Whose Morality Have We Been Teaching?

Lately, Dalrock has been getting me thinking about the negative impact of chivalry on Christians’ understanding of sexual morality. One of the key parts of the idea is that the false but ubiquitous belief that sex is legitimated by romance rather than by marriage can be traced back to medieval tales of courtly love and chivalry. And this is just as much an issue among conservatives as it is among liberals because of conservatives’ nostalgia for it despite how twisted a lot of those old stories really are.

I found a good (i.e. terrible) example of this while I was preparing for a class on the virtue of chastity that I’ve just started teaching at my congregation. I was perusing the church’s library, and found a little book that CPH (for my non-Lutheran readers, that’s my denomination’s publishing house) put out in ’67 called Parents Guide to Christian Conversation About Sex (part of the “Concordia Sex Education Series.”) Given how badly we’ve dealt with the topic over the past couple generations, I was understandably curious about what we were teaching in immediate response to the sexual revolution.

Much of the book is in the form of Q & A (i.e. if your kid asks you this, here’s what you should tell them.) Here’s their answer to the question of “What’s wrong with sexual relations before marriage?”

I’m sure you understand that God made intercourse for marriage. It is such an intimate act that it cannot really fulfill its unique function according to God’s plan outside of marriage–certainly not in a parked car! The sex act is supposed to be the climax of a love relationship between two people who have married and live together and share life together. It is an expression of the deep, lasting, personal relationship that exists between husband and wife. It expresses the total unity that they share as husband and wife. Before marriage there is no such unity to express and physical intimacies become merely a satisfaction of physical desires. True love is always more than that. Be sure not to think of love and sex as synonymous.

Admittedly, hindsight is 20/20, but I hardly know where to begin in pointing out all the problems with this. It starts off with a whopper: “I’m sure you understand that God made intercourse for marriage.” I believe the next 50 years adequately demonstrated that this presumption couldn’t possibly be further off-base.

Then there’s the contention that “Sex is supposed to be the climax of a love relationship” which is A) not a Biblical teaching and B) not really even true. Anybody familiar with Scripture & history is going to realize that this is a view that comes from our own culture rather than from the Bible or natural law. If you want a good counter-example, just look at Martin and Katie Luther. I’ve read what Luther wrote at the time about why he got married, and it is about the least romantic thing I’ve even seen. He married her to please his father, to spite the Pope, and to practice what he preached about marriage; he explicitly says that he “appreciated” her more than he loved her. When they got married after only a few weeks of knowing each other, it wasn’t because it was love at first sight, but because they both thought it was a good idea. Then they had sex. And then (as you can also see from Luther’s later writings) genuine love and affection grew out of that original partnership. Broadly speaking across history and cultures, that pattern of marriage->sex->romance is probably more common than our own required sequence of romance->marriage->sex.

Sex may be the climax of the love relationship in popular entertainment–the movie may end when the train goes into the tunnel–but real life is different. Sex is great, but when you consider just how much of marriage occurs after you first have sex, you realize that it isn’t the climax of the relationship–it’s the flowering of it. People generally hope that their marriage is going to last a lot longer than just the wedding night.  Nobody really wants it to be all downhill from there.

But false teachings like these are really only symptomatic of the bigger problem: this entire explanation amounts to a rhapsody about how only married people are emotionally and romantically intimate enough to have sex. A parked car simply will not do!

Given explanations like this, it’s no wonder why young Christians disregarded Biblical teachings about fornication. If sex is legitimated by romance–by having the right kind of feelings–then all that really means to any teenager is that sex is ok if they feel like it. And that is exactly how people were already seeing it when this book was written. “Well, we’re going steady, so we’re definitely united in a deep and lasting love relationship. We just really want to express that unity with each other.”

And if you’re the one teaching them that romance legitimates sex, then who are you to tell them that they’re wrong? Feelings are subjective. You can’t meaningfully tell a person, “you might think that you feel the right feelings, but you don’t really feel the right feelings that you feel like you’re feeling.” You have no business telling a young couple whether their own feelings of emotional intimacy meet your required threshold of sentiment. That’s also why it was so easy to make gay “marriage” acceptable in our society. We have absolutely no business telling two men or two women how they feel about one another either. And if it’s romantic love that legitimates sex and therefore marriage in our eyes, then it just as easily legitimates them both for homosexuals as for fornicating heterosexuals.

When Christians base their case against fornication on it being necessary to have the right kind of feelings, that merely accepts and reinforces the false cultural belief that sex is all about pleasure–after all, romantic intimacy is very pleasurable. And that is what the Spirit of the Age teaches. Virtually every form of media we consume teaches that it’s pleasure (usually in the form of romance) that legitimates sex. Think back over some of the stuff that you’ve watched and consider how often you were cheering on adultery and fornication between the characters simply because it was romantic. It’s shameful how easily we can be satisfied just by creating the appropriate drama.

The Bible’s disagreement with our culture goes far deeper than what we’ve been teaching those entrusted to us. It is marriage–not romance–that legitimizes sex. And that is just as important to remember after exchanging vows as it is before, because we do exactly the same thing within marriage. People everywhere believe that if the feelings have become insufficient, then the marriage can be eliminated at any time.  They likewise believe that the spouses have no real sexual responsibilities toward one-another.

None of this is to say that romance is a bad thing–that’s just a wonderful part of God making his mandate to be fruitful and multiply pleasurable for us. Nevertheless, romance does not provide any kind of moral license for sex. After so many generations of utterly failing to pass on Biblical morality, it’s time for the Church to stop teaching what she’s imbibed from culture, and to start teaching what Jesus actually taught us in the first place.

Posted in Chastity, Christian Youth, Culture, Lutheranism | 5 Comments

When Devotionals Attack

I have a confession to make: I’ve never been a big fan of devotionals. As instructional material, I usually find them both shallow and unnecessarily flowery. As inspirational material, they usually feel emotionally manipulative. And as material that is supposed to propel me towards prayer and meditation, my previous complaints generally end up distracting me instead.

All that is simply a matter of preference on my part, but when devotionals contain false doctrine, they become dangerous. After all, that light and “inspirational” format often discourages critical thinking while the superfluous language can make it more difficult to even understand and articulate what’s wrong. In those kinds of circumstances, it’s easy to come away with false teachings under the guise of inspirational impressions.

This is certainly the case in a recent devotional over at Christ Hold Fast. Stephen Paulson posted a meditation on Psalm 51, a penitential lament in which David confesses his sin with Bathsheba after being confronted by the prophet Nathan (the “You are that man!” episode that is one of the more poignant moments in David’s life.)

Much of Paulson’s clumsy and disjointed prose is just postmodern bafflegarble designed to leave an impression without actually saying anything at all. When he declares that “The old seminary teachers defined sin as anything said, done, or thought against the Law of God” he doesn’t come right out and say they are incorrect, but connects them without logic to the Church of Rome at the time of Luther, leaving the impression that it’s wrong-headed. He briefly notes David’s guilt when it comes to covetousness, adultery, murder, and so forth but quickly passes by to address a peculiar man-made “sin,” leaving the impression that the actual Divine Laws that David violated are less important without actually saying so. It’s a contemporary writing style designed to be emotionally evocative that just happens to also provide plausible deniability to writers who want to say outlandish things without the burden of being accountable for them.

