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 | 6 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

Great Stuff: What does the LC-MS document “When Homes are Heartless” Mean?

Some temptations are stronger than others. This is particularly true when it comes to a temptation towards worldliness, which often has many layers to it. Sometimes it’s just as simple as a desire to fit in with the world rather than the Church. Other times, however, we get the sense that the world possesses solutions that we do not–that it can fix problems which God’s word prevents us from resolving. And sometimes, that problem is so emotionally compelling that it creates a desperation that screams “we’ve got to do something“, which in turn tempts many Christians to believe that we are actually morally obligated to discard God’s Word and embrace the sin of worldliness.

That’s the kind of perfect storm we encounter when it comes to the issue of domestic violence within the church. It’s the kind of problem that rightly begets a great deal of sympathy for the abused, for there are a lot of truly heinous situations out there. At the same time, domestic violence is framed primarily as a woman’s issue in our society (a questionable mindset despite its ubiquity,) the practical effect of which is to wrap it up very tightly with feminism–a fundamentally anti-biblical philosophy if ever there was one. So when the Church looks to the world for guidance on this issue, she inevitably imbibes a substantial amount of worldly philosophy that undermines Biblical teachings.

What makes it worse is that it’s extremely difficult to discuss and examine this situation critically because it is so emotionally charged. Anyone failing to toe the feminist line on domestic abuse is immediately accused of insensitivity at best and of being an abuser at worst. Because of this absurd level of pushback, too few Christians are willing to faithfully address the issue in any kind of critical depth.

That is why I’ve been extremely pleased to see Nathan Rinne tackling it over at Theology Like a Child.

It uses an official LCMS document on domestic abuse as its occasion, but the applicability is much broader than just Lutherans. I highly recommend reading the whole thing. I’m tempted to drop in some quotes, but Nathan has gone out of his way to be balanced & methodical and to avoid unnecessary offense; I don’t want to inadvertently work against that. But it deals with some big topics such as where divorce fits in with domestic abuse, whether the Duluth Model can be reconciled with Ephesians 5, and the relationship between feminism and radical Lutheranism.

You can (and should) read the entire thing here.

Posted in Feminism, Lutheranism, The Modern Church | 3 Comments

Stop Wielding “Best Construction” Against Propriety and Ethics

It looks like a scandal of sorts has cropped up in LCMS circles, as it’s being reported that Concordia St. Paul, under the leadership of President Ries, sold a property to Susie Ries Interiors (operated by President Ries’ wife) which is now being flipped for a profit after 2 years of extensive renovations. The asking price is $850,000 above the price paid, and the profit margin looks to be in the neighborhood of $100K-$200K. It looks shady at first glance, and I’ve seen several Lutherans passing the story along with that shadiness in mind.

But, wherever the shadows of Lutheran scandals fall, cries of “Best construction!” are reflexively raised in response. For my non-Lutheran readers, the phrase comes from Martin Luther’s explanation of the 8th Commandment (“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor”) in his Small Catechism which reads, “We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, nor defame our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.” In other words, “best construction” in the face of a scandal entails giving people the benefit of the doubt, guarding their due process, and so forth.

Now, there is a good side to this reflex and a bad side to it. The good side is, of course, that whenever we encounter a scandal, we should look to God’s Law as a guide to whether we’re treating the subjects of said scandal in a way befitting of Christians. The bad side is that these reflexive responses are very often impoverished of critical thought. In other words, “best construction” is often used as an excuse to dismiss or ignore a scandal rather than as a guide to investigating and evaluating it properly. As I regularly find myself face-palming when reading fellow Lutherans’ ideas about best construction, there are a few aspects of it that are worth clarifying.

Best Construction does not require naivete

As Luther himself points out in his Large Catechism, there is a difference between knowing of our neighbor’s sin and judging that sin. And please note that Luther clearly isn’t considering the recognition of sin as sin to count as judgment (as so many people do today.) That is to say, we aren’t supposed to stick our heads in the sand and pretend to be either unaware of what happened or unaware of whether what happened is sin. Rather, we do not take it upon ourselves to punish sin or pass sentence unless these things are part of our vocations. When we come across a red flag like a university president personally profiting from the sale of university property, best construction does not require us to practice volitional doubt–a deliberate choice to dismiss any and all allegations of wrongdoing.

