MacArthur’s sexism is the point
I don’t think about John MacArthur hardly ever, so even his old self needs to do something extraordinarily foolish, or let’s be honest, evil, for it to enter into my life. But, he did. This time, he was a panelist on what appeared to be a white guy fundamentalist gathering (“Truth Matter Conference,” hosted by Grace Valley Church, MacArthur’s church) and he was asked to do a word association. This time, to uproarious laughter, the moderator asked John to word associate with Beth Moore. Beth Moore is a woman teacher and leader in the Southern Baptist Convention and she’s been shaking things up. Honestly, she’s not on my radar much, but as far as good things that come out of the fundamentalist SBC, she is one of them. Beth Moore has been careful to be convicting and gracious because she is in a precarious position and strategic about how to influence her very conservative denomination. Nevertheless, though I don’t agree with her about many things, I respect her tact and approach.
Anyway, John MacArthur, when asked to do a word association about Beth Moore, he told her to “go home.” He argued that there is no biblical argument to be made for women to lead in the church and implied the women’s place is in the home. “When you literally overturn the teaching of Scripture to empower people who want power, you have given up biblical authority,” said MacArthur.
The view he espouses argues for an essentialist role for women and men in the church and the home. People that hold this view base it loosely on some of the writings in the Bible (here’s an old post on how to read the Bible in a way that contextualizes its patriarchy without propagating it), but MacArthur takes it to another level entirely.
Sexism is an issue even when we aren’t explicit about it
There’s part of me that appreciates how forthright MacArthur is about his sexist views and how the men in that auditorium laughed gleefully at his response. Sometimes it’s just better to deal with explicit sexism than have to uncover it later on. But the brand of fundamentalism that MacArthur holds is alive and well across the church, and even though many Christians are more polite about it than others are, it is still as wrong and as toxic. I’ve written about this before, a few years ago, when it was Tim Keller who was under fire for his views on women in leadership (deeming it a “secondary issue”), so I won’t go into length about my views here.
But I do think that regardless of tone, excluding women from leadership not only does a disservice to women, it does a disservice to the church. All people are bearers of the image of God and therefore fully gifted and responsible to lead, teach, and serve. For me, it’s not just a matter of rights, it’s about responsibility. God doesn’t “permit” women to lead. God requires all of us to express our fullness. When men prevent women from leading, they are interfering with God’s plan for them. And when men read the Bible in a sexist way to maintain their sexism, which precedes their reading of the Bible, they are doing violence to the Bible.
But we’re all potentially guilty of the sin. It takes more than the right philosophy to root our sexism. Even the more progressive egalitarians can still get caught up in sexism. The right philosophy doesn’t automatically make you anti-sexist. We all have the work to do.
Be that as it may though, there are philosophies that prevent the right actions. And if you exclude women from leadership and you think God and the Bible justifies that, your God isn’t worth following and your Bible isn’t worth reading. I pray that you rid the demon of sexism that has possessed your image of God and the Bible. It doesn’t belong in the church.
Excluding women from leadership is fundamentally sexist
I won’t be a part of a church that won’t include women in leadership. I don’t want my daughters near a church like that, and I will continue to name that practice as sexist. Because it is. Plainly, explicitly, and manifestly sexist: even if you aren’t a jerk like MacArthur.
I know quite a few Christians that hold these views (and plenty of churches in Philadelphia, and even in Fishtown), and I hope they change. I hope the Southern Baptist Convention changes. I hope the Roman Catholic Church changes. I think it’s time for that to happen. And I say that as an Egyptian, where I know many Christians in the majority world/Global South still hold sexist views. It’s also time for them to change, and they can. They don’t need white westerners patronizing them, as if they are not capable of change (largely in order to justify their own lethargic pace at changing their own sexist views).
It isn’t enough to just think the right things, though. We have to do the right things and act in the right ways. That means we need to listen to women and center women in our leadership. We need to use inclusive language in our sermons. We have to rewrite songs that have sexist language, even if it disturbs the tradition, which anti-sexism definitely will, since our tradition is steeped in sexism. We cannot refer to God in masculine terms with impunity. We have to tell the stories of Junia, an outstanding apostle in her own right, or Mary Magdalene, the Apostle sent to the Apostles, as the Gospel of John portrays her, or Lydia, the church planter of the church in Philippi.
Let’s listen to and make space for women
But even right actions aren’t enough. Sexism is a part of the sin condition the world is in, and we need to keep addressing it. It’s alive and well among us. When it goes unchecked, we aren’t allowing people, sexists and victims of sexism, to live into their fullness. We aren’t trying to condemn sexism, but free them of the wicked sin that holds them captive.
Let’s keep listening and learning and growing together. We can build and are building a church that is anti-sexist. Let’s keep repenting, reconciliating, and seeking our own sanctification. Let’s keep a posture of humility and self-emptying as we interrogate our sexism. You probably aren’t as bad MacArthur, but that doesn’t mean the influence of the societal sin isn’t in us. Let’s keep speaking the truth in love. We can grow together.
In my opinion, that starts with listening to women and their experiences. It’s why I’m proud then to lead alongside two women pastors in Circle of Hope. Circle of Hope just wouldn’t be the same without Julie and Rachel, and I’m grateful for their courage and service. We wouldn’t be the same without all of our women cell leaders and servants on our Leadership Team. I shared this post again after MacArthur got me all fired up. Women leading and serving makes us all better. One things they bravely offer the church is to interrogate our residual, cultural sexism. Our society doesn’t make it easy for women to lead, and Julie and Rachel point out when Ben and I are acting in ways that perpetuates that. That is a blessing! I pray every church is blessed in the same way: MacArthur and his ilk’s sexism block that blessing.