My interests in the intramural issue of Women in Ministry concern the spiritually abusive tactics used to advance opinions on both sides of the discussion moreso than the specifics themselves. The Council on Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) uses propaganda to advance their assertion that gender relates directly to God’s identity, claiming that it is a matter of the essentials of faith as opposed to an intramural issue, so this is of concern to me. In their lack of liberty and love for fellow believers in conjunction with highly questionable interpretation of certain Scriptures, I believe that CBMW manifests spiritual abuse and thought reform dynamics quite notably. My primary interest concerns their employment of manipulation, not the specifics of the debate itself.
But posting the concerns of others on this blog has created some concern for readers here, as it seems to be the assumption that if I post something here, I must agree with it entirely and it reflects my heart precisely. I would like to assure the reader that I don’t agree with any one person’s doctrinal positions, not even my own husband’s in some matters! I’ve explained by email to several people over the past few weeks that, concerning those involved in the Freedom for Christian Women Coalition, their opinions do not represent my own beliefs precisely, though generaly, I share their concerns and some of their past futile experiences in addressing the problems with CBMW’s doctrine and behavior.
Alas, there is the question of the nature of my own response! What would my own letter to CBMW look like? It would be a blank page, as I would never have directly addressed the group, though I was happy to support the Demand Letter authored by Shirley Taylor. But what of my response to the Danvers Statement?
Many years ago, Dr. Robert K. McGreggor Wright wrote his own response to the statement, so I felt that I didn’t really need to respond myself. I even quoted this document that appeared more than 15 years ago in the Journal of Biblical Equality in my recent article for the Center for Cultural Leadership’s new publication, Fidelity: Biblical Faith in Family, Church, and Culture. Yet this article has been out of circulation for quite some time. I have thus decided that, drawing from Dr. Wright’s excellent resource, I will draft something of my own response.
It may take me awhile to complete, and I don’t know if I will finish. I do find the document quite frustrating, and I anticipate that I may just bail out of the effort before I finish. Given the concerns that others have voiced to me about the issue, I would like to give it an honest try.
Responding to CBMW’s Danvers Statement Affirmations:
- CBMW’s statements are noted in DARK BLUE.
- Dr. Wright’s commentary or references to his work are noted in PURPLE.
Both Adam and Eve were created in God's image, equal before God as persons, and distinct in their manhood and womanhood.
The term “distinct” seems to mean something profound but does not explain exactly what is distinct about manhood and womanhood. (Dr. Wright also notes that the use of “distinct” is “ambiguous.”) Is this purely physical, cultural, or is this based upon presuppositions about key Scriptures? After reading a great deal of CBMW material, I know many their presuppositions, but these are not made abundantly clear from just this simple and misleading statement which is actually quite loaded. Women are given to deception. They are not permitted to teach. They are ontologically subordinate creatures that are not even capable of bearing full responsibility for their own sins. These distinctions trace back to a semi-Arian concept of the Second Person of the Godhead. This statement neglects to point out these “distinctions,” and those who are unaware of these presumed distinctions will gloss over this seemingly insignificant distinction.
Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order, and should find an echo in every human heart.
This statement also presumes that all people share identical presuppositions about Scripture concerning men and women and what is meant by “masculine and feminine roles.” As a Christian, there are some things that are very sure and definitive regarding gender and sexuality. Once sure example includes the clear sin of fornication or adultery, because these things are definitive in Scripture, and those things should “find an echo in every human heart.”
This matter of roles, however, is open to some interpretation under liberty because “roles” are not clearly defined in Scripture. A person can argue for their convictions regarding interpretation of the Scripture, but much of what CBMW calls a gender role is not definitive and crystal clear which is why it is one reason why it is considered an intramural doctrine. Gender concerns that are not clearly defined are also not central to saving faith in Jesus Christ, the other PRIMARY consideration which classifies them as intramural. As fellow believers, we are called to walk in liberty and extend that to others who do agree with us on the essentials of the faith (Romans 14).
CBMW uses some sneaky tactics here in these primary statements which makes them disingenuous. They do not make clear their ESS Doctrine, ontological subordination, their ideas that sin entered the world through Eve, and that they ascribe to primogeniture, for example. (See this presentation for more information.) The mere mention of “distinctions” and “roles” presume agreement on these doctrines, though they are not clearly stated. These presuppositions create a strong dissonance in my mind and spirit as opposed to an echo of the resonance of truth in my heart!
