Dear John (as in Piper, Pastor John, the advice columnist),
Do “gender roles” apply beyond marriage? Most of us would confirm that biological differences have a specific place in defining the relational dynamics of husbands and wives within a marriage covenant. But what about gender distinctions in broader society and in the workplace?
The question is from anonymous young woman. Piper’s response is HERE.
The question is a very serious one that all complementarians should answer straight up—what about women’s roles in society and in the workplace? Piper, however, devotes most of his words to his standard reading of Eph. 5, regarding husbands and wives—all of that preceded by psychological studies and amazing things on YouTube:
Just go to YouTube and type in almost anything, like, “Are men and women different?” Or, “What’s the difference between men’s and women’s brains?” You’ll get all kinds of amazing documented research about how different men and women are in their very biological, psychological natures. . . .
Piper’s reading of Eph. 5 is well known, that being, his focus on the “husband’s leadership and his wife’s glad support for that leadership.” And his citing psychological studies is common among complementarians. In fact, I have used their very same studies (as have other egalitarians) to point out the very importance of these differences being represented equally in leadership in the home, church and society.
But I’ve come to realize that this focus on gender differences is overstating the case. When I was the only woman on a seminary faculty, I recall the differences among my male colleagues in faculty meetings. Some were forceful in stating their opinions and demanding to be heard; others were very submissive in their demeanor. That was simply the way they were and it was all part of their manhood.
I was recently talking with a brilliant scholar whom I much admire. She told me about the struggles she faces at the seminary where she teaches. This has included lack of gender awareness among colleagues and an academic dean who was dismissive of her and her work. She enumerated some of his blatant comments. I asked her if she had challenged him on these issues. Her eyes flashed. Of course. She had fearlessly stood up to him. “I’m Canadian.” To her, that explained it all. She simply wasn’t going to let him walk all over her with false accusations. Her strong response, with the support of others, has already made a difference.
Canadian? I smile. Maybe the President is sending his 15,000 troops to the wrong border! Seriously, though, Canadians come in all stripes—as many personality and psychological types as did the faculty at the seminary where I taught.
So, the psychological studies may be helpful in understanding gender differences, but they should have no bearing on women’s God-given equality in the home, the church, the workplace or society.
That a woman must submit to her husband and that she should hold no church office is standard complementarian fare. But taking that kind of submission and inequality into the workplace and society is not universally preached by complementarians. Piper, however, has long held such views. Years ago he and I debated each other on gender issues before a standing-room-only crowd at Edman Chapel at Wheaton College. I quoted a homey example that he had written about the necessity of a woman’s deference to a man even in the smallest details of life:
A housewife in her backyard may be asked by a man how to get to the freeway. At that point she is giving a kind of leadership. She has a superior knowledge that the man needs and he submits himself to her guidance. But we all know that there is a way for that housewife to direct the man that neither of them feels their mature femininity or masculinity compromised.
I pointed out that a man asking for directions “in itself seems to be an oxymoron” and wondered aloud why the “housewife” should have to be careful about keeping her mature femininity in tack and why the man would be so insecure that his masculinity would be threatened. Just give him directions, I concluded, “simply tell him where to go.”
The most controversial aspect of Piper’s latest rant on women’s submission actually relates to girls as well, that is, her womanly submission properly developing “all her life.” Likewise, a boy develops his manly headship “all his life.” The text from Ephesians 5 thus becomes the rules for girls and boys. “[T]there is nothing magical about a wedding ceremony that turns a man into a man, or a woman into a woman. . . and they can’t turn on manhood . . . [or] womanhood like a switch on their honeymoon.” Actually, some people do think there’s something magical about a wedding ceremony, but maybe that’s just for us romantics.
But the issue of when womanly submission begins is fraught with complexity for the typical complementarian. An interesting observation comes from Kathy Keller, wife of Tim Keller, in The Meaning of Marriage. She reflects on the sudden change that came with marriage. “Up until then, we had pretty much lived in a unisex world, as [seminary] students taking the same classes, competing for grades on a level playing field. . . .” It wasn’t easy for her. But if Kathy had been groomed for submission beginning at a very early age, how would that have affected her relationship with boys and boyfriends?
Interestingly, Piper’s final section of his gender-role piece, titled “How to Date,” is comprised of four short paragraphs. Here the advice columnist runs out of steam. Yes, both male and female are to observe each other and in doing so “fix our eyes on men and women who walk in the most biblically mature way.” This is the advice he gives, not even a Have a good day.
The anonymous young woman is saying Huh? What kind of advice is that? I would first of all advise her to acquire a different advisor.
Piper has reasons to give short shrift to dating. We’re talking here about boys, whether fifteen or twenty-five with hormones raging—boys who have been practicing manly headship. I’ve asked Mary Kassian (and other complementarians) when male headship begins and I’ve never gotten a straight answer. Piper gives the straight answer but then he cops out on dating. Why? I suspect the reason is because a boy’s hormone-raging headship and a girl’s hormone-raging submission leads to too many pregnancies, perhaps followed by what we used to call shotgun marriages.
Of course, Piper would insist that these boys and girls must behave in a “biblically mature way.” Tell that to a couple of kids in the back seat of a Subaru.
For someone like myself who believes in gender equality, I am sad about wives who must always submit to their husbands. But I like to assume that they knew what they were getting into. For girls, however, this is downright dangerous. And that grooming spills into marriage and to the workplace, where Piper insists this mature femininity of submission ought to continue. No wonder we are now hearing so many #MeToo stories. And too often the perpetrator is a minister who believes the way Piper does—a man who has been schooled from childhood to believe in manly headship. Of course, not all men who believe this kind of reasoning and faulty biblical exegesis are perpetrators. But the rationale can only exacerbate the problem.
I’m sure it’s just coincidence that John Piper’s podcast and text appeared less than a week before the mid-term elections. The Christian Republican party could wish that his rules were the rules of society. There are more than three times as many women Democrats running for House seats than women Republicans, and there are similar percentages among those running for the Senate. So if we keep women in their proper places, we might truly have a Christian nation. Indeed.
But perhaps that wouldn’t solve all the problems. For example, if the incumbent Republican Governor of Iowa, Kim Reynolds, followed the Piper rules, would she have to publicly submit and switch her campaign ads to the support Fred Hubbell, her male opponent, the manly man oozing with headship genes.