Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A response to last night’s Q&A with Peter Jensen

from here
I was a little nervous about watching Peter Jensen on Q&A last night. As you may know, I don’t agree with Jensen on a couple of the points I knew he’d be grilled on, but I also don’t like watching people get picked on; I wasn’t looking forward to the tension of wishing he was saying something different or nothing at all, while simultaneously wishing people would be kind and let him speak - I decided it could only be a lose-lose situation. Jensen remained admirably calm in the face of (sometimes aggressive) opposition, and I like that he was humble in saying that he was open to learning more about issues (such as the health of homosexuals – I can’t recall whether the “I could be wrong” phrases were all linked with this topic rather than the women stuff). I do wish I could sit down with him and have one of these respectful debates, but because I can’t, I’m offering here my rebuttal to what came up about submission on last night’s program.

Submission is counter-cultural
To argue that our culture doesn’t value submission is to demonstrate an unwillingness to listen to what our culture’s actually saying. As we saw last night on the show, Anna Krien agreed that submission in relationships was a good thing, and Catherine Deveny nodded (considering she didn’t agree with much that was said, this is huge!)! Our culture is okay with the idea of submission; it’s not okay with sexism and inequality. As long as complementarians continue to blame our cultures opposition to women-only submission on the submission’s a dirty word line rather than listening and addressing the real and valid issues, the conversation cannot move forward.

Submission for women only is not counter-cultural, it is the norm for the majority of people in this messed-up world. To think that clinging to patriarchy is somehow going against the grain is to blindly ignore history, the plight of women outside of the more egalitarian West, the messages implicit in pornography, the inequality in pay for women (even in countries like Australia), to name just a few of the signs that patriarchy is alive and well. As Deveny pointed out to Jensen last night, its easy to talk of equality when you are a white, middle-class man. Equality for many is still a dream that so many in our culture strive to move towards rather than away from.

It’s difficult to work out what’s “the world” and what’s God in order to avoid the former and follow the latter. I understand that at the heart of complementarian arguments about women is a deep desire to make the right choice here. I keep thinking, though, that there were many Christians using the Bible to justify slavery for a while after most others had realised how very wrong it was; I’m sure they thought they were being counter-cultural too.

The men initiate 
Peter Jensen stressed last night that wives submit to their husbands only after the husband has promised to lay down his lives for the wife. Where in the Bible does it say this?! I’ve noticed a shift in complementarian language recently: men no longer lead, they initiate. It sounds nicer. And yet it’s not backed up anywhere by Scripture! The passages that speak explicitly of marriage (Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 are the first to spring to mind) talk first to the women, and their submission stems from what Christ has done, not from what their husbands have done. Husbands are never encouraged to try to beat their wives in what seems to have become a competition (that the men are expected to win) to be the first to lay down their lives.

While we’re on this topic, last night Tony Jones offered a definition of submission as “to yield, to surrender” but Jensen was never asked to explain how a man laying down his life (surrendering, yielding) for his wife is not exactly the same thing as “submitting” to her. The debate repeatedly returns to “men and women are different,” but the Bible seems to say that what’s called for from both men and women in these passages is exactly the same thing. 

Tony is not the boss (uhuh)
This reference will only make sense to those who have had the great joy of listening to Christian songs for kids, but I’m going to stick with it! In trying to explain submission last night, Peter Jensen said that he was submitting to Tony Jones because Tony was the boss. This ‘boss’ language seems so foreign to the submission taught and demonstrated by Jesus that it really surprised me to hear it come up last night. To say that a husband is like a boss that his wife must submit to is a distortion of New Testament teaching, and not at all helpful in explaining the concept of submission. The Colin Buchanan song says, “You are not the boss (uhuh), and I am not the boss (uhuh), and they are not the boss (uhuh) - Jesus is the boss.” As Jesus explains to his disciples, ‘boss’ equals ‘servant’ (Mark 10:41-45):
You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Wives do not submit to their husbands because their husbands are the boss. Jesus is the boss. Both wives and husbands are called to “submit to one another out of reverence for [their boss] Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).  

There is equality in Jesus Christ
I’m so thankful that Peter Jensen was given the last word on the show; it was a respectful move after a long and difficult conversation. I wholeheartedly agree with how Jensen ended: God has spoken through Jesus Christ, and it all comes back to him. An examination of Jesus’ life and teaching clearly shows that God is for women, and for equality, not against them. I hope and pray, pray, pray that the Anglican church in Sydney will reflect this equality for women one day; I’m not sure Jensen –and fellow complementarians – have fully grasped the extent of its awesomeness yet.


  1. Belle, I really like that you are keen for us to be clear about what the Bible says and doesn't say. I think in each of the passages you mention (Ephesians 5; 1 Peter 3) commands are given differently to husbands and wives - I won't try to work out the specifics in this comment, but I tend to think it is because the commands are actually different, not just different ways of saying the same thing as you suggest.

    As for submission and equality in modern society: I think modern secular people think they have the moral upper ground because they believe in equality (in respect, positions of power, financial means, etc). That's all great, but in my experience sexism and homophobia has never been the exclusive domain of religious people. In fact, most of the cases of sexism, homophobia, and other discrimination I've seen (e.g. in the workplace) has been from non-believers. In the same way, I know both Christians and non-Christians who have sometimes shown disrespect or a lack of submission to either their employer or the law, but again it is my experience that the mature Christian is more likely to submit when the choice is between "do what is right" and "do what I can get away with". That's just my experience, so please take it with as much salt as you need.

    I completely agree with you that Jesus' example is for everyone to follow, in the way he treated women, associated with social outcasts, showed compassion, and laid down his life for his enemies. He saved both men and women, and he calls both men and women to take up their cross and follow him. It's important to remember this first, before talking about earthly authorities!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Brian! I'm hesitant to write back because I have no idea who you are, but I wanted to pick up on what you were saying in your second paragraph.

      You wrote that "in my experience sexism and homophobia has never been the exclusive domain of religious people." I want to say that just because Christians are "in most cases" slightly less sexist and homophobic than the average modern secular person, doesn't make that okay. If Jesus is about all people being equal, no matter their gender, race, sexual orientation, class, whatever (and I wholeheartedly believe he is), then we Christians want to make sure that we're the ones consistently reflecting Christ's love and doing really well at this. I'd say that anyone who believes in equality and strives for it DOES have the moral high ground over anyone who doesn't, Christian or not.

      I'm not sure if you were distinguishing between *believing something* as opposed to *actually living it*, and arguing that you've seen Christians doing the latter more often? I hope I haven't completely misunderstood what you were trying to say!

    2. Yeah, agreed 100%. It is not okay for Christians to treat women or homosexuals with disrespect. In a way, it is *less* okay for Christians to treat people this way than it is for others in general.

      The argument against the traditional evangelical position such as what Peter Jensen holds seems to me an argument from theory and not practice. That is, people will argue "by teaching such and such you are promoting domestic violence", rather than saying "in practice studies have shown that people who believe such and such are significantly more likely to engage in domestic violence". As Christians we need to keep both the theory and the practice in mind, because if the theory isn't backed up in reality, we need to think hard about whether our theory is correct or if we have misunderstood something. That's all I was saying - which I guess is to answer "yes" to your question.

      Sorry for being much more anonymous than I had intended! I thought Blogger would let me do the Name + URL thing that most Wordpress sites use, but couldn't work out how to do it. Anyway, my thingo is at http://brianleung.posterous.com.

    3. Aha! Hello, Brian!!

      I think I get what you're saying... If Christian marriages actually work out to be egalitarian in practice because it's impossible to live out true intimacy and oneness when there's a hierarchy in place, we should all ditch complementarianism post-haste? ;o)

      All jokes aside, I think we agree! Maybe not on the submission stuff, but on the theory versus practice stuff. :o)