Keith’s had something gnawing at him for quite a few months, and asked if he could write the series for June where he can build his case.
He’s recently read the Danvers Statement, the statement that solidifies the complementarian view of marriage based on a hierarchical relationship between men and women. It has been cited by many SBC and PCA churches, as well as big organizations like the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. It’s one of the most concise statements about what complementarians believe.
Keith wants to work through it in the month of June, focusing on the four ways that the Danvers Statement says that marriages can go wrong.
We’ve been talking about this and fleshing this out as we’ve been going for walks for the last few weeks, and so I’m pleased to let my husband take over the blog this month on Mondays to show you why the Danvers Statement doesn’t measure up!
Power dynamics in marriage are inherently dangerous.
One of the recurring themes on the blog and the podcast is the ways that marriage can go wrong if we set it up as a power dynamic with the husband having authority over the wife. We have talked about how studies show that marriages do better with shared decision making than when the husband is the decision maker. Sheila has even talked about how the way we talk about “women’s roles” can actually prime them for abuse. The idea of men being in authority over women can go wrong in so many ways.
Predictably, whenever Sheila writes one of these articles, she gets a variety of critiques from her detractors who want to preserve male authority.
On the one extreme are the misogynist trolls.
They unironically call her a Jezebel while accusing her of making ad hominem attacks on their favorite authors. They disengage from her arguments (once she runs circles around them) on the basis that she is a woman, so how dare she think she can teach them. And most of all they decry how she is leading people astray from the “true reading of God’s word” (i.e. the one in which they get to be disgusting, hateful and clearly un-Christlike and yet feel that they are doing God’s work). Their arguments are as tired as they are flawed.
On the other hand, though, there are the “Yes, but…” people.
They are the ones I want to spend some time talking about this month. They seem sincerely to disagree with the misogynists, yet they continue to lift up male authority as a noble ideal. Typically, they represent themselves as a “middle ground” claiming that what we are highlighting are only the most extreme cases. Some go as far as to say Sheila has swung the pendulum too far and is herself too extreme, but most don’t take it that far, instead settling for some form of the following: “Yes, there are the ‘hard’ believers in male authority, and I don’t agree with them either; I am a ‘soft’ believer in male authority.”
The implication is that if we could only understand the kinder, gentler version of patriarchy they believe in, we would see that men being in charge of women is ultimately good – and certainly for the benefit of women.
Personally, I hold that the toxicity demonstrating itself among the ‘hard’ believers in male authority reveals the corruptness at the core of the ideology enough for me to run from it as fast as possible, but I understand there are many who are not similarly persuaded.
So for the month of June, I am going to change strategies. Instead of attacking the most clear examples of how teaching male authority over women has caused harm, I will focus on the mainstream or ‘soft’ version of male authority and show why even this needs to be rejected.
And what more mainstream document could we start with than the Danvers statement!
What is the Danvers Statement?
For those of you who don’t know, the Danvers Statement was published by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in 1988 and became the touchstone for believers in male authority of what is “biblical” with respect to masculinity, femininity and their interaction. The CBMW asserts that God’s perfect plan for marriage is a husband’s sacrificial leadership and a wife’s willing submission.
They say this is a beautiful picture, mirroring how Christ relates to the church. The Danvers Statement is basically a manifesto for their position. And they indicate in their own document that this can go wrong in four ways: the husband can err by tending toward “domination or passivity” and the wife can err by tending toward “usurpation or servility”. In graphic form it looks something like this:
The idea is that we each need to stay on the center of our respective spectrum and not fall into error in either direction. But I believe we can learn a great deal by taking a closer look at what is meant by each of these errors and by how they are actually dealt with in practice. I plan to take each in turn, starting this week with the problem of men erring toward “domination”, and then, on the rest of the Mondays in June, tackle Passivity, Servility, and Usurpation.
So let’s start with the problem of domination!
How does domination show up in practice?
Critics of male authority over women – myself included – tend to believe it is a short line from male power to the abuse of women, but that is contested by those who believe in male authority, ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ alike. In fact, they both consistently avow to be opposed to abuse and usually purport that their beliefs actually protect women because their teachings mandate that his “headship” is sacrificial and not self-seeking.
But how does that work out in practice?
The Danvers Statement frames the issue as a continuum where the godly husband straddles the middle ground between passivity on the one end and domination on the other. But what guidance does a husband have to know when he has slid too far toward the dominating side of the spectrum? What about a husband who is not abusive, but just “harsh”?
Well, Sheila did a podcast, last year talking about a Desiring God blogpost where John Piper answered this specific question.
Piper is the co-author of Reclaiming Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and in conservative evangelical churches is not seen as an extremist. Piper counsels that in such situations, the wife should continue to submit, to be gentle and non-confrontational with her harsh husband. At no point does he ever get around to what would seem to be the key verse dealing with this topic: Colossians 3:19- “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them”.
