Adj. Pertaining to complementarianism and egalitarianism.

***Working to be a safe place for all sides to share.***


Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lessons from a Spaghetti Jar

In a recent comment thread, someone pointed to an interview with a complementarian woman who describes how submission to her husband plays out in every day life. Some of the things she lists include:

Responding to the priorities he has established in the realms of caring for the home, such as cooking, cleaning . . . and any other tasks he delegates to me.

Regularly sharing my “to do” list with him and asking him if anything should be removed or added, which items are his priorities for me to do, etc.

Providing companionship in ways that are meaningful to him. In our marriage this includes things like getting up early to have breakfast with him, not only so I can prepare it for him but also because he appreciates spending a little time with me in the morning.

It also includes joyfully greeting him when he comes home at the end of the day, relaxing with him when he desires to relax together (even if my ‘to do’ list beckons), giving him my attention when he wants to talk (even if I am tempted to be distracted by something else).

When asked what was the biggest surprise to her about marriage, she wrote:

I never anticipated how many times we would disagree on small things, mostly matters of preference, and how I was not at all entitled to have my own way on these things just because they were small, or just because they fell under the category of home management, or for any other reason. (Just to give you an idea, I’m talking about dumb little things like how long to store an opened jar of spaghetti sauce in the fridge before it gets thrown away.) My husband might make a decision at times based on my input, but he’s not obligated to do this.

What are we to make of this woman's perspective on submission? One egalitarian wrote, "I think the clear implication is that she looks after the home in every way and she is not entitled to make a decision about how long the spaghetti jar stays open in the fridge." A complementarian then responded with an alternative understanding: perhaps the husband threw out the spaghetti jar without consulting her about it, she got upset, and later realized it wasn't a big deal. When last I checked, the discussion of the spaghetti jar is still ongoing.

The spaghetti jar incident illustrates the challenges of the complegalitarian debate in microcosm. When personal experiences are shared, we inevitably view them from the outside looking in, and there is a world of context which we have not been given. Yet the temptation to draw conclusions about these personal experiences is overwhelming. Our minds are designed to interpret new information as well as to receive it, and so we immediately take the story and view it through the lens of our own presuppositions.

Is it possible that the spaghetti jar incident gives us a window into a marriage where the husband micromanages the wife? Certainly it is. Much of what this woman wrote makes me squirm, because if her husband is demanding that he be able to review her to-do list and decide when food should be thrown out, this couple's understanding of headship and submission needs some serious modification.

On the other hand, if these are not things her husband requires, but things which she does voluntarily in order to bless him and show her love to him, her description of what submission looks like becomes much less uncomfortable. My wife often asks me about her plans for a given day, not because I require it but because she likes to use me as a sounding board and because she wants to know if I have something that will affect those plans. Likewise, I usually check with her before scheduling something. In a good marriage, this kind of stuff has more to do with courtesy and unity than with control.

Getting back to the spaghetti jar incident, is it plausible that the husband simply threw something away that he thought was bad and she was the one with the control issue? I don't see why not. Conflicts in marriage often arise as the result of little things that one spouse or the other gets frustrated over.

So it could be that this woman or her husband merely has a pet peeve about wasting food, or it could be that he obsessively inspects the cupboards like the husband in Sleeping With the Enemy. Both are plausible interpretations, but only one of them (or perhaps neither of them) is true. The point is that we just don't know for sure. Before the "spaghetti jar incident" becomes a permanent part of complegalitarian lore, maybe somebody should contact this woman and ask for more detail about who did what with the spaghetti!

Much like the story of the spaghetti jar, the Bible passages we see as relevant to the complegalitarian debate are open to interpretation, and there is a lot about the context of these passages we just don't know. Both sides tire of the other acting as if its own interpretations are self-evident, and rightly so. In reality, each camp's interpretation of a given passage may be more or less plausible, and the jury is still out on which one is true. Perhaps neither camp has it right! This is, again, why we need to make the effort to listen to one another, question our own interpretive assumptions, and do our best to "step into each other's shoes." If we can read this much into a passing reference to a spaghetti jar, what are we reading into the Scriptures?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What bugs each side

I want to add to David's preceding post. I think I'm seeing more clearly what it is that bugs each side (not that there are simply two) in this debate the most.

It bugs complementarians when people connect them with abuse, subordination of women, etc.

It bugs egalitarians when people suggest that they are not "biblical" or are working from a feminist agenda.

I'm sure I've over-simplified, but these are themes that I see coming up time and time again on this blog.

I wish that neither side would call themselves the "biblical" position, or at least I wish that each side would say "We believe our position is biblical, but we fully recognize that the other side believes they are more so." Of course, there are extremes of each position which are unbiblical, in the sense of subjugating, demeaning women, or of dismissing the value of men in women's lives, etc. But we must be careful not to caricature people when they are truly attempting to be biblical and follow Christ in the lives, marriages, churches, etc.

We can't resolve differences unless we quit thinking of the other side as unbiblical, when the other side is trying to be faithful to Scripture as they understand it. I know, for a fact, that there are complementarians and egalitarians, both, who do so.

Why don't we, on this blog, work even harder to stop judging the other side, and try to listen to each other, what each side believes supports their position.

No one has a monopoly on spirituality nor sin.

And it's not "all relative" either. I'm tired of hearing that, if you disagree with one position then you are accused of believing that "it's all relative".

Engaged in Different Conversations

The comments on my recent post about gender were really enlightening to me. I'm realizing that much of the difficulty complementarians and egalitarians have in communicating is that we're each engaged in different conversations.

It seems clear to me that the fundamental issue with most egalitarians is the eradication of gender-based hierarchies in the church and in the home. I know, I'm displaying a penetrating grasp of the obvious!

But here's the thing. Complementarians are not primarily concerned with maintaining gender-based hierarchies, but with resisting a multi-faceted attack on what they regard as biblical understandings of masculinity and femininity.

In the aforementioned post, I expressed my surprise at how some egalitarians tend to minimize gender distinctions. I made no statements about one gender being more fit to rule another or to make decisions or to fulfill certain roles. Yet that was immediately where most of the egalitarians who commented on that post took the discussion. I was thinking of gender distinctions in a context of facilitating communication and interaction between husbands and wives, but the assumption among many was that I was trying to build a case for male rule. To counter any such tactical maneuvering, several egalitarians responded by downplaying gender differences or by saying that whatever differences exist, they are irrelevant to the conversation.

But which conversation are we talking about? The egalitarian conversation about the evils of gender-based hierarchies, or the complementarian conversation about what it means to be male and female?

Now, please understand me, I am not pretending that complementarians do not assert that leadership in the home and in the church is in some respect reserved for men. We do. But the driving concern for most complementarians is not the narrow question of who is supposed to lead, but the broader question of gender identity and how that plays out in relationship.

