What if America is just like all the other empires? What if America’s power and wealth aren’t a mark of divine favor, but merely a byproduct of empire-building?
And what if, by mistaking the fruits of empire for God’s blessing, Christian nationalists have gotten confused about what sorts of things God favors—confused about the features of our civilization that believers should make an effort to cultivate and amplify into the future?
For example, what if it’s just a very, very bad thing that our government systematically slaughtered and dispossessed indigenous peoples and desecrated their sacred places? What if that’s just all there is to it: no manifest destiny, nothing redeeming about it—just really bad?
And what if it’s just very, very bad that a lot of America’s early wealth issued from labor that was straightforwardly stolen from people who were kidnapped and sold into slavery. What if that’s just evil, full stop?
Read the Exodus account and ask yourself where you fit into the narrative. If you’re a white American evangelical, you’re not among the Israelites—plainly, you’re with the Egyptians. And why think the American empire is any different from that of Egypt, or Babylon, or Rome?
I don’t understand what Christian nationalists are up to, theologically speaking. I just can’t imagine the early Church concerning itself with Rome’s GDP or reputation on the world stage. The greatness of the Roman Empire was perfectly irrelevant to Christ and his followers.
Of course, as an American, I might concern myself with the American economy, national security, etc. But my concern for such things will be tempered by my Christian faith; it certainly won’t be a consequence of my faith.
The notion that Christianity stands in a special relationship to America makes about as much sense as the idea that Jesus took on flesh to make Rome great again—which is to say, it makes no sense at all: it misunderstands what Christianity is about.
So when, as Christians, we see our nation pursue policies that threaten the well-being of orphans and immigrants in our midst, we really don’t have any business asking whether these policies are good for America. That’s not our concern.
Our concern should be for the ones oppressed, regardless of whether that concern is consistent with ephemeral notions of what makes America great.
Christ has no use for the cultural nostalgia of white American churchgoers: he doesn’t much care for the films of John Wayne. Christ simply doesn’t care whether America is great, or ever was or will be again.
Imagine you’re in a movie theater somewhere in Nebraska.
In the middle of the movie, your phone rings. You answer your phone and proceed to have a conversation at full volume. After about a minute, the guy behind you taps you on the shoulder and says, “Dude, we’re in a movie theater.”
You could respond in any number of ways. You might say, “No, we’re in Nebraska.” But this response isn’t appropriate. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine that anyone would offer this as a serious retort. For one thing, it’s possible to be both in a movie theater and in Nebraska (as you in fact are). So it’s not much of a rebuttal. For another, your fellow movie-goer has stated something obvious to you-namely that you are in a movie theater-because your conduct is that of a person who doesn’t recognize this fact or simply doesn’t care.
We state the obvious when someone’s actions are inconsistent with their having recognized the truth in question. “Dude, we’re in a movie theater” means “Dude, we’re in a movie theater: you should act like it.” Philosophers of language call this ‘conversational implicature’, which is just a fancy term for basic subtexts that competent language users naturally infer under normal circumstances. Under normal circumstances, when someone points out the obvious to us, we infer that we are doing something that suggests we are unaware of the obvious fact that has just been brought to our attention.
When we say, “Black lives matter,” there’s some conversational implicature at work. We live in a society that routinely functions in ways inconsistent with our having recognized that, among all lives, the lives of Black people matter. When we say, “Black lives matter,” we mean, “Black lives matter,” and you should act like it. When we say, “Black lives matter,” we are saying that institutions in our society do not function in a way that is consistent with the recognition that Black lives, specifically, matter:
When Eric Garner is suffocated to death in police custody and no one goes to jail, our society functions as one in which Black lives don’t matter. Hence, “Black lives matter,” and we should act like it. When Freddie Gray dies of injuries sustained in police custody and no one goes to jail, our society functions as one in which Black lives don’t matter. Hence, “Black lives matter,” and we should act like it.
When Trayvon Martin is gunned down while walking through a neighborhood and no one goes to jail, our society functions as one in which Black lives don’t matter. Hence, “Black lives matter,” and we should act like it.
