By Their Fruits

A few days ago, John Piper shared a podcast on DesiringGod called Sex-Abuse Allegations and the Egalitarian Myth. A title like that leaves little room for surprises – and we have learned what to expect from this particular author – but let me offer a breakdown.

His premise:

  • Egalitarianism has robbed women of special treatment from men, and is responsible for sexual abuses.
  • Complementarianism (modern term for “Biblical” or “Christian” patriarchy, according to complementarians themselves) is the “God-ordained restraint upon male vice and male power and a great, God-ordained incentive for male valor”, as well as a system “designed for the protection and flourishing of women”.

He begins by putting us in the (very) hypothetical situation of a nine-year-old child asking, “What does it mean to grow up and be a man and not a woman?” He warns us that it will not do to answer: “What it means is that when you grow up, you will have maturity and wisdom and courage and sacrifice and humility and patience and kindness and strength and self-control and purity and faith and hope and love, etc.”. This may strike you as a great, Scripture-based answer, but Piper says no. It is confusing and hurtful, because – apparently – it is not enough to bring a child up to be godly. Unless the training is gender-specific, it “obscures” and “diminishes” manhood and womanhood. Mimi Haddad did an excellent job of answering this issue here. But moving on, Piper then presents three “Bible pointers” he considers support his thesis, which are as follows:

1) The First Failure.
According to Piper, the first failure was not primarily one of disobedience to God, but one of leadership. Adam failed to lead Eve. Jesus came into the world to destroy that failure and restore order between men and women. (Notice what is going on here with this definition of redemption.)

2) Always a Man.
In a nutshell: being in charge is essential to manhood, inside and outside the home; the man should, however, strive to be nice about it.

3) The Weaker Vessel.
Here Piper presents the weakness of women as a defining factor in relationships. A man would apparently have no reason to honor a woman if she were not weaker than him.

He concludes by restating his premise: egalitarianism is a false and harmful doctrine, and complementarianism is the healing, counter-cultural answer to our society’s ills.

Now of course there is a lot going on here, but right now I just want to focus on a couple pivotal issues. To begin with, as has been pointed out elsewhere, Piper misrepresents egalitarianism by claiming that it robs women of honor and protection from men, when in fact egalitarianism promotes mutual honor and care, safeguarding both partners in a relationship.

Also, his claim that sexual abuse has only recently become a problem (reiterating CBMW’s Danvers Statement, which pointed to the “upsurge of physical and emotional abuse in the family” as one of the “contemporary developments” that led to its founding) is willfully ignorant, as countered by Rachel Held Evans in her (must-read) article Patriarchy Doesn’t “Protect” Women:

First, it assumes sexual assault, harassment, and abuse are recent phenomena, products of egalitarian views on gender that grant women equality in the home, church, and culture. But abuses like these have been around for centuries… The #MeToo movement does not reflect some sudden increase in the abuse of women; rather, it reflects a growing awareness of those abuses, and a mounting, collective fervor to confront them.

But even more significantly, Piper misrepresents complementarianism by portraying it as a system “designed for the protection and flourishing of women”.

To understand what is wrong with that statement, we must first understand something about the fundamental nature of abuse. It is not random behavior. In his article, Those Who Choose to Abuse, Justin Holcomb quotes expert Lundy Bancroft and writes:

“Abuse grows from attitudes and values, not feelings. The roots are ownership, the trunk is entitlement, and the branches are control.”[1] The issue of abuse is not only about having control of and power over someone else. The abuser uses power and control as tools to support his belief that he owns his wife or partner and that he is entitled to certain treatment.

Abuse always flows from entitlement. Sexual abuse is not about sex. Domestic violence is not about anger. Both are about power and control. 

A couple years ago, Timothy Swanson (at Diary of an Autodidact) examined some statements on domestic violence made by well-known evangelical organizations. He pointed out that the reason they were unable to clearly condemn “the use of physical, psychological, and emotional means to exert control over a spouse” (definition of domestic abuse) was that “it would destroy the foundation of their doctrine, which is that men have a God-given right and responsibility to control women.

“Complementarians” have taught for the last several decades that the key insight that the Bible and Christianity bring to marital relationships is that women should submit to men. They teach that what is wrong with modern society is that “Feminism™” has ruined male/female relationships by teaching women that they no longer need to obey men. Thus, the key “insight” into how to improve marriages is just that: women need to obey men, and everything will be better.

Really, no one should be surprised there would be abuse going on in circles where this is taught and enforced. It’s a logical outcome.[2]

There is so much documented proof for this that it is hard to choose which cases to share. Piper himself went on record saying a wife should submit to abuse “for a season” before going for help to the church – not civil authorities, mind you – and don’t forget that by “the church” he means an all-male board who will decide if and what kind of help she needs. Even at that, he imagines her slathering her husband with assurances of how “sweet” it would be for her to be able to follow his leadership instead.

In her book, Me? Obey Him?, used for years as the complementarian wife’s primer, Elizabeth Rice Handford was even more outspoken. (She had, after all, been trained by the best.)

The Scriptures say a woman must ignore her “feelings” about the will of God, and do what her husband says.  She is to obey her husband as if he were God Himself. She can be as certain of God’s will, when her husband speaks, as if God had spoken audibly from Heaven!

Why doesn’t the husband have to do his part first? Why? Because you are the one burdened for a Christian home… Think how long the rewards of a good Christian home will last. Then ask yourself if it is worth the trifling mortifications of obedience. Of course it is! [3]

Of the so-called trifling mortifications Vyckie Garrison, ex-member of the patriarchal Quiverfull movement, spoke in her personalized review of Handford’s book here. Ruth A. Tucker tells her experience in her book Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife. Recovering Grace documents many testimonies from people who followed or grew up under Bill Gothard’s patriarchal teaching. Quivering Daughters offers a large file of articles about abuse in patriarchal families. These are only a few examples of a very troubling reality – and there are many more that remain unconfessed and unexposed due to the power of indoctrination, fear and despair.

Piper may defend whatever system he chooses, but he may not change the facts. Patriarchy, not egalitarianism, is a time-tested seed which has borne bad fruit all over the world. Far from a haven for women, it is by very nature a system that puts them in a position of vulnerability and creates an environment that enables and protects abusers.

Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.
Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

Matthew 7:17,20

[1] Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2002), 75.
[2] (Referenced 03/23/18)
[3] Elizabeth Rice Handford, Me? Obey Him?, 28, 69. (emphasis mine)

Online resources & recommended reading:
Injustice: an Open Letter to The Gospel Coalition
The Myth of Biblical Manhood

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s