Best Construction does not require the abandonment of vocation.

Again, Luther explicitly states this in his Large Catechism: “Although no one personally has the right to judge and condemn anyone, yet if they are commanded to do so and fail to do it, they sin as much as those who take the law into their own hands apart from any office. In that case necessity requires one to report evil, to prefer charges, to give evidence, to examine witnesses, and to testify.”

Like it or not, LCMS church polity is such that pastors and laity are given a measure of influence over how our institutions are run. This vocation does not require us to judge and condemn, but does require us to hear and to speak about public matters so that, if necessary, we can influence our institutions to take appropriate action.  Certainly, private matters should be either kept private or dutifully reported to the appropriate authorities.  But when it comes to public scandal–which this is, as it is already reported in numerous secular media–there is a measure of responsibility to participate in public discussion. While it is not ours to judge and pronounce a verdict of guilt on President Ries, it is certainly ours to say, “This looks shady; people need to find out what’s going on here.”

Best Construction does not eliminate the requirement for propriety and ethics.

Propriety may be an increasingly lost art in the modern West, but it is, nevertheless, a Biblical command, for Paul instructs not simply to avoid evil, but also the appearance of evil. This means that we deliberately avoid putting ourselves in situations where it looks like we might be sinning. For example, when a pastor is counseling a woman privately, if he is wise, he takes certain precautions against misunderstandings–for example, he only does so when someone else is nearby in the building or he doesn’t close the door.  He takes deliberate action to make it clear that the counseling is not a cover for any indecency.

In the same way, when a man stewards an institution that he does not own, he deliberately avoids situations in which the interests of that institution are put into potential conflict with his own interests (including the interests of close family members.) Selling an institution’s property to one’s wife, for example, creates a very clear conflict of interest. The best course of action is, of course, to avoid such situations altogether. However, even when avoidance is impractical, the office-holder still needs to take deliberate and transparent steps to make it clear that he is not abusing his office. Most commonly, the person would recuse himself from any and all deliberations concerning anything in which there is a conflict of interest.

This is not adiaphora. This is a Biblical command. One need not prejudicially assume that the sale was somehow fraudulent to recognize that there is something wrong with this situation. Not only does an insistence on ethics and propriety not violate the 8th Commandment, it goes a long way towards making it possible to put the best construction on everything.

It is shameful that these simple points are lost on so many Lutherans seeking to rebuke their neighbors by means of the 8th Commandment. What have I seen instead? I see quibbling about how much profit was made on the sale–as though the conflict of interest disappears if they only made $100K. I see people claiming that anyone who thinks there’s a problem should simply ask President Ries about it personally–as though that somehow substitutes for a real investigation. I see people claiming that that the matter should be kept private–as though it isn’t already appearing in multiple newspapers as a matter of public record. I even see a defense of Susie Ries based on how selling property makes her a Proverbs 31 woman–as though the ethics of the sale are somehow irrelevant. Ironically, this amounts to a bunch of man-made rules being substituted for actual Biblical instruction.

The truly relevant questions are whether and how President Ries recused himself from deliberations regarding this sale. Now, I do not know the answer to those questions, and so I do not know whether President Ries erred. (Although, if he did not, then the journalists reporting on the matter seriously failed at their jobs by not publicizing the steps he took to avoid the conflict of interest.  If that’s the case, this should be brought to light simply to expose the shoddy journalism.)  However, as a member of the LCMS, I have both a small  interest in its subsidiary institutions and a small measure of responsibility to urge ethical governance over them. When those of us in such roles hear public reports of situations like this, best construction does not mean assuming everything is fine. Best construction means supporting a fair investigation of the situation and letting others know that further investigation is warranted. This means that the details of any recusal by President Ries should also be made public so that the public situation no longer has the appearance of evil (and to highlight the reporters’ failures to report.)  If that is not done, then this is a violation of propriety. If it cannot be done because no recusal occurred, then it is both unethical and unbiblical even if the sale occurred at a fair price without any favoritism towards potential buyers.

