Trust and Obey

As a young evangelical, although I grew up surrounded by fundamentalism, I didn’t know much about it. Until the first week at Wheaton College, when most of my dorm-mates used their evenings to attend a Bill Gothard seminar, known then as Institute of Basic Youth Conflicts. I didn’t partake in that extra-curricular exercise, but I glanced through the hefty notebooks issued to each student.

Here was the cult-like teaching of neo-fundamentalism, spelling out in no uncertain terms who’s in charge. Contained therein was an overdose of hierarchic control. Trust and Obey, For There’s No Other Way. Being under authority is one of (since disgraced) Gothard’s most central teachings. Through copious diagrams, he stresses that a woman is subject to her husband; if single, her father remains in charge of her life. The husband is like a High Priest in charge under Christ and the wife totally subservient to the husband; her access to God is through her husband. The mother in turn exercises authority over the children. Presumably, likewise the children over the pets as being the least significant members of God’s family system. Bad, sinful things happen when that divinely ordained chain-of-command is violated.

I think back to Genesis 2, where God made a woman from a rib he had taken out of Adam. It’s a fascinating story. One which makes me have faith not so much because of what the Bible says, but often in spite of it. But for neo-fundamentalist literalists, they not only believe the Bible, they know its true in every respect. Things happened exactly that way because the Bible and Ken Ham say so.

In essence, Eve was a mutant. God made a new being from somebody’s body parts. Most people familiar with Frankenstein would consider that as creating a monster. And that is how neo-fundamentalists (i.e. – evangelicals) view women. A monster which must be controlled; caged by her master. Bad things happen when the monster is let off the leash.  

H.L. Mencken once observed, “morality is doing what is right regardless of what you are told. Obedience is doing what is told regardless of what is right.” As religion, evangelicalism tends towards being a cult of (often blind) obedience. An old Gospel song recites, “Fix Your Eye Upon Jesus”. That’s great, except we need our peripheral vision to not bump into things. Or obstacles, like other people and their annoying problems and demands, disturbing our blissful, solo walk with the Lord. The boss takes no crap from underlings in a scheme where all the shit flows downhill anyway.

Take the family, for instance. Jesus said, “I have come to divide people against each other! From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against—or two in favor and three against.” Most people interpret this as you suffering because of your faith.  I see as well as other family members suffering because of your faith. Especially today, when religious organizations use the euphemism “Family” to disguise the fact they are really Extreme Right Wing lobby groups. And Christian families cheering on Trump’s border separation of minors from their undocumented parents. Or like the six-year old looking forward to kindergarten until being expelled from the Christian school because her parents are gay.

I’ve covered a lot of ground here. Let’s just summarize by saying evangelicals put the “nuclear” into family, where rigid conformity to a fundamentalist Diktat is more important than spiritual damage being done to the family. Trust and Obey: use carefully. Among other regrets, I obeyed James Dobson’s advice as a Godly father in spanking the kids. As Mencken implied, a person can be utterly spotlessly religious and still be an asshole. I was that asshole. And I repent.

One thought on “Trust and Obey

  1. Glad you are not an asshole anymore.

    I certainly share your concerns about smuggling right wing political agendas into Bible guidance. I certainly share your concerns about how to read and understand the Bible – at least in generic terms. I surely think I am sharing these.

    I look for root causes in this stuff too. I can’t iron it all out. I have suspicions and insights, but not clear conclusions. As a theory gets more complicated, I still follow it, but I become concerned about the fragility and viability of it.

    It’s easy for me to think in sociological terms mostly. Grand sweeping explanations for things, and I expect there is truth in them, but they usually fail to get to the nitty gritty.

    I am very suspicious though of overly easy theological explanations. We too easily call what we don’t like “sin” and give a pass to sins we do like. We too easily condemn sins we find in others and give mercy to those we find in ourselves. That kind of thing. And yet, I think theological explanations are ultimately best, if we can weed out our biases and tendencies.

    But so far my comment is so ethereal as to be about as illusive as the point I’d like to make.

    So… let me say some specific things.

    What about the wider culture? I am too young to have watched the old TV show Father Knows Best, except surely I saw it in reruns when I was very young. I don’t remember it well enough to comment on the content. But the title of the show says a lot.

