Who Are the Real “Broken Wolves”?
Background for LGF readers:
The Gospel Coalition (TGC) is a very conservative network of churches which is broadly Reformed in its theology. TGC sees itself as a gatekeeper for what is true and righteous among Calvinist-oriented evangelicals. As such, it spends a lot of time policing the borders of what it considers to be the Christian faith.
On Friday, one of the editors of TGC published an article talking about “broken wolves,” that is, in his mind, people, maybe even church members who are damaged but who are using their damage to lure others away from the “true Christianity” preached by TGC.
The editor, Joe Carter, was very vague in what he was attacking, but it’s become clear from reading the comments that it’s an attack on any sort of understanding or rapprochement with the LGBT community, in particular those apostates and heretics who have the temerity to call themselves Christian and LGBT.
Here’s the response.
A critique of “Beware of Broken Wolves”
by Deana M. Holmes
Joe Carter wrote an article for “The Gospel Coalition” (TGC) entitled “Beware of Broken Wolves.” In it, he describes people who have been broken but who have become wolves and are snatching the sheep away from the sheepfold. In Joe’s article, this applies to people out there who are authentically broken, but who are unwilling to accept criticism and who are ultimately appealing, and thus are taking believers away from the “true gospel” promulgated by TGC.
There is so much wrong with this article!
For starters, Carter proposes a metaphor of “broken wolves.” It sounds so very Biblical, and we know that “Biblical” is very important in the TGC world. If it can be linked to a verse from the Bible (even if that verse is yanked completely out of context), it will be done. But Carter goes further and cobbles together two concepts: The concept of the broken person and the wolf. The problem is, and taking this from TGC’s own Biblicist position (which is one that I do not accept, by the way), the metaphor is simply not Biblical. There are broken sheep, who are rescued by Jesus and protected by him, and then there are wolves who try to steal sheep from the sheepfold. There are no “broken wolves” in the Bible; this is something Joe Carter made up. It sounds sufficiently Biblical so it will pass muster, but it comes straight out of his head.
Then there is the admission that “broken wolves” are authentically broken people. However, Carter fails to do any sort of introspection and look into why those people might be broken. A lot of them have been broken by authoritarian churches which are members in good standing of The Gospel Coalition. Of course, Carter isn’t going to bite the hand that feeds him, so he doesn’t go into any detail about why these people are broken. Instead, he goes into some blather—and it is blather—about how these people have “fresh insights into the human condition” and know better than the “musty understandings of previous generations of Christians.” Thus, the interpretations of these gnostic “broken wolves” “align with the latest preferences of the secular culture.”
I don’t think I’m the first one to point out that the church itself has changed its mind on serious issues in the recent past. For example, it wasn’t until the late 1700s when Quakers and other radicals dragged part of the church, kicking and screaming, to acknowledge how chattel ownership of other human beings (also known as slavery) was wrong. And this was despite the fact that the Bible acknowledges slavery and gives instructions on how it is to be conducted! But it’s only been within my lifetime that many churches have acknowledged people of color are equal to whites. And that didn’t come willingly either—it took Brown v. Board of Education (1954), various integration efforts, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Loving v. Virginia (1967) as secular muscle to force change upon people who didn’t want it.
Currently we’re seeing a similar process going on regarding the place of LGBT persons in the church, where secular pressure is forcing change. Just to show one example: When I was in my 20s back in the 1980s, evangelical churches taught LGBT persons that their sexual orientations could be “cured” by entering into heterosexual marriages. For many people who did this, it was an absolute disaster. Now, the advice to those LGBT persons who enter in to TGC-affiliated churches is that they must remain lifelong celibates. However, TGC and its ilk will not go outside its tiny bubble to engage the culture, simply talk to LGBT persons and learn about their lives. Instead, it sends out people like Joe Carter to label them and their straight allies “broken wolves” as a way of fencing against any sort of real discussion. And then TGC and its ilk claim to be persecuted when the law and larger culture insist that it must treat LGBT persons the same as heterosexual persons.
