There really are people who don't allow women in secular authority

In the discussion on my first post on Sarah Palin, some scepticism was expressed, especially by Jeremy Pierce, about whether John Piper actually holds the position that women should not be in authority over men in the secular sphere. I must admit that he is not completely explicit about this in the extract I quoted. But he certainly seems to be leaning strongly that way when it comes to matters of major authority such as a President would have.

After a couple of days when I had little time for blogging (and confused by Commentful’s failures to pick up comments on Complegalitarian, a problem with Blogger) I came back to the first post I made on this subject on Complegalitarian. This has now attracted 87 comments, most of which I have just read or skimmed. Among them the best answers to my original question have come from Molly Aley, formerly herself a rather extreme complementarian and now egalitarian – and also an Alaskan mother of five who has written Sarah Palin Rocks!

This comment by Molly links to a 2004 article from the influential Christian patriarchalist group Vision Forum which explicitly states, in a section heading, “The Biblical Doctrine of the Headship of Man Disqualifies a Woman for Civil Office”. Here is an extract:

Could it be that the man has headship only in the family and the church but not in the state? No, this could not be, lest you make God the author of confusion, and have Him violate in the state the very order He established at creation and has revealed in Holy Scripture! If one is going to argue for the acceptability of women bearing rule in the civil sphere, then to be consistent, he or she also needs to argue for the acceptability of women bearing rule in the family and the church.

Molly adds, and I agree:

I guess the one thing I do appreciate is that at least the patriarchy folks are consistant. If it’s not okay for women to rule in the home or in the church, why is it okay for them to rule in the government?

I think it’s a really fair question. I, for one, don’t understand how it is wrong for females to lead in the home or in the church, but okay in the civil sphere. I disagree (hotly) with Piper’s take, and with Vision Forum’s take, and yet I do appreciate the consistancy in the argument.

In another comment Molly quotes Voddie Baucham, who, according to Molly, is “featured on Focus on the Family and other fairly mainline ministries and a much lauded pastor/speaker in the SBC (and also works with Vision Forum)”. Lin also links to the same post. Baucham writes:

I believe Paul’s admonition should lead us to reject any notion of a wife and mother taking on the level of responsibility that Mrs. Palin is seeking. …

Mrs. Palin is not even supposed to be the head of her own household (Eph. 5:22ff; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1-7), let alone the State of Alaska, or the United States Senate (The VP oversees the Senate). …

In an effort to win the pro-family political argument, we are sacrificing the pro-family biblical argument. In essence, the message being sent to women by conservative Christians backing McCain/Palin is, “It’s ok to sacrifice your family on the altar of your career; just don’t have an abortion.” How pro-family is that?

Another quote taken by Molly from The Backwater Report:

Sarah Palin seemingly has many of the right convictions but according to God’s word she is not the man for the job of Vice President and Christians who take Scripture seriously would be hard pressed to justify a vote for her.

First, Scripture teaches that God’s created order disallows a woman as civil magistrate. …

Second, Scripture explicitly teaches that one qualification for civil magistrate is maleness. …

So even if Piper is not quite explicit on this issue, some significant Christians are explicit, and consistent, in their “complementarianism”, which, as ASBO Jesus suggests, is sometimes a nice way of saying misogyny.

23 thoughts on “There really are people who don't allow women in secular authority

  1. Practically all the stuff I have read always talk about the family and church and nothing else, because the biblical texts relating to the subject talk about the issue relating to the family and the church but not elsewhere. There is silence on the issue because there is silence in the texts out of which a complimentarian view of church and family is reached.

    As for Piper, he seems to answer the question directly here, and probably gives an answer you are looking for.

    But that really is his own personal view, he recognises it is not fully developed – and he can’t use any of the standard comp texts to back it up. No talk of the created order, no talk of the qualifications for eldership, just his gut reaction, which I disagree with.

    JBMW: What about women in political office? Should we vote for a woman for President?

    JP: I feel fuzzier about that one. When a man and a woman have similar qualifications, I’m inclined to think that we should vote for the man. I would probably say it even stronger than that in light of Isaiah 3:12, where part of the judgment of God upon His people is to subject them to being ruled by women. But the reason I say it less forcefully is that there may be exceptions where, in the Providence of God, He wills for a Deborah to rise up and assume a particular role, precisely in order to make a point about the men involved. However, I would hasten to add that the book of Judges is not a book that is filled with normative people, nor does it set forth normative examples of ideal leadership.

  2. This is all very interesting to me, as I had never met a Christian who believes that women shouldn’t hold “official” ministry positions and also shouldn’t hold positions of authority over men in the secular realm. It appears that these people are out there, and they’re not all simply flakes on the fringe (as I expected them to be)!

    I wonder if this is a view that is held only (or at least mainly) with those who consider themselves reformed in their theology?? Do we know of any prominant Arminians who hold this position?

  3. Blue, thanks for finding this Piper quote, which apparently dates back to 1999 and so is certainly not about Sarah Palin. Perhaps Piper’s position is not as strong as I had thought, but if so he is being deliberately provocative in mentioning e.g. bus drivers in the passage I quoted before. There is still no mention of Palin on Piper’s Desiring God site.

    Rhea, in my experience there certainly seems to be a strong correlation between complementarianism and Calvinism, although of course there are Catholics and Orthodox who don’t allow women in church ministry.

  4. Peter:

    I too know of some Christians who are certainly not Calvinists who don’t believe that women should be in “official” ministry positions, but at the same time, none of them (that I personally know) would ever THINK of saying that a woman couldn’t hold _______ position in secular authority b/c she’s a woman. I wonder if there’s something in Calvinism that would somehow lead a person who views that women shouldn’t be in official ministry to then lead them to taking it a step furthering in stating that women shouldn’t hold certain positions in the secular???

  5. Rhea, I think the kind of extreme position we are looking at comes from the intersection of a traditional patriarchal and misogynist position with a certain kind of theology linked to Calvinism. Catholics and Orthodox Christians tend to justify excluding women from the priesthood by the maleness of Jesus, and of course that argument has a very limited scope. The evangelical argument for complementarianism is based more in a theological understanding of women as inherently weaker than men, which probably goes back to Aristotle more than to the Bible but was presumed by early Calvinist writers who are now treated as authorities – and this argument has a broader scope including the home and secular government. That is a very brief and rather speculative off the cuff overview.

  6. I also see a strong link between complimentarianism and calvinism, although not exclusive.

    I don’t think I know any complimentarians who hold that women should not serve in civil office, and the movement of churches I belong to holds a complimentarian position on church government.

    Nor have I heard at any point that women are “weaker” than men, ever.

    My experience is that calvinists have a view of theology /scripture that looks for “God’s plan” in everything. There is not the same sense of “injustice” when dealing with gender roles, because a Calvinist would see God’s order and plan in choosing Abraham and not anyone else, choosing the Israelites not the Amalekites etc, with no real explanation of why. God chooses a way of doing things to display His glory.

    That focus on “God’s will” spills out into who God draws to himself for salvation, and how God chose to structure the family and the Church.

    Because “God wills” is a primary driver, there is more a sense that following the plan helps to display God’s glory.

    Which is why most Calvinist movements are quite “modernist” in their thinking, seeing patterns through scripture to be replicated in practice.

    I certainly don’t take Calvin as an authority on everything – I could not disagree with him more about some of his views on baptism.

    This is also a very brief and rather speculative off the cuff overview.

  7. Thank you, Blue, and Ruud.

    Blue, have you never read 1 Peter 3:7? Certainly according to many translations women are “the weaker sex” (RSV) or similar. And of course this is true in a simple physical sense, as should be clear from Olympic results: I think men do better than women in every sport involving physical strength.

    But of course my meaning was that some consider women to be morally weaker. Interestingly John Piper on page 16 of the same file I quoted from earlier disowns a general idea that women are weaker:

    Whenever anyone asks if we think women are, say, weaker than men, or smarter than men, or more easily frightened than men or something like that, a good answer would go like this: women are weaker in some ways and men are weaker in some ways; women are smarter in some ways and men are smarter in some ways; women are more easily frightened in some kinds of circumstances and men are more easily frightened in other kinds of circumstances.

    I am glad if no one is teaching here in England that women are morally weaker. But I am sure you will find that teaching among North American patriarchalists, as Suzanne who has experience of such groups suggests.

  8. Yes I have read 1 Peter 3:7

    You wrote The evangelical argument for complementarianism is based more in a theological understanding of women as inherently weaker than men, which probably goes back to Aristotle more than to the Bible

    I have not heard the complimentarian view proven on account of women being “weaker”, using that verse, or aristotle, or reformation scholars.

    I have certainly never heard that women are morally weaker – quite the opposite in fact.

  9. Perhaps Piper’s position is not as strong as I had thought, but if so he is being deliberately provocative in mentioning e.g. bus drivers in the passage I quoted before.

    Or you could read it as an example of the range of attitudes he is assuming in the reader (which given context is a fair reading).

    Piper rarely comments on specific personalities, so you might be waiting for a long time for a statement on Palin.

    It’s hard to see all this than anything more than your reaction to someone who you’ve taken great exception to. You’re basing your arguments on an extrapolation of something Piper never actually said.

  10. Chris, what I take great exception to is someone, especially someone in a position of authority like Piper, making highly offensive statements suggesting that women might not have the right even to be bus drivers, let alone presidents. If he doesn’t in fact believe this gross distortion of any kind of Christian teaching, he should clearly dissociate himself from it. By leaving things open as he does he allows people to believe that he does hold this position. I still think that he probably does but doesn’t actually dare say so explicitly, perhaps for fear of being lynched by the female bus drivers of Minneapolis. But if he doesn’t, he should avoid misleading some people into following this unbiblical false teaching in his authority and others into rejecting the gospel message because of the way he has distorted it.

  11. Two remarks:

    1) Regarding the Piper quote from here, Piper seems to me to be simply pointing out that in some cases a female bus driver might have to exercise authority over men. He then says that “One or more of these roles might stretch appropriate expressions of femininity beyond the breaking point.” Now, it seems to me that the question is what the “might” means. You (Peter) seem to be assuming that “might” means Piper isn’t sure whether such a role is appropriate, but the other quotes from Piper seem to contradict that claim, since he seems to think that in some situations (e.g. Deborah) a woman might be fine assuming a lot more authority than a bus driver! I would suggest, then, that Piper intends the more moderate (but still very controversial) claim that a female bus driver might potentially in some imaginable circumstance find herself in a position with respect to some man which might, for a particular woman “tretch appropriate expressions of femininity beyond the breaking point,” whatever that means. In other words, the “might” may suggest that this is dependent on the exact situation and the exact woman more than it expresses Piper’s uncertainty.

    2) As far as a correlation with “Reformed” theology, I would suggest this: firstly, “Reformed” theology is highly systematic and highly internally consistent, and it seems that most people who accept it accept it as a result of having thought it through (I say this as a non-Calvinist). Furthermore, it’s a system that not only tries to eliminate contradictions, but tries to minimize any kind of internal tension – the sort of tension that arises from taking moderate positions. As such, I think that, as compared to non-Calvinistic Protestants (1) Calvinists are more likely to be internally consistent, and (2) they are less likely to be bothered by their views being extreme. So this, I think, may be the source of the correlation between “Reformed” theology and extreme views on gender. Of course, as Jeremy is always quick to point out, in terms of Church history, real complementarianism (as opposed to the “cloak for misogyny” kind you mention) actually is a moderating position: it is the claim that men and women are inherently equal, but there are differences in their position in God’s order for the present life. In Church history, many writers have explicitly held that women are actually inferior, which complementarians BY DEFINITION deny (which is not to say that all who are called complementarians are complementarians). At any rate, the view under discussion is on the extreme end in terms of practical consequences of complementarianism, and I think that this will generally bother Calvinists less, since they are used to being on the extreme end.

  12. Thank you, Kenny. Well, I accept that Calvinists aren’t bothered by being called extremists, although they should be bothered by the scandal to the Christian message caused by their extremism. I don’t agree that they have all thought their position through – many have accepted it because they have been told to.

    I don’t quite see how being a President could possibly not “stretch appropriate expressions of femininity beyond the breaking point” on Piper’s definitions. I don’t think he exactly endorses Deborah. Maybe he allows her because there was no willing and qualified man. Is there really no willing and qualified alternative to Sarah Palin?

  13. Mike Huckabee would be an obvious conservative alterative to Palin – but less attractive for other reasons to McCain.

    As for Calvinists, I don’t see any necessary/logical connection between their theology and female subordination. Some very conservative Calvinists (e.g. Roger Nicole) have been enthusiastic supporters of Christians for Biblical Equality. What there may be, however, is an elective affinity between particular theologies and particular kinds of gender politics. If your theology is very conservative/old-fashioned/against-the-grain of contemporary wisdom, your gender politics may end up looking similar. If your theology is self-consciously liberal/progressive, your gender politics are likely to follow.

  14. Peter – Of course there are Calvinists who accept it because they’ve been told so. Even among these, however, there is, in my experience, a much higher rate of “theological literacy” than among the church-going population at large. This just has to do with the fact that the “Reformed” tradition is much more concerned with systematic theology than are most other Protestant traditions (e.g. Baptists). It seems to me that the majority of Evangelicals hold to weird and inconsistent hybrids of Calvinism and Arminianism because they haven’t thought things through. Somebody who believes one side or the other consistently has necessarily thought things through to some extent. However, a lot of people, having had no previous knowledge of the debate, hear Arminianism described and say “yes, that’s what I believe,” but this doesn’t tend to happen with Calvinism. So there seems to be a whole class of people who consider themselves “Arminian” because they heard the debate described once and that’s the one that sounded most like them, but they don’t really understand the issue. I don’t think there are a lot of Calvinists like that.

    In short, I would say that I think that the people who have thought the issue through are pretty well split between Calvinists and non-Calvinists (perhaps not all of us are really properly “Arminian”), but the vast majority of people who haven’t thought about it are Arminian. That’s just anecdotal, though – I don’t have statistics.

    Egalitarian – that’s the sort of idea I was getting at, although I think there are more points of “elective affinity” than the ones you list. I agree, however, that there is certainly no “necessary/logical” connection.

  15. According to 1 Cor 5:12, the chuch is not to judge the world against Christian standards. I’ve never fully understood this (when is a standard “Christian only” and when it is applicable to judge the world?), but it seems to me that any complementarian that holds to a view that a woman should not be in authority over a man in any situation, should not attempt to apply this to any domain outside of the church, according to the aforementioned scripture.

    However is this is true that perhaps it applies to egalitarians and applying their beliefs to the world?

    Because of 1 Cor 5:12, I would not think it would be inconsistent for a complementarian Christian to believe in, for example, male eldership, and also support a female president. He or she would simply by living out their scriptural convictions.

  16. Alastair, I agree that the church should not judge the world by Christian standards, in the sense of expecting outsiders to live up to Christian moral standards. But I am not sure that that principle applies in cases of democratic election. Surely Christians are permitted to follow their Christian principles in their choice of candidate.

    Anyway, Sarah Palin is a Christian and so this argument does not apply to opinions of her. Oddly enough, 1 Corinthians 5:11-12 can easily be used to say that we can vote for immoral atheists but not for people who call themselves Christians but don’t follow Christian moral standards. Of course I don’t mean to suggest that Sarah Palin doesn’t do so, just that in principle this argument applies to her.

  17. Pingback: The Sarah Palin and Complementarianism debate continues « Mustard Seed Kingdom

  18. For the record, I never denied that there are people who hold this view. I just don’t think it’s even plausible to take Piper as asserting it. At best he considers it a potential inference from what he believes that he’s not sure really follows. That’s at best. More plausibly, he presents it as a possibility that he also presents some reason to resist and then leaves it to the reader to flesh out the details. Kenny is right that his other statements show that it really can’t be more than that.

    As for Palin, his view that you should vote for an equally qualifed man if he opposes a woman isn’t very applicable. This isn’t a choice between Palin and other possible running mates for McCain. That was McCain’s choice, and perhaps he made a bad decision by Piper’s lights. But the voter’s choice is between Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin. One crucial qualification would be the views and policy proposals of the candidates, and one can hardly argue that the candidates are equal in that respect, no matter what your political views are. Conservatives (where most complementarians probably align) will on that score easily go with McCain-Palin as the more qualified in terms of views and policies. So there’s no inconsistency at all with the explicit statement of Piper outside the chapter he wrote with Grudem (and as I pointed out in the comment on the earlier post, Grudem himself is even more explicit about this in his other work).

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