Friday, April 29, 2005

The Case of Judy Brown: Lesbianism, Attempted Murder, and Deconstructing WORLD magazine

This is an ugly story made uglier by ideology.

First, the raw facts. In March of 2004 Judy (Judith) Brown, Assemblies of God pastor, professor, and theologian, was sentenced to eight years in prison for the August 2003 attempted murder of another pastor. (I don't choose to inflict pain on the pastor and his wife by further publicizing their names.) She befriended the pastor and his wife, seduced the wife, and when the wife wouldn't leave her husband, set a trap and attempted to kill him. Waiting in the basement of the couple's house without their knowledge, she turned off the power. When the husband descended the stairs, she hit him repeatedly with a crowbar. He wrestled it away from her, and managed to go upstairs and call 911. The police found Ms. Brown on the front lawn, and inside located various items including a large knife and garbage bag she'd abandoned as she exited the house.

In November 2004, after she'd already gone to prison, Judy Brown's contribution to a book by InterVarsity Press, Discovering Biblical Equality, appeared when the book was published. Not until April of this year did IVP discover she'd committed the crime, or been involved in a lesbian relatioinship. They promptly removed the book from circulation and announced a new edition for July of 2005 which will be without Brown's chapter.

The story apparently broke in the blogworld; the traditionalist blog first reporting it started out wondering darkly if InterVarsity Press had known about Brown's crime and conviction. But as IVP responded promptly and less flamboyant, more thoughtful readers posted cautionary notes, the original blog as well as others covering the story seemed to moderate both in tone and content. Then there's Tim Bayly's blog, where some particularly irrational ranting went on (Tim is an old friend of mine, but oh my do we disagree over gender equality!). The comments to the blog entry are worse yet, one woman going as far as to say, "Someone certainly knew about this woman's lifestyle choices--and chose to ignore them. I suspect that probably someone also knew about her criminal activities, but did not expect that anyone would find out." Baseless slander was a sin last time I checked my Bible...

World Magazine and Gene Veith in Murder, She Wrote (appearing in both the April 30 hard copy and online) offered a highly sensationalized soap opera account, told with glee and serving as a thinly disguised apologetic for patriarchy. The story is drooled over for an entire page, and concluded with a wonderfully hypocritical paragraph:

"What can we conclude from this lurid mix of feminist theology, homosexuality, and attempted murder? It would be wrong to generallize from this case to make conclusions about all evangelical feminists or all female Pentecostal preachers. But it is more evidence -- as if we needed any more -- for total depravity and the mystery of iniquity."

"It would be wrong to generalize"? Of course World wants to generalize! Why does World call the story "Murder, She Wrote"? Being clever, or a bit devilish with the insinuation that what Brown wrote about led to what she did? Why would World's readership want to read about Ms. Brown's misdeeds if this isn't in fact the implication? What significance does a singular crime by a sinful (and one now hopes, repentant) woman have, news-wise? Without Brown's connection to the egalitarian community, biblical feminist scholarship, InterVarsity Press (an egalitarian publisher), the gender-inclusive TNIV Bible, and Christians for Biblical Equality (an organization I am humbled to say has featured my wife and I as speakers and writers), just to name a few targets of traditionalists, I can see no compelling reason for World publicizing this story.

The case was a freak, an anomaly, a white buffalo. No, World printed this story precisely because they do want their readers to make the unfair linkage between gender equality, lesbianism, and violence. Even though they know such linkage is unfair. What makes it even more startling is that the hierarchalist community recently had their own homosexual scandal involving a high-ranking European member who left his wife for a young man. Talk about selective amnesia!

Let me suggest a new place for World to focus their investigative energies. I promise they will find plenty of horrible stories, ripe for the plucking. Thousands of men beat their wives. Some of them kill their wives. Some of them say they're good biblical Christians, and believe that a woman is to submit to her husband. If I started a blog that tracked the sexual and homicidal misdeeds of men believing in a hierarchical view of men over women, that blog would simply fill and fill, month after month. People would stop reading out of sheer fatigue. Shall I do it? Would this be proof of good vs. bad theology? Maybe...

Adultery? Sexual sin? Women are still playing catch-up to men in both those fields. Homosexual sin? Again, women are playing catch up, especially within the churches. (How about tossing in pederasty; any guesses as to which gender commits that sin more often?) And violence? Oh, baby. Try a google or three and see what comes up.

