A Feminist and Chauvinist Try to Walk into a Bar

But Can't Resolve Who Goes in First

Who is Dr. Valerie Hobbs? She is a Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics at the University of Sheffield and a Fellow in Christianity and Language at the Greystone Theological Institute. She holds a B.A. from Covenant College, a M.A. from Georgia State University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Sheffield. On her University of Sheffield page she writes: "My primary research at present focuses on the discourse of conservative evangelical Christians, particularly the ways in which members of this community talk about gender roles..."

The first time I experienced Dr. Hobbs was reading her report of an Orthodox Presbyterian Church presbytery's handling of a judicial case (Women on Trial: One Observer's View), involving a minister whose wife, having physical problems, did not often attend church. (His conviction by the presbytery for failure to fulfill his duties was subsequently overturned by the General Assembly.)

Reading Dr. Hobbs's report of the case, I sensed that we agreed about the particular case (that the minister was not guilty of any offense regarding his wife's church attendance), but I also had concerns (Shootout in an O.P. Corral) about the philosophical/academic perspective which informed Dr. Hobbs's analysis and reporting of the trial.

I wrote:

There is something about Dr. Hobbs' paper that I noted in my first reading and have in every reading since that gives me concern...My concern is the academic framework that seems (to me clearly) to influence both her thoughts and her vocabulary... It appears that she is influenced to some (significant) degree by feminist scholarship in the fields of language and sociology. A few quotes taken from three sections of the article will show why I have this concern. She writes:
I am a linguist at the University of Sheffield, and so my interest was academic to some extent. For several years, I have been researching the kinds of language used by Reformed Christians to characterize women and their roles in the home, church, and society. As this trial involves not just the defendant but also his wife, I attended to observe the kinds of language used to speak about the defendant’s wife. (Emphasis added by me indicated by bold print in quotes.)
What I aim to show in this report is that central to the trial itself and to my experiences therein are the repeated denial of a woman’s physical self and the elevation of her spiritual, domestic, idealized self.
... this Presbyter’s questions and behavior were, in my opinion, founded on the assumption that since my physical presence was neither domestic nor docile, it was unacceptable. 
Now Dr. Hobbs has written the first (Beyond Symbolic Gestures: The PCA and Underprivileged Women) of what she promises will be three posts on the case of a woman named Jessica Fore whose case came before the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, not as a complaint or appeal, but by the finding of an irregularity (not of form but) of substance, by the committee that annually reviews the records of each presbytery. The committee found the Presbytery had failed in its duty of oversight by not giving due consideration to two complaints filed by Ms. Fore. Dr. Hobbs expresses regret that, following the debate on and adoption of the report of a committee tasked to study women in ministry, most commissioners left the room, "few realizing that amongst them was a woman in ministry for whom this GA was especially significant."

Here is what I take to be the burden of the first post:
Jessica’s case is long and complex, going back at least five years. It involves a PCA church firing Jessica from her job as worship leader for refusing to move back in with her abusive husband. It involves a more recent dispute with members of the congregation which had resulted in the leaders of her small group allegedly removing her without due process. It involves a nearly two-hour phone call with the clerk of her presbytery, who called her story ‘crap’ and told her she was a ‘pariah,’ ‘coercive,’ ‘violent,’ ‘frightening,’ ‘aggressive,’ a ‘tormentor’, an ‘abuser,’ a ‘threat to our church.’ It involves numerous attempts by Jessica to file complaints related to these matters, only to be frustrated for years by delays and administrative red tape. It involves Jessica’s session eventually indicting her, though these charges were later dropped.
Dr. Hobbs is concerned that, while the finding of the General Assembly of substantive irregularity on the party presbytery may be small victory, it remains to be seen if Ms. Fore's case will be justly resolved:
On the one hand, Jessica was encouraged. This was the first acknowledgement from a church court that her church leaders had wronged her. The RPR Committee had officially (for the second time in two years) cited her presbytery. Perhaps members of her church might begin to question the ways Jessica had been characterized and treated by her session and presbytery. 
On the other hand, public exposure of this case at GA would’ve been a step towards necessary public acknowledgement of cases of abuse. It would’ve signaled that such cases present a tangible opportunity to do the very thing laid out in Recommendation 8. Perhaps the RPR believed they were doing all they could do with the resources available to them. But the reality is that the RPR committee sent her case back to a court in which Jessica has no real advocate. Those who care about such things may see the vote on Jessica’s case at PCA GA as a kind of small victory. However, for me, the jury is still out on whether or not the leaders of the PCA will move beyond symbolic gestures.
I have come a long way to be able to make two comments:

1. What is the definition of the"abuse" of which Ms. Fore accuses her (ex?) husband? Dr. Hobbs says that Ms. Fore's case originated with "a PCA church firing Jessica from her job as worship leader for refusing to move back in with her abusive husband." She goes on to say "public exposure of this case at GA would’ve been a step towards necessary public acknowledgement of cases of abuse." I don't know the facts of this case. Neither, I expect, will any of the readers of this Blog. Probably the session of the church and the presbytery do. Perhaps Dr. Hobbs does. I doubt the members of the committee that reviewed the presbytery records do. But, whatever the case, with what definition of abuse is Dr. Hobbs operating? She seems to think that we know the definition, but I, for one, don't. 

Perhaps, Mr. Fore became enraged, and, rather than walking away, slapped his wife in the face, or punched her in the stomach, or hit her with a household object he picked up. There is little doubt that all would agree that this is physical abuse and justifies a woman's separating her from her husband for her physical safety and could, after due consideration, if she cannot be and feel safe, justify divorce. 

But that is not the only definition with which evangelical women operate. Jeff Crippen and Barbara Roberts who run the Cry for Justice site have this definition of abuse:
The definition of abuse: A pattern of coercive control (ongoing actions or inactions) that proceeds from a mentality of entitlement to power, whereby, through intimidation, manipulation and isolation, the abuser keeps his* target subordinated and under his control. This pattern can be emotional, verbal, psychological, spiritual, sexual, financial, social and physical. Not all these elements need be present, e.g., physical abuse may not be part of it. 
The definition of domestic abuser: a family member or dating partner (current or ex) who has a profound mentality of entitlement to the possession of power and control over the one s/he* chooses to mistreat. This mentality of entitlement defines the very essence of the abuser. The abuser believes he is justified in using evil tactics to obtain and maintain that power and control.
Ms. Roberts says outright that the PCA's position is wrong: 
The PCA’s Position Paper on Divorce is dangerous for abuse victims
The PCA’s Position Paper on Divorce and Remarriage suggests that only physical violence is grounds for divorce. And it assumes that marriage problems are mutually caused so both parties are partly at fault if the marriage is in difficulties.
Barbara Roberts believes any of the things defined above as "abuse" justify a "disciplinary divorce."

What is Dr. Hobb's definition of abuse? With what definition of abuse are the editors of The Aquila Report, which published Dr. Hobbs's post, operating?

Perhaps the church has been wrong in its understanding of "abuse" and "divorce." The church may need to rethink its view of what "abuse" is and to change what it understands to be the legitimate grounds of divorce. But, if so, this must not "just happen" by people assuming that persons such as Barbara Roberts are obviously right. It must be done in a careful and deliberative manner by revisiting the Scriptures and finding that the church, if it has, till now has been wrong.

(2) What is the good and bad of the influence of feminism on members of the church?

Susan and I became adults and married in times of great societal tumult. I was born in 1947, she in 1950. We married in 1969. We went off to seminary the same year with no money and everything we owned in the back of my father's pick-up truck. We lived through the assassinations of John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King. We married the summer of Woodstock. We experienced the Vietnam war, with its deferments and lottery numbers. (If you're not watching the Ken Burns series on Vietnam, either on television or online, you should.) We know about beads and sandals and flowers in your hair. We watched on television, the moon walk, the Watergate hearings, and the resignation of President Nixon. We experienced three revolutions: Civil Rights, Sexual, Feminist. These three revolutions undeniably happened, and they have beyond question changed the nature of American society. 

