May 4 was my last day at Louisiana College, where I had taught Old Testament and Hebrew for the past four years. I left because of how the school handled what seemed to me to be a clear example of the type of theological system that undergirds the current sexual abuse crisis in the Southern Baptist Convention.
It was February 14, 2019, just a few days after the Houston Chronicle released its stunning, sickening series of articles on sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches and how that abuse had been covered over for years. That day in chapel Joshua Dara, the dean of the school of human behavior at Louisiana College, preached a sermon on relationships. Fair enough for Valentine’s Day. Toward the end of his sermon, he turned his attention to the women in the room, addressing them directly and offering advice for finding a mate. Comparing them to a house, he said, “Mow your lawns” and advised that if their phones were not ringing, it was because they were not taking care of their “house.” Just a beat later he warned them not to allow too many men into their houses, because houses with people coming in and out are “crackhouses.” I was sickened. And I was grieved.
My wife is an abuse survivor, and so are many other women I know. My thoughts turned immediately to them. How would they feel about this? Are they crackhouses? And what about the women I know who are godly and loving and walking daily with Christ and yet remain single? Is it because they aren’t pretty enough to be pursued? How does this make them feel? I asked my students how they felt about this all, and many of them were deeply bothered also. Is their value really in how they look? Are they repulsive if they’ve had sex outside of marriage?
I brought up these concerns with the administration, following the chain of command as laid out in the faculty handbook. Dara issued the following non-apology:
I appreciate this, but it didn’t really address the issue; rather, Dara chalked up the comments to a “warped sense of humor,” and the administration credited “differences in cultural perceptions and nomenclatures.” I understand that cultural differences are real, but doesn’t the biblical view of women transcend culture? And isn’t humor, or “locker room talk,” often indicative of what people truly think?
The above email was followed twenty-one minutes later by a missive from Rick Brewer, the president of Louisiana College:
Look at the time stamps. Twenty-one minutes. This email raised even more red flags for me. Matthew 18? “‘Official redress only after the biblical method has failed”? “One who is perceived to have committed an offense”? Here’s the passage Brewer references:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Notice the differences :
- “If your brother sins against you” vs. “one who is perceived to have committed an offense”
- “church” vs. “Louisiana College” (though I appreciate Brewer’s acknowledgment that LC is not a church)
- Private sin (implied by “sins against you” and the admonition take witnesses vs. a public sermon on a college campus
I sent an email to Brewer about this relating my concerns and telling him that I was trying to follow his request that we confront a brother who sins against us. I told Brewer I could publish my thoughts anonymously but that I wanted to come to him openly (on my wife’s advice, by the way). Brewer asked me to wait until we could talk before publishing.
In the meeting he called a few days later, Brewer told me he had sent my email to the chairman of the board of trustees and to the school’s attorney. He claimed the email was libelous, inflammatory, and some other legal terms. He also directed me not to publish and said that doing so would be “an actionable offense.” He said he had the full support of the chairman of the board of trustees. He went on to ask me if I’d ever heard of Haman’s gallows (the device Haman constructed on which to murder Mordecai in the book of Esther, but on which Haman himself was killed). He repeated this question twice but later walked back the imagery. He also said I was “making a mountain out of a molehill” and that he was going to release the video.
Why am I writing all this? Because how this all played out is a textbook model for what we see being uncovered in the SBC today. Folks, this didn’t happen in some far away time and place. This teaching is going on right now at a Baptist institution of higher learning. And this experience is just a small glimpse of what people confronting misogyny and sexual abuse face.
A man with power and authority delivered a sermon in a public setting that degraded women and communicated that their value was in their physical attractiveness and the number of sexual partners they had had. I expressed my concern through the proper channels. I used Scripture in my defense of a biblical view of women. And all I wanted was for the school to clearly articulate a biblical view of women. And I naively thought the administration would jump at the chance to clarify Dara’s sermon and clearly state the truth. Instead, another powerful man responded to criticism by using scripture to defend the offender, then when he was confronted, he implicitly threatened to fire me, sue me, and impale me on a pole. And here’s the other thing, I talked to several journalists about all of this, and no one would write about it because Brewer won’t release the video. No evidence, so nothing to say.
What do others go through? What do they suffer to tell the truth? To confront misogyny and abuse? What consequences do they face for daring to confront such dark evil, the evil that blossoms when we let warped theology go unchecked? This is a serious problem with serious consequences. Let’s stop siding with the powerful and instead stand with the oppressed. Let us walk with those who have suffered under misogynistic teaching, and worse, abuse. Let’s get it right this time.
Russell L. Meek was Assistant Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Louisiana College. He has authored, co-authored, and co-edited several articles, essays, and books and is a regular contributor at For the Church. An audio recording of the meeting with the administration of LC is available on the internet.
We were among those reluctant to break this story, because of the legal ramification. We do not have a legal department to advise us and realized the issues here were significant. Once a media outlet in Louisiana broke the story, and once I (Dave) listened to the audio recording of the meeting between Dr. Meek and the LC administration, we felt this was a story that Southern Baptists needed to know and we were safe to publish. Obviously, it is an ugly story, but the time to cloak ugly stories in the darkness has passed, has it not?