Adj. Pertaining to complementarianism and egalitarianism.

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


Friday, August 29, 2008

A Woman Vice-President?

What do the complementarians reading this blog make of the possibility of a woman Vice-President? Would you agree with what John Piper wrote about women in positions of secular authority, which I quoted here? Would that make it hard for you to vote for the McCain-Palin ticket, which might lead to a woman President and Commander-in-Chief?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ephesians 5:15-6:6, guest post by Don Johnson

Ephesians 5-6 Pericope Structure
Draft 1.0 by Don Johnson, August 25, 2008

The pericope is from Eph 5:15 to Eph 6:9. I use my own translation below to highlight some aspects.

There are multiple chiasms that contain phrases that are in an inverted parallel form. The chiasms allow one to pair up the appropriate phrases (A with A', B with B' and so on) as they are related in some way. The most important part of a chiasm is in the middle, which is not often the way we do things today; we usually use either the newspaper form with the most important things first or the proof form with the most important thing, the conclusion, last. To assist in the discussion, I gave a unique letter number code to each phrase, so a specific phrase or set of phrases can be discussed easier. Brackets indicate words implied by the Greek text and inserted for clarity.

UPDATE: Indentation to visually assist seeing the chiastic structure can be seen in a pdf version of this file.

A1 Then watch carefully how you walk
B1 not as unwise
B1' but as wise
A1' redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

A2 For this reason,
B2 do not be foolish,
B2' but understanding
A2' what the will of the Lord is.

A3 And do not be drunk with wine,
B3 which is debauchery,

A4 but be filled by the Spirit,
B4 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
C4 singing and praising in your heart to the Lord,
C4' giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
to God the Father,
B4' submitting to one another in the fear of Messiah;
A4' wives, [submitting to one another] to your own husbands as to the Lord.

A5 For a husband
B5 is head of his wife,
C5 as also Christ
D5 is Head of the church,
E5 and He is the Savior of the body.
D5' But even as the church
C5' submits to Christ,
B5' so also wives
A5' to their own husbands in everything.

A6 Husbands, agape-love your wives,
B6 even as Christ also agape-loved the assembly and gave Himself up on its behalf
C6 that he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the washing of the water in the Word,
D6 that He might present it to Himself as the glorious church,
C6' not having spot or wrinkle, or any such things,
B6' but that it be holy and without blemish.
A6' So, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.

A7 He who loves his wife loves himself,
(for no one hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it)
B7 even as also the Lord the church for we are members of His body,
A7' "For this (reason), a man shall leave his father and mother,
and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh." (Gen. 2:24)
B7' The mystery is great, but I speak of Christ and the church.

A8 Nevertheless, everyone in particular, let each one
B8 be loving his own wife as himself
B8' and the wife
A8' respect/fear her husband.

A9 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
B9 "Honor your father and mother," (Ex. 20:12a, with Ex. 20:12b following )
C9 (which is the first commandment with a promise)
B9' "that it may be well with you and you may be long-lived on the earth".
A9' And fathers/parents, do not provoke your children,
but nurture them in the discipline and admonition of the Lord.

A10 Slaves, obey your masters according to flesh,
B10 with fear and trembling,
C10 in singleness of your heart,
D10 as to Christ;
E10 not with eye-service as men-pleasers,
D10' but as slaves of Christ
C10' doing the will of God from the soul,
B10' with good will
A10' serving as slaves to the Master and not as to men.

A11 Each one knowing
B11 that whatever good thing he does,
C11 this he shall receive
D11 from the Master
E11 whether a slave or a freeman.
D11' And masters,
C11' do the same things toward them,
B11' forbearing threatening,
A11' knowing that the Master of you and them is in Heaven
and there is no partiality with Him.

Notes on each numbered section:
1. Herein lies wisdom.

2. Herein lies understanding the will of God.

3. Being filled with the Spirit can appear like drunkenness, but it is not that at all.

4. Here are 4 “-ing” verbs the inner 2 are to God, the outer 2 are to the church. It is important to notice that just as speaking to one another is mutually speaking (each one to others), so submitting to one another is mutually submitting (each one to others), contra Grudem (who correctly points out it might mean some to others, but not in this case). B4' serves as the header principle that will be explained further with examples in the remainder of the pericope. In A4' the verb is omitted and Paul carefully crafts the verb that is to be brought down in the previous phrase, it is reflexive (voluntary), it is to one another (mutually) and it is submitting. That is, the wife is to submit to her husband and the husband is to submit to his wife.