When Elijah McClain dies after being choked by police officers and injected with ketamine, and no one goes to jail, our society functions as one in which Black lives don’t matter. Hence, “Black lives matter,” and we should act like it.
When Ahmaud Arbery is gunned down in broad daylight, on video, and no one goes to jail, our society functions as one in which Black lives don’t matter. Hence, “Black lives matter,” and we should act like it.
When Breonna Taylor is shot 5 times in her own apartment by the police and no one goes to jail, our society functions as one in which Black lives don’t matter. Hence, “Black lives matter,” and we should act like it.
When George Floyd suffocates to death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer and no one goes to jail, our society functions as one in which Black lives don’t matter. Hence, “Black lives matter,” and we should act like it.
So when, as a competent language user, you respond by saying “all lives matter,” one of two things must be the case. Either you’re not fully aware of how our public institutions treat Black citizens; or you are aware, and you’re okay with it–in which case, you are a racist.
I am dismayed by the number of evangelicals who publicly endorse a consequentialist approach to political participation—especially among pastors and those charged with supervising the theological training of pastors.
Consequentialism is vexed by the human inability to foreknow the consequences of our actions. For example, suppose that Christians were to adopt a consequentialist approach to voting. Over a period of about 40 years, let’s say, strictly as a means of achieving some policy objective, we might overlook or perhaps even encourage all manner of evil in voting for politicians who promise that if we’ll only give them more power, they’ll give us what we want.
For all we know, once they finally have that power—once Christians have helped them take control of the House, the Senate, the White House, and appoint a majority of SCOTUS—these politicians will do exactly nothing to advance the promised policy objective.
Where would we be then? Our identity fragmented, our witness in shambles, dwelling in an unjust society with iniquitous laws that we willingly embraced. All in service to a policy objective that these politicians never had any intention of delivering. (And why would they deliver? Then we’d have no reason to vote for them. By hypothesis, the only enticement they have is promising to deliver the one policy that we care most about.)
Ultimately, we can’t know whether our actions will bring about the remote consequences that we intend, and it is foolish to suggest otherwise. Far too many evangelicals are engaging in exactly this kind of foolishness, to the moral and intellectual impoverishment of our witness.
Consequentialism’s only guarantee is that its logic will require us to sacrifice our integrity on the altar of aspiration. Scripture commends integrity rather than utilitarian calculus—‘Thou shalt not lie’ rather than ‘Thou shalt lie only as a means to thine ends’.
Here are books I would recommend to those interested in questions at the intersection of moral and political philosophy, political economy, recent U.S. history, theology, evangelicalism, law and American politics.
Justice and the Social Order by Emil Brunner
Sovereign Virtue by Ronald Dworkin The Evangelicals by Frances FitzGerald
Eclipse of Reason by Max Horkheimer Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez One Nation Under God by Kevin M. Kruse Redeeming America by Michael Lienesch The Value of Everything by Mariana Mazzucato Anarchy, State, and Utopia by Robert Nozick
Philosophical Explanations by Robert Nozick Radical Markets by Eric Posner and Glen Weyl The Problems of Jurisprudence by Richard Posner The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? (2010) by Michael J. Sandel Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood by Christian Smith The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States by Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right by Daniel K. Williams Under God: Religion and American Politics by Garry Wills Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man by Garry Wills Old Testament Ethics for the People of God by Christopher J. H. Wright
Recent discussion of critical race theory (CRT) in conservative evangelical circles has become a distraction from substantive issues of real concern—a chimaera, invoked by culture warriors in a transparent effort to preempt serious conversations about systemic racism.
In point of fact, the concept of systemic racism is used across a number of disciplines to describe a variety of different phenomena. Two general fields of application stand out. One has to do with psychology—racist attitudes and so forth. The other has to do with institutions.
Yet some politically conservative evangelicals talk as though the concept of systemic racism owes its existence to CRT; and they define CRT strictly in terms of theorizing about racist attitudes. Consequently, the notion of systemic racism is merely a contrivance of critical race theorists who wish to assert the ubiquity of racial prejudice among white Americans—an assertion that rings false to white evangelicals who reflect on their own attitudes and think to themselves, “Well I’m not a racist, so systemic racism can’t be real.”
