leaving them hungry for more. Men have been told explicitly and implicitly by many in leadership that, as men, they are divinely given more authority and dominion than a woman. This removes the boundaries that God gave us in the Garden—the equal partnership of dominion and stewardship of creation.

The more any of us try to cling to our perceived power and superiority, the more sin and brokenness it spawns. Sin thrives in darkness. We have a primal desire to cover what brings shame, and protect ourselves from exposure. It goes all the way back to the first sin, actually. Adam and Eve hid for the first time and covered themselves with fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). 

It is tempting to reach for the fig leaves. Maybe if we just cover it up, if we ignore our sin, it will just go away. But God doesn’t work like that. He is a God of justice. He brings light to the utter darkness, and he lets us be part of bringing shalom back, one ray of light at a time.

While the reckoning that is happening in the SBC right now may be painful, it is a profound act of grace for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. We are called to participate in the restoration of all things, including ourselves. Sometimes God’s grace is like a warm embrace, but sometimes it is more like a holy sucker punch. Christ speaks surgically to the heart of our brokenness and we are winded by the revelation of our deepest shame.

Sometimes we are the woman at the well, and other times we are the Pharisee.

We believe in a God who is vastly more mysterious and far better than we will be able to comprehend. The good news that we profess is, all at once, personal, relational, systemic, cosmic, and divine. In fact, this same Southern Baptist Church that I attended taught me to constantly challenge my assumptions about the Bible and the value of checking my visceral reactions to Scripture that rubs me the wrong way.

I believe the church that taught me that lesson is more than capable of facing the holy sucker punch brought on by the #metoo movement and grieving its complicity in abuse and oppression. We follow a God whose first act of creation was to bring light into the utter darkness, and who continues to do so when we cry out to him.

“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness, and broke away their chains. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron” (Psalm 107: 13-16, NIV).

Photo credit: Serhat Beyazkaya

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