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complementarianism

Feminism

Redeeming Love Review: God and Family

Plot Summary:

  • Michael realizes he’s been incredibly bad at actually taking care of Angel.
  • He takes her to Sacramento, where he buys her fabric for clothes.
  • He takes her to church, where she has a panic attack.
  • On the way back to the farm, they meet a family in a broken wagon.
  • Michael offers to let them stay in his cabin, informs Angel they’ll be sleeping in the barn.
  • Angel has a flashback to when Duke had her sterilized.

***

This section brings us back to more character introspection instead of action; Francine halts plot movement in order to have the space to tell us how Angel and Michael feel about everything instead of integrating that into the storytelling. I know I’ve started basically every review post saying “this is a badly written book,” but it’s true, and I just keep being reminded of it. So, I’m passing that on to you, dear readers.

Chapter seventeen opens with how guilty and dirty Angel feels– she “wanted to make up for what she had done, and sought to do it by labor” (211). This is, clearly, Francine beating us over the head with the salvation allegory she’s worked into Redeeming Love, and is condemning Angel for thinking that works can earn forgiveness. It’s also making sure we the reader know that Angel has done something that needs forgiveness– and we should all be at a loss for what, but we’re not. Angel has done nothing. She was abducted, and escaped her abuser at the first opportunity … and then was forcibly dragged back again. As Francine’s readers, though, we “know” what Angel did “wrong.” Satan told her that she deserved independence and freedom, and she believed his lie. She’s not just Gomer, now– she’s also Eve (217).

This is where Angel begins accepting Michael’s abuse. He’s forcibly demonstrated that she can’t escape him, no matter how she resists. He won’t use her name, he won’t let her leave, he orders her around (“Go to bed” [212] and “You’re going with me” [214]) and neither verbal or physical refusal stops him. He will simply overpower her; she has no choice left but to accept that this is her life now.

So, like most abuse victims, she turns to scrupulousness. If defiance won’t work, maybe doing everything she can to make sure her abuser is happy will. He told her that the garden was her responsibility (212)– so maybe if she works the garden perfectly he’ll see her as a human being worth respecting. If she anticipates his desires, if she makes the cabin comfortable, if she cooks flawlessly and obeys instantly … maybe just maybe he’ll “forgive” her and stop his abuse. If this sounds familiar to you, that’s because this is the method advocated by every single complementarian marriage-advice book on the planet. The way to a happy and healthy marriage is by being the perfect homemaker. If you’re not dutifully submissive and fulfilling your patriarchal gender roles, your husband will be unhappy and angry and take it out on you. It makes sense that this is the path Francine has Angel take.

***

This section largely deals with Angel’s understanding of religion and God. Frustratingly, her point of view is basically a badly-informed evangelical stereotype of Catholicism, and what’s “wrong” with her understanding of God is “Catholic.” She has a “Catholic” understanding of the Garden of Eden, her interpretation of Bible stories aren’t evangelical so they’re wrong, and of course Catholics don’t read their Bible.

What we as the reader are supposed to take away from this part of the story is that Francine’s view of God is horribly wrong. Evangelicals of course know that God wants to have a relationship with us, that he loves us, that forgiveness and grace are freely available if we just say the word. Angel, however, think that God is angry and wrathful and vengeful, and is waiting up in heaven to crush her “like a bug” (227). She even introduces the Problem of Evil:

Michael took her hand again and wove his fingers with hers. “God had nothing to do with it.”

Her eyes felt strangely hot and gritty. “He didn’t stop it either, did he? Where’s the mercy you’re always reading about? I never saw any given to my mother.” Michael was silent for a long time after that. (229)

Honestly, this is the first thing Francine’s done that I’ve somewhat appreciated. Angel’s life, as Michael described, has been “hell,” and God in his heaven had never intervened. This is a legitimate question, and one I’ve never satisfactorily answered for myself. Redeeming Love doesn’t provide any answers, either– at least not here. I imagine we’ll get the “free will” answer at some point.

However, what Angel and the reader are supposed to understand is that God is not like her father, or Duke, or any of the men she’s known– God is like Michael. God is forgiving and loving and wants to know us, like Michael loves and forgives and wants to know Angel. The problem with all of that, of course, is that Michael is an abuser. Angel thinks that God is waiting to crush her like a bug … and Michael is waiting to drag her off to anything he so wishes. Evangelicals talk a big talk about how amazing their God is, but when the rubber meets the road and they start talking about what God is like in practice and not just in theory, he really is just a bully. He abducts grown women — repeatedly– orders them around, and overcomes all resistance with physical force.

Angel is not wrong about Michael’s God.

***

The last message that Francine wants to beat us over the head with is how wonderful complementarianism and gender roles are. The Jewish storekeeper thinks “As gentle a man as he was, as tender was his heart, there was nothing weak about Michael Hosea” (223), which we know from the fact that Michael took on all comers in a barfight and walked out unscathed. Later we meet the Altmans, and we get this description:

The Altmans fascinated Angel. They all liked each other. John Altman was clearly in charge and would tolerate no disrespect or rebellion, but it was clear he was not held in fear by his wife and children. Even Jacob’s [eldest son] rebellion had been handled with good humor. “Whenever you don’t listen, there’s going to be stern discipline,” his father said. “I’ll supply the discipline, you’ll supply the stern.” The boy capitulated and Altman ruffled his hair affectionately. (240)

Through the pages that introduce the Altmans, we get a picturesque, Rockwell-style happy family. The siblings all get along splendidly, and the father is respected, obeyed, and adored. Michael is basically enraptured. He wants them to live in his cabin until spring and be his friends– without bothering to consult Angel, he just decides— maybe even buy the farmland right next to his! They’re just such wonderful people, wouldn’t that be grand? It’s clear Michael thinks they’re the perfect family. He even falls asleep whispering about how he wants one basically just theirs (241). A family where his word is law and everyone is just so dang happy about it.

Which is of course where we get hit with a double-barrel flashback to Angel being sterilized. I can’t wait to see where Francine goes with that.

Feminism

complementarians need to read their Bible

In case you missed it, Nathan Alberson at Warhorn Media wrote an open letter to any “empowered fictional female warrior type,” specifically referencing Rey in the title of his piece. In case you haven’t read it and would like to, here it is. If you don’t want to read it, his essential argument is that female action stars give us the “wrong” impression of what women are actually capable of, because we’re weaker then men. This is especially bad because it robs men of their dignity if we’re not damseled in every movie we appear in.

My eyes rolled so far back into my head it hurt. It took me a few days to get through the whole thing because of how ludicrous and misogynistic his argument was– but mostly because it was badly written. I’m finding myself more easily annoyed by bad writing these days.

Others have already responded to Nathan’s article (and this video of Daisy Ridley deadlifting 176 lbs blows his argument all to hell), but I wanted to talk about one thing he said in particular:

I could quote more scriptures about women being vulnerable in ways that men aren’t. About women being designed by God to be wives and mothers. About Eve being made as Adam’s helpmate. I’m not going to bother doing that because you ladies are all capable of reading your Bibles.

