April 3, 2020

When Bad People Need A Crutch

I’ll never pass as an apologist for Douglas Wilson’s (or Mark Driscoll’s) views on gender. I was turned off to his rhetoric long ago. At the same time, I’m the kind of person who can not like his views on gender and very much like his debates with Chris Hitchens and his books on church life. I’m the guy who has the views on grace that you like and the views on inerrancy you don’t like. I am all about the Gospel and I don’t believe in the rapture. I’m the guy who got followed to the car a few months ago by a good friend who said, “You’re such a good preacher; it’s a shame that you’re so wrong on Genesis.”

I have things I like about Piper and things I don’t. Same with Driscoll. Same with Wright. When my book is out there, it will be the same with me if you’re actually thinking and not just being a shill or a sheeple.

“The commenter’s” story is heart-breaking. Her description of her husband’s domination of her life would have earned him a bloody nose from the “dudes” at Driscoll’s church. And if it makes your head hurt that traditional complementarians can get furious about the abuse of women by men who don’t understand the dynamics of complementarianism, then you’ve just proved to me that you aren’t listening to the depth and diversity of the conversation. Driscoll- love him or hate him- is legitimately fired up on behalf of women and how they are being treated. Deal with it.

I have no sympathy for abusers. Not in any form, shape or fashion. But every day I teach at a school full of high school boys, many without dads, whose only model for being a man is a rapper or an athlete. They are 18 and can’t pull up their pants. They call women bitches and baby mamas without regret. And I see crowds of girls who buy it. They buy the disrespectful treatment and the commodification of their sexuality. I understand where complementarians are coming from when they look out at the destruction of traditional gender roles and wonder if anyone is counting the cost for what it means for boys to never become men and girls to literally idolize prostitutes as role models.

Egalitarians writing books about the evils of fundamentalism at Bob Jones and Christ Church, Moscow might want to visit their local public school- heck, visit their local Christian school- and see the state of things. See how the ideals of equality and respect are doing out there. If you can’t see why complementarianism makes sense in so many communities and sub-cultures, you’re looking past reality.

But the answer may not be traditional complementarianism. I don’t think it is. I believe the answer is the Gospel. I’m an egalitarian in most ways, but I know what I see supposed notions of progressive eqalitarianism doing in marriages and it’s not any reason to say stupid things like “complementarianism leads to abuse.” Abuse, rotten parenting, no agreement on moral/marital basics, financial sin, adultery, porn addiction- these are the sins in the majority of our homes, no matter our views on gender. Have any of you heard Douglas Wilson talk about how the sins of men have ruined families and destroyed the good name of “submission as unto the Lord?”

“The commenter’s” description of her husband is not just sad, it’s sick. Anyone who heard any aspect of that story and approved of us was furthering abuse. No question.

But the fact of abuse doesn’t encourage me to buy into the characterization of complementarians as abusers any more than I believed the study that said men who watched the Super Bowl were the most likely to physically abuse their wives. The badness of bad people will always find something to use as a prop. There’s always a justification for losing your temper or being a jerk. Sure, some props are more appealing to bad men that others. But that doesn’t make the prop bad and it doesn’t mean that we can say whatever we want about an author or throw 5 other characters in the same comment thread and say they are all of one sort.

The reason conservatives and progressives can’t talk to one another are the tactics of vilification. We turn to them too soon. We use them without restraint. We all turn into Bill O’Reilley. Both sides. And more often than not, none of it has anything to do with why “the commenter’s” husband is an abuser. If he comes to me for help and says he’s following Douglas Wilson, I’m telling him that he’s using Wilson to justify abuse. His problem goes all the way to the core of the lies he tells himself to justify the pain he inflicts on others.

If you want to stop abuse, help”the commenter” and her children. And see that the abusive husband takes moral responsibility for his sin, including his sin of using what doesn’t endorse abuse to justify his own.

Proverbs says spare the rod and spoil the child. Most evangelicals don’t believe that’s abuse, but has anyone used it to justify abuse?


  1. It’s true that complimentarianism isn’t the only philosophy that abusers will use as a crutch to justify their abuse–indeed, they’ll use anything–but that should not stop us from seeing, acknowledging, and wondering why it’s one particular crutch that seems to come easily to hand for so many abusive Christians.

    People seem suprised to see that complimentarianism is being used as a tool to justify abuse. I’m seeing a lot of, “well, that’s not the way it’s intended. If they weren’t sinners and abusers, they wouldn’t find that in the text, and twist it all up to use as a justification.”

