Friday, August 20, 2010

My Critique of the Danvers Statement, Part I of IV

A few weeks ago, I posted Shirley Taylor’s response to the Danvers Statement.  My responses are a bit different, and I find the Danvers Statement of CBMW so frustrating and misleading, I’ve never written out my own response.  Many people find my approach to this topic confusing, because my focus differs from most people engaged in the ever ongoing debate. 

My interests in the intramural issue of Women in Ministry concern the spiritually abusive tactics used to advance opinions on both sides of the discussion moreso than the specifics themselves.  The Council on Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) uses propaganda to advance their assertion that gender relates directly to God’s identity, claiming that it is a matter of the essentials of faith as opposed to an intramural issue, so this is of concern to me.  In their lack of liberty and love for fellow believers in conjunction with highly questionable interpretation of certain Scriptures, I believe that CBMW manifests spiritual abuse and thought reform dynamics quite notably. My primary interest concerns their employment of manipulation, not the specifics of the debate itself.

But posting the concerns of others on this blog has created some concern for readers here, as it seems to be the assumption that if I post something here, I must agree with it entirely and it reflects my heart precisely.  I would like to assure the reader that I don’t agree with any one person’s doctrinal positions, not even my own husband’s in some matters!  I’ve explained by email to several people over the past few weeks that, concerning those involved in the Freedom for Christian Women Coalition, their opinions do not represent my own beliefs precisely, though generaly, I share their concerns and some of their past futile experiences in addressing the problems with CBMW’s doctrine and behavior.

Alas, there is the question of the nature of my own response!  What would my own letter to CBMW look like?  It would be a blank page, as I would never have directly addressed the group, though I was happy to support the Demand Letter authored by Shirley Taylor.  But what of my response to the Danvers Statement? 
Many years ago, Dr. Robert K. McGreggor Wright wrote his own response to the statement, so I felt that I didn’t really need to respond myself.  I even quoted this document that appeared more than 15 years ago in the Journal of Biblical Equality in my recent article for the Center for Cultural Leadership’s new publication, Fidelity:  Biblical Faith in Family, Church, and Culture.  Yet this article has been out of circulation for quite some time.  I have thus decided that, drawing from Dr. Wright’s excellent resource, I will draft something of my own response.

It may take me awhile to complete, and I don’t know if I will finish.  I do find the document quite frustrating, and I anticipate that I may just bail out of the effort before I finish. Given the concerns that others have voiced to me about the issue, I would like to give it an honest try.


Responding to CBMW’s Danvers Statement Affirmations (Part I):
  • CBMW’s statements are noted in DARK BLUE.
  • Dr. Wright’s commentary or references to his work are noted in PURPLE.

1.  Both Adam and Eve were created in God's image, equal before God as persons, and distinct in their manhood and womanhood.

The term “distinct” seems to mean something profound but does not explain exactly what is distinct about manhood and womanhood.   (Dr. Wright also notes that the use of “distinct” is “ambiguous.”)  Is this purely physical, cultural, or is this based upon presuppositions about key Scriptures?  After reading a great deal of CBMW material, I know many their presuppositions, but these are not made abundantly clear from just this simple and misleading statement which is actually quite loaded.  Women are given to deception.  They are not permitted to teach.  They are ontologically subordinate creatures that are not even capable of bearing full responsibility for their own sins.  These distinctions trace back to a semi-Arian concept of the Second Person of the Godhead.  This statement neglects to point out these “distinctions,” and those who are unaware of these presumed distinctions will gloss over this seemingly insignificant distinction.

2. Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order, and should find an echo in every human heart.

This statement also presumes that all people share identical presuppositions about Scripture concerning men and women and what is meant by “masculine and feminine roles.”  As a Christian, there are some things that are very sure and definitive regarding gender and sexuality.  Once sure example includes the clear sin of fornication or adultery, because these things are definitive in Scripture, and those things should “find an echo in every human heart.”  

This matter of roles, however, is open to some interpretation under liberty because “roles” are not clearly defined in Scripture.  A person can argue for their convictions regarding interpretation of the Scripture, but much of what CBMW calls a gender role is not definitive and crystal clear which is why it is one reason why it is considered an intramural doctrine.  Gender concerns that are not clearly defined are also not central to saving faith in Jesus Christ, the other PRIMARY consideration which classifies them as intramural.  As fellow believers, we are called to walk in liberty and extend that to others who do agree with us on the essentials of the faith (Romans 14).

CBMW uses some sneaky tactics here in these primary statements which makes them disingenuous.  They do not make clear their ESS Doctrine, ontological subordination, their ideas that sin entered the world through Eve, and that they ascribe to primogeniture, for example.  (See this presentation for more information.)  The mere mention of “distinctions” and “roles” presume agreement on these doctrines, though they are not clearly stated.  These presuppositions create a strong dissonance in my mind and spirit as opposed to an echo of the resonance of truth in my heart!  

