Three spheres of subordination shrinks to two

Three spheres of subordination shrinks to two

In my last post I pointed to USA Today’s editorial that challenged complementarians who are willing to accept a woman as the Vice President of the country, that they should admit that they are full fledged egalitarians in the realm of society, the workplace and public life.

Doug Phillips of Vision Forum, an organization that believes the bible forbids women from voting, has taken CBMW (Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) to task saying that Dr. Gushee is right in his USA Today challenge that people like CBMW have experienced an historic change in their theological position.  He writes:

Dr. Gushee’s point was essentially this: Christians must formally acknowledge that a historic change has occurred in their theological commitments and policy objectives, or reasonable observers must conclude that that their position lacks intellectual integrity.

While I do not agree with Doug Phillips at all regarding his very legalistic interpretation of women’s “roles”, he is right in pointing out that if one interprets the distinctions between male and female as rooted in the creation order itself, then it is inconsistent to not apply that principle to all three realms – marriage (home), church and society – instead of just in marriage and the church.  If we are going to remove the realm of society and civil government, then we need to rethink our interpretation of Paul.

CBMW states that they are being consistent and that:

God’s design for male headship in the home and the church does not require the exclusion of women from leadership in public life, where spiritual headship is not involved. Such extrapolation carries the biblical teaching about the role of women beyond the Bible’s own application.

The apparent inconsistency according to CBMW only comes when one overlooks the priority of the church:

Complementarians only seem to be inconsistent if one overlooks the priority of the church and misses the distinction between the church and and civil government.  This confusion is resolved when one understands that complementarians simultaneously hold a high view of Scripture, a high view of women, and a high view of the church.

I think it is time that we test CBMW’s claim to consistency and see what they have taught in the past regarding the role of men and women in Society.

In 1987 CBMW formed as a concerned group of individuals and in that year they created the Danver’s Statement which is a list of CBMW’s core beliefs.

Point 1 under Rationale, CBMW lists a concern:

The widespread uncertainty and confusion in our culture regarding the complementary differences between masculinity and femininity;

Note that the concern is not just about the home and the church but about “our culture”.  Did CBMW believe in 1987 that the difference between masculinity and femininity would necessitate different roles in society?  Their Danver Statement affirmations make it clear that they believe the “created order” that was ordained by God and it goes past an application to Christians because it is to be found within every human heart:

Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order, and should find an echo in every human heart (Gen 2:18, 21-24; 1 Cor 11:7-9; 1 Tim 2:12-14).

We find in CBMW’s 1991 book “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” that there is a “breaking point” of femininity that makes some “roles” for women inappropriate, unproductive and unhealthy:

One or more of these roles might stretch appropriate expression of femininity beyond the breaking point. (pg 50 RBMW)

But as I said earlier, there are roles that strain the personhood of man and woman too far to be appropriate, productive and healthy for the overall structure of home and society. Some roles would involve kinds of leadership and expectations of authority and forms of strength as to make it unfitting for a woman to fill the role. (pg 51 RBMW)

Notice that in 1991 it was not just the home and the church, but there were limitations on women also in society.  These limitations revolved around authority and leadership.  What is the principle that CBMW claimed would controvert God’s created order?

To the degree that a woman’s influence over man is personal and directive it will generally offend a man’s good, God-given sense of responsibility and leadership, and thus controvert God’s created order.

A woman may design the traffic pattern of a city’s streets and thus exert a kind of influence over all male drivers.  But this influence will be non-personal and therefore not necessarily an offense against God’s order. (pg 51 RBMW)

An offense against God’s order (and presumably an offense against God himself) would be if a woman exerts directive influence.

All acts of influence lie on the continuum between personal and non-personal.  The closer they get to the personal side, the more inappropriate it becomes for women to exert directive influence. … It would be hard to see how a woman could be a drill sergeant over men without violating their sense of masculinity and her sense of femininity. (pg 51 RBMW highlighted text is my emphasis.)

It is clear from CBMW’s book that women are to carry forward a subordinate role to men even in society as a whole.  In fact according to them, men will not flourish under the leadership of a female superior.

The God-given sense of responsibility for leadership in a mature man will not generally allow him to flourish long under personal, directive leadership of a female superior. (pg 52 RBMW)

Let me ask, would being a VP of a country put a woman into the position of giving personal, directive leadership over men?  The answer is a resounding yes!  What has changed in CBMW’s mindset?

In 1991 CBMW allowed women to lead in society as long as a woman gave signals to the men that she endorses his mature manhood and she does not exert directive influence.

There are ways for a woman to interact with a male subordinate that signal to him and others her endorsement of his mature manhood in relationship to her as a woman….Her demeanor – the tone and style and disposition  and discourse of her ranking position – can signal clearly her affirmation of the unique role that men should play in relationship to women owing to their sense of responsibility to protect and lead. (pg 50 RBMW)

Even back in 1991 CBMW realized that this appeared to be a contradiction.