He’s right. This lady is certainly capable of reading my Bible. Certainly more capable than Nathan is.

In the opening to his article he cites some of the great action characters: Leia, Wonder Woman, Sara Connor, Trinity, Furiosa, Beatrix, Natasha, Katniss, River, Gamora, and Tauriel (although he couldn’t seem to remember Tauriel’s name and didn’t bother looking it up). I’m sure we could all name more, but he most definitely left some out.

Miriam, who alongside her brother led her people out of slavery.

Candace, queen and ruler of one of the wealthiest lands in the world and equal to King Solomon.

Deborah, a judge so mighty that a battle-hardened general asked her to ride beside him.

Huldah, the prophetess who restored the Tanakh to the people.

Phoebe, the woman Paul trusted to face dangers and trials to teach and guide the church in Rome.

Ruth, who abandoned everything she’d ever known in order to be with the woman she loved.

Junia, one of the greatest apostles.

Jehosheba, the princess who rescued the future king from a massacre.

Jael, the woman who slayed a ferocious and ruthless general with warm milk and a tent spike.

Puah and Shiphrah, the midwives who saved countless lives from Pharoh’s edict.

Joanna and Mary Magdalene, risking execution, remained faithful to Christ beyond the grave.

Veronica, by tempting fate, sought healing and whom Jesus called “daughter.”

Lydia, the earliest known gentile convert to Christianity after the Resurrection.

Mary, mother of God, who fled Herod and death and found shelter in Egypt.

Esther, through shrewdness and cunning, saved her people from genocide.

Rahab, who gathered her family before an impending invasion without exposing her plan.

Tamar, bravely facing death, enacted a brilliant plot to save her family and entered the lineage of Christ.

***

I’ve been fiddling with the idea of doing a “women of the Bible” series, and Nathan’s post finally gave me the last push I needed to decide. We could use something a little lighter around here on occasion, so I’m going to do a “All the Badass Women of the Bible” post series that I think I’ll eventually collect into a book. Someday, when it’s finished. I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to do them since I think they might take some research, but my plan is to do a narrative telling of their stories, only with a healthy heaping of sarcasm and sacrilege.

They might be slightly reminiscent of Liz Curtis Higgs’ Bad Girls of the Bible, only a lot more feminist and a lot more celebratory of womanhood. I grew up knowing that there were women in the Bible, but they barely appeared as people to me, let alone fully embodied characters with motivations and emotions and humanity. In today’s culture, they’re easy to ignore and forget. We’ve spent thousands of years lifting up the examples of domesticity and compliance that how incredibly competent and powerful some of these women were has been obscured.

Their stories have been made to serve patriarchy and oppression. I’m going to do my best to change that.

Art by Artemisia Gentileschi, from the Uffizi Gallery‘s contribution to the Google Cultural Institute.
Feminism

surviving complementarianism

Over the past few days, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood held their annual conference, which was titled “The Beauty of Complementarity” this year. I knew it was happening sometime soon, and yesterday some of the people I follow on Twitter started using the #CBMW16 hashtag, or responding to people who were. If you’d like to read some excellent commentary, I highly suggest looking up @miheekimkort and @BroderickGreer. Yesterday, inspired by others using the #CBMW16 tag, I took the opportunity to voice a concept that I’ll probably be shouting about until complementarianism is dead and buried:

Complementarianism is abusive. Removing a woman’s right to self-determination is abuse.

I am currently writing a book that lays out my comprehensive argument on why I’m convinced that complementarianism is an abusive theological model for relationships, but something that I probably won’t cover in too much detail in the book is a pattern I’ve picked up on. If you’ve been with me for the past few years, you’ve seen me do extended reviews on Fascinating Womanhood by Helen Andelin, Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge, Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll, and Lies Women Believe by Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

As I’ve read each of these books, all of which purportedly give women advice on how to be a proper woman and/or wife, I’ve realized they all argue for the same basic relationship “style.” Helen Andelin is the most direct about it, but the same principles exist in each of these books– and I suspect they’d be present in any book on marriage written from a complementarian perspective.

In short, their advice can be summed up in this: wives are supposed to be cautious.

At some point in all of the books I’ve reviewed, Helen, Stasi, Grace, and Nancy tell women that they are not permitted to have open, honest, and direct communication with their husband. Instead, each of them deliberately tell us to be passive-agressive or manipulative. The words they’ve used for this have been “alluring” or “cunning”– there’s this understanding that we have to “handle” our husbands.

Their explanation for why we can’t just come straight out with our problems and concerns is based on how men will (supposedly) inevitably react to being confronted by a mere woman. Helen repeats all through Fascinating Womanhood that a wife should expect “rage” and “violence” if she were to ever contradict her husband or question his decision-making abilities. Stasi emphasizes how men can’t be forthrightly challenged because that would be “emasculating.” In fact, she blames a woman for her physically abusive marriage because she supposedly “emasculated” her husband by trying to communicate with him. Mark and Grace Driscoll blame Molly Wesley for John making her “black and blue” because she confronted him over what she felt were emotional affairs.

These are some of the biggest names in complementarianism and “Christian living” books. These are men and women talking about how they themselves think the typical complementarian marriage can– and should– function, and it’s plainly abusive. The advice they are giving to complementarian women are survival tactics for abusive marriages.

One of the biggest reasons why a person stays in an abusive relationship is that they’re not really aware of why their relationship is abusive. They think– because their abuser has spent a long time convincing them to think– that the abuse is their fault somehow. If only they could do what they were supposed to. If only they could figure out a way to avoid making their partner angry. If only they were more helpful, or less lazy. If only they understood their partner better, then they could understand how to stop the abuse.

Helen, Stasi, Grace, and Nancy agree with abusers. They think that a healthy marriage is attainable if only the victim could avoid making her husband angry. So they write an endless list of books and articles and blog posts, and host their annual conferences, and preach their sermons, all telling women how to try to survive their abuser. Be more submissive. Be more compliant. Be more obedient. Be more sympathetic to his needs. Be more gentle. Be more quiet. Be more accepting. Be the perfect homemaker. Be a flawless mother.

Blame yourself for the abuse.

Each of these books is, ultimately, an attempt to convince women that all men are inherently abusers. They are trying to convince us that at the core of manhood is violence and rage and a bloodthirsty need for dominance and control. If only we women can recognize that an abusive marriage is unavoidable, then we can get on with the business of shouldering the responsibility for the emotional or physical violence all of our husbands will inflict on us. But not if we do what they say. Not if we’re gentle and lovely and submissive. Not if we give up on our own thoughts and wants and dreams and sense of self.