So do you really want to put the best construction on the situation? Then support those who want to bring the situation into the light of day instead of legalistically insisting on leaving it in darkness.  Despite all the criticism, the people reporting on it and passing along those reports are the ones closest to actually putting the best construction on the matter.

Posted in Ethics, Lutheranism | Leave a comment

The Ugliness of Male Submission

Pulpit & Pen put up an article the other day about popular false teacher Beth Moore, who apparently had the drummer from her worship band kneel down on stage and apologize to all women for the bad behavior of those afflicted with the terrible scourge of masculinity. [H/T: Lutheran Pundit]

The entire affair reminded me of a passage from Dostoevsky’s The Possessed (also translated as Demons in newer editions.) In it, two of the supporting characters, Lizaveta, and her fiance Mavriky Nikolaevitch, join a group that has decided to amuse themselves by visiting local saint/prophet/holy fool Semyon Yakovlevitch. But when Mavriky unexpectedly becomes the target of the group’s laughter, Lizaveta makes an unusual demand.

Mavriky Nikolaevitch took the glass, made a military half-bow, and began drinking it. I don’t know why, but all our party burst into peals of laughter.

“Mavriky Nikolaevitch,” cried Liza, addressing him suddenly, “that kneeling gentleman has gone away. You kneel down in his place.”

Mavriky Nikolaevitch looked at her in amazement.

“I beg you to. You’ll do me the greatest favour. Listen, Mavriky Nikolaevitch,” she went on, speaking in an emphatic, obstinate, excited, and rapid voice. “You must kneel down; I must see you kneel down. If you won’t, don’t come near me. I insist, I insist!”

I don’t know what she meant by it; but she insisted upon it relentlessly, as though she were in a fit. Mavriky Nikolaevitch, as we shall see later, set down these capricious impulses, which had been particularly frequent of late, to outbreaks of blind hatred for him, not due to spite, for, on the contrary, she esteemed him, loved him, and respected him, and he knew that himself—but from a peculiar unconscious hatred which at times she could not control.

In silence he gave his cup to an old woman standing behind him, opened the door of the partition, and, without being invited, stepped into Semyon Yakovlevitch’s private apartment, and knelt down in the middle of the room in sight of all. I imagine that he was deeply shocked in his candid and delicate heart by Liza’s coarse and mocking freak before the whole company. Perhaps he imagined that she would feel ashamed of herself, seeing his humiliation, on which she had so insisted. Of course, no one but he would have dreamt of bringing a woman to reason by so naive and risky a proceeding. He remained kneeling with his imperturbably gravity—long, tall, awkward, and ridiculous. But our party did not laugh. The unexpectedness of the action produced a painful shock. Every one looked at Liza….

Liza suddenly turned white, cried out, and rushed through the partition. Then a rapid and hysterical scene followed. She began pulling Mavriky Nikolaevitch up with all her might, tugging at his elbow with both hands.

“Get up! Get up!” she screamed, as though she were crazy. “Get up at once, at once! How dare you?”

Mavriky Nikolaevitch got up from his knees. She clutched his arms above the elbow and looked intently into his face. There was terror in her expression.

At the risk of anachronism, the scene very much fits the profile of what is today called a “fitness test” (or “s**t test”). The basic idea is that a woman will test a man by trying to provoke some kind of ridiculous reaction from him—all while hoping that he won’t actually react that way, but instead be strong enough to stand up to her.

Liza worries about her own status because her fiance is being laughed at, so she gives him a chance to set her mind at ease. Poor chivalrous dope Mavriky fails spectacularly, as he does throughout the novel. As I recall, he also does other ridiculous things like waiting for Liza outside in the rain for hours, and towards the end, even waiting outside the house where she’s sleeping with another man so that he can take her back when she finishes and comes to her senses. There’s a reason for her “peculiar unconscious hatred” and the look of terror she gives him—namely that he’s a pushover wherever she’s concerned. She can’t get past her lizard brain’s uncertainty: if he’s weaker than she is, than what good is he to her?

