Wokescolds Circling Over Dallas

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Okay, so a week or so ago now, yet another problematic situation surfaced in Dallas. Josh Howerton, a pastor of a megachurch there, had told a joke in a sermon a month or so before that drew the inevitable response. You know the inevitable response I am talking about, right? Correct. “That’s not funny.”

If you feel like you need to get up to speed, the initial froth was put into play here. A fuller clip is here, providing a bit of what people in another era might have called “more context.” A piece from one of our soft woke thinkaterias was part of the mix. The tempest made the Dallas paper, and was picked up by Salon. A bit more had been folded into the mix when this clip was circulated, a clip of Josh and his wife Jana talking about a time when she had needed to repent of her sexual selfishness. Her advice to women, in essence, had been to stop acting like a goalie—advice which left some folks in the comments thread aghast. Of course, it must be remembered that they are always aghast.

Okay, Qualification Time

My purpose here is to try to explain what is happening to Josh Howerton, and why it is happening. The purpose is not to act as though he and I are of the same mind with regard to sermons and jokes, because I think it would be fair to say that we aren’t. While I did think his joke was funny, the fact that he told it in the course of a sermon revealed to me a different view of what sermons ought to be like—but not what jokes ought to be like. But that is neither here nor there, and has nothing to do with what happened to him after he used the joke as an illustration.

He was the quarterback on the field, and he ran a particular play. His opponents were in a particular defensive formation, and they responded in a very predictable way. My purpose here is to go to the chalkboard, and cover it with x’s and o’s, like I was John Madden or somebody.

What is Actually Being Policed

Mainstream evangelicalism, big box churches and all, has been drifting pleasantly downstream for quite a while. Some of the rafts were big, and some little, and all of them were yellow and rubberized plastic. But being in the mainstream is not the advantage it necessarily purports to be, remember, because it is the mainstream that goes over the center of the cataract when you eventually round that final bend in the river. And it has to be noted that Josh Howerton’s church did fit nicely into the middle of that complacent drift above the falls. He was the one, for example, who invited Beth Moore to preach on Mother’s Day that one time. That presents us with what Charles Hodge would have called “a problem.”

But the events of the last four years have been revelatory for a lot of people. Of course, some prophets and seers had long had a map of the river, and had been warning people about the falls for decades. It had always been relatively easy to ignore these map-extremists, what with their heavy reliance on paper and all. But then some out in the rafts started paying closer attention during the last few years, and as a result saw that a number of government agencies had their power boats out, and were herding all the evangelical rafts into a big clump in the middle of the river. Then somebody noticed an ominous roar downstream.

So what is happening to Josh Howerton is meant as an object lesson. This is what happens if you notice something and start paddling away from the big yellow clump, as Josh has been doing of late. You will be sure to get “the treatment.”

A big part of what’s going on here is the resurgence of red-pilled churches, including some big ones, and this is an attempt to strangle such reactions in the cradle. I am not talking about those churches that have been stalwart all along, but rather churches that were caught up in the drift for a time, and which are now having second thoughts. If megachurch pastors start recovering themselves and returning to a faithful preaching of the Bible, in order to equip their churches for the challenges we face . . . that is no trifle. It appears to me that Howerton is a good example of a typical Third Way guy who has started to wake up to Woke.

So even if Josh has gotten successfully away, working him over like this is still valuable for those guys still out in the middle of that cluster of rafts. The mob’s target is other pastors like Josh, and not just Josh himself. Let us say some of these other pastors don’t have a church that is as established as Lakepointe, and let us postulate that they might have an elder or three who is more than a little wobbly. “This is what happens if you preach about manhood and womanhood. You will get the treatment.”

The threat is not an idle one. They will do it. They will seize on anything, misrepresent anything, and you and I both know that they never play fair.

So here is my exhortation to those pastors who have wide eyes, and who have their paddle raised, about to move away from the yellow clump. Count the cost. You see what happened to Josh, and you don’t know if your church could survive something like that. Count the cost, but then you should do the right thing. That ominous roar really is a lot louder.

But counting the cost means going into it with your eyes open.