These are all things that people in abusive relationships try to do. When I was engaged to my abuser and rapist, I did all of these things. I read books like Me, Obey Him? and Lies Women Believe and I ate it all up because it reflected what I was experiencing. He was emotionally abusing me, he was coercive, he was sexually abusing me, raping me, and over and over again he would tell me that it I was to blame, that everything he ever did was all my fault. For years I believed him, and these books all told me the same thing he did: if I did what he (and they) said, then he wouldn’t hurt me anymore. The abuse would end. Ultimately I believed I failed, because when he broke our engagement he told me it was because I “hadn’t been submissive enough.”

All marriage-advice books written from a complementarian perspective tell wives the same exact things that abusers do: the abuse is your fault, and if only you abided by my ever-moving goal posts, it would stop.

Photo by Saorise Alesandro
Feminism

all complementarian sex is rape

Yes, I’m leading with that because I might as well– it’s what the naysayers will swear up and down I’m arguing for in this post anyway, and I’ve already made my peace with it. Several men from inside my own progressive Christian camp have already tried to misrepresent my argument this way, and I know that it’s what the complementarians will start screaming if they even read it. So, I’m Andrea Dworkin-ing it up and owning it. My argument has already been labeled “unproductive” and “pointless” (by “feminist” men– are you surprised? I’m not), but I believe that what I’m about to lay out for you is critically important.

I think that it’s common sense for all of us to view sex on a spectrum. Many people don’t– even and possibly especially in feminist discourse there’s a tendency to mock and belittle “gray rape,” and for all the reasons for why they argue there isn’t such a thing, I tend to agree. But in many/most of the spaces I frequent, there’s a tendency to create a harsh and impassable divide between sex and rape, and it leads to this idea that what makes rape rape is obvious to anyone, and all those people out there who are “confused” are merely rapists-in-sheep’s-clothing or people who are aiding-and-abetting rape culture.

Except a look at the world around us tells us that isn’t true. A conversation with any of my womanly friends tells us that isn’t true. As much as I don’t think that the differences between sex and rape are murky, those differences don’t seem clearly apparent to an awful lot of people, rape victims included.

Why is that?

Because, when it comes right down to the bare bones of it, most of a woman’s sexual encounters with men are unhealthy, abusive, coercive, or, yes, even rape. And it is hard, and mind-numblingly terrifying, to stare at a world where most of our sexual encounters are not fully consensual and not be sucked into a soul-drowning abyss. So I’m going to lay out this spectrum and hopefully make the world a little bit brighter.

On the extreme end of the consensual side of the sex spectrum is “take-me-now-I-must-have-your-body-rip-all-my-clothes-off-and-fuck-me” sex. Consent is verbally given by all parties, it is communicated through body-language by everyone, and it is re-affirmed at each stage. It is obvious, and it is glorious, visceral, full-bodied consensual sex. No one at any point could even have doubts about whether or not they’re interested in sex right the fuck now.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is “stranger-danger-ski-masked-man-in-the-bushes-actual-cannibal-Shia-LeBeouf-look-he’s-got-a-knife” rape. The victim bites and claws and kicks and screams, but the rapist still brutally and violently rapes them, leaving them at the point of death. The victim immediately has zero doubts about whether or not what just happened is rape, so they go to a hospital, and in this perfect-victim story the staff finds all sorts of evidence and the DA presses charges and they’re locked away forever.

(Let’s just leave aside for the moment that even this undeniable example there are still cases where the victim is disbelieved, threatened, and even charged with making a false accusation. Rape culture is a bitch.)

Clearly, we all know that most sex and most rape does not look like these extremes. Most consensual sex does not look like the lead-up to a fade-to-black-scene in a romcom. Any person in a long-term relationship can tell you that. Sure, some sex is of that hot-and-heavy variety, but everyday average sex falls somewhere else on the spectrum.

In much the same way, the vast majority of rape isn’t even remotely like the “stranger in the bushes” scenario described above. It isn’t even usually committed by strangers, but by people the victim knows, and it usually isn’t violent in the way that leaves bruising or other visible marks.

For the rest, us sexually active folks can probably fill out the consensual side of the spectrum for ourselves. We’ve probably all had our “eh, why not, sure” moments when it comes to sex. I’m not arguing that all sex must be of the bodice-ripping variety for it not to be rape. Sex can be ordinary and ho-hum and still be perfectly consensual. I can’t get into all the varieties of what consensual sex can look like (especially inside a long-term trust-based relationship), or this will turn into a book.

However, I think a lot of the sex American women are having is not consensual. I’ve talked some about this idea before, but I want to introduce what I think could be a helpful term into the discussion:

Cultural Coercion.

I am far from the first feminist to propose this idea (see, notably, Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse). However, I want to take this idea and apply it specifically to complementarian marriages– that’s the background I come from, and in my opinion complementarianism is the most pernicious, poisonous theology gaining steam in America. It is hell-bent on destroying women through stealing away their right to self-determination. Most importantly, the ideas they promote about sex are, and are intended to be, sexual cultural coercion.

I want to highlight this difference between personal coercion and cultural coercion  because sex that is personally  coerced is always rape, but sex that is culturally  coerced is not rape in the same way.

I say this because “rape,” while absolutely a phenomenon that is (at least partly) created and sustained through culture, is not an act committed by some nebulous, abstract force. Criminally-prosecutable rape requires a rapist. In order for a sexual act to be rape, it must be committed by someone who overruled or ignored another person’s bodily autonomy.

For example, the first time he raped me, it was of the clear-cut variety (although, thanks to G.R.R. Martin, I now know that there are plenty of people who think saying “no, no, no please stop, no” can be “complicated consensual sex”). I said no. I said no repeatedly. Even though I spent the next three years utterly convinced that I must have done something to deserve it, that it was all my fault, that I didn’t know that saying no meant it was rape, supposedly the golden standard is “no means no,” right?

However, the second time he raped me, it was not that clear-cut. I said no. Initially. And then he badgered me and begged and whined and eventually threatened me … so I stopped actively fighting him off. I simply didn’t have the wherewithal to continue resisting, and I was horribly afraid of his threats. He’d hurt me in the past– I still have the scars to prove it– and my fear immobilized me.

He is a rapist. The first time he used physical force to rape me, the second time he used coercion (constant pressure, threats, emotional manipulation, verbal abuse). That second time is an example of personal coercion.

But what about cultural coercion? What does that look like?

A husband opens his bedroom and sees his lovely wife, the mother of his children, in their marriage bed reading a book. Her lamp is on, the light shining on her sunlight-made-corporeal-hair, her lips pursed in that adorable way she has when she’s reading a book she loves. He smiles, gets under the covers, and pulls her into his arms.

He kisses her neck and she laughingly bats him off. “I’m reading,” she says, but he can hear the smile in her voice. He nuzzles that spot right behind her ear that– yep, there it is. She giggles. “Oh, you, stop it.”

“But you’re just so beautiful. Sitting there reading your book.”

She huffs and turns to him, a smile twisting her lips. “I’m not going to finish this chapter, am I?”

“Nope.” He grins.

He pulls her to him, and she responds …

Yes. Yes, I am absolutely saying that right there could be culturally coerced, non-consensual sex.

