Weeding the garden: Gretha Wiid under fire

 

330847_502364899789978_1380553003_o
Gretha Wiid. Facebook.

 

Popular Afrikaans lay speaker and self-appointed “relationship expert” Gretha Wiid has been in the news a lot lately. She’s come under fire for the controversial anti-LGBTI views she espouses in books aimed at ten- to thirteen-year-olds. In her Lyfslim (“Body Smart”)  books she writes that same-sex attraction is a choice and typically the result of, among other things, sexual abuse at a young age.

Wiid is in the same camp as Angus Buchan – a position she set up with his approval, hosting “Worthy Women” conferences to complement his “Mighty Men” ones – and espouses the same supposedly theologically indisputable “men are the heads of their households” and anti-gay nonsense that he does. That she’s so popular with women baffles me; as Lilly Nortje-Meyer points out in this illuminating article, Wiid and her staunchest followers are formeninists; essentially believing that a Christian woman’s core value revolves around her relationship to men. This – and the whole belief that men are the “prophets, priests and kings” of their homes – is unbiblical. I’d even go so far as to call it idolatry. But I digress.

I wanted to write about Wiid’s response to her criticism, which has been telling in the extreme. It’s not uncommon for people like Wiid to defend their actions by claiming sovereignty from criticism, which they usually do by saying that any opposition they experience is Satanic in origin. Wiid has done that; a few days after the debacle started, she posted to Facebook that no plans formed against her family would prosper. She skirted around the issue – her bizarre, and might I say entirely unscientific views on same-sex attraction – by saying that she loved gay people because her brother is gay*. Anyway, the non-apology didn’t work, and the South African Human Right’s Commission has confirmed that it’s investigating complaints of hate speech against her.

This even more that her weak-as-tea theology is what bugs me the most: her arrogance. She claims her Scripture-derived inspiration supersedes the inherent value of other people (nonbiblical. Seriously, has she met Jesus?), and she acts as though her interpretation of the Bible is supreme, despite the fact that it is hermeneutically unsound. To Wiid, any opposition must be the work of Satan. If she’s so eager to find Satan’s hand in her circumstances, she need look no farther than her pride and her ego.

I doubt any of what’s happening to Wiid will work to soften her heart; Christians of her persuasion are usually only a step away from a persecution complex, and I suspect that’s what we’ll see unfold in the next few weeks: how South Africa, and the “liberal gay agenda” is causing Bible-believing Christians to renounce their convictions or face punishment. I strongly suspect that she’ll fail to see that freedom of speech and belief does not cover the freedom to espouse absolute bullcrap that devalues the full personhood of others, and to impressionable children no less.

The bigger issue, of course, is how these books of her – published back in 2009 – were seen fit to publish in the first place. Wiid is published by Carpe Diem Media, who also have “perennial shelvers” like Isak Burger and Andries Enslin in their stable. Unsurprisingly Carpe Diem Media are responsible for the women’s magazine Finesse, a publication that centres its content around “modern Christian women” of the soft complementarian persuasion, mixing fashion with diet tips to “keep him interested” with soft-lit covers of local celebrities.

Yet for Wiid to be as popular as she is – more than 120 000 people like her Facebook page, after all – she has to be selling well. Her market is a niche one: white, Afrikaans-speaking conservative Christian women. Proportionately she probably has a big share of this market, so clearly she’s appealing to some people. And that’s most worrisome of all: that in 2017 Wiid easily drums up support for damaging, ludicrous and unscientific claims, all under the flag of “Christianity”, with the consent and even approval of so many people.


*Her brother has spoken out in support of her; interestingly, and probably in no way related to anything, he is also her manager. 

Advertisements

Authority in the Christian blogosphere

5aLtmYn

Christian women find their voice and live out their callings online

Two weeks ago Tish Harrison Warren wrote a piece for Christianity Today titled “Who’s in charge of the Christian blogosphere?” In it, she wonders whether the kind of platforms people – especially women – gain through blogging should be accountable to some kind of ecclesial structure, much like pastors are theoretically accountable to their denominations.

Warren posed the piece as a rumination on responsibility: how can we make sure these bloggers – many of them laypersons, their “only” virtue being their popularity – “do” theology responsibly? She cited Jen Hatmaker as an example. Hatmaker – who has been in ministry for two decades and is a published author and popular speaker – recently announced that she is supportive of the full inclusion of LGBTI people in the church, a decision that proved unpopular in the evangelical world. (Read her response to the immediate flare-up of criticism here.)

Warren’s article wasn’t well-received, at least by my Twitter timeline’s standards. Warren was criticised for singling out Jen Hatmaker in a way that came across as chastising: how dare Hatmaker, “only” a blogger, deviate from the evangelical bottom line? The article read and felt like a gendered attack, Hatmaker acting as the negative example of what happens when those outside formal structures don’t toe the line.

Warren has since issued an apology to Hatmaker, but the article is still up on Christianity Today – the first part of a series called #AmplifyWomen. It’s ironic and telling that the first article in this series wasn’t about amplification at all, but about control.

