I’ve been chewing on Dr. Albert Mohler’s post on The Humiliation of the Southern Baptist Convention for the past several days. If you’re interested in the topic of the #MeToo movement and the evangelical church, it’s worth a read. In it Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, recognizes the rot of sexual misconduct and misogyny that is being brought to light in the Southern Baptist Church and more broadly in evangelicalism, and does what looks like some soul-searching for answers why.
Is the problem theological? Has the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention come to this? Is this what thousands of Southern Baptists were hoping for when they worked so hard to see this denomination returned to its theological convictions, its seminaries return to teaching the inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures, its ministries solidly established on the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Did we win confessional integrity only to sacrifice our moral integrity?
This is exactly what those who opposed the Conservative Resurgence warned would happen. They claimed that the effort to recover the denomination theologically was just a disguised move to capture the denomination for a new set of power-hungry leaders. I know that was not true. I must insist that this was not true. But, it sure looks like their prophecies had some merit after all.
On one hand, this is a pretty stunning bit of realization for Mohler. But on the other hand, I don’t think he really goes far enough. Because he doesn’t have any particular change to propose, other than “people should stop doing that stuff, and we should stop covering it up”. As Jake Meador says in his brilliant piece on this topic, “I can’t help wondering: Where do Mohler and a few other prominent evangelical leaders go from here?”
A few cautious words of critique…
It feels like Mohler gets this close to having a more eye-opening realization, but just can’t get there. Sure, people warned that this patriarchal complementarian theology would lend itself toward such abuses. And those warnings “had some merit”. But… that can’t possibly mean that those people were right, can it?
Though it sounds like a jest, I’ve frequently said quite seriously that I imagine at least 20% of my theological beliefs are wrong… I just don’t know which 20% those are. And so while I clearly think my current beliefs are correct (because if they weren’t, I’d change them), I remind myself to try to have the humility to realize that unquestionably some of them are wrong.
I’ll allow that for someone as erudite as Dr. Mohler we might lower his likely percent-wrong-ness to something smaller than my own – 10%? Single digits? But it’s still folly to suggest that it approaches 0%. What I wish we would see from Mohler is that next step to acknowledge even just the hint of a possibility that patriarchalism/complementarianism might be in that small percentage he could admit might be up for grabs – not to full-up change his position on it, but just to admit that maybe it’s worth some open discussion.
An alternate approach
I really appreciated Richard Beck’s analysis of the situation today. (I almost just linked to it instead of writing this post…)
I appreciate [Mohler’s] both/and balancing act here, trying to keep the complementarian structure yet speak a strong word for protecting the abused. And yet, this is the exact same balancing act that evangelicals and the SBC have been preaching and attempting for generations. And by Mohler’s own admission, it has brought the judgment of God down upon them.
In short, Mohler seems genuinely anguished and searching for answers, but he can’t offer an accurate diagnosis of what went wrong. He seems legitimately perplexed. He says nothing beyond the same old, same old: Men are in charge, but they shouldn’t abuse the women under their leadership.
But clearly, that’s been a disaster.
And it’s not really hard to see why. I think the problem evangelicals are having here is the same problem they always have. They only look at the Bible and they ignore human experience. Evangelicals always make man serve the Sabbath, rather than having the Sabbath serve man. In this instance, the Sabbath is “God’s plan for marriage and the church,” and men and women must conform to that plan. Come hell or high water. Well, they’ve found hell and high water.
Beck goes on to make the case that the Scripture is not conclusive as to either complementarianism or egalitarianism, and that with freedom in where we land on the question, we should consider the results of the positions as we look for a landing place. Egalitarianism, Beck argues, provides more concrete, structural ways of protecting women. (It’s worth reading Beck’s whole piece – I’ve summarized about 6 paragraphs of his here.)
Time to wrap this up…
The position and argument that Beck describes is more or less where I find myself these days. While I know and respect many who would disagree (on both ends of the spectrum!), I think there’s plenty of room to argue the topic, and I don’t think it’s essential to the gospel message. I think it is reasonable and helpful to look at the fruit these positions have produced over the past few decades, too. And I pray that, regardless of where churches and pastors land on complementarianism / egalitarianism, concrete, structural safeguards are in place to ensure that women are not just protected but lifted up as equals and co-heirs of the Kingdom.