Let me also say that I am not asserting that egalitarians are not concerned about gender identity or that they don't focus on that broader question. They certainly do. But at the very least it seems fair to say that they are far less interested in making gender distinctions, and more than a little suspicious that such distinctions might be used to bolster some notion of hierarchy.

For the rank-and-file complementarian, the primary evil to be resisted is a feminist culture which has distorted gender and assaulted the family. For generations, men have systematically been told that their masculinity is a problem to be solved, that they have nothing unique to contribute, that women can do everything they can do and can probably do it better. Conversely, women have been told that working outside the home is more glamorous, rewarding, and fulfilling than working in the home and raising children, that men are brutes who want to take advantage of them, and that dependence on a man in any form will ultimately lead to bondage. Yet in spite of these pervasive cultural assumptions, popular culture continues to traffic in sexual stereotypes, women continue to be exploited in a seemingly endless variety of ways, men have become increasingly childish or churlish, and families have become alarmingly fractured. In short, half a century of feminism has done little to solve the problems it has tried to address.

Personally, I look at the failure of feminism like I do the failure of communism: both fail because they do not take the reality of human nature into account. Communism failed because it removed the worker's incentive to work, and it relied on the innate integrity of government officials to redistribute wealth fairly without abusing their power. Feminism, likewise, fails because it works against, rather than with, the reality of gender differences.

At its heart, complementarianism is an attempt to offer a Biblical antidote to the distortions of feminism, to promote a vision of "manhood and womanhood" which frees us to relate to one another in accordance with our own masculinity and femininity. It is a sincere attempt to be counter-cultural and Biblically based.

Whether or not complementarians succeed at being counter-cultural and Biblical is clearly open to debate, but I hope this helps to clarify the conversations most complementarians are interested in having. We're not talking about gender distinctions and complementary "roles" as some clever way to justify male leadership, but as a solution to the current morass of gender confusion.

Egalitarians, on the other hand, tend to zero in on the singular question of equality in the church and home, and they see anything short of full functional equality as fundamentally unequal. Consequently, when complementarians gravitate toward other questions, it may look to an egalitarian like an attempt to change the subject or to create oblique justifications for hierarchy. The egalitarian therefore tries to sidestep what are perceived as flanking maneuvers and to refocus the discussion on hierarchy. In doing so, they give the complementarian the distinct impression that egalitarians are operating from an essentially feminist perspective.

The more I listen to the arguments and perspectives presented on both sides of this debate, the more convinced I am that each group is engaged in a different conversation and motivated by different primary concerns. As each tries to steer the other back to the issues they regard as central, each gets the mistaken impression that the other is being unfair and stubbornly refusing to listen. Just as husbands and wives must work through countless misunderstandings in order to learn to speak one another's language, it would appear that comps and egals must do the same.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Making Distinctions, Part 2

Between Submission and Submission

Or perhaps, Submission vs. Submission. Now that I've said that husbands can submit to their wives without biblical violations, I can't let that fly without making another important distinction, the distinction between the kind of submission a husband should have to his wife and vice versa. I tend to agree with David's thoughts in an earlier post that men and women are created differently and that those differences need to be respected (and I would also add NOT exploited) in how spouses submit to each other.

I've commented earlier that the question for Complementarians is not how much submitting should be excercised, but what kind. In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem makes the case that the role of a wife includes a unique kind of submission that wives should afford their husbands that isn't replicated in any other type of relationship. I see nothing wrong with that. After all, my husband only has one wife--me--and logically should receive a unique and designated kind of love and respect (and deference) from me that I don't show to anyone else.

Likewise, a husband should show his wife a unique kind of love and respect (and submission) toward his wife that isn't replicated in any other relationship either.

Is this submission "mutual?" Yes. Is it equivalent? Definitely not. But what is submission anyway? Even in defining submission within the marriage context, there are varying connotations. Complementarianism holds that men and women do not require and are not made to require the same kind of submission from each other, but do require the appropriate submission from each other. Even Egalitarians seem to use the word 'submit' a little differently when referring to whomever is doing the submitting. Again, the issue is about the nature of submitting, not how much or how often or to what degree one should submit to the other and if the other should reciprocate in equal quantities. I realize that this is a rather broad generality, and I think scripturally it is meant to be.

To throw a little more perspective onto things, imagine if wives always contested their husbands. Imagine if husbands continually ignored their wives. (Do we really need to imagine?) Now we can understand why Paul would spend time addressing the marriage relationship in scripture, for it appears that it was because wives were not submitting to their own husbands that Paul makes his declarations.

Perhaps this is where I should have started from the beginning. There is plenty of fear and suspicion to be had without a clear understanding of the motivations of the Apostle Paul whenever Christians talk about any kind of submission. We still have a long way to go to reach clarity, but I hope my making a distinction here contributes in some small way.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Making Distinctions, Part 1

In a previous comment way back somewhere (I can't find it now), I ruminated about the possibility that in our debating over roles and the meaning of roles, we might be skipping over some important distinctions in the frenzied tossing about of concepts back and forth.

After much private ruminating, I think have enough text for a series. I won't consider this a work of academic proportions, as I didn't engage in extensive research and won't have a barrage of citations. However, as something to chew on, I hope it passes muster.

Between Complementarianism and Patriarchy
As I see it, ground level complementarianism simply states that there are divinely purposed roles for men and women to function in the family and in the church (yes, some roles not being swappable). Patriarchy can be seen as an extreme form of complementarianism, but I believe that its characteristics are less an extension of Complementarianism and more like Complementarianism's 'cult,' like the Jehovah's Witnesses are to Christianity(1). Therefore, I find much about patriarchy's views on complementarian principles objectionable.

1. Husband/father headship. Complementarianism simply gives the husband/father the role of representative leader that carries a unique accountability to God (Genesis 3). With that role logically comes a certain amount of authority. Complementarianism does not place the husband over the wife in terms of authority but logically maintains that deference be given to him because of his position. Is this a "priviledge?" If it is, it is a slight one and one not without narrow limits. This is not male hierarchy or male superiority any more than it is female inferiority.

Patriarchy seeks to centralize all authority to the head position and expands its reach into areas of life that minimizes the other figure in the marriage and home, namely the wife. Patriarchy views wives as means to the husbands' ends. From this point of view comes all the examples of husbands micromanaging (to put it nicely) their wives' lives for the purpose of making husbands' lives fulfilled and convenient. This is neither biblical nor justifiable. Scripture gives to the man a wife as a helper. Nowhere does the Lord God call her a maid, a butler, a servant, a tool, and certainly not a slave. As my pastor once preached as well, "Marriage is not to make you happy; it is to make you holy." Indeed, God commands the man to leave his home (meaning his familial identity) and cleave to his wife, yet patriarchy insists on the husband making the wife conform to his leanings and identity. One could more biblically state that the husband should be the one conforming more to his wife's identity instead.

