Serious controversy has broken out after an article on The Gospel Coalition website quoted Doug Wilson on sex and submission. I like the Gospel Coalition. I’ve heard great things about the sessions at their latest women’s conference. They link to my blog on their blog feed, for which I am grateful. I have had personal conversations with several staff members at TGC and respect each one I know. Most of all, I respect the men and women associated with TGC as people who can humbly hear criticism. I give all those disclaimers because I also need to say that the post disturbed me, and I’m secondarily disturbed that it’s been so hard for the authors to understand why it’s disturbing.
First, if I may give a humble word of encouragement to conservative, complementarian men—there are some things you should not address in public recorded media. Ever.
Second, the real controversy seems to be in the wording that links rape to God’s judgement on … I’m not exactly sure what … but it sounds like it’s God’s judgement on feminism and egalitarian thinking? A society that does not protect and treasure women? What does that mean? It reminds me that it is a bad idea for a religious leader to declare God’s judgement. It’s fine with me when God declares it Himself in His Word and when teachers quote Him specifically. But God doesn’t say this thing in His word.
Third, I’m going to go blue in the face soon on this topic, but they fell into this pile of manure because conservative complementarians espoused a new interpretation of Genesis 3:16 when they were first inventing the term complementarian and first forming the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. If conservatives don’t correct themselves (and quickly) on the issue of Genesis 3:16, they will continue to step in similar piles of manure until the movement is so undermined they have totally lost any audience. If you believe that the woman wants to control her husband, the interpretation of Gen. 3:16 that Susan Foh first promoted in 1975 as a reaction against feminism, then turning her over in bed and gaining back control seems to be beating back the curse. In reality, man’s ability to do that very thing (and women’s desire for it as evidenced in 50 Shades of Grey) IS the curse. And there’s nothing redemptive in it. Every woman who yells “rape” and flees sexual bondage, even in marriage, is defying the curse.
Gen. 3:16 of course transcends sex. The curse in Gen 3:16 is that women have a strong longing that they mistakenly aim at their husbands (which should be aimed at God). The result in our sin-riddled world is that man rules over the woman. That’s the problem that sin brought into the world, NOT God’s good plan at the beginning. Men oppress women (and women in their misguided desire allow it). The complementarian terms of lead and head can’t just be nicer, more Christ-like terms for the problematic rule of Genesis 3:16. They must be distinctly different. But too many comps still think feminism is the big problem, not the men ruling over their wives that feminism rose up to address. When you think women speaking up is a bigger problem than men pushing them back down (and you manipulate Scripture to address it), you are going to lose your ability to address anything on this spectrum.
Conservatives have interpreted Gen. 3:16 to mean the woman wants to dominate the man (instead of desiring him) since around 1975. In response, complementarians have been encouraging women into the very dependence the curse says comes naturally (with instructions to men to rule nicely please). In other words, our gender gospel at times has encouraged the curse, not offered a gospel centered alternative. Conservatives made feminism the enemy instead of recognizing it as a coping mechanism for the real enemy, men oppressing women and women enabling it. The result is that some of the biggest oppression of women is in the very circles of conservative Christianity that claim to do the opposite. Just read Debi Pearl’s Created to be His Help Meet for evidence. Or if you don’t believe me, you could also ask your wife (if you’re a man reading this). Ask her and assure her of her freedom to speak honestly without you projecting on her anything negatively spiritually—does she ever feel oppressed in complementarian circles? In your home?
I enjoyed D. A. Carson’s session at a recent conference, especially his explanation of I Peter 3:7 that paints a distinctly different picture than anything I’ve read from either Doug or Nancy Wilson. I also appreciated a recent correction of what the term complementarian was supposed to mean from someone who was at the original meeting. I LOVE the term complementarian when it indicates that male and female were created in the image of God to reflect the whole of His character in a way that a single gender could not. I am glad to be a strong helper to my husband with God as my example of what a strong helper does. I receive God’s instruction for wives to submit to their husband as a helpful tool when my husband and I hold differing opinions we can’t work out with reasonable discussion (which is rare). I also value God’s instruction for wives to respect their husbands, something I believe ministers great grace to our husbands when they are struggling with their own weight of responsibility. I am personally convicted of male-only eldership in the local church, though I understand the Biblical argument among Christian egalitarians (by conviction, I won’t attend a church with male elders that doesn’t also allow women deacons). I am among a growing number of similarly convicted complementarian Christians. We see the mistake of making feminism the enemy the way this wrong interpretation of Gen. 3:16 has encouraged us to do. And we understand there is nothing about BDSM that is remotely connected to what God intended in perfection for us sexually.
When a group believes the bottom line of what’s wrong with women as a result of the fall is that women want to be in charge, well, that’s a serious problem because it is the polar opposite of the real problem! Conservatives, please hear clearly the real problem that Genesis 3:16 sets up. The man RULES his wife oppressively, and she morbidly follows him anyway. That’s what’s WRONG according to Genesis 3, not what’s right. I lucked up (in a sovereign God kind of way) when I met and married my husband. He doesn’t want help in the sense of a butler or a maid. He needs help in the strongest sense of the term. He doesn’t foster an unhealthy dependence on him emotionally, and he’s loved and led me sacrificially as Christ has modeled with His church. My gifts have flourished married to him, and my submission is willingly offered without manipulation or guilt. Anything less isn’t submission. It’s oppression. John Stott made this clear to me in his exposition of Ephesians 5 in his short commentary on the book.
… her self-humbling is not coerced but free. It must have been very obvious in the ancient world. The wife had no status and few rights …. Yet the apostle addresses her as a free moral agent and calls upon her not to acquiesce in a fate she cannot escape, but to make a responsible decision before God. … Voluntary Christian self-submission is still very significant today. (Message of Ephesians, p. 233)
Submission that is manipulated or coerced isn’t submission at all. It’s oppression.
End of rant. God grant us all the ability to recognize when public pressure against religious beliefs isn’t persecution but needed correction.