Some Humans Are More Equal Than Others: Joshua Harris on Male Authority and Female Submission

I’m doing a short series on some examples of the way that complementarians claim to promote equality for women….but don’t. You can read the introduction here. 

The first complementarian leader I’d like to discuss in this series is Joshua Harris. Like many ex-fundamentalists and evangelicals, I read one of his books in college (Boy Meets Girl) and still have some issues because of it.

And now, for research purposes, I am reading another Joshua Harris book (I Kissed Dating Goodbye) and thinking, “Well, no wonder this screwed me up so much!”

With phrases like, “At this point in her life, Mom has been a Christian for only a year. She’s still a bit headstrong and independent….”

Or, “The Bible clearly defines the importance of a man’s spiritual leadership in marriage, and I believe that leadership should begin in this season of the relationship [courtship].”

Or, with the passage where he talks about the righteous man being snared by the wicked woman (in the context of the story of David and Bathsheba)…

…It’s almost laughable when he asks readers not to accuse him of having a “chauvinist attitude.” Yet, he does dare to ask such a thing from his readers, because he wants his audience to believe that the gender roles he holds are not oppressive, but liberating.

“Being submissive is, is, is, it’s not, um, it’s not degrading,” Harris claims in a sermon  from 2010 (transcribed by Are Women Human?as Grace points out, the “um” is particularly convincing).  “It’s not something that you see and you just oh, there’s this weak and kind of, subjugated person. No, it’s something that’s actually beautiful. It’s winsome, and it’s aim is to draw attention to Jesus Christ.”

Yes, Harris plays the game of benevolent sexism. Submission is actually good for women! It doesn’t mean that women aren’t equal to men!

However, another quote from I Kissed Dating Goodbye puts those claims of benevolency and equality to rest (and without a goodnight kiss!):

How does a potential mate respond to people in authority? Does this person respect the authority of a boss or pastor even if he or she disagrees with that authority figure? A guy who can’t follow legitimate orders will have difficulty holding a job…A girl who can’t respect a teacher’s or coach’s authority will have difficulty honoring her husband.

Note the difference between why men should submit and why women (he always calls them ‘girls,’ despite the fact that he’s clear that he’s talking to adults that are ready for marriage here) should submit.

Men must learn submission so they can submit to a future employer. Women must learn submission so they can submit to their husbands. 

The husband/wife relationship, according to complementarians, is not one of coworkers or fellow team members. It is a relationship of employer and employee.

The problem?

Ron_Livingston_With_Gary_Cole_in_Office_SpaceWorkers and their bosses are not equals. 

I work at Burger King and know a thing or two about the employee/employer relationship.

The employer has flexibility that the employee does not have. If my employers want to join me flipping burgers in the kitchen, they may. But I am not allowed to help them with many of their responsibilities (I am also not allowed to be a pastor in Joshua Harris‘ church).

The employer’s jobs are typically more valued by society and their pay reflects this. Is anyone doing to try to claim that “I dip fries in grease all day” and “I manage a restaurant” are equally valued jobs? (And, though many complementarian evangelicals would claim to value motherhood and housework, ask them their opinions about “wages for housework” or about welfare mothers)

Employers have the final say in how their store is run. Yes, employees can make suggestions to employers, but employers aren’t required to even consider these suggestions (and, in my experience, they don’t consider them). However, when an employer tells an employee how to do something, it is not a suggestion.

This is the kind of relationship Joshua Harris (and other complementarians) wants for men and women. Harris even encourages men to look specifically for women who are good at submitting to others, and suggests that they can expect to receive a similar kind of submission.

Of course, men have to submit too…to somebody, but not to women. This doesn’t disprove my point that Joshua Harris does NOT believe men and women are equal. It proves that any talk about equality coming from people who believe like Harris does is a sham.

In fact, men, who understand the average employer/employee relationship, should know better than to call submission “winsome” or “beautiful.” These men go home to subordinates, while women go home (if they are even allowed to hold jobs) to another employer.

The employee/employer relationship isn’t always abusive (though it often is). But it is not equal. 

All humans are equal.

But some humans are employees and some humans are employers.

