Your authority ends at the bedroom door: Doug Wilson, Jared Wilson and Rachel Held Evans controversy

I never thought I would write this blog post. There are some internet controversies that I know immediately that I will jump feet first into. There are others that I really don’t feel like getting myself involved with. This one is definitely firmly in that latter group. My head tells me that there is more to lose than gain by getting involved. Today there are few issues more likely to raise emotions among professing Christians than discussions about gender. It’s not actually an issue that I feel that strongly about, usually.  But here I am adding my thoughts after all.

Anyone who reads Christian blogs widely is likely to have come across a debate that has been raging that was prompted by a post quoting Doug Wilson on Jared Wilson’s blog. This post was critiqued strongly by Rachel Held Evans and many others, before being eventually taken down. When Rachel graciously accepted Jared’s apology it seemed as if the controversy was over.

Doug Wilson, however, jumped in and wrote possibly the most sarcastic post I have ever read on a Christian blog. Meanwhile, Rachel has been having people tell her “the men in my life need to do a better job of exercising their God-ordained authority to ‘silence’ me.

In my sidebar is a link to the Gospel Coalition, and it doesn’t take much detective work to realize that most of the people I regularly quote here are complementarian.   I have therefore been asked what I think about the whole thing. Some people might have assumed I would disagree with Rachel Held Evans on all of this, and perhaps even add my voice to those who are trying to silence hers. Let me say quite clearly that is not my position.

While no doubt there are many issues that I and Rachel would disagree on, I believe she has handled herself well throughout this debate.  I believe that with all the understandable emotion that is around this issue, we often simply speak past each other and do not understand where other people are coming from.  I see in Rachel someone who genuinely tries to put herself in others shoes and understand their perspectives.  As I have read around this controversy, I have been offended by Doug Wilson’s original quote, and subsequent response, and appalled by those telling the critics to “shut up!”

To me one of the whole points about the Internet and Christian blogs in particular is that we get to engage with people who hold perspectives very different from our own.  When we do, it can sometimes get pretty painful.  I remember many times, especially in my early days of blogging, when I found myself near the eye of a particular Internet storm.  It is not always an easy place to be.  Things that you said with good intentions can be seized upon by the other side as evidence that clearly you have lost your mind or are evil incarnate.  Such negative engagements can lead us to withdraw from interacting with anyone outside our own circles.  We can end up discussing things only with people who agree with us.  We are then weakened as a result.   I am very grateful for some of my harshest critics.  Over the years, they have helped me to understand, and yes at times modify, my own position perhaps more than my online friends.

Today I perhaps risk offending some of my friends.  But that is a risk we sometimes have to take.  Here are  10 statements of what I believe about all of this-

  1. Women are to be valued, respected, and listened to.  Nobody should ever tell them to “shut up” nor should they be made to feel oppressed, trampled on, disrespected, or abused.
  2. In the context of online chatter it is clear that nobody is in authority here.  Whatever your view of 1 Tim 2:12 it is in my view clear that this verse is referring to a church context, and is not relevant to people’s blog efforts.
  3. Christians genuinely and with conviction hold a range of opinions about the role of women in church and family life. It is really not fair of either side to characterize opponents as either, “liberals who don’t believe the Bible” on the one hand, or “sexists who probably abuse their wives” on the other.
  4. The complementation / egalitarian debate is not one that affects our salvation.  Why shouldn’t we have friendships that cross this divide?
  5. Biblical authority is never meant to “clamp down” on anyone.  Being under authority in the Bible is something that releases us, and frees us to be what God intended us to be.
  6. I remain convinced that a major scourge of today is that we live in an age where it is now considered by many to be a virtue to “indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority” (2 Peter 2:10). This has no place in the Church of Jesus Christ.
  7. I believe that it is wholly inappropriate to use words connected with authority, mastery, submission and control in connection with sex.  Such words can inadvertently promote rape, and promote an unbiblical concept of sex.
  8. I believe that it is always wrong to force or coerce a woman to have sex against her will. I  also believe that none of the main protagonists in this debate would disagree with that statement. It is wrong to accuse people of promoting rape when that is clearly not their intention. I also do not believe that any of the main protagonists in this debate intended to make such accusations.
  9. I believe that whatever your view of the relationship between a husband and wife outside of the bedroom, inside the bedroom sex is precisely intended to be an “egalitarian pleasure party.”  1 Corinthians 7 declares clearly that in the bedroom mutuality reigns. Each person gives up their authority at the bedroom door. Each is to willingly, freely, submit themselves to the other. Initiative is not meant to belong to only one party. Pleasure is meant to belong to both. The relationship should be a joyous meeting of people of equal value and worth, not some kind of “surrender” by the woman who is often physically weaker than her husband. Men must do everything to ensure that they are not forceful in this area, respecting the vulnerability many women feel in the bedroom.
  10. Lastly, I believe that even outside the bedroom a good complementation marriage should to the outsider look very much like a good egalitarian one. Husbands are meant to love their wives as Christ loved the church, not beat them into submission.


