First, The Excuses
I am, you may have noticed, having a hard time climbing back on the Blog-Every-Single-Day Train. This time my excuse is that Matt got sick and it was a super busy weekend. The demands of doing a lot of stuff at church and keeping the house going so that school work could be accomplished decently and in order pushed everything else out of my head. And then, of course, there was the death of the Queen. I watched the livestream of mourners whenever I was folding laundry or running through the grocery store. I couldn’t tear myself away. Still, I fully expected to wake up bright and early to podcast as usual. But Matt lost his voice and, then, I did want to watch the funeral and so, as you have come to expect, we missed the podcast—OF COURSE WE DID. We are going to try to do an extra super special podcast edition on the Queen this week. We haven’t given up.
Second, The Links
Speaking of the Queen and the new King, this is an interesting piece. And then I watched this long video, fascinating, though a bit jumbled. And then there is also Carl Trueman who I think I might have linked last week. And I like this description a lot.
Tbird, The Fisk
But then last night, when I was pondering how much I like the idea of Post Liberal Christian Platonism as a way out of the mire, Matt sent me this blog post, which is not about the Queen or anything that I am interested in, but which he thinks must be indirectly pointed at “women like me.” “You’re a Regime Complementarian,” he said, with relish, “the David French of Evangelicalism.” “How can that be?” I complained, “David French is a paragon in that sphere. No one can possibly be like him.”
So anyway, I doubt you’ve clicked on any of the links because I rarely do, so let me just try to lay out the “controversy.” Basically, Beth Allison Barr is still upset that a lot of women self-identify as Complementarian. Complementarians, in case you live under a rock, are people who think that the Bible teaches that the husband is the head of the wife, that roles in the church are restricted so that women don’t teach or preach, and that all this is part of the created order and should be lived out as much as possible in obedience. You probably also remember that there are both “hard” and “soft” Complementarians. The “hard” ones don’t think women can do anything, the “soft” ones equivocate here and there. You should also remember that I have never gone on the record as being a Complementarian, though I have never said that I’m not one either. What, I sometimes ask myself, is the alternative?
Barr’s solution is to chuck Complementarianism over for what many people call Egalitarianism, which is the idea that men and women are completely equal and women can do all the things in church that the men can do. Let me go on record loud and clear that I am not an Egalitarian. In fact, for those who are thinking about going down that path, they should try reading more widely because the foolishness of saying that all people are “equal”…well, do go and look at this good Twitter Thread which explains it quite neatly. As usual, the “Christians” are always five years behind times.
Anyway, Barr is upset because all the way back in 2021 Al Mohler applied the word “joyful” to the idea that men and women are not the same, so the Bible tells you so. She has much to say, as usual, about The Patriarchy TM.
This is how she sets up the “debate”:
Listen because I know what it is like to be both crushed and empowered by complementarianism. I know what it is like to feel trapped by “God’s plan” for women—to lose my identity in what I felt I was supposed to be rather than who I wanted to be; to feel compelled to prioritize the idea of submission and family over my own aspirations and calling; to be broken down by immature, narcissistic men who wield their “God-given” power poorly.
I also know what it is like to be welcomed by male leaders and allowed to have a voice because I was “safe,” even an asset, as an educated woman with a career who still supported male headship and female submission. I know what it is like to be affirmed, loved, and valued within the “beautiful vision” of complementarianism. I know what it is like to benefit from the support of men because I was willing to support their authority. I have experienced both sides of the coin.
Listen also because it isn’t just experience that compels me to speak. I am speaking because I know the history too. I know that patriarchy functions as a continuum—impacting some people more than others. I know the historical patterns of how patriarchy can reward those who support it (“because it works for them”) and how women employ strategies to navigate it (the patriarchal bargain). I also know how the patriarchal continuum can obscure the harm it does: those who are impacted less do not always see the consequences for those it impacts most. For my post today, I want to introduce the idea of patriarchy functioning as a continuum. For my post next time, I want to expand to the patriarchal bargain and then pull the threads together. My hope is to provide better context for the phrase, “because it works for them,” that I used in my last post to describe why some women remain in complementarian spaces. My hope is that women who flourish in these complementarian spaces might be willing to consider a different perspective.
This leads her to an excurses on two Roman women—Regilla and Turia. I’ll skip her narration of their lives. One was loved by her husband and honored by him, and the other was violently murdered. Both, says Barr, lived in a Patriarchal System. All their lives were at the mercy of the men. Even though it turned out well for Turia, it might not have. She could have ended up like Regilla. Barr finally concludes with this great thought:
Because Roman patriarchy was built on inequality–the subordination of one sex to the other–the potential for violence and abuse existed alongside the potential for comfort and happiness. Some women, like Turia, had good husbands with happy marriages and control over their finances and family. Some women gained freedom from male guardianship through legal loopholes and became powerful property owners in their own right. For these women, Roman patriarchy cost them little, just the backdrop to their everyday lives.
But what about women on the other side of the patriarchal continuum? While Regilla certainly had the wealth and status that should have enabled her to escape the worst of patriarchy, her husband still proved the most powerful force in her life. She wasn’t as lucky as Turia. Not because of anything she had done (evidence suggests she was an admirable wife), but rather because the patriarchal die cast in her life did not give her a husband like Turia’s. Both Regilla and Turia lived in a society that centered men and privileged male power. But this androcentric world seemed to weigh heavier on the shoulders of Regilla. For women like her, patriarchy cost more, sometimes as much as their lives.
