Share Your Story

One of the reasons I wrote Beyond Authority and Submission was because of my concerns over what’s being taught about women and men in some facets of conservative Christianity. It’s not an esoteric, academic discussion. There are real world consequences. What we believe about the nature of women and men and how we should interact has wide-reaching effects on us as individuals and in our various relationships.

I’m working on a new project, and I need your help. My plan is to write more about the practical outworkings of prevalent beliefs about women and men. I’d like to use personal stories to illustrate the effects these teachings have had on real women, men, families, and churches. That’s where you come in.

I’d like to hear your stories, and I want to give you the opportunity to be heard. I’m curious what effect these teachings about women and men have had on you as an individual, on your marriage, on your family, on your church, or on your relationships. Whatever you’d like to share.

At the bottom of this post is a contact form. Messages sent through the form are emailed directly to me and do not post to the website. I want to protect your privacy. My plan is to change names and identifying information in the stories I use.

If you’d like more information, feel free to use the contact form to ask me any questions you may have.

Eternal Subordination of the Son and Focus on the Family

For over four years now, I’ve been writing about a popular doctrine of the Trinity called the eternal subordination of the Son (ESS).  I’ve written several posts highlighting the various ways ESS is taught in the conservative Christian world. Today I ran across another example of ESS from a well-known conservative Christian resource.

Focus on the Family published an article, “Submission of Wives to Husbands,” answering a woman’s question about wives submitting to their husbands. Early in their answer, Focus on the Family compares the relationship between husbands and wives with the relationship between God the Father and God the Son:

As in marriage, so in the Godhead we find diversity within unity. But while all three Members of the Trinity are fully equal and mutually identified in the sense that all three are God, we can also detect a certain hierarchy or subordination of function in their relationships with one another. For example, though Jesus made several statements clearly making Himself equal with God (see John 5:18), He also said, “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). As the Creeds express it, “The Son is begotten by the Father and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The seeds of Paul’s doctrine of marital submission can be discerned in this statement. (emphasis added)

What’s interesting is the appeal to the “Creeds” to explain this hierarchy or subordination within the Trinity. First off, I’m not certain where the quotation they use comes from. The sentence,”the Son is begotten by the Father and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son,” does not appear in any of the creeds as quoted. But beyond that,  the creeds which do discuss the Son being begotten by the Father and the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son do so for the express purpose of rejecting any hierarchy or subordination within the Trinity.

The Nicene creed was formulated, in part, as a response to the Arian heresy which taught that the Son was created and subordinate to the Father. The full statement was carefully written to emphasize the equality of God the Father and God the Son. The wording “begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father” doesn’t suggest any hierarchy or subordination.

The section on the Holy Spirit, “I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified,” was also written to emphasize the unity and equality within the Trinity.

The Athanasian creed goes further in explaining the relationship within the Trinity:

The Father is made of none: neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before or after other; none is greater or less than another; But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together, and co-equal: so that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped. He, therefore, that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity. (emphasis added)

Again, the creed emphasizes the unity and equality within the Trinity, and it specifically denies any hierarchy or subordination within the Trinity. The article by Focus on the Family also uses Jesus’s statement that “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28) as an example of the supposed subordination. However, the Athanasian creed addresses such statements and explains that Jesus, the God-man, is “equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood.” All subordination and hierarchy within the Trinity is rejected by the orthodox creed and confessions.

We need to stop doing damage to the doctrine of the Trinity in our attempts to explain how submission works in marriage. ESS, while tempting, is not a viable answer to the question of marital submission. There is nothing to be gained by appealing to an eternal relationship of authority and submission within the Trinity, and plenty to lose. Hopefully, more conservative Christians will recognize the danger and stop promoting ESS.

Nancy Wilson: “my ministry is visibly connected to my husband’s and is not seen as a separate work”

After Dr. Valerie Hobbs and I wrote our article looking at Doug Wilson’s wedding exhortations, we were told that we were wrong in our conclusions about Wilson’s view of women. Several people, Wilson included, wrote that Wilson obviously thinks very highly of women and their abilities. Wilson’s wife, Nancy, and daughters/daughters-in-law and their books and articles were given as examples of how wrong we were in our analysis. Of course, our research was about Doug Wilson’s words not his family.

However, continuing in the research I’ve been doing, I read one of Nancy Wilson’s books, The Fruit of Her Hands. Her book is full of advice for Christian wives. In reading it, I realized that it would be worthwhile to compare Nancy’s advice to that of her husband. Would her words support the conclusions of our article? Or would they contradict them?

In what follows, I will quote short statements in bold from our article. After each statement, I will give quotes from Nancy Wilson’s book that I believe support each of our conclusions.

“At the heart of Wilson’s theology of the wife is the notion of being something belonging to her husband”

Two of the main themes that Valerie and I found in reading Doug Wilson’s exhortations were that women were encouraged to “be” not to “do” and to “respond/receive” not “initiate.”

