Twitter lost its collective mind over the last week.
At least the part of the tweet stream that I swim in.
CT Women, an arm of Christianity Today that bills itself as “news and analysis from the perspective of evangelical women,” launched into a two-month long series called #AmplifyWomen: A New Conversation About Leadership and Discipleship. The first entry, “Who’s in Charge of the Christian Blogosphere?,” written by Tish Harrison Warren, stirred up an incredible amount of ire. I confess that I felt that ire at first. I’m as egalitarian as they come. “Feminism” is not a dirty word to me. My knee-jerk reaction after reading the article was to wonder why men weren’t being called to the carpet. Men like Douglas Wilson, Mark Driscoll, John Pavlovitz. Men – conservative and progressive – who teach harmful things. Why were women being labeled the “bad guys?”
Thankfully, I watched the responses before adding my voice to the cacophony. Often wisdom is found in waiting. I took the time to pause and reflect. The more I thought about it, the more I liked Warren’s article, for several reasons:
- First, she’s an ordained minister. She’s hardly out to silence women’s voices.
- Second, her call to accountability is appropriate. Anyone who dares take to a public platform had better keep the words of James in mind: “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (3:1, NKJV).
- Third, she never once asks women to submit to oppressive, misogynistic church cultures (as some claim).
- Fourth, she doesn’t dismiss laypeople (again, as some claim).
- Fifth, everything in the piece is applicable to men, just as many (if not most) things geared toward men are applicable to women.
- Sixth, this is the first entry in a series. Anyone who thought she should or could cover every facet and concern of women in ministry ever had hugely unrealistic expectations.
Do I think that it’s practical or workable for every blogger to submit every piece he or she writes to some “board of blogging overseers?” Of course not. I don’t believe that Warren thinks that’s a good idea either. A large portion of accountability should be left to the readers, who need to know the Scriptures well enough to be able to discern when someone is “off.” (I’m talking about unorthodox “off” here, not legitimate differences in interpretation). Those readers should attempt to correct that author, and then stop following that author and warn others about him or her if he/she refuses to be corrected. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with or oppressive about going to our pastors and saying, “Hey, could you check this out? Have I written anything heretical lately? Would you come around me and support this ministry I’ve got going?” That just makes sense. That’s the Body doing what its meant to do.
The main objection to Warren’s piece appears to be her inclusion of one particular author as an example of the blogosphere phenomenon and the questions surrounding it:
One of the most prominent recent examples of this crisis involves the popular blogger Jen Hatmaker, who last year announced that her views about homosexuality have changed. She was cheered by some and denounced by others. LifeWay stopped selling her books. Aside from the debate about sexuality, broader questions emerged: Where do bloggers and speakers like Hatmaker derive their authority to speak and teach? And who holds them accountable for their teaching? What kinds of theological training and ecclesial credentialing are necessary for Christian teachers and leaders? What interpretive body and tradition do these bloggers speak out of? Who decides what is true Christian orthodoxy? And how do we as listeners decide whom to trust as a Christian leader and teacher?
The accusation, coming fast, heavy and from multiple voices: “You’re trying to tear down Jen Hatmaker!”
There’s nothing offensive in that paragraph. Absolutely nothing. No name calling, no shaming. Just the facts. Hatmaker did announce a change in her views. Some did cheer. Some did not. Lifeway pulled her books.
Apparently stating the facts is now a mean thing to do?
Jonathan Merritt published a scathing retort, “Why I’ll take courageous Jen Hatmaker over her cowardly critics any day,” over at Religion News Service. Phrases like “conservative mafia,” “evangelical aristocracy” and “institutional machine” litter the piece. I don’t condone nastiness and I have no doubt that Hatmaker has encountered some – but there’s a massive difference between nastiness and disagreement, between character assassination and parting from someone over irreconcilable doctrinal differences. It isn’t wrong to say, “I don’t agree with this stance you’ve taken and here’s why.” It isn’t horrible to tell your friends, “I don’t think you should follow this person and here’s why.”
Warren wasn’t attempting a shade-throwing take-down. There was no need for “progressive Twitter” (not my phrase and I can’t remember who coined it) to scream bloody murder. And in that scream is an important, unspoken claim: I should feel sorry for Hatmaker. I should defend her.
Between Facebook and Twitter, she has 757,563 followers. Her books are (and will probably continue to be) bestsellers. She had a TV show. She’s a featured speaker with the Belong Tour (if you can figure out exactly what that tour is about, you’re smarter than I am). Her articles for the Today show’s parenting site have been read by almost seven million people (if I am interpreting that statistic correctly; go here and decide for yourself). She testifies to a happy family life. By all accounts, she is beloved and successful.
