Aimee Byrd

Inside the word. Outside the box.

Photo by Eduardo Romero on

The largest protestant denomination in the United States is in the news after the Guidepost report of an independent investigation into The Southern Baptist Convention’s handling of sexual abuse.* The Washington Post headlines it as “a portrait of brutal misogyny.” And it is. Russell Moore is not exaggerating as he describes it:

The conclusions of the report are so massive as to almost defy summation. It corroborates and details charges of deception, stonewalling, and intimidation of victims and those calling for reform. It includes written conversations among top Executive Committee staff and their lawyers that display the sort of inhumanity one could hardly have scripted for villains in a television crime drama. It documents callous cover-ups by some SBC leaders and credible allegations of sexually predatory behavior by some leaders themselves, including former SBC president Johnny Hunt (who was one of the only figures in SBC life who seemed to be respected across all of the typical divides).

How did we get here? How do this many people let this happen? Is it just the SBC?

Well, we have the report on the SBC Executive Committee. And that is just what was able to be investigated. But there are many wounded survivors from leaders in other denominations that would love for their stories to be investigated as well. My own documentation of spiritual abuse in the OPC reveals the same tactics of gaslighting, intimidation, victim-blaming, and using procedure to protect those in power when seeking help from church officers. Sin isn’t unique.

We aren’t merely dealing with some poor leadership or a handful of bad men. We are dealing with a whole culture in the church. It’s a way of thinking. We need to talk about what it reveals about how we think about men and women.

Of course the women are not heard, not believed, not aloud to be in the room when they are being talked about, and mocked and derided if they are when the pervasive teaching in the church is that “to the degree that a woman’s influence over a man is personal and directive it will generally offend a man’s good, God-given sense of responsibility and leadership, and thus controvert God’s created order.”[1] We can’t even speak of our abuse because we are to be quiet and backgrounded. The speaking itself marks us as sinners.

What is meaningful about woman? What is valuable about her? Why does her body matter? Why does her voice matter? Why does her personhood matter? Why is manhood better off with woman? If we can’t answer these questions with the beauty they demand, then we are complicit to the culture that devalues and reduces women’s personhood.

It is not because we exist to puff up the man, as so much theology has taught us throughout church history. See the first chapter in my book The Sexual Reformation that traces this. There is a reason much of the church has a culture that enables brutal misogyny even among its top leaders. It’s time for reformation.

Here is a small excerpt from The Sexual Reformation that looks at what actually is God-given:

Our bodies, our whole selves as men and women, tell the story of the great joy with which Christ received the gift of his bride, the church. He is bringing her to the holy of holies, having taken on flesh and penetrated behind the veil, securing communion with his bridal people in sacred space. He gave himself as the ultimate gift, and he loves us to the end.

Our bodies tell the story of the power to love. Pope John Paul II described love itself as a power—to share, by the Holy Spirit, in rejoicing in the truth and in the value of God’s creation and redemption.[2] Christ, our true gift, rejoices in his bride. And she rejoices in him. Does the church make this story visible to the watching world? Or do we contradict ourselves when we uphold distinction between the sexes and yet reject the feminine gift? The bride signifies the eternal complement[3]   to the Son and the Father’s great love for the Son in the gift that he gave him.

How we treat our women reveals our eschatological anticipation of joy. The bride is a gift. And sisters are a gift. Like Christ for his sister, his bride, women in the church should be invested with power to—power to experience freedom in belonging; power to wear, fructify, and return Christ’s love; power to be a corresponding strength for their brothers. Does the church publicly welcome this gift, or are their women looked at as subjects to fulfill individual men’s concupiscence, promote their masculinity, and follow their “loving” orders? What does our affirmation of the gift of femininity look like?

God’s whole design of men and women is evangelical. That is, we are sharers of the euangelion, the good news. And Christ says to his bride, “Companions are listening for your voice; let me hear you!” (Song 8:13). Rejecting the feminine gift is actually a rejection of the authority of God, the Gift Giver. Giving is an act of authority. And in God’s act of giving, the receiver is authorized to reciprocally give love.

What story does the SBC Report tell? A portrait of brutal misogyny. What story does all the spiritual abuse that is being revealed in our churches and denominations tell? As the enemy is tirelessly working to deceive Christ’s people, he aims to go after the very picture of Christ’s love for his church told by the bodies of men and women. The church needs to wake up and see that we need a sexual reformation, one that isn’t teaching from the other side of the same cultural coin that reduces our sexuality and robs us of our personhood. We need to direct our eyes to Christ and his exclusive love for his bride. It’s time for a sexual reformation in the church.