5. C5-C5' is about Christ and the church, the body of Christ. Both (A) husband and wife and
(B) Christ and the church are unity examples using a head/body metaphor. Notice that all the examples of Christ as head in sections 5 and 6 are serving examples, a husband as head is on solid Biblical ground by using those examples in his relationship with his wife.

6. Again, a husband is to consider his wife as his own body and treat her accordingly, that is, with agape-love. Note that agape love per 1 Cor 13 “does not insist on its own way” contra the non-egal claims that the husband has final decision making power.

7. The metaphor of the wife being considered part of the husband's body is continued.

8. This section is the summary and recapitulation of the spousal mutual submission theme in A4'.

9. In B9 and B9' the common theme is that it is a quote from Exodus.

10. In A10, A10', D11 and D11' the common theme is kurios which I translate as Master (instead of Lord) when referring to Jesus and master when referring to humans to show this easier. Section 10 is about slaves, and contains the infamous proof text of slave owners “Slaves, obey your masters.” so we know we need to be extra careful with this pericope.

11. This section is sometimes thought to refer to only slaves (that is, it contains a sometimes missed reference to freeman and slaves) but the structure shows what is going on. C11' contains a symmetry reference “Do the same things” when referring to masters, such symmetry in the hierarchical relationship of masters and slaves is strikingly countercultural.

I wish to thank Bruce Fleming, Nils Lund, Kenneth Bailey, and David Instone-Brewer for their insights into this passage.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Legalism in egalitarianism and complementarianism

Legalism can kill the spirit of the law by following just the letter of the law. Jesus had a lot to say about this during his ministry.

On this blog we often point out problems, or potential problems, with egalitarianism or complementarianism. One rebuttal to pointing out the problems people have experienced under either framework is noting that the bad experience is not really the way the framework is supposed to work. And several of you have correctly been emphasizing that we are all sinners, complementarians and egalitarians alike. No matter how much we may want to please Christ, and follow his Word as we understand it, and, in particular, follow an egalitarian or complementarian framework, we mess up, we sin.

In this post, I'd like to summarize some of the problems which can result from being legalistic about either egalitarianism or complementarianism. I'm sure I won't think of all the problems, so feel free to add to my lists in the comments. I'll start with egalitarianism because so often complementarianism gets such a bad rap on this blog.

Legalistic egalitarianism can result in:
  1. Demandingness ("I did supper last night, so you have to do it tonight.")
  2. Rules take priority over love ("Remember, we agreed this is a 50-50 marriage, and that's the only way I'm willing to keep going in this marriage."
  3. Inadequate attention to the different giftings of each spouse. Expecting each spouse to do the same things.
  4. Lack of love ("You wanted an egalitarian marriage; now you have to practice what you preach; I'm not going to do your part of our marriage.")
  5. Lack of sacrifice ("You said women can do anything men can; I don't care if it's hard for you; you've gotta make it on your own.")
Obviously, these are extreme examples, but I suspect they remind us of some difficulties some have in marriages which they truly want to be egalitarian.

Legalistic complementarianism can result in:
  1. Demandingness (hmm, do I hear an echo?!) ("The Bible says you're supposed to submit to me, so submit; I'm the head of this house.")
  2. Husband not listening to his wife ("Just be quiet and listen to me, as a biblical woman is supposed to do"; "I'm not supposed to listen to you; the Bible only says you're supposed to submit to me")
  3. Wife's spiritual giftings not affirmed
  4. Requiring wife's submission without loving sacrifice from the husband
  5. Rules and regulations about what women can and can't do

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Be Careful Ware You Aim

In participating in the discussions on this blog, I've noticed an interesting dynamic: the egalitarians are usually the ones constantly quoting (and sometimes misquoting) the teachings of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, while complementarians like myself are relatively ignorant of them. I had never heard of Bruce Ware, Russell Moore, David Kotter, or any other CBMW representative other than Wayne Grudem until I started listening to egalitarians here. It has only been in response to various disturbing accusations made here that I have gone to the CBMW web-site and read the actual writings published there.

