Feminist Analyst Comes to Church

Last Thursday Dr. Valerie Hobbs published Beyond Symbolic Gestures: The PCA and Underprivileged Women. I don't have access to the audience she has, but I thought someone ought to respond which I did at my humble Blog with a post: A Feminist and Chauvinist Try to Walk into a Bar - But Can't Resolve Who Goes in First. Yesterday, Dr. Hobbs published the second in her three part series: Portrait of a Deviant Woman.

I continue to think that someone ought to offer a response. This is my attempt to do so. I will do three things: (1) Do one piece of housekeeping. (2) Make one observation. (3) Respond to one part of Dr. Hobbs' second post.

(1) Housekeeping. When Dr. Hobbs's friend, Rachel Miller, sent Dr. Hobbs my post, Dr. Hobbs noted that I had used a picture of her that is available on her biographical page at the Sheffield University website and also easily found by typing "Valerie Hobbs" into the Google search engine. She asserted that the photograph is copyrighted and that I should remove it. So I removed it and used a second picture, this from the Greystone Theological Institute and also available to a Google search. This did not please her. Again she asserted that the picture was copyrighted and added that I did not have permission to use any picture of her whatsover wherever I found it. In my years of Blogging I have never experienced anyone asserting an exclusive legal right to a photograph; nor has anyone ever asked me to remove a picture. Frankly I find it petty in the extreme. I do not know whether Dr. Hobbs is correct in her assertion that the pictures are copyrighted material, but Saturday night I removed her picture. I figured that was the end of that. But, I guess Dr. Hobbs had second thoughts. So she used Twitter to send me an "alternative" picture that she approves my using. Here it is copied from her Twitter note to me:

Frankly I thought the first two pictures were more flattering. But she, perhaps remembering Cromwell's instructions as he sat for a portrait, "Paint me warts and all," prefers this one as a more accurate and honest representation.

(2) Observation. Dr. Hobbs is using her three posts to write about the case of Ms. Jessica Fore. Ms. Fore left her "abusive" husband. The church where she served as a "worship leader" removed her from that position. From there Ms. Fore experienced conflict with the Pastor and Session of her church, with the Clerk of her Presbytery, and with the Presbytery. Dr. Hobbs's contention is that the Session, Clerk, and Presbytery have misused the applicable processes and procedures and have abused Ms. Fore who is now on a quest for justice.

My observation is this: I do not know, and most who read Dr. Hobbs's posts do not know, the facts of this whole mess. There are two things to remember: The first is that we have heard (read) one side - Ms. Fore's story as told by Dr. Hobbs. We are often reminded in reports about civil lawsuits which are filed that we are reading only one side of the case. The respondent's side of the case will follow. We do not know how the pastor, Session, clerk, and Presbytery would report what has happened. The other thing we must remember is that Dr. Hobbs writes from a particular view - the view of academic feminism regarding words, gestures, and the dynamics of male-female relationships.

We do not know of what kind of abuse Ms. Fore accuses her (ex?) husband. We do not know all that has transpired between Ms. Fore and her Pastor, Ms. Fore and her Session, Ms. Fore and the Clerk of the Presbytery, or Ms. Fore and the Presbytery. But the report of Ms. Fore's experience metaphorically screams: "There must be another side to this story." (I would commend to anyone listening to Willie Nelson's album Phases and Stages in which he tells the story of a break-up first from the perspective of the woman, then from the perspective of the man.) We cannot possibly judge the case on its merits without knowing the other side.

One thing we know from the public record is that the General Assembly cited Ms. Fore's Presbytery for not have handled her complaints correctly. Presumably the Presbytery will receive with due deference the finding of the General Assembly, try to untangle the mess that exists, and hear and act upon the complaints, if that is still possible.

(Let me add this as a former Presbyterian: Cases that are or potentially are cases of church discipline or where there is the possibility that complaints may be filed, are extremely difficult. I have served as a prosecutor, as a member of a church court (acting as a whole or through a commission) trying cases, and sat on judicial commissions of the General Assembly to which cases were referred, and I always found process and procedure to be confusing. I have often thought that there ought to be something like "canon judges" and "canon lawyers" to handle all legal cases. I much prefer - and I know this will make no difference to jure divino Presbyterians - the pastoral nature, as opposed to legal nature, of the government of the episcopal government of the Reformed Episcopal Church.)

The other thing we know from reading her posts is that Dr. Hobbs's approach to reporting this case is to portray Ms. Fore as a female victim of a system controlled by men.
3. Response. Dr Hobbs writes:
Jessica had been abused by her husband, treated unjustly by her church leadership and was now refusing to be treated thus again. She wouldn’t give up. She wouldn’t be quiet or submissive. What woman behaves this way? Something is wrong with her.