I believe this qualifies as “Begging the Question.” (From FallacyFiles.org: “To ‘beg’ the question is to ask that the very point at issue be conceded, which is of course illegitimate.”) In Latin, the phrase is better stated as something like “establishing first principles.” This constitutes an informal logical fallacy, and if this tactic is used to win an argument, one argues fallaciously. It is a way to conveniently circumvent the impasse reached when the opposing side will not concede to the presupposition that one is trying to prove. It is a circular argument that essentially cannot be proved apart from agreement with the premise. CBMW does this by completely ignoring their duty to define “roles” and “distinctions” clearly.
Dr. Wright points out in his Response that the word “role” derives from the French language and describes play acting. He also points out that there is only one equivalent for such a word in the original Greek of the New Testament: hypocrisis (which we transliterate into hypocrisy). CBMW teaches that men and women are to play act hypocritical roles that they’ve established based on their cultural biases and interpretative presuppositions. Wright astutely notes:
At no point however, does the Bible set up anything remotely resembling "masculinity" or "femininity" as worthy or standard patterns of life. The notion of individuals adopting "roles" as a means of holiness, thereby copying external socially-conditioned abstractions in order to create the illusion of spiritual security, is in fact singled out by Jesus himself for one of the strongest condemnations in the Bible! The Greek word hypocrisis is used to describe this way of life. To look for a "role" to follow in order to give one meaning in life may in fact be simply to systematize the principle of hypocrisy, and to elevate patterns not even found in the Bible to the level of key principles of sanctification. When Paul invites us to copy him as he does his Lord, it is moral character that is meant, not a "role." To govern one's life by trying to meet "role expectations" may be nothing more than to live after a systematized hypocrisy. It is dangerous to make the behaviour of others one's reference-point. As J. B. Phillips paraphrased Romans 12:1-2, "Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould . . ." Role-playing is a form of play-acting, and may be just a pious form of hypocrisy. There is no reason to think of it as a key to personal holiness.
Wright points out another criticism that I believe is valid, noting that “God Himself is viewed as a cosmic Maleness” and that the echo that CBMW speaks of “equates superficial gender distinctions with humanness itself.” I see this as another aspect of Begging the Question, forcing their presuppositions in an attempt to dominate all discussion of gender by defining all the terms and presuppositions.
Dr. Wright then draws from John Piper’s writings in “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” (a “566 page monolith”) which seems to be essential to understanding the presuppositions which upgird the seemingly simple and duplicitous Danvers Statement. I will summarize Wright’s assessment by stating that Piper is inconsistent and contradicts himself several times in what I believe could be called Piper’s tautology (assuming and repeating the thing he means to prove). Piper suggests that we cannot really define terms and shouldn’t presume to do this “risky business,” but then he goes on in the book to establish authoritative definitions by way of their “indispensable aspects.” Somehow, Piper is qualified to define terms authoritatively, but no one else qualifies to do the same if the arrive at a position that challenges his own.
Biblical Egalitarians should be properly thankful for what is virtually a logical expose by John Piper of the vacuous distinctions at the foundation of the traditionalist vision. The present writer was rather startled to read such a disappointing exegetical effort from Piper, after reading with profit and delight his excellent calvinistic treatise on pauline predestination in Romans 9, in his The Justification Of God (Baker, 1983.) The difference seems to be that the doctrine he wanted to exegete from Romans 9 actually exists in the texts treated, while the doctrine he wants to get from the Bible on male supremacy does not. I have not seen so spectacular a case of the difference between exegesis and eisegesis in the writings of one single evangelical scholar for a long time.
I find each statement made in the Danvers Statement to be just as problematic for various reasons and intricate interlacing of propaganda techniques, logical fallacies, and even techniques described by Robert Lifton in his writings on thought reform.