I'm always somewhat bemused when I hear egalitarians talking about CBMW and Bruce Ware as the "official" representatives of the complementarian viewpoint. After all, the argument goes, they coined the term complementarian, so they get to define what it means. Well, here's how they define it in the Preface to Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood:

If one word must be used to describe our position, we prefer the term complementarian, since it suggests both equality and beneficial differences between men and women. We are uncomfortable with the word "traditionalist" because it implies an unwillingness to let Scripture challenge traditional patterns of behavior, and we certainly reject the term "hierarchalist" because it overemphasizes structured authority while giving no suggestion of equality or the beauty of mutual interdependence.

That's a fairly broad definition, and one which I am comfortable applying to myself. The fact that I self-identify as a complementarian does not mean that I must therefore agree with every published statement by CBMW or its principal players any more than the fact that I am registered to vote with a certain political party requires me to agree with every aspect of its platform or every decision made by its elected officials. It simply means that in my study of the Scriptures, I see both equality and mutually beneficial differences between the sexes.

Frankly, I would prefer to paint a positive vision of how my wife and I live out our understanding of "Biblical complementarity" than to become an expert on Bruce Ware's views. Yet in this forum complementarians are constantly being asked to affirm or repudiate the arguments made by CBMW theologians and scholars.

If I can move us toward helpful dialogue by interacting with CBMW statements, I am certainly willing to do so. I'm working on a critique of Bruce Ware's article Male and Female Complementarity and the Image of God, which has been summarized by egalitarians as arguing that women are not fully created in the image of God. The trouble is that Ware is apparently such a polarizing figure for egalitarians that if I do not completely repudiate him, I'll likely be seen by the militant egals as some patriarchal wolf in soft-spoken sheep's clothing. The truth is that I can see both sides of his arguments. On the one hand, I see why many of Ware's statements send egals through the roof; but on the other hand, I see that the egals are often quoting him out of context and ignoring those statements where he repeatedly affirms the full ontological equality of women. Perhaps Ware really is a hard-liner who sees women as fundamentally inferior, but I have yet to see what I would call a fair critical assessment of his arguments demonstrating that to be true.

Ultimately, I think the egalitarian preoccupation with Bruce Ware and CBMW is misplaced simply because most rank-and-file complementarians are not even bothering to read them. Average comps are complementarian simply because they see real differences between men and women and they understand the Bible generally to be teaching some form of male leadership. If that view is being reinforced by anyone, it is the various complementarian marriage authors and speakers rather than the scholars at CBMW. Succeed in discrediting Bruce Ware or CBMW and the average comp will respond, "Who's Bruce Ware?" and "What's CBMW?"

Most of the comps here, like most of the egals, simply want to be heard and understood. We all participate in this blog because we are willing to engage in uncomfortable conversations with people who will challenge our views. If we alienate the people on the other side who are actually willing to talk to us, what hope do we have of ever doing anything more than preaching to our respective choirs?

On both sides of this debate, I see a lot of heat but very little light. We're all coming at this issue from a complex range of personal experiences and theological presuppositions. We use the same terms but mean very different things. We blind ourselves to the emotional commitments which motivate us, while dismissing the arguments of others because of their clear biases and emotional commitments.

Ultimately, we need to be careful to read each other critically rather than polemically. That means doing our best to understand what the other side is saying without necessarily accepting that what they say is correct. It means accepting that their beliefs are sincerely held, even if we think those beliefs are misguided. It means reading what people actually write rather than reading in the views of others in their camp, or reading in what we assume their views to be. It means, as I have written before, that we must do our best to stand in the other person's shoes, rather than trying to knock them off their feet.

If we do all that, we can come to communicate and learn from each other, even as we refuse to compromise our own principles. If, however, we let our desire to win an argument get in the way, we're not likely to convince anybody of anything.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

article: Further Confessions of a Recovering Feminist

The CBMW's Gender Blog has just posted Further Confessions of a Recovering Feminist, Part 1, by Courtney Tarter. I recommend that we who interact here on Complegalitarian blog read Courtney's article. It is good for all sides in these debates to read testimonies from anyone, like Courtney, which speak to issues in the complemantarian-egalitarian debates.