What does the position of head contain? A man has the responsibility to make sure that what he and his family does is right in the sight of God, simply put. He is the one that has to answer for the collective state of his household; this doesn't mean that he speaks for his wife as an individual, but for both husband and wife as a unit.

2. One flesh unity in marriage. Complementarians and Egalitarians both agree that husband and wife should act together in building the character of their marriage and family. Patriarchy seeks to make this task univocal rather than in unity, and since authority is centralized in the husband, he then might find himself deciding things that he likely has little wisdom to give, like how many babies his wife should bear, what clothes his wife should wear, determining the occupations of his children beforehand, etc. The result is clearly not one flesh unity, but forced conformity (as discussed above).

3. Eve was created to be Adam's helper/helpmate. Complementarianism acknowledges that Eve wasn't just any female, but Adam's wife, pointing to a relationship between the two that existed the moment she began to exist. Outside of this relationship, who Adam and Eve were to each other would have been meaningless. Similarly, as Complementarians apply the Adam & Eve theme to the rest of humanity, it only makes sense in a marriage relationship that a woman is her man's helpmate. Therefore, there cannot be any patriarchal generalization that females in society are helpers to males in society. Thus, it is not wrong for women to hold positions of civic authority over men and similarly not wrong for women to have authority over men in the church provided that their authority does not violate a more foundational principle of 1 Tim. 2:12 (that women cannot have authority in church over their own husbands).

4. Wives are to submit to their husbands. That 'wives are to submit to their husbands' does not conversely mean that husbands are not to submit to their wives, yet this is precisely what patriarchy implicitly holds. (Oh, perhaps husbands may submit to their wives, but in patriarchal terms, such submitting must be done only if he wills or desires to submit. Pathetic.) A wife's submission is to God first and to her husband second and that submission to her husband is because of her submission to God. I am not now going to kill wifely submission with a thousand qualifications, so please don't misunderstand when I say that when a husband is sinful in his treatment and demands of his wife, her obligation not to sin is greater than her obligation to submit to her husband, so a wife should not feel compelled to obey the will of her husband in those times. Let me be redundant for clarity: a husband's sin need not be his wife's sin as well.

5. Should a husband submit to his wife? We've asked this question before on Complegalitarian without making this particular distinction, so allow me to make it here. Patriarchy says 'no.' Complementarians should correct the question to read "When should a husband submit to his wife?" As stated above, the mandate that wives are to submit to their husbands doesn't negate the fact that husbands need to listen and submit to their wives--when?--on the occasions that they should submit to their wives. This is what "mutual submission" means to me. It isn't 50/50, because 50/50 can be unjust by disregarding the nature of the subject.

First of all, these are not contrary statements. One may now try to accuse me of using an argument from silence, but I'll remind us that it is legitimate when we would expect circumstances to otherwise contradict the silence. In a couple of instances in scripture, we see married women acting without any explicit direction from their husbands in action very much in accordance to the providence of God.

Example 1 - In Genesis 2:1-4, Moses' mother orchestrates the saving of Moses' infant life by putting him into the basket in the river and then directing Miriam to watch over the baby.

Example 2 - To Moses again, his wife is the one that decides to circumsize their sons without his intitial knowledge.(Exod. 4:24-26) If patriarchy (the kind we're talking about) were the case, we would expect to see a reprimand of some kind of both women for making decisions that their husbands had to comply with--ahem--submitted to. But we don't. Instead, we see Yahweh's implicit approval of these women as having acted in accordance to His will when (especially in the latter case) the husband had not.

As a Complementarian, I see many problems with Patriarchy and agree with many of our Egalitarian commenters about them. However, I do object to the blurring of Complementarianism to share Patriarchy's views in the same way and in the same relationship.

(1) The most striking similarity about this comparison is the psychological irony that both Jehovah's Witnesses and Patriarchalists seem to play out, that all things so done by the ruling authority in the name of loving God and loving family actually end up robbing God and family of the love they truly ought to receive by substituting a false love of cultish control and demanding compliance in all things.

Bruce Ware, the Danvers Statement, and Kunsman's Thoughts on Framing Hierarchy as the Only Means of Transcending Marital Contention

[I recently read a provocative essay on the Danvers Statement and Bruce Ware's recent comments about abuse, written by complementarian Southern Baptist, Cindy Kunsman RN, BSN, MMin, ND. I have copied her essay in full, below, with her permission, because I think it raises some fascinating questions and observations that (may or do) merit concern. You can find Cindy blogging at Under Much Grace, and can read the essay in it's original form here: Losing Sight of Our Purpose (Part IV): The Subtle Implications of Legal and Moral Code. ---Molly]

Losing Sight of Our Purpose (Part IV): The Subtle Implications of Legal and Moral Code

A recent, previous post discussed CBMW and the “Rationales” of the Danvers Statement, a document that seeks to elucidate what the Bible teaches concerning gender. Just as thethe laws of a society codify the beliefs of that society and thus reflect its morality, so I believe that CBMW hopes to set a standard for the church concerning the issues of gender. Though this body does not establish formal laws, it presumes to seek to clarify Biblical standards. They define specific moral standards through their teachings as a guide for conduct, much like civil laws do within society.

Individuals within a society indirectly understand the relationship between law and morals and often confuse it, believing that the law, at least to some degree, defines what is moral. Civil laws, though they are based upon a moral code, cannot be assumed to be moral within a pluralistic society. The abortion laws present an excellent example of how the law has a subtly misleading and detrimental effect on beliefs over time. People infer that because the act is declared legal (not punishable under civil law), the act gains a level of legitimacy as a result, making previously clear moral distinctions ambiguous.I believe that Bruce ware’s irresponsible, provocative statement in a sermon at Denton Bible Church paves the way for just such a subtle misunderstanding by those with abusive tendencies:

"And husbands on their parts, because they're sinners, now respond to that
threat to their authority either by being abusive, which is of course one of the
ways men can respond when their authority is challenged--or, more commonly, to
become passive, acquiescent, and simply not asserting the leadership they ought
to as men in their homes and in churches."

He follows quickly with a statement that Christians should follow the ideal plan that God designed, that of a husband who loves his wife as Christ loves the church and a wife who submits to her husband with gladness. As with many of Ware’s similarly provocative teachings, he believes that his declaration of his ideal model somehow relieves him of the consequences of his earlier statement. The mention of abuse in this manner not only sensitizes the listener to rightfully and logically anticipate abuse in some cases, but it also alleviates man of full responsibility for his actions.

Not unlike a law which people subtly misconstrue to represent right moral action, this statement lends a subtle quality of legitimacy to spousal abuse by making man’s immoral action contingent upon the performance of another. It externalizes man’s locus of control, legitimizing a “victim of circumstance” mentality that “passes the buck” to the woman, subtly implying that woman is morally culpable for man’s action. The husband’s headship becomes at least partially if not completely contingent upon his wife’s submission. The demands of ideological hierarchy reduce Christian marriage to a legalistic, cause-and-effect arrangement of keeping score.