But at the core of the meditation lies the real problem with this devotional: making the story of David and Nathan all about this peculiar man-made sin.

David’s sin was that he had no preacher. What to do? God sent a preacher who blotted out David’s transgression so that if David ever went back to ask what happened to this sin concerning Bathsheba, Uriah, and the hidden God of majesty, the preached God would say: What sin?

So how on Earth does Paulson get from A to B on this? If you toss his word salad for a bit, here’s what you end up with. You might have thought that in Psalm 51, David was repenting of all the lies, murder, and adultery he committed by sleeping with Bathsheba and arranging her husband’s death to cover it up. But Paulson has moved beyond such mundane and legalistic affairs to a higher plane of interpretation. David’s sin, you see, was theological in nature–he didn’t have the Gospel right.

The first sleight of hand is when Paulson declares that David’s “real sin before God was his best quality—enthusiasm (trying to make God’s word true, faster).”**  But How was David using adultery to make God’s word true faster? Well, being part of Christ’s direct lineage, when David was laying with Bathsheba, he was actually trying to hasten God’s promises and control the Gospel by planting his Seed in Bathsheba. This is what Nathan’s parable of the poor man robbed of his single beloved sheep was *really* about: Not David robbing Uriah of his wife and life when he had a kingdom and a harem of his own, but David not treating the Gospel as the poor man did his beloved sheep. And God taking their illegitimate child’s life wasn’t anything so crass as a punishment. He just wasn’t going to let David define the Gospel.

So in the end, David’s sin wasn’t really a matter of the Law, but rather an absence of Gospel. He just didn’t have someone to properly explain it to him. Hence, David’s only sin is not having a preacher to preach the good news, so God sent Nathan to cheer him up.

Words cannot describe what a bastardization this is of the Biblical text. I challenge you to try to actually read 2 Samuel 11-12 according to this interpretation. See for yourself how much damage you have to do to Scripture to make this even kind of fit the words.

The obvious faults to even the casual reader are legion. It reads ridiculous motivations into the story. I sincerely doubt that David was watching Bathsheba bathe and thinking, “Hoo boy, I’d sure like to plant mankind’s savior in DAT. Better hurry up and git her done.” Certainly, the fact that he found Bathsheba’s pregnancy so inconvenient is enough to establish that. Paulson’s “interpretation” also forgets that David already had lots of wives and lots of children–most of whom were not in Christ’s direct line, and most of whom weren’t immediately killed by God for David’s over-enthusiasm for siring the messiah. And, as is typical of Radical Lutheranism, It completely forgets about the principle human victim all this–Uriah. Even the prophet Nathan’s parable that so dramatically impresses the gravity of what David did to Uriah is redirected from the natural reading of the text to a bizarre symbolism in which the ewe is really the Gospel. In short, it contorts one of the most straightforward and dramatic texts in the Old Testament beyond all recognition for the sole purpose of transforming David’s sin into a mere theological mishap.

This is ultimately why Radical Lutheranism isn’t Lutheran at all. Luther bound himself to the Word of God. There he stood because that’s what God had clearly said. Radical Lutherans, on the other hand, have to torture Scripture until it confesses to what they’ve already chosen to believe. Consequently, what they believe, teach, and confess bears only a passing resemblance to Lutheranism–a glamour crafted by slathering on some common terminology. It fools people who want to be fooled, but no one who can see through bafflegarble is taken in by this.

Like every false religion, Radical Lutheranism has to create a new scheme under which its adherents can attain innocence before God. Christ’s substitutionary payment for their sins is insufficient because that righteousness is not of themselves. After all, they still feel guilty for having committed the sins covered in Christ’s blood, and nobody likes feeling that way. Scorning God’s true grace and mercy, they then craft a system in which they were never truly guilty in the first place–a system in which God’s condemning law is an arbitrary construct that God Himself disregards just as blithely as the Radical Lutheran has. Under such a scheme, they never really sinned in any significant way, so God can just brush it all under the rug without any fuss.

But whether it’s Radical Lutheranism or some other flavor, every form of antinomianism always comes with a price-tag: a brand new law crafted by the antinomians and used to oppress their opponents. In this case, the new law both demands people provide a forgiveness that is as costless as their sins are harmless and forbids the preaching of any of the reminders thereof found in God’s Law. Anyone criticizing the Radical Lutheran is immediately found guilty of despising their man-made Law/Gospel hybrid and labeled a self-righteous pharisee.

There’s nothing Lutheran about Radical Lutheranism. There’s not even anything Christian about it. In the end, it’s all just another heresy that proclaims another gospel.


**I did struggle with what Paulson meant by “enthusiasm” and “enthusiasts” here. Does he mean it in the Lutheran sense–those who seek God’s revelation apart for His Word and his salvation apart from His Means of Grace? Or does he mean it the colloquial sense of somebody who is really excited about something? I eventually decided on the latter. If he’s using it in the Lutheran sense, he’s deliberately redefining it away from its normal definition to mean “trying to make God’s word true, faster.” Now, that could be an instance of a common postmodern rhetorical trick–an attempt to leverage a word’s connotation without applying its definition in order to trigger an impression. However, “trying to make God’s word true, faster” does sort of fit with the colloquial definition of “excitement,” and he marks it as David’s “best quality,” so I’m giving Paulson the benefit of the doubt and assuming he means it that way. I could be wrong.

Posted in Gospel, Law, Lutheranism, Theological Liberalism, Theological Pietism, Theology | 8 Comments

Do We Really Need More Women Leaders in the Church?

Awhile back, I was involved in an informal discussion about opening up the office of congregational president to women at an LCMS congregation. We were all on the same page with respect to God only calling men to the office of pastor. And care was given to make sure none of the duties of presidential office usurped any parts of the pastoral office. But with those issues addressed, surely women could take on the role, right? After all, there’s no hard and fast Biblical rule about congregational presidents. It’s an office invented by human beings for the sake of administrating the day-to-day management of a congregation. As its creators, we can also alter the office as we see fit. So in this day and age, shouldn’t that old restriction be lifted?

To be sure, congregational presidents are a matter of adiaphora–things indifferent. In other words, there is no Biblical command one way or another that we are obligated to obey, so it is indeed a matter of Christian freedom. However, as I’ve written numerous times, adiaphora doesn’t mean “do whatever you want,” but rather “do whatever is wisest.” Is the ongoing push to open more and more roles to women a wise course of action for churches to follow? We should never accept change as a foregone conclusion simply because everybody’s doing it, but rather weigh it with the wisdom God has given us.

One of the most important questions we need to ask is where does this push come from. Why do so many want to open up more and more leadership roles to women?