Since public comments are not permitted on the Gender Blog, feel free to comment on Courtney's article here. I think that sometimes David Kotter of Gender Blog visits Complegalitarian blog where he can read responses to his blog posts.

My own feeling is that it is helpful for each of us to try to hear what the Spirit of God might be telling us from testimonies from anyone in these debates, regardless of whether or not we agree with every detail of someone's current interpretation of the relevant Scripture passages. What can we learn from each other? What can egalitarians learn from godly complementarians? What can complementarians learn from godly egalitarians? I am not suggesting compromise on what we consider important issues, but I am suggesting that God may be able to teach us something, even from people with whom we disagree. I hope that that is something that we in the Body of Christ can agree upon, as we relate to Christ the head of his Body, the Church.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Upside Down God (An Egalitarian Muses)

The complementarian John Piper says (in his book, What's the Difference) that the essence of femininity is to affirm, respect and follow the leadership of a man. This means that as a female, Piper believes I find my femininity only in so far as I affirm that godly men, as opposed to godly women, are my leaders---and that I encourage and support them as such.

Another way to think about it might be to say that because I do not affirm Piper's model, Piper does not believe I am feminine. If Piper's opinion mattered to me, I might find that a bit offensive. Ha.

The egalitarian model rightly affirms that men and women are complementary, yet also, and rightly (in my opinion), does not spend a lot of time laying out how and when and where those complementary features lie. This is because men and women are firstly humans, a name for creatures infinitely diverse and unique in and of themselves, gender notwithstanding.

But women are certainly different from men, even if only in terms of body parts. Women have sexual organs that men don't have, and vice versa. Most of us believe there are more differences between the sexes than merely uterus and testes, but this student would like to know how to tell which differences are culturally derived definitions of "true" manhood and womanhood and which differences are actually hard-wired traits?

Many historically American held "gender differences," for example, have proven to have more basis in popular stereotype than fact. The idea that women talk more than men do, for example, has been proven inaccurate. The Victorians accepted the "fact" that women were easily frightened creatures and wont to fainting spells, but that had everything to do with tight corsets restricting airways than it did women actually fainting due to legitimate female gender differences. (This article from the BBC news scientifically explains the 78 genetic differences---funny).

Perhaps another top reason that egalitarians tend to shy away from forming a checklist of gender differences is because we've seen differences between the sexes used to bolster the idea that men should be in charge of women. One recent blog post seemed to suggest that because a husband was more likely than a wife to fend off a burglar, the husband is obviously designed to be in charge of the wife. Yet these reasons often fall flat, because the same sort of reasoning can be used to shoot male leadership in the foot.

My husband, who has plenty of hair on his chest, fights residence and forest fires with the Emergency Services team, and who's known for his throaty male cries at sporting events, shrieked like a baby last week when a bat flew overhead in our living room. While he cowered in a doorway, I jumped up with glee (having always wanted to see a live bat up close) trapped the bat in a glass dish and expressed true sorrow that the children were asleep and therefore missing such a rich opportunity to observe a wild Alaskan bat.

Does this prove that I was designed by God to lead our home? Or does it just prove that Jeff and I are human beings, having both innate and environmentally derived differences, unique yet also complementary to each other, as all humans are? Does being different prove authority? Or does being different just prove that...well, we're different.

Consider the fact that women tend to be more global thinkers, generally able to consider multiple sources of information at once and to think and reason from a broader interconnected place than most men. This fact clearly proves that women should lead men. Or perhaps the fact that girls tend to speak earlier than little boys do. Aha. Another proof that women were designed to rule. No? Seems silly, doesn't it---almost embarrassing for me to type. Stating one way that men and women often differ is simply stating a generality---in no way does it "prove" that anyone should rule over anyone else.

For those scratching their heads, let me try and explain. This egalitarian tends to think that in the community of God, everything gets turned on it's head. For many who view the Scriptures like me, it's those who walk in the fruit of the Spirit who are spiritual "leaders," for in God's economy, rank, social status, appearance, education and other worldly avenues of authority aren't acceptable tokens for true spiritual leadership.

Some egalitarians, myself included, feel that the males in New Testament times, having much more power than the females, were being instructed by Paul to love their wives as their own selves: ie, even though your social structure gives you the power to command obedience, consider whether or not you would want to be in her shoes and how you would want to be treated, and then love her accordingly. This is the way of Christ. The world's strong stood on the backs of the weak and still do to this day. Christ, the strongest of all, went straight for the weak and lifted them up, despite the horrified gasps of those in power around Him.

