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How do you reconcile "mutual consent" with assigning final decision-making to only one spouse in the marriage? If the husband has final say, he can invoke this at any point, as often as he wants. What prevents this?

Here is an interesting line from Tim Keller's paper on the role of women. He writes,

"In summary, the pattern of rule-and-submission is greatly muted in society because of sin. People abuse authority, so politically, all authority must be elected authority—and all individuals must have access to places of authority."

Note that he says "in society" it is muted. He continues,

"When we come to Scriptural teaching on women-in-the-church, we discover again a different pattern. Unlike in marriage, all women do not submit to all men. But unlike society, there is a Trinitarian pattern. It is not muted."

Now if you visit the blog "No longer Quivering" you enter the world of where "it has not been muted."

What mutes rule and submission?


Why must rule and submission be muted into democracy?

Because of sin.

Who merits living under democratic government?


Who merits living under rule and submission?


Why is rule and submission muted for men and not for women?

And, yes, I deal with issues of child abuse daily - this is my world. A child should have two parents, and an extended family. A wife lives in intimacy with her husband and has the opportunity to break her in every way. The tragedy is that this also happens to children.


I have missed citing where Keller says that there is also rule and submission in the home. Thisis the main point.


Sue, could you please share a link to Keller's paper? Thanks.


Here's the link, courtesy of Suzanne:

This wasn't meant to be a thread about Tim Keller's views of this or that. But his views definitely deserve a careful reading, so I will put another thread dedicated to them.


Suzanne - or Sue if you prefer,

You say:

"How do you reconcile "mutual consent" with assigning final decision-making to only one spouse in the marriage? If the husband has final say, he can invoke this at any point, as often as he wants. What prevents this?"

In many circumstances, in work, family, politics, and war, it's normal to assign final decision-making power to a specific person or persons by mutual consent. If I work for a law firm (I just watched an episode of "The Good Wife," a superb study of both family and workplace dynamics), and I am a junior member of the firm, I consent to allowing my superiors to overrule me. If I am a teenager, I'm thinking now of my daughter Betta, she consents (not always happily) to being overruled by one or both of her parents. In politics, I elect someone with the understanding that they may but also may not do my bidding on a particular issue. I may be bitterly opposed to a law an official I elected gets passed, a law which will be enforced with the full force of the state's coercive power. Yet I have still given consent that such happens.

In marriage prep, I have couples come to me in which the bride of her own initiative vests final decision-making power in her groom. I have relatives who grew up in typical egalitarian arrangements who have opted for a soft version of complementarianism. I have friends and relatives who organize their marriage according to traditional patterns in which the way consent is given and authority is exercised in gender-specific and non-egalitarian fashion.

In all of these cases, decision-making takes place according to the principle of domain-based hierarchy. I'm referring to what I see with my own eyes, not merely theory.

In marriage prep, this becomes clear without further ado. Whether or not a couple thinks of final decision making power in egalitarian or complementarian terms matters little. What matters more is whether they have agreed that in domains x, y, and z spouse A will follow the lead of spouse B, and in domains x', y', and z', spouse B will follow the lead of spouse A.

That's apart from the occasions, rare in a healthy marriage, in which conflict resolution is necessary. In conflict resolution, it is not important who if anyone in particular is looked to to make a final decision, so long as the decision-making is done in the spirit of 1 Corinthians 13.

Is a wife, traditional or neo-traditional, endangering herself by relating to her husband according to a traditional or neo-traditional template? There is no evidence I've seen that they are, unless there is an overwhelming amount of sin and/or sickness in the mix. But in that case, all bets are off regardless of framework.

Most of the young couples I minister to are egals. If the marriage is not on the rock solid foundation of the kind of vows we use in the United Methodist Church - which are perfectly reciprocal, the marriage is, in fact or potentially, in grave danger. The brutal fact is this: egals and comps alike find ways to hurt one another and themselves regardless of what patterns of deferral they follow in decision making, if that is what sin and/or sickness drives them to do.

If a couple in marriage prep answers the standard questions about who has primary responsibility for what domains by assigning primary responsibility in all or most areas to either the husband or the wife, barring particular medical questions, that's unhealthy by definition.

