On Love, Submission, Patriarchy And Government

I intend tomorrow to get back to Tim Bayly and his patently absurd, and absurdly patronizing, contention that the elevation of women to leadership positions in the Church is evidence of contempt for them, but Ashwin’s most recent comment on yesterday’s post deserves a brief response.

My valued correspondent, and he is that regardless of our profound disagreements, says that Doug Wilson and I are similar in linking all manner of ills to existing social structures — for him, government; for me, patriarchy — and that we want to abolish them both. I don’t know that Ashwin has perfectly captured Wilson’s views, but I’ve correctly, I think, summarized his own view of them. Ashwin then insists that I disagree with the Ephesians 5 commandment that women submit to their husbands, a subject I’ve written much about before but which deserves a brief re-visit.

First, I’m all for submission, because the Bible says I must be. And, in fact, I don’t believe there’s enough of it in the Church, in the home, and in society as a whole. I’m in favor of love, too, which the Bible also commands. It seems absurd to have to even say that love, as opposed to cursing, hate, indifference, and violence, is good. So let’s assume we’re all clear on that. This feminist woman argues strenuously for Biblical submission, and regularly submits to her husband.

And he regularly submits to her, and both of them regularly, freely, submit to the clerk at Safeway, their son, the neighbor down the street, and our best friends and perfect strangers. Because the Bible tells us so. When we don’t, we sin.

Ephesians 5 calls first for every believer to submit in love to every other believer; the verse sets the context for those that follow, if standard hermeneutical practice and not cultural conditioning dictates our approach to Scripture. It then calls for women to submit to their own husbands, and for husbands to love their own wives. The foundation in the text is mutual submission; the detail is offered in terms of gender division, with emphasis on submission given for wives and love mandated for husbands.

And yet do we really want to argue, especially in light of the preceding verse (v. 21) that commands All believers to submit MUTUALLY, that ONLY wives (not all women, just wives) submit, and submit ONLY to their husbands (not all men, never any women)?

Is it sane, reasonable, and coherent — never mind Biblical — to argue that ONLY husbands (not just men) are to love, and to love ONLY their wives (and not other women, never showing Christian love to anyone else)? If ONLY wives are to submit, then ONLY men, not women, are to exercise love in their marriages.

Is it Christian marriage, really, if Dave loves Annie — but never submits to her? Or if Annie submits to Dave, but is freed from having to love him? Are they doing what’s required if they reign submission and love in, reserving both for their marriages? What kind of Church community would we have — what kind of witness would the Church have to the world — if we operate under carefully drawn lines of submission and love instead of freely submitting, freely loving, and placing our hope only in the One who empowers us to do so? Biblical submission is never “Biblical” if it’s anything less than fully, lovingly offered, which would argue against the lockstep, gender-divided interpretation Ashwin seems to favor.

As if it really mattered, Wilson is quick to reassure squeamish readers that he’s not one of those men who believes all men ought to be submitted to by all women, and to readers unaware of either Wilson’s rhetorical technique or of Scripture, it does seem to be a relief. But what sounds like a defense of women’s rights is actually more restrictive for women, not less. Women only have one boss, not an entire gender full, he says. He’d pity the guy who asks his daughter to go get a cup of coffee for her, because, he says, she only HAS TO do that for her own husband, not just for any guy.

Me? I’d gladly get it for him, and put in the sugar and cream, too. I’d do it because I want to — because I want to honor God — and my volition, not compunction, is what would make my coffee-getting truly an example of Biblical submission. I’d hope he’d get me some, too, but my choice to submit to his request is mine, energized by my love for Christ and not by the other man’s gender.

As far as my desire to “abolish” patriarchy and what Ashwin sees as Wilson’s to “abolish” government, my response is that while government is ordained by God, patriarchy isn’t. Patriarchy is a result of the Fall, a perversion of the good and perfect world God created in Eden, and its overthrow is one of the resurrection victories won for men and for women through Christ. There’s no comparison. While Fall-ordained patriarchy, even in its mildest forms, is the root cause of all violence and hate suffered by women, government is established by God, neutral in its existence and good or bad only in its execution. The difference is crucial and, to me, screamingly evident.

Tomorrow I plan to respond more to Bayly and his and other complementarians’ belief that the creation order of Genesis establishes and requires the continuation of gender inequality, patriarchy, and specific gender roles involving not ontology, but Spirit gifting. As a warm-up, I’d like to ask you to consider why no list of the Spiritual gifts in the New Testament indicates that they are given in a gender-specific manner, and why the three or four Pauline verses that appear to bar women from leadership positions in the Church trump for complementarians the rich, profound, clear testimony of Scripture regarding the full and liberating message of the Gospel.

Patching together a theology by prooftext apart from context is easy; the true testimony of the Bible, profound and wholistic, is quite simple. Christ came to set the captives free — free from their own sin first, then free from the sins committed against them. We can choose to participate in the sin or in the freedom, but we cannot pretend Christ is found in both places.

One Response to “On Love, Submission, Patriarchy And Government”

  1. Ashwin says:

    I will deal with a simple thing first: Government is ALSO a result of the Fall. Caesar is NOT a Heavenly construct. God did not want Israel to have a king – but Israel insisted. What goes for the patriarchy goes for Caesar.

    And even if we accept your rather tall contention that patriarchy is the root cause of hate and suffering caused to women (which betrays your biases rather than your scholarship), you would be hard pressed to argue against the fact the government has been the source of violence for all human beings.

    The point about cultural conditioning is valid – except that you assume yourself uninfluenced by your own culture. You were brought up in a liberal household, with a liberal father and liberal role-models. Do you think yourself free from cultural biases? Should you not pause to wonder when you find your hermeneutic has aligned so perfectly with your biases?

    And when you quote Mr. Wilson, please reproduce what he wrote verbatim. We both know what you think of him and you have cast a jaundiced eye on his thoughts too many times for your interpretation of his words to mean anything.

    And the Gospel is liberating. It says Christ died for your sins. We get to spend eternity with God in Heaven. This broken, unhappy world is but a passing dream. Christ will soon put it all right.

    Where in all this did you get the idea that in this passing dream it is critical that women mount pulpits and give speeches is a bit vague. It is critical that we repent of our sins and put our faith in His grace.

    And you would be well advised to be charitable to Mr. Bayly. The parable of the log and the speck is very applicable here.

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