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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.