"Breaking Free" From Beth Moore, And Women In The Church
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;
-- 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 (ESV)
-- 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 (ESV)
Women, you are a treasure.
That verse isn't talking about just women, obviously, but there are times where women in the church feel like, as a jar of clay, they are getting broken to bits not by God but by man.
In recent months, I've started the process of writing another book. This will be my third, and will be tentatively about my experiences blogging for twenty years, the stories that arose from that experience, and so on. Part of that will be about theoblogging (faith blogging), which unfortunately contains some of the ugliest stories and experiences of the lot.
In preparing and researching for this book, I've been reading books (many about women and the church, as that is a key issue in theoblogging), finding old blog posts and comment threads from years back, and trying to dig up and remember what some of that theoblogging was like; I'd effectively walked away from it and tried to forget about it, but the last couple of months has been a deep dive into what is, frankly, an ugly realm. (Hence why I left Twitter.)
It's an ugly realm, because it's a classic case of hideous behavior against women on the internet, except this time it's got theology and "faith" to justify that behavior. It is as ugly and disgusting as I remember it, and it's bringing to mind exactly why I walked away from it.
Heresy Hunters And The SBC
It's pretty easy to see the pattern of how some theobloggers (mostly male, and women who agree with their ideology) hunt for "heretics":
- Are you a woman, and/or do you think women can teach adult men?
- Are you a Pentecostal/Charismatic?
Let's delve into those two questions, though, because the desire to dominate women is as old as the Fall.
The woman question.In researching for this book, I've stumbled onto blogs talking about the abuse and dismissal of women in the Southern Baptist denomination (SBC). What I read shocked me, as was the realization of how ingrained the SBC is in the general culture in some regions of the U.S. (e.g. the south).
The SBC is complementarian in their belief, which means that they believe that while men and women are of equal value before God, each sex has different roles and, as it happens, women are not to lead, preach, take authority of any shape over a man, and so on. They tend to use phraseology such as "men and women have equal value, but women should graciously submit to the servant leadership of men" which, when parsed into concrete action, is often ugly, particularly in the hands of a man who has an authoritarian bent. What a single childless woman does in the SBC is beyond me; I would have no place there. The flip side is the egalitarian approach, in which men and women are of equal value before God, as well as equally gifted by God; women can lead, preach, etc.
That is a very crude summation of both positions, and there are extremes to both as well as middle ground. I'd encourage you, if you were curious, to dig deeper into the beliefs. This is something that will come up in my book, most likely, because this all plays into how women are received online.
The SBC has a huge influence on this country (which isn't all bad -- I know great people and teachers from the SBC) not just geographically, but through their many Lifeway materials and Bible studies used in churches across all denominations, through Beth Moore (we'll get to her in a minute) and other popular women teachers, and through online ventures such as The Gospel Coalition. I've been blessed by many SBC materials, but I'm also cautious because I know that it is written with the idea that women have a place (you will never see a Lifeway Bible study written by a woman that doesn't assume the people using the Bible study are anything but women--it will refer to readers as "sisters" or "girlfriend" or "girl"--because SBC men aren't supposed to be taught by a woman) and in recent years has a strange Calvinistic slant.
Despite that exposure, I've never been part of a SBC church, never grew up in that culture or theology, and am surprised when I read women tell of their experiences.
My experience in the church in real life has never been one of being dismissed or pushed down because I am a woman. I've been in the Assembly of God denomination my whole life, and while there are always exceptions and each individual church might behave differently, the Assembly of God position on women is that they can lead, teach, and be a pastor. In general, the Pentecostal/Charismatic denominations tend to allow women much more freedom in this area, because the Holy Spirit pours out on all flesh, not just males. I am accustomed to seeing women preach and teach, traveling women evangelists holding services, and women teaching the adult Sunday school classes. I've always felt completely free to participate in everything at church, from my young years on up to adulthood. No one has come to me and said "you can't do that because you're a woman."
I'm discovering that this is quite rare.