It's also a probable index of problems to come if "joint responsibility" is the choice for all domains.

Ontological equality and functional subordination. They need each other.


I cannot see any reason why a husband should have the default conflict breaking authority in a marriage relationship. If there is true mutual respect in any relationship, both sides must realize in some matters the other person has superior knowledge or experience to make a better decision than the other, while in other matters the reverse will be true. To place the conflict breaking decision with one person always would only weaken the potential of making the best possible decision. I think most, if not all of our idea that some hierarchical authority is needed to prevent anarchy is largely an illusion we have created to engender a false sense of order. Democracy fails most often not in the executive branch failing to make decisions, but in its failing to make decisions according to authority of the constitution which has been established by the vote of the people. The long and painful process in a marriage to always be committed to decisions that both partners can enthusiastically endorse is the greatest strength of any marriage relationship. Any policy that short circuits this process seriously endangers the well being of one of the parties in the relationship. I have no illusion that realistically in some relationships the woman seems to have stronger leadership qualities whereas in other relationships this quality belongs to the man. This need not be a problem especially if we follow the leadership example of Jesus in which the leader becomes the servant and slave. Most often however, leadership can be developed in a more dynamic way in which if there is any leading and following, it is dependent on the particular situation or matter at hand. If we hold any static hierarchy in the Trinity we are seriously in danger of violating the logic of monotheism. The terms we use to describe God ( king, lord, father, son, spirit) and the way we understand those terms are very limited. Just because the failure of the Israelites to maintain a proper relationship of God caused disorder in their society leading to their eventual demand for a king, does not mean that God approved of this type of government. So in the same way when we think of God as a king, we are imposing something upon God from our human experience which was not sanctioned by God in the first place. If we can move away from the fear of this archaic thinking we may be able to step into a greater freedom in our relationships that leads to true mutual submission and respect with no person needing to feel impeded.

J. K. Gayle

"Still, it is absurd to suggest that the parenting relationship, hierarchical on any definition, should therefore be abolished.... Still, that is no reason to eliminate the power differential and element of functional subordination intrinsic to those [teacher, minister, or employer ... pupil, community member, or employee] relationships." -- John

"their eventual demand for a king, does not mean that God approved... we are imposing something ... from our human experience which was not sanctioned by God in the first place." -- Jay

"A child should have two parents, and an extended family." -- Sue

Suzanne and Jay, you make very important points. To argue for "functional submission" by to analogy various hierarchies is to prototype or stereotype these hierarchies as inherently good in themselves.

John, To say, yes there are abuses in any hierarchy but these are merely aberrations is no logically sound argument for "functional submission." You are starting with culturally constructed notions of childrearing, education, religious ministry, employment to make analogies to culturally constructed ideals of "complementary" (i.e., husband over wife) marriage. You've ignored government (which Sue and Jay bring up) and slavery (which the bible very clearly addresses in close contexts with its addresses on marriage). You are having to assume, to presuppose, that the bible makes hierarchical norms for all peoples in all places at all times -- or even that the bible is consistent on its hierarchical statements or that God's people in the bible are consistent or that what God's people's insist on as desirable with respect to God's wishes. The supposition is suspect. This, it seems to me, is a big problem in your logic.


In many circumstances, in work, family, politics, and war, it's normal to assign final decision-making power to a specific person or persons by mutual consent. If I work for a law firm (I just watched an episode of "The Good Wife," a superb study of both family and workplace dynamics), and I am a junior member of the firm, I consent to allowing my superiors to overrule me. If I am a teenager, I'm thinking now of my daughter Betta, she consents (not always happily) to being overruled by one or both of her parents. In politics, I elect someone with the understanding that they may but also may not do my bidding on a particular issue. I may be bitterly opposed to a law an official I elected gets passed, a law which will be enforced with the full force of the state's coercive power. Yet I have still given consent that such happens.

I agree with you...for the most part. Willingly submitting ourselves to authority of one type or another is simply a part of life.

My main disagreement would be the nature of that "willing" submission.

A teenager will soon become an adult will no longer be forced to be under submission to her parents. A young lawyer may eventually move up the ladder and no longer be under the thumb of their former superior. Citizens can start movements and vote to change laws.

