In this world of spiritual warfare, theological compromise and Republicans losing the White House, there lives a group of men, mostly white, who put on their armor, saddle up and ride into the glorious battlefield known as Twitter. They alone wear the belt of truth as they stand firm against the wiles of the Devil.
Who are these men? They are the Theobros.
Their mission? Correcting women’s theology on Twitter.
Just a quick Twitter search of “Theobros” will reveal the extents to which many of these men will go in order to put women in their place for the sake of the “created order,” which according to these men has them at the top.
Baptist News Global recently interviewed Kristin Du Mez, Kathy Barbini, Sheila Gregoire and Chrissy Stroop to hear their thoughts on this phenomenon of white conservative evangelical men policing women’s theology on Twitter.
Defending the fortress
Kristin Du Mez has taken the lead this past year in revealing how these men and others like them have been crusading for power. She wrote about this in her book Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.
“I think we can see connections in that some conservative men may envision themselves as theological warriors, tasked with defending the faith,” she said in an interview.
But where did this warrior fantasy come from? In Jesus and John Wayne, Du Mez traces this fantasy back over the past 75 years of evangelicalism. But it traces back even further than that.
These Theobros tend to idolize leaders of the Protestant Reformation.
Coming from the worlds of kingdoms and fiefdoms, the father of Reformed Protestant theology, Ulrich Zwingli, worked with the Zurich city council to arrest and drown those who were guilty of refusing to baptize infants and of performing believer’s baptism instead.
For Zwingli, sacraments were considered ceremonies “by which men offer themselves before the church as soldiers or disciples of Christ.”
With Zwingli’s leadership, the Tauferjager (Anabaptist-hunters) hunted down women and men to drown them and take away their children.
When Balthasar Hubmaier, a supporter of believer’s baptism, tried to engage Zwingli in a debate about infant baptism vs. believer’s baptism, Zwingli ordered Hubmaier to be arrested and tortured on a rack until Hubmaier recanted his view. After Hubmaier was freed, he went on to baptize more than 6,000 people before he was arrested by the Tauferjager to be tried and executed.
“Civility and gentleness can be seen as interfering with a man’s God-given duty to defend the faith against whatever dire threats one identifies.”
Zwingli eventually would die in the Second Kappel War fighting alongside dozens of Protestant preachers.
John Calvin systematized Zwingli’s theology and then tried to establish Geneva as a “godly city” that would bring the kingdom of heaven to earth by imposing biblical law on the city and punishing anyone who disagreed with him.
While the Theobros of today are not actively drowning people, they consistently idolize a theological tradition shaped by those men who did. They fantasize about fighting for their little fiefdoms in such ways as playing pretend Jericho March or going after women on Twitter. And they work within the world of Republican politics to conflate electing Republicans with glorifying God.
Du Mez reflected: “With this sort of John Wayne masculinity, the ends justify the means: violence, crassness, or in the case of some pastors and theologians, aggressive and even misogynistic rhetoric, can be seen in this light. Civility and gentleness can be seen as interfering with a man’s God-given duty to defend the faith against whatever dire threats one identifies.”
Idolizing white male supremacy
So what do these men idolize so much that they feel the need to police women on Twitter?
Kathy Barbini of Big Voice Pictures is producing a documentary called Baptizing Feminism, which explores “the rise of Christian feminists today and voices of opposition in a heated debate about what the Bible says about the roles of men and women and why it matters.”
Women interviewed in the documentary believe white men feeling the need to police women’s theology on Twitter not only has a sexist motivation, but a racial component as well.
When white Christian feminists created the hashtag #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear on Twitter, women of color began to point out that much of their concerns, while valid, were applicable only to white women. So they created their own hashtag, #ThingsOnlyBlackChristianWomenHear, to highlight the combination of sexism and racism they receive on social media from these white men.
Barbini told Baptist News Global, “The women of color we interviewed agree that we can’t talk about sexism in the church without racism — that for patriarchy to work most often you will find both.”
She pointed to the recently leaked letter in which Trillia Newbell was referred to as “that black girl” by former Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson. Although Newbell’s story is not in Barbini’s documentary, the example is important, she believes, because Newbell is not a feminist but is a complementarian herself.
“Many of the women of color in our film remind us that most Scriptures have been translated throughout history by men; who decides what is orthodox or not is white men,” a theologian and author in the film states. “This is why we need women of color integral in translating teams, leadership, preaching, all across the board in Christianity.”
“The Christian organizations that address issues that I care deeply about, they’re all run by men and primarily they’re all run by white men.”
In the film, journalist and activist Kathy Khang says, “The Christian organizations that address issues that I care deeply about, they’re all run by men and primarily they’re all run by white men, so again it’s the gender and race space where I really quite struggle.”
“Baptizing Feminism gives voice to Christian women who challenge a new kind of evangelical patriarchy that has taken hold,” Barbini said. “Several popular women bloggers in the film say with the rise of the internet the white dude bro gatekeepers can’t silence us.”
Leah Ross, who is a Black Christian feminist featured in Baptizing Feminism, points out that Harriet Tubman “wouldn’t have done so many things she did if she followed this modern-day silly teaching that women need to get instructions from the men and follow them and listen to the voice of the men over the voice of God.” Ross points out that the very same arguments these white men use to hold women below them on their “created order” ladder are the arguments Christian men used to justify slavery.
