My husband Keith is here for his final installment this month for his series on the Danvers Statement, that statement that codifies what those who believe in hierarchy in gender relationships believe.
It’s been an awesome series, and I’m happy to welcome him to the blog to wrap it up today!
Do hierarchists mind female servility?
Have you ever heard anyone who believes in gender hierarchy preach about the problem of women being too submissive?
Welcome to the ugly duckling of the four errors in marriage that the Danvers statement identifies: Female servility.
We are at the end of my four-part series that discusses the ways the Danvers statement says marriage can go wrong. The Danvers Statement, released by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in 1988, represents the beliefs of those who think God designed marriage to be a hierarchy.
Instead of seeing marriage as a union of two equals, they teach that the husband is to sacrificially lead and the wife is to willingly submit. They indicate this can go wrong in four ways:
Basically, it suggests God’s perfect plan is a spectrum between opposing errors as shown in the graphic below:
I have been making the case in this series that while the aim of the Danvers Statement is ostensibly to teach people “God’s way” to have a healthy marriage, its true goal is keeping women in a subordinate position to men.
For instance, in my first blog post, I contrasted the Danvers statement’s assertions that “domination is bad” with its adherents’ unwillingness to confront it when it happens and their insistence that even if men are dominating, women are still expected to submit.
In my second blogpost, I showed how “male passivity” tends to be used as a code word for “men not being in charge” and the only solution offered is once again (you guessed it) that women need to submit more.
And last week, I pointed out the inherent problems with labelling a woman’s reticence to unilaterally submit to a fallible human husband as “usurpation” and discussed how this demonstrates that at heart, they fundamentally do not have the best interest of women in mind, but only their subjugation.
And today we come to the last error: a woman erring into servility.
Now servility is defined as “an excessive willingness to serve or please others”, so by labeling it an error, the writers of the Danvers Statement paint their theology as a moderate position. After all, we don’t want women to be “servile”, we only want them to willingly submit.
But let’s consider what proponents of male hierarchy think wifely submission actually look like before we make our judgment.
Spoiler alert: it looks suspiciously like servility.
Exhibit A: Emerson Eggerichs’s advice to women when confronting a husband’s workaholism
Eggerichs is the author of the Love & Respect series, which Sheila has roundly criticized as toxic, but which is considered mainstream in evangelical circles. His DVD series is the most popular marriage Bible study in churches in the USA, so his teachings are a perfect example of what people are being told submission in marriage should look like.
In one of his appendices in Love & Respect, he tells women how to approach their husband when he is sinning against the family with workaholism.
Since Eggerichs has in the past officially come after Sheila as violating copyright when she discussed some of his sermons, I want to emphasize that I am here reproducing part of Love & Respect in line with fair use for the purpose of critique and commentary and I quote Eggerichs’s instructions in full specifically to address any accusations that I am taking him out of context.
This is how he says the wife should address her husband:
“Your son (daughter, children) needs you at home more. You have a unique influence on him. In certain areas, nobody matters to him as much as you do. It may not appear that way to you, but your positive presence has the power to mold him. I know you are swamped and have little time, but I also know that you want to give him that part of you that no one else can give him. Thanks”
After delivering your “we need you at home more” message, don’t repeat it for anywhere from ten to twenty days. Then mention it again, quietly and positively with the general tone of “just a positive reminder because of your importance.” Always choose your words carefully. Never even remotely imply that you are really saying, “If you don’t make a positive change, you idiot, you will destroy me and the children.”
I don’t know about you, but if I were asked to sum up this way of interacting with a spouse, one word that immediately comes to mind is servile. I mean, this husband is an “idiot” who is “destroying [her] and the children” yet:
- She does not even mention her needs, only the child’s
- She does not call his actions what they are
- She massages his ego
- She vaunts how important he is
- She provides ready-made excuses for his behavior
- She assumes he means well even when he has not shown that
- She chooses her words exceedingly carefully
- She speaks only briefly and quietly
- She lets weeks pass before she follows up
- Even then, she does not get firmer if he remains unmoved
She is even instructed to end by saying “Thanks”, but what is she thanking him for?!?
To me, it has a distinct vibe of: “Oh, my lord, thank you for listening to your servant’s humble plea….”
Notice the emphasis on making the husband feel positive, appreciated and unchallenged rather than (1) identifying the issue, (2) setting healthy boundaries and (3) communicating directly and effectively. How could anyone not consider it servile for a wife to prostrate herself like this and prioritize the ego of her husband over the good of the family?
