Monday, July 28, 2008

Losing Sight of Our Purpose (Part IV): The Subtle Implications of Legal and Moral Code

A recent, previous post discussed CBMW and the “Rationales” of the Danvers Statement, a document that seeks to elucidate what the Bible teaches concerning gender. Just as the laws of a society codify the beliefs of that society and thus reflect its morality, so I believe that CBMW hopes to set a standard for the church concerning the issues of gender. Though this body does not establish formal laws, it presumes to seek to clarify Biblical standards. They define specific moral standards through their teachings as a guide for conduct, much like civil laws do within society.

Individuals within a society indirectly understand the relationship between law and morals and often confuse it, believing that the law, at least to some degree, defines what is moral. Civil laws, though they are based upon a moral code, cannot be assumed to be moral within a pluralistic society. The abortion laws present an excellent example of how the law has a subtly misleading and detrimental effect on beliefs over time. People infer that because the act is declared legal (not punishable under civil law), the act gains a level of legitimacy as a result, making previously clear moral distinctions ambiguous.

I believe that Bruce ware’s irresponsible, provocative statement in a sermon at Denton Bible Church paves the way for just such a subtle misunderstanding by those with abusive tendencies:

"And husbands on their parts, because they're sinners, now respond to that threat to their authority either by being abusive, which is of course one of the ways men can respond when their authority is challenged--or, more commonly, to become passive, acquiescent, and simply not asserting the leadership they ought to as men in their homes and in churches."

He follows quickly with a statement that Christians should follow the ideal plan that God designed, that of a husband who loves his wife as Christ loves the church and a wife who submits to her husband with gladness. As with many of Ware’s similarly provocative teachings, he believes that his declaration of his ideal model somehow relieves him of the consequences of his earlier statement. The mention of abuse in this manner not only sensitizes the listener to rightfully and logically anticipate abuse in some cases, but it also alleviates man of full responsibility for his actions. Not unlike a law which people subtly misconstrue to represent right moral action, this statement lends a subtle quality of legitimacy to spousal abuse by making man’s immoral action contingent upon the performance of another. It externalizes man’s locus of control, legitimizing a “victim of circumstance” mentality that “passes the buck” to the woman, subtly implying that woman is morally culpable for man’s action. The husband’s headship becomes at least partially if not completely contingent upon his wife’s submission. The demands of ideological hierarchy reduce Christian marriage to a legalistic, cause-and-effect arrangement of keeping score.

Here are my specific contentions with the subtleties of Ware’s statement:

1. It creates a false dichotomy of choice between either aggression or passivity. Ill feelings towards one’s spouse to such a great degree as to move a man to abuse are inevitable consequences within all marriages. The Danvers Statement and Ware himself both frame the relationship between husband and wife as a naturally contentious one, defined in the Fourth Danvers Affirmation: “In the home, the husband's loving, humble headship tends to be replaced by domination or passivity; the wife's intelligent, willing submission tends to be replaced by usurpation or servility.” There are no VIABLE alternative courses of action available to fallen man apart from these offered both by Ware and the Danvers Statement. I assert that the enmity that God put between the serpent and the woman has been divisively redirected to the position between husband and wife. We are told that the fallen man has options, but the likelihood of opting for an unviable choice other than aggression or passivity is highly unlikely by definition. There are multiple logical fallacies at play in this assumption.

2. The act of abuse is not strongly defined or qualified to be unconscionable. Though the Christian ideal is presented after the justifiable choice of abuse for man in a sinful state or less than ideal circumstances, this does not eradicate the concept from the mind or understanding of the listener. Abuse is a pejorative and word that creates emotional arousal.

Imagine that you hire an attorney to write a threatening letter to someone, but you do not want to be perceived in a negative light. By stating that you never intended for the letter to be sent, you can push the limits of the situation while also enjoying all the benefits of the threat. The recipient has the option of trusting your profession of intent, and in some cases might be required to render to you the benefit of the doubt, or the alternative aspect of simply accepting the receipt of the letter as conveying the intended threat. I believe that this represents a similar situation wherein intentional vagueness and implied assumption subtly convey anticipated aggression, but Ware can also deny his own culpability for encouraging the negative choice. He did not directly advocate abuse, but he did imply that it was an inevitable consequence in some instances.

I believe Ware relies on these same techniques to claim that the Father in the Trinity is not of greater authority than the Son, but he applies the loaded language terms or slogans of “ultimate” or “supreme” to differentiate the Father’s authority from that of the Son. He then claims that “ultimate” and “supreme” do not equate to “more” or “greater” authority for the Father in comparison to the Son, but these unique and novel definitions are not honest and true to the common, accepted understanding of the terms.

3. The Christian ideal of hierarchy serves as the only viable means of transcending the inevitable and unavoidable contention within the husband-wife relationship. Even the regenerate Christian man must work to master the Christian life through devotion, discipline, study and experience. Until such mastery of the Word of God can be obtained, the Christian experiences that which is common to all marriages, regardless of whether they are Christian. So the Christian can and likely should anticipate the justifiable desire to abuse, because both Ware and Danvers frame the elements in this manner. This is a double bind.

4. CBMW teaches that the woman’s role is a passive role, but then presents this passive (and characteristically feminine) role as the only viable alternative to abuse. The passive/feminine choice suggests an option that is highly undesirable if not repugnant to the man. In terms of gender stereotype, the role of abuser or aggressor provides the most masculine option of the two presented. Ware offers no additional examples of an assertive response, so the listener is encouraged to choose the violent option as opposed to taking no action whatsoever. This is a double bind.

5. Man MUST choose a corrective course of action in order to manage his wife’s undesirable rebellious behavior. His role as leader anticipates action, but the responsibilities of his hierarchical role as family leader REQUIRE a response. He is compelled to choose some form of discipline in order to fulfil his own God-ordained gender role within the marriage, but he must also act in the best interest of his wife by correcting her. And the wife is required to submit.

6. The paradigm assigns the first cause of the husband’s frustration to the wife by requiring submission, but this is contradictory. If the marriage relationship is characterized by the heated tension between these two parties, it is incumbent upon the woman to somehow avoid the first cause to circumvent the potential for abuse. The paradigm requires that she somehow miraculously act against her own character within marriage (while very human like the husband mentioned previously, lacking mastery of the skills that will provide for her own safety). She is deemed as both the causative agent as well as the curative agent. The greater burden of culpability for the man’s actions falls to her and not the more powerful man of authority. She becomes his external locus of control. This is a double bind.

My Concerns in Broader Perspective

The Southern Baptist Convention does not condone spousal abuse, and as we noted in a previous post, it makes strong, definitive statements against it. I also do not believe that Bruce Ware added his statement into his teaching as a guidepost and primary point. But he did convey that message whether or not he intended to do so, and abusers and victims alike will understand the indirectly spoken and unwritten rules. He was merely echoing the the Fourth Davnvers Affirmation in the context of the example of a marriage, idealistically presuming that born-again Believers would be restrained by the Holy Spirit of Love. But the statement was uttered, and I am not surprised. It is a logical conclusion of what Danvers presupposes, an assumption that is not Biblical.

What would you call that which seeks to break asunder what God has joined in marriage and called blessed? Considering the enmity that God placed between the serpent and the woman as a component of the proto evangellian (the first promise of our Redeemer), I would call it that which is motivated by the influence and spirit of “anti-Christ.”

And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.”
Genesis 3:15

“Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”
Matt 12:34

“Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man... But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.”

Matt 15:11-18

“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.”

Luke 6:45

“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”
Prov 4:23

Link to "Losing Site of Our Purpose":

Read More About Commentary about Bruce Ware's Presentation at Denton Bible Church in June 2008 HERE: