Thursday, July 14, 2016

Aimee Byrd reviews Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife and comments on how complementarians in some sets " ... I was bothered by the reviews that don’t recommend Tucker’s book due to her egalitarian position."

... While I do not embrace egalitarianism, I believe there is much more mutuality in marriage than many complementarians teach. We are told to submit to one another out of reverence to Christ, women to their own husbands, as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22-23), and husbands are to give themselves up in love for their wives, just as Christ loved the Church (v. 25). The type of teaching that the above quotes represent diminishes women, whom the Lord says are to be cherished.
While Tucker has this dual aim to argue for egalitarianism in the home, church, and society while raising awareness for domestic abuse through her own story, she focuses most of the book on marriage. It is difficult to accomplish a task of storytelling and teaching theology at the same time. Not everything descriptive is prescriptive. And while there were areas in the book where I wanted to push back on Tucker’s teaching, I realized I am reading a book from a woman who has endured and escaped horrible abuse---a book peppered with quotes from leading complementarians who blame women for their abuse, reduce complementarity to male authority and female submission, send victims back into abusive homes for the sake of submission, teach a distorted view of masculinity and femininity, and reduce women to the role of elevating men. 
So here’s my question: why are complementarians so quick to call out an abuse victim’s egalitarianism and yet so absolutely silent about the troubling teaching she quotes from many leading complementarians? This is why Ruth Tucker wants nothing to do with your theology---you refuse to confront the damaging errors within it. And I’d say that is not worthy of the word complementarity.

Byrd has merely raised a point egalitarians or, really, just not-complementarians have raised in the past few years--it can seem that complementarians are so eager to repudiate egalitarian views that this becomes more important to some people than addressing basic problems such as that forensic study seems to demonstrate that the guy most likely to abuse his wife or girlfriend has a traditionalist view of manhood and masculinity and ends up in economic distress or simply ends up in a relationship where the disparity between his educational and vocational opportunities and family connects are eclipsed by hers.  Complementarians have been so eager to tell everyone to marry fast and marry young that the question of how established a would-be husband can be in his earning ability seems to literally be immaterial. 
 and on a related note ...  Jake Meador was writing recently about complementarianism and proposed:

The deepest practical problem facing many evangelicals who wish to apply biblical norms on gender issues to their home-life is economic rather than theological or philosophical. Many younger evangelicals are more-or-less comfortable with the basic ideas that ordination should be limited to men and that the differences between the sexes should be seen as complementary rather than non-existent. Where CBMW has gone wrong is in attempting to apply these truths in a broader way without attending to the economic questions that make applying those truths so difficult. [emphasis added]


A less courteous way to put it would be to say that complementarians seem to have no interest in whether or not some of their ideas have any practical economic implications in the real world for actual married people. That's Meador's point 3. I would venture to say that given the trajectory of income inequality and the unskilled labor market this is one of the worst obstacles for a real-world application of complementarianism in the rest of the 21st century. 

As I've written here before, if complementarians had restricted themselves to, say, making a case for why they don't have women in formal eldership and left it at that then people would still grumble but possibly just at the levels that Americans grumble about comparable moves taken by Catholicism and Orthodoxy.  But Protestants, particularly in the United States, seem to eschew appeals to tradition that can be avoided or even some that can't--and as Meador has discussed, American complementarians have attempted to get from a strictly biblical/exegetical approach a whole sequence of ideas they haven't proven they can get from just the biblical texts. 

Meador has summarized that in the attempt to salvage certain kinds of complementarian concepts some disastrous theological moves have been made.  Now if low church Baptist types make moves that mid-church High-Church people find disastrous that might not be a huge, huge surprise. 

In his decades old film Metropolitan Whit Stillman has one of his characters remark about how in American story-telling we generally only ever hear about upward mobility rather than downward mobility and it's stasis that seems to be what's going to be in store for each respective class.

