Saturday, March 03, 2018

One Bad Idea

Left uncontested, one bad idea can do astonishing damage.

When humanity fell, taking all of creation with it, the cause was a woman who defied the revealed will of God … and a man too weak to either call her on it or to take responsibility for his own sin.

A bad idea went uncontested. Today, generation after generation pays through the nose.

Again: assuming the Muslims are correct and that Ishmael is legitimately an ancestor of Muhammad, virtually every rocket launched into Israel from the Gaza Strip since 2001 can be attributed to a woman who proposed another really bad idea … and a man too weak to call her on it.

Abraham and Sarah, the Golan Heights sends its thanks.

Tracking a Trend

By the way, I owe my sister for sharing this idea with me the last time we visited. It had never once occurred to me. Blame her.

Because it gets worse. Rebekah manipulated Isaac through Jacob. Rachel stole her father’s household gods without her husband’s knowledge, putting her whole family at risk. Miriam criticized Moses, coveting his leadership responsibilities, while Zipporah was compelled to circumcise her own son because her husband had not done his job. Delilah got Samson’s eyes gouged out because he was too much in her sway to keep his mouth shut.

Weak men, dominant women. Do we have to go all the way to Ahab and Jezebel to make the point?

Good People and Bad Ideas

Now, many — most, in fact — of these women were not bad people. We know precious little about Eve. After that one slip, she may well have been a model of decorous wifehood for the rest of her days. Sarah is actually highly commended for her submissive character and held up as a model of faith and spiritual excellence. That awful Hagar idea was a blip on the radar, nothing more. Rebekah seems for the most part to have been a gem, and Miriam too had her moments.

Furthermore, we can point to other women in the Old Testament who displayed no interest whatsoever in running the show — Ruth and Esther come to mind — and whose quiet humility, loyalty and courage became a source of immense blessing to the people of God.

Also, they proposed no awful ideas.

Wipe Feet Here, Please

Christian feminists tell us patriarchy is a great and historic evil, though male oppression is almost entirely absent from scripture. (We might speculate that Nabal was a glowering tyrant, but he is clearly designated a “worthless fellow”; in any case, his wife Abigail got the better of him in the end.) On the available evidence, far from being power-mad thugs, for the most part the patriarchs appear to have flirted regularly with doormat-hood. Wipe feet here, please. Despite the allegedly horrific times in which they lived, apart from the very legitimate concern that her husband might fail to publicly acknowledge their relationship while sojourning in a foreign land, an Old Testament wife had little to fear.

Contrary to the prevailing narrative, the running subtext of the Old Testament stories is not one of male tyranny and abuse. The persistent trend, rather, is unambiguously toward women who seized the initiative from their men, and toward men who abdicated their God-given responsibility to lead their wives.

The Wrong End of the Stick

Thus it strikes me that a recent post at assemblyHUB attempting to foster “thoughtful, prayerful and respectful conversations” about the scope of women’s participation in church meetings grabs the wrong end of the stick entirely, not least because it is evident the writer is not looking to nudge the “women’s participation” needle in a more countercultural direction.

Two things about the post ring alarm bells for me:
  1. Its Language.Patriarchalism” is flat-out feminist rhetoric, and a curious way for a Christian to refer to a mode of thought about gender roles that is both biblically orthodox and the majority position of most church traditions going on two thousand years. Calling it a “system of heavy-handed male domination” makes the author of the post sound like he’s channeling Gloria Steinem. The scriptural evidence for that claim is, as I have noted above, awfully thin on the ground, and church history is what it is, for better or worse; it does not help us in any way to determine what the Bible says about women’s participation in church meetings.

    Complementarian” is a term originally coined by egalitarians to describe those they disagreed with. It was repurposed in 1991 by Wayne Grudem and John Piper to describe their own twist on traditional hierarchicalism in an edit to the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s Danvers Statement. From then to today, complementarianism means different things to different people, some innocent and some more sinister. Still, whichever definition you ascribe to the word, it seems an unlikely way to characterize the beliefs of eight-out-of-ten Christians in the writer’s own tradition who have almost surely never heard of either the CBMW or their egalitarian nemeses. Those who have are mostly unaware of CBMW’s well-documented recent dodginess on the issue of biblical headship. Complementarian marriage, as set out by its Reformed proponents at the CBMW, is basically egalitarian marriage with a veneer of headship, and that veneer gets thinner every year. Thus “complementarian” is a word I’d avoid, not just because it is extra-biblical (which can be fine) but because it is unclear what it means to those using and hearing it.

    Equal” is not a useful word to import into any Christian discussion of roles. It is a basic feminist talking point, absent from both the creation account and from most assembly literature on the subject of roles written prior to the 1960s. Men and women may well be equal in some ways, but it is not a point the Holy Spirit dwells on and it is irrelevant to the issue of women’s participation.
  2. The Argument. The claim of inconsistency is a familiar one. Its effect is to insinuate that consistently wrong practice is somehow preferable to being inconsistent but occasionally correct. Intended or not, this is still specious reasoning. The secular Left uses similar rhetoric about abortion: “You’re inconsistent about loving children: if you did, you’d be pro-welfare.” Otherwise known as “Two wrongs don’t make a ... yeah, whatever.”
(To be fair, the writer doesn’t advance any conclusions about what specific changes need to be made to the role of women within the churches he’s talking about, but it’s pretty clear he’s not taking the position they should stop allowing female pianists to choose hymns, discourage wives from discreetly reminding their husbands of important issues for prayer and ban special music.)