    Tools aren’t always going to be used for the purposes for which they were intended. The fact that a tool may have an intended purpose doesn’t prevent it from being used for a purpose for which it was never intended, or even being good to use for that purpose.

    When my dad beat my sister, he didn’t do it with his shoe, even though his shoe was right there and just at close to hand as the belt he did use. Why the belt? Once you’ve been hit, you know why: the very same features of the belt that make it useful in the manner for which it was intended–flexibility, thinness, durability–also made it a better tool for hurting than a shoe. It’s simply the better tool for causing pain, and it has some qualities about it that especially lend themselves to causing pain when the tool is misused.

    If a tool has qualities that make it most likely to do the job, and do it well, that’s the tool you’re going to use, whether that’s the tool’s intended purpose or not. And it’s possible that the very same qualities in the tool that make it well-suited for its intended use might make it equally well-suited for an unintended use.

    It can’t really be a suprise that those who want to abuse others will use ideas in books and sermons as justification for their abuse and sin, and that we, as broken people, will misinterpret failable texts–in fact, the big news would be if those things didn’t happen. But they don’t keep coming back to any old philosophy to justify their abuse–they keep coming to this one. Abusers, like anyone else, are going to use the best tool they have for the job. Why do we shy away from looking at the reasons why this philosophy makes a good tool for abusers? Why not take a look at the qualities of complimentarianism that make it an idea that abusive Christians find attractive, that make it a go-to idea of choice for sinners, that make it easy to twist to evil, that make it an idea that abusive people pick up time and time again when they want to hurt someone, that make it a belt instead of a shoe?

    Could it be that some of the qualities of complimentarianism and the texts it’s explained in make it more well-suited as a tool for hurting and abusing others than other philosophies might? That seems to be part of the actual experience of some of those who have spoken up about their abuse here. It’s not that the abusers aren’t at fault–they are–but that shouldn’t stop us from looking at the words and ideas they use to abuse, and wondering why those are some of the most frequently used and most effective tools that Christian abusers have to employ in hurting others. I would argue that we are bound as Christians to take a look, since words–and the way they’re understood, used, and misused–are so important to Jesus, and should be important to his followers.

    If abusers didn’t have complimentarianism to lean on as a crutch to justify their abuse, they might more quickly be able to realize they were limping.

    • Very well-put, Cassandra. I am not an apologist for either of the “camps” that many Christians in marriage force themselves into, but I will say that what is stunningly obvious is that, at the very least, complementarian-abusers tend to cite scripture as justification for their abuse. While the other camp may have its problems, too, at least it is not likely to get away with abusing people in the name of scripture.

  2. It seems to me that one of the ongoing struggles we have is delineating between a belief that “causes” an action and a belief that is “used to excuse” an action.
    If complimentarianism causes abuse, of course it should be criticized. In fact, if we’re honest, it cannot then be biblically true, since no truth of God would cause us to sin. However, proving that causation is pretty difficult on most things. I think about the way a lot of people talk about Christianity in general: it is claimed that it causes (or has caused) genocide, war, torture, racism, oppression, abuse, irrationalism, and a hundred other things. I’ve had those conversations, and let me tell you, they’re not fun. I assume that those of us who are Christians want to disagree with this, but how do we do so?
    The answer is that we have to insist on the fact that to claim this causation is a heavy burden. In fact, we need to labor to prove it before we use it. Otherwise we’re engaging in slander.
    Of course, our first response to the above accusation should be that Christianity has indeed been used to excuse all of these things. This is wicked, and should cause us to repent for the sins of the church on this front. However, we don’t have to concede that this means its actually Christianity that leads there. What iMonk is arguing above is that, right or wrong, complimentarianism in fact argues against these abuses. Just as egalitarianism, rightly understood, argues against the sort of humanity-abuse we see in modern high schools. Misunderstanding or abusing a position cannot prove the position is wrong if it is in fact misunderstanding or abuse.
    This goes equally when we talk about a position “making possible” or “leaving room for” such an abuse. It is always possible to twist truth to use it for a lie. Sit down and visit with the nice people who knock on your door and want to convert you to their fringe religious group. They’re certainly using Scripture. Does this Scripture leave room for such an abuse? Well, yes, if the standard for “leaving room” is “saying something that might be used for some incorrect end.” That’s why we regularly use Scripture to clarify Scripture, and why we use words like “context.” I promise you that I could take any position you hold and pervert it for evil. That’s not a criticism of your position, unless I can prove that your position warrants my interpretation. Instead, it’s a criticism of the human heart.
    I realize this is getting long, but one last thought. All of that being said, it certainly is true that we can be equally at fault for holding true positions and then allowing evil because we’re afraid that to correct it would be a win for the other side. If a complimentarianism doesn’t speak out abuse for fear of sounding egalitarian, that is certainly wicked. In the same way, if an egalitarian refuses to confront sin (say an approach to marriage that stresses individualistic independance rather than mutual self-sacrifice), that is wicked. But those sins are sins of the person, not the position. To lump others (who might not be sinning in these ways) in with such people is to lump modern Christians in with Crusade-happy firebrands calling for Muslim blood.