Well, the push certainly doesn’t come from Scripture. Nowhere does the Bible command women to take positions of leadership in the church or otherwise. On the contrary, the only times I can think where the subject comes up in Scripture are times when women taking positions of authority over men are used as images of shame. Neither does it come from Christian tradition, as the Church has always been patriarchal in its governance until recently. Neither does it come from effectiveness in any empirical sense. After all, the last generation of expanding roles for women hasn’t produced some kind of golden age of church leadership, to put it mildly.

No, the push comes from the worldly philosophy of feminism, which has spent the last century marching through our institutions and has now become part of our basic worldview. But while it may make us comfortable in a worldly sense, feminism is the last philosophy the Church should be looking to for guidance. Through its insistence on abortion, it became one of the bloodiest ideologies of the 20th century–a remarkable achievement given the competition. The sexual revolution that it demanded has brought about untold misery. The divorce revolution has destroyed countless families and undermined the most fundamental element of any human society–the very first place we all learn how to love the people God has placed in our lives. If we are to judge a tree by its fruits, then this is clearly a philosophy the church should be resisting rather than embracing.

Next, one must consider the costs and benefits of making a change of this kind. And I have to say, I have not yet heard a convincing case for a clear benefit. Why would a congregation be better off with women presidents?

I’ve heard that it would be awful for a qualified woman to be arbitrarily excluded, but not a sound reason as to why. The common line is that all her wonderful gifts would go to waste, but there are at least two big problems with that line of thinking. First and foremost, the office exists for the benefit of the congregation, not for the fulfillment of the individual occupying it. It’s not there to make the president feel useful, included, or affirmed. The second problem is that it proves too much. Most congregations I’ve been a part of have had a dozen or more people who could adequately fill the office, but only one office. Does that mean that the congregation is terribly abusing the other 11 each term by wasting their talents? Of course not! There are no shortages of work in the church, the home, and the world to which such talents can be applied. This claim speaks more to a fixation on achievement of position rather than a desire to serve.

I’ve also heard that deliberately including more women would help make up for the exclusion of women from the pastoral office–to help prove to the world that Christianity isn’t just anti-woman. This is also wrong-headed in a number of ways. For starters, that merely makes women presidents a kind of consolation prize. Nobody in the history of the world has ever received a consolation prize and exclaimed how completely satisfied it made them–‘consolation’ is right there in the name! This is the platonic ideal of the given inch that ultimately costs a mile. It does not satisfy a desire to usurp authority, it merely whets the appetite. What’s more, Christians are never instructed to deal with sin by getting as close to the line as possible without crossing, but rather to flee temptation. Most importantly, the Church has no business dressing itself up to appeal to the world. The Church is the kingdom of God, and it should be recognizably different.

So without much in the way of benefits, what shall we say about the cost? And make no mistake, there is a cost to making this change as well–one that goes beyond the effort required for change as such. God instituted both the Church and the family, and in each case, He explicitly established an element of male headship to the institution. In the Church, men shepherd God’s flocks, and in the home, the husband is head of the wife. Any social and ecclesial offices and institutions that we create should be for the sake of facilitating, assisting, and reinforcing the divine institutions. Both of these offices–pastor and husband–have been under ferocious assaults by our feminist culture for generations now. Given the choice of A) undermining the authority of husbands and pastors by making them stand more & more alone in the world as male-specific authorities and B) reinforcing the authority of husbands and pastors by making expectations of leadership by men a part of our church culture, why would we want to use our freedom to choose A?

When we live in a culture that actively tries to steal away the distinctive roles and identities of men and women, Christians should not be trying to keep its own sex-based distinctives to a minimum. On the contrary, we should be reinforcing those elements of God’s creative ordinance that Satan is trying to do away with. Offices like presidents or acolytes may be adiaphora, but the wiser use of our freedom would be to start rolling back our submission to our culture rather than extending it.

Posted in Culture, Feminism, The Modern Church | 6 Comments

Answering Some Criticisms

I got quite a bit of feedback on the last Federalist article (on Abstinence vs. Chastity), so I wanted to take a moment to address some of the criticisms that actually addressed my arguments.

Objection: Jesus never taught anything about sex!

Only if you start off assuming that the Apostles’ teachings and the Prophets’ teachings aren’t Jesus’ teachings. But no one who actually tries to learn from Jesus is going to make that mistake for very long. Anyone who actually believes the red letters is going to know the black letters are Jesus’ teachings too.

Objection: The delay in marriage isn’t purity culture’s fault; Christians just picked that up from the wider culture.

I’m not sure how familiar the people making this criticism are with Christian teaching, but one of the things the Bible repeatedly warns us against is worldliness–adopting the world’s standards and judgments over and against Christian teaching. Sometimes worldliness is deliberate, more often it’s absent-minded, but it’s always something we are to avoid rather than embrace.

So while I agree that Evangelicals mostly picked up delaying marriage from the wider culture rather than inventing it, that makes it no less of an indictment.

Objection: These priorities aren’t entirely due to feminism; many households need two incomes to survive because wages are depressed over the past few generations.

First, it may not be entirely due to feminism, but even on the economic side, it’s a hefty contributor. When woman entered the workforce en masse, they drastically increased the supply of labor without increasing demand for labor in any substantial way. (Many women have always worked, but as I recall, the proportion of women working outside the home roughly doubled during the 20th century.)  Basic economics says that the price of labor (i.e. wages) has to substantially drop as a result. So bad economic policies and circumstances aren’t our only reason for depressed wages.

Second, I did not say that women should never work outside the home. What I said was that marriage and family need to be higher priorities than career for anyone who wants marriage. Circumstances may dictate that a woman needs to work for her family’s sake, but that’s always got to be balanced against the invaluable service she can provide by being with them at home–particularly when they’re very young. Full-time work is something mothers do so their children are fed and clothed, not so they can go on family vacations every year or “earn feminist merit badges” as Dalrock puts it.

Third, some (not all) people who think they need two incomes do so because they’re excessive consumers. If you’re going to Starbucks every day and own all the latest video game consoles, there’s a lot of discretionary spending going on that you really don’t need. When you tally up the cost of daycare, taxes, and so forth that come with having a 2nd income, a lot of people aren’t as far ahead as they think. And sometimes, that smaller amount of additional income may be able to be offset by adjusting discretionary spending.

Objection: But what about gays? Is it realistic to demand indefinite celibacy from them by teaching against gay marriage?

This is a fair question. But in order to be able to accept the answer, we first need to be frank about the moral reality. Two people of the same sex cannot be married to one another; it’s a contradiction in terms. They can have a ceremony, say the words, and call themselves married, but that’s not going to actually make two men or two women married to each other anymore than ceremonies and words can make a circle a square. So even if every Christian in the world immediately and permanently stopped repeating Christian teaching on the subject, same-sex “marriage” would not and could not relieve anybody from a life of fornication. It would only give them a false pretense of peace. This option was never on the table no matter how many people might want it to be or think they’ve achieved it through legal change.

Once people stop grasping at that particular straw, the various ways of handling same-sex attraction fall into two broad categories.

