Posted in theology, women

Bowling Alone turns into Worshiping Alone: The female pursuit of theologically self-oriented material

By Elizabeth Prata

This author has NAILED the issue with the rise of the Feminine Church, and that’s not even the point she was going after in her article. Her article is about the Female Evangelical Publishing industry “and the women who have had enough.”

It is this sentence which caught me-

“theologically self-oriented material that attracts many Christian women.”

The author is correct to phrase it that way, yet unknowingly write an oxymoron. There is no such thing as theologically self-oriented. If a book is theological, it’s about God. If it’s about us, it’s not about God. Yet the publishing market is flooded with books aimed at women, about women, with enough overlay of God to call it “theological.” And the industry is booming.

Here’s the article: The Quiet Revolution in Evangelical Christian Publishing And the Women Who Have Had Enough

Evangelical women as a niche demographic have less buying power in Christian publishing than all of the Garfield merchandise sold worldwide, yet apparently (according to this author) we who are submissive to the notion of complementarianism have no social capital at home or in church. (Not true but that is how the author sees it). So, how have women impacted and shifted the church so much?

Social media has allowed Instagram/Blogger/Twitter authors to directly publish their material, material that resonates with other Christian women, who, whether in the aimed-at demographic or are older, are seriously buying the books ‘evangelical’ women publish. Books such as Girl, Wash Your Face, and Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis are apparently the books these women have been waiting for. It has been a perfect fit. The mentioned social media platforms allowed Christian women dying of thirst, to bypass the restrictive traditional gatekeepers to publish and promote their tomes, their “theologically self-oriented material that attracts many Christian women.”

From the article:

The evangelical churches, by and large, left women in a discipleship vacuum and in that vacuum these other voices become really prominent,” says Katelyn Beaty, author of A Woman’s Place (2017) and an acquisitions editor for the Christian imprint Brazos Press.

When we read “discipleship vacuum” it means in many cases, the sad abdication of the pastors in oversight of women’s ministries. It means many times, neglect of husbands in oversight of or even interest in their wives’ spiritual lives. It means so often, a lapse in hospitality and fellowship among women, intentional relationship cultivating among all ages of women in a local body.

Women are relational. They thrive on talk and relationships to help make sense of the world, firming up their Christian worldview. Absent that, they will seek it elsewhere. It’s one reason that the Cursillo weekends and subsequent intense relationships (cult-like) are so popular. The IF:Gatherings, the Living Proof weekends and other minimally theological type gatherings large and small will draw women who thirst for theological companionship. But because so much of the material these gatherings are based on is aberrant, the women sadly are drawn into false teaching and indulged in their self-orientation (which our flesh is only too happy to provide).

When challenged by a well-meaning and loving friend, the relationship the woman has with the false teacher and her circle now trumps the truth of the word. Johnny-come-lately oversight from ladies’ ministry leaders or pastors find the women are now entrenched and often disinterested. Don & Joy Veinot wrote about this in their essay Fraternity over Orthodoxy.

The author notes that prior to the advent of social media, influential women like Beth Moore were seen exactly as her publisher wanted her to be seen. Here is a rough but hilarious assessment of that:

It was easier to frame [Moore] within the context of the establishment Baptist canon: women queuing up Sunday school lessons for aging Southern belles between potluck suppers and Friday night football games.

But after the Christian publishing industry was rocked by these ‘out from under’ female voices, we began to see a different facet to Moore, now the feisty political outspoken woman, independent of any whiff of submission to a husband or or quietude about her church-going persona. Her Twitter feed is full of outspoken statements that belie the publisher’s preferred persona/image of Moore. Other wannabe women see her inappropriate role modeling and go after it themselves, buying more of these kind of books in the process.

Author Beaty went on with an important point:

Beaty points to the decline of institutions and institutional life in general as putting more strength behind the voice of the individual. As individual voices have commanded more attention, helped in large part by social media, they found their audience primed and ready with the emergence of Web 2.0.

The decline of institutional life was well documented in the seminal book of 2000 by Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone.

In a groundbreaking book based on vast data, Putnam shows how we have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and our democratic structures– and how we may reconnect. Putnam warns that our stock of social capital – the very fabric of our connections with each other, has plummeted, impoverishing our lives and communities. Putnam draws on evidence including nearly 500,000 interviews over the last quarter century to show that we sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often. We’re even bowling alone.

But we still want fraternity, or in the case of women, sorority.

We’re not only bowling alone, we’re also worshiping alone. As women (and men) have discovered, they can express themselves and their opinions out from under what to them are a burdensome structure of church life, many eventually fail to return spiritually or even physically.

“I can worship online” they say. “I have a house church” they say, forgetting that worshiping, like any other part of a vibrant civic life, is best done together. Even more important than civic life, is worshiping the way God wants us to. He does not accept any old worship thrown at Him and He expects the body to act like a body. There are no lone ranger Christians.