Taking that first point, in Nancy Wilson’s book she writes that a wife is a garden that belongs to her husband and that a husband is a garden tender:

As a Christian woman begins to see herself as a garden, she can take a more eager interest in making it a lovely garden that her husband delights to spend time in. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 951-952). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

And,

of course a husband is never trespassing in his own garden, though he can be made to feel as though he is an intruder. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 957-958). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

And,

In fact, in many ways, the husband is the garden tender, and the wife becomes a source of great joy and delight to the husband as he spends time in the garden he faithfully tends. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 947-948). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

“Second, we learn that a wife’s role is one of passive response”

Like Doug, Nancy Wilson writes that women were created to be responsive:

Contemporary Christian women, created by God to be responsive, are vulnerable to temptations to be deceived. We must learn to think like Christians and resist the temptation to believe everything we read or hear. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 656-657). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

But how does “passive response” play out in a marriage? Nancy gives a lengthy example for what a wife should do if a husband doesn’t provide for his family. According to the example, a wife should trust in God to provide, trust her husband to lead, and not work to provide the necessary funds:

What if your husband fails to provide for you? What if you are hopelessly in debt, and he is not bringing home an adequate paycheck? … First, do not seek to protect him from the consequences of his folly. … Of course you must be a support and help and source of encouragement. But that is a completely different thing than trying to shoulder responsibilities that are not yours. When a wife tries to bear the responsibilities that her husband should be bearing, she suffers. … When the bill collector calls, hand your husband the phone. But do so respectfully, praying that God will use it to bring about a change. When there are overdue bills, look to him for his direction—whether or not he provides it. … Quit scrambling, trying to come up with funds to meet deadlines. It is his responsibility. … Are you trying to find an extra job so that you can keep the house, boat, car? Often women rush into jobs to “help out,” thinking it will only be short term. The kids are farmed out because “it’s just until we pay off the car.” But then, after the car is paid for, there is something else. And pretty soon, you are working outside the home full-time, the kids are on their own, and you are still in debt. Then it is too hard to quit—who will pay the bills? You need to get out, go home, and take care of your kids. “But,” you say, “my husband wants me to work.” I have heard this before, when, in fact, the husband wanted very much for the wife to come home, and she was the one resisting the move. … So do not think your happiness lies in how your husband is doing, or in how many possessions you have. Your happiness and joy lie in Christ alone. If you are trusting in Him, He will see you safely through. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 502-523). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

“Third, we see that, for Wilson, a wife’s function is to take whatever is given to her (for example, money) and transform it into something useful in her appointed station, the home”

In one of Doug’s exhortations, he tells the bride to take what her husband gives her and return it to him glorified. In Nancy’s book, she advises a wife to be creative in the kitchen when transforming a meager income into dinner:

Your finances are tight. You confess your anxiety to your husband and to the Lord. You resolve to trust God and pray for your husband, and you pray for patience. Meanwhile, you show a brave spirit and a joyful countenance to your family, and a creative flair in the kitchen. “I’ve found a new way to cook beans!” You hunker down and think of creative ways to respect your husband.- Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 432-434). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

“women’s role in sex is surrender”

One of Doug’s better known quotes about sex speaks of the roles of husbands and wives in terms of colonization/conquering and receiving/surrendering, respectively. Nancy affirms this teaching of sex as surrender for wives. A wife doesn’t need to “feel like it” or consult her feelings:

If a wife is not feeling “in the mood,” she simply has to apply the golden rule. Does your husband always “feel” in the mood for a heart-to-heart chat? Perhaps not. Do you want him to tell you when he is not in the mood but just talking because he loves you and knows you need it? Of course not. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 1015-1017). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

And,

Nevertheless, your husband’s desire has probably not suffered a dip [due to pregnancy or breastfeeding hormones]. This is an obstacle, but again, it is not insurmountable. Sometimes you will have to work harder to “feel like it.” It is not always necessary to consult your feelings anyway. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 1012-1014). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

“Wilson further highlights women’s passive role in his portrayal of wives as knowing little about sex and even about their own bodies, requiring instruction from their husbands.

Nancy agrees that wives should learn from their husbands regarding what might please them:

Now I am not telling you how to do this [enrapture your husband]. I am simply telling you that you must. It is your duty before God to help your husband in his obedience of this command. You are given to him by God to satisfy him, to delight him intensely, and to rejoice with him. There is an important reason why I am not telling you how. That’s because you need to ask your husband. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 992-995). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

“Wilson’s image of husband is that of ‘resident theologian'”

Doug also expects husbands to the be ones to teach their wives about theology. Nancy concurs:

We must cultivate a taste for books that will build us up in the faith—not take us to fantasy land. You might want to start with biographies of saints greatly used by God in the past. Be selective. Look to your husband for suggestions. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 171-175). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

And,

If you miss church, request a tape. Take sermon notes, jot down questions, and afterwards ask your husband questions. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 176-177). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

And,

Because women are prone to deception, we must have our guard up. Everything we hear must be weighed in light of Scripture. So what does a wise woman do who needs spiritual help? … Go to your husband first. He is your head and he is responsible before God to shepherd and pastor his home, starting with you. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 206-210). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

“Wilson’s husbands are created for and called to work, and wives are created for and called to support their husbands in that work. Put simply, his calling becomes her calling”

Here again, Nancy’s advice is consistent with what Doug has written about husbands and wives and their respective callings. A wife is “God’s appointed helper” for the “special work” God created her husband to do:

He is one of a kind, and God has prepared special work for him to do. You have the privilege of being God’s appointed helper for him. … Your husband will appreciate your obedience and be set free to live up to all God has called him to be. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 97-100). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

“A wife does not have her own calling separate from serving her husband’s.”