If I’m wrong about any of that, comments are enabled and those who disagree are more than welcome to say their piece here in rebuttal.

One Further

But I’ll go you one further: by and large, the people of God are in precisely zero danger of missing out on his blessings because women are being oppressed, or because Christian husbands and fathers characteristically abuse their authority in our homes and churches. At certain times in history, perhaps. Occasionally and very discreetly today in some outlier marriages, sure.

But on the whole, and in this political climate? Not a chance. Not a prayer.

By far the greater danger to our local churches is the one we are so frequently warned against via example in the Old Testament: that one woman’s out-of-control aspiration to address a perceived need will not-so-fortuitously coincide with a man’s abdication of his spiritual responsibilities, leading to the sort of disaster we repeatedly encounter in scripture.

Left uncontested, one bad idea can do astonishing damage.


  1. Dear Coming Untrue guy,

    I am sorry for my delay in responding to your article. I am not a frequent visitor. This article was brought to my attention by a dear brother who was troubled about your tone (Gloria Steinem? Really?) and reached out to me to make sure I was doing okay (I was).

    You are clearly far more intelligent than I am. I confess to pulling out a dictionary more than once and re-reading several sentences repeatedly to discern your meaning. Still I was left with a distinct impression that you did not read my article with the intent to understand what I was saying, but rather to find fodder for your blog. It was you who equated the practices of the church to patriarchalism, not I. Read it again, carefully. It hasn’t been edited.

    Please allow the following clarifications: My goal in raising the terms patriarchalism and egalitarianism in the article was just to point to two opposing views along the spectrum of practices regarding women roles, between which a complementary position is generally thought to fall. I know very little about the historic uses of those terms but I have a reasonable comfort with their current usage. Look up current dialogue on the issue and that’s the way the terms are being used. I’m just joining that conversation.

    Accordingly, I was not defining the practices of the assemblies or of the vast majority of churches (present day or historical) as “systems of heavy-handed male domination”, rather I was defining patriarchalism in this way. I was pointing out that the way of the church at large (present day and historical and across many denominational stripes) is a different and far more beautiful way, one where women and men are equal before God but given different and complementary positions (again, according to the current use of the word). That genders are a gift to one another and display the glory of God. The intent of the article was a conciliatory one – to posit that assemblies need not fear the practices from other church traditions with respect to gender roles – that the vast majority hold to complementary roles for men and women (as we do) but simply draw the line in a different place.

    You don’t know me (I don’t think) and I was saddened to read your words and even more sad to hear from others who were bewildered by your aggressive tone and wondered if we’d had some hostile history. I realize that coming down hard makes for a better blog but we’re Christians and we’re called to better things. We’re on the same team and I have no interest expending energy fighting in this way – there is a real battle to be engaged in.

    For your information, there are ways of reaching out to any one of the writers on assembly hub and engaging non-anonymously if you have any future concerns. Biblical ways. I would expect that anyone who “calls someone out” publically has reached out to them privately first to have a discussion, or to get clarification if that is what you’re looking for, your recent FAQ notwithstanding.

    For my part, I’d be glad to chat with you directly – my articles have my real name on them so you could always look me up. To make it easier though, I have shared my full contacts by personal email, in case you’d like to meet for coffee. I hope that we could encourage each other in the Lord.

    Please know that I will not be responding electronically beyond these two corrections on your articles. Truly, I am praying fervently that your blog would find a whole new gear, and a whole new level of readership as you contend for truth with love – in all of its true expressions.

  2. See my comments on the March 10 post with respect to context.

    Honestly, I don't find my take aggressive. You should see some of the responses other Christian bloggers have to deal with. It seems to me I offered a constructive critique of your post in good faith and goodwill, based on nothing more than the words you published.

    I hope you will give consideration to how what you wrote may have came across to someone who doesn't know you and is familiar with terms like "patriarchalism" and "complementarianism". What you may have intended by them is not necessarily how they are perceived, and that's not the fault of the reader, given the associations that exists around those terms and the way they are constantly evolving.

    I don't think you're a bad guy with a bad agenda -- quite the opposite, not that my opinion matters. But I don't think it's out of line to have something more substantive to say than "Good post, fellow Christian!"

    God bless, and thanks for the thoughts.

    1. I'm going back on my commitment not to respond. Ah well - I'm weak.

      Believe me, I have given serious consideration to all of your comments in the last 36 hours.

      I hope you will give consideration to the substantial difference between clarifying the history of terms like "patriarchalism" and "complementarianism" with suggesting that someone is channeling Gloria Steinem, or assuming that they are accusing the church of heavy handed male domination on a conservative Christian blog.

      Is there space for both of us to "walk it back" if either concern rings true?

  3. Certainly. I hope it's clear I don't think you are purposefully foisting third-wave feminism on the assemblies. But using those words, I strongly feel, is acceding to their (false) frame of reference.

    I'm not even sure "patriarchalism" -- this thing we are constantly chastened for -- is even a real thing. Certainly it is not something we find evidence of in the word of God, even in so-called "patriarchal" times.

    So I prefer not to use their words at all.

  4. As an aside ... I'm not sure who's responsible for the Facebook link, but thanks for the ridiculous number of pageviews. This has really become a tempest in a teapot.

    I don't think I'm in your area for coffee, but I'm certainly game if we can arrange to cross paths sometime. You can reach me personally at