50 Women to Watch: The Fallout

Saturday, 6 October 2012

I was slightly late to the party in seeing Denny Burk's response to Christianity Today's list of "50 Women To Watch", and the reactions it has caused.

Burk's main concern appears to be the fact that CT's list of "women to watch" contains no discussion about the controversy surrounding different perspectives on gender roles and therefore, highlights the work and careers of women excelling in areas that some complementarians don't believe it's their place to excell in.

"In general, it regards high-achieving women excelling in their respective fields as something to be celebrated," he writes, adding that he wouldn't have a problem with celebrating women if they actually, you know, knew their place and were "excelling in roles that the scripture commands".

"I wouldn’t celebrate those that I believe are serving in roles that scripture forbids," he explains in a comment.

Burk goes on to turn the comments section into a highly judgmental discussion on whether or not Rachel Held Evans (who is mentioned on the CT list) is really an evangelical, even after Evans herself comments to lay the debate to rest. That, however, isn't enough for him.

"I think you and I have really different views about what an evangelical is," he tells her, stating this again and again.

Comments on the post are numerous and come from both sides. When I first read the post, I felt pretty angry. It's just another example of the "interesting" stance on gender espoused by certain prominent bloggers and teachers in the USA, a stance that often begins with judgments such as those detailed above and leads to the characterizing of women who express disagreement as "shrill", "ranting", or "extreme". It's all part of the "interesting" stance that has left many people, men and women, disillusioned with church and with Christians, as well as giving the rest of us a bad name, and has even seeped into some UK-based discussions on gender recently. It's a stance that affects the way these prominent bloggers and teachers think about wider issues, such as rape. It's a stance that obsesses over tone policing and appearing "gracious" to the extent that nothing ever gets resolved thanks to an endless cycle of opinions, disagreement, tone arguments, posts about forgiveness and grace, then returning to square one until the next time it happens.

However it didn't make me angry for long. Moreover, it struck me as incredibly sad. Disappointingly sad, but also eye-rollingly, tediously sad. Firstly, the idea that the achievements of women should not be celebrated if they dare to work outside narrowly-defined roles. I mean, really. Secondly, the insistence of Burk on judging whether or not others are Christian enough according to his narrow standards - not uncommon, but arrogant all the same. Thirdly, the message that all this sends out - that prominent Christian "names" (if not in the UK, but among US evangelicals) actually spend their time being upset that other Christians are being praised, for no other reason than their gender. What does it say to people who are already increasingly disillusioned with what constitutes US evangelical culture (which if I go by what I've read in reports and on blogs in recent months, are numerous)? Nothing positive, that's for sure.

I think about what I've seen in the couple of weeks since all these lists started to appear, these lists of  "Top Bloggers" and "Most Popular" and "Ones to Watch". I think about the drama they've caused and the debates they've started. How time and time again they out themselves as a back-slapping exercise for high-profile white men, how they veer from being something to be proud of and display a button for to something that you wouldn't want to be a part of, oh no, because that would be thinking too highly of yourself and it's not your place and oh, you're just happy to blessed by the wonderful people who actually did make the list. Isn't it wearisome, and isn't online Christian culture stuck in a rut?

Someone I was talking to a couple of weeks ago on Twitter said the same thing - that they're sick of the circular debates and the way the discussions always go. It's time to change the way we go about these things, she said. Time to stop being nice and bending over backwards for people, whether they call us shrill or say we need to change the way we say things or straight out insult and patronise us.

See also:

1 comment:

Alan Molineaux said...

Thanks for your post Hannah.
My wife and I were talking recently about whether we should keep responding to such complementarian comments. We were feel somewhat drained by it all.

We came to the conclusion that it was too important to stay silent about because it is not just the overt things that are being said but the undercurrents of their beliefs.

We asked ourselves 'what would a world look like if they had their way unchallenged.

We agree with you - we have to keep up the fight.


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