Since Nancy’s ministry in writing books to women was given as the example for what Doug really believes about women and their abilities, it’s interesting to read Nancy’s thoughts on how to evaluate women in ministry. She asks if there are any limits to the ministry women can have to other women. First she explains how to judge if a woman’s ministry is valid:

The first question to ask and answer is, “Who is this woman’s husband?” Next we must ask many subsidiary questions. Is she fulfilling her ministry to him? Is he her priority? Is she helping him? Is her house in order? Is he leading her in this ministry? Is her identity as a Christian woman centered, under Christ, around her relationship to her husband? … But if the answer to any of the earlier questions is “no,” then her ministry is likely independent of her husband, much like a separate career. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 111-115). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

She goes on to say that a woman’s ministry should be connected to her husband’s headship over her:

In contrast, because Scripture teaches that the husband is the head of the wife, a Christian woman in ministry should be seen as under her husband’s visible headship. In other words, her ministry should be visibly connected to him. This can be a real help to him, for her teaching can be a complement to his work. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 116-118). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

Nancy explains how these ideas work in her own ministry. Her work is not a separate work, but “visibly connected” to Doug’s work:

When people listen to or read her teaching, it is organically connected to the head God has placed over her. This is obviously difficult if her husband is always across the country, or if his name is merely listed in the book with the other “credits” in the fine print. This is why I rarely travel to speak at women’s conferences, but rather teach where my husband is speaking. Not only does this keep us together, working as a team, but he is then available to continue to lead me and protect me in ministry settings. My teaching role is a support and complement to his, not the other way around. This way my ministry is visibly connected to my husband’s and is not seen as a separate work. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 120-125). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

“For Wilson, a happy wife is one who accepts the confines of the housework and childbearing she was made for”

Here too Nancy’s writing is consistent with our conclusions. Modern women, according to Nancy, have been deceived into abandoning their responsibilities of home and children:

The modern woman has been deceived, like Eve, and led away by her own lusts from her God-given domain and he God-ordained responsibilities. Loaded down with sin—discontent and envy—she is promised freedom and happiness if she will just forsake her domain—the home—and neglect her responsibilities—husband and children. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 33-35). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

Women don’t need to leave home to do good works for the Lord. The home is the “center of her activities”:

Notice the order of these good deeds. Our children are first. Next is hospitality. Then comes relieving the afflicted. The wife does not have to go outside her domain to “do good.” The home is the center of her activities, and these activities can be and should be pleasing to God. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 384-386). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

Nancy also writes about realizing that God wanted her to do the dishes and be happy about it:

Immediately I realized what [God] wanted me to do. He wanted me to do the dishes. But I still wondered if there was something else He wanted me to do. And I realized that, yes, there was something else. He wanted me to do them cheerfully. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 786-787). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

“She exists to serve and glorify him.”

We concluded from Doug’s wedding exhortations that, for Doug, wives exist to serve and glorify their husbands. In Nancy’s book, she tells wives that their jog is to be willing servants:

Your job is to be a humble and willing servant, recognizing that God is at work, and He will bring to pass His will, using His appointed means. This should encourage you to pray for your husband, rather than nag him. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, thank God that you have a husband. Thank Him that He is at work to do as He pleases. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 489-491). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

Nancy goes on to explain how a wife can honor, glorify, and serve her husband. The wife should cater to her husbands preferences and defer to him in practical ways:

This can mean following through when your husband requests something, instead of putting it at the end of the to-do list. It can include everything from when dinner is scheduled, to what kind of greeting your husband gets, to making him a cup of coffee. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 451-453). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

And,

Respect is a demeanor that should characterize wives in all their conduct toward their husbands and in all their communication to or about their husbands—this means courtesy in the home, where the husband is treated with honor. Remnants of this honor from a previous era are our traditions of Dad seated at the head of the table, Dad carving the turkey, [the American custom of] Dad having his own big chair, Dad leading the family in thanks at meals, and Dad doing the driving on the family trips. These are things that we assume culturally, but they come from the time when everyone knew and understood that Dad was the head of the house. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 445-450). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

“For Wilson, the wife has no self and, it seems, no voice.”

When Valerie and I wrote our article, we were told that it was ridiculous that we would say that women have no voice in Wilson’s teaching. After all, his wife and daughters write and give seminars. And it’s certainly true that women can have a voice, as long as what they say is consistent with Doug teaches. However, what if a wife disagrees with her husband? What would Nancy say she should do? Pray for strength and silence:

When you are tempted to criticize your husband (and you will be), when you want very much to “let him have it,” pray for love—“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins” (Prov. 10:12). Turn to the Lord for comfort, strength, silence! – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 495-497). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

But what about if a husband is in unrepentant sin? Then what should a wife do? According to Nancy, she might need to go to the elders, but she should be committed to winning her husband “without a word”:

If you have a husband like the ones described above, you must not make the mistake of trying to undertake to deal with his sins; you must deal with your own. If, however, he is a Christian man who is engaged in viewing pornography, you may need to go to the elders in your church so he can be disciplined. But if he is simply not spending enough time with you (from your perspective), or is not meeting your needs in some other way, you must realize that God is the only One who can bring about change. The Scripture is clear that you may be a potent instrument in God’s hand, if you are committed to being the woman described in 1 Peter 3 who wins him without a word. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 1050-1054). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

And if a problem isn’t big enough to get the elders involved, then a wife shouldn’t talk about it with anyone. Apparently it can be hard to know whether or not to go to the elders. In this quote Nancy seems to advocate erring on the side of silence:

If it is not big enough to share with the elders of the church (or the police), so that they may step in to deal with your husband, then it is not big enough to share with anyone. And even if you are unnecessarily silent in a situation, you probably need the practice (Prov. 31: 11). – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 217-219). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

In the end, I believe that Nancy Wilson’s words confirm our conclusions from the original article. Yes, it’s true that Nancy and her daughters write, but what do they write, and how do they view their work? Nancy clearly views her writing as an extension of Doug, and her message is consistent with what Doug has written.

Nancy’s message is the same as Doug’s. Wives are to be passive responders and receivers. They are to take what their husbands give them and glorify it. They are to surrender sexually to their husbands. Wives are to learn from their husbands in all things. They are to accept their calling as helpers. They are to serve and defer to their husbands. They are not to have separate careers. They are to keep silent.

Wives should do the dishes and do them cheerfully.