The first is to pursue real marriage. My understanding (and it was an unrepentant gay man who explained this to me) is that homosexual desire runs on a spectrum. For instance, some men are actively repulsed by women while others simply prefer men to women. So for some homosexuals on the shallow end of that spectrum, it might be possible to make marriage a viable option through repentance and therapy. I know that programs designed to bring people out of the gay lifestyle have a high failure rate, but the fact that they have any success at all suggests that sexual desire is more plastic than we are led to believe. It’s something they’d need to be honest about with a prospective spouse, and it may take a whole lot of extra work, but it’s not always unmanageable.

Note that I’m not saying that anyone should marry a person they don’t want to have sex with. Neither am I saying whether this could work for 50%, 10%, 1% or .1% of homosexuals–I really don’t know. I’m not even describing the different ways this might look in practice. All I’m saying is that homosexuals shouldn’t let people put them into an identity bucket that prevents them from thinking critically about the idea for themselves.

But even if it isn’t always unmanageable, it is sometimes unmanageable–and that gives us the second category: Work to be indefinitely celibate and live a life of repentant struggle.

I’m not going to dress it up; this option sucks. But sometimes God gives us some really heavy crosses–terrible circumstances that we can’t fix and that He won’t take away. In those cases, our only real option is to bear that cross and follow him–trusting that his grace will be sufficient for all our failures. And by the way, given the wide scope of human tragedy, this isn’t only true when it comes to sex, but to all sorts of exceptional circumstances.

And even when it comes to sex, this isn’t true only for homosexuals, for there are many exceptional circumstances that force heterosexuals to live in indefinite celibacy. There can be injuries, illnesses, and deformities that make marriage a practical impossibility for some people. Even within marriage, there can be circumstances where one spouse is suddenly no longer physically capable of fulfilling their marital responsibilities. These are exceptional cases, but remember that despite their over-representation in media, homosexuals only make up 2-3% of the population. Unrelentingly dominant same-sex attraction is itself an exceptional circumstance.

There have been countless Christians whose only faithful option has been to pick up their cross–and more likely than not, most of these Christians were not gay. This unquestioningly involves a great deal of suffering and temptation. And there will be times when temptation wins and you fall into sin. The only way through is to trust the Gospel and stay connected to a church where you hear it all the time. Christ paid for every time you collapse on that road and redeems every last ounce of suffering you endure as you struggle to move another inch forward.

Posted in Chastity, Ethics, Feminism, Gospel, The Modern Church | 6 Comments

The Church Needs to Teach Chastity Instead of Abstinence

I have a new piece over at The Federalist:

That’s the problem with purity culture. It purports to be about saving sex for marriage, but the whole point of purity rings and abstinence is to refrain from sex while delaying marriage. It’s all supposed to help young people remain celibate while dutifully fulfilling their worldly priorities first—namely, education and career—until marriage hopefully just comes along and happens somehow.

There, in that demand for celibacy, lies the rub. As the Church of Rome has been proving for the last 1,000 years, celibacy doesn’t actually work for most people, no matter how many oaths, ceremonies, and monastic environments are used to facilitate it. If you don’t have the Apostle Paul’s relatively rare gift, it’s not sustainable long term. After all, humans have always struggled with sexual temptation, and our culture ramps that temptation up to 11 through mass media and loose mores. The Christian prescription for that struggle isn’t celibacy—it’s marriage.

Whether it’s the perverse culture of theological liberalism or the celibate culture of conservative evangelicalism, the root problem is that they’re both attempts to baptize feminism. The liberal end with its vagina-worship is your basic sex-positive feminism, in which chastity is seen as a shackle from which women need to be freed.

But the conservative evangelical side is likewise feminist, because its pours its effort into baptizing the elevation of education and career above marriage and family. It just simultaneously tries to force that into the mold of Christian prohibitions on fornication.

It might be odd to think of conservative Christians as feminists, but one must remember that conservatives are first and foremost traditionalists. Feminism is now a wrinkled old lady that has been marching through our institutions for generations. It’s become traditional in many respects. Conservatives may balk at the latest extremities, but they’re mostly on board with things like egalitarianism, serial monogamy, and blaming men for everything.

Christians need a third path—something that actually encourages marriage instead of choosing between fornication or celibacy. The church needs to recover the virtue of chastity.

You can read the whole thing here.

Posted in Ethics, Feminism, The Modern Church, Theological Liberalism | 5 Comments

Rejoicing In and Learning From the Deaths of Congregations

I’ve seen a lot of hand-wringing and sad faces about recent reports that 6,000 to 10,000 churches are dying every year in the US.  When Christians get downhearted upon seeing the magnitude of our decline, it’s important to remember two things: First, in some ways, this is actually good news. Second, even where its bad news, its merely an opportunity for us to repent and do better.

First the Good News

A lot of the congregations that are failing deserve to fail, and the Church is better off without them.

As I’ve written before the denominations that are dying fastest are the mainline denominations steeped in Theological Liberalism. And good riddance to them. Theologically Liberal congregations are Hell’s honeypots. They deceive people into thinking they’re being involved in the Christian Church, all while providing them with baptized politics and false spiritualities instead of God’s Word. Their death is a boon for believers and unbelievers alike (so long as we’re careful about the spores they release) If a congregation is more concerned with worldly goals like diversity, egalitarianism, or inclusion than it is with clearly preaching God’s offensive Word, then Christians have no reason to mourn when it shuts down.

The other types of congregations that deserve to die are the ones full of cultural Christians–they don’t attend because they believe but because it’s somehow become a social expectation for them. That social expectation is getting rarer all the time in America. And while its disappearance is problematic from a left-hand kingdom perspective (because its symptomatic of the kind of cultural diversity that makes nations weak,) its really better from a right-hand kingdom perspective. When church membership becomes a matter of anything other than faith, its ultimately a form of religious hypocrisy. While going through the motions might lead to real faith for some individuals, congregations where this describes the bulk of their membership are extremely unhealthy and generally aren’t rightly preaching God’s Word. Trimming away the dead wood might be an apt metaphor here.

Now for the Bad News

While many of the failures are less about closed churches than they are about dissipated illusions, that’s not the case for all of them. Some of these congregations are made up of foolish Christians who truly believe but have failed to reproduce–who have not not brought people to the preaching of God’s Word and the proper administration of the Sacraments by which the Holy Spirit creates new believers.

Now you might think I’m referring to evangelism in the traditional sense of the word, but I am not. Yes, evangelism is both a blessing & obligation for Christians, and we can always do a better job at it.  But a failure to evangelize is not why our congregations are dying. God calls some to be evangelists, but not everyone. The bigger problem is a broader failure to reproduce that takes two key forms.

The first form is a literal failure to reproduce. If you speak to the average Christians throughout history and ask them who they brought to God’s house to be baptized, the vast majority of them will be pointing to their own children. Unfortunately, we in the West have stopped having children. We have fallen victim to false philosophy that children are distractions from “real” life. We have fallen victim to the despair that says our children would be better off if they are never born. Then we wonder why there’s so much gray hair in our congregations.

