“Who’s in charge of these bloggers?”

by K.W. Leslie, 22 May

Funny; nobody was really talking about blogging and accountability till women started doing it….

Last year was probably the first time someone ever asked me, “Who told you you’re allowed to do that?” It was about me translating the bible, and it was based on a mistaken belief that people can’t do that unless they’ve been authorized by their denomination or something.

And yeah, that might be true in a country which had no freedom of religion. Where the laws require we get clergy permission before we preach, teach, or otherwise minister. And sometimes not even the permission of our clergy, but the state clergy. Doesn’t matter if you’re Shia in Saudi Arabia; the nation is officially Salafi, so don’t upset their clergy ’cause blasphemy still gets you capital punishment. England had the same problem for centuries: In 1660, Bedford Free Church preacher John Bunyan got tossed in jail for 12 years because it was against the law for any church to meet off Church of England grounds. On the upside, he had the time to write The Pilgrim’s Progress; on the downside, Christian schools keep making kids read that book before they’re literate enough to really appreciate it. But I digress.

Hence in the United States, Congress is forbidden from hindering religion. Anybody can proclaim any gospel they want. Unfortunately this means we have a lot of cults—and so long that they don’t break the law (for all we know) they can stay in business. But the good far outweighs the bad: The U.S. has a lot of Christians. Way more than you’d expect. If religion is voluntary, wouldn’t you expect people to ditch it? Yet it’s just the opposite. A third of us go to church weekly; another third not so much, but they do believe in Jesus. The rest are all over the place.

So I share Jesus with people. Because I get to. Not because I’m required or obligated to. Nor is it my job, nor do I get paid for it (although it used to be, and I did). Jesus is awesome; why wouldn’t I want to share him?

Sure, if I have to get permission from some church governing body before I can teach or evangelize, I jump through all the appropriate hoops. Can’t teach at my church unless the pastor’s cool with it. Couldn’t do youth evangelism unless I went through basic training and background checks—which makes perfect sense, and I have no problem with it. But as far as writing stuff for the internet is concerned, I don’t have to clear anything with anyone. Few do.

So… who am I then accountable to?

Well Jesus obviously. And yes, my church. I learned a long time ago that if I misbehave online, it gets back to them. I wrote a rant years ago, addressed to the local Christian college’s students, about why our church really didn’t consider them the blessings they imagined themselves to be. Word quickly got back to my pastor of what I’d written. I suspect he appreciated the fact I could say all the things he kinda wanted to, but couldn’t. Still, some statements went too far for him, so he asked me to tone it down, so I did.

Now, let’s say I started to write full-on heresy. That’d definitely get back to my church’s leadership. Too many people in my church and denomination stay abreast of what I’m up to on TXAB, and no doubt they’d alert my church if I go off the rails. And they should. ’Cause I’m in leadership too, and you don’t want to keep a leader who’s publicly gone wrong. I’d have to recant, or step down.

True, sometimes churches try to clamp down on people when their outside-the-church activities displease them. Not ’cause they’ve done anything wrong; it’s ’cause the church leaders are on some power trip. I don’t go to one of those churches. Really, most writers don’t. Some because they’re in healthy churches; some because they quit their church the second they got any pushback. Of course, some of that pushback was warranted, but the writers don’t wanna be accountable—and they’re in the wrong, as you can detect by how they’re getting more and more bonkers. As are their fans and commenters.

I’m also accountable to my readers. Whenever I write something which might be misinterpreted as wrong or heresy, I definitely hear about it. And I go back and correct or clarify it. I appreciate the feedback. I’ve no doubt that if I ever go seriously wrong, I’ll get a flurry of pushback.

Yet I’ve seen bloggers gone wrong, who ignore the pushback and double down on their wrongness. After a bit, the critics shake the dust off their feet and stop reading. I figure if I ever did this, I’d pick up a lot of cranks in their place. Y’might notice there are a lot of “Christian” bloggers whose audiences entirely consist of hate-watchers and nutjobs. Still, TXAB would decay into bad fruit and waste, if not madness. As tends to happen when your accountability partners abandon you to Satan till you snap out of it. 1Ti 1.20

Accountability and sexism.

The primary debate about blogging and accountability doesn’t really have anything to do with who’s policing us bloggers in case we go haywire. It’s mainly about the fact women are blogging about Christ and Christianity. In so doing, they’re getting some pretty substantial audiences. They easily clear tens of thousands of readers every time they post an article.

As you can guess, this really frosts certain Christians. Namely the guys who believe women should shut up and let the men teach. They’d be largely fine with women blogging about any other subject: Work, politics, arts and media, nerd culture, sports, hobbies—and of course all the activities they consider “girly.” But religion? That’s their purview, and these women are doing an end-run round their churches in order to break custom.

A custom which, by the way, I am all for them breaking.

The custom itself violates millennia of ancient women as prophets and teachers, from Miriam to Priscilla. Violates Jesus’s actions establishing women as his students Lk 10.42 and apostles. Jn 20.17 Violates Paul’s other statements in support of women in ministry. Violates the Father’s obvious intent to pour out his Spirit upon men and women so they can prophesy. Ac 2.18 But all these violations are ignored, even defended, when people would rather live under patriarchy than God’s kingdom. When tradition takes priority over Christ.

Even in denominations which believe in women teachers (like mine), women aren’t always given the pulpit, or given access to an audience. It can be extremely frustrating for a well-educated longtime Christian who has a lot to say, but never gets to say it because the pastor’s kids are given the microphone more often than she is. Blogging definitely solves that problem. Not only does their wisdom finally get heard, it gets recognized.

A lot of the critics are straight-up jealous. They can’t get as many followers. Let’s say 1,000 people attend their churches; let’s say twice that number download their sermons or read their blogs. These women have ’em beat by a mile, and part of their outrage is they feel they should merit the same number of followers, if not more. After all, they have penises.