A Question for Wilson Fans

[Update: Some have questioned whether or not it’s accurate to say that Wilson is self-ordained. I have added a quote from Wilson on how he became a pastor. Many thanks to the reader who shared the quote with me.]

There are many articles right now about Doug Wilson and his role in the court cases and subsequent marriages of two pedophiles who attended New Saint Andrews in Moscow, ID. This is not the first controversy that Wilson has faced, and many of his supporters are adamant that he has done nothing wrong. I know that there are many people who are members of CREC churches who have chosen to align themselves with Wilson and his denomination. This question is not particularly for them.

My question is for those in the Reformed, Presbyterian world who say they really like or appreciate what Wilson says/has written/teaches on various subjects. My question is: what exactly do you like about Wilson?

Is it his credentials?

Doug Wilson is self-ordained, has never been to seminary, founded his own denomination, publishing house, university, seminary, and classical school curriculum. He is the head of his denomination. He is under no authority but his own.

Wilson’s explanation of how he became a pastor:

Having written this book, I must now apologize, at least in part, for how the book came to be written by someone like, as the Victorians used to say, the present writer. At the time of writing, I have been a minister of the Word for twenty-three years. But how that came about contains more than a few ecclesiastical irregularities.

I came to the University of Idaho in the fall of 1975, fresh out of the Navy, and ready to study philosophy. My intention was to study various unbelieving philosophies and to then get involved in some kind of evangelistic literature ministry in a university town somewhere. Right around the same time, a church was being planted in our town by an Evangelical Free Church in a nearby community. The fellowship was successfully planted, but this new church never affiliated with the Free Church. This was not due to any doctrinal or personal differences; it was due mostly to the fact that it was the seventies. I was at the organizing meeting for this church and wound up as one of the guitar-playing songleaders. The best way to describe this would be to say that it was some kind of “Jesus people” operation.

After about a year and a half of meeting, the man who had been doing the preaching (ordained by a Baptist denomination) announced that he had gotten a job elsewhere and that he was moving. We were on our own the following Sunday. As I said, it was the seventies. The idea of going into pastoral ministry had not occurred to me, but when it did, I didn’t like it very much. Nevertheless, as things turned out, I was up in front with the guitar. That was my call to the ministry; I knew all the chords. I began to preach.

Our church had been planted by an established denomination, but we had no constitution, no doctrinal standards, no established leadership. I started what we called a “responsible brothers” meeting to fill the void of leadership — ad hoc elders. We knew from the Scriptures that we needed to be governed by elders, but we didn’t have any. We received some teaching on elder qualifications from the pastor of the Evangelical Free church that had established our church, and as a result different men among the responsible brothers removed themselves from consideration. In this situation, I presented myself to the congregation and asked them to bring forward any objections to my holding office of elder within the next few weeks. If no one did, then I would assume the office. As it turned out, no one did, and I have been working with this congregation of faithful and longsuffering saints ever since.

All this, as I said earlier, was highly irregular, and I would rather be dead in a ditch than to go back to that way of doing ecclesiastical business. . . . (Douglas Wilson, Mother Kirk [Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2001] 267–268)

On the formation of Christ Church:

In early 1993, Doug advised the elders of CEF of a shift in his understanding of the nature of the church, of the means of entry into the New Covenant, and of the proper subjects of baptism. Those views became what he now calls the “Federal Vision.” After many months of joint discussion and study, the elders of CEF concluded that Doug’s emerging hyper-federalism contradicted the CEF Statement of Faith and Constitution at key points, and that, according to those documents, Doug was no longer qualified to hold office at CEF. In early December 1993, Doug was informed in writing of the conclusion regarding his qualifications, and advised of the following choice; either return to fidelity to the CEF doctrinal and constitutional standards, or be removed from office in three months. The families of the congregation were also informed, of this course of action. The elders of CEF called a meeting for December 10, 1993, to discuss the contents of the letter, answer questions, and receive comments from the men of the congregation. Almost to a man, those in attendance at the meeting rejected the conclusions and leadership of the CEF elders, and affirmed their confidence in Doug Wilson and intent to follow him. At this point the CEF elders could have simply changed the locks on the door, removed Doug from office, and continued to meet as CEF, with an albeit smaller congregation. Instead, they chose to yield, with  Bob Callihan and Terry Morin resigning office and leaving the congregation, and Fred Kohl remaining in office in semi-retirement. New elders, supportive of Doug, were installed to take their place and the CEF Statement of Faith and Constitution were revised to eliminate the confessional and constitutional issues.

Is it his views on slavery?

In 1996, Doug Wilson published a pamphlet, Southern Slavery as It Was, with Steve Wilkins, a former board member of the League of the South, a Southern nationalist organization. The pamphlet generated a good deal of controversy. Here are some quotes from it. (HT: Libby Anne)

Slavery as it existed in the South was not an adversarial relationship with pervasive racial animosity. Because of its dominantly patriarchal character, it was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence. There has never been a multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world. The credit for this must go to the predominance of Christianity. The gospel enabled men who were distinct in nearly every way, to live and work together, to be friends and often intimates. This happened to such an extent that moderns indoctrinated on “civil rights” propaganda would be thunderstruck to know the half of it.

Slave life was to them a life of plenty, of simple pleasures, of food, clothes, and good medical care.

With the slave trade, the vast majority of the slaves had already been enslaved in Africa by other blacks. They were then taken down to the coast and sold to the traders. The traders transported them, usually under wicked conditions, to those places where a market did exist for their labor, but where the civil leaders had repeatedly and consistently tried to stop the slave traders. One of those places, Virginia, had attempted on no less than twenty-eight occasions to arrest the slave trade, but was stopped by higher (non-Southern) authorities. If the slaves were not sold in the South, they were taken on to Haiti and Brazil, where the condition and treatment of slaves was simply horrendous. The restoration of these slaves to their former condition was a physical impossibility. Now, under these conditions, was it a sin for a Christian to purchase such a slave, knowing that he would take him home and treat him the way the Bible requires? If he did not do so, nothing would be done to improve the slave’s condition, and much could happen that would make it worse. 