Jessica began to feel ever more invisible. Desperate to be seen and heard, she painted a dress with all of the names the clerk had called her and wore it to presbytery. She began carrying a sign reading ‘Justice not abuse’ with her to church and placing it at her feet during worship as a form of lament. She showed up unannounced at the small group who had turned her out and shared her struggles as a prayer request. She began speaking publicly about her complaints on social media... 
Vulnerable members of the church are frequently portrayed as abnormal and even deserving of suffering... As for Jessica, she didn’t behave like a wounded female is supposed to behave. She wasn’t quiet. She wasn’t submissive to those who hurt her. She talked about her problems openly, without shame. Time passed, but she didn’t just get over her trauma. She made people uncomfortable with her dress and her sign. Was she a woman or some kind of monster? Rather than asking, what could have possibly happened to Jessica to lead to her actions, people instead asked, what kind of perverse person would do this? See the difference there? The portrait of a vulnerable person as deviant allows us to avoid examining our actions towards them. It means we can point the finger. That person is crazy! Nothing she says can be trusted! These portrayals serve the purpose of self-protection and, we hope, expulsion of the vulnerable and problematic person. We can then carry on as we were. (Emphasis original)
Allow me to make sure that a couple of things are not missed. Ms. Fore painted on a dress all the names she believed the Presbytery Clerk had called her and wore that dress to Presbytery. She made a sign that said, "Justice not abuse," took this sign to church with her, and placed it at her feet as "a form of lament."

Is this the way aggrieved persons conduct themselves in the church of God? We would not be surprised to see a woman at a political protest for women's rights wearing a dress on which are printed what she believes are derogatory names women are called by men - "honey, darlin', little lady, girl," and worse. We would not be surprised to see a woman at a rally calling attention to domestic abuse carrying a sign saying, "Justice Not Abuse." But we do not expect these in the church of God. Why? Because the Apostolic Scriptures make it plain that no one, not men, not women, not young people, not children, should bring the methods of socio/political protest into the worship and the convocations of church leaders. The Apostles make clear we are to respect those who govern the church (Hebrews 13:17) and that we are to draw near to God in worship with "reverence and awe" (Hebrews 12:28). 

But we also cannot ignore that the Apostles have specific things to say to women. In the first epistle to Timothy, the letter where Paul specifically gives instructions about how we are to conduct ourselves in the church of God, he says just the opposite of women bringing protest signs into worship:
... that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet (1 Timothy 2:9-12).

After speaking to servants about the difficult circumstances of working for harsh masters, Paul goes on to deal with the equally hard cases of women who are married to men who do not live with them "in an understanding way":
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct...but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening (1 Peter 3:1-6).

If there are ways that these texts can be located in and limited to a certain time, location, or church, I am happy to be instructed in such a way. But, reading them as though they are timeless and universal, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Ms. Fore has not followed these texts and that Dr. Hobbs approves it.

But, if you wish, leave the Scriptures aside. Just apply common sense. Is the conduct of Ms. Fore the way Christians protest what they believe are injustices they have suffered in the church? Is carrying a sign into worship "as a lament" the way Christians go about the worship of God, enabling themselves and others to worship in Spirit and truth? And, is this behavior the balanced and stable Christian in the life of the church?

Many may remember many years ago the General Assembly that met at Briarwood Church. There was a man there who each day, walked up and down the sidewalks carrying a sign. I do not remember what the sign said, but I think he was protesting the inaction of his church and presbytery when his wife left him without (in his view) justifiable cause. At least he never attempted to enter the church and sit in the Assembly with his sign. But, as I recall, few people went up to him and asked. "Why are you doing this? What has happened in your life to make you come to Birmingham and walk up and down with this sign?" And, of course, the protest was ineffective except as a testimony to the injustice he believed he had suffered. His protest did not produce a different result. 

Whoever has counseled Ms. Fore to or has approved her performing such bizarre acts has done her, her cause, her pastor, her Session, her Presbytery, and Jesus Christ a grave disservice. This series ought to have been written by an expert on the Book of Church Order with knowledge of the case to point out the deficiencies of process and procedure for the good of the church. Rather it has been written by a feminist scholar who has her own axe to grind.  


  1. I appreciate your response. I am curious to get to the real story, also. I believe Ms. Hobbs' article is selective in what it omits. To get a fuller picture of Jessica's side, you can look at the blog she created to discuss the events. https://jessicafore.wordpress.com/

    While we may never know the full extent of what happened, after listening to the clip of the clerk, I think it can be agreed that no minister of the Gospel should speak that way to anyone, regardless of circumstances or gender.

    1. Please do note that comments should not be posted anonymously. Thank you.

  2. Thank you very much for the link. Most of what I have read confirms my views as set forth in the three responses to Dr. Hobbs's three posts. I do think it is possible that Ms. Fore was abused in such a way as to justify separation from her husband at the time. However, I do think that they had the right to dismiss her from her position and that she has defied lawful directives from the Session since. In these matters she is not a victim. I also note her case has been publicized at the sites that specialize in criticizing the Reformed and promoting an unbiblical view of divorce - the Wartburg Watch and Cry for Justice.


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