There have been great revivals and missionary work throughout history, but the slow steady growth that characterizes the bulk of Christians throughout the ages has been a matter of God’s gift of fertility. Should the scope of Christian evangelism be wider than our own children? Of course. But if its too narrow to include that, as has been the case in Western churches, then the rest really doesn’t matter in terms of keeping congregations alive.

The second failure to reproduce is really a failure to properly catechize the next generation. Most of us fail to take the devil and sin seriously and therefore don’t quite grasp the fact that the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh are constantly trying to tear our children away from Christ. Many of us think that as long as they’ve gone to church periodically, then the message is received and there are no worries. This is ridiculously naive, and anybody who has actually read and believed the Bible should know better.

Conservative Christians constantly complain about how Godless our education system has become, and hear all the stories about kids losing their faith in college… and then we blithely send them all to school anyway without doing anything to prepare them for battle (or to discern whether they’re even fit for battle. College students need to know how to argue with their professors, but you can’t realistically expect that from a six-year-old whose teacher is telling them that a boy in their class is really a girl.)

The bulk of spiritual warfare isn’t about casting out demons–it’s about prayer, refuting error, and helping each other understand the truth of God’s Word. Our children not only need to know the basics of the faith, they need to know how to defend them against the cavalcade of falsehoods and temptations they’re going to encounter in life. If Christian education in our churches and especially in our homes doesn’t involve a hefty dose of apologetics, then we have utterly failed to reproduce by passing the faith on to the next generation.

So when we start hearing about how all these churches are dying, the last thing we should do is give into despair and ponder the end of Christianity. Instead, we ought to rejoice where these deaths are good news and repent where they are not. It is never too late for us to start passing on the faith that we’ve been given. Even those who have lost the chance for/with their own children still have the chance to support and encourage those who have or might yet have children of their own.

Posted in Apologetics, Culture, The Modern Church, Theological Liberalism | 5 Comments

Should Talking About Headship Make Us Skeptical?

Yes, we’re talking about headship & submission again. If you’re like me and you’re starting to scratch your head about why this is coming up so much on the blog lately, it’s ultimately because October was “Domestic Violence Awareness Month.” Because of that, this season always brings a fresh round of blaming God’s Word for abuse, which consequently produces a lot of occasions for defending Biblical teaching on headship & submission.

And it’s from a string of responses to one such blame-game, that someone brought the following tweet to my attention:

This is one of those comments that’s technically true, but nevertheless misses the point entirely–and can cause a great deal of harm as a result. There is a lot of merit to Thatcher’s proverb, and I really do think one can make a proper analogy to headship. But to really understand that analogy, one also has to consider the exceptions to the proverb.

And don’t be deceived by the word “exception” into thinking they must therefore be a small and insignificant matter. That’s the thing with analogies–what might be exceptional on one side of it may not be so on the other.  And in a culture that has shifted as radically as ours has, many things that were once exceptions have become commonplace.

So what do I mean by exceptions? Well, try to imagine a situation in which a genuine lady might actually feel the need to remind someone of her station: for example, when she’s cornered by a brutish cad who wishes to treat her like a prostitute rather than a lady.  She might very well say something along the lines of, “Get your hands off of me!  I am a lady!”  (Read that in your head with a English accent, and you’ve got it.)  The actions of this lout don’t erode her character or make her unladylike, nor do her objections to that behavior. In such a context, what she says is a reminder to him that because of who she is, what he wants is beneath her. The problem is not with her, but with the cad who acts contrary to all good sense and propriety.

Tries to marry a Proverbs 31 woman; marries a Proverbs 21 womanThere is an analogous situation when it comes to headship–a situation that has become more common than many are willing to admit in the feminist West. Consider a husband who is cornered by a quarrelsome wife (i.e. the Proverbs 21 Woman). She does not wish to treat him as a husband, but as a servant and a resource. In her open rebellion against both her husband and her God, she takes “if mama’s not happy, ain’t nobody happy” as a mandate to usurp headship over the household. She has the threat point of unilateral divorce on her side and no compunctions about using it and taking away his family should she become sufficiently unhappy. From within the misery of such a situation, the husband might very well feel the need to speak up and remind her of his God-given station. However, as with the lady cornered by the lout, the problem is not with him, but rather with the shrew who acts contrary to all good sense and propriety.

It’s true enough to observe that the husband of such a woman won’t make any progress by reminding her of his headship–as I’ve written before, if she cared enough about what he (or God) said to take it to heart, she wouldn’t be quarrelsome in the first place. But really, that’s not any different from the lady cornered by the cad. He is already beyond all good sense and so cares nothing for her objection. If she is to escape, it’s only because either somebody else intervenes on her behalf or because the lout knows that somebody eventually will intervene if he goes too far. But this, too, teaches us some important lessons about the modern headship situation.

The first lesson is this: if one encountered the lady cornered by the cad and heard her object that she’s a lady, who would be so cruel as to sneeringly inform her that “if you have to tell folks you’re a lady, then you’re really not one” before abandoning her to her fate? And yet, that is precisely what so many conservative Christians do when they hear someone speaking Biblically about headship. It’s already presumptuous to assume their situation, but even in cases where the presumption is correct, consider this: Yes, the guy who has to complain about headship because of his own situation isn’t really head of his household in practice. But he’s probably already keenly aware of that fact and likely ashamed of it to boot. So why on earth would any decent person ever add insult to injury by rubbing his nose in it?

But that kind of callousness isn’t the biggest problem with the tweet. The more important lesson has to do with the conflation of “real heads of household don’t have to say they’re heads of household” with “dudes shouldn’t talk about headship a lot.”

Going back to the analogy, if phrases like “I’m a lady” or “you should treat her like a lady” are to have any meaning at all–if anyone were motivated to actually intervene for the lady’s sake–it is because a multitude of people other than the lady in question talked about what it means to be ladylike. When she grew up, her parents modeled for her how a lady acts and how a gentleman acts around ladies. They warned her when she was being unladylike and encouraged her to act in a proper way. Her social institutions like her schools and churches all reinforced those same notions of proper behavior, as did most of her peers. Men likewise were taught how to recognize ladies and respect them accordingly. And when people deviated from those norms, the rest of their society held them in lower esteem as a result. A lady might not need to assert herself as a lady, but apart from a society in which lots other people have talked a lot about being ladylike, Margaret Thatcher’s proverb would be gibberish.

This is no less true when it comes to headship. Just as being ladylike has largely become a thing of the past, so has headship & submission (and to an even greater degree.) We do not model headship & submission for our children nor teach them what it means or that it is proper for their own future families. Boys are neither expected to become heads of their household nor taught what that really means in practice. Our social institutions have become hostile to it–treating it as a relic of a bygone age at best and a tool of oppression at worst. Even our churches avoid or obfuscate it despite being part of God’s Word. The nearly universal teaching of all of mainstream culture is precisely the opposite–that female rebellion is a virtue and that men must always submit to women with whom they are involved. #feminism

So if a husband shouldn’t be always insisting on his own headship (which, again, is pretty sensible when it comes down to it) then it falls on lots of other people to talk about headship so that he doesn’t have occasion to. Doing so is a net positive when it comes to abuse as well, because if headship were to become so well defined and understood in our culture that there was no real need to assert it, it would also be that much harder to use as a cover for abuse–people will know what it’s for and what it isn’t for.  In contrast, it may be that if we become reflexively skeptical when people talk about headship a lot, we’re actually more skeptical of the Biblical teaching than we’d like to admit.