Is it his plagiarism?

The other controversy over Wilson and Wilkins pamphlet on slavery was over plagiarism:

As they prepared Southern Slavery As It Was for publication, Douglas Wilson and his co-author, Steven Wilkins, plagiarized extensively from Fogel and Engerman’s “Time On the Cross,” a book that was highly criticized by historians of the South.

Another source explains:

Professor Robert T. McKenzie, a civil war expert at the University of Washington and a member of a sister Christ Church in Seattle, urged Wilson to withdraw the book for another reason other than its ugly, unsupported thesis. McKenzie knew Time on the Cross very well and he was able to determine that about 20 percent of the slavery booklet had been lifted from the book.

Wilson first explained that it was sloppy editing on this part, but Wilkins finally came clean and admitted that it was his entire fault. …

The original slavery booklet was republished as it was (the footnotes were fixed) in The War Between the States: America’s Uncivil War(Bluebonnet Press, 2005), John J. Dwyer, general editor.

Is it his Federal Vision beliefs?

In 2007, Wilson co-authored and signed “A Joint Federal Vision Profession.” There have been numerous articles and books on the Federal Vision. Nearly every NAPARC denomination has a statement on it explaining why it’s contrary to the Bible and to the Westminster Standards. For this article I’ll focus on two crucial points, the denial of justification by faith alone and baptismal regeneration. Because Federal Visionists deny the distinction between the law and the gospel and because they teach that all who are baptized are united to Christ, they deny justification by faith alone and teach baptismal regeneration.

The denial of justification by faith alone:

This means that every proponent of the Joint Federal Vision Statement denies sola fide. They will, of course, claim the opposite. And they will also claim that denying the distinction of law and gospel in the text of Scripture does not mean that they deny sola fide in justification. This will have to be a difference between them and me. For if there is no difference between law and gospel in the text of Scripture, then faith is no longer what the Reformers said it was: which is opposed to works in justification.

Baptismal regeneration:

Baptism formally engrafts a person into the Church, which means that baptism is into the Regeneration, that time when the Son of Man sits upon His glorious throne (Matt. 19:28).

Many might wonder what in the world this means. Happily, they define this “regeneration” elsewhere:

In establishing the Church, God has fulfilled His promise to Abraham and established the Regeneration of all things. God has established this Regeneration through Christ — in Him we have the renewal of life in the fulness of life in the new age of the kingdom of God (p. 4).

This “regeneration” is the renewal of life in Christ. That’s what all the baptized receive at baptism.

Is it his teaching of paedocommunion?

Connected to the Federal Vision teachings is the belief in paedocommunion. Because baptism unites a person to Christ, and babies are baptized, then why deny young children, toddlers or even younger, their place at the communion table?

Wilson writes:

We cannot argue for paedocommunion, urging that little children be allowed to come to the Table that disciplines us all, and then protest if when this discipline starts to take effect. Just realize that it takes effect, in this instance, with the parents. Bringing your children to the Table involves far than bringing them to bread and wine. It means bringing the whole family, heart and soul, hugs and swats, mom and dad, the whole fam, to the Lord Jesus, and He receives us here. So come and welcome.

And:

My toddler grandchildren coming to the Table have true faith — but it is blade faith. We’re not anywhere near done.

Is it his views on patriarchy?

Wilson says patriarchy is “inescapable“:

Patriarchy simply means “father rule,” and so it follows that every biblical Christian holds to patriarchy. The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church (Eph. 5:23), and fathers have the central responsibility to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). Children are required to obey their parents (both of them), and since the wife is to follow the lead of her husband in all things (Eph. 5:24), this means that the father is responsible to provide for and protect his family. Father rule. That’s the good part.

The point is that patriarchy is inescapable, and our only choice is between men being faithful, for blessing, and men failing, for humiliation and chastisement. The thesis is not that men are good, but rather that men are crucial. When they are crucial and selfish, a lot of bad things happen. When they are crucial and obedient, a lot of good follows.

Is it his views on marriage?

Wilson has written several books and numerous articles on marriage. Valerie Hobbs and I wrote an article looking at way Wilson addresses husbands and wives in wedding sermons. Here are some other Wilson quotes on marriage:

He has created us as male and female in such a way as to ensure that men will always be dominant in marriage. If the husband is godly, then that dominance will not be harsh; it will be characterized by the same self-sacrificial love demonstrated by our Lord—Dominus—at the cross. – Wilson, Douglas (2009-04-01). Reforming Marriage (p. 24). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

Nevertheless, the dominance of the husband is a fact; the only choice we have in this regard concerns whether that dominance will be a loving and constructive dominion or hateful and destructive tyranny. – Wilson, Douglas (2009-04-01). Reforming Marriage (p. 25). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

Second, wives need to be led with a firm hand. A wife will often test her husband in some area, and be deeply disappointed (and frustrated) if she wins. It is crucial that a husband give to his wife what the Bible says she needs, rather than what she says she needs. So a godly husband is a godly lord. A woman who understands this biblical truth and calls a certain man her husband is also calling him her lord. It is tragic that wholesale abdication on the part of modern men has made the idea of lordship in the home such a laughable thing. – Wilson, Douglas (2009-04-01). Reforming Marriage (p. 80). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