With the panic among the Theobros on Twitter being focused on egalitarianism and Critical Race Theory, the observations from women of color are confirmed. These men feel they have to defend their fortress because in their fortress white men are divinely ordained to reign supreme.
Dehumanizing and objectifying women
With the Theobros using sexism and racism, could there also be some kind of sexual power dynamic involved as well?
After all, within the purity culture that these men also promote, they believe men are the aggressors, men are the ones in charge, men are the ones who need to be satisfied while the wife simply lays back and plays to their needs. Could their control of women’s bodies have some connection to their control of women’s theology?
Sheila Gregoire, author of The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You’ve Been Taught and How to Recover What God Intended, believes there is indeed a connection.
Theobros have a view of sexuality that ultimately dehumanizes and objectifies women, she said, pointing to the “Modest is Hottest” music video that the Southern Baptist Convention played during its recent meeting in Nashville. In this video, Matthew West covers up his daughters with blankets while singing about putting even more layers of clothing on them so no boys can see them. (West subsequently issued a public apology for the video and has removed it from his digital platforms.)
“The original edition of Every Man’s Battle literally called women the methadone for their husband’s sex addictions — ‘once he quits cold turkey, be like a merciful vial of methadone for him.’ There is nothing more dehumanizing than that,” Gregoire said in an interview.
She argues that this dehumanizing view of sex objectifies women: “In Every Man’s Battle and in Love & Respect, women’s pleasure is never mentioned. But sex is referred to repeatedly as ‘release’ for men. They take something which is supposed to be intimate and reduce it to male ejaculation.”
Gregoire points out that the focus on sexual release for men promotes a view of sex that is about conquering rather than about intimacy. “When they see sex in non-intimate terms, where it is just about a man’s release and it is just about conquering, then she is very, very unlikely to experience pleasure.”
How does this dehumanizing view of women as objects to be conquered fit into the Theobros?
“You’ll find these Theobros tend to argue that the sexes are diametrically opposed when it comes to sex — men want it; women don’t. Women want emotional connection; men don’t. Men are visual; women aren’t,” Gregoire said.
It ultimately comes down to the complementarian view of men and women being made by God for fundamentally different purposes, she explained. “These Theobros must believe that the sexes are ontologically different, because they are arguing that women can’t lead. And so there has to be a reason that we are completely different from one another.”
“These Theobros must believe that the sexes are ontologically different, because they are arguing that women can’t lead.”
In the end, Gregoire believes the way Theobros treat women goes far beyond their words on Twitter. The research she did for The Great Sex Rescue shows that for women in these communities, “women’s orgasm rates go down; women’s arousal rates go down; women’s sexual pain goes up.”
Could the Theobros be seeking a theological “release” in the way they attempt to conquer women theologically on Twitter while expecting the women to lay back and passively take it?
Chrissy Stroop is a scholar and writer who has become one of the leading voices for ex-evangelicals processing the trauma that such men have caused.
While describing the Theobros in an interview, Stroop said, “When most people for whom the category means anything think of Theobros, it seems to me they think of bearded, whiskey-loving Calvinists who think their presuppositionalist apologetics are the height of intellectual sophistication, and that description certainly does fit a lot of them.”
Their focus can shift from issue to issue that threatens their hold over people, Stroop said. “These Theobros seem to revel in their misplaced swagger and sense of superiority as they badger and bully people on Twitter who don’t agree with their theology, whether the specific issue is complementarianism, predestination, LGBTQ affirmation, or rejection of Christianity altogether.”
But for Stroop, the aggressive Theobros are tame compared to the ones who subtly hide their bullying in “respectability” and “civility.” She said, “The ones who preach hateful views at you ‘politely,’ trying to parse words 27 ways to keep the inhumanity of what they actually think obscure, may do more damage to people who don’t immediately see what they’re doing than the type who charge in with hellfire — although that is harmful and tiresome too.”
“These Theobros seem to revel in their misplaced swagger and sense of superiority as they badger and bully people on Twitter who don’t agree with their theology.”
Stroop has put together a number of infographics that can help evangelicals learn how they objectify those with whom they disagree theologically.
Whether theological objectification comes from the more combative Theobros or from those who try to bully with civility, Stroop says both groups believe a similar thing; “No one knows the truth, therefore I’m right, because I believe that if I’m wrong life has no meaning and civilization will devolve into chaos.”
While Zwingli and Calvin sent out “Heretic Hunters” in order to hunt down and drown those who theologically disagreed with them about baptism, the Theobros are fantasizing about following in their footsteps by hunting down and drowning out the voices of women, especially women of color and trans women who disagree with them about any number of issues that threaten their power.
As a result, it’s ironically the Theobros who have taken what is truly meaningful away from women and have become civilization’s agents of chaos.
Rick Pidcock currently serves as a Clemons Fellow with BNG. He recently completed a master of arts degree in worship from Northern Seminary. He is a is a stay-at-home father of five kids, and he and his wife, Ruth Ellen, have started Provoke Wonder, a collaboration of artists that exists to foster child-like worship through story and song. Provoke Wonder’s first album, Consider the Stars, was released in March 2020.
Six ways ‘American Gospel’ is small-minded and abusive | Analysis by Rick Pidcock
The New Calvinism in the SBC | Opinion by Jerry Faught