Finally, the culture warriors point out that CRT is vaguely related, in ways that they can’t quite explain, to Marxism. The Gestalt that emerges from all this noise is that systemic racism is a myth—perhaps even a conspiracy—originating in the minds of godless Marxists who say defamatory things about white people and America.
And the culture warriors manage to elicit this reaction without saying a single word about systemic racism qua institutional injustice—which has nothing at all to do with CRT, except insofar as some critical race theorists happen to comment on the racial inflection of institutional injustice in the U.S.
It’s really a remarkable sleight of hand. It allows white evangelicals to dismiss all claims to do with systemic racism qua institutional injustice, without saying the first thing about, e.g., the federal government’s discriminatory housing policies that remained officially in force until 1968: policies that wrought all manner of chronic social infirmity—from school segregation to racial disparities in wealth and income, incarceration, etc.—tangible effects of injustice that impact the day-to-day lives of millions of Americans, many of whom happen to be our brothers and sisters in Christ.
A lot of the same white evangelicals who reject the notion of systemic racism qua institutional injustice also claim they’re praying for some sort of national revival. I’m not sure whether a modern nation-state is the sort of thing that’s eligible for a spiritual revival. But let’s set that to one side.
The God that I read about in the Bible will have nothing whatsoever to do with people who store up harvests sown with the seeds of injustice.
In fact, God detests the supplications of such people:
Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him. Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
So as long as you persist in denying that systemic racism is a problem, don’t worry about whether the government permits you to go to church, with or without a mask. Don’t worry about what kind of music you sing or whether you sing at all. Because none of it matters.
As long as you refuse to address systemic injustice, and willingly continue to benefit from it, God simply doesn’t want to hear from you. Your church is just a building where you meet up with your friends.
When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood! Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.
My initial reaction is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to assume that folks like Franck are arguing in good faith. There’s some funny business going on with the way that he uses definitions—which is, frankly, beneath the dignity of someone in his station. For example, he appeals at one point to dictionary definitions in explaining technical terminology—which is something I wouldn’t accept from a student in First Year Seminar.
Elsewhere, the distinction that he makes between ‘systemic’ and ‘systematic’ is, I suspect, helpful to no one. (Perhaps some people use the word ‘systematic’ when they mean ‘systemic’; but I doubt that anyone has the former in mind when speaking of the latter. There’s no substantive confusion there.)
In any case, my main concern about his argument is this. The term ‘systemic racism’—purportedly the subject of his article—is used across a number of disciplines to describe a variety of phenomena. Two general fields of application stand out. One has to do with features of individual or group psychology. The other has to do with institutions. The author defines ‘systemic racism’ entirely in terms of the former category. He then acknowledges, almost with a shrug, that phenomena in the latter category are a feature of our society—but not technically a form of systemic racism, per his definition.
Thus, by artificially restricting the scope of ‘systemic racism’ to the psychological phenomena discussed in some of the literature, Franck simply defines the other kind of systemic racism (to do with institutions) out of existence. The kind of systemic racism to do with institutions is, incidentally, the kind of systemic racism that most people who think seriously about this subject actually care about—at least in my field.
Overall, my sense is that arguments of this kind are simply a distraction. Instead of talking about how to rectify the kinds of injustice that well-informed people generally understand to exist, we are engaging in sophomoric, sterile conversations about terminology that do absolutely nothing to heal our political community: precisely the opposite, in fact.
Honestly, I don’t know quite what to make of someone in a position of influence who acknowledges the existence of institutional injustice in our society and chooses to spend his leisure patting white folks on the back, offering assurances that none of the “bad stuff” we see around us *technically* counts as systemic racism (provided we define ‘systemic racism’ just so). And insofar as Christ followers participate in this charade, it is to our eternal shame.
What do you think is going to happen when you tell three generations of Evangelicals that the scientists are lying to them?
This is the painfully foreseeable outcome of internalizing a false choice between faith and science. This is the fruit of decades spent browbeating congregants with the message that rejecting scientific consensus is an essential feature of their faith. This is the inevitable result of embracing the decadence of American consumerism and our society’s addiction to convenience—ironically, brought to us by the technological innovations of modern science.
