The saying is “life comes at you fast.” Mere days after videos and reports first circulated that Dr. Burnett L. Robinson condoned marital rape from the pulpit, he has been removed from his pastoral position and resigned. As this story ripped through the social zeitgeist, unbound even by the metaphysical walls of Adventism, the verdict was swift and clear, as it should be. There is no explanation, context, or justification that can rationalize Dr. Robinson’s concept of submission as analogous to body possession such that the horrors of rape could be justified or allowed. Although you can find comment sections on social media where some would be willing to attempt what could only be described as an asinine argument in response, the condemnation is the simplest first step. As we continue to move through the aftermath of these events there are some other things that are worthy of note:
– A note on patriarchy and misogyny: It is a testament to the seductive power of patriarchy and misogyny that the Bible (in particular Ephesians 5:22-33) was ever used to justify this wrong-headed theology and that it was promoted by leaders for as long as it has. While Dr. Robinson quoted Ephesians 5:22, I think he would have a hard time aligning his commentary on that text to what Paul says just 3 verses later—“Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” Any demand of submission to a wife must first be modeled by a husband who is willing to give up his own life for her. Any demand of submission must be modeled by a husband who loves his wife so much that he follows Paul’s definition, which includes the command to “seek not his own…” It is a failure of every man (including me) that this oppressive thinking remains and that we have not worked to see and treat women the way God does, as equals.
– A note on apologies: I probably should no longer be surprised, but I am always amazed at how famous people and organizations do apologies so badly. Dr. Robinson’s comments were made in public. His apology, such as it was, should be public as well. It seems that he apologized to the Greater New York Conference. And while the organization deserved an apology as well (for making a mess and for misrepresentation), it is not the only one to whom an apology is owed. Now that the pastor has resigned, there is no impetus to make a public statement to accept responsibility for the harm caused and to be accountable for his past and future. That is, unless you are motivated by doing the right thing.
– A note on humility: There are many perils to being a pastor. One of them is the inherent risk of prolific public speaking. I know the risk well. As someone who has stood up in court, in several pulpits, and now regularly behind the academic lectern, I know what it feels like to say something that you must apologize for afterward because you didn’t carefully consider your words. To do this type of work requires a certain level of humility. If you make a mistake, you own it. Dr. Robinson’s silence seems to suggest that there is not a real acknowledgment of the import and danger of his line of thinking. And that is the real concern.
– A note about forgiveness: As I watched the conversation about Dr. Robinson’s statements unfold on social media, I found the defenses of him (where they could be found) to strain the bounds of logic. Outside of those who attempted to make the argument that he said nothing wrong, there were those who stressed forgiveness. I take no issue with forgiveness, except that the raising of forgiveness here often appears to imply that there should be no consequences for Dr. Robinson’s actions. As if forgiveness and consequences are mutually exclusive propositions. Someone can be forgiven and still have to make amends for their actions. I saw one person make the argument that the church did not have the purview to discipline Dr. Robinson and that prerogative should only belong to God. Setting aside the fact that these arguments tend to only get made when men in leadership find themselves in trouble, to argue that there can (or should) be no consequences is repugnant. In Dr. Robinson’s case, it may be largely a moot point due to his resignation, but we should be careful about an argument that says we have no recourse when people in power make mistakes.
Today is Thanksgiving, and even in this negative situation I can find some things to be thankful for. I am thankful for organizations like Spectrum and Adventist Today, both of which did some good reporting on this issue. I am thankful for organizations like Adventists for Social Justice that raised the call and are continuing to hold institutions accountable in this circumstance. I am thankful for the many men who I saw raise their voices in objection to this regressive mode of thinking. Whenever we are dealing with groups that are oppressed and groups that are oppressive, it is so important for oppressors to speak in solidarity with the oppressed, and then center the voices of the oppressed. Ending misogyny and oppressive patriarchal structures is a responsibility that lies with men. I pray that an outgrowth of this negative circumstance is more men speaking up for and centering women’s voices in their churches. Finally, I am thankful for all the women who have been, are, and continue to speak out against mistreatment in the church and the dangers of this kind of rhetoric. Dr. Robinson is not some unique or singular sort of evil. His words are emblematic of a mode of thinking that must change if the church is to be more of what Christ intended, and these women’s prophetic work serves as a reminder of that to all of us.
Notes & References:
 While forgiveness does not necessarily need it, it would be nice if forgiveness was being requested by the person who committed the offense.
Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at AdventHealth University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.
Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found by clicking here.
Image Credit: Rich Hannon, Spectrum Magazine
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