Thoughts on gender hierarchy and roles.

I watched a John Piper video once that so inspired me to throw a hanger across my bedroom.

Oh how it made me angry, his promotion of gender hierarchy, of perpetuating marriage protocol based on rigid gender roles. Of one gender better, stronger, smarter than another. Piper, who was Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis for more than 30 years, is a proponent of hierarchical marriage (he calls it “complementarian”), a source of stress and indigestion for egalitarians.

In marriage, according to the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (the CBMW, of which Piper is a member), “wives should forsake resistance to their husbands’ authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husbands’ leadership.” “Adam’s headship in marriage,” according to the CBMW, “was established by God before the Fall, and was not a result of sin.”

And then there are gender roles.

“Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order,” says the CBMW, “and should find an echo in every human heart.”

These are thoughts about that:

  • “God did not command men to dominate women. He predicted it as the sad consequence of original sin.” -Sr. Helena Burns
  • In “Barne’s Notes on the Bible,” Barnes says women are “more subject to infirmities and weaknesses; less capable of enduring fatigue and toil; less adapted to the rough and stormy scenes of life” and “the God of nature has made her with a more delicate frame, a more fragile structure, and with a body subject to many infirmities to which the more hardy frame of a man is a stranger.” (Cue stress and indigestion.) But is a woman’s being less capable of enduring fatigue and toil and less adapted to the rough and stormy scenes of life innate, or is it learned? Most adults coddle female toddlers who trip and fall, and tell male toddlers to shake it off. Is that because girls innately can’t take it and boys can, or because girls are set up not to take it and boys aren’t? Is it because men have more “muscles” than women, or because husbands – under whose authority women exist in hierarchical marriage – let their wives lose the ability to use certain “muscles” because they don’t permit their wives to use them?
  • In a YouTube video about how women are to submit to husbands who are abusive, Piper says it’s ok for a wife to say no to her husband. But before she can say no, he says, she has to say this: “Honey, I want so much to follow you as my leader. God calls me to do that, and I would love to do that. It would be sweet to me if I could enjoy your leadership.” It is, then, the very men who assert females are weak and males are strong who can’t take “no” from a woman unless she strokes his ego first.
  • Indeed it stings when somebody says “no” or “I disagree with you.” But it is not proof a man isn’t masculine. It is proof he is human. That a wife never just says no to her husband when no is appropriate doesn’t say he is manly. All it says is he can’t take no. Not saying no (or refusing to take it) enables a person to avoid conflict, and pain and emotion, and as a result, to avoid growing (as a human, and as a spouse).
  • I am not hostile to submission. I am hostile to complicity in the maintenance of fragile egos, to the forfeiture of authenticity, and to abuse.
  • A wife has to trust that the decisions her husband makes will not violate respect for her, for life, for love, for God, in no particular order. In that light, “submission” is not a burden. It’s relief of a burden. A woman can make decisions, but in marriage, she ought to be free because of trust to share the load with her husband, to let him handle some of the stuff so she can handle the other stuff.
  • Teamwork, not dominance.
  • It is inefficient, in my opinion, for a married couple to have a completely inflexible set of gender roles. Do what you’re good at doing, and what you like doing. (Dear future husband: Please like to cook.)
  • Love trumps protocol. Every time. And if it doesn’t, it isn’t love.
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Click here to read the rest of the CBMW’s core beliefs.
Click here to watch John Piper’s video on submitting to abusive husbands. (Trigger warning.)

Authority and submission in sex.

Yesterday, fab blogger Rachel Held Evans wrote a post (two, really) in response to a controversial post on the Gospel Coalition’s web site.

According to the site, the GC is “a fellowship of evangelical churches deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures.” People who are part of the GC, or fans of it, tend (in my experience) to preach and practice complementarianism in marriage, as aligned with what John Piper, among others, calls biblical manhood and womanhood.

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) says the following:

Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order, and should find an echo in every human heart.”

“… husbands should forsake harsh or selfish leadership and grow in love and care for their wives; wives should forsake resistance to their husbands’ authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husbands’ leadership.”

(And) “…a denial or neglect of these principles will lead to increasingly destructive consequences in our families, our churches, and the culture at large.” 

The GC’s controversial post, called The Polluted Waters of Fifty Shades of Grey, etc., is ultimately an excerpt of a book called Fidelity: What it Means to be a One-Woman Man by Doug Wilson. GC-er Jared Wilson posted it as a response to bestselling erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey and other erotic media. In part, the excerpt says the following:

“When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us. In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed. …

True authority and true submission are … an erotic necessity. When authority is honored according to the word of God it serves and protects — and gives enormous pleasure.”

