A Mediating Interpretation of Man’s Rule over Woman in Genesis 3:16 (Part 2)
It is common motif in Protestant/Evangelical circles to speak of sound doctrine as being a narrow path with possibilities of falling into either the right or left ditch. I prefer to consider the dynamics of planetary orbits as a more appropriate and informative metaphor. Planets or moons trek within a narrow range around a larger body. Should they veer too far off-course, they are threatened by gravitational collapse into the larger object on one hand; or spinning out of control into the void on the other. There is a healthy tension between centripetal and centrifugal forces.
Most (if not all) sound doctrines appear to require a similarly healthy balanced tension. The Sovereignty of God (a.k.a. Calvinism, or perhaps one might prefer Spurgeonism) navigates between the push and pull of Arminianism and HyperCalvinism. Beyond these landmarks, one is clearly in dangerous heretical territory. Similarly, a true Complementarianism is situated between the shoals of feminist egalitarianism and the shores of hierarchical male control.
History often demonstrates a sociopolitical implementation of Newton’s Third Law of Motion (“to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction”). The virulence of modern feminism has provoked an equally ugly masculinism; the attitudes of each feeding off each other until the alienation and polarization reach extremes. (A similar dynamic is manifest in the culture wars.)
A similar dynamic occurred in my now moribund marriage; whereby a wife, who did not effectually respect the governance of her husband unless it agreed with her opinions, provoked the husband to insist on protecting his prerogative to govern, in a much more harsher and manipulative manner than would have been preferred; to protect the marriage and family from a variable lawlessness and chaos. This statement, which hardly can be proven to outsiders, is meant less as a public airing of dirty linen than explaining the parallel psychological dynamic behind such literature as the “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” or the Danvers Statement. Threatened by a new force in the social galaxy, it is not uncommon to see a pendular overreaction to the phenomenon. I believe that these CBMW documents overstate the Complementarian case. And I suspect, that just as in the larger society, these Christian men are taking a harder line as consequence of feminism.
While Hanna Rosin (“The End of Men”) and her ilk, might exalt and fantasize of a future of female supremacy…
What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women? A report on the unprecedented role reversal now under way— and its vast cultural consequences.1
… I have observed a different social dynamic; with subterranean masculinist forces amassing and starting to make their presence known. While the feminists and liberal egalitarians conduct their gender and genderless war through the organs of government and society, an increasing virulent and angry masculinism will respond, apart from the organs of government and society. My fear, for my four-year granddaughter with whom I am in love, is that her future will be actually worse off, in general and as a woman, than that of my grandmother’s.
While there may be an official societal push and formal genuflection toward gender equality; underneath the surface, males are negatively reacting against the tilted prejudices of an unequal and unjust legal regimen and the prevailing feminist perspective and hypocrisy, which denigrate their men’s natural and honourable proclivities. If men are becoming less ambitious, it is because, failing to be given their proper place as head of the family, they will understandably abdicate their responsibilities. If the marriage rate is declining, it is because males have wizened up to the injustices of family courts. Legal marriage is only for the men who are gullible or into masochism and self-flagellation. Men seek ways to avoid legal jurisdiction and intrusion into their erotic relationships.
History has been down this road before. The harsh masculinist hierarchy of the Roman Republic, established by Romulus, started to lose its luster as the males exploited their prerogative after the Second Punic War. The civic equality, conducive for social cohesion, peace and military strength, required a strict monogamy. Adultery and divorce were relatively infrequent. Although men were given that extra luxury of extra-marital liaisons; until slaves poured into the society after the Second Punic War, men had fewer opportunities.
The harshness toward woman and abuses by males in the Roman Republic after the Punic Wars, set off a corresponding reaction among Roman women. There was a pseudo-feminism, which liberalized and equalized legal rights to some measure. However, by the late 1st Century A.D., men were beginning to profusely lambaste the equally lascivious vices of their women (i.e. Seneca, Juvenal). And this budding equality was nixed, well before the triumph of Christianity in the 4th Century. The effete civility of the upper classes, which held to greater gender equality, languished under a less ‘civilized’, harder male who came to dominance in the middle of the 3rd Century.
The divine ordained impetus in men to rule would eventually win out if the world does not come to an end before that time. These are psychological elemental forces of nature, so to speak, that the secular liberal minded reject as social constructions. Their ignorance is their eventual loss. However, in the meantime, gender relations will continue to worsen.
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Rachel Held Evans might see the New Testament Scriptures as beholden to the cultural and ideological mores of their time; resurrecting the historical relativism of neoliberal theology within Evangelical circles; as she pursues her egalitarian agenda above the things of God. But I am totally persuaded that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God”2, regardless of the immediate intentions and purposes of the human authors. As a student of history, I have consistently observed consistently, the fulfillment “that You [God] might be justified in Your sayings, and might overcome when You are judged”3. And whenever those, who have purported to speak for God, fail to interpret Scriptures faithfully and scrupulously abide, historical travesty always eventually shows their folly.
