This past month has been a big one for Christian women in the blogosphere. I’m not sure if your news feeds have been lighting up as mine have? If not, I’ll fill you in. Over the last month, popular evangelical blogger and writer, Jen Hatmaker has been making headlines and her books have been removed from the shelves of Lifeway Christian Stores across the States. Why? She recently declared that she no longer holds to a traditional view of marriage, rather believes churches should love, support and encourage Christian LGBTQ marriages.
While I have never included myself in the 600,000 + women who follow Hatmaker on Facebook (more than double Tim Keller’s followers), I have been aware of the growing confusion at Hatmaker’s theologically-ambiguous social media posts. If you were to look on her Facebook, you would see there are posts on God’s grace; posts that make you smile and posts that make you want to hug her. But then there are the posts that call for Christians to love and not-judge others, which on the surface sounds exactly what we should be embracing. In a recent interview however, when Hatmaker was finally asked for clarification on what exactly she means by loving the LGBTQ community, her statement that she not only supports LGBTQ monogamous relationships but also believes they can be holy caused an outcry of disbelief and concern.[ref] J. Merritt, The Politics of Jen Hatmaker: Trump, Black Lives Matter, Gay Marriage and More, http://religionnews.com/2016/10/25/the-politics-of-jen-hatmaker-trump-black-lives-matter-gay-marriage-and-more/ [/ref]
While I believe Hatmaker’s conclusion that God through his word the Bible, permits LGBTQ married relationships to be holy is completely inaccurate, of perhaps greater concern to me is that for Hatmaker, with a following of more than half a million people, people are actually listening to her. In a digital world, now teaming with social media, and a cultural obsession with watching and ‘following’ others, Hatmaker is just another evangelical leader being used mightily to question the truth of Scripture. As she broadcasts false teaching on an international scale, her words take root often with people who are currently looking for a way out from the culturally-unpopular doctrine of traditional marriage.
As women, we love to read, listen to and connect with other women who write or speak about their relationship with God authentically. While this used to only happen in our local church Bible studies and friendships, social media allows us to ‘connect’ at the touch of a button. It is also giving women with the gift of teaching, a voice and outlet to enter theological discussion. In an article published earlier in the week on Christianity Today, it addressed this emerging trend:
“Christian women increasingly look to nationally known figures for spiritual formation and inspiration—especially when they don’t see leaders who look like them stepping up in their own churches.” [ref] K. Shellnutt, The Bigger Story Behind Jen Hatmaker, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/november-web-only/bigger-story-behind-jen-hatmaker.html [/ref]
And here it is. We look for leaders to follow when we don’t see them emerging in our own circles and we look for women leaders to talk on issues that we as women care deeply about. And when it comes to issues of doctrine, we generally don’t know what a person holds to be true, unless they are our Lead Pastor or Church Elder and follow a set Doctrinal Statement.
This is the same online: when we listen online to a male Pastor, or read their blog, we are usually able to pinpoint their beliefs with relative ease- we simply head on over to the respective church website and read their Doctrinal Statement. For female writers and speakers however, they are often blogging or speaking on their own platform. Furthermore, as author and Women’s Ministry leader Jen Wilkin points out, male Pastors generally aren’t reading, vetting, commenting or engaging with what these women are saying. Here lies the danger. How can Pastors be shepherding their sheep, if they aren’t sure of what wolves are in the fold?
If churches are not raising women leaders to discuss issues from a female perspective within their own churches, women turn outside their church to find this leadership, connection and engagement. And if Pastors are not training their congregation (both women and men) to be theologically-minded, really studying the Bible and being schooled in sound doctrine, how then can we be equipped to recognise this false teaching?
I can’t help but see similarities today with what Paul was instructing Timothy:
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Isn’t this exactly what we see happening?
I once heard the simple illustration- Satan will generally not send a witch on a broomstick to your church as a wolf to lead people astray because it is too obvious. Instead, he will use those who are already within your walls (or in our media-savvy world, on our devices) to do so. Will we be equipped to recognise them? Will we be able to stand firm enduring sound doctrine? Or will our itching ears, scrolling fingers, lack of understanding and our own personal interests lead us astray from listening to the truth?