Saturday, September 19, 2015

Carl Trueman "On Gender Differences and Evangelical Complementarianism"--Piper's brand of complementarianism is increasingly stymied with the mundane details of how the real world actually works
But to be serious: To say that one disagrees with John Piper (and perhaps David Talcott) on complementarianism is not necessarily to say that gender makes no difference.  It is thus unnerving that such seems now to be how such disagreement is immediately understood.  And that is another part of the problem with evangelical complementarianism: It is in danger of becoming simply a reactionary movement, defining itself over against feminism, and apparently seeing any criticism of the party line as a fundamental betrayal of the cause.

For those worried about my views on the significance of gender differences, sexuality etc., I refer you to my previous First Thoughts posts passim.   For Aimee’s, check out her book, The Housewife Theologian, which has a whole chapter on the matter. And the fundamental challenge we posed to the organized evangelical complementarian movement still remains unanswered: Where does their version of evangelical complementarianism end and patriarchy begin?  Reading the various critical responses to our initial posts, I have a sneaking suspicion that I now know what the answer is.

To frame Trueman's response in light of recent online discussions about the culture of victimhood and microaggression frameworks, what we have here is a perfect example of how fanboys of John Piper and the CBMW fans treat any disagreement, even from conservative Christians, as reason to doubt group loyalty to the core of the Christian faith.  I.e. Trueman and Byrd can be read as displaying microaggressions against complementarianism by people who feel John Piper's a victim of microaggressions because complementarians view Piper's form of complementarianism as idiotic.

Trueman's too nice be half here.  The Piper-ian version of complementarianism seems completely unmoored from even the possibility of having a practical working definition of what manhood or womanhood even is. I tried slogging through CBMW sprawls and a friend and I were talking about their stuff.  The friend said after all that reading and reading nobody could come up with a simple definition of what "manhood" even is.  There isn't one, not even for the people who say they want to recover biblical manhood and womanhood.  Now if somebody asked me (not that they will) I'd say that Roy Baumeister's observation has been that across cultures in space and time there's basically two criteria to be met for manhood, and these could be extended to adulthood more generally the way I see it:

1) you produce more than you consume
2) you display a willingness to share with others and do so

For every guy who worries about all the expenses of kids, guess what?  You being a dad who buys food and clothing and gifts for your children, you passed the test for manhood some time back when you stuck around long enough to admit you're the legal father of the child and stuck around to invest your life in them.  You're a man.

If anything one of the existential crises of pop culture these days is that the capacity to reproduce has been so divorced from functional adulthood the question of what constitutes growing up keeps coming up and so far between secular and Christian pop culture the only answer anybody seems to want to keep coming back to is getting laid and sticking around to deal with the consequences of babies showing up.  ... in theory. 

But ...

Any reading of the exchange to which David Talcott refers would make it clear that Aimee Byrd and I made one central point and that was not to claim that gender makes no difference.  What we did argue was that the kind of complementarianism advocated by John Piper and company, focused as it is almost exclusively on issues of authority, hierarchy, and submission between the sexes, leads to horribly complicated micro-management and confusion once it is extrapolated to the whole of life.  The evidence?  That there is so much agonizing over how women should give travel directions to men who are lost, whether women should lift weights in the gym, how a housewife should relate to the mailman, etc.  To those unfamiliar with the evangelical discussion on this, yes—these are things which have been raised as serious questions. I leave the reader to decide on whether my use of the term ‘silliness’ was appropriate or excessive.

Trueman's running into this problem, when he or Byrd point out that the Piperian version of gender roles is idiotic when you try to apply it to the simple details of the real world, somebody gets this idea that what they're doing is declaring that gender makes no difference.  That could be seen as someone declaring that when someone says that mobs and corruption have stifled a truly free local market economy and the democratic process, that what a person is REALLY advocating is a socialist totalitarian state. 

As I was writing just earlier this week the culture of victimhood and microaggressions has to be rampant in evangelicalism for anyone to imagine that Carl Trueman has just argued against the idea that gender matters in the public sphere.  He's been saying that Piper's version of gender identity and gender essentialism is, at best, a ludicrous and untenable ideology about gender to try to apply in the majority of real world scenarios.

One of the simplest conundrums in the Piper approach is the teenage son who gets a direct order from his mother.  This "should" be a no-brainer.  If Mom tells you to take out the trash you do it because you love your Mom and you were told to take out the trash.  But that's issuing a direct order and exercising authority over a man on the part of a woman, right?  Of course it is.  Once we set aside the historically unusual category of "adolescent" by any conventional biological standard of a capacity to sexually reproduce the teenage male is a man. Even in the most patriarchal societies around there'd be at least some consensus that, dude, respect your mom. 

Piper's team has had decades to work out what a simple practical definition of manhood and womanhood might be but the stuff I've read from them suggests that they keep falling back on relational dynamics in dyads rather than looking for functional definitions of adulthood for the sexes that can be kept in mind even by celibates who never get married or become sexually active over the course of their lives. Just like all the heathens worshipping at the temple of Aphrodite, it seems a lot of complementarians literally cannot imagine adult life without sex being involved.

It could be tempting to claim that someone lie Trueman has to consider the outworkings of his more minimalist position but I have my doubts about that.  A person can be a pretty conservative Presbyterian and note that because Deborah was a prophet and a judge; and because Huldah was a prophet that women having roles of authority did happen in the biblical texts; the basis from which to say those cases were not normative or signs of divine disapproval need to be defended if they're going to be espoused; and so limiting complementarianism to an approach to ecclesiology and married life isn't unreasonable.

Whether it's progressives relying on "born this way" to advocate for gay marriage or complementarians of the Driscoll/Piper variety appealing to questions of an either/or construction of gender as a social or biological construct, both groups can be off base by trying to stick to a biologically deterministic understanding of sexuality that has been taken up not so much out of an interest in the baffling intricacies of the real world as from an ideologically predetermined aim to make "is" fit their "ought". Or at least that's how it seems this weekend. 

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