A man may not be a vocational theologian, but in his home he is still the resident theologian. The apostle Paul, when he is urging women to keep silent in church, tells them that “if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home” (1 Cor. 14:35). The tragedy is that many modern women have to wonder why the Bible says they should have to ask their husbands. “He doesn’t know.” But a husband must be prepared to answer his wife’s doctrinal questions, and if he cannot, then he must be prepared to study so that he can remedy the deficiency. – Wilson, Douglas (2009-04-01). Reforming Marriage (pp. 40-41). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

The first time the dishes are not done, he must sit down with his wife immediately, and gently remind her that this is something which has to be done. At no time may he lose his temper, badger her, call her names, etc. He must constantly remember and confess that she is not the problem, he is. By bringing this gently to her attention, he is not to be primarily pointing to her need to repent; rather, he is exhibiting the fruit of his repentance. He does this, without rancour and without an accusative spirit, until she complies or rebels. If she complies, he must move up one step, now requiring that another of her duties be done. If she rebels, he must call the elders of the church and ask them for a pastoral visit. When the government of the home has failed to such an extent, and a godly and consistent attempt by the husband to restore the situation has broken down, then the involvement of the elders is fully appropriate. ‘Not Where She Should Be

Is it his views on sex?

Another area that has drawn controversy for Wilson is his teachings on sex. Here is one of the most frequently quoted passages:

In other words, 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. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed. But we cannot make gravity disappear just because we dislike it, and in the same way we find that our banished authority and submission comes back to us in pathological forms. This is what lies behind sexual “bondage and submission games,” along with very common rape fantasies. Men dream of being rapists, and women find themselves wistfully reading novels in which someone ravishes the “soon to be made willing” heroine. Those who deny they have any need for water at all will soon find themselves lusting after polluted water, but water nonetheless. – Wilson, Douglas (2011-03-07). Fidelity (Kindle Locations 978-985). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

Is it the way he treats women who disagree with him?

Wilson frequently responds to critics with sarcasm and sharp words. Here are some examples for how he’s talked about women who disagree with him:

the clueless women who blindly liked Wilkin’s article on Facebook, but who are themselves pushy broads, twinkies in tight tops, or waifs with manga eyes ‘Waifs With Manga Eyes

So feminism — smash the patriarchy feminism — wants us to be ruled by harridans, termagants, harpies and crones. That sets the tone, and the pestering is then made complete by small-breasted biddies who want to make sure nobody is using too much hot water in the shower, and that we are all getting plenty of fiber. ‘Smash the Complementarity

Unbelieving women either compete for the attention of men through outlandish messages that communicate some variation of “easy lay,” or in the grip of resentment they give up the endeavor entirely, which is how we get lumberjack dykes. ‘On Why Christian Women are Prettier

The silly women here are perpetual students — bluestockings — and they are constantly learning, but never getting the point. It would be hard to come up with a better modern example of this than the evangelical feminists. ‘Bluestocking Feminism

Is it the way he never apologizes or admits he’s wrong?

Given the number of controversies that Wilson has been a party to, it would makes sense for him to have apologized at times for saying or doing the wrong thing. Everyone makes mistakes. However, aside from a handful of posts that apologize for wording things in an awkward way, Wilson has not apologized.

I know that every man is a sinner and that even my favorite pastors/theologians are almost certainly wrong about something. And we certainly shouldn’t dismiss every author out there because we disagree on a point or two. But is there a point at which the depth or breadth of the problems becomes significant enough that it’s time to rethink defending a man?

To all those Reformed, Presbyterians out there who are willing to look past the recent Wilson controversies, is it time to consider if what you like is worth defending? For anything that he’s written that you’ve appreciated, isn’t there someone else who has said something similar without all the baggage? Are the qualifiers worth it?

Marriage as a Blood Covenant?

In a recent discussion about marriage and the role of the church in performing marriages, a pastor mentioned that he didn’t see the need for the church to perform wedding ceremonies. The way he explained it marriage is a covenant that is ratified when the man and woman consummate their marriage. The important part, to him, is the initial sexual act. That is what makes it a marriage. He went on to say that marriage is a “blood covenant.” Like all biblical covenants, he said, it’s sealed by the spilling of blood.

I was honestly floored by this discussion. I have no problem at all speaking of marriage as a covenant. Vows are made, and there is a legal agreement. Marriage is binding, and there are only a few biblical reasons to divorce. Marriage isn’t to be entered into lightly. It should always be taken seriously.

However, the part about marriage as a blood covenant really took me aback. I did some research into the concept and found a couple of examples of this teaching. As a side note, it does not seem to be mainstream or widely accepted. Many of the pastors and theologians (all reformed) I spoke with had never heard of it. Here are a couple of quotes that explain the teaching. Forgive me for the explicit nature of the following descriptions.

Marriage: A Blood Covenant with a Three-fold Purpose” by Bob Vincent

So as we look at the inception of marriage under the Old Testament, we discover that it involves, as all blood covenants do, the shedding of blood. And we discover that virginity was a very special and treasured thing in the law of God. And it is special and treasured because it is part of the shedding of the blood in this blood covenant of marriage. So important it is, that the parents of the young woman preserve the evidence that she was a virgin on her wedding night, so that if her husband proves to be a scoundrel and accuses her of not being what she said she was — and this is not the case of someone who is honest and up front before marriage, but this is someone presenting herself for marriage, and she is not really that — then the parents produce the evidence of the blood covenant with the garment or the sheet that was … that absorbed the blood in the cutting of the covenant.

The Hebrew word, by the way, for making a covenant is literally, in Hebrew, “to cut a covenant.” We cut a covenant. And so in the marriage act there are two things. There is the couple committing themselves to live together after God’s ordinance, and there is the shedding of the blood, the private act, the cutting of the covenant. Both things are important.

