Getting to the Root

With the recent discussions about the Genevan Commons Facebook group, there is something important that I think needs to be addressed. The reason Aimee Byrd and I (and many others) are under attack is that we are seen as a threat to certain beliefs that some hold dear. Despite claims to the contrary, we are Biblical, Reformed, orthodox, and confessional in our beliefs and in what we write and say.

As I’ve written elsewhere, I am not a feminist or an egalitarian by any actual definitions of the terms. The same goes for Aimee Byrd. We both affirm the following beliefs regarding men, women, and gender:

  • God made humans, male and female, in His own image (see Gen. 1:26–27)
  • in Christ, men and women are equal before God (see Gal. 3:28)
  • women and men are interdependent and should serve each other (see 1 Cor. 11:11–12)
  • marriage was designed to be between one man and one woman—ideally for life (see Gen. 2:24)
  • husbands are called to sacrificial, servant leadership of their wives and to love them as Christ loves the church (see Eph. 5:25–33)
  • wives are called to yield voluntarily to their husbands—to submit to them as the church submits to Christ (see Eph. 5:22–24)
  • only qualified men should be ordained leaders in the church (see 1 Tim. 3:1–13)
Rachel Green Miller, Beyond Authority and Submission, 15-16.

As Byrd wrote in Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood:

God made man and woman: he instituted marriage to be a unity between one man and one woman; sex is a fruit of this unifying bond; and life is a gift from God. Men and women are not androgynous. Gender is not fluid … Men and women are very much alike. And yet they are also distinct.

Aimee Byrd, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 19.

Our beliefs are consistent with the Scriptures and with the confessional standards of our Reformed denomination. So what’s the problem? While the attacks are frequently framed in terms of our being unbiblical, anti-confessional, and part of a “reformed downgrade,” the underlying concern is the threat we pose to patriarchy.

These men see themselves engaged in a war for “patriarchy” and against “feminism.” Michael Spangler, in a series of posts that ran on the Daily Genevan blog, explained his concerns:

The enemy is feminism. By feminism I mean the ideology that disputes the following facts:

1. God made men stronger, and appointed them to public work, and to rule in family, church, and state. (1 Sam. 4:9; 1 Cor. 16:13; Gen. 3:19; Prov. 31:23; 1 Tim. 3:1; 1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:23; 1 Tim. 3:4; 1 Tim. 2:8, 12; 3:2; Titus 1:6; Ex. 18:21; Prov. 31:23; Num. 1:2–3)

2. God made women weaker, and appointed them to domestic work, and to submit to the rule of men. (1 Peter 3:7; 1 Tim. 2:14; Prov. 31:27; 1 Tim. 2:15; 5:14; Titus 2:5; 1 Cor. 11:7–9; Eph. 5:22; 1 Cor. 14:35; Ps. 68:12; Isa. 3:12)

A good one-word summary of these facts of nature, and of Scripture, is patriarchy, “father-rule.” Feminism is its opposite. The desire that unites all feminists is, as they say, to “smash the patriarchy.”

Michael Spangler, https://web.archive.org/web/20200516192941/http://www.thedailygenevan.com/blog/2020/5/12/Feminism_In_The_Reformed_Churches_1_The_Leaders

Before we go on, it’s important to clarify how these terms are being used. When I say that these men are defending “patriarchy,” I don’t mean “patriarchy” as a nebulous boogieman comprised of any type of male leadership or masculinity. I’m using the term as they define it. For example, Blake Blount (The Daily Genevan) defines patriarchy as “a universally recognized (except by modern Westerners) feature of the world, and the resulting attempt to live with the grain of nature.” Spangler writes, “Patriarchy is not merely a matter of ‘thus saith nature,’ but all the more, ‘thus saith the Lord.’”

“Feminism,” as they define it, is anything that disputes that ideology. Any disagreement with their belief in the natural rule of men over women in all spheres of life or in “the natural inferiority of the female sex” is evidence of “feminism.” According to them, “feminism infiltrated our culture at large and is destroying our churches,” “feminism is a form of unbelief,” and “feminism ruins everything.”