The odds that you're going to "move up" if you haven't done so by the time you're about 20 may be remote.  Of course Americans live on the mythology that there's ultimately no such thing as class distinctions and that upward mobility is always possible, if not for others, then at least for me.  The ambition toward upward mobility and moving "upstream" is so essential to understanding formerly local Seattle megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll that you can't even start to understand his ambition without understanding the core drive to upward mobility that has animated his sense of mission even by his own account.  That was a motivator for him even before he regarded himself as having had a born-again experience.

But one of the core problems that complementarianism "could" grapple with is the question of how its teachings apply to the lowermost classes.  Hannah Anderson had an interesting comment about how much complementarian teaching on traditional domestic economy emerged from the southern tradition in the United States where such practical teaching might not be as separable from the tradition of the enslavement of blacks as might be recognized by complementarians in the 21st century. 

Making the nuclear family the goal is going to be part of the problem--if social mobility stops being possible and the highermost education levels keep yielding not only lower returns on investment but higher levels of burn out and mental duress, people may start to forego college not because they don't value formal education but because they may begin to feel that what American higher education has become can be something of a Ponzi scheme.  In this kind of economic future the gap between the haves and the have nots isn't going to shrink, and it seems as though the haves are the ones who continually find ways to explain how what they have attained is what should be the norm.  Considering the emphasis Christians have been trying to make on living in community part of that emphasis on community might be to shift away from the nuclear family to extended family (by blood or socialization)--this was something that was actually very prominent in the earliest years of Mars Hill but that might be another topic for another time.

For the various comments about capitalism over at the Mere Orthodoxy thread ... since eros itself seems to be the ultimate consumer good within contemporary capitalism it might be something to keep in mind for other discussions.  When an erotic pair bond is considered the apotheosis of all human relationships and complementarians take that assumption for granted, then it introduces the other conundrum of the erotic pair bond being the greatest possible human good on the one hand while being categorically beyond consideration amongst evangelicals for people with same sex attraction on the other. 

Contemporary complementarianism (and egalitarianism to a somewhat lesser degree) seem to have nothing particularly useful to say to the unmarried in general, though.  The need to say something to the unmarried is less pressing for egalitarians since an ethos of useful personal fulfillment interacting with others isn't as big a tension for them, and for that matter egalitarians could pretty much apply their precepts to those Christians who choose to be celibate; complementarians have tended to have a default over the last twenty years of saying that unless you're gay (which means celibacy is either required or straightening out is necessary) you're against "God's design" by not being paired off.  Meador's point that complementarians don't seem to have reckoned with economic realities could be put more forcefully.

Byrd's concern, to come back to that, is that complementarians seem so set on sticking to what they think their position is that the real world problems of abuse justified by complementarians gets ignored, is highlighting just one aspect of a larger concern that complementarianism seems to be an ideology that is self-justifying at the expense of considering real world consequences.  Ideologies, perhaps by definition, tend to be this way, but if complementarianism has been a reaction to feminism or the sexual revolution it might be a good idea to retrace steps.  Not everyone perceives feminism or the sexual revolution in the same ways.  Complementarians have seemed to work with the idea that the sexual revolution opened up the opportunity for everyone to have sex lives as debauched as those of titled land-owning European aristocrats but that might not be what the average egalitarian is thinking of.  That might be what complementarian men would assume they would want to do with those kinds of opportunities but it's not necessarily a foregone conclusion that egalitarians themselves would.  They might be vestigially old Methodist enough to not go that route, but I digress, and joke a little.

These sorts of teachings have not been without consequence, obviously.  As more people shared things that happened to them at Mars Hill I remember reading the story of a couple that wanted to eventually have children but were afraid they couldn't afford to raise them.  Within the social milieu of their Mars Hill campus they were exhorted by their friends in a small group to trust God and have those babies and trust God would provide.  The babies were had but then with job troubles came money troubles, the couple turned to their social group within the church for help and got rebuffed with the rejoinder that they needed to have better financial stewardship. 