It is obvious that we are on the brink of contradiction – suggesting that a woman may hold the position of leadership and fulfill it in a way that signals to men her endorsement of their sense of responsibility to lead.  But the complexities of life requires of us this risk. (page 50 RBMW)

But now in 2008, it is okay for a woman to exercise directive influence and leadership in society as long as it is not in the home and not in the church.  Praise God that CBMW has come a long way.  But they should be honest about the change in their view.  They have not been consistent as they have claimed:

Complementarians hold a consistent view of the role of women in the church, home, and political office by keeping in mind the priority of the church with respect to civil governments.

It is not a consistent view if one claims that God created a difference in the roles that men and women are to have because of creation.  The change from things “unfitting” for women back in 1991 according to CBMW are now no problem as “fitting” in 2008.  Is it a “timeless” command that a woman cannot have directive authority over a man in society and in civil government?  In 2008 the answer must now be shown to be “No”.  I applaud CBMW for seeing that this issue is not a “timeless” law of God.  Their move towards allowing women like Sarah Palin to be nominated as Vice-President, shows that they have thought through the contradictions of their former position and have moved towards a more biblical approach.  There is more work to be done but their words below show a good start:

Even though the Bible reserves final authority in the church for men, this does not apply in the kingdom of this world.

CBMW is now one step closer to being full egalitarians.  It is now time for CBMW and other like-minded complementarians to publicly renounce their old view as Dr. Gushee challenged them in USA Today.

Is it now your view that God can call a woman to serve as president of the United States? Are you prepared to renounce publicly any further claim that God’s plan is for men rather than women to exercise leadership in society, the workplace and public life? Do you acknowledge having become full-fledged egalitarians in this sphere at least?

The three spheres of the subordination of women have now shrunk to two.  It is time to rethink the rest of the involuntary submission “eye-glasses” that we have used to read the hard passages of scripture.

I end with questions from a quote on CBMW’s web site:

Government has been instituted since the Fall, whereas manhood and womanhood, marriage and family, and the fellowship of all true believers are part of the design of creation.

If manhood and womanhood was instituted before government was instituted because male and female are a “part of the design of the original creation”, then wouldn’t government have to be subject to the “rules” of manhood and womanhood since creation order came before government?  How does a secondary institution circumvent creation?  And lastly how come the discussion of “manhood and womanhood” overlooks the fact that in the original creation God created the male and female and gave them the exact same rulership over creation?

17 thoughts on “Three spheres of subordination shrinks to two

  1. You should send this analysis to Gushee and Mohler and Burk, not to mention Grudem.

  2. This post makes me chuckle a little. In football, we have this expression: “piling on”. You sure “pile on” in this one, Cheryl. I mean that in a fun sense. I am reminded of an exchange in My Cousin Vinnie. Vinnie, after receiving an extensive lecture from the judge on how to enter a plea, responds sarcastically, “I think I get the point.” The judge comes back with, “No, I don’t think you do” and slaps a contempt of court citation on him. I suspect that CBMW and their supporters would similarly want to say “I think I get the point”. I should hope so but I doubt they do. So keep “piling on” Cheryl. Eventually, the crush of the bodies (of logic and evidence) will bring submission (no cross gender pun intended).

  3. I think the main points made are great.  I have a few suggestions that might improve the force of the argument.  The MAIN point is you have caught CBMW moving from some statements to others in the society area.  You can focus on this and make it more powerful.

    1. The Title is somewhat confusing.  Just say something about consistency in the 3 realms of home, church and society.

    2. I think it is useful to keep this discussion about the 3 realms.  You show how CBMW tied them all together in the past, now they are separating one out.

    3. I think the discussion of Webb and homosexuality is distracting.

    4. What I think REALLY happened was the CBMW wanted to be a “big tent” and get all the non-egals together.  In order to do that, they try to “hint at” the more extreme non-egal views without explicitly stating them and they also try to “hint at” the non-egal view of society, without explicitly saying this is what the Bible commands.  That way they include both the more extreme and less extreme non-egals in their “tent”.  However, some of the more extreme non-egals have now left the CBMW tent and  this freed them from balancing the tent as before.  About the same time, the Rep ticket is more to the liking of many evangelicals than the Dem ticket, BUT for folks that follow CBMW, there could be a concern about voting for Palin, esp. as she has just had a special needs baby.  So they want to remove any possible obstable to for a CBMW follower to voting Rep.

    In other words, what they have done is respond to culture and change their theology; this is EXACTLY what they accuse others of doing, which is why they are so sensitive to the claim of inconsistency.

  4. gengwall,

    Thanks for the comments on “piling on”.  I liked “My Cousin Vinnie”.  Very funny and lots to learn about persistence!