At times we "went with the flow" of our generation. My hair was too long and Susan's dresses too short for Mississippi 1969-72. I spent two summers working in a somewhat liberal black Presbyterian church in Jackson, MS. Still we came through all of that as conservative Christians and as political/social conservatives. I wanted to be a minister in a conservative Presbyterian church and earn a living for our family, and, though she eventually had to work, Susan wanted to be a mama of babies and a homemaker. That was the fulfillment she wanted and needed. We believed in, as our minister often prayed for, "victory in Vietnam." When the "Continuing Church movement" began, we soon were were all in. 

I think it is fair to say that conservative Christians saw as right, accepted, and have tried to live by the Civil Rights movement as it was embodied in Martin Luther King (judging people by the content of their character not the color of their skin). We have not made peace with the sexual revolution. We believe that God intends sexual experience to take place within heterosexual marriage. Our generation of fundamentalist-evangelical-reformed young people talked about and pressed the limits of "how far you can go." Subsequent generations have, with or without thought, crossed boundaries we took to be beyond question, whether related to their own sexual behavior, or accepting sex outside of marriage as "no big deal," or accepting homosexual relationships, and especially not "judging" the choices of others.

But what about the feminist revolution? Practically in marriage we live as egalitarians. She mows the grass; I watch. She cooks; I eat. She makes the bed; I sleep in it. In terms of principles we believe in male headship. When asked by the minister if to include "and obey" in the marriage vows, Susan said "yes." We both remember a time when one of our sons said something to the effect, "Four of us have 'Smith marriages;' one of us has a different kind."

But where does the church stand? What does the church believe about male-female roles in church? In marriage and home? There is no doubt that we, along with most of our Christian contemporaries, are "traditionalists." There is also no doubt, however, that most younger people (and from the perspective of an almost 70 year old that includes most everybody), including Christian young people, have been much more influenced by feminism - some in their homes, others in school, and all in society. They have absorbed it, and it has shaped the way they think and live. Things we took as self-evident are not so taken by our daughters-in-law. When my parents visited, Susan would make a chocolate pie. Why? Because my father loved her chocolate pie. Today most wives would ask, "Why?" And if not within our own families, we all experience everywhere the success of the feminist revolution. In our generation girls learned to "sit like a lady," to set a table, and to write "thank you" notes. Boys learned to hold doors open, pull chairs out, walk on the side nearest the street, and go ahead of a woman going upstairs and ahead going downstairs. Now such things are looked on charitably as quaint and uncharitably as the remains of a repressive culture.

The question for the church is, "Where do we want to/think we should go as the church when it comes to "women's issues?" How are men and women, instructed by the Bible, supposed to relate to one another in home and church - and in society? Where, if anywhere, is feminism wrong? neutral? an inevitable societal development? an affront to what God reveals in his Word?

The church needs to decide about male-female relationships not passively but actively. Let the church acknowledge and repent where it has misunderstood the the role of women. Let the church firmly declare what the church believes it has been and is right about. The church should be honest. Were we wrong about female congregational leadership? Female ordination to the ministry of the Word? The role of women in marriage and the home? The role of women in society? Look at the culture. Study the Bible. Say what the church believes.

Most organizations, including the church, have a way of backing into rather than walking into decisions. I can say of the Presbyterian Church in America, in which I spent so many years, that it is not what it was when founded, and that many of the changes have occurred without deliberate or deliberative decisions. For instance, there came a point at which I realized that a church which came into existence insisting on the spirituality of the church and its distinctive mission of proclaiming the Gospel had become a "word and deed" church without any opportunity for discussion. Today the pervasive influence of critical race theory on the subject of "racial reconciliation" is evident, while most of the lay leaders have never heard of this academic method of analysis that is rife on college campuses. Similarly in my own connection, the Reformed Episcopal Church, it is clear that people who agreed that we needed not to be isolationists but to understand the history, beliefs, and practice of our Anglican heritage, had no idea how Anglo-catholic "authentic Anglicanism" would turn out to be.

With regard to the feminist revolution and feminist scholarship of people such as Dr. Hobbs, the church needs to have to have honest, transparent discussions and then to make intentional decisions.

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