I agree with Doug: what he writes is offensive.

Especially this line: “In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.”

“Penetrates” I can take, because it’s functional. But “colonizes” is gross and “conquers” crosses the line.

“Surrenders?” It depends. Sex requires a surrender of sorts (a surrender of inhibitions, for instance), but the surrender it requires is mutual. And conquer doesn’t exactly imply surrender.

What the excerpt implies, according to RHE, is that “sex is just another avenue through which a man must exert his authority over woman. As with everything else (in complementarianism), the man is the boss and the woman is the subordinate.”

Take, for instance, what complementarian Tim Challies wrote to women in a post on his blog:

You don’t have to believe in what (your husband) says and you don’t have to like what he says, but you do have to follow him.

You are (your husband’s) helper, which means your life is wrapped up in his. Whatever he longs to be, however he intends to use his gifts and passions and calling, you are to join him in that. His mission is your mission, his calling is your calling, his passion is your passion. So join him, serve him, love him, respect him and you will be your part in this portrait, this image of the real marriage.”

Or take what John Piper says when asked whether a wife should submit to an abusive husband:

“… in order to model godly submission, a woman may need to quietly ‘endure verbal abuse for a season’ or ‘getting smacked one night’ before ‘seeking help from the church.'” (as quoted on RHE’s blog)

That I disagree with Challies and Piper with all that is in me is not to say I don’t think it is good for a husband to complement his wife, or for a wife to complement her husband:

com·ple·men·ta·ry – Adj: “Combining in such a way as to enhance or emphasize each other’s qualities.”

I, like a lot of complementarians, think a man and a woman in a marriage should be complementary. Marriage should result in a unique, new unit that is greater than the sum of its parts.

But what we argue about (in part) is not whether we should enhance or emphasize each other’s qualities, but about what exactly those qualities should be.

According to the CBMW, there’s a set of “God-ordained” gender roles that make up the qualities. Roles that require each spouse to squeeze snugly into a pre-fab “wife” or “husband” box. And when the roles are denied, says the CBMW, the result is destructive consequences.

But when these roles result in the belief (and worse, in the practice) of the ideal that men are to exert authority and women are to surrender to men in sex is, in and of itself, a destructive consequence of adhering to the CBMW’s principles.

Which is what RHE and a slue of other bloggers have expressed in multiple ways in the days since the Doug Wilson excerpt appeared online. And to them, Jared Wilson wrote this, in a follow-up post on the GC website:

“… Douglas Wilson’s view of women is that they are to be cherished and protected and served humbly by men, even men in authority over them. This is the kind of authority the Bible prescribes, the kind that edifies and helps wives to flourish, not wither.”

To which I say this:

Even if the Bible did prescribe that kind of authority of men over women, what part does “conquering” play in humble service? How does it protect a woman to to require her to endure verbal and physical abuse (let alone to abuse her)? How does it edify a wife (“instruct especially so as to encourage intellectual, moral, or spiritual improvement“) to require her to adopt your “mission, calling and passion” at the expense (presumably) of her own? What part of your wife do you cherish when you require her to do what you say if she neither likes it nor believes it is right? How much does your wife flourish as a person when what she gets do has to depend on “whatever (her husband) longs to be?”

‘Cause this sounds like some shenanigans.

More to come on complementarianism. In the meantime…

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UPDATE 7/21: As of July 20, 2012, Wilson’s original post and his follow up to it (both of which are clickable links below) have been removed from the GC site. In their stead, Wilson wrote this humble apology. I commend him.

Click here to read the original controversial post on the GC site.

Click here and here to read RHE’s first and second responses to it, respectively.

Click here to read the follow up post on the GC site, in which, for the record, Doug Wilson is quoted as having written the following in response to responses to the excerpt from his book: Anyone who believes that my writing disrespects women either has not read enough of my writing on the subject to say anything whatever about it or, if they still have that view after reading enough pages, they really need to retake their ESL class.” Where I live, an ESL class is a class for students whose second language is English. Which, as I gather, means Doug equates “English as a second language” with “unintelligent.” Which is incredibly offensive (even to I, whose sole language is English).

Click here to read the Challies post I quoted.

Click here to watch John Piper tell women to endure abuse.