They used to be innocent words, previously spoken billions of times by tired men and women at the end of a workday, or cheered at a baseball game as a baserunner rounded third, or offered as a salutation by college students as a holiday approached. But in an instant, these two words were magnified by the context in which they were uttered and injected with the snide meaning behind them.
The words echoed through the digital exhaust of YouTube and social media, accompanied by cheers and nostrils flaring, generating a mix of shock and awe from certain Christian audiences. All the while, the non-Christian world hardly took notice.
“Go home” was transformed into a negative, combative remark when ministry leader, speaker, and Bible teacher John MacArthur used them as a reply and introduction to a tirade about female pastors and leaders during a celebration of his fiftieth year in pulpit ministry at the “Truth Matters Conference” last week. Part of a panel discussion, MacArthur and others were asked to give their gut reactions to a series of one-word phrases. The “word” given to MacArthur? “Beth Moore”—the name of a female Southern Baptist Bible teacher who has been known for years for her studies and speaking engagements. MacArthur’s response? “Go home.”
I’m a female pastor, church planter, and preacher. To be honest, my gut reaction to watching the YouTube video for myself was not very pleasant or silent. Admittedly, I have never attended a Beth Moore event or led a Beth Moore Bible study. But what I do know of Beth Moore is the fruit of her teaching and her ministry. She stands on par in worth, calling, and impact with the man who chose to spend seven minutes attributing the “demise” of the evangelical church to the rise in female leadership.
What I do know is that she is called by God to do what she does. Along with numerous other female and male evangelicals, I affirm that women’s leadership and preaching in the church is indeed biblical, as well as historical and attested to in the archeological record. I affirm the words of my friend Tara Beth Leach, senior pastor of Pasadena Nazarene Church, who says “Women aren’t in ministry because it’s where the rest of the world is headed, but they are in ministry because it is so beautifully illustrated in Scripture and because of the empowering presence of the Spirit.”
What Lay Beneath the Two Charged Words
As I listened to the panel recording and the countless degrading remarks, quips, and the audience’s laughter, after I prayerfully quieted my gut reactions, the stirred emotions, and the pain of hearing yet another man attempt to speak for God, after reading several blogs and commentaries denouncing MacArthur’s actions, I couldn’t help but sense something much deeper going on in the wake of these two charged words.
After all, complementarianism has been around a while. A simple Google search yields countless thoughts from countless sources in cyberspace. The actual arguments made by MacArthur are nothing new to any of us who are women called to preach and teach the Word of God (which were spoken to my face as recently as a few weeks ago after I guest preached at a church). So what was it that made this spectacle something deeper and more profound?
Then it hit me: it was the How.
My gut reaction and the abounding criticism and uproar around the call for Beth Moore and anyone like her to “go home” is actually less about the WHAT and more about the HOW. My gut reaction and the abounding criticism and uproar around the call for Beth Moore and anyone like her to “go home” is actually less about the WHAT and more about the HOW. Click To Tweet
The Power of the “How”
If you dissect the entire MacArthur conversation, beyond the initial response to “Beth Moore” to “go home,” you hear a pattern and feel a temperature of language that tells you more. The discussion moves from just being about Moore’s ministry to women pastors and preachers, to female leaders, to the full-scale demise of the Church, to the demise of society. But with each stage of expansion comes bitter, scathing remarks that sound more like those of a bully on a playground than those of a renowned, gifted Bible teacher.
Each conversational jump to broaden the topic is also marked by the release of a whole-audience flood of laughter, clapping, and cheers. It’s as if the room has turned into a stadium, where just one team is present and is declaring themselves the winner while demeaning the other. What has the greater impact is not the content but the tenor. The How, in this case, is through degradation. How the complementarian arguments are spoken involve words that tear down the other, even though they’re not in the room. How it is explained is through blaming and finger-pointing and by subtly claiming to be victimized by female leaders. From a psychological standpoint, the How of the entire discussion points to a possible source in deep-rooted insecurity, self-righteousness, and the feeling that one’s power is being threatened. Often complementarian arguments are spoken in words that tear down the other, even though they’re not in the room. How it is explained is through blaming and finger-pointing and by subtly claiming to be victimized by female leaders. Click To Tweet
How the “How” Leads to Witness
A non-Christian walking into MacArthur’s diatribe would have been hard pressed to describe his or her experience of Christians as joyful, loving, or peaceable.
The How, especially for Christians, always speaks more loudly than the What. Throughout history, especially in the early Church, what made Christians not only survive but thrive and stand out from the rest of the world was less because of What and more because of How.
How they shared possessions among their community.
How they took in sick people the Romans had considered dead.
How they fed and housed orphans and widows.
How they worked and among whom they started churches.
How they allowed themselves to be tortured and martyred for their faith.
How nobody was considered to be off-limits from God.
The moments when Christians provide the greatest witness to the world are when the very things that cause dissension and disagreement are handled in a way that is different—even attractive—to the world. The times in history when conflict in the church and even theological debate was conducted through violent tactics and ploys resulted in long-lasting setbacks we are still facing today. The moments when Christians provide the greatest witness to the world are when the very things that cause dissension and disagreement are handled in a way that is different—even attractive—to the world. Click To Tweet
From my own life and ministry, I can share with you countless times men and women antagonistically came to my face to spout Bible references to put me in my place or cause me to change the call God placed on my life. I can share with you questions from board members of churches I’ve interviewed with who asked how I would feel if people left because I was female. I can share with you the times people walked out of my sermons or talked behind my back to my lead pastor.
But I can also tell you the stories of *Mike and Angie,” the complementarians in whose backyards and living rooms I sat and shared cups of steaming coffee to discuss my theological understandings of women in ministry and to pray together over their involvement in my church. I can share with you the stories of conversations with a professor and students from a class I took at a Reformed seminary whose doctrine did not allow women preachers and who were intrigued to finally talk to one. Ministry, I’ve learned time and again, rises and falls on the How more than the What. And as my heart yearns for a church where men and women preach and serve and lead shoulder to shoulder, I also see the way all Christian segments can stand in the tension to share our slice of the pie without smashing it into the other’s face.
The hingepoint is always the How.
The Christian faith is truly about the How. And when we—or a person in power like MacArthur— lose focus of the How, when the How feeds into a polarizing, condescending, authoritarian atmosphere, our Kingdom witness is what ends up being sent home.
*Names changed for privacy.