Social media reactions to the piece I wrote objecting to Dr. McGowin’s misrepresentation of Dr. Grudem have been predictable. I will not link to the comments and responses here because most of them are from colleagues I know and admire.
The word “listening,” however, has been employed, as it often is, as a kind of weapon. Those who object to Dr. McGowin’s article, we are told, need to do more “listening” to women. One female commenter counted up the number of men responding and the number of women and noted that there were far more men than women. That seemed to be a significant point in her mind.
For others, the problem is my article. I have not spent enough time listening to women’s experiences. Had I done so I would not have answered Dr. McGowin’s piece as I did. I was apparently too unfeeling. Had I taken the time to listen to my wife who has, because she is a woman, more experience with such things, I would have written differently. Anne, ironically, read Dr. McGowin’s piece before I wrote mine and was indignant that she should leverage the emotion she did and ignore the actual evidence of Dr. Grudem’s work and writing. Anne read my piece twice before I published it and thought I was too mealy-mouthed and needed to grow a spine.
As I write this the moderators of one large Facebook group are “freezing the comments.” My post, which was originally deleted, may be deleted again because, “…women moderators are receiving many complaints about the attacks on female commentators. The conversation here does not glorify our Lord.”
If you navigate over to the page in question (I am still not linking it but I am sure you can find it), you might be surprised. There is not a single “attack” on a female commentator. What you will find are arguments questioning the logic of other arguments. But since several of the arguments being challenged are posed by women, the men “are not listening” nor are they “making women feel comfortable to comment.”
This way of thinking and interacting is all too familiar to those of us used to dialogue and conversation and indaba in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Conversation is not really conversation. Listening is not really listening. Listening means that those who feel sidelined or hurt or suppressed will speak and you will not speak. Or if you do speak, you will affirm and agree with what has been said to you. Or you are not listening. Are you straight and oppose the union of two men or two women? You must listen to their experiences.
The effect of this is to move the “conversation” outside the realm of reasoned debate. It is a strong-arm tactic that ends up depicting those who oppose the substance of the arguments being made as unfeeling and mean, as people who support abuse and oppression. “Hurt” gives the one claiming to be hurt real power to silence contrary opinion. The “debate” moves from whether a particular point is correct or incorrect, reasonable or unreasonable, to whether those opposing hurt voices are themselves abusive oppressors, prolonging and increasing the pain of those hurt.
But if, as in this case, “listening to the experience of women” (or any other group) suddenly means that women can make inaccurate misrepresentations of other people’s work, as did Dr. McGowin, and men are not permitted to point out the inaccuracies and misrepresentations without being told they are not “listening,” then we truly do live in that “Brave New World.” What does “listening” mean in such a world? It seems to mean: assenting to an untruth or at least remaining silent when an untruth is spoken by a woman. Why must men do this? Because men have never experienced “oppression” and women have no “power.” But of course, silently assenting to an untruth as if it were truth, or agreeing to remain silent is, itself, an act of submission to a raw exertion of suppressing power.
There is great irony here. Those who desire equal treatment are in fact being treated equally. Their points and arguments are being given the same respect and examination and critique that would and should be offered to anyone else. But it turns out that that is not really what they want. They want their ideological and theological opponents to be silenced and they are willing to coerce this silence by leveraging pain. The sad thing is that there is real pain. Women are abused in marriage and outside of it. There is oppression based on race and sex. These are great evils. But suffering evil does not, as Jesus says, give the Christian license to commit evil in return. That I have suffered pain does not mean that I can lodge accusations without evidence or publicly shame people who have done nothing wrong or silence those who disagree with me.
In the end, this tactic will prove dehumanizing to those who employ it. They lose the dignity they profess to seek by presenting themselves as too fragile to face disagreement, too brittle to be opposed. It will also, depressingly, turn actual suffering into political fodder. Wrongs that must be righted will be laid on the shoulders of those who did not commit them and true justice will never be done.