Monday, November 15, 2010

Preaching Submission While Not Quite Living It

The New York Times Magazine has an interesting feature article Housewives of God about Priscilla Shirer, daughter of mega-church pastor Tony Evans. Shirer is a former Zig Ziglar motivational speaker who graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary and is now motivating evangelical women to find and live out their Christian calling, which includes submission to their husbands and male pastors. As the article points out Shirer's lived life with her husband Jerry doesn't look much like a traditional marriage. It appears in many respects that her career and her decisions are the driving force in their marriage. When asked to account for the perception that her life isn't consistent with the message she delivers she gave this example of how she submits to her husband:
Despite this routine, Priscilla insists that she submits to Jerry — especially in the family’s bigger decisions. “If I will follow him as he’s following the Lord, then the responsibility for navigating our family well falls on him, not me,” she said. “Gratefully, I’m married to a husband that values my opinion and values my ideas. . . . We have lots of discussions, there are times of discontent.” She recalled their fierce debate over what to name their youngest son, Jude. When they couldn’t agree, Jerry asked the advice of male mentors he calls his “accountability guys,” “strong Christian guys who I’ve put in my life.” (Promise Keepers and other “biblical manhood” ministries encourage men to form and submit to “accountability groups” to keep one another on a godly path.) When the men ruled in Jerry’s favor, Priscilla relented. “It was a tough pill for me to swallow for a minute,” she said. “But when he told me why, and told me he’d talked to several different people about it that we both trust, then I was able to just relinquish and not be upset. . . . What made all the difference in the world is he cared about what I was feeling.”
The article gives this bit of history about the role of women in evangelicalism:
In centuries past, evangelical women were not meek about their role in church. Early Baptists allowed women to preach during the Great Awakening, and women were among the most influential revivalists during the rise of Pentecostalism at the turn of the 20th century (though gender roles usually remained in force in the home). But many women lost their voice as these sects solidified into male-run denominations. Outside the pulpit, women took the lead in the great Victorian moral crusades and volunteered in droves for foreign missions. During the battles between fundamentalists and liberal-minded modernists in the early 20th century, however, conservative mission boards cracked down on the freedom of female missionaries. Denominations took control of service societies that women had run for decades. Evangelical women could teach children’s Sunday school — as unpaid volunteers — but not adult co-educational classes. They might run bake sales, but men usually decided how the church spent the money they earned.

In the 1970s, liberal organizations like the Evangelical Women’s Caucus embraced much of women’s and gay liberation, but most evangelicals joined a rear-guard action in defense of traditional sexual mores. They argued that “women’s liberation” was a myth: on the contrary, secular feminism enslaves. Women learn to worship the false idols of careerism and independence, brainwashed by propaganda techniques that the Christian author Mary Kassian, in her book “The Feminist Mistake,” compares with those used by Chairman Mao. Submission alone brings true freedom and empowerment. A “submitted woman” can quit struggling to do things God never intended her to do and focus on her feminine gifts. Her gifts might mean a career, as long as she has her husband’s blessing: evangelicals often cite the “Wife of Noble Character” mentioned in Proverbs 31, who “considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.”

In reality, conservative evangelicals turn a blind eye to “submitted wives” who split household duties with their husbands and hire baby sitters, as long as they recite the slogans of biblical womanhood...
Reading this article I find myself in agreement with KJ Dell'Antonia at Slate:
Shirer's lip service to the idea of male dominance enables marriages that are far less egalitarian than hers. Her message, as Jocelyn Anderson, author and Christian domestic violence victim would say, is "submission, submission, submission." But submission as an option—as Worthen puts it "embrac[ing] the submitted life"—is not truly submission. Deference, perhaps. But calling voluntary deference "submission" is like calling consensual sex "rape" just because there are handcuffs involved. It muddies the waters for everyone, and makes it more difficult for women who face demands for real submission to see things as they really are.

If Shirer's compromise works for her, that's fine. But she should be honest within her ministry and tell the women who flock to her appearances that a "complementarian" marriage works only if it's based on egalitarian beliefs. She's clearly chosen her role. She should use it to ensure that other women know that they also have a choice.

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