Waifs With Manga Eyes

A few weeks ago Jen Wilkin wrote a piece for The Gospel Coalition that got some significant circulation, and I wanted to make a few comments about it. The post was entitled “3 Female Ghosts That Haunt the Church,” and in the course of what she wrote, she made a number of observations that, in my view, could have been quite helpful in a lot of ways. But unfortunately, the way the whole thing was structured, it is awfully difficult to know how to do anything constructive with it.

“If you’re  a male staff member at a church, I ask you to consider a ghost story of sorts. I don’t think for a minute that you hate women. I know there are valid reasons to take a measured approach to how you interact with us in ministry settings. I absolutely want you to be wise, but I don’t want you to be haunted. Three female ghosts haunt most churches, and I want you to recognize them so you can banish them from yours.”

The ghosts that haunt most churches are, according to Wilkin, are the usurper, the seductress, and the child. Thus haunted, male ministry leaders start acting like a bull elk responding to any challenge for dominance, the preyed upon chump who always blames the women for his dirty mind, or the patronizing pastor who pats the cute little scholarinas on the head. And to give Wilkin her due, all three of these guys do exist, and are running around loose. The basic question is whether it is true that most churches are haunted by this kind of thing. But whether or not most are, it is certainly true that some are.

So what are the structural problems with the argument? They boil down to a failure to make some important distinctions, distinctions that the article itself requires us to make.

1. How do we distinguish between a ghost usurper and a real one? How do we distinguish between a ghost seductress and real one? How do we distinguish between a ghost child and a real one? At the end of the article, having already written about the ghosts that haunt most churches, Wilkin makes an important acknowledgement.

“Do some women usurp authority? Yes. Do some seduce? Yes. Do some lack emotional or intellectual maturity? Yes. And so do some men. But we must move from a paradigm of wariness to one of trust, trading the labels of usurper, temptress, child for those of ally, sister, co-laborer. Only then will men and women share the burden and privilege of ministry as they were intended.”

This is like acknowledging that we actually are in a mine field, but then urging us to move on from a “paradigm of wariness to one of trust,” so that we may go dance in the field anyway. Sure, but before we do that, shouldn’t we know how to tell the difference between real mines and ghost mines? Shouldn’t we clear the field?

Mark Twain once said that a cat that sits on a hot stove lid will never sit on a hot stove lid again. But neither, he added, will he sit on a cold one. Before we abandon our wariness, we need to know if most churches actually are haunted in this way. If they are haunted, what is the story behind it? And last, perhaps it is not a haunting at all, but an actually real life problem in real time. If we want to be ghostbusters, we have to make distinctions, and we have to have biblical criteria for making them.

2. Another distinction that must be made here is the distinction between the “paradigm of wariness” that is to be rejected, and the “measured approach to interaction” that she approved earlier. What is the difference, and how can we tell? One minister is simply being prudent with the sisters, and another minister is being paranoid. What distinguishes them? I know that there are prudent ministers and I know that there are hyper ministers, but what distinguishes them and who decides?

To take just one of the three examples, the apostle Paul warns Timothy as a young minister to be careful of certain pitfalls. He calls Timothy to a scrupulous standard of purity.

“Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).

“Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity” (1 Tim. 5:1–2).

So let us say that Timothy has a window installed in his office door so that his pastoral counseling can be completely above reproach. Haunted or measured? Well, that’s easy because it is Timothy and the apostle Paul told him to do it. So now Robert from Des Moines has a window installed. Haunted or measured? We really need biblical criteria to distinguish the two before delivering a sweeping statement that “most” churches fall in the haunted category.

3. And briefly, the last distinction we must have is the distinction between the wise and intelligent women who understood exactly what Wilkin was getting at, who have dealt with real instances of such a haunting, and who actually have had a bloviating pastor modulate into his “pastor voice” when answering a simple question, and the clueless women who blindly liked Wilkin’s article on Facebook, but who are themselves pushy broads, twinkies in tight tops, or waifs with manga eyes. If there is a real problem out there, an article like this one needs to put up barriers in order to keep the wrong people from getting the wrong idea.

