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Some humans are more equal than others: John Piper on spousal abuse and submission

I’m doing a series on complementarianism’s manipulative claims at promoting equality. You can read the intro here. The first entry, on Joshua Harris, can be found here.

When I first left the tiny bubble of the Independent Fundamental Baptist Church and stepped into the larger (but still restrictive) bubble of conservative evangelicalism, I learned that I was supposed to love John Piper.

However, even though I was still a (fairly rebellious) conservative at the time, John Piper’s view of women prevented me from becoming that evangelical Christian who’s always putting quotes from Desiring God as her Facebook status (instead I became that feminist that won’t shut up about bell hooks, but I digress).

I’ve never been much of a Piper fan and videos like the following are why:

For those of you unable to watch this video, I’ll share the “highlights (though I really encourage you to watch it, because I cannot describe to you Piper’s non-verbal communication, but I believe it suggests he sees this as a completely abstract subject. He chuckles at parts and that really reveals his character and attitude toward women):”

What should a wife’s submission to her husband look like if he’s an abuser?…Part of that answer’s clearly going to depend on what kind of abuse we’re dealing with here–how serious this is. Is her life in danger?

This man and his hand motions, I swear.

This man and his hand motions, I swear.

He then goes into a rather confusing explanation of his belief that a woman’s submission to her husband is not absolute because she must also submit to God. This explanation includes awkward hand-motions. If a man is “calling her to engage in abusive acts willingly” then

She’s got a crisis of submission there, of course. To whom do I submit now?

Yes, abuse is a “crisis of submission.”

Should she “go along with” her husbands abuse and submit to him? Or submit to God? Piper says she must humbly explain that she would love to submit to him, if he wasn’t requiring her to sin (apparently being abused is a sin).

If it’s not requiring her to sin, but simply hurting her, then I think she endures verbal abuse for a season, she endures perhaps being smacked one night, and then she seeks help from the church…[The church then must] step in, be her strength and say to him, “No, you can’t do this.”

Piper’s words speak for themselves. And for years, people have been outraged by them. Kind of hard to keep up the pretense of complementarianism being good for women, when one of its biggest proponents is saying women should endure abuse for a season.

I guess John Piper realized this and recently decided to “clarify” his words (and four years too late. How many women in those four stayed with abusive husbands in part because of this man’s words?).

His “clarification” reveals the pattern that I discussed in the intro to this series. Complementarians take words and ideas that are actually very clear, and insist that they don’t mean what everyone in the world naturally thinks they mean.

John Piper might have said that women should be submissive even in cases of abuse, and should endure abuse for a season. But don’t misunderstand exactly what he said! Here’s a clarification!

Frankly, I see this as insulting to his critics’ intelligence.

His “clarification” does clear one thing up though. It makes it clear that, under no circumstances is a woman allowed to stop submitting to someone.

Sure, she can’t always submit to her husband. Not just because she shouldn’t have to put up with abuse, but also because, as John Piper said in his first sermon, submitting to abuse is a sin! His clarification makes this same point:

In expecting his wife to quietly accept his threats and injuries, he is asking her to participate in his breaking of both God’s moral law and the state’s civil law.

This isn’t about her escaping from suffering. It’s about her fleeing the temptation to “sin.”

And does an abusive man lose his right to lead? Can a woman stop submitting to her husband when he starts to abuse her?

Yes and no. But mostly no.

According to Piper:

A wife’s submission to the authority of civil law, for Christ’s sake, may, therefore, overrule her submission to a husband’s demand that she endure his injuries.

So, a woman never gets to stop being submissive. But since she must also be submissive to civil authorities (and feminists have pointed out time and again that civil authorities abuse women too), sometimes that responsibility to submit can overrule her responsibility to submit to her husband.

But she’s still to remain submissive to this man that decided to “smack her around for a season.”