I love that—“the potential for abuse and violence” is the direct result of the patriarchy, and cannot be attributed to, say, the wickedness of men. I mean, were Cain and Abel “unequal?” Cain was the older brother, but they were both men, from the same mother and father. If anyone can ever be said to be equal, I would have thought it would be the two sons of the first people. And yet Cain rose up and struck and killed his brother. Was it really the result of the new, bright patriarchy, so shiny and fresh from, according to Barr, Adam’s misunderstanding of God’s commands to him before the fall? The text itself is clear that Cain was jealous of his brother, and angry with him, and that those sins came up out of his own heart regardless of any kind of system he might have been a part of.
And I do love the idea of “centering.” How clever to take our modern, deconstructionist proclivities and read them back in time and space. Roman society, you see, “centered” men and “privileged” male power. If only they could have been clever like us who no longer do that, excepting those women who continue to cling to benighted and archaic “systems.” If only those bad Romans had gotten to work inventing a lot of technology that could have let them muddy the material distinctions that, for thousands of years, ordered the way men and women thought about reality. If only they had invented the pill two thousand years earlier. Then they could be happy and fullifilled like we are suffering barely any violence or degredation. Gosh, think how happy they would have been if they could have thrown over the gender binary, if they could have more completely mutilated their children through hormone “therapies.” And, for true, there is nothing more liberating than a feminine workforce of millions tied to desks in windowless, soul-crushing industrial “parks” across the nation. Thank how happy they could have been if they all could have been like us.
Barr concludes by asking three questions, explaining that, though they are “hard questions” they are only ones she has worked through herself, and so the reader need not be afraid, because it’ll totally be alright. Here are the questions:
First, are you willing to consider that your positive experience within a patriarchal system like complementarianism may not reflect the experiences of other women?
Second, are you willing to consider that the problem isn’t flawed individuals but rather a flawed system that creates ungodly disparities between humans created in the image of God?
Third, are you willing to consider the possibility that your support of a system that privileges male power and emphasizes female submission might make you complicit in the harm it does to women who are not as lucky as you?
The questions aren’t hard to answer at all, actually. First, I haven’t heard a single person ever say that all women have the same experiences, either Complementarian ones or any other kind. I know this is probably hard to understand, but most people have different experiences from each other. The outcome—should I speak more slowly so that everyone can keep up?—is not really the point. Complementarians, at their best, are generally describing something that exists, not lecturing people about how to be. I don’t know what Al Mohler was doing because I didn’t read the link (see, I told you) but people who admit that all people are not the same and are not equipped with the same kinds of abilities and gifts are better people than the people who won’t admit that. Men and women are different. They shouldn’t have to do all the same kinds of jobs. That they do in this modern world, is inhuman.
The answer to question One is yes. I have considered it and it doesn’t bother me at all. Moreover—and this is something that most modern people do not seem to be able to understand, which seems to me one of the reasons the world is burning down—the existence of a grievous exception does not confound and nullify the rule. That people murder each other does not mean that we should get rid of the ten commandments. That men are beastly and horrible to their wives doesn’t get rid of the reality that they are men and their wives are women. Why am I having to say this?
As to question number Two, that’s a pretty easy no for a very simple reason. Until people like Barr are willing to actually consider the real implications of human sin and fallenness in the individual, I don’t have much time for throwing away any systems. Egalitarianism, as described by Barr and others, appears to be built on the wrong theological belief that if one might simply change the flawed system, goodness and harmony will reign. I am fairly sure she doesn’t actually believe that human beings are good from the heart, but that’s how her argument seems to run. The outer limit of this is Glennon Doyle who thinks that the heart desires of women are so good and pure that they will actually put the world back together, if only the women can just have everything they want.
This, for me, is a first order issue. Human people are not good. They are made in the image of God, to be sure, but that image is shattered by sin. The image is only put back together by Christ, the Head. We want to be remade in his image, not constantly trying to cobble the image back together ourselves, looking for bits of it all over the garden floor. Until people like Barr can adequately deal with the Biblical texts at hand, which they still haven’t done, I don’t really want to hear their ideas about systems.
That said, I do love thinking about systems and I, again, highly recommend Generation to Generation as a way of working out how you might be caught in some toxic situations.
As to question number Three, without being too mean, let me just say that it is an insensible question. It doesn’t deserve an answer. Words like “privilege,” used in this way, belie a sort of unicorn approach to life that is incapable of supporting any sort of humane system or structure. I mean, does she really want to get rid of “male power” as she calls it? Really? Does she really believe that men without power behave themselves as they ought? Does she really think that no Egalitarian men are ever abusive or wicked? If she thinks that, she hasn’t spent enough time in mainline Protestantism which is just as rife with degradation and abuse as every other kind of system. It is much better to see that some men wrongly use their power, as do some women, and that others use it in a better and more godly way. To say otherwise is to embrace a foolish and badly considered view of the universe.
I’ll end with one challenge for Barr and others who accept her desire to be rid of the Patriarchy: describe your remade world without any reference to the very categories upon which it now rests. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t appeal for help from the men when people disagree with you online. You can’t have marriage. You can’t have the church. And you can’t have Christ. All these gifts are derived from a God who the scriptures describe as a Good Good Father, it’s who he is, it’s who he is. Go back to the beginning and reconstruct your tower without any of his tools and then we’ll talk.
Photo by Viktor Hesse on Unsplash