The Ugly Truth the MacArthur/Moore Controversy Reveals
- Catherine Segars Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- Updated Nov 07, 2019
A divisive topic in Christian ministry has come to the forefront this past week. Facebook and Twitter feeds are lit up with the controversy over Evangelical Minister John MacArthur’s comments that Beth Moore should stop preaching and “go home.”
He sat on a panel of all-male ministers who openly mocked Moore—saying that she is narcissistic, and that she is hawking the Gospel like a TV jewelry peddler.
Moore responded saying, “Here’s the beautiful thing about it & I mean this with absolute respect. You don’t have to let me serve you. That gets to be your choice. Whether or not I serve Jesus is not up to you. Whether I serve you certainly is. One way or the other, I esteem you as my sibling in Christ.”
This isn’t the first time MacArthur has ruffled feathers in an exchange that resembles a bar room drinking game more than an enlightened theological conversation between ministers.
The topic of women in ministry has been written on extensively. The MacArthur/Moore controversy centers on whether a woman should preach, but really, it is about something much deeper:
It’s about a woman’s gifts, a woman’s voice, and a woman’s place.
Examining this exchange reveals some uncomfortable truths about church culture.
First, let’s establish that women inarguably should be allowed to preach, teach, and pastor other women.
Cheered on by his fellow ministers, MacArthur said, “There is no case that can be made biblically for a woman preacher. Period. Paragraph. End of discussion.”
I’m not sure what line MacArthur uses to distinguish preaching from teaching, but his unequivocal and universal statement is easily dismantled showing the need for more discussion.
This issue deserves quite a few more paragraphs before we allow the final period to fall.
Regardless of your perspective on the Apostle Paul’s admonition to Timothy about women teaching men, we should all agree that women are called to speak into the lives of other women.
Paul addresses this charge in Titus 2:4, encouraging older women to teach younger women, to raise them up in the faith.
MacArthur made no allowance for women preaching to other women. He made no allowance for older women shepherding younger women with their pastoral gifts.
I assume that this was an oversight because Scripture is so certain on this issue, but it should be stated clearly that women are called by God to minister to women.
On this we can all agree.
And it should be noted that the ministry of Beth Moore, and many other female ministers like her, shepherd women. I’ve been in an arena with over 10,000 women who sat under the teaching of Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, and Kay Arthur. There wasn’t a man in sight.
Moore preaches to women. She started by teaching small groups of women in her church. Her ministry grew and she moved to larger venues. She didn’t seek out a male audience.
Rather, over the years some men have grown to appreciate the insights and observations of her teaching. On rare occasions she has spoken to mixed crowds on a Sunday morning, fifteen times in forty years, she says. But Moore writes books and Bibles studies for women, records devotionals for women, and headlines massive conferences around the world—for women.
What Did Moore Do to Attract This Negative Scrutiny?
With the Biblical account so clear on women ministering to women and Moore’s primary audience being her own gender, what specifically has she done to make her the topic of an all-male gripe session?
A couple of things.
First—in recent years, Moore has become an essential voice on the topic of misogyny and sexual abuse in the church. As a sexual abuse survivor herself, she is challenging the male power structures in the Southern Baptist denomination, of which she is a longstanding member, that have allowed abuse to spread like a cancer.
And second—in a single tweet earlier this year, Moore said that she would be speaking at her church on Mother’s Day. In a strict, letter of the law extension of New Testament doctrine, a mother sharing a motherly message on Mother’s Day, in front of men, is a watershed moment.
Sundays are sacred. Moore’s tweet was a shot heard round the world. The uproar over this incident from men like John MacArthur, who is a Reformed Baptist, is reminiscent of the Pharisees counting how many steps someone took on a Sunday or railing Jesus over healing on the Sabbath.
©Photo Credit: Public Domain/Islands End
MacArthur's Attention Is Way Off from Where it Should Be
These actions, along with a Twitter following that dwarfs her male counterparts, put Moore in the middle of a mean-spirited game of word association in a room filled with male ministers.