Here are my specific contentions with the subtleties of Ware’s statement:

1. It creates a false dichotomy of choice between either aggression or passivity.

Ill feelings towards one’s spouse to such a great degree as to move a man to abuse are inevitable consequences within all marriages. The Danvers Statement and Ware himself both frame the relationship between husband and wife as a naturally contentious one, defined in the Fourth Danvers Affirmation: “In the home, the husband's loving, humble headship tends to be replaced by domination or passivity; the wife's intelligent, willing submission tends to be replaced by usurpation or servility.”

There are no VIABLE alternative courses of action available to fallen man apart from these offered both by Ware and the Danvers Statement. I assert that the enmity that God put between the serpent and the woman has been divisively redirected to the position between husband and wife. We are told that the fallen man has options, but the likelihood of opting for an unviable choice other than aggression or passivity is highly unlikely by definition. There are multiple logical fallacies at play in this assumption.

2. The act of abuse is not strongly defined or qualified to be unconscionable.

Though the Christian ideal is presented after the justifiable choice of abuse for man in a sinful state or less than ideal circumstances, this does not eradicate the concept from the mind or understanding of the listener. Abuse is a pejorative and word that creates emotional arousal.Imagine that you hire an attorney to write a threatening letter to someone, but you do not want to be perceived in a negative light. By stating that you never intended for the letter to be sent, you can push the limits of the situation while also enjoying all the benefits of the threat. The recipient has the option of trusting your profession of intent, and in some cases might be required to render to you the benefit of the doubt, or the alternative aspect of simply accepting the receipt of the letter as conveying the intended threat.

I believe that this represents a similar situation wherein intentional vagueness and implied assumption subtly convey anticipated aggression, but Ware can also deny his own culpability for encouraging the negative choice. He did not directly advocate abuse, but he did imply that it was an inevitable consequence in some instances.I believe Ware relies on these same techniques to claim that the Father in the Trinity is not of greater authority than the Son, but he applies the loaded language terms or slogans of “ultimate” or “supreme” to differentiate the Father’s authority from that of the Son. He then claims that “ultimate” and “supreme” do not equate to “more” or “greater” authority for the Father in comparison to the Son, but these unique and novel definitions are not honest and true to the common, accepted understanding of the terms.

3. The Christian ideal of hierarchy serves as the only viable means of transcending the inevitable and unavoidable contention within the husband-wife relationship.

Even the regenerate Christian man must work to master the Christian life through devotion, discipline, study and experience. Until such mastery of the Word of God can be obtained, the Christian experiences that which is common to all marriages, regardless of whether they are Christian. So the Christian can and likely should anticipate the justifiable desire to abuse, because both Ware and Danvers frame the elements in this manner. This is a double bind.

4. CBMW teaches that the woman’s role is a passive role, but then presents this passive (and characteristically feminine) role as the only viable alternative to abuse.

The passive/feminine choice suggests an option that is highly undesirable if not repugnant to the man. In terms of gender stereotype, the role of abuser or aggressor provides the most masculine option of the two presented. Ware offers no additional examples of an assertive response, so the listener is encouraged to choose the violent option as opposed to taking no action whatsoever. This is a double bind.

5. Man MUST choose a corrective course of action in order to manage his wife’s undesirable rebellious behavior.

His role as leader anticipates action, but the responsibilities of his hierarchical role as family leader REQUIRE a response. He is compelled to choose some form of discipline in order to fulfil his own God-ordained gender role within the marriage, but he must also act in the best interest of his wife by correcting her. And the wife is required to submit.

6. The paradigm assigns the first cause of the husband’s frustration to the wife by requiring submission, but this is contradictory.

If the marriage relationship is characterized by the heated tension between these two parties, it is incumbent upon the woman to somehow avoid the first cause to circumvent the potential for abuse. The paradigm requires that she somehow miraculously act against her own character within marriage (while very human like the husband mentioned previously, lacking mastery of the skills that will provide for her own safety). She is deemed as both the causative agent as well as the curative agent. The greater burden of culpability for the man’s actions falls to her and not the more powerful man of authority. She becomes his external locus of control. This is a double bind.

My Concerns in Broader Perspective:

The Southern Baptist Convention does not condone spousal abuse, and as we noted in a previous post, it makes strong, definitive statements against it. I also do not believe that Bruce Ware added his statement into his teaching as a guidepost and primary point. But he did convey that message whether or not he intended to do so, and abusers and victims alike will understand the indirectly spoken and unwritten rules. He was merely echoing the the Fourth Davnvers Affirmation in the context of the example of a marriage, idealistically presuming that born-again Believers would be restrained by the Holy Spirit of Love.

But the statement was uttered, and I am not surprised. It is a logical conclusion of what Danvers presupposes, an assumption that is not Biblical.What would you call that which seeks to break asunder what God has joined in marriage and called blessed? Considering the enmity that God placed between the serpent and the woman as a component of the proto evangellian (the first promise of our Redeemer), I would call it that which is motivated by the influence and spirit of “anti-Christ.”

And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and
her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.” Genesis

“Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” Matt

“Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which
cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man... But those things which proceed
out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.”Matt

“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that
which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth
forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth
speaketh.”Luke 6:45

“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of
life.” Prov 4:23

The above essay was written by Cindy Kunsman and can be found in full by clicking here.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Equality or Uniformity?

The other day, Wayne linked to an "open letter to egalitarians" in which a complementarian blogger asked a series of "semi-pragmatic" questions about how egalitarians would react to various situations. The questions he asked all seemed to be aimed at teasing out of egalitarians what they see as appropriate masculine and feminine behavior: stuff like whether the husband or wife should confront a burglar in the house, whether an egal woman would be offended if a man held the door for her, etc.

At first, I thought these questions were largely silly and focused on issues which are not really at the heart of the complegalitarian debate. As Molly wrote in one of the comments on that post, egalitarians do not necessarily deny gender distinctions and are capable of recognizing some form of "complementarity" between the sexes. However, as I read many of the responses by those who identified themselves as egalitarians, I was disappointed to see a vision of the sexes which seemed to blur, minimize, or otherwise gloss over gender distinctions. Perhaps the complementarian blogger's questions weren't as far afield as I had thought.

Wayne then asked his own series of "true or false" questions, the first of which being, "Complementarian husbands do not treat their wives as equals." One commenter responded, "I still think equal but different in practice means unequal. but I do know couples who are comp in theory and egal in practice, so I don't want to go overboard with the generalisations." I think this egalitarian was trying to be magnanimous, but there are two things about this statement that bother me.

First, there's the bit about "comp in theory and egal in practice," which I hear tossed about by egals quite frequently. Basically, this kind of thinking tells me that I have no way of really being heard or taken seriously. If I describe the way I treat my wife, and egals conclude that I really do treat her as an equal, then they will simply conclude that I am inconsistent: that I am a "practical egalitarian" who fancies himself a complementarian. My perspective is that treating my wife as an equal is absolutely consistent with my complementarian understanding. Will that perspective be taken seriously, or summarily dismissed as a logical impossibility?