"wifely submission" as it is normally presented is much more permanent and less subject to change. If it is assumed that God has declared women to be submissive...then actively opposing the "authority" of the husband is an act, not of maturing or growing into a place of more authority for the woman, but an act of rebellion against the divine order of things.

That's a very heavy burden to bear. And it is a huge difference from the examples you have listed.

The problem is not that people choose to submit themselves to authority, or that women choose to submit themselves to their husbands, but that in the case of the theological underpinnings of complementarianism women arecompelled to submit themselves to authority and have no legitimate recourse to overrule that vested authority.....or to participate in the hierarchical structures of authority in the home or church.



If you do not see any reason why a husband should on principle have tie-breaking authority, I'm not going to argue with you. In my marriage and my parents' marriage and my grandparents' marriage, a pre-established tie-breaking pattern was not and is not in place.

It's a far more open framework, under-determined from the point of view of social anthropology, inherently unstable perhaps. Still, I wouldn't know how to do it any other way. I find that what is important is not the openness of the framework, but the constraints that a commitment to the content of 1 Corinthians 13 puts on it. If I'm being unclear, let me know.

A question for you. Faced as I am with friends and family and parishioners who opt to work out their marriage and community life according to models which foster a relatively high degree of gender complementation, do you see your task as that of convincing them to adopt egalitarian models?

I don't. I see human culture as a laboratory full of experiments. Not all experiments are created equal, and on some issues, I think it's important to take a partisan stand. But not on this one. Or rather, my partisan stand is that of seeking to see the center hold.



You say:

"You are starting with culturally constructed notions of childrearing, education, religious ministry, employment to make analogies to culturally constructed ideals of "complementarity" (i.e., husband over wife) marriage."

No, my argument is broader than that. I class traditional, neo-traditional, and egalitarian marriage templates as examples *one and all* of culturally constructed notions.

I never noticed before now that that poses a problem for a feminist of your style. If we can't agree on this baseline piece of information, I'm not sure how a fruitful discussion could follow.



My guess is that we largely agree about the "willing" part of submission. The willingness has to be granted at the highest level, because at a lower level, it is impractical to think that it can be given on a consistent basis.

A simple example. My wife runs the kitchen. Traditional, I admit, but she really is a far better cook than I am. The only things I make better than her are bacon, pancakes, and toasted cheese sandwiches. So it's understood that in meal preparation, I take orders from her. "Can you go to the grocery and get this?" I may not be willing at the moment. But I have already given my consent to this arrangement at a higher level.

That kind of consent, which some egalitarians think of exclusively in terms of its vulnerability to abuse, is nonetheless a godsend in human relationships. It forms the practical basis of domain-based hierarchy.

If we are not in agreement thus far, let me know.


Folks--I don't know if those on this site care, but in regards to the paper cited of Tim Keller's view it is worth reviewing the source.

For what it's worth, notice the paper is posted on a secondary site, and not on Keller's own Redeemer website. When I contacted Redeemer to ask for this paper they mentioned that this is not an official paper, was never suppose to be published and was an internal piece that was not fully formed yet. So what you are looking at is a year 1989 rough draft essentially. I wouldn't take the paper as the precise view that Keller holds--whether you like the paper or not.

Hope that helps to significantly make everything more ambiguous because I believe that is the case when we are citing an unpublished, unauthorized half-formed paper. Have a great day! (just posted this comment on another site too)


We care, squirrl90. Thanks for the words of caution.

Peter Kirk

I have discussed this issue in a new post on my blog Gentle Wisdom. Your system doesn't allow me to post the URL, but you should be able to find the post "A question for complementarians: Will women ever be equal?"

Peter Kirk

I think the commenting problem was not with the URL of my post. Here it is:


Thanks for the link, Peter.

However, I think the premise of your argumentation is flawed. Didn't Jesus say that in the kingdom of heaven there is no giving or taking in marriage? That being the case, complementarianism, which bases itself on a plain-sense reading of Paul and Peter's gender-specific advice in passages like Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, and 1 Peter 3, is irrelevant in the world to come.

On the other hand, I see no reason why "in heaven" there will not be all kinds of examples of domain-based hierarchy. Free from the taint of sin, such functional hierarchies, no less than functional equalities, are extraordinarily life-enhancing.