Moore’s Mother’s Day message seems to be the source of MacArthur’s frustration, but I believe her voice on the issue of misogyny and sexual abuse is where the attention should lie.
Regardless of your views about a female minister preaching a rare message in front of a mixed crowd, men should take their role as protector seriously instead of finding one more reason to attack women.
Please understand, I’m not suggesting that a group of male ministers shouldn’t address what they believe is theological error. And I’m not here to clear up that error, either.
I’m suggesting that there is a proper time for such discussions, and in light of recent discoveries, this was not the right time. And it was certainly not the right way.
What recent discoveries?
In a six-part series earlier this year, The Houston Chronicle uncovered an “Abuse of Faith” that spans 20 years, involved 380 male church leaders and volunteers, and affected 700 victims in the Southern Baptist denomination. There were 220 convictions or plea deals made. This bombshell of a story has rocked the denomination to its core. With such a large pool of abused women in a single corner of Christianity, the problem is systemic.
This year’s convention in June, encouraged by Moore advocating reform on behalf of women, finally addressed the male power structure that fostered criminal activity—activity which has flourished in an environment that silenced women.
The SBC, also criticized in MacArthur’s comments, is embroiled in scandal for not listening to women as they have come forward with accusations against powerful male ministers.
And instead of expressing concern over the abuse, MacArthur and other powerful male ministers criticized Moore’s Mother’s Day message and then the SBC for caving in their stance against female preachers.
With this austere backdrop of sexual abuse fueled by women being marginalized, ignored, and ultimately silenced—MacArthur’s jovial game of word play came off like a bad kareoke rendition of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” at a bar mitzvah.
It shows how seriously out of touch some ministers are with the critical issues affecting half their congregation: the female half. It shows how tone-deaf they are and how silent women have become.
It demonstrates the need for women to speak and men to listen—the exact opposite of what happened in that room.
Let’s be clear about what occurred in MacArthur’s game exchange—a powerful male minister cheered on by a crowd of male pastors, chastised a sexual abuse survivor whose primary audience is women. She has been advocating for reform in her denomination on behalf of the women she shepherds, and her voice has been instrumental in bringing justice to abused women and affecting much needed change.
But, instead of lauding these efforts on behalf of women, instead of commending her work to right an egregious wrong perpetrated by men, Moore was told to be silent—because she spoke at her church on a Sunday.
There was no acknowledgement of the two decades of abuse by 380 male church leaders. There was no acknowledgement of the 700 female victims or the 220 convictions of sexual abuse by men in the Southern Baptist denomination.
There was no acknowledgement of a need for men to be accountable for their actions, or for them to honor and protect women, or for reforms to take place.
There was just the claim that Moore shouldn’t preach, that she is narcissistic, and that she peddles the Gospel like a QVC jewelry pusher—all precipitated by the command that she “go home.”
When you put this controversy in the proper context, preaching isn’t the point. The real issue isn’t where women should be allowed to speak, but whether they should be allowed to speak at all.
The point isn't what MacArthur and Moore have differing perspectives on. The point is that the way MacArthur handled the situation reveals an ugly truth about power dynamics within the church universal, where in place of of men stepping up to their God-given role as protectors, they turn to silencing women instead.
Do Women Really Desire Power?
MacArthur claims that women like Moore are fueled by feminism and crave power.
“When the leaders of evangelicalism roll over for women preachers, the feminists have really won the battle. The primary effort in feminism is not equality. They don’t want equality. 99% of plumbers are men—they don’t want equal power to be a plumber. They want to be senators, preachers, congressmen, the president, the power structure in a university—they want power, not equality.”
MacArthur’s disdain over a woman having a say in government or education is disturbing. A man’s desire to occupy these positions is somehow pure, but a woman’s desire is suspicious, even sinister. (One can’t help but be curious how he feels about women’s suffrage.)
MacArthur goes on to say that the pulpit is the highest place of power in the evangelical church, so women preaching “is feminism gone to church.”
