Fighting Over the Pants, or the Crown of Thorns?
This post is an elongated response to Don Johnson’s comment, under my last post. It is part of a thread of comments on Gender Roles, which began with “From Cool Young Emergent to Boring Old Conservative,” and continued in “Leadership and Submission in the Home,” “Gone for the Hollidays,” “Follow-Up Post to ‘Leadership and Submission in the Home‘”, and “The Christian Gender Debate: Understanding the Four Perspectives.”
Although this post is addressed to Don, anybody is welcome to comment.
For your reading convenience, I have copied the portion of his comment which I found especially interesting here:
“Since I am egal, I believe that ANY movement in direction of egalism is good and any move away is not. So a kinder and gentler form of male hierarchy is better than a harsher form.
But it is still male hierarchy and there is the rub….”
Your response perfectly illustrates the “three-perspective-perspective” I was working against in my last post. By way of illustration, most complementarians, it would seem, are only really aware of two things: the rightness of their own views, and the evils of feminism. They are also vaguely aware that there are some people to the right of them who take complementarianism much too far, but they don’t spend much time on that. Also, they are vaguely aware of egalitarianism: however, they do not see them clearly. Rather than allowing egalitarians to stand on their own feet and present their own case, many complementarians see egalitarians as feminists in disguise, as compromising feminists, as “white-washed feminists.” What do egalitarians believe? “They believe what feminists believe, only they try to hide it, compromise it, or adapt it to appear to fit within Biblical Christianity.” I am sure, Don, that such shallow and polemical thinking is troubling and discouraging to you!
Conversely, however, I see much egalitarian thought following a much similar course. Most egalitarians, it would seem, are only really aware of two things: the rightness of egalitarianism, and the evil of patriarchy. Egalitarians seem vaguely aware of the mistakes of feminism, but spend little to no time differentiating themselves from it. They are also vaguely aware that not all complementarians are the same, but because they are so fixated on the extremes of patriarchy, they tend to see all things in light of that. What to complementarians believe? “They believe what patriarchalists believe – only they are kinder, shyer, and, frankly, dishonest with their convictions in order to make their marriage philosophy fit with the Scriptures.”
This is not an accurate representation of complementarianism. Far from it.
In order to really understand what I am saying, Don, you will need to completely let go of your ideas of what we complementarians think. Better yet, you will need to flip them upside-down – for the difference between patriarchalism and complementarianism is not a difference of quantity, but of quality. There is, in fact, a far greater chasm of separation between myself and patriarchalist than between myself and you, Don.
Time is of the essence, and so I will draw my thoughts together under one helpful metaphor. The gender-debate is sometimes jokingly referred to as the “who wears the pants” argument. Arguing over who wears the pants makes sense if you are thinking in patriarchalist terms. After all, as “the man of the house,” a patriarchalist is fighting for his right to think of himself as ontologically, physically, spiritually, and in every other way “better,” and more deserving of respect, honor, benefits, etc. than his wife. He is the king, they are the vassals. Daddy has his special chair, which is the most comfortable one. Daddy has his special car, which is fastest and coolest one. Daddy has his special hobbies, which are expensive and selfish (alone or “with the guys”). Most of all, Daddy has his special “veto-power” – the right to have his way always, no questions asked. This is increasingly necessary as his self-centeredness becomes annoying, then abrasive, then repugnant to his wife and children. Things are tight – why should he spend so much money and time on himself? “Because I am the head of this home!!” He is clearly wrong – why won’t he admit it? “Because I am a man!” He is being selfish and destructive – why won’t he repent? “How dare you challenge my authority, woman!?”
The man has spoken – let the earth be silent before him.
“The pants” stands in as the status-symbol of patriarchalism – it is the scepter of those who wish to be lords in their own houses, to keep the other members of their home under control with force. As I said in my last post, however, this is not the mind-set of Jesus! There has been a thunderous and violent battle for the pants in these last decades – but I wonder, will anyone fight over the crown of thorns?
For what other status-symbol could there be for a person who truly seeks to follow in Christ’s example, to lay down his life for his wife (Eph. 5)? Will the women argue when they are treated with respect and honor, reverenced as sacred and delicate objects (1 Pet. 3:7)? Will they object to their man working hard with his own hands (1 Thess. 4:11), laboring hard to provide for his family (1 Tim. 5:8), and freeing his wife to spend more time nurture their young children at home (Titus 2:5)? Will she object when he humbly takes the initiative in family prayer, Bible-times, in family discipline and family activities?
As theologians, we can quibble all day over whether this is “fair.” As a pastor, I ache for the women and children who have to put up with so much less in their men.
No doubt the real issue, however, is the decision-making process. Naturally, some decisions will simply be delegated to the wife or husband. Most, however, will be made as a family or as a couple. We would agree on the concept, but not on the means. As I mentioned in “Headship and Submission in the Home,” I believe that egalitarian decision-making can be flawed – decisions are made best when the husband initiates by, 1) asking her and the kids to speak their minds on the decision, 2) thinking along with his wife and children, talking the decision over and praying about it, then, 3) choosing to make the decision which the family is leaning towards or which he believes is best. If there is a choice between himself and his family, he will always choose his family over himself.
But herein lies the rub, you will likely say. If he has the power, will he not abuse it?
In his sermon on this, Mark Driscoll says that in their 12+ years of marriage, there have only been a handful of times when he has pulled out the “I am the head of the home, I love you, please listen to me on this one,” card. One was when his wife needed new clothes, but refused to spend money on herself. Another was a time when his wife wanted to be the “super-home-schooling-mom,” and he knew that just wouldn’t work. Are you seeing a pattern here? A man who has Christ’s heart is simply not in the same category as a patriarchalist. Does he have the power to abuse his position? That is like asking me whether having a drawer full of kitchen knives empowers me to be a murderer. Yes, technically, a Christian man has the ability to use his authority for selfish rather than selfless purposes. But he does not. He cannot. This absolutely violates his DNA, his mandate, the example of Christ.
He does not wear the pants, Don, he wears the crown of thorns. He does not live for himself, but for others.
I will end this post where I ended the last one – with a challenge. I say that you still do not understand what I am saying, and here is the test: in my mind, I made a step of sacrifice when I “stepped up to the plate” of leadership in my home. I did not take something to myself, I laid it down. Are you able at least to think along with my mind (even if you don’t agree) to at least see how this makes sense to me?
Until you are able to see complementarianism as an act of service and sacrifice you will be admitting to me that when you say you are speaking of complementarianism, you are really only speaking of patriarchalism.