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About Adrian Warnock

Adrian Warnock is a medical doctor, and a writer. Since 1995 he has been a member of Jubilee Church London. Adrian serves as part of Jubilee's leadership team alongside Tope Koleoso. Together they have written Hope Reborn - How to Become a Christian and Live for Jesus, published by Christian Focus. Adrian is also the author of Raised With Christ - How The Resurrection Changes Everything, published by Crossway.
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  • Joy Host

    Quick note–did you mean loose or lose there at the beginning?

  • acha648

    no a good complementarian marriage would NEVER and should not look like a good egalitarian one

    one example is egalitarians support house husbands

    complementarians do not, so NO it will not look the same unless the supposed complementarian is actually egalitarian

    and FYI the beloved Rachel Held Evans just affirmed gay marriage…

  • Rebecca Mills

    God forbid you might just, like, ask a woman? And, like, you know, maybe listen? And, like, let her tell you? [/sarcasm]

    Seriously, adults are adults. You listen to adults at work. If a female boss in your office told you something, you’d find a way to understand her and incorporate her instructions. Your wife, the woman who refrains from smothering you while you sleep, who loves you through your own worst ugliest most selfish delusions, who creates your children for 9 months, who defends you and builds a family with you … she is worth setting aside your ego and “masculinity” for the 15 minute conversation that starts with, “What do you want?” and ends with you listening for 14 minutes to your instructions.

  • Rebecca Mills

    If the church took fatherly responsibility toward the children men created half as seriously as it takes it pro-life stance, this wouldn’t be an issue. And the church would be advocating for expanded legislation around fatherly participation – financially and otherwise – in their children’s upbringing.

  • Rebecca Mills

    I completely agree.

  • Rebecca Mills

    I think classifying the two as follows:
    “I would argue that premarital sex that is purchase with fake promises is rape. There may be premarital sex that does not fall into this catagory, but generally marriage is the safe harbor where we have reciprocal captivation” ….

    reflects a lack of experience with both. And churches everywhere are overflowing with women who have experienced either one or both of these situations, who can speak intelligently of their similarities, differences, and ways in which the church can and should be involved. Rather than the projections of a population who are simply imaging what the experiences are like and then theorizing about them.

  • Rebecca Mills

    Men who have been sexually abused are marginalized by your implication that the abuse is especially harmful for women (and, consequentially, less harmful for men).

    If, instead, you’re refering not to the degree of harm, but to the disproportionate frequency with which sexual abuse falls on women, then your argument smacks of pushing the responsibility and burden for preventing their own abuse onto the victims of that abuse. Rather than debating what can be done with and to women to prevent their own victimization, why is the immediate concern not what can be done to deter the victimizer via punishment, social stigma, and shaming on par with what many woman now face.

  • Rebecca Mills

    It’s great to hear voices like yours in this debate. Many healthy relationships look similar, regardless of the theoretical model to which they attribute their success. However an “extreme” and “dark” egalitarian relationship somehow seems far less threatening to me as a woman than does an “extreme” and “dark” complementarian relationship. I suppose both would be consensual. I do find myself questioning the types of male personalities (and their particular set of insecurities, kinks and weaknesses – which we all have in some form, of course) that would be drawn to the complementarian theory over one in which they are equal to and working in tandem with their partner. Most men manage to meet up with a golf buddy and get through the day without a clearly appointed “leader” to have “final say” on all decisions … so I find it hard to believe that they can’t negotiate their way through a marriage with someone who actually loves them in a similarly even-heeled, respectful, and fair-but-leaderless way.

    Rambling, sorry. Good to read your post.