“This is not a minor issue, when you literally overturn the clear teaching of Scripture to empower people who want power, you have given up Biblical authority. This is not a small issue.”
MacArthur’s foaming about feminism and the female quest for power in light of 700 female sexual abuse victims in the Baptist denomination is astonishing.
Male abuse of power caused this despicable violation of women. This is the issue we should be discussing. This is the issue that isn’t small or minor. This is the issue about the improper use of power.
MacArthur’s myopic focus on feminism and female power shows a callous disregard for women and an inability to sympathize with suffering.
To be clear, I’m no advocate of ‘feminism’ that is power hungry or condescends motherhood/domestic work. I just launched a website called Mere Mother, a space dedicated to mothers marginalized by modern feminism.
I have written an ebook titled Five Myths About Motherhood That Make You Feel Mere, and Why They Are Wrong which defeats the most prominent myths of the modern women’s movement.
You won’t find a more ardent opponent of modern feminism than me. I left my career and education behind to stay at home and even homeschool my five kids.
I’ve done everything MacArthur told Moore to do. But mothers are stuck between a rock and a hard place between modern feminism and MacArthur’s comments. I epitomize everything he says a woman should be—and yet MacArthur has deeply wounded me and every woman like me.
The women Moore defends have been marginalized, maligned, and in some cases molested by men. These women don’t want power. No godly woman does, nor should any godly man. Pursuit of power is not a godly ambition.
These women want a voice.
How Did Jesus React to Women Wanting a Voice?
There is one man who understood that better than any other.
Jesus gave women a voice when men wanted to silence them. Jesus gave a voice to the woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery.
He gave a voice to Mary of Bethany, who poured a year’s worth of wages over Jesus’ feet to prepare Him for burial. Jesus received her when the men at the table ridiculed her. And He said that her story—not theirs—would be told wherever his story is told.
Revered apologist and theologian Ravi Zachariah personifies Scripture’s perspective on the voice of women perfectly,
“The greatest truth on which the Gospel hangs is the resurrection. If Christ be not raised from the dead, our faith is in vain. Why in heaven’s name did He reveal Himself to the women to go and tell the message? All of Easter, all of Easter, hangs on the testimony of womankind with whom He trusted the entire Gospel.”
All four Gospel accounts are clear on this fact—the resurrection of Christ was revealed to the women first, not the men. The entire gospel account hangs on the words of women.
Why were the women told first?
Because the men weren’t at the tomb.
They were at home.
They ran away when the women stayed at the Cross. They stayed at home when the women went to the tomb.
The irony is rich.
What Does the Bible Say about a Woman’s Place?
More than anything, I think that MacArthur and his band of male ministers were upset about the leadership role Moore has taken in a prominent denomination. His pithy response could have been “stop preaching” or “teach women” or simply “repent.” But that’s not what he said. He told Moore to “go home.”
The message is clear. MacArthur is calling into question Moore’s role as a leader and her place in the church.
An Old Testament passage of Scripture is problematic for those who propose that women cannot lead men either inside or outside the church.
In Judges 4, Deborah is identified as a judge and prophetess over the entire nation of Israel:
"Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time. And she would sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the mountains of Ephraim. And the children of Israel came up to her for judgment." (Judges 4:4-5)
Later in this chapter, Deborah sends for Barak, a military commander, and this prophetess is God's mouthpiece to give him the command to go to war. Please note that God commands the entire nation of Israel to go to war—through a woman.
Deborah is so well respected that Barak refuses to go to war without her. She agrees, but says that God will deliver the evil King Sisera into the hands of a woman. And everything Deborah prophesies comes to pass.
It is very hard to reconcile this passage of Scripture with a mandate that women can never lead outside the church, and it calls into question the meaning of New Testament passages about women leading inside the church.
After all, Deborah is not only a judge, which is a position of leadership in government, but she is also a prophet, which is a position of leadership in the church.
Deborah brings several questions to the forefront of this debate:
If women are not to be in positions of authority over men anywhere, then why was Deborah a Judge over Israel with nothing mentioned in Scripture of the error?