As stated in the prior post:
There is no evidence that Christ Himself overthrew this existing hierarchy and chain of command. Acknowledging the universal realities of raw male physical superiority, the greater drive within males to control and command, the willingness for males to set aside their passions/emotions in quest for such control and command, the divisiveness of sin and the problem of a conflict-resolution or decision-making between a marital commonwealth of two; the New Testament merely ordained the best possible structural framework and ethos to operate within this universal objective reality.
There is hierarchy in heaven. The most obvious inequality will be between Creator and creature; God and humanity. As C.S. Lewis complains in his sorrow in “A Grief Observed” (also mentioned in the movie “Shadowlands”), a relationship of power between an infinite God and human being is so overwhelming, that we become like vivisected rats. A real satisfying relationship, based on those terms, is impossible. It would be that horrid hierarchal model, whereby humanity cowers in terror before the capricious mercy of a capricious God without real say. It may be a relationship model; certainly justified on the basis of objective realities of power and virtue. However, how satisfying to either party is it?
However, an egalitarian model, based on God giving equal power and authority to His creatures to that which He holds Himself, would be a formula for disorder, chaos and great evil. It would lend to the possibility that Satan rules. Or it might lead to a narrative like the overthrow of the Titans, as recounted in Greek mythology.
Having considered all the possibilities, the wisdom of the Christian God proposes the necessity of relationship with an asymmetry of power between His creatures and He (for cosmic security as one reason); but one in which the welfare of all parties are equally balanced. The power and authority of God is wrapped in principles, faithfully upheld, so that man has nothing to fear from a capricious and inscrutable God of arbitrary rule. The opinions of His children matter (i.e. Abraham arguing over the fate of Sodom, Moses after the Golden Calf incident) and are even permitted practicable expression; even if He reserves the right to overrule. That liberality is even useful for the teaching of His children, the principles of righteousness, justice and wisdom. Although Sovereignty of God operates in the background, the relationship operates on relational terms (trust, fidelity, honour, respect, love), and not on principles of power.
This is, more or less, the model that is proposed between husband and wife; not merely because of its echo in the spiritual realm; but because it provides the best of all possibilities with regard to the best of relationships. The male head does not merely dictate the terms of the relationship, without genuine and meaningful input from the spouse, like Hellenist patriarchy of the worse elements of Roman paterfamilias. Besides, there is far less differentiation in power between spouses than between God and creature. The overall abilities, if both spouses are allowed free rein, differ in their emphasis but amount to equality of overall value. (And if that is not is the case, the mission criticality of the contributions of each spouse, makes the relative importance of each a moot point.) It is the protagorean arrogance of gender nationalism, the thinking that the attributes of one gender are superior to the other, that leads to disdain of the Other and to inequality.
Ancient Hellenism, in diminishing and denigrating the emotive, passionate and psychological, which they attributed to women, was greatly diminished by the considerable loss of female contribution. The governance of men is crippled when dependent on intellectual rationality alone; a leading reason why the Greeks, despite all their philosophical speculations on politics, could not retain enduring, relatively peaceful and orderly societies. Similarly, a marriage without input by both parties generally produces inferior ultimate outcomes to that in which the views of both are expressed, respected and even allowed to be genuinely incorporated in final decisions and conflict resolution. The exception only occurs when one or the other party or both are complete and genuine fools or excessively selfish, malevolent etc. The problem, with this proviso, is that one or the other party erroneously thinks that the other is that fool. (And ironically, it is often the actual fool that thinks the other is that fool.)
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The greater problem in marital relationships, in relationship to marital governance, is not with regard to the relative input of both or who has final say. The more profound deficiency is the extreme individualism, that atomism, which is a hallmark of Western culture. Each spouse tends to perceive governance and decision making as a negotiation between separate self-interests. However, governance within a Christian marriage is absolutely contrary to this mindset. The married couple is a voluntary “collective” or commonwealth. It is the interests of the whole, to which both share in its benefits, which ought to be the object of concern, and which dictates the weighing of matters in any decision. God really meant that husbands and wives are to die to their individual interests (marital baptism) and become equal elements of a virtual person, that one flesh, that unity. The personality of both spouses re-emerges; but as separate faces of this unity.
There is to be a general overall vision, purpose and set of ethical principles, to which both spouses are generally agreed, and to which all decisions are made within that context. The couple will differ as to how that vision and purpose can be achieved. But this variance differs from a difference in self-interested and conflicting purposes. Whereas, the individualistic self-interest model encourages an adversarial relationship, the commonwealth model ought to place both participants on the same side. And it is possible to allow one spouse or the other to get their full desires in any given situation; because it is perceived to contribute to the best well-being of the commonwealth as a whole.