Haven’t you ever wondered about the church life of a Beth Moore? A Christine Caine? A Jennie Allen? These women are all busy on their speaking tours, writing tweets and blogs and books, gallivanting from interview to publishing event. When do they have time to meet with the body? To worship together? These women are bowling alone, and it’s a dangerous precedent to set and a dangerous one to follow. But who can resist this:

Amidst the phenomenal popularity of blogs among a certain subset of young women in the mid-aughts, women of faith found their voices unshackled from the oversight of leaders who have the power to grant or deny them a platform in their local church.

They can’t resist growing their platform, and drawing women away from church along with them- the ones anyway, who believe that togetherness in worship and fellowship during the week is a shackle to be endured and not a joy to perform. Unshackling from leader oversight is the goal, not the temptation to resist. The benefit is that they speak out to other platforms instead of in church groups or fellowship gatherings of the local body.

The opportunity for would-be authors to present an unfiltered persona to potential readers who are encountering them not in the stacks of bookstores, but in primarily digital spaces, sheds light on another possibility: perhaps the ideas originally commodified for the consumption of evangelical Christian women weren’t what they wanted to begin with.

For these women, “an unfiltered persona” means in real theological terms, rebellion and desire to express themselves apart from the commands and guidance of the Bible, their pastors, and their husbands. Social media and widening of the gatekeeping of publishing industry gives them opportunity to do step outside their God-given roles.

‘Unfiltered personas’ are what needs mortifying. We are sinners, and the underlying persona the rebels want to express, is in fact, the flesh.

And the author is on the right track when she says the ideas in books published by strict gatekeepers weren’t what the women wanted in the first place. Of course not. Who wants solid theology, workbooks urging women to mortify sin, conviction, when what they really want is the “theologically self-oriented material.” And out from under the oversight of leadership, unshackled, they are getting exactly what they want- freedom to express unfiltered self under the veneer of a Christian lingo.

These women “eschew traditional redemption arcs in favor of open-ended narratives”, narratives with themselves as heroine, of course.

Solid books about women and our roles have always existed. They might be out of style, unpreferred by women who feel shackled by their roles in the church, but they are there for the women who want theologically GOD-oriented works. Here are some good books by and about women, women’s roles, women’s sorrows and triumphs:

Her Husband’s Crown: A Wife’s Ministry and a Minister’s Wife by Sara J. Leone
Selina: Countess of Huntingdon by Faith Cook
Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot
The Little Woman by Gladys Aylward
Letters from the South Seas by Margaret Whitecross Paton
Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson

Essay: Rock Your Role

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Unshackled, to use the author’s term,  they have shifted the world-wide church in pursuit of theologically self-oriented material…

 

Posted in theology

Beth Moore deleted half her Kindle chapter: Breaking the Social Compact

By Elizabeth Prata

You know that Beth Moore deleted a portion of the material in the Kindle version of the book Praying God’s Word, but that deletion is more extensive than most people know. She got rid of the entire discussion on homosexuality from her chapter Overcoming Sexual Strongholds. It was 6 pages of material. It was half the main discussion of the chapter. She excised from mid page 279 to mid-285.

As a result, the word ‘homosexuality’ does not appear in the Kindle version except twice, once in a quote from a man testifying about his homosexuality recovery and once in a verse. In the hard copy she retains all that material, with the word homosexuality being mentioned 12 times within the 6 pages. I believe her decision to redact the entire discussion about homosexuality is, in effect, a change in stance toward this sexual sin.

That said, I’ve also been thinking of the wider issues surrounding Beth Moore’s decision to delete the biblical discussion of homosexuality from her book. It’s bad enough to be ashamed of God’s doctrine to delete it completely from your book. But this next part compounds the wrong.

She violated the social compact that exists between an author and her readers.

Let me explain further.

There exists a social compact between writers and readers. Did you know? Yes.

We might not be aware there exists a social contract between author and reader, but we know instantly when it’s been broken. A broken contract means trust has been severed, which usually entails feelings of anger, betrayal, or even outrage. Think of the outrage that occurred when it was learned that Mark Driscoll reportedly bought his way onto New York Times bestseller list. The social contract of trust, that true popularity, reflected in sales, had propelled that book up the best-seller ladder was destroyed when it was revealed that filthy lucre had done the deed.

So we might unknowingly operate in the social contract but it certainly becomes known when it’s violated.

Another example of this tacit compact is plagiarism. A well known part of the contract between an author and his or her readers is that the material they publish under their name will be their own creative content. It is understood that the material is not plagiarized from someone else and sold under their name as their own. Doing so violates the implicit trust that the author has with her readers. They are buying the book under the terms of this implicit contract.

“Roots” was a phenomenon in the 1970s. The book was an extreme best-seller, won a Pulitzer Prize, and spawned a miniseries that impacted the nation for years. Yet it turned out that its author Alex Haley had plagiarized some parts from a less well known book called The African, which had been published 9 years earlier. Americans were outraged and heartbroken.

So, we see from the negative examples, that the social compact between writer and reader exists. What is this social compact like, what is it supposed to do?