The complementarity of complementarianism is taught in this manner. Men have rule and women have submission. This is complementary roles, and this is the functional subordination of women.

I don't understand the concept of men having greater responsibility and accountability for the children either. This is a non-concept. There is no such thing as a mother that does not have equal accountability before God for her children. This being of "lesser" accountability does not exist, except inasmuch as a woman sinfully divests herself of responsibility.



You are famous in my book for making sweeping, inaccurate, and hurtful generalizations. You decontextualize to whatever degree necessary to make your chosen objects of wrath look foolish. You seem to have internalized the speech patterns of some of your ideological opponents.

Are you really not aware that your last comment is a caricature from start to finish? It seems to me that you deliberately practice a politics of denigration.

Over at Peter Kirk's place, both Jeremy Pierce and I have been trying to keep Peter honest in the same sense. Go here:

It shouldn't be necessary all the time to have to complain about this method of caricature. It's as if you are following Alinsky's rules or the like.

I know you think that is your right. Smear tactics are not beneath you. Hate to say this, but I will ban you from these threads if you continue along these lines. This is meant to be a dialogue thread, not a venting session.

J. K. Gayle


My beef isn't that you're (publicly now acknowledging and) appealing to social and cultural constructs of marriage, parenthood, etc. It's that you're selective in what counts as the prototypical construct (i.e., as if the hierarchical one you choose is the measure for the others).

The Jesus of the gospels complicates notions of parenthood hierarchy (so rooted in the culture he grew up in). Sometimes, the gospel writers even complicate patriarchy when Joseph, the father of Jesus, is so absent in his adolescence and final years, leaving Mary as the single parent. What John's Jesus says from the cross to his mother and to the new son (i.e., John the disciple) and how John the gospel writer goes on to explain that they actually did become family in "his" home is very interesting stuff. The gospels are much more clearly egalitarian (male - female equality) than the epistles (either Paul's or Peter's). And when there are complementary roles (i.e., mutually exclusive roles) of males and females, there is never ever a clear hierarchy that inevitably insists always and only that the male (because of God's "ontology" or anybody's "functionality") must be a tie-breaker or anything "over" the female.


We've been over this ground before, haven't we, Kurk?

I have argued at length, as have many other NT scholars, feminists included, that people like Paul and Peter as presented in the New Testament, uphold and acknowledge many key social constructs of their day, but ground them in Christology and thereby alter their contents significantly.

It's not a question of selecting. It's a question of combining in fruitful, life-enhancing ways. My thesis: ontological equality needs to work itself out via domain-based hierarchies. Domain-based hierarchies need a doctrine of ontological equality in order not to become oppressive. In fact, I argue, against virtually all feminism, since I regard feminism to be an empty suit, that a doctrine of equality is not an adequate safeguard. Far more effective are doctrines like the New Commandment or 1 Cor 13.

J. K. Gayle

Domain-based hierarchies need a doctrine of ontological equality in order not to become oppressive. In fact, I argue, against virtually all feminism, since I regard feminism to be an empty suit, that a doctrine of equality is not an adequate safeguard. Far more effective are doctrines like the New Commandment or 1 Cor 13.

Now you're beginning to sound very feminist, to me, like it or not. Jesus's New Commandment and Paul's I Cor. 13 sound very like Aspasia's dialectic and Sappho's fragments. Yes, theirs is the hermeneutic of charity (a phrase I'm borrowing from James K. A. Smith but which might apply also to Kenneth Pike's etic-to-emic monolingual demonstrations and to C. S. Lewis's reflections on the not-always-charitable Psalms and to William Webb's well-known work on "ontological equality need[ing] to work itself out via domain-based hierarchies" aka "Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals").


Your style is too allusive, Kurk. Who knows what you are getting at, beyond our agreement, which I do not want to minimize, that 1 Cor 13 covers a multitude of sins. It sounds as if you are having a Kum bay Yah moment.

Words have many meanings. For example, I might be considered a feminist in the same sense Feminists for Life are feminists. The best known member of that organization is Sarah Palin. Can't say that I feel any great affinity for her politically, but I recognize her as a fellow social conservative. Yet I am not a feminist standard issue since I think the practice of abortion should be disallowed by law in far more cases than it is now. Yet I am not a true social conservative since I cling only to God and not to guns.


