Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Review of Shirley Taylor's “Dethroning Male Headship” (Celebrating the Third Anniversary of the Demand Letter and the founding of the Freedom for Christian Women Coalition)

I so often pray that the eyes of the Lord will look to and fro about the earth, seeking for one to whom He can show Himself as strong, and that, by His help, I will be fit for Him to notice. I pray for his help to enlighten my understanding so that He will show Himself strong to me, in all His depth and width and height as my life unfolds, being gentle with me as He brings me deeper into that sweet fragrance of the knowledge of Him. But I find that I also look to and fro, looking for people who will have the strength and the willingness to step forward to speak the truth, and I pray that God shows Himself strong to them, too. We have too few of them today.

Three years ago today, I had the honor of sharing the dais with Shirley Taylor at Seneca Falls II, a conference focusing on Evangelical Christian women's rights, where we joined with others to form the Freedom for Christian Women Coalition (FreeCWC). At a break in the order of the meeting on the morning of July 24th, 2010, I told her that it was a pity that I had to fly across the country to find a woman of valor such as her – a woman of strength who readily recognized the serious problems concerning the gender teachings in the church, for I still ponder why so many Christians don't rise up in dissent and protest. We should have such discussions at many of our local churches. She also took the next step to rise up to speak about them. When preaching complementarianism, Evangelicals no longer preach Christ and Him crucified but instead tout the glory and the traditions of men instead. To enthrone male headship, they had to dethrone the King of Kings. Why are so many silent about it, and why doesn't every Believer recognize it? Surely God will show Himself strong to them for their faith and courage and valor, too.

What blesses me so much about Shirley is that she is just a rank and file Believer like most of us who wrote a book at the age of 69, and she knows, loves and recognizes her Savior. She knows and adores the Genuine Article well, so when that which is not comes along, she identifies the counterfeit readily. She knows her Savior and seeks to see Him have his rightful place in the Church and in the hearts of His people. It is that knowing through walking through the Christian life as a student of the Word that has given her the discernment to identify truth from error. She's a wife and a mother and a church secretary, and she used to work as a secretary for her Baptist denomination headquarters. But the authority that truth yields to all Believers empowers Shirley to not only recognize the problems of complementarianism, but she also is willing to come forward to boldly address them.

The Call to Action

In the introduction of Shirley's book, Dethroning Male Headship, the doctrine that “doesn't have a leg to stand on” as she describes it, she explains that the serious errors of the new gender doctrines and the serious problems of the fruit of these doctrines must be confronted. We have a duty as Believers and lovers of God's Word to speak out against them. She notes later in the book with such refreshing simplicity something akin to my own reaction to these doctrines – that which I could not understand was not spoken often by all those who love and know Jesus through diligent study of the Word: “That does not make one bit of sense. It will not hold water. It is made-up theology. And neither do their scripture references back it up” (pg 21). Why do so few Believers recognize this very thing in the same way that Shirley has, offended at the violence that has been brought against the core message of the very identity of Jesus Himself?

She notes that the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) came into existence in the 1980s, claiming that they purposed to “stimulate healthy discussion, hoping that it will gain widespread assent.” I love Shirley's response as she echos what the consequences can be if one gains the whole world for the wrong purpose, a principle that every a young Christian child should be taught and should recognize:
It did gain widespread assent.
But widespread assent does not make it right.”

CBMW claims in their slogan that they believe that men and women are equal, but that they are different, repeating it as though they borrowed the notes from the one who popularized the concept of the Big Lie. They have certainly demonstrated that the technique is a powerful one. The Council repeats this idea, yet so much of the message that they send through convoluted and contrived applications of Scripture and so much sophistry speak the opposite in mealy mouthed messages that say that women are most definitely not equal to men. Splitting hairs and using nearly every logical fallacy and propaganda technique in the book, they've blackmailed Evangelical Christians into accepting both their paradigm and their novel, redefined and contrived language so that they can dominate the discussion of gender. For those who reject their paradigm, they've crafted a lovely loophole: those who reject their ideas are said to reject God Himself and His Lordship. And then the pejoratives follow, the name calling that serves as the last resort for those who try to advance a weak argument against those with a strong one.

Shirley notes that her book is a call to action that she issues to the Evangelical Church at large today to examine and recognize what the Scriptures actually teach and how that contrasts with what has been redefined by CBMW as “complementarianism.” Dethroning Male Headship walks the reader through the reasons why complementarianism shows itself as nothing more than the traditions of men who have scapegoated women by viewing gender as some grand conspiracy on the part of women to overthrow men, and those women are defined in terms of both primary essence and character as far less than equal to men. They clamor back to the Garden of Eden and their father, Adam, instead of running to Jesus. Shirley's book demonstrates that the only means by which the complementarians really have to run back to Adam comes through legalism, condemnation, manipulation, and control – all while they call it love and God's divine order.