    I sent off a couple of emails so will see if anything comes of that.  I also removed the reference to Webb.  I will set that aside and do a separate post another time so that this post remains on one issue alone.  Thanks for the suggestions.  I am always willing to listen and learn and submit to a brother in Christ.

  5. Don,

    BTW I didn’t change the title as it is meant to be a hook.  I used to advertise short questions/statements in a local newspaper for the phone messages that I prepared for JW’s.  People found the questions to be enticing and I learned how to draw people in so that they would listen to what I had to say.   One JW lady couldn’t stop calling in and listening to the 5 or 6 minute sermons that I had.  She finally left a message that her elder had told her to stop reading my questions in the newspaper.  He said that if she stopped reading the questions that were drawing her in, then she would be able to stop calling and listening to the messages.  Because I received almost 100,000 calls mostly due to the questions that I posted, I have learned that a title doesn’t have to be blah or explain everything you are going to debate.  It just needs to catch the attention.  That is my reasoning and it has worked for me in my ministry to the attention of JW’s and I use it here too with women in ministry.  Make sense?

  6. Sure, makes sense.  The title as a teaser. 
    What could she possibly mean by THAT?
    I will read it to find out.

  7. “The God-given sense of responsibility for leadership in a mature man will not generally allow him to flourish long under personal, directive leadership of a female superior. (pg 52 RBMW)”

    How medieval.

    Just ask the British how well they got along under Margaret Thatcher.

    Or, just for fun, Queen Victroria – leader for 64 years, and one of the most flourishing periods in English history.

    Trying to make the best of a lost cause by saying, “OK out there, but in the home and in the church, we’ll keep you in a virtual burkha”, doesn’t help even a little.

    So Gov Palin, should she get to be VP, would be expected to come home after a hard day helping run the country, and start scrubbing the floors, and bring Mr Palin his coffee and slippers.

    I don’t think so.

    It is a lost cause.

    Over at Kruse Kronicle you wrote, “…This is the time to rethink these hard passages of scripture on the issue of women…”

    I posted a link there to Kenneth E. Bailey, “Women in the New Testament”, where (in my opinion) he leaves that tired old argument in the dust. 

    And it’s a bit disappointing to hear that these arguments are going on in mainstream churches.  I would expect them from the snake-handlers, but not from educated Christians.

  8. Cheryl, This is excellent!

    The Danvers Statement was a response to the CULTURE. CBMW has been culture driven since day one. This latest position, with Palin, is more of the same: A response to the culture of Obama.

  9. ‘And it’s a bit disappointing to hear that these arguments are going on in mainstream churches.  I would expect them from the snake-handlers, but not from educated Christians.’

    Hey! Now that makes sense!

  10. I posted an extract of the above post on Denny Burk’s blog, however it was in a thread on Gushee from last month, as that was most appropriate.

  11. ZZMike,
    Thanks for your comments and welcome to this blog!

    We are hoping that somehow we can cause people to realize the contradictions so that they start to think instead of just following man’s traditions.

  12. Lin and Don, thanks!  The word needs to get out.  I don’t think most comps who follow CBMW realize that they changed from their original mandate.  I believe that CBMW should be willing to do as Gushee challenged them as it would be an honorable admission.

  13. Hi Cheryl,
    Just a note to thank you for your diligent study of God’s Word and it’s application to the church and women in particular.  May God bless your continuing efforts.

  14. Mary,

    Thank you so much for your encouragement!  Also welcome to this blog and I hope you find the material and the comments and those who comment here to be very encouraging.

  15. Great analysis, Cheryl, you’re absolutely right. I think what was (and is) going on is attempt to save a dying tradition, that CBMW folk honestly believe was the “right way.” They see cultural acceptance of sexual immorality as well as secular feminist disregard for men, and think notions of biblical equality are related. Their concerns about societal immorality are valid, but they are striving for the wrong corrective.

    In Palin, they merely see political victory, that’s why they can “justify” their support of her. (Their support of her is also quite utilitarian, when you get right down to it.) Then, of course, they must invent a reason why such justification is justifiable :-). Which is this supposed separation of church from the rest of society. I agree that it’s inconsistent. It’s inconsistent because of what’s truly motivating them — a desire to “right” the world, and use whatever means they can. I am certain that if there were a male candidate with Palin’s values, they would have supported him over her.

    “Even though the Bible reserves final authority in the church for men, this does not apply in the kingdom of this world.” –CBMW

    I would have to ask, as you do, WHY? When they say it’s because the church is eternal and this world is passing away, they are misunderstanding the eternal/temporal split, and seeing it somewhere where it’s not. The form of the church will not continue into eternity, though the souls of the saved (the real church) will. There will be a different order altogether in the Kingdom of God. (The temporal church is by no means “pure”; it is tainted by worldliness as well.)

  16. Bonnie,
    Welcome to my blog! You are very right about the inconsistency of the hierarchical thought process. They do what works for them. In the process it is inconsistent but doesn’t seem to bother them at all.

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