The Roy Moore scandal -evangelical misogyny

One of the more horrifying examples of American evangelical culture has, thankfully, not yet reached our shores. I am referring to habit of some evangelical parents to release their daughters for marriage in their mid-teens to a groom who may be twice their age. This apparently is one of the ideas put out by Christian lecturers on the home-schooling network in the southern states of the USA. This institutionalised child abuse is part of the background which we need to understand when hearing about the accusations being made against the Senate nominee, Judge Roy Moore. He is accused by three women of molestation when they were underage. Many Republicans both Christian and not, are horrified at these allegations and want him removed from the ballot paper. Others, who are accustomed to the existence of very early marriage by girls of godly evangelical families, see nothing unusual in his behaviour. This is the way that things are done in the American Christian bible-believing South. The argument goes that if a girl is chosen young, she will be amenable to being more easily trained up to be a good obedient Christian wife. She will other words fulfil her task of complete subservience and conformity and this is in accordance to an ideal of Christian womanhood.

This blog post is in many ways an overlap and continuation with the last one. But the topic raised helps us further to emphasise the appalling mindset which some biblical Christians absorb as part of their formation. Most of my readers will have already anticipated my objections to this way of thinking. In the name of Christianity half of humanity is considered somehow more godlike if the maturing process is terminated halfway through the teens. They are not expected to develop any further. Things like skills, interests, academic training and maturity of character are all supressed. All that they are good for is to bear children, worship a man and try to please him in every way possible.

I have been trying to imagine how these ‘godly’ marriages develop over the years. In the first place the wife, totally dedicated to the needs of her husband, will have a very limited understanding of her own needs and desires. She will not, for example, have developed any outside interests beyond that of caring for the home. Her children will grow up without experiencing much from her in the area of life experience. Even when the children leave home the mother may still be in her forties and the marriage could then settle into a state of extreme apathy. What will such a couple find to talk about? I would expect that in some cases a wife trapped in such a situation would try to escape such a marriage. The obscenity of the original marriage arrangement was so appalling that it is hard not to applaud a woman who chooses to walk away. A woman trapped in this kind of patriarchal relationship is like a member of a cult, unable to think or feel for herself. The cultic mind-set that has been absorbed over the years may in fact make a breaking away very hard to achieve.

A further reason for encouraging these very young women to marry is that they fulfil another ideal of evangelical thinking – that of sexual purity. It is difficult to know what is the ideal in a Christian context for sexual behaviour before marriage, but enslavement to an older man at the age of 15 or 16 cannot be a proper answer. Whatever we think about sex before marriage the case for equality between men and women must be made loudly and vocally. The institutions in the church which seem to encourage a state of inequality must be scrutinised and exposed for their hidden misogyny. As a long-time supporter of the ordination of women I am becoming increasingly impatient at the way that such misogyny is being buried under apparently sophisticated theological argument. One hopes that the court of public opinion will eventually completely outlaw areas of inequality that still exist in parts of the church. While we do not tolerate Alabama Christian traditions towards women, we still have our own cultural battles to fight against forces which discriminate against women in the church.

Child marriages for religious reasons do not exist in this country, but we must continue to resist the kind of thinking that makes such an institution possible. In the meantime, let us hope that the liberal backlash in the States against Judge Moore continues. These ugly forms of child abuse supported by fundamentalist readings of Scripture must be defeated. Women of every age and background deserve better. Nothing in the words of Jesus supports the idea of women being subordinate to men. The enforced subservience of women over the centuries seems to have been a way to flatter men and help them to retain their sense of importance and power. Let us strive to preserve equality and mutuality between the sexes. This will require us to challenge the misogyny of past centuries especially in societies and places where it has become deeply entrenched.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

8 thoughts on “The Roy Moore scandal -evangelical misogyny

  1. Two questions and are they significantly related,
    Is the subservience of wives to their husbands assumed in the Bible?
    Do Christian young people have pressure put on them to marry other Christians?

  2. The answer to the first question is that entire ancient world seems to have bought into the subservience of women, children and slaves. But there is one rather glorious exception – Jesus. Paul sometimes grasped this mutuality between the sexes and sometimes not.

    In answer to the second there is evidence that many independent congregations insist that you marry within the congregation and that all marriages must be vetted by the leaders. In one case I heard of recently this can cause massive unhappiness and the young man concerned is still unmarried and deeply sad about his ever finding happiness. The church first encouraged and then forbade a particular relationship. Because the congregation was not large there were relatively few options for him.