The famous Ephesians passage speaks of this perspective. Whether husband or wife ascertain the reality; what affects the one, has residual effects on the other.
In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body.4
And although only the husband is mentioned with regard to this unity in this passage; the deductive logic of the passage, infers that that which helps or hinders the husband, will likewise help or hurt the wife. It is not uncommon for modern women to ignore their obligations to stand by and protect the husband, even though it serves their own enlightened self-interest. Like the viral clip by Mark Driscoll that is rankling the Evangelical egalitarians and the outside world, women consider it a moral duty to publicly rip into their husbands. Sad to say, I find Western women treat their men like in their romance novels; where the whole purpose of the heroine is to subdue the wild beast of a man to solely serve the purposes of the heroine’s needs and fantasies.
I recall the story, or at least the official story, about David Frum, as speech writer for George Bush Jr. I am not a particular fan of Frum. And I am no greater fan of Bush than I am of Obama. White House rules dictate that speech writers do not acknowledge their particular contributions to the President’s speeches. David Frum kept his bargain. His wife did not, boasting of her husband’s coin of phrase; obviously hoping to reflect in his glory. It became known that the ‘axis of empire’ phrase came from Frum’s hand. And Frum soon lost status and position in Washington. And his wife would have shared in that diminishment.
Decision-making, in order to prevent battle-of-wills, war-of-attrition deadlock and acrimony, sometimes requires an executive decision to be made by one party; the males in Christian ethics. However, the acknowledged irritation by women about getting the shorter end of the stick, so to speak, can be largely neutered if both have goodwill differences of opinion as to their common interests and both appreciate that the other differences of opinions are a product of goodwill. (Having an overall constitutional purpose in the marriage for context also helps.)
In American conservative circles, this might smack of socialism. However, the fundamental flaw of socialist collectives is that they coercive. One does not choose to be part of the collective community. However, in a Christian marriage, it is a voluntary commonwealth. And if both parties are on the same page, their marriage ought to be more successful in general to marriages in which the spouses are at cross-currents.
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The wife should respect the husband and defer ultimately to his authority. But FOOL is the man who doesn’t bend over backwards to accommodate the wife’s concerns and counsel. Theoretically, a good session of bouncing back ideas and arguments between spouses ought to produce a superior solution than that, which either party proposed in the first place.
There was an experience with my two oldest sons, when they playing soccer in their early teens. In their league, there was a team from Owen Sound, who would soundly thrash every other team by scores of 10-0 etc. I used to get irritated having to travel by car for 2 hours both ways to get to Owen Sound just so my kids could revel in this humiliation. (Their team was in 2nd or 3rd place, I believe. That was how superior Owen Sound was in ability.)
My son’s team gets to the semi-finals, only in order to meet this Owen Sound team. Our sons’ team is two men short. The coach couldn’t show up. So one of the parents, with whom I did not particularly like, takes over and establishes a defensive plan; a plan that I thought was pitch perfect, considering the circumstances. However, the boys had some other ideas. And the substitute coach listened to them and incorporated some of the ideas; even though they were probably inferior in and of themselves. However, the buy-in by the teammates helped to inspire them to put up an excellent execution of the altered plan. The team kept Owen Sound to a 0-0 draw (or 1-1, I cannot remember). They got thrashed the following day in the finals. But a moral victory was achieved, which far outweighed the trophies.
The husband should make ultimate and final decisions. But the executive decision making should be kept a to minimum. If one considers what it feels like to be a subordinate in a corporate or other realm and having to put up with following the orders of what one deems, often justifiably, as folly or inferior to one’s own ideas; one should retain that psychological insight in understanding the wife’s position.
And in truth, if a wife resolutely honours the office of the husband; unless the husband is a control freak and incapable of trust, she will oftentimes get to dominate most of the decisions. He has no need to assert his authority. He only cares to be able to do so when he feels the issue is critical. And having final authority doesn’t prevent the husband from delegating whole swaths of authority to the wife. Has not God done the same?
Let the husband rule. But let the husband rule lightly; proportionate to the relative merits of each spouse. And it is for this reason that I find the rigidity of ‘marital roles’, promoted by the Danvers statement and by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) so problematic. It is neither Scriptural nor wise. As Christ spoke in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30); he/she who can be trusted, can be trusted with much. The noble woman of Proverbs 31 was such a person.
© Copyright John Hutchinson
1. Hanna Rosin, “The End of Men”, Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2010, accessed http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/the-end-of-men/308135 on May 14, 2013.
2. 2 Timothy 3:16
3. Romans 3:4
4. Ephesians 5:28-30