Covenant Sexuality” by Dannah Gresh

The next test is that a biblical covenant is always sealed in blood. The covenant between Abraham and God was sealed with animal sacrifice. There was blood.

The greatest covenant that you and I know is the covenant of Jesus Christ and the cross. It is sealed in blood. Do you know that the gift of marriage is also a covenant sealed in blood? Let me be a little technical with you for a just a moment. There is a small tissue within every woman. It’s called the hymen. It’s within her body.

When she has sex for the very first time, this tissue is stretched or torn, and there is a release of blood. Now, if you grew up in the day and age when Jesus walked the earth, the Jewish wedding ceremony took this so seriously, this covenant of blood, that the first gift that they would have given you, as a young bride, would have been white wedding linens.

And they would want you to seal the covenant on that night, returning from your honeymoon chamber with blood evidence to share with your whole family, that this covenant had been sealed in blood. Somebody tell me you’re glad you’re a woman of the new millennium.

But you know what? They weren’t uncomfortable with that. They celebrated it; they understood the significance of the blood. It was a beautiful thing. Sex is a blood covenant.

To summarize, the idea is that all covenants require a shedding of blood to seal the covenant. Marriage is a covenant that is sealed by the shedding of a virgin’s blood during her first sexual experience with her husband.

I find this teaching to be grotesque and potentially very dangerous. I also think it’s unbiblical for a number of reasons.

First, do all biblical covenants require the shedding of blood to seal the covenant? According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, God entered into a covenant of life with Adam before the fall:

Q. 12. What special act of providence did God exercise towards man in the estate wherein he was created?
A. When God had created man, he entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience; forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death.

Was there shedding of blood to seal this covenant? There was, of course, considerable blood shed as a result of the breaking of this covenant. But nothing is said or alluded to about blood in the ratifying of the covenant of life.

Second, marriage is a creation ordinance instituted by God before the fall. Why would there be a need for the shedding of blood before sin and death had entered the world? Did Eve bleed on her wedding night? Only she and Adam know, but I doubt it. The curse brought pain to childbearing and all it entails. There is no reason for Eve to have experienced that pain before she sinned.

The third reason I think this teaching is unbiblical is that we now live under the covenant of grace after the last, best, and only true sacrifice has already taken place. Christ has paid the penalty for our sins, and there are no more sacrifices. Ever. Why would any Christian who has been bought by the precious blood of Christ teach that a woman must offer a sacrifice of blood to seal her marriage?

Lastly, I want to consider the very practical side of things. Not all women bleed on their wedding night. This can be true for any number of reasons. Does this invalidate their marriage? It doesn’t change the vows they made.

Let’s consider a few different scenarios. First, not all virgins will bleed the first time they have sex. That’s simply medical fact.

Second, not everyone who marries is a virgin. Many people have sexual sins that they have repented of. Some people have been sinned against. (Although in those cases I would still consider them to be virgins.) Are their marriages less valid? Under a covenant of works, maybe. But we live under a covenant of grace with forgiveness and mercy.

Also, the teaching seems to demean second marriages. There are valid, biblical reasons for widowed or divorced men and women remarry. In these marriages, no one is a virgin. Their marriages are biblical and God-honoring. Does it matter that they weren’t sealed with blood? Are they less married as a result?

I understand the desire to strengthen the biblical arguments for marriage. Marriage is under attack in our culture today. But in our attempts to bolster biblical marriage we need to be careful about the unintended consequences of going beyond what Scripture teaches. I see four basic repercussions from teaching that marriage is a blood covenant.

  • It teaches a repulsive view of the sexual relationship between a husband and wife. What was created to be a beautiful expression of the one flesh relationship should not be twisted into a bloody sacrifice.
  • It idolizes virginity. It is a good and God-honoring thing for women (and men) to wait for marriage. It is a blessing, and it protects against many heartaches. But it’s should not be made into an idol. There is a serious danger of that happening. Consider “purity balls.”
  • It overshadows the grace and forgiveness that we live under as believers in Christ. We are all sinners saved by grace. There are no more sacrifices required.
  • It could be used to promote or excuse abuse. There is so much that could be said here, but I’ll leave it at this. There are despicable men in this world who would use this teaching to hurt women.

Marriage is a beautiful thing. God gave us marriage for our benefit and mutual support and as a picture of the relationship between Christ as His Church. We should work hard to support and protect marriage. But we don’t need to go back to the Old Testament sacrificial system to do so.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 ESV)

Fourteen years ago

In January 2000, I was working for the best University in the world, Texas A&M, and living in College Station. I was planning to go to grad school in Houston later that year, and I had been visiting a church in Houston. One day at work my pastor in College Station called. He told me that he was setting up a new small group Bible study for the singles group at church and that he wanted me to be a part of it. I was reluctant to agree since I was pretty sure there were almost no single men in the church, aside from college students. He assured me that there were single young men at the church that were invited as well. I agreed to go mainly to see if he was right.

The small group started out meeting at the house of our youth pastor and his wife. The first week I went and enjoyed myself. I met a very nice couple who would become very dear friends, and a few other people. No single guys, but I had a great time and decided to go again the next week. That night is engraved in my memory.

I was sitting in an armchair facing the front door. A few others were there, and we were visiting when in walked this very, very tall handsome young man. I’m pretty sure I stared. I remember thinking that it wasn’t possible that he went to church with me because I was SURE I’d remember seeing him. He was wearing a Penn State sweatshirt and jeans. His hair was almost black. Truly, he was tall, dark, and handsome. I don’t remember much else about that Bible study. I doubt I paid much attention to anything else that night. Needless to say, I didn’t miss a Bible study after that.