One more note: World and other hierarchalists' use of this story to somehow support their own theology is very like another camp's use of the same story. As a long-time supporter of Exodus, International and other ministries involved in reaching homosexuals, I find the continual attacks on Exodus nearly always start by citing the most spectacular failures of those attempting to leave gayness behind. "So and so fell back into sin; that proves your theology is wrong about homosexuality, and that God must have made them that way!" The similarity to this reasoning and the reasoning from some (not all) hierarchalists re Ms. Brown's theology leading to her lesbianism is striking. Not to be post-modern or anything, but the story told by WORLD and the story told by gay activists about Exodus has the same problem: both claim that it is bad theology leading to the problems experienced. Neither has a real leg to stand on.

Interestingly, one Fuller Seminary student writer does indeed make linkage to Brown's case as one of repressed lesbian desire by a fundamentalist Christian subculture:

As an Assemblies of God minister, Judy Brown believed fervently in the orthodox doctrines of the Church, including the prohibition of homosexual behavior. She believed so fervently that she disassociated entirely from that aspect of her identity that was robustly gay. Her forensic evaluation indicated that her level of disassociative splitting is what allowed her to commit the brutal crowbar attack with “no memory” of the act itself or the planning of it.

This reading is highly creative, and of course bogus, but no more so than World making their insinuations regarding egalitarian theology

Let's get real. As Catherine Clark Kroeger writes in Priscilla Papers (Spring 2004), there are numerous grounds upon which to say women's equality leads away from, not toward, homosexual practice. Let me quote at length just two of those grounds:

My first response is that although the Bible contains a handful of references to same-sex eroticism, nowhere is there given any sign of approval to homosexual behavior. Rather, there is loving sympathy for the individual but condemnation of the conduct. Therefore an examination of the subject must be based upon the wider consideration of biblical teaching on human sexuality, as well as on gender interdependence.

My second response is that the very statements in scripture that women find to support their claims of equality are also ones that call for a close association with men. Women who espouse biblical equality do not seek exclusively their own kind in their most intimate relationships—rather they acknowledge the creational purposes of a shared reflection of God’s image, a shared mandate to fill and subdue the earth, and a shared mission to declare Jesus Christ and his love in every dimension of life. They ask to share their gifts and talents, their endeavors, and godly aspirations with the whole body of Christ. They wish to be part of the decisionmaking processes of the church. Within marriage, they ask to bring all that they are to the union, to be like Adam and Eve—naked and unashamed, with no need for a woman to hide her abilities, her mental acumen, or her potential for leadership. For this there is ample warrant within the pages of scripture.

I can't urge readers strongly enough to read the entire article, and others like it (many freely available), on the Christians for Biblical Equality International website. And, if so led, remember to pray for Judy Brown and the couple who's marriage she so damaged.

As for a theology that disempowers half of humanity in the name of Jesus, it is an easy call. That is bad theology, and a theology that aids and empowers the epidemic of violence against women worldwide. Judy Brown's was a terrible crime, thankfully not successful. Unfortunately, crimes against Christian women by men who say they, too, love Christ are so numerous as to be unremarkable. And that is the real and tragic story World missed.


Anonymous said...


I just discovered your site and all I can say is, you go girl!

check out James Wolcott--just goggle, he's my other fav.

Tim Bayly said...

Jon, We don't disagree with each other about the meaning and purpose of sexuality--it's God you are contending with. God is the One Who created Adam before Eve and exegeted and hermeneuted (in 1Timothy 2) His creative order by commanding us not to allow women to exercise authority over men. You don't like it?

Well, as Blamires would say, how do you like the part about taking up your cross and following Him? That's the really offensive verse of Scripture, so if we're going to start pulling infelicitous statements out of Scripture why not start with that one?

It's telling that "traditionalist" is a pejorative term with you. I'm reminded of Chesterton's statement, "All the talk about what is progressive is merely a giggling excitement over fashion." You got fashion on your side, brother--gotta hand ya that!

As for Judy Brown, sodomy has dogged the evangelical feminist movement from the beginning, splitting its ranks twice. And that's consistent with a movement that refuses to submit to the God-ordained sexual order. By pointing out the latest manifestation of this error, we are not saying "look at the company they keep" as much as "look at the fruit they bear."

This is no different than the perpetual smear campaign evangelical feminists carry on against patriarchalists accusing them of causing wife-abuse. The difference is that evangelical patriarchalists have not split twice over whether or not wife-beating is right, and so far as I know none of the patriarchalists' books have yet been pulled because of one of its authors turned out to have been convicted of murder as a result of his wife abuse.


Jon Trott said...