Posted in Culture, Feminism | Leave a comment

The Blessings of Submission: Beauty

I’ve written before that “Wives submit to your husbands” is the most hated Bible verse in America. Because of that hatred, the tendency of apologists is to always play defense–to be constantly explaining why it’s not the terrible, abusive exhortation that so many people make it out to be. In a situation like that, it’s really easy to neglect the positive case–why a wife’s submission is a wonderful gift of God rather than an onerous burden. When we forget that, our message ends up coming off as a rather underwhelming, “submission: it’s not super terrible.” Consider this post to be a small corrective (loosely adapted from a chapter of my book.)

One of the great things (among others) that God provides through a wife’s submission is feminine beauty.  That connection may seem peculiar to us today–when so much of worldly culture desperately tries to convince us that spunk and moxie are a woman’s most attractive qualities. But it should come as no surprise to Christians, for the Apostle Peter explicitly ties beauty to submission in his first epistle:

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external–the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you ear–but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.

But peculiar or not, it is quite interesting that as our culture rages harder and harder against submission, it is also having greater and greater problems on wrapping its head around feminine beauty. And no, I’m not going to address the ugliness of contemporary fashion or attitudes–that pretty much speaks for itself among anyone willing to hear it. Instead, I’d like to draw your attention to the common phenomenon of women’s self-hatred about their appearance.

We’re all familiar with the cliches of women looking in the mirror and lamenting over some aspect of how they look–clothes that don’t hang right, hair that won’t stay in place, breasts that seem too small, or thighs that seem too big. But the problem goes deeper than just this. Physical attractiveness and “external adornment” will always be with us, and desirable body-sizes are just another style to which people seek to conform. As a rule, women will always want to look beautiful and always experience some measure of disappointment when they fail. Nevertheless, there is more going on than business as usual. After all, we live in a culture that actually needs to invent terms like “negative body image” & “body shaming” and feverishly raise awareness about them just to try to put some kind of brakes on women’s self-perception of ugliness.

The blame for this state of affairs is usually placed on the media for promoting unrealistic expectations of beauty for women. After all, most women don’t have access to the team of makeup artists, personal trainers, and Photoshop experts that are tasked with maintaining the glamour of actresses and models.

While I have no wish to completely absolve Hollywood in the matter, this cannot be the whole story. After all, nobody is blaming the latest Marvel movie for setting unrealistic standards for courage or heroism. Nobody condemns Olympic athletes and professional sports stars for setting unrealistic standards for physical prowess. Nobody condemns museums for setting unrealistic standards for artistic talent. On the contrary, these are the kinds of things we look to for inspiration. If somebody were to instead respond to these things with bitter and resentful charges of unfairness, we would instantly recognize it for what it is: Envy.

The sin of envy arises in us when we make everything all about ourselves. For example, we envy another’s wealth when wealth becomes a means to our own pleasure and position rather than something of God’s which we steward. We envy another’s accomplishments when accomplishments become a means to receiving accolades rather than service to our neighbors. When we look at things in such self-centered ways, another’s abundance is always perceived as our own deficit. In the same way, when a woman envies another’s beauty, it is because in her mind, beauty has ceased to serve God’s purposes and only serves her own.

And there are any number of alternative purposes. Perhaps a woman wants to be beautiful so that she can be admired, whether by men, or simply by her peers. Perhaps a woman wants to be beautiful for the sake of power or control–to be able to win favors or influence from men by deliberately giving the impression that she might be willing to offer what she’s displaying with the right pampering (the friendzone often operates on this dynamic.) Or perhaps a woman wants to be beautiful purely for her own self-satisfaction–the purpose that is widely promoted as most virtuous by feminists. To be sure, there is nothing wrong with enjoying admiration, extra attention, or simple satisfaction with one’s own appearance, just as there is nothing wrong with enjoying good food. But just as how making enjoyment rather than nutrition the purpose of eating will lead to gluttony, making these other things the purpose of beauty will lead to envy.

So what is the actual purpose of feminine beauty that’s being subverted? Peter gives us two. The first is that “the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” is precious to God–not too surprising as every aspect of creation has the purpose of reflecting God’s goodness in some way. The second, however, goes against everything we’re taught: Peter directs a woman’s beauty towards her husband. She is to be beautiful in her submission to him so that he may see it and be won over.  But while it may go radically against culture’s grain, it’s completely consistent with Christ’s teachings of self-giving love, for it is better to give than to receive.

But if you find that simple piety is an insufficient motivation to avoid envy and direct your beauty towards your husband, then consider some of the magnificent benefits God provides women through his instruction to submit to their husbands. After all, if envy results from a corruption of God’s purpose, then submission to God’s instruction restores that purpose and its benefits.

First and foremost, submission reduces the misery of envy. As C.S. Lewis observed in Screwtape Proposes a Toast, envy is, for humans, really the most odious and least pleasurable of the vices. A person can enjoy gluttony, lust, pride, or wrath fairly easily–at least for a time. Envy, on the other hand, is characterized by constant feelings of inferiority and discontentment. You’re always measuring yourself according to others, always coming up short, and always bitterly resenting everyone who exceeds you according to whatever standards you’ve set for yourself.  It’s an incredibly unpleasant way to live.

In contrast, one is far happier and more blessed pursuing beauty for the sake of another. There is no mistaking the fact that women desire to make themselves beautiful, but being beautiful solely for oneself is like any other form of hedonism–empty and unsatisfying in the long run. It’s the kind of appetite that can never be sated, for there is always some way in which you fall short–a distance that will only increase with age.  In contrast, the woman who delights in her husband’s delight over her beauty can find genuine satisfaction. It replaces the limitless scope of seeking admiration from everyone at once with the limited and accessible scope seeking only one person’s admiration–specifically the one person who is most capable of appreciating every aspect of it.

But beyond that, submission provides the only option for lasting beauty in this world. No matter how well you take care of your body or how well you adorn yourself, you are fighting a losing battle. You will get wrinkles and gray hair. Things will sag. Maintaining a pleasant body shape will become impossible. Desperately clinging to your fading physical beauty for your own sake is a recipe for misery.

In marriage, however, there is another dynamic at work. A seventy-year-old woman isn’t going to turn any heads when she walks down the street. However, it’s entirely possible for her seventy-year-old husband to genuinely find her beautiful. In a relationship that has been typified for years by that precious gentle & quiet spirit that can certainly last into old age, that spirit will always bring to the husband’s mind the physical beauty of his wife’s youth. Marriage goggles are a real thing. Husbands don’t really see every new wrinkle or every extra pound–they see the woman they married all those years ago. That’s not license to let ourselves go because our spouses don’t care about looks–we all do care, and staying in relative shape is a wonderful gift husbands and wives alike can give to one another. But the fact remains that staying in shape is merely the slowest way of looking ugly. Persistent beauty requires something else, and faithful submission to her husband gives the wife a beauty that can outlast her youth.