I believe that CBMW and those responsible for the Danvers Statement use coercion and deception to dominate the discussion of gender. Most people are quite busy and don’t have time to sit and decipher complex and misleading arguments, or they simply just don’t know how to do it. I believe that thanks to human tendency, what Cialdini describes as “Weapons of Influence” (the "rules of thumb" we use to cut through the overwhelming amounts of information that we all deal with on a daily basis, particularly in church), social pressures, and the divisiveness of the way CBMW has framed the discussion, most people miss the subtle nature of the deception. Too many have placed their unqualified trust in these folks, assuming that because they can discern some matters of doctrine, they can rightfully and infallably discern all matters of doctrine concerning gender.
For those with concerns that I’ve jumped the ship of logic and irenic discussion, I hope that you find my personal thoughts helpful.
(And maybe the reader can understand why I was delighted to find Shirley’s summary which could be quite easily condensed and posted in two short blog posts! It makes many of the same observations that I note, but my own concerns are so great, I can’t manage to consolidate them as well as she has stated her own critique.)
Adam's headship in marriage was established by God before the Fall and was not a result of sin.
The problem arises here because CBMW does not define headship. I understand headship quite differently from CBMW and define it differently. Many others in patriarchy mingle male headship with the doctrines concerning “federal headship.” Adam was our covenant representative, the head of mankind, who lead us into sin. (We derive the English word “federal” from the Latin word for “covenant.”) This concept differs from male headship, a separate doctrine, which can be interpreted several different ways.
Though I understand that the New Testament does establish male headship, I deny the CBMW concept of it. I see it in terms of nourishing, supportive, and origin, bearing a great weight of responsibility as opposed to a position that demands and commands authority based on some Old Testament or cultural law. In her book, Women this is War, Jocelyn Andersen points out that the Septuagint uses the Greek kephale in Old Testament passages referring to cornerstone. This also supports the idea of care, nurture and foundation as opposed to authoritarian rule which is not promoted in the New Testament and is not demonstrated in practice by exemplars in the New Testament.
The Fall introduced distortions into the relationships between men and women.
- In the home, the husband's loving, humble headship tends to be replaced by domination or passivity; the wife's intelligent, willing submission tends to be replaced by usurpation or servility.
- In the church, sin inclines men to a worldly love of power, or an abdication of spiritual responsibility, and inclines women to resist limitations on their roles or to neglect the use of their gifts in appropriate ministries.
On the surface, this initial statement seems consistent with what egalitarians maintain. Any issues that arose between men and women including paternalism and hierarchy requiring submission came as a consequence of the Fall of Man and did not predate it. So this first statement is actually misleading, because CBMW maintains that these dynamics existed prior to the Fall. It appears to be a reasonable and soft statement, at first.
In the first conclusion regarding men and women in home and marriage draws two false dilemmas for both men and women. “Humble headship” and “willing submission” are poorly defined and deceptive. The headship CBMW promotes is far from humble and promotes tyranny and entitlement. Their concept of submission for women is far from willing, and failure to submit to the authoritarian and rigid paradigm defines the worst of sins.
The word “intelligent” in regard to a woman’s submission evokes what Cialdini calls the tendency to defer to the human pressure of “Commitment and Consistency.” Everyone wants to be perceived as intelligent, so this appeals to women to demonstrate that they are intelligent. It is no different than a manipulative salesmen telling a prospective buyer that “Intelligent consumers will only settle for my product, and they do not settle for less.” If you want to prove to yourself and the salesman that you are an intelligent consumer, you feel great pressure to buy the product. It is CBMW’s way of saying that “Only idiotic fools decline our paradigm, and you certainly don’t want to be thought of and an idiot.” In terms of though reform, this tactic demonstrates what Lifton called the Dispensing of Existence. Those who are not intelligent are denied a degree of personhood and suffer both rejection and loss of Christian status by extension.
If one does not measure up to the CBMW standard, all possible alternative responses are oversimplified into two false alternatives of black and white thinking (another informal logical fallacy). (Read more about Black and White thought by linking HERE.) A man who rejects or fails to meet CBMW’s standard can only be guilty of domination or passivity. A woman who rejects or fails to meet CBMW’s standard can only be guilty of usurping her husband’s authority or obsequious servility. According to the paradigm, there is no place of grace or stops in between these extremes, when in fact, there are many possible alternatives.
