Complementarity Without Subordination

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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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ESS, Slavery, and the Metaphysic of Oppression

George WHitfield
[In process of studying for Part 2 in my series, “’Economic’ Subordination of the Son?”, I could not keep the following thoughts from pestering me.  So here they are, as a parenthetical to our study.]

George Whitfield believed that “Africans” were human but subordinate creatures and as such could rightfully be enslaved.  He saw this as an act of beneficence on behalf of the white Christian slave holder. In like manner, Robert Lewis Dabney, while discussing “natural equality” states the following:

[…]if the low grade of intelligence, virtue and civilization of the African in America, disqualified him for being his own guardian, and if his own true welfare (taking the “general run” of cases) and that of the community, would be plainly marred by this freedom; then the law decided correctly, that the African here has no natural right to his self-control, as to his own labour and locomotion. Hence, his natural liberty is only that which remains after that privilege is retrenched.[1]

While hideous, the metaphysic of such a position was simple: those unequal in nature, being, dignity, and attributes are also unequal in relations, including authority and submission, right to command and duty to obey. “Equality” only extends to the individuals as a requirement for equal duty before God—one to care for his subordinate and the other to obey his superior.  Equity was simply the Golden Rule practiced according to one’s natural lot.

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