People who like to browse Christian blogs may have noticed that there has been a lot of debating back and forth lately over the controversial complementarian/egalitatian issue of the roles of husbands and wives. Among those chiming in have been Aimee Byrd, a writer for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and Baptist pastor John Piper, among others.
On August 13, a woman named Beth wrote asking John Piper whether or not it would be appropriate for a single Christian woman to become a police officer. Piper basically said, “No”, elaborating that, “At the heart of mature womanhood is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive, and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.”
Before even asking her question, Beth gave a number of disclaimers so that John Piper would have some context before answering the question. She clarified that she is “a woman who enjoys being a woman” and that she has “no desire to be a man”. She further stated that if she were to get married and her husband object to her police work, she would step down.
Incidentally, I would caution a woman against being a police officer for the same reason I would caution a man–because police officers are tasked with the unfortunate responsibility of enforcing all manner of unjust laws that our society has wickedly enacted. It has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with being able to do a job with a clear conscience. There are good police officers, certainly, but by definition a good one is one that is unwilling, on principle, to uphold evil laws.
On August 17, Byrd responded with a blog titled, “John Piper’s Advice For Women in the Workforce”. She explained that she didn’t view it as her purpose as a woman to “constantly seeking affirming, receiving, and nurturing strength and leadership” from men who are worthy. “I am married to one man,” she said.
Further elaborating on how women can make good, Biblical choices, vocationally speaking, Piper said, “To the degree that a woman’s influence over a man, guidance of a man, leadership of a man, is personal and a directive, it will generally offend a man’s good, God-given sense of responsibility and leadership, and thus controvert God’s created order.”
Piper says that a woman who is a civil engineer, mapping out streets in a city, is in a sense “controlling” the male drivers in a given city by designating which streets are one-way, which ones are two-way, etc. However, this sort of “control” is so impersonal that it doesn’t pose problems between how men and women are to relate to each other. He goes on to say, “It would be hard for me to see how a woman could be a drill sergeant — hut two, right face, left face, keep your mouth shut, private — over men without violating their sense of manhood and her sense of womanhood.”
Byrd said she found Piper’s example “very confusing”. She went on to say, “This kind of teaching has always made me uncomfortable with my own female body. My very presence is imposing. It has the same neo-gnostic ring that we hear in our culture today, separating the physical from the spiritual. Is the job okay for women if the men can’t see us? His illustration seems to say that.”
Byrd says that Piper’s logic would require getting ride of female doctors and nurses because both professions require women to be “personal and directive” with male patients. Strong women in the Bible, such as Deborah and Abigail, would have to go, Byrd says, if Piper’s principles are adhered to. She said, “Women are warriors too. And it does not violate a mature man’s sense of manhood when they do their job well.”
Before going any further, it needs to be pointed out that Byrd is by no means a “liberal” or a “feminist”. She is an evangelical woman who affirms that ordained ministry is open only to men and who affirms that husbands are to be the leaders of their homes. Her disagreement, therefore, with Piper is not one that stems from radically different worldviews. Rather, she is merely pointing out areas where she believes Piper is going too far, saying more than the Bible itself says, about how men and women are to relate.
Andrew Wilson, a contributor to Christianity Today, recently echoed Byrd’s sentiments in a blog post, “When complimentarianism ‘slides into sheer silliness’”, saying, “The New Testament instructions on how maleness and femaleness should be applied seem, at least to me, to focus almost entirely on relationships in the gathered church and in the household.” Wilson points out the lives of numerous Biblical women to make his point: Lydia who ran her own business, Phoebe who was one of Paul’s financial supporters, Jael who killed Israel’s enemy Sisera, Huldah the prophetess who served as an adviser to the kings of Israel, and Esther who saved the nation of Israel. These were strong women who in various capacities exercised influence and leadership, sometimes over men. Wilson says, “There is no indication that any of [these women] shouldn’t have done these things because they were women.”
Who is right? First of all, the New Testament nowhere admonishes women, as such, to submit to men, as such. Women are commanded to respect their husbands, which is far different from being commanded to be deferential to all males in general. Women are no more commanded to submit to all men, as the church submits to Christ, any more than men are commanded to love all women as Christ loved the church. In Ephesians 5:24, Paul says, “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” In verses 28-28, Paul says, “Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.”
When Margaret Thatcher was the prime minister of England, she. traditionalist that she was, didn’t view this as upsetting the fact that her husband was still the leader in their family. She famously said that she was the head of the government, but her husband was still head of the home. This distinction is one that Piper apparently would not go along with.
On a similar note, children are nowhere commanded to submit to the authority of all adults indiscriminately. Children are commanded to submit to the authority of their own parents. In Ephesians 6:1, Paul says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” In his book, Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp wisely argues that whenever physical discipline of children is talked about in Scripture, it is always in the context of parents disciplining their own children. Tripp therefore argues against teachers using physical punishment on children. When the spanking comes from the same person who tucks you in at night, buys you ice cream, and comes to your ball games to cheer you on, there is a context or backdrop of love that simply isn’t there when the spanking comes from an adult authority figure who is basically a stranger.
Byrd is right to call Piper out for going beyond the bounds of Scripture. God intends for men to embrace their having been created a man and for women to embrace having been created a woman. In upholding this crucial Biblical principle, we must refuse to cave in to merely cultural stereotypes about men’s and women’s role in society. If Brad Paisley’s song, “I’m Still a Guy” is the litmus test for true manhood (hunting, fishing, rodeos, driving a truck), then I come up embarrassingly short. Because the culture at large is so intent on blurring any and all boundaries between the sexes, it is easy to see why some conservative Christians would find themselves being a little reactionary. We must resist this temptation. When the culture persists in saying less than the Bible says about gender roles, we mustn’t resort to saying more than the Bible says about it.