Bruce Ware demonstrated an excellent example of this informal fallacy and false dillemna when he mentioned domestic abuse in his June 2008 sermon at Denton Bible Church (Read more HERE and HERE.). When women fail to properly submit to husbands, a husband has only two alternatives: he can extravert his frustration through aggression, or he can become passive which suggests that he should internalize his frustration through passivity. Not only does it suggest that the wife is responsible for the husband’s behavior and his sin, it ignores the truth that a man has many other alternatives available, and a wide variety of them do not constitute sin or failure.
The statement regarding behavior in the church also presents rigidly defined dillemnas in very all or nothing terms, with no place of grace in between. A man can also wrestle with pride, love of power, and a desire to shirk responsibility without actually sinning as he grows in maturity in his Christian walk. Does this also presume that CBMW’s model can make men and women immune to sin if its legalistic standards are achieved?
Women are also subtly saddled with the charge to deny who they are, tactics consistent with what Lifton called Doctrine over Person. All personal qualities and experiences that do not meet the demands of the group must be forfeited and denied in order to meet the desired standard. CBMW does not tolerate exceptions and essentially defines exceptions as sin, not because they are actual sins in terms of the Bible but because they do not fit the demands of the group’s ideology. Whether they have been actual feminists, women are required to repent of all that does not meet the group paradigm.
CBMW establishes standards that are narrow and hard to attain, consistent with the dynamic that Lifton called the Demand for Purity. Anything outside of the group ideal is declared sinful, when it may not actually be a sin in terms of Scripture. Man made rules determine what constitutes purity and perfection, and followers are manipulated quite heavily with guilt and shame. Everyone has a certain amount of shame that can be tapped into, and by attaching so much to one’s gender and deeply personal qualities within the context of such intimate relationships, the influence becomes quite profound. People find themselves trodding like horses shamefully behind the promising carrot that hangs on the end of a stick, but there is actually very little carrot and a whole lot of stick, as Janja Lalich has stated.
Concerning Affirmation Four, Dr. Wright notes:
The concept of "roles" is a nest of problems, and the wise will not treat it as a mystical clue in answer to the exegetical understanding of personal relationships. . .
As for "In the church . . .", once again there is no verse in Scripture to justify the notion that males and females have distinct and immutable "spiritual responsibilities" based on sex, although there are several verses which have been so interpreted traditionally, in violation of the plain statement in Gal. 3:28.
The Old Testament as well as the New Testament, manifests the equally high value and dignity which God attached to the roles of both men and women. Both Old and New Testaments also affirm the principle of male headship in the family and in the covenant community.
First, as someone familiar with Dispensational, New Covenant, and Covenant Theology, this statement is strongly biased toward a Calvinist view of Scripture and might be complicated by a Covenant Theology bias as well.
Within Dispensationalism, the New Testament Church did not begin until the Book of Acts at Pentecost, and Believers from the Old Testament had to be grafted into the Church. In New Covenant Theology, the Old Testament Believers that were faithful to God were a foreshadowing of the Church, but they also maintain that Christ built the Church and could not be built until Jesus completed His redemptive Work on the Cross. Though faith credits Old Testament Believers with righteousness through God’s grace, the Old Testament was not under a “Covenant of Grace.” Covenant Theology does maintain that Adam and the Faithful in the OT did have recourse to find saving grace, and it sees the Church as active and existing under the “Covenant of Grace” that was offered to Adam after the Fall when the “Covenant of Works” ended. For those who follow Covenant Theology, there is a stronger tie to Old Testament Law and tradition, though it is not salvific.
Those who do not follow Covenant Theology attribute the Old and New Covenants very differently, attaching a different significance to the Old Covenant. This statement favors not only a Calvinistic Theology but also a Covenant Theology perspective. Male headship holds a different significance as does what constitutes and always constituted the covenant community. I am not familiar with the theology followed by those men who drafted the Danvers Statement, as some of these ideas could lend themselves to some New Covenant Theology concepts. It is, however, of great concern.
Dr. Wright also points out his issues with the ongoing trappings of the term of “roles.”
