Yet another insult to women: Obama chooses a sexist pastor for his Inaugural

Thursday, December 18th, 2008 · 22 Comments »

(Originally published at The New Agenda.)

Rick Warren's wife, Kay Warren: speaking in church, wearing gold.

Kay Warren, wife of Rick Warren:
speaking in church, wearing gold.

An almost all-male Cabinet. A speechwriter who thinks sexual assault is funny. A senior advisor who’s on record with his belief that innate inferiority, not discrimination, is what’s keeping women back.

And now, with another twist of the knife, President-elect Obama has invited Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the Inaugural.

Rick Warren.

Most of the outrage surrounding this choice focuses on Warren’s opposition to gay marriage and reproductive rights. But there’s something else about Warren, something the women of America might like to ponder as they watch this worthy pray aloud at our new President’s swearing-in: this is a man who believes that wives should be subservient to their husbands. Marriage is not an equal partnership, in Warren’s view, but a dominance hierarchy, a union between a superior and an inferior. Kind of like a boss with one employee.

As explained on Warren’s Ministry Toolbox site by Beth Moore, a suitably submissive wife: “It is a relief to know that as a wife and mother I am not totally responsible for my family. I have a husband to look to for counsel and direction. I can rely on his toughness when I am too soft and his logic when I am too emotional.”

(Does this remind anyone else of Larry Summers and the poignant saga of “Mommy Truck and Daddy Truck”?)

Now, some of you might be saying, “But Rick Warren is a Christian, so of course he believes that. He’s just going by what’s in the Bible, right?”

Wrong.

It is entirely possible to be a deeply committed Christian and simultaneously reject the old-fashioned notion that wives must obey and submit. Many Christian denominations have long since relegated the wifely submission business to the dust-heap of obsolete doctrine, along with various other antiquated rules and regulations. The New Testament, like the Old, is chock-full of archaic notions and sheer weirdness that no one dreams of obeying anymore.

Yes, there are verses in the New Testament telling us that wives must submit to their husbands. But there are also verses telling us that:

  1. Women must not pray or prophesy with their heads uncovered (1 Corinthians 11:5)
  2. Women must not braid their hair (1 Timothy 2:9, 1 Peter 3:3)
  3. Women must not wear gold (1 Timothy 2:9, 1 Peter 3:3)
  4. Women must not wear pearls (1 Timothy 2:9)
  5. Women must not speak in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35, 1 Timothy 2:11-12)
  6. Men must not pray or prophesy with their heads covered (the reverse of the rule for women) (1 Corinthians 11:4)
  7. Men should not have long hair (1 Corinthians 11:14)
  8. People must not drink water (exclusively?) (1 Timothy 5:23)
  9. People must not take oaths (Matthew 5:34, James 5:12)
  10. Slaves must obey and strive to please their masters (Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, Titus 2:9-10, 1 Peter 2:18)

And that’s not even getting into all the contradictory admonitions (pray in public or not? get a divorce or not?).

The plain fact is that each Christian denomination must choose which parts of the Bible to follow and which parts to ignore. The parts that don’t fit with a group’s modern understanding of faith are jettisoned as “not relevant” in today’s world. The parts that do fit are labeled “eternal truths.”

Some Christians take an intellectually rigorous approach to the issue. Southern Baptists like Rick Warren do not. They ignore the prohibition on gold and pearls, they allow women to minister in certain very restricted roles, and they seem downright carefree when it comes to oaths, drinking water, and hats. But wifely submission? Oh, that’s an eternal truth. Gotta keep that.

The bottom line is that men like Rick Warren insist on the doctrine of wifely submission because they want to. It suits their personal ideology of male supremacy. If it didn’t, they could easily find very good reasons for putting it aside, just as they’ve jettisoned the no-talking-in-church rule. (As it happens, the wifely submission and the “keep silent” verses in Paul are of a piece: most scholars regard these as later interpolations, probably designed to counteract women’s prominence in the early church.)

Rick Warren is a male supremacist. He’s a man who picks and chooses his Bible verses to buttress his preferred beliefs. Selecting him, of all people, to deliver the Inaugural invocation is yet another insult to the millions of women who voted for Obama, trusting — despite the sexism of the campaign — that Barack Obama would prove to be a champion of equality.

What might have been: Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church USA

What might have been: Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church USA

It’s not as if we have a shortage of Christian ministers in this country. Obama could have chosen a progressive, like Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, thus sending a powerful message of religious faith twinned with social justice.

Is Obama simply intent on wooing conservative evangelicals, six weeks after the election? Though even that speculation is a tiny bit unfair — to evangelicals. As we saw with Sarah Palin, it’s entirely possible to be a conservative evangelical Christian and still believe in gender equality. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Or is it something else?

The other day a friend asked me if Obama was actually going out of his way to insult the women of America. “Is he doing this on purpose?” she wondered aloud.

I’m starting to wonder myself.