After reading about the SBC women experience (readers, some are pretty bad and truly shocked me), and some of the more outrageous things done and said to women, I can only thank God for his graciousness that I grew up completely unaware that there were people who thought women couldn't fully use the gifts the Holy Spirit gives, and for putting men in my life who didn't say "you can't participate in this conversation because you're a woman" or "you can't teach because you're a woman." I literally did not realize anyone thought I couldn't do something based on my sex until I went to college. I was incredibly naive, but incredibly blessed; I have zero baggage in that area.
In fact, the only places I've experienced male ridiculousness of that nature has been outside the church, which is, I think, a very good picture of the intended freedom of Christ and how it contrasts with the world.
The Charismatic question.Once you move past the question of sex, the next question has to do with whether you are Charismatic (and a variety of other theology terms that I won't delve into right now).
The theobloggers that are dismissive towards women who have gifts for teaching and leading are also generally extremely derisive about Charismatics, assuming we are all heretics, uneducated, seeking experiences only, idiots, and worse, painting us with the broadest brush possible. This is not just the low-level bloggers who do this, mind you. Big names like John MacArthur take swipes of this nature at Charismatics as well (please read that link; it's long and is a review of one of MacArthur's books, but in it the author succinctly covers the main accusations leveled at Charismatics and shows a full picture).
It would not surprise me to see women (and some men) leaving the denominations that refuse to let them fully use the gifts the Holy Spirit has given them, and end up in Charismatic or similar circles. In some sense, I feel sadness because I have seen Christians leave the faith for sketchy modern pablum versions that lack holiness or acknowledgement of sin because, after years of subjugation and abuse, their view of Christianity became twisted. They weren't after easy-believism. They were just tired of those "in authority" giving the green light to oppression which is not what Christ is about. I'm not a flag-waver of denominations, but I'll be honest and admit I've made the decision to never attend an SBC church for any length of time because there is no place for me. When God puts a calling on your life, there is no excuse to not obey. Denominational policy excuses won't hold water when I stand before God.
The Beth Moore Problem?
There seems to be a lot of anti-Beth Moore blogging and discussion happening in the theoblogging world by the strains of people described above, so she must be doing something right to be so under attack.
I'll admit I'm not a huge fan of women's ministries because I'm single, I don't have kids, and I get weary hearing about childbirth, daycare, children, diapers, husbands, and so on. I also get weary about how so many women's Bible studies seem to assume that only women are in attendance and that all women are these broken emotionally distraught humans whose lives are in absolute disarray. It often seemed like it was emotional appeal instead of mind appeal, and I like to learn. I was never much for "girly" things, and so women's ministry events have always felt weird and unappealing to me, whether that was a true take on them or not.
Several years ago, Beth Moore came to Fargo. My mom invited my sisters and I to go. I hadn't been terribly interested in Moore before, but I could tell it meant something to my mom, so I went with her and one of my sisters. It was such a special weekend--and God flipped a switch in my heart about some things. For the next two years I started Bible studies that we'd do over the internet so my mom, sisters, and other friends around the region could participate. We'd discuss the studies in email, watch the videos online, do the study guides -- it was good. From that, I began to move onto more and more Bible study of my own, and different kinds of research.
It was yet again an example of how God puts an incident or moment in my life to set me on a particular trajectory. Years ago I read Chuck Colson's book Born Again and that set me on a trajectory. Last year it was an Answers In Genesis newsletter. I've had this happen since then, moments where, after the fact, I can see God clearly at work (God is so awesome!). So, the Beth Moore conference, and Beth Moore herself, was something God used in a particular way in my life at that moment.
Though I loathe to even link to the blog and get on their radar (they weren't around when I left theoblogging), Pulpit & Pen has made it their link bread-and-butter to target Beth Moore. I worked in internet marketing and content marketing for years; I know how the game works and what they are doing. It's less the Lord's work and more the link's work (i.e. building and maintaining a platform and income, rather than talking about what God wants you to talk about).