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Barnabas
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Barnabas

I can’t think of anywhere in the Bible where we are called to reject a “paradigm of wariness.” Such a paradigm sounds a lot like wisdom to me.

BJ
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BJ

@Barnabas

I tend to agree. There seems to be a lot more warnings about keeping sin at arm’s length than just trusting because…

Under His Mercy,
BJ

RFB
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RFB

When instructing people in skill at arms, subject matter experts enforce a very regimented process to avoid injury. The rules and practices do not evaporate upon gaining any specific level of expertise. It is the ingraining of the aforementioned practices that supports the development of expertise. Novices train to get it right; professionals train so that they cannot get it wrong. It is not uncommon for the uninformed or those with hearts permanently tattooed on their wrists to complain about “training nazis”. It is invariably that same demographic that issues the pitiful bleats of “I did not know it was… Read more »

Ministry Addict
Member

My paradigm of wariness is encroached upon when I see an article about what to do at church with zero Bible verses in it.

christianpundit
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christianpundit

You seen to be in favor of maintaining the status quo, which means even godly, chaste women are by default treated with suspicion, as though they are harlots. One of the things this results in are women feeling even more marginalized, and it’s also just insulting to be treated as a possible harlot due to one’s gender and nothing more. I’ve stopped attending churches, and this is but one reason of many, treating women with disdain or suspicion. Regarding: “who blindly liked Wilkin’s article on Facebook, but who are themselves pushy broads, twinkies in tight tops, or waifs with manga… Read more »

Tom
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Tom

With all due respect, christianpundit, you seem to be misunderstanding the issue.
The issue is not “Christian pastors think all women are whoooooooooooooooooores.”
The issue is “Christian pastors are prudent men who hedge themselves against their own temptation and possible slander.”
As well say that a woman who is nervous when she sees a stranger while walking about a city street at night thinks all men are muggers and rapists.

BJ
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BJ

Christianpundit, Jen Wilkin describes the ghost of the temptress (which you seem fixated on) by describing certain actions men do around women. But if we were to not do these actions, we would be labeled as predators. Let me list the opposite of these actions and see what type of person this describes: *You go out of your way to ensure your behavior communicates that you are emotionally approachable and empathetic. *You maintain prolonged eye contact. *You never question whether her outfit was chosen to draw your attention *You never bring your colleague or assistant to every meeting with her,… Read more »

Jill Smith
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Jill Smith

I’m ashamed to say that I watch a lot of true crime documentaries, and a common theme is a pastoral relationship that ends extremely badly. They did not, at least initially, feature Pastor Lothario and Mrs. Jezebel. They began with normal people who started gazing into each other’s eyes, exchanging a lot of private emails, and having quiet lunches. It has been said by wise people that the attraction of soul to soul is more powerful than the desire of one body for another. There is something in the pastoral encounter that invites intimacy and emotional intensity. It seems to… Read more »

Matt
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Matt

This post basically confirms the original article, as though it were secretly written to undermine any objections. Prejudice is fine because women really are all those things, or at least the “wrong” women are. It’s always the wrong people and the right people in this crowd. For that matter, prejudice never has any institutional manifestation, but is always and everywhere an individual issue. It is worth noting that of the three, only the “usurper” applies only to churches. The broader culture, much to feminists’ chagrin, holds the latter two prejudices pretty consistently. This is for both the obvious reason that… Read more »

mekt75
Member

I would never ask a woman if her ease with talking to men indicates sexual availability. That question itself puts her in whore catagory. It is not charitable. In fact, it sounds downright Islamic. If you have a specific concern about behavior towards a specific person, then tailor the question to that person. How did you meet Joe.. Is your husband comfortable with your friendship? Some have voiced concern that you might be getting a little too close. I’m not saying that you are, but it is better for me to tell you outright that some concern exists. I totally… Read more »

mekt75
Member

BJ, I understand what you are trying to say. The thing is a lot of counseling is with divorced women, the family comments won’t work in those situations. That is probably at least a third of female counseling