This is obviously a strong-arm narrative and it's the kind complementarians seem eager to dismiss--one in which a married couple responds to peer pressure to "trust God" and have children and then discovers that when they conform to peer pressure but can't afford it they discover the double bind they've been put in, scolded for complying with the peer pressure to "trust God" and have kids against their own conscience regarding the economic challenges of childrearing.  Aimee Byrd was writing about the problems of complementarians not addressing that their ideas are used to defend actual physical abuse; in documenting and examining the history of Mars Hill it's possible to observe that pernicious outworkings of complementarian ideals within a peer group can work themselves out in other ways, too.

Commenter ali mentioned earlier this year it seems American egalitarians and complementarians are fixated on rules and their application above consideration of what would be wise and practical.  This pretty well summed up why I can't take complementarians and egalitarians in an American context seriously.  In our eagerness to not have loveless marriages of convenience it would seem that Americans, regardless of how egalitarian or complementarian they may say they are, have both been happy for the pendulum to swing all the way to the other side, where marriage tends to be discussed in purely ideological terms about the dignity of individual agency as a symbol of ideological conviction rather than because two people got married because they live on adjacent plots of land.

I've begun to think that there may be a core problem underlying both American egalitarianism and complementarianism that's missing from potential discussion because in the midst of debating about differences assumptions shared in common may be getting overlooked.  It might be the kind of thing that an unmarried person could notice more easily than a married person could precisely because it's difficult to know precisely how or why egalitarianism and complementarianism have any real-world benefit to the unmarried.  After all, how great is the practical difference between a "reproductive right" and a "reproductive obligation" to someone who's celibate, and perhaps not by choice?  It might be worth pointing out that when Jesus said "not everyone can accept this teaching, only those to whom it is given," then went on to describe three categories of eunuchs, only one of which voluntarily chose eunuch status.  To put it rather bluntly, the debates of complementarians and egalitarians in America can start to seem like debates being had by those who have the luxury of knowing they're already having the sex they basically want out of their lives and that they think others should be having.  Whether or not either ideological perspective as articulated in the United States corresponds to the real world as a whole can seem increasingly doubtful.


Anonymous said...

I was a minstry leader at Mars Hill with a Central leadership position as well. When I came to understand that MD was what the entire body of scripture classifies as a "false teacher", I was forced to take another hard look at beliefs I'd come to adopt under his teaching. After a year of study on this subject, I've been conviced that "complementarianism" is, at least in a sense, an idolatry of systematic theology--something there was quite a bit of at Mars Hill. From the arc of Scripture, both its incomplete progressive narrative of the early church and in its wholeness as the written word of God, I see absolutely no clear cut case for the perpetual oppression of women, especially within the church. Surprisingly to me, I actually find it reprehensible now, at least in practice (perhaps not objectionable as a contexualized concept...its structure did provide a way to live out the gospel without inviting unneccesary persecution in a strongly paterfamilias society). As far as I can tell (could be wrong), Piper invented the term "complementarianism" in order to (probably unintentionally) gaslight patriarchal Christianity into contemporary evangelicalism against increasing societal pressures. Personally I believe that women and men are provably and ontologically equal, and the curse of sin and the effects of the curse on human history and culture is the only thing that causes this to be anything less than obvious. If it becomes obvious among God’s people in any given situation, anything that can be done in good conscience without sinning to remedy distortions of creation due to sin, is proper to be done, and should be done.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Piper's never seemed creative enough to have coined a term like "complementarianism" but if it could be established that he did that would be interesting.

Anonymous said...

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

for those who don't follow links the synopsis is:

"complementarianism", as researched by Kevin Giles, was a term that was originally formulated from within the egalitarian/feminist tradition that was unknowingly appropriated unknowingly by hierarchalists looking for a different word for their position. This would tend to confirm my hunch that John Piper wasn't creative enough to invent the term "complementarianism".