Egalitarian Strawpeople

It seems that activist-egalitarians cannot argue their positions without distorting those of their opponents. For instance, I wrote yesterday about the Pomona College letter, which asserted without evidence that Heather Mac Donald is a fascist and a white supremacist. Similar accusations crop up whenever egalitarian activists attempt to no-platform speakers with opinions that they don’t like. The gravity of these accusations fans the flames of egalitarian furor, sometimes resulting in violence (e.g. Berkeley, Middlebury, Claremont).

The New York Times published an op-ed today containing some similar strawmen against complementarianism, the belief that men and women, while equal in dignity and value, have distinct God-ordained roles to fulfill. The piece refers to Princeton Theological Seminary’s refusal to award the Abraham Kuyper Award to Tim Keller, a prominent complementarian and founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. One of Keller’s critics refers to his theology as “toxic,” saying that “[c]omplementarianism means married women have no choice over their lives at all,” and that it is a form of “baptized abuse.”

As Julia Baird, the author of the NYT op-ed, points out, this is not Keller’s viewpoint:

To be sure, this harsh model of headship is not the one that Dr. Keller teaches. There is no suggestion that he would condone abuse. Rather, he calls headship a “tiebreaking authority.” This does not mean “that the man simply can make all the decisions,” he said, “nor does it mean that he gets his way whenever there is a difference of opinion.” Indeed, he argues, “A head sacrifices his wants and needs to please and build up his partner.”

Baird, however, suggests that Keller is more moderate than typical adherents to complementarianism:

Unfortunately, the nuance in this account of self-sacrificing male authority does not always translate into routine complementarian teaching, in which men are told they’re heads and women are told to submit.

Of course, the nuance doesn’t always make it through, but the nuance is part of the official teaching of all major denominations that affirm complementarianism. The problem is not with the doctrine itself, but with bad teaching. No one in the conservative theological mainstream thinks that male headship justifies domestic abuse. Implying otherwise is intellectually dishonest. As Eph. 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” That’s a tall order.

It’s fine to argue that complementarianism is wrong. But if you’re going to do so, you should argue against the real thing, not against a distorted version that ignores the duty of the husband to love his wife. Don’t pretend that obvious statements to which everyone agrees, such as “domestic abuse is bad,” support your point of view. If that were the case, everyone would hold your point of view.


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