The first element of the treatment is (routinely) mischaracterization. Josh Howerton told a joke that illustrated and highlighted certain typical differences when it comes to men and women. I write this knowing that this word typical is half of the word stereotypical, and to traffic in stereotypes is almost as bad as giving way to generalizations. The joke he told revolves around women looking forward to their wedding day, as they have for years, and men looking forward to their wedding night, as they have for years. So to make his bride happy that day, the groom should make sure to “stand here, wear this, and do as you’re told.” And that evening, to make the groom happy, the bride should “stand here, wear this, and do as you’re told.” And as you might anticipate, it was the work of mere moments to problematize this.

The hit against Howerton worked as well as it did—it got the traction it did—because they took the punchline of a joke and represented it as the sum total of Howerton’s “marriage advice” for women. Take a look at that headline again: “Pastor’s wedding night advice to women opens a conversation on harmful evangelical teaching on sex.” The dishonesty of this is breathtaking. Suppose some fundamentalist web site attacked Howerton from the other direction, saying that he teaches men to obey their wives all the time—any time they are outside the bedroom. Apart from sex men are always to “do as you’re told.” Is that really Howerton’s “marriage advice?”

In the header above, I used the word mischaracterization. But there is another word for it.

Leave This to the Licensed Professionals

Many years ago we had a congregational controversy at Christ Church that involved the possible disqualification of an elder because of the behavior of his son. We were on the verge of acting on this when new information came out at the last minute, and so we decided to postpone acting for a few weeks so that we could investigate further. When this postponement was announced at our heads of households meeting, one of our parishioners went sideways and created a Stink. This created a brand new situation, and when I explain that situation you should understand the relevance of it to the Howerton imbroglio. Whether or not the elder in question was qualified was an open question, one that we needed to check into. But whether or not the man who went sideways was qualified to seize control of the church through creating a Situation was not an open question at all. That was a slam dunk no.

What we have here is a bunch of outsiders who have seized upon an excuse to justify coming into a local congregation in order to dictate the terms of surrender. That congregation chose a pastor who was teaching them in accordance with what they had all agreed upon. They like him. They were listening to a voice they trusted, but the illustration/joke that he used offended a bunch of outside people who had no connection to the church whatever. These outsiders then created a brouhaha in Outside Land, and began to instruct the saints at Lakepointe Church about what Needed to be Done.

Not only do they chastise the current pastor, but they have nominations for his replacement.

In the Baptist News Global piece, Gregoire says: “We see someone who is not trained in sexuality speaking authoritatively on it in a way that can actually do harm.”

Stringer says: “In the same way that you would not go to a cardiologist if they had no training in understanding the heart, we should have some healthy level of suspicion about listening and responding to a pastor’s sex message when they have had no training and likely very little therapy of their own.”

Gregoire again: ““Please pastors, understand when you’re out of your depth . . . You’re not an expert on mental health. You’re not an expert on sex. You’re not an expert on parenting . . . I just really wish pastors didn’t feel like they had to address everything and that congregations didn’t expect their pastors to address everything.”

Therapy has entered the room. All rise!

But you all know the question I am always itching to raise. By what standard? According to the leaders of this attempted hostile takeover, they want to replace pastors with “licensed and trauma-trained counselors”—people who are well-equipped to identify anyone who disagrees with them as a narcissist. Pastors are instructed to focus on the spiritual stuff, while they labor industriously to make sure that the territory of the spiritual stuff is gradually reduced to complete irrelevance. But they have their alternative ready—trained and licensed counselors are of course a newly-minted magisterium, a college of professionals all geared up to execrate anyone who teaches the people the biblical view of sin, sexuality, or salvation.

Trained by whom? People who don’t believe the Bible. Licensed by whom? People who don’t believe the Bible. Accredited by whom? People who don’t believe the Bible. Diplomas awarded by whom? People who don’t believe the Bible. Certificates handed out by whom? People who don’t believe the Bible.

Authorized by whom? People who have categorized castrations and mastectomies as “affirming care.” People who treat mental illness as normal which—come to think of it—for them it is.

I don’t know about you, but I believe I have picked up on a pattern.

Josh Howerton has simply been made the designated object lesson. He is a declared avatar for entitled patriarchy, toxic masculinity, and all topped off with pastoral ineptitude. So declare the people who don’t believe the Bible.

Jokes About Sex

Let us distinguish, right at the beginning, the distinction between dirty jokes and jokes about sex. The former is prohibited by the apostle (Eph. 5:4), and the latter is unavoidable. How can we avoid jokes about sex when sex itself actually is kind of a joke? A practical joke, but a joke nonetheless.

“The only comfort is my first comfort—that it is absurd and therefore sane.”