This legitimate recourse to civil protection may be done in a spirit that does not contradict the spirit of love and submission to her husband, for a wife may take this recourse with a heavy and humble heart that longs for her husband’s repentance and the restoration of his nurturing leadership.

As Dianna Anderson points out, this “legitimate recourse” isn’t about stopping the pain she’s suffering. It’s about helping her abuser “see the light.”

The woman doesn’t get to divorce her husband. She gets to submit to a system that has done its share of abusing women (or she can submit to the church…but same difference, right?) while she waits for her husband’s leadership to be restored.

His being an abuser does not disqualify him from leadership. His leadership is merely suspended for a time.

How many abusers flock to Christianity when they learn that they will be treated like kings? I’ve met a few in my day.

All humans are equal.

But some humans have an unconditional right to leadership. Other humans have an unconditional responsibility to submit.

Some humans are more equal than others.

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Some Humans Are More Equal Than Others: Joshua Harris on Male Authority and Female Submission

I’m doing a short series on some examples of the way that complementarians claim to promote equality for women….but don’t. You can read the introduction here. 

The first complementarian leader I’d like to discuss in this series is Joshua Harris. Like many ex-fundamentalists and evangelicals, I read one of his books in college (Boy Meets Girl) and still have some issues because of it.

And now, for research purposes, I am reading another Joshua Harris book (I Kissed Dating Goodbye) and thinking, “Well, no wonder this screwed me up so much!”

With phrases like, “At this point in her life, Mom has been a Christian for only a year. She’s still a bit headstrong and independent….”

Or, “The Bible clearly defines the importance of a man’s spiritual leadership in marriage, and I believe that leadership should begin in this season of the relationship [courtship].”

Or, with the passage where he talks about the righteous man being snared by the wicked woman (in the context of the story of David and Bathsheba)…

…It’s almost laughable when he asks readers not to accuse him of having a “chauvinist attitude.” Yet, he does dare to ask such a thing from his readers, because he wants his audience to believe that the gender roles he holds are not oppressive, but liberating.

“Being submissive is, is, is, it’s not, um, it’s not degrading,” Harris claims in a sermon  from 2010 (transcribed by Are Women Human?as Grace points out, the “um” is particularly convincing).  “It’s not something that you see and you just oh, there’s this weak and kind of, subjugated person. No, it’s something that’s actually beautiful. It’s winsome, and it’s aim is to draw attention to Jesus Christ.”

Yes, Harris plays the game of benevolent sexism. Submission is actually good for women! It doesn’t mean that women aren’t equal to men!

However, another quote from I Kissed Dating Goodbye puts those claims of benevolency and equality to rest (and without a goodnight kiss!):

How does a potential mate respond to people in authority? Does this person respect the authority of a boss or pastor even if he or she disagrees with that authority figure? A guy who can’t follow legitimate orders will have difficulty holding a job…A girl who can’t respect a teacher’s or coach’s authority will have difficulty honoring her husband.

Note the difference between why men should submit and why women (he always calls them ‘girls,’ despite the fact that he’s clear that he’s talking to adults that are ready for marriage here) should submit.

Men must learn submission so they can submit to a future employer. Women must learn submission so they can submit to their husbands. 

The husband/wife relationship, according to complementarians, is not one of coworkers or fellow team members. It is a relationship of employer and employee.

The problem?

Ron_Livingston_With_Gary_Cole_in_Office_SpaceWorkers and their bosses are not equals. 

I work at Burger King and know a thing or two about the employee/employer relationship.

The employer has flexibility that the employee does not have. If my employers want to join me flipping burgers in the kitchen, they may. But I am not allowed to help them with many of their responsibilities (I am also not allowed to be a pastor in Joshua Harris‘ church).

The employer’s jobs are typically more valued by society and their pay reflects this. Is anyone doing to try to claim that “I dip fries in grease all day” and “I manage a restaurant” are equally valued jobs? (And, though many complementarian evangelicals would claim to value motherhood and housework, ask them their opinions about “wages for housework” or about welfare mothers)

Employers have the final say in how their store is run. Yes, employees can make suggestions to employers, but employers aren’t required to even consider these suggestions (and, in my experience, they don’t consider them). However, when an employer tells an employee how to do something, it is not a suggestion.