Tim Etherington
Guest

I am dubious of claims as to what “most churches” do or don’t do unless attended by survey results. Even then you have to dig into them a little deeper. I think “most churches” run the gamut of egalitarian with Pastor Suzanne to those with a deep suspicion of women who aspire to anything more than the “kitchen ministry.” Most are somewhere in-between. That said, it is not an insult if the pastor wants to avoid any appearance of impropriety when dealing with women or children by having the door opened or someone else present. That’s not a ghost of… Read more »

Rachel Shubin
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Rachel Shubin

Hi Doug, As a woman who likes to think about and discuss theological and church matters, tends to dress sharply, and researches and analyzes nearly everything I am remotely interested in, I appreciated Wilkin’s article very much. You see, I have had pastors bloviate at me in pastor voice and act like my valid questions were silly. I’ve had men imply or say directly to me that if I have questions about church stuff I should ask my husband instead of the pastor or look at me like I might be some crazy usurper woman if I offer an opinion.… Read more »

Robert
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Robert

I agree with Rachel on this one.

gracieloufreebush
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gracieloufreebush

As a woman who spends a lot of time working alongside great Christian men, I really appreciate these cautions. We’re wired to want affirmation, women especially. And it always means more coming from a good man. This can seem innocent enough to us, but if we can’t see how deadly that has proved for generations of Christian men and women working in ministry, we’re just not paying attention. I know what it’s like to be the unintended victim of that lack of caution, wondering why daddy was spending all of his time with that woman over there and not with… Read more »

Bert Perry
Guest

It strikes me that the difference between a “haunted” pastor and a prudent pastor (or other church officer) is simply the difference between a man who understands that a woman may be pushy, seducing, or childlike and the man who assumes that she is. One is wise, the other is paranoid.

Presumption of trust? Hmmm….our family is reading The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel, and it’s striking how the Pimpernel deals with the seductress Theresia. It’s kinda like Orczy’s version of the fourth chapter of John.

Moor
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Moor

Don’t treat every woman you meet in church like she’s a potential _________!

Well, okay, but just so we don’t forget that some of the women in our churches are indeed __________ and should be treated as such!

Yeah, well, men can be _________ too!

Uh-huh.

And just because some women are ____________ doesn’t mean all women are ___________!

Yeah.

So…you…should…be ashamed for…um…not just clapping your hands at the progress being made in the original article.

Scott Cottrill
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Scott Cottrill

I had a pastor once say from the pulpit that every interaction between a man and a woman is, on some level, sexual. I know that sounds extreme, but what he was saying is that at some point, every interaction involves nuances if trying to impress the other person, having fantasy thoughts such as, “if we were both available, is this the type of person I could be with”, etc. I realize that some might still think this is an extreme statement, but if we are truly honest, we will recognize that we must be careful is not downright wary… Read more »

valerieab
Member

Scott — I hope he didn’t mean quite that. It’s a pretty bleak outlook to say that it’s impossible for a man and a woman to interact purely. I’d rather say that our sexuality is involved in every such interaction–that we interact as men and women, not as asexual beings. But we can do so either rightly (e.g., Paul’s instruction to Timothy to treat women as mothers and sisters) or wrongly. If every co-ed interaction were inevitably sinful, the only wise thing would be to stop interacting. If, on the other hand, we simply recognize that some sort of temptation… Read more »

Scott Cottrill
Guest
Scott Cottrill

Valerie, I think you nailed what he meant precisely, not that every interaction between men and women is impure but that the potential exists. In that way, prudence is called for.

SA
Guest
SA

I don’t think he knows what ghosts are.

Blake Law
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Blake Law

Sounds to me like the author is projecting ghosts of men who project ghosts of women upon men in church leadership. Then again, I’d hate to be guilty of projecting the ghost of women who project ghosts of men who project ghosts of women upon men in church leadership…