Some humans are more equal than others. 

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  • Bravo again.

  • I’m a new reader at your blog, having just subscribed. What a breath of fresh air this is all to me! It’s so wonderful to discover that I’m not some lonely ‘rebel’, but that my opinions are valid and in fact, SHARED by other people. Awesome!

    I love how you picked up on his reference to the employee and the employer – the analogy really helped me to understand his attitude towards women easier. It just makes me so sad that so many women actually believe him – and try to pretend it’s some kind of joy to be of less worth than their husband.

    I’m looking forward to reading more from you!

  • Great points! I used to wonder why I felt so resentful about getting home after a day of work and being expected to do more work. Something about it just didn’t seem fair – and yet so often I was told that it was supposed to be my joy and delight to “serve” my husband and that he would treat me like a princess in return. Sometimes it worked that way, sometimes it didn’t – but in any case I prefer the straightforward relationship of equal humans who live together (which is what we have now) to the hidden subtext of expectations and resentment and manipulation which we had then.

  • Great article and analysis! If you want to see a story that exemplifies the point you are making, google “Bringing Rebecca Home.” It’s hosted on the blog of two young women. Also, as a survivor of religious fundamentalism, I love, love your byline!

  • I like your style. I never even read Josh Harris as a teen, but all the junk he propagates got through to me anyway. I know exactly what you mean by, “still having some issues.” He is a font of unrelenting creepitude. good job on the take down.

  • All very good! I’d be careful about putting this in present tense, though. JH is an evolving individual in the last two years, after the big showdown over CJ at CLC last summer. Josh appears to be getting more and more grace-aware and “progressive” in surprising ways, though he is moving slowly enough to not lose the whole of his congregation over a dramatic recantation or positional shift. It will be worth watching what he turns into in the next few years…

  • Wow – this post gave me homeschooling flashbacks. And it was really well done.

  • Winsome? Submission is winsome?! Yes, I suppose it must seem that way to someone like Harris…just like I think all those puppies you linked to are winsome, because they’re fluffy and cute and utterly non-threatening (and I just love the linking idea!).

    I have an image in my mind of a woman submissively exposing her neck to show that she’s not a threat. Winsome, indeed.

  • Amazing post, but why do did you use pictures of puppies on your links about Joshua Harris?

  • Never mind, saw your older post! Disregard my comments please!

  • I read Kiss Dating Goodbye as a teenager, but thankfully, not much of it really took root – LOL! I was raised fundamentalist, but never belonged (asked too many questions) and have since escaped that life. Thank you for being willing to take on “the big dogs”! Harris, Piper, and Driscoll have done nothing but degrade women into modern slaves and then blaming it on God.

  • Hey there. First time reader of your blog. Overall liked what I read!

    I was raised pretty conservative, and was home educated while growing up (I like to call myself a recovered homeschooler). Fundamentalism was RAMPANT in the circles I was around. I recall one evening hanging out with a bunch of friends in high school in which one girl claimed ‘Aladin’ and ‘The Little Mermaid’ were not appropriate movies for us to watch because us men might ‘stumble’… yeah.

    Anyways, my parents made me read ‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’ in high school, and for me it was the start of a long standing disgust for Christian dating books. Harris seemed much more concerned about people ditching an icky, nasty dating worldview for a perfect, self-righteous and shiny courting worldview.

    I’ve come to believe that God made man and women differently to reflect different aspects of His nature. Because of that, they are not the same, BUT that doesn’t mean they are unequal. Just because God created men to be one way and women a different way, doesn’t mean that one of them is better than the other at all. The Genesis account in my opinion has nothing to do with one being better than the other.

    As for what the Bible says about submission, well, I honestly haven’t studied it enough to argue a formal opinion, so I guess I’ll say I don’t know. I do know that with my relationship with my girlfriend, I don’t see her as less important than me at all. I value her opinion in all things and I make sure that she knows that. But I also know that there are certain things that she just wants me to ultimately decide (she has overtly, verbally stated this to me). I think our relationship does really well. Girls really just want a guy who’s not a deadbeat and will get off their butts and do something.