Thanks for your response John. You asked: A question for you. Faced as I am with friends and family and parishioners who opt to work out their marriage and community life according to models which foster a relatively high degree of gender complementation, do you see your task as that of convincing them to adopt egalitarian models?

If the practice of gender complematation possibly endangers the process of complete and open dialogue in conflict resolution situations, I would indeed try to convince this couple to try to remove the the idea that the husband has a "tie-breaking" trump card in decision making. I believe that the this type of open ended dialogue has the potential to create a stronger and more honest relationship than a dialogue in which the husband holds the gavel.


I think it is important to be specific and note that complemetarity in terms of domain, may exist among couples of any persuasion. This is not about women needing to work outside the home. This is about women having equal say and equal rights to self expression, and authority over the children.


Thanks for your response, Jay. In my experience, among complementarian friends, family, and parishioners, overall authority is freely and serenely delegated. So it is not experienced as a trump card or a gavel. Rather, it is experienced as a gift in which the husband puts the interests of others ahead of his own. It could not be otherwise because servant-leadership is the only kind that is permitted by the gospel.

Another category I am familiar with are people who have lived their life in the love-obey framework. Yes, if the husband is an alcoholic or the wife is a hag (sometimes the cause is undiagnosed mental illness), all bets are off. But generally speaking, love-obey marriages are healthy and long-lasting because they are contextualized in a commitment to ideals such as selflessness and love of one's neighbor which protects them from degeneration.

There are exceptions to this rule. I have in mind one person who went from being egal to being a comp and back to being an egal again. But he was disrespectful and even abusive in intimate relationships in all three phases. In his Christian comp phase, perhaps he thought for a moment that he had some cover for his sinful ways. But no one seconded him in that sense, because abuse is abuse in all frameworks. So he returned to being a faux egal. Paradoxically, he found more available prey in the egal world. In that world, among non-Christians, alcohol all too often is considered an acceptable lubricant in intimate relationships. It also disinhibits violent behavior.



I agree entirely. And if the domain in question is that of "tough decisions for which no one necessarily wants to take responsibility, but someone has to," and primary responsibility for that domain is assigned in a particular couple to the husband by mutual consent, that is clearly a complementarian arrangement, but is it also an egalitarian arrangement?

I don't know and I don't think it much matters. The reason I give that particular example is that I know of many marriages among self-identifying comps and self-identifying egals that work that way. The arrangement doesn't work well among people with a legalistic cast of mind, self-confidence issues, mental health issues and/or substance abuse. The list, which could go on, reminds me of commercials for medicine which warn people per the law of possible harmful side effects.

My point is simple. Domain-based hierarchy which, as you point out, is typical of real life healthy marriage regardless of framework, is subject to abuse, and not only in the particular domain just referred to. But that is not a credible argument against domain-based hierarchy, regardless of the domain in question.

Another domain susceptible to abuse is the domain of parenting. In that domain, it is not uncommon for the mother to arrogate to herself more authority than is healthy. There should be more sharing but there isn't.

Among traditionals it is characteristic that overall authority is vested in the husband. That is office-based authority which must nonetheless mesh with gift-based authority and moral authority. So it's complicated. Sometimes, maybe even often, gift-based and moral authority tip the scales in such a way that the true head of a household is the wife. On other occasions, it tips the scales further in the direction of the husband as head of the household. The idea however that this means that there is a situation of oppression is perfectly ludicrous.

I love to listen to traditionals talk about how they made the tough decisions in their lives. I love to listen to any couple talk about that. It becomes clear right away how unimportant framework is compared to fundamental values and things like one's maturity as a believer and as a human being.

What's interesting is that in a traditional or complementarian marriage, since the default overall authority is vested in the husband, on the rare occasions in which the wife feels it is necessary to overrule her husband, she gets her way as a rule if her husband is well-meaning. If not, I suggest, you have a sick and/or sin-filled husband on your hands.

There are parallels to this phenomenon in workplace-based hierarchies, in the church, in politics, in parenting, and beyond.