It was Beth Moore’s arrangement of a kneeling man that brought this to mind, but I think there’s broader applicability here than just the dynamics of personal attraction. After all, Western women have been making increasingly ridiculous demands—not just of individual men, but of both society in general and of the Church. For example, tens of millions of women have demanded:

  • That we believe women and men to basically be the same.
  • That women be allowed into military combat
  • That we believe that the reason so many women divorce faithful husbands is to escape abuse.
  • That we trust that any disparity between men and women in any setting is always due to sexism.
  • That men stop finding virginity attractive
  • That women be allowed into the pulpit.
  • That the Church stop teaching God’s word on submission and headship.
  • That we need to abandon due process so that women can fornicate in safety.
  • That women who allege sexual assault should always be believed without evidence—even in hearings before the United States Senate.

The list could go on and on, but this should suffice as a sample. And notice that these aren’t fringe demands like a universal curfew for men or a no-questions-asked raise for women to close the wage gap. No, these have all broken into the mainstream, and many have become majority positions. Not that we should dismiss the fringe demands as irrelevant. After all, these mainstream demands were fringe positions at one time or another in our history—until some fools started taking them seriously.

Now, the motivations behind these demands are different than Lizaveta’s.  Some demands come out of simple envy. Others proceed from a faithless desperation because they’re scared of men.  There’s probably no shortage of ostensible reasons.  But although the motivations differ, the outcomes of giving in are very similar to what they were for Mavriky Nikolaevitch.

First of all, it has never been the case that giving in to these demands brings women to their senses. Allowing women in non-combat roles in the military did not sate feminists’ demands for combat roles; it only facilitated them. Accommodating false not-technically-a-pastor teachers like Beth Moore hasn’t stopped women’s demands for the pastoral office. Refraining from anything that might be perceived as slut-shaming has only encouraged promiscuity. Every inch that was given did nothing but deprive civilization of miles. Christians in particular should have known better. After all, the Bible tells us to flee temptation—not to deliberately attempt to get as close as possible to the line without crossing it. And Dostoevsky did know better: “No one but [Mavriky] would have dreamt of bringing a woman to reason by so naive and risky a proceeding.”

Secondly, giving in to these demands does not improve women’s opinions of the men who do so. While relatively few women go straight for feverish demands that wives divorce their husbands for supporting the wrong politicians, the unfortunate fear men have of sleeping on the couch has led many men to give in and support these kinds of demands for the sake of peace with their wives. But this is hardly a new phenomenon, and we’ve seen the results. Never has more been ceded to women than in the past few generations in the West. And yet, at the same time, I cannot think of a time when there was more open contempt for men by women.

Again, this should not be a surprise for Christians. God designed a beautiful world. Part of that beautiful design is the submission of certain women to certain men, for the core unit of human society is the family, and God made the wife’s submission a functional necessity for marriage. The Bible describes a wife’s submission as a form of adornment and even “imperishable beauty.” In contrast, when Scripture speaks of women ruling over men, it’s in the form of a curse. Deliberately scorning God’s design is always ugly, and women naturally find it repulsive even if they demand it. That revulsion itself only leads to further demands as they feel the need to take more and more from the men they hold in contempt.

The result of all this is a vicious circle that only ends when men start saying “no” and react to ridiculous demands with unapologetic rejection instead of obsequious attempts to curry favor through cringe-worthy submission. So men, if some fancy takes you to try and submit in this way—whether by literally kneeling down to offer a meaningless apology or simply by supporting something you know to be ridiculous—I urge you to squash the impulse. If pride and self-respect are too meaningless of concepts to you to suffice as a rationale, then at least consider this: your ugly submission will neither make women safe nor make them feel safe. The sacrifice of your self-respect and reputation will earn nothing for women at all except to nudge them a few more steps down an already dark and miserable path.

Posted in Feminism, The Modern Church | Leave a comment


This past weekend, an old friend of mine (to whom I have not spoken for awhile) revealed on Facebook that she had been the victim of an attempted sexual assault when she was a teenager. She did so as a show of support for Christine Blasey Ford in her accusations against Brett Kavanaugh. This was news to me and to most people—she indicated that only one other person had been even somewhat aware of her experience.

