My husband Keith has taken over the blog on Mondays this month for his series on the Danvers Statement, that statement that codifies what those who believe in hierarchy in gender relationships believe.
He’s been thinking through their quadrant of errors for the last few weeks, and is excited to share this. And you all seemed to have really enjoyed the first two, so I know you’ll like this one too!
Let’s talk Error 3 of 4: Female Usurpation.
Of the four errors the Danvers statement identifies, it is clear to me based on how much they talk about it that its followers most fear the one we are going to discuss today: Usurpation.
Imagine you could put on one side of the theoretical scale all the sermons, blogposts, tweets and every other message ever preached against Domination, Passivity and Servility combined. They would be effortlessly outmatched by the offerings about the need for women to submit and not usurp the authority of men.
If you don’t know what I am talking about, let me explain. We are in the middle of a series investigating the four ways the Danvers statement proposes God’s plan for marriage can go wrong. Although Sheila and I believe that God designed marriage as a union of two equals without hierarchy, many Christians believe that God designed men specifically to lead and women specifically to submit.
The Danvers Statement, released by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in 1988, is the distillation of their beliefs. It teaches that things 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:
But actions speak louder than words and the way believers in gender hierarchy handle each of these errors is extremely telling. For example, the overwhelming emphasis on women not usurping authority versus how often they talk about the other three errors certainly gives clues about their priorities. And in my first two blogposts, I pointed out that while teachers of male authority over women may label domination as an evil, when it actually occurs they either say nothing (such as with the recent video of Steven Crowder’s verbally abusive tirade over his wife) or even worse, send women back to their abusers with the encouragement to submit more as John McArthur tried to do with Eileen Gray.
Similarly, they may talk about the dangers of male passivity, but when they insist that the only solution to male passivity is for men to be in charge and women to submit more, they again show their true agenda.
Today’s topic is “Usurpation”, the first of the two errors women can commit.
The circular logic in usurpation being a problem
The first thing that strikes me is how different this one is from the other three. When I consider Domination, Passivity, Usurpation and Servility, I can’t help but hear that old Sesame Street song playing in my head: “One of these things is not like the others…….”
Put aside the fact that we have different sets of errors for men than we do for women, because that’s not what I am talking about today (but will be in next week’s blogpost). Using the word “usurpation” engages in a logical fallacy called “begging the question”, where you use the assumption of the truth of your position as proof for your position. Unlike the other three errors, usurpation is an error only if you believe there is a power hierarchy that it is possible to usurp.
Barring that assumption, the argument has no weight. While the other three errors are all character traits which arguably have the potential to be wrong in and of themselves, whether you believe men are meant to be in charge of women or not, “usurping” can only be wrong if one assumes that a woman having authority over a man is a bad thing.
Now I fully understand that the writers of the Danvers statement do believe exactly that. But when you are writing a statement to explain what you believe to others who don’t necessarily share your views, you cannot assume your views are true to prove your views are true. That’s called circular logic.
Yet circular logic is par for the course when debating people about male hierarchy along with an astounding ability to effortlessly contradict themselves when they are challenged.
Consider, for instance the review by Kevin DeYoung in The Gospel Coalition’s “scholarly” journal Themelios of Beth Alison Barr’s excellent book: “The Making of Biblical Womanhood”. In her book, Barr argues that “Biblical womanhood”, which pushes this idea that women must not usurp male authority, is just the latest iteration of a long, worldly tradition of men trying to exert control over women. She invites us, rather than assuming patriarchy is God’s plan, to consider that God may have made men & women to be truly equal. It is an extended critique of the mindset that the Danvers Statement tries to convey, which combines historical research with her own personal experience of the harms of “Christian” patriarchy.
And DeYoung’s response? At one point in his review, he argues that Barr may be lying about the harms she suffered, which is bad enough, but he goes on from there to wonder if her “scars get in the way of giving complementarianism a fair hearing”.
Those sympathetic to Barr’s perspective will likely resonate with the personal narrative, considering it one more reason to dismantle patriarchy once and for all. Others, however, might be curious to know if there is another side to these stories (Prov 18:17) and, more importantly, might wonder whether the author’s scars get in the way of giving complementarianism a fair hearing.
Setting aside his overall lack of professionalism (this is a personal attack rather than a critique of her ideas), the fallacious reasoning is plain for all to see:
“Patriarchy doesn’t hurt women and anyone who says it does can’t be trusted because they are speaking from a place of hurt……caused by patriarchy.”
(By the way, if you follow the link to DeYoung’s review and feel the need to decontaminate yourself afterward, I suggest reading Michael Bird’s excellent response.)
Well, what if you are a woman who doesn’t believe in hierarchy but does not mention being hurt by this teaching? Can you add your voice to the debate and oppose it if you stick to philosophical grounds like Rachel Held Evans or Biblical grounds like Marg Mowczko? Of course not! In both cases, it’s just clear that you just don’t want to submit because of your rebellious sinful nature. You usurper, you!
