Editor’s note: Beginning this month, The New Agenda Blog will be featuring regular columns from a diverse group of terrific contributors. Violet Socks is a writer and feminist activist who blogs as the Reclusive Leftist. She is a co-founder of The New Agenda and the editor of its website.When Rick Warren was invited to preside at Obama’s Inauguration, I wrote that his selection was an insult to women everywhere. Warren is an antediluvian sexist who believes that women were put on earth to obey their husbands. His Christianity is a front for male supremacy; his biblical “literalism” a patchwork of cherry-picked verses. If his noxious doctrine were merely an intellectual exercise, it would be offensive.
But it’s not an intellectual exercise. There are real-world consequences.
As Nina M. points out, Warren doesn’t believe battered women have the right to seek a divorce. “God hates divorce,” says Warren, with the confident affability of a 250-pound man who’s never cowered in fear for his life:
It’s not like you can escape the pain… You don’t — you don’t escape the pain. And I’d always rather choose a short term pain and find God’s solution for a long term gain, than try and find a short term solution that’s going to involve a long term pain in life.
Actually, you can escape the pain — and the fists and the knives and the drunken rages and the loaded guns. But somehow I don’t think that’s what Warren is talking about. I suspect none of those things are quite real to him, just as women aren’t quite real to him — not as full human beings, that is.
The only thing Warren is interested in is marriage itself: the sacred union between a man and his helpmate (and notice who is the subject of that formulation and who is relegated to an adjectival subservience). In conservative Christian ideology, human marriage replicates the bond between Christ and his church, with the husband in the role of Christ (of course) and the wife playing the part of devoted church. The psychological burden this places on women is enormous. Commanded to love and obey their husbands even as the church cleaves to Christ, wives feel compelled to stay in even the most brutal of marriages.
In No Place For Abuse, their book about domestic violence in Christian communities, Catherine Clark Kroeger and Nancy Nason-Clark explain the conundrum:
…some religious women feel that God does not permit them to leave, that marriage is forever no matter how cruel their husband’s treatment, that this may be their cross to bear, or that perpetual forgiveness of their husband for his repeated behavior is God’s expectation. For women such as these, it is often very difficult to sort out the difference between long-suffering in honor to Christ and to their marriage vows and actively contributing to the danger of their own lives.
“The wise pastor,” they add, “will help such a woman navigate these troubled waters.”
Unfortunately, wise pastors seem to be in short supply. Contemporary Christian literature is rife with stories of ministers who counsel battered wives to stay, to submit, to obey — no matter what their husbands dish out. As one woman reports, “I went to my minister then and his reaction was ‘What’s your husband’s favorite food?’ and I said ‘Pork chops and scallop potatoes.’ ‘What’s his favorite dress?’ I told him and he said ‘I want you to go home and put on that dress and make him pork chops and scallop potatoes and honor your marriage vows.’” Another woman who had been beaten severely was told by her pastor: “Go home. He’s probably calmed down now. And come in for counseling . . . you married him, you made a commitment, so you have to work this out. Pray more. Submit more.”
Which brings me back to Rick Warren and his highly selective brand of biblical “literalism.” Warren claims that he certainly wishes there was “a Bible verse that says if they abuse you in such kind of way, then you have a right to leave them.” Unfortunately there’s no such verse, so his hands are tied.
But this is an intellectual dodge, a fraud, a cover-up. Modern Christianity is a selective blend of old and new, and there is no church on earth that slavishly follows every word in the Bible, nor any church whose worship isn’t shaped by modern culture. As I wrote last month:
The plain fact is that each Christian denomination must choose which parts of the Bible to follow and which parts to ignore. The parts that don’t fit with a group’s modern understanding of faith are jettisoned as “not relevant” in today’s world. The parts that do fit are labeled “eternal truths.”
Some Christians take an intellectually rigorous approach to the issue. Southern Baptists like Rick Warren do not. They ignore the prohibition on gold and pearls, they allow women to minister in certain very restricted roles, and they seem downright carefree when it comes to oaths, drinking water, and hats. But wifely submission? Oh, that’s an eternal truth. Gotta keep that.
The bottom line is that men like Rick Warren insist on the doctrine of wifely submission because they want to.
And the same is true of Warren’s teaching on divorce. He believes it because he wants to believe it, because it suits his personal ideology. The broken bodies and hearts of women are barely real to him; what matters is the great spiritual drama of man and God.
The irony, of course, is that it is women who fill the pews in Warren’s churches and send the money to his coffers. Christianity has always appealed to the disadvantaged and the abused, and so it has always appealed to women.
Which reminds me: didn’t women vote for Barack Obama in huge numbers? Wasn’t it women who put him in the White House?
Isn’t it women who are now being mocked?