This is the kind of relationship Joshua Harris (and other complementarians) wants for men and women. Harris even encourages men to look specifically for women who are good at submitting to others, and suggests that they can expect to receive a similar kind of submission.

Of course, men have to submit too…to somebody, but not to women. This doesn’t disprove my point that Joshua Harris does NOT believe men and women are equal. It proves that any talk about equality coming from people who believe like Harris does is a sham.

In fact, men, who understand the average employer/employee relationship, should know better than to call submission “winsome” or “beautiful.” These men go home to subordinates, while women go home (if they are even allowed to hold jobs) to another employer.

The employee/employer relationship isn’t always abusive (though it often is). But it is not equal. 

All humans are equal.

But some humans are employees and some humans are employers.

Some humans are more equal than others. 

Complementarian evangelical leaders like to pretend that their view of women is something other than exactly what it sounds like. They like to pretend that feminists (with our silly, womanly emotions) are just overreacting, misunderstanding, or twisting their words.

“Real” complementarians practice godly, Christ-like leadership. They don’t dominate or abuse their wives. Feminists just don’t understand what’s really good for them–they don’t understand that complementarianism isn’t about a hierarchy. It’s just about separate roles.

“Equal, but different,” as Mark Driscoll says.

Apparently, this “difference” is enough to keep women out of leadership roles in the church and the family, and often enough to keep them out of the public sphere altogether. Equal but different. Separate but equal.

Of course, it’s a woman’s “choice” to submit to her husband’s leadership. A choice that will be judged by an almighty God with a history of striking people dead and sending them to hell.

But sure, a choice.

Women “choose” (under the threat of Almighty judgment) to submit to their husbands, who lead them lovingly and gently. It’s all good.

They’re still equal.

But, you see, no matter how nicely complementarians say what they believe, a phrase from a George Orwell book always comes to mind:

“All animals are equal, but some animals are

more equal than others.”

Having “liberated” us from the way popular culture and media objectifies, degrades, and oppresses women, complementarian leaders can now objectify and oppress us in other ways with nicer words (and with support from God).

Centuries ago, Christian men such as Martin Luther preached the same beliefs of submission and headship, without the pretense of believing in equality.

The beliefs have not changed. They’re just wearing a mask.

Changing the way we talk about those beliefs does not change their implications.

I want to expose “equal, but different” for the lie that it is.

So I’m going to be doing a short series on the words of a few complementarian leaders, showing how, despite their claims of “equality,” their views degrade, oppress, control and limit women.

I want to talk about Joshua Harris, John Piper, and Mark Driscoll this week. To make this subject less painful,  the leaders will be represented by a puppy, a parakeet, and (of course) a fluffy bunny (respectively).

I may decide to continue with the series beyond that (but long time readers of this blog know how I get with series). If anyone has suggestions of other sermons/books/blog posts by complementarian leaders that reveal the inherent inequality present in complementrianism, or if anyone is interested in writing a guest post on the subject, feel free to tell me in the comments (make sure to include a corresponding adorable animal). 

Because, I believe that, once you strip away the bullshit, the motto of complementarianism could be:

All humans are equal, but some humans are more equal than others. 


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A follow-up on complementarianism and rape culture

{trigger warning for rape}

This is a follow up to my recent blog post, “Complimentarianism’s ugly relationship with rape”

I recently wrote a blog post in which I proposed that complementarianism benefits from rape culture. This post got me called a slanderer, a totalitarian communist propagandist, and even got me compared to a rapist lurking in the dark corners of the internet waiting to attack innocent men like Douglas Wilson and call them rape advocates against their will. This follow-up post is not for those people. Anyone who would compare calling out rape apologism to rape itself is beyond my ability to reason with. I’ll leave those people in God’s hands for now.

