Friday, May 20, 2016

Would Mary Fisher and children still be alive if their church taught equality rather than male headship?

Three years before Mary Fisher's throat was slashed and a bullet shot through the back of her head (followed by the murders of her two children who also had  their throats slashed) by Robert Fisher, her husband and the natural father of the children, she and her husband had sought marital counseling from their pastor, Gregg Cantelmo, who told authorities that the couple wasn't having any one particular problem. He claimed they were just wondering, "how could they be closer given their schedules?" 

 Given what ultimately happened, I don't buy that, and neither should any thinking person. 

Acknowledging the fact that Robert Fisher has deep seated mental and emotional problems that are beyond the scope of simple pastoral counseling, On this 15th anniversary year of the murders, he is still at large and listed on the FBI Top Ten Wanted Fugitive list. Law enforcement and the courts will hopefully bring legal justice for the murders of his wife and children. But in order that Mary, Brittney, and Bobby Fisher's deaths not be in vain, it behooves us, as Christians, to take a closer look at the situation Mary Fisher found herself in during the years before their deaths and what options she thought she might have had for her and her children. 

We know that Mary was very involved in her church, Scottsdale Baptist Church. And until a few months before the murders, her husband, Robert, had been very involved in the men's ministry there. So it was a completely natural move for the couple to turn to their pastor for help with marital problems before going anywhere else for family counseling. As it turned out, tragically so, their pastor was the only person they turned to.

Robert's issues with control were no secret to those who knew them. According to Robert Fisher's mother, she, herself, had been a "Yes Sir" wife, and she disclosed that she had observed similar dynamics in her son's marriage.

So, Mary Fisher's own mother-in law revealed that Mary had been a "Yes Sir" wife--generally submissive.

Couple Robert Fisher's very serious, very dangerous, emotional/mental health issues with the fact that he attended a church where male headship was taught, and where he was involved in a complementarian men's group where male leadership was the primary focus, and hindsight, being what it is, makes it easy to see that a recipe for disaster was being brewed. Even today, 15 years later, the website for that church describes the men's ministry as a place where men are trained, "to become strong, confident leaders...encouraging each other to be servant leaders to our families..." 

The term "servant leader" is common complementarian code for "being in charge." It means, "Be the boss but be a nice one." 

Christian counselor, Barrington Brennan, has been warning the church for years that when teachings about strictly defined gender roles are brought together with male entitlement and control issues,  a scenario for domestic violence is created. Men are set up to become abusive or violent, and women are set up to take it.

So what we are looking back on, in this 15th year after Mary and her children's brutal murders, is a woman who was no doubt experiencing marital abuse all the while attending a complementarian church on a weekly basis, where she and her husband were taught that the husband is the head of the wife and that, in order to be a good Christian, the wife must submit to his authority. 

We know this because Mary Fisher's pastor, "As a college student...served in leadership at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA." It was under the tutelage of male headship zealot, Dr. John MacArthur, that Cantelmo was trained in the complementarian approach to marriage and family counseling.  

John MacArthur is a patriarchalist who has been involved with complementarianism from its inception, endorsing the anti-woman Danvers Statement and serving on CBMW's Board of Reference. The Danver's Statement defines complementarianism as the position that all women are  subject to male authority. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) is dedicated to world-wide female subjugation.

The current bio of Fisher's pastor, reveals that after graduating from seminary, but before becoming pastor at Scottsdale Baptist Church, he "served on the Elders’ Marriage Council and spoke at a number of Shepherd’s Conferences at Grace Church."

MacArthur's Shepherds Conferences are leadership conferences for men which stress male leadership [headship] and female subordination.

Complementarian pastors have a woeful record of looking out for the safety of abused wives. In 2009--eight years after Mary Fisher's murder--Rick Warren's Saddle Back Church advised battered wives not to leave violent husbands until after they had been beaten "regularly." Pastoral counsel stemming from MacArthur's and CBMW's male-leadership-at-all-cost-theology could only have left Mary Fisher feeling that in order to be a good Christian, she had few options available other than continuing her miserable, and very likely frightening, existence as a "Yes Sir" wife.

Of course she rarely opened up to anyone. There are reasons Christian abused wives "never really" open  up to anyone. 1.) It can be physically dangerous for them to rat on their abusive husbands to their pastors. 2.) It is humiliating for abused women to admit what goes on in their homes. They are often blamed for the abuse by either not leaving or by not "submitting" enough. 3.) In many churches they simply know what they will be told if they bring up the subject of abuse.

So when and if they finally do seek pastoral counseling, they are generally very desperate indeed.

When the Fishers went for counseling, in 1998, 11 years before the infamous Saddle Back Church "beaten regularly" advice was published, and three years before the murders occured, the complementarian movement had already been in full swing for 11 years. The Baptist Faith & Message 2000, which stressed male only leadership, had been adopted en mass by the Southern Baptist Convention and many other denominations, including Baptist churches that were not a part of the SBC. With vast financial resources at their disposal, the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood had been busy, for just over a decade, flooding the evangelical Christian community with their venomous dogma. Their male headship creed quickly breached denominational lines, and those who had otherwise been doctrinal adversaries linked arms, finding common ground together at the nexus of female subordination. 

This was the climate within complementarian churches in 2001. Mary Fisher was literally drowning in the flood waters of male headship. She never stood a chance. So when we remember the horror of what happened to one Christian mother and her children in 2001, we must ask ourselves, what is the climate today for women in general and abused wives in particular within complementarian Christian churches?

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