    • Tonjes- I think you have a good point about the problem of delineating between cause and excuse, and the dangers of not doing so. I think conflating the two can bring about a “throw the baby out with the bathwater” affect. On the other hand, if something is consistently used as an excuse,then I think it stands to reason that investigation into what about that particular thing makes it such a convenient or compelling escape.

  3. Very well put. And going on even further, a good stance to use in the defense of Christianity in general, when people are always blaming Christianity for the sins of man. People certainly use Christianity as an excuse for doing awful things, but that doesn’t mean Christianity is an awful thing.

    • And not just that, but under careful inspection you find that it was a case of “trees, not the forest.” Most really bad things justified with or resulting from Christianitis are caused by people looking at individual passages instead of the bible as a whole from Genesis to Revelations, or at least the entirety of each book.

  4. SubmittedToGod says

    I stopped being a quasi-complementarian when I asked myself:

    “If I were a woman and not a man, and I was told I couldn’t use my giftings or abilities to their full extent in the body or stand in the “pulpit” (akin to some churches not allowing women to minister at the altar – which makes me wonder if Protestants have simply swapped the men-only altar for a men-only pulpit) simply because I was a woman, what would I think?”

    And when I realized that what I thought was not printable, I knew complementarianism was a crock on par with racism and slavery.

    • “If I were a woman and not a man, and I was told I couldn’t use my giftings or abilities to their full extent in the body or stand in the “pulpit” (akin to some churches not allowing women to minister at the altar – which makes me wonder if Protestants have simply swapped the men-only altar for a men-only pulpit) simply because I was a woman, what would I think?”

      Now now now, just because you hold strong principles doesn’t mean you have to have no class. Remember Christ and the women with the expensive oil? Judas (he who steals from the collection box) challenged the supposed “hypocrisy” of it and Christ pointed out how what she did was, in fact, out of love.

      • SubmittedToGod says

        I DO have class. That’s why I didn’t print my unprintable thoughts. 🙂

        As for your reply, I’m not sure I understand its relevance to my comments.

  5. The part that makes me uncomfortable about his remarks is that it sounds like he’s comparing domestic violence to consensual premarital sex. To me that seems a little disrespectful to those that have experienced abuse.

  6. I know post-modernism is chock full of the smashing together contradictions, but I don’t think being a complementarian automatically rules out being an egalitarian. In fact, that is how I would characterize my own position. Men aren’t women and women aren’t men, but women and men are equal. In fact, this is exactly what we read in Ephesians 5. Reducing Ephesians 5 to wifely submission is a gross exegetical and theological error, an unjustifiable reduction.

    Like you, Driscoll has a point. Let’s not forget that he is clearly talking only men who call them Christians. Before “going there,” conversion is necessary.

  7. It seems to me that all things from God are conditional, grace, including life, forgiveness of sins, and even, as you see in 1st and 2nd Samuel and the Book of Daniel, the legitimacy of rulers, and likewise, so is the legitimacy of husbands. If you treat your wife in such a horrible manner, you were never truly married to her to begin with, though she thought she was and is thus blameless for her erstwhile sexual error (you, however, are not.) See, as God has decreed, things under God only occur as under God when your heart is in it, otherwise it is illegitimate. When you practice a sacrament, but have no love or faith in it, neither God nor your own heart hold it to your account. Thus, he was never really married to her to begin with, though she was married to him. It’s not a divorce because there was no marriage to start with – she is guiltless of adultery, he is an adulterer.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      My church tradition (RCC) uses a special Canon Court called a “Marriage Tribunal” to hash all that out in a quasi-legal proceeding. Comes from inheriting the surviving Imperial bureaucracy when the Western Roman Empire went belly-up plus16 centuries of Church bureacuratic accretion.

      I understand going before a Marriage Tribunal to determine eligibility to (re)marry is quite a hassle, and (like court verdicts in general) no matter what they decide, SOMEBODY is bound to be offended.