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"When Jesus Saw This, He Was Indignant"
More on Doug Wilson, Michael Foster and a "church full of old spinsters"
Well folks, my Open Letter to Doug Wilson and Michael Foster generated quite a lot of buzz.
Some of it was rather amusing (eg., a particularly unpleasant twitterer referred to me as an annoying maggoty girlboss theologian); some of it was wonderfully thought-provoking (eg., this excellent piece by Dave Williams); and some of it was predictably frustrating (eg., Michael Foster and Doug Wilson both responded to my letter by essentially saying “It is so because I say it is so. So there”. The distinction between the two lay in tone— the former was overtly sexist, the latter just passive-aggressively dismissive).
If you haven’t watched the video to which my Open Letter responded, you might like to draw a deep breath, gird your loins and take 4 mins to do so now (Pssst. You can spare yourself a minute or so of grief by watching it on 1.5 speed- 100% recommend).
Let’s just be honest though. A bunch of you didn’t hit play, did you? Look, I don’t blame you. Honestly. Life is too short to waste it listening to stuff like that.
So let me explain.
No. There is too much.
Let me sum up.
(H/T to Inigo Montoya)
Wilson and Foster embark on a shared lament about the impending crisis facing churches whose pews are soon to be filled with lonely, unlikeable, tubby spinsters who have nothing in their lives and so spend their days endlessly seeking the benevolent attention of their ever-patient but extremely busy and very important senior pastor.
Think I’m being a little hyperbolic?
(Note: All of the below was said by Michael Foster alone. However, for his part Doug Wilson concurs with a few “Right”‘s along the way and chuckles at a key moment or two.)
“These [single] women will wake up in their 40s and 50s and be lonely. I’ve done ministry with people in their 60s and 70s, old women that are widows and they don’t have kids and I can’t give them enough attention. They are like ‘You don’t spend enough attention on me’ [but] I’m spending more time with [them] than I am with anyone. It’s because they have all this love to give that should be focused on their grandchildren and their daughters and helping all that stuff. There’s going to be all these women in the church who won’t have anything. […]
And the church has chaos coming its way. Because men, they are like ‘We’ll just leave the church and go somewhere else, become Muslim, or just watch online or whatever’. The women will hang around the church. There is soon going to be a church full of a bunch of old spinsters because men didn’t have the guts to love them and say ‘No, Baby. I think you can do better than this. You’re not likeable’. Or if they are really bold ‘You should maybe get in better shape. It would help, right?’ I told my son the other day, I was like ‘you’re getting a little tubby.’ And I was like ‘I’m married. You’re not. Stop it.”
Yeah, I know. Take a moment. The outrage will subside. Though the disbelief probably won’t.
But you know something? There is every chance that Foster and Wilson’s dire prediction about their churches being overrun by sad, lonely, attention-starved spinsters will come true. Why?
Because they are creating their very own self-fulfilling prophecy.
Think about it for a moment. If you are responsible for pastoring a church in which:
the reason women are single is because “Baby […] You can do better than this. You’re not likeable” or because they are too “tubby” to be considered of marital value to the men around them (at least the ones they haven’t driven into the arms of Islam);
single women are derogatorily dismissed as a “bunch of old spinsters”
anyone not married by the time they are 40 are issued the dire warning that they ‘will be lonely’
elderly widowed women are depicted as a tiresome burden upon the senior pastor’s time and energy
the only valuable and valid expression of love in action is if it is directed towards someone’s own offspring and then their offspring
single women are the harbingers of “chaos”
unmarried women don’t “have anything” in their lives
… well then, what do you expect is going to happen?!
If this is the way that the senior pastor of a church speaks about his single sisters in Christ; if this is the way the senior pastor speaks to his single sisters in Christ; if this is what the senior pastor models to others of how to speak about and to their single sisters in Christ, then… DUH.
Of course, that church is going to end up with a lot of lonely, sad, disappointed, anxious, isolated, alienated single women who are desperate to feel a sense of inclusion, respect, kindness, belonging, value, dignity, and love.
Perhaps the worst of it is that here we have two male teaching elders communicating over and over again, in a multitude of different ways, that a woman’s singleness indicates that she must not really be worthy of receiving such love, respect, and dignity from other men (at least not as she is)… but not to worry because as the long-enduring senior pastor he’ll graciously condescend to bestow as much attention as he has to spare upon their poor, lonely, embittered, relationally-starved selves.
Friends, this is shameful.
As I have dwelt upon Foster’s and Wilson’s words over the last week I have been repeatedly reminded of the occasion on which the crowds brought little children to Jesus for him to lay hands on and pray over (Mt 19:12-14; Mk 10:13-16). The disciples hurry in to rebuke the people—presumably for bothering Jesus with such trivial matters. After all, the Son of God surely had much more important things to do than waste his time attending to a bunch of kids.
The first couple of times the Spirit prompted me to remember these particular gospel accounts, I couldn’t quite make the connection. After all, it is children —not single women—who are the subjects of them. But as I reflected upon the Mark passage it began to dawn on me.
Mark tells us that when Jesus saw the disciples turning the children away “he was indignant”. Jesus was indignant, affronted, aggrieved and disturbed that his closest followers would think that these little ones were not as important as anyone else clamouring for his attention. That they would think the kingdom of God belonged any less to these little persons than it did to them, or to anyone else in the crowd. That these vulnerable bearers of God’s image would in any way be hindered from approaching him, receiving his blessing, being held in his loving arms.
Jesus would respond to Doug Wilson and Michael Foster’s comments indignantly.
Jesus would rebuke them for hindering such women from realising how utterly and fully and wonderfully and totally he has loved them and does love them and will love them.
Jesus would be aggrieved at any insinuation that they should be treated with any less dignity within his kingdom—with any less respect as members of his body—than their married counterparts.
Jesus would be affronted that men who claim to follow him would speak about and treat these vulnerable bearers of God’s image in such derisive, belittling, scornful ways—all while justifying it as being cruel to be kind.
Jesus would be disturbed that they would encourage others to follow their lead in doing the same.
Jesus would be indignant. And therefore, so should we.
Jesus would rebuke them. And therefore, so should we.
Finally, Jesus would show them a more faithful, loving and Christlike way to love single women. And therefore, so should we.
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