Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The ELCA Sexism Study

This weekend, my bishop invited those of us on our synod's leadership Facebook page to consider studying the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's proposed social statement Faith, Sexism, Justice.  I confess that in the past, I haven't given these statements much time, energy, or effort.  They tend to be rather bland, written in such a broad fashion that produces as little controversy as possible, and passed despite any particular criticism which may or may not surface.

But this one was a bit different for me.

Recently, I was introduced to the "Factual Feminist": Christina Hoff Sommers.  After watching more than a few of her YouTube videos and reading two of her books: Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys, I felt myself overwhelmed and astounded at discovering the root of much of the ideology driving those in power in my denomination.  I also discovered much factual information that I had never been exposed to in all my years of study.  To say I was disappointed in the current state of affairs in my denomination would be an understatement--the release of the Faith, Sexism, Justice draft only added to that disappointment.

I took time to read through the entire document, and I would encourage readers to do the same.  Module one lays out some of the governing assumptions in this draft including the idea of systemic sexism.  To quote:
It can be difficult to talk about, let alone grasp that there is a system or set of powerful invisible “forces” that connect to or set in motion individual incidents. It can be quite a challenge to accept that individual incidents involve multiple causes of: a) personal responsibility and b) social and religious beliefs and c) policy, laws, rules or common practices. Yet, if you step back, it becomes clear that something more than individual choices is needed to explain what’s going on in our society.
And further:
This is what the task force has come to realize; that is, the members believe there are systemic connections in U.S. culture that harm women in many ways. It is only when these many connections are recognized that one can explain the whole story adequately. Some of the concepts used in this study to describe these forces or systems include SEXISM, PATRIARCHY, and sexual and gender harassment. (Throughout this study, terms identified in capitalized bold will be found in the glossary.)  It is important to stress that everyone, men and women, participates in and is affected by these and can contribute to them.
So, what examples of sexism, patriarchy, and gender harassment are used throughout the study?  Personal illustrations include: feeling singled out because of unfairness in enforcing dress codes at school; comments about giving birth and assumed gender roles; being questioned about one's sexuality; a congregation's vote to call a pastor being undermined by those questioning her ability to hold the pastoral office and be a mother.  Other examples of sexism include: gender stereotypes; objectification of women's bodies, particularly in the media; the majority of eating disorders affecting women; politicizing reproductive rights; the wage gap; expectations of care giving; gender-based violence including sexual harassment, rape, and assault.

Add everything up, and you have a patriarchy which seeks to oppress women:
A patriarchal SOCIAL SYSTEM is dominated largely by the voice and authority of men. A patriarchal social system is centered on males; the world is portrayed with men as the main actors in life and reflects their ideas and values. Patriarchy is supported through means of power and control, such as sexual discrimination and gender inequality.

Now, it might be entertaining to address each of these issues one by one, but others have already done this.  What I want to call into question is the worldview of those who have perpetuated this one-sided Sexism study on the larger church.  For I believe their worldview is absolutely warped beyond imagination and does not reflect the reality of the current U.S. society.

I am of the opinion that any study or statement should describe reality as it is. Any study or statement of sexism should be a balanced ordeal reflecting the reality of the world in which it addresses. This study's one sided reflection of reality is very troubling especially since it leaves out some important evidence regarding men.  How well do men fare under this so-called patriarchal system intended to keep them in power and control?

Undisputed facts:

95% of those in prison are men.
90% of work related deaths are men.
75% of suicides are men.
60%-70% of homeless are men.
Only 40% of bachelor degrees go to men.
Only 40% of masters degrees go to men.
48% of doctorate degrees go to men.
Young girls do far better in school than young boys.
Women live five years longer than men.
Women pay less for auto insurance.
Women pay less for life insurance. (Balanced by the fact they pay more for health insurance.)

Women are better educated, less likely to be injured or killed on a job, less likely to kill themselves, less likely to end up in jail, and live longer than men. (Hardly a pinnacle of male dominance in this "patriarchy.") Women have gender studies and all manner of organizations specifically geared to their issues (with hardly any for men). Media coverage for women's health issues soars with even the NFL devoting a month to breast cancer awareness--there is nothing comparable to men's health issues.  Luckily, we have plenty of commercials for ED, though.  (Okay, perhaps that was a bit over the top...)

These facts are hardly representative of a patriarchy.  They are hardly representative of oppression of women.  In fact, if these numbers represented women, there would be alarm bells ringing all over the place!!!  But there are not.  Not even close, and the question of, "Why?" must be asked.

I am sure that there are many factors, but I will focus on just one: the ideology introduced by Marxism of the oppressor/oppressed dynamic.  This worldview permeates much of the leadership in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and it has a blinding effect.  It virtuizes the "oppressed" and demonizes the "oppressor."  It leads to confirmation bias and a willingness to seek out any example to confirm one's position including warping the facts on studies and using dubious methodology to enhance one's position.  Truth is thrust aside so that the worldview is not damaged.

Take for instance sexual assault.  Please watch the following two videos:

Sexual assault on campus is a reality, but it is not a culture.  The statistics used to bolster this assertion are false, but you would never know that if you didn't take the time to actually dig into the studies as Dr. Sommers has.  It is a willful distortion of reality.

The reality of our world is that there indeed is sexism, but sexism isn't a one way street.  The facts provided above show unequivocally that men face some truly oppressive issues in the current system--as do women. 

There is a rich irony that Faith, Sexism, Justice quotes Martin Luther's famous statement about a theology of the cross versus a theology of glory, "A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is."  While the study in no way calls the evils perpetuated against women good, it does not call reality what it actually is.  It falsely asserts that there is a patriarchy and then omits evidence which shatters that claim.

If the ELCA wishes to do a study on sexism that includes the realities faced by men and women in this society, then I will gladly jump in with both feet with my congregation; however, if the ELCA wishes to perpetuate myth, then I will say to it as I said to my bishop, "Until the ELCA decides to describe reality better and gets away from wonky statistics, I won't be using this study any time soon in my congregation."

(I highly doubt that any criticism I give to this study will have any impact what-so-ever.  Whenever you challenge such things, as I did, you receive quite the backlash as facts are not engaged, and you are simply labeled misogynist, ignorant, or privileged.  No matter.  The truth is the truth.  The facts are the facts.  My denomination continues its rapid decline, and one can argue it is deserved as it carries a particular agenda which is not rooted and grounded in the Gospel--a Gospel which says yes, we live in a world where all are fallen; all are oppressed; all are oppressors; all face sexism, racism, hatred, and the like.  And the answer is the cross: Jesus who died for sinners in whom we find our identity.  Through Him WE GIVE UP our gender, our sexuality, our ethnicity and become clothed with Him.  This is not what the pundits within the ELCA preach.  Instead they proclaim: hold onto your identity; hold onto your sexuality; hold onto your gender; hold onto your ethnicity because this makes you authentic.  God loves you just the way you are.  In reality, God loves you in spite of who you are.  This was the radical nature of the Gospel.)

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