Ever so often, a religious term gets thrown into the popular discourse that leaves some heads spinning in newsrooms.
A recent example is a few Southern Baptist pastors calling Vice President Kamala Harris a “Jezebel,” as attested to TheLily.com, a feminist newsletter published by the Washington Post. The headline: “Southern Baptist leaders called Kamala Harris a ‘Jezebel.’ That’s not just insulting, it’s dangerous, experts say.”
In this case, we are not talking about “leaders” of the Southern Baptist Convention. The attacks came from a few pastors.
Before I dissect this opinion piece, I need to mention that “Jezebel” or “Jezebel spirit” is a term used quite frequently in Pentecostal-charismatic discourse. Now, here is the key material from this essay:
Two days after Vice President Harris was sworn in as the nation’s first female vice president, Tom Buck let it out.
“I can’t imagine any truly God-fearing Israelite who would’ve wanted their daughters to view Jezebel as an inspirational role model because she was a woman in power,” tweeted Buck, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Lindale, Tex…
Despite criticism, including from fellow pastors, Buck doubled down in a follow-up tweet the next day.
Criticism didn’t just come from “fellow pastors.”
SBC president J.D. Greer weighed in on Twitter, chastising Buck. That’s a significant response from the nation’s largest Protestant flock.
“For those torn up over my tweet, I stand by it 100%,” Buck wrote. “My problem is her godless character. She not only is the most radical pro-abortion VP ever, but also most radical LGBT advocate.”
Buck wasn’t the only Southern Baptist preacher to refer to Harris as a Jezebel, a biblical character who has become shorthand for an amoral, wantonly sexual woman. Weeks earlier, before the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Steve Swofford, head of the First Baptist Church of Rockwall near Dallas, made a similar statement. Delivering a videotaped sermon, Swofford called Biden “cognitively dysfunctional.”
“What if something happens to [Biden] and Jezebel has to take over?” Swofford asked in the sermon. “Jezebel Harris, isn’t that her name?”
The rest of the article does explain the history of the biblical Jezebel, but leaves out vast swatches of her history, such as her habit of executing righteous prophets.
So, there’s a lot to this woman. She’d make an amazing movie. I’ve always wondered why filmmakers have shied away from making blockbuster movies about larger-than-life biblical characters or early saints. (For instance, think what a movie about St. Patrick, the British teenager kidnapped at age 16 to be enslaved in Ireland, only to escape via a 200-mile walk to the coast and then to return years later as a bishop intent on converting an entire nation. Which he did.)
Jezebel, whose messy death has a violence level worthy of “Game of Thrones,” has a similarly colorful history. As related by U.S. News:
To modern feminist authors, Jezebel is one of the most intriguing women in the Scriptures, a bloodstained yet strong-willed, politically astute, and courageous woman. A Phoenician princess who worships Baal, the pagan god of fertility, Jezebel marries King Ahab of the northern kingdom of Israel. She persuades him to tolerate her alien faith, then becomes entwined in the vicious religious conflict that ends in her death.
“Bloodstained” is a nice way of saying she murdered dozens of innocent biblical prophets with cheerful abandon. Her 2,500-year legacy has endured because her bloodlust was over the top.
So, when Christians talk about a ‘Jezebel’ or ‘Jezebel spirit,’ they are referring not only referring 9th century BC queen, but also to a passage in Revelations 2 where Jesus himself condemns an unnamed first-century sexually licentious and idolatrous woman as a ‘Jezebel.’ Unfortunately TheLily.com didn’t include this passage, as it explains why some Christians see ‘Jezebel’ as an archtype.
I realize that some pastors are likely unaware of the history of certain racial stereotypes in calling or comparing our Vice President to Jezebel, but that doesn’t make such statements any less unwise. (1/3)
— J.D. Greear (@jdgreear) February 2, 2021
There are times we will critique policies, but that should not include personal attacks on a newly elected official God has told us to honor and pray for. (2/3)
— J.D. Greear (@jdgreear) February 2, 2021
So what does this “reigning icon of womanly evil” have to do with 21st century journalism?
It’s a term bandied about as we speak by a segment of charismatic Christianity that is demonizing those they disagree with. I’ve written for Get Religion here and here about how there’s a war going on in this camp concerning prophets who prophesied a second term for President Donald Trump. Some have recanted; others insist Trump will be restored. There is immense interest in this topic. A follow-up story I did on this civil war for ReligionUnplugged last month got more than 83,000 hits.
The New York Times just came out with a front-page story last week about what happens when the prophets are wrong; the Washington Post devoted an article to it as well, and I have an upcoming piece due out in Politico. As someone who’s been urging reporters for years to pay serious attention to these folks, I was glad to see these pieces.
As one reads more and listens to multiple videos of these prophets, one term they are throwing about -– in trying to describe a high level of evil, cunning and wickedness -– is this “Jezebel spirit.”
Most of you have heard of this. Remember Paula White-Cain’s kerfluffle a year ago about “satanic pregnancies?” A Washington Post story records her condemning “any hex, any spell, any witchcraft, any spirit of control, any Jezebel,” and “anything that the enemy desires through spells,” according to the footage.
Other prophets who have mentioned Jezebel include James Goll of Nashville in this broadcast; Charlotte prophet Jeremiah Johnson in this video where he linked it to sexual perversion and porn; North Carolina prophet Charlie Shamp in this video; books by Jonas Clark, Patricia King, Sandie Freed and a summons by Charisma magazine to pray and fast for the 2016 election and for the “deliverance of the nation from Jezebel.”
As you listen to all this, you will realize that the “Jezebel spirit” can be just about anything and is used as a catch-all for all sorts of spiritual ills. One wonders whatever Christ was referring to in Revelation has been hijacked to refer to almost anything the speaker wants to aim at . It’s not something most folks outside the charismatic bubble pay attention to until the topic hits public discourse.
If you’re looking askance at all this invective about Jezebel, there’s always Chris Rosebrough’s 2012 Fighting for the Faith podcast on PirateChristian.com: “Is the Jezebel spirit targeting you?” Rosebrough, a Lutheran pastor and apologist, eviscerates the wackier elements of the prophetic movement, including misuse of the Jezebel label. The Revelation passage, he said, pertained to one woman in first-century Christianity. She’s not a feminist icon or a high-level demon.
So pick your poison. Or, when you’re interviewing someone and they mention Jezebel, be sure to make them define what they mean. You never know how they might respond.