    Back to your first question. Even if a case were made for Jesus supporting the subservience of women, we ourselves are not living in that 1st century society. We owe to ourselves to trust that freedom and mutuality for both sexes is one of the many truths that HS has led us to over the centuries. The HS shall lead you into all truth. The full humanity of women is one of those truths. It should be added to another important modern truth that slavery is repugnant and nothing in the bible can overrule this insight.

  3. Yes, subservience of women to their husbands is generally assumed in the Bible and the ancient world. However, God told Abraham to do what his wife Sarah told him to (Gen. 21:12) and none of the patriarchs’ wives seems to have been exactly a doormat, they were strong women.

    The judge Deborah, who was married, ruled the whole land including (presumably) her husband. Huldah was a prophet who advised the king. St. Paul’s first priority was to preach the gospel, and in order no tot offend unnecessarily he took care to operate within the cultural norms of each city he visited. I believe his own convictions are clear in his statement that ‘in Christ there is no Jew nor Greek, no male or female, no slave or free, but we are all one in Christ Jesus’. This is borne out in his many references to women as co-workers in the gospel. Priscilla is given precedence over her husband in the teaching role; Phoebe is a deacon; Junia is ‘noted among the apostles’.

    I have heard evangelicals defending the submission of women by referring to the curse in Gen 3. However, they don’t use the same passage to forbid the use of labour-saving devices on farms, medical care of women giving birth, and medical research to treat and prevent diseases. They are also ignoring all the biblical evidence that women did indeed take leadership roles.

    It’s clearly a case of looking for verses that justify their oppression of women, rather than genuinely taking their lead from the Bible.

  4. I was thinking about the purity thing just the other day. Rhetorical question, but why is it important for women to be pure, but not men? And the corollary, does a man who thinks like that, somehow believe that a married woman has been corrupted? The child sex thing is repugnant, but many states in the US do not have a minimum age for marriage. And unfortunately, Islam has very young marriages, too.

  5. The early church were very keen on their virgin martyrs and I was reading about a child in recent history only 11 who resisted rape and achieved beatification. If the rape had been successful, would that have made a difference? I don’t recall the name. Purity, virginity and avoidance of sex are deeply entwined in Christian thinking. I do not profess to be able to untangle it all. Somewhere celibacy for the clergy in the RC church fits in. There is a lot to studied here and I am not sure if I have the energy to unpack it all. The classic word for the supposed virtue is chastity. That links all these ideas together , especially in the time of the Fathers and in mediaeval thinking. Conservatives today have picked up some of these ideas.

  6. I would totally agree that misogyny and patriarchy are a part of evangelicalism. Obviously that latter word describes a diverse branch of the church. In America, there is a large fundamentalist movement, where homeschooling is popular. Views on gender roles within some parts of that will be quite extreme.

    But mainstream evangelicals are also against women. The huge Southern Baptist Convention does not allow women pastors. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is dedicated to promoting female subordination. And The Gospel Coalition, the main evangelical umbrella organisation in America, takes the same approach. Many of the great and good in evangelicalism are associated with these bodies. Some people argue against women in leadership roles in wider society (John Piper’s comments here are somewhere notorious).

    In England, things are not quite as bad. Other than perhaps some small fringe groups, we don’t really have a fundamentalist movement to speak of. Decades ago, Margaret Thatcher put paid to the idea that women can’t be leaders. Anglicans, Baptists, Pentecostals, and Methodists ordain women. A number of bishops are now women. But still, there are significant sections of British evangelicalism that restrict women’s roles. The main ones are the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC) and the conservative evangelical grouping within the Church of England. Perhaps, together, they amount to a third of our evangelicals, but they regard themselves as the true expression of Christianity. Their passionate rejection of egalitarian readings of scripture suggests that forces beyond theology are involved.

    1. The CofE does ordain women. But it also still ordains men who don’t think they should. The trouble with that is that a Parish can become the sort of place where women are expected to produce only babies and scones. It’s dreadfully hurtful to women who feel called. I have even known cases where a new evangelical vicar gets rid of female Readers already in post. And what sort of model is he giving to the children in his congregation? Would the sort of casual prejudice the Church shows to women all the time be acceptable if they showed the same to gays? There is a conversation about girl choristers in the Church Times. Most don’t get their school fees as the boys do. Why isn’t someone taking them to court?

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