Boko Haram and Southern Baptists

They both draw from the same well of universal religious ideas when it comes to views about the subservient status of women.

By Mike Greer

The recent kidnapping of more than 300 young schoolgirls by self-identified Muslims in Nigeria raises a thorny and vexing question about the dark side of all religious traditions.

In considering violence and human degradation perpetrated in the name of God should we conclude that all religion at its core serves as an inspiration for malicious behavior? Do we conclude that religion is a prominent generating source of a great deal of human misanthropy or do we rather conclude that religion that manifests in obscene cruelty has simply been co-opted to serve malevolent human agendas? Perhaps the answer is that both of these propositions are accurate and appropriate analyses of the human phenomenon of religiously justified malice.

All religious expressions are of course a complicated mixture and entanglement of the sacred and the profane. Religion regularly inspires subhuman behavior but religion also inspires people to place human dignity and welfare among the highest priorities of God and human societies. Religion has always been a curse and a boon to humankind.

Ideas, including religious ideas enshrined as doctrines, are important. Ideas shape and influence mindsets that in turn result in the formation of cultural institutions. Many ideas have global implications and the support of those ideas contributes to specific regional conflicts at home and abroad. Many ideas are fraught with dangerous consequences and end in disaster when followed to their logical conclusion.

It is an uncomfortable and inconvenient truth. Boko Haram and Southern Baptists have some things in common. Both are seeking to counteract or derail what is perceived by them to be a demonic movement of Western liberalism that is relentlessly egalitarian in its agenda. Both are on a mission designed to rescue their respective societies from a perceived depravity and warn of the consequential destruction by a wrathful God. Both male-dominated groups have made the status and role of women the vanguard issue in their wars with the cultures they deem to be depraved and corrupt. Both believe their cause is a righteous one.

Is it fair to link Boko Haram and Southern Baptists together? Of course the Southern Baptist Convention has never kidnapped girls or committed murder, but Southern Baptists have practiced a very concrete and ruthless form of violence against women. They have banished women to the ecclesial and academic wilderness and this in the name of God. They are teaching young girls that a woman’s true worth is only revealed in a marriage to a man.

When we are confronted by egregious examples of violence perpetrated in the name of God we often comfort ourselves by claiming that “those people” are terrorists or extremists. The argument here is that the problem is with a matter of degree. Boko Haram, it might be said, has merely carried a supposedly “God-breathed religious ideal” to the extreme. The problem is that this idea of a divinely established gender subservience is commonly promoted by both mainstream Muslims and Christians. We must be careful with the conclusion that discrimination or biases are acceptable as long as they do not manifest in the “extreme case.” Some ideas are flawed at the core and the routine promotion of those ideas contributes to the universal human dilemma.

What Southern Baptists must do is speak out forcefully and clearly for women’s rights in every corner of the globe. Southern Baptists should speak in favor of all women’s inalienable right to have equal access to education, to economic security, to health care, to political representation and to religious freedom.

Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said at a recent national gathering of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood that the status of women is a matter of spiritual warfare. His remarks at that conference laid out a theological justification for gender discrimination. He spoke of a new gospel order in which God intends that women submit to a God-created difference. Moore also propounded a rather curious argument that although American culture is predominantly patriarchal, Southern Baptists are not and that the problem is that our culture is enamored with a false illusion of egalitarianism.

If we dare look closely we will see that Southern Baptists are drawing from the same well of universal religious ideas as Boko Haram when it comes to views about the subservient status of women. Although Southern Baptists claim that women are of equal worth to God, they interpret Scripture to conclude that God has decreed that women may never share equal social status with men in this life. Women may not participate in matters ecclesial which are reserved solely for males. Women may not receive the same theological education as men since all positions of ecclesial authority are reserved for males. Women may not hold a denominational office. They may not serve on key denominational committees, be pastors, theologians, teach a mixed-gender Bible study, or function in a leadership position in any group that includes males.

This separate-but-equal refrain, now titled “complementarianism,” is employed to justify the denial of ordination to women. And all of these matters, they say, are unquestionably established because God wills it so and has declared it to be so in Scripture. This of course works out well for the men who do not have to compete with women for the high-paying positions that the denomination treasures. The real agenda has been the consolidation of wealth, power and authority in the hands of an elitist male religious society.

Where does God stand in all of this? All forms of gender discrimination are in direct conflict with the biblical proclamation that “In Christ there is no male or female” (Galatians 3:28).

The truth is that neither Jesus nor Muhammad deemed women to be inferior to men in God’s vision for human community. Muhammad married a powerful and astute businesswoman. He included women in his religious and political affairs. Jesus surrounded himself with intelligent and gifted women who shared in an equal access to the daily affairs of the emerging Kingdom of God.

Through the centuries the powerful religious idea that God has determined that women should submit to a separate and inferior social status has overwhelmed and obscured the egalitarianism of both Jesus and Muhammad. In this regard Christians and Muslims have a great deal in common.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.