“Locker room talk,” President Trump called his Access Hollywood hot mic recording. His defenders quickly came to help, saying that kind of talk happens when the guys are alone.
Well, I’ve never heard a conversation quite like that in a locker room, but I’ve heard more than one dismissive conversation about a woman leader in complementarian settings.
Complementarians in closed rooms too often show their misogyny, not just their theology.
Yesterday, the world saw what some Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) elders were saying about Aimee Byrd, questioning her face, her sexuality, and the presence of her husband, all at a Facebook group called Geneva Commons. Byrd tells the story here.
Here are a few examples, and I’m not including the racist comments to stay on point here. These are some screenshots Byrd posted from a private Facebook group, allegedly including some officers in her Orthodox Presbyterian denomination:
Joseph Spurgeon: “I wish her husband loved her enough to tell her to shut up.”
Shane Anderson, who said as women age that “they become man-haters because they’ve used up their sex capitol.”
Bennie Castle: “Why can’t these women just take their shoes off and make us some sandwiches!?!”
The comments are quite stunning and revealing.
This incident reminded me of an online conversation between Beth Moore and Thabiti Anyabwile. In 2018, Beth posted an open letter that courageously called on her brothers in Christ to stand against inappropriate treatment of women. If you have not read it, you should.
In “A Letter to My Brothers,” Beth wrote of the often awkward and uneasy reality of being a woman who wrote Bible studies in a world of complementarian men. But she observed something deeper than having to relate to complementarians and evangelicals:
I came face to face with one of the most demoralizing realizations of my adult life: Scripture was not the reason for the colossal disregard and disrespect of women among many of these men. It was only the excuse. Sin was the reason. Ungodliness.
After sharing real examples from her own experience, she made an appeal:
I’m asking that you would simply have no tolerance for misogyny and dismissiveness toward women in your spheres of influence. I’m asking for your deliberate and clearly conveyed influence toward the imitation of Christ in his attitude and actions toward women.
That same day, Thabiti responded with a post in which he apologized for words spoken behind closed doors about Beth Moore. He said in part:
I’ve been in rooms where your name was mentioned with disparaging tone. And rather than ask a few basic questions (how do you know this about her, do you have any evidence you can point us to, and so on), I said and did nothing. I wasn’t any different from Saul standing by holding clothes while Stephen was stoned.
Although I was not in those rooms he mentions, I know the rooms that Thabiti is talking about and I’ve warned Beth Moore about who said those words.
Let me be clear, I’m not trying to make a case about egalitarianism and complementarianism in this short article. Both Beth Moore and Aimee Byrd have ministered in complementarian denominations, and made their cases to their brothers and sisters in those contexts. They can describe and define their own views just fine— I just ordered Byrd’s Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: How the Church Needs to Rediscover Her Purpose to learn more about her approach.
But, what both of these situations shows is that the Venn diagram of reformed, complementarian, and misogynist has a pretty significant overlap that some people of character—men and women together—need to address in those movements.
That at least involves the OPC and PCA, and from my up-close and personal observations, plenty of spaces in the SBC.
Now, let me be clear. We are often quick to get defensive whenever anyone challenges our views. But we rarely spend the same amount of time addressing behaviors that are deeply hurtful to our sisters and dishonoring to Christ.
My friend Amy Whitfield put it this way while on an SBC panel:
The discussion surrounding complementarianism is very different than any other theological debate, because everything about it is incredibly personal. The way this debate is handled directly impacts the way we are treated.
Then, when these discussions descend into derogatory comments about women, we need to call it what it is.
That is misogyny.
And it is a problem.
It is easy to be upset, and that’s actually an appropriate response. But, we also need some response and some possible solutions. Beth Moore has already given some in her open letter, but let me share a bit more, addressed to some of the men involved.
First, some of the men in complementarianism need to, well, act like men.
Manly courage is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 16:13, translated different ways, but certainly needed today. It literally means to have manly courage, and some translations (like the NIV) just translate it “courageous,” which others (ESV) say, “Act like men.”
That’s the courage needed right now as the light has been shown in the Geneva Commons Facebook page. Yet, several of those men that Aimee Byrd called out have deleted or made private their accounts. There is a better way— having the courage to repent.
Put another way, some of these complementarians need to have the courage to live out the phrase they have thrown around— to act like men.
Second, where have the other people who were in that room with Thabiti been?
I hope they’ve called Beth Moore. Some today need to call Aimee Byrd.
Third, all of us who are male have a responsibility to step in and speak up when we see inappropriate behavior or speech concerning women.
This is not just a complementarian issue; it’s a Christian issue. Men, let’s make it inconceivable that anyone in our contexts would make backroom comments about women’s appearance and inappropriate humor in general. Let’s not be afraid of our social status to the point that we don’t speak up.
Bold and clear
The OPC and the PCA have some work to do since the truth has shed the uncomfortable light. But, it’s not just there. It’s in far too many places. How many women would feel more affirmed in their faith if they were treated as sisters in Christ rather than slighted for their gender?
We can do better. We must. And, today is a good day to start by engaging misogyny boldly and clearly.
Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. The Exchange Team contributed to this article.