I don’t believe Ford. I do believe my friend.

Naturally, I began to reflect on that difference. They’re both unprovable accusations of something that happened decades ago. Neither one gave sufficient detail for meaningful corroboration. Both remained basically silent about it for most of their lives until a moment of political significance. So why did I find myself believing one and not the other?

To be sure, there are relevant factual differences at play. For one thing, strictly speaking, my friend’s revelation wasn’t an accusation—she named no one, and her purpose was moral support for someone she sees as a kindred spirit. For another, Ford’s accusation comes with an obvious and powerful political motivation (even *if* she were telling the truth, her goal is entirely political—the removal of a Supreme Court nominee from consideration; otherwise she’d be going to the police instead of Congress.) In contrast, my friend’s revelation is much less so (again, merely moral support for a political figure.) It’s also relevant that Ford’s accusation fits the Democrats’ pattern of 11th-hour allegations of sexual misconduct for the sake of political manipulation that are forgotten the second the moment of election or appointment has passed. Remember the accusations against Donald Trump in October 2016 that we were supposed to think were so monumental? Have you ever heard a peep from any of those people since? And of course, even the small amount of specifics Ford offered have proven faulty upon investigation (e.g. every other eyewitness she named, including her friend, deny her story.)

I won’t labor this point anymore; if you read this blog, you’ve probably read all about this angle elsewhere already.

Besides, the entire reason I’m writing this is because if I’m honest, the factual differences aren’t the most important reason I believe one story and not the other. I can tell because my initial reaction was completely different. When I first heard about Ford’s allegations, my immediate response was to look at the facts and see whether or not they hold up to scrutiny. When I read my friend’s Facebook post, that thought never occurred to me. I just immediately believed her. In other words, I very naturally did exactly what feminists are always commanding men to do—a troubling thought for me, to say the least. So why did I do it? Why the completely different reaction?

It’s because one woman is my friend and the other is not.

Most lies rely on some element of truth in order to be convincing, and the false moral principle of “You must believe all women!” is no exception. While there is no such universal obligation, there are certain relationships and vocations that do bear a similar obligation. When you are, for example, someone’s counselor, confidante, or friend, you have a certain responsibility to be credulous. After all, you can’t really help someone to heal or provide emotional support or be trustworthy without first trusting. This isn’t an inviolable responsibility. You may disbelieve even a friend if enough contrary evidence starts stacking up in front of you, and that disbelief will affect they way you try to help them. But you don’t deliberately go double-checking or corroborating before you decide to believe someone you have those kinds of relationships with.

What the left is doing with the way they’re treating Kavanaugh’s accusers is preying on Americans’ inclinations to be friendly in order to avoid the consequences of the election they lost. They are trying to lay on senators, journalists, investigators, and voters the kinds of responsibilities toward Ford that belong to friends—to uncritically believe for the sake of helping them. That mix-up is perhaps the biggest problem with the circus currently going on in DC.

Like most Americans, I am not Christine Ford’s counselor, confidante, or friend. Neither do I have any desire to be. I have no responsibility to be someone for her to lean on or to help her feel better or deal with whatever trauma she’s experienced. Rather, I’m a citizen and a voter. My responsibility is to exercise my voice and my vote for the sake of selecting good government for this republic. In order to exercise that responsibility well, I must make my decisions on what to believe based on reason, evidence, and sound principles. The same is true for the senators who are weighing Kavanaugh as a candidate for Supreme Court Justice. When subjected to that kind of analysis, Ford’s accusations absolutely do not hold up.

Inasmuch as a person performs these other kinds of vocations they cannot really be a good friend to Christine Blasey Ford. That is one of the reasons responsible people in positions of authority recuse themselves from a decision that deeply involves someone with whom they have a personal relationship. They have two sets of responsibilities that are actually at odds with one another. After a generation of being incessantly told to follow our hearts, too many Americans have become unable to make these distinctions. They rely on what feels right and feels plausible to them instead of on the reason, evidence, and principles that provide our only real hope for responsible government.