I believe this qualifies as “Begging the Question.”  (From  “To ‘beg’ the question is to ask that the very point at issue be conceded, which is of course illegitimate.”)  In Latin, the phrase is better stated as something like “establishing first principles.”  This constitutes an informal logical fallacy, and if this tactic is used to win an argument, one argues fallaciously.  It is a way to conveniently circumvent the impasse reached when the opposing side will not concede to the presupposition that one is trying to prove.  It is a circular argument that essentially cannot be proved apart from agreement with the premise.  CBMW does this by completely ignoring their duty to define “roles” and “distinctions” clearly.

Dr. Wright points out in his Response that the word “role” derives from the French language and describes play acting.  He also points out that there is only one equivalent for such a word in the original Greek of the New Testament:  hypocrisis (which we transliterate into hypocrisy).   CBMW teaches that men and women are to play act hypocritical roles that they’ve established based on their cultural biases and interpretative presuppositions.  Wright astutely notes:

At no point however, does the Bible set up anything remotely resembling "masculinity" or "femininity" as worthy or standard patterns of life.  The notion of individuals adopting "roles" as a means of holiness, thereby copying external socially-conditioned abstractions in order to create the illusion of spiritual security, is in fact singled out by Jesus himself for one of the strongest condemnations in the Bible!  The Greek word hypocrisis is used to describe this way of life.  To look for a "role" to follow in order to give one meaning in life may in fact be simply to systematize the principle of hypocrisy, and to elevate patterns not even found in the Bible to the level of key principles of sanctification.  When Paul invites us to copy him as he does his Lord, it is moral character that is meant, not a "role."  To govern one's life by trying to meet "role expectations" may be nothing more than to live after a systematized hypocrisy.  It is dangerous to make the behaviour of others one's reference-point.  As J. B. Phillips paraphrased Romans 12:1-2, "Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould . . ."  Role-playing is a form of play-acting, and may be just a pious form of hypocrisy.  There is no reason to think of it as a key to personal holiness.

Wright points out another criticism that I believe is valid, noting that “God Himself is viewed as a cosmic Maleness” and that the echo that CBMW speaks of “equates superficial gender distinctions with humanness itself.”  I see this as another aspect of Begging the Question, forcing their presuppositions in an attempt to dominate all discussion of gender by defining all the terms and presuppositions.

Dr. Wright then draws from John Piper’s writings in “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” (a “566 page monolith”) which seems to be essential to understanding the presuppositions which upgird the seemingly simple and duplicitous Danvers Statement.  I will summarize Wright’s assessment  by stating that Piper is inconsistent and contradicts himself several times in what I believe could be called Piper’s tautology (assuming and repeating the thing he means to prove).  Piper suggests that we cannot really define terms and shouldn’t presume to do this “risky business,” but then he goes on in the book to establish authoritative definitions by way of their “indispensable aspects.”  Somehow, Piper is qualified to define terms authoritatively, but no one else qualifies to do the same if the arrive at a position that challenges his own.

Wright’s summary:

Biblical Egalitarians should be properly thankful for what is virtually a logical expose by John Piper of the vacuous distinctions at the foundation of the traditionalist vision.  The present writer was rather startled to read such a disappointing exegetical effort from Piper, after reading with profit and delight his excellent calvinistic treatise on pauline predestination in Romans 9, in his The Justification Of God (Baker, 1983.)  The difference seems to be that the doctrine he wanted to exegete from Romans 9 actually exists in the texts treated, while the doctrine he wants to get from the Bible on male supremacy does not.  I have not seen so spectacular a case of the difference between exegesis and eisegesis in the writings of one single evangelical scholar for a long time.


Well, that’s a start and all I care to delve into at the moment.  I find each statement made in the Danvers Statement to be just as problematic for various reasons and intricate interlacing of propaganda techniques, logical fallacies, and even techniques described by Robert Lifton in his writings on thought reform.

I believe that CBMW and those responsible for the Danvers Statement use coercion and deception to dominate the discussion of gender.  Most people are quite busy and don’t have time to sit and decipher complex and misleading arguments, or they simply just don’t know how to do it.  I believe that thanks to human tendency, what Cialdini describes as “Weapons of Influence” (the "rules of thumb" we use to cut through the overwhelming amounts of information that we all deal with on a daily basis, particularly in church), social pressures, and the divisiveness of the way CBMW has framed the discussion, most people miss the subtle nature of the deception.  Too many have placed their unqualified trust in these folks, assuming that because they can discern some matters of doctrine, they can rightfully and infallably discern all matters of doctrine concerning gender.

For those with concerns that I’ve jumped the ship of logic and irenic discussion, I hope that you find my personal thoughts helpful.

(And maybe the reader can understand why I was delighted to find Shirley’s summary which could be quite easily condensed and posted in two short blog posts!  It makes many of the same observations that I note, but my own concerns are so great, I can’t manage to consolidate them as well as she has stated her own critique.)

Robert K. McGregor Wright, "A Response to the Danvers Statement:  Part I". The Journal of Biblical Equality, July 1992; (copyrighted revision, Aquila and Priscilla House Study Center, Johnson City, TN, 1995):3.