Adj. Pertaining to complementarianism and egalitarianism.

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Monday, February 4, 2008

comments on "After Patriarchy, What?" by Russell Moore

Many thanks to commenter lin for posting a url in the combox to this paper by Russell Moore from Southern Baptist Theological titled "After Patriarchy, What? Why Egalitarians are Winning the Evangelical Gender Debate." Click the link to read the entire paper.

To begin, Moore discusses a book in which its author points out that conservative Christian homes exercise a "soft patriarchy" and fathers have a certain "softness" about them that is, from what I gather, a big plus in the lived-out harmony of the family. Moore goes on, however, to then point out studies that accuse "softness" of being the result of influence by society's pervasive secular feminism.

"One of the most important pieces of sociological data in recent years comes from the University of Virginia’s W. Bradford Wilcox in his landmark book, Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands. Wilcox’s book describes how evangelical men actually think and live. He brings forth the demographic statistics and survey results on issues ranging from paternal hugging of children to paternal yelling, from female responses about marital happiness to the divisions of household labor. In virtually every category, the most conservative and evangelical households were also the “softest” in terms of familial harmony, relational happiness, and emotional health."


"evangelicals have integrated biblical language of headship with the prevailing cultural notions of feminism—notions which fewer and fewer evangelicals challenge. He ties this “softening patriarchy” to specific feminist gains within evangelicalism—gains that few evangelicals are willing to challenge"

I'm a little confused. Either Moore is equivocating on the use of "softness" in reference to fatherhood, or he views "softness" negatively. What does being soft on "familial harmony, relational happiness, and emotional health" mean in his example?

Moore further criticizes our modern and contemporary evangelical views and headship and leadership in the family as being overly influenced by secular feminism, psychotherapy, and liberation theology. He cites:

"In Evangelical Feminism, University of Virginia scholar Pamela Cochran identifies concessions to the therapeutic and consumerist impulses of American culture as what led to the “egalitarian” gender movements within evangelicalism in the first place. Tracing the “biblical feminist” movement from its early days in the 1970s through the contemporary era, Cochran shows that the dispute between “complementarians” and “egalitarians” was not simply about the interpretation of some biblical texts, no matter what evangelical feminists now say. To make the feminist project fly, she argues, evangelicals needed a more limited understanding of biblical inerrancy and an embrace of contemporary hermeneutical trends, such as those that had made possible the liberation theologies of mainline Protestantism. The therapeutic and consumerist atmosphere of evangelicalism enabled this process because it displaced and external, objective authority with an individualistic internal locus of authority. Thus, for the leadership of the evangelical feminist movement, “the primary community of accountability was feminist, not evangelical.” The question was not whether evangelicals should be accountable to this feminist community but how much."

I'm not so sure about the scope of this argument. To be fair, there is an amount of truth to grounding some elements of egalitarianism in feminism and liberation theology. However, I find this a far cry from bumping off biblical inerrancy in favor of an "internal locus of authority" over the authority of Scripture or even being wholly accountable to the feminist movement, which presto--led to egalitarianism or even to the practice of pragmatic egalitarianism, as Moore references elsewhere in the paper.

But what is good is now suspect? Moore quotes again,

"Likewise, in her Evangelical Identity and Gendered Family Life Oregon State University sociologist Sally Gallagher interviews evangelical men and women across the country and across the denominational spectrum and concludes that most evangelicals are “pragmatically egalitarian.” Evangelicals maintain headship in the sphere of ideas, but practical decisions are made in most evangelical homes through a process of negotiation, mutual submission, and consensus.

That’s what our forefathers would have called “feminism”—and our foremothers, too."

I guess what is good is now suspect. In a backhanded fashion, Moore takes aim at a common Christian marital dynamic, which seems reasonably balanced to me at face value. So what then, if A=B, B=C, then A=C, and balance becomes a secular violation of Biblical principles?! I feel as though I'm doing theological yoga, where Moore is instructing everyone to s-t-r-e-t-c-h respectable behavior between couples into sour symptoms of sinister secularism designed to undermine the Christian faith itself. Well, I don't have to insinuate, for Moore says so plainly:

"For too long, the evangelical gender debate has assumed that this was merely one more intramural debate—on our best days along the lines of Arminian/Calvinist or dispensationalist/covenant skirmishes and on our worst days as an theological equivalent of a political debate show with a right- and left-wing representative. And yet, C.S. Lewis included male headship among the doctrines he considered to be part of “mere Christianity,” precisely because male headship has been asserted and assumed by the Christian church with virtual unanimity from the first century until the rise of contemporary feminism."

I agree that male headship ought to reflect an essential part of Christianity, but to characterize relationships that operate with "negotiation, mutual submission, and consensus" as lacking said male headship is ridiculous.

Then, in a gutsy move, Moore seeks to revive the use of the word "patriarchy" and apply it in a truly Biblical fashion, as he sees it. Now, I understand that "patriarchy" is not necessarily a negative term. It has only been made so by all the negative associations we have placed on it, none anymore negative than "matriarchy" could have associated with it. Nevertheless, patriarchy nowadays is viewed similarly to "marxism," "despotism," and "radical Islam." We'd best use that word very very carefully.

But while I may question the use of the word "patriarchy," I don't oppose male headship. Moore makes the effort to draw theological pictures for the strength of the Fatherhood of God and the role of God the Father in the Trinitarian relationship. We would indeed miss a lot of meaning in our earthly relationships if were to overlook or ignore this design point in our marriages and church roles. But what does Moore say about the postive case for Biblical patriarchy/headship? Very little. It is not enough to merely claim that it's 'in the Bible' with the Trinitarian theme of Fatherhood and the warning that our very orthodoxy is at stake. Moore must provide a working example of such a headship, beyond the "male headship is not about male privilege" line that we hear so frequently (and I often state myself!). We know what is is not; please tell us what it is.

In light of the broader C/E debate, Moore's paper demonstrates that the Complementarian-camp has ill-defined boundaries of complementarianism. Not only does he not say what patriarchy truly is, he does not outline what this looks like in practical life. Although in my opinion, to define patriarchy in particulars is an undertaking that is nearly impossible to realize. Not only would it open a bottomless pit to nitpick at the minutia of daily life, it will impose on the marriage relationship a trap of legalism that runs counter to the freedom in Christ that we enjoy as believers under grace.