Matt was in his second year of grad school working on his PhD in Inorganic Chemistry. He came to Texas from Pennsylvania for graduate school. That winter we got to know each other through those small group get-togethers. I was both intrigued and irritated when he asked for prayer about a girl he was pursuing that didn’t seem to be interested in him. (Intrigued to know who she was and irritated that there was a girl other than me that he was interested in.) I started to sit with him and his friends at church.

One day in the spring the group was over at my apartment for a party. I called from the kitchen for someone to come help me, and guess who arrived. He’d shaved off his mustache and goatee that week. (yes, he actually had a goatee when we met; he finally regrew it one summer, after almost 10 years of me asking him to.) Sunday after church I went out to lunch with him and the couple I mentioned earlier, Sam and Joanne. The waiter asked if there would be separate checks, and as I started to say mine was one it’s own, Matt indicated that he and I were together. I protested mildly. Mainly I was ticked that if this was a date he hadn’t asked me out.

Monday he called to ask me out. I was out with a friend test-driving cars. Tuesday he called back. I knew he was calling to ask me out, but I still played dumb. We talked for TWO HOURS on the phone. For those of you who know my husband, you can appreciate how amazing this is. Finally he asked me out. That was mid-April of 2000.

By May we were talking about marriage. It was amazing. We just knew it was right. We started planning our wedding in June, and on July 4th, Matt gave me my engagement ring. It was a whirlwind romance. I decided not to go to grad school in Houston. We really didn’t want to wait until either he or I were finished with grad school to get married.

On December 22, 2000, Matt and I said our vows. It was a beautiful ceremony. The church was decorated for Christmas. All of our family and many of our friends were there. It truly was a family affair. My Aunt Lou played piano for us. Matt’s sisters read scriptures. My friend, Cara, did all the flowers for cost, and her husband, Pete, did our cakes for cost. My aunts, mother, and grandmother did all of the food for the reception, and Matt’s mother and sisters did the food for the rehearsal. Such a wonderful time.

On that day, I married my best friend. We’ve been through a lot in the last eleven years, and I love him more every day. I pray that the Lord will bless us with many more years together. Matt truly is everything I didn’t know I wanted. I love you sweetheart.



Man’s Responsibility and Marriage

God, from all eternity, did—by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will—freely and unchangeably ordain whatever comes to pass. Yet he ordered all things in such a way that he is not the author of sin, nor does he force his creatures to act against their wills; neither is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. Westminster Confession of Faith 3.1

Last week, I wrote an article on God’s providence and marriage. Several questions were raised that I want to address in this post: What about free will? If God has a plan for who you marry, can you marry the wrong person? Can you use God’s plan for your life as an excuse to divorce? If God’s providence includes marriage, does that mean marriage will be wonderful and without difficulty?

As a starting point, it’s important to remember that the issue God’s providence and man’s responsibility is one that has been debated forever. Much like the doctrine of the Trinity, this issue is hard to understand and difficult to get a handle on. Anyone who says they fully understand it is kidding themselves. I know that I don’t have it all figured out, so what I offer here are simply my thoughts on the matter.

What about free will? I don’t believe, and Scripture doesn’t teach, that God controls us like automatons or puppets. As the quote above from the Confession states, God doesn’t force us to act contrary to our wills. God doesn’t make us choose a particular person to marry. And we certainly can’t say that we have no responsibility for our actions. As the Confession also points out, God is not the author of sin. We are capable of making very bad, very sinful decisions. This can include deciding who to marry.

If God has a plan for who you marry, can you marry the wrong person? Short answer: nope. This is a common misunderstanding/misapplication of Scripture and the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. God does not have a secret, hidden, mystical plan for your life that you must diligently seek to decipher and that you can therefore miss if you fail to decipher it correctly.

It’s true that we are not privy to all the why’s and how’s of God’s providence, but we cannot act in such a way as to thwart God’s will. So, can you marry the “wrong” person? No, but you can make poor choices that you’ll have to live with. Which brings me to my next question.

Can you use God’s plan for your life as an excuse to divorce? Again, the short answer is “no.” Even if you’ve made very bad, very sinful decisions, you have not missed out on God’s plan for your life. There is not someone out there that God meant for you to marry instead. “God didn’t plan for me to marry you” is not a biblical reason for divorce.

Just as a side note, I do believe that there are biblical reasons for divorce. These include adultery, desertion, and abuse (which is a form of desertion). These reasons for divorce are not what I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about here is the frequently cited “irreconcilable differences” type of divorce. This leads to my last question.

If God’s providence includes marriage, does that mean marriage will be wonderful and without difficulty? And the corollary: If my marriage is hard work, does that mean I married the wrong person and we should get divorced? As I said in the previous answer, there are biblical reasons for divorce, but marriage is hard work is not one of them.

There are several issues at play here. First, I am a sinner (saved by grace, but still prone to sin). Second, I’m married to a sinner (also saved by grace, but still prone to sin). Third, the world we live in is damaged by sin and the effects of the fall. Because of these, in my marriage, I will sin and make my marriage difficult at times. Other times, my husband will sin and make our marriage hard work. And beyond both of us, the circumstances of the world we live in will bring pain and difficulty into our marriage.

Marriage is hard work. Sometimes it’s our fault, sometimes it isn’t. But the difficulties that we encounter are not proof that we’ve somehow missed God’s plan for our lives nor are they an excuse to break our marriage vows.

To summarize, God’s providence for our lives does include who we marry. However, we are still responsible for the choices we make. We may make bad choices, and we may have to live with the results of our choices. Even in our poor decisions, we can’t miss God’s plan for our lives. God’s providence includes even the difficult things in our lives. Our comfort is not in a promise that life will be easy, but that God is sovereign and that nothing happens (even the bad things) outside of His will.