Robert Farrar Capon, Bed and Board

So this brings us to one of the more obvious things about this whole affair, and that is how puritanical the wokescolds always are. I use this word puritanical advisedly because the Puritans, like Howerton, have been slandered in this—the last thing Puritans were was puritanical about sex. But the wokescolds really do represent what that word has come to mean. They fit right into that caricature. The next thing we should look for is when they start putting buckles on their hats.

All rigorous and dour, scratching at their scruples, which are always itching, with no grace and even less humor. If you wanted to know what Puritanism without Jesus looks like, this would be it. Josh Howerton was treating a serious topic in a lighthearted way, and he was saying something that a lot of couples really do need to learn, and he did it in a way that would disarm them.

On this topic, Lewis is especially good. If you look this quote up and read some of the context around it, he has some fun with the psychologists also—you know, people licensed to teach about sex with furrowed brow and ominous tones.

“One author tells us that Venus should recur through the married life in ‘a solemn, sacramental rhythm.’ A young man to whom I had described as “pornographic” a novel that he much admired, replied with genuine bewilderment, “Pornographic? But how can it be? It treats the whole thing so seriously”—as if a long face were a sort of moral disinfectant . . . Cheery old Ovid, who never either ignored a mole-hill or made a mountain of it, would be more to the point. We have reached the stage at which nothing is more needed than a roar of old-fashioned laughter.” 

Lewis, The Four Loves

A roar of old-fashioned laughter indeed.

“We must not be totally serious about Venus. Indeed we can’t be totally serious without doing violence to our humanity. It is not for nothing that every language and literature in the world is full of jokes about sex. Many of them may be dull or disgusting and nearly all of them are old. But we must insist that they embody an attitude to Venus which in the long run endangers the Christian life far less than a reverential gravity.”

Lewis, The Four Loves

You read that right. Reverential gravity is far more dangerous to the Christian life than ribaldry. We should steer clear of dirty jokes, obviously, but what we should really steer clear of would be these somberfied therapists, certified up to the gills in all the latest buzzkill techniques. Go over to the wall of their office and look at all the framed killjoy authorizations they have hanging there, authorizing them to do what nobody is authorized to do.

“Poor Aphrodite, they have sandpapered most of the Homeric laughter off her face.”

Lewis, Letters to Malcolm

The Strategy: Why Now?

Why might all this be happening just now? Why would a liberal Baptist website be interested in this? Why Salon? Why the Dallas Morning News? Why have they all teamed up to attack The Joke? Why do they want to make Josh Howerton the representative of a toxic evangelical patriarchy? As I see it, there are two events coming up that the progressives are heavily invested in influencing—one is the meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis this summer, and the other is obviously the presidential election in the fall.

Liberal Baptists are gearing up to defeat the Law Amendment in the SBC. The Law Amendment makes it plain that to be a Southern Baptist church means that such a church “affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.” If the left succeeds in defeating something so obviously scriptural, then they will be in a much better position to drag the entire SBC leftward. As the SBC is the largest Protestant denomination, it would not be a small victory for them. It would be a significant beachhead within evangelicalism itself. So what happens to the Southern Baptists happens to all of us. If you are a baby-baptizing Presbyterian, and you have Southern Baptist friends who are in a church that is thinking of not sending messengers to Indianapolis, you need to get your session to buy them their plane tickets. Josh Howerton being assigned the role of a toxic male pastor telling women to wear something sexy on their wedding night is advantageous to them how? Clearly, if the Law Amendment passes, we are going to be dealing with a lot more Jokes. Women pastors wouldn’t tell those.

This is also of use to the left in the presidential race. Salon and the Dallas paper are on the story, like a duck on a June bug, because according to the polls and pollsters Biden is losing to Trump in every demographic except unmarried liberal women. Trump is even attracting black and Hispanic voters, and so something must be done. They therefore need to shore up massive support from the That’s Not Funny voting block. Thus they are trying to connect Howerton to all the coarseness and misogyny of MAGA. “If we don’t stop Trump, pastors will soon be making jokes about normal human behavior all the time.”

With this approach, they might juice the unmarried liberal women vote for Biden, as well as dampen the enthusiasm of evangelical voters who hate what Biden is doing but are still put off by the crassness of MAGA world. If they can successfully tie Howerton’s joke to the Trump cause, this could have the effect of keeping three, maybe four, anti-Biden evangelicals from going to the polls.