However, what I am not saying is that having sex with his wife in this circumstance makes this husband a rapist. It makes him the beneficiary of cultural coercion, which is a stark — and incredibly important– distinction.

In the scene I’ve laid out above, this husband and wife are complementarian. They attend a complementarian church, and she attends a weekly Bible study where they read books like Captivating and Lies Women Believe and Me, Obey Him? and Love and Respect and Real Marriage and all these books have told her the same thing: men, because they are men, require sex more often than women do. It is her wifely obligation, her duty to make sure that his sexual needs are fulfilled. If she does not meet his sexual needs, then any resulting pornography addiction, adultery, or any other sexual sin (and yes, horrifyingly, in complementarian culture this can include things like child sexual assault) is her responsibility. If he leaves her for a more sexually available woman, then the destruction of her marriage is her fault for not having sex with him often enough.

This cultural coerction– this pressure– is constant and unyielding. It follows her through every moment of her life, and it is present every single time she has sex. It is always there, always manipulating her, forcing her into sex she wouldn’t ordinarily have. Maybe that night she really wanted to finish her book– maybe it was an especially exciting battle scene that had her on the edge of her seat… but, instead, she does what she’s supposed to do. Sometimes, she’s willing and enthusiastic. But sometimes …. she’s badgered by an ideology into having sex she doesn’t want.

Her husband isn’t a rapist. But it doesn’t mean that the sex they’re having is consensual.

***

And this is where descriptors like “unproductive” and “unhelpful” started getting thrown around.

But — but … but that means that almost all sex that any man is having could be non-consensual! This is so broad it’s useless! You’re making a mockery of real rape!

In response, I shrug. Yes, it is broad. Sweepingly broad. Trust me, I am just as horrified and sickened at the prospect as you. However, our mutual disgust at the idea doesn’t make it any less true. If a woman is being compelled, against her will, by an abusive system like complementarian theology (and, let’s face it, American cisheteropatriarchy), then she is absolutely experiencing something that is emotionally indistinguishable from rape. It’s not criminal, and I don’t think complementarian men are all monsters (not that I think any rapist is a “monster“): however, it doesn’t make what is happening any less wrong.

And just because the sheer breadth of what I’m describing is utterly mind-boggling doesn’t mean that it’s “unhelpful” to talk about it. It just makes talking about it immediately and emphatically necessary. It’s buried bone-deep in our Christian culture. Removing it demands the fervent dedication of all of us to oppose it with all our righteous, soul-of-a-dragon fire and bedrock-steady resolve.

Sex in a complementarian marriage can be culturally coerced, and at those times is therefore indistinguishable from rape. The only difference is that instead of a mythical  man leaping out of a bushes with a knife, the “rapist” is the collective force of complementarian theology.

I’m not backing down from that.

Neither should you.

Photo by mutator
Feminism

Review: “Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife” by Ruth Tucker

I heard about Ruth Tucker’s Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife: My Story of Finding Hope after Domestic Violence mid-afternoon on Monday, after I’d finished my review of Radical and was browsing the Twitters. Zondervan has been promoting her book with the question “is complementarianism connected to domestic abuse?” which has spurred some conversation among the people I follow. And by “conversation,” I mean a lot of us saying “duh. Yes.”

When I heard about it, I could barely restrain my excitement. I’ve been working on the research for a book of my own on this topic: the similarities between complementarianism and abuse, which in my opinion are so indistinguishable it’s pointless to try to separate them. People like John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and Owen Strachan– who teach the complementarian model– are doing their best to persuade men to have the same beliefs about women and gender roles that abusers do. And, even if they weren’t doing that, the goals of complementarianism and the goals of an abusive man are exactly the same: control, power, and the dissolution of a woman’s rights in her marriage.

As I said on Twitter yesterday, it’s impossible to truly adhere to the tenets of complementarianism without becoming an abuser. Removing a woman’s right to self-determination is abuse. At its core, that’s what complementarianism is: their definition of “submission” is for the man to assume decision-making power over the wife, and to compel the wife using biblical means (instead of physical violence) to think that she doesn’t have any other option. That is inherently a violent belief.

So, understandably, I very much wanted to read what Ruth Tucker (a champion for women’s equality in the church) had to say. Unfortunately … I was disappointed.

Part of my disappointment springs from a few concepts that weren’t integral to the book, yet were still glaring issues. Most obvious among these (and one I’m struggling to understand why she bothered including) was the racism she displayed by invoking the specter of misogyny in rap music (116, 117, 155). In one place, rap music appears alongside “African mutilation rites” when she’s talking about female genital mutilation (118). I about choked at that. While FGM is practiced in many African countries, it’s hardly an exclusively African practice– and before anyone thinks it’s something only Muslims do, it’s not. Anyway, it’s blatantly a racist double standard to repeatedly reference rap and only rap to talk about misogyny in music. For all the evidence you need, here’s the “Misogynistic Lyrics that Aren’t Rap Music” tumblr, which has thirty pages of examples.

Other problems were less morally charged, although still frustrating. For example, Ruth Tucker has a PhD and has been an instructor or professor at several seminaries, including Calvin, Trinity, and Fuller and yet she cites Wikipedia not once, not twice, but three times (for articles on Germaine Greer, the apostle Junia, and Mary Winkler, respectively).

I noticed this because Greer is the only feminist she references anywhere in the book that I could tell, and all she does is pull the introductory paragraphs off Wiki. From that reference, I’m incredibly suspicious that the Wikipedia page is the only thing she’s read by Greer, because her articulation of Greer’s view is … well, wrong. Exasperatingly wrong. She uses Greer in an attempt to bulk up her argument for gender essentialism which … arg gablarg. As transmisogynistic as Greer is, trying to use her to support your position that women are feminine from birth (66-68) is just … I might have started trying to pull my hair out. I couldn’t throw the book because I was reading it on my Nook, which is my most valued possession.

There are some other minor problems. There are some structural issues, it lacks a focusing argument or traceable thesis, and the writing becomes noticeably weaker in the last third, when she begins using more ellipses and fragmentary sentences. There were multiple places where I had to stop and read over something several times in order to understand what she was trying to say. The book also wanders a good bit– there are entire chapters on women’s legal standing through American history and whether or not John Calvin could be considered a feminist, which contain neither a compelling narrative nor address the “black and white bible, black and blue wife” idea that she claims is her theme.

In fact, at no point does she ever thoroughly address the concept that complementarian theology contributes to domestic violence. She repeatedly references how her abuser would demand obedience as “the head of the home,” but never explores the links between abusers’ beliefs and the beliefs that complementarians advocate for. In my opinion, this area is lacking because she simply isn’t informed enough to address it (which I’ll get to later). This opens up the book to the criticism that Tim Challies made— that his abuse and complementarianism had nothing really to do with each other. She’s challenged him on this, but in my opinion she did so ineffectively.