    As an enlightened, egalitarian, 21st century kinda guy, I can see where based on that title alone there once was an American TV audience big enough and enthusiastic enough to support the authoritarian norms and values there. As a popular TV show, I doubt very much that the authoritarian construct faced any real scrutiny, though having not seen the show I must leave room for that possibility. Still, I am not naive. I could just about bet millions of dollars I don’t have on it.

    I’m betting the kind of values portrayed and celebrated there surely resonated with Judeo-Christian ideals – especially as we find distilled in Focus on the Family and James Dobson etc. And I am quite clear that Dobson’s legacy (and probably some of his own work and opinions personally) skewed theology toward biases which shaped American views on what Judeo-Christian ideals always were too.

    I have an idea that masculine authority has been far more the norm across cultures throughout history than not – whether Judeo-Christian cultures or not. There are notable exceptions, but they remain exceptions, and so I think it is quite likely a mistake to single out Judeo-Christian ideals as responsible for this male authoritarianism. Mistakenly and powerfully supportive? Sure, but not single-handedly responsible. I don’t believe that.

    To do a bit of a pendulum swing at this point (but to my mind it SEEMS like a swing more than actually being a swing) I regret the disintegration of traditional family in our culture. Not that I regret the challenge to blind obedience to authoritarianism, but as a theologian and Bible student, I see God making humans to bear his image in love and fidelity fitted together male and female. I find value in that.

    With the help of feminist theologians, people who help me but don’t necessarily win me on every point, I see where even the Bible itself elevates femininity in ways and in places my mind is not culturally conditioned to accept. There are a number of important passages, esp in Isaiah and Q that portray YHWH as MOTHER. Wisdom is a LADY. And I think Martha chooses the Better Part, not because she is even keeled about housework, but because she bucks the trend of male only schooling and sits at Jesus’s feet like a student in a way normally reserved only for men. Women are deacons too, and that has become some sort of honored office in the church only to exclude women along the way.

    Is this enough to make women and men “equal” in God’s eyes AS I SEE IT?

    No. Not personally, I can’t say that. I get there on still other grounds, but it certainly tells me they are not second class subservient mutants. In fact, if Martha can sit at Jesus’s feet, she has something to teach me, a man!

    Hierarchies are important to Jesus, as I read him. They are not dismantled, not by him. They are, though, submitted to, even by him. You can always humble yourself before someone else – even everyone else, and Jesus in fact does that. He gives up his status as something to be grasped and humbles himself lower and lower and lower below slaves, below the dead, and God lifts him up.

    I do not challenge sexual hierarchy, but I work at submitting even to women. Hopefully God will raise me up. Not so I can lord it over women, since that is not for disciples but pagans (Gentiles). But so that I can be what God made me to be.

    But I am cutting through so many other factors when I talk this way. I can’t even conceive of them all. But I certainly sense one of them is consumerist whims. Today’s world is not sexual egalitarian in some vacuum, but in a marketplace.

    I don’t want to be Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, or the Marlboro man (used to when I was a kid, but not anymore), I want to be like Jesus. But even Eastwood, Wayne, and Marlboro are out of fashion now.

    Can someone tell me what “metro sexual” is? I haven’t heard the term in a very long time now, but I never got it ironed out back when it was still a thing.

    My own father taught me to be a man, but he was flawed. I was born into “a man’s world” which definitely was flawed, and my dad was one of the main people to help me see that. But I still want to be the man God wants of me, and I want to be with a woman who wants to be the woman God wants her to be and I want her to be. It is not fair for me to want her to be a picture in a magazine either. Or to hide a dingerwinger under her skirt for a latenight surprise. There are other kinds of mutants in the marketplace than just those we find in Genesis as we search scriptures with evangelicals.

    I hope I am being specific enough now with at least one or two points of interest.

    I don’t have this all figured out either. But I aim to be sensitive to others as I aim to be true with God. And I realize I am flawed and not as true to him as I want either. But I will hold firm and not just blow hither and yon at will either. I will look carefully as I can and proceed cautiously.

    I hope.

    But, honestly, I am sure I am an asshole to somebody, if not everybody.


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