We’ll take the magic cures—the meds for cholesterol, blood pressure and heartburn. We’ll gladly accept the gadgetry. We’ll be entertained instantly. We’ll ask Siri. But when Siri delivers unpleasant news and prescribes a remedy that involves mild inconvenience, the Evangelicals who believe that rejecting expertise is a legitimate option—and that immediate gratification is their God-given right—will simply refuse to be inconvenienced. Or, when finally forced to adopt practices designed to protect the vulnerable among us, the ones complaining the loudest will be Evangelicals.
Whether it’s COVID or climate, this is the legacy of the Culture War. Let’s hope that it won’t be the legacy of American Evangelicalism.
The U.S. is dealing with two distinct but related crises. The first is a public health crisis: the spread of a pandemic virus. The second is an economic crisis precipitated by our efforts to mitigate the public health crisis. The public debate around these crises purports to be a debate about competing values: economics versus public health.
Some argue that the economic crisis has become so grave, with unemployment surpassing 20%, that governors should lift restrictions on businesses and accept the public health fallout as an unfortunate consequence of salvaging our economy. After all, they argue, we regularly sacrifice human life on the altar of economic gain. We don’t shut down the entire economy during flu season even though tens of thousands die from flu-related complications every year. We could reduce traffic fatalities to roughly zero if we lowered all speed limits to 15mph; but we don’t do that, either.
On the other hand, public health experts insist that resuming our economic activity now would be an unmitigated disaster. Without rigorous testing and contact tracing, the exponential spread of the virus would overwhelm our healthcare system. Hospitals would be flooded with COVID–19 patients, many of whom require intubation. Without adequate protective equipment, doctors and nurses would get sick (as many already have). Routine medical procedures like appendectomies and bypass surgeries would become increasingly difficult to manage. As local healthcare systems reach the limits of their capacity, doctors would be forced to deny treatment to those who are least likely to benefit from precious resources—gradually reducing the age at which patients are given access to ventilators and ICU beds, from 70 to 65, then 60, and so on.
dire warnings and bad science fiction
Public health experts are issuing dire warnings about the consequences of lifting social restrictions without a rigorous plan for testing and tracing. Meanwhile, some politicians and other non-experts regale the public with stories about a parallel dimension in which we all agree to put on our big-boy pants and go to work. As a cost of doing business, Grandma might be stricken with an exotic plague. These stories are pure science fiction—more precisely, bad science fiction, insofar as they are premised not on surpassing scientific consensus but completely rejecting it.
For the sake of discussion, suppose the experts are correct. (This supposition shouldn’t be too difficult to entertain—they are, after all, experts.) Within months of returning to work, there would be thousands more COVID-19 patients over the age of 60 slowly suffocating to death, without medical intervention, every single day. The death toll would grow exponentially, until either the virus runs its course—claiming somewhere between 1 and 2 million lives—or we relent and agree to start the process of social distancing all over again, at which point the number of COVID–19 deaths would continue to rise for at least a couple of weeks before receding.
Does anyone genuinely believe, even for a moment, that we would have a functioning economy in such a scenario? Of course not. It’s inconceivable. So the narrative about bravely risking our health for the sake of the economy is mere fantasy: there is no possible state of affairs in which our economy flourishes amidst the kind of devastation forecasted by experts.
the folly of “economics first”
The Chinese government learned this the hard way. They tried the “economics first” approach in Wuhan and it failed so spectacularly that COVID–19 is now a pandemic. Strangely, the most severe critics of China’s approach in Wuhan are among the loudest voices promoting the very same “economics first” strategy in the U.S. The economic lesson to be drawn from Wuhan is that the path to economic recovery runs inexorably through public health.
