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.