As we read from this article from The National Council of Teachers of English, The Rights and Responsibilities of Readers and Writers: A Contractual Agreement, by Robert Tierney and Jill LaZansky, we learn

Writers must establish a reader-writer interaction which sets up “a coherent movement” toward a reasonable interpretation of a communication. An author, accountable in one sense to a selected audience of readers and in another sense to a message deemed worthy of their consideration, will do greater justice to that message if the needs of the readers are attended.

As writer EB White said, 

Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life….A writer must reflect and interpret his society, his world; he must also provide inspiration and guidance and challenge.

These examples and quotes of the ethical standards in publishing and the implicit social contract that comes with it are from the secular world. Would not a Christian author have even a deeper obligation to her readers, especially if her book sales are aimed at sisters in the faith?

How much more meaningful is the social compact between author and reader when the two are part of the same Body, operating in the spotless name of Christ?

How much MORE so when a Christian writer is given gifts to convey the timeless, majestic and eternal truths to a waiting generation? Wouldn’t one of these writer responsibilities be the safekeeping of truth?

How much MORE so when a writer who is Imago Dei, labors with the understanding that at the very least, she should do no harm to the reader.

But deleting the entire discussion of homosexuality from her Kindle book does harm the reader. How?

Let me state an inconsequential but more relatable example. If you’re familiar with competitive cooking shows, where a chef is tasked to cook a dish and then serves it to judges at the end of the time constraint, at the end of the time, things get hectic. Sometimes the chef-contestants are just throwing the food on the dish by the end.

I remember a few times where a chef presented a dish that had some components on one plate, but were absent those components on the other. One judge looks at his plate, looks at the other judge’s plate, and asks, ‘Why does his plate have potatoes on it and mine doesn’t?’ They yell at the contestant that this is unacceptable. Why? If a paying customer orders a dish described on the menu they expect to be served that exact dish. That’s the contract. It makes things worse if a chef gives one person their expected dish and denies the other person the same food. It isn’t fair and it isn’t right.

How much more so when Beth Moore knowingly decides to deny her Kindle readers their potatoes, while hard copy readers enjoy the full dish? And how much worse it is knowing that we are not really talking about potatoes, but the food of Christ laid from His table?

Beth Moore has spent years developing a relationship with readers. She trades on the comfy and sisterly relationship she has cultivated publicly. One wonders how a conversation with the Christian Publishing House B&H (arm of Lifeway) would go?

B&H, I want to get rid of that section about homosexuality. Delete it before the republished version comes out on Kindle.
Why, Beth?
Because I’m worried about a 13 year old girl
But Beth, what about all your other readers? Don’t you owe them anything, especially the readers who’ll buy the hard copy?
Nah, I owe them zero.

Wayne Grudem spends a great deal of time in his book Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning on the definition of and biblical instances of lying. He says that lying is verbally affirming something you believe to be false, and maintains the verbal-only aspect of lying. But there is also something else discussed in that incredible book and that is called deceptive action.

I fail to see any morally relevant difference between intentionally misleading someone with the lips and misleading them with an action. John Frame

Whether one wants to call it a decision to stand by, a sin of omission, misleading, or deceptive action, we consider the fact we are supposed to operate as Image of Christ.

The fact is, no matter how you define it, Moore and her publisher B&H, chose to purposely excise a significant portion of one of the re-published versions and didn’t tell readers, while selling the fuller re-published version to other readers, and to my knowledge, never said a word.

At least, in my hours of searching online and on her blog,  I never saw any announcement of this deletion, nor did I see one in the hard copy or the Kindle version. If such a statement existed in 2009 when the books were re-published, please point me to it. Otherwise, Beth Moore engaged in a deliberate action that broke the social compact and betrayed trust with her readers.

Moore says that she performed the act of removing the half-a-chapter on homosexuality (from one version but not the other) and she stands by her action. 

Now that we understand the issue about the social compact that exists between a writer and her audience, and about truth and honorable Christian publishing decisions, and seeing that this very week Moore is teaching about the writing and publishing process, and seeing that organizers are touting it as holy, and knowing that B&H attests to the motto below clipped from their website, doesn’t it make a difference in how you view their moral character?

Every word matters? Really B&H Christian publishers? Except the 6 pages of words about overcoming homosexuality with God’s help through the Gospel. THOSE words don’t matter. The biblical content you and Moore excised cannot “positively impact the hearts and minds of people”, because you deleted them. And remained silent about it. For ten years.

Lying by omission and lying by commission. Lying by omission is far, far worse than lying by commission because the latter can at least admit refutation and public debate. Suppression of reportage is lying by omission (Gideon Polya)

Beth Moore’s action that she “stands by” is a terrible corruption of the implicit contract she has cultivated as Christian writer with her Christian audience in a situation of trust.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

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Further Resources

Open Letter to Beth Moore

Beth Moore charges SBC conservatives with ‘sin’, recants 2009 statement on ‘homosexual sin’

James White on the Open Letter to Beth Moore

James White on Beth Moore explaingng but not really why she deleted half her chapter on homosexuality