I’m supposed to feel bad because she’s taken some heat? I’m supposed to buy into the “Christian machine” conspiracy theory?
Call me callous if you like. Shrug.
No leader is or should be immune to criticism.
Most fascinating to me about the whole brou-ha-ha is the near-complete lack of response to the second entry in the series, “The Great Female Commission,” because another supposed fault of Warren’s piece had to do with her not addressing the lack of opportunities for women of color in ministry. She, a white woman, wrote from a place of “privilege.” Again, it was impossible for her to cover everything in that article, but I do recognize the validity here. The Church has a terrible track record with women in general, and an even worse one with women who aren’t white.
But…”The Great Female Commission” is an interview with an African-American woman who’s doing cool things in women’s discipleship.
And there’s very little engagement with it.
I see you, Twitter. I see you complaining about hashtag appropriation (#amplifywomen rose out of the Women’s March back in January), which has to be one of the dumbest, most nonsensical things ever. I see you mercilessly laying into a woman who dares to express a view different from you, the very thing you vociferously condemn others for doing to your preferred Christian celebrities. I see you talking a big game about supporting and uplifting women of color and then refusing to engage with Natasha Sistrunk Robinson and her thoughts on discipleship.
Your outrage is hollow.
Addendum: Warren posted a follow-up to the CT Women piece on her personal site. April Fiet shared a thoughtful response, as did Hannah Anderson.
Photo credit: Anna Demianenko
7 thoughts on “Hollow Outrage”
Great essay, Marie. My feeling is that a lot of Christians are eager to ‘re-examine’ their views – and toss parts of the Bible – because they have adopted the 60s ideal, recycled, that if anything, Jesus was Hip.
And they want to be hip, too.
If someone like Hatmaker wants to bin the parts of Scripture that make homosexuality a sin, and claim that these relationships can be holy, it’s her nevermind, but shaming those who call her on it is just wrong.
But that’s just me, and I ain’t hip.
And just to be fair, I think that the ‘health and wealth’ preachers really need to be called out. Hatmaker’s fairy-land (pun intended) ins’t likely to turn anyone away from Christ, but those who are promised that “God’s going to turn your life around” and wind up with a diagnosis of terminal cancer may well drop the whole thing.
We need accountability from the Body; and we need it without PC shaming.
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Glad I read your blog before “the news”.
I missed my usual social media and quiet time with God yesterday.
Perhaps the first part was a good thing.
The second part came about thru prayer mid day when I said some mean words to my sister that pierced her heart. I had to ask for forgiveness from her and the Lord this morning.
Being quiet is sometimes better than saying what is on our minds.
However, sometimes the truth hurts…so we have to guide our words with wisdom, prayer, and checking in with the Holy Spirit. When we love…we show Christ. Thanks for your mature and objective insights on this Christian news. Jenn
Interesting because someone in my local community who is a Facebook “friend” of mine brought up this very article. My whole take on it was that there are too many religiously unaffiliated religious bloggers like me out there who are not under a central (human) authority.
I explained that I didn’t think the article’s author had an accurate perception of the blogosphere. Of course I was soundly blasted, not only because the Facebook readers failed to see my point about “independents,” but because somehow, the article was only for women and being a man, I was out of line.
I gave up trying to make my point after that.
There’s a whole slew of very interesting, thoughtful articles that have come out in response to this. I think it’s a good conversation to have. My thought is that Warren’s point – the need for accountability – was missed. Or ignored. I found value in her words. At the same time, like I said in this piece, I don’t think that there needs to be a “governing body” for bloggers. The bulk of accountability has to come down to readers. That, of course, opens up a whole other line of questioning – are readers knowledgeable enough to recognize when a blogger has gone out into left field? Are churches doing a good job of discipling people?
Lots of questions.
Okay, but what about me? I’m not affiliated with any religious group. My opinions are my own. Who is going to presume to hold me accountable?
I’d say your readers. Or if there’s someone who’s opinions/education/experience/gifting you admire and respect, maybe he/she could come alongside and support you? Someone you can bounce ideas off of. I don’t know. Don’t have all the answers.
Warren’s article got me thinking about how I’ve divorced my blogging from my church context. “Christ and Pop Culture” had a great podcast about this phenomenon a few months back, talking about how most women minister outside of the local church, even if that church is egalitarian, and the damage that has done (the focus is more on “relationships” than theology and things wind up in the shallow end more often than not). For me, there needs to be an integration. I don’t know what that looks like yet and I’m never going to hand over everything I write to a pastor for approval, but I like the idea of fitting better into my particular slice of the Body.
Like I said, there’s a lot of questions here. Personally, I think the church in general is in the beginning stages of an upheaval, and this could be a very good thing.