Why did God prophesy through this woman to give His instructions to a man and consequently the entire nation of Israel?
And why did everything Deborah say come to pass? Do false prophets usually get their prophecies right in Scripture?
I asked these very questions recently in an online forum and this is the answer I was given:
“It's important to note that the judgeship of Deborah is considered to be the shame of Israel. Because there were no men fit for the job in that time and so a woman had to do a job that a man rightfully should have been doing. Also, it is important to consider... that Deborah stands out as a judge not appointed by God the way the other judges were.”
I’ve heard this theory before. When asked what Scripture identifies Deborah’s judgeship as the “shame of Israel,” no reference was given, only the claim that “most Jewish scholars” agree on this theory.
And yet, Judges 2:18 tells us, "Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and He saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge."
There is no question that the Lord was with Deborah. He saved all of Israel through her leadership. So it would seem that the Lord raised up this woman as a judge.
Even still, one must acknowledge that Deborah seems to be an exception, not the rule. She is the only female judge mentioned in Scripture.
When Men Fail to Lead, Women Must
How does this Old Testament account apply to the Moore/MacArthur controversy?
In that online forum, one of the men attacking the judgeship and prophet status of Deborah concluded,
“When men are too cowardly to fight battles and women step up that is a shame. Anytime in history that a woman has had to step up to do a job that men should have done is a time that reflects negatively on that nation.”
This particular commenter believes that a woman should never offer instruction to a man on any subject in any setting. He considered my participation in this discussion to be insubordinate and contrary to Scripture—
And yet, on this we can agree:
It is a shame when men do not fight for women. It is a shame when they abuse women and cover it up in their carefully constructed power structures. It is a shame when they sit in circles and tell women who teach and protect younger women that they should “go home.”
Regardless of your position on women in leadership, or women teaching men, or women sharing a rare message to a mixed crowd on Mother’s Day, we should all agree that men should speak up for women. They should defend women. They should uncover and prosecute the abuse of women.
The Big Picture, and a Way Forward
The most conservative assessment of Deborah’s judge and prophet status says that she became a mouthpiece for God because men failed to do their job. The same can be said of Beth Moore and every other woman who has become a mouthpiece for God because men like MacArthur have failed to do their jobs.
They have sat in circles and mocked us. They have forgotten to defend us. They have refused to fight for us.
These men have been silent when they should have spoken. And when we’ve spoken for ourselves, they’ve told us to be silent.
Even if you interpret Scripture in the strictest possible way concluding that women should never lead or teach or exercise any type of authority over men, the Old Testament account of Deborah offers an exclusion to that rule—and that exclusion applies to Beth Moore.
She offered a clarion call when the men were quiet.
She addressed issues that men ignored or covered-up.
She fought to protect, honor, and vindicate women.
And she did this while the men who should have been fighting—stayed at home.
Please listen to us, men—listen to the Christian women in your lives. The feminist movement exists for a reason—a man-made reason. Many women don’t agree with where it has gone. We don’t agree with the way it has treated you, or the way it treats mothers, or the way it treats families and children and especially babies.
The thrust of my work is focused on defeating the way the women’s movement marginalizes mothers. Don’t use their methods. Don’t marginalize us. Don’t belittle and silence us. We don’t want to fight you, too.
Fight for us. Fight beside us. Defend us. Respect us. Listen to us. Love us.
We don’t want to go to war.
But if you refuse to fight for us, we will.
And God will go with us.
Catherine Segars is an award-winning actress and playwright—turned stay-at-home-mom—turned author, speaker, blogger and motherhood apologist. She launched the Mere Mother website in October 2019, which delves into critical issues that marginalize mothers in our culture. This homeschooling mama of five is dedicated to helping mothers see their worth in a season when they often feel overwhelmed and irrelevant. You can find Catherine’s blog, dramatic blogcast, and other writings at www.catherinesegars.com and connect with her on Facebook.
©Photo Credit: Public Domain/IslandsEnd, Getty Images/Terry Wyatt/Stringer