On the contrary, the OT and NT never give roles any "value" or "dignity." Only persons can have such qualities if the question is the status of men and women. It is humanness which has dignity, not the abstractions of masculinity or femininity . . . Rather, numerous exceptions to it are found throughout the Bible, from Sarah and Deborah in the OT, to Phoebe and Phillip's daughters in the NT. The mere existence of these exceptions shows that God recognizes no rule of "roles" in this matter. "Roles" considered simply as patterns of behavior grow out of the obedient use of gifts by individuals led of the Lord, and are never presupposed by themselves as if they were to be adopted as standards or patterns of conformity. Gifts, and not abstract "roles," determine paths of obedience.
Redemption in Christ aims at removing the distortions introduced by the curse.
- In the family, husbands should forsake harsh or selfish leadership, and grow in love and care for their wives; wives should forsake resistance to their husband's authority and grow in willing and joyfull submission to their husband's leadership.
- In the church, redemption in Christ gives men and women an equal share in the blessings of salvation; nevertheless, some governing and teaching roles in the church are restricted to men.
As previously mentioned under my critique of Affirmation Four, CBMW “Begs the Question” regarding what specific distortions were introduced by the curse and what restrictions preceded the curse. (Please refer back to that previous critique.) Also, there is the Begging the Question issue concerning the assumption of what kind of authority a man had over a wife or whether it exists at all. Women are called to submit to their own husbands, but does that mean that they are exempt from loving their husbands as Christ loves the Church? Does the fact that a woman submits to her husband trump and eliminate the requirement that all believers should submit to one another in love? Is he not then permitted to also submit to his own wife as a fellow believer? What if a person refused the concept of kephale as authority and views it as source and as nurturer? Submission and leadership do not necessitate an authoritarian rule.
The leadership and submission issue sounds reasonable, but in terms of the bulk of other writings that take much study and time to decipher, the term is not at all light or benign. The basis for authority and submission is based not upon Christ and as the mutual submission that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 5 but upon the ontological subordination of women. That is not clearly stated. They can load the statement with as many nice sounding pleasantries suggesting love and sweetness, but the underlying principle actually says something quite disturbing, again drawing on the false dilemma of extremes. This is something Robert Lifton called Loading the Language.
Concerning the secondary statement, Dr. Wright notes the problems very well:
This last sentence produces a curious logical dilemma;
either some "governing and teaching roles" are not "blessings of salvation,"
"an equal share" in the blessings is the same as some blessings being "restricted to men."I recently read Cheryl Schatz’ discussion of 1 Timothy 2 as related to “governing and teaching roles,” and the English translations make Paul’s very complicated and advanced Greek one of the most difficult passages in the Bible to rightly discern. Many people fall prey to what Jocelyn Andersen aptly names “Gender Biased English Translation Theology.” The meanings of this text as well as Paul’s complicated grammar and punctuation in Corinthians 14 very difficult to discern for all Christians. From my own study of the original text, I am convinced of the Egalitarian arguments. This statement from CBMW presumes that these passages are clear and definitive as opposed to unclear and open to many interpretations. We should then follow the call to love and liberty toward those who have different understandings of these texts as intramural doctrine.
In all of life, Christ is the supreme authority and guide for men and women, so that no earthly submission --- domestic, religious or civil --- ever implies a mandate to follow a human authority into sin.
This is a safety clause, a disclaimer added so that they can’t be accused later of being at fault for telling women to sin if their husbands direct them to do so. It is also vague, however. The group has already established sins that the Bible does not clearly define as sin through their Demand for Purity according to the paradigm. It gives the group a wider plausible deniability so that they can feel that they are not accountable for the subjective nature of their broad statements regarding submission.
What constitutes usurping a husband’s authority and lack of regard for authority? Buying the wrong kind of toilet paper? I know women who have been disciplined for such a thing and CBMW’s teachings were used to justify the husband’s anger and lack of self-control. If a woman always bears the ultimate cause for the primary disruptions in the marital relationship because of her position due to her lesser essence and her lesser authority, does this not suggest that she is somehow contributing the first offense in any discord? The burden of discretion and discernment always weighs most heavily as the lesser creature. Men also rely upon their greater insights and presumed higher moral fiber as not given to deception like women.