I’m disappointed and borderline sorrowful because this book had so much promise. It should be a book I should be shouting from the rooftops about and begging all of you to read. Here is a woman who was in an abusive marriage for almost twenty years with the added benefit of distance and a loving, healthy marriage. Her story is powerful and poignant, and I grieve with her over the things she went through and some of the choices she made. She doesn’t sugarcoat how complicated it can be to recover from abuse– the intermingled feelings of shame and triumph, guilt and relief, confusion and certainty. I can relate to much of her experience, and am proud of the way she unflinchingly examines a disastrously horrible choice she made at one point.

There’s a lot of good in this book. There is. But I personally feel that the good it can accomplish is seriously compromised by her utter lack of familiarity with feminism- especially intersectional feminism. The entire book is framed badly, and there are so many points where I simply don’t follow what she’s trying to do.

At several points she tries to re-baptize “patriarchy” as if it’s some ideologically neutral term, which comes out of her gender essentialist beliefs. I don’t know what her stance on LGBT+ rights is, but from this book I’m assuming not good. There are a lot of overtones of “children need a father and mother” and she spends a lot of time bemoaning the fact that her violent and abusive husband abandoned their son after the separation. At one point she even claims that “apart from abusing me, [he] was a good father” (164), which is maddening. Abusive men are not good fathers. You cannot beat and punch and kick your wife until she’s black and blue and have any standing as a “good father” whatsoever.

There’s also a few moments where I’m wondering how much research she’s actually done into abuse, its dynamics, and the mentalities of abusers. She references only two texts (Women Submit! and Joyce’s “Biblical Battered Wife Syndrome“), and the only other reference to a work on abuse (from Is it My Fault?) is pulled from Joyce’s article. She didn’t do the research this book needed, and she’s not drawing on an understanding of abuse that comes from anything but personal experience. That is harrowing enough, but she frequently uses terms like “he lost control” when anyone knowledgeable knows that abusers do no such thing. She also fundamentally misunderstands the differences between anger management classes and Batterers Intervention Programs (141). Abusers do not abuse because they’re angry. They abuse because that’s the best method of gaining control over another human being.

My last significant problem appears in chapter nine, “Fifty Shades of Rape: Is there Ever Legitimate Rape in Marriage?” As a rape victim, this was the chapter that interested me most on a personal level even though it’s not why I bought the book. For the most part she handles the issues surrounding rape appropriately, but then we get to this:

If almost everything is abuse, the nothing is abuse. So it is with rape. If we define it too broadly, the term almost becomes meaningless. So then, what is legitimate rape?

Let’s say one of my seminary students had made a serious commitment to forgo sexual intimacies before marriage … He believes that premarital sex is a sin and insists they are going too far. He says no. She doesn’t stop. He is stronger than she and could push her away and get out of the car and take a long walk. He just keeps saying no. She persists until, against his conscience and his better judgment, he succumbs to temptation. Is she guilty of rape? (125)

With the answer, to her, being a seemingly obvious “no.”

Again, I experienced the desire to tear my hair out. This, like other problems, springs out of the gender essentialism she clings to. If being a man means being “manly” by our cultural terms, then saying a man can be raped by someone who can’t conceivably physically force him sounds preposterous. But it’s not. This is both one of the ways patriarchy affects men and affects women as a result of rape myths. Rape isn’t rape just because it was violent. Rape is rape because it wasn’t consented to.

She seems to have a fundamental problem with this definition, as she struggles with the guilt of not “fighting back” when her abuser raped her and deals some with the myth that if you didn’t try to kick and claw your way out of it it’s not really rape … but she doesn’t really get it. There is a spectrum of sexual abuse, and it begins with sexual coercion— something she doesn’t seem to have any awareness of. To her there seems to be clear delineations between “sex” and “rape,” when the reality that she’s trying to access is far more complex. A rapist uses a variety of methods, and usually goes out of their way to avoid violence. If they’re violent, they’re easier to arrest, prosecute, and convict. Instead, inside of a relationship they rely on emotional abuse and relentless persistence, like in the example she gives.

Almost every problem with this book relates back to how uninformed she seems to be on feminism and abuse, which is where my disappointment comes from. This book was almost so good, but, in the end, I just can’t in good conscience recommend it.

Feminism

stay-at-home-daughters are raised to be imprisoned

I may have mentioned, in passing, that I’ve been looking into attending seminary. There’s a few possible obstacles that have made finding the right seminary a difficult process, but one of the biggest is my unaccredited undergraduate degree. Because I can’t relocate for seminary, I have to find one that supports an online program, and most of the ones I’ve found have been either too conservative to admit me (as a woman and/or as an LGBT person); the ones that aren’t that conservative still won’t consider me because I don’t have an accredited degree. For several places, even if I were to complete the foreign language requirement at Liberty it still wouldn’t help me, because they only look at the undergraduate degree.

It looks like I may have found a place to apply (United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities), but I had to have a long conversation with their head of admissions to fully explain my background and why, even though my educational history looks super sketchy, I’m actually quite qualified for seminary. A big part of that story was the fact that I went to PCC because I was raised in the stay-at-home-daughter movement; attending a backwater fundamentalist Christian college was the only way I could go to any college anywhere.

The way I was raised, the movement I was brought up in, continues to limit my options. I imagine there will be ramifications of that ideology throughout my life. For example, I’m dreading my someday children coming home from school and needing help with their algebra homework. I was a woman in a Christian fundamentalist cult– I don’t know anything about math beyond arithmetic.

A little while ago I read Paulette Perhach’s “A Story of a Fuck Off Fund.” If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend you do so because it paints a vivid picture of what it’s like to be a woman with limited financial options. Which, let’s face it, is an awful lot of us. As I read it, though, my background informed my reaction to it, and I realized that one of the many ways the stay-at-home-daughter movement is abusive is this one: it purposely and intentionally makes damn well sure that women cannot leave abusive situations.

I’m sure most of the parents who decided to raise their daughters this way didn’t cackle to themselves “yes! Now, if she marries someone who throws her down the stairs, she won’t be able to divorce him! Bwa-ha-ha!” However, one of the reasons I was given by multiple leaders in the movement was that if a woman feels like she has the ability to leave her marriage, she might be tempted to consider it when she shouldn’t. Being totally dependent on a husband– having no college education, no marketable skills– was given as an argument for being a stay-at-home daughter. This idea was frequently put in contrast to the “feminist” idea of a “career woman,” which for us was basically a byword for Jezebel.

The stay-at-home-daughter movement, while not fringe, is not exactly mainstream, but I think there’s echoes of the ideology in broader movements. Complementarianism frequently comes with a heaping side dish of keeper at home, and while most of modern America has probably never even heard the term complementarianism, the ramifications can still be felt. Women are frequently the ones who stay at home with children, and loose out on career opportunities. Women are the ones frequently forced into the position of primary caregiver for elderly parents.

