Reset: Some Questions on Gender and “Authority”


Since posting “Complementarity Without Subordination” and “’And he shall rule over you’: A Collaborative Response to Aimee Byrd and Barbara Roberts”, I have been told by one side that my proposals are anti-authority, feminist, and egalitarian and by the other side that they suggest misogyny and endorse ungodly authority (I should note the all-around good will and kindness of the latter respondents).  Given the polarity of these responses, I believe much of this must be due to misunderstanding and my own lack of clarity. But since I have from the beginning intended these posts to be collaborative contributions and not primarily polemics against those I most appreciate and learn from, I believe the best course of action is to reset the table.  Rather than continue to iterate and push down paths that have already been potentially misleading, and therefore not conducive to framing clear and common consent, I propose a fresh start. I am in no wise abandoning the proposals set forth in the previous two posts, but rather believe that there are unresolved tensions, potential inconsistencies, and even some cake eating and having in the critiques I’ve received thus far.

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“And he shall rule over you”: A Collaborative Response to Aimee Byrd and Barbara Roberts

Adam and Eve 2

A couple weeks back I posted “ESS, Slavery, and the Metaphysic of Oppression”. After push back from various folks, it became clear that I needed to defend my claim that I am not an egalitarian while also demonstrating that Complementarianism can and should be divorced from the blasphemy of ESS. So I posted “Complementarity Without Subordination”. Aimee Byrd and Barbara Roberts were kind enough to read and even post fantastic and instructive responses: “Hierarchy and Subordination vs. Headship and Household Mission” and “Complementarity Without Subordination: What Does it Look Like?”  I also received very helpful and constructive comments from Rev. Sam Powell and Rachel Miller. I am more than honored to have received feedback from those that I have learned so much from. I’m even more honored to be considered part of the process of ironing out these important issues.

Along with many very generous and gracious words about the piece, the common critique from them all was of my insistence that the phrase “and he shall rule over you” in Genesis 3:16 is to be understood as the delegation of rightful authority rather than a description of oppressive authority. (Both Sam Powell and Rachel Miller had also written great pieces on different aspects of this subject: “Headship Is Not Hierarchy” and “The Desire of the Woman: A Response to Susan Foh’s Interpretation”.) So against my better judgement, I thought I ought to further defend/explain my position.  Yes, that’s right, take the one narrow band that all of them disagreed with and make it my whole next post; proof that I am not very intelligent.

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Complementarity Without Subordination

Adam and Eve Gustav Klimt (Austrian, 1862–1918) 1917-1918 Oil on canvas *Belvedere, Vienna * © Belvedere, Vienna *Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Some Background and Statement of the Question

In my previous post, “ESS, Slavery, and the Metaphysic of Oppression,” I first rejected the simple metaphysic of “unequal in nature, therefore unequal in authority” as Biblically inapplicable to human relations.  I next noted that with the failure of the simple metaphysic, defenders of slavery within the Church turned to a metaphysic of “equal in nature, yet subordinate in subsistence”, or a metaphysic of the inequality of equals.  I next noted that Complementarians in modern evangelicalism have also turned to the metaphysic of “equal in nature, yet subordinate in subsistence” to rescue male headship from the feminist onslaught, but with a much more robust footing supplied by the supposed Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS) teaching.  I rejected this position as well as a metaphysic of oppression, grounded as it is in Trinitarian error and the subordination of persons as to their very subsistence.

Of course the questions/push back from evangelicals has been to question how one could still believe in male headship in the home, as I do, yet reject both of the above metaphysical principles.  It is a good question and warrants more than a brief answer. If the metaphysic grounded in the ESS view of the Trinity is a metaphysic of oppression, then one must believe in the inequality of nature to maintain male headship, right?  And if one rejects both, then aren’t we left with egalitarianism as the only remaining option? I, of course, have no newfangled answer, nor my own special way of treating the subject; it has been treated better and more extensively by others.  Rather, I believe that the very asking of this question just shows how much subordinationist thought has infiltrated evangelicalism, so I hope only to point the reader in a different direction and perspective to continue studying the issue.

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