It’s not enough that Aimee and I (and others similarly condemned as “feminists”) believe that men and women are distinct and complementary, that husbands are leaders of their families, that wives should submit to their husbands, that marriage should be between one man and one woman, that sex should be within the bonds of marriage, that abortion is wrong, that motherhood is a blessing, and that only qualified men should be ordained in our churches. Until we agree with their beliefs about the nature of men and women, we will be marked as enemies:

This is how feminism creeps in: by first questioning the scriptural command for women to be keepers of the home while slowly eroding created and natural distinctions between men and women. Feminists might give lip service to the notion that pastors are to be men but once they are done removing all the distinctions by teaching and preaching to many men, that notion will be a quaint relic easily discarded. …

Women like Aimee Byrd, Rachel Greene Miller {sic}, Beth Moore, and Valerie Hobbs have begun the process of asking “has God really said?” At first, they have tried to get beyond submission and authority. And then next, they play the victim card as recoverees from biblical masculinity and femininity.

Joseph Spurgeon, https://web.archive.org/web/20200524043557/https://crosspolitic.com/jim-im-a-pastor-not-a-doctor-feminism-aimee-byrd-and-mark-jones/

And what do they believe about the nature or ontology of men and women? Here are a few examples.

Shane Anderson:

Michael Spangler:

since the Greeks and Romans were at their best merely seasoned nature guides, pointing out truths that should be obvious to all who live on earth. Such truths as, that women’s bodies and souls show that they were made for bearing and nursing children, and for the quiet refuge of the home. That men’s bodies and souls testify to their place as public aggressors, powerfully pursuing a vocation, not the softer life of domesticity. That families ordered according to these realities are consistently happier. …

Why, we ask Paul, may women not preach (1 Tim. 2:12)? Because, as Satan knew, they are by nature more easily deceived (v. 14; cf. 1 Peter 3:7; 2 Tim. 3:6). The weaker vessel is not made for the rigors of the gospel ministry. They shouldn’t preach, because they can’t.

Michael Spangler https://web.archive.org/web/20200615131239/http://www.thedailygenevan.com/blog/2020/5/16/Feminism_In_The_Reformed_Churches_3_The_Book_Tactics

Steven Wedgeworth:

Of course, very few people in Western cultures today are willing to state that male leadership is a natural law and that it should be taken as a general truth for all of human social life …

Women are not permitted to lead in the church because they are not permitted to hold positions of leadership in general. This is not only a matter of individual gifts but also of a kind of sexual hierarchy. The teaching office is an office of “superiority.” Ecclesiastical ordination is a subset of the larger question of political authority. Hierarchy is front and center. …

God’s command is exegeted not only from the text of Scripture but also the book of nature. It exists within the very fabric of creation. Male-only ordination is not only right. It is fitting.

Steven Wedgeworth, https://web.archive.org/web/20200609101308/https://calvinistinternational.com/2019/01/16/male-only-ordination-is-natural-why-the-church-is-a-model-of-reality/

Similar concerns about ontology or natural theology/law appear in many critical reviews of our books:

It is evident that Mrs. Miller defines men and women as substantially equivalent and that the “co-laboring” she sees in Scripture is a partnership of ontological equals. The only differentiation she allows is found in the stubborn realities of biology in the home and ordination in the church. Biology plainly teaches that women are built to bear children, and one cannot contradict biology. Paul plainly teaches male only ordination, and one cannot contradict the apostle.

But wisdom is found in knowing the causes of things. Why did Paul teach what he did? This is never addressed in Mrs. Miller’s book. The reason for this lacuna is a failure to wrestle with relevant ontology. There is some ontological discussion in chapters 1 and 7, but none of it is relevant to the question of men and women, masculinity and femininity. This is where Mrs. Miller’s book fails. This is also where most of today’s voices who speak to this question are failing as well.

Bennie Castle, https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R3R6N9N21E499D/ref=cm_cr_getr_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=1629956112

There’s also a non-existent Reformed ontology of males and females, which is the biggest weakness in the book.

Mark Jones, https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/RWRG5U7O417UJ/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B07XFRQGJK

Does natural law or natural theology have anything to teach us about the inherent ontological differences between men and women as those differences relate to authority and submission? If so, how might that affect our understanding of male and female roles in the church and society (apart from the limited question of ordination)?

