There’s a lot of overlap among evangelicals who dismiss social justice (or “wokeness”) as Marxist, those who embrace patriarchy, and those whose theology borrows heavily from the thinking of men who claim biblical support for chattel slavery and segregation.
The overlap isn’t coincidental: all of these commitments flow from an authoritarian outlook that organizes people into a divinely ordained hierarchy, based largely on innate physical characteristics, and conceives of morality as a matter of obedience to one’s natural superiors. They all hold that God has designed some people to exercise authority, and God has designed others to practice submission to authority. Moral order is achieved when we inhabit our God-ordained place in the hierarchy; and apart from that hierarchy, there is no morality.
According to this paradigm, there’s no inconsistency in holding a church gathering that violates public health mandates, and then invoking Romans 13 to admonish those who protest U.S. immigration policy or the rate at which our government kills and imprisons African Americans. The men who embrace this conception of morality don’t even seem to understand the tension: by all appearances, they believe that Romans 13 is addressed to those for whom God has ordained submission—the disenfranchised and dispossessed—not those in authority, like themselves. In their view, laws and public policies that crystalize inequity are evidence of God’s design rather than a consequence of human depravity: systemic inequality is an expression of moral truth rather than a transgression against it.
Authoritarian theologian John W. Duggar reasons explicitly along these lines in his 1954 essay, God’s Answer to Segregation, in which he purports to offer a biblical rationale for racial segregation. The year he published God’s Answer to Segregation, Duggar co-founded the Baptist Missionary Alliance Theological Seminary (BMATS), where he served as professor, President (1973–83), and President Emeritus (1983–98). The library at BMATS, completed in 1981, bears his name.
According to Duggar, “All races in the nation should have opportunity for education, for better living conditions, and for citizenship; but in this life they can never be equal in every respect any more than a man and a woman can be equal. God made man for his place and woman for hers. He did not intend for them to change places. If you took all the men and made them housekeepers and took all the women and made them all bread-winners, there would be confusion in this world. God let each of us be born in the sphere of His choosing. …we do not see stars trying to be the sun, or the moon trying to be a star. Everything in God’s universe has its place. … All humans differ. None are equal. The races are not equal.”Duggar (1954), God’s Answer to Segregation
Duggar continues, “By certain aptitudes instilled in the various colored races God has fitted each for the purpose he intended for them. … God permitted the spread of the white race over the earth, for the Gentiles were to predominate in the spread of the Gospel. They were to be more faithful as missionaries of the Gospel Truth than Semites or Hamites. … The white race has an aptitude for exploration, colonization, and scientific progress. Migration of this race to other lands has necessitated the improvement of means of transportation.” Further, Duggar claims, “Descendants of Ham are human beings… However, their place is clearly that of inferiority… God gave them talents to serve others, and there is no race that can compete with them in that field. With proper training they become of great benefit to humanity. They should be educated and should have rights of citizenship, but all the laws and decrees of man can never lift them out of their physical, social, and mental inferiority. They are doomed to that by the decree of Almighty God.” Duggar concludes that, “From the facts presented herein, surely no one could deny that God sanctions segregation of the races by physical separation. …the answer was practically given in the raising of the question, for God speaks plainly.”
I don’t mean to suggest that fondness for patriarchy is identical to racism, or that all patriarchists are racists—rather that the push for gendered hierarchy and the push for racial hierarchy are animated by the same authoritarian impulse. Moreover, once we’ve embraced the authoritarian’s premise that God has designed some people for dominion and others for submission, the line between gender-based subjugation and race-based subjugation is morally arbitrary. The patriarchist might tell himself that he has Scripture to support his position while the racist does not. But as we’ve just demonstrated, the racist can match the patriarchist for biblical proof-texts, in both quantity and purported clarity.
Racists and patriarchists within evangelicalism don’t merely share an ideology, they fish in the same streams. BMATS, the seminary Duggar co-founded the year he published “God’s Answer to Segregation,” is among the sponsors of an upcoming conference in Denton, TX: “Wokeness and the Gospel”. Speakers include a number of renowned patriarchists, including one newly minted Senior Fellow at the Family Research Council, known for his Duggar-like confidence in the clarity of biblical proof-texts that commend human subjugation. Another of the conference’s sponsors is The Master’s Seminary, whose figurehead once had the temerity to suggest that an eminent female Bible teacher should “Go home,” only to demur when local health officials suggested he do the same.
(For his part, the current President of BMATS, Charley Holmes, said that McArthur’s admonition to “Go home” didn’t go far enough (Baptist Trumpet, Nov. 13, 2019). I’m not aware of any statement from Holmes or BMATS regarding Duggar’s racism.)
Whether it’s organized by race or gender, authoritarian theologians baptize their preferred social hierarchy in biblical proof-texts that they alone have the authority to interpret and deem sufficiently clear to bind the conscience of all believers. The conservative evangelical conscience will remain fragmented as long as we attempt to derive morality from a curated collection of biblical proof-texts, tailored by men in power to justify the established order.