Second, there's that statement about "different but equal" practically meaning unequal. This is another egalitarian assertion I hear quite often, and it is effective because it has the ring of a truism. After all, in American history, "separate but equal" was the stated goal of racial segregation in education. The idea was that you would have black schools and white schools, and that students at each would receive an "equal" education. The reality of course was that white schools got most of the funding, so practically speaking, there was gross inequality in the quality of education received by black and white students. The idea that husband and wife can be regarded as "different but equal" therefore sounds like another thinly-veiled attempt to justify oppression.

The question I have is this: "Are men and women not different?" If the answer is that we are different in any real sense (beyond genitalia), then there must be some sense in which we should strive to be "different but equal."

Are our only options to downplay our differences in order to pursue a meaningful equality, or to emphasize our differences to the point where equality is impossible? Feminism has tried for generations to minimize the differences between the sexes, to claim that most perceived differences are the result of nurture rather than nature, and to push for a sexual uniformity which is problematic on many levels. At the other extreme, male supremacists exaggerate the differences between men and women, claiming that men are innately superior. As mediating positions between these two extremes, egalitarianism and complementarianism must both come to terms with how we can recognize and celebrate our differences while also affirming our fundamental equality.

In our home, I regard both myself and my wife as equally created in the image of God, so that we have the same intrinsic value and the same fundamental humanity. We have likewise both equally been corrupted by the Fall, so that our capacity for depravity runs equally deep. We therefore have equal need of a Savior, and equal access to salvation in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:28, 1 Peter 3:7). In Christ we have equal access to the Father, so that he hears and answers her prayers as readily as he does mine. In Christ we are both indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and so are equally capable of discerning God's will. When it comes to our essential nature and our relationship with God, my masculinity counts for nothing.

Yet this recognition of our fundamental equality does not mean that I treat my wife (or any woman, for that matter) the same way I would a man. As sexual beings, Lisa and I are built differently, we think differently, we react differently to the same situations. She sees things to which I am blind and vice versa. It is this recognition of profound differences between us, differences rooted in nature as well as nurture, that drives us to try to understand and learn from each other. It drives us to become interdependent, variously leaning on each other's strengths and compensating for each other's weaknesses. Ultimately, we recognize the differences and that affects the way we treat one another.

We need to be careful not to confuse "equality" with "uniformity." Personally, I cannot embrace any vision of gender which tells me that my desire to protect and provide for the women in my life is somehow arrogant, sexist, or paternalistic. I cannot embrace a vision of gender in which treating women as equals practically means treating them as nothing special. I know not all egalitarians promote such a vision, but it surprises and saddens me that many seem to.

Friday, July 25, 2008

True or False?

1. Complementarian husbands do not treat their wives as equals.

2. The Bible teaches that males should lead, in the home and church.

3. Egalitarian women are offended when men open doors for them.

4. Egalitarian husbands never abuse their wives.

5. Egalitarians believe that we should have unisex toilets in public places.

6. Women start more cults than men do.

7. The Bible teaches that women are more easily deceived than men.

8. More complementarians abuse their wives than egalitarians.

9. Egalitarians believe that women should be able to pastor churches.

10. Adam was created first, so Eve (and all other women since her) should obey their husbands.

UPDATE, July 26: I have written fairly lengthy responses to these ten points. Feel free to respond to them, if you wish to continue discussion on any of these points. Thank you to each person who has commented on this post so far.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Open Letter to Egalitarians

David Kotter of the CBMW Gender Blog has blogged about Mike Seaver's open letter to egalitarians. As usual, public comments are not allowed in response on the Gender Blog, however you can privately email your comments to David. Or you can comment on Mike Seaver's post.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

You Don't Have to Exercise Your "Rights"

Jesus once said to his disciples:

Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:12-17, TNIV).

In this passage, Jesus does not deny his authority over his disciples, but he makes it clear that he has laid aside whatever "rights" he might claim in order to serve them in profound humility. He then tells us that we will be "blessed" if we follow his example.

Complementarians assert that husbands have the "right" to expect their wives to submit to them, and egalitarians vehemently challenge any such notion. We can, and do, debate these assertions ad nauseam, but whatever theological position we adopt, our course of action as Christians is clear: we are to follow Christ's example of laying aside whatever "rights" we may legitimately claim.

For example, a recent comment thread has focused on the question of how a wife should respond when her husband wants sex and she doesn't. If they're arguing and she's feeling hurt or misunderstood, should she yield her body to him when her heart is not in it? Should she feel guilty for feeling used, objectified, or even violated? Scripture clearly teaches that husband and wife both have authority over and rights to each other's bodies, and that we should not deny each other except for a limited time and by mutual consent (1 Corinthians 7:3-5), but how do we live that out in a way which does not result in frustration and pain?

This is a very real problem, and I am tempted to deal with the ethical dilemma which the wife faces in such circumstances. But my focus here is on the cause of the dilemma: namely, the husband's demand for sex. Eliminate the husband's demand, and you largely eliminate the wife's dilemma.

Now, I'm not saying that the husband should never want sex; only that he should never demand it. According to the Bible, I have the "right" to my wife's body; but I want more than just her body. I want her passion, and I'll never get that by making demands. Consequently, if I exercise my "right" to sex, I strip sex of everything which makes it most enjoyable.

Note the degree of self-interest in that last paragraph. It is my desire for passionate sex which drives me not to demand perfunctory, half-hearted sex. I know that if I am a gentleman and I wait until my wife is just as passionate for me as I am for her, what we experience together will be well worth the wait. A gift which is given freely and enthusiastically means far more than one which has been coerced in some way.

The same thing applies to other forms of submission. When Lisa and I don't see eye to eye on something, I might be able to "get my way" by playing what I call the "submission trump card." But would I really be "getting my way"? I want more from my wife than grudging resignation to some unilateral decision. So I don't make unilateral decisions, and I never play the "submission trump card". Rather, I seek unanimity, I ask her perspective, I encourage her to pray that God would reveal his will to both of us. I'll talk more about how we make decisions in another post, but for now, my point is that whatever my "rights" may be, wisdom and love dictate that I set those "rights" aside for the sake of not riding roughshod over my wife.

Complementarians and egalitarians differ over what they see as the husband's and wife's proper "rights" and "roles." I do think it is important to consider those questions, because we need to understand the proper framework in which to interact with each other as husband and wife. Yet whatever conclusions we come to about rights and roles, Christ's example is clear: we are to lay aside our "rights" for the sake of washing one another's feet. His promise is that we will be "blessed" when we do.

Will Positive Examples Be Taken Seriously?

In a recent thread, several people gave accounts of marriages which are problematic in some way. There were stories of several so-called "complementarian" marriages in which the wife is not able to make any decision without running it past her husband. There was the so-called "egalitarian" marriage in which the husband showed no impulse to protect, support, and cherish his wife in her time of need. There were seemingly "model" marriages which can only be described as whitewashed tombs. And, of course, there were the horror stories of abuse. After several of these negative examples, one commenter opined that she wishes she had more positive examples to cite. Another replied with the following hopeful plea:

Maybe there are some folks with "beautiful marriages" reading this who could lead the way?

On the whole, the institution of marriage is in a state of disarray today. Divorce, marital infidelity, and domestic violence are rampant, and there does not appear to be much appreciable difference between Christians and non-Christians. Anecdotally, we all know plenty of broken homes and miserable marriages; and we can think of few marriages we can genuinely describe as "beautiful." Beyond that, we all know too many families which appeared to be "perfect" but which suddenly seemed to implode. Who can blame us, therefore, if we grow cynical and wonder if any marriage is truly happy?

Then there are our suspicions that no marriage on the other side of the complegalitarian divide can really be happy. If I claim that my "complementarian" marriage is a happy one, at least some egalitarians will dismiss that claim. "Of course you think it's happy! You're the one with all the power. But your wife is likely in a state of quiet desperation." If my wife were to write in and tell you what a wonderful marriage she has, those same egalitarians will assert that she is somehow deceived, ignorant of what true freedom and equality feels like, afraid to speak out, or trying hard to convince herself that she really is happy. Conversely, if a male egalitarian talks about how wonderful his marriage is, many complementarians will suspect him of just settling for the easy way out and abdicating his leadership. Or if an egalitarian woman describes her happy marriage, those same comps will suspect her of somehow "running the show".

All of these suspicions and stereotypes can make it difficult to cite positive examples of marriages that work. But it seems to me that comps and egals would find much common ground if we actually began talking about how to have a successful marriage. I have long contended that there is not much visible difference between a good complementarian marriage and a good egalitarian marriage. I have read moderate comps and moderate egals say essentially the same thing in the comments on this blog. I have also read comments by hardline egals who cannot accept that it is possible to have a complementarian marriage in which the husband leads without becoming authoritarian; and comments by hardline comps who cannot accept that an egalitarian marriage can function well without one person clearly being in charge.

If we spend all our time reacting to the hardliners, we'll do little to improve the state of Christian marriage. But if we set aside our assumptions and prejudices long enough to consider some positive examples, I think we'll find there's much about which we agree.

I've been married to Lisa for fourteen years. During that entire span, I've been blessed to be able to work at home, and during almost that entire span, she's been a stay-at-home mom and homeschooler. That means that she's had to deal with my presence more than most women who have been married twice as long. Yet rather than smothering each other or growing tired of each other, we have become incredibly close.

We've certainly had our conflicts, and some of them have gotten ugly. There have been times when we seriously wondered if our marriage would survive. Thankfully, those times have been relatively few and far between. And when we've had them, we've eventually swallowed our pride, repented, and worked through them.

Aside from my relationship with Christ, my marriage to Lisa is my greatest source of happiness. I regard being her husband as my highest "calling" and most important "vocation." I've seen that by the power of the Spirit, a husband and wife truly can die to self and live for each other, and that when they do, they can experience rich delight and inexpressible joy.

Lisa and I have forged what we see as a "beautiful marriage" in a complementarian framework, and I would love to write about how we interact with each other on a daily basis, how we work through the times when we don't see eye to eye, and how we view authority and submission. I wonder, however, if any such discussions will be taken seriously. Will the examples I give be regarded as a valid working out of complementarian principles? Or will they be viewed with suspicion and summarily dismissed? Am I able to reach across the aisle to find common ground upon which to build "beautiful" Christian marriages? Or is my only option preaching to the choir?

Preaching to the choir certainly is easier, but that's not why I participate in this blog.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

CBMW on abuses of male headship

On this blog we often discuss ways that men abuse women. The CBMW strongly supports the idea of male headship in the home, which they equate with male authority or leadership. But CBMW opposes abuses of such male leadership. There is an important article on the CBMW website by Steven Tracy titled I Corinthians 11:3: A Corrective to Distortions and Abuses of Male Headship.

After reading Tracy's article, feel free to comment on it here.

As a personal note, I continue to question equating headship with authority. I do not find any biblical passages which teach that a biblical "head" has authority over its body or person over whom it is the head. We have mentioned this many times on this blog, but feel free to comment on it, as well, here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Little Levity

In the interests of lightening things up a bit and hopefully giving every one here a good laugh, I hereby submit the following anecdote.

Today I was at a book display and I picked up When I Don't Desire God: How to Fight for Joy by John Piper. While I was reading the blurb on the back cover a salesman told me how much the book had meant to him personally. He also told me that he is the worship leader at his church, and as such he felt uneasy about carrying that book around. After all, some people might wonder why their worship leader would not "desire God" and be full of joy.

I then told him about a similar experience of not wanting people to see a book I was reading.

When I was in college, I was trying hard to understand these often inscrutable creatures known as women. I had read a good book by Elisabeth Elliott called The Mark of a Man, and decided to see if she had written anything else on the subject of men and women. The book I found was entitled Let Me Be A Woman, and it was basically a series of letters to her engaged daughter.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and felt it was even better than the book she had written for men. However, carrying the book around was indeed problematic. After all, what are people supposed to think when they see a young man walking around with a book entitled Let Me Be A Woman?!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Stepping Into Someone Else's Shoes

As a kid, my mother always encouraged me to try to "step into someone else's shoes." In other words, she wanted me to try to see things from someone else's perspective, even if—or rather, especially when—I didn't agree with them.

Since I've become a Christian, that impulse to try and understand where other people are coming from has been reinforced by my belief in the image of God, the sensus divinitatus, and the radical depravity of humanity. The Bible teaches that we are all created in the image of God, yet we are all radically and pervasively sinful. Consequently, every one of us has the capacity to commit the most heinous acts of evil. Yet God's restraining power, our innate "sense of the divine," our conscience, and various external constraints help to keep our sinfulness in check, so that none of us is as completely wicked as we have the capacity to become.

The resulting combination of Biblical theology and motherly wisdom has led me to look at the victories and failures of other people and to do my best to understand and learn from them. I do this because of Paul's injunction in 1 Corinthians 10:12: "If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!"

In the recent discussion of abuse, I've naturally had in mind the people in my family who have suffered and endured abuse of various kinds. By God's grace, I have never personally had to suffer the kind of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse which some readers of this blog have endured. Yet each of those forms of abuse has been suffered by various members of my family, and so I am well acquainted with the devastating and ongoing effects of such abuse.

One of those family members endured continual emotional abuse and occasional physical abuse from her husband for more than fifty years. Trying to understand the internal workings of that fractured relationship has taught me much about the ambiguities of abusive relationships.