Carter also says “broken wolves” are “beyond criticism.” He then jumps to say that these “broken wolves” are “false teachers.” This fails to acknowledge that many, many people with complaints against the authoritarian tendencies of TGC-related churches are not teachers. They are simply people who were thrust into untenable situations because of the bad actions of church leaders who thought they could tell the sheep under them what to do. Elders and pastors seem to think they have the authority to tell people who signed covenants how to live their lives, and the abuses just keep piling up. You shouldn’t have gotten that marriage to a pedophile annulled, The Village Church told Karen Hinkley. Heritage Baptist Church tried to excommunicate Marie Notcheva for getting a divorce and then would not let her go until she threatened legal action. (Even the Mormon Church figured out this was an issue when it was sued back in the mid-1980s.) Or there are the incidents where children were instructed to forgive the sexual abusers who got access to them through the church whose leaders were now telling the children to forgive those same sexual abusers. All of these things are abhorrent to those of us outside the TGC bubble, but there’s simply no introspection on the part of TGC. Instead, Carter, and by extension, TGC, act like TGC has no problems, but to this outsider, they remind me of the Kevin Bacon character in “Animal House” who keeps chanting “Remain calm! All is well!” until he’s trampled by the crowd.
Then there is this paragraph, which deserves a very close look, because it exposes so much that is wrong with the thought coming from Joe Carter and TGC:
Many of us men—including elders called to protect their flock—remain silent hoping that one of our sisters in Christ will speak up before the popular and prominent female Broken Wolves in our midst devours another one of our own. But if not, we probably won’t speak up. The brokenness of Broken Wolves often act as a shield that protects them from any legitimate criticism because we fear being viewed as harsh or unloving towards women. The result is in failing to speak out we leave the women (and men) in our churches vulnerable to be ravaged.
There are two reasons why women allied with TGC and its churches would not speak up against female “broken wolves.” First: TGC women will not speak up because they have little, if any, authority to speak, and you will not give it to them because you see women in general as second-class descendants of Eve the Temptress. You would not have their backs. Why would they speak up? They’d be left to hang out to dry. This comment you wrote on the TGC Facebook page is instructive:
The Gospel Coalition ***why not suggest that the pastors go to a trusted female leader and ask her to broach the subject?***
Good point. I wrestled with whether I should advocate pastors do that and decided against it.
In almost ever[y] case I think it is would be prudent to ask female leaders for help. They are likely to have insights into the issue that men may not have. But I think there is a danger in having elders push off their biblically mandated responsibility to protect the sheep onto women in the church. I think that’s causing a lot of the problems we have now.
Should female leaders help with that effort? Absolutely. But it can be too easy for pastors to say “I’ll let the women deal with that themselves” and let abuses continue because they are afraid to do their jobs.
The other reason your women will not speak up is because if they say something wrong, it is very likely that you will turn on them and call them “broken wolves” also. They may show sympathy to a position that you would not show. They may not express a doctrinal point correctly. (And God knows you have so very, very many doctrinal points which must be held correctly in order to be right with TGC.) They may be too nice to the female “broken wolves” and not express the appropriate sternness in the face of the “sins” of the “broken wolves.” What woman would want to take that risk? If she steps out of line according to the male gatekeepers, she could lose her position and whatever small authority she’s been granted within her church and the TGC superstructure. She might even be subjected to discipline herself. Of course she isn’t going to speak up.
Carter also says that “broken wolves” are appealing, and in their appeal, they tell people to remain in what TGC considers to be sins. I’m pretty sure this is an attack on LGBT persons, but Carter can’t bring himself to say that, but it’s clear from this statement in the article: “The Broken Wolf says, ‘You can’t change. Embrace who you are.’” Obviously, being LGBT in TGC-land is the uber-sin, the sin that no other sin can touch.
Let me be clear on this: The “solutions” proposed by Carter and TGC for the LGBT “problem” have been failures for the vast majority of LGBT persons. They have led people to depression and despair, and sometimes even to death. For the very few examples who are trotted out at various TGC events as success stories, there are thousands who have left Evangelicalism and, indeed, Christianity because they were browbeaten over and over and over and over again by the belief that being LGBT is wrong. People who are subjected to that kind of treatment over years need encouragement, lifting up and yes, that they are not some sort of freak uber-sinners just because TGC believes it to be so. I’ve observed that known pedophiles have been treated far better by churches holding TGC-type beliefs than LGBT persons in legal marriages. This says volumes.
Finally, in all of this, Joe Carter doesn’t provide any real solutions to the problem of “broken wolves,” save to go on the attack. This reminds me of something Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, said about criticism: “Never defend, always attack.” I would rather follow the words of Jesus: “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you (Luke 6:27-28).”
I don’t see any of Jesus in Carter’s article.