The fact that a random American was able to derail a Supreme Court nomination with nothing but her feelings is a testament to just how poorly skilled Americans have become at self-government. And the most significant outcome of this situation may not be whether Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed to the Supreme Court, but whether Americans and our representatives will take this opportunity to regain some political sanity—or decide to double-down on our plunge into the abyss.

So by all means, be a friend to your friends. Believe them. But don’t mistake being a good friend with making good policies. Doing so is a betrayal of those for whom you are responsible.

Posted in Ethics, Musings, Politics | 1 Comment

A Culture of Consent Is Not a Culture of Caring

It’s always frustrating reading something that comes really close to hitting it’s target but still manages to completely miss it altogether. That’s how I felt when reading Courtney Sender’s recent NYT piece, He Asked Permission to Touch, but Not to Ghost.

She describes a recent hookup with a kind of man I never thought could actually exist—one trying to rigorously adhere to an only-yes-means-yes standard of consent who a woman actually wanted to sleep with. From what she describes, he was literally asking her if it was ok to remove each and every article of clothing. (Of course, she doesn’t say that he continually asked whether she had revoked consent during intercourse, so he could still be found guilty of violating an affirmative consent standard.) I’m not going to congratulate fornication, but… I can’t help but be impressed that he pulled it off without seeming like a frightened child.

Naturally, fulfilling even the most outlandish demands of feminists wasn’t enough to avoid her finding fault.

Yet something else about his asking also made me uneasy. It seemed legalistic and self-protective, imported more from the courtroom than from a true sense of caretaking. And each time he asked, it was as if he assumed I lacked the agency to say no on my own — as if he expected me to say no, not believing that a woman would have the desire to keep saying yes.

So in other words, the guy actually managed to make fried ice for her, but she’s still complaining that it’s too tepid.

Irony aside, though, she’s not exactly wrong in her assessment. Affirmative consent certainly is legalistic rather than caring—it has more in common with how computers swap data than it does with how humans relate. In the end, while he may have treated her yes’s as divine oracles, he nevertheless stopped returning her texts and started pretending she didn’t exist after only two hookups. In her conclusion, Ms. Sender comes really close to expressing a fundamental truth about building a “culture of consent.”

In the days and weeks after, I was left thinking that our culture’s current approach to consent is too narrow. A culture of consent should be a culture of care for the other person, of seeing and honoring another’s humanity and finding ways to engage in sex while keeping our humanity intact. It should be a culture of making each other feel good, not bad.

And if that’s the goal, then consent doesn’t work if we relegate it exclusively to the sexual realm. Our bodies are only one part of the complex constellation of who we are. To base our culture of consent on the body alone is to expect that caretaking involves only the physical.

I wish we could view consent as something that’s less about caution and more about care for the other person, the entire person, both during an encounter and after, when we’re often at our most vulnerable.

Because I don’t think many of us would say yes to the question “Is it O.K. if I act like I care about you and then disappear?”

So close, and yet so far. Yes, our expressions of sexuality should promote caring about one another. But caring has nothing to do with consent, and that’s precisely the problem.

Consent Cannot Be Enough

During the sexual revolution, large swaths of our culture decided that sexual morality was irredeemably oppressive and archaic. Accordingly, they worked hard to undermine it and replace it with a simple statement of “everything is ok as long as its consensual.” It was our way of legitimizing all the illicit sex we wanted to enjoy while still forbidding rape. In doing so, we also made our thinking about sex entirely one-dimensional. This kind of reductionistic thinking is entirely inadequate for dealing with something as multi-faceted as human sexuality.

A few years back, I wrote a piece called Ending the Real Rape Culture in which I argued that the way feminists have treated consent as the only relevant facet of sexuality has served to completely dehumanize it. This dehumanization is most easily seen in the extreme examples—that Christmas is “rapey” because of the Annunciation or that parents need to seek consent before changing their baby’s diaper. However, it is just as present in the push for affirmative consent. As Ms. Sender attests, nobody actually wants a sexual encounter that requires explicitly seeking and granting permission at every conceivable escalation. Isolating consent from things like relationships, social expectations, and common sense actually facilitates “rape culture” rather than inhibiting it.

