Lawless Hatred of a Lawful Karen

A copy-paste from Lamb’s Reign:

From Gamer Boys, Twitter Trolls, & Karen Swallow Prior, by John Reasnor

—<Quote begins>—

A few days ago, English professor, columnist, and author Karen Swallow Prior publicly announced that she would not be returning to her position at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. 

In her announcement, she wrote:

It has also become clear to me that I am simply not well-suited to the politics of institutional life in the SBC. 

Therefore, I have made the difficult decision not to return to SEBTS in the fall.

The fallout of her announcement only confirmed what she wrote. Many men affiliated with the SBC filled up her comments with scorn, ridicule, and even rejoicing that she was leaving. Others felt vindicated in their previous complaints toward Professor Prior as if her departure confirmed some suspicion. 

Later that evening, Jacob Denhollander posted some insight into this dynamic. He writes: 

There’s a self-fulfilling prophecy for women, especially, trying to have opinions and work in conservative circles. They are treated with baseless hostility and suspicion, and when they eventually find it too much to bear and leave, their detractors say, “See, we were right!”

The eggshells women have to walk on merely to voice their opinions or experiences in conservative spaces is just *absurd.* They have to either toe the company line & become essentially cheerleaders or mascots, or they are treated immediately as suspicious & not really belonging.

And so often the suspicion is based on *nothing* having to do with the content of their beliefs or their creed, but everything to do with their unwillingness to pander to the men in these spaces who see themselves as authorities & their fans who view them as icons.

I have witnessed this same phenomenon many times.

I do not know the details of Professor Prior’s resignation, but I have repeatedly witnessed her take the high road. I can also confirm that she could embarrass some of her critics, but she chooses not to. In contrast, the men targeting her are eager to find any opportunity to oppose her. While I’m a Presbyterian and have some other differences with her, I cannot help but see the similarities between her case and Jacob’s post. Further, I can’t help but see a much broader pattern of behavior. 

But I also wonder why a specific subset of male church leaders acts particularly hostile toward women—especially a particular sort of woman. These men consistently move beyond cordial ideological debate, heartfelt concern, or Christian reproof. Instead, these men hurl insults, degrade these targeted women, and work hard to not only correct the women they disagree with but also tarnish their reputations, diminish their influence, and end their careers. 

This radical behavior is certainly not representative of all men, and it’s not even representative of how some men treat all women they disagree with. But it is the expected behavior of some towards a subset of Christian women. 

Years ago, I stumbled upon an academic paper outlining some interesting dynamics between men and women video gamers that could shine some light on this issue. 

This study found that lower-skilled male Halo 3 players were statistically more likely to be verbally abusive toward players with a female voice. On the other hand, high-skilled male players were more likely to be passive toward female gamers. 

I have anecdotally experienced this to some degree. When a woman uses voice chat, the hostility (sometimes alluding to violence and/or sexual violence) begins. Online gamer culture is notoriously toxic and abusive, but there’s certainly a difference between how male players and female players are treated. This paper confirms my own experience. 

Though I don’t play many online multiplayer games, as a blogger and sometimes podcaster, I have historically spent a good amount of time on social media and in the comment sections of articles. And I can confidently say that the same dynamic you can observe in a Call of Duty or Halo game can be seen on Twitter and Facebook. 

I have the privilege of being friends with many exceptionally talented women who are experts in one field or another, if not many fields. From advanced academic degrees to a vast amount of self-taught knowledge, many women can run theological circles around many of their male critics. 

Yet, I’ve seen, again and again, brilliant women treated like garbage by mediocre (at best) male Twitter theologians and, tragically, sometimes actual pastors. 

Women in conservative circles can usually get away with passively cloaking their disagreement as submissive questions. Instead of stating her position, much less arguing for her position, she may feel pressure to state her position as a question. If she is afraid to object openly, she must bracket all objections with plenty of “with all due respect” and “although I appreciate your perspective” phrases. With every objection, she must throw in something that soothes the ego of the Twitter Theology Bro™.  