However, I did have several commenters who respectfully disagreed with me and gave me reasons why rather than simply attacking me. This post is for them. In it, I hope to explain my train of thought as clearly as possible, because I still stand by my point and believe I have good reason for doing so.

I’ll begin by explaining what I feel gives me the right to analyze complementarian culture and to draw conclusions from that analysis. I spent over 20 years of my life as a complementarian. I was told that if I went to a non-Bible college I might get raped. I was taught an abstinence-only education that led me to think I had to apologize when my 320 lbs. ex-boyfriend held my head down and forced me to perform fellatio on him. I experienced these things and countless others. I heard the Bible stories about rape victims taught in a way that implied the woman should not have let herself be alone with a man. I saw the harm complementarian teaching did to me and to others. I sat through countless sermons by countless complementarian preachers. I now am pursuing (and nearly finished with) a degree that gives me the basic skills needed to recognize systems of domination, to analyze patterns that occur within them, and to understand and deconstruct the ideologies that allow these systems of domination to function.

I understand fully that I cannot make an empirical statement about the personal opinions of all complementarians when it comes to rape and rape culture. Nor was that the purpose of my blog post. But I do have the education to analyze certain structures of society, and I do have a deal of  experience in this particular part of society that I feel gives me the right to analyze it. I cannot draw conclusions about whether or not every complementarian leader is a rape apologist. But I can make the claim, with some authority, that complementarianism as a system benefits from rape culture. By that conclusion, I can logically proceed to the idea that every complementarian leader also benefits indirectly from rape culture. 

Let’s talk about rape culture…

I’ll take a few moments here to explain rape culture. It really is beyond the scope of a single blog post to explain rape culture fully because of how deeply it permeates our society, but I’ll do my best. If you’d like to learn more about rape culture, I’d suggest starting here.

In the United States (and in much of the Western world), we live in a society that relies on domination in order to function. No, I’m not just talking about complementarians here. I’m talking about our society as a whole. Americans can call the land that they stand on “America” because of the domination the founders of this country exercised over Native Americans. Our very foundation is laid on domination, and it’s not an uphill climb from there.

The continued genocide of Native people that still occurs today…

Slavery, lynching, and racism…

The exploitation of the working class, here and abroad…

Our wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan…

The oppression of women, LGBT people, non-Christians, and children…

Our society has benefited immensely from the oppression of certain groups of people, and therefore, our society often works to perpetuate oppression.

One of the tools our society–all of it–uses to perpetuate this oppression is rape culture.

Rape culture is used, not just as a way for men to control women, but as a way for people in power to control many of the oppressed groups that our society benefits from taking advantage of. Slave masters would rape slave women to keep slave populations in line. U.S. soldiers in Vietnam raped Vietnamese women as a way of demoralizing their enemy. Even our prison system largely maintains its power using the fear of rape.

Though the majority of Americans are not the ones committing these rapes, and the majority of Americans do not actively approve of this rape, those in power benefit from each rape that occurs. The more people fear rape (or fear seeing the women in their lives raped), the more control those in power have over them.

Thus, rape culture is born.

Our comedians joke about rape. Our billboards use it to sell vodka. Our movies romanticize it. Our courts dismiss it. All the while, victims are terrified of reporting because they know we live in a world that doesn’t take rape seriously.

To put it another way, I’ll borrow Beverly Tatum’s “moving walkway” analogy. Her analogy is about racism, but I took the liberty of applying her analogy to rape culture, because I believe it fits with any system of domination.

Rape culture is like “a moving walkway at the airport.” (Tatum) Rape culture is pulling us along as a society of domination. Those in power can stand still on that walkway, ignore the floor moving under their feet, even turn the opposite direction and insist that they despise rape, but unless they are actively running in the opposite direction–away from victim blaming, from rape jokes, from the idea that some groups of people are meant by nature to rule over other groups of people–it continues to pull them along. 

