Our June series on Bare Marriage is all about the four problems that those who believe in hierarchy in marriage say we can encounter. And my husband Keith’s the one writing the series! It’s based on the Danvers Statement, a codified statement of complementarianism.
Keith’s been thinking about this a lot, and I’m so pleased to welcome him back to the blog again!
Passivity and Domination in Men: How do we see them?
How often have you heard a sermon from someone who believes in hierarchy in marriage about the dangers of a husband using his position to dominate his wife?
And how often have you heard about the dangers of male passivity in marriage and society?
We are in the middle of a four-part series about the ways that hierarchy in marriage can go wrong according to people who believe in gender hierarchy by looking at the Danvers Statement and considering the way it discusses these issues.
The Danvers Statement was released by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in 1988, and is the rallying point for those that believe in a hierarchy between men and women. It teaches that God’s plan for marriage is a husband’s sacrificial leadership and a wife’s willing submission, and claims this can go wrong in four ways:
- A husband can err toward domination or passivity
- and a wife can err toward usurpation or servility.
Basically, it suggests a spectrum where God’s perfect plan is the middle ground between opposing errors as shown in the graphic below:
I will be discussing each of these four errors in turn. Today’s topic is “Passivity”. In my first article last week, I discussed “Domination”. Specifically, I talked about how teachers of male authority over women, while labeling domination as an evil, do nothing to stop it in real life. They avoid grappling with the natural consequence that granting men authority over women will certainly in some cases lead to abuse, and instead simply explain away any case of abuse as the actions of a sinful man.
Do hierarchists take domination seriously?
But even if we believe that men being in charge is a good thing, if we also believe that the “heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked”, then it follows that we must anticipate some men will misuse the authority God has given them. Should we not then do everything in our power to keep women safe?
After all, the point of patriarchy is the protection of women, not the preservation of male authority, right?
So where are the blog posts from proponents of male hierarchy that teach in detail what a man dominating his wife looks like so we can all recognize and confront this error immediately? Where are the sermons warning how domination can subtly sneak in and is just as pernicious as overt abuse so we need to be on our guard?
If they exist, I have not seen them. All I see are vague assertions that “of course we do not condone abuse” and “of course women need to seek safety”.
In fact, in every case that I can recall where domination was talked about, it was as a caveat in a sermon or article about how women need to submit. “Men should not use their authority to hurt women” is always the buried lede; the headline is “Women, submit more!”
We treat passive men like the real problem
But in stark contrast to the reticence to talk about the sin of male domination, it seems to me the evangelical church is practically falling over itself to decry the dangers of male passivity. Need an example? Well, consider Father’s Day which is coming up this Sunday. My experience in the evangelical church has been that while pastors’ sermons on Mother’s Day celebrate motherhood, on Father’s Day the sermon is more often than not a tirade about how the world is going to hell in a handcart because men are not stepping up and living out their God-ordained leadership.
At any given time in some corner or other of the evangelical world, one can hear people opining about how the church is in decline because men are too passive (usually phrased as “not manly enough”). We hear constant talk about the “crisis in masculinity”, how horrible it is that men in general – and husbands in specific – are disengaging and not fulfilling their roles.
The problem of male passivity is defined too narrowly
Now this would all be well and good if the goal was to encourage husbands not to leave everything on their wife’s plate, but to take up their share of the burden. I can get on board with the idea that women want an equal partner not some passive extra child!
But tragically, as far as I can see, the idea is never phrased as a husband taking on his fair share of the work involved in maintaining the relationship; it is always phrased as him taking LEADERSHIP of their relationship. In other words, it’s not that there is asymmetry and he needs to pull his weight. The problem is the asymmetry is tilted in the wrong direction and needs to be corrected by him taking back his God-ordained authority.
I find this rhetoric fascinating and darkly humorous in a number of ways.
For a start, it is clear to me that passivity is not the true issue; the true issue is that men are not in charge. I encourage you whenever you hear someone talking about the problem of male passivity to decide for yourself, but in every case that I have witnessed, “passivity” is never used in the proper sense, but always as a proxy for failing to lead.
If the concern were really about men not being passive, then an egalitarian marriage, where both husband and wife share power and work together equally, would solve the problem just as handily as the man taking up his mantle of supposed God-ordained authority. Yet, I have never once seen a person who believes in husbands having authority over their wives give any acknowledgement of this. Passivity is a sin not because he isn’t pulling his share, but because he is abdicating his position of authority in the relationship.
Leadership can actually be a cover for laziness
The sinister part of this is that it allows men to reap the benefits of being passive and lazy without being labelled as such as long as they take their role as leader seriously. A case in point is the video of Stephen Crowder’s horrific rant at his wife that Sheila wrote about in Baptist World News.
