An Accidental Misrepresentation?

An article in CT the other day told the story of a woman’s acceptance of complementarian gender roles. She said,

I found a defense for the holy beauty of submission when I hadn’t gone looking for it. Jesus Christ, obedient to his Father, went willingly to his death—for me. Was I to argue against the disposition that saved me? Running, I was caught.

The assumption seems to be that egalitarians are committed to arguing against submission in all its forms. But they are not. They like submission so much that they implore both men and women to submit to one another mutually! Nor do egalitarians find submission to pastoral leadership, the governing authorities, or the requirements of one’s employer to be ethically problematic (unless they are abusive). Nor do they believe inequality is intrinsically bad. They can fully agree with the conclusion of the following argument Alex Pruss gives:

  1. There is nothing intrinsically bad in heaven.

  2. There is inequality in heaven (God is in heaven and humans are in heaven, and there is infinite inequality there).

  3. So, inequality is not intrinsically bad.

So the article, I think, misrepresents egalitarians. What they actually believe is that maleness neither qualifies one for authority, nor does femaleness disqualify one for authority. That is to say, roles of authority and subordination that are ontologically grounded in maleness and femaleness do not exist; therefore patriarchy is to be rejected. It does not follow from this, however, that there are no ontologically grounded hierarchies; Jesus is worthy of obedience precisely because he is the Son of God. Part of that obedience is imitation; he “did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” If the greatest possible being can give up his divine rights, then so can men who (wrongly) believe they have patriarchal rights over their wives. In any case, the Christian gospel undermines patriarchy.


One Response

  1. Adam:

    First. Are you in a long-term committed relationship? This is not a snarky question. if you are not, any comments I make, might just whistle past your ears.

    Secondly. What seems good philosophically is not necessarily good psychologically. There are always going to be power dynamics in any relationship. (And in this, I mean more psychological than any other). And I might be sensitive to these dynamics and respond virtuously to them. But one would be buffoon not to recognize these realities.

    Having come from a matriarchal home, (father there in body, but not in spirit), where all three kids suffered in consequence, I would suggest rather than your simplistic equations; do the hard work of honestly appraising the psychological consequences of these different relationship types. Intellectual integrity being the key.

    There are radical differences in proclivities between the sexes. And we don’t understand the extent of it until we have become quite familiar in discovering these things at quite close quarters. Proclivities are not static roles and psychologies are very mutable. And indeed, I believe that opposite-sex marriage is supposed to function by discovering, accepting, embracing, mitigating and incorporating into oneself (and likewise the spouse) those attributes of the other.

    I will give you one radical proclivity. Do you ever wonder why your philosophy, engineering, computer science, theology (even non-Abrahamic) classes or any other discipline that is heavy in systematic thinking is so heavily male, even in these times where females have a majority in universities? Even after 30 or 40 years of trying to promote females into these fields? Do not men navigate by the cardinal directions whereas females navigate by relational? Do you think that we were taught that? Why do men go to their men cave after a distressful argument or event?

    If there are natural proclivities between the sexes, which defy the obtuse assertions of social constructions, does it not follow that in this world, those proclivities will be better suited to different tasks? I am not one for standard hard roles that the Reformed people advocate. A little honest perusal of OT Scriptures could utterly destroy rigid role theory. However, there are proclivities which makes one better suited. And if one gender tends to dominate in that area (ability), then for the common good of the marriage, they should be the ones more prominent in that function.

    The major problem with egalitarianism is that of conflict resolution. It is a model that leads to endemic battle of wills/war of attrition acrimony. The increase in divorce rate does parallel, although is not totally causative, with an egalitarian model of decision making. This is not a male/female issue only. I think of Sparta’s dual monarchy, Roman Republican dual consuls, pre-Confederation Canada deadlock between Ontario and Quebec and various other models of governance where there is no duly accepted final arbiter. There are extremes in complementarianism that make it more like hierarchal. However, no egalitarian can give a principled theoretical model of conflict resolution that will work when both parties have fairly strong convictions and ego.

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