Their approach is novel: find women who used to like Beth Moore but now don't, as if having women say they are against Beth Moore is hard proof (woman dismissing woman, while ironically dismissing men who say that women can lead). The title is usually "Susie Breaks Free From Beth Moore" or "Peggy Sue Breaks Free From Beth Moore" -- I have to laugh when I read these types of blog posts. Beth Moore didn't put them in bondage. As sinners, we tend to wander into it on our own.
The writers use a standard approach that I could easily fisk if I wanted to. Basically, they say they have been set "free" from Beth Moore using the following arguments:
- Beth Moore uses overly emotional and feminine language and I don't identify with it so it's wrong and heretical.
- Beth Moore thinks God speaks to her so that's heretical because God doesn't speak anymore.
- Beth Moore constantly uses her personal experience in her studies instead of just using the Bible and that's bad.
- Beth Moore teaches men.
- My husband or some other male helped show me the error of Beth Moore.
- I'm no longer a sycophant of Beth Moore. I now follow true teachers.
- Style Preference: I don't care for the girly language either, but that's preferential and not a reason to view a teacher as heretical. I ignore that and focus on the meat of the teaching. That complaint is a preference, an excuse people use to leave churches or the faith ("I didn't like the guitars in the worship band").
- God Still Speaks: The Holy Spirit resides in all believers, and you can bet your bottom dollar God is still at work. When I say that God "spoke" to me or directed me to do something, which is what Beth Moore will often describe, it doesn't mean I'm trying to add to the canon of scripture. It's in moments where, for example, I'm in a store and I feel specific direction to go talk to someone, or I feel that I am to give a specific amount of money to a specific person--the Spirit leads us. As Moore will point out, God directing and speaking to us today doesn't contradict His Word. So the claims that Moore is heretical because she thinks God talks to her is actually an indictment on most Christians who read the Bible and pray and, while out and about in their lives or even while reading the scriptures, are nudged and prodded by the Spirit to do or understand something. Often these articles will hint that "God doesn't speak to me so Moore is making it up", to which I might say that if your shtick is that God doesn't speak to us anymore, maybe that disbelief is why you will never hear Him.
- Personal Testimony: The Bible encourages us, repeatedly, that we share our testimony, that we share what God has done in us. Moore does that. Often. So do many Christians. My mom's favorite Bible passage is 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, which talks about how God can use the difficult things we've been through to comfort others. Now, how do you suppose we might do that if we can't share our personal experiences and testimony? Beth Moore shares her experiences so that others might gain comfort from the example.
- Teaching Men: Obviously I don't think this is heretical, as described earlier, but the reality is that Moore targets her studies and conferences to women. If men are in the room, put it on them if this is such a big deal for you. It's a bizarre catch-22 that you'd say a woman who is intending to preach to women and can't be in authority over men is responsible for the men in the room. Is she supposed to take authority and tell them to leave? Good grief -- there is no satisfying such people. Shake the dust off and move on.
- You Are Responsible: Women, you are responsible for your walk with God and your relationship with Christ. When you stand before God on the Day of the Lord, you can't use the excuse of your husband's beliefs. Acts 17:11 was a verse that impacted me as a youth, when I heard an evangelist preach on it. I -- I -- was to be checking the Bible to see if what I heard was the truth. Not checking a blog. Not checking with my husband. Not checking with what other Calvinists were telling me was heretical or not. Not gathering up a collection of sanctioned preachers on YouTube and seeing what they had to say. Me and God's Word, praying that the Holy Spirit would help me understand.
- Stop Following People: I don't think Beth Moore wants sycophants. She wants you to follow Jesus, not her. But if your inclination is to be a sycophant, dumping Beth Moore and becoming a sycophant of someone else's blog or podcast is still a problem. It's not a spiritual win, just because a new crowd (mostly male) applauds you and gives you space on their blog to guest post. Check out 1 Corinthians 3:1-7 and tell me again how you're no longer a follower of Apollos.