Complementarianism as a system of domination

I’m going to argue now that complementarianism is one of many smaller systems of domination that operate within our larger system of domination. Though I’d guess most complementarians would shy away from the word “domination,” it shouldn’t be too difficult to convince you that, regardless of what nice-sounding words complementarians would use to describe themselves (and indeed, some skip the nice words and go straight for “conquering and colonizing”), the ideology of domination is inherent within complementarian beliefs. 

Complementarians aren’t shy about the fact that their belief system states that one group of people (men) are naturally meant to rule over another group of people (women). The rhetoric may very from “servant leadership” to “conquering and colonizing,” but the basic idea is the same: something inherent in men makes them more fit to lead, to preach, to make decisions, to run a church or a family or even a country than women. Something inherent in women makes it their job to submit to men (depending on how strictly complementarian one is, women must submit to at least their husbands and fathers. Most complementarian churches require female congregants to submit the leadership of the church to men, and some complementarians believe that women should not be in any positions of leadership over men even in society).

So, if the fear of rape benefits systems of domination, and complementarianism IS a system of domination, logically, complementarianism benefits from rape culture. 

And, like in our larger society, though every individual may not advocate rape, because the fear of rape is so effective at controlling people, many complementarian leaders use it, perhaps not even consciously. Some complementarian leaders–Douglas Wilson, Mark Driscoll, and others–are jogging, even running down the moving walkway of rape culture, demanding that wives don’t deny their husbands in bed, attributing rape to a punishment from God upon feminism, etc. A (hopefully) small minority are actually raping women, as we learned recently when the story of Jack Schaap broke (trigger warning on that link).

The rest? It seems to me that they’re standing there, reaping the benefits of rape culture, occasionally making comments about women’s clothing or participating in subtle victim blaming. Some may even have turned the other way.

But if any complementarian leaders are actually running in the opposite direction–trusting victims, affirming a woman’s bodily autonomy, condemning the systems of power that perpetuate and feed off of rape culture–well, they’re being too damn quiet about it. 


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Complementarianism’s ugly relationship with rape

[Trigger warning: rape apologism]

[Update: I’ve changed some mentions of “evangelical leaders” to “complementarian leaders” to clarify that I am referring specifically to complementarians in this post. I have a habit of using the two interchangeably because of my experiences in evangelicalism, but there is a growing number of awesome feminist evangelicals out there who don’t deserve to be lumped in with complementarians]

Over the past few months, I’ve called out evangelical Christian leaders and bloggers like Douglas Wilson, Jared Wilson, and Mark Driscoll (all of whom made Church Relevance’s list of Top 200 Church Blogs, by the way–these men are extremely influential in evangelicalism) for using rape to control women. Some commenters understood exactly what I was trying to say. Others became extremely offended. I’m still getting feedback on those posts that accuse me of slander, hatred, and lies.

But I stand by my words.

In fact, I’ll expand them to say that most complementarian evangelical Christian leaders use rape to control women. I’m aware that this is a serious accusation, but I stand by it.

I don’t believe that most complementarian Christian leaders actually rape women (although, I hear stories all the time that make me question that belief). I don’t believe most of them approve of rape or like rape. Here’s what I believe and what I am claiming: complementarian leaders, despite their personal feelings about rape, need rape to exist and for it to be a serious threat. 

Many of my critics mentioned that the leaders whom I accused of using rape to control women were totally against rape. That these men had written or preached elsewhere condemning it. I believe my critics. But I want to ask two questions:

1. What does the word “rape” mean to these leaders?

2. How do these leaders propose we solve the problem of rape?

By answering these two questions, I will reveal how rape becomes an extremely useful tool for complementarians. Whether they are themselves rapists (and, again, I don’t believe most are), any group of people who wish to control women and keep women in certain gender roles benefits greatly from rape.  