In the video, Crowder sits smoking a cigar while he orders his eight-months-pregnant-with-twins wife to give the dog its medication and accuses her of a lack of respect when she tries to suggest it might be better if he do it. He is the very picture of passivity, relaxing while others work around him, but do we see the Gospel Coalition or Desiring God or any other bastion of the Evangelical Industrial Complex decrying Crowder for his horrible behavior? The silence is both deafening and telling.
Passivity and Domination aren’t necessarily opposites
If I can go further and engage in some sardonic humor, their silence is even more shocking as Crowder has in fact managed to simultaneously commit both of the opposing errors that the Danvers Statement warns about. His performance is a live demonstration of passivity and domination in concert! But this is not at all surprising since despite what the Danvers Statement may propose, passivity and domination are not two ends of a spectrum, but two sides of a coin.
If we teach that men, simply by virtue of being male, are entitled to unconditional respect and willing service from their wives, we should not be surprised when, thinking they are not receiving it, they rail and rage and try to dominate. But nor should we be surprised, when upon receiving it, they decide to sit back and enjoy it in indolence and passivity.
The teaching itself creates the very conditions it claims to oppose.
If you tell a man he has to earn his place as an equal among the men and women around him you might generate active men, but tell him he deserves the unconditional respect of half the population before he even lifts a finger, you will almost certainly generate passive men.
If believers in the Danvers Statement were truly concerned about the problem of male passivity, they should be the most vocal opponents of the idea that men deserve respect unconditionally. Instead, their pushing of the idea demonstrates that despite their assertions, domination or passivity are not the issue. Keeping women in a position of subordination is the sole agenda.
This is such a low view of men
Furthermore, the whole idea is subtly yet profoundly anti-male. The underlying assumption is that the only way that passive men can be freed from their passivity is to step into their God-ordained leadership, but I would suggest another option: being an equal partner. Why is this never presented as an option for men? As far as I can ascertain, the only reason is that one believes men lack either the capacity or the inclination to the task. But think about what that says about men!
It says we are either incapable or unwilling to participate in a relationship of equals with women. Basically it claims we are all toddlers grown large who, if we can’t have our own way, will take our ball and go home.
I, for one, find that a very low view of men. In contrast, my view of masculinity does not require unconditional respect to be given to me because I am quite confident that I have the ability to earn it. And I have enough faith in men to say without hesitation that I believe every single other man can do the same.
Become a part of the movement
Join 40,00 others and let's change the evangelical conversation about sex
We are still blaming women for male passivity
But those who believe in male authority not only teach that men can’t be equals; they teach men can’t even lead unless women support them. Consider Sheila’s post about the TGC article where Ligon Duncan complains about “it is very easy for men to be passive”, but lays the responsibility for fixing this issue squarely at the feet of women, telling them they need to encourage their husbands if they expect them to lead.
God created men to be leaders, but that leadership is so fragile that it will collapse unless women are constantly supporting it? Say what you want about my belief that husbands and wives are meant to be equal partners in marriage, but at least it is not intrinsically self-contradictory.
If husband and wife truly do have two completely different roles that each can either fail to perform or successfully perform and if the role of one is to be in charge then the one in charge is ultimately responsible for the failings of both parties! If you are the leader, then you lead! You don’t blame your lack of leadership on those who you are responsible for leading!
Couples who see themselves as equals can debate how much responsibility each of them has for any troubles in their marriage, but if asymmetry is intrinsic to your relationship, then when the relationship goes wrong there can be only one person to blame: the one in charge. And the one in charge cannot offload that onto the other person and call himself a leader with any integrity.
Even if your wife is not fulfilling her supposed role of submission, if you truly are a leader your only question should be, “What am I doing wrong that they aren’t able to fulfill their role?”. But we do not see things playing out this way in spaces that believe in hierarchy between the husband and the wife because, again, the issue is not ultimately about leadership any more than it is about passivity.
If the concern truly were creating men who are “sacrificial leaders”, then we would see a multitude of sermons on the perils of domination, a smattering on the trap of passivity and almost none on the need for women to submit. Instead, we see the exact opposite ratio. And in every case, the solution is not for men to be more sacrificial, but for women to submit more. If men are dominating, women are told to “Patiently endure” and to “win him without words”.
If men are passive, women are told to submit more so he will feel empowered. But if the answer to every question is “women need to submit more,” it does not take a lot of intellectual power to realize what the true agenda is; it just takes a bit of intellectual honesty.
What do you think? Do hierarchalists take male passivity seriously? Are passivity and domination two sides of the same coin? 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!