You have recounted before how your complementarian marriage was hell on earth. I am not in a position to comment since I would have to hear both sides as any counselor would tell you.

Nonetheless, I'm sure that such hell-on-earth marriages exist. I see enough of them in my setting, even if they are mostly among egals.

This is my honest opinion: a change in framework in either direction is not enough to save such a marriage. In that sense, framework is over-rated by both hard-line comps and hard-line egals.


I see that you are going to offer me your usual compliments. Thank you for all your blessings.

J. K. Gayle

John, I'm not trying to make you or Sarah Palin feminists. Palin's a politically-motivated pragmatist seeking power, it seems to me. But you, sir, are in denial about what love is. Love is why you and your wife are egalitarian in your marriage, is why neither of you would want to be sexist in principle or in practice. (And your being in denial, it seems, is like Paul's own denial, his love amnesia, in moving from I Cor 13 on to I Cor 14:35. Yes, I know he would confess "not that I have achieved," but still. kum bAH yAH indeed.)

Now, on this whole tie-breaker concept, I'm thinking this morning of something A.W. Tozer said: "It takes more than a ballot to make a leader." It takes more than being a husband in the marriage I would add.



Perhaps you have forgotten what I've said on other occasions. When you target complementarians as a class with language that compares them, implicitly or explicitly, to sadists, you cross a red line. You are talking about friends, family, and parishioners in a way that dehumanizes them. I will have none of it.


Sarah Palin is a member of Feminists for Life. So you have it backwards, Kurk.

At some point, you have to decide how controlling you want to be. You allow Paul and Tim and Kathy Keller to be liberal from time to time. Will you also allow them to be conservative from time to time? You allow Sarah Palin to be a political pragmatist, which I take to be your compliment in her direction. Will you also allow her to be a feminist according to her own lights?

If I understand you correctly, you are saying that love is love if and only if it is egalitarian.

I disagree, unless you define egalitarianism as adherence to the notion of ontological equality within the context of an acceptance of functional hierarchies. Most of my day, and yours as well, takes place within a multiple series of functional subordination frames, in which I am on the upside of some hierarchies and on the downside of others.

If love cannot occur in these frames, I am fried and so are you.

J. K. Gayle

"Feminists" for Life is sort of like Catholics for Choice, isn't it?

So abolitionists have to decide how controlling they want to be? Will they allow someone who is Master and Owner of another human being to be less charitable some days?

You don't understand me correctly. Paul was rather abstract with his I Cor 13 features list definition of love. Love, nonetheless, is embodied. You might say it's incarnational. I think Paul does get it right writing to the Macedonians (i.e., Philippians 2). Bodies upend hierarchies. Bodies are sexed, male and female, in God's image. But something happened so long ago in the garden, so the story goes, and yes there is not always love, not always the image of love, not always equality.


Kurk, I appreciate your honest pro-choice stance. I could have called it a pro-abortion stance, but if I had, I would have become as controlling in my rhetoric as I suggest you are being.

I will simply ask: how does equality work in the case of an unborn child? How equal is that child in your eyes?

But you ask a perfect question: "So abolitionists have to decide how controlling they want to be?" Yes, abolitionists have to decide how controlling they are going to be.

On one end of the spectrum you have people like John Brown, a terrorist not just in speech but in fact. Very incarnational, John Brown.

On the other hand, you have someone like Abraham Lincoln. A waffler, always trying to understand how the hierarchy of truth needed to work itself out in practice.

He and everyone else tried to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. And the blood flowed. And Atlanta burned. And my ancestral kin in Wisconsin tended to the Confederate POW wounded in Madison, and buried them with honor. And my ancestral kin in Massachusetts manned a station of the Underground Railroad (now a national monument). And many others died, as they had earlier in the Revolutionary War.

Augustine got it right. Why do people kill, why do they commit adultery? He asked. For love, he replied.

What I am suggesting, Kurk, is that your appeal to the example of abolitionism resolves exactly nothing.

J. K. Gayle

"the example of abolitionism resolves exactly nothing."