Talk about missing the low hanging fruit. How could God have said it any more clearly?
Are complementarians serious about combatting domination?
In Piper’s extensive response, which sounds very spiritual, he never once indicates that this man has fallen into the error of dominating. I find this odd if domination is an error that believers in male authority are truly serious about combating. Now one might argue Piper was answering the woman’s request for advice, not addressing the husband. And I concede that Piper says, “If the husband were here I would have a few things to say to him”.
But that is clearly a cop out. It would have been no additional effort to say, “This man is clearly violating God’s plan in his harshness by straying from humble, sacrificial headship into domination”, but Piper simply does not. Piper’s wishy-washy “if the husband were here I would have something non-specific to say to him” contrasts mightily with the Bible’s clear command of “Do not be harsh.” And it prompts one to ask what happened to the “plain reading of Scripture” Piper otherwise seems so fond of.
Besides, when the shoe is on the other foot, proponents of male authority are not so reticent to weigh in. Consider the podcast Sheila and I did where Emmerson Eggerichs responded to a woman writing in to him after doing the Love & Respect small group DVD series. Her report was that their husbands were now treating their wives worse and her question was how could the wives get their husbands to stop disregarding them. Eggerichs spends the entire response talking about why the wives need to have an attitude adjustment and implies they are contentious and nagging. And (surprise!) he never says the husbands have done wrong in treating their wives this way.
I could escalate up the scale into verbal and even physical abuse and the pattern remains the same. Teachers of male authority talk a good talk about being against abuse, but they consistently fall on the side of the abuser and tell the wife she still needs to submit. If you don’t believe me, ask Eileen Gray, who John MacArthur publicly shamed and excommunicated because she refused to return and submit to her abusive husband. Among conservative evangelicals, MacArthur is not some fringe crackpot, but a beloved and respected teacher. Yet even now after everything has finally come to light, he still has not apologized for what he did to Eileen.
What is the point of warning about domination when you do nothing to stop the men who dominate and even send the women who are suffering back to the very men who are dominating them?
Is domination merely a problem of the misuse of doctrine?
Now I know what the ‘soft’ believers in male authority are thinking at this point, because whenever I discuss this with them on line, they always say the same thing: Any man who abuses his wife is not following God’s plan so you can’t make a case against male authority because some men abuse it. But this is the classic “No True Scotsman Fallacy”. One can’t explain away every instance of abuse by simply saying “If they were a true believer that never would have happened.”
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And I simply don’t understand why anyone would preach “What I teach doesn’t cause abuse unless people misuse it” when there is a clear alternative that doesn’t have that fatal flaw. The clearly superior alternative to preaching men should rule over women and then washing our hands when men abuse that power is simply to not give men that power in the first place. The only reason we would not see this is that we do not wish to see it. Yet Jesus Himself commanded this when he told us not to seek power over others in Matthew 20:25-28.
Those who don’t believe in hierarchy in marriage are following the Bible.
Despite the rhetoric that we are disobeying the Bible, those of us in marriage without hierarchy truly believe we are closer to God’s plan. We are not disobeying God’s command for wives to submit to their husbands, but following it correctly, whereas they are distorting it. In our homes, wives submit to their husbands, just as the Bible says. The husband also submits to the wife, just as the Bible says.
Nothing is taken from or added to Scripture. The way husband and wife submit to each other is not different because the word God uses for each of them is not different. In contrast, those who push male authority read the plain words of Scripture and then say, “but the way the wife submits must be different than the husband” and In doing so make their human tradition of greater weight than the word of God, just like the Pharisees in Mark 7.
But observe how even the most basic command of Jesus is tainted by hierarchy: “Love your neighbor as yourself”. If I believe in hierarchy, it is impossible for me as a husband to follow. On the one hand, I would not want someone to make decisions for me, so therefore I should not make decisions for my wife. But on the other hand, I am supposedly commanded by God to do so. It makes no sense.
So the next time you hear someone talking about how hierarchy in marriage is “God’s beautiful picture”, instead imagine two people mutually submitting to each other, melding their complementary giftings and experiences into a loving, mutual life-long journey, each following a single authority: our Lord Jesus Christ. Because that is a beautiful picture. In contrast, a unilateral submission of the wife to the husband can only ever be half as beautiful – – and immeasurably more dangerous.
What do you think? Do complementarian teachers truly care about the problem with domination? Have you seen them address it? Let’s talk in the comments!
Keith's Danvers Statement Series
Looking at the 4 ways those who believe in hierarchy in marriage think marriage can go wrong
- Domination: Do hierarchalists take it seriously?
- Passivity: Is it the problem hierarchalists say it is?
- Usurpation: Behold the circular logic!
- Servility: When every problem is a nail
- And our PODCAST summarizing the whole series!
Plus see the book Keith co-authored with Sheila, The Good Guy's Guide to Great Sex!