Just as Paul didn't command Philemon to release Onesimus, but hinted rather strongly that Onesimus was now Philemon's brother and a co-equal heir in God's sight (See Philemon), so Paul did not command husbands to release wives from their legal position of submission. But he did command husbands to think of their wives in the same way that they think of themselves, "as your own body." Paul commanded Christian husbands to love their wives in the way that the Jesus he describes (in that same letter to the Ephesians) loves His bride: giving all for her, giving her His identity, raising her up to His level to rule with Him.

Who is this Jesus who turns everything upside down?

In the worldly system, leaders lead in order to lead. Those in power like to stay in power, because that means they get what they want, they get to do things their way, get to be on top. But in God's economy, those in power use their power to come under. The biggest leader is the biggest server, and vice versa. Leaders lead that they might help others become leaders.

The complementarian Piper appears to define the feminine women as those happily under the authority, in one way or another, of masculine men. In other words, from birth all the way to death. She will never mature out of that place, by virtue of her gender. But for most egalitarians, spiritual authority exists that those being led might be brought into maturity (Eph. 4:11-13). Those who have power are to use their power to bring others up to where they are. Yes, this is upside-down thinking, compared to what goes on in the world. But that is what the One we follow has done.

"But God, rich in mercy, for the great love He bore us, brought us to life with
Christ even when we were dead in our sins; it is by His grace you are
saved. And in union with Christ Jesus He raised us up and enthroned us
with Him in the heavenly realms
, so that He might display in the ages to come
how immense are the resources of His grace..." ---Ephesians 2:4-7a TNEB

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Revisiting My Personal Spaghetti Jar Incident

Earlier this year, I wrote about a time in my marriage when I chose to set aside my personal convictions and sense of God's will for the sake of my wife's needs. The point of that post was that while some might see my "submitting" or "yielding" to my wife in this way as an abdication of my "headship", I see it as an example of headship done right.

Unfortunately, this post has become a sticking point for some here, so I feel the need to clarify a few things. Like the spaghetti jar incident, there is a world of context which I could not include in that previous post. Without that context, some people saw in my descriptions evidence of an abusive form of control, and it has skewed their understanding of much that I have written since.

The conviction in question is our decision not to use contraception. In my previous post, I talked briefly about the history of how I came to this conviction long before I met Lisa. I did this primarily to emphasize that this belief was not the result of some patriarchal teaching I had received, but was something I came to through a long process of prayer, reflection, and counting the potential costs of such a conviction. It would seem, however, that the emphasis on how I came to my conviction gave some the impression that I had unilaterally imposed this conviction on my wife, taking away her "reproductive freedom" and forcing her to have children she didn't want.

That's simply not the case. The conviction not to use birth control did originate with me, but I did not impose it on Lisa. I told her early on in our courtship about my conviction so that she could run for the exit if she wanted to. She didn't. Instead she asked questions and we examined the issue of contraception together, counting the potential costs, considering arguments for and against, etc. After much prayer on her part, Lisa came to share my conviction about the use of contraception. This was long before we got married.

So it was our conviction not to use birth-control which led to our having three children within the first four years of our marriage. Lisa and I were both delighted about each pregnancy, and while we began to hope that our rate of conception would slow down, Lisa was never "forced" to have a child she didn't want. We actually had a miscarriage between our second and third children, and we were both heartbroken over it. When Lisa became pregnant with our third child not long afterward, she was thrilled.

Having three children under three is stressful enough by itself, but when Bethany was born that stress was compounded by other stresses. We moved into our first house a month before Bethany was born, so we were faced with the stress of getting settled, taking on the responsibilities of home ownership, and bearing the financial burden of a mortgage. At the same time, our nine-year-old nephew was dying of leukemia, and that tragedy naturally cast a shadow over everything else in our lives. This was the unwritten context of my statement in the previous post that Lisa was "physically exhausted, stressed out, worried about the future, and probably more than a little Post-Partum." In the face of all this, Lisa began asking about the possibility of using birth control. It was not that she had wanted to use contraception the whole time and that she had to get "exhausted" and "stressed out" before I would even consider it. Rather, it was the stress which led her to begin questioning whether our conviction really made sense.