So Christian ladies, if you find yourself unable to shake the feeling that you’re ugly–not due to the kind of obvious physical issues that you notice in others but due to a never-ending cavalcade of tiny physical peccadilloes that you never notice in others–perhaps the problem is not in your form. Instead, why not try the Biblical prescription for beauty: submit to your own husbands and don’t give in to fear. If always trying to receive isn’t working, then it might be time to try giving instead.

Posted in Apologetics, Feminism | 1 Comment

The Importance of Properly Characterizing Abuse

I had a long Facebook conversation with a Lutheran about headship and abuse this past week. It went the way conversations challenging dominant paradigms usual go: a distinct lack of thoughtful engagement with the critique. It likewise ended the usual way: with my interlocutor shifting the conversation from the ideas to myself in an attempt to pigeonhole. That’s usually a good sign that the time for edification is over, but since it gave me a chance to explore some relevant ideas, here’s the prose version of my half of the conversation.

It began with a blog post making a fairly typical complaint about headship causing abuse:

“Jesus was happy to give His followers ‘power-to.’ Power to be His witnesses. Power to tread on the power of the enemy. But the one thing He never gave anyone was what I would call ‘power-over.’ Yes, He said the disciples had ‘power over’ the power of the devil. But He never endorsed any of His followers having ‘power over’ other human beings. He said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. Not so with you. But instead, whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.’ Matthew 20-25-26.

In Paul’s advice to Christian marriages in the first-century Roman world– a culture where only the husbands had any real power– Paul told husbands in Ephesians 5:25-33 to treat their wives as their own bodies– to imitate Christ in laying down their power and emptying themselves, in order to raise their wives up out of their lowly, powerless position, to stand with them in honor and glory. That was what the head-to-body relationship meant for Christ and the church. That was what he wanted it to mean for husbands and wives. In effect, he was telling husbands to stop using power-over and to grant their wives power-to.

The modern Christian male-headship teaching, on the other hand, gives power-over to husbands– and then simply asks them to use it wisely. To be kind and loving masters– who also serve.

But what if the husband is not wise? What if he likes power too much? What if he hears ‘be head, be master, be in charge’ much louder than he hears ‘be kind, be loving, and serve’?”

That quote and the blog post were shared on Facebook along with a comment that they disagree with the article’s solution, but think that it identifies the problem well.

But perhaps it doesn’t even identify the problem well.  Maybe trying to anachronistically force feminism’s reductionistic thinking onto Scripture is a bad hermeneutic. Maybe rather than clarifying anything, it makes God’s instructions to wives and husbands more difficult to understand.

Like all the philosophical offspring of critical theory, feminism flattens concepts like authority, ordinance, and hierarchy into different manifestations of “power” and sees all social problems as rooted in the power some people hold over others.  Accordingly, all of its solutions are attempts to redress what they see as power differentials–they’re always some variation on empowering and disempowering.  But power is insufficient for even conceptualizing God’s design of marriage, let alone solving any difficulties living according to it.

So what you end up with are the kinds of things you find in this article: false dichotomies like setting up “power-over” against “power-to” and questions that are subjective to the point of meaninglessness like “does my husband like power too much.” None of this helps us understand Scripture, and it only serves to stoke resentment among those who really struggle with following this part of it.

Posting articles to raise awareness about the issue is all well and good–it’s not my thing, but I have no interest in being the ear telling the eye “I have no need of you.” But when it comes to promoting understanding of the issue, pieces like this actually cloud understanding rather than clarifying it. Even if one does not accept the proffered solution, this is a poor diagnosis of abuse.

And the poor diagnosis has considerable impact on what the Church can really do regarding domestic abuse because it runs us afoul of the Two Kingdoms. As long as the problem is described purely in terms of temporal power, it’s purely the business of the left-hand kingdom, not the right. A great many people want the church to teach submission in a way that prevents abuse. But if abuse is nothing more than a power imbalance, then that is necessarily asking the church to teach submission in a way that empowers both actual and potential victims. In other words, it’s asking the church to alter its teaching for the purpose of granting victims power over their enemies. Christian citizens certainly have their roles to play in the left-hand kingdom, but granting temporal power is not within the Church’s purview.

Forcing the feminist understanding of abuse onto the Church is trying to force a square peg into a round hole; its worldly, and it severely confuses the Two Kingdoms. That’s a big part of the reason all sides are perpetually dissatisfied with the Church’s response to abuse, and it’s why so many people “dismiss such concerns as feminist claptrap.” Biblical submission simply cannot be properly understood, analyzed, or critiqued solely with the reductionistic concepts that feminism restricts itself to. It’s the wrong tool for the job, and it doesn’t belong in the Church.

So are there better ways to conceptualize abuse?  To be sure, I am by no means equal to the task of constructing a replacement paradigm.  Nevertheless, these kinds of changes only happen when people stop glossing over the problems with the old one.  Without the restriction to being “all about power,” there are likely any number of viable options, that could be vetted and/or sharpened through experience. But for starters, here is one possibility: Abuse is exercising legitimate or usurped authority contrary to the responsibilities for which that authority is ordained.  This is a definition broad enough to many different kinds of abuse, for there are many authorities, but it certainly applies to authority within marriage.

Power isn’t even mentioned because power plays only a tangential role in this alternative understanding. After all, power in this context is merely the capacity to carry one’s authority into execution. The true king on his throne and the true king in exile may have the same authority, but only one of them has the power to effectively exercise that authority and do what he seeks. Accordingly, power creates a mere capacity for abuse, but it is the misuse of authority in which we find abuse’s true nature.

One of the advantages of this alternative approach is its very clear distinction between authority and its misuse–a distinction that’s very difficult to maintain in feminist models (like the Duluth Model) which tend to flatten power and authority together and characterize any exercise of authority by a husband as abusive. The alternative approach also defines that authority in an objective way, allowing one to discern abuse by contrasting how one uses authority with the responsibilities inherent in that authority.

It works quite simply with obvious instances of abuse. In the case of wife-beating, for example, we know by natural law that a husband has a responsibility to protect his wife from harm. Using his office to physically harm her is about as obviously contrary to that responsibility as one can get and, ergo, obviously abuse.  It’s just as clear with severe psychological/emotional abuse (vicious name-calling, tearing them down, etc.)  According to Scripture, husbands are to wash their wives in God’s Word and not be harsh with them. Clearly, those kinds of actions are fundamentally contrary to these responsibilities, ergo they’re abusive. I suspect this understanding would also allow for more nuance and objectivity in some of the grayer areas along with a better capacity to sort out false accusations, but that’s the sort of thing that would need to be tested through experience.