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22 Responses to “Yet another insult to women: Obama chooses a sexist pastor for his Inaugural”

  1. Alwaysthinking says:

    I have thought for some time that Obama was going out of his way to insult the women of America — and I even wonder if he is not catering to that other great religious movement that preaches dominance over women.

    Paul had some personal views of women that were tied with societal views at the time, rather than the actual views of Jesus — who seemed, I believe, to support equality. Women were indeed a significant part and drivers in the early Christian movement, but that was later dwarfed by the organized Church.

    I told my husband during this year’s primary season that I believed if Christ were to return to the Earth, he might come as a woman. No one would recognize him/her. I now believe it more than ever because Obama certainly is putting us through persecution, just as the Romans tended to do to their Jewish captors. Jesus acted, in part, as a Messiah to help the people live with and overcome their oppression.

    How appalling it is that every day we see Obama and his minions seeking to destroy half our population. I am making my husband miserable, I am sure, but I have told him that I will not allow the man to be seen on my television — so he has to be muted — his smirk, his voice, his horrible, belittling attitudes. (I’ll read, though, to be prepared to fight against the evil things he stands for.)

  2. Alwaysthinking says:

    I meant to say Jewish captives.

  3. Annie Oakley says:

    This quote from the Li’l Missus, “I can rely on his toughness when I am too soft and his logic when I am too emotional” made me think of Nancy Teeters, the lone female member of the Federal Reserve FOMC who pled for the little people in the 1981-1982 liquidation aka recession. Course, Obama loves the hero of that story, Paul Volcker. Volcker and his posse were he-men who unemotionally destroyed working class families. Nancy was a girly-girl who cried about it. The rest is history.

    From “Secrets of the Temple: how the Federal Reserve runs the country” by William Greider:

    “In social terms, nearly three-fourths of the nation’s economic loss was suffered by citizens whom most people would describe as “little guys” (p 455).

    “Most citizens probably assumed there were no alternatives to the destructions because the alternatives were almost never discussed in politics and seldom studied by economists. The ritual of liquidation, brutal as it was, conveyed a bracing sense of manly struggle, and many even found it satisfying. The numbers were hard and certain. The counterclaims were perceived as soft and tenuous.” (469)

    Feminism has another important and timely role to play in contesting the resolution of the financial crisis. Who benefits and who pays? Obama’s ministerial mindset echoes his financial one.

  4. FembotsForObama says:

    KUDOS

    What a great article pointing out the difference between Warren’s view of Christian women’s roles versus others.

    THIS is a huge difference of why Warren’s view as a pastor are so much more conservative than other churches. And as you pointed out Palin’s is not that conservative. Indeed, Palin said that the local Assembly of God church was too radical for her (or words to that effect). Most churches, like Catholics, preach the role as a type of help-mate to the man. But Mrs. Warren’s comments because they do not contain a qualifier (like when I’m upset and have become too emotional) convey that she is just more emotional than her more rational husband; one wonders if this is indoctrination or what she believes of herself.

    Not that I’m saying any one church is better than the other on all feminist issues, but there are indeed differences among them as you have so aptly pointed out. And, what Dems did was play on people’s ignorance of these differences in Christian beliefs, and particularly Obama bamboozled the Atheists.

    Hope you don’t mind but I quoted your piece at NoQuarter and gave you credit as well.

    Have lurked often and so appreciate your blog!

  5. Sonic Ninja Kitty says:

    Love your blog, and this article is fabulous! You really know how to zero in on the target. I grew up in a similar church community and the chaff really gets in your eyes, know what I mean?

    Your commenters are the bomb, too. I also tremendously appreciate your “If you vote for Obama….” series. You describe the truth so eloquently and irrefutably. I am relieved to find a kindred feminist spirit, but one who is so much better at writing about the issues!

    I will be referring many people to your great articles.

  6. sister of ye says:

    Of course Obama is doing it intentionally. He’s like junior Bush in that regard – what’s the point of having power if you can’t shove it in others’ faces and make them miserable?

    God/dess save us from juniors with daddy issues! After having suffered 8 years with one, I can’t believe this country elected another.

    I’m more and more coming to believe that the only solution is a guerilla movement. Not necessarily violent, though that’s tempting some days. But I’m becoming convinced that we’ll have to get in their faces very brazenly – as I believe Dr. Lynette Long plans.

    Actually, if I lived in NY or DC, I’d probably already be sitting in jail for having smacked around one of the media or political assholes with my cane. Or chucked a few hockey pucks at ‘em. Cantankerous, middle-aged women of the world arise!

  7. polly styrene says:

    Ah yes. The good old selective bible reading.

    Really I’m sat here chuckling to myself. (Admittedly partly because all this is happening across the Atlantic). Wondering exactly WHEN all those who rejoiced at the brave new world over here will admit they may have been a tad wrong.

  8. Anna Belle says:

    Yes, I think he’s doing it on purpose. I think he honestly hates women. He’s probably under the mistaken notion that his mother is responsible for his father’s absence, causing a deep seated hatred of women. Look how he treats his wife! And she just takes it. She agrees, apparently, that she is less than he is.