We will not be saved by showmanship or marketing gimmicks. The pandemic is indifferent to public opinion. And a miracle cure is not forthcoming. So, as we await the results of clinical drug trials, we need exactly what we needed a month ago and the month before that: testing and tracing. We must embrace the hard work of doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way—in a word, we need virtue.
wisdom, courage and temperance
Plato’s Republic addresses this matter at length. He divides the members of a political community into three estates: political leadership, soldiers, and everyone else. In a good republic, each of these classes exemplifies a cardinal virtue. For obvious reasons, the political class must have wisdom and warriors require courage. To the rest of us he assigns the virtue of temperance. For if the general public becomes addicted to the trappings of wealth, the wisdom of our leaders will be overtaken by the tyranny of collective appetite; and insatiable consumption will waste the courage of our soldiers on wars of conquest.
For present purposes, our political community can be usefully divided into three groups: political leadership, essential workers, and everyone else. Our lives depend on the courage of our essential workers—from doctors and nurses to deliverymen and grocery store clerks. And if we proceed with an intemperate “economics first” strategy, the courage of our medical professionals and other essential workers will be wasted on preventable waves of illness.
There are a couple of reasons for my recent hiatus from the blog.
The reason for my absence over the past few months is the birth of my first child.
Additionally, a university press has expressed interest in publishing my book on evangelicalism, politics and institutional justice. So, as I emerge from the fog of new-parenthood, most of my writing energies will be devoted to the book project.
Although I don’t plan to post with any regularity until the book manuscript is complete (around the end of 2020), it seems likely that I’ll have occasion to comment on current events (especially in the SBC context); and I may post some early drafts of ideas that I’m working out for the book.
As always, dear reader, I appreciate your interest.
According to a small but vocal
minority of ultra-complementarian faculty at Southern Baptist seminaries, our society’s
most pressing infirmities would be cured if only Christian women would fully embrace
their God-given role as homemakers. These men are less vocal about the fact
that they accept salaries from institutions that depend upon the financial
contributions of women who are employed outside of the home. You might say that
they want to have their complementarian cake and get paid, too.
The inconsistency between what
these men say and how they are paid cannot go perpetually unnoticed. Southern
Baptists are increasingly hostile toward institutional hypocrisy—particularly
as it concerns the church’s treatment of women and other historically
So, when public scrutiny descends
upon the uncomfortable fact that working Southern Baptist women are contributing
to the salaries of men who earn their pay by declaring that women should really
stay at home, I fear that the financial consequences for Southern Baptist
institutions may be catastrophic.
In the hope that such a catastrophe
might be averted, I have a modest proposal for reconciling doctrine and
practice among seminary faculty on matters of gender and authority. I’ll begin
by stating the ultra-complementarian position in the language of its most
In describing his own commitment to ultra-complementarianism, Owen Strachan, an associate professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Seminary, notes that: “For millennia, followers of God have practiced what used to be called patriarchy and is now called complementarianism.” He goes on to observe the distinct roles assigned to men and women:
Husbands will have long days and experience physical problems from work; when given children by God, wives will face some stress and tiredness from caring for active little ones all day. … Men can image Christ the savior-king by folding laundry on occasion, by getting down on the floor to play with their kids, and by doing dishes when they can. But they must commit themselves primarily to the work of provision, whether of spiritual leadership in the home or financial breadwinning to sustain it.
Strachan, Owen. “Of “Dad Moms” and “Man Fails”: An Essay on Men and Awesomeness.” Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood XVII, no. 2 (Spring 2012): 26.
In a blog post that refers to
stay-at-home dads as “man fails,” Strachan gives something of a finer point to
Men are not called by God to be “working at home” as women are in Titus 2:5. The ground is not cursed for women in Genesis 3:17, but for men, whose responsibility it was to work outside of the home—and to protect women… The curse bore down upon Eve’s primary activity, child bearing, showing that her intended sphere of labor and dominion-taking was the home (Genesis 3:16).
And in a debate on Moody Radio in
2012, Strachan summed up his view of gender roles in the following way:
I would say both men and women bear the image of God and so are fully invested for a life of meaningful service for God. That’s my starting point, but I would say then from a broad biblical theology that men are called to be leaders, providers, protectors and women are nurturers. Women follow men in the home and the church. Women are called to the high calling of raising families, given that God blesses them with children, and making homes, being homemakers. These are roles that I think Scripture hands down for us pretty clearly in texts like Genesis 3.