Women are the ones consistently expected to make financial sacrifices, therefore becoming more dependent on their husband’s income. For many of us that’s not a problem. I’m completely and totally dependent on my partner’s income and health insurance. I don’t foresee that to be a problem, but financial dependence is one of the reasons why, when a woman says something like “oh, the first time he ever hit me I’d dump his ass so fast!” my response is usually a hard and blunt “No. No, you wouldn’t.”

There’s a lot of reasons why I react that way: abusive relationships aren’t always physically violent, the abuser usually makes sure their victim is isolated and dependent before they escalate to violence, the victim has already been gaslighted and had her self-confidence destroyed … etc.

All of the above is why I’m writing a book explaining why complementarianism sets up abusive environments. It encourages toxic masculinity, it sets up abusive relationship dynamics as the ideal, and it especially limits a woman’s options when her relationship is abusive. Not only is divorce considered anathema in these circles (John Piper straight-up said women should “endure being smacked around” rather than immediately pursue separation and divorce), but complementarianism as a system practically ensures that women won’t be able to leave unhealthy environments. They’ll be constrained by their belief system, first of all, but they’d also be constrained by realistic concerns like food and shelter.

Photo by Jason Devaun
Uncategorized

“Lies Women Believe” review: 135-167

This week’s Lies Women Believe review covers the chapter I’ve been dreading– the chapter on marriage. It was as horrific as I was expecting, and re-reading the sections I’d highlighted when I was in abusive relationship with a rapist made me sick all over again. I know this for a fact: the ideas Nancy argues for in this book keep women in abusive relationships.

So, let’s dig into this miasmic pile of filth, shall we?

I HAVE TO HAVE A HUSBAND TO BE HAPPY

It’s a good thing she started this chapter off with this “lie,” because it’s the only thing she actually has any experience with. She’s been a single woman in a Christian culture obsessed with marriage, and it’s a good idea to bring this up. I’m a happily married woman, and I thank my lucky stars every day that I met him and we fell in love. But, I’ve been in abusive relationships and I dated a lot of lackluster people, and I can tell you without a shade of doubt that I’d rather be single than stuck in a marriage with some of the people I briefly considered “settling” for.

However, instead of focusing on “singleness can be fulfilling and happy,” something Nancy at least hopefully knows about, she instead concentrates on how women shouldn’t value being happy. Amidst a lecture on how marriage is about “sanctifying each other and glorifying God” (137-140), she stresses just how ridiculous it is to expect a “fallen” man to make you happy.

Personally, I sorta get this. One of my favorite lines from Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility adaptation is “there is something bewitching in the idea that all of one’s happiness can depend entirely on any particular person.” I don’t think it’s healthy to make one person the locus of all your desire, happiness, attention, interest, or activity. We are complicated individuals, with a variety of needs and wants, and it is impossible for only one person to fill all those needs. That’s why we have parents, siblings, friends, communities, peers, coworkers.

But that’s not the direction she takes this. Instead, she encourages women to focus entirely on how their unhappy relationship is supposed to make them a better person and glorify God.

IT IS MY RESPONSIBILITY TO CHANGE MY MATE

Again, agree with the general idea but not the execution. I cannot fix my husband. If my partner has flaws (which he does, he is not perfect), it’s not my responsibility to get him to see the error of his ways, to “whine, nag or preach” (141) at him until he stops having that flaw.

You can probably hear the “but” coming from a mile away.

I can reasonably expect to have my boundaries respected and for us to communicate honestly about what we need or expect from each other. For example, right away Handsome made it clear that I could ask him to do something, but I could not specify exactly how it was to be done. He would do it his way, and if I wanted it done another way, I would do it myself. This sounded reasonable to me, and I agreed. The one exception is the shower– I’m not physically capable of cleaning it every time it needs cleaned, but because I have trauma-related shower stuffs, he cleans it exactly the way I showed him.

I also have an expectation– I react extremely badly to being told that something I’m upset about is “just a ____” like “just a bad haircut” or “just a random asshole on the internet.” He doesn’t intend to belittle or dismiss my concern, but I haven’t been able to adjust to that after three years of being together. If I hear the phrase “it’s just a _____,” I feel dismissed. He respects that, and doesn’t say that particular phrase anymore.

These are the negotiations of being married, of sharing a living space with someone else. Boundaries should be respected. Concerns should be listened to. Agreements should be reached. Communication should happen.

That’s not what she advocates for. Nope. Instead we get this:

The first weapon is a godly life, which God often uses in a man’s life to create conviction and spiritual hunger. When a wife … points out the things she wishes her husband would change, she is likely to make him defensive and resistant. But when she takes her concerns to the Lord, she is appealing to a higher power … that’s a lot harder to resist than a nagging wife! (141)

I call this Passive-Aggressiveness by Way of Piety.

Me saying “hey, Handsome, please don’t do The Thing” is not nagging. I have the right to say that. And I am absolutely convinced that walking around your house, your eyes upturned to heaven, your hands gently folded, hoping that’s going to get your partner to stop doing Whatever Thing is asinine in the extreme.

MY HUSBAND IS SUPPOSED TO SERVE ME

She says “nope, you’re his helper, you help him, silly” which just … lordy does no one have a dictionary, or a concordance? Here, Nancy, you should read up on what ezer kenegdo means and how it’s used in the Bible.

Second, does no one ever bother to read Ephesians 5:21? If being a “helper” means “serve your husband” and “submission” is part of being a “helper,” then … uh, there’s a thing Nancy should probably know about:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

IF I SUBMIT TO MY HUSBAND I’ll BE MISERABLE

I was actually a little gobsmacked that Nancy baldly makes this particular argument:

The struggle with submission is not unique to women of our day. In fact, that was the essence of the issue Eve faced back in the Garden of Eden. At the heart of the Serpent’s approach to Eve was this challenge: Does God have the right to rule your life? …

He convinced Eve that if she submitted to God’s direction, she would be miserable … From that day to this, Satan has done a masterful job convincing women that submission is a narrow, negative, and confining concept. (146)

I can’t believe I have to say this: men are not God. They are full of flaws, they are imperfect, they can be selfish and cruel and mean and angry just like everyone else. Even if I believed that Eve’s problem was not submitting to God, it is a non sequitur to argue that all women must submit to men or risk “stripping God of his authority.”

Also, she immediately compares grown women to toddlers and likens not being submissive to your husband to running out into the street and being hit by a truck. Women have access to the same amount of life experience as men, to the same wisdom and decision-making abilities, and regardless of how much Nancy tries to insist that women are “not inferior to their husbands” (147), she is arguing that here, and she’s already made that argument when she said women are more easily deceived than men and that’s why the Serpent targeted Eve.

The next bit … I threw the book down and went and cleaned something.

