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Late to the Party with Rachel and the Wilsons

| July 23, 2012

Introduction to a 5-part series on Complementarity & Mutuality

Jared Wilson of the Gospel Coalition recently posted an excerpt from a book that caused some virtual Evangelical fireworks. Though I’m late to the party, I’d like to address some important issues that I perceive to be at the root of the controversy.


Egalitarian Party

Okay, so here’s the skinny: While I was on holidays last week, blissfully unplugged from internet access, and not-so-blissfully huffing and puffing to propel my bike up the side of a mountain, the Gospel Coalition and a host of Evangelicals in the blog-and-tweet o’sphere were doing a lot of huffing and puffing of their own.

It all started when Jared Wilson, of the Gospel Coalition, posted an excerpt from Doug Wilson’s book “Fidelity:  What it Means to Be a One-Woman Man.” Apparently, Jared  used Doug’s quote to argue that the perverted sex in the book, “50 Shades of Grey” is due, in no small part, to a denial of true sexual complementarity.

The excerpt included these statements:  “. . . however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.” “True authority and true submission are therefore an erotic necessity.”  Doug has elsewhere said, “It (sex) is, and remains, something a man does to a woman.”

Several bloggers, including Rachel Held Evans, were outraged that the language was insensitive to women who had suffered sexual abuse and rape. Jared Wilson clarified his position. Doug Wilson defended the quote. Doug’s daughter offered a rebuttal. Rachel Held Evans followed up.  Her-meneutics, and other prominent blog sites waded in on the discussion. Some bloggers, including Rachel, petitioned the Gospel Coalition to take the post down. (Which has since happened.) Hundreds of commenters had their say.

. . . and to think that all this was happening while I was fiercely blinking the drips of sweat out of my eyes and questioning why my bike manufacturer didn’t give me another bank of gears.

Underlying Issues

In any case, I got an email in my inbox from Rachel when I arrived home, requesting that I—as a complementarian woman—bring my perspective to the table. (Umm… Party? What party? Did I miss something?) I’ve since read all the blog posts and many of the comments. I think there’s been enough debate about whether or not Wilson’s choice of words was inflammatory, whether or not his viewpoint was misunderstood or misrepresented, and whether or not the outcry to recant and take down the post was justified. So I’m not going there.

But in reflecting on the controversy, I do want to address what I see as an important underlying issue. As I see it, much of the controversy revolves around the nature of a complementarian relationship. The discussion raises some valid questions: Does complementarity promote a unilateral, one-way type of relationship? Is sex something a man does to a woman? Does complementarity require female passivity? Does the language we use when we speak of complementarity accurately reflect the nature of a complementarian relationship? Is complementarity incompatible with reciprocity and mutuality?

These are good questions. And perhaps they’ve not been addressed by complementarians as well as they could or should have been. So even though I’ve arrived late–just as the mess is being swept up and all the attendees have ice bags on their heads to deal with the post-party headache–I want to use the occasion as an opportunity to launch an authentic conversation; and hopefully, provide increased clarity.

Rachel asked me: Are authority and submission “erotic necessities”? What does it mean to carry male-female roles over into the marriage bed? What makes complementarian sex different from egalitarian sex?

I feel I need to address the former issues in order to adequately address the latter. So starting with my next post, I’ll embark on a series entitled “Complementarity & Mutuality.” I’m planning on at least 5 posts- perhaps more. Look for them every other day or so. Over the course of the series, I’ll address the relationship between complementarity and mutuality, and try to answer some of the questions left on the table after the big bash. I’ll probably get to Rachel’s questions by about part 4, when I’ll deal with complementarity and mutuality in the context of covenant sex.

You’re welcome to pull up a chair and join in. The first post in my “Complementarity and Mutuality” series, which I’ve entitled, “Mutuality is the Cha Cha of Complementarity,” will be up on Wednesday.

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Comments (11)

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  1. Susan says:

    I read the response to the article…..the picture I got in my mind was two women fighting in a mud bath. Worldly and ugly. I will be unsubscribing to whatever it was I had unknowingly subscribed to. Thought it was about encouraged women to be all they are in Christ. Not intellectuals spitting out their dummies and showing us how clever they are with words. Who ever won the argument didnt win the battle, UGLY plain UGLY.

  2. Enoch Thomas says:

    I am looking forward to this. I was just introduced to this blog a few weeks ago, but what I have read since has been refreshingly Biblical and thoughtful. There is no doubt in my mind that this will help people on both sides of the debate.

  3. Juanita says:

    I’m glad you are addressing this and glad that Rachel felt comfortable in emailing you and asking. I’ve read her blog off and on, read a fair bit of Doug Wilson and just read a little bit of the controversy at the end (I was also on vacation and missed the party). I think the questions are good ones and look forward to what you have to say.

  4. Wow, Mary, so thankful you’re doing this. I totally missed the party but won’t miss your series. Grateful you’re wading in! Looking forward to your next post!

  5. Eyvonne says:

    I look forward to this. I’ve thought for some time that women who hold to the complementarian position should help clarify some of the questions. In the current climate it’s difficult for a man to make the argument without being perceived a power hungry misogynist.

    I am weary of the language. The words we use are loaded with different meanings depending on your perspective. It’s difficult to even discuss the topic because we don’t have a common vocabulary with shared meanings.

    I look forward to this series.

  6. Cool- I am definitely looking forward to this! I haven’t seen the complementarian position articulated very well before.

  7. Wendi says:

    I am thrilled that you are getting in on this recent controversy/misunderstanding!! I read through several of the blogs mentioned above, and was disgusted with several of the things that were said on both sides. I didn’t find Wilson’s daughter’s rebuttal compelling; I thought it was snarky, overly defensive, and lacking in grace and wisdom. I don’t think we “win” this argument by slinging mud at the other side. What seems to be happening in all of these gender conversations is that some complementarians want to reduce their position to a list of dos and don’ts and it just becomes legalism; and then that’s all the egalitarians really see and perceive complentarianism to be. Thank you SO much for this new series! I look forward to it!

  8. Kay says:

    Mary, so glad you’re coming to the party and taking the mic. I trust you will speak with wisdom and grace, something that has obviously been missing up to now. I appreciate the fact, too, that you are wisely backing up and painting the bigger picture before attempting to answer the questions on the table. That is exactly the approach that is sorely missed in many such controversial conversations. But few such pointed questions can be answered in a vacuum; they require a step back and a glance upward. I’m looking forward to your future posts.

  9. BryAna says:

    I almost created my own blog just to address this!! I’m so glad that you will be going through it. So many times, we, ladies, have a “knee-jerk” reaction to words and to men. We can be so extreme on both sides of the spectrum that we fail to see the middle ground that I believe the Wilsons were suggesting.

  10. Annie says:

    I hope you will also address the concerns of a woman who was expected to be obedient all day long, and always submit to the male decision, and then express desire in bed. That was an impossible challenge!

  11. Tony C. says:

    I very much look forward to reading something on this topic by an articulate woman who identifies as complementarian.

    I am a bit of an outsider to all this. I think I hope to understand why on earth Christians who ought to be standing with the downtrodden feel the need to oppose egalitarianism at all. Especially when they are as adamant and absolutist as the Wilsons.

    While it may be that complementarianism is only about abuse when it is misunderstood and misrepresented that potential is there. Egalitarianism is a lot harder to misuse in that way surely.