First, let’s look at what rape means to complementarians.

I will argue that most complementarians have an extremely narrow definition of rape. What is rape, according to a complementarian?

If you want to know the answer to this question, consider what they say about women who have been raped. Consider one rockstar of the evangelical world, Donald Miller (who, as far as I know, is not even a complementarian but certainly reinforces patriarchy in the church with his writings), who once told women to stop trying to claim victim status because “nobody gets drunk and accidentally sleeps with a hamster.” Though the legal definition of rape would say that penetrating a woman who is too drunk to consent to sex is rape, that definition of rape does not meet complementarian standards.

Or, consider Mark Driscoll’s recent introduction to his sermon series on Esther, which set off a firestorm on the internet a few weeks ago. According to Driscoll, Esther should have resisted being taken into the king’s harem, even though doing so probably would have cost her her life. Though the legal definition of rape would say that forcing a woman to “have sex” with you by threatening her life is rape, again, this definition does not meet complementarian standards.

So, who can be raped, according to complementarians? What hoops must a woman jump through in order for complementarians to believe that her experience “counts” as rape?

In Jessica Valenti’s book The Purity Myth (which is problematic in some ways but still an important exposition of the evangelical purity movement), she states,

Under the purity myth, the only women who can truly be raped are those who are chaste–and given how limiting the purity myth is, and how few women actually fit into its right mold, the consequence is that most women are seen as incapable of being raped.

Yes, complementarians will vehemently claim that they are against rape. But listen more closely, because when they say they are against rape they don’t mean all rape. 

The woman who got drunk and woke up in a strange man’s bed or the teenage girl whose boyfriend wanted more than just the makeout session she had consented to. The woman in the mini-skirt or the wife who tried to tell her husband no. The woman who shouldn’t have been alone with that man or in that bar or that hotel room, who shouldn’t have been wearing this or doing that. These women can’t be raped because they are already impure, therefore, have nothing to lose according to complementarianism.

If complementarian leaders even admit that these women are victims of rape (which they likely won’t), these leaders will make sure this admission mentions that the victim was not “totally innocent.” The victim did something to “provoke” rape and therefore needs to apologize for her sin.

Secondly, let’s discuss how complementarians suggest going about solving the problem of rape.

Drawing conclusions from the answer to “What is rape?,” we learn that, according to complementarian evangelicals, “real” (shall we say “legitimate?”) rape can only happen to a limited group of women. Other women who claim to be raped are either lying to avoid owning up to their sin, or they need to take responsibility for “bringing rape upon themselves.” 

So, according to complementarians, the most efficient way to stop rape is for women to change their behavior, their lifestyles, or their clothing. 

How convenient that many of these changes women must make in order to “prevent being raped” line up perfectly with complementarian goals and values. 

Complementarians would say that immodest dress causes rape, therefore women should dress according to complementarian standards. They would say that women who express their sexuality are making themselves vulnerable to rape, therefore women should be passive and chaste when it comes to sex–another complementarian idea. They would say that women who spend too much time in the public world are risking rape, therefore more women should stay home, etc.

Some complementarian evangelicals go beyond this to actually blame feminism for the very existence of rape. Douglas Wilson, for instance, believes that when feminists deny men the opportunity to practice “godly” authority over women, men react by taking back the authority that they deserve using violence.

“When we quarrel with the way the world is,” Wilson says, “we find that the world has ways of getting back at us.”

Whether or not complementarians approve of rape, the fact is that many women adhere to complementarian gender roles because complementarian leaders have told these women that these women will be raped if they step outside these roles. Rape is a tool that rapists use to control women, and complementarian leaders (along with many other people in powerful positions) benefit from the fear that rapists create. In fact, they harness that fear in their books, blog posts, and sermons and use it as a tool to keep women in their place.

Complementarian evangelicals rely on rape to keep their systems of power firmly in place.

It’s an ugly, ugly truth, but a truth nonetheless.