John, You and I are talking past one another. You are being reductionistic and very clever by using the word "controlling" of me. It's clever irony, as if feminists and abolitionists (would "control" or seek the "control" that makes sexists, misogynists, gynophobes, and those who would "own" and "master" and "enslave" someone less privileged and othered because of race, gender, or class). That's the point in this "conversation" at which I bring in "the example of abolitionism." And then you give your stereotypes, your prototypes, in a false choice: either "John Brown, a terrorist" or "Abraham Lincoln. A waffler." Right, I understand you intend a "spectrum." Let me grant you that; but it's telling that you would present one "extreme" or its opposite as if those two fairly represent a group of individuals such as John Stuart Mill or Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Matilda Gage or Frederick Douglass -- all of whom would cringe at your binary "examples" and the latter of whom actually was very instrumental in bringing Lincoln around. The US civil War was an absolute mess. So you bring that bit of horrid history in the conversation as if to say, "See, because it was bad then and there, abolitionism resolves nothing. Because abolitionism resolves nothing, egalitarianism resolves nothing. Because egalitarianism resolves nothing, we have the mess of the battles between complementarianists and egalitarianists. History repeats because history repeats. That's the Nature of things."

I find your Augustine comment more interesting. As we all know, Augustine was neither feminist nor aboltionist. Rather, he was outright sexist and a strong proponent of slavery and of using slavery metaphors for the husband over wife marriage (dominus vs. the general Christian and the increasingly liberal Roman views of ancilla of his day). "Thus Augustine's view of the husband-wife relation sharply worsened the condition of woman as wife in Christian marriage, in comparison with legal and social patterns of his time," explains historian Rosemary Radford Ruether, with much detail from historian Kim Power as well. What about "love" did Augustine get "right," John?

Your tight labels, your forcing different ones of us in them, and then your demanding some apology from us for the boxes you put us in is at best "cross talk." You're quite accusing: you accuse me of wishywashyness (i.e., on Paul), of being "backwards" (i.e., on Palin), of being "controlling" somehow of those who would control (not free) over whom they sit or stand or trample by their hierarchical position, of resolving nothing. The tough thing is in this "conversation" (and where does Sue use "sadism") is that you keep sharply setting the terms and binding definitions that would box us in to positions we never take. It borders on reductionism and feels as hurtful as an ad hominem attack. Now I'm talking about how I feel, not necessarily what you intend. I'm not always sure what you intend. I most of the time think you intend love, but I always doubt that you intend it the way you say Augustine got it right. So let's reconsider again: Augustine did not get love right.



First of all, thank you for the discussion. You are an incredibly good sport. I really am grateful to you.

I am happy to let the readers of this thread decide whether history is as messy as I imply it is, or instead, a long dark age until the dawn arrived, with the epiphany of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, as you suggest.

The Civil War as "a bit of horrid history." Now you remind me of my Marxist friends (I came close to considering myself a Marxist at one time, and was a member of the Italian Communist Party).

The trouble with history: it's egalitarian in a sense all its own. With respect to ideologies, yours, mine, it is the great equalizer. I don't think you have come to grips with that yet.

I have discussed my view of history, which is grosso modo like that of Walter Benjamin, here:

As you know, Kurk, or should know, Reuther's interpretation of Augustine has been carefully fisked by other Augustine scholars, men and women. It has been found wanting. Reuther's description of Augustine, and yours, is a caricature. Augustine got nothing right about love? Perhaps you need to reread his Confessions.

Let me note what is, from my point of view, at issue here.

When someone describes male complementarians as a class as if they were into psychological S & M and female complementarians as a class as if they were children who have never grown up, I find that offensive. Extremely offensive.

I have friends, family, and colleagues, some of whom are egal, some comp, some traditional. You do not attack me when you imply that male comps are slaveowners and female comps are slaves. You attack them, male and female. You attack traditionals as well.

So I call you on it, and have called others on it, on my blog and on Complegal before that. Yes, I know you do not come right out and say what you imply. Of course not. You engage in rhetorical sleight of hand. Don't bother to go Dumbo on me about this. It really isn't that hard to detect.

This is how it works for me. I have a daydream. It goes like this. I see you approaching Augustine, who is seated on a stone bench, in the shade of an olive tree. The Mediterranean Sea glistens in the background. You sit down on a stone bench opposite him. You are getting ready to say, "Augustine, you did not get love right," but you look into his eyes and are unable to.