*Want to add this important point made by Jennifer Lyell, a survivor, wounded resistor/truth-teller in holding the SBC accountable:

[1] John Piper, “A Vision of Biblical Complementarity,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (1991; repr., Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 35–36 (capitalized in the original), 51.

[2] See John Paul II, Man and Woman, TOB 15:1, 185–86.

[3] I am borrowing the description “eternal complement” from Anna Anderson; personal correspondence. I see this as another way of affirming the doctrine of totus Christus, that is, the “total Christ”—Christ and his church. Herman Bavinck described, “The pleroma (fullness) that dwells in Christ must also dwell in the church. It is being filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:19; Col. 2:2, 10). It is God whose fullness fills Christ (Col. 1:19), and it is Christ whose fullness in turn fills the church (Eph. 1:23). . . . As the church does not exist apart from Christ, so Christ does not exist without the church. . . . Together with him it can be called the one Christ (1 Cor. 12:12).” In Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 3, Sin and Salvation in Christ, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 474.

12 thoughts on “We Need to Talk About the Theology Behind the Abuse

  1. annaandbrent says:

    We see that over and over again the abused are objectified and used with impunity. You are so right, Aimee. We must begin to see abuse biblically-theologically. If the woman represents heavenly Zion, both the mountain temple-dwelling of God and the bridal people of God, sexual abuse is tantamount to invasion and desecration. This is the sin of the serpent of the garden, who is assured consummate retribution. Sexual abuse distorts the entire picture. Consider the original picture, Adam and Eve, husband and wife, are given to one another to represent both the intertrinitarian embrace and God’s decree to bring his image-bearers into consummate union and communion with himself through covenant. Grooming and sexual abuse makes this picture into one in which God takes something by deception, something to which he has no right, outside of covenant, to gain for himself pleasure at the expense of the bodies and souls of his people. The symbols are horribly distorted to become God grasping what is forbidden and pleasuring himself in acts that consume and destroy what he uses. How much farther from the truth can we go in such twisting? If we love and guard the metanarrative, if we desire to proclaim it with all the power of our ourselves as symbols, as well as our words, we will hate and want to rid ourselves of this abuse among us, not cover it up. His people openly hating and judging abuse is a way in which we declare the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aimee Byrd says:

      YESSS!!! So well put as usual, Anna! Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Becky says:

    I agree with Piper. You’re using this new book about sex to prove that men and women are equally the church. That won’t happen until Heaven, so while we are on Earth the relationship between men and women should reflect Jesus and his bride. Women are reflectors of the bride on Earth – not men. So, we are to submit to men and they are to take care of us and rescue us. And no, I don’t have that wrong.


    1. SarahO says:

      Christ has redeemed us, men and women, and we are to grow more like Christ while we are here on earth. We live in the already/not yet and there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female in Christ and Christ is the church. Men are also called the “bride of Christ” not just wives. As brothers and sisters in Christ we are to submit to one another, love one another because Christ has loved us. Apollos submitted to the teaching of Priscilla and was glad of it because then he knew the truth to preach. Phoebe was a patron of Paul’s and many women held churches in their own houses that they managed. Women are equally the church as men are on earth because we are all in Christ. The Bible says so.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Becky G says:

        We will be the bride of Christ, we are becoming Her now, but we are not her yet. We are collectively being made ready, as separate male and female. So, you are right about the already/not yet. We will be male and female in Heaven. Just like Christ is a male. So, your argument falls apart. Aimee makes many good points, but her language is twisted ever so slightly. So, it seems good and true, but that one twist negates the whole thing. I would love to sit down with her in a room face to face because I think it’s better to do. I love the structure that God designed in male headship and submission. I will forever love it because I love Christ. He designed us to thrive within our borders. I think Aimee doesn’t want any borders.


      2. annaandbrent says:

        I would disagree with your reading of Genesis 1 in relationship to Genesis 2. Both the man and the woman (“zakar” and “nekivah”) of Genesis 1 are “from God and to God,” given knowledge, righteousness, holiness, to the end that they might enjoy unmediated fellowship with God. That is why we are equally the church. The “zakar” of Genesis 1 does not mediate the “nekivah’s” fellowship with God. Both are formed and animated for him; both hear his voice; both are given the mandate. Genesis 2:2 reveals the goal of their fellowship on earth, Sabbath rest in heaven (Hebrews 4). Eden is shown to be a consecrated sanctuary of both worship and testing. The different missions of the man and woman do not primarily illuminate themselves as male and female but God’s eternal decree concerning his people. The man, to whom the wife is given, is the first covenantal head, charged with spearheading the ascent of God’s people to heavenly Zion. (Only when Adam eats “their eyes were opened.”) The one given to him helps him by representing the joy set before them if he obeys, the blessedness and reward of consummate union and communion with God. In Genesis 3, after the fall, we are told that the man and woman in marriage operate symbolically. The man whom the woman desires, represents the Second Adam, the only covenantal head of all his people, male and female. The Second Adam, and only he, will rule over his bride to secure her everlasting joy. The woman who is ruled over symbolizes all of us, his elect bridal people. Again, the husband in his headship and the wife in her submission in the temporal institution marriage symbolize what has already been accomplished in the work of the second Adam. Natural revelation (Genesis 2 marriage) is a theater, supernatural reveleation (Genesis 3:15-Revelation 22) is the script, and both are being used by God to bring us home.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Thank you for explaining what has been nagging at me for 20 years.


  3. Bill Everson says:

    I love the questions and statement in this paragraph:
    “What is meaningful about woman? What is valuable about her? Why does her body matter? Why does her voice matter? Why does her personhood matter? Why is manhood better off with woman? If we can’t answer these questions with the beauty they demand, then we are complicit to the culture that devalues and reduces women’s personhood. ”
    These questions, other questions, and similar statements, are VERY helpful in focusing our attention on the issues we need to grapple with, as a larger faith community in America.

    Yes, Indeed, there is some BADLY FLAWED, badly distorted, even outright WRONG theology that has both permitted and led to true wrong and ‘wronging’ of too many.

    But there is also an ABSENCE of GOOD theology that is also necessary.

    I find the ‘theology of womanhood’ that has been developed here on this site (and in Aimee’s further writings’ VERY helpful in giving us a full framework for this theology, and key foundation stones in a broader ‘theology of humanity/ mankind). We also need a ‘theology of manhood’ that integrates to a theology of humanity (and of womanhood), the theology of manhood being propagated has some very dominant cultural (truly ‘wordly’) foundations-including a view of ‘authority’ NOT AT ALL BIBLICAL-if we look at JESUS OWN WORD-not in half phrases taken as ‘proof texts’ in plain ‘eisogesis’; but in a larger theological context of all four gospels.

    Jesus statements are very plain, understandable and direct when it comes to His Kingdom; and the context only amplifies the direct contrast between the BIBLICAL view and the ‘hierarchical authority’ view that is reflected in ‘complementarianism’:

    Matt 20:25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and {their} great men exercise authority over them. Matt 20:26 “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant,
    Matt 20:27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; Matt 20:28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

    Men who seek to EXERCISE AUTHORITY are NOT seeking the Kingdom JESUS established.

    If you don’t understand this, take the time to READ THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT–where Jesus’ own disciples-were arguing about ‘WHO IS THE GREATEST in HIS KINGDOM’-about each other’s ‘position’ in it…

    And if that doesn’t open your eyes; you truly have them clamped tightly shut, but go and read further, back to the beginning of Matthew 18–which begins with this same question, being asked ‘innocently’ by his disciples-yet again… and read through the connected teachings to grasp a fuller understanding of what the NEW COVENANT KINGDOM really is about.

    it’s not about ANYONE ‘lording it over’ anyone else; but about serving OTHERS in the LOVE God ahs given us, shed abroad in our {new] hearts by the Holy Spirit, Who has been given to us’…

    American evangelicalism is characterized TODAY by the moralistic ‘PHARISEEISM of Jesus day, by modern day AUTHORITARIANS who are JUDGEMENTAL and CONDEMNATORY-just like the PHARISEES in JESUS’ DAY!

    in GOD”S KINGDOM, LOVE speaks loud and largely in our actions…

    There are foundational truths being taught that expand the gospel in ways we can incorporate into a sold framework that comprises a biblical theology of manhood. That’s not the focus of this site; so I’ll stop here.

    Thank you, Aimee, for walking the hard path of seeking to understand and voice a true bilbical theology of what God says about women and ‘womanhood’. It’s very helpful and in thinking through how we got it SO wrong, I realized-we have it just as wrong in our theology of manhood, and of the larger frameworks that encompass our joint callings as mankind, created in two sexes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sarah says:

      Bill, your insight seems clear and correct to me. The insight from Matthew 20 is scathingly accurate to the problems pervading the American evangelical church.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The source of spiritual abuse is not merely the person causing harm, but the theological system teaching and supporting the environment in which the abuse occurs.

    If we are all masterpieces made in God’s image, then all the answers to What Women Are? should indeed be Beauty! Thank you for that picture!


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