But if she plainly states her case or even nears any firmness, she receives brutish acting out. If she doesn’t receive flagrant hostility, she’s almost certainly met with condescension and dismissiveness. She’ll be quickly labeled a “shrill, loud, and probably bitter woman.” And these women do not tend to be aggressive, rude, or argumentative. These do not invite hostilities or contentious with their own bad behavior. 

In the hundreds of online conversations I’ve had about a plethora of theological concepts, I’ve noticed that I am treated differently than my sisters in Christ. When I engage in a topic, and sometimes even firmly disagree, I am typically responded to respectively, honorably, and with a level head. Even if the debate becomes tense, there’s almost always a sense of basic mutual dignity between brothers in Christ. At the same time, when a woman enters the discussion, she’s often not afforded the same level of dignity and respect. She can defend the same position as I, and even in a more submissive way, but she is met with suspicion, hostility, or condescension. 

To revisit the study on Halo gamers, the writers put forward the following hypothesis as an explanation for this gender-based and skill-based behavior discrepancy. 

We suggest that low-status males increase female-directed hostility to minimize the loss of status as a consequence of hierarchical reconfiguration resulting from the entrance of a woman into the competitive arena. Higher-skilled players, in contrast, were more positive towards a female relative to a male teammate.

In other words, low-skill male players feel that gaming is a male space. When women (especially high-skill women) enter this supposedly male space, they feel a competitive insecurity when their social hierarchy is disrupted. It’s essentially a territory dispute. She’s a threat, but only to low-skill players. 

In the same way, knowledgeable, influential, and capable women in certain Christian circles are treated like a threat to insecure men. Like a rageful Call of Duty gamer ready to throw his controller across the room, many comparatively low-intelligence, less influential, and less capable men throw temper tantrums on Twitter because certain women are making them look bad. Meanwhile, many more mature and often more knowledgeable men may disagree with these capable women, but they do so as adults. 

I haven’t seen this a few times; I’ve seen this hundreds of times.

Disagreeing, debating, and even correcting like a mature man is one thing. But the sort of childish trolling, mocking, and scoffing that is all too common is a mark of low-skill, low-maturity, and high-insecurity. This kind of behavior towards women says far more about the male critics than it does about the women. 

“Harsh as truth” Twitter pastors, Christian Shock Jocks, and Trad Memelords… know that you’re signaling truths about yourself. Women have always noted how they are treated differently, but many men are also fully aware of the dynamics under the surface. We know the game being played, and we know that it is driven by vanity, envy, and insecurity. We know the ruckus you cause is about feeling entitled to influential spaces of Christian life and thought, regardless of whether it’s an ordained position. We know this is about clinging to power and influence as much as, if not more than, sincerely held views on ordaining women. You show your hand when female lawyers, professors, and writers are treated just as harshly as female pastors. It’s increasingly transparent that the problem, to you, is women in spaces that you think belong to you. This “no girls allowed” attitude extends far beyond the pulpit, and we all know it.  

Know that most women know the routine very well. I’m far from the first man to point this out, and I’m sure I’m far from the first person to point any of this out, but I’ll still add my name to the list of men who can cut through the veneer of doctrinal browbeating to see the hidden angst of little men fearfully gatekeeping their Twitter influence. 

Grow up, and shame on you. 

Lastly, when an organization states a principle such as “we highly value women in various roles of influence,” but that same organization tends to run that exact sort of woman off, there’s an apparent disconnect. Something isn’t aligned between stated values and reality. Perhaps they’re working towards that value, and that explains the disconnect. Or, perhaps they’re moving in the other direction and widening the gulf between the public-facing policy and what’s happening in churches, universities, and other organizations. 

Suppose women are respected and honored in various roles and positions open to them according to the traditional doctrinal standards of the church. Is that reflective of how women in those roles are treated? Is that reflected in women even being in those roles? If not, let’s stop lying about how women are respected and honored in our circles. 

—<Quote ends>—

An end of lies would be a good thing.

That opens the door to repentance.

And thus, from death to life.


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