Toxic Legalism (Jeremiad #1: Sexism, Lies, and Ecclesiastical Bling)

Lazarus and Dives by Fedor Bronnikov, 1886

Lazarus and Dives by Fedor Bronnikov, 1886

A new, toxic legalism, based on a shallow, piecemeal, combative reading of the scriptures, is choking the Evangelical faith like a clinging vine.  Our churches are shrinking, and our reputation is mud with the wider world – they think we are immoral in our vitriol and our intolerance.  They see us as less moral than non-Christians, as moralistic and manipulative and controlling.

And they’re right.  Our churches are segregated, even today.  Our divorce rate is no better than the non-religious.  Spousal abuse still lingers, and in some cases is even tolerated.  And our advice to abused women is often dangerously, even fatally wrongheaded.

You can proof-text me all you want, but homosexuals are not the ones degrading our nation’s culture.  We are, with our arrogance, our lingering racism, our commercialism and consumerism.

We build multi-million dollar churches, yet leave the poorest of the world (who often need things like $18 mosquito nets and $25 vaccinations) and the poor and homeless in our own cities to fend for themselves.

We keep spending money to prop up dying churches that exist only because a few elderly people don’t want to find a new church, but which are doing nothing for the community, spiritually or materially. We spend ungodly sums on “faith-based extravaganzas” on Easter, Christmas, and Halloween (“scare them to salvation with Hell House!”).  And all the while, like Dives, we watch the poor man starving at our gate.

We degrade our name, and our nation, when we let our political leanings dictate our theology.  Case in point: it’s no secret that the Southern Baptists are going whole-hog for Mitt Romney.

But when I was growing up, Southern Baptists considered Mormonism a “cult.”  Some still do.  Oops, never mind.  He’s backing Romney now.   So, which is it?  The answer no one will give you is this:  “it doesn’t matter, as long as he dislodges that black pro-death, pro-gay, liberal socialist we’ve got now.”

We bring shame on our name and Christ’s through our sexism and incredible insensitivity to the realities of women’s lives.  You can proof-text me all you want, but the truth remains:  when you pre-determine a woman’s role in life based on her gender, you take away her right to follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance, you take away her Imago Dei, and you make her less than human.

Who should we obey, God or Men?  The reality of complementarianism, as it is often preached, is this: Only men get to obey God.  Women obey men, and access God through the male spiritual heads – first their fathers, and then their husbands.  But I think we all know the right answer to the question, both for men and for women I think the answer is clear [Acts 5:29].  We obey God, not men.

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5 comments on “Toxic Legalism (Jeremiad #1: Sexism, Lies, and Ecclesiastical Bling)

  1. Paul Mayhan says:

    While I see the point that as a movement the Church (specifically in its SBC form) is commercialized and often simplistic, I disagree with the premise that it’s primarily that. It’s easy to find targets if you’re motivated to throw stones, but much harder to be in a leadership position and create something good. I could go point by point in response to your post Tim, but I’ll be more efficient to simply give you the general principle upon which I would base a point by point response: sometimes church leaders have to choose the less evil of two undesirable options. If you’ll consider the criticisms you’ve made above and put together a set of options that pastors could take instead, I think you’ll find that the American Church, while falling short of ideal, is often doing its best. Mind you, options that simply aren’t possible shouldn’t be considered, and by possible I mean options that would actually be approved and done by a typical congregation. You could say that a church with a million dollar budget that spends about $800k on its building and staff should do away with all of it and use $600k on missions, but that would be an option that would also cause most of the givers of the church to leave. So it’s a “not possible” option (albeit an attractive one in the wouldn’t it be nice sense). So how’s about solving some of these problems that you see?

    • Tim Dedeaux says:

      You’re right 100% that the preachers are not the core of the problem. Preachers can only lead a congregation where it’s willing to go. I really should have expressed that better in my original post. The problem, for the most part, is me (and my fellow congregants).

      Sure, you have the occasional charismatic church-founder who basically sets the entire tone. And sure, you have some really bad preachers out there (arrogant, controlling, petty, etc.), but that’s not the majority of the problem. For the most part, preachers have to deal with what they’ve got. I don’t know first-hand how hard it is, but I am starting to get a decent “second hand perspective.”

      If I understand correctly, if the church is a ship, most pastors aren’t standing at the wheel, steering into the sunrise. Most pastors, if they want to change the direction of a church, have to get out and push. While swimming. In shark-infested waters.


      With that in mind, I’m starting to take some small steps in my life to make improvements. I’m lucky in that Katherine is very supportive, and so far our small church has been pretty supportive (we’re at that point where we have to step it up or else we’ll be “a dying church that only exists because a few elderly people don’t want to move churches.” We’re not there yet, but the danger of falling into that trap is real. Fortunately, I think we still have enough strength and faith to pull out of it and start doing something for our community and for God again).

      I’m starting with baby steps, and it’s going to take a long time to unpack all of the unhealthy cultural detritus I’ve picked up. One of the things I’m working on is unwinding how consumerist I’ve become. I don’t need all the things I have, and I certainly don’t need the things I see that I want. And it’s those luxuries that eat up my time, attention, and money, all of which should be spent on things of God’s kingdom.

      We’ll see how the unwinding goes. It’s going to be baby steps, for sure.

      • Paul Mayhan says:

        I’m not even sure it’s that bad for most pastors. Yes, their hand is on the rudder, but to use the same analogy if they pull too hard the ship tips over and the passengers wind up having a bad trip. The really great leaders know just how hard they can steer the church without ruining the adventure for most of the people, and they know when to do it and when not to. Most of us aren’t that good, so we err on the slow side so as to not wind up arriving at our destination with no passengers left on board.
        For me, there are two issues that continually plague the American Church. The first is a vestigal ministry of comfort that started during the first half of the 20th century when there was so much suffering that churches mainly focused on the positive and encouraging parts of the Gospel. People really needed to hear something comforting during those times and the churches had the best comfort one could get. But after a few generations of that church is nothing more for some. The other issue is a warmed over liberation theology that pops up every few years where we have to find some hurting or oppressed group and try to help them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for helping people who really need it. But that’s not our primary mission. When showing kindness to a hurting group of people takes precedent over working to see people be saved by hearing the Gospel, we lose our very reason for existing.

  2. […] longtime friend Paul, a preacher, responded to my last post, and I think what he had to say was important.  He pointed out that it’s not just the ministers that are responsible for consumerism and […]

  3. Paul says:

    Wow.Christianity Inc summed up in a way. Let’s get back to the basics! Love God, love your neighbour. Great post and incisive comments.

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