Bruce Ware, professor of Christian Theology at Southern Seminary and former president of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, captures his commitment to ultra-complementarianism more succinctly: “Clearly, God made men stronger and bigger, as a gender, and he made women able to give birth to, feed, and nurture children.” (I offer my thoughts on this sort of masculinity here.)
Dorothy Patterson, wife of former
seminary president Paige Patterson, expresses the same sentiment in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,
a text that Strachan commends as a “theological masterpiece,”
Women have been liberated right out of the genuine freedom they enjoyed for centuries to oversee the home, rear the children, and pursue personal creativity; they have been brainwashed to believe that the absence of a titled, payroll occupation enslaves a woman to failure… In fact, the opposite is true because a salaried job and titled position can inhibit a woman’s natural nesting instinct and maternity by inverting her priorities so that failures almost inevitably come in the rearing of her own children and the building of an earthly shelter for those whom she loves most.
Patterson, Dorothy. “The High Calling of Wife and Mother in Biblical Perspective.” In Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, 372. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991.
She goes on to spell out exactly
what a woman’s priorities might look like when properly ordered, in the absence
of a salaried job or titled position:
Keeping the home is God’s assignment to the wife—even down to changing the sheets, doing the laundry, and scrubbing the floors. … Few women realize what great service they are doing for mankind and for the kingdom of Christ when they provide a shelter for the family and good mothering… No professional pursuit so uniquely combines the most menial tasks with the most meaningful opportunities.
Patterson, Dorothy. “The High Calling of Wife and Mother in Biblical Perspective.” In Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, 373. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991.
So, according to Strachan, Ware
and the Pattersons, God created men to provide financial stability for the
family; and God made women to care for children and keep house.
They don’t state explicitly that it’s wrong
for a woman to work outside the home. But it’s clear that any actual human
woman who fulfills her wifely and motherly duties in the way that they describe
would find it difficult to pursue a professional vocation; and that fact is not
incidental to their position.
Finally, it’s worth noting that
ultra-complementarians claim that their position on gender roles is a biblical
mandate that is worth fighting over—especially when it comes to teaching or the
exercise of authority in religious organizations. Consider the words of Denny
Burk, professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College (at Southern Seminary) and
current president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. When Campus
Crusade demoted Daniel Hartman for prohibiting women from leading co-ed Bible
studies associated with CRU, Burk stated:
I commend Daniel for standing upon the truth of God even at great personal cost. This conflict threatens not just his ministry but his livelihood. … I’m sure it would have been easier simply to let it go and revise his personal beliefs in order to protect his position. He didn’t do that, and I am grateful for the stand he has taken.
Moreover, in criticizing the decision of Bent Tree Bible Fellowship to incorporate leadership roles for women in their church, Burk states that “the issue would definitely be one worth dividing over.” So, according to ultra-complementarians like Ware, Burk, Strachan and the Pattersons, their commitment to patriarchy is more than a matter of conscience. It’s about submitting to the gender hierarchy that God prescribes for human flourishing. (And, ultimately, it’s about winning the Culture War.)
working Southern Baptist women
What Strachan, Ware, Burk and
their ultra-complementarian colleagues seem to ignore is that their employers rely
on financial contributions from women who work outside the home. These contributions
come in two forms. First, the Cooperative Program (CP) allocates funds to each
of the six seminaries based on enrollment; and an estimated 35% of the CP’s annual
budget comes from the tithes and offerings of working Southern Baptist women.
Second, an estimated 25% of seminarians depend on income from their spouse’s
employment to pay tuition and living expenses while completing their degrees.
Here’s the big picture. If
Southern Baptist families conformed to the patriarchal fantasy that
ultra-complementarians describe, then Southern Baptist seminary faculty like
Strachan, Ware and Burk would have to take a massive cut in pay. By way of
detail, let’s consider the financial situation at the two SBC seminaries that
employ the most strident ultra-complementarian faculty: Midwestern (Strachan) and
Southern (Ware and Burk).
According to the Council of
Seminary Presidents’ 2019 report, Southern received about $10.1M from the CP
for the 2017-18
academic year (roughly $4400 per student).