It’s also entirely compatible with Christian doctrine as God is the One that ordained the husband as head of his wife and attached certain responsibilities to that role. Likewise, it’s compatible with the Church’s mission. For any Christians looking to do something about abuse, it leads directly into one of the Church’s primary responsibilities–teaching God’s Word & its exhortations to husbands and wives and practicing Church Discipline in response to grievous and unrepentant sin.

Now contrast that understanding with a more feminist definition of abuse used by other churches: Abuse is “a godless pattern of abusive behavior among spouses involving physical, psychological, and/or emotional means to exert and obtain power and control over a spouse for the achievement of selfish ends.”

While my suggestion naturally leads right into that as it makes working against such responsibilities the crux of abuse, this other definition doesn’t necessarily get to responsibility at all. The only part that could be said to characterize a “misuse” of power (with authority flattened in) as distinct from a simple exercise thereof is at the end where it adds “for the achievement of selfish ends.”

That’s better than definitions that define power and control per se as abuse, but it’s still problematic for several reasons: First, “don’t be selfish” doesn’t do as much to teach responsibility as one might think (see, for example, C.S. Lewis’ comments on “unselfishness” in The Screwtape Letters.) Second, it requires one to wade into the murky waters of ascribing motivations in order to identify abuse. This is a big weakness, as we’re all prone to falsely ascribing both evil motivations to others (e.g. “you’re just being selfish!”) and pure motivations to ourselves (e.g. the “come back here and take your medicine” school of abuse.) Third, the fact that as sinners we are all selfish to an unfortunate extent ends up making all practical exercise of a husband’s authority inherently abusive to some extent.

Following the “selfish power” understanding of abuse doesn’t teach men to exercise their authority according to their objective, God-given responsibilities. Instead, it teaches them to exercise their authority in a way that seeks to avoid having their wives ascribe motivations of selfishness. For all practical purposes, it ends up being an inversion of headship and submission (something Dalrock has cataloged extensively.) Add to all that subjectivity the nebulousness that comes from recursively defining “abuse” in terms of “abuse,” and rigorous attempts to act on this kind of definition are going to erode headship as much as they curb abuse.

That might elicit nothing but a giant shrug from those who think that living with a husband who exercises authority is a fundamentally terrible fate. And for feminists, that’s actually a feature rather than a bug. Nevertheless, faithful Christians are always going to be concerned with both obvious and subtle attacks on God’s Word–even in the name of good intentions and compelling causes. God has called us to nothing less. Anyone who doesn’t want faithful Christians getting in their way would do well to make sure they conceptualize their causes in a way that’s faithful to Scripture.

Posted in Feminism, Lutheranism, The Modern Church, Theology | 5 Comments

Cold Civil War – Exhibit H

I came across an exchange on Facebook that recently went viral. The original post was from a couple of parents in Texas who back different senate candidates and have different political ideologies but nevertheless find a way to live together with love and respect. It’s sweet, and it became very popular because in a nation as deeply divided as ours, it gives people hope that maybe we can get along despite our differences.

I really do think that’s true for a whole lot of people, but you know that isn’t the whole story. Here’s a response shared by a friend on Facebook (not written by her; I don’t know the writer.) While we may well be able to compromise with some elements of the left, things like this make it abundantly clear why there can be no peace with Social Justice Warriors.

Here’s the thing about this viral post: it’s the epitome of privilege.

1) Disagreeing about politics is not the same as disagreeing about sports teams you root for. Politics isn’t entertainment – it’s how we care for real life people amongst us. To relate supporting different political candidates to rooting for different sports teams shows a serious disregard to the tangible effects of your vote.

2) These sentiments of “real maturity is not caring at all about how other people vote” and “politics shouldn’t matter in real life relationships” have got to stop. If you can truly “agree to disagree” because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter? Then you live with an *enormous* amount of privilege. It’s no coincidence that both of the people in this photo are white and appear to live in a nice middle/upper class suburban neighborhood. Could you just laugh and agree to disagree with someone who believes you should be deported? With someone who believes your access to healthcare should be completely taken away to make their’s cheaper? With someone who believes your employer should have the right to fire you because they disagree with your religious beliefs? With someone who believes you should be denied the right to adopt your foster child because you’re single or in a same sex marriage? If you’re able to “agree to disagree” like it’s all no big deal, if you can ignore political coverage to “focus on real life,” or if you can stop thinking about politics once election season is over? Then respectfully, you either aren’t aware the enormous amount of privilege you enjoy, or worse yet you *are* aware and have chosen to isolate yourself from the realities of those who aren’t as lucky because it simply isn’t your problem.

This post isn’t something to strive for. It’s not example of “what America needs more of right now.” It’s not a model for a better way forward. It’s an attempt to make passive aggressive judgements on people who “care too much about politics” or “need to stop making this personal.” It’s an attempt to create a false association between rooting for sports teams and “rooting” for political causes – as if this is just another form of entertainment. It’s an attempt to enshrine the perspective of the privileged as “normal” and label the perspectives of those crying out over injustice as “uncivil.”

Loving your neighbor well doesn’t mean “drinking wine together” in your suburban backyard while you humorously laugh about rooting for the other guys “team” and pretending none of it really matters. Loving your neighbor well means understanding that politics is by its very definition the systems by which we care for our neighbors, and recognizing that your vote is a *moral* issue – not just a sporting match.

It’s a response that, I think, reveals a lot more than was intended. Let’s set aside, for the moment, the profoundly bigoted presumption that people have no meaningful stake in politics unless they tick the appropriate demographic boxes. Let’s set aside the fact that loving your neighbor means doing unto others as you would have them do unto you rather than doing unto others as determined by their intersectionality rating. Instead, let’s consider the implication this has for living in the same society as SJW’s.

It is not politics as entertainment or a supposed lack of stakes that allow people of opposing viewpoints to peaceably socialize with one another. Rather, the reason we can agree to disagree is the broader cultural agreement that we will resolve even deep ideological and practical differences through a peaceful political process.

It may be wrapped up in the language of love and morality but this response is ultimately a rejection of democracy in favor of politics by other means. In stating that one cannot–and even should not–peaceably live with one’s neighbors who have different political views, one tacitly declares that America’s peaceful political process–voting, rational discourse, political organization, etc–is not the appropriate way of resolving our national differences. If you cannot eat & drink together, even with family, while you both set out to do better in the next election, then you have not actually accepted the results of the last election as a legitimate arbitration of your differences. This is the mindset of warring tribes, not political opponents in a republic.

As usual, SJW’s make their conclusion quite clear: they cannot live in peace with us unless we vote their way. Cooperation and compromise are not on the table.  The only options that SJW’s consider viable for us are submission or annihilation.

I suspect that a great many of the people cheering for this kind of rhetoric aren’t being honest with themselves about what they’re really calling for. If they were, they might be more thoughtful about the terrible price both sides will end up paying when they finally get their way. But their mindfulness or lack thereof doesn’t change the reality that they have put us in a cold civil war. When one side conditions the acceptance of peaceful politics on getting their way, then America’s ideological divisions are no longer a matter of peaceful politics. Those of us on the right need to start preparing for a divorce, because for the left, it’s already well underway.

Posted in Culture, Politics | Leave a comment