Never in a million years would I want my wife to come to me in this way. I want an ezer kenegdo, a “power corresponding to me”, not an ego-boosting lackey.
But I dare say that what Eggerichs is proposing here would never be considered the error of servility by those who follows the Danvers Statement, which makes me wonder –
What would servility actually look like to them?
I mean if the above illustration is the “golden mean” what does the extreme of servility look like? It must be terrible indeed and yet I have never seen one sermon on how to avoid this hideous monstrosity.
In the end, the only concrete examples of the error of “too much submission” I have ever heard talked about are prohibitions of a wife following her husband into sin. Eggerichs himself told the story of Ananias and Sapphira in his sermons at Houston’s First Baptist back in 2019.
Enraged that people suggested he ever taught that a woman should follow her husband into sin and riled up with preaching fervor, he tells about how Sapphira was not given a pass for being submissive but was killed along with her husband because “there are boundaries!”
Coming from the man who wrote an entire chapter in Love & Respect teaching women to value their husband’s “Insight” over their own “Intuition”, I find this a bit hard to swallow.
I have no time for men who preach women must give up their autonomy to their husbands completely, but not so completely as to sin, without seeing the obvious non sequitur.
Yet somehow they seem to be able with a complete absence of irony to insist that since women are more easily deceived they should listen to their husbands – unless of course their husbands are leading them into sin in which case they should know better.
“If you don’t submit to your husband….you’re going to hell!”,
“If you submit to your husband and follow him into sin…you’re going to hell!”
“If you don’t submit to your husband because you thought he was leading you into sin, but he wasn’t….you’re going to hell!”
“If you submit to your husband because you weren’t sure it was a sin, so you trusted his judgment and it WAS a sin…you’re going to hell!”
I’m glad we got that sorted out.
Which brings me to Exhibit B: John Piper actually instructing women how not to follow their husbands into sin.
What does John Piper teach about servility?
John Piper founded the Desiring God website and was involved with establishing the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CMBW). Since CMBW produced the Danvers Statement, his bone fides are not in dispute as a follower of its philosophy.
Yet in a now infamous video response to the question “What does submission look like when a woman is married to an abuser?”, he has these words of guidance for women:
If this man, for example, is calling her to engage in abusive acts willingly – group sex, or something really weird, bizarre, harmful, that clearly would be sin. Then the way she submits … [is] to say, however, something like, “Honey, I want so much to follow you as my leader. I think God calls me to do that, and I would love to do that. It would be sweet to me if I could enjoy your leadership…But if you would ask me to do this, require this of me, then I can’t – I can’t go there.”
It gets worse from there. If you would like to learn more you can read this blogpost about it.
But for a moment let’s just ponder the absolute servility that Piper is putting forward as appropriate from the wife. Think about how this plays out in real life. Piper even suggests a specific situation: group sex.
I am glad I have a wife who – were I ever to suggest something like – this would come back with “Are you NUTS?!?!?” I think any good man would want a wife just like that – – and an evil man needs one twice as much.
But Piper would have the wife basically apologizing to her husband for not following him into such sin! Is she honestly supposed to say “Oh, honey. I want so much to follow your leadership into group sex. It would be so sweet for me to enjoy your leadership into a threesome with your secretary….but I…I just can’t.”
It makes me sick.
And if you think I am overstating the case and don’t agree with me that Piper and Eggerichs are in fact promoting servility, then I suggest you reverse the roles and think about what word you would use if a husband were told to approach his wife in these ways.
This asymmetry is a fatal flaw in this whole way of thinking.
It’s not just the fact that what is good for the goose is definitely not good for the gander, it’s that the goose and the gander have entirely different rule books. I would venture to say that those who follow the principles of the Danvers statement would resist the label of “moral relativism” and would insist they follow a clear reading of Scripture, but in my mind, they fail on both counts. They fail on the first count because all their morality is ultimately relative to gender.
What is considered servility for a man is considered appropriate submission for a woman.
What is considered sacrificial leadership for a man is considered usurpation for a woman.
But the second count is more egregious – Rather than husband and wife both obeying Jesus when He says, “Follow me”, they must instead each follow their roles as a “biblical man” or a “biblical woman”.
And rather than following Our Lord’s teaching to “love your neighbor as yourself”, a husband and wife must love each other in the specific and opposite ways laid out by the Danvers statement.
To me, that sounds a lot “leaving the commandment of God to follow the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8) and I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with it even if all of its bad fruit weren’t so manifestly obvious.
What do you think? Do evangelical authors really believe that women can be “too servile”? Don’t you think the way they want women to act is, actually, the definition of servility? 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!