An Overview

Divided into four sections, Dethroning Male Headship begins with a Biblical defense of the equality that men and women share, countering many of the primary ideas taught by CBMW. Shirley establishes the principles that she finds to be taught plainly and simply in Scripture, in just sixty pages. (Consider that Piper and Grudem had to produce a 482 page treatise in defense of their Danvers Statement, their overview position statement about what they believe that the Bible states about gender.)

As Christians, we are to study the Bible so that we can grow to be more like Jesus as we learn of Him, changed over time to be more and more like Him by that miracle of the melding of those Words of Life and the Holy Spirit that brings them to life in us. Complementarianism demands a hierarchical view of both God's identity and then superimposes that on to gender relationships, then claims that if a person rejects this hierarchy, they are not true Christians and, in effect, worship a false God and follow an unorthodox religion We learn about proper conduct, not through focusing on what we learn from the living out of the Word which makes us more Christ-like, but rather through following the moral imperatives dictated to us by CBMW. Why do we need volumes of writing and group of elite experts to explain this to us? Doesn't this argue against the study of Scripture itself and the illumination of the Word through the Spirit so that a person like Shirley and every other Believer can arrive at an orthodox understanding of who God is? If the Word is inspired, profitable, and useful for discernment about how to live, just as the Apostle Paul taught Timothy, why do we need these high priests to go into heaven for us to even begin to know the most basic ideas about who God is, special secrets learned from volumes of the writings of these men? I find that Shirley's simple and honest defense of her beliefs points out that CBMW actually argues against the sufficiency of Scripture and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit that is given to everyone who comes to faith in Jesus.

In Part Two of the book, Shirley specifically examines the Danvers Statement itself to expose the deceptive and twisted language used by the Council in the crafty document. An earlier summary of some of her ideas about the Danvers Statement that are found in this section of the book already appear here on this website (Read more about the Rationales and Affirmations via these links). As stated earlier, CBMW uses sophistry and confusing language to read into Biblical texts and ideas. This section brings to mind the disingenuous nature of the efforts of these “complementarian masterminds” of sorts, exposed in the words of Russell Moore. He comes right out and says that he prefers the term “patriarchy” to “complementarianism,” but if CBMW were that honest and direct in their explanations of what their doctrine means, no one would have bought into it. They had to disguise the true nature of what they really meant about their gender teachings without them seeming distasteful. Shirley expounds on her real world and pragmatic understanding of how the Danvers Statement fleshes out, based on what people come away with from the whole of complementarianism. She shows the Danvers Statement to be little more than legalistic disclaimers that are far from honest. She strikes me as like the boy who pointed at the naked king to tell the truth about the Emperor's New Clothes.

The third section of the book outlines the Demand for an Apology letter that was sent to CBMW three years ago, demanding that the Council own up to the problems fostered by their teachings and how those teachings have contributed to inestimable harm. Much of this can be viewed and read at the FreeCWC site, along with the defense of why an apology is vitally needed. It is sad that these men who claim to be so driven to change the world by bringing the right view of gender to the Church have never responded to the letter. I know of only one acknowledgment of it from within the complementarian high priest camp, and it was far from concerned or instructive. Ignoring criticism and through the name calling of dissidents, critics, and opponents of complementarianism has been the modus operandi of the group. (I am proud to have been a signatory of this document, three years ago today, and I'm honored to have the opportunity to celebrate the effort with this book review.)

Part Four of the book delves deeper into more specific problems of the logical conclusions and aberrant tertiary teachings that have resulted from the errors of complementarianism. Shirley then calls for the dethroning of male headship and the restoration of Christ to His proper place in the Evangelical Church. She notes the history of the gradual acceptance of the doctrine, and she touches on the painful consequences of the Southern Baptist Convention's ratification of the Danvers Statement as their formal position on gender. This act required that women missionaries (this site lists just a few and many articles about the resignations) and seminary teachers like Sherri Klouda be recalled from their fields of service because the doctrine deems women unfit for any type of governance or teaching capacity, if they teach men which is believed to threaten male authority. I also admire the choice of accomplished men like Alan Myatt as well as that of his accomplished wife, Kathy, who also refused to pledge his acceptance of the doctrine, a choice that radically changed their lives and ministries.