First, I've tried to put myself into this woman's shoes. In spite of being encouraged to divorce her husband by pastors, friends, fellow church-goers, and even her own children, she chose to stick it out until death finally took him earlier this year. Some of her motivations for doing so were unmistakably Christ-like and incredibly noble. Yet as far as I can see, she also chose to stay because of her own insecurities (most of which are the direct result of being told how worthless she was for so long). Then there are the motivations which could even be described as selfish or sinful. There's an element in which her identity became tied up in the martyrdom of her marriage. She may have been afraid that if she left him, she would shatter her sense of identity, lose the sympathy and admiration of others, and render meaningless the years of abuse she had already endured.

Similarly, her coping mechanisms were a mixed bag of godly and fleshly reactions. On the one hand, this woman showed Christ-like devotion to her husband, even when his declining health would have given her the perfect opportunity to neglect or to punish him for a lifetime of mistreatment. On the other hand, she developed a pattern of passive aggression which helped contribute to the ongoing strife. She also had a habit of telling people outside their marriage about his latest stream of invective and insult. Given what she endured, who can blame her for such things? Yet if everything that does not come from faith is truly sin (Romans 14:23), it is not unreasonable to conclude that these fleshly coping mechanisms, while understandable, are nevertheless sinful.

Lest I be misunderstood at this point, let me reiterate that my relationship with this family member is an extremely close one. Words cannot express my admiration and affection for her. Yet as I have tried to understand her reasons for staying and her methods of coping, I have come to the conclusion that some of them were godly and some of them were sinful. Some of them were noble and others were pathetic. We can learn much from her victoriousness in suffering, but we can also learn much about what not to do.

As for her husband, I also try to put myself in his shoes. I try to understand how a man could be so ugly to his wife and yet remain faithful to her for fifty years. This man was intelligent, personable, at times charming, at times selfless and sacrificial, a good father to his children, and a doting grandfather to his grandchildren. He could be tender to his wife moments after he told her she was stupid, and he appeared to be completely oblivious to the contradiction in it all. I have seen abusive relationships where the man would be intentionally sweet and tender in order to keep his wife confused, hopeful, and loyal. I can honestly say that this man seemed to show no such cunning. He simply seemed blind to the fact that there was anything wrong with the way he treated his wife!

How does one begin to understand such a man? One can gain insight from his childhood and upbringing. One can see how his failures in business and his feeling that he was never given the respect he deserved fed his need to tear down his wife. One can look at his wife's various sins and shortcomings and see how they could certainly be a source of frustration to him. Yet ultimately, none of these things can be used to justify his cruelty. Whatever the contributing factors, this man repeatedly chose to surrender to his sinful nature and to abuse the woman he had vowed to love and cherish.

When I try to stand in this man's shoes, I can only go so far. As much as I may be able to sympathize with his various frustrations in life, his abusive actions are an absolute mystery to me. I come away from the exercise of standing in this man's shoes with the following conclusion: our capacity for sin is profound, and "there but for the grace of God go I."

Sadly, this is just one of the abusive relationships in my family, and so I have other sets of shoes I've had to try on. In every case, considering these relationships fills me with rage toward the abuser, hurt for the abused, and a poignant sense of how tangled and destructive these relationships really are. There is no easy way to "fix" or undo the hurt which has been done. It seems the best I can do is to learn what I can so as to avoid inflicting such hurt and confusion on those I love.

I've written all this not because I enjoy talking about it, but because I think the way comps and egals discuss the subject of abuse is generally unhelpful. We make such sweeping, dogmatic assertions about it that we continually misrepresent the awful, confusing reality of it. When someone speaks of abuse as a sinful response, we assume they mean that the abused is therefore to blame for their abuse. To correct that, someone else will speak as if the victim in an abusive relationship is practically without sin, which of course is an oversimplification as well. Then of course there are those helpful barbs which go something like, "if you teach this then you are complicit in the abuse." The end result is that we talk past each other about an incredibly difficult and painful subject, engendering animosity and suspicion on both sides.

Frankly, we can do better, and we can start by trying to stand in each other's shoes. If we stand in the shoes of the people with whom we disagree, we find it harder to assume that they are intentionally twisting Scripture and teaching falsehood. If we try to understand their motivations for teaching as they do, we may just conclude that they are merely misguided and confused rather than deliberately malicious and cruel. And if we reach that point, we may just be able to reason together from Scripture without becoming abusive ourselves.

Friday, July 11, 2008

What Can We Say About Abuse?

In my last post, I tried to give us a little perspective regarding Bruce Ware's recent comments that men sometimes respond to women who challenge their authority by becoming abusive. I hesitated to write such a post for fear that some might charge me with encouraging or otherwise enabling abuse, but I hoped to offer some balance to the discussion. I have to say that most of the comments on that post, including those which took issue with it, were charitable and civil. I sincerely appreciate that.

In this post, I'd like to talk a little more about the issue of abuse to consider what we can and cannot legitimately say about it. I hope that by doing so, I can help both sides to better understand each other.

Let's start with what we agree on.

First, both complementarians and egalitarians would agree that physical, mental, emotional, and sexual abuse are always sinful and never deserved. I don't care how difficult, obnoxious, hateful, and downright evil someone is, no Christian should resort to beating or berating such a person. I can find nothing in the Bible which prescribes that we give someone a good beating or tongue-lashing. (Okay, there are those proverbs about rods for the backs of fools, but we're not told to wield those rods ourselves.)

Consequently, no abusive husband can justify his violence by pointing to his wife's obstinacy. Whatever her sins may be, if he resorts to abuse in any form, he is sinning and will be answerable to God for such sin.

As I wrote yesterday, abusive men do not merely abuse when they feel challenged. Very often, they abuse even when their wives are walking on eggshells trying not to cross them. An abusive husband may abuse merely to remind his wife that he is in charge, or because he is irritated that she submits to him out of fear rather than out of love (how's that for irony?), or simply because he feels he has no control over other areas of his life. The terrifying reality of abuse is that the abused has absolutely no control. Even perfect compliance is no guarantee that the abuse will stop.

We must therefore work hard to make it clear to battered women that they must get out! Not only is it necessary for their own safety, it is actually the loving thing to do. It is the only way their husbands will have any hope of being made to see their own sin. Accepting abuse does nothing but reinforce it, and taking a beating is not the same thing as Biblical submission.

Now, having said all that, I think we need to be careful not to go to the other extreme and pretend that abusive men abuse in some kind of vacuum. An abusive man certainly does not need to be provoked in order to resort to abuse. But can he be? Is it never the case that he resorts to abuse in response to some sinful action on the part of his wife?

Please understand me, I have already said that no act, no matter how sinful or ugly, justifies an abusive response. Nevertheless, abuse is sometimes a response to sin on the part of the abused. It is an illegitimate and damnable response, and it is never just a response, but there is a sense in which we can legitimately speak of it as being a response.