Much has been made of what I described as my initial response to Lisa's questioning: "At first, I tried to give her perspective and reassure her, I made it clear that I still believed this was God's will for our family, I pointed out the need to follow God's will even when it proves personally costly, and I generally tried to get her to see things my way." To those who assumed I had unilaterally decided we would not use contraception and had forced Lisa to have children she didn't want, I can see how this sounds callous, patronizing, and paternalistic. It wasn't. This was not some sermon I preached to Lisa to get her to buck up and pay the costs of "my" convictions; this was a series of discussions in which we tried to reestablish unity. Since Lisa was questioning a belief she had previously held, my first inclination was to try and shore up her confidence in that conviction. And while I continued to believe it was God's will for us not to try to control the planning of our family, I began praying that God would either change her heart or change mine. This is something I do every time Lisa and I are not in agreement.

As we continued to discuss the question of contraception, it became clear to me that Lisa was feeling "desperate," "trapped," and "frustrated." Again, some have read my description of Lisa's feelings at that point as a sign of my callousness, as if my wife has to become "desperate" before I will really listen to her. On the contrary, I was trying to listen to her and see her perspective throughout our discussions, but it is often the case that I just don't "get" how deeply she is feeling something until her pain becomes painfully clear. I'm afraid that despite my best intentions, I can be as clueless as the next guy.

It was at this point that I realized that I needed to put my wife's needs before my convictions, no matter how long I had held them or how firmly I still believed in them. So as I wrote in that previous post, I went for a walk and prayed, "Lord, I can cling to my convictions and destroy my wife, or I can show her that she means more to me than my convictions."

While I remember this process taking a long time, as Lisa and I reconstructed the timeline of events the other night it became clear that we couldn't have been discussing this issue for more than a few weeks. We used birth control for the next nine months, at which time Lisa concluded on her own that it was indeed God's will that we not use contraception.

My point in giving this very personal story was to offer a positive example of how to work through times when husband and wife do not see eye to eye. Though convinced of what I believed was God's will for us, I took my wife's perspective as an indication that I might have gotten that wrong. When it became clear that she needed to see that I cared more for her than for any conviction, I yielded and trusted God to work things out. Thankfully, he did.

This is the key lesson. I believe God is ultimately the head of my family. He is the one with absolute authority. It is his will, not mine, which is paramount. If I believe all that, then I can trust him to make sure that his will is followed.

Another key lesson is that neither Lisa nor I acted unilaterally. Extreme complementarians might say that I was wrong not to stand firm on an issue I believed to be God's will, that I should have just drawn a line in the sand and demanded submission. I know, however, that it would have been foolish to do that. First, it would have shown my wife that I think I am infallible when it comes to discerning God's will. Second, it would have undermined her trust in my leadership and her security in my love. How many complementarian men damage their marriages for the sake of not appearing weak?

Extreme egalitarians might say that Lisa should have just gone out and gotten on the pill whether I liked it or not. After all, who am I to make decisions involving her body? But this, likewise, would have undermined trust and damaged our relationship. How many egalitarian marriages die because someone chooses independence over "mutuality"?

Lisa and I have not used contraception since that time, and by God's grace, we did not continue to have babies every sixteen months. Alexa, our youngest, was born three years after Bethany, and she is now seven years old. Far from being pressured to have babies she didn't want, Lisa has largely been the one longing for more, and we've been praying for years that God would bless us with a fifth child. I am happy to report that we are finally expecting again, and we couldn't be more delighted.

When I first told this story, I didn't intend to write this much about our reproductive decisions. I'm grateful that Lisa is willing to let me share such personal details on such a public forum. I hope that by doing so, and giving a little more context, I've cleared up at least some of the misunderstandings of that previous post.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Authority, Power, and Control

In a recent comment, I stated that I want to combat the mistaken notion that authority equals control. In other words, I believe it is possible to have authority without being "authoritarian" and "controlling". In response, both an egalitarian and a complementarian contested that notion. The egalitarian basically argued that authority always leads to controlling behaviors, while the complementarian questioned whether it is inconsistent to make a distinction between authority and control. It would appear, therefore, that we need to clarify some terms.