Tim, first let me apologize for not listing your brother as the apparent blogger of the bit in question rather than you... at least it appeared on your blog that he was.

Now to your post. Slapping the GOD Ace on the table may work for some folks. It doesn't for me... especially as an empty rhetorical device. The problem with that sort of forceful approach, among other things, is that it reflects the very aggressive patriarchal arrogance that so repulses so many. Just because you say "GOD" in a stentorian sort of tone doesn't mean God has a thing to do with it.

"Traditionalist" is a pejorative term to me when the tradition being discussed is not one I, or many others, see in Scripture. I think Martin Luther and his boys had a little tussle some years back over such matters...

As for fashion, hehehehe, I do have tats and earrings. But alas, I'm getting a little too old; I don't even know the newest bands anymore! And if you're going to quote Chesterton, Tim, perhaps I should remind you what he thought of as "progressive" -- the very Protestant Church with whom you and I have aligned ourselves. He was Roman Catholic, after all. (I like much of what he has to say vey much, but don't think he applies here, other than as what seems another attempt at playing a high card....)

The fact that radical feminists have attempted to wrest egalitarianism to their own ends is not surprising at all. What is really astonishing is how Christians for Biblical Equality and the egalitarian movement as a whole has blossomed in spite of taking it in the face from both radical feminists and the traditionalists / hierarchalists. I remember that terrible set of events, and reported on it for Cornerstone magazine. It was heartbreaking for the women who wanted only to serve alongside men, and may have been one of the catalysts leading me toward a conscious embracing of biblical feminism. Bluntly, folks such as Alvera Mickelsen, Catherine Clark Kroeger, Mary Stewart VanLeeuwen, Elaine Storkey, Mimi Haddad, and so many others are heroes of the faith as far as I'm concerned.

And I'm not much of a card player.

Anthony said...

Now to your post. Slapping the GOD Ace on the table may work for some folks. It doesn't for me... especially as an empty rhetorical device.

Uh, huh?

How does quoting scripture constitute a rhetorical device? Oh wait - it doesn't. Either you accept or reject the scripture, and it sounds to me like you've rejected it.

Since I didn't see any scripture in your article or response, I'll post this:

I Tim 2:12-14
But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.

I Tim 3:2
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; (emphasis mine)

I Tim 3:12
Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.

It's pretty clear scripturally that the husband is the head of his home and that men are called to be the leaders in the local assembly.

I'm basing this on the divinely inspired word of God - can you show me in the bible verses which disagree with this?

Jon Trott said...

Quoting a few verses of Scripture can lead to excellent theology... or terrible theology. My point is that any heavy-handed approach is likely not to have the effect we often think it has. We can leap up on the table and beat our holy chests for God... but I don't think He really needs our help. It might help us feel more in control when we really say loudly our interpretation of the Word. But it won't make the other person any more likely to hear us. In fact, it will make it less so. Too much testosterone... nah, I won't blame it on that wonderful chemical. Nah, too much fear. We're afraid of something when we do the Ace-slapping stuff. Really.

Lucas Weeks said...

But Jon, don't you see that you are doing the very same thing that your opponents are doing, but just without arguing your point? You condemn them for pointing to scripture, saying that scripture has a right and a wrong interpretation, and then explaining what they think is the right interpretation and why. All you're doing is being "heavy-handed" back, but without actually building your case from scripture!

Jon Trott said...

Lucas... fair enough. I'll probably post a few layers of stuff on the topic, and it will take some time. I don't think I did "the same thing" as some of those critical of me, however, for one reason. I didn't flash an authority badge, or as I call it, "throw the Ace." And the ace is... "God said it!" There are some issues, say Calvinism vs. Arminianism (and a few positions beyond such as "Open Theology"), that are really tough to slap any card on, much less an ace. Plus, I just despise myself when I come off as some authority; I also tend to reject others who have that "vibe." Nonetheless, keep your eyes open. I'll be posting some egalitarian positions (and/or links to them) very soon. Thanks for your comment.

Joseph Bayly said...

Jon, you said

As for a theology that disempowers half of humanity in the name of Jesus, it is an easy call. That is bad theology, and a theology that aids and empowers the epidemic of violence against women worldwide.

I agree with you, you haven't thrown an ace. Rather, you have slyly dropped a ten on the table, completing your royal flush hoping nobody was watching. Quit pretending that you don't assume your opponents are wrong. Of course you assume they are wrong, and they assume you are wrong. The difference is that they are willing to admit it. I think you are defending a theology that leads people into sin. By making that claim, I have stated implicitly that you have set yourself against God. Now I admit it explicitly — I believe your fight is with God. You think that I defend a theology that "aids and empowers the epidemic of violence against women worldwide." We already know what that says implicitly. Will you be man enough to admit it explicitly?

