Dear Mr. Preacher Man
Updated: Mar 13
In case you missed it, quick recap: My grandparents' pastor made international headlines with this sermon. (This is only a clip. Try not to enjoy yourself too much)
It gets worse:
Dear Pastor Stewart/Preacher Man,
I’ll start by introducing myself.
My name is Mattie Jo Cowsert. I am the granddaughter of a couple in your congregation. My connection to Malden First General Baptist runs pretty deep, as much of my extended family have called that church their home over the decades. I myself called it home for a few years while my dad was the associate pastor.
I lived in the parsonage, the Family Life Center was where I learned to properly execute a lay up, and I even had my first kiss in the closet of my dad’s church office (sorry dad). I played in the sanctuary, hunting ghosts and seriously contemplating going for a personal swim in the baptismal. I also may or may not have eaten a decent amount of donuts from the kitchen that were meant for post-service “fellowship.”
I was the real deal preacher’s kid.
I am now a New York City actor, writer, and proud “pig-headed, pink-hat wearing, snowflake” feminist, and survivor of sexual assault. I am an advocate for sexual trauma therapy and actively speak against the harmful messages I received as an Evangelical raised in purity culture.
Until you went viral, I didn’t bother to learn your name. I attended a Mother’s Day sermon of yours in 2017 to celebrate my Grandma. From the start of that sermon, it was clear you weren’t interested in celebrating Mothers, just shaming them. I left the sanctuary after you said “A woman’s skirt should be as long as a sermon. Short enough to keep my interest and long enough to cover all the important stuff.”
After my feminst fuming walk and documenting my reaction on Snapchat, I collected myself enough to go back inside and pretend I hadn’t been traumatized by the fact that people in my family thought your message about women then was somehow okay. Godly even. And then I wrote a blog about it.
You, Preacher Man, are not the illness.
You are a symptom.
I know you’re getting a lot of attention because your recent sermon was great CNN political war bait, or maybe you just pissed off enough hangry women white-knuckling their way through Weight Watchers. Either way, I’m glad people are now as angry as I was hearing you speak 3 years ago.
You’ve been asked to take professional leave and are getting “counseling.” On the outside, I can see how people might think this is a sufficient response. But as an Exvangelical, I know y’all don’t actually believe in paying for mental health, so I’m skeptical about what this “counseling” will involve. And losing your job doesn’t really address the deeper issue here.
I fear the Evangelical community will miss this opportunity to reflect, educate, and correct. Instead, they will do what they normally do when a fellow Believer does something deemed culturally abhorrent. They will throw their hands up and say “Whoa whoa he’s not with us!” as if the teachings and power roles in the church haven’t fostered these beliefs for decades.
You, Preacher Man, are not the illness. You are a symptom. You did not arrive at your misogyny in Christian leadership overnight. You were allowed, encouraged even, to get there. And here is how I know.
By junior high, my family left Malden First General Baptist for a cooler, more approachable church with better music and a rock climbing wall in the sanctuary. Although my pastors spoke less loudly and with less of a Southern twang (also, why do you have a southern twang? Aren’t you from Canada?), the messages I received about being a woman were the same as the one you delivered.
These messages were actually more insidious, as their delivery was subtle, and therefore, palatable. They were repeated to me and my peers constantly before, during, and after puberty over s’mores and sleepovers.
Same Sunday, different choir robes, as I like to say.
Before I even got my period, I was operating on the “truth” that my body and my being were exclusively for men’s pleasure.
It was the one-piece bathing suits I had to wear any time I was around boys in a church setting that involved water. Apparently the female belly button is quite the temptress.
It was the sports bra I had to wear under that one piece because the V cut in the front and back was too “revealing.”
It was the not owning shorts that actually fit me until my late twenties because don’t we know men are visual and our upper thighs will just make them oversexed mindless monsters! Cover them thighs!
It was the purity ring, necklace, bracelet...any piece of jewelry to remind me that my currency is my ability to keep my body untouched by anyone other than my husband.