The encounter occurs, in the dream, when we all will have faces, as C.S. Lewis puts it.

Is my dream true?

J. K. Gayle

John, It's your dream. Aren't they all true?

You sound like Socrates accusing Gorgias of "rhetorical sleight of hand." The really awful thing, the ironic thing, is that when Plato wrote the Gorgias, he was idealizing a person (i.e., the sophist Gorgias) who was not at all like the real Gorgias. Now, what does that do to Platonism? Ha! But my Confession is that I really (sincerely) struggle with saying anything. I am not trying to trick you, my friend, or to be tricky in the least:

I do think that wordplay is very important. I think that the Bible is full of it. I think that C. S. Lewis (since you drop his name) is very keen on "second meanings" (intended and not intended) by original authors (as he discusses in two chapters of Reflections on the Psalms). By "wordplay," I've come to intend not only "playfulness" (which can be tricky) but also hermeneutical "wiggle room." Now I see that "wordplay" also means a "performance" of words. I am not intending "rhetorical sleight of hand." I think it's very important for you to hear that whether you can believe it or not. This is where my sense of the "cross talk" comes in. It frequently seems like we're bringing up different things, or the same things but with different meanings and intentions. Yes, I am getting your point about trying to be absolutely relativistic with complementarians, and slave owners too. It's that trap that Allan Bloom tried to use in his "Closing of the American Mind."

I think you might listen a little more carefully to Sue (and thank you for trying to explain your thought that she's using S&M for complementarian husbands). I think you might listen a little more to me too, with some care. There's a difference, for me, in suffering offense and in "taking" offense. So allow me, please, to try to explain a bit more while suspending, if you will, your thought that I'm wanting to hurt or to label anyone. The slavery stuff is useful just as some of the other Jewish biblical legal code is useful. It's not to make analogies that break down or comparisons that offend. Rather, it's to stress that these things (i.e. the regulation of slavery and the allowance of quick divorce when the husband decides the cause and the prohibition against wearing clothes woven of wool-linen mixture) come late in human history. It's to emphasize that these can (and in some cases) must be set aside.

I am not saying that complementarianism must be seen as slavery. I do think it's interesting that Peter in his first epistle tells "wives" to "obey" husbands and suggests they call them "master." I do think the language is troublesome when subjugation sounds identical both in slavery and in marriage. But I'm not free to write or to re-write those texts. I am free to read etically (or maybe I'm always bound to read as an outsider). I really like how Phyllis Bird recognizes this freedom, this ability, this responsibility. Her words are, "I am not certain that the translator is even obliged to make the modern reader understand what is overheard." The text does not enslave.

I am not hoping to suggest that egalitarianism is the ultimate ideal utopia as we experience it today or might imagine it some day. I am wanting to say that love redeems and frees those who law only seizes and controls. I'm wanting to suggest that love is a looking back (but back far enough so as to recover) as much as it might be a looking forward.

I do appreciate the conversation too, John. Yes, somehow I even hope for change in and change by our talking together. Alternatives to this can be horrible. The other thing I've experienced is that change sometimes doesn't come through talk but by things more profound. I hope you agree that change is needed.


Thanks, Kurk, for the conversation. We really do have very different approaches to interpretation. I see the interpreter's task to be that of being a servant of the word, as explained here:

As I see it, you construe the interpretive task in terms of protecting the reader from the text. You have a version of feminism which determines truth for you, and you judge a text, Aristotle, the Bible, by that standard.

I agree: change is needed, but not of the kind you have in mind.

I have listened long and hard to both Sue and you for years now. I have interacted with the both of you in long exchanges and with as much patience as possible.

My tentative conclusion is this: you develop and project into the wider world personal narratives and stories of exodus in such a controlling fashion that you find it necessary to denigrate the narratives of others, narratives that have a very different shape and a very different direction.

You end up policing people's language, their opinions, their life-choices.

Most of us, however, are not looking for someone to explain why we are evil persons. We are looking for a dialogue situation with the following premise: "I'm not okay, you're not okay. We can get through this together."

Le me personalize. I'm not okay, Kurk. I know that. You're not okay. You know that. We can get through this together, maybe only together.

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