Warren wouldn’t be the first woman delegated to keep her fellow women in check. One comes across it often; if you need an example, just skim any article relating to women on The Gospel Coalition blogs (alas, a favourite teacher of mine, Jen Wilkin, has participated in something similar). Warren has come across as sincere in her Twitter replies to criticism and praise, but I doubt she realises that a lot of her article’s backbone is internalised misogyny.

Make no mistake, the issue at play in Warren’s piece isn’t responsibility or accountability. As quite a few influential bloggers have pointed out, they are accountable: to their personal relationship with Jesus Christ, to the church or spiritual communities they form a part of, and to their friends, families, and peers. In fact, one could argue that the response to Warren’s piece is an indication of how much accountability there is in the popular Christian blogosphere: her article didn’t remain unchallenged, and the criticism was mostly fair and well thought out.

No, the issue Warren’s article skirts around is control. Unfortunately, there are still many church traditions where women aren’t allowed to preach, speak or teach (or if they are, it’s only to other women or to children). In these denominations, women aren’t allowed to have authority. So when these women, who are forced into silence by their churches, turn to the Internet to share their voice and listen to the voices of others like themselves, this presents a conundrum to the men and women in church denominations who delineate the function and authority of women. How do you control women speaking outside the traditional sphere of the church?

Well, you can’t, not without making it exceedingly obvious that the issue is really control rather than authority. If you’ve followed any of these popular female bloggers, authors, speakers and preachers (Jen Hatmaker, Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey to name the bare minimum), you realise that their passion and gifts are Spirit-derived, unlike the man-made ecclesial structures that would insist they aren’t allowed to write Spirit-filled words or share Spirit-filled truth or preach prophetic, Spirit-filled prophecies. If it becomes clear that so many women have the gift of teaching, preaching, and disciple-making outside official church structures, you have to ask yourself: are these women and their ministries the problem, or the fact that so many churches continue to deny them?

It’s interesting to me that, around the same time this piece was published, an editor over at The Gospel Coalition went on a Twitter and comment rant against what he calls “discernment bloggers”. He had had a run-in with the women who run Spiritual Sounding Board and The Wartburg Watch, both websites dedicated to blogging about spiritual abuse in the American church. This editor, Joe Carter, called blogs like these divisive and the women who run them “broken wolves in sheep’s clothing”.

Call me crazy, but I spot a pattern here: women who won’t adhere to the “it’s all fine, it’s alright” party line of patriarchal, male-dominated church and spiritual traditions are called out by the benefactors of those traditions when their unsanctioned, Spirit-filled commentary hits too close to home. These churches, like Warren’s article, claim it’s about God-ordained authority; but it’s really about male-centric control. If God gives women authority to witness outside the church, then their authority isn’t in question.

As someone who had once lost her voice to an oppressive, male-dominated church situation and rediscovered it through blogging, I cannot overstress how important the voice of female Christian bloggers are. Even when those voices are more conservative than I am or have a theology that differs from mine, I’ve been enriched by the writing and teaching of Christian women who blog, both those with large followings and those with a smaller audience. Sometimes simply the reminder that there are powerful, Spirit-led women using their gifts is more of a comfort than I can say.

Christianity is a much bigger place than any one church, any one denomination, or any one pastor would have you believe. Faith, discipleship and following Jesus don’t heed the lines humanity draws around them. More often than not, the Holy Spirit uses those lines as starting places rather than as borders. These lines are porous, made to break through, much like sheep pens are meant to be left if the flock are to find places to graze, explore, grow and mature.

When an article like Warren’s appears, I see it as an indication that things are right rather than that things are wrong. It means that somewhere, someone is toddling from their sheep pen, following their Shepherd out into the world. It means that someone has chosen to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit rather than the strictures of men.

Last minute lectionary (Proper 28C / Ordinary 33C / Pentecost +26)

cuwrbea

This Sunday preachers will be preaching in a changed world. Whether you love Trump or hate him; whether you personally care about politics; whether you’re inside or outside the United States – Trump’s election as president has changed the course of world history. Whether for good or ill we’ll still see, but I believe for the latter: hate, exclusion and fear rarely bode well in leadership.

Do you believe in coincidence? I don’t. In the third season of BBC’s Sherlock, Mycroft Holmes says of coincidence, “The universe is rarely that lazy.” And so it is that this week’s lectionary reading is like bread to people starved by fear and thirsty for reassurance.

Luke 21:5-19 (NIV)

The Destruction of the Temple and Signs of the End Times

5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”

8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

The second temple was built by Herod the Great at the beginning of the first century CE, as much an exercise in self-aggrandizement as it was in appeasing the Jews under Roman rule. By the time of Jesus’ ministry, the temple was firmly established as the center of Jewish social, religious and economic life.