I admit it’d sometimes be nice to have these women’s reach. But I certainly don’t merit it just because I have a Y chromosome. And speaking from experience, be careful what you wish for. Back when I was in the newspaper biz, from time to time I’d have minor bouts of celebrity. Some fans are just unhealthy, and some haters are just psycho. I’ve seen the way women get harassed online even when they’re not well-known. They get it way worse than I ever have from my nuttiest nut mail. We’re talking restraining-order-type crazy. So God help these bloggers.

Anyway, one of the ways critics try to kick the legs out from under women bloggers is to object, “Who are they accountable to?” Does their pastor and church know what they’re writing. Do their husbands?

Which—if only it wasn’t coming from them—is otherwise a valid question. Every Christian needs an accountability structure. They do; I do; you do. But I’m a man, so it’s a question I seldom hear about TXAB. Nobody asks me whether my pastor is cool with this blog. Definitely nobody asks whether my wife is. I’m not married, but still: If I had a wife, she’d better be okay with it. Otherwise I’ve gone wrong somewhere.

But the reason I never get asked, and women do, is for much the same reason men are never asked how they can juggle career and family: Our culture’s typical gender expectation is that men are pioneers and women are support. When men take new territory, it’s to be expected. When women take new territory—either out of necessity or just because they wanna—sexists figure it’s because they wish they were men. If women dare take on the role of pioneer instead of support, waitaminnit; who’s their support? If men are supporting them, isn’t that gender reversal? Didn’t God forbid gender reversal? And from there we move to jokes about their emasculation. Or some dumbass interpretation of 1 Timothy 5.8 which claims men who “let” their wives be any kind of breadwinner are worse than apostates.

So the people asking the question aren’t really looking for accountability. They’re looking for patriarchal monarchy: Who’s responsible for these women? Who’s their lord? Why doesn’t she know her place? Why isn’t her master tugging on the reins like he ought? Your woman tasks me; silence her!

Disguise it in politically correct language all you like; that’s what’s really going on in their minds. Has nothing to do with true accountability. Certainly not grace and compassion and other fruit. To them, God’s kingdom isn’t about freedom in Christ. It’s about power for them, and reinterpreting the biblical idea of submission till it forces the women to kneel.

We all need accountability.

Sexists and their reinterpretations aside, the question of accountability is a valid one. Various bloggers, men and women alike, don’t have any accountability structure. That’s why they have blogs in the first place: It wasn’t that they were wrongly denied their voice. They were rightly denied their voice: They’re immature, fruitless, heretic, or just plain sloppy about their beliefs. They went and got a megaphone anyway.

So now they “answer” to their readers, though it’s a lot more like they cater and pander to them. I know a few male bloggers who are quite proud they answer to no one but Jesus. (And, considering their frequently fruitless behavior, not even him.)

Thus it was entirely right of blogger Tish Harrison Warren to ask the question, posted 27 April on Christianity Today, about whether certain bloggers have any accountability structure in place. She clearly has one: She’s an Anglican priest. Like me, if she writes anything which goes against her church’s teachings, she’s gonna hear it from her bishop. Like me, if she pushes things too far, she might lose her position over it. Unlike me, that’s her job and ordination, so it’s a way bigger deal. Her concern is how other bloggers don’t have any such check and balance. Yet they have these great big audiences, and are free to teach whatever they please. And if they lapse into error and heresy, who’s to stop them? Are their pastors and bishops empowered to? Is anyone?

One of the “heresies” Warren was thinking of was popular blogger Jen Hatmaker. (Most of Hatmaker’s regular posting is found on Facebook. Whereas on her website she posts maybe 30 pieces a year. I think it’s more accurate to call her a speaker and author who’s been known to blog. But whatever.) Hatmaker stated in a 25 October interview with Jonathan Merritt how churches oughta embrace same-sex couples and the LGBTQ community. To Christians who consider homosexuality to be an irredeemable sin, this puts Hatmaker beyond the pale. And it got Warren wondering what kind of accountability structure Hatmaker has. Does she answer to anyone other than her audience? Anything other than the marketplace?

Well, Warren’s not a journalist, but I am, and ’twasn’t at all hard to find Hatmaker does have an accountability structure: Her husband’s a Free Methodist pastor, and believes the same as she. Their denomination doesn’t endorse same-sex relationships, but it still believes in grace. Does this give the Hatmakers the leeway to believe as they do? Maybe. That’s for them and their church to sort out. If the Free Methodists wanna make an issue of it, the Hatmakers can of course be removed or split from their denomination. Or they can all try to reconcile beliefs. Primarily it comes down to Jen Hatmaker. As is true of every Christian in a free country.

As for the marketplace… well Hatmaker’s statements haven’t really gone over with conservative Evangelicals. LifeWay bookstores pulled her books, even though she’s not stated her LGBTQ views in them. She’s been denounced by all sorts, both explicitly and passive-aggressively. People who consider themselves “good Christians” have been truly awful to her. ’Cause when James instructs us to bring one another back from going astray, Jm 5.19-20 these folks figure the best way to do this is with good ol’ fashioned angry denunciation. Not grace.

Whether we wanna agree, or respectfully disagree, with Hatmaker, the fruitless responses are entirely inappropriate.

Same as all the sexists who are taking advantage of the controversy, who figure this is their opportunity to declare, “See? This is what happens when women teach. They’re easily led astray; they easily lead others astray!” Frankly I’ve seen way more male preachers go wrong then women, though largely that’s ’cause there are so many more of them. But sexists will take whatever ammunition they can get. Gender’s not the issue; our free society is. And like I said at the beginning, the good far outweighs the bad.