Yesterday I started writing a bit about the Danvers Statement, which I said can’t be too awful because it seemed to make all the right people mad, but I quibbled over whether such a statement should be made at all. Today I want to look at parts of the statement itself, and probably offend some more people, so here we go.
The writers of the statement lay down ten reasons for believing that such a statement is necessary. These include cultural confusion about masculinity and femininity, the unraveling of marriage, feminism, the devaluing of motherhood and “vocational home making”, the lessening cultural shame over illicit sexual relationships, the rise of pornography, bad bible reading, and mistrust of the bible.
I would have to agree with the bulk of their diagnosis–it is a mess out there. Men and women don’t know how to relate to each other. There is a War on Marriage, a War on Men being Men, and even, as others have rightly noticed, a War on Women. If a man ends up winning a woman of the year award, you can safely say the categories are completely wrecked.
The question is, when things are as bad as they are, what is to be done about it? The statement lays out the case for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, complete with bible references as a starting point for recovering what has been lost. And, again, there isn’t anything particularly wrong with it. I think, though, that when everything is this broken, this list of the way men and women ought to conceive of themselves and function, even in the church, is not the right beginning point.
Let’s take two average, churched, college graduates. They believe in Jesus. They are trying their best. They care about and “have a heart for the world”. But from very early on in their childhoods, she’s been told more times than she can count that she can do anything she wants, that she shouldn’t let anything hold her back. And, being a girl, the schools have been very good to her. She’s an excellent student. She loves math and science. She’s good at sports. She plays an instrument. She is a well rounded, well educated (by the standards of the day), competent person. And, with a four year degree at her back, she is expected to make something of herself. She has to work or she will be seen to be “wasting” her mind, her education, her gifts. After all that work, there is no way she will be comfortable being at home without some other occupation. She may want to be home and not work somewhere else, but if she chooses that way she will have some residual guilt about all the money. If she works and juggles babies, she will have guilt about the babies.
But what parents, looking at this rather depressing scenario, ever say to themselves, ‘let’s not educate our girls’? Does anyone say that?
Now to the young man. All this while he’s been growing up too. But it hasn’t been quite the same golden time. He likes math and science, but he fidgets in class and his teachers are always irritated with him. He forgets stuff at home and his mother is always on his case. No matter how many times he’s told, he never can do his own laundry. He likes to retreat with his friends just to get away from all the nagging. He has to go to college too, but he has no idea what he wants to do with himself. He suffers through many long lectures by strident feminist teachers whose main purpose in life is to make sure he doesn’t get above himself.
So our two young people fall in love and get married. And I would just like to know, of what possible use can the Danvers Statement be to them? At the most basic point, when they wake up in the morning, they do not know how to relate to one another. He knows, more than he knows anything, that he must not cross her or get her back up. She doesn’t want it to be like this, but she easily falls into telling him what to do. She doesn’t enjoy it, but all her education has equipped her not so much to make a pleasant home, but to competently juggle everything. Their most basic hurdle is to learn not how to be men and women, as we over the past two hundred years have been accustomed to thinking of them, but how to be human. They don’t know how to think of the Other’s humanity.
In other words, even Christian parents, let alone those in the secular realm, aren’t passing along the cultural picture of masculinity and femininity pictured point by point in the statement. And I would say, it is a cultural picture. Certainly, for the most part, it is essentially a listing of scripture, but because these verses have been preached in a certain way, when men and women hear them, they are immediately seeing an image of something they cannot attain, and even if they could, their families, and even their Christian families, would not be happy about it.
Sure, these scriptures are for every culture. Nobody reading the bible should think that it is ever just for them. It is for the whole world. And so every single culture should read the bible. But that’s the point. I think every person should read the bible–the whole bible. And when that happens, some interesting things might happen.
Imagine a remote village far far away, where there isn’t any bible, and the men do certain things, and the women do certain things, and there is a very fixed structure and order to life, and then the bible comes to that village. When the people open it and read it, they are going to look with fresh eyes at this wondrous text. They are going to look at their own lives in a new way. Immediately they are going to see that some things about their culture are very troublesome and wrong. Other things aren’t going to conflict at all. When a westerner walks into this village, his is going to be shocked maybe, because the way people have ordered their lives around the bible doesn’t look anything like it does back home.
Or maybe take another easier example. When Matt and I came to Good Shepherd, the bibles lying around in there were covered with dust. So we blew that off and helped everyone to start reading it. And we just read it relentlessly. Without stopping. Even when everyone was complaining about it. And, blessing upon blessing, we didn’t know anything about the Danvers Statement. Sure, the relationships between men and women were broken, but that wasn’t the main problem. The problem is that the men and women need to know Jesus. They have to come to the scripture with eyes open and hearts aflame. And when they do, God sorts it out. He really does. Sometimes it looks very traditional. Sometimes it looks a little more unconventional. But if it doesn’t conflict with the words of the scripture, then it’s not worth fussing over.
The thing about the doctrinal truths in the Danvers Statement is that, when they are encountered in the woven tapestry of scripture, they are pretty glorious. For heaven’s sake, marriage is a reflection of God’s own nature. Women get glimpses of the incarnation every time they lumber around pregnant. The sacrifice of a husband for his wife catches them both up into the very cross itself. And submission! What a tragic loss of a word! Without submission we cannot understand Jesus himself. We just cannot. But these glories need to be preached. Not in a new way, but in a first way, in the course of a systematic working through the scriptures, for a broken and lost generation who haven’t really heard them.
And I’m pretty sure that, when they are heard, and internalized, and clung to, we’re not going to end up with the same picture we had before. I’m not, for example, not going to keep my four daughters home from college, because of Biblical Womanhood. But neither am I allowing my two sons to flee from the drudgery of a female dominated world. It’s more than possible, as my children grow up and go out into the world, that they won’t feel very comfortable anywhere. But they will know the gospel, may God be merciful, and they will know their own humanness and the humanness of others. And they may be able to think it through and make biblically discerned choices.
In a moment when it’s possible that half of the country will go out and vote for Trump, I think we need most desperately to go all the way back to our starting point, the single moment when God broke into time to redeem a lost and broken world, and not go past that until we have more surely understood what kind of God he is, and what kind of people we are.