But rape and sexual assault are not the only rotten fruits of this dehumanization of consent. It produces all kinds of misery in our relationships as well. Ms. Sender’s experience that, “Sex makes me feel unsafe, not because of the act itself but because my partners so often disappear afterward” is a pretty typical example of this. It’s amazing how often women who are adamant that they’re empowered hookup-loving feminists are simultaneously disappointed that their no-strings-attached affairs never lead to relationships—to strings.

The problem is not, as Ms. Sender argues, that we think about consent too narrowly and that it should extend to emotions as well. The problem is that we think of nothing but consent—and that itself is too narrow. Feminists myopically focus on consent because they see it as empowering. After all, consent is nothing more or less than permission, and the person who is granting permission is the person who is in charge.

For feminists, power differentials are the key to understanding the world. Specifically, they believe that women are oppressed by men because men have held power over women through much of history and have perpetuated that imbalance by entrenching their power in various social structures. Their solutions, therefore, are always to “correct” this imbalance by giving power to women at the expense of men. That empowerment is the ultimate goal of their every policy, social engineering endeavor, and program. Everything else is secondary–at best, caring for what they would consider the symptoms of male power and at worst, empty rhetoric to gain support for their policies.

The focus on consent is no different. This is most easily seen in the new affirmative consent policies that are being pushed. Critics have pointed out that there is literally no way for the accused to prove innocence under such policies. But proponents remain undeterred because this is ultimately a feature, not a bug. Affirmative consent is specifically designed to empower women by allowing them to penalize any sexual partner who sufficiently displeases them. That’s not part of feminists’ rhetoric—after all, most people recognize this power as rather arbitrary and unjust—but it is an inherent part of their purpose.

But as long as one’s sexual ethics rest solely on a matter of empowerment, sex cannot really be a matter of care. Ms. Sender recognizes this dynamic at play in her hookup. She says of his strict adherence to affirmative consent policies, “It seemed legalistic and self-protective, imported more from the courtroom than from a true sense of caretaking.” This is only natural. She held power from which he needed to protect himself, so he toed the party line he was probably fed in college. Nothing more can come from it because you cannot use power to create a relationship—you cannot force people to care about you.

But when Ms. Sender complains that her hookup didn’t have her permission to ghost her, that’s precisely what she’s trying to do—She’s trying to be in charge of whether or not he cares. No culture of consent is ever going to create caring because empowerment is insufficient to that task. Care proceeds primarily from self-giving rather than from demands.

Sex Is Not All About You

One of the most fundamental aspects to sex is that it takes two. Anything less than that is rightly seen as kind of pathetic. This means that giving is just as important as receiving, which inevitably requires partnership. Despite what feminists are trying to accomplish through slavish devotion to a dehumanized consent, women cannot have sex with men entirely on their own terms. Expecting to get absolutely everything you consent to and absolutely nothing else is radically selfish. There is no real partnership there; and when you treat men as disposable, they are going to treat you the same way. In this way, caring is fundamentally incompatible with hookups. The entire point of hooking up is no-strings-attached sex—an attempt to remove any and all responsibility to another person from the equation.

And yet, this piece and many others inadvertently reveal just how badly many women actually want the strings from which feminists “liberated” them. Despite her insistence on hookups, Sender doesn’t actually want to be abandoned after sex, and I see the same thing in virtually every high-profile piece about hooking up that I read. The example par excellence is “Kristina” from a Rolling Stone profile in 2014. Kristina has two faces. The first, presented by herself and the author is one of an empowered and liberated young woman who is quite satisfied with hookup culture. The other, unintended face is one of despair. Kristina once hoped for a boyfriend before she got used by “frat bros” and is obsessed with weddings and marriage; but she plies herself with alcohol to enable her to hookup with random guys “just looking for someone to bang” who she admits she doesn’t want, all while desperately trying to convince herself that servicing 29 guys and counting is going to lead to marriage somehow. Behold sexual “liberation.”

In examples like these, we see two mindsets at war with one another. On one hand, there’s the natural human impulse towards marriage and family. On the other hand, there’s the feminist indoctrination that marriage and family are snares that keep women from being all that they can be. Our culture imposes on women a moral obligation to radical selfishness that drives hookup culture and staves off marriage and family as long as possible.