Note that I am not trying to deal with Greek terms which are typically translated as "authority," "power," and "control"; I am merely trying to make sure we mean the same things when we use these English terms.

The Oxford American dictionary defines authority as "the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience" or "the right to act in a specified way, delegated from one person or organization to another." When we use the term "authority," we are speaking of the right to do something, to make a decision, or to give an order and expect it to be followed. When the Pharisees asked Jesus, "By what authority" he was teaching in the temple (Matthew 21:23), they were essentially asking him what "right" he had to teach.

The dictionary defines power as "the ability to do something or act in a particular way" and "the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events." Thus, where authority has to do with "rights," power has to do with "ability."

Is it possible to have authority without power, or power without authority? Absolutely. In ancient Israel, David had authority as king, while Absalom quietly secured the power of popular support. Similarly, Ahab had the authority as king, but his wife Jezebel was the one with the real power. A church may have pastors and elders in official positions of authority, yet essentially be run by some member of the congregation who has the power to influence decisions. In a marriage, regardless of how "authority" is divided, one spouse may have all the "power" in the relationship. I think that we can say with some certainty that "authority" does not equal "power".

The dictionary defines "control" as "the power to influence or direct people's behavior or the course of events." As such, control and power are largely synonymous. Yet "control" connotes the successful exercise of power. If I lose "control" of my car, it is not for lack of "authority." I am licensed to drive, and therefore have the "right" to operate an automobile. Neither is it for lack of "power." I am physically able to drive, I have the knowledge of how to drive, and I have years of experience doing it. If I lose control of my car, it is because I have failed somehow to exercise my ability to drive.

Control can be positive or negative depending on the kind of control being talked about. "Self-control" is listed among the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23). An elder is expected to keep his children "under control" (1 Timothy 3:4 NASB; literally, "in obedience"). In English, "losing control" is always seen as a bad thing.

Yet there are also negative forms of control. To be "controlling" is to attempt to control everything another person does, says, or thinks. A "control-freak" is someone who wants to control people or things he has no authority to control. While "losing control" is always bad, "releasing control" is usually seen as good. It implies that someone who previously had "control issues" is no longer trying to control that which should not or cannot be controlled.

When I wrote that it is a mistake to equate authority with control, I was using "control" in this negative sense of being "controlling." In other words, I was asserting that one can be in authority over someone else without trying to control everything the other person says, thinks, or does. I am under the authority of my employers, but I am grateful that they don't try to micromanage everything I do. Though I am constrained by their authority to pursue the priorities and accomplish the tasks which they designate, I am free to offer my input, take personal initiative, work the way I work best, etc.

In English, we recognize the distinction between proper authority and those who misuse their authority. We refer to the latter as "authoritarian." I think the connection between authoritarianism and controlling behavior is clear, but in that case we're dealing with the misuse of authority and a sinful form of control.

With respect to marriage, male supremacists ascribe absolute authority to the husband: that is, he has the right to tell anyone in his household to do virtually anything. This is indeed dangerous, yet even absolute authority may not lead to "control" (in the sense of "controlling"), if he does not also have the "power" to enforce his will. Remember, it is "power" which "tends to corrupt" and "absolute power" which "corrupts absolutely." Absolute authority, combined with absolute power, will almost certainly lead to abusive forms of control.

Complementarians ascribe absolute authority in marriage not to the husband, but to Christ. Neither do they (at least theoretically) give the husband absolute power. Rather, complementarianism asserts that the husband has limited authority in marriage, and by extension, limited power and control. Complementarians may differ as to how this actually plays out, what kind of authority the husband actually has, and in what ways that authority is limited, but they all agree that it is limited in some way.

Egalitarians assert "equal" or "mutual" authority in marriage. Egalitarians may differ as to how this actually plays out, and they still have to deal with the proper division of "power." Again, it is "power" which "tends to corrupt," and even in egalitarian marriages, one spouse may wield emotional, financial, or other forms of power over the other. Thus, the absence of authority does not necessarily equal the absence of control.

Whatever their differences, both comps and egals agree that Christ-like love is the best restraint against abuses of authority and/or power within marriage. We likewise agree in condemning the unhealthy "control" of one spouse by another. Perhaps if we stop confusing the meaning of terms like "authority," "power," and "control," we can avoid much of the confusion which so overshadows the things about which we agree.