It is foolish to pretend otherwise, and I think it's here that egalitarians sometimes do battered women a disservice. One of the reasons battered women stay in abusive relationships as long as they do is that they frequently blame themselves for provoking their husbands. They know when they have been selfish, or manipulative, or spiteful, or obstinate; and in their guilt over their part in the conflict they excuse their husbands' abusiveness! Such women do not need to be told that they have "done nothing wrong." Frankly, they're not likely to believe it. Rather, they need to be told that no matter what they've done wrong, it does not excuse their husbands' abusiveness.

As I see it, complementarians like Ware need to go the extra mile to make sure they don't give the impression that abuse is always a response to some prior sin on the part of the woman. Conversely, egalitarians need to stop implying that abuse is never a response to some prior sin on the part of the woman. The reality is that as sinful men and women, we are all prone to wound without provocation, to respond in sinful ways when provoked, and to lash out whenever we feel out of control. Such a vicious cycle of sin begetting more sin can only be broken by the power of the Spirit and the "more excellent way" of Christ-like love.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dangerous Comments

I suppose I'm naive, but I've been genuinely surprised by the outcry concerning Bruce Ware's recent remarks that men sometimes respond to women who challenge their authority either by being abusive or by becoming passive. Obviously, egalitarians will object to Ware's assertion that husbands have any such "authority" over their wives, but most criticisms I've seen of Ware's statements don't seem to focus on that. Instead, Ware is being accused of implying that spousal abuse is always a response to the wife's prior sin of disobedience or rebellion.

As far as I can see, Ware neither stated nor implied any such thing. Ware, in laying out the complementarian view, stated first that male headship was part of God's creation design. No surprises there, that's standard complementarian teaching. He then laid out how in sin, that "good and wise" plan gets overturned:

What happens in sin is that that very wise and good plan of God, of male headship, is sought to be overturned as women now, as sinners, want instead to have their way instead of submitting to their husbands, to do what they would like to do and really seek to work to have their husbands fulfill their will rather than serving them. And the husbands, on their parts, because they're sinners, now respond to that threat to their authority either by being abusive, which is of course one of the ways men can respond when their authority is challenged--or, more commonly, to become passive, acquiescing, and simply not asserting the leadership they ought to as men in their homes and in churches.

Now, has Ware really said anything that scandalous here? He has said that in sin, God's design for a harmonious male-female relationship (which he sees as requiring male headship) gets overturned. Women seek their own way and want to use their husbands for their own ends. Apart from Ware's assumptions of male headship, would any egalitarian disagree that it is sinful for a woman to deal with her husband in such a self-centered and self-seeking manner? Ware then says that men have two different sinful responses to such "threats to their authority." One is to become abusive; the other is to disengage and become passive. Apart from the "threat to authority" language, can any egalitarian honestly tell me that this is not an accurate description of how men tend to behave in a difficult relationship? Examples of men who bully and men who check out are legion, and Ware describes both approaches as "sinful."

The real problem with what Ware said is that his words can easily be misunderstood to mean that all marital problems ultimately can be attributed to women failing to submit to their husbands' "authority." Do I think Ware meant to imply that? No. But it's certainly not hard to infer it from the way he spoke of the woman's sin first and then spoke of the man's sinful "responses."

Does an abuser only abuse in response to some "threat to his authority"? Absolutely not. An abusive man will abuse both when he feels challenged, and when the abused is trying hard to comply with his every whim. Abuse always proceeds out of the abuser's sinful nature, and can never be justified, or even ameliorated, by pointing to some sin in the abused.

Some have claimed that Ware's statements are "dangerous," because they will be used by abusers to justify their abuse. Of course they will. But then, an abuser will use anything he can to justify his abuse. Do we really think that an abusive man, sitting next to his wife at Denton Bible Church, upon hearing Ware's statements quoted above, would honestly think to himself, "Hey, it never occurred to me before now that my abusive behavior is merely a response to my wife's sinfulness! Here I've been feeling unnecessarily guilty when really it's all her fault!" No sinner needs to be told to blame someone else for his or her sin! That's one thing we all come by quite naturally.

The reality of physical, mental, and emotional abuse is indeed horrific. It is sickening to realize how prevalent it is, how often it is swept under the rug, and how prone we are to turn and look the other way. The Bible has been used to justify every conceivable manner of abuse, and countless people have misunderstood it as encouraging victims to allow themselves to be victimized. We might therefore conclude that the Bible is "dangerous" and discard it, but that is not a valid option for any of us who believe the Bible to be the Word of God. So we must do our best to understand what the Bible teaches, and to correct what we believe to be misunderstandings of what the Bible teaches—especially when it comes to the subject of abuse.

If, therefore, God's Word can be misunderstood as justifying abuse, perhaps we should extend just a little grace to Mr. Ware. He certainly could have been more precise and more careful in the way he phrased his comments. And he certainly could have made it more clear that abuse is a heinous sin which can never be justified in the sight of God. But it is probably safe to assume that Mr. Ware had no intention of saying anything "dangerous" or "hurtful" to women.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Bruce Ware on wife abuse

Dr. Marie Fortune recently blogged about wife abuse and statements by former CBMW president, Dr. Bruce Ware. Fortune quotes Ware:
"And husbands on their parts, because they're sinners, now respond to that threat to their authority either by being abusive, which is of course one of the ways men can respond when their authority is challenged--or, more commonly, to become passive, acquiescent, and simply not asserting the leadership they ought to as men in their homes and in churches," Ware said recently from the pulpit of Denton Bible Church in Denton, Texas.
Fortune also quotes Ware's conclusion:
Ware's conclusion is quite limited: "He will have to rule, and because he's a sinner, this can happen in one of two ways. It can happen either through ruling that is abusive and oppressive--and of course we all know the horrors of that and the ugliness of that--but here's the other way in which he can respond when his authority is threatened. He can acquiesce. He can become passive. He can give up any responsibility that he thought he had to be the leader in the relationship and just say 'OK dear,' 'Whatever you say dear,' 'Fine dear' and become a passive husband, because of sin."
Fortune responds:
Talk about dichotomous thinking. Actually, there is a third option for men and women in heterosexual marriage. What about those thousands of marriages that I know, like my parents' for fifty years, where two adults stand side by side as equal partners, faithful to each other and their children, living out Gospel values everyday?

What we have here is a professor of theology who clearly knows nothing about wife abuse and domestic violence and someone who is willing to expend enormous energy blaming battered women and excusing batterers with a high gloss, labored theological rationalization.

The "sin" is "that he [male humans] will have to rule," i.e. the man's desire to rule over and dominate another human being and his willingness to use force and violence to accomplish this.
What do you think? Is Dr. Fortune taking Dr. Ware's words out of context? Does she have an important insight?

Monday, July 7, 2008

judgement upon women rulers

Complementarian blog reader Sam C asks a good question about a verse of the Bible. Read his comment on this post, think about it, and respond in the comments to Sam.