Our culture’s prejudice is that it is men who are either too scared or too selfish to make a commitment. After all, it is more often the women who complain about men not manning up and a putting a ring on it. But contrary to our prejudices, the truth is that both sexes are too selfish to commit. We might want commitments, but wanting a commitment is not the same thing as offering one. And offering one is precisely what many young women assiduously avoid. Consider some of the things young women said about themselves in this 2013 NYT piece which celebrates women’s participation in hookup culture.

  • “We are very aware of cost-benefit issues and trading up and trading down, so no one wants to be too tied to someone that, you know, may not be the person they want to be with in a couple of months.”
  • Instead, she enjoyed casual sex on her terms — often late at night, after a few drinks, and never at her place, she noted, because then she would have to wash the sheets
  • Many privileged young people see college as a unique life stage in which they don’t — and shouldn’t — have obligations other than their own self-development.
  • Women at elite universities were choosing hookups because they saw relationships as too demanding and potentially too distracting from their goals.
  • Women say, “ ‘I need to take this time for myself — I’m going to have plenty of time to focus on my husband and kids later,’ ” Dr. Armstrong said. “ ‘I need to invest in my career, I need to learn how to be independent, I need to travel.’ People use this reference to this life stage to claim a lot of space for a lot of different kinds of things.”
  • “‘I’ve always heard this phrase, ‘Oh, marriage is great, or relationships are great — you get to go on this journey of change together,’ ” she said. “That sounds terrible. I don’t want to go through those changes with you. I want you to have changed and become enough of your own person so that when you meet me, we can have a stable life and be very happy.”
  • In Catherine’s view, her classmates tried very hard to separate sex from emotion, because they believed that getting too attached to someone would interfere with their work. They saw a woman’s marrying young as either proof of a lack of ambition or a tragic mistake that would stunt her career.

As before, most of these women are looking for strings—just not yet, and only on their own terms. They want entitlements without responsibilities.

The overwhelmingly common point of view of these women is that their youth, energy, and dreams are far too valuable to waste on a husband and a family. Marriage is only for later on when these treasures have been too used up and abused to be worth anything better. They desire a commitment from men—eventually. However, they don’t offer one. Instead, they work hard to avoid having any skin in the game themselves. They achieve this by squandering what they hold most valuable so that they aren’t tempted to share it with anyone. If men aren’t putting a ring on that, it’s hard to blame them.

And of course, one must once again point out the fact that women’s commitments after marriage leave something be desired as well. The prevalence of unilateral divorce and the lopsided reality that women commit a super-majority of them does much to erode caring and commitment on the other side of marriage.

If You Want Care, Try Chastity

Even when they’re just looking for anonymous sex, people are still looking for love—something apparent in Ms. Sender’s article. Unfortunately, too many women have been taught that genuine, self-giving love is something to abhor. This is certainly part of sinful human nature in men and women alike, but the present reality is that men don’t have to contend with a powerful and entrenched social movement trying to present our selfishness as virtue.

To get past hookup culture and find a culture of caring, we have to move past a culture of consent and empowerment and towards of culture of love. Once you let love in the door, sexual morality necessarily goes far deeper than mere consent. It has to entail self-giving, and therefore the institution of marriage which makes this kind of self-giving reasonably safe. It has to entail commitment and exclusivity—two sides of the same coin—because you cannot truly give a person something that’s been held in common among dozens of people in your youth. It has to entail a mutual respect because you’re so deeply invested in each other.

If you want to be cared for, you must remember that in most circumstances, you cannot be genuinely cared about without actually caring in return. On the contrary, people actively try to distance themselves from those who couldn’t care less. So if, like Ms. Sender, sex is so steeped in loneliness for you that you already dread his departure even as you lie with him, then perhaps you should reflect on the price of your freedom from strings. For the past few generations, we have been slowly trading away caring in exchange for sexual license. And like most forms of hedonism, it’s made us feel great for about 5 minutes and terrible in the long run. Anyone who is interested in a loving marriage would do well to consider actually saving themselves for it.

Posted in Chastity, Ethics, Feminism | 9 Comments