It was being told I shouldn’t masturbate because it will just “fuel the fire” instead of put it out. Furthermore, if I masturbate, I’ll like that more than I like sex with my husband and then I won’t want to have sex with him (Lol at an entire group of men outing themselves by being sexually threatened by fingers).
It was “Don’t wear too much makeup, you’re covering up God’s natural beauty.
wear enough makeup so it looks like you’re actually trying because men want to be with a woman who actually puts in effort.
But also also
don’t care too much about your outer beauty, a godly man wants a godly woman who knows her deepest beauty emanates from her love for Jesus #BeautyisFleeting
Somehow, dress codes for women had been perfectly defined in my head, but the definition of rape was totally vague.
It was the Q&A where I learned if a man sees a girl wearing pants with writing on the butt, even though he will try hard not to think about her butt, one day he will be shopping in Home Depot and that image of her font-printed butt will pop into his head. All of the sudden he’s helplessly lusting while shopping for floor panels. Don’t be the girl in the font-printed-butt-Home-Depot-lust-session. Godly men don’t want to marry that girl.
It was the throw out your sweatpants when you get married. Always be at your best for your husband, or else...
It was the men are visual and women are emotional.
Women will never fully understand a man’s struggle with his own eyeballs.
It was the If we, as sisters in Christ (so now things have developed into incest cool cool cool), want to assist our brothers in Christ in their morality, we MUST COVER OUR BODIES.
Double-layered-camis, standby and assist.
Combined with the already impossible standards women must adhere to in the "secular world" , these supposed God-ordained women must be xyz messages created a whole slew of fucked up behaviors in how I related to myself and to men. It led to...
The eating disorder I suffered from for over a decade. From my hair falling out, losing my period, to missing work because I took too many laxatives, I was desperate to be seen as beautiful. Beautiful meant thin.
The “Even if you don’t want to have sex, you just have to do it. It’s not going to always be enjoyable for you, but that’s just the reality of marriage.” talk my best friend got (from a peer!) the night before her wedding. We were 23.
The countless times I’ve said no to men and they kept pushing until they got what they wanted. And instead of being disgusted at their inability to listen to me, I blamed myself for “leading them on.”
The date rape that occured in my mid-twenties that I didn’t think I could even call rape because “I was at his apartment. We were drinking.” Although I’d said no, I didn’t think I’d been raped...enough? Somehow, dress codes for women had been perfectly defined in my head, but the definition of rape was totally vague.
Once I started sharing my story with close friends and family, many responded with their stories of sexual assault. We all shared beliefs we didn't even realize we had. Beliefs instilled by leaders like you that our bodies are not our own, they are for men to enjoy. Anwyay, once women started talking about this publicly, we started a movement. It’s called #MeToo. Maybe you’ve heard of it?
Evangelical culture has caused so much bad
in the name of a God that is so good.
Anyways, you get the picture.
Has anyone ever explained to you how this constant messaging that women’s bodies are for men’s pleasure and approval could lead to us never having a loving, autonomous relationship with the vessel God gave us to enjoy our own fucking lives??
Or that, by telling men “this is just how you’re created” completely absolves them of taking any responsibility for their detestable behavior? That telling women it is their job to make sure men don’t fall victim to their weaknesses, further enforces aforementioned absolvement?
And then, can you see. Mr. Preacher Man, how all of that would lead to rampant rape, assault, eating disorders, and abuse in the church?!
Evangelical culture has caused so much bad in the name of a God that is so good.
Growing up, I heard all of my leaders and pastors talk about how, as followers of Christ, we aren’t supposed to be “of the world.” What sets us apart, apparently, is our exceptional moral compass like saving ourselves for just one person. Obeying “Biblically ordained” gender roles. By listening to our Bibles, instead of our brains.
The irony is, there is nothing more “worldly” than the oppression of the feminine, abuse, and control of women. These systems have been in place for centuries. Just because you’re doing it with different tactics, doesn’t mean the desired outcome --power and control -- isn’t the same.
So I offer, that if you really wanted to be different, radical, GODLY, you would uplift, support, empower, and celebrate women.
This is counter cultural.
This is “on Earth as it is in Heaven.”