However, even in such a case [physical abuse], a woman can– and must–maintain an attitude of reverence for her husband’s position; her goal is not to belittle or resist him as her husband, but, ultimately, to see God restore him to obedience. If she provokes or worsens the situation [again: PHYSICAL ABUSE] through her attitudes, words, or behavior, she will interfere with what God wants to do in her husband’s life and will not be free to claim God’s protection and intervention on her behalf. (149)

[screaming]

FUCK THAT WITH A CHEESE GRATER, A CHAINSAW, AND A CACTUS.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss has clearly argued here that if a woman “does not revere her physically abusive husband’s position” she has no right to “claim God’s protection.”

And I’m crying.

Related: in the section on “sometimes divorce is a better option that staying in a bad marriage” she heavily emphasizes how marriage is a permanent covenant and makes no exceptions for abuse. The resources she offers on “Domestic Abuse” in the back of the book (270) are two books, both of which argue that there are no exceptions for divorce, not even abuse.

This is catastrophically dangerous and unimaginably evil. An abuse victim must be able to divorce their abusive partner for the simple reason that marriage gives an abuser extremely dangerous privileges and rights that must be removed from them. Period. End of story. Encouraging any other attitude is recklessly irresponsible.

I will shout this into the heavens with my dying breath: complementarianism destroys lives. Complementarianism is abusive. Complementarianism kills.

Social Issues, Theology

the pitfalls of the middle ground

I’ve been hesitant to write about this particular issue because it is, in part, a response to the church I attended with my partner for almost two years. What I’m going to write about today is the single biggest reason why we left that church, and one of the more frustrating things I’ve experienced in other Christian communities since. I haven’t wanted to write about this because I still value my relationships with people who attend, serve, and lead at this church, but I now believe this is a significant, wide-spread problem worth addressing.

First, some background.

I’d been attending for a long time when Handsome suggested that we go to the “Getting to Know Us” session held after the later Sunday service. Most churches have something like it– a way for new people to ask questions and get a feel for the beliefs and mission of the congregation. I wasn’t really keen on going– I felt that I was already familiar with what they’d present, and plus, we were friends with elders and pastors so if I had a question I could just ask them.

Eventually, though, we went, and a woman asked the person directing the session– one of the senior pastors– what their stance was on women in leadership. I perked up, because I wasn’t really sure myself, even though I’d been attending for a while. The pastor responded that women could serve as junior pastors (read: youth pastor, children’s pastor) and fill any other serving or staff position, but they could not be an executive/senior pastor or an elder. When she asked him why, his response was that forbidding women from being an elder or pastor was the “biblical” position, but that the leadership had decided to “take the middle ground” on other leadership positions.

I was grinding my teeth for the rest of the day. When I confronted another elder about what he’d said, the elder explained that the pastor should not have said that his opinion was “biblical,” and that taking a strong stance on anything was anathema to the vision of the church. They worked hard at creating an “open” atmosphere where disagreement is “welcomed,” that the elders did their best to guide the church by the motto “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

For a while, this was a position I liked. I was heartily sick of churches proclaiming that they’d discovered the One and Only Correct Theology and Way of Living, so being at this church was like a breath of fresh air.

Except, after two years, it became increasingly obvious that this church was not actually open and disagreement was not actually welcomed. Gay people were brutally condemned from the pulpit like clockwork every year, women who’d had sex were called “dirty shoes” and “used toothbrushes,” the pastor made jokes about abusing week-old infants, and complementarian messages about marriage and leadership were intrinsically endorsed (a woman could “speak” but they always said something about being “spiritually covered,” all the marriage sermons were complementarian, and the married small groups all used Captivating/Wild at Heart or other, similar books).

Anytime I raised a concern about one of these things, the same exact thing happened: the leadership would circle the wagons, defend their positions and protect the pastor from any criticism whatsoever. On one occasion, after the pastor had victim-blamed abused women for the third week in a row, my partner confronted him after the service. The pastor’s response: that “real attenders would know what he meant.” To my partner, who had served on the Sound Team, the Pit Crew, and as small group leader for three fucking years. He’d be at church at 5 or 6 am every single Sunday, and yet was not considered a “real attender” by this man.

We tried to stick it out for another six months after these problems really started rankling us, but it became crystal clear that the staff was not interested in feedback or criticism. We tried to convince various pastors and elders that their “non-position” on women in leadership was actually a position, but they didn’t take us seriously. They were invested in their “middle groundand that was that.

A year after we left, this came through my news feed:

A pastor friend of mine asked a question: do churches that become LGBT affirming see growth in numbers or decline in numbers? As a church planter and someone reading about being affirming this is important to him.

I was instantly seeing red, and suddenly, something crystallized for me.

The “middle ground” is a way for people who don’t really want to admit to being sexist or homophobic bigots to look and feel like they’re really Nice Christians™. The church we attended didn’t want to admit that their position is misogynistic, and they used “Third Way” and “Middle Ground” as a cover-up. This pastor friend-of-a-friend wasn’t genuinely interested in being affirming to LGBT people– he just wanted a popular, well-attended church and somehow sate his conscience while making bigots feel right at home.

See, this is what happens when you try to inhabit a supposed “middle ground,” when you try not to “take a position” on something that fucking matters like whether or not you’re anti-woman or anti-LGBT. Don’t want to take a position on exactly what is going on during Communion– sure, fine, whatever. Don’t want to get dogmatic about what exactly Revelation means? Have at it.

Think you can just skirt around patriarchy and homophobia? Not going to happen.

At the church we left, by “compromising” on women in leadership, the flashing-neon-sign of a message they’re sending their congregation is that being misogynistic is an acceptable position that can be supported by Scripture. By embracing a false “middle ground,” they are implicitly endorsing a view of the Bible that subjugates women while simultaneously telling us that women are not important enough to fight for– or even take a damn stance for.

This pastor fellow, if he decided to keep his mouth shut on being affirming (if, indeed, he actually is), is sending the same message: your homophobia and bigotry is welcome here. We will not confront your hate. Our “numbers” and “attendance” are more important to us than LGBT people.

Currently, this is also the reason why Handsome and I are not attending a traditional church (we do have our small group every week). The best I could absolutely hope for in this area is the local ELCA church where the pastor swears up and down that he’s affirming, but when I asked him what he’d do if a fellow congregant said something hateful to my face, he said “nothing.”

The “middle ground” is nothing more but a retreat into fear. It’s the concession that something else is more important to you than defending oppressed and marginalized people.

Photo by Ian Sane
Feminism

The “New” Testament: the writers and our experience

About a year ago I wrote a post talking about how calling the books that come after Matthew “the New Testament” is a bit of a misnomer. It is, after all, over 2,000 years old. In that post I said this:

And, just like I would approach any other ancient text, I have to approach the New Testament with the respect that something so old deserves. I have to admit my almost complete and total ignorance regarding the environment it was written in, and admit that just because something is a propositional statement it doesn’t mean I have any clue whatsoever what it means– because I don’t really understand the motives he or she might have had for writing it that way, and who they were writing to, and what questions they were answering and what their relationship might have been like for their audience. I don’t even understand the language.

I think it would be a huge shift in American evangelical culture if they collectively admitted to this– that our understanding of the New Testament is crippled by the fact that we are so utterly removed from it.