You also said,
Adultery? Sexual sin? Women are still playing catch-up to men in both those fields. Homosexual sin? Again, women are playing catch up, especially within the churches. (How about tossing in pederasty; any guesses as to which gender commits that sin more often?)

I must assume you don't want women to catch up to men on these awful "playing fields", and yet you admit that they are—even in the church. Do you have any explanation for the cause of that fact? I'll give you a hint. Your defense of sexual anarchy (make no mistake, if you fight hierarchy you defend anarchy...look them up) fits quite well with the cause.

But neither of those things is what prompted me to write. Rather, I wanted to point out that your blatant acknowledgement that you reject authority in general is the heart of the issue. Not only do you reject others who smell of the stuff, but you refuse to be tainted by it yourself. (I would hate to see the behavior of your children if you really believe this).

Let me remind you that the people were amazed when Jesus preached to them "because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law" (Matthew 7:29). And here are some references to Jesus himself being under authority: Matthew 26:39,42; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42; Hebrews 5:8.

The point is simply that we are always under authority and holding authority. To simply say that you don't like it is not going to make it go away.

Your own admitted abdication of authority necessitates your attack of authority in general. Not until you accept the responsibilities that you have been given will you stop attacking those who are fulfilling their own responsibilities.


P.S. I am Tim's son, and I hope that you will accept my rather brutal post as coming from a friend albeit one you have never met.

Jon Trott said...

Joseph, thanks for interacting on this. You say, "Quit pretending that you don't assume your opponents are wrong. Of course you assume they are wrong, and they assume you are wrong. The difference is that they are willing to admit it."

I don't think you get it. Of course I assume you're wrong! But what I'm talking about when I say many in your camp are "throwing the ace" is that they attempt to speak with an authority that ends the conversation. I reject that sort of thing as being a bit pompous, and also simply ineffective as an apologetic / logical tool. You yourself show that tendency with comments regarding "authority." For my two cents, your quotation of Scripture re Jesus, "he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law," underscores my point. Jesus' authority came from his person, while the teachers of the law relied on quoting God's Word to assert authority. The people weren't fooled; they recognized Jesus' authority because Jesus embodied it, and they dissed the teachers of the law because of the latters' reliance on power-mongering.

I have no problem with "admitting" explicitely that I think so-called "complementarian" theology is a cause of abuse of women. I do so believe. You are free to believe otherwise. What I do not believe is that in all cases, places, and times, any man who so believes will invariably abuse his wife and/or other women. But I do think non-egalitiarian theology and praxis create a communal / social environment where abuse is more likely to occur. Additionally, if also including the damage done to women's own understanding of themselves, and mens' understanding of themselves (and of women), this destructive influence cannot be overestimated.

Is that clear enough?

I do not reject, by the way, all authority (though reading Jacque Ellul may be intructive for you on somewhat rehabilitating the concept of anarchy). I simply reject authority claims that seem to me rooted in traditionalism, gender bias, and bogus "power word" usages. (Tip of the hat to the post-moderns there.)

If God, Who is all-powerful and could in one second exert authority over anyone and anything, instead refuses to do so by giving human beings free will, this is instructive for us. Like Pascal, I hope to make Christianity winsome. This testosterone-loaded version of faith seems anything but winsome to me...

Jon Trott

Anonymous said...

Dear Joseph Bayly,

The difference between hierarchy and anarchy is not as clear and simplistic as you make it. What looked like a healthy, Christian hierarchical marriage on the surface turned out to be an anarchical hell in reality:

This Focus on the Family doctor who claimed to care so much about women's physical and emotional health raped his own wife for years and paid her as if she was a prostitute. This tragic example is far more common than anyone cares to admit.

Based on my own experience as an Evangelical Christian woman, I've learned that hierarchy is a recipe for hypocrisy. When a man who believes in hierarchy offers to "help" me, and claims to "care" about me, I'd rather pass.

Jon Trott said...

The article "anonymous" mentions regarding Bush appointee
Dr. David Hager
is a shocker, alright, but like many accusations of sexual misconduct (so hard to prove!), leaves enough doubt that I feel constrained to note it. Nonetheless, what I personally have no doubt about is the congruence between expressions of hierarchy men vs. women and violence by men against women.