Dr. Wright notes:
The problem remains, that if a wife must always submit to her husband (and never vice versa, since Eph. 5:24 says "in everything",) in the same way as she (and he) submits to Christ, how can it be argued that she can ever disobey him? It has often been taught (e.g., by the Jesuits in the past) that the grace and merit of obedience absolves one of other (lower?) responsibilities. Some Evangelicals teach this today in the shepherding cults, and this is all based on the unquestioned assumption of Chain-of-Being hierarchical notions of how things have to work. But if these structural assumptions are questioned at any point, the whole fabric collapses. Ethical structures tend to necessitate the corresponding ontological structures required to support them, and the presupposition of a hierarchical ontological structure of “reality” will inevitably affect the way we relate ethically.
In both men and women, a heartfelt sense of call to ministry should never be used to set aside Biblical criteria for particular ministries. Rather, Biblical teaching should remain the authority for testing our subjective discernment of God's will.
Here again we have another disclaimer that also presumes that everyone must agree with the presuppositions of CBMW. “Biblical criteria” and the definition of what that means specifically remains vague and ambiguous. It suggests that men and women are inclined to set aside Biblical instruction, allowing the end of ministry to justify impure means. (Is this a bit of projection here? This is something that CBMW should have taken to heart when they drafted their leading statements making use of so many informal logical fallacies to reach their own desired end.)
What is meant by “subjective discernment.” The first part of the statement implies that Biblical criteria clearly defines ministry, so what exactly constitutes the subjectivity they mention?
Dr. Wright notes:
Article 8 is another disclaimer intended to obvert the objection that if God does not want women in leadership, (i.e., in pastoral or teaching positions), why does he so consistently give them the gifts invariably necessary to fit them for such positions?
With half the world's population outside the reach of indigenous evangelism; with countless other lost peoples in those societies that have heard the Gospel; with the stresses and miseries of sickness, malnutrition, homelessness, illiteracy, ignorance, aging, addiction, crime, incarceration, neuroses and loneliness, no man or woman who feels a passion from God to make his grace known in word and deed need ever live without a fulfilling ministry for the glory of Christ and the good of this fallen world.
I understand this as a statement meant to minimize the significance of the entire women in ministry issue. Why, with all of the great need in the world do people feel the need to push the boundaries of ministry? Why pursue a man’s work when there is plenty of woman’s work to be done that will facilitate the sharing of the Gospel with a dying world? Why seek out formal ordination for a particular ministry when the Great Commission can be accomplished through lay ministry?
This is a CLASSIC Red Herring logical fallacy. It appeals to consequences by claiming that good ends can be reached by following the limited “roles” they have established, so this is offered as proof of the validity of their argument. It proves nothing.
We are convinced that a denial or neglect of these principles will lead to increasingly destructive consequences in our families, our churches, and the culture at large.
My first and immediate response to this is that it is blackmail. “If you do not do as we say, you will be culpable for the destruction of not only your own family but the church and the culture.”
This is no different that the tactics used in the aberrant Shepherding and Discipleship Movement, a threat of harm for failing to “get with the program.” If you exit your covering (here, the covering is CBMW’s dogmatic paradigm), great harm will befall you. In some sense, this implication is worse, as it also dooms other people to harm because of lack of action. It reminds me of a Word of Faith Televangelist who opened his daily program with the story that God showed him all the millions of people who would go to hell if he did not become an evangelist.
Those these men who penned the Danvers Statement claim Calvinistic faith in God’s Sovereignty, why does it seem that they argue for the potency of free will in this assertion? (Though I pose this as a rhetorical question, I will answer it with “the traditions of men” account for the disparagement. They demonstrate that they have more faith in the works of the law and flesh through their extra-Biblical traditions than they do in God’s loving care and sovereignty.)
I love Dr. Wright’s summary statement here:
Let me state flatly that I not only deny the traditionalist stance as both unbiblical and unChristian, but that I am conscience-bound not to neglect it, either. Rather, some of us will probably spend the rest of our lives trying to reform it one way or another, in terms of the whole counsel of God, and let God take care of the consequences.
Robert K. McGregor Wright, "A Response to the Danvers Statement: Part I". The Journal of Biblical Equality, July 1992; (copyrighted revision, Aquila and Priscilla House Study Center, Johnson City, TN, 1995):3.
ALSO OF INTEREST: Shirley Taylor's Response to the Danvers Statement.