    Anyways, great blog. If you get a second, please check out mine:

    • Sophie

      You’re right that women don’t want a deadbeat, just as men don’t want a deadbeat. The problem with people like Harris, though, is that they can’t conceive of women wanting mutuality (which is what I gather you share with your GF – she takes the lead sometimes, you take the lead sometimes, and sometimes nobody takes the lead, based on your attributes and weaknesses as individuals, not genders). And they can’t conceive of a man having a mutual relationship with a woman. They think that if a man isn’t on top as the ‘king’ and ‘priest’ and ‘benevolent servant-leader’, he’s a doormat to a woman, or a deadbeat. They want to face up to their family responsibilities but need a special honorific position as king, priest, leader etc – because if they didn’t have that then rolling their sleeves up and mucking in with family life would put them at the same level as (shudder) women. And that doesn’t appeal to them.

  • Oops! Silly me. It’s too dang late. The link is:

  • brambonius

    About 10 years ago or so (I was in my early twenties) I wrote a review of ‘IKDG’ (which is translated in dutch as ‘ongekust maar toch geen kikker’ (unkissed but not a frog) and I hope you won’t find me racist, but I dismissed it as uninteresting, irrelevant and ‘too American’.

    But now the real question: is it a kitten or a puppy?

  • If submitting to a spouse is great and winsome, why isn’t he advocating it for himself?
    If housework is a worthy task, why isn’t he advocating that husbands do it as well?
    Always be wary of anyone who talks about how “noble” something is and then watch their reaction when it is suggested that they do it as well. Their reaction tells you just how “noble” they think it REALLY is.

  • Shane Mosher

    I find your comparison of Employees and Employers very inaccurate. Your statement “Employers have the final say in how thier store is run”, while true, leaves out the important part of why they have the final say. The reason they have the final say is because they are the ones held responsible. If the store is losing money, the manager is responsible. If someone gets sick from the food and sues, Managers responsibility. If it fails health inspection, managers responsibility. If an employee from a store that sells restricted products such as cigarettes or alcohol sells to a minor, managers responsibility. If customers complain about service, the store looks bad and as a result, the manager is responsible. If an employee calls in and no one else is able to come in ,its the managers responsponsibility to cover shift themselves. If you were the one held responsible for the negative consequences of any actions the employees make, wouldn’t you like the final say? If the actions of an employee results in customer complaints and loss of customers, and as a result, loss of money, wouldn’t you like the final say? And more responsibility usually means you get paid more money. But another reason they get paid more is because they work more hours. Managers are typicaly salaried at 50 hours a week and therefore have to work at least 50 hours a week. But if the manager works more than that, usually because they have to cover a shift because someone called in, they dont get paid over time.

    And yes, I know this comparison of employee and and employer wasn’t really the point of this article. Your point was that submission undermines equality. Which is also wrong. I think you are thinking that submission is synonymous with obedience, but it is not. The word obediance denotes a superior/Inferior relationship. The word submission does not. It denotes an equal relationship where one party VOLUNTARILY yields or places themself under the leadership of the other. For example, imagine a two lane highway with you traveling in one lane and someone else right next to you traveling in other.Neither of you is superiorto the other. Now suppose the two lane highway is mergeing into a one lane road. You both want to be first and try to get ahead of each other in order to be ahead when the lanes merge. But in the end you slow down and let them get in front of you when the lanes merge. You didn’t obey them, you submitted to them in order to avoid a collision. Now imagine a police officer, who has athuority over, tells you to pull over and you pull over. You just obeyed him. That is the difference between submission and obedience. God never tells the woman to OBEY her husband. He always says SUBMIT. So basicaly it means God doesn’t tell the wife to do whatever the husband says because the husband is superior, It means God is telling the wife that when there is a disagreement, instead of butting heads with the man and trying to get her way, to instead have the following attitude towards her husband. “I know it’s hard choice to decide whether or not to take that promotion. The promotion would mean more money which is good, but will also mean moving from Chicago to California and would mean longer hours and more time away from the family. I would like to stay here and and will be content with less money, but I love and admire you and know you love me and the kids and will do what you think is best for us. So i will support what ever decision you make”. That is what submission looks like.