No one would ever accuse Beth Moore (or Priscilla Shirer, who is also sometimes targeted like this) of not pointing to Jesus. She is ALWAYS pointing people back to Jesus. If you don't like their style, admit that you don't like their style instead of trying to wrap it in holier-than-thou exegetical expository hermeneutical Calvinistic name-dropping drivel.
Beth Moore is no stranger to this excessive online harassment from "Christian" men. She has been targeted endlessly for several years. Recently she wrote an article about her experience as a woman around Evangelical men (she is in the SBC). There were many negative responses (this one is probably the worst in attitude, writing skills, fruit of the Spirit, and logic). I'm not interested in the tone police or the grammar police, but some of the responses were blatantly anti-Christ.
For Such A Time As This
For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this? -- Esther 4:14 (NASB)
This isn't the tightly written blog post I prefer to publish, coming instead from a tumble of reading and research for an upcoming book. Let me just end by saying this: God loves his daughters.
Single ones, married ones, childless ones, those with families, old, young, all shapes, all sizes, all colors. He loves us, and intended us to do more than only make sandwiches in the kitchen. We are created in His image, beautiful, capable, gifted, and intended to fully do His work on this earth. Men and women together give us the full image of God.
He never intended his daughters to be the target of abuse, objectification, silencing, hamstringing, and outright exclusion. He gave his daughters minds and strength and talent. The Holy Spirit was poured out on them equally, and has gifted them with the same spiritual gifts as the men.
For centuries, the struggle for women to step out on the path God laid out for them, the path the Holy Spirit equipped them for, has been a difficult and sometimes impossible one. For centuries women have experience varied levels of brutal assault, objectification, derision, patronization, and systemic dismissal.
Something is changing.
I've watched the #MeToo movement with mixed feelings. Some of it is good, some is not; this is a secular movement and there are things going on with it that are over-corrections that often happen in feminist movements that try to elevate women over men instead of achieve true equality of opportunity, and flourishing of life, and spiritual and intellectual pursuits.
At the core of that secular #MeToo movement, however, is the truth that sooner or later, our sins are brought to light. As the movement bleeds into the church and the dismissal, objectification, and abuse of women and children are exposed, I only mourn that that abuse has been happening for so long, that powerful leaders have allowed it or even theologically tried to justify it, and I welcome the exposure of this abuse. Let the powerful fall, let reputations and facades and structures that permitted the abuse crumble to deserving dust. Let the bonds that have held women back for so long be broken. Those bonds and systems and structures are nothing in the light of God, who loves his daughters, too. Let God do His purifying work.
My hope is to see a generation of women raised up and used in a powerful way for God in these last days. Not women who want to see men crushed or denigrated, but holy women who love God, are deep in His Word, and are filled with the Spirit who will stop at nothing to preach the Gospel. Women who obey the call of God even if they are afraid, women who will stand and proclaim the Gospel even if men try to tell them that they aren't allowed to do so.
My hope is also to see Christian men walk alongside them, with the mind of Christ, full of love, equally submitting and obedient to God, as equal partners in the Kingdom.
Let the rest burn away.
I will probably be adding to this list as I continue to read and research for this book, and even after. If you have a recommendation, please feel free to let me know. Not everything on the listed blogs is something I necessarily agree with, but it is worth reading to see a different picture of what is going on. As always, take it to God's word and to God in prayer.
- The Handmaidens Conspiracy: How Erroneous Bible Translations Obscured the Women's Empowerment Movement STARTED by JESUS CHRIST, by Donna Lee Howell (this book is excellent)
- Ten Lies The Church Tells Women: How the Bible Has Been Misused to Keep Women in Spiritual Bondage, by John Lee Grady
- What's With Paul And Women? by Jon Zens and Wade Burleson
- The Truth Sets Women Free: 25 Tough Questions About Women and the Church, by John Lee Grady
- Fearless Daughters of the Bible: What You Can Learn from 22 Women Who Challenged Tradition, Fought Injustice and Dared to Lead, by John Lee Grady
- Istoria Ministries Blog, by Wade Burleson
- Wartburg Watch Blog