    I don’t know why anyone is surprised by this choice considering Reverend WRIGHT was his pastor for 20 years. I mean come on.

  9. Anna Belle says:

    Oh, I also suspect that part of this is pay-back for those women who challenged him during the election. A sort of “You jacked with my ambition and progress, and now it’s payback time.”

    I did warn about this on my blog early in the summer.

  10. votermom says:

    I wonder if Michelle is a submissive wife?
    How sad if she is.

  11. Anna Belle says:

    I have no idea, votermom, but some of the saddest words I ever heard fall from a rich person’s mouth where to the effect that she never intended to be a single mom. She doesn’t have to take that. She chooses to.

  12. Sis says:

    OT: kinda

    http://www.pharmalot.com/2008/12/illinois-pharmacists-fight-the-morning-after-pill/

    Illinois Pharmacists Fight The Morning-After Pill

    By Ed Silverman // December 19th, 2008 // 8:46 am

    The Illinois Supreme Court ruled a circuit court must consider a lawsuit brought by two pharmacists who claim they should not be required to dispense emergency contraception because it violates their religious beliefs, the Associated Press reports. At issue is the argument that the pharmacists are being forced to choose between livelihood and conscience.

  13. NancyP says:

    How nice that you featured Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori, who has kept the Episcopal Church on track against the efforts of a few throwbacks to foment schism – about half of whom still object to ordination of women some 30+ years after the fact. I suppose national and international church politics is nothing after a school of hard knocks education in academic politics.

    I am not so sure that Warren is going to be best buds with Obama or that Obama is going to be hanging on Warren’s every word. I think that accepting the invitation to speak puts Warren in an awkward position when he wants to challenge Obama on a position Obama takes to satisfy the Dem base.

    I know someone involved in the campaign early on, and her impression is that Michelle is not submissive in the manner defined by white conservative preachers. She’s of a multigeneration “talented tenth” family in which women have had independent careers (as opposed to menial jobs) for two generations at least, and both of her parents had graduate degrees.

  14. Polly styrene says:

    Well again completely OT, but NancyP’s description of Michelle Obama, hardly gels with the constan presentation of her as having worked her way up from a poor working class background.

  15. Northwest rain says:

    Of course he is doing this on purpose!!

    There is no question in my mind.

    He hates women — he probably tolerate Mrs. Obama — and she has complained that he hasn’t been around to help with the brats.

    Expect more of the same from him — he loves to agitate and bring chaos.

  16. CoolAunt says:

    “It is a relief to know that as a wife and mother I am not totally responsible for my family. I have a husband to look to for counsel and direction. I can rely on his toughness when I am too soft and his logic when I am too emotional.”

    Does he tell her when she needs a bowel movement, too? Jesus H Christ on a snow board. I don’t think I’ve ever been more grateful of my spinsterhood as I am now, after reading that statement.

    Yeah, Obama has mommy issues.

  17. SKM says:

    Jesus H Christ on a snow board. I don’t think I’ve ever been more grateful of my spinsterhood as I am now, after reading that statement.

    You and me both, CoolAunt! I feel ill just thinking about being stuck in that kind of life.

  18. Cyn says:

    Violet, I miss your Thanksgiving posts and I am wishing Santa would bring me a Christmas post by Dr. Socks.

    Holidays are always stressful, at least in my world. I enjoyed the camaraderie and stories of the those posts, and I have ordered a bunch of new books for reading in the New Year, tried new recipes (parsnips), and I’ve even taken up knitting. One mitten down and one to go.

    Weaving, however, is presently out of my league.

  19. m Andrea says:

    “I am not so sure that Warren is going to be best buds with Obama or that Obama is going to be hanging on Warren’s every word. I think that accepting the invitation to speak puts Warren in an awkward position when he wants to challenge Obama on a position Obama takes to satisfy the Dem base.”

    Not really. Once that particular favor occurs (giving a speech at the Inaugural Ceremony) it cannot be given back. Therefore, Obama will have exactly nothing to hold over this guy’s head. There might be some nostalgic goodwill, but it’s not guaranteed.

    Besides that, the underlying premise — “oh golly if we just treat men with respect then they’ll give us equality” — has zero evidence that it ever worked. Otoh, if the underlying premise is: “well if we treat men with respect as we demand equality then they won’t beat us”, then you have a valid point.

    Our values are skewed. Feminists give men a hearty pat on the back for not beating us to death while still denying us equality. ho hum…

  20. m Andrea says:

    “Feminists give men a hearty pat on the back for not beating us to death while still denying us equality.”

    It’s really kind of patronizing if you think about it. It says feminist know that men have an incredible fragile ego which must be pandered to, along with the insecurities and impulse control of a child.

    I vote we dump them off the planet.

  21. Kiuku says:

    I love how they are playing this off as Obama being so wonderfully inclusive.

    Why don’t we just invite Bin Laden too

  22. Kiuku says:

    We’d really be inclusive then.