Earlier this week I read an article by Trillia Newbell called “Biblical Womanhood and the Problem of the Old Testament,” and it frustrated me because I’m even more convinced today that most Christians need to seriously reevaluate our perspective on what the Bible is. Regardless of whether or not you believe in Inspiration or Inerrancy, even the New Testament is an ancient text and deserves that respect.

But, Trillia’s article brought up another thought-provoking point for me when she quoted from Jesus and the Feminists, written by Margaret Köstenberger:

It is true that the historical narrative books of the Hebrew Scriptures witness to numerous abuses of this abiding principle of male headship in the Old Testament period … Scripture does not condone these behaviors and attitudes. At the same time, the New Testament does not abrogate the principle of male headship even subsequent to redemption in Christ. Thus, Paul still can call Christian wives to submit to their husbands, and Peter similarly enjoins wives even of unbelieving husbands to submit to them. (34)

The question I’m about to ask would probably be considered heretical by many people who cling to a “High View of Scripture,” but I think its an important one that I wish I’d been exposed to earlier: if Old Testament characters could be catastrophically wrong in their views, why can’t New Testament writers also be wrong?

King David, a man “after God’s own heart,” raped a woman and when confronted by Nathan was told that God would have given him “more wives” if what he already had were “too little.” Abraham, who supposedly talked with God themself on multiple occasions kept local customs and had sex with Hagar when his wife was barren– a decision that God honored by keeping their original promise. Moses, known as “a friend of God,” constantly made mistakes and misrepresented God’s will to his followers. These men, despite these grave mistakes and crimes, are all mentioned by name in the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith.”

In one sense, Margaret Köstenberger is right: Scripture doesn’t always condone the behavior of these men. According to their stories, they experienced harsh consequences. David’s family was torn apart for raping Bathsheba. Moses was never allowed to see the Promised Land. Abraham faced many consequences for what he did to Hagar. However, I think that’s a significant difference: because these are primarily stories, we see a broader, wider arch. If all we had was a letter written by Moses explaining his rationale for striking the rock at Kadesh without describing the later consequences, we’d have a very different view of what happened.

But that’s all we have when it comes to Paul and Peter talking about this supposed “male headship.” We have their letters, their rationalizations, their beliefs, their perspectives, and nothing else. If men who were “after God’s own heart” or their “friend” could be such serious fuck-ups at times, why are Peter an Paul immune? Moses and Abraham had conversations with God— why does the fact that Paul and Peter wrote these things after Jesus came matter so much?

The thing is, though, is that while Paul’s and Peter’s letters don’t have the same context as the Old Testament stories, we do have a different sort of context: we have time and history. We have the space and experience of 2,000 years to see the results of this teaching called “male headship.” It has brought suffering and sorrow. It has brought us human rights violations. It has brought us abuse and rape and murder. It might be a cliché, but power corrupts and we know it. We also can look back over the last century and see the changes: as gender parity slowly becomes more normal, things like domestic violence rates decline, among other economic and cultural benefits.

The New Testament doesn’t give us the whole story of Paul’s and Peter’s views regarding women, but history does. Like many, I believe in a four-pronged approach to Scripture commonly known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. The Bible has never existed in a vacuum, and neither have our interpretations of it. I believe we need to let our collective human experience with gender parity give us the broader context of I Timothy 2, Ephesians 5, and I Peter 3.

Social Issues

Complementarianism supports Bigotry

As I’ve become more involved in the LGBT community, especially as I’ve been forming relationships and connections with affirming Christians who want to see the American church live up to Jesus’ principle that they will know us by our love, I keep running across an idea that I think is a problem. We see it in Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian, and I saw it earlier this week in a blog post by Kathy Burdock, who wrote Walking the Bridgeless Canyon.

It looks like this in Matthew’s book:

I want you to notice the close link between Philo’s views on same-sex relations and his beliefs about women. Philo called the passive male partner in same-sex relations a “man-woman counterfeiting the coin of nature.” He condemned the active partner as well, on grounds that would offend both affirming and non-affirming Christians today. Philo said the active partner was “a guide and teacher of the greatest evils, unmanliness and effeminacy.”  …

Yes, the clear denigration of women is offensive. (90-91)

And like this in Kathy’s post:

The perception and cultural response to same-sex behavior between males has intractable roots in the social and sexual status of women throughout history. Because same-sex acts placed one male in the submissive, penetrated role of a woman, one male was invariably looked upon as if he were a woman …

As women rose in status, as cities formed, and as men began to explore sexual attractions, the interaction, which had always been associated with excess, lust and the reduction of one partner to the role of a woman, came to be seen differently.

I agree with the essentials of these arguments, and I think it’s extremely important to draw attention to the reasons why ancient writers condemned sex between two men. People like Philo and Plutarch and Clement wrote against gay sex because they were deeply misogynistic and femmephobic.

However, I think Matthew and Kathy made a mistake in presenting the argument this way, because their opposition– in this context, those who argue against marriage equality based on “gender complementarity”– does not agree with this premise. They argue these things from the viewpoint that ‘we can basically all agree’ that these horrifically misogynistic attitudes are “clearly offensive” or that women’s roles are “seen differently now.”

They’re not. Not in complementarianism.

For ease of discussion, I am not referring to a style of complementarianism practiced by many Christians, what I and John Piper call “functional egalitarianism”: those who live out equality in their marriages, but with a dash of gender essentialism thrown in. I am instead working with the definition laid out in the Danvers Statement— that men and women are relegated to specific roles, and that the man’s role is defined by leadership and decision-making, while the woman’s role is defined by submission.

When it comes to sex, Douglas Wilson lays these roles out in stark terms:

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 therefore an erotic necessity.

This position was hailed and supported on The Gospel Coalition website, and I believe is fully supported by complementarian theology. To those who support complementarianism, a woman’s role even in sex has not budged an inch from the time of Paul and Clement. The woman is to be “conquered,” and she is required to accept this as her only biblically-supported role.

This is why I believe Christian feminism is of central necessity to the LGBT community and to the dialog with non-affirming Christians and churches. Without feminist theology, without people arguing against misogynistic interpretations of Scripture, affirming allies and queer Christians are going to be left spinning their wheels in the mud. The argument that biblical writers condemned gay sex not because of anything inherent to gay sex but because of misogyny isn’t going to get anywhere as long as so many conservatives are running around believing that misogynistic views of women and marriage are biblical.

We can’t afford to assume that anti-LGBT theologians agree with us on this. The second they encounter people like Matthew or Kathy saying that the submissive role for women is “clearly offensive” they’re going to roll their eyes and stop listening, because complementarianism is the only construct they have for understanding male-female relationships. Not only that, but they’ll be comfortable dismissing affirming arguments as unbiblical. In order to persuade anti-LGBT Christians, we have to address their assumptions (like heteronormativity), not just the arguments surrounding a mere six passages of Scripture.

Photo by Simon Powell.