It’s not hard to connect the dots between the second temple and our own modern-day temples: the bulwark of institutional Christian religion, which – instead of using it as a bridge to exactly the kinds of people Jesus reached out to – we tend to wear like an oilskin, to keep the “other” out, to keep it from penetrating our narrow little worlds. Christianity has become largely cultural: something we inherit, something we use to define ourselves, something to draw lines with and build walls on. The similarities to the second temple period are really quite astounding.

And it is of this temple of incultured faith, faith against rather than for, that Jesus said, “Not one stone will be left upon another.”

In our sermons this week, we are privileged enough to be in a position to ask: Are we ready and willing to be destroyed? If taking apart cultural Christianity and its structures and walls is the only way to grasp the hands of the marginalized and the hurting – if it’s the only way to reach the lost – are we willing to bulldoze the grand temples of our privilege to find and to comfort? To uplift and to heal?

Or will we, in our defense of our “temples”, persecute and betray the kind of people who need our help most?

In voting for Trump, I believe this is what more than fifty million Americans have done: they have pushed the pedestal up under him, hopeful that he will maintain their temple of white, evangelical, male-centric America. But pedestals are always built on something; and when that “something” is in fact people – women, minorities, immigrants, foreigners – little more has been done than a golden calf raised.

But a golden calf, as Israel learnt, is little more than something around which a nation can tear itself to shreds – and be torn to shreds.

Yes, this Sunday ministers, lay or otherwise, will be preaching in a different world. But thankfully it’s a world in which Jesus once lived; a world in which and for which he died; a world from which he arose, alive again, and ascended to heaven.

It’s about this kingdom, His kingdom, that we preach.

And it’s from this kingdom that we pray.

The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. (Malachi 4:2 NIV)

Blessings for your sermons,

Lee

Weekly reads

jvqul9h

Interesting articles, blog posts and news stories from around the internet. 


Most redemptive: Rev. Eliza Buchakjian-Tweedy says wise things about the church and LGBTI people:

The thing is, as a wise person said recently: every time you draw a line every time you build a wall to exclude people, Jesus ends up on the other side of it. Jesus, who hung out on the margins of his society with those deemed unworthy and dangerous; Jesus saw them, saw God in them, and loved them for exactly who they were.

Most “nodding along”: Five lies pastors are tempted to tell, and how to resist them.

Most insightful in an unpleasant, “not at all surprised” way: Scot McKnight draws an interesting connection between the ESV translation’s “permanent edition” and one of their dodgier translation decisions:

Exegesis can settle this, and if this exegesis is right, the ESV must at least consider an immediate change in its translation. When I first heard this my first response was, “Why would the ESV do this? Why would they alter this verse in this way and then say it is Permanent?”

Why indeed?

Most schadenfreude-inducing: Steven Anderson, homophobic pastor and general angry person, has been banned from entering South Africa. He was due to “evangelise” here later this week. I also found it bracing that many South Africans in the comment section of his Facebook post sharing the news so openly supported the government’s decision.

Most edifying: Part two of a series on spiritual abuse. It deals with “abusive atmospheres” and I found the subsection on how to recognise these spiritually abusive atmospheres very spot-on.


Quote of the week

38da4a3318c8f0b20f61d0ec8f320b55


Weekly funny

14233154_10154242672193387_892606408458884758_n

God’s wrath isn’t what you think it is

love-01

I wrote today’s #CoffeeTimePrayer devotional early yesterday, before the gun attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL left fifty people dead and at least fifty-three more injured. At the time I felt a little skittish about the post; it felt like it had no zing. But I wanted to get this message out, that God’s wrath isn’t what we think it is. I wrote:

We need to understand that God’s wrath – God’s anger – isn’t human anger. God’s wrath is not aimed at those who are unsaved, it’s aimed at that which prevents them from being saved: all the sin obstacles, all the wiles of Old Nick. That’s what’s getting the boot end of God’s anger: the sin, not the sinners. We like to think we can make this same distinction – hating the sin but loving the sinner – but of course we struggle with that, because our conception of a person blurs the lines between who they are, whose they are, and the sins they commit. God never has a problem with those distinctions.

Not many people read this little blog, but I wanted to add my voice (and faith) to the chorus of Christians who don’t think that this terrible act was somehow the wrath of God. Because these Christians? Oh, they’re out there. And even if they haven’t posted videos about themselves saying all kids of despicable things, those things are perhaps being thought in hearts hardened to a whole segment of God’s children because those children like people of the same sex.

This attack was not an act of God’s wrath; it was an act of evil. Perhaps instead of arguing about bathrooms, American Christians should turn the argument to something that is a real and legitimate threat to people’s safety. And perhaps we Christians in other countries need to realise that this isn’t just an American problem – it’s a Christian problem. Where are we putting creed above people, above love, above grace? Who are we condemning, what are we condoning, by our actions and inaction?

My prayers are with the families of those people murdered and the ones recovering. My prayers are with God, and I believe he gathers them up and nestles them tightly, adding them to a light unutterably bright, one that will not be doused by darkness.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

(Isaiah 43:2-3)