Why are hierarchists so eager to see usurpation everywhere?
It absolutely enrages me to hear how often and how flippantly women are accused of this. If a woman argues against unilateral submission of the wife to the husband, she is told she is in sin and dismissed.
Sheila has certainly been attacked this way. The shocking double standard this entails is made clear when you consider that they are attacking women who typically don’t have a problem with submitting to their husbands; they just want it to go both ways! For instance, Sheila has posted about how wives submitting to their husbands can be a good thing, but if we take it out of the context of submitting to one other in love, it becomes unhealthy.
But this is precisely the problem. To advocates of hierarchy, the whole point is that the submission must be unidirectional. Anything else is usurpation. If husband and wife are both submitting to each other, then they are (gasp!) equals. And only a rebellious woman would ever want that.
So here we see the glaring double standard. If a wife wishes to have an equal say rather than being a subordinate, she is grasping and power hungry and clearly in sin. Yet the same is not the case if a husband, not being content with equality, demands to rule over his wife.
You may also enjoy:
- Our Submission Series, starting with What does it mean to obey like Sarah?
- Love and Respect: Why unconditional respect doesn’t work
- Are you biased FOR women or AGAINST women when reading Scripture (from Keith)
- The slippery slope of giving men power over women (from Keith) plus our podcast on the same thing
What if “usurpation” is the right thing to do?
Rather than assuming a woman who doesn’t want to be in a marriage with an unequal power distribution is sinful, can we take a second to consider that maybe she is just being wise? I mean, even if we start with the assumption that we will both submit to each other equally, it is extremely vulnerable choosing to put the good of our spouse above our own and trusting they will do the same.
Now in the context of mutual submission, that stretches us in marvelous ways. And as we grow together, both of us trusting and both of us showing ourselves trustworthy, we begin to see there is a beauty in that vulnerability. However, the moment you make that vulnerability unidirectional any beauty evaporates. Even if your husband is a saint, you are in a precarious position indeed if at any moment he is allowed to start telling you what’s what and you’d better learn to like it! Yet a husband’s right to do so is a natural conclusion if you believe submission does not derive from a relationship of equals characterized by mutual vulnerability and care, but from a command of God based on His created order.
That’s not me pushing an agenda; that’s just me being realistic.
And again, I have not found arguments from those who believe in hierarchy dealing with this totally reasonable concern. Instead, the discourse about wifely submission that I have seen in the evangelical church is best described frankly as a “bait and switch”.
The bait is this: “What woman would not want to submit to a godly, Christ-like husband?” With this question, they make the unreasonable seem reasonable. As Christians we value submission. Our Lord Jesus, who Himself was among us “as one who serves” told us that “whoever wishes to be the greatest must be the servant of all” (Matthew 20:25-28). And Paul reminds us to have the “same mind that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5), speaking over and over again about the importance of being humble and considering others above ourselves. So what kind of person are you if you don’t want to submit?
But the switch is this: it doesn’t matter if the husband is Christ-like or not, the wife still needs to unidirectionally submit. And moreover, by “submit”, we do not simply mean to be loving and considerate. No, you must acknowledge and remain under the authority of this man without question even when he has chosen to leave the path of Jesus. Anything less is usurpation.
Emerson Eggerichs, author of Love & Respect, which Sheila has critiqued extensively, is a poster child for the “bait and switch” mentality that goes along with believing in hierarchy. In everything he writes or says, his inseparable pairing of the word “man” with the word “good-willed” drives me bonkers. It just seems like the gaslighting equivalent of a pre-emptive strike to me. Yes, most husbands want the best for their wives, but to insinuate that all men are truly good-willed is a wicked distortion of reality that can only have one end in mind: It is done to convince women that an unbalanced, unjust and inherently dangerous form of marriage Is God’s plan for her. She is painted as being unreasonable if she doesn’t want to surrender her autonomy in her marriage, yet he is being completely reasonable if he demands that she do so.
Reality shows the ugliness of this doctrine.
Proponents of hierarchy claim that a husband’s sacrificial leadership and a wife’s willing submission paint a beautiful picture of Christ and the Church. It sounds good in theory, but Love & Respect shows how it plays out in reality. The book reveals that a husband can still be considered loving even if he forgets his wife’s birthday (pg 12), leaves wet towels on the bed (pg 13) or sides with their sons if she expects they keep the house clean (pg 243), but if a wife expects a husband to be genuinely sorry when he is thoughtless toward her, it is a sign of disrespect (pg34).
So a wife must realize she is disrespectful when she is hurt by her husband’s insensitivity and yet she dare not call him unloving when he makes her life demonstrably worse?
Call me a usurper if you wish, but I don’t see that as a beautiful picture at all.
What do you think? Have you heard submission described as something unidirectional? How has it affected you? 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!