This section of the book also examines what I find to be the most unpleasant and disturbing aspect of the theological errors of complementarianism. As a vocal critic of the manner in which the Godhead has been anthropomorphized or made over into a man-centered concept which attempts to remove all ambiguity from that which Paul called mysteries, I greatly appreciated this section of the book. I was a bit mortified when I heard that the book quoted and immortalized my statement concerning the doctrine of the Eternal Subordination of the Son and the “eternal suffering servant sonship”of Jesus. (If I recall correctly, I've not written this before publicly, as I have concerns that it sounds a bit too much like the “shock jock tactics” used by complementarians who say outrageous things like “most heterosexual Christians are really living in same-sex marriages.”) I was relieved to see how well Shirley treated the matter in an excellent chapter that explores these doctrinal problems.
“It's not enough to just slam women, but the complementarians are so motivated by the woman problem, they will put Jesus in a dress and make Him out to be the eternal slave – a special purpose God. The one Divine Person who actually had a physical body that was male is given the “role” that is synonymous with women. In that sense, they put Him in a dress. Even on that level, what sense does this teaching make? The one who is given the pre-eminence in all things is secondary in power. Why?” (pg 137)
Shirley also tackles the disturbing teachings of complementarians that distort marriage and sexualize the Christian faith as well as the Trinity. I am grateful to Shirley for suffering through these writings, for I cannot stand to read much of them. With a grace and dignity that I find remarkable because of the nature of the subject, she examines the extension of this theology to the sex act itself. I had no idea that men like Tim Keller who I believed to be a bit less caught up into some of the greater errors of this theology linked coitus with some kind of spiritual celebration of the Trinity. (I thought that no one was supposed to really know about let alone discuss in mixed company in a worship service the mystery of a man with a maid?) I've learned to accept and had some knowledge of John Piper's fascination and obsession with the bedrooms of Christian couples, though he has no business nosing around or dictating anything that takes place in the sanctity of my marriage bed or behind the door of my marriage chamber. Shirley presents a brief tour through these writings, sparing people like me from having to read what I think of as filth, really, exposing just enough of this sick fruit of the beliefs about male headship and the idolatrous worship of both men and sex.

Shirley concludes this section with charges and challenges to Believers, to women, and especially to pastors to not only discern what the Bible truly says about these matters concerning gender, but also to consider how their influence affects others. The fruit of these teachings and the errors in the teachings cry out for those who observe the injustice and the harm to take action. She asks that people consider making the issue personal and to commit to read about and study and discuss these matters, considering what the Bible really says about gender. The book concludes with a list of questions, Ten Questions, that the Church should consider and should honestly answer. They concern the consequences of the continued acceptance of complementarianism if it is permitted to grow without opposition.

Not Irenic?

In a recent post on Shirley's blog, the bWe Baptist Women for Equality blog, she noted that a critic claimed that her book was not irenic.

Shirley writes:
“Irenic is a good little Christian word which means that you don’t hurt anybody’s feelings. The definition is “tending to promote peace or reconciliation; peaceful or conciliatory.”
Why would I be irenic? Who thinks I would write an irenic book? If my name appears on an irenic book, you can be sure that it was written by somebody else. Those of you who read my blog know that the last thing I want to be is “irenic.”
How do you demand that pastors tear down a wall and still be irenic? How do you attempt to spur people on to actually do something about male headship unless you tell who is teaching it, and what they are saying, and you cannot do that and still be irenic.
I am not going to compare myself with Jesus, but I am going to make a statement. Jesus was not irenic. Read Matthew 23 and see if his words would be acceptable in a Christian book.”
I disagree a bit with Shirley on this point. Before reconciliation can take place and forgiveness can thrive, there must first be a reckoning concerning that which has occurred that has destroyed or threatened peace.

I would say that the first stages of reconciliation and peace after an injustice involves the painful process of wading through the hard and painful facts of that injustice. Jeremiah wrote that leaders dressed the wound of the daughter of God's people slightly and covered over it's seriousness, pretending as though it was not a serious matter. He wrote that it was as if the people cried out repeatedly that all was peaceful, all while no peace existed. The process of cleaning a wound to remove the irritants and infection is a painful one, and to cover it up without doing so can be deadly, very much so in the literal sense. Shirley's book, particularly within that fourth section, accomplishes this hard process of pain by exposing the unpleasant nature of the problem of complementarianism. Like a surgeon, she lances through the surface so that the “slight covering” of the true problems can be acknowledged. She then asks the Church and charges it to do something about it.

At this stage in the process, and given the recalcitrant denial of the High Priests of Complementarianism to look honestly into and acknowledge the bad fruits of their belief system, it is up to them to respond with an irenic spirit. But they will not hear anyone who does not tickle their own ears with flattery and hero worship and maudlin admiration. Those who come to them honestly for answers are ridiculed and are deemed to be unbelievers. So that they do not have to be held accountable, they de-Christianize and demoralize those who ask for accountability. They neither model nor show a spirit of peace and cooperation. They vilify and abandon the wounded.

If they were irenic, they would have responded to the Demand for an Apology long ago. Shirley's not rejecting peace. She's taking appropriate and early measures in the process of collaboration to seek justice. But what should one do when ignored and belittled?

It's been three years, and we who signed that letter are still waiting for some productive discussion. We're not going anywhere, either.

Don't let evil prevail.  Read the book and be challenged....and then act.