Jonathan Master, https://web.archive.org/web/20200623040228/https://www.reformation21.org/blog/questions-for-aimee

These beliefs about the nature of men and women play out in practical ways, as evidenced in the comments from the Genevan Commons group. I wrote Beyond Authority and Submission because of my concerns about what is being taught about the nature of men and women and because of how women are being treated:

The world is watching how the church treats women, how it responds
to abuse, and how it protects the vulnerable—or fails them. When women are belittled, when men in authority dismiss abuse charges and circle the wagons, when churches and institutions fail to protect the weak and vulnerable, the world sees this and judges. And it’s not only the individuals and particular churches that are judged. The gospel, Christianity, the universal church, and Christ Himself are judged by our response to abuse. As Paul warned, the gospel is in danger of being reviled because of our actions.

Rachel Green Miller, Beyond Authority and Submission, 241.

Because I want to be faithful to Scripture, and I want to uphold our Reformed confessions, I will continue to work to address areas such as these where extrabiblical and unbiblical ideas and beliefs are influencing what’s taught in our churches. What’s going on at the root of these discussions is too important to ignore.

8 thoughts on “Getting to the Root

  1. Rich says:

    According to the critics, it seems natural law trumps the authority of Scripture. That idea seems to be contrary to the teaching of the Westminster Confession regarding Holy Scripture. What kind of ontological difference is there between men and women? Are men and women made from different materials? Is their being different?Such an argument does not hold up in view of the teaching of Genesis 1 and 2 that man and woman are made in the image and likeness of God. According to Paul, the only thing that invalidates women to preach in the church is Eve’s role in leading Adam to disobey God.That is not ontology.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Kathryn Annis says:

    Rachel – thank you society much for continuing your work to refute unbiblical teaching. You and Aimee are a breath of fresh air in complimentary thinking.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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  3. theworldofme says:

    Equality is not a threat. The world has so conditioned us to regard equality in threatening terms that we have forgotten the God who created men and women equal in the beginning, equal in HIM.

    Like

  4. annaandbrent says:

    Actually, Rich, my thoughts at the moment is that the 1 Timothy 2 passage is all about our ontology, getting to the very heart of “male and female, he created them.” At the core of our being, our maleness and femaleness tell the story of redemption—more specifically, the last Adam (male) and all He has prepared for those that love him, the bridal city (female). In this passage specifically, all these rich biblical-theological themes converge in the context of confronting certain women at Ephesus usurping the role of the qualified male elders of 1 Timothy 3.
    (1) Though Eve was divinely formed and appointed to help Adam pass through temptation, she facilitated the fall of her own (and our) head (becoming the “first transgressor). As the glory creature and bride, she was to join her voice with God himself in calling Adam heavenward (“The Spirit and the bride say ‘Come’ ” [Revelation 22:17]), but instead she joined her voice to Satan.
    (2) Though the first Adam as priest-husband was to represent us and spearhead our ascent unto the Sabbath rest, he followed Eve into sin and failed to achieve the end for which he was made.
    The beauty of this passage is that it re-grounds our ontology and our work in the story of Second Adam. 1 Timothy 2 speaks of Eve, the bride of Adam and mother of the All-living. As both bride and mother, she represents the goal of redeemed humanity. I Timothy 3 speaks of a new priesthood (qualified male elders) who guard and guide a holy and heavenly people onward and upward to that goal.
    Finally, this passage reminds us that Eve, the mother of the All-living (the church, His bride) will be saved by her own Seed, through whom we all receive our inheritance. A woman’s “calmness” (sometimes translated “quietness”) comes not from her ontological inferiority or defectiveness, but from her high calling, exercising faith in the surer work of the Second Adam. She can rest in His headship, even as she follows her husband and the undershepherds of his church onward, joining her voice to the Spirit in calling for the consummation of our redemption, the city-bride.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Kyle Bennett says:

    Amen Rachel, thank you for your work. This is vitally important. After reading Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, Michael McVicar’s, and Julie Ingersoll’s books on Christian Reconstruction – I have no doubt that much of this hostility (especially Wedgeworth’s) comes from an explicit lust for a new Patriarchal Confederate Christendom. It’s utterly bankrupt theologically, but they do not care. They want the world, and are happy to trade the Church for it.

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