That makes CP contributions Southern’s second-largest revenue stream,
accounting for a little over 19% of Southern’s total income. But in the ideal
world of ultra-complementarians like Burk and Ware, Southern Baptist women
wouldn’t have any income on which to tithe. Given that 35% of the CP’s annual
budget comes from the tithes of working Southern Baptist women, that would mean
35% less money for the CP to distribute among subsidiaries like the
International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, Lifeway and
seminaries like Southern.
If we set aside fixed operations
costs (e.g. energy bills, maintenance, transport, property rental), and assume (charitably) that the CP would make
even cuts across the board, eliminating the tithes and offerings of working
Southern Baptist women would reduce the CP’s contribution to Southern from $10.1M
That would constitute a 7% reduction in Southern’s total income.
Southern’s largest source of
revenue is tuition and fees. Full-time seminary students attend class for at
least 12 hours per week, typically during regular business hours. As a general
rule, advanced degree programs require about two hours of study for every hour
spent in class. So full-time seminary students should be studying for about 24
hours per week. Thus, between class time and study time, full-time seminary
students are engaged in coursework for about 36 hours per week.
That 36-hour time commitment
makes it difficult for seminarians to secure benefitted employment that would
enable them to pay living costs and raise a family, not to mention pay their tuition. So an estimated 25%
of seminary students would be unable to attend seminary were it not for the
substantive financial support of their wives.
Thus, without the financial contributions of working seminary wives, Southern’s
enrollment would drop from 2,339 full-time students to 1,754. That would slash
Southern’s tuition revenue by $4.34M.
Now recall that the CP’s
contribution to each seminary is based on full-time enrollment. So without the contributions
of working women, Southern wouldn’t just stand to lose $4.34M in revenue from
the 585 students who would be unable to attend seminary were it not for the financial
support of their wives. Southern would also lose the CP’s corresponding $4,400
contribution for each of those 585 students, which comes to about $2.55M. That
brings the financial shortfall from a 25% reduction in full-time enrollment to
about $6.9M, which is 13% of Southern’s current budget.
Combining the 35% cut to CP
funding with the fallout from a 25% drop in enrollment, Southern Seminary’s
budget would be about $10.5M lighter without the financial contributions of
working Southern Baptist women. That’s 20% of Southern’s $52.1M budget for the
Making matters worse for ultra-complementarians
like Ware and Burk, salary and benefits only account for 52% of Southern’s
budget. Give or take a banquet here and a per
diem there, the other 48% of Southern’s budget goes to fixed operational
costs like maintaining its facilities.
Fixed costs can’t be reduced—that’s what makes them fixed. So the 20% budget shortfall would need to come out of the
52% of Southern’s budget that goes to salary and benefits. That would bring
total expenditures on salary and benefits from $27.1M to $16.7M—a reduction of
38%. In other words, if working Southern Baptist women withdrew their financial
support from Southern Seminary, faculty like Ware and Burk would need to take a
38% cut in pay.
The situation at Midwestern is
even more precarious. Without the financial contributions of working Southern
Baptist women, Midwestern’s budget would go from $22.1M to $16.4M—a loss of
26%. And their budget for salaries and benefits would go from $11.9M to $6.3M.
So, if Southern Baptist women were to stop supporting Midwestern financially,
Strachan and his colleagues would need to take a 47% cut in pay.
a modest proposal
My concern is this. Generally
speaking, insulting one’s patrons is a bad idea. In light of the views espoused
by ultra-complementarian seminary faculty, Southern Baptist women might decide
that their tithe dollars would be put to better use by an organization that is
unaffiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. After all, nothing in
Scripture says that a woman’s tithe must go to the Baptist church that she
attends; or that the tithes she gives to her Baptist church must go to the CP;
or that her Baptist church cannot contribute to the CP on the condition that
its contribution doesn’t support SBC seminaries in general, or seminaries whose
faculty promote ultra-complementarianism in particular. Scripture says none of
My fear, in short, is that Southern
Baptist women might come to the realization that they no longer wish to subsidize
the propagation of ultra-complementarianism in Southern Baptist seminaries by
contributing to the salaries of men like Ware, Strachan and Burk. And in light
of the economic power that women hold over institutions like Southern and
Midwestern, the consequences of that realization would be financially
ruinous—not only to the few faculty who bite the hands that enable them to feed
their families, but to the majority of their colleagues whose public stance on
gender roles is consistent with the 2000 Faith
So, in the hope that such a catastrophe might be averted, I offer the following modest proposal. Seminary faculty who continue to publicly endorse the ultra-complementarianism of Ware, Strachan, Burk and the Pattersons should take a voluntary 20% cut in pay, effective immediately.
Those who profess that employment outside the home is a detriment to the “high calling” of all wives and mothers should not willingly profit from the very employment that they regard as so detrimental to such an important calling.
This proposal is indeed modest, insofar
as it reflects a low estimate of the overall financial contributions that women
make to Southern Baptist seminaries. It doesn’t account for, e.g., past contributions
that women have made to building campaigns that produced the classrooms and
offices where seminary faculty now work. It doesn’t account for the
contributions that women make to defraying the fixed costs associated with
operating a modern academic institution, e.g. air conditioning, electricity and
landscaping. And it doesn’t call upon ultra-complementarian seminary faculty to
repay years of financial benefits that they have accepted from women who work
outside the home.
 Strachan, Owen. “Of
“Dad Moms” and “Man Fails”: An Essay on Men and Awesomeness.” Journal for Biblical
Manhood and Womanhood XVII, no. 2 (Spring 2012): 25.
It’s notable that Strachan was subsequently named president of the Council for
Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. To my knowledge, he’s never retracted or
revised his equation of “complementarianism” with patriarchy. It would seem,
then, that the term “complementarianism” has far more to do with public
relations than any substantive aversion to patriarchy per se.
 Patterson, Dorothy. “The
High Calling of Wife and Mother in Biblical Perspective.” In Recovering Biblical
Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, 372. Wheaton, IL:
Crossway Books, 1991.
 Given her commitment to ultra-complementarianism, I
doubt that Dorothy Patterson is in the habit of publishing views that haven’t
met with her husband’s approval. Hence, “the Pattersons.”
 Burk, Denny. “When It
Costs To Be Complementarian.” Denny Burk: A commentary on theology,
politics and culture. Last modified December 1, 2012. Accessed July 15, 2019.
http://www.dennyburk.com/when-it-costs-to-be-complementarian/. Given the recent
controversy surrounding Beth Moore, it’s worth observing that the CRU incident
didn’t involve a church or a Sunday morning.
 Burk, Denny. “Some
reflections on a church that has recently embraced egalitarianism.” Denny
Burk: A commentary on theology, politics, and culture. Last modified April ,
2016. Accessed July 15, 2019. http://www.dennyburk.com/some-reflections-on-a-church-that-has-recently-embraced-egalitarianism/.
Note that Burk’s emphasis on the
importance of gender roles is consistent with Strachan’s view that “To a
considerable degree, complementarianism helps us understand who we are and what
we have been placed on this earth to do. It does not attempt to answer every
question about life. But it does give us a framework for understanding what men
and women have been called to do by Almighty God.” (Strachan, Owen. “Complementarianism as a
Worldview.” IX 9Marks. Last modified March 19, 2015. Accessed July 15,
 This is my own (undoubtedly low) estimate, based on
factors like median income, prevalence of women in the workforce, etc. If the
Cooperative Program keeps statistics on such matters, I’d be happy to be
 This is my own (undoubtedly low) estimate, based on
my own experience and informal polling. Exact numbers are welcome from anyone
who has them.
 This assumption is charitable because it seems more
likely that the CP would make smaller cuts to subsidiaries associated with
missions—i.e., the CP’s original mandate.
 Again, this is my own (undoubtedly low) estimate.
 Actually, the cost of maintaining facilities isn’t
entirely fixed. But the modest variability wouldn’t work in Southern’s favor.
Empty dorms or family housing units would still need heat during